“Hope is a luxury, Caroline. I deal in realities.”
Thursday night, 17 December 2015, AM
Caroline: The heiress rubs her wrists. There’s no circulation to restore, but it’s comforting nonetheless. She turns to her mother.
“How much did you see? Or hear?”
GM: “Nothing, Caroline,” her mother answers with a soberness that sounds largely unconcerned by what she did or didn’t hear. “You screamed and thrashed. You bled a bit. It’s often best not to interrupt such things.”
Caroline: “I thought I knew. But I didn’t know anything.”
The heiress shakes her head. She wants a drink, the real kind. Something to dull her senses. Everything is so raw.
GM: Her mother’s look turns expectant as she gets up to undo the handcuffs.
Caroline: “I wasn’t some random victim. I was targeted. Abducted. Sent to die the most horrible death I couldn’t even imagine.” She shivers. “There aren’t even words to describe the things they did.”
GM: Claire unfastens the two cuffs on her left side.
Caroline: She looks at her mother questioningly.
GM: “For the things your kind, and other monsters, do. Evil isn’t something many of them even do. It’s just what they are.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “You think you know, that you’ve seen the extent of possible cruelties.” She pauses before continuing, her voice thick with grief, “They put a child inside me to cut it out. They raped me with an aborted baby. They cut off pieces of me and fed them to me!”
“Please don’t tell me you know what evil looks like. I saw the Devil! I saw Hell, and time had no meaning! Every hour was a day, and every second was a year, and when they cut me they didn’t cut only skin and bone.”
Even describing it hurts. The pieces, the fragments of memories she can recall.
“And that’s just the pieces I can remember between screams and pieces of black that I don’t want to remember.”
GM: Her mother’s face wars. With pain. With grief. With anger. She hasn’t moved to undo the cuffs on Caroline’s other side.
“Is that what that ’woman’s’ coin did to you, Caroline? Filled your head with more horrors?
Caroline: “There’s always a price for knowledge, Mom. You told me that. Sometimes the price is a piece of yourself. A piece taken you can never get back, or a piece given that you never wanted back,” Caroline replies.
GM: “And what have you learned to make this one worthwhile?”
Caroline: “The face of the evil at the bottom of the Dungeon. How I got there and why… and how I got out. How I was turned and why.”
GM: Her mother finally undoes the handcuffs on the still supine Caroline’s other side.
“Has that changed anything, knowing the details of how you were murdered and defiled?”
Caroline: “I learned that whoever it was that had me sent there is still out there,” Caroline replies. “That changes things.”
GM: Claire regards her expectantly as she sits back down.
Caroline: “That Abélia isn’t who I feared she might be.”
The heiress sits up and regards her mother soberly as she begins the tale. She’d always felt there were a number of loose ends in the story of her death. Why was she found where she was? Certainly René didn’t abandon her there. She’s heard multiple times that he didn’t even recall Embracing her, just torturing her, and that it must have been some mistake.
More to the point with René, why did he come back to New Orleans as he did, when he did, just in time to abduct and murder her? Her previous interrogation of his long-time ghoul revealed something had changed before the journey to the Crescent City, that he had expressed it was ‘time’. Time for what? She never found out. The ghoul hadn’t known, and had escaped shortly thereafter, and René will be telling no tales after his execution. It had always seemed likely to her that someone had called him back to the city towards some purpose.
She learned from multiple sources that she’d been taken to the Dungeon, in the French Quarter, not so very far from where they are now, for her murder. At least one agent followed her there—a man she now believes to be a ghoul—who fled to the Cayman Islands following that night. Why was she followed? More importantly, what part did he play? She hasn’t been able to interview him to date.
The tortures she suffered within she won’t recount again—for her own sake as much as her mother’s—but she’s quite certain of a few matters. First, that she was very near to the bottom of that pit, where its mistress resided. Second, that the tortures she suffered were lethal.
She’d heard only rumors of the Dungeon from other Kindred, but it’s from an ancient one-handed ghoul working as a private investigator, a man seemingly ruined by the weight of his years but still willing to take up a sword against evil when he saw it, that she received a name for the demon in the pit: Mother Iyazebel. Has her mother heard that name?
Caroline waves it aside when her mother hesitates. Not really important. She’s not fishing for information, just curious as to whether or not she had known of the being which she speaks of. Perhaps the most terrible evil in New Orleans. Or perhaps not. She hasn’t been aware of the supernatural long enough to make such a claim, but she was certainly the worst Caroline has ever seen.
Caroline remembers what it was to be there, dying, but not yet dead. In agony as the ancient vampire flayed off pieces of her soul, as she was kept on the edge of death for what seemed like forever. She admits, she’d thought she was dead already, and in Hell. She’d given up praying for anything: for rescue, for release, for mercy, even for death. God had surely forsaken her.
And then a light appeared in the dark. A titanic clash of Cainites of such power that it defies her understanding of what is possible. Whirlwinds of death that tore each other apart until neither was left standing, or even crawling.
Perhaps she realized it was her last chance. Perhaps she had nothing else to lose. Caroline hauled her broken body towards their own, towards the light and the dark. She took up the fallen blade, and she ended a god.
She pauses once more for her mother, to gauge her reaction, and allow for any questions.
GM: Her mother has a number of both.
They’d talked about Caroline investigating the Caymans for this ghoul. Does she still believe it would be worthwhile to? The islands aren’t large at all.
Claire says that if Caroline does not require information on the now-destroyed elder, the matter is best left be. Anything she tells Caroline still might potentially find its way to the sheriff’s (and others’) ears. The more in the dark they are regarding the extent of her knowledge, the better.
Claire looks torn, and pained, as Caroline describes her torments at the bottom of that pit. Perhaps it is for her daughter. Perhaps it is for her son. Perhaps for them both. After all, those torments may be the same ones Westley faced—and he did not make it back out.
Caroline’s mother is confused by the description of a second vampire who appeared to do battle with her ancient tormentor. What was its goals and purpose? Did Caroline kill it too, while it was vulnerable?
Caroline: She does not believe there is further value in investigating the ghoul at this time. She believes she knows whom he served. She similarly does not require information about Mother Iyazebel.
As for the second vampire, she believes him to have been there to make an attempt to to pull her from the pit. She did not strike him down—nor could she have even if she wished it. After her blow she remembers nothing until she awake once more, free from the Dungeon.
GM: Claire takes that initial news impassively, but is instantly cynical at the thought that “another leech,” especially of its puissance would ever risk its immortal existence on another’s behalf—at least without something to gain. Still, her face grows strained as the torturous tale continues. They both know how it ends.
“How did they finally murder you, Caroline?” she asks, her voice tortured. “And who, if it wasn’t that monster that murdered your brother?”
Caroline: “There may be more bad than good, but there are varying forms of evil,” Caroline replies to her mother’s skepticism. “I was dying when I awoke. You can’t live through what happened to me down there. But as for Westley, just because she’s gone does not mean the Dungeon is not still a place of pain and death, infested by the worst of the vampires in the city.”
GM: Claire does not appear to doubt this last assertion at all. Nevertheless, it is equally plain what queries’ answers she most awaits.
Caroline: “The prince’s seneschal pulled me from the Dungeon,” Caroline replies after a moment’s pause. “He was the only one there when I died. He held my hand as I felt myself die.” She chews on her lip. “And I awoke with him holding me still. You wanted to know who turned me? There you go. That’s three secrets that are worth my life to share.”
Caroline lets that matter linger for a moment, before moving onto its implications, so far as she’s concerned.
The fact that she was groomed for, and eventually Embraced by, the prince’s faction makes her far more wary of throwing in with any other. Especially with the revelation that once already someone sought her murder. Perhaps twice, she recalls, reflecting on her final meeting with René. In any case, she doesn’t know what game is being played at by the seneschal by throwing her out into the street as he has, but ultimately feels there may be no other Kindred in the city she can trust in the same way. She’s adamant that he risked his existence to pull her from the Dungeon, and that is not something she can lightly toss aside, no matter what else has happened. She hasn’t forgiven everything she’s suffered since she was thrown out, the death sentence she labors under, the abuse she’s suffered—and often at the hands of those from the prince’s bloc. That’s what trust means, though—it’s belief that there has to be a reason for it. A reason more than a paltry existence. She intends to rise to claim it.
She knows her mother hates all Kindred and views them all as equally worthy of scorn and destruction. Caroline disagrees. She’s seen the different faces of evil. Seen how wild the forest can grow when left unattended. She knows there are worse things out there than vampires, and deeper games played among them than her mother—or any hunter—might ever realize. Games played that are centuries deep.
She doesn’t demand her mother agree with the sentiment, she simply asks that on this, she trust her.
GM: Claire’s face is a now too-familiar mask of pain as she listens to Caroline recount the circumstances of her Embrace—which Claire achingly terms “her murder”—and go through a second rollercoaster of revelations concerning that terrible night.
She doesn’t cry, this time. She’s had a while to come to terms with the fact that two of her children are dead.
The best truths are the ones admixed with lies, Caroline well knows, as she ‘tells’ her mother that it was the seneschal who Embraced her. Claire seems to care little for the fact, in of itself, that Maldonato was “her murderer.” It’s just more of her kind’s incessant schemes and power struggles—meaningful only for the hurt and misery they invariably cause.
Still, she notes, it could be useful as a form of leverage. To what end did that ancient leech murder and defile her himself, then turn her out? What purpose is Caroline meant to serve?
Neither of the Malveauxes know. Claire does, however, counsel Caroline against “rising to claim” whatever deathright she imagines she has. “All they will do is use you, Caroline—then throw you aside once you’ve served your purpose.”
“They’re predators. You’re predators. Everyone else is just food or competition to them.” Her face flickers. “Eventually.”
“Humans die. We don’t have any choice but to help our children survive and prosper, if we want to live on in some way ourselves. Your kind don’t. ‘Living’ forever perverts that relationship into something it isn’tm. ‘Children’ become just tools to help the ‘parent’, their murderer, survive and prosper.”
Claire’s eyes are hard. “And make no mistake, this monster, who you say ‘saved’ you—he raped, defiled, and murdered you. If he stopped another monster from doing so, that was no different than one wolf fighting off another one so it could claim the kill.”
“So what do you want from that, from all of those monsters, Caroline? What do you expect to accomplish with them?”
Caroline: “You are so blinded by hate!” Caroline replies in frustration, rising and circling the couch they’ve moved to. “Is it so hard to believe that they’re not all exactly the same?” She holds up a finger. “No, I’m not telling you they’re saints. That they set out to be angels, but I saw it, Mother. I saw him get word of what had happened. If I could show you, I would. I saw his last conversation and saw him descend into Hell knowing he’d lose. Knowing he’d be destroyed. Knowing that in that place was death, because he felt responsible. Because what awaited down there was worse than any death for me. It was obliteration.”
“There’s evil in us,” she continues. “There’s evil that gets loose when we’re hurt, or angry. Hell, it’s evil that we do every night to continue our existence. But we each have our limits.” She gives her mother a meaningful look. “There are lines I won’t cross. If you didn’t believe that, why are we talking? Why haven’t you destroyed me, unless you think there’s something of your daughter left inside?”
“What do I want? I want to keep my brothers from getting hurt. I want to keep you from getting killed. I want to be able to protect my family the next time a monster thinks to abduct one. I want to be influential enough that I can be discriminate in the people that I hurt—or not have to hurt anyone at all. I want to see the opera. I want to spend another night with my lover, Jocelyn.”
GM: Claire only purses her lips at Caroline’s mention of a ‘lover Jocelyn’, but agrees that protecting her family, hurting fewer people, destroying others of her kind, and indeed, attending the opera, are worthy enough goals.
All but that last one. If the prince is entering torpor as Smith claimed, good. Let the whole rotten house collapse down around him. The more leeches that die at one another’s hands, the more lives like Caroline’s that will be saved.
Caroline: Caroline disagrees. If the system comes crashing down it will in fact doom many others to her exact same fate. Whatever her mother might believe, the ‘leeches’ can proliferate faster than her hunters can destroy them, and in the absence of strong authority, that’s exactly what will happen. She’s seen the mass executions after major events, when some Kindred choose to Embrace others for their varied reason without restraint. She likens it to the dictatorships of the Middle East: her mother need not like or approve of them. She might even despise them and some of the barbarism. But the alternative is worse, and in particular it will be worse for those that her mother cares for most. Why does she think no one has touched her, or Nathan until now? Who’s umbrella they fall under? It’s not the Albino’s.
She agrees Kindred society is twisted, and awful, and even evil. She points to modern day Syria as an example of the alternative.
GM: Claire points out that a leech turned last night is far easier to destroy than one that’s had decades (or centuries) to gorge itself on others’ blood. If those leeches were dead, weaker ones that attempted to claim the family could be soundly repelled. The analogy is not akin to Syria, but Iran. The regime is inherently hostile to their interests and must be countered at every opportunity—and if it becomes practical to do, dismantled.
“Your father understands that. He let them know the state of things in no uncertain terms, even if the White House would sooner kowtow to their every demand.”
Caroline: Caroline counters if it’s a hostile regime then that it’s more akin to Pakistan. Destabilizing a nuclear power has inherent risks. She challenges her mother: does her hatred for all licks extend so far as to care so little for what will become of so many others without at least some authority among them? Does she care more about saving lives or about destroying vampires? And even if they destroy all the vampires of power and influence in New Orleans, such a power vacuum will only invite other vampires to fill it.
GM: “You can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, Caroline. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq caused immense loss of civilian life, if we want to continue using foreign countries as analogies, but they were still in our best interests as a nation.”
Caroline: If they won’t play ball with their interests, Caroline agrees. That seems to have worked out pretty well for the Saudis though.
GM: “Saddam’s ousting left a vacuum for ISIS to fill, just like you say would happen if our city’s leeches were destroyed. We’re well on our way to destroying ISIS too, and it’s not cost us anything close to the first regime change.”
Caroline: “Even if I accepted that analogy, Mom, the difference is that war won’t be fought in Iraq. It’ll be fought here, in this city and its adjacent ones. And the casualties won’t be a bunch of savages. It’ll be Gabriel and Luke.”
GM: “There was loss of American life in those wars too, Caroline. All you can do is attempt to win as fast and hard as you can.”
Caroline: “I do want to win, Mom. And so much more. I want to be acknowledged by the vampire that created me just like I wanted to be acknowledged by Dad my entire life! I want to help keep the city from falling into chaos and darkness when the prince goes into torpor and leaves it leaderless. I want to oppose the next vampire that gets their jollies cutting off innocent people’s limbs and eating them in front of them. I want to help the next vampire that ends up on the street alone not hurt people like I did and then die for their troubles on the sheriff’s sword. I want the same thing that Dad wants. That you want, I just have to find it in this world, not in the one I used to live in.”
She pauses. “I want meaning in my damnation, instead of survival. And I want survival instead of destruction. Maybe the world would be better off without all of us. No—it would be—because even at our best, we hurt people. Even at our best we’re a danger to others. But the world is not better off for the indiscriminate killing of us. Because sometimes it’s the monsters you know that keep the ones you don’t from your door. And the monsters you know at least pretend to be civilized. Not all of us do.”
“And no. I don’t think he brought me over after dragging me out due to altruism—even if he fished me out of hell for it. And I don’t think he did either. I think he did have a purpose for me. A war is coming, Mom. A war like this city has never seen. Prince Vidal has ruled for as long as New Orleans has been New Orleans. And his reign is coming to an end. And there will be blood in the streets. We may not die of old age, but nor can we rule forever. Even our time comes.”
GM: Claire looks indignant at Caroline’s comparisons regarding her father and sire. “Your father didn’t kill you, Caroline, he gave you life! He gave you a roof over your head, food on your plate, clothes on your back, and so much more. He gave you the best in everything. The best any child in this city could hope for. Liberals love to bandy around the word ‘privilege’ these days, but think about yours! So many of those gangsters, prostitutes, drug addicts, homeless, welfare queens, and other bums from Central City or the Ninth Ward would kill to come from a family like yours. Your father and I set you up for a lifetime of happiness and success.”
“That monster, the one who ‘saved’ you, took all of that away. All of it. You know better than I do how miserable your existence has been, ever since you died. That’s exactly what happened. He didn’t create you. He ended you, and the rich life you could have led.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue with her mother about her upbringing. She wants to, to bring up what they asked for in return, the way her mother kept her painfully in the dark. The way they groomed her for their own purposes. But those wounds seem so irrelevant tonight. And she doesn’t want to fight.
She appreciates the way her mother and father groomed her for success. The way they gave her opportunities and set her up to be a success. Even if her mother did keep her utterly in the dark about the real powers in the world, from whom she would have always been a pawn at best, and a food source or slave at worst. Is there irony there with her previous revelation that the ‘monster’ too had been grooming her? With the fact that he too has kept her in the dark until his hand was forced by an outside force? Surely unintentional.
She does take issue with one point, however, which she makes very clear. He may have turned her into a monster—and Caroline can understand her mother never forgiving that—but the only alternative was death. She is very blunt about this point: was that what her mother would prefer? That she had died in his garden? There are plenty of valid reasons to hate and fear other Kindred, but Caroline wants her mother to be honest. It’s easier to hate him for ‘killing her’. It’s a much thornier proposition to consider that—like many things—it’s far more complex than that.
Maybe it would have been better if she had simply died. Maybe Westley would still be alive. She admits that she knows who her mother would have chosen between her forever distant daughter and her close but troubled son. She’s sorry for that. Similarly, her mother’s secret might still be safe, and that of her conspirators. But there are opportunities to find something in the wake of the disaster. Perhaps to pry the family from the Albino without delivering it to another unknown evil. Perhaps to change the city for the better. Certainly, Caroline knows she’s furthered her mother’s and her hunters’ understanding of Kindred society in ways they never could have expected.
And, from Caroline’s perspective, there’s the mild benefit of not rotting in the ground. In any case, she encourages her mother to be intellectually and emotionally honest with herself on this point. Caroline destroyed her murderer. Whether that killer or her (re)maker deserve more scorn, she can’t decide for her mother.
GM: “Don’t you ever presume to tell me how I feel towards my own children, Caroline,” Claire interjects. “How could you think such a thing, that I’d actually love one of you more?”
She doesn’t believe that “your second murderer, then,” had no choice but to Embrace her. “Isn’t that so convenient, how he had been grooming you all this time, and still managed to get exactly what he wanted? How do you know medical science, or other means, couldn’t have saved you? His word? Leeches lie even more than humans do.”
Caroline: “He had at least one other,” Caroline agrees. “But no, I think that because of what he said. I think it because of what I felt. The Dungeon warped reality. It allowed the impossible to be true, like that I could be alive despite what happened. Once I left.” She shakes her head.
“He did get what he wanted,” she agrees though. “And we got everything we didn’t.”
But, she supposes that’s convenient for her mother to believe. That vampires were completely to blame for what happened to her.
On the matter of trust, there’s hers for her mother. She’s had no choice but to do so, because the moment her mother ceases to cooperate it may mean her death. She’d go beyond that lack of choice. She reveals, emotionally, that she knows her mother was behind the attack on her haven.
“You hurt me,” she admits behind what might be sobs if she were still living, still breathing. “I was so angry, so hurt when I found out.” There’s a haunted quality to the admission. “I wanted to stay so angry at you. To hurt you like you’d hurt me.” Then she heard her voice on the phone. Heard how choked up she was. She knew before she came over here. Before she allowed her to chain her down, before she shared any of this further information. Before the trusted her again, utterly.
“I don’t want to be angry. I don’t want lies or deceptions. I don’t want you to be in pain. I don’t want to be the source of that.” There’s almost no one else in the world that she can trust, and no one else she can talk to. She smiles sadly and admits trusting a hunter is the most foolish thing any vampire might ever do—perhaps especially foolish in her case, given the terrible position her mother is in because of her—but she’s just so tired of being alone. She has to trust someone. If she’s going to get destroyed for trusting someone, she’d rather it be trust placed in her mother than some other vampire.
She doesn’t ask why her mother did it. Doesn’t ask why she endangered both of their very existences with the attack that left at least one innocent man dead. It doesn’t matter. She trusts that her mother had a good reason.
She further reveals the details of Hound Agnello’s investigation thus far, including the fact that they recovered blood samples, the tattoo on one of the attackers, that they got license plate for their departing vehicle, and that they know of numerous injuries to the attackers. She presumes her mother’s people wouldn’t have gotten this far if they weren’t smart enough to cover their tracks, but she also suspects they were not expecting the kind of violence they encountered at the hands of her mortal security. She doesn’t know how badly their wounded were hurt, but if her mother wishes, she can provide a sample of vitae. A single dose’s negative effects are marginal, and life saving for all but the most horrific of wounds. It’s an offer. It goes without being said that offering such a thing has certain risks for her.
GM: Caroline honestly isn’t sure if her mother would continue lying to her or not when she admits that she knows about the raid on her haven—and even after how she trusts her. It’s the information Caroline offers on Rocco’s investigation that either tips or further tilts those scales.
Claire doesn’t outright say she ordered the attack. She is sorry, she admits with a voice that’s more weary than choked, that she hurt her daughter. “It was for your own good, Caroline. And mine. And the family’s.”
“It’s not… it’s not possible to do any good without hurting someone,” she says tiredly, her shoulders slumped. “Not in my, our, positions, at least. There’s only whatever option looks like the lesser evil.”
Claire appears extremely wary to tell Caroline anything more than that—and thankful when her daughter does not press the matter. She repeats, as she takes the vampire’s dead hand in hers, that she is sorry… for whatever that may be worth.
Her face grows dark, however, when Caroline mentions how successful Rocco’s investigation has been. She curses several times, and finally admits, slowly, that she had not been expecting the level of resistance that Caroline’s security forces displayed—especially when deprived of their foremost members. Bad intelligence always gets people killed. Maybe not every time, she grants when the Ventrue corrects her, but it damn well did this time.
Her people are covering their tracks. But it is very, very helpful to know this information about Rocco’s investigation. She will be able to take further steps accordingly to stymie it—ones she likely would not have taken without her daughter’s information.
Claire looks horrified by the Ventrue’s offer of vitae, and replies, “I wouldn’t even think of asking someone to drink that poison, Caroline.”
She grows more contemplative after a few moments, then replies, “But even poison can have its uses. Your blood could still help them, or at least me, in a… roundabout way.”
She is reluctant to provide further specifics.
Caroline: She gives a very meaningful stare to her mother when she expresses interest in her blood for other purposes, and mentions having seen what a hold even hair samples can provide over another in the hands of a Brujah street magician. Still, if she’s interested, she’s willing to part with it, for her mother. Another sign of trust. To the poison comment however she has a remark, "And yet, in small doses some toxins can be helpful, and even save lives.
At last she comes to the raid. Though she doesn’t press her mother for details, she is very clear: there was no need for such a dangerous attack, for the both of them. Caroline will be very lucky to escape execution over it and must now walk a tightrope among quite old, powerful, and influential Kindred, and in the aftermath not only have numerous people been killed or maimed, but her own position has been almost hopelessly compromised—and her mother’s endangered.
“Whatever you wanted, you could have asked. You can always ask.”
GM: “‘Ask and ye shall receive’ is only true in the Bible, Caroline,” Claire answers wearily. She repeats that the raid was necessary, and for Caroline’s own good, but says no more.
Her revulsion at the thought of “contaminating” someone with vampire blood is plain, and she states that Caroline’s blood will not be used towards that purpose. Neither, however, will it be used in a manner to provide a hold over her.
Caroline: Caroline agrees to turn over a sample for her mother, if that’s what she wishes.
GM: Claire says it is, and fetches an old and ceremonial-looking dagger for Caroline to cut herself. She doesn’t say so, but it’s plain she doesn’t want to see her daughter’s fangs.
She thanks her when she is done.
As to risks, she intends on turning over the materials to the Albino that he wishes, through another Ventrue. It may earn her some much needed credibility with others, and encourage the Albino to be more wary in the future. If not, she intends on, in no uncertain terms, destroying him. Her affection for her sire does not extend to bowing before his servants on a whim: vampires are predators, and she will not be prey. Her entire existence she’s been underestimated by others among her kind. If they continue, she will make clear the mistake inherent in it—or at least die on her feet.
Claire immediately states that Caroline “should not trust another leech” and should turn them over herself. Better yet, destroy them in front of him. But that matter appears far secondary to another one in her mother’s mind, once Caroline raises it.
Claire questions her regarding the Albino’s activities. When she confirms that he is still hundreds of miles away from New Orleans, Claire states the time to strike—if that is indeed the wisest course of action—is now.
He is on the road, hundreds of miles away. He will never be more bereft of servants, allies, and defenders. His destruction will never be easier to cover up, so far from other leeches’ prying eyes. It could easily be blamed on the dangers of the road. There are more monsters than vampires out there.
The Albino will never be more vulnerable than now.
Claire is obviously tempted, and sorely so, by that proposition. But she is also not without reservations, or concern for the family. Whatever the Albino’s evils, many as they may be, he is at least a known quantity. If he should be destroyed, what monster—or monsters—does Caroline believe might attempt to claim the Malveaux family for their own?
Caroline: Caroline agrees he may be vulnerable, but the timing isn’t right. As her mother points out, there’s no one ready to step not the shoes he now fills, to become the dark patron of the family, for whatever it’s worth. It’s a role she’d like to fill—someday, perhaps even sooner than she might think—but doing so now would be selfishness on the part of Caroline that might condemn the family to only more pain. She advocates restraint. There will be other opportunities. As a more direct answer, she isn’t sure who would be in line. It’s possible the prince would take them. One thing is for certain—given the current circumstances, she would almost certainly be immediately suspected of a part in it. They might even force her to the question on it.
GM: Claire sighs at the “lost opportunity,” but seems to reluctantly agree with Caroline’s reasoning.
Caroline: The Albino’s insistence that she separate herself from her family however is not without value. Perhaps it’ll bring greater peace with him. Even if not, it will bring greater peace for her. It’s time to begin cutting ties. She intends on ‘coming out’ to her father and trying to distance herself from the family. She doesn’t expect he’ll take it well, but he’ll take it better than her death, and she has matters she would see to in her life—such as investing in the Devillers family. She’s uniquely positioned to get close to them, and she confesses, she has her own questions about Abélia. It seems the least likely answer, at least to Caroline, to create overt scandal for the family and damage their interests, while still placing her solidly on the outside.
GM: Claire blinks and asks Caroline, almost disbelievingly, if she means “coming out as gay.” While she does not hide her distaste for that specific idea, she also agrees, wholly and without reservation, that it is superior to putting the family through the pain and heartache of another death. “That would have cast such a shadow on the entire wedding,” she murmurs, with what could be relief or simple fatigue.
And the wedding. Claire is not pleased when she hears Caroline wants to cut ties with the family so soon—that’s another reason to kill the Albino now. The wedding might well be a year or more away. She knows how much Caroline’s attendance would mean to Cécilia, and thus to Luke. They could try to sell the couple on a night wedding. She conjectures that, “I think Cécilia might even want you to be the maid of honor, Caroline. After you saved her sister’s life.”
Caroline: Caroline actually laughs lightly at her mother’s distaste for coming out. It wouldn’t even be a lie these nights. Would Claire like to meet her girlfriend? The offer is presented as a joke, but there’s more than a hint of truth to it.
GM: Claire looks at Caroline and asks if she’s serious, regarding meeting her lover.
Caroline: Caroline laughs off her own suggestion. Her mother would hate her anyway. She just another leech. Neither her laugh nor her smile quite reach her eyes.
GM: “Is she not, Caroline? How do you know she’s not simply using you like all of the others?”
Caroline: “How do I know you’re not?” Caroline replies testily.
“No.” She holds up a hand to forestall a response.
GM: “You met this leech only a few months ago, and you’d trust her more than your own family?” Claire asks disbelievingly.
Caroline: “Well, I’m not confessing to her my greatest secrets, so I’d say not,” Caroline replies. “But one of two things is true.”
“All vampires are nothing but evil out to use people and destroy them, incapable of anything but a desire to hurt and abuse,” she looks at her mother intently, “or we’re capable of more than that.”
GM: “I’m not talking about all leeches, Caroline. I’m talking about this one—and the fact leeches who are incapable of nothing but evil certainly do exist. You clearly don’t trust her fully already. How do you know she’s not simply using you?”
Caroline: “The same way you can tell what anyone’s true, deepest and darkest, motives and feelings are,” Caroline replies. “I don’t.”
She pauses for a moment, before continuing more softly, “I suppose that I could, if I wanted. I could crack her mind like an eggshell and pry every secret I wanted out of it.” She shakes her head. “But that’s no way to exist.”
“Mom, we both know that sooner or later Caroline Malveaux is going to die. Next week, a year from now, or five. No one can wear a mask forever. And that any and all relationships with almost living people are going to be built on foundations of lies, with them never knowing what I am. With me at best half in their lives.”
“So what then, Mom? What’s my future, in your eyes? Are you the only person I’ll ever trust? And what about when you’re gone?”
GM: “You could tell other people your secret, Caroline,” Claire says slowly. “Not lightly, of course. Only if you’re absolutely sure they’re willing to brave that danger for you. But I know what you are. Am I going to media outlets with stories that vampires are real? No, and I’d be dismissed as insane even if I did. Your kind’s Masquerade prevents a public panic, but past that, ‘no human can ever know’ is simply pretext for the control older leeches exert over younger ones.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “It’s not just about the danger,” she replies. “I’ve put some thought into the idea, as you say. The reasons, the merits of it. The Masquerade is part of it. Theological reasons also play in. But there are, I think, very solid reasons why those relationships in almost every case would end badly.”
“How many people could watch someone, ageless, virtually immune to lasting injury, and capable of sharing that in one form or another, and not be drawn in? Not want it, and resent it if they couldn’t have it? Over years, decades, as they get older. As their strength and beauty fade, but their ’friend’s’ never does?”
She looks down. “I think it would poison those relationships. And more, that even if it didn’t for the human, it is very difficult for the inherent balance of power in that relationship to not twist it.”
She looks at her mother. “The fact that I could break into their mind and change their memories. That I could sniff about less invasively and pry forth their secrets. That I could change their very feelings, about me or others, and that they might be none the wiser?”
“And the temptation too, to prolong their life as they get older. Or if they were ill. Or if they were dying. With a steady supply of blood a ghoul can live effectively forever. There are ghouls in New Orleans that are centuries old.”
GM: “And all it will cost is turning them into something subhuman,” Claire replies. “You already don’t see what the harm is, in contaminating people with that toxic foulness from your veins to ‘help’ them. I hope you remember how that friend of yours, Aimee, turned out. Because that wasn’t an accident, or you being new and inexperienced. That’s what happens, every time.”
“If you don’t retain meaningful relationships with human beings, Caroline, you will become a monster.”
“If you don’t stay close to humans, Caroline, you will become a monster,” Claire says simply. “You have already killed. That’s why your Masquerade exists. It’s nothing but control, a way to isolate you from bettering influences.”
Her largest concern is less how the family might react—she could see Orson disowning her—and more that it might prompt others in the family to air their own positions on the matter. Caroline isn’t the only one in this generation of Malveaux heirs with tastes that her uncle would object to.
Caroline would like to participate in the wedding, to see something more human. She doesn’t believe, especially if she’s close to the Devillers, that it’s something even Orson could—or would block. Especially a year down the line, if she’s not made a nuisance of herself. And if matters go well with the Albino the pain now might be worth it then then. If not… well, a year is a long time for things to change. Who knows who might ‘own’ the family then? Or if she’ll even be around.
And besides, the investigation has done enough damage with its reports already, and even if the Albino completely covers it up, even if he goes on a rampage through the memories of all involved, there will still be some lingering animosity in their minds. It’s a harder thing to remove feelings than memories. Better to give it an outlet. And this is even believable, with her attending Decadence. Unless her mother has a better, less painful one for the family, its her intention to move forward with this quickly.
There’s also the matter of investing in the Devillers family. She’s uniquely positioned to get close to them, and she confesses, she has her own questions about Abélia. It seems the least likely answer, at least to Caroline, to create overt scandal for the family and damage their interests, while still placing her solidly on the outside.
GM: Claire firmly agrees as to the value of getting close to the Devillers, and the necessity of answering those questions concerning Abélia. She is tied to the Malveauxes now, through Cécilia—and Claire does not trust her in the least.
Caroline is in a unique position, as she notes, to get close to the Devillers. All of them are so grateful to Caroline. All of them trust her. Claire can already think of questions that it would be beneficial for her daughter to research.
Where in France does the family come from? Who were they in their old home? The family has always been light on specifics regarding their pasts, now that Claire is considers it—in fact, they seem to talk far more about their present-day visits to France, which sound like they’ve spanned much of the country, than about their lives prior to 2005.
Who is Cécilia’s and her sisters’ father? They look so alike that it has to be the same man. Cécilia is 26 and Simmone is 10. That would indicate Abélia had a long relationship with him. Where is that man now? Or is something else at work? It is strange much the sisters all look alike. The genetic odds of a black-haired woman producing six blondes are quite low, if no one is dying their hair.
Then there is Abélia’s wealth. Where does her money come from? She’s a known philanthropist, but you need to make money to donate money. Everyone presumes she’s the heir to an old fortune, but who knows whether that’s true. Caroline is a lawyer though. She knows how to sniff down paper trails and follow the money better than most people do.
And not least of all, just what is their interest in the LaLaurie House?
All of these are questions Claire has had on her mind for some time, but answering was never pressing. Not immediately so, and against so much else. But Luke’s marriage changes that equation.
Caroline: Caroline agrees to investigate the matters her mother is interested in with the Devillers girls. Many of these questions are ones more easily probed by a friend, or a mentor, as the case may be. As she discovers information she’ll be happy to pass it onto her mother to vet. She’s also willing to begin digging into Abélia’s more conventional secrets, such as her finances. She has her own questions for the Devillers matriarch—the secrets her coin shared with Caroline are those that many Kindred in the city would kill for. She would know whom she has crawled in with, and at what cost.
Also, what has changed due to the vision? Nothing. And everything. For every answer she received she spawned two more questions, like some dread hydra of myth. Who is her enemy? What is her purpose? Why her? Why throw her out on the street?
But she’s answered the most important questions, both as a result of it, and as a result of this night as a whole. She’s decided who she can trust, by what stars she will sail by. She’s decided what course she will take. The rest is a journey, but it’s better than being buffeted about on the seas.
Of questions, she does have a few. Matters she needs no answers on tonight, but that she would plant in her mother’s mind to consider. Beyond the obvious ones that demand her counsel, such as the management of her relationship with the family, does she have any interest in seeing the Albino destroyed, if it comes to that?
Would she share knowledge of the fate of another Kindred, if she knows it? There was a young neonate she believes was destroyed not so long ago at the hands of hunters. Confirmation of that might give her greater credibility amid some that may have parts to play in the coming drama.
GM: Claire has already spoken of her thoughts concerning the Albino’s destruction. As to Evan Bourelle’s, Caroline’s mother replies that she neither sanctioned nor participated in “that particular leech’s” destruction, though she is glad to hear there is one less vampire in the city.
There are more hunters in New Orleans than her people, though. It’s possible someone else destroyed the neonate. Claire could even attempt to find out. But if she did, towards what end? Other leeches could well desire to murder the hunter(s) responsible, if Caroline passed that information along.
Caroline: The heiress does not react well to her mother once more commenting on her delight in the destruction of any “leech.” So far as the undead go, she relates, if it was a hunter that killed him, they destroyed a more mundane specimen. In fact, she suspects, most of those destroyed by hunters are more mundane. The real monsters go on slaughtering more in a week than a fledgling might in a year.
Caroline admits they well might seek out the hunters responsible, and if it appears too dangerous to pass on, she understands. It’s simply a matter that might earn her credibility among many others, with or without the killer, if she could provide evidence as to what happened to him. There are a number of influential Kindred that are interested in the matter, and her own investigation turned up little, beyond claims by several that he was destroyed by a hunter. Beyond the influential, there are a number that have taken his disappearance or destruction rather hard. His lover, his friends. She provides other details if her mother expresses any interest: he’d been returning home after spending the night watching that popular show about kings and dragons with others. What a monster that hunter bagged—a 12-point buck for sure.
GM: Claire shrugs and replies that a murderer is a murderer—every leech kills at some point. Eliminating the Hitlers and Pol Pots of the world is preferable to eliminating guards who are just following orders, but some justice is better than none.
She finally replies that she’ll “look into things,” but promises nothing. If other hunters did destroy Evan Bourelle, Claire has every interest in enabling them to continue destroying more leeches just like him. Fans of popular shows or no.
Caroline: What more can she do for her mother’s purposes?
Is she still welcome here today? This last is more tentative than the others.
GM: Claire looks at her daughter tiredly with that last question. She’s looked tired throughout the whole evening, and she doesn’t look any less so now. Finally, she asks, “Caroline, what future do you see for us?”
“The sheriff, and the monster behind him who murdered you, want to use me and kill me. I knew that from the start. I knew this could happen when I spared you. It’s what your kind always do to humans who know too much.”
“It’s a terrible choice to cast in your lot with them, even irrespective of me. They’ll use you just as callously, even if it takes longer before they dispose of you.”
“So what future do you see for us?”
Caroline: Caroline plucks a flower from one of the vases in the room and twirls it between her fingers. “They want your entire network compromised, placed under control or killed,” she agrees, or perhaps admits. “It’s actually less barbaric than the usual response. The traditional punishment for blasphemers—that’s what they consider you—is the execution of their entire family. Both a warning to others and a culling, pulling out the rot, root and stem,” she plucks pedals off the flower as she talks. When she’s finished only the flower’s stem remains. There’s a thoughtful sadness to her words.
“I don’t know what becomes of us, Mom. I know what I want, and that it’s a child’s dream. I want you to live to see your grandkids, and put down that sword you’ve held for so many years and find something else in your life. I want to believe that you and I can avoid hurting each other. That I’m not making the last mistake of my Requiem trusting you. That you love me still, and maybe someday can trust me. That I can hold off becoming that monster that you’re afraid you see every time you look at me.”
“I see a city a year from now without its prince, and with me clawing out maybe, just maybe, enough power that they won’t touch you. Because I can make the juice not worth the squeeze.”
Her lip quivers. “Or I see myself destroyed—and then you’re on your own, Mom. Because the last future I see is one where I give up everything that matters to me—including about myself—to get ahead by hurting you.”
“I’d like to believe that there are some lines I won’t cross. And I’d like you to believe it too. Even if it has to be over my dead body.”
GM: Her mother simply nods. “Then maybe there is hope.”
“But you know how many of Roger’s team like to say ‘a failure to plan is a plan to fail.’ What are you prepared to do to make that happen, to stop the sheriff, the monster who murdered you, and any others who know, from attempting to deal with more hunters in the usual way? Because it’s not just going to fall into your lap. If you want something like that to happen, you have to pay in blood for it.”
Caroline: Caroline replies in turn: what does her mother want? She’s been a hunter for most of her life, and continued with that lifestyle despite four children and her marriage to Nathan. She’s told Caroline that the family is the most important thing to her, and that her husband’s work is similarly important. What outcome does she want? What are her lines?
What does she care about more? Being a mother, a senator’s wife, or a hunter? What defines her? Caroline can talk until she’s blue in the face about plans, but until they align their purposes, it’s just wasted breath. She understands that Claire is reluctant to give up any details about her hunters, or her past, or her methods. But her secrecy on this is something Caroline would pry into.
Caroline could see several options, depending on the answer to that question. She doesn’t think a murderous rampage against everyone that knows their secret is feasible. Or advised. Nor does she think the status quo will hold out.
GM: “What I want, Caroline, is to protect the family and advance its interests. As I always have,” her mother answers. “Supporting your father in his career doesn’t mean anything without you and your brothers to inherit that legacy. Being your mother certainly means less if you have no legacy to inherit. And without someone in the family to carry on the Vigil, all of those things are completely at the mercy of the leeches and other monsters hiding in the shadows.”
Caroline: Caroline looks aghast at the last. “You’re going to bring someone else in the family into this world?”
GM: “I never said that, Caroline,” her mother corrects sharply. “In fact, I don’t think any of your brothers have the temperament for it. But awareness of that world has done more to advance our family’s interests, and keep its members safe, than you could ever know.”
Caroline: It didn’t keep me safe, Caroline doesn’t say.
“You didn’t think any of us did,” Caroline clarifies. “But you want others to take up the mantle either way. Someone.”
GM: “Countless others already have. Your kind can’t ever exterminate all hunters, no matter how hard they might try.”
Caroline: “Of course not,” Caroline replies. “We deserve each other.”
GM: Her mother gives a long, if not dark look at those words, but then seems to settle for saying, “You’ve heard what I want, Caroline. What does that change for you?”
Caroline: Would her mother be willing to abandon the Vigil? How about her hunters? Would she ever consider scattering them to the wind? Their cell has been ‘compromised’ and Caroline is certain they have some protocols for that that likely involve flight at this point in their lives.
And what of influence? In the short to intermediate term, especially if Caroline is able to establish a position of some influence herself, she might sell that her mother’s hunters are under her ‘influence’, if indeed they are willing to limit their activities. She suspects she could provide them a steady stream of Kindred to destroy, if they’re so bloodthirsty, but would her mother ever accept that? Would her hunters?
Even that is only putting off the broader question. What is the end game? Two years down the line. Five years down the line. Ten years down the line.
Does her mother intend to be a part of that life until she dies? If so, Caroline need not tell her that it’s playing with fire, and her recent exposure makes it doing so while doused in gasoline.
There’s no good end as a hunter. And no good end for their families. With enough influence perhaps Caroline could buy her mother’s way out, if that’s what she wanted. But is it? Or does she intended to keep ashing licks until one of her hunters gets caught and flipped? Until they’re given up and killed in mass, and (likely) their families with them?
She’s willing to pay in blood. But is that her mother’s vision? The next twenty years of using each other towards destruction of licks?
GM: Claire points out, first, that whether Caroline can establish a position of influence is a very large ‘if.’ She remembers the many, many, many abuses her daughter described experiencing at other leeches’ hands. All of this is despite being the seneschal’s spawn. Claire has not survived for decades by betting on high-risk odds.
All of this is also before the inherent problems in seeking to acquire power over other leeches. Their entire society is poisonous. The only qualities they respect are power and the ruthless will to use it. Even if Caroline could climb to a position of prominence, at what cost would that be to her soul?
When Caroline asks if she would abandon her hunters, Claire asks if she would abandon her blood-addicted slaves and swear never to use her disciplines upon another. She suspected not. She considers any request to abandon her hunters just as unreasonable: it is to deliberately weaken herself, when there are hostile powers who would eagerly exploit such weakness, in return for their assurances they will not do so.
Claire has no wish to destroy a continual stream of leeches for its own sake. It’s impossible to wipe them all out. That sort of foolish crusade only exposes her to danger without benefit.
“But that’s exactly what your kind seeks to use us for, Caroline. Do their dirty work. Be their catspaws. Then get rid of us so nothing can be traced back to them.”
Claire sharply tells her daughter not to lecture her on the Vigil’s costs and risks. She knows them. She has known them for a very long time. She accepted them, for the alternative price, of leaving the family to be tools and playthings to the Albino and other leeches like him, was worse. However badly she might have failed Caroline and Westley (a fact she admits with undisguised bitterness, if not grief), things could have been even worse. No Malveauxes have died at the Albino’s hands since her grandfather Carter, who he killed when he decided the three brothers would make better leaders. He wanted Westley dead too, did she know that? After that count of vehicular homicide during college. The Albino decided Westley was a liability and was going to have him tragically killed, to cover up the scandal and drum up public sympathy for the family and boost Nathan’s polling numbers. That is the ‘guardian angel’ the family has watching over them. Claire’s efforts kept that from happening. For a very long time, she was able to carry on the Vigil under the leeches’ noses.
All until Caroline. Who she spared. Who the leeches pried her secret from—which makes it impossible to ever fully trust her daughter.
“And do you suppose the sheriff and I are exchanging letters just to say hello? Do you think he’s been sitting on his hands all these months, when he has you as leverage over me?”
Her mother sighs tiredly.
“I would have enough reason to set down my sword, Caroline, with a guarantee from the leeches—that I actually had reason to believe—of complete noninterference in the Malveaux family and its associated interests. That would be an acceptable price for noninterference with them and their interests. But that’s not ever going to happen.”
Her next words are still tired. But contemptuous, too. Even bitter.
“Why would they negotiate with food?”
Caroline: “They wouldn’t,” Caroline replies. “But you’re not food to me.”
Caroline is very clear: her mother’s moralizing on the costs of power sounds like hypocrisy. Caroline knows well, very well, the trail of broken bodies, shattered lives, and even corpses left behind in the pursuit of the family’s fortune, power, and influence. She never pried too deeply into the activities of the family’s private security and problem solvers, but she always knew something of the political opponents disgraced, the blackmail used, and the corruption that run through Louisiana politics like a hidden set of veins, moving money and influence like to those at every level.
Once more, she remembers how (sometimes callously) her father used her in photo opportunities and at events to drum up support from working class evangelicals. Most, like the ‘purity ball’ they attended she was too happy about in the moment to judge, but she’s no child staying up at night in the vain hope that he’d poke his head into her room anymore. She’s not angry, she doesn’t even resent it, but the call to power runs deeply in the family. From both of her parents. Perhaps when she was living she could have resisted its call, could have been content with a life of privilege and ease. That opportunity has been taken from her: and perhaps for the best.
She’s glad to hear her mother is not out to destroy for the sake of destroying, that she seems content to focus her vigil on the family rather than some suicidal crusade. That’s an idea that Caroline can support, and maybe even sell in the moderate term. Make no mistake though, no matter how far she goes, the existence of her mother and her hunters will always be a lodestone around her neck in exactly the same way she has become one around her mother’s. She doesn’t see a way forward other than selling that cats paws are exactly what those hunters are. That said, unlike most they may be cats paws with interests that align. Especially if she can pry the family from the Albino.
If Caroline was able to get the family into her own hands, would her mother consider laying down the sword? Or at least taking it up less rarely?
The heiress does express respect, and even admiration at what her mother was willing to do, and how successful she was, in defending the family. It’s clear that she’s hurt that she was excluded from that entire portion of her mother’s life, and maybe even feels resentful of how vulnerable it made her in turn to what happened, but she’d never dismiss the sheer talent and skill required to pull off what she did. To shield the family. It goes without saying, right up until she failed to shield me.
Caroline is frank: success among the leaches will have a cost. a price to be paid, in blood, and in her humanity. She’s found failure to have the same cost however, and (looking meaningfully at her mother) declares that the further costs of future failure in both blood and humanity, even if Caroline survives, are far too high for her.
Success is not guaranteed, but Caroline does have plans, and advantages.
GM: Claire shakes her head at Caroline’s initial comparison between their family and the all-night society, but seems unwilling to be drawn any further into a moral debate.
Caroline: Claire may hate him, but her sire gave her the power of his blood, if not the influence of his name. She didn’t really understand, or appreciate it early on, but time has shown her just how meaningful that is. She has gifts that no Cainite in the city of similar age can boast or match. In a straight up fight she expects a conflict with the Albino would be a coin flip.
That mismatch of expectations creates opportunities. Her proliferation of ‘slaves’ creates assets. Her influence with the prince’s rival—whom she suspects suspects the truth of her Embrace—creates more still. And that’s before factors such as her mother and even Abélia, whatever her motives, that few indeed might suspect. Her greatest paralysis until tonight has been indecisiveness.
Her greatest liability is her lack of influence and prestige. She’s made inroads—acceptance by her clan at the lowest level this month is a start—but only a beginning. And it’s taken so damn long. But in the immediate he has several ideas to fix it.
Evan’s case is one. It’s gone cold, but numerous influential Kindred had stakes in it. Finding some manner of resolution might spike her credibility. She’s only recently begun to be approached by others, but she’s got a few other such threads.
Another is Lucas Gates. A vicious murderer in life turned the same in death, he’s a Kindred that has a history of showing up in New Orleans around Mardi Gras for more of the same. Numerous Kindred of some influence have rather negative histories. She’s interested in the idea of helping to ‘resolve’ those negative feelings in a very permanent way.
Then there’s the prince’s wayward scourge. She’s launched numerous attacks on other Kindred of significant influence. Caroline doesn’t have a good means of tracking her, but there’s potentially significant gain if she could interrupt the next such attack: Kindred take favors owed very seriously, and the potential to gain influence there is significant, depending on her next target.
There’s the matter of her decision to kow-tow to the albino once again, and even more publicly. She doesn’t actually expect it to change his opinion or methods, but if she’s going to take the family from him by any means, it cannot be by or with obvious bad blood. She doubts others would ever accept that.
GM: “Total non-interference in the family’s affairs is all I would accept from the leeches, Caroline. I don’t care why they believe that—but the Albino will never surrender his claim over the family to you.” Moreover, what is to stop her daughter from simply becoming another Albino if she’s determined to do exactly the same things he’s done? He was a Malveaux too, and alive once. Look what a century of undeath turned him into.
Claire is not interested in discussing the vagaries of how Caroline might gain standing among the leeches. She supposes whatever plans kill the most of them are the least objectionable.
Caroline: “They’ll never give you that, Mom. Even if they would, you’d be buying a couple decades at most. What happens when you die, even of natural causes, assuming a world in which they want to deal with, as you said, food?” She recoils at the comparison to the albino as though slapped and responds that she wasn’t a psychotic shut in before her murder. The blood might corrupt, especially over time, but she doesn’t intend to follow the same path, nor has she started so far down the line as he was to begin with.
“All solutions are temporary solutions, Mom. The question is how temporary?” She can’t swear that she’ll never be twisted, but she doubts it would be within the lifetime of Claire’s children, her siblings.
She replies that her mother seems, in fact, quite interested in the details of her plans. She’s challenged Caroline multiple times as to how she hopes to do so, to grow from her present position.
“It’s not going to be by selling Girl Scout cookies,” she replies a little bitterly.
GM: “All of this is moot while the Albino still exists, Caroline. Weakening his standing to the point he surrenders his claim to the entire family is as good as killing him, for all the effort involved. I doubt even the prince would simply order him to do that—or that he wouldn’t harbor designs of revenge and regaining control that made him even more deranged than he is now.”
Caroline: “So we destroy him,” Caroline replies. She has no love lost with the Albino. They simply cannot do such a thing in a haphazard way. They have to lay groundwork first, and his death cannot have her fingerprints near it.
GM: Claire replies there may never be a better time to do such a thing than now—her chief concern over which is that what actions other leeches will take regarding the family are impossible to predict. She does not expect any of them to respect whatever ‘claim’ Caroline may make.
Caroline: Caroline replies that’s exactly why now is not a good time to do so.
GM: “Then what, Caroline, do you propose to do? Now and in the years to come?”
Caroline: It’s not complicated or elegant.
Caroline proposes to climb the ladder among Kindred, with some step’s she’s already described, while also making every apparent effort to mend fences with the Albino. When she feels there is a reasonable chance that she may be able to lay claim, should he fall, they destroy him.
Wouldn’t it be convenient for the prince or seneschal if there was a rising star that they could ‘reward’ or ‘trust’ such an important prize to right as it became available? Or if there was simply no one else in contention powerful or eager enough to stop her?
GM: And how, Claire asks—should all of this come to pass—in the long term, do they mean to ensure the leeches won’t move to destroy her and her hunters? They don’t accept ‘retirements.’ Hunters are thrown against enemies until they are destroyed themselves.
She has no overriding objection to the rest of this plan. She doesn’t like it, but can accept it as the lesser evil.
Caroline: There’s a reason Caroline asked what her mother’s plans and desires were, the heiress responds. Those aren’t questions she can answer without knowing her mother’s redlines—those lines she won’t cross.
Numerous ‘options’ are rather obviously off the table. Neither of them have an interest in, for instance, putting her mother on the blood. Several others remain on the board however. Most of her hunters, for instance, could die. Such a think is not inherently unlikely given their current activities, and faking deaths is not so impossible. It is, in fact, something Caroline hopes to gain some experience with.
GM: Caroline can gain that experience elsewhere, Claire replies. She wouldn’t think of entrusting her people’s names and identities to any leech, including her own daughter. Caroline can always be made to disclose secrets. She has been made to disclose secrets. Her warning regarding the depth and scope of Hound Agnello’s investigation is appreciated, but they will cover their own trail.
She raised this particular topic as it pertained to herself. The leeches don’t know who any of her people are—but they know exactly who she is.
Caroline: Caroline clarifies she wasn’t referring specifically to faking their deaths, just that several such matters are on her agenda. She’s a little hurt that her mother is essentially completely opposed to exposing anyone or anything to her, though she understands. It is, in truth, her fault that her mother is in such terrible danger in the first place.
As to her mother specifically, Caroline agrees it is a thorny issue. She doesn’t know enough about how things will play out to give an answer with certainty, but she foresees a number of possibilities.
The first is that given enough time, given her high profile, and (potentially) given the loss (real or perceived) of her mother’s teeth to Kindred in the form of her fellow hunters, and given enough influence within Caroline’s own hands, that interest in her may fade. Especially if there’s a perception that Caroline has the matter ‘under control’. That’s (arguably) the most rosey outcome. Some will always want her dead, the best Caroline can argue is that she will fight to ensure that the metaphorical juice isn’t worth the squeeze for them.
Most other possibilities are far muddier, and less pleasant. Caroline doesn’t sugar coat it for her hunter mother: she knows the danger of the life better than anyone. If they cannot remove Father Malveaux he will eventually come after Claire, deal or no deal. Of that Caroline is certain. He may even try to use Caroline’s other siblings towards that end in a variety of ghoulish ways (pun not intended).
Much, once again, depends on her mother’s redlines. Would she ever consider faking her own death, down the line? In the eyes of most Kindred the only acceptable ends for a hunter are death, ghouldom (questionably), or the Embrace. She knows her mother’s stance on all three.
GM: Her mother stares at her, and replies that a ‘faked’ death is little different from a real one. She isn’t abandoning her family and life’s work to spend the next twenty, thirty years scurrying in the shadows and praying other leeches don’t discover Caroline’s secret.
Caroline: “Then I guess we’d better hope I succeed, shouldn’t we?”
GM: Her mother’s eyes are hard. “Hope is a luxury, Caroline. I deal in realities.”
Caroline: “Then you tell me, Mom, how do we fix this!” The Ventrue gestures with both hands out to the side in exasperation as she continues, “I know you’re afraid, and no, not for just yourself. I know that I broke this, and that it’s my fucking fault.” Those hands come back to tap on Caroline’s own chest to punctuate the last three words.
“The only way out that I see is through, and what’s what I wake up every night trying to do. Because I know I’m nothing but a literally god damned liability to you right now. But if you have a plan, some answer, I’m happy to hear it.” She snarls, “Or not, since you can’t trust me anyway.”
GM: “What about simply throwing in with Antoine Savoy, Caroline?” her mother asks. “He’s as bad as any leech, of course. But he doesn’t know that I exist. If the prince is overthrown, his partisans likely aren’t long for this world—or will have much graver things to worry about than one hunter. Our secret dies with them.”
Caroline: “I’ve thought about it,” Caroline replies more softly. “For more reasons than just that. But what I saw tonight scares me, Mom. There’s someone else in the city playing at cross purposes to the seneschal. Someone that brought back a century-old lick to ensure I was murdered, that threw me into the pit. It very easily could have been him.”
GM: “Does it scare you as much as your murderer knowing our secret and wanting me dead?”
Caroline: Caroline clinches her jaw as her mother continues to call the seneschal her murderer,
She wants to explain what her mother doesn’t understand. Wants to explain what she’s seen. The Jyhad. The sleeping monster beneath the Dungeon. The games played out over centuries and the raw emotion she feels for the seneschal that’s seared her all over. The questions she still has.
But how can she do that? She can’t even be fully honest with her.
She has nothing left to give her, no secrets she might speak, no more trust she can extend. Her mother’s position is all too painfully clear. The product of a lifetime of hatred for licks. Of a near single-minded dedication towards her own immodest goals. Caroline had hoped that by making herself vulnerable, but sharing as she has, by trusting as she has, that she might break down barriers with her mother. But her mother is right: hope is a luxury.
She’s not angry. In fact, she’s perhaps more grateful than ever that her mother was able to overcome that hatred when she first discovered Caroline’s secret. She can’t imagine how difficult it must have been, to make the call to spare her knowing what might come, to wrestle with a lifetime of hate directed towards what was only once her own flesh and blood.
But this is as far as they go, as close as they’ll ever come. She can all but see it, sense it. The chasm that divides them is just too wide to bridge. There’s too much damage. Too much distrust. Too much history on her mother’s side. Caroline had believed they might share something tonight, but sharing requires trust. Instead all she can do is give things.
The Ventrue stands and walks to the window, facing away from her mother as she wrestles with the conclusion. Increasingly dejected and despondent thoughts fill her mind as she looks out on the French Quarter, replays of their conversation so far tonight. She was so foolish, an idealistic child to come here tonight expecting something different.
“And if he’s just a pawn for something darker?” Caroline asks. “Like, say, that thing at the bottom of the Dungeon?”
GM: “‘If’, Caroline,” her mother replies. “Do you know that your murder isn’t also a pawn to some other, fouler monster? Do you know for a fact that Savoy is?”
“And moreover, is it even relevant to us? There are evils, ancient and newborn, singular and many, all throughout the world. All throughout the city. No one can destroy them all. My only concern is for our family—and the fact that Savoy does not know its secret.”
Caroline: These ideas had seemed far easier, even a few hours ago. But the game is far deeper than she’d ever appreciated.
Caroline is not convinced, but nor is she completely against the idea. At the moment, unless her mother would have her go share all details minus her own hunter status, she sees little reason that she cannot pursue her agenda in parallel. Options are often better than commitments, when possible. Unless her mother wants her decision on that matter now?
GM: Caroline’s mother shoots her a hard if not angry stare. These goals are not compatible. The only reason to support Savoy is because he wants to exterminate the leeches who know their secret.
Caroline: At a point, Caroline agrees. But they’re not to that point yet.
GM: Caroline has dawdled uselessly and “kept options open” for months. The world isn’t waiting on them. The sheriff isn’t waiting on them. Savoy isn’t waiting on them. Claire doubts he’s going to keep offering Caroline his patronage if he doesn’t see returns on his investment. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, but a failure to plan is a plan to fail. “Keeping options open” and “seeing how things develop” is no longer good enough.
Caroline: Caroline’s own eyes are hard. Was that the intent of the attack? To push her into Savoy’s lap?
GM: Claire scowls. “I’m not confirming or denying anything about that, Caroline. Anything I tell you, other leeches can—and have—found out. I certainly don’t trust Savoy in that regard any more than your murderer.”
Caroline: Caroline’s expression twists into a scowl. “So what, precisely, do you want me to do now, Mom?”
GM: “Commit, Caroline. To a course of action instead of waiting for this house of cards to collapse around us!” her mother snaps.
Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue over her teeth, then finally turns to face her mother again. “I’ve already given Savoy my soft commitment. It is his desire that I refrain from faking my death, presumably to see if it will provoke the Albino into further erratic action. I’ve also expressed desire to work more closely with those in his faction, and brought in one of his people for the meeting with Roger.”
“I haven’t told him everything. Once some of this is out in the open it can never come back,” she looks at her mother meaningfully, “and some of these cards might well be what pushes over the leaning tower of the prince’s power. I would rather that not happen until I’ve had some opportunity to strengthen my position further.”
She chews on her lip. “Two months. Give me until Mardi Gras to see what fruit my existing plans might bear. Until then I’ll continue to maintain and strengthen ties with him.”
GM: Flint dances in her mother’s eyes. “Your plans to do what, Caroline? Do you suppose in six weeks your murderer and the sheriff will forget all about our secret?”
Caroline: “For one thing, there’s the second coin to consider,” Caroline replies icily.
GM: The pair’s next ground feels like something they have trod many times before. The factual content of their arguments no longer seems like it matters, not really. They’ve always fought. They’ve always been at odds. There are many things death changes, but also some that it never will.
Claire is Caroline’s mother, and she knows best. Only she has the maturity, perspective, and years of experience to know what really matters.
Caroline is her own person, and she knows what’s best for herself. Her mother never understood her, never thought about her needs over the family’s, and has never taken her seriously or given her voice weight, not really.
The family is tainted, poisonous. She’s a sanctimonious hypocrite to pretend she’s on a moral high horse. She’s emotionally abusive to keep telling her own daughter how poisoned, befouled, and dead she is.
Claire outright says she should be this way towards Caroline. It’s not abuse. It’s reality. The alternative to hating herself is accepting herself—and that is something she can never do. Not unless she wants to become a monster as terrible as the Albino.
Caroline snaps back that nothing has ever been good enough for her mother. There was that time she was 12, on a drive back from, it doesn’t even matter. Claire pointed out all the ways she’d done her makeup wrong. And everything else she’d done wrong. The only reason she cried into her pillow instead of there in the car was because she didn’t want to give her mom the pleasure.
Claire angrily snaps back over what kind of monster Caroline is accusing her of being. “Do you really think I relished that? I just wanted you to do well, and that wasn’t going to happen if you didn’t correct your mistakes! If your ego was too thin to handle that sort of constructive criticism without crying, boo fucking hoo! All your life, you’ve been a spoiled child who only thought about herself and her feelings, never what’s good for the family!”
“When was the last time you ever gave of yourself for the family? And don’t bring up saving those two girls’ lives, I’m sick of you using that as your excuse to offset every fuck-up. Anyone in your position with your medical training would have done the same thing, and it cost you nothing. When have you actually sacrificed and given of yourself, like I have?”
It all comes up. Decades-old socials. School papers. Her diet. All the privileges her brothers got that she didn’t, for being a girl.
Caroline may not sure whether to laugh or to cry when her mother snaps at her for “obviously eating very badly” and even criticizes her current appearance for having too much weight. She’d “obviously started to let herself go” after the shooting and put on the pounds. “At least that’s one upshot to your murder, I suppose, that your figure isn’t something you can ruin anymore.”
Caroline: And on and on they go. Caroline’s grades were never good enough. It wasn’t enough to get A’s. Why did she get that question wrong? She should have known better. Didn’t the family provide her with the best tutors? “I distinctly remember, Mom, you rolling your eyes when examining my graded homework in 4th grade and declaring that you ‘hoped someone got the brains in the family’. I was ten.”
GM: Her mother scowls. “Adam skipped two grades. Why didn’t you?”
Caroline: And beyond academics, beyond appearance, it was never enough for her to simply be good. “I made the track team? Why wasn’t I the captain? I did gymnastics as a child—do you even remember criticizing me then and pulling me out of gymnastics because I was too tall? Critiquing me for my height?”
GM: “I never critiqued you for your height,” Claire snaps. “That’s beyond silly. You’re just making that up!”
Caroline: “Even when I did succeed, Mom, there were always flaws in that. Fencing? Where I had real talent. Where I might have really made something of myself. Where I felt real accomplishment. Do you remember the meet where you made me quit? When you told me it was time to quit? Fresh off the high of a win that had me her to the semi-finals, still soaked in sweat, you mother appearing to tell her to throw the next match? That I was a distraction.”
GM: “That’s what you’ve been nursing all these years?” Claire scoffs. “There was no future in that anyway! What, did you want to become a fencer and poke people with foils for the rest of your life? There comes a time to set aside childish pursuits, and it’s equally childish of you to blame her mother for that. She might as well blame her for the sun setting too early.” She finally snaps, “Grow the fuck up, Caroline!”
Caroline: Caroline finally comes out and says it.
“There was a reason we were never close, Mom. Every time I got close to you it was another opportunity for you to hurt me. There’s a reason I wanted to go out of state, and that when the family forced me to stay in Louisiana, I surrounded herself with lesser people. People just a little pathetic. A little worse than me. People I could lord over.”
“It was the first time in my life I was ever good enough for anyone at anything. I certainly never was good enough for you.”
“Not good enough for you to ever tell me I did well. Not good enough to ever have dreams of my own. There’s a reason you shoved me away, that you kept me in the dark about the supernatural. That you ensured I’d never be accepted alongside the Kappas.”
“I wasn’t good enough to choose anything about my life in your eyes. I was always a child at best. No wonder you’re so fucking mad at the seneschal: he made the first decision in my life that you weren’t consulted on.
“And,” she continues, “he’s no different. You’ve always done what you thought was ‘best’ for me, just as you’ve tried to teach me all those ‘hard lessons’, just as you critiqued me and humiliated me and made ne suffer to make me ‘better.’”
Caroline doesn’t deny that her mother has ‘always had her best interests’ at heart. "Perhaps you even always meant well. That she had opportunities other never did. But there was something she never had either as a child: a belief that her mother loved her for anything other than what she could do or accomplish for her an the family.
“I wonder who that sounds like,” she wonders sarcastically.
GM: Claire scoffs disbelievingly, if not furiously. All her life, she sacrificed for Caroline, did what was best for Caroline, and she threw it back in her face! Claire is her mother, not her fucking best friend, and if she could have gotten over her own petty selfishness she might still be alive today! Did she ever consider that? Does she even care? All of this is just a game to her, a pageant for her own spoiled ego! Believe it or not, the world doesn’t revolve around her. Does she seriously think not joining the Kappas was condemning her to ‘suffering?’ Claire saved her! I sweat and bled and toiled and suffered in ways you can’t even imagine for the better part of forty years, the better part of a lifetime, all to give you and your brothers a better life than the one I’ve led! You dare say that isn’t love!?"
“When have you sacrificed anything? When have you ever done anything for someone else? All you do is ruin things and scream at people for having the audacity to be upset! You… got yourself turned into this hideous, soiled thing. You blew my secret, when I spared you, because you’re my daughter, and actually have the audacity to expect to be trusted!”
“You didn’t lift a fucking finger to save Westley! He’d still be alive if not for your mistakes and selfishness! You are a black hole, who does nothing but take and ruin, and scream other people’s blood and tears aren’t good enough!”
She finally snaps:
“You were a vampire even before you died!”
Caroline: Caroline flinches as though her mother physically slapped her. Silence reigns for a moment. She hovers on the edge of furious and devastated tears, then finally spits back:
“I’m what you made me into over the course of my entire life, Mom. If that was a vampire, I can’t argue, can I? Apparently, at least one very old and very powerful one believed that I’d make a good enough vampire to be his heir.”
She lets that hang, then declares,
“Good job, Mom.”
She starts gathering the few things she has in the hotel room.
GM: It’s finally Claire who stares back at Caroline in silence, hovering on her own abysmal precipice of fury and tears before she snaps,
“Mardi Gras, Caroline—not a day more! Maybe for once in your death, and never in your life, you can actually solve a problem instead of just making more. And you’d better do a fucking good job, or I’m cleaning up this latest mess of yours my way and I won’t give a damn how much you scream and cry unfair!”
She rolls her eyes as Caroline starts packing up her things. “And it’s almost dawn, if you didn’t notice. Do you want to burn the nose to spite the face?”
Caroline: Claire’s right. Caroline can already feel the weariness seeping into her bones.
She clenches her fist. She’d planned on leaving a while ago, but she let herself get dragged into another argument with her mother. Another pointless one.
“I thought you’d made your feelings clear about how I was nothing but a burden as-is.”
GM: Her mother looks too tired to even argue further at this point.
“Are you expecting me to humiliate you over it, Caroline? Are you staying or not?”
Caroline: Caroline clenches her fist all the more tightly. Her mother is right. The time to leave was half an hour ago. She could still make it, she suspects, if she left now. Drove like a maniac. Encountered no obstacles. Didn’t have the Beast thrash too hard. Was willing to cook a little bit. The pain she can handle, she knows. She’s done it before: suffered.
Leaving is stupid. It’s a vanity. She could argue herself into it. Claim it’s for her mother’s good. Claim she won’t give her mother the satisfaction. Claim that her mother is a danger to her.
But part of her would know the real reason, would know the truth. She’s very much willing to burn off her nose to spite her face, but not when it’s just going to cost her more face.
She stops. “I sort of was. But I’d rather not go.”
GM: “The bed’s there,” her mother says tersely. “I called the staff ahead of time to bring up some extra blankets.”
Caroline: A look of concern passes Caroline’s face. “What about you?”
GM: “The sofa has a pull-out mattress.”
Caroline: “I’ll take the sofa, unless you need the room,” Caroline offers. “One of the benefits of being dead: no waking up with back pain.”
GM: Her mother seems to consider that, then finally replies, “If you’re sure.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a tight smile.
GM: Claire pulls.
Dying changes a lot of things, great and small. The blankets her mother drapes over her face. It might be uncomfortable.
There are some things, Caroline must reflect, that dying doesn’t change at all.
And some it doesn’t change at all.