“The Blood is all, as you will learn.”
Blanche H. Prescot III
Day ? October 2007?
GM: A nurse comes in with Emil’s old clothes, which have been cleaned. He gets dressed. They leave the hospital by the same route that Emil left with Lucky, the last time. They get into an unassuming car. Carter tells Emil to drive and gives him an address.
“We’ll meet my sire there.”
Emil: “Great!” he enthuses.
What a deal that was! He didn’t even tell me about the immortality. What a guy, probably didn’t want it to make the decision of whether to drink harder.
“You’re a real one, Carter. You know that?” he says. The vampire’s undead features don’t seem so cold to Emil now, or perhaps it’s that the whole walking corpse thing works on Carter, like how fedoras only work on old men and PIs.
GM: “I’ve been told,” Carter answers with a faintly amused look.
Emil: “That’s good. That’s good…” he trails off, satisfied at how nice it felt to compliment Carter.
His mind drifts a bit as they drive, but ever so often he interjects with a question.
“So tell me about immortality. How’s it feel in the long run? You go through so many decades, things change so quickly in aggregate. How do you keep your head on straight?”
GM: “That’s a question my elders could answer better than me, honestly. By many of my species’ standards I haven’t been Kindred for that long.”
“My perspective is probably much the same as any mortal’s my age, only I haven’t known the attendant aches and pains of growing old. Or, in fairness, the attendant joys of raising a family and seeing relationships deepen.”
“I’m well past the biological age that I resemble. I’m in my late 20s forever, on some level, but part of me still continues to grow and mature. My sire would have a lot to say about the neurocognitive effects of that.” He adds, “She’s a psychologist.”
“There’s been some fascinating studies conducted on Kindred Embraced at prepubescent ages observing how they mature over time. Most seem to grow up, while retaining a varying number of childlike personality traits, while a few outliers remain eternally children in mind or become as cognitively and emotionally mature as any adult.”
Emil: They do this to kids?
Emil looks down the road, uncertainty building in his gut.
“So you’re not as static as you were saying, if young minds can develop like that.”
GM: “No sapient being is completely static. But we are more static than kine.”
Emil: “And you feel emotions, right? Those as fluid in your species as they are in mine?”
GM: “That varies by individual. Some of us believe when we feel emotions, what we actually feel is the echo of mortal emotions that the remnants of our souls apply to our current experiences. That is, a Kindred who feels angry might indeed be angry at the subject of their ire, but the resonance of the emotion actually comes from some situation that Kindred dealt with in life.”
“I don’t believe that’s true for me, but there are Kindred I know to whom it could conceivably apply. The older we get, the more we lose touch with the human we once were.”
Emil: “And what about your experience as a Kindred differs from that of a theoretical blood-drinking human?”
“My religion places every created entity on a spectrum from fully material to fully celestial, with the dead sitting firmly on the material end, animals sitting somewhat closer to celestial, angels sitting closer to the top end as almost completely celestial, and humans fitting somewhere in the range between beast and angel. I suppose you could call that the range of personhood.”
“Every human, from the most vile to the legendarily upright, exists somewhere on that spectrum. What I’m saying is that humanity is very diverse. So what actually differs between vampires and humans besides the obvious biological differences? Are vampires people?”
GM: “That depends on your definition of personhood. What is a person?” Carter asks.
Emil: He thinks for a bit.
GM: “By that definition, then, Kindred could be considered superior people to humans. As immortal beings, we have the capacity to make vastly more choices than any species with a limited lifespan. Our power, too, can make the consequences of those choices significantly further-reaching.”
“We’re no strangers to doubt, either.”
Emil: “You have the chance to make those choices, but that doesn’t mean you are making them. Can you choose to stop drinking blood?”
GM: “Can you choose to stop eating food?”
Emil: “Yes, I can. I would die, but I can choose to stop consuming.”
GM: “So we can we. We effectively die from stopping, too.”
“As with you, not many of us choose to stop.”
Emil: “How long did it take you to make that choice, not to stop, when you were Embraced?”
GM: “How long did it take you to make that choice, not to stop, when you were born?”
Emil: He laughs.
“I don’t think that’s quite comparable. Humans are born without the capacity for that sort of choice. You were in your twenties when you were Embraced. And my continued existence doesn’t rely directly on drinking another person’s blood.”
GM: “Once you get old enough, it will.”
Emil: “What do you mean?”
GM: “I said you’d live forever as long as you drink from me. Once you’re old enough to die of natural causes, you’ll die if you stop.”
“And of course, starting with the moment you drank from me, my blood is already warding off the infirmities of cellular decay and old age.”
“Feeding you depletes my reserves, too. I’ll need to consume more from other kine to sustain you. Ethically, you’re like a consumer who buys beef products. You don’t directly slaughter the cows, but your purchase habits create the demand for their slaughter to continue.”
Emil: “That’s a bit fucked isn’t it? I mean, I can live alright without the blood,” he says, before he remembers just how great it felt to take that drink.
It’s not like it’s murder or anything. We would know if vampires were killing people, right? He’s gotta eat. I gotta live. I have a higher purpose too. I know things.
“But it’s not like anyone is saved if you stopped providing for me. Like you said, your people want to die about as much as we do. Not like I was a vegan before today, anyways.”
GM: “Of course. But sustaining you, and other individuals like you, requires my species to drink more blood than we normally would. If we stopped making mortals like you immortal altogether, quite a few lives would likely be saved.”
Emil: “Couldn’t you take that blood from animals? Tens of millions of cattle are slaughtered just in the U.S. A lot more blood to be found there than in humans, and those animals are already going to die. That blood basically goes to waste.”
GM: “I could. But animal blood tastes like piss.”
“Although, that’s not entirely fair. More like bland tofu or gruel.”
Emil: “So it’s not exactly gourmet eating, then. But if you drink just enough to cover the people you sustain, you’ll be in a better moral position. Is that not worth something?”
GM: “Would you be willing to give up driving cars to reduce global warming?”
“Climate change’s consequences are less immediate than drinking someone’s blood, but rising temperature levels are going to cause unimaginable misery to unimaginably many people if we don’t change our habits.”
“There’s other things you can do, of course, like giving up toilet paper to reduce destruction of trees, or giving up meat to reduce methane emissions, but surely giving up cars is worth something.”
Emil: Emil nods, a satisfied grin spreading on his face.
“You sure know how to turn arguments back around, Carter.”
“Course,” he continues, taking one hand off the wheel to gesture, “I might argue that it’s socially necessary for me to drive. I mean I have to drive us right now. Then again, in a society of Kindred who drink from humans, you might be looked down upon for drinking from animals. It’s a part of the social contract.”
GM: “Yes. There’s other side effects, too. Subsisting upon inferior-grade blood for too long makes Kindred snappish and irritable. We lose control of ourselves. That can pose a real danger to the lives of others.”
“I find it ethically acceptable to simply feed without killing. It’s not as filling a meal, but I’m not inhuman enough, yet, to consider that worth the trade of someone’s life.”
Emil: He thinks back to those terrible pinpricks of hate that Carter had for eyes while being crushed, while what he wanted was taken away from him. He feels a sudden guilt about crushing him, maybe it’s cause he’s sitting next to him now. Even as he was talking to Carter earlier his thoughts focused on the power he found within himself over Carter’s wellbeing.
“I’m sorry about crushing you under that car, Carter. It pushed you over the edge there, didn’t it? I know how awful it feels to get like that, to lose control of yourself.”
GM: “Yes, it did. It and the gasoline your friend poured over me. I killed the next person I came across, as a result. A man named Jesse who was paralyzed with fear in his car. I don’t know why he didn’t simply drive away. Maybe he thought the shooter was close by and would shoot him if he tried to. I could hear his heartbeat from the floor, broke through the window, and killed him, all before I even realized what I’d done.”
“Getting hurt is a painful but ultimately passing inconvenience to Kindred. It’s the kine who foot the real bill for it.”
Emil: “I should’ve stopped him from dropping that lighter. I hesitated there, I hesitated and it got someone killed,” he declares, gripping the steering wheel hard enough to pale his knuckles.
He shakes his head as he stares down the road, frustrated beyond himself. There’s no way to fix something like that. What’s done is done and Emil finds no comfort in that truth. Another painful truth.
His eyes stare down a thousand yards. They glue their gaze to the road.
GM: “Yes, you were clearly torn between us,” Carter answers. “I can appreciate that you might’ve felt a conflicting sense loyalties, given his sincere if misguided attempt to ‘rescue’ you, but doing things by half measures invites equally half-measured outcomes.”
“As you say, someone died who decisive action might have saved.”
Emil: He nods slowly.
“That’s why the people of Babel were dispersed. They tried to build the tower without complete knowledge of its structure, without all knowledge. How could they possibly know how to reach heaven if they hadn’t even seen outside their city walls? And yet they took a half-measure, they built a tower from a place of ignorance, with unmixed mortar and only an eighth of the bricks. For this ignorant hubris, their half-measure crumbled into dust.”
“No more half measures, Carter.”
Day ? October 2007?
GM: Emil and Carter drive across the town-sized medical complex to another building. They take some elevators up. This one feels more administrative, because the people they pass in the halls are dressed in suits and blouses rather than scrubs and hospital gowns. There aren’t very many of them, though, at the late hour. Carter knocks against a door.
“Ye-” begins a man’s voice. Carter opens it without waiting for him to finish.
The office inside is clinical-looking. Gray carpet, austere white furniture, glass and metal furnishings, mostly clutter-free desk. Framed awards and a few pieces of modern art hang from the walls. There’s a second, slightly lower desk off to the side with more clutter. The person seated behind it is a thin and clean-shaven man with aristocratic features: angular cheekbones, clear forehead, sloped Roman nose, long neck, combed and conditioned blonde hair without so much as a stand out of place. His old-fashioned cologne smells of vetiver, cedar, leather, and bourbon. He’s dressed in a white three-piece seersucker suit, brown Gucci loafers, a yellow pocket square, and matching bowtie that make Emil feel decidedly underdressed. The only thing marring his perfectly coiffed appearance are his hands. Mar it they do. They’re pianist’s hands, long and thin, but they’re so red, cracked, and flaked with white bits of dead skin that Emil almost has to wonder if he’s done this to them on purpose. A lemon-tinged alcoholic smell clings to them like a babe to its mother.
As soon as the man sees Carter, he all but leaps from his seat, clasps his cracked hands together, bows low enough to bring his head almost to level with his waist, and recites a string of obsequious, long-winded platitudes.
Carter brushes them impatiently aside after several moments and asks, “Where’s my sire?”
“She is at the observatory, sir,” the man answers.
Emil: Another like me? Emil wonders about the man, pulling at his collar at the bowing. If that’s how this caliber of man treats Carter, how the hell is he meant to treat Carter’s sire?
GM: Carter turns to Emil. “Wait here. Blanche will make all the arrangements to get you moved to Houston.” He walks out of the office.
The man referred to as Blanche gives another low bow, even though Carter isn’t looking at him, and recites another string of platitudes. He closes the door after the vampire is gone.
He returns to his desk and re-seats himself. The transformation from obsequious to imperious is immediate. He steeples his cracked fingers and stares down his nose at Emil as though he were a homeless homeless bum who’d wandered in.
“I do imagine—you are in need of—ass-is-tance… boy,” he declares thinly, his adam’s apple bulging with each syllable.
There’s a chair in front of the desk.
Emil isn’t invited to sit.
Emil: It’s not a race thing, he said. It’ll be fine, he said.
How old must this guy be to dress like that? Maybe that’s what it is; he’s out of touch. Poor guy.
And so he doesn’t sit. Instead Emil’s body stands tall above the desk, the overlong branches that pass as his arms pinned stiffly to his side.
“You imagine correctly, sir.”
I bet he’d likes to be called that, given how regulated he is to groveling.
GM: “Beg-gi-in, then,” Blanche starts, slowly dragging a shoe along the carpet under his desk. “What—are your… needs.”
Emil: “I need a place to stay, preferably with good internet connection. Funds too, so that I don’t starve. I also have belongings that remain in New Orleans, where I’ll be returning to once I’m requested there. So I’d like to either have those belongings shipped over or stored securely. A cell phone would also be appreciated. Sir.”
GM: The man thinly asks for Emil’s bank account information and types into his computer.
Emil: Emil gets a distinct sense that this man is not cued into contemporary information security measures.
GM: “Funds-,” Blanche starts, then clicks his jaw, “moneys-,” another click, “currency will be av-ail-ab-le,” another click, “ac-cess-ib-le,” his left eye twitches, “us-a-ble by you in sev-er-al bus-in-ess days.”
“I shall require your pass-word.”
His eye twitches again.
“Mem-or-ized char-ac-ters to en-a-ble en-trance.” He starts again, “To en-a-ble use.”
Emil: He’s counting out his syllables. Interesting. Keeps rephrasing himself.
GM: “Of your bank-ing.” Click. “Of your fin-anc-ial in-for-mat-ion.” Click. “Of your financial de-tai-ls.”
Emil: Emil’s patient with the man, waiting for him to finish rephrasing it to his satisfaction, nodding as he adds and amends.
GM: “As well as your use-r-na-me,” click, “login,” click, “name, and PIN.”
Emil: He hesitates in giving the man this private information, knowing all too well how much damage it could do to him should they decide to use it against him. But he’s Carter’s man, and he cannot waver in his trust. No half measures.
He recites the necessary information to access the now empty checking account which he opened to store the paychecks from his gig as a teaching assistant.
GM: Blanche smiles thinly, then removes a wallet from his coat pocket and takes out $100. He does not hand the money directly to Emil, but instead sets it down on the desk in front of the younger man.
“That should be suf-ic-ient for your im-med-iate needs.”
“Do your bel-ong-ings in New Or-leans,” click, “do your belongings in the cit-y,” click, “do your belongings in your former res-id-ence con-tain,” click, “former residence hol-d,” click, “threa-ten,” click, “do your belongings in your former residence breach the Masquerade?”
Emil: Emil peels the greenback off the table and folds the disapproving gaze of Benjamin Franklin away into his pocket.
The what? Should I just say yes? No, that could be ill-advised.
“I’m afraid I’m not quite sure what you mean by that, sir. There’s not been enough time yet to bring me up to speed on all the terminology.”
GM: Blanche looks at Emil disdainfully and removes a bottle of cleaner from one of his desk drawers. He sprays it over the spot where Emil picked up the money, wipes it up with a paper towel he tosses into the trash, and then lathers lemon-scented hand sanitizer over his hands from a dispenser on his desk.
Emil: Given the state of the man’s hands, Emil doesn’t take it personally. If anything, he pities him.
GM: Blanche vigorously rubs his cracked and reddened hands together as he haughtily inquires,
“Do any,” click, “do your belongings risk,” click, “do your belongings en-dan-ger the sec-rec-y of the Kin-dred,” click, “the secrecy of our mas-ters,” click, “the secrecy of what mor-tals,” click, “the secrecy of what hu-mans,” click, “the secrecy of what those who are not us may not be per-mit-ted to know,” click, “those who are not li-ke,” click, “those who are not us may be permitted to re-al-ize?”
The man’s lower lip twitches towards a scowl, as if dissatisfied by his phraseology. Still, he does not rephrase himself again.
Emil: “They do not,” he says without a shadow of a doubt, before thinking a moment.
He raps his fingers against his pants in a rhythmic pattern, one tap a finger, then two taps, then three, alternating directions from pinky to thumb. He pays a good deal of attention to the scowling man’s expression.
GM: The scowl grows deeper at the first tap, deeper at the second, and marginally abates at the third.
“Cease your fidg-et-ing, boy,” Blanche orders in a disgusted tone like he’s telling Emil not to pick his nose.
Emil: Threes, then. He likes threes.
He stops tapping. But then he gets an idea.
“My apologies, sir.” Two counts of three syllables.
“That was quite rude of me.” Another two counts.
“You seem to me a man who knows just—” Three counts of three. He should like that.
“Just how exactly things should be done.” Another three of three.
“It is frustrating when we are forced to settle for less.” Three more.
“I promise, I am of the same mind.” Thrice again.
“I simply need to be instructed.” And again.
“To learn how things should be.”
That makes sixty three syllables. Seven groups of three groups of three. Three lucky numbers.
He hopes it comforts him, playing by his rules, for both of their sakes. From what he saw, Carter has neither the time nor the patience. But that’s understandable, he’s a busy man.
GM: Blanche’s face looks soothed. He reaches into his wallet and sets another $100 on the desk in front of Emil.
“Everything is more expensive these days,” he remarks.
Emil: Emil is careful to pinch the bill off the desk with only the tips of his fingers, ensuring he doesn’t touch the wood of the surface. Once it’s off the table, he pulls out the second bill and counts them, mouthing as he folds them down into his palm in Blanche’s view:
“One, two, tsk.”
Then he gets a concerned look on his face, the required third bill to complete the set is unfortunately missing.
GM: Blanche looks at the two bills, frowns, then lays out a third $100.
“One, two, three,” he recites.
Emil: He nods affirmatively as he once again carefully plucks the bill from the desk.
He folds them and counts them aloud, repeating his “One, two, three,” before nodding. “That feels a lot better.”
Three more groups of three.
GM: Blanche asks for Emil’s address and related information, then says he’ll call a moving company in the morning. He asks, with a look of extreme reluctance, for Emil to leave his keys here so the movers can access the building. He also lays out three more $20 bills so Emil can buy a cellphone.
Emil genuinely wonders if the man would have even bothered with any of this earlier. $100 in his pocket is enough to survive on, if less comfortably.
Emil: The truth is that it costs little to actually listen, and it pays dividends to be kind. Literally.
Emil thanks the man, maintaining the same pattern of threes in his wording as he gives all that was requested.
He wonders how he might share his name, given it’s only two syllables long. He would be loath to add Kane, though it would complete the triple.
He settles on pronouncing Emil the way a southern gentleman like Blanche might naturally, fitting in an extra syllable in the middle. “Em-ee-ul.” He offers his phone number if the man would take it.
In a spot of creativity, Emil asks if he’d be interested in a tool to assist in assuring the perfection of his phrasal spacing? It would count for him, and alert him exactly when his sentences should finish. Attaining perfection without distracting his focus from work.
GM: Blanche takes Emil’s number without volunteering his own.
“What sort of tool?” the man asks. There’s doubtfulness to his tone, but undeniable curiosity too.
Emil: “If you have a cellphone, then a simple modification of that would be all that’s necessary. Alternatively, given some tinkering and some materials from Radioshack, it could be as big or as small as you’d like. It would alert you either by a blinking light, a distinctive sound, or perhaps a vibration.” Twenty six lots of three.
GM: Blanche frowns again at Emil’s duosyllabic-littered sentence.
“That does not sound,” click, “that does not appear,” click, “that does not seem able,” click, “that does not seem ca-pa-ble of doing,” click, “that does not seem capable of acc-omp-lish-ing.”
“That does not seem capable of a-chiev-ing anything I cannot,” click, “anything I am unable,” click, “anything I may not do myself.”
Emil: “That’s the beauty of automation.” He returns with three triplets to balance out the sound.
“Of course you can do it by yourself, but if a tool does it for you, you can spend time furthering perfection.” And three lots of three lots of three to do the idea justice.
GM: “Purity,” Blanche corrects. “Purity is in the blood. Purity determines the worth of the Blood, and the Blood is all, as you will learn.”
Emil can hear the capital letters.
Emil: It does not escape his notice that Blanche did not so much as stutter once in this statement.
He can only hope that the blood purity that matters to this society is not the one shared by his own. Despite that concern in his mind, he realizes that beneath closed lips he is salivating at the description, and he can’t help but wonder how he might earn more of that vital fluid.
“I hope to learn as much as I can.”
GM: “The Blood must be kept free of contamination and impurities.”
He looks at Emil, then squirts out more lemon-scented sanitizer and rubs his cracked hands.
“The mistress’ Blood is unsurpassed in its purity.” He surveys the still-standing man critically. “Someone of your… background is exceptionally fortunate to have received it, even once removed through her childe.”
Emil: “Is that so,” he asks in a triplet, eying the specimen of a man, his hopes left deflated at how mundane this man’s bigotry is. “What makes you so sure you know my background? Our eyes have a tendency to delude us into locked thinking. For instance, what if I was simply disguised by a mask? If I was wearing a stranger’s face?” Another eighteen counts of three. Emil believes he’s seen such a feat, how else could the intruder have worn his face?
GM: Blanche only sniffs.
“If you are sincere in your desire for instruction, boy, you must be mindful,” click, “regardful of your place.” He steeples his fingers. “Your blood is less than mine, mine is less than the master’s, and his is less than the mistress’, whose Blood is impervious to all contaminants.”
Emil: Emil wonders whether he’ll end up talking like that one day, only valuing the part of himself that he depends on someone else to sustain.
He reassures himself that Carter doesn’t actually subscribe to such a value system, if anything he’s just working in the system his sire prefers. Emil can handle that, he thinks. Give them the respect they crave, and perhaps deserve, learn what he can, and then move back to New Orleans with someone who sees more eye to eye with him.
“You obviously are a refined gentleman, and naturally since you’ve seen, heard, and experienced more on her uncontaminated blood, your blood must be purer in turn.”
He nods, affirming his own words. “Then, how would you suggest I make a good impression on the mistress?”
GM: “Speak only when spoken to. Follow her instructions promptly and without complaint. Be useful in the function you have been fortunate enough to receive the Blood for. And remember, always, that your blood is sullied and susceptible to contaminants where hers is not. Her Blood is immaculate. Even the Blood of other Kindred cannot compare to the pristinity of hers.”
Blanche looks at Emil intently.
“Remember, always, that you are less than she is.”
Emil: He looks his fellow slave in the eye and realizes his illness wasn’t with him at birth, but carved into him by that very same mistress. He holds the fear in his mind back on a taut leash, and says, “I will keep that in mind.”
GM: “See that you do.” Blanche looks at Emil in consideration. “Go to the supply closet down the hall. You can mop the floors and wipe down the walls until the master gets back.”
Emil: “As you wish.”
Emil walks away from the slave with a superiority complex and approaches the supply closet, hoping the mistress will have greater use for him than working menial labor.
GM: He finds a mop bucket with partly dirty water, and a variety of cleaners, rags, and other custodial equipment.
Emil: With a sigh, he collects the supplies onto a rolling cart and begins to mop the floor of the hall.
Maybe this is some Karate Kid shit. I’ll be washing floors for a few days not knowing what’s going on and then I’ll see the real lesson when she opens my eyes.
The face reflected from the dirty mop water looks unconvinced.
Day ? October 2007?
GM: Emil mops the floor for a good few minutes. It’s not hard work. Just repetitive.
And beneath him.
Emil: He remembers the words that the cop spat in his face: Forget about any future when you get out, too. Cons are lucky just to wind up janitors.
I guess that makes me lucky.
GM: It isn’t too long before the water in the bucket turns near-black.
Emil: So much for fearing contamination.
He decides that he’s going to have to find a sink somewhere to replace the water, but there wasn’t one in the closet. Emil returns to Blanche to request permission and directions to the nearest sink, leaving the cleaning supplies outside the room.
He knocks on the door.
GM: Blanche answers and crossly tells Emil he hasn’t “the faintest idea” where a janitorial sink is.
“Go look for one. And be sure to wipe down the door with some bleach.”
Emil: Guess that means I have free reign to search.
He thanks him and leaves, giving the door a cursory wipe with a bleach-soaked rag.
He starts his search down the halls of the building for a directory map, the wheels of the bucket whistling a broken tune as they roll over the floor.
GM: Emil finds a map that seems geared towards patients and higher-paid employees. There are no indications as to where any janitorial sink might be.
But Emil does hear approaching footsteps, unusually for the empty-feeling halls. Several pairs.
Emil: Two pairs in fact. He presumes them to belong to Carter and his ‘mother,’ and decides that pushing around a mop and a bucket isn’t the best first impression he could leave on the woman he suspects drilled the word decontamination into Mr. Blanche’s temples.
He briskly pushes the bucket along back towards the closet.
GM: It’s not long after Emil does so that he comes face to face with the footsteps’ sources.
GM: The smell hits Emil before its owner rounds the corner. It’s a putrid, meaty, almost fatty smell, like someone left a flank of lard-slathered steak out to rot for weeks under the hot Texas sun. Its owner looks as ugly as he smells. He’s hideously deformed. His browned, leathery skin is peppered with tiny warts, bulging red boils, and faded scars and scabs of varying length and freshness. He’s the ugliest man Emil has ever laid eyes on. He’s a big man too, maybe a handspan taller than Emil, and corpulently overweight: it’s like a sketch artist piled girth on top of muscle to make him take up as much space as possible. The folds of his many chins are almost indistinct from his bull-like neck. He’s dressed in paramilitary clothes: a black camo jacket, pocket-lined gray combat pants, and black Chuck Taylor boots. Two gold earrings dangle from his strangely pointed ears.
He’s followed by a short, thin man who’s at once less ugly and more ugly. His face doesn’t look like it was born deformed, but his filth-matted hair has been haphazardly chopped off in crude, uneven chunks. Emil can make out naked, scabbed-over skin underneath in some parts. His grime-smeared face is littered with red and angry unhealed knife cuts. He wears Coke-bottle eyeglasses with cracked lenses and an enormous, raggedy sweater that practically swallows him whole. It’s torn, stained, rank-smelling, and trailing more loose threads than Emil can count: it’s probably the most wretched-looking garment Emil has ever seen. The man’s baggy sweatpants and beat-up lace-up boots look in little better condition.
“Who the fuck are you, juicebag?” the first man barks out in a thick, phlegmy voice.
Emil can see two fangs past his puffy lips.
Emil: He doesn’t look the man—the vampire—in the eyes. The smell alone is enough to make him nearly double over retching, but some combination of fear, indignation, and pity keep him upright in some halfway upkeep of respect.
He might be a military man dressed like that after all. But what the hell are they doing here?
“I’m Emil, I’m here with Mr. Landry, waiting for a meeting with Ms. Cobbler,” he says matter-of-factly before appending “sir.”
GM: The vampire stares at Emil with a contemptuous expression, then says, “My boots are dirty.”
A nasty smile spreads across his corpulent, wart-spotted face.
The smaller man doesn’t say anything. He just watches with a glum expression.
Emil: He’s smiling because he thinks I can’t do shit about it. Why cleaning though? Is he confusing me for Blanche?
Emil weighs the best and worst possible outcomes for not doing what this ugly monster asked of him.
If he refuses, there’s a slim chance he might earn some respect. Terrifyingly more likely is the possibility that he’ll sit on him. He can’t imagine the stench. If he doesn’t, he might be asked to do worse for them. He might end up like that scarred mess of a person standing mutely next to him.
From the closet to his left, he retrieves the moist rag he intended to use on the walls, a brush, a stepstool, and some wax. He approaches the bloat of a man, trying not to breathe in too much of his atmosphere.
GM: The man’s ugly smile spreads as Emil kneels to clean his boots. The stench is awful. The man waits for several minutes of dedicated wiping, then says, “You’re doing a really shitty job, renfield.”
He’s still smiling.
Emil: Renfield, huh? So vampires read Dracula. Suppose it makes sense.
“It always looks that way before you apply the wax, sir.” One of the few luxuries the college student allotted for himself while on his meager salary was a biweekly shoe shining. “Scrubbing dirt is only half the deal, it reveals cracks and damages you wouldn’t have seen.”
He refuses to let this man get to him. He smiles himself, and picks up the pace, rubbing small circles of wax onto the shoe before buffing with the brush to bring out the shine.
“The wax repairs the gaps, fills in the cracks.”
GM: The vampire gives a hard and phlegmy laugh that makes his girthy belly shake as Emil finishes buffing the shoe.
“Well fuckin’ well. I was gonna hurt you for telling me I’m wrong. But I guess even a faggot little half-blood like you is good for something.”
“I think I’m gonna do to him what I was gonna do to you. Since you did such a good job.” He doesn’t look at the smaller man next to him. “I could have him lick my boots, for that extra finish, or I could just kick the shit out of him. Maybe give him another haircut.”
The vampire gives another nasty smile.
“What do you think I should do to him?”
The glasses-wearing man gives Emil a silently pleading look.
Emil: He doesn’t look the smaller man in the eye, he’s just the type of pathetic that pulls at Emil’s heartstrings. Reminds him of the weaker parts of him, the parts he has to suppress now.
Monsters like this demand brutality, they confuse it for strength. He’s not sure he can give that to him now.
“The wax I just worked into your boots repels saliva, so licking wouldn’t work it in effectively. He’d just be slobbering over your boots. But if you really want a good shine…”
Emil spares the slave one cursory glance.
“His hair looks greasier than a politician’s wallet, sir. Could be genetic, bred into ’im, but it also happens to the chronically terrified. Might be both in his case.”
“It also just so happens that all that hair oil makes for an exceptional shoe polish. The more hair he’s got, the more polish you can get out. Get him to pull this brush through his hair and buff it into your shoe, and you’ve got yourself a nice second coat of sheen.”
“He does know how to buff a shoe, right? If he doesn’t, that isn’t a problem either. I’ve been told I’m quite good at teaching lessons, sir.” He gives the monster a similarly vile grin.
Maybe that’ll be enough to keep him from tearing this poor shmuck’s hair out at least for a little bit. Give him some skills too.
GM: The vampire looks to the side of Emil.
He scowls for a moment, then smiles again. Smugly.
“Yeah, okay. You’ll come by the warren. To give him lessons.”
He gives Emil an address. “Tomorrow. Midnight.”
“If you’re even one minute late I’ll beat the shit out of you.”
He bares his fangs. “Maybe use you as a donor too.”
“You gonna be on time?”
Emil: “You’re happy either way, I bet. But yessir, I’ll be there.”
He eyes the shrimp next to the giant, checks the look in his eyes. Whether this was worth it, how much shit he’s put himself in.
GM: Agony explodes through Emil’s gut as a doughy fist smashes into it, sending him crashing to the floor. The vampire is hideously strong. It feels like he’s been shot, not punched.
“I’m not happy. I got better things to do than wait to beat up renfields.”
There’s that nasty smile again as the vampire stares down at him.
Emil: His hands instinctively wrap around his stomach, as if to stop any of his guts from spilling out. He might grunt if his breath wasn’t punched out of him.
He can start to feel that same pressure build up in his head that he felt on the cable car, that same pressure that threw a car and crushed the life out of much stronger men than him. But he’s not going to lose control and fuck himself up worse, he fears that his strength might not even be enough to bruise this brute, let alone stop him from ripping his throat out. He slows his breathing, concentrates on it until the pressure releases.
He looks to the other slave, then to the monster.
“Yessir,” he croaks out.
GM: “Good boy,” the vampire drawls. He doesn’t shoulder past Emil so much as foot past him, kicking Emil off to the side with another phlegmy laugh. It hurts less than his fist. It just feels like getting kicked, though he isn’t putting that much swing into it either.
The vampire doesn’t look back. The smaller, glasses-wearing man does. He mouths what looks like a silent ‘thanks,’ then quickly follows after the larger figure.
Emil: It’s not much, and certainly no balm for the harsh pain in his gut, but the appreciation of his sacrifice is enough to inspire a feeling Emil hasn’t had the right to feel in some time:
Day ? October 2007?
GM: Emil spend a while longer mopping floors. Carter eventually returns by himself. He looks Emil over without comment.
Emil: “Blanche asked me to do a little sprucing up until you came back,” he says, wielding the mop in the bucket like the oar of a ship driven by propeller. It’s unsuitable, extraneous, and yet held diligently on the orders of some drunken captain.
GM: “Good, that’s given you some early experience.” Carter checks his wristwatch. “Come back here tomorrow, an hour after nightfall. Tell Blanche he can put you up in his house until then.”
“Get some rest and eat a nutritious diet. Tomorrow will likely be… exerting.”
Emil: Emil nods, though as he realizes this schedule has the potential of earning himself a beat down from the strongest thing he’s ever encountered, he slows his nods.
“I’m up to the task. Though, there is one potential conflict with that plan, but one that is also potentially fruitful for us. Someone came through this hallway earlier, one of your kind, with his servant. He started questioning me, asking where I was from. I kept everything respectful, I even polished his shoes when he asked. It ingratiated myself to him, so instead of pummeling me like he intended to do, he asked me to decide how he should punish his servant for not having my polishing skills. I was able to talk the man out of punishment entirely, earning the gratitude of his servant. Before they left, the man invited me to a place called the ‘warren’ tomorrow at midnight to teach his servant how to polish shoes correctly. If I’m at all late, he promised to beat me. I’m not sure how important the man is, but if this ‘warren’ is his workspace, it might be useful for us to have a pair of eyes on the inside. Additionally, his servant might make for a good ally in the future. But that’s only if I can make it on time, which might conflict with the schedule set for tomorrow. What would you have me do, Carter?”
GM: “You sound like you’ve practiced saying that for weeks,” the vampire remarks with some faint amusement once he’s done.
Emil: “What some practice for weeks I practice for a half-hour. Mopping is good for focus,” he says, grinning as he’s been called out.
GM: “What did this other Kindred look like?”
Emil: Emil wonders whether Carter would mind he if he was plainly honest about that grotesque monster. Trying to be more diplomatic feels like the time when the Rogersons from down the block in LA showed him baby pictures of what must have been the most deformed baby he’d ever seen. He thought it went well enough, but given that the cops were called on him later during his evening stroll on a report of him casing the neighborhood, he suspects his compliments weren’t enough to convince the parents that he didn’t think their infant was hideous.
“Very… large, a bulky man. His skin has seen better days, but the scarring might be from a war injury, given he was dressed in a camo jacket and combat pants. He didn’t give me his name.”
GM: “Did he smell?”
Emil: “Pungent,” he confirms, the gag-inducing memory of sitting under his gut passing over his intense eyes.
GM: “Fat and bald, slightly pointed ears?”
Emil: “That’s the one.”
GM: “He was probably Codi, then. He hasn’t fought in any war.”
“Well, any kine war.”
Emil: “Kindred wage wars?”
GM: “Do we seem less inclined towards violence than kine?”
Emil: “Not in my experience, but I simply assumed there weren’t enough Kindred in the world to justify calling a conflict between them a war. Though I suppose it’s not just Kindred fighting but also their servants.”
GM: “Humans have always fought our wars for us. Examine just about any large-scale armed conflict in history and you’ll find Kindred involved.”
“As far as Codi, you were right to polish his shoes.”
“Hmm.” Carter looks thoughtful. “I don’t know how much of the warrens you’ll be able to see, but it can’t hurt to have you inside, so long as you’re careful not to offend any Kindred there.”
“Make sure they know you belong to Cobbler and Landry. Make sure any Kindred you see knows that. Any renfield, too.”
Emil: “That’s the first thing I told Codi, Carter.”
GM: “Repeat it when you see him again. He’s stupid and it might take several tries to sink in.”
Emil: “Understood. What should I expect down there? I want to be respectable as much as I am respectful, inasmuch as a renfield could be respected. Any rules I should be aware of?”
GM: “Renfields aren’t respected, so don’t try to be. Don’t ever use your powers on any Kindred, down there or otherwise, unless your life is in immediate danger, and only then so you can escape.”
Emil: “I’ll keep that in mind,” Emil responds. “My mother used to teach me to bring a gift whenever I visited someone’s home. What do you think the Kindred from the warren would appreciate?”
GM: “They won’t expect gifts from you. But the sewer rats tend to value information most of all. And perhaps anything else that makes night-to-night unlife easier down there.”
Emil: “When you say sewer rats, you don’t mean they live in the actual sewer, right?”
GM: “I mean exactly that. Wear something you won’t miss.”
“They make it work, though. They’re supposed to have whole networks of computers down there.”
“My sire and I will postpone the testing. Go visit the warren, then come back here to Blanche whenever you’re done.”
Emil: “Do you still want me to ask Blanche to stay in his house tonight or was that strictly to prep for the testing?” he asks, pushing aside the thought of what sort of testing they’re interested in doing.
GM: “You’re not asking. My sire and I are telling, and you’re letting him know.”
Emil: “You’re right,” Emil says, taking a step back. “I’ll give him the heads up. Is there anything you need done during the day, by chance? Any places I should avoid?”
GM: “There isn’t. You should clear anywhere you want to go past him and do what he says. Trespassing in another Kindred’s territory can get you killed.”
Carter looks at his watch. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Good luck, by the way, with the sewer rats.”
Emil: “Thanks, Carter. Catch you tomorrow,” Emil says smiling.
GM: He finds himself left alone with his mop bucket.
Emil: Finally, he thinks, he can go find that sink.
Day ? October 2007?
Emil: It takes some time and searching, but Emil eventually finds a sink. He replaces the now-blackened water from the bucket and continues on, exploring the halls of the building, mopping and placing down wet floor signs as he goes along. He wonders if his father is still here in Houston. Perhaps he’s still in the building. But where?
GM: Emil seems to be in an administrative rather than medical building. At this hour of the night, it also seems all but empty.
Emil: He weighs whether or not to go looking. What use is there to finding him even, beyond soothing his own anxiety?
He decides against it. His gut aches dully still, and his pockets feel far too loose without his cell phone weighing them down. He might’ve searched the building for an unlocked door, he might’ve went through their computer systems, but tonight he made a pledge to himself, and to Carter. He doesn’t intend on abandoning it to satisfy his baser whims. And so he returns to Blanche, leaving clean walls and glossy floors in his wake.
GM: He feels hungry, too. It’s been a while since he last ate. He also needs to relieve himself.
He finds Blanche still in his office, having spent the time on paperwork, phone calls, and typing into his computer. The older slave looks up at his presence and says it’ll “still be a while” before they’re done. Emil can go re-mop the same floors, just to be extra sure he’s gotten all the “contaminants.”
That feels like it takes eternity. When he’s done and returns to Blanche’s office, the older slave provides a phone number and tells him to call that once he’s checked in at whatever hotel he retires to.
Emil: Emil informs Blanche of Carter’s instructions that he should stay with him in his house, not go to stay in a hotel, ensuring to maintain the triplet rhythm to his sentences so as to let what he suspects is anxiety driving news for the man sink in easier.
Even touching his desk had him throwing a fit. Imagine sleeping on his probably immaculate sheets.
GM: Blanche looks positively faint at that news. He closes his eyes and slowly rubs his temples.
Emil: “It’s not what you had planned, I know that.”
“But, Master Landry felt that this was a great opportunity for you to share some of your experience with a younger servant.” Thirty three syllables, and a compliment from his master should go a long way in calming the poor man, he hopes.
GM: Blanche reaches into his wallet, produces another $100, and sets it down on the desktop.
“That and the pre-vi-ous sum should be more than en-ough,” click, “more than suff-ic-ient for a com-fort-ab-le,” click, “for an ad-eq-uate hotel,” click, “for an adequate lod-gings,” click, “for an adequate bed.”
“You may choose any with-in,” click, “you may choose any among,” click, “you may choose any aside,” click, “you may choose the Texas Med-ic-al Cen-ter,” click, “you may choose the T-M-C for your bed.” Click. “You may choose the TMC to let your tem-por-ary bed.”
Click. “You may choose a ho-tel,” click, “you may choose a site of beds for yours.”
Click. Click. Click.
Emil: So much stress. You have to wonder what’s going on in his head.
He pities the poor bigot.
GM: Blanche squirts some sanitizer onto his cracked, reddened palms and vigorously rubs them together. The scents of lemon and alcohol product suffuse the air.
Emil: He gives the man an H.R. approved smile but lifts his hands to show his palms, saying, “That is very generous of you, Mister Blanche, but I can’t take any more of your money. Were Master Landry here, he would applaud your generosity.” He lets that sink in. The humility, the servility. And thirty and three threes syllables at that.
“He would also restate his instructions for me to stay in your house. We live to serve don’t we?” And three lots of three lots of three rhymes well with a call to duty.
GM: Blanche sighs and pinches his nose.
“Mas-ter,” click, “Lan-dry,” click, “My dom-it-or is Mis-tress,” click, “Mis-tr-ess Cobbler,” click, “the mis-tr-ess. The mas-ter’s,” click, “others’ in-struc-tion-s,” click. “Oth-ers,” click.
Blanche squirts more sanitizer onto his hands and does nothing but rub them for several seconds.
“Stay at a hotel,” click, “stay else-where,” click, “stay away,” click, “do not a-ccom-pan-y,” click, “do not follow,” click, “do not come home with me,” he says with an increasingly exasperated look, perhaps at the instructions or perhaps at this own interruptions to his speech, “and I shall… be ob-li-ged to you.”
Emil: This poor guy might just have a breakdown if I come with him. Fuck. It’s not his boss he’s crossing by not letting me stay, it’s mine. I’d really rather not piss him off. But Blanche might just pass out if I say no.
“If he comes to check on me, what do you think he’ll say if he finds I’m not at your house? Theoretically, you could tell him I was on a stroll, but that’d require me to be in the area. I won’t impose myself upon your house, but I need to at least be close-by, or if you’re willing, in your attic. I’ll even wear protective equipment if you have it.”
GM: Blanche looks at Emil exasperatingly.
“For the love of God, boy, he’s a vam-pire,” click, “sun burns him.”
Emil: He feels a sinking feeling in his gut as the ghost of the terrible screams he heard from under the car pound in his head. He can’t stand to imagine him in that much pain again.
The theological implications of it flow in next.
וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים: אֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל, לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם, וְאֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה.
(And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.)
To never see the sun rise again, what a tragedy. Such strength to reject it to help the lesser light rule the dark night.
“What a man,” he beams. “I’ll find a hotel then. I also need to go shopping for some supplies tomorrow, I saw a Target on the drive over, am I allowed to go that far to shop?”
GM: Blanche looks like that’s the sort of place he wouldn’t be caught in a thousand years. “If it’s within the boundaries of Texas Medical Center.”
Emil: “Is there some other shop you like to patron? Or perhaps someone who shops for you?”
GM: “Patronize,” he corrects thinly. “There most certainly is someone to handle such menial errands.”
Emil: “Right. Of course.” Being corrected reminds Emil of his mother. Of the times he was most frustrated with her.
He delicately plucks the hundred dollar bill from the desk and pockets it.
“Might need the cash after all, since I don’t have anyone to do my errands for me yet. Thanks a million,” he adds, showing off his pearly whites in the widest of smiles.
GM: Blanche merely offers him a thin smile.
Emil: Emil accepts the smile as gladly as he did the money, comforted in the knowledge that come another day, Blanche will have to repay the favor, just as the sewer rat’s slave will have to as well.
He may be a slave in the present, but Emil has zero doubt. In time, he’ll get what he’s due.