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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline VI, Chapter IV

Orson's Last Order

“I’m done. Finished playing by your rules.”
Caroline Malveaux

Saturday evening, 19 December 2015

Caroline: Caroline sends a message to Summer’s phone after the twins make their way home.

It’s been a minute, want to get coffee or something?

GM: Caroline waits for hours. There is no response.

Caroline: Caroline is as good to her word to Angela. She tells Autumn to hire some PIs to sic after Summer, content to wait until one or the other reports back.

Sunday evening, 20 December 2015

GM: The Devillers girls drop by the Giani Building again to see Caroline the evening after her birthday party. (They tried to come by in the afternoon, but Widney said it was a bad time.) Both sisters want to know if the older heiress could teach them to fence and physically defend themselves. They don’t have any experience in those areas, but they’ve done “lots of ballet and gymnastics.” Even though Abélia has been putting together that protection force they discussed at the dinner, Yvonne says that they,

“Just want to feel less ‘elpless-”

“-be less ‘elpless,” Yvette amends.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to see the girls again. She’s not willing to teach them how to fence, citing lack of usefulness unless they give her a good reason. She’s actually been getting her own self-defense lessons of late to supplement those her parents forced her to learn, and would be happy to either include the Devillers girls or teach them what she’s learned. She’s also willing to take them out shooting. It’ll be years until they can legally carry a firearm, but she cites it as empowering.

GM: Yvette likes the idea of “being able to kill people.” That’s harder to do with your hands than a sword. “Not that Ah want to kill people,” she laughs. She just likes “the idea” of being able to, if someone threatens her family again the way Gettis did. Or Emmett did to Caroline. She implores that she doesn’t just want to defend herself. She wants to win.

Yvette admits she doesn’t know much about gun laws, but seems like she could be made amenable to shooting lessons if she could carry a gun. Legally or illegally, just so long as there’s no big risk of getting in trouble for it.

Yvonne seems fine with only taking self-defense lessons, but ultimately wants to do whatever Yvette does.

Caroline: Caroline is somewhat disconcerted to hear Yvette likes the idea of being able to kill people and scrutinizes her carefully.

GM: The teenager seems like she’s being darkly humorous about wanting to kill people for the sake of killing them. But Caroline can see it in her eyes. She is dead serious about wanting to be able to kill someone like Gettis who goes after her or her family.

Caroline: That’s something Caroline can understand. Agree with, too. She points out to Yvonne’s twin that she’s unlikely to be able to carry a sword around either, and that a gun can be concealed in most instances, especially if it’s a smaller caliber. She also points out that even if Yvette were caught, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit in Louisiana is a misdemeanor.

“Not that I’m encouraging such a thing, of course,” she adds neutrally.

A misdemeanor is still better than dead, of course, and concealed carry is also entirely justified within one’s own home. She’s happy to share that experience with the twins and agrees it’s good not to be helpless.

GM: Yvette likes the idea of sword-fighting. Beyond being a more romantic image, it also synergizes well with her and Yvonne’s past gymnastics.

“Plus mah sisters aren’t really fans of guns after what ‘appened with Gettis…” she adds heavily.

Caroline: Caroline is more willing to bend when Yvette brings up Gettis. She still cites how rarely she’s carried around a sword when in trouble. “Knowing how to fence isn’t going to do you much good without a sword in your hand.”

GM: Yvonne’s willing to give up fencing and to try out guns, when she hears that. Yvette’s willing to learn shooting as well as fencing. “If you ‘ave time, of course, Ah completely understand if you don’t.” She’d obviously still really like to learn both with Caroline. Yvette admits to having run the idea past her mother, who said that fencing might turn out to be more practical than shooting “in the long run.”

When she sees that Yvette still wants to fence, Yvonne wants to do that too, but is still willing to learn how to shoot. She seems to want to do whatever her sister does, which includes doing at least one (and preferably both) with Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline is willing to do both when pressed, especially when she hears that Abélia considers fencing more valuable. Caroline even notes that she potentially has someone else that can help fill in if she can’t make a lesson—and can provide an alternative view on things.

GM: The sisters are thrilled and looking forward to their first lessons.

Yvette still wants to work with Caroline on the Kelly campaign—or rather, basically anything that involves regularly getting to see her in a mentor-like role. Yvonne does too.

Sarah also wants to see Caroline and hang out more often.

The teenagers are like puppies. They just can’t get enough of her.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to chat with the twins during their semi-regular self-defense lessons together, but she hesitates to commit to the Kelly campaign. She cites that she’s not certain she’ll even be working on it herself. She’s willing to look at other options over time, though. Summer should be especially convenient, as the girls will have more free time and she’ll have (hopefully) passed the bar.

She’s even less committal with Sarah, but cites her desire to hang out as well and maintain that connection.

GM: The twins are okay with that. They’re seeing Caroline plenty.

They do add they may not have much more free time during the summer, as this is their senior year at McGehee and they’ll be headed off to college.

Sarah is anything but noncommittal and tries to schedule specific dates and times to do things. The twins actively help her in this and ask if she can come to Caroline’s lessons with them.

Caroline: Caroline uses the window bought by her initial stiff arm with Sarah to run the entire thing past Becky Lynne. She’s willing (though not thrilled) to accelerate cutting ties with the young heiress if that’s her preference. Alternatively, though, she’s willing to offer a boon to continue that connection as it aids her relationship with the Devillers.

GM: It’s several nights later before Becky Lynne finds time for her younger clanmate. While most of Caroline’s recent dealings with Matheson and his childe have been through the latter’s ghoul, the matter of Sarah seems to warrant an exception. Becky Lynne receives Caroline at the same Garden District haven they’ve met in the past.

The older Ventrue listens to Caroline’s proposal and shakes her head at the offered boon before answering frankly, “Gerousiastis Matheson will share his domain over the Whitney family with none, Miss Malveaux, and requests that you take steps to terminate all further contact with its members. He has made his wishes in this matter very clear.”

The other Ventrue looks at Caroline before stating, “Your law firm’s done a stellar job handlin’ things for the bank thus far. Stellar enough, in fact, my sire was inclined to consider one of your boons repaid—you did rather more than we were expectin’.” She then states mildly, “We’ll call things even for overlookin’ those recent Facebook photos—with the understanding there will not be any more.”

“You might also find it helpful, Miss Malveaux, to review those notes you took on the Second Tradition and the distribution of domains among the Structure. They could go a ways towards keepin’ things friendly with other Kindred.”

Caroline: Caroline uses the excuse of her ‘outing’ and the ensuing firestorm to create distance with Sarah. It’s anything but personal, she explains to the teenager. “But frankly, it’s not a particularly good idea for you to be around me right now. I expect a great deal of collateral damage to shake out with my family, other political blocs to try to take advantage of it, and the associated side acts.”

She doesn’t want to involve Sarah in it. Perhaps in a couple years they can reconnect.

GM: Sarah doesn’t take no for an answer. Caroline’s troubles and hard times only make her more determined to be there for the woman who saved her life—and probably also her grandfather’s life. “If he’d lost me too, after my aunt… it would’ve just destroyed him,” she says.

Sarah wants to be involved in ‘it’. She wants to be around Caroline, and to make up for the time they weren’t in contact during her physical therapy (“I tried calling you a few times, but I wish I’d done it a lot more times!” she mentions).

The twins eventually bring Sarah to their next fencing lesson after Caroline keeps finding excuses to avoid the Whitney heiress. Sarah says she “hopes it isn’t any bother,” but the twins “practically shanghaied me into coming… and they say you’re a really great teacher. You think you might have room for another student, if I don’t slow you down?”

The Devillers sisters just grin and look towards Caroline hopefully.

Caroline: Caroline’s first tip-off that something isn’t right is the extra car present. She texts Widney to call her in a few minutes if she doesn’t hear from her before then, before getting out and going to meet the twins. She keeps a smile on her face when the unexpected visitor is the Whitney heiress, tight lipped though it is, and bites her lip as though she’s about to say something, before seeming to change her mind.

She expresses that Sarah isn’t be a burden—she’d never describe her that way. “Just a…. complication.” The exchange is rife with double meaning, and Caroline doesn’t quite hide that she’s not entirely comfortable, however she might deny it directly.
In any case, the girls are just starting as well, and for now two lessons is as simple as three. Tonight it’s not blade on blade work against each other—just as she didn’t start them with a live weapon on their shooting ship, she doesn’t start them with sharps or against each other. It’s about getting comfortable with the balance of a blade, with learning the proper ways to hold, the importance of footwork, what a lunge looks like, what it feels like when one blade meets another, how that momentum feels, how it stings your hand and shocks your wrist. The first thing to learn is how to parry.

Caroline takes up a fencing foil herself to demonstrate for them, ensuring their grip is proper, then delivering blows to each of the three’s foils in turn with deftness and firmness that belies her slender build. She’s moving up and down the line striking their foils until they stop flinching and correcting grips when her phone goes off.

It’s Widney. Caroline steps away to take the call, but they can plainly read the unhappiness that spreads across her face as she converses with her assistant. Her tone takes on a sharpness, her eternally young face creasing with an angry scowl, and she abruptly ends the call, returning to the girls and smoothing the mask on her face into something less stark before explaining that she’s going to have to cut this evening short. Something personal has come up, and she needs to take care of it. She apologizes for the sudden cancellation and admits it was nice to see Sarah again.

GM: The girls all seem to enjoy the evening’s first lesson. They flinch at first, like she might expect, and Yvonne drops her foil once, but they get better further in. Sarah asks if they’re going to cover any shooting tonight and jokes that her purse doesn’t have enough room for a fencing foil. She obviously didn’t have a parent who recommended she take up fencing like the Devillers did, but it’s also equally plain that she really is glad to be spending time here with her friends. She even brings up how it’s winter break for her and the Devillers right now, so that means-

The girls are disappointed to cut the evening short, but offer all the appropriate sympathies and offers of help. “If there’s anything we can do…” “If you need anything…”

Caroline: If only there was.

Later, she drafts a letter to be delivered to Becky Lynne about the meeting—it’s short and polite, to the point. She was meeting with other kine and discovered the Whitney heiress there waiting for her. Caroline did not expect Sarah to be there, and departed as quickly as courtesy allowed out of respect for Gerousiastis Matheson, his long-held domain, and his wishes therein. If this has caused any offense, she would offer a boon.

GM: Becky Lynne’s ghoul delivers her mistress’ written reply the next night. She thanks Caroline for the prompt notice and says she can consider the boon repaid by contriving more excuses to avoid seeing the Whitney girl.

She also adds that Gerousiastis Matheson believes this state of affairs cannot continue and is invoking one of Caroline’s prior boons: she is to alienate Sarah to the point that she desires no further contact with the Ventrue. Becky Lynne will serve as oversight, but is content to hear out any plans by her younger clanmate for how she wishes to do so.

Caroline: Caroline supposes that resolution was inevitable.

Still, it could have gone worse.

Sunday evening, 20 December 2015

GM: Ericson looks at Caroline critically when she brings up training the two girls and states that she already has a full-time job as a partner at a new law firm, and two young kids and a (working) husband at home. If the teenagers want to pursue fencing, she wishes them all the best, but she has more than enough going on in her own busy life without also serving as a fencing coach.

It is plain that the ghoul, for all her artificially instilled affection in Caroline, does not view their relationship as one of master and servant. What will Caroline do for her in return for playing coach again?

The way her eyes flick towards the Ventrue’s wrist is no different from Autumn’s, though.

Caroline: It’s been difficult for Caroline to manage Ericson’s busy schedule with her young children and husband and the firm while still getting what she might describe among other Ventrue as ‘good value’ out of her. For the most part, Ericson is ‘on call’ more often than actively with Caroline at night in the way that most of her ghouls are. It’s not a perfect arrangement, but she’s justified it thus far by the additional oversight (and value of playing her against Bishop and vice versa) she’s provided in the firm. As it stands though, her direct interactions with Caroline are certainly the least frequent among her ghouls, and the Ventrue is not unmindful of Diego’s weaker loyalties. She can, and does, want something more positive to tie her to the former Olympian, and is dogged in the belief that this may be it.

Caroline doesn’t want her to play coach—certainly not full time. But she does want Ericson to fill in on occasion when Caroline can’t, and offer occasional critiques and encounters with Caroline. It’ll work to keep her own skills sharp as well. Certainly, she can free up a couple hours a month towards one end or the other? Especially if Caroline can sweeten the pot for those nights in particular?

Like maybe giving her fixes then.

GM: Ericson agrees without hesitation to that idea.

All to getting what Caroline had planned on giving her anyway.

Not a bad arrangement at all.

Sunday night, 20 December 2015, PM

GM: Sunday’s Midnight Mass heralds the appearance of a most unexpected guest.

Philip Maldonato addresses the crowd alongside an unfamiliar vampire dressed in black clerical vestments trimmed with red. His fingers bear a ruby-set signet ring. His marble-like features look younger than Caroline’s, but his faint smile and patient gaze have an almost grandfatherly quality to them… and a coldly waiting hunger that feels anything but grandfatherly, or human. Maldonato introduces him as “His Most Reverend Eminence, Cardinal Arechavaleta.”

The cardinal addresses the quiet crowd in a soft yet sonorous voice as he tells them he is but a messenger—one who has borne witness to a divine vision.

The first vision came to him as he slept during the day. He saw a great city where the Damned feasted upon blood that ran through the streets like a river. He saw a damned man with the head of a goat, eyes of fire, and skin of gold. He told the Damned not to give thanks to God for this feast of plenty, but themselves: and he raised up the idol of a lamb, also made of gold, and told the Damned to pay homage to it. The Damned bowed before the idol and God was wrathful. A great flood descended upon the city. The Damned screamed for mercy, and ran to escape its cleansing waters, and impaled a young man upon sword and javelin and arrow; and they feasted upon the blood of a child, its head smashed against the walls of the city; and they feasted upon a woman, violated and dismembered. The flood dashed all of their bodies against the city’s walls, Damned and living, and their blood flowed out over the streets. The waters carried them out into the rising sun, where they screamed and burned and died under Raphael’s curse; and the great city was cleansed and made lifeless.

And it was good.

The second vision came to him the next night, as he fed upon the blood of an iniquitous man who had laid with his daughter. He slew the man, the daughter, and the poisoned fruit of the man’s seed and the daughter’s womb: and he rejoiced that God had shown him these sinners. He drank deep of their blood as they screamed and died, and he saw.

He saw a pit, that was black inside and deeper than he could see. He saw a Damned man, with the head of a wolf, carrying the crosier of a bishop, who bid that he look into the pit. He did, and said, “I cannot see to the bottom.” The Damned man replied, “Just so,” and thrust him into the pit. He fell for a thousand years. He looked up, and he saw a great city at the rim of the pit, where the Damned feasted upon blood that ran through the streets like a river. He heard the Damned sing hymns of praise to God for this feast of plenty and His almighty Damnation, and Arechavaleta knew hope as he fell. He reached for the rosary at his breast, and clutched it as he prayed for the city; and the beads snapped, and the lance spiraled upwards. It was the only lance the cardinal could see in the city, and then the darkness swallowed his sight whole.

Much of the cardinal’s remaining oration is similarly esoteric in nature. The Damned listen in hushed, reverent silence. Yet Arechavaleta has a second matter of a more earthly nature to announce: Father Malveaux will be consecrated as bishop. His vision led him to believe that, “New Orleans has gone without a bishop for long enough.”

He’s greeted by cheers and applause from the Sanctified audience. Everyone seems to agree: ten years is more than long enough.

Savoy’s partisans are less enthusiastic in their applause, but they still join in. The French Quarter lord himself looks as delighted as any of Vidal’s followers and offers his warm congratulations to the pink-eyed priest, who cannot do aught than courteously accept them.

Caroline: Caroline is hushed throughout the cardinal’s speech. She claps politely at the news of Father Malveaux’s promotion, but the news sets her ill at ease. His ascendance is not to her benefit.

Is is a coincidence that Malveaux is getting elevated, either, after the revelation concerning the prince’s impending torpor? It looks as if the cardinal wants to hedge his bets, in case anything becomes of her sire. Interesting.

She’s not sure what to make of that.

All she knows is that the Albino has only ever meant her ill.

Monday evening, 21 December, 2015

GM: The first obstacles Caroline has to overcome with the sisters is scheduling. All of the shooting ranges in the New Orleans metro area close at 8 PM at the latest—and are some distance away from the Giani Building. Between the transit times, Caroline’s own initial evening routine, and coordinating things with the twins’ schedules, they don’t have enough time to get in much practice. Fuller is helpful in identifying all of the components necessary to build an indoor shooting range. Widney is more critical of the price—$10,000 for a simple bullet trap setup, $60,000 for a good one, and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for a premium range with all of the bells and whistles. Fuller thinks it would be a good investment, more for the building’s security than for the girls. He points out the benefits in having those personnel around in the building more often as well as practicing more often.

Widney points out the economic drawbacks of being a vampire. She could just take the girls to a shooting range during the day, if she were alive.

They settle on a temporary solution, though, when Jeremy May, now one of the Devillers’ private security contractors, volunteers his own home for the three’s use. He lives a little ways out from downtown (“away from the hustle’n bustle”) as he terms it, and has a serviceable home range in his backyard. He still likes to hit the professional ranges (especially now that he’s off NOPD and can’t practice with his ex-fellow cops), but sometimes he doesn’t have time to make the trip, or as he terms it, “ya jus’ wanna blows holes in somethin’, right now.” The somewhat disgruntled neighbors are accustomed to hearing gunshots from his backyard. May brags he was the best sharpshooter on NOPD, and that you have to practice all the time to keep your skills sharp. It’s how he brought down Gettis. Both sisters clearly idolize him for his actions there, and even like the idea of practicing at one of their bodyguards’ homes more than hitting the pro range. May also seems pleased Caroline already knows how to shoot and wants to show the sisters how. “Don’ see many dainty girls like y’all who can tell a bullet ferm a barrel, no ‘ffense meant, ma’am.” He remarks on how it’s less than ideal to be doing this at night. He’ll lay out lights everywhere, “turn this whole yard inta day,” but day really would be better.

Caroline: The heiress admits she’s certainly not as proficient as May is, and is grateful he’s offered his home (and is there to help answer any further questions they have beyond her expertise). She leans on some of his own instruction alongside her own, which is focused heavily on fundamentals of firearms use long before they start putting rounds down range. She has the girls hold and handle several firearms, from rifles to pistols, getting accustomed to their weight and what the various buttons and switches some have do. Next she familiarizes them with loading and unloading. Finally, she moves onto familiarity firing—that is firing each without a bullet in the chamber to get accustomed to the mechanism and mold their form before they’re handling lethal weapons. It’s very much the same course that her father used when he took her to the range, except there isn’t a photographer here.

Only when she feels confident that the girls can comfortably manage the loading, unloading, chambering, firing of a weapon does she let them move onto the actual shooting, trying to provide support as they work through their shared discomfort.

GM: Yvette initially asks why he’s laying out paper targets instead of tin cans, to which May replies that tin cans have a chance of deflection that’s just a little too high, given his neighbors. Paper is safer, “even if ain’t as fun to blow ’part.” Yvette misses the first few targets she takes aim at, but violently unloads into the last one with a fiercely exclaimed, “HA!” as she empties the remainder of the whole magazine into it. She clearly finds release in being the one behind the trigger this time. She helps Yvonne load her gun with a warning on how hot the weapon can get after repeated use (“Ah didn’t know it did that!”). Her sister gives a less enthusiastic if still determined smile before taking aim.

Her accuracy is all right. In fact, she shoots straighter than Yvette. Her already pale complexion grows even more white with that first shot, though, and she starts breathing heavily while eyeing the gun in her hands with an increasingly queasy eye. She requests a few minutes to get herself together before the next shot. She looks even worse after the second one and starts shaking. May says that maybe they should take things a bit slower, or work their way up with BB guns or even bows and arrows (he has a set he uses occasionally, calling it a “fun change of pace sometimes” from shooting). Yvette looks towards Caroline for support and implores her sister to get off one last shot, citing “three’s a lucky number, raht? Dr. Franklin says you overcome fears bah facing them. That’s ’ow exposure therapy works.”

Yvonne shakily agrees to give it another go, then throws up after the third shot. It goes quite wide of the paper cut-out. May gives an exclaimed, “Whoa!” and says this isn’t just a bad idea, it’s unsafe. There’s no telling what direction Yvonne might shoot if that happens again. His backyard isn’t set up for this. “Gotta be sure yer gonna at least hit the wall. Y’all can empty as many rounds as ya like inta that, but any wider… folks with kids live around here.”

Yvette can’t hide her disappointment that Yvonne doesn’t seem up for learning how to shoot, but asks if Caroline could go through some self-defense training basics and show them a few moves. “We don’t need a lot for that at least, raht?”

Caroline: Caroline congratulates Yvette on her first round of shooting and does her best to encourage Yvonne through her first two shots. After the third she goes to get them both a drink and offers encouragement of a different kind, congratulating Yvonne on facing her fears to even come out.

GM: That seems to build Yvonne’s confidence, a bit, after they wait some time for her stomach to settle. The sisters are both very lithe (Yvette repeats they’ve done a lot of ballet and gymnastics) and seem to have fair potential in that area. Yvette bets they’ll do really well at fencing too. Yvonne seems in a better mood by the time they call things for the night and excuses herself to use the bathroom.

Yvette, meanwhile, tells Caroline that “Ah’d still lahk to learn to shoot, Ah really would,” but she doesn’t want to do something Yvonne also isn’t on board with. But she’d also still really like to learn. Should they maybe push her harder? Or just stick to fencing and self-defense? Maybe try shooting later? What does Caroline think?

Caroline: Caroline expresses that she feels that they’ve pushed Yvonne as far is as practical. She’d like the more sensitive of the twins to circle back at some point to try again (maybe under more controlled circumstances), but for now seems happy that they’ve learned some basics of firearm handling and safety. If they had to pick up a weapon, she feel confident they could at least get a few rounds off. Well, one of them could at least. She’d prefer to move on to try out swordsmanship as something they can both enjoy, and something that’ll bring up far fewer negative feelings. There’s time to come back around later.

GM: Yvonne seems to take better to the fundamentals instruction than Yvette does, who grants that it seems important but is most eager to start shooting things. Yvette does agree that it should (hopefully) make things easier for her sister later, now that she’s more familiar with how guns work and has actually fired one a few times. Yvette is also glad that she knows how to shoot—or at least, as she more jokingly terms it, how not to shoot.

May appears very impressed by Caroline’s firearms knowledge. “Y’ain’t what I was ‘spectin’, that’s fer sure.” The ex-cop doesn’t appear to let their difference in social stations slow him down at all when he confidently asks her out on a date. They can let “some real guns” at the shooting range he frequents and catch a crawfish and corn on the cob dinner at a great little seafood place he knows.

Fencing, however, is another story. Caroline can do that at the Giani Building with only a few, comparatively minor investments in equipment.

Caroline: Caroline politely declines the date. It’s more a “try again later” answer than one shooting him down permanently, though. She enjoys the attention that much.

Monday evening, 21 December, 2015

GM: Claire gets back to Caroline on Evan Bourelle about a week after their last conversation.

If hunters were behind the neonate’s disappearance, she states, she’d never pass that information along to Caroline. She has no interest in pointing any leeches after brave men and women fighting the good fight.

But as far as Claire could find out, hunters weren’t responsible for whatever happened to the now months-vanished Bourelle. She has no idea what could have been (and doesn’t particularly seem to care), but she seems certain it wasn’t hunters.

Caroline: The heiress takes the information from her mother for what it’s worth. She’d have appreciated something of more substance, but something is far better than nothing. It begs the question of why there seems to be an effort at pointing the finger at hunters.

Monday evening, 21 December 2015

Caroline: Ahead of her meeting with her depraved ancestor, Caroline schedules another get-together with another veritable ancestor whom she has a better relationship with: Louisiana State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Malveaux. The discussing topics move here and there: her near imminent bar exam and what guidance he might give her on it, interesting cases before his court this year, finally (once again over drinks) family history.

As a child she’d been somewhat awed by the entire hall filled with portraits and family photos of note going back to the first days of Malveaux prominence, when such things were luxuries that men and women both dressed up for. As she grew into her preteen and teen years her enthusiasm for them vanished alongside her interest in many things, but tonight she expressed some renewed interest as a way of touching base with the past, and preserving the memory of the present for the future. She asks if he’s added a photo of Westley to the wall, or to albums, and spends hours discussing the history associated with each of the framed wall photos.

A photo of Carson on his commissioning day, resplendent in a dress uniform that does not yet include the awards he received in Vietnam and carrying two gold bars instead of the gold oak leaves Caroline remembers more vividly, as he received his oath of office:

Further down a photo of her grandmother, Camillia, on her wedding day with her grandfather, smiling in her wedding dress and almost unrecognizable from the old woman she is now.

And finally, into older, less spontaneous photos, with the formal stiffness of those for whom a photograph is a serious event taken with the utmost decorum, often in their Sunday best.

GM: Thomas doesn’t say so, but he’s clearly made time for Caroline and showed her around the family’s history because he’s deeply concerned by the things he’s heard concerning her. He seems to want her to get back on the right track, and to hope that this look through the family history will impress upon her the significance of the legacy she’s heir to, and inspire her to (better) uphold it.

Caroline: It’s an interesting walk into the past that Caroline appreciates more, now that she’s grown older. But also now that she commonly shares rooms with those who walked beside these men and women, and were cut from the cloth of the era. Something that gives her greater insight, she thinks, into their personality and character. It’s one specifically that she seeks insight into.

It’s down the line that she finds what she wants, beyond what might be one of the last nights she has to spend with the elderly Thomas. A picture of Father Malveaux’s dearly departed sister: Monique. She takes out her phone and snaps a picture of the picture.

Caroline hadn’t ever appreciated it before: the last time she seriously looked at any of these in anything but passing was more than a decade before, when she was still a girl with all lanky limbs growing into her body. While Thomas is distracted—toddling off to refill their cocktails—Caroline takes the opportunity to study the dead woman closely. She can’t get a good read on how tall her dead ancestor was, but she suspects that’s a point of difference—heights increasing over time as they have. Beyond that though, it’s a startling image.

The two aren’t identical—there are enough differences that side by side they’d be told apart— but their features are startlingly similar, right down to the blonde hair, swanlike neck, and the pointed chin they share. If one were described the other could easily pass for them to a stranger, and perhaps even to someone more familiar they hadn’t seen in a few years. It’s much like looking at herself through a slightly distorted mirror, another version of who she might have been. Unnervingly so, she hopes, for the ancient dead albino whose decisions tomorrow will have a significant impact on her fate within Clan Ventrue.

Especially unnerving, she hopes, in mirroring the dead woman’s dress. Caroline smiles viciously. Victorian-era gowns aren’t exactly in vogue, and showing up in one for a meeting that others will sit in would, perhaps, be too obvious a bait to pass off in polite society. Still, there are enough elements she can have worked into her own attire for tomorrow to make the similarities abnormal, even if they are subtle. She particularly appreciates that Monique too seemed to have had affection for Caroline’s own favorite wardrobe color: black, and wonders if the photo was taken at a funeral.

She eyes too the pearl necklace around the dead woman’s throat. Yes, Caroline might make a plausible stand-in indeed.

Tuesday night, 22 December 2015, PM

GM: Marcel meets Caroline aboard the Alystra with the soon-to-be Bishop Malveaux. The two speak little—or rather, Malveaux doesn’t speak at all while Marcel makes some initial polite conversation. The two gerousiastises are seemingly content to wait for Caroline to present her findings.

Caroline: Caroline dresses up for the occasion, trying to subtly emulate her ancestor’s dead sister. She relates in short: she discovered men snooping about her ‘official’ residence so far as her mortal family is concerned. Interrogating them led to what appears to be a massive and potentially Masquerade-damaging investigation run by a ghoul notionally in the employ of the Malveaux family. Among other things, he appears to have been selling the three brothers all manner of stories, including the true one that Caroline is a murderer. It’s all in the files she turns over, though that’s not the whole story.

Worse than just the tales within the family, rumors have spread well beyond the family of their growing disconnect and her growing ill-position within the family.

She tracked the entire investigation to Roger Ferris, which was when she discovered he was a ghoul, claiming to have been ghouled by Gerousiastis Malveaux and working under his direction to blackmail Caroline. She dismisses such a claim, especially given his repeated attempts to force her to ‘comply’ or ‘capitulate’ to him before Gerousiastis Malveaux’s return to the city. He made elaborate threats in their meeting, including ’sending the sheriff after her" and the like, along with claiming that Gerousiastis Malveuax desired her fully blood bound to him. Lies of course, and perhaps those introduced deliberately by a third party to try and create friction while Gerousiastis Malveaux was away she even ventures.

They met once at his residence, and once more in a public setting where he brought a large number of mortal support and at least one unknown ghoul. Simultaneously there was a large raid on her haven—a coincidence to be sure. At neither point, despite her temptation, did she attempt to manipulate or control him using the powers of the Blood—if indeed he was Gerousiastis Malveaux’s servant it would have been far over the line.

Not trusting the ghoul, and knowing Gerousiastis Malveaux was out of the area, she contacted Gerousiastis Guilbeau to help arrange this meeting and settle the matter. She lays all the evidence before the elder Ventrue—including the recording of the second meeting with Ferris.

She expresses at last that regardless of what may come of the matter with Ferris, due to the nature of the tales that have been spread, and the extent to which they have leaked out, that she believes a ‘faked death’ would draw in a tremendous amount of scrutiny to both the family, and to the Masquerade more generally. There are simply too many eyes on her, and all expecting some manner of scandal. Mindful however of her promise to distance herself from the family, she has an alternative to propose.

She adds a folder of photos Jocelyn has produced to the pile of evidence. An illicit relationship would both serve as a lower-grade and Masquerade friendly scandal for the family (and any others it leaked to) while also firmly disgracing her with the family and creating much of the distance she swore to create. She had the photos created explicitly to give Gerousiastis Malveaux the option of whether to go ahead with them (by seamlessly introducing them into the ongoing investigation), and to put all the power for such a thing in his hands.

GM: The soon-to-be Bishop Malveaux listens patiently and without interruption for the majority of Caroline’s presentation of her findings. Some, even many, might describe his affect as reserved… little emotion appears to cross his oddly-featured and too-pale face.

Caroline, though, might be more apt to describe it as distracted.

She can see it in his pinkish, lizard-like eyes. His attention, not all the way there. Details slipping past him. The way his stare seems to linger more on her face, her clothes, than on the dossiers and evidence she presents, as if he is seeing the former for the first time. It’s only when Caroline pauses for too long at a point when the other party would be expected to reply that Marcel Guilbeau has to prompt his clanmate with an expectant, “Gerousiastis?”

“This shall be… attended to,” the imminent bishop hisses in an oddly passionless voice.

“The matters of Roger Ferris and his investigation are no longer your concern,” he states, looking back towards Caroline.

Marcel strokes his goatee.

Father Malveaux looks down at the photos of Caroline and Jocelyn. Several moments pass. Marcel looks almost as if he is going to prompt his fellow gerousiastis again before Father Malveaux says the plan meets with his approval. He will arrange all of the details, and Caroline will carry out her part during the inevitable conversation with her uncle under “direct supervision”. Afterwards, she is to cease all contact with all members of her family save for Claire Malveaux, per the standing arrangement he has already approved with Sheriff Donovan (who will continue to coordinate the details thereof with Caroline). Some of the priest’s all-too familiar hateful and venomous tone starts to reemerge as he discusses the matter of his family, only to re-subside like a serpent under a charmer’s flute as Marcel soothingly declares the “unilaterally beneficial resolution” to “this whole affair” and how “our clan as a whole has been made stronger tonight.”

Then again, perhaps it’s because of the way he’s staring at Caroline.

Marcel starts to say something about “expressing a token of the Gerousia’s appreciation” before Father Malveaux interjects that he is invoking Caroline’s prior boon. She is to drink of him, here and once—“and so cement the mortar that holds the Structure fast,” he rasps, his pinkish eyes suddenly wide and feverish.

Caroline: There’s neither surprise nor anger written across Caroline’s face. She knew full well what she was walking into tonight, and even went so far as to try to draw out a reaction. She can hardly be upset when it happened. Of the numerous potential outcomes, this had been one she’d considered. Even a likely one, and far from the worst. Especially if it will clear her boon towards him.

She folds her hands before her demurely and very intently keeps her attention on her ancestor, not letting it stray to Marcel. “If that is your will, Gerousiastis Malveaux,” she replies after a moment, keeping her eyes locked upon his own.

GM: Father Malveaux raises a scarecrow-thin veined and pale wrist to his mouth. There’s a familiar flash of canines before he holds it out. His blood is as sweet and heady as any Caroline has tasted, yet with a distinctly bitter undertaste. A Gregorian chant seem almost to reverberate in her ears as she drinks.

Caroline: The heiress latches her fangs gently onto his wrist when offered, letting the kiss take hold for the brief moment that she heartily sucks down his vitae before breaking away, her lips stained with his blood. She finally reacts as the blood’s power takes hold, shivering as it worms its way into her heart and mind. Caroline can feel her feelings towards the elder Ventrue softening around the edges, their past interactions taking on a subtle coloring. It’s subtle, insidious. Like a couple drinks at a bar softly altering her perception of things. And even knowing that it’s coming, and knowing what it’s doing, it’s as irresistible as the alcohol is in a co-ed’s bloodstream.

He’s not really that bad, is he? He’s kept her family safe for a century. Presumably kept her safe. Allowed her family to prosper in ways he might never have. Been surprisingly patient with her many disrespectful actions, and her failings as one of the Sanctified? And hasn’t she always known that he wasn’t that bad? Wasn’t she the one that talked her mother out of trying to destroy him? That defended his existence?

She releases the thin and pale wrist she hadn’t even realize she’d grasped in the moment and licks the blood from her lips. She takes a moment to compose herself. “Does that satisfy my boon to you, Gerousiastis Malveaux?”

GM: He’s not that bad at all. Caroline remembers what it was like, in those first nights of her Requiem. How she sought out his guidance and mentorship. How he used Aimee to make her take responsibility for her choices, to make her more than just a victim. How he first impressed the values of their clan upon her. And what has she been so mad at him for, really? One ghoul she barely even knew? Everyone seems over that. She might as well be too. What does bitterness over just another corpse offer relative to his goodwill?

“This act is sufficient,” the priest rasps.

“Another brick that may build the Structure tall,” Marcel smiles.

The two gerousiastises have several remaining orders of business:

As the aforementioned token of the Gerousia’s appreciation, Father Malveaux is willing to grant Caroline a single minor favor of her choosing now.

Marcel Guilbeau and Pierpont McGinn, meanwhile, will remain true to their prior words to make introductions among the Invictus. Caroline should contact their respective heralds to make scheduling arrangements.

After Caroline turns over the last of her blackmail dossier on her family, Marcel reiterates that what was discussed here tonight is to remain strictly between her and the Gerousia.

He also adds that if Caroline should happen to uncover information on an attempt by outside parties to turn the Ventrue clan against one another, as she conjectured, the Gerousia will “look favorably” upon her for bringing any such findings to their attention.

Caroline: Caroline asks, for her reward, if the soon to be bishop will take her hunting with him one night. She did not fully appreciate the faith when he tried to immerse her in it previously—but she would see first hand how the city’s soon to be leader of the flock discovers and sees to the fate of sinners. It need not be immediate, or even soon.

GM: The priest agrees to as much.

Caroline: She finally brings up the matter of all the scattered threads likely to spring loose after the meeting with Orson severs her from the family. Family members that will wish to talk, even to say goodbye, or to seek explanations or what is happening. More so, for some, she believes if she does not put on the appearance of acceptance of her ‘banishment’ there will be more questions, conflict, and unrest that could damage the family at best, and at worst tear at the Masquerade. She requests through the end of the week to fully disentangle herself from those scattered threads, and is even willing to offer a small boon for each such meeting that happens with his family and domain.

GM: The too-familiar look of slow-burning hate starts to pierce the fog in Father Malveaux’s eyes as Caroline brings up the topic of continued interference in his domain. Not wholly. He still looks somewhat (actually, more than somewhat) off-balance. But the older Ventrue is clearly regaining his footing.

Such meetings will cost her a boon and occur “under supervision”. It is clear that Caroline has worn out her welcome regarding continued interference with their mortal family.

Marcel strokes his goatee, but does not interject.

Caroline: The young Ventrue is happy to honor those conditions, and asks how and with whom the gerousiastis wishes her to arrange such supervision to his greatest convenience.

GM: Caroline will not find it necessary to arrange anything, the priest coolly informs her. She need only know that upon any occasion she interacts with his kine, he will be watching.

Caroline: “As you say, Gerousiastis,” the heiress replies demurely.

Tuesday night, 22 December 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s mother has her over to discuss how things went with the Albino, Caroline’s future in the Ventrue clan and Malveaux family, and what they and/or Father M are to do about Roger Ferris.

Caroline: Caroline relates the meeting seemed to go well. Exactly what his plans are for Roger she doesn’t know, but he’s agreed with her plan to get herself ‘disowned’ by the family at large. Several Ventrue have agreed to help make additional introductions for her among her kind.

GM: Claire wants to know if it seemed like Ferris actually was his ghoul, if he denied an association, confirmed one, or what.

Caroline: Caroline brings up the idea that if you were trying to start a war, the matter with Ferris would be a good way to do so. Especially with Father Malveaux out of town. Father Malveaux was non-committal, beyond claiming that he’d “deal with it.”

GM: Claire solicits Caroline’s opinion on what they should do about Father Malveaux and Ferris at this juncture. The former is an established enemy whose position just got even stronger, while the latter has the potential to become “very dangerous indeed” once he’s learned the vagaries of Kindred/ghoul society—and the window there is closing fast. Would it be possible to convert him to their side? Unlike Father Malveaux, he hasn’t actually done anything to hurt the family. If Caroline doesn’t believe so, she raises the possibility of “neutralizing” him by abducting (and if need be, killing) his 12-year-old daughter—one of the few apparent chinks in his armor.

Caroline: Caroline believes that his daughter will continue to present an area of weakness for the foreseeable future, even if he isn’t slain or significantly harmed or restricted by Father Malveaux. That is something she may have a better look at than Caroline in coming days and weeks if things go according to plan with her relationship with the family. Ferris did repeatedly offer to come over, but that only further convinces her that either he wasn’t Malveaux’s ghoul, or that it was some manner of feint. The bond just doesn’t allow for that kind of substantial treachery to come easily in her experience. She does think that if Father Malveaux is actually made Bishop Malveaux, his position becomes essentially almost unassailable, Ferris or not. She has some ideas for that, but is glad they didn’t try to make a run against him coming back—given those he traveled with she doesn’t expect they’d have succeeded.

GM: Claire agrees with a simple, “Everything in its proper time and place.”

Wednesday night, 23 December 2015, AM

GM: Father Malveaux doesn’t waste any time. Mere hours after his meeting with Caroline—still during the very same night—Alphonse Meridian and several grim-faced men pull up to the Giani Building during the dead of night. The dead-eyed ‘driver’ tells Caroline that her uncle is going to see her. Now. Fuller and the building’s other security relent from challenging them at their domitor’s order.

Alphonse escorts Caroline into the same dining room where her uncle first received her after the events of Southern Decadence. It feels like a lifetime ago. Another resplendent spread of food is laid out, with items from buttered lobster to roast beef to steaming mushroom soup. Much has changed for Caroline, but it feels like nothing has for her uncle.

This time, however, Orson does not invite his niece to join him in his late night repast, even for a single glass of wine. He spends no time discussing theological parallels.

He just points at the photos.

“No more, Caroline,” the archbishop states. His voice is almost soft.

“No more.”

He doesn’t call her selfish or degenerate. He doesn’t talk about the shame and scandal this could bring upon the family. He doesn’t talk about how furious her relatives will be. He doesn’t lecture her about pissing away her future. He doesn’t tell her she’s going to hell—after all, he’s already done that.

He simply tells her what is going to happen next.

Law school is over. Her clerkship is over. Her access to her trust fund, her credit cards, her partying, her apartment at the Giani Building, her car, her friends, her homosexual lover, her life as an independent adult—all of that is over.

She is joining the Ursulines as a postulant. She will live with them in the convent. There will be no need for her to ever leave. The sisters will provide conversion therapy. If the reports on her “rehabilitation” are favorable, Orson will consider “beginning to allow” her some of her former personal freedoms back.

Perhaps, the archbishop continues with a faint smile, Caroline believes she has nothing left to lose. That she has no reason to cooperate with him or the Ursulines, because that is the worst fate she could ever suffer. That is quite untrue. There remains one final recourse, if Caroline rejects even this “last mercy”. They will fly her to Venezuela for it: while enough money in the right hands “may see anything arranged” in any part of the world, it’s ultimately more cost-effective to do “that sort of thing” in Latin America, where there are “fewer impediments.” This “final solution” will not merely make Caroline submit to the family’s will—it will render her incapable of doing otherwise. From that last recourse, there may be no return.

“I trust you will exercise more wisdom than your cousin, Caroline,” the archbishop concludes with that same patient smile. “Shall I instruct the mother superior to begin preparing a place for you at the convent, or for Alphonse to escort you to the airport?”

Yet dead-eyed Alphonse is not the only witness who remains silent to these proceedings.

Father Malveaux silently looms from a chair to Orson’s left. The black-robed, ghostly-faced, and skeletally thin albino seems to hover over the obese archbishop’s shoulder like an all-too literal devil. He whispers no temptations. His reddish-pink eyes merely glow with hellish light at each of Orson’s pronouncements—and the room feels that much darker. Caroline’s uncle does not once look at him or acknowledge his presence in any way.

Caroline: There was a time, not so long ago, that Caroline would have been terrified by such a meeting. There was a time not so long ago that she was terrified in such a meeting, despite her undead state. That time is long past.

The heiress is neither contrite nor apologetic. She’s not even polite. “I’m not going anywhere,” she tells the three-chinned archbishop before his jowls have even stopped flapping.

“Not the convent, and certainly not Latin America to be disposed of like some two-cent migrant maid that overheard something she shouldn’t have. I saw how your ‘mercy’ worked out for Susan. And I’ll have no part of it.”

GM: Orson is deathly silent at Caroline’s defiant words. He dabs his mouth with a napkin and sets it back down.

“Venezuela, then,” he whispers. “Alphonse, make the arrangements.”

His long-time henchman wordlessly pulls out a phone and taps into it.

Caroline’s uncle stares at her unwaveringly as he does.

“I am very disappointed, niece.”

Caroline: “You shouldn’t be, uncle, you taught me very well,” Caroline replies, not seemingly perturbed at all by the death sentence he’s prescribed.

“Well, in truth, you, and Uncle Matt, and even Roger Ferris.” She picks up one of the photos off the table and glances at it. “That’s a great picture. Your photographer is very talented. Can I take this one?” she asks.

“My own photos are… well. Less beautiful. But then they show worse things than two women together. Worse things objectively. Worse things for you. And worse things for the family.”

GM:‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.’

The archbishop pauses in his scriptural recitation. “Your filth shall befoul this family no longer, Caroline.”

He looks to Alphonse. “We have a loose end, Alphonse. I want this other degenerate found.”

“Venezuela?” the long-time ‘driver’ asks tonelessly, as if Orson is asking him what brand of drain cleaner to pick up.

“No,” says the archbishop. “Her you may kill.”

Alphonse taps some more into his phone, then moves to seize Caroline by her arm.

Through it all, Father Malveaux watches silently.

Caroline: The glare Caroline gives the approaching ‘driver’ is positively murderous. “Don’t even think of touching me,” she all but snarls at the approaching kine.

She turns her attention back to her uncle. “We’re not done,” she declares.

“You have a great many loose ends, uncle,” she pronounces, plainly dispensing with his title once more. “Father Patterson who confessed about molesting children to you, who you shipped off to Shreveport where he’d have less oversight. Hillary Cherry, whose medical records were stolen by Roger’s people and leaked to Jackson Kibbe during the election. Sheri Bucsh—that affair of Uncle Matt’s that had that terrible accident, falling asleep on the tracks?”

“Loose ends everywhere. Pieces of evidence. Notes on where the bodies are buried, and why they were buried. Affairs. Corruption. Payments. Scandals for days to make this,” she slides the dossier of photos back towards him on the table, “look like a firecracker compared to the Fourth of July.” She stares her uncle down. “All waiting for me to take my hand off the dead man switch. Or did you think I didn’t know this night was coming? That I wasn’t paying attention to what you did last time someone slipped a toe out of line?” There’s even a bit of genuine anger in her tone.

GM: Alphonse pauses at the iron in the Ventrue’s command, perhaps unaccustomed to one who would fight back in the archbishop’s presence. He looks towards his boss.

Orson smiles benignly. “Christ’s love is boundless, Caroline—as is His mercy for those who atone through good works. Father Patterson continues to serve a useful function in spite of his indiscretions. Would that the same could be said for you.”

He shakes his head.

“I have heard enough of this whore’s ramblings, Alphonse. Get her out of my sight.”

The thin-haired man doesn’t seem to take heart from his boss’ command so much as remember that he lacks one. His stride is swift and silent as a serpent’s as he grabs at Caroline’s arms to pull them behind her back.

Their century-dead ancestor continues to watch impassively.

Caroline: The anger that flashes across Caroline’s face is all too genuine. Alphonse presents himself as an all too easy target when he makes the mistake of putting his hands on her—as he’s no doubt put his hands on dozens before—thinking she’s an easy target. She’s decidedly not. When his hand moves to close on her arm she snatches his right arm by the wrist and pulls him off balance. Her free hand palms one of her uncle’s so-sharp knives off the table.

She stands as turns and drives that knife through Alphonse’s hand and firmly into the fine oak table beneath it. As he moves to reach for his maimed hand she rips his revolver from its holster at his side and sets it on the right side of the table, out of his reach. “Do I have your attention yet, uncle?” she demands.

“Because we’re not done. We haven’t even started.”

GM: Alphonse doesn’t scream as the knife rams through his palm so much as hiss. Low, pained, and furious. His other hand snakes after the revolver Caroline yanks away, but he’s only mortal. Too slow.

Orson’s face pales with rage.

“Cease this foolishness at once—both of you! This is how you repay my kindness, Alphonse? Seize her!

Sweat beads from the thin-haired man’s brow as he seizes the steak knife’s black handle with his other hand and agonizingly pulls. Blood pools over the oaken table. He’s still after the Ventrue in a flash, thrusting the knife towards her face to drive her back and off-balance.

Caroline: Caroline slips outside the thrust—it’s almost harder here to move slowly enough to at least appear human than to avoid his so slow movements. She swats his attacking hand downward with her inside one, grabs it with her outside hand, and drives her inside arm’s elbow under his arm into his solar plexus. There’s a slight pause as she gives him a moment to reconsider, but when he wheels around on her again, fighting the urge to vomit, it’s all over. Two-handed and fresh, it wouldn’t have been fair. One-handed and heaving, it’s over all too quickly.

She kicks him in the groin while he’s doubled over, then bounces his face off the edge of the table. There’s a sickening crush that can only be his nose and teeth. Once, twice, then three times, until he finally goes slack.

“Do you still feel strong, uncle?” she all but snarls in a rage. “Now that you’ve ordered my death?”

GM:ALPHONSE, you sickening incompetent!” the archbishop roars. “SEIZE her—or you will find yourself replaced! Heaven knows I can find a thousand more of your kind slavering to crawl up from the gutter!” A vein throbs in his temple as he violently stabs a piece of beef on his plate, raises it to his mouth, and chews ferociously.

Wet-sounding, raggedy wheezes sputter from the floor underneath Caroline. Alphonse pulls himself to his knees, clutching to the table with his one good hand like a lifeline. He lunges forward, trying to pull out one of her legs with his uninjured hand. A snap kick to his kidneys and follow-up punch to his already shattered nose send the blood- and vomit-caked man toppling backwards like a string-cut marionette, out cold.

ALPHONSE!” Orson roars again. Half-chewed flecks of beef fly from his mouth. His face isn’t just pale with rage, it’s beet red. He stabs his knife down into a second cut piece of meat, only for his arm to suddenly jerk, sending the utensil scraping against china plate. The livid expression on his face disappears for a moment as the archbishop clutches his heart, sweat now beading on his brow. Wrath, however, proves stronger still as he bellows, “IF YOU HAVE ANY FEAR FOR YOUR IMMORTAL SOUL, YOU WILL DO AS I SAY!

Yet his servant does not, cannot, answer him. Perhaps the spirit is willing.

But the flesh is weak.

Caroline: The heiress looks down at the unconscious man, then back at her uncle. “Looks like you don’t control him right now. Just like you don’t control me.”

Calm is returning after momentary blood-lust inspired by the flash of violence.

“This is what’s going to happen. I’m going to walk out that door, and you’re not going to send him after me. You’re not going to send anyone after me, or anyone that I care about. If you don’t, then every dirty secret that I know is going to show up in Noelle Cherry’s inbox, and in the inboxes of a lot of other people that hate this family, and you’re going to have a much bigger scandal to worry about than some pictures.”

“Have someone else call me when you actually want to talk.”

GM: Orson stabs his fork down into another slice of beef, then a second one. He jabs both into his mouth and chews furiously. His fat jowls jiggle up and down as he seethes at Caroline through his full mouth, still chewing,

“You disobedient slut! There are a THOUSAND more like him at our family’s beck and call! Do you believe this matters? That you have put down one of them?! Pah!” Several pieces of chewed meat fly from Orson’s mouth onto the table. Sweat trickles from his red brow as his chest heaves.

“You have but postponed Venezuela—and done me a service in showing me his faithlessness! His soul shall BURN in hell, as shall yours! Do you believe this changes anything? It changes NOTHING! You filthy, disgusting savage, brawling in our family’s house, our ANCESTRAL house, as you would FORNICATE with that cheap HARLOT! You DISHONOR our name with every breath to pass your filthy, FILTHY lips-!”

Orson chokes in mid-sentence, mushed pieces of saliva-coated meat alternately flying and dropping from his sputtering mouth. There’s light splashes as several land in his wineglass. The archbishop clutches his chest again and wheezes incoherently, but the hatred behind his bespectacled eyes blazes hotter still. He seizes the wineglass like it’s the hem of Christ’s own robe and raises it to his lips. He gulps ravenously, re-swallowing the partly-chewed beef pieces.

Caroline: “Just stop,” Caroline spits out with disgust. “I’m done. Finished playing by your rules. Finished living my life the way you want. Finished being afraid of you. I was done before you tried to order my death. I’m sure as hell done now.”

She turns to leave.

GM: “You imbelic SLATTERN!” Orson shouts in mid-drink. Wine sprays from his mouth. Red droplets spatter over the spread of food, over the tablecloth, over the silver utensils, but even its flow is as nothing next to the stream of red that cascades down his many chins and soaks the front of his clothes. Caroline can still see half-mushed, wine-soaked specks of food everywhere the wine lands.

“Your DEATH? Still you are the child who knows nothing! We could have you killed here, killed cheaply, CHEAP like your ABOMINABLE liaisons with that sickening WHORE-”

Orson cuts off again, literally choking on his rage—or perhaps the rich food. His eyes seem to swim out of place as he wheezes incoherently, pounding his chest with a fat, clenched fist.

Caroline: The heiress turns.


She stalks over to the table’s midpoint, grabs hold of it, and with great effort flips the entire thing onto its side with a tremendous crash. Food splatters everywhere. Plates crash and break. Wine and soup flow across the floor.

“Now I’m done,” she declares.

GM: Caroline’s defiant words—and action—seem to stoke just enough hatred for the obese man to recover himself. His face looks awful. It’s as red as a baking, overripe tomato, and looks nearly as ready to explode. Mashed food, spittle, and wine stain the folds of his clothes and many chins. He reaches out a condemning, accusatory hand, starts to rise from his seat, and then suddenly buckles over. Caroline can hear several plates crack under the weight of his fat body’s sudden impact, further staining his fine clothes. Orson half-sputters, half-regurgitates more half-mushed food down his chest. His eyes blaze with loathing as he thrusts his hands into the mass of floor-spilled and wine-congealing food. He seizes a tureen of soup whose lidded cover has mostly prevented its contents from pouring out. He tosses the lid aside, thrusts his hands into the still-boiling cream of mushroom, and begins shoveling literal handfuls into his mouth. His shaking hands are so furious that he misses half the time, spilling it over his shoulders or simply onto the floor, but he just shovels more in. Caroline can still see tendrils of steam wafting from his mouth as he screams at her, spitting broth and gibbets of mushroom with each exclamation,

“A LOBOTOMY! THAT is why we are having you flown to Venezuela, you foolish COW! The procedure remains LEGAL in that country, they call it psychoSURGERY, to treat AGGRESSION, it hardly TAKES a significant BRIBE to-”

Orson is cut off again with another wheezing, chest-deep cough that sends him doubling over. He balls a meaty fist against the ground as if doing a push-up. He can’t stop it this time as the vomit comes spewing out. The chewed-up pieces of beef haven’t had any time to decompose as he retches and heaves. He wipes an arm across his mouth in a futile effort to clean himself, then suddenly lurches, pounding his heart again. Caroline hasn’t ever seen a look of hatred, at least from a mere mortal, so utterly black as her uncle’s as he shakily clamps his hands around the soup tureen and screams,


The exclamation hasn’t even finished leaving his lips when he raises the tureen and ravenously gulps and quaffs. Caroline can’t even see his face behind the white ceramic, but she can make out more steaming cream of mushroom spilling over his chest and shoulders.

Caroline: The heiress looks past him, to the only other being in the room that really matters.

The pale albino in the corner.

GM: Father Malveaux remains utterly still and silent.

He has remained still and silent throughout the whole of her confrontation with her uncle.

Nothing crosses the porcelain pale face with its pinkish eyes.

Caroline might as well be looking at a statue.

Caroline: “No. I won’t,” she says simply, once more turning to depart.

GM: Orson collapses backwards, cream of mushroom running down his chins. The dish hits the floor with a clatter, spilling its remaining contents over his crotch.

Caroline: The signs are obvious to her: the sweating, the shortness of breath, and the collapse. Her uncle is having a heart attack. She didn’t realize it at first between his ranting, but his collapse makes clear he’s gone into cardiac arrest. She looks around the wrecked room. The food and shattered dishes everywhere. Her uncle’s ‘driver’ (such a bland euphemism for all the things he does). Her pale ancestor watching. And her filthy, food-spattered, bastard of an uncle, the archbishop of New Orleans, who ordered the death of Jocelyn (a few years late) and her own involuntary lobotomy just moments ago.

Part of her wants to just walk away. To leave him to die. He’s a pig. A slob. A tyrant that presumed to lord over her. There’s a savage satisfaction in looking down at his dying body.

But there’s still something else there too. Something that predates her initiation into the ranks of the damned. Maybe it’s the years of dreaming of being a doctor. The plans she had. The incessant drumbeat in her ears to do no harm, to help others, however faint the noise has become since her Embrace. More likely, it’s something that predates that. Something hammered into her mind since birth: she’s a Malveaux. Their family means something. Should mean something. She doesn’t know what it means. Not anymore. Not to New Orleans. Not to her. But it’s still enough that she won’t leave the most powerful priest in the city, her uncle, to die alone (their deathless ancestor’s presence hardly counts) and covered in filth.

Maybe there’s enough humanity. Maybe there’s enough Malveaux. It doesn’t matter. She grinds her teeth and turns, rushing over to his fallen form.

“He’s dying,” she says mostly for the benefit of her elder clanmate. “He needs to get to a hospital.”

Even as she looks up into those pink-rimmed eyes to make the declaration, she wipes the food away from his face and throat and rolls him over onto his side so his body can clear the airway the best way it knows how: vomiting.

GM: The older Ventrue’s lizard-like eyes don’t slowly blink. They simply don’t. His oddly shaped features have not once wavered throughout the course of Caroline’s violent confrontation with her uncle. They still do not.

But for the first time since she saw him hovering over the archbishop’s shoulder like an all-too literal-seeming devil, their deathless ancestor rasps a word:


Caroline: The question rocks Caroline back. Why? Isn’t it obvious? Shouldn’t he care more than her, since the archbishop is part of his domain?

“Because he’s the archbishop,” she answers, using a finger to sweep the half-chewed food out of his slack mouth. “And a powerful part of your domain, Gerousiastis Malveaux.”

She has to almost pause to be certain she includes the title, and not something more familiar.

GM: The albino just stares at her.


Caroline: “You would rather let him die? See the office of the archbishop pass out of Malveaux hands?” she asks, not quite incredulously only through active effort.

GM: There’s only a blank stare.

Caroline: “Would you rather he died, Gerousiastis?”

GM: The repeated question seems to draw the albino back.

“I shall offer no boon for his life.”

His pinkish eyes sweep the dying man impassively.

“Do as you will.”

Caroline: The callousness of the statement hits her like a wave. She hesitates before turning her gaze back to her dying uncle. It would be easier, in some ways, if he died. It would throw the family into chaos. Divert attention away from her. Make it even easier to get out of faking her death.

But it would throw the family into chaos. Fracture their hold on the church. And there’d be so many questions. Why she was here. What they were discussing. Why his driver was beaten half to death.

“I understand, Gerousiastis,” she finally says.

Caroline pulls out her phone and dials 911.

GM: The albino stares at Caroline as she does so and talks to the dispatcher. He watches her silently for several moments, until she hangs up, then walks away. He extends his wrist over Alphonse and lets enough blood flow forth into the swiftly animatedly sucking man until his hideous wounds are gone. When he begins to say something, the Sanctified priest replies only, “Sleep. You never awoke.” Alphonse sleeps.

His pinkish eyes slowly drift across the room. He does not look at Caroline when he finally rasps,

“Leave this place.”

Caroline: Busily engaged in performing CPR on her dying uncle, Caroline finally looks up to see what the priest has wrought.

“If someone doesn’t keep up CPR until the paramedics arrive, he’ll probably die, Gerousiastis,” she answers, compressing rapidly on Orson’s flabby chest.

GM: Her deathless ancestor just looks at the wall blankly. Caroline wonders for several moments if he has heard or understood her before the older Ventrue rasps,

“Stay, then.”

Caroline: Caroline continuing with compressions, pausing for a moment in acknowledgement as he speaks. “Yes, Gerousiastis,” she replies before leaning into to deliver two breaths. Part of her distantly wonders if such breaths, without her own body trying to use the oxygen, are more effective than those delivered by a living being. She certainly enjoys a tirelessness in her efforts that would not have persisted in life.

That’s the key to CPR, really. It’s not complicated. Though several institutions have stopped teaching rescue breathing at all in an effort to even further simplify it, mostly those efforts have been in response to people panicking in a crisis. That and the greater importance of the compressions when paramedics can respond within ten minutes or so (the human body keeps a surprising amount of oxygen in it) and the more frequently poorly applied breaths (too shallow), it’s a simple rhythm. Thirty compressions deep into the breast. Two deep breaths that cause the chest to rise and fall. Repeat. The hard part is how physically demanding it is to maintain that.

Many schools and classes just want to see good form. They want to see that you can perform compressions properly, perform a rescue breath, and then move along. Hand over a cert, next class in. Caroline, however, knows far too well just how exhausting it can be. Phylllis Phar, the retired tennis coach and octogenarian hag that taught Caroline’s CPR and First Aide elective (in place of Gym), had demanded each of her students perform CPR for no less than seven minutes under her instruction—the bare minimum, she said, for the earliest medical response. Even the jocks in the group were exhausted by the time she finally let them go. Caroline thought she was going to die.

She suffers no much exhaustion tonight. No slowing. No shallow compressions. No cheating. It probably saves her uncle’s life.

GM: It’s not overlong before the paramedics arrive. One of them, a towering, black-haired Native American man compliments Caroline, especially when she volunteers to continue compressions while they work. Most people just want to get out of the way—but with only two responders and Orson’s immense weight, getting him onto the cart is an undertaking. Doing so while cutting away the vestments across his chest and applying the foamy pads of the defibrillator (AED) they bring would be nearly impossible with two people. It takes two shocks, but they manage to get his heart going again as they move him to the ambulance. The archbishop remains unconscious as they lift him into the massive van. Orson’s face disappears under the hand-operated mask they apply to assist his breathing, then behind the ambulance’s red doors. Sirens wail as it speeds off into the night.

Caroline knows it’s a very good sign they got his heart started again. Cardiac arrest is by far the greatest killer in a heart attack. He’s got a significant bit of hospital time ahead of him, though, even in the best case.

None of the responders look at Father Malveaux, nor does he look at them. The priest stares after the receding ambulance until the flashing red and blue lights sink into the gloom. He does not speak to Caroline. He turns and stalks away into the night, vanishing like a half-remembered nightmare.

The perhaps soon-to-be former heiress is left alone within the cold walls of her family’s now-vacant ancestral seat.

Caroline: The heiress does not long linger. The entire experience is… unnerving. Eerie. Father Malvea—Gerousiastis Malveaux’s reactions were nothing like she expected. She thought he’d want to control matters. She thought he’d want to manage Orson’s reaction. Instead he only seemed to inflame her uncle’s worst tendencies through his very presence. And that he’d care not for the death of his pet archbishop is… shocking.

The house has never held fond memories for her—and those memories haven’t improved in recent months. She has no desire to linger. She texts her mother, father, Matt, Luke, and Adam as she walks to her car. Orson’s had a heart attack. He’s on the way to Tulane Medical Center. He’ll almost certainly be going in for surgery immediately. She texts her mother the added detail—that he ‘knows’ about her secret with Jocelyn. It seems her welcome nights with the family are numbered and rapidly dwindling.

It’s not until she gets in her car to leave that the more shocking realization hits her.

She saves that detail for her mother, too.


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