“The Embrace can be a funny thing. It destroys the lives of some people, but for others, it can be their only opportunity to lead a meaningful life.”
Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM
GM: Bliss burns Amelie’s lips.
Pain burns everywhere else.
Waking to pain. It’s become almost rote.
Once more, the red haze descends.
Once more, fire burns from within and soothes from without.
Once more, she screams. For relief. For more.
Once more, the red haze clears. Once more, the bliss withdraws—but its loss stings all the more now, like a dagger embedded in her chest.
Amelie’s in what looks like a ratty upstairs management office. There’s a desk with papers, a computer, and assorted clutter. A few chairs, a leather couch, and more assorted clutter round out the dingy walls. A dartboard hangs from one of them. Music dimly sounds from under the floor.
A fair-skinned, high-cheekboned woman with clear blue eyes and shoulder-length, straight blonde hair stares down at Amelie. She’s dressed in a dark leather jacket, black turtleneck and blue jeans, and pulling away a bleeding wrist that the newly-sired vampire’s eyes follow like a magnet after metal.
“Rise and shine, fledgling. Greet the night.”
Caroline: “I’d hoped to deliver her in better condition, but she made her own bed in that way, Coco, when she offered herself up. It was brave though,” Caroline is saying. She’s stripped off the weapons Amelie last saw her wearing.
GM: “There’s worse sins for a hellene to be guilty of than brave,” the blonde woman answers. Her eyes briefly drift from Amelie’s. “Though few virtues higher than pairing that with brains too.”
Amelie: The first thoughts that form behind Amelie’s rabid thirst are simple. She wonders if she’ll ever wake in anything but agony.
That small clarity gets filed away in a second when her eyes catch up with her nose and she sees the scene around her. When she sees the red she needs inside of her.
She slowly and painfully feels out her limbs to start crawling. She cranes her neck out towards that wrist, trying for just a little more. She can’t find the strength to do anything but listen as Caroline and the stranger speak. She slowly drags her broken body towards something, anything, that will stop the pain.
Caroline: Caroline has provided handcuffs once more for the awakened fledgling.
GM: They arrest her movement.
Amelie: Amelie is left simply trying to coil her body like a worm, trying any bit of movement forward.
“It hurts,” are her first words. The tone is more to herself than an elicitation of pity.
Caroline: “Yes, I imagine it does,” Caroline answers.
Amelie: Caroline’s words elicit a dark chuckle from Amelie. Of course it’d hurt. But her body doesn’t stop moving.
GM: The other woman lets another trickle of blood flow from her wrist.
But all-too brief.
Amelie: Amelie snaps at the trickle, trying to capture as much as she can down her throat. It’s brief. Too brief. But it stops her body, for the moment. The frail, hurt, and tied-up woman lies on the floor for a moment, slowly glances around the room, and eventually looks up to Caroline with a broken grin on her face.
Caroline: “Afraid not, but I’m harder to destroy than that.”
Amelie: There’s another grim laugh that leads to Amelie seething for a moment.
Her eyes slowly turn to the new face, however, and she slowly glances over the young-looking woman’s hair before making eye contact.
GM: “Coco Duquette,” the woman fills in.
“You seem lucid enough. Would you like to lose the cuffs?”
Amelie: Amelie gives a small nod in recognition at the name. But losing the cuffs gives her pause. She worries how likely she may be to attack someone like this.
Caroline: Caroline produces a key from a pocket and removes the cuffs.
GM: “Caroline’s told me a few things about you. Sounds as if it’s been a busy night for you both,” Coco remarks. She indicates a vacant chair in front of the desk.
Amelie: Amelie slowly makes her way into the empty chair. She glances down at herself to grimly assess just how badly Nathaniel Blanch hurt her.
“Very much so. Anything Caroline has said I’m sure paints me in a better light than I deserve, all things considered.”
GM: The once-fine clothes donated by Caroline are shredded, bloody rags. The raw, ravaged, and equally red flesh she can make out past those rags looks in little better condition.
“You’ll have a chance to speak on your own behalf soon enough,” Coco replies. “Until then, I’m sure you have more than a few questions. I don’t promise answers will make things any easier, but they may make them more understandable. What’s on your mind?”
Amelie: Amelie still feels muddled from the pain, but it’s nothing she hasn’t pushed through before. Not quite this severe, but still.
“Thank you. Very much. I was told a ‘prince’ would kill me, for breaking rules on my way to Algiers.”
It hurts to ask.
“Are… you this prince?”
GM: Coco looks faintly amused by the question. “Usually, we have to tell the new ones that’s a gender-neutral term. But no. I’m not the prince.”
Amelie: “I did not want to assume. The title of prince existed long before any female equivalent,” she elaborates. “But then, why haven’t I been brought to be ‘disposed of’?”
Caroline: Caroline catches Coco’s eye and gives a slight shake of her head.
“You have a benefit that most who are brought before the prince do not—a primogen. It seemed fitting that she should have a say first.”
Amelie: Amelie rolls the word in her head for a moment. Primogen. “Primogen as in… ‘primogenitor’? Ma’am, are you the one who made me?”
GM: “I’m not,” Coco answers. “But the Kindred ancestor who sired my many-times grandsire was the same one who sired your many-times grandsire. So you could say we belong to the same extended family.”
Caroline: “I’m fairly certain it’s none from your direct line, Coco,” Caroline replies.
GM: “Harsh,” the ‘primogen’ replies, sounding faintly amused.
Amelie: The title makes no sense then, unless it’s simply a way to say ‘first among us.’ “The same… clan, you could say?”
GM: “Yes, in fact. I see Caroline has told you a few things already.”
Amelie: “Her words allowed me to gleam some terms, but I never had the chance to ask directly before we were… found trespassing.”
GM: “Yes, that was one of the rules you accidentally broke,” Coco nods. “You’ll have to meet with the prince, or rather, his representative, to clear things up. I don’t promise that’s going to be much fun, but thanks to Caroline here, it won’t go as badly for you as it would have.”
Caroline: “Regent Blanch said he was satisfied with her payment. The others… she cut across a lot of the city, but I don’t think she made a mess anywhere else, and I took care of the matter in Algiers.”
The matter, meaning the corpses.
“I have my ghoul reaching out to the Krewe about what she reported at the coroner’s office. Thus far, no word.”
GM: Coco looks at Caroline. “So the two of you met Blanch. How is he doing?”
It’s perhaps telling the primogen remarks on him first.
Caroline: “Headhunting,” Caroline replies acidly. “It seems to be in vogue this year.”
Amelie: Amelie looks slightly confused. No small fear rises in her eyes about ‘clearing it up’ with the prince. But Caroline’s words set her at ease. She’s more afraid she hadn’t paid a high enough price.
“Do you think he was the one toying with me earlier that night? If that was his territory.”
GM: “Without knowing how you were toyed with, as you put it, I couldn’t say,” Coco answers Amelie.
Amelie: “I approached a gas station, intent to bribe the teller to give me a spare uniform, and buy a map. But I was missing a dollar bill. She presented it in her hand. And then proceeded to grin and-.”
It takes her a moment. The memory is one drudge up both sorrow and the awful hunger burning in her gut.
“Cut her own throat, Primogen Duquette.”
GM: “I’m sorry you had to witness that, Amelie. And I’m sorrier for her that it happened,” Coco frowns. “Algiers isn’t s a safe place for our kind, Blanch or not.”
“Excuse me for a moment while I’m rude.” She fishes an Solaris out of her jacket pocket, taps it for a few moments, and then tucks the phone back away.
“And it’s just Coco, please.”
Amelie: Amelie feels a crack coming from her spine as she gives a shallow bow to Coco.
“Thank you, Coco. The act, however, did not feel… malicious. If anything, it could have been an alien kindness.”
GM: “That teller might disagree with you,” Coco remarks. “But that’s the thing about alien kindnesses. They tend to have malicious consequences.”
Amelie: Amelie’s face slowly twists into a frown. “Considering what was behind the door of the employee area, it might just have been a freeing mercy. I mourn her either way.”
GM: Coco waits for Amelie to go on.
Amelie: Amelie shakes her head. “I opened the door, to the spell of decomposition so strong it made my pursuers vomit. Then there was an almost inhuman howling. I blacked out. I came to outside. I assume my pursuers had enough guns to win the fight, but I never saw the aftermath. Just that… the howl grabbed something inside of me and forced fear into it.”
GM: Coco frowns again. “Your pursuers? If there were other witnesses, this could be a breach of the Masquerade. Where was this, and how long ago?”
Caroline interjects and explains more of the circumstances surrounding that particular sequence of events to. All of the immediate witnesses are dead and the gas station’s security tapes were destroyed.
“Blanch’s problem now, then,” Coco states. “But let’s be on the safe side. Amelie, why don’t you and Caroline simply tell me all that’s happened since the start of this evening? We’ll have time for more questions when you’re done.”
Amelie: Amelie looks to Caroline for a moment, then starts her story at the morgue. She gives as much detail as she can and doesn’t try to leave anything out on her side of things. But she does keep Caroline’s position in mind, and looks towards her to let her interject where she will or elaborate on events from her side of things. It was, after all, her agent who caused the ‘issues’ once she got to Algiers.
GM: And just like the redhead did, Coco asks for the last things Amelie remembers before waking up in the morgue.
Amelie: She doesn’t hesitate. She tells her about the… whatever it was, the knife fight, and her death.
“Well, me disarming the man who attempted to stab me set them into a rage. I’m not sure what happened exactly, or whether I ‘won,’ if you can call it that. But when I blacked out, I saw a familiar entity from the Delphine LaLaurie House. It taunted my final prayers and laughed at me about dark things. I don’t know if it was real or if I was just… deluded from my mind being broken over and over and over. Then I felt like I was on fire. Red-hot. And when I stepped into the water, I woke on top of the coroner. Like… like I was a weapon finished and quenched.”
GM: Coco frowns again. “What do you mean by that you ‘saw an entity’, Amelie?”
Amelie: Amelie looks down at her lap, then her hands. She slowly and carefully squeezes them as she’s forced to relive the memory.
“It started with laughing. Telling me to come to it. And then I saw the painting again, in the black, as I lost consciousness. I was… I was terrified. I recited the Prayer to Saint Michael, and it prayed with me… to other powers. But I don’t know if it was real. Or if I was losing my mind. The painting was just a cheap 1910-20s American recreation rich girls brought into the house before I got there, to drug and haze me with it. They even texted it to me. I was terrified. And that’s the night I slept for six months. The voices didn’t even match up. The voice that dashed me against the rocks was a different voice.”
GM: Coco considers that thoughtfully. Her frown doesn’t abate. “An accident at the LaLaurie House was in the news around half a year back. Why don’t you start at the beginning there too, Amelie?”
Amelie: Amelie’s own frown deepens. The end of her life in another sense.
“I was a student at McGehee. My New Orleans history class had us do a project on ghosts. I moved to this country so so excited. I got partnered up with Yvette Devillers. I was so excited and managed to convince Sarah Whitney to talk to her grandfather. To let us into the house. But… before that.”
“I got… approached when I was with Father Malveaux at St. Louis Cathedral to have my first confession in a year. A ghost slipped me a business card for Tantsy’s occult shop. When I came there, she was… insane. She told me I would die before I turned 30. And to warn me against visiting the LaLaurie Mansion, she stabbed my hand through. She was so strong. And near the end something screamed through her. In perfect French. Not to go.”
“But Yvette said she’d go whether I came or not. I felt so guilty. That they could be hurt because of me pushing for this. So I went to try to protect them. But it was a hazing. They convinced the girls I thought were my friends to stay silent about it. We would all spend the night together, I thought numbers might help. But they drugged my drink with LSD. I never drank it and only found out later. One of the girls, a real friend, told me I was in danger.”
“So I ran. Something pushed me down the stairs. I received a private text of the painting we had all found. I kept running. I cleared the fence and… something grabbed me. It told me to fly. And then it pulled me down and dashed my skull against the courtyard.”
Amelie looks on the verge of tears trying to get through it all. She digs her nails into her thighs.
“I don’t know what happened after that. But I woke up THERE. In the underworld. The dead reflection of ours, the city of Dis. When I finally escaped, somehow, the girl who saved me killed herself because of me. A detective shot Yvonne and Sarah and they blamed it all on me. The drugs. Damage to the house I treasured. They never let me defend myself and just kept me stewing in my own shit until I lost all sense of time! They took my mother from me! She sacrificed her soul, screaming, so I could have a weapon to fight back, and they took her away again!”
Amelie cannot tell if her body still has tears, but she doubles over stifling her sobbing through gritted teeth. She claws weakly at her legs.
“And then they put me in OPP. In the male ward. Told me to hang myself before anyone found out.”
Caroline: Caroline listens to the tale for the second and in some areas third time. She is vague concerning how Amelie fell into her hands in Algiers. One of her ghouls was attached to the street gang. After their brawl with Amelie, he had the sense and loyalty to call her, but not enough to remember his place.
GM: Amelie finds that she can very much still cry.
Her ‘tears’ are red and coppery-smelling.
Caroline: Caroline wants to chide Amelie for the tears as her fangs elongate in her mouth. She bites her tongue. She cried once too.
Amelie: The tears don’t last long. Amelie’s digs her fingers harder into her thighs, to the point it might seem masochistic. She chokes back her sobs, like she has more times than she can count. She pulls herself together with a sharp breath and wipes her face with the rag on her shoulder.
“Forgive me. I shouldn’t be wasting your time. Can I elaborate on anything more?”
GM: Coco is silent too through the fledgling’s tears.
“I think you’ve explained enough, Amelie,” she finally replies.
“It sounds like you’ve had a rough time of things since before your Embrace.”
Amelie: Amelie cannot think of many statement in reply that does not sound like whining.
“I only wish to return to study and artisanship.”
GM: “Perhaps you can. I can’t make any promises for what the prince’s, and others’, decisions regarding your fate are going to be. But the Embrace can be a funny thing,” Coco says contemplatively.
“It destroys the lives of some people, but for others, it can be their only opportunity to lead a meaningful life.”
“Frankly, you sound like an oddball. Literally. There’s Kindred older than you who use younger-sounding language, and it doesn’t sound as if you were popular with your living peers either. But our kind have Embraced our share of oddballs who weren’t able to truly live until they died.”
Amelie: Amelie can’t deny it, though the words sting. She curbs the talk back.
“I was raised spending all my free time and summers in a re-enactment village. As the blacksmith, mostly,” she explains. “This just doesn’t feel like a situation I should be talking like a twenty-something Canadian. Today I met ‘one of our kind’ from when the year was triple digits. Being so formal just seems… safer.”
GM: “You misunderstand me. I’m saying that being strange among the living may not be such a handicap now that you’re dead,” Coco clarifies.
Amelie: “I’ll admit, there’s a really dumb part in the back of my head that’s excited. If Nathaniel of Blanch was named by the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law like he claimed, I have to wonder how old this ‘prince’ is. Or others are. And how appropriate gifting them my best estimations of crafts from their time would pan out.”
GM: “Did he claim that, now?”
Amelie: “‘Uthman names me Nathaniel of Blanch’ were his exact words.”
GM: Coco looks off to her side. “Well, Caroline, you know what the rules are, and what’s going to happen next. And perhaps a few guesses how it’s going happen differently. Is there anything you can think Amelie would appreciate hearing?”
Caroline: “Leap to fewer conclusions,” Caroline offers bluntly. “Think before you speak, and remain mindful of how silence often says more of value. Expect no understanding or sympathy beyond this room. Show no fear.” She looks at Coco. “Will an Anarch or Brujah claim her? I understand that’s the requirement.”
GM: “We three can hope, because I can’t,” the primogen answers.
Caroline: “Nor can I, and the matter is more complicated still: she has enemies I didn’t among our kind already.”
Amelie: Amelie looks to the both of them, brow furrowing. “Enemies?”
Caroline: “The Whitneys and the Devillers are both pieces on someone’s board,” Caroline clarifies.
Amelie: Amelie slowly frowns, unsure of how she feels at that statement. “I’m disappointed to hear the events that unfolded make me someone’s enemy. Do either of you think that could be reconciled?”
GM: “Depends,” Coco answers. “On what you think your enemies want, and how you’d want to reconcile with them.”
Amelie: “I cannot be sure. I told you of the events from my side, I do not have the details of any personal insult or monetary loss suffered. Or know to what extent they consider what happened to be on my shoulders. But I would want to prostrate myself, and offer any and all of my skills to them for forgiveness. It’s currently all I have.”
Caroline: Caroline eyes the wounds left on Amelie by her brush with the elder.
“Be careful when you offer all that you have,” she warns. “You may find yourself with nothing left. Slavery may be rare in the kine world, but you can easily sell yourself thusly within this one.”
Amelie: Amelie cannot help but disagree with Caroline. Slavery is all too common. But that’s not the conversation piece.
“I appreciate the advice. Unfortunately I find myself with not much to offer than my expertise, however much I don’t believe I owe them anything. Despite the imagined slight, I’ve more than paid for being the victim of cruel spoiled people with too much money occupying their time with torture. All the way up to with my life. But should I be allowed to exist, I do wish to do so with as few enemies as possible.”
“So I will find a way to make an enemy forget me. Or an enemy a friend.”
GM: A knock sounds on the door.
“Come in,” Coco calls.
It’s answered by an attractive, curly-haired blonde woman who looks around Caroline’s and Coco’s ages. She’s simply dressed in jeans and a hoodie.
“Congo says tonight’s a no-go, but his boss can see the fledgling tomorrow. He’s willing to leave her in your care until then.”
“Fortunate for her. And the Krewe?” Coco asks.
“They scrubbed the scene at the morgue before any of our people could get there. They’re ticked. I think they thought the Masquerade was going to get better here after the walk-out.”
“They sending Mr. Hush after anyone?” Coco asks.
“They’re still looking for suspects. I told them I’d check with you.”
“We’ll tell them the truth, since they were kind enough to clean things up. It’s an orphaned fledgling who’s getting brought before the seneschal tomorrow.” Coco considers the other woman. “No loose ends?”
“A big one, actually. They can’t find the coroner.”
“Really? Where have they looked?” Coco asks.
“The Krewe and NOPD both checked his home and nearby hospitals. He wasn’t there.”
“They have a name for him?”
Jennifer nods. “Amos Wilkinson.”
“That is unfortunate,” Coco replies.
Coco looks towards Amelie. “You’ve killed at least one person, Amelie. You may not have known any better or been able to control yourself, but there are several ways I’m footing the bill for this mess. You can help with the cleanup, and perhaps receive a lesser sentence from the prince, by tracking down the coroner who got away. That’s very strange he isn’t dead, from how you described things.”
She thinks for a moment. “We can’t have you wandering around the city unsupervised, though.”
Coco looks towards Caroline. “You can consider part of your debt repaid for bringing Amelie to me. Take care of her until the seneschal can see her, and I’ll consider what’s left paid off, as well as throw in something else.”
Amelie: Two small memories come to mind as Amelie listens to everything. Small flits. The shattering of glass, and the smell on the lawn as she hit the ground. His name hits her in the chest, however. Amos Wilkinson.
“I want to help. I went through his wallet while preparing to escape, and took money. I found a picture of a woman in a hijab. I could check local mosques. It’s also hazy because I was moving so fast, but when I came through the yard, a smell I now know to be blood was on glass bits in the grass. He may have jumped out the window to escape, in his panic.”
Caroline becoming her temporary handler worries her, however. She doesn’t want to impose any more on the heiress, who may be tiring of her already.
“If I just get my bearings of the scene with a satellite map on a phone, I can start immediately, Coco. He was bleeding heavily down to his boots. I’ll track him like a bloodhound if I must. And please, Caroline, I beg your patience just a little while longer.”
GM: “That could be worth checking out. The city certainly doesn’t have many mosques,” Coco muses. “I don’t have a spare phone lying around here that isn’t a dumbphone, so you’ll have to lean on Caroline. Or whoever else I can find to mind you on short notice.”
Caroline: Caroline eyes Amelie’s savaged form. “She’s not in any condition to be traveling the city tonight. She’s a walking Masquerade risk.”
GM: “She’ll need new clothes, among other things.” Coco shrugs. “It’s your call, Amelie. Subject to your babysitter’s approval, whether that’s Caroline or someone else. We follow the prince’s laws in Mid-City, but past that, we don’t tell anyone what to do.”
Amelie: Amelie shifts painfully to sit up straighter in her chair.
“Thank you for your efforts in letting me keep my new life, Coco. I’ll do my best to pay you back, if this seneschal deigns the same.”
Caroline: “Requiem,” Caroline corrects passingly. “You’re dead. You have no life.”
She turns to the elder Brujah. “I’ll see to her, Coco. Thank you, as always, for your time.”
GM: “You’re both welcome,” Coco answers. “You have Jen’s number if anything comes up.”
Amelie: Amelie gives a small bow before readying herself to leave. “I look forward to working with you. Especially towards finding the one who created me. I hope your night ends better than I’ve made it.”
GM: Coco waves a hand dismissively. “Don’t bow. Not to me, anyway.”
Amelie: “I’m sorry. With the title ‘primogen,’ I didn’t want to show any less respect than it means you deserve.”
GM: “That’ll serve you better outside Mid-City. Here, at least, all are equal.”
“Oh, one last thing,” Coco remarks as her ghoul shows the two Kindred to the door. “Some free advice. Be careful who you bring up Nathaniel Blanch’s name around.”
She looks at Amelie. “You are either very foolish, trusting, or both to have told the story you just did to two licks you’ve only just met.”
“You’ll find that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing in this existence.”
Caroline: Caroline says nothing of this, but a knowing look resides in her eye.
Amelie: Coc’s advice lights a small coal of fear in Amelie’s heart for just a moment. She wonders how much of the knowledge she’s gained since that blade went through her hand could be a danger to her.
“Thank you, Coco. I’ll make sure I take that to heart. Goodnight.”
Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM
Amelie: Amelie gets the hint pretty quickly when she changes that Caroline is letting her take the reins on this. She doesn’t fully understand who these ‘employees’ are, but she resolves to make full use of them. There’s no sense holding onto the pettiness they started the night with. She pulls out a second t-shirt, puts her head through the neck the opposite way, and stuffs it into a new long-sleeve sweater she adjusts until she has a deep hood. She pairs it with a bandanna or rag that covers her face under the nose before she’s satisfied she’s covered enough.
She briefs the ‘employees’ on her idea before she gets into the car. She asks the younger ones to get their phones out and look for the name Amos Wilkinson on social media. Whether he’s tagged in a Facemash picture or has a profile on LinkedIn, she wants to know where he frequents and what car he drives.
Since Caroline has forbidden splitting up, she says they’ll start with the morgue. They can park a block or two away and send a scout to check the lot if they find Amos Wilkinson’s car online. She also recommends quickly flicking through the social media of the nearest two mosques for his face or any posts about him being missing. The community might be tight with so few sites of worship. That’s also why she asks the oldest of the ‘employees’ to call the two mosques instead and see if anyone answers. If someone does, they should just apologize that it’s the wrong number and hang up.
She takes the new phone Caroline gave her and finds the morgue on Qeeqle Maps, shuddering at how close she was to that damned stadium and OPP. She hates it. But while she’s at it, she double-checks the date and time, then finally joins the social media hunt and coordinates with Caroline and her ‘employees’ to find as much as they possibly can on this man.
GM: Caroline’s ‘employees’ consist of the five that Amelie met in Algiers, plus a sultry-looking woman who rendezvouses with the pair bearing the requested phone and clothing items. The former is a Solaris instead of the model she picked up on that long-ago outing with Kristina to MyPhoneMD. The latter’s comment about the phones exploding in Amelie’s pants seems like a lifetime ago.
The redhead, whose name Amelie picks up as Autumn, has the perhaps annoying habit of clearing her ‘requests’ through Caroline. Still, she’s a thorough investigator who seems like she’s done this sort of thing before, and quickly gets results with help from Amelie and the others while the cars drive.
Amos Wilkinson is the chief coroner of Orleans Parish. He’s an elected first-term official and the first African-American to hold the office as well: he’s got his own profile under ‘Meet the Coroner’ that ends with:
As Coroner, Dr. Wilkinson will bring competency, honesty, and transparency to the Office. He will work with local, state and federal agencies to secure the proper funding necessary to bring the Coroner’s Office into the 21st century.
Dr. Wilkinson makes one promise to the citizens of New Orleans–each death will be thoroughly and professionally investigated, and an accurate determination of each case will be properly and truthfully classified.
The profile and a LinkedIn page mentions that he is an assistant professor at Tulane Medical School, specifically of pathology and psychiatry. He runs, or at least ‘owns’ several homeless shelters in the city, and is most involved with one called Covenant House.
Dr. Wilkinson’s Facemash page has the neat and sanitized look of someone who expects their profile to be perused (and scrutinized) by professional contacts and the public at large. Everything on there is at once personable and non-personal. There are staff photos from his job at the coroner’s office; teaching a class of young med students at Tulane Medical School; shaking hands with the school’s President Gremillion; shaking hands with NOPD’s Commander Delron Mouton; delivering a speech to a graduating class of high school students (who Amelie will now likely never number among); building a children’s playground; handing out presents at a homeless shelter that looks decorated for Christmas; and a variety of other non-offensive, non-political, non-everything pictures that he’s no doubt fine to have floating around on the internet.
Little is posted that hints at a personal life or interests outside of his career. In fact, there’s conspicuously little. No living relatives are mentioned on any his social media pages, “Meet the Coroner” biography, or anywhere else on Qeeqle. The only hint of his religious views are some photos at St. Augustine Church… and none at any of the city’s three mosques. Autumn digs through that church’s online presence, and turns up articles, photos, and Facemash comments that indicate Dr. Wilkinson is a regular and devout congregant at the historic Christian church.
Autumn queries Amelie repeatedly about the photo of the hijab-wearing woman she found in Dr. Wilkinson’s wallet. She is completely absent from the man’s online presence. His Facemash profile does not state that he is married or in a relationship. For that matter, there don’t seem to be photos of any significant others connected to Dr. Wilkinson. Or parents, siblings, or other family. The man’s online presence seems to be strictly professional.
“Maybe they’re in a relationship and he’s keeping it on the down and low,” Autumn speculates.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t find the constant checking with Caroline grating. After all, she answers to the woman today as well. She does, however, assert herself strongly that the person in the picture was wearing a hijab.
GM: Dr. Wilkinson does have family, though. It takes longer for Autumn to turn up, but it’s a credit—an excellent credit, in fact—to how fast she digs up that ‘Wilkinson’ isn’t his surname of birth. It’s Dufrene, which he’s had legally changed to his middle name. And there are three other Dufrenes out there.
His mother Ayido, also known by the name ‘Mama Wedo’ is a Vodoun mambo. She has an extensive criminal record and spent a stint in the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, where she gave birth to Amos from behind bars. He spent some period of his infancy in prison for his mother’s crimes before she was paroled and seemed to find religion—but not the one most inmates usually do.
Amelie: “That would make sense. The USA has yet to vote anyone who isn’t God-fearing into office, and New Orleans is a very very Catholic city. It seems he’s hiding a lot, however. I say we cancel the mosque trips, he’s more likely to detour to places he feel are in his control. Maybe this Covenant House. Or his mother’s house, this Mama Wedo. Though we should be very very careful with her. Or maybe if he’s earnestly a god-fearing man, this church. I did rise from the dead right in front of him. Those people you called on already said he’s not been spotted at his home or any hospitals, so I doubt he’s gone back to his office at Tulane. Thoughts?”
GM: Autumn gives Amelie a bland look, then (after some searching) pulls up a page that says St. Augustine closes at 6:30.
“What decade are you from? Churches aren’t open in the middle of the night anymore,” she scoffs.
Amelie: “A scared enough man might claw his way in if he felt it was his only sanctuary. But you’re right, that it’s a less likely possibility.”
GM: “And a regular congregant like him probably knows when his church closes.”
There’s only so much of Amos’ childhood that’s possible to find out online. Still, Autumn turns up that while Ayido never went back to prison, she has been arrested a number of times and spent multiple stints in Orleans Parish Prison. She’s been interviewed by a few fringe journalists with ties to the Nation of Islam and other far-left political groups. Autumn also turns up her name on a few extremely dated-looking (archived) GeoCities pages. Unlike Marie Laveau, Wedo did not consider herself a Christian and made several inflammatory statements that accused the religion of being complicit in slavery. Wedo and her followers (she was evidently fairly popular) clashed with NOPD and local law enforcement, repeatedly. And terminally.
Dr. Wilkinson’s mother was all over the news not too long after Amelie’s coma when a so-called “voodoo cult” was busted for kidnapping several young white children and occupying the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Refuge to conduct their rites. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the mob and save the kids, but Wedo was killed while resisting arrest. Many of her followers have been sent to Louisiana State Penitentiary under a host of charges from drug possession to resisting arrest to trespassing on land owned by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
They will have possibly familiar company, too. Dr. Wilkinson’s brothers and Ayido’s other two sons. Corey “Da Chief” Expose and Ronald “Ryulo” Expose were leaders of the Cut-Throat-City Snake Gang, a major drug ring in CTC (i.e., Cross the Canal, aka Cut-Throat-City) in the lower Ninth Ward. The brothers and seven of their crew are serving time in Angola for racketeering and drug dealing.
“Guess that rules out the mom,” Autumn says.
She waits expectantly to hear from Amelie or (more likely to her preference) Caroline what to do next. The group’s two cars are by now parked in the CBD, and it is around 5 AM. Amelie doesn’t feel in the least bit tired, although a few of the ‘employees’ look like they are.
Amelie: Amelie pieces it together in her head as fast as she can. It’s as if there’s nothing connecting him to the outside world, just things connecting themselves to him. Mother says the religion he holds in public is bullshit, but he doesn’t seem to have many connections to her. His family is either dead or in prison. It’s possible that he launders money through whatever might still exist of either group, but Amelie doesn’t see him intending to keep a group of fanatics together like his mother did. That picture, his mother’s interview with the Nation of Islam, it’d destroy a man who claims to be God-fearing in a city and country like this. But he’s not been seen at any hospitals or police stations, and it seems unlikely that a man scared enough to jump through a window to escape her would be able to sneak into his own office in a crowded building like Tulane Medical Center.
“This is a hard call. Seeing the dead rise, if he truly is a Muslim or follows his mother’s teachings, would be a horrifying thing. But Mama Wedo is dead… maybe he ran to Mama Rosa? They could have a connection. Or to remnants of his brother’s street gang. But our best bet I think is this Covenant House place. He spends a lot of time there, owns the building, might have ways in that others don’t. I bet he has an office there. My vote is to start there. Maps says it isn’t far. Unless someone has any other ideas.”
GM: “Aaaaand… who is ‘Mama Rosa’ and what does she have to do with this guy?” Autumn asks expectantly.
Amelie: “Mama Rosa is another famous mambo in the city. No doubt his mother was at least acquainted with her. If he is just playing at being a Christian, and followed his mother’s teachings, it’s possible he was too. But like I said. Covenant House.”
GM: “So because she’s a Vodouisant, and because Wilkinson’s mom was a Vodouisant… he’s therefor a secret Vodouisant and ran to Rosa, out of every possible mambo or houngan he could’ve run to in the city, assuming that’s even what happened? That’s a pretty stupid conclusion,” Autumn remarks.
Amelie:“And there you go assuming that’s what I was saying. So far we have a man who goes to church regularly, with a picture of a Muslim woman in his wallet, raised by a Vodouisant mambo. Who just so happens to know how to sanitize his public life. Who happens to be a powerful saintly public figure, who has two brothers in prison whose aforementioned shared mother kidnapped people for religious reasons. If he has a route to hide that we can’t see, it’s important we consider every angle. He’s scared, maybe beyond reason. Or something else has happened, seeing as how he ’shouldn’t be alive.’ But if you so happen to have a rolodex of mambos and houngans just in case, you’re welcome to pull it out. Because I ‘totally’ know the social connections of all the Voudon people of New Orleans. I’m not content to waste time however, so we’re going to that homeless shelter a short drive away.”
GM: “So because you only have one name off the rolodex, Wilkinson has to be connected to that one name? And it’s ‘Vodouisant people’, not ‘Vodoun people.’ You sound like you’re pretty ignorant of the religion.”
The blonde ghoul, meanwhile, is already driving after Caroline gives the go-ahead.
Amelie: Amelie slowly turns and glares at Autumn.
“Vodouists, actually. Vodouisant is a French twist often accepted in New Orleans, but not in Haiti and not in Creole, where the term is ‘Sévité’,” she corrects, looking back away from Autumn.
“We don’t have long before daylight, excuse me if I take less care on terms while thinking on a man-hunt that involves keeping ‘Kindred’ secrets. I recommend you stay on task. We can chat all about American Folkway Voodoo in Louisiana when we finish said task.”
GM: “Uh, you do realize we’re not in Haiti, right? Or speaking Creole?” Autumn scoffs. “And that since we’re not the ones driving, we don’t even have a task to stay on?”
Caroline: Caroline could slap the plucky fledgling when she starts chiding Autumn for ‘staying on task’ after getting called out for leaping to conclusions, but refrains. She can clearly see why others viewed her so poorly.
Instead her clear voice cuts through the slap fight. “Enough.”
GM: Green eyes the two as she drives.
Amelie: Amelie has already said her peace. Autumn is probably just enjoying being above someone for once in her miserable existence. Presenting confounding variables and casual relationships out loud to a group study, or in this case investigation, isn’t laying assumptions down and expecting the investigators to follow them either. It’s to get those involved to think. They have a task to stay on, and it’s digging into this man’s past and extrapolating his future.
Amelie simply looks ahead after Caroline silences Autumn. The drive to this place isn’t going to take long.
Caroline: The heiress says nothing further. Her face is a mask, save one thing: Caroline looks tired.
GM: Autumn remains quiet after her domitor’s order. The four drive through crumbling and run-down surroundings that could be at home in any inner city. A hollow-eyed streetwalker stares after the car, but Green simply drives past her and another shuffling, still-awake man in a filthy overcoat who mutters indistinctly to himself. Rampart Street is the gutter that Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off into. The Quarter doesn’t bother trying to be charming around here anymore, not so close to Tremé.
Covenant House is a relatively nicer-looking brick building with palm trees in the courtyard. Its logo is a dove from someone’s palm. The shelter’s website said it is open 24 hours, although a number of the building’s lights look turned off. The current hour is just late enough that some people might be starting to get up, if at an excruciatingly early hour. The plaque by the front entrance reads,
611 N. Rampart Street
A crisis care center
for runaway and homeless
youth under twenty-one
The sound of gunshots and shattering glass abruptly rings through the night. Glass flies over Amelie’s lap as her window explodes. There’s a sharp sound of impact as the bullet punctures her seat’s leather headrest.
Autumn all but rips off her seatbelt as she dives for cover on the floor.
“We’re getting the fuck out!” Green snaps, spinning the wheel in her hands.
Amelie: Amelie feels the sharp THIP of the bullet hitting next to her head before she hears the shattering glass. Every instinct in her body screams the shooter’s direction based on the impact. It screams to climb through that window and rip their throat out. But other instincts wrestle it to the ground like an angry snake. She needs to think and be calm. Amelie folds her small body down to get her head in between her knees, snaps her arm to Autumn’s door and pulls herself over the human as cover in case another bullet comes flying in. Her teeth grit as she waits for Green to floor it out of here. They might have been right on the money so far as finding the good doctor, unfortunately.
GM: “Get off of her, you’re one stiff wind away from being ash yourself,” Caroline snaps as the car drives, Fuller’s and Widney’s vehicle close behind.
Amelie: “It’s instinct, shut it!” she snaps back. Her mouth runs on it’s own in that while her mind strains and bends, trying to make out the scent, the peripheral memory of the shooter. She has to have seen something before the sudden gunshots.
GM: “Lie flat beside Autumn,” Caroline commands, her voice iron.
One moment, Amelie is on top of Autumn. Now she’s next to her on the floor. The obedience simply comes, without thought, without even awareness.
For that moment, her body is not hers. Her perceptions are not hers.
Amelie: It’s… sickening. Aggravating. Another intrusion and violation. Another reason to get angry. But it’s also another terrifying card dealt on the field. Like a blackout when she rips something’s throat out, but more like when she was ordered as though it was that command from the house and her cholo thugs. It’s different. Confusing. And that just makes her angrier on the inside. She files it away to look into later. But she bites her tongue for now, waiting for Green to stop the damned car.
GM: The car stops some minutes later at an underground parking garage in the CBD, if the surrounding skyscrapers are any indication. The other car parks adjacent to theirs. Fuller and the others get out. Caroline asks if they identified the shooters. Fuller shakes his head.
“Could hit them back. What’s our objective, ma’am?” he asks.
Caroline glances at Amelie. “Keeping her alive, first. Or at least something passably close to it.”
“So we let some asshole take shots and send us running?” Green asks. Not quite grousing. More expectant.
Caroline merely offers a cold smile.
“The three of us go back,” she says, her gaze sweeping across Fuller and Curtis. “Capture and interrogate. The rest of you stay behind with Amelie and out of harm’s way.”
Amelie: Amelie drags herself out of the car looking more than a little antsy, but the plan is sound despite the possibility of having been tailed.
Instead of arguing or amending the blonde woman’s idea, she takes out the phone and opens the NOPD Twitter, seeing if she can find any mention of shots fired or any activity in the area they’d just fled.
GM: She sees no such mention at present, despite the feed’s otherwise relatively up to date nature.
Meanwhile, the assorted ‘employees’ indicate their assent as Caroline and her chosen two file into the car that doesn’t have a shattered window.
“Widney, get that fixed,” she adds in afterthought as Curtis gets her door.
Amelie: Amelie puts the phone away a moment and looks over the remainder. She wants to set up with the assumption that they were followed, but just resolves to watch if they do that anyway. Instead, she looks both vehicles over, to see how many times they were fired on.
GM: Amelie sees no bullet holes on the car that Caroline and her two servants get into. Someone starts the engine. It drives out of the garage, back toward Covenant House.
The only signs of damage to the second car is the shattered window, punctured headrest, and shattered glass over the floor.
Widney, meanwhile, pulls out a phone and starts making arrangements to get the car repaired.
“Guess we should stash her in an apartment until tonight,” Autumn says to Green. “Dawn’s not too far off.”
“Works for me,” the taller woman shrugs. “Come on, baby vampire, let’s get you to bed.”
Amelie: One shot. It bothers her that it’s just one shot.
“I wouldn’t mind that. First, do you mind if I see one of your handguns? I just need one of the cartridges.”
GM: “For what?” Autumn asks dubiously.
Amelie: “One shot in the headrest next to my skull. Not at a driver to disable the car and no follow-up spray at this or any of the other cars. I want to see if it matches a handgun.”
Amelie leans into the car and pulls the headrest out of the seat carefully, standing in the lot looking the hole over. Maybe the window slowed the bullet enough that it stuck in the head rest.
GM: Green doesn’t hand over her gun, but looks down at the headrest.
“Yeah, probably a handgun. Impact’s too small for something with more stopping power.”
“You should learn how to shoot,” she remarks to Autumn. “Useful shit to know about in your line of work.”
Amelie: Amelie checks if it went all the way through.
GM: The bullet does not appear to have gone completely through.
“Eh, I’ll cop there,” Autumn admits. “Just always other stuff to do.”
“Offer’s open. It’s a nice stress reliever,” says Green. “I like to pretend the target’s my ex’s face.”
Amelie: Amelie slowly pushes her pinky into the hole, just to see the direction it’s going. She assumes the person was just in an alleyway or something, but wonders what angle the bullet entered.
GM: The bullet’s angle literally feels like it came from approximately the same height as Amelie, and from a right (to the shooter) rather than directly straight trajectory.
“That’s pretty cold after he’s dead,” Autumn says.
“Bin Laden didn’t become a saint ’cause he died,” Green shrugs.
There’s a beep from Widney’s phone.
“Arrangements have been made. Let’s get her away before someone comes by here,” the prim-looking woman states.
“All right, baby bloodsucker, time to go,” Green says.
Amelie: “Lined up with the window, didn’t shoot from above,” she mutters. Mostly to herself.
After sussing that out, she digs her finger in deeper to drag the slug out. With that done, she tosses the head rest into the car and sits where Green offers her, ready to go.
GM: There is nowhere to sit, as Caroline’s three employees walk with Amelie towards an elevator. They get in and go up a number of floors.
“No souvenirs,” Autumn states as she moves to pull the bullet from Amelie’s hand.
Amelie: Amelie idly slaps her hand away, giving Autumn a warning look. She’s going too far.
“Don’t touch me. That’s the line. You can have it when I’m done looking it over.”
GM: Amelie looks down, then looks up. The bullet is in Autumn’s hands.
The redhead rolls her eyes and looks at the elevator door.
Amelie: Amelie grits her teeth to the point there is audible cracking coming from the jaw bone. Fine. Autumn. That’s her name. Amelie will remember it.
She flattens her hand and starts to practice again to take her mind off the insult, trying not to lose control in the fucking elevator of all places. Her arm lays at her side, rigid, the vampire vibrating it as fast as she can over and over and over, trying to get the right frequency. Like swinging a hammer. Just keep repeating it to forget the people you wish would die.
GM: The elevator dings and the group finally exits into a nice-looking apartment hallway. Two men are carrying large black plastic boxes as they leave the units. Both gawk at Amelie and say some variation of, “The fuck…” Their faces go slack as Autumn and Widney look at each and say, “You didn’t see us.” The men leave without further glance or comment.
They show Amelie into an apartment. It has a comfortable-looking bed, furniture, television set, laptop, and similar amenities. She won’t be basking in luxury, but it all looks nice enough.
The unsmiling, bun-haired woman holds out a hand in front of Amelie.
Amelie: Amelie just hands it over, hoping they fucking leave.
GM: The woman tucks it away.
“Don’t leave the unit,” says Green.
She closes the door behind the three as they leave.
Amelie: Amelie waits a moment after they leave and spits on the door, bidding them good riddance.
Stronger blood than a human, weaker than her or Caroline, she has to slap her face around a bit to rid herself of the frustrating horseshit and the stink of failure. They didn’t find the bastard. Someone interfered.
She knows it’s no excuse, however. She sheds the clothes and has a warm shower, letting the blood and rain and mud all drain off of her. She then goes to the mirror. Just to check on where Nathaniel Blanch bit into her.
GM: Amelie’s spittle is red and coppery-smelling as it runs down the door.
A more apt question would be where the creature did not bite her. Almost her entire torso is a ravaged latticework of red-stained gashes, tears, torn sinew, and exposed bone. A near-continual flow of red swirls down the shower drain earlier.
Still she stands.
Her face doesn’t look much better.
Blanch didn’t touch it. He didn’t need to. There’s a hardness to her jaw, a gauntness to her cheeks, and dark shadows and hard lines to her features that weren’t there before. Her short hair looks limp and stringy as it wetly clings to her head.
She looks like she’s aged at least ten years.
Amelie: Amelie pauses for the briefest of moments at the blood red against the back of the door, snorting and just wiping it off with her hand on her way to the bathroom. No reason to take anything out on a maid, and no reason to risk spitting out a tooth along with the blood of being shot in the skull.
The shower takes care of it. It’s a good 45 minutes that she just watches the red all go down the drain however. The first ten minutes are the first time she notices it. Her chin almost refuses to go past a certain point towards her chest. Nothing stops it. Her spine feels fine. But after the first quiet personal moment she has been able to experience of her own free will in a literal half a year finally comes, she hesitates. But she explains it away then. She remembers the blood coming from her eyes in Primogen Coco’s office, brushing it off thinking it was simply from the shot to the face. The blood on the back of the door being chalked up to the same culprit and more. Amelie biting into man after man pinned down to the ground so placidly. The sounds they made. Her mouth dripping.
The young undead feels her head hit against the shower wall, and she keeps it there staring at nothing, thinking over every little thing that has happened right up until this very moment. All the myriad horrors, the abyss placed in front of her while she had no lids to blink and no muscle to look away. And it has swallowed her. There is no faustian deal here, no scream for absolution, no cry to an angel. Just her. Forged into something new. It doesn’t feel real. None of it does. So she needs to see.
Amelie lets everything on her drip and ooze as she makes her way to the mirror, and slowly rubs her eyes, taking a deep and unnecessary breath to brace herself before she opens to it. To the horror. To a slab of gaunt shredded meat. To Amelie Savard’s corpse staring back at her. Everything about the original lays dead in the mirror wide eyed. Thin, bony, weak, and useless. Cut up, ripped up, ripped down, and literally chewed down to the bone by a monster that defies any providence of man and the fires of Prometheus.
A monster stares back.
With a wet thud, her back his the opposite wall and her stare continues. No expression as it traces every slice and every cut and laceration. Pain that has felt ever-present comes in to sharp sharp focus. Teeth here, claw here. Rip there, chunk torn from there. The cool air outside of the shower hitting her bones is the most foreign of them all, and as she realizes the context of the agony it sharpens to a point fine enough to slice through stone. The form trembles in the mirror, and slowly moves forward before it violently lurches, heaving and gagging into the bowl of the sink in disgust as the world spins all over again. It doesn’t break eye contact, and as the jaw clatters together trying to take control of itself, a small ‘tink’ sounds in the bowl, a shattered tooth sitting there as if to illustrate the point of her having fallen apart.
Everything piles on. Ghosts, vampires, monsters, waking up to pain over and over and over, a life story of screaming and crying and no comfort. Ever. It is disallowed by the very nature of her existence. Hammer, cut, thrust, file, hammer, cut, thrust, file. Aching hands have turned into an open chest and she just stares trying to grasp where it all came from and just heaves air into the sink again as more red starts to splatter and plink into the sink. She turns the water on and tries to let it all run down the dark dark drain, only for a moment breaking eye contact.
Looking back up just meets with the monster again.
And so she looks away again. And back. And away. And back. As if she expects that eventually she’ll be told something different until her tiny thin arms slams into the mirror with everything it has and bounces off it’s nothing. And the monster sneers at her for it, as if mocking her newfound weakness.
Neither move from their spot after that. They slowly sneer more and more, until they just snarl at each other, slamming the door shut with their foot as if to exhibit some kind of control over the other’s world as they fight to disassociate from each other. But you can only growl at your reflection for so long. Amelie can only glare at herself for so long before she remembers.
“…wow. A mannish freak like you? Who could ever love someone as ugly as you, Amelie?”
It takes a moment to realize they’re her own words, whispered in a bathroom in an apartment building, in the middle of New Orleans. Not across the wasteland of the city of Dis, an echo in the underworld from someone who isn’t even dead.
And this time, there’s no answer Amelie can give that voice. Steams of red down her face come into focus. The green of her eyes against the red of her tears as she takes in the only familiar detail of her form she has left. Her two bright green eyes.
After everything, it is still her. Forever, if she gives up. Finally she sobs, and shrinks, slowly sliding down to her knees. Beating her head against the sink counter as if in prayer before she grabs a towel and drags her corpse back into the shower. Simply wrapping it and huddling there. Waiting for a bottle to be thrown. Waiting for a gun to go off in her face. Waiting for a maw to come out of the dark. Waiting for a hammer to come from the sky and blast her into something more useful. When the mercy isn’t shown to her, and mercy rarely is shown to her, she just makes herself small there. Sobbing and clawing at tile and the few patches of untorn skin on her body, letting the seething unrelenting pain wash over her again and again like a tide of molten iron. And she just waits. Waits for sleep if it still exists, waits for death if it still exists, and waits for relief if it still exists.
Amelie Savard is dead. Long live Amelie Savard.