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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline V, Chapter XVI

Roger Ferris

“I’ve always worked for a Malveaux.”
Roger Ferris

Friday night, 4 December 2015, PM

Caroline: The heiress is grateful for arriving in her building given her current state. She returns to her apartment to change out of her ruined and soiled clothing and to washes off the blood and chewed-up food from her body before changing to go out again.

Caroline_Outfit.jpg The night is still young enough that she can hope to find a victim’s warm blood tonight, and she could use more than simply the vitae. It’s been a challenging evening. Challenging to her faith, to her desires, to her plans… and to her otherwise growing sense of superiority.

She can lie to others, but it’s much harder to lie to herself. Abélia scared her. The journey through the dark, the faceless man, the silver coins sitting on her nightstand, and the fetid knowledge that swirls within her mind terrified her. Almost terrifies her still.

She needs something, a balm, a band-aid to put over her bruised sense of superiority, for her confidence to latch onto. Its not the first time she’s used the victimization of some poor kine towards those ends.

GM: Against such dark thoughts, the scene to which Caroline’s hunt takes her is almost banal.

Despite the Friday night’s still-reasonable hour, the Ventrue initially doesn’t have much luck in scoping out a meal. Perhaps too much occupies her mind—along with the question of what precisely occupies her mind.

Rocco said she couldn’t hunt in Harrah’s, but that only applies to vessels within Harrah’s, the potentially soon-to-be lawyer notes. She cruises within distance of the state’s only land-based casino, and waits.

A party of inebriated-seeming women in little black dresses eventually file out. They exchange hugs and congratulations before getting into their cars and driving off. Caroline follows after the one who smelled right—and who looks on the older side to be a college student.

The Ventrue initially fears she (and the other woman in the passenger seat with her) are going to drive out of the CBD, making the last twenty-some minutes a wash, until they stop at a gas station to fill up their tank. Caroline approaches the two as they talk.

“I feel like a crossdresser in this thing,” the first woman mutters with a roll of her eyes as she plugs the pump into the car. She’s tall, thickly muscled, white, and has her hair in a short crew cut.

“It was on-theme. And you looked, well, adorable,” smiles the first woman. She’s shorter, thinner, Asian, and has longer black hair. “I thought it was cute how we had everyone in the same outfit. Really cute. It was like a dress rehearsal for the wedding.”

“Not wearing a dress to that,” the first woman deadpans.

“I know. You’ll look great in a suit too. I’m so excited,” the second woman beams.

The first woman cracks a smile back as she removes and replaces the pump nozzle. “Me too, babe.”

“Can we help you?” she asks as she sees Caroline approach. The second woman turns as she closes and recaps the tank. The telltale gas station smell of petroleum is thick in the air—but not thick enough to completely hide the aromatic musk that already excites Caroline’s Beast. A musk that’s waiting, just below the woman’s thick and stocky skin, to flow forth.

“Hey, you’ve got the same outfit as us,” the second woman smiles. “I mean, well, same-ish.”

Caroline: “Maybe we shop at the same store. Well, same-ish.” Caroline replies with a smile, letting the hint of the Beast slip its chains and worm its way into the mind of both women. Enough to lower their guard. Enough to draw them in.

It’s such an easy matter to control these kine. To take what she wants. What she needs. And what she needs tonight is more than just their blood. She needs her power over them.

The Beast’s grip tightens around them. “You look like you’ve had a good time. Why not keep the party going a little longer? I know a great place we can go.”

Saturday night, 5 December 2015, PM

GM: Claire’s initial response to Caroline’s text message is that she can see her in several days. It’s a moment not too unlike one from Caroline’s younger days. Or perhaps not like them, given that she generally preferred to avoid interacting with her mother.

Claire’s follow-up text arrives after less time than it takes to fully stew over the previous one:

Why on earth didn’t you tell me your brother was getting married?

Luke’s pending nuptials, at least, seem to change Claire’s mind when she moves things ahead to one day. The pair meet at her suite in the Hotel Monteleone. Claire is paranoid about establishing a routine “prying eyes” can predict, and Luke’s recently-announced marriage provides a believable pretext for Caroline to come over.

Caroline: The heiress arrives in a black Yukon SUV driven by Fuller and is followed into the hotel by Widney, but she leaves the assistant in the lobby as she heads up to her mother’s room. She’s dressed more casually tonight, in a black pencil skirt and button down granite blouse rolled to her elbows.

You didn’t see the pictures? Caroline responded to her mother’s text. Sorry, I assumed he would have called you afterwards.

The thought is on Caroline’s mind as she knocks on her mother’s door—it’s good know where her priorities lie.

GM: A large black man built like a haystack outside the hotel offers to “shine ya shoes, ma’am,” but Caroline has little time for him tonight. Hotel staff ask the Ventrue to wait in the lobby while they call Claire’s room, who then comes down to meet her daughter and bring her up to the suite. She looks at Widney, but does not otherwise speak to or speak of the ghoul during the elevator ride up. She does talk about how thrilled she is by the news that Luke and Cécilia are engaged. “There’s been so much tragedy lately. Some good news was overdue.” There’s so much to plan. The engagement party. The bridal shower. And of course the wedding. Orson, “true to form,” is expecting to have a christening nine months after the wedding. “Since they are good Catholics.”

Right now everyone is making plans for the engagement party. They still haven’t decided on a venue for that. Cécilia thought Nathan might enjoy Preservation Green (and thought they should “make things more special” for him since he’s around so little), but Claire isn’t sure if a jazz venue is such a good idea. Nathan’s last photo ops in one resulted in him catching flak “for appropriating black culture,” Claire says with what sounds like a roll of her eyes.

Caroline: Caroline smiles at seeing her mother so excited over Luke’s nuptials, and over the flurry of planning already taking place. She agrees that something positive will be good for both families and laughs at the comments about a christening. “Abélia speculated to the same effect there.”

GM: Claire doesn’t say anything about looking forward to being a grandmother, though. The shadow under her eyes is heavy despite her initial good mood in the lobby and elevator. Once the pair are in her suite, she passes Caroline the latest of her sealed missives to deliver Donovan. The two’s correspondence is now months old, and the Ventrue still has no idea what any of it concerns.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t comment on the letter to Donovan. The entire matter makes her uncomfortable. She knows that her existence is being used as an excuse to control her mother—and that at any moment her mother’s refusal will seal her own doom.

GM: Claire also chews out Caroline for “letting things slip” and “being inattentive.” Luke did call her, later in the evening. Claire says Caroline should have called her, and others, immediately after the dinner. She should have been the one to break the news to the rest of the family. It would have “helped things” if she’d done that and talked to other family members about her brother’s nuptials. “You’re practically a ghost. No one ever hears from you.”

Caroline: The heiress avoids the same tired defenses about her “ghostly” presence and the inherent difficulties in trying to organize even something like last night’s dinner. The sheer number of Kindred she had to speak with to ensure she wasn’t endangering herself or others by attending was incredibly inconvenient. She comments instead, however, that she hopes the wedding, and the family’s relationship with the Devillers family will give her more opportunity “to put on something of a public face.”

GM: Claire doesn’t look assuaged. “Hoping is for those who can’t and won’t do anything besides hope. The wedding is months away at the least. Talk is going to continue to circulate.”

She purses her lips. That same heavy shadow hasn’t left her eyes. “And your death is going to throw another wrench into things, now. If you die after the wedding, the family is cursed and can’t ever be happy. If you die before, the whole thing risks being tainted.”

She sighs heavily. “If only your brother could have waited to propose until after you were dead.”

Caroline: Caroline can offer few comforts where that topic is concerned.

She eventually continues with the topic she brought her over on—namely, that now she’s hearing not just from those close to the family, but from relative strangers, that there’s family issues with her. “I’d be curious if people are just reading cues or if someone in the family is actively talking about it.”

GM: Claire supposes it could be either that or everyone talking. “Family solidarity will always mean something, but we’re not the NSA. If you keep acting the way you have, rumors will keep growing.” She purses her lips again. “And if there is someone who’s deliberately talking, you’re giving them plenty of ammunition. The Whitneys and Devillers might be writing larger checks at your father’s fundraisers now, not to mention attending those fundraisers in the first place, but Matt is still angry about you trashing his house. You haven’t given many people besides Luke much reason to leap to your defense either.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to move things back to happier subjects when she brings up Luke’s engagement again. It made her feel good. There was “a lot of unpleasantness,” but despite that, it still came close to making her feel alive.

She’s heard the vampire pitch on mortal relations from her church group. She inquires lightly whether her mother thinks there’s “any significant value in maintaining those kinds of ties” vice cutting them off to “shelter” others. It’s more a philosophical point than a probe for info, though.

GM: Claire says that she does think there is personal value to maintaining those ties. Her lips purse as she says, “I’ve watched people who’ve seen past the Veil let it overtake them. They let their mundane lives slip at first, then drop, then shatter. What they’ve seen dominates their every waking thought until it consumes them. And those are people, not leeches.”

She shakes her head. “It’s true that not having an ordinary life insulates other people. But if it insulates them, it isolates, exposes, and inevitably dooms you. You ultimately have to ask yourself how you can do the most good, what the trade-offs are, and whether they’re worth it. It’s not a question anyone answers easily. Though I suppose in your case it’s more academic than practical.”

Caroline: That, at least, remains to be seen.

Caroline finally comes along to the coins. She has each of them in a separate envelop—labeled—and opens one of the envelops up. She asks her mother if she’s ever seen anything like them, and that she was told they could answer specific questions for her. She doesn’t specifically mention where she got them, just that she has a concern about them and would welcome a more educated opinion on these matters. She mentions having done some mundane research into the figures on each side but is wary of trusting (much less using) something magical that she has essentially no experience with.

GM: Claire looks the coins over, then inquires where, how, and from whom Caroline received them.

Caroline: When the coins finally come up she indicates that she’d be interested in her mother’s ‘untainted’ opinion first, if she’ll share it.

GM: Caroline’s mother replies that coins are a symbolic token of trust and means of defining an object’s or person’s worth. They can symbolize greed if Caroline obtained them without the last owner’s consent, and even if she didn’t. The stigma attached to Judas’ thirty pieces of silver is well known. So too is the alleged curse of the pharaohs levied upon those who plunder (and more broadly, desecrate) an ancient Egyptian’s tomb. Coins also have less ominous connotations as good luck charms, archaic tokens of services rendered, and symbols of chance and probability.

All of this is something that a humanities professor could also tell Caroline, however. An ‘untainted’ opinion amounts to little more than an uninformed one.

Caroline: The heiress bites back her annoyance by remembering that her very existence depends on her mother imperiling herself to work with Donovan regularly. This hasn’t been easy for either of them.

“In that case,” she begins, “they were a gift last night, in thanks for past assistance…” the Ventrue lets the answer last of her mother’s questions hang there for a moment, before committing, “From Abélia Devillers.”

GM: “Go on,” her mother states.

Caroline: “I watched her reach though a pane of glass and seemingly draw them out of thin air, in the middle of a snow storm, in France.”

GM: “Go on,” her mother repeats.

Caroline: Caroline briefly explains that the Devillers matriarch not only knew what she was, but seemed to know significant amounts about Kindred society, including specific personages. She talks about several other seemingly supernatural functions of their ‘trip’, including the faceless man and the darkness, though she omits the knowledge imparted to her and its horrifying effects.

GM: “I see,” Claire states when she’s done. “I may be able to have answers on these with a few days of study.”

Caroline: The heiress thinks on it for a moment, then asks if she’s certain she’s willing to take on that risk. “I don’t want to put you in danger over this as well, and I have no idea what the beginnings or ends of Abélia’s abilities are.”

GM: “There is self-interest on my part as well. She’s connected with the family now, for good or ill.”

Her mother adds after a moment, almost awkwardly, “But the concern is appreciated, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline closes her hand over her mother’s. “I’ve asked you for a lot.”

GM: Claire looks at it, then up to her eyes. “That’s what children do.”

Caroline: “I don’t want it to be too much, and I don’t want to put you in further danger with this.” She runs her tongue over her teeth. “If you want to look into the coins to get a better read on Abélia, that’s fine, but don’t feel as though you have to do it for me.”

GM: Her mother re-bags and pockets the two coins.

Caroline: Caroline stops her, placing one hand on her mother’s arm. “There’s more.”

GM: Claire doesn’t release them, but pauses.

Caroline: She explains in brief the offer of knowledge, the vision when Abélia touched her, and how she awoke following the touch.

GM: Her mother’s eyes grow dark and heavy as she listens to the story. Dark and heavy in the same way as when she moved from talking about engagement parties and weddings to Donovan’s missive. Only this time, they weren’t talking about weddings and engagement parties.

“No power without price.”

Caroline: “Nothing without a price,” Caroline replies back, hauntedly.

GM: “I don’t know what else to tell you besides that, Caroline,” Claire finally says. “I truly don’t. I’d considered whether this Abélia was one of you, which still can’t be completely ruled out, but from all you’ve said…”

“Don’t ever trust this ‘woman’, Caroline. Don’t trust her any further than you might throw her.”

Caroline: “I made the mistake of trusting once before,” Caroline replies. “I don’t think I shall be doing so again.”


Caroline finally releases her mother’s coin-bearing hand, almost abruptly, but her gaze lingers on them. It almost hurts to leave them behind, these poisonous promises Abélia gave to her. She knows her mothers right. She knows Abélia is at best dangerous, and worst leading her down an even darker path than simple damnation.

But she also knows that if she had walked out of the hotel with the coins, she’d have been whispering to them tonight.

Wednesday evening, 16 December 2015

GM: Claire invites Caroline back to her hotel suite to discuss her findings several nights later.

As best she can ascertain, the coins are repositories for a pact-based magic of some kind. Claire has not encountered it before (at least in this form) and is uncertain as to its origins, though believes she can rule out a number.

The use of the coins, in and of themselves, do not constitute an agreement. Any “agreement” that existed was between Abélia and whatever source she drew upon to fuel the coins’ power.

While Claire cannot say whether her daughter’s acceptance of the coins constituted a supernaturally binding agreement in and of itself, the coins are not “tied” to Caroline. Anyone could (theoretically) pick them up, whisper to them, and receive their bounty of knowledge. If Caroline’s specific use of the coins was indeed a binding agreement, Abélia would have had to have included a clause that allows individuals besides her to benefit from the coins’ powers—which Claire would consider unusual from what Caroline has told her of the meeting.

By her reckoning, the coins are akin to the same ancient currency they resemble. Two people could exchange them in fair trade and agreement, but if a third party stole the coins, nothing would preclude them from spending their ill-gotten gains.

Claire can find no reason to believe the knowledge conferred by the coins is false. Nor that their origin is specifically infernal—though this would not preclude Abélia herself from still being an infernal entity.

Other perils, however, may result from Caroline’s own hand. For the coins will not yield their secrets freely. Caroline must wrest them by force—and the more she seeks to wrest, more even than was bargained for, the more of herself she may lose.

Caroline: Caroline looks at the coins when her mother has finished. “So even an initial use comes with a cost?”

GM: “I don’t know.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “That’s a lot more than I’d hoped for, Mom.”

Wednesday evening, 16 December 2015

GM: Caroline is driving back to her haven when she discovers she has a tail.

Kayla Graves. The blonde former beauty queen no one takes seriously, which is precisely why Ferris likes to use her for so much field work—especially any that involves getting close to people.

Caroline: Investigators sent to monitor her activities. Of course.

But mere kine.

She leads her tail merrily along, then finds a moment to corner the ex-VICE cop and exert her mental powers upon the woman. What have her family’s people been looking into this time? Was Graves alone?

GM: Graves is working with Brett Goodman. They have been looking into Caroline’s activities under Ferris’ orders. They turned up some suspiciously contradictory information when they interviewed Caroline’s classmates as well as her professors. They have also been talking to her friends and associates outside of school, including Denise Bowden and Neil Flynn. They have investigated Aimee’s disappearance and even done some breaking and entering into her room at the Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel.

Caroline: Caroline fills the former beauty queen’s head with false memories about their encounter, then sets her sights upon Goodman.

Support: Caroline, a stalker herself, tracks Goodman—who seems the more easygoing of the two, much to Graves’ annoyance—to his Marigny apartment, where she finds him rather intensely engaged with a sex worker who, Caroline cannot help but note, bears a striking resemblance to her.

“Fuck—fuck!” Goodman yells, in equal parts ecstasy and horror. His attempted escape out the window would have been thwarted easily even if she wasn’t preternaturally fast. It does not help that he’s trying to put his pants on as he flees.

Caroline: It doesn’t take long for the Ventrue to subdue both with her mental powers to get the full story, including who the girl works for, how they’ve been in contact, and to what extent she knows what she’s doing.

GM: “I work for Brett right now,” the tall green-eyed blonde answers sleepily. “$400 for an hour and he gets to call me Caroline.”

“He’s seen me on and off a couple months. I’m pretending to be some porn star he wants to bang.”

“I’m not a natural blonde. Dying my hair cost him extra. So did shaving downstairs to match.”

Caroline: She turns her questioning to Brett.

Support: He stares at her, a sheepish expression somehow evident even through the Beast’s grasp.

Caroline: She is persistent in dragging out every torrid detail of the events, setting up a small pocket recorder as the investigator spills this, and every other shameful secret. When she’s pried everything she wants she wipes the memory of her ever having been there from both and has them start as though Brett just arrived, complete with introductions, but not before having Autumn post up at the window with a video camera. The recording of the two—including the opening that clearly identifies it is not Caroline is sent to her mother with a note that simply says, I thought this was cute. Maybe it’ll be of use to you?

If the Ventrue, who has engaged in more depraved sex acts by far since her Embrace for the opportunity to suck the life from others, is sincerely offended or disgusted, she gives no indication. She also implants a suggestion for his next break in to sniff her underwear in the drawer—an event she also gets a picture of from a ‘static’ cam and forwards on to her mother. The blonde’s information she keeps: she has many uses for a doppelganger.

Support: Among other things, an especially eyebrow-raising secret includes that he was a virgin until the age of 20 and fell in with the pickup artist crowd.

GM: “Roger has you under full investigation and surveillance for being a serial killer,” is Brett’s sleepy answer to Caroline’s initial query.

It started with Orson’s still-ongoing investigation into what became of Joseph Paxton.

One of Orson’s investigators saw and spoke to Caroline at the Hilton Riverside. She didn’t use her name, but the man had her description as a figure of interest involved in Paxton’s disappearance (though at that time she was not a suspect). Absolutely no mention is made of Lou. The investigator reported Caroline’s appearance back to Ferris, who found it mildly curious that she was staying at a hotel. Ferris passed that back to Orson, who merely said it was consistent with the story Caroline told him (she went to a hotel to sleep off the night after Decadence) and instructed the eight-fingered security chief to focus on Paxton. Ferris’ team had to resort to mundane detective work, rather than Margery’s usual tricks. Caroline remembers sticking Paxton’s disassembled phone ziploc bag under a stone in her front yard.

Their biggest initial lead was Paxton’s car, which the police towed after its paid parking expired. Ferris’ people retrieved and searched the vehicle. They talked with (that is to say, bribed) police and narrowed down the time period during which Paxton vanished. Ferris next had his operatives talk to employees at nearby buildings, focusing specifically on ones where an investigator was likely to go looking for Caroline, such as hotels. They pulled employee shift lists during the times of Paxton’s potential disappearance and manually tracked down each name, including employees who’d since moved on to other jobs. They asked each one of they’d seen a man fitting the ex-FBI agent’s description. This took Ferris and his team no small amount of time on top of their regular job duties. While Caroline received a brutal initiation into the all-night society, watched her mortal life fall apart, and doggedly underwent a life or death search for her sire, Roger was just as doggedly tracking down the fate of her first victim.

It took over a week of legwork, for Paxton had visited multiple hotels in his own search for Caroline. Ferris brought in extra bodies, mostly off-duty cops and other people looking to make a quick buck. Eventually, the ex-CIA agent narrowed down the Hilton Riverside to the last hotel at which Paxton was seen.

The same hotel where Caroline stayed.

His hackles now raised, Ferris had his team run Caroline’s credit cards to make sure that was the only hotel where she’d slept, and put Brett to the task of cajoling Caroline’s former room number from hotel employees. More extreme (and illegal) measures like breaking into surveillance tapes could wait. Disgruntled maids were all-too willing to bitch about the enormous mess Caroline left in her room—and the fact she was put under a lifetime ban from ever staying at any further Hilton resorts and hotels. Roger searched Caroline’s old room but found no evidence of Paxton’s presence. Hotel employees confirmed that Paxton had entered the building, but no one could recall him ever leaving. Ferris gave his team the go-ahead to get their hands on the security tapes. They did. Footage confirmed Paxton was present on the floor of Caroline’s room—and never left.

Ferris was still skeptical that Caroline could have made the former FBI agent just disappear, but by this point he definitely suspected foul play. Ferris had his subordinates run down all of the floor’s other guests and comb over the camera footage for instances of the same people leaving with a suitcase multiple times—or entering the rooms with certain items. “Chop up the body into smaller pieces in the tub. Put them in airtight containers with Febreze to minimize the smell. Pack those into a suitcase. Make multiple trips if you need to, or leave with multiple people if you can. That’s how I’d do it,” Ferris had told his crew. His leading theory was that Paxton walked in on a drug deal, dead prostitute, or something else that people with a lot to hide didn’t want a witness to see. New Orleans is one of the country’s closest ports to Latin America. It’s not unheard of for international smugglers and drug lords to do business in posh hotels like the Hilton.

Caroline: My family employs too competent employees, Caroline grumbles, not for the first time in recent memory. The Krewe’ s cleanup has also done her no favors. Nor, she notes chillingly, has it done Ferris any favors. His dogged pursuit and success in it is a mess that needs to be cleaned up, a problem that will not entirely vanish with her own ‘death’. The security chief is like a dog with a bone. Long past death and dying, she suspects he’s unlikely to let it go. Following that hole too far down is going to end in disaster for him… and maybe for her.

She continues to listen as Brett spills everything he knows, looking for an angle to cut off the one-time intelligence operative.

GM: Roger spent weeks following up on the Hilton’s other guests. Brett, Kayla, and Ben ended up taking trips to Atlanta, Dallas, Costa Rica, Miami, and Veracruz (all of which were economy-class flights, Brett grumbled over). For all their efforts, they turned up empty-handed. There was evidence of illicit activity with several guests, one of whom had ties to Colombian drug cartels, but there was nothing to suggest that any of them had murdered Paxton. Ferris still couldn’t find a logical explanation—not simply motive—for how and why Caroline could have killed Paxton. He doubted she’d have been able to pull that off even if she wanted to. But true to Caroline’s expectation, the dogged security chief was not willing to let go of the bone in his mouth. “We pinpointed the time and location of your employee’s appearance, but we have no idea how or why it happened, sorry,” would have been downright embarrassing to report back to Orson.

Ferris told his team to double down on their efforts. Run full background checks on the hotel’s guests. Run them on the hotel’s employees too. Track down all of their activities on the same day Paxton disappeared. Do the same for the cops who towed Paxton’s car. Get in touch with Cox Communications and get ahold of the last calls and texts Paxton made on his vanished phone. Interview his family. Talk to his friends and former co-workers at the FBI. See if anyone had motive to want him dead. Talk to cops to see if he’d been in legal trouble. Run his finances for any irregularities. Conduct a full background check. Look into Caroline’s activities too. Find something. Anything.

The last order was given as a simple afterthought, a “leave no stone unturned.” But that’s where things started to unravel.

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lip. Problems from her first nights in the Embrace still coming back to haunt her. She thinks about, thinks about what she might have done differently, and comes up with painfully little.

In hindsight, every problem seems to be one that could have been handled so much more easily in its early stages. In reality, she knows that there were a million other problems in those times that demanded her attention and energy.

This runaway train might have been easier to stop when it had less inertia, but she probably wouldn’t be here to appreciate it if she’d worried about that. She continues to listen.

GM: The sheer amount of legwork Ferris had ordered of his team likely could’ve kept them busy for months, even bringing in other private investigators. And as Caroline well knows, it would’ve been searching for a needle in a haystack bereft of metal. In fact, she doubts Orson would’ve even considered it cost-effective to keep throwing money after a clearly vanished man, if not for the downright bizarre circumstances of his disappearance.

But Ferris did not need to spend months sifting through that haystack. His first tip-off was from Brett, which was that the timelines were mildly curious. Orson confirmed that he talked to Caroline on Matt’s landline phone, but one of Ferris’ PIs spotted Caroline at the Hilton the next night. Brett made a note but assumed she was going back to pick up luggage.

What got interesting was the reports of the break-in to Caroline’s (or rather, Matt’s) home, which Ferris also found puzzling. Why hadn’t Blackwatch kept those people out? Wasn’t that what they were paid to do? Ferris talked with Andrew Johnson (hey, that guy had a name just like the president, Brett observed), who coldly told him to “mind your own damn business” even if he did work for one of the neighborhood’s residents. Audubon’s homeowners value their privacy. Ferris could have tried to force things with Thomas, but rather than choose the path of maximum resistance, he targeted Blackwatch’s weak spot by having Kayla Graves seduce Ridley Jones. The Crucible washout was soon telling her all sorts of things that could get him fired and became Ferris’ inside man.

There also turned out not to be a lot he could do. Blackwatch had since thrown out their security footage from the night of Caroline’s break-in. Ferris had to rely on mundane detective work supplemented by Jones’ dubious help to get a picture of who’d been seen entering Audubon around the time of Caroline’s break-in. He eventually narrowed down the suspects to a 20-something African-American male driving an Esplanade. D’Angelo Washington had been placed on Audubon’s permanent access list, however, which puzzled Ferris even more.

A background check on D’Angelo suggested the profile of a gangster who’d made enough money to go legit. If D’Angelo didn’t live in Audubon, who was he driving up here to see? A lawyer or financial advisor would meet him in a downtown office. And why would he rob Caroline’s house? It would’ve been small-time money, next to the amount he already had to get off the streets and onto Audubon’s permanent access list. Not to mention it would’ve been shitting where he ate. Maybe D’Angelo was just stupid and a go-between for someone else. Or maybe some of his friends did the actual robbery.

Ferris assigned a separate PI the task of running down information on Caroline’s probable burglars. Kayla had Jones continue to furnish her with reports on Caroline’s movements and other notable visitors. Brett continued to handle Caroline’s personal “case.” He followed up on the fact that Caroline was only seen entering Audubon late at night. Where was she spending her waking hours? He checked with her professors, who confirmed she hadn’t attended so much as a day of class. He approached some of the other clerks at the Supreme Court, who confirmed that Caroline hadn’t been around in a while—and then he found out she’d been fired from her job for not showing up. (Asking for dates, she confirms all of this was well before the arrangement she later struck with Antoine Savoy.)

Ferris passed Brett’s findings to Orson, who already knew about Caroline’s firing from Thomas (the family’s Thomas). Orson was very displeased and told Ferris to look into Caroline’s affairs more closely. This was still only tangentially related to Paxton’s death—neither men could fathom what means or motive Caroline would have had to murder him. Perhaps the separate investigation into Paxton and the other people present at the Hilton would turn up something. But there was still a potential link to Caroline, and Ferris was leaving no stone unturned. Moreover, Orson was taking his usual level of familial “concern” in Caroline’s rapidly unraveling life. He felt especially affronted this was happening after the talk they’d had. He was even angrier after she blew $50,000 at Harrah’s. That got thoroughly looked into, though Brett didn’t handle the investigation into Caroline’s finances. He was assigned to other areas.

Brett steadily turned up more oddities. Caroline hired two bodyguards from Blackwatch, first Amanda Turner, then Nicole Polk. Curious, he started digging into Caroline’s financial activities, and found a number of unusual purchases on her credit cards—as well as some equally unusual absences. Almost no dining purchases. No gas purchases but numerous Ryde rides. Follow-up confirmed that her car was inexplicably missing. Brett also started to look into Turner’s and Polk’s activities.

He looked into Aimee, too, under his own initiative. The only evidence that stopped Aimee from being a missing persons case was a raggedy-sounding phone call to her mom, where she said she was “going away for a while” to “put my life back together.” She sent a similar but more composed email to some friends and her boss at work. She said she would be in touch but did not specify where she was going. Brett reported this to Ferris, who told him to drop the investigation into Aimee and that it would not be productive. Brett shrugged and did as told.

Then bodies started coming in.

Amanda Turner. Dead in a suicide. Nicole Polk. Dead in a break-in. Both in Caroline’s employ. Trenton Nowak. Dead in a suicide. Right after meeting Caroline. At that point, Ferris kicked the investigation of Caroline Malveaux into red alert. Follow-up on the people at the Hilton was relegated to a single PI. Ferris could see no direct links between Caroline and the five deaths/disappearances, but as he told Brett and the rest of the team, “Once is an coincidence. Twice is a red flag. Three times is a pattern. Five times and we should tell Orson to fire us if we can’t find any links.” That became six times after Westley’s death. The three brothers ordered Ferris to oversee that investigation personally. Caroline was passed off to Ben Chandler. The two security agents continued to work closely together, given the potential if not probable linkage between the deaths.

At the same time, Ferris relentlessly tore apart his subordinates’ prior investigations into Caroline and made them retrace each step. Caroline’s check-in and check-out dates at the Hilton. Brett “assumed” Caroline went back to the hotel pick up luggage? Do that over again. Get times, dates, and camera footage. The footage was degraded at inconvenient points? Talk to the receptionists, again. Caroline only checked in and out at night. Why did she seemingly spend two whole days holed up in her hotel room? Why did she have too little luggage to justify a trip back to the Hilton after she called Orson from her home? And where the hell was Paxton’s body?

This time Ferris went looking for evidence of a cover-up, not merely a cause of death. He re-did interviews with all of the hotel workers. They said there was chewed-up food all over Caroline’s room, but no vomit. Anyone who’s that hammered usually vomits. Or maybe she was just deliberately leaving them a mess. Ferris guessed another reason. He tore off sections of carpet and sent them to a forensics lab for microscopic analysis. The results contained evidence of blood and gunpowder residue. Ferris reviewed all of his prior findings and his team’s ongoing work, and felt there was no other reasonable conclusion. Caroline murdered Joseph Paxton. But how? Where was the body? What did the other deaths have to do with this? And above all, why?

Ferris found no shell casings on the scene, but those are easy enough to sweep away. He did a search for firearms owned in Caroline’s name and found that she had a small 9 mm pistol. He also knew she could shoot. That would explain how she’d murdered the much larger and stronger Paxton, and why no one reported any noise so loud as a gunshot from her room. She’d used a silencer and the neighboring guests (Ferris checked too to see who occupied those rooms at the time) were checked out. Even more ominously, that pointed to the murder being premeditated. But again, why?

Then there was Paxton’s body. Ferris had searched and searched, but there was no evidence it had left the hotel through the front door. What if it never did? Ferris double-checked Caroline’s credit card purchases for any of the industrial-strength acids capable of fully dissolving human remains. He sent PIs to the few stores in New Orleans that sell those chemicals, uncommon as they are, just in case Caroline paid in cash. There were no results.

Ferris went through a number of increasingly bizarre methods to get rid of a body in a hotel room: disguising oneself as a maid and carting it out amidst laundry. Chopping it into pieces and dropping them out a window in containers, whereupon an associate might abscond with the grisly packages. Painstakingly sawing flesh from bone, flushing the former down the toilet (perhaps admixing it with water in a blender first), breaking apart the bones, and using some other means to smuggle out the smaller mass of dead human being. Ben Chandler said he heard of a 2002 case where a father got rid of his toddler’s corpse by feeding into a blender and mixing in battery acid. “Though obviously the cover-up wasn’t perfect,” Ben had added, “or I wouldn’t have heard of it.”

The team searched and searched, but could find no evidence that Paxton’s corpse was dismembered in Caroline’s room. It was by all appearances the perfect murder—only not quite. She never orchestrated a cover story for his death. She neglected to dispose of his car, or any of the other clues that led Ferris’ team to her room. In fact, the ex-CIA agent thought, it was unusual she’d execute this one area of the cover-up so flawlessly and the others so sloppily. What if she received help from an outside source… like D’Angelo Washington? Was he her accomplice? Perhaps he tore up her house to intimidate her, when she had second thoughts about the murder.

Ferris didn’t want conjecture. He wanted evidence. He got in touch with Orson, and asked him if he could come to an arrangement with the Hilton. Specifically, he wanted to tear apart literally every inch of Caroline’s room—carpet, ceramic tile, walls, furniture, and all—and send it to a forensics lab for further analysis. Orson said that making such a bizarre request of the Hilton’s owners would invite questions. In fact, the continued presence of Ferris’ operatives was already drawing questions. The archbishop was not happy. They’d thrown all of these man-hours—not to mention money—at the problem, and all Ferris could give him was blood in Caroline’s room and an “I don’t know?” Worse, what if word of the investigation had gotten out? Orson ordered the security chief to quiet down all the hotel employees with a last round of bribes, then pull out his team. They were done with the Hilton.

Brett admits he’s doing some conjecturing. Ferris rarely tells his team more than they need to know—he just can’t picture Orson being happy at their findings. Indeed, the investigation into the murder of Joseph Paxton might have died there with the archbishop’s order, or simply swung over to D’Angelo Washington and continued goose-chasing with former Hilton guests now as far away as Colombia.

Ferris, however, was already being kept busy with his four fresh bodies.

Or more accurately, three bodies, as Trenton’s was never found. Ferris found its absence, as well as that of Trenton’s car, highly suspicious. He was equally skeptical of the circumstances of Polk’s and Turner’s deaths. He wanted to look at the bodies. Neither of Caroline’s ill-fated bodyguards had families, however, and their corpses were disposed of by the state of Louisiana. The Pelican State’s law requires all corpses to be interred in established cemeteries, and also requires a licensed funeral director to oversee the final disposition of any body. This is expensive for the city, which would prefer to simply cremate unclaimed human remains. They did the next best thing. Turner and Polk both received a pauper’s internment: no funeral and a single, cramped vault in a mass vault. New Orleans’ hot and humid climate will turn the tiny stone space into an oven and (eventually) incinerate every part of the corpse but the bones. Those will then be disposed of and the empty vault used for some other lonely soul whose remains went unclaimed.

Ferris ordered the bodies exhumed. This was to Brett’s and his fellows’ great revulsion when they saw—or rather, smelled—that Turner and Polk had not even been embalmed (state law only requires embalming if disposition does not occur within 30 hours of death). Ferris had morticians look over the remains. The prince’s agents might have fooled half-attentive local cops, but they did not fool the ex-CIA agent who was specifically looking for evidence of a cover-up… and given that Turner and Polk messily died in different locations than where their bodies were found, such a cover-up could not be seamless. Ferris’ conclusion was that there were too many inconsistencies between what the police said and what his morticians found: in other words, the suicide and murder were both faked. Caroline was his prime suspect, but D’Angelo was deemed worthy of investigation too. So were the criminals who took the rap for Polk’s death.

Ferris hired a PI to visit the Farm in his place. In fact, at this point, he started showing an avowed preference for “subcontracting” field work that involved talking with too many people, and keeping the family’s salaried employees away from institutions like the Hilton or Louisiana State Penitentiary. While none of them are nearly so well-known as the Malveaux brothers, Ferris wanted to keep the investigation as under wraps as he could, given the stakes. Orson was right about the Hilton. They showed too much interest and the staff got curious.

This was also when Ferris started being tight-lipped. Well, more so than usual. The former CIA agent
told his operatives the bare minimum of what was necessary to complete their immediate assingments, and discouraged socialization with one another. Consequently, Brett has no idea how the follow-up with Polk’s “killers” at the Farm went. In fact, it’s pure guesswork on his part that Ferris even hired a PI: that’s just what the boss told him to do for several of his own assignments. Brett doesn’t know how the investigation into D’Angelo Washington and Caroline’s burglars, or even Westley’s death panned out. He wasn’t on those.

What he does know are the new nicknames his fellow operatives started using for Caroline. “The girl who was death,” and, more simply, “Carolinegate.”

Brett, meanwhile, continued to be responsible for investigating Caroline personally. Ferris had him (and others) look into her daily activities and pull at every loose thread. They’ve rifled through Caroline’s garbage. They’ve looked into her purchases, and seen how many phones and computers she’s gone through. A new vehicle after enough Ryde rides, confirming she’s no longer using her old sports car. They tried to track it down, but only came up with dead ends. Still no dining purchases, though a great deal of clothes and other luxury items. There was a particularly large transfer of funds that went through Franz Hartz, who Ferris had someone else follow up on. Brett wonders if he’s in on… whatever the hell Caroline is up to.

One of Brett’s strangest findings is Caroline’s purchase of Lou’s office building, which she took out a mortgage from Whitney Hancock Bank and formed an LLC for. Ferris through Brett hired more PIs to do background checks on all the tenants—at this point Ferris started bringing in out-of-towners from Pinkerton and other non-local detective agencies. The investigation had gotten large enough and out-of-towners provide an extra layer of opacity. Pinketon’s PIs, in any case, turned up that the building’s tenants were a generally poor to disreputable lot. Brett isn’t sure why Caroline would suddenly decide to dip her toe in the real estate market—and shoddy real estate at that. Did she anticipate being cut off from the family and want her own source of income? But then why drop out of law school, even if she later re-enrolled?

Among the tenants Brett investigated, there is one finding of note—or rather, lack thereof. Louis Fontaine’s name does not come up so much as once, on either documents or the personal recollections of Ruth Holman, the building’s property manager. The most she could say was that “a bum” used to rent Lou’s unit and got served an eviction notice. That’s happened a bunch of times, so it doesn’t stand out. Her copy of the lease must have gotten lost. Brett wondered if the former occupant of Lou’s office was (illegally) paying a reduced rent under the table, without any of a tenant’s legal rights. So far as Ferris’ investigation has turned up, however, no Louis Fontaine ever lived in Caroline’s building.

Among other details Brett turned up on Caroline are that Caesar is missing. Jones, in a surprising bit of helpfulness, even said he remembered dropping off the dog’s cage at Caroline’s house. Ferris frowned at that. Killing a dog doesn’t violate anything beyond animal cruelty ordinances, but it’s another odd piece in the puzzle. And an interesting look into Caroline’s psyche. What made her get rid of a beloved pet? It’s not as if Caesar could have blabbed about any murders… at least to mortals.

Ferris also ordered a full search of Matt’s house, top to bottom—or rather, a second search, as someone else had clearly been over it already (that, or Caroline had some kind of breakdown). They found the panic room and its drilled-in door. Missing footage for the cameras. Signs of occupation in the attic.

Ferris wondered if Matt’s house was where Caroline disposed of Paxton’s, Trenton’s, and Aimee’s bodies. They did a full sweep of the exterior. They went over the yard and garden with metal detectors. They dug up earth at spots where Ferris said he’d bury a body. Brett remembers how much he hated digging.

They found no bodies. But they found a close to smoking gun:

Paxton’s phone.

Brett doesn’t know how Ferris’ other sub-investigations are coming along. But things seem like they’re coming to a head. His boss had him and Margaret do some breaking and entering into Caroline’s Harrah’s hotel room at night—they’ve long since established that she has a seemingly nocturnal sleep schedule. Brett planted bugs. Margaret came with him and broke into Caroline’s laptop. She downloaded all the data onto an external drive. She did some other things to the computer which Ferris wouldn’t let her talk about. Brett has no idea what might’ve been found on the laptop either.

There’s also another matter that’s come up: Mercurial Fernandez. Brett fills Caroline in on the particulars. Even more suspicious is that Fernandez was the roommate of Trenton Nowak. And then his life suddenly fell apart, with his first two arrests in nearly as many days, before he died in jail under suspicious circumstances. He never even had a criminal record prior to the attempted break-in of Cécilia’s apartment.

This, Brett finishes, is where the investigation currently stands. Caroline is at the center of a snarled web of corpses, disappearances, and bizarre happenings: Westley, Paxton, Aimee, Turner, Polk, Trenton, Fernandez. Ferris is operating off the assumption that Caroline is a serial killer. She is to be shadowed, and Ferris is to know where she is, at all times. No member or employee of the Malveaux family is to be left alone with Caroline under any circumstances. Brett can only wonder what else his boss has discovered and isn’t sharing.

Ferris’ current instructions are for Brett (and presumably his fellows) to continue following leads and gathering evidence. Right now, what they have—or at least what Brett knows they have—are blood in Caroline’s hotel room, Paxton’s disassembled cellphone at Matt’s house, a list of deaths and disappearances connected to Caroline, and even longer list of bizarre personal behaviors. Ferris still wants hard evidence linking Caroline to a murder. Better yet, to multiple murders. He no doubt wants any still-missing bodies.

But he ultimately doesn’t need them. Ferris’ team might lack the legal, material, and even financial resources of a police department, but they also don’t need their case to be airtight before passing it along to the “district attorney.” Orson.

Brett has no idea what what Ferris or the three kings (Orson and his brothers) plan to do about Caroline. He knows only this:

Caroline is a threat to the Malveaux family.

And the Malveauxes do not suffer threats.

Caroline: The Ventrue sits back in quiet contemplation, the spy quietly and contently wrapped in the spell of the Beast.

It’s bad. Worse than she knew. Part of her had always taken for granted that Ferris and his fellows—the delegated protectors of the family—were quietly competent. This is… too competent. The whole thing is on the verge of blowing badly and bloodily open into a full Masquerade breach that will swallow up her Requiem and the lives of Ferris (and perhaps much of his team). The involvement of so many outside entities, the length and depth of the investigation, all the moving pieces: it’s not something she can neatly and easily sweep under the rug. In effect, Ferris’ case is every piece of her broken Masquerade she’s been required to break off as part of the quiet war with René. And there are far too many pieces, enough to give Ferris an all-too clear view if he aligns them right.

The worst part is, she has no doubt that he’ll never stop chasing this quarry. He’ll pick at the scab even her ‘death’ will leave until he turns up blood: and too likely, that blood will be his and her own. Eluding her pursuers, now that she knows they’re there, on a nightly basis, especially with the gift Brett has dropped into her lap is not overly difficult. At least a few times.

But the question still remains, what is she going to do with it all? What is going to get Ferris to let loose the death grip he has on this? She suspects that only he can answer that question. It’s time to arrange a meeting, on her own terms. She starts setting things in motion. A private meeting. Catching him by surprise. Somewhere private. She’s met him before, but she doesn’t really know him, she reflects.

It’s time to change that.

Wednesday night, 16 December 2015, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue sets Autumn on the tail of Ferris, seeking a hole in his evening. A private meal at home. Sleep if nothing else. Her own increasingly distributed assets begin reaching out to build a better profile on the prior intelligence agent—assets that do not exist under the name Caroline Malveaux. Brett becomes her unknowing mole—not only does he turn over all documentation he has on her in electronic format—he also becomes a ready source of intelligence. Among other things, he helps set up Margaret’s own meeting with the Ventrue. The script is largely the same as she breaks the hacker’s mind much as the hacker breaks into systems in search of much the same: information. When the time comes to slip her watchers quietly and without offering suspicion she does so with the use of her newest pawn: Brett’s look-a-like whore.

GM: Caroline is able to successfully orchestrate a ruse to get herself into Margaret’s presence, a task that would assuredly be much harder without Brett’s assistance. Brett calls Margaret and tells her he’s got further orders from Ferris to work together. The hacker startles in alarm the moment she sees Caroline’s face, but falls silent under the Ventrue’s command to “be still.”

Caroline: Caroline knows well, perhaps more well than she should, the weakness that Margaret presents… and the danger that she could truly be if she was out to harm the family. She remembers a worried meeting between her father and Ferris. Discussions about IT security, particularly for the sensitive matters that Ferris does for the family. Remembers that it’s all kept on a single network shared drive, with portable hard drive backups stored in the building, to prevent potential breaches and mitigate the physical security threat. And she intends on exploiting it. It wasn’t a meeting she was supposed to be privy to, but then Caroline has always hated being out of the loop, and cracked doors and concerned voices have always drawn her attention.

She probes Margaret with many of the same questions the attacked Brett with, but more still. The physical security of the site. Network security—much of which Margaret maintains and has administrator access to. She takes the opportunity to snap some disgraceful photos of Margaret for potential use later.

The photos are done Snapchat style, nudes that feature the woman’s face, not even bothering to strip everything off. Only a couple of months ago it’s the type of thing that would have turned Caroline’s stomach, or at the very least made her Catholic sensibilities deeply uncomfortable. After the many ‘sexual’ encounters in pursuit of that oh so necessary vitae, it barely rouses her conscience. Especially since it’s something that could help Caroline save Margaret’s life. She actually takes the photos with Maragret’s phone, sending them off to an anonymous email address.

It’s only the very beginning of what she has planned for the ‘hacker’. Ferris’ trove of information, his lab results, photographs, and notes are too dangerous. For him. For Caroline. To both of them.

GM: Or at least that’s what Caroline tries to do.

With the camera’s first ‘click’ of the heavily tattooed twenty-something’s piercing-adorned frame, shock slides on to Margaret’s features. The look is only there for a second before she throws a punch at the Ventrue’s face.

Caroline: Caroline steps away from the punch even as she locks her gaze—and imposes her will—upon the woman once again. “Be still.”

GM: The weight of the mind pushing against Caroline’s feels stronger this time, but Margaret’s face relaxes as her fist drops.

Caroline: Caught in Caroline’s spell, Caroline pries from Margaret’s mind the details of the office she (and Ferris’ team as a whole) operates out of. Security systems, security, and so forth. She pries what she knows about the investigation into Caroline. Only when she’s satisfied herself with the particulars—including backups of the networks data on site—does Caroline execute her real plans for the ‘hacker’.

She’s to enter the office, copy the database of ‘classified’ documents, and then crash the network and backup in what appears to be a major failure of the network. Irreparably. Then hand over the portable drive to Caroline’s waiting agent before returning home.

GM: Margaret discloses that she’s handled everything on the IT side of Caroline’s investigation. With the data pulled off Caroline’s laptop, she had a much easier time syncing with the Ventrue’s phone. She turned over its text messages to Ferris, and even turned the phone itself into a tracking and listening device. She and Ferris know wherever Caroline is in real-time, something that’s been of considerable help in keeping her quarantined from the family—and, they hope, in connecting all of Caroline’s disparate activities. The Ventrue kept relatively little Masquerade-sensitive data on her laptop itself, however, and for the most part it’s simply been useful as another piece in the giant, still-confounding puzzle being assembled by Ferris.

He doesn’t tell her everything. In fact, he generally feels like she knows too much, and would like to get a second IT professional working for the family, just so he could split information and network access privileges between them. If Caroline lets her go, Margaret pulls on her clothes and departs for Ferris’ office in the CBD, leaving the Ventrue alone with Brett. She waits for around half an hour before getting a text from Autumn.

Done. Was pretty easy. Where you want it?

Caroline: The text comes to her burner, as she’s passed off her cellphone to her ‘double’ as part of the deception. Caroline directs Autumn to another rented apartment—under Widney’s name—to go over her haul.

GM: Autumn meets Caroline there after another twenty-odd minutes and passes over the external drive. “I swung by your guy’s house. He’s probably done eating dinner by now, but that’s where he was.”

Caroline: Caroline nods as she hands over the drive to Widney to open up on the ghoul’s computer. She sends Autumn back to spy on Ferris and spends a few minutes paging through what Autumn came up with.

GM: If swiftly becomes apparent to Caroline that the drive’s contents will take her much longer than several minutes to read through in their entirety. A cursory glance reveals folders for numerous persons and topics of interest to the family. Caroline has an entire directory all of her own, with numerous sub- and interlinked directories to other topics of note, including Westley Malveaux and Mercurial Fernandez.

All of Caroline’s suspected or confirmed victims have their own files, as do other connected persons including D’Angelo Washington, Talal al-Saud, Paul Simmons, a Henry Mueller, and many more. Emmett Delacroix even has one, located underneath Mercurial Fernandez’.

Autumn suggests it would be less suspicious if they took the same car, so as to have fewer vehicles crammed outside of Ferris’ house. It’s not a very crowded neighborhood besides. Taking the wheel behind her black BMW is a pleasant change for Caroline from the weeks of Ryde rides, and the Ventrue and her ghoul arrive at their destination after a fifteen-minute drive. The security guard’s eyes glaze over as Caroline commands him to let her vehicle past the walled, barbed wire-tipped perimeter designed to keep out non-residents. Past it, Lakeview is an affluent suburban neighborhood on the southern edge of Lake Lake Pontchartrain and the far north of the city’s downtown hub. A steady rain plunks against the dark lake’s rippling surface and the endless black expanse it stretches off into. It’s like staring off the edge of the world.

Those edges overflowed during one not-too distant point. Dozens of homes clustered right against Pontchartrain’s waterfront made Lakeview one of the city’s worst-flooded areas during Katrina. Rebuilding efforts were clearly much higher priority in the upper-income, majority-white neighborhood than the Ninth Ward, however. Caroline could hardly guess that Pontchartrain’s hungry black waters once devoured everything where her car now sits. Now, the neighborhood is merely still and peaceful as it beds down for the night. Golf courses sit empty, and no ice cream trucks, dogs being walked, or tricycle-riding children are visible on the streets. Rows and rows of seemingly cloned McMansion houses endlessly stretch sideways and behind Caroline, stopping only at the edge of the lake. It doesn’t even feel like Caroline is in New Orleans. There are identical development lots to this one in countless other suburbs throughout the country.

Roger Ferris’ house is a large, two-story affair with an attached garage, minimalist front garden, and expansive backyard with a high-end barbecue grill. A balcony on the house’s second story affords a pleasant view of the nearby lake, and an attached open-air staircase leads down to the backyard. All told, the home is reflective of the very good money someone of Roger’s background can make in the private sector. It doesn’t have the history of Orson’s 19th century Greek Revival house, and seems more like a high-end purchase than a place steeped in history. But Caroline can still imagine cooking hamburgers on the grill during some hot July day, perhaps with a tall glass of lemonade, and sitting back on the deck chairs to enjoy a cool breeze from the lake.

But it’s harder than before.

Perhaps it’s the dark, wet night that makes thoughts of food and warmth seem so remote. The steady plunk of rain against car windows and the low ‘wssshh’ of wind is louder than whatever grilling a burger sounded like (sizzling?). The lake’s endless black expanse makes it hard to summon thoughts of blue skies and bright suns. The warm scent of Autumn, so near to Caroline in the car’s cramped space, so absolutely alive in every sense from her beating heart to her blinking eyes to her wagging tongue, is so much more vital than strips of dead protein being artificially warmed over metal. It’s so easy to picture drawing that animus out of Autumn’s fleshy shell and into herself.

Autumn offers her domitor a pair of binoculars as she glances towards one of the house’s brightly-lit window. “He’s watching a movie with his daughter, looks like. They were eating dinner last I checked before then. Doesn’t seem to be a wife in the picture.”

Or perhaps it’s the simple fact that Caroline will forever be the outsider sitting off in the wet and the dark, only able to peer in on lives like Ferris’.

Caroline: “No, there wouldn’t be,” Caroline answers the ghoul, trying to focus on the agent instead of her agent. The entire thing just smells wrong. The jump to murder, especially when Wright so conveniently offered an alternative scenario… she can’t help but suspect someone else is helping to drive the investigation in a direction that can only end badly for her.

“Let’s go have a chat.”

She has Autumn approach the house and ring the bell, lingering out of frame from the window.

GM: Caroline can make out Ferris sitting on a couch that’s facing a wall-mounted TV screen. He’s a tall man in his 40s or so, with a close-cropped beard and mustache. His hair is grayer than the rest of his angular face looks, and his fit frame, though not rippling with muscle, lacks any excess body fat. The man has an almost wolf-like countenance—lean, mean, and hungry. He’s dressed in a simple sweater and pair of jeans.

The girl sitting next to him looks maybe eleven or twelve, with all the awkwardness that age entails. She’s just a little too thin, with plain and mousy facial features, a noticeable red pimple on the bottom of her right cheek, and shoulder-length black hair. She wears a tank top and pair of pajama pants. Roger turns his head to say something inaudible to her, then gets up to answer the door.

“Can I help you?” he asks Autumn.

Caroline: Caroline steps into frame. “I think a conversation is long overdue, don’t you, Mr. Ferris?” Her tone is neither menacing nor friendly. Her expression is severe.

GM: The security chief’s neutral expression doesn’t change as Caroline appears. “Excuse me for a moment.” He holds the door open for the two, but doesn’t wait for a reply before he turns away and calls, “Miranda, I’ve got visitors. Get ready for bed.”

“Okay, Dad,” calls a girl’s voice.

Ferris strides out of the house’s entry hall, disappearing from sight. Caroline hears the sounds of the TV die. “We’ll finish this later.” There’s a sound of distant footsteps, one pair light and one pair heavier.

Caroline: Caroline steps into the house when he holds the door open and takes a position further in the entryway where she has a better feel for where he’s going, and more importantly, what he’s doing.

GM: Her family’s security chief’s is so calm and swift ushering her and Autumn inside that Caroline almost doesn’t process it when he abruptly disappears out of sight, past the entrance to the house’s living room.

Caroline: She proceeds after him on light—and swift—feet.

GM: Caroline walks into the living room. There’s a couch, two overstuffed chairs, the wall-mounted TV, a visible connected kitchen that Miranda seems to have disappeared into, and an empty fireplace. Ferris stands nearby with a gun held in his hands, trained low to to the ground.

“That would be a bad idea if you’re thinking of mindfucking me,” he mentions offhandedly.

Caroline: “Why is that?” Caroline asks him coolly.

GM: “Sit down,” Roger says, motioning with the gun. His stance with it is casual. Like it’s not really a weapon.

Autumn’s eyes cut to Caroline’s.

Caroline: “Oh Roger, I’d wanted to keep you out of this. Was trying to figure out a way to keep you in the dark, even as you dig.” Caroline does not move to sit at the orders. She genuinely seems regretful.

GM: “That was unrealistic of you.”

Caroline: “Maybe it was, but you don’t know what you’ve been pulled into. It’s a recent thing, isn’t it? Father Malveaux, I presume?”

GM: “I’ve always worked for a Malveaux,” Roger answers.

Caroline: “Proof,” Caroline says shortly. “That you’re not just a hunter.”

He’ll know what to provide if he is what he claims.

GM: Ferris shrugs, nicks his finger with a pocketknife, and extends it to Caroline.

Caroline: She samples the blade’s edge with her tongue.

GM: She tastes the telltale flavor of diluted vitae. Weaker than any Kindred’s, but stronger than any mortal’s.

Caroline: She shakes her head. “And he was the one that set you on the trail, building evidence. It seemed unlikely that you’d settle on ‘heiress goes insane and starts murdering’ over other, more likely scenarios. Especially when Turner and Polk were clearly murdered. No reason to hire security to murder them yourself.”

GM: “The two of you can sit now. We both know guns are next to useless. Those murders of yours though, all very sloppy. It’s no wonder your kind need men like me.”

Caroline: “Which ones?”

GM: “All of them.”

Caroline: Caroline makes no move to sit, though she does stroll over to the mantle.

“Ah, you’re mistaken in that.”

GM: “I’ll have to dig deeper then. Don’t want to disappoint the new boss.”

Caroline: “You should talk him about them, since two belong to him.”

GM: “I know.”

Caroline: “So what is this, build a case against me to throw me under the bus?”

GM: “The Sanctified could bury you without any of this if they wanted to.”

Caroline: “So why the fuss?”

There’s a growing anger hidden behind her words. It speaks not in her tone, but in her body language.

GM: “Better question. What extra fuss is there for the Masquerade since you started looking into this? I hope you didn’t kill one of my people.”

Caroline: “Whatever I may be, Roger, I don’t set out each night to be a monster. Your people are all hale and whole. If I was really that monstrous do you think I’d have let you shepherd away your daughter? Or that we’d be having this conversation?”

GM: “She could scream. Run out the door. Or not scream, and climb out her window. I’d kill me quietly down here and smother her with a pillow upstairs if I were the one doing that.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “You’re a dangerous man, Roger, but I think that’s enough on that morbid subject.”

She finishes her study of the pictures on the mantle, the ones of Roger and his daughter. “Put the gun down, it makes you look foolish.”

GM: The closest picture shows the two of them in front of the iconic castle-gate entrance to Disneyland. There’s a little less salt in Roger’s pepper beard, while his daughter is a smaller, significantly cuter-looking child, though there’s still more mouse than wolf in her facial features. They seem to have taken more after her mother.

Caroline: “I came to talk, because I don’t want to hurt your people, but this,” she waves a hand, “cannot continue. I needed to know how deep it ran.”

GM: The ghoul doesn’t relax the gun as he continues, “For now the boss needs you alive. Mrs. Malveaux will blame us if you disappear and stop cooperating. Another mess to clean up.”

Caroline: Caroline stops cold. “I respect you, Roger. Maybe even liked you when I was still alive. But if you refer to my mother as a ‘mess to clean up’ again I’ll take that gun from you and put it in your daughter’s mouth, do you understand?”

GM: “And if you threaten my family a second time there won’t be a third.” Roger’s tone and posture remain level. “If we’re done posturing, are you ready to carry out Father Malveaux’s orders?”

Caroline: “I’m ready to hear his requests,” Caroline counters.

GM: “Stupid. You’ve been an annoyance to him so far. Keep pushing him and you’ll be his enemy.”

Caroline: “He’s murdered my people and only needs me ‘alive’ for now. I think we’re well past the point of annoyance,” Caroline offers. “But by all means, I’m willing to hear his wishes in the spirit of avoiding a conflict that would end with you and I both dead and the family worse off for it.” She then corrects, “Well… deader.”

GM: “My team’s off-limits. He’ll be checking their heads periodically to see if you’ve been in there.”

Caroline: “A delightful experience to be sure,” Caroline offers. “What else?”

GM: “I’ll be our go-between in any future dealings. He doesn’t want to ever talk with you again if he can help it.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Is that a demand or a concession?” she asks.

GM: “You’re lucky you’re still an annoyance,” Roger repeats.

Caroline: Caroline gives Roger a very flat look. “Anything else?”

GM: “Last time I’ll warn you about him, Caroline. Killing you would be quite a disfavor to my old boss, and burning bridges like that isn’t good business in my line of work. But if you aggravate him any more, he and the sheriff will take care of Mrs. Malveaux without you. They have standing. Connections. The prince’s favor. You don’t.”

“I liked you too when you were alive. Don’t do anything stupid.”

Caroline: “Like not bend to their every whim and demand while they hold your investigation over me like the Sword of Damocles?”

GM: “Occasional requests. He doesn’t think you’re trustworthy enough to handle many of the things he’d want. But he’s not going to sweep my investigation under the rug for free either.”

Caroline: “Blackmailing me with a Masquerade breach that he engineered. How shocking. And when is that fee paid off?”

GM: “He’s not even thinking about that until I’ve bribed every witness, paid off every PI, put my team on new assignments, and shut this whole thing down.”

Caroline: “So indefinite blackmail, then.”

GM: “He’d never create a Masquerade breach. That’s blasphemy.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t bother responding to that.

“It’s a bad play, Roger,” she murmurs. “A very bad play. Especially when you’ve been ramping up the investigation, not ramping down. Carolinegate?” She shakes her head.

GM: “Brett’s always been the one with the sense of humor. It all started when you killed Paxton.”

Caroline: “It all started when Paxton barged in and shot me in the head,” Caroline snaps back. “And that it didn’t stop after he brought you in does not encourage me.”

GM: “It started when you didn’t ghoul him. Get rid of his car. Invent a cover story for his disappearance. Sloppy.”

“But you’re right about one thing. It’s done. Waste of breath now. How did you find out and what did you disturb when you did?”

Caroline: “I went poking around your network. You keep very detailed files.”

GM: “Margaret’s compromised, then. Shame. She was useful.”

Caroline: “They’re gone, by the way.”

GM: “You don’t need to be a Margaret to make backups.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite smirk. “Was there anything else in the now?”

GM: “A reliable number for me to reach you. And the immediate return of any file copies you made. We’ll drive back to wherever you’re keeping them.”

Caroline: “And in return for all of this?”

GM: “Father Malveaux keeps considering you an annoyance instead of an enemy. He’d be a madman to let you keep those files.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip in thought for a moment before shaking her head.

“No. Not under those conditions.”

GM: “If you want a war he’ll give you one. All of the city will be on his side.”

Caroline: “I want nothing to do with him,” Caroline replies. “I want to never see him again. I want to stage my ‘death’ and get out of his business, and he out of mine. All of those things I was well on the way to doing before you stuck your nose deeper and deeper into my business.”

GM: “You were driving here to drop off his files? Hand them over then, please.” It’s the closest thing to humor Caroline thinks she’s seen from her family’s retainer yet.

Caroline: “I’d actually thought to find out how far down the rabbit hole things had gone here, and whether this mess could still be covered up without bringing it to his attention by folding everything into my pending ‘death’.”

GM: “Tampering with his domain instead of going to him. Foolish.”

Caroline: “And yet I was doing it for your sake, Roger.” Caroline sets her head to the side for the statement, in a chiding tone.

GM: “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Caroline: “Turner thought the same thing.”

GM: “I’ve learned all about her mistakes.”

Caroline: “A word of caution, Roger,” Caroline offers sincerely. “Get out when you can. Before he uses you up. Before you end up another suicide and your daughter ends up without a father. Or you don’t and the same thing happens. Eventually this life will consume you. It’ll drag you in.”

GM: “I’m sure there’s plenty other ghouls who thought it could never happen to them. I won’t be one. I’ll study everything they did wrong and do it right.”

Caroline: “I knew a ghoul, a century old or more. Do you know what he was?”

GM: “Incompetent not to get Embraced by that point.”

Caroline: “Jesus Christ,” Caroline murmurs. “You actually want this?”

GM: “You’re predators. So am I.” The sharp-featured, gray-bearded man’s wolf-like countenance seems all the more lupine. “You’ve got a head start. I’ll catch up.”

Caroline: “No, Roger. We’re not predators. We’re monsters. We’re devils wrapped in the flesh of people others once knew. And eventually all that’s left is the devil.”

GM: “But one thing I’ve observed,” Roger says thoughtfully. “Turner and Polk were both at your mercy. No backup. No friends. They were just the help. And helpless.”

“I think I can talk Father Malveaux into settling for more modest demands.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t smile, but she does finally slide into a seat, watching the ghoul. Lounging, one hand on her chin.

“Can you now,” she half-asks, half-states.

GM: “In return, you’ll owe me. You’ll be my friend,” Ferris continues shrewdly. “The backup your ghouls could never call on. But unlike Father Malveaux, I’ll be your friend too. I won’t ever burn my own boss, but you’ll at least get something out of this arrangement.”

Caroline: “What kind of more modest demands?” Caroline asks, contemplative.

GM: Ferris finally takes his own seat on the couch. Autumn, silent throughout the entire exchange, sits down on one of the fat chairs.

“The files still get returned. Even I don’t want you to have those. But a fixed debt instead of an indefinite one.”

Caroline: “Those files could bring down the Malveaux family. To their knees. Unelectable, under investigation. Prison time for some, I’d expect. Probably most of your team. Maybe you, though I don’t think you were that careless,” Caroline replies bluntly. “Assets frozen.”

GM: “No. Orson and the others aren’t so stupid as to trust me with everything. And I’m not so stupid as to put everything on a potentially hackable system that Margaret has administrator access to. It would be inconvenient for those to come out. Painful. But not a death blow.”

Caroline: “There’s enough. How large of a ‘debt’ are we talking about?”

GM: “Enough for him to feel like he’s been compensated for the mess with Paxton. And everything else.”

Caroline: Caroline waits.

GM: “Don’t forget. The moment you release those files, Father Malveaux goes to war with you and has the prince’s entire bloc on his side. They can make scandals disappear in ways I only used to dream about.”

“So you’re suggesting what, a grade four debt? Grade five?” Autumn asks.

Ferris’ eyes take in Autumn’s words, but his gaze remains steady on Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline stares at Ferris, then rises at last. “Not decisions that need to be made tonight. I’m not handing over anything until you speak with him on your end. ‘I think’ is not enough to sell me, Roger.”

GM: “Father Malveaux won’t negotiate with you. You’re mud off a boot to him. I would suggest that you’re too incompetent and unstable for him to meaningfully recoup anything from a larger debt.”

Caroline: “Roger, you’re a very capable man, you tell me: how much attention would you pay to an employee with no experience in your field who started working yesterday? You can communicate to him that I have no desire to interfere in his business, or antagonize him, and that I’ll be happy to arrange an exchange. But not on a non-herald’s ‘perhaps’.”

GM: Roger shakes his head. “Still don’t get it. He won’t negotiate with you for those files. He’ll just take them. Or the sheriff will.”

Caroline: “Then he can take them from Lord Savoy. I’ll sure he’d be thrilled to have a visit from his childe.”

GM: Roger rises from his seat.

“It’s too bad, Caroline. We could’ve gone a long ways as friends.”

Caroline: Caroline lays a hand on the ghoul’s cheek.

“Boons, Roger. They’re called boons.”

GM: He calmly removes her hand and looks at Autumn. “Clever girl.”

The other ghoul silently stares back.

Caroline: “I don’t want a war, Roger. I don’t think do you either. I’ll give you a couple of hours. Talk to him. Tell him how incompetent I am. Get a number.”

She pulls a card from her purse and sets it on the table.

“And call me if you do. We can trade. I want this investigation killed and the files on it destroyed. I want coordination with you to ensure a seamless Masquerade ‘death’ as proposed before—I’ve already done all the leg work and vetted it through the prince and the Krewe, and I want a reasonable demand for his loses to date to settle our account. I think you can get that.”

GM: “The prince and the Krewe. He could turn them against you if he doesn’t like it.”

Caroline: “It’s a good look for him. Promotes the family’s interests and image. And Dad’s. The narrative even fits seamlessly into your own facts: that I was increasingly threatened and eventually killed by a bunch of darkies. Much more convincing to all of your own investigators than a convenient accident in the middle of your investigation. Better for the Masquerade.”

GM: “We’ll see if he thinks so.” Ferris turns the card over. “I’ll call you tomorrow night with a location to meet. None of this should be done over phones.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll owe you one if you do. You’ll have your backup,” she replies gently.

GM: “And never again at my house.”

Caroline: “Of course not. How strange would it seem if a dead heiress visited the family’s head of security after hours?” Her smile fades again like the setting sun. “Don’t get any ideas in the morning, Roger.”

GM: Ferris walks the two back to the home’s entryway and opens the front door to the night and the steadily plunking rain outside.

“Your family pays me to come up with ideas, Miss Malveaux. Every generation of them.”

A low crack of thunder sounds outside. A brief flash of lightning starkly illuminates the ugly scar tissue of his two missing fingers.

Caroline: “He’d win,” she concedes. “But some battles aren’t worth fighting.”

She turns to take her leave.

Wednesday night, 16 December 2015, PM

GM: The door closes behind Caroline. Rain splashes over her clothes and hair.

Autumn waits for her domitor to unlock the BMW’s doors and gets inside.

“So, what’d you think?”

Caroline: “I think Brian needs to get everyone up for the morning,” she offers as she accelerates away. The words are terse, tight, sharp, her face tight with strain.

“Roger’s capable. Always delivered. We’ll see if he does it again. Otherwise this is going to get very messy.”

GM: “What’s the plan if it does?”

Caroline: “Jump ship,” Caroline replies. A moment later, “Maybe. I don’t think the prince wants a fight right now. Not over this. Not after the trial.”

GM: “Sounds like you’re not sure whether you’re bluffing or not. And yeah, no kidding, he’d side with Father Malveaux any night.” More quietly, “Though it might not even be a fight. The father probably doesn’t need the backup.”

Caroline: “Yeah, but it’d be a bad look. A very bad look, after a trial filled with them, to execute his newly anointed and released member of the flock, especially of any of the details came out.” Why do I always seem to end up against him? she asks herself. “There are only so many masters I can serve at once. Only so long we can kick problems down the line.”

GM: “What do you think it would be like taking up with Savoy?”

Caroline: “Hard.”

GM: “Well, the prince could always execute you without announcing it. I mean… no offense, but who would raise a fuss? Even now that you’re a real Ventrue.”

Caroline: “I don’t think Savoy would miss the opportunity to kick the prince over it.”

GM: “I guess having your death avenged is something.”

Caroline: “No. It isn’t.”

GM: “You need more friends. All the Kindred in the Krewe had each other backing them up, and that was just inside it.”

Caroline: Caroline thinks back to that night a couple of months ago, when things looked so promising. The Storyvilles. Skyman. Release around the corner. Her knuckles tighten over the wheel.

“Ferris is right about one thing. We’re predators. And we’ll all going to take every bit as much as another gives. Eventually you have to show your teeth. Maybe they come anyway. Maybe the flesh on your bones is reason enough. Or maybe it’s not worth your bite. We’ll find out. If I took that deal though, I’d be his slave forever.”

GM: “Yeah, that was probably the intent.” Autumn looks out the car’s rain-slick window. “What do you think of Ferris as an ally?”

Caroline: “Valuable. If he survives. He’s a dangerous man. Ambitious is the wrong word. Calculating might be better. Always looking at the angles, digging for the best play, a stronger position. I think he’ll believe having an ally outside of the good father is worth making an attempt. We’ll find out.”

GM: “You having one who’s not a lick could be useful. Less wheeling and dealing he can do as a ghoul. I’m not sure if he gets that, though. He didn’t seem that deferential around you. Kinda like Diego.”

Caroline: “He doesn’t. Half of what he said tonight…” Caroline shakes her head. “Say that to the wrong Kindred…”

GM: “Yeah, and he’s got Father Malveaux as his domitor… though I guess being a security type could help him there. Turner was always pretty respectful towards you.”

Caroline: Turner. The idea of her body getting dragged out of its grave for this mess lights a match under the Ventrue’s already brewing temper, but Caroline blows it out by changing the subject.

“Call Rebecca. No one is to be alone until this wraps up.”

GM: “Sure. Besides that, is there anything you want me to do or look into for this?”

Caroline: “We’re going to go pay a visit tonight. Other than that, keep your head down like her. I don’t want anyone leaving the building. Honestly, I don’t even want you all opening doors. If they decide to go violent…” She shakes her head in frustration. “You’ve already done great tonight, Autumn.”

GM: “Thanks. Where to?”

Caroline: “Vieux Carré.”

Wednesday night, 16 December 2015, PM

GM: “Miss Malveaux! They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it makes the heart grow sick as well. After you left the Evergreen, I became indisposed and inconsolable; now that you have returned, I am a new Kindred!” Savoy laughs as Fabian pulls out her chair on the Evergreen’s rooftop garden. Caroline had to wait a few hours downstairs, but the Evergreen kept her more than entertained.

Caroline: “That makes us two if a kind then, Lord Savoy, for without your praise I fear I’d wilt like a neglected plant. What a wonderful and terrible fate we’ve found.”

GM: As usual, the process of Caroline visiting Savoy has involved several cab rides taking circuitous routes through the Quarter, all of them pre-arranged by Preston. Savoy has always chuckled that this will simply let Caroline “keep your options open!”

Caroline: “But how fortunate that we’ve found each other with it.”

GM: “I believe the term is interdependence, my dear—and there are some who make the case for it being a more desirable state than independence.”

Caroline: “Like a flower and a bee?” Caroline asks innocently.

GM: “A flower and a bee,” Savoy nods. “Indicative of one’s place within the world as a symbiotic organism and a social animal. We don’t stop being either of those after we die.”

“Instinct does not die with the flesh,” Preston offers in seemingly tacit agreement.

Caroline: “Sadly, it’s stingers I came to discuss this evening.”

GM: “Stingers can present another form of opportunity, Miss Malveaux. A bee dies without its stinger—and sometimes fewer bees are just what we want. What opportunities shall we discuss tonight?”

Caroline: “Father Malveaux.”

GM: The Toreador gestures grandly for Caroline to proceed as Fabian sets down three red-filled crystal glasses.

Caroline: Caroline briefly outlines the father’s minions spying on her and the current unpleasantness surrounding the results of that investigation.

“It’s gotten rather messy.”

GM: “That is a rather sticky situation,” Savoy nods once Caroline is finished. “How would you like to see it play out, my dear?”

Caroline: “Hard to tell, Lord Savoy, it seemed an unusual circumstance. You’ll understand why my thought was to turn to a distinguished elder that might have seen such a thing in the past.” She doesn’t quite smile. “Especially given the delicate political situation right now. Of course I wouldn’t wish to deny one of my elders in clan and covenant his due, but this seems… outside of the normal bounds.”

GM: Savoy laughs at Caroline’s insinuation. “Watch out for this one in fifty years, Nat! Or maybe even come the next Carnival!”

“As you say, sir,” Preston replies.

Caroline: Another not-quite smile. “Nor would I want to cause further unrest in general, especially with the nasty business of the trial only just behind us.”

GM: “Of course not, Miss Malveaux. The all-night society needs time to pause and catch its breath after those events. And so do you! Why,” he remarks thoughtfully, “if that investigation were to run its full course, I don’t suppose you’d have much choice but to fake your death. Would you sooner stop things from getting to that point?”

Caroline: “I’d even understand it if that were his position,” she offers magnanimously. “I imagine few would desire another Kindred so much more tightly bound to their domain than they are… especially given the demands of the Malveaux family, but this seems to go further with the suggestion of indefinite demands related to a seeming Masquerade breach in waiting. Now, I’m only a neonate, so perhaps there’s something I’m missing, but it seems to fly in the face of prestation.”

GM: “And its inherent irresponsibility to the Masquerade,” Preston assesses. “This is hardly the manner of ploy I would normally expect from Father Malveaux, sir.”

“Perhaps we’re not seeing the full picture,” Savoy muses.

“His judgment is far from impartial, sir. Miss Malveaux is entangled with his domain to a greater than normative degree for a newly-released neonate.”

“Should he feel so threatened by her?” Savoy smiles. “No, a foolish question. His position isn’t one I can say I envy.”

“He has expressed concern in this area, Miss Malveaux, that you are overly entangled in his domain?” Preston inquires.

Caroline: “He has,” Caroline grants. “He previously demanded that I fake my mortal death as quickly as feasible, and under terms that he dictated. He has also made other demands, such as not utilizing the gifts of Caine upon any of them.”

“And with some legitimacy—I’ll certainly grant that my Masquerade-keeping was not so careful as it might have been under other circumstances during the matter of René Baristheaut. But to go so far as, in the aftermath, exhuming the bodies of Ms. Turner, and Ms. Polk—one of whom he himself killed—is a step further than I’d expected. After all, there are many things that may divide us, but I had thought the Masquerade the duty of all Kindred to all Kindred.” Another innocent remark.

GM: “Oh, Miss Malveaux, surely you jest.” The smile on the Toreador’s face hasn’t quite fallen, but it’s no longer so full. “One should keep one’s family at arm’s length after the Embrace, of course. Poor Mr. Grunewald has been a lesson to us all there. But family can still ease the transition into the Requiem, and well-adjusted neonates are to the benefit of the entire city. And of course there’ll be the media and police scrutiny when the Malveauxes have another death in the family… surely the good father has attempted to come to some arrangement—find some accommodation that could benefit you both?”

Savoy is frowning. It’s the first time Caroline can remember seeing the expression on his face.

Caroline: “I believe his exact words were that I had one month until he ‘did it for me’. And further that it was to be, exclusively, a tragic accident.”

GM: “Miss Malveaux… this is deeply troublesome,” Savoy answers.

His frown does not abate.

Caroline: “All the more so for me, given the rash of neonates recently executed and the threat to ‘bring down the city’ on me. Once more, you can see why there was only one Kindred in the city whom I thought could offer council on it.”

GM: “This poses numerous threats to the Masquerade at large, the stability of our covenant, and your personal well-being,” the Toreador declares. “Something must be done.”

Caroline: “Perhaps calmer heads may prevail tomorrow evening,” she offers bleakly.

GM: “It’s well and good to trust in others, Miss Malveaux, but one must always be prepared to do the job oneself. No, this can’t progress any further. Leaving aside questions of ‘how’.. what would you consider an ideal resolution to this state of affairs, my dear? Let us assume the good father is as receptive to seeing reason as you yourself are.”

Caroline: “Lord Savoy, I feel I have been more than patient and deferential. I turned the cheek twice in the face of the unprovoked murder of my servants and gruesome attacks on my person by Father Malveaux when in fits of rage. I later apologized to him and swore a major boon. I had hoped when he ceased to be my confessor and our interactions grew less frequent his antagonism would grow less egregious. It has, clearly, not.”

The Ventrue speaks the words cleanly and crisply, but also without passion almost as though reading from a card. “At this point I simply wish an end to the antagonism. For that I’ll gladly trade the comfort of my mortal family—as I had already been planning to do—and even in a way that benefited the interests of his domain—at considerable cost to myself.”

GM: “Of course, Miss Malveaux. Wanting peace between you and non-interference in one another’s domains is all quite reasonable.” Savoy drums his fingers on the iron table thoughtfully. “We also have the Masquerade to consider. You’re right to want something besides an accident. But another death so soon after your brother’s…”

The Toreador doesn’t frown again, but the look on his face grows more solemn. “This may be a great deal to ask, my dear. But if an accommodation were reached with the good father, would you be willing—as a favor to me—to continue living among your mortal family? For either a few years, or if you’re willing to truly place the Masquerade above all—indefinitely?”

Caroline: Caroline leans forward. “While you certainly have far more experience with the Maquerade than I, Lord Savoy, I’m not certain that would not cause more trouble than it might prevent. There are an array of rather public and daytime functions I’m obligated towards by the particular nature of the Malveaux family. Events that are rather difficult to explain absences from.”

GM: Savoy nods. “It won’t be simple or convenient at first, Miss Malveaux. It’ll be a continual balancing act, and an effectively a double life for you to lead. If that’s more than you’re willing or think you’re able to take on, then faking your death may be the best course of action after all.”

“But there are many Kindred who’ve led successful personal masquerades among the kine—I’ve done it myself—some of them under close public or private scrutiny. I’ve seen you handle every challenge that’s come your way, my dear, and I have full confidence that you could rise to this one too.”

An easy smile spreads across the Toreador’s face. “Nor are such challenges without rewards.”

Caroline: “A double life deeply embedded in the personal business of one of the prince’s most staunch allies, and amidst one if the prince’s very own pawns,” Caroline offers warily but leadingly. “Far more than the struggles of a given Masquerade are the struggles created by that ongoing conflict—Father Malveaux is jealous of his domain, and I cannot say I would not be just so in his place.”

GM: The Toreador’s smile doesn’t waver. “All of us must endure inconveniences for the Masquerade, my dear. I’m confident the good father may be made to see reason.”

Caroline: Caroline puts on a pout. “You don’t think I could pull off a convincing ‘death’, Lord Savoy?”

GM: Savoy only chuckles. “You’re not buying what I have to sell, are you, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “I don’t know about that, Lord Savoy.” Caroline’s expression turns on a dime to one of wry amusement. “But you’ll have to share something of what’s in the box.” Another expression shift, a more innocent tone.

“After all, I thought we were simply talking about protecting the Masquerade… you wouldn’t be suggesting that there may be an ulterior motive to your suggestion as to my personal Masquerade among the Malveaux family, would you?”

GM: The Toreador laughs now, full and deep. “You see that, Nat? We’ve underestimated Miss Malveaux. Serves us right.”

“Yes, sir,” the Malkavian dispassionately notes.

“And serves us well to have realized that mistake before the rest of the city,” Savoy remarks slyly.

Caroline: “Oh, not at all, Lord Savoy,” Caroline replies. “I’m just an innocent young neonate without even a sire to teach them the basics. All these complicated politics go right past me.”

GM: “The truth in those words is your cloak, my dear. The lie is your dagger. And I am fortunate not to have been cut any deeper by it!”

“Sir?” Preston queries, looking towards Savoy.

The Toreador nods his head.

“What is the extent of your knowledge regarding Father Malveaux’s mortal background, Miss Malveaux?” Preston asks.

Thursday evening, 12 November 2015

Caroline: Father Malveaux. Her family’s custodian. Her too often foe. While Becky Lynne may report that much of his mortal life—as with most—is irrelevant, Caroline is not idle in her many investigations, especially as resources come online.

His ties to her family are the first—and perhaps easiest—method to run down. How many Malveauxes went missing? How many albinos have they had? His own age and influence makes the task easier for her researchers—none of whom is she foolish enough to have report to her directly—save one. She doesn’t expect much when she raises the topic with her elusive mother, but common foes can make stranger things happen.

The State of Louisiana is old, and corrupt, but its records are just as old—and often available for private researchers. The family of course keeps its own records, though Caroline doesn’t particularly trust them. Between private investigators, researchers, her existing knowledge, and whatever her mother offers she puts together the beginnings of a dossier on the vile old fiend.

GM: Caroline’s tutor neither agrees nor dissents with her on the importance of Father Malveaux’s mortal origins, but simply states that the personal (and mortal) histories of the Gerousia fall outside the scope of her agreement with Gerousiastis Matheson, “Beyond those bits every Ventrue knows.” Becky Lynne is, however, open to striking another arrangement with regards to such information.

Caroline’s mother is more direct and simply asks her what end she intends to use that knowledge towards.

Caroline: Caroline indicates to her mother that she has no specific purpose towards the information beyond gathering it now, that the two have had numerous meetings, and that she’s simply trying to gain a better understanding of him. In the long term it may be part of a move against him, or may simply be part of a means of reaching a better accommodation. She does let on however that the former may be more likely than the latter.

“He’s a monster even by their standards.”

GM: Claire purses her lips initially, then tells Caroline that while it won’t hurt to look into public records, she shouldn’t expect much to come of it. “I already looked, years ago. I’m relatively certain he destroyed them to hide his origins. That was even easier during his mortal lifetime than it is now.”

However, one thing that Father Malveaux cannot destroy so easily is oral history. The Malveauxes know their past as intimately as any other old Southern family. Claire recommends that Caroline talk further with Thomas, the family’s de facto historian. She’s long since done so herself, but the Supreme Court justice’s memory stretches further back than hers ever will.

Nightfall is around 7:30, and Caroline has noticed that she seems to be waking up later than she used to. Together with the time it takes to get dressed and drive somewhere, she has no good excuse to turn down Thomas’ dinner invitation. He’s long since gone home from the office. The Supreme Court justice and his wife Esther receive Caroline pleasantly at their Victorian-style home in the Garden District. Neither of the octogenarians has a great appetite at their age, and they appear to expect the 25-year-old to make up for theirs with the nauseous spoonfuls of pasta with tomato basil sauce, lemon-drizzled grilled asparagus, and two slices of buttery garlic bread they heap onto Caroline’s too-large plate. They make equally false conversation around how Caroline is doing at Tulane, her looming graduation, and her plans for the future after she passes the bar. It’s still better than when Thomas talks about current cases facing the Supreme Court whose details he expects Caroline to know.

Esther eventually declares she’s going to bed. Thomas invites Caroline to continue their conversation outside on the front porch, where they can admire how the oak-lined Garden District almost resembles a shadow-strewn, intermittently lit-up forest past nightfall. Thomas brings out two mugs of coffee punch, a regional confection that consists of coffee mixed with ice cream. He takes vanilla with his, while Caroline is welcome to chocolate if she wants something sweeter. When the subject of discussion finally drifts towards Father Malveaux, the old man nods his head slowly and remarks,

“Yes, there are stories about an albino who was born around the end of the War Between the States. ‘The’ albino, I should say. Always with a ‘the’ in front. I’m not sure what his real name was. Now my grandfather Joseph, who’d be your great-great-grandfather, actually knew him, so maybe I just don’t remember the name. I was young when my granddaddy died in ‘47. Only 14. And he would have been… let me see… oh, actually old enough to be the Albino’s younger brother, maybe by half a decade.”

“The Albino was my grandfather’s paternal uncle, and the youngest child of Andre Malveaux, who was our patriarch during the War Between the States. And Andre’s daughter, the Albino’s sister Monique, is one of the names most floated for bearing the son of Napoleon’s nephew—although if that rumor is true, and Monique was his mother, it would mean neither of us has any Bonaparte blood in our veins. Unless any cousins intermarried to bring it back in.” Thomas smiles with amusement. “But our disputed relation to Napoleon is another topic. Now, Joseph would have been around your age when he last knew the Albino.”

Thomas strokes his chin in thought. “Many old families have stories about the insane uncle locked away in their attic. My grandfather always said the Albino was a strange one. There was how he looked, of course. It goes without saying people were less tolerant 100 years ago. My granddaddy also said he blinked all the time, like a lizard, and developed unsightly rashes under the sun. He would have ‘fits’ whenever he went out in public, too. Grandpa never said what those exactly were, just that it was impossible to take him anywhere. He was small, too. Feeble and sickly. Always down with some illness. My grandfather’s father, the Albino’s brother, always called him ‘the runt of the litter.’”

“He close to the family’s women, though. Always close to them. Especially to his mother Beatrice, who would be your… how many greats is that… great-great-great-great-grandmother, and his sister Monique, who’d be your great-great-great-grand-aunt. They babied him and defended him from his older brothers. Who I’m sure you can guess teased him constantly, brothers being brothers.” Thomas chuckles. “You did grow up with three.”

“The Albino was supposed to have a sharp mind, though—the sharpest in his family’s generation. He devoured books. Read everything in the family library five times over. He had interests in the most peculiar range of fields, from botany to chess to mathematics. None of them were very practical, particularly in his day and age, but I suppose they were harmless. He was also a prolific writer, too. At least of letters. That was how he socialized with people outside the family—he wrote to pen pals he never once met. Beatrice was able to convince Andre to make him an accountant or bookkeeper or some other job along those lines for the family. Something involving books. I think he did well for a while there.”

“I suppose his mother and sister couldn’t baby him forever, though. My grandfather said he started to lose it after Monique was engaged. He was hysterical that he’d die after she left him. That’s what he supposedly said, over and over—that ’he’d die’ if she left him.”

“There’s a particular story, which my granddaddy remembers his father telling him—he tried to slip some nauseous botanical concoction he’d brewed up into the food of Monique’s then-fiancée at a family dinner. The man’s, I don’t remember his name, first dinner with his in-laws. He voided his stomach all over the table. The Albino might have done it to embarrass him and break off the marriage, or maybe just out of spite. Who knows.”

“The Albino couldn’t keep it to himself, though. The rest of the family was livid when they found out. I’m not sure if they cleared things up with the man and Monique still married him, or if Monique married someone else. My grandfather never mentioned her dying a spinster, and I think some of the cousins we have out along the Gulf Coast are her descendants. I’d need to check our genealogies.” Thomas smiles deprecatingly. “My mind’s not as sharp as it used to be.”

“In any case, the Albino got worse after his mother Beatrice died. My grandfather says he became deluded. He raved that he’d found some way in one of his books to mathematically disprove the existence of God, or some other nonsense.”

“Andre sometime died in the early 1890s. Monique probably had her own family. That left the Albino’s oldest brother Leonide as his generation’s patriarch, and the one who held ownership of the family home. I’m not sure if there were any more ‘incidents’ or if his brother simply didn’t want him around anymore. It’s also possible that Leonide truly thought he’d be better off outside the home. Whatever the reason, the Albino was sent to an asylum for the insane sometime in the 1890s.”

The old man frowns faintly. “You have to understand that it took very little to get someone committed to an insane asylum in those days. People could be committed for reasons as flimsy as losing their sons in war or their parents being cousins. So for someone like the Albino, who looked and behaved as strangely as he did, I’m sure it took almost nothing.”

Thomas runs a finger along his lined chin thoughtfully. “He reminds me of Virginia in some ways.”

“He didn’t last very long in the asylum. I think it was only a few years later that he died. Conditions in asylums were significantly improved from the 18th century, but they were obviously still a far cry from anything we’d find acceptable today.”

“Leonide and the family did everything to hush up the circumstances of the Albino’s death, of course. They didn’t want people talking about his relation to the Malveauxes. But I don’t think they had to go to much trouble. He was such a recluse I’m not sure many people even knew he existed—though I suppose that kind of gossip always has ways of spreading too.”

“Leonide died only a few years later himself, ironically. Poor man. The Albino, that is. I suppose he was just born in the wrong era. There are homes for people like him now.”

Caroline: You have no idea, Caroline thinks.

GM: True to Claire’s words, Caroline finds little further evidence of Father Malveaux in public records. However, things have changed since Claire’s day: the computerization of those same scholastic resources makes delving into obscure figures like the Albino much easier. The investigative team headed by Autumn turns up much of the same information as Thomas, though with notably (and unsurprisingly) fewer personal specifics.

However, one detail Autumn discovers that Thomas did not mention is the Albino’s friendship, or at least association, with Paul Morphy. Morphy was the greatest chess master in the world during the mid-19th century and lived much of his life in New Orleans. He seems to have been the one associate the Albino had outside of his immediate family. Morphy’s life is well-documented, and there are several obscure references to him playing games of chess with an albinoid young man. Morphy died in 1884 and is easily researchable upon Wikipedia and other online databases.

Claire supplies the final pieces in Caroline’s investigation into Father Malveaux’s mortal past. She confirms the general authenticity of Thomas’ narrative, though she admits many of the specific details are impossible to verify. She also has a name attached to the Albino: Benjamin. She does not explain where she learned it from, nor why she believes it to be a pseudonym and as false as Caroline’s continued pretensions of mortality. “The Albino suits him better anyway.”

Caroline: “Maybe,” Caroline offers. “Though he prefers Father Malveaux.”

GM: Her mother simply stares at that declaration, then says tightly, “Bright lights. He’s extremely sensitive to them.”

Caroline: “A meeting on a sunny beach then,” Caroline quips. “Noon time?”

GM: Her mother isn’t laughing.

“This is no joking matter, Caroline,” she replies severely. “I don’t want you doing something foolish like snapping a flash camera in his face. Once he knows you know his weakness, you will be lucky if he merely tries to expunge it from your memory. And he would follow that source right back to me.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a short laugh, but it’s a bitter and cynical, rather than mirthful sound. “What do you think I’m going to do, Mother? Taunt him? Attack him physically? Any direct conflict like that between us could only end poorly for me, no matter how poorly it also ended for him. If this comes to a conflict it’ll be fought with knives in the back, not swords in hand.”

GM: The nonplussed look on her mother’s face abates only slightly. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

Caroline: Caroline’s own expression softens. “I’m sorry. It’s…” She doesn’t show the weight of the last months quite as her mother does, but it weighs on her all the same. “I don’t have as many conversations as I’d like. To say nothing of mundane family concerns and trying to set up everything.” She shakes her head.

GM: Her mother’s lips relax into a simply pursed position. “Tell me what you intend to do with that information.”

Caroline: “For now? Nothing. Build a better profile for him. Try to get inside his head… for what little that’s worth.”

“I feel like I’m forgetting what it’s like to actually talk to people.” Left unsaid is the rest of it. That she’s forgetting what it’s like to be human.

GM: “Talk with more people, then. We lose our skills if we don’t practice them.”

Caroline: “I’ve been a bit preoccupied with planning my ‘death’. Not exactly a conversation starter.”

GM: Her mother gives a tired shrug. “Then if you can’t find time, it’ll likely continue to slide away from you. Balancing the obligations doesn’t get any easier.”

Caroline: “Don’t they?” Caroline asks. “It gets easier and easier. And that’s the problem.”

Wednesday night, 16 December 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline leans back at Preston’s question, her tone light.

“Nominally born between 1864 and 1866 to Andre and Beatrice Malveaux. Quite the odd one from the beginning. Antisocial but highly intelligent, capable of keeping up with the likes of Paul Morphy at chess. Grew more unstable over time until his eventual committal—and presumably Embrace.”

GM: Savoy gives a hearty laugh. “Now would you listen to that, Nat! The Nosferatu would be jealous.”

Caroline: “That’s their sin, right?” Caroline offers.

GM: “A two-fold sin for them where you are concerned, my dear.”

Caroline: “We all must bear our crosses.”

GM: “Some of them the very same crosses born by others,” Savoy answers, but the twinkling amusement in his eye is gone. “Would you also describe the good father as a jealous individual, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Honestly, Lord Savoy, from what I’ve seen there’s plenty of all seven sins within him, though none so much as wrath.”

GM: “We are concerned that Father Malveaux is mentally unstable and a danger to the city,” Preston states without preamble.

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Generally, or specifically?”

GM: “Your information is not new to us, Miss Malveaux, and thus neither is our concern,” the bespectacled Kindred answers.

Caroline: Caroline eyes the older vampire. “My information is not new to you, Madam Preston?” she intones carefully.

GM: “If you have a specific question, Miss Malveaux, I advise you to ask it rather than whether my last words were accurate. Do you believe I am likely to tell you they are not?” Savoy’s steward answers humorlessly.

Caroline: “My apologies, Madam Preston, I simply sought to provide an opportunity to clarify. I’m certain that Lord Savoy wouldn’t want to suggest, for instance, that his agents were spying on neonates or the prince’s agents,” Caroline defers with apparent sincerity. “Presumably your comments spoke to a pattern of behavior on the part of Father Malveaux reinforced by my tale?”

GM: Savoy smiles amusedly at the mention of his not spying on either. “Fool me once, shame on me, Miss Malveaux. Fool me twice, shame me twice.”

“That is correct,” Preston answers to the Ventrue’s query.

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly at the lord of the French Quarter’s remark. “The night may come, Lord Savoy, when we may speak even ugly truths to each other. For now though, I think we must satisfy ourselves with speaking only those convenient.”

She smiles back at Preston. “You’ll forgive me, Madam Preston, for saying, while I may share your view, somehow doubt that much of the city will agree when speaking to a respected century-old Kindred that has managed to avoid making a great mess of himself to date.”

GM: “I can’t conceive of any words that could be made ugly after passing lips so fair as yours, my dear,” the Toreador lazily replies.

Caroline: “Might I suggestion caution, Lord Savoy? I do so enjoy a challenge.”

GM: Savoy gestures grandiosely for Caroline to proceed with her thoughts.

Caroline: She lets lie that matter and proceeds along their original topic. “Even if he were unstable, I suspect few would be especially concerned given his relative reclusiveness and position under the thumb of the prince.”

GM: Savoy nods. “Until we have proof to confirm my good steward’s suspicions, the matter’s not much more than hearsay. It’s possible he might even be sound of mind. It’s hard to say without a personal examination of the good father-”

“He has little love for Lord Savoy’s partisans and is unlikely to provide us with such an opportunity,” Preston interjects.

“-and maybe this all amounts to nothing. But you don’t make it to my age, Miss Malveaux, without learning to take precautions against every eventuality. If you’re amenable, that’s where you come in.”

Caroline: “Why, Lord Savoy, if only you had some means to bait him out,” Caroline offers innocently.

GM: “And more than even that, my dear. Someone with an insider’s knowledge of the Malveauxes, just to keep an eye on things. There’s been rather too much Kindred attention on a family as high-profile as them of late.”

Caroline: “If you’ll pardon my saying so, Lord Savoy, that’s asking someone to take a rather high dive into a rather small pool.”

GM: Savoy inclines his head.

“And it’s just for that reason, Ms. Malveaux, I wouldn’t begrudge her decision not to. But if she did, I’d be there right next to her with a shovel. Digging that pool deeper. And I would not soon forget such aid.”

Caroline: Dad, stop following me around. The expression pops out, one of his favorites. He’d always felt that ‘out on a limb’ gave too much credit to blind luck, rather than margins of error and skill.

What is she even doing here? Sitting across the table from the lord of the French Quarter. The rival to the prince, her sire, who already has already seen a death sentence laid upon her, contingent on more than one of the things that Savoy is asking her.

The safe play would have been to take the deal. Suffer under the thumb of Father Malveaux… an unpleasant existence perhaps, but a continued one. This isn’t simply playing with fire, standing here so close to Savoy, it’s soaking her dress in gasoline first. And yet… something refuses to bow to the demented albino. Was all the more infuriated by the threat of the sheriff’s action. Was deeply offended by Roger’s outright threats. The suggestion—however true—that she might simply be swept from the board.

Time and again the prince has hung her out to dry, has set her up, has put her in impossible positions as part of some deeper game she is not privy too. Has threatened her. Seen her tortured. Seen her nearly ended how many times, and and all of it more than any other at the hands of his own cruel servants. Especially those two.

An opportunity to bring down Father Malveaux, to hurt him, to show him she is not simply some peasant to be swept aside. It’s so tempting. It’s insane, but as Caroline leans back, she can’t help but find herself thinking. Weighting. Considering. Like a bait fisher Savoy has lured her in one mouthful at a time, one little handout, but is it so bad? Would it be so bad to throw in with him, even if he is all for show. As kind and gentle as a politician. She’s already done worse in her earnest attempts to satisfy her sire. Even if Savoy is a tyrant in truth, could he be a worse tyrant for her than her sire already has been? Isn’t he in the ascent? Might she not carve out a place here?

A great deal to consider. Her eyes cut from Preston to her master, and back. A few more steps out along the knife’s edge, walking towards the tip, balanced on the tipping point. It cuts her, but not so much as the tip will if she gets there without picking a side. At that point there won’t be any time left to make the choice.

To one side the perhaps false comfort of Savoy. To the other the abyss of her sire’s faction, seemingly out to destroy every piece of her bit by bit. The wind is blowing. Pushing her in one direction. She looks down to check her footing on the edge. Can she resist it now, even if she wishes?

GM: The French Quarter lord merely maintains the same easy smile he wears as casually as his silk sports coat.

“It’s a lot to think about, Miss Malveaux. Maybe you’d care to take a few nights to weigh things over.”

Caroline: She gives a smile. “That’s very generous, Lord Savoy, but I fear the die is better cast earlier in the game.”

GM: “You know, Miss Malveaux, Nat once passed me a pearl of wisdom she picked up from another Kindred, back in the city she was Embraced.” He glances appreciatively towards his lieutenant.

“‘An immortal’s ambitions will never outlive them’,” the Malkavian recites.

“That means, my dear, there’s no hurry,” Savoy smiles leisurely. “I don’t believe either of us is about to die anytime soon. Oh, there are moments that we believe are ‘now or never’. But you’d be surprised how many of those you run into when you have forever.”

The Toreador chuckles to himself at the rhyme.

Caroline: “There are certainly… other concerns with remaining in contact with my family,” Caroline admits.

GM: “Family is always complicated. Alive or dead,” the French Quarter lord agrees.

Caroline: “So I’ve learned. I suspect my confessor would be rather disappointed though if I remained in contact with them however.”

GM: “Perhaps he would,” Savoy muses. “You’ve found someone to replace the good father, I presume?”

Caroline: “Father Elgin,” Caroline provides, “has been quite instructive. He’s helped me come to better terms with my Embrace.”

GM: The Toreador grins. “Beauty and the beast, on the surface. But things are always deeper than the surface with the Hidden Clan.”

Caroline: “So I’ve found as well, Lord Savoy. It’s with some irony that I might pronounce them the fairest of them all, among those I’ve dealt with.”

GM: “They know better than any clan what it means to be mistreated,” Savoy answers—not quite solemnly, but without his typical mirth. “They lead hard Requiems, one and all. Even those with sires and broods to support them.”

Caroline: “It helped to cast a rather different light on my own pity party regarding my Embrace,” Caroline agrees. “But he was rather clear on the theological point—and a sharp one at that—that continued association with mortals—particularly those from before one’s Embrace is sinful.”

GM: “God’s wolves must blend in among the sheep, but they must never forget their place as wolves,” Preston states.

“So the scripture tells us, Nat,” Savoy concurs before turning back to Caroline. “What’s your opinion there, my dear?”

Caroline: “Opinion in most matters of faith too often tends towards blasphemy,” Caroline answers carefully. “Among both Kindred and kine, but between the Eighth Canon’s guidance to be wary of dealings with the kine and of attachment to them, and the Second Canon’s wisdom on the Masquerade and the difficulty of maintaining a life among them, it would seem the intent of the Testament that we be limited in our dealings. Most have extended this explicitly to severing ties to mortal families, for they inherently pull us towards violation of both Canons.”

GM: “Most have,” Savoy nods. “Tell me, Nat, what’s the term for those Kindred tonight… the ones who have so many princes in an uproar?”

“Cleavers, sir,” Preston fills in.

“Cleavers,” the French Quarter lord nods again. “You hear many stories about them, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Regretfully not,” the Ventrue replies.

GM: “As the name implies, they’re Kindred who try to cleave to an ordinary mortal life and raise mortal families. Some move in with a lover and their child. Others rescue children in unfortunate home situations. A few have children from before their own Embrace. And haven’t a few managed some even more remarkable contrivances, Nat?”

“Yes, sir,” the Malkavian answers. “There have been accounts of Kindred—neonates, of course—with frozen eggs or sperm seeking surrogates to bear their children. Though how and where they obtained their brats hardly has bearing on the problem.”

Caroline: The thought, which might have had some appeal months or even weeks ago, sparks almost immediate revulsion in Caroline. “Ghastly.”

She has seen firsthand what happens to mortals that get too close. She’s watched her own curse destroy the lives of many close to her—Aimee not the least among them. The memory of coming to in a frenzy with her best friend’s blood on her hands and the girl laying at her feet in a pile of broken glass—her face a bloody ruin—is all too vivid. Introducing children, or a lover, or a husband into that.

“I can imagine few more foolish courses of action, even if they truly cling to their affection.” There’s steel in her voice.

GM: Savoy nods. “It almost always ends in tragedy—for the cleavers themselves, for their kine families, and for the Masquerade at large. They aren’t a new phenomenon, not really. But it’s easier for them to spread their message—and garner sympathetic ears—than in earlier times.”

Caroline: “Which sympathetic ears might those be, Lord Savoy?” The Ventrue asks.

GM: “Neonates, Anarchs, and particularly those Kindred who are both,” Preston answers.

Caroline: “Self-determination and all that. Stay out of my business types?”

GM: “‘Any and all ’types’ who believe their personal desires outweigh the Masquerade—or who simply fail to grasp the consequences of their actions.”

Caroline: “I presume the relevance here is in drawing a distinction between such behavior and other more moderate behaviors?” There’s a knowing, precocious, smile on her face.

GM: “Something like that, my dear,” the Toreador smiles back, stroking his half-beard as he goes on,
“I’m sure you’re no stranger to French history, but to give us all a refresher… after Louis the Great became king in his own right, he moved the royal residence and thus the de facto French capital his father’s former hunting lodge in Versailles. His nobles and courtiers all moved with him; he and his predecessors had established a highly centralized bureaucracy where nothing could be accomplished without the king’s approval.”

“Louis took that style of governance still further, and made every aspect of life at Versailles revolve around his person. In the Royal Chapel, his pew alone faced the altar; the other pews faced him. No one could eat before he breakfasted. He would then announce his schedule for the day, and all of the court would make their plans accordingly. Courtiers had to be sure to know the correct form of address, the correct hour at which to approach the king, or even how to knock on his door correctly.” Savoy winks. “Scratch lightly with the pinky finger of the left hand. It could be helpful to grow that nail extra long.”

“The consequence to all this, of course, was that attendance at court was mandatory for anyone who wanted to exercise real power in France. Or even maintain their power.”

Caroline: “Another cautionary tale this one, Lord Savoy? I wonder who this might allude to.”

GM: “Oh no, my dear. Far from a cautionary tale. He was the greatest monarch in French history. Arguably in all history, though I suppose I am biased there,” Savoy smiles contentedly.

“For you see, Louis knew how to bait his traps with honey. The Duc de Saint-Simon referred to Versailles as a ‘gilded cage’ for the nobility. What a cage it was. A Green of Mirrors that tourists still flock to view. Paintings and sculptures by the era’s finest artisans. Jardins à la française that stretched as far as the eye could see. A massive, hundreds-large staff of servants that saw to residents’ every earthly need. Historians believe the maintenance of Versailles consumed up to a quarter of the French state’s entire yearly revenues.”

“But the question I have to put to your keen mind, Miss Malveaux, is how do you believe Versailles impacted the Requiems of the Kindred in Paris—this magnificent capital that seemed to spring up all but overday?”

Caroline: Caroline pauses for a moment in consideration, “I imagine it created remarkable opportunity, but also remarkable hardship, among the Kindred of Paris,” she replies carefully, filtering the image through her own growing understanding of the all-night society.

“Some elders doubtlessly made the move, but many more probably did not. In either case it created an influx of opportunity in both Paris and Versailles, in which those able to navigate shifting waters would have had significant opportunity. I imagine it probably allowed the exceptional to rise to the top.”

GM: “As sharp a mind as ever, my dear,” Savoy smiles. “Indeed it did. Prince Beatrix relocated to Versailles, along with many of her favorites—my sire fortunately among them. That left openings in Paris. Her seneschal all but ruled the city. As go the kine, so go we Kindred.”

Caroline: “And there the lord of the French Quarter was forged?” There’s a levity to her reply, a hint of wry amusement.

GM: “We’ll come to his part in the tale soon enough, my dear,” Savoy grins.

“But Versailles wasn’t Paris. Paris was one of the dirtiest and most overcrowded cities in Europe. Wolves actually hunted the streets—even kine in those streets!—come winter. Even hundreds of years ago, it was larger than New Orleans is now. We could feed to our heart’s content there.”

“Versailles had a few thousand souls at most. Many of them were important people, whose deaths wouldn’t pass without consequence. Security was quite strict, for the time. But there was another element of risk to the Masquerade. Many of us had been Embraced from among the nobility. Even among the older Kindred there—well, the kine knew their histories and families. Many had busts and portraits of their ancestors. The risk was even greater for the young ones among us. The Kindred who still had living families and acquaintances.”

“Versailles was irresistible to us. Louis was an intoxicating presence in his own right, and he had concentrated an unprecedented degree of power in equally incomparably resplendent surroundings. A deft Kindred could pluck the chords of power from the Sun King’s court, and watch that note reverberate across all of Europe.”

“No, we could no more stay away from Versailles than moths could resist stay away from an open lamp. But fly too close, and we could get burned. The Masquerade was paper-thin.”

Caroline: Caroline nods along in understanding as this story comes full circle.

GM: “How do you imagine that we did it, my dear? How did we walk the golden tightrope that Louis’ court posed—where no Kindred could go anonymous, yet could not be known for what—and so often, who—they were?”

Caroline: “I confess, I’ve considered many options along that vein Lord Savoy. How I might go about it today. A shameful secret to hide the truth behind to many and create enough distance for a time. Simple cosmetics to create the appearance of some aging over time. I understand some disciplines can alter one’s appearance, so presumably one might create multiple identities over time.”

She counts them down. “Other disciplines that might befuddle others in the moment, or even permanently alter their memories of you—though the former is limited in its long term applications and the latter in how other Kindred tend to react when their mortals are touched.”

“Still, most of these, over time, simply prolong the problem. Even if you might flawlessly grow old over time—a tedious process no doubt—you are creating new potential problems with each new generation you interact with, even if you attempt to reinvent yourself each lifetime. One option might be to leap cities every couple decades, but that’s not only dangerous, but all the more problematic for how it would force one to start over all the more often.”

“Of course, there is the obvious one—to seek your fellowship and fellows in the shadow of such society. To meet in the night among Kindred beings and, as needed, draw in the rare mortals to fill those night with added interest. I confess, I have no good answer Lord Savoy. Merely an array of barely passable.”

GM: “This is an unforgivably crass thing to utter in the presence of a woman as enchanting as yourself, Miss Malveax, but let’s talk about me for now,” Savoy smiles self-deprecatingly. “The Sun King only lived in Versailles for a few decades before he died and the court moved back to Paris. How do you imagine that I maintained the Masquerade—my Masquerade—behind that most delicate of facades during those years?”

“I had family too, you know. Parents. Siblings. Lovers. Children. Not all in Versailles. But enough.”

Caroline: “Presuming, Lord Savoy, that you didn’t simply overwhelm them with your charm?” Caroline asks rhetorically in response to his complement before continuing, “I would imagine you, created a degree of distance between them and yourself without entirely fading from view. Expanded your interests perhaps into new areas. Drove away your lovers in subtle ways. Built an image that allowed for your inaccessibility by day and occasionally eccentric behavior. Surrounded yourself, in part, with ghouls and others that could explain and assure others.”

GM: “I’ve no doubt that your charms could have accomplished such a feat, my dear, but I fear my own to be so very inadequate in comparison,” Savoy grins.

“But as for creating distance…” The Toreador strokes his half-beard in thought again. “Perhaps in Paris or New Orleans I could have managed that. The Kindred in Versailles were surrounded by luxuries, but that was one we were denied.”

“The palace was huge—but not huge enough. Its population was massive—but not massive enough. There were maybe six, seven thousand people at most. Many of them servants and soldiers of low birth. The Sun King’s real court only included so many people.”

“I could have driven away my lovers. But they would have talked about me—and soon, everyone would have known, and been hungry for the sordid details. I couldn’t have avoided them, either. The palace was too small. Everyone knew each other. Everyone knew each other’s tawdry gossip.”

Caroline: Caroline gestures freely. “I confess, Lord Savoy, you have me at a loss as to how such a thing was managed.”

GM: “It was all-too simple, my dear. I never died.”

Caroline: “And explaining away your nighttime proclivities?” Caroline asks. “Certainly remaining ‘alive’ must have had its own consequences even then. Certainly remaining ‘alive’ must have had its own consequences even then.”

GM: “There are always loopholes and ways around such things, my dear,” Savoy winks. “The Sun King’s daily routine was meticulously scheduled, and the routine of every soul in the palace revolved around it. That made things very easy to plan around.”

Caroline: “The explain was simply a function of your personality, presumably, Lord Savoy,” Caroline replies. After a moment she continues, “It is an interesting argument, that not immediately faking one’s death may be better for the Masquerade in the long term, assuming one is able to properly manage it. It does beg the, if not now, then when question however.”

GM: “Never, for some of us,” Savoy smiles.

Caroline: “Oh? Are you great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Savoy to a slew of adorable French children? Christmas cards and all that?”

GM: The Toreador laughs. “I’ve wondered that myself more than once, my dear. It’s comforting to think that some part of me might still be around, outside the all-night society. I couldn’t say either way. Between all the wars and revolutions that sprang up during my nap, it’s anyone’s guess whether I still have any living descendants.”

Caroline: Caroline flinches, just a hair, at the turn in topic away from the Masquerade to mortal lines and potential children, though her smile doesn’t waver. “For some, I suspect, it’s better not to know.”

GM: “Mmm, yes. Certainly for them.”

Caroline: “What I alluded to though was more that eventually one must fade in their agelessness. Easier, I suppose, when one jumps continents.”

GM: Savoy leans forward slightly in his chair. " There are always loopholes, Miss Malveaux, my dear."

Caroline: “You present a compelling alternative, Lord Savoy,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Most of us choose to disappear from kine society after a few decades. We hunker down for a few decades, and then reappear. But that isn’t always convenient.” The Toreador smiles. “Or much fun.”

“As Sanctified, we are wolves among the mortal flock. But outside of metaphors, wolves aren’t known for their camouflage. So some of us learn to be leopards.”

Caroline: “I thought they couldn’t change their spots?”

GM: “There are always loopholes, my dear,” Savoy repeats. “You ever watch any Karen Anatos movies?”

Caroline: “Of course, I suspect most have,” Caroline replies.

GM: “What about some of the older Mistress Black slasher flicks? Those would have been popular around when you were born.”

Caroline: “I’m familiar with them,” Caroline replies noncommittally.

GM: “Perhaps you prefer the classics,” Savoy smiles. “Damsel in the Wilderness hasn’t survived the ravages of the years, alas, but Lily Thorn starred in a number of other silent German expressionist films. You think you might have seen any of them?”

Caroline: “It’s possible, though if so I can’t say they made an impression on me at the time, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “Maybe her daughter Rose Thorn made a greater impression on your parents or grandparents? She made her debut in When No Means Yes with Ginger Swan. She played a supporting role there, but it wasn’t long before her star blazed just as bright.” Savoy smiles again. “There’s no movie era that evokes nostalgia quite like Hollywood’s golden age.”

Caroline: “I’d have to ask.” Caroline frowns faintly as she thinks back and continues, “Movie nights were a rarity. Always too many ‘important’ things to consider between my mortal father’s campaigns and my mother’s social functions. To say nothing of music lessons, fencing instruction, and language tutors for myself.” She counts them off on her fingers. “There wasn’t a great deal of time for those activities I think some families do.”

GM: “Do you regret that, my dear?” Savoy asks.

Caroline: The Ventrue pauses to think. “I think I didn’t know another way, even if it still stung that my father was so distant. That perhaps I assumed that pain, the void, was just normal, the way it was. And I think it had its benefits.” She continues with only a small pause, “And its determents.”

GM: “There’s a certain liberty in that, for all the hardship it carries when growing up,” Savoy muses. “Affectionate parents have their child’s affection to abuse or reciprocate, as they please. Parents who are tyrants will forever tyrannize their children’s minds. Your father’s character is your own to judge, and act on, as you see fit.”

Caroline: “I suppose absent is preferable to actively hostile,” Caroline muses. “I imagine too though it must weigh on a parent in their own ways, the various ways in which their relationships with their children may turn.”

Not that she’ll ever know. Decisions made in what feels like a lifetime ago made all the more final by choices beyond her then limited vision.

GM: “Oh yes. It has weighed upon my own,” Savoy agrees with a faint smile. “But I don’t like to think about others’ choices for too long, Miss Malveaux. We don’t get to pick those, even with Caine’s gifts. Not really. Only our own.”

Caroline: “Might I ask you a more personal question along those lines, Lord Savoy?” the Ventrue asks quietly.

GM: The Toreador gestures grandiosely for Caroline to proceed.

Caroline: “Does it bother you, that your childe, for his successes, took up with Prince Vidal with such hostility? Does it ever sting?”

The question is asked politely. Calmly. But the savageness in her eyes, the hurt, belies her conversational tone.

GM: Preston does not speak, but looks up from her tablet at her boss.

The lord of the French Quarter slowly drums two fingers against the wrought-iron table. “Donovan has proven himself a great asset to Prince Vidal’s rule, my dear, as you say. It’s a testament to just how great an asset that so many Kindred now think he could succeed the prince. More than one gossip in Elysium has commented on how our prince treats him with all the regard one would show their own childe. What a coup de grâce such a move would be. Prince Donovan, childe of Augusto Vidal in all but blood!”

“I am proud of him, my dear. I am proud to have Embraced and mentored a Kindred who rose to such heights—a rise that is all the more remarkable for his origins. Few sires would all but adopt their archrival’s childe as their own. For one like Augusto Vidal to do so… truly, that is extraordinary.”

“In many ways, I consider Donovan to be my coup de grâce. My greatest triumph.”

Antoine Savoy’s face goes still. He does not smile. He does not frown. He does not speak. For a moment, the Lord of the French Quarter whom Caroline has always seen in a seemingly endless dance of social motion simply goes still. The effect is not unlike watching an aged Hollywood starlet with her makeup finally off.

His green eyes linger on hers. The silence stretches.

Finally, he replies, “That’s what makes his loss sting all the more.”

Caroline: Caroline meets the lord of the French Quarter’s gaze steadily in his stillness. Finally she nods, perhaps in understanding, or perhaps in satisfaction.

The silence is deafening before, after a long moment, she replies softly, “I wonder, would it be the same for my own sire?”

She continues quietly, “I didn’t have an opportunity to ask when I so briefly met him.”

GM: Savoy doesn’t quite smile again. The look on his face is fainter, and perhaps more somber than that. And knowing.

“Your sire was a devout man in life. His faith did not lapse in death. So much of what he did came down to faith. So much of his anger. So much of his rage at the failures of this city and its denizens to live up to his faith.”

“‘Politics is not personal.’ That’s advice many sharp men and women have given, in so many different words.” The outline of Savoy’s almost-smile grows a little firmer.

Caroline: “Others might disagree. Some would argue it’s all personal. All in who you know, and your personal relationships with them.”

Still, the heiress is clearly glued to the Toreador’s every word.

GM: Savoy rests his hand against Caroline’s. “Your sire would agree with them, my dear. All of his political decisions have been personal. Intensely personal.”

“You ask me if his own childe’s repudiation would hurt him. My answer is yes. Yes, it would.”

Caroline: Caroline stares back at the lord of the French Quarter, the two dead beings caught in an unnatural stillness that only those who have abandoned such trivial matters as breathing can accomplish. Only her eyes waver, as do her thoughts, caught between Scylla and Charybdis.

The wind blows, and she falls towards one.

“It is my intent, Lord Savoy, to take this matter with Father Malveaux before others in Clan Ventrue. It betrays no Ventrue secrets to tell you that the clan prefers to see disputes handled in-house.”

“I think my pitch shall be, in part, that the heightened scrutiny this matter has brought to my mortal identity makes a convenient mortal death simply too suspicious in the immediate future.”

GM: “Very diplomatic, Miss Malveaux. Never give anyone a reason to paint you as the villain,” Savoy smiles.

Caroline: Caroline smiles back. “Wise counsel as always, Lord Savoy. I think I shall even be graceful enough as to give Father Malveaux an easy excuse. Perhaps an eager to please ghoul that exceeded their mandate.”

GM: “Even better to have an actual villain on hand to blame!” the French Quarter lord chuckles. “I’ve a few friends in the Structure, my dear. If you’d care, I can put you in touch with them. Sympathy and support are like a third haven—always useful to have, even if you don’t ever use it.”

Caroline: “One of my law professors once said ‘the truth speaks for itself,’ but that ‘it was also smart enough to shop around for judges’.”

“That offer is very generous, Lord Savoy. But rather than asking an outsider to the Structure to exert his influence inside it—and yes, I know you’d never intentionally do something so crass, but even the words of someone in your position carry influence—I might instead ask if there was anyone in particular you might think open to hearing the tale of a sireless neonate? Or whom might be predisposed to view Father Malveaux as anything other than an upstanding member of the All-Night Society?”

GM: “Reynaldo Gui is the first local who comes to mind,” the French Quarter lord answers, stroking his half-beard. “He’s from Chicago. Our covenant doesn’t take quite so hardline a stance on things up north.”

“But it’s the current visitors to our fair city, I think, who might not only be the most moved—but inspire locals to move in turn. Miss Lin-Mei and Mr. Becker represent foreign interests within our city—and a rather influential one in the former’s case, at that.” The Toreador smiles again. “There’s nothing like having company over that makes anyone antsy to tidy up their house.”

Caroline recalls the other two Ventrue from the clan’s last monthly gathering.

“…reputation is worth more than blood, after all, my dear,” Savoy smiles.

Caroline: “That’s an idea I hadn’t considered,” Caroline admits. The sparkle in the Ventrue’s eyes, however, makes it clear it’s one she rather appreciates.

“I confess though, Lord Savoy, my largest concern is that before such a meeting might be possible, your own childe might come beating down my door. Father Malveaux’s ghoul was not wrong in alluding to his potency within the prince’s bloc, and my own lack of popularity among them. I can think of few outcomes to visit from the sheriff to my haven that end well for me—and I’ve tried so hard to put that part of my Requiem behind me.”

GM: “And I believe it’s one we’d all benefit from staying behind you, my dear. What would you suggest we do to keep things that way?”

Caroline: “I might first ask, Lord Savoy, do you think it likely that Father Malveaux could rapidly leverage the sheriff in such a way?”

GM: Savoy strokes his half-beard again. “The two are known to be close allies. I’m sure you recall the good father’s participation alongside my childe in the hunt for Mr. Baristheaut. It’ll depend, too, how occupied my childe currently is. The sheriff is a busy Kindred!”

“The sheriff could have Father Malveaux in his debt for substantive enough aid, sir,” Preston raises. “Most Kindred would leap at the chance to assist an ally by moving against a mutual enemy. And of course, there is the question of whether Father Malveaux even requires the sheriff’s assistance if he wishes to remove Miss Malveaux from the board,” the Malkavian impersonally assesses.

Caroline: “It would likely depend on his level of commitment and willingness to lose both the social and actual capital,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Absence of the former does much to insulate the latter. Your standing in Kindred society remains negligible, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “True, but any move by a Ventrue against a Ventrue without first bringing the matter before the Structure is unlikely to play well.”

GM: “Unless the matter is never brought before the Structure and his blame is not readily obvious.”

“I think we can all agree that if the good father is making such overt moves against Miss Malveaux, things have moved rather too far along already,” Savoy states, then chuckles. “And that we’ve fumbled the ball if it does! What would you suggest we do, my dear, to best make sure things can’t get to that point?”

Caroline: “I can think of several possibilities,” Caroline begins. She goes on to explain that the surest method is trying to bring the matter before others as quickly as possible: while destroying a status-less neonate may be within the power of a Kindred as influential as Father Malveaux, the matter would be complicated significantly for him once others know of it." She laughs. “You know how we Ventrue are about our public perception, Lord Savoy.”

She regards this meeting as the first major step in that direction. “After all, I’m certain someone of your benevolence, Lord Savoy, wouldn’t sit ideally by and watched a young neonate be waylaid when you knew the truth of the political landscape.” There is perhaps a whisper of extra meaning to that statement.

The heiress is not immediately concerned for her physical safety. “The benefits of not living in glass houses anymore,” she laughs, and intendeds on bringing the matter before a more senior Ventrue as soon as possible, but until then wonders if there is any other insurance he might recommend, or steps she might take.

Finally she comes along to the long term, returning to Preston’s (Madam Preston’s) ‘excellent’ point about how vulnerable a young neonate without any significant standing is. She remarks on how easy it is for young Kindred to attract attention for the wrong reasons, rather than the right, and inquires as to whether or not he’s heard anything as to her plans and activities providing relatively mild services and activities for other neonates, and as to whether he’d knows of any other Kindred that might appreciate such aid, alluding to the many Kindred that he ‘magnanimously’ extends his wing over to assist, and how she’d be grateful for the opportunity to assist in those endeavors when matters might present low hanging fruit within her reach to assist in.

Unless he has a better idea? There’s a gleam of political cunning in the idea, and an invitation for another suggestion from him.

GM: “There may be a few things that come to mind, my dear, a few things,” the French Quarter lord muses with a soft chuckle.

He’s of course already recommended that she seek to engender herself with her local and visiting clanmates. Even if their support doesn’t end up being necessary now, that sort of thing is good to have anyways in the long term. Savoy can ask Reynaldo Gui to provide introductions, should she desire them.

He also adds she could consider establishing a secondary haven, if she hasn’t already. In New Orleans, or beyond. “Just as insurance, my dear—one never knows how things can turn out. Eggs and baskets, after all.”

Preston adds that if she were the sheriff, enlisting Rocco’s cooperation in orchestrating a hit on her haven would be the first thing she’d do. Savoy’s lieutenant does not believe that winning goodwill among neonates is likely to be conductive to the Ventrue’s immediate interests. How long does she expect Father Malveaux to wait before taking action against her?

“True enough, Nat. I’d also look for ways to work any clan elders she wants to get on her immediate side,” Savoy muses. It’s one matter to approach them with evidence of Father Malveaux’s wrongdoing—and another to do that with leverage over them, be it hard or (easier for her) soft.

“Everyone has weak spots, Miss Malveaux—to either exploit, or help them shore up,” the Toreador smiles.

Matheson’s are well-known, and Caroline has a further in with the Whitneys. Guilbeau has his trysts with young neonates that he’s no longer so open concerning. McGinn has his racism when his name is being floated as a princely successor.

Caroline: The heiress discusses that topic for a few minutes more, but finally smiles as the audience draws to a close.

“Thank you for your time, Lord Savoy. I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It’s a shame my sire couldn’t be here to see it.”


Pete Feedback Repost

Making a decision now on throwing in with Savoy hard against Malveaux, refusing to fake her death, and ending up potentially trapped by that ‘alliance’ into not faking her death for some time (i.e. greater than 1 year) is making a life or death choice for Caroline with only half the information leading up to it, much less any information thereafter.

At this point I 100% believe that if she takes that ‘deal’ with Savoy and doesn’t fake her death coming out of downtime, she’s not going to be able to do so within Maldy’s timeline. Furthermore, she risks pissing off her mother, ending up in further Masquerade binds due to her family / Malveaux’ prying, and generally places herself in an incredibly precarious position politically and personally, in which she’s way out along a limb and depending on the shifting favor of an elder that can’t really (by all appearances) bail her out if her Kindred daddy decides he’s tired of his troublesome daughter who – like his last before him – is throwing in with a hostile power. Throwing in with Savoy on the ‘not death’ thing is, in my mind, tantamount to throwing in with him completely.

On the other side it offers a potential cudgel against Father Malveaux and the sheriff, who keep bludgeoning the crap out of her, a cudgel without which she might end up quite helpless… emphasis on the might part, because the other option is that she comes up with a bunch of allies and connections outside of Savoy in the months leading up to that fateful decision. Maybe she gets in deep with the Anarchs. Maybe she gets in deep with someone else. Finds friends. Has a network of favors or allies she can call on to slap back. Essentially at the heart of the bullying she’s taking from Malveaux / sheriff is the fact that there is no reason for them (and mostly Malveaux using the sheriff has his tool) not to shit on her. She doesn’t have anyone that would make a stink if she were executed on trumped up charges, and beyond that there’s not even any political fallout. It’s the same issue she had throughout much of her first chapters, where similarly she was caught without much support entirely at the mercy of others (both ignorant, positionally weak, and socially weak).

That’s something I am, and have been, working to attack. The entire bit with Wells for instance is an attempt to work against that. Experience expended towards that end buying unspecified (at this time) Kindred allies. Various plots to earn her good will. Potentially making up with McGinn. Meeting other Ventrue (and among the Ventrue in particular I feel that Malveaux’s attempt to create then exploit problems against a fellow clan member may go particularly poorly, especially if he is in the midst of campaigning for / hasn’t yet taken control of the seat vacated by Smith).

Essentially what I’m getting at is that with regard to making that decision the answer has to be, at this point, a firm no. It’s too much, arguably the most meaningful choice she’s made as a character since recording the conversation, and one with much harsher and obvious immediate ramifications. Add to the complications of all of this that matters with Rocco are still in the air, and how he responds to it is also a problem – whether she throws in with Savoy or not.

Which leaves two options: come up with a list that will stick around or those that will fall away when she fakes.

In the case of the former, I’ve been working towards that, but at the end of the day there are limited avenues (in my mind at least, and I’m open to suggestions from others) with regards to ways to build meaningful relationships (or simply relationships that allow her to ask for support) from various mortal powers that can survive her potential to fake her death – most of which are associated with either anonymous blackmail or purchasing the merits for a ghoul that can manage those connections. The former of which I’m happy to have her do on some level, but as should be obvious by her current list (on her resources page) grows remarkably tired and dull. The latter of which I’m adverse to given the number of ghouls she already has and her uncertain position at the moment. Attaching any of those contacts, especially at the higher end, to her personally given her relatively high profile (or at least the profile her death will raise) makes them unlikely to stick around – and it’s really the problem that she has with many things post-death: as a Malveaux that has run in high society and legal circles already it’s difficult for her to establish relationships that do not become immediately void upon her ‘death’.

Which leaves… coming up with a list of pre-death stuff, which wasn’t even remotely in the cards until recently when Savoy offered his ‘option’ in that regard, and which I’m very much on the fence about since if it goes the other way involves striking all the others. It’s a lot of work towards what may end up as a very short term reward. The pre-death list I’d also had previously is heavily undermined in key areas by the recent Malveaux stuff (i.e. family turning on her).

A lot of this ties into long term frustrations with her ‘death’ as a whole, because the character as written really struggles to find a leg to stand on effectively in a direct sense post-faked-death. The very traits and connections built into her background that make her an effective networker nominally are liabilities for her without her established mortal persona – and will continue to be for decades.


Anyway, I feel sort of in a bind here, and in particular would welcome input from others on conceptual ideas for Allies/Contacts that can exist for Caroline both as a living person and as a Kindred, beyond ghouls or blackmailed mystery people doing her bidding. Right now I feel like Contacts, as with Allies, as with… many of her interactions best function on her ghouls, which is kind if disappointing.

Caroline V, Chapter XVI
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