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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline VI, Chapter II

The Painter & Reporter

“Time it doesn’t wait for anybody
It only turns into the past.”

Madison Cunningham

Thursday night, 17 December 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline’s call to Ferris with the rising sun is not pleasant. Did he seek to scare her with the attack upon her haven, or did he really think she’d be so foolish as to leave the files he wants unguarded? Trying to keep her in the Corner Club while his men raided her home? Holding Autumn hostage to ensure she came in and baiting her with talk of ways that he could ‘help her’ if she helped him. It’s not difficult to put anger into her voice. She’s not taking his offer or delivering the files.

The attack on the Giani Building caused a near disaster of the Masquerade. It cost her valuable servants. Required she deflect hounds away from any scent that would lead them to Father Malveaux’s ghoul. And that’s before the brazen madness of it—a shootout in the Central Business District. Caroline has no idea what Ferris was thinking, but she can imagine well enough just how many powerful Kindred in the city would be absolutely fascinated with even the allegation, much less with the significant circumstantial evidence she could provide as to the architect of the attack.

Ferris has shown her that he can’t be trusted, and only a coward and a fool would turn over the files to him now, given his lack of good faith and the sheer offensiveness (on every level) of the attack. She remains tentatively willing to negotiate only out of respect for Father Malveaux’s station, but insists future meetings will be with Father Malveaux himself. Until he returns she doesn’t want to so much as sniff at Ferris or any of his servants. She doesn’t want to hear about his men following her own servants. If she gets so much as a whiff of further surveillance or her ghouls break a nail or are late because they get stuck in traffic she will walk away from the table: her desire for peace does not exceed her willingness for war.

GM: Ferris listens to Caroline without comment or interruption, and then informs her there will not be war. Father Malveaux may choose to punish her, based on the severity of her misbehavior and the sincerity of her contrition, but there won’t be war.

That’s the exact language his domitor used. The father has never felt threatened by her. He wouldn’t have allowed her into the Structure if he did. If she fails to tender him the files she possesses—or attend the meeting in the first place—her future among the Ventrue and Lancea et Sanctum will be so much ash, and someone will simply mesmerize her into handing over the files anyway. There’s no need for a Masquerade-damaging attack that dirties his hands while gaining him nothing that he couldn’t obtain anyway.

The father doesn’t even care if Caroline knows what he plans to do. He doesn’t see her as an equal party in any of this, nor does he believe she has any way of stopping him. The only card she has left to play is running to Antoine Savoy—and that will merely seal her death warrant by giving the prince sufficient pretext to call a blood hunt.

The prince who doesn’t even know she’s his childe.

“Let’s dispense with the charade you want to blackmail me over. You think the sheriff isn’t sharing intel with my boss over your mother, or consulting him every step of the way on how to play things? She’s his domain. He knows you’re talking with her. He knows that she knows that he knows this. If you want someone to blame for that stupid attack on your haven, I’d look for someone who’s desperate enough to try something stupid. My people had nothing to do with it.”

The ghouled security chief continues calmly, “I believe the father’s underestimating you. I wouldn’t be assuming this line is secure if I didn’t. If you don’t plan on defecting to Savoy, I believe it benefits us both to still be friends. There’s a lot we could do for one another, Miss Malveaux. What’s it going to be?”

Caroline: Caroline listens to the ghoul’s threats with decreasing patience. If she were still alive she might sigh at the end of them, and more in irritation, like being forced to deal with a misbehaving child than out of true exhaustion.

“Roger, you once told me that bad intel gets people killed. You also told me the best lies were surrounded by truth. In the spirit of ‘friendship’ I’ll tell you this: where you are right now, you’re about to jump out of a plane without a parachute. Assuming for a moment that you’re telling the truth, that you’re operating completely under Father Malveaux’s orders and he knows everything you’re doing and supports it—and that’s a fairly large assumption because what he’s doing simply isn’t how things are done—there’s one person that’s about to get crushed in the gears, and it isn’t him.”

“You’re probably right when you say that no one in the Structure or the church is going to support me over him. And you’re right that it will cost me dearly to bring this before others. You’re right that the sheriff would love an excuse to come after me. But where you’re oh so wrong is in how you read your boss. Because there’s only one way that he comes out of all of this smelling clean to his peers. And more than boons, more than favors, more than blood bonds or control of me, what he like every other Ventrue in the world values more than anything else is looking good in front of his peers.” She pauses.

“Perhaps you think you’re being clever, more clever than him. You think he’s underestimating me. Maybe he is, but you’re underestimating him. He’s not letting you handle this because he doesn’t want to deal with me. He’s doing it because whether I go public, or just take it to a few others, you’re the one left holding the bag when the music stops. You’re the one he can point his finger to and blame for this ugly business. It might cost me a great deal to do that, but it’ll cost you everything. Some ghoul off the reservation that can be blamed for misbehavior, and trust me when I say that literally no one will give a damn what your side of the story is. It’s the oldest play in the book—so easy that even I’ve done it. You know just enough of the landscape—entirely through his lense of course—to think you know how things will play out, while remaining deeply ignorant of the actual lay of the land. You’ve been a tool, and you’ve been used to perfection. I bet there isn’t even a scrap of paper between your actions and his own orders, is there?”

She continues, more coldly, “And that’s all if you are indeed following his orders. If you are off the reservation, if you’ve exceeded his mandate to you, if you’ve done anything he didn’t wish then may god hold you and keep you, for you’ve wandered into the deep end quite alone. I don’t need to defeat Father Malveaux. I don’t need to win social contests against him to bury this matter. I need only defeat you. The arrogant new ghoul, so eager to please, acting far beyond what his master would ever approve of while the master is away.”

Her tone is now ice cold. “You’ve given me no reason to comply save threats, and no evidence that this is anything but a fishing trip by you instead of him. You’ve given me no reason to trust you and plenty not to. Both tonight, and in every other night that’s either of us has left. You’ve abducted my servants, invaded my privacy, told my family I was a murderer, and threatened me with murder and mind rape in our every meeting. I can’t think of one good reason to be ‘friends’ with you if that’s what awaits me, and plenty not to, not the least of which is ‘not meddling in the domain of Father Malveaux.’”

GM: Ferris listens.

He doesn’t interrupt.

“It’s unfortunate you feel that way, Miss Malveaux,” the ghoul finally replies. “Good luck selling that story at your meeting.”

The line clicks.

Thursday evening, 17 December 2015

GM: Nothing seems the same with Caroline’s ghouls in the nights after her frenzy.

It’s some time before they are sufficiently recuperated to resume their duties, if Caroline does not supply them with more precious blood.

Widney looks pale when she next sees Caroline again. She speaks less, and when she does, she sounds even more “like a robot,” as Green would term it, than she did before. Her eyes unconsciously seem to follow Caroline’s movements, and she gets assorted minor details on tasks wrong.

Fuller doesn’t say anything either, but is even more terse and clipped-spoken than usual. Caroline hears about an incident where he completely lost his temper at one of the building’s maids and beat her within an inch of her life. If the Ventrue approaches him, he says the matter’s been “taken care of” and he had Autumn mesmerize the woman into believing her already abusive boyfriend did it.

Caroline: Caroline does provide vitae to the maimed ghouls, both to get them back on their feet more quickly and to reaffirm the bond as needed. It requires more hunting, more hurting of innocent people, but it’s a price on her soul she pays, and willingly at that. Pays it with every drop she gives to her ghouls to renew her hold over them.

It’s not enough. Fuller and Widney’s reactions worry her. She asks Autumn for any suggestions—the ghoul has seen more of this than she has. Caroline is not eager to build their relationship upon further lies by wiping their memories of the event, but she can ill afford to lose either of those two ghouls in the same way she can Green. Her inclinations run towards perhaps doing so for Widney however—she doesn’t know how to treat her. Both she’s inclined to push into some kind of therapy.

She apologizes to them of course, genuinely. The entire incident is deeply shameful and she feels remorse for what she did. She inquires as to what they want, how she can make things up to her, begin the path towards forgiveness.

GM: Caroline’s response seems to stabilize things.

The apology and remorse seems to be the foremost thing her ghouls need to hear, and to respond to well enough. Widney mutely accepts attending therapy if that’s what Caroline wants her to do. Fuller doesn’t reject the idea out of hand, since he’s an older guy who’s seen his share of vets with PTSD/other mental health problems they needed professional help to treat. He doesn’t consider it “weak” to need therapy. He does question though how helpful it could really be if there’s a lot of lies between the therapist and their patient.

Autumn’s advice is that wiping their memories would probably be the easiest thing. There’s also giving them blood during the apology and treating them well (“well, well-er”) afterwards. It’s every ghoul’s favorite apology. Caroline also suspects Autumn hopes to get another fix for giving such helpful advice.

Things don’t seem the same, though. The ghouls get back to their jobs. Fuller doesn’t beat any more maids and Widney stops making mistakes. But they both look at Caroline with a more cautious eye, and Widney in particular grows more “robot-like” and makes fewer quips. They’ve seen now what serving one of the Kindred can really entail.

Maybe they can forgive their domitor, but they don’t forget.

On their own, anyways.

Stephanie Green simply fails to show up for ‘work’ the next evening she is due. She does not respond to phone calls or text messages.

Nerea Ericson seemingly follows the same pattern of behavior.

Autumn feels on edge the next time Caroline sees her again, but it’s almost sad how glad she appears when the pair can hold a civil conversation and slide back into their usual routine—and how easily she herself can do that, next to the other ghouls. She informs Caroline that Ericson is taking a sick day at work, and that Green told her she was quitting. Green also told her to “get out while you can” and said she was going to approach Ericson about doing the same.

Caroline: The heiress has absolutely no patience for Green’s actions. She first has Autumn speak with her about the decision and its consequences, but thereafter confronts the mercenary angrily and labels her a coward for her flight. Did she believe that Caroline was misleading her when she spoke of the dangers of entering into this life? That she was unclear as to the requirements? Didn’t she warn the others to flee before she frenzied? Fuller, Widney, and Ericson made their choice to try and stop her. Why didn’t Green do more to help them? Why isn’t she there beside the others? Caroline had heard that Green was a warrior, that she thrived on a challenge. She’s disappointed to learn that she’s nothing but a coward running away at the first sign of violence or danger—and when Caroline and the others need her the most.

If she wants to run, Caroline will be happy to turn her loose. She isn’t trying to force Green into anything: she didn’t do so when she brought her into. Green is free to go back to being a sheep that knows nothing about the secret world that controls so much. She can go back to being someone working a job she hates. But not like this. If she wants out it will be completely into the dark, with no memory of any of this. It’s Green’s choice if she wants to go back to the kid’s table, but that’s exactly what she will be doing. There is no wandering away for free.

If she wants out Caroline wipes her memories of her time as a ghoul, filling them instead with boring guard duties, and forces her to burn away the last of her vitae. If she changes her mind about her flight Caroline verifies her honesty with both mesmerism and enthrallment.

GM: Caroline finds having such a “discussion” with the ex-LAPD ghoul to be unnecessary. Autumn reports back that she talked Green into staying.

“It was the collar that did it,” the ghoul admits. “And, uh, munchies.” She played up how “indescribably sorry” Caroline is for what happened, how much she wants everyone’s forgiveness, and how much she needs and values them all. The blood bond wrenched Green’s heartstrings alongside an equally fervent spiritual tether: addiction. Autumn says it would “help things” if Caroline gave her a fix, when she shows up in about an hour.

It doesn’t take a genius to follow Autumn’s unspoken entreaty that if Green should get a fix…

Caroline: She’s done enough damn fixing for one night.

Friday night, 18 December 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline considers several possible approaches to her ‘coming out’ to her family. On the accelerated timeline prior to Father Malveaux’s return she ultimately decides it’s not really achievable without making a mess of things. Still, she’s eager to show some ‘progress’ prior to her meeting with the good father. As Marcel has made clear, some show of good faith may go a long way.

Upon some consideration, she decides that such an event might be a plausible explanation for some of her more unusual activities thus far—long periods without being reachable, attending Southern Decadence, falling off the map, and so forth. Perhaps enough to help bottle up with investigation. She asks Jocelyn if she wants to help with the endeavour. Whether her paramour is interested or not, she brings in Autumn to take several photographs of Caroline with another woman: surveillance-style photographs of her holding hands and even kissing. The kind of thing that Roger—or another in his place—could present to her family.

If asked, she frames it as deference to Father Malveaux’s decision with the best way to handle it within his domain—giving him the power and means to shove her from the family freely as part of protecting his domain from her. He is, afterall, her senior and she would not presume to cause disruption in his domain without his approval.

GM: Jocelyn consents to have her pictures taken with Caroline and even comments amusedly, “I guess I’m gonna meet your family after all.”

Not for her, however, are the utilitarian shots Autumn wants to take. The professional photographer has something much more elaborate in mind. The ghoul finds herself all but pushed aside in the subsequent proceedings, and is only allowed to remain ‘in charge’ of holding the camera while Jocelyn tells her what to do with it. The Toreador picks out everything: clothing, venue, lighting, poses, expressions. Caroline gets a taste of what it’s like to be a model as she has her every look and gesture dictated. The three go through hundreds of shots in an extended shoot that ends up taking all night.

The backdrops vary significantly. Some are set against Jocelyn’s haven or simply kept blurred or blank, but Jocelyn digitally manipulates some photos to take place outside or in front of crowds. Some even take place during the day. The Toreador is particularly bossy over getting the lighting “just right” for those. She mentions having a clanmate who paid her to doctor images of her doing various activities during the day, which she then posted on social media. Jocelyn says that “honestly seems pretty overkill, but she paid for it, so whatever.”

Some of Jocelyn’s photos feature the two Kindred holding holds. In others they kiss. They perform cunnilingus in a particularly ribald few. Quite a few more pictures, though, are solos without any erotic elements.

“These are great. Fangbook’s gonna love these,” she declares.

Caroline: The heiress begins to protest as Jocelyn takes over the shoot and its scope expands, but swiftly relents in the face of the Toreador’s seeming inspiration and enjoyment of the shoot. She gives way as it becomes something far grander than she’d anticipated, and for a few hours simply forgets her troubles. She leaps into the role as Jocelyn’s ‘model’ with a gleefulness she’s rarely felt since her Embrace.

When her paramour brings up having previously doctored images for another of the Rose Clan to appear as “during the day” her own eyes spark with interest. “You know,” she observes, “I bet if you could get your name further out there that there’s probably a pretty big market for younger licks that are trying to maintain something of a mortal life or mortal connections at least that could make use of that kind of service. I mean, I know you’re way more in touch with the All-Night side of things, but plenty of licks maintain at least some connection to their family, or to their old identity, or even to a new one with more mortal ties. Eventually no matter how good your story is, some people are going to ask questions about why literally no one ever sees you during the day, but if they see on social media that you’re active and out, you can put that idea off for way longer. And with some well-placed mesmerism to doctor memories as well… to say nothing of how if you felt you were specifically on the radar of various hunters how you could use it to help throw them off.”

Of course, Caroline continues, she is mindful of how an artist might not want to reduce their work to something so consistently utilitarian, so it’s just a thought, and perhaps a veiled suggestion.

GM: “Oh, that’s a thought,” Jocelyn remarks. “Pairing it with snake charming, that is, but those other ideas too.”

“You said that sort of stuff was what you wanted to do with your firm, right? I guess if you get any licks who could use a photo touch-up, send them my way?”

Caroline: “Jocelyn’s Masquerade Touch-ups,” Caroline quips, her voice rising in pitch as she puts on a voice akin to a late night infomercial. “For only three easy payments of just…” She trails off, amused with herself.

GM: “Super easy. Super fun. What’s not to love?”

Jocelyn’s favorite picture, she continues, is one of Caroline simply smiling.

Autumn comments on it too. “I don’t think I’ve ever really seen you smile like that. Usually when you do, it’s stiff and polite, or just… well, fake, to get close to a meal ticket.”

She adds, “I guess that’s true for most licks, though. I can’t think of any who really smile.”

Jocelyn looks at the ghoul thoughtfully for a moment. Caroline senses the instinctive tension that so many (that is, seemingly all) half-bloods get around Kindred, but the Toreador finally remarks, “That’s not bad, so far as artistic thoughts.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns when the topic shifts to her smile. “I wonder then, what is that a picture of, in truth?”

GM: “The Masquerade, maybe. The perfect Masquerade?” Autumn poses.

Jocelyn gives the ghoul another glance that Autumn seems to tense at before she replies, “Remembering what it is to be human. That’s great. It’s going to get so many likes.”

“We should do another one like that, with you having a boner. It’d be an interesting contrast.”

Caroline: Caroline seems interested in the back and forth, but rolls her eyes at the vernacular. “I hate that expression,” she complains. “You’d think in a community of centuries-old monsters we could come up with better than a boys’ locker room joke.”

GM: “Well, I don’t think it’s the centuries-old monsters who came up with it. It’s true though. You get such huuuge boooooners,” she giggles, tracing a finger along the Ventrue’s teeth.

“Seriously, I think your fangs actually are bigger than mine. You get soooo haaard, Caroline,” she continues in an exaggerated porn star-like voice.

Caroline: The Ventrue rolls her eyes at the use of the term again and docilely tolerates her lover’s touch, accepting the ribbing in good humor at first. As Jocelyn continues on, she stands and takes the Toreador by her forearms.

“Watch out or I’ll show you just how pointed my distaste for that word really is,” she threatens playfully.

GM: Jocelyn sticks out her tongue.

“Bite me.”

Caroline: The heiress lunges forward and latches onto the Toreador’s throat, teeth against her skin but not quite breaking the skin. She drags her canines down the artist’s throat to her collar, tongue lightly tracing the dead woman’s flesh in advance, before she pulls back.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you,” she teases.

GM: “Get in some pictures of this,” Jocelyn tells Autumn as she tugs down the front of Caroline’s current dress.

Friday evening, 18 December 2015

Caroline: Another Friday night. Another Elysium, if one with higher stakes between the growing conflict with Father Malveaux, her mother’s ultimatum and deadline, and the array of other pressures. Every night is another grain of sand falling out of the hourglass that once held 365.

Caroline arrives with only a single ghoul tonight, the familiar face of the disgraced Krewe of Janus cleaner.

GM: The evening’s Elysium takes place at the New Orleans Civic Theatre, which opened in 1906 as the Shubert Theatre and is the oldest performance theater in the city. It was built by the Shubert Brothers who were credited with establishing New York’s Broadway theater district. The theater was their first venue outside of New York and was used for plays, vaudeville, concerts, burlesque and film. The venue changed names through the years and was also known as the Star, the Lafayette, the Poché and the Civic. It closed in the early 1990s.

In the early 2000s, real estate developers purchased the property and by 2011 developed a plan to put the theater back into use. After a $10 million renovation, the Civic reopened for performances in September 2013, just a little over two years ago. It was rebuilt with an adaptable modular flooring system that can raised or lowered.

Tickets run from $37.50 for Standing Room Only to up to $65 for the reserved Balcony Lodge, Balcony, and Gallery seats. Few are the Kindred who cannot obtain a $65 ticket, but it is considered poor form (and poor for the Masquerade) for all of an event’s Kindred attendants to crowd into a single space. Elders and other luminaries are expected to purchase the most expensive tickets and sit at the most exclusive parts of an Elysium’s venue, while those who are “less august of company” should procure cheaper tickets for commensurately less desirable seats.

Of course, available ticket types and seating arrangements vary entirely by venue. There are no published rules for who can sit where at a given Elysium—but there are still rules, and the harpies enforce them ruthlessly. Presumptuous Kindred who sit too close to their betters may find themselves used as verbal scratching posts by the always-critical murder. A vampire who undervalues themselves, however, can just as easily find their mistaken estimate transformed into an all-too accurate one as their social stock plummets within moments. The former Kindred may be impudent, but it’s the latter who truly are subjects of mirth.

The doors to the theater open at 7 PM. The show begins at 8. For the next hour, attendees are free to claim their seats, buy drinks at the bar, and mingle among themselves until the event starts. The audience ranges from college kids to parents to seniors. Most people seem to come in couples, groups, and families. There’s a few kids, but mostly ones old enough to behave themselves. The parents here on a Friday night leave their younger children with babysitters.

They talk about mundane things. The upcoming show. Work. Relationships. Kids. Life.

So do the dead.

They swim among the sea of living faces like too-pale wolves amidst a herd of sheep. They carry ash-tasting drinks in their hands, and they talk about the show and careers and families and politics and all of those things that matter so much more to the living. Perhaps some do so out of genuine interest. Others may only seek to maintain their masks. Some glibly fraternize among the living, others confine their conversations to their own kind, and some few attempt to walk among both worlds. No matter how or with whom they choose to socialize, doing so is a fine exercise in maintaining the Masquerade.

One of those too-pale wolves struts out from among the sheep.

He’s one of the most gorgeous men Caroline has ever laid eyes on. Everything about his face is perfect. Perfectly proportioned, boyishly innocent features. Perfectly straight and wide nose. Perfectly thick and dark eyebrows. Perfectly full and inviting lips. Perfectly mussled hair that every millennial’s “I woke up like this” Facemash picture so desperately tries to capture. Stubble that gives his eternally young features just the right amount of definition. His soulful green eyes are deep enough to drown in. He’s dressed in a plain white t-shirt, blue jeans, and black sneakers that would look utterly forgettable on someone else. On him, the clothes sensually cling to his figure with a chic austerity like he’s walked off a magazine cover. He smells wonderful, too. He smells like Old Spice in exactly the way commercials promise it makes men smell—warm, sweet, musky.

The confident smile he shoots Caroline is like a ray of sun. It’s the sort of smiles that leaves girls weak in the knees.

“I almost fucked you once,” he grins at her.

Caroline: Caroline’s concentration, focused on not running her tongue over her teeth, is abruptly broken by his statement. From someone else it might be incredibly off-putting, but from him it’s more bemusing.

“Oh?” she replies. “I don’t recall taking you home. And I think that I would.”

GM: The vampire’s grin widens as he runs a red tongue over a row of perfectly white and proportionated teeth.

“I’m fucking Marcel right now. If you’d stayed over we might have shared something.”

Caroline: There’s a light twinkling in her eyes. “Is that so? I can’t imagine what he might see in you,” she replies. Her voice drips with sarcasm that fades as she continues, “Still, that might have been intriguing. Have we met before?”

She bites the tip of her thumb lightly as she sweeps her gaze up and down him once more.

GM: His teeth glint against the light as he leans his perfectly proportioned body forward and then slowly shifts slightly to the right, as if to give Caroline a better view. The way he points his foot slightly forward and sensually drags his leg as he does feels almost feminine.

“Maybe. I’ve fucked a lot of people.”

He taps a pouting lip thoughtfully.

“I know I’ve fucked the torrie you’re fucking now, that prosecutor who quizzed you at the trial, that other torrie the one you’re fucking says you’re looking for, and I think your landlord, but it’s hard to keep everyone straight… "

His grin widens.

“It seems almost rude at this point not to say hi.”

Caroline: “That’s quite the resume,” Caroline replies, taking the opportunity he presents to admire his form as he talks, but a surge of jealously goes through her as he mentions Jocelyn.

“I can see how that could add some excitement to your life,” she continues.

GM: Autumn, though not atypically silent in the Elysium gathering, suddenly walks up to the vampire and starts hungrily kissing him.

“I’m sorry,” he grins at Caroline. He doesn’t reciprocate, but the ghoul doesn’t slow down. “This just happens. I can’t stop it.”

Caroline: Caroline turns her attention to her ghoul. “Oh, not at all, I know how difficult it can be.”

GM: “It really is. I can tell girls I eat my own shit, and they just laugh and say how funny I am.”

The coarse words still tickle Caroline’s ears like soft velvet. Part of her really does want to laugh. That’s hilarious. He is so funny.

Caroline: There’s a tension that builds between the two Kindred, a raw energy and clashing of animal magnetism. That pressure builds as the monster inside sniffs out the scent of this other’s Beast, this would-be usurper with its paws all over the mind of the one carrying its blood.

GM: Autumn blinks confusedly, then quickly pulls away from the other vampire. Her face looks red and ashamed.

He watches her go with a languid smile.

“Oh, I’m Josua.”

Caroline: “Caroline,” the Ventrue replies, with the hint of a smile remaining. “I can appreciate how difficult it must be, what with everyone seemingly wanting to please you.”

GM: “It’s awful. It really is.” The vampire rolls a tongue over his teeth in a manner that’s at once suggestive yet oddly tired.

“I used to do this for fun, you know. Sleep with as many girls as I could.”

Caroline: “I imagine that means you had a lot in common with most men,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Yeah, but I did it better than most men,” he grins. Autumn almost looks as if she wants to laugh, then her face falls when he sighs. “Now I think I’ve actually gotten worse. I don’t even need any game. Girls just throw themselves at me.”

Caroline: “And now?” Caroline continues for him leadingly.

GM: “Now I’m rusty. It used to be I’d have asked you about yourself.”

He looks at Autumn. “I’m sorry about what happened there. I really am. I don’t mean to hurt you. You’re so faithful to her, you really are. You deserve so much better.”

His boyish face is a portrait of pain, sympathy, and understanding. Caroline can imagines that face buried against her chest as he cries, and herself murmuring soft words as she strokes his hair, and it seems like there could be few more desirable scenes in the world.

But it only seems like it.

Autumn stammers some vague words of thanks, but mainly looks at Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression softens, but it’s a artificial softening, rather than one of her resolve. “You’d do better to ask my forgiveness.”

She extends her arms welcomingly, like a mother inviting a misbehaving and scolded child back into the fold.

GM: The boyish-faced vampire shines Caroline another knee-weakening smile as he sinks into her offered embrace. His unblemished skin is soft, smooth, and warm, and his tender hands don’t encircle her back so much as caress it. She smells that virile and musky Old Spice scent that’s everything the commercials play it up to be, and more.

“Oh, Caroline, I am sorry,” he purrs in her ear. “You’re so strong. So good. So in control. Can you find it in yourself to forgive me?”

She can feel his chest pressing against her breasts, and it feels intimate, like something only they have ever shared.

“Or maybe you’d rather punish me… I understand. I have been very, very bad.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue over her suddenly very pointed teeth. Yes, she can see very well why many Kindred might have been lulled in by this beautiful creature.

“Is that what you’d like?” she asks as she wraps him in her light embrace, lips close to his ear.

She continues, whispering huskily, “Someone to make you pay for your sins? To punish you? To hurt you?”

“Or do you want something more tender?”

GM: It’s almost tender the way Josua’s body shudders against hers with those words. “Oh, Caroline,” he whispers. “Oh, my god. I see it.”

He doesn’t pull away from her so much as coyly tip forward a new part of himself for her to drink in: his eyes. They’re green and deep, like hers, and brimming with a confection-like melange of emotions that are at once wonder, surprise, lust, and simple delight.

“You’ve realized it,” he whispers. “The sacred union of the divine masculine and the divine feminine. You realize it, perfectly, and it makes everything about you irresistible. Has anyone ever told you so?”

Caroline: “I’m glad you appreciate it, Josua,” Caroline whispers back with a smile. She pushes him away lightly, opening the distance between them once more and breaking the embrace, but leaving her palm on his chest.

GM: His lithe fingers tenderly trace along the skin of her forearm as she does so, and he reaches down to take her hand in his.

“Let me show you something, Caroline.”

Caroline: Her eyes glimmer with interest. “As long as you’re not too gentle,” she replies.

GM: Laughter dances in his own as he leads her off through the crowd. Several comments to “get a room” follow in the pair’s wake.

“I love women’s bodies,” he starts. “I’ve always loved them. You’re going to say that’s not very rare,” he laughs, “but it’s deeper than just wanting to fuck them.”

“I love doing that too, of course. I’d lost count of how many girls I’d slept with even when I was alive. But I’ve always appreciated—loved—women’s bodies on an aesthetic level, too, just as much as a sexual one.”

He leads Caroline past the bar, where lines of people are buying typically overpriced concert drinks.

Caroline: She turns and does a half twist, still holding his hands, arresting their movement with a half dancing flourish she doubts she could have ever managed in life as she asks, bemusedly, “Where are we going?”

GM: Josua grins as Caroline pulls him along, flowing after her like a too-willing partner in that dance as he half-spins her back into a flourish of his own. His sparkling green eyes roam her curves, her breasts, the nape of her neck. She can feel every look, every glance, like a lover’s caress against her skin.

God,” he purrs, licking his lips. “You’re even doing it right now.”

“Men’s bodies are rectangular, functional, unimaginative. But women’s bodies, your body, are so much more. They’re curvaceous. Shapely. Flowing. Graceful.”

“I love everything about women. I love your smooth skin and your long, soft hair. I love your high and trilling voices. I love your soft yet firm breasts. I love the sway to your hips and the length of your smooth, hairless legs. I love those delicate, mincing steps you take in high-heeled shoes.”

He takes her hand in both of his, and holds it up to his chin like it’s something rare and precious.

“And I love your faces. I love your face. I love everything about women’s faces. They’re so ovular, round, and perfectly smooth. They don’t change when you get older. Maybe that’s why boys become men, but women get to be girls too. They grow breasts and curves, but they always have childrens’ faces. They never lose that innocence.”

He raises Caroline’s hand to his lips and kisses it lightly, brushingly. It’s like the touch of silk against smooth skin.

Caroline: His touch sends a shiver through her. It’s been a while since a man touched her in genuine admiration, in something other than a decidedly one-sided encounter entirely for her own satisfaction and his suffering. It’s something she’d almost forgotten to appreciate. Jocelyn’s affection is… different. Gentler. Perhaps more docile. How much of that is because of the strength of their Beasts she doesn’t want to think on, but it’s immaterial now anyway.

She smiles. “I’m innocent now?” she asks with some amusement. “I expect most would disagree. But a girl could get used to the flattery.”

GM: Josua smiles at Caroline as radiantly as if she were a doctor who told him his cancer diagnosis was negative.

“You are innocent, Caroline. Nothing can ever take that away. All beautiful women are innocent, because all beautiful women are children.”

“Have you seen many pictures of Lady Di? She wasn’t as pretty as you, but she had this way of tilting her head down, but looking up with her eyes, and giving this perfect, almost bashful little smile, like it was just between her and the man she was looking at. She was a little girl. She was a princess, too, and it was fairy tale perfect. It’s why the whole world was so sad when she died.”

Josua laughs softly.

“I think it’s why men won’t ever take women seriously. They’re inherently sensuous, precious, innocent creatures. We want to protect and nurture them, these beautiful and curvaceous creatures with little children’s faces. Who doesn’t love little children?”

Caroline: Caroline’s smile slips. “Where are we going? What did you want to show me?” she asks again.

Her hand squeezes lightly on his.

GM: Josua’s eyes sparkle as he squeezes back. “Somewhere close. Somewhere you can see your other half, Caroline.”

He tugs her hand gently to lead her along.

“You are a little girl. You are innocent and fragile and beautiful, and nothing can ever take that away. But there’s another half to you, too—a half that so many women don’t have. It’s why they can only be half as much as you.”

Caroline: There’s a savageness that overtakes her smile, perhaps the other half he so desires. “Ahhh,” she replies. “Somewhere we could be alone?” she whispers, leaning closer once more.

GM: Josua tenderly runs a hand along the Ventrue’s cheek and mouth. His skin is so smooth, and his hand is slender like Neil’s was—smaller than most men’s (“pianist’s hands,” Neil had called them), though thicker than Jocelyn’s. His thumb nicks against her emerging canines, and it’s too easy to imagine the skin puncturing and his blood flowing down her throat like warm velvet.

“Caroline, what do you like about men? What makes them beautiful?”

“Men can be beautiful too, I’ve learned. I didn’t appreciate how, when I was alive—but they are so beautiful, too, in their own ways.”

Caroline: Despite herself she has to fight to maintain her focus as his finger flicks across her canine, a bestial arousal rising and threatening to swallow the intellect dominating this encounter. It would be so much fun to drag off this man and have her way with him. Or perhaps let him have his way with her. It’s been a long time since that happened in a way that was at all pleasant.

The heiress runs her hand along his jaw line, the stubble that will forever mark it. “That roughness to them. Just like that right there.” She smiles as she draws her hand back. “The edge just prickly enough to scratch an itch. The callouses on their hands and the cut of their jaw.”

“The strength in their hands. Their boldness, and yet their great frailness. The strength and brittleness of iron at once. The desire to do, and the tendency to destroy.”

GM: "Iron… " Josua smirks thoughtfully, running a tongue across his white teeth. “Men are iron. Strong but brittle. They think they’re steel, but if someone swings them hard enough, they come apart.”

Caroline: “Or gently enough,” Caroline laughs.

GM: "Too true… " Josua grins knowingly. “Women are, hmm, copper. Bright and pretty, but no one pretends you can swing them.”

Steel, though… "

He holds Caroline’s close to his mouth. His tongue darts out to lick across her fingers. It’s soft and lithe, like a cat’s. He grins again and pulls her along after him.

“I’ve fucked a lot of men since I died, too, and it’s hard to decide which I like more.”

“Women’s bodies are so beautiful, you want to just drink them up. But men make you want to just melt, so they can drink you up. You want them to take you and use you, and to be gentle, but to be rough, too.”

“I didn’t think someone could want both, at first… but you can. You want to see how strong they are, every side of it. You want to see them use that strength, but be strong enough not to need it, too.”

Caroline: “You’re right, Josua, I do see both sides,” Caroline replies as she comes to a stop and pulls him closer once more.

“I see my desire to go off into the dark with you,” she breathes into his ear.

She steps back. “And my reluctance to do so with a stranger,” she continues more stiffly, “to say nothing of faithfulness.”

She brings his hand up to her lips and lightly kisses the tip of his middle finger. “It was lovely to meet you. Don’t be a stranger. Perhaps one night we can do something more exciting.”

There’s a flash of teeth that’s half tease, half challenge, and all Kindred. “But keep your hands off what’s mine without my permission.”

GM: Josua’s green eyes dance with laughter as he raises both of his hands in a “hands up” gesture of mock-surrender.

“I’m just a boytoy, Caroline. You’re… " He grins and runs his tongue along his teeth again. "… someone I wouldn’t dream of being able to get handsy with. Not if I wanted to keep my hands…. "

Caroline: “Or much else,” Caroline replies with a wink. “Enjoy your night, Josua. I enjoyed our chat.”

GM: “So did I. We should pick someplace I can try to fuck you again, though, instead of pretending it’s a coincidence when we run into each other.”

Caroline: “We all need challenges to keep our lives interesting. You could settle for a worse one.”

GM: “I’ve painted portraits for a few of your clan’s elders. You should stop by the Alystra sometime. I can do yours, and maybe you too.”

“I’m an incredible artist. I’m almost as good as I am in bed.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Did you try to sleep with all of them too?”

GM: “No, I succeeded.”

Caroline: “So the portraits double as trophies? I’ll have to remember to dress in gold then.”

GM: “Yes, wear something nice. Or just nothing.”

“I don’t mean that as a come-on. Nudes are beautiful.”

Caroline: “But then I’d have to get a spray on to keep the proper luster among your other trophies.”

“If you have one of yours here you should have them trade numbers with mine.” She gestures back to Autumn. “I’m sure we could arrange something.”

GM: Josua looks her over breazily. “I used to keep a ghoul. She wasn’t into men, though, even boytoys. Renfields get the worst of both worlds.” He shines another radiant smile at Autumn. “Usually. If she’s slept with you, you’re luckier than mine was.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “If I was selective with you, why would I be less so with her?”

GM: “Jocelyn,” he grins, “called them condoms once. There’s more than one way to use them.”

Caroline: Her name on his tongue sends another spike of jealousy through her. “However you can fill your nights, I guess. And I expect not everyone is quite as forward as you are.”

GM: Josua gives another laughing smile. “Not everyone’s as pretty as I am.”

Caroline: “We all carry our crosses.” Her emerald eyes linger on him, the hint of fangs still present. “Just don’t carry yours too far away.”

Friday evening, 18 December 2015

Caroline: The Ventrue once again finds herself surrounded by both living and dead, sliding through the crowd alone in search of pale faces of interest and snatching conversation out of the air.

GM: She espies Tina Baker in conversation with an attractive and dark-skinned man who looks around college age.

The man’s name comes up as Seamus. He’s clearly hitting on her and makes various entendres relating to his taekwondo and painting hobbies. He’d just love to paint a mural in her room. All over her room. Tina seems amused by the attention, and there’s a predatory gleam to the Brujah’s eye that might make Seamus think twice about this latest conquest. Hunting in Elysium is poor form, though, and Tina playfully shoots down his come-ons in apparent attempt to have a real conversation, which eventually turns to politics.

Seamus seems well-informed and mentions he’s the VP of Tulane’s College Democrats. Both agree that the upcoming mayoral race looks to be “interesting”: Black Lives Matter activist Tyrone Johnson says he’s going to run on a platform of police reform after the shameful death of Mercurial Fernandez.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to remember him by 2017,” Tina says. “Those t-shirts are ridiculous.”

“No argument there,” Seamus smirks before his face turns more serious, “but Mouse’s death isn’t. NOPD’s so broken they even shoot rich white girls. I’m behind anyone who wants to clean them up.”

“Nolan Moreno wants to do that. Have you heard of his app?”

“Yeah. I don’t think privatizing law enforcement’s a good answer, though.”

“I definitely don’t think so either,” Tina concurs, “but NOPD is just so awful that anything would be better than the cops we have right now.”

Caroline: “In fairness,” Caroline observes, sliding neatly into the conversation as she passes by, “Fernandez wasn’t killed by the NOPD, and the detective that shot the girls literally went insane.”

GM: “He wasn’t? Everything I’ve heard says he was a victim of police brutality,” says Tina. “That cops basically destroyed his life.”

Caroline: “He stabbed his cellmate in the throat while he was sleeping,” Caroline replies with a glance at Seamus to gauge his reaction, “but I guess that doesn’t sell as many t-shirts.”

She runs her tongue lightly over her fangs. She doesn’t get as many from Tulane as she’d like, and the ‘painter’ smells delicious.

“But even if he hadn’t, the parish prison isn’t run by the NOPD. It’s all run by the Sheriff’s Office,” she replies wittily, showing a toothy grin. “If someone wanted to make a difference there it wouldn’t be with the mayor’s office.”

Still, if Tina can restrain herself, Caroline can as well, and for the second time tonight. Her skin is still itching from the near miss with Josua.

GM: “You wouldn’t think it’s possible, but the Sheriff’s Office is even worse,” Tina says. “The NOPD police chief is just a slug. That guy who’s sheriff, Vargas, is a real piece of work.”

Caroline: “Remind me, what’s his political affiliation?” Caroline ribs at the mortal member of their triad with a mock light tone.

GM: Seamus smiles back at Caroline.

“He’s a Dem, but not my kind of Dem. That’s why we’re organizing a protest outside OPP over its conditions. Mouse might not be an innocent victim either, but he’s raised awareness over a real problem that’s still hurting a lot of people.”

He grins as he looks between the Ventrue and Tina.

“I’d feel a lot better about our odds with two intelligent and beautiful women to back us up.”

Caroline: The Ventrue arches an amused eyebrow at the other vampire. “I don’t know, how do you think protesting the sheriff would go?” Caroline asks Tina, not without a sense of irony. “’I’ve heard he’s quite receptive to constructive criticism and willing to bow to public pressure.”

GM: “Depends on the sheriff, I guess,” Tina responds with some amusement. “Some fold easier than others. When’s the protest?”

“This Saturday at noon,” Seamus answers her.

“Sorry, I can’t make it then.”

Caroline: “What, exactly, do you want him to do differently?” Caroline asks curiously.

GM: “Improve inmate conditions,” Seamus answers. “Vargas is doing a bad job, and we want to show him that’s not acceptable to a lot of people. But there’s still a lot of problems even he couldn’t fix if he wanted to. So we think the wider we get out our message that people aren’t okay with OPP’s conditions, the better.”

He smiles between the two women again. “Whole thing might be doomed without you two though.”

Caroline: Caroline seems to give it genuine contemplation. “I confess, I’ve had my share of less than positive experiences with the city’s law enforcement. I’ve seen things that were excessive, done with no regard for the circumstances surrounding them, and all but unchecked by the powers that normally might.”

“But there has to be a deeper answer than ‘do better’. I feel like that’s the rallying cry of malcontentment, rather than an actual answer to the oversteps and to the very real problems that the sheriff does have to deal with, and which if left unchecked would be far worse than the alternative. New Orleans is already one of the most violent cities in the US. Do you think that trying his hands will make that better?”

GM: “I think a lot of that violence comes from failed policies by the city’s law enforcement,” says Seamus. “People go into Orleans Parish Prison for minor things like unpaid parking tickets or smoking weed, and they get their lives destroyed. They get beaten or killed, sexually assaulted, addicted to drugs, fired from jobs, saddled with debt… and all of it just makes them more likely to commit worse crimes when they get out, and foot taxpayers with the bill for incarcerating them. No one wins except for Vargas, who gets to justify the crime rate for why he should have more power.”

“I think the sheriff is a real problem,” Tina agrees. “OPP has a huge annual budget, something around $100 million, that Vargas gets to spend basically however he wants. He’s got over a thousand more employees than the mayor’s office who don’t have any civil service protections, so they have to jump whenever he says ‘jump’ if they want to keep their jobs. He’s arguably more powerful than the mayor in some ways, because there’s a lot fewer checks on what he does. That’s a problem. Like you say, he’s got a vested interest in not driving down the crime rate.”

Caroline: Caroline’s opinion of the other Kindred’s political astuteness climbs several notches as she speaks. “That wasn’t always the case though,” she observes. “There was a long period after the storm where the sheriff’s office was as crippled as everyone. And he still managed to get reelected, because there are a lot of people negatively affected by the cities crime that vote for him. That and he has the black vote locked up.”

GM: “I guess they figure it’s better the devil you know,” Tina says.

“Not all of us,” Seamus answers. “But I hear he was the only devil people got a chance to know. He wasn’t even on the last ballet, because no one was running against him.”

Caroline: “If no one was running against him, does it matter if he’s on the ballot?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It’s a good measure of his popularity if he got half as many votes as the mayor or twice as many. That might encourage future candidates to run.” Seamus.

“Are you new to New Orleans?” Tina asks. “That last election wasn’t too long ago.”

“Yep. I moved here to go to Tulane.”

“Where you from originally?”

Seamus grins. “Germany.”

“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed you were German.”

“I’m not really,” he answers. “My family was in the military. I was born in a base in Germany.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have guessed that about you either.”

Seamus just grins. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “So you’re not just rebelling against your parents now that you’re off at college?”

GM: “Nah, I already did that when I told them I was into guys too,” he smirks.

“They get along with you?” Tina asks, apparently amused.

“They aren’t thrilled about it, but they take me as I am.”

“You get along with them?”

“I’m not thrilled about what they do either, but my dad’s done enough years that his GI bill paid for my college. So I can’t really complain either.”

“That sounds like a nice understanding to have.”

“It is, yeah. How about yours?”

“My parents are pieces of shit.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s what it is.”

“You think that’ll ever change?”

“Probably not. They’ve been that way for a while, and I’m older than I look.”

Caroline: Caroline’s mirth fades as the topic moves more firmly to the topic of parents and family.
“That must be difficult, dealing with parents you don’t like, or don’t get along with,” she replies to both.

GM: Seamus shakes his head. “I only dislike what they do. Hate the sin, love the sinner and all.”

Caroline: “Does that really make it easier?”

GM: Seamus seems to think. “I wouldn’t say it’s easy. But it’s the lesser evil. I mean, you can’t like everything about someone. I guess it’s a question of how much is too much.”

“It’s easier to love what you can?”

“Or just don’t love anything. I think that’d be harder, don’t you?”

Caroline: The blonde seems to weigh that idea for a moment. “Maybe. Maybe not. To love someone is to be open to them, to be vulnerable, in some way. Some people find it simpler to to block everything off and be an island. Others might argue that loving something you have deep problems with is the worst of all options, that they can and will hurt you, intentionally or otherwise.”

“I’ve never really believed, for instance, that whole ‘keep your enemies closer’ bit.”

GM: “Depends on the enemy, I guess. Some people you just want out of your life.” Tina.

Caroline: “And some you can’t have out of your life.”

GM: “I think they can hurt you, but they can heal you too,” reflects Seamus. “People you love, that is. Not enemies. But I guess it’s like getting close to anyone that way. Anyone who gets close can hurt you, and you have to weigh whether it’s worth it.”

Caroline: “Then you make a decision and live with it,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “I think most of the time that is worth it. Aristotle said someone who can live without others is either a beast or a god.”

Caroline: “The Greeks said a lot of smart things,” Caroline agrees. “They also had sexual relationships with teen boys.”

She smirks, “But then, I guess so did we all once upon a time?”

GM: That draws some laughter.

“The Greeks knew where it was at.” Seamus.

Caroline: “In some things,” the heiress agrees, “Though hopefully we’ve all grown out of some of those things.” She arches an eyebrow at Seamus.

GM: “Age of consent in Louisiana is 17,” he replies innocently. "I’m just saying… "

Caroline: The heiress rolls her eyes. “It’s funny how boys always seem to know that number off the top of their head,” she remarks to Tina.

GM: "Yeah, and never girls. You wonder why… "

Caroline: “I think it’s called standards.” Caroline replies jokingly.

GM: “Jealous the teenagers might steal me off?” grins Seamus.

“Pfffft!” answers Tina.

Both of the two look towards the doors to the next room’s stage. By this point people are starting to file away and finish or discard their overpriced drinks.

“Looks like the show’s starting. I gotta grab my seat.” Seamus.

Caroline: “Have fun,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Always do,” Seamus smirks.

“I should get going too. It was nice meeting you,” says Tina.

Caroline: “Likewise,” the Ventrue replies as she drifts off.

Friday evening, 18 December 2015

GM: The audience files into their seats. Caroline is left with the previously considered (and answered) question of where to sit, her own kind having turned the $27.50 difference in ticket prices into a status indicator worth far more than its weight in gold.

The NOLA Civic Theater’s website and flyers introduce the evening’s first entertainer as follows:

“Orange County, CA native, Madison Cunningham, possesses a keen understanding of songcraft that is perplexing for someone who’s just twenty years old. With an ear for melody that is reminiscent of early Joni Mitchell and approach to guitar and vocals that isn’t far off from long past heroes of Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake, Madison exhibits a unique ability to keep the listener on the edge as they explore her debut EP, Love, Lose, Remember. The oldest of five daughters, Madison picked up a guitar at the age of seven and was singing with her sisters and family in church by the age of 12. It was a happenstance meeting with producer Tyler Chester (Blake Mills, Sara Watkins) four years ago that helped Madison start to develop her approach as a songwriter. Released in early 2013, Love, Lose, Remember showcases Madison’s ability as a songwriter and arranger with the lyrical content of someone who has lived twice the life of this young artist.”

Remember darling when we used to dance
No children to care for, for we were children too lost in romance
A lot of future plans and no logic

Remember darling when we used to laugh
Under a ceiling of starlight, the carpet made of grass
You played with my hair and passed me notes in class
And I would stutter

Time it doesn’t wait for anybody
It only turns into the past
If I could change the things that changed me I wouldn’t
I’d let each moment last

We love and we lose and remember, remember
We love and we lose and remember

Remember darling when we used to fight
In the heat of anger, the cool of sleepless night
Bickering, arguing, wondering why we never used our words before

Remember when they said we’d never last
Work and distance and six months past our starting date
Now twenty years later look who’s laughing

Time it doesn’t wait for anybody
It only turns into the past
If I could change the things that changed me I wouldn’t
I’d let each moment last

Baby, we love and we lose and remember, remember
We love and we lose and remember, remember

Remember when this was home for more than us
The hallways echoing little restless feet, the toys collecting dust
What I would give to feel that tiny hand in mine

Time it doesn’t wait for anybody
It only turns into the past
If I could change the things that changed me I wouldn’t
I would only let each moment last

We love and we lose and remember, remember
We love and we lose and remember, remember
All we can do is remember, remember

The audience applauds enthusiastically when she finishes. People file back out into the bar and auditorium during the break between performers.

“Guess there’s hope for the future of Christian music after all.” “I didn’t think this was Christian music.” “Did you read the flyer? She got her start singing in church.” “I liked it either way.” “Yes, it was very moving.” “I’m still surprised she’s just 20.”

Caroline: Caroline wishes she had something to wash the bad taste out of her mouth left by the performance. She can readily guess as to why the Elysium might be here, tonight, and that the performance might be a hit among some of the Damned, but the entire thing just rubbed her the wrong way.

This young thing singing about loss and memory and a past she doesn’t even have yet, and will not appreciate until many years from now when she’s had real loss.

She doesn’t want to remember her past. To remember her mortal life. She doesn’t want to think about it, and has far too many regrets to say something so immensely foolish as that she ’wouldn’t change’ anything.

At worst she wants to feel mortal sometimes, and the morose implications in the song for her have done anything but that. The chattering of others about it only further adds to her disgust, and she seeks out instead another too-pale face instead amid the crowd.

GM: Calling the next one Caroline sees “ugly” would be a compliment. Sickly-sallow skin the color of a rotted egg yolk. Wrinkles so numerous and deep as to seem more like badly-healed wounds. Jaggedly pointed, too-large misshapen teeth poke from his scabbed lips like a troll’s tusks, even when his mouth is closed. Caroline can actually see his thick black mustache twitching from the number of lice crawling through it. He wears an old-fashioned Chinese Tang suit that’s half-rotted away and little more than moldering rags on his tall and beefy frame. Further insects visibly crawl through the remains. His too-large and scabbed-over feet are bare. The fingers on his thick hands end in half-curved, inches-long claws. They aren’t sleek, lethal, and terrifyingly beautiful like Mother Iyazebel’s: they’re chipped, yellowed, and twisted like the nails of people who haven’t trimmed them in years. He smells like bleach poured over a garbage dump. None of the kine pay him so much as a glance.

One of his hands clutches an antique bronze pocketwatch with an Oriental dragon and Mandarin characters. In contrast to the rest of his awful countenance, the beautifully-crafted timepiece looks almost lovingly polished and maintained.

The vampire he’s sitting next to is a seemingly middle-aged Caucasian man with tanned skin and a shortly-kept gray beard. He’s dressed in a somewhat rumpled-looking button-down white shirt and brown khakis.

The two echo the mortal audience’s general sentiments in their appreciation for the young singer. The first vampire, who Caroline can only presume to be Nosferatu, praises her for having “Much risdom fow rone so roung,” in a thick Chinese accent made even less intelligible by his tusk-like fangs.

“I don’t know. Someone that young hasn’t had enough time to regret many things.”

“It deprends on de riyfe she has rived. Rhut ken we know uff hors?”

“No, some mistakes—some mistakes you can’t make, and regret, until you’re older. Even if she were one of us—could she regret taking a childe as bad as the Malveauxes?”

The Nosferatu looks sad. “Rhadeffel erse he is, he is kin. And de Mareauxes, fol arr deir irrs, all bur a symprom off de tlue ploblem.”

The other vampire regards him equally sadly. “That’s an old debate at this point, old friend.”


The first vampire excuses himself. The Nosferatu splays his claws together as he silently regards the now-empty stage.

Caroline: The topic immediately draws Caroline’s interest. She fights away a frown at the seeming ill-talk of her family, “Am I really all that bad?” the Ventrue asks with a half-smile.

GM: The hideous vampire turns his tusks towards her.

“I canno’ say, Miss Marreaux. Rour famiry’s nayme and acshoons are morre famiriar to me than youls.”

Caroline: “The Hidden Clan always has such sweet things to say,” Caroline replies with a light and seemingly genuine laugh. “I don’t think we’ve met,” she continues after a moment, “Though, of course, you know of me. I’m Caroline.”

GM: “We shee rha’ hyoo arr hiy’,” the Nosferatu gravely answers Caroline’s first statement.

“Iy am Yi Huang.”

Caroline: “A pleasure to meet you Mr. Huang,” Caroline replies. “What do you see when you look at me?” she asks curiously.

GM: “Meeysher Yi, Missh Marreaux. De famirry clomes beyforre de indlividurrar rhele I am flum,” the tusked Nosferatu amends.

Caroline: “My apologies, Mr. Yi,” Caroline corrects.

GM: “Iy shee ay benifilillylee ohffv herr famiry’s exproiyayshun off de clommon man,” Huang answers. “Perrapsh hyour Emblaysh hash may hyu leconishuduh de lighynessh ohfv deir acshyuns, and leglet hyor own parh in dem. And pelharsh iyt has not.”

Caroline: The Ventrue considers. “I think it’s given me a greater appreciation for how transitory that power and influence can be, and for what it’s like when you’re not at the top of the pyramid.” She runs her tongue over her teeth. “Whether that makes me regret and loathe the system or simply that I no longer enjoy its benefits, I think would be harder to objectively say. But then I don’t know that either option would be well-received.”

GM: A fat tick drops from the Nosferatu’s raggedy suit. He snatches it back up with the tips of his claws.

“Dey ohplahive qyeshrun rish arrays bly rhoo.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry?” Caroline asks, some faint confusion evident at the end of his statement.

GM: More ticks squirm across Huang’s shoulders. He holds up a clawed hand.

“De ohp-hleer-uht-hiv qw-resh-tun rish alw-w-r-ays, bl-b-y w-wh-rhoo,” the tusked Nosferatu strains out in a throaty tone.

Caroline: Understanding spreads across Caroline’s face. “Ah… I suspect that well would be poisoned one way or another in both ways. If it’s envy, then how could any outside the system hold anything but scorn for the spoiled riches to rags girl wallowing in what she’s lost? Similarly, if it’s regret and loathing, how might any still within not hold it as anything better than the sour grapes of someone that couldn’t cut it, couldn’t make it?”

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But then I suppose that’s appropriate—damnation being the one thing I can be certain of either way,” she gives a weak smile. “God has a sense of humor.”

GM: “Deymnayshun khen be ‘melery’ inhelited flom one’sh shile, or rearned lough rone’sh acshionsh toraldsh othelsh. Rhish rhoul’ de common ran shay of rou, Mess Marreaux?”

Several bugs crawl out of the Nosferatu’s matted mustache and into his nostrils. He snorts and one flies out.

Caroline: The heiress has had ample time to practice ignoring the less desirable qualities of those in social settings—her father’s supporters were supporters (no matter how inbred some might have been)—but she finds it difficult to stay entirely unfazed by the bugs crawling across the filthy, disgusting, and putrid-smelling Nosferatu. Still, she tries. Focuses on his words instead of his appearance. She reminds herself that he has more legitimate reason to shun her than the reverse.

She gives some thought to his question, pausing for a moment before answering, “I think it’s easier to justify my actions to myself than to a stranger. The common man.”

She bites her lip, then continues, “I can tell myself that many of the things I’ve done, perhaps the worst, were done because I had no other choice. But Sartre was right, there’s always another choice. I simply found it unpalatable. And still do. Which is why you see me tonight, Mr. Yi.”

“I think the common man might, if he were compassionate and cognizant of all facts, understand, but never accept what I’ve done. But isn’t that part of the dogma, that we are set aside from many of the sins that he might understand?”

GM: More insects squirm and writhe as the Nosferatu shakes his hairless head, making it seem to almost ripple. “Oul chiynsh all no’ shit ayshi’, bru’ prunished—chough de mannel offv dat prunishren ish che’ fall aside flum anyring de common man mat undlastand.”

“Bru’ Ronginrus plomises ledempshun aftla Judgmen’ Dray fol de tlury deshelving, and de Emblaysh offlas opplohooniheysh flo goo’ ash rell ras revil. I do no’ berieve de Chaynctfiyd’s tleachingsh all excrusive rith rhis.”

“Rould de cummun man say rou haffv dlun any goo’ on has berrhaf, Mess Marroh?”

Caroline: “Precious little,” Caroline answers. “And rarely for him. But then, I don’t know that I’ve ever thought much of him. The ‘common man’ is a rhetorical construct, rather than a representation of any true group. A stand-in for a collective and societal conscience that I don’t actually believe exists.”

GM: “Rhe all arr Emblayshed floh a leashon,” Huang replies gravely. “Iy doo shought riddle of doshe lesh foltunate dan myshelff, ol ‘de common man’, ash run offv de riving. Ish da’ a shin you rou’ atone for, Mish Marreaux?”

Caroline: “That’s a very personal question, Mr. Yi,” Caroline replies, somewhat taken aback.

She pauses for a moment. “My sins were of a more personal nature, I think. Mistakes that I don’t even begin to know how to atone for.”

GM: “Fiyn’ a brue broo’ eef hyu plufuh chulfush applanchesh un confelayshunsh,” the tick-infested Nosferatu shrugs. Several of the insects crawl into his left ear.

“Rou rirr onry fiyn’ honeshy amung my cran.”

Caroline: “Honestly then for honesty? You were discussing another Malveaux as I came up, Mr. Yi. It sounded as though it was one beyond myself or Father Malveaux.”

GM: “I ras no’ disrcussing roul famiry, Mess Marroh, bu’ my lown,” Huang answers, “and my chile’ Landolph Calighyt.”

Caroline: “So often sires and childer are at odds,” Caroline reflects. “My apologies for misunderstanding, for eavesdropping, and for reopening that wound.”

GM: The Nosferatu makes a waving away motion with a clawed hand. “De ringer ohpd i’ firch. And run chaysh nuring aroud in Erysium ritout espekring othal eals nealby.”

Caroline: “Wise advice,” Caroline answers. She runs her tongue across her fangs. “In that vein, my sins were many in life, but the greatest was murder. If you’d like the details, I’d be more willing to discuss it in private.”

GM: Huang runs a wart-lined finger through his mustache. Ticks fall out, but fall into the jutting underbite of his tusk-lined mouth.

GM: “’Oo rou rish to ahtone fol dem, Muss Murroh?”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline replies firmly. Then, after a moment, “and sometimes no.”

GM: “Rely werr. If rou rish pliracy, rou may fin’ me rere.”

The Nosferatu offers Caroline directions to a ‘crescent city waterworks’ manhole cover in several nights’ time.

“Reall placticar crothes and choose.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the directions, and laughs genuinely at the last comment.

“No heels,” she promises.

Friday evening, 18 December 2015

GM: The crowd files back into their seats for the evening’s second and last performance. The NOLA Civic Theater’s website and flyers introduce this next entertainer as follows:

Capping off a fruitful 12 year long solo career, singer/songwriter David Bazan resurrects and reunites with both the moniker and mindset of his profoundly influential indie rock outfit, Pedro The Lion, with the follow up to their 2004 opus, Achilles’ Heel. The band’s new album and Polyvinyl debut, Phoenix, marks a return to form for the beloved group, while mapping out the emotional intricacies and childhood experiences of growing up in Phoenix, AZ—a process that would ultimately shape Bazan’s adult life.

Well staving off rejection has always hurt like hell
I took the devil’s bargain, made a stranger of myself
If anything was wrong, I couldn’t tell
So I didn’t see you coming but now it’s pretty clear
I traded my own wisdom for a jury of my peers
I ignored you for thirty years

You don’t have to tell me
How hard it must have been
For you to let me in
Nothing lasts forever
Now I understand
I hurt you again
My quietest friend

Fifth grade in the lunchroom, fickle friends are telling jokes
They were making you the punchline of some random thing I wrote
They were looking to me to land the final blow
Just to be included, went straight up to my head
I thought the joke too stupid for it to matter what I said
I was wrong but I went along with it

You don’t have to tell me
How hard it must have been
For you to let me in
Nothing lasts forever
Now I understand
I hurt you again
My quietest friend

We could write me some reminders
I’d memorize them
I could sing them to myself
And whoever’s listening
I could put them on a record
About my hometown
Sitting here with pen and paper
I’m listening now

The audience’s appreciation feels markedly different this time around. Much of it seems to come from older members, although there are younger ones who express their approval too. “It’s good to see the band back. I haven’t seen these guys in forever.” “It’s good work.” “I hadn’t thought they were still around.” “I’m just beyond happy to see them making a comeback.” “His work has helped me through some of the darkest parts of my life and touched me in a way no other music could.” A few people look a bit teary.

Caroline: Caroline appreciates performance, though her reaction is more muted than many others. A sad sort of smile graces her face, a reflection that as with most great music, what makes it great is the way in which almost everyone can relate. Everyone has some shameful moment from their past, especially their childhood. Catharsis in the form of forgiveness and apology seems so simple in the song, but she knows how far away it is for everyone.

She gets up to circle the crowd once more, seeking out fresh pale faces from among it. There are so many she still doesn’t recognize.

GM: The nearest such one, and whose heart lacks the audibly telltale beat endemic to their kind, is a slender man with just a bit of a pot belly. His deep brown eyes and thick black hair, streaked with a few bits of gray, contrast sharply with his pale Hispanic skin. He’s dressed in a button-up white shirt with the collar popped, charcoal waistcoat, dark jeans, and casual oxfords: fashionable but slightly hipster-feeling. He’s not an ugly man, but next to Josua he’s as plain as they come.

The living man he’s talking with sits in a wheelchair rather than a proper seat. He’s Caucasian and has the same closely-cropped hair, clean-shaven skin, and hard-set features common to many of the ex-service security personnel Caroline has so often dealt with. He’s also the brother of the girl whose life her family ruined.

The two echo many of the same thoughts Caroline has heard from other audience members. The vampire says everyone is a bully at some point. ‘Ed’ agrees and says the song has worth beyond its musical composition. It makes people think about their actions.

They also seem to be finishing up a discussion about politics, and a forthcoming interview that Ed is going to do with the Times-Picayune (where the other Kindred “has some pull”). It sounds as if he is going to address the specific topic of whether his mother is “representative of Louisiana’s Democratic voters.” The state has yet to elect a black governor or senator.

Ed finally says he has to “go catch up with my girlfriend,” who is using the bathroom, and clasps hands with the vampire in a grip that still looks strong despite his chair-bound state.

He wheels away, then sees Caroline. He holds her gaze for several moments, then spits on the ground. He resumes wheeling himself off. He does not say a word.

Caroline: “Still sore and a loser, I see,” Caroline remarks as he wheels by.

GM: The Ventrue’s only reply is the retreating back of the man’s chair.

Caroline: She turns her attention to the Hispanic vampire. “Making friends, or just a fan of meals on wheels?” she asks playfully.

GM: “Which answer lets me make friends with a beautiful woman?” the other Kindred grins, running a hand over his partial beard as he looks Caroline over. He’s not bad-looking, but he’s definitely not a looker like Josua.

Caroline: “Neither by themselves, but either if you play your cards right,” she replies.

GM: “I’m Bran. Bran Garcia. I’m always up for cards.” His grin doesn’t fade as his eyes finally move up to Caroline’s face. “You’re Jocelyn’s latest, aren’t you? She posted those pictures of you yesternight.”

Caroline: The second reference of the night to Jocelyn essentially ‘getting around’ before Caroline slices more deeply than the first, but Caroline doesn’t show blood.

“Caroline Malveaux,” she introduces herself. “But if you saw the pictures I’m sure you already knew that. What’d you think of them?”

GM: “They were great. She’s very talented, and you’re very beautiful. That went together like white on rice.”

“I liked the one with you looking over your shoulder in the ruffled red dress. Your face had the most… attitude there.”

Caroline: “Well thank you,” Caroline laughs bashfully. “Attitude, I wasn’t aware that was a particularly becoming characteristic.”

GM: Bran’s smile grows a bit dimmer. “Depends where, like anything.”

“They’re excellent pictures, even going by the composition alone. Jocelyn has lots of promise as a photographer.” He grins. “Not bad in bed either. Little bland after a while, but so’s anyone.”

Caroline: “A connoisseur in that area?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Her or me?” Bran leers. “Both of us either way. Half of our clan’s slept with each other at some point.” He seems to think. “Actually, probably more than half.”

Caroline: “I suppose that makes parties more lively,” Caroline grins. “Though I’m not really sure how much more lively you could make things.”

GM: “You kidding? This place is a museum exhibit next to some of our balls.” He looks Caroline over again appreciatively. “You should come to one. There’s always space for more beautiful people on the guest list.”

Caroline: “I was actually referring to your bland comment earlier,” she replies with pointed mischievousness. “But them perhaps I’m not a connoisseur.”

GM: “Now that’s cruel. But if you’re a connoisseur long enough, you take the bad and bland with the good.”

Caroline: “What’s bad sex for us?” Caroline asks curiously. She smiles. “And don’t say ’I’ll be happy to show you.’”

GM: Bran laughs. “All right, I won’t say you could probably show me either.”

“But what’s bad sex for breathers? Inexperience, no imagination, no chemistry, bad mood or bad setting… lots of things. Maybe Jocelyn can show you after a while. Most of us get bored eventually. And bored licks are boring.”

Caroline: “And here I’d been expecting tiny…. teeth.”

GM: “They say some thin-bloods don’t even have fangs.”

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lower lip. “That sounds awful. I can’t imagine how difficult existence must be for them on a night to night basis. I suppose it also lends a certain tragedy to us all.”

GM: “I’d think more them than us, unless you mean during ‘sex’.”

Caroline: “I mean in the sense that the end of ‘us’ is in sight. Generations now being Embraced that mark an end to our kind as we know it.”

GM: Bran gives Caroline a long look. There’s not any lust behind it.

“It’s news, all right, whatever else it is.”

He looks towards Autumn, characteristically silent throughout her conversations with her own kind. “Seems like she’s working out for you. You still handling things at the Hullabaloo?”

“Not anymore, sir,” the ghoul replies. “I graduated a little while ago. I work at Ms. Malveaux’s law firm now.”

Caroline: “She’s a gem,” Caroline praises the ghoul.

“If I had ten more like Autumn I could rule the world,” she continues, then smiles. “Well, at least a small part of it.”

GM: Bran laughs. “Good help. What do you have her doing at a law firm?”

Autumn ventures a smile when she sees the two vampires do the same.

Caroline: “Officially? Media matters. Releases to press, imaging, PR consulting. It’s a good opportunity to get her into the firm and simultaneously start moving towards higher-level spin and control.”

GM: “See? One door shuts, another opens,” Bran says to Autumn.

“Yes, sir,” the ghoul repeats.

“My people said Autumn wanted to come work for me, after the Krewe cut her loose,” he explains to Caroline. “I’d heard about her work on the student paper.”

Autumn’s eyes cut between the vampires. “It was just in case… the worst happened to Ms. Malveaux. But my collar wasn’t all the way on then. I wasn’t thinking straight.”

“Relax. It obviously all worked out.”

“Yes, sir. It did.”

Caroline: “I could hardly blame you for making a backup plan,” Caroline agrees. “And a solid one,” she smiles at the other vampire, “at that. That was a very different time.”

GM: “Yes, ma’am,” Autumn agrees. “On all counts.”

“My loss, for a cute thing like her,” Bran adds with a suggestive glance at the ghoul before looking back to Caroline. “What’s the law firm, anyway?”

Caroline: “Bishop, Bowden, and Reffett,” Caroline replies. “I decided a start up with ruffle fewer feathers, and give me more control.”

GM: “Yes, probably.” The Toreador’s gaze seems to sharpen. “I haven’t heard of them, what sorts of cases have they taken?”

Caroline: “We opened doors this year and haven’t taken anything to trial yet,” she smiles before continuing smoothly, “Only a small number of cases go to trial in any case—and even then usually only when the firms on both sides make significant mistakes. But I brought in attorneys with backgrounds in civil litigation, criminal law, and asset management. Especially the last in the form of contracts, estate or asset transfers, trusts, and LLC formation. Among other things I’d like to get into helping other Kindred manage the transition between identities they once had and those they create, as well as potentially overseeing legal transfers of assets and stakes in various industries between Kindred in a more seamless way for the Masquerade.”

GM: “Trials are what make the headlines,” Bran says in response to Caroline’s ‘mistakes’ comment. “I don’t know much about law, but I know that: PR brings business. Good or bad.”

“That’s interesting, though. So you do more legal work for other licks than kine?”

Caroline: Caroline laughs at his comments on trials. “I imagine they help sell papers too?”

“The firm does more kine work, but it’s the lick work that I think has value and interests me more. Money is easy to come by. Any lick with thick enough blood to rub between their fingers can turn a million dollars—or any arbitrary number you’d prefer—in comparatively short order. Doing so neatly though without fraying at least a few threads though is more complicated. As is using it for anything more than throwing money at people under the table—all of which eventually leads somewhere.”

“If I can help trim some of those threads before they go somewhere, or keep them from appearing at all, that’s something that has value. Maybe it helps save some licks from getting ashed by the prince or hunters. Maybe it keeps some kine out of the crosshairs too. Maybe it grows into something more.”

GM: “And it’s all to maintain the Masquerade,” Bran says thoughtfully.

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Not quite all, but I did a fair amount of damage in my ignorance before. I’d like to be part of the solution in the future.”

GM: “So how does it do that? Some lick comes to you with a million dollars in a duffel bag and no ID, what do you do?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment. “Fundamentally it isn’t that different than any other money laundering. A lot depends on what you’d like done with it. Are you trying to invest it? Move it to something? Transfer it? Is there a kine or ghoul you want it to go through, or a new identity? And how quickly do you want it? I can wash sustainable funds through billable hours, outsource it back out into contracting, hide it offshore, build fake and hidden trusts behind numerous LLCs.”

GM: “Say it’s nothing ambitious. You just want to buy expensive crap. A posh haven, flashy car, tailored clothes—things to make the Requiem comfy. Crap that’s too expensive to just pay for out of the duffel bag. Someone like that probably wants it fairly soon.”

Caroline: “Sure, they want a certain lifestyle and now.” She nods in understanding. “The first matter, as you note, is that simple cash can’t neatly solve a lot of those desires. They want credit card numbers, bank accounts, proof of income, residence, and so forth.”

“If you already have all of that it’s as simple to get started as building in contracts with the firm to funnel money towards those accounts in the firm of services, consulting, or outright investment, then washing the pile of cash in billable hours on official reporting, among other things.”

“For larger fund transfers, they can be nested into settlement agreements with parties we have agreements with. Or that we create. That’s slower obviously, but makes for a neater one and done transaction.”

“IfLLCs of record so expedite the process waiting on an eventual use.”

“Several of them have existing agreements with car leasing services and major credit cards for expense accounts.” She looks at the other Kindred. “If you were fresh if the street I’d probably start there to show you immediate results.”

GM: “Interesting,” Bran says thoughtfully. “There hasn’t been a Kindred lawyer in the masked city since Rebecca DeMatthews. And she was always more interested in mortal activism than doing favors for other licks.”

Caroline: The heiress shrugs. “We all pick our poison. And theres more than one way to skin a cat. Still, favors might be overly generous. I aim to provide a service. Well, many of them, in fact.”

GM: “It sounds like it. You have any red lines?”

Caroline: “I’m sure there are,” Caroline replies, “Being rather new to this though, no one has asked me for anything I found particularly objectionable.”

“I mean, I wouldn’t play around in someone else’s backyard for instance without asking, or push the envelop of what could be concealed just to make someone happy, but I’d probably be willing to reach out to others to try and accommodate something if it wasn’t something I felt wasn’t achievable on my own. It’s important to understand your limits.”

She smiles, “Even as you grow over time beyond them. It may be acceptable to be the ugly duckling, or the caterpillar crawling along in the dirt, but only if it’s on the way to becoming a swan or a butterfly.”

GM: “Progress,” Bran agrees. He looks around as he sees most of the remaining mortal crowd starting to mill out of the building. The show is over tonight, at least for them.

“Some of us should look like we’re leaving too,” the Toreador remarks as he sticks his hands in his pockets and moves to follow them out.

“But all of this stuff with your law firm sounds promising, Miss Malveaux. I’ll be interested to see what you do with it.”

Autumn watches Garcia and her domitor exchange final pleasantries, then shoots off a text a minute or so later.

I’d suspected earlier. But I think he’s part of the Krewe.

Caroline: Caroline smiles, glad her own instincts went the same way. Yes, she thinks. I was thinking very much the same thing.

Friday evening, 18 December 2015

GM: A short time after the mortal crowd (and some of the Kindred crowd) exits the building, the ‘aftershow’ begins in earnest. Compared to the packed concert hall earlier, it is a much smaller affair. The pale faces are no longer wolves among a herd of sheep, but open packs of them, prowling about one great and bone-strewn den—and hungry, without the sheep.

Music, however, may soothe the savage beast. Gus Elgin announces once the now-smaller crowd has gathered and seated themselves that “the evening’s entertainments have but begun” and credits the next such one to Primogen Poincaré. There are even flyers.

Little Seeds, the electrifying New West Records bow by Shovels and Rope, finds the award-winning South Carolina duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst exploring fresh dimensions in their sound with a brace of bold, candid, highly personal new songs.

The 12-song collection, produced by Trent at the couple’s home studio in Charleston, succeeds 2014’s Swimmin’ Time and 2012’s O’ Be Joyful; the latter title garnered the twosome Americana Music Awards for Song of the Year (for “Birmingham”) and Emerging Artist of the Year. Last year’s Busted Jukebox, Volume 1 was a collaborative collection of covers featuring such top talents as the Milk Carton Kids, Lucius, JD McPherson and Butch Walker.

On the new release, Trent and Hearst as ever play all the instruments and penned the material, which range from stomping rockers to delicate acoustic-based numbers. Many of Little Seeds’ finely crafted and reflective new songs – completed in the late summer of 2015 — are drawn from tumultuous events experienced by the couple over the course of the last two years.

“There were two major changes that happened at the same time,” Hearst says. “We found out we were pregnant, and at the same time Michael’s parents had been living with us, because his father is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Those two things, having the baby and facing the reality that our parents were aging, made this weird, awesome circle of humanity that really just took us out. I guess we were in the crosshairs of human existence.” Trent continues, “We started putting this record together right after the baby was born. Every spare moment I had I was in the studio doing my best to work around the cries, and Cary would have to sneak up and do her parts when the baby was asleep. It’s a funny thing trying to make a rock n roll record with a sleeping baby in the house.”

I know exactly what you think you are
I know exactly what you think you are
You left your little notebook laying on the bar
I know exactly what you think you are
Everybody’s saying that you’re gonna go far
I know exactly what you think you are

I know exactly where you’re going next
I know exactly where you’re going next
Things are looking good for you’re buddy, yes
I know exactly where you’re going next
You got the smile and the style
And the sizzle and the sex
I know exactly where you’re going next

Take it all, take it now
Call it even, call it even, call it even
Baby, take a bow

I know exactly where you got that sound
I know exactly where you got that sound
See, I was at the same shows you used to hang around
I know exactly where you got that sound
See you in a year on your way back down
Cause I know exactly where you found that sound

I know exactly how you feel right now
I know exactly how you feel right now
Hiding in the locker cause somebody took your towel
I know exactly how you feel right now
You know there used to be a day
When I would try to help you out
I know exactly how you feel

Take it all, take it now
Call it even, call it even, call it even
Baby, take a bow

The gathered Kindred applaud at the mortal band’s conclusion. There are comments on the “modernity” of the performance. Accou can be heard remarking that it is “newer” than he also typically prefers, but it can be insightful, if not at times pleasurable, to follow how the kine’s tastes develop, can it not? Others agree that it is consistent with the other bands that have played tonight. “We knew what we were getting into,” come a few rueful questions. Still, there are many more Kindred, especially younger ones, who seem to enjoy the show without any such reservations.

A few even remark on the absences of Pearl Chastain and Katherine Beaumont. Tonight’s entertainments were obviously not to their tastes.

Caroline: Truth be told, the performance wasn’t really to Caroline’s liking either. The screaming feedback and tearing vocal inflections sounds more like noise than music. She doesn’t hate the performance—there’s something about live music that often lends it a life beyond the normal tastes and preferences of its audience—but she’d never add it to a playlist at home.

She moves through the thinner crowds, like a shark trying to scent blood. Some scrap to grab and tear her way into.

GM: She observes that the evening’s other performers seem to be respectively “sponsored” by Donovan, Coco, McGinn, Marcel Guilbeau, Elsbeth von Steinhäuser, and Accou. All of them except Steinhäuser remain consistent with the evening’s musical genres, whose pet musician instead plays classical music.

It is not lost on the audience that all of these Kindred are candidates to succeed Vidal as prince.

Opinions on their relative artistic merits become a highly fraught issue. Some Kindred express firm support, perhaps thinking to ‘get in the ground floor’. Others waffle or hang back. Few Kindred do not imagine that the would-be princes will remember who liked their pet musicians most.

Donovan’s performer is most complimented by Father Malveaux, Elyse Benson, Gabriel Hurst, Camilla Doriocourt, and (to the clear disturbance of some Kindred) Caitlin Meadows.

Pierpont McGinn’s performer is most complimented by Randolph Cartwright, John Marrow, and, strangely, Veronica Alsten-Pirrie.

Coco Duquette’s performer is most complimented by Miss Opal.

Accou Poincare’s performers are most complimented by Marguerite Defallier and Marceline Duval. Katherine Beaumont also drops in to praise her uncle-in-blood’s musical tastes before leaving. This draws some subtle flack, given that she was not even present to listen to the other would-be princes’ shows.

Von Steinhausser’s performer is most complimented by Erwin Bornemann. She also takes some subtle flack for her refusal to abide by the event’s conventions.

Marcel Guilbeau’s performer is most complimented by Natasha Preston, which also draws some looks.

Sundown, Gus Elgin, Harlequin, and Becky Lynne remain neutral. Adelais airily vacillates between Accou and McGinn.

Some Kindred also try to play it safe with ‘second choice’ candidates they offer their next-most vocal praises to. Some of the would-be princes manage to generate greater support from overlapping bases: many (though not all) of the Kindred who most support Poincare also seem to prefer Guilbeau. None of the harpies, however, weigh in on their own ‘second choices’, and the practice only partly catches on.

The city’s less reputed Kindred also weigh in. Their shorter (or simply less impressive) histories seem to make their fortunes less tied to any particular would-be prince’s, although some neonates take the plunge, hoping to rise in an elder Kindred’s favor through their early support. Alexander Wright is one such example, and surprises few Kindred when he gets into a heated argument with Mary Allen concerning the stupidity of her unfavorable opinion on Donovan’s performer. The harpies watch the two fight with amusement before patronizingly telling them to “settle down, now. It is just music.”

Yet there is an elephant in the room whose size makes him impossible to dismiss. Antoine Savoy expresses delight for all of the princely candidates’ musical tastes. He lavishes each one with glowing praise that they have little recourse but to graciously accept, especially when he offers it directly to their faces. His exchange with Donovan, who remains icily polite, draws the eyes and ears of virtually every Kindred in the performance hall. It is lost on few that the French Quarter lord is not going anywhere just because his archrival is—or that any successor ‘prince’ will have to contend with him to claim Vidal’s vacant throne.

Some elephants, though, are easier to ignore than others—until one remembers they are still elephants. Lidia Kendall only further stirs the pot when she arrives well past most of the evening’s shows and declares, “Don’t think we ain’t got no music of our own” to Gus Elgin before taking her leave again.

Many eyes look to Maldonato over the course of the evening. The gathering’s eldest Cainite expresses no substantive opinion on any of the performers’ stylistic merits.

A few saps seem to think the dominant topic of discussion is actually music.

Caroline: As if.

This isn’t a social fight she wants to get in, though. She searches out any nearby Sanctified who might serve as conversational ports in the storm. They should have less skin in the game of who becomes prince.

GM: Caroline overhears Elyse Benson and John Polk talking about how Emily Thurmon has recently disappeared.

Caroline: Caroline is intensely interested in another disappearance. She interjects as appropriate to ask if it’s especially common for Kindred to simply up and vanish, or if it’s a more recent phenomenon. She’s interested in who Thurmon is, and whether anyone might be looking for her, or might particularly care about her disappearance.

GM: Elyse Benson is a beautiful creature who resembles nothing so much as a morbid, life-sized doll. Her already petite frame is perhaps a bit too thin, making her appear all the more fragile by way of comparison. Her pretty, youthful face has a porcelain-white complex interspersed with a few freckles. Long honey-blonde-brown hair falls down her back in soft ringlets. No emotion flickers past her gray-blue eyes, nor does any smile upturn her cherry-painted lips: her face remains a mask of placid indifference. She wears a wide-flaring black and white dress without any neckline that looks retro-fashionable today (at least on her) and might have been simply fashionable decades before Caroline was born.

John Polk’s appearance is rather less striking. He appears to have been Embraced well into his middle years, and notably overweight. He’s not so fat as Caroline’s oldest uncle, but the Ventrue can imagine his weight being a source of mockery to Kindred who were able to enter eternity with more attractive bodies. His receding brown-gray hairline is framed by two dimple spots, a mustache-less goatee, and wide but thin eyebrows. He wears black priestly vestments trimmed with blue, the traditional attire of the Lancea et Sanctum’s priests.

Polk seems relatively willing to humor questions from his clanmate, if only to present the appearance of a united front. “It’s not common, but it’s not uncommon either. There’s plenty of things that can make a Kindred disappear. Hunters, rivalries, torpor, other dangers… the Requiem is not safe.”

Benson seems less willing to do the same. “We are not your tutors, neonate. What value do you bring to this dialogue?” she asks in a tone that is an odd melange of placid and critical. The expression on her mask-like porcelain face remains entirely unchanged.

Caroline: “Difficult to say for certain, Madam Benson,” Caroline replies. “Less than a distinguished ancilla might, but perhaps enough all the same to be of value.”

She observes that it seems as though more than one established (though not outright old) Kindred with their own support networks and enough experience to avoid the normal pitfalls of a fresh off the bite lick seem to have disappeared of late. She’d looked into one recently with only mild success, in significant part she thinks because she was late to it. If someone else has vanished, she’d be interested in seeing what similarities exist in the disappearances, if any.

When Polk shows interest she’s happy to share that her investigation revealed the last disappearance (she knew of) was being watched via animalism before his disappearance, and she suspects (strongly) that it was, far from conventional wisdom and the story spread by some, another Kindred responsible for his disappearance. If Polk wants to know more, she’s happy to discuss it with him in even more detail later at a time and place of his choosing.

Her interests of course extend beyond his childe’s lover. After all, she notes, if one neonate can vanish without attention or a trace, there’s every reason that another might as well. She gives a fang-filled grin, “A little bit of self-interest never hurt anyone in their pursuit of something.”

GM: Polk nods soberly at Caroline’s information regarding Evan. Roxanne told him the results of their clanmate’s findings some time ago, but he is nevertheless amenable to discussing the matter in private with Caroline either. He holds admittedly little hope for it helping Evan, but something is better than nothing.

Returning to the matter of another missing Kindred, the two observe that Thurmon did belong to the Snake Hunters. It’s a coterie that seeks to keep Setite influence out of the city. The party that stands most to gain from her disappearance would seem somewhat obvious. Could Setites have gotten Evan too? Benson seems dismissive of the notion when it comes up. The use of bestiae sermo doesn’t fit their typical MO.

If anyone’s looking for Thurmon, anyway, it’s probably Charlie Harrison. He’s a Sanctified Gangrel and the coterie’s former second-in-command. That probably makes him their leader now.

Thurmon’s disappearance is also no doubt of interest to Donovan, as she is one of his vassals. There’s not many permanent vassals in Riverbend, Benson observes. Polk agrees, and clarifies that Thurmon was a Brujah of the older school variety. She valued the parish’s access to several centers of learning. It’s perhaps little surprise to Caroline that Polk seems up-to-date on Riverbend’s affairs, and expresses his hopes that the sheriff finds his missing vassal. Benson, who finds Donovan’s character “agreeable” (if not admirable), hopes the same.

Caroline: Caroline expresses similar sentiments as to hoping she ‘turns up’ before long, but doesn’t seem particularly hopeful. Still, she’s grateful (and shows it) for the leads on who Thurmon’s connections were to as she takes her leave from the pair.


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