“Have you been a good girl this year, or are you on Santa’s naughty list?”
Saturday evening, 2 January, 2010
GM: One upshot to the kids moving back to their father’s, at least, is that Emily and Diana can move to a smaller two-bedroom apartment to save further on money. Both women are very, very sad that Celia doesn’t want to move in with them. Her one-woman loft salon is doing well, and she has big plans for Flawless, but she’s hardly rolling in cash right now. They try everything to convince her. Emily wants her best friend as a roommate. Diana wants to have her daughter close. She wants to cook Celia’s meals, do her laundry, and see her off to work. “Obviously not forever, sweetie! I completely understand you wantin’ to have your own place as an independent adult. Just… money is a lil’ tight, now that I can’t work, so why not do this until the settlement pays out and your business gets big?”
Mélissaire doesn’t need to tell Celia that living with two breathers is out of the question. It’s not even a question of Kindred society’s rules. There’s no apparent way to do it and still conceal the truth.
And money isn’t as tight for Celia as her family believes, either. Her material needs in her present state are few. Savoy seems happy to float her for whatever she needs until she “finds her feet.” Veronica and Pietro show her that it’s laughably easy to part kine from their money. Her mortal family doesn’t know the half of her actual finances.
In the end, Emily and Diana can’t force her to live with them. But they do appreciate how Celia “convinces” their old landlord to let them break lease early so they can move into the smaller place, seemingly as a peace offering.
Viv, meanwhile, proceeds ahead with the insurance settlement. She says it will be very helpful if the company doesn’t think the women will be inclined to buckle for an early payout. The longer this process looks like it will take, even out of court, the higher their attorneys’ fees will climb. “There’s a whole cost-benefit analysis their legal team will do. These people aren’t motivated by ego, just the bottom line.”
It’s not long before Lucy’s birth that the insurance company’s seven-figure settlement pays out. It’s like winning the lottery. Celia’s heavily pregnant mom nervously laughs that, “I don’t even know how to spend this much money!”
If she wants to, she can splurge on an expensive and spacious property. The neighborhoods where she wants to live don’t lack for high-end real estate. Celia’s mom thinks about buying or renting a big house and then buying a smaller condo once the older kids are moved out. But Emily raises that maybe the privileged Flores kids can stand to live in a little less comfort, and there are so many taxes associated with selling a house, while renting is just money down the drain. Why not just get something you’ll be comfortable in once the nest is empty, but has room for guests?
“Or a guy,” Emily brings up with Celia.
Celia: “Or a guy,” Celia agrees.
GM: So Mom agrees to that logic. She buys a house up front. It’s harder to sway her into buying something in the Quarter. She’s worried about crime reports and really, really wants to buy something in the Garden District, or at least the Lower Garden District. “It’s just so, so pretty there. It’d be in walking distance of work, school, and church for me and Lucy.”
Pete says the Garden District is Vidal’s personal territory. Horrible idea if Celia wants to regularly see her family. The Lower Garden District isn’t much better, with a swath of the prince’s territory still between them and Celia.
So she pushes. And eventually Mom folds on that too. Like everything. Quarter it is.
Celia: Celia doesn’t feel bad about it. She gets to see her family.
GM: She’s done much worse things to feel bad over.
Celia’s mom is budget-conscious with the settlement money: her ~40k salary at McGehee is livable but not luxurious. Maxen is paying child support for their first five kids.
So Diana buys a smaller house up front, with a decent chunk of the settlement money. Smaller, but she wants smaller, both for an emptier-nested future and “So there’ll be no mortgage. Own it full and in the clear.”
With that significant expense marked off, she budgets out another quarter-million remaining settlement money to the expenses of raising Lucy from diapers to 18, which Maxen is obviously not helping to pay for.
Another chunk of the settlement gets budgeted out for Lucy’s college fund. “I don’t ever want my baby to go into debt,” Celia’s mom declares resolutely. “Just never, not like I did.”
Another chunk gets budgeted out to buy Lucy her first car.
Celia: Celia swears to hire her mother a goddamned accountant. Or financial advisor. Or something.
She isn’t seriously sticking the money under a mattress?
GM: Celia’s mom clarifies that the money is going into savings accounts and a variety of low-risk investments. “So that my money will go to work for me.” She is simply establishing a budget plan for how to eventually spend it.
Celia: Oh. That’s all right.
But she should still tell her kids to actually work, or something.
GM: Emily agrees. She’s going to work at Celia’s business, after all, until she’s a doctor.
Speaking of Celia’s business, another chunk gets budgeted out for “my remaining lifetime’s worth of spa visits,” as her mom declares with a happy smile. Assuming weekly visits, plus monthly hair styling, comes out to 97k after tips (which Diana insists on paying despite Celia saying tips are optional for her momma). Habits add up, even with the substantial discount Diana will be getting to only pay product fees rather than full service fees.
“What if I just pay you an even $100,000 right now, sweetie? Would you find it more helpful to have that right now, when you’re getting things of the ground, or to have a customer you can count on for maybe 40 years?” her mom asks.
Celia: Celia takes the $100,000. She’s found someone to invest for her, after spending part of it on that new room she needs once she realizes her Kindred clients need their own space. She tells her mom it’s a “free service for life” kind of thing.
GM: The bulk of the spa’s funding, after all, has already been taken care of. Savoy provided that with a very large and interest-free loan. He laughs off the idea of anything like service for life. Mélissaire pays the full service fee and tips generously whenever she comes in. “All” Celia’s grandsire expects in return is that she will be “amenable” to any particular uses he has for the spa down the line.
The first use is when he asks her to administer slow-acting poison to a client who needs to die, slowly and without suspicion. That sort of thing.
Mélissaire recommends the place to all her girls.
Celia: She doesn’t have an issue with that. It’s administered without question. She doesn’t pry or ask needless questions; when Lord Savoy asks her to jump, she does so. Backwards and in heels, even.
GM: Unaware of such shadowy benefactors, Celia’s mom is delighted to feel like she’s an integral part of her daughter’s business getting off the ground.
What’s left of the settlement money, after being budgeted out or actually spent on the house, raising Lucy, Lucy’s college fund, Lucy’s car, Flawless’ start-up funds, and a 100k retirement fund for the almost-40-year-old Diana, comes out to around 150k left.
“I’m honestly not sure what to budget out the rest on, sweetie,” Celia’s mom says thoughtfully. “I’ve offered to pay for med school for Emily, but she just says she won’t be a freeloader—like she’s any such thing! Maybe a trust fund for Lucy, like you and your siblings had?”
Celia: “You could,” Celia tells her, “and if you go that route I’d recommend talking to someone who knows more about it than I do. But, if the worst were to happen, it would protect Lucy from being taken advantage of by creditors or probate court from her… aunts and uncles, or eventual cousins, who think it unfair that your ‘grandchild’ gets a payout when they do not.”
Celia doesn’t want to think about her mother dying, but there’s no doubt in her mind that, if she passes away, Maxen or her siblings would come sniffing after the money, house, retirement fund, everything.
The more she thinks about it, the better of an idea it becomes. She even offers to help her mother find someone to speak to about it and serve the role of trustee.
Someone who isn’t Paul.
GM: “What about Viv?” Celia’s mom asks. “She’s a lawyer, obviously, and why we have this money in the first place, so she’s certainly done right by us before.”
“What about your mom?” Emily suggests instead, once the conversation comes to include her. “She’s also a lawyer, obviously, and not the kind of lady who’s easily pushed around. And this might be a way of extending an olive branch, to show you trust her in that role.”
“Oh, that’s thoughtful, sweetie, but I really think Viv would be a better idea, unless Celia has somebody else in mind,” their mom says.
Celia: “Honestly, Mom, if the whole point of it is to keep Lucy safe, then we already know Grandmother would go up against Maxen. You can also make them co-trustees, or have Viv be a successor trustee in case something happens to Grandmother.”
GM: Diana’s lips draw into a thin line. “She can be a co-trustee, but you can ask her to do it.”
Celia: “I figured you’d want to protect the child that Maxen can’t get to,” Celia says with a shake of her head. “Can’t bully Judge Underwood.”
GM: “Hrm,” is all her mom replies.
“So much for that olive branch,” Emily says.
Wednesday evening, 6 January 2010
GM: Judge Underwood looks fairly nonplussed at the request to serve as Lucy’s co-trustee when Celia passes it along. They’re meeting at her house in the Lower Garden District rather than her courtroom office, this time.
“Your mother is a small and petty woman,” she declares as she serves Celia iced tea that she can’t drink.
Celia: “She is,” Celia had agreed, choking down the tea. “She made strides, and Maxen’s kidnapping put her right back to where the thinks she belongs. I’m hoping that, with time, she will find herself again.”
GM: “Your statement presupposes there is something further within herself to find.”
“For good or ill, adversity shows who we are.”
Celia: “She told me you pushed for my abortion, when I was just a clump of cells.” There is no judgment in her voice, no hurt or pain or sadness. Just cool, even facts. “That it was Maxen who fought to prevent that. I think, on some level, she has never gotten over that, so when he reduced her to nothing, to someone not worth fighting for, that is who she became.”
GM: Celia’s grandmother does not say anything for several moments.
“Your mother had been accepted into the Royal Ballet School,” she finally replies. “Children can wait. Dreams cannot.”
Celia’s mom hadn’t told her that. Just that she’d been accepted into “some schools” and wanted to dance in London or New York.
“I did not approve of your mother’s dream, but nevertheless found it preferable to her becoming an incubator out of high school. Unborn children cannot miss lives they have not experienced.”
Celia: “You had the right idea, then. I would have told her to do the same.”
GM: “I am grateful you have the maturity and perspective to recognize that fact. My advice for your mother to abort her pregnancy is not in any way an indictment against your personal worth. You were, as you say, a clump of cells, endowed with personhood in only the most philosophical of senses.”
“It is also not your fault that your mother chose to give up a promising career in her field. Your father enabled that decision, but it was, in the end, hers alone.”
Celia: “I cannot be blamed for choices that people made before I was born,” Celia agrees, remembering the words that Pete had said to her in the car that first night.
GM: “I also hope you have considered whether becoming a parent at 20 years of age is conductive to your own dreams and professional aspirations, or so very different a personal choice from your mother’s.”
Celia: “She spends more time with my mom than she does with me,” is all Celia says to that.
GM: Celia’s grandmother does not press the matter further. For good or ill, the child has been born.
“I will serve as a trustee for your daughter’s trust, in any case. I will also be 80 years old by the time Lucy is 18, assuming I am still alive then, so it would behoove you to find a second and younger co-trustee.”
Celia: “Mom wants to use Viv.”
GM: Celia’s grandmother has to ask who that is before indicating her approval of the choice. Vivan Carney is an attorney they have a preexisting relationship with and who’s done good work for them.
“I also would not mind seeing my great-granddaughter occasionally,” Payton dryly remarks as the pair conclude their business.
Celia: Celia does not need to feign her smile. She says she’ll be happy to bring the little one by.
“Your daughter is the one who keeps her schedule, though. Perhaps a reconciliation is in order.”
GM: “I have many objections to your mother’s personal decisions, but I have none to her company, especially when that goes hand in hand with your daughter’s.”
Celia: Celia relays the sentiments to her mother the next time they speak.
“I would like for Lucy to know her grandmother, since she does not have a father. Your mother also asked me to pass along that she misses her daughter.” She hadn’t said so in as many words, but the meaning was clear.
GM: Celia’s mother is nursing and cooing at Lucy, who’s now a chubby little baby with wispy blonde hair.
Her happy expression turns immediately taciturn.
“The only thing she misses about me is not being able to tell me off for ‘how foolish’ ballet is. She’s happier spending time with your aunt.”
Celia: “She told me you were accepted into the Royal Ballet School. She was proud of you.”
GM: Celia’s mother closes her eyes. “I wish she hadn’t told you that. You already blame yourself.”
Celia: Celia’s gaze hardens. “You will not keep this child from the only family she knows. Emily is without. You are all I have. Maxen will never put his hands on her. That leaves your mother. Stop being selfish.”
GM: At Celia’s look, her mom averts her gaze back to Lucy.
“She wouldn’t even attend my performances, you know,” she quietly says over the infant’s suckling. “Your dad and I invited her all the time. She always said she had ‘more important’ things to do, even though she’d have gotten to sit next to you and your brothers and sisters, and spend time with you there.”
“Even when I made principal dancer. Even when I was the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Christmas shows. She didn’t come to a single one.”
Celia: “She messed up. Are you going to hold that against her forever? Are you going to prevent your daughter from being in her life?”
Celia touches a hand to Lucy’s head. Her skin is so lifelike, now. So warm and vibrant. The infant doesn’t even recoil at her touch like Pete says babies normally do.
“She was born for a terrible reason. Maybe she can be what mends that broken fence, Mom. One day it will be too late to make amends.”
“You’re not a little girl anymore. You don’t need her approval. You never did. So don’t let what she thought of you be what keeps you going. Don’t hold onto resentment. It just eats away at you until there’s nothing left.”
GM: “It is too late for some things, sweetie. I won’t ever be the Sugar Plum Fairy again. It’s what I’d always, always wanted, ever since I was a little girl, and those moments on the stage, with the celesta playing, that just divine little sound, were some of the happiest of my life.” Her mom’s face is pained.
“I wanted her to be a part of that. That was me, that was who I was. And she just treated it all with… contempt. Just total, complete contempt. She didn’t even say ‘sorry, can’t make it’ when your dad and I invited her. She just didn’t even reply. That was how little respect she had for me. How little love she had for me. Those shows were me. And it’s too late now if she wants to see any. We can’t even sit and look at pictures of them, of me and Naomi and all the cast in our costumes, from that scrapbook I’d kept for years, or listen to that beautiful music box Mr. Guarini got for me, or look at my awards, because your dad threw all of that away! Just all of it! It’s too late for even that!”
Lucy starts crying as her mother’s voice reaches a near-yell.
Diana immediately starts rocking the child back and forth while quietly shushing her.
Celia: “That’s his fault, Mom. That’s his fault that he did that. That he took that from you. She didn’t show up. She messed up. You still have the memories, don’t you? Why would you deny that to Lucy, who will never get any of her own? Grandma is past sixty. She’ll be eighty by the time Lucy is eighteen. What do you think Lucy is going to say when she’s a young adult and she learns you kept her family from her?”
“Do you want her to be as hateful as you’re being? You’re hurt. I get it. She messed up. So be the bigger person.”
GM: “I’ll tell her I kept her away from someone who didn’t have any love in her heart,” Diana says as she switches Lucy to another nipple. The infant starts suckling again promptly enough. “Just like I am with her father. That’s love, to shield her from that kind of person.”
Celia: “And yet when he raped you, beat you, and put you back into the hospital, she was there for your children.”
GM: “She couldn’t humiliate them like she wanted to humiliate me.”
“After that first time, when your dad put me in the hospital. After… after we weren’t talking. I asked for her to come. She did.”
“I was never lower, Celia, just never lower. I needed someone. I was just, just naked in a blizzard.”
“She didn’t hug me. She didn’t comfort me. She didn’t grieve with me. She just lectured. Said how she’d seen this coming. About how this was all my fault. How I’d made so many bad decisions.”
“But also how this was a good thing, because now I could finally move on to a real career, because I was only 30 and I was still young.”
Celia’s mom doesn’t yell this time. She just cups a hand over Lucy’s ears, as if to shield the infant from hearing something obscene.
“She told me it was good, how I couldn’t dance.”
Celia: Celia just gives her mother a tired look.
GM: Diana lets that hang, then finally sighs at her daughter’s non-response.
“But you know, if she could just say sorry for that and everything else, just apologize for once in her life, maybe, I don’t know, that would be a start to showing she won’t be a bad influence on Lucy.”
Celia: “I’m done playing mediary. You’re both adults. Figure it out.”
GM: And that swiftly seems like the end of that, at least for then.
The trust fund is set up. A use is found for the remaining settlement money. Payton and Viv are co-trustees.
Sometimes you can’t fix the past, but you can plan for the future.
Tuesday night, 21 December 2010, PM
Celia: True to form, the Evergreen has been transformed for Lord Savoy’s holiday party. Rather than the typical decor or the Christmas explosion that has taken over much of the city, stepping into the Evergreen transports the guests back in time. Low couches and pillows dot the floor for seating, and off to one side a table has been set with a feast fit for kings—or at least the ghouls that will be treated as kings on a night when rules go out the window and society flips on its head. Gauzy drapings hang from white column pillars, roping off private sections and turning a segment of the large area into secluded alcoves for clandestine trysts or other fun. The center of the room, though, holds the main attraction. No one is quite sure how he pulled it off, but two pits have been dug into the very floor of the Evergreen itself. One has been filled with water and bubbles merrily, steam wafting from the top of it. Attendants stand by with scrubs and towels in smaller sectioned-off areas to rub down the licks or ghoul who choose to use the tub. The other pit is ten feet deep, its bottom piled high with sand. Rough stairs descend into the pit to allow for easy travel in and out, and “viewing boxes” have been cut into the walls themselves to allow for a closer look at the action. Right now it sits empty while Kindred guests mingle, some decked out in togas or synthesis garb, others in their modern-day clothing. Various vessels offer themselves to the present licks, their blood spiked by spirits and other party drugs.
Savoy and Mélissaire appear atop the stage, the former lifting his hands to draw attention to himself. A hush falls over the room, expectant.
“Good evening one and all!” he calls, hands slowly lowering to his side. “Thank you for your attendance this evening. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, has long been celebrated around the world to honor the gods and rising sun.” Some few Kindred hiss, and Savoy chuckles. Beside him, Mel smiles. “Precisely. Tonight we celebrate Saturnalia as the Greeks and Romans of old. Eat, drink, gamble, cavort—slaves and masters alike! I’d say no base desire is to forbidden to you, but we all know there’s no such thing as ‘forbidden’ in the Quarter, now don’t we?" He grins as laughter goes up from the gathered Kindred. "But first, the opening ceremony! OXR, would you care to crown our Saturnalia’s king?”
A spotlight appears from above, centered on the black Kindred that appears beside Savoy in a puff of smoke. Dark hair curls around her face, framing her kohl-rimmed eyes and red, red lips. A similarly colored robe hangs from her shoulders. She pauses for one long moment to let the assorted licks get a look, then opens her mouth and croons into the microphone in her hands. Seconds later the steady beat of a drum joins her voice, followed by a soft piano. The sound starts light. For all that Andromeda Brooks is known to be a punk artist, the velveteen purr that pours forth from her lips serves her just as well singing the story of Lucia of Syracuse.
Across the room, the doors open. Tyrell waves a hand and smoke pours forth from the open door, heralding the approach of the girl from the story. From deep within the shifting smog Jade emerges, clad in a long, flowing white gown that leaves her shoulders bare. It’s cinched at the waist with a red sash that trails between her legs as she walks, her bare feet making not a whisper of sound upon the floor. On her head is perched a wreath that flickers with each step, “candles” to light her way. And in her hands…
Blood. A silver goblet filled to the brim. The heady aroma makes people stop and stare as she winds her way through the congregation. On stage, Andromeda sings about Lucia bringing nourishment to the people. Her words encourage people to approach, and anyone who does is offered a sip from the chalice. Licks take a knee and let her pour it into their mouth, or cover her hands with theirs and lift it to their lips. Everyone who desires a sip is gifted the blood from her chalice, until at long last she comes to a halt in front of where Nico, Roxandra, and Lord Savoy have gathered near the stage. Jade offers the final drink to her grandsire; he takes the chalice from her, freeing her arms to be gathered by Nico and Roxandra. They drag her backwards and denounce her as a heretic. They say she’ll pay for her sins. Andromeda’s song changes, the music sharpening to something harder. No longer the smooth beat of the drum but unsteady, frantic. She sings about a virgin sacrifice, the death of Lucia of Syracuse, the stories and traditions woven together in such a way that leaves no doubt as to what will happen next.
Roxy and Nico drag Jade to a stone altar. They bind her at wrist and ankle, and each of them heft a wickedly curved blade in their hands. They make cuts along her arms, her blood slowly dripping from the wounds. Jade hisses, fangs lengthening in her mouth, but the steel cuffs hold her tight.
“Who will rule tonight?” they ask in unison.
“Who will blood the virgin—”
“And who will bring her back?”
A hulking Brujah steps forward, clad in a leather vest that only serves to accent the slabs of muscles on his chest and abdomen. He accepts the knife from Nico and stands over Jade, glancing at the two krewe members.
“Carve her,” Roxy whispers to him. The Brujah nods, plunging the knife into Jade’s abdomen. She howls and thrashes at her bindings. The white shift turns red when the knife comes out.
“Blood for blood,” Nico says, offering the chalice. The Brujah bites into his wrist and drips it into the chalice, then bends to slurp the blood from Jade’s body.
“Put your chosen vessel in the pit. If, upon waking, the virgin chooses yours to sup from, you will be crowned king.”
The Brujah moves off.
A parade of Kindred follow after him, everyone from Gui—with a cocky smile—to Pietro to a handful of nobodies. They each bleed into the chalice and carve Jade with teeth or knife to take their drink. Some sip directly from her flesh, making her writhe atop the altar, while others use it as a means to inflict pain upon the pretty neonate for past slights. The white gown becomes saturated in her blood by the time Veronica saunters forward and rips out her childe’s throat. She shrugs at Roxandra when the Gangrel bares her teeth, says something about “that’s how the story goes,” and tosses her vessel into the pit with a careless shove.
Jade lies still upon the table, her body sinking into the deep sleep of torpor. Still they come to claim her blood, until Nico finally puts a halt to it.
“Dry,” he announces. He produces a stake from his robe and plunges it unceremoniously into Jade’s chest. He and Roxandra untie her. Nico scoops her into his arms and Roxandra follows with the chalice when he deposits her in the pit, laying her gently upon the sand. He tilts her head back to pour a small measure of blood into her mouth. Her eyes open instantly. Her face can’t move, but the fangs in her mouth tell them what they need to know: the Beast has her in its grasp. Roxandra evacuates the pit, Nico at her heels with the chalice in his hands, still half full.
“Remove the stake,” he says to another vessel. The man’s eyes glaze over and he nods, taking the stairs one at a time, then moves unsteadily across the sand until he kneels before Jade. His fingers close around the wooden stake in her chest, yanking it free.
Immediately Jade jumps to her feet, ignoring the man in front of her in favor of an obese woman doing her best to avoid notice. She launches herself at the woman and they go down in a tangle of limbs, Jade’s fangs sinking into the woman’s throat. She rips it out in a spray of blood that has the Kindred attendees murmuring and jostling one another, inching forward as if to get in on the action. The other vessels in the pit scream and make a dash toward the stairs, but they’re snatched up and snacked on by the licks closest to them, passed along the audience while Jade finishes her meal. The red haze recedes from her vision. Blood stains the front of her, splattered across her face, her chest, her neck. It weighs down the curls in her hair, turning it into a sodden mess. She looks up to see Gui smiling at her.
“King of Saturnalia,” he declares in a lazy drawl. “My first order—a bath for our not-virgin.” The Ventrue takes her hand when she ascends the steps, leading her across the floor to the bath. He smirks at Nico when he strips her from the saturated gown and shucks his own clothing, descending into the water.
“You were a lovely virgin,” Gui murmurs in her ear, pulling her bodily onto his lap. His hands stroke down her front and sides in the guise of washing, fingers lingering over her breasts, stomach, and hips. Jade leans back against his chest, eyes closed while he works.
“They all watched me murder her,” she says after a moment, voice quiet. She doesn’t sound particularly upset about the death of the woman, but the witnesses. “Isn’t that… bad?”
“It happens every year. Didn’t they warn you?”
“No,” Jade admits. Then, hesitantly, “I thought losing it like that at an event is poor form.”
Gui laughs. He gives her rear a squeeze.
“Ordinarily, yes. Tonight, though, the rules go out the window. Tonight you will see plenty of Beasts running rampant, limited to the pit. Tonight ghouls will be treated as equals and dine with us. Tonight you’ll see licks duke it out, fuck it out, rage it out. There are no rules tonight, save that all must stay within the walls. And my rules,” he adds.
“Yes,” Jade murmurs, “King of Saturnalia. What does that entail?”
“Ruling. My word is law. If I tell you to do something you have to do it.”
“Even Lord Savoy?”
“Especially Lord Savoy.” She can hear his smile. He nips at her neck and she giggles, tilting her head to the side. “But it’s a double-edged sword. Fine line to walk between entertainment and impudence. It’s mostly just silly things. Telling people to do what they’re already good at. I could tell your sire to sing, or Silvestri to steal something, or your paramour to fuck you. Or I could make you be my arm candy all night, make him watch.” His hand cups her breast, thumb flicking across her nipple. Jade squirms. She rolls her neck to the side, nuzzling his cheek with her lips.
“Don’t be cruel to him.”
“And why shouldn’t I?”
“Because you’re a brighter king than that. Happy subjects are loyal subjects.”
“Smart and pretty,” Gui says again. “Go on then, find your lover and a corner. And Jade,” he wraps a hand around her wrist as she rises, pulling her to a halt, “when you’re tired of him I’d be happy to show you a good time.”
True to his word, Gui serves as a magnanimous king. He presides over the Gladiator Games—single combat in the pit until one lick cries uncle or is knocked into torpor, upon which they are woken by a drink from Lord Savoy—and indeed has Veronica regale them with a set to give Andi a break. The hulking Brujah who had first stabbed Jade wins the bracketed Gladiator Games and claims a pair of Caitiff as his prize. Their snarling fills the air even after they excuse themselves to a private alcove. More people pair off after that, licks and ghouls intermingling with no thought as to who belongs to whom. Jade sees Alana bent over by one of Gui’s security thugs, then later riding Nico’s herald with her head thrown back. Alan pins Clem’s adolescent form against the wall while he worships her with a tongue between her legs. She smirks, half-lidded eyes pronouncing her smugness to the room.
The Kindred become more rowdy the more they drink from the provided vessels. Some have been fed alcohol, others smoke joints or take tabs of ecstasy, and it shows: ordinarily orgies, the party has devolved into a frantic need, partners coupling and moving on and coupling again. Some fuck, others fight, still others allow themselves to be chained to the altar and abused by any who wish to inflict pain. Groups of three, four, or five share each other. Jade never manages to make it back to Gui for the promised good time, but she does tumble with Nico, then Roxandra, then Tyrell and Andi, and finally the five of them all together in a pulsing, throbbing mess of desire. She thinks she’s spent until she sees the hulking Brujah eye her from across the room, and when he draws near and pulls her into his arms she doesn’t even think to protest. He apologizes for the gut shot before sinking his fangs into her shoulder. Her nails rake down his back. When it’s over she shyly tells him that she’d been impressed with his prowess in the arena, and he smirks and throws her over his shoulder to give her an impromptu lesson in brawling that ends with his knee on her back and her arms yanked behind her, throat exposed for his fangs. He takes her again. When he’s done drinking his fill he flips her over and lets her drink from him, then tells her he’d be happy to go again sometime. She’s whisked away by Pietro before she can respond, dunked into the water, then bent over the edge of the pool so the thief can drink from the supple flesh of her lower lips. Then he’s gone, his laughter lingering in her ear.
Nico slings his arms around her from behind and pulls her back into the hot water, both of them flushed and sated from their hours of play.
“Guess you’re not a virgin anymore,” he says, idly tracing a hand up and down her side.
“Mmm,” Jade hums in agreement, “does that mean you don’t like me anymore?”
“Yes,” he says, effecting a sigh. “I only like licks in white.”
“Pity. I suppose I’ll need to find someone else with whom to while away my evenings. Maybe that Brujah—did you get his name?”
“Who, Teddy? No, no. He won’t do at all. I heard,” he stage-whispers, “that he fucked a Caitiff.”
“His name is Teddy?”
“Like the bear.”
“Huh. Well, I suppose I’m stuck with you, in that case.”
“I think I’ll manage,” he says with a smile.
Friday night, 24 December 2010, PM
Celia: Jade had thought that maybe they’d cancel Elysium Primo considering the holiday. Savoy had thrown a solstice party three nights prior that had, in her humble opinion, been the best party ever. She’s not sure how he plans to top it next year or in the months between now and then, and she doesn’t think it’s possible, but she’s hardly going to turn down an invitation if he attempts to outdo himself.
Yet here they all are, listening to Gus Elgin give a few opening words about the piece, the holiday, the history. They came out in their “Elysium Best,” be it floor-length gowns or frocks or just their nicest jeans to listen and mingle on this holiday eve. The primogen and elders take up the prime spots, closest to the master of Elysium and art both. Jade can barely see from where she’s at with the other nobodies.
Following the revelry of Lord Savoy’s party, this week’s Elysium is downright dull. Jade is glad she doesn’t need to shift her weight or yawn at all; it’s proving more difficult than she imagined to keep her attention on the droning of the Nosferatu, but at least she doesn’t need to be rude about it. Some of the Quarter’s residents didn’t even bother to show up this evening, perhaps knowing anything that took place tonight wouldn’t top what they’d already been to. Jade wonders if she should have sat this out as well.
The sermon is mercifully brief this evening. Elgin dismisses them with a few final words. The Kindred attendees disperse, cutting off into smaller groups to discuss the art or each other, and some walk the halls in pairs or alone. Jade plays nice with the harpies and their hanger-ons for a few moments before excusing herself at the earliest possible convenience to see the rest of the exhibits.
She walks alone, her thoughts muddled by what she could be doing this evening instead of mingling with the Kindred of the city. She had left her mother’s house at ten to get ready with the promise to stop by tomorrow evening—she’d lied and said she’s spending the day with Randy’s family—and she wishes, not for the first time, that she did have a family to spend the holiday with. A real family, one she doesn’t need to lie to about why she’s not around during the day, why she can’t come over to watch Lucy “open” presents on Christmas morning (at this age it’s more watching Diana open them for her), why she’s just not around anymore. It’s easy to pretend she isn’t dead when she can spend her evenings with them, when they can laugh and smile and be a family, but every time her alarm goes off on her phone that tells her to “get to bed or else” she knows the lie for what it is. She has them, at least, and maybe that should be enough. But the guilt… the guilt gnaws at her. She knows that some of the older licks have long since stopped celebrating, that to most of them it doesn’t mean anything, but to her, still freshly dead, the holiday is just a reminder of a life she no longer has and the tales she needs to spin to keep her mask from slipping.
Last Christmas she’d still been new to all of this. She’d accepted an invitation from her grandsire for a quiet night in and he’d left her mostly alone with her thoughts. No business on Christmas, he had said, and she didn’t know if it was because of her or because he never does business on Christmas, but she’d appreciated the sentiment all the same. Preston hadn’t been there. Just the two of them. He’d spoken enough for the both of them, telling stories while she listened like a literal grandchild at his knee, and when she’d excused herself to the restroom he hadn’t pointed out that their kind don’t use restrooms anymore, and hadn’t said anything about the red around her eyes when she came back.
She brushes the thought from her mind and continues down the hall, her eyes on the artwork around her. She hadn’t been listening to Elgin, but she thinks there’s some sort of holiday theme going on with these paintings. Renditions of Jesus, Mary, Joseph. The wise men. The angel. The birth of Christ.
She’s standing in front of a particularly realistic carving of the nativity scene, her thoughts inward even while her eyes gaze upon the white marble, when Nico finds her. He slides towards her with all the smooth confidence of someone who is used to getting exactly what he wants, hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. Beneath that he wears a suit, but even for Elysium he won’t change his habits.
She kind of likes that about him.
“What’s on your Christmas list, Miss Kalani?” he asks once he’s drawn near. Difficult to be melancholy around him, she muses, turning to him with a smile.
“The usual,” she drawls. “A Ferrari, a yacht, diamond necklace, world peace.”
“Tall order,” Nico observes. “Have you been a good girl this year, or are you on Santa’s naughty list?”
She can’t help but think of a very similar conversation she’d had with Pietro when they’d met at Saints and Sinners. Jade takes a step toward him and he reaches out, resting a hand at the small of her back. She leans in to whisper in his ear.
“If I say naughty, are you going to spank me?”
“Such a mind, Miss Kalani,” he murmurs. His finger taps against her spine, sending a shiver all the way up. “Maybe, if you ask nicely, I’ll forgive you for such filthy thoughts.”
“Did you bring me a present, Mr. Cimpreon?”
“It’s on your bed.”
Her eyes glitter.
“What is it?”
“That would be telling, dear. You’ll have to wait and see once this is over.” He pulls away, winking. “I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“You’re such a tease,” Jade mutters. Nico whistles, hands in his pockets as he strolls off.
Jade watches him go, a fond smile on her lips. He turns the corner and her eyes move past him to the Brujah Anarch standing near the Calbido. Her smile dies as quickly as a rose touched by frost. She turns away before he can see her looking and moves in the opposite direction. She doesn’t want anything to do with Roderick Durant tonight.
She isn’t fast enough. He’s just behind her a moment later, keeping pace with her while she walks through the museum’s halls. Her heels click against the marble floors with every step that she takes. Neither one of them says a word. Not for long minutes while he trails after her, pretending that he’s not following her, until finally they’ve reached a secluded area. Relatively secluded, anyway; she knows that nowhere in Elysium are they ever truly alone She stops in front of a painting, hoping that he won’t turn the corner, that it was mere happenstance that made him take the same path as her.
“Miss Kalani,” he says a moment later, sliding up beside her. He smiles and her heart threatens to break all over again. “How are you this evening?”
“Mr. Durant.” She keeps her voice cold, not even turning to look at him. “I’m well. If you’ll excuse me—” She starts to move past him. He reaches out, touching her arm.
“Don’t.” She turns to him. “Don’t. There’s nothing here. There’s nothing left. We’re not friends. We were never friends. I was just your one-night stand that turned into a clingy girlfriend with a crazy family. You’re an elder’s pet. As privileged in death as you were in life. Bully for you. Enjoy it.”
“Stop it.” She lifts her gaze. He can see it then, the red that rims her eyes and threatens to spill down her cheeks. “Please. Just leave me alone.”
His jaw tightens. This time when she turns to go he doesn’t stop her.
Art blurs around her. She blinks back the bloody tears that will give her away, wipes the emotions off her face. It won’t do for someone to wonder who or what has gotten under her skin this evening. She pauses in an out of the way area to pull herself together, standing in front of another piece of art. Something she can’t make heads or tails of, some abstract sculpture with smooth edges and square cutouts. She doesn’t know what it has to do with the theme—or even what the theme was. Christmas, she thinks idly. Or maybe Jesus.
She doesn’t know when he appeared beside her. One moment she is alone, lost in thought, the next she is aware of him some few feet away. Not close enough to touch. Not close enough to speak without raising her voice. He scrutinizes another piece of art with those stormy eyes of his. No one looking at them would even know that they were aware of each other’s existence. She’s so far beneath him that of course he doesn’t register her as being present.
A moment later he’s in her head, his presence a permeating chill that sweeps through her. Hard, cold, insistent, he forces his way into her mind, an icy pick cutting through a field of red roses. She puts up no resistance, no struggle, simply welcomes him with silence. And silent he is. There are no thoughts that leap from his mind to hers, no orders, no questions. Just a steady presence in her brain, a steel trap around her own. Utterly still. A blanket of darkness that she can sink into and know that the claws who rip and shred so many others have been tucked away. The world around her fades out; she loses herself in that sea of black.
It’s… nice, honestly. Not the physical affection she craves from him, but something like affection all the same. Acknowledgment. For long moments she is content to simply stare at the vague sculpture and feel him around her, floating on her little piece of ice. Then she tests the waters. She searches for the tether that links their minds, the little cord from her brain to his, and sends a pulse of emotion down the line. Not happiness, but something similar. Contentedness, maybe. Safety. Affection. Gratitude. She sees it as a string of lights that flare a dusky pink before dimming.
The answering pulse contains no words or images, just quiet acceptance.
Emboldened, Jade sends another. His face, as viewed at eight. A heart in his hands. His face again, half-shadowed as he whisks her away from a hallway filled with blood. A thrum of pleasure. Wind against her face, her dress dancing with the breeze, his arms holding her aloft. Longing. Him. Not an image of him but the idea of him. Strong, silent, cold. Demanding. Intoxicating. She drowns in his sea, happy to have her breath stolen away.
Another pulse echoes down the line from him. Questioning? Hesitant? She isn’t sure. She doesn’t recognize it, not on him.
Shyly, she sends a third. The two of them at a party, speaking in low tones in a corner. She’s in a red dress, he has his arm around her waist. He says something and she smiles, looking up. Her eyes catch sight of a sprig of mistletoe above them and she laughs, pointing. He favors her with a smile that she has never seen in life or unlife. It’s hard to picture, that smile, just a gentle lifting of his eyes rather than a movement across his lips. A surge of affection follows after.
She lets go of the image. The tether in between them fades back to black, once more a simple sea of ink. No breeze, no light; emptiness all around, as devoid of any sort of anything as the home in which he lives. She floats in the ebon sea, her sire all around her. Silent and still. Moments pass in nebulous quiescence. Finally, a cool breeze swirls past her, lifting the hem of her dress and brushing the curls from her face.
In real life, Jade shivers.
The mental tendrils of her sire slowly retreat from her mind. A moment later he’s gone.