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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Seven, Caroline VIII

“There’s never any shortage o’ room at the bottom.”
Pierpont McGinn


Monday night, 11 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s next meeting with a clanmate after Marcel takes her back to the same house in the Garden District where she usually meets Becky Lynne. The Ventrue is not there, but the vampire who has been described as her broodmate is.

Gabriel Hurst is a rectangular-faced man seemingly in his late 20s or early 30s with thick black hair, a short beard of the same color, and bright blue eyes. He’s dressed in a gray jacket and pants with a light blue button-up shirt and no tie. He’s seated on the couch where Caroline normally finds Becky Lynne and working on a laptop rather than tablet as a ghoul ushers her into the sitting room and introduces its occupant as “The Honorable Gabriel Hurst, Primogen, Esquire, Aedile, Knight Bachelor of the Order of the White Cross, and Deacon.”

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Caroline: Caroline shows enough surprise to be polite, and after introductions are exchanged continues coyly, “Aedile Hurst, to what do I owe the honor of your attention this evening?”

GM: “Your sire and my sister, as it may be,” Hurst answers in a thick Louisiana drawl as he rises from kissing Caroline’s hand. “Right this way, Miss Malveaux. We’ll be goin’ on a field trip.”

Caroline: “As you will, Aedile Hurst.” She adopts an intrigued, and perhaps amused, smile.

GM: The two get into Hurst’s silver, slightly older-model Ford. The older Ventrue drives it himself and stops off first at Cullem’s Cuts, the barber shop where Caroline met his ghoul what seems like another era ago.

John McCullem is gumming an unlit cigar in his mouth and tidying up the empty shop as the two Ventrue step inside to the sound of a chiming shop’s door. He greets them with a, “Miss Malveaux, Master Gabe—forgive me, Aedile Hurst with company around,” the silver-mustached ghoul says with a wink.

Hurst chuckles as he greets the ghoul and sits down with him on one of the old-fashioned red leather chairs. McCullem talks literal shop with his domitor about how the business is doing: he starts with how one of the younger barbers suggested they install gaming consoles to keep the kids entertained. Another barber thought that sounded good initially, but then, maybe not: they have magazines and “kids oughta read more these days.” Part of the shop’s appeal with their customers is its retro image, too. On the other hand, there are drawbacks to looking too retro—especially for Kindred. Lots of businesses these days like to go for a retro modern look; embracing the new while evoking the spirit of the old. It can be a fine line to straddle, though, and ‘spirit’ can be an easy thing to get wrong, or just slightly off-kilter.

“What do you think, Miss Malveaux—how should we keep the younger customers entertained?” Hurst asks.

Caroline: Caroline mulls the idea for only a moment before responding, “My father, among the kine, rarely brought me to a place like this. Only really when I was really young,” she gestures to the barber shop, “though I know he still makes use of them, and that he brought my brothers with him with some frequency—and perhaps still does.” She smiles. “Something about how it’s part of the world of men, that he wanted to share with his ‘boys’. I was only an interloper until they were old enough.” There’s an almost wistfulness to her commentary.

“For much of the clientèle here, I imagine it must be much the same. There are cheaper, more modern, places to get a haircut, and a shave can await them in their bathroom sink if they truly desire.” Her gaze sweeps across the retro barber shop. “For them this is a place where, if they bring their sons, they can introduce them to masculine ways.” She chuckles, remembering her visits from her childhood more in feelings than specifics. “Man talk.”

“I’d not interrupt that careful harmony with a bunch of games that damage the atmosphere and distract from the image. If you felt compelled to, Aedile Hurst, I would do so carefully. Perhaps a vintage pinball machine, coin fed. Something they can use to entertain their children if need be from their own past, but that requires their ascent. In truth though, if they really do want to entertain their children and be left alone, their phones these days are the easy option. I think most would rather their children learn as much from this place, rather than occupy their attention while here.”

GM: Hurst smiles at Caroline’s answer. “You’re right, Miss Malveaux, that atmosphere is something we consider carefully in a place like this. As you say, people who just want a haircut have other options. Cheaper options.”

McCullem chuckles. “This one knows. He owns another barber shop, on the other side of town. More modern one. I’m half-convinced it’s only to keep tabs on how the competition does things.”

“You’re right about those father-son moments too, ma’am. Kids have enough distractions with just their phones these days.”

“Yes, I think we can skip the video game console,” says Hurst. “Use the money to upgrade the coffee machine. How’s the current one holding up, John?”

“It’s still got another few years left in it, Master Gabe, but I think…”

Hurst and McCullem spend the next few minutes discussing assorted minutiae of running a barber shop: replacing chairs and upholstery (one of the most expensive and important items in a barber shop, it turns out), which magazines to keep and keep up to date, placing supply orders, and how effective their current advertising methods are.

The older Ventrue regularly asks for Caroline’s input on these topics, particularly where social media presences and web design and advertising are concerned. It’s plain that neither the ghoul nor Caroline’s older clanmate are ignorant of the internet’s importance, but talking to them about it is rather like talking to Uncle Orson or her grandmother Camillia. There’s just a gulf.

Caroline: Caroline does her best to provide answers that bridge that gulf, though her relative lack of direct business experience and knowledge of their chosen industry hampers her in some ways. She’s quick to suggest that though print may be a dying art, it’s also more likely to be of greater appeal to those that value traditions like a barber shop, and that if they do continue with online advertisements such things might be better directed to the local news prints’ online presence: that such things are dirt cheap by advertising standards is no small plus.

“I picture those that are interested in something like this as more interested in their local community—and local papers have trouble with internet advertisers as it is.”

GM: Hurst and McCullem both agree with Caroline’s assessment. As she says, many of their customers are particularly likely to still read newspapers. Her points on online advertising lead to a brief foray over the state of the Times-Picayune; for a couple years the newspaper scaled back its paper presence and focused on online content, but did that with the benefit of an existing customer base. More and more papers seem to be doing that these days.

“We lucked out how the Picayune’s back in daily print,” McCullem says.

“Mr. Garcia may be partly to thank for that,” his domitor replies.

Another topic that comes up is informal performance reviews for the shop’s barbers. Skill at conversation is essential for a barber, particularly at a shop like this which focuses more on atmosphere than economy, McCullem explains to Caroline. Barbers have literally captive audiences and can build real rapports with customers to keep them coming back.

“One thing you noticed despite all the customers being gone, Miss Malveaux, is that Cullem’s Cuts is a boys-centric business,” Hurst says to Caroline. “Most of our customers are male and feel, I think, most at ease around male barbers. They see this place as a male space.”

“We recently had a lady barber apply for a position here,” continues McCullem, the unlit cigar in his mouth briefly dipping towards the floor. “I turned her down and she’s threatening to file suit for gender discrimination.”

“Got any thoughts on how we should handle that, Miss Malveaux?” Hurst asks Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite roll her eyes, but it’s a close thing. “Of course she is, Aedile Hurst.” She is all but openly contemptuous of the idea when he mentions the lawsuit.

She gives a moment of thought to his question.

“I expect it depends on what you’re after in terms of solution, Aedile Hurst. From a purely law-related standpoint, the most expeditious answer to most frivolous lawsuits is settlement. Once a matter goes to court it almost always costs far more in legal fees than almost any settlement will pay out, and oftentimes people can be bought out for hard pennies on the dollar.”

“Most resist the idea of essentially paying off threats—and reasonably so—but the numbers are quite clear. That’s hardly the only option, though, depending on one’s interest, commitment, and resources. Particularly the resources that ones such as ourselves enjoy.”

GM: “The clan’s new lawyer,” Hurst chuckles to McCullem. “But say this was your business, Miss Malveaux. What would you want to do?”

Caroline: She shows teeth. “I don’t like being threatened, Aedile Hurst. I’d probably have someone investigate her background—and with the gifts of some Kindred that grows all the easier—and look for something conventional to hold over her in turn. I’d also, if possible in the future, develop a salon in parallel to help nip these problems in the bud by having a carrot available to offer such applicants vice only the door. As the country grows increasingly liberal, such scenarios may only become more common.”

“I’d also consider, either as an alternative or in addition to either option burying ownership of the business deeply behind LLCs and shell corporations to make it difficult to even get a complaint or case off the ground. It’s a somewhat petty legal method, but for smaller claims like this even the shiftiest lawyer most often doesn’t want to go through the headache of trying to find out whom he’s trying to sue, assets available, and and where to file and where to serve if he does go far.”

GM: “A lawyer’s answer, Master Gabe,” McCullem says to his domitor with a chuckle. “But perhaps one we could use.”

“And one that we can use, John,” Hurst replies before turning to Caroline. “You’ve an eye for the long term, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Empires aren’t built in a day, Aedile Hurst,” comes her deadly serious response before she breaks into a smile and continues more coyly, “And I’m told that while I have few enough days left, I might enjoy a great many nights.”

GM: “Yes, empires,” Hurst says thoughtfully. “John, what else do you have for us tonight?”

“A few things here and there, Master Gabe…” the ghoul begins.

The rest of the pair’s discussions don’t take long. Caroline picks up that a barber shop’s hierarchy is determined by seating when they talk about the other barbers (ones with more seniority get chairs closest to the door), but it’s a brief tangent. McCullem talks about some other seemingly unrelated businesses with his domitor, including the other across-town shop that Hurst owns. He suggests redirecting the “lady barber” in a similar vein to what Caroline suggested with the salon, which Hurst approves of. The two Ventrue are soon headed back out the door.

Their next stop is a grocery store several blocks away. The manager ddresses Hurst as “Caleb.” The older Ventrue introduces Caroline as the relative of a “family friend” and talks shop with the woman about inventory, personnel, the physical state of the building, and a few tangentially legal-related issues. All of it seems quite mundane.

Another drive takes them to a clothing store and boy’s private school in the Lower Garden District, a hardware store and construction company in Mid-City, a landscaping business in Uptown, a restaurant in the CBD, and other businesses ranging from ice cream parlors to plumbing services to apartment rentals. Many such businesses are closed at this hour of the night, but simply drives by the location and talks with someone over the phone (in speaker mode for Caroline). Many of the people Hurst talks to address him as a boss, but not all of them do. Some relate to the Ventrue as an investor, others as a partner, others as a trustee board member, and some as a financial backer they hope to woo.

Hurst continues to solicit Caroline’s opinion on many of the topics that arise, which concern everything from the nitty-gritty (dealing with suppliers and shoplifters) to the broad (economic trends and their impact on certain job sectors) to the social (dealing with personal problems and ethical questions among employees).

“If you had to take a gander, Miss Malveaux, what domain do you think I hold?” Hurst finally asks as darkened cityscape rolls past the car’s window.

Caroline: Barber shop, grocery store, private school, hardware store, construction company, landscaping, restaurants, ice cream parlor, apartment rentals. Caroline only takes a moment to answer, having been privately considering that very topic for some time.

“Blindly speculating, Aedile Hurst, I would offer that you hold an array of seemingly unrelated properties across the city—perhaps as part of a broader set of services of use to many in Clan Ventrue as a whole.”

GM: “Good guess, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst answers. “I like to think of my business holdings as being like the perfect Thanksgiving dinner—a little bit of everything. What sorts of benefits and drawbacks do you see to that?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Influence, for and to most those outside the ‘1%’,” she uses the term with an ironic smile, “tends to revolve around what one can do for them. The ability to produce a job in a field they want with a phone call, arrange an apartment, or fix a day-to-day problem, or get someone into a school.” She’s seen these levers pulled many times.

“That’s real power insofar as day-to-day life.” She runs her tongue over her fangs. “Especially dispersed as it is here. I imagine that when another Kindred—or a kine—needs any such specific task, you must be in high demand, Aedile Hurst. As you note, you offer potentially a little bit of everything.”

“Additional upsides include the distributed and disbursed nature of your domain. It would be very difficult for any one rival or foe to take apart such a domain with ease—not only for difficulty in identifying it, but for difficulty in leveraging their own resources in so many areas.”

GM: “That it would,” Hurst smiles. “And you probably guessed our tour hasn’t covered all of it.”

Caroline: She pauses and nods before continuing, “Of drawbacks, though, I think this night shows several. Among them are the amount of different matters you juggle each night, Aedile Hurst. The number of projects you must keep tabs on and running appropriately. Generalization is difficult to maintain specialty in by its nature. And that’s before crossing to domains and the many that you work in. We’ve been to almost every respectable neighborhood in the city, and I imagine that even for one as well-regarded as yourself, all of those relationships and commitments present their own added challenge.”

GM: “There’s a cost to that,” Hurst nods. “I have arrangements with a fair number of Kindred. I operate a business in their territory, they get a slice of the profits, or sometimes other favors. I learned a while back to always offer profits in exchange, when I can. That doesn’t cost me anything much, not really. Not when I have forever to expand.”

Caroline: That perks Caroline’s interest. “Is that a typical arrangement?”

GM: “Oh, my sister hasn’t explained contracts of fealty to you yet?” Hurst asks.

Caroline: “We spoke about it in brief, and she mentioned such was an option, but I wasn’t aware that many regents and esquires were willing to accept such an arrangement in lieu of boons.”

GM: “Well, don’t get your hopes too up, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst smiles ruefully. “Most won’t. But here’s how it is with me.”

“Now, if my sister hasn’t explained this yet, the standard feudal contract is for feeding territory and right of hexis, or mortal influence—that’s taken from a similar Greek word to the ‘praxis’ we say princes have. A ‘half-contract’ is for just one of both, with rent only collected half as often.”

Hurst smiles again. “Now, not many Kindred will accept rent paid exclusively in money. That’s why, when I want to set up shop in another Kindred’s territory, I ask for pretty modest demands.”

“I don’t ask to take over an existing business there and promise I’ll somehow run it better. Instead, I’ll promise to create a new business out of nothing, in one of the emptier parts of their territory. Say some old apartments have been condemned by the city as unsafe.”

“Well, those get torn down, and I’ll open up a new flower store, pizza joint, new apartment building, whatever looks most profitable. I won’t ask for any domain or authority outside of that place’s walls. I make it an attractive part of the neighborhood, and it’s suddenly drawing more kine and money to the area who weren’t there before. That’s already a good thing. But the Kindred I’ve struck a deal with also gets a cut of the profits.”

“So they can have all those benefits, or they can have none of them. I don’t ask for anything else. Most Kindred are a lot happier to swallow that sort of arrangement than, say, if I can create a few ghouls inside a company they already own.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I can see how that would be more appealing, even if it does require a longer vision and one’s thumb on the pulse of each domain.”

GM: “Empires aren’t built in a night, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst rejoinds.

Caroline: Another smile.

GM: “Still, I can imagine it’s a topic of some interest to yourself.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Of course it’s of interest, though I don’t exactly intend of trying to expand influence across the city in quite the same way.”

GM: “How would you like to, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “More directly service oriented, Aedile Hurst, with less direct ownership and potential interference in domains,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Gerousiastis Guilbeau mentioned your plans there, Miss Malveaux. I hope tonight’s field trip has been educational—or raised some new questions for you to chew over.”

Caroline: “It has, Aedile Hurst,” Caroline replies pleasantly. “Hopefully I was not simply a burden.”

GM: “Perish the thought,” he grins.


Thursday night, 14 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s next meeting with a clanmate takes her to a familarly gigantic 4-story stone mansion with grounds enormous enough to be a public park. The house is built in the Richardson Romanesque Revival style, and even on the millionaire’s row that is St. Charles Avenue, it dwarfs its neighbors.

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Caroline: It’s rather different than her last visit here. All the same, this time she brought a rental.

GM: An armed escort leads Caroline through the house. It has rare and expensive ‘flame’ mahogany covering the inside, antique tapestries, stained glass windows, and mantels from the mid-1700s. Caroline heard the stately home even has a bed once owned by Marie Antoinette.

They come to a stop in a luxuriously appointed living room. Richly upholstered, gold-decorated furniture, persian rugs, and classical portraits dominate the surroundings. Two crossed cavalry sabers hang over the empty fireplace, along with the portrait of a dashing, square-jawed, blond-haired man dressed in the gray uniform of a Confederate military officer.

Most prominently displayed is a family tree with names and genealogies that trace all the way back to Caine, whose birth date reads simply Genesis 4:1. It’s a shorter tree than others Caroline has seen, partly because each name only has one rather than two ‘parents’ listed above it. The genealogy of the house’s master proudly traces back, Pierpont McGinn, Troy Hansen, Alejandro Rojas y Batiz, Decimus Titus Optatus, Etewoklewes, Medon, Ventrue, Enoch, Caine.

It’s the same room where McGinn had her whipped.
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Caroline: Tonight the heiress is alone and dressed in a black dress that leaves her shoulders almost bare and hangs to mid-knee, flaring only at the bottom. It’s minimalist by her standards, but showcases her lithe build. As before, heels accentuate her height: she looks down on most of the escorts.

GM: And for that matter, most people. Caroline waits for a few minutes before the room’s double doors swing open.

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The same young-looking female ghoul as last time strides in. She’s a blue-eyed strawberry blonde with perfect Aryan announces. She announces her master’s entrance with, “Kneel in the presence of the Honorable Lord Pierpont McGinn, Regent of Uptown, Gerousiastis, Knight Banneret of the Knights of the Blood, Councilor of the Prima Invicta, Commissioner, and Earl.”

Caroline: It still grates on her nerves, on her pride, but she’s doing the best she can to turn her relationship around, and refusing the demand is a poor way to start. She takes scant comfort in the poise with which she does so and validation in her clothing choice. Something longer, or tighter, might have made things awkward.

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GM: Pierpont McGinn watches Caroline kneel with an air of lazy contentment. The tall, dirty blond-haired and chalky blue-eyed Ventrue is dressed in an immaculate white seersucker suit, gray dress shirt, and red necktie. He plops down on one of the room’s chairs and accepts a proferred cigar from the ghoul.

“This is a better way for you ta be sayin’ hello than last time, Miss Malveaux, wouldn’t you reckon?” McGinn smiles.

Part of Caroline, the part that drank his blood all those months ago, cannot help but bask in his words. At his voice. He’s not angry at her.

Caroline: “It is certainly under better circumstances, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she agrees from the floor.

GM: “You have ma leave to rise,” McGinn declares magnanimously as the ghoul lights his cigar. Caroline’s Beast instinctively rears at the tiny flame’s brief presence.

Caroline: The younger Ventrue clamps down on that fatal instinct and mostly avoids shaking as she gracefully rises from her feet, like a queen rising from a throne. She cannot let that monster out here, especially now that she knows how the game is played.

“Thank you, Gerousiastis.”

GM: McGinn idly motions towards a chair with the smoking cigar.

Caroline: She slides sinuously into it, trying to avoid shying away from the waving brand.

GM: “How much do ya hate me, Miss Malveaux?” the older Ventrue smiles at her over a puff of his cigar.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t smile.

“We didn’t meet under very favorable circumstances, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she admits.

GM: McGinn takes another puff from his cigar.

Caroline: “What followed wasn’t better.”

She remembers getting whipped to ribbons like it was yesterday. Whipped by a ghoul. Stripped naked. After his ghouls attacked her on the side of the road. Her anger, her self-righteous indignation still burns hot, even months later. Even with the bond pulling on her, demanding his approval.

Ultimately, though, it is less the bond that pushes her to continue than something else: a pull to success. A demand that she swallow her pride here. That she make this work.

“A Requiem can be a long time, though, Gerousiastis, and if I held a grudge for every regrettable encounter in my earliest nights I fear there’d be very few Kindred in the city with whom I could hold a conversation.” She finally cracks a smile. “At least those of dignified breeding.”

GM: “From what I hear, Miss Malveaux, they hate ya jus’ fine on their own,” McGinn drawls back.

The older Ventrue snaps his fingers. The blonde, pretty-faced ghoul withdraws from the room.

When she reappears, it’s with two more ghouls—large, burly men half-carrying two more figures. The first is a black man. The second is a black boy in his early teens, with his hair in cornrows. Both are bound and gagged with duct tape and dressed in perspiration-soaked and slightly t-shirts and jeans.

The ghouls dump the pair on the floor by McGinn’s and Caroline’s feet. The older male emits what sounds like muffled swearing past his tape gag, but freezes when one of the ghouls holds a gun to his head. The kid just freezes.

“What’s past is past, Miss Malveaux. I’m a man who looks ta the future,” McGinn declares.

Caroline: “I’m happy to hear it, Gerousiastis McGinn. I know how easy it is for a first impression to make the wrong one.” Caroline pays the two black males as little attention as possible.

GM: McGinn clucks his tongue. “I don’t believe in wrong impressions, Miss Malveaux. Not really.”

“I believe in wrong people, though. People who are born shitheads and blame circumstance fer their own fuckups.”

“Let’s talk about the future. What do you bring to the clan?” the older Ventrue asks.

There’s a light puff of his cigar over the two duct-taped males’ heavy breathing.

Caroline: His words dig into her pride again, and the smoke is an ever present bite against her control of the Beast, but she doesn’t rise to the bait.

“I understand there’s a void left in the legal field with the departure of your sister-in-blood Rebecca DeMatthews, Gerousiastis McGinn. I intend on filling it. And anywhere else I can find that does not step on the toes of a member of Clan Ventrue or an important ally. Whatever damage my pursuit of René Baristheaut did to the reputation of Clan Ventrue, I will undo.” She leans forward. “And whatever it takes to not kneel on a floor again, I am willing to do.”

GM: McGinn barks a laugh.

“I give two hoots and a holler about Questor Baristheaut, Miss Malveaux.”

Another puff from that cigar, but a harder edge to his smile.

“I care a lot more what Gerousiastis Malveaux says about ya, though.”

Caroline: “And what does Gerousiastis Malveaux say, Gerousiastis McGinn?” she asks.

GM: Another puff. A slight widening to his grin.

“Oh, I’d be just tickled ta hear your opinion there, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Her eyes remain hard. “Father Malveaux was the first to discover my Embrace. He attempted to lead me down an appropriate path.” She pauses for a moment. “I wasn’t prepared to go.”

GM: Another expectant puff from the cigar. Loud breathing from the two duct-taped males, furtive eyes still sweeping over the room.

Caroline: “I have nothing but the highest respect for Gerousiastis Malveaux. He was trying to help. I was too foolish to realize how much.”

GM: “That’s all o’ it, then?” McGinn boredly drawls.

Caroline: “Is it the place of a neonate to speak otherwise of a member of the Gerousia?” Caroline asks seriously.

GM: “Yer so full o’ shit it’s a wonder yer eyes ain’t brown, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline swallows her anger again, but can’t resist a response.

“That my relationship with Gerousiastis Malveaux has been strained from the moment he laid eyes upon me is no secret Gerousiastis McGinn. And why not? I was by my Embrace an infringement upon his domain that he caught infringing upon his domain that resisted and was horrified by the message of faith he preached. By simply existing I remain a headache for his continued management of his domain.”

She pauses. “I could enumerate the many grievances we might have against one another, but hold them to be of little value if I am to have any future in Clan Ventrue,” she finishes firmly.

GM: “Tell me then, Miss Malveaux, what future do ya see for yerself in the clan, with things as they are now?” McGinn asks.

The two bound black males follow the pair’s conversation with looks of simultaneous confusion and apprehension.

Caroline: “Poor. Limited.” Another pause. “Unlikely.”

GM: Another puff of the cigar. McGinn looks expectant, still. Maybe even more. But no longer toying at all. His grin is gone.

Caroline: “Poor relationships with half of the Gerousia bodes ill. I expect such with any one member might be enough. Even if by some virtue of propriety none object overtly, beginning with enemies among the most powerful Ventrue in the city seems to chase failure.”

GM: Another puff. That same, still-expectant look.

Caroline: “That is why I came to you early in the process, Gerousiastis McGinn.” The heiress continues. “I hope that a first meeting did not hopelessly poison any future between us, and if it did, I would know early, before consuming the time of others within the clan in an entirely selfish endeavor with little prospects.”

GM: “I don’t much like ta repeat myself, Miss Malveaux,” McGinn drawls. “What’s past is past. I’m a man who looks ta the future.”

Another puff of the cigar.

“Rightchere, that’s yours with the good father, and the rest o’ our peers.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t frown, but the stern expression on her face deepens. “I am, and have been, working to remove myself as much as possible from affairs surrounding Gerousiastis Malveaux’s domain. The matter is complicated by the recent death of my brother and a desire to avoid bringing too much attention—or worse negative attention—to it in too short of a time. I think given time, stability within the Sanctified, and distance from matters he cares for so deeply, that passions may cool.”

“Among the rest, I’ve had relatively productive meetings with Gerousiastis Guilbeau, Aediles Hurst, and of course Questor Adler.”

“With their guidance I’ve begun to set up a fledgling domain,” (is that a hint of a smile at the use of the word?), “of my own in the Central Business District, and even entertained a handful of Kindred ‘clients’ willing to test the waters of a newcomer.”

GM: McGinn takes another puff of his cigar and looks towards the older of the duct-taped males. Caroline can still smell his fear, sweat, and of course, lifebloood. Even drying.

“You see, Miss Malveaux, that kine there…” The older Ventrue starts, then trails off with a wide grin.

“Ah, it don’t matter. He’s done me wrong. What should I do with ’im?”

Caroline: Caroline’s sweeps her gaze to the bound kine. She doesn’t wonder what he might have done to wrong her clanmate: she can easily speculate as to several possible options, including simply existing as a black man or coming here to send a message.

“Whatever you wish, Gerousiastis McGinn. He is one of the kine.”

The smell of the smoke, the flickering tip of the cigar, and the blood in the air battle for her attention, but she tries to remain clearheaded.

“His presence for the rest of this conversation however makes me suspect your question is more about how to arrive at an end, rather than what end to arrive at. Unless I miss my guess, Gerousiastis McGinn?” She looks up and to the older Ventrue.

GM: McGinn snubs out the cigar into an ash tray and stares at Caroline.

“I asked you, girl,” he drawls in a low voice. “If ya don’t much care fer yer opinion bein’ asked, I can tell the rest o’ the Structure ta stop. That ya’d rather grovel on the floor than sit at the table.”

He holds out a hand and the comely ghoul produces another fat cigar. There’s another too-long wisp of fire, and then more smoke wafting from the Ventrue’s grinning mouth as he puffs on the newly-lit cigar.

“There’s never any shortage o’ room at the bottom.”

Caroline: She clenches her jaw through the next flash of flame. Doing it to make a point, she decides. She’s seen her uncle smoke on occasion, but it’s just that, on occasion. Never in sequence.

The thought is swept away with the next wave of scorn from McGinn.

“You have two, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she gestures. “At least one as wronged you enough to be brought before you in this way. Kill one, frame the other that committed the lesser offense for the murder for a cleaner package before the Masquerade, while also providing him an opportunity to suffer and potentially turn from his ways in prison—or at least serve as an example.”

GM: “The little one’s ’is brother,” McGinn drawls. “Bystander in this all. He hasn’t chosen ta do anything ’gainst me and mine.”

The older brother’s eyes widen. Perspiration gleams on his forehead as he starts making muffled exclamations through his duct tape gag. The guards cock their weapons as the agitated man jostles in place, but McGinn just smiles.

The kid looks between Caroline and McGinn with equally wide eyes, but doesn’t struggle or try to say anything.

Caroline: “Depending on the nature of his brother’s offense then, it may be all the more appropriate, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she observes.

GM: “Bullet ta the brain for him, the Farm for his kid, then,” the older Ventrue repeats over a puff of his cigar. He jerks his thumb. “Git a tarp.”

MMMM-MPH!” the bound man exclaims, frantically struggling against his bonds.

The kid moans past his gag and starts crying.

Footsteps sound as one of the guards departs the room. He returns with a large plastic tarp and lays part of it down over a far corner of the sitting room’s floor. He duct-tapes the rest up to the walls, then grabs the bound man together with his fellow and hauls him over. The man bucks, emits more muffled shouts, and casts furtive looks at his gagged but screaming brother the whole way. There’s a shot, still loud despite the silencer, a splatter, and red over plastic.

The gagged boy screams.

Caroline: Caroline watches it all through hard eyes. The sound of the tarp crinkling as it is moved into place and the tape tearing brings back uncomfortable and chilling memories of helplessness and agony, but she remains silent, her lips pressed together in an emotionless line and her face very still. Perhaps it gives away too much—bit its less than she would reveal otherwise. Everything about the memory is still raw.

As the man starts to struggle and the teen starts to cry, she clinches her teeth all the firmer. She’s killed before—with her own hands. Inflicted terrible and horrible violence, especially in the throes of the Beast’s rage. She’s even ordered others killed: the ghouls of Eight-Nine-Six gunned down by soldiers of fortune that they never had a chance against by her order. This is different. She’s here for this. She has no animosity towards either of them. They’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. She doesn’t even know what they did wrong—a decision she cannot view as accidental by the cruel elder monster beside her.

She watches the shot, and not only because she’s all but ordered the death. No, the murder. She watches because it means she isn’t looking at Gerousiastis McGinn when the shot goes off. Maybe he would give something away. She doesn’t care. A shot, a splatter, and a splash of running red. A life snuffed out with all the effort of squishing a bug. She can’t even tell herself this is truly God’s will. This is no Sanctified killing. She doesn’t know his sins, simply his misstep. One she too made: stepping into the sights of Gerousiastis McGinn by stepping on his toes.

Distantly, detached, she hopes they used low velocity ammunition: otherwise the bullet is likely to go through the body and tear through the tarp. Surely, given the cool efficiency with which it was all done though, that is a lesson long ago learned. Either way, it’s not really her problem, just something her mind is trying to use to distract herself from the casual murder of one, and the destruction of the life of another.

It all leaves her feeling cold: and not simply because she’s dead. Some part of her, the human part locked away, screams inside her head at what she’s done, at what she’s become, that human life is so cheap now. But that part seems to grow quieter all the time: most days its barely a whisper.
There’s something louder driving her, something she can’t ignore or tune out in the same way.
Ambition.

She turns back to her fellow Ventrue.

GM: McGinn puffs his cigar contentedly.

“I’m a God-fearin’ man, Miss Malveaux, but I’m not one o’ the Sanctified.”

Caroline: “So I’ve been told, Gerousiastis McGinn. Your position of prominence among the Invictus is well known.”

GM: “It don’t much matter ta me if the kid turns from his ways or doesn’t in prison. God’ll sort it all out. And killin’ his own brother?” McGinn makes a look of mock surprise. “Ma, ma. That’s a tough story ta swallow without more details.”

“Kin do like ta avenge kin, though.” A faint sneer over another puff. “Shootin’ their problems is all these kine know how ta do.”

McGinn jerks his thumb to the guards, who grab the hysterical youth by the scruff of his shirt and drag him across the floor. There’s another scream, another shot, another splatter, and more red.

The older Ventrue contentedly puffs his cigar.

“No loose ends, Miss Malveaux.”

“No half-measures.”

Caroline: “I understand.”

It’s staggering how quickly one can become accustomed to awful things like murder. Then again, maybe it’s in the blood. Wasn’t it Caine’s first sin too?

GM: “Good,” McGinn smiles. “That’s what yer real lesson here tonight is all about.”

He leans back in his chair and takes another puff of his cigar. “First, yer a brat.”

“Or a ‘self-loathin’ brat with fangs’, as the Lady Adelais called ya.” The older Ventrue chuckles. “That heartless bitch does have a way with words.” The insult’s phrasing sounds more like a compliment.
“Yer a brat ‘cause you’ve shat on the good father and expect the rest o’ us not ta mind one bit. You say ya don’t ever want ta kneel again?”

McGinn barks a laugh. “You think that’s impressed me, or anyone, when ya haven’t done a thing ta clear yer name? When you say yer waitin’ so his passions cool? You aren’t fit ta do anything but kneel right now, girl.”

“Ya may think yer showin’ dignitas by not shit-talkin’ the good father, or bein’ clever by not fessin’ up ta yer sins. Ya ain’t. Everyone in the Structure knows yer history. Everyone knows why Gerousiastis Malveaux doesn’t like you. Any give ya found comin’ yer way from Gerousiastis Guilbeau, from Aedile Hurst, from Questor Adler…”

McGinn leisurely waves his cigar. “It comes from their bein’ strong, not from you bein’ strong. It comes from their wantin’ to bring in a clanmate from the cold. And it’s all in spite o’ how ya’ve been actin’, darlin’, not because o’ it.”

The regent takes another puff of his cigar. “I’ll tell ya somethin’ of myself, Miss Malveaux. I was born too late ta fight in the War o’ North Aggression, but just in time ta see the Yanks destroy all my family had worked ta build for generations.”

“I rebuilt our fortunes from nothing by the sweat of ma brow. I did that in spite o’ all the scalawags, carptebaggers, and other parasites working to destroy what made our homeland great. When the niggers went cryin’ ta the Freedman’s Bureau fer land and handouts, seized from families like mine, I put in an honest day’s work. The fruits I reaped were of ma own plantin’ and toil. I earned ma sire’s Embrace.”

“There is nothing, nothing, I’ve got more contempt for than charity, Miss Malveaux. Make no mistake, that is what you are ta the clan right now. Probably the Sanctified too. A charity case.”

McGinn takes another puff of his cigar. “Me, now, I’d never take charity. I’ll never give ya charity, not like the others are.”

“What I am prepared ta offer ya is respect—mine and theirs—fer a fair and honest exchange.”

“Ya want respect, it’s time ta show us you’ve grown up and deserve it. Humble yerself before the good father and ask his forgiveness fer how ya’ve impugned his dignitas. Show ya can give somethin’ back fer all that time, advice, and lessons Gerousiastis Guilbeau and Aedile Hurst have lavished on yer sorry self completely fer free.”

“Say sorry ta the good father, and ya’ll have my vote to induct you into the Structure… as well as ma guidance, ma advice, and if ya sell me on yer domain havin’ promise, my patronage and backin’. There’s a few things I could use a Kindred lawyer fer, and connections I have the other gerousia don’t.”

McGinn leans forward closer to Caroline and lowers his voice. “And just case yer petty, scared, and yeller-bellied enough ta wonder if the rest o’ us would all back Gerousiastis Malveaux after you humbled yerself and he spat on ya, you’ve got a lot to learn on what dignitas is. There’ll be no hidin’ behind that excuse.”

McGinn leans back in his chair. “Ya can be part o’ somethin’ greater with us all, or ya can nurse yer grudge by yerself as we carry on without ya.”

He gestures to the two ruined corpses being wrapped up in bloody plastic by his ghouls.

“All in or all out, Miss Malveaux. It’s yer call.”

Caroline: Caroline listens silently through the elder Ventrue’s lecture. By it’s end she looks as through she’s been slapped. Silence hangs in the air behind his last remark. She can’t tell what stings more, the faint feeling that she’s disappointed him or the outright anger generated by the scorn in so much of what he’s said.

She tries to push both feelings away as treacherous and flighty emotions with limited success. It’s easier to abandon a conscience than the feelings created by the Blood or those so at home for the Beast.

When she is finally allowed to speak, both still color her words. “Gerousiastis Malveaux has declined to meet with me. He’s arranged a ghoul in his stead. Do you recommend, Gerousiastis McGinn, that I deliver such an apology by proxy?”

GM: “Gerousiastis Malveaux will meet with ya in person, fer an apology,” McGinn answers, puffing his cigar again.

Caroline: “As you say, Gerousiastis McGinn,” comes her emotionless reply.

She bites her tongue for a moment before continuing, “Might I ask the details of what Gerousiastis Malveaux has shared, lest I have overlooked something, Gerousiastis McGinn?” Caroline asks carefully.

GM: McGinn puffs his cigar. “He’s told us all plenty.”

“He started with with findin’ ya in his domain, screwin’ with his archbishop’s head. Ya went along with him to Perdido House without resisting, an’ between that an’ you bein’ fresh off the turnip trick, he was prepared ta overlook that trespass.”

“He said ya comported yerself with fair dignitas at what could’ve been yer execution.”

“He told us how he was made yer confessor. He kept the details o’ what was said in the box between him and you, save that he had no significant objections ’gainst your character.”

“He told us how later ya broke the Masquerade with one o’ his kine, another kine friend o’ yers, an’ screwed with the former’s head again. He told us ya’d confessed this sin ta Hound Agnello, who had ya confess it ta him all nice an’ proper, so he showed mercy. He fixed up all the kines’ memories, sent ‘em home, an’ turned yer friend inta a ghoul so ya’d learn ta be responsible for something.”

The older Ventrue puffs his cigar. “The rest o’ the Gerousia considered that a wise call.”

“He also said ya omitted information ta Hound Agnello about one o’ Harlequin’s ghouls who’d been caught in that mess, hopin’ she’d git off lighter. He said the hound magnanimously agreed ta overlook you makin’ his job harder in return fer joinin’ a krewe.”

Another puff. “The Gerousia considered that a wise call too.”

“The good father said he next saw ya for yer second, regularly scheduled confession. Outside o’ whatever was discussed there, he said ya appeared interested in the Sanctified’s faith, and he attempted ta illuminate yer understanding. He also said ya asked ta mess with his kines’ memories,” here McGinn smirks, “no doubt o’ course fer the Masquerade—an’ that he granted ya permission, which he has since retracted.”

McGinn takes a slower puff of his cigar.

“He also said he was gravely, gravely disappointed by yer efforts in the penance he’d assigned last week. He wouldn’t say how, ‘cept that it was one o’ the sorriest penances ta ever perk his sweet ears. He said he told ya that level o’ effort would not fly, and further encouraged ya ta join the Storyvilles or some other krewe, so ya’d have someone ta show ya the ropes o’ things.”

“He said he next saw ya fer the showdown where Sheriff Donovan staked an’ bagged yer sire.” McGinn smiles. “He had a lot ta say there. Makin’ the sheriff’s job harder at e’ry turn. Even one o’ yer ghouls bein’ a hunter he had ta put down.”

McGinn smiles. “That’s probably news ta ya, isn’t it? He said ya’d done one o’ the sorriest jobs bringin’ her inta the Blood he’d ever witnessed.”

The older Ventrue snaps his fingers. “Ah yes, knew I was fergettin’ something. He also said ya’d let yer other ghoul, that kine friend, get abducted by a krewe o’ kaintuck Anarchs.”

“He said at yer next weekly confession, ya’d disappointed him again. He said ya’d failed ta even start one o’ his assigned penances this time, and waited ‘til the due date ta give ’im some BS excuse why ya couldn’t. Yer other penance, he said, ya did just as sorry a job on as last time.”

“He said ya didn’t have any word on yer missin’ ghoul. Said ya still hadn’t joined a krewe, like he and the hound advised.”

“All this, the night after Strategos Vidal personally oversaw yer release, induction inta the Sanctified, and presentation before the clan.”

McGinn does not smile or puff his cigar. He merely shakes his head.

“Gerousiastis Malveaux’s report after then should have been fuckin’ glowin’.

“He said he didn’t feel you’d taken seriously any of the responsibilities ya’d been assigned, e’en few as they were, and threatened excommunication if ya didn’t shape up. He said fer yer next confession, ya fulfilled the penance he assigned—but not the way he told ya to do it. Still no word on any krewe. He said ya hadn’t once shown any sign o’ remorse or contrition fer all yer mistakes, so he cut ya loose. He then said he wanted you out o’ his domain, fer good, with a nice an’ easy suicide or accident. And he then said, last o’ all, ya pitched a scheme ta frame a bunch o’ niggers for yer murder so yer daddy could score some points with voters.”

McGinn smiles. “Has Questor Adler told you about the Enquerry, darlin’? The good father said if ya didn’t have it in you to take care o’ one horse, or one ghoul, or one o’ any o’ those other things he trusted ya with, Satan would be ice-skatin’ ta work before he let ya carry out that plan under his watch.”

McGinn leans back and puffs his cigar. “Violet, can your darlin’ lil’ head think o’ any details I might have missed?”

The blonde ghoul shakes hers as she answers, “I don’t rightly think I can, Gerousiastis McGinn.”

The other Ventrue grins back at Caroline. “There ya have ’em then, Miss Malveaux. The full details.”

Caroline: The young Ventrue listens stoically to her enumerated sins against her distant relative. When the elder Ventrue has seemingly had his fill she speaks.

“Thank you, Gerousiastis McGinn. That was… enlightening as to Gerousiastis Malveaux’s position and specific grievances.”

GM: “Tickled ta be o’ help, Miss Malveaux,” McGinn answers over a puff of his cigar.

Caroline: Just one more question, Gerousiastis McGinn. Were all of these offenses against then-Aedile Malveaux made before or after you plotted with René Baristheaut to abduct, frame, and further blood bond me? I find it so difficult to keep track of when I was a Ventrue beholden to clan elders, and when I was just a sireless fledgling unworthy of any protection or regard that those same elders were plotting to destroy for their convenience or profit.

The heiress’ inner dialogue has grown dark indeed this night, regardless of what she says. It’s a skill she’s practiced over many others, and not only since her Embrace. Putting on a smiling face in the face of the distasteful. Rarely though, prior to her Embrace, was she so directly called upon to use it.

“One more question, if I may, Gerousiastis McGinn?” she asks finally.

GM: McGinn motions with his cigar for her to proceed.

Caroline: “I heard a story about you, Gerousiastis McGinn, that you were awarded your regency because you organized a visit by a number of prominent Invictus and others in New Orleans to another nearby city. Is there any truth to that?”

GM: McGinn barks a laugh, smoke spilling from his mouth. “I reckon that’s one way ya could put it.”

He smiles at her. “Kindred liked what they heard about the lil’ trip I’d organized, darlin’. That’s the truth that counts.”

Caroline: “Appearances are everything and perception is reality,” Caroline agrees, “but it seems to me that mistaking perception is truth has the potential to result in unfortunate surprises Gerousiastis McGinn.”

GM: The Ventrue grins and puffs on the last of his cigar.

“Those do so keep the game interestin’, Miss Malveaux.”


Tuesday night, 19 October 2015, PM

GM: Becky Lynne mentions at Caroline’s next ‘lesson’ with her that Lictors Hollans and Kingolai are no longer in New Orleans, and haven’t been for a little while. “Business for the strategos seems to’ve called them away earlier than we all were reckonin’—ah well, we’ll expect them back soon enough. In fact, the timing rather works out. Once you’re inducted into the Structure, you can be accepted into smaller clubs and societies within it.”

Lictor Cingolai, Becky Lynne adds, is a member of the Hague—a society of blue bloods who study the theory and application of the Camarilla’s Traditions. They also serve as arbiters in intraclan tribunals and provide general legal counsel (many of their members have backgrounds in mortal as well as Kindred law). Gerousiastis Matheson’s defender and prosecutor during his trial were both members of the Hague. No members currently reside in New Orleans, but induction into the society—“and any other ones that strike your fancy”—will allow Caroline opportunities to network with Ventrue from other cities, should she be recommended for membership.

Before they get to that, Gerousia Guilbeau and McGinn seem to have persuaded Gerousiastis Malveaux to meet with Caroline, Becky Lynne is “tickled to say.” If the younger Ventrue also wishes to do so, which Becky Lynne presumes, she coordinates schedules and asks whether Caroline would like to “run anything past [her].”

Caroline: “That sounds like a very polite way of encouraging someone to vet their plans through a more experienced Kindred,” Caroline replies.

GM: “If you think it’d be helpful for that reason too, Miss Malveaux, so much the better,” the older Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: The heiress bites her lip for a moment before responding, “My relationship with Gerousiastis Malveaux has been complicated from the onset, and became no clearer with time, what with the matter of René Baristheaut, damage to his domain as a result, and matters of faith that saw little common ground.”

GM: Becky Lynne does not immediately reply to this, but waits to let Caroline say her full piece.

Caroline: The heiress doesn’t beat around the bush. Gerousiastis McGinn made his expectations clear in no uncertain terms, but she expects a poor reception from Gerousiastis Malveaux. She’d like to bury the hatchet with him, but has concerns about how to do so without the priest simply finding more fault with her.

GM: “Then we’re on the same page, as that’s somethin’ we’d both like to see you do,” Becky Lynne nods before asking what Caroline wants to do at their meeting to improve the father’s opinion of her.

Caroline: Caroline probes a bit into her ’teacher’s’ knowledge of the elder Malveaux’s preferences, and ways in which she might make a better impression in what might be her last opportunity.
She inquires as to what his past accomplishments have been, and why he is so well respected.

GM: “Not to be playin’ coy, Miss Malveaux, but I might ask you to mull that one over before I share my two cents,” Becky Lynne answers. “What do you suppose the good father has done to earn his seat at the Gerousia’s table?”

Caroline: “Beyond surviving a century or more. Questor Adler?” Caroline asks. “His prominent position within the Sanctified jumps to mind.”

GM: “Surviving one hundred years isn’t quite enough to join the Gerousia by itself, Miss Malveaux. Nor does the Structure pay much mind to clanmates’ positions within the covenants.”

Caroline: “His control of the Malveaux family,” Caroline continues, before again pausing. “Though in truth, I don’t rightly know.”

GM: “Put some thought into it,” Becky Lynne encourages. “What he’s done with your mortal family could be a start.”

Caroline: The Ventrue brushes her hair out of her face as she adjusts. It’s an uncomfortable thought, that so much of her family’s success might belong to the Albino.

“The success of Malveaux Oil, control of the Catholic Church in New Orleans over generations. Riding out the Civil Rights movement.”

GM: “Those first two are estimable accomplishments,” the older Ventrue agrees. “Establishing a worthwhile domain is an important component of any clanmate’s dignitas. What else do you think has contributed to the good father’s?”

Caroline: Caroline speculates, “Perhaps events during Hurricane Katrina or other crises.”

GM: “Is that what makes up a clanmate’s dignitas, the domain they hold and their actions during tryin’ times?”

Caroline: Along with the timely deaths of a few of their own superiors, it would certainly seem so, Caroline thinks.

“Their actions across their Requiem, Questor Adler, but I must imagine that those in such trying times hold more weight than in an ordinary night. I suspect Gerousiastis McGinn might agree. One’s bearing and activities when under pressure often says more than when at ease, no?”

GM: “Pressure shows what someone is really made of,” Becky Lynne nods,

She finally goes on to explain that Gerousiastis Malveaux has earned dignitas through his decades of loyal service to the clan, which has included; serving as the Structure’s premier (and sole) occultist and blood magician, and volunteering these abilities repeatedly on the clan’s behalf; making valuable inroads with the Lancea et Sanctum and Malkavian clan; maintaining good relations with the sheriff and his hounds, to whom he serves as confessor (the Ventrue have lacked a member on this coterie since Robert Bastien’s final death); his accomplishments with the Malveaux family and Catholic Church; his specific awards and, two of which include the Cornix and Exorcist; valorous defense of the city during the yearly Sabbat incursions, for which he has earned several awards; his steadfast opposition to the new regimes in Houston and Baton Rouge that deposed Ventrue princes; valorous service during Hurricane Katrina; his service to Vidal as steward of the Garden District; his zeal and accomplishments in advancing Ventrue interests among the other clans; the good relations he maintains with all of the other gerousiastes; his mentorship to Questor Polk and Eiren Gerlette; and his simple age, bloodline, and proximity to Caine. Caroline gets the impression Becky Lynne could enumerate a great many further specific examples, and that she also considers Father Malveaux a Kindred worthy of respect and admiration.

Matheson’s childe also states that Caroline “would’ve had to go back and hit the books” if this had been a question on an exam, and makes plain that she is expected to know the accomplishments of her clanmates. Still, she adds, “Good on you to be askin’. Better now than never.”

Becky Lynne then smiles as she asks, “For the next question on your pop quiz,” bearing this additional context in mind, how Caroline “plans to mend fences” with Gerousiastis Malveaux at their meeting. The younger Ventrue has the impression that her tutor genuinely is quizzing her just as much as seeking to offer constructive input.

Caroline: “Not showing further disrespect. Divesting myself of continued interaction with his domain. Offering a boon would show a truly deep apology,” Caroline replies. “Continued respect and growth within the faithful.” She considers. “Perhaps leaning on my confessor to put in a good word.”

GM: “Offering a boon is a solid way to back up an apology and show someone it’s really serious, if you’ve done them real wrong,” Becky Lynne nods. “That’s a good idea, Miss Malveaux. Promises and assurances probably won’t be up the good father’s creek, so what are some tangible ways you might be able to back up those other ideas of yours around him?”

Caroline: “I’ve been planning my ‘demise’ in the public eye for some time. I’ve coordinated with Harlequin to try to ensure it goes off without a hitch, had him vet my plan for potential problems. I think being less directly involved with Gerousiastis Malveaux’s domain would go far in putting an end to our continued friction. It’s simply complicated with the death of my brother. Two deaths in short order appearing suspicious… and potentially damaging to his domain.”

GM: “It does sound like a tricky situation,” Becky Lynne nods. “Given that, the good father might feel better if you were to offer to coordinate with him. I’m sure he’s already keeping track of developments, of course, and will step in if he’d prefer things to go a different way, but just hearin’ it from you could go a ways.”

Caroline: “I did offer to coordinate, but the matter is further complicated by the prince’s stake in my mortal father’s position as a senator. The prince, by proxy, agreed to my proposed plan in principle, but Gerousiastis Malveaux objected to it.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows at this. “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux, but am I to take it that you went over his head?”

Caroline: “At the time it seemed prudent,” Caroline replies dryly.

GM: Becky Lynne shakes her head. “Well, that needs to get fixed right away. The Hussar no doubt figured you’d already cleared it with the good father.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue over her fang. “The matter is more complicated than that in ways I cannot readily disclose, Questor Adler. Suffice it to say, I had numerous reasons for doing as I did, including admittedly attempting to leverage broader support for the idea against Gerousiastis Malveaux’s known hostility.”

Reckless perhaps, to admit as much, but Caroline’s had just about enough of being thought the fool by the blonde across the table. There’s the old adage, that it is better to be thought a fool in silence than known a fool by one’s words, but Caroline is too familiar with politics, and social interactions, and communities of predators. Being thought a fool is more than enough, and silence—save in an interrogation room—provides no relief or opportunity. Something needs to change.

GM: If any such derisive thoughts were running through Becky Lynne’s head, her pretty features give no indication of them. She isn’t smiling anymore, but neither does she look upset or even surprised by the admission as she replies, “I’m glad that you’re now fixin’ to make a good name for yourself within the clan instead, Miss Malveaux. I’ll be frank, this is some extra spilled milk to clean up—but I think we’re up for the job too.”

“If I were you, I would fess up to the good father how you tried to go over his head—better if he hears it from you than the Hussar. I’d say sorry for it, and bring a detailed plan of how you plan to fake your death—exactly the way he’s said he wants it done—and ask him if he’d be so gracious as to look it over for potential Masquerade hiccups. Ask him if there’s any other ways you could make things more convenient for him. Make plain that you are deferring to him on this, and I think it will do a lot to help smooth things over between you.”

Caroline: Caroline listens attentively, nodding before the other Ventrue has finished her suggested course of action.

“Are you much a student of philosophy, Questor Adler?”

GM: “In passing, Miss Malveaux. I’ve tried to read all the great classics, but I’m hardly Seneschal Maldonato,” Becky Lynne smiles.

Caroline: “Sartre may have passed you by, then,” the heiress smiles in turn.

“He was a 20th century French philosopher. Controversial in his time. And so he remains.” She continues, “One of his major contentions is that we are all, in truth, whether or not we should deny it or not, free to do as we wish. No course of action is closed to us, as we are thinking beings able to define ourselves at all times, rather than inanimate objections that can only be what they are.”

“A table,” she gestures to the low one between them, “can only be a table. It does not have any options available to it. It cannot chose to do anything else, but a man,” a grin, “or woman might choose to take any action at any time. Do you follow, Questor Adler?”

Caroline pauses her explanation for a moment to ensure she hasn’t lost her companion.

GM: “Not to jump back into ‘tutor mode,’ Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne smiles, “but don’t ask your elders if they follow—presume that they’re sharp tacks who already do.” She motions. “But please, don’t let me interrupt. What education I’ve received in philosophy, like I’ve said, was more focused on the classics.” Another smile. “It makes a nice change to have you be the one instructin’ me here.”

Caroline: “A point well taken, Questor Adler,” Caroline agrees. “In any case, Sartre advocated all manner of other ideas,” she laughs lightly, “that I expect most Ventrue, especially our elders, would absolutely hate. Among them the idea that one should not allow anyone else’s expectations to in any way color your own existence, lest it lead to a less true version of yourself, but for the purposes of this topic I’ll limit myself to his idea of ‘radical freedom.’”

“Faced with a choice, say when faced with a blocked path on a mountain pass which immediately presents only a single option—turn back—he would argue you in fact have several choices. You might turn back, or you might attempt to dig out the pass, or you might throw yourself from the cliff to your death. Any claim as to not having a choice in a matter, he would claim was false. There is always a choice.”

Another smile.

“In the spirit of radical freedom I will not claim that I have no choice but to defy Gerousiastis Malveaux’s wishes on the manner of my death, but I have no doubt that you might read between the lines when I say as much, Questor Adler,” Caroline finishes rather soberly. “It would be much easier in almost every way to do as he wishes,” she clarifies.

GM: Becky Lynne taps her chin contemplatively.

“Puttin’ questions of philosophy aside for a minute, Miss Malveaux, you’ve told me that you have no realistic choice but to fake your death by means of a plan the good father doesn’t much like—but that the prince agreed to your plan by proxy. Do you see how things might look from where I’m sittin’?” she asks.

Caroline: “I can see how the possibilities begin to present themselves,” Caroline agrees. She gestures between them. “Is this anything more than a business arrangement, Questor Adler?”

GM: “This has been more than a business arrangement with every clanmate you’ve met, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne answers seriously. “The Structure is made stronger—and my sire, brother, and I made stronger—by the success of every clanmate. Whether I’m your au pair or not, so long as we share the same blood, I would like to see you succeed and find a place for yourself within the clan.”

Caroline: “Of course, Questor Adler, but with no other have I spent many a night cloistered together in a room.” She crosses her legs. “We both know of course that you would not have been here to begin with but for the gracious offer you and your sire extended, but what I’m getting at is a simpler question: do you have any affection for me? Plainer still, can I trust you?”

A faint smile. “Or I suppose in the spirit of Sartre, should I?”

GM: “To quote a thinker from my own education, ‘every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back,’” Becky Lynne smiles in turn. “Whether you can, I’ll leave for my actions from our time together to speak for themselves. Whether you should… the Requiem is a dark existence, Miss Malveaux. Trusting others of our kind doesn’t come easily—but I’ve found, after extendin’ my own to a handful, that it’s helped make my Requiem just a bit less dark.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her tongue across her fangs, and after a moment finally seems to make a decision.

“The sheriff is no friend to me. Nor has he been, or would I expect it. The night he learned of my existence was the night the death warrant for a former fellow hound was written. While I don’t know that I’ve ever managed to rise to the level of enemy for him,” she smiles, “too small, he has rarely been inclined to act in my favor.”

She pauses. “If you can accept that, everything else becomes much clearer.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods at this for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “René Baristheaut was no fickle neonate. He was a well-regarded, and so far as I can tell, well respected former hound in good standing with Clan Ventrue and specifically with numerous powerful individuals in the city, from Gerousiastis McGinn, to Mr. Savoy, to the serpents. Even were he not, he was more than a century old and in addition to his knowledge and personal power even had elder ghouls at his service. And contrary to how he may have presented himself at his execution, he was far from eager to meet his end, and not exactly screaming ‘stake me’ when we met for the first time.”

She tilts her head. “I, in contrast, was and remain a fledgling Kindred of no standing among Clan Ventrue or any other group, with few such avenues of power open, a handful of ghouls I barely knew, and half a dozen Kindred enemies in the first nights of my Requiem. No one was exactly interested in backing the underdog for free, Questor Adler. Especially not with other events going on in the city if much greater importance than the city’s newest fledgling, vis-a-vis your sire.”

GM: “There are some things the Requiem changes, and a lot that it doesn’t,” Becky Lynne answers with a fainter than usual smile.

Caroline: “Plenty of my errors have been mine alone. Mistakes made as I learned of and adjusted to my Requiem.” A discomforted look passes over Caroline’s face, but is gone in a moment. Her voice is steady when her expression returns to a resting one. “But there were costs associated with that ‘victory’ too, Questor Adler. Obligations, expectations, requirements, and outright demands.”

There’s a bitter humor to in her voice as she finishes, “Difficult though it may be to believe, I do not simply enjoy doing everything in the most difficult way possible, or thumbing my nose at those in power simply because.”

GM: “The Anarchs can make a more welcomin’ home for those who do,” Becky Lynne comments, but once again does not seem to wish to interrupt.

Caroline: “I doubt they’re likely to excuse the destruction of four of their own,” Caroline replies.

GM: “An unfortunate bit of business there for all parties,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: “In many ways,” Caroline agrees.

“In any case,” she shifts from the topic of Eight-Nine-Six. If she were still living she might sigh, but she’s not. Instead her shoulders simply sag for a moment before she straightens her posture. “I doubt any Kindred’s Requiem is so simple as it might appear on the surface.”

GM: “They rarely are,” Becky Lynne nods in agreement.

Caroline: “In any case, I did not attempt to ignore and disrespect Gerousiastis McGinn simply to do so.”

GM: Becky Lynne gives another, fainter nod of understanding, but waits for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “It nonetheless leaves me with few choices where he is concerned.”

GM: Becky Lynne again waits for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: The Ventrue falls silent, however, having apparently expressed her position adequately.

GM: It’s an awkward moment when she realizes that Becky Lynne is apparently still waiting for her half-explanation to build towards more.

The older Ventrue, however, is the one to finally break the silence.

“The present consensus within the Structure, Miss Malveaux, is that you ask your clanmates for much while offerin’ little in return.”

Caroline: “A bit of a catch-22 there, Questor Adler, as few are inclined to allow me to do anything for or with them until I’ve made something of myself already.” She tilts her head. “How can I change that view with yourself?”

GM: Becky Lynne shakes her head. “No, Miss Malveaux, I’m afraid you’ve received plenty chances in ways large and small.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls in anger, annoyance, or perhaps frustration. Her voice remains even.

“I asked for nothing. Not even a seat at the table. You offered.”

GM: “All right, Miss Malveaux, I reckon I should be fully honest here,” Becky Lynne says patiently. “All of us are waitin’ until you’ve completed your agoge before we want you to do anything for us, or with us. Right now we are more interested in your character—your dignitas—than in business.”

Caroline: “Then take this of my character, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies simply. “I asked not that any of you take sides when one of your own violated the Traditions and Embraced me. I asked nothing when threatened with final death. I held no grudge when I was set up, was whipped into near torpor and blood bound, and then had a gerousiastis plot with the renegade René to capture me, frame me, and bond me further.”

“I held no ill will toward your own sire for what transpired between us when I approached him out of respect, despite what it cost me. And I have at almost every step been willing to bend to fit. To avoid giving offense from the moment I knew what offense there was to give.”

“I want no handout. I have no intention of asking Clan Ventrue to support my weight, of resting comfortably under the roof others built and continue hold up, but I’ll honorably take a position as one of the pillars holding up the Parthenon of Kindred and kine. You’re correct that I have little to show for now.”

GM: “Four-fifths of the Gerousia are still likely to induct you into the clan at this point, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne states. “The great deciding factor for them—more than the success of your firm, in fact—is the resolution of your present dispute with Gerousastis Malveaux. If two pillars are at odds, that Parthenon risks crumblin’.”

“I’d like to help the two of you resolve that dispute, and put the bad blood behind you. We’ve hit an apparent snag over the matter of his domain, and how you fake your death. My opinion doesn’t matter there, not really. You don’t need to convince me one way or another to secure your induction into the clan. But my take on the situation is this:”

“If you repeat to Gerousiastis Malveaux the same things you’ve said to me, he will not be satisfied. He will vote against your induction, and the other gerousiastes will follow his lead.”

“I’m sorry you’ve suffered and feel the clan has done you wrong in the past. I’m sorry if this feels like more bad news and another hoop for you to jump through. I would still like to help you fix the current situation with Gerousiastis Malveaux and, apparently, the prince. I like to think there’s a few things I could do for you.”

“If you’d like, I can put you in touch with the Hussar. I can put you in touch with other Kindred who might be able to assist, whether that’s the seneschal, the primogen, the Gerousia, or whoever else. I can approach them on your behalf, or not mention your name. I can leave other Kindred out of this and simply listen.”

“I confess I don’t quite know what could fix things here for you, but the offer is open. If we can, I would like us to raise up another pillar in the Parthenon.”

Caroline: Caroline interjects, “Respectfully Questor Adler, you’ve misunderstood me.”

“I don’t feel mistreated by Clan Ventrue. I don’t feel entitled your support, or their support, or anything else for that matter—outside of honoring the arrangements we have made.”

“I mean Gerousiastis Malveaux no ill will or disrespect. Perhaps I once did, perhaps I thought him a monster, but that version of myself is so distant that it’s barely a memory. I will give him my apologies for past wrongs—and admit there may have been some for which I was entirely to blame. But…”

She continues after a moment, “I am not Gerousiastis Malveaux’s childe and I owe him no boons. He is not my priest, and I am no longer part of his domain myself. He is not my benefactor and has made his own position quite clear.”

“Is it really so disrespectful to say that he does not get to decide how I should die?”

GM: “Indeed he isn’t, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne nods. “But you enter his domain with every interaction you have with your mortal family. The circumstances of your death will have significant repercussions upon his domain. A young clanmate who showed consideration and deference to her elder by soliciting and payin’ heed to his input would show the clan a few things about herself: that she’s socially astute, works well with others, has respect for the Structure’s traditions, and has the foresight to recognize how fosterin’ good relations her elders benefits her in the long run. In your particular case, this is also your chance to show us, not simply tell us, that you bear Gerousiastis Malveaux no ill will.”

Caroline: “It sounds as though there’s only really two options then, Questor Adler. Either I succeed in arguing another position with others on my end, or I accept this has been a lost venture for all parties,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Talkin’ things out with others rarely hurts to try,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: Caroline laughs genuinely and darkly at that remark.

When she stops Caroline’s eyes fall more soberly upon the older Ventrue. Silence reigns for a moment.

“I apologize, Questor Adler. There has been no one I could discuss any of these matters with. Not since my Embrace. Still, that was inappropriate.”

GM: “Better that it was here in private, Miss Malveaux. And even better that you caught it,” Becky Lynne nods. “Happily accepted.”

Caroline: “I hope my benefactor and Gerousiastis Malveaux feel the same way,” Caroline replies.


Saturday night, 23 October 2015, AM

GM: Caroline finds herself summoned to a luxuriously appointed corporate boardroom several floors from the top of Perdido House. The table is polished African Blackwood. Chairs are a rich, wine-colored upholstered leather. Five classical paintings depict a number of scenes, including: a monstrous dragon-like creature leading a charge of Roman legionnaires against Persian cataphracts; a stunningly beautiful, steel-faced woman felling two demonic figures with a bow even as their claws pierce her heart; a golden-haired and perfectly proportioned youth spreading his arms above Pope Leo as the latter crowns a kneeling Charlemagne emperor; a majestic, titan-like man hurling thunderbolts from the sky, while a crowd of terrified worshipers prostrate themselves; and serene-faced Indian man floating above another prostate crowd in lotus position, a halo illuminating his head like a crown.

Above the paintings, a glittering chandelier illuminates the figures seated at the table beneath it: Father Malveaux and Marcel Guilbeau, adjacent to one another at the table’s rear. Gabriel Hurst sits off by their right hand. The priest’s pinkish, flour-white face betrays nothing as Caroline is ushered into the room by an adolescent female ghoul whose pallid skin and shock-white hair mirrors his own.

The diminutive ghoul bids Caroline kneel as she recites the other three Ventrue’s many titles and honorifics, beginning with, “His Majesty Marcel Guilbeau, prince of Baton Rouge…”

Caroline: It’s a routine Caroline has gone through many times by now.

GM: “You may rise, Miss Malveaux,” the albino priest rasps after a brief pause.

Caroline: “Thank you, Gerousiastis Malveaux,” the Ventrue replies as she climbs gracefully to her feet. She’s dressed for the occasion in a relatively conservative black dress, cinched at the waist with a dark belt and hanging loosely past her knee. She left her coat outside.

CaronlineDress1Swoopneck.jpg
GM: “For what purpose are you here, Miss Malveaux?” the older Ventrue asks with another rasp.

Marcel and Hurst remain silent, their eyes on Caroline.

Caroline: “To make amends, Gerousiastis Malveaux, for past behavior. To demonstrate that the mistakes following my Embrace were just, mistakes,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Of what errors do you speak, Miss Malveaux?” the albino asks, his pinkish eyes unblinking.

Caroline: “Several leap immediately to mind, Gerousiastis. Disrespect and indifference shown in the face of your efforts to initiate me into the Sanctified and promote my spiritual well-being. Discourtesy towards you and your domain in my handling of the Masquerade with it specifically, and careless handling of the Masquerade more generally beyond that amid my hunt for my sire.”

She pauses only to take a breath to continue, “Attempting to end around you, Gerousiastis, by bringing my planned mortal death to the prince’s attention first via the Hussar and ignoring your wishes with regard to how I should stage such a thing.”

“Failure to join a krewe as you, Gerousiastis, and Hound Agnello had advised.”

GM: “Hound Agnello did not advise that you join a krewe, Miss Malveaux. He asked that you do such, in repayment for your debt to him—a debt he has since either repurposed or generously overlooked,” Father Malveaux rasps.

Caroline: “As you say, Gerousiastis,” Caroline agrees without argument.

GM: “By what means have you rectified these many errors?”

Caroline: “I’m grateful that you still consider that question worthy of your time, Gerousiastis,” Caroline begins.

“While you understandably concluded some months ago that further interactions constituted throwing good money after bad—you had, after all, seen no significant improvements in my behavior amid my search for René Baristheaut, the truth is, Gerousiastis, that your lessons planted the seed for my embrace of the Sanctified and the Gospel of Longinus. Your patience gave me the opportunity to learn the errors of my ways amid the Masquerade, and correct my course, before I did irreparable damage to it, and your guidance helped to shape my further interactions with the kine.”

“I’ve taken Father Elgin as my priest and confessor.” She draws forth the small handbag she carries. “Rather than offer you my assurances of the matter—I’m certain at this point they mean rather little to you, Gerousiastis—I asked that he pen a letter as to his views on my position on and growth within the faith.”

“I shall not pretend that his words are universally glowing—I have as much room to grow within the faith as I do within my blood—but I daresay they may yet be a surprise given my previous showings. Associated with it is my handling of the Masquerade in recent months. He was not so callus as to break the seal of confession, but the matter is touched upon in brief.”

“I have been as disengaged with your domain as my current status allows within the bounds of the Masquerade, and have not made use of the gifts of Caine upon them. In accordance with your last expressed wishes, Gerousiastis, I have revised my plans for my ‘death’ to mortal eyes to be more modest, in accordance with your last expressed wishes. My ghoul waits outside with detailed plans for the ‘accident’ that will ‘take my life’ for review by yourself—or a ghoul—as and if you deem appropriate. Upon your approval I shall bring the revision to Capitán Gaultierrez for his own approval in place of the prince. It is my intention to fully disentangle myself from your domain at the earliest convenience to all parties, barring your objection, Gerousiastis.”

“I have cultivated relations with the Storyville Krewe, though they have understandably declined to extend membership at this time. I have not abandoned that goal, though it has proven more difficult to immediately obtain than originally expected, even with Hound Agnello expending his own considerable influence in attempting to persuade them to change their position by demonstrating my value individually, and my growth within the faith. Among other things I have actively investigated the disappearance of one of their members, expanded my knowledge of the Gospel, built my own financial security, and cultivated the beginnings of a domain in the belief that it may yet allow me to fulfill that goal. My proximity to them has, as both Hound Agnello and yourself, Gerousiastis, seemed to believe, aided in furthering my understanding of the faith, and in keeping me grounded and committed to it.”

GM: Father Malveaux receives Caroline’s testimony without comment or change of expression. Marcel and Hurst, too, mirror the other gerousiastis in their silence.

“You may have your ghoul detail your planned efforts to preserve the Masquerade in lieu of your mortal death, Miss Malveaux,” the albino priest bids.

Caroline: On the list of Caroline’s possible outcomes this was relatively low, but Caroline has prepared for it all the same.

Once Widney is summoned, the assistant begins her brief, offering multi-fold folders to each of the present Ventrue.

The plan is relatively straightforward. Caroline will ‘die’ in a car accident. A drunk driver will hit her (the target has already been identified as a repeat offender that Caroline has previously fed upon) while returning from an outing with a group of ‘friends’.

She will be killed on impact, and subsequently the car—a model purchased under her name that has a known defect that seems to have been tragically uncorrected in her own vehicle—will burst into flames. The body will be burned beyond immediate recognition, leading to dental records being used to identify her.

A dentist has already been identified to match the body to be used as a stand in for her with those on record.

GM: Gabriel Hurst pages through his copy of the report. Marcel and Father Malveaux mostly listen. Once again, Caroline’s testimony passes without comment from the three Ventrue.

“From whence did you procure this ghoul?” Father Malveaux inquires without looking at Widney.

Caroline: “She resided within the domain provided to me by Hound Agnello. I was familiar with her from my mortal life, and with her competence,” Caroline replies.

GM: “On what basis should your ability to create ghouls without endangering the Masquerade be trusted, Miss Malveaux?” the priest then asks.

Caroline: “I would have it be judged by the quality of my ghouls in the months since the last incident, Gerousiastis. The burnt hand often teaches best, and I have been much more through of my vetting than I was as a fledgling,” comes Caroline’s smooth reply. “There were many errors in those nights, on many fronts, as I learned of my own nature, of the sanctity of the Masquerade, and of my place within both and the All-Night Society. By the guidance of my elders in blood and faith I have grown since those nights.”

GM: “And what errors did you commit in your previous ghoul’s creation?” Father Malveaux rasps.

Widney’s features remain carefully impassive.

Caroline: “Improper and incomplete vetting of them,” Caroline replies. “I allowed my haste in my search for weapons against René Baristheaut to overcome what was a necessary diligence before exposing them to this world.”

GM: “What manner of risk did your ghouls pose to our world as a result of this lack of diligence, Miss Malveaux?” Father Malveaux asks. His pinkish eyes remain unblinking.

Caroline: Caroline tries her best to remain calm as the meeting increasingly turns into an inquisition that appears designed to drive wedges between herself and her servants. “Poor handling of Ms. Turner, especially after her injury, gave rise to her eventual betrayal with secrets of the All Night Society stolen from me. In the wrong hands such information could have been not only damaging to the Masquerade generally, but specifically to various Kindred of New Orleans.”

“Ms. Polk I’m told was secretly a hunter,” Caroline actually quite suspects this tale is a cover for Lou, but does not say as much, “and my failure to vet her more thoroughly both endangered myself specifically, and potentially others had she remained in my service for longer as she could have discovered details of various Kindred’s Requiems that could have left them vulnerable to other hunters. Thankfully the danger she poised was ended by yourself, Gerousiastis, when you executed her upon my arrival to Perdido House with my torpid sire.”

GM: “And what of the third ghoul created from your mortal cohabitant, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Her knowledge of even what she was remained extremely limited. Shortly after her creation she was badly mauled by the Eight-Nine-Six Anarch krewe, and after her recovery she attempted a programmed attack on me—a side effect of her captivity—which resulted in her demise.”

“The largest threat was her vague and highly generalized knowledge of the existence of the supernatural. I am of the opinion that as with many, she was poorly suited to existence as a ghoul.”

GM: “Sheriff Donovan relayed to me that you were evicted from his domain, Miss Malveaux. For what reasons did he feel this was necessary? How does your poor relationship with the sheriff not reflect poorly upon our clan?” Father Malveaux inquires.

Marcel’s and Hurst’s expressions remain as neutral as before.

“Have you any final statements or demonstrations you wish to make as to your worth in my eyes?”

Caroline: She gestures once more to her of yet undismissed ghoul, who produces a much thinner folder out of the soft leather briefcase for her domitor. “A penance to me, when you were then my confessor, Gerousiastis, was to seek out my past victims.”

“I was not diligent in doing so, but nor did I forget. Due to my erratic hunting patterns early in my Requiem some I was unable to find once more. The rest are there. Some turned their lives around. A handful had little to repent for. One… well, it’s there.” Included in the file is a list of names and an obituary.

Troy Holloway seems to have tragically taken his own life in his apartment. Perhaps he had a guilty conscious. Something to do with all the women the paralegal and would have been lawyer drugged and raped. Caroline tried to teach him a lesson once. When she came back she was less forgiving.
The three Ventrue receive this too in silence.

GM: “This is all you wish to say, Miss Malveaux?” Father Malveaux rasps.

Caroline: “No, Gerousiastis Malveaux. I would also offer you my personal apology, and a boon as evidence of my sincerity, for my past behavior,” Caroline replies.

“You were more than patient with a sireless fledgling, and I chose to ignore your attempts to guide me down a more proper path.”

GM: The same silence that has characterized Marcel and Hurst thus far continues to linger from the two Ventrue.

Father Malveaux stares probingly at Caroline with his still unblinking, pinkish eyes. His thin and motionless features seem almost reptilian as he silently regards her.

“I am unconvinced of your worth, Miss Malveaux,” he rasps. “You offer assurances and token actions to offset one of the most shameful histories of behavior I have ever borne witness to from a Kindred of Ventrue blood. Your conduct has been an embarrassment to our clan, and those actions you have taken to rectify it have been inadequate.”

The silence again lingers.

“I am, however, convinced that you should be extended opportunity under which to do so. I accept your boon and will not oppose your induction into the Structure under the basis of your prior actions.”

“The completion of your agoge and the establishment of a good name within our clan shall be yours to earn, and the Gerousia’s to judge, on the basis of your own efforts.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Gerousiastis Malveaux, that is more than I could have asked,” Caroline replies once more.

There’s truth to her words. Truth in what she has said this evening. There’s no way she could have sold this if there were not truth to her words—lies only go so far, even pretty sounding ones.

A step forward, if at cost. Cost to pride. Cost to face—in the presence of her own ghoul. Cost in boons. Cost in blood. Costs that will yet be born. Consequences of this night will persist for those to come.

She hopes it’s worth it. Hopes she has something to show for it in the end. Giving up her family. Giving up her life. Giving up everything.

Ventrue.

It’s her birthright, in more ways than one. Acceptance by the others in the clan is the first step on her path.

That’s how she has to frame it in her mind. A step forward. Not humiliation. Not the cost of what she’s done. Not the murders she has done that damned her as surely as her blood. Not the loss of her father.

There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There has to be something waiting.

She remembers Vidal as he cut through the gathered city for the trial. Remembers the pull of desire. Remembers the brief touch of his hand as he annotated her brow.

Something has to be waiting. It has to be.

There’s certainly nothing tonight.


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