Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Emmett X

“People can be talked into some stupid things when they think they’re getting what they want.”
Emmett Delacroix


Date ?

Emmett: Em flies souls, mad and howling and entirely too heavy, to Maman’s. He makes six flights, back and forth, his corpus aching from the effort of feeding three enfants to the house of nightmares like a low-rent Angel of Death.

As he does so, he appeases his Shadow. He’s got most of the raw wit, if the display with Cecilia demonstrated anything. He amuses his worst instincts, and does what he can to calm waters he needs to bear him forward.

He can’t fight his Shadow, not in the short term. So instead he tickles it.

GM: Em might think his corpus would ache. It doesn’t. He doesn’t sweat. He doesn’t hear his heart pumping from exertion. He doesn’t feel anything. The enfants are heavy, so the process takes longer, but that’s about it.

It all plays out like it did the last two times. He drops the victim by the gates. The house of nightmares yawns open like a venus flytrap. Its tongue of liquid midnight shoots out. The victim disappears to whatever fate awaits inside.

Em thought they were brain-dead. They didn’t struggle or resist on the flight over, besides twisting in his grasp to act out the motions of their deaths.

But all three of them scream as they’re swallowed by the house.

They aren’t like human screams, with human emotions behind them. It’s just a loud, ceaseless vocalization, like an animal makes. Bereft off sapience but brimming with instinctive, soul-deep terror that’d make the hairs on his neck stand up if they still did that.

Gasper laughs and laughs every time.

Emmett: And how does Em feel about it? To look at him, probably nothing. His eyes don’t water. A body is seventy percent or so water—less, actually, Lena told him once it was more around sixty. A corpus, he assumes, isn’t. His arms do not complain as he drags the imbecile souls to their Oblivion. One at a time, like the afterlife’s most handsome pizza boy.

Em never falters. Never hesitates. To do so will make the choice he has already made all the more perverse. For all his aloof silence to Gasper’s guffawing, Em has heard what the Shadow itself has told him.

To stop caring is to lose all he has left. So he feeds lost souls to a monster, but he does not look away as they are devoured. He does not justify or excuse the atrocity, and never for a moment does he seriously allow himself to consider stopping.

But he makes himself watch, and he cares, for all the good it does him.

GM: That never gets old. Never ever ever.

The house still hurts his head, when he looks directly at it. Tries to take in the full shape. Tries to apply any shape or fixed definition of physical matter to the midnight blackness that simultaneously swallows and caresses its pristine white walls.

But it feels… pleased.

The front door yawns open, though neither does the gate slam shut behind him.

Emmett: He flutters in, his corpus all but colorless.

“Madame,” he says, bowing low as his shoes touch the floor, his wings stretched behind him. “A privilege as always. I hope my offerings continue to please.”

GM: Silence answers the wraith. He overhears voices, though, from deeper within the opaque-walled house. Cécilia’s and her sisters’.

Emmett: He approaches them, unless he is stopped. He does not try to conceal his presence.

GM: They’re cleaning up what looks like lunch. Simmone, Abélia, and Caroline are not present, but all of the others are, along with three of the family cats. The sisters ignore Em completely as they chat among themselves over things like school, TV shows, boys, and (for the younger ones) being tired of being cooped up in the house. Cécilia and Adeline say it’s important they hang in a bit longer.

The family’s eldest daughter seems the others off, then turns around to regard the house’s unseen guest.

“Hi, Em. Sorry that took a little. You’d wanted to see me earlier?”

Emmett: “I kept busy,” he says simply. “And yes, if you wouldn’t mind my presence. I owe you an apology, for what happened last time. And for your kindness afterwards.” He smiles faintly. “I also have a request, in the interests of preventing… something like that from happening, again.”

GM: “Accepted. I know that wasn’t really you,” she smiles back. “What did you have in mind?”

Emmett: “I… heard something, from another ghost. He may have been talking nonsense, he tried to sell me into slavery later, but he told me that if we slumber with the things, or people, that we stayed behind for, it gives us… I don’t know what to call it. Energy. Juice. The stuff that lets us do stuff. And my only other way of getting it is through the other guy.”

He glances meaningfully over his shoulder at the shadow he casts.

“I know it’s a lot to ask,” he says quietly. “But, it would… it would make things easier. Until I find another place to sleep.”

Em adds, quickly, “I could also… I could make it up to you, if you wanted me to. There are some perks to being a ghost. Some ways to give back.”

GM: “Pathos,” says Cécilia. “Essence.”

Her brow furrows a bit.

“But you mean… sleep with me? I am engaged, Em… "

Emmett: He holds up a hand. “Not… not like that. Just, like, in proximity, I think. Under the bed would work, for all I know. I’d be unconscious the whole time. And it’s not as if I would even be, um, corporeal.”

He looks torn for a moment, then shakes his head, the fragile hope there retreating. Of course it’s too much to ask. Of course she won’t let him nap at the foot of her bed. That’s a spot for beloved dogs, not bothersome spooks.

“But I get it. You need boundaries, and… and your Maman wouldn’t approve, probably. I can scavenge for cauls, or something. It was wrong of me to ask in the first place. I won’t keep you from your family.”

He shuffles his wings, turns lopsidedly from her like a scared bird.

GM: “Well… let’s think about this,” Cécilia says, ponderingly. “Am I the only person you could sleep with, in that way? Are there any others?”

“Or, sleep near, as it might be.”

Emmett: He looks pained. “It’s… complicated.” True. “My sister’s in the hospital, but there’s something… predatory, there. I don’t think I can sleep with her reliably, and I’m worried about somebody finding me through her. Then there’s… somebody who’s made it plain that they don’t want me around, and who I can’t afford to antagonize. And I have a cousin who… I think she’s under the control of one of Caroline’s type. I don’t really know where she sleeps, either, and I’m worried that if I ask her she’ll tell her… friend. And then there’s my parents, who my shadow’s keeping me away from altogether.”

“This place is safe.” Safe like a dragon’s lair. “It’s secure. Nobody will look for me here. And…”

This is the hard one. The real reason. The thing he’s scared to say.

“You’re the only one who knows what I am. And the only one who’ll know I’m there. And it would be nice to sleep where somebody doesn’t mind me being there. Otherwise I think I’d just be alone.”

Alone.

He doesn’t like that word. It’s not one he thinks of a lot.

It’s not a very useful one when it describes you.

GM: Cécilia seems to think on all of that. Her expression has more than a touch of pity at his last words.

“Well, okay. I’m sorry things are the way they are with your family, for whatever that may be worth, but I don’t want you to feel alone. I’m going to go work in my office for a while, so you could sleep there.”

“I don’t think that’d be anything for Luke to complain about when we’re not actually sleeping together.”

Look at you. Begging for scraps, from her table.

Like, this isn’t even a pity fuck, it’s a pity not-fuck.

Enjoy it while you can, I guess. She’ll be married to that Malveaux pretty soon.

Think she’ll still let you sleep at the foot of her bed like a stray dog then?

Oh, wait, she isn’t even letting you now. You’re not even good enough for that.

You never were. She didn’t even let you fuck her.

What are the odds she’s let Caroline’s idiot brother stick his dick up her, you think?

Emmett: He ignores the taunts. “Thank you. It means a lot.”

A part of him bristles with old indignation, old envy. But he silences it, for now.

Best not to think of such things, in a dragon’s den.

GM: Cécilia leads him upstairs to a home office space. There’s a couch, desk, bookshelves, printers, a landline, and various essentials, along with a framed MBA on the wall. She opens a laptop and gets to work. The things on the screen look like boring business stuff with lots of numbers.

“Well, make yourself at home,” she says. “I’d offer to get a blanket, but I don’t imagine that it would do anything for you… ?”

Fact is, Em, you’re not good enough. Not for Maman. Not for her.

Why don’t we think of the reasons? Is it just because you’re from the wrong family? By which we mean ‘money.’ Too poor to buy her a ring with as many zeros on the end as Caroline’s brother. Those ‘get rich quick’ schemes never did amount to much in the end.

Maybe it’s because you’re too stupid. Won’t ever have a degree on the wall like that. You couldn’t even finish high school. She probably thinks she’s smarter than you, and she’s right. She’s too ‘nice’ to gloat about it, but everyone likes to think they’re smarter than someone else. Just happens to be objectively true in her case.

Maybe it’s because she doesn’t forgive you. You did lie to her, after all, completely shamelessly. So many lies. She doesn’t think she can trust you over anything, but being ‘magnanimous’ here is just her excuse to pat herself on the back for being a good person.

You tell me, though. Why doesn’t she think you’re good enough to stick your cock in her?

Emmett: Besides it being made of ectoplasm?

He leaves it at that. Better not to engage, overall.

He stretches out on the couch, and drinking in her presence and acceptance of him as much as he can without embarrassing himself, and closes his eyes to sleep.


Date ?

GM: Em doesn’t think he’s ever had such a deep sleep in his life. He’s out like a stone. His dreams are deep and primal, as though he’s slumbering at the bottom of a vast ocean.

It crushes him beneath the impossible weight of its midnight depths. His dreams are terrifying things, though he remembers little of them, save for the feeling of his dead stomach twisting with a nameless, formless dread.

Then just like that, he surfaces. His head emerges from Cécilia’s head, his arms from her arms, his chest from her chest. He peels himself out of her body like a snake shedding its old skin.

Emmett: As he wriggles from her like a ghostly butterfly shedding its cocoon, Em blinks and shakes himself from the strange, too-deep slumber. He flinches, too, at the unexpected intimacy to his one-time… whatever they were. He separates from Cécilia in a hurry.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—I thought I was on the couch, when I went out.” Em pats himself down, making sure everything’s still there. His arm is still gangrenous and mortified, his clothes still unruffled in their funerary elegance. There’s still an evil bastard in his head.

Oh, and Gasper too.

GM: Cécilia doesn’t answer Em.

Directly.

Instead, she stops kissing Luke, who’s sitting on her bed with his arms around her.

Caroline’s brother frowns. “Everything okay?”

“I’m sorry… I’m just not in the mood, right now,” answers Cécilia.

There’s a condom and lube bottle on the bedside table.

Saving herself until marriage, huh?

Looks like you just weren’t good enough.

Emmett: He knows better than to linger. Bad for him. Awkward for her.

Really bad for Luke, if he processes his feelings too quickly.

Out the door with him. He isn’t as rejuvenated as he expected. But that’s okay.

GM: Maybe this is why.

Bet they were gonna do it up her ass, Gasper continues as he heads downstairs. What else would they have lube for?

Did you figure her for an ‘up the ass’ kind of girl?

Or at least, tries to.

He’s stopped by the solid door.

Cécilia gets up and opens it without looking directly at him.

Luke looks confused.

He walks up and touches her shoulder.

“Are you sure everything’s okay?”

Emmett: Em figures he never really knew as much about Cécilia as he pretended he did.

He nods politely to her without meeting her eyes, doing his best to irradiate respectful detachment. A polite, meaningless pretense they both know is false.

But he tries to mind his manners, in this place.

GM: How loud do you think she is, when they do it?

Do you think they do it doggy-style?

Do you think she sucks his dick? Do you figure she spits it out, or swallows?

How much do you think she likes wrapping her lips around his cock? Like, does she just do it in return for head from him, or does being on her knees with a dick in her mouth really turn her on?

How many other guys’ dicks do you think she’s sucked?

Emmett: He bows at the house again before flying away from the garden.

GM: Maybe you could give her tips. You sucked a lot of dick for Stines back in the day.

Emmett: He flies, launches himself into the boundless and formless skies. He circles the wreckage of the New Orleans that awaits the newly dead, considers the corpse-city and the infestations that writhe within like maggots in a mass grave.

He knew this city well in life, including her worst faces, the quickest paths to an early Louisiana grave. Those paths are useful to a dead man searching for souls more lost than him. He couldn’t have been a better truffle pig if his name was Wilbur.

GM: For all the Big Easy’s violence and crime, the 9th Ward’s and Central City’s mean streets are still amateurs next to the city’s #1 place to die.

Hospitals.

Lena had told him that much. 1/3rd of all deaths in the country occur in hospitals. Most Americans say they’d like to die at home, ideally also surrounded by loved ones. But your odds of dying in a hospital are still 1 in 3, no matter what you say your last wishes are.

Like many things everyone says they want, a lot of people don’t get it.

Emmett: Not him, though. Say what you like about Em, he’s the 66.6%.

He died in a prison, his killer the state.

They tell stories about the Lead Room on street corners and in the drunker hours of dog fights. Em sold acid to a guy who’d been there once.

“Is it true then, about the things that happen there after dark? Whitecoats cutting out some poor bastard’s kidney and selling it on ice before the sun comes up again?”

He had been joking, in his moribund and blazed-out way. But Dougie (this was Jackpots Dougie, not two-toed Dougie) had gone real pale and not said anything the rest of the buy, and Em got the message:

The story might not be real, but the monster is.

He figures it’s a good place to look for ghosts.

GM: Amelie met at least one there.

When aren’t the monsters real?

Miserable rain weeps over Em’s corpus as he retraces his flight back to Tulane Medical Center. The living look like glowing motes from high up. Colorless fireflies.

The hospital is some seven stories tall. Em flaps up. He can see dozens of glowing souls through the walls, all going about their business or lying in bed. Hospitals are always busy.

He flies through the walls, beds, and several scrub- and coat-wearing medical personnel who don’t move aside at the invisible man’s approach. He can see the ward known on the street as the Lead Room from pretty far off.

There’s a man in a bed. Older. Black. Disheveled-looking, with an unkempt “homeless man” beard and the haggard facial lines of a hard life with few smiles. The old man’s eyes are closed. The living might not see anything different about him, from one moment to the next. But Em is there to watch the pitifully faint glow around his body finally gutter out—that feels long in the coming—as he sloughs off his mortal coil. A translucent, tranquil-faced copy of the old man floats up from his chest, standing ‘inside’ the fresh corpse.

No sooner does it do so before rough hands tear off the enfant’s caul and snap an iron collar around his neck. The newborn wraith falls to the ground, screaming and clutching at his neck as though he’s being burned alive.

Doc Brown chuckles.

“Well, this one isn’t pretty, but a fine day’s work, gentlemen! I’d say we have more than enough for the next shipment, now.”

Two other figures around the doctor—both solid to Em’s sight, both lacking the telltale glow of the living—offer grim smiles.

One is a man dressed in a police officer’s uniform with a slowly oozing bullet wound in his gut.

The other one is a middle-aged man dressed in a wifebeater and jeans with no readily apparent cause of death. He hooks up the screaming enfant’s collar to a length of chain and gives it a sharp tug.

“Move it, thrall!”

None of the four turn to look at Em.

But it looks like he’s not the only wraith to go where the deaths are plentiful.

Emmett: For a moment, he wavers.

Defeat after defeat has been his life. When the credits rolled on that mess, Magadon’s murder meds turning his blood to ichor and him into a corpse, he had recoiled from the light, a final act of puerile cowardice framed as rebellion.

His afterlife, thus far, proves little different. Every success rendered null by his worst tendencies; every tenderness denied to him.

But for all his weariness, Emmett knows a room full of marks when he sees one.

Does he dare? He wonders.

Yes. Yes he does.

The Sandman puckers his lips and a word slithers off his tongue and becomes sonorously intimate. A syllable of undiluted Halloween terror whispered into every ghastly ear.

BOO,” says the ghost.

When they whirl, he’s studying the nails on his dead man’s hand, such as they are.

“Gentlemen,” he croons, his expression widening in a smile that would spook a clown. “I was told I’d find you here. Dr. Brown I already know. Tom, would you like to tell your friends who I am?”

GM: The suddenness of the dreadful noise clearly startles the four. Em might even say half to death, around another audience.

They whirl towards its source. Even the collared thrall jerks towards it with bulging eyes.

Doc Brown’s eyes take Em in before his face settles into an indulgent smile. “It’s Jared, actually. Seems dying hasn’t been too good for someone’s memory!”

Emmett: His eyes widen, and when Jared Brown meets them, he titters. “I’m sorry about your name, Jared. You, uh, you look like a Tom.”

GM: The doctor smiles back and gestures theatrically. “Mark, Bob, this is Emmett. He was a patient of mine, back before we crossed over. I’ve tried to collar him once already, you know, and the little bugger dove right into a harrowing!”

Doc Brown’s smile widens, as if this is all an amusing joke. Blood freely leaks down his torn-open throat.

“And he’s had the bad luck to wander back into Hierarchy territory, all by himself! Places like this are where hardworking reapers like us earn our oboli, Emmett. Did you know that?”

“I don’t think he did,” says the police-uniformed wraith with a nasty smile. Drip-drip-drip goes the bullet hole in his belly.

Doc Brown chuckles, more ectoplasmic blood running down his stained coat. The newly-collared wraith on the ground just moans at the wifebeater-wearing one’s feet.

His captor just eyes the knife on Em’s belt with a look of undisguised greed.

“That’s true, I rather suppose he didn’t,” smiles the deceased doctor. "You’ll fill out our shipment quite nicely, Emmett. We’ve got more enfants than we know what to do with! You’re about to join them, and us, on a fabulous trip down to the river city. You’re going to make so many new friends there who’d be just dying to meet you… "

He flashes a huge grin.

“…if they weren’t already dead!”

The other two wraiths just offer the same nasty-looking miles.

“Dibs on his knife,” says the one in the wifebeater.

The police-uniformed wraith produces another iron collar.

“That’s the lay of that, anyways!” chuckles Doc Brown. “Any last words you’d like to say as a free wraith?”

Emmett: “That’s what she said you’d say,” Em says, shrugging. “She also said you’d get all hot and bothered when I told you about the oboli she has for you. That she pays better than the Hierarchy.”

“Mark, was it? She’s the one who gave me this knife. She can give you more, too, sharper and colder, if you let me introduce you. Bring your shipment. She’ll be impressed, and pay you up front for them. You know how these rich New Orleans mothers are… "

“Or you could just take me, now, and deliver your shipment. I understand if you’re spooked.”

“She likes men with badges too, officer. You might even know the Devillers name.”

GM: The police-uniformed wraith doesn’t put away the collar.

But he doesn’t try to fasten it around Em’s neck either.

“Who’s she?” asks the wraith in the wifebeater.

“Rich cunt in the Garden District,” says the cop.

He considers Em.

“I haven’t heard of her crossing over. Or being rich on this side of the Shroud. Where’s she get her oboli?”

Oh, this is too good.

One of these losers has a Shadow trying to talk to me. You want to give me a boost, I could ask it questions… like how many oboli a slave actually goes for.

Emmett: “Rich in one world, rich in the other,” Em says. “She never crossed over. She’s been around a long, long time. Like one of the vampires, only she doesn’t drink blood.”

What had Fizzy said they’d done to his brother? Melted him down into some damn oboli.

“She makes hers the same way they make theirs. By melting down spooks who can’t offer anything. She’s good at it, too. Efficient. You heard about the break-out from the Giovannini pen in the Quarter? She’s already hired most of us who made it out.”

Hit me, amigo. If this works, Gasper’s going to come out ahead anyways.

“I mean, the ones she didn’t need to smelt, obviously.”

GM: Okay. One fresh-reaped soul makes one obolus. One thrall goes for one obolus. Stronger souls can be smelted into more than one. Pretty rare to get souls worth more than a couple each.

Emmett: “And when I say efficient, I mean she cracks two oboli an enfant.”

Em seems to hesitate. “Is that actually good? She told me it was good.”

GM: The ‘Giovannini pen’ seems to spark some recognition on their faces.

“And why oh why is she so generous to buy thralls at a loss?” smiles Doc Brown.

Bullshit alert, if you meant smelt. You can’t make two oboli from one soul.

One soul like yours, anyway.

Emmett: What if I want to lie to them that she can? Which is what I’m trying to do.

GM: They don’t think that’s possible. They say it’s ‘making two pies with one pan.’

Hold on.

They say a lot of thralls get auctioned off. Like, bidding at markets, for the better ones.

Slavers like these losers sell their thralls to the auctioneers. Who sell to other wraiths at a markup.

Emmett: “You’d have to ask her,” Em says plainly, shrugging. “I’m just her messenger boy, Dr. Doom and Gloom. I don’t go with her to the auctions when she takes the scrappier ones she doesn’t melt down, so I don’t know how much she makes off them, but she seems pretty happy with the arrangement. I’ll tell you what, though. If you don’t want to do business with her, I’ll just go. Enjoy your work. I’ll catch the next caspers sick of dragging corpus for the Hierarchy.”

He turns, starts to flap away.

Whether they give chase or follow, he still wins.

GM: Molting black wings sprout from the cop’s back as he streaks towards Em.

The wraith with the wifebeater instead pulls out a steel whistle.

“You can stop right there, Emmett, or one blow can have this place swarming with Hierarchy legionnaires!” smiles Doc Brown.

Wow, you’re an idiot.

Emmett: “What, for little old me?” he yawns. “I’m sure that would reflect well on you fine soldiers.” He evades the cop’s grasps with some gracious flapping, but doesn’t actually leave.

That whistle could be fun to get my hands on…

“Look, gents, I’m not interested in trying to sell you something you aren’t interested in buying. Mrs. Devillers is patient, but she likes me to deliver results, not half-hearted interest. Blow your whistle if it’ll make you feel safer. The offer will still be on the table, but the pay might get spread a bit thinner.”

He sighs. “Look, I can see you’re nervous. Good things don’t come along to those on this side of the grave without work, do they? Well, let’s be clear— Mrs. Devillers keeps me very busy. But at least I get to spend most of my time recruiting people instead of chaining them up. Mrs. Devillers has oboli, but she wants Caspers, you see. Caspers to fight. All the better if you’ve seen the inside of the Hierarchy. With her, you can get in on the ground floor of something new. You probably won’t even have to quit your gig hustling for the H-men. She’s the kind of woman who’ll pay handsomely for secrets.”

GM: The cop slams into Em’s corpus and tackles him to the ground. He drives a knee into Em’s back and pins his arms there too.

It’s not the first time he’s been in this position under a cop.

Doc Brown smiles and kneels down to Em’s level. He takes the other wraith’s collar and pulls it open. Low moans sound from the cold steel.

“Let’s talk a bit about this Mrs. Devillers, Em.”

“If she’s never crossed over, tell me what she wants with thralls and oboli.”

Emmett: Oh, big scary Jared. Em would be scared if he hadn’t seen this movie before. But he knows enough to pull out the wide eyes and nervous laughter. He can make the predators feel powerful, complacent.

They don’t know what they’ll meet later.

“Come on, Jared, I didn’t mean anything by it, you know that. I’m just a prick trying to make money, just like when I was alive. Devillers, she—ghosts make useful gofers and spies. She’s interested in softening up the Hierarchy, running her own spooky little kingdom this side of the river. And she’s got enough oboli in her basement to throw some around. "

His voice lowers. “Between you and me… I kind of like being one of her only spooks on payroll. Besides the knife, she fixed me up with some chains, a dope bag… and then there’s her daughters.”

He giggles a lecherous, dead man’s giggles. “Her daughters are very pretty, Jared. You’d like them.”

Seven glowing figures dance through the air above Em, smiling and entwined. The picture of innocence. Helplessness.

“She doesn’t mind if we watch her daughters.”

GM: The dead doctor looks at the seven blonde beauties.

He gives a very ugly grin. A dark shadow seems to spread over his entire face.

“I don’t just watch, Emmett.”

“Didn’t then.”

“Don’t now.”

Emmett: “Well, if we catch her while she’s awake she’ll probably quote you a price.”

“I mean, she’s always awake, I think. But she’s not always in a good mood.”

GM: “What if we just take her oboli?” muses the wraith in the wifebeater.

“She wants to go up against the Hierarchy. Okay. Bet the governor wouldn’t mind us hauling her ass to the citadel.”

Emmett: “You—but what about me? Come on, guys, I’m trying to do you a solid here. Jared, would you really do me dirty like that after I tried to get you a gig?”

His lip protrudes like a toddler’s.

GM: Doc Brown runs a hand through Em’s hair, gently tousling it.

His grin just spreads.

“Fuck this ‘softening up the Hierarchy,’” says the cop. “We can get a nice reward bringing in some renegades to the bosses.”

“Mmm, maybe,” says Brown, not taking his eyes off of Emmett.

Emmett: “You won’t find her place without me,” Em lies straightforwardly. “Cut me in on the action, and I’ll show you the quickest way there.”

Simple, direct, ruthless. Clean as the cattle cars chugging along to Auschwitz.

GM: The wraith in the wifebeater scowls.

“Might not be a loss,” muses Brown.

“How you figure?” asks the other wraith.

“This whole thing about not crossing over, and still dealing in oboli… not even the leeches do that,” Brown says with a thoughtful frown.

“I think we may have stumbled across something interesting, gentlemen. Maybe something we could sell in Stygia.”

Emmett: Stygia?

GM: His Shadow doesn’t answer.

“That ain’t half-cocked,” muses the cop on top of Em. “Could be some lords or guildmasters there who’ll pay more than the Hierarchy here. They want to collect all the weird shit in that place.”

“Okay,” says the wraith in the wifebeater. “Here’s what we do.”

“We go see this Mrs. Devillers. She looks like she’s worth something, we snap a collar on her, bring her back to the river city. We sell the thralls we’ve got there and buy passage to Stygia.”

“You don’t need to buy passage,” says the cop.

“Fuck that,” says the other wraith. “I’m not riding along naked through the Tempest.”

“The Midnight Express is free,” says Jared. “What does she look like, Emmett? Would she stand out in a crowd?”

Emmett: “She’ll be suspicious if we don’t come with the thralls y’all have gathered,” Em warns. “She’s not ignorant. She knew you would probably be here, after all, and that’s why she sent me.”

“And she’s beautiful, Jared. A real MILF. Eyes like ocean deeps. I can show you the way to her house. If your friend here wants to hold on to me while I bring you, fine. I just want to come out ahead.”

Hmm. Stygia sounds like it could be fun.

GM: “Okay, we bring along the thralls. Whatever,” says the cop.

“That does sound very pretty, Emmett. I mean does she look abnormal enough someone might try to steal her. We’re obviously not taking the Express if-”

“-fuck the Express,” says the wraith in the wifebeater. “We buy passage on an actual fucking ship. And not one of those navy liners. I mean, the dreamboats. You ever been on one, doc?”

“He gets off all he needs in the hospital,” leers the cop.

The doctor just smiles.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” says the wraith in the wifebeater. “They’ve got masquers there. Any girl you want, any way you want. Sandmen with nonstop shows. I hear, the entire thing is in color. You can almost feel alive again, when you’re inside. There’s gambling, too.”

Emmett: “Really?” Em begins.

GM: “What, you haven’t been either?” asks the wraith in the wifebeater. “Christ, am I the only one who actually spends his fucking oboli?”

Emmett: “I’m a sandman, is all. Sounds fun.”

GM: “When did you die?”

Emmett: “Early 2016. You?”

He sort of fidgets under the cop. “Also, can I get up? You’ve established dominance, very… dominantly. I’m not going anywhere.”

GM: The other wraiths look between each other for a moment.

The cop gets off, but remains close by.

“’84,” says the other wraith. “We used to have a dreamboat back when this was a free city. This relic Mississippi steamboat. Hoon and Toole were involved. You can thank the Hierarchy we don’t have it anymore.”

Emmett: “But you’d rather work for them anyways than end up a thrall, huh?”

GM: “Biggest game in town after the maelstrom,” shrugs the other wraith. “They hold the necropolis. They hold the citadel.”

“That was the maelstrom,” says the cop. “That wrecked the dreamboat. Wraiths can’t just blame the Hierarchy for everything. They gave this city some law and order back.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know who pays us.”

“Forget how we get to Stygia,” says Brown. “First we need the merchandise.” He looks at Emmett. “Can four wraiths take her with surprise?”

Emmett: “She’s older than she looks, but… I dunno, probably,” Em hedges. “And five even more so. She seemed pretty hopeful you’d be willing to talk. I mean, I’m scum, but I’m scum that can count. If you guys rush her, I’ll join. Now, shall we? I can help carry the cargo.”

GM: “Less money split five ways than four,” scowls the cop.

Emmett: “I can also accept not being enslaved in lieu of payment.”

GM: “Yeah, and just let us enslave your meal ticket,” scoffs the wraith in the wifebeater. “Four is you, unless you thought we were counting this guy.”

He kicks the collared and softly moaning enfant underneath him.

“We’ll haul off all the oboli she has, and sell her. Split everything between us four, 25%.”

He leers at Em. “Scum like you and me don’t stab someone in the back for nothing, now don’t they?”

Emmett: “Oh. I’m apparently scum that can’t count. And yeah, sounds like you’ve got my number. Which means I’ve got your back.”

He makes finger pistols. They’re accompanied by gunfire and muzzle flashes.

“Let’s stick it to the one percent.”

GM: “You don’t get anything from the other thralls,” says the cop. “We caught those, not you.”

“Well why the fuck would he?” says the wraith in the wifebeater.

“You always want to be crystal fucking clear when it comes to money,” says the cop.

Emmett: “Jared, how much you make as a doctor? Not including the free pussy. You’re going to be in the big leagues again. You too, Mark and Bob. The real big league. Post-mortem championships.”

If there’s no further questions Em is eager to proceed. Do they keep the “shipment” in some kind of container, or just a long line of chained wraiths?

GM: “We’ve got them stashed someplace,” the cop answers vaguely.

Em’s been around his share of drug dealers, when he wasn’t one himself. The wraith’s tone sounds like the same kind that one a dealer asked where his supply is might take.

“How many will look convincing to Mrs. Devillers? It’d be a pain in the ass to bring them all.”

“Wait. Do you know where she keeps her oboli?” asks the wraith in the wifebeater. “Does she hide them?”

Emmett: “She wanted a lot,” Em said.

_Fill my larder past satiation… _

“If we can bring ten in one go, it’d be ideal. At least five, though, show we’re serious.”

He parries the question about oboli neatly. “I’ve seen the safe she keeps them in. Spooky thing in her… I guess I’d call it a lounge? We can probably make her open it.”

GM: “Could we open it?” asks the wraith in the wifebeater. “Or could she with a collar on?”

Emmett: “I’ve used a key with a collar on. I expect she could turn a lock. And we can always make her tell us the combination. Take the safe, if it comes to that.”

GM: “Okay,” he says thoughtfully. “I was gonna say, if we couldn’t get into it, we should bring all the thralls.”

Emmett: “What’s your thinking there?”

GM: “We’d give her a look at the merchandise and ask for payment. When she brought it out, we’d jump her. Since if we couldn’t get into the safe, we’d obviously want her to bring out more money for the extra thralls.”

“Well didn’t that turn out to be a completely stupid idea,” says the cop. “We’ll bring five, then just hurt her until she tells us how to get into the safe. You always overthink things.”

“I’m not the one who died getting shot,” says the wraith in the wifebeater.

Emmett: “That’s still a good plan,” Em says, just as thoughtfully. “If we can get her to open the safe first, it might go quicker. I still think bringing more’s a better idea. How much of a pain to transport are we talking?”

GM: “It’s a pointless plan,” says the cop. “Unless she’s paying everything that’s in there for the thralls, and she’d need way more than that if she’s serious about challenging the Hierarchy, we have to get into the safe anyway.”

“You ever transported thralls, Emmett?” smiles Doc Brown.

Emmett: “In small numbers,” he acknowledges. “I wasn’t sure if the finest minds of chattel slavery had come up with something I had missed. I’ll tell you what, though. Let’s bring a solid showing—we can probably bring her ten between us. We can bullshit her for a little, feel out her actual funds, get her to open the safe herself before we try to jump her. If we do it fast enough, saves us needing to drill her about the combination or have to carry the damned thing—I don’t know how heavy it might be. Plus, more thralls we parade in front of her the more distracted she’ll be.”

GM: “She’d be an idiot to open it right in front of us,” says the cop.

Emmett: “People can be talked into some stupid things when they think they’re getting what they want.” Trust me. “More’s gonna be better to put her off her guard, at least.”

GM: “How many other wraiths are there?” asks Doc Brown. “You can’t be the only one working for her.”

The eyes of the wraith in the wifebeater shine with greed. “We could take them as thralls, too.”

Emmett: “There’s like three other freelancers, but I’ve never seen more than one there at a time. They’re running errands for her around the city. We could definitely lie in ambush, though, once we’ve taken her.”

GM: “Maybe we should just bring them all, to be safe,” muses the wraith in the wifebeater. “It’s inconvenient, but it can’t actually hurt.”

“I guess not,” relents the cop.

Emmett: This is gonna be fun.

“That’s settled then,” Em says cheerfully.

“Shall we?”

GM: “Settled,” smiles Doc Brown. “Okay. We’ll need a little to get them ready.”

The wraith in the wifebeater claps Em over the shoulder. “This guy’s my kind of scum. Let’s celebrate how we’re all about to make a shitload of money together, with some dreamwhores in the river city.”

“We can screw some whores after we’ve got more oboli in our pockets,” says the cop. “Didn’t you want to take a dreamboat to Stygia, anyway?”

“Yeah, but there might not be one in port for a while,” says the wraith in the wifebeater.

“Rather celebrate when the job’s done,” says the cop.

Emmett: Em smiles back at the man he’s about to feed to a shark. “That sounds like a lot of fun. But it’ll still be there after. Mark, right? Nice to meet you. Call me Em.”

It could be a beautiful friendship, in another afterlife.

GM: “Bob,” he says. “I know the best whores down there. But I guess you’re right. Still be around.”

“Where do we wanna meet back up with the thralls?” asks Mark.

Emmett: “Here’s good for me if it’s good for you.” If it’s not, Em names a park close to the Garden District.

GM: “Okay. We’ll meet at Clay Square in 24 hours,” says Doc Brown.

He shakes Emmett’s hand in his. The doctor’s huge grin pulls the tear along is throat open wider. Blood steadily leaks down as the collared enfant at their feet moans.

“And may I say it’s been a pleasure doing business with you today, Emmett.” Brown’s eyes crinkle upwards.

“Even more than treating you as a patient was!”

Emmett: Em laughs along. He can wait for 24 hours for them to learn why it’s really funny.

Comedy is all about timing.


Date ?

Emmett: Hey. Gasper.

Em floats through the ruined city, too lazy to fly properly but too fastidious to touch the blackened and bare ground.

Thanks, for coming through back there. I know it was a trade. But thanks.

He pauses for a moment. What did you think of what Hartford back there was talking about?

GM: Hartford?

Emmett: I got all the trivia, I guess. The wifebeater guy. Mark.

GM: I got all the brains, I guess. He said his name was Bob, idiot.

Emmett: I think that’s more a function of those two having interchangeably bland names, but besides the point. Anyways, what did you think of what he said about dreamboats?

GM: Whatever.

Distract yourself from how shitty the (after)life is with whores and movies and gambling. That doesn’t sound at all familiar, does it?

‘Death changes things.’ Uh-huh.

We could’ve ran into those two losers in a million places when we were alive.

Emmett: Maybe so. But it might be nice to run a joint like that. Or even start our own. Could try and work one for a while. See what it’s like.

The postmortem Ritz Carlton looms ahead, a leviathan’s bloated ruins infested with little glowing maggots—people.

He’s content to wait for somebody to get into the elevator and ride past the floor of his destination.

No use hurrying when you’re already late.

GM: _Probably shitty, like everything. _

It’s a short enough journey from TMC to the Ritz-Carlton. The rotting and decaying hotel looks just as inhospitable as the last times he was there, full of glowing people who are incomprehensibly still hanging around. They don’t see how the dust on the cracked and grime-streaked windows looks like screaming faces. They don’t see the black and festering cancer-tendrils spreading through the smokers’ lungs like hideously misshapen plants. They don’t see the dried blood lining the stairs. They see none of how awful it all is.

Em supposes he could have taken the stairs. It’s not like he gets tired.

People don’t try to hold the elevator for him. The doors literally close through his face as he steps on. He gets off at Sami’s floor. He sees people watching TV, reading books, or having sex through the translucent doors and walls. In one of the rooms, he sees a middle-aged white man strangling a crying and sputtering black woman who looks half his age. She tugs weakly at his hands. Em can feel her death closing in like vultures circling a dying animal, but that’s nothing new. There are plenty other people in this hotel stained with death, be they smokers or fat people or diseased or just plain old. He can see the black spreading over their souls.

Some might check out sooner than others, but in the end, nobody stays checked in forever.

Emmett: He stops for a moment to scare her attacker, rolling up his eyes and sticking out his tongue at the would-be snuff artist.

Oh, except he’s hanging from a spectral noose. That can’t help the laugh factor much.

GM: The man looks up and screams, his face immediately draining of all color. The girl scrambles away as his fingers slacken, barely pausing to grab her clothes before barreling out the door.

Emmett: Would have been nice to get some juice from her caul. Too add another face to his little circle.

But he’s been a whore before.

He continues on to Sami’s room.

GM: The man scrambles back too, across the bed, and falls off, sheets tangled amidst his feet. He looks back up at the spot where Em appeared with incredulous eyes.

A few people in the hallways are staring and gawking as the girl pulls her clothes on. The man just stays rooted to the ground. His face looks like he’s questioning his own sanity as his chest laboriously heaves.

Emmett: Let him question. This ghost is busy.

GM: The inside of Sami’s rotted, dust-caked suite proves less than busy. She isn’t there, and neither are the hourglass, sacks, chains, collars, or other spooks. Even Kione is gone.

Bet they were happy to dump you. I bet you weren’t away for an hour before they all went running.

Hannah clearly wasn’t your biggest fan. I bet she roped along the others.

Had a while to talk with them by herself, hasn’t she?

Em’s a liability, can’t control his own Shadow…

Emmett: He takes in the emptiness with a stare, wondering if time had gotten away from him. Bad habit to fall into, given how despite nobody in the Shadowlands seeming to be very capable of telling time reliably, spooks still relied on scheduled liaisons.

Em searches the room briskly and efficiently, looking for something to salvage from their apparent desertion.

GM: He finds dried blood painted on a wall in messy handwriting.

Talk to Sami to find us

Emmett: “Now that’s just unfair to the staff,” he quips.

He tries to remember if it seemed like Sami returned here often. If not, no point sticking around.

GM: Em doesn’t see anything that looks specifically like hers.

Admittedly, everything here looks like it’s been abandoned and left to rot and fall apart for years.

Agreed, though. There’s not.

A gaping black void screams open beneath Em’s feet. He hurtles down.


Date ?

GM: He lands in a fancy office room. There’s full bookshelves, framed degrees, expensive-looking furniture: the sort of place that would never be his in life.

Lena is sitting in a chair across from an oakwood desk. Caroline sits on the other side with a somber expression.

Em’s sister looks good. Leagues better than she did handcuffed to a hospital bed. She’s lost weight, but her skin no longer hangs loosely about her face. Her hair’s longer and done back in a bun. She’s dressed in a white doctor’s coat with a stethoscope hanging from her neck.

Or, wait, is it a doctor’s coat? Just a normal blouse and pants. Must have been a trick of the light. It’s still an upgrade from a hospital gown.

She doesn’t look at Em. Caroline doesn’t either.

“…so you said you had news about my kids?” she asks. Her eyes are full of hope, but also wariness. It has probably been a long time since she heard truly good news.

“Temper your expectations, Mrs. Merinelli. It’s bad news,” Caroline replies.

Bert Villars walks in, carrying two bulging duffel bags. He dumps them on the desk. Pulls them open.

They’re the headless corpses of two children. The naked bodies are covered in so many wounds they look like they’ve been fed through a wood chipper and glued back together. They look like raw hamburger. There’s nothing but tears and gashes and gouges and festering open wounds for as far as Em can see. Bone is visible through the reddened meat. Em can’t even tell which body is male and which is female. The crotches look like they’ve been through a blender. Blood leaks everywhere. The smell is unspeakably foul.

“I’m afraid this is all that was left,” says Caroline.

Maggots burst from the bodies, hungrily devouring all that’s left.

Lena gives a choked half-wail, half-gagging noise, and flies from her seat like it’s on fire. Caroline stares coolly after her.

“Too late, I suppose, Emmett,” Abélia’s daughter remarks.

She gets up and walks out the door. Instead of a hallway, they emerge into a gawking crowd gathered near Crescent City Connection. Lena’s standing at the edge of the bridge with her arms raised. Wind and rain whips back her hair.

“Oh don’t do it, Lena, you have so much to live for,” calls Caroline in a bored voice, like she’s reciting lines for a high school play she doesn’t want to be in.

“Yes, you have… very important things, to live for,” adds Christina Roberts.

“You really should thank Caroline, you know,” leers Bert Villars. “You could’ve been in prison. You could owe me money. You don’t need money for anything, because of her!”

“You should be more thankful for the things you have. Your situation is considerably improved from what it might otherwise be,” states Judge Underwood.

“Isn’t she married?” asks Sue.

“We killed ’er man too, Sue ma doll,” smiles Bud.

Cash Money smirks his puffy-lipped smirk and takes a pull from a beer bottle. It’s coated with blood from Em’s temple.

“My brother ruined everything!” yells Lena, her eyes red and wet behind her glasses. “He ruined my whole life, and there’s no undoing it, and everything is fucked!”

The crowd doesn’t do much more than nod, leer, and call for her to get on with it.

Emmett: Em watches mutely for the first chunk of theater. Not much he can do about the corpses, anyways. If he didn’t know the playbook by now, it would probably be rather depressing.

He chooses his moment carefully and taps Lena on the shoulder. Manifests, if he has to.

“Hey, sis,” he says. “I did. I did ruin your life. I’m trying to unfuck it, now, but that’s not enough to save me.”

He steps on to the ledge with her. It’s nice to feel the rain in his hair. He had forgotten how cool it could be. Almost like fingers running over his scalp. Almost like love, but without any of the hard parts.

“But no matter where you stand, no matter where you fall, no matter where your body lays, I didn’t stay for it. I stayed for you. And I won’t let you go alone.” He tilts his head. “Remember?”

At first the song is barely audible over the crowd’s jeers, but it swells with every word. It seems to come from the same rain-streaked winds that buffer the siblings on the precipice of mocking Oblivion.

It’s the song she sang him, back before his balls dropped and so did his soul. He wonders if she sang it to her children, after.



GM: Em sings.

Love of mine, someday you will die

Boy, doesn’t he know it.

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white

That, too.

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs


Apparently they were. He made his own way. Like always.

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule

Sami said McGehee wasn’t Catholic. But he can claim some of the credit for that at Brother Martin’s.

I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black

Knuckles and other places. But he bruised her back. They bruised each other plenty.

Son, fear is the heart of love, so I never went back

Lena always thought that lyric was strange. But it might be a good thing, if it were true. Everyone’s scared.

You and me we’ve seen everything to see
From Bangkok to Calgary and the soles of your shoes


Em didn’t live all that long, but he did see a lot. More than his older sister ever did.

Are all worn down
The time for sleep is now


It’s always time for sleep. Sleep makes all your problems end, for a little while. Sleep is death in bite-sized doses. Sleep is temporary suicide. That’s why he spent so much of death row sleeping. Lena’s probably spent a lot of time sleeping, too.

But it’s nothing to cry about
‘Cause we’ll hold each other soon in the blackest of rooms
But that’s really all you need.


Death row was so much less lonely after Cécilia came.

Em’s crowd doesn’t clap. There’s not much love from this audience.

But they shut up.

Lena’s head turns towards his with misty eyes. Then stops.

So does everyone else. Frozen in place like a paused movie. Cash Money gets caught right when he’s picking his nose.

Caroline walks up to him, drolly clapping.

“Well, that’s a pretty speech, Em. Or pretty song.”

“Lots of personal meaning. The best songs all have that, don’t they?”

“Your sister looks like she’s feeling a little better. But let’s make this interesting.”

The Mississippi churns. A whirlpool forms. A black pit yawns open at the bottom.

Emmett: “I feel pretty interested already,” he ventures.

GM: High-pitched children’s sobs waft up past the churning waters.

“Your sister’s children are in there,” says Caroline. “Metaphorically. Step through, and when this little show ends, you’ll wind up wherever they are.”

“Might be someplace dangerous. Might be they’re already dead. Who knows?”

“Door #2, however… "

Em sees himself swinging from a hangman’s noose. He’s dressed in the same dark jacket, pants, white shirt with popped collar. His arm’s weeping black ichor. The only thing that’s different is the face. It’s a look of pure, undiluted arrogance, that screams a thousand reasons why Em is hot shit, the center of the universe, and everyone else is a tool, douchebag, and a thousand other less flattering names. The face says a lot without saying any words.

But Em can see it in the eyes. The too-familiar self-loathing, blacker and deeper than any pit Lena’s kids might be in. The eyes are pits of their own. He could fall into that well of self-hate and never come back out.

“That’s Gasper,” says Caroline.

“The hate really makes him look worse, doesn’t it?”

Emmett: “Maybe, but you have to admit he’s pretty hung.”

His expression is completely neutral.

GM: “Funny,” says Caroline.

The water starts to churn underneath Gasper. Shark fins slice through the surface, at least half a dozen of them. Gasper’s eyes get all wide. He starts frantically kicking and yelling for Em to pull him up.

Caroline hands him a knife.

“You can cut the rope, let the sharks get him, and be rid of him forever.”

“Or you can try to go after your sister’s kids.”

“Your choice.”

Emmett: “I find that hard to take on faith, since this seems like a harrowing. Aren’t you actually Gasper, just wearing that face?”

GM: “I suppose you could say we’re the help,” Caroline smiles thinly.

Emmett: “Go on.”

GM: “But frankly, he gets on our nerves. He’s good at that.”

“You can kill him. But only you. There are rules.”

Emmett: “Uh huh.” He glances at his hanging Shadow.

He smirks.

“You know, things would be simpler without him. I wouldn’t always have to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I could finally relax in my own head.” He gazes into the void.

GM: “I’m certain it would.”

The knife remains outstretched in Caroline’s hands.

Emmett: He starts to reach for it.

Then his hand ceases.

“On the other hand,” Em says, tapping a finger against his chin, “Gasper is quite pathetic. Pitiful, really. Doesn’t really have any good ideas of his own, and he got all the learning disabilities. I’ve kind of gotten attached to him. He’s grown on me. Like a tumor, or a hemorrhoid.”

Em points to the portal. “It’ll be door number one for me.”

GM: “I guess that’s your choice,” says Caroline.

She delivers a lightning-fast kick to Em’s flank. He plummets into the churning whirlpool with a splash.

Love of mine, someday you will die

The children’s cries are mangled, pitiful things up close, even over the roaring waters.

But I’ll be close behind and I’ll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white


Actually, that doesn’t seem true. The bottom of the whirlpool isn’t black at all.

It’s white. It’s bright. It’s glowing. He isn’t sinking, but floating. Rising.

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark


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Story Twelve, Celia XVI

“People do not fucking change!”
Emily Rosure


Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016

GM: Celia comes to. Pain in her flank. Her Beast roars to life. It howls and roars and thrashes. All she sees is red. All she feels is hurt.

Finally the scarlet haze clears.

“You calm?” comes Roderick’s voice.

She’s lying on her side in a cramped dark space, her hands bound behind her. Steel digs into her wrists.

There’s a thick wad of cloth in her mouth, too.

Celia: Her body thrashes against the cuffs until she realizes where she is, until she hears his voice. The panic and rage subside. She peers up at him, blinks a few times, and finally nods her head. Her fangs tuck themselves away, leaving just the gag.

She can’t speak around the cloth, but she nods again.

GM: Roderick pulls out the gag and then unfastens the cuffs. Her belly hurts, like she’s been stabbed or shot, but there’s no blood in the air.

“Sorry. You weren’t waking up any other way.”

There’s movement from under them. The ceiling is so low he’s lying next to her. Looking around, she sees a small glow-in-the-dark button.

Celia: “S’okay. I’d’ve done the same.” She glances around, for all the good that does her. “Where are we? Who is driving?” They’re in a car. Have to be. Movement, the button. Day out. Someone kidnapped them?

GM: “My renfields,” Roderick answers. “I’m having them take us somewhere else. My haven’s obviously been compromised. I don’t know if more hunters are going to show up, but we’re not going to risk it.”

Celia: She nods again. Relief shudders through her. She’d assumed the worst—that more of them had already shown up, forced their way inside while she was snacking.

“Smart. The bodies?”

GM: His face doesn’t wince, but it looks heavy. He doesn’t say anything for a moment.

“I didn’t want to risk dragging three bodies into the parking garage in the middle of the day. Couldn’t fit them all in the trunk anyway.”

“I left them in the safe room. Only people who’ll know that’s there besides us are more hunters.”

“I’ll find a way to take care of them tonight.”

Celia: She should have found a better way to ask. The trunk is cramped, but she manages to finagle her arms around to the front of her so she can touch his face, his hands, offering what comfort she can.

“I’m sorry, Roderick. I know you… I know it’s hard. It was them or us, there was no other way.”

GM: He closes his eyes for a moment at her touch.

“You said if there was any lick who could go through the Requiem without killing, it was me.”

“So much for that.”

Celia: “You didn’t have a choice. They would have killed you. Would have killed me. Even breathers would excuse it.”

GM: “I could’ve taken them alive. It didn’t have to go this way. I let my monster get out, and I… I killed them!”

He punches the floor.

“They were people. They had names, lives, families…”

Celia: “They were hunters. They would have kidnapped us, taken us to some secret site, pulled us apart, ripped out our fangs, stabbed us with things, burned us, raped us. D’you… d’you know they made me watch, they had me, and they made me watch them cut off Alana’s ear. They’re not good people, Roderick, they’re not. It’s hard. It’s so hard, to take a life, I know that. It makes us the monsters people think we are. But if they’re going to kill us… if it comes down to protecting you, to protecting myself, I’m going to pick us. Every time.”

“We didn’t ask to be turned into this. I didn’t. It was this or death. They sign up for this. They know what they’re getting into. The risk they’re taking. They came after you and they don’t see you as any better than any other lick. They don’t care that you’re a good person, that you fight to put criminals away. They just see a monster. It’s like hating someone for being black.”

GM: “I asked for it,” he answers quietly. “And black people don’t have a demon inside them that makes them commit murder.”

Celia: “Coco offered you a choice. You chose to stick around instead of being put down, like she’d have had to do if you said no. That’s not asking for it.”

GM: “We don’t know they were rapists and sadists.”

Celia: “I have a name and a life and a family too, Roderick. Do you think it would serve Lucy, Emily, or my mom to not have any idea why I disappeared?”

“They won’t let you go once they get you. Being taken is a death sentence.”

“And then if you’d been taken I’d have had to go to Coco and tell her that I lost you. That I hid while her childe got taken by hunters. She’d rage and take my head off and then Dani would be left with nobody to look out for her, and she needs somebody to look out for her.”

GM: “No. I don’t think… self-defense is always justified,” he asserts, asking his head. “But we don’t know they were going to be as horrible as the ones who got you. We don’t know they wanted to do anything but kill another Xola or Donovan. They could’ve been acting on bad intelligence and thought I was a monster just as bad. They don’t know everything about us. They could’ve been trying to do a good thing. We don’t know. We can’t know. Because I killed them.

He clenches his eyes shut again. Celia can smell the faintest trace of blood.

Celia: “We saw their faces. Even if they weren’t bad people, even if they didn’t torture us, we couldn’t live after that. We’d tell someone.”

“How do you think they found you?”

GM: “I… I don’t know yet. I’ll find out, tonight.”

Celia: “What are you going to do?”

“Did you bring their phones? I can try to get into them, see if that tells us anything. And mine.”

GM: “I did. Yeah. We haven’t tried to get in yet. Just, hide the bodies and get out of there.”

Celia: “I’m sorry I konked out. I was trying to get back to you and I just… couldn’t keep my eyes open.”

“I should have been awake to help.”

GM: “It’s fine. We didn’t need an extra set of arms.”

He looks like he could take a breath.

“I guess you’re right. It was them or… them or us. But I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”

“And I didn’t… I didn’t even choose to kill them. I let my monster get out. It didn’t care what they did. It just kills, anything.”

“I can’t control it. I’m a danger.”

Celia: Celia scoots closer, sliding her arms around him. She rubs a hand up and down his back, nestling against his chest.

“I know. I know, it hurts. But you will get through this. I promise you. You will get through this, because I will be there for you every step of the way. We’re in this together. I’ve got you.”

“You saved me, Roderick. That has to count for something.”

GM: He’s slower to return her affections, at first, but wraps his arms around her and cradles her head against his chest.

“It… it does. God knows it does.”

“All I could think at that moment when I was playing dead was, are they going to rape you too, before they kill you. If I don’t stop them. And I just completely lost it, wondering that.”

Celia: “And you didn’t let them. They would have… tied me down, like the other ones did, and just… just…” She shudders, shaking her head. Her lips press against his throat, whisper-soft. “I don’t know what I would have done without you there to protect me.”

GM: “I’m just sorry I didn’t protect you better. You came to me to be safe. Not to get jumped by more hunters.”

Celia: “I am safe. I’m safe with you. I’ve always been safe with you.”

GM: He doesn’t say anything for a moment, just holds her against his chest.

Celia: “You can’t blame yourself for that.”

GM: “They didn’t find this place by accident. I’m coming back tonight, with my renfields and my krewe, to pack up everything and… take care of the bodies. New haven after this.”

“I’d been meaning to get a new one for a while, anyways. This just moves up the timetable.”

Celia: “I still don’t understand how they would have found you. Nothing is in your name, right?”

GM: He shakes his head. “It’s a pseudonym behind a pseudonym.”

“I thought about having everything in Roderick Durant’s name, at first, but Coco said it was better to keep the Kindred and kine stuff separate. She was probably right.”

Celia: “…what if… what if they followed me, Roderick? What if they found my mom, and found me, and were waiting for me, and I… oh god, what if I lead them right to you?” Her fingers clench into fists. Is this her fault, too?

GM: “No,” he says, “they couldn’t ha…” He trails off.

“Wait. Didn’t you say your family was calling you?”

Celia: Her hysteria is stymied by his question.

“Yes. Repeatedly.”

GM: He presses her phone into her hands.

Celia: Celia unlocks it to check her texts and voicemail.

GM: “I’m sorry. With everything else, I forgot.”

Celia: “Could be nothing,” she says with a shake of her head, scrolling through.

Alana was supposed to find out.

She’d told her to.

She hadn’t even checked the line of texts from her mother or Emily, but she opens them now.

And looks, too, for the message from her new “friend.”

GM: There’s a panoply of texts and voicemails. The first one is from Diana, dated shortly after Celia dropped her mom off at home:

“Sweetie, help,” croaks Diana’s voice. “I’m really sick. Please come over.”

It ends there.

Celia: Shit. But it’s just a cold, right? A cold from being out and about at night. Leg pain from being in the rain. Rain hurts old wounds, everyone knows that, all those old people complaining about their knees when the clouds start to appear. That’s all it is. All it has to be. Please let it be just that.

GM: There’s another voicemail after that one:

“Sweetie, please pick up.” Her throat sounds really dry. “I’m sick. My leg really hurts. I can’t… Emi’s with Robby…”

There’s a third message after that one. Celia’s mom sounds like she’s crying:

“Sweetie, please. I can’t… get out of bed… there’s vomit… I had this… nightmare… I really need you…”

Celia: Her stomach clenches as the voicemails get worse, as her mother’s voice begins to tear up.

She should have stayed. Checked on her mom. Made sure she was okay instead of running away.

GM: There’s a text message, too. The recipients include Celia, Emily, David, Logan, and a number Celia doesn’t recognize:

Someone please COME OVER!!! Im rly sick Lucy needs breakfast a ride hasnt take the bus before Im missing work the school needs to get a sub someone please get this BEFORE SHE WAKES UP!!!!!!! DOnt wanT HER TO SEE!!!!!!!!

Celia: Celia ceases her search. She calls her mother instead, holding up a finger to Roderick to tell him to be quiet.

GM: It rings until it goes to voicemail.

“Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”

Beep.

Celia: It’s a recurring nightmare. The same thing that happened years and years ago. No one picks up their phone.

“Hey, Momma. It’s Celia. I just got your messages. Please call me.”

She hangs up.

Dials Emily.

GM: She picks up after the first ring.

WHAT THE FUCK!?” she yells in Celia’s ear.

Celia: “What’s going on, Emi?”

GM: “What’s goi—did you read those fucking texts!?”

Celia: “They all just came through at once. I saw Mom is sick, so I stopped reading to call her and got her voicemail. Then I called you. Are you going to tell me, or should I hang up to read them?”

GM: “Maybe you sh-”

She pauses. Takes a breath.

“Okay. Here’s what happened.”

“Logan got Mom’s text. He wakes up before me. ROTC.”

Celia: Celia tucks the phone against her shoulder, sliding her wrists into Roderick’s hands so he can get a grip on her in case she loses it.

She has a feeling. A really bad feeling.

“He took her to Maxen,” she breathes.

“Did he take her to Maxen?!”

GM: “It’s a school day. Lucy’s at McGehee. I know that, because I ditched med school to fucking check her classroom myself.”

“Logan came over. Made Lucy breakfast. Got her to school. Got Mom some ibuprofen. Carried her over to my vomit-less bed and did the laundry.”

“Except, oops. Guess who he brought.”

“Guess who he brought.”

Celia: “Who, Emily?” Her voice is tight, already imagining the worst case scenario.

GM: MAXEN!!!!!” screams Emily’s voice.

“Who the FUCK else!? Mom woke up in his ARMS! HE gave her ibuprofen! HE rinsed her mouth! HE carried her to my bed! HE did the laundry! HE made Lucy breakfast! HE drove Lucy to fucking school!”

AND MOM WON’T STOP RAVING HOW GREAT HE IS THAT FUCKING BATTERED-!”

Celia: Why. The. Fuck.

Why the fuck.

Why the absolute fuck would Logan bring Maxen over to her mother’s house.

He doesn’t know. That’s the only logical explanation, that he doesn’t know what a piece of shit Maxen is, that he doesn’t believe Celia when she says that he’s bad news, that they think she’s lying about what she lived through.

“Where is she.”

It’s not a question. It’s a demand for answers.

GM: “She’s home. Sleeping. Maxen’s gone.”

“I cut him.”

Celia: “You cut him?”

GM: “I saw her in his arms, I took a carving knife, and I stabbed him.”

Celia: Way to go, Emily.

Celia glances at the time on her phone.

GM: “I didn’t know. Logan didn’t say he was there. I came home, to check on Mom, I saw him there, with Mom, and I stabbed him.”

It’s early afternoon.

Celia: “Get out of the city. Pick up Lucy from school. Take Mom. And go. Just drive. Get out, because you sure as fuck know he isn’t going to take that lying down.”

She can already picture it. Emily thrown in jail for attacking Maxen—that would be the least of her worries. The sheriff coming after Emily for harming his toy.

“Mom still has a restraining order against him, but I guaran-fucking-tee it’s going to do jack shit.”

“…is he dead?”

GM: “He’s fine. Better than fine.”

“He said I should tell Mom what I did. He said he’s not going to press charges.”

Celia: “Why?”

GM: “Because she loves me.”

Celia: She doesn’t buy it for a minute.

GM: “His exact fucking words.”

Celia: “You don’t believe that.”

“You can’t believe that.”

GM: “Of course I don’t! I drove you to the hospital with a bloody ass and broken arm, remember!? People do not fucking change! They don’t! Not complete 180s like that!”

Celia: “Why is he doing this? What is he hoping to get? I can’t… I can’t even think of what purpose this serves. Getting Mom back? Getting Lucy?”

GM: “I don’t know! Maybe? Who the hell knows how a mind that sick actually works?”

Celia: “I’ll handle it.”

“Emi, get out. I’m serious. Get out of the city. Now. Take Robby if you need to. Just… go on vacation for a few days or something, let me take care of this, find out what he’s after.”

GM: “What about Mom? Lucy?”

Celia: “Take them.”

“Tomorrow is Friday anyway. Take a long weekend.”

GM: “I don’t know if Mom is gonna want to. She was… Celia, it was sick. You should have listened to her.”

Celia: “Tell me what she said.”

GM: “That she missed him. That she missed having a man in her life. That she missed having someone who was always there for her, to take care of her.”

Celia: “He beat her. Why does she not remember this? She just told me yesterday she had nightmares about him! He tried to take her fucking leg off!”

GM: “I don’t even know what goes through her head sometimes, Celia. I don’t even know.”

“There’s more, but it makes my tongue feel dirty.”

Celia: “Tell me.”

GM: “That it was so long ago. That she did a lot to upset him. That she held him back from his dreams. That it would be wrong, now, to repay his kindness with cruelty. That Jesus says to forgive. That gentleness and forgiveness is real strength.”

Celia: “Wow.”

“Of course she blames herself.”

GM: “I guess that’s what happens when you don’t get laid for a decade.”

Celia: She tries to hold it back, but she can’t help the snort of laughter.

GM: “The only thing that seemed to snap her back to reality for a second was Lucy.”

Celia: “He can’t get his hands on her, Em. She’s the only kid in the family that isn’t fucked up. Take her and go, if Mom won’t leave.”

GM: “They ate breakfast together. He drove her to school. He also gave her… I don’t even remember what it was. Some bullshit present. She says Grandpa is really nice.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, she’s never seeing him again.”

GM: “Do you think that’s… that could be kidnapping. Technically.”

Celia: “She and Mom can go with you when you do your residency.”

GM: “If Mom doesn’t want me to take her.”

“God, I wish Stephen was here.”

Celia: “She’s my daughter,” Celia says flatly. Celia’s name is on her birth certificate.

“You think it’s kidnapping to take my daughter with my permission?” She lifts her brows at Roderick.

“That my mom could fight you on that?”

GM: Roderick, silently listening to the whole exchange with a grave expression, asks, “Who has legal custody of her?”

“Because who’s on the birth certificate doesn’t matter next to that.”

Celia: Celia presses the mute button on her phone so Emily can’t hear her.

“Diana is her legal guardian. I’m still her mom. We thought it would cause fewer problems if… well, if I were suddenly not around, anyway, not that I told her that.”

GM: “Okay. Family law isn’t my specialty, but if you want to do this legally, you need to petition the court to revoke your mom’s guardianship,” Roderick answers. “You can do that at any time.”

“I don’t need to say this sort of thing can tear families apart over the bitter feelings.”

Celia: “Emily stabbed Maxen,” Celia says flatly. “Do you think that’s going to go over well tonight when the sheriff wakes up and finds out his pawn has been attacked by someone connected to me?”

GM: “I know. I’m just bringing up all the facts.”

Celia: “I need to call him.”

GM: “Your dad?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “You still there?” comes Emily’s voice.

Celia: Celia unmutes her phone.

“Yeah, just thinking. I can revoke guardianship but it’ll probably cause some bitter feelings and Mom might push back. I can call Grandma, see if she can push it through, but…”

GM: “I don’t know what Mom might do if she thinks we’re stealing Lucy from her.”

“Like I said. She seemed to… come down to reality, a bit, when I brought up Lucy.”

Celia: “You need to go, Em. Even if they don’t.”

GM: “I don’t want to leave you guys.”

Celia: “Then tell her what will happen if he gets his hands on Lucy. And how he’ll ruin her life.”

GM: “You think I didn’t?”

Celia: “I’m sure you did.”

GM: “She said she wasn’t sure how she felt about Max and Lucy.”

“I pressed her. She said she’d rather ‘be cautious.’”

Celia: “Then she can’t see Maxen because she might let something slip.”

“Listen. I’ll call him, I’ll find out what he wants. But you seriously need to get out. He’ll come after you. Have you arrested.”

GM: “Yeah. That’s also…”

“Oh. Shit.”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “If you revoke her guardianship. She could reveal she’s Lucy’s real mom.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“I didn’t want to say that over the phone, but yeah.”

GM: “Ah. Sorry. Doubt the NSA is recording this, though.”

Celia: It’s not the NSA she’s worried about.

She forces a laugh.

“Right.”

GM: “I don’t know if she’d do that or not, anyway. I really don’t know what’s going through her head right now.”

Celia: “Do you have somewhere you can lay low until we figure this out?”

GM: “Besides with Robby? I… think so, actually.”

Celia: “Where?”

GM: “I’ve mentioned Dr. Crawford to you, haven’t I? My clinical supervisor.”

Celia: The name rings a bell. She’s almost positive that’s the woman who called her about Diana after the ‘accident.’

“Yeah.”

GM: “I trust her.”

Celia: Celia lifts her brows at Roderick. Maybe he knows if ‘Crawford’ is a name they can trust.

GM: ’Don’t know her,’ he mouths.

Celia: ‘C-B-D,’ she mouths back.

GM: “Sorry?” he whispers.

Celia: “Uh, like at her house?”

GM: “I think she’d say yes,” says Emily. “If I said it was serious. We’ve… shared a lot.”

Celia: “Do you know what part of town she lives in?”

GM: “What does that matter?”

Celia: “I’m just trying to figure out the logistics.”

GM: “I’m not sure where, sorry. Robby’s in the CBD.”

Celia: “Where are you now?”

GM: “I’m at home. I didn’t want to leave Mom alone. In case he comes back.”

Celia: “Maybe a hotel…”

GM: “I don’t know if Mom’ll go along.”

Celia: “We don’t know what he wants and Lucy is in danger. So are you.”

GM: “Yeah, well, so’s Mom. I am not letting him get his hands on her again.”

“His literal hands. He was touching her.”

Celia: “You stabbed him. I’m honestly surprised you’re not sitting in jail right now.”

“Let me… let me call him, Em, and I’ll call you back.”

GM: “Shit. You’ll…”

A pause.

“Well, what the fuck can it hurt, I guess.”

“Okay. Call me back.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to you in a bit. But pack a bag. Go sit at a coffee house or something.”

GM: “I will. Good luck.”

She hangs up.

Roderick lets out a low whistle.

Celia: Celia rubs a hand against her temple.

“Why would he not press charges? He hates Emily.”

GM: “So, you’re not technically pressing charges,” Roderick answers. “You, or he, would report what happened to the police, they might make an arrest, and the DA’s office decides whether or not to press charges from there. Obviously, there are a lot of factors at any of those stages that can influence how the process plays out.”

“I do have some pull at the DA’s office, though, if it comes to that and you need it. Your grandma could help too, as she’s a well-positioned criminal judge. But it really depends what your dad does and how big a fuss he makes. There are reasons he might not choose to involve the police—bad political optics, for one. Tough guy senator stabbed by ex-wife’s adoptive daughter. Obviously that’s the best case scenario for Emily too. She doesn’t want to get arrested while she’s in med school. If he calls the cops while he’s still bleeding, though, pretty hard not to see an arrest happening.”

Celia: “Rod. I don’t care if your renfields have to stab me repeatedly. Stake me, cuff me, whatever, I need to be awake today to handle this.”

“Honestly please cuff me, I don’t want to lose control. When we get out. Okay?”

GM: “Absolutely. I’ll stake you, cuff you, whatever you need.”

Celia: “I just don’t know what he wants. Why now. Why not call the police immediately.”

“It doesn’t make sense.”

GM: “Bad optics could be one. Undermines his tough guy political image for a girl to stab him.”

“But I don’t know either. Like Emily said, I don’t know how a mind as sick as his works.”

Celia: “I’m… I’m gonna call the house phone, see if he’s there. I always wondered… I wondered, you know, if the sheriff… if he did something to my dad once he took him, if he fucked with his head, because the change… it was so sudden, Roderick, so sudden. What if my dad is still in there?”

GM: He frowns. “What do you mean, still there?”

Celia: “He looked at me once… I had just graduated, we were having dinner, he looked at me like he had no idea who I was.”

“I don’t know, I don’t fuck with heads like that, what if it’s some weird Pavlovian conditioning or something.”

“Like a sleeper agent. Gave him a new personality.”

GM: “That’s a pretty scary thought. I’m not an expert though on that kind of mindfucking.”

Celia: “Where’s a stiff when you need one.”

GM: “I don’t know if you’d want to involve her, but… Coco’s always given me good advice, when I’ve needed it.”

Celia: “I don’t think she should know we’re talking.”

GM: “I know. Especially right now, with…”

He doesn’t quite sigh.

“Yeah. Some things in the air. Just laying out all cards on the table.”

Celia: …what if Coco sent the hunters after Roderick? Throw childer to the pyres and all that.

Her jaw tightens. She wouldn’t do that. Right? Her own childe?

“Right,” she says after a minute. “I’ll see if I can get an answer from him, and… maybe talk to someone who knows more about it tonight if not.”

GM: “Okay,” he says.

“Pinch me a few times. I don’t want to nod off.”

Celia: She takes a breath she doesn’t need. Maybe one year she’ll remember that they don’t do anything for her, that they don’t calm her nerves, that they don’t center her at all.

“Tell your people first. About waking us. Can you text them?”

“…I’m just, uh, picturing one of us losing it in the trunk.”

GM: “That’s what the cuffs are for. But sure.”

He pulls out his phone and taps away.

Celia: “Now is the worst time to say this, but…”

“It’s a little hot waking up to cuffs, y’know.”

“Just, uh, just saying.”

GM: There’s a half-rueful smile.

“I’ll surprise you sometime, then.”

Celia: She’d giggle, but she’s busy thinking about her dad. Calling her dad. Talking to her dad for the first time in… since that night.

The night she died, when she made him rape his daughter.

She punches the number into her phone.

GM: The phone rings.

Each one feels like an eternity.

Then, a too-familiar voice.

The one that read her bedtime stories.

The one that called her stupid.

The one that said he loved her.

The one whose last words to her she doesn’t remember. Words he said to the daughter she made him rape. Before she never saw him again.

“Maxen Flores speaking.”

Celia: Seven years since she’s heard his voice.

Seven years since she’d lived under the same roof as him, when he belittled her, abused her, told her how worthless and stupid she is. She’d internalized it. Hears him, sometimes, when she does something particularly dumb. It’s a word she avoids saying whenever she can; she calls things ‘silly’ or ‘inane’ instead of stupid now.

She’d spent so long hating him. Had worked to bring him down. And then thrown it all away when her sire came calling.

She’d almost thought it would go to voicemail. Had maybe hoped it would go to voicemail.

His voice brings it all back.

“Hi, Daddy. It’s Celia.”

GM: “Hello, Celia. It’s very nice to hear from you again.”

She hears the man’s smile.

You can always hear a smile over the phone.

Celia: She shouldn’t feel anything.

She tells herself she doesn’t feel anything.

She’s always been good at lying.

“How are you?”

GM: “I’m doing very well, thank you. There’s a lot of work at Baton Rouge to keep me busy since Nathan went to D.C. It’s hard work. I enjoy the challenge.”

“And how about my little girl? I hear you’re running a business.”

Celia: “I am. A few years now. A spa. It’s going well. Same thing, really, keeps me busy managing the day-to-day.”

“I saw Logan the other day. He said… he said you…”

He said you were proud of me, Dad.

Celia clears her throat. “He said you might want to talk.”

GM: “Of course. A dad always wants to talk with his children. Logan mentioned your business was a spa. He showed me its website. It looked very professional. He said a bunch of girls in his classes all know your name and won’t stop talking about you.” Another smile. “You sound like you’ve been very successful.”

“I’m very proud. Celia Flores, award-winning business owner at 27.”

Celia: Celia turns her face away from Roderick, though he can probably still smell the effect the words have on her.

“Thanks, Dad. I’ve worked pretty hard on it to get it to where it is now. Looking into a second location and everything.”

“I heard you took Lucy to school today.”

GM: “You are? That’s wonderful, sweetie. I’m glad you’re not resting on your laurels, either.”

“And yes, I did. Your mother wasn’t feeling well. I hope that was all right.”

Celia: “I wanted to say thanks. I couldn’t be there for her this morning. I’m… glad her grandpa could step in.”

GM: “You’re welcome, Celia. I was happy to meet her. She’s a very sweet child. She says her grandmother is already teaching her ballet.”

“And that her mother is why she’s pretty.”

Celia: Celia can’t help but smile.

“She’s gotten pretty good at it. Very graceful. She’s decided she’s going to be a ballerina in space, actually. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’d just be kind of free-floating up there.”

GM: Maxen chuckles. “A space ballerina. Well, she’s six. She has time to dream.”

“And who knows? Maybe she will be an astronaut who also happens to know ballet. She can be anything she wants to be.”

Celia: He’d told her something similar once. That she could have anything she wanted. Anything she dreamed about, all he’d had to do was sell his soul to get it.

“Emily mentioned that she ran into you today at the house.”

With a knife.

GM: “She did, yes. I’m sure she told you the details.”

“I’m sure she’s very worried. She doesn’t need to be.”

Celia: “We’re both a little concerned, Dad.”

GM: “I’m glad to hear that you are, Celia. The cut wasn’t serious. I still do martial arts and your old man can take a hit. I disinfected the area, slapped on a bandage, and went in to work.”

“I told Emily that I didn’t see any need to involve the police. She’s obviously very dear to you and your mother.”

Celia: “That’s very magnanimous of you, Dad. She’s been there for me a lot. Mom and I. And Lucy, too. We’d all be upset if something were to happen to her because she reacted poorly when startled. Shall I tell her she’s forgiven, then? No hard feelings?”

GM: “Please do. I’d also appreciate if you could tell her that I apologize for startling her, and for any disruption today’s events might’ve caused to her studies. Med school is enough stress on its own and I’m sure she doesn’t need any more.”

“Lucy said that she’s going to be a doctor soon.”

Celia: “She is, yes. She graduates soon and will be starting her residency. She probably could have looked at the cut for you if she had been thinking clearly. I’ll let her know, though. Glad we could talk about it without involving others.”

GM: “Me too. I’m at work now and have to get going, but I’ve enjoyed talking with you, Celia. Give me a call if you’d like to again.”

Celia: “Would you like to get dinner sometime?”

GM: “I’d love to,” he smiles. “How about we take your mother along, for a family meal? We could go somewhere special.”

Celia: “I was hoping it could just be the two of us.” There’s a brief pause. “I miss you, Daddy.”

GM: “I’ve missed you too, sweetie. Just us, then. Where would you like to go? August, Galatoires, The Grill Room?”

“Oh, never mind, actually. The Grill Room closed with the rest of the Windsor Court.”

Celia: “Galatoires, maybe. Or there’s a seafood place near there… something Fins, I’ve been meaning to try. I hear their swordfish is the best in the state.”

GM: “GW Fins. All right, it’s a date. Can you do this Saturday at 7?”

Celia: “I have a standing client at 6, but if you can push it to 7:30 I’ll be right on time.”

GM: “7:30 it is. I have to go now, Celia. I love you.”

Celia: “I love you too, Daddy.”

GM: Click.


Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016

Celia: Celia glances over her shoulder at Roderick.

GM: He looks like a motionless corpse, in the clutches of daysleep.

Celia: She dials Emily.

GM: “How’d it go?”

Celia: “He’s being weird. Something’s up. Get out of the city until I can figure it out.”

“He wants something, I just don’t know what it is yet.”

GM: “I’m not leaving Mom.”

Celia: “Then take her with you.”

GM: “I also have med school. If he goes to the cops, you can’t run from the law.”

Celia: “I’m not worried about him going to the cops, I’m worried about him sending some Blackwatch thug after you.”

GM: “Well that’s stupid, that’s illegal. If I were going to go after me, I’d go to the cops.”

“What do you mean, though, that he’s being weird? What’d he say?”

Celia: “He told me he loves me.”

GM: “Uh-huh.”

Celia: “Em, please trust me. Something is going on and I don’t want to have to say ‘I told you so’ if he breaks your legs.”

“And I will. I’ll look right at you and tell you that I told you so. And then you’ll get mad at me. It’ll be a whole thing.”

GM: “Fine. I won’t get mad at you for being right and telling me so.”

Celia: “Take tomorrow off from school, tell your professors there’s a family emergency, and just… go to Houston or Atlanta or something.”

“You’ll be back on Monday.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll stay with Robby. He does HEMA, he’s a tough guy despite the glasses. If your dad sends a Blackwatch thug, great! That could get him in a lot of trouble!”

Celia: “Why don’t you just ask him to move up game night, and Randy and I can come over tonight to hang out. Just in case.”

“We’ll play your… World of Shadow thing.”

GM: “It’s a lot of fun. But okay. I’ll ask him if he can run a one-shot.”

“We have a regular group he GMs an ongoing campaign for.”

Celia: “I’m looking forward to it. I’ll bring snacks. And… I have a friend who might be into it, too, if you think he can run for four?”

GM: “Oh, sure. Four is the normal size group. Who’s the friend?”

Celia: “Just a guy,” Celia says vaguely.

“I think you’ll like him, though. If he’s free. I dunno. He might not be into it. I’ll let you know for sure so Robby doesn’t prep something for too many people.”

GM: “Thanks. Advance notice is helpful.”

Celia: There’s a brief pause. Then, “I kind of like him, Em. With everything going on with Randy lately it’s been… I dunno.”

GM: “Mom told me about the talk you two had.”

“What’d Randy say, by the way, when you talked with him?”

Celia: “I just don’t think he’s ever going to like me the way I like him.”

“And that hurts, you know, to spend all this time pining after him. And I’m just tired of it.”

“I’m young, I’m cute, I’m successful. Why doesn’t he like me?”

GM: “Yeah. You sure you want to bring him still? Are you guys done?”

“And he should! You’ve been together for years, Mom is right. He needs to shit or get off the pot.”

Celia: “He didn’t say much. I think he’s still thinking things over. We got into it that night after dinner. It’s been kind of strained.”

“Maybe I won’t bring him. That’d probably be awkward.”

GM: “It kinda is without knowing if you’re gonna stay with him, yeah. And it sounding more like a no.”

“Oh, uh. Something else. Mom threw out her pain meds.”

Celia: “She… what? Why?”

GM: “She said they were making her say crazy things.”

Celia: Shit.

“She needs those.”

GM: “That’s what I told her.”

Celia: “I’m looking into a specialist for her leg. Maybe she won’t in the future, but there’s been some research lately… I’ve been working with someone in Texas who’s been doing some innovative stuff and I thought maybe I could bring Mom out sometime, but until then… she needs her meds.”

GM: “I asked some more, and she said she told you some really crazy things yesterday.”

Celia: “She said that she’s been having nightmares. About Lucy.”

GM: “She did. Yeah. This was a full-blown night terror, whatever it was.”

“I don’t know there’s a lot to do for her leg, though. Believe me, I’ve thought about it. Researched about it.”

Celia: “Maybe some trazodone to help her sleep at night. I know it’s got weird dreams as a side effect, but it’s an anti-depressant and I’ve wondered for a while if she is.”

GM: “Depressed? I don’t… think so. She’s generally pretty happy.”

Celia: “Her whole life is wrapped up in her kids, Em. That’s… depressing.”

“I still think she needs to get laid.”

GM: A beat.

“It is, yeah. And she… agreed. About the kids.”

“Enter Maxen.”

Celia: “I’m handling it. Just gotta keep her away from him until then.”

“I think, honestly, getting out of the city would be the best thing for her. I don’t know what residency programs you’re looking into, but something out of state… take them with you, you know?”

GM: “Uh… that’s kinda problematic.”

“I’m trying to finagle things to stay in the city. Robby’s here, Mom and Lucy are here, you’re here.”

Celia: “Ah.”

“Obviously I want you here. I’m just worried about all of this.”

GM: “I know. I don’t think moving is an option, though. Mom and Lucy have their whole lives set up here. Mom’s got seniority at a job she really likes and McGehee’s a really good school. It’ll open a lot of doors for Lucy. Tuition’s normally 20k a year, but since Mom’s a teacher there, we pay basically nothing.”

“She always says that’s one of the job’s big perks. Makes her 40k salary effectively 60k, for as long as Lucy’s enrolled.”

Celia: “I know, I know. I guess I’m just… I saw how bad it got before, you know, and I’m ready to just cut and run when you or Lucy or Mom are in danger.”

GM: “I don’t want to cut and run. I’d rather stand and fight.”

Celia: “And I can’t help but think that’s what this is with Maxen.”

GM: “I know. I wish I hadn’t stabbed him.”

“I just saw him there, his arms around her, without any warning, and just freaked out.”

Celia: “He said something about being able to take a hit and slapping a bandage on it. He sounded okay. For whatever that’s worth.”

“But yeah. I’d have done the same.”

GM: “That makes me feel a little better.”

“I don’t know if him being okay does or not.”

“Fuck Logan, by the way. Stupid cockbag meathead.”

Celia: “I honestly have no idea why he thought that was a good idea.”

“He was pushing for Maxen and I to reconnect but I don’t know why he would do that.”

GM: “He still thinks it was a good idea. He says he’s tired of our family not speaking to each other.”

“Sorry, your family.”

Celia: “Ugh. I’ll talk to him, too. Knock some sense into him.”

“And you’re part of the fam, Em. Our crazy is your crazy. You’re welcome.”

GM: “I don’t know that he thinks so.”

“But hey, he’s not why I joined.”

Celia: “It’s because you think I’m cute, isn’t it.”

“Oh, yo, speaking of lesbian jokes. So Mom freaked out yesterday when she thought she saw the one girl at Lucy’s class kissing another girl. I’ll tell you more about it tonight, though.”

GM: “Wait… first graders? It couldn’t have even been actually gay. At that age.”

Celia: “No, no, the older one.”

GM: “Oh, her dance class? Aren’t they still pretty young?”

Celia: “No, the sisters were all there. The lawyer one. Caroline.”

GM: “Oh, that dance class. That other one. Yeah, Mom told me about it. But not about any girls kissing.” A frown. “Caroline’s a lesbian?”

Celia: “Apparently.”

GM: “Well, I guess if a Republican vice president’s daughter is too, why not a Malveaux.”

Celia: “Soon it’ll be the it thing to do.”

GM: “We’d better get ahead of the curve. You can dump Randy and be my lesbian lover.”

Celia: “I asked you this days ago, darling.”

GM: “Hey, I don’t do cheaters. That was before you decided Randy was out.”

Celia: “My bad, babe. I’ll get you a ring and everything now that we’re official.”

GM: “We’ll have to keep it secret to stop Mom from freaking. Forbidden love.”

Celia: “Very sexy. I’ll write you long poems about how beautiful you are.”

GM: “That’s an objective fact with where you work. That $50 shampoo you started me on is like a crack habit. I can’t stop using it.”

Celia: “One of the ingredients is actually a derivative of heroin that absorbs through the skin. If you stop using it you’ll get the shakes.”

GM: “Robby doesn’t even notice it. I’m like, ’don’t you like my hair?’ and he’s just, ‘yeah, your hair’s great.’”

“But whatever, I make it pretty for me first.”

Celia: “Boys never notice the things we do to make ourselves look good. But the minute we stop they say something’s different. Skip a full face of makeup one day and it’s, ‘you look tired.’”

“Did I tell you. Hold on. Did I tell you.”

GM: “Did you tell me what?”

Celia: “This one time I bought this new red lipstick, real vibrant, and this idiot boy, he was like, ‘boys don’t like red lipstick.’ And I was like what? Like, excuse me, do you think I dress myself and do my face for your viewing pleasure?”

“Furthermore, you are one boy, please fuck off with your opinion that you think speaks for everyone with a penis.”

GM: “I know. I had to correct Robby about that once, too. ‘Excuse me, I’m the one who spends 24/7 with my face, I make it look good for me.’”

Celia: “Want me to beat him up for you?”

GM: “Ha ha. You can spare him this time. He’s sweet, just was a giant nerd growing up and didn’t learn this stuff until later.”

Celia: “I think a lot of men don’t realize that women dress for themselves… and other women. Not them.”

“But what do I know, I’ve only had a vagina for 27 years.”

GM: “Wellll, there are some people with vaginas who are pretty clueless about vaginas.”

“Cough.”

Celia: “Hahahaha.”

GM: “‘Good girls don’t have orgasms.’”

Celia: “There’s no biological reason for it, apparently.” She rolls her eyes.

GM: “I had to explain that to David once, how female orgasms actually have an evolutionary purpose. And aren’t just extraneous like tonsils.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, guess where he heard that.”

GM: “I don’t think Maxen would even say the word ‘orgasm.’”

Celia: “Tell you what, though, that first time… when it happened with Stephen, you know,” Celia drops her voice, as if Roderick can hear her, “I was like… whoa. Literal stars. No one prepared me for that.”

GM: “Had you ever masturbated before then?”

Celia: “No. I saw some photos once.”

GM: “Huh. Well, I’ve heard about a couple people who had sex before they learned to masturbate.”

“My first orgasm when I masturbated felt amazing. Still remember it. Yours must’ve felt even better coming from a guy.”

Celia: “Yeah it was… like awkward, you know, I mean I knew what the pieces were, but not what it felt like, so he was like… kneeling between my legs, with his mouth, and I swear my face was like beet red, and then it just… happened. And then we had actual sex afterward and it happened again and…”

There’s a giddy smile on her face that she can’t help. She’s glad Roderick is asleep and not listening to her gush about their first time together. “Sorry if that’s TMI.”

GM: “Ha ha, no, it’s fine. That’s really sweet he gave you oral first, though. You must’ve been pretty intimidated to have a dick inside you, growing up in Maxen’s house and not even getting off to porn first.”

“Good way to loosen you up.”

Celia: “It was. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to fit.’ I almost cried, honestly, and he just… he like just knew that I was freaking out even though I was pretending not to, but he knew it was my first time and… it was really sweet. Magical, and all that. He was… he was pretty much the best, really.”

GM: “Yeah…” Emily says, more than a little sadly.

“You and him were great.”

Celia: “I wish I’d been a better girlfriend to him.”

GM: “Blame your dad. Shitty home life drags down everything.”

Celia: “I could blame a lot of things. I made some bad choices, too. Can’t just pawn it all off on my dad.”

GM: “Fair. I did too.”

“I’d rate you a pretty good human being overall, though.”

“10/10, would drive across town with a bleeding ass again.”

Celia: Abrupt laughter cuts off her heartfelt reply. “Thanks, Emi. I’ll be sure to call you if it ever happens again.”

GM: “Let’s hope not.”

“Ugh. I can’t believe he’s back.”

Celia: “He’s not. We’ll handle it.”

GM: “I stabbed him. Mom’s gushing about him. Lucy likes him.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, tell Mom if he can get her off she can date him again.”

“Since that won’t happen, it’s a moot point.”

GM: “Okay, never having an orgasm is better than getting an orgasm from Maxen.”

Celia: “I’ve still got that guy to set her up with. I’ll see if I can arrange it sooner rather than later.”

“I’m kind of, uh, squicked out thinking about my dad and orgasms, to be honest.”

GM: “Spoiler alert, your parents have had sex.”

Celia: “Noooooo!”

GM: “And your dad came. Your dad had an orgasm inside your mom.

Celia: “How many times do you think they tried for all of us?”

“I bet that they banged a lot for Logan. Everyone else was two years apart. Straggler.”

GM: “I still can’t believe she never had an orgasm when there’s walking proof he had at least six.”

Celia: Seven.

But hey, who’s counting.

“Maybe they actually just, like, pulled it out of him with a syringe. And turkey basted her.”

GM: “Doesn’t the Bible say turkey basters are a sin somewhere?”

Celia: “The Bible says everything is a sin. Can’t even look at someone sideways without being sent to Hell.”

“Also, no, since it was written before that modern miracle.”

GM: “Was it? I could swear it was written only yesterday, from how people like Maxen talk about it.”

“You also might as well do all the sins once you’ve done one, because what are they going to do, send you to Hell twice?”

Celia: “See, that’s where they get you. It’s like a little loyalty program where you punch your card, right, but once you make that first punch your chances are shot, so you might as well go balls deep.”

GM: “At least Dante’s Inferno ranks the sins.”

Celia: “Pretty sure he ripped off Virgil.”

“But he ripped off Homer, so whatever I guess.”

GM: “Speaking of balls deep, I hope your new guy is tall.”

“Robby is tall and that makes things fun.”

Celia: “Does he bend you like a pretzel, Em?”

GM: “And all that HEMA practice gives him a reaaally tight ass…”

Celia: “I’ll make sure to check it out tonight. Don’t mind my wandering eyes.”

GM: “It’s okay if other girls look at the menu, so long as they don’t order.”

Celia: “Not even a sampler?”

GM: “You wish. Go find a new guy who’ll do all the things Randy won’t.”

“How is the sex with him, by the way? Has that gotten worse?”

Celia: “He’s very eager to please.”

“Just… not sure it’s a long-term thing anymore.”

GM: “It’s clearly a long-term thing. It just isn’t going anywhere.”

“I’d like to get engaged to Robby, once med school’s over. Good benchmark.”

“And maybe get married when I’m a real doctor, if we’re still together. Real real doctor, that is.”

Celia: “I think you two are cute together.”

“Mom also might already be planning your wedding, don’t tell her I told you.”

GM: A laugh. “Yeah, and water is wet. Of course she’s planning my wedding.”

Celia: “That’s what moms are for. That and inviting the 50 cousins you haven’t seen in years.”

GM: “Ha. Riiiight. I’m maybe glad we’re skipping those.”

“Though who knows, maybe I have a billion cousins out there.”

Celia: “Think of all that money they’d bring. Which wouldn’t pay for their plates. And their kids would puke on your dress. And they’d be offended that you sat them next to so-and-so.”

GM: “I’m also pretty sure they’d just ask for money if they were anything like my birth mom.”

Celia: “I’ve heard of those gift boxes for cards getting stolen at weddings, actually.”

“Also that sounds shitty. Sorry both our families are not the best.”

“Hook her up with Maxen. He has money.”

GM: “Our family’s the best. It just has some ugly branches that need pruning.”

“I wish I could do that though. Match made in hell.”

Celia: “Oh, is that what you were trying to do today? You missed.”

GM: “I’m sorry. Truly. Should’ve gone for the throat.”

Celia: “Next time.”

GM: A sigh. “I just want him out of our lives. We’d been getting along fine without him.”

Celia: “I know. I’ll find out what he wants and it’ll be over soon.”

GM: “So what’d he say, when you talked with him?”

Celia: “Not a lot. That Lucy seems like a great kid, that there’s no hard feelings and no need to involve the police, that he’s happy my business is going well, he’s busy with work, that kind of thing.”

GM: “That’s just so fucking surreal.”

Celia: “That’s why I don’t trust it.”

GM: “I wouldn’t trust it, whatever it was.”

“He lost his family privileges a long time ago.”

Celia: “Logan told me the other day that he thinks Mom and I leaving ‘left a hole in his heart.’ Since he never remarried or dated.”

GM: “Yeah right. He’s probably had a mistress or two stashed away. All the family values politicians do.”

Celia: “Wouldn’t surprise me.”

What had Donovan said? That he’d supply Maxen with ‘other amusements.’ Christ, what a thought.

GM: “He divorced your mom in, what… 2000?”

Celia: “2003.”

GM: “Yeah. Guys don’t go without sex for that long.”

“But women like Mom do because they’re conditioned to be ashamed of it.”

Celia: “Pretty sure all women are conditioned to be ashamed of sex.”

“Which is why you get those girls who are like, ‘I own my sexuality,’ and use it as an excuse to sleep around and they just hate themselves as much as anyone else. Like they’re trying to prove a point.”

“There’s not even a word for boys who sleep around but we’ve got whore and slut and harlot and etc.”

GM: “Can’t there just be well-adjusted girls who like sex and don’t feel bad about it or are trying to prove anything with it? Can’t I be one of those girls?”

Celia: “Sorry, Em, you’re secretly repressed.”

GM: “Damn, oh well. That’s clearly why I joined your family. Birds of a feather.”

Celia: “I guess I just feel bad for any future partners of Logan and David.”

GM: “Oh, actually, there is one word which I think is funny. Boywhore.”

Celia: “Yeah but that just takes the girl word and slaps ‘boy’ in front of it.”

GM: “Still pretty gendered, but funny.”

“But yeah, I hope Logan doesn’t hit any more girls he goes out with.”

“Stupid meathead.”

Celia: “I told him I’d help him find a better outlet for his aggression.”

GM: “Tell him to beat up his dad, that sounds like a great outlet.”

Celia: “I’d almost like to see that to find out who’d win.”

“Dad told me he still does martial arts.”

GM: “Of course he did.”

“Dunno. Logan’s younger, Maxen’s experienced. Logan’s a meathead but I suppose I’d root for him.”

“It’s sort of like how I’ll plug my nose to vote for the crooked corporate shill, if she wins the primary, over the fascist xenophobe. I can’t believe Mom’s only reason she didn’t vote for him in the Repub primary is ‘he is not a gentleman.’”

Celia: “Yeah, well, Mom is… a little backwards sometimes.”

GM: “Mom came to 2016 in a time capsule from the 1950s, sometimes.”

Celia: “Maybe she’s a time traveler. Her purpose was to bring us together so we could… do something fabulous.”

GM: “Ha. What have we done that’s fabulous enough to be worthy of this chronological dimensional convergence, you think?”

Celia: “Um, excuse me, have you looked in a mirror lately? Darling, we’re gorgeous.”

“We spread our fabulousness by merely existing.”

“People should bow before us. They are blessed to be in our presence.”

GM: “Oh, of course. You know that it’s just so easy to take for granted when no other mortals compare.”

Celia: “We are truly divine.”

“Anyway, Em, I’m gonna let you go. Lay low until tonight and we’ll hang out and make our boys worship us and whatnot. Maybe carve some marble statues. Write some epic poems. However the Greeks did it.”

She pauses.

“Actually, I have a place you can stay at today. I’ll have Alana drop off the key and the address. It’s in the Quarter, so we’ll be close to Mom tonight. You can invite Robby over when he gets off work. Tell him to bring his nerd gear. Are there foam swords? ’Cause I can get down with some foam swords.”

She has two texts to send before she passes out again. Rod—ugh, he needs a better nickname—said his ghouls would wake her, but… well, she’d prefer not to be stabbed repeatedly if she can help it. It heals, sure, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable.

GM: “I’m pretty sure they did it by killing their dads and marrying their moms. Or getting torn apart by crazed maenads. Or doing it up the rears of young boys. The Greeks were weird.”

Celia: “That’s depressing, thanks.”

GM: “Okay though, that sounds good. I’d rather stay close.”

“Oh, one other thing.”

“Well, two other things.”

Celia: “Hm?”

GM: “Come over. Lunch, dinner, whatever. You really should check in on Mom yourself.”

Celia: “Yeah. I’ll be by.”

GM: “And when you do, let her see you eating something. Mom’s really torn up about how you won’t eat her cooking. She’s from the ‘50s, so it’s a big deal to her. And she’s really hopeful that you finally will if she makes something keto.”

Celia: “I just remember… back in college, she was so poor I had to get groceries with my allowance and bring them over, and she used to foist things off on me, and I always felt bad because she didn’t have anything. And I know it’s better now, I know, but sometimes when I see her… I can’t help but think about it.”

GM: “Mom is not at all short for money these days. She isn’t Maxen, but she could lose her job and we’d still be okay for a while.”

Celia: “I know, Em. That’s why I never said anything to her. I guess I just feel like the whole thing is my fault sometimes, so why should I let her take care of me when I couldn’t take care of her.”

GM: “I get that, and that is nice of you. But this is how you take care of her. By making her feel valued through feeding her kids, because she’s from the ’50s.”

“It really gives her genuine pleasure to see me and Lucy eating her food.”

Celia: “All right, all right.”

GM: “Also, about keto. You’d be amazed how much they don’t teach us about nutrition in med school, considering the health impacts it has. But I try to do my research.”

“I’m obviously not your doctor, or anyone’s doctor. But unless a health professional has prescribed you a keto diet, you don’t need to eat keto. It’s like the gluten-free craze. Only a pretty small subset of people actually benefit from it. For everyone else it’s just the latest fad diet.”

Celia: “Oh. I didn’t know that. I thought there was a whole fat loss through ketosis thing.”

“It sounded too good to be true.”

GM: “Most diets are. The secret to weight loss is more exercise, more fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a caloric deficit.”

“You also don’t need to lose weight. You’re perfectly thin.”

Celia: “I thought maybe Randy thought I was fat. And that’s why he was being weird.”

GM: “Fuck him for that too, then.”

Celia: “He didn’t say that, I just… you know. Whatever.”

“I’m going to be 30 soon. Not getting any younger.” Celia forces a sigh.

“Someone told me once that when a woman hits 21 it’s basically all over.”

GM: “And with men they get better as they age, like fine wines. It’s a sexist double standard.”

“But seriously, you’ve already gone through so much to get over the stupid views on sex your dad drilled into you. Don’t fall for female body-shaming too.”

“You look great and you don’t need to diet.”

Celia: “Thanks, Em. I’ll keep that in mind. You’re right.”

“I got caught up in the whole Instagram perfect body thing.”

GM: “You’re welcome. Can I tell Mom she doesn’t need to make all your meals keto now? Because it actually is less healthy than a normal balanced diet.”

Celia: “Yeah. Just don’t tell her why, please. I don’t want her to know I worry about her.”

GM: “I won’t. I’ll just tell her I talked you out of the latest woo diet.”

“At least you weren’t into paleo. That drives me even crazier.”

“Like, have you looked at pictures of actual paleolithic fruits and vegetables? They’re almost completely different species. We’ve been genetically engineering the plants we eat for thousands of years. It is literally impossible to eat the same diet as a caveman.”

Celia: “I’ve heard that they’re actually completely different, uh, species now.”

“Is species the right word? For a plant?”

“Anyway yeah all the modification. Bananas aren’t bananas, tomatoes aren’t tomatoes, nachos aren’t nachos…”

GM: “Species is. And yeah, they really aren’t. Bananas used to have giant hard seeds throughout them. Peaches were about 60 times smaller and sour rather than sweet. Corn was literally 1,000 times smaller and dry like potato. Idiots who say they eat paleo diets don’t even know what a paleo diet is.”

“And there’s a reason our ancestors dropped the ‘paleo diet.’ Plants tasted worse and weren’t as nourishing.”

Celia: “Yeah well, throw some buzzwords in front of anything and you can get people into it.”

“A few celebrity sponsors and you’ve enchanted the masses.”

GM: “We think ubiquitous technology will make more people believe in science, but sometimes all it does is spread disinformation. Dr. Crawford and I like to bitch about that together.”

“But anyway, how’s 6 for you to come by today?”

Celia: “Can’t do six. Meeting with… uh, well, the guy whose friend might take Mom out. But after I can.”

GM: “I dunno Mom’s interested in other guys right now with Maxen in her head. That was already a hard sell when he wasn’t.”

Celia: “I do talk to him about more than Mom, you know.”

“Anyway, this will pass.”

GM: “Oh, who is he?”

Celia: “He’s a cop, actually.”

“Long story, I’ll tell you tonight.”

GM: “Okay, see you then. Love you.”

Celia: “Love you too, Em.”

Celia hangs up. She opens her messages once more and begins to type a text to Alana, but before she can say more than Hey—she slips back into the sweet oblivion of daysleep.


Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016

GM: Pain stabs through Celia. She sees red. She screams and howls and thrashes. She calms down.

“It’s a crappy way to wake up, isn’t it?”

She’s handcuffed in spread-eagle position on a bed in a bedroom somewhere. The window shades are tightly drawn and there’s a blanket duct-taped over them. Roderick’s sitting next to her.

He undoes the cuffs after he sees she’s calm.

Celia: Handcuffed. Bed. Spread eagle. It’s familiar. Too familiar. She thrashes, rages, snarls—

And eventually her Beast wears itself out. Her body collapses back onto the bed, and only once she’s released, when his voice washes over her, does she let herself look around.

“Can’t beat the view, really.”

Her eyes land firmly on him. She winks.

GM: He smiles.

“We’re at one of my renfields’ places. It wasn’t designed to host licks,” he glances at the duct-taped blanket, “but we should be safe here.”

Celia: “Thanks. For bringing me. Waking me.” She sits up, edging away from the window as if she expects the blanket to tear itself off the wall at any moment.

“Mid-City?”

Then, a second later, “Phone?”

“What are you doing tonight?”

GM: He nods at her first question.

He hands her the phone.

“Like I said. Going back to my old haven with my krewe and my renfields. Moving everything. Disposing of the bodies.”

He effects a sigh.

“I’m not looking forward to that.”

“The walls were soundproofed—habit how I was whispering—so I don’t think anyone heard the violence, but we can’t leave three corpses there forever.”

Celia: Celia unlocks the phone and sends a text to Alana.

Need car towed. Garden District, 1415 Third Street. Take it to spa. Do not go yourself. TOW. Go to mom’s house. Give Emily key to my place. J. Give address. Make sure it’s clean pls.

Her attention returns to Roderick.

“Do you know how?”

GM: “Body disposal?” He grimaces. “Yeah. Coco went over it. Cut them into pieces. Smuggle them out. Weigh them down and dump them in the Mississippi.”

“The water’s incredibly dirty and the current is fast-flowing. Pretty unlikely to get spotted before they’re carried out to the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Or just take a boat out to the Gulf, actually, and dump them there.”

Celia: “I, uh… I’d offer to help, but if your krewe will be there it might look… not good.”

GM: “Yeah. We could go back ourselves with our renfields if you’re dying to help take apart corpses, though.”

Celia: “I mean. I’d like to be there for you. To help you through it. Because I know how you feel, and I was part of the problem. But I… I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to be around your krewe because of everything, and I’m worried that if we go back we might get jumped again by more, or I’ll fall asleep in the middle of it, or something stupid will happen and we’ll be in a worse situation.”

She wants their blood, too. Faces. Phones. Needs to find out who they are.

GM: “We could go back with just us and our renfields. Obviously, at night.”

“If I were a hunter I’d try to jump us during the day, like those guys.”

Celia: “I know. I agree. I just… have to take care of a few things before I do. I had someone looking into the people who jumped me and he wants to see me tonight, and with the whole Emily stabbing Maxen thing I’m trying to keep her safe so I invited her to Jade’s place under the guise of a game night.”

“I was going to invite you, actually. If you’re interested. It’s, uh, it’s kind of a nerdy thing.”

She glances at her phone, to see if her new ‘friend’ has made any more contact attempts, or if the number has ceased scrambling. If so, she texts a winky face back.

GM: Her ‘friend’ has sent none.

Celia: Well her friend gets a winky face.

GM: He looks faintly amused. “Game night? Like, board games?”

“Emily knows my face though. I’m supposed to be dead.”

Celia: “World of Shadow.”

“You forgot that your girlfriend is a master magician with makeup.”

GM: “I’ve heard of it. There were a couple lawsuits against the parent company, Black Dog Games, over the deaths of some people who were players.”

Celia: “…why?” She tries not to look too uncomfortable about calling herself his girlfriend.

GM: “Why there were lawsuits? Alleged behaviors on the parts of the game developers that contributed to the deaths. In 2004 some people locked themselves in the company offices and got… well, it doesn’t matter. I’d be down for game night. I trust my girlfriend to magic my face into looking different.”

He smirks faintly at the emphasis he places on those two words.

Celia: Her smile lights up her face.

“That’s pretty crazy about the game thing. Tell me more later, when the sun stops screaming in my ear about going back to bed. I can… I can meet you after, if that’s okay. I’m really, really concerned about Maxen’s friend coming after Emily if I’m not there. Even if I am there.”

Fuck, what is she going to do, stand up to the sheriff on her own? She’s banking on the fact that he doesn’t know where ‘Jade’ keeps her haven, but she wouldn’t put it past him to have taken that information from her at some point and mind-fucked her into forgetting.

“But. If you guys grabbed the phones from them, I got a guy who can get into them easy.”

GM: “We did. I also know some people who can get into the phones. Lot of sewer rat Anarchs, remember?” he smirks.

Celia: “Fuck the rats.”

GM: “They just don’t like torries because you’re all so pretty.”

Celia: “What did they make you do for them when you had to do the favor?”

GM: “Which favor?”

Celia: “For hacking to make Roderick real.”

“They told me I could owe them a favor and I just want to know what I’m getting into.”

GM: “Information. That’s what it always comes down to with them.”

Celia: “Might as well just give that to them now, then.”

GM: “I’m already giving them info by letting them hack the phones. They can screw off if they want more, but they probably won’t.”

Celia: “Not what I meant.”

“But… I dunno, I had a bad-run in with them. And I just don’t want to give them anything. And I trust my guy.”

GM: “Ah, well, they hate Toreador. How it is.”

Celia: “So I’ve noticed.”

GM: “I trust them enough though. They’re Anarchs. Coco and Opal are pretty tight.”

“Who’s your guy?”

Celia: “Same guy who helped me with the Maxen leak. He’s good with tech.”

GM: “And he’s…?”

“Because my guess is Lebeaux. And thanks, but no thanks to that.”

Celia: “Sometimes, Roderick, I don’t know what he is. But I think he’s looking out for me.”

GM: “I’m glad for you there, but I’d rather not involve Savoy’s people if I don’t have to.”

Celia: “I’m one of Savoy’s people,” she says quietly.

“And just because I say I know a guy doesn’t mean it’s someone who owes their loyalty to Savoy. I’m capable of making my own friends.”

“And you even said that Coco—” She cuts herself off with an abrupt shake of her head.

GM: “Yeah, but I’m not sleeping with any of Savoy’s other people.”

“And I said that Coco what?”

Celia: Celia casts a glance over her shoulder as if to make sure that the room is clear. She hesitates for only a second, then moves across the bed to deposit herself on his lap, leaning in close.

“You said she’s wrong,” she whispers.

GM: Roderick heaves an effected sigh.

“Look. That’s its own can of worms.”

“I’ll deal with that. I’ll deal with Dani. We’ll see what happens.”

“But I’m not jumping into bed with Savoy over some hunters’ phones.”

Celia: “I wasn’t going to give it to Savoy. Lebeaux treats me like I’m an idiot. Last time I brought him something he just—he told me that he wasn’t going to tell me, and I’m the one who got jumped for it, so why would I go running to him? And I don’t—I don’t want to involve the Nosferatu, they made me… they…” She turns her face away as red begins to leak from the corners of her eyes.

GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder. “They made you what?”

Celia: “That-that stupid monkey—” She wipes at her eyes, but it only smears the blood across her face.

GM: “Malo.” He frowns. Retrieves a tissue from the bedside table for her. “Did Gerald sic him on you?”

Celia can see his fangs protruding as he talks. Must be the smell.

Celia: Celia presses her hands against her face and shakes her head. Her body curls in on itself, shoulders hunching. When she speaks again her voice is small.

“I c-can’t tell you.”

GM: He holds her in both his arms, cradling her head against his chest.

“You can tell me anything.”

Celia: “Th-they… they surrounded me, and Abellard called me a slut, and he made his monkey… he made him…” A fresh wave of sanguine tears streak down her cheeks. She shakes her head again and again, as if that will make the memory stop.

GM: He still holds her. But he’s starting to look angry too.

“Made him what?”

Celia: He can’t get angry. He can’t. She’s already fought him off tonight, him and the hunters, she can’t do it again. Wounded, in the middle of the day? She’ll lose.

Celia presses herself against him. Touches her lips to his neck. Lets him feel the way her muscles tremble beneath her skin. Fear or apprehension or simply ready to bolt away if he loses control like he’s done so many times before.

“Don’t get mad.” On his lap. She’s on his lap, this Brujah that’s about to frenzy. There’s nowhere to go if he does. “Please don’t get mad. I’m fine. I’m fine. They didn’t hurt me, I’m here, I’m fine—”

Only they did hurt her. They hurt her. Caroline hurt her. Donovan hurt her. The hunters hurt her.

“I’m fine,” she says again. Quietly. Desperately. “It’s fine, he j-just… he just… humping, and b-beating when I fought back, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything, they said they’d tell everyone, they know things about me, who I am, don’t do anything, please—”

She needs him. Needs him to keep her safe, like he’d said he would. Needs him to protect her.

She tells him that. That she needs him. That she loves him. While she holds onto him with everything she has, refusing to back away from him even on the cusp of his oncoming rage, she stays. She trusts him. She’d told him that. Years ago. Last night. Trusts him not to hurt her. Not to let other people hurt her. So naked, vulnerable, wounded, she stays, murmuring that it’s okay, that she’s okay, that everything is okay. Over and over again she says it, walking him back from the brink.

GM: Roderick lets out a needless breath and runs a hand along her back.

“Relax. I’m not going to lose it. Okay? You’re safe. I’m in control. You don’t have to get scared every time I get mad over something.”

Veronica always said Brujah and anger went together like matches and gasoline.

But that would be nice to believe.

There’s a beat. He looks calm. Enough. He eyes her for a moment, as if to check whether she’s all there, then pulls her close against his chest again.

“Look. It still makes me pretty mad to think of anyone doing that to you. I won’t deny I wouldn’t mind getting you some payback. But you don’t need to be scared I’ll lose it. I know that’s par for course with them, and that they pull the same horrible shit on everyone. They’ve done it to Chris, Ryllie, even me when I was still pretty green. They’re basically all trolls. A whole clan of spiteful incel internet trolls who hate other people for not being hideous like them, or worse, being pretty. And it’s their loss. They look at you and see just another vain and shallow Toreador, instead of the inner light that I see. They’d like to defile you and they don’t even realize they can’t, because that part of you will always be beyond their reach.”

Celia: She’d like to believe that she doesn’t need to be afraid when he starts to get angry, but he’s tried to attack her twice in the past 12 hours alone, and twice more before that he had gotten ahold of her. But she nods to show him that she understands, that she believes him, and some of the stiffness leaves her limbs. She holds her tongue while he talks about them, how it’s normal for the rats to just be awful for no reason. She hadn’t even done anything to them, that’s what galls her the most.

“They certainly tried,” she huffs, but her voice has lost some of its petulance. Maybe it’s the explanation. Maybe it’s the “inner light” comment, the insinuation that she’s above them.

“Thanks,” she says when he’s done, the single word as heartfelt and genuine as she can make it. She does feel better about that situation, at least.

“I still don’t… I don’t want to involve them.”

“There’s a guy I know. He used to tutor me, actually. Back at your place… I think he’s the one who woke me up, who made you realize something bad was going on. He can hack like nobody’s business. He sent me a text…” Celia glances at the phone in her hand. The chill she’d gotten from it rushes through her again, makes her shiver.

“We made a deal once, and… I just think he’s looking out for me somehow. I can contact him, or… his people, maybe. And if not him there’s a girl I know who can do the same thing. Kind of a conspiracy nut, but relatively harmless.”

“Or… I could always try, I’ve done it before.”

GM: Roderick looks dubious. “Are either of them blooded? It’s probably not a good idea to have normal breathers looking at hunter stuff. I have no idea what they might find on those phones.”

Celia: “He woke me up to fend off hunters, Roderick, I’m pretty sure he is.”

“And I doubt they’re that blasé about what they keep on their phones, anyway. It’s probably all code.”

“Look, just… I’ll try tonight, before I head out. And if not… I don’t see many other options.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “You mean that alarm I got on my phone? The non-standard one?”

Celia: She shrugs.

“I don’t know. Maybe. It’s just a theory. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. Last I heard he was in the hos…”

Is he dead?

GM: “…hospitality industry?” Roderick jokes.

Celia: “…hospital.”

But why would Emil want her to kill people? That’s what the text had said: kill them for me. It doesn’t make sense. But he’s the only person she knows with that level of skill, to just get into her phone like that…

“I… I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.”

“I can look at them, like I said, when the sun stops doing its thing.”

GM: “All right, why don’t you take a look at them first. Didn’t know hacking was among your talents.” A smirk. “Even many as those are.”

Celia: “Are you mocking me? Because I will withhold sex for, like, seventy years.” Her words lack heat, though, and the fact that she is (still) naked on his lap give lie to them.

“You’re gonna be all, ‘hey babe,’ and try to touch me and I’m just gonna smack your hands away—” There’s a whole fantasy here, where he grabs her by the wrists anyway, and she tells him about it.

She’s in the middle of describing what, exactly, she’d like him to do to her when sleep crooks a finger her way once more. She doesn’t yawn, not really, but she cuts herself off mid-sentence, curls against him as if they hadn’t spent the past five years apart from each other, and is out in seconds.


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Story Twelve, Caroline XI

“I say we…”
“…eat them.”

Nico Cimpreon and Conroy Westphal


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: “Two ghouls for the pack ductus and priest, and their attack plan in tatters,” Westphal says past a split lip. There’s blood over his face from somewhere. “A worthy trade.”

“The rest of the pack will withdraw once they’re finished with the shadows and shovelheads. Maybe they’re already doing so. The elder is a lost cause for them at this point.” He sneers into the rear view mirror.

Cimpreon nods as he drives. The worst gashes across his chest are healed, but he’s still bleeding over the seat. “We’ll check the road ahead for IEDs. No sense bustin’ our asses here just to let the convoy get fuckin’ blown up.”

Caroline: Caroline sits in silence for a moment, letting them celebrate as she plays out events in her mind, looking for the details she might have missed while they’re fresh in her mind.

It helps take her mind off the body’s wounds.

“Where did the wolves come from?” she finally asks. “And the grenades.”

GM: “Bropaply a Gangrel, or anozher fiend,” says Mahmoud. “Any clan zhat can control animals. Or any backmate who’s bicked up zhat trick.”

“Pack was armed to the teeth,” says Cimpreon. “Grenades aren’t a surprise.”

“You think there was a third party,” Westphal quickly deduces. “How fortunate that we’ve taken the pack’s senior leadership captive. They can answer whether the wolves and grenades could have come from their packmates.”

Cimpreon nods. “After we’ve wrung them for info. I say we…”

“…eat them,” Westphal finishes with a very nasty smile. “There’s two of them and four of us. Enough to go around without too great a loss.”

Mahmoud pricks the monster’s corpse and dabs its blood against her tongue.

“Mmm. Decently strong. Bropaply a diablerist himself.”

She glances at Caroline. “Your soul’s in zhat pody. I zhink you’ll pe aple to enjoy zhe sboils too, with anozher sbell, even if it won’t taste as good.”

“I’d say our fearless leader should get first pick,” smiles Cimpreon. “You want your half of the keeper or the fiend?”

Caroline: A decision made as a foregone conclusion.

A test or an opportunity? How closely is the seneschal watching even now?

GM: Hunger merely glints in the three’s eyes.

Caroline: Does denying them seem weak? Does partaking invite disaster and condemnation? A delicate rope to walk under the best circumstances.

“The Camarilla,” she pauses and grins through her pain, “frowns on diablerie.”

That’s an understatement.

GM: Westphal gives a humorless laugh.

“They frown on the neonates doing it. If their elders are like ours, they’ve all done it. They’re just scared they’ll be next if we develop a taste.”

Caroline: “All the same,” she offers. “Worth considering the alternative. If the intention is to show value and strength, it’s harder to frame this victory for them if the story ends with ‘and then we ate them, but this was what they said,’ than it is with a ‘live’ prisoner.”

She hasn’t said no. Doesn’t know that she wants to say no. This is a rare opportunity, if one fraught.

God, she knows she doesn’t want to say no. Remembers too vividly the raw sexual and existential ecstasy of the bishop’s destruction in a way that sends goosebumps up the mortal skin she wears.

Mother? She reaches out through the inky black line attached to her heart.

GM: Caroline feels that black line yearningly tingle, but there is no immediate response. She will have to push hard to make herself heard from so far away.

“Okay. So we eat them after the elder sees them,” says Cimpreon. “We risked our asses for them. Makes it our right.”

“We’ll let her see them staked. We’ll share what we want to share ourselves.”

“Discourage any talking.”

“Or we eat one now and save the other one for later,” says Westpal. “Just in case.”

Caroline: “Better the priest if that route is chosen.” Caroline offers, “but it’s worth recalling the system that would make their diablerie a crime worthy of your own destruction is the one you aspire to.”

She continues soberly, “At some point that contradiction must be confronted.”

“Whatever the kine agitators in the U.S. might advocate among their own kind, I do not expect the Camarilla’s elders to accept what they view as criminal at best as ‘cultural heritage’ they must ignore or even embrace.” There’s more than a bit of humor to her tone.

She tries to keep the amused smile on her face when the connection to her mother remains dull and throbbing. Maybe it’s because of the possession, perhaps due to distance.

Whatever the case, it’s easy to grow so accustomed to something, to view it as a constant. She feels like a child deprived of their nightlight or blanket.

GM: “Kid’s got a point,” says Cimpreon. “All those old fucks are diablerists themselves.”

Caroline: “Hypocrisy among the mighty is not exclusive to Kindred or kine,” she agrees.

She clings to the ‘practical’ argument like a woman dangling over a yawing chasm. To let go would be to fall oh so quickly.

Caroline doubts though that most in the same circumstance are dangling over a pit of pleasure and power that whispers to them like an old friend.

“Either way, let’s see what they have to say first,” she suggests.

GM: “Suppose we need to,” shrugs Cimpreon. He looks over the staked monster splayed out in the back seat.

“Cut off his limbs and put out his eyes,” says Westphal.

“Read my mind,” agrees Cimpreon.

Mahmoud looks vaguely impatient, but doesn’t press.

Cimpreon parks the car. He takes out a knife and starts to saw. The knife is an inefficient took for the job. Cimpreon needs to grasp the creature’s bone joints, after the muscle is gone, and break them apart. Westphal stabs out the creature’s eyes.

“Store the ductus in the other car,” he orders the surviving Blackwatch ghoul. “If one gives us false information I don’t want the other able to repeat the same story.”

The ghoul does so. With their captive so mutilated, Cimpreon pulls out the stake. The monster reverts to its ‘human’ form. A hiss of pain escapes the priest’s lipless gray mouth.

Caroline: The Ventrue stops them short of stabbing out the eyes, instead blindfolding him for now. “You can’t pry information from him that way?” she asks.

She stares on pitilessly as they saw off the priest’s arms and legs. The image of his victims is too fresh in her mind.

GM: “I don’t know that power,” Westphal grudgingly admits.

Caroline: “We all have our limits,” she agrees.

GM: Westphal just looks sour at that remark. “I’ve acquired other powers of the same potency. They were better uses of my time.”

“That kinda mindfucking’s pretty limited at intel gathering, anyway,” shrugs Cimpreon.

“But if you know it, can’t hurt. I was just gonna take this asshole apart until he talked.”

The Tzimisce’s expression is one of utter disdain.

Caroline: “Some of it,” Caroline agrees with Cimpreon. “But it’s possible to place them in a state in which they are able to affirm or deny specific statements.”

“And that can be very useful for fact checking broader claims.”

GM: “Ask away then. This guy ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

Caroline can all but feel the vampire’s hatred behind the blindfold.

Caroline: She looks down at the maimed vampire. “The next few minutes may be your last. How much you value them and whatever else your words might buy you should guide your answers.”

GM: Silence.

Caroline: “Who are you?” she demands.

GM: Silence.

Caroline: “I have two captives. I need only one. You would rather your name die with you?” she inquires.

GM: “He knows we’re just gonna eat his soul,” says Cimpreon. “What he’d do if he were us.”

Caroline: “And yet one of them might yet be spared—or at least buy more time—with even a bit of cooperation,” Caroline notes. She lets the observation hang for a moment. “I thought he’d be fiercer.”

GM: Cimpreon shrugs. “Sabbat are fanatics. They don’t expect mercy.”

“Only times I’ve seen them talk are under mindfucking and torture.”

The Tzimisce remains silent.

Caroline: “I don’t think that’s it,” Caroline answers. “I think he’s a coward. He knows once he starts talking he won’t be able to stop.”

“Pathetic.”

GM: The fiend does not rise to the bait. The same haughty contempt and simmering hate etches the alien face.

Caroline: “Oh, you think you know something of pain? Of stoicism? Of meeting your end with some kind of dignity? You think you deserve that?” The shorter blade slips free of its sheath and finds a new one in the fiend’s groin.

“Give me a lighter,” she demands.

It seems fitting that if he will be spared the fires of Hell that he should endure them here.

GM: The Tzimisce’s jaw clenches hard enough to crack teeth as a furious hiss escapes his lips.

A lighter finds its way into Caroline’s hands.

Caroline: “Have water ready. We don’t want the pain in the now to spare him the fun later.”

The fire comes to life in her hands, such a small thing, but she applies it to the underside edge of the blade still impaled in the fiend.

The smell of burning flesh fills the air as his balls cook, and as the blade inside him heats.

“It stops when you want it to,” she tells the field.

GM: All of the vampires’ Beasts instinctively rear at the fire’s presence, however tiny and controlled.

But none of them have that fire inside of them.

The blasphemous priest stoically endures the pain at first. The low growl emanating from his throat steadily increases in volume. He eventually half-laughs, half-rasps out a contemptuous, “Children…”

Perhaps they may be, next to his clan.

But he’s not the one inflicting pain. He’s the one receiving it.

Ferris once told Caroline that everyone breaks under torture eventually.

Everyone.

The blade grows hotter, burning the vampire up inside, tormenting his immobilized Beast. His genitals roast until he can endure no longer. The fiend finally gives out a hissed,

“Ask…”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite snarl in satisfaction as he suffers, but it’s there.

Evil. Real evil suffering, being punished for what it has sowed. The images of the men, women, and children in terror play behind he eyes as he slowly burns. Children not only murdered, but callously damned with their curse, fated for Hell.

She doesn’t snap the lighter shut immediately when he caves, but does after a moment.

Her voice is steady. “How did you receive information about the elder? From whom?”

GM: “Sp… spy, her retinue…”

Caroline: “Name,” Caroline demands without pity. She snaps the lighter open again.

GM: “Clara… Bühl.”

Caroline: “Does she know your attack is coming?”

GM: “Yes…”

Caroline: “How many other packs are coming?”

GM: “More… arrive every night… Camarilla bitch…”

Caroline: That brings a smile to her face.

“How many other packs are here for the elder tonight,” she clarifies.

GM: “Just… us.”

Caroline: “Your name, and that of your leader,” she demands.

GM: “Marceli Sierakowski. Julián Cambeiro.”

Caroline: She looks to the others in the group.

“Is there anything else you would know?”

GM: “Got just about all I’d ask,” says Cimpreon.

“Always,” says Westphal. “From him? Little at present.”

“Yust how he’ll taste,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline gathers herself. “Well then.”

The lights don’t actually get dimmer, or the shadows deeper, but one could be forgiven for believing they have as something unseen gathers within her. The hair on the arms and the back of the necks of the ghouls present rises as she leans in, hatred rolling off her in waves.

Caroline wonders how many he’s destroyed so utterly for his ends. Not only killed—God knows she is a murderer—but terrorized for no greater purpose than his amusement before consigning them to damnation. She knows this was not the first time.

She can’t give life back to the beast’s victims: giving is not within the scope of the powers given to a monster like herself. She can’t spare them the hellfire that awaits them: sparing is not within the bounds her own Beast places upon her.

No, the gifts she has are cursed, and it is curses she has to give. Terror and pain, and ultimately defeat. The former she has given the other vampire, but she has one more to offer. One final blow, to his pride, to his perverse dreams and aspirations, to his spirit.

Looking down on his broken body, she knows she can break one more thing: his will.

She looms over the creature and in one smooth motion tears the blindfold from him even as her eyes meet his, boring into them, seeking to crush what is left of him.

GM: The fiend’s one remaining eye is a clear, pale gray thing. Compared to the rest of him, it’s downright human-looking.

There’s no remorse.

Just simmering hate and contempt.

Then the Ventrue’s will comes down on his, and that all glazes over.

Caroline: “Did you lie to me about your spy within the elder’s retinue?” she demands.

GM: “Yes,” the Tzimisce answers sleepily.

“Hmph. This is why you interrogate multiple captives,” sniffs Westphal.

Caroline: Caroline tunes out Westphal, keeping her will focused on the monster before her. Losing her focus could be a deadly proposition.

“Do you have a spy within the elder’s retinue?”

GM: “No,” comes the sleepy answer.

Caroline: She grits her teeth. “Did a Lasombra spy provide information about the elder to you?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: “Is the spy among those gathered here?”

GM: “No.”

Thinly knowing smiles greet that question from the three Lasombra.

Caroline: “Is the spy located in Africa?” Her will presses down on the monster.

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: “Do you know of additional packs here tonight to attack the elder beyond your own?”

Arguably the most important question.

GM: “No.”

Caroline: She feels her hold on him begin to waver, like a wave at its apex, having built to its peak with nowhere to go but crashing down. What had been a smooth, almost effortless, hold over him beginning to pull and strain, his own cowering Beast perhaps rising to the occasion, forcing her to feed more and more into her own to keep it at bay.

It’s enough.

She slams a hand down, covering his remaining eye and breaking the contact, with the gentleness of a punch in the face and lets out a breath the body didn’t know it was holding in.

“You’re right about one thing, you lying piece of shit,” she snarls, riding the wave of her own Beast. “They are going to tear apart your soul and eat it. It’s sort of a shame, because you deserve to burn in Hell, but you’ll have to settle for nameless but total oblivion as they rip you into pieces.”

She pulls the blindfold back into place and looks at Westphal and Mahmoud.

“He’s yours,” she offers, nursing the hand that she struck him with. She forgot how fragile mortal bodies could be, but this night is full of reminders.

GM: Throaty laughter sounds from the blinded fiend.

“I expect no less, Camarilla bitch. I would do the same to any of them. I accept what has happened here… but do you?”

A sneer twists the alien face.

“Do you care for the kine who died tonight? Do their deaths touch you… do they move you to righteous anger? Oh, childe, know that I have killed more times than I can count, and many of those deaths were not so merciful as the quick affair you saw tonight. Or perhaps it is these kine’s transformations into a superior species that so offends you, you who despise what you are? Ah, childe, know that I die content, if that is what angers you so. I have performed many mass Embraces and have many childer. My pack survives. My pack and my Blood will perform many more mass Embraces in the future… your actions tonight have changed nothing…”

Caroline: The words cut her more deeply than she lets on, than the fiend can see behind his blindfold.

Reckless hate, wrapped in an ideology that approves of any atrocity in its nihilism.

Part of her wonders if this isn’t the true fate of their kind, its ultimate expression. Unbound from the kine that she has so tied her life to, devoid of conscience and spitting in the face of God Himself with every breath, a stain on the world.

Does the filth painted on the house of society, like sticky tobacco tar running down its walls, really have claim to be better than the putrid muck in the street outside?

That part of her remembers her mother’s words. She would approve, Caroline thinks, of devouring him, and of his devouring of others. She would not even condemn the mass Embrace, Caroline admits.

There’s another pull on her, though, wrapped around her soul since birth, and all the more tightly since her Embrace.

This is the unbound evil her sire has stood against for a thousand years, that he fought without hesitation or mercy in the name of the God they both share. Even as this rabid Kindred gloats about his childer, of future generations.

She is the next generation of the Camarilla’s sword. A sword that has proven its victory across civilization, that these creatures have been beaten back to the edges of it.

That thought, that she stands in her sire’s footsteps, brings a smile to her face and lifts her from the gloom.

“You’re right, it changes nothing,” she admits.

“It’s just another chapter in the slow victory of God over your wretched kind.”

She takes up the stake and plunges it back into the monster’s heart.

GM: The fiend gives a contemptuous snarl, and then the stake silences any further reply.

Caroline: A heartbeat passes without the others moving. Then another. She can feel them pounding in her chest.

Realization dawns on her. “There’s really two options, my friends,” she finally begins.

“Do you want credit for this, but the ugly details of someone on your side spilling secrets out the back door to these animals in the open, or do you want the strength of their blood and a stain when we meet the elder, but no credit for your victory tonight?”

“Keeping in mind that our benefactor may still be watching as well?”

She lets out a short laugh. “Everything’s a test. Welcome to the Camarilla.”

GM: “I’ll take blood,” says Cimpreon. “Credit’s in someone else’s hands. Blood’s in mine.”

“Three of us technically aren’t members of the Camarilla,” observes Westphal. “Moreover, we know very little about this elder. We might never see her again, depending upon where our respective future plans take us. We might get no meaningful credit at all for this. Increased discipline mastery is a guarantee, along with possibly thickened blood.”

Mahmoud scowls. “Credit’s a lot of maypes. I agree. Put if he’s watching.” She looks at Caroline. “He showed ub with you. How likely is it zhat he’s still got an eye here?”

“Can you detect him?” Westphal asks Mahmoud.

“If he doesn’t want to pe found? I doubt it.”

“I’m hearin’ more maybes,” says Cimpreon. “Maybe he’s watching. Maybe he’ll care enough to, what, fuckin’ give us the boot because we drank a couple Sabbat assholes after wasting them? Stake us for the sun? Why the fuck would you do that, if you were him?”

“This was a pack of random Sabbat assholes in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere. I’d look the other way, if I was him.”

Caroline: “Well, that’s an interesting question,” Caroline answers. “But if you knew him, you would know that he is a man of little moral ambiguity and great faith.”

She supposes at some point she’ll have to reconcile her own intentions with her faith.

“This is an interesting theological question, really. Theologically, most is that the opposition to diablerie is built on two pillars, that it prevents another vampire from serving the will of God due to their destruction, and that it unnecessarily accelerates of the thickening of one’s blood, driving one more swiftly towards torpor.”

She offers a toothy grin. “In this case, however… neither is likely to thicken blood, and both imminently face death in one form or another. Does that make it a more temporal trespass? And if so, against who? There is no prince here we trespass against.”

“Perhaps one could make a philosophical argument. I wouldn’t be tempted by it though. Morally, it is clearly a sin. More practically, partaking shows disregard for the accepted customs and practices of the Camarilla which you expose to wish to join with.”

“So why might he watch? To judge your character and worthiness for inclusion.”

And my own.

GM: “Any lick would do this if they thought they could get away with it,” says Cimpreon. “Camarilla or Sabbat. We’re all fuckin’ vampires in the end.”

“Theologically, one can make several counterarguments,” says Westphal. “Which you’ve just done. I’d make a third, that increased discipline proficiency allows us to better fulfill our function as God’s predators. In fact, the Fourth Canon’s objections to diablerie seem to be strictly pragmatic rather than moral. There’s very little actual direct condemnation of the practice. Likely because it was more prevalent during the Monachus’ time.”

Caroline: “Semantic argument either way,” Caroline observes without malice from behind a smile.

“They’d rather it not be prevalent now.”

GM: “The way our clan does it is much more sensible. We know it’s going to happen whether it’s allowed or not. But if you legalize it you can regulate it.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an almost girlish laugh that belies her damned state.

“As I said, my dear, blacks might successfully claim to the bleeding hearts that violence and infidelity are cultural heritage, but I don’t expect a similar argument to move the Camarilla’s unbeating ones. Though I might enjoy watching the attempt.”

GM: “We don’t have to make a ‘cultural heritage’ argument. It’s an objectively more efficient system that turns diablerie from an underground taboo into a regulated practice that still benefits those at the top while affording greater social mobility to those at the bottom, strengthening Kindred institutions as a whole. It’s clear you have a great deal to learn from us.”

“Sentiment’s for suckers,” Cimpreon agrees. “We do it ’cause it works.”

“If it stops working, we’d be the first to drop it like a hot potato.”

“Zhat staked keeber could make my command ofer zhe Apyss more bowerful,” Mahmoud suddenly snaps, her dark eyes hungry. And angry. “Fuck eferyzhing else. I didn’t want to pe here. I didn’t want to risk my ass for credit. Fuck credit. I want bower. If none of you hafe zhe palls, I’m eating zhe keeber myself. More for me. Yay. Fuck any Cam elder who gets zheir panties in a wad ofer me draining a Sappat asshole in zhe middle of nowhere.”

Caroline: Caroline can feel them slipping out of her grasp as surely as the priest’s mind slipped from it, the moment where she might have influenced this matter with but a word passed.

I could still decide it, she thinks, but the matter now would require violence, would splinter this group, would make enemies among them. Perhaps of them. There’s no certainty she could prevail.

Had she simply decided, not let the matter open to discussion, it might not have snowballed. But her hesitation—her temptation—has allowed the yawning gates open. Putting the genie back in the bottle is infinitely more difficult than letting it out ever was—and that assumes she event wants to.

And when she’s honest with herself…

It’s so tempting. Power there for the taking. Power she desperately needs, if she is to hold to any illusion of the throne. She’s seen her mother’s strength, but also her weakness. Seen herself as a millstone around the neck of her sisters. She would not rely upon that alone.

Nor too does she believe, as she told Fatimah, that the seneschal’s strength or plans will be sufficient. She needs her own strength.

And these three too… such a shared secret could create a powerful lever for use against her, but so too could it tie bonds between them. More than one pact is sealed in blood, in darkness. The addition of even one of them to New Orleans, favorably inclined, would be such a victory.

You want it, whispers a voice. The taste of it, the feel of it again. She squirms against the want, the raw desire to do this rooted in nothing but selfish hedonism.

Even as she builds her logical case there’s truth there she cannot deny. She does want.

And, whispers a darker voice, deserves.

The spoils of victory.

“Then we do not speak of this pack to anyone. Ever.”

Her gaze settles on each in turn.

“Payment for the deeds this night is in blood.”

GM: “I can live with that,” says Cimpreon.

“There’s considerable evidence to the contrary,” says Westphal. “Missing and injured ghouls. Damaged clothing. Two dozen missing kine. The battle site. Half a dozen surviving Sabbat that engaged with us.”

“Saying we never engaged this pack is a much bigger lie than saying we took no prisoners. It’s an even smaller lie to say we took prisoners and that they attacked us, someone frenzied, and we regrettably have no surviving prisoners to turn over.”

“That’s eminently believable. It isn’t the best look and it’s understandable we’d try to avoid telling the whole story, which we should. But it won’t ruin us if it comes out, since our actions were a net benefit to the Camarilla.”

Caroline: “All of that evidence is easily waved away—clothing replaced, ghouls written off or put back together. A battle in the desert that could have been any number of competing factions,” Caroline answers in turn.

“A thread once exposed is much more easily pulled upon, and it would take little pulling to reveal the truth of what happened here,” she continues.

“I propose not a lie, but an omission.” Her gaze settles on Westphal. “But if the topic should be raised or explored, that story—especially revealed only in pieces as required—is better than a denial.”

GM: “So don’t talk apout zhis unless someone asks.” Mahmoud shrugs. “Fine py me.”

“Don’t talk about this and don’t volunteer more information than someone directly asks for,” says Westphal. “She’s right this is better if the topic simply doesn’t come up at all. We’ll clean up what evidence is here.”

“Fugly here said there was a keeper spy,” says Cimpreon. “Fuck Cairo, I guess, if we don’t want to pass that on. This ain’t my city.”

Mahmoud frowns. “It’s hard to explain how we know zhat wizhout taking brisoners. Or wizhout fighting zhe back at all.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I will ensure that information makes it to who it must. I suspect the spy’s identity is well known, however.”

GM: “Sufficient for me,” says Westphal. “If that alternative doesn’t materialize, I have sources I can claim to have discovered that information from.”

“Well then, ladies and gent, do we want to interrogate the keeper, or proceed right to the feast?” Cimpreon grins.

Caroline: The grin somehow makes her uncomfortable. Their eagerness makes her uncomfortable.

It’s one thing to do this with purpose. It’s another thing to grudgingly admit you even enjoy it. But it seems somehow wrong, vulgar, to actively desire it. To cheapen it.

She supposes in that way it’s a lot like how her Catholic schoolteachers made her feel about sex.

GM: “I doubt he’ll tell us anyzhing zhe fiend didn’t already,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: “Which is to say, he’ll tell us nothing,” Caroline agrees. “These are fanatics who think they’re going to die anyway. At best, they’re going to spit in our faces as they go.”

She doesn’t admit that she’s uncertain of her ability to pull secrets so deeply from another mind. Not without feeding, and she doesn’t even know if that’s possible from this body.

“The sooner we’re about it, the better. We don’t have all night before the elder arrives.”

GM: “The fiend told us something new,” disagrees Westphal. “But we’ve taken enough time, it’s no guarantee we’ll find out more from the keeper, and it’s likely he’ll try to spit in our faces by feeding us false information. That’s what I’d do if I were incompetent enough to wind up in his position.” A sneer curls his lip.

“All pefore how zhe keeper doesn’t need his arms and legs to attack us,” says Mahmoud. “He might do zhat and try to make us frenzy yust to escape diablerie. I know I would.”

“Might even work with how torn up we are,” says Cimpreon. “That’ll be another nice little bonus to this.” He smirks and exits the car. “I’ll get the ductus. Don’t start without me.”

“Quickly,” says Westphal.

Caroline: Caroline can feel the heart beating in her chest.

GM: There’s a very, very hungry look to the young vampire’s eyes.

“I’m taking zhe keeber,” Mahmoud repeats. “You two eat who you want.”

“I’m eating him too,” says Westphal. “I brought him down. I’m not eating a kill that isn’t mine.”

Caroline: The heiress says nothing, but she can feel the breathing in this body accelerating slightly, the blood flowing more quickly as its heart beats harder. Fear or excitement? She’s not certain she can even tell the difference anymore.

Does it really matter which it is?

Once more, the callousness of the others on the topic scraps against her like nails on a chalkboard. Makes her wonder if they’ve ever done this before. If it’s true callousness or simply bravado.

GM: Does it really matter, either?

Mahmoud looks at Caroline. “Ghouls can’t commit diaplerie. When whoefer zhe fuck you eat is fully drained of plood, leafe her body. Zhere’s enough shadowstuff pound to your astral form zhat you should pe aple to finish zhe job. Zhe brocess of diaplerie is one soul consuming anozher, more zhan it is anyzhing bysical.”

Caroline: Oh, isn’t it? She remembers the truth of it. Seeing to the heart of everything Bishop Malveaux was in the moments before his oblivion.

“Presumably the priest,” she fills in hollowly.

GM: Cimpreon gets back with the ductus’ staked body. He’s torn off the limbs to make it an easier fit into the car’s back seat.

“First time?” he smirks at her.

Caroline: “Would it matter if it weren’t?” the Ventrue asks back, retreating into stoicism as she meets his eyes. “Even were this not a crime in law, it is premeditated murder, cannibalism, and rape.”

She bites the body’s lip hard enough to draw blood in the soft flesh. “It may be…. necessary, but to revel in such things brings us two steps closer to them, vice one,” she gestures to the body in his hands. “Someone once told me we all lose eventually, that the best we can hope is to do so more slowly.”

She shrugs gently and tilts her head. “I would prove him wrong in the former while appreciating the sentiment of the latter.”

GM: “These assholes have murdered, cannibalized, raped, and more who the fuck knows how many times,” says Cimpreon. “They’ll do it forever, laughing, if we don’t ash ’em here.”

Caroline: The smile reaches her eyes. “You’ll not hear me arguing for their Requiems. Only our own souls.”

The smile fades. “We should get to it.”

GM: Westphal’s lip curls again. “I have no plans to lose. Now or eventually.”

He sinks his fangs into the ductus’ staked form. Mahmoud joins him.

“Too bad we can’t share this someplace romantic by candlelight,” smirks Cimpreon, then sinks his fangs into the staked Tzimisce’s rubbery gray flesh.

Caroline: The sound of their slurping fills the vehicle’s interior.

She’s committed now, on some level. A witness at best, an accomplice more likely.

The kine’s body lacks her body’s fangs, the ability to easily break skin, much less the thicker flesh of the monster, and she doesn’t try. Instead she finds a wound and sets herself to it.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

GM: Hot bliss fills her tongue. It’s different in a ghoul’s body. Less primal and more recreational, somehow. More like the rush of cocaine or a strong drink than sating an animal hunger. This body doesn’t need vitae to survive. But it wants it. How it wants it. She’s a heroin user getting her fix. Getting more than her fix. Rare, Caroline imagines, is the domitor who lets their thralls feast so deeply, so totally without restraint.

Maybe this is what it felt like for Diego.

The fiend’s blood is sour, bitter, and hot with hatred towards her, towards what she’s done to him, towards all she stands for. But the taste is no worse for it. It tastes like victory.

It tastes like conquest.

There’s a distinctly alien undercurrent to it that Caroline can’t begin to describe. It’s not at all like Jocelyn’s blood, her sire’s blood, or any of the other ‘Camarilla vintages’ she’s sampled. There’s something regal to it, like her own. It tastes warped and twisted and cruel, yet somehow refined. Foreign but familiar. It reminds her of when Luke talked about his business trip to Saudi Arabia. The al-Sauds were his counterparts in another culture, and more barbaric than him, but more concerned with hospitality too.

She drinks, rapturously, an addict riding an endless high—until she hits the crash. Blood slows to a trickle, then ceases to flow across her tongue. The sounds of slurping no longer fill the car. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Cimpreon’s eyes blaze as he squeezes the staked corpse, snapping bones under his crushing grip.

The true pleasure, she knows from last time, only begins now.

Caroline: She focuses on that, on the taste, on the feel. Blocks out the sickly crackling and pops as Cimpreon’s fingers dig into the corpse, the sickly slurping of the other two vampires cannibalizing their clanmate behind her, the revulsion she feels inside herself.

Just ride the high. Ride the moment.

It’s the same thing she’s told herself before, in life and death.

The shame will come later, she knows, but for now there’s only the feeling. And however much she’ll feel shame later, she can’t deny the truth: that she does like it. There’s nothing quite like it in the world, no high the equal of victory, blood, and power.

The Ventrue pulls herself from the weak, fragile, frail kine’s body—the spell tying to it already decaying, weakened by the same entropy that will one day claim stars and even galaxies. Pulls herself towards another form of oblivion.

Just not her own.

GM: Not her own, but her body’s.

The soreness in her muscles and the sweat on her skin vanishes. Her heartbeat stops. The smells of blood and gunpowder dissipate. The cool night becomes perfect room temperature.

She barely registers how it all stops, or what becomes of the ghoul. It’s just another distraction to tune out. She’s on autopilot, guided by pure instinct.

By pure pleasure.

She’s not sure how she’s drinking. There’s no physical liquid coursing down her throat. But there wasn’t last time, either. And it is like last time. It’s the same sublime taste, as heavy as gold and weightless as air. It’s so pure and powerful that she seems to be swallowing liquid fire.

Cimpreon, across from her, is ravenously devouring the fiend’s neck. He doesn’t look like he’s drinking blood. He looks like he’s trying to swallow the Tzimisce’s entire body through sheer force of will. His eyes are enormous and every inch of his face is lit up with ecstasy. He isn’t drinking. He’s feasting.

Below them, the Tzimisce’s mouth is wide open in a soundless scream, his alien face a mask of utter terror, even past the stake in his heart. Caroline would say she’s never seen another sentient being in such fear and pain, but she’d be lying. The priest looks exactly the way Bishop Malveaux looked before he died. There’s a distant sound ringing back and forth in Caroline’s ears like the tolling of a great bell. That’s also like last time. It’s fast at first, like a beating heart, then slower and deeper. Caroline feels lighter than air and denser than earth. She is water and fire. She is impossibly gorged and impossibly ravenous. She is divine and depraved. The Tzimisce’s neck is a fountain of liquid gold.

But it’s not like last time. There’s less than last time. She feels Cimpreon sucking away, tearing away at the feast beneath her, as though they are two people eating from the same shared plate. They are two people sharing the same faith. Fuck him. Fuck him for taking what’s hers. She should eat him too, to show that fuck what he gets plate stealing her fucking kill. The murderous impulse from her Beast passes like a roaring fire, and she wonders how much harder it would be to fight off if she were not incorporeal.

The equally ravenous, hateful glint in Cimpreon’s eyes tells the Ventrue that her Beast is not alone in that feeling.

She can’t kill him. He can’t kill her. There’s only one thing they both can do.

Drink.

The desperate urgency to get as much as she can before the Lasombra drives her like hell’s own hounds are at her heels. She pulls that blissful vein of liquid gold into herself, gulps it down—and, just like last time, her ecstasy surges to unimaginable heights. It rocks through her like an orgasm coursing through every inch of her body, like a thunderstorm she’s riding between her thighs. She’s a volcanic eruption. She’s a star going nova. She wants to scream, and scream, and rip out her hair from the sheer rapture, superior to any feeding, superior to any sex. Past ceases to matter. The future ceases to matter. Her reasons for doing this cease to matter. There is only the endless and eternal now as thought and self dissolve into bliss. The fiend’s psychic scream reverberates through her, piercingly loud. Just like that, the alien gray body rapidly ages underneath her and Cimpreon’s mouths.

But there’s no vision like last time. No impression of the life she has not merely taken, but subsumed.

Just the knowledge that there’s one less Sabbat monster in the world.

And his strength is now her strength.

Caroline: The raw pleasure, the all-consuming desire, becomes literally everything that matters as its end approaches, as the vein dries up, and when it’s drawn away it wounds her, like someone his literally ripped away a piece of her. The perfect moment of bliss is shattered in an instant and Caroline is left to drift back to the earth.

Perhaps Caroline the woman, the intellect, could rationalize that sudden end, but there’s something so much darker inside her that’s grown strong on yet another soul, and before its impulsive raging demand there can be no defense. It sheers loose from its bonds, and in the moments that follow she’s blind to how the other Lasombra react, blind to other watchers, blind to everything except wanton desire and rage that its want has been taken away.

It’s perhaps fortunate that for the first time since Claire trapped her in the circle of flame that the Beast’s rage is as ineffectual as a screaming child.

GM: The same cannot be said, however, for the Lasombra.

The car’s interior is a wreck. All of them are scratched up again, their clothes newly shredded. Their faces look like they just blew thousand-roper loads while snorting cocaine.

Caroline isn’t sure which of them did it. The ghoul whose body she previously inhabited lies slumped over on the seat, her throat ripped out. Her eyes gaze blankly up at the car ceiling.

Mahmoud seems to slowly come to her senses at the sight.

“Which one of you fucking killed her?” she snarls.

“Who the fuck says it was us?” says Cimpreon.

Caroline: “We all did,” Caroline answers pointedly.

GM: “It doesn’t matter,” says Westphal. “She was a loose end.”

Caroline: “Aren’t we all, then?” Caroline answers the child vampire, just as pointedly.

GM: “Yes,” he smiles in agreement, “though the ghoul was a looser end than any of us, as she was merely an accomplice to the crime. All of us are principals. We’ve each consumed half a soul.”

Mahmoud glares, but says nothing at Caroline’s words.

“Look at her,” says Westphal, pointing at the seat. “Look at the pattern of those bloodstains. She was trying to lick the vitae off the seat. If she were smart, she’d have ran.”

Cimpreon shakes his head. “Fuckin’ addicts.”

Caroline: “She’s dead,” Caroline doesn’t quite snap. “There’s no need to further smear her name.”

“And as for us, I would have no mistaking of what we’ve done. We are bound now, in this crime, in this moment, to each other. We’ve seen each other’s worst impulses, committing the Camarilla’s greatest crime.”

GM: Westphal nods knowingly.

Cimpreon slings an arm around Mahmoud’s shoulders. “Don’t look so glum, gorgeous. Was worth it, wasn’t it?”

Mahmoud closes her ghoul’s eyes.

But she nods too.

“All bower for a brice. Zhe Apyss demands sacrifice.”

Caroline: “Sometimes the price is higher than we thought.”

Caroline lets that thought linger for a moment.

“And sometimes the rewards are as well.”

“From this night on we might be the greatest threat to each other’s Requiems… especially if Clan Lasombra is recognized within the Camarilla.”

Her gaze sweeps across them. “Or… we might be the greatest asset to each other’s Requiems. Few secrets we might share in the future would be more deadly to each other than those this night.”

GM: “In for a penny, in for a pound,” agrees Westphal. “I have no objections to continued cooperation should our interests take us to the same cities.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles and turns her gaze to the other two. “And you?”

GM: “Hey, I’m happy to make friends wherever I go,” grins Cimpreon. “Gonna need ’em in the nights ahead.”

“I agree,” says Mahmoud. “Whatever we are to each other, asset or zhreat, has peen sealed in plood. And I’d pe an idiot to bick zhreat.”

“Then we’re agreed,” says Westphal, looking between the other three. “Allies.”

“Allies,” repeats Cimpreon.

“Allies,” says Mahmoud.

They could seal it in blood.

But they already have.

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze sweeps across the others, lingering for perhaps a moment on Cimpreon.

“Good. Then let’s get started dividing up the world, shall we?”

After all, they’ve already started.


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Story Twelve, Celia XV, Emmett IX

“I love you. Don’t die.”
Celia Flores


Thursday morning, 10 March 2016

GM: BREEP BREEP BREEP BREEP BREEP!

Celia’s eyes snap open. It’s day. She can feel the sun weighing her down like a leaden cloak. Roderick’s phone is screaming its alarm off.

Celia: Day. Again.

Hunters.

It’s her first thought. The thought that makes her bolt upright in bed. That makes her shake Roderick by the shoulders until he, too, wakes up.

Mid-City. They’d been targeting Mid-City. Lebeaux had told her it was their plan and she’d come here anyway.

No time to think about it. No time for regrets.

“Get up, get up, get up!”

GM: He sleeps like the dead man he is.

Celia: What the fuck is the point of the alarm on his phone if it doesn’t even wake him.

GM: It woke her.

Celia: Lucky him she was here to fuck him last night.

His ghouls are on the way, at least. That’s the point of this system. Alerts him. Alerts them. How far away, though? She doesn’t know.

Licks wake up when their bodies get hurt.

She doesn’t remember who told her. Mel, maybe. Or Lebeaux. Someone who was supposed to look out for her, inform her of that kind of shit. Until recently she hadn’t had a reason to test it though; she’s not much of a day riser. She recalls the knife in her side from the hunters, how quickly she’d come to then.

Recalls, too, how swift her Beast is to rise to the surface at such an attack. And the Brujah? Twice as bad. How many times has he smashed her face in because he couldn’t control himself? Anything beyond “zero” is too many. The idea of just whacking him across the face to get him out of bed comes with its own set of problems.

Maybe something else, though. Blood brings people out of torpor. What’s a little daysleep compared to that?

She hopes he can forgive her.

Her fangs sink into her wrist. She presses it against his mouth.


Thursday morning, 10 March 2016

GM: Em’s in someone’s bedroom. The ravishingly beautiful vampire he saw in the enfant’s… whatever is naked and frantically shaking at a motionless naked man. His aura lacks the telltale glow Em has encountered around actual people. An alarm shrieks from a nearby phone.

Emmett: Odd. Decidedly not where he meant to end up. He studies the naked vampire, and her apparent…victim? He looks dead, anyways.

GM: She bites her wrist and presses it to his mouth while shaking him with her other hand.

Emmett: As she does, the dead guy’s face clicks into a long-vacant slot in his memory. Stephen Garrison. Celia’s cuck ex.

Well, looks like he’s moved on, albeit also off his mortal coil.

But if the vamp killed him, where’s the caul?

GM: Em sees no caul, but he sees through the walls. A group of people dressed like plumbers or repairmen are busily working on the apartment’s front door as the phone alarm shrieks.

Emmett: Dressed as, but clearly not. It doesn’t take three pricks in coveralls to shimmy a door.

Caroline mentioned hunters. Maybe coveralls are the Van Helsing vogue.

He strolls into their midst, trying to better ascertain their intentions. Not like he can do much to them, though, even if he had a reason.

GM: One of them has a tool belt around his waist and is working on the door. It has an electronic keyless lock. The other two seem to be keeping a lookout. Em sees through the cases they’re carrying like so much smoke. And the clothes on their bodies. Cases and clothes both conceal wooden stakes, nasty-looking long knives, handcuffs, handguns, containers of lighter fluid, and assorted other implements whose purpose looks more like destruction than repair.


Celia: There’s one good thing, at least, from her forcing him into that third drink: his sire might feel it. Even during the day. Maybe it’ll wake her. Maybe she’ll know something is up. Who collars someone during the day, right? Send her own goons to check it out.

Admittedly, Celia doesn’t know if that really is such a good thing. She’d just watched Veronica abuse the fuck out of Coco’s other childe; if the Brujah primogen gets her hands on Celia can she really expect better treatment? Roderick had said once that they weren’t close, but what sort of sire just hands over their childe with no retaliation?

Does it matter, if it saves Roderick’s life?

She’d been willing to sacrifice herself for her mom once. This isn’t any different. There’s a short list of people she’d throw everything away for and he’s one of them.

Maybe it doesn’t even count. Three nights, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Today is day. Not night. They’d just done it hours ago.

Maybe his collar had snapped completely last time and he’s not even at that point.

Maybe it’s a fucking pizza delivery guy at the wrong door.

Desperation makes her take the same calculated risk. If it goes south, if they both get knocked out, if Roderick wakes up raging and takes it out on her, she can’t chance being taken to someone else and being forced into a bond. She can’t have someone else wake her, collar her, claim her.

Maybe it’ll get him out of bed. Like waking up a dude with your mouth.

Fangs sink into his flesh, too. She draws right from the source.

She shoves at him with her free hand. The alarm blares nonstop nearby. Four ways to wake him up. Four things vying for his attention, drawing him forth from his deep slumber.

GM: Her lover abruptly jolts awake. A growl sounds from his throat as his arms lock tight around Celia. Fangs stab into her neck as he drinks deep.

Celia: Who knew that all you need to wake a vampire is the same sort of trick that works on any human male: offer them sex.

Celia’s relief is short-lived. She licks closed the wound on his neck and shoves the phone at him instead.

GM: Celia finds it hard to do both with his arms around hers. The snarling Brujah rolls over, pinning her beneath him as he drinks his fill.

Celia: It should be hot. It should be the exact way she wants to wake up every evening, with Roderick’s arms around her and his lips on her neck.

Now, though, it isn’t hot. It isn’t sexy. It isn’t enjoyable.

It’s terrifying.

Someone is trying to get into his haven and he’s too busy trying to fuck her to notice. They’ll be in any minute and he won’t even notice when the stake slams into him from behind, then his weight will pin her to the bed and she’ll be helpless and they’ll both die.

Their kind are used to the mindless, wanton writhing of vessels. But she doesn’t give him that. She shrieks instead, pleading with him to stop, that they’re here, that there’s danger. Anything to bring his attention to the moment.


Emmett: “…oh.”

“God, is everybody in this fucking city a vampire?”

GM: The three men trying to break in don’t seem to be.

Emmett: But they’re vampire hunters. That’s vamp-adjacent. He’s pretty sure he’d rather be a hunter than a ghost.

Granted, there’s two bloodsuckers inside and three Helsings outside, so… kind of seems like anybody’s game if they’re about to rush in.

Still, fuck all he can do to affect the outcome, drained and deathly as he is.

GM: Sounds like someone could use some juice.

Emmett: Not sure why I should give a fuck about some random vampire bitch, though, even if she is all up in Celia’s shit. Might be better if they got her, to be honest.

GM: She’d owe us. Him, too.

If they kill these wannabe Van Helsings that’s three souls we get.

Emmett: If you’re offering, I’m listening. What’s the price?

GM: I’ll just get a little stronger.

Emmett: All right. Hit me.

GM: It surges through him in a hot, toxic rush. It’s the vicious satisfaction he felt at seeing the ‘oh shit’ click in Sami’s head when she realized why Em brought her to Dino’s dad’s place. It’s way she screamed when the cigarette burned into her skin. It’s the way Cash Money howled when the knife sank into his hair beanpole leg. He was strong, then. He’s strong again now.

Emmett: Not a lot of time to waste. He broadcasts through the phone’s screeching alarm in an inter-dimensional PSA, a staticky but distinctly clear voice like a newsman from the fifties:

INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! WOLVES WEARING COVERALLS!”

Okay, maybe a little on the nose. But it gets the point across.

He hopes.


GM: Celia’s screams don’t take long to get through to him. He pulls back, concern writ across his face even as her blood stains his lips.

“What’s wrong? Am I hurting you?”

GM: INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! WOLVES WEARING COVERALLS!” screams Roderick’s phone. The voice is staticky but distinctly clear, like a newsman from the fifties.

Celia: The phone chimes in before she can. She shoves it at him once more.

GM: “What the fuck!?” he frowns.

He taps in the code to unlock it.

“Shit! Three guys out there!”

He springs off the bed. “Fuck! The middle of the fucking day!”

He pulls her outside the bedroom, grabs the bookshelf against a nearby wall, and pulls it across the carpet. Celia sees a door in the space where it used to be.

“Get in, hurry!”

Celia: Three. She’d taken two on her own. Maybe they can take three. And his backup has to be coming, right?

She’s already thinking of how they can best ambush the men when he moves the bookshelf. She doesn’t stop to consider it, just nods, snatches her phone, grabs his hand, and hauls him in with her.

He’s delusional if he thinks she’s going to let him close her in some secret hiding place and leave him behind.

GM: He shakes his head. “I’ll hold them off. Even if they get me, they won’t think to look for a second lick behind the wall.”

Celia: “I’m not leaving you,” she hisses at him, “get in or we’re both fighting.”

GM: “No time to argue.”

He pulls open the door, grabs her, and tries to shove her in.


Emmett: It’d be sweet if it wasn’t utterly pointless and stupid.

GM: Describes you pretty well too, when you’re trying to be the white knight.

Emmett: I’m never a white knight. At whitest, I’m beige.

GM: Yeah, true.

But I said ‘try.’


Celia: He tries. He fails.

Celia is quicker than she looks. Whatever she’d said to him about not focusing on speed years ago has clearly changed. All that time in a dance studio finally pays off when she executes a quick spin around him, just out of reach of his grasping hands.

“You’re not the only one who knows how to fight. Close it. We can jump them. They only expect one.”

GM: “Goddamnit!” he yells, making another grab at her as the Toreador all-too literally dances away. “I’m not letting more hunters rape you!”


Emmett: Is that a thing hunters do? Definitely makes them seem less… white knight-y.

GM: Why wouldn’t it be?

We’d have been happy to stick our dick in her.

Emmett: Necrophilia, though.


Celia: “Roderick, please, you’re wasting time—they’re going to be in here any minute, we can easily dispatch three of them between us. Close it. Close it or get in with me. I’m not losing you because of some misplaced sense of chivalry.”

GM: He makes a frustrated snarl, and then he’s gone in a blur. Celia’s suddenly shoved through the door. A baseball bat, phone, and family pictures fall over the floor or against her bare chest as Roderick pulls the bookshelf closed behind them.

He closes the door against the shelf. Locks it.

“Okay. Fine. We’ll hope they don’t find this place.”

Celia: “Silence your phone,” Celia whispers to him. “Turn off your alarm.” She’s already done the same.

GM: Celia looks around. There’s a bed on the other side, along with a laptop, phone, some guns, handcuffs, a mini-fridge and microwave, and assorted other survival supplies.

Roderick frowns as he does exactly that.

“It shouldn’t have said that,” he whispers.

“The alarm is just a beeping noise.”

Celia: “Tampering?”

GM: He thinks for a moment, then tugs it between his hands, and finally snaps it.

He walks up to the wall and taps a monitor. “We can still see what’s going on.”

Indeed, Celia sees three men dressed like plumbers or repairmen working on Roderick’s keyless front door.

Celia: “You said it alerts your people? How long?”

She really needs to step up her haven game.

GM: “Depends where they are. But they’re on their way.”

He shakes his head.

“I need to get better at this.”

Celia: “At… what? You, uh, seem prepared.”

GM: “All of this,” he says with the faintest hint of scorn. “They’d have caught me with my pants down if you hadn’t been here. Just lying in bed, all by myself, waiting for them to drive the stake in.”

Celia: “Could call building manager, tell them you’re away from home and see someone trying to get in. Unless you think they’ve been compromised.”

GM: He thinks. “Good idea. I might as well call the cops, too.”

Celia: “No cops.”

GM: He bends and picks up an old-fashioned flip phone from among the supplies and taps into the keypad.

“Why not? They’re in the prince’s pocket.”

“I’d rather capture some hunters ourselves, but better to have them locked up than out on the streets.”

Celia: “Prince isn’t the only one with people in the department,” she says, thinking of Lebeaux. “Not worth the risk.”

GM: “Sure, there’s Lebeaux, but he only gets away with it as long as he hides in the Quarter. Mid-City cops belong to Vidal.”

“Bess is just going to call 911 herself anyway, if I call her.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. She pulls out her phone and unlocks it to dial Mel.

GM: He shakes his own again. “God, I’ve been so sloppy. Coco’d be right to chew me out.”

Celia: “First time. You didn’t get picked up, that’s what matters. We’ll get through this.”

GM: “I’ll kill them, if they try to do that to you again,” he says grimly.

Celia: “Or… we let them, and you pick them off while they’re trying to fuck me.”

GM: “You either know just who you’ve reached, or you’ve dialed a very lucky wrong number,” purrs the ghoul’s voice. “Leave a message, and I’ll give you a ring back first thing.”

Beeeep.

“Absolutely not,” Roderick says flatly.

Meanwhile, on the screen, the hunters have gotten through. They can’t be anything else, because they have stakes, guns, and knives out. They close the door behind them after slipping under the barrier, then fan out to search the apartment.

They’ve pulled masks over their faces, for all the good it does them now.

Celia: Celia leaves a quick message, sends an SOS to Randy that includes a series of emojis and a pin with the location, and assesses this new room for any spot they can use to make a stand.

GM: Celia’s phone buzzes with a text. It comes from a number that glitches and changes and whose presence on the phone makes the air chiller.

KILL THEM FOR ME AND WE’LL BE FRIENDS, it reads.

Then:

;)

Celia: What. The. Fuck.

GM: There’s also, she notices, a panoply of missed calls and text messages whose senders are marked Mom and Emily.

Another one pops up from Emily:

WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?

Celia: A problem for later, once her life isn’t in danger.


GM: Huh. That ain’t good, Em’s Shadow remarks at the talk of capturing the hunters.

They need to kill these guys for us.

Emmett: He sends a text to the phone. It comes from a number that glitches and changes and whose presence on the phone makes the air chiller.

KILL THEM FOR ME AND WE’LL BE FRIENDS, it reads.

Then:

;)


GM: Roderick snarls at the screen.

“That’s why I took the family pictures, by the way.”

Celia: “Smart,” she tells him.

“Listen to me,” she whispers, “I’m going to hit them with star mode, and we’re going to take them out.”

GM: “I’m pretty confident I could take three breathers with surprise.”

“Know why I’m not?”

He looks at her.

“I stand a hell of a lot more to lose than to gain from that fight.”


GM: Oh, cute, Romeo wants to play hero.


Celia: He also thought he could take Caroline, so she’s not sure she trusts his judgment. But the words warm her, and she takes his hand in hers.

They’ll get through this.

They have to.

GM: He squeezes her hand back.

Looks down at their naked bodies. Chuckles.

“This would almost be sexy.”

Celia: “Hush, you, we’ve already got a track record for fucking at inopportune times.”

GM: “Pretty sure ‘while hunters commit a home invasion’ would be a new record even for us.”

He glances across the room. “I’ve got weapons in here, do you want one?”

Celia: “Claws.”

GM: “Yeah. Why I asked.”

“I’ve got guns.”

Celia: “I can’t shoot,” she admits. She never learned.

GM: “I really have to teach you. Hunters take a bullet like any other breather.”

Celia: She’d asked him to four years ago, but she doesn’t bring it up now. Just nods.

GM: He looks at his phone.

“I’ve texted my renfields. One rents the unit next to mine. They’ll be here soon.”

Celia: “Don’t hesitate. If they get in. If they see us. Trust me to take care of me. Just take them out.”

GM: Roderick frowns at the monitor.

“What are they doing…?”

They’re looking into the mirror in the kitchen. Shining a light over it.

Celia: “What’s in there?”

GM: “Nothing. It’s a totally ordinary mirror.”

Celia: “You don’t keep secret documents in there?”

GM: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

“Though if you’re curious as to its history, it used to belong to my grandma and she kept it in the kitchen, so that’s why I have it there.”

Celia: “Was your grandma a witch?”

GM: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” he repeats.

The hunters are still looking it over.

“What the fuck is with them…?”

They finally turn away.


GM: We need to give these Van Helsing wannabes a tip-off.

Emmett: It does look that way, sadly.

He uses his text-sending prowess again. This time, he catches one of the hunter’s eyes in the mirror, standing behind him in what’s empty air when the coverall-wrapped killer turns in shock.

“Behind the bookshelf,” says the man in the mirror when the hunter turns back. Then he’s gone. Maybe he was never there at all.

GM: The masked man’s eyes narrow.

“Hey,” he whispers.

His companions make their way over.

“Guy in the mirror. Said behind the bookshelf.”

They look around.

“Ghost he killed?” one whispers back.

“Might be,” whispers another. “Or trap.”

Emmett: What is he, a magic 8-ball?

GM: They inspect the kitchen mirror more closely. One shines a tiny light over it.

“Ectoplasm,” he whispers.

“Thanks, spook, if you’re for real.”

“Check the shelves,” whispers another. “Extra careful.”

Emmett: He appreciates it. He still hopes they die. But he appreciates a little gratitude.


Celia: “We need to kill them.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Rather not risk you.”

Celia: “The closer they get to the door the less opportunity we have to ambush them.”

GM: “And rather take them alive, if we have to fight.”

Celia: She’ll kill them on her own if need be.

She doesn’t say it.

Just nods.

GM: “Even beyond the morals, I want to know how the hell they found me here. What other hunters they may know. Which other licks may be in danger.”

Celia: Celia would rather have a friend.

GM: Roderick takes up the bat and positions himself to the left of the door, though keeps his eyes on the monitor.

“Fewer surprises in a fight, the better. What do you want to do if they get in?”

Celia: “My strength is charming them. Not fighting. Make them underestimate me, get close. Star mode. You come in from behind. Bite them and they usually stop resisting.”

GM: “I’d do that if it was one, but there’s three. First one through gets a bat to the skull.”

Celia: Makes sense. She nods.

“I can hide then. Surprise attack.”

“You got any stone skin?”

GM: He shakes his head. “Classic Brujah, sorry. Star mode, super-speed, super-strength.”

“Okay. First one comes in and goes down. You’re a hunter following from behind, what do you do?”

Celia: “Pull back. Fire from afar. Or duck, assume they’ll swing again, face level. Fire though.”

GM: “Let’s assume they know guns are useless.”

Celia: “Literal fire, maybe. Grenade?”

“Would they risk that? They expected to find you sleeping. Guns are probably for your renfields.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Grenades are a whole ‘nother league of messy than gunshots, in several senses of the word. Legal sale of explosives is limited to pretty much the construction business. Large booms are the sort of thing that can bring the ATF or FBI running and get flagged as domestic terrorism. If I were a hunter I’d probably consider grenades more trouble than they’re worth, in a populated building like this.”

“And yeah. The guns are probably for my renfields. God, they’re better-prepared than I am.”

Celia: “Now you know how to fix it. It’s fine. We’ve got this. I took on two on my own after they cuffed me. It’s fine.”

“I’m not afraid. You’re here.”

GM: He smiles and squeezes her shoulder.

“Hmm. What if, to get them all in the room, I lie ‘asleep’ on the bed? You turn into a cat. They try to stake me, I get one with the bat, you transform back and get your fangs in another. I take out the third, same way.”

Celia: She looks around to see if there’s anywhere he can hide.

GM: There’s the mini-fridge, though not much vision there. She could also move around the various survival supplies and the cases they come in.

Celia’s phone gets a text.


Emmett: He scowls at the conversation in the safe room. Great, pacifist vampires.

GM: Ugh, I know. Sami wouldn’t have a problem wasting these assholes.

Emmett: The girl’s phone gets a text.

Kill two. The third can wait til u talk to him.


Celia: Celia gives a nod. There’s not much he can hide behind; her getting smaller is their best bet, even if she thinks she’d be better bait. She leans in, touches a hand to his cheek. She doesn’t have time to tell him everything she’s feeling, but…

“I love you,” she whispers to him. “Don’t die.”

GM: He pulls her close and kisses her head, closing his eyes for a moment as he runs a hand through her hair.

“I love you too. Don’t either.”

In the monitor, the hunters are carefully inspecting the apartment’s bookshelves.

Celia: It’s enough to make her dead heart skip. All it took is a handful of near-death experiences.

GM: Roderick pulls away and hefts up the bat. His expression turns grim as he looks at the monitor.

“The shelf might not fool them.”

Another text buzzes up from Emily. There’s one from Alana, too.

Mistress, your family’s trying to find you!

Celia: Little busy, she sends back to Alana. Stall them.

“It probably won’t. We can always ambush them out there.”

GM: _I’m telling them you’re taking an off day.

Then Alana gets the text.

Mistress, you’re awake?!

Celia: She should know better than that.

Celia scowls.

Ran into an old friend.

GM: “Here’s pretty much the same setup as the bedroom,” Roderick shrugs. “If we run into the common area, harder to surprise them.”

Emily is going crazy, mistress. She was yelling and screaming and being very unreasonable. I don’t know why you put up with her.

Celia: What’s wrong?

GM: Just breather things. It was very hard not to tell her how presumptuous she was actually being. I’d never dare talk to you like she was.

Celia: Watch how you talk about my family. That’s about as clear as she can make it. Tell me.

GM: I’m sorry, mistress. There was just so much yelling and screaming I couldn’t make sense of it. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment in your life.

“Who’re you texting? Renfields?” Roderick asks.

Celia: She’s got a bad feeling. A really bad feeling.

“Something is up with my family.”

Find out.

GM: Of course, mistress. I’ll text her right now.

“Shit, right now?” says Roderick. “How bad?”

The hunters approach the bookshelf in front of the safe room.

Celia: Celia shakes her head. Her life is in danger. One crisis at a time. She motions toward the bed.

GM: They methodically sweep the bedroom, too. They check the closet and under the bed. They come back out and carefully go over the bookshelf.

Roderick lies down on the bed back-first, bat nearby, and closes his eyes.

Celia: She locks her phone. Her form blurs, shifts. The world grows around her and a moment later a cat is slinking into position.

GM: Time passes.

But not that much time.

Celia hears a heavy object shifting across the carpet.

Clicking noises against the lock. Those go on for a little while.

The doorknob slowly turns.

The door swings open.

Three man creep in. They’re big men. Grim men. Masked men. Their stakes are already out.

They look at Roderick’s sleeping form.

One nods.

Celia: Ventrue always think that their powers of command are somehow the best. But there’s an inherent flaw in those powers they do possess: they need eye contact and they need their vocal cords. Celia has already learned that the ability to shift people’s emotions doesn’t usually need either.

Which means, as she crouches low to the ground and waits for the right moment, she can hit them with what she wants to as soon as she wants to do it.

If Celia or Roderick make a mistake, they lose everything.

It’s a subtle thing, the power that she wields. The combination of attention and invisibility. Smoke and mirrors, she calls it: making someone focus on something that isn’t her. Like throwing one’s voice, maybe.

She taps into that now. Sends it toward Roderick. He’s just a silly sleeping vampire, secure in the fact that he’s gone through all this trouble with his secret room. Look at him, passed out there on the bed. Useless. Like a lump. They’ve heard some licks are stupid, aren’t they? This is probably one of them. All this time they’ve been in his home and he hasn’t even stirred. Hell, they could probably take him one on one.

Silly, silly vampire.

GM: Maybe they could.

But the cat draws their gazes.

She can’t see any looks on their masked faces.

Just the way they all silently turn to look at her.

Staring.

Celia: She stares back at them.

She’s just a cat, after all. Even licks have pets.

GM: One of the men looks at the other two.

He doesn’t speak.

Wouldn’t want to wake the sleeping lick.

At last, he shakes his head.

The others look at the cat for another moment.

Then they turn away.

They approach the bed.

They ready the stake over Roderick’s chest.

He doesn’t once move. Doesn’t once breathe or blink. He sleeps like the dead.

The man positions a mallet over the stake.

Then, suddenly.

One freezes.

Three hissed words escape his lips:

“No food bowl-!”

That’s when Roderick strikes.

The baseball bat streaks through the air, smashing into the man’s skull with a grisly, bone-shattering crack. The man doesn’t scream. He just hits the floor in a heap and doesn’t get up. Blood pools across the carpet.


GM: Suh-wiiiiiiing, batter-batter-batter!

Hahahahaha!

Emmett: I miss movies. Let’s find a way to watch movies sometime.

GM: They’re the movie.


Celia: Celia strikes from behind.

Powerful hind quarters propel her through the air to launch herself at one of the men, her form blurring and shifting as she dives. Her claws are the only part of her that do not change, that do not sink back into her body. She is not some housecat whose belly they can rub when she flops over for them, not some pet they will collar with a little bell that goes ding-a-ling with each step.

She is a monster. A predator.

A Beast.

Her Beast comes howling to the surface. She doesn’t fight it, not this time. She lets it out. Lets it have its way with these men who thought to take her lover from her, these men who would drag the both of them into some dank basement to pull apart, these men who scamper through someone else’s apartment, tear through someone’s life, like the rats that they are.

It was an animal that left the ground, but a Beast that lands on his back with fangs and claws and murder in her eyes.

GM: Propelled by her once-feline haunches, Celia’s weight smashes into the startled hunter like a cannonball. He goes down in a heap. She goes for the throat. The larger, stronger man grunts flips her halfway off, rolling under her as he drives the stake towards her chest. It goes wide and stabs her collarbone as her fangs pierce his neck. Too slow. Celia drinks ravenously as she straddles him. His blood is sour with his fear and salty with his hate. A delicious change from her usual sweet fare. There’s nothing fake about the emotions in his blood. But there is no ecstasy for him in the Toreador’s embrace. Only terror. And pain. He weakly tries to fling her off, but Celia shreds his triceps with her claws. She grinds against his crotch with hers, tries to guide his cock up her cunt. Too bad he’s not hard. Her Beast still wants to mate, even if that’s not how it reproduces.

Celia: Fight, fuck, feed. That’s all the Beast wants. All the girl wants, too. Kill, rip, shred. Drink. Drink, drink, drink. She drinks it down, mouthful after mouthful of the salty, sour combination of his blood. Drinks until her Beast is sated, until she can’t take any more into her body, until his heartbeat ceases in his chest. All the while she grinds against him, desperately seeking the release that the rest of her wants.

It isn’t enough. Even naked, writhing against him, legs spread around his hips to press herself against the fabric of his jeans, she can’t get to the area she wants. She needs to be filled. Some distant part of her mind registers that he’ll be hard eventually—rigor mortis affects muscles and there aren’t any in the dick, but sometimes during death blood rushes to the genitals—but not soon enough. Not soon enough for the girl or the Beast, who both want to celebrate this victory over their enemies with a good, hard fuck.

There were three, though. And a lick besides.

She sends it out from her in a wave. A powerful, cresting crescendo, a combination of potent charm that would make anyone drop to their knees to worship the dazzling, exquisite, marvelous creature that she has become in death.

Fight, fuck, feed. She’ll do all three.


Emmett: Yeah… they can turn into cats? Didn’t know that. I mean, not that I want to turn into a cat. But it’d be nice to have the option.

He watches in mute appreciation of the unfolding carnage for a while.

…oh, now she’s trying to rape him to death. Great. Really cool. Is it necrophilia when a corpse fucks you?

GM: Is it when two corpses fuck?


GM: Maybe the hunter screams. Maybe he doesn’t. She just shreds his pants with her claws (does she slash his penis too?) and soon there’s a firm cock filling her slit. She rides it up and down as she drinks. She drinks until that overpowering salty sourness feels like the only flavor that’s ever existed in her mouth. She drinks and feels each beat of his heart pumping more of that rapturously genuine taste down her throat. Every beat of his heart exists for her pleasure. His life exists for her pleasure. She drinks until the only part of him still pumping is his cock. She moans wantfully as the flow of blood down her throat ceases. More. She needs more. She rides the corpse like a stallion, burying the dead man’s still-erect penis up her cunny as deep as she can. So close…

Roderick smashes into her, tackling her off the corpse. He’s coated with blood, an irresistible aphrodisiac on his naked body. The Brujah’s furious eyes are as lost to the Beast as Celia’s own. The roar he gives is equal parts rage and bloodlust as his fangs savage her skin, as his red-smeared fist gorily crunches in her nose, as he tries to pin her beneath his weight. He might be trying to kill her. He might be trying to fuck her.

Neither Beast much cares.

Celia: The girl wouldn’t mind being pinned. Not by him. Not like this.

But the girl isn’t the only thing in her head right now. The Beast stares out from behind her eyes, and the Beast knows what the other one is after: blood. Not in a fun way, not in the way it wants; he wants to hurt, to maim, to kill.

She doesn’t want any part in it. Neither of them do. Beaten twice into a bloody smear on the ground, watching him take out two hunters in a matter of seconds… No. No thanks.

She scrambles to her feet and flees.

GM: Roderick blurs after her, his preternaturally fast footfalls slamming against the carpeted floor in an almost constant thud-thud-thud, like a heavy rain. Objects and sundry crash aside in his wake. Celia blurs ahead of him. He catches up. He’s faster. But she’s nimbler. A cat can go all sorts of places a human can’t go. She dives under chairs, under the couch, up inside cabinets. Roderick mindlessly rampages through the house, smashing apart possessions and furniture. There goes his grandmother’s mirror with a shatter. There goes his JD. There goes a lot of things. The cat hides under the sofa.

Eventually, the sounds of destruction cease. She hears a choked sound like someone sobbing. But the thirst in her gut is overpowering. It burns her up from inside. Like another cat inside her stomach clawing to get out.

All she can think about is the three bodies in the secret room.

Celia: If he’s crying it means he’s not feeding. And if he’s not feeding it means she can feed. Three bodies. All hers. She literally licks her chops at the thought of the feast that is waiting for her. Wants it. Needs it. Hers, all hers, every single bit of it while he’s distracted by emotions.

Her tiny gray form blurs out from under the couch and back into the bedroom, through the still open doorway to where the men lie dead. The first man to die was hit by the bat, his head almost exploding from the force of the Brujah’s swing. Bits of brain matter and bone fragments sprayed out behind him when he fell. But she’s not concerned about that. No, her focus is on the pool of blood seeping from the open wound.

She doesn’t even change forms. She just darts toward it, licking up the spilled blood as if she were a cat with a dish of cream.

GM: But a cat can drink less at once.

Celia: She realizes this. Her form shifts abruptly, and it’s Celia on her knees with her mouth on the floor, scooping the pool of blood towards her with her hands.

Literally licking the floor.

It doesn’t last long. Head wounds bleed a lot, but she knows there’s more left inside him. She sinks her teeth into the flesh of the dead man to get the rest of it.

GM: The blood is already starting to cool, but that delectable salty-sour flavor so rich with adrenaline is still strong. Celia can drink as much as she wants. Three. Whole. Bodies. She drinks and drinks until her Beast is fat and gorged and purring quiescently, until she can almost feel the blood oozing through her pores. It’s so rare that her kind gets to overeat.

More buzzes go up from her phone on the ground.

Celia: Only when she has fully slaked her hunger does Celia begin to pay attention to her surroundings. Three bodies to clean up. Roderick crying in the other room. His first kill; she’d told him just last night that is sure if anyone could make it through their Requiem without killing someone it would be him. She should go to him, offer what comfort she can. Her phone, too, buzzing with news from her family. Something is wrong. She needs to fix it. Her mind spins towards her daughter, her mother’s dreams, Donovan’s chilling words at their last meeting: You will remember this as a nightmare, with your husband’s face in place of mine.

Lucy.

Roderick.

She has to help them both. She reaches for her phone so she can bring it into the other room… and never makes it.

Her Beast purrs in delight at the meal, the killing, the fucking; it’s tired now, it wants a nap. It drags her into unconsciousness. Her body slumps over on the floor, another corpse to add to the pile.


GM: Em watches as it all happens. Stephen swings the bat into the first hunter’s skull with that sickening crack. The female vampire tackles the second hunter from behind, sinking her fangs into his neck. A stake plunges towards her heart, but goes wide and stabs her collarbone as she shreds his arms with her claws.

The third hunter rushes Stephen while he’s left himself open, plunging another stake towards his heart. It punctures the mattress as the vampire rolls aside, lashing out with a lightning-fast kick into the hunter’s kidneys. It sends him crashing into the opposite wall.

He staggers to his feet and rips off the window’s curtain. The female vampire is too occupied in her grisly feast to notice the stream of sunlight that stops only inches away from her feet. Stephen, though, howls and pulls back as smoke wafts from his blistering skin.

The hunter steps forward, full into the sunlight, then pulls for the gun on his belt. Stephen chucks a laptop at his hand, sending the gun flying away. The man curses and clutches his hand.

He looks at his motionless friend on the ground, then the female vampire riding his dying friend’s how-is-it-even hard cock. He pulls open the window and starts climbing out. The drop has to be at least several stories.

Emmett: He follows, unfolding leathery wings as he vaults through the corporeal form of the hunter and flaps over the street.

GM: Em doesn’t have far to follow. Stephen snarls and grabs the man by his pants, yanking him down. The vampire’s blistering arms turn blacker as he pulls the hunter out of the sun. The mortal man kicks at first, futilely, then whips out a long hunting knife and drives it into Stephen’s gut. The vampire howls and smashes a fist into the man’s face with a gory crunch, knocking his head all the way to the floor from the impact. Stephen pounces on the prone hunter, sinks fangs into his neck, and then it’s all over.

Em watches Celia’s boyfriend thirstily drink, his blackened skin gradually turning pink again, until a translucent copy of the man floats up from the body like escaping steam from a kettle.

It joins the two others wrapped in gauzy cauls. Their close-eyed expressions remain calm and placid.

Stephen leaps onto the still-feasting female vampire. Blood paints both of their naked bodies as he roars, tackles her to the floor, and sinks fangs into her skin. She goes along with it, for a little while. Then she kicks him off, scrambles to her feet, and runs out of the room. He chases after her.

Huh. Reminds me of us and Sami.

Emmett: I guess that’s kind of… sweet. Or depressing. Little column A…

He tucks his wings and sets about the somewhat lengthy process of soothing the fresh enfants from their cauls, starting with the one he contacted through the mirror. He needs the juice, and he has a feeling the licks will be engaged for… a while.

GM: Em plunges his hands through the enfant’s caul. Pure nightmares wash over the newly-born wraith’s eyes as he conjures forth the most awful visions he can think of from the depths of his blackened soul. As a finishing touch, Em rips off the enfant’s caul, then kicks him in the balls.

He then does the same thing to other two wraiths.

That’s for what a cunt you were in Sami’s dream.

You should really know, Em. We don’t ever forget a slight.

Don’t worry, though. I’m happy to see us get these three off to Maman’s. And if you want some juice, I’ll give you a fix anytime!

Emmett: Ok. Whatevs.

If Gasper’s going to fuck everything up, it’s clear there’s about fuck all he can do to stop him while also trying to look out for his interests. So it’s useless to care.

How we gonna get them there?

GM: Gosh, what do we call those two things sticking out of our shoulders?

Emmett: And we’re going to… carry them?

With these big. Hunky. Arms?

GM: That should be funny to watch you do.

Emmett: I mean, I could also not. I’m very lazy.

GM: I truly don’t give a shit if you lug along these losers or find some others.

Emmett: Why would I bother to find others if you’re gonna make it harder to transport them every time?

GM: Nah, I’ll only do that when you’re a cunt to me.

Emmett: So, what, we’re even now?

GM: For now.

I’d bet good money you’ll find a way to fuck that up though.

But what do I know about you, I’m only you.

Emmett: Gasper. If you’re me, tell me.

Do I care anymore?

GM: You’re almost there, Em. Almost.

You only pretend you don’t when something has really gotten to you. Has really defeated you. Has really reminded you that everything you do counts for shit, and that you’ll never do better. Because you won’t.

One day you’ll realize that as thoroughly as me.

Emmett: Em doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t need to.

For all his posturing and tired goading, the truth is he’s still the only part of himself that Gasper doesn’t own, yet. The only part of himself that dares to hope that the dreams he’s made of are something more than nightmares, that Emmett Miloud Delacroix makes a better dead man than he did a dying one.

He knows he may be wrong. He knows his road is strewn with atrocities that will make his past crimes pale for their innocence. He knows that soon, his Shadow may consume him. Soon, perhaps, he will not care.

But for now, some maimed, raped part of him does. The part that never learns.

Even, then. Let’s go deliver some souls.


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Story Twelve, Ayame II

“Easy to think of what might have been, what could have been, how we could have changed things.”
Ayame Seong-Jin


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Ayame’s phone rings. The caller ID isn’t familiar to her.

Ayame: Ayame jumps at the noise. She has been deeply involved in the outlining and planning of her next novel, and the chime of her phone has pulled her from the pages upon pages spread out in from of her, ink-stained fingers clutching a black ball-point pen.

She doesn’t often give her number out, and for a moment she looks in suspicion at her phone. Her mother had once said “no good news comes at night,” and even now, despite her undead status, she hasn’t been able to shake the thought.

She doesn’t have the number saved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. She doesn’t save most numbers. Safer that way. Still, she’s wary as she answers.

“Hello?”

GM: “Hi, Ayame. This is Roderick,” sounds a male voice.

“I had some business I wanted to discuss with you. When would be a good time for us to talk in person?”

When are other licks good news?

Might be her mom was righter than she knew.

Ayame: “Hello, Roderick.” Now there’s a surprise.

Her eyes slide toward the clock on the wall. It’s late, but not so late that she can’t squeeze him in if she wants to. Does she want to, though? He’s been cool to her since that night five years ago when she’d pulled Max from the circle.

“I am in the middle of a project at the moment…” She glances down at the leather notebook open in front of her, her slanted, cramped writing scrawled across the page. A reference journal or completed manuscript of some sort, as no longer does it contain blank space in which to write. A slew of highlighters in various colors sit perpendicular to the edge of her desk.

“But I can be free in an hour or so, if it is urgent.”

Always make them wait, that was another rule from Mom.

GM: “Okay. How’s our club’s usual meet spot?”

Cypress Grove. The Anarchs didn’t stop using it.

Ayame: “Certainly. I will see you there.”

Must be urgent, then. Or he simply enjoys the privileged position of primogen’s childe and is used to getting his way immediately. She doesn’t let her attitude color her voice, though, simply wishes him a good evening and hangs up. She’ll need a moment to get dressed, she supposes, and with a sigh sets aside her notebook. Her outline can wait.

GM: An hour later, she’s there at the cemetery. The rows and rows of mausoleums stretch on for as far as the eye can see. It feels like an appropriate enough place for a massacre to have occurred. Or at least like it’s been despoiled less.

Roderick’s there in an overcoat, with an umbrella in one hand to ward off the steadily pattering rain.

Ayame: An hour later, to the minute, Ayame strolls into the cemetery. She’s dressed for the weather, with black boots that rise to her knees and a raincoat on over a dark hoodie and jeans. She, too, has brought an umbrella with her, and it keeps off the worst of the almost-spring rain as she traverses the ground towards where Roderick waits for her.

Apprehension gnaws at her. Not only for the lick waiting, but for the chosen location as well. She had never said anything to any of the Anarchs about how she feels for this place, but she wonders if he can guess. If he knows about the shame that she has carried with her since that night in 2011 when she all but bowed before the sheriff and his retinue of executioners. If that is why he chose such a location for their impromptu meeting.

She says none of this as she approaches the dark figure in his suit, stopping some feet away to look him over. She cannot help the glance she makes past him with stormy-gray eyes, as if searching for his co-conspirators.

GM: None are immediately apparent to the novelist’s sight.

But the thick rain and fog hides what the darkness alone can’t.

The seemingly lone Brujah nods as he sees her.

“Glad you could make it.”

Ayame: “You implied it was urgent.”

GM: “I did.” He looks around at the walled structures where there’d normally be gravestones. “I feel bad for my part in what happened here.”

“I’d been one of the licks to suggest Cypress Grove instead of Delgado, for where to meet.”

“Dunno how much of a difference it would’ve made in the end, but it might’ve been harder for the Sanctified to surround us there.”

Ayame: “Perhaps,” she says neutrally. “Though perhaps they would have simply brought more with them. It did not seem as if they happened upon us by chance; I have no doubt that they would have adapted to the locale.” She pauses briefly, considering her words.

“For what it is worth, I do not think that anyone blames you for what happened.”

Not like they do her.

Her mouth twists, bitterness hardening her features.

GM: “You’re probably right, on both those counts. But it’s natural to think about what we could’ve done differently, and to blame ourselves.”

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think as many licks might blame you as you think, either.”

Ayame: She doesn’t know what to say to that. Of course they blame her.

“I folded. I was the first. It would have been different had I not been concerned about the threat posed by the sheriff, the scourge, and that… harpy.”

GM: “Veronica and Pietro had made up their minds to stake Max and Jonah. They were heading behind Sanctified lines whether you folded or not. They already had.”

“And once they did, with all the ringleaders staked, everyone else would’ve folded too.”

Ayame: “I should have removed the stake. I made a mistake, thinking that to pull Maxzille to safety was the right call. I did not wish to see her perish for a technicality.”

“But I thank you, regardless.”

GM: “I think if you hadn’t, there might’ve been bloodshed. A lot of Anarchs might have died.”

“Or at least Max might’ve.”

Ayame: He would have been safe, dragged behind enemy lines as he was. His Blood protects him, unlike the rest of them. But she doesn’t say this. She inclines her head, acknowledging the acknowledgement.

“Perhaps,” she allows. “If it came to an all-out brawl, I have no doubt many would have perished. On both sides. It would not have been a decisive victory for the Sanctified.”

She has spent many a long night thinking about it. She cannot help but sweep her gaze past him once more, toward the spot where it happened. Their kind do not leave physical remains behind, but she will always remember the screams of those who died.

“All the same, I regret my part in it. I have no wish to see our duskborn cousins slaughtered.”

“I think, sometimes, what would have happened had I been quicker to shove you aside when he came for you as well, and how that might have ended for us all.”

GM: “The sheriff?” Roderick gives a wan smile. “I don’t know if you could’ve stopped him. I’d definitely lose in a one-on-one.”

Ayame: “Stop him?” She shakes her head. “No. But should he have missed his mark, taken down the wrong lick?” Her shoulders lift, hands spreading wide.

“As you say, easy to think of what might have been, what could have been, how we could have changed things. The butterfly effect, as it were.”

GM: “True. Just denying him a quick win and the psychological impact there might’ve been enough.”

“But there’s other licks who could’ve tried to do something and didn’t. Pietro’s pretty damn fast, too.”

Ayame: “I believe, as you said, they made up their mind already as to which side they were on. Even when they spoke they said nothing of merit.”

GM: “And they barely spoke at all.”

“Veronica could’ve ran that rant, if she’d wanted to. She sure was able to whip a bunch of Anarchs into doing something when she decided Savoy was the horse to back.”

Ayame: “She does what she believes is best for her. As do most of them.” The corners of her lips lift in a wry, sad smile. “Though given the allegations leveled against the one she thought to harm her childe… well, they were simply heinous. It is no wonder she could not support someone who denied such accusations. Would yours have done the same, do you think?”

GM: “That’s a hard question, in some ways.” Roderick smiles faintly. “If I say yes, it’s admitting Veronica was right to do what she did, and the only thing that makes the situation different is who rather than what.”

Ayame: The corners of her eyes crinkle, and though the motion does not reach her lips it is, possibly, the closest anyone has seen her threaten to smile in some time.

“Your profession keeps your words neutral. Not so easily trapped, I see.”

GM: The Brujah still smiles back.

“My profession and my bloodline. But maybe the trap here isn’t so dangerous. You stuck with us instead of jumping ship to Savoy.”

Ayame: “Was it your bloodline that made you do the same?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I’m my own man, or at least Kindred. But I’ll grant that a lot of people with my advantages say similar things.”

Ayame: “Privilege. It is a catchy term among the kine these days. They speak of white or male… but you have that and more.” Her head tilts to one side beneath the cowl of her hood, eying him sharply.
“How easy it must make things on both sides of the fence. We say we do not care about such things, and yet look at those who run the First Estate. A drop of black or yellow in your white and you are ruined.”

GM: “I remember a couple Anarchs yelling at you for being Chinese. Sorry. It probably feels isolating to be the only yellow face in a crowd.”

Ayame: “I am Korean.”

GM: “Sorry again. I guess I shouldn’t have expected them to have any idea what they were talking about.”

Ayame: “At least,” she muses, “you did not ask me if I am from the ‘good’ Korea or the ‘bad’ Korea.”

GM: “I’d be pretty surprised to meet anyone from the latter.”

“Though I wouldn’t say it’s bad so much as its government is.”

Ayame: “Too often individuals are confused for their governments or rulers.” Another shrug. “I have long since stopped being surprised at the things that come out of the mouths of other people.”

GM: “Not a bad attitude to have in unlife.” A pause. “Do you know if it’s true what they say about our kind in North Korea?”

Ayame: “The Kuei-jin?”

GM: He shakes his head.

“I read about it over SchreckNet. Actually saved the post, because it was pretty interesting.”

He digs out his phone and scrolls through it before reading,

‘Listen, boss, you don’t actually want to know about North Korea. You think you do because you are certain we’re the top of the food chain. You think that if you go there, you’ll find out it’s all under the command of some secret cabal of Brujah zealots or Ventrue dictators. Is it Sabbat territory or maybe the Kuei-jin (or Wan Kuei—whatever). After all, it’s a place under the absolute oppression of a tyrannical minority and that means someone must be pulling the strings, right? You don’t want to go to North Korea because you’ll be the only supernatural there.’

‘Now, this is a bit of hyperbole. There’s probably a few there. A Nosferatu or two in the sewers picking off random citizens, a werething or two living in the woods, or maybe a scavenger or two around the gulags. However, there is a much nastier creature than us ruling over the people in this nation: humans.’

‘From the Korean War to the present, the vampires of the country had their followers purged and their herds removed. The mages were crushed under the weight of a system that did its utmpst to destroy their dreams. If I believed in fairies, I imagine they all died out too. Lupines don’t seem to be anywhere, even though the place should be paradise for them—rural countryside that’s pitch dark when you view it from space. The Kuei-jin, who the fuck knows why they aren’t there, maybe it has shitty feng shui. It is one of the most spiritually dead places on the planet and barely hanging on for a thousand little things that make it an uncomfortable place for just about all of us.’

‘Mind you, this doesn’t mean they don’t believe, boss. The North Korean military did have some people in the know long ago and they have all the books, names, and faces. They already think all enemies are horrible monsters so no harm in burning down an entire building to get just one of us when they see it. Not much even an elder can do when the response to one rousing an army of starving peasants is to just bomb it to the ground. Hehe, I bet that’s what happened to the Lupines too. The North Koreans have accomplished what the rest of the world only dreams and wiped out all supernaturals—yay humanity. This is what it looks like without us.’

Ayame: Ayame listens as he reads the text from his phone, though after a moment she draws near enough to stand beside him so she can see the text over his shoulder as he scrolls. She shakes her head when he finishes.

“I cannot say. I have not visited back home since my Embrace, and the family that I still have in the area is not apprised of my undead status here. While I admit to curiosity, I can hardly call them and ask. Further, they live in South Korea. It is not a simple border hop to get into such a place.”

She pauses, rereading a line or two. “If travel were not so dangerous I might even wish to see for myself, though I have no doubt it would be a foolhardy and perilous undertaking.”

GM: “President Benson called the DMZ the scariest place he’d ever been. It’d be easier to get in through China, but I’m not in any hurry to do that either.”

“I don’t know if any of that post is even true, but it feels like it could be true.”

“Humans can be monsters just as awful as any of us.”

Ayame: “We are created from them. As much as we would like to blame the Beast inside of all of us for all of our less than ideal ways, as much as we seek to shed the lives we left behind, it stands to reason that some of it crosses over when we do. And should they be among those who are not turned, well, monsters have a way of manifesting. Even prey will eventually snap when cornered.”

“Perhaps their scales are smaller, their existences briefer, but their cruelty can be just as heinous as any of ours.”

GM: “Someone should write about that,” the Brujah remarks.

Ayame: Her brows lift.

“Have you read my books?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I’m more of a non-fiction guy. But I’ve heard about them.”

Ayame: “Good things?”

GM: “Yeah. I tend to agree with Stephen King that if you’ve been paid for your words and the check didn’t bounce, you have talent.”

Ayame: It’s not a ringing endorsement, but a smile finally cracks the Toreador’s face. It transforms the usually austere lick’s visage into something striking, much warmer than the cool exterior she often presents to her kind. The expression is brief, disappearing as quickly as it came.

“Should you ever find a spare moment to indulge, I hope you will let me know what you think. Or perhaps, if time permits, you will allow me to pick your brain as to the monsters you have seen. I find the best fiction has some element of truth to it.”

GM: Roderick smiles back when he sees Ayame do so. The expression looks like it comes easier for him, but it’s no less warm.

“You should smile more often. It looks good on you.”

“But as far as monsters, feel free. I’m a lawyer. You can see some pretty horrible and desperate people in that industry.”

Ayame: Ayame wonders if he realizes the inherent sexism in the comment of being told to smile more. If anyone ever asks him to smile more. Perhaps he does not realize it. Or perhaps he offering the sort of back-handed compliment that is so intrinsic to their kind. Golden boy like him, though, she thinks it might just be simple ignorance. Maybe smiling does look good on her. She tucks it away for further consideration.

“I have heard family law sees the worst of it, people at their most desperate and petty, though I imagine criminal law has its fair share of monsters.”

“I have a relative who is a nurse. She could not give the details of the cases, but she was called in to consult on multiple trials where they needed a medical perspective. Negligence, some of them, and others… others more willful action.”

“There was a woman who came into her emergency department almost every month. Broken bones. Black eyes. Broken fingers. My relative—she took good documentation. Wrote it all down. Made sure to keep her records. Some call her a pack rat, but those records were needed when the woman was arrested for manslaughter. Apparently her husband came at her and she tried to fend him off. She happened to be cooking dinner, had a paring knife in her hand. When she stabbed him, she struck his heart, and so he died. The officers put her in cuffs, but all of the nurses, all of the doctors that she had seen, they testified that she underwent years of abuse at his hands, that she was a victim.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head.

“I’ve seen some really ugly cases of domestic abuse. Knife to the heart was probably a lot cleaner than that asshole deserved. He had to have died pretty fast, not like years of living in pain and terror. Visiting the hospital in and out like a grocery store.”

Ayame: “As I said, their scale as breathers may be smaller, but their crimes are no less than our own. When we kill it is often quick and effective, and sometimes—sometimes they do not even know that death comes for them. But those who abuse their spouses, their children, their renfields… that shadows them for their entire lives, however long they are. It spreads, like a cancer, infecting everyone around them.”

GM: “I knew a family, once, whose father was just a demon. He beat and psychologically abused his wife and daughters for years. They only finally split when he tried to amputate his wife’s leg with a saw.”

“It just poisoned their entire family.”

Ayame: “That sounds… awful. Awful for them, for his wife, for his daughters. I hope they have found peace.”

“And that his children did not go on to become abusers themselves.”

GM: “That’s a… complicated answer. I guess I’d say they found varying levels of peace, some better than others. Some as much as you could realistically hope for. But they all had scars.”

“It could’ve ended a lot worse than it did, though.”

Ayame: “The Sanctified would say it is our job to remove such a demon and see to it that his family is taken care of. We are not Sanctified, but sometimes… sometimes it is nice to see the bad people pay.”

GM: “The Sanctified buy into a lot of dogma that makes fundamentalists look reasonable, but they get things right too. Some of the covenant’s more liberal creeds have a lot of ideas that Anarchs here could probably get on board with.”

Ayame: “You sound as if you were close to the family. I hope it was not your own, that it is not your own scars you speak of.”

GM: He shakes his head. “I was involved in some legal work for them. You get to see a lot of the ugly details of people’s lives as a lawyer.”

“It got to me pretty hard, though I suppose not as much as what that asshole did to his family. He never faced any real consequence for it.”

“Sometimes the bad guys win. But I guess that’s the tagline of the Requiem.”

Ayame: “Against the kine?” She gives him a puzzled look. “Perhaps. There is often more that we can do now, though your status as lawyer possibly keeps you neutral.”

“Not,” she adds, “that I am suggesting we simply slaughter those with whom we do not agree.”

GM: “Less agreeing, maybe, than passing judgment over. But he’s not the only scumbag I can name from my breather days. I’d frankly be up to my knees in blood if I wanted to kill them all. And at that point I’m a serial killer vigilante, not a lawyer.”

“The family members he’d abused most got away from him. That’s a happier ending than a lot of people get, even if it isn’t perfect.”

Ayame: “Is there a difference? I thought lawyers were all cutthroats.” She doesn’t smile, though her lips twitch to suggest amusement, then flatten again at his words.

“Ah. Well. Good that they got away, at least.”

“And good on you for assisting with their legal battle. I am sure it meant a lot to them, to have someone of your caliber represent their interests.”

GM: “Thanks. I was pretty upset at the time I couldn’t do more, but like I said. Happier ending than a lot of people get.”

“Good on your relative, too, documenting all that abuse. Keeping thorough records never hurts and sometimes really helps.”

Ayame: “Sometimes I think I chose the wrong profession.” A rueful twist of her lips accompanies the words. “Admirable, to be out there in the field, be it legal or medical.”

GM: “I think you might’ve chosen the right one, actually. Harder to be a lawyer or nurse as a lick, but I imagine it’s not too difficult as a writer.”

Ayame: “Nothing but time to pen my novels.”

“Though I suppose,” she says at length, “you did not invite me here this evening to speak of professions and monsters.”

“Or scars,” she adds, and perhaps he sees the way her fingers curl inside the gloves she wears, her grip on the umbrella’s handle tightening. The other, at her side, forms a fist before it relaxes.

GM: “You’re right that I didn’t. But I also did.”

Ayame: “Oh?”

GM: “We haven’t really talked a lot, and I wasn’t sure how you felt over the massacre here.”

“There’s a duskborn I know who needs transport out of the city. I was thinking Houston would be a good stop. No prince enforcing a pogrom. Big city with room for duskborn and nightborn.”

Ayame: Ayame is silent for a long moment, considering him. This is why he brought her here, then. This place. The sight of the massacre. To guilt her? Trick her? Avoided her for years because he thought she, what, sold out the thin-bloods? When she speaks at last her voice is cooler than it was moments ago.

“Next to yours, you know, my voice was one of the strongest pushing for their rights.”

GM: “You’re right, it was. But you never know. Some licks were spreading a rumor that I’d tipped off the Sanctified in advance about the duskborn coming to the meeting.”

“In hindsight, it was probably Veronica. Who tipped them off and started the rumor.”

Ayame: “You were put down by the sheriff and immediately taken behind their lines to safety, of course she thought you were an apt target. For whatever it means now, neither she nor her cousin seemed much surprised to see them show up.”

GM: “That’s just how it is, anyway. It’s so hard to trust anyone.”

Ayame: Easy to point out the favor he’s asking of her will require trust, as well, but if this is an olive branch… well, she could stand to make a few more friends among her peers.

“Happy to pass your test, then.” A pause. “I can contact my friends in Houston.”

GM: “I’ll owe you one, of course. What licks do you know there?”

Ayame: “A fair few. I was part of their organization for a number of years.” She fires off a handful of Hispanic-sounding names. “Is it just the one to transport?”

GM: “I might also come along. Coco has some business with the Anarchs there and now would be a convenient time to do it. I won’t be staying, obviously.”

Ayame: “Both of you, or just you?”

GM: “Who won’t be staying? I’m coming back. She’ll stay. I don’t need to say this is a bad city for duskborn.”

Ayame: “Oh, I meant if Coco is coming along, and I wondered why you would need me to transport a primogen, but I assume that is not the case.”

“I will need some time to contact my friends.”

“A few evenings, perhaps. You know what it is like when they pretend to be busy.” She waves a hand. “Or perhaps not,” she adds, eying him. Primogen’s childe, status among the Anarchs, Calbido scribe; how long does he really wait?

GM: He shakes his head at Ayame’s initial statement. “She’s staying in the city. This is more routine stuff I’m handling for her.”

“It’s not that different from among breathers, to be honest. You want to meet with a mayor or city councilperson, you usually have to contact their staff and let them fit you into the boss’ schedule. But a fair number of licks from less privileged backgrounds never had to go through that, and get surprised when they can’t just talk to elders whenever they want.”

“I do usually wait less time than licks with less prominent sires, so there is that.”

Ayame: “Lucky you.”

“The advantage of being a nobody is that I do not often have business with elders.” Amusement crinkles the corners of her eyes. “I will reach out to my contacts within Houston.”

GM: “All swords are double-edged,” he agrees. Partly seriously. “Thanks. I’ll be bringing a couple renfields with me too. Greater safety in numbers and all.”

Ayame: “Ah. Yes. A good idea.” There’s an awkward pause, perhaps where she should offer to do the same, and at last she says, “I do not keep slaves. I cannot contribute that way.”

GM: “Oh?” he asks. “Is it an ethical objection?”

Ayame: “Have you been a slave, Roderick? Bound to someone for whom you would do anything? Told to do vile things for their amusement, and you jump at the chance?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I was a renfield to Coco, for a little while before my Embrace, though she didn’t collar me.”

“It sounds like you were.”

Ayame: “Then you are lucky. I spent years as a slave to a domitor who thought it would be funny to find my point of limit and push me past it. Repeatedly. Who, for a small slight, would have me beaten and humiliated.”

“You do not strike me as the type of person to kill or torture for pleasure. And yet there are those who do. Those who think it funny to find a person’s limits and push them beyond that. To spread the corruption inside of them to everyone around them. To twist and rend innocence until it is an ugly, wretched thing. And so he did with me.”

GM: “I’m sorry you had to go through that. Some licks are pointlessly, stupidly sadistic and cruel, and it’s usually their renfields who experience the worst of it.”

Ayame: “My sire killed him for it. In the instant before the collar snapped I thought to throw myself in front of his blade, to keep him from harming the lick I had served for years. My own life for his, I would have paid that. She did not collar you, so maybe you do not understand that sort of obsession.”

GM: “I probably don’t. I’ve heard the accounts, but it has to be something else to experience them firsthand.”

Ayame: “I told myself I would never do that to another person. Our blood—it is good for a great many things. But the collar? No. Never again.”

GM: “I think it’s possible to be decent to your renfields. But I respect anyone who’s willing to put their principles before convenience.”

Ayame: “Would yours say that you are decent to them?”

GM: “I hope so. I try to be.”

Ayame: “And yet you took them from their lives and families. Keep them addicted to a substance worse than heroin. There is no retirement for a renfield; they serve until their life ends. The most that they can hope for is a quick death, perhaps Embrace.”

“I understand why we do it. But I will not. They are the first to pay should their master make a mistake.”

“So yes, to answer your question, I believe that falls under ethical or moral objection.”

GM: “I think you can make similar arguments about Embracing childer. At least a renfield’s addiction doesn’t directly risk killing anyone.”

Ayame: “I have heard of those who died on an overdose.”

“But you are correct. There are many who have moral objections to siring a childe as well. I do not know that I will ever be moved to do so.”

“We are are still young. We have eternity, as they say.”

GM: “I’ve heard of renfields who OD too. I don’t know any domitor that generous with their juice, though. I think it only really happens with rogues who drain a staked lick completely dry.”

“But you wouldn’t be the only Kindred happy to go childe-free.”

Ayame: “The kine do it as well. DINK, they call themselves. Double income no kids. Enjoy their vacations and early retirements.” The flash of a smile. Hadn’t he told her to smile more? “No retirement for us, though.”

GM: He smiles back. “I’ve heard of that. Maybe it’s right for them. I always wanted kids, though. Whole gaggle of them.”

Ayame: A beat of silence. Ayame inclines her head, almost a short bow that sends her hair swinging in front of her face.

“It is unfortunate that you are no longer in the position to do so. Sometimes, as former women, we think that we are the only ones who want such things, never observing that we are only half of what makes a child.”

“I am sorry that it is no longer an option to you.”

GM: He nods. “Thanks. There’s not a lot to be done about that, but I’ve enjoyed getting to know you tonight, Ayame.”

Ayame: “You as well, Roderick. I will let you know when I hear back from my contacts in Houston.”

GM: “You mentioned you were Korean, by the way? ‘Ayame’ sounds Japanese, though I’m no expert.”

Ayame: Ayame laughs, covering her mouth with one gloved hand. It’s a light, delicate sound, and it gives her face the allure that she should have had all along. If only she were to smile more, right?

“I am Korean, and it is Japanese. I am surprised you know the difference; most people assume that one Asian language or heritage is much the same as another. Perhaps I should take back my words about white privilege.” After laughing, her mouth more easily curls into a wry smile.

“But yes, I was named for my grandmother, after a sort. It is not common in Korea for families to name their children after relatives as they do here; they believe that each name should be unique to the child. My father was very taken with American society when he moved here and wanted to name me after his mother, Ailiseu, but my mother desired a more traditional naming convention. They compromised and took a word from another language that had the same meaning. Thus, Ayame.”

“When I still drew breath I dated a man of Japanese heritage, who asked me the same question. He used to tease me that I grew up with the wrong culture because of my name, or that I had been stolen from a nice Japanese family as a child. My parents were distraught that I was interested in him; they had hoped that I would settle down with a nice Korean boy, or a nice American boy.”

She gestures down to herself, fangs flashing in her mouth as she looks to him.

“As you see, it does not much matter in the end.”

“I suppose, though, it is better than what my brother did.”

GM: “It may have mattered, at least so far as your name. Ayame sounds nicer than Ailiseu to my white boy ears.” He smiles. “What did your brother do?”

Ayame: “Gave himself an American name because he did not like what my parents gave him. ‘Brock.’ A bastardized version of what his name means.” She doesn’t point out that his white boy tongue butchered her grandmother’s name.

“He wants nothing to do with the culture.”

“It is… or, well, it was, at least, a point of contention between them.”

“But I believe the fate of middle children is to be a nuisance to their parents.”

GM: “Better to have them in ones, twos, or four-pluses. That’s too bad for him though. We can all use something to belong to.”

“Anyway, we both probably need to get going. You have my number once you hear from your friends.”

Ayame: “Of course. I will be in touch, Roderick. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”


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Story Twelve, Caroline X

“This is the face of the evil my sire fought against.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline and Fatimah do not wait a great deal longer before Maldonato’s astral form materializes through a wall.

“All is in readiness?” inquires Fatimah.

The seneschal nods.

The two say nothing further, but set off through the complex.

“I hope your time with my cousin has been fruitful, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato states.

Caroline: “She was most illuminating on many matters, seneschal. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met with her,” Caroline replies.

GM: “I am pleased by this,” Maldonato replies as they walk.

“Clan Lasombra will soon petition the Camarilla for formal entry into the sect. My cousin and I have worked with like-minded antitribu to lay the groundwork for this event for some time. Recent events have accelerated our plans.”

“Others, we fear, have imperiled them.”

Caroline: She wonders if she metaphysically rocks backwards at that revelation, given her ethereal form, but certainly mentally does.

A clan joining the Camarilla? She’s never heard of such a thing happening.

And, how, in this world of lies and mistrust could it ever happen?

“Does your exposure count among such factors by placing yourself and many others that might associate with you under suspicion, seneschal?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It does, Miss Malveaux. Mr. Smith’s hastily spoken words now threaten the work of decades. Change may happen slowly among our kind, but calamity’s pace is rarely deterred.”

Caroline: It makes more sense now. Her sire’s abject rage, a fury so intense that it drove her to action, overwhelmed her.

Certainly, it was rage at the traitorous words of another of his clan, a final rebuttal of everything proper and decent. Certainly, it was rage at the attack on his rule, and the besmirchment of his lover.

But the undermining of said lover’s dream, centuries in the making? She remembers George’s childe’s screams as she was drawn from the crowd and thrown into the flames. They haunt her. But she understands.

GM: “Your sire was also to be one of Clan Lasombra’s greatest advocates and sponsors for entry into the sect,” Maldonato continues, as if proceeding down Caroline’s same line of thought. “I need not say that recent events have also undermined this component of our plan.”

Caroline: “In many ways.” Timing is everything. A few years later…

No wonder, though, that he has held on so stubbornly to his throne.

GM: “Yet nor are all tidings ill ones, Miss Malveaux. Recent events have also furthered our plans. Events which have occured far beyond New Orleans, but whose ripples touch even our city. I have brought you to Cairo so that you might bear witness to some of these events with your own eyes.”

Caroline: “I am here to serve, seneschal,” Caroline replies.

GM: Maldonato takes Caroline by the hand. Fatimah’s palace disappears as the pair hurtle through space at speeds the Ventrue can only guess, yet it hardly feels as if they have moved at all. They reappear outside of an airport. Planes roar in the background as they land and take off.

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Caroline sees three vampires and four mortals waiting around three cars. They’re parked on the tarmac a ways off from the terminal.

The first vampire is a thin young Caucasian boy who looks around Simmone’s age. He only just breaks four and a half feet tall. There’s a knowingly smug, self-content smirk to his lips, and eyes that take in his surroundings with subdued but unmistakable arrogance. They’re eyes that say, I’m the smartest person in the room. He’s dressed in a tailored navy suit that fills out his slender frame, along with a pressed white dress shirt and black necktie. His brown hair remains uncombed and unruly in juxtaposition to the rest of his ordered appearance.

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The second is a 20-something Hispanic man who’s a walking piece of art. A punk rock stereotype bound up in black leather and chains, with a mouth that looks like it was made to hold a cigarette. Tattoos cover every bit of exposed skin below the line of his jaw, itself a hard, cutting thing that looks like it could take a solid blow. His head is shaved on the sides and longer up top, hair slicked back with enough product to tame even the unruliest of strands. Deep-set navy eyes peer out from under a strong brow, lips quirked up in a perpetual smile. A pair of gold rings glint off his right hand, and over the charcoal three-piece suit he wears a distressed leather jacket.

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The third is a 20-something Egyptian woman with short black hair, dark almond eyes, and a slender frame. She’s dressed in a tank top and black pants, rather immodest apparel for the region, although Caroline only notices so up close. Shadows coalesce thickly around her, faintly rippling against the night. Even the Ventrue’s deathless sight cannot fully pierce their depths. A full-looking bag hangs from her shoulders.

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The three vampires all turn as Maldonato and Caroline abruptly appear out of thin air.

“Miss Malveaux, may I introduce you to Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud,” states the seneschal.

“They will brief you on the details of your present mission. You are in operational command.”

The Moor’s form fades into the night as though it were never there. The other three vampires’ gazes settle on Caroline.

Caroline: If the seneschal’s abrupt disappearance bothers her, she gives no indication of it outwardly. Indeed—her reaction is perhaps stronger at his severing of half of her name. An oversight or an intentional commentary? Either way, one that bodes ill.

Her gaze sweeps across the assembled vampires once, then again, as she takes in the details.

The boy genius, convinced of his superiority. She knows that look. Has echoed it more than once, though less since her death. Ventrue? She could see it, but part of her doubts one from the clan of kings would choose a child.

The second dredges up memories of Diego she buries more deeply than she buried the once gangster now corpse. Here too she could see something that might appeal to her clan: this man made over in the image of modern success. Young, potent, confident. The others might be of any age, but the tattoos mark him as a product of this or the last century—likely its latter half.

The last, the woman, is harder to read, and not only for the darkness around her. Local, rebellious but practical. Well-armed, she suspects.

It takes only a second—barely one longer than it might have once but noticeably less all the same.

She recalls wise words, ‘a beginning is a very delicate time.’ Here as in all things. Whomever she addresses she gives implicit legitimacy to within their hierarchy—and she might too show her own ignorance in so doing. Better then to let them choose their own speaker.

“Gentlemen,” she preambles, nodding in her insubstantial form. “Lady,” a further not quite bow to the dead woman.

“My name is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers,” she considers adding more, but dismisses it just as quickly. “We can speak here or en-route to our destination, as better suites the timeline.”

We. Our. Establish the bonding words quickly. They’re hard to ignore, break down barriers. At least, it works among kine.

Is this a test? A pressing matter that truly requires oversight? An opportunity? Perhaps all three she admits to herself.

It doesn’t really matter. Her role in matters may have changed but the truth hasn’t: the only way forward is through.

GM: “Conroy Westphal,” the boy enunciates crisply by way of introduction. “We’re already here.”

“Nico Cimpreon,” continues the man, not interrupting Conroy mid-sentence, but picking up where he might have continued. “Mission’s to escort a Camarilla bigwig to Cairo, once they get off their plane. Maldonato’s worried about Sabbat attacks.”

Conroy’s I’m-smarter eyes seem to look as if their owner considers himself smarter still when Nico says ‘Maldonato,’ but the smaller vampire says nothing.

“Talibah Mahmoud,” the Egyptian woman introduces, echoing the others, but adds nothing further.

Caroline: Sabbat. The bogeymen of Camarilla stories. She knows they exist, but relative to the more pressing dangers to her Requiem they’ve rarely occupied her thoughts.

That the boy spoke first helps clarify the bounds of the relationships between them, but doesn’t clearly bound them either, what with Nico’s interruption.

A personality conflict, then? Thrilling.

“These are your available assets?” She gestures to the yet unspoken for ghouls.

GM: They’ve each brought several. Westphal’s look a lot like the security types Caroline grew up around. Close-cut hair, dark suits, disciplined posture, and hard but blank expressions all suggest former military, but there’s an arrogant edge to their expressions. Cimpreon’s ghouls look like gangsters. They’re in suits too, sporting tattoos similar to their domitor’s. Their faces look more mean than arrogant. Mahmoud has just one ghoul, a thin and pasty-faced Egyptian woman in similarly casual attire. She’s black-haired, slim of build, and looks in her 20s.

“Yes,” answers Westphal. “All former Blackwatch contractors. Mine, at least.”

“Members of my crew,” answers Cimpreon. “They don’t like the suits, or the heat, but we’ve worked together for twenty years.”

“I can also conjure Apyssal entities, put not wizout risk to ze Masquerate,” answers Mahmoud.

Caroline: She acknowledges the inventory of ghouls without comment, then turns her questions immediately towards the intended extent of their mandate: are they to simply interdict any such attack, or are they intended to actively prevent it from occurring—at least so far as the representative is concerned?

Even as she asks the question her mind is already churning. She wishes she had Ferris or Fuller with her, but she’s listened to them enough that principles of force protection are far from lost on her.

Any dignitary in this circumstance almost certainly has their own protection in place—to say nothing of likely fearsome powers of their own. Contrarily, any attacker almost certainly has accounted for this protections. Their job then is to complicate those calculations and throw them out of balance.

GM: “All the elders said was to get the bigwig to Cairo in one piece,” answers Cimpreon. “Without having to get their hands dirty, knowing them.”

Westphal gives a humorless laugh. “We don’t want to prevent any attacks. We’ll look better if one happens and we fend it off than if the ‘bigwig’ never feels as if they’re in danger. The seneschal and the emira will want the Camarilla to feel as if they need us.”

Cimpreon sneers, though seemingly not in disagreement.

Caroline: Abyssal entities. Shadow magics. ‘Us.’

Of course they’re a coterie of Lasombra.

“Open-ended means opportunities,” she offers Cimpreon, not quite providing a smile. “Still, if the goal was a show of strength, there would be more pieces on the board. Presumably there are multiple political aspects in play, including a desire not to step on the toes of Cairo’s elders.” She nods to Mahmoud. “I presume they would be as displeased by a Masquerade-damaging conflict in a very public place as any other.”

And she’s essentially only a watcher in this game, at best a puppet master, not a blade on the field herself.

Shame, that, in some ways.

GM: “The elder’s from Europe,” says Cimpreon. “There’s been a lot of them lately. They might not even know any of Cairo’s Kindred.” He doesn’t quite smile either. “You’re right though. Opportunity, that’s wherever you fucking grab it. The bosses don’t want to give the order. But they know we’ll grab what’s in front of us.”

“Ze trib to pe city’s also pretty long,” shrugs Mahmoud. “And you Americans haf a stricter Masquerate zan us.”

Caroline: “That’s where you’d strike?” Caroline asks, her eyes meeting Mahmoud’s.

GM: “Yes,” the woman answers.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. In some ways that makes it easier. A conflict at the airport would be a disaster. “Are we providing explicit protection for him—traveling with him—or is he bringing his own? Regardless, how many do we expect him to be traveling with?”

GM: “They didn’t care to tell us,” shrugs Cimpreon. “That’s elders.”

“The elder’s a woman,” says Westphal. “We’re expected to escort her to the Khitta Antonius.”

Caroline: “Excellent,” Caroline answers. She takes a moment. “Is there anything else immediately pressing?”

GM: “You need a physical body,” says Westphal. “Mahmoud can give you one.”

Caroline: “Eventually,” Caroline agrees, mostly to cover up the fact that the idea—even the capability—hadn’t occurred to her.

She turns her gaze to the other ‘female’ Kindred. “Presuming you are willing.”

“Before we do so, however, I intend on taking the opportunity survey the route from the air.”

GM: “Further intelligence can’t hurt,” says Westphal. He surveys Caroline for a moment with his I’m-the-smartest eyes, then says, “Sabbat packs have made a regular practice of ambushing newly-arrived Camarilla elders. They’re convenient targets for reasons you can probably guess.” His gaze rests on Caroline for a moment. “Cairo’s bishop can’t control the packs anymore. Or at least the new ones.”

“Less chance of us being ashed if zhere’s four of us here,” answers Mahmoud.

Caroline: “Oh, I expect if they’re here to diablerize the elder getting ashed is one of the least of our concerns,” Caroline answers pointedly.

“How long do you need to prepare a body?” she asks the sorcerer.

GM: The word ‘diablerize’ doesn’t elicit any surprised or curious looks from the presumed Lasombra. But they seem to consider her thoughtfully upon hearing it.

A cut above the average Camarilla lick? Caroline never heard that word before she accepted her now-mother’s forbidden knowledge. Somehow she doubts anyone else would have told her.

“Longer I have, zhe petter zhe pody,” answers Mahmoud. “Rush job, 10 minutes. Somezhing better, hour.”

Caroline: More evidence they’re from outside the Camarilla, then, if the word isn’t new to them.

Caroline nods. “Do you need me present to begin?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “Then I’ll return presently. In the meantime,” she turns her gaze to the other two Lasombra, “adding at least one, and preferably two additional cars would be ideal.”

She flashes a smile at the tattooed vampire. “I presume that can be easily arranged?”

GM: Cimpreon smiles back. “When it’s a beautiful woman askin’? Easy.”

Caroline: “I love strong men,” she almost purrs, turning her gaze to the last if their group.

“In the meantime, while an attack on the road may be most likely, the airport presents the most certain position to any attacker. We’d be foolish to discount it. Presuming you screened them from the top vice the bottom, your contractors will more readily sniff out something that doesn’t smell right here. I’d like them to poke around while we wait.”

GM: “They already have,” answers Westphal. He doesn’t say that of course he’d have thought of that. “We’ve been here for nearly an hour. We arrived early to check for ambushes and other surprises.”

Caroline: “Prudent,” she agrees. “Your diligence and forethought warms my cold dead heart.” Parry, riposte.

“I’ll not attempt to hold your hand then—you’re clearly far from a child.” Soothe.

A seed planted with each—perhaps enough. Prudence, lust, and respect. It’s superficial scatter, but she judges them to have all done something.

“I don’t intend on being long. If I am… you’ll have learned something of value from that, at least.”

She shoots into the sky, floating up, high enough to get a vantage on the airport and surrounding terrain both.

GM: Grim smiles answer the Ventrue’s final statement.

Caroline’s silver cord trails after her as she ascends, spiraling off into infinity. It has to be thousands of miles long, to reach her body back in Perdido House. The Ventrue feels no air against her face, nor any of the coolness of the desert night. The skies are dark but clear. There is none of the soggy humidity so endemic to her home city, even this close to a major water source.

Cairo’s airport, like most outskirts, is located on its city’s outskirts. Glowing white and yellow lights illuminate the signs of human civilization and the stretch of road back to Cairo. Beyond that is nothing but lightless, barren desert.

With some few exceptions.

Caroline soars down.

It’s far enough away from the airport that she’s not surprised the Lasombra didn’t notice it. She doubts anyone without a means of flight would have.

There’s a couple Toyotas, a few more aged-looking cars, and a military jeep. A small party of vampires stands outside them. Each and every one is unmistakably a monster. Some look like ISIS fighters, clad in dark face coverings, camo fatigues, and bristling with the amounts of weapons one only sees in the Middle East. Others make no effort to conceal their faces. It’s hard for Caroline to tell if they’re Egyptian, American, or something else. Almost one and all, they’re as pale and lifeless-looking as corpses. Some of them have hideous scars and ritual piercings and tattoos to rival any Amazonian tribe’s. Some have lamprey-like mouths with rows upon rows of hungry fangs. One has a tiny suckered mouth where he should have an eye. Some have claws and horns. Some of them wear necklaces of fangs, severed hands, and in one case, a half-decayed breast. They look like freaks. They look like savages. They look like monsters.

Caroline sees no ghouls among them. But she sees many kine. Maybe several dozen. They come from every walk of life. Some wear pajamas. Some wear tourist clothes. Some wear airport uniforms. Some wear military fatigues. Some look Western, some look Egyptian. Some are youths. Some are mature adults. A few elderly. There’s several young children.

One man tries to run. The vampires are on him in seconds. They literally disembowel him, cutting open his stomach and pulling out guts as the crowd of onlookers helplessly watches. They rip off his fingers and plug them up his ears and nostrils. They literally feed him his own guts, but before he can expire, they rip off his pants and shove an AK-47’s barrel up his rectum. They squeeze the trigger. The man explodes into gory chunks. The gun’s barrel and stock explode too, no doubt due to the obstructed muzzle capturing all of the rounds’ kinetic energy. One piece slices apart the vampire’s cheek, another piece opens his throat, and several more fuck up his fingers, but all he does is laugh. He and the other vampires roar with laughter as they point at the man’s red-stained leftover pieces.

“Anyone who runs dies like this! Do as you’re told, and you’ll die fast!” shouts one of the vampires.

“Someone translate for the sand niggers,” sneers another.

“Ay shakhs yarkud yamut hakdha! afeal ma qil lak, wasatamuat nzyfana!”

The white-faced kine turn to their tasks. The vampires toss them shovels. A few people vomit. When one woman freezes up, the vampires execute her in similarly gory fashion, then rip off her head and punt it around as a kickball. The one who blew up his gun messily slurps from the corpse to heal his wounds. The vampires scream orders. The survivors quickly start digging and excavate a pit. The vampires scream at them to hurry up. The kine dig until their hands are blistered and bleeding. Anyone who slows gets disemboweled on the spot. The survivors manically dig until the shovels are slick with red.

They don’t need to be told they’ve dug their own graves.

The vampires still tell them. They taunt the kine. They tell them how they’re going to rot in the earth, how they will never see their families again, how all of their ignoble lives led to this ignoble demise. How does it feel, to know they will die here?

One of the vampires dressed in a blood-caked Catholic priest’s habit chants something over a chalice. All of the other vampires bleed into it. The priestly vampire continues chanting. It sounds like the scraping and hollering of beasts. The vampires go down the line of mortals, one by one, and drain them each, then feed their corpses a little blood from the chalice. The kine all look too paralyzed to run, perhaps held at bay by supernatural means, perhaps by simple terror. Eventually, the vampires kill everyone, then dump the lifeless bodies on top of one another into the pit. It reminds Caroline of Holocaust and Khmer Rouge photos.

The vampires finally pick up shovels themselves, then start to throw earth over the corpses.

Caroline: A year ago, the sight might have made her vomit. Might have driven her to tears. Might have even sent her in terrified flight. A year ago she was kine.

Tonight, Caroline is one of the Damned. Her hands are stained with the blood of dozens. Her soul is stained with among the darkest sins even the Damned could indulge in. She doesn’t vomit, doesn’t cry, and doesn’t flee.

But that doesn’t mean the horrific scene leaves her unmoved. There’s valuable information here. About their soon to be attackers. About individual vampires’ capabilities. The strong ones, the quick ones. The weapons they have available. These are all things she notes almost subconsciously. Has to note subconsciously. Because while the scene doesn’t drive her to despair, it does drive her to something else: cold fury.

The callow slaughter—and presumptive mass Embrace in progress—by these monsters makes even the prince’s worst excesses seem tame. This is the face of the evil her sire fought against. This is the evil that makes sins like McGinn’s casual bigotry and Matheson’s deviance so easily overlooked.

Wanton violence and damnation conducted with a casualness only borne in long familiarity. Does she truly care for the slaughtered kine? Perhaps not. But these beasts, these monsters, these abominations, should be, must be, destroyed. Their very existence hardens her will.

There will be violence to follow. Violence she’ll be gladdened to be a part of.

She withdraws to her own band of licks.

GM: Her last sight as she floats away is of the shoveling vampires playing kickball with one of the riped-off heads.

The other three are where she left them. They look up at her approach.

“See anything?” asks Cimpreon.

Caroline: “Almost a dozen licks, and not fresh ones. They abducted and murdered twice that many kine for a mass Embrace. They have half a dozen vehicles and automatic weapons.” Her voice is calm, measured.

GM: Three scowls greet the news. But not surprise.

Caroline: “Presumably their intelligence is good enough to identify when the elder is arriving. I would expect them to be in place ready to ambush us on the road, likely using IEDs to disrupt the convoy, then releasing the starving fledglings onto it before cleaning up when it’s done.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “At least, that’s what I’d do. Alternatively, you could hit with the fledglings from one side and the ones that know what they’re doing from the other.”

GM: “It’s never fuckin’ easy,” mutters Cimpreon. “You guessed their MO. You fought the Sabbat before?”

Caroline: “Not like this, but like I said, it’s what I would do. It’s a good tactic if you can stomach murdering and damning a few dozen men, women, and children. The kids are a nice touch—they’re counting on your people to hesitate.”

GM: “They won’t,” says Westphal with a contemptuous smile.

Caroline: She gives the ‘youngest’ of their group a grim smile. “I didn’t think that would be an issue with your people, especially not from Blackwatch.”

GM: “The IEDs won’t be enough to destroy any Kindred,” he continues. “They’ll incapacitate the ghouls and soften up the Kindred. But the pack will want to save the elder and any strong-blooded childer to diablerize.”

Caroline: “I saw a few RPGs as well. Presume they’ll use those along with the explosions to try and immobilize vehicles.”

GM: “Almost a dozen is pad odds,” says Mahmoud. “Did zhe shofelheads dig out yet?”

Caroline: “No. They are still burying them now,” Caroline answers.

Which says very bad things about how good their intelligence is, she doesn’t need to add.

GM: “We need to stop that from happening,” says Westphal. “Dig up the pit. Decapitate or burn all of the corpses.”

Caroline: “Presumably they’ll hang around to make sure that doesn’t happen. It didn’t see one, but if it were me I’d try to cram them into a van or truck to deliver them to the point of the attack,” Caroline answers.

“There’s another thing—this isn’t a local pack. Looks like hitters brought in from elsewhere to reinforce.”

GM: “Not a surprise,” says Cimpreon. “They’re probably here to have fun in the Gehenna War.”

Caroline: The what? She keeps her face still.

GM: “They’ll be able to control the shovelheads. Van delivery would be convenient but they ain’t gonna need one.”

“Mostly control, barring interference,” corrects Westphal.

Caroline: “Will the control survive the priest’s destruction?”

GM: “They use a combination of mundane and supernatural control,” answers Westphal. “The priest’s control won’t be fully precise either. Most of the shovelheads will be frenzying from starvation and mental trauma. Even the ones who drain the slower risers won’t have much blood in their systems. Packs mostly point shovelheads at a target and let their Beasts take over.”

“But destroying the priest will make it harder for the pack to control the shovelheads and direct them towards targets not in their immediate vicinity.”

“Priest’s someone we’ll want to take out fast anyways,” says Cimpreon. “Second-in-command and all. What’s he look like?”

Caroline: Caroline provides a description, complete with the Catholic robes.

GM: The three take note.

“You need a pody,” repeats Mahmoud. “Zhese are pad odds. As I said. I can give you a rush job zhat won’t last long, or take my time to make a petter one.”

“Zhe rush jop will fall abart in apout an hour. Zhe petter one, a night.”

“We need to capture the priest, ductus, or both for interrogation,” says Westphal. “They’ve obviously received good intelligence to set up this ambush.”

Caroline: “How long for the shovelheads to dig out?” she asks Cimpreon, smiling at Westphal’s observation.

GM: “It’s up to them,” says Cimpreon. “They can hit the shovelheads with a shovel, drain ‘em, blood ’em, then dump ’em in the ground. They’ll wake up fast after that.”

“But the pack can take longer if they want. If they make the shovelheads postmortems.”

“They won’t do that here,” says Westphal. “The elder’s arriving tonight. Which they know.”

“Any back can berform a bostmortem or immediate mass Emprace,” says Mahmoud. “Briests who know ze ritae can time when zhe shofelheads wake up.”

“I’d assume the shovelheads are going to start digging out shortly before the elder arrives,” says Westphal. “That’s what I’d do if it were me. I’d perform the mass Embrace with a window of time in case something goes wrong, lay low, then time the shovelheads to wake up when they’re needed.”

“I’d also hafe eyes on zhe airport, if it were me,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline nods and sweeps her gaze across the group.

“Capturing or killing is a pleasant fiction, but let us proceed under two assumptions I judge safe given their information as to the arrival of the elder.”

“First, they likely know the strength and capabilities of the elder and of all assembled here—myself excluded. Second, that they have judged their strength sufficient to overcome not only this gathering, but it in addition to the elder and their retinue.”

She waits a moment for any interjections or objections.

GM: “Yeah, but those fucks don’t know what we know,” says Cimpreon. “They’re countin’ on an ambush. They’re countin’ on the shovelheads. They’re countin’ on rocket launchers and maybe IEDs. We take those things away, and their plan’s gone to shit.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Verily? Assuming we could approach with all of your ghouls and Mr. Westphal’s without alerting them, how many of their ten would you expect to account for, presuming they average fifty years in the Blood and there are no elders among them?” Her tone carries no mockery or scorn.

GM: “Sabbat elders don’t go on missions like this,” says Cimpreon, shaking his head. “Be surprised if they average fifty years dead. Packs tend to be young.”

“There’s about as many of us as them, after Mahmoud gives you a body and brings over helpers. We stage an ambush too, fight this fight on our terms? Edge goes to us.”

“Or we let the pack attack the elder,” says Westphal. “It’s a better look if we help save her than if we simply say ‘there was a pack we took care of before you got here.’ Who would care about something like that? It’s better if she actually gets attacked, feels threatened in a foreign environment, and sees how much she needs us. And our elders.”

Caroline: This is taking too long. She’d hoped to let them reach the conclusion on their own, but the egos are too significant in the group.

Caroline shakes her head. “If we let them take the fight where they want and how, with the elder, we’ll lose. They’ve measured their strength as sufficient, and given their intelligence so far, I’d not doubt them. Even if the body Miss Mahmoud could provide was everything I might wish, I am not confident that I would meaningfully tip the scales in that conflict. I have less stake in that than you, since it won’t be me getting diablerized out in the desert, but I do have a persistent aversion to failure.”

“Which means you’re right, Mr. Cimpreon,” she gestures to him. “We need to attack them and disrupt their plans.”

She gestures to Westphal. “You’re also right, Mr. Westphal, simply disrupting them is the least of the victories we could take from this. If we attack them without the elder present, we need something to show the elder for our efforts: a captive with specific information, for instance, to lend credibility to our efforts.”

“But four on ten is poor odds, even with the ghouls,” she nods to Mahmoud. “In the night, in the desert, I expect them to be less effective. And if they’re able to wake the shovelheads against us we won’t be able to withdraw effectively either. Bringing the ghouls likely also forgoes the element of surprise.”

Her gaze sweeps across each in turn. “We need something to tip the scales significantly in our favor, and I don’t expect it to be our dignitary or further aid from the city,” she gives Mahmoud a moment to interject, “so we need to make our own.”

She settles her gaze on Mahmoud. “Something like two dozen frenzying shovelheads in their midst when we attack. Is that something you could accomplish, Miss Mahmoud?”

GM: Some very mean-sounding laughter goes up from the three vampires at Caroline’s suggestion.

“Yes,” answers Mahmoud with a hard smile. “Zhere’s some Apyssal creatures I can summon to really fuck with zhem.”

“We still need to take out the priest, and quickly,” says Westphal. “He’ll be the one best-positioned to disrupt that plan. If it comes down to it, the priest is expendable so long as we still capture the ductus.”

Caroline: “I think that can be arranged,” Caroline agrees.

She looks at Mahmoud. “Is there a different in capability between the bodies you might provide, based on time, other than longevity?”

GM: “Bropaply not, but zhis is ze first time I’ll hafe done zhis.”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “No pressure, then. It’s only your Requiem at stake tonight.” She looks to Westphal. “I presume your people came equipped for this? Explosives? RPGs? Magazines loaded with tracers?”

GM: “It’s bretty likely you’ll lose some of your mind, soul, or poth if you die in it, so no bressure eizher,” Mahmoud smirks darkly back.

Westphal nods. “We expected there’d be trouble.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly at Mahmoud’s claim. “I don’t suppose you brought a spare blade as well, Mr. Westphal?”

GM: A sardonic smile. “We’re not amateurs.”

“Swords. Firearms. Help yourself.”

Caroline: “Who says chivalry is dead?”

She turns back to the Arab vampire. “Shall we then?”

GM: Mahmoud calls out in Arabic. Her ghoul gets out from one of the cars. Mahmoud starts to chant in a dark tongue that sounds only vaguely like Arabic and makes several of the nearly ghouls’ skin crawl. She seizes the female ghoul’s shadow by the throat and yanks it free from its owner. It writhes in place like a spider only half-squashed by a fat book as its limbs jerkingly flail. The syllables in Mahmoud’s chanting grow darker and her eyes turn solid black. Minutes pass as she beats and flays the shadow until it has six limbs, ten limbs, then is finally a formless black and blood-like mass seeping through the gaps in her fingers.

“Open wide,” she tells Caroline in a deep and chill voice that sounds nothing like her own, then raises her hands and blasts the formless shadows into the Ventrue’s mouth. The taste is horrific, like swallowing nitrogen alive with crawling spiders. Blackness pours over her vision as voices whisper in her ears.

You’ll never make him proud…

Seneschal’s plan is doomed…

You can’t protect them…

Caroline: If Caroline had teeth to grind she might. Instead she twists and jerks as the darkness pours into her, as it’s poison fills her soul even as the whispers fill her ears.

It’s not the first time she’s been on the receiving end of demons that whisper to her of her worst insecurities, but that doesn’t make it easier to hear them. Her fears repeated back to her, given form and voice beyond the everpresent voice of Claire in the back of her mind.

She falls, suddenly no longer weightless, and lands hard, hands and knees. The sharp stinging pain is nothing to the skewering of her own hopes and dreams, sharp barbs sunk into her spirit.

She could stop perhaps, could dig them out like the hooks and barbs and splinters they are. Reason them away. If there was time. If she believed they weren’t true. If she wasn’t mainlining the source of them in a way a junkie could only dream of. Getting her own fix.

Instead she does what she always has, rising, squaring her shoulders.

Don’t let them see your hurt. Better to bleed quietly beneath your clothing than to stop, clean, and bandage it where all the world can see. Isn’t that why she wears black after all?

You can’t see the blood if she’s already clad in night.

GM: More than clad.

As the shadows retreat from Caroline’s sight, she looks down and and sees her once-translucent body is black. Her surroundings are in black and white, too. She feels weightless and cold. Very, very cold. Mahmoud commands her ghoul to open her mouth. The Egyptian woman looks less than thrilled, but does so. Mahmoud gestures again, and Caroline’s vision races as she floods inside the woman. There’s a roaring in her ears, then a hammering thump-thump in her heart. She feels sweat beading down her back. She feels queasy and sore. But no longer cold.

Her vision, though, remains in black and white.

“You’re bysically a ghoul, and any of zhe zhings zhat hurt zhem hurt you,” says Mahmoud. “You’ll hafe your full range of bowers.”

The vampires don’t wait for Caroline to recover her footing. One of Westphal’s ghouls tosses her a sheathed, one-handed sword that looks like an extra long tactical knife.

Caroline: She snatches the blade out of the air with she could never have managed in life, despite the unfamiliar body, taking the opportunity to judge the body’s reach, how it reacts, how it feels.

The breath that comes with the motion is an unpleasant reminder that the body is alive, as if she needed another beyond the bizarre aches and feelings.

“I’ll try not to get your ghoul killed,” she answers.

The body is shorter. It’s reach is less than her own. Its weight is different. Unfamiliar.

“Do you have anything longer?” she ask of the group as a whole, checking the blade’s edge.

GM: The edge looks sharp, but one of the Blackwatch ghouls tosses her another sword that’s a few inches longer.

The three vampires spend some time reviewing strengths and tactics. Cimpreon is best at hand-to-hand combat. Mahmoud at Abyssal magics. Westphal at controlling minds. Cimpreon points out that’ll make him useless against the shovelheads.

Caroline: She belts on the first blade and holds the second as she takes note of the coterie’s specialties.

Then she lays out their plan in greater detail.

As previously stated, the goal is to strike when the shoveheads awaken, then introduce panic into their ranks, causing them to frenzy on the pack. Westphal’s soldiers will open with RPGs into the vehicles and incendiaries into the group as a whole. When the fighting is joined, they’ll aim to break up any packets of resistance with the same while holding back to screen Mahmoud and her sorcerous ghouls.

Mahmoud will focus her efforts on disrupting control of the shovel heads and sowing chaos into their ranks, screened by Westphal’s ghouls.

Caroline and Cimpreon will lead the laters ghouls into the pack from the opposite side from the shovelheads, screening Westphal with them. Their goal is to kill or capture the priest and/or leader, ideally with Westphal’s control abilities.

Once they’ve captured one and induced panic and confusion the intent is to withdraw as effectively as possible—the goal is to stop the attack, not attempt to slaughter a pack with twice their numbers.

“I expect the first few moments to be where this is decided—the fire and suddenness of our strike inducing frenzy into the pack as well, driving some away or at each other. In that moment they will not know our numbers or strength. The longer the battle goes, the worse our odds.”

GM: Cimpreon points out that the shovelheads will almost certainly be frenzying when they burst from the earth, as a consequence of their traumatic deaths and ravenous hunger. Only a few fledglings of exceptional strength of will don’t succumb to their Beasts after that dark rebirth.

Mahmoud has brought no additional ghouls. She will call forth shadow servants, what Cimpreon terms “helpers,” before the attack.

They will also be what facilitate the shovelheads’ attack of the pack.

Westphal agrees with her objective. They don’t need to take out the whole pack. They just need to make them give up the attack on the arriving elder as a lost cause.

“The shovelheads already present a significant asset loss. If we take out the pack leadership too, the rest of them will likely give up the mission.”

“There’ll be a few motherfuckers crazy enough to fight ‘til they’re ash, though,” says Cimpreon. “How it is with these packs.”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “Not just among them.”

Her gaze settles on him. “One more thing, for you specifically. If I should lose control in this body for whatever reasons, get away.”

GM: “You think so little of me, beautiful,” says Cimpreon in mock hurt. “You’re lookin’ at one of those motherfuckers. If you go apeshit, we’ll leave you. But the rest of us ain’t leavin’ until the ductus and priest are in the ground.”

Caroline: “Oh, to be clear, darling,” Caroline answers in a voice that’s not quite her own, “I wasn’t suggesting you flee from the battle. Only from me.”

GM: “I’ll give you the same advice,” he smirks.

Caroline: “Any final points?” she asks, tearing her gaze from him and to the group.

GM: Mahmoud says the others have some time while she calls forth servants.

Caroline: She looks back to Cimpreon. “In that case, might I trouble you for a warm-up?” she asks, loosening the longer of the blades in its sheath.

GM: “Get used to the new body,” he nods, borrowing another from one of Westphal’s ghouls. He doesn’t seem to be carrying his own.

Caroline: Caroline steps away from Mahmoud’s ritual with Cimpreon and draws the offered blade. It doesn’t quite make up for the loss of reach in this body, but it’s better than the first one offered.

She opens several paces between them and nods her ready to the Lasombra. “Be gentle, it’s my first time,” she offers wryly.

GM: “I’ll treat you right, baby. Just relax and let me in…” he smirks, raising his blade.

Then the vampire lunges at her, bringing down the sword in a high arc that scores the tarmac as Caroline sails past. She feels sluggish, though, like she’s been drugged. In a sense, she supposes she has been. She perspires, gets winded, and has to deal with so much noise in her ears from her bodily processes. Cimpreon doesn’t have to deal with any of that as he viciously presses his assault: his undead body never slows down. It’ll always work at peak efficiency.

Compared to her early nights, fighting blindingly fast Kindred like René, Caroline supposes she’s gotten in more practice with brutally strong ones of late. Baker, Meadows, and now Cimpreon, who isn’t so fast as either of the last two. Caroline just has to duck his savage blows and wear him down with a thousand cuts. He provides a good match, and by the time they’re done, Caroline is sore all over. Calluses are starting to form on her hands. The ghoul’s hands.

Westphal observes the fight with interest.

“You were wrong, Mahmoud. She doesn’t have her full range of capabilities,” the child vampire assesses. “The ghoul’s body doesn’t have any of her old body’s muscle memory. It’s never received any combat training.”

Cimpreon shrugs. “Extra sword ’gainst the pack either way. When the fuck do we get to pick the fight we want?” He puts away the sword he was using. “Good match, beautiful.”

Caroline: Caroline’s chest heaves in great gasps of air. Or rather, the ghoul whose body she’s inhabiting does. Sweat runs from the body and has already soaked through its hair.

She’s pushed it beyond what it thought its limits were, or perhaps are. She’s too accustomed to not having to deal with tiresome needs like breathing. Not being encumbered by muscle fatigue is an advantage she’s not fully appreciated since her earliest nights.

“We’ll… have to go again… on my terms.” She grins despite the obvious fatigue.

Still, this had value. It showed her the weak spots. The difference in her reach she has to account for. In stamina. As predicted, the flight will be over in its early moments one way or another.

Still, for it, she’ll put up a better showing against the real enemy.

She downs several bottles of water from the groups stores, mindful of the frailty of the body she inhabits and the desert’s dry heat, while waiting on Mahmoud to finish her conjuring.

GM: All of the ghouls have a fair amount of water bottles between them, perhaps little surprise for non-Egyptians unaccustomed to the country’s heat. However, the desert doesn’t feel too warm at night, either. Probably 50-60 Fahrenheit. All of the ghouls have coats or jackets on. Caroline’s, having lacked the initial recognition and then chance to remove it, is soaked through with sweat.

The desert night is alive with shadows. Mahmoud has traced a summoning circle over the ground, etched within her own blood. It looks like the section of tarmac inside has fallen away into a realm of utter nothingness. Animate shadows cavort inside of it. Sometimes they’re shaped like demons, sometimes cobras or crocodiles, sometimes skeletally thin humanoids with too-long arms and hands. The air around them seethes with cold hatred. The other ghouls do not look eager to stand nearby. Mahmoud barks a final word in a guttural tongue and the circle collapses. The shadows seep out, their shapes alternately morphing between three dimensions and just two, pressed flat against the tarmac.

Caroline: She reverses the jacket, ignoring the appearance in favor of function—she’s not accustomed to getting cold—and ties back the ghoul’s hair. She’ll have to ditch the jacket before the fighting starts either way.

The Ventrue doesn’t study the shadows too closely, but nods her approval to the occultist.

Time to go. She’s certain calling and controlling the monsters is not easy.

GM: The vampires and ghouls pile into cars and drive off. Westphal accepts a shorter blade from his ghouls. He’ll need to get up close to meet the pack’s eyes, and his mental powers will avail him not against frenzying Kindred. Mesmerizing some of the pack into attacking their ductus will be the only way to be certain who that is.

Once they’re close enough, the cars disembark for the party to proceed in greater stealth on foot. One of the Blackwatch ghouls volunteers binoculars.

The pack is still there, standing vigil over the mass grave. Many of them look bored and are playing a grisly game of kickball with some of their victims’ severed heads, now stripped clean of flesh into little more than grisly skulls with clumps of attached hair.

Caroline: Caroline puts all the ways this could go wrong out of her mind as they walk.

Once the die is cast, there’s no longer any room for doubt.

She looks over their numbers again. In for a penny.

When Mahmoud answers affirmatively to her whispered inquiry about the potency of blood across her ghoul’s body, she quietly offers the gift of her speed to the other vampires and Cimpreon’s ghouls.

GM: The ghouls are all-too glad to imbibe. Mahmoud says Caroline’s vitae, technically a ghoul’s, won’t be able to bond the other vampires. They merely offer thin smiles and say they’ll let it cool for a few seconds anyway, “Just in case.”

Caroline: “Of course,” she answers almost mischievously. She lets each of the licks take their turn and three more ghouls besides before pulling back, tightly wrapping the shallow wound. Each throb of it his another reminder of the weakness of this flesh.

GM: It’s actually painful, too, to cut into her flesh with the hard steel. Caroline has some inkling of what Cécilia went through, though no one volunteers to do the cutting for her. Mahmoud takes Caroline’s wrist before she can wrap it and licks the wound closed, then carefully licks up any trace of remaining blood.

“Zhat plood’s smell will gife our bositions away pefore any noise efer does.”

Caroline: She nods to the mystic.

GM: Everyone seems to walk with that much more spring to their step after imbibing. The pack, meanwhile, has a few sentries keeping watch via binoculars. Caroline initially fears that stealth may be a foregone conclusion between the flat terrain, the pack’s night vision, and the size of her temporary coterie. Everyone digs down to wait after Caroline suggests one of Mahmoud’s servants cause a distraction. She confirms they can lift corporeal objects, and after a few thrown rocks, the pack sentries sharply turn away at the noise and send several vampires to check it out. Most of them, though, either watch the mass grave or play games with their victims’ remains. Several of them look very bored by the waiting.

Mahmoud’s other shadows seep across the earth, then sink into it.

Bestial howls start to go up from the shaking earth. Several packmates laugh. All turn to watch the spectacle. Caroline sees it happen through the binoculars. Badly gashed, newly-pale, and madly clawing hands burst from the graves like zombies in a horror movie, but terribly real. The fledglings that drag themselves out are ravenous-looking things with sunken eyes, protruding fangs, already corpse-pale skin, and shredded and earth-specked clothing. Almost all of them are bleeding, and screaming bloody murder as they throw themselves at their killers. Their sires. The pack laughs and starts to subdue them until the frenzies pass, clearly old hands at this. The ones who get hurt just earn more derisive laughter from their fellows.

Then the Blackwatch ghouls open fire.

Caroline: She’s moving when they rise to fire. Soft steps carrying her forth quickly across the desert. They have to time these attacks carefully, give them no chance to set themselves against the charge, to gain their own weapons. Chaos.

Chaos is the order of the day. The longer blade is naked in her hand, the shorter one still belted at her waist.

GM: Cars go up in flames as the HEIs go off, exploding 900 steel balls and 2-3,000 incendiary pellets over a 15 meter radius. The pack roars and screams. Someone bellows orders to disperse, to make less clustered targets. Several vampires lose themselves to their Beasts and mindlessly tear into their fellows, but most of the pack responds with discipline under fire and charges towards the source of the explosions. The priest raises the chalice and starts chanting in that same bestial tongue, only for a blast of shadow to knock it from his grip.

Then the shadows rise.

Mahmoud’s servants give bone-chilling screams of hate like nails over a chalkboard as they tear at the shovelheads, whipping them into frenzy and then seeping back into the earth, leaving them to turn upon their fellows. They lope forward on all fours like animals, smashing into the more experienced vampires with mindless savagery. Packmates roar back and tear into them, many losing themselves to their Beasts too. The voice from earlier shouts, “Take out the shooters!”

Caroline: She told the others their goal was to strike and withdraw. She told them they had no interest or hope in slaying the entire pack. She spoke truthfully. But not honestly.

Caroline is no saint by any measure, but these creatures are worse than monsters. They’re savages, heathens, nightmares from one’s darkest dreams.

The screams of the dying men, women, and children and the glee of the pack as they taunted, murdered, and damned them ring in her ears. Dozens not only slain—god, she’s slain plenty of her own—but callously consigned to Hell and Earth and thereafter in a cruel mockery of the divine justice of the Embrace.

The Sabbat. This pack. They deserve every ounce of fury she can muster, are a foe she can fight without reservation or hesitation. As that anger burns bright she can almost feel the touch of her sire, through her blood. Perhaps it’s her imagination, but she imagines it’s the same thrill he must have felt in his youth against the same foes.

She flies into this battle with blade in hand and joy in her heart born from righteous fury. It beats in rhythm with the heart in her breast in a rising crescendo.

GM: Automatic weapon fire sprays the night from both sides; from the Sabbat, armed to the teeth, and from Cimpreon’s ghouls, shooting as they advance. Several vampires soar into the air with stupendous leaps, or simply blur across the desert, too fast for mortal eyes to follow. Distance means little to these creatures. Caroline ducks past a slashing blow from a vampire with knife-length claws and a woman’s half-mummified breast swinging from a chain around his neck. Her sword slashes through his neck, and then his howling face rots a month in an instant as his corpse hits the earth.

Caroline: Going for the guns was a mistake, Caroline well knows. They might be effective against the ghouls, but they’re the least of the threat to the damned with the advantage of their surprise—and especially the fire—spent. The rest of this fight won’t be decided by ghouls with firearms—it’ll be decided up close on the edge of her blade, Cimpreon’s strength, and Westphal’s will.

The thought is among the last of the tactical ones that cross her mind before the conflict turns very pointedly into a more personal one, time seemingly to slow as she avoids the first vampire’s attack.

She doesn’t quite howl with satisfaction as her blade finds its first lethal purchase, but the feeling is there all the same, a violent thrill echoing through the all too human hands she wields when the blade makes contact.

Going for the throat had been dangerous—if he’d been tougher the blade might have snagged on his spine and been yanked from her hands. That’s a risk she’s willing to take while she retains a second at her belt. They need to even these numbers quickly, before the frenzying vampires turn their attention to them instead of their fellows.

GM: The guns mainly seem to be used by the slower vampires without a fast means of closing distance or ranged supernatural attacks. Shooting other Kindred is less than efficient, but it’s better than doing nothing. Shotgun and automatic weapons fire scream past her as she scans the sea of monstrous faces for her target. He’s still there, chanting and waving his hands at the shovelheads as they and his frenzying packmates savage one another. He tries to knock aside the anvil that’s come between his pack and the attackers’ sudden hammer.

They don’t give him the chance.

Cimpreon soars through the air, lands in front of the priest, and smashes a fist into his face with a hideous crunch of bone. Caroline blurs from point to point and slices into him from behind, dragging up her sword from the small of his back to shoulder blade. Up close, the priest’s ecclesiastical robes are a mockery of the church: the garment looks like tanned leather sewn from multiple human skins. Their flattened, eyeless faces soundlessly scream up at Caroline from his chest. Woven human hair provides a fur lining to the hood.

The priest himself resembles an alien with leather gray skin and no lips, nose, or mouth. Satanic tattoos dance along his features. He gives a pained grimace as the two vampires tear into him, and then inclines his head in a motion almost like a bow. His robes explode apart as his muscles gorily rearrange themselves and he grows over eight feet high. His new form resembles a scaled, greasy-furred humanoid with apelike arms tipped with jagged black nails, and a bristling row of spines tracing the length of its backbone.

Enormous claws slash through the air. Caroline ducks and weaves past them, but they rake across Cimpreon’s chest, leaving ugly red gashes through the Lasombra’s now-ruined suit.

Westphal’s ghouls maintain covering fire with the HEIs. Burning pellets explode through the pack’s embattled ranks, stopping the ones not battling the shovelheads from getting too close to Caroline, Cipreon, and the priest.

Caroline: She pulls back, breathing hard already as she pushes the kine’s body to its limits, but only to build speed on the charge—something to add weight to her attack against creature as monstrous on the outside as it’s deeds have been. Part of her instinctively recoils in terror from the monster, this creature far beyond her conception of Kindred, but he’s not the first such beast she’s seen.

The memory of the first only drives her at at him with renewed fury and hatred, his form overlaying in her mind with the last. Hack down, hack apart. She should have brought an axe, but any edge will do its work against flesh. And ultimately, he is still flesh.

This thing bleeds. She’s seen it bleed. And if it bleeds, she can kill it.

She’s killed a demon before.

GM: Caroline ducks low, avoiding another swipe of those enormous claws. She slashes her blade across the monster’s leg, sending it stumbling as she hamstrings it. Cimpreon leaps into the air and delivers two more bone-crunching blows to its already broken face, one of which puts out its right eye. Then he grabs the monster’s shoulders and launches himself over it. As it claws the air, Caroline blurs past on the ground, hamstringing its second leg. The monster topples to its knees, but catches Cimpreon by the torso. Claws rip through his chest. The Lasombra tosses Caroline a stake as it prepares to dash him head-first against the ground. She blurs up the creature’s leg, then rams the stake through its back. The wooden doom slides through the creature’s ribs like a knife through butter as she pierces the unbeating heart. The thing collapses and doesn’t move.

More vampires, however, are already breaking past the ghouls’ covering fire, howling as they converge upon the Kindred who’ve laid low their priest.

A short ways away, an imperious-looking man with solid black eyes conjures his own writhing tendrils of darkness, then sets them against Mahmoud’s. The night tears itself apart as whirling shadows fly between what can only be two Lasombra. Their contest reminds Caroline of the clash between Maldonato and her sire.

Caroline: She takes one look at Cimpreon’s maimed condition and the onrushing attackers. “Take him and go!”

The words cost her something—precious breath, but there’s not much choice. She trusts the Kindred’s speed-enhanced ghouls to buy him the time to withdraw with their prize and turns on the Lasombra conjurer. There can be no escape with sorcery dogging them into the night.

GM: Westphal’s voice rings through the din of combat over and over: “Stake the ductus. Stake the ductus. Stake the ductus.” Caroline briefly catches a childish glee in his eyes as he catches packmates’ gazes and orders them to attack their own leader. The look of supreme arrogance on his face grows with every will he crushes.

Cimpreon’s savaged flesh is already knitting itself back together, and he scowls as if to object, then seems to realize he’s the only one strong enough to carry the monster and hoists it over his shoulder. Caroline slashes through ranks of onrushing vampires rallying to the rival Lasombra’s side. He sneers at Mahmoud, casually exploding apart one of her monsters into a shower of screaming motes. Mahmoud’s conjured servants, the frenzying shovelheads, and the ghouls’ covering fire are keeping the pack from mounting a united response, but Caroline wonders how long it will last.

Westphal, however, beats everyone else to the kill. While Mahmoud pits her shadows against her clanmate’s, and Caroline cuts, slashes, and blurs closer, Westphal simply lets his dominated puppets bury the ductus under weight of numbers and ram a stake through his heart. One of Cimpreon’s ghouls blurs up to the paralyzed corpse and hefts it over his shoulders.

WIZDRAW!” shouts Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline blazes across the front as the ghouls and other Kindred pull back, seeking more distraction and disruption than outright harm of the the regrouping pack. Even down three of their number for the count—that she’s seen—they still outnumber the Lasombra almost two to one.

GM: Perhaps others have fallen too, but the situation looks grim. Animate shadows grasp at Caroline’s legs, trying to pull her down. Spectral wolves howl and bound through the flames. One of the HEIs stops firing—out of ammo, ghoul taken out, doesn’t matter. Grenades start exploding around them. Those can’t be the ghouls’. Where did the pack get those? Did they always have them? Meanwhile, the shovelheads, for all their savagery and numeric superiority, are going down hard against the more disciplined, experienced, and only marginally less savage pack. Mahmoud’s servants harass their flank, but the battlefield’s present state is all-too plain: they’ve accomplished their objective and it’s time to get the hell out.

Caroline: Everything aches—she can feel this body’s muscles burning as its feeble heart struggles to pump enough blood to keep it going, to match its demands. She pushes onward, the blade slicing through the grasping shadows.

It’s just not enough. She’s a flicker too slow, this body a flicker too weak. Everything just off enough to slow her down.

She pushes harder.

Weak.

The blade dances, blazing through the night.

Slow.

She’s bleeding, doesn’t even know where it came from in the chaos, but it doesn’t stop her.

Pathetic.

She fights as much against her own demons as against these ones as the plan starts to unravel. She just has to snip that fraying thread. She has to hold things together. She can’t fail. Not like this.

GM: Mahmoud runs, but the clash of shadows seems like it’s drained her. Shadows still cling to her legs and she runs as though caught in quicksand. Caroline wonders how much slower she’d be without her borrowed speed. Westphal only has a child’s legs: Caroline doubts he’d get very far without her blood, either. Cimpreon is either weighed down by the monster’s corpse, or the bulky thing is just awkward to carry even if he isn’t weighed down. Caroline may be unaccustomed to this body, but she’s accustomed to being fast. She blurs and weaves from point to point, harassing the regrouping pack from half a dozen positions seemingly at once, buying the others time to withdraw. A few stray gunshots clip the vampires’ backs, along with another blast of shadow before Caroline severs the owners’ fingers from their hand. The monstrous vampire screams in her face, and then she’s gone in another blur.

The ghouls, however, fare dismally. One of Cimpreon’s renfields goes down in a heap beneath two Sabbat vampires. They shred him apart like starving wolves before throwing themselves back at the shovelheads and Mahmoud’s shadowy demons. Cimpreon’s other ghoul, the one with the ductus’ body, seems like he’s about to break past enemy lines. Then one of the spectral wolves savages the Blackwatch ghoul with the remaining HEI right as he pulls the trigger. His aim goes wide and catches Cimpreon’s ghoul in friendly fire. The man loses half his face and goes down in flames, writhing and screaming over the ground. The remaining Blackwatch ghoul, however, rises magnificently to the occasion. He blurs right back into the fray, dodging and weaving past the still-clashing pack and shovelheads, then hoists his fallen comrade and the ductus’ bodies over his shoulders. He’s gone in another blur.

The glowing wolves harrow the survivors’ flanks as they withdraw. Spectral jaws close and tear around Caroline’s legs before she slashes open the creatures’ flanks. They dissolve into mist with ghostly howls. Lobbed grenades explode around the coterie. Mahmoud fires back with blasts of shadow. Westphal conjures a few lesser blasts. Bullets whiz back and forth between both sides.

The remaining shovelheads and Mahmoud’s servants keep the pack pinned down as the coterie pulls back. They get into their cars and drive like hell.

Caroline suspects she could run faster than any of the vehicles, at least in her real body. The tortured and gasping lungs in her borrowed one, however, wheeze for relief. She slumps back against the seat as the car moves underneath her, hurting everywhere. There’s cuts and gashes from more places than she can guess.

But there’s one sensation burning in her gut hotter than any wound.

Victory.


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Story Twelve, Celia XIV

“I am yours. Yours. Forever.”
Celia Flores


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick leaves Celia some money and tells her to send him a bill for the rest. Jade drives to the Evergreen. The sound of classic Louis Armstrong jazz fills the posh club’s air, though there’s few people in the lounge at this late hour. Actually, it’s all but empty. She’s still greeted by Fabian. The ever-smiling butler tells her she’s looking “Flawless as always, ma’am,” and inquires what he may do for her.

Celia: Jade doesn’t head immediately to the Evergreen. She has a few things to do first: change, for one (she’ll look relatively silly in front of Roderick, but not Savoy) and make a copy of the notes that Roderick had left behind. The latter she stuffs into the purse she carries with her, striding into the Evergreen with the ease of someone who has long been at home in the place. She smiles at Fabian.

“Is Lord Savoy free, perchance? I had wanted to follow up with our conversation from last night. I’d have called but, well, phone trouble.” Her smile turns wry. “I don’t have an appointment,” she admits after a second.

GM: “I am afraid he is not, madam, nor is he presently at the Evergreen. I can attempt to fit you in to his schedule later, or pass on a message if it is a matter of some urgency.”

Jade has never heard of elders being available for drop-ins. She supposes it was a long shot.

Celia: She doesn’t sigh, but her lips do pull down at the corners. She’s pretty certain that elders do this to vex them. Do they not want results? Did he think she’d take weeks to deliver Roderick to him?

“It’s not urgent.” Not really, anyway. “Can you set me up with something, sooner rather than later?”

GM: “His next opening is in three nights, madam. Is that amenable to your schedule?”

Celia: “It will do. Is the warden upstairs?”

GM: “I am afraid he is not, madam. I can pass on a message to him as well, if that would be most convenient for you.”

Celia: She should have stood on the roof and waited for her sire in the rain for all the good this trip did her. Do they not want fucking information or what? She’s doubly pissed now that Roderick destroyed her phone so that she can’t just call the detective to meet up somewhere else.

This time she does sigh, forcing the air from her lungs long enough to convey her mild irritation.

“No,” she says after a moment, “I’ll just call tomorrow.”

She supposes it gives her time to pack an overnight bag to spend the day with Roderick, at any rate. Clean the apartment, get rid of all the broken bits. Not how she wanted to spend her evening, really, but… well, whatever.

She can’t wait until she’s an elder and gets to dick people around.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

Celia: It isn’t that she forgot about the extra phones Alana had purchased for her. Three, she had said, and the ghoul had delivered them. Two for her, one not for her, but with the phone smashed as it is she might delay the delivery of the third to the party she had intended it for. No, it isn’t that she forgot; it’s that she had thought, perhaps naively, that both Lord Savoy and Warden Lebeaux would want to see her, might even be expecting her. What had Roderick said? Only if you’re their childe can you expect them to let you hang around? Grandchilder count for nothing, it would seem, if Savoy can’t bother to see her for another three days.

It’s a less-than-charitable thought she has about her grandsire. A less-than-charitable thought she has of her sire. Selling hot air, Roderick had passed down from Coco; is that how they see her? That she has done nothing for them? She died for him. She died to get them that information. She has killed for him. Multiple times. Any time he’s needed anything she has jumped to do it. Murdered her own sister. Her own—

She can’t let her thoughts unravel further. She reels them in. She is conflicted, that is it. Conflicted over this meeting with Roderick, the things they had discussed, the plan she has moving forward. Even he had made her wait a night. The thought is a bitter one. Had he done it intentionally, to let her know that she thinks himself above her, or had he simply been busy? I don’t trust you not to be like any other lick, he’d said, but there he goes playing stupid games with her, too.

Jade gives herself a moment to let the irritation fade. She can only imagine that, should she not go calling after Lebeaux to change his ghoul back, she will be blamed for it if the sheriff picks him up as a hunter. As if he’d even listened to the thoughts she’d sent him in the first place.

Still, better not to risk it.

She pulls out her phone to dial Lebeaux.

GM: He picks up after a couple rings.

“Lebeaux.”

Celia: “Good evening, Pete. Are you and your friend available? I promised him a follow-up and thought tonight might work for him.” Vague enough, she thinks.

GM: “It’s a little late tonight. How’s early tomorrow?”

Celia: “Of course. Will you please remind him that if I’m to try the high-frequency ray he shouldn’t use any exfoliants or go tanning, and that he needs to avoid salicylic and benzoyl peroxide based products?” She supposes Lebeaux will have his ghoul do what he wants, but far be it from her to at least not warn the man.

GM: “I’ll listen to the expert. We’ll see you later.”

Celia: She bids him good evening and hangs up.

Her next call is to her “sire,” Veronica.

GM: The phone rings to voicemail.

“Make it good,” sounds the harpy’s voice.

Beeeep.

Celia: Typical. She’d expected this one, at least. The harpy is always busy, or at least pretends to be.

“Hello, gorgeous. I had the most delicious thought this evening and wanted to share. Give me a ring when it’s convenient, yeah?”

She hangs up.

GM: That’s probably ‘good,’ at least.

Celia: Of course it’s good. Jade knows her sire. It’s got a compliment, a secret, and a request at her leisure. What else can the harpy ask for?

Her thoughts turn to the girl who always picks up her calls. After this night, she needs it. She rings Alana.

GM: For once, it rings to voicemail.

Flawless’ day manager does need to sleep at some point.

Celia: Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

“Hey babe. Give me a call if you get this before your morning run.”

She hangs up.

She’s just going to go back home and twiddle her damn thumbs until 5AM, apparently.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: The trip back to her half-wrecked haven is uneventful. She could get started on cleaning it up herself.

Or wait and let one of her renfields do it.

Celia: It’s a brief trip back to her haven on the edge of the Quarter. She lets herself in and once more locks the door behind her, gaze sweeping the destruction that the Brujah had left behind. He hadn’t given her nearly enough to cover the expense of replacing her furniture again, but he’d said to bill her for the rest of it, so perhaps… well, her tastes are marginally more expensive than others, perhaps he won’t be surprised when she hands him a large bill. And she does, indeed, intend to hand him that bill. His fault.

She does not need Alana or Randy to clean up this mess. They have not been told of this location and she will not do it now simply to save herself the headache of cleaning. She has arms and legs; she can do it herself.

She finds an empty garbage bag, a broom and dustbin shoved into the corner of a hall closet, and gets to work sweeping up the worst of it.

Quicker, perhaps, to use her speed to her advantage here. She knows that is one of its primary uses, cleaning up messes like this. And she could. But then she would not be able to listen to the music she has connected to her speakers, the songs that make her want to dance like she hasn’t done in years. Happy, upbeat songs; the kind of top 40s stuff she pretends she doesn’t listen to around other licks, but she and Alana belt in the car while Randy looks on, torn between amusement at her antics and disgust at her choice in music.

There’s a spring in her step as she sweeps. She’s spending the day with Roderick. He said he wants to trust her. He’d held her. All these years later and he still makes her giddy. Not being able to get ahold of Savoy, Veronica, Alana—what is that compared to him? A sleepover. Finally seeing his place. She wonders if it is the same as when they were in college together, if his work will be spread across multiple desks and tables. If his ghouls live with him. She’s never met them, never even thought that he had any. But of course he does. Every lick has their servants; why would he be any different? He probably doesn’t sleep with his, at least. Is that jealousy purring in her chest?

Christ.

Celia laughs at the thought. Of course not. That would be silly. She spins around the broom as if it were a partner in a ballroom, her skirt twirling up around her legs.

GM: The mix of pop hits belts out, one after another. It’s too bad she can’t tell anyone, “Me and Stephen are getting back together!” She can picture Emily responding, “Well good for you guys,” and immediately pressing for details. She can picture her mom gasping with delight before doing the same. There’s Alana, but would she be jealous? Randy would probably feel even more inadequate.

Then again, she and Roderick had floated that “get married as breathers” idea. Maybe it’s on the table again.

Celia: She hopes he didn’t see that thing in the closet. That would be awkward.

GM: Pick out dresses and venues. Send out invitations for guests. Since her dad’s an asshole, have her mom give her away. Have Lucy as the flower girl. Emily as the maid of honor?

Celia: Who would she even invite to this? Would she have to change Roderick’s face? Or has it been long enough that no one would notice? She won’t pretend she hasn’t thought about it, even after what he did to her. What it would be like to actually get a wedding. Whether or not there would be any other Kindred guests in attendance. Probably not—it seems a silly thing, doesn’t it, to marry as a mortal.

Does ‘til death do us part’ even count if they’re both already dead?

GM: Roderick can’t invite anyone. He’d said he’d prefer a smaller wedding, last they talked about the idea.

Celia: Pity. Celia had always wanted a big party. She enjoys being the center of attention. Being adored. Still, she understands the logic behind it, and of course she will give him what he wants.

They should have had something brilliant, though. Something beautiful. Maybe now he can invite his sister, at least. There’s an upside.

She tries to picture Savoy at an event like this. Wonders if he’d show. Not that she could invite him, anyway; Roderick would probably be opposed to his presence, even if she had a good way to explain why she wanted him there.

Would he be jealous? The cold, dark one?

She thinks such human emotions are beneath him. But maybe.

Her mind runs away with her—her sire showing up. Demanding a duel for her hand. Telling her that of course he cares about her and has all this time.

She is glad there is no one around to see the silly smile on her lips.

GM: The mix of pop hits belts out one song after another. The lyrics are bright, bubbly, and upbeat. The haven feels warm and cozy against the pouring rain as Celia tidies, dances, and sings along. She can picture Roderick. coming back. Picking her up again. Swinging her around in his arms to the music.

It’s as Victoria Ash’s Unique Technique pounds out that Celia feels it, like an icy hand suddenly locked in a death grip around her heart. Squeezing. Crushing. Pulling, like a magnet. Forcing her legs to move against her will, while she watches like a spectator. Yanking her towards the source.

Her sire is calling.

Celia: Up. The strings pull her towards him; were there no ceiling above her head she thinks, perhaps, that she might simply float away. Already wrapped in the fantasy—his icy chill touching her heart does not do so much to dampen it as he might wish—she can clearly picture their reunion this evening. His arms around her. His lips on hers. Cold. So cold. A shiver runs down her spine at the thought, from exhilaration or anticipation or some combination of them both.

She starts toward the door. Two steps and then she halts, catching sight of herself in the floor-length mirror in the hall, the silly outfit she had donned when she thought only Roderick would see her. She strips quickly, abandoning the skirt, leggings, and distressed shirt, and finds something more fitting in which to see her sire. Burgundy, long, tight through the bodice and hips before it flares out around her legs.

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But her face… he knows. She knows that he knows, and yet something inside of her demands the change all the same, that she meet him as her. The real her. The speed she had denied earlier serves its purpose now. She sits herself in front of the mirror to twist and sculpt her features back into Celia’s face. The same Celia she had been when he had come to her that night in 2009, when he had carried her body above the clouds, when his fangs had pierced her flesh to steal the life from her body. Celia Flores, 19 years old. A perfect, flawless version of her, to be sure, but still a younger visage than she has worn in many years. Innocent, wide eyes, long before she had given into Jade’s corruption and rot.

It is painful, as ever. But it is an old, familiar pain, and the hand that touches her heart—that soothes her. A balm to her hurts. Her sire has come to see her.

She is out the door a moment later, taking the steps that will lead her up, the winding spiral staircase that leads to the roof, an umbrella in her hand.

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It’s why she took this place, those steps. That easy roof access. Roderick had wanted to jump out the window earlier, and she would have let him, if only to see him in action. But Celia does not need to jump out of windows. She had made sure that, should her sire come calling, she has a quick way to get to him that does not require the scaling of buildings.

The tugging on her heart does not let up. Each step she takes tells her that she is moving in the right direction, though as the staircase winds it becomes more insistent the further away from him she gets, each turn of the stair that takes her in the opposite direction. Up, ever upwards, but for those few steps when she faces away from him she almost cannot stand it. Like that old “hot and cold” game her mother used to play with them when she hid their Easter baskets, only the prize this time is not an assortment of chocolate and other candies. It is her sire. And that, she thinks, is worth more than all the rest.

She does not run up the steps, but she does keep her gait quick, hand on the rail as she ascends. Even the rain beating down upon the city, the thought of runny makeup (as if hers would dare) and sodden hair, is not enough to deter her. She opens the door at the top of the staircase and steps out into the storm.

GM: Celia’s speed serves her well. No one is there when she reaches the top. A second later, there is. The dark blur descends like so much more rain—and a concurrent crash as a man’s form smashes into the floor.

It’s the punk Jade met at the club. He looks delirious with terror. Like he’s aged ten years. There couldn’t have been white in his hair or such heavy bags under his eyes. They’re bloodshot, feverish, and enormous. He’s barely able to raise his hands and gasp “Pl-” before a boot stomps down on his throat, gorily crushing it in with a loud crunch-snap. Blood seeps across the rain-spattered deck.

Celia’s sire does not glance down at the corpse. He’s dressed in a dark, double-breasted trench coat, its style vaguely reminiscent of a World War II German military officer. On someone else, it might look offensive. On him it feels like the Third Reich is back—and pounding on your door in the dead of night, each sharp bang promising you’re next. He bothers with no umbrella. The rain weeps against his waxen, corpse-like face, and perhaps seems to trickle down its frozen contours more slowly than rain should. He does not blink as the moisture runs down his eyes, nor move his mouth as it beads on his lips. He looks like a statue. Chiseled stone indifferent to its state in the gloomy weather.

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Equally chill thoughts fill Celia’s mind.

:: Dispose of this. ::

More materials for the spa.

Celia: The sight before her—the punk with his green hair, now tinged in white—is nothing short of shocking. The boot that ends his life is grotesque, the squelch of his lash breath, the blood leaving his body, the snap of his neck… Celia cannot look away. Does not look away, will not allow it. Not from her sire. Not from what he has done. A loose end. She had not forgotten about the punk from the club, the man that tried to roofie her, but she had not yet moved against him. Had thought he might not be involved.

Her sire had. Had tracked him down. Questioned him, she can assume from his haggard appearance. Because she had reached out to him? His had not been among the faces she had sent him. But he found the man. Found him. Ended him. Ended a threat to her. To all of them, yes, but to her. Her insides flutter.

The umbrella in her hand is abandoned against the door as she moves across the roof toward her sire. Her dress is soaked through in seconds, heavy around her legs, but she pays it no mind. Her heels click against the roof with each step that she takes. Stay, her heart whispers, please stay, just for a moment. She doesn’t dare let herself think it.

She stands before him in an instant, the dead body to her side. Her head dips in acquiescence.

:: Yes, sire. ::

A brief pause. She lifts her eyes to his face.

:: Thank you, sire. ::

GM: The dead-looking face remains motionless.

The rain pours down, plastering her hair against her scalp.

:: Inform me what intelligence you have obtained since our last meeting. ::

Celia: He had heard her. Had heard, had listened, had hunted for her. He cares. He has to care. That’s what this has to mean, doesn’t it? He hadn’t come swooping in to rescue her, but this… this has to mean something. She doesn’t dwell.

Intelligence. Hard facts. Her theories as well? She doesn’t ask. She will give them at the end. She takes a second to organize her thoughts so he does not need to sift through them. It reminds her all too much of the meeting with the archon, the steel trap around her mind.

:: Attack on Vienna, other cities. Catastrophe in Vienna. Hunters. Calbido will sit on it. Uptick in hunter activity within the city. Quarter. Mid-City. Prague conclave—they will send someone to discuss their options. The seneschal has said you are unavailable to go, that they cannot spare you. ::

Perhaps he picks up on her concern for him, the undercurrent of emotion behind the words, the relief that he will not be leaving.

:: The Nosferatu primogen pushes for Savoy and the Baron to join the Calbido. In contact with Vitel, Black, and Houston. Plan to host Black. Elders prepping for civil war. Savoy has found a way to manipulate an ear in Calbido. I am handling. Have ideas—later. ::

She has not confirmed that Savoy was the one to turn Dani, or have her turned, but she suspects. She will add it to the things she tells him that are not hard, cold facts.

:: Fledgling in the Garden District this evening, among her mortal family. Trespassing, possibly. Have ideas—later. ::

Another theory.

:: Soul-thieves in the city. ::

A pause.

:: Have possible answers to old questions. ::

Arms around her. Someone shoving a gun into her hand. Her mother’s earlier words this evening.

:: Information on Maxen Flores. ::

Hesitance.

GM: The rain continues to pour, soaking Celia’s already wet dress against her skin. Her sire neither questions nor interrupts until she is finished.

:: Expound. ::

Celia: Her eyes search his face. If she seeks an answer to question she does not find it in the marble that he has been cut from.

:: Maxen fathered a child with his daughter. Savoy knows. Possibly plans to use it against him. ::

She knows what she has done. That she has given him the card she could use against her father. The expression on her face does not change; she does not betray her inner turmoil. She has already sold out her family for him once—what’s it matter if she does so again? Perhaps she feels a twinge of regret that she cannot take him down, but he will not be useful to her sire forever; when he is old and gray, that is when Donovan will let her have him. Patience. She can be patient. For him.

:: Hunters have friends in the city, believe to be “Inq.” Will have more information tomorrow. Infiltrated meeting, need to collect. Audio device planted. ::

Pride at that. It was her doing.

:: Identity possibly compromised. By hunters. By fledgling. ::

An image of Caroline swims in front of her. She sends that along the mental path as well, the golden-haired Ventrue.

:: Theories, sire? Plans? ::

She’s asking if she should share the things she doesn’t know, just strongly suspects. Her own plans for the information she has obtained. How she will spin it to her advantage, but more than that, to his advantage.

:: Old information, as well. Perhaps not relevant. Can share regardless. Maxen-related. Just a theory, unconfirmed. Think it’s true. ::

GM: Just like that, another dagger against her father is laid before her sire’s impassive eyes.

Once again, he offers no response over the pouring rain until Celia is finished.

:: Proceed. ::

Celia: :: 2003. Believe Savoy moved against Diana to make her confess something to Maxen that would cause him to harm her. Discredit him, lose seat. Not confirmed. Mentioned ‘woman at the party.’ Can look into further, if desired. Fragile mind, need delicate approach. 2009… after Maxen’s arrest I returned to the house. Man waiting. Thought it was you. ::

She’d wanted it to be him. Had thought about what it would mean if it were him. Choosing her over her father. How many times has she replayed that scene in the hallway, the one where he took the gun from her, tucked her into bed? She tries not to dwell. Desire courses through her all the same. He’s just in front of her. Close enough to touch. She wants to touch. Wants him to touch her.

:: Not you. Savoy said not him. Gave me a gun, told me to shoot Maxen… believe him to be Gettis. Unconfirmed, strong suspicion. Knew I would be there. Possibly dead, not sure how relevant. Apologies if this is old news. ::

There’s a pause while she considers her next thoughts. The rain has destroyed her gown, but she does not seem to notice. It is not important, not next to him.

:: Fledgling. Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Presumed to be childe of the renegade hound… But, sire, she has speed almost at your level. Months old? Not possible, is it? Think her to be the childe of someone else. Someone older. Potent blood. ::

Another pause. Her theory might be wrong, but she offers it all the same. It’s what makes sense to her given what she tasted, the offhand comment made earlier in the evening.

:: Prince? Seneschal? ::

There’s more. Always more. But she waits.

GM: Celia’s sire offers no response to her apologies. Nor any yet to her other news.

The ran continues to fall. Much of the blood pooling from the punk’s corpse is now a watery pink, but Celia can still feel her fangs elongated in her mouth. Perhaps it is her present company. Perhaps it is simply the residual so-heady coppery smell. Perhaps both.

:: Inform me of the circumstances under which you were proximate to Malveaux-Devillers. ::

Celia: Apprehension creeps into her at the question. Roderick’s earlier exclamation at her location this evening has come back to haunt her. Her eyes dim. She doesn’t dare move, doesn’t dare draw useless breath, doesn’t fidget or drop her gaze or let him know how he makes her want to squirm. A thousand lies pop into her mind, a thousand pleas for him not to hurt her, a thousand ways for him to ignore those pleas. She voices none of them. Squashes them down inside of her where they cannot betray her, where she will not be tempted. This dark man has no sympathy.

:: In the Garden District. ::

Invited, but it doesn’t matter.

If it were possible to whisper in her mind that’s what she would do. Will he drag her before the prince? Make an example of her? She has heard that now they call him judge, jury, and executioner; will she see his justice now, tonight?

:: Not poaching. Never that. Preserving my own Masquerade. ::

It doesn’t matter.

He’s going to kill her.

He’s going to kill her here, now, tonight, on top of this roof.

No one will know. They’ll just think she vanished.

More to do for him, more to tell him, but she will die for the sin of trespassing, no matter that the usual punishment is a drink.

She stands rooted to the spot.

GM: Just like that, he’s gone.

The rain falls and falls.

Celia: But… but she had more. More to tell him. More to inform.

She could have lied. Should have lied.

No, she reflects, never that. Not to him. Truth comes out.

He’s gone, but the burning ache in her chest is not. The knot in her stomach twists. Let him down. All that and she still let him down.

She presses her hands against her mouth to contain the sounds she wants to make, wants to scream. Any pride, any satisfaction she’d had in telling him everything—it vanishes in the wake of his departure.

Failure.

GM: Suddenly, he’s back.

So Celia’s mother. She’s on her knees at his feet, dressed in a long, floral-printed nightgown already soaked through in the rain. One of his so-pale hands is locked around her arm. Her eyes are enormous and mad with terror, like the punk’s were. When she sees Celia, her mouth starts to falteringly work. No sound comes out, as though she’s trying to speak—or scream—through a gag.

Celia: No.

They’re supposed to be safe. She’s supposed to be safe. French Quarter, it’s supposed to be safe.

But she’d learned long ago that safety is only an illusion, hadn’t she?

Horror has her in its grasp. She takes a step forward—and halts, faltering, looking between the two of them, eyes wide, hands reaching, stretching towards her mother, as if she can make this all go away, as if the thing that has her in its grasp is anything that can be reasoned with.

GM: :: It requires but one careless misstep to destroy that which takes decades to cultivate. ::

Celia’s sire flings her mother into the sky as though the woman weighs as much as a baseball. Diana’s flailing, silently screaming form recedes into the rain, becoming no more than a hazy white and pink smudge.

Then she’s gone.

A heart-arrestingly long moment passes.

Then, the white and pink smudge reappears.

Gets bigger.

Bigger.

Gets some spots of blonde and fleshy pink.

Gets a face.

Gets a mouth. A wide open, screaming mouth.

She’s falling.

God knows how many feet.

:: Catch. ::

Celia: No. No, no, no, no, no.

Anything. She would have given him anything.

“She’ll die—please!” She sees it as clear as she sees him in front of her. Her mother’s body hitting the roof. The screaming woman laid out and broken. Silent. Every organ inside of her rupturing. Every bone disintegrating into dust. Bodily fluids leaking out of every orifice. She’ll watch her mother draw her last breath, smell the blood as it spills from her body. Even catching her… the roof is hard, stone beneath her feet, Celia’s arms as stiff as any other corpse. A snapped spine if she lands wrong. Paralyzed. Her dreams will die, another funeral for the already-passed ballerina.

Her mom comes closer. Fast. So impossibly fast.

One shot.

She can’t miss.

Everything has to be perfect. Flawless.

This wasn’t how her night was supposed to go. It’s her last coherent thought. Absurd, chiding, that it wasn’t how she was supposed to see him again. She does not, cannot, spare a look at him. She does not waste her breath screaming. She stuffs her hatred of him down so deep inside herself that it will never again see the open sky. She makes herself as cold as him.

Celia had fallen once. It would have been enough to kill her, too, had he not already done it.

She may not be able to jump as high as a Brujah, but she is no helpless doe. A timely gift from the beautiful fledgling who had caused this problem thrums through her veins. Tonight she is fast.

I’m fast, she’d told the detective.

Not fast enough, he’d said.

Not fast enough to save herself, not from her sire. But she had not needed to save herself. She had needed to save her mother. Then. And now. She’d been fast enough for that then. She will be fast enough now. Fast enough to take a running leap, to catch her mother in the air, to descend with her in her arms and land on her feet like the cat that she is.

It will hurt. It will break things. It might break everything. But for her mother? For her mother she’ll pay the price. For her mother she’ll break everything five times over. She’d given her life for the woman once; what’s a little pain now?

She watches her mother come closer. She waits until the right moment. The perfect moment. One chance. That’s all she gets. That’s all her mother gets. Just one.

She burns through the blood, rousing her vitae to flood her body with the boost she needs.

I’m fast, she’ll tell him.

Fast enough, he’ll agree.

The moment arrives. She runs. She leaps.

GM: Celia summons everything she has. Caroline’s so-timely gift. The vitae coursing through her own veins, nine steps removed from Caine’s own. Everything to push her willingly broken and shredded undead body to its utmost limits.

The Toreador streaks into the air like a bloody missile, moving so fast one might almost think she possessed her sire’s gift of flight. She collides against her mother, swerving her head to avoid bonking it against the so-frail mortal’s. Their chests still hit, possibly hard enough to drive the air from Diana’s lungs, but Celia can’t see the woman’s face. She wraps her arms around her mother’s back, the soaked nightgown doing nothing against her equally soaked dress. Rain screams down over their faces as her Beast howls in her ears.

They fall.

They fall.

Then with a heavy thump, they stop falling. Celia rolls over. Diana is covered in blood. For a heart-stopping moment, Celia thinks it’s her mother’s. But it can’t be, not with the woman cradled in her arms as she was. Then she feels it: the Beast tearing her apart from the inside, yowling its rage to the sky for the blood that Celia burned through to save this chattel. The heavy impact of her heeled feet hitting the rooftop with the weight of another person in her arms, the reverberating shock traveling up through her body. The organs she’d removed from herself left a gaping hole behind, one that her very bones try to fill when they’re knocked loose by the high-speed collision. Several of them splinter through her skin, covering the pair of them in blood.

Her mom’s mouth tries to move. Sound still doesn’t come out. She looks over the blood on Celia, then tries to pull up her daughter’s dress around the reddest spots. Starts to tear off strips of her nightgown to bind the wounds. Maybe she’s crying. It’s so hard to tell, past the rain, but it looks like she is. She tries to mouth something, over and over. ‘Stay with me, Celia. Stay with me, Celia.’

Alive.

Celia: Blood. Blood everywhere. Blood on her mom. She’d failed. Failed her sire, failed her mom—but no, that can’t be right. It’s her blood spilled across the front of her torn gown, across her mother’s hands as, even now, even after all of that, she sees to her daughter’s wounds first. Stolen from her bed in the middle of the night. Carried across the Quarter. Thrown into the air. And still—still her concern is for her daughter.

That’s love.

That’s love that he will never know.

That’s love that no one who has become a monster will ever understand.

Her body aches. Muscles hang heavy from her frame. Her side is split almost in two by the ribs that punctured her skin upon crashing onto the roof. Her mother’s hands do nothing to mend her dead flesh; her own blood sees to that, or will once the threat has passed.

She rises. Agony. But the night isn’t over yet. Her sire isn’t done with her yet. She pulls her mother close, tells her that it’s okay, it’s all okay, even though it isn’t.

:: Yes, sire. Thank you, sire. I will not forget. ::

GM: Diana looks even more distraught as her daughter rises. She tries to get Celia to lie back down. Tries to say something else.

Then Donovan’s cold hand takes her by the chin. He stares into her eyes.

“This was a nightmare. You recall your husband’s face in place of mine. Sleep. Do not awaken until you are returned to your bed.”

Celia’s mother slumps forward like an expired wind-up toy, collapsing face-first into the rain.

Celia: It’s all she can do to catch her mother’s body before she hits the ground. Celia staggers, her knees threatening to buckle after the beating she has already taken, and lowers her mother gently down. Her eyes look up toward her sire.

GM: Donovan makes no move to catch Celia’s mother as his stare falls upon his childe.

:: You will stay out of the Garden District. You will ensure that Malveaux-Devillers, to whom you were sufficiently proximate to risk everything, causes us no problems. ::

Celia: She rises.

:: Understood. It shall be done. ::

GM: Celia’s mother lies motionless on the mat, rain pouring over her still face.

:: Obtain further information on Malveaux-Devillers that is of use to me and you shall be rewarded. ::

:: Slay her without revealing my hand, or find a means to suborn her to my will completely, and you shall have Maxen Flores to do with as you please. ::

:: Risk the cover I have orchestrated for us again, and I shall risk the life of Maxen’s wife again. ::

Celia: Rewarded. Maxen Flores. The offers send a thrill through her.

:: Yes, sire. It shall be as you say. Thank you. ::

GM: :: If you have remaining business between us, speak it now. ::

Celia: Celia nods. She centers herself. Recalls where she left off in the report that she had been giving him, how much she had revealed.

:: Yes, sire. Three things. Further information. A theory. Blasphemous, but not without merit. Possibly worth looking into. Dangerous, though, and I am uncertain of its validity. I would not voice it except that it is ruinous. A question, sire, if you’ll permit it. ::

She pauses. Her mind travels to the apartment below her. The box inside of it, waiting for him.

:: One more thing, to wrap up. Something for you. ::

GM: :: Proceed. ::

Celia: :: I believe that Prince Vidal is using neonates as blood dolls. ::

GM: :: On what basis? ::

Celia: :: One of the Storyvilles was in captivity at the Evergreen. While being questioned the neonate likened the prince to a god, implied that he was the childe of Longinus or that the childe of Longinus walks among us. The scripture chosen is telling: “…lays his hand upon my heart and I know the last gift I am to give.” It felt very cult-like. ::

:: Ordinarily I would assume a full collar, but then I began to wonder if that’s all it is. The harpy’s childe who was fed upon revered Matheson the same way. Meadows took out the entire krewe. She has always been loyal to the prince, but rumor says now she is loyal to the Testament, perhaps sees the death of the krewe as a way to rein in his headhunting. Proclaimed Matheson innocent to set precedent for his own actions and possible trial. The krewe member questioned was adamant about rebuilding the group and would have gone so far as to Embrace without permission so that he could receive his sustenance. ::

:: And… this is a leap, sire, but if I am correct about the earlier mentioned Ventrue then she had extremely potent blood in her system—not her own, someone else’s—more so than Savoy, and while I am sure there is another to whom it could belong… if it is his, it suggests that perhaps the kine no longer do it for him. The rumor is that he nears his long sleep; it is possible he uses thicker vitae to keep him from sliding down that slope. ::

GM: :: Such a rumor concerning Prince Vidal’s predilections is to our benefit. Its truth is irrelevant. Assist its dissemination. ::

Celia: :: Yes, sire, I shall. ::

She does not bite her lip, though she wants to. Wants to fidget as well, though she does not beneath his gaze.

:: The question, sire? If you permit. ::

GM: :: Proceed. ::

Celia: She hesitates. She had long thought the answer to this question was evident in Veronica’s approval to sire a childe. But Roderick’s words this evening ring in her ear: they usually do not say who they wish to sire, only that they wish to do so. She’d thought to ask the harpy, but who knows when Veronica will make time for her. It is a delicate thing, she thinks, but she does not want to dance around the subject or waste her sire’s time. She asks him, bluntly.

:: Was my Embrace sanctioned? ::

GM: Donovan raises his wrist to his mouth. There’s a flash of fangs, and then red wells from his wrist. He holds it over Diana and lets the blood run over her face.

Celia: No.

She’d just been through this.

Had just saved her mother.

Celia does not stand idly by this time. She steps forward, between her mother and her sire. Her jaw works as she watches the blood drip from his wrist… and she acts, bending, taking a knee, bringing it into herself instead of her mother, letting the red hit her tongue rather than the sweet, innocent woman beneath her. She will take this offering, understanding what it means, what it will do to her. Already he has twisted her mind, and now she will let him do it further, will take that final step and all it means.

She sends him wordless apologies across the tether in her mind. She’s sorry. So sorry. She shouldn’t have asked. Please, not her mom, not like this. She has given him everything else. Everything. Will still give him everything, just not this. Not this one thing, this one woman.

She won’t question him again. Never. She will serve. It is her place. It is why she’s here. For him. To serve. To deliver the city. To weaken Vidal. She understands. Nothing else is important. Just him. Getting him what he wants. She understands.

His point is made. He doesn’t need to do anything further. Not her mom. Please, not her mom.

GM: Her sire unceremoniously pushes her aside. The blood freely runs over her mother’s sleeping face.

:: I have no use for this broken kine, foolish childe. She must swallow it to be made my slave. ::

Celia: A moment passes. His words sink in, past the blood that calls to her. Past the sleeping woman on whose face it rests. Past the frayed nerves, the emotional upheaval of the evening, her mother almost dying and then being put in danger again just by her proximity. Her sire is not a lick from whom she expects benevolence; a trick, she thought, a way to remind her of her place. But the trick was in her own mind, her own dour expectations, and she realizes what he means to do.

Her imagination had run wild without her permission, twisted his offering into something malicious. Sick. Turning her mother into a slave. Giving her his blood and then slaying her, leaving Celia to pick up the broken pieces of her family. Some other ritual or rite or depraved act that she can’t let herself dwell on, doesn’t even have proof that he knows. Rumors and hearsay, none of them good. He is not known for his kindness.

It clicks into place, perhaps worse than she had even thought. Blood on her mother’s face so she can feed. So she can lick it off of her and mend her wounds.

Like a dog.

Like the panting bitch in heat that she has always been around him.

The collar chafes at her. She wants it. His blood. His body. His gift. Her mind twists in ways to make it palatable, playing over his past words to her. You will have a place in my new order. Where? She had wondered even then and now she knows: on her knees. He would keep her on her knees without even the dignity of an answer to her question. Ignored, as she so often is by him. Rejected. Never good enough. He could let the blood cool on his body and chooses instead to let it drip onto the ground.

The face of his ghoul flashes before her eyes, the threat he’d made when she was nineteen years old and had tried to end things with him. Turning her into a dog.

This, then, is where he gets it.

Revulsion roils through her, gut churning in disgust at the thought.

:: No. ::

GM: :: I had thought to reward you for the information you had brought me. If you would reject what gifts flow from my hand, so be it. ::

The sheriff withdraws his wrist. The blood’s heavy aroma tantalizingly wafts from Diana’s red-streaked face.

:: May hunger be the wages of your impertinence and stupidity. ::

Celia: She misses it as soon as it is gone. The noose around her neck tightens to a stranglehold, but she’s lying to herself if she thinks that is the only thing that makes her want him. Even now, after all of this, she knows the truth she had just denied: if the choice is between her knees and nothing she will let him push her down every time.

It is not pride that swells within her for not sniveling, bowing, and scraping. It is not gratitude for his offer. It is shame, hot and heavy, her cheeks smarting as if he had struck her rather than just call her stupid. An old trigger. And trigger it does.

Stupid, to risk their plans. Stupid, to question him. Stupid, to not accept his reward.

She doesn’t tell him that she understands, bites her tongue rather than ask for a re-do. She bows her head and lets the rain wash the hair into her face. Maybe it will take her along with it and they can swirl down the drain together, flush it away as she flushes away any esteem she might have gained this evening.

:: I have something for you. ::

A gift, but she doesn’t know why she bothers. It will not be good enough. She will not be good enough. He will always see her like this.

GM: :: Proceed, :: sounds her sire’s impassive voice.

Celia: Celia rises, the motion stiff. She does not wince, does not betray her body’s injured condition; she could have fixed herself had she not snubbed her sire’s reward. Perhaps if she leaps from the edge of the roof the ground will welcome her warmly into its arms, hold her in sleep until dawn, and the sun will burn her worries away. Then she cannot make a fool of herself, or of him.

The thought is fleeting.

The gift is downstairs, but if she leaves to retrieve it she fears that he will find reason to punish her for taking too long, and her mother’s body is right there, exposed and vulnerable to his mercy. Worse, she fears that she will come back to an empty roof. But they have never been inside together. She does not think there is a room on this Earth that can contain him. He simply fills the space he is in, and to ask him to submit to the offense of walls…

:: Will you come inside for a moment? ::

GM: He’s there. She’s there. Then they’re not. They’re inside her haven, water dripping from their damp clothes.

Yet it feels less that he submits to walls than those same walls have become a prison. Filled by him, with suffocatingly little room for her. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to breathe. Nowhere to escape the weight of his roiling stormy eyes, and hope he will not decide she is wasting his time. What little forgiveness he may have seems close to spent.

Celia’s mother isn’t with them. Donovan must have left her lying face-down in the rain, clad in that blood- and water-soaked nightgown.

Celia: She hadn’t even seen him move. A blur, like she’d said to Roderick. How do you fight a blur? How do you keep it from destroying you? Because he has destroyed her. Every bit of her. Every time he touches her, every time he speaks, he takes a little bit more of her with him. Soon she will have nothing left of herself.

He had touched her, though. Brought her down here. Carried her, in his arms, though it was done and over with before she could so much as enjoy it. Not a kindness, she knows, not a way to prevent the discomfort of walking down steps when she is plagued by injury, when her muscles are sore and she hurts to her very bones, when each step, each movement, sends a throb through her core. Simple logistics. He moves faster than her.

Music still plays inside her home. She had not turned it off when she went up to the roof, and there it goes, the singer’s voice belting out his lyrics from the Bluetooth speaker Celia had set it up to earlier.

Every time I get no further
How long has it been?
Come on in now
Wipe your feet on my dreams


Her dress drips onto the hardwood floor, pink-tinged water settling into the grooves that she had gouged by her own nails twice over. She had cleaned the worst of it, the broken glass from smashed knickknacks and mirrors, the stuffing the Brujah had pulled from the couch in his frenzy, the splintered wood from destroyed kitchen stools. But the damage remains. Stupid, to sing and dance in her home when she had cleaning to do. His first time in—what must he think of her? Does he look around the destruction and wonder at the disorder, wonder if she had been attacked? She has been inside his haven, long before she knew it was his. The austere walls. The pristine condition. Her evening had been marked by violence, but she does not think he cares.

His presence suffocates her. Smothers her in its proximity. Outside there is room to maneuver; here, inside her home, she is trapped with a beast more deadly than she has ever known. Lion, tiger, bear, wolverine—worse than all of that, she is trapped with her sire. Ice incarnate. A freeze so cold it burns.

I’ve done this before
And I will do it again


Rituals, Savoy had said, keep the worst of it away. Rituals, she thinks now, when inside of her something tells her to play hostess. Ask him if he’d like to sit. But there is nowhere for him to sit. Everything had been destroyed except the large, four-poster bed in the corner with its carnation and charcoal sheets. Her stomach lurches at the thought of Donovan in her bed. On her bed. Whichever way she cuts it, the thought is the same, and inside her mouth her fangs lengthen. Frayed nerves, she blames. The recent smell of the blood she had not been able to taste, she blames. Not the thoughts of him in her bed, not that, not the images she sees, the memories she has of him—arms around her, give Daddy a kiss, you’re my special little girl, his fangs in her neck. Can you share what we share? No. Never. Never with anyone else. His. Forever.

She hopes—prays—that he is not looking into her head, that he has not seen what she wants, what she would give anything for. Something that would make every trial and tribulation worth it.

Come on and kill me, baby
While you smile like a friend
Oh, and I’ll come running
Just to do it again


Celia crosses the floor to where her phone rests on the kitchen counter next to the small black speaker.

You are that last drink I never should—

The music fades with the press of a button. Silence in the room. Silence in her haven. Silence but for the fluttering of wings inside of her. Can he hear them?

GM: It’s hard not to wonder what else he might have done, or still be waiting to do, if he’s looking into her head. If her mother would not ‘merely’ be lying in a cold and wet but still very much alive heap upstairs.

But, no. You can tell when someone’s in your head, can’t you? That’s what Pete had said. Some part of them in inside of you. It leaves a trace.

Unless some part of you is already inside of them. If they have your blood. The blood is power. The Blood is everything. If they have that, they can do anything to you.

How easily might he claim hers? She was so ready to accept his. It doesn’t even seem that bad. Maybe he would feel something more for her. Believe her more loyal. Trust her with more. Trust is so scarce, in their world. It’s scarce even to Roderick. How much more must it be to one such as him?

He does not survey the room, like Stephen did, or take in the decor and furnishings like her one-time paramour seemed to. His renfield’s house was as close to empty as it could be. Roxanne said the emptier her room got, the crazier it made her. What manner of soul makes their abode in an empty place?

His frigid gaze settles heavily upon hers. The music feels like it died long before she turned it off.

:: My time and patience are short. ::

Celia: Her heels tap against the floor with every step she takes. No faltering, not here; she does not play the games with him that she had played with the primogen’s childe. The gown hangs heavy from her frame. She is glad for it. Glad that it weighs her down, heart and mind. Glad that its color hides the worst of her wounds. Glad for the gift inside her veins that steadies her steps as she nears her sire once more. In the kitchen, she could breathe freely—should she need to. Here, approaching him, she cannot. His presence sucks the air from the room. Suffocates her, a firm hand on her throat. Every step closer to him is another piece of ice against her skin.

It will never be enough to turn her away from him. It will never be enough to not make her come when he calls. Does he know that? Is that why he does not pretend with her, because he knows that no matter how much he hurts her she will always return to his side?

Her mother showed her love on the roof. Love for her daughter many times over: even when she was in danger, even then, she saw to her daughter first. Against her sire. Against her father.

Is it love she feels for him? Some twisted version of it, brought on by the collar around her neck and his hand in her life? Twenty years, she has belonged to him. He is the answer to every question she has ever asked. Is that what he wants from her, love and adoration? Does he even recognize those emotions? No, she thinks not. He simply wants her to serve. To be useful. He will never care for her like she cares for him. Perhaps he doesn’t want her to care. The “place” she has in “his new order” is on her knees. He had shown her the truth of it on the roof.

She takes a knee now. Beside the bed, reaching under it to pull out a box. Wooden, a little over a foot long, half as wide. It slides across the carpet at her insistent pull. She lifts it, rising once again, the box in her hands. She’d thought about a bow. Wrapping paper. Had wondered for a long time if anyone has ever given him a gift. If he’d pulled apart presents on Christmas day, on birthdays, on anniversaries. If he has ever wished for anything.

Perhaps it is why she cannot have him. Or rather, why she does have him, just not the way she wants. Had he heard her wish that day she turned eight? A pony. She had gotten it—and him. Like a djinn, he twists her desires.

Still, she wishes for him. Wishes with every part of her. Every yearning, broken part of her, all the lying parts that had ever told anyone else she would be theirs. This, here, her true master.

This is not how she wants to present it. Not to an angry, disappointed, impatient sire. She had wanted to give it to him on a date that meant something special, three weeks from now on the anniversary of her death, when he had spared her life by taking it into him, when he had shown her what he is. The true him, the one inside his mind, that even years later she has not shared with a single soul. Will not share. His secret. Their secret.

She’d thought it meant they were made for each other.

Concern for his future is what moves her to offer it now rather than waiting. Concern and uncertainty—she never knows when next she will see him.

No fanfare planned, not even then. Perhaps a celebration, of a sort. More information. More dead enemies. More blows against the regime he seeks to overthrow. Not this. Wet. Cold. Her mother’s fragile body so close, too close. Celia’s beautiful corpse torn apart by her own hands. His insults heavy on her soul.

Maybe, even had it gone as planned, she wouldn’t have earned anything for it. No smile. No pat on the head. No offer to let her drink.

Still, she longs for that evening instead. She knows what she would say. How she would present it. Everything is different now, though.

She sets the box atop her bed so that he can open it.

GM: He doesn’t draw it out. He doesn’t ask or guess what the contents might be. He doesn’t smile, remark how thoughtful she is, or inquire as to the occasion.

He simply takes off the lid.

A bow and wrapping paper seem like they’d have only been regarded as inconveniences.

Celia: Nestled inside the box are a pair of leather bracers as dark as the night sky above them. Pure obsidian; indeed, they seem to drink the very light from the room, soak it up like the black hole that she has often compared him to inside her mind, the thing that pulls and twists and rends her, that she knows she cannot escape.

That she does not want to escape.

They are slim. Designed to be discrete, to fit beneath the long-sleeved garments that she has always seen him in. She has never seen his arms, only his hands. These will not draw attention, not like the saber he carries at his side. It is the saber that made her think of these, that spawned the idea and thus the craft she has spent long hours pouring over to get just right. She does not imagine that he can take his blade everywhere. But these? Oh, these he can take anywhere and no one will ever know.

Celia keeps her explanation brief.

:: The underside contains a blade. As long as your forearm. It slides free at a touch, and can be pulled further to be held by the hilt should you need a longer reach. :: It is designed to be a companion to his saber, not to replace it. The edge of the blade itself was inspired by the diamond-tipped tools she uses at her salon. Long have people used glass knifes, obsidian knives; they are finer than any scalpel, will keep their edge as they sharpen with each release. He will cut through everything in his path with ease.

:: The other contains three blades. They are folded inside, long and thin, can be expelled outward. When pressure is applied to the tip—upon impact—they will expand. Like an arrowhead. They hook. :: A Brujah had once shown her how he could throw anything and make it come back to him. Thus she had the inspiration for the second bracer: Donovan will no longer need to chase people down. He can simply fling the smaller blades at them and yank them back to him. Perfect for multiple enemies. Doubtless he will find other purposes for it.

:: The outsides are cured leather, but inside it is layered. Anything that impacts it will be sent reverberating among the layers to distribute the force. Were someone lesser to wear these they might bruise, but you should not bear a mark. It will turn aside projectiles, blades. ::

She had thought to put Kevlar inside. It had been her first idea, to steal from the kine police forces. But Kevlar works because it is curved; things hit it and ricochet off. Bullets may not do much to them, but she would still not want to be struck by one. The “layered” idea had come from the ancient Chinese. They used to layer paper in their armor. Paper. And it kept them safe for years. But paper disintegrates when wet and can only take so many blows. Her sire is made of firmer stuff.

So, too, are the bracers.

:: Inside, carbon fiber. ::

Steel is strong, but it is not flexible. Aluminum is flexible, but it corrodes, and not as strong as steel. Celia had wanted something that mimics the body itself. Humans are fascinating, truly; they heal from things most animals do not. Their bodies are made for shock absorption—how many drunk drivers had killed others but themselves gotten off without a scratch because they had not tensed? How many have been hit or mauled or burned by things that should have ended them and did not thanks to their own flesh and blood?

Since she began learning how to sculpt and craft the flesh she has poured over medical research, digging through thousands of pages and conducting her own trials. How the body works. How each piece fits together. Collagen is a major structural protein. It strengthens tendons and ligaments, provides support for their internal organs so their insides aren’t simply free to hang around.

Each fiber contains thousands of individual molecules to keep it strong, and its structure—the triple helix—provides additional strength and stability, allowing it to withstand most mechanical stress. The collagen in the dermis gives the skin its elasticity. Even the kine use it: cosmetic surgery, bone grafts, skin grafts, wound healing.

She had looked into multiple materials to find what she sought, natural and synthetic, but carbon fiber had jumped out at her. Lightweight. Stronger than steel. The strands are as thin as human hair. Woven together like yarn, like the collagen inside the body, it becomes even more durable. It is already used in military and aerospace applications; easy to find a design and turn it into what she needs.

The bracers are thin. Compact. Unobtrusive. He will be able to wear them without problem, strike people with surprise when they think he is unarmed. And black has long been his color.

She does not think to fight his battles for him. He does not need her help there. She has seen, has heard, the things that he can do. It is not a ring like she offered Savoy; he does not need ornaments, jewelry, anything to distract him. So she has gifted him something that serves a purpose. Something functional. Utilitarian and lethal—like him. Still, she does not expect the kind words she had received from her grandsire.

She only knows that there isn’t anything she wouldn’t give if it meant keeping him around. There is no world without him in it.

Celia does not put that thought into words. She does not send it along the mental link between them. She barely lets herself feel it. Tightly coiled constraint keeps her still.

Waiting.

GM: Celia does not wait overlong.

Donovan rolls up his coat and shirt sleeve to the elbow. His forearm is is like the rest of him: waxen, corpse-pale, and hairless. It’s well-muscled and proportioned, too, without an inch of excess fat. He looks buffer than Roderick does, in fact. He fastens on the first bracer, then rolls up his other sleeve to fasten on the second bracer.

He extends the blades. Longer from the first bracer, shorter from the second.

Then he turns and slashes them straight at Celia’s face.

Celia: She doesn’t so much as flinch. Some part of her had thought this might happen. Who is she to deny her sire his target?

GM: There’s a soft, almost tickling sensation along her shoulders and back. The Toreador’s hair falls to the ground in ugly-looking clumps, aged seven years in an instant.

:: Satisfactory. ::

The blades retract.

Celia: Pleasure thrums through her at the words. She is careful to keep it inside where he cannot see. She simply nods.

:: Thank you, sire. ::

She does not comment on the shorn hair. The attack against her person. The attack against her mother.

GM: Her sire lowers his sleeves back over the bracers. He cups Celia’s chin in his hand, tilting her face as though stare into his eyes. But before she can sink into its achromatic depths, sink and drown all the way to the hellish bottom like last time, he suddenly sweeps out her legs from under her. She falls. Her shortened hair stops just short of the floor before his cold hand seizes the back of her skull, splaying her throat to the air, and he kisses her. It isn’t a rough kiss, like a common brute’s, but it forceful, heedless, and direct, like an avalanche colliding against her lips. One that perhaps makes her want to be buried. She can feel his fangs stabbing against her lips and taste a faint trickle of blood against her tongue.

Celia: She cannot help but stare at the exposed flesh. She does not mean to. But she has never seen her sire without the long sleeves; she had thought about what it would feel like to lace the bracers onto him herself, the slow rolling back of his shirt sleeves, pulling them on—

Her thoughts are disrupted by the foot he kicks her way, her body beginning its descent—then halted, abruptly, by the hand that catches her.

Always catching her.

If there’s a heart left to melt it does so, but she has no time to dwell on it. Her lips part beneath his mouth; she can taste herself when his fangs tear her open, her own elongated to snap back. But only if he lets her. Only if he pushes her further, letting her sink her teeth in like she’s wanted to since he landed earlier on the roof of this building. Her hands snake around his shoulders, clasping behind his neck. Her dress is already destroyed; what does it matter if he tears it off? And she wants him to. Wants him to tear it off of her. Wants him to take her like he has before.

GM: There’s suddenly air under Celia’s feet. They’re rising. Floating. Higher. Higher. His pallid hands shift. Celia’s suddenly falling again, legs flailing through the air, and then stopping short. He’s holding her aloft by just her head. His palms are pressed crushingly hard against her temples. She can’t see in her peripheral vision past his hands. There’s no looking away. His frigid gaze bores all-too close and all-too intense, as though seeking to draw her bodily inside. It feels like her head is the only part left of her, and her body so much dross. There’s no world but her face and his. Just them. His colorless eyes flicker like tongues of lightning through a storm.

:: The prince’s torpor approaches. The hour I have long anticipated is at hand. A childe of Vidal’s blood threatens to undo everything I have worked to achieve. I am relying upon you, Celia. I am depending upon you. Destroy Malveaux-Devillers or place her wholly under my power, and you shall be everything I could have desired from a childe. ::

Celia: Falling.

Always falling.

For him, with him, it doesn’t matter; her body drops, her legs flail, but he’s there to catch her. Always. Her stomach spins; she clings to him, like she had that first night, that last night, but it does nothing to abate the pressure in her neck. A flick of his wrist will send the blade into her brain. A tensing of muscles will crush her skull.

And yet… her name. From him. For the first time. He does know. She could cry at that realization, that he knows who she is, that he trusts her, that her Embrace wasn’t some advantageous byproduct, that he chose her.

She is not some nameless somebody. She is Celia Flores, childe of Donovan. Jade Kalani, grandchilde of Antione Savoy. Groomed for this. Chosen for this.

She can’t nod. She doesn’t try. Her eyes stare into the depths of hell, recall the images she had seen inside of him that night he took her life into his body, let her fall to the Gulf below, let her shatter. So that he could rebuild her. So that they could rebuild her. Fire in her gut. Fire in her eyes. Fire, not ice, not like him, but molded from him, by him, for him.

:: I am yours, sire. ::

GM: Then just like that, he’s gone. Celia is lying on the floor. Rain weeps through the open window.

Celia: It is not the only thing that weeps this evening. She does not let it flow, not outwardly, but inside sounds a keening wail now that he is gone. The room is empty without him in it.

Dazed, she lays on the floor for a long moment. She can hardly think straight after this evening. A whirlwind of emotion pours through her, a whirlwind that she cannot get a grasp on, that she needs to get a grasp on. Her mother, upstairs, needs to be taken home. A body needs to be disposed of. And a fledgling… a fledgling needs to be dealt with.

Childe of Vidal. So she had been right.

Celia rises slowly to her feet, agony with every movement, her eyes on the open window. Out there, somewhere, her sire is plotting his next move. She breathes in the night air, inhaling deeply to bring the scent of rain and darkness into her lungs. It clears her head, though does nothing for the pain in her side, does nothing for the ache inside of her chest.

An outstretched hand shuts the window, closes the heavy drapes, and touches fingertips to her lips.

She will not let him down.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short enough trip upstairs. The boy’s corpse lies where her sire left it, the expression frozen in simultaneous agony and terror.

Celia’s mother lies in an almost equally motionless heap on the deck. The rain has since washed away her sire’s blood. She’s soaked to the bone and cool to the touch.

Celia: She hadn’t been looking for her sire’s blood. Not really.

That’s the lie she tells herself. That she would have not lapped it eagerly from her mother’s face had she found it. The shame of her misunderstanding, even after that kiss, lingers in her mind. She could have had him this evening. She could have had him but she was blinded by fear, by terror, for the mortal woman before her.

Her mother.

Not some kine. Not some breather. Not some ignorant mortal.

The woman who fought for her. The woman who puts her daughter’s needs above her own. A pang of something like guilt shoots through her. She will need to leave the city. Emily, Lucy, Momma—all of them. They’re not safe here, not if he can reach them so easily.

Celia crouches beside her mother, leaning over to lift the woman into her arms so that she can bring her downstairs.

GM: A limp human body isn’t as weightless as Roderick and Donovan make it look. It’s heavy, even though Celia’s mom is far from a big woman. The Toreador doesn’t feel any hurt or soreness in her arms, though. It just takes longer to get back downstairs. Her mom’s head lolls to the side.

Celia: Celia struggles down the stairs with her mother’s weight in her arms. Each step is another knife in her side, a reminder of her foolishness this evening. May hunger be your wages indeed; she needs to feed. Needs to hunt. The body upstairs, the one her sire had dropped off and killed, is calling her name. Cool by now, but she can sink in when she gets there, and it’s better than nothing. Better than drinking from her mother.

Opening the door with her arms around her mother proves difficult. But soon she’s inside, dragging her mother into the apartment and depositing her gently on the rug she kicks out from under the couch with her feet. Not a bed. Not the couch; right onto the floor. She does not know if Donovan’s “bed” order is Diana’s bed or any bed, and she does not want her mother waking up early. She needs to get her home.

She finds a blanket to cover her in, dragging it over from her bed to wrap around her mother’s slight form. Then it’s back up the stairs to repeat the process with the second body. This one, at least, she can drain of some blood before she drags it down the steps to dispose of.

Though, perhaps, that is not the best idea, feeding out in the open.

She discards it as soon as it occurs to her. She will drag him down the steps first.

He, at least, will be easier to carry. She does not need to treat him gently. Her hands slide under his arms and she hauls him down the stairs, uncaring if he bumps and scrapes himself along the way. More material for the spa. A loose end tied up before it could cause more trouble. She can store him in the fridge for the day, she thinks, if she cuts him into small enough pieces.

So much to do before 5AM.

GM: Celia’s mother shivers as her daughter swaddles the swiftly-moist blanket around her wet clothes. The boy’s blood tastes awful. It’s cold. It seeps down her throat like paint. It doesn’t leave feeling alive and full of fire, feeling like she has taken another person’s life into herself. It just leaves her cold. Leaves everything feeling like shit. Makes her feel snappish and irritable. It’s the O’Tolley’s playground after being promised Disneyland. A frustrated solitary wank after your date said they couldn’t make it.

Celia: She’s had worse.

Right?

That’s what she tells herself. That she’s had worse. That it doesn’t matter because if she doesn’t drink this she’s going to rip into her mom, and that’s unthinkable. She can’t do that to her mom. She’d already crossed a line earlier this evening when she’d hit her with her charm power; she won’t do this one. Never. Not her mom. Not Lucy. Not Emily. None of them.

She forces it down. Forces herself to swallow. Forces the blood past the tastebuds on her tongue that threaten to rebel, that want to throw it all back up. It’s sludge. Foul, runny sludge. Not like the first time she had tasted him, that night in her spa. There’s nothing satisfying about sucking the dead blood from the dead man.

She wishes, again, for her sire. She wishes that it was his blood that nourished her, his blood that fixed her wounds, that soothed her hurts. But he is gone, his mess—her mess—behind him.

She gets it down, though. That’s what matters. That it does slake her hunger. That her Beast stops scratching against her insides so she can focus on what she needs to do next: dismember the fucker.

GM: There’ll be some extra blood in there, if she’s thorough. More paint-like sludge to choke down.

The warm vessel wrapped in a bundle on her floor gives a faint whimper.

Celia: That’s the thought that spurs her on. That she can get to more. Can feed the perpetually starving thing inside of her. Even if it’s foul, it’s still sustenance. How many kine survive on cardboard-like protein bars? She can handle—

The sounds of her mother pull her from her thoughts. She pauses what she’s doing, claws extended, digging into the flesh of the boy to cut apart muscle and bone so that she can dispose of him, and turns her eyes towards her mother.

She’s not hungry. It should be… safe.

Even if she’s covered in blood. Even if she hasn’t mended her side yet, afraid to lose control with the woman’s body lying on the ground.

Celia takes a halting step toward her. Is she cold or trapped in the throes of a nightmare?

GM: Celia wonders what anyone else stumbling in on this scene would think. The savaged, blood-spattered monster slowly advancing from the partly-dismembered corpse towards the prone woman, her claws coated with still-fresh blood.

Her mom shivers and hugs the blanket tightly about herself. She looks cold. Wet, too.

But the look on her face all-too fearful. Even with her eyes closed, it’s not a dissimilar expression from the one Celia glimpsed through the computer’s camera seven years ago.

This was a nightmare. You recall your husband’s face in place of mine.

Celia: Nightmare, indeed. The words from earlier flood back into her mind. Maxen taking Lucy from her. Nightmares for weeks following her ordeal. How long has Donovan been inside her mother’s mind? What else has he stolen from her? What else has he done?

She cannot dwell. She will not dwell.

Celia crouches beside her mother. She should warm her. A hot bath, maybe. The woman is sleeping… but she’ll never know, will she? Celia had seen her drip from between her legs when she was with Lucy, had watched her expel the squalling child into a water bath some years ago. Seeing her mother naked, in a tub, is nothing compared to that.

She stalks into the bathroom to start the water. Warm her up, then she will take her home. She will not be the reason that Diana catches a cold.

Once the tub is full Celia unrolls her mother from the blanket. It’s quick work to strip her from the nightgown and bring her to the bathroom to deposit her in the warm water. She will be contained, at least, until Celia can take her home.

GM: Celia’s mother stirs as Celia picks her up. Her lips move slurredly.

“H… no… no… Max… sto, sto… Lu… don… take… Lu…!”

“Pl… Ma… I’ll be… goo… wife… Lu… Lu…”

Celia: Celia is careful with her mother. She shushes her gently, whispers that it is all okay, that she loves her, that Lucy is safe, that Maxen cannot hurt her.

GM: Celia’s mom settles some as her daughter sets her down in the warm bath. Her face twitches a bit, but she stops talking.

Childbirth wasn’t the only time Celia saw her mother naked, though. There was also nine months before then. Her breasts sag more than they did through the computer screen. Her skin’s just a bit more lined. She’s still a good-looking woman for her age, and a far cry from the “unbelievably hideous” and “used-up old whore” that her husband spat she was. Seven years of routine spa treatments under Celia’s attentive hand have seen to that. But time’s own hand is undeniable.

Celia: She could fix it.

It’s tempting.

So tempting.

To just… turn back the clock a little.

Who would know, right?

No one is around to see.

Another few years of her mother in her life (unlife), who could blame her? Better than giving her blood. Better than turning her into a slave.

GM: It’s her face that looks the worst. Celia knows better than anyone how fake those ‘I woke up like this’ Instagram pictures are, and plenty of people know those are fake. Fast asleep, rain-soaked, and red- and puffy-eyed from crying in the middle of the night with wet bed hair is not a good look on Diana. It’s not a good look on anyone. The dark bags under her eyes and the lines around her mouth look deeper. Some of the latter may be from smiles around her family. But Celia knows how many are from stress, too.

Your face is uglier too. A grotesque face to go with your empty head. I can’t think of any man who would ever want a used-up old whore like you. You’re a dog walking on its hind legs.

Celia: It isn’t fair. Diana is a good woman. She has a good family. Just because she’s made choices in her life—-they’ve all made poor choices. Diana shouldn’t be suffering for it.

Her mom had given her permission, hadn’t she? Told her that she was “putty in your hands, sweetie.” That’s a blanket permission. Celia hasn’t been able to do such deep work on her before, but she can now. Can… twist her skin a little bit, smooth her all out, fix the sagging breasts, reduce the scar tissue on her leg.

Perfecting timing, really. She won’t wake until she’s back in bed. Celia won’t need to use a needle to dull her nerves.

She reaches out, almost hesitantly, to touch the tips of her fingers to her mother’s face where the deepest of her wrinkles reside.

She’d been thinking that she needs to get Diana out of the city. So Caroline can’t use her family against her. So Donovan can’t use her family against her. What if she just…?

No.

She can’t do that.

Just minor, cosmetic changes. Tiny changes. Things she won’t even notice when she wakes up. She’ll just think it was always like that.

The old blood burns through her. Almost as if she didn’t feed. But it’s worth it. For her mother, it’s worth it. She can mend her own wounds later, will fix herself in her sleep.

Just like she’s doing here.

She starts at the face. Finds the deepest of the lines, the ones that look like crags in a rock. She touches the tips of her fingers to either side of the line and gives a slight tug, then runs another finger against the skin. Tiny changes, she reminds herself as the wrinkles begin to smooth. So small. Two, three, four, maybe half a dozen of them. Just smooths them out so that when Diana wakes up tomorrow morning she’ll think it’s that new face cream her daughter gave her.

Is it crossing a line to work her body itself?

Celia’s own body is tight. Firm. A perfect handful everywhere she needs it. And it’s not like… it’s not like she’s hurting Diana, she’s doing it to help. Just a lift. A gentle tucking of breast tissue, smoothing it out, giving her breasts a little more buoyancy. It’s her mother, yes, but once her hands are on a body that’s all she sees, all she feels: just another body. There’s nothing weird or uncomfortable about it. She’s shaped plenty of breasts in her work. People think Jade’s a surgeon, after all. She’s seen all kinds of things.

The change isn’t dramatic. That collagen she’d waxed poetic about—she can blame that. Say that’s what was in the leg cream, that’s what’s in the shots of antioxidants she has her mother take when she comes in. It’s even true. Not that the orange drink really does much for her; it’s just another bit of commission for her employees, but her mom is always happy to try new things.

She’s not giving her the tits of a twenty-year-old. They still look natural by the time she’s done with them. A little firmer, a little higher, less give. She’d fed six children with those breasts; she doesn’t need to look like a porn star.

Maybe Pete will be interested now. Or his friend, since he has told her, decisively, that he will not date her mother.

Pity, that. He seems like a good bloke. Celia might even be interested if he’d stop giving her those looks like she’s broken his heart every time she makes a mildly gray decision. She’s pretty sure he sees right through her.

She doesn’t linger long on the chest. A few touch ups, then the leg. Minor changes. Scar tissue here; it’s different than the face, different than the breasts. Tougher. She’s used to it, all that work she does on the Asian broad, this is no different. Even kine therapists can help get rid of scar tissue. Cross-fiber friction. But Celia isn’t kine; she doesn’t need to resort to that. She touches the tips of her fingers to her mother’s leg and presses down, feeling for the edge of the wound. All the way to her femur, hadn’t she said? It’s deep. Ugly. All the way down through the quads, the adductors, the long band of the sartorius… there, the edge of the laceration.

Laceration.

As if that’s an adequate word for what he did with his hacksaw.

Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need. Tries not to think about her father. Focuses on the woman in front of her, the woman who has shown more love in one night than her father has her entire life. She starts deep, working out the damaged fibers.

It’s like unrolling a piece of yarn. If yarn were… stringy, firm, sort of stiff. She presses down and works her fingers back and forth, back and forth. Scar tissue—also collagen. Tonight has been an evening of collagen. It’s great stuff, really. Maybe she can look into developing something for the breathers. They use it in wound healing, all sorts of grafts. Some sort of medical aid she can create to clot wounds, heal things immediately?

Maybe.

Maybe it’s too close to giving away the truth of her nature, though, and look how that worked out last time.

It doesn’t take long. Celia doesn’t do much. Minor changes. Very minor.

Ten minutes? Fifteen?

She doesn’t know. But she sits back when it’s done, looks at her work. None of it is blatant enough to even suggest a change, but Celia’s sharp eyes can pick out what she’s done.

Damn, she’s good.

GM: “Putty in your hands” was one way Celia’s mother phrased it. “Play-doh in your hands” was another. She’s said both, a million times. She doesn’t ask for specific treatments when she comes in. Celia is hard-pressed to remember the last time her mother asked for a specific treatment. She just lies down and lets her daughter do what she wants. If that isn’t blanket consent Celia is hard-pressed to say what is.

Diana looks better when she’s done. Anyone would look bad under these circumstances, but Celia’s mother looks better now. Fainter lines. Firmer, bouncier breasts. Fainter stretch marks, around those: six kids hadn’t done that any favors before Celia corrected it. And then there’s the leg scarring. It was ugly at first. It was less ugly after Celia’s first treatment. It’s really not so bad as Diana insists it is now, even if there’s still more to excise.

The woman looks better. Like Celia’s turned back the clock a few years. Someone’s probably more likely to guess late 30s, maybe mid-30s if she really dolls herself up, than early 40s.

And if Jon comes back. If he can show fix wear and tear deeper than mere skin. How to fix it. That’d truly turn back the clock. Celia can only imagine the look on her mother’s face to learn she was 30 again, there. Roderick said some beauty comes from within and shines out for all to see.

Celia: It’s not odd for women in their 40s to look younger, especially if they have a daughter who does what Celia does. The esthetics stuff, not the fleshcraft stuff. There are a few actors she can think of who she’s pretty sure are licks or time travelers or both; decades later and they look exactly the same. That’s the advantage of money though, right? Money, lack of stress, healthy eating habits, personal trainers.

Diana shouldn’t have to stress anymore. Not about Celia, not about Lucy, not about Maxen coming for her. Jade will get her out of the city. Send her with Andi and Tyrell next time they go on tour, or maybe to Houston. Close enough she can visit, not so close that her sire will zip off in the middle of the night to collect her. End of the school year is coming up soon; now’s the perfect time for it, really.

Celia gives her mother’s body a final smile, checks the temperature of the water to make sure it’s not too cold, and returns to the green-haired would-be rapist so she can finish cutting him into pieces.

GM: That grisly work requires far less care. Jade’s claws slice cleanly through the cold flesh. Getting through the bones takes more effort, even at the joints. She should probably get a saw.

That’s what all the kine come down to, in the end. Dead stacks of meat.

Celia’s pushed back the clock a few years, for one of them. But the clock will tick forward again. Has already started to. One day, Diana will look like she did in that bathtub again. Celia’s only postponed it. One day, Diana will look even worse. She’ll get old. Then she’ll die. She will never lie down on a spa and call herself play-doh in her daughter’s hands, blush over Christmas gifts of dildo or lingerie, or call Celia “sweetie” as they hug. She’ll just be a memory in Celia’s head while her corpse rots in a mausoleum. That’ll happen to Emily and Lucy too, in enough years. Eternity is patient.

Maybe if she’s lucky, she won’t fuck things up with Roderick. And he’ll be the last person on earth to really love her.

Maybe her sire. If she’s useful enough.

But maybe she won’t be lucky. Maybe that’ll be it, when her family dies. Lights out, no “one door closes, another opens.” Just a minus. A loss. A void that will never be filled. You can replace a mom, like Emily did, but you only get one. And once she’s dead, that’s it. That love is gone forever.

It’s the ghost of eternity. Celia can almost see it over her shoulder. Waiting to consume her mother. Waiting to consume everyone else she loves.

It’s patient.

It has forever.

Celia: So does she.

That’s what they say, isn’t it? That Kindred have forever.

Emily replaced her mom. Sure, Diana will eventually die—but the memories? Those last forever. Like her.

And if Emily did it… well, Celia can do it too. Find another woman she can look up to. Another light in the darkness.

Fuck the ghost of eternity.

She’s got another thirty years before she even needs to think about it. And maybe more. It’s not like her skills with the body are going to go away; she can just keep turning back the clock a few seconds at a time and no one will ever know.

GM: That’ll change is her looks. Her face. People will tell her how young she looks.

But Father Time won’t be fooled. He’ll come whenever he feels like it.

Celia: Father Time sounds like a miserable old coot. Jade will scare him off, too. Bare her fangs. Some claws. Show him what he’s really messing with. If she’s not going to let her sire take her mom, she sure as hell won’t let some concept of a thing.

There has to be something that will slow the aging process. A cell in the body. Some part of their DNA. Jade will find it. She’s got nothing but time on her hands.

Well, time… and blood. This guy’s blood and muscle fibers, the stringy bits of tendons and ligaments, the fascia that holds it all together. It looks like a murder scene, really. Maybe because it is. Or at least the roof was. This is just the cleanup.

Thank God she doesn’t have carpet.

She should check his pockets when she’s done ripping him apart. See if there’s anything useful in his coat.

There’s a rumor about Jade that populates Elysium. A rumor about a wetroom in the back of her haven where she dismembers the people who get on her bad side. A rumor that is, in part, true; though she has no dedicated space in this haven, she does have all the tools she needs, and before she tears apart the boy’s body any further she sees to it that everything is set as needed. Tarp on the ground. Tools sharpened. Clothing removed.

Part of this she had done earlier, as is her norm. It’s a simple process to dismember a human body, and she’s done it enough times that she doesn’t even need to think about the next step as she goes through the motions:

Remove the clothes and other ornamentation.

Lay the body on a hard, non-porous surface. In the salon she uses the suite she’d had designed for herself with the hydraulic table, but here she simply lays him out on the floor.

Drain the blood. Easier when he’s strung up, and her earlier feeding had done an adequate job of removing some of the blood, but there’s more to be had. Her Beast is a greedy thing. Wants it all. Jade will simply need to be a little more hands on in her draining. Blood pressure in humans is higher the closer you get to the heart, and the heart itself is simply a pump for the rest of the body. Jade makes a cut into the man’s neck over the carotid, a deep bowl positioned beneath him. Those earlier pots and pans have come in handy, at least. Her claws dig into his chest, fingers wrapping around the cardiac muscle hidden behind his ribcage. She manually pumps his heart for him. Similar to chest compressions with CPR, it keeps the blood moving. Flowing. Soon a steady red drip has begun to empty into the bowl.

Easier, she thinks to cut the subclavian to drain him quicker. Its position right next to the heart makes it prime for draining, but the clavicles themselves—hence the name, subclavian—protect it from most of the world. Not from Jade, certainly, but she is not in the right space to go digging into the man’s chest. If she had a lift, or an extra pair of hands, then she could do it. The carotid will work just as well.

The ticking of the clock keeps her company while she works, a far cry from the pop music she had danced to earlier. There’s a certain rhythm to dismemberment once she is done with the blood, though. She sets the bowl aside and gets to work on the rest of him.

First, the cuts around his ankles and wrists. Then a line from sternum to groin, peeling back his skin to have a look inside at the body’s organs. She cuts them free, tilts him to the side, and they spill out on the plastic-lined floor. She will save them for Sparky, she thinks—and then her lips twist into the smile at the name she had given her newest pet (a pet in truth, not like Alana), and she thinks she might need to rename him. Who ever heard of a pig named Sparky?

The skin is the next organ she removes, peeling it back a little at a time, using her nails to clean away the subcutaneous tissue, the adipose tissue, everything that holds it firm to the body. Some sections, like the chest where she’d reached through to touch his heart and the neck where Donovan’s booted foot had come down upon him, come away with more damage than others. She sets the skin aside to deal with later, already considering how she is going to use it.

Then the muscles. These, too, she can use as building blocks. She makes what cuts she needs into the tendons that keep them connected to the bone, tossing the lot of it into an empty garbage back for future projects. Even the connective tissue goes into another container; most of it is collagen, after all, and she has already gone on about the various uses she can find for that. The tendons, ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels—all of it can be repurposed.

It makes disassembling the skeleton itself that much easier, really. Ligaments are what bind bone to bone, and once Jade is done cutting the tough, rope-like strands of fibrous tissue free from their points of insertion the bones are easy to simply pull apart. Like a strand of fake, beaded pearls, cutting the thing that holds it all together makes the rest of it simply scatter.

Daddy needed a hacksaw to do this type of work, and he’d botched even that. Perhaps Celia will show him one day how much more effective Jade is.

GM: Her sire even promised. He did.

It’s a rote enough process to butcher another human being into so much meat by now. To pack the individual pieces inside the fridge. In plastic wrap if she cares about keeping it clean.

More materials for the spa. More food for Sparky.

Alana said she liked the name, but that’s the problem with ghouls, Savoy had once said. You can’t really trust them to give completely objective advice.

“You’d be surprised at the ways that can come back to bite you,” he’d chuckled.

Celia: Good thing Roderick hadn’t tried to put his jacket into the fridge with a desiccated body already inside; that would have been all sorts of awkward. She can imagine his shock. His wild accusations. How would she have spun that? Doubtless she’d have thought of something in the moment.

It’s a relief to be done with it. To put the blood into the microwave and heat it to an acceptable temperature as if that will make it more palatable. She begins the process of cleaning the rest of the apartment while she waits for the telltale ding. Lemon scented polish for the floor to cover the unmistakably coppery tang of fresh blood. A mop to soak up the puddles of water from her dress, from Donovan’s coat. The wooden box slides back beneath the bed, empty for now. Rolling the tarp for rinsing and disposal.

There’s a lot to do to cover her tracks, and Jade doesn’t waste time, conscious of the clock ticking down to daylight.

GM: Jade thinks she can still smell the faintest whiff that telltale coppery tang. Doubtless any breathers wouldn’t pick up anything, but her kind are drawn to blood like sharks.

Then again, that might also be the still-open tear wounds she’s sporting. Her dead heart doesn’t pump any blood out through arteries, but she can smell it.

The once paint-like cold sludge tastes better when she holds the bowl to her mouth and drinks. A lot better, actually. It’s not as good as fresh from a live vessel’s veins, but it’s warm and hasn’t been filled with all those flavor-diluting preservatives hospitals put into bagged blood.

Celia: She can almost pretend it’s a cup of hot tea on a cold night if she wants to. But she doesn’t want to; nothing compares to the taste of the red stuff. Every favorite meal she’d ever had as a breather is a pale imitation of what she prefers to swallow now.

At least he had delivered a meal to her during their exchange. She can’t help but laugh at the thought of him in a pizza delivery hat, and is glad that no one is around to break into her mind to see it. The act of laughing pulls at the tear in her side, though. She should fix herself.

Her eyes slide to the clock on the wall.

GM: There isn’t much time to get her mother home before 5 AM. She’ll have to be quick.

Celia: Too bad her car is in the Garden District, isn’t it?

She could call another Ryde. Or ask Roderick for a ride. Awkward to explain either situation though, isn’t it.

GM: The Ventrue’s powers have their advantages. Caroline could just tell the driver to take her somewhere and forget her face.

Celia: Drawbacks too, though. Like eye contact.

…which she had made with her sire earlier. Had he done something to her while he had caught her gaze with his? Had her do something and made her forget? Had she confessed to more than what she’d already done? Trespassing at Tulane?

No, he’d have… he’d have done something to her for that, surely. Wouldn’t he have? He took her blood, though. Pete said if they have your blood they can do a lot with it. Find out a lot. Dip into your mind and you’ll never know. What had he seen? What does he know that she doesn’t know he knows?

No, no, no. He couldn’t have. Why would he have? She’d told him everything.

Well, that’s not true.

Not everything.

Not even most things.

Celia presses a hand to her lips where his fangs had punctured her skin. She should have just bitten him back. They could have had a roll around the floor together, biting and clawing and scratching. Maybe that’s why he kissed her. Why he used her name. Because she’s been terrible at hiding the fact that she wants him, wants him to want her.

Christ, it’s a mess.

Like her. She lets her eyes sweep over her form. She needs to change. Needs to get rid of her mom. Needs to put Jade’s face back or Roderick will know something is up. That’s first order of business, then. Easier to explain to him that Celia’s mom had been caught in the middle of something than the fact that she can just change her appearance at will.

Let him play hero. Boys like that.

Quick steps take her into the bathroom where her mother lies face-up in the tub. She’ll need to take her out and dress her in something before he arrives; she doesn’t need him to see her naked. Now, though, Celia has her own face to fix.

GM: Celia does her face and waits. Her hair is shorter unless she wants to sculpt on some of the boy’s (and get rid of that green color). She eventually hears a knock against her door.

Celia: Face? Check.

Covered in blood? Check.

Torn open from apparent fight? Check.

The last touch is removing her mother from the tub and wrapping her in one of Celia’s robes, then tucking the blankets around her again to keep her warm. She kicks off her heels for good measure and moves to open the door.

GM: It’s Roderick. He looks like he could blink as he sees her.

“What happened?”

Celia: Celia steps aside to let him in. She doesn’t say anything until the door is closed and locked behind him. Each movement is a little more painful than the last, and she doesn’t try to hide it. But she shakes her head at his question.

“Nothing.”

The lie is… well. The sight of her speaks for itself.

GM: “That doesn’t look like nothing.”

Celia: No, it looks like Celia’s been torn into with a bowie knife, doesn’t it? Looks like she got the shit kicked out of her. Looks like she’s dead on her feet—and not in a literal way, since they all are, just more like a stiff wind would knock her over. But she shakes her head again, more insistently this time, her shortened hair falling into her face.

“Later,” she tells him. “Just—give me a minute, I need to…” She trails off. Gestures toward herself.

GM: “Clean up,” he says. He’s staring at her wounds with visible fangs in his mouth. “Sure.”

“Just don’t take too long. Coco says to always leave yourself extra time to get home before sunup.”

Celia: Coco says.

Of course she says. Has Roderick had his own thoughts since his Embrace, or is everything that comes out of his mouth just regurgitated from his sire?

She doesn’t know where the unkind thought comes from. Maybe she’d hoped for more concern from him. Stupid, isn’t it, to think he cares. And she’d been dancing to thoughts of him earlier.

What a mess. What a mess indeed.

Celia doesn’t take long. She needs his help getting her mother home. She packs a bag, wipes off the worst of the blood, pulls on a pair of yoga pants and a long sleeved shirt. She’ll shower tomorrow, fix her side once her mother is safely back in bed.

“Time to drop my mom off?”

GM: He frowns. “What’s your mom doing here?”

Celia: “My car is in the Garden District and I’ve been ordered not to return. Ergo, my mother.”

GM: “Okay. So what’s she doing here?”

“You look like something tore you apart. And your hair’s shorter. Seriously, what the hell happened?”

Celia: “Exactly what you said would happen! They found out I was in his territory. They found out who Celia is. And then they tried to use her—” Celia jabs a finger at her mother, wincing as the motion pulls against her torn muscles “—against me and if I had been just a little less on the ball she’d have died and I might have died and then it would just be Emily and Lucy all alone!”

“Or they’d kill them too! You know how thorough our kind are.”

GM: “What?!” Roderick grabs Celia and pulls her close. “They hurt you? Which of them did it!?”

Celia: She stumbles over her own feet when he grabs her; the movement makes her clench her teeth together, hissing out the complaint at his treatment as her open wounds are jostled once more.

“Who do you think, Roderick? Seven years. I go seven years with no problems, with no one finding out, and then I meet her and it all—I ruined everything.”

GM: “So it was Caroline who tore you up and tried to kill you and your mom? That’s who? Or did she tattle to the sheriff?” the Brujah asks, his face angry.

Celia: “D-don’t,” she shakes her head again, the unevenly shorn hair flying wildly with the urgency of her motions, “don’t get mad, I can’t—I can’t fight you off right now, my mom is here, please, we have to go—”

GM: “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at who did this to you!” Roderick exclaims. “Who was it? Caroline? One of the hounds?”

Celia: “No! I’m not—I’m not just going to tell you so you can run off and do something heroic and die, no. We have to go, it’s already 5, I’ll tell you, later, when I’m not torn up, when she’s not lying there—” She hadn’t let herself cry earlier. Not in front of him. But now her eyes run red, thin streams of it leaking down her cheeks.

GM: Roderick looks at Celia’s mom, then bites his wrist and holds it out to her.

“Here. You can mend up if you’re low.”

Celia: It’s right in front of her face. Blood. His blood. An offering of… something, at least, that he cares enough about her to offer it, that he’s not dripping it onto the floor or her mother’s face and making her lap it up like a dog as her sire apparently wanted her to do.

Her fingers close around his forearm. Her fangs are long in her mouth—not that she needs them. The blood is waiting for her, ready for her to just drink it up. She can use it to mend. Not risk hurting her mom if it takes more out of her than she thinks it will.

The flesh on her side begins to knit itself together. Just a bit, not all the way; she won’t take that much from him. Just a hit, just a—

“Later,” she says through gritted teeth, dropping his arm, turning her face away so that he can’t see the longing. “Can we take her home? Please?” Her eyes dart toward the clock. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, Coco is right. They need to make sure they get to safety on time.

GM: “All right,” he relents. “If you’re sure.”

The tang of his vitae recedes.

“Maybe it’s better if you take her back, though.” She hears the frown in his voice. “I’m supposed to be dead. She can’t see my face.”

Celia: Of course she’s not sure. Of course she wants it. Just not now. Not here. Not like this.

“She’s been put to sleep until she’s back in bed. She won’t see your face. But—” She huffs, shoulders slumping. “Just… just go, Roderick, I’ll figure something out, I’ll call a Ryde or… you don’t need to get tangled up with this.”

Should have called a Ryde earlier. She could have found a way to make it work instead of playing twenty questions with him.

GM: He shakes his head. “It’s okay. I’ll drive. What’s her address?”

Celia: “On Burgundy. 1110. Can you..?” she gestures towards her mom. “She’s not heavy, but I’m not… I don’t want to drop her.” She almost had earlier, coming down the stairs. Near miss. Faster if he does it, she can follow him out.

GM: Roderick’s face falls a bit.

“That’s pretty deep in the Quarter.”

Celia: Ah… she hadn’t even considered that.

“You’re with me, though.”

GM: “Anyone who sees me will probably be thinking I’m with Coco before thinking I’m with you. And it’ll raise questions what I was doing here. From your club and mine.”

“We… we can risk it, though. It’s like shoplifting. Do it once, decent odds you’ll get away with it.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say a word. She just stalks toward her closet, opens the door, rummages around inside, and pulls out the Tulane hoodie she’d stolen from her brother a few nights ago. She holds it out with her brows raised.

“I have a scarf, if you’d prefer.”

GM: He pulls of his coat and jacket, then slips the hoodie on. Does up the hood. “Little big on me. You must’ve been swimming in this.”

Celia: She smiles at him.

“I was.”

GM: “Cute,” he smiles back.

He walks over to the bed, makes sure the blanket is secure around Celia’s mother, and then carefully picks her up between his arms. She doesn’t look as if she weighs him down at all. His expression is wistful.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen your family. She looks good.”

Celia: A long while. Seven years, maybe, since he’d actually interacted with them; less if he’d been stalking her as Coco had implied.

“She comes in once a week to see me. I try to make sure I take care of her. Helped get the business off the ground. And she’s my mom.”

Celia picks up the small bag she’d packed for the overnight trip, his coat and jacket as well, then moves toward the door to unlock and open it for him.

GM: “I’m glad. And I can tell you have. She looks really good for her age.”

He heads out the door with Celia as he adds,

“Oh, remote’s in my right pocket.”

Celia: “Oh, keys!” Celia darts back inside to pick up the keys she had “forgotten” on the kitchen counter, dropping down to snatch up the papers he’d dropped earlier as well. It’s a quick movement to tuck them into her bra before she’s out the door, locking it behind the pair of them and reaching into his pocket for his keys.

GM: It’s a remote rather than keys which she pulls out, but she clicks it and unlocks the car door with a beep. Roderick gently sets down Celia’s mom in the back and fastens the seatbelt around her.

“Maybe best if you drive and I sit in the back, too. Less chance of my face being seen.”

Celia: “Smart. I could lock you in the trunk if you want.” She winks at him as she slides into the driver’s seat. She sets her things down in the empty seat next to her and starts the car, waiting until he’s all set to put it into gear and get going.

GM: Roderick seems to seriously consider that.

Celia: “…do you want me to?”

GM: “It can’t hurt. I don’t mind a bumpy ride.”

“You also can’t lock people in trunks, technically. There’s a mandatory release button in them now. Happened because of kidnapping cases.”

Celia: “Kidnap a lot of girls, Roderick?”

GM: “Girls and guys. I’m an equal opportunist.”

A mandatory release button. Diana’s hands might’ve been tied, but she might’ve been able to hit that, if she’d known about it.

Celia: Celia is going to make sure that Diana, Lucy, and Emily all know about it now. She’d seen a movie once where a girl had kicked out the light, but it definitely seems easier to just press a button. Though she’s not sure if car trunks can actually open if they’re in drive, at least from the outside. She’d complained to Randy often enough about forgetting to put the car in park so she could open the trunk. Maybe the inside button works differently. Regardless, it’s a good thing to know.

She smirks at Roderick as she gets back out to load him into the trunk (mostly she just stands there while he climbs in, really), and tells him she’ll take Diana inside once they get to her house if he doesn’t want to risk it and they can swap places in Mid-City.

GM: “That’s probably safest,” he agrees as he gets in.

It’s a brief enough drive from Jade’s haven to Diana’s house. Celia has a key: her mom always said she was welcome at any time.

Carrying the limp woman inside is slow work. Jade knows how heavy a completely limp human body is. Still, her dead muscles don’t get sore or tired. It just takes longer.

The family’s two cats arch their backs and hiss furiously when they see Jade, their tails as thick as beavers’, before darting off.

Not everyone is fooled by her pretty exterior.

Celia: Stupid cats.

Celia moves through the house with her mother in her arms, careful not to accidentally whack her head on anything. It looks easier when Roderick does it; maybe she’ll craft some extra muscles onto herself, too. All those spare parts she can use now, no reason not to. Except that everyone will notice. Though she knows plenty of wiry-looking people who are just as strong as the dudes who look like they pump iron seven days a week. She can make it lean muscle. Always more time to experiment, anyway.

Once Celia reaches her mother’s bedroom she gingerly sets her mother down on the bed. Conscious of the orders Donovan had given her, she quickly retreats from the room.

GM: She hears a low groan, and then the unmistakable sound of someone throwing up.

Celia: Not her problem, not her problem, not her problem. Not with it as late as it is. She cannot be trapped here. Her mom can handle an upset stomach. Celia will make it up to her.

She flees the house, shutting and locking the door quietly behind her, and heads back to the car to begin the trip to Mid-City.

GM: “Do you want to switch with me in the trunk, once we’re clear of the Quarter? Your face probably won’t be too welcome in the CBD,” comes Roderick’s muffled voice.

Celia: Christ, getting around the city anymore is like being a black man at a Klan meeting. Who thought this was a good idea to divide up turf and determine where people could go? Hello yes you are dead and immortal now, stay inside the lines.

Celia scowls at the road as she drives.

“Yeah,” she calls back, “that’s fine.”

GM: Well, it’s all a matter of who you’re friends with, Mélissaire had explained during Jade’s early nights. But Savoy had the misfortune for his territory to be directly bordered by his two archrivals.

“It’s interesting to think how things would look if the Anarchs or Invictus occupied territory between any of the Big Three’s,” the ghoul had remarked idly. “Or if Sundown did. Buffer states can do a lot to reduce tensions between hostile neighbors. But that’s just not the way things shook out.”

Jade knows, too, that the three elders have agents regularly patrol the borders between their territories. ‘Patrol duty’ is a common task for regents in any parish to assign their vassals. Savoy takes it a step further and offers rewards to the Caitiff, thin-bloods, and other dregs crowded into the hunting-poor neighborhoods that border Treme (and to a lesser but far from nonexistent extent, the CBD). If they bring word of an intruder he later apprehends, they can hunt somewhere better, for a little while. If they bring him a captured intruder, they can hunt somewhere better for a longer while. So the riffraff keep their eyes sharp.

Roderick said entering domains you’re not welcome is like shoplifting. Do it once, you can probably get away with it. Do it twice, still probably. But the more times you roll those dice, the lower your odds of a clean in-and-out.

And Jade has been testing her luck. Those excursions to Riverbend. The Garden District. Her secret rendezvouses with Roderick.

Her luck can’t hold out forever. Bad luck is always just around the corner.

Or approaching in Jade’s rearview mirror.

She looks nice, to be out when she is. Where she is. Curly long red hair. Estee Lauder brown pencil liner on her eyes. Mascara-coated lashes. Blusher-colored cheeks. Handsome face with a jaw that’s a little too wide to be “delicate,” but she wears it well and her eyes make up for any supposed defect. The backs of her arms had gone a little fleshy by the time she was Embraced, suggesting a life of indulgence, but otherwise she’s rather trim. She holds an umbrella and wears a raincoat over a flare-hemmed dress that looks retro enough Celia could picture her own mom wearing it.

She’s run into this Caitiff a few times. The clanless vampire has to be pretty desperate to be out looking for intruders at this hour.

But how many clanless aren’t desperate?

Celia: Jade knows her luck can’t hold out forever. That’s why she doesn’t take chances when she’s got precious cargo in the back of the car. There are very few people that she gives enough of a fuck about anymore, but her mother is one of them, and Roderick another. She’s not going to play games with their welfare. She’s conscious of the eyes that guard the border. Conscious of the fact that she needs to avoid being seen with Roderick if anything is to ever happen between them. Conscious, too, of the fact that she wasn’t the only one trespassing this evening; the sheriff had made his own foray into the Quarter, and maybe that’s what put them on high alert.

So Jade uses that tightly coiled thing inside of her to her advantage. Now that her mother isn’t here, she loosens the reins. Lets it taste freedom, so long as it works for her rather than against her. She sharpens her sight, her hearing, her smell—fuck, she sharpens every damn taste bud on her tongue so that she can taste the rifraff that Savoy has patrolling the Quarter.

There’s no reason to stop her. She’s Jade fucking Kalani, not some intruder. How many times have they seen her on Savoy’s lap, whispering in his ear, his hand on her thigh? That’s right, fuckwads, you don’t stop a car in the Quarter with Jade inside of it, that’s just asking for trouble from the very lord who grants your territory. You think he’s going to take kindly to an interruption when you drag a loyal, legal vassal before him? Of course not.

Guess it doesn’t stop them, though, not if Edith-fucking-homewrecker-Flannagan is tailing her.

“Trouble,” she says to Roderick, but it’s trouble she can probably handle if it comes to that. She tells him that too. To stay quiet in case things get bumpy.

GM: He doesn’t respond. Probably better if no one can hear his voice.

And maybe Edith wouldn’t pay Jade a second glance, if she were in her usual gray Hyundai Genesis, and wasn’t driving into the CBD. But she is driving there, and she’s driving Roderick’s car, a dark blue Acura IXL. Maybe a Ryde or some other solution would have been better.

The CBD’s skyscrapers draw closer. Closer.

Then just like that, the Caitiff stops tailing her.

How many of them actually remember what car Jade Kalani drives?

Celia: She doesn’t breathe a sigh of relief once Edith is gone, though she thinks about it. She recognizes the necessity of the Caitiff, but tonight… tonight she just wants to crawl into bed and be left alone for a week.

“Gone,” she says aloud. Once they are safely away she finds a place to pull over. Before she pops the trunk she fishes the stolen papers from her bra and slides them into the inside pocket of his jacket. Then she’s out of the car to switch places with her ex, offering him a rueful smile when she climbs into the trunk in his stead.

GM: “Here, you can have the sweatshirt for some cushioning,” Roderick says, shrugging it off.

He puts his jacket back on.

Celia: He was right earlier: she swims in the hoodie.

The sleeves come down way past her hands. The hood obscures her face completely when she flips it up. Even the hem is halfway down her thighs.

Easy to imagine what she’d look like in his clothing. Stealing his tops, like she used to when she spent the night back in college. Just a shirt, legs bare, nothing underneath.

GM: Roderick smiles at the sight, and perhaps the memory, but hurries her into the trunk and closes it behind her. Celia can see the little release button. It even glows in the dark.

One push of that, and her mom would’ve been out. Lucy wouldn’t exist. Isabel wouldn’t have been raped, Embraced, and killed by her sister. And Celia would belong to Veronica. Maybe.

One little push of a button.

Would that have been a positive or a negative?

Celia: Celia would have never belonged to Veronica. Not unless she was stolen. She’s been Donovan’s since she was eight years old and eavesdropping on the conversation he had with her father, staring from the doorway with wide eyes while the cold corpse shook his hand and stole his soul.

Diana would have gotten out, certainly, and Celia would have never made the deal with Veronica. Celia would have given her other gathered evidence to Pete, and maybe she’d have ended up as Savoy’s childe. Another illicit Embrace, but this one she’d be really hunted for, both for being his childe and for the fact that she might have ruined her father. Donovan might have killed Celia rather than Embraced Jade when he came for her. Maybe not. Maybe she wouldn’t have been Embraced at all. Maybe Pietro would have come back for her at some point to finish her off. Maybe Celia and Stephen would have eloped. Maybe she’d have gone back to Paul’s house to ruin him, too, and found Jade’s sire waiting for her. Maybe Celia would have asked her dad to protect her from his friends.

That’s the problem with the word “if.” Two letters and it can mean a whole hell of a lot of things. Silly to think about, isn’t it? One mistake, one decision, one word can change the course of history.

She doesn’t regret where she’s ended up. That’s what counts. Can’t keep looking in the review mirror and expect to get somewhere; at some point your eyes have to focus on the road ahead of you, the scenery around you.

Her mother is happy now. Emily is happy now. Lucy is happy now. Everyone she cares about—they’re happy.

Mistakes? Certainly. She’s made plenty. But even with all the powers of their kind, changing the past isn’t possible. You can only alter the course you’re on now.

She’d heard once that life doesn’t give you more than you can handle, that growth happens outside the comfort zone. Maybe she’d read it. She’d been content for 19 years to let her dad rule hers for her, and only once she’d stepped outside of that and into the world itself had she really started to grow, to become the person she’s meant to be. She’s not sure that she believes in fate, and maybe it’s true that when you die you meet the person you could have been and that’s what hell is.

Not much she can do about it now.

So dwelling? Nah. Celia doesn’t want to dwell.

GM: So she doesn’t. She lies there in the big sweatshirt. It’s a bumpy ride, but one free of regrets.

“Your mom looks really good for her age,” Roderick says aloud after a while. His voice comes out partly muffled. “Credit where credit’s due, there. She barely looked older than I remember. Is it just run of the mill beauty treatments you do on her, or something extra?”

Celia: She likes big sweatshirts. Maybe she’ll nick a few of his while she’s over there.

Stolen things feel better.

“I didn’t ghoul her, if that’s what you’re asking,” she calls back.

GM: “I wasn’t. I didn’t smell any juice on her.”

Celia: “She pretty much just tells me to do what I want, so I like to try new things with her. All the experimental stuff.”

“But like I said, she’s in once a week. And she’s good at keeping up with her routine at home.”

GM: “I guess that’ll do it. I’d wondered if it was some extra Toreador mojo.”

Celia: “Reitnol promotes cell turnover, then you’ve got the AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, high frequency lasers, dermaplaning…”

“Oh. Ha. I wish.”

“Sunscreen. Seriously. There’s this video they made us watch in school about a truck driver, half of his face is all jacked up because that’s the side in the sun. Other side is fine. I’m like 100% positive that’s why we don’t age.”

But he can hear her giggle.

GM: He chuckles back. “Guess that’s it. No sun ever.”

“I’ve heard some people say you—well, you as in breathers—should wear sunscreen all the time, even in winter and autumn. Is there anything to that?”

“Their bodies need Vitamin D.”

Celia: “Sure, but you can still get the D without the sun.” He can’t see her grin, but it’s there. “Some people take supplements. Regardless, it’s the UV rays you don’t want. In autumn and winter the angle of the sun changes because of the rotation of the earth. Plus in the northern climates they’ve got the snow it reflects from.”

GM: “I don’t know why I’m even asking about this. It’s like a girl watching a ‘how to tuck for drag’ MeVid video.”

Celia: “Because you’re secretly interested in being prettier.”

“Anyway, everyone has skin. It’s not a male/female thing. It’s an everyone thing. Largest organ in the body.”

GM: “You’d just watch a drag video for that, though. How to tuck is completely inapplicable.”

Celia: “Is it? I don’t have a penis, sometimes I’m curious what it feels like.”

“Like, for example right. I’ve got boobs. And they hang, ‘cause they’re boobs. But I have a bra to keep them from flopping around. But like dudes don’t wear dick-holsters.”

That’s not entirely true: nothing on her hangs or flops unless it is meant to, both from the youth of her Embrace and her own carefully sculpted body. But the point stands.

“Also just because something isn’t applicable to me doesn’t mean I don’t want to know about it. Plus now you can impress your next girlfriend.”

GM: What a loaded remark that is.

“Maybe you should start a dick holster clothing line, o Instragramer. Maybe the only reason we don’t wear them is is because there aren’t any phallus holsters available for purchase.”

“You could call them ‘cock bras.’”

Celia: “I feel like it needs a catchier name than that.”

“But. I am working on some fashion stuff that I’m actually kind of excited about.”

GM: “Hey, cock bra is great name.”

Celia: “Cock bra is a terrible name.”

GM: “It’s so terrible that it’s great. You’re dying to check out what one even is.”

Celia: “It’s a bra shaped like a cock. Or a bra stuffed with cocks.”

GM: “But that’s cool, what kind of fashion stuff?”

Celia: “I think ‘dick holster’ is where it’s at.”

“Ah, a clothing line actually. Sort of. It’s not like… commercial or anything. Mostly bespoke things. I’ve been messing around with it for a while.”

GM: “Makes perfect sense with the spa. Make people pretty from face to toe. Or hem, if you’re not doing shoes.”

Celia: “Pretty all-inclusive. Shipped out an order today, actually.”

Sort of.

GM: “Oh really, who to?”

Celia: “You know, I was trying to make it sound cooler than it was, it was really just to my sire.”

GM: “Hey, that makes perfect sense to start with someone you know before branching out to strangers.”

“Though your family might be more… considerate than your sire.”

Celia: “She’s got interesting taste. It’s fun to play around with. D’you remember when we were released on the anniversary and she came as a hurricane? And those spider shoes she has?”

“First time I met her she was in this little slinky club dress, then she pulls stuff like that. It’s crazy.”

GM: “Older licks can have weird fashion. Anything goes in Elysium.”

Celia: “I’ve been working on a piece for myself but I have no idea where I’d wear it. Maybe a party.”

GM: “I mean, is it any weirder than your great-grandsire showing up in Medieval or Antebellum garb?”

“I’ve actually seen her, at least once, wearing one of those pointed, cone-shaped hats. What are they called.”

Celia: “Cone-hats. Traffic cones. Witch hats?”

Celia snickers.

GM: “Ha. It’s not a witch hat, though. It has this veil attached to it.”

Celia: “I know. Hennin.”

GM: “Ah, no surprise the Toreador would know.”

Celia: “I study history.”

GM: “I do too. Just not historical fashion.”

Celia: “Fashion informs you of the culture. Culture is part of history. Culture tells you everything about a place. What they believed. How they lived.”

GM: “Absolutely. Just isn’t an area I’ve focused as much on.”

Celia: “I’ll fill in the gaps of your knowledge, don’t worry.”

“Y’know. Fashion wise.”

“Speaking of nerds, though, Emily’s boyfriend does this historical medieval fighting thing.”

GM:HEMA?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Coco has a ghoul who’s active in HEMA circles, actually. Or at least was. I’m not sure if he still is.”

“She says it’s a good pool of people to recruit from. They’re typically well-educated and also know how to fight. With swords, at that. More useful than guns.”

Celia: “Makes sense. Robby seems pretty smart.”

GM: “They’re history nerds one and all.”

Celia: “Plus he’s like eight feet tall. Talk about reach, right? Don’t need to worry about getting hit if they can’t get to you.”

“I’m doomed forever if I want to learn how to use a sword. Too small.”

GM: “Fencing might actually be a good thing for you to learn, depending on how good you want to get at fighting. It’s definitely useful to know how to throw a punch, because you can’t take a sword everywhere, but bare hands only do so much against other licks without super-strength backing it up. There’s a reason so many of us still use bladed weapons.”

“I’ve had some training with them, though not as much as I have in unarmed fighting. Punching works better for me.”

Celia: “Thought you said you were faster than you were strong.”

Years ago, though. Maybe it changed.

GM: “I am. I’m still strong enough where it counts, though.”

Celia: She smirks in the darkness of the trunk.

GM: “Ha. Yeah. In both senses of the word,” he smirks. “But there’s not a lot a sword can do my hands can’t.”

“You might be pretty good at fencing, though, with the background you have in dance.”

Celia: “Maybe.” Worth looking into, anyway, if things are going to get as bad as he suggests. Maybe Robby really can show her some new moves.

GM: “I think ballet actually grew out of fencing. Though your mom could probably tell you a lot more than me there.”

Celia: “Pretty sure I’ve heard her say that before.”

GM: “Well, there you go.”

A beat. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to say hi. I really liked your family.”

“Well, correction. I fucking detested your dad.”

Celia: “I can’t think of anyone who actually likes him. So you’re in good company.”

GM: “Maybe some of his colleagues in the legislature. Or Congress, if he runs for higher office. Hate to say it, but he’s probably not even the worst of them.”

Celia: “No? Hard to look past the years I spent with him.”

GM: “I might be talking out of my ass. Obviously, I didn’t spend any time with him beyond the most awful dinner of my entire life. I’ve just heard that monsters like him aren’t anything rare in D.C. That it takes the worst of the worst to hold the levers of power in our world.”

Celia: “That wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Kind of sad, though. I can imagine that others are just as bad, even more awful. All the time I spent there… I mean… it could have been worse.”

GM: “There’s things to be not sad about. Your family has good people too. Your mom, your grandma.”

Celia: Dinner might not have been so awful if she’d paid more attention in those cooking classes he’d made her take. Funny how she’d gone from not being able to touch raw steaks to butchering bodies on her floor.

“I’m not sad for me. I’m sad for other people who have to deal with it. I’m sad for the people in the stories you were about to tell me before I cut you off.”

GM: Diana cooked him a (probably) good steak the last time they were together. How did that work out for her?

Celia: She’d always said it was different with a wife.

GM: “Sorry, before you cut me off?”

Celia: “Ah, yeah, you sounded like you were about to tell me about things you’ve heard and then I started thinking about my dad and just blurted out words.”

GM: “Oh. No, my personal stories there are pretty limited. My family isn’t in national politics. I’m your guy if you want Mafia stories, lawyer stories, or JFK assassination stories.”

Celia: “I always want to hear your stories.”

GM: “Well, this one doesn’t have anything to do with the Mafia, but… when I was a breather, I wanted to clerk for your grandma. Seemed pretty cool to do that for someone in my girlfriend’s family.”

Celia: “Is that why you had Emily introduce us?” Teasing, though.

GM: “Oh, I mean after we were together. I actually clerked for Carson Malveaux.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Yeah. Relative of Caroline’s. There were more prestigious clerkships, but I wanted to see how criminal law worked up close.”

“I liked him. He was stern but fair.”

Celia: “Small world, I guess.”

GM: “Lots of Malveauxes, more like.”

“I clerked under him for a little while, then did a stint at the Eastern District Court.”

Celia: “I’d have set you up with my grandmother, you know. If you’d have told me you were interested.”

GM: “My dad talked me out of it. Said I’d already done a stint at a lower court and it wouldn’t look as good on my resume to go back.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah, that makes sense.”

GM: “But still. I’d have picked her over Carson. She was there for your family when they needed her. And… Carson had to have known about the circumstances of your dad’s arrest.”

Celia: “Wouldn’t surprise me. Get the whole family in on the cover-up. Caroline was my age and she had a hand in it.”

GM: “God.”

“I’d still like to see your dad convicted in a court of law and sent to prison. Felony count of domestic violence and placement on a sex offender registry pretty much destroys your life forever.”

Celia: “He’d get off. He’d find a way. Or someone would let him off. Rich white guy? Pfft.”

GM: “They’ve gone down in the courts. It can be fucking hard, but they do. Al Capone.”

Celia: “Doesn’t need to go down in court to lose an election. Then what, he goes back to real estate?”

GM: “Well, forget real estate if he goes down in court. Maybe flipping burgers at O’Tolley’s.”

Celia: “Wouldn’t be the first in his family to leave office in disgrace.”

GM: “Oh, who else?”

Celia: “His dad.”

GM: “Didn’t know that. I guess most politics is dynastic though.”

The rest of the drive doesn’t take long. Roderick eventually says, “All right, we’re here. Just to be double safe though, maybe you should also turn into a cat again.”

Celia: “Great minds,” she says. She’d been planning the same. The change is quick, the trunk suddenly much more roomy now that there’s a cat inside rather than a lick. Her clothes shift with her this time, tail flicking behind her as she waits for him to let her out.

GM: It’s a little while longer until Roderick’s car parks. He opens the trunk and scoops her into his arms. They’re in a parking garage.

“Hey, puss,” he coos, scratching a finger along her chin.

Celia: The cat’s entire body vibrates when she purrs, rubbing the side of her face against his outstretched finger and hand. Her eyes close to mere slits, content to be petted and adored even in this form, especially by him. The rest of her curls in his arms.

If things ever get really bad maybe she can give up society and spend the rest of her unlife as his cat.

GM: He sets her down for a moment to close and lock the car, then picks her back up and scratches behind her arms.

“You need a name,” he remarks thoughtfully as he carries her to an elevator.

They’re seemingly alone at this hour. They take it up. He walks down a hall with her, unlocks the keyless lock to the door they stop at, and lets them in. The apartment is a clean and well-maintained space with a 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. There’s a baseball pennant for the New Orleans Pelicans, showing two red pelicans sitting on a tilted bat, and a John F. Kennedy election poster. There’s also some framed degrees (Tulane University, Tulane Law) and family photos. One shows Roderick and his dad wearing suits outside a court building, the smiling older man’s hand resting on his son’s shoulder. Another one shows Roderick, his dad, and his sister out on a long beach that might be Grand Isle. A third one shows one of a much younger-looking Henry Garrison with a toddler-age boy, an elderly-looking man Celia doesn’t recognize, and a brown-haired woman with some resemblance to Roderick. They’re seated around a picnic in a park.

From the inside, the door also looks pretty heavy. Roderick sets Celia down and picks up an even heavier-looking steel bar without any mechanical or electronic components that he slides into place against the door with a dull clunk. It looks like it takes some effort for even him to pick up. A nearby wall monitor shows a view of the apartment’s immediate exterior, and several other points throughout the hallway. There’s a separate home alarm system panel further in.

Celia: The top of her head butts up against Roderick’s chin as he carries her into the elevator, shamelessly taking advantage of the ruse to lavish him with physical affection while she can. Anyone would just think they were a man with his new, extra cuddly cat. Even once they’re inside and her ears flick this way and that while her head spins to take it all in she stays contentedly curled in his arms.

He can’t have brought many people over if he publicly displays the photos of his family; she can’t imagine that he’d risk their safety and his cover if he regularly hosts.

It suits him though, this place. She doesn’t know what she had expected, but somehow this place both meets and exceeds her imaginings. It’s very… Roderick.

She winds herself around and between his legs once he sets her down, only darting away to watch him set the door. Then she’s back at it, batting at his shoes with her paws.

GM: “Someone’s committed to staying in character,” Roderick smirks, scratching her ears some more. “This is it, anyway. Haven sweet haven.”

Celia: She gives a final purr, though she knows she can’t stay in this form all night. Just long enough to enjoy the attention, then she’s off as quickly as her furry little feet can take her, ducking away from him to give herself room to reclaim her bipedal form. Back to swimming in that hoodie.

“Tight security,” she says, nodding toward the door and then the monitor. “I might have to copy you.” She’s been relying on multiple locations and staying off grid, but there’s no such thing as too cautious.

GM: “If someone’s really determined the most this will do is delay them. But that’s true of all security. If it delays them enough the alarms wake me up, and gets my renfields here in time, that’s what counts.”

“Best defense by far is no one knowing where to find you. But I’ve taken precautions there too.”

Celia: “Doesn’t look like you have many people over.” She looks at the photos again. She doesn’t have any up in Celia’s house, none in Jade’s private haven. “What about when you’re gone? Mobile alerts?”

GM: “There’s other places I can entertain if I want to. This is… my space.”

“And yeah, you guessed it.”

Then again, she still gets to see her family. Less need for other reminders.

He follows Celia’s gaze to the photos. His face falls a bit.

Celia: “People can tap into feeds like that. I mean. Pros and cons of having it. I’ve just seen it done, so… be careful.” There’s a beat. “Thank you for bringing me here.” It means a lot. More than she can put into words.

GM: “I know. The lock system isn’t connected to my phone, at least, so if someone were to hack the alarm it wouldn’t help them get in.”

“Like you say. Pros and cons to all security systems.”

“And you’re welcome.”

Celia: “Smart, though. Bases covered.”

GM: “Yeah. It’s less convenient to deal with multiple systems, but it’s not putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Celia: “And it’s nice to just have your own place, I bet. Where you can be you. Not whatever role you play for everyone else.” That’s why she hadn’t told anyone about her haven. It’s hers.

GM: He nods and sits down on the couch, having already hung up his coat and removed his shoes. “There’s always other places I can entertain. This is where I can just be me.”

“I’d normally offer a drink or some food at this point. But, you know.”

Celia: Celia follows his lead and removes her shoes before joining him on the couch, though she leaves the hoodie on. She curls her feet underneath her and turns to face him.

“Awkward, isn’t it, when you have guests? Would you like a spot of blood?” she asks in a very, very terrible posh English accent.

She’s not looking at his wrist. Really.

GM: He smiles, then looks at her questioningly.

“Well, actually, if you’re thirsty from healing…”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I can probably manage the rest of the way without it. Just didn’t want to risk anything with my mom right there. I don’t think I could forgive myself if I hurt her.”

“Plus I feel like you’ve already done enough for me tonight. Don’t need to be greedy.”

GM: “I’ve got juice to spare. You’re sure?”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment while her attention shifts to the bloody, gaping claw marks in her side. This far into her Requiem she’s become proficient at moving her blood around as she needs to, and she feels it respond to her will to pull everything back together. Within moments her body is healed, but the Beast… hungry. It took more out of her than she’s used to. Maybe it was the cold blood she’d forced down earlier, the rejection of her sire’s blood, the rejection of Roderick’s blood. Maybe it’s just simply emotional upheaval from everything that has happened this evening and last.

She looks back to his face. Bites her lip.

“If you’re offering,” she finally says. She’d rather not be in for a nasty surprise tomorrow evening when she wakes. Even now she’s wary, used to keeping her hunger at bay with frequent feedings. She could kick herself for rejecting him earlier. A shameful reminder of another way she’d messed up.

“Hungry,” she adds in warning. At least he’ll be prepared in case she loses it on him. “Maybe you should tie me down or something, so I don’t find a way to ruin this too.” Her voice is bitter.

GM: “We all ruin things, if we’re hungry enough,” Roderick says softly. “It’s not just you.”

Celia: Feels like it is, though. Like no matter what she does it’s the wrong thing, like everyone would just be happier if she hadn’t been born.

“Hard to imagine you ruining anything.”

GM: “I ruined your haven pretty bad.”

“Your face, the… last time.”

“And… again before that.”

Celia: That’s what she’s afraid of this time. That she’ll lose it on him, he’ll lose it on her, and this will be another night that ends in him beating her into unconsciousness.

“Maybe I deserved it for what I did.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head adamantly. “One definition of justice is for everyone to receive their due. What you did may have been a bad thing. But you didn’t deserve to get beaten almost to death for it.”

“The sentence was disproportionate to the crime, if we want to think about it in judicial terms. And disproportionate sentences are crimes of their own.”

“Also, if you asked your dad what he thought of a woman getting beaten into the ICU for cheating, he’d probably say that was a good thing. So that should be all the evidence you need that it’s a bad thing.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. They’ve had this conversation before. Earlier this evening. Prior to that, even. Every time they get together it comes back around to her cheating on him, him beating her. Every time her thoughts spin toward him they’re accompanied by the image of him rearing back to strike her before she loses consciousness, the way her face looked the next time she saw it in the mirror. She still wants to fall all over herself with apologies. Still wants to hear him say that he forgives her. But isn’t this, here… isn’t this forgiveness? He could have left her alone this evening. He could let her go hungry. He’s offered his haven, his blood… safety. He’s offered her safety.

“You can’t change the past,” she finally says. “I try to remember that when it threatens to drag me down and cause me to spiral. That I can’t change it. I regret things—that, specifically, more than anything—but I can’t take back what I did, and you can’t take back what you did, and it’s… it’s in the past. All we can do is learn from it and not let it hold us back. It matters, of course it matters, but it doesn’t need to define who we are.”

GM: “It doesn’t,” he agrees.

There’s a beat.

“I’m still sorry for hurting you. For beating you and for dumping you. You told me the truth then, and you told me about Dani and Savoy’s scheme now, when you didn’t have to.”

Celia: She opens her mouth, perhaps to make a flippant remark (“you dumped me? I thought we were together this whole time”), then closes it again. Her nails pull at a loose thread in the hoodie she wears. She doesn’t want to tell him that it’s okay, because it isn’t. Beating her after he’d asked her to be honest… that’s not okay. But she can give him something else, something that isn’t an empty platitude.

“I forgive you.”

GM: He opens his mouth. Looks like he might be thinking about what to say for a moment.

Then he scoots over to her side of the couch and hugs her. Her Beast growls at the contact. Celia can already catch herself sniffing out weak spots, thinking of the best way to sink her fangs into him so as to minimize his struggles.

But his arms are tight around her, and she can smell his shampoo and aftershave (though with his smooth cheeks, it’s more like never-shave), still the same brands his esthetician girlfriend recommended to him all those years ago.

Celia: The girl and the Beast struggle. It’s hungry. It wants out. It wants the blood that he promised earlier, the blood that she denied. But she wants him. Has wanted him for years. The arms tight around her keep her from pouncing on him to rip his throat open, giving her the time she needs to shove the Beast back down.

The girl wins.

It takes her a moment to respond to his touch the way she’s used to. Her shoulders are stiff… until they’re not. Until she melts into him, the tension leaving her body, clinging to him in a fierce, quiet desperation that speaks of how long she’s wanted him. She inhales his scent. Sandalwood, bitter orange, honey… green and metallic, but warm and spicy. Woody. It’s a scent that takes her right back to their earlier days together: watching him get ready for a date, shaving off a few day’s worth of stubble, lathering on aftershave to soothe his skin, smiling in the mirror at her while she dabs concealer beneath her eyes with the tip of her finger, both of them disheveled from another bout of lovemaking. She sees it so clearly that it hurts. Remembers what it was like when they were happy together, before she started trying to play games, before she thought to take on her dad. Before she cheated and lied.

She’s sorry, too. She’s sorry but she doesn’t think he can forgive her so she doesn’t say, because she’d tried to tell him earlier and he’d been mad about it instead and she doesn’t think she can hear him say that again, and even if he says that he forgives her it follows in the wake of her own forgiveness—doesn’t that mean it’s not real?

GM: His embrace isn’t stiff at first, so much as hesitant. But as Celia melts into him, that reticence melts away too. He can’t have seriously doubted how she might feel about him after the rest of this evening.

He doesn’t kiss her. Maybe that would be a bad idea with her Beast as close to the surface as it is, or maybe now just isn’t the moment. He just holds her. Lies against her. Sinks into her. Buries his face against her neck and the huge sweater it’s enveloped in.

“There’s no one else,” he says after a moment, his voice quiet.

“You’re the best thing in my life. You’ve always been. I don’t know what to do about Coco. About Dani. I don’t know who to trust. Except… except you.”

“I trust you.”

Celia: He shouldn’t.

He shouldn’t trust her.

She’ll get him into trouble. Ruin his unlife. Drag him down with her own selfish actions. It’s all she’s been thinking about, that she’s a wild, destructive force, that everyone around her is in danger, that one day they will all pay for every mistake she has ever made. What if they had gone onto the roof earlier and the sheriff had interrupted? What if he’d been caught because she’d asked him to drop her mom off, been dragged before the warden, word of his presence had gotten out? They’re on opposite sides of this war.

She doesn’t think it’s possible for her arms to tighten around him anymore than they have. She squeezes him with everything that she has. Her fingers run through his hair, down his neck, down his back. She knows exactly what she’d have done, who she’d have chosen in that situation.

There’s no one else.

You’re the best thing in my life.

His weight is heavy on her. Calming. It centers her, makes her focus on the here and now, not what might be. Her lips brush against his brow, his temple, feather-light. The words that come to mind fall flat; how can she capture everything inside of her, how can she express herself when everything she wants to say has been said a thousand times before? You complete me. I could stare down eternity if only you were there. At last she tries, voice made thick by withheld emotion.

“You are the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I’m never letting go again.”

GM: Maybe he shouldn’t trust her.

But she isn’t telling him so.

“And here I’d been about to offer you my wrist.”

He pulls back, just enough, to bare his neck.

Celia: His neck. He wants her to sink into his neck. He knows she’s hungry; why ask for trouble? Her fangs are long in her mouth, itching to bite down…

“Hold,” she tells him, moving her hands around to the front of him so she can slip her wrists into his grip. It isn’t fool-proof, but it’s something.

Celia waits until he has a firm grasp on her arms before she leans in again. Her lips press against the strong line of his jaw. Then slide lower, right above where she knows all that blood is waiting for her, calling her name. It’s a gentle series of kisses she gives him before the two points of her fangs sink into his exposed neck. She pulls back. Waits until the blood wells, cools, drips. Then feeds.

GM: The taste makes her want to cry, next to the swill she had earlier. It’s Brujah blood. Hot blood. Fiery blood. She can feel it lighting her up all the way to fingertips. It stokes a furnace in her. Fills her with their passion, their righteous anger, makes her want to tear off some asshole’s fucking head—or drink her lover dry. She can all but hear her Beast slavering in her ear. To drain every last drop of that hot, so-precious blood. To consume him. To take him into her completely. So they might never be parted.

But just like that, she squashes the impulse. Shoves the howing animal back in its cage. Rattles the bars.

She ruins enough things without its help.

Roderick stares down at her, his hands still pinning her wrists against the couch. The scent of his still-dripping blood hangs heavy in the air. There’s strange melange of affection and hunger in his eyes. His voice comes out thick.

“God, you’re so fucking adorable, under me in that giant hoodie…”

He bites his fangs down against his lip, drawing two points of blood, and presses his lips to hers.

Celia: Fire in her core. Arousal. It thrums through her, a need that she can’t put into words. Human, lick, a combination of both; fight, fuck, feed, that’s all it is for them. Wrong to ask him to fuck her, isn’t it? He doesn’t get off on that anymore. But she does, and there’s something so titillating about him pinning her down like the breathers they once were. She’d always liked it when he’d gotten a little rough.

He moves before she has the chance to demand it of him.

Fangs slice into her tongue, spilling her blood into her mouth, then into his when their lips meet.

GM: His lips meet hers hungrily. Tongues, fangs, and blood freely mingle. He withdraws his hands from her wrists, just briefly enough, to start hurriedly tugging off her clothes.

Celia: He doesn’t need to. She shreds them.

GM: His clothes come off almost as swiftly. He growls, pushes her off the couch, and throws himself on top of her. His hands pin her wrists far apart. His fangs dig into her left breast, then trace along its surface, leaving matching trails of blood. He bites and sucks around her nipples, which she can already feel stiffening, not like her purported sire’s eternally still ones.

Pervert, the older Toreador had said, and she’d not meant it as a compliment.

Celia: A stitch of cloth still clings to her back when she hits the floor with a hiss. She shoves up against him, straining to toss him off of her so that she can roll him over, but his teeth find her flesh instead and what little air remains in her lungs leaves her with a sigh, body stilling beneath him. She can smell her own arousal, molten liquid pooling between her thighs. Her head snaps forward to sink her fangs into whatever part of him she can reach.

Pervert, she agrees, and what delicious pleasure that brings her.

GM: Her fangs sink into his neck. She sucks rapturously. He gives a snarl, wraps an arm around her, and rolls to his side, hugging her close against his chest as they lie on their flank. His fangs pierce her neck. She drinks from him. He drinks from her. Their lives feel inextricably entwined as they take and give in equal measure, two existences becoming as one.

She’s almost lost in the sensation until she feels a firm, cock-like one filling the wet space between her thighs. He growls and thrusts, burying it deeper.

Celia: Words exist for this, but they do not come to mind. Bliss. Euphoria. Unity, if she were the poetic sort. She loses herself to him, blood and soul and… there, body, buried inside of her. A growl passes her lips, then a more human sound: a moan. Her nails dig into his back as he fills her to pull him closer, deeper; fangs flash, sinking into his shoulder, then disappear when the blood hits her tongue. She draws it forth. She presses against him, shifting to get him to the right spot. Beast and girl become one, taking their fill.

GM: Fill her they do. Time seems to disappear as the lovers know passion and perhaps even happiness in one another’s arms—until pain sears through Celia’s back and the unmistakable stench of burning flesh wafts up her nostrils. In an instant, the Beast bursts its chains. Another instant later, she’s huddled on the ground with her back against the wall. Early dawn sun, still tinged with twilight, bathes the floor where she lay.

Another second later, and it’s gone as Roderick draws the extra-thick curtains closed. Thin plumes of smoke waft from some unsightly-looking burns across his back.

“Fuck. Sorry. I’d meant to close those.”

“You were a little distracting.”

Celia: It’s the worst way to come down. Abrupt agony across her back, then nothing until she finds herself curled against the wall. Her eyes dart toward him, then the curtains, then back to him. The tight pull of freshly burned skin against her muscles makes her bare her teeth.

“Fuck, why are they even open?”

She hadn’t even realized how late—early?—it had gotten.

GM: “I like to look outside. We can see in the dark.”

“Amateur mistake though. Should’ve had them closed.” He looks her over, frowning in concern. “Are you okay?”

Celia: “I’ve been worse.” Been better, too, like a moment ago when they were mid-coitus. She rises slowly, straining to look over her shoulder at her own back to assess the damage. It’s a futile effort. “You’re hit,” she says instead, making a vague motion to his back.

GM: “I’ve been worse too. I think this is our cue to go to bed though. We can mend up there.”

Celia: Her jaw clenches at the idea of him being in a worse state than this. Not so much damage that he can’t come back from it, but the very gall that someone would have to hurt that which belongs to her. She reaches for him, her grip iron around his wrist, pulls him toward her so that the raw flesh of her back is pressed against the wall. It burns at the pressure. She doesn’t so much as hiss as she stares up into his eyes, into the face that should have been hers this whole time, that is hers now.

Hers.

She’ll kill anyone who thinks differently. Anyone who thinks to take him away.

Her arms snake around him, pulling his face down to meet hers, to press her lips against his. It’s brief but hard, less of a kiss than it is an assault against his mouth.

Mine.

Even her Beast roars its approval at this claiming, territorial, possessive thing that it is. Somewhere inside her mind the Beauty is laughing with eyes that smolder as green as her stolen name.

They have so much to discuss. She had not meant to spend it all with her fangs buried in his neck. But dawn calls to her, drawing her toward the sweet oblivion of daysleep.

Thoughts turn in her head. Ways forward. Plans, theories, more plans. Fallbacks. Moves and countermoves. And goals, always goals. Her family’s health and happiness. His safety. His approval.

She keeps one hand in his. The other she lifts to touch his cheek, the pads of her fingers soft and warm against his skin. She has never been as cold as the rest of their kind. Not outwardly.

“An eternity of nights with you will never be enough.”

“We must speak tomorrow before I depart. Wake me, please, if you rise before me so that we can discuss our plans. But now I’m exhausted. Take me to bed.”

Celia leans into him, resting her head against his chest. It’s comforting, being able to stand with him like this again. Peaceful. All of the rest of her problems might melt away if only she could stand here long enough.

“And… if I took too much juice from you and you wake up hungry and take it back or something happens to me… please don’t take me to your sire. She’s thrown a collar around my neck twice now, and I’d…” she trails off. Takes a breath she doesn’t need to steel herself, though it has long since ceased doing that as well. She lifts her head to look up at him, and when she continues it’s almost shyly. “I’d like to be able to do that with you, once… once everything is settled.” Her eyes dart away, then back to his face. She is sure that, were she human, her cheeks would burn. “So just… call Lebeaux or Randy or something, they’ll figure it out.”

GM: Roderick chuckles at Celia’s initial words. “You sound a bit like an elder there. Very well, my beloved, let us retire to daysleep’s cold slumber ere Sol’s eye rises over the heavens,” he replies in an exaggerated voice as he hefts her up in his arms, one around her back and the other under her knees.

“I’d like to do that too, though. Save the next night of… ‘unsafe sex’ for sometime special.”

“And I won’t let anything happen to you while you’re here with me. Promise,” he declares somberly, planting a kiss on her forehead.

“But you can text me Randy’s number if it’d make you feel safer.”

Celia: “I was practicing,” Celia declares airily, waving a hand and lifting her nose into the air, “for when I’m an elder and can tell the silly neonates that they must wait at least five ye—eee!”

The effect is somewhat lost when her words cut off into a squeal as he lifts her. She throws her arms around him, nuzzling his neck as he carries her through his haven to the bed.

“We should just elope,” she says with an affected sigh, “fuck this city and run away. But I will. Randy’s number, I mean.” She makes him stop so she can retrieve her phone and does just that, then motions for him to continue the ride to the bedroom.

GM: He chuckles at her squeal but does just that. He has her pick up his phone as well. He looks down at the drying red stains they’ve left over his couch and heaves a sigh.

“This is so much messier than breather sex. But at least it wasn’t over the carpet.”

Celia: “Blot, don’t scrub,” Celia says with a firm nod.

GM: “I’ll toss the cushions in the laundry. Tomorrow, though. Can’t interrupt your ride,” he smiles as he carries her across the apartment. It isn’t a huge space. The living/dining room is one combined area, with the kitchen separated by island. He carries her up to the bedroom and lets her open the door.

Celia: “Also…”

“Thanks, by the way. I know you’re not, um, into the… breather thing anymore. But that was… really something else.”

GM: “You’re welcome. It… actually didn’t feel as bad as I thought.”

Celia: “It’s because I’m so cute,” Celia tells him, smirking.

GM: “Ha. Yeah. You can still… make it up t’ me with a m’sage. Like ol’ times…”

Roderick’s words are starting to slur a bit. His grip under her feels a little unsteady. Walking herself, though, seems like the worst idea on earth. Her eyelids are so heavy.

Celia: The fatigue hits her all at once. She lets them close, gesturing vaguely toward the bed. He knows where it is. His place, after all. Still, it’s so far—five feet away—and he’s so comfortable… she nestles herself further against him, tucking her face into the crook between neck and shoulder.

“Sleep time,” she murmurs. “Lo’ you.”

GM: He waits for Celia get the door, which feels like a lot of work. So does closing it after they’re inside. Celia doesn’t really notice what the room looks like, beyond that no sun gets inside. Roderick tosses her onto the bed, which is at least a fun way to land, then hits the surface himself with a soft thump. He spoons himself behind her, wrapping his arms around her belly and pressing his face against the back of her head. Celia can still smell the partly-dried blood coating their naked skin.

“You’re so hot…” he murmurs, nuzzling her hair.

Celia: She’s aware enough to giggle at his words, but she doesn’t expend the effort to make herself flush as she usually might. She just presses back against him, content to lie still in his arms.

“Ver’ cute,” she agrees, making a movement with her head that might be a nod.

Sleep claims her quickly after that.


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Story Twelve, Celia XIII

“God, I want to trust someone! I need to trust someone!"
Roderick Durant


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: “-they all fucking died,” finishes Roderick.

“All of them who were left. Every last fucking one. 23 people.”

“I know exactly how many, because I couldn’t do shit with a stake in my chest except lie on the ground and watch. And count.”

“I can’t even describe what that was like. Some of them tried to go out swinging. Tried.”

“They didn’t last long against the prince’s team of professional murderers. Donovan lopping off heads left and right. Meadows just… just literally ripping them apart. With McGinn, I could see the pure joy on his face as he swung his sword. I actually wondered, for a second, if the Sanctified had to offer those Invictus ‘auxiliaries’ anything in return for their help. I bet they didn’t. I bet McGinn was perfectly happy to murder duskborn for free.”

“Some of them just cowered and begged. Screamed they had families. Kids.”

“Probably wasn’t even a lie. Lot of them still do that.”

“Some of them tried to run, for all the good it did. Surrounded in a walled cemetery. Ghouls with riot police shields. Malveaux and Doriocourt using magic to hedge them in. The whole thing couldn’t have been more planned. It was planned, systemic slaughter. All they could do was die.”

“And the Anarchs. They all just stood there. They all just…” Roderick’s voice finally cracks, “they all just fucking watched.

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment as Roderick finishes his story. It’s the second time she’s heard it, but she doesn’t tell him that. The horror in this telling is fresh. Her own ghosts scream in some distant part of her mind.

Set up. The word echoes in her head. She’d thought it the first time she’d heard the tale and now, knowing what she does, having read that paper, she knows it’s true. Coco and Opal set them up. They knew the slaughter was coming and they’d stood aside and let it.

And now they’re planning to do it again.

She runs her hands up and down his back. None of her own thoughts here matter. Everything she thinks to say is platitudes. Empty. Lies. This is what her Requiem has come to. She can’t even tell him that she knows there are incoming raids without revealing she’d seen the paper.

“It’s awful. What they do to them. For an accident of Embrace. The wrong sire and you’re… you’re just fucked.”

GM: Roderick gives a bitter laugh.

“Danielle. She’s fucked.”

“It’s funny. They all say we Anarchs have a thin-blood problem. That there’s tons of them all holed up in Mid-City.”

“Well, there’s some. Almost every thin-blood there for that mass execution got mass executed, so who do the new ones have to hear it from. Because you can bet we don’t tell them about it. We don’t like to talk about that night.”

“Only four of us had any balls. Four. Me. Max. Jonah. And Hez, who was half-crazy, but I suppose had twice the balls too.”

“Everyone else… some of them are ashamed. Say there’s nothing they could’ve done. Some of them say there was, and they regret not doing anything. And some of them clearly don’t give a fuck about thin-bloods if it means their asses on the line.”

“Sheriff still goes on sweeps through Mid-City, sometimes. We all know he means business. What thin-bloods we have, they don’t show up to rants. To votes. Oh no. They hide. We tell them they should do at least that much.”

Celia: “If you’re in contact with them, couldn’t you do a proxy vote? It’s not the same as being safe or accepted, but…”

GM: Roderick gives her a flat look.

“And how did thin-blood representation work out last time?”

“Someone tipped off the sheriff. I sure hadn’t planned on inviting him.”

“So public proxy votes for thin-bloods. How do you think that would go?”

Celia: He’s too smart to not realize it, right?

Is he being willfully ignorant?

Does he really have no idea?

“Whose idea was it to get them all together?”

GM: “I don’t remember. Lot of us had been talking about thin-bloods during recent rants.”

Celia: “To include them? I mean, I assume yes, but when it was brought up what was the general consensus? It sounds like some of the licks that evening weren’t happy.”

“It’s… a shame that Coco and Miss Opal weren’t there. Maybe they could have talked the sheriff down.”

GM: “Doubt it. He has a pretty long leash these nights, but for a slaughter on that scale, the order had to have come down from Vidal.”

“Though I guess it’s moot. ‘Thin-blood massacre’ seems like something Vidal or Donovan would both be happy with.”

Celia: “Their voices might have helped, though.”

GM: “What would the sheriff have done? Stood down and looked like a bitch to everyone?”

“Though who knows how it would’ve gone. Two elders might’ve really turned things around.”

Celia: They’re both just lying to each other now. He knows. He has to know. There’s no possible way that he doesn’t know. She’d made the connection in seconds; how has he missed it? Did his sire collar him tightly enough that he can’t even think ill of her? Do they wipe his mind after the meetings?

He calls her a liar, but here he is just spouting bullshit.

She nods, though, like he’s right.

“Danielle might be safer in the Quarter if the sheriff is running raids in Mid-City.”

GM: Roderick seems to sag under those words, running a hand through his hair.

“Fuck. I…. oh, fuck. I can’t believe she’s a fucking abortion!”

“The a-word. I’m a horrible ally. Oh well. Like any of them stood up to the Sanctified Gestapo.”

“She’s fucked. She’s fucked if she stays in Mid-City. Matter of time.”

Celia: “I can look out for her. Keep her contained here, so she doesn’t… wander somewhere she shouldn’t.”

GM: Roderick plants his face against his hands.

“Oh my go…. oh my god.”

“This. This is where it is. I have to go to him. He’s got me over a barrel.”

He gives another bitter laugh.

Celia: “What are you talking about? Who?”

GM: “Who the hell would I be talking about? Savoy!”

Celia: Ah. Well. He’s right. She doesn’t deny it. Savoy does have him over a barrel. Better than the alternative though, isn’t it? Dead sister.

She knows what that’s like.

Celia pulls back from him. Draws her knees into her chest, wraps her arms around her legs. She looks past his shoulder, as if the answer is written on her wall and all she has to do is search hard enough for it.

GM: Her wall remains tellingly blank.

Roderick runs a hand through his hair as red starting to brim around his eyes.

“Oh… my god, Celia, I… I can’t…”

He throws his arms around her and buries his face against her neck.

Celia: Oh. Well that’s… she’d be lying if she says she doesn’t want it. Doesn’t want him, here, like this, seeking comfort from her. Her body moves to support him, her arms around his broad shoulders, her mouth forming soothing, crooning noises. One hand runs through his hair, like her mom used to do when she was a child.

“Let it out,” she says quietly, “just let it out, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”

GM: “Oh, Celia, it’s…” he sobs, “it’s fucked… everything’s fucked… everything’s shit… no one’s who they say they are, you can’t, you can’t trust anyone…”

She feels her fangs lengthening in her mouth again at the smell of his leaking blood.

Because only vampires get boners over hurt people.

Celia: She didn’t want this for him.

She never wanted this life—unlife, whatever—for him. He doesn’t deserve it. He deserves so much more. Her heart—is that thing still working? It breaks for him. Again and again and again. Every word. Every bloody tear. Every halting space between syllables.

“I know. I know. It is. It’s fucked. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.”

I’m sorry I broke us. I’m sorry you can’t trust me.

GM: He squeezes her in his arms. Crushingly hard. If she were alive, she might yell that he was hurting her, that she couldn’t breathe. But she’s not alive.

“I’ve done… been complicit in things,” he sobs. “Heard things. Known… known what’s really… I keep saying, I keep saying it’s worth it, it’s the least awful way forward, the only way, doing what I can, but I don’t… I don’t know… there’s no good guys…”

“Just… bad guys and worse guys…”

Celia: She doesn’t do so much as squirm in his arms. He can squeeze if he needs to. If it helps. She can give him that much. She keeps her grip tight around him, nails on his scalp, the back of his neck, his back. Up and down, long, slow strokes. Soothing.

She’s quiet while he works it out, while he spills his pain. Sometimes people need an ear more than they need someone telling them they understand.

GM: He keeps squeezing as he rubs his head against her neck.

“I just wanted to be the good guy! I just wanted to put the bad guys away! I wanted to do the right thing, and this… they… they’ve ruined my whole fucking family…!”

Celia: “We can do the right thing,” she murmurs. “I’ll help you get there. Anything you need.”

GM: There’s another choked laugh.

“There is no right thing! Savoy’s a con artist, used car salesman, and Coco’s a… I want her to be right, so fucking bad, but she’s… she’s not! There isn’t a right thing!”

“And Dani’s, she’s a monster too, an abortion half-monster that’s not even a real vampire!”

“My dad’s gonna die, alone, thinking both his kids are dead, and that’s the sanitized version!”

Celia: The Garrison line dies with him. There’s no more kids to have more children. No more lawyers in the family to continue to try to take down the Mafia. It’s over. Bad guys won. Three generations of Garrisons… and this is how it ends.

He’s squeezing so tightly that she can barely draw the breath she needs to form words.

“We have time. A whole bunch of time ahead of us. We can turn it around. Just because they’re not right doesn’t mean we can’t be. You’re a good person, Roderick. The best person that I know. If anyone can find a way to be a lick and still be humane, it’s you.”

GM: “How? How can I be a good person when, when everyone me isn’t? When the only option is to go along with the sheriff, or die for nothing, or get staked and get special treatment and have everyone say you’re an elder’s pet? Why do you even think that about me?”

Celia: “Because you stand up for what’s right even in the face of adversity. Because you were the first person who opened your mouth to the sheriff when he showed up. Because if you hadn’t been staked you’d have gone down swinging. Because prior to all that you were the one who had the backs of the thin-bloods that no one wanted anything to do with. Because when we met you didn’t make me feel stupid, you didn’t look down on me, you didn’t talk down to me, you never let my dad scare you, you went out of your way to help my family. Because even when you were mad at me you didn’t just leave me, and you could have. Because every time I’m in a moral dilemma I ask myself, ‘what would Stephen do?’ and I have my answer on what is right and what’s wrong.”

“You are not other people. You can’t judge yourself based on what the people around you do. You can only be you. The best you that you know how to be.”

“And it’s hard and it sucks and people suck and licks suck and everything is fucked, and despite all that you still have an existence to be part of, so you do your damndest to be the source.”

GM: He holds onto her for a while without saying anything. Stops squeezing.

“Celia, I want to trust you…”

Celia: She stills. Doesn’t even draw breath. Trusting her has nothing to do with anything she’d just said.

“But you don’t,” she says for him after a brief silence. She sounds… resigned.

GM: “No! I want to! I’m just… scared it could turn out like the last time…”

“God, I want to trust someone! I need to trust someone! We all do!”

Celia: Something flutters inside of her at his words. She squashes it before it can do more than that.

He shouldn’t trust her. She’s a self-serving, manipulative cunt. She knows it. One day her unlife will come crashing down around her and anything standing in the blast radius will be destroyed. She can’t even tell him the worst of it. The things she’s done.

She’ll just hurt him. Again.

“We do,” she tells him. “We do need someone. We’re all isolated, afraid to confide, and it just… it’s just the Beast with us then, our only companion, no wonder it draws us all down a dark path.”

Maybe he’s not squeezing her now but she’s squeezing him, clinging to him because she’s afraid that once this moment ends reality will set back in and everything will turn to shit again.

GM: “God, you’re right… just the Beast… I can feel it in me, pacing around, waiting… I swear, it gets stronger every year…”

“I’m still a virgin, but I have no idea… no idea how long I can keep that up…”

Celia: “As long as you want to. Indefinitely. I believe that about you.”

GM: “Coco says that’s admirable but I should expect to kill at some point, if only by accident. Our Beasts are too strong to resist forever.”

“It’s a matter of statistics. Forever, and all you need is to lose control at least once. Gets likelier with every year. Every night.”

Celia: “We talked once. About how you couldn’t stay in your family’s life because you lose control more easily. I’ve been worried about it, with my mom, Lucy, Emily. I’d never forgive myself if something happened to them. But I make sure that, when I see them, I’m not hungry. I keep my emotions under control as best I can. I have a business, I see people all the time… it’s… it’s difficult, you know, when I started it was like they all looked like snacks and I just wanted to rip into them. And yes, the Beast gets stronger with every year. But so does my control.”

“And so can yours.”

“And maybe… maybe Coco is right, that you should expect it to happen. And that’s awful. But it hasn’t happened yet. You can’t live in fear of it.”

“Be prepared, sure, but don’t… give yourself a panic attack over it or something.”

GM: “I guess you can’t. I guess all you can do is try to minimize the damage. That’s a really good policy, not ever see your family when you’re hungry.”

“Are you still a virgin?”

Celia: “Of course not. Don’t you remember that date? Batman?”

GM: “Ha ha. Other kind of virgin.”

Celia: “…no.”

GM: “How’d it happen?”

Celia: “It was ugly. And messy. And I lost control.”

She still remembers the shirt she’d been wearing. Green. Low cut. Clingy. The blood had spilled across the front of it and she’d looked like some sort of garish Christmas monster.

“He… I was on my own. One of the first times. He looked like my dad, and I just… Lucy had just been born, and… I just… I kept thinking, I have to keep her safe.”

GM: “Was he like your dad? A real monster?”

“Or did he just look like him?”

Celia: She’s quiet. Her weight shifts, the movement betraying her discomfort. She lifts her shoulders as much as she can with their arms still wrapped around each other, as if to shrug, and thinks better of it. She settles again.

“I don’t know,” she finally says. “I told myself he was. But I don’t… I don’t know, honestly, and it’s…” She hasn’t thought about it in a long time. She hadn’t felt anything after she’d ripped his throat out. She remembers that: staring down at this man who is vaguely Maxen-shaped with his warm blood splattered across her face and chest and feeling absolutely nothing.

“Probably not,” she says quietly.

GM: “Have you wanted to do anything about it?”

Celia: “We don’t normally dream, but I… I dreamed about that for a long time. That he was just… that he just looked like him, and I happened to be there, and it… wrong place, wrong time, and he’s dead now, and I’m not supposed to care, I’m supposed to… to just not… I told Veronica, after, I thought maybe she’d say something helpful, but she just sneered at me like she does.”

“So I just pushed it down. And tried not to think about it.”

GM: Roderick pulls away enough to look her in the eyes, but still holds on.

“You should care. What if that guy had a family he loved as much as you love yours?”

Celia: She can’t look at him. Her lids drop down over her eyes to shield herself from his judgment. She blinks back the same coppery-scented moisture that leaked earlier from Roderick’s eyes.

“He probably did. He probably did and I ruined it, and they never knew why he didn’t come home.”

“There’s no—there’s no guidebook, there’s no rules on what to do when you kill someone, it’s not like you just send flowers.”

GM: “I agree, there isn’t. I mean, there’s nothing you can do that’ll bring him back. But you can make things less painful for any survivors.”

Celia: “How?”

GM: “Funerals are really stressful, not to mention expensive. Helping with those, directly or indirectly. Making sure his family has money. Helping them out, if they’re disadvantaged. Finding anything else in their lives that needs fixing.”

Celia: “You don’t think that draws attention? A random person showing up and helping with bills and other stuff?”

GM: “Well, you have to be subtle about it. But there’s ways to do that.”

Celia: Celia wipes her cheek on her shoulder, as if the motion is at all a subtle way to wipe away the moisture trickling down from her eye.

“Yeah? What would you do?”

GM: Roderick thinks. “There’s a fair amount of things you can do legally. Like, contrive an inheritance from a distant deceased relative who doesn’t actually exist, with a lawyer you know serving as executor of the estate. That’d seem like an uncanny coincidence if it happened right when he died, but if that was six years ago you’re probably safe.”

Celia: The word inheritance reminds her of the other bomb that was dropped on her earlier in the evening.

“The sheriff killed my grandparents.”

GM: “Oh my god. Why?”

Celia: “All the money went to my dad. So he could run for… whatever, or move to Audubon, or… whatever.”

GM: “I’m so sorry. Were you close to them?”

Celia: “Before they died, yeah. They were always around. Then they just… weren’t.”

“I wasn’t allowed to tell my siblings why she left. He came into my room the morning after it happened and told me it was our secret, and… and I don’t even know if he really remembers what he did to her, or if it’s just part of his blooper reel. He used to… get weird, sometimes, and I guess… I guess there’s this part of me who just wanted my dad back, so I used to think that maybe Donovan had replaced him with someone else, or had mind controlled him into being like this, and…” she trails off.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to get into… but just, why would he take my dad’s memories and not mine?”

A moment passes. She doesn’t really expect an answer from him on the subject of her family. She’s not even sure she wants to talk about it. Skates too close to the truth.

“Tell me about the inheritance thing. I might have a friend who’s a lawyer.”

GM: “Your dad’s memories of what happened to your mom? I thought he did remember all that,” says Roderick.

“But inheritance-wise, the idea is basically as I said. You have your lawyer friend show up, claiming to be the executor for the will of a deceased relative you invent a story and identity for. Then you hand over the money that’s part of the ‘inheritance.’”

Celia: She looks like she might have more to say on the subject of her family, but she doesn’t press it once they move to different topics.

“And you don’t get caught?”

GM: “Sure, that’s what you have a real lawyer do it for so that everything seems legit. But people probably aren’t likely to look too closely at free money.”

Celia: “I’ll look into that. Thanks, Roderick.”

He is her implied lawyer friend, but she isn’t sure he got it. Or he’s pretending not to get it.

“What’s next for you? What do you want to do?”

GM: “Ugh. I was just starting to get in a better mood.”

“I know what’s next, but I’d honestly rather put it off.”

“Just… give me some good news. How’s your family doing?”

Celia: Good news? There is no good news. Not about her family. She’d just murdered her sister. But she doesn’t tell him that.

“I had dinner with them the other night. Emily brought Robby by. He’s… got some really nerdy hobbies, I don’t think I realized that when we first met. He’s sweet, though. Mom and I are already picking out wedding dresses for her. She discovered Pin-It and she sent me the board she’s been working on, it’s honestly kind of ridiculous how much time she’s already put into it. I’m happy for them, though. Might have finally convinced Mom to start dating again, sort of. Mostly it’s that I’m just going to surprise her with a date and see how that goes. She also, uh, tried to give me dating advice, which was… kind of funny.”

And awkward.

But mostly funny.

GM: “I guess there’s only so much useful advice you can give when you haven’t dated in ten-plus years.”

Celia: “It was a lot of just be honest and write down how you feel and give it to him in a letter.”

GM: Roderick frowns in puzzlement. “A letter?”

Celia: “She’s pretty old school. I imagine she was picturing floral stationary sprayed with perfume.”

GM: “Well, Flores, floral stationary. I guess you could do worse.”

Celia: “Clever.”

Celia rolls her eyes at him. She’s smiling, though, and she makes a noise that’s half a laugh.

“You’re as nerdy as Robby.”

She does not mention that her private notebook has roses all over the front of it.

GM: He smirks back. “Hey, you have to have some nerd in you to be a lawyer.”

Celia: “Anyway, don’t tell me that you never wrote a girl a love letter. Cute guy like you? Probably had all the babes.”

GM: “I wrote a letter, once, to a girl when I was in middle school. She’d moved away and I think she had a big crush on me, so she sent a letter.”

Celia: “Did you become pen pals?”

GM: “We did send a couple more, over the summer. I think she found a new guy to distract herself with when school started up.”

Celia: “Ouch. You ever do that thing where you slide a note into a girl’s locker?”

“Dear Girl, I like you. Please find attached contract to become my girlfriend. Sincerely, Future Lawyer Boy.” She mimics what she thinks his middle school voice would sound like. It ends up rather pompous.

GM: Roderick laughs. “Future Lawyer Boy a pretty cruddy lawyer not to at least ask her to sign it in person. Less likely to read the fine print.”

Celia: “No, see, that’s how you get her. You put a bunch of crazy things there that she reads and gets indignant about, then she comes over all angry and you turn the argument around on her, then she falls for your way with words. Like a meet-cute. Kind of. Not really. Whatever, you get it.”

GM: “Sorry, meet-cute?”

Celia: “It’s a thing in romance books and movies. When the leading couple meets. And it’s… cute. Often they get off on the wrong foot. But like in a silly, charming kind of way.”

“It’s, uh, it’s in a lot of rom-coms.”

GM: “Yeah, not to sound like your dad, but that’s such a chick thing,” he smirks. “Guess I’m not surprised I didn’t know what it was.”

Celia: “Hey man, sometimes I let Randy pick on movie night, it’s not my fault he’s a closet romantic.”

GM: “You watch movies with your renfields?”

Celia: “Yes. Why, should I be more like my sire and torture them?”

GM: “No, it’s cute. Just honestly wasn’t something that occurred to me.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah. We just kind of make a night of it. They get snacks and we pick a movie and it’s… Honestly it’s kind of nice, to just hang out like that. Randy picks a lot of rom coms or action flicks and Alana picks a lot of horror movies so she can pretend to be scared, but when she’s actually invested she has pretty good taste.”

GM: “That is cute. I might ask one of mine to do that.”

Celia: “You could come over with us sometime. If you want.”

GM: “I guess that’ll be easier if I’m in the Quarter more.”

There’s a bitter taste to the words.

Celia: “You don’t have to come to the Quarter. I’ll… deal with Savoy.”

GM: “He’s not going to let me keep Danielle there for free. I should at least have the balls to look him in the eye.”

Celia: “I doubt he’d ask you to relocate.”

GM: “Of course he wouldn’t. I’m not any use to him if I’m on the outs with Coco.”

Celia: Well at least she hadn’t had to tell him what Savoy wants.

“I think he might value discretion over the balls of looking him in the eye. I can pass along a missive. If I meet with him it’s normal. If you do people might talk.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “He won’t settle for that. I wouldn’t if I was in his position. Some things you have to do in person.”

“I’ll bet he’s great at setting up secret meetings with licks who aren’t supposed to be seeing him, anyway.”

“Why are you even on his team?” the Brujah asks. “It’s been two election cycles for your dad, since you were turned, and he’s still in power. Savoy obviously isn’t helping you get rid of him.”

Celia: She can’t tell him the truth. Not the real truth. And she’s so, so tired of lying to him. They all need someone to trust, like he said. But she doesn’t know if she trusts him. The secret isn’t hers to spill, and he’s already told Coco information about her that he should have kept to himself. If she opens her mouth here it’ll be around the rest of their society in no time, and then what? Then she’s got more trouble than the war between sire and grandsire that she’s already caught in the middle of. More trouble than a beautiful fledgling with extremely potent vitae in the middle of the Garden District. More trouble than ‘Celia’ being found out as undead.

“Roderick, please don’t meet with Savoy. I can tell you exactly what he’d offer you and Dani. You don’t need to get your hands dirty by meeting with him or being goaded into getting aggressive, then he does own you. Let me help you. I can do that much for you.”

“I’m used to dealing with him. I speak his language.”

GM: “Celia, are you even listening to me? There’s no way I’d agree to that if I was in Savoy’s position. And with Dani in the Quarter, I wouldn’t have to do. He holds the fucking cards!”

Celia: “I am listening to you. I get it. And I am telling you that he is a master manipulator. He will know exactly how much you want to keep her safe, exactly what buttons to push, and you will end up bent over even more than you think you are right now.”

GM: “Probably,” Roderick says bleakly.

Celia: “Then why would you give him that power?”

GM: “Because he’s not going to settle for less! He’ll want information on the Cabildo. The things they’re talking about. That’s not as useful to him secondhand through a messenger, and he knows it!”

Celia: “Why would I lie to him? If I were being charged with giving the information to him, why would I change it?”

GM: “Celia, you’re being… ugh. That’s not as useful, even if you were 100% honest, because he’d want to actually ask questions about the information, and that’s way more tedious if he has to do it through a messenger. Not to mention, he’s an elder, so I doubt he believes anyone is 100% honest to him.”

Celia: “I’m being what?” Her voice is sharp.

GM: He effects a sigh. “Sorry. I was being angry. Forget it.”

“I know you’re trying to help. I appreciate it.”

Celia: “You were going to call me stupid.”

GM: “You’re not stupid. I just lost my temper. This whole situation is completely fucked and there’s no way to make it better.”

Celia: “You want the truth, Roderick? The truth is that I’m going to lie to him about you. About us, and how I delivered this. The truth is that I’m going to spin this to keep your hands clean. The truth,” she spits the word like it’s a curse, “is that I’m going to let him think that I manipulated you into thinking he doesn’t know, instead of lying to you like he wanted me to do, so he can continue to be the magnanimous elder and I’m the lying, manipulative bitch, and at some point in the future when I really, really displease him he’s going to use it against me because, like Coco said, the truth comes out eventually, and I’ll be fucking damned thrice over if I’m going to let it drive another god-damned wedge between us.”

“I’m supposed to tell you that he doesn’t know she’s your sister. That it was all my idea. And if you go to him he’ll know that I told you. And I’m not because I’m tired of fucking lying to everyone and you deserve to know.”

GM: “What? He knows?” Roderick asks sharply.

“That’s why you called me, because Savoy told you to use Dani to bring me over?”

Celia: “No. I called you because I found out what happened to her and I was worried about both of you. I wouldn’t keep that from you.”

GM: “So how does he know about Dani? Did you tell him, or did he tell you?”

Celia: “His steward told me. I assume she told him.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “He couldn’t be assed to himself, for something as big as this? So, what, this was Preston’s idea to use Dani to bring me over?”

Celia: Celia makes a noise that might have once been a sigh.

“She gave me the photo. I imagine they talked about it. I’ve long thought she only speaks what he thinks, to be perfectly honest, so yes, I can safely say Savoy knows and that it was probably his idea.”

GM: “Maybe, but for Savoy not to even talk to you about any of this? That’s really fucking weird.”

Celia: “And I can also tell you that you meeting with him is not in your best interest, and I’m… I’m laying my heart open to you. That I am choosing you over an extremely powerful elder. That I am… am giving you this information, knowing it could get back to him, knowing that I will be the one to pay the price for it, and asking you to please—please—trust me.”

GM: “Wait. Wait.” Roderick holds up his hand. “Savoy isn’t like Vidal. He meets random licks off the street all the time. If he didn’t even talk to you about this, himself… there’s a big piece we’re missing, but I’m not sure what it means.”

“Is Preston trying to make some kind of play?”

Celia: “I doubt it. I told you, she only says what he already thinks.”

“Of course Savoy is behind this.”

GM: “I don’t know, she’s a Malkavian. There’s some part of her that’s 100% completely fucking nuts, you can’t ever forget.”

Celia: “She’s pretty sane for a member of her clan.”

GM: “Or she just looks that way.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “There’s no such thing as a sane Malkavian. Any more than there is a handsome Nosferatu or a Brujah without anger issues.”

Celia: “Yeah…” Her eyes dip once more toward the destroyed couch. She doesn’t physically move away from him. But it’s in her eyes: wariness. Ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble.

GM: He effects another sigh. “I’m not about to lose it. I’m just trying to piece out what the full picture is. It’s just really fucking weird Savoy wouldn’t even talk to you about me and Dani himself.”

“Some part of Preston is crazy, and I think that’s a mistake to assume everything which comes out of her mouth is something Savoy would say. She’s pretty new to the city, in relative terms. She was her own Kindred for 50 years before ever coming here.”

Celia: “Probably because he doesn’t trust me not to fuck it up, and I’m playing right into his hands, and it’s all a large game.”

GM: “But that doesn’t explain why he wouldn’t even see you. Has he… was this recent? Has he been out in public, since Preston told you about Dani?”

Celia: “He had a party last night.”

GM: “Okay, so I guess that rules out him being out of town. Or something crazy like torpor.” Roderick frowns. “There has to be something here! Why wouldn’t he talk to you abut this?”

Celia: “He wants to help you take down Corolla and Agnello.”

GM: “Preston said that too?”

Celia: “No, Savoy said that.”

GM: “What do you mean, he said that? thought you heard this all through Preston.”

Celia: “I heard about Dani from Preston, and about that from Savoy. Preston gave me the photo.”

GM: “At different times?”

Celia: “Stop. Stop giving me the third degree. I’m telling you what I know. I’m telling you that Savoy wants to help with those two and that Preston gave me the photo and the information on Dani. And I contacted you as soon as I knew about her. And yes, they probably fucking planned it, Roderick.”

GM: “Well I’m sorry if it seems like I’m grilling you, but given how completely and utterly fucked Dani and I might be-” he calms his voice, “I’m just trying to get as complete a handle on things as I can.”

Celia: “I’m trying to help you. I’m not… I don’t want to be your enemy here.”

GM: “I know. I’m just looking for any kind of handhold here, that Dani and I could still use.”

Celia: “I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, or you, or your dad, or anyone you care about. I’m not a… I’m not a monster. I’ll find a way to keep her safe.”

GM: “Okay.” He takes a needless breath. “I guess good thing I’d already assumed the worst. I had some kind of half-cocked idea to get Dani out of the city, but that’s even more of a crap shot if he already knows.”

Celia: “We still can. He’ll just… know that I told you. If you want to run…” she trails off for a moment, looking at her hands, at the wall, at anything but him. Finally she breathes in, sets her mouth in a grim line. “I can try to cover for you.”

GM: “Like I said, it’s probably a crap shot. I don’t know any licks outside the city that well. None I’d trust with Dani.”

Celia: “That Asian girl. With the fucked hands. She’s from Texas, isn’t she?”

GM: He thinks. “Yeah. I don’t really know her. She helped the thin-bloods all get butchered.”

Celia: “She what now? I thought she pulled Max to safety?”

GM: “Yeah. Instead of pulling the stake out. She was the first to cross over, behind Sanctified lines. After she did with Max, and Veronica and Pietro followed with Jonah, it was over. Everyone else deserted the thin-bloods.”

“If we’d stood our ground that would’ve been a fight even the sheriff wouldn’t have wanted. He wanted to scare us into just surrendering them up, without resistance.”

“And we did. Two dozen thin-bloods, all just… slaughtered. Just like that.”

“I’ll admit that’s one of the things Savoy has going for him, he doesn’t support a policy of active genocide.”

Celia: Celia sighs.

“She came to me about it, you know. Not like… that specifically, and I’m only telling you this because I’m trusting you not to let it out. She sees me for her hands. They’re fucked, like I said. Have you seen her without gloves? Not pretty. We’re working on reducing the scar tissue, but it’s slow going.”

“Sometimes people talk to me when I’m working on them. And she told me about that night after it happened.”

“That she’s… she’s really messed up over it, that she thought she was doing the right thing. Her sire, he’s… he’s a piece of work. She didn’t want to see the people she’d thrown in with, the Anarchs, all slaughtered, like he’s done. I don’t think she was thinking of it as abandoning the thin-bloods, just getting Max out after Veronica made her play. Anyone in the circle, right?”

“And then everyone else folded, because she made that choice. And I think she’s more messed up about it than she’s ever let on to anyone. And it’s why she doesn’t run with a krewe, because she’s ashamed.”

GM: “Well, I’m sorry for her. But I’m sorrier for the thin-bloods. Someone with a track record of folding under pressure isn’t someone I feel safe about leaving Dani with.”

“Though I guess… I mean, unless she’s leaving the city, it’s passing Dani along to any friends she has in Texas.”

Celia: “I just can’t imagine what kind of pain she’s in to unload to me when she doesn’t even know me.” Celia shakes her head. “We’re all so isolated in this existence, it’s… heartbreaking.”

GM: “Yeah. It is.” He gives a long look. Runs a hand through his hair.

“Look. I’ll… I’ll talk to her.”

“How long do you think I have, with Savoy?”

“Before he starts asking you how things went?”

Celia: “I…” Celia looks uncomfortable. “I didn’t tell him I was meeting with you tonight or anything, but I’m staying there now because Lebeaux told me to avoid ‘Celia’ places, and I’m honestly… kind of afraid of staying somewhere alone, so even though no one knows about this place…”

“I can try to put him off.”

GM: “You could stay with me today, if you wanted. I have a decent place.”

Celia: “With, ah, with Coco?”

GM: He effects a snort. “No. I’m not that much an elder’s pet.”

Celia: “D’you live with the others? Hez and Chris and them?”

GM: “I live by myself. Prefer the privacy.”

Celia: She nods. “Same. I mean, Andi and Tyrell are never in town anyway, but… still.”

“But yeah. I mean. If that’s okay with you.”

GM: “Oh?” He looks thoughtful. “I wonder if they could… no, maybe too risky with them in Savoy’s camp.”

Celia: “Roderick.” She takes his hand in hers. “Please, please, please. Don’t tell anyone. He’ll know I told you.”

GM: “Jesus Christ, of course I won’t! It’s Dani’s life, unlife, I’d be risking too. I’m not telling anyone more than they absolutely need to know. All Ayame does, if we even get that far, is that there’s someone I want to get to Houston. I’ll make up the reasons why.”

Celia: “Sorry. I wasn’t implying that you would, I just…” She’s scared, he can see it in her eyes.

GM: “I know.” He squeezes her hand back.

“I also want… to talk to Dani, before going forward with anything.”

Celia: “I’ll get in touch with her.”

GM: “Savoy’s watching her, isn’t he? That’s what I’d do.”

Celia: “Yes. To prevent a breach of the Masquerade, but…”

GM: “Yeah. Okay, so the moment that happens, we’re basically out of time, and he’s going to expect results from you.”

Roderick thinks. “Maybe it’s… better if I don’t talk with her. At least in the city.”

Celia: “Would she have a reason to distrust ‘Celia?’”

GM: “I don’t think so. You two seemed to get along okay, back when… before we got turned.”

Celia: “I just meant, like… after we, um, broke up. If you said anything negative that would make her not want to talk to me.”

GM: “Uh. Well…”

“You could tell her I’m not actually dead. That probably earns a lot of forgiveness.”

“Well, dead dead.”

Celia: “That bad, eh?”

She shouldn’t be surprised.

She isn’t, really.

GM: “I wasn’t trying to badmouth you. I was just… she saw how horrible I felt. What a total mess I was. And she obviously doesn’t know the full story.”

Celia: “It’s okay. Maybe she’ll follow me out of anger and I can get her alone.”

GM: “We just need to do this carefully. Depending how this goes… you’re going to look incompetent to Savoy at best, or traitorous if we mishandle everything.”

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s a long shot. I haven’t even talked to Ayame, maybe Texas isn’t an option.”

Roderick slaps his head.

“Oh, wait. I’m such an idiot.”

“Coco knows licks outside the city, too. I might be able to go to for help with this. Hell, she knows licks in Texas too.”

Celia: “For a thin-blood?”

GM: Roderick’s face sinks again. “That’d be…”

“Honestly, if Ayame can’t do anything either, I think it’d be… a gamble.”

“Look. Elders, they basically all hate thin-bloods. I mean, Savoy doesn’t pursue active genocide, but he treats them like shit. Relegates them to the worst parts of the Quarter. Crams them in like sardines.”

“Coco’s…”

“She doesn’t say anything hateful about them, I think because they’re so arm in arm with the Anarchs now. I mean, if you talk to her, you might even walk away thinking she’s all for duskborn equality.”

“But she’s just… I’m around her a lot. She’s cooler about them. Definitely cooler. In this really understated way you might not notice, if you didn’t know her as well as me. It’s the same way she gets when…

“Look, there’s this passage from A Tale of Two Cities, about this aristocrat whose carriage runs over a little boy and kills him. The father runs up, screaming and crying as he’s cradling the body, ‘You killed my boy! You killed my boy!’”

“The aristocrat doesn’t even care. He’s just annoyed his carriage got stopped and he’s been delayed from getting to where he’s going. The Third Estate, the common people, were like bugs to him.”

“I’ve talked about that passage with Coco. She says Dickens was better at writing about London than Paris. But she said he got that part completely, 100% right. Just the sheer contempt the nobles held for the common people, the utter disregard for their lives and dignity.”

“And she says the Revolution wasn’t the country going ‘crazy’ or violent revolutions being somehow specifically endemic to France. She says the amount of violence and terror and bloodshed during the Revolution was simply the natural human response to people being suffocated under such unbearable tyranny for so long and wanting payback.”

“She says that how it played out wasn’t perfect, but that it was superior to the Ancien Régime. That anything would’ve been superior to the Ancien Régime.”

“I’m getting a little off-track. She’s fascinating to listen to about this stuff. I mean, she saw all this history unfold during her lifetime.”

“But, my point was, when we were talking about that noble whose carriage ran over the little boy… she got this cool look in her eyes. It was really hitting home for her.”

“And… it’s the same look she sometimes gets, when thin-bloods come up.”

“This coolness. This faint, but almost instinctive disgust.”

Celia: “People revolt when they taste something better and are then forced to go back to what they knew before. If they never know any different, they don’t think to ask for something more. Like a battered woman who thinks she’s getting what she deserves. But a whole people who get that taste of something else, who for a moment it is better? That’s the boiling point. That’s what causes revolt. Historically speaking.”

“But… yeah, I mean, I can’t imagine that any elder is a fan of them, but if she doesn’t get out… the Quarter is safe, at least, and we can minimize the amount of people who know who she is, and get her some decent place to feed so she’s not struggling to just survive.”

GM: “I guess that battered woman example hits a little close to home.”

“Coco says it was a combination of financial crisis, famine, France having helped the American Revolution, and times simply changing while the Ancien Régime kept trying to live like it was still the Middle Ages. I’m sure she could list even more factors. Events that big don’t ever have simple causes.”

Celia: “She’s probably right about those first reasons. I’d need to brush up on my French history. I wasn’t there, of course, or in any of the other places where they revolt.”

GM: “I don’t know why she’d feel that way about thin-bloods, anyway. I don’t know what thin-bloods have done to her. I don’t know what they even could’ve done to her. I think they only really started popping up in the ’90s.”

Celia: “One of the first presidents said something to the effect of Americans needing to have a revolution every 8 or 12 years to make sure the government doesn’t become corrupt.”

GM: “Different age now, but I don’t know that he’s completely wrong.”

Celia: “Have you talked to her about why she dislikes them so much? Or why they all seem to?”

GM: “I sure have. Didn’t get anywhere.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“I could try with Savoy, maybe. See if it sheds some light on them. Maybe he’d be willing to talk to me about it. Or Lebeaux, he knows a lot about random stuff.”

GM: “Well, unless he likes you more than Coco likes me, I dunno how much you’re gonna get out of him. But I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

Celia: “Worst case scenario he tells me nothing and we’re back to where we are now.”

GM: “True. I mean, if I thought Coco wanted to help Dani, things could look a lot different.”

Celia: “Want me to call up the sheriff? See if he wants to explain? Hey buddy so I heard you don’t like thin-bloods.”

GM: “Ha ha. Maybe we should call up your dad and ask him why he beats women, too.”

Celia: “Oh, I found his stash of paraplegic porn actually.”

GM: “Wow, morbid.”

Celia: Celia thinks she’s funny.

GM: She once heard a ghoul somewhere say you should let other people tell you you’re funny. Wise ghoul.

“But who the hell knows, maybe it even is a partly sexual thing.”

Celia: That ghoul sounds like she has a stick up her ass.

“Oh. So there’s this girl. Who is like… a hacker or something. And she thinks that all the politicians in the city are involved in a city-wide sex ring. And she told me my mom was a sex slave. And I was like… what?”

GM: “That’s pretty crazy-sounding, but so’s a lot of the Requiem.”

Celia: “I thought she was pretty crazy at the time.”

GM: “You think there is a sex ring?”

Celia: “Oh, I dunno, she also told me that wearing makeup makes me a sex addict and that Pangloss is putting chemicals in their products. It was real weird.”

GM: “Well, you probably know better than me about makeup, but I’ve heard some pretty disturbing stuff about those companies.”

Celia: “Like what?”

GM: “That they perform torturous experiments on animals as part of product development. There was another story I heard about a Pangloss plant spilling toxic chemicals in the local town’s water supply.”

“But, really, I guess that’s all par for course in corporate America.”

Celia: “A lot of companies test on animals. They say it’s safer than testing on humans, but they do some shady things. And even if a company doesn’t, there’s a chance their parent company does. Like in cosmetics, in order to sell in China, you have to do product testing on animals.”

“So all these companies say they’re ‘vegan’ or ‘cruelty-free’ but they sell in China so you know they’re full of shit.”

GM: “Geez. There’s a lot wrong in the U.S., but China can really be something else. They’re definitely the greater evil.”

Celia: “I mean it’s a huge market, but people just… lie about it, or use general ignorance. I mean most people don’t know that thing about China, but then you can say the same thing about anything, really.”

GM: “Yeah. The deeper you dig into anything, the more rot and corruption you find.”

“Just ask me about all the places the Mafia has its tentacles wrapped around. Or don’t, if you’d rather not think about the ways humans can be monsters just as awful as us.”

Celia: “I already know firsthand that humans can be monsters,” she says quietly, “but I’m happy to listen to you tell me about it.”

GM: “I know you know. I said spend time thinking about it.”

“Don’t you want to take down your dad, by the way? Like I said, he’s had two election cycles since you were turned.”

Celia: “He wants to see me. My dad. Logan told me.”

She blurts the words out in a rush, like she can’t contain them inside herself.

“Said that he’s ‘proud of me’ for what I did with my business.”

GM: Roderick gives that a look.

Celia: “I know.”

GM: “Your dad’s a despicable human being. He’s a worse monster than a lot of vampires. Sheriff’s the only one who immediately jumps to mind as worse.”

Celia: “He is. I know he is. I know. I hate him. Like. Just. So much. I hate him.”

“But when he said that… God, I just… I just want a dad sometimes. And it’s so stupid. And I know that. And I’m just trying to figure out how to leverage this.”

GM: “Count your blessings,” Roderick says quietly. “I’ve got a mom and dad, but… well. You’re lucky to have the family you do with Emily, Lucy, and your mom. Plus all those brothers and sisters, even if you aren’t as close to them.”

Celia: She winces. “Sorry. I… you’re right. Of course you’re right.”

GM: “Well, my mom also didn’t try to saw off my dad’s leg and regularly beat him bloody, so you have that going against you.”

Celia: “And yeah, Roderick, I do want to take him down, I’m just…”

She doesn’t want to go up against her sire. She doesn’t want him to have a reason to come after her. I won’t show leniency again, he’d said. If killing her is leniency, what isn’t?

GM: “Just what? Because of the sheriff?”

Celia: She nods.

GM: “I don’t have a good answer there. But I know Savoy hasn’t seemed to help.”

Celia: “I brought that up to him recently.”

GM: “I’d like to see how he took that.”

Celia: “Preston said something like of course he wants to take down his rival’s pawns, and he just kind of waved it off because it didn’t go well last time. And I just feel like I’m supposed to come up with and execute a plan on my own. Or something.”

GM: “At least with the Mafia, Coco’s said she’ll help me, but she won’t do it for me.”

Celia: “That’s what I meant, yeah. I haven’t pushed for it as hard as I could have, I guess that’s on me.”

GM: “Well, if you come up with a plan, I’d love to help too. Your dad’s as awful as any mob boss.”

Celia: “What do you plan with the Mafia? Can I help?”

GM: Roderick rubs his head. “It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I got… distracted.”

“That sounds so stupid, I know. But it’s just such a big endeavor and there’s always more Kindred things demanding attention.”

Celia: “No, I get it. That’s kind of… I mean, like you said, I haven’t moved against Maxen either.”

“Maybe we can make a plan together.”

GM: “I’d like that. Help us both destroy our respective monsters.”

Celia: Her thumb traces circles across the back of his hand.

“I think we’ll give them something to finally worry about.”

GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder.

“Yeah.”

Celia: It’s natural to let her head fall onto his shoulder. To scoot closer to him so he doesn’t need to lean to put his arm around her. She should have had this. All this time, she should have had this. They should have had this. She won’t mess it up again. Even if they don’t do anything more than this—even if they never get together—she can be his friend, at least, or ally, or something.

Maybe that can be enough. Make up for all the wrongs she’s ever done. Help him take down his demons.

“I missed you,” she finally says. The words are halting, like she doesn’t trust him not to throw them back in her face, but she says them anyway. “So much.”

GM: They’re not the first time she’s said them.

He doesn’t answer, immediately, but holds her close. She can’t feel his heart beating, and there’s no warmth to his skin, but if there’s one thing her kind are good at, it’s surviving without warmth.

Or maybe they’re not any good at it. Maybe they just don’t have any chance, and that’s why everything has to be horrible.

But it feels good, just to lean against her man, head on his shoulder.

Or whatever he now is.

“I’m sorry I got mad at you for telling the truth,” he says.

Outside, it’s starting to rain. Celia can hear the steady patter-patter against the windows.

Celia: She almost tells him that it’s fine.

She swallows the words instead. It isn’t fine. But it’s over, and they’re here now, and that’s what counts. That’s what has to count. Not years-old aches and pains.

“I shouldn’t have lied. It was wrong of me. Everything I did… it was wrong. I’m sorry.”

GM: “Coco said to me, once, that it’s unfair to say Kindred are creatures of the past.”

“Maybe we are, on some level.”

“But we’re also creatures of unlimited potential. Because we have forever. We don’t run out of time, at least naturally. We can always reinvent ourselves.”

“We can always be something else, something better, tomorrow.”

Celia: “That night, she and I talked. And I asked her if it was ridiculous to think that love exists between Kindred. If I’m searching for something, chasing something, that will never happen.”

GM: “What’d she say?”

Overhead, the rain falls and plunks.

Celia: “That it’s hard. Rare. The exception rather than the rule.”

“But that it can happen.”

GM: “That’s better than never. That’s hope.”

Celia: It’s not what she wants to hear. She nods, though, because she isn’t ready to push him, and he isn’t ready to be pushed.

GM: He looks up at the ceiling. Holds her close.

“Celia, I…”

He seems to waver for a moment, then says, “She was complicit. I’ve been complicit.”

“In what happened. That massacre.”

The words seem to leave him smaller. Hollow.

Celia: She nestles against him. She doesn’t breathe, doesn’t blink, doesn’t let the forced beat of her heart betray her. She just listens. Waits. When he pauses, she gives him a gentle prompting, voice hardly louder than the rain outside the window.

“How?”

GM: “She… god, Celia. I shouldn’t be talking about this. My dad said to me, when you tell secrets that aren’t yours, you’re telling anyone who hears them that you can’t be trusted.”

“But I can’t, I can’t keep this to myself. I can’t not… not confess.”

“So I’m an accomplice if I say nothing, and I’m untrustworthy if I do. Lose-lose either way.”

Celia: She lifts her head enough to touch a hand to his cheek, to meet his eyes. “I don’t think you’re untrustworthy because you unburden your conscience.”

GM: “But what about revealing things I’ve been trusted with, in confidence?”

“It’s the cornerstone of attorney-client privilege. What lets everyone get fair counsel and representation under the law.”

Celia: “I trust you. I trusted you back then, and I trust you now. If you hear something… if it’s better to talk about it than hold it in… even if it hurts, isn’t it better to let it go? You told me that, once. You’d rather know the truth. You don’t want the beautiful lies.”

She puts it into her voice. The pain she’d felt at betraying him all those years ago. The ache she’s carried since. Losing him. Telling him she’d trusted him all those years ago only for him to turn on her in a moment of rage. Telling her that he could forgive her and then beating her into a bloody, messy pulp instead. The fear she’d felt when she’d opened the door this evening—had to be fear, didn’t it? Asking—begging—him not to hit her. All those steps she’d taken to keep her home from getting ruined and he’d done it anyway, forcing her to hide from him. But here she is, on the couch with him, wrapped in his arms, close enough that a simple squeeze could immobilize her. Offering herself to him anyway, despite the things that he has done, despite what he could do.

It’s an old tactic. The old manipulation: to hit him where it hurts. To find his shame and play it up. And she knows what shames him. She leans into it. They’ve come this far. Gotten this much. Every word, every action this evening has been to wrap him further around her fingers, to bring him to this confession. The mask she wears for Roderick: trusting, naive, helpless. The Beauty to her Beast. And how well she plays that card, how well that mask covers up the lie within.

Trust, she tells him.

GM: He stares up at the ceiling. Listens to the rain. Maybe tries to listen to his conscience. Or just look for his conscience.

But Celia’s there to say:

That’s me.

“She knew it was coming.”

His voice is quiet.

“She and Opal.”

“That Vidal wanted to butcher as many thin-bloods in one place as he could. Because that’s how it works, with him. Change the system from within.”

“Well, you don’t get to do that without being part of the system. You want him to do something for you, you have to do something for him. Way of the world.”

Celia: She keeps her voice clear of judgment. Neutral. Like the face that she puts on for him—though she is tucked against him and he cannot see it anyway, her mask is on. No anger. No sadness. Nothing but compassion for the position that he’s in. Difficult, to stand by and watch them be slaughtered.

“Did you know?” she asks him.

GM: “Before it happened… no. God, no. I don’t know if I could’ve… if I could’ve just done nothing.”

“And she told me that. Why she didn’t tell me. That my spirit was admirable, that I was a good person, why she Embraced me, and all that.”

“But that I still had a lot to learn about how the world worked. About the way things really are, the invisible axis the world turns on.”

“She said it was horrible. Acknowledged it. Though I don’t know if she really meant that, or was just saying it for me. I’ve seen that look in her eyes, that they give her.”

“She said it was horrible, but that it was the only way forward for the Anarchs. That it would’ve happened with her or without her. That Vidal could’ve found someone else to turn coat, even if she hadn’t slipped him all the details of the meeting. That he probably already had found someone else to do that, just to be sure she was being honest with him. Hell, she said that’s what she’d have done if she were Vidal, to be totally sure her Anarch informant was being honest.”

“She said Vidal would’ve sent the sheriff, scourge, and all the others to go wipe out the thin-bloods anyway. And even if there wasn’t a meeting, he’d have just done sweep after sweep through Mid-City to get as many as he could.”

“And I told her I didn’t accept that, that you can always do something. If the Nazis demand Jews, do you just turn them over? How does history judge the collaborators over the people who fought back and sacrificed their lives? How can anyone say they’d rather not be one of those heroes than a collaborator? Saying ‘it would’ve happened anyway’ is making excuses.”

Celia: “You weren’t complicit.” Her words are quiet but certain. “You weren’t complicit if you didn’t know. You stood up against them all. You’re not a collaborator.”

GM: “I… I’ll get to that.”

“She told me the comparison was bullshit, essentially. She said thin-bloods weren’t innocent Jews, they were vampires, they had blood on their hands just like us. She said the Camarilla weren’t the Nazis, and that its existence and the Masquerade and the vampiric population control it enforces is a positive good for humanity. She said that the problems with the Camarilla and its leadership were eternal, not like a breather Hitler who’d just get old and die someday.”

“And she said the good we do can also be eternal, and that older Kindred who could effect real change couldn’t throw away their unlives irresponsibly. That they had to judge where they could do the most good where they could, otherwise they’d do no good at all.”

“There was… there was more to it. More reasons. More rationales. Maybe you can think of some of them. She’s convincing. Really convincing. There’s a reason the Anarchs all look up to her as a leader.”

“And I think she really does care about them, about the Anarch cause, not like some other elder who’s completely selfish. She really does want to make the world a better place and Kindred society more egalitarian.”

“I mean, how do you argue with that? With someone who’s really and truly convinced they’re doing the right thing?”

“But I guess that’s stupid, because who actually thinks they’re doing the wrong thing and does it anyway. Even Vidal probably thinks he’s doing the right thing.”

Celia: “Some people know. They know and don’t care because it’s easy or convenient.”

GM: “I think they’re a minority. I hope they’re a minority. Even mob bosses can think what they’re doing is right in their own twisted way.”

Celia: The people who know and don’t do anything differently aren’t usually the ones in charge. They’re the ones following orders. Like Roderick.

But she doesn’t say it. She just runs a hand down his back, squeezes the other. I’m here, that touch says.

GM: “She just said this is how it works, if you want to work with Vidal. It’s all in or all out with him. You can’t get something for nothing.”

“She says a bunch of neonates try that with elders. They flatter them and offer to be their ‘ear to the ground’ or some other bullshit. To make noise about supporting them but not really do anything more than hang around and expect patronage and support. She calls it ‘selling hot air.’”

“But that doesn’t work with Vidal, or any elder. You want anything from them, you have to fucking pay your way.”

“So, she helped. For all those reasons and a whole bunch more. Skipped town when it happened. Would’ve eroded her and Opal’s authority with the Anarchs if the sheriff did all that while they stood by and watched, wouldn’t it?”

“Hell, the whole thing even enhanced their authority. Any Anarch can point to it and say, ‘look what happens when the big mama and big sister aren’t here to stick up for us!’”

“God, I just think how it would’ve played out. If she and Opal were there and didn’t just let the sheriff do what they did. They could’ve rallied everyone. We already outnumbered the Sanctified, and to have two serious heavy hitters on our side…”

“I just think how it could’ve gone. I’ve poured over it. So many things that could’ve gone differently.”

“And… and you should’ve heard what it was like, at the next Cabildo meeting. The elders were fucking celebrating. All talking about how pleased they were with the sheriff, how neat and clean the whole slaughter was, how the Anarchs were all nice and cowed and reminded of their place. You should have just heard all the things they were saying. It was unbelievable.”

Celia: She’d been right. Opal and Coco, she’d been right. The paper confirmed it, and now her childe as well. She doesn’t pull away. He needs strength now, not gloating, not sneering. Gentle understanding to get him through the worst of it. Are there adequate words? She can’t think of any. She just looks at him, long and solemn, hurt in her eyes. For him. For carrying this burden for so long.

“You did everything you could. They would have killed you, too.”

GM: He closes his eyes for a moment.

“But I’ve kept quiet about it. I haven’t said, done, anything. I’m there for every meeting, taking notes, listening to them.”

“I don’t think Coco and Opal said aloud they helped it happen, because what does that gain them. But the other elders aren’t stupid. All of them are smart, duplicitous, cynical. I think they all know. Except maybe Hurst, but he’s not a real elder.”

“And they’re all 100% behind the continued sweeps and purges. That’s one of the big reasons they don’t do anything about Caitlin Meadows. Because sure, she’s a mad dog off her leash, but she still goes after as many thin-bloods as she can, and they’re all happy with that. Happy with how many she kills.”

“All of that’s going on. And they help. They volunteer intelligence, strategies, recommendations. They pass it on to Maldonato to pass down to the sheriff. It’s still going on.”

“And I’m complicit.”

Celia: It smolders in her mind. Satisfaction. That she’d been right. This whole time. People think she’s stupid—he, apparently, thinks she’s stupid—but she’s right. Always. When it comes to other people, she’s always right. She’s made mistakes, and those weigh heavily on her, but she’s not some dumb air-head, she’s not just an image-obsessed Toreador and social media influencer. Even mistakes have been spun into victories.

She’d been right about the Calbido the first time around, too. When she’d said that he was keeping secrets that the city deserves to know. That night in the car—she’d been right, and he had tried to lie to her, but she had known. Had let him win the battle. He hadn’t trusted her then, and she wonders at this sudden trust he shows now, if he is more coy than he seems. A lawyer presenting a poisoned gift. Misinformation. She doesn’t think so. His concern for his sister is real. His surprise that night had been real. That night the horror had been too fresh, perhaps.

Already she thinks of how to spin this. How to protect her own assets—protect him, because even after all this time she aches for him—her own end game, while furthering those of whom she serves.

She doesn’t let it distract her from the boy in her arms. She draws him in, lets him lay his head upon her breast, presses her lips to his temple. Her fingers are feather-light, sliding through his hair, down his neck, his back. Long, slow, stroking movements. They are the same that she ends her tablework with, they calm the body and bring everything to a nice close. Kindred might not have that same physiological response, but Roderick surely has memories that this sort of touch evokes: skinned knees as a child, comfort after losing his grandfather, the months of practice she had gotten in on him before her Embrace. The body holds memories and she summons them now with her fingers and hands, taking him back to a better time. A more innocent time.

She is quiet for a moment. Lets her touch work on him. Lets him take comfort from it, if he does, or stew in his emotions. His guilt and shame and grief over his own action—or there lack of. It is not a judgmental, uncomfortable silence. It is a contemplative silence. I hear you, that silence says, I’m here for you, I’ll help you.

A beat. Two. Three. Long enough that he knows she thought about her next words, that she considered what he said and her own response rather than blurting out the first thing to come to mind, that she does not offer an empty platitude.

“I understand your pain, Roderick. I understand how you feel, and why you feel. But knowing about the sword… that does not mean you swung it. You cannot blame yourself for the actions of other people. Those who died at that first massacre, that is not on you. The order came down from Vidal. From the Camarilla at large. His minions carried it out. Others stood aside, or made a stand, or did what they thought was right even if it wasn’t.”

“You tried. You stood up. You were the vocal minority. Your Blood saved you, yes, and think of… think of how good that is now. What you can do, how you can change things. You said to me once how we need to learn from the past. That it informs our future, our present. So we take this, and we go forward. We can’t get anywhere in our unlives if we stare in the rear-view mirror, but it is there for a reason.”

Unless there’s more. Her voice does not betray her, but the question is there all the same. Unless there’s more you haven’t gotten to yet, unless you are an active participant and not a bystander.

The rain lashes against the windows. How well the night reflects her own moods, she thinks, that the heavens cry when she cannot, that they weep for her and the boy in her arms. Boy, because he was innocent once, though their kind no longer subscribes to such things. Lick, then. Kindred. Rain sent to echo her own sentiments. Rain to wash away the stains of their souls, perhaps. Or a darker omen yet. Had it rained the night of her Embrace? Within the arms of her sire nothing touched her, nothing but his lips at her throat, her mind inside of his. Safe, despite the horror she found lurking. Safe, despite her death at his hands. Their souls touched that night. More of her innocence drained away. She shed her mortal coils.

Is this evening, too, a turning stone for him? A dark, spiraling stair that will lead him down a path from which he can never return? She is the sire, then, sent to guide him down. Savoy compared her once to Aphrodite, but perhaps she is Charon, and this his river Styx.

GM: Roderick can’t sigh under her touch, at least not without forcing it. Some parts of the flesh stay dead after they die. But he looks relaxed. Content to close his eyes and lie there against her, perhaps remembering those same earlier times as Celia’s practiced fingers works her magic. Evening study sessions at his place with junk food, some with actual studying, and head for massages. It was a good trade.

For a while they just lie there as rainfall beats against the windows in dull, tearful plunks. Solitary rowers along their River Styx.

There’s worse analogies for the already dead.

“So, say we get out Danielle. Then… what? I just stay with Coco? Keep taking notes every meeting at the Cabildo nothing’s happening? Should I even be this worked up about duskborn when they’re still vampires?”

“There’s so much about Coco I respect, that I look up to. She’s done so much for me. I know I’ve wound up with as good a sire as any lick could ask for, in so many different ways.”

“I believe in her vision. I want to help it succeed.”

“But as much as I hate to admit it… Vidal is a greater evil than Savoy. He just is, in so many ways.”

“And I wonder if Coco made a huge mistake a hundred years ago, and the real reason she’s still with Vidal is that it’s too late to reverse course without destroying everything she’s built.”

“So if get out Dani… then what? What’s the right thing to do next?”

Celia: “I was going to ask you,” Celia says quietly, “why she stayed with him. After the massacre. After the trial. What keeps her there when… I know he’s not the ideal ruler, but to displace the prince… She has that sway, I think.”

GM: “What, overthrow the prince?”

Celia: “Or defect. Switch sides. I just… from everything you’ve told me, I don’t understand.”

GM: “She can’t overthrow Vidal. He’s too strong. And she doesn’t believe violent Kindred revolutions ultimately lead anywhere good, even if they succeed.”

“Savoy’s been trying to woo her for a long time, anyway. She says she doesn’t trust him. That with Vidal, you’re at least dealing with a known evil. A predictable evil. Because he’s guided by an actual ideology and follows it even when it’s politically inconvenient.”

Celia: “Do you think that’s all it is?”

GM: “She says if you really make an effort understand the Sanctified, don’t just dismiss their dogma as a bunch of fundamentalist bullshit, you can understand Vidal. And that in the long run, having a prince you can predict and plan around is the important thing. It’s what’s let her establish everything we have in Mid-City, and that really is a lot. Vidal used to just kill or exile Anarchs wherever he found them.”

“But with Savoy, she says he’s not motivated by anything besides political convenience. That he doesn’t give a shit about ideology or anything else, except what’s best for Savoy. And that’s always going to shift, depending on the current landscape.”

“I guess that makes sense enough, though it’s not impossible there could be more. She doesn’t tell me everything.”

“But right now, even if she were to defect, I think it might be too late. Because Veronica did first.”

“And no offense to your sire, but… I don’t think she has the Anarchs’ best interests at heart. Or really anyone’s besides her own.” A pause. “She raped you.”

Celia: Celia forces air through her nose. It might be a huff. Or a laugh.

“She looks out for herself,” she agrees. “But that doesn’t mean Coco can’t also switch.”

GM: “Yeah, and say she does, what kind of welcome do you think she’s going to get from Veronica, from Savoy, from the Anarchs who already have?”

Celia: “Veronica sneers at everyone. That’s nothing new. But if Savoy has been pursuing Coco… could be there’s something there to look into at least.”

Not that Coco is simply going to defect because of a sales pitch.

GM: “Yeah? Think about it some more. Veronica’s #1 among the Anarchs on Savoy’s side. Coco shows up, but she’s used to being #1 with Opal. Can you guess where that might go?”

“And then there’s Savoy. Coco will have less leverage over him. Less clout. She’s late to the party. Missed the chance to get in on the ground floor.”

Celia: “I know. Maybe you’re right. I just… it was just wishful thinking, I guess. That you and I…”

GM: “It’s just… big-shot Kindred like her, you can’t convert with just a sales pitch. Something needs to actually happen to shift the landscape for them.”

“Like Matheson using your sister as his, I guess sex slave. That’s what moved Veronica.”

Celia: Her mouth flattens into a line.

“Yeah,” she says coldly.

GM: He frowns. “Sorry, did I say something wrong?”

Celia: “No. That whole thing. That he got off. It’s bullshit.”

GM: “100%. He was guilty as fuck. Vidal just didn’t want to admit another blue blood did anything wrong.”

Celia: “He fucked with her, and then he… He fucked with her mind.”

GM: “Were you and Ryllie that close? I know you were on opposite sides.”

“I mean, I know Veronica’s cut her completely out.”

Celia: “We got along. Veronica made sure of it. Didn’t want her childer fighting or showing anything less than a unified front. Bad reflection on her, she said. And… yeah, I mean, I liked her. I would have been right there with you guys if things hadn’t… you know.”

“Even if we hadn’t been. No one deserves that.”

GM: Roderick looks surprised. “Huh. Didn’t expect that when she has such a shitty relationship with her sire and grandsire.”

“But… yeah. I’m sorry, too. But I don’t know if you could’ve done anything.”

Celia: “I’m not my sire, though. Not my father. Not my mother. She’s isolated a lot of people with her venom, but I try to not let that affect my relationships with them. It’s just burning bridges for no reason.”

“Honestly, I wonder if the prince let him off because he does the same thing.”

GM: “Of course he did. They all do. Donovan would’ve ashed me if it weren’t for my sire.”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “Don’t tell me you’re surprised. I mean, he said so.”

Celia: “That all of them…” She thinks they might be talking about different things.

GM: “All of them what?”

Celia: “I thought you meant all the elders use neonates like that. I was just kind of being catty and then you were like ‘they all do.’ But that isn’t what you meant.”

Is it?

Oh fuck. Is it?

GM: He might blink, if he were alive. “Oh. No, I didn’t mean that. I thought you meant just judge every neonate on who their sire is.”

“They couldn’t all do that, what Matheson did. Just… no way.”

Celia: “But… but him? The prince?” She’s afraid to say his name. Afraid to speak too loudly, even here, about something this blasphemous. Her snide, off-hand remark… it can’t possibly be… She swallows.

“You say ‘all’ like you think there are others.”

GM: “Somewhere, out there, absolutely. Of course there’s more. In New Orleans… I dunno.”

“I hope not.”

“If there are any, they’re better at hiding it than Matheson.”

Celia: “I kept thinking about doing something ridiculous. Like going to him and letting him do it to me so I could show them what he does, that it’s all true, that they’re covering for him.”

GM: “That’s way too dangerous,” Roderick says sharply. “Matheson knows Vidal can’t bail him out twice. He’d be on guard, he’d kill you if he thought for a moment, for a moment-”

Celia: “I know that.” His concern is touching, though.

GM: “Okay. I just don’t want that to happen to you. I see how fucked up Ryllie still is.”

Celia: Celia’s gaze softens. “Does she talk about it at all?”

GM: “Sure, for a while. She wouldn’t shut up about it. How great Matheson is, how completely innocent, how she wants to see him again so bad.”

Celia: “And now?”

GM: “I started going apeshit over it. That finally made her stop.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“Sometimes I think we need lick therapists or something. Go through shit like that.”

GM: “I hear there’s some who are Malks. Sounds safer just to go crazy by yourself.”

Celia: “Sometimes my clients treat me like a therapist. They just, like, unload. Divorce, fertility problems, nightmares, how much they hate their neighbors or mothers or bosses.” She shakes her head, smiles ruefully. “I should start charging them more.”

GM: “I remember. You told me all about how that’s a thing. I’m still a little amazed they say so much.”

“But I guess, what else do you do when you’re lying on a chair for hours around someone you never see anywhere else.”

“Do your family do that at all, when you’re working on them, or does it only really happen with people who are pure clients?”

Celia: “Both. Mom talks a lot when I work on her, Emily usually falls asleep. She needs it, though. Final year of med school and all. A lot of times it’s clients, but I see them so often it’s almost like we’re friends sometimes. Like I could tell you what they’re in school for and who is dating who and what their kids are up to, and I’ve been invited to a fair few events, and some of them get me birthday or Christmas presents.”

“If Piper and I trade she just talks my ear off the whole time. Really just depends on the person, I guess, if they’re more inclined to open up or not.” A brief pause. “We used to talk. Before you fell asleep. And drooled.” She sticks her tongue out at him.

Even that time he’d thought she was a stranger he’d talked.

“I think I still have my old table in the closet. If you want to relax and just take your mind off things for a bit.”

GM: “That’s sweet, with your clients. You can get to know people pretty intimately as a lawyer, but usually not in that same way.”

“And I did not drool!”

Celia: “Dude. You 100% did.”

GM: “Pics or it didn’t happen.”

Celia: “You snored, too.” Celia makes a chainsaw sound with her mouth, snorting in air.

GM: “I did not snore. I’m civilized.”

Celia: She laughs.

“All right. You’re right, actually.”

GM: “See? Law school was good for something,” he smirks.

“But as far as your table… that sounds great, but we also got side-tracked.” His face grows stiller as he pulls Celia closer. The rain’s steady patter fills the silence.

“Assuming everything with Dani goes off without a hitch… what do you think the right thing is for me to do, with Coco?”

“I didn’t want to… well, betray her, but I can’t accept or condone Vidal’s regime. It’s been getting worse and worse.”

Celia: It’s a sobering question. The laughter in her eyes dies, and her mouth pulls down at the corners. She tucks herself against him, head on his shoulder, arms around his neck, taking and offering what comfort she can from the closeness of their bodies. It’s not the same to some—a lot of licks don’t like being touched—but to her it’s as natural as anything else, and their history together… she hopes it’s helping him, too.

“It has been getting worse.” Even shielded from the worst of it, she knows how bad it’s getting. “If you want to make a change… it’s not betrayal, Roderick, not if she’s not doing the right thing. You can help so many people. Everyone in this city. All the thin-bloods. The Caitiff. Anyone who has ever been hunted down by Donovan or Meadows.”

“No one deserves to die because of an accident of Embrace. That’s like saying someone should be put down because they’re black. Or half black. Or Jewish.”

GM: Maybe it’s not a question of being touched or not. Just by who.

He shifts, running one arm along her neck and shoulders, hooks the other around her back.

“But it’s being a traitor. A Quisling. Stabbing her in the back, when she’s counting on me. Been so much to me.”

Celia: “It’s not. It’s doing the right thing in the face of adversity. It’s not like you’re going to literally stab her in the back, it’s not like she’s going to suffer or be overthrown or taken down from power.”

“Once things change… once things change we just, we adapt.”

GM: “Is it? I mean, Vidal’s going to konk out, soon. That’s going to change everything.” His brow furrows. “I think you have a really… a really rosy view of what the city’s going to look like, if you don’t think any licks are going to die. Or that Coco’s going to be immune, if she backs the losing side.”

“There are lots of organisms that die if they can’t adapt. We tend to forget that part of natural selection.”

Celia: “I don’t think no one’s going to die. I just… I think you’re being overly pessimistic about it, and you’re conflicted because you care about Coco, and you don’t want to hurt her. And that’s admirable. It really is. But just… you said yourself she made a mistake. And she’s helping them exterminate people. People like us. People like your sister.”

“If you’re worried about it getting back to her…” She lifts her hand momentarily, shoving it through the curls that crowd her face. “I told you that I will always, always have your back. That if you’re in trouble I’ll be there for you. And if you need a fall guy… fuck, Roderick, if you need a fall guy, what am I doing with my Requiem anyway?”

GM: “Look, I appreciate that, but… Celia, seriously, picture it!” Roderick exclaims. “We take the Traditions and Vidal’s peace for granted, but cities fall into civil war. It happens. There is no police force to keep all vampires playing nice with each other. The archons and justicars are too few to be everywhere at once. A lot of cities are on their own. It happened in Baton Rouge. Meeks didn’t just drive out Marcel, he killed a bunch of the old prince’s supporters too. It happened in Houston, when the Anarchs overthrew the Invictus and killed a bunch of them.”

“Coco says when that happens, even uninvolved licks take advantage of the violence to kill off rivals, settle old scores, or just get caught up in the bloodlust and lash out because it’s what everyone else is doing. A ‘Mardi Gras’ effect, where the whole city just goes crazy. And the winners usually don’t offer much quarter to the losers. They kill them to nip any future threats to their power in the bud. Or just to open up more domains and influence for themselves, because licks don’t ever get old and retire. There are a ton of licks who’ll have every reason to make a run at Coco. Your sire honestly being one of them.”

“Coco’s seen it happen, in Paris, where the bloodshed lasted for years. She was even there for it in Houston during Katrina. The fact we had that archon, North, show up last month should tell you how seriously licks are taking this.”

“I really don’t think you understand just how bad things could get.”

Celia: Maybe. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe her position as Savoy’s favorite grandchilde (she assumes) has kept her from the worst of it. Has left her free to pursue her various interests rather than getting into the thick and heavy of it. She struggled as a mortal, but here? No. She woke up on the lap of luxury here. She’s been privileged.

“Twenty-three people slaughtered in one night. Countless more dead at the sheriff’s hands, at Meadows’ hands, at Vidal’s hands, with all their sweeps and raids.”

She doesn’t need to say it. It’s the old conductor on a track problem: does he change course to the one he knows, or does he let hundreds be slaughtered in her stead?

GM: “Look, forget that right now! Celia, I need to hear you’re taking this seriously. That you have a plan in case things get that bad.”

“Because the primogen take it seriously. Especially recently, since the trial. They’ve talked about what they might do if things get to the point of open war.”

“And they say some of the heaviest fighting is likely to be in the Quarter. Because Savoy doesn’t actually hold a lot of physical territory, even if the Quarter is valuable real estate, and has crammed so many licks into the neighborhoods he does have.”

Celia: “…are you asking if I have a plan for me?”

GM: “Yes! If you know what you’re going to do if the worst happens, if the Quarter turns into a giant bloodbath!”

Celia: Oh.

Oh.

Somehow, she thought he wouldn’t give a fuck. That he doesn’t care.

She’s silent.

She doesn’t know what to say.

“I don’t have a detailed plan,” she finally admits.

GM: “Okay, well, you don’t need to feel bad about that. A lot of licks don’t. They just get swept up in the violence, or told to go fight by their elders. They’re also the ones who usually die.”

“So, with you, I don’t know how likely Savoy is to press-gang you into a war coterie. Because, well, I never got around to teaching you how to fight, and he might not think you can.”

“I should still do that. And you maybe shouldn’t tell him you know how, after I do.”

Celia: Would Savoy send her to die? Would he?

She doesn’t want to think it, but… it might be true. That they’d just send her off to fight as if she knows how. Neither one of them had cared that she’d almost died two days ago. She hasn’t even heard from her sire, and it was him she reached out to.

Is this why Savoy lets the thin-bloods and Caitiff into the Quarter? Because he’s planning for open war?

And she’s… as ignorant as her daddy used to say.

“Oh,” she says finally. Quietly. “Okay. I can… you’ll show me?”

GM: “Yes. I will. Obviously, it’s better if you don’t have to fight at all, but it could happen. Even if you’re doing your utmost to stay out.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to think about it. Doesn’t want to think about a horde of licks coming after her because of who she chose to back. Being torn apart in the streets. Staked and left for the sun. Heart ripped out. Soul cleaved from her body.

“I’m good at hiding,” she suggests, but even to her own ears the words sound… lame.

GM: “Okay, so if you want to hide out, that’s probably a good idea. There’s almost guaranteed to be fighting at the Evergreen.”

“Coco and most of the elders have secure bolt holes, around the city. Emergency havens no one else knows about, with provisions like blood, weapons, burner phones, survival gear. Plus food and toiletries for renfields. Places they can hide out if things turn ugly and their main hangouts get compromised. I don’t know where Coco’s is—better that way.”

“Some elders, I think, don’t have bolt holes, and just focus on making their main havens as secret, fortified, and well-stocked as possible.”

Celia: She cannot help but look around the room. This was supposed to be her secret haven. But Roderick knows. And her sire knows. And if they know—it’s possible to keep a secret, but only if the other two are dead.

She hadn’t thought about it. What it would mean if Vidal fell. Somehow, she’d thought she would be safe. It’s an error that could have cost her everything. Safe place. Supplies. She can start on that, at least. Perhaps more muscle to add to her retinue should, God forbid, Randy fall.

“You have a plan, right? For you?”

GM: “I guess you could say. I’ll be in one of those war coteries.”

Celia: Is her mouth always this dry?

“You can’t.”

GM: He shakes his head.

“Someone has to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Licks fight other licks. They can’t all sit out.”

“Wouldn’t be much of a war if everyone holed up in their havens.”

Celia: “You can’t.” She says it again, as if it will change his mind, as if her insistence has any bearing here. Her arms tighten around him. He can’t. He’ll die. She can’t lose him. Not again. Not after last time. She’d barely survived it then, and here he is talking about marching off to war. Maybe she says it out loud, that she can’t lose him, maybe she gets the words out around the ache in her jaw that makes it so hard to talk, the pressure in the corners of her eyes, the searing agony in the middle of her chest that makes it hard to even bring the air into her lungs so she can form the words.

GM: Roderick holds her close, but only shakes his head.

“This is how it is, Celia. My sire’s done a lot for me. I’ve enjoyed what a lot of licks would call significant privilege. But that isn’t free. My sire helps me out, so I have to help her out. And if things get to the point of open war, that’s when she’ll need me most.”

“And it’s not just her. If I jumped ship to Savoy, you can bet he’d expect me to fight his enemies, because I know how to fight.”

“And it’s not like I’m being press-ganged. If I acquit myself well, I’ll get rewarded. Coco says there’s usually lots of spoils to go around after a war. Just like if I turn tail and run, my name’ll be mud.”

“But for what it’s worth, if, things get to the point of open fighting, Coco said she won’t be sending me out to die in her name. She’ll fight beside me the whole time.”

“She fights her own battles, not like Vidal and Savoy. They’ll probably just hole up in Perdido House or the Evergreen and let the city’s neonates die for them.”

Celia: “If. If you do. If you win. If you don’t die. If someone doesn’t take your head off.”

She’s seen him move. A blur. A fucking blur. How do you fight a blur? You don’t. You can’t. It’s just there and then it’s not. And he’s not the only monster out there, not the only one that Roderick would be going up against.

She was that fast once, and even she was no match.

GM: “If all that happens…?”

Celua: “You said it. If. If is a… it’s a terrible word, Roderick, it’s a terrible, terrible word. Two letters but it changes everything.”

“What if you do. Sure. But what if you don’t? What if you don’t acquit yourself well because you’re dead? Because someone got to you? And I’m just supposed to—supposed to be okay with that?”

GM: He gives her a squeeze. “Well, I hope you’d be pretty sad for me, at first. But I also hope you’d learn to be okay and move on. What’s the alternative?”

Celia: Hunt down the person who killed him and make them pay. Rip them apart. With hand and claw and fang.

GM: “Now, look. All of what I’m describing might not happen,” he says assuringly. “It isn’t guaranteed. None of the elders want there to be war, for a whole bunch of reasons. It could cost them everything and elders hate taking risks that big. War is the worst case scenario.”

“But it is a possible scenario. That might be why the archon showed up, and why the elders are all preparing for it, just in case. And why I want you to prepare for it too.”

Celia: “What do you use to fight? Do you have a weapon?”

GM: “Don’t need one. I’m better at super-speed than super-strength, all that baseball practice I guess, but these things are as lethal as any stabbing instrument close up.” He holds up one of his hands. “I’ve done a lot of training, with Coco and other Anarchs.”

“I’m also a decent shot. Guns without serious stopping power are mostly useless against licks, but you never know. Still good for picking off renfields. So I’ve got a few firearms too.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. She holds up her own hand, her skin soft and supple, her nails painted in whorls of white and gold and pink, crystals dotted across them. She shows him her hand… and then the change happens. Her cuticles split. The keratin of her nails hardens. Lengthens. Becomes as sharp as any scalpel. Thick claws spring from the tips of her fingers, like a cat who has decided to finally attack the hand that rubs it. Beautiful claws, an ombre of black to red, with pointed tips that can sink into anything.

She holds it out so he can see. So he can touch. Test the sharpness for himself, if he wants.

“I can show you how.”

“Maybe they’re not good for every situation. But if it gives you an edge…”

GM: “Whoa, neat trick. I didn’t know you’d picked up morphing.”

He runs his fingers along the claws, holds them up experimentally, then smirks.

“They’re even pretty.”

Celia: “Everything I do is pretty.”

GM: “It sure is. Looks like I can show you how to fight and you can show me how to sprout claws.”

He thinks.

“They’re something I could keep in reserve. Useful if I’m pinned or on the ground and can’t leverage my full strength. Or just pop out when I’m really close to someone. Or surprise someone with them in the middle of a fight, if I suddenly change modes of attack.”

“Coco says all warfare is based on deception, like the book says, and that’s just as true in hand-to-hand fights as anywhere else.”

Celia: She waits until he’s done with them to let them sink back into her flesh. They disappear as if they had never been there, and once more her neatly manicured nails are in place.

“They have all sorts of uses. No one expects them, not really. It’s an easy trick, but an advantageous one. Like you said, deception.”

GM: “I think they expect them if you’re a Gangrel. But who does from a Brujah or Toreador?”

Celia: “Exactly.” She pauses a moment. Her hands are on his arm suddenly, pulling it from around her shoulder to across her lap. She unfastens the cuffs of his button-down shirt and slides the fabric to his elbow. Her hands splay across his forearm, the tip of her pink at his wrist, thumb extended as far as it can go. Her other hand completes the line, thumb touching to thumb, and only once the second hand is set in position does she move the first, lining it up with the crook of his elbow. She mouths a number.

Too tall. Not by much, but by too much for her to do anything with right now. She shakes her head. She’ll make another. More money. She’ll have to give the Nosferatu something besides money, then. Or borrow from Savoy. It won’t come cheaply. Maybe Pietro…? She’ll talk to him.

GM: Roderick looks puzzled, but lets her work. “What’s this for?”

Celia: “Protection.”

GM: “Okay.”

“Speaking of. How you turned into a cat earlier, you should take advantage of that if you get a safehouse. There’s all sorts of hard to find and hard to reach places a cat can get that a human can’t.”

“It’s a good form to sleep in during the day, too. Harder to stake a cat.”

Celia: “Easier to rip their heads off, though.”

She’d thought about that when he’d come charging at her earlier. How easy it would be for him to rip her apart.

“But yes. It’s useful for getting away from things and getting into things.”

GM: “It’s always better to avoid fights you don’t need. Cat form helps there.”

Celia: “I can’t sleep like that,” she admits. “I have to turn back eventually.”

“I could learn, maybe. I’ve heard it’s possible. That there are some Gangrel out there who spend more time as animals.”

She already knows how to cloak her Beast, too. She’d be just another house cat.

GM: “There’s a lot that is. If nothing else though, you could set up a a sleeping area somewhere that’s impossible to get into as a human, but easier as a cat.”

Celia: It’s something she’s been thinking about for a while, anyway.

“Yes,” she agrees, “I’m going to look into that.”

GM: “If you get an emergency haven, try not to have your real name attached to it. Well, names. Celia or Jade.”

Celia: Celia gives him a wry smile.

“This place has no name attached to it. I had a tutor once. Taught me a lot about the internet. How easy it is to track things like that. He could do some pretty scary things from a smartphone or a laptop. I try to remember what he taught me when it comes to safety.”

GM: “Okay, good. I was thinking more from a legal angle.” He thinks. “Does anyone else know about this place?”

Celia: “Oh. Explain.”

GM: “I just mean that’s what I’d do, if I were looking for someone. Try to run down as many things legally attached to their name as I could. There’s a ton of stuff you can find out about people through public records that lawyers know to look through, but a lot of people don’t.”

Celia: “That’s pretty creepy, to be honest. But also smart.”

“People think tech and records and everything are great, that we’re not giving away privacy, and sure sometimes it’s just to sell to advertisers. But then you’ve got people who really know how to look. How to dig. And it’s… it’s scary, sometimes, what someone can find out about you.”

GM: “It’s not as creepy as technology, honestly. Lot of those records have been around for a pretty long time. They’re not even that Orwellian. It is necessary to keep track of, say, what buildings are owned by what people.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll hire you to do some digging once this whole thing blows over. There’s some land I want to develop that I keep putting off.”

GM: “There’s a fair amount of overlap between legal work and investigative work. Law firms hire PIs for things all the time. I know a bunch of them.”

“What land is that?”

Celia: “It’s in the Quarter. Savoy gave me the domain and I haven’t done much with it. I keep thinking it could be… better.”

“I mean. If I still have it after this.”

GM: “Well, it’s impossible to say for sure when a war is going to happen, or if one is even going to happen at all. So I’d keep living your unlife.”

Celia: “I know that shmuck owns a lot of land but I never did any digging into what I have.”

“That chicken guy. T-shirt guy. You know who I mean.”

GM: “The T-Shirt Czar. Pavaghi.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Yeah, my dad doesn’t like him. I don’t like him.”

Celia: “Randy knows one of the kids. Said he’s a ‘total fucking scumbag douche with more money than brains’ and also a pig fucker.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “Also a decent bet someone that powerful has a lick behind them. No idea who it might be for Pavaghi, though.”

Celia: “Ah. Right. Well, I’m not looking to make enemies. Just develop some land.”

GM: “So you want to find out who owns it? You could actually probably do that yourself with some time on Google.”

Celia: “But then I don’t get to spend time with you.”

GM: “Ah, true. Guess the lawyer better handle it.”

Celia: She smiles at him. It’s a pretty smile, like the rest of her, and when she looks at him like that—with her face open and earnest—it’s easy to see the genuine emotion behind her eyes. Their kind are cool. Their bodies, their attitudes. But Celia has always been the exception to that rule. She’s warm where others are cold. Fire to their ice. She lets him see it: the affection. The yearning. Everything that has come up over the course of their conversation, every emotion that bubbled and gurgled, that she thought was long gone, dead and buried. She shows him.

GM: He runs a hand along her face and smiles. It looks like he needs it. Their kind may not get wrinkles, but Celia can see the weight and worry and internal struggle hanging heavy under his eyes. It’s an older sort of worry than a 31-year-old should have, and all the more out of place on his boyish college student features.

But the corners of his eyes do lift up, as he smiles at her smile.

“God, you can be so cute. In this earnest, direct, ‘yes I am cute’ way. It’s sweet and wholesome and good, and something worth protecting, and even being Kindred doesn’t take it away.”

“I think you get it from your mom. She’s really sweet, too. There’s just absolutely none of your dad in your face when you smile like that. I wouldn’t even think you were related to him.”

Celia: Her undead nature prevents her from blushing at his words. Her cheeks no longer burn like they used to, not without her consciously sending the blood there. But her lashes flutter and she leans into his hand, parting her lips to say—

Something. Something that’s cut off when he says what he does, cut off by a laugh.

“I’d hope not. ‘Jade’ shouldn’t look like either one of them.”

GM: “Your face might be different, but it’s like Coco says. Truth comes out.”

Celia: “Well I’m glad you think I’m still cute, at least. Even if you went on to compare me to my dad. Which is, decidedly, not sexy.”

“I knew a girl in grade school who people used to say looked like her dad, but then she’d come back with ‘I don’t have a mustache!’”

GM: “Ha. I wasn’t trying to be sexy, though. Beauty’s more than that.”

“Anyone can be sexy. But that smile, that kind of sweetness and inner beauty you can see shining out of someone’s face, that takes more.”

“You can’t fake that. Even though everyone wants to, wants to bottle it up and sell it and market it, but they can’t. It’s genuine.”

“I guess I’m ‘clansplaining,’ though.” He chuckles. “You’re the beauty experts.”

Celia: He thinks she’s sweet? That her beauty is inside and not just on the surface? Maybe it’s because he doesn’t know what she’s done. The terrible, terrible—

No. She’s not going to go down that line of thought. She’s not going to ruin this moment.

“Sometimes,” she says after a moment, “people tell me I’m pretty, and I just kind of… I mean, you know, like it’s just something people say, mindless flattery. But when you say it…” she touches a hand to her chest. “I feel it. And it just… makes me feel like I could fly, or something.”

GM: “Well, that’s what words should do. Lift people up. Help them soar.”

“But they can only lift up something that’s already there, that could already fly.”

Celia: She can’t go further down this line of conversation. Not without making a fool of herself. Neither one of them are ready to take that leap yet, she thinks.

Her eyes dart toward the window, though. She nods toward it.

“Should we test it?”

GM: Roderick laughs. “I’m fast, but I can’t actually fly like some licks can. Just jump really far.”

Celia: “I heard there was a lick that jumped to the moon, once.” She raises her eyebrows at him.

“Can you jump that far?”

GM: “Only if I’m carrying your heart.”

A beat.

“Okay, that sounded smoother in my head. Not, like, literally.”

Celia: “I was, uh…” She starts laughing. She can’t help it. Not at him, though. With him. There’s a difference. “I was a little alarmed,” she manages.

GM: “But, seriously. I might not be able to hit the moon, but I could get pretty far, for you.”

Celia: Uncertainty flashes across her face. Just for a moment before it’s gone again, smoothed out in the wake of such a declaration. Her insides threaten to spill outward, like a can of soft drink that someone shook too hard. It bubbles and fizzes. Her hand touches his cheek.

She wants him.

But she’ll hurt him.

She knows it. It’s a certainty inside of her. He’ll get too close and he’ll get burned. She can’t be honest with him. Hasn’t been honest with him. Minuscule, tiny lies, but they tear at her. Her father. Her sire. Threaten to eat her from the inside out.

He’s too good for her. Even standing idly by while the Calbido makes their plans to slaughter thin-bloods and hide the existence of hunters—what is that compared to the decisive action she has taken?

Maybe he’s not too good for her. He can bring her back from the brink. Unbury the part of her she thought long dead. They can be there for each other. Isn’t that what matters?

But it’s so soon. So sudden. Unless he’s just been stuffing his feelings this whole time… has he been with no one else? Alone, all alone, in this vile city of sin and debauchery and corruption? He should not be half to weary as he is. And she can help. She can make it better. Can’t she? Without burning him?

It shouldn’t hurt this much. She doesn’t have to pretend around the other. He knows exactly who she is. She’d bared her soul to him, let him see the monster.

Celia tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. All these years she’s been holding out for someone who doesn’t want her. But he’s here for her now. He wants her. Doesn’t he? Isn’t that what he means? And her sire… he’ll never want her, not the way she wants him. She could be happy with Roderick. So happy. Even the thought of losing him makes her want to dissolve into a puddle of tears.

There’s uncertainty in her eyes when she looks to him. Hesitation. Longing.

She can be good. She can be better. If it means him, she can do better, can’t she? For him?

Yes, she thinks.

“Show me,” she says.

GM: “Oh, well, not right here,” he answers a little lamely. “There’s people around. Masquerade.”

Celia: Poor choice of words, Celia reflects. She hadn’t meant for him to show her that. Just the other thing, the implication behind his statements. It’s entirely possible she’s reading too much into it, though, and only hearing what she wants to hear. Her thumb runs across his cheek bone, as if she hadn’t thought about pouncing on him just now, as if she’s capable of keeping it in her pants. It’s not even that, though. She knows it, deep down. With other people it’s just sex, human or lick, just fucking. With him it’s… it’s more than that, she doesn’t even want to fuck him, not tonight, not like the licks do. She wants intimacy.

But if he wants to show off for her, who is she to stop him? Maybe he’ll even show her how to do it.

“It’s raining,” she points out. “We could sneak off somewhere. Probably not a lot of people out.” She wonders if Savoy has found a way to waterproof his rooftop garden, if his birds and butterflies stay dry. If he’s up there now, plotting, watching over the city. If the sheriff is out there on top of that skyscraper thinking the same thing. If he’s thinking about her. He’d have felt it if she died. Wouldn’t he? Savoy had felt her Embrace, it stands to reason they’d feel her death. Maybe he knows she can take care of herself. Knows she got out. That she’s safe.

Or maybe he doesn’t care.

She shouldn’t be thinking about it, though. It doesn’t matter. Their twisted romance is a one-way street, no matter how many times she’s played those scenes over in her mind. The hallway. Her Embrace. The roof.

“The roof.” She says this last bit aloud to him. “It’s higher than most of the buildings around here. Raining, dark, no lights up there. I mean, unless someone has some night-vision binoculars or something, knows where to look.”

Do they? Do those hunters’ friends—the bad ones—do they know? Do they do that? She can only assume they do, if even the Calbido is worried.

“Maybe we shouldn’t risk it, though.”

GM: “You’re right. Maybe we wouldn’t get spotted,” he grants. “It’s just the responsible adult thing not to. Or responsible elder thing.”

But he seems to be gauging her response.

Celia: “We’re hardly elders, though. I dunno about you but I was frozen forever at 19, which is barely an adult. They only say that 18 is an adult because way back when the people paying child support didn’t want to do it past then. And technically our brains continue developing until like 25. So really, Roddy, we’re both just children and we should act accordingly. Which includes dancing on the roof in the rain, even if we don’t get up to anything fancy like pretending to be Spiderman or The Flash.”

GM: “Yeah, well, Coco says adolescence is also a modern construct. Back in the old days, you were either a man or a child. Inheriting noble titles, going to war, or having kids at 15 was perfectly normal. Life was harder. People had to grow up faster.”

He smirks and scoops up Celia in his arms, hefting one under her knees and the other around her back. He carries her up to the rain-spattered window.

“But what does she know, right?”

Celia: She thinks, for a moment, that he’s going to turn her down and is prepared to pout at him. Then she’s in his arms, her own around his neck, a giggle pulled from her lips as he carries her across the room. She reaches out to tug back the drapes, thick and heavy to prevent them from moving in the middle of the day, and slides the window open. It’s an awkward movement with just the one hand, but she manages.

“Are we jumping? And by we I mean you.”

GM: “We sure are.” He looks out the open window. Some rain is already pattering against the windowsill. “Though actually, if we’re going to be on the roof, do you want to get some shoes?”

Celia: She forces her body to sigh, long and heavy, then points towards the closet.

GM: “Oh, of course. Can’t interrupt your ride.”

He carries her over to the door.

Celia: “You’re stuck with me forever, to be honest.” But she wiggles free of his grasp so she can open the door the smallest amount, just enough to let her slip inside the walk in closet. She seems to be trying to contain whatever it is inside from spilling out—probably a literal ton of dresses, skirts, and other assorted garments—but maybe he catches sight of something white inside before she yanks the door shut. There’s some rustling from within, then she’s back in a pair of heels that look like they’re made for dancing. She even pulled a long skirt on over her leggings that swishes when she walks. It’s a silly look, with her distressed band tee, but she pulls it off.

Celia holds her arms out to him.

“Ready.”

GM: “Cute look. Makes me feel way overdressed.”

Roderick pulls off his jacket, seems to think for a moment, then folds it up and sticks it inside the fridge.

“Probably being paranoid,” he says. “But there’s some stuff in there I don’t want anyone to get, and who’d think to look in the fridge first.”

Celia: Celia lifts her brows at him.

“You smuggling drugs and porn?”

Fridge is a decent hiding place though, she has to admit. She’s heard of people putting cash and credit cards in their freezers for the same reason.

GM: “Like that’d bother any of us. ‘Just’ some sensitive papers.”

Celia: “I was just gonna say if you need a naked girl to look at. Y’know.” There’s a pause. “Internet.”

She smirks.

GM: “Also the one in front of me,” he smirks back. “Who even uses porn magazines anymore, though?”

Celia: “Nobody. I was making an old man joke.”

“Randy told me that he once found porn on his brother’s laptop. Downloaded. And he was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m related to someone who doesn’t know how to stream.’”

“Also,” her gaze sweeps the apartment, “this place is pretty wrecked. If anyone broke in I bet they’d be like, we’re too late, boys.”

GM: “Hey, might not be that dumb. Some porn gets taken down. Some of it is taken from sites with a paid subscription uploaded to free sites. Or it just disappears for some other reason.”

Celia: “Spoken like a man who’s used to using his hand. The kine way still do it for you?”

GM: “You kidding? I haven’t looked at porn since before I was turned.”

Celia: “Mhm, mhm. I won’t tell.”

“Wait. Did you watch porn when we were together?”

GM: “Sometimes,” he answers a little defensively. “When you couldn’t come over and I was horny.”

Celia: “Oh. I’m not mad. I’m just curious.” Her grin is salacious. “What kind?”

GM: “Oh, uh, mostly pretty tame stuff, honestly. Lot of lesbian porn.”

Celia: “They seem more into it in lesbian porn.”

GM: “You think they do? I didn’t notice.”

Celia: “Did we ever… I mean, was there ever anything you wanted us to do that we didn’t?”

GM: “I don’t think so. My tastes were pretty vanilla.”

Celia: “Were?”

GM: “I suppose they still are. Like, I’m happy just to drink someone’s blood. I don’t need them to do any of the really kink shit you hear some licks are into.”

“Or the really sadistic shit. Like, your sire’s idea of a good time.”

Celia: She wonders whose blood he’s been drinking and decides it’s better not to ask.

“Ah, yeah, she’s… yeah.”

GM: “Yeah. Do you still… get off to it, the breather way?”

Celia: “Um.”

GM: “You told me earlier, remember? That just seems… so weird.”

Celia: Celia shrugs. She glances away from him. It is weird. She knows that. All of the rest of them don’t, but she’s still… something. Human enough, maybe, even though she hates that term. She is human. She’s just also a vampire. Becoming one doesn’t mean the other is null and void; it’s like a square is a rectangle and all that. She breathes, she has a heartbeat, she’s warm.

She’s a fucking weirdo.

“Yeah, I guess.”

GM: “Sorry. Didn’t mean to shame you for it. I mean, compared to the other shit licks can get up to, it’s harmless.”

Celia: Her eyes find her toes, visible despite the heels. Pink polish. One of her arms crosses her stomach to rub the other.

“That… that hunter…”

GM: “He… did he rape you?”

Celia: She doesn’t look at him. She lifts her shoulders in a motion that might be a shrug, though it’s a weak thing, barely a movement at all. Her hair falls in front of her face and she doesn’t make a move to shove it back.

GM: He hugs her. Holds her against his chest, runs a hand along her hair.

“I’m sorry. That’s so fucked up.”

Celia: “He just… I was tied down, and he… he like, he was choking me, which doesn’t… like it doesn’t do anything, but then he just kept… he just kept calling me his little vampire whore, and that he’d fuck me forever, and it was…”

GM: She feels the Brujah’s hands tighten.

“What happened to him, if you got out?”

Celia: “I… I killed him.”

The words are a whisper against his chest. Her head shakes back and forth, as if to deny that it happened, as if to say there was no other way. She didn’t have a choice. Her or them.

GM: He continues to hold her tight, running his hand up and down. “It was self-defense. Against a rapist who also probably wanted to kill you. Even under breather laws, that’s perfectly legal. If you’d emptied a gun into your dad’s head during any of the twisted things he did, I sure wouldn’t have blamed you.”

“God, and they say we’re the monsters. That’s just… so fucked up. It never even occurred to me a hunter might do something like that.”

Celia: “He kept saying that they were the nice hunters, while they… did all that. And they were going to give me to someone else.”

GM: Roderick looks curious. “Really? Who? I wonder if…”

Celia: “If what?”

GM: “There’s just been a lot of… talk about hunters lately.”

Celia: She pulls back enough to look up at him. The question is plain on her face.

GM: “There was a major attack on Vienna, a few months back. By hunters. There’s been reports from other cities, too.”

Celia: Is that why the archon had disappeared? She’d never gotten to show him how far she’d come with the face he’d told her to practice. Had he been killed?

“Why does nobody know? Why is this… why is this the first I’m hearing from someone about it?”

GM: “I guess it depends who you’re talking to. But so far it hasn’t really seemed to be a problem in New Orleans. Ocean away, right?”

“The Tremere seem to be trying to cover it up. Acting like everything is fine.”

Celia: "Why? What does that net them? Hunters are an everyone problem. “Not a faction problem, not a clan problem.”

GM: “My guess would be they don’t want to seem weak. I’m really not sure of the details.”

Celia: “That’s ridiculous!”

GM: “Well, that’s Kindred politics. The Tremere primogen, Steinhäuser…” He pauses. “Ah, I shouldn’t talk about it.”

“If you know any grayfaces, ask them about it. Seems like a way to really freak them out.”

Celia: “If you’re not going to tell me I doubt they will,” she huffs, pulling back to cross her arms. “Politics. Letting people die because they don’t know because of politics.”

GM: “Look, anything I know about hunters, I’d tell you. It was just about Steinhäuser herself, nothing to do with hunters.”

Celia: The words seem to deflate her.

“Okay,” she says quietly. The levity from moments ago is gone; she wishes she’d kept her mouth shut about the stupid hunter.

GM: He rubs her back.

“So what did that hunter say, about who he wanted to hand you off to? Any details?”

Celia: “No. I tried to press them for information and the girl kept saying that I shouldn’t hear it and he kept saying that it didn’t matter. And that they’re not ‘enemies,’ but she ‘doubts they’ll help.’”

GM: “Hm. That’s too bad. I was going to ask, if you thought this sounded serious enough, if you wanted to present what you have to the primogen.”

Celia: “To the… to Coco?”

GM: “To the Cabildo as a whole. But, might be moot. They don’t like having guest speakers unless it’s for something they think is really serious.”

Celia: Her almost dying isn’t even serious enough for her sire. She doubts the Calbido will give a fuck.

“Oh.”

GM: “I’m just wondering if this might tie into the increased hunter activity in other cities.”

Celia: Of course it does.

She just still needs to work the angle to figure what she can get out of it.

GM: “But they might’ve also just meant some other group of nastier hunters. Hunter attacks have always been a thing.”

“I’ll tell Coco about this, though.”

Celia: “I wish you wouldn’t. I don’t need people knowing I messed up enough to get picked up.”

GM: “Isn’t that what you were just criticizing the Tremere for, not sharing information because it makes them look bad?”

Celia: “The hunters that picked me up are dead. Both of them.”

GM: “Sure, you just said there were other hunters they seemed to be in contact with, and wanted to hand you over to.”

“Why even do that? Why not just ash you? Or if they were going to interrogate you, do that themselves?”

Celia: “And then what if she tells other people, and then it gets out that ‘Celia’ is a lick, and then they find my family?”

“They tried.” She snorts. “They failed. I hit them with star mode.”

GM: “Coco hasn’t told anyone you’re Celia. She calls you Jade.”

Celia: “Oh. Well that’s… I appreciate that.”

GM: “I’ve told her that your mom and Emily are good people, that I don’t want to see them hurt. And also that they were raising Lucy, who for two years I thought might have been my kid.”

“She doesn’t have any reason to go around blathering you’re Celia. All that does is endanger them.”

Celia: She’s quiet for a moment, taking that in. Thinking about what might have been. Finally, she says, “Thank you.”

Even if he hadn’t done it for her, she can appreciate what he’d done for her.

“I don’t even know what I’d do if they…” She shakes her head. “I don’t want to even think about something happening to them because of me.”

GM: “Do you have a plan for them, if that happens? How many other licks know you’re Celia?”

Celia: “Ah… not a lot. Savoy, Preston, Lebeaux. You and Coco. Veronica. Pietro. And… there’s a fledgling… I, um. Remember how I said, earlier, about trespassing?”

“I think the seneschal might,” she says after a moment, “since Veronica had to get permission and all.”

More people than she realized, and she hasn’t even named the sheriff yet.

GM: “That’s, uh, a fair few.”

“You might ask Veronica if the seneschal knows. I mean, usually, you don’t tell the prince what specific kine you want to Embrace, just that you want to take a childe.”

Celia: Except that Veronica probably did have to name her, since they’d needed to find out if she was spoken for by Donovan. Otherwise how do they even know that Celia is illegal?

GM: “Who’s the fledgling?”

Celia: Unless she isn’t. And Donovan did have permission, and Veronica was vague, and then… no, but she’d been presented as Veronica’s childe… but maybe Donovan just said he changed his mind.

It’s a whole new problem she hadn’t even considered. That maybe she’s not an accident.

“Uh, Caroline. We went to college together. Sort of. Malveaux-Devillers.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “Her? How does she know?”

Celia: “She… so my mom, right, she teaches dance, and I guess the Devillers hired her to teach their youngest at home. And she’s been real finicky since the shooting in August, one of her sisters was shot, Cécilia told me about it. So my mom was telling me and I thought I’d put together like a little gift basket for her of spa stuff, but then they invited me over, and I’m… pretty good at passing as a breather, you know, I can mask my Beast, so I figure why not, but then Caroline was there, and of course now I’m like why wouldn’t she be there if that’s her family, but I guess I thought since it was in the Garden District, like, why would she be, you know?”

GM: “Wait, you went to the Garden District? That’s Vidal’s personal territory!”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I was in Tulane a few nights ago too.”

“…wait, don’t tell anyone that. I wasn’t poaching. I swear.”

GM: “Jesus! Celia, poaching, trespassing, whatever, it’s like shoplifting. Do it once, you can probably get away with it, but the odds go up every time you do. Eventually they bust you.”

Celia: “Yeah, so, that’s how Caroline knows.”

GM: “Well, you think she was fooled, if you’re pretty good at passing?”

Celia: “Uhh… no.”

GM: “Maybe… you aren’t so good at passing.”

Celia: “Uh… well, so like, I thought she was going to mindscrew me so I… so I kind of… revealed myself so she didn’t.”

GM: “That’s… why would she be mindscrewing you, if you’re just a breather there for spa stuff?”

He shakes his head. “Okay, I guess it doesn’t matter. Ventrue being Ventrue.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: He thinks. “Maybe you should get some dirt on her, to make sure she can’t use this against you.”

“Like, was she also in the Garden District without permission? Because Vidal wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if she just wanted to visit her family. It’s being a bad Sanctified, too. They aren’t supposed to have breather families.”

Celia: “I don’t know. I didn’t really ask. But… you’re right, maybe. I mean, my mom wanted to move there and I had to talk her out of it because Lebeaux told me I’d never get to see her if so.”

GM: “Uh, yeah, your mom living there would be a fucking horrible idea.”

Celia: “She told me… she told me that her family helped cover up the scandal with the tape. With my dad. That she helped.”

GM: “I wish I could say I was surprised. Your dad was her dad’s #2 man. I bet he would try to bury that.”

Celia: “I know. I guess I was just surprised she told me. Like she was confessing. Or something.”

GM: “Guilty conscience, maybe.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she says. “I’m supposed to do all the makeup and stuff for her sister’s wedding so I’m just trying to figure out how to swing that, or if I’m going to have to cancel. And I’m worried about my mom going into the Garden District so much, even though no one really has a reason to bother her. It just makes me wary.”

GM: “I’d just cancel. Why get any more involved?”

“And, yeah. That’s a problem when she works there. Though at least it’s during the day. I dunno what to do there unless you think you can get her to take another job somewhere else.”

Celia: “She’s still at McGehee. She just does this on the side.”

GM: “I figured she was. Imagine she wouldn’t want to quit, either.”

Celia: “Sometimes I wonder how I managed to make it to 19, being so ignorant about everything that really goes on. Trying to keep them all safe, it’s like… it’s like a juggling act, sometimes, and I’m just waiting to drop one of them.”

GM: “You’ve kept it up for seven years.”

By this time they’ve sat back down on the re-righted couch.

Celia: “I don’t have a plan for them, to answer your earlier question. I have no idea what to do with them.”

GM: “Well, ideally, let them live their lives. I mean in case other licks try to use them against you. Like, say, Caroline.”

“Actually, she’s probably your biggest danger there.”

Celia: “More than Donovan, you think?”

GM: “Wait, Donovan how?”

Celia: “I told you he owns my dad. What if he just… I dunno, goes after her. Finds out about… you know.”

Lucy.

GM: “He doesn’t have any reason to go after your mom. She hasn’t done anything to him. Lucy even less.”

“Though maybe if things hit the news. So keep them out, and don’t let your dad find out Lucy’s his. So long as the sheriff doesn’t know Celia’s a vampire, you’re probably safe.”

“It’s Caroline I’d be worried about. Because I think she’s desperate. She comes from two extremely privileged families and is used to being on top of the world, right?”

“But her sire’s a renegade hound executed for crimes against the prince, so she’s a sireless nobody. At the bottom of the heap. That has to grate anyone’s ego. She’s gotten in trouble with the Anarchs a couple times.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “A while back, she poached in Mid-City. There was a bunch of drama over that with the Eight-Nine-Six krewe. You had to have heard all that with Veronica, though, I won’t go over it. Personally, I think they were a bunch of meatheads who’d have probably jumped into bed with Savoy over the trial. There’s a reason Coco hasn’t really retaliated for her role in their deaths.”

“She’s also been an ass to Max and Jonah. That’s been talked about. She showed up to their bar this one time, sort of… apologizing without actually apologizing, for everything with Eight-Nine-Six earlier, and trying to sell them on some kind of business deal or get them to work for her or something.”

Celia: “…what?”

She can’t help the incredulous laughter.

GM: Roderick laughs with her. “Ventrue, right?”

Celia: “Honestly, I mostly can’t stand them. They think they own everything. And that they’re better than everyone.”

GM: “I can stand Chris, except when I can’t.”

Celia: “He seems like an ass.”

GM: “At least he’s our ass. But I’m not done.”

Cela: “Oh, go on.”

GM: “So, she shows up to Max’s and Jonah’s bar again. And, it’s over that whole thing with David Hansen. Who I hear you torries are always making fun of.”

Celia: “We are, indeed, a hive mind.” She rolls her eyes at him, then makes a motion for him to continue.

GM: “He’d gotten in some trouble and needed Max to come bail him out, but you’ve probably heard that whole story too already. Max did say Caroline tipped her off about David. So, credit where credit’s due there.”

“But she was an enormous bitch about it. Like, as soon as she had something Max wanted… she was just waltzing into the bar, talking down to Max like a fledgling, and said she wouldn’t even finish the conversation in the bar, because it was beneath her, and that Max needed to come schedule an audience at her haven, if she wanted to hear the rest.”

Celia: “…wow.”

GM: Roderick laughs.

“Yeah.”

Celia: Even now, Celia doesn’t pull that kind of bullshit.

“That’s… wow. I can’t even find words.”

GM: “She’s lucky Max didn’t just beat her senseless and throw her out on the curb.”

Celia: “She didn’t actually meet with her afterward, did she?”

GM: “Good god, no. She wasn’t going to take that shit.”

“Seriously, now that Veronica, Shep, and Pietro are in bed with Savoy, it’s Max, Jonah and Parker who are basically the #2s under Coco and Opal. They’re old hands. They’ve done a lot for the Movement, for decades.”

“If Coco and Opal got taken out, we’d look to them for leadership, and Max probably more than Jonah. Jonah’s a great guy, he just isn’t as much of a speaker and rabble-rouser as she is. Prefers to let her do the talking.”

“It says a lot, anyway, that even a months-old Ventrue would treat some of our senior people like dirty-faced greenfangs.”

Celia: “What about you?” Celia asks him. “I mean, not like… not now, but eventually.”

GM: “Oh, eventually, I hope so. I try to do a lot for the Movement, too. But I’ll freely admit I haven’t done as much as they have.”

Celia: “No, I know, I was just curious, I guess, about your future plans.”

GM: Some of the levity on his face seems to die. “Ah. Well. I guess that’ll depend on…”

Dani.

“Okay, I’d kind of prefer to just shit-talk a Ventrue for the time we have left,” he says, a little sourly.

Celia: “Does that mean we’re not going dancing? Because I can take your mind off things if you want to let me spin you around.”

GM: “I have to get ahold of Ayame. Just like you have to get ahold of Dani, and check on things with Savoy, and… everything else that’s going on in our unlives.”

Celia: “Tonight?”

GM: “Absolutely. You don’t have forever before Savoy asks if you’ve been working me.”

“But, Caroline. Last thing about her, because she’s actually relevant to you.”

“Like I’ve said, she’s from a background that’s as privileged as you can get in this city, and she’s basically lost it all with her Embrace. Had to start over from the bottom. That has to grate anyone’s ego.”

“And we see it with the Anarchs. She’s trying to… I guess make friends, but just can’t do it in a non-Ventrue way, because she sees us all as beneath her.”

“Credit to her, she did also solve a lot of Desirae Wells’ whole mystery. You probably heard about that too. And a little while back, she also found this abandoned Brujah fledgling she brought to Coco. I was there for that. Credit again. She wasn’t as big a bitch to Coco, I think, because primogen.”

“But she’s either done or tried to do a fair amount of stuff with the Anarchs. So, why?”

“I think her ego can’t handle being at the bottom of the Sanctified or the Invictus. She’d rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. That also might be why she’s wanted to do Anarchs favors and get us to owe her, rather than joining up with the Movement. We’re not as bad as the First or Second Estate, when it comes to how we treat newbies, but she’d still be the new kid. She couldn’t handle being that when she sees us as beneath her.”

“Oh yeah, actually, Isa Suarez went over to her haven once. I think Caroline wanted to do something for her too. Like I said, wants to do everyone favors.”

“But I think she’s desperate. There was that whole fight she got into with Caitlin Meadows. Any sane lick as young as her would’ve just ran. Isa’s renfield, who survived, said she attacked Meadows with a whole mob of other renfields. So, I guess kudos to her, if she’s tough enough not to just get torn apart. But that’s nuts. Why would she even get into a fight with Meadows like that? She couldn’t have thought she’d actually win.”

“Here’s what I think. I think she’s going crazy, going from so high to so low. That she’ll do absolutely anything to be on top again, whatever it costs her.”

“And… I think she might try to use your family against you. Because she’s hungry to seize absolutely any edge she can.”

Celia: Well, fuck.

GM: “But, I’ll admit I’ve never really talked with her, either. What was your take?”

Celia: “Needy. She made noise about seeing me again. Invited me to her haven, like she did all the others. But she seemed… I don’t know, I grew up with her, sort of, our dads and everything. One of the last nights I was alive she offered to teach me how to shoot, there was this whole thing with a gun on campus.”

She waves her hand. “Said she’s been stressed, really, that there’s always something new vying for her attention. Seemed to really care for her sisters, though. You should have seen it, I like… I went to touch the youngest one to do the makeup stuff and she was just… hovering. It was kind of weird, honestly.”

GM: “Huh. Maybe they’re what’s keeping her sane.”

“Scratch that. They have to be what’s keeping her sane.”

Roderick’s face isn’t without bitterness.

“I’d have given a lot, just to be able to hang out with Dani. And maybe I’d have gotten pretty protective too, especially with another lick around.”

Celia: “She didn’t know, at that point. But yeah.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “Emily mentioned going to her party. A few months back. I was… it was not a good night for me. But I couldn’t talk her out of it.”

GM: “Oh? How’d that go?”

Celia: “Seemed fine. I checked her over after. She laughed at me and pushed me off and told me I was being silly. I just remember… college, you know, when she used to come home tired, or disappear for nights, and I just… it made me crazy, when I found out what was going on, what was actually going on, and how close I was to it, and it could have been me. And it’s not even that, like yeah that would have sucked, but it was happening to you and her and I just… I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t know.”

GM: “Ventrue are picky eaters. Maybe Emily doesn’t do it for her.”

Celia: “I just don’t want her around it at all. Ever.”

GM: Roderick nods. “Better safe than sorry.”

Celia: “I don’t want to think about someone losing control.”

GM: “What do you want to do about Caroline, though, if she tries to use your mom or Lucy against you?”

Celia: Kill her, obviously.

“I don’t know. I’m trying to think how she’d do it.”

GM: “I’m not sure how she would either, especially if she knows nothing about you. Celia is invisible to the city’s licks.”

“Actually, that’s probably the first thing I’d try to do, if I was her. Gather more information about you.”

Celia: “Too many people know. Fuck, Roderick. What am I going to do? She can find out, connect me back to Jade. I mean the identity I built is good but it’s not that good.”

GM: “The truth can always come out with enough digging. There isn’t a foolproof cover-up.”

He thinks.

“Okay, there’s maybe a couple things you can do.”

“If things get really bad, maybe a plan to get your family out of the city. Uproots their lives, but beats losing their lives.”

“I could also get closer to Caroline for you, if you think that’d help. She seems pretty eager to make friends with Anarchs.”

Celia: “What, like, seduce her?”

GM: “Uh, hadn’t been my first thought. Just to keep a better eye on her. Let her feel like she’s making inroads somewhere, and distract her from trying to do anything with you.”

Celia: “Maybe. I guess I just… if this is my mess, I don’t want you to get in the line of fire or anything. If something happened to you because you were doing something for me…” she squeezes his hand. Her grip isn’t nearly as strong enough as his, but right now she feels like she could crush a brick. “There’s just something off about her, and it worries me.”

GM: Roderick squeezes her hand back. “Relax. She and her renfields went up against Meadows, so I’m not going to say she’s a pushover, but I still like my odds against her one-on-one.”

Celia: “I’m, ah… she’s fast.”

GM: “So am I.”

Celia: “Faster than any fledgling has a right to be.”

GM: “Oh?”

Celia: “Yeah. It’s… remember how you said the sheriff was a blur? Like, ah, like that.”

GM: “Well, any lick with superspeed can seem like a blur around breathers. It does give them bad munchies, though, if they’re not as fast as the sheriff.”

Celia: “She’s fast enough to share it.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “You mean, make other people faster?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Huh. I’m… close to that, but I’ll admit I’m not that fast.”

“That’s a fairly advanced trick.”

Celia: “That’s what I mean. It’s just off.”

GM: Roderick’s frown deepens.

“So, I can think of two answers.”

“One, she’s just a natural at it. Sometimes licks really are that good at a discipline. Prodigies from a young age. Might even be giving her an ego trip.”

Celia: “And the second?”

GM: “Two, her sire’s actually someone like Maldonato or the prince.”

Roderick grins at his joke.

Celia: “…the… you think? With the Garden District?”

GM: “What? No, I was kidding.”

Celia: “What if it’s true, though?”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “She wouldn’t be trying to make friends with a bunch of Anarchs if she had a sire like mine. She’d have a cushy spot in their club.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

Celia has a cushy spot because of her grandsire, but she doesn’t point that out.

GM: “It might also be some other… I don’t know, supernatural thing. It’s a dark and scary world out there and I don’t understand everything about it. I don’t think any of us do.”

“But I’ll ask Coco about Caroline. Maybe she’ll have an idea.”

Celia: “I don’t want it to get back to her that I’m sniffing around. I’m not trying to make enemies.”

“But if you think Coco can help… I mean, I can talk to Savoy, see if he has an idea.”

GM: “It won’t get back to her. Coco isn’t a blabbermouth.”

“I don’t think Savoy would be willing to entertain random questions from you, even if he’s pretty approachable.”

“Just how it is with elders. You only get to hang out if you’re another elder or one of their kids.”

Celia: “Yeah.” She sighs. “I’ll handle it. I just… I’d prefer to keep this on the down low, I guess. I mean. What if she is someone important’s childe, then I’m boned.”

GM: “Yeah, but she’s not. She wouldn’t be out on the streets like she’s been.”

Celia: He’s not the one who tasted that super, super potent blood in her system, though.

“Okay, but what if she is? Like hypothetically.”

GM: “Well, if she is, she’s not out on the streets with other plebs.”

“But okay, you’re saying what if someone like Becky Lynne found out about your family.”

Celia: “Sure.”

GM: “That’s trickier. I’d make plans to get them out.”

Celia: “I don’t even know where I’d send them that’s safe. There’s licks everywhere. They’d need new identities, new jobs, new everything.”

GM: “Sure, but in another city they’re useless as leverage to licks who aren’t involved with New Orleans politics. They’re less attractive targets. That doesn’t make them 100% safe, but there’s no such thing as perfectly safe. Just more safe.”

Celia: “And now I’m like, ‘what if the rats know?’ Because someone told me once that they know everything, and then that’s even more people.”

GM: “That’s… usually a good assumption to make. They know a lot. They have ears everywhere. They’ve probably spied on your salon before.”

Celia: The thought fills her with disgust.

GM: “But as far as your family… Lucy doesn’t need a job, but I know doctors can move around a lot. Emily might have to move for her residency, anyway.”

She had brought that up.

“Dunno about your mom, though. I don’t know anything about the job market for dance teachers.”

Celia: “Probably not thriving.”

GM: Roderick pulls out his phone and taps into it.

“‘Overall employment of dancers and choreographers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations,’” he reads. “Hm, that’s not teachers, though.”

“Losing her seniority at McGehee would be a hit. Too bad she still can’t actually dance, I imagine dancers move around a lot.”

Celia: “Even if she could, young woman’s game.”

She’s thought about it. Making her mom younger. Giving her eternal youth.

But that’s all it will ever be: a thought.

“I’ll figure it out. Maybe just send them with Emily when she moves.”

GM: “Getting them away from your dad couldn’t hurt, either.”

Roderick glances back at his phone.

“Whoa. I’ve loved… reconnecting, but the night doesn’t wait for anyone.”

Celia: So much for spending the day at his place.

She nods, though, because she gets it.

GM: “I can pick you up if you still want to stay at my haven today, but I have to run.”

Celia: “Yeah, that’s fine. I get it.” Celia might even manage to keep the disappointment out of her voice. “I should get back to the Evergreen anyway.”

GM: “Okay, is that a yes, or you feel safe staying somewhere else?”

Celia: Is it needy to tell him she’d like to stay with him? Probably. But he’d invited her.

“Yeah, if you don’t mind me staying with you tomorrow.”

GM: “All right. I’ll pick you up at 5 AM.”

Celia: “Perfect.” She smiles at him. “Roderick… be safe out there, yeah?”

GM: He pulls out his jacket from the fridge and slips it on, then his overcoat.

He gives her a hug. “I’ll do my best. And you, too.”

Celia: “Well, I mean, with luck it’s only going to be a few hours.” She doesn’t mean to cling to him, but maybe she does for a moment longer than she needs to, cheek pressed against his chest. “I’ll see you in a bit, then.”

She pulls back far enough to touch a hand to his cheek. Her heart swells. She can’t keep the smile from her face as she gazes up at him. Too soon. Too soon to tell him that he’d awoken everything inside of her that had once been there, everything she thought was dead. Soon, though.

They have forever, after all.


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Story Twelve, Caroline IX

“I am proud of the honor I have done my sire’s memory.”
Fatimah al-Lam’a


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline returns to Perdido House with Kâmil and Gisèlle after taking leave from her family. Congo spends some time showing Caroline different residential units and office spaces available in the skyscraper’s upper floors for her to consider for her assorted needs.

Like most skyscrapers, the ghoul explains, Perdido House has a large variety of commercial and residential tenants on its floors. Many tenants are related to Vidal’s and Maldonato’s business interests, though more of them are not. Even the two elders cannot possibly exert a controlling hand over all of the 40-story building’s inhabitants, nor do they wish to. It is better that other Kindred cannot be sure which of the building’s kine work for the prince and which do not.

Caroline: Caroline makes note of several office spaces and residential locations, asking a few probing questions about renovations. She seems far more interested in the former than the latter.

She takes note of and agrees with the wisdom of obsfucating exactly what is under their influence and what is free if it.

GM: “I am to believe higher floors are considered a status symbol among law firms,” Congo states. He shows Caroline some currently vacant sections of several 30-plus floors. They look much the same as any others she might expect to see in a downtown skyscraper. Renovations will be little trouble to arrange.

Caroline: “A departure from days of old, I’m told, in which higher towers were a form of banishment, a mark of your lack of importance and distance from the court,” Caroline smiles, strolling through an undeveloped space. She mentally draws floorplans as she goes.

GM: The ghoul smiles faintly back. “In olden times, a lord’s hall and hearth were the center of his power. In the era before Charlemagne, it was not uncommon for a lord’s family to sleep in the great hall alongside the servants. There was little privacy or comfort in these arrangements, but there was even less in a high tower.”

Caroline: “Funny how things change. And they don’t.”

GM: “Mankind has always yearned for the heavens. Only in recent years has he been able to make his abode there.”

Caroline: “Is that why my sire chose a skyscraper?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I would speculate your sire chooses it because it is what the lords of today’s era now choose, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. The skyscraper is the castle of the 21st century, and it is a poor lord without a castle.”

Caroline: “Touching the face of God is a fringe benefit.”

GM: “I believe your sire would frown upon such hubris, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, and perhaps state that the finite cannot touch the infinite. The prince himself holds little love for the American Quarter, as does my domitor. Both make their personal havens in the Garden and Lower Garden Districts, respectively.”

“But should business keep them overday, or should they believe their principle havens compromised, they maintain secondary havens in Perdido House.”

Caroline: And has he had much use for it of late? Caroline wonders.

“He’s possessed of many contradictions,” she observes. “Pride and humility.”

“Where do your tastes lie, Mr. Congo?”

GM: “I believe your sire to take great pride in his service to God, church, sect, and clan, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but little in himself as an individual.”

“I believe my experiences to have taught me humility, through which I hope to have been of greater service to my domitor. Pride may be a sin to all, but it is perhaps better-suited to take root in kings than chamberlains.”

Caroline: Caroline breaks from her mental map to flash him a smile over her shoulder. “Insightful, Mr. Congo, and appreciated. But I was more modestly asking about your tastes in the city.”

GM: “I also find much to appreciate in the Garden District, but my own tastes run closer to Faubourg Tremé. In another life, I might have made a home there.”

Congo also raises the matter of an office space for Caroline. As she has seen, Maldonato and Bishop Malveaux maintain offices in Perdido House wherein they meet with other Kindred and conduct many of their affairs. Prince Vidal, Sheriff Donovan, Primogen Hurst, Mother Doriocourt, and a number of other Sanctified and their ghouls also have offices in the building, some used more frequently than others. (Hound Wright rarely avails himself of his.)

Congo inquires whether Caroline has any preferences or specifications for her office space, or whether she would prefer to leave such to him.

Caroline: The Ventrue seems surprised by the suggestion, and admits that her initial inclination had been to make use of her office with the firm.

“I suppose that has the potential to cause some problems, though,” she admits.

GM: “They are likely not insurmountable problems, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but there is little reason to surmount them if we do not have to.”

Congo then tells her something else about her new office.

Caroline: “That explains why Perdido House has always felt so disorienting.” She flashes the ancient ghoul another smile.

“I imagine that must take a great deal of effort—I’d add to it as little as possible. A plain desk, a handful of comfortable chairs, and writing materials are all I require.”

GM: Congo smiles faintly back. “You have seen my domitor’s office, madam. Its contents, too, are subject to this security protocol.”

Caroline: “A being of greater refinement than I.” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “Perhaps in time my vanity or tastes shall grow. But not this night.”

GM: “Perhaps in time, madam,” the ghoul echoes.

Congo explains this aspect of Perdido House’s security in greater detail, as well as what Vidal and Maldonato have done conceal its existence from Kindred visitors to the skyscraper.

“This security protocol is unknown outside of your sire’s inner circle, which he now counts you among. Your sire expects it to remain unknown.”

Caroline: The Ventrue takes that revelation in and falls silent: not for the first time in the last few nights.

The system is far from infallible, but it does make assassination attempts or any type of assault require significantly more coordination. Attackers could easily forget or assume key details. It also makes any Kindred present for such an attack much more immediately and obviously complicit.

She knows Ferris would endorse even more comprehensive measures. She’s not certain he’s correct, given the prince’s power. The threat of the counter blow in response to any attack in Perdido House—one that could be carefully tailored—is a strength few mortal power brokers could ever wield so effectively.

As much as secrecy and unpredictability, accountability is important, especially for a ruler. To be the king of the jungle others must believe that you are, and there can be no doubt.

GM: She also recalls Ferris saying it seemed like a coin toss to him whether the prince or the ‘insurgency’ would come out on top.

But his mind is not her sire’s.

Caroline: “The prince’s secrets are my secrets.”

The words are plainly spoken, and belie the pride having been brought into that inner circle brings.

GM: “Very good, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Congo replies.

“The next matter I would attend to is that of your haven within the building.”

“There are a variety of residential units available for such a purpose, not all of which are listed in the building schematics and directories. Havens located in non-residential areas may also be arranged.”

Caroline: “I need little in that regard, Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies. “A few concealed chambers within the firm’s floor may be the most expeditious.”

GM: “Expeditious, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but perhaps less secure than it might be. Were I an agent of our prince’s foes, and had I infiltrated Perdido House to assassinate the prince’s childe, I would begin my search for her haven in a mortal business connected to her.”

“Even if I did not expect to find that haven in Monument Law’s offices, I would still consider it worthwhile to search them while I was in the building.”

Caroline: “I was counting on it, Mr. Congo,” Caroline answers.

“On any given day I expect such an effort, even if successful in breaching the most heavily fortified building in the city, to achieve its goal no more than one day in three.”

GM: “I do not believe it probable that an infiltrator will breach the building and locate your haven within Monument Law’s offices, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but no fortress is unassailable.”

“Yet if you share in this assessment, and still wish your haven located therein, I will make the necessary arrangements.”

Caroline: “A lion cannot fear the hyenas. Let them come if they dare,” she decides after a few moments of thought.

GM: Congo inclines his head. “It shall be as you wish, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: When Maldonato is available, he receives Caroline in his office. Both of the ghouls are not instructed to leave. He inquires as to “Miss Baker’s present status” and states “very good” at the Ventrue’s answer before requesting,

“Please close your eyes, Miss Malveaux, and place your hand across my desk.”

Caroline: Caroline identifies several apartments and rooms that might serve her personal needs. Most are relatively severe affairs, and makes small talk as much as Congo will facilitate.

When she’s brought before Maldonato she’s in better spirits for it than when she arrived. The Ventrue seems relieved by the seneschal’s approval over the state of Jocelyn, and not just for his praise. Perhaps vindicated.

She does as the seneschal asks, feeling perhaps a little childish as she does so. Her left hand seeks out the ancient Moor’s desk.

GM: Caroline feels the seneschal’s hand take hers, then loses all sensation in her body. She does not feel the chair against her legs, her clothes against her skin, or even her hair against her head. There’s just nothing.

Caroline: The sensation demands she open her eyes, she look around, but she fights back the urge. Instead she remains still, quietly listening, not even her breathing to distract her. She listens for the sounds of the building, for gentle breaths of Kâmil and Gisèlle.

GM: The ghouls’ breathing and steady heartbeats are audible to her newly-keen senses.

“You may open your eyes, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: She does so.

GM: She sees two of herselves. The first Caroline is a translucent, ghostly copy of her own body. A silvery cord runs from its back into the second Caroline’s heart. Its eyes stare vacantly ahead, an empty house with no lights on.

Caroline: It’s not the first time she’s looked down on her corpse. The effect is no less disconcerting the second time.

GM: She looks across the desk and sees two copies of Maldonato. The first, corporeal entity shares the same vacant expression as her ‘other’ self. Its hand is still clasped around the ‘other’ Caroline’s. A silvery cord connects the seneschal’s second body, ghostly and translucent like hers, to his corporeal body.

“Kâmil, Gisèlle, you will guard our bodies until our return,” he states.

The two ghouls incline their heads.

Maldonato stretches out a ghostly hand to take Caroline’s. It feels solid to her, but there is no skin-like texture to it, merely a muted sensation of physical matter. Almost like condensed cloud.

“A long journey awaits us, Miss Malveaux. If you lose my hand while we are in transit, I cannot guarantee my ability to retrieve you. It may then be some time before your physical and spiritual selves are reunited.”

Caroline: “Then I shall not allow that to happen, seneschal,” Caroline replies.

A long journey where?

GM: The two rise from their feet and float through the office’s window. They float higher. A breathtaking view of glittering cityscape stretches out beneath them, and endless night sky above.

Caroline: If she had breath to be taken, it might do so, instead Caroline simply takes in the vista with unnatural acuity as they rise. The experience makes her almost giddy.

Flying. Actually flying. It’s a dream every child has. A smile sneaks its way onto her face.

She wonders how many nights the seneschal spends his doing this, floating the world. No doubt it is tempting any without existing agendas.

GM: “That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest, so it is said,” Maldonato states as the city grows smaller beneath their translucent feet. The countless streams of cars and people resemble nothing so much as brightly lit ants, all scurrying about equally countless errands that seem of such minor consequence.

Caroline: “Let it never be said that a Requiem is without its pleasures,” Caroline agrees, hand in hand with him, watching the world fade away. “How many nights spent aloft on the winds, seneschal? I can think of poorer ways to spend them.”

GM: “Enough that the experience is long familiar to me, Miss Malveaux. Yet not so many that I no longer take pleasure from it.”

“Perhaps, should your proficiency at velocitas continue to grow, you may eventually experience the sensation of physical flight. For all the pleasure you might derive from our present vista’s sights and sounds, they do not compare with the caress of wind against one’s corporeal body, nor the smell of alpine air to a corporeal nose.”

Caroline: “I am gladdened to learn that there are some experiences even the weight of ages cannot rob of their splendor,” Caroline agrees. “And that may yet be eagerly anticipated.”

It’s not something she’s given much thought to, in truth. Though she might enjoy her heightened senses and the almost otherworldly grace she’s enjoyed since her Embrace, she counts few of the powers of the Blood as among those to be used for entertainment. They’ve always been means to an end.

GM: The pair’s surroundings dissolve into night sky. The clouds disappear too. Endless fields of stars and nebulae stretch in all directions. Stars and colors swirl about the pair, stretching on to infinity. Shapes seem to form in the distance, strange shapes that tug at something deep in Caroline’s soul, but Maldonato neither pauses nor speaks as the astral vistas dissolve past. The two Kindred feel like pebbles sinking through a vast cosmic ocean.

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Caroline: Caroline falls silent, struck by the majesty of the moment, simply drinking it in. For all of its attempts, even Kindred society has never made her feel so small.

Questions about where they are going die on her lips.

Silence is the only reasonable offering.

GM: Caroline is uncertain how much time passes. In vistas so alien, in a ‘body’ entirely bereft of sensation, it feels like they could remain in this place for a thousand years.

But eventually, color disappears from the stars. They’re so clear and bright, and the night sky so utterly black, when viewed beyond urban light pollution. Below, the familiar sight of cityscape stretches before her eyes:

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Caroline: Caroline holds tightly to the seneschal’s ‘hand’ for the trip. Even in its insubstantial form, it remains the most tangible thing.

She isn’t certain if she’s disappointed by the return to the familiar or disappointed, but it comes all the same. She starts to pick out landmarks. It may have been years since her last geography lesson, but there are few rivers as famous as the Nile. It helps her orient herself, and drives home just how fast and far they’ve traveled.

What incredible power. With the journey ending, it’s the practical that immediately comes to mind. The first thought is how mundane even her own powers seem in comparison. She can beguile minds, rewrite lives, make men into her puppets, and no mortal who has ever lived might stand before her with a blade. But this… this is something else. Something grander, not simply stronger. Powers that are so far beyond her own in scale as hers are to a kine.

It also immediately begs questions, but as before, she leaves them unspoken. She might have expected another city in the United States. Maybe even one in Europe. The Middle East had not entered her mind when they set off. Who or what are we here to see? Or is it some learning experience?

Their descent promises answers.

GM: Yet some answers are already hers.

When Caroline was an undergrad, she did a group project on Cairo for a history class. It wasn’t her first choice, but she was outvoted. Because it was a group project, she also did most of the work.

But if nothing else, the experience taught her a few things about Egypt’s capital. It taught her enough to recognize the landmark towards which her and Maldonato’s astral forms descend:

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Bab Zuweila was one of several gates built by the Fatimids in 1092 to mark the southern entrance to their walled city of Al-Qahira. Zuweila is the only one that remains standing to this night. During the Mamluke age, it became one of the city’s main sites of public gathering and, as such, likewise became the location for all public executions of note. Indeed, the gate was widely known as the forum for public and often graphic displays of power and dominion.

Bab Zuweila is featured in a major story from the 13th century. In 1260, the Mongol leader Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, conquered Damascus and rode into Egypt, flush with victory and dreams of further conquest. The Mongol Empire never lost a major battle in all its near-60-year history. Hulagu sent six messengers to the Mamluke sultan of Cairo, Saif ad-Din Qutuz, demanding his surrender. To stand against the Mongol tide was unthinkable.

Qutuz responded by killing the six envoys, “halving them at the waist,” and displaying their heads on Bab Zuweila. He then allied with a fellow Mamluk, Baibars (one of Egypt’s most famous later sultans), to defend Islam against the Mongol threat. Their combined forces marched to the Battle of Ain Jalut and won a resounding victory—the Stalingrad of its day. Caroline also compared Ain Jalut to Gettsyburg, but her professor said that was a poor comparison—the Confederacy could never have conquered the Union, only made the cost of war high enough to secure independence. Ain Jalut could have spelled a new era for Egypt under Mongol yoke if the battle had gone differently. But it didn’t. Ain Jalut was the first major defeat ever suffered by the Mongols suffered and effectively set their empire’s western border, confirming the Mamluks as the dominant force in the Middle East.

But no empire lasts forever. In 1517, the Ottoman Turks succeeded where the Mongols failed. Mamluke rule ended violently at Bab Zuweila when the Sultan Tuman Bey II was hanged three times from the gate’s vaulted ceiling (the rope snapped the first two times), and the heads of 500 slain Mamlukes were spiked along Bob Zuweila’s walls. Over 50,000 Egyptian civilians were butchered by the Ottomans during the city’s conquest, in addition to both sides’ military casualties.

Bab Zuweila has never thirsted for blood. Until the close of the 19th century, Bab Zuwayla was still being stubbornly barred shut every evening.

As Caroline’s and Maldonato’s astral forms approach the historied gate, she may wonder what manner of Cainite claims this blood-soaked butchery site for their own.

Caroline: She does, and with the fanciful hope that they never saw the finished product of that history project: she doubt’s they’d appreciate the way she framed the report alongside the barbarism of Islam and its cultural incompatibility with the West. The brutality of Christianity during the same period notwithstanding. It had been good politics, and pissed off the liberal member of her ‘group project’ (that contributed about as much as the average liberal to it) to have his name attached. The latter might have been worth it on its own.

Part of her wants to run her hand along the gate’s walls, this battered historical icon. Another part can’t help but note her companion—and her sire—might very well have seen as many nights as it has.

The part of her though that does things just to do them, for her own gratification, regardless of any consequences or even simply how it might appear to others is very small.

A memory comes drifting back. Introduce you to those Kindred we distrust least. She wonders how sparing her sire’s trust is if they must come this far.

GM: That part of her proves all the more impotent when the pair float straight towards one of the gate’s tall spires. Maldonato does not veer away from it. They simply pass insubstantially through. Caroline doesn’t feel anything.

She looks down. The city unfolds before her.



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Cairo is chaotic.

It’s unconditionally and utterly chaotic, noisy, hot, uncontrolled, polluted, disorganized, dirty, vibrant, colorful, and above all, alive.

Caroline’s initial impressions may be one of confusion, trying to sort out the jumble of energy and life that surges in Egypt’s capital. Like in most mega-cities, being combative is unavoidable and taking the micro-advantages over others seems to be common. Main streets are occupied with tense traffic and temper flaming motorists, yet within minutes one looks as if they can escape into a back street for a couple cups of tea or a bite to eat. Above all, the city feels like it never stops. It feels vigorous and animated well into the night. Cars go through the streets seemingly guided more by survival instinct and intuition than by traffic laws. The heavy traffic enhances the sense of chaos. Electric lights are everywhere. Caroline looks up and can barely see stars. Lights are on in homes, along market stands, along strings in alleyways, along strings set up by children. Light is everywhere. Electricity must be dirt cheap.

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Together with the enormous crowds, the city feels as tightly packed as a sardine can. There are almost no dark alleys. There is nowhere without people. Even the cemeteries are full of people with strung-up lights going about their business and chattering away in Arabic. There are some parallels to New Orleans, but where the Big Easy has a sense of lazy, Southern-drawl slowness that made it the perfect stage for Ignatius J. Relly to chew hot dogs and loudly pontificate his brand of French Quarter craziness to amused listeners, it feels as if Cairo would simply swallow him up and no one would pay the crazy man a second glance. The Mother of the World teems with the relentless energy of New York and the stubbornly thriving sense of life in the most densely-packed Third World slums.

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It’s enough to make even the dead feel alive.

Caroline: She isn’t sure what she expected—the project she did notwithstanding, but in many ways it reminds her of New Orleans on a larger scale.

GM: “What do you see, Miss Malveaux?” Maldonato inquires as the pair float past two dusky-skinned girls swishing around in white dresses. The oldest can’t be more than seven, but Caroline doesn’t see anyone who looks like parents nearby.

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The insubstantial pair go utterly ignored in their flight. Perhaps no one can see them.

Or perhaps no one cares enough to pay two souls out of countless millions a second glance.

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Caroline: The Ventrue startles when he finally speaks after the long silence, but the response comes quickly and easily to her lips.

“Life. Human life in all of its most dynamic vibrancy. The best and worst parts of the great cities of the world. Heritage and history not curated, but actively immersed in their lives. This city feels more alive, more teeming with energy, than anywhere I’ve ever been.”

“It’s not what I expected, seneschal.”

GM: “Some say expectations are akin to fine pottery. The more firmly one grasps them, the more likely they are to fissure.”

He releases her hand.

“Envision movement and you will find yourself in motion.”

Caroline: It takes a moment. More than two decades of life tell her that to move she needs to order her muscles into motion, to take a step. But this is not the first moment in his form she has experienced—they’ve flown across the world already.

She starts forward, taking the opportunity to peak down an alley echoing with the delighted shouts of children, before turning her gaze back to Maldonato.

“I thought I had seen the great cities of the world. I was wrong.”

“Has it changed much over time?”

GM:‘Mistress of broad provinces and fruitful lands, boundless in profusion of buildings, peerless in beauty and splendor, she shelters all you will of the learned and ignorant, the grave and the gay, the prudent and the foolish, the noble and the base… like the waves of the sea she surges with her throngs of folk… her youth is ever new despite the length of days. Her reigning star never shifts from the mansion of fortune.’

“Your simple question begets a complex answer, Miss Malveaux. It can be said that Cairo was founded on the paradox of change as a means of ensuring stability. Since the area’s first settlement, the city has undergone a process of continuous reinvention. On, Heliopolis, Babylon-in-Egypt, Al-Fustat, Al-Askar, Al-Qatai, Al-Qahira: she has worn many names and faces.”

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“Yet she is a city grown weary under the weight of her own years. The passing of ages has given her the time to witness her own rise and fall repeatedly, granting her the sad opportunity to see her radiance tarnished at the hands of her own children. For the unthinkable span of 24 centuries, she has been ruled by foreign conquerors, and never a native son or daughter of Egypt. This fact has played an undeniable role in the formation of the Cairene mindset, and the city’s inhabitants struggle nightly with this legacy.”

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Caroline: Reinvention. That makes sense. Maybe that’s what’s missing in New Orleans. Why it feels so different. There’s a life to the Crescent City, the chaotic and loud party, but on some level it cannot help but feel like the manic final cheer of a doomed man. Perhaps never more so than after Katrina.

GM: “But through all her many nights of blood and change, she has remained the brightest of beacons in a dark and shifting sand, a constant star in a sea of endless night. She may look older in the light, and her children may see more of chaos and hardship in these times, but they know that she yet remains the Mother of the World. And to them, regardless of her guise or appellation, the City Triumphant she has always been—and, by the grace of God, shall remain evermore.”

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Caroline: It sounds like a prayer. She’s heard worse.

He need not tell her that any rebirth comes with pain, she knows that better than most.

GM: “Yet there you have expressed another expectation that experience may soon fissure, Miss Malveaux. Come. Our destination awaits.”

Caroline: She falls in behind the ancient Moor.

GM: The two Kindred float through the city’s throngs until they stop before a Mamluke-era monument that looks as if it could be a mosque or palace.

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Caroline didn’t do her ‘group’ project specifically on the Qalawun complex, but one subject of Cairo-related research led to another. It was built in 1284—1285 as a hospital, law school, and mausoleum for Sultan al-Mansur Sayf al-Din Qalawun. This fact is remarkable considering the sheer size and scope of the total complex. The relatively short amount of time it took to construct the complex is in large part due to the slave-like labor the sultan commanded (much of it from Mongol prisoners of war captured at Ain Jalut). The Complex was considered one of the city’s most beautiful buildings at that time, and its interior contains the world’s second-most beautiful mausoleum after the considerably more famous Taj Mahal. The hospital continued to function until its demolition by the Ottomans in 1910. The complex is smaller than it used to be, but it is still one of Cairo’s more recognizable landmarks.

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The ground, on which the Qalawun funerary complex now stands, used to be home to a Fatimid palace. Many of the old palace’s halls were sold off, and there were people living in them until Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad Ibn Qalawun bought the entire area in 1283. He had allegedly made a promise to God that he would build a hospital in Cairo similar to the one he was treated in while in Syria.

In addition to the Mongol prisoners who were forcefully employed, emir ‘Alam al-Din Sinjar al-Shaja‘I also called on called on regular workers throughout the city to assist with the project. In fact, he was so determined to acquire a large workforce that even people walking the streets were ordered to help. By the time the complex was completed, it was considered to be the most beautiful building in the entire region.

The Qalawun Complex underwent its first recorded restoration project during the reign of al-Nasir Muhammad, the sultan’s son. This took place in 1327 after a major earthquake caused significant damage to the complex’s minarets. Al-Nasir had the complex renovated and restored a number of times during his reign but it was only the restoration of the minarets that was recorded on the complex.

Later, in 1776, Abdul-Rahman Katkhuda also commissioned some renovation work to be carried out. This project included the building of a truly beautiful Ottoman-style sabil on the opposite side of the road.

Some historians believe that Qalawun never had any intention of using the mausoleum as a burial site. They argue that it was originally meant to serve as a mosque and a school.

The mausoleum’s dome was of great significance because it was symbolic of a new rise of Mamluk power. This later led to the dome being demolished by an Ottoman governor. In its place, a new Ottoman-style dome was built, only to be replaced again in 1908 by the Center for Reservation of Arab Monuments.

The madrasa at the Qalawun Complex is by no means as elaborate as the mausoleum, but it is still very impressive nonetheless. In its heyday, the madrasa was used for teaching all four legal schools that were recognized under Islamic law. The madrasa was also used for teaching other subjects as well, including medicine.

In contrast to the immersed history and heritage on the streets of Cairo, the Qalawun complex feels carefully curated. Caroline and her guide encounter no other souls throughout its vast halls—until they stop at a room with a glass-enclosed scale model of the complex.

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Caroline: Elysium? Palace? Elder’s domain? The Qalawun Complex could easily be all three. It’s also the first place in the city she’s seen that feels… different. Less frenetic. More refined.

GM: A woman supplicates herself upon the floor. She’s dressed in a flowing black silk tunic that looks cut from another era. Caroline hears no heartbeat from her chest. She does not turn to look at Maldonato or the Ventrue as she chants,

“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.”

(“Allah is Greatest.”
“Allah is Greatest.”
“Allah is Greatest.”
“Allah is Greatest.”
)



GM: “Ashhadu al la ilaha illa-llah.
Ashhadu al la ilaha illa-Ilah.”

(“I bear witness that nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.”)
(
“I bear witness that nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.”
)

She turns to face her right.

“Hayya ’ala-s-sala,
Hayya ’ala-s-sala.”

(“Come to prayer.
Come to prayer.”
)

She turns to face her left.

“Hayya ’ala-l-falah,
Hayya ’ala-I-falah.”

(“Come to success.”
“Come to success.”
)

Caroline: It feels disrespectful to watch her at prayer. Caroline directs her eyes to the floor, listening in silence.

GM: “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.”

(“Allah is Greatest.”
“Allah is Greatest.”
)

“La illaha illa-llah.”

(“Nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.”)

“Allahum-ma Rabba hadhihi-d-da ‘wati-t-tammati wa-s-salati-I-qa’imati ati Muhammada-ni-l wasilata wa-l-fadzilata waddarajata-rrati’ata wa-b’athhu maqqmam mahmudan-illadhi wa’adta-hu.”

(“O Allah! Lord of this perfect call and ever-living prayer, grant to Muhammad nearness and excellence and raise him to the position of glory which Thou hast promised him.”)

The woman’s prayer continues for some length. Maldonato waits patiently and does not speak, though his gaze remains fixed on her.

She raises up her hands in supplication.

“Astaghfiru-llaha Rabbi min kulli dhanbin wa’atubu ilai-hi.”

(“I seek the protection of Allah, my Lord, from every fault and turn to Him.”)

“Allahu-mma’ anta-s-Salamu wa min-ka-s-slamu, tabarakta Rabbana wa ta ‘alaita ya dha-l-jalali wa-l’-ikram.”

(“O Allah! Thou art the Author of peace, and from Thee comes peace; blessed art Thou, O Lord of Glory and Honour!”)

“La ilaha illa-llahu, wahda hu la sharika la-hu, la-hu-I-mulku wa I-hamdu wa huwa ‘ala kullishai’-in qadir; Allahu-mma la mani’a Ii-ma ’a’taita wa la mu’tiya Ii-ma mana’ta wa la yanfa’u dha-l-jaddi min-ka-I jaddu.”

(“Nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah. He is One and has no associate; His is the kingdom and for Him is praise, and He has power over all things. O Allah! there is none who can withhold what Thou grantest, and there is none who can give what Thou withholdest, and greatness does not benefit any possessor of greatness as against Thee.”)

“Allahu la ilaha illa hua-al-Hayyu-l-Qayyum; Ia ta’khu-dhu-hu sinatun wa la naum; la-hu ma fis-samawati wa ma fi-I-ardz; man dha-lladhi yashfa’u ‘inda-hu illa bi idhni-hi; ya’lamu ma baina aidi-him wa ma khalfa-hum wa la yuhi-tuna bi-shai’im-min ‘ilmihi illa bi-ma sha’a; wasi’a kur-siyyu-hu-s-samawati wa-l-ardz wa la ya’udu-hu hifzu-huma wa huwa-l-’AIiyyu-I-Azim.”

(“Allah is He besides whom there is no God, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsisting by whom all things subsist; slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep; whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His; who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them and they cannot comprehend anything, out of His knowledge except what He pleases; His knowledge extends over the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of them both tires Him not and He is the most High, the Great.”)

At last, she turns and faces the two vampires.

Caroline: Caroline raises her gaze back to her as the prayer finishes.

GM: The woman is a figure of elegant bearing and stately majesty, with porcelain-pale skin, long raven hair, full lips, and white-irised eyes that shine like brightly polished stones under the moon. Some might call the woman’s face beautiful, but it is a regal rather than sensuous beauty, like that of an idealized queen. Dignity and pride radiate from her like twin suns. She wears no jewelry or ornamentation.

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Her gaze settles first upon Maldonato.

“Ysed qalbi ’an ’arak maratan ’ukhraa ya abn eami.”

(“It gladdens my heart to see you again, cousin.”)

Caroline: It’s almost painful to look at her. No—it is painful. There’s a nasty stab in her chest that she’s felt once before, though far less deeply.

Regal. Dignified. Powerful. And, it goes unsaid, ancient. Here is a queen who could sit beside her sire. Who not only could in bearing, but plausibly could in might. She’s someone Caroline can only hope to echo in centuries, and she makes the Ventrue feel small. That, in turn, makes her feel ugly.

Envy is ugly on anyone.

She pushes it away. Fights it with rational arguments. Maldonato has brought her to Cairo with purpose. This woman lives half a world away. She’s a Muslim. She’s not actually a threat to something Caroline already knows she can’t ever have anyway. She’s done nothing to wrong Caroline.

Logic helps. A bit.

GM: “Walia ’an ’arak ya fatimat,” Caroline’s guide replies. “Laqad madaa waqt tawil jiddaan mundh aijtimaeina al’akhir.”

(“And mine to see you, Fatimah. It has been too long since our last meeting.”)

The woman’s gaze turns to the Ventrue.

“Thuma hdha tafluha. Yuseaduni ’an ’araa ’anaha ajtazat alaikhtibar.”

(“Then this is his childe. I am pleased to see she has passed your test.”)

Caroline: Caroline is mindful that she has not been addressed by the elder. Still, the fact that she knew of Caroline is something—something that drives home the trust the seneschal has in this woman. A secret kept even from her sire, but shared here.

She supposes everyone needs someone to confide in, and some part of her is glad the seneschal has one still, even in his banishment.

GM: Maldonato’s own gaze returns to Caroline as he states in English,

“Miss Malveaux, may I introduce Fatimah al-Lam’a, primogen of Cairo’s Consultative Council, emira of the Banu al-Lam’a, and grandchilde to my grandsire. Your name and identity are already known to her.”

Fatimah offers the faintest inclination of her head.

“My congratulations upon your recent achievements, young one. Be welcome in Cairo and the Khitta al-Lam’a,” she replies in unaccented English.

Caroline: The Ventrue meets the other vampire’s eyes and places her right hand across her chest.

“Shukraan lakum walsalam ealaykum. ʾamīrah Fatimah al-Lam’a. Shukraan liaistiqbali.”

(“Thank you, and peace be upon you, Emira Fatimah al-Lam’a. Thank you for receiving me.”)

GM: Fatimah mirrors the motion over her heart and replies in the traditional, “Wa ʿalayki s-salāmu.”

(“And peace be upon you, too.”)

“Philip has spoken much of you, Miss Malveaux. He did not mention you were learned in our culture’s language and customs. I am pleased by this.”

Caroline: Philip. It’s like hearing your parents’ names spoken for the first time. She intellectually knows the seneschal’s name, but it’s something else to hear it.

The praise brings an irrational flush of pride alongside the buried envy. All the same, she’s just as happy with their swap to English.

“I was gifted with languages and my upbringing provided me many opportunities, Emira. I like to believe that I took full advantage of them. I find that many things are best experienced in their narrative tongue.”

GM: “Few things are not.” Fatimah turns. “Let us walk. I would share my haven’s splendors with you.”

The woman’s tone is not boastful, but neither is it modest. It feels so different from her sire’s unrelenting zeal or her mother’s modest yet pride-swollen words.

Caroline: “You honor me, Emira. What I had read of the Qalawun’s Complex’s history did not do justice to its majesty.” She falls in behind the elder.

GM: “Majesty was the complex’s birthright,” Fatimah states as they walk. “The pillars you see before you were repurposed from a pharaonic monument.”

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“Rejuvenation through continuous reinvention has ever been Cairo’s way,” Maldonato concurs.

The trio meet no one along their journey. For all the clamor of life outside the complex’s walls, all the millions of souls packed into every street and alley, the complex’s proud halls stand empty and silent. The silver cords stretching from Caroline’s and Maldonato’s hearts (somehow, to think of him as “the seneschal” in this place no longer feels apt) trail on for as far as her eye can see.

Caroline: The Ventrue is attentive to the elder as she leads them. “I imagine that tradition of reinvention must make the curration of the city’s Elysia challenging.”

GM: “All cities change with time,” answers Fatimah. “Mine has merely endured more changes than most. Yet my cousin has not brought you halfway across the world frivolously, and there are other matters I would speak of with you.”

“I am to understand it was by your hand that the Catharite faced the judgment she had long evaded.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an involuntary shiver at the memories the name dredges to the surface. The wet tearing of flesh, grinding blade on bones, and screams echoing in her ears. Her own screams.

“He spoke truly. My hand welded the blade that ended her existence, Emira, though it would not have been possible without him.”

“I knew little then, save of her wickedness. Of that I had learned plenty. I believed your cousin an angel braving the pits of Hell—for what else could her domain be—to strike down a demon.”

She pauses. “I suppose all things being equal, I was not so wrong as I might have been.”

GM: “Her appetites took her far from the lands of her birth. During the great uprising of progeny, she numbered among the Qābīlites who attacked Cairo’s elders. Though hers was not the hand that slew my sire, her actions facilitated his final death by emboldening others towards actions they might not otherwise have considered—filial piety and reverence for one’s ancestors are more ingrained in our culture than in yours. I am grateful for your part in righting an old wrong.”

Caroline: The reply gives Caroline pause for a moment, but only that.

“I am little surprised to hear she made enemies both near and far, but I would not deceive you, Emira: though I am gladdened her end has brought some measure of closure to an old wounds and that we are united by the satisfaction of it, I would have struck her down for many reasons all my own.”

“Striking her down was my last act in life. Had there been no Requiem to follow, I would have counted it no wasted life for that alone. That would have remained true even had I not spent an age in her care. The world is a better place in all ways for her destruction.”

Another pause. But then, this is a Kindred Maldonado has seen fit share secrets with enough, isn’t it? No doubt they have secrets, but few perhaps enough.

“That it gave a measure of peace to myself and others victim of her malice, and even that it unraveled a great plot of the seneschal and my sire’s foe only adds to the act, rather than defines it.”

GM: “I do not expect the hurts of a stranger half a world away had any bearing upon your actions that fateful night, Miss Malveaux. I am grateful for them nevertheless. The Catharite’s destruction has upset many things, some whose ripples touch even here, but I would be inclined to agree with your assessment. The world is a better place for the Catharite’s absence, even were I not inclined to believe she would have made a third attempt upon Philip’s unlife.”

Caroline: That’s interesting. It also further confirms her suspicion.

The Ventrue bows her head. “Then we are of a like mind, Emira, and you have added another piece to my puzzle. I did not believe my journey to the Dungeon and the seneschal’s harrowing of it to have occurred by chance. Nor all the events that preceded it.”

GM: “You are right to mistrust coincidence in the Jyhad, young one. My cousin has watched you for much of your mortal life. He has told me much of you. Though this is our first meeting, I have long felt as if I knew you well.”

Caroline: “I might only imagine what he might have said, Emira. When last he spoke candidly of me I was both humbled by his words and shamed by them. I suppose that is the best that any might feel before the eyes of those to whom their life is laid bare, both our triumphs and failures.”

GM: “Even the Holy Prophet, may peace be upon him, had to ask forgiveness for his sin. Your triumphs earned my cousin’s Embrace, but we are none of us without failings. His own pain him greatly, not least among them his betrayal of your sire’s trust.”

Fatimah speaks of Caroline’s guide as if he is not there. It is then that she notices he is not. She and the foreign elder walk alone through the mausoleum’s silent halls.

Caroline: “It is… a peculiar situation. To have been Embraced by one with the blood of another. Guided along a path by them, groomed by them. I was many nights into my Requiem before I had cause to speak to my sire.”

There’s a faint smile. “It’s almost as though he is my mother—at least among Kindred opposite my sire as father. He has been my sire in many ways.”

The smile fades. “It was difficult to see Prince Vidal’s reaction to my existence. How he treated your cousin, Emira.”

“A very hard man, even among us. I might hope for their future, but I fear the seneschal’s decision tore away what little trust he had left to give.”

GM: “Philip knew his choice would not pass without consequence. Though it pained his heart, he was prepared to accept that choice’s outcome. Great expectations rest upon your shoulders, childe.”

“I have counseled Philip, and he has concurred, that reconciliation is most probable when the burdens weighing upon your sire are finally lifted. When he sees that my cousin is still loyal, even when loyalty bears no fruits.”

“And when he sees the fruits born of Philip’s decision to grant you the Embrace. The betrayals and failures of your sire’s previous childer still wound him greatly.”

Caroline: “I do not fear the weight of those responsibilities or expectations, Emira.”

Perhaps a lie, but if so one she eagerly tells herself, and did all her life.

“For all of my short Requiem, failure has meant disgrace and death. In this, your cousin prepared me well for my sire’s scrutiny.”

“Throughout it, too, always have great odds stood against me. Greatness cannot come though only from succeeding when it is expected. I do not expect my sire will accept anything less.”

GM: “Nor will your city, Miss Malveaux. Your successes and failures will impact his covenant’s fortunes as well as his personal approval of you. But that fact is not new to you.”

“It may also be that no reconciliation is possible between your sire and my cousin,” Fatimah then states, returning to their prior topic. “I find it unlikely that Prince Vidal will forsake his responsibilities to his city, even should his rest last centuries. Philip has little taste for those same responsibilities and assumed them only for his love’s sake. For his love’s sake, he will rule as regent until you are of age. But it may then be Allah’s will that he simply move on.”

Fatimah’s glowing white eyes look pensive, but neither do her expressed thoughts feel like new ones to her.

“I would tell you something of my Istirja, you who are childe to my cousin in all save blood.”

Caroline recognizes ‘Istirja’ as a Muslim prayer for the dead: “Verily we belong to Allah, and verily to Him do we return.” The usage sounds similar to how she might reference her Requiem.

Caroline: A century. She’s seen well the powers a century of the blood might offer. She’s seen too those of Kindred with true time in the blood. The implication is clear: whether the seneschal’s plan succeeds or not, time alone will not give her the strength to weather what is to come. Whether it’s the implication the elder intends for her to draw is another matter entirely.

“I would welcome any wisdom your many years might provide a neonate, Emira,” Caroline entreats her.

GM: “I owe all that I am to my sire, King Sharif,” Fatimah begins. “For much of my mortal life, he watched me from afar and grew to care for me deeply. In olden times, sires Embraced progeny at younger ages than they do now. Life was briefer and kine were not permitted the luxury of an ‘adolescence’ between childhood and adulthood.”

Caroline: Caroline wonders passingly if the comment about luxury of adolescence is intended as a barb, but passes it off. Perhaps from another. Not from Fatimah. The elder has nothing to prove.

GM: “My Sharif allowed me to mature to the very old age of 32, so that I might experience life in all its richness and fullness before I joined him in everlasting night. Our clan is known for the harshness of our Embraces, but the night he took me as his bride numbers among the happiest of my unlife.”

“My Sharif did not desire a childe to mold to his will, but a lover and consort with whom he might share eternity. He had a dream that was to be medieval Cairo, and he wished to share every moment of that dream with an eternal love.”

Caroline: Her previous thought is swept away as Fatimah continues.

Lover and consort. It teases at things that can’t be. Things she has no reason to think of now, but can’t escape. Not now. Not ever. It’s always there, lingering at the edge of her consciousness like a dull ache. It doesn’t actively hurt unless she brushes against it, but she’s always mindful of it.

A sad smile slips onto her face as she nods along with Fatimah’s tale.

GM: “Sharif and I established ourselves in Cairo shortly after the city’s conquest by the Fatimids. Under my Sharif’s guidance, their general laid out a plan for a new, enclosed capitol city in the name of the Shi’a caliph. The city would be an exclusive enclave of walled palaces, parade grounds, and private gardens—a notion copied some years later by the Chinese in their construction of the Forbidden City. My Sharif’s aim was to turn Cairo into the center of Islamic learning, if not the center of the entire faith, where the devout could come to learn, pray and study in peace, free from the chaos of the outside world. The Fatimids built the world’s first university, Al-Azhar, as well as many other palaces, mosques, and bathhouses.”

“When the walled city and all its wonders were completed, the Fatimid caliph himself traveled to take up residence, leaving a viceroy behind in North Africa. When the caliph arrived, he renamed the city Al-Qahira, ‘the Triumphant,’ and Cairo was born. My Sharif could finally extend his open invitation to the Ashirra to come and partake of the greatest city in Islam. He welcomed all those who would pray inside the walls of Al-Qahira, and evicted those who would taint his vision of faith. He especially deplored the Followers of Set, who befouled all they touched with their selfish desires. My Sharif’s dream soon became a reality, as Suleiman ibn Abdullah himself—the first Qābīlite convert to Islam at the hands of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him—deigned to make his haven within the city’s walls.”

“If you would know more of the Fatimids’ glories, you may find them in a history book. Even after Egypt was conquered twice again by the Ayyubids and Mamlukes, my sire raised me up as his queen. I knew happiness that few of Qābīl’s chilren were privileged to feel.”

Caroline: Where you start off is often a measure of where you begin.

Many thoughts skirt across Caroline’s mind. Not among them any self-pity.

GM: “When my Sharif granted me the right to take a childe of my own, for such has only recently been made the prerogative of princes, I made my choice carefully. After many years, I selected a young man of noble bearing whom I felt would be a credit to our clan and a worthy heir to King Sharif’s legacy.”

“I courted him over many years as my sire had done. I Embraced him when he was a man grown and had experienced mortal life in all its fullness. He was to be a gift to my Sharif. All that my sire gave to me, I would give unto another.”

“In doing so I committed a grave error, for I had Embraced too wisely and too well. My midnight assignations with my would-be progeny resulted in the one variable to which I was blind: he fell in love with me, as I had with my own sire.”

“I assumed my childe would grow accustomed to the reality of his situation. My heart had belonged to Sharif since before his grandfathers’ grandfathers were motes in their own grandfathers’ eyes.”

“He did not. As the years passed, he grew ever more jealous of his grandsire and desired me for his own.”

Caroline: Is it a cautionary tale? A worry the elder has, that she will tear down the seneschal for her want of the prince? But then, doesn’t a part of her want just that? The worst part of her?

Part of her is angry, hurt even, it wants to break down, to tearfully declare with indignation she never wanted this, the aching need for her sire’s presence always there, always pulling her. That he demanded it of her. That as with all things, she was given no choice. He bound her to him.

But she knows that however hesitant she was in that moment, part of her did want it. Always wanted it. Still wants it in the most perverse and vile way, the kind that makes her want to scrub her skin raw when she thinks about it even as it sets fire to her inside. This raw, disgusting need so poorly hidden in everything she does.

“Some things cannot be. Those that cannot accept them will bring only woe down on the world.”

That at least, she can accept. A year from now or a century, she knows whatever her weakness, her sire has none of it.

GM: “Some things cannot,” Fatimah concurs. “Yet great woes are rarely wrought by one individual’s hands alone.”

“When the Anarch Revolt crept into our city from Europe—spurred on by such rebels as the Catharite—Munther seized his chance. He rallied a pack of disillusioned neonates and struck at my Sharif at his manor in the old walled city. My sire fought valiantly and removed every attacker’s head save that of my childe’s. Yet in the end, he could not withstand their numbers. My Sharif lay dead.”

“His demise marked the end of an era in Cairo for the Muslim children of Qābīl. Mullah Suleiman quietly left the city not long thereafter. Lamenting in a final speech to the collected Ashirra, Suleiman remarked, ‘The glory of Cairo has well and truly gone.’”

“But what care did I then have for Cairo’s glories? My Sharif lay dead. I had never known such pain. All our years of happiness felt as if they were a dagger now plunged into my heart. Worse, it was I who had slain my love. In seeking to honor his legacy, I had sired the instrument of his destruction.”

“I wept and cursed Allah that He would inflict such misery upon me. I looked to the future and saw only an eternity of loneliness without my Sharif.”

“I did not believe I could carry such a burden. I wished nothing more than to greet the dawn.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, Emira.”

Is that the right thing to say? How do you encompass the loss of centuries of love like that? The words feel paltry.

GM: “All-too inadequate words for one in the depths of such grief, childe, but they are no longer necessary. My Sharif perished long ago.”

“Time alone does not heal all wounds, but it may ameliorate many.”

Caroline: She hopes that’s true.

GM: “Philip comforted me during my grief. His words and presence were a balm upon my hurts.”

“I resolved that I would not greet the dawn, nor seek vengeance against my childe. I would remain true to my sire’s legacy of faith.”

Caroline: Caroline remains silent until it’s clear the elder has finished.

GM: “I continued to claim domain in Banu al-Lam’a as Sharif’s descendant. I opposed the Sabbat and cemented influence among both the Camarilla and Ashirra of Egypt. I have shepherded our khitta through tribulations that now fill history books. I lead the city’s Shi’a Ashirra in prayer and encourage them to maintain good relations with all other Ashirra. Ibn Ja’far, perhaps the most devout Sunni in Cairo, counts me among his closest allies. When Prince Bey instituted his Consultative Council, I stepped into the role on my clan’s behalf to their unanimous acclaim. I number among the most respected of our city’s elders and primogen.”

“My childe remains in Cairo too, now an elder in his own right and a leader among the Sabbat. Though our clan hunts all who name themselves antitribu, I am exempt by order of the Friends of the Night. I have many friends among my clanmates, both near and far. Violent action against me is not permitted without a proper ruling from the Courts of Blood—a highly unlikely occurrence. Although younger clanmates within the Sabbat eye my vitae hungrily, many others look to me for inspiration. I receive periodic correspondence from secret well-wishers the world over who support my independent stance.”

Caroline: All but confirmation of the truth of Smith’s words?

GM: “My childe has raised no hand in violence against me. I have spoken to his own childe and found him to be a man of honor. I have told him the story of his great-grandsire, and I believe that he, too, will raise no hand in violence against me, nor ever act against my interests. My grandchilde tells me that he has spread King Sharif’s story to his own childer, and they to their own progeny. Sharif’s name will not soon die on his descendants’ lips.”

“I am proud of what I have accomplished by remaining true to my beliefs. I am proud of the honor I have done my sire’s memory. I am proud to honor his memory even before the childe of a Ventrue prince from half a world away.”

Fatimah looks ahead of her.

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Caroline: Questions die on Caroline’s lips. So too does the search for meaning. There are many lessons to be found in the elder’s tale, but she’s no longer certain that was the purpose.

GM: Fatimah assumes her knees before a sarcophagus. She tenderly strokes her hands along its surface.

“Sharif’s bones lie here still. I gathered them from his palace. Here, in what many name the second greatest mausoleum in the world, I have made his eternal resting place.”

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Caroline: The image of the elder kneeling before her sire’s sarcophagus leaves Caroline lightheaded.

GM: Fatimah gazes away from Caroline and towards the sarcophagus as she speaks. If there is grief on her face, it is as faint as the features of a statue worn away by lifetime upon lifetime of sand.

“On occasion, I come here to sleep with my Sharif. I remember our nights together and my heart swells with love. I am old and will never again know such love as his.”

“Yet as I lie upon my sire’s resting place, I am reminded that my love is small. I am reminded that for all my power and accomplishments, I am as nothing before Allah.”

‘Indeed, to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; He gives life and causes death. And you have not besides Allah any protector or any helper.’

Caroline: “You are, I think, everything my sire might wish me to be, Emira,” Caroline answers after a moment.

And she means it. Penitent. Pious. Devoted. Loyal. Accomplished. Mighty. The virtues of her sire.

“I look upon this scene now, though, and it terrifies me.”

And it does, for she sees here her own future. Bound by faith, serving a memory of a ghost even less tangible than the lifetimes Fatimah spent with her sire. Proud of words spoken by others more than deed. Chained to her sire for all eternity. His slave, whether he wakes in a century or never again.

Satisfied, even gladdened by that.

GM: Fatimah regally reassumes her feet and turns to face Caroline.

“It is well that you are afraid, childe.”

“To have gazed upon this scene when I was as new to the night as you would have seemed a fate worse than death.”

Caroline: Worse than death? No… perhaps not anymore. Not with her sisters, and her mother. She knows the price of her death.

But it makes this vision of her future no less terrible.

GM: “Perhaps there are loved ones whose losses you fear.”

Caroline: Uncertainties, fears, inadequacies nag at her. There are many things she might wish to confide, but the Ventrue bites her tongue.

GM: “I would counsel you to prepare yourself for that night.”

Caroline: “Klu ma sha’ allh,” Caroline answers after a moment.

(“All is as God wills it.”)

Including my fate.

GM: “Yet neither did I bring you here solely to caution you as to eternity’s pitilessness.”

“Your Istirja is your own, as my Istirja is my own. You have listened to my tale. You may take whatever lessons you choose to heed from it. I hope you have taken many. Instruction is a kinder teacher than experience.”

“The only lesson I would impress upon you now is that time humbles all save Allah. All your plans and loves and ambitions are as nothing before Him, and rarely will they unfold precisely as you wish them to. The only thing you may truly control over your Istirja is yourself: your own decisions, your own principles, and your own faith. Though your beliefs are not as mine, I would counsel you to look towards your Christ when times are trying. You may find that faith alone is all that remains to you.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses at that for a long moment.

“I am grateful for the tale of your Istirja, Emira. As you have come to know much of me through the words of Seneschal Maldonato, so too do I feel I have come to know much the same through your words. Too did I ask for wisdom, and there was much to be found.”

“I fear for your cousin, and am grateful he retains a confidant, great though the journey is to speak to her. I have known him as a man of great purpose and will, and too of faith, but this year has both cost and demanded much of him. I have cost and demanded much of him.”

“I believe that much of what God holds in His plan for me may echo your own Istirja. I spoke truly when I said it terrified me, but so too do I see there grace and purpose and will if that is the path laid out before me.

“Your cousin too calls to faith. My sire demands it. I cannot but heed the wisdom of my elders in that matter.”

But she knows too that in this, in part, the elder is wrong too. Her place as her sire’s childe in mirror of that as her father’s daughter cannot but be divine providence sufficient to give her certitude of faith, but it is not solitude of faith. No, never solitude.

Even here, a world away, she can feel it, that other thing that slides across the edge of her conscious mind at all times. That other bond to seven strings ink black and cloyingly sweet. The one that gave her no true fear when the seneschal warned that to lose his hand might cast her adrift. She has something else too, and she can always find her way home to it.

GM: “This past year has been trying for my cousin,” Fatimah concurs. “I know much of the pain he now feels. Though his spirit is not so wounded as your sire’s, and though he will not countenance to display weakness before you, the burdens upon his shoulders are great. He is like unto any man. Cut him and he will bleed.”

“My cousin killed you and abandoned you. Though he saved you from a fate more terrible than death, and placed your sire’s vitae upon your lips, he has also been the architect of much of your ignorance and suffering.”

“What feelings does this stir in you?”

Caroline: The bluntness of the question is a surprise, but it is not the first time she’s considered it. She also considers lying for a moment. But who else might she ever confess these feelings to?

“Conflicted ones, Emira. Those at war with each other even. I think they’ve always been so—whether it was respect and fear at my earliest meetings or despair and hope when he sentenced me to death but told me of my sire.”

She takes a short breath. Her voice is almost tender. “For his harrowing of hell for me, knowing it spelled his doom, I shall always love him.”

“For casting me into ignorance to suffer, for making me a pariah to my sire, for looming over me as executioner for all of my Requiem, I shall always hate him,” she continues, her voice grinding out with anger.

A pause. "More than anything else, I think I pity him. And… "

She shakes her head. “He has placed so many of his hopes and dreams and expectations upon me. He has been the most constant star in my Requiem, one that for much of it I tried to steer by. He intends to remain the brightest in the night for a century to come.”

She pauses, more for the thorniness of the topic than for uncertainty.

“I described him earlier as my mother among the Damned, in contrast to my sire. I suppose, in that way, it’s a relationship I am familiar with.”

“But that does not mean I know what we are to be to each other in the future. I mean him no ill, but I do not know if I can be all that he hopes for me to be.”

GM: “What makes you doubt this?” asks Fatimah.

Caroline: “I see doom on the path he has set before us.”

GM: “He has also forseen doom in your futures. Many dooms. Though he will strive to avert them, and to safeguard your sire’s kingdom through his slumber, success cannot be guaranteed.”

“Do you believe you will fail, or do you merely fear failure’s possibility?”

Caroline: “For all the evils I would lay against him, I believe the seneschal a better man than I, Emira. I think his foes will use his morality against him, to destroy him, in a way tempered now by my sire’s cold fury. I believe my abduction was only the first of such traps laid before him, to draw him to his doom.”

“His plans, as I have seen them, rely too much upon his strength while making too small an accounting of his weakness.”

GM: “I too believe my cousin to be an individual of good character, Miss Malveaux. Yet what you name a weakness I would consider a strength. A more pragmatic Qābīlite might have abandoned you to your fate in the Catharite’s realm and Embraced your cousin Adam, or perhaps another.”

“Would this have been to your sire’s greater benefit?”

Caroline: “Had he been slain the kingdom would have crumbled, Emira. Laid against that, my suffering and death matters little.”

She represses a shiver. It’s easier to say that than to think of it, to think of an eternity committed to the lowest levels of the Dungeon.

A nauseating flash of memory of a monster with black flesh and yellow teeth holding her bloody intestines in his hand as he sodomized her, gripping his cock through her guts as he fucked her with something inhumanly long and slithering, skitters across her mind. For a moment she can almost smell his fetid breath in her face, demanding she watch. She’d already begged for death so many times when the seneschal arrived. She wonders if madness might not have taken her. Wonders sometimes if it hasn’t anyway.

“I do not deny that his character is the best part of him, nor that it calls to righteousness. I only balance it against centuries of knowing the power to right wrongs and the vast responsibilities he carries.”

GM: “My cousin might have been slain, and the consequences for your sire’s house would have been calamitous. Yet who met their end within that fell pit?”

“One of Antoine Savoy’s most potent allies is now ash by your hand, and the consequences of that action are equally calamitous for your sire’s foes. The Catharite was a plague upon your sire’s house for centuries. She raised Pascual’s childe to his present stature. Her plots ran deep. There is no telling what future woes her actions may have spawned.”

“That triumph, as well as the triumph of your survival and Embrace, was achieved through what many would consider weakness.”

“There are many who believe I should have slain my childe for his murder of my sire. Such a thing was within my power to do.”

“Yet in sparing his Istirja, I have a grandchilde whose existence I consider a credit to my Sharif’s memory, and who will answer his grandsire’s call when she has need of aid. This too, I achieved through ‘weakness.’”

“Allah sees all we do. I have faith that He sees fit to reward righteous action. I have faith that when He does not, such action still serves His will.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip again. The bleeding edge between faith and folly, between chance and providence.

“A good is an end unto itself.”

GM: “That is my cousin’s conviction, as well as mine own. Our Istirjas have persisted. The Catharite’s has not.”

“Yet if faith in the Almighty is not sufficient to give you faith in my cousin, know the Qabilat al-Khayal are deservedly reputed for our ruthlessness. I know that you, too, have experienced this at my cousin’s hands. The spirit of your Embrace ran truer to our clan’s than your sire’s.”

Caroline: A grim smile.

GM: “I know, too, that he was prepared to end your Istirja with his own hands, even after the perils he braved to save you from the Catharite’s.”

“Some say ruthlessness and not shadow is our clan’s true deathright.”

Caroline: “Trust has long become a stranger to me, but your words give me comfort, Emira.”

GM: “I am pleased by this. Your comfort and prosperity is my cousin’s.”

Caroline: “I have felt as though I have been alone on an island or a boat at sea for many years: an existence in which all troubles were mine to resolve. I suspect it will take time to grow accustomed to it not being so.”

GM: “Time favors you in this, childe, as in many things.”

“You say you shall always love and hate my cousin for his actions towards you. Should you find it within yourself to forgive him for them, I believe such words would be a balm upon his spirit and ease the burdens he carries.”

Caroline: The horror of her first feeding. The shame of her first murder. The bone-deep humiliation of being forced to strip before onlookers. The snap of the whip in McGinn’s mansion. The bite of Kelford’s blade. The public shaming of Donovan’s ghouls. The back-breaking despair as her family disowned her, call after call of vitriol and hate. The existential terror for month after month of a death sentence hanging over her head. The look in Claire’s eyes as the darkness swallowed her forever. The fury of her sire at her very existence.

The child within her cannot help but lay the memories in comparison to the ‘wonderful’ night of Fatimah’s Embrace. Her centuries with her sire as her lover. What right does she have to ask Caroline to forgive, she who knows of Caroline’s suffering only as words?

“As you say, Emira, time may favor such a thing. For now I may serve him, learn from him, and even care for him, but forgiveness… "

Her voice cracks. "He destroyed me. Down to my last inch. He spared me from a fate worse than death to deliver unto me another I would have more surely faced death than accepted. It may yet be that I am reborn, that I might be more than the disowned daughter, disgraced heiress, damned soul, ruined neonate, and unwanted childe. Indeed, the time of changes may be at hand… "

“I wish I could give him that comfort. I see clearly the burdens he bears. They tear at my heart all the worse to hear that I might lift some of them, were I greater of spirit. But it would be a lie tonight. A better person might be capable of doing so… perhaps my cousin, who he favored for the Embrace. But for what little I may still be, I am too much my father’s daughter.”

GM: Fatimah’s placid face looks little surprised.

“Do you regret your Embrace, childe? Would you have preferred a natural death and that your cousin now be your sire’s childe?”

Caroline: “My Embrace has had scant opportunity to offer joy, and much to offer pain, Emira,” Caroline sidesteps.

“If it was to be my cousin or I, better I, for damnation was my due.” She looks down at her hands. “Better too in the eyes of God that I be a waking damned with some chance of redemption come judgement day, who might still serve his plan.”

“Selfishly, though, I spoke truthfully. Had I known all that would transpire from the moment of my embrace onward, I would have chosen death in that moment over ruin and shame.”

“Tonight it is more complicated. A year ago my death would have been a meaningless thing. Now my death would mean the death of hopes and dreams. The ruination of lives. The rise of darker forces.”

“It doesn’t matter what I regret, or what I would have wanted. I did not get to decide, and the consequences of that decision are not all clear to me even now. What matters if the here, the now, the decisions that were made and the consequences of them.”

“I will make the most of my Requiem. I will strive to climb to great heights. I will strike down the foes of my sire. I will seek happiness and joy where it may be found. And perhaps I shall look back on this conversation as one made in all the naivety of youth, with no inkling of what greatness is to come.”

“That is what matters. The rest are insidious thoughts that can only haunt and bring misery. What might have been cannot bring you joy, only what may yet be.”

GM: “Choice remains even to those who regret their Istirjas,” replies Fatimah. “They may greet the dawn. Or they may endure the night. But they must commit themselves wholly to one path or the other, lest their doubt poison all good works they touch.”

“I am pleased you have also reached this conclusion. Philip had long believed your feelings on your Istirja to be deeply divided.”

“I am saddened that you are unable to ease his pain in his time of need. I will pray that you find that strength.”

“I will pray that you find it soon. Events move swiftly around you both. Circumstance may not permit you to speak words you later wish to have spoken.”

Caroline: Those words are a dagger.

How many unspoken words does she count now that will forever remain such? Volumes.

“Death is easier than duty, Emira. All you must do is give up. But if the seneschal has spoken anything of me, it must be that giving up is not in my nature. I have never taken the easy path.”

GM: “He has spoken such of you, Miss Malveaux.” Fatimah’s glowing eyes stare into the distance. “He is soon to return, and there are plans for the future we would involve you in. But the minutes until then are our own. What would you speak with me of?”

Caroline: The answer to that question is obvious—it tugs at her attention during every waking moment.

“The seneschal spoke of you before my sire in passing, Emira. He spoke of your meetings past. I would beg, indulge me that tale or your appraisal of him in that time.”

GM: “I believe him a different Kindred then than my cousin has described him in recent years,” Fatimah replies. “Hot with rage for his slain sire and broodmates. But his was a fury born of righteousness rather than hate.”

“I found him chivalrous and honorable, as his culture reckoned such things. He offered to bring me my childe’s head for his murder of my sire. It deeply offended his sensibilities for a grandson to have slain his grandfather.”

“His devotion to Hardestadt’s vision ran equally deep. He believed to the core of his being that the Camarilla’s revival was necessary and just, at a time when many doubted this fact, and when even fewer shared the depth of his conviction. Time has proven that conviction to be correct.”

“I felt little of the hatred for my faith that Philip described him as harboring for the Vodouisants of your city.”

Caroline: Caroline listens with rapt attention. “He sounds hardly recognizable.”

GM: “Then perhaps he has changed more than my cousin’s tales led me to believe.”

Caroline: “The only passion I have seen in him has been rage… but my meetings with him have had little occasion than to provoke anything but rage from him.”

She pauses. “Undoubtedly you have seen many elders fall into torpor and rise from it, Emira. Have they managed to recapture their vigor?”

GM: “I would ask that question of you, Miss Malveaux. My cousin last entered the sleep of ages for a century. I, too, have slept when my blood grew thick and heavy, and I have spent more of my Istirja in slumber than he. Do you believe us vigorous?”

Caroline: “I do,” she answers.

“And in that I find hope.”

GM: “His rest is long overdue. Nastasio asked too much of him to assume a foreign city’s princedom. Others might have served.”

Caroline: “Others might have failed,” Caroline observes, a hint of pride in her voice.

GM: “You may be right, Miss Malveaux. Little purpose is served in ruminating over what may have been, in any case.”

Caroline: “And the seneschal? Has he always been as he is now?”

She smiles, almost shyly. “I apologize, Emira, if the topics seem trivial. They have dominated my Requiem to date, and will likely do so to come, but I feel I know them at times only as figures of mystery and fear.”

GM: “Time has changed him less than your sire,” Fatimah answers. “His own sire brought him to al-Qāhirah long ago, so that he might become acquainted with his kin throughout the greater Ashirra. He knew my sire, and I his. He was then a childe learning at his elders’ feet. Our early relationship was not one of equals.”

“My opinion of his character was favorable. He was quiet, courteous, and less eager to learn than quietly attentive. His mind was a fertile sponge for his elders’ wisdom.”

“His Embrace was an atypical one. As I have said, adolescence was a luxury not permitted to the kine in those nights. He was a man grown with children and grandchildren. He had seen much of life by the time of his death. He was older then than even I.”

Caroline: “I begin to sense a theme,” Caroline observes. “For my sire was not Embraced in his youth either.”

GM: "His sire Embraced many childer. Many were young. Some, by chance or providence, were older. "

Caroline: “But he did not. I know of only one. Nor your cousin, Emira,” Caroline observes.

GM: “I shall leave Philip to speak to you of your sire’s past,” Fatimah answers. “As to my cousin, he has Embraced but once, and regrets that choice to this night.”

Caroline: “You have given me more than I might have hoped, Emira,” Caroline answers gratefully.

Hope, of what may come.


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Story Twelve, Ayame I, Celia XII

“Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”
Cypress Grove Cemetery motto


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia runs into one of her mother’s cats on her way out. The calico loudly hisses at the vampire, her tail going puffed like a beaver’s, before she flees deeper into the house over Diana’s futile (and after seven years, largely half-hearted) efforts to calm her down.

“I just don’t understand why Shadow and Victor don’t like you! They’re so sweet to everyone else!” Celia’s mom exclaims, shaking her head.

The two exchange a last hug before her Ryde arrives and drops her off at the border of the French Quarter.

The little-used haven looks much as it did the last time Celia was there. She has several hours. She could spend them doing productive things, or she could just sit there and fret.

Finally, at midnight, there’s a knock against the door.

Celia: Celia spends her time wisely. She doesn’t fidget like some nerve-struck high schooler while she waits for her guest to arrive. She is not so skittish as that anymore, not when her feelings for the visiting Brujah have long since cooled. Her collar snapped the night that he put his fist through her face. Now just an echo remains, a pale imitation of what once was or could have been.

First, her face. She seats herself before the vanity in her bathroom and gets to work. Her fingers sculpt flesh, muscle, and cartilage from Celia’s face to transform it into Jade’s. She is not Celia anymore. Not for Roderick. The differences between the two faces are enough to make them distinct, and once she begins to play with the powders, liquids, and mists atop the counter there is even more that separates them. Jade’s face is narrower than Celia’s, her cheekbones cut by contour, her nose slimmer. She starts with that base color, foundation blended all the way down to her neck to avoid the horrid line that some women just forget about—your face and your neck should not be different colors, dear—though she does not truly need this step. Her complexion is pristine all on its own. A pink blush is dabbed across her cheeks, blended upward, the amount so minuscule that it’s not even there in some light. Just a hint. A hint of color across her lids, gold—not the yellow gold she’d used for Caroline earlier this evening, but a metallic color that might even be bronze depending on how you look at it. Duochrome, they call this effect, and the pigment is loose. She applies it with a wet brush. A dark brown liner across her eyes that cuts upward to suggest a wing. Highlighter in the key spots. A mauve, dusky rose color on her lips. Matte. It’s in season.

The clothes next. She strips from the borrowed clothing and pulls on a new bra and panties. Pastel pink. He’ll never see them, but knowing what she wears beneath her clothing gives her a boost of confidence.

She pulls a dress over her head, smoothing it down her body with her palms. It clings to all the right places, accentuating her slim waist. The dress itself stops halfway to her knee. Low enough that it’s not whorish, high enough that it’s suggestive. It leaves her throat and shoulders bare.

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Her nails are seen to next, filed and painted and adorned with the crystals she has just for this purpose. Shades of carnation pink, gold, and white, carefully filed into points, though they lack the edge of true claws. Her sun ring is, as always, worn on one hand. On the other is a similar stone set in the shape of a flower, fire opal all around the diamond in the center.

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Once her personal aesthetic is seen to she sweeps her eyes across the location.

The apartment hasn’t changed much in the past few years. Celia is still the only one who uses it; there is no hint of human presence inside, thought it seems assuredly lived-in if the closet is anything to go by. Full back then—there had barely been room for the things he’d started to move in—it’s practically overflowing now with gowns and sundresses and more heels than a person could possibly wear in their lifetime.

Good thing Celia has plenty of them ahead of her.

The bed holds the same four wooden posts he’d tied her to the one night, though the bedding itself has been upgraded. Higher quality sheets: higher thread count, softer, more luxurious, whatever the marketing teams are pushing these days. Darker, too. She’d learned the hard way that getting so much blood out of sheets is nothing like trying to remove a stain from her panties because she’d been caught without a pad (no tampons in the Flores household—wouldn’t want to risk the cherry popping).

Maybe Roderick thinks it was him who taught her that. Or maybe she’s used this place as a fuck pad since their breakup. He knows her reputation: her sire’s childe in deed as well as blood. Heard from her own lips that she’d bagged the sheriff one of her first nights. Is it so hard to think that she’s been with the others the rumors claim? Plus, look how pretty she is. Hot piece of tail, isn’t she? Who wouldn’t want to sink their teeth in.

The furniture looks similar to what she’d had before, though if her guest has a keen enough eye for that kind of thing he might notice it’s not the same pieces. Even so, they’re wrapped in slip covers as if she’s afraid of unruly children or pets or frenzying Kindred who seek to destroy her face. There had been a rug in front of the couch last time he’d been here. He’d ruined it with the gore from his attack. She’s rolled up its replacement and slid it under the couch itself to reveal the hardwood floors beneath. Easier to clean blood out of polished and protected wood than it is to get it out of an expensive rug, isn’t it?

A DVD case rests on the surface of the coffee table near the flat screen, its cover blank.

By the time midnight rolls around everything is in its proper place. The knock on her door takes only a moment to answer. She pulls it open.

GM: It’s him.

He doesn’t look much changed for the past four years. At all changed, actually, but that’s eternal youth. 31 and physically 22. He’s dressed more formally than he was during their last meeting: gray jacket and pants, white undershirt, maroon necktie. Overcoat over the suit. Winter is on its way out, but it’s still an average 56 degrees during the often-raining nights. Same leather shoes he’d usually pair with more relaxed outfits, though.

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A moment passes, as though he’s thinking of what to say.

Finally: “How bad are things?”

Celia: Her eyes sweep his form. One-time boyfriend. One time paramour. Brief, but what a mark he left on her.

Does he remember the words they’d shared, how they’d promised to always be there for each other, how she’d told him that she wasn’t afraid of him that night at the park—that she trusted him—before his fists destroyed her?

Her visage lacks any of that internal discourse. She steps back to allow him in, then closes and locks the door behind him.

For a moment she is silent, weighing her words, his question. Will this be the norm, then, this stilted conversation, these long pauses? She can play that game.

“Bad,” she says finally.

GM: He nods and follows her in. His eyes briefly sweep the familiar surroundings. Perhaps he notices the change in furnishings, but it has been four years. He probably notices the slip covers over the furniture, though.

“I’m here,” he answers.

“What happened?”

Celia: What hasn’t happened? That’s the real question, isn’t it.

“Before we begin,” she says to him, “I’d like to set a ground rule. Don’t bring me to Primogen Duquette should the night go awry. The Evergreen was always more my scene.”

GM: There’s a flash of… something in his eyes. Maybe hurt.

“The Evergreen isn’t really mine either,” he answers.

There’s a pause for a moment as he seems to consider several things to say. He finally settles on,

“If that… happens. I can leave you here and call someone. One of your renfields. If they know about this place. Or drop you off at another address.”

Celia: Good. She’s glad it hurts. He should remember what he did to her. How he told her he could forgive her and then refused to do so. How he’d beaten her instead. The rage of his clan, sure, but he’d be lying if he said there wasn’t some vicious side of him that enjoyed terrorizing her, ripping apart her face, slamming his fists again and again into that pretty smile until it was nothing but a red ruin.

“The Evergreen,” she repeats.

After a brief moment of hesitation—how much would she have told him had they spent these past years together?—she adds, “I am staying there now until some matters have been cleared up. Taking me to another location is only asking for trouble.”

GM: “I can’t go to the Evergreen,” Roderick says. “I can call someone for you.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. He has known her too long for her to pull off the gemstone-named harpy-in-training whose mask she dons around everyone else. She drops the facade, lets him see the weariness and wariness beneath. No lines mar her expression, no bags settle beneath her eyes, but she shows him in the slight rounding of her shoulders, the lips that pull downward in one corner, the eyes whose blink lag behind their ordinarily swift movement.

She opens her mouth to say something as she steps toward the couch.

“Okay. You c—”

The heel of her shoe catches on an uneven spot of wood, a groove in the floor perhaps made by her own claws those many years ago. It snaps. The sudden loss of support makes her ankle buckle sideways.

She starts to fall.

GM: There’s a gray blur, and then he’s caught her, arms around her waist.

His gaze lingers for a moment before he remarks,

“Bad shoes.”

Celia: Even after all this time?

Always.

The line from the book echoes through her mind. Her body stops before she so much as grazes her knees across the floor. His arms around her, like they should have been all this time. Even in heels she has to look up at him.

“Bad shoes,” she agrees. Perhaps her voice is more faint than normal.

The moment lingers. Silence stretches between them. Closer than they’ve been in years. She thinks to make her heart hammer in her ribcage, to cause a flush to appear on her cheeks, but they’ve both been dead long enough to know that these are affected, forced gestures.

She touches a hand to his cheek instead. Her skin is warm against his cool flesh. His face looms in front of her, taking up her entire field of vision. Her eyes land on his lips, on the mouth that she knows so well.

She leans in.

Just as quickly she aborts the movement. She blinks twice, gaze dropping.

“Thank you.”

GM: With her gaze averted, Celia can’t make out the expression on her former paramour’s face. There’s another pause before he answers, “You’re welcome.”

He starts to help her to the couch, then seems to realize her shoe doesn’t have a flat underside even with the heel gone. He finally just picks her up for the remaining distance, short as it is, and deposits her on the couch.

Celia: She can’t help the laugh. It bubbles up inside of her and passes her lips before she can think to press them together to trap it inside. Inside, where he can’t hurt her. The sound transforms her face, brings light to her eyes. A moment of levity in a dark, tense life.

Once the fabric slip cover concealing the couch touches the backs of her legs she kicks off both of her heels, nudging them beneath the couch with her bare feet. She tucks her legs beneath her, smoothing her skirt down her thighs where it had ridden up in the excitement of the moment.

Her eyes find his. She pats the spot beside her.

GM: He takes off his coat, hangs it at the spot by the door, and sits down on the couch.

“Seems the crappy footwear was good for a laugh, at least.”

“I guess you could’ve used one right now.”

Celia: “It’s been… rough. I had a particularly awful day.”

Day, she says. Not night. She watches his face for any sign of… anything.

GM: “I guess that’s why I’m here,” he answers. His face doesn’t look like it’s done much laughing or smiling, but it is earnest and serious.

They did promise, after that second back-together bout of lovemaking. Perhaps it’ll count for something and perhaps it’ll count for nothing, but if nothing else, he is here.

“So, what happened?”

Celia: It’s not why he’s here, despite the fact that he—she stops her thoughts before she can go down that line. She’ll tell him in a minute, anyway.

“D’you know the punishment for being caught somewhere you’re not supposed to be?”

GM: “Sure. Usually a sip from the domain holder’s veins, though they can decide to go easier or harder. Cut and dry Second Tradition violation.”

Celia: Celia makes a vague gesture with her hand.

“Sure. For our kind.”

GM: “Okay, if you mean in the breather sense, trespassing has a scaling penalty. First count is a $100-500 fine, imprisonment up to 30 days, or both.”

“There’s all sorts of ways to make that go away, obviously.”

Celia: Her lips curl upward in amusement, though the motion doesn’t reach her eyes. Those are dead serious.

“Would I have called you about a $500 fine?”

GM: “By itself, probably not. If it was part of something bigger, maybe. You implied this wasn’t about lick-related trespassing.”

Celia: Celia folds her hands on her lap. She looks down at the rings on her fingers, the flower and sun. Spinning the band around and around her finger is an old, fidgety habit that tells him of her apprehension. She’d done it the night she’d confessed to cheating on him. She does it again now.

GM: “Unless you meant about a renfield being caught trespassing, in which case… well, sucks to be them. Largely up to the lick who caught them what happens.”

He looks at her ring and frowns faintly.

Celia: “I was picked up by a pair of hunters,” she says quietly.

GM: “I’m sorry. Glad you made it out.”

Celia: “Are you?”

GM: “Jesus Christ,” he mutters.

“Yeah, what you did really hurt, but I don’t wish you dead over it.”

Celia: “All I could think about,” she says to her lap, “while they had me tied and gagged and stabbed me with knives and held a lighter to my face, was that I’d die without ever actually doing anything, without fixing anything, and I had this stupid, absurd fantasy of y—someone swooping in and rescuing me, and when I got out, when I was finally safe again, I kept thinking about you.” She looks back up at him.

GM: Roderick doesn’t look completely sure what to say to that.

“That sounds horrible. What they did, that is. But I think your mom, Emily, Lucy, and your other brothers and sisters would disagree that you accomplished nothing of value with your life.”

Celia: He doesn’t know what to say because he doesn’t care. He still hates her. Silly to think that four years is long enough to let him forgive.

All this worrying for nothing. She’d wasted her Roderick card on Savoy’s missive.

She should have stuck with Jade.

She lets up on the gas. Lifts her shoulders in a shrug. Doesn’t say anything for a moment.

“Yeah.”

GM: “So what’s going on?” he asks. “Are you still in trouble from hunters, or is it something else?”

Celia: “Is it fucked if I say the hunters are the least of my troubles?”

An old ache throbs inside her chest. She wants to tell him. Wants to tell him everything. Wants to be able to tell him and trust that it will stay between them, that the rest of their society won’t find out.

She hates Savoy for making her do this.

“I mean. Celia might have to die. I guess that’s…” She trails off. He knows.

GM: He doesn’t say anything to that for a moment. She knows all-too well that he knows.

“I can’t say I’d recommend that, if you can avoid it.”

“So what’s going on?” he repeats.

Celia: Celia shifts in her seat, knees still bent but waist unhinging as if she is about to rise. She pauses halfway through the motion, catching his gaze. Her face is open. Earnest.

“I just wanted to get that out before I tell you this. All of that. Because I… I…”

GM: “Because you…?” he guides her along.

Celia: She bites her lip. Her eyes dart towards the floor where he had once thrown her. No bloodstains remain, but the wood itself is still gouged. She glances back at him, then at her lap, and finally looks up at him through a line of thick lashes.

“I…” she shakes her head. Makes a noise. “It doesn’t matter,” she finally murmurs.

She looks at him for a moment longer, as if wishing he just knew what she was thinking so that she doesn’t need to spell it out for him. How can he come here, make himself available, keep her from falling on her face, physically pick her up and carry her—hold her in his arms… and pretend it means nothing?

Maybe it does mean nothing. He’d probably do it for anyone. Maybe she’s reaching. Searching for something that isn’t there.

Maybe she killed it.

GM: It wouldn’t be the first time.

“All right, so what is it then?” he asks. “That you’ve been dancing around over. I presume it’s something bad. Probably also sensitive. But I can’t help if you don’t tell me what it is.”

Celia: “What I’ve been dancing around,” Celia says as she rises to her feet, “are my own feelings, things I won’t admit to myself, let alone you. I have… so much—there’s so much—”

She cuts herself off. It doesn’t matter. She hadn’t intended to say any of this to him; the words just spill out of her mouth of their own volition.

“My mom begged me to hit her tonight.” Her eyes flick once more toward the gouges in the ground. Maybe he doesn’t see it. Maybe he’s not watching her as closely as she’s watching him. Wary. Waiting for him to pounce.

“Begged me. She had a run-in with a stiff and it fucked with her head something fierce.” She looks devastated. She shakes her head again, a sharp motion that dislodges a few curls from her effortlessly messy up-do and lets them spill into her face.

GM: “Wow, that’s incredibly fucked,” he says. “To do that you’d… never mind. How is she now?”

Celia: “I don’t know. Her blooper reel… she’s fucked, Roderick, someone fucked with her, and they did it at a time that I couldn’t do anything back.”

She pauses. Takes a breath. “She seemed… fine when I left.” ‘Fine’ is generous. “I would kill to keep them safe. Her, Lucy, Emily—all of them. I’d kill for them.”

“Would you do anything less for yours?”

GM: He shakes his head. “If someone did that to my dad or Danielle… I’d kill them. End of story. So it couldn’t ever happen again. I can’t do a lot for my family, these days, but I could do that.”

“Your mom’s the sweetest lady, too. I don’t know why anyone would want to fuck with her head like that.”

“There isn’t any ‘good’ reason for it. Any lick who’d do that has to be a real monster anyway.”

Celia: “Because they needed to make a scene so she’d leave Maxen and he’d attack her, possibly get arrested, lose his seat.” Her voice is bitter. She doesn’t know if her theory is true, but after tonight… after tonight, she thinks she knows who did this to her.

GM: “So you think Savoy did that to your mom, or one of his people? That’s the problem?” Roderick asks, his eyebrows raising.

Celia: “No.” She paces. “If they did anything it was… too long ago to matter. It doesn’t matter. What happened years ago doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. I’m not mad at my grandmother for telling my mom to abort me, I can hardly be mad at them for taking action against a rival’s pawn.”

But she is.

She’s furious.

They broke her family.

She doesn’t know that it’s Savoy, but she suspects. Just like she now suspects who it was that handed her the gun and told her to kill the fucker when the story of his arrest was buried.

They lied to her.

And she can’t tell Roderick. She can’t tell anyone.

She pushes her rage down. Inside of her, where it can’t hurt anyone. Where it smolders like an ember in her gut. She can’t let him see it. She needs him to be on her side. Savoy’s side.

The rage doesn’t want to go away, though.

It’s a dark, twisted thought that she’s had. That the Kindred who offers her so much with one hand used the other to take a hammer to her family.

It comes howling to the surface. Fangs explode from between her lips. Maybe she howls, too, joins the Beast in its undulating chorus. Her claws come out, nailbeds splitting in their wake, blood dripping down her fingertips.

For a moment she’s a beast. A slavering, angry, mindless beast. The Beast.

It wants to destroy. Her arm lashes out, knocking a kitchen stool to the ground. Papers and trinkets go flying; she follows them down. Her claws rake across the ground, tearing gouges in the wood.

It isn’t the same as rending flesh. Flesh that she knows would part beneath her claws. Especially now, with that gift running through her system. She’d win. She’s sure of it. He’s on the couch. Waiting. Expectant. All she has to do is leap and tear and—

Stephen.

The girl’s voice in her head. Reminding her of what’s important. Reminding her of what needs to be done. The battle that she’s fighting isn’t with him; it’s with the rest of them. Tonight isn’t about her.

It’s gone as suddenly as it appears. Caged. Back to where it belongs, inside of her. Her knees hit the floor in its sudden disappearance, a puppet whose strings have been cut. Her palms strike the floor when she doubles over, fingers settling into the new grooves she’d just carved.

She stays down for a long moment. Enough to make sure that it is well and truly locked away.

Controlled breaths do nothing to calm or focus her. She isn’t human that these bullshit meditation techniques work. She takes them anyway. They make her feel human, and that’s what staves off the Beast. Ritual. Her ring spins on her finger. Claws and fangs retreat into her flesh and gums.

Her hair came undone with the action. It’s a wild, curling, tangled mess around her head. She shoves it back from her face when her spine straightens. Pulls her dress back down her thighs, though she stays on her knees, sitting on her heels. She wouldn’t want a recently-raging lick coming any closer. Still, she makes sure that her appearance is in check. That’s ritual, too. The curls don’t care. They bounce right back to where they were.

Her gaze seeks Roderick.

Tonight has been one mistake after another. Celia’s nerves are on edge, frayed by the close call with the hunters, her sister’s execution, trespassing in Vidal’s territory, Caroline, her mother…

It could be shame in her eyes as she looks at him. Frustration at her own self for being so emotional. Longing—wishing that she could just tell him. They were supposed to be friends. Allies. Partners. Lovers. Whatever he wants to call it, they were supposed to be it. Now she only has a ghost.

She’s been spiraling for nights. She hadn’t meant to lose control.

She’d beaten it back into submission, though. Not like him, when he’d beaten her instead of the Beast, when he’d pulverized her into a bloody pile of broken bones and torn ligaments and displaced tendons. She swallows whatever lump has lodged itself inside her throat, just like she’d swallowed the (possibly misplaced) anger at her grandsire.

At least she lost her cool here rather than in front of him.

“Are you—?” Okay, she might be asking, but the question seems silly. She hadn’t touched him. Still, she asks. The old ache colors her voice; she can’t keep it out. She stops trying.

GM: Roderick is squatting on his haunches next to her. He isn’t reaching out to touch her. Maybe because they’re not there anymore, or maybe because touching a lick on the verge of apeshit is an objectively terrible idea, no matter what feelings exist between them. She can hope it’s the latter.

“Yeah,” he answers. "You didn’t go apeshit on me. Your nails might be another story, but nothing you can’t mend. "

“Things are bad though, huh?”

Celia: Bad?

‘Bad’ is an understatement.

‘Bad’ makes her want to laugh.

She’s fourteen all over again and just found out her mom fucked someone else and she isn’t her dad’s kid.

She presses her lips together and nods. She hasn’t even gotten to the part she contacted him about. That’s the worst part. That she hasn’t even told him yet.

And now she’s afraid of losing control again and shattering whatever remains of the goodwill between them. Maybe, just for a minute, they can pretend.

She reaches for him.

GM: He doesn’t kiss her. But he lets her, shifting off his haunches to properly sit down.

Celia: Her body slides easily across the floor, scooching closer until her arms are around his neck and her face is pressed into the hollow between his shoulder and head and she’s, predictably, curled on his lap. It’s a familiar pose. An old pose.

Her eyes squeeze shut as she breathes him in. Wintergreen, tumeric, ginger—who had sold him this shampoo and why had they suggested it? Their kind don’t need to worry about thinning hair. It’s enough to make her exhale sharply through her nose, almost a laugh. The same kind of response she gives when she reads something funny on her Insta feed.

“Sorry,” she says to his neck, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—to…” To what? She hadn’t hurt him. Not tonight. “It’s harder to choke down a second time.” He knows that, of course; his clan is famous for their raging.

A warning, maybe.

Or a proposition.

GM: “Well, you didn’t go apeshit on me,” he repeats, rubbing her back. “Though I guess you could always say sorry to your floor, if you feel like getting more apologies out.”

It’s an intimate position Celia’s in with him, for someone just seeking comfort, but it’s far from the first come-on she’s made to her ex this evening.

“So, you said your mom ran into a lick recently. Who do you think it was, if it wasn’t Savoy?” he asks.

Celia: His haste to get back to the subject at hand tells her all she needs to know: there’s no leftover feelings here. None on his end. And maybe what she’s feeling is nothing. Not real. Just an old, familiar wanting, a desire to be close to someone she once trusted implicitly.

It’s a bitter thought, knowing that she ruined it.

“I know who it was.” The answer is given in a voice that lacks any inflection. Dull. As dead as the rest of her. “It was a fledgling. Some… girl I used to know. Lick now. She wasn’t trying to hurt my mom. I don’t think. It just… went downhill after that, my mom started freaking out, said she kept getting visions of Maxen taking away Lucy, nightmares from way back when.”

“My fault. Then. Now. Christ. I’m so fucking tired of paying for shit that I did when I was still a child. Nineteen. Fucking. Nineteen. Fucked everything up. Still paying. Years later.”

“Her. Isabel. My whole family. All of it. Logan—Logan is fucked, his whole head, he hit his girlfriend, just hit her, said she was nagging, now he wants to go overseas to blow people up. Just. Boom. Kill them all. I want to—to smack him, knock some sense into him or something. And then—then you, I messed up the only… the only good thing, I just—boom—blew it up. Self-destruction. Ruined. Everything. Just… just ruined.”

GM: Roderick’s face is sympathetic enough, for most of it.

But his hand falls when Celia brings up him.

Them.

“That wasn’t just you being 19,” he says evenly. “You also lied to me about it. I spent years thinking you’d cheated on me, which really fucking hurt, and dealing with that. Then we got back together when you said you hadn’t been cheating, and I tried to work past that, and all my guilt over cutting you out when I thought you didn’t deserve it. Then it turned out you actually had been cheating after all, and were lying about it, and were even lying about how you were cheating. And then I had to go through all of those emotions all over again, plus new ones, plus interest. And I bet that right now you’re wishing you had kept lying, because maybe if you had, we’d still be together. That wasn’t 19. I don’t feel like I can trust you not to always be lying to me about something.”

His next words are bitter.

But just as much, they’re simply hurt.

“Like any other lick.”

Celia: “I don’t.”

She pulls back far enough to look up at him, to meet his eyes.

“I don’t wish that I had kept lying. I hate it, I hate what happened, I hate that I did what I did, that I treated you like that, I hate it. What became of us. This. Yes. Yes, I wish we were still together, I do, I miss you, I want you, I thought I was over it and then there you were and it rekindled everything inside of me, but I don’t wish that I’d kept lying, I don’t want a relationship that’s built on lies.”

GM: He just looks at her. It doesn’t feel like he’s thinking of what to say. It feels like he already knows, and is just waiting to say it.

“I wish I could believe that,” he answers heavily.

“I really, really wish that I could.”

Celia: His words are a knife to the gut. It twists inside of her. She’s glad she doesn’t need to breathe; she doesn’t think she’d be able to swallow down any air past the numbness in her chest.

It’s a bubble waiting to pop, an ache she’ll never be rid of.

She did this.

Grief colors her world. Blue, gray, exactly like the dream she’d had. The tinkle of glass shattering reaches her ears and she knows that it’s her heart.

She did this.

Pressure in the back of her jaw, burning in the corners of her eyes. Might-have-beens flash before her vision, scenes of small houses with tiny fences and moonlit gardens, the two of them hand-in-hand, a white dress and champagne flutes of red, red wine.

She did this.

She broke him.

Them.

Her family.

Her mom.

Her sister.

Herself.

Her dad, too. Wishes gone awry.

She doesn’t wish for things anymore. But she wished for him. Maybe that’s why she can’t have him. Penance for twenty years ago. A seven-year-old’s blunder.

GM: It’s not too many more years until Lucy celebrates that same fateful birthday.

She should probably just tell her sister not to make any wishes, given how those have turned out for the Flores family.

“Is that the reason I’m here?” Roderick asks. “Because all that other stuff… hunters you escaped, lick who accidentally freaked out your mom, your brother and sister being fucked in the head by your dad… it’s all bad, and I’m sorry for it. I wish your family was whole and that hunters only went after licks who are unrepentant murderers. But is any of it an emergency you needed my help with?”

Celia: “No.” Hollow. “I wasn’t going to tell you any of that. But then I saw you, and it just… came out.”

GM: “Well, like I said, I’m sorry for it. You didn’t deserve to get tortured by hunters, and your mom should get to live her life in peace. It probably isn’t too late for your brothers and sisters, either, once they’re out of your dad’s house.”

Celia: “Not your problem.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “I guess it’s not. But they’re good people. If there’s something I can do for them, feel free to ask.”

Celia: She wishes he would stop. She doesn’t want his thoughts and prayers and half-hearted advice. She’s not his responsibility anymore. Her family isn’t his responsibility anymore. They’d both already made their plays, she’d lost, game over.

“Okay.” That, too, lacks inflection. As dull as the rest of her is vibrant.

GM: There’s an uncomfortable silence.

“So what did you bring me here for, then? You said it was something bad.”

Celia: Is it uncomfortable? She doesn’t notice. Maybe sitting on the floor on her ex’s lap is more uncomfortable than the silence. Maybe her thoughts are spiraling too hard for her to be aware of the silence.

Maybe she just doesn’t care anymore.

“I didn’t contact you for me. I did it for you. If you end up shooting the messenger, you can call Lebeaux to clean up what’s left of me.”

Maybe he’ll put her on the cross, too.

There’s no judgment in her voice, either. Just resignation. Weary and wary. Maybe she even hopes he’ll hit her. Hadn’t Daddy always said that a firm hand is just another form of affection?

GM: He frowns.

“What do you mean, you contacted me for me?”

Celia: “There’s been talk. Since the trial. That you’re… discontent.”

GM: “I’ve always been discontent with Vidal. He’s the lesser evil to Savoy.”

Celia: “Is he? Your personal feelings of the Mafia aside, is he really?”

GM: “Please tell me you aren’t shilling for Savoy here.”

Celia: “Yes, I wasted my one call Roderick for help card on a sales pitch. Buy in now for three easy payments of $19.99.”

GM: He glares. “It isn’t one, but it is for actually serious things.”

Celia: “It is,” she says quietly, all mirth gone from her face.

GM: “But okay, so you aren’t subbing for that ghoul of Pietro’s. So what is it?”

Celia: “It’s your sister.”

GM: He freezes.

“What?”

Celia: “Please don’t hit me.”

She’s already backing away, either for safety or to finally grab the phone she’d left on the counter earlier.

GM: He lets her go.

“I won’t,” he says shortly. “Now what is it about Danielle!?”

Celia: She rises to her feet, moving swiftly to pick up the new phone Alana had purchased for her. A few taps of her fingers as she returns to his side—in striking distance, he might note—unlocks the screen. She pulls up the photo of Danielle.

Wordlessly, she hands him the phone.

GM: He looks at it.

There’s a choked half-bestial howl as he turns and smashes its face against the wall, his fangs visibly distending.

Celia: At least the smashed face hadn’t been hers.

She flinches backwards, hands lifted in front of herself as if to ward him off should he look her way.

GM: He grabs the couch, hefts it up, and hurls it against the wall with a terrific crash.

Sounds of destruction go up as he mindlessly rips and tears cushions apart.

Celia: Celia watches the destruction across her apartment. She doesn’t stand in the way. She doesn’t get involved. She instead makes herself as small as possible, moving out of his path and into the tiny kitchenette.

Maybe there’s a cabinet she can duck into until he’s done.

GM: She opens one to check. Poorly-placed pots and pans come loudly crashing out. Roderick snarls at the noise, and then suddenly the furious Brujah is coming right at her.

Celia: Celia can’t help but wonder where the fuck the pots and pans came from, considering her undead status. Maybe they’d been here when she moved in and she’d forgotten about them. It’s not like she’s in her kitchen very often—it’d be just like her to shove them haphazardly inside and leave them there.

She has seconds before he smashes into her. She recognizes the rage in his eyes and wants no part of it. His “I won’t hit you” promise ends the moment the Beast takes over. Maybe if she’d stayed still…

It doesn’t matter. No time for regrets.

Celia’s body shifts. Hair sprouts from her skin, a cool steel gray that covers her from head to foot. Her muscles and bone compact, ears rising higher on her head into two tufted triangles, spine lengthening as bone shoots through her skin to form a tail. Brown eyes bleed into green. Nails sprout from the tips of her shrinking fingers, thumb retracting higher onto what is now a paw. Black pads have replaced her palms, and whiskers sprout from her face. Her nose sinks into her skin, lips disappearing as finely pointed teeth replace her own.

The transformation is instant.

Pic.jpg
A moment ago she was a girl. Now she’s a cat, darting into the open cupboard and pressing herself behind the pile of pots and pans, more nimble and dexterous in this form than she is in her own. She cuts through the “terrain” and into the next cupboard, glad for the lack of dividers.

The pink dress is left behind, formless with her sudden disappearance. It falls slowly to the ground. Another distraction for the raging Brujah.

GM: Metal bangs and crashes against tile floor. Fists slam against stove and counter. Sounds of destruction echo through the apartment as the cat-transformed Toreador hides.

It’s as she’s doing so that she observes some unfamiliar-looking papers in Roderick’s handwriting, lying on the kitchen floor. They must have fallen out during his rampage.

Celia: She waits until the sound of his warpath has taken him from the kitchen. Until he’s on the other side of the apartment. Then her paw flashes out, quick as that, and slides the papers toward her. She uses her teeth to pick them up and pull them into the cupboard with her, tucking the papers and herself away behind the junk inside the cabinet while his wild destruction continues.

Her eyes scan the page.

GM: It looks like a transcript written in shorthand. Individual lines all have a M, D, O, C, P, S, or H written in front of them:

M: Vienna catastrophe. Reports pouring in. Cities being systematically cleared. Hunters hunted.

S: Pyramid stands tall.

D: Matter of time before hits city.

C: Happening again. Sit on this.

P: Have warning. Can sit on it.

O: Will come out.

M: Conclave @ Prague to address.

H: Should send rep.

O: M logical but can’t spare.

Suggestions. P, H can go. D maybe.

P can’t go.

O: Sheriff?

M: Can’t spare.

_H: Gather names list. Submit @ next meeting?

Mo. suggestions. H compromise candidate. V wants Sanct._

_S: Gather names. Submit @ next meeting.

Vote_S: 3:3. M casts tie. Will submit @ next meeting.

C: Throw childer to Inq. pyres.

S: Worked last time.

D: Caused Anarch Revolt.

S: Countermeasures.

D: Won’t work.

P: Must have plan. Will hit city.

O: Baron + Savoy necessary on Cabildo.

S: Agreed.

M: Can’t happen.

O: Hobbles primogen.

_H: Vote?

_Vote_S:

yea: O, P, S

nay: D, C, H

3:3. M casts tie. Motion denied.

O: Would be denied anyway, nonbinding.

S: Will regret this when hits, can’t coordinate effectively. Savoy + Baron will pursue independent plans.

O: Know already if we do. Might be already.

M: Move on.

H: Prince Vitel? Host Black again?

D: Can’t hurt.

M: Are in touch.

P: Vidal?

M: Is informed.

D: Want here for this.

S: Vote request presence @ future meetings.

yea: D, O, P, S, C

nay: H

5:1

M: Will pass on.

P: Blacksites?

O: Haven’t seen any.

S: Houston?

P: House divided.

D: Will ask.

S: More thin-bloods good/bad, draw attn?

D: Don’t underestimate.

C: Don’t overestimate.

O: Don’t like.

P: Some merit.

H: Wait and see?

M: Prague year+ away.

M: More thin-bloods not happening.

M: Mid-City/Quarter still problem areas.

D: Anarchs angry.

C: Exterminate all. Infestation.

C: Prophecies very clear. Doom of us all.

H: Testament doesn’t mention.

S: Exterminate, only question sheriff or SI.

O: Always be more.

P: Keep numbers more manageable.

D: Are Masquerade risk as-is, ferment discontent.

S: Anarchs always turn on own.

H: Vidal plan?

M: More sweeps coming in Mid-City.

M: Advise to make selves scarce again or lose face w/ Anarchs.

D: Can only play card so many times.

O: Did when counted.

D: How big purge?

M: Big. Wants example made.

O: Always wants example now.

The sheet ends there.

Celia: Oh my god.

This is nothing like what she’d expected. Nothing like the note she had kept inside of herself before she could read it to Isabel. This is… this is huge.

She’d thought, maybe, it was some sort of love letter to her, but this…

Her thoughts swirl too quickly for her to try to pin down. She has to get to Savoy. She has to get to Savoy right now and she’s got a raging, hulking, maniac Brujah tearing apart her apartment.

She hunkers down. Her body stretches flat against the back of the cabinet where she hides. Her paw nudges the paper beneath the bottom of a frying pan. There’s no reason for him to look there, even if he notices it’s missing. Once he calms she can shove it inside herself, maybe, like she’d done before.

Now, though, she waits. Waits until his rage ends, until it’s safe to come out.

GM: “Celia?” his voice calls.

“I’m… in control again…”

Celia: Feline ears swivel toward the sound, trying to place it.

GM: From outside the kitchen.

Celia: Cautiously, slowly, the cat that was once a girl slinks from her hiding spot.

GM: Roderick’s leaning against the tipped-over couch. Red leaks from his eyes.

He looks up at the cat.

Celia: Awkward. She’d meant to shift back before he’d seen her.

Ah, well. Maybe he’ll be nicer if he can pet her. Maybe she can lick those tears away. Maybe the sight of her as a cat will distract him from… everything else. She pads toward him, tail flicking behind her, and stops just before she reaches him. She stares up at him with large green eyes. Green, like her name now. Like Veronica’s. Smoldering.

She takes stock of the damaged apartment. Small worry, but things will need replaced.

GM: It’s a wreck. He’s destroyed basically everything in the living room/kitchen area.

Roderick looks at the cat.

For a moment, it looks like he isn’t thinking of anything else.

“Why are you a cat.”

Celia: Is that a question? She can’t tell. It sounds more like an accusation than anything.

So much for belly rubs.

Her form shifts again. Hair recedes into her body. Her bones pop, growing back to their normal size, her muscles stretching with them. Nerves, blood, organs; it’s all there, rearranging inside of her as her frame shifts. Her ears slide back down her head, rounding out again, and her tail disappears back into her spine. Her fangs turn into teeth, except for those fangs, and her claws… her claws are still claws, even when she’s human, standing in front of him in her Jade skin with the rosy pink bra and panties that she’d sworn to herself he wouldn’t get to see. White lace dances across the top, some swirling pattern stitched across the sides.

She makes no move to cover herself, makes no sign that she’s embarrassed of her (lack of) clothing.

“Because,” she says simply, “you came after me, so I hid.”

Celia tucks a stray curl behind her ear. Her gaze moves to the closet. Did he ruin that, too?

She could say something about it. Be as petty to him as she is to everyone else. Make a snide comment about him not having the capacity now to do more than be destroy.

She doesn’t.

She doesn’t touch him, either. She wants to. Wants to pull him into her embrace, wipe the tears from his cheeks. Even after he’d come after her. Even now, with that look on his face.

GM: He might blink right now, if he were alive. But he isn’t and doesn’t.

“Oh. Sorry.”

The closet door looks like it got punched a few times, if the cracks in it are any indication, but it’s still closed.

Celia: That is the most half-assed apology that she has ever heard in her unlife.

GM: “I’ll… pay for this.”

He numbly looks towards the shattered phone.

Celia: “Okay.” She won’t fight him on that. She reaches out, as if to touch him, but thinks better of it. Her hand falls back to her side instead.

“I’m going to get dressed. Why don’t you… find a place to sit, and we’ll talk.”

GM: He looks around for a moment. Gets up. Moves back the battered couch with its torn-apart cushions.

When Celia gets get back from changing, he’s sitting on one of them, leaning forward, his face buried in his hands.

Celia: It only takes her a moment. She abandons the idea of putting the dress back on—she thinks he’d shredded it when he couldn’t find her—and selects a pair of leggings, a loose tee, neckline so large it slips off one shoulder Comfortable, casual, nothing even remotely form-hugging, nothing that could ever be considered sexy.

Unless that’s his shirt. Did he leave that here?

No, no, that’s the name of a band. He does listen to Love & Liars.

She seats herself next to him, legs drawn up beneath her body, turning to face him.

GM: “They got her,” he says hollowly.

Celia: “They did. I’m so sorry, Roderick.” She keeps her words quiet. Concern for him—for his family—colors her voice.

“It… it looked as if she’s been this way for a while. I don’t know how long. I contacted you as soon as I found out. But she hasn’t broken the Masquerade, she knows how to feed… someone taught her that much, at least.”

GM: He looks up.

“Where’d you get this? Where is she now?”

Celia: “That was at a club. In the Quarter. Beach on Bourbon.”

GM: He takes that in.

“How’d you even get a picture. We… make them turn out wrong.”

Celia: Oh.

Oh good.

She gets to explain that his sister is a thin-blood.

“We do. Except when we want them to turn out right. Could be that she knew the picture was being taken.” She’d thought that, initially. She hadn’t wanted to think that Danielle was a thin-blood. Having just been released from hunter captivity, her mind had jumped to all sorts of nefarious ‘bait’ plots.

“I don’t think that’s the case, though. No one wants to be caught feeding. I think… I think she might be a thin-blood.” She says it as delicately as she can. Still, there’s no good way to break that news.

GM: Horror blanches his face.

“What!?!”

Well, not blanches. It’s not as if he gets paler.

Celia: Hopefully there’s no more red, though.

Maybe that rage stays inside this time.

GM: “Danielle’s a fucking… abortion?!”

Celia: Oh. Uh. Well. That’s… certainly one way to put it.

Celia flinches at the word.

“It’s possible.”

“It’s also possible she knew she was on camera.”

GM: His face falls into his hands again.

“Oh. Oh my god. Oh, oh my god.”

Celia: “Can I…?” he can’t see her gesture, face in his hands as it is. She reaches out anyway, touching a hand to his shoulder, offering whatever comfort that might bring. If he doesn’t lash out at her she brings him in for a hug.

GM: He doesn’t lash out. Or shove her off. He doesn’t shake, either, like a living man might.

But the coppery aroma wafting up from between his hands is unmistakable. Celia can feel her fangs elongating in her mouth.

Celia: She can’t help it.

She’s not hungry, but she wants it anyway.

She’s quiet for a moment, as if to obscure the fact that she’s popping a boner, to keep it tucked neatly inside her mouth. She’d had a client pop a chub on the table; he’d made it more awkward by trying to conceal it, and when his face had turned red she’d told him, smiling, that it happens all the time.

It does.

It’s natural.

Her body’s natural, undead response.

She rubs a hand long his back, slow strokes meant to soothe.

She doesn’t tell him it will be okay.

It might not be and she doesn’t want to lie. Not to him. Not anymore.

She doesn’t know what to say, really. Honesty comes rare these days, and she doesn’t want to make promises that she doesn’t know she can keep. She doesn’t want to remind him of the faction war. Doesn’t want to linger on anything unpleasant.

Coward.

“She’s safe, Roderick,” she says finally, quietly. As safe as can be, anyway.

“I won’t let anything happen to her.”

GM: He slowly looks up, red messily splotched over his eyes.

“How… how do you know? Where is she now?”

Then, more quietly, “Who did this to her?”

There’s an undercurrent of menace to the question she hasn’t heard from her former boyfriend before.

Celia: “She’s being watched. To make sure she doesn’t draw attention. But I haven’t… I haven’t approached her yet, so I don’t know, I don’t know who did this.”

“I wanted to tell you before I tried to talk to her.”

GM: “I can’t believe it,” he says numbly. “They turned my baby sister into a fucking abortion.”

Celia: Celia makes sympathetic, soothing sounds as she rubs her hand along his back. “I’m sorry,” she says again, “I’m so sorry this happened to her.”

GM: “I can’t believe it,” he repeats. “You know what, I’m not even going to pretend. Fuck equality. Fuck them being ‘Duskborn.’ Fuck everything the Anarchs say. They make me sick, to my stomach, and I can’t think of a… of a worse thing to happen to her. To anyone.”

Celia: She’s quiet. She pulls him close to her, letting him feel the movement of her head nodding in agreement. She lets him get it out.

“It is. It’s awful. It’s…” she trails off. “I’m here for you. Whatever you need.”

GM: “Do you think we go to Hell when we die? Do you think they do?” he asks.

Celia: “The Sanctified think that we’re all Damned. That our whole purpose here is to serve God by scaring mortals onto the straight and narrow. Taking care of the flock, so to speak. It’s implied that we do, but…” Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need. “I’ll admit, I think most organized religion is kind of… I mean, cultures create religions because of things they’re afraid of. It tells us how to act, how to be. And their underworlds, their sins, their purgatory—it’s all based on their traditions.”

“We’ve adopted Catholicism pretty heavily in this city because of Vidal, but it’s true all around the world. Look at the kine. Ancient civilizations. Hell has evolved over time, like everything else, and so has what it takes to get there. You take places like Mesopotamia, Sumer, Akkad, three thousand years before the birth of Christ, and they’ve got stories of their underworld too. In Mesopotamia it was the City of the Dead. Or… well, City of Dust. A lot like the regular world, but very dreary. Darker. Like if you take a movie and watch it at a really low resolution. That’s what their version was. And in order to get there you had no control over it, none at all. There were only a handful of reasons you’d go to that underworld, and they were things like dying a violent, unavenged death, not being buried with proper rituals, not having your grave tended to properly. You literally have no control over that. So anthropologists think that it’s because of things they wanted to avoid at the time, like war. War is bad, ruins the people, they start saying that if graves aren’t tended to or deaths are violent there will be ghosts, they make their people not want to go to war.”

“There’s no individual, moral connection to where you end up.”

“Then you get into Ancient Egypt, and they rely heavily on the Nile in their civilization. It brings them life. Every year it would flood and if it floods too early or too late or not at all then it doesn’t water what it needs to and doesn’t deliver the nutrients to the soil, so their people starve. They’re obsessed with order. Look at how they mummified people: to stop the chaos of decay. Their afterlife had a whole song and dance you needed to do in order to get to it, all these gates and monsters, and then you meet the gods at the end and they weigh your heart and if you’re not perfectly balanced then they eat you. So Egypt was about some moral choices, but if you didn’t have the right ‘spells’ to fight the monsters and the right answers to the gods’ questions then you’re boned.”

“The Aenied has a whole excerpt about what happens in the underworld, and within its pages you get full-on torture scenes: do bad things and bad things happen to you. We start to get more into the personal narrative.”

“The afterlife… it’s a tool for control, really. We take what’s important. We make it sound important. Don’t do these things or you’ll go to the bad place.”

“But… that’s kine, I guess. I had a dream…” Celia trails off for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “I had a dream I was visited by a ghost recently. I don’t remember all of it, but he said that he’s in this place that’s kind of between worlds. An echo of worlds. Dark. Dreary. Like the underworld I mentioned a bit ago. Said that death row is a better bargain.”

“But he was human, and he became a ghost, so… maybe we don’t go to Hell. Maybe there is no Hell. Maybe there’s just nothing. We cease to exist. Maybe Hell is the absence of God. Maybe the Buddhists have it right and we just go into nothingness.”

“That’s all the afterlife is. That’s all any religion is. Searching for meaning. You have these communities of Kindred who are searching for a purpose—because that’s all we are, ever, searching for a purpose, for a reason to exist, for the answers about why the world is the way it is, why bad things happen, why people die… And maybe, all that time ago, it started innocuously enough, but even as early as Egypt you see people making money off of it. People would sell the ‘Book of the Dead’ scrolls that had the spells and answers you needed for the gates, you could even personalize them for more money, and they made these little statues that served you in the afterlife. Their whole culture was about maintaining things exactly as they were, someone said of course it means there’s work in the afterlife, but if you buy this statue it will serve you instead.”

“So now someone comes along and unites everyone in a religion, says that these are the rules now… it started with the kine, but we do it too. The canons are really, really similar to the Traditions. Rules to follow. But no one was there, so no one can really say for sure. It’s all just passed on orally. Even if a lick is old enough to claim to have been there, how much do they really remember? How much of it is something they make up because it suits their purpose?” They’d talked about this before, with the Ventrue and the Brujah and Carthage. Everyone tells their ideal story.

“As people, we create these stories of the afterlife because we’re afraid of something. As Kindred, we just… modify them. I mean, the Sanctified story about Longinus is… is kind of a direct rip-off of Zoroaster did thousands of years ago—”

She pauses. Maybe this isn’t what he’s looking for. She runs her fingers through her mess of curls, smiling sheepishly.

“Did that, uh, answer your question?”

GM: Roderick gives a mostly blank look as Celia talks.

“Look, the theology, sociohistoric context, fascinating. Any other time. Mostly I was just thinking about how likely Danielle is to get ashed and wondering what’ll happen to her.”

Celia: Right. Maybe she should have saved the history lesson. He’s the only person she ever opens up to about this kind of thing and now she knows why: no one ever really wants to hear it if it’s only tangentially related.

“I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to her.”

GM: There’s a bitter laugh.

“What, you want to offer Meadows a manicure for her claws when she comes calling?”

Celia: I mean, would that work? Maybe she’ll try it if she ever runs into the scourge. ‘Hey babe, red would look good on you.’

“I’m not as useless as people seem to think I am, Roderick.”

Like you seem to think I am goes unsaid.

But it’s there. The judgment she feels coming off of him for her chosen profession. A long-ago fear, finally manifested.

GM: Roderick gives another bitter laugh.

“You weren’t there for it. 2011. I’ll never forget.”

Well, it’s true Celia wasn’t there personally.

But she knew someone who was.


Sunday night, 4 December 2011, AM

GM: “Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”

So reads the motto crowning the entrance to Cypress Grove Cemetery. The cemetery, laid out with a 28-foot-wide central avenue flanked by narrower aisles, has a monumental entrance gate in the Egyptian Revival style, suggesting a triumphal passage from one world to the next. Although Mid-City’s cemeteries are not as well-known as some of the city’s other ones, most tourists are still impressed. Rows and rows of above-ground mausoleums stretch on for as far as the eye can see. Graves here could actually be sunk six feet without reaching water, Ayae heard somewhere, but the preference for above-ground tombs persisted. Old habits die hard.

Tombs are arranged in a grid formation with a broad, paved walkway, called Live Oak Avenue, forming a long, central, north-south axis from Canal Street to Banks Street. The walkway is flanked by narrower parallel and intersecting paths named after locally favored plants and trees, including myrtle and rose. Two live oaks stand on the eastern perimeter of the cemetery, their moss hanging low and grazing the tops of the graves below. Elaborate marble, granite, and cast-iron tombs populate the cemetery and serve as examples of memorial architecture. The cemetery’s irregularly shaped lot cuts diagonally across a city block, and is separated from St. Patrick Cemetery No. 1 to its east by a wall of “fours,” or stacked burial spaces.

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At the dead of night, it stands silent and abandoned. Everyone from the city, and any tourist who’s done their research, knows the cemeteries are not safe places to linger after dark.

Perhaps they think it’s because of gangs and criminals.

Oftentimes it even is.

But sometimes the gangs and criminals know to stay away, too.

Some of them know there are things in the city, that emerge after dark, with which you do not fuck.

There’s at least a dozen of them, silently stealing into the cemetery. Some bound over the walls in mighty leaps. Some climb up with a swiftness and sureness no mortal hand could match. Some descend on literal dark wings. Some stride through the front entrance as if they own the place, invisible to mortal sight. Pale-faced and cool-eyed predators, most of them young among their own kind, but all of them secure in their place as apex hunters among a world of prey.

Ayame: Criminals, vagabonds, ruffians… that’s what the kine call ‘em, but Ayame knows them for what they are: Anarchs. A whole lot of them, too. Gathered together in the cemetery precisely because the rumors say it isn’t safe. Less chance of an unsuspecting breather walking in on them like this.

That thing that goes bump in the night over in Cypress Grove? High chance it’s a lick. Maybe a few of them. Playing games, tearing each other’s throats out, pumping other people full of lead. Those’re the kind of games the Anarchs play. Nothing pretty.

Nothing sweet, not like the face she’s got: heart-shaped, pale skin, big eyes. Hazel. Somewhere between green and blue and gray. Mostly they’re gray. Stormy, like the fog at sea. It’s an enchanting face… or would be, if it ever moved. White marble, hardly any inflection. A mouth that’s made for long, solemn glances. Ayame doesn’t smile. Not with her mouth, not with her eyes. She makes other people smile though. Red smiles, right across their throat.

She doesn’t walk so much as slink, long strides in leather leggings made longer yet by the thigh-high boots. Rail-thin, all hard edges and angles, the kind of predator you don’t want to run into in a dark alley. Or maybe you do, until her lips part and you see those long, sharp, glinting fangs.

Maybe she chose the clothes because they’re black on black on black. They blend so nicely with the night, don’t they, some sort of urban camouflage that lets her slip in and out of the silver moonlight that breaks through the clouds. The sweater’s hood is pulled up over her hair, its form loose on her slight frame. Black gloves—biker gloves—complete the look.

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Near-silent footfalls see her through the rows of gravestones, the mausoleums, the little blocks of marble on the ground with their names and dates and whatever bullshit saying someone carved onto it because people think that it means something.

It doesn’t.

She’s killed enough people to know it doesn’t. They all die screaming.

Ayame is nothing more than a shadow that steals through the darkness as she takes the place she has carved out amongst her kind.

GM: It is not overlong before their gathered faces become plain to her:

Many of the shadowy figures dressed in leathers and studs, wifebeaters, and gang trappings. Some might say these licks play at being gangsters, but it might be more apt to say that gangsters play at being licks. Who’s better at sucking the lifeblood from a community?

Other attendees, though, are incongruently well-dressed for their present surroundings: Prada, Armani, other high-end fashion brands. Looks might not be able to kill, by themselves, but they can advertise. It’s the rare lick with money not stained by someone’s blood.

A few of the present vampires look downright pedestrian. Ordinary jeans and sweatshirts. Ordinary Johns and Janes, just out past their bedtimes. It’s getting to be an increasingly popular look as the 21st century rolls into its second decade. The wolf doesn’t want the sheep to know it’s there.

Veronica Alsten-Pirrie shows up with Pietro Silvestri, sneering and looking gorgeous doing it. The now krewe-less pair used to run in a coterie with some other Anarchs, Ayame’s heard, who didn’t survive Katrina. Now it’s just them. Immortality gets lonelier with every decade.

Two still beats one, though. Micheal Kelly’s krewe was also decimated down to just two licks, but his former krewemate Shep went off to found his own coterie. Had to have been some kind of dispute, though, because Coco’s older childe now stands alone.

Ed Zuric and Jack McCandles make up another duo. Two-fifths of the Armstrong Five who liked the Anarchs enough to join up.

The Kindred Liberation Front seems enormous next to those duos and solitary licks. The city’s oldest surviving Anarch krewe includes half a dozen Kindred: Jonah Freeman, Maxzille Babineaux, Dr. Petrowski, Laura Ravenwood, Eris D., Simon Jones. They lost people, too. Everyone did. Some clearly lost fewer.

Risen from Katrina’s ashes are the Night Axles. Isa Suarez, Marcio de la Cuz, and Bliss Jackson all follow the hulking Shep Jennings’ lead, though Ayame hears Bliss has been making noise about wanting to start her own krewe. The Brujah are not too good at being followers, sometimes.

The newest de facto krewe hasn’t even decided on a name yet. Roderick Durant, Christopher Guilbeau, Hezekiah Santana. Ironic to see the three golden sons, the first licks Embraced in the city post-Katrina, all go Anarch. Says a lot, if you ask the Anarchs. But so does Veronica’s childe Jade not doing the same.

The Twenty-Twenties are another new one. Gerald Abellard, Arzilla Boudon, Andy Philips. Two sewer rats and a Gangrel ugly enough to pass for one. Misery must love company there.

The Lost Angels, the last krewe, have gotten thoroughly lost after Katrina. They can’t show their faces in Mid-City after what went down during the storm, though Ayame hasn’t heard exactly what. Oh well. There’s few enough angels here anyway.

All told, the gathering comes out to around two dozen licks. Two dozen blood-drinkers standing around in a cemetery. Even if it feels like there’s still a lot of empty places, God help the tourist hapless enough to wander into this midnight lions’ den.

Ayame: Ayame stands apart, close to the krewe of “golden sons” but not so close that a casual observer would think she were one of their numbers. All three of them young yet, like her, but already shining above the trash and rats. She spares a nod toward Christopher. Ayame has carved herself a place here among these Anarchs, but she has made no overtures to claim membership within one of the assembled krewes. Apart, but not alone; though no one watches her back these nights neither have any painted a target upon it, and these are the people among whom she has made her home. Her cool gaze descends upon the others assembled, unflinching in the wake of their appraisal while her own mind does the mental calculations. A group of predators who jostle and claw their way to the top, and she as a dark ghost among them.

How quickly they would descend upon an intruder, though; she has seen it happen, a handful of licks around an unsuspecting mortal who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, torn to pieces before he could even wonder at the error.

She waits, as they do, a stone statue amidst the graves. Dead men meeting in the cemetery—now there’s a funny thought.

GM: But dead men are missing something without living people to visit them.

Ayame thought bringing lots of renfields to the rants was a no-no. But they slowly trickle in, as she stands so still. Men and women who don’t smell dead, who don’t sound dead, with hearts still audibly beating in their chests. They don’t invade the cemetery like the others do, scaling or leaping over the walls like they’re no more than bothersome speed bumps, or not even that. These less-dead people simply walk in through the front gates, fully visible to Ayame’s ears and eyes.

They don’t walk the same, either. They don’t stride in like they own the place, jungle cats among a jungle of prey. Their strides are slower and less certain. Many of them are dressed worse, too, in threadbare thrift store clothes. A few look like they’ve dressed up in their Sunday bests—not dressing to kill, like the sleek urban predators in their luxury brands, but dressing to look nice. But far more of them sport the ‘dressed like an ordinary breather’ look. Plain jeans, sweatshirts, jackets. Unremarkable and unthreatening.

Some of the Anarchs give low hisses at the first ones to arrive. Eye them like mountain lions around housecats. Sure, same diet. Same fur, same tails. But not the same league.

First there’s just a few. Alone among the mass of bigger, badder predators, and all-too vulnerable-feeling.

But then there’s a few more, and there’s half as many eyes on the initial ones.

And then a few more.

And then a few more.

And then a few more.

And eventually, there’s maybe as many ‘people’ with beating hearts as there are ones with still hearts.

Some of the predators are starting to look nervous.

Sure. You might be a match for one of them.

Two of them.

But this many?

Some whispers are audible around Ayame.

“Jesus.”

“I didn’t think there were this many.”

“Where’d they come from?”

“Who the fuck is actually siring all these abortions?”

There’s some glares among the new arrivals and hisses of, “Duskborn.”

Children of the dusk. Of neither the day nor the night. Caught between two worlds. Crushed under both.

Or perhaps until now.

Try to crush this many, and you just might get crushed too.

Ayame: Ayame isn’t one of those who overtly hisses or bares hateful fangs at the half-breed mongrels. The others echo her own sentiments well enough. Bad enough that Caitiff are running around, but these? They deserve whatever knife they get. Her weight shifts from foot to foot until she is closer to those neonates she’d eyed—the golden ones—than further apart. For all their differences they, at least, are legitimate childer.

Not this mess of nobodies.

GM: “You too good to stand next to us, fat-blood?” one of them growls at Ayame. She’s a dark-skinned woman with only a single visible fang when she opens her mouth. Her other canine is just as flat as the rest of her teeth.

There’s three others of her kind standing right next to her. All looking at Ayame too.

Ayame: “Making room,” Ayame shoots back at her.

GM: “Thoughtful,” answers the guy next to her. He’s a thin and gangly-looking man with two fangs, but they’re small and dull-looking things. Ayame has to wonder how easily they can draw blood. “You can try to shut us out. But there’ll always be more of us.”

Ayame: Maybe they all carry knives. She would, if she were made of the same garbage that these people—not licks, not Kindred, just people, and that’s pretty fucking generous—were.

She makes a gesture towards the space between her and the next krewe. The shining suns—sorry, golden sons—is a welcome presence at her back. Maybe they’ll prove that they were worth it if it comes to that.

They, at least, aren’t walking accidents.

GM: “It looks like there will,” answers one of the ‘golds.’ Roderick Durant. Coco’s childe. He’s one of the Kindred who’s dressed up in a professional-looking suit under his coat.

“But that’s why we’re all here tonight. We can either keep butting heads—nonproductively when there will, as you say, always be more of you—or find some way to coexist.”

Ayame: She’d heard that he was Ventrue, like the lick next to him. Must be the suit.

Ayame doesn’t smile. Her mouth isn’t made for it; she’s got the sort of lips that are made for pouting, and maybe kissing when she still drew breath. Now, though, she dips her chin as if she agrees with his words, her eyes still on the would-bes. Appraising.

“As he says, I am sure we will find common ground.”

They’re almost licks, anyway.

GM: “We’ll see,” answers the woman.

There’s a sharp whistle from another space in the roughly ring-shaped gathering that’s formed.

“All right, y’all, thanks fah comin’ ’ere tonight,” calls out Maxzille. She’s a caucasian woman in seemingly her early 20s with long blonde hair. She’s dressed in a camo-patterned jacket, blue jeans, a brown cowboy hat, and matching boots. A necklace with a silver peace sign and an ankh dangles from her neck.

“Big mama an’ big sistah ain’ here tonight, so looks like us kids are hostin’ all y’all first-timers.”

“And why aren’t they here?” calls one of the thin-bloods.

“They too good to share a cemetery with us?” asks another.

Rumblings go up from the crowd.

“Dey ain’ here ‘cuz dere’s a conclave up noahth in Atlanta,” answers Max. “One das’ aimed at addressin’ y’all Duskborn’s issues, ‘mong other things. Dey thought it was important for da Big Easy ta have a voice when a justicar’s makin’ noise ‘bout y’all, an’ Ah agree with ’em.”

“We do things heah in Mid-City by majority vote, fer those of y’all who ain’ familiar. One lick, one vote. Ah like havin’ two moah voices ta listen to much as da rest o’ y’all do, but missin’ two voices ain’ gonna slow us down too much.”

She looks around at the thin-bloods.

“And by mah count, we got a lot more dan two new voices ‘ere ta make up fer da missin’ ones.”

There’s some murmurings from the crowd.

“Order o’ business a lot o’ us want ta bring up tonaht’s pretty simple, Ah think. How we all gonna get along.”

“For dose of y’all who ain’ heard yet, dere’s word ferm on high, at da Venice conclave this year. Buncha princes, justicars, an’ assorted Camarilla bigwigs all say, time fer nightborn licks ta stop comin’ down so hard on da duskborn ones.”

“Is that what they said?” calls a thin-blood from the crowd. “I heard they told the princes ‘good job’ and gave them a slap on the back for ten years of genocide.”

“That wasn’t genocide-” scoffs another voice.

“The deliberate and systematic extermination of an entire group of people,” cuts in the thin-blood next to Ayame. “The institution of a political office in Camarilla cities solely responsible for carrying out duskborn killings. That sounds plenty like genocide to me.”

“It was genocide,” Roderick answers. Heads turn towards him. “Some licks here might deny it, but I won’t, and that’s why I’m here. Because the Camarilla’s period of sanctioned genocide is over and I want to help figure out what the future between nightborn and duskborn Kindred is going to look like.”

“And you’re right,” he says as someone else starts to interject, “the Camarilla didn’t say the genocide was over, or call it genocide, or apologize for it. They said the threat posed by duskborn Kindred was contained and called on princes to ‘direct their energies to the 21st century’s other challenges.’”

“It’s the same tactic as when they said ‘mission accomplished’ over the Red Question,” speaks up Jonah Freeman. He’s a thick-bearded black man in jeans and a leather jacket. A necklace with a tiny quartz heart pierced by a fingerbone dangles over his chest. “They realized the quote-unquote ‘problem’ was too big for them to deal with. That they couldn’t destroy every single text asking ‘why do you obey?’ that every single Anarch had. So rather than acknowledge they’d lost, they just said they won. That they were taking their toys and going home. When they say ‘this threat’s contained,’ they’re saying ’it’s too big for us to contain.’”

“Remember that?” guffaws Andy Philips. “Vidal said we’d be in soooo much trouble if we had any of the Red Question’s stuff! Well who here does?”

Ayame: “The difference,” Ayame cuts in with barely a look towards the rat-faced Philips, “is that the duskborn did not ask to be created this way, just as you did not ask to be black, you did not ask to be white, and I did not ask to be Asian. So if the genocide is over then let it be over. We can hem and haw all we want over definitions and unrelated instances of ‘justice,’ or we can learn from it, better ourselves, and find a way to coexist. Which I believe,” she glances at Max, “is the purpose of this evening.”

GM: “Is he black? I can’t tell past all the hair,” shoots Bliss Jackson.

There’s some snickers.

Ayame: No wonder they never get anything done.

GM: “Is she not a slut? I can’t tell past all the cleavage,” leers Gerald Abellard.

There’s some more laughs. Hardest from Andy.

“I’ll beat your fuckin’ ass, sewer rat!” Bliss shouts back, taking a step forward.

Ayame: Ayame hopes she does. The rats are hardly a step up from the abortions in their midst.

“Easy,” she says instead. They don’t need infighting with all these unknowns.

GM: Shep and her krewemates clamp hands over her shoulders.

Andy Philips flips his middle fingers.

Abellard mimes a handjob with his mouth open.

“Cut dat shit, y’all!” Max interjects with a pointed glare between the three. “Dis how we gonna conduct ahselves when da big mama an’ big sistah ah away? Sure proves dem eldahs righ’, don’ it, dat da Anarchs are just a buncha unruly kids good fah nothin’ but fightin’ an’ fuckin’? Too immature ta make deir own decisions, better leave dat ta da older an’ wiser heads?”

Bliss just glares.

“This sure fills me with a whole lot of faith,” comes one thin-blood’s voice.

“We’re all less than perfect,” answers Jonah Freeman. “Just like the Camarilla is a hell of a lot less than perfect. That’s the world. We’ve got a common oppressor and we can learn to coexist, like Ayame says, or else… what? What’s the alternative?”

Ayame: “Tear each other apart,” Ayame finishes for him, “like the others think we eventually will. Prove them right that we need a firm hand.” She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “I do not know about the lot of you, but I am not interested in my Requiem being scripted for me by the ‘powers that be.’”

GM: “I think it’s problematic to phrase things like that,” interjects Laura Ravenwood, a gothic-looking and wavy-haired young woman in black and red silk. “We share a common oppressor, but the duskborn have it so much worse than we do. The Camarilla tried t-”

“-we can speak for ourselves, thanks,” interrupts the one-fanged thin-blood next to Ayame. “And we’ll thank any nightborn here not to speak for us about how bad we have it.”

“I’m not trying to speak for you. I’m Caitiff, I understand what it’s like to be-” replies Laura.

“-you don’t understand,” interrupts another thin-blood, an overweight black man in a navy sweatshirt.

“This isn’t productive,” speaks up Dr. Petrowski, a bookish-looking older man in glasses and a tweed jacket. “Can we simply acknowledge that-”

“Did you obtain tenure?” asks the thin-blood by Ayame.

Petrowski’s brow furrows. “What in the world does-”

“You were a professor at Tulane. Did you or did you not obtain tenure?”

“Yes, I obtained tenure. How di-”

“Because I remember your face from Tulane, though I’m sure you don’t remember mine. I was also a professor there. But I was an adjunct. I worked my ass off for years to be treated like barely more than a slave. I told a nightborn she shouldn’t speak for duskborn, because she hasn’t experienced our some level of oppression, and you’re telling everyone it’s nonproductive for me to correct her. It presumes a position of superiority to judge what is and is not productive, and makes talk of equality between us seem like a lie.”

Petrowski’s brow remains furrowed. “Miss, what in the world does my tenure have to do to with those points of contention?”

“Because you’re talking down to me from twice the position of privilege, and that pisses me off!” the thin-blood yells angrily.

There’s angry murmurs of agreement from the others.

Ayame: Annoyance shoots through her.

“We all have unique experiences and trials. There is no reason to turn this into a pissing contest about who has it worse and how the other side either does or does not understand. Trying to make other people see eye-to-eye with you is a futile waste of time, and while we say it is unlimited for us now, I can think of plenty of other things I would rather do than sit around and compare dick lengths.”

“We do not have to be friends. We do not have to even like each other. We only have to exist in the same space without resorting to squabbling.”

GM: “And what about when nightborn presume to tell us what is and isn’t productive for us to talk about?” asks another thin-blood, a black man with dreadlocks in a cotton zip jacket. “We ask to be treated as equals, nothing more or less. Is that a pipe dream?”

Veronica rolls her eyes as Pietro smirks.

Ayame: “I literally just agreed with you. Are you looking for an argument?”

GM: “You said we should stop comparing dick lengths about who has it worse,” answers the man. “Okay. I agree with that. Do you agree it was wrong for glasses guy over there to judge what is and isn’t productive for us to talk about, because it presumes nightborn are better than duskborn?”

Ayame: “I think this whole conversation is unproductive,” Ayame says flatly, “and we are all just looking to claw our way to the top and somehow be above someone else for whatever reasons we think we should be. We can all find a reason to hate each other and think we know best. But are all here for the same purpose, are we not? Survival, certainly, but beyond that we seek to thrive. So let us thrive.”

GM: “We are better than you,” says Christopher Guilbeau. “I’ll say the quiet part out loud.”

Shouts of outrage erupt from the thin-bloods.

Ayame: God damnit.

GM: The Ventrue’s voice booms over the yelling throngs like he’s speaking into a megaphone.

“We’re. Better. Than. You. Let that sink in. But guess what? Just because we’re better doesn’t mean you don’t have a place here. I think you’d all make great Anarchs. We’ll give you a better deal than the Camarilla ever will. I won’t lie to you about what that means, though. Anyone who says you’re equals is just telling you what you want to hear.”

Roderick slaps his palm over his forehead.

The shouts of outrage continue unabated. Some of them are coming from true-blooded Kindred.

“Stop! Talking!”

“That is such a Ventrue thing to say!”

“Take him down!”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck you! He’s right! We are better!”

“Go back to China, you stupid chink!” someone yells at Ayame.

Ayame: “I’m from fucking Texas, you shit-for-brains.” She doesn’t even know who she’s talking to at this point. The voices of outrage are too many to keep up with. Her gaze cuts towards Max and Jonah, then Veronica and Pietro, as if one of them is going to step in and fucking do something in lieu of Opal and Coco.

It’s not even worth it to point out that she’s Korean, besides.

Morons.

GM: “No you’re not! You’re fucking Chinese, rice-for-brains!” shouts back Bliss Jackson.

“Ching chong chinagirl, go do math!” yells a white male thin-blood.

It looks like they’ve found something to agree on.

Ayame: Bully for them.

GM: Veronica and Pietro sneer and laugh to themselves at the uproar. It doesn’t look as if much action is going to come from either.

“Everyone, JUST BE QUIET!” Roderick shouts over the noise, or at least tries. When it doesn’t stop, Maxzille sticks two fingers in her mouth and gives a shrill, ear-piercingly loud whistle.

“All right, Y’ALL JUST COOL IT!”

“Chris here maht think he’s better’n some licks, an’ das’ his right ta buhlieve whatevuh da fuck he wants ta believe, but it sure ain’t what Ah believe. Who else ‘ere don’ buhlieve what Chris buhlieves?”

“I don’t believe what he believes,” says Jonah. “We’re all Bondye’s children.”

“I sure don’t,” says Roderick. “Believing nightborn are better than duskborn is the logical extension of the Camarilla’s belief system. It’s to buy in to elders’ rhetoric that someone’s generation counts for more than character. It’s to accept that someone’s worth as an individual is determined by an accident of death: by what sire happened to slit a wrist over their mouth, rather than how by how they’ve actually lived their Requiem. I thought we all agreed that was bullshit.”

Ayame: Smaller words, Durant, you’ve lost half of them.

Ayame crosses her arms. She gives a curt nod of assent.

“They keep us divided to keep us small. If we let it work, they win.”

GM: “There are no rules anywhere,” giggles Eris D, a green-haired girl in a leather jacket. “The goddess prevails. Curb your dogma. The enlightened take things lightly. Reality is the original Rorschach.”

“Fucking Malks,” someone ‘mutters.’

Most the true-blooded Anarchs take turns voicing similar sentiments. Some are more enthusiastic than others. Some give speeches. Others just nod. Christopher walks back on his words, a little, in a way that sounds like it’s being apologetic without actually apologizing. Veronica and Pietro make caustic remarks about their grandsire without saying a word on thin-bloods. Perhaps little surprise, when they’re the closest vampires to Caine out of any here.

Ayame: Her eyes follow the speakers, and once the Anarchs are done they settle on the single-fanged thin-blood next to her, and the dulled bite beside that one.

She is distinctly unsurprised when the exiled prince’s childe minces his words as hard as he does, or that the two older Toreador make vague noises while getting in a dig at Chastain. Their exemplary packages contain nothing but rot.

GM: “Okay, you’re all willing to pay at least lip service to equality. I’m not going to say that’s everything, but it’s a hell of a lot better than we’ve been getting from the Camarilla. It’s a start and it leaves me hopeful for the future. Maybe we all can get along,” answers the single-fanged thin-blood.

Murmurs of assent go up from the two or so dozen others.

“That brings us to the point of this meeting,” says the dull-fanged man next to her. “The Camarilla says its policy of genocide towards us is over. Okay. I’ll take that, even if they aren’t saying it openly. What do we want to do from here? Should we have a place among the Anarchs? If so, what would that look like?”

“To start off with, I’d say that should look the same as any nightborn’s place,” says Roderick. “Equal voting rights in all decisions that affect Mid-City. The same privilege we all enjoy. One Anarch, one vote.”

“Do we want to vote on that now?” asks Laura.

Support: “Hold up,” says the tattooed man in a minister’s garb. “I’m not sold that most of us actually want to do the right thing by our weaker cousins. If we were saints, most of us wouldn’t be here.”

He looks to the Duskborn professor who called out Petrowski. “May I know your name, ma’am?”

GM: “Patricia Stratton,” answers the single-fanged vampire.

Support: He inclines his head to the dead educator. His voice rises in volume as he talks, his tone firm and unapologetic but also devoid of cruelty, of spite.

“I don’t hate you, Patricia. I don’t think most Kindred hate the Duskborn, even if it is our nature to disdain them. That’s really what Christopher was saying, even if he said it like a blue blood. We’re stronger than you, and that’s why any resolution to treat you the same is just that, a promise that’s on us to keep. And if things were different, I would be honored to fight for you. But things aren’t different. We are rapists and killers. Thieves and adulterers. Whores and liars. Monsters, not men and women and children. Some of us recognize that, and others deny it. But we know it is true when we hide from the sun. You are not a proud woman fighting for the right to life. You are a proud monster fighting for the right to talk to other monsters, and even if you get it most of them will not treat you as equals except in these meetings. What would you use your power here for? What do you want, besides to see the next night? That is what will draw my vote or lose it. Everything else is just talk, and most of us don’t really come here for that.” Fangs flash. “I don’t.”

GM: Murmurs sound throughout the crowd of Anarchs. Some angry, especially from the thin-bloods. But some also agreeing.

“So you would judge our right to political representation on the basis of our moral worth as individuals,” Patricia answers. She gives a shrug. “That’s a fairer shake than the Camarilla gives us. Than many Anarchs give us.”

“To that I’ll say that we duskborn are better people than nightborn are. Or worse monsters, depending on how you look at it.”

“On average, at least.”

“Our Beasts are silent. We don’t lose control.”

Support: Hez raises an eyebrow. He hasn’t heard that.

The Brujah seems almost wistful, for a moment.

GM: “When we kill, it is always premeditated, and when we are sound of mind. We can continue to live among our friends and loved ones without recklessly endangering them.”

“I’ve never killed. I don’t ever plan to, except in self-defense. How many other nightborn here can say that? How can you judge my moral worth next to licks who’ve left behind trails of bodies, and find mine anything but superior?”

Shouted opinions go up from both sides.

“That’s bullshit! You duskborn go apeshit just like we do!”

“Who the fuck are you to say you’re better than us!?”

“I haven’t gone apeshit, not even once!”

“I’ve never killed!”

“I’m a virgin too!”

“Yeah, you and half the city, right?”

“I knew a duskborn who went apeshit! Saw it with my own eyes!”

“Yeah, it’s just harder for them!”

“They’re telling the truth! I’ve never seen one lose it, not like we do!”

“Bullshit bullshit bullshit!”

Ayame: “Anecdotes are not evidence. Further, why judge on morality at all? We don’t sneer at the lion who slaughters the lamb.”

Support: Hez smiles faintly at her. “We are monsters of conscience. I believe in a God, and I believe that if we have the capacity to feel guilt for our crimes, it is for a reason. But I only give sermons on Sundays.” His laugh is a battle-scarred, violently merry thing. “I know how I’m voting.”

GM: “Only because the lion lacks sufficient intelligence to judge the morality and consequences of its actions,” Patricia answers Ayame before turning to Hez. “If our political representation is decided on the basis of our demonstrated moral worth, I’d say you should get more votes than her, at least.”

“Say we do vote ta gave y’all equal votin’ rahts ta us nahtborn,” says Maxzille. “Dat it? Dere ain’ anythin’ else y’all think we oughta suss out?”

“Hunting territory,” says the overweight black man in the sweatshirt. “I don’t wanna starve. I’m sick of going hungry.”

“Yeah, you look like you’d hate going hungry!” jeers Andy Philips.

“You look like shit scraped off my shoe, sewer rat!” the thin-blood yells back.

“What, you make a habit of stepping in shit? Even we don’t do that…” leers Gerald Abellard.

“Can we please just stop taunting each other like middle schoolers?” Roderick glowers. “Feeding territory. That’s a legitimate issue to discuss.”

“One block per duskborn krewe,” declares Shep Jennings. “You don’t need as much as we do. You don’t get as much as we do.”

“One block’s ridiculous!” counters the dreadlocked thin-blood in the cotton jacket. “Who are any of you to presume how much juice we do and don’t use?”

“Yeah, nightborn are always coming after us! We have to mend up all the time!” shouts a thin-blood who looks barely old enough to be in high school.

Ayame: Ayame might say something here, but every time she opens her fucking mouth she gets shot down by both sides, so she doesn’t. She wonders if they realize how hypocritical the preacher sounds. How he’d called them all monsters—rapists and murderers and whores and liars—and then backtracked when she’d said maybe they shouldn’t judge each other for it.

Far be it from her to bring rhetoric to a former professor. No wonder she was an adjunct.

She simmers. She doesn’t speak. She lets the others have it out, another instance of devolving into a bullshit argument that is unproductive, but God forbid she fucking say that because, apparently, they all care about each other’s feelings now.

She waits for a minute. Silent. Until no one else points out what she thinks is fairly obvious.

“If you are throwing in with us, does it not stand to reason you should add that to the discussion? No random attacks between the nightborn and duskborn from either direction?”

There, bitch. Take your fucking morality and shove it up your asshole.

“The goal is to coexist with minimal conflict, is it not?”

GM: “Absolutely,” says Roderick. “Violence between Anarchs isn’t tolerated. That should fully extend towards duskborn.”

“I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be continued violence,” says Patricia. “Between duskborn. Between duskborn and Anarch nightborn. Between non-Anarch nightborn and Anarchs born during any time of day.”

“So yes, we’ll need to spend juice to heal injuries we sustain, the same as the rest of you do.”

“That’s one reason we should receive equal hunting territory.”

Ayame: “No one should go hungry. Perhaps territory by krewe size?”

GM: There’s grumblings from some of the true-blooded Kindred, but the thin-bloods vocally agree—“Same size as a nightborn krewe would get!”

Ayame: “I suppose it is another thing to vote on.”

GM: “Feel free not to vote if you don’t like doing it,” calls one thin-blood.

Ayame: Why, she wonders, is it always an argument when she is literally on their side? Her comment was only to the effect of, “add it to the ballot.”

These fucking people will get offended over a sideways look. Thin-blood? Try thin-skin.

She’d roll her eyes but she’s made the motion so many times this evening that she’s pretty sure she’s got muscle strain. Correcting them is a waste of breath, too.

GM: “So equal rep’sentation an’ equal territorah,” says Max. “What else y’all dink we oughta suss out?”

Ayame: Ayame’s shoulders lift in a shrug as her gaze sweeps the assembled licks. She’s got nothin’. Nothin’ that needs to be brought to light tonight.

Maybe whether or not any of this conversation matters if they’re missing the two regents, but she supposes that this is a test of their democracy.

GM: “There’s our future,” says another thin-blood, an older-looking black man who’s actually walking with a cane. “Supposin’ we join the Anarchs. Y’all give us equal representation and feeding territory. Okay. That’s a good deal. What happens after?”

“What do you mean, what happens after?” asks another thin-blood, a short white man with acne-splotched skin.

“What I mean, young man, is we’re still second-class citizens. Or I suppose third-class, next to the Caitiff. Mid-City ain’t the whole city, isn’t it? Prince still gonna treat us bad. So what are we gonna do about that?”

“The prince treats all Anarchs bad, grandpa,” leers Arzilla. “Welcome to the club.”

“Prince Vidal has shown he can be negotiated with and evolve with the times,” says Roderick. “We take the democratic rule we have over Mid-City for granted, but my sire, Miss Opal, and earlier Anarchs like Annie Pope had to fight tooth and nail to make those gains possible. Ditto for their Cabilo seats.”

“Yes, he’s an overbearing hardass, but he can be budged and positive change can be effected. I think that’s a worthwhile line of-”

“-yeah, with respect, stuff it,” interjects Christopher.

“You want to know how our Ventrue prince thinks? Well look further than yours truly, since like I bet you all remember, I’m a Ventrue too. And he’s not going to do shit for duskborn, Anarchs, or anyone besides the Sanctified, unless someone makes him.”

“Sure. He gave us Mid-City. Well, we Ventrue study our history, and it was close to worthless land when he did. Go ask the big mama and the big sister about that, sometime. Vidal only did that as a bribe to keep the Anarchs from falling in with Savoy.”

“He doesn’t give a shit about the Anarchs. He’d lop off all our heads if he thought it was more convenient.”

There’s angry murmurs of agreement from the crowd. Thin-blooded and true-blooded.

“So to our new duskborn pals, I say prepare to get shat on forever by the prince. The end.”

Ayame: Someone should start a slow clap for Chris. Not her, but someone. She waits a beat, then says,

“Perhaps it is time we all work toward a better future, then, unless we are content with our position. Push for more.”

GM: The crowd looks angrier at Chris’ words. But there is no slow clap. Most of them look like they agree with his conclusion.

“So how do you suggest we push for more? What’s the best way when he holds all the power?” asks Patricia.

Ayame: “If I am not mistaken,” Ayame’s eyes slide toward the primogen’s childe, “your sire does not believe in violence. She wants to work within the system, yes? So we work within the system. They expect us to be angry, violent. We can be angry. But violent? No. We show them a better way. Our numbers have doubled,” she gestures toward the thin-bloods that have joined them, “but our space remains the same. It is logical, is it not, for a territory that has expanded in numbers to expand in size? Else we risk a breach of the Masquerade simply by existing, simply by slaking our hunger.”

GM: “An apt assessment,” rings a low and powerful voice.

The crowd’s collective eyes turn towards its source.

Donovan strides into the cemetery, garbed in black with a sheathed blade at his hip. He’s flanked by Camilla Doriocourt and Father Malveaux, both pale-faced and pitiless, and several ghouls.

A heavy thump sounds as Alexander Wright vaults over the wall and lands on the grass, titanium bat in hand. Several more ghouls land after him.

One moment there’s empty air. The next, Caitlin Meadows’ snarling visage is visible. The nearest Anarchs flinch back.

A hawk soars over the other wall. It lands and shifts into a grim-faced Charlie Harrison.

More ghouls clamber after their master. Duke Elmhearst hits the ground with another thump and cocky smirk. A satisfied-looking Roxanne Gerlette, not wearing a skirt or dress for the first time Ayame can recall, brings up the rear with several more renfields.

All are armed.

Predatory hisses go up from the gathered Anarchs. Some draw weapons or sprout claws. Other look towards the nearest exits.

The thin-bloods, most of all, look terrified. But just as many of their faces set in anger.

Ayame: Her gaze snaps towards the sheriff and his assembled squad. Two tiny steps take her backwards, falling in beside Roderick, Christopher, and Hez. A primogen’s childe, a hound’s childe, and the childe of an exiled prince. Perhaps here, at least, there will be less attention, less ire, from those who have come. She is glad that she stilled her tongue before suggesting anything more.

GM: Two more birds land, shifting into the forms of Rocco Agnello and Joshua Pacuad. More ghouls file in through the cemetery’s front entrance.

Pierpont McGinn is the last to swagger in, along with Joseph Doyle and a larger contingent of ghouls than anyone’s except Donovan’s.

About a dozen Kindred. Two or three times as many ghouls.

Ayame: Hadn’t she just been thinking earlier about the man who’d been ripped apart by licks because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Now she’s him. Wrong place. Wrong time. Her eyes search for a weak spot in the line of those assembled, desperately looking for any escape. The absence of Opal and Coco makes so much more sense. This is nothing short of an execution squad.

GM: Maxzille is the first of the Anarchs to speak. Her tone is faux-casual.

“Can’t say we were expectin’ guests. Y’all fellas-”

Donovan interrupts. The words are cool and emotionless, but roll over her voice like thunder.

“True-blooded Kindred who do not interfere will not be harmed.”

Ayame: They’re going to make us watch.

They’re going to make us watch them slaughter the thin-bloods.

They can’t win. There’s no chance. This isn’t a fight. It’s…

A message. To the thin-bloods. To the Anarchs who would treat with them. Ayame blinks back the horror. Brilliant. Despicable, but brilliant.

What nightborn would lay down their life for their lesser-bred cousins? None. None of them. Her nails dig into the leather covering her thighs. Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved and she’ll be fine. Don’t scream, don’t run, don’t speak, don’t even think too loudly. She doesn’t dare draw breath less they think that she, too, is one of them. A target to be annihilated.

GM: “They’re trying to divide us!” shouts Roderick. “Look at this! We’re the ones who outnumber them. We’ve got two dozen nightborn, two dozen duskborn, against a dozen nightborn and two dozen ren-”

Coco’s childe topples over as a stake plunges through his chest.

There’s a black blur, almost invisible against the night, and then his corpse is lying at Donovan’s feet.

“For his sire’s Blood, he shall be spared,” the sheriff impassively intones.

“I promise no such mercy to Kindred of lowlier stock.”

There’s a few angry looks at Roderick’s ‘privilege.’

But there’s a lot more scared ones.

Ayame: Her elbow is halfway towards Roderick when his form crumples. A warning, too late, to shut his mouth. She thinks to reach for him but he is gone before she can begin the motion, halfway across the cemetery in a pile at the feet of that cold, merciless thing.

She is still. Her eyes do not meet the sheriff’s, but stay on the form at his feet. A message indeed: Durant was the most vocal of those who stood with the duskborn. Without him, there is no hope of rallying together, no hope of unity. Without him, the wall that she had built around herself of important childer is down to two, and she is left exposed. An unimportant lick, no important name to drop to save her should she make the wrong move.

Not my fight, she thinks, over and over again, to prevent herself from doing something stupid.

They don’t stand a chance. Outnumbered or not, they don’t stand a chance. The sheriff or the scourge themselves could take out all two dozen duskborn without so much as a scratch.

GM: The execution squad marches closer, forming a wide circle around the smaller circle of Anarchs.

“Any Kindred who would be spared have ten seconds to relocate behind Sanctified lines,” Donovan continues coolly.

“Ten.”

“Y’all can do as y’all like, but Ah ain’t goin’ along with this,” declares Maxzille, crossing her arms.

Ayame: Ayame might not be the first to move. But perhaps she is the first to move towards Max. She doesn’t touch the other lick, but she stops to speak with her.

“Do not test him, Max,” she whispers, though she has no doubt the others can hear. She cannot say more. Cannot say what she is thinking: that this entire evening is a set-up. “There is more yet that you can do if you get out.”

GM: “Nine,” sounds the sheriff’s voice.

Ayame: Sanctioned, she mouths at the Toreador. She has to know. Has to suspect. There is nothing they can do. They will throw away their own eternity—and for what? To prove a point? There is no point to be proved. They are at Vidal’s mercy within this city. If he sends his hounds to do his bidding, they will do it, and gladly. Max will be just another slaughtered Anarch who died for nothing.

GM: The Toreador gives Ayame a sad, rueful look, seemingly between them.

“Dey don’t got da balls ta slaughter all o’ us!” Maxzille answers loudly. “Oh, no! Dey-”

“Eight,” sounds the sheriff.

“-know dat’ll drive all Anarchs, ever, right ta Savoy, make him a bonafide hero!”

Jonah stands next to his krewemate, arms wordlessly crossed.

“Seven,” sounds the sheriff.

The crowd is sweating. Many of the Anarchs’ eyes are cutting between Ayame, Max, the sheriff, and the thin-bloods. Some with fear. Some with guilt. Some who just don’t look like they want to be labeled the ‘first deserter.’ The thin-bloods are howling and drawing what paltry weapons they have.

“Think, y’all—dis ain’t cost-effective!” Max bellows. “Less y’all pussy out! Grow-”

“Six,” sounds the sheriff.

“-some balls, see if da prince really willin’ ta go dat far! Watcha bet Rod gonna be da sole Anarch not ta get ashed, huh!?”

Ayame sees it. Perhaps the only one to see it. Veronica starting towards Max from behind, violence in her smoldering eyes.

Ayame: She’s seen that look before. Of all of them, only Veronica and Pietro weren’t surprised at this reveal. Is she looking to make a move, then? Up her status by taking out the competition?

Ayame cuts in front of the green-eyed, gorgeous lick. Steps right up to her, not so much blocking her path as simply slowing her down.

“You can be a hero.” The words are barely a breath, an almost-silent plea from Ayame to Veronica. There doesn’t need to be more violence. They don’t all need to die. Veronica can drag the girl out and the others will follow. She has that much clout, at least, and the Anarchs will owe her for saving them all. She doesn’t need to say that; certainly Veronica realizes it.

GM: The Toreador smirks.

“Five,” sounds the sheriff.

Veronica’s gone, then she’s thrusting the stake into the air where Max was standing. The younger Toreador backflips away cat-quick, her sprouted claws slashing wet red lines across Veronica’s perfect face. The harpy snarls as another stake plunges into Max’s chest from behind. Pietro, smirking, stands over the fallen Anarch—and doesn’t seem to see it coming as Jonah barrels towards him like a speeding freight train.

Ayame: Ohfuck. Ayame is quick to dart out of the way of both claw and stake as Veronica, Max, and Pietro duke it out. She backpedals away from Jonah’s charging form. Her wrists flick and the steel inserts inside of her leather gloves are released, springing forward to become cat-like claws on her fingers.

Pic.jpg
She drops into a crouch over Max’s form as Jonah flies past her. She’s not going to let the bitch die on a technicality. She slides her fingers under Max’s arms and starts to drag her out of the circle.

GM: Ayame has ample distraction. Pietro goes down hard under Jonah, whose blurring fists smash his face bloody. Veronica blurs away from Max and plunges her stake through the Brujah’s heart.

“Four,” sounds the sheriff.

Support: Hez doesn’t try to stand up to the sheriff. Doing so is foolish and probably pointless.

He does, however, derive some satisfaction from hooking a hand under Stratton’s arm while attention is occupied on the nightborn, and throwing her to an undisclosed location.

He locks eyes with his sire and coughs, looking abashed.

“Oops.”

GM: Stratton might start to say something. Yell something.

Then she’s barely audible as her thrown form hurls through the night sky.

Wright glowers.

When Ayame is the first Anarch to cross the Sanctified line with the Movement’s staked leader, a fatal crack seems to run through everyone else’s resolve. Christopher is the next Anarch to make a jog towards the Sanctified.

Veronica hefts Jonah’s corpse over her shoulder and blurs ahead of him, her slashed face already hale again.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” she calls back. She doesn’t look back.

Pietro is next.

After him, Andy—“I’m not dying for a bunch of abortions!”

“Fuck that!”

“Me neither!”

And just like that, the Movement deserts its thinner-blooded ‘comrades.’

Support: Hez stays where he is.

GM: All but one, at least.

Support: “Never should have Embraced a man with a conscience, Alex,” Hez murmurs.

GM: “Three,” sounds the sheriff.

Ayame: She had to. They would have slaughtered everyone. Everyone. She’s heard what sort of “mercy” the sheriff has: none.

Ayame drops Max as soon as she passes the line. Her eyes turn toward the sole remaining lick inside.

“Hez.”

Support: He shrugs, sad but resigned.

“Somebody needs to.”

GM: “Two,” sounds the sheriff.

“Get the fuck outta there, you dumb motherfucker!” yells his sire.

Support: Hez seizes two more and launches them in opposite directions. Let the sheriff work for his slaughter.

He looks his sire in the eye. “You knew what you were getting into, Al. I wish you saw what you looked like now.”

He steps in front of another Duskborn, and folds his arms.

“One,” he finishes.

GM: The first (or, at rather, second) thrown duskborn, the man with dreadlocks, doesn’t make it past Caitlin Meadows. The scourge soars into the air with a stupendous leap. There’s a manic scream that abruptly cuts off, and when the Gangrel lands, her face and claws are caked with blood. Shredded gore half-wrapped in clothing hits the grass after her with soft thumps.

The next duskborn, the elderly man, hurls through the sky with a startled yell that just as abruptly cuts off. Camilla Doriocourt fires a bolt of crackling lightning after the thin-blood, but all it hits is his metal cane. It thuds against the grass with a low sizzle.

Support: “Kinda like skeet shooting, I think,” Hez says helpfully. “Not everybody’s cut out for it.”

He never liked that bitch.

GM: The enraged and terrified thin-bloods, even as this all transpires, fall upon their treacherous ‘comrades.’ Or at least try to. Some of the pitiful half-vampires tackle a few of the true-bloods, only for their nightborn fellows to kick and shove them off as they scramble towards the Sanctified lines. A few thin-bloods with guns try to fire them, then look puzzled when bullets don’t come out.

But all that stops with Hez’s actions.

They swarm around him like moths to a flame, pushing and shoving and screaming to get as close as they can. They clamor about the Brujah like he is the messiah, weeping watery red fluid that resembles neither blood nor tears, but some wretched thing in between.

“Me! Me! Throw me!” “Please! Me! I have a daughter!” “Please, me! me!” “I have a son!” “A baby girl!” “Please! Please!” “I can pay you back!” “My grandma has no one-” “My family needs me-” “My wife’s pregnant-” “I have-”

Support: He saves as many as he can. He knows it will not be enough.

But it will be everything for them.

GM: He’s also forestalled by the stake that plunges into his heart from the dark-clad blur that speeds back behind Sanctified lines just as Donovan utters, “Zero.”

“It’s Wright, you stupid motherfucker,” the hound glares down at him, then picks back up his titanium bat.

The sheriff thrusts his sword forward.

As one, the prince’s executioners charge the encircled thin-bloods.

As one, two dozen raw and terrified screams go up from the huddled mass of half-vampires as the prince’s blades raise over them.

Then as one:

The blades fall.


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Next, by Ayame: Story Twelve, Ayame II

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