“What the fuck is with this place?”
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Jade: The nice thing about Sean’s place on Rampart is that it’s filthy. Which is terrible in most situations, but in this situation it means there’s a handful of old, ugly rags that Jade can and does use to toss over herself on her way out the door, features shifting and back stooping to look like another dirty homeless person.
She changes her gait, shuffling along the street toward Canal, and dampens the Beast inside of her. Then, setting the trap, Jade starts to leak blood the same way a menstruating woman does. Not a lot, and not obviously, but to any predator in the area she’ll be blazing a neon sign: free food.
She hasn’t forgotten the rats that chased away her meal.
GM: The homeless woman shuffles down Rampart for some time, but eventually, she runs into someone. Blood in the water attracts sharks.
Or at least, would-be sharks.
Like reading a 48-foot billboard, one glance is enough: this woman belongs on Rampart Street. She’s pushing fifty—or maybe it’s pushing her. Her wrinkles are there if you look for them, but more distracting is her gaudy makeup (obviously a Pangloss knockoff to an esthetician’s discerning sight) that runs the gamut of electric blue eyeshadow, hotdog-hued foundation, and prepubescent pink lipstick. Her jewelry is similarly garish: plastic-looking rings likely bought from a capsule vending machine, mismatched earrings (one’s shaped like the Eiffel Tower), beaded bracelets probably salvaged from broken Carnival throws, and a necklace that might be a two grand Bvlgari choker or just a large washer strung with a dog-tag chain (it’s probably the latter). Competing with these eye-magnets (if not eye-sores) is ‘hair’ that looks like a discount rack wig trimmed down into an inverted bob. She wears a v-neck spaghetti strap top with cut-off shorts that parade her body. Her sun-bronzed skin and overall figure might belong to a Loyola senior returning from spring break, save for her legs’ varicose veins and worn-looking hands—with surprisingly unpainted nails that look freshly clipped. Her tattoos are far less surprising. One is a snake on her right bicep, and others are tattooed cocktail drinks running down her left leg. More letters are inked between her sandaled toes like maker’s marks: JT, JB, MD, and JC. The first pair of letters are crossed out, while the last are encircled by a tattooed heart.
Notwithstanding such low class accents, it would be inaccurate to call the woman unattractive, especially in poor lighting and when inebriated. Given that such conditions are ample in the French Quarter, Jade supposes she’s passable enough.
She stares at the leaking blood and licks her lips.
Then, without pretense of shame or dignity, she stoops to her knees, runs a finger along the dirty street and the blood freshly staining it, and sticks the finger in her mouth.
Her eyes close. Revulsion wars with want on her face. Then she looks up and rises to her feet.
“Hey, for s’more, you can feed on me…”
Jade: Beneath the dirty rags, Jade watches the woman kneel to taste the blood. Too late she realizes she should have masked that as well.
Then again, she hadn’t truly expected someone to lick it from the street.
She keeps up the bent-back appearance and speaks in the raspy voice of a long-time smoker.
“Din’t look like yeh liked the vintage.”
GM: Rampart Street apparently lives to defy her expectations of the extent to which its residents will prostitute their dignity.
“Oh, no, no, it’s great, real great… best I tasted in a while, and torrie, too. Best kind.” The woman licks her lips again in obvious want. “Just… I don’t normally lick it off the ground…”
“You wanna feed on me?” she repeats. “You can do that, if I can have some…”
Jade: Jade’s hunger gnaws at her.
“M’ridin’ the edge is all.” It’s not a no. The borrowed face displays its own want for the blood coursing through this woman; not her normal fare, and not the rats she’d been after, but food is food.
GM: Desperation wars with caution in the woman’s bag-lined eyes.
“Well… how bad you ridin’?”
Jade: “Ain’t bad ’nuff to spring at yeh here. But close. Trade ya, three fer one.” She holds up three fingers on her right hand, just as gnarled and bent as her back.
GM: The woman’s face falls.
“That’s a horrible deal.”
Then she says:
She bares her neck.
Jade: It is a horrible deal. But Jade had expected a counter offer of two to one; it’s the woman’s own fault that she hadn’t tried to haggle.
She’s glad she found Sean. She hates the idea of her mother ending up like this wretch.
Jade shuffles forward, casting a glance down the street to make sure the pair are alone.
GM: Surely this won’t ever happen to her mother.
There are some homeless sleeping nearby. In a group, making predation that much more inconvenient. There’s a man in a hoodie walking along by himself, hands stuffed in his pockets and not making eye contract. Otherwise, the street looks largely dead at this late hour.
Jade: There are other things for the man and homeless people to look at. Jade makes sure of it.
Fangs long in her mouth, she closes the distance between herself and the woman and sinks in.
GM: The blood reminds Jade of her mother.
Oh, none of the ambrosia-like love for her is there, that radiant and warming quality that made the woman’s blood incomparable to anyone else’s—save Emily’s. (And how sweet would little Lucy’s taste?) The firmness and heartiness of Jade’s most recent draught, that taste of steel spine, is also gone. No, this woman tastes desperate. She tastes dirty. She tastes as cheap as she looks. She tastes like knockoff makeup, faded tattoos, varicose veins, cheap wigs, cheaper sex, shot-up and snorted illicit substance, all so many dull diversions turned addictions to numb the pain beneath. To forget what’s beneath.
Because Jade does taste what’s beneath. She tastes like flowers and gardens around picturesque Garden District homes. She tastes like floral prints and pastels, perfume and sunlight, and wind chimes on gentle spring days. It tastes dainty and pretty and feminine.
Buried beneath so much cheap swill.
Surely this won’t ever happen to her mother.
Jade: Maybe it’s the reminder of her mother that keeps her Beast in check. Maybe it’s the rather public locale, or the man minding his own business across the street, or the undoubtedly curious homeless people that would raise the alarm should Jade slip up.
Maybe it’s the desperation of the woman herself, the overwhelming need for a hit that has her bartering at a three to one ratio; maybe that’s enough to know it’s a superior being.
Regardless of why, regardless of her worry, the Beast stays dormant as Jade eagerly laps at the blood flowing from the woman’s neck. The cheap taste almost makes her recoil… but it’s warm, hot even, and as it fills her belly and the dirt and grime wipes away she’s ensnared by what once was, what might have been.
This woman had been loved once. This woman had a family, a job, friends, a social life; she’d been pretty and delicate and happy, and Jade drinks deeply enough to taste the memories lost to time.
Like all vessels, the woman’s strength wanes the more Jade drinks, but the Toreador’s firm grip doesn’t let her fall. She leans the pair of them against the side of a building to keep her upright, taking her time with the vessel to prolong the ecstasy of the kiss and avoid unnecessary damage.
GM: Jade’s choice proves prudent. The woman grows weak in the knees. The side of the building looks like one Jade would want to wash her hands after touching, but the woman doesn’t care. She moans like a whore in heat as Jade’s fangs withdraw.
Jade: Licking the wounds closed tastes almost as bad as licking blood from the pavement, but Jade finishes the job. Then she lifts her hand to her mouth to sink her teeth into her wrist and silently offers it.
GM: The woman drinks deeply. Rapturously. Desperately.
That reminds Jade of her mother, too. During their first proper meeting, after she’d been beaten and humiliated and was at her absolute lowest, with nothing left but feeding her addiction.
This woman looks like she’s been at ‘absolute lowest’ for a while.
Jade: Jade keeps her face blank, thoughts spinning through her head.
This is Rampart. This is what it’s like out here: desperate Quarter rats and duskborn and independent ghouls chasing their next high. The dregs of society. People so desperate for the blood or vitae that they whore themselves out, take unfavorable deals, and otherwise debase themselves to score.
This is what unlife could have been like for her. This is what it still could be if she ruins what she has with sire or grandsire. Maybe she won’t be penniless, maybe she’ll never live in the streets, but her domain on Bourbon, her family, her business—it’s royalty compared to this.
She understands Sean’s bitterness now. How everything was ripped away from him, how he was forced to make it on his own for an accident of Embrace.
How easily this could have been Dani’s fate.
Silently, the Toreador lets the breather drink the promised hit, withdrawing her wrist once she’s taken what was offered.
“Independ’nt?” she asks in that same raspy voice. “Or you one-a them duskies?”
GM: “Yeah, indep,” says the woman. Her glassy eyes don’t once meet Jade’s, instead lingering on the Toreador’s wrist.
“Listen. Can I have s’more, please. You drank deep, that’s still plenty fair, if I get less…”
Jade: “How long,” she says, not immediately answering the question. “How long y’like this?”
GM: “Indep?” asks the woman. “Katrina.”
“Lost my domitor.”
Jade: “Whose were yeh?”
GM: “A Malk’s. Nobody important’s, but I been on the Blood since ’56.”
Jade: Jade considers. “Y’want a new one? Domitor. Regular blood.”
GM: The woman looks as if she was about to resume begging when she raptly.
“More blood? Yeah. Yeah. Please.”
“I’m useful, you’re torrie, I’m a potter.”
Jade: “Artist,” she repeats. “Got a name, potter?”
GM: “Cheryl,” says the ghoul.
Jade: “Potter like clay. Sculptin’?”
GM: “Clay,” she nods. “Pottery more than sculpting, though I could probably do that too. Also embroidery, glassware, block printing, watercolors, pastels, sketching. But I’m best at pottery.”
Jade: “C’mon,” Jade says, holding out a hand to help the woman back to her feet, “walk with me. Tell me. ‘Bout you. The city. Stuff you’ve seen ’round here.”
GM: The pale-faced woman takes some time to right herself. She shuffles slowly after Jade.
“Like what? Not much to see on Rampart.”
“Well, not much people enjoy seein’, anyway.”
Jade: “City, then. Your old dom.” She keeps her pace slow.
GM: “Oh. I didn’t see much of the city. My dom kept me locked up.”
Jade: “Huh. Why.”
GM: “To make art. She… didn’t like a lot of it. Smashed it. Hurt me. I was good, she’d give me hits, but that wasn’t often.”
Jade: “Some people create art from pain. Some of ’em need sunshine and happiness.”
GM: “That second, that’s me,” Cheryl nods. “She wouldn’t let me eat, bathe, or use a toilet, when she wasn’t happy. I couldn’t work like that.”
Jade: Jade shakes her head. She makes a disgusted noise.
GM: “But had to work, only got food and blood if I did.”
Jade: “Keeps ‘em desperate, you do it like that. Only thing you’re thinkin’ is the next hit.”
“You on drugs? Other shit?”
GM: “Yeah,” she admits. “Not late enough you’ll feel it. I can stop, if it’s a problem.”
Jade: “You c’n taste the blood. What else you do?”
GM: “I can work fast. More or less had to.”
Jade: “Any other mind readin’ shit?”
GM: “Ah, no, but I can see in the dark.”
“More or less had to learn that one, too.”
Jade: “Huh. Like shiftin’? Red eyes n’ shit?”
GM: She shakes her head. “No, my eyes’re normal.”
Jade: “Hmph. Aight. Tell you wha’, Cheryl. We gon’ do a trial thing. Gon’ get you cleaned up, place to sleep, some hot food. Gon’ see wha’ ye can do, art n’ otherwise. Goes good, got a new life for ya. None’a the shit she put you through, tell y’that.”
GM: Cheryl nods. “I, I’ll need to go back to my old place, for some things. But that sounds great. Better than great. Thank you. Thank you. I’ll be useful, you’ll see.”
“What’s your name?”
Jade: “Le’s get ‘em now. Gon’ put you up t’night.”
GM: “Put up where? You along Rampart too, I’m guessin’?”
Jade: There’s a moment of hesitation over the name. She could lie. Should lie. Take another fake name, just in case things don’t work out.
“Nah,” she says to the question about Rampart, “Bourbon.” She lifts her hands to the rags covering her face, fingers blurring against her skin—as if she needs to. When she removes them it’s not Jade’s face that looks out at the woman, but a familiar face all the same. Younger, beautiful, none of the age she’d pretended to wear. She smiles with straight, even teeth, and unbends her back.
“You can call me Dicentra.” The voice no longer belongs to a years-long smoker.
GM: “Bourbon,” Cheryl whispers, eyes wide. “You’re shittin’ me.”
That seems to hit her before the face-changing does.
Jade: “New life,” Dicentra says again. Perhaps there’s more weight to the words this time. More understanding now that Cheryl knows who she’s speaking to.
GM: “I… forget my things, they’re crap,” says Cheryl, clearing her throat. “I’ll be useful, you’ll see. Promise.”
Jade: “You sure?” Dicentra asks her, perfectly arched brow lifting slightly. “They’re yours. If you want them, we’ll get them.”
GM: “Nah. Nah. They’re crap,” Cheryl repeats. “Where are we going?”
“In Bourbon, I mean.”
Jade: “Hotel. I’ll pay for the week, give you some cash for clothes, meals, toiletries. You spend some time recovering from years of this, and I’ll visit.” There’s no trace of the gruff accent she’d adopted for the ruse. “We’ll see how things go. If the arrangement works…”
She trails off, finally looking to the woman with a fanged smile.
“You familiar with the name? Dicentra?”
GM: Cheryl thinks.
“Ah… night doc?”
Jade: “That’s the one.”
GM: “I… I look a mess, no Bourbon hotel’d let me in…”
Jade: Dicentra shrugs out of the rags she was wearing.
“They won’t even look your way.”
GM: “If you say so, ma’am. Should I call you that, or somethin’ else?”
Jade: “That’ll do for now.”
GM: “All right, ma’am,” nods Cheryl. “Thank you, thank you again. I’ll be useful, you’ll see.”
Jade: They certainly will.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Jade: The Bourbon Orleans Hotel isn’t on Bourbon itself, but it’s a stones throw away on Orleans Street between Bourbon and Royal. Opened in 1819, it has centuries of history behind it, first as a ballroom and later as a convent and orphanage; the hotel itself opened in 1964. Apparently it’s haunted by memories of its rich past.
Dicentra has been here a number of times over the years; she’s entertained more than a handful of guests in the Governor’s Suite when her own haven was out of the question as both Jade and Celia (along with some other faces), and every time she’s come in she’s had a pleasant experience.
She books a balcony suite for Cheryl and pays for the week. The night clerk, a familiar face, is more than happy to put the reservation as “unlisted” when she asks; anyone who calls or visits looking for her will be turned away. Hotels across the country have used this for years when people, especially women, are on the run from abusers or stalkers. Celia does it herself when she needs to travel since her face is well-known; she loves her fans, but she doesn’t need any fanatics trying to break into her room in the middle of the night or day.
Dicentra asks the clerk to send someone up with the usual toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a bathrobe. Like she’d told Cheryl, the clerk doesn’t even look her way. Dicentra oozes allure that these breathers can’t get enough of. They don’t notice the disheveled, out-of-sorts woman slightly behind her.
Once they’re alone in the room, Dicentra takes a seat at the desk and reaches for the provided hotel stationary and pen. She starts writing as she speaks to the ghoul.
“Tonight, tomorrow, and tomorrow night I want you to focus on recovering. It sounds like you’ve been on the streets for a long time; we’re not going to get you up to anything strenuous. There are two restaurants downstairs. Breakfast is complimentary. You can charge your meals to the room for lunch and dinner. I’ll have a few clothing items delivered to you tomorrow morning.”
She pulls a sleekly folded handful of bills from her jacket pocket and sets it on the desk.
“This is for anything else you need in the meantime. The list I’m writing here is what I want to know about you and about what you know. Skills and talents, connections—Kindred and kine—what you did prior to your ghouling, what you’d like to do, what you know about Kindred society in general and specifically as it relates to our city. Your health, mental health, any medications you are currently on, including anything illegal. Don’t lie about this; I don’t care what you take, I only need to know if you’ll need chemical or medical support to go through the withdrawal process.”
Dicentra finishes scribbling, finally looking back up at Cheryl.
“I’ll be back in two evenings to discuss further. My phone number is below if you need to get ahold of me in the meantime. The hotel is outside of my domain; don’t cause trouble.”
“If you’re serious about getting off the streets and serving a new domitor, we’ll assess then. If not, feel free to leave. I have no interest in a ghoul who spits in the face of kindness.”
“Do you have any questions?”
GM: Cheryl stays quiet and out of the way when Dicentra checks her in. The hotel lobby is largely empty at this late hour, but for the few graveyard shift staff.
“Wow, this really is living the Top Shelf life…” Cheryl murmurs. She’s quiet and subdued even after the staff are gone, and quick to sit down on the bed. The pale-faced, newly anemic woman’s eyes are already drooping, but they blink back to wakefulness when Dicentra addresses her.
“Okay. Skills, things I know, things I’m on… oh, right, you said you were making a list.”
She blinks again and nods slowly.
“I won’t cause trouble. I’ll just stay in here. You’re serious about just… leaving?”
She glances around the room.
“Not that I’d want to… been a… lifetime, since I slept anywhere this nice.”
Jade: “Yes,” Dicentra says simply. “I’d rather find out now that it won’t work out than after you learn things about me you can trade for other hits.”
GM: “All right,” nods Cheryl. “Ah… if you want to order some art supplies too, ma’am, I can show you I’m still good.”
Jade: “Write down what you need. I’ll have it delivered tomorrow.”
GM: Cheryl does so. There’s a pottery wheel, raw materials—“kilns are pretty bulky, don’t really work in this room”—and sketch pads, pencils, and some other basic-sounding supplies.
GM: “I think that’s it, ma’am,” she says when she’s done. “Thank you again. Thank you, so much. I’ll be useful, you’ll see.”
Jade: Dicentra smiles briefly.
“I hope so. Rest up. I’ll see you in a few nights.”
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s a short enough Ryde from the Bourbon Orleans Hotel to the Alystra in the CBD. Celia, Dicentra, Jade, or whoever is currently in the driver’s seat (of the body) still has time to fire off some texts along the way.
Jade: Jade lets Josua know she’s on her way.
Then she fires off a text to Diana: Made a new friend tonight. Think he can help w/ Em’s stuff.
GM: Wait I’m not there right now, Josua texts back.
Jade: Oh fuck. How long?
GM: I was gonna come back an hour-ish before sunup
Casino pretty boring at this hour on a weeknight
Jade: Wouldn’t have been if I were there. ;)
You hear from Daddy M?
GM: Haha true
No I think he must be in the middle of something. Or ignoring me. :( Look I don’t think this is happening tonight, try tomorrow?
Jade: Yeah np. Catch you later.
“Change of plans,” Jade tells the Ryde driver. She rattles off the address for Joel’s hotel.
GM: I’ll let Daddy M when I see him before sunup
Jade: ❤️ thx boo
GM: Josua sends back:
🍆 🍑 💦 😍
GM: The driver nods and adjusts his route.
“Kind of a shitty neighborhood,” he remarks.
Jade: “Mm,” Jade agrees, “if I pay you extra can you stick around in case my friend isn’t in?”
GM: “Yeah, sure,” he says.
Jade’s mother seems to be up very late, or perhaps her phone’s woken her up. But she’s already texted back:
Oh that’s wonderful! :) Remind me which stuff? Been a lot lately!
Jade: “You’re a gem,” she says to the driver.
The same stuff w/ you that Pete told us to try that he said was impossible.
GM: Oh my, that was fast. That’s double wonderful! I KNEW you’d do it! :)
Jade: Gonna take some time to make is all. Also need some samples. Can start w/ you and then her since, uh, everything tonight and all.
GM: That seems wise. Maybe if she takes one on her own, too. How much?
Jade: Prob just a little, will double check when I see him again though. Might be a few over a long period. Making it from scratch.
GM: Also, am I texting Celia or Jade right now?
Jade: Also have kind of a crazy idea.
GM: Hi Jade! :) I love you!
Jade: :) I like hearing (reading?) that. Love you too, Mom.
GM: I like saying (typing) that too! What’s the crazy idea?
Jade: Like Dani
GM: The idea’s with Dani?
Jade: No, she’d be like Dani. Can explain tomorrow, will stop by. Thought maybe it might be a good middle point but there are some drawbacks so idk, something to talk about for sure.
GM: Oh! You mean… oh my goodness, sweetie, Dani’s talked so much about how hard she has it and how lonely she is, I don’t think I’d wish that on Emily
Jade: Ah. Yeah maybe was a bad idea. Want her to see what it’s like before she decides if it’s what she wants is all. I’ll figure something out.
GM: No such thing as a bad idea, sweetie, just bad ones to act on. More options is always good, even if I think Emily would be happiest staying the way she is. I want her to marry Robby and have his kids!
Jade: Yeah you’re prob right.
Hey don’t tell Dani about Emi, I don’t want that getting out.
GM: Okay. I think Dani would really like having another person she could confine in, but if you don’t think it’s safe, Emi’s safety comes first
Jade: Just b/c of her brother.
GM: Also don’t forget you and Celia are going to be her kids’ best-ever aunt :)
Jade: Speaking of. C wanted me to tell you she saw him tonight with his new gf. :/
GM: Oh no, that must have been rough. :( How are you both holding up?
Jade: I’m okay. She’s… not.
Wanted to marry him.
GM: I know she did. I wanted that too. :( I’m so sorry, sweetie. I can only imagine how she must be feeling right now. Stephen was her everything. Would both of you like to come over for a girl’s night in? Can’t share any ice cream, but we could watch movies in our PJs and cuddle
Jade: I think we’d like that. When?
GM: Anytime! I’ll make it work, I don’t want Celia to not be okay
Jade: I’ll let her know. Thank you.
GM: You’re welcome! And I’d love to do that with you, too!
Jade: Jade closes the messages to Diana momentarily, tapping off a text to Alana with instructions to deliver the needed supplies to the hotel where Cheryl is staying (she doesn’t mention Cheryl herself). She tells her to include some basic clothing and gives a size estimate for those and a bra. Rather than guess on shoe size she says some slippers or flip-flops are fine.
Also took 1k out of the safe jsyk.
She doesn’t expect a response this late.
GM: True to her expectations, the likely asleep ghoul doesn’t immediately get back to her.
Perhaps Abi is also what’s keeping her mom up.
Jade: Maybe Cheryl has experience raising kids and can take some of the pressure off Diana.
Jade navigates back to Diana’s text.
Looking forward to it.
GM: Me too! Are you and Celia into the same movies?
Jade: I’m more into thriller and action than she is.
GM: You know, that seems very fitting! I’ll look up some titles :)
Jade: Strong female leads are badass
GM: Strong female lead, got it! That seems very fitting too.
Jade: :) I’m a stereotype
You tell Goose she’s getting a dog yet?
Jade glances out the window to check her surroundings.
“How long’ve you been driving for Ryde?” she asks the man in front.
GM: Haha, I am too. :)
Diana, like Celia, loves romances (but wholesome ones). And musicals. She also likes a lot of older black and white movies.
Not yet! I think in a few weeks would be good, after Abi’s had time to settle in. And things have had time to calm down in general.
“Too long,” mutters the driver.
Jade: Ah yeah makes sense.
Jade offers a sympathetic smile. “Side hustle or main gig?”
GM: “Main gig,” says the guy. “Shitty but it’s a living.”
Jade: “What do you want to do?”
“Or what would you rather do?”
GM: “Get paid to fuck bitches and snort coke.”
Jade: She laughs. “I can’t help with the second, but if you stick around for me while I run this errand I wouldn’t mind a tumble.”
GM: The man raises his eyebrows.
He’s not an ugly man. He’s thoroughly average, and she’s way out of his league.
Jade: “Like you said, dangerous neighborhood. I don’t want to be stranded this late at night.”
“Plus my ex and I just split, so…” She flicks her tongue across her lips.
“Could use a night of fun.”
GM: “Well his loss, my win.”
Jade: “That’s the spirit.”
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
GM: The hotel they arrive at is a shithole. Not so much as Sean’s meth lab, but only by a very small measure. The place smells funny and looks like it needs a new coat of paint, new furniture, new everything. Jade hears a gunshot in the distance. Jade waits for minutes after ringing the chipped service bell until a tired and resentful-looking female employee, who might have been sleeping, ambles up.
The difference between this dump and the Bourbon Orleans is like night and day.
Jade: Hunting probably doesn’t pay very well. Hopefully they at least get medical.
“Good evening. I was wondering if you could give Joel Price a ring. He told me to swing by but I forgot which room.”
She smiles winningly.
GM: The tired woman looks past two stages of even giving a shit.
“Not all the rooms got phones.”
Jade: “Ah. Can I get his room number then, if it doesn’t?”
GM: The woman pages through an old-fashioned log book instead of looking it up on a computer.
Jade: That was easy.
GM: The woman grunts and shuffles off.
Jade: Jade watches her go. Once she’s out of sight Jade pulls the log book toward her to check for a phone number for Joel. She jots it down and puts the book back into place.
A second later she’s behind the desk, pulling the extra key for room eight off the hook on the wall.
Then she’s off to find the room in question.
This, she thinks, is why she pays extra for better hotels.
GM: The woman doesn’t even bother to secure the book. Or the room key. Joel’s name is recorded in atrocious, barely legible handwriting. There is no phone number.
She finds room eight in brief enough order. The carpet in the hallway has a funny stain and looks like it hasn’t been vacuumed in a long time.
It smells terrible, especially outside Joel’s room.
Jade: Jade slips the key into her pocket. Her face changes as she moves through the hall to resemble the woman from the front desk; she shoves a hand through her hair to make it look just as rumpled as the rest of her.
GM: No one answers.
Jade: Good thing she has a key. Quietly, she pushes it into the lock and turns it to let herself in.
GM: She’s hit by an ungodly stench as she steps inside. A man’s corpse hangs suspended from the ceiling by a belt around its neck.
Jade: Well. Fuck.
Jade closes the door behind her, moving around the body to see if this is her missing hunter.
GM: The stiff-looking, pale-sheened face isn’t the one she saw him wearing, but it looks like the face on his ID. The corpse’s abdomen is slightly swollen. Piss and fecal matter stain the body’s pants and the floor beneath.
Jade: Her fingers clench into a fist at her side. Dead end. Literally.
She takes stock of the scene, looking over the body and the surroundings. She checks the cervical bones, looks to see where the blood is pooling in his body, checks to see what he stood on to suspend himself from the ceiling like this.
GM: Joel stood on a chair that looks like he kicked away. The man’s blood is where she’d expect to find it in a hanged man, and his cervicals are in a similar state. However, there are abrasions around his neck that are inconsistent with belt marks. Jade’s trained eye notes these ones are closer to hand-sized. Almost certainly from someone else, unless Joel chose to choke himself with his bare hands before hanging himself.
Jade can only come to the conclusion that the man’s “suicide” has been staged to conceal his murder.
Jade: Who doesn’t choke themselves before hanging?
Jade reaches out to touch the body to gauge its temperature to determine if she can find a time of death. She takes a photo of the handprints around his neck, then searches the room for his phone, the mask he’d worn, or anything else that she might find even remotely useful.
GM: Between the temperature and its physical state, Jade estimates Joel’s body at two or so days dead.
Apparently hotel staff have not noticed or done anything about the corpse in the room.
The man’s phone and mask are not present. His remaining belongings are few and consist of clothes, toiletries, a backpack, some snacks, a half-empty pack of cigarettes, a hunting knife, and a sub-compact pistol. Jade already has his wallet.
Jade: She rifles through the backpack.
GM: She finds many of the aforesaid items.
Jade: Two days puts it at Sunday. Someone had followed him from Elysium, then. Shame; she and Dani should have tailed him that night.
Who was it, Rocco? Wright? Doriocourt?
Someone else? Someone who wanted to take care of this quickly and quietly and not give Jade the credit she’d deserved for finding the hunter in the first place. Or someone who simply hasn’t spoken up about it yet. The thought annoys her perhaps more than it should, but what does she expect from the Hardliners?
Jade leaves the belongings where she found them, eyeing the body. She could fix the abrasions around his neck. Better for the Masquerade, isn’t it? Someone was sloppy. Even more annoyed, Jade reaches up to fix the marks on his neck, smoothing them out and lightening the skin to erase any trace of foul play.
She empties one of his snack bags and plucks a few hairs from his head, wraps them in tissue, and slides them into the bag. There’s a glass on the nightstand that she wipes off with the edge of the bedspread, then presses his fingers against the glass and slides that into the bag as well.
Jade eyes the body. If she takes a sample of his blood is anyone going to notice? It’s not like a coroner will pour it out and measure, not when the cause of death is so obvious.
She dumps out a plastic water bottle and opens the vein in his wrist, then pinches it closed and smooths it all over when she’s done.
Maybe she can do something with this. Pete can, anyway; she doesn’t like the idea of asking him to do another favor, but… well, she can ask someone else, maybe.
Maybe. It’s all a bunch of maybes.
Jade huffs, stepping out of the room once she’s done with it. She locks it behind her and steps back toward the front desk, glancing around to find the woman. If she’s not present—and why would she be, Jade has no doubt she went back to sleep—then Jade puts the key back and looks for a TV or computer that might hold security footage.
GM: The woman is not present at the front. Jade sees a very obvious security camera with a view of the front door, although there is no nearby computer or TV.
Though it’s not as if she’d show in the footage.
Jade: Has to go somewhere, doesn’t it? Jade follows the line.
GM: Jade discovers the line is not actually plugged in to anything.
For all intents and purposes it’s a fake camera.
Jade: Jade scowls at the line where it ends. She knows her kind don’t show up, but she’d been hoping to at least confirm that it had been a Kindred visitor.
She searches the front office for a schedule. Places like these probably just keep them posted on the wall; she looks for the name of the night attendant on Sunday.
GM: It reads Dustin Clayton.
Jade: She moves a few more papers around to find an employee file for him, looking for a phone number or address.
GM: She finds both. His address is also in Central City.
This hotel is laughably insecure.
Jade: She jots them down.
“Thanks for your help,” Jade calls, “couldn’t get an answer, guess I’ll try again later.”
She expects the woman is sleeping, but… well, whatever, it’s not like she can be on the hook for a guy who died two days ago.
She snags a bag to put her things in. Wouldn’t do for the driver to ask about the bottle of red liquid.
GM: The woman does not answer. No one stops the bag’s theft.
Jade: Jade steps outside, glancing around the parking lot and nearby telephone poles to check for any sort of cameras.
GM: Jade espies one camera, though perhaps little to her surprise, she discovers this one is also fake. It’s not actually hooked up to anything.
Jade: What the fuck is with this place.
No wonder it’s such a shitty neighborhood.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Jade: Jade moves back to the car, making sure that her face is all in order as she goes.
“Thanks for waiting,” she says to the driver. What was his name again?
GM: “Shitty neighborhood,” says the guy.
Jade hears a car alarm blare in the distance.
“You wanna do it in the back, or someplace else?”
Jade: “One more stop,” she says, “then we can do it wherever you want, however you want.” She winks at him.
GM: The man grins.
“Okay. Where next?”
Jade: She gives him Dustin’s address, then asks if she can sit in the front with him. She slides into the seat at the affirmative.
“Hope your meter’s off,” she says as he starts to drive. “Since it won’t cover the waiting I’ve asked you to do.”
“Figured we’d settle up in cash. No taxes and all that.”
GM: “I ain’t complaining,” the man says agreeably as he drives.
Seemingly to all of that.
Jade: Too bad he drives a Prius; Jade could use a new driver she can pay in sex.
She runs a hand up his thigh as they drive, making idle conversation.
GM: The man struggles to keep his attention on the road, but he persists. Mightily.
He stops outside an apartment building that looks like even more of a shithole than Brian’s. There are actual needles littered around the front step.
Jade gives him a peck on the cheek and tells him she’ll be back in a flash. She heads into the building, decides against the elevator, and takes the stairs to Dustin’s apartment.
GM: The driver looks like that moment can’t come soon enough for him.
The building’s door, though, is locked. The building is also small enough that she’s not sure whether there is an elevator.
Jade: Awkward. She presses the buzzer for the right apartment.
GM: There is no buzzer. Just a wooden door in bad need of some new paint.
Jade: Well how the fuck do they get their Chinese deliveries.
Jade uses another burner app to dial his number.
GM: The blighted-looking graffiti-tagged building looks too cheap for its residents to order out often.
The phone rings for a while.
“Yo, leave a message,” sounds the probably sleeping man’s voice.
Jade: Jade hangs up.
Lotta effort for probably only a little bit of payoff if she tries to break in. She can always try again tomorrow.
She heads back to the car.
GM: “That was fast,” says the driver, surprised.
Jade: “Didn’t answer his phone,” Jade says with a shrug.
GM: Jade sees it coming out of the corner of her eye. A dead-eyed man in a hoodie stalking briskly towards her, hands in his front pockets.
He pulls out a gun.
“HANDS UP, BITCH!” he yells.
Jade: Jade puts her hands up.
GM: The driver freezes.
The man with the gun grins at her.
“You gonna suck my cock, or I’ll blow your brains out.”
Jade: She lets her face take on the expression of fear, eyes wide and lips paling.
Silently, she nods her head up and down.
GM: The man laughs and gestures at his crotch with the gun.
“C’mon, bitch! Start suckin’!”
He points the gun at the driver.
“Get outta the car!”
The driver freezes.
The man advances forward a step, gun leveled.
“GET OUT OR YOU’RE DEAD!”
The driver slowly gets out.
Jade: She’d at least thought he’d take her somewhere private. With exaggerated, “fearful” slowness Jade gets on her knees, shuffling forward until she can undo the man’s jeans.
GM: “Ahhh, yeah!” the man grins as her fingers work, even as he gestures for the driver to step around to his side of the vehicle.
“Keep y’ hands on y’ head!”
He turns back towards Jade. He’s already hard past his boxers.
“How many cocks you sucked in your life, huh, you cocksuckin’ whore?”
“I bet you jus’ looove havin’ the dick in y’ mouth, don’t you?”
Jade: Jade pulls his cock free of its confines, sliding his pants and boxers down until she can see the thing he wants her to suck. She opens her mouth and brings him into it, looking up at him with a mouthful of cock when he asks. She doesn’t talk with her mouth full.
She gives it a minute.
Then she bites.
His cock isn’t the only hard thing in her mouth.
GM: It’s dark, hairy, and average-sized, despite the man’s whoops that “I bet you can barely fit that in!” He calls her a whore, a slut, and spits on her face. He threatens to kill her anyway if the BJ isn’t any good.
Then his eyes go huge and moans like a bull in climax as the vampire’s fangs pierce his shaft.
Jade: Her Beast snarls at the degradation.
Jade beats it back. It’s not the only thing that wants to rip and kill, and once she gets going and the blood hits her tongue she doesn’t stop. She doesn’t take just a little. Oh, no, she keeps going until she’s had her fill.
GM: The man’s blood is hot, arrogant, and angry. He thinks he’s on top of the world, because he’s the guy with the gun. She tastes his contempt. His ego trip. The big man he thinks he is right now. It’s so hollow, but such a change from her usual affair. The sweetness of his lust is an undertaste, although it’s definitely there, and growing, at the sight of Jade on her knees.
He reminds her of another man, with a plastic smile, who couldn’t get enough of seeing Celia Flores on her knees. Who mocked her, belittled her, and humiliated her, like this man now does. He’s not even half the terror Paul was—and Jade is ten times the terror Celia was. And he dares to spit on her!
The Beast will not abide.
She takes more than her fill.
It passes in an eyeblink, like the red haze always does. She’s no longer on her knees with a cock in her mouth. She’s straddling the prone man’s chest like a tigress over a kill, savoring the mouthfuls of hot and terrified lifeblood she’s gulping down, one after another. The face is white as a sheet and his eyes blank and nonresponsive. His fingers are limp around the gun that availed him not. A fast-slowing pulse beats weakly from his chest.
Jade: Sounds like a personal problem.
Jade licks him closed when she’s done and rises to her feet, looking for the driver.
GM: The man stares at her with wide and terrified eyes.
“What the fuck…!”
Jade: “What, you don’t keep a blade in your mouth?”
She doesn’t think that’s going to fly here. Perhaps if she’d just stuck to his cock…
Jade takes a step forward, holding her hands out to her sides as the clouds part in the sky and the moon shines its light directly upon her. She’s so beautiful. Ravishing, even. So what if she killed a guy with a gun? What had he done besides stand aside while his rider was assaulted?
God, she’s a badass.
“It’s okay,” she croons.
GM: The man stammers and actually sinks to his feet under the force of her supernal presence.
“What… what the fuck… what’d you do to him!”
Jade: “He was going to kill us,” Jade says patiently, crossing the distance between the pair of them and wiping the spit from her face. She reaches out, pressing his face against her thigh and rubbing a hand gently across his shoulders.
“I know you wanted to do something heroic, baby, you wouldn’t have let him hurt me, but he kept waving the gun around.” Jade sinks to her knees beside him, pulling him into an embrace. “I was so scared that he was going to pull the trigger and hurt us, I had to do something.”
GM: There’s blood on her face, too.
Jade can feel the tension in the man’s body as she pulls him in to embrace. Can hear his heart hammering in his chest. He’s terrified.
“What’d… what’d you do!” he repeats.
“You sounded…. Jesus!”
“How the hell’d you…?”
Jade: Jade rubs her hand up and down his back, pulling the terror from his body with her light touch.
“It’s okay,” she whispers, “it’s okay, I bit a little too hard and he started bleeding on me, so I hit the greater auric nerve and knocked him out. I didn’t mean to scare you, baby.”
“Help me move him, okay? He looks heavy. We’ll put him in your car and drop him off at the hospital.”
“Please, baby, I need you.”
GM: The driver’s features slowly calm.
“I guess we should.”
The medical term seems to go over his head, but he calmly gets up, opens the car door, and reaches under the unconscious man’s armpits to start lifting him.
Jade: Jade helps him load the man into the back of the car. She asks if he has a blanket she can put over him to keep him warm.
GM: The driver doesn’t have a blanket, but does have a jacket.
Jade: Oh well. Same difference.
After he’s loaded Jade picks up his gun and anything else he nubby have dropped, then starts to wipe the blood of her face as she climbs into the driver’s seat.
GM: There’s just the gun. The driver calmly asks where they should take him.
Jade: Jade directs him to a hospital on the other side of the city. While they drive Jade plies him with her charm, alternating between making herself more trustworthy and comments about how scared she was and how grateful she is that he was there. She twists the narrative with every telling: first that she bit the gunman and knocked him out while he was reeling in pain, then that she bit him and the driver attacked him, then that she punched him and the driver attacked him, and finally that the driver attacked him while he had a gun to Jade’s head.
She gets more and more emphatic with the telling, breaking off a few times to sniffle and wipe at her eyes, and keeps repeating what a hero he was and how he’d saved them, how he was right it’s a bad neighborhood, how she was sure the gunman was going to kill them both. Hero, she repeats, and she curls herself against his side while he drives, snuggling into him as if she’s still scared.
She says that too. That she’s scared. That she thought she was going to die. That she’s never… the gun… it all happened so quickly, and he was so brave to stand up to the gunman, and she’s so small how could she have possibly fought him off herself? He’d have killed her. He’d have killed her, she repeats, burying her face against his side, raped her and killed her and done who knows what with her body; she can never repay him, she’s sure of it, she’ll thank God every night that he was there with her, that he was her driver, that he didn’t abandon her.
GM: The driver demurs, at first, that he did anything to the guy. He was mostly scared shitless over the gun. Jade was the badass one. She took out the bad guy—
He doesn’t keep it up, though, when Jade is curling herself against him and calling him a hero. He repeats that yeah, he wasn’t just gonna let something like that happen, not in his watch, in his car. Jade’s not sure whether he actually believes what he’s saying, but he’s clearly happy to repeat the line when she’s there in his arms.
Jade: She eases up on the hold she has on his emotions with every word. By the time they hit the Quarter she’s withdrawn her suppression completely.
That’s when she looks into the back seat and lets out a gasp. She touches the body.
“Oh, no, no, no,” she murmurs, “he’s… I think he’s…”
He’s dead. He’s dead and they killed him and it was self defense, but look at those bruises on his face and the swelling at the back of his head, they’re going to know someone punched him out, they’re going to come after them. She can’t go to jail, she can’t, and she’ll go down with him for being a witness and not doing anything, and he’ll be locked away for years for manslaughter, and, and, and…
As she speaks she turns the emotions the other way, dialing up them up rather than turning them down, letting him feed off of her hysteria and fear as she says she won’t let him go to jail for this, she won’t, he’s a hero, he shouldn’t be punished, he saved her life.
GM: Like a coin flipped, the driver freaks out when she tells him the guy is dead. He starts cursing. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” They shouldn’t have ever gone to this neighborhood! What the fuck are they supposed to do now!? They can’t just turn themselves in!
He does not try to feel the body himself, or notice the beating but fast fading heart.
Jade: “We can hide it,” Jade says, “we have to hide it.”
Shakily, she tells him that they can take the gunman to her place. She’s reluctant, but she finally whispers that her ex is connected to the mob, and he can make it go away, she’ll call him tomorrow. He’ll want something from her, and maybe he’ll knock her around a little bit for the trouble, but he’ll help. She knows he will.
She directs the driver toward her haven on Canal.
GM: The driver does so.
The dying man expires not longer after they divert to Canal. Jade can tell, from the cessation of his sluggish heartbeat. It’s not a bang or even a whimper, just simple cessation of a bodily function.
Jade: Jade makes sure no one is looking their way when they pull in, directing stray attention elsewhere. She helps her driver carry the body inside, quietly laughing over how he’d had too much to drink and thanks so much for the help getting him home, just in case anyone is listening or looking. She unlocks the door for the pair of them and takes the gunman into the bathroom, setting him in the tub.
GM: The driver grunts and pants as he helps Jade carry inside the corpse. Completely limp human bodies are heavy.
Jade: Jade finally looks back to the driver.
“Will… will you stay tonight? I just… I feel safer with you.”
GM: Perhaps, if it were anyone else asking him to stay and get laid with a corpse in the bathroom, the driver would say no.
But Jade isn’t just anyone. She’s Jade Kalani.
“Sure,” he nods, raptly.
Jade: Of course he wants to stay. Hasn’t he seen any action movie ever? He’s the hero and she’s the damsel and he single-handedly defeated the bad guy. He probably even had a cool line at the moment of takedown. Now it’s time to kiss the girl and claim her as his prize.
So he does. Gently at first, and when Jade makes the right noises—she always makes the right noises—he deepens the kiss with a tilt of his head and a hand on her cheek, and she’s putty in his arms after that. Or is he putty in hers?
She tops from the bottom, letting him “take control” while she drives the action, moaning and panting and gasping as needed, sliding out of her clothes and letting him get an eyeful of her gorgeous, fit body while she repeats the words “hero” and “brave” and “saved me.” That’s the only way an average guy like him gets a girl as hot as her: by being a badass.
She’s warm and wet and tight when he finally pushes inside of her, legs around his waist and fingers buried in his hair, holding him close against her while her heart pitter-patters against her ribcage and her lips brush against his ear, his cheek, his jaw, his mouth. She’s eager to please. A slippery little minx beneath the sheets, taking everything he gives her and then some, and all the while making him feel like the giant, strong, badass he is.
For a moment maybe he even forgets that he drives a Prius.
And when it’s done, when his seed trickles from between her legs and he lies on his back with her little body curled against his, arm around her, she asks him to tell her what happened. It was all so fast.
GM: The man is soon lost in her embrace, putty in her hands even as she plays at being putty in his. All of his fear, all of desperation, all of his stress, comes out as he frantically takes her. He’s less than a pale shadow of other lovers she’s had, but serviceable enough in his intended role. Like a human dildo. One that’s at least warm flesh rather than cold plastic or silicone.
She’s incredible. He’s almost certainly never been with a goddess of desire like her in all his life. He climaxes quickly, and before she does, hot seed filling her dead cunt. After it dribbles out, he plants his face between her legs to service her with his mouth, and then his fingers when she says to keep doing something that’s at closer to what he was doing. Once again, she’s had better, but it beats a vibrator.
He feels big, all right, getting to nail this vision of perfection and beauty who tells him how big and strong he is.
He lies there, and holds her against his chest, and tells her they both took out the guy together.
It’s definitely the story he’d like to be true.
Jade: Jade stays curled against him for a few moments, listening to the beat of his heart inside his chest.
Why are none of these people she picks up ever actually good at sex? Why are they always… bums? Desperate degenerates that she’d be wasting her vitae on if she ever decided to share. Even Randy had only been a decent find because of his brothers.
She needs to start recruiting or something. None of this adopting strays nonsense.
GM: Perhaps he’d be better around someone else as thoroughly average as he is.
And in fairness to Randy, she never did have sex with him to find out.
Even if Reggie thought he’d have no idea what to do with his own cock around her.
The driver’s blood is better than his performance was, though.
Jade: “Together,” she says, nodding her head in agreement, and repeats the line about being scared without him. She turns to her side to kiss him, working her way from lips to jaw to neck.
Gently, she sinks her fangs into the side of his neck. Just a hit. Just enough to make him a little woozy, a little off his game. His blood is hot and sour-spicy-sweet across her tongue, peppered with adrenaline, fear, and lust.
When she’s done she nuzzles against him for a few minutes, then finally sighs and murmurs that she should call her ex to let him know. She slips out of bed and pads naked across the floor to where she’d left her phone on the counter. She taps a few buttons and pretends to dial a number, holding the phone to her ear once it starts to “ring.”
Jade has a whispered conversation with the phantom on the other end of the line. She says she’s in trouble. She says she made a mistake. She says she needs him, that someone had jumped her; she never mentions the body in the tub, only alludes to cleaning something up.
“Please,” she finally whispers, and nods at whatever imaginary response there is. “I will. I will, I promise… t-tonight? I, I—okay, yeah, okay.” The driver can see her close her eyes and nod again. “I know. I’m sorry.” She swallows. “Thank you, yes, I’ll be here.” A pause. “You too.”
Jade hangs up. She sets her phone down and moves across the floor to her closet, quickly rifling through it for a handful of items.
“He’s on his way,” she says to the driver. “He’ll take care of it. You have to go, okay? You have to go.”
GM: “He?” the driver asks sleepily. He sounds pretty sluggish between the sex, the blood loss, and adrenaline crash.
Jade: She pulls on a silk robe around her naked form, belting it at the waist to hide her nudity. She tells the driver again he needs to go. But he’s woozy. Tired. Spent after the sex, the blood loss, the crash of adrenaline fading from his body. He’s slow to get up, slower to get dressed, and by the time he finally pulls his shirt on Jade holds out a hand, cocking her head to the side.
She runs to the window, pulling open the drapes.
“Shit,” she says, “shit, he’s here, you have to hide, you have to hide. The… the closet,” she says, pulling him toward it, “just stay in here, stay, okay? Just go behind that rack of dresses and sit on the floor and don’t move, okay? Don’t come out, no matter what. He can’t see you here.”
She pushes him inside and closes the door, then drags an armchair in front of it to prevent him from opening it.
GM: The driver tries to act masculine, at first, about not needing to hide. He finally “relents” under Jade’s entreaties, but is probably all-too glad to just get out of the way between his mental and physical exhaustion.
And Jade has already seen his character. Is this a man who would rather confront danger than flee it?
Jade: Ruse halfway over, Jade gets to work. She strips from her robe and leaves it draped across the chair, then moves to the front door. She knocks on it. Opens it. Murmurs a greeting, then says “you fucked up” in an accented, masculine voice.
“Show me,” says the voice, and the door locks and closes behind him. Footsteps through the apartment, then the bathroom door opening. A long, loud sigh. Some shuffling in the kitchen, a few drawers opening and closing, then the bathroom door closes. Jade locks it behind her.
Alone in the bathroom, she looks down at the corpse and gets to work.
Jade: It’s routine work at this point, stripping a body down to its base parts and destroying the evidence. She uses her claws to pull apart skin and muscles, setting it to the side, and drains the blood into a handful of jars for later consumption. When the flow slows she reaches inside the chest cavity to wrap her fingers around the heart, pumping the blood through the arteries and into the waiting containers.
Jade works quickly once the blood is taken care of. She sets the containers beneath the sink and pulls out a large plastic bucket, cuts open the man’s abdomen to remove his stomach, and dumps it into the bucket. She pours in hydrogen peroxide and watches it start to bubble.
Then it’s just a matter of getting rid of the evidence. She strips muscle and flesh from his bones and, on a whim, opens up her own body to stuff it inside. She wants to see how far this new ability of hers goes. So while she works on getting rid of the rest of the corpse—routine by this point—her focus turns inward. The movement of her hands fades into the background; she’s inside herself, unwinding the muscles inside of her own body to absorb what she has stolen from the man.
The body has three different types of muscle inside of it: striated, smooth, and cardiac. The smooth and cardiac muscles control involuntary functions; the cardiac muscle makes up the mass of the heart and causes the contractions to keep blood pumping through the body, while the smooth muscle is found in the stomach, intestines, and walls of blood vessels.
Jade doesn’t need any of that, dead as she is. No, she’s focused on the striated muscle, or skeletal muscle. These are the muscles that most people think of when they picture an anatomically correct body, what weightlifters want to build when they pump iron in the gym.
These muscles consist of long fine fibers, each of which is a bundle of smaller myofibrils. Inside of those are filaments of protein, myosin and actin, that slide past one another as the muscle contracts and expands. Each myofibril has a dark band, the Z line, and the area between the bands is the structural and functional unit of muscle tissue: the sarcomeres. When the proteins within the sarcomeres slide against each other the myosin head acts as a cocked spring, binds with the actin filament, and produces a power stroke, which then slides the actin past the myosin, shortening the sarcomere and generating force. Since the sarcomeres are joined end to end they all contract, shortening the entire muscle in what’s called a power stroke. The more Z lines and sarcomeres a muscle has, the more power is generated.
That’s how people move. Tiny little fibers of proteins inside their muscles and expand and contract based on the impulses of the brain that send the signals to motor neurons. The better you get at telling your motor neurons to make your muscles contract, the stronger you get. That’s why smaller people can be deceptively strong: they’re just better at activating those motor neurons and contracting their muscles.
That soreness from the gym? That’s from damaging the muscles when you lift things heavier than you should, and when you rest the next day your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers, fusing them together to form new muscle proteins. More muscle protein is more strength.
If Jade weren’t as versed in anatomy as she is, and if she wasn’t as familiar as she is with going inside of herself along the chakras and energy lines in the body, maybe it wouldn’t work. Maybe she’d have to cut herself open and let someone else do it, like she’d done for Tantal.
But she is well-versed in anatomy. She is well-versed in the breakdown of muscles and how they function. And she is very, very familiar with sending her consciousness spinning through her body to adapt to her individual needs.
So while her hands move on autopilot, slicing ligaments and tendons apart to loosen the skeletal frame to dissolve in the same liquid concoction she’d done for Edith, she starts breaking down the bands of muscle fibers stolen from the gunman and unwinding her own fibers. She merges them. She creates more cross bridges in the myfobril, more Z lines, more sarcomeres. More force. More power. She buffs her biceps, her triceps, her traps. She adds to her quads and hamstrings, to the lats and deltoids, to major and minor pecs. She adjusts all three of the gluteus muscles, then the abductors and extensors in her forearms and calves, the rhomboids, the levators, the supraspinatus and splenius and serratus.
It’s like years of gym-use in moments. Power surges through her. Strength and durability and flexibility; she waxes as the gunman wanes.
Jade brings her attention back to the bathroom and the desecrated body in front of her when she’s done with her experiment. She finishes the work, changing her shape and body size as she puts the last of the bone and flesh into the concoction. She doesn’t make herself any taller, but she doesn’t need to. What she lacks in height she makes up for in width. She darkens her skin, shortens her hair, and when she looks in the mirror… well, it’s a spitting image.
He’s a handsome man: machismo made flesh. Shorter than most men but with lean, prison-yard muscles that make him look taller. Youngish, but with enough gang-touting tats and a body-bag stare that makes it clear crossing him would be a fatal mistake.
GM: Corpse disposal is indeed routine work for Jade at this point. The dead gunman is downright pleasant to dispose of next to the disgusting work that Joel would have been. The corpse hasn’t even had time for rigor mortis to set in. There’s some dried piss on the penis… he must have pissed himself when he tried to rape Jade.
Jade weaves muscle fibers, taking from his and adding to hers. Just like that, he’s made less of a man so that Jade can be more of one. So Jade can be Roberto.
She already knows just how to have him act.
Jade: Jade—Roberto—finishes the work. He takes the gunman’s clothes and slides the shoes onto his feet. He borrows the pants, then finds a masculine muscle tee from the assortment of things Jade had removed from her closet earlier. He sticks the gun into the band of his jeans and stomps out of the bathroom, a heavier gait than Jade’s light step.
“Yeah,” he says, “I fuckin’ got it. And what about you, huh? What were you doin’ that way?”
Jade mumbles a response, but Roberto cuts her off.
“Who’s here?” he demands.
“No one? Those shoes don’t look like fuckin’ no one. Hijo de puta, you think I’m fuckin’ stupid? How’d you get him up here if there ain’t no one, huh? You reek like sex, you fuckin’ whore.”
There’s the sound of flesh striking flesh. A muffled cry. More footsteps. Roberto shoves aside the chair in front of the closet and yanks open the door.
It’s like staring down a speeding train. Like standing on the tracks knowing there’s nowhere to run. Like a deer in headlights, or an unfortunate soul lost in the woods while a wolf stalks closer, teeth bared and snarl ripping from its throat. He practically radiates power and importance.
“You,” he says, “you the fuckin’ driver, huh? You kill this motherfucker? You some whipped pussy ass bitch whose mistakes I gotta clean up?”
GM: The driver feebly holds up his hands against Roberto as he back against the closet, cowed by the man’s supernal presence.
“N-no, it was her, I didn’t do anything, I was just there…”
Jade: Roberto points a finger at him. “Left your fuckin’ wallet out, dipshit, now I know where to find you if you open your fuckin’ mouth about any of this. You go through Ryde? Yeah, asshole, delete that shit. Forget you ever went to that neighborhood. Was a quiet fuckin’ ride around Mid-City, hear?”
GM: The driver nods, rapidly, at Roberto’s growled commands.
“Ryde. Yes. I’ll delete it, all of it. I didn’t see anything, I didn’t, never saw anything, I never met her. This didn’t, didn’t happen.”
He adds, awkwardly,
Jade: Roberto glowers at him.
“You tryna tell me that this little bitch took out a man twice her size and you stood around with your limp dick in hand? Huh, is that it? You think I’m fuckin’ stupid, driverboy? You tryin’a pin this on her so I don’t kick your ass, that it?”
GM: “N-no, a lot of, lot of it was a… was a blur,” the driver demurs, hands still raised. “She just… she made the first move… then I helped.”
He pointedly says nothing about what a short guy Roberto himself is.
Jade: “‘Course she made the first move, she a bitch but she ain’t a fuckin’ pussy, bit that fucker jus’ like I tol’ her n’ got ‘im nice an’ loose for ya.”
Roberto stares a moment longer, then finally grins.
“Hope for you yet, dipshit. Don’t make me come find you, hear?”
GM: The driver nods again, managing a weak grin back.
“I won’t, man. This never happened. I won’t talk to nobody.”
“I’d be in big trouble if I did, yeah?”
Jade: “Big trouble.” Roberto draws his thumb across his throat. “Clean the piss off your johnson, driverboy. Firs’ kill? Yeah, fuck ‘er nice an’ good, best thing after.”
Roberto slams the door on him and shoves the chair back in front of it. He says something in rapid fire Spanish to Jade, then stomps to the door and yanks it open. He closes it behind him.
Jade gives herself a moment to return her face and body to its usual state; she keeps the extra muscle she’d given herself, making it lean rather than bulky, and strips from the clothing. They’re shuffled in among a pile of other clothes she has lying around, gun tucked under the sink in her kitchenette. She slips back into the robe, puts a red mark on her face in the shape of a handprint, and finally opens the closet door to let the driver out.
GM: The driver can’t get out of Jade’s haven fast enough. He doesn’t say anything about the mark. He doesn’t try to get more sex.
He just gets out.
Jade: Jade waits until he’s gone to start laughing.
“Gonna have to thank Roberto for this one,” she says to herself.