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Caroline IV, Chapter II

Claire's Return

“I know that […] things, awful things, sometimes happen. Sometimes things we think are our fault, when they really aren’t… when they’re really everybody’s, or nobody’s at all."
Claire Malveaux

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline steps out of the Ryde and into the Anarchs’ bar. Her ears are instantly subjected to a two-pronged assault by blaring rock and shouting voices. One patron screams as another smashes his face onto the bar’s counter with a wet crunch. Leather-clad, spike-haired, and tattoo-adorned punks, bikers, skinheads, and malcontents of all stripes laugh at the violence. The bartender absently ontinuing to polish a shot glass underneath a wooden plaque bearing red-crusted Mardi Gras beads arranged into the words FUCK YOU. Caroline can feel the anger simmering in the room as surely as the murky black haze of cigarette smoke clinging to everything.

Caroline: The smell and scent of the room sinks into her clothing, but not her dead flesh, even as the mood matches her own. Anger. Frustration. Irritation. Indignation. The look in her green eyes could kill.

GM: Coco sits at a table in the back of the bar. The red-haired primogen is dressed in a black leather jacket, striped black and white shirt, jeans, and knee-length boots. Two further Kindred are making their way out of the bar as Caroline approaches.

The first is a broad-shouldered, handsome young man with sandy blond hair. He’s dressed in dark jeans, a t-shirt, and a denim jacket.

The second is a dark-skinned and dark-haired lovely young woman with long curly hair. She has on a red sundress.

The blond vampire looks Caroline over. “So whose side are you on?”

Caroline: Her eyes skip over him dangerously. “Of what?”

GM: Neither of the two look intimidated.

The female vampire fairly gapes.

“You have to be kidding.”

Caroline: “As serious as a heart attack,” she replies, seemingly nonplussed by the reaction.

GM: “Coco or Veronica,” the blond man states disaffectedly. “What rock have you been living under?”

Caroline: “Oh, that matter. Well,” there’s a practiced patience to her words, “having not actually met, it seems unfair to judge Veronica based on the merits of the company she keeps. However, owing to the fact that it is her bar, I think if you pressed me on it in this instant, I’d lean towards Coco as a matter of politeness.”

GM: The two vampires trade dubious looks among one another, then depart without further word.

Caroline: She pushes her way through the rest of the crowd towards the elder Anarch in the back of the bar.

GM: The Brujah primogen is nursing a half-empty rose cocktail. She glances at Caroline, then languidly motions towards a seat with chipped black paint.

Caroline: Caroline slides into the seat beside her.

“Good evening, Coco.” She tries her best to conceal her discomfort at addressing the elder Kindred by her given name.

GM: “Good evening, Caroline,” the Brujah replies.

There’s a flash of fangs as she raises her wrist to her mouth, then an unmistakable coppery scent. She holds her wrist out for the Ventrue.

Caroline: She eyes the wrist with a mixture of wariness and hunger, like a starving woman looking at a rattlesnake.

“What’s the occasion?”

GM: “Reparations for your attack upon Anarch territory.”

Caroline: There’s only an instant of hesitation before she accepts the Brujah’s arm, downs the poison, and removes her hands when she’s finished.

“My apologies, it was an unfortunate necessity. I have no intention of repeating. You understand I couldn’t let Bliss use the boon she held over me as they intended, given all the circumstances in play. And that I meant no disrespect to you?”

GM: Coco shrugs.

“You attacked Eight-Nine-Six’s haven in Mid-City while my ghoul was conducting peace negotiations between you. I don’t particularly care what you meant or intended next to that.”

“You’re fortunate they chose to place themselves outside of my protection by siding with Veronica. And happened to get conveniently slated for execution by the prince.”

Caroline: “Bad things happen when you ignore your elders and crawl in bed with Tradition breakers.”

GM: “I do wonder why the breach happened in Central City. If it were to happen anywhere, I’d have expected it to happen around you or the Storyvilles in a counterattack.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face says at once nothing and everything.

“I didn’t come here to lie to you or manipulate you. Or,” she shows the hint of a smile, “at least try. You were more than fair before when you had no need to be. And more than fair now, when you are similarly under no obligation. I thought you should know some of what shook out before the prince took possession of René. Since it affected some of yours.”

GM: Coco absently swirls her drink.

“I don’t like to give lectures, so I’ll keep this brief. If you cause trouble in Mid-City again, you’ll drink from me again. If you break the Masquerade, I’ll turn you over to the sheriff. If you attack Anarchs under my protection, I’ll side with them.”

“And,” the primogen remarks as she drains the tasteless concoction, "if none of them have conveniently broken any Traditions to absolve you of blame, I don’t think I’ll be the only one who’s unhappy with you.

Caroline: “Understood.”

GM: “That was a thorough Masquerade cover-up too, with the murders. Six patsies, whose stories all matched.”

Caroline: “It sounds like you almost know more about it than I do,” Caroline replies evenly.

GM: Coco catches the bartender’s eye, who actually gets up to bring her another cocktail. She thanks him and he returns to the bar.

“I know the matter is finished now. What else shall we talk about?”

Caroline: “My thanks for your attempt to mediate,” Caroline replies again, genuinely. She reaches into her bag and produces two items. The first what appears to be a near ancient framed magazine, thin and covered with glass. The second is a small audio-recording device. Printed across one corner of the magazine in fading letters is the name ‘DICKENS’ in bold type face.

“I thought when I first picked this up it was an interesting parallel to where we were, respectively. Also that it might be of use to you. Sentiment, or resale, or just wiping up a spilled drink. Now I suspect it’s more accurate than I thought, though perhaps not in the way that I did then.”

“The other may be of less or more interest. If you’re actually done with the matter, hands washed, I can throw it in a blender. It contains some pieces of René’s elder ghoul’s confession that I thought might be of interest to you in one way or another. They weren’t, I think, trying to ignore or disrespect you when they picked a fight again and dealt in bad faith that night. Someone was pulling their strings.”

“I thought, since they were yours, you deserved to know more of what happened.”

She sets both items on the table. “The best of times and the worst of times.” She shrugs.

GM: “Wisdom and foolishness, too,” Coco remarks as she glances over the two items. “Dickens could only write one city, and that was London.” The Brujah offers a faint smile. “But I know someone else who might enjoy this, and it’s a more thoughtful present than I usually get from the crowd around here.”

Caroline hears the sound of snapping pool stick, someone screaming, and a body impacting the floor with a heavy crash.

Caroline: “Perhaps we could speak some time, when you have fewer pressing matters on you, about the missing city in the tale, then. It seems unlikely that I’ll have a chance to see it again.”

GM: “Yes, travel is rather more inconvenient for our kind. Though I’d venture a guess you’ve seen it more recently than I have.”

Caroline: “Ah, but it’s hard to match the perspective of a resident.”

GM: “Perhaps we may, depending on what’s on there.”

Coco glances back towards the tape.

“A krewe that already had independent motive to dislike you would have made good pawns.”

Caroline: Caroline lets the elder muse on her own for a moment, trying not to focus on the distraction that the blood working through her is already effecting. The irrational reading into small facial twitches. That childish need for approval. Finally, she bites her lip and speaks.

“There’s another piece not on the tape that might be of interest, given your current… discomfort.”

“There was some manner of deal being cut between Regent McGinn and my sire, facilitated by his meetings with Savoy, to abduct and frame me towards the regent’s own ends. It’s thin, but hardly the type of discussion and dealing of a group presenting itself as so concerned over justice for neonates. I can have that portion delivered to you as well, though.”

GM: “You can do that, Caroline. One never knows what dealings may be of later interest.”

“That conclusion may also e something for you to keep close to heart over the coming nights.”

Caroline: “Not all snakes slither on their bellies,” Caroline agrees.

Part of her wants to stay with the engaging Brujah, and she curses knowing that not all of that part is entirely her own, but other matters pull at her.

“I’m certain you have other matters that can occupy your evening. If you need or want anything further, Ms. Haley can reach me or a ghoul.”

GM: Coco raises her cocktail in a gesture of seeming farewell.

“Everything and nothing before us, Caroline. That’s always been my favorite part of the opening.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline makes several phone calls as she catches another Ryde out of Coco’s domain. It’s all fairly mundane business, largely following up with ongoing efforts, though she also makes several new inquiries. They’re mundane, save the call to her mother. Midnight rendezvous rarely are.

GM: “That’s very scenic, Caroline, but it’s also very late,” her mother replies to the invitation to meet her at Audubon Park. “Just come by the hotel. Or we can do lunch tomorrow if you don’t want to make the trip out.”

Caroline: “I need to talk to you tonight, Mom, I just…” There’s a genuine pause. “Something happened and I don’t feel safe in the Quarter. It’s why I didn’t come out when Westley called. Please, just… work with me this once.”

GM: Claire gives a weary sigh over the phone.

“Well, that would explain quite a bit. About everything that’s been happening. But all right, Caroline. Let’s meet at your house, it’s still rather late to be feeding breadcrumbs to the ducks.”

Caroline: She’s quiet for a moment.

“All right, Mom. I’ll meet you there.”

GM: “I’ll see you soon.”

Her mother ends the call with that farewell.

Caroline: Caroline hangs up. She has a few minutes in the car to think about what’s she’s going to say, and do, before she gets home.

I thought it was supposed to get easier after I caught my sire.

Instead her life continues to fall apart. More blood. More struggles. There’s always something.

GM: The Ryde pulls up by Audubon Place’s entrance. Johnson waves the driver past after seeing Caroline’s ID. The Ventrue is dropped off outside her home, and left with the unenviable task of deciding how, if at all, she is going to prepare for her mother’s imminent visit.

Caroline: She checks on Turner and Aimee first.

GM: She finds the bloody-faced, black-eyed, and barely-conscious mercenary maintaining a stubborn vigil over the house in the event that Kelford doubles back (which even she grudgingly admits is unlikely) or any other intruder attempts to break in.

Aimee lies in a motionless heap on her bed. The ghoul no longer smells so foul. Her hair has been washed and her sweat- and blood-stained clothes have been changed for clean ones. Where her appearance has improved, however, Aimee’s actual health appears to have taken a turn for the worse. Her face is still a cut-up (though by this point, also healing) mess, and she’s pale as a ghost. She does not respond when touched. The smell wafting from the bandages tied around her wrist is as impossibly distracting as it always is.

Caroline: Caroline quickly closes the door behind Aimee and returns to Turner, offering the mercenary more of the blood she received from Coco.

“Don’t burn it all,” she encourages.

GM: Turner doesn’t beg for it like Aimee does. She doesn’t tell Caroline how much she cares about her like Autumn did. But the want behind the mercenary’s swollen, bruised eyes is no less intense as she falls upon her domitor’s wrist.

Caroline: She lets her drink for a time before drawing the wrist away, taking some small pleasure in watching Turner’s wounds fade, if only so slightly.

Something twists inside her at the wretched state of both Turner and Aimee, even as a darker voice whispers that there’s nothing she could do about it.

GM: Turner watches the wrist retract. She distractedly asks in a gravelly voice if Caroline wants her to maintain watch or do something else.

Caroline: “You’ve hardly slept in the last two days. Go get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

GM: Turner shrugs, a casual motion belied by the amount of black, blue, and chain-shaped indentations on her body, as well as the fact she’s only shrugging with only one shoulder.

“Gone through worse on duty. And Crucible. But whatever you say.”

Caroline: “Just because you can handle it, and just because you’re willing to, doesn’t mean you should have to.” Caroline lays a gentle hand on her. “Get some rest.”

GM: The ghoul gives a non-committal grunt but slowly ambles off.

Caroline: Caroline watches her go then heads downstairs to see what she can to make the living room less obviously destroyed, but finally gives up with how little time she has left and digs a bottle of red out of her wine cabinet along with two glasses before headed out front and settling down in the stairs leading up to the front door.

She takes a deep breath to ready herself for what’s to come, like she’s readying herself for battle.

The stakes are certainly almost as high.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

GM: Time passes. Finally a black-hued Mercedes CLS50 pulls up to Caroline’s house.

GM: The figure in the driver’s seat moves, kills the ignition, and gets out of the car.

Claire Malveaux is a tall and willowy-figured woman in her mid-50s who shares Caroline’s height, sharp jawline and shoulder-length blond hair, but not the wrinkles from age that her daughter will never acquire. She’s dressed in a dark blazer, gray pencil skirt, and black slingbacks. Unlike most couples, she wears her wedding ring on a slim chain around her neck and has a second larger ring looped through it.

Claire’s heels click against pavement and more dully against wood as she makes her way up the house’s front steps. She looks at Caroline for a moment, then extends her arms as if to embrace her daughter.

“Caroline. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it?”

Caroline: Caroline embraces her mother, even as the Beast inside her thrashes and squirms. She snarls back at it. It may, on occasion, seize control, but she refuses to let the monster inside her rule every part of her life. Refuses to let it dictate terms so blatantly. The embrace is nothing but a giant middle finger to it.

“You’ve been busy, I’ve been… well, busy. It happens.” There’s a weariness to Caroline’s voice.

GM: “Yes, it does. Everyone says that, though it’s more true for us than everyone,” Claire remarks as she pulls away.

Caroline: Caroline looks tired to her mother’s eyes. It isn’t even something she has to fake, simply something she has to let show. A guard she lets down. More than tired, there’s something else, a darkness in her eyes that wasn’t there before.

“How have you been?” she asks wearily. “How’s Dad?”

GM: “I’ve been well. Your father isn’t happy to be down here, and for more reasons than just Westley. But let’s take this—and that wine, that’s very thoughtful—inside.”

Her mother’s gaze rests on Caroline’s face for a moment.

“There’s a lot we have to talk about, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline nods and gathers up the glasses in one hand and the bottle in the other. Inside the front room is more barren than wrecked. The furniture that’s left feels orphaned. Sofa, a few chairs, A couple of side tables.

GM: Claire’s gaze silently sweeps across the half-emptied home.

Silently and very disapprovingly.

Caroline: “Redecorating,” Caroline offers lamely.

GM: “I see,” Claire notes.

Caroline: Caroline offers a chair to her mother and settles herself on the coach. She sets down the wine and opens the bottle with practiced smoothness, pouring into glasses for each of them.

GM: Claire sits herself and takes an initial sip from the glass.

“No luck with Westley, still.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Nothing on my end either.”

She bites her lower lip, concern plain. “It’s my fault, I should have gone down when he called, I just…”

GM: Her mother sighs and swishes the glass.

“I can’t fathom why he’d have invited you along, Caroline, but I suppose I can’t blame you for not choosing to find out why. Trouble and your brother are about as new to one another as clouds and rain, but disappearing like this is unusual.”

Caroline: Caroline reluctantly nods. “He was pretty adamant that he wasn’t going to fall off entirely, even if the wagon was tipping pretty hard last time I saw him. Almost like he couldn’t do so. He almost said there was something forcing him to do so.”

GM: Her mother frowns. “Go on.”

Caroline: “I guess when your trust is on the line though it changes your tune,” she continues after a moment of awkward silence. “I just got a weird feeling off of it. Like someone was holding something over him that he couldn’t talk about.”

GM: “That’s not impossible. His problems would cause even larger problems for your father if their full extent got out. Maybe the Cherrys, or I suppose that new chief of staff of theirs, are finally taking the kid gloves off.”

“Still,” her mother muses, “it’s Kelly who’s up for re-election next year, not your father. The Cherrys don’t make sense.”

Caroline: “Did he ever mention anything weird to you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “‘Weird’ how? Beyond his drinking and drug abuse?”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “We talk semi-regularly, but no, nothing beyond his usual problems.”

A thud sounds from upstairs.

Claire frowns. “Caroline, what was that?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I’ll check. I’ll be right back.”

She heads off towards the stairs.

GM: Caroline’s last sight as she departs is of her mother’s frown deepening.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline heads towards the room she first suspects. Aimee has seemingly fallen out of her bed. However, the drained and cut-up ghoul is also sluggishly fumbling at the window’s latch. She’s not even standing up as she tries to.

Caroline: The Ventrue fights back a surge of irritation and anger at the sight, her compassion and pity buried deeply beneath it, as she crosses the distance to the feeble ghoul. Of course Aimee is causing more trouble. That’s all she fucking does.

GM: When Aimee sees Caroline, she screams and recoils, or at least tries to. She can barely crawl in her present state.

“Caroline? What’s going on up there?” her mother calls.

The approaching click of heels sounds against hardwood.

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes bore into the other girl’s when she looks back to see Aimee. The Beast surges forward, even as she wrestles with its fury at this persistent nuisance, this infuriating itch that Caroline won’t simply allow it to scratch out of existence.

She maintains control by the barest possible margin, throwing a leash around the Beast’s throat and jerking it tight inches from closing its fangs—and her own—over Aimee’s throat in a bloody mess.

“Be quiet. Stop moving,” she growls at the ghoul.

“Aimee had a nightmare,” she calls back to her mother. “I’m just helping her back into bed now, I’ll be back down.”

She steps into the room and toes the door closed, locking it quickly and moving towards the ghoul. She looks down, venom dripping in her low voice.

“Why do you have to be such a pain?”

GM: Aimee’s voice dies in her throat as her body goes rigid. The terror, however, remains plain on her gashed face as her mouth dumbly opens and closes.

Caroline: Caroline approaches Aimee and her horribly bandaged face, gathering her up and hauling her back into her bed. The struggle for control is written across her face.

“Stay in bed,” she orders.

GM: Aimee can do naught but dumbly acquiesce. Tears leak from her eyes, staining the bandages Caroline so carefully applied earlier.

Caroline: Caroline moves back to the door.

“Stop crying,” she orders before opening it.

GM: There’s a parallel there, she supposes, with her sire’s reference to the Inferno. Sinners in Cocytus’ fourth ring are denied even the comfort of tears.

Aimee can do naught but stare emptily ahead, her features frozen as if in the same ice that encases traitors to their lords and benefactors.

Caroline: Something tears at her with those tears, something that makes her uncomfortable, that takes her a moment to recognize. That crying pitiful thing, tortured and beaten, broken in body and will hiding in the corner of her mind.

Her conscience.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline steps back out into the hall.

GM: In the nick of time, as she finds her mother just stepping off the top stair.

Claire raises a disapproving eyebrow. “A nightmare?”

Caroline: “It’s… complicated. One of many things I’ve been dealing with. Aimee was drugged, and, I think, worse.”

GM: Her mother’s disapproving look does not diminish.

“You can get that girl checked into a rehab clinic if her problems are serious, but really, Caroline, you don’t need hers dragging you down. Living with her will already be poor publicity for your father if it goes public. People like the Cherrys could try to ‘out’ you for being gay.”

Caroline: “Sorry I didn’t want to live in the marble palace alone,” Caroline replies defensively. “Or throw her out while her face is still being put back together.”

GM: “What are you talking about, ‘her face’?”

Caroline: “A car accident, Mom. She went face-first through a window. God only knows how she’s dealing with it.”

GM: Caroline’s mother does not look particularly sympathetic.

“She’s on drugs, isn’t she?”

Caroline: “No, Mom. She’s disfigured and scared.” Caroline’s voice is low.

GM: Claire pinches her nose. “Caroline, let’s go sit back down.”

Caroline: “Let’s.”

She stalks down the stairs, trying and failing to hide her irritation.

GM: Her mother heads back down with her.

“Where’s Caesar, by the way? He usually can’t wait to say hello.”

Caroline: “Staying with a friend for a little while, until some of this blows over.”

GM: Her mother arches an eyebrow at that, but sits down on the living room couch. She pats the adjacent spot for Caroline to take a seat beside her.

Caroline: She slides into the seat.

GM: Claire taps her fingers together.

“Where to begin. Your father and I heard about Decadence, Caroline. That you went missing and put the family down here in a panic. We heard about events from Orson, who actually stood up for you, which we were very surprised to see.”

“He believed your… ‘friend’,” Claire says, pronouncing the word in a very dubious voice, “was the one to blame for what happened, which we agree with. Despite what you’re telling me about a ‘nightmare’ that would mean she went to bed at 8 or 9, it sounds far more likely to me that she’s on drugs.”

Caroline: “Right, because this family always needs an outside influence to make poor choices.” There’s a scowl plastered across Caroline’s face.

GM: “Don’t be sarcastic, Caroline,” her mother reproaches with a frown. “It’s a very busy time in Washington, you know, with that disastrous Iran deal your father and his colleagues have been trying to halt. He’s taken time off from that to come down here.”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth and swallows the bitterness that her mother’s words dredge up like the piss-tasting blood of this evening’s victims. How dare she get in the way of her father’s career.

Sorry our deaths were inconvenient, she doesn’t say.

GM: The increasingly severe look on Claire’s face doesn’t abate.

“Caroline, this isn’t just about you. Or even your father. The work he does has very far-reaching consequences, as you well know. Do you want a country whose leader tweets ‘death to America’ to get their hands on a nuclear weapon?”

Caroline: “What do you want?” she asks, frustration barely restrained.

GM: Claire sighs. “Thomas also told us you’d lost your job, for missing work without notice.” Her mother glances about the bare living ruin. “I presume your ‘friend’ wrecked the furniture here and is why Caesar’s missing too.”

“Now, your father plans to have a talk with you. He isn’t happy. If we move out your friend and get her checked into a rehab clinic, that will help show him you’re making an effort to turn things around.”

Caroline: “Just throw her out,” Caroline repeats, but her heart isn’t in it.

She’s tired of Aimee’s constant bullshit. Tired of the trouble she causes. Tired of the unending headache. That promise nights ago seems so distant now.

GM: “Yes, just throw her out,” her mother agrees.

“Your ’friend’s’ problems will be treated by qualified professionals. She will be treated without dragging our family down. Without dragging you down.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip.

“What else?”

GM: “The rest are things your father wants to talk with you about, including your new job. But just between the two of us, Thomas and your father were able to snag you a new internship on the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her fangs, ready to practically spit nails.

GM: “We know you thought the work would be less interesting than the Supreme Court’s,” her mother continues, “and the three of us decided that was an appropriate consequence while still not harming your future career prospects.”

Caroline: An appropriate consequence and the three of us.

Her family plotting out her life every bit as forcefully as her new Kindred masters.

GM: “So far as they—and everyone else—will know, you left the Supreme Court. You weren’t fired.”

Caroline: She mulls on it, contemplating whether or not she can make that work. It puts her in proximity to matters with some value, but the scheduling is going to be a pain.

Still, with all of her new gifts… maybe. Maybe she can carry on the charade. For a little while, at least.

Does she want to? Why does she care?

GM: “Now, as I’ve said,” Claire goes on, “your father had wanted, and still does want, to discuss that particular bit of news with you himself. I’m sharing it with you now because there’s also something else.”

Her mother’s expression stills.

“Over the phone, you said that something happened. In the French Quarter.”

Caroline: Silence hangs for a moment as Caroline seemingly waits for an actual question, though inside her guts twist like someone is turning a knife. Something happened all right. She died. She was turned into an unholy monster. She was attacked, dominated, and heard in cruel detail of her brother’s torture. Her life, her soul, her future were all ripped away, and she’ll never know why.

And she can never go back.

She can’t even begin to explain to her mother what happened, what that night means to her. She looks away, not willing to meet her mother’s eyes. Part of her wants to apologize for it.

Sorry for ruining your plans for me.

Sorry for the heartache it’s going to cause when you lose me.

Sorry I’m a burden.

Buried an inch deep under everything else, anger, hatred, and fear is something else, the opposite sides of the same coin, guilt and shame.

I’m sorry I disappointed you.

She’s hidden from it for so long. Rushed from crisis to crisis with the blade hanging over her neck by that smoldering cord. He went and turned her into this filthy unclean thing from which no good can emerge.

GM: The expected question does not come.

Claire wraps her arms around Caroline, pulling her into a second embrace. The former heiress can feel the warmth emanating from her mother’s body, hear the beating heart that no longer pumps blood through her own veins.

“I know things have been… difficult between us, Caroline. But I do love you. I want you to be accomplished and successful, and a credit to the family’s name, just like you do. I want to be proud of you.”

“I know that your father and I have been away… and that things, awful things, sometimes happen. Sometimes things we think are our fault, when they really aren’t… when they’re really everybody’s, or nobody’s at all.”

“I love you, and all I want right now is to help you. Tell me how I can.”

Caroline: She clenches her teeth to swallow the sob that wants to choke out. How do you explain to your mother that nothing will ever be all right again? That there’s nothing she can do? The Beast’s screams are a distant thing under the wellspring of emotion welling up inside her.

GM: Caroline’s mother says more words. Words that are simultaneously too close to home, yet all too distant, all too unable to capture the reality of what has happened.

Mostly, though, she just holds her daughter and waits until—or to simply see if—Caroline is able to say anything back.

Caroline: The shivers at her mother’s touch, the reluctance, the tension in her body are all-too real, and all-too easy mistaken for something else, but at last Caroline finds her voice.

“I don’t know. How to fix it. How to go back and pretend to be normal.”

GM: “You don’t have to know how to make it right, Caroline. Just what needs to be made right.”

Caroline: “Time,” she finally murmurs. “Space. For a time at least.”

GM: Claire finally pulls away and regards her skeptically.

Caroline: There’s pain there, oh so real and cut deep.

“Just don’t let them drop a hammer on me right now,” she almost pleads. “Let me figure myself out. How I’m going to deal with this.”

GM: Claire’s expression finally downturns into a frown.

Caroline: “I’ll tell you. Someday. I’ll explain what happened. But I couldn’t tell you if I wanted to right now.”

GM: “Caroline, you’ve had over a week to yourself,” Claire states. “I’m concerned things will get worse if we simply leave you alone.”

Caroline: “I’m not really sure how it could get worse.”

GM: “I am,” her mother replies seriously.

Caroline: “I’m not going to do anything crazy, Mom.” Her tone is both hurt and defensive.

GM: Claire’s gaze lingers on Caroline’s face. Finally she takes her daughter’s hand in hers, then asks quietly, “Caroline, were you raped?”

Caroline: More clenched teeth. She looks away, her body tense. She says nothing.

At last, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

GM: Even with her eyes cast downwards, Caroline can feel the weight of her mother’s look. That instinctive knowledge when one is being watched. Instincts are not easily fooled—and perhaps a mother’s least of all.

“No,” Claire says slowly, “that isn’t it.”

Caroline: It’s only her cast away gaze that keeps the surprise from her mother’s keen gaze.

“You don’t know. And you don’t want to know,” she grinds out, her entire body as stiff as a board.

GM: Claire doesn’t release her daughter’s hand, but finally sighs.

“Just spit it out, Caroline. Your father is going to have this conversation with you too. It will be easier the second time.”

Caroline: “Let’s start at the beginning then, where I was drugged at Decadence then attacked on the street and dragged into an alley with a chain around my neck and choked until I was just about to black out completely while one of my attackers boasted about how he was going to literally ‘fuck my brains out’ through my eyes with his razor-tipped dick,” she all but snarls at her mother. “That was all where it began to go sideways.”

Her voice is heavy with emotion—anger, hurt, and shame—low and thick. Each word is all but thrown in Claire’s face.

FUCK!” she yells, covering her eyes with her free hand.

GM: Shock is the first emotion to overcome her mother’s face. Caroline can’t make out the ones that follow as she covers her own face. Perhaps it is well that she does, for her mother cannot see her tears. The last tears she wept for tragedy only brought forth new tragedies.

Silence reigns for several moments. The barren house remains as quiet as before.

Finally she feels Claire’s hand on her knee as her mother states quietly, “I’ll talk to your father for you, Caroline. You won’t need to repeat this story for him.”

Caroline: “I’m sure he wants to hear all about how his daughter was defiled,” she spits out bitterly.

GM: Claire does not reply. Caroline still cannot see the expression on her mother’s face.

The two sit. Silence stretches. Not the barren solitude of earlier, but one heavy with the weight of things said—and things that can never be said.

Caroline: “I’m sorry,” she finally says, lowering her arm. “For all of this.”

GM: Claire is looking directly at her. Her expression is at once far off and intimately near. Her eyes are misty as she replies in a hoarse voice, “It’s not your fault.”

Caroline: “I’m still sorry. I didn’t want to pull you and Dad away… worry the family….”

GM: “It’s that bastard’s fault, not yours,” her mother repeats, anger briefly twisting her features before her face softens.

“I suppose,” she says slowly, “that I should also be… sorry. That we live in a family where… you couldn’t be allowed, to simply deal with things at your own pace.”

Caroline: “It is what it is.”

There’s a tremendous distance between them.

“I need to start pulling it together—and I will—there’s just… I don’t want to be known for this in the family, Mom.”

GM: “Your father will know, Caroline. But yes, god knows we’ll keep this under wraps. This won’t turn into a subject of gossip. We won’t allow it to destroy your future. We will… we will keep you safe.”

For the third time that evening, Claire extends her arms. But there’s an asking look in her eyes, this time. Whether Caroline wants the contact.

Caroline: For the third time tonight—perhaps more than she’s done in the last year—Caroline accepts her mother’s embrace. It’s an attempt to return to a simpler time, maybe one that in truth never existed between them, when she was a source of comfort and safety. When nothing could hurt her as long as she was being held tight.

This time, however, there’s no comfort. The embrace is as empty as the flesh shell that once housed Caroline’s soul. It’s an illusion, and as soon as she feels her mother’s arms wrap around her, feels the twisting and snarling of the Beast inside, Caroline knows that it’ll never be a safe place again. Every interaction with her family, a family she has to lie to, deceive, and manipulate just to keep herself alive, is a sham.

She can cling to her, she can pretend it offers comfort, but she’s no more fooling herself than she’s fooling the devil inside her. It knows the truth, even if her mother doesn’t. And still, she lingers. Because this is manipulation. It’s a lie. It’s a misdirection, as so much of this night has been. This is what her life—or unlife—is, and will continue to be.

An act.

A show.

A masquerade.

GM: Not any masquerade.

The Masquerade.

Oblivious to the monster snarling in her daughter’s soul, Caroline’s mother hugs her and reassures her that it’s not her fault what happened. Her mother is the one who’s sorry. That she wasn’t there for Caroline and Westley when they needed her—that it took something as horrible as this to bring her home, and maybe she’d lost sight of what was really important. Claire asks whether Caroline has been to a sexual assault center, taken pregnancy and STD tests, or filed a police report—and hopes that Caroline has not filed a report. God knows they want this to stay out of the papers. Caroline will still have a future. Still be a success. They can move past this.

It’s then that Claire breaks down in tears. Real ones, the kind Caroline can never shed. Her mother turns away, wiping distractedly at her face as she gets out,

“I thought my work… that it would keep you and your brother safe… but it hasn’t, Caroline, it hasn’t… I’m so sorry…”

Caroline: Caroline ends up holdings her own mother instead, offering her own reassurances. She explains that it isn’t her mother’s fault, that she doesn’t have STDs, and that she was actively adverse to filing a police report—for a number of reasons.

“It’ll be okay, Mom,” she murmurs.

GM: Claire finally composes herself, dabbing at her reddened eyes with a tissue.

“Look at this, this is pathetic of me. You were the one who was raped. Now, when did it happen? Was it early enough for you to take a pregnancy test yet?”

Caroline: The heiress shakes her head. “Too early.”

GM: Her mother nods at that, clearly putting it onto a mental to-do list.

“All right. It’s been a very long day, Caroline. If you’d feel better having someone nearby, I can stay the night.”

Aimee’s absence from the statement is conspicuous.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head again.

“I kind of prefer the quiet, and I have a lot to do tomorrow. School and stuff. So do you.”

GM: Her mom looks at Caroline for a while, then finally replies, “All right. I’m going to call Roger to come pick up your friend.”

Caroline: “No.”

The word is sharp, and cuts through the air for a moment, but after a moment Caroline softens.

“I wasn’t lying when I said she’s messed up, Mom.” She sighs. “And you’re probably not wrong about her needing help. Let me call you tomorrow night when I get her straightened out and set up somewhere.”

Her face tightens up. “It’ll let me accomplish something and won’t scare her into doing something. If you call in Mr. Ferris… it’s going to freak her out. Maybe make it worse.”

GM: “Caroline,” her mother continues more sternly, placing a hand on Caroline’s shoulder, “that girl is a bad influence. We are the company we keep. Surround yourself with failures and they’ll drag you down. Especially if you think she’s going to cause trouble, that’s all the more reason to remove her. There is no trouble she can cause here that Roger can’t handle. You can wait in my car or another part of the house if you don’t want to witness any scenes she makes when he takes away.”

“Besides, we’re hardly sending this girl to St. Helena. Just somewhere that she can get the help she needs. Far away from you.”

Caroline: Caroline seems ready to argue for a moment, but the wind falls out of her sails.

“All right, Mom. Let me talk to her before you call him, though.”

GM: “That may prudent. Just in case, though…”

She reaches inside her purse and hands Caroline a small canister of pepper spray.

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow.

“Seriously, Mom? I could hold her down with one hand.”

GM: “I hope you won’t need it, Caroline. But it won’t hurt you to have it either, if it’s possible she could get violent. Who the hell even knows with drug addicts.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite roll her eyes. She’s not that disrespectful—she wasn’t raised that way—but to her mother’s practiced eye it’s clear that Caroline thinks she’s being a little over the top.

“You’ll understand when I bring her down,” the Ventrue says.

She takes the pepper spray nonetheless.

GM: Her mother nods in satisfaction as Caroline accepts the mace.

“I’ll be downstairs if you need an extra hand.”

Caroline: Caroline sighs. “You want me to go get her ready now?”

GM: Her mother nods again. “I’ll call Roger and have him waiting outside.”

Caroline: Caroline nods and rises to her feet. “Where are you sending her anyway?”

GM: Her mother offers her a dry look.

“I’m thankfully unacquainted with the city’s drug rehab clinics, Caroline. Lord knows that Westley…” Claire briefly trails off at the mention of his name, then continues, “I’m just glad that one of those wasn’t necessary for him. One of the family employees will sort the details out for your friend.”

Caroline: She nods. “All right. I’ll bring her down in a few minutes.”

GM: “I’m downstairs if you need me,” Claire repeats as she pulls out a Solaris. Caroline hears her mother’s voice as she ascends the stairs.

“Hello, Roger. I’m at Caroline’s house. There’s a problem for you to come handle.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline heads up, sending a text as she goes to Jocelyn and asking if she’s willing to take possession of her ghoul for a night or two until she can sort out how to get her family off her back or make her less of a masquerade liability.

She doesn’t quite dread the entire march up the stairs, the descent back into the battered ghoul’s room.

GM: Jocelyn shoots back, Ofc. You wanna come drop her off? You havent seen my haven

After another moment: Actually maybe later

Doesnt seem like a good idea having her in mine

We can drop her off at the krewes

Caroline: My mom is making me ship him off with a family security guy. Was going to make him drop her off wherever worked for you. Fair warning, she’s pretty messed up. Constant headache :(

GM: Dont worry Im used to it

Lol tho howd your mom get pulled into this?

Caroline: Family convinced she’s a bad influence. Responsible for my recent ‘problems’


GM: Lol well good for the masq at least

They gonna care what happens after shes dropped off?

Caroline: Maybe. I can cover that though more easily than her blabbing her fat mouth about vampires at some rehab clinic.

GM: Theyre sending her to rehab?



Its just funny

Detox for ghouls!

Caroline: Ha. Ha.

Caroline steps into Aimee’s room.

GM: The blanch-faced, cut-up ghoul is lying on the bed, staring at the room’s window with numb eyes that can’t even cry. She sluggishly recoils at Caroline’s presence, her features overcome with terror as her mouth works in a silent scream.

Caroline: Caroline closes the door behind herself.

“Stop that. Jesus, I’m not going to hurt you, Aimee,” she growls. “The only time I did was when you tried to set me on fire, if you don’t recall.”

GM: Aimee’s terror-struck features do not calm.

Caroline: “Of course you don’t, because you’re determined to be a selfish bitch,” she mutters. “After everything I’ve done time and again. You don’t even know how many times I’ve saved your life in the last two weeks, or at what cost.”

GM: The mutilated ghoul’s mouth soundlessly works. Her face’s glass-inflicted cuts are still swaddled in bandages, giving her a vaguely mummy-like appearance not dissimilar from Caesar’s.

Caroline:You can whisper,” Caroline decides.

GM: Aimee’s words come out as hoarse, almost deflated-sounding squeaks that would likely be far louder if her voice was fully her own. “What—what are you doing to me—let me go!”

Caroline: “I’ve been trying to get you put back together after you went and got captured by those savages,” Caroline growls. “But as it turns out, you get your wish tonight. You’re leaving.”

She leaves out ‘you ungrateful bitch’.

GM: Aimee pulls away and shrinks against the corner of the bed.

“Please—please don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me. Why… why are you doing this!?”

The words still come out as barely more than hoarse squeaks.

Caroline: “What do you mean?”

GM: There’s some confusion on her features, but it’s a drop in the bucket next to the fear. Aimee’s mouth dumbly moves again as her eyes twitch. There’s an oddly glassy look to them.

Caroline: “What do you mean ‘why am I doing this?’” she asks again.

GM: Aimee gives a strangled, tear-less sob and turns away from Caroline, burying her face against the bed’s pillow.

Caroline: “I need you to act normally for a little while.”

GM: The ghoul does not respond.

Caroline: “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

GM: “Just let me go!”

Aimee tries to sob. She still can’t.

Caroline: “You’d die.”

GM: “Good!” comes another cry that’s choked down to a whisper.

Another text buzzes from Jocelyn.

hey if you want I could drop Aimee off with mystery-Skyman

Caroline: “No,” Caroline growls. “I told you I wouldn’t let this ruin your life, and I meant it.”

GM: Caroline is positive the ghoul’s next words would come out as a scream, if they could.

“You already have!”

Caroline: Her face sets in a grim and angry scowl, but other emotions bubble below it. Hurt and pain written across her face to her friend as plainly as though with black marker.

“Why do you have to be such a bitch?” she asks. “I’m doing the best I can.”

The hurt is even more obvious in her voice.

GM: “Go away!” Aimee cries with another strangled whisper.

The hurt is fairly obvious on her bandaged face.

Caroline: “Well,” Caroline grinds out between clenched teeth, “this has been fun.”

She turns loose the Beast, pressing its will onto the ghoul.

GM: Aimee shrinks away at first, but Caroline’s supernal presence washes over her like a tide over beach. The Beast yanks the ghoul’s head back towards her domitor, causing Aimee to crawl across the bed to Caroline and whisper,

“Please. Please take me away from here…”

Caroline: “There’s someone on their way here to take you away, but my mother is downstairs and I need you to act normally. Can you do that for me? Just act normally and you can leave. Don’t talk about any of the supernatural stuff. You got hurt in a car accident.”

GM: Between her bandaged, cut-up face, blanched-white skin, tear-reddened eyes, and a quivering expression that hovers between fear, pain, despair, and a cocktail of other bleak emotions, Aimee looks about as far from normal as Caroline has ever seen her. Or anyone.

The ghoul nods eagerly, if not desperately at the request.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression remains grim, but she nods and sets about packing a quick bag for the ghoul—toiletries and a change of comfortable clothing.

GM: Aimee numbly sits on the edge of the bed and stares ahead.

Caroline: Caroline looks her in the eye.

“No talk of anything supernatural, do you understand?”

GM: The ghoul just gives her a confused look.

Caroline: “Don’t blab about any of this. If she asks, you got in a car accident.”

GM: “Okay…” Aimee answers dully.

Caroline: She runs a hand through her hair in silent frustration. At last she sighs and extends a hand to Aimee.

“I’ll help you downstairs.”

GM: Aimee flinches at Caroline’s touch.

Caroline: “I’m not going to hurt you, Aimee,” she tries to gently reassure the ghoul as she helps her to her feet.

GM: Aimee grows agitated at Caroline’s touch but remains in place on the bed. When she tries to rise, her knees lock and she falls back down. She stares at the Ventrue with out of focus eyes as she tries to fight against Caroline’s earlier command to sit still.

“I-I can’t…”

Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth, then brings them down on her wrist, offering it to the ghoul.


GM: Aimee falls on it like a pack of razor blades.

Caroline: That wrist is yanked away all too soon as Caroline watches a bit of color return to the ghoul’s skin.

You may stand. Don’t mention the supernatural.

GM: “Please… please, I need more…” Aimee begs with glassy eyes.

Caroline: “If you behave yourself and don’t cause a scene? If you go along quietly. If you don’t cause problems tonight where you’re going? I’ll give you more. Not until then. Now get up.”

GM: The ghoul sniffs and shakily ambles to her feet off the bed.

Caroline: Caroline licks closed the wounds on her wrist and carefully helps her former friend down the stairs.

Dragging you down.

As much as she hates to admit it, her mother feels more right than ever.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

GM: Aimee needs the help downstairs. Badly. Caroline has to half-carry the traumatized and badly-injured woman down into the living room.

Her mother stares at the sight.

Caroline: She settles Aimee in a chair a little off from the couch where she and her mother have been talking.

GM: “My god, Caroline, what is this girl on?” Claire asks incredulously.

Caroline: Caroline’s glare could shatter glass.

GM: Aimee just stares at Claire dazedly.

Caroline: “Did you think I was lying, Mom?”

GM: “This certainly explains a great deal,” her mother declares. She regards the nonresponsive Aimee with an eye it would be generous to describe as critical.

Caroline: “I told you she was hurt,” Caroline growls defensively. “She should be in bed.”

GM: “Yes, and somewhere other than here.”

Claire glances down at her watch.

Caroline: Caroline settles down between the two, and pulls out her own phone, replying back to Jocelyn that she’ll call to talk about Skyman once she gets her mother out of the house. She wonders wonders if the Toreador has an address she can direct Aimee to be dropped off at.

GM: Jocelyn texts an address in the CBD. Claire doesn’t raise the usual objections to texting in her presence that Caroline has grown up with.

Caroline: She looks back at her mother and puts away the phone. It’s distracting keeping her presence focused on Aimee. It’s distracting having to sit in the same room and smell her. It’s even more distracting given her own very mixed feelings towards her one-time friend.

“How long?” she finally asks after an awkward silence.

GM: “Not long,” Claire answers. “He’s on his way. Caroline, what on earth happened to this girl?”

Caroline: “Accident. She went through plate glass face-first,” Caroline murmurs quietly.

GM: Her mother’s disapproving look does not abate.

It isn’t much longer, however, before a firm knock sounds against the front door. Claire rises to answer it but glances back towards Caroline, as if to make sure she’s all right with someone coming inside.

Caroline: The heiress bits her lip but nods.

GM: Her mother regards Caroline for another moment, then turns to open the door. The Malveaux family’s head of security is a tall man in the early years of middle age, with a close-cropped beard and mustache streaked with salt and pepper that gives him a vaguely wolf-like countenance. He’s dressed in a plain black suit and necktie.

“Roger,” Claire greets him.

“Mrs. Malveaux,” he nods back.

Caroline he greets with another nodded, “Ma’am.”

Ferris strides over to Aimee and hoists her up without further word. The bleary-eyed ghoul startles and gives a strangled scream that doesn’t rise above a whisper. It’s at odds with her panicked expression as she manically flails against Ferris’ chest.

Claire frowns, then sighs tiredly.

“Just get her to the clinic, Roger.”

Caroline: Roger Ferris. The man has a dashing quality to him that when she was younger (and still alive) stirred something in her. Always alert, poised, and seemingly ready for anything. The details of everything he handles for the family have always been intentionally murky for the heiress, but Caroline knows enough to know that he’s a very dangerous man.

That nothing stirs now, other than perhaps a bit of protectiveness towards Aimee, is perhaps the surest sign that she truly is dead inside.

Years ago she’d bounce her Arabic off him whenever she had the opportunity—not often given how busy the family keeps him—stopping in the hall to chat with him while he waited on a meeting with her father, or one of her uncles.

She’d never had the courage to ask him about the two missing fingers on one hand.

“Good evening, Mr. Ferris,” she murmurs as he enters and collects Aimee.

GM: “Ma’am,” the eight-fingered security head responds again, seemingly unbothered by the ghoul’s thrashings and whispered screams. He hefts her into the crook of his arm and moves to re-open the house’s front door.

Caroline: Caroline opens the door for him and follows him out into the chilly New Orleans night, the humidity making the slight dip in temperature feel far more noticeable.

GM: Ferris silently thanks Caroline with a nod and hauls the now-weakly struggling Aimee outside towards a parked black Range Rover Sentinel. Caroline can see her mother faintly frown as she follows the pair out.

Caroline: Caroline watches him load away the battered ghoul—no longer her friend, and addresses him in Arabic.

“Hal la yazal ladayk alkathir min alfuras lilmumarasati?”

(“Do you still have much opportunity to practice?”)

GM: Ferris starts buckling a seatbelt over the blanch-faced woman and glances back to answer, “Lays kathiran, Alsayidat Malfu.”

(“Not so much, Ms. Malveaux.”)

“Aiqtarahat Kayla ’an ’aqum bieamal tarjamat mustaqilin, lakina eayilatak tashghaluni bima fih alkifayatu.”

(“Kayla’s suggested I do freelance translating work, but your family keeps me busy enough.”)

Caroline: In that moment she strikes. The Beast surges forward and she feels a tiny surge of guilt at misuising him so.

“Astamira fi altahaduth biallughat Alearabiati.”

(“Continue speaking in Arabic.”)

GM: The former CIA agent regards her with a blank look.



Caroline: Vitae burns away as she digs her words deep into Ferris’ mind.

“Taslimuha ’iilaa…”

(“Deliver her to…”)

Caroline provides an address.

GM: The gray-bearded man gives her that same blank look.



Caroline: She’s never pushed her powers this far before, but now is the time.

She continues, “Tajahal kuli ma taquluh wala tatadhakar shyyan minhu. thuma aistamara fi tadhakur ’anak qumt bitaslimiha ’iilaa ’iieadat altaahil kama hu matlub…”

(“Ignore everything she says and remember none of it. Then proceed remembering only that you delivered her to rehab as required…”)

GM: Ferris gives another slow nod. The sleepy quality to the security chief’s gray eyes is a far cry from the usual, highly alert state that was one of the reasons her family hired the man.



Caroline: She lets slip her control.

“Ana asif lisamae dhalika.”

(“I’m sorry to hear that.”)

GM: Ferris’ eyes snap back into focus.

“I have more important things to do,” he shrugs in English.

Caroline: “Hopefully I shall not occupy any more of your time in the future.”

“Ana asif lihadha.”

(“I’m sorry for this.”)

GM: The security chief responds to Caroline’s apology with a bemused look. “Spending time on your family encompasses those more important things, ma’am.”

Caroline: “Yusifuniy ’an ’aqul hinaha ’anak lan taftaqir ’iilaa aleamal abdan, Sayid Firis.”

(“I am sorry to say then that you’ll never lack for work, Mr. Ferris.”)

GM: “‘Ana last asf sidti. eayilatuk tadfae li jyda. miranda tubli bla’an hsnaan fi manziliha aljadidi.”

(“I’m not sorry, ma’am. Your family pays me well. Miranda’s doing well in her new home.”)

Caroline: A weak smile.

“Take care of her. It’s… it’s not her fault.”

GM: Caroline knows the things her family has hired Ferris to do.

The vulpine-like man regards his employers’ daughter, then seemingly settles for, “I’ll get her safely and quietly to people who can.”

Caroline: Caroline can only nod and watch him enter the vehicle to drive off with Aimee.

At least her former friend is finally out of her hair.

Thursday night, 17 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline looks down as he goes, then, after a long moment, back at her mother.

GM: Claire puts away her phone as she hears the car’s doors close and watches it drive off. Her gaze returns to Caroline once it’s gone.

“Let’s get you back inside.”

Caroline: Caroline lets her mother guide her gently back into the house and retakes her seat.

GM: Claire sits back down next to her. She waits a moment to see if Caroline wants to resume the discussion first.

Caroline: “What now?” she asks at last, quietly.

GM: “What are your plans, Caroline?” her mother asks after a moment. “Do you want to take some time off, from school and work?”

Caroline: Caroline turns to regard her mother curiously, and after a moment asks, “Why don’t you go ahead and ask what you really want to ask, Mom?”

GM: Her mother frowns at that. “I’m sorry, Caroline?”

Caroline: There’s a flat look in response, and she lays a hand on top of her mother’s.

“You have a question you’re not asking. Maybe you’re afraid to ask it. Maybe you’re afraid of the answer. Just ask.”

GM: Claire’s frown deepens at Caroline’s statement.

“Do you know what happened to an employee of your uncle Orson’s named Joseph Paxton?”

Caroline: “Do you know why exactly Westley had such a miraculous and ironclad turnaround in his behavior?” she counters.

GM: “Why are you asking about Westley right now, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Because he told me to ask you, about something he couldn’t talk about to me. Not wouldn’t, couldn’t.”

GM: “The Brothers of St. Joseph are the… people to ask about your brother,” her mother answers.

Caroline: “What aren’t you telling me, Mom?” Caroline asks intently.

GM: “A great deal, I suspect,” her mother answers heavily. “I didn’t try to find out from the monks what they did to your brother. There was nothing I could have done.”

Caroline: “That, I believe.”

GM: Her jaw sets. “I might have done something foolish if I did.”

Caroline: “You can’t protect us from everything, Mom.”

GM: “I helped your brother to recuperate,” her mother says wearily. “He couldn’t go to a rehab clinic, as I’ve said. Too many staff who could spill he was there to the tabloids—or worse, the press. I did everything I could to make sure he wouldn’t get into another… accident, like with that poor girl. I included the stipulation in his trust fund that he’d be cut off if he didn’t attend weekly therapy sessions. Anything to keep him sober.” She then pinches her nose as she adds, “Sober enough, at least.”

Caroline: “So, did you send him to the brothers, or was that someone else?” Caroline asks.

GM: Claire regards her as if Caroline just said she likes to set dogs on fire.

“I would never do that to your or one of your brothers, Caroline. Westley’s stay was your uncle’s doing. I’m sure you can imagine which of them.”

Caroline: “Just like Susan?”

GM: “Like and not like. Your brother only enjoyed their ‘hospitality’ for a week, thank god.”

Caroline: “That’s what Orson wanted to do to me. When I first showed up to see him after… well.”

She looks down.

“He was adamant that Aimee and I were both going to a convent,” she continues.

GM: “This isn’t like last time, Caroline,” her mother says slowly.

There’s a quaver to her lip.

“He hasn’t done anything. Orson knows nothing.”

Caroline: “You don’t have to do something wrong for something terrible to happen. Though… we’re often architects of our own fate.”

There’s guilt in Caroline’s eyes.

GM: Claire dabs at her eyes with a issue. Her voice, though, doesn’t waver as she looks her daughter in the eye and asks, “Do you know anything about what happened to Westley, Caroline?”

Caroline: “No, it just… it seemed odd that he was trying to tell me something about what had happened to him, and a few nights later he disappeared.”

GM: Caroline’s mother dabs at her eyes some more. “I don’t know why Orson would make him vanish like this. All it’s doing is sending the family off on a wild goose chase.”

Caroline: “He didn’t tell me to ask Orson. He told me to ask you.”

Caroline’s voice is very quiet.

GM: “If I had any idea where your brother was, Caroline, any at all, we wouldn’t be talking about him right now.”

Caroline: “I didn’t say you were, but if you’re keeping any secrets on this, Mom, this would be a good time to share them.”

GM: “I don’t know anything that could help us—could help him, Caroline. What answers do you think I have?”

Caroline: “Are we just going to dance around this all night, Mom?” Caroline asks tiredly. “Wouldn’t you like someone in the family to know what you’ve been dealing with without any of us realizing it?”

GM: “Orson thinks you had something to do with Paxton’s disappearance, Caroline,” her mother says heavily. “He’s worked for your uncle for over a decade. Has a family. There was no reason for him to just vanish like he has.”

Caroline: “Grown man and former FBI investigator goes missing. Must be the college student’s fault? How exactly does Orson think I made his investigator disappear?” Caroline asks.

GM: “How did you know he’d worked for the FBI, Caroline?” her mother asks.

Caroline: “The same way I know Roger speaks Arabic and worked for an agency with a three-letter abbreviation, Mom. I’m not Luke. They’re not all just ‘the help’ to me. Plus people are far more likely to help you if you know at least something about them. One of Dad’s lessons.”

“We talked once or twice. He was gruff, though. Didn’t really want to take questions. Reminded me of the Terminator.”

GM: Her mother’s frown has resumed in full force. “Orson doesn’t think it’s likely you were directly responsible for his disappearance, Caroline, but he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that he disappeared while looking for you either. He thinks there was more to whatever happened at Decadence than you’ve let on.”

“It’s been over a week, now. We’ve been debating whether or not to bring the police into the investigation.”

Caroline: “They have a stellar record with missing persons,” Caroline replies, bitterness heavy in her voice.

“And an even more stellar one with people in their custody.”

GM: “Yes, god knows there after that fiasco with the Whitneys and Devillers. That’s part of the debate. But what happened to Paxton isn’t going away.”

Caroline: “You actually think I had something to do with it,” Caroline states.

GM: “We think the circumstances of his disappearance and yours could potentially be connected. We’re not sure how, but it’s our only lead to go on.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Good luck in your goose chase. I’m surprised Orson cares, though, he never stuck me as having very much concern for individuals.”

GM: “The family is on edge, Caroline,” Claire continues with a thoughtful frown. “This is the fourth time within a month that something unfortunate has happened to us, or to someone closely associated with us. You. Your brother. Paxton. I don’t know if you heard, but Cécilia was followed home by a stalker at the same time she was entertaining Luke.”

Caroline: “I heard about Cécilia,” Caroline replies thoughtfully.

She eyes her mother.

“So. This is us.”

There’s a tiredness to her tone, an exhaustion seeped deep into her bones after their extended verbal sparring. Lies within lies within misdirection. The complete absence of any truth between them, in a single word.

GM: Caroline’s mother looks back at her. The weariness in her own tone isn’t feigned as she repeats, “Do you want to take some time off, from school and work?”

Caroline: “Work makes sense. It’ll also raise fewer eyebrows when I come back. I need to talk to my professors about school.”

GM: “Yes. Another of the family can do it, if you’d rather not.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I’ll let you know if I change my mind.”

GM: Claire is silent for a moment, then touches Caroline’s hand. “You know that you can call me, Caroline, if there’s anything you need or want someone else to take care of. Anything.”

Caroline can’t say she ever knew that.

Caroline: Caroline can’t remember a time that was true. She was always closer to her father, always the daddy’s girl happy to weaponize him when her mother told her she couldn’t do something. Physical. Athletic. Unafraid. She remembers a tear- and rage-filled locker room left by her mother’s passage. Remembers a dozen fights.

And she remembers a time when she tried her best to make it true. To mend fences that had never existed. Remembers applying to that stupid sorority because she thought it would make her mother happy. Remembers the disappointment when she was rejected. Remembers it as just another missed opportunity between them. An unanswered “missed connection” just like on Craigslist. Two souls sailing through the night on their own ships, lost in the darkness.

Perhaps never has it been so true.

“Yeah,” she hears herself say. “I know, Mom.”

GM: The ships sail on, their signal lamps flashing through the gloom. Perhaps the silent messages are received. Perhaps the darkness is too thick.

But the Kindred aren’t the only ones to maintain masquerades.

Claire finally rises from the couch, shoulders her purse, and embraces Caroline again.

“I love you,” she repeats.

Caroline: “I love you too, Mom,” Caroline replies. As she sees her mother out she pauses at the door, calling out her mother heads outside, “Mom?”

When the older woman pauses Caroline speaks again, her voice thick with emotion, “Everything that happened, is happening, happens… it’s not your fault.”

GM: Claire pauses and looks back at her daughter as she crosses the house’s threshold into the waiting night. The rain tapered off hours ago. The once-overcast sky’s thick black clouds have parted. The moon is only a bare sliver.

It’s still enough to illuminate the pained lines etched over her face.

Claire’s voice is hoarse again as she answers,

“It’s… not yours either, Caroline. Sometimes… sometimes it’s simply out of our hands.”

Caroline: “As long as you know, whatever happens, you’ve always done your best.”

GM: Caroline’s mother stares at her for a moment longer.

“We’ll see if that was enough.”

Thursday night, 17 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline fires off some emails to various contacts, careful to compartmentalize her various subjects of interest, and then sets to work herself, digging into the Tulane Law’s various administrators.

Her soon to be Krewe-mates, her professors, Emmett who she so in-artfully framed.

It’s been a while since the night was largely hers to deal with. She calls Jocelyn, mentioning that she doesn’t want to bother their mystery patron with her pathetic ghoul if it can be helped, but that she understands if the troublesome girl is too much work.

GM: Caroline’s emails disappear into the aether. She imagines it will take some time for her former boss’ firm to look into all those matters—as well as a few follow-up phone calls—but she has nothing but time now.

As her lover said, she has eternity ahead of her.

As for Jocelyn herself, the Toreador relays that Skyman won’t be bothered if they pass along Aimee, but that “whatever happens to her is gonna be really… final.”

Skyman has also recovered Kelford, she mentions.

“I asked if you could have him back later, but… answer was no. Sorry.”

Caroline: “Yeah, I understand. Can you just keep her knocked out? I… she didn’t do anything wrong, Jocelyn. Just wrong place, wrong time, never had a chance to figure out what she was doing.”

GM: Jocelyn pauses. “Yeah, that… would make a lot of sense. Keeping ghouls knocked out is a pretty hard, though. Best I can do is give her some roofies and lock her up.”

Caroline: “That’ll would be great, Jocelyn. I just need some breathing room to deal with her. I’m sorry to push it on you.”

GM: “I understand. And it’s okay. You’ve been through a lot lately.”

After Caroline ends the call with her lover, she delves into school-related matters. She finds that the dean of Tulane Law, Harrison Abel, lives in the well-to-do neighborhood of Touro.

Caroline: The curse she lets out is decidedly unladylike. Her frustrations do not remain her own as she sets off into the night.

GM: Still lacking her own car, Caroline hails a Ryde. Riverbend is slow on a late Wednesday night. The cafes, coffee houses, and casual dining establishments where one might expect to find college students are all closed. Tulane itself remains barred to her.

She eventually arrives at a Walgreens. “Open 24 hours” proclaims the sign. She strolls down an aisle of shampoos, conditioners, and hair products. A blue-shirted young man pulling graveyard shift to stock the shelves smells just right.

Caroline: The poor young man would be easy pickings for a beautiful woman even if she didn’t have unholy powers of persuasion, and it’s not long before she lures him into a deserted (and camera-free) corner of the store for some necking that she gets far more out of than he does.

GM: The stock boy looks a little on the short side, but he’s also acne-free, clean-shaven, moderately trim, and looks as if he’s put some care into his appearance. Caroline doesn’t waste any time with conversation after he asks, “Can I help you?” and simply lets the force of her presence wash over him. She’s soon pushing the half-stunned young man against a shelf of paper towels, his blood hot and sweet as it rolls over her tongue. His life isn’t the best she’s sampled, but it’s not the worst either.

He stares dazedly when Caroline finally licks his neck and pulls away.

“Uh. Wow.”

Caroline:Forget I was here,” she demands of him.

As satisfying as the boy’s blood is, she’s still restless. Frustrated. Angry. She knows it’s the Beast on some level. Her taunting of it with her mother have left it on edge, and no matter how she tries she can’t get away from it. At least she’s warm again, for a while. The thirst is gone, for a moment.

GM: Before it returns.

Caroline: The night is hers still, what remains of it.

GM: Eventually, and inevitably, it will return.

Caroline: It’s a damn sight better than yesterday.

GM: Caroline catches another cab and returns home. Autumn and Aimee are both gone. Turner is still awake, going through exercise drills at relentless intensity despite her maimed state. The news of Kelford’s capture does not put the ghoul at ease.

Caroline: Caroline provides the maimed ghoul with more vitae, taking a measure of satisfaction in watching her wounds close, her bruises heal. It’s not as satisfying as the boy’s blood.

GM: Ordering replacement furniture over Cadabra takes a little while, but not that long. Her research into Dean Abel has already been done. Her laptop’s clock isn’t so late into the AM. The night looms ahead of her, seemingly as long and empty as eternity.

Caroline: The house feels so empty, and so does Caroline. A night without the threat of oblivion hanging over her leaves her with little to do as she waits for information to trickle in. There are things she could do. She could reach out to Father Malveaux. She could dig further into her professors. She could call Jocelyn, and she does toy with that idea for so very long, before finally forcing herself to wait until tomorrow. She digs around on the Blackwatch personnel database, looking for another bodyguard to compliment Turner, but her heart isn’t in it. She keeps seeing Polk’s headless corpse and Turner’s own wounds.

She spends time picking Turner’s brain, talking to the bodyguard about her own desires and interests, but finds little common ground. The taciturn mercenary is poor company, though.

Eventually she finds herself back in her room. She pages through case studies and sets them aside before ending up on her bed with her leather-bound and much-annotated Bible. The holy book sends an uncomfortable shiver through her when she touches it, but she finds herself paging through familiar passages.

She tries to make some sense of what has become of her life. Tries to reconcile it with faith. Struggles, and tries again. She cries. Tears of relief and tears of grief.

The night stretches on towards eternity.

GM: “And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood—neither you nor the foreigners living among you.’”

Caroline: She hates Father Malveaux, hates his alien ideology and twisted faith, but she has trouble denying at least one of his truths: there is very little for her here. On the other hand, she has eternity to look.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

She prays. And she tries to forgive. She has eternity to find that forgiveness in her heart as well.

Maybe she’ll even find it someday for herself.


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