“You seem alone here. Are you without friends?”
Thursday night, 24 September 2015, PM
GM: Three nights after Caroline’s presentation before her clanmates, she meets again with Becky Lynne. “Congratulations on being released, Miss Malveaux. That’s just so good for you, it really is,” the older Ventrue smiles. “I think I’ve said before your release is like graduating high school… you’re an adult now, by everyone’s reckonin’, and free to move on to bigger and brighter things.”
Becky Lynne doesn’t dawdle before diving into that topic: the Test, the final component to Caroline’s agoge. She’s explained Clan Ventrue’s simultaneous instruction period, rite of passage, and test of character to Caroline during their prior meetings.
“Our clan goes out of its way to prepare fledglings for life among the Camarilla. We and the Tremere are the only ones who still educate neonates after their release… you might even think of this part of your agoge as your college education, in fact. You don’t absolutely need it—not really, you’re released and your own Kindred now, but it’ll give you extra tools to succeed.”
“You won’t be goin’ it alone either, sire or no sire. You’ll spend time with all our local elders, to learn the way things work. They’ll show you how they run their domains, and you’ll show them how yours is shapin’ up too—the one you’re preparing for your Test.”
“None of them can help you with it directly—no funding, called-in boons, gifted assets, or things like that—but they’ll all give you an earful of advice. I recommend takin’ notes, like you’ve been doing here.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a knowing, if slightly bashful, smile at the reference to notes. Does Matheson’s childe know the truth about her sire, or about the stolen tape? It’s hard to say.
GM: “Once that’s all finished, and you’ve passed your agoge with flyin’ colors,” the other Ventrue smiles back, “we’ll all turn out for a party in your honor. And there’ll be plenty cause for it. The clan as a whole will be that much stronger.”
Caroline: “Certainly a welcome change I expect after the recent losses, Questor Adler,” Caroline agrees. “Is there a best way to go about contacting them to arrange those meetings?”
GM: “Right on the ball, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne laughs lightly. “And so are we. Now, the following nights and times work for them, let’s see how they do for you…”
Gerousiastis McGinn will receive Caroline at his house in Uptown. Becky Lynne supplies the address and several times and dates that he may accommodate.
Gerousiastis Guilbeau will receive her aboard his casino, the Alystra. Becky Lynne supplies times and an address for him as well.
Lictor Cingolai and Lictor Holland, though not permanent residents of New Orleans, will both see Caroline and provide some instruction to the aspiring eiren before they leave. The preliminary times and dates available for them are earlier than the other two Ventrue.
Aedile Hurst will see Caroline at the barber shop where she met his ghoul McCullem.
Strategos Vidal and Gerousiastis Malveaux are sending their heralds to interact with Caroline in their stead. The Hussar will receive her at Perdido House, and whoever Gerousiastis Malveaux’s ghoul is will do so at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The clan’s questors and eirens are not expected to show Caroline the ropes, but if Caroline desires to meet with any of them, Becky Lynne will have a ghoul see if they are amenable. Besides herself, the clan’s other questors include Polk, Gui, and Brodowski. Guilbeau (the younger) and Gerlette are the eirens. Rosa Bale does not participate in the Structure.
Caroline: Caroline carefully notes each time and place, and politely inquires as to how to finalize each set of arrangements—so as not to keep her elders waiting.
GM: Becky Lynne states that she’ll “see it’s all taken care of,” then laughs. “Oh, silly me, I couldn’t find my rear with both hands! Gerousiastis Matheson will show you the ropes too, of course. Owin’ to his particular circumstances, I’ll do so in his stead, so that’ll just be business as usual between us two.”
Caroline: “I’m certain you’ll do your sire proud, Questor Adler,” comes Caroline’s polite reply.
GM: “All three of us can so hope,” Becky Lynne smiles back. “Now then, I’m sure you’ve been layin’ groundwork for your domain already, but I’ll recommend kickin’ it into high gear before you see Gerousiastis Guilbeau and the others. The more that’s already done, the more advice they can offer…”
Thursday night, 24 September 2015, PM
GM: Not long after her first meeting in the French Quarter with Antoine Savoy, Caroline is called to make her next weekly report at Donovan’s soulless McMansion in Aubudon. The Ventrue pitches her mother’s counter-offer of speaking to Donovan over her (Caroline’s) phone. The sheriff listens to her proposal without comment or visible expression, then replies with a single icy word:
Donovan then tells Caroline to bring $50,000 in cash to his house within 24 hours. Failure to gather the requisite funds by this date will result in “punitive action” and further such action for every additional 24 hours that elapse.
Yet whatever natural feelings Caroline may harbor for the sheriff, she feels the bond tugging at her. Wanting to stop disappointing him. Wanting to win his seemingly impossible approval.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t gawk at the sum in and of itself, nor can she find herself surprised by the newest demand. That doesn’t make it any less of a problem. Even with her own substantial assets, $50,000 would be a significant amount. Assembling that amount of cash in a day is virtually impossible by conventional means not likely to earn her a great deal of unwanted attention from federal authorities—especially in the era post-9/11 in which examinations and controls on financial institutions are especially strict.
Virtually, but not utterly. There are still places in which such large sums can be bandied about without undo regard, and where large stacks of hard currency are readily available without excess scrutiny. Fortunately, one happens to be the heart of her new landlord’s domain. Between calls to her mother, Caroline reaches out to Hound Angello, offering a boon for assistance using Harrah’s to translate more scrutinized assets (money in accounts) into currency (cash) in the form of winnings payouts or simple sleight of hand money laundry. Of the former, winnings that she’ll account for in losses on the other side of the week. Time is of the essence. She cringes at the idea of what this is going to cost her on the other end when her family finds out. No doubt more evidence of her own slide and poor judgement.
She keeps her mother in the loop with a meeting in the late hours of the night, but has no answer for the sheriff’s newest demand.
“I have no idea what he’s going to ask for tomorrow, but if he’s going to keep demanding a meeting and sums like that when I don’t comply, then my days are well numbered. In fact, I could probably give you just how many days I can support a $50,000 habit.”
GM: Claire agrees. She is willing to help with some of the money given the sheer abruptness of the demand, though she makes clear this will be a one-time thing. For perhaps the first time in her life, Caroline hears one of her parents tell her “we’re not made of money.”
Rocco is amenable to the offer and helps Caroline launder money with the casino to put her hands on $50,000 cash on the quick.
Caroline meets the sheriff in his house the next night. The banker whose Facemash picture Caroline looked up, Paul Simmons, opens the suitcase and looks over the crisp stacks of $100 bills as if inspecting them for forgeries.
Donovan does not speak a word, but looks towards the man, who removes the bills and starts feeding them into a paper shredder with a plastic smile.
Caroline: Part of Caroline wants to protest. Part of her wants to ask why: why he’s destroying the money, why he has to be such a monster, why he hates her so. She asks none of those things. Instead she sits in the too-quiet room with the icy-eyed devil, only the crinkling sound of the currency going through the shredder between them.
At the end of the night the sheriff is like the weather, like a storm, something that cannot be avoided or reasoned with, that cannot be understood or fought. No, he’s something to endure. Something to suffer through.
And so she sits, and she endures. There’s no point in asking why.
GM: “Father Malveaux has informed me of your inability to follow instructions. Anything less than complete obedience to the letter and spirit of my orders where Claire Malveaux is concerned will be punished with a monetary fine,” Donovan states without preamble.
The shredder continues to whir and shred in the background as if to say how little the sheriff cares about Caroline’s money.
Caroline: “As you say, Sheriff Donovan,” is Caroline’s only reply. There’s no purpose in responding further.
GM: Savoy’s childe does not respond. Simmons leaves without a word, then returns carrying a box of wires. Donovan tells Caroline to put one on, then places a sealed, unmarked, and opaque envelope on the front of the desk before her. Simmons offers Caroline an old-fashioned dumphone, her smartphone having been confiscated by the sheriff’s guards at the door. Donovan tells her to arrange a time and location with Claire Malveaux to deliver the envelope. He listens to the call. When she hangs up, he tells her that the envelope is “safeguarded against treachery” should she attempt to read its contents, and that he will execute her if he believes she has done so. He will also execute her if she reads her mother’s written reply, which will be returned in a second, presently un-sealed envelope contained within the first envelope. The sheriff lays forth a sequence of further orders concerning how and when she will deliver her mother’s reply to him. The orders are very precise yet simple to understand, like a technical manual one might write for a middle school student.
Caroline: Caroline supposes there’s no choice but to do what he asks given the ‘pain of death’ demands.
She still makes a note to avoid talking while wearing the wire.
GM: Claire reiterates that she’s not paying these $50,000 fees when Caroline sees her again, but otherwise finds Donovan’s method of communication acceptable. She refuses to be in a given location at a known time to make the pickup for the letters, however, insisting that Caroline mail them to the Hotel Monteleone instead (at which point she can pick them up at her leisure).
Claire gives her identically sealed letters to deliver back to Donovan. Caroline continues to make weekly reports to the sheriff as well, who gives her further sealed letters to deliver back to her mother.
Donovan sometimes summons Caroline (via a specific dumbphone he gives her) outside of their usual weekly times when he wants another letter delivered.
Caroline: She grits her teeth and bears through it.
There’s nothing else to do.
Friday evening, 25 September 2015
GM: Caroline receives a phone call from Blackwatch and two visits from NOPD around the same time. Both organizations inform her that Amanda Turner and Nicole Polk have both been found dead. Turner committed suicide by the Mississippi and was found floating in the river several days later. Polk had the misfortune to be drinking heavily when her home was robbed by a pair of (black) criminals. They had initially thought she was asleep, then panicked and killed her, and attempted to get rid of the body. A plea deal will likely be struck to send them to Angola. NOPD has the usual questions to ask Caroline about her relationship to the deceased individuals and whether she knows any information pertinent to their deaths. Blackwatch expresses their condolences and offers Caroline a discount on further bodyguards hired through the security firm.
Caroline: The Ventrue makes no further moves towards Blackwatch after she does some digging into their origins. Of course Donovan has his fingers all over that pie. Little surprise, she supposes, given the security they provide around his haven.
She has her eye on a new ghoul, one who will be able to bring in his own individuals. Laying aside possible insults others might take from her actions, she’s not willing to meaningfully introduce that kind of headache into her life, and she couldn’t truly trust any agents she received from them short of ghouling.
Saturday night, 26 September 2015, AM
GM: Caroline meets again with Antoine Savoy and asks whether he could acquire Westley’s body from the Dungeon himself. Savoy answers that he could, though it will cost him a small boon that he will ask of Caroline in turn. She agrees to the price, and Preston informs her of a public storage unit from which she may retrieve her brother’s corpse after three days.
Savoy chides, “This is her brother, Nat,” and has it delivered to Caroline’s home in a coffin (itself placed in a crate the neighbors may find less unusual) instead. There are several floral wreaths lain over the top and Westley’s body is covered with a respectful burial shroud. It has also gone through the necessary embalming procedures to mask a corpse’s awful stench, but Savoy does not otherwise attempt to make arrangements or personal decisions for the body that Caroline may herself desire to.
Her mother still looks physically sick and on the verge of tears after she sees the state that it’s in.
She’s brought over a sedan with extra trunk space. She insists on lifting the coffin inside herself, but is willing to accept Caroline’s help. It’s too heavy for just one woman. Claire snaps at her daughter if she draws on any of the Blood’s power to make the heavy task easier, but eventually, the two manage to heave the coffin into the trunk. Claire says she’ll try her utmost to get “that changeling’s carcass” exchanged for Westley’s real body, but admits at this point it might be too late.
Caroline: Caroline is silent and accedes to her mother’s requests. She isn’t the one who gets sore muscles.
That wouldn’t be the first time they were too late for Westley.
Saturday evening, 26 September 2015
Caroline: Caroline goes looking for “dates” in one of the hotel bars around her new liege’s territory.
GM: She meets a 30-something paralegal who’s a funny, winsome guy and seems interested in consensual sex. He slips a roofie in her drink when she gives a “not interested” vibe.
Caroline: Once they are alone, the Ventrue unleashes her Beast on the kine’s all-too vulnerable body and mind alike, then rapes the latter, demanding a complete recounting of all his sins. When the bruised and bloodied man awakens from his half-remembered nightmare the next morning, he finds all of his sins written in lipstick across the bathroom with an accompanying note to ‘change his ways.’
Caroline pays him another “visit” the next night.
GM: He has dark circles under his eyes and empty liquor bottles in his sink.
He’s not gone to another bar, he blearily recites under her spell.
Caroline: Satisfied—at least for now—God’s avenging wolf withdraws.
Sunday evening, 27 September 2015
Caroline: Caroline’s investigations into her missing private investigator, mentor, confessor, and perhaps conscience, are a delicate thing. It begins with probing into public record, and into private record. She speaks with the prior owner of her new building. What does she remember of him? When did he first arrive? How long had he been there? Is there any record of others he dealt with? She digs into public record. If Lou was a PI, he had to be registered somewhere. As slovenly as he was, there has to be some record of him. She bounces the name “Louis Fontaine” off of public record to see what comes back. It’s an investigation she keeps private from Autumn, save for a single question: do does she know anything about a one-handed ghoul?
GM: Autumn answers that she hasn’t heard of any one-handed ghouls. It there are any, she probably would have. It’s a fairly distinctive trait.
Caroline’s finds that Lou’s name doesn’t seem to be on any of the papers or documents attached to her new property. When offered a chance to make some easy money, and in return for Caroline’s promised silence, the former landlady Ruth Holman admits she sometimes rented units to illegal immigrants and other characters she derisively describes as “bums” without actually signing any lease agreements. The alternative was letting the units sit empty. Caroline even gives her the number for Lou’s unit and describes the one-handed old man, but Ruth just shrugs. “Ugly old man” sounds like a lot of tenants she’s had, and maybe one or some or all of them did have prosthetic hands, but it’s possible to miss if they weren’t wearing short sleeves. She tried not to interact with her “undesirable” tenants very much. The one upshot to no lease agreement meant she never had to perform any kind of maintenance in their units, and absolutely never had to see or interact with them. When Caroline asks if Lou didn’t have a lease agreement, Ruth admits she isn’t sure. Her records aren’t the best. It’s possible some papers got misplaced. Is there any reason Caroline is looking for this man?
Giving up on her new property as a wash, Caroline looks into public records. Being a private investigator in the state of Louisiana means Lou’s name is in a database somewhere. In some states like Idaho, all one needs to be a PI is a business license. (Although without joining the state’s privately-run and more stringent PI association, it’s doubtful anyone but their own mom would hire them.) In Louisiana, license requirements are more rigorous. Lou had to take at least 40 hours of certification classes from an approved agency and pass the state PI Exam from the Louisiana State Board of Private Investigator Examiners (LSBPIE). Graft being what it is in Louisiana, Lou could have gotten around those requirements. He certainly doesn’t meet the requirement that applicants “may not be actively addicted to alcohol or drugs.” No matter how dubiously Lou’s license was obtained, however, it would still have had to be issued in his name.
Caroline also finds out there are four different kinds of PI licenses in Louisiana: an apprentice license, an individual license, a journeyman license, and an agency license. An individual license would let Lou provide direct services to the public, and require him to be registered with a sponsor agency. If Lou ran his own one-man agency, that makes tracking him down even simpler: the BLS reports only 70 private investigators were employed in Louisiana in 2012, most of whom did not hold agency licenses. Further enmeshing Lou in the system is the requirement that PIs need to renew their licenses every year. They must also submit proof of completion of at least eight hours of approved continuing education every two years.
Yet for all these potential leads, and the fact Lou even had Caroline sign a valid-looking contract, nothing solid materializes for the old man. Every potential lead results in still another dead end. Inquiries into public records concerning the name Louis Fontaine are similarly fruitless. He is simply not in the system. The Ventrue might as well be chasing a ghost.
Caroline: Caroline moves away from chasing and towards trying to keep the lines of communication open. She quietly puts up several notices and runs a couple of otherwise opaque print ads in newspapers (having seen how many he’s collected in the past) that make quiet references to matters between them and include a number to call.
GM: Nights pass, then weeks, and finally months. Caroline’s only answer is silence. The old man does not seem to want to be found.
Or perhaps he simply can’t be found. Perhaps the prince’s agents have already gotten to him.
Perhaps, like her conscience, he’s deader than she thinks.
Monday night, 28 September 2015, AM
GM: Father Malveaux listens patiently to Caroline’s next confession. He thinly grants that she has finally acted the part of a proper Sanctified. The man was punished for his iniquity, he is mending his ways, and the Masquerade was not endangered. Father Malveaux can find no basis over which to excommunicate Caroline.
But she also did not do as he asked—which was to feed upon one of her prior victims. His patience with Caroline clearly exhausted, Father Malveaux tells the younger Ventrue to find another confessor. He is sick of her.
He states that she will continue to consult with him where the matter of their mortal relations are concerned—which he grudgingly tolerates for the sake of the Masquerade, and only until Caroline fakes her death. He states that if she does not do so soon, he will do it for her. The albino priest clearly desires Caroline gone from his domain and his own contact with her to end as quickly as possible.
Caroline: Caroline pitches her plan to fake her murder at the hands of ‘undesirables’ so as to generate public sympathy for the Malveauxes and lend further weight behind her father’s ‘tough on crime’ political stance.
GM: Father Malveaux curtly rasps that he does not consider Caroline competent or trustworthy enough to handle a matter of such delicacy where the Masquerade is concerned. She will die in an accident, which will invite less police and media scrutiny.
Caroline: Of course not. Of course they’re not going to shit on a perfectly good idea just because it comes from her.
Caroline had wanted to ask him for assistance in financial matters before faking her death. Dying isn’t cheap.
She does not as she leaves.
Monday night, 28 September 2015, AM
GM: Caroline gets a phone call from Wright.
“Sold your debt to Rocco,” the hound says without preamble. “You’re payin’ him back now. Not me.”
Caroline: The Ventrue scowls but tries to keep her irritation out of her voice.
“Thank you for informing me, Hound Wright.”
GM: The Brujah hangs up.
Caroline: She’s less irritated with Wright anyway, and more annoyed with Agnello and his seemingly constant interest in meddling in her life. On the other hand, she considers, it might have less to do with her directly and more to do with his recent interactions with a certain client of hers. Either way, it’s irritating.
She considers calling Rocco and decides not to. He’ll come to her when he wants to get back in her life.
She expects it won’t be long.
Tuesday evening, 29 September 2015
GM: It’s not too many nights after Caroline first “hired” Christina Roberts (or rather, hired investigators through her) that she receives a call back from the madam. “You lucked out with those PIs, by the way. Some Pinkertons were already in town.”
Christina works out the necessary details to drop off their findings in Caroline’s hands—and also provides a routing number for a Bank of Columbia account (notably not Whitney Bank) where the Ventrue can reimburse her for the Pinkertons’ fee. Their dossiers contain the following:
The Pinkertons began by taking Caroline’s dozen or so vehicles whose reasons for being in Audubon Place were not immediately apparent or whose presences stood out to them. They ran down license plate numbers, plugged security footage of drivers (obtained courtesy of the Ventrue’s own efforts) into facial recognition software, talked to people in the neighborhood, and followed up on the names they obtained.
Most of Audubon Place’s visitors turned out to be quite pedestrian. A pool install company. An internet repair tech. An escort. A substitute plumber when the usual service couldn’t make it. A company of princess lookalikes for a child’s birthday party.
The initial investigative work narrowed Caroline’s dozen noteworthy vehicles and drivers down to half a dozen. Follow-up narrowed that down to several. Then finally to a single one.
Josué Pérez is a general contractor who works under Frank O’Malley. The Pinkertons did their homework, and he supposedly did contracting work on Caroline’s former house. Included is the license plate number for his vehicle, as well as work and phone numbers for Mr. Pérez and his employer Mr. O’Malley. The former, however, may not be good for long. Mr. Pérez has overstayed his work visa and is currently being detained by ICE in Basile’s South Louisiana Detention Center, pending his deportation back to Guatemala.
Caroline: Lucked out. Right. Caroline tries not to laugh as she pages through the dossiers. Mr. O’Malley. She’s relatively certain that Pérez is just a tool: she can’t really see her mother using some wetback as her instrument for something so sensitive.
She makes a note for Autumn to investigate O’Malley, quietly and from a distance. Mostly poking around into his business dealings, and history. She’s not quite—or even close to—ready to poke that hornet’s nest. Soon, though… the seneschal’s sentence hangs heavy, like a blade over her neck.
Tuesday night, 29 September 2015, PM
GM: It’s not long after Caroline’s release that Jocelyn takes the Ventrue to see her haven, a comfortable loft apartment in the CBD. It’s decorated with her photography, sharp black and white pieces that low-key digital manipulations have lent a vaguely otherworldly cast to. She doesn’t do much color, she says. Blacks and whites “force you to really think about the composition, and do more with less.” Sometimes she’ll do a slight color filter, but she calls it a “temptation” and tries to stick with black and white. She’s cautious that relying too much on color could dilute the rest of her work. It needs to stay rare if it’s to mean anything.
Jocelyn’s haven itself is well-furnished and has some fairly expensive-looking photography and computer equipment. The Toreador says she lives off money from a number of “boyfriends” whose behavior she has judged sinful (the most recent is a domestic abuser). They pay for her rent, clothes, art supplies, and miscellaneous expenses. Compared to Caroline’s planned financial manipulations, Jocelyn’s Requiem seems remarkably straightforward. She just takes money from people directly.
Meg lives with her in a separate bedroom. Despite the ghoul’s anorexia and bulimia, the latter of which Jocelyn describes as “so gross” (but is at a loss how to cure her of), Meg doesn’t appear entirely useless. She’s unobtrusive and can be counted on to perform assorted chores, errands, and other daily tasks Jocelyn doesn’t want to do herself, whether that’s styling her hair, picking up items at the store, or vacuuming and cleaning the haven. Meg also tracks expenses, pays bills, and manages her mistress’ money, a task that does not appear to particularly interest the Toreador.
Meg also funnels a percentage of Jocelyn’s income towards Roxanne, who Jocelyn says “manages it for the whole krewe.” When asked if all krewes do that thing, Jocelyn just shrugs, but says Roxanne makes the money come back in larger amounts. She uses it for communal expenses. “She was honestly better when she left the talking to Evan,” the Toreador admits. Roxanne can have an acerbic and contentious personality, and is used to getting her way at things. “Total blue blood. No offense.”
Evan lacked his paramour’s mind for planning, but was better at dealing people in the here and now. He was always good at tempering Roxanne’s more belligerent tendencies while not making the Ventrue feel like he was disagreeing with her. Roxanne was the brains of the krewe, while Evan was its heart and tongue. They worked well together. Since his disappearance, though, Roxanne’s more brittle tendencies have come the forefront—if not been aggravated by Evan’s absence. “It’s thrown everything out of balance,” Jocelyn admits.
Jocelyn posts a fair bit of her photography on mortal websites under a variety of pseudonyms. She posts the remaining “uncensored” artwork on “Fangbook” and other Kindred-exclusive internet domains lurking in the dankest recesses of the dark web. Still, she chafes at the lack of broader recognition, but isn’t willing to let a mortal take the credit for her artwork. The closest she’s come to publicly is getting Abraham Garcia, a Toreador with influence over the Times-Picayune, to slip in a few of her pieces while listing the author as anonymous. New Orleans’ Toreador circles don’t appreciate photography, but they’ve already talked about that.
Jocelyn is in sporadic contact with her sire, who seems to lack a regular phone number. Sally calls her childe from an ever-changing rotation of them whenever she feels like talking. Jocelyn’s tried calling back later, but the line is always ‘disconnected and no longer in service.’ “She’s pretty paranoid about that stuff.”
Jocelyn also admits to having two still-living parents “back home.” She hasn’t spoken with them in close to four years.
Caroline: “What do they think happened to you?” Caroline asks of the last bit.
GM: Jocelyn gives a little shrug. “Just… not in touch.”
Caroline: “Does it ever bother you?”
GM: “I don’t see much other choice, do you?”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs in turn. “I think leaving that door cracked would be harder for me—if I even could. The temptation to reach back out again would always be there.”
GM: “I’m going to close it. I’ve just been putting it off. Hassle to arrange.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a bitter laugh. “Don’t I know it.”
GM: One of the challenges over the coming nights is finding common interests besides fucking, which is limited by the ever-present risk of developing a full blood bond… which increasingly doesn’t seem like that bad an arrangement. After all, they could feed directly off each other as often as they wanted. And Caroline would never be in danger of having her will suborned by any other Kindred.
Caroline: It’s so tempting. Incredibly tempting, especially in those first nights after her release. Jocelyn is such a bright spot. Someone who’s never hurt her, only ever helped her, and with whom she shares many secrets. Many, though not all.
It’s a fight each evening she’s with the Toreador to resist her—and that’s a new experience as well. The raw power and desire of each encounter she’s had are unlike anything else she’s ever experienced. Better than feeding off any kine.
Caroline tries to fill their time together with other things, mundane things like shopping, hunting, movies, discussions on religion and art (in both of which Caroline is an avid listener) but the undercurrent is always there. The desire. Jocelyn’s slender throat with each word she speaks, the so sensual scene each time the Toreador swallows another mouthful of some mortal’s blood, the painfully tempting touch of licking a stray drop of some mortal’s blood off Jocelyn’s lips.
That feeling raw ‘carnal’ need and desire is another point of conflict between them, though Caroline buries it deeply. Though far from a good Catholic waiting for marriage, intimacy was a naturally flowing part of her mortal relationships. A piece of the puzzle that came up, sex something she enjoyed, but rarely craved. The deeper wanting of Jocelyn on a physical level, in truth, makes Caroline feel like the whore or slut her father so recently labeled her as.
Worse than how much she longs to sink her teeth into Jocelyn is how much she wants Jocelyn to sink her fangs into her. The kiss.
GM: Jocelyn can talk a great deal about art. Caroline can mostly listen, except when talking on the related social issues that frustrate her paramour. Jocelyn’s interest in movies turns out to run towards romantic comedies, one thing unchanged by her Embrace, and female drama-oriented TV shows.
Shopping is its own… bag. Jocelyn seems to have little interest in making money, beyond a minimum baseline, but she loves spending it. Specifically, Caroline’s, after she sees how much of it the Ventrue’s deeper financial manipulations have left her to throw around. If it’s not clothes, Jocelyn manages to find other things, from photography equipment to interior decor to high-class escorts (who make very good feeding, and are often even attending college). The blood bond makes it hard to turn down anything Jocelyn says she wants. Her new ghoul Widney is less enamored, and repeatedly uses such phrases as “significant drain” and “needless expense.” Autumn just snorts in amusement and calls it “so Toreador.”
The Kindred also end up going through a lot of clothes, partly contributing to the shopping trips. There isn’t that same need, or at least expectation, to strip before lovemaking. Their Beasts, so close to the surface during such moments, leave messes far in excess of any “wild” night as a mortal. Jocelyn particularly seems to enjoy destroying outfits she’s worn out enough times. “My closet’s low on room anyway.”
Caroline: On those bloody nights, Caroline loses herself in the violence and passion of their encounters. Hours slip away effortlessly as blood flows back and forth so many times that it’s easy to lose track of where one ends and the other begins. They are also illustrative of the very danger of the bond, and how easy it would be to lose themselves in each other. Entwined in blood-soaked sheets in the aftermath each time, Caroline soaks in that connection between them, strengthened by the blood, and wrestles with the Beast’s satisfaction in the moment and her own lingering desire. The nights never seem to come up frequently enough.
GM: In between such sanguine liaisons, there are other realities to deal with. Jocelyn loves attending Elysia and the all-night society’s seemingly endless stream of parties, balls, and salons, “even if I don’t get invited to them all.” She complains of Caroline being a “hermit” and is lukewarm to the idea of a coming-out party held for the benefit of Anarchs. “What, you want to throw some punk rock concert? The First and Second Estates throw the only parties worth attending,” she scoffs. “I mean I guess there’s a few okay Anarchs, but lots are meatheads like Eight-Nine-Six.”
Caroline: Caroline points out that unlike Jocelyn, right now she doesn’t get invites to any of those parties, balls, or salons. All the same, she waves her history at high-priced high society galas as evidence of her eventual intentions and though it does not begin immediately, as her Requiem beings to stabilize she does not have to be talked into visits to Elysium events. She keeps a relatively low profile, socializing politely and doing more listening than talking.
GM: The Ventrue finds her presence all but overlooked (though never to the point of loose lips) by other Kindred. The primary knowledge she gleans is that the opening of every Elysium Primo is officiated with a prayer and religious ritual, often by Gus Elgin (who is both master of Elysium and one of the Anointed). Midnight Mass is held weekly. Kindred with object to participating in Sanctified religious ceremonies have the “option” of simply not attending Elysium.
Jocelyn does not seem particularly happy by Caroline’s behavior and declares that the Ventrue “so boring” to go out with. “Nobody even talked to you. People don’t like wallflowers, y’know.”
Caroline: Nonetheless, Caroline is not idle in those visits. She watches and she learns. She watches to see who the centers of attention are, and why. The kinds of gossip of interest. The connections and interactions that exist.
GM: Once a week concurrently with Midnight Mass, Philip Maldonato holds formal court on Vidal’s behalf. This is often at church (every church in New Orleans is Elysium), such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Alphonsus in the Garden District, or any of the city’s other, near-equally old and venerable houses of God. Caroline never ceases to feel faintly sick in them. The chosen site is always the Elysium Primo for that night.
Court always opens with Midnight Mass and a sermon whose preacher often varies throughout the weeks. Vidal was a figure of dark majesty, whose powerful words reverberated in Caroline’s chest and felt as if God Almighty were judging her soul—and finding it wanting.
Maldonato, in contrast, is an eloquent and more cerebral orator who often begins his sermons by presenting spiritual dilemmas for the congregation to considers. He weaves seamless blends of theology, philosophy, and occasionally metaphysics into subtle answers that slowly creep over the parishioners like the rising sun, only to finally illuminate them with profound truths revealing the Kindred purpose in God’s plan.
Father Elgin relies more heavily upon the Testament of Longinus and the mortal Bible. He begins his sermons with innocuous verses and parables that lead towards some subtle yet inescapably powerful truth whose merits seem almost startlingly obvious in hindsight.
Father Malveaux zealously stresses absolute obedience to God’s will and acceptance of the Kindred’s damned nature. He backs his arguments with a hard and pitiless intellectual framework that brooks no dissension or dispute. He rails against the Sanctified’s many enemies, especially the “heathens” and “weak of faith” and calls on all Sanctified to serve as soldiers in God’s army.
Other Anointed occasionally preach sermons too. Mother Doriocourt’s are much like Father Malveaux’s in tone, and rely on fewer scriptural references but are cooler and smoother in their delivery.
Father Polk’s sermons are the most humble, direct, and plain-spoken, drawing heavily upon the Testament.
Caroline does not have chance to see Father Morrow sermonize.
All of the Sanctified theologians speak extensively of the Biblical Caine, his primeval sin against God, and Longinus being the first of their kind to accept his damned nature as not merely a punishment, but a mandate. The priests bring up different topics every week. Many of these are relevant to contemporary concerns among Kindred and kine alike, such as the theological impetus for the Masquerade when a foolish vampire endangers it, or the Kindred’s purpose as punishers of the wicked during a high-profile mortal crime.
After the sermon concludes, Kindred priests clad in black robes with blue-trimmed vestments proceed liturgical prayers and recitations with a great deal of pomp and ritual. A mortal vessel is ritually bled into a ruby-encrusted chalice before a black altar (set beneath a lance rather than crucifix). This act is always presided over by Father Malveaux or Father Elgin rather than Maldonato: it is not for laity. The smell of incense is thick in the air as the priest lays their blessing upon the sacred chalice and transubstantiates its blood. Faithful Sanctified then proceed forward to take communion. Elders and other esteemed members of the covenant go first: Caroline and other neonates go last. All Kindred eventually imbibe from the communion chalice, which never seems to run empty, and whose nectar tastes altogether distinct from any kine vitae that Caroline has sampled. This vitae, the Anointed declare, is sacrosanct and the blood of Longinus. Through Longinus, it is also the blood of Christ—for the Savior’s life was the first blood tasted by the Dark Prophet (this ultimate sin having cursed him to vampirism without a sire, just as God Almighty cursed Caine before him). The Sanctified thus believe, and in an extremely literal sense, that they are set apart from Christ’s mortal faithful, and yet they do still exist within his grace. They still drink the blood of Christ—yet it is sinfully obtained. They pay for that sin every night.
Once Mass has been concluded, the black altar and its crucifix-like lance are moved away. Two throne-like chairs are installed in their place. One is positioned a single step higher than the other. Maldonato assumes the lower throne, leaving the empty one staring down from behind him, and formally convenes court. Any and all Kindred attendees are free to leave at this point, but no vampire who was absent for Midnight Mass is permitted to attend Prince Vidal’s court. One of the hounds (Rocco for this week) stands guard by the church’s doors. One either participates in the religion of the Lancea et Sanctum, sits and listens to the gospel of its priests (non-Sanctified are exempted from and indeed ineligible to take communion), or one is excluded from the city’s most important Elysium. The Sanctified and Invictus are thus regular and numerous attendees, Anarchs attend more sporadically (Coco is usually present), and Caroline does not recognize any of the Baron’s followers. That could also simply be due to her own ignorance. She does not recognize any Tremere either, who are said to be partisans of Vidal’s, or followers of the rumored Ordo Dracul.
Maldonato issues proclamations and edicts in Prince Vidal’s name, receives Kindred petitioners with matters they wish to (publicly) bring before His Majesty’s attention, and dispenses judgment for crimes and disputes not so grave as to warrant their own exclusive gatherings. Better-informed newcomers to the city try to present themselves before the seneschal at such dates. Maldonato receives most cordially, a smaller number warmly, and grants most permission to remain in the city on a temporary basis. Seemingly no Kindred who heed the Fifth Tradition are refused from the city outright… vampires who would be regarded as so obviously incorrigible likely do not bother present themselves at all.
Gossip and chatter takes place concurrently (though more quietly) while Maldonato officiates the prince’s business from his throne. Once this matter is concluded, and with a final benediction from one of the Anointed, Kindred begin to socialize among themselves in earnest. Mortal artists and/or musicians, or some other entertaining diversion, are sometimes brought forward to provide a centerpiece to the evening’s remaining social activities. Gus Elgin never ceases to find ways to keep things interesting despite the regularity of the venue (usually a church). Still, it’s clear that Friday Elysia are where the best entertainments are.
Those Elysia show considerably more variety in their locations: one night it might be at the Civil War Museum, where Kindred attendees can admire and discuss the historic pieces. Another night, it might be at the Hotel Storyville and have more the feel of a private house party. Caroline recalls her last two Elysia at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Orpheum Theater. A few Elysia are even held in less conventional locales such as the New Orleans Public Library or Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but the party organizers always find a way to keep them interesting if not novel. Compared to the decadence and debauchery rumored to take place at private Kindred fetes, however, the Elysia Caroline attends feel positively cerebral. The “real fun,” Jocelyn has said, or simply opportunities to socialize with a different or more limited crowd of Kindred, takes place at private parties. Caroline has yet to receive an invitation to any of these.
Antoine Savoy also holds his own court in the French Quarter on Saturdays. Jocelyn says she should never go to those.
Caroline also learns about Elysium’s true powers: the harpies.
Maldonato and Savoy may be the brains that direct their courts, and Gus Elgin may be the skeletal system that holds Elysium together, but the harpies are its heart—or perhaps its tongue. They are the grand dames of society, the lives of the party, the queen bees, the “in” crowd, the popular clique, and social judges, juries, and executioners par force. They tell other Kindred what is and is not proper behavior. They may raise Kindred high with their praises or cast them low with their scorn, and are far more generous in dispensing the latter. Violence and disciplines are forbidden in Elysium. The only weapons Kindred may employ are words—and the harpies are grand masters at those weapons. A sneer here, a scathing remark here, can cut and bleed a vampire’s pride until they must flee Elysium in shame, lest the harpies’ scathing words drive their Beasts to frenzy. The harpies relish making examples of vampires who do not measure up to their standards. It is their foremost entertainment. Only the most exalted Kindred are exempted from their barbs—and even such luminaries as Savoy and Maldonato seemingly have little desire to pull them away from their victims (there seems no better term to use) once their claws come out. Collectively, the coterie is known as ‘the murder’—after ‘a murder of harpies’.
Few would contest the name’s appropriateness.
Jocelyn, meanwhile, heaves an effected sigh and says she’s going to “hang out with Kindred who know how to have fun” before striding off. Caroline is left alone among the sea of pale faces. The Ventrue feels the blood bond tugging at her like a leash. Some part of her yearns to follow after the Toreador, to win back her approval. It’s not for nothing that young Kindred like Jocelyn nickname it ‘the collar’.
But she does not get the chance. The harpies have scented blood.
“You there, neonate!” Adelais Seyrès imperiously calls towards Caroline. The Ventrue remembers the harpy all-too vividly from her first meeting with McGinn. “You seem alone here. Are you without friends?”
The Kindred nearest to Caroline begin to melt away.
“Yes, observe how she stares and skulks from the shadows like some would-be Nosferatu. Does she seek to make friends by joining the sewer rats?” derides the next of the harpies, a fat and pale-faced woman with jet black hair.
“Observe the vacant and noncomprehending stare on her cow-like face. Perhaps we should subject it to the sun’s rays,” Veronica Alsten-Pirrie sneers, her green eyes smoldering. “We could make her a Nosferatu in flesh and spirit both.”
“Don’t fret, ducky, Primogen Opal will surely nurse you back to health,” croons a buxom, wavy-haired redhead.
“Yes, neonate, tell us: why are you so alone among this gathering of friends?” Adelais demands. The contempt on the Toreador’s features could be etched from ice.
Caroline: Caroline, however, is no idle victim. Even if she were not a senator’s daughter, even if she were not a social alpha in her mortal life among her social circles, and even if she were not the too proud secret childe of the city’s most powerful elder, with a raging Beast of her own to rival that of any ancilla, Caroline is an erudite fencer, and much the same principles apply here. And she is not unarmed.
In comes the thrust. ‘Nosferatu’, ‘cow-faced’, ‘without friends’. Parry.
“Certainly, Madam Beaumont, any neonate would be honored by the attentions and patronage of such a distinguished personage as Primogen Opal, but alas I fear such is not to be, what with the way in which renown individuals such as yourself have already taken it upon themselves to provide their own guidance and wisdom to me.”
She turns to Alsten-Pirrie. “Forgive me, I thought that light following you around, Madam Alsten-Pirrie, might be just that, though now I see it must instead be the spotlight. I can see too how from within it all else might seem cast in shadow, but I dare say it would be presumptuous to step into the limelight.”
GM: “Presumptuous. How fitting a choice of words,” Adelais acidly replies.
What follows can only be described as a tightrope walk over a sea of piranhas. Caroline plies the harpies with compliments and flattery. The murder will not let themselves be so easily won over—or perhaps simply finds it amusing to see how long Caroline can keep turning venom into honey. The Ventrue endures scathing critiques of her appearance, breeding, dress, prior and present behavior, and every other failing and inadequacy one could possibly imagine.
But she maintains an unyielding front. She catches their arrows of scorn and fires back sweet-smelling roses. Mocking laughter turns sardonic, then wry, then amused. The murder has scented blood, but perhaps, at least for now, sweet words are enough to sate their appetite. Perhaps it is more amusing to watch this prey caper and dance than to die.
Their bellies glutted with flattery, the murder finally withdraws as some other matter—some further prey—draws their collective attentions. Caroline hears scripture being quoted. It might be a theological discussion. Fangs and talons sheathe. The many eyes upon her turn away.
She wonders how fast her heart would be racing were she still alive.
Caroline: The scene itself is far more frustrating and humiliating than any of the hags’ words. In her mortal life not only would none have attempted such a stunt, not only would she have crushed them if they had, but she would have wielded such shrews as her own scalpels.
No, the words don’t hurt. The petty taunts. Not after having the flesh ripped from her body, not after causing the death of her brother, not after the sheer horrific physical violence she’s suffered. What hurts is that she has to endure it at all.
GM: Caroline can observe the murder of harpies already converging on some new target. The Ventrue’s indignities at their hands appear, at least, to be shared by others.
Caroline: And that’s exactly it. As a mortal she was special. She was influential and powerful. She was exceptional. Here she’s just another neonate—no, little better than Caitiff, with no sire, no respect, no place, and (if she can’t again accomplish the impossible) no future.
Perhaps in that the harpies accomplished their goal. They drove that dagger in further still, just when she’d thought it could cut no deeper, when she’d thought it was starting to scab over. Blood in the water indeed.
She has little taste for further socialization.