“Show me you are loyal.”
Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM
GM: Abélia’s corpse is missing from the floor where Caroline last saw it, as is her mother’s severed head. Even the blood on her dress is gone, though she cannot say when that occurred.
Maldonato takes her from his office to a private elevator. He swipes a magnetic card to Perdido House’s top floor. The elevator thrums beneath them.
The elder vampire does not speak.
The journey feels as if it takes a thousand years.
Caroline: Perhaps the silence is intended to give her an opportunity to collect her thoughts. If so, it is misplaced.
Despite everything else, she’s still relieved to see the body missing, and for different reasons received she will not greet her sire soaked in blood.
The seneschal’s interaction with her mother raises many troubling questions, but few new ones. Fallen one. Not a term of endearment. And yet that relationship was not her doom.
A lost son. Her materialization from Caroline’s shadow. Her existence in Caroline’s blood. And yet, doubt with her mother does not plague Caroline. Interest certainly, but never doubt.
There’s enough of that from her ‘father.’
GM: The doors open to darkness. The sweeping foyer is unlit. It is bereft of people. It looks like a tomb.
There’s little decor. No chairs. No tables. No pictures. No plants. No rugs. There’s black marble veneers, some classical-themed carvings. but someone would have to physically tear them from their moorings to get rid of those. The cavernous yet empty chamber reminds Caroline of an elephant graveyard: huge bones bereft of the skin, muscle, and sinew necessary to grant such majestic creatures animation. The atrium is thick with the smell of dust. It doesn’t look like even janitorial services have been up here.
Caroline: At first she wonders about the private elevator. She understands when they emerge. No one can see this.
As destructive as the rumors are of his impending torpor… this is far worse.
GM: There are insects. Roaches. Some ‘fresh’, some withered exoskeletons, all motionless and dead. There’s even the tiny skeleton of a mouse or rat, with a few sorry bits of decayed gristle.
Caroline: Spies, Caroline’s mind fills in.
GM: There are no cobwebs, though. No light, insectile scitterings audible to Caroline’s newly-sensitive ears. Even the vermin here are all dead.
The pair’s echoing footsteps feel like the only sound for miles around. Maldonato does not ascend the staircase, but proceeds down a barren hallway to an unmarked set of wooden double doors. He looks at them but does not knock or reach for the handles. Several moments later, they swing ponderously open on squeaking, neglected hinges.
Caroline stares out across a sweeping executive boardroom, the kind of room that breathes of wealth and privilege—or at least once did. It’s as dusty, empty, and unlit as the rest of the floor. Mortal eyes would be able to make out more than pitch darkness, though, from the meager moonlight that shines through the man-sized window. Rain slides down the dark glass like sullen tears.
She recognizes this place. She remembers the conference table, long enough to seat a score of people, although now its chairs are all gone. The same sword rests upon the table’s dusty surface, pitted and corroded to little more than slag on a hilt. It doesn’t look like it’s ever been moved.
Caroline: The state of the chambers sends Caroline’s heart plummeting. This is not the palace of a prince… except that it is. It’s a reflection of the ‘kingdom.’ Ancient, crumbling, its best years far behind it. Most importantly, it’s been allowed to fall into that state. Decrepit.
Of all the terrors she’d expected to find within Perdido House, this is… in some ways worse.
GM: A solitary chair, tall and thick, an almost anachronistic throne, sits at the table’s head. Its back faces the empty spaces where other chairs would be, as if uninterested in anything its nonexistent occupants might have to say. The throne-like chair silently broods upon the cavernous window and the glittering cityscape that stretches beneath it.
The penthouse view from so many tens upon tens of floors is breathtaking: the entire kingdom laid out like a string of glittering jewels. Under the full light of day, in a conference room full of busily working professionals, it would be a proud sight.
But it’s not. Not either of those things. The view feels brooding. Covetous. The viewer has climbed as high as they may within this city. There is nowhere to go, to plummet, but down.
One might almost wonder whether the building’s—city’s—master even exists. Caroline may have seen him in the flesh, but her kind have no end of ways to deceive one’s senses. She only saw him but once. Perhaps tellingly. One would not wish to subject such a ruse to needless opportunities for scrutiny.
Caroline: She has to, has to focus on something that might offer some kind of hope. The bleakness of the room, of the chamber, of everything she’s seen is oppressive.
This was the fate of this lord of the damned?
GM: Perhaps Vidal died or passed into torpor long ago. Perhaps his continued existence is but a fabrication to keep the fallen prince’s enemies at bay—a gambler’s bluff, so like another slain elder’s continued existence. Maldonato said her allies would wish to maintain the fiction she yet ‘lived.’
Perhaps New Orleans is but a kingdom of smoke and mirrors.
Caroline: Those thoughts pass through her mind, but only fleetingly. The seneschal can be as cruel as any other Kindred, especially when he believes it ‘necessary.’ But while there might have been cause to lead her on were that the case, she can’t find cause to bring her all the way up here for the cruel reveal.
GM: Maldonato does not speak. No words pass in the dead and stale air. There is no sound but the pattering rain and angrily rumbling thunder.
The throne slowly turns.
In St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he was tall, dark, and terrible in his purpose, the fury of heaven matched with the fire of hell. Where Matheson was merely dignified, the arriving prince had surveyed his subjects with the bearing of an emperor. His raiment was a midnight-black suit of the finest cut. Not so much as a crease was visible, making the garment seem cut and spun from the night itself. His pristine white undershirt and and blood-red necktie brought to mind the ermine mantles worn by kings of centuries past. A gold signet ring set with a ruby adorned his finger. The blood-red gem seemed to almost pulse and glisten, hungrily devouring nearby light.
Those trappings are present. But it’s the difference between a throne room filled with cheering throngs for a royal coronation and a years-abandoned one filled with naught but cobwebs and dust. His tall and broad-shouldered frame is folded into a brooding posture, and the shadows about his face are long, black, deep. His crisp Mediterranean features resemble a statue by one of the old masters, not brought to life, but left to crumble and gather dust far from the praising voices of those who might remark upon its majesty. The face is so still Caroline almost wonders if its owner truly is a statue, mockingly dressed, even decorated with a black van dyke mustache, and deposited upon a throne.
One has but to look into the eyes to know that fancy for what it is.
The eyes dominate the shadow-cragged face: cold, fanatical, implacable. Those who stare into them overlong feel dizzy, their mouths warm with the taste of blood. The eyes are primal and inhuman and they are strong. They have seen the passing of kings. Kingdoms. Civilizations. All they knew of the world of their birth swept aside by time’s inexorable march.
He may be dead. His palace may be ruined and rotting. His foes may plot his downfall. Even anticipate it.
But all who gaze upon his face know at once:
He, and no other, is their prince.
Caroline: It would be easy to be disappointed.
Of all the places, of all the ways she might have fantasized about this meeting, this is far from all of them. In a crumbling hall, in a faded chamber that exists more as an echo of greatness than anything resembling it.
Perhaps in some ways she is. But those ways don’t matter. This ruined hall doesn’t matter. The long shadows that crawl across him don’t matter. All that matters is that he’s here, and she’s here before him at last.
GM: The prince and seneschal meet one another’s timeless gazes. No words pass between them.
Finally, Maldonato’s voice is the first to break the silence. It feels like someone has walked across a grave.
“Miss Malveaux, you may inform His Majesty of whom you are.”
Her sire’s dark gaze falls upon Caroline. There is no recognition. There is not even curiosity.
Caroline: The Ventrue can’t help it, at least for a moment, getting drawn into that gaze. She barely hears the seneschal’s words, but barely is enough. She goes to her knees smoothly before the seated prince, white gown brushing aside the dust around her, and reaches for her voice for a moment before she finds it with a sharp breath that is deafening in the still room.
“Your Majesty, I introduced myself once before as Caroline Malveaux, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue.”
She gives only the briefest of pauses.
“An introduction I understand is barely worthy of remembrance… and blissfully so, for it was a lie. The line of Ventrue I trace my blood through is not Alexander’s, but Tiamat’s.”
“The blood that runs through my veins… is that of the mightiest and most enduring Camarilla prince in the New World. That of the Prince of New Orleans, Augusto Vidal.”
GM: Something recognizable finally enters those dark and inhuman eyes. Something Caroline has known well herself, far too well, during the mere months of a Requiem that feels like years.
Caroline: The vastly younger Ventrue can sympathize, but remains silent.
GM: There is something else, too. Disbelief. She cannot b…
“Miss Malveaux speaks truly, my prince,” the seneschal answers. “Emmanuel Costa was not the last mortal upon whom you bestowed the Dark Gift. Merely the last mortal upon whom you bestowed it knowingly.”
“I absconded with your vitae without your knowledge. I bestowed it upon a young woman of great promise and faithful service as she lay dying. She stands before you now—and she is of your Blood.”
Silence fills the air, like the calm before a storm.
Then, like a breached levee when Katrina made landfall—that storm breaks.
It feels almost inevitable when it happens. The room’s shadows, thick and heavy as corpse shrouds, surge to life like baying, ravenous beasts. A flood of darkness streaks towards Caroline and the seneschal, black as night with shock, rage, and betrayal.
Maldonato raises his hand. Darkness rises to meet darkness like two crashing ocean waves. The great table is swept into the air, cracking apart into color-leeched pieces that fly every which way before disintegrating into dust. The ruined sword hits the hardwood floor with a clatter.
Caroline: Caroline twists away cat-quick. Away from the clashing elders and the destructive power they’ve unleashed.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
GM: Oily darkness washes over the Ventrue like a thirsty tide. Its waves swim with rending talons, ink-slathered tentacles, and bogeyman’s grasping hands—a child’s night terrors given horrifying semblance and animation. Caroline feels as if she is suffocating, drowning, going blind, and being swallowed into some terrible beast’s gullet all at once.
Yet even as she assailed from without, she is assaulted from within. Fire burns through her veins, white-hot with a mindless fury at once echoed and opposed by her Beast’s instinctive terror. The monster doesn’t even know whether to flee or fight.
In that moment of indecisiveness, she clamps down, grinding it under heel. She can’t give in. Won’t give in. Not now. She’ll face the darkness as herself.
But not by herself.
The dark is not empty.
It seeps in through her skin.
And it sings.
It croons to her with dead children’s sweet, strangled voices.
doomed, doomed, doomed you are
come so far
died in your crib
choke your baby
why why why
no one wants you
coming for you
soon soon soon
mother will eat you
come this way
please please pray
daddy, daddy, kill me now
daddy, daddy, I’m going to hell
mother, mother, what to do
mother, mother, I see you
brother, brother, here you come
brother, brother, so much fun…
Caroline: Caroline clenches her teeth at the taunting, twisted song, as it plays off her fears and doubts, fights even as she drowns in it, as it bubbles up around her and engulfs her, seeping into every opening, invasive, penetrating, piercing. They’re just words. But they’re not just words.
GM: They’re not. They’re black and bleeding and painful, like a foul cancer welling in one’s throat. For the darkness is hungry. Wailing cries and other, far less human sounds shrieks in Caroline’s ears as she leaps, twists, and ducks to avoid the worst of the pain. She’s not even sure if she’s trying to avoid a physical adversary or obstacle, but the whirlwind-fast Ventrue feels little worse, even as the blackness drowns her surroundings… little worse, but for several hairs that fall from her head. She doesn’t know how she can see the drifting strands, but she can. They’ve been leached of all color, as if run through a black and white film.
Then, abruptly, the storm of shadows halts. Sight returns, and after a moment, color. Half-animate shadows, grotesquely out of alignment from where they should fall, slink back into place like a child’s imagined monsters retreating back under the bed.
Several slither away from Caroline, their umbral appendages positioned over the Ventrue as if shielding her.
Maldonato stands where Caroline saw him last. His arms are defensively outstretched, but slowly relaxing as the shadows recede.
Vidal broods from his throne. Fangs jut from his mouth as he palpably wrestles his Beast. His black gaze burns like a white-hot, half-forged spear as it stabs between his lover and his childe.
Four hissed words escape his lips.
His voice sounds like it hasn’t been used in years.
Caroline: Caroline says nothing to that. It’s not her place to explain the actions of her sire’s lover.
She can feel his rage, feel it in her blood, in that ethereal connection to him she’s experienced only once before, the night of the trial, at George’s accusations.
Still, despite his fury, despite the all-consuming darkness unleashed, despite the fangs and rage, she can’t muster fear within herself, not of him. She wonders, academically, what the darkness might have done to her, if it might have destroyed her without her action and the seneschal’s attempts to shield her, but it’s only academic. The Beast might fear, it might cower, might flee, but not the woman. She’s come too far, given up too much, to get here, to be afraid.
She is, however, angry. Disappointed. Hurt. To come this far, to give up everything she’s given up, of all the ways she’d dreamed this meeting might go… this is worse. Selfish, proud, even arrogant. Dismissive. Caring about her only insofar as her existence is an affront to his dignity.
It’s all just so… familiar.
GM: “You did, my prince. You honored that oath even as I betrayed it,” Maldonato answers. “My unlife is yours to judge for this crime, as is Miss Malveaux’s. If you would hear a full accounting of my actions before rendering your verdict, I remain yours to command in this and all things.”
The words are calm, not soothing so much as steady. Familiar. Caroline can feel the rage blazing within her sire’s dead heart diminishing… though not dissipating.
There is a curt nod.
Caroline: Caroline says nothing. It’s not her place to speak. Not even when her life is offered up.
GM: The seneschal steeples his slender fingers.
“Then there is much that must now be explained—to Your Majesty and Your Majesty’s childe.”
The tomb-like room looks shredded as though a hurricane raged through it. There are no chairs upon which to sit, nor even a table to seat them around, not any longer. Maldonato continues to stand as he recites,
“You remember the years preceding and following Thorns as well as I do, my prince, though your childe knows them not. They were dark and terrible years.”
“Do we say merely that we had seen our sires, broodmates, your childer, and multitudes of further Kindred, some we named friends, others we named foes, fall to the Inquisition and Anarch Revolt? Such a statement is akin to saying Miss Malveaux was raised without a sire: factually accurate, yet insufficient to convey the reality of an experience.”
Caroline: Childer. Caroline files the information away. And a destroyed grandsire—and the seneschal’s own. But no childer of the seneschal’s own.
Two titans with no legacy but their deeds.
GM: But their deeds, and her.
Caroline: Perhaps that was enough, for immortal beings. Perhaps it was enough for centuries. But the state of this room, and those beyond gives mute lie to the claim it is enough tonight.
GM: “Perhaps instead we should speak in anecdotes,” Maldonato continues. “How I could observe the shape of my sire’s beard, a lengthy and silver article he was wont to stroke in contemplation, as the flames consumed his body. The hatred in the eyes of so many men of faith as they spat and called us devilspawn. Our disbelief at the news that Gratiano the great rebel had slain his sire: could the Tremere’s feat be repeated? It seemed as incredible to believe as another empire’s conquests surpassing Rome’s. Yet such things could and did re-occur. Great, then, was my relief at the news my sire’s grandsire had escaped the slaughter: I recall as you brushed the redden tears from my eyes.”
“I remember the fury within yours as Tyler’s lover shot her handgonnes into our master’s chest: your shout as he staggered and fell, then recovered, and how you did not laugh when the others did as they proclaimed such weapons impotent against our kind.”
Caroline: It’s difficult to imagine the seneschal, the stoic and implacable statue weeping. It’s perhaps even more difficult to imagine the prince, his face still set in such a furious scowl, capable of such a tender act.
But then, time changes everyone. How long has it been since she sat on her bed and wept tears of self-pity for herself and the monster she was turned into, since she cried over one of the terrible acts she performed, since she sobbed over the loss of her mortal life with her family, or even since she wept in joy?
It is not so difficult to imagine the ways in which the elders of centuries ago might have been more human: she can imagine it only months ago.
GM: “I remember a mother fleeing a doomed village, still a child herself by the reckoning of today’s mortals, clutching a wailing infant to her breast. I remember your indignation as her attacker pulled her down, stopping only to dash the babe’s head beneath his heel, so that its mother might see and know despair before he took her life. I remember our instinctive offense that he did not even stop to drink the blood spurting from her throat before your sword parted his head from his shoulders. I remember how the misery and ignoble deaths of those two were but a speck against the hundreds who died that night, and their own deaths but a speck against the multitudes we had seen perish, and the infinitude that would follow. I remember the sheer pointlessness of the atrocity steeling your resolve, and how you declared that for all the doubts you harbored concerning the Camarilla, its alternative was worse.”
“Anecdotes are but singular bricks within history’s great house. But perhaps from some anecdotes, your childe may at least approximate that house’s size and shape.”
Caroline: The heiress glances between the two ancients, trying to imagine that time of fire and blood. It’s a hopeless attempt, she decides, after a moment. The past is only every recognizable to those in the present as shadows and words. The feeling of a time cannot be understood through them.
The seneschal’s words, however, do paint a picture she’d already framed. ‘Men’ bound by their belief in the lesser of evils, no matter how great.
GM: “We had hoped Thorns would bring peace, but such a notion was misplaced. There was not peace before. There would not be peace again. Do you recall Marius’ words, who was older then than we are now? I recall them exactly.”
“‘I know I am a killer, a drinker of blood—and that the only true blood is the sheer power of life, the struggle to climb over the kicking bodies of the wretched, their mad eyes like windows into broken souls. And the color of that blood is green—the color of life, of renewal, of nature. Of all that is natural: the urge to push out and expand. Once upon a time blood’s color was gold; but that too is a myth. There was no golden age—ever. There is only the drive to expansion. The quest for the new; the desire to stay alive.’”
“‘I watch as my archons begin anew to hatch their endless plots against my foes. The Camarilla. The Sabbat. The Anarchs. The Inconnu. The Lupines. The Awakened. The other night-folk. The mortals. The Antediluvians, the clans and covenants, the countless endless factions, bound to the wheel of history, turning around and around with the inertia of a collapsing sun, rolling over everything with a mindless and pounding repetition.’”
“Time ill begets peace,” Maldonato states.
“Always was there some new crisis. Some new mission. Some new war. The Promise. The sack of Rome. The Hunedora incident. The Italian Wars. LaMont’s betrayal. The Wars of Religion. The resurgent Anarchs. The feuding princes. The Morisco revolts. The Sabbat. When would it end?”
Caroline: Some names familiar, some otherwise, but she can see well enough the thread they follow.
GM: “Perhaps it was naive to expect peace even had we laid down our swords, but I entreated you to no less ardently. Your heart was finally moved when the last of my mortal bloodline was extinguished for the crime of their ancestors’ faith. I was weary of war. You were weary to see me so.”
“What irony, then, to arrive at such a sentiment upon the eve of our greatest war.”
Caroline: Caroline can hardly imagine how weary they might be, must be. How weary even months have left her. How jaded and cynical.
GM: “‘First came the Greycoats to eat all my swine,
Next came the Bluecoats to make my sons fight,
Next came the Greencoats to make my wife whore,
Next came the Browncoats to burn down my home.
I have naught but my life, now come the Blackcoats to rob me of that.’”
“I know not the poem’s author, yet I can find no apter a summation of that terrible conflict. The casualties of the World Wars were paltry by way of comparison.”
Caroline: Caroline frowns at that statement. The World Wars consumed more than a hundred million souls, on a scale she can barely imagine.
GM: “You are surprised, Miss Malveaux. The absolute numbers of deaths caused by the World Wars is higher. The relative percentage is lower. Less than ten percent of the German Reich’s population perished in the ‘wars to end all wars,’ or 17% if one includes German nationals who perished on the Eastern Front. The Thirty Years’ War decimated some 33% of the Holy Roman Empire’s population. The majority of these deaths were caused by starvation and disease rather than armed conflict, though such conditions would of course not have existed during a time of peace.”
“Yet there is perhaps little point in comparing such statistics. At Tulane University, I once had perchance to listen to testimony from a survivor of the Holocaust. He asked rhetorically what purpose is accomplished through comparing suffering. What purpose, indeed?”
Caroline: “As you say, Seneschal,” Caroline agrees mildly. One in three dead—numbers she can hardly imagine.
It’s somewhat easier now, given the recent deaths surrounding her.
GM: “I shall not detail the Kindred vagaries of that conflict, save to say we had seen enough war and bloodshed by its conclusion. We had long since seen enough, and could endure no more. I succumbed to torpor.”
“The timing was at least then fortuitous. Whatever your sire’s brother-in-blood saw in that war, whatever truths I believe he glimpsed at the heart of the Jyhad, broke him as well. My torpor, the installment of a new justicar, and your cousin-in-blood’s Embrace finally convinced the Camarilla your service was done.”
Caroline: And brought you to the New World? Caroline fills in.
GM: “I awoke nearly a century later at your side. The world moved slower then. It was not so different from the one I had left behind, though different enough to prove stimulating rather than overwhelming, as I fear it became for Primogen Chastain. We were free at last from responsibility and obligation. How would we spend eternity?”
Caroline: A point she’s considered—how much easier it must have been to endure torpor and reenter the world before the ‘modern’ era.
GM: “The past century had been kinder to you than the preceding ones. The kindest of any, perhaps. I would have counseled you to take your own rest… but there was no need for you to do so immediately, was there?”
“Time is a nebulous thing in the sleep of ages. Yet you had spent thousands upon thousands of waking nights alone—too devoted to leave my side for long. My heart was touched, yet also saddened to see you had not reconciled with one who might have eased your loneliness.”
“Perhaps you have felt the recent stirrings in your blood and believed them Magdalena’s, echoing from a kingdom far across the sea.”
A considering frown flickers across the prince’s deathly still face.
Caroline: Magdalena. Another Ventrue elder? The name is foreign to her, but if he was to mistake her own feelings for that of the mystery Kindred, they shared blood in some way. She tilts her head in contemplation. Caroline had never considered Vidal’s affection might be drawn to another.
Another childe, perhaps? Something that might be jealousy stirs, but only faintly. Like shadow cast on a moonless night.
GM: “Perhaps you might have seen her again, in time. The nights ahead were ours. I was, for once, eager to see what they held.”
“So too, I believe, were you. What time we had before New Orleans was put to good use. I remember your initial offense at my cousin’s presence, and how you were sufficiently moved by the grace and quiet dignity of her bearing to swear a boon in apology—you, to a heathen Muslim. The denizens of this city call you tyrant, but they have known so little of whom you are.”
Caroline: We see only what we’re allowed to see, Caroline thinks, but the thought is there and gone just as swiftly.
She’s being allowed to see now, isn’t she? A peak behind the curtain.
GM: “I remember, too, the promise exacted between our sires. Both were naught but ashes and dust, yet that vow endured beyond even their Requiems, and become far more than even they might have anticipated. It did not take me overlong to conclude how I wished to spend eternity. It would be your turn to rest now, so that we might undertake that last and greatest journey together.”
A shadow falls across Maldonato’s face. But it is not cast from any unnatural manipulation of the surrounding gloom this time.
“Then the Camarilla came.”
Caroline: The reluctant prince? Surely not.
GM: “Nastasio spoke to us of service, duty, and reasons we were needed in the New World, among them administering a city. I voiced my reservations. He suggested you serve as prince on a provisional basis until the colony of La Nouvelle-Orléans was stabilized.”
Maldonato offers a thin, sad smile.
“I knew you well enough to know you would do no such thing. And you knew I would not allow you to serve as prince alone.”
Caroline: Caroline keeps her expression blank, even as the history and tragedy of this pair is laid out so starkly. A pair bound together by the will of their sires, scarred by centuries of war, and now carrying the weight of the throne upon their backs, as they have for centuries.
Ancient, cut from a different breed than the modern Cainite, both in potency and character.
GM: “We set sail for the New World. Our history and that of New Orleans becomes synonymous at that point, at least in the minds of your archdiocese’s common subjects. Your childe has received an incomplete but sufficient education in the city’s history that I need repeat little of it.”
“Pacifying the colony, however, proved a far more burdensome task than either of us had anticipated. In pitched battle, the dregs of the Old World were little match for us and O’Reilley’s professional military force. But it is one matter to win a battle and another to occupy a hostile territory. Many conquering empires have paid bitterly to learn that lesson. The United States is but the latest one.”
“Stamping out the insurgents and would-be princes took decades. I found little suspicion in such at the time. You would not lay down your sword until it was no longer needed, but your throne would be insecure for so long as the threat of torpor loomed. Loom it did. I saw how the nature of this campaign aggravated you, these rebels whom you could not defeat in pitched battle. I felt your irritation and shortness of temper at subjects who continually strove to sabotage what we labored to build.”
“Perhaps, had the Baron arrived from Haiti some years earlier, he would have found in you a more conciliatory prince. Perhaps he would not have. His faith was unfamiliar to you and my grandsire’s blood did not run in his veins. I believe rebuffing his initial overtures was a grave mistake that might yet cost us everything. But this counsel is not new to you.”
“You Embraced Emmanuel Costa to be your heir, and for a time your youngest childe showed great promise. Yet Du Valle turned him against you and perished himself before he could be put to the question. I did not think to question Boulet’s actions at the time, given the gravity of his sacrifice and the depth of his sire’s grief. The later irregularities in her behavior now lead me to believe other forces were at work.”
Caroline: Caroline listens attentively, especially as history moves closer to the present. Some of these names are familiar to her: most are not.
Some names, however, have faces. She remembers Costa’s face from the coin’s vision. She remembers the supremely cold execution of her brother-in-blood by the prince before her.
GM: “Your Majesty executed Costa for his treachery. Sick from so many centuries of failure, you swore upon all you held sacred that you would never Embrace again. Though I believed your decision made in haste and anger, I find no fault within it. Nor, at the time, did it appear to pose a significant impediment to the archdiocese’s stability. We had a preponderance of potential heirs to choose from. Alejandro, next mightiest among your clan, and Catholic despite his allegiance to the Invictus. Constantine, Sanctified and a bishop. Matheson, young but promising in his attentiveness to the workings of the modern world.”
Caroline: All gone. Destroyed or banished. The names conjure up a time she can barely imagine.
Matheson as young and in touch with the modern world is particularly striking. A lesson, perhaps, in how quickly the world moves.
GM: “Yet I counseled you not to select one of your clan as your successor. There was another whose worth eclipsed them all in my eyes.”
Maldonato smiles distantly.
“It was not for her age, faith, or intelligence that I recommended Maria Pascual as your successor, even though she eclipsed the others in those qualities. Perhaps I saw something of Fatimah in her, and the curious manner in which they could be at once modest and proud. My cousin is modest for the very manner in which she wears her pride so radiantly, for it is a pride in her beliefs and accomplishments rather than her own person, as fine a distinction as that may be. Maria took immense pride in herself, though was always the soul of modesty in denying she took any such pride.”
“Many would have found such pride offensive, had it been worn openly. Maria’s sensibilities were too gentle to do any such thing, though we always knew that pride was there beneath the self-effacement. She made it almost a game for others to draw it out. Few who played were anything but bewitched. Myself included.”
Caroline: The young Ventrue is like a stone, still, silent. She tries to keep her focus on the value of these words, in the insight into the minds and workings of the seneschal and prince, of how they came to be here—but it is not easy to hear she is not a second choice, or a third, or even a forth or fifth, and to listen to praise heaped upon those that came before as she measures their names—still remembered these nights—against her own paltry history.
GM: “The two were opposite faces of the same coin, as well, in their treatment of others. Where both were beloved by their friends and kin, Fatimah’s farmindedness and beneficence has made friends of foes, while Maria’s fierce devotion towards her friends drove her towards relentless opposition of her foes. Where my cousin is regally distant, Maria was intimate and close. It would have brought me much happiness for them to have known one another.”
Caroline: And other turns history might have taken. Two ancients discussing others destroyed before her mother, or even her mother’s mother, was born. If any of those named had survived, Caroline might yet live. Or, perhaps, she would never have been born.
GM: “But little enough good is served in discoursing on the turns history may have taken.”
“Primogen Pascual’s acquaintance with Maria, too, was equally long and rich to any she might have enjoyed with my cousin, and one in which I am also grateful to have been included… but these remembrances are of increasingly little value to your childe. With Pascual settled as your successor, the last of the rebels defeated, and the city’s material prosperity at its apex, we ruled the Antebellum nights in easy splendor.”
Caroline: Caroline can too easily imagine the throb of irritation each time the seneschal refers to her as his childe.
GM: “It was a romantic period I believe Maria and Primogen Chastain were uniquely suited for, even if it was far less than idyllic for those upon whose suffering it was built. Perhaps little wonder, then, that so many among the Camarilla continued to rebuff the Baron—he who associated so freely among those mortals we considered the lowliest of the low.”
Caroline: A gentle way of referring to slavery, but it’s easy to forget how gentle even slavery might have seemed to those that watched a third of a country starve, freeze, or get hacked apart.
GM: “The Civil War bought an end to our easy summer dream. In a stroke, Alejandro, Constantine, and Matheson were eliminated—Alejandro by assailants for whom the benefit was plain, yet whose crime we could not definitively prove, and whose help and aligned interests we could ill-neglect in a time of occupation and hardship. Constantine allegedly fell to Loup-Garoux in a heroic tale of sacrifice by Mr. Guilbeau that I have found scant evidence to substantiate.”
Caroline: The third feeding on childer like a pedophile luring children into his van.
GM: “Matheson’s proclivities, too, I believed coincidental. I well recall the terror in his eyes at your wrath, and the nakedness of his pride as he begged for clemency at your feet. Those who prey upon those smaller than they are easily made small themselves, it often seems. Perhaps I, too, considered him too small to devote any further consideration to.”
“Or perhaps, in truth, I devoted little thought to the circumstances of three would-be successors’ downfalls when we had intended none to be your successors. Maria still occupied that role, and if she wished to step down from her immediate political duties in the aftermath of the Civil War’s cultural destruction, who among us could blame her? She and Primogen Chastain had poured their very souls into the city. Its pain and loss was as their own.”
Caroline: Caroline has different memories of Matheson. She remembers picking herself up off the floor. Remembers him looking down on her even before he put her there.
GM: “Yet taken as a whole, Maria’s behavior was cause for concern. Her use of hard-won prestation to grant the Giovannini access to the city. The increased Setite activity in the Quarter. The inexplicable actions of Robert O’Connor, whom we had believed under her thumb. Her grant of domain to Roger Halliburton, whose political downfall she had helped us engineer.”
Caroline: Caroline fights to keep the frown off her face. Does that mean?
But it’s not really that unbelievable, is it? That they might have killed off another powerful Kindred towards their own ends? She knows full well the seneschal is capable of dealing with perceived ‘problems’ in a very permanent way.
GM: “Our suspicions were aroused—but too late. It was not until we discovered the daughter of Dionysus lairing in the heart of Maria’s domain that we realized the graveness of the danger.”
“Perhaps Maria knew not what she was. We had believed her destroyed in that last, ghastly war—destroyed at our own hands. She professed to have renounced the Sword of Caine, but we knew the matter of her sect allegiance was immaterial. Her immediate destruction was necessary.”
“Yet our power was not what it once was. The Union’s military occupation was over, Halliburton’s pawns in city hall were removed, and his authority as archon stripped from him… yet the Baron’s power waxed ascendant, and we had sealed his eternal enmity through our crackdowns following Reconstruction—a decision I believed to have been unwise. He had grown tired of fruitlessly seeking peace with us. With his aid, we might have excised the cancer eating at our city’s heart. Instead, we faced another knife at our throat.”
“We moved our own blades into position as carefully as we could, but too late. Maria was slain, and Dionysus’ daughter vanished. In a stroke, our plans had been thrown into disarray, for Maria’s most suitable replacements had been removed before her. Too late did we realize the nature of this Jyhad.”
“Primogen Chastain alone had sufficient experience, puissance, and trustworthiness to truly succeed you as prince, as distasteful as you found granting your throne to a Kindred not of the faith. Yet she succumbed to torpor within the year—a development she had long forseen and planned for, yet whose timing could not have proven more disruptive.”
“We were forced to settle, then, for a lesser heir: Robert Bastien. The sheriff was loyal, promising, and had earned much esteem in your eyes: though you never told him so, I believe you had come to regard him as the childe you had never sired. We began to groom him in earnest for your throne.”
“Yet Bastien would be your heir for but a score of years before his own murder at the hands of witch-hunters, which we did not for a moment believe coincidental. I remember well your rage at his final death, and those actions you took in retribution, though I counseled you otherwise. I grew concerned for you, my love. I knew your body and mind were weary, but only then did I realize how time’s passage had abraded your soul. It was long past time for you to take your rest.”
Caroline: A systematic program of elimination, of every possible heir, one by one. The revelations of just how far back it all goes chill Caroline.
Powerful elders, established ancillae, those chosen and groomed to rule for centuries slowly wiped out, until an unwanted childe is all that’s left? She’s expected to succeed where they all fell?
GM: “Five score years ago did I speak those words. Torpor’s specter loomed ever closer, your heirs were removed, and this Jyhad was deeper than Nastasio had prepared us for. Drastic action was required to preserve your legacy: under no circumstances could Antoine Savoy be permitted to claim the throne.”
“I contacted the Baron and made a final effort to broker peace.”
“His response, and your own, eclipsed anything I had anticipated. It seemed we would achieve more than peace: we might, in fact, win this Jyhad in but a handful more strokes, unwilling though I was to pay its price. Deep was the irony that you had found common ground at last with so bitter a foe.”
Maldonato lapses into momentary silence.
“Whether the cause was betrayal or sabotage, that peace, too, was not to be.”
“The question of your successor remained unresolved, but only a fool repeats the same stratagem and expects a different outcome. We would not take another heir into our confidence. Our designs for each one had been discovered despite our efforts at secrecy. There were but three potential leaks that occurred to us: yourself, myself, and our chosen heirs. We would find those heirs, now, in secret. More would arise in time. We would watch from a distance. We would confound our enemy through our apparent inaction and perhaps force their hand.”
“Our immediate choices were all flawed. Francesca Dumont and Dominique Toutain, proud heirs to their sires’ legacies, yet heirs to their hatreds and grudges. Donovan, our new sheriff, capable and bound to you in blood, yet still his sire’s childe. Accou Poincare, eldest among them and a former prince, but aligned with the Invictus. Clarice Barabet, Maria’s protege and successor, until seduced by Antoine Savoy. Coco Duquette, an Anarch, yet whose loyalty was but one draught less certain than Donovan’s. I do not believe Micheal Kelly ever realized the price his sire paid so that he might exist.”
“We watched them all. We labored, silently and subtly, to increase their suitability as heirs. The 20th century passed by into the 21st. Harm befell none. None suffered the fates of their predecessors. Some, such as Donovan and your clanmates, increased in suitability. Others, such as Poincaré and the late bishop, decreased. None, to my mind, were ideal. I wondered if this, too, was the work of other hands. I wondered if our plans were known despite our efforts at secrecy. It seemed improbable, yet we are both long inured to belief in coincidence. The present state of affairs was more beneficial to our foes than us: no clear heir had emerged.”
“I sought, then to upend the rules of this Jyhad. I would tell no one of my next plans: not even my prince. I had also learned the folly of placing our eggs within one basket, and cast my gaze wide… upon Seth’s children rather than Caine’s. Some were little more than infants. Fewer eyes would rest upon their actions. I watched them from a distance and intervened but rarely. I feared to reveal my hand in this latest phase of the game.”
Caroline: The young Ventrue reflects on her sister’s words. Been involved with you for more than a year. Evidently the seneschal’s attempts hide his intentions were not as effective as he might have hoped. It begs the question: why did Abélia even know about the seneschal’s plans, and how did she contrive so carefully to put Caroline in his path—and within her own grasp.
The easy answer would be that her mother had something to do with the culling of past ‘heirs’, but Caroline doubts that immediately: the seneschal is well aware of Caroline’s relationship with her now mother: if she was his avowed foe Caroline would not be standing here before the prince, she’d be getting cleaned up off the floor with a dustpan.
GM: "Yet the Jyhad itself changed, too, with the turning of the millennium. The chronological distinction is arbitrary, yet there is much power and consequence in symbols. Was I, too, moved by the same eschatological fervor that did not die with the passing of the 21st century’s first years?
“Sect wars swept the Eastern Seaboard. Xaviar renounced the Justicarate upon claiming to have witnessed the impossible. Hunters wielding extraordinary powers proclaimed themselves the Earth’s inheritors. Silence fell upon Russia’s Brujah Council. The Kindred of the East descended upon the West Coast. Blood stained the Middle East’s hot soil, and the Banu Haqim spoke of a rising ancient in Alamut. Even within our own city, the last generations made themselves known, Birds of Dis were reported in increasing numbers, and Malkavian seers prophecized doom. Could the Final Nights be upon us? The Sabbat claimed they were. Fear gripped me that time was running out. I returned my gaze to the children I had watched for so much of their lives, and the oldest two who had just reached their ages of majority. There was no time to consider the younger ones: our heir would be found in either Rebecca Whitney or Adam Malveaux.”
Caroline: Caroline pays close attention to talk beyond New Orleans—her knowledge of Kindred beyond the Crescent City is painfully limited. Final Nights? It’s a pointed reminder of how blind she is to this world.
The names that slip from the seneschal’s lips as his first would-be heirs are both a surprise—and not. Rebecca Whitney, domain of Matheson or not, fits the pattern. Well-bred, beloved, talented… and dead. She wonders if it was the mysterious enemies that culled her, or if she rejected her Requiem as Caroline so repeatedly considered in those first, desperate, awful nights as an unliving dispenser of suffering to the world.
Her cousin, however, is a surprise, especially as he is still among the living. She imagines his piety and calm demeanor would have played well with her sire, and with the seneschal—which begs the question of why he wasn’t Embraced, of what flaw he might have shown that she did not to Maldonato’s judging eye…
GM: Caroline finds her assessment of the pair vindicated as Maldonato continues, “Both showed much promise and potential. In the first, I saw charisma, grace, and poise. In the other, I saw faith and moral authority. In both, I saw intelligence, drive, respect for tradition, and loyalty to the dictates of their families. Though both were young, they might have been groomed and made suitable for their intended role in ways their older relatives might not.”
“Yet neither, to my estimation, were guilty of any wrongs so terrible as to warrant the Embrace. In the end, the question of whose life to sacrifice was decided by convenience. When another conspiracy moved to grant Rebecca Whitney and a handful of others the Dark Gift for their own reasons, I saw opportunity to conceal her origins beneath another Kindred’s Embrace. She would be the figurative cuckoo’s egg, raised in secrecy and safety from our enemy, yet able to move freely among our kind’s society while learning its ways and customs. I would find pretext to associate with her so that she might know me as more than a stranger. Only once I deemed her ready to face the dangers and assume the burdens of her intended role would I reveal the truth of her lineage and bring her before you.”
Maldonato lapses into another brief span of silence.
“Yet that was not to be. Her purported sire gave her the Embrace, turning the intended lie of her lineage into truth. I see my error whenever I look upon her face. I think of the rich life she and her family might have led were it not, perhaps, for my involvement—and unquestionably were it not for my failure to prevent her sire’s Embrace. I see a father driven half-mad in mourning for his daughter, counting the procession of all lives and deaths since her own. I see a brother robbed of his marriage, his future, and his worth as a son in his father’s eyes. I see a niece raised in fear, loneliness, and without a mother under the shadow of her aunt’s death. I see a daughter, sister, and aunt whom I had come to know and care for, murdered for no greater purpose than another’s selfish whim. Though she knows not my role in her Embrace, I know her sire and I to be co-architects in her suffering and damnation.”
Caroline: The words tear at Caroline, more for what they don’t say than for what they do. To groom an infant, to watch them grow, with the intent of taking their life with some purpose, only to see it end more senselessly must have been a dagger to the ancient Moor’s sensibilities. She can easily see why he might have proven reluctant in the aftermath to continue with her cousin.
But not so reluctant with her.
Caroline has had months to come to terms with her own death, with her Embrace into the ranks of the Damned. She reconciled—had to reconcile—with her own sins long before her sire’s blood touched her lips, with the bloody stains on her hands she couldn’t wash away from the sight of God that made her fit for this fate. It doesn’t make it easier to hear how innocent and unsullied another was in their Embrace. Especially not that other, for the Ventrue has no doubts as to whom the seneschal speaks.
The pieces fall readily into place: Becky Lynne Adler is, or at least was, Rebecca Whitney.
Everything fits too neatly. The sparing of the Armstrongs despite their illicit Embrace. Adler’s strong feelings on Caroline’s relationship with Sarah (my, how the younger Ventrue’s ties to her niece must have clawed at her). The timeline of her passing and Adler’s Embrace.
Adler, ahead of her once more. Enjoying not only a Requiem wrapped in all those things Caroline’s has not been, enjoying the benefit of awakening alongside others, of forgiveness of her Embrace, of a sire that sheltered, provided for, influenced on her behalf, and taught her. Adler, the seneschal’s first choice for her sire’s childe.
Caroline bites her lower lip. There’s some consolidation in the fact that she actually received her sire’s vitae, that she’s standing here before him tonight, but recalling what she knows of those circumstances and the fact that she wasn’t the first choice, Caroline can’t help but wonder: was she the last?
GM: Maldonato pauses briefly again and continues, “I showed her and those who had kept her safe clemency when they were brought before us. Such restitution was small and cost me little enough. Rebecca’s fate thereafter is its own tale, yet one that proved of great consequence to my future plans.”
“I feared my intentions were known to our enemy, and that my attempts at secrecy had availed us naught. To commit to another childe’s Embrace would have been the height of folly. I could not condemn Adam to damnation when the same fate as Rebecca, Maria, Robert, and too many other lost heirs would almost certainly have awaited him as well. No longer could I continue to play into our enemy’s hands—indeed, the folly of my prior actions seemed all-too plain in hindsight. I had spoken of my most recent plans to none, yet this had seemed of little impediment to our enemy. I wondered, then: were my actions truly my own? Was I myself manipulated as I had manipulated so many others?”
“I could not continue to act blindly. I would remedy that state before even considering whether to bring another childe into the night—indeed, it was a concerning apparent lapse in judgment that neither of us had reached such a conclusion already.”
“I would begin my investigations by examining the actions of the ‘Armstrong Five’s’ sires. The coterie’s mandate to apprehend their consanguineous parents in atonement for their illicit Embraces served as convenient pretext to make them my agents in this matter.”
“All five neonates suffered greatly in their pursuit of their mission. Yet they succeeded far in excess of my expectations—and far in excess of those who had expected the sheriff’s office to handle the matter. Matheson proved the only one of the Armstrongs’ sires whom they were unable to tender to your justice, yet the intelligence they obtained on his actions would have been difficult for even the sheriff to acquire.”
Caroline: Caroline keeps her expression still. Dead, like a corpse, as the lionization of the ‘would have’ and ‘should have’ been heir to the prince continues. How unlike her own disasters with René, her blundering and stumbling, and the desperate last second hope that a washed-up old ghoul would save her."
But I did get to the bottom of what you did, didn’t I, seneschal? With her mother’s help to confirm it, but even before, she’d smelled out the rotten nature of her ‘Embrace’ by the prince. The lie Maldonato had told even within that great truth he’d confided in her on the eve of her execution.
GM: “The invidia in your eyes ill becomes our prince’s childe, Miss Malveaux. If you were to inquire as to the full tale of their coterie’s first nights from any of the Armstrongs, their answers might paint a narrative of terror, suffering, and loss far more than pride in meeting a distant and inscrutable figure’s expectations. Five sires are not so easily apprehended as one.”
Caroline: “Veritas is a panacea, seneschal,” Caroline agrees. "Perhaps theirs may yet be shared, still I do not expect their failures to be my comfort. "
“You have known me, and of me, Your Grace. Even had my mind not been laid bare, if I an so transparent now I must be have been then. I would not belie my nature, not to the elder that gave me my Embrace,” she nods to the seneschal, “nor to the prince whose blood runs through my veins.” Her gaze settles upon her silent sire in turn.
“I am not, and have never been, content with my achievements. Always there has been something I might have done better in, some flaw that marred them I might have corrected. I cannot then lie and claim to be accepting of my shortcomings. My only comfort in failure has ever been the impossibility of success. To hear then of the success of others cuts all the sharper—both for the failure and the self-deception that comforted me.”
“I beg then, forgive me one correction. It is not envy, seneschal, which afflicts me. I stand before the prince, and have been privileged these last minutes to hear secrets that most in the city would kill for—insight into rulership of the longest praxis in the New World. The blood in my veins would be the envy of all but the eldest or most foolish Kindred, and twice before have I known the mercy of the seneschal—staying the hand of my oblivion.”
She pauses before continuing, “I do not envy her for taking another path, I only begrudge exposing my self-deception.”
“I might lament lost time and missed opportunities, that my instruction came at the hands of lesser than my sire, that they had cause to see me in weakness and blindness. I might desire that things could have been different, that this night could have arrived earlier, or under different circumstances. I certainly regret that my ignorance caused any additional hardship for His Majesty—to say nothing of suffering to a great many.”
“Mostly though, I wish that I might have come tonight in only triumph.”
GM: “If the world were as we could have it, Miss Malveaux, you should not have had to come before us tonight at all. But the world is instead as our limited minds and hands must build it,” Maldonato answers.
“Enough,” hisses the prince.
His gaze burns between the two like black fire.
“I have granted you leave to deliver an account of your actions, Philip—a greater privilege than many criminals within my domain receive. You shall finish, without further digression—yours or hers. Then I shall render judgment.”
The words seize upon the two’s dialogue with a vice-like clamp, imposing order and stricture—yet the hands that wield that vice continue to slowly clasp and unclasp like gnawing jaws. Their owner’s face remains still as a grave.
“As Your Majesty commands,” the seneschal replies calmly.
Caroline: The younger Ventrue doesn’t quite wilt under the prince’s burning gaze, but she falls as silent as death before his fury, the spark of life in her response to the seneschal snuffed out in an instant. She folds her hands before her as the seneschal begins his tale once more.
GM:“In the course of the Armstrongs’ investigation, they discovered the hand of another perpetrator behind their sires’ actions. By their report, Sarah Cobbler claimed to have arranged the five’s mass Embrace for her covenant’s purposes. Perhaps she truly was sincere in those stated reasons. Your Majesty invoked the lextalionis upon Mdm. Cobbler and she fled the city. The majority of your subjects believe her part in our city’s history to end there.”
“This development was pleasing to me, for fewer eyes would rest upon Mdm. Cobbler outside of New Orleans. I arranged for the hiring of Monty Lestrange, who respected his employer’s desire to remain anonymous. I believed his connections to his clan’s Thought Police would be of great utility in apprehending Mdm. Cobbler. Mr. Lestrange and his coterie tracked their erstwhile clanmate to Houston, for she had evidently not wished to roam far from her ‘experiments.’”
“I shall spare Your Majesty further details of Mr. Lestrange’s mission, save to relate that he was successful and retrieved the answers I had so ardently desired. Mdm. Cobbler, too, had acted at another’s behest—another whose manipulations I believed we could trace at last. As the 2004th Year of Our Lord passed into the 2005th, a terrible yet desirous anticipation crept upon me that this Jyhad had reached its endgame.”
Caroline: Sarah Cobbler? Another unfamiliar name, but then the Dragons as a whole are a mystery to her. It’s difficult to imagine anyone manipulating such disparate Kindred as Matheson and Baker’s sire, but she supposes she’s seen stranger bedfellows.
GM: “In my preoccupation, however, I neglected—fatally—to consider affairs beyond New Orleans. Had I done so, I would have realized the Nights of Turmoil were beginning to senescence as fears of imminent Gehenna proved seemingly unfounded. We had little reason to believe as much in New Orleans. Not as Owls stole forth from the world’s dark places in ever-increasing numbers, and not as those with gifts of foresight warned us of doom, all the more loudly and desperately. Doom was descending upon New Orleans—but it was a singular doom, one whose worst devastation would be localized to our city.”
Maldonato stares upon the ruined sword, now resting upon the floor.
“Katrina’s tale is Your Majesty’s to tell, for my role within it is ancillary to yours—nor was I the one to pay the greatest price.”
“All of us bore witness to the storm’s destruction. I need not reiterate its consequences upon either Kindred or kine.”
Caroline: Caroline is both grateful for the abbreviation, and curious as to that tale. Perhaps another time. There have been secrets enough tonight.
GM: “Yet some good may have been achieved amidst the tragedy. An heir to my prince’s throne could, I believed, be Embraced at long last.”
The tale is not for her after all, though she’s certain the seneschal has included details for her benefit.
“I did not endeavor to repeat the circumstances of Miss Whitney’s immediately. Other matters occupied my attentions—the archdiocese lay in ruins. There was little point in grooming an heir when there was yet no kingdom for that individual to be heir to.”
“It was not until five years later that Your Majesty repealed the moratorium on new Embraces. Perhaps then I might have brought Adam Malveaux into the night… but for how other children I had watched had come of age.”
“I was mindful of resting so many hopes upon a single individual. I had cast my gaze upon many.”
“Savannah Malveaux, his sister. Far had she risen in spite of the obstacles in her path.”
“Robert Argabrite, heir to another old legacy, before he proved lacking in judgment sufficient to retain it.”
“Stephen Garrison, one of the most promising of all, before Primogen Duquette claimed him for her own.”
“Herman Lewis, who had overcome great hardship, yet in whom I found too great an anger to be suitable.”
“Mark Mullman, resourceful and innovative, but not destined for the Kindred.”
“Dustin Reffett, before he proved unequal to his own expectations.”
“Emily Rosure, beset by hardships of a different manner than Mr. Lewis’, yet unsuitable for the night.”
“Mr. Taylor, who had worked his way from nothing to everything by the sweat of his brow.”
“Jermaine Washington, who had done much the same before his untimely demise.”
“Alice Guillot, brave and determined, heir to a family legacy of much interest.”
“The St. George children, promising in their own manners, yet also unmeant for the night.”
Caroline: More and more names and faces. She’d once seen Abélia as a massive tentacled creature, or a serpent, her coils wrapped around Caroline in wroth, but she can see too well the truth: the seneschal’s own shadowy tendrils around every aspect of life.
GM: “I watched all these souls, and further ones still. Some for the whole of their lives, some for but brief episodes. I had little desire to bring any of them into the night. I had followed Miss Whitney’s developments no less attentively than any of theirs, and I had seen well the suffering and sorrow that her Embrace had wreaked upon so many lives—her own not least of all.”
Caroline: Surely you never believed the Embrace would do anything less. She cannot claim her Embrace has brought only sorrow, but she knows well just how much destruction she has unleashed upon everyone in her life.
GM: “Yet Miss Adler had risen to become an exemplary childe in spite of her sire’s initial indifference and maltreatment. I had not followed the course of her Requiem so closely for reasons of mere sentiment. As she rose in the esteem of our society’s eyes, she stood as evidence that my chosen methodology could bear prodigious results. I had but to repeat that methodology upon another individual—and ensure they received another sire’s vitae in the stead of Mr. Matheson’s.”
“As Hurricane Katrina’s tenth anniversary approached, I could wait little longer. Your Majesty’s reputation had suffered much in the eyes of his subjects. Information was being leaked from our camp to Antoine Savoy, who would not long sit idle upon it, and the Baron had seemingly returned from final death itself. Rumors truer than their disseminators knew were already circulating that Your Majesty’s time would soon be done.”
Caroline: She doesn’t need the confirmation to know how true the rumors are. The opening of the elevator’s doors revealed as much quite clearly, much to her sorrow. Part of her had still hoped it was only a rumor.
GM: “Then were two young women of great promise and potential nearly murdered within a police station.”
“I shall not reiterate Sheriff Donovan’s investigative findings—nor the urgency made necessary by the awakening of so great an evil. The time for waiting was now past. I reviewed the lives of the children I had long watched, weighed the consequences of their deaths, and began my final preparations to bring Adam Malveaux into the night.”
Caroline: The surprise hits Caroline like a punch in the face, and for once she’s grateful she’s taken a more than a few of those. She’d assumed that night sealed her fate.
GM: “Concurrently, René Baristheaut returned to New Orleans upon the centenarial anniversary of his sire’s final death, ostensibly to pay his respects to Sheriff Bastien’s memory. I had not expected to see his face again, but his explanation for returning to the city was plausible enough. For all his grievances against Your Majesty and his sire, he had departed the archdiocese as a hound in good standing. I granted him permission to remain.”
“His heart was at once much changed and little changed. Only later would I become aware he had also approached Mr. Savoy.”
Caroline: Caroline wrestles with her eagerness to learn more, with her desire to urge the seneschal to say more, as they get closer and closer to the present. Her mother may have shown her the truth, but there are many other secrets related to her Embrace—and she’d have them all.
GM: “Another of the children whom I had watched, meanwhile, ventured into Mr. Savoy’s territory to celebrate a mortal festival. Such was little enough cause for concern under normative circumstances—anonymity was always the childrens’ greatest shield.”
“Recent events, however, had left me ill at ease. I tasked an agent with following this child’s movements, and issued him strict orders not to reveal his presence outside of his preassigned cover.”
Caroline: This much Caroline knows.
GM: “Mr. Baristheaut crossed this child’s path during the festivities and absconded with her to the Dungeon to satisfy his base urges. This my agent failed to prevent.”
Caroline: Razor sharp images carve through Caroline’s mind. Memories, pieces of them, dredged up by her mother. Tortures best forgotten—or never imagined.
GM: “Your Majesty and I have both long since been inoculated against belief in coincidence. Of all the agents I might have chosen to shadow the child’s movements, this one was also a spy whom I had contrived to place within the Dungeon’s lower circles. He reported that Mr. Baristheaut believed the child dead and had tasked him with disposing of her remains.”
Caroline: Caroline shivers involuntarily. The memories what she endured scrap against her consciousness like hot irons, searing everything they touch, leaving fresh wounds. At some point it’s all a blur of pain, of agonies, tortures of the mind, body, and spirit that even with her mother’s assistance she can only remember in pieces, slivers, flashes.
More than the pain, more than the specifics, she remembers the sounds and smells, so unlike anything else. The raw wet tearing of flesh, the sharp crack of bones, the sizzle of flesh bubbling, and the smell. God, the smell of blood and burning flesh and filth.
She remembers reading somewhere that memories are most firmly tied to smell. She can believe it. She focuses on the seneschal’s words, trying to pry herself from the memories. Just follow the words, and she does, back away from the depths of hell to the present.
She emerged, that’s what’s important, even if she can’t say she survived.
GM: Though neither elder evinces any apparent reaction to Caroline’s too-vividly recalled pain, there is perhaps some mercy in that Maldonato does not pause in his narrative. The words are easy to grasp and follow, like a waxed rope.
“My agent reported that some spark of life yet persisted with the child’s breast. He was unable to extract her from the Dungeon before its denizens absconded with her. His cover remained intact and he was able to deliver a full report of what had occurred. The trap set before me was plain.”
“It proved well-laid.”
“I made what provisions I could in the time afforded me and descended into the Dungeon. I slew those of its inhabitants I judged deserving of death and did battle with its mistress. Neither fortune nor Your Majesty were there to aid me in our second conflict. I could not destroy her within the heart of her realm.”
Caroline: Caroline too remembers this. The horrific, cataclysmic duel between the two elders, if only from the coin. Her other memories are more… muddied, dulled.
GM: “Another did so in my stead.”
Caroline: There’s nothing dulled about her memories there.
Caroline remembers rising, remembers walking fighting to them on shattered feet, parts of her grotesquely falling from between her legs. Remembers taking up the sword at the seneschal’s urging in bloody, slick, flesh-less hands. Remembers the terrifying visage of the seneschal’s foe, her too late realization of her once-victim’s intent.
She remembers the grim, terrible, satisfaction in ending that thing. The devil incarnate.
There were far worse things she could have done with her last moments of life.
GM: “I had not trusted to hope that the child would still live by the time I reached her. She had. My strength was spent. She took up my sword and ended the daughter of Dionysus’ evil with a stroke.”
Caroline: She deserved it.
There’s a fierce satisfaction, still, in that memory. She could claim it was for destroying an ancient darkness, claim it was for the good it did for the world to remove that monster, but she knows that’s a lie—or at best a half truth.
She wanted revenge on that terrible thing, wanted to make her pay for what she’d done to Caroline. Wanted to kill her killer.
GM: “I returned to my haven with the child. A great crime had been redressed. Antoine Savoy was deprived of one of his most potent allies.”
“Yet the victory had not come without cost. The child lay dying. Neither my powers nor the arts of medicine could preserve her life after the torments she had suffered.”
“Caution pulled at me. My interest in her was known to our foes. I could not say if the daughter of Dionysus was alone in her possession of that knowledge.”
Caroline: Then why not make me your own? Caroline wonders still.
She can see how he was manipulated, pushed into her Embrace. She can even see her mother’s hand at work in it—the light touch he’d never even noticed. Successes here and there to catch his eye perhaps, and the push that brought him into the Dungeon.
But if he harbored doubts, if he had any question, why not simply Embrace her of his own blood, rather than use the prince’s?
GM: “The question within your eyes is plain, Miss Malveaux. Perhaps your sire’s understanding of events may be furthered were it articulated and answered.”
Caroline: “By your leave, Seneschal.” She uses the brief formality to buy a moment to frame her question.
“It is plain I was not your first choice, seneschal. In my memory it is just as evident doubts existed even that night. So why, given those, even with the determination to extend my existence, grace me with the prince’s vitae, rather than your own, or even any other’s?”
GM: “Your sole continued existence is an unworthy trade for the multiplicity of lives you have since taken, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato answers. “To say nothing of your immortal soul’s damnation.”
“Perhaps others of our kind might have granted you the Embrace and considered it a kindness. I do not.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “In the absence of purpose, there would be no purpose,” she fills in.
It’s a crushing weight, but one that clarifies the seneschal’s often cruel intent oh so perfectly.
It would never have been enough for her to succeed as one of the damned. It would never be enough to simply eke out an existence as another Kindred in the city.
GM: “You had demonstrated your worthiness to our prince’s Blood through acts of great courage and valor. Had I not Embraced you as you lay already dying, another soul would have been forced to pay for my decision with their life. For all my suspicions and fears of manipulation—that have since proven founded—your Embrace under our prince’s vitae was and remains a lesser evil to the alternatives.”
Caroline: The smallest price to be paid, for his own conscience as well. It’s not as though she can argue: her life was over the moment René absconded with her—that it became the seneschal’s to spend was a minor point.
“I understand, Seneschal,” she agrees.
GM: “It is ever a prince’s destiny to chart their course through such dark waters.”
Caroline: Caroline turns her gaze back to the prince, judging his reaction to this intermission.
GM: Caroline has seen more expression and vitality in tombstones.
" وَمَكَرُواْ وَمَكَرَ اللّهُ وَاللّهُ خَيْرُ الْمَاكِرِينَ?" Caroline replies to the seneschal.
And the unbelievers plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah.
“For all the plots and plans, of all the paths laid out before me, those not across the bloody rocks but instead the soft sand, here I am.” Caroline’s eyes soften, in her dead waxen face, “I’d like to hope that though we may be beyond the grace of god, we are not beyond his will.”
GM: “Such is the core of the Church Eternal’s belief, Miss Malveaux. Yet we have tried your sire’s patience long enough upon this second digression.”
Caroline: Caroline falls silent once more.
GM: “I had previously arranged for an intermediary to consult with Mr. Ghiberti regarding the alleged properties and construction of the True Vessel,” Maldonato continues. “He obtained further information from contacts among his clan. I crafted a lesser copy of the artifact to contain Your Majesty’s vitae. A sample was not overly difficult to procure. As Miss Malveaux lay dying before me, I sealed her damnation and granted her the Embrace—Your Majesty’s Embrace.”
“I arranged for René Baristheaut to receive the blame for Miss Malveaux’s Embrace, thereby concealing her origins while simultaneously granting us pretext to remove this newest thorn in our side. I instructed my agent to deposit Miss Malveaux at Louis Armstrong Park, where the Armstrong Five had awoken eleven years ago.”
Caroline: Just like that. She keeps her mouth closed.
GM: “This would both further obscure her origins, driving others to seek connections that did not exist, while also, I had hoped, providing an established coterie with reason to take her in. The Armstrongs would sympathize with her plight and have ready cause to assist her in Mr. Baristheaut’s apprehension.”
Caroline: But that didn’t happen. What might have been. She can imagine a tie to Adler guiding her in her first nights, or perhaps Baker by her side. Ties she discovered far, far too late. Only recently, in fact.
How many missteps might have been avoided, how many failures undone? This entire disastrous death sentence—she’d have never thought to spy on her coterie-mate’s sire.
It’s fruitless thought she readily abandons.
GM: “Alas, such did not come to pass. Perhaps we may attribute it to the fallen one’s manipulations, seeking to further isolate Miss Malveaux in anticipation of their own meeting, or perhaps Mr. Savoy’s. I am ever uninclined to trust the vagaries of chance.”
Caroline: Or perhaps trusting to the hope she would happen to meet them and they would take her under their wing was a long shot. Kindred society is not known for its kindness to newcomers, though she can imagine how distant that experience might have been to the centuries-old seneschal.
Perhaps she might have done more, might have advertised her Embrace’s details, might have made deeper connections, but those nights seem so far away, and they were so desperate. She recalls how she dreaded nearly all of her meetings with another of the Damned.
GM: “I sent my agent to the Cayman Islands, for his life was now in great peril. An old friend would shelter him there. Prospero has little stake in this city’s Jyhad and had provided me with sagacious counsel upon many prior occasions. Your Majesty’s known mistrust of the Caymans’ prince would further obfuscate the nature of my agent’s actions and his relationship with us.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t grin at this, but it’s still satisfying to have it confirmed she’d teased out that link.
GM: “I thereafter contrived to watch Miss Malveaux from a distance, much as I had always done. Perhaps my caution might have achieved less than I wished, when others suspected or were already privy to the true circumstances of her Embrace. Yet anonymity would remain her greatest shield within our kind’s society. Any number of Kindred might have sought to commit foul amaranth upon her soul, so close to Caine and yet so vulnerable, or exploit her towards any number of further purposes.”
Caroline: A mistake, she judges. She’s fairly certain at minimum Savoy knew of her origins, of her likely bloodline. She doubts he was alone. Keeping her away and ‘anonymous’ was a shield only so long as all those other players thought she might play a better part at their table.
GM: “I have elaborated my reasons for wishing to hide Miss Whitney’s true bloodline from her, had she been Embraced by Your Majesty’s vitae. Those reasons were no less true for Miss Malveaux, yet there was a further one.”
Caroline: She thinks on how closely the French Quarter lord played his hand with her, how carefully he attempted to recruit her. So patient, so available, so ready to aid her in any time of need with any task, or answer any question.
She too shivers at just how easily he might have leaked what he knew of her to less…. favorably inclined Kindred, had he believed her past his reach.
GM: “Character is not developed in ease and quietude. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. I would not have Your Majesty’s only childe raised in a Requiem of luxury and indolence as were Prince Vitel’s.”
“Even your guiding hand, harsh though I know Mr. Costa found it, would have been insufficient to teach Miss Malveaux the Requiem’s most essential lessons in the time allotted to us.”
Caroline: She wonders if the seneschal knows just how close Savoy came to turning her. How desperately she considered some nights confessing all she knew to him.
GM: “She would face the night alone, bereft of a sire’s guidance, of a sire’s identity, of knowledge of what she even was. Naught would be given to her that she did not first earn for herself.”
“She would endure the hardscrabble Requiem of the lowliest Caitiff, so that she might know the suffering Your Majesty’s most ignoble subjects face nightly.”
“She would feel the weight of the headsman’s axe upon her own neck, so that she might know what it is to place that axe upon another’s.”
“She would face the cruelties, manipulations, and tyrannies of our kind at her most lost, desperate, and vulnerable, so that she might know the Camarilla for what it is.”
“She would face the temptations and poisoned kindnesses of Antoine Savoy, so that she might be understand the threat he poses and be inoculated against it—or, had she succumbed, been destroyed by mine hand while the damage she might pose to Your Majesty’s reign was yet minimal.”
“Mr. Savoy’s nature is intimately known to us, Miss Malveaux. Presume not that we are ignorant of the attentions he showed you.”
Caroline: She knew some of what he would say here, but it does not make it easier to hear. That all of her suffering was intentional, that he fully appreciated all she would ensure.
At the same time, she cannot pretend to have suffered as some have. She might have known a Caitiff’s scorn as a sireless fledgling, alone and without aid, but she was still Caroline Malveaux. She might too have known naught of her birthright, but she still wielded it as a hammer against those that opposed her, wittingly or not.
GM: “The Requiem of Your Majesty’s last childe would be a crucible. In fire would she be either destroyed or tempered—as was Miss Whitney before her.”
“Now, at last, she stands here before you.”
Caroline: As the seneschal’s calm, measured voice fades from the chamber, the full weight of his recitation falls upon her. It pushes down on her like a load of bricks, crushing her, grinding her into paste. Not only what he’s said, but what he’s left unsaid. The implications of his logic—so cold, so calculating in its mercy and purpose—and the weight of his decisions. And… more. The pieces of the game that goes so much further than he’s said, but that she does not doubt he must be able to see. She can see it, now, in shadows and reflections only. The ways in which they were each pushed and pulled to this point, towards this end—or another.
She can see the hand at work in the past, removing his choices, striking down could-have-been heirs for centuries, slowly eating away at the heart of the prince’s power. To weaken him? Perhaps, perhaps to undermine his praxis or destroy him, but perhaps not. Perhaps towards another goal.
She can see the hand at work in how it worked upon the seneschal’s mind. How it fed into his worst paranoia. How it pushed him from considering choices among the Damned to considering something she now knows he’d never have done on his own: towards the grooming and Embrace of an heir from among the living. That action she can now see him so adamantly against, so at odds with his moral principles of ‘greater good.’ Not just the taking of a life, but the damning of a soul.
Caroline can see it in Rebecca Whitney’s Embrace, in the way in which she was snatched from him at the last moment, how he was not only denied his prize, but how he was forced to watch the destruction of her life—and also the destruction she wrought. How that failure stayed his hand for years, how it broadened his gaze, and also how it haunted him night after night to have watched a mortal he groomed from infancy become one of the damned. He might have said that failure alerted him to his adversary’s plans, wakened him to their knowledge of his intentions, but it did so much more than that, didn’t it? It prepared him, groomed him, for Caroline’s own Embrace.
An Embrace that could never have happened in 2005—not only because she was still a child, but because of his reluctance, his caution, his careful planning. Would he have ever considered to Embrace a dying woman on the spot? She imagines not—that he would have forgone the opportunity rather than take the risk.
She recalls well her sister’s words, on how close Abélia has been to Caroline for some time, since well before her Embrace. What part did she play in all of this? Caroline can only imagine for now, but no doubt her hand was in play: how could it not be? She sees her mother’s interest in daughters, not sons, and the seneschal’s fixation on Caroline’s male cousin. Sees the effect the police station had on Caroline, sees how it sent her into a spiral. She doesn’t think Abélia laid her own daughters at the feet of Gettis—his shooting smacks of another influence—but she can well imagine that Abélia wished Caroline there, that night, for whatever might have come.
Caroline sees the manipulation of René, his recall to New Orleans, his abduction of Caroline—she cannot forget how she was drugged that night—that was too intentional to be the product of chance. Did her rescue of Sarah and her sister bring her to the attention of another, or had her death that night been planned from before? It’s hard to say—but in this game of inches played across centuries it is far from the least plausible thing. She remembers the piece she received from Kelford, her false sire’s declaration to his Requiem-long ghoul: “It’s time.” No—René did not return to New Orleans after the shooting by chance.
Her abduction, her trip to the Dungeon, and her descent into its depths flash before her, painful bloodstained pieces of the puzzle. She could have just as easily died at René’s hands—and yet it was not to be. She was pulled deep, deeper, deeper still, into the blackest part of that pit. She remembers her suffering there—but also her preservation—like a worm on a hook, skewered but not shredded. She knows others were not so lucky: remembers watching limbs hacked off others, watching them be fed their own fingers, watching them feast on each other’s flesh because to do otherwise was to invite worse, watched them strangled with their own entrails and sewn back together with each other’s limbs. But not her—no, for all her suffering, she was… whole. Whole enough. Whole enough to tempt the seneschal, not only into his descent, but into what followed.
Caroline, who like so few in this age knew her way around the seneschal’s blade. Who checked all the other boxes for the seneschal—of breeding, of education, of devotion. Caroline, given an opportunity to take up his blade. And more still. She sees the guilt he carried for a decade for his failure with Rebecca, with allowing one of ‘his’ children that he’d so carefully watched to suffer such a fate. The fault he placed upon himself, clouding his judgment. This Kindred so devoted to the highest good, the greater good, who still risked his own so-precious existence as a check on darker forces to descend into his foe’s place of power to ‘rescue’ Caroline—a gamble against the longest of odds.
She sees everything that fed into her Embrace, when all the blood had been spilled and it was only the two of them. The grievous wounds that distracted the seneschal, that nagged at his attention. The awful state of Caroline, past not only medicine but also magic to save, with so little time to make a decision. Such an opportunity for the seneschal—an excuse to create a childe, to give the Embrace, without having to so callously take a life as he had planned. The temptation it presented—to both lessen the guilt he still felt for the destruction of Rebecca’s life—for was he killing Caroline? Wasn’t it a lesser evil to take the life of an already dying woman than to ruin another family?
And the timing of it all—might he have done any of these things were it not so late in the game, were he not so desperate, so out of time? The terrible state of the prince speaks for itself. Centuries of planning, decades of manipulation, and a perfect storm of events that night to bring it to a head—to force him into Caroline’s Embrace.
Caroline, who’d always wanted a mother that loved her. Caroline, who’d always desired a sister. Caroline, who all her life sought to please her father, to earn his attention. Caroline, from power and privilege. Caroline, with her hands already stained with blood, who had already shown any that could see into her soul how deep its stains ran, who would sacrifice almost anything. Caroline, whose mother happened to be the most powerful hunter in the state? Caroline, who could appeal so easily to Lou. Caroline, who even so tempted would still so seek to please her ‘father.’
It’s all too much, an overwhelming vision of her life and death and Requiem all plotted out, manipulated, contrived. Her head spins. She feels sick, used, tainted, trapped. Did anything she did ever matter? Did she ever have any choice at all, or had another seen which fork she would take in every road, and contrive them to lay before her? It’s wrong—so wrong, so perverted, a step into the domain of God.
She’d hoped the ‘truth’, full and complete, might give her peace. But it’s all the more horrifying—and not only for the seneschal’s callousness.
GM: Time seems to hang all-too still as Caroline contemplates those by turns unsettling and tragic twists of fate before Maldonato resumes,
“Miss Malveaux’s suitability as a childe, when collated against Miss Whitney’s, has oft proven fitful.”
“I have tasked her with her a series of labors to redress the poor judgment she displayed with Mr. Matheson.
“She has slain Claire Malveaux, her mortal mother, and obtained intelligence on the Baron’s activities by which we may thwart his latest design.”
“She has proven but partly able to divorce herself from her mortal life, and has accepted the fallen one’s blood for her own.”
“As an individual, I have seen much of Your Majesty’s last childer in her. I have seen courage and resolve to eclipse Miss Whitney’s. I have seen self-pity and -preoccupation all-too alike Mr. Costa’s. I have seen loyalty to withstand Mr. Savoy’s wiles. I have seen doubt distance her from Your Majesty’s faith.”
“I have seen in her a resentment and hunger for affection that others might manipulate towards their own ends. I have seen her resist the daughter of Dionysus’ same manipulations, and rid Your Majesty of a great foe, when all hope appeared lost.”
“I believe her less stable of temperament than either Adam Malveaux or Sarah Whitney, and less inspirited by thoughts of obligation and duty.”
“I believe her possessed of greater drive, ambition, and her own manner of sacrifice than either. I believe her capable of surpassing both of Your Majesty’s unrealized childer in greatness.”
“I believe time and careful cultivation may bring out those best traits within her and abate those most deleterious ones. Time do we have.”
“I have spoken much of the need for an heir to Your Majesty’s throne. With such an heir in place, there is yet little need for an immediate successor.”
“Even if a perfect childe of Miss Malveaux’s drive, Miss Whitney’s poise, and Mr. Malveaux’s faith stood before us, such a childe would be too young and inexperienced to rule the archdiocese alone. I shall not see Your Majesty’s domain become as Prince Jackson’s or Prince Panhard’s.”
“Yet an heir is a potent symbol. Once Your Majesty is able to enter the sleep of ages, I believe the archdiocese’s most stable course lies in the continuation of my reign as acting prince until such time as Miss Malveaux is suitable to take the throne.”
“In truth, such a change in leadership would impact the city but little. Your Majesty has long since delegated the majority of your responsibilities as prince and retains the office in but name only.”
“Yet there is power in names and symbols. The ‘rumor’ spread by Mr. Smith has already transformed the archdiocese’s sociopolitical landscape. Knowledge that Your Majesty’s bloodline maintains an unbroken rule over the city shall do much to maintain stability while circumventing the issues endemic to my assuming the title as well as duties of prince.”
Maldonato’s voice grows soft.
“Their existence has ever been a source of consolation and comfort to me.”
His gaze is tender as he looks upon the prince’s impassive, stone-like visage.
“I grow weary of this burden, my love. I desired it not when Nastasio first approached us. We have crossed an ocean and witnessed an age’s passing at his behest, and I still desire it not. There are worthier pursuits we have long postponed that the duties and responsibilities our present positions make untenable.”
“I am patient. Should you see fit to let your childe’s Requiem persist past this night, she shall eventually understand that patience comes easily to our kind. One’s desires and ambitions cannot outlive one who is immortal.”
“I am prepared to rule as regent in Miss Malveaux’s name, and to train her in the duties and responsibilities of a prince’s office, for however long should prove necessary until she may assume the throne herself with minimal disruption to the archdiocese’s continued stability. I do not fear time’s passage. I regret only those actions I may commit that shall impede the journey I have long postponed.”
“Yet such concerns for my own soul are subordinate to those I have for another’s. Your rest is long overdue, my love. Long overdue, long deserved, and long needed. You have changed in the time since assuming this city’s throne, and I do not believe its burdens have been kind to you. I would see them removed from your shoulders. I would see you granted peace.”
“You know as well as I that such peace is not assured. Time is running out. Motes of sand remain in the upper chamber of the hourglass that measures Your Majesty’s reign. The archdiocese’s threats must be dealt with while Your Majesty’s strength remains available to us. Our mission and mandate from the Camarilla persists, even if the one who bestowed it upon us is now long since dust beneath Aajav’s fangs.”
“Miss Malveaux has seen and remembered more to this Jyhad than I should have wished. But perhaps that, too, is necessary if we are to face the trials ahead. They are many.”
“Antoine Savoy plots incessantly to undermine Your Majesty’s temporal influence. The Baron, while so many overlook him, gathers his strength to meet us upon more esoteric battlefields. The Setites stir with new ambition in the aftermath of the daughter of Dionysus’ destruction. The Clan of Death pursues an agenda we still but ill understand. Nathaniel Blanch seemingly prepares to re-enter the Jyhad. The Anarchs roil with discontent and perceived hypocrisy among their leaders. The Tremere march heedlessly forward in their own private war. The Invictus assesses how they might make the city theirs. The primogen eye the fulfillment of their longest-held desire.”
“Birds of Dis descend upon our city in numbers not seen since Katrina. Kindred from Houston, Haiti, and Baton Rouge find ever greater reason to watch our city and involve themselves in its affairs. The magi see a city they may realize in their own image. The moon-beasts hunger for Bayou St. John and renewed war against their foes. The restless dead and those who tend them agitate in rebellion against Stygia’s governor. The wild ones stir in trepidation. Witch-hunters dream of a city cleansed of its Kindred presence. The infernal beckons to those seeking power in these uncertain times. Eyes high and low rest upon Perdido House in anticipation of monumental change they know is soon to occur.”
“Beyond our city, I hear of wars ravaging the Middle East and involving our kind on a scale unprecedented. I hear of a new regent guiding the Sword of Caine’s path, whose grip is surer and whose aim is deadlier than Galbraith’s ever was. Perhaps we may feel that sword’s bite in the coming years. Greater purpose lay behind last Carnival’s packs than merely partaking of the city’s pleasures.”
“I hear tale of distant domains ruled by the clanless, the last generations, and even those who serve, and I wonder how much of our dominion over the night take for granted. The very nature of Scourge Meadows’ mission renders it impossible for her to ever declare success.”
“I hear tale of witch-hunters descending upon our kind with renewed fervor, utilizing powers and technologies we are ill-equipped to understand. I hear of the young rising up against the old, and cities ruled by princes who have known the sun longer than they have the night.”
“Time never ceases its march, yet I find myself contemplating with oft frequency whether its pace may soon outtake us. The Jyhad is changing. The world is changing.”
“When one looks upon New Orleans, one sees a city teeming with energy and vitality. Many proclaim that the tragedies and disaster of ten years ago would hardly seem to have struck. They say the city has moved on. I do not believe this to be so. I believe the city to have been irrevocably transfigured—and that even creatures as static and long-dead as we may share in that metamorphosis. It is time for us to set our affairs in order, cease fighting the tides of history, and see whence our futures might carry us.”
“When I was as new to the night as Miss Malveaux, my sire’s grandsire told me of how he was prepared to slay the tribe of his birth down to the last man, woman, and child. He ended half of their lives before his sire commanded that he stop. In committing one atrocity did he spare the survivors a worse fate at his sire’s hands: a fate he would have been helpless to forestall. In committing one evil did he avert a worse evil. A beast he was, lest a beast he became.”
“My ancestor committed that massacre long ago, yet I feel his destiny coursing through my blood and guiding my steps and actions even to this present night. Here, at last, do we stand.”
“My actions are my own. I have broken Your Majesty’s sworn oath and covenant with God and usurped your prerogative as prince. I have betrayed the trust Your Majesty placed in me. I have damned Miss Malveaux’s soul and robbed her of her life’s most precious joys and gifts. I bear responsibility for the suffering she has caused so many others.”
“I harbor no regrets over my actions. I mourn the harm they have caused to others and the stains they have left upon my soul. Yet were they within my power to undo, I would undo them not. I have committed evil so that a greater evil might yet be averted.”
“Yet amidst such evil, I also see much good.”
“Know this, my love: you kept your oath. Whatever others may believe, you know that no dishonor has stained your dignitas, nor undermined the obedience you owe God. Know this, Miss Malveaux: your sire did not abandon and condemn you. I stole that knowledge and choice from him. You stand here before one another, each innocent of the crimes inherent to your blood as sire and childe. You stand as free of that original sin as did Adam and Eve before sampling Eden’s forbidden fruit.”
“In your reunion, I see a sire who may find the childe and heir he has long sought, and a woman who may find the father whose love she has long wished for. I see the potential for a prince to preserve his legacy, and for a childe to attain the greatness she has long yearned after. I see a measure of redemption for both of your souls through one another. But that is no longer for me to determine.”
“You have heard my tale of the circumstances that have brought us to this point. My secrets are laid bare. My hand may no longer compel what proceeds from here. It is your prerogatives now, to speak, to decide, and to answer:”
“What will you do?”
The seneschal’s voice dies at last, like the slow descent of an autumnal tree’s final leaf. The landscape before Caroline and her sire is dead and barren—yet hearkens to a promised spring.
Caroline: Caroline’s gaze fixes in her sire, in his own ancient, dead gaze. It’s like staring into the abyss, into the infinite. It captures centuries, perhaps more, within its unflinching pitiless eyes.
She can see reflections of herself in his eyes, in his skin. She knows she looks like a corpse this night, the Beast so close to the surface, robbing her of what shreds of her humanity remain.
She knows, better than any, all she’s sacrificed to make it this far, to stand before him.
There’s irony in the seneschal’s questioning of her loyalty, of her duty. Everything—save perhaps the moments since her mother’s embrace of her into a new family—has built towards this moment. Every sacrifice, every demand met, every humiliation suffered, to bring her a step closer to a Kindred she’s met only once before, and in scorn, when she was nothing but a un—then barely—released fledgling.
He is not everything she’d hoped. While she wears the injuries to her soul as open wounds, his are scars so deep she wonders what might remain within him, how he claws himself from the abyss each night in this mausoleum.
The seneschal’s own wounds confirm what she’s long feared—that his rule approaches its end, that his fate is the long sleep, that the time they have is so terribly limited within the context of a Requiem.
The disappointment is not with him—any more than the disappointment a child might feel over learning the truth of Christmas is with their parents. It’s the death of a dream, of an innocence—what little may be pried from a murderer like herself.
She wants to weep in the moment, she wants to rush to him, to beg him to accept him, to say anything other than the harsh pronouncements he’s offered since learning of her existence. Can he ever know everything she gave up to come this far? Everything she endured? Does he know how his silence, his stoicism cuts her even now? Still, she composes herself, perhaps aided by how little of her is human tonight. The Beast that does not quite rule her soul has no room for self-pity, for weakness, or for doubts.
Should she speak? Leave was given to the seneschal to explain his crime, not to her to make her plea, but every moment of silence stretches a lifetime.
GM: Her sire’s black gaze has come at last to rest upon her.
No sound disturbs the still and dead air, save the crashing rain and ominous rumble of thunder.
Caroline: “I beg you, Your Majesty, forgive my presumptuousness,” Caroline begins, when the silence becomes too overwhelming. “I have waited… it seems an eternity, since my Embrace, for this moment.”
Her blue eyes bore into his dark ones. “I am not so presumptuous to gainsay the words of my creator—especially as kind as they were, for all of their stark revelations. Perhaps the seneschal knows me better than I know myself—he has looked upon me for long, and more than once within me, into my mind. The first lies we tell are, I think, to ourselves. Even were that not true, I lack the perspective and accompanying wisdom of a centuries he possesses.”
“Still, there are parts of the tale that he has yet left for me to tell, if it pleases Your Majesty.”
GM: The prince’s response is like an answering crack of lightning from the troubled skies beyond the window. Stark, and for all its illumination, perhaps fatal.
Caroline: “I awoke into this existence knowing only that the last of my previous existence had been moments of terror and pain. My first in this one was overwhelming thirst and barely contained rage I had never before felt. In those first moments my first acts reaffirmed for me that which I had become, though I knew not how or why—a monster to match my most monstrous deeds in life.”
Caroline remembers that night, remembers the taste of her first victim’s blood in her mouth, remembers her horror later when she realized what she’d done. The memories are bitter, as much for how far she’s fallen from that night as for her first taste of corruption. Does she even remember many of her victims in modern nights? How many have names she even recalls? Meaningless questions. She’s not here for kine. She bores on, leaving pieces of herself behind as she goes.
“The details may resemble those of thousands of other Kindred across history—I will spare them—but in my first nights I maimed, I fought, and I killed. I felt the touch of the sun and the agony of wounds that would have killed me in life. I learned something of my nature, if not what I was in truth, before I was found and brought before the seneschal and sheriff to face execution.”
More bitter memories, there are so many—it feels this entire sojourn into the past is one into pain and disappointment. Into failure. It’s hard to face her past, the array of choices that in hindsight were so foolish, so reckless. She wants to strangle that version of herself, trying so hard to ‘save’ Paxton, bringing her first victim to the hospital, coming before Orson to help Aimee. She can feel the Beast devouring her self-loathing, how it grows strong from her distain for that still human Caroline Malveaux. Let it, she does not have the strength to fight it now.
“Perhaps I would have welcomed it. The seneschal is correct that I loathed what I had become. I raged petulantly against God Himself for what had happened to me. I hated myself for the harm I inflicted on others. I agonized as I watched my mortal life disintegrate night after night beneath fresh lies—and as I watched those closest to me hurt time and again by my new existence and the costs associated with it. I had no sire to explain my Requiem to me, or the laws of the city, or any other aspect of existence among Kindred. Instead I was counseled by a ghoul—that my very existence was poison, that the best I could hope for was to be destroyed before I caused overly much harm, that the moral choice was to destroy myself.”
She can barely even remember those thoughts—and for the better.
“The only purpose I found in my existence was in the impossible charge laid before me, to hunt down a century old hound, my murderer and purported sire. My missteps were many—and costly. They bought me the ire of the sheriff, the disdain of the Sanctified, the scorn of the Anarchs and the outright hunting by a krewe of them—more enraged and reckless as they became with each defeat I dealt them.”
There’s some satisfaction in some of these memories, the Beast can agree. The thrill of throwing down those lesser that sought to harm her. Of smashing Bliss into a torpor she’d never awake from, of cutting apart not one or two, but three attackers like the trash they were. Dark thoughts that keep the Beast from her mind now, that keep her in control.
“I found little comfort in others of my kind, and few inclined to grant succor to one laboring under a death sentence that rapidly approached: I counted my remaining existence in nights before the sheriff’s justice descended upon me. I received lessons in beatings, in whippings, in tortured mortal associates, murdered mortal family members, and in the inartful delivery of severed heads of those dear to me still.”
Hard nights, hard times. The bite of McGinn’s whip held in the hand of his slave—after he forced her to strip before them. Begging for succor from the sun after he held her there through the night. The taunts of the Nosferatu hacker. The selling out by the Hidden Clan to McGinn, the setup with the bikers. The memory of blows from Matheson for each ill-received answer—a cover for his attempt to all but rape her. Jessica’s head in a box. Westley… hard times that made her harder, that beat what mercy and goodness might have been left in her out. For the better, right?
“I knew not worth in my Requiem, but I would have my justice against my killer, against the one who so callously destroyed my life. He, at least, would never do so again. I would do something of worth, something to offset the terrible toll of my Requiem, endured perhaps by me but paid for in the blood and lives of others. Looming final death gave me clarity, a desperate recklessness in my pursuit of my supposed sire.” Desperateness and recklessness, the hallmarks of her Requiem.
“And along the way I accumulated reasons I might go on, that I might not greet the sun following the fulfillment of my task. Some were pleasures—the company of another—but most were burdens I could not easily lay down. Lives I had shattered that I sought to piece back together in something resembling their previous state, souls I had stained with my own vitae that I was now responsible for. Pride too had a part. The scorn of others, their doubts, their judgement of me called to something in me, demanded that I prove them wrong. I had never been a nobody. I could not bear to be remembered—or worse not remembered at all—as a failure. Still, I think even the night following René Baristheaut’s capture, that sole night of my Requiem in which I did not labor under the seneschal’s death sentence, I remained possessed by doubts. How could any moral person—or even one pretending at it—justify this existence?”
But she did, she continued to justify it, as she has night after night, taking lives, ruining lives, hurting people because it’s what she is. The purring Beast inside reminders her of that much.
“That night proved tumultuous. Mr. Matheson’s secret was laid bare before me in the most personal of ways, and I agonized over what I might do with this poisonous knowledge. The seneschal resolved both matters when I was brought before him to face accounting for the careless handling of such a sensitive and shameful matter.”
“In his grace he revealed, in the moments before what was to be my execution, the truth of my blood—that I was not the childe of the criminal René Baristheaut, but instead that your majesty’s blood ran through me. I begged to come before my sire, but the seneschal relented only that he should hold my sentence in suspense for one year, that I might prove more value than nuisance.”
A tease, enough to keep her twisting on the hook like a worm, the darker part of her whispers.
“The seneschal did not lie, but within the truth he presented was a lie planted that I did not immediately discern. In those following nights I set out to prove I could be of value to your majesty, convinced my sire would not have abandoned me without some greater purpose, that I had endured all I had by the prince’s will.”
Foolish girl the dark whispers. She can’t deny it, and why should she? Only that darker part of her has gotten her this far. How much did goodness buy her?
“I set out to make something of my Requiem, however humble it might be. Nothing had changed—not for the better. I remained a sireless fledgling, now laboring once more under a death sentence. My mother’s secret was exposed, and now Requiem was not dependent not only upon my own actions, but upon her own continued cooperation with the sheriff. His own affection for me was not improved by the interactions my liaison between them required. Mr. Matheson now held numerous boons over me, and I had given him great offense. More, I discovered standing among others in Clan Ventrue writ large could scarcely have been worse. I knew nothing of what that legacy meant prior to my meeting with Mr. Matheson, and in my early nights had given offense to a great many luminaries among it within New Orleans. Perhaps some of it was unavoidable—some met and conspired with René Baristheaut, also of their blood, while I hunted him—but I much of the blame was mine alone. Finally, there was the task laid before me—that I should uncover some secret of equal value to Mr. Matheson’s from among the prince’s foes.”
No great victories here, no great successes. Her successes have been humble.
“Surely, my errors to date, my failures, where why my sire had not spoken to me but officially during my release—and how I treasured that memory. Surely I was not worthy of him. These things I easily believed, having seen your majesty once now, in dark glory, at the trial.”
Foolish gir- She doesn’t let it continue. This is her tale now.
“I don’t know when, exactly, it was that the lie started to unravel. Perhaps as I learned more of the clan that was my birthright. Perhaps when Mr. Savoy sought to wrap his coils around me ever tighter, his every word so carefully chosen. Perhaps when I looked upon the relationships between other childer and their sires.”
How jealous she’d been of them.
“It started, I think, as a dream. A pleasant fantasy—certainly my sire would not have abandoned me in the night. He would not have cast me out to stumble and fall, to bloody myself before the captive audience of the all night society. As I berated myself for every mistake that might mar me in your eyes, so many made in ignorance, I wanted to believe it was the will of some third party that I found myself alone in the night, only hoping my victories, such as they were, might bring some pride to my sire.”
“Knowing, all too certainly by his silence, they did not.”
These lows were not so long ago, when she had nothing to go on for except a desperate dream of getting out from under the seneschal’s sentence, of rising from the lowest of the low among her kind, from taking her rightful place. That he did not see fit to attend the completion of her agoge had been such a blow. She remembers raging with bitter tears, in private, after everyone had left and she didn’t have to keep the mask on anymore. It had been such a familiar experience, so like her childhood. Never good enough.
“Perhaps, as the seneschal alluded to, Mr. Savoy might have eventually manipulated my desire for affirmation in time against my sire. The secrets I knew, and who I was, I knew could be potent weapons wielded against the prince. I will not deny the temptation was there. I think for a time pride held be back, that I would not be proven unworthy of my sire. That I would not settle for a pale imitation, a pretender. So too, wisdom—what future might I have if I went over? I knew I would ever be a liability, a threat to him even if he proved victorious—especially if he did.”
She recalls the argument with her mother, now dead and gone, on this point. Recalls not being able to explain to her the truth. She wonders if that was the beginning of the end of the hope of saving her mother’s life.
“But so too, something more. I would not stab my f—my sire in the back. I would not be a cowardly weak slinking thing that needed praise and affirmation, and wilted without them like a flower in the dark. If it was to be your majesty’s will that I should go through this, I would trust in it.”
The curses herself for the misstep even as she pushes on with her explanation. She’s waited her entire Requiem to speak with her sire. She will not be derailed now.
She continues, her voice strong and clear. “Was it though? I thought time and again on it—on what motive there might be for my creation, for my particular initiation into this existence. Surely there was a reason, but I couldn’t find it, not for my utter blindness that had done so much damage. Not for my abject weakness that whored me out to very petty tyrant in New Orleans. Surely there were better ways, if a brutal education and proving ground was what was desired, one’s more in keeping with the traditions I learned of within Clan Ventrue.”
“It began to come together—if not by my sire’s will, then how and why?” Her gaze sweeps to the seneschal. “I knew not if it was possible—and that doubt for months kept me from certainty—but if my sire didn’t know, it would explain much. I thought of my sire, so dignified, so proper, so worthy in my brief meeting, and whether he would delegate my destruction to another for my failures. I could not see it—that he would permit that act to another.”
Her gaze sweeps back to her sire. “The night that truth was confirmed for me was the night any thought of ‘betrayal’ died. It was the night that I resolved, however desperate I must be, that I would stand before my sire, that whatever else came of it, he deserved to know the truth.”
“That injustice, I had seen. I had… committed, of a fashion. The murder of a child without the consent or even knowledge of their existence for the father. My reasons were my own, and my crime less than the seneschal’s own, even if they were just as selfish. There was cruel irony in my circumstance—reason enough to believe in God.”
“If I viewed myself as a victim of the seneschal’s plot, if I felt self-pity and anger, I knew I was not alone.” It’d been before Christmas. Before she’d ruined her name, watched her life fall apart. Thank—not God—Abélia for that. If the truth had not come out, she doesn’t know if she would have had the will to push through that particular trial.
“It is not given to me to pass judgment on what he did—to me or to your majesty. He has given his reasons, and though I might not have done the same, I cannot say what the proper path was, how righteous or terrible his act.” She pauses for a moment before continuing, “nor, I find now, do I care.”
It’s not entirely true. She wishes she could let go of the anger she still feels over all of the lies, but it still burns, and perhaps it always will. Some wounds are too deep to close.
“Whatever the reasons, whatever the methods, whatever the past holds is immaterial in truth.” That much is true. “Those months are gone. What might have been with my sire is gone. What misfortunes were suffered, what lives were lost… it’s all gone. Even what relationship might have existed between the seneschal and myself is gone, forever tainted by the lies that existed between us.”
A cruel barb, but as true as the one’s he laid into her character. She remembers how naively she believed him a moral beacon among the damned. Even until this meeting, she’d thought more of him, thought the excuses he might offer more convincing than the truth has proven. She doesn’t hate him, but she doubts she’ll ever forgive him.
She continues more softly, her monologue coming to a close, “All the future for me, whether I might measure it in seconds or years, flows forth from this moment. I have had only dreams of what that might hold, I dared not hope. In those dreams however, I would spend what time may yet remain with the sire that might yet guide my next steps, that I might make proud, that I might be worthy of. That future, unlike the past, may yet be written by your majesty’s will.”
The young Ventrue falls silent.
GM: Time stretches. Neither elder speaks. Rain screams and crashes against the cavernous window. Thunder rumbles angrily overhead. The occasional fork of lightning distantly flashes, its harsh glow eliminating the harsher crags of the prince’s face.
Caroline cannot say what he might be thinking. Perhaps his love can. Perhaps not even he.
It’s an alien face. A marble statue in both pallor and animation: as bleached as white stone and equally still. Dark fire burns behind the glass-like eyes: the fury of heaven matched with the torments of hell, and a promise damnation that would feel all-too real even were Caroline not damned herself. To stare into its burning depths for overlong is to tempt destruction. There is no possibly mistaking it for the face of a living man.
And yet, it is not so different from Caroline’s.
Past the soul-melting fire, within the reflective sheen of the white glass, she sees herself. Another marble automaton. Another soul stained black by hard choices, by pursuit of power, by her own vitae-baptized damnation.
Time stretches. Neither moves. Neither breathes. Neither blinks.
Then, a rasp. A voice like grinding stone, scorched by fire.
“Show me you are loyal.”
The statue’s offered wrist gleams like marble against the feeble stars. Two points of red well from white.
Caroline: Caroline stares at that wrist. Her sire’s words are a knife running through her hopes for this night.
This night has not been as her dreams might have had it. There has been no joy in her sire’s eyes, no pride, no forgiveness, no embrace of the lost childe. And this… this had certainly not been in any of her dreams. She knows what waits in his blood. She’s felt it often enough from other powerful Kindred, and rarely by choice.
Even more, she knows what waits in his vitae, vice that of the petty tyrants of the city. It is no faint tie, no collar she might casually remove, or that might quickly fade. It is decades, perhaps centuries tied to him, pulled around by it like an eager puppy. Nor is it her first taste of him.
She knows how that second sip makes her feel around Jocelyn, how it draws her to her paramour time and again. How hard it is to resist the Toreador’s desires.
Hasn’t she shown her loyalty? Isn’t she here, tonight, and not in the Evergreen? It does more than sting, his doubt. His demand. She, who’s spent most of her Requiem trying to stand before him, and he, who has done nothing for her. Less than nothing, for his frenzy moments ago that might have claimed her unlife, had she been less swift, or the seneschal less selfish.
But then, of course he doubts. Doesn’t she recall the fate of his last childe? She’s seen it, the betrayal, the rebellion, the execution. How could she expect him to trust, to believe, when she’s seen how deeply the game is played among elders—how many hands were at work in her Embrace? She knows it is the bond working already upon her, that first sip subtly tipping her towards the most favorable conclusion.
Does it matter? She knows she’ll drink. It’s a small price compared to those she’s paid already. It’s not the steep price that stings any more than the tag on a piece of clothing has ever slowed her down, it’s the meaning behind it.
Caroline slides to her knees before the prince and reaches for the offered wrist, for the so intoxicating smelling vitae.
GM: The younger Ventrue all but gags at the taste. It burns her tongue like magma and pours down her throat with all of the heaviness of steel. If Jocelyn’s blood was a tap faucet’s, and the sheriff’s a river’s angry current, the sanguine offering before her is a storm-tossed lake. Her nerves sharpen. Her senses heighten. She feels strong. Calm. Unstoppable. Detached, yet a whole of something greater.
The font of liquid gold ends all-too abruptly. Shadows stir, seeping over her sire’s motionless form like a hungry cloud. His black-burning gaze is the last of his features to vanish. When the darkness recedes, his ruined throne sits empty. Caroline is left alone in the desolate chamber with the seneschal.
His level voice preempts the silence.
“Well done. I had feared much was lost.”
Caroline: Caroline looks from the empty throne to the seneschal. She unconsciously reaches with one hand to her lips, wiping whatever traces of vitae remains into her mouth. “Where…” she pauses, composing herself. “Was he ever here?”
GM: “Doubt not your senses, Miss Malveaux.”
Caroline: She falls silent. The seneschal has taught her, more than anything, to doubt everything.
GM: He turns to depart. “Come. There is much to set in order.”
Caroline: The young Ventrue rises, the taste of the prince’s blood still upon her lips. She feels drunk, heady on the potent vitae and moment both. Has she gotten everything she wished or seen everything she feared? Has she achieved her dreams or wandered into a new nightmare?
Her gaze lingers on the ancient Moor, trying to use him to orient herself, to stop the spinning. His words strike home.
Much to set in order. She thinks to Claire, dead but not forgotten. She thinks to Abélia, and what it means to be one of her daughters. She thinks to her vanished sire and where he has gone. She thinks to the many enumerated threats to her sire’s rule. Her future rule.
Yes. There is much to set in order.
But perhaps now, they can begin.