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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline IV, Chapter VIII

The Death Sentence

“Justice, Miss Malveaux, does not guide the hand of the Camarilla.”
Philip Maldonato

Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM

GM: “Awaken, Miss Malveaux.”

Pain stabs through the Ventrue’s chest. Her surroundings materialize.

She’s lying on a bench. There’s a stake, wet with vitae, lying next to her.

Caroline: For a moment, that’s all that sinks in. The terrifying confusion of awakening in a foreign place. The sharp and roaring pain in her chest. The deep feeling of violation associated with the two.

She pushes away the pain—or at least tries to—and looks around to ascertain where she is.

Caroline: Caroline is in what appears to be a garden.

The Ventrue took an architectural history class once at Tulane and ascertains the style as Moorish—and a good deal more.

Working in a desert climate, the designers of such gardens were masters at maximizing the effect of water in the landscape. Water is clearly the primary motif, essential as it is to dessert cultures. The original water reservoir transforms into a central, cooling fountain in a foursquare pattern (called the charbagh by the Persians), considered today the basis for all formal garden design in the western world. Begun in the time of the Egyptians, refined by the Persians, and adopted by the Islamic world, these gardens came to represent a vision of Paradise, a walled and private space protected from the outside and filled with shade, color, abundance, and the sound of water. Color and pattern, in the form of ceramic tiles and carved stone, overcomes the limitations of long dry seasons (that do not actually exist in New Orleans) when plants are not in bloom. Plantings include cypress, sycamore, and almond, interspersed with pomegranate, fig, mandarins, oranges, and citrus. Jasmine, lilac, and rose provide further fragrance, while iris, tulips, and lilies complete the color palette. Lawns, however, are not used—such gardens were built in very hot climates, and are instead replaced with decorative paving that Caroline also knows is one of the key elements of the Moorish garden.

It is not so complicated, she further reflects, to understand why the original Arabian desert nomads who became Iberia’s Moors valued water so highly. This cultural basis brings together the creations of the Arab masters of landscape with the Chinese and Japanese, where the garden was created as place for the meditation and “personal luxury”, but not as public property, which was characteristic of the Greeks and Romans.

In the fountain, she further observes and isolates two main features. First of all the fountains do not contain the imprint of the human essence. The ideas of artists were never combined with man or his humanly form since the Koran forbids the depiction of the exposed body. Furthermore, designers were more restrained in the estimation of a quantity of utilized water (unlike later Turkish gardens), although this restraint is found in balance with a feeling of aesthetical “completeness” and self-sufficiency.

A lone figure is seated on another bench.

His skin is dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set, almond-hued eyes. In contrast to the hand-tailored business suits Caroline has previously seen him in, he now wears a plain gray robe with long, close-fitting sleeves and a fuller, ankle-length hem. A long piece of navy fabric known to Caroline as an almaizar is draped over his shoulders. She’s not sure of the name for the green wool cap on his head. He wears no shoes and but a single piece of jewelry: a gold signet ring set with a sapphire and traced with Arabic script.

Observing John Harley Matheson, who was so still and pale, was akin to watching an animate statue—an unliving relic and anachronism with no place in the modern world. As Caroline gazes upon Philip Maldonato and her surroundings, she feels instead as if she has been transported to some far-off and exotic land from Arabian Nights. One where she, and not the anachronistically dressed elder before her, does not belong.

Caroline: Caroline’s classical education absently fills in holes and descriptions on what surrounds her. She searches for meaning and recognition, though they need not look further than her first view of the scene. Not even to the face of the gray-clad Kindred sitting not so far away.

She recalls well the seneschal’s tastes. Laying on her side she can see the stake beside her as well—an artistic touch, given that she has little doubt this is not the first part of whatever conversation may follow. The feeling of violation only deepens.

GM: The stake appears newly-drawn from her chest, covered as it is in fresh, wet vitae.

Caroline: It’s supplanted by a fresh throb of agony given her position, and in the moment it’s all Caroline can do to roll over onto her back on the bench. It takes the pressure of half of her body weight off of the damage. It helps with the pain. A bit.

She knows it’s a temporary reprieve. She can’t simply lay there. It wouldn’t be polite or proper.

GM: Silence stretches the warm, humid air. Caroline hears birds chirp in the distance. The elder vampire regards her patiently from his bench. He looks as if he could sit on that bench for a thousand years. As if he has been sitting on that bench for a thousand years.

Caroline: In truth, that feeling of relief is only going to make it worse in the long term. She fixes her eyes on the seneschal, takes an unnecessary breath, and painfully rolls over onto her chest, fighting a scream of pain and letting out a quiet whimper as she leverages herself to her knees with her hands, the pressure on her chest sending fresh waves of agony through her. She loses eye contact with the seneschal for a moment, but looks back to meet his gaze clearly, through clenched teeth she makes an effort to unclench before speaking.

“I am at the service of the prince’s seneschal.”

She wonders how many times they’ve had this conversation.

GM: “Miss Malveaux.” Maldonato indicates the space beside him on the bench. “Please sit with me.”

Caroline: “As the seneschal wishes.”

She doesn’t whimper this time as she uses a hand to help force herself up into sitting position. She can’t keep the pain off her face as she rises to her feet. She makes what feels like the longest walk of her life over to the ancient Moor. She uses her other hand to try to plug the hole in her chest, or at least stop its flow of vitae. She’s made enough of a mess in the beautiful garden already.

It’s a somewhat futile effort. Much of her blood already stains where she was, and more drops escape, running through her fingers as she walks over to him. She feels a flash of remorse for staining such a lovely and intensely personal place.

GM: The seneschal’s almond eyes regard Caroline pensively before he begins, “Your blood was shed by other hands, Miss Malveaux. Nor does it flow by your will.”

Caroline: “Forgive me, Seneschal, it seems so out of place in this one. I feel as though I’m a vandal defacing a work of art.”

She bites her lip before taking another step, bringing herself towards Maldonato.

“And a blasphemer as well, for I do not imagine that for the seneschal a vision of paradise and peace is stained with the blood of a neonate.”

GM: “I had you brought here with foreknowledge of your state, Miss Malveaux. The blood that flows from your breast flows by my will.”

A mortal might stroke their chin at this point. The seneschal does not, yet something seems to stir in his deep-set, slightly-wrinkled eyes, as if the motion occurred to him and was simply not acted upon.

“Forgiveness is all-too rare among our kind. Yet perhaps it is well that forgiveness should exist between us in this matter. I fear that little more of it may await us tonight.”

Caroline: Her eyes flash downward for a moment, more shame, but race back up to meet his, remembering well Matheson’s lesson. His words fall like a leaden cloak over her, and her next words die at her lips, she nods. She takes the seat as she was instructed.

GM: The wooden seat is worn and smooth beneath Caroline’s legs. The elder Kindred sits but several handspan’s breadths away from her. As close as her first meeting with Jocelyn, she cannot help but recall, in the Toreador’s car. She cared as little for the cloth seat then as she does now.

“If you will in turn forgive my divergence from matters of great consequence, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato continues, “you feel at peace here, the circumstances of your arrival notwithstanding. May I inquire as to which feature of my garden you find most aesthetically or spiritually pleasing?”

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze sweeps over the garden before sweeping home to the elder. “In brevity, or in detail? If I might be so bold as to ask.”

GM: “As you would desire to answer,” the seneschal replies.

Caroline: Again the gaze sweeps out, and this time she begins speaking without immediately returning it to the elder Kindred.

“On its own, perhaps more than anything else, the subdued peace of it all. The quiet understatement and isolation of it. Its perfection of form and function, both spiritually and aesthetically, in capturing the classical Islamic and Moorish ideals respectively of contemplation, rest, and peace in such a place. Water, idealized in western culture as calming or neutral but more readily recognized in Moorish culture for its value is at once reserved and extravagant—but even then modest in its use. Purposeful. It’s something the Turks lost, I think, the idea that modesty has a merit of its own.”

She runs a tongue over her teeth.

“I, are…”

She stops herself from asking the question.

GM: “I will find no rudeness in you giving voice to your thought, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal bids.

Caroline: “Forgive me, Seneschal, it is not a polite question or one I have business asking. Please let me instead say that outside of the garden itself, perhaps what I appreciate the most about it is how… right it appears for its owner, and how at peace he appears to be within it. Other elders have felt… perhaps a bit out of place. This is the first time I have strongly felt the opposite. It is a reassuring thought, however pointless that thought may be in this moment.”

GM: Maldonato’s almond-hued gaze slowly drifts across the garden’s feature. He is silent for a moment, and Caroline can hear naught but the gentle flowing of the fountain’s water.

“It is similar in appearance to the garden maintained by my mortal father. I have had replicas constructed in other places and at other times. They hold many memories for me, both singularly and collectively.”

Caroline: Caroline nods at the admission. “I am sorry to have brought the unpleasant memory of what must follow into it.”

GM: “Once more, Miss Malveaux, you apologize to me for actions that are not your own. Such apologies are well-intentioned, yet by their lack of necessity I have no cause to accept them. I have chosen to bring you to this place. Why do you believe that I might do such a thing?”

Caroline: “I can think of many reasons, Seneschal. Few of them bode well, however benevolent the act itself may be.”

There’s a quiver in her lip when she speaks, and only by firmly biting down on it does she make it stop when she herself stops talking.

“For instance, an opportunity to make peace before whatever sentence or punishment is to be lain upon me.”

GM: Maldonato’s gaze returns from Caroline’s face to the garden’s central fountain.

“Some elements of this garden are untrue to my memories of the original from my breathing days. A historian would term these elements anachronisms.”

“I am old and set in my ways. Though I strive to keep abreast of the modern world’s developments, the comforts of the past are inherently more pleasing to me. I feel that by incorporating slight modernistic changes into a place where I am most at peace, I may reach peace with those changes, and carry that peace with me when I re-enter the modern world.”

Caroline: Caroline slightly tilts her head, taking in that comment and running it over.

GM: “There is a similar medical analogy in so-called ‘pox parties’,” Maldonato continues, “whereby groups of children are exposed to common infectious diseases, such as chicken pox, in hopes of inoculating them against reinfection. Controlled exposure to pernicious agents theoretically spares these children from greater future suffering.”

“The efficacy of this practice is at best dubious, of course, and vaccination is a more effective means of inoculation, though I am told some parents persist in deliberately subjecting their young to preventable diseases. The capacity for human illogic appears endemic to all times and places. But I digress from the subject at hand.”

Caroline: “My time is yours, Seneschal,” Caroline replies evenly.

GM: “Yet my time is not my own, for there are other matters that presently weigh upon my mind. I will pray your forgiveness should my attentions appear divided.”

Caroline: “It is your forgiveness I must beg, I did not anticipate the mess that was created.”

GM: “All matters in their time, Miss Malveaux.”

The seneschal pauses again.

“Spiritual inoculation, both yours and mine, is one reason I have brought you to this place. Another reason was my belief that you would find it a calming and peaceful environs.”

Caroline: Caroline takes in a deep breath through her nose, taking in the scents of the chamber—and trying to ignore that of her own stolen blood. It’s painful, but isn’t everything in these days? Her eyes slip across the gardens and slightly out of focus. There’s a simple beauty to it all. A peace.

“Spiritual inoculation.”

She pauses.

“My uncle particularly hates that phrase. Well, and all the associated ideas. I think he’d rather his believers simply be that—believers—and leave any thought to him.”

GM: “Belief without thought is a house without foundation.”

Caroline: “He’d never say something like this to me, of course, but I overheard him talking with my father once. It was late at night. I should have been asleep. I’ve tried to simply believe.” She looks down. “In all of this. In our church. Teachings I only barely understand, demands that I…”

She lets out a sigh.

“I hurt someone. Tortured them. And I just tried to tell myself it was right. I murdered someone, confessed to it, and was all but congratulated on it. I want to believe. I need something to believe in. But how do you do it?” she asks rhetorically.

“How do you reconcile a lifetime of faith with a faith that demands we be…” She stops and sighs, “I guess true to…”

She looks away from the garden and the seneschal for a moment and brings a hand up to her face.

“Monsters,” she finishes at last. “I don’t want to be like some Kindred I’ve met, that take such active pleasure in sadism.”

GM: “‘It is by God’s will that we are monsters; we are His instruments to punish the guilty,’” Maldonato quotes. “This dogma is an oversimplification of the Lancea et Sanctum’s beliefs, yet for many congregates, it is sufficient. Such Kindred merely desire justification for their Requiems. The rhetoric of the Church Eternal can be highly seductive to them. I believe that fewer Kindred, however, truly contemplate and seek to follow God’s will.”

“Tell me, Miss Malveaux, when was the last occasion you prayed to Him?”

Caroline: “Wednesday night, Seneschal. I had some time to myself for the first time after capturing my sire.”

GM: Maldonato’s silence seemingly allows Caroline to further expound.

Caroline: “I found myself… adrift. I’d been so focused on catching him that so much else had faded into the background, and I felt… lost. I had.. I’d already done some terrible things. Killed people. Hurt others. I was looking for… forgiveness, I guess.”

The quiver returns and she pauses until she silences it.

“I’d let my brother die. I didn’t know it for sure, but I knew it.” She nods her head. “I knew it in my bones, in this still heart. I just felt so worthless. So empty. So disgusting. Logically…. rationally… I don’t think there was a choice, but it didn’t make it any less terrible.”

“So I asked Him for forgiveness. I… usually I’d seek out a priest, but mortal priests are… a problem, and Father Malveaux, for all of his good intentions and theological knowledge and certainty… I don’t think he would understand. So I sat. And I searched for passages that seemed relevant. And I tried to talk to Him.”

GM: “To desire God’s forgiveness under such circumstances is understandable. That you would seek forgiveness, which is distinct from atonement and clarity of purpose, also reveals much. It is understandable that you would desire moral justification for your existence. Yet it is also akin to approaching a scientific experiment with desired conclusions. It is possible that, were you to more fully explore the Church Eternal’s theology, you would conclude God does not offer forgiveness—or only offers forgiveness under such circumstances as you may find unpalatable. More than one Kindred who desired forgiveness and concluded it lay beyond their reach has been driven into the Beast’s clutches.”

“It is my belief that only those Kindred who approach our covenant with humility and earnest desire to submit to God’s will, regardless of their own place within it, can truly proper and find purpose among the Lancea et Sanctum. Kindred who yearn for deeper meaning in their Requiems than the secular goals of the Anarchs and Invictus, yet who desire a purpose more clear and actionable than God’s will, often turn towards the Crones or Ordo Dracul.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the minor rebuke for what it is.

“If I might ask then, Seneschal, how does one atone for what is by its nature an existence wrought with creating suffering in, at least, minor ways? I… have trouble understanding how simply inflicting more suffering and pain intentionally must be the answer to God’s will.”

GM: “Your question, Miss Malveaux, touches upon another question that Kindred thinkers have sought to answer for millennia. Why do monsters such as we exist? What purpose is served through a race of predators that sustains itself upon the blood of man?”

Caroline: “The wolves of God,” Caroline echoes.

GM: “A contemporary mortal intellectual has said to beware those who would preach simple solutions to complex questions. If the answer was simple, wiser men would have thought of it long ago. Complex questions invariably require complex and difficult answers.”

“I believe that answer may be found in the origins of our race.”

An unmarked black volume floats across the garden, as though carried by an unseen servant. Maldonato receives the book, opens it, and reads,

“I dream of the first times the longest memory
I speak of the first times the oldest father
I sing of the first times and the dawn of darkness.”

“In Nod, where the light of Paradise lit up the night sky and the tears of our parents wet the ground
Each of us, in out way, set about to live and take our sustenance from the land.
And I first-born Caine, I, with sharp things, planted the dark seeds, wet them in earth, tended them, watched them grow
And Abel, second-born Abel, tended the animals aided their bloody births, fed them, watched them grow.”

“I loved him, my brother
He was the brightest
The sweetest.
The strongest.
He was the first part of all my joy.”

“Then one day our Father said to us,
’Caine, Abel to Him Above you must make a sacrifice a gift of the first part of all that you have
And I, first-born Caine, I gathered the tender shoots the brightest fruits the sweetest grass
And Abel, second-born, Abel slaughtered the youngest, the strongest, the sweetest of his animals
On the altar of our Father we laid our sacrifices and lit fire under them and watched the smoke carry them up to the One Above
The sacrifice of Abel, second-born, smelled sweet to the One Above and Abel was blessed.”

“And, I, first-born Caine, I was struck from beyond by a harsh word and a curse, for my sacrifice was unworthy
I looked at Abel’s sacrifice, still smoking the flesh, the blood.
I cried, I held my eyes
I prayed in night and day.”

“And when Father said the time for Sacrifice has come again
And Abel led his youngest, his sweetest, his most beloved to the sacrificial fire
I did not bring my youngest, my sweetest, for I knew the One Above would not want them.”

“And my brother, beloved Abel said to me,
‘Caine, you did not bring a sacrifice, a gift of the first part of you joy, to burn on the altar of the One Above.’
I cried tears of love as I, with sharp things, sacrificed that which was the first part of my joy, my brother.”

“And the blood of Abel covered the altar and smelled sweet as it burned
But my father said
‘Cursed are you, Caine, who killed your brother. As I was cast out so shall you be.’
And he exiled me to wander in darkness, the land of Nod.”

“I flew into the darkness
I saw no source of light and I was afraid.
And alone.

The seneschal pauses in his recitation to turn several pages in the black volume.

“And from the darkness came a bright shining light fire in the night.
And the archangel Michael revealed himself to me.
I was unafraid. I asked his business.”

“Michael, General of Heaven, wielder of the holy flame, said unto me,
‘Son of Adam, son of Eve, thy crime is great, and yet the mercy of my father is also great.
Will you not repent the evil that you have done, and let his mercy wash you clean?’”

“And I said to Michael,
‘Not by the One Above’s grace, but mine own will I live, in pride.’”

“Michael cursed me, saying
‘Then, for as long as you walk this earth, you and your children will fear my living flame,
and it will bite deep and savor your flesh.’”

“And on the morning, Raphael came on lambent wings, light over the horizon
the driver of the sun, ward of the east.”

“Raphael spoke, saying Caine, son of Adam, son of Eve, your brother Abel forgives you your sin
Will you not repent, and accept the mercy of the Almighty?’”

“And I said to Raphael
‘Not by Abel`s forgiveness, but mine own, will I be forgiven.’”

“Raphael cursed me, saying
‘Then, for as long as you walk this earth, you and your children will fear the dawn,
and the sun’s rays will seek to burn you like fire where ever you hide always.
Hide now for the sun rises to take its wrath on you.’”

“But I found a secret place in the earth and hid from the burning light of the sun.
Deep in the earth, I slept until the light of the world was hidden behind the mountain of night.
When I awoke from my day of sleep, I heard the sound of gentle rushing wings
and I saw the black wings of Uriel draped around me.”

“Uriel, reaper, angel of death, dark Uriel who dwells in darkness.
Uriel spoke to me quietly, saying,
‘Son of Adam. Son of Eve. God Almighty has forgiven you your sin.
Will you accept his mercy and let me take you to your reward, no longer cursed?’”

“And I said to dark-winged Uriel,
‘Not by God`s mercy, but my own, will I live.
I am what I am, I did what I did, and that will never change.’”

“And then, through dread Uriel God Almighty cursed me, saying,
‘Then, for as long as you walk this earth, you and your children will cling to darkness
You will drink only blood
You will eat only ashes
You will be always as you were at death,
Never dying, living on.
You will walk forever in darkness, all you touch will crumble into nothing, until the last days.’”

“I gave a cry of anguish at this terrible curse and tore at my flesh. I wept blood
I caught the tears in a cup and drank them
When I looked up from my drink of sorrow the archangel Gabriel, gentle Gabriel,
Gabriel, Lord of Mercy, appeared to me.
The archangel Gabriel said unto me,”

“‘Son of Adam, Son of Eve, behold, the mercy of the Father is greater than you can ever know
for even now there is a path opened, a road of mercy
Tell you children of it, for by that road may they come once again dwell in the light.’
And with that, the darkness was lifted like a veil and the only light was Lilith’s bright eyes.”

Maldonato closes the unmarked book and regards Caroline once more.

“What is your assessment of our Dark Father, Miss Malveaux? What purpose do you believe there was, and perhaps remains, in his existence?”

Caroline: Caroline is silent throughout his reading, and remains silent and still when he comes to his conclusion and lays his questions upon her. The seneschal can practically hear the gears turning in her head, the conflict such a blasphemous depiction of the first murder evokes in her.

Finally, at last, she finds her voice, applying intellect rather than faith to Maldonato’s question.

“In his actions, and subsequent curse, you could see a warning. And I think the path upon his Kindred were set. But it seems so very different than ‘wolves of God’.”

“If one were to take the tale on its literal face value, it is to say that to cling too tightly to God’s own approval, to throw away everything else in pursuit of his desire and supplication is to court disaster. And instead that the path Caine was set upon, that Kindred all are set upon. To court godly purpose on ones own terms, and to answer His desires as you see fit.”

GM: “That is what would you name as God’s purpose for our race? A living warning and example to others?”

Caroline: She looks over to him, almost timidly.

“No, Seneschal. Based only upon that reading, and no details that may follow upon… I would say the purpose of the curse and the purpose that Caine found for himself, and Kindred, was…”

She slows to a stop, again, timidly, before continuing more quietly,

“To find for themselves a purpose before God, on their terms. To reject God’s forgiveness, and court… not self-determination, but self-worth in the eyes of God by their own means. Based only upon that short passage,” she hastily finishes.

GM: “Not merely God’s forgiveness,” Maldonato corrects. “_’Raphael spoke, saying Caine, son of Adam, son of Eve, your brother Abel forgives you your sin. Will you not repent, and accept the mercy of the Almighty?’”_

Caroline: “It is to reject conventional notions of God’s desires, of what is right and wrong.”

GM: “Then it is your belief that Caine elected to find his own purpose in his curse, in rejection of God’s and his brother’s forgiveness. Yet what of the Almighty’s purpose for the Third Mortal, Miss Malveaux? It was by His will that Caine was granted life everlasting.”

Caroline: “No. I… it’s more complicated than that.”

GM: The elder’s waiting silence seemingly bids that she expound.

Caroline: “In not only his rejection of grace, forgiveness, and mercy, but also his affirmation that such things should flow forth from himself, he laid himself as a rival to God, essentially challenging that his own actions and beliefs and choices were so valid as God’s own.”

GM: “A more nuanced explanation indeed, Miss Malveaux. Now that we have spoken as to Caine’s potential beliefs and motives, I shall inquire again as to what purpose you believe God intended for Adam’s son.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, Seneschal, do you mean to suggest as a whole, or after the murder of Abel, as a Kindred?”

GM: “I would contend they are one and the same, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “A path for those who have transgressed against God to walk?”

The response comes out half as a question as she struggles with the blasphemous nature of their entire discussion.

GM: “Caine’s own actions could lay such a path. Yet why would God lay such a path for Caine? Was he not guilty of the sins of murder and hubris? Was he not cursed for his refusal to recant his sins?”

Caroline: “How not many others been guilty of such since, Seneschal? I’ve heard it said that every Kindred Embraced has some great sin in their past.”

GM: “By which I shall presume you mean their mortal pasts, Miss Malveaux. That sentiment is oft-repeated among the Sanctified’s younger laity as ‘we are all Embraced for a reason’ or ‘it is by God’s will that we become Kindred.’ Such bromides, however comforting, prove to have little basis in fact when one examines the mortal lives and deeds of enough Kindred. Some of us led virtuous lives. Some of us led quotidian lives of little sin and little virtue. To believe that all of Caine’s descendants have committed sin worthy of damnation posits a simple answer to an exceedingly complex question.”

Caroline: “Why was I Embraced?” Caroline fills in. The disappointment on her face is difficult for her to hide.

GM: The seneschal merely shakes his head.

“You seek purpose and justification for your existence, but you will not find it in the choices of fallible men—nor those who are less than men. Faith, perhaps that most difficult of all the heavenly virtues to find in oneself, is no more easily found among our race than it is found among the kine.”

Caroline: “I don’t understand, Seneschal,” Caroline finally admits.

GM: “Nevertheless, you have set us upon this theological discourse, and we shall finish it before we speak of other matters,” Maldonato reproaches. “Let us leave the subject of your Embrace, for objective thought will not come easily to you there, and return to our Dark Father’s.”

“You posit that God has laid forth a path and purpose for those who do not follow His will. Yet God promised Caine salvation were he to do penance for his sins. Caine was cursed for each of three times he spurned the Almighty’s—and his brother’s—forgiveness. What purpose could such seemingly contradictory actions serve in God’s plan?”

Caroline: “Free will?” Caroline speculates. “That though in theology is a densely packed box, depending upon which branch of Abrahamic faith you approach it from.”

She frowns. “And perhaps more densely packed than I had begun to understand, Seneschal, given the Kindred narrative as well. Whatever course God might have had planned for Caine, ultimately he could not be judged by God for that course unless he had the opportunity to stray from it.”

GM: A frown begins to crease Maldonato’s face.

“There is little freedom in such ‘free will’ as you describe, Miss Malveaux, if one is immediately cursed by God for making the ‘wrong’ choice. This of course is, as you have touched upon, a modern notion of what free will entails. For a far greater period of human history, ‘free will’ was not the freedom to make distinct choices and live with varying consequences, but the freedom to follow God’s will and prosper or to defy it and court ruin. By such a definition, Caine cannot be the Nietzschean self-determinist you would appear to cast him as, but a fool who thrusts his own hand into a fire and inevitably seals his misery and pain. So let us leave that theological box presently unopened.”

Caroline: Caroline feels a shiver run through her at the frown on the all-too close elder’s face, and turns her thoughts back to the tale once more.

“Does not much depend on what that final road was, and how Lilith interacts?” she asks finally.

GM: “We are all-too frequently called upon to make choices without the foreknowledge desire, Miss Malveaux. Lilith’s part in Caine’s tale is not germane to our present discussion.”

Caroline: “And what of the path promised by Gabriel?”

GM: “I have drawn my own conclusions concerning the archangel’s path. It is yours that I would hear.”

Caroline: “To return to your original questions, Seneschal, I would offer an alternative to my original comments: that perhaps the intent was to offer a path back for all those who have spurned God at every turn.”

GM:‘Son of Adam, Son of Eve, behold, the mercy of the Father is greater than you can ever know.’

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yes, Seneschal.”

GM: “Your interpretation of the text is simplistic, but it is improved upon your prior one, which ascribed overmuch significance to Caine’s words. These passages are told from his point of view. He seeks to justify his sin to himself, nothing more, as all sinners who do not recant their transgressions are wont to do.”

Caroline: Caroline again accepts the rebuke, though not without taking the sting of it on the chin. It’s like being critiqued by her father.

“Can I ask then, what path is laid open to Kindred?”

GM: “We now return to that which you originally sought, Miss Malveaux. Clarity of moral purpose. Yet is it purpose you desire, or forgiveness and reprieve from damnation? Would you sooner do God’s will as one of the Damned, or be cleansed of your sins and reborn as a mortal? Or is it neither forgiveness nor purpose you seek, but penance and atonement?”

Caroline: The questions provoke a moment of silence from the young Ventrue—no, they stun her into silence, as their weight hits her. Would she return to her mortal existence tomorrow, if given the chance? Or even this night? Could she even return? The elder Kindred’s question sets off a war within Caroline as she struggles to sort out faith, feelings, and fears.

Tightness builds across her aching chest, and for a moment she focuses on the pain as it blots out the agony in her soul. She looks away, raises a hand to her face to wipe away the beginnings of bloody tears before they can stain her cheeks—the action only smears her own blood—already staining her hands—across her cheek. Purpose or forgiveness? To serve among the damned or return to the living. Or none of those?

All of the choices have seemed so far away until now. Questions over the horizon, as far away from her as the sunrise, things she may never see. But sitting beside the seneschal, this ancient being seemingly so at peace with what he is, with his existence, and with so much knowledge… the rays of the sun have peeked over the horizon, and they burn like the sun in truth. They sear her spirit like she’d once feared Hell would, but in so doing they burn away excuses, the refusal to confront the truth.

Caroline: Purpose? But what purpose is there to be in this existence? To carve out misery among those that deserve it? It sounds too much like trying to pay for successes with only defeats. It’s the best that she’s heard, but the very thought of spending eternity seeking only to inflict harm on people makes her stomach roll. Perhaps there are those that she could take some small joy in punishing, but the very idea that she should set out to be the avenger of God…

Forgiveness? What forgiveness can be there be for what she has done? A murderer many times over, and of her own blood. A rapist. A betrayer of those that loved and trusted her. And worse, some of those things she’s enjoyed. Taken pleasure in. God’s will as the Damned. That purpose, to cause misery.

Or to be reborn as a mortal? Lou said he knew of no means to do so, but could she even do so? After all that she’s seen, lay aside all that she’s done, could she go back to being… ordinary? That thought savagely digs into her like a flaming sword, and it is wielded all to keenly against herself. She tries to fight back: to be human would be to be little more than a victim once more. If she were human tomorrow, knowing what was out there in the night, knowing what lay just beneath the surface, could she ever live that way again? Could she ever find peace? Could she ever feel safe? As helpless as she has been before so many others, as many times as her very mind has been raped at the whim of others, she’s not entirely defenseless.

If she were to walk out of this garden as a mortal the truth is, she admits, that she would have no life, and secure in her sins, with heaven promised to her, she would pray every day for death.

Both wells are poisoned—to stare into the moral abyss already staring back at her or to judge the world always by the sparkle it would lack forever more in her eyes.

What was taken from her that night by René is something she’d once thought vanished when children became adolescents: innocence. As children view the world of adults, so had she viewed the world in truth, and like the secret of Santa Claus when that innocence is lost it never returns. When the truth is plain what joy could she find in lies?

It’s more than this ravening beast within her. It’s more than the awfulness of so many Kindred. What she’s been weeping over, crying inside to herself over is the lifting of the veil if ignorance. Like Eve who ate of the forbidden fruit, she can never go back.

Which leaves? Atonement? What could that possibly comprise of as she is? Not even her death could pay for all that she has done. All that she continues to do. Mountains sit on the scales opposite of her. Like Caine before her she’s slain her brother. And so much more.

At least she speaks, her voice trembling.

“Is that even possible?” she asks.

GM:No,” the ancient Moor answers solemnly.

He leans forward to Caroline, ever so slightly closer, yet the motion is more akin to witnessing an ice sheet crack off a vast glacier. His deep-set almond eyes bore into hers as he continues,

“I have seen no evidence that it is possible to reverse the Embrace.”

Time hangs still.

The advancing glacier recedes as the elder re-assumes his prior posture. His eyes do not leave hers, but seem merely to gaze into rather than truly fathom their depths.

“There are legends,” he continues. “Some say that slaying one’s sire or finding true love can restore one to mortality. More bittersweet tales claim that a Cainite who sacrifices themselves unselfishly for another, who dies a good and blameless death, may become human again at the moment of their demise.”

“In all the years of my Requiem, I have never witnessed such a thing. Nor have I spoken to any Kindred who reliably claimed to have witnessed such a thing. Such accounts always happen to ‘the lover of my grandsire’s cousin’ or ‘the childe of a distant prince.’”

Maldonato lapses into silence. It is broken only by the soft flowing of the fountain’s water. Even the birds Caroline heard do not seem to dare breathe.

“Nevertheless, Miss Malveaux,” he answers at last, “you have my apologies. My questions were intended to provoke unconsidered thoughts—not to kindle false hopes.”

Caroline: “You did not, Seneschal. I apologize, I…”

She clenches her teeth, not wanting to admit what she knows is true. She instead continues on another vein.

“What I had meant to inquire was as to the nature of atonement. I have had a short, abet perhaps unusual Requiem, but I cannot feel as though every night has only added to my damnation.”

GM: “Then it is atonement which you most desire, above either purpose or forgiveness?”

Caroline: “In truth, Seneschal, it is difficult to say such with certainty, but based on what I have seen, and what was read,” she gestures with pale but bloodstained hands towards the book in the elder’s hands. “That would seem the proper path…”

She seems almost timid. No, not almost timid. She is timid. A jump, a leap into a choice, a decision, with no safety net. Or perhaps not yet such a leap. Perhaps she merely stands at the edge before stepping out onto that path.

GM:No, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal reprimands sharply, his almond-hued eyes suddenly hard like wood. He has since set down the unmarked black volume in his hands.

“First you inquire of me whether atonement is possible. When I do not answer, you plead that it is difficult to know. Now you gaze upon the volume formerly in my hands, whose authors and full contents are ignorant of. But if you would place such value upon my thoughts, then know one of the foundational principles that guides the values of a thinker high in my regard: _one is to always act in such a way that one could will the maxim of one’s act become a universal law. _ Atonement, under such a principal, is not an end but a means. Its consequences—whether one can indeed atone—are unknowable. It is the act alone and the motives behind it that carry intrinsic value.”

The weight of the elder’s gaze does not abate, nor does the resurgent frown upon his dusky-skinned face.

Meekness ill becomes you under our present circumstances, Miss Malveaux. It is you who have started us upon this discourse, and it is not one for the timid of spirit. If you desire me to guide you to a conclusion I have already reached, speak to your confessor, for I am not he. You are as one who stands at the brink of an abyss, uncertain whether a step forward will carry you safely across or send you plummeting into its depths. That abyss is your own soul, and none may walk its chasms but you.”

“I bid that you now answer me, without pleading my guidance, for you shall have none of it: what do you desire from your existence? Or do you truly not know, save only that your Requiem has brought you pain?”

Caroline: Fear flashes across her face as the seneschal raises his voice, and too many memories of past suffering at the hands of her elders, much less actual elders. Lessons taught only the night before in decorum. Lessens taught over nights of meekness that are difficult to unlearn. Then… not quite anger. Frustration. To be given pieces of a puzzle and the appearance of a test of her ability to put it together. To be critiqued as a student and held as an equal in rigor, it’s gone quickly.

Replaced with something else. Something the seneschal has seen little of since her first meeting with him weeks ago—and even then little of given the circumstances: iron. She sets her jaw grimly in the face his rhetorical demands and sits up straighter, proudly. The action is stiff and uncomfortable—the wound in her chest spits forth more of her stolen blood, but she fights to keep the pain from her face. It’s a distraction.

She doesn’t know if this is a test or a conversation, if it is an opportunity or a confessional before she meets whatever fate he has in store for her, but if this is what he wants, and if this truly may be her last night, she’s done cowering. “Seneschal.” Her voice is clearer than it has been tonight, despite the obvious pain that her more upright posture is causing her.

“I know only that my Requiem has brought me untold pain, physical, spiritual, and emotional. I’ve hurt friends and family, murdered and ordered more, tortured for my own gratification, laid bare secrets I would had taken to my grave, suffered pain enough to kill any living person a dozen times over, and through it all done little with it all but inflict more suffering on my own selfish path.”

“Atonement? Forgiveness? Purpose? One, I have been taught my whole life is where only man can find salvation, but which may be forever out of reach. As with Caine, I had opportunities to seek it, but time and again turned my face from god: every Sunday in fact, and in pride.”

“Purpose, as others have explained it, as I have learned it, seems a hollow and empty thing: though I am hesitant to dismiss it entirety due to the efficacy of my knowledge. In that matter, as with all Kindred matters, I hold a candle in the might by which I may try to seek out a path, but that candles light scarcely lights the step in front of me, much less the path’s way or where it may lead.”

“I beg understanding then, if not forgiveness, then in seeking to sit beside one whose own experience is as a sun to my candle. Perhaps it was shortsighted to seek to see my own path by the light of your own, Seneschal.”

“Krishnamurti maintained that the truth was a pathless land, and that he could lead no other to it, that they must lead themselves. Such a thought is…. so very different than what I was brought up to believe: that only the Church can lead you, but in this land of shadows, where lies come more easily than truths, that is certainly a dangerous proposition indeed. That an ancient Moor would quote Kant says much of how pathless this existence may be, in truth.”

“In this pathless land I cannot say with certainty which way I should seek to go. And yes, perhaps it was childish to seek the words of another to guide those steps, though perhaps more than most Kindred that one such as yourself has cause to speak to, I am still much the child.”

She pauses. “Perhaps that made me all the more grateful and eager to seek your guidance then, Seneschal, the feeling of great fortune to have the opportunity to seek guidance, and perhaps that only made it all the more foolish.”

“Laying all of that aside, yes, in pain, and darkness, and with only the barest scraps to go on, atonement… if there is such a path that might lead to that, that is where my own conscious leads me. I would make right myself before God, and presuming I see through this night, and into others, such is the path I would choose to pursue.”

“Despite my many flaws… despite my many mistakes… despite the many times I have turned from God’s mercy in the path, I would seek it, more wholly now, with greater appreciation for what was once so freely offered, which I in my pride, as did Caine,” she gestures to the book, “scorned.”

“Perhaps that path may be down that laid out as I have seen it among the Lancea et Sanctum. In inflicting suffering on those that scorn God. I know, appreciate, and accept that as a condition of prior assistance joining among the Sanctified was a precondition, and I would not ignore or scorn that demand—but what little I have seen of it has not…. has seemed so very much like trying to buy your way into heaven with only wickedness.”

“And wickedness is not where my conscious, what remains of it, nor my spirit would take me given the choice.” She finishes strongly, but not as clearly as she began, through teeth clenched in pain, and half expecting a blow to send her to the ground for her impenitence in offering her demanded opinion.

GM: “So it is atonement you would seek,” Maldonato states, steepling his long fingers when Caroline has finished. “This on the basis of the Archangel Gabriel’s promised road?”

Caroline: “In truth, in part, Seneschal. I admit the idea had not occurred to me before your reading, but more broadly, even if the text is all falsehoods… as I said, the other paths I’ve seen…”

GM: “Yes,” Maldonato weighs. “Falsehoods.”

“The earliest verifiable reference to Israel can be found in the Merneptah Stele, which dates back to the thirteenth century Before Christ. The Merneptah Stele’s reference is based upon a hieroglyphic translation. Records of Judaism as a religion do not appear until the Iron Age, and it was not until the late Roman Empire that Jewish theology, repurposed by the Christians, was accepted among anything but a tiny minority of the world’s Kindred population. Mortal and Kindred civilizations before Rome and Israel had their own Caines. Sumerians had tales of brother turning upon brother, transcribed upon stone tablets that predate the Torah. The Babylonians had Dumuzi and Enkidu. The Greeks and Romans had Ixion, the first kinslayer who murdered his father-in-law.”

“Thus it follows that even if the text I have read you is as old as writing itself—a generous assumption—it has been translated at least once from its original language into Hebrew, given its mentions of Caine by name. A less generous assumption could hold the text is no older than the sixth century Before Christ. When one considers the whole of the volume, its writings are frequently contradictory or subject to broad interpretation. There is no guarantee that it has not been translated additional times, nor that the scholars who translated it were free of biases and agendas.”

“The text’s original author is unknown. We do not even know if it had one, several, or many authors, for its writings do not originate from a singular source. They have been painstakingly assembled from disparate fragments over the course of many years by a very old acquaintance of mine. The edition I have read from was not compiled until your own mortal lifetime. Kindred history is primarily oral.”

The Testament of Longinus, however, is of significantly less dubious scholarship and authenticity. Consensus over the latter is not universal, but the Testament’s age and origins are clearer and its authors are better-known to us. The Testament’s collected chapters may still be read, untranslated, in their original Greek and Latin. The volume I have read to you, though indisputably old, is considered akin to the kine’s Book of Giants. Though it is of scholarly value, the Lancea et Sanctum does not consider it religious canon.”

“In short,” Maldonato concludes, “you would be poorly-advised to look to it for moral guidance.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent, mulling that over.

“More akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls than the Torah or the Bible. Which is to say more than mildly heretical as well?” she asks.

GM: “An apt enough analogy, Miss Malveaux. Yet unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, the volume I have read you is considered a near-definitive cultural and religious text for Western Kindred. The Testament is only accepted as canonical by believers in the Sanctified faith.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “So, is it for it inoculation against such misleading works that I have been brought here?”

GM: “No, I have had you brought here for less esoteric reasons, Miss Malveaux. I would be exceedingly surprised if you had possessed foreknowledge of the work we are presently referencing.”

Caroline: A solemn nod.

GM: “We are not finished with this discourse, but perhaps it is well that we should set it aside until we have spoken of more earthly matters.”

Maldonato pensively considers the brief silence.

“Once more, Miss Malveaux, a storm rages and you stand at its eye. Many lives are endangered by your recent actions.”

Caroline: Caroline again nods solemnly.

“The revelations involved could start a battle in the streets, if they are as they seem. Or if used more carefully could topple an elder. Or could reveal more artfully those opposed to a prince.”

GM: “Yet even knowing as you do, Miss Malveaux, you have disseminated copies of Mr. Matheson’s inadvertent ‘confession’ far and wide. Our prince’s agents have recovered four, yet it remains an easier task to disseminate knowledge than to suppress it.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “If four copies were taken from those in my service, then those are the only four copies I am aware of, Seneschal.”

GM: “I am aware of the extent of your knowledge on this matter, Miss Malveaux. I seek to understand why you acted as you have.”

Caroline: “In terms of recording the original conversation or coming clean with it immediately?”

GM: Maldonato mutely shakes his head at Caroline’s words.

Caroline: She frowns. “A copy escaped the net.”

GM: “No known copies have escaped, Miss Malveaux. Yet it remains by your deliberate will that Autumn Rabinowitz transcribed three, and that Amanda Turner attempted to flee New Orleans with a fourth.”

Caroline: “So the question is, why bother to do so instead of immediately turning over or destroying all copies.” Caroline’s frown does not abate. “That’s a complicated question. I will say at the onset that my intention was never to spread the tape around or turn it over forces hostile to the prince while I still… lived is not the proper word. I had three concerns, however, when I reached out to Jocelyn about it.”

GM: “Miss Baker, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal corrects, though he does not otherwise interrupt her explanation.

Caroline: Caroline stops speaking for a moment at the correction, a chill running through her. “Of course, Seneschal. Ms. Baker.” A careless mistake. She doesn’t want to drag the Toreador down with her in this.

“First, that the initial response might be my destruction, which I sought to prevent by placing at least one copy of the tape out of reach, of everyone, myself included, until after the trial. Foolish maybe, but… this sword has hung over my head every day I have walked the earth as a Kindred, and I wanted… something. Some manner of control over my own destiny, however slight.”

“Second, that the tape might have value to my mysterious patron… presumably the seneschal or another in the prince’s service, but that such a distinguished and powerful individual might not be able to act upon it directly due to other matters.”

“It seems to me that Mr. Matheson likely possesses some… that there must be a reason the prince has seen fit to keep quiet about the elder’s actions, but that he might wish another matter to force his hand. Finally, on the chance that a copy of the tape had been intercepted, I wanted the ability to reach out to those who had been… more kind to me, and perhaps warn them of the impending disaster. In a convincing manner.”

“And in truth, perhaps I also desired to keep the memory of it for myself, no matter what else happened,” she admits. “My mind has been… to not be able to trust one’s own memories or thoughts has been a terrible thing. What was done… it felt like a rape, no matter how much I might be willing to set it aside for a broader principle, such as peace in the city.” The last admission comes out hollowly, like someone else is speaking with her voice.

GM: “Please clarify, Miss Malveaux, to whom you refer by those who have shown you kindness.”

Caroline: “Yourself, Seneschal. Primogen Duquette. Perhaps Mr. Elgin.” She frowns. “Likely not the last.”

GM: “Master Elgin,” the seneschal corrects.

Caroline: “Master Elgin.” Caroline corrects herself at the seneschal’s prompting. “Primarily Primogen Duquette and yourself, Seneschal. The primogen appears to have staked out a… very precarious position in largely supporting the prince in this matter, and appears poised to lose a great deal.”

“My initial thought however was that given all I have heard of the prince, and seen of his seneschal, there was likely a reason beyond the obvious for supporting Mr. Matheson despite his actions, and if it was some matter which I could in any way relieve, it would be the smallest of services I could offer to the prince for the mercy that was shown to me. But also that the prince would deal in good faith with Mr. Matheson, and as such… well.”

She looks down.

GM: The seneschal slowly shakes head once more.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing. What is there to say? Laid bare, with all of her plots in ruins and the elder before her her plans seem like so many careless machinations. How can she put into words the great many questions guiding her actions. The blank spaces she was trying to plan around. In this matter, as with matters of Kindred faith, she has not even the barest light of a candle to see by. Instead all she can see are the shadows cast by other lights. Flickering and dancing insanely and terrifyingly in the gloom.

How great care must seen as nothing but great recklessness. She can’t blame him. Ignorance is no excuse. She can’t fight it: the truth will not set her free. Among the powers of this world her intellect, her rhetorical skill, and her cunning means so little. Maybe if she’d had more time… ah, well. That’s why they call it gambling.

GM: “There are many scenarios, Miss Malveaux, under which your recording Mr. Matheson’s alleged confession could have fallen into the hands of our foes—scenarios that may have come to pass. Another Kindred could have subverted your will and altered your memories or penetrated your thoughts. The sanctity of Mr. Rabinowitz’s mind might be violated even more easily. Other ghouls could have infiltrated her home, copied the recording, and left with Ms. Rabinowitz none the wiser. Ms. Turner could have been intercepted during her flight from New Orleans—certainly, her wounded state did not make it an onerous task for our prince’s agents to find her. Surveillance could have been placed upon your haven and withdrawn in anticipation of it being searched. The recording of Mr. Matheson could have been disseminated by these means and a thousand more.”

“This further assumes your recording of Mr. Matheson is genuine—for there are many means by which to alter your perceptions and the contents of electronic missives, and many parties who stand to benefit by misleading you. This stands irrespective of Mr. Matheson’s innocence or guilt. Our prince’s agents have devoted little time to verifying the tape’s authenticity. We have been wholly occupied in attempting to prevent its wider dissemination.”

“Miss Baker has described Mr. Matheson’s alleged recording to me as ‘radioactive’. Her words come closer to the truth than she may realize. Radioactive materials may only be handled by those with proper training, equipment, and caution if they are to cause no harm to others.”

“Make no mistake, Miss Malveaux, you have caused great harm—to myself and Primogen Duquette, whose kindness you would purport to repay. You have caused us more harm in a single night than Antoine Savoy has caused in an entire year.”

Caroline: Caroline takes each of the seneschal’s words as a hammer blow, dread building within her, her expression grimly set. Yet, at their end, she is still standing.

“The seneschal is correct in all of these things,” she murmurs quietly, but firmly. “But might I ask one question?”

GM: “Nor,” Maldonato proceeds, “is the harm you have caused limited to but two distant elders. The consequences of your actions have rippled outwards and touched many other lives and unlives.”

“What of your ghouls, Miss Turner and Mass Rabinowitz? Sheriff Donovan believes it prudent to execute them as a preventative measure against the tape’s further dissemination. They know of its existence and could be made to divulge that knowledge.”

“What of further orphaned fledglings like yourself? Prince Vidal has deemed that his policy of earned clemency is worthy of the Cabildo’s reconsideration. They will vote on whether to retain it at their next meeting. Such childer may now perish where they had once received mercy.”

“And what, not least of all, of Miss Baker?”

“Do you believe that one who cares for you as deeply as she does, and is as loyal to the Sanctified as she is, desires this present state of affairs? She has thrown herself before me, weeping tears of vitae, and begged me to show you clemency. This pain, this crisis of faith and loyalty, you have caused her.”

Caroline: His words rip the heart out of Caroline. Bloody tears fill her eyes before he is halfway through, and what iron she placed in her spine at his earlier demand that she meet him as an intellectual equal on matters of faith melts away under the burning fury of her shame and self-loathing.

All these lives destroyed. All this damage done. Because of her. Fear, anguish, shame, and anger well within her breast, but all are stiffed under pain. Caroline feels as though the seneschal has reached into her chest and torn out her unbeating heart, that with each word he twists and tears it into bloody pieces. Certainly if she were mortal she would die here, in this moment.

What utter ruin she has brought down. For the first time since her Embrace she completely forgets to breathe, and the staggering stillness is broken only the flow of blood.

GM: Maldonato’s eyes stare into Caroline’s tear-filled ones with the inexorable weight of an advancing avalanche. No expression disturbs the elder’s impassive features as he pronounces, “You may ask your question, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: It takes those words a long moment to settle into the heiress, for her to turn her head so slightly to better meet his gaze. When she does so, Caroline’s whole body all but rocks from the shock. Her voice is quiet, like she’s afraid if it’s too loud it’ll break like the rest of her has. Like someone plucking oh so softly at a tattered string on an instrument. Three words.

Can I atone?

GM: “That, Miss Malveaux, remains very much to be seen. There can be no penance without honest and forthright admission of one’s sins. Are there any others you would confess?”

Caroline: To throw her mother into this gaping maw in the hopes of saving others, or to try to withhold a secret almost certain to come out of this under a very thorough interrogation. Perhaps under other circumstances she might keep quiet. Perhaps under simple interrogation she would say nothing. But the seneschal has broken her. Shattered whatever was left inside of her.

“My mother,” she murmurs quietly.

Her eyes have never looked so dead.

“She knows. Knew before I told her. About what I am.”

GM: “Please expound, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato requests.

Caroline: The tears run freely down Caroline’s pale face.

“After she saw me, in person, the other day. She knew what had happened. Confronted me about it.”

The words are quiet, like the confession of a woman on death row.

“Demanded that I dismiss one of my ghouls into her custody…. and offered to help maintain the Masquerade with the rest of my family. She said she was a magician. I don’t think she wanted to admit to losing a daughter and a son in the same morning.”

GM: “Few parents would, Miss Malveaux.”

“It is difficult enough to lay one’s children to rest when they are cold and still beneath the ground. Yet even the difficulty of that labor must pale against slaying and burying a child who yet speaks, moves, and professes their love.”

Caroline: “I didn’t know what to do. She could have destroyed me, but instead… she said she’d try to schedule my brother’s funeral at night.”

“Nothing else,” she continues pitifully. “I have no secrets. Only her. I didn’t want her to get hurt… for sparing me.”

GM: “If you will consent to grant me access to your thoughts, Miss Malveaux, I will review your pertinent memories and spare us the necessity of discussing them individually.”

Caroline: Consent. As if there is any other choice.

Still… it means something that he asked. She gives a shallow nod.

“Of course, Seneschal.” That same voice.

She holds her bloodstained gaze with his. Her mind is little more than a whorehouse entertaining any who desire it as is. What is one more romp through her memories.

GM: The seneschal raises a slender, wooden-hued finger and touches it to Caroline’s forehead. Memories flash through her mind like the ebbs of a fast-flowing current.

“-but all right, Caroline. Let’s meet at your house, it’s still rather late to be feeding breadcrumbs to the ducks.”

how have you been? How’s Dad?”

of course you don’t, because you’re determined to be a selfish bitch. After everything I’ve done time and again

I love you, Caroline. You know that all I want is for you to be happy and successful. 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

“-_how. How did this happen to you, Caroline-?"_

“-don’t leave here, Mom. Please… it’s so hard to control it with the fire…”

I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry

you’re a witch. Your entire sorority is. Is that why you wanted me to join?”

“-they’d kill you.” “Yes, they would.” “I can’t promise that they won’t force me to talk-”

“-he’ll be interred at St. Louis. Along with the rest of the family…”

The flow of memories is almost relaxing. Caroline feels as if she is watching it all from underwater: sights and sounds are recognizable, but distorted, at once so close yet so far away. For just a moment, she can simply let go.

Caroline: However gentle the experience, laying bare this secret is hardly relaxing for Caroline, as it makes her betrayal complete. Still, she can only sit and watch, that dead look not leaving her eyes.

Visions of Turner and Autumn’s heads in boxes, of her own head on a block before the sheriff’s sword, of Jocelyn’s tears and grief, of her own fear and confusion when she was taken into custody, and of her mother in chains haunt her thoughts, stalking her in her mind however much she tries to escape them.

She never meant for any of this to happen. Never imagined that Matheson would be so foolish as to disclose all that he did.

GM: After a moment that could be as brief as a second or as long as an hour, Maldonato withdraws his finger from Caroline’s brow. The rush of memories ends.

Caroline: She’s left back in her misery. With only the darkest thoughts as her company.

GM: “There are few easy answers as to what to do with your mother, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato ponders. “A senator’s wife is not a figure who may be made to disappear overnight. Her memories as a witch-hunter go back many decades and will be heavily entwined with her personal identity, precluding a simple erasure of those portions that threaten the Masquerade. With time, perhaps, she might be removed from the public eye—time during which she will imperil many further lives and Requiems.”

Caroline: Caroline makes no move to speak: how could he trust her to offer any kind of opinion or option now?

Still, his words only further chill her.

Made to disappear. Removed from the public eye.

In the cool damp air of the garden, she is very cold indeed.

GM: “The Camarilla typically responds to witch-hunters, Miss Malveaux, by slaying them, Embracing them, or employing them as catspaws against enemies of the sect. On rarer occasions, they may simply have their memories altered.”

Caroline: “I… expected as much, Seneschal,” she hears herself say.

GM: “Have you any counsel of your own to offer, Miss Malveaux? There are no easy answers where this matter is concerned, even for our prince.”

Caroline: Caroline opens her mouth, but for a moment no words come out.

Think, part of her demands, torpid and buried under the weight of all she has done.

Think! it demands again, more insistently. The rubble begins to shift. Opportunities come along so infrequently. With the rumble of a collapsing mountain she forces her mind into motion, attacking the seneschal’s question.

“Seneschal, she is part of a larger and more powerful organization, and presumably powerful enough within it to rapidly draw on resources and accomplish tasks with no oversight. Instead of a problem, she might be an asset in the long term, depending on how she is approached and handled.”

I’m sorry, Mother, she thinks, even if as she tries to clinically pick apart how to best keep her alive.

“Eliminating her is likely to mean little, or be worth little. I somehow do not expect that she frequently goes around herself attacking Kindred. Similarly, overt manipulation of her is likely to be detected, given… what they do. But there is potential for a less overt influence upon her, which may influence the larger organization.”

GM: “Perhaps, Miss Malveaux. To so redirect her efforts against our prince’s enemies would require that we directly control someone proximate to her. A person whom she trusts—and whom we trust.”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing. What is there to say?

GM: The seneschal’s gaze remains patiently expectant.

Caroline: “I do not know how I could possibly be trusted after all of this,” Caroline replies quietly. “But I would serve in any capacity I was able.”

To save her life.

GM: “I do not need to read your thoughts, Miss Malveaux, to discern where your loyalties and interest in providing such counsel lies. Your actions pertaining to Mr. Matheson’s recording and attack upon our prince’s herald warrant further consequences of their own, and such punishments will but serve to cement your antipathy against the Lancea et Sanctum.”

“I am certain you have read The Art of War. Do you recall Sun Tzu’s advice on how a general is well-served to treat their spies?”

Caroline: “With benevolence and forthrightness.”

GM: “Correct, Miss Malveaux. Loyalty may not be won under the bite of a whip.”

Caroline: “I only wish to mitigate all the harm I have already caused. Whatever the price to me.”

GM: The seneschal’s almond gaze silently scrutinizes Caroline’s own.

Caroline: What does he see there? Caroline can only imagine, but as with all things this night, her imagination takes her to the darkest of places.

A failure. A danger. A disappointment.

GM: An opened navy envelope wrapped with gold ribbon approaches the pair, as though carried by an unseen servant. Fancy white calligraphy reads, You are invited.

Caroline: Caroline eyes the letter like a poisonous viper.

“Seneschal, I did not respond to the communication. It seemed to me a likely ploy that would only put me within the power of the elder who supported my estranged sire…”

GM: The seneschal’s gaze lingers on Caroline’s eyes for another few moments.

“Then you have done as you feared, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Confusion works its way across her face. Caroline has not been in the habit of making excuses, but in this matter her will breaks.

“I was told to have no contact with him… I was commanded to have no contact.” The second more insistent.

GM: “I am unaware what instructions Sheriff Donovan may have issued you regarding interactions with Mr. Savoy, Miss Malveaux. Yet you might have contacted us, and so been advised of the proper diplomatic recourse—one may decline invitations through more cordial means than silence. Indeed, it is possible that Mr. Savoy sent his invitation under the expectation that an uneducated fledgling would mishandle it.”

Caroline: It does not seem likely that Caroline could appear much more beaten at this point, and she offers no further defense, whatever may lie behind her red-rimmed eyes. Indeed, it seems her very thought in response only ushers up further shame.

_ I was afraid,_ she doesn’t say.

GM: “Were Mr. Savoy to leak word of your coarse manners to the harpies through one of his partisans,” Maldonato only continues, “your resulting social ostracism might merely diminish your usefulness to our prince. Yet were Mr. Savoy to leak word a mere night from now, when you served as Mr. Matheson’s purported arbiter—any mockery and ill perception you suffered from other Kindred may have cost us the trial.”

Caroline: Somehow I didn’t know doesn’t seem to cover it.

GM: The seneschal pauses.

“I do not believe you harbor any loyalty to Mr. Savoy, as I had initially considered upon reviewing his letter to you. Yet this incident does little to cast your actions in a favorable light. Once more, they have indirectly served to damage our prince’s reign, and been averted only through the diligence of his other servants.”

Caroline: “I could do better.” Her voice is very quiet. Self-admonishing.

GM: Once more, Maldonato’s almond gaze regards her with pregnant expectation.

Caroline: “I’ve spent every night fighting blind, deaf, and mute against a foe that held every advantage. I’ve misstepped time and again.”

She looks up.

“But never the same mistake twice.”

Is she pleading with him, or with herself?

“I can do better.”

GM: The seneschal is silent as he contemplates the garden and younger vampire before him. His still, dusky-hued features are inscrutable.

Caroline: The young Ventrue is seemingly content to await his justice, what little strength she had left spent.

GM: “‘If you wish mercy, show mercy to the weak,’” Maldonato murmurs slowly. He does not address Caroline, but the fountain at the center of the garden.

“Yet my own wishes matter but little to the welfare of the archdiocese.”

The seneschal slowly shakes his head.

“No, Miss Malveaux.”

His gaze returns to hers.

“Your offenses are too grave, the information to which you are privy too sensitive, and your loyalties too uncertain even under a full blood oath.”

“You have thrice already been shown great clemency—twice for your own crimes and once for another’s. Each of your offenses has imperiled more lives and done more to undermine our prince’s reign than the last. I do not believe mercy has been efficacious in improving your behavior.”

“For the crimes of espionage, violating the Masquerade, and destruction of property—which is to say, your attack upon Capitán Gautliterrez—I sentence you to final death in the name of Prince Vidal.”

Caroline: Numbness greets the pronunciation of death, the final denial of mercy. It slowly gives way to dread. Not for herself, that is still too raw. Like a razor sharp blade it’s cut too deeply and quickly. That pain will come later, if at all: the prince’s justice has come quickly when she has seen it.

Instead her thoughts turn to Turner and Autumn, doomed by association, and her mother, now placed solidly in the crosshairs of the prince. It turns to all the senseless death that has resulted from her Embrace. All the damage. How her actions have left only a scar on the world.

She closes her eyes. Bows her head. Death. The Beast, savage and ignorant, can’t throw its fit at the words. No doubt that will come later. There’s a finality and peace to knowing that the end has been written. Part of her wants to rage, to argue, to protest the unfairness of it all. She wants to scream at how he’s dangled her on this hook like a writhing fish trying to suck at that last bit of air as she suffocated in her own inner turmoil. There’s such a deep cruelty to knowing that the pain of the last minutes is meaningless.

Too late she understands Jocelyn’s despair when she disclosed this secret to the Toreador. The pain of trying to cling to something that seemed right, something that seemed moral. Cruelty she’d written off from the sheriff or his Hounds, plotting that she excused with this vicious headhunting elder guilty of every crime for which he is accused.

That the seneschal, the most moderate and gentle of Kindred, she’d held so highly is sweeping away lives for the possibility of having inadvertently revealed that truth, truth about the monster in his midst is so bitter in her mouth.

GM: “A public execution,” Maldonato continues, “will be to our prince’s detriment. I shall serve your sentence here with my own hands.”

The seneschal pauses briefly.

“If there are any last wishes or final arrangements you would request, I will fulfill any that are within my power to reasonably effect.”

Caroline: Quick indeed. Caroline’s eyes open numbly. She doesn’t trust herself to speak.

The moment hangs pregnant in the cool night air. There are worse places to die.

GM: Maldonato merely waits beside Caroline. His features are still. He looks as if he could sit on their bench for a thousand years. As if he has been sitting on that bench for a thousand years.

Caroline: “I am sorry that you feel…” she cuts off abruptly with a savage sob.

“Of all the ways I faced death…” She gives another sob.

This is not the dignified end she might have wished.

GM: “You will feel no pain, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal states.

Caroline: “I didn’t even know who you were,” she cries. “And now I’ll die because this truth is…”

She shakes her head bitterly and silence reigns again as she fights for composure.

“Autumn and Turner,” she murmurs at last. “I would that they be spared if possible.”

GM: “Prince Vidal had ordered their deaths in punishment for your attack upon his herald,” Maldonato reflects. “Yet I believe your own blood shall prove sufficient to satisfy his appetites. Your ghouls will be held in Perdido House until the trial and security risk they pose to His Majesty’s interests has elapsed. Are there any specific Kindred whose service you would see Miss Turner and Miss Rabinowitz enter?”

Caroline: “One less cruel than I have been,” she replies bitterly.

GM: “That you would consider their welfare at all is more than some of our kind would do, Miss Malveaux. I will have them sent to domitors of benign character.”

Caroline: A sad nod.

“And Jocel… Miss Baker, that she suffer no further hardship from this.”

GM: “Miss Baker is blameless in these recent events. She is perhaps guilty of communicating sensitive information over insecure channels, but I do not believe she need face any consequences more severe than simple admonishment.”

Caroline: Caroline’s tears resume, perhaps more freely. It’s hard to say.

“I’d have very much liked…” A sob. “An opportunity to atone for my sins.”

GM: “Atonement,” Maldonato murmurs thoughtfully. “I do not believe there is such a thing, Miss Malveaux—not in the sense most Kindred would envision it.”

Caroline: Before she can utter any more shameful words she meets his eyes once more.

“Make it quick, please. I would not spend my last moments in the grip of the Beast.”

GM: “Your final death will be painless and immediate, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal states before he continues, “Lives ruined and lives enriched are not weights to be placed upon justice’s scales. One cannot merely add and subtract them to produce a moral equilibrium, for the consequences of our actions are absolute and irreversible. What is done cannot be undone. An injured man may might have his wounds dressed and treated, but his original pain cannot be erased.”

“Yet neither may even the smallest acts of kindness, once done, be undone. Atonement is not a debt to be discharged, but honest acknowledgment of the harm one’s actions have caused. Atonement is a conscious and deliberate effort to live one’s life—or Requiem—in a manner that benefits rather than harms the lives of others. It is to act in such a way as if one could will the maxim of one’s acts to become a universal law.”

“I am uncertain, Miss Malveaux, that you have any desire to listen to your executioner’s moral sermonizing. Nevertheless, you may yet take actions, even posthumous ones, that may touch the lives of others for the better. Your limited time to take such actions makes them no less powerful. No kindness once done may be erased.”

Caroline: “Protect my ghouls. Shelter those that offered me what joy their was found in this existence.”

She thinks.

“There is a mortal woman in a hospital.” She describes the mother and son she attacked. “If perhaps some good might befall them later by chance…”

GM: “Arrangements shall be made for Mrs. Christian and her son.”

Caroline: She continues to weep. “Bring him to justice some day. Not today. Or tomorrow. But some day hold him accountable for what he does. He’ll never stop. And what he does is wrong.”

GM: “Justice, Miss Malveaux, does not guide the hand of the Camarilla. It was founded to protect Europe’s elders from the Inquisition’s pyres, and continues to ably serve its function of maintaining and perpetuating the power of its ruling elite.”

Caroline: The blunt declaration is a slap in the face, and for a moment she goes still.

“Goodbye, Seneschal.”

The words are quite deliberate.

I’m sorry.

And she is. For everything.

GM: That stillness mirrors the elder’s own face as his gaze drifts from hers to regard the surrounding garden.

“Mr. Matheson will face consequences for his actions. Now more than ever, we can ill-afford to permit the free indulgence of his appetites. We shall take any and all measures we deem necessary in order to permanently ensure that his depredations cannot be exposed a second time.”

“But it is ever self-interest, not justice, that guides one pillar of the Camarilla to strike down another. Such inadvertent justice would be poor justice indeed to Kant. Let there be no illusions between us in these final moments, Miss Malveaux.”

“By that same token, there is but one remaining matter of import. You requested to know why René Baristheaut cursed you with his Embrace. Do you still desire that knowledge?”

Caroline: All you taste shall be ash. And it is. Does she even care now?

There is a pregnant silence.


GM: The seneschal of New Orleans tells her the truth.

Caroline: She sits in dumb silence at that revelation.

Then I’m a failure and a monster. To one person more.

Something gnaws at her, deeply, at the revelation. Something darker. Regret for what she has done, yes. But the words stir something buried. Ambition. And disappointment. So many questions. So much she doesn’t understand. It opens at the close. She won’t see it.

GM: The bare-footed, gray-robed Moor rises from the bench and extends a hand to Caroline. It looks almost as if the elder vampire were asking her to join him for a midnight waltz through the garden.

“Are you prepared, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: She has questions she wants to scream at him. Demands she wants to make. She could do more! She could do so much more!

She does neither and instead rises on trembling legs.

“I don’t want to go,” she replies, even as she extends an arm.

GM: Maldonato lowers his head in seeming acknowledgement as he takes Caroline’s hand and helps her from the bench. The elder vampire’s dusky skin is as cold and lifeless as the Ventrue’s own. He traces a cross over his breast with his other hand, and murmurs something in Latin. It sounds partly like a prayer.

Caroline: She looks up.

“Don’t do to him what I did to myself.”

Her feet don’t move.

“They would have been the best thing in my life, instead of the stone around my neck that they have ever been.”

She grinds her teeth.

“I can… I can do that for him.”

GM: “He is no stranger to such pain, Miss Malveaux—nor even to inflicting it by his own hand. Yet on this occasion I may spare him that grim necessity.”

Caroline: “Short-term pain now to spare him the long-term pain later. That’s exactly what I thought,” Caroline replies.

“And maybe it did. But it replaced that potential for a deep wound with the certainty of one that will never disappear: the question of what if.”

She takes the hand, but holds fast, for this moment, grasping it firmly.

“I didn’t know he existed. I thought I was born into this by malice and capriciousness. I did not betray you… him. This… I brought it forward, as soon as I learned of it. I could have run and hidden behind Mr. Savoy. I could have traded the tape for that if I wished it. I wished to serve you with it. I came to the Sanctified, because I thought I had a place here. And if I was careless, it was only because I knew not if the door would open.”

“Or what lay behind it.”

GM: The seneschal neither releases Caroline’s hand nor leads the standing Ventrue away from the bench. The wan glow of the moonlight peaks through the garden’s daintily shrubbed fruit trees, casting leaf-shaped shadows against Maldonato’s dusky skin. There is neither tension nor pulse in the elder vampire’s motionless hand. The sensation is akin to clasping a statue, yet one made of dark hardwood rather than the pale marble that characterized John Harley Matheson.

“There are further words you would speak, Miss Malveaux, before your conscience is clear.”

They could be her last shot.

Thursday evening, 17 September 2015

GM: Night has only barely fallen over New Orleans. Caroline can still barely make out lights in the neighboring houses through her windows. It’s only as difficult as it is because of the large lawns and thick trees and hedges. Audubon Place’s residents value privacy.

Even still, the Ventrue can’t help but observe this is the “most” alive time of night, before even 8 PM. The living still mill about the city. Caroline could still walk among them, pretend to be one of them, in those precious few hours before they retire home to their beds.

Precious few those hours are. Jocelyn said she’d be by Caroline’s house at 8 PM. The two neonates will have little time for their shopping trip before stores close, many of which already have.

“It’s a lot better during winter,” Jocelyn had remarked when they’d been setting things up. “That’s not too far off.”

“Summer, though, is horrible. You wake up and a ton of places are already closed.”

It’s even less time to get in touch with her mother. Caroline hasn’t even gotten into the shower yet, and will have precious little time to enjoy it, one of the rare few mortal pleasures that dying hasn’t ruined.

Caroline: Receiving no response from her text to her mother about Turner, Caroline dials her directly.

GM: “…please leave your name, number, and a brief message, and I will return your call as soon as convenient,” her mother’s answering machine replies to Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline hisses in irritation.

“Mom, I’d like to continue our conversation from this afternoon. I’ll be out until late. Let me know when and where works for you.”

GM: After a quick shower, change of clothes, text to Autumn, and check-in on Turner, Caroline’s phone finally rings back.

Caroline: She snatches it up, her wet hair still wrapped in a towel.

GM: “Hello, Caroline?” Claire’s voice greets.

That’s still the name on the caller ID.

Caroline: “Hi, Mom.”

Caroline’s tone is somewhat somber, unable to escape the distance between them, now more than ever, and the darkness between them.

After a moment she continues, “How are you holding up?”

GM: Her mother sighs.

“As well as I can. I hope that’s also true for you.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry about this afternoon,” Caroline replies, deflecting the question.

GM: Claire’s voice doesn’t sound any lighter.

“I suppose that makes us both.”

Caroline: “Could we finish our conversation?” she asks heavily. “Maybe under better circumstances?”

GM: There’s another pause at that. It’s hard to imagine circumstances bettering for any parent who’s confirmed the deaths of two of their children the same hour.

“Is the Quarter still a bad place for you,?”

Caroline: “I suspect the Quarter will always be a bad place for me, Mom… unless something significant changes.” There’s a bit of bitterness underneath it.

GM: “How is your house, then, in an hour?”

Caroline: Claire can hear the disappointment in Caroline’s voice.

“I have company coming. Tomorrow? Early in the day?”

GM: “That would need to be very early, Caroline. What about tomorrow evening?”

Caroline: “Early evening works best for me,” Caroline replies, thinking. “Before any madness has a chance to set in.”

GM: “All right. How is 8 for me to stop by?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks. “That should be fine.”

It feels like they’re discussing a funeral, even as they dance around one.

GM: “I’ll see you then.” A pause. “I love you.”

Caroline: “I love you too, Mom… it’s going to be… you’ll get through this.”

GM: A sigh acknowledges Caroline’s words, but her mother gives no other reply as she hangs up.

Thursday evening, 17 September 2015

GM: Once Caroline and Autumn have drained the homeless vet of his blood and dropped him by a dumpster with his things and $20 in compensation (which Autumn reiterates her approval of), the ghoul chauffeurs Caroline back to her house.

The camera recording resting in the heiress’ purse, picked up with Jocelyn on their way out from the neighborhood, has been put off the entire night. There was just so much that came up. Cécilia’s stalker turning out to be a mostly harmless creep with autism. The meeting with McCullem and offer from Matheson. Jessica’s severed head. The four bodies’ worth of blood she was tasked to retrieve.

Still, the tape may hold answers. Her mother’s “friends” had to have gotten past Blackwatch somehow, and that may well have been through the front entrance, in which case their faces would have been picked up. Watching those cameras is a menial job. It’s even worse for an out-of-state transplant like Brock Patterson who hates the Big Easy’s muggy heat, as well as the fact the guardhouse in which he’s stuck lacks air conditioning. A simple and direct monetary bribe was all that it took for the ex-cop to hand the day’s surveillance tapes over.

“There anything else you need me for tonight, or should I head home?” Autumn asks as she pulls her minicooper into Caroline’s driveway.

Caroline: Caroline considers, for just a moment, handing off the tedious task of going through the tape and matching names off the entry log to faces, to the oh so willing ghoul. Autumn wouldn’t just be willing to help. She’d love to help.

It is only for a moment. There are some secrets she’s not willing to share yet. Things she doesn’t want to explain, even to the loyal ghoul. She sends Autumn on her way and heads inside for a date with some rather dull—if potentially rewarding—activities.

Going through tapes and matching names to faces—then sending those names and faces out for investigation by her many sources—is tedious, but Caroline’s done more tedious work in legal internships. At the end of the day many cases are about who is willing to put in more time, go through every document, and pick out the right pieces. And she’s been that person putting in the time before.

Some faces she’s able to write off easily—residents for the most part. There’s a possibility they are here, but she doubts they’d be interested in getting involved. Similarly, she can write off everything after a certain time period. A few others are too old, crippled, or fat to match th­e cloaked figures.

GM: Caroline is fortunately able to recall the time glimpsed off her mother’s wristwatch, which narrows the relevant time frame on the tapes to nowhere past 4:31 PM, and likely a number of minutes earlier. The Ventrue jumps to the relevant portion and watches her mother’s Mercedes roll past the guardhouse around 4 PM. However, there are no visible passengers in the car besides Claire.

Caroline: She scrolls back an hour and plays through to 4:31, trying to identify each other vehicle stopped as a visitor.

GM: Caroline’s mother picked a busy time to drive into the neighborhood. 4-5 PM on a weekday is just when people are getting off from work and returning home. While Audubon Place is not a populous neighborhood, traffic is about as high during those hours as it’s likely to be. There are a number of faces Caroline recognizes among the passing cars, including Tulane University’s president Edward McGregor, one of her neighbors down the street (Frank Alvarez, an executive at the very company that protects his neighborhood), and banal Paul Simmons, the man whom her previous investigations uncovered as the legal owner of Donovan’s house.

There are, however, far more faces which are strangers to her. Some are teenagers and younger children being chauffeured back to their homes. Others are adults of home-owning but per-retirement age who Caroline simply doesn’t know. Others still are less well-off individuals: FedEx drivers, Cadabra Fresh grocery deliverers, plumbers, domestic help, and the like. Audubon Place may isolate itself from the world behind thick walls and armed guards, but it cannot subsist without it.

Caroline manages to narrows down her list of potential vehicles to a little less than ten, mostly those whose drivers do not look as if they are residents of the posh neighborhood.

Caroline: She checks her phone. It’s late… so late, in fact, that with the turnover there’s a good chance that she can still catch someone… the right person. She puts together the remaining profiles in an email, leaving its destination blank, and types a text out to Christina. Are you awake? Have a minute?

It’s not the first time she’s reached out to the mysterious madam at odd hours over the last few years, ever since they hit it off at a dull charity ball. An odd couple, the young and in heiress and the out and experienced despicable. A match made in mutual use of one another, that has perhaps, quietly, without the acknowledgement of either, grown into something more over years.

It is the first time, though, that she’s reached out since the fiasco with Amelie.

GM: Caroline looks out the window and sees dark clouds over still-black skies. The clock reads 5 AM, and no response pings back from Christina Roberts. Perhaps she will have better luck closer to sunrise.

Caroline: While she waits for a response she does her own bit of digging into one of the names, plugging it into search engines, Linkedin, Facemash, and other networking sites to mine for information.

She doesn’t really want to entrust this to Autumn, and Turner isn’t really suited to handling even the mundane task in her current condition. Not for the first time she laments Aimee’s spiral. Embrace aside, she’d had high hopes for Aimee, and for what they could be to each other.

There aren’t enough hours in the day. There weren’t as a mortal. It’s worse now.

GM: Caroline’s efforts bear fruit, but mostly small and under-ripe pieces. Some of the names’ profiles are set to private, while others lack social media presences. Few turn up results in general search engines. Nevertheless, the hour or so of searching gives her something to pass on to more dedicated investigators—principally the names she couldn’t obtain as much information on.

Meanwhile, her computer’s clock reads 6:12 and black skies are soon due to tinge navy blue when Christina Roberts’ text pings back. Someone’s up early.

Caroline: No rest for the wicked, she fires back with agile fingers, having been updating her email as she goes. Just getting ready to turn in. Do you have a minute?

GM: Several, even.

Caroline: The Ventrue can’t repress a smirk as she hits send.

GM: Several too-precious minutes pass before Caroline’s phone rings.

Caroline: Caroline forces herself to let it ring twice before answering.

“Sleeping in now, Christina?”

GM: “My mornings are usually slow. Why are you sending me these dossiers?”

Caroline: “Happy I could help with that problem,” Caroline responds smartly.

Her smile dims. There’s no good way to broach this, but it looks even worse not to say anything.

“Have there been any new developments with Amelie?”

GM: “She’s still in a coma,” answers Christina.

Her next words are bitter.

“Unlike the Whitney girl.”

Caroline: That must sting the madam. Even with the backdoors to Amelie’s sentencing built in, it’s just another way the Devillers and Whitneys came out ahead in this.

“I’m sorry. But we both know she doesn’t want to spend time in OPP. She spends less with every day she’s in a hospital bed.”

GM: “And gets even more likely to wake up with brain damage or never wake up at all,” Christina remarks sourly.

“Let’s talk about something else.”

Caroline: Caroline is happy to.

“I was hoping you’d be willing to do me a favor with a somewhat sensitive subject.”

However unhappy Christina might be over the outcome of events with Amelie, the madam owes her.

GM: “I suppose I already owe you a favor,” says Christina, her tone matter-of-fact.

“It’s also been a while since I’ve practiced law, but I still know enough to read the full print before signing the dotted line.”

Caroline: The smirk that reminder of the former attorney’s disbarment evokes is tinged with a bit of melancholy—Caroline is smart enough to know the odds of ever passing the bar herself at this point are increasingly slim. Her tone turns more serious given the limited time she has to make her case.

“I need workups on each of them—education, assets, work history, the whole package—but it would be better if those requests didn’t come from me directly under the circumstances.”

GM: “Then you should hire a private investigator, Caroline,” Christina answers dryly. “There are several I can recommend if you don’t know any yourself.”

Caroline: “I was rather hoping I could convince you to play intermediary, actually,” Caroline replies.

GM: “I’m a poor choice for one, given attorney-client privilege won’t apply if I intermediate.”

They both know Caroline needs to go through a practicing lawyer if she wants any of the investigator’s findings to be considered legally privileged.

Caroline: “I’m less worried about legal privilege—it’s not a legal matter—and more interested in discretion and trust,” Caroline replies bluntly.

GM: “Client confidentiality still applies to them, and the ones I know aren’t blabbermouths.”

“Fewer people are better if you want whatever this is to stay secret.”

Caroline: “You don’t say?” Caroline remarks wryly.

GM: “It’s been a recent source of some annoyance for me.”

Caroline: “Something I can help you with?” Caroline asks.

GM: “That’s thoughtful of you to offer, but it’s thankfully out of my hair now.”

Caroline: “Sadly, mine is not.” She pauses. “It’s not quite family business, but it’s close enough that if I meet with a bunch of investigators or attorneys it’ll draw attention I don’t want to what I’m doing. I’ve been trying to make this work off the books. Is there no chance I can rope you in on this under the table?” Caroline asks. “I’d cover the expenses, it’s not likely to blow back, and I’d owe you one.”

GM: There’s a pause on the line’s other end. Caroline can picture the former attorney mulling her words over.

The request isn’t that onerous. And Christina does owe her.

“All right, that seems fair. I’ll reach out to a few investigators I know. I presume you’re wanting to monitor or gather more information on the people in your email.”

Caroline: “At this stage I’m trying to narrow the field down. If they can generate backgrounds and profiles that would go a long way—it could be farmed out to investigators or firms—I just need it less easily traced back to me.”

GM: “So more detailed profiles. All right, I’ll get back to you when they’ve turned up something.”

Caroline: “You’re a lifesaver, Christina.”

GM: “I’m all too sure.”

The two exchange final pleasantries and end the call.

Friday evening, 18 September 2015

GM: True to Claire’s word, at 8 PM the next night, Caroline hears her doorbell ring. The Ventrue has just finished showering and dressing for her meeting with John Harley Matheson.

Caroline: Punctuality has always been her mother’s strong suit. Caroline heads to the door as she fits neat diamond earrings on. With one hand she opens the door even as the other makes sure that her appearance is suitably presentable. The looming meeting with Matheson has her nervous.

GM: Claire isn’t dressed down, but next to Caroline’s attire, her gray drape blazer and darker tulip skirt look as if they are. Her eyes are shadowed and tired-looking.

“Caroline. Heading somewhere?”

Unlike last time, she doesn’t reach out to embrace her daughter.

Caroline: “Not for a little while yet, please, come in.”

Caroline steps aside to admit her mother into the ravaged house. She doesn’t swoop in for an embrace, but one hand does snake out to touch her mother’s, gently.

GM: Claire’s hand manages a squeeze back. It’s neither limp nor firm. Her mother’s hand feels so warm next to hers, and even unappetizing as she smells, it’s all-too easy for Caroline to picture the hot blood pumping through the veins beneath. Pumping through this kine’s whole body.

“Let’s take a drive, actually. It’s not too late for a visit to the park like you suggested last time.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t let the contact linger overly long. She checks her phone for the time, winces, but nods. “I have an obligation over in the Garden Distinct at ten… but we have a few minutes.”

GM: Claire’s heels click against the pavement as she makes her way over to the nearby parked black-hued Mercedes CLS50. It still has that distinctive new car smell as Caroline settles in to the leather seat. She knows that her mother normally employs a driver, but the Ventrue doesn’t see him as Claire gets in on the driver’s side.

“So then. Where did we leave off?” Claire asks as the neighborhood’s million-dollar homes slowly roll past.

Caroline: It’s almost by instinct at this point that Caroline cracks the window as soon as the car comes to life, the night air serving as a distraction from the living being in the car with her that she so hatefully does not want to think of as a meal.

“We were talking about Wes.”

The words are somber.

GM: Her mother doesn’t say anything over the low thrum of the car’s movement.

Caroline: Caroline starts to reach out for her mother’s hand again in the dead silence, but pulls back.

“There… I can’t say how sorry I am, Mom. For all of this.”

GM: Claire’s eyes remain on the road.

“It is what it now is.”

Caroline: “No. It isn’t. I know you’re hurting, and I know there can’t be very many people you can talk to about it…”

GM: “He’s dead,” Claire says plainly.

Caroline: Caroline nods soberly. “If you’re angry at me… if you have to hate me for it… I understand.”

GM: Her mother is silent for another long moment at that. Her Mercedes passes the gatehouse. It’s perhaps fortunate that Blackwatch only stops cars on their way in.

“You didn’t go to him.”

Caroline: “No,” Caroline admits. “Maybe I should have. Maybe I was wrong.”

GM: There’s only another long silence at that as Audubon’s Walled perimeter recedes in the rearview mirror. Despite her earlier words, her mother’s face is far-off.

Caroline: “I don’t know that I could have made it in time… but maybe I should have tried. If there was any chance they might have released him.”

GM: Claire pulls the car to a slow stop and closes her eyes.

Caroline: Caroline wants to, but dares not reach out for her mother. She lays a hand near Claire’s. Her own gaze is downcast.

“Lots of questions… I have so many doubts about it, questions. There was something else going on that night that I don’t understand… but want to.”

“It’s poisonous.”

She looks back up, her voice still somber.

“And I need to know if it reached you too.”

GM: Her mother simply gives Caroline a blank look. Her eyes take in the words, process them, but little further reaction seems to stir.

Caroline: Caroline lets out a slow breath and nods.

“I understand.”

GM: “Caroline, do you have anything else to talk about?” Claire finally asks.

Caroline: “Anything more important than if I’ve lost you?” Caroline questions back. She lets the question hang in the air. “I suppose only, if I have, whether you want our agreement to hold.”

GM: Her mother rubs her forehead. “I’m right here, Caroline. I’m not going anywhere. We’re through talking about your brother. We’ve not even had his funeral.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away.

“Let’s talk about me, then. College students.”

GM: There’s another blank look from her mother at the out-of-context reference.

Caroline: “How much do you actually know about Kindred, Mom? That there are multiple kinds for instance? Clans?”

GM: “That’s not something it benefits either of us for me to share.”

Caroline: Caroline looks soberly at her mother.

“If they find out about you they’ll do whatever they can to kill you or capture you. Do you really think that those details are going to make a difference in their calculus?”

GM: “A substantial one, actually,” her mother replies. “If they make you talk, I don’t want them knowing how much I know.”

Caroline: “They would know enough. That you’ve been a magician for decades. That you’re part of a larger group. That you have the authority to call in other people in an instant and overrule them. That you know some of our weaknesses…” Caroline looks down. “And any of those secrets you’re clinging to, they can drag out of you. You know that, and what a risk this is.”

She sighs. “We need something else.”

GM: Caroline’s mother shakes her head. “If they make you talk, Caroline, that doesn’t automatically equate to them capturing me. But the more you know about me, the better they’ll be able to plan. So the less you know, the better.”

Caroline: The Ventrue turns her gaze back to her mother.

“I know you’ve done this a lot longer than I have… I know you’ve survived this long by being careful. And if you and I were only having this conversation as mother and daughter, as Kappa to Kappa, I’d agree with you, Mom… but things are more complicated.”

GM: “Yes. They’re inordinately more dangerous.”

Caroline: “I meet with two elders in the next two days,” Caroline replies bluntly.

GM: “Inordinately more dangerous,” her mother repeats.

Caroline: “They’re going to find out, Mom. If not today, or tomorrow, then the next day, or the next. Maybe if I had…” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t really matter.”

GM: Claire just stares resignedly.

Caroline: “It doesn’t have go that way, though,” Caroline continues. “If we get out in front of it.”

GM: “You leave New Orleans,” her mother states. “Go somewhere else. DC. There are other leeches there, but you won’t be so enmeshed in their politics.”

Caroline: “In the long term?” Caroline nods. “Maybe. But I can’t leave now. That would make things… worse. Much worse. I’m not only an unreleased fledgling, I’m an ignorant unreleased Ventrue. Anywhere I go it’s going to raise questions, and I don’t expect that the prince here would simply let me go. Even if he didn’t chase me, they could send out word. I don’t know the protocol, but…”

GM: “Why on earth would he chase you, Caroline, once you’re out of his hair? How does that benefit him? You haven’t even met the prince from what you’ve said.”

Caroline: “Because the Traditions are universal,” Caroline replies back, half snaps. “And there is a greater Kindred society outside of each city. And… Ventrue aren’t what I am.”

GM: “I don’t see how you break any their Traditions by leaving the city. Or why the prince would care about a problematic fledgling disappearing one night.”

Caroline: “Because I’m an illicit Embrace. Because I’ve been a problem with the Masquerade as is, and they take that seriously. And anywhere I went I’d have to present myself to the prince.”

GM: “So present yourself to DC’s, if that’s what you think will make them be less trouble. You’ll still be away from all of the toxic politics you’ve been caught up in here.”

Caroline: “Let’s assume that everything went perfectly. That they made no effort to chase me. That the prince of DC didn’t put me to death because he found out who I was. That I got there safely… then what, Mom? It’s not just starting over. All the problems still exist there. You don’t just set yourself up on the street as a vampire and do what you want. Do you know that most of the city is sliced up and divided among the powerful factions? Do you remember that the last time I went into someone’s domain without getting their permission their ghouls tried to kill me, they dominated me, and they whipped me until I was half-dead and threatened to dump me on the street at dawn?”

There’s fear and anger in Caroline’s voice. “Kindred don’t just casually move town to town. And even if I did, this threat, this danger looming over us doesn’t go away. There’s one way out for both of us, Mom. Only one that I can see.”

GM: “It’s wishful thinking that DC would be free of complications, Caroline. But at this point, it looks as if there would be far fewer than if you remained in New Orleans. You haven’t made any enemies there. You aren’t caught up in… everything that you are. What possible reason do you have to want to stay among the vampires here?”

Caroline: “They’re not all bad,” Caroline replies almost guiltily. “To me.”

GM: “Yes, and not all Nazis were bad to Jews either,” her mother replies.

Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth at the barb.

“Laying all the problems with running aside? Laying aside that it does nothing for this problem,” she gestures between them, “I have access to things that I need here, I have connections, I have… someone that cares about me, and I have someone else, someone powerful, that has helped me. Has stuck their neck out for me. Has trusted me. I’m not going to betray them. I’m not going to flee into the unknown. I’m not going to be… the worst of them. And as messed up as things are here… I still think this is our best shot.”

GM: “Caroline, what could you possibly have here that’s worth what you yourself just admitted are inevitable odds of being found out?”

Caroline: “Those odds don’t change elsewhere,” Caroline replies firmly, but her tone shifts as she continues, becoming almost wistful.

“And… I don’t know what I have. But it’s been good to me so far. Better than anything else in this unlife. Among other things, I think it’s a chance to get out in front of things. For the good of you… and the good of me.”

GM: “Caroline. They will kill you, and me if they can, if they find out about our relationship,” her mother replies in a firm ‘stop daydreaming’ tone.

Caroline: “And that will happen anywhere,” Caroline continues firmly, in the same daydreaming tone. “We can’t run away from this. At best it would buy us time—and likely not even that. But there’s another way.” She continues, “Maybe the only way.”

GM: Her mother waits for her to continue even further.

Caroline: Caroline looks up. “Through. Right now there is only a death sentence between us. A secret of no value but great consequence. I can only imagine that it must be very much the same for you, among your fellows.”

GM: “Caroline, if you’re about propose that I strike a deal with one of these elders you’re about to meet, that’s out of the question. They don’t negotiate with humans.”

Caroline: “No, you’re right about that,” Caroline rapidly interjects. “Nor could they readily strike a deal with you, even if they wished it. Even if they were willing to.”

GM: Her mother again waits for her to get to whatever she’s getting at.

Caroline: “Give me something,” she finally arrives at. “If this is me spying for you, and us knowing of each other… it’s bad, Mom. It’s really bad. But if it goes both ways?” She hurriedly continues, “I’m not asking you to sell people out, or give me information that is going to get other people killed. And I know there are secrets you can’t share. But there are things you know…”

“Or things you could do—and I could do in return. I can sell you and I. That I’m,” she cuts off with a grimace before continuing bitterly, “using you—even if you’re using me too. Influence with hunters and mortals makes me valuable… and as a point of contact on the same, you’d have some measure of protection. And maybe we could even do some good with it. Prevent someone else from ending up like… well, this. Or get some of the most degenerate Kindred out of the city.”

GM:That’s your plan?” her mother asks sharply. “Give one of those elders some useful information, and hope they’ll think it’s better not to eliminate us?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No, Mom. It wouldn’t be enough just to trade a bit of information. That would be good faith, between us in the immediate, but they could get all of that from you if they put their hands on you. We’d actually have to be what I presented us as: assets to each other. A vampire daughter that has the ear of her influential magician mother. And no, I’m not talking about rushing off to fully disclose everything. I’m talking about laying a foundation now, so when it comes out…” Caroline shrugs.

GM: “I’m not even sure what you’re proposing. Other vampires don’t want me as an asset. They want me dead, along with all other humans who know as much as I do. The more I tell you, the more people’s lives I put in danger. Some might be willing to use me as a pawn. But to them I’ll always be another Masquerade breach, to be disposed of once I’ve outlived my usefulness.”

Caroline: “You’re not wrong,” Caroline begins. “What I’m essentially proposing is that your usefulness living be greater than your use dead for the foreseeable future. Ten… fifteen… twenty years is not so long by their standards. And in that time… a lot can happen.”

GM: “I’m only useful to them, Caroline, if I’m killing their enemies or betraying my allies.”

Caroline: “That’s not true,” Caroline replies. “Maybe it was thirty years ago.”

GM: “Yes, it is. They don’t negotiate with humans on equal terms. Someone in my position is useful if she’s a ghoul, mentally enslaved, blackmailed, bribed, or simply thinks the vampires she deals with are living people. If she knows the truth, and they have no hold over her, she’s a liability.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at her mother. “Think very carefully before you answer.” She pauses for a moment. “Do I not have influence over you, Mom?”

GM: “As much as any child does over their parent,” Claire answers. She finally gives a tired sigh. “Enough, Caroline. What is it that you want from me?”

Caroline: Caroline picks up on something in her mother’s tone and shifts her tack.

“In blunt terms? I want an idea of what you know in broad terms about Kindred—and in turn I’ll fill in pieces you don’t. This ‘tell me but I can’t tell you if it means anything to me’ doesn’t work. I want you to influence the Kappas—and other groups in New Orleans you may be aware of—on my behalf. I’d like your national influence—whatever that may be—to focus attention outside of New Orleans. I want to know what parts of Tulane I need to stay away from—and broadly the temperament of those areas, and if you have a particularly militant group you know of, I’d like them pointed in the direction of Kindred opposed to those I’ve aligned with.”

She pauses. “Some of these points are open to negotiation, but in short, I want to be able to say, truthfully when questioned that our relationship is of more value than a bullet in the back of your head or someone digging around in your mind.”

“In turn, I can and will feed you the information you requested about broader Kindred politics in the city, so you can keep yours out of the way and potentially build your own influence. I’ll steer those I have any influence with—or develop any influence with—away from the Kappas and others you may designate.”

GM: “Absolutely not,” her mother answers reflexively. “There was no information I ‘requested’. There was information you agreed to supply me, in return for favors I did for you, as per our prior arrangement. It certainly doesn’t fill me with confidence that you’d misconstrue it this soon.”

“That leaves trying to deflect other vampires from the Kappas. We’ve just talked about you being a ‘sireless fledgling’, and I heard your full story last night. To be frank, Caroline, it doesn’t sound as if you have any appreciable influence among your kind.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away for a moment to clear her head.

“You’re right, Mom, I shouldn’t have tried to work in our prior arrangement.” Her tone is contrite, but shifts as she continues, “But you’re also wrong about influence. Or, at least, will be. It’s difficult to explain, but the short of it is that someone has taken an interest, Mom. Someone I get to make my case to tomorrow. Someone with influence, and power. And that flows both ways. What I bring to the table is something that is at their table. And they had influence enough to work around the sheriff and influence the prince’s herald.”

“It’s not perfect. It’s probably not even good, but it’s the best I can come up with right now. It’s the only way I can come up with to keep you and yours and me as safe as I can.” She looks over. “Unless you have a better option than ‘hope you can run, hope you can settle in elsewhere, and hope they don’t ask questions there.”

“I’m trying to do the best I can.”

GM: “Well, Caroline, your best doesn’t sound very good. If this elder you’re about to meet is so powerful, my name shouldn’t be anywhere near your lips. And we have no guarantee you’ll be able to influence this elder. We don’t even know if they’re a he or a she.”

Caroline: Caroline looks faintly insulted. “I’m not planning on wandering up and offering up the details of us, but other Kindred have often cared little about what I chose to disclose. That’ll get better after this weekend—I think—but not by enough.”

“But there isn’t going to be time for striking deals and making arrangements when it comes out mom. I won’t be able to warn you or tip you off. And the only defense we’ll have will be what we can come up with now. And it’s not just you and I. They’ll take far more from you if it’s left in their hands.” She pauses. “I can sell this. I can make it work. Unless you have a better idea?”

She grits her teeth. “I don’t want to lose you. And I don’t want you to get hurt because of me.” Then she sighs. “I understand this isn’t what you want, Mom. I understand that it’s not something you’ve ever considered… would ever consider normally…”

GM: “And it still isn’t. I’m hearing nothing except ‘mights’ and ‘maybes’ on the very dubious premise that one of these elders won’t choose to take action against me if you have anything to tell them.”

Caroline: The heiress sighs. “Then you’re not listening, Mom. I’m not going to charge over and blab about all of this, but, tomorrow especially there are good odds that I’m going to be forced to confess any secrets I have.” She looks back. “Forced.”

“It’s not something I can avoid. Which means we need an answer now. So what are we going to do mom? You could run, but they’d just turn their attention to he Kappas after they kill me. Maybe they’ll use the family to force you back. Kidnap Gabriel or Luke—or both.”

“You could kill me.”

The words are searing and raw, an examination of a truly ugly truth.

“Maybe that would stop them. More likely it would raise more questions, but it might buy you time. But I’m not going to go quietly if you choose that path. There are things in this life… things that as terrible as it is, matter to me. That I think are worth fighting for. And I can fight, Mom. I practically invited you in last time, because I didn’t want lies between us, because I wanted… I wanted something more. Something human that I could hold onto. But if your friends show up again…”

She shakes her head.

“Or we can try it my way. Because it’s the only way out that I see. It presents problems, it has dangers, and there’s no guarantee. But they can be very practical, Mom. And in practical terms a leader of a national anti-Kindred group swayed in their favor by non-obvious means—not dominated, not ghouled, not tied down and mind raped, but genuinely influenced for what may be decades? Subtly?”

“That’s what I’m proposing, Mom. In simple terms. At the end of the day, that I have influence over you—and yes, that you share some details today to prove it. I can’t promise you that my patron will buy it. I can’t promise you that they won’t still kill me and come for you.”

“But I can promise you that if we don’t do something, they will.”

GM:Here is what you can pass them, Caroline—if you are made to talk. I will be willing to target vampires who are their political enemies, in return for you acting as our sole contact and go-between. I won’t deal with anyone else. If that means they have no alternative but to spare you for any transgressions you’ve committed, that’s their problem.”

“You will know nothing about my or my allies’ knowledge, capabilities, numbers, or anything else that could be used against us. This elder can either deal with us as enemies they possess no intelligence on, or mutually aligned allies of an ally they possess no intelligence on.”

Caroline: Dread and gratefulness flow through Caroline in equal parts at her mother’s declaration, but she gives Claire a sad-looking smile that encapsulates both her deep understanding at what it must have cost her mother on every level, her gratitude for it, and her respect for the decision.

“Well… hopefully that will be enough.” She nods, her eyes downcast for a moment, then looks up again with another tight smile.

GM: Her mother’s gaze finally returns to the street as she pulls the still-running car back onto the road.

“Now per our earlier arrangement, it sounds as if you have more than a few new things to tell.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue before beginning.

“There’s an elder accused of feeding off of neonates. It’s the biggest story in the city. Battle lines drawn, accusation, scuffles. Especially among the Anarchs, who are split. Big trial this weekend about it.”

GM: “Who is the elder?”

Caroline: “Matheson. Ventrue. He’s old. Been banished forever and a day as it stands. No one knew why—or at least no one that was talking—but the assumption is now that he was caught doing this before.”

GM: Her mother takes that in. “Do you think he was?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Hard to say. I haven’t met him yet.”

She frowns again. “No, that’s a lie. If he’s anything like the other Ventrue I’ve met… yes. I’d believe it.”

GM: “Yet?”

Caroline: “Tonight.”

GM: Her mother frowns deeply.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It wasn’t an invitation I could turn down, under the circumstances.”

GM: “Circumstances that will result in his feeding on you?”

Caroline: “I’ve suffered much worse,” Caroline replies, a hint of stubborn pride in her voice. “If that’s the price… so be it.”

GM: “Does he kill his victims?”

Caroline: “No, he just mind-fucks them into forgetting about the entire thing.”

GM: Her mother grips the steering wheel. “Perhaps you’ll find the perspective useful.”

Caroline: “Maybe I will,” Caroline replies without malice.

GM: “What reason has he said he’s meeting you for?”

Caroline: “He’s fishing. Given the nature of the charges, neonates willing to visit him and potentially testify during the trial as to his behavior have some value. Plus, banished as he has been, I expect on some level he does appreciate the company. The opportunity to lord over people.”

GM: “Over other vampires. Even banished, he has to have been feeding on someone.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at her mother. “I don’t expect that he considers humans very much social creatures. Or even ghouls.”

GM: “Likely not.”

Caroline: “In any case…. there aren’t very many doors open among the Ventrue given… well, other things I’ve done. And I need at least one. I don’t expect that I’ll be readily forgiven by others I’ve given offense to.”

GM: Claire’s Mercedes pulls into Audubon Park. The 350-acre green space is quite sizable, replete with a golf course, zoo, and several cafes and other attractions. Caroline may better remember it as another place she offered ‘comfort’ to another lost soul in need of it.

“Do you?” her mother asks as she turns off the car and steps out. The pair’s destination is within sight of the parked vehicle.

Caroline: “Need one, or expect forgiveness?” Caroline asks soberly. “Very different questions…” She follows her mother out of the car.

GM: It’s called the labyrinth, but the name isn’t technically accurate, for there are in fact two. The round, flat, and wall-less stone edifices are connected to one another by a brick path that begins with an entrance through a wrought iron trellis. The closer labyrinth is smaller and winds its way to a larger one surrounded by benches and southern live oaks.

A metal plaque located by the brick path reads:

The Labyrinth is a symbol of hope and renewal offered to the City of New Orleans following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As our community rebuilds, so also, our citizens must rebuild their souls.

The labyrinth is an ancient tool which provides a sacred place for meditation, centering, and healing. At the entrance is a small Labyrinth known as the Classic Seventh Circuit. This pattern dates to 2000 B.C. The large Labyrinth is a replica from the Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France, built in 1203 A.D. It has eleven circuits leading to the center.

All people and all cultures are invited to journey along the labyrinth. There is no right or wrong way to walk a Labyrinth. There are no tricks or decisions, just follow the single path, one foot in front of the other, until you reach the center. Return along that same path.

A Labyrinth is a walking meditation. As in life, you will encounter many turns. Trust the path. May this become a place for transformation that honors hope and celebrates new beginnings.

A dedication list of names follows.

Caroline: Caroline looks down at the path in stone, then back to her mother.

GM: Claire can only squint at the plaque. Darkness has fallen over Audubon Park, as it must for Caroline to walk its labyrinth. Stars are visible in the mostly clear night sky, and the park itself has streetlamps, but no light directly illuminates the metal lettering for the mortal woman’s benefit.

“I can’t make that out. Does it say something?”

Caroline: “You haven’t been here before?” Caroline asks her mother, surprised.

GM: “I don’t live in Carrollton,” Claire answers with a slight shrug. “And… I suppose we haven’t seen each other many times since you moved to the city.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a a soft, bitter laugh.

“The Labyrinth,” she explains, “was a dedication to the city intended to serve as a symbol of hope and renewal. Walking it is supposed to help with centering and healing, and teach you to walk the path you are on, despite its many turns, embracing the changes in your life.”

Another bitter chuckle.

“In particular, hope and new beginnings.”

GM: Claire is silent for a moment.

“We’ve picked a poor time to visit. The path is hardly visible.”

Caroline: “I can lead you along it… if you’d like.”

There’s a deeper meaning to her words.

“I suspect there will never be a better time.”

GM: “Maybe there won’t.”

Her mother motions with a hand as if to say ‘lead on.’ It’s as plainly visible in the dark to Caroline as the rest of the labyrinth’s engraved path.

Caroline: Caroline sets off into the larger Labyrinth. She’s never been much for meditation, but in the welcoming dark she finds her nerves soothed in preparation for the visit to the elder forthcoming.

“College students,” she says again. “That’s my restriction.”

GM: The click of her mother’s shoes sounds against the stone after her. Claire walks directly behind her daughter, and while that keeps her in the path when it’s straight, bends and curves inevitably if inadvertently result in Caroline’s mother stepping outside of them. She does not appear to notice through the dark as she replies,

“I see.”

Caroline: “I wasn’t asking about Tulane just for them,” she clarifies as she continues along the dark path—one that stands out so clearly to the Ventrue.

“Not that I expect it to change your answer,” she continues. “I just want you to know.”

GM: “I haven’t said anything yet to your father,” Claire states. “He’s been busy, as he always has, but he wants to see you at some point while he’s in town. Besides for… the funeral. The two of us have talked with Thomas, as I’ve said, to land you that Fifth Circuit internship. Which I suppose is off the table now.”

Caroline: “It would need flexible hours,” Caroline replies bitterly.

GM: “How did things end up going for you with school?”

Caroline: Caroline curses quietly. A moment of silence follows.

“Not well.”

GM: Her mother seems to take that in stride. “We should sit down if we’ve made it to the center.”

Caroline: Caroline looks for a moment as though she might object, but instead nods and turns to face her mother, taking a seat within the maze.

GM: Her mother gives a puzzled frown. “Goodness, Caroline, I don’t mean right here. On one of the benches.”

Her frown deepens. “You haven’t ruined your dress, have you?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite roll her eyes at her mother’s vagueness, but neatly brushes off the stray specks of dirt on her dress.

“Wherever you want, Mom,” she finally replies evenly. “Pretty good odds this dress won’t make it though the night as it is.”

GM: “It is ruined, you’re brushing it. You should take better care of your clothes, Caroline,” Claire repeats as she sits down on one of the wooden benches.

Caroline: Caroline sits beside her mother, brushing off the last few specks of dirt. “It’s fine, Mom,” she replies, the last word still awkward in her mouth.

They’ve never been close. Never had a secret only between them. Certainly not over her father and brothers. It’s something she’s never regretted until now, that she never really knew her mother.

“It’s a good reason to wear black.”

This close the Beast pulls at her. Invites her. She could know Claire so much more intimately if only she would let it.

She shoves it down somewhere deep, feeling sick. That’s all people will ever be to a part of her: a temptation. A savoy bag of ecstasy on two legs that it would delight in destroying.

She shoves aside the thought as she shoved down the Beasts desire: not truly out of mind, just forced back into the darker recesses. Waiting for its moment. Lurking and stalking her. Instead she turns back to their last topic.

“How long is he in town for?”

Her father. That immovable pillar of resolute will. The sun in her sky in her childhood and the star by which she navigates for most of the rest, only in these last years obscured by distance and the other oh so natural but still painful barriers between them. There was once a time she could have reached out and touched him, but that time feels so long ago. Felt so long ago even before she died.

GM: Caroline’s mother regards her silently in the dark—at once so much closer and so much further away, and perhaps all-too late.

For some, the Embrace is a curse, a wholesale ruination of their mortal lives. For others, it opens their eyes to aspects of the human condition they have previously failed to understand, yet are forever barred from acting upon in their new state. It is debatable which is the more tragic.

“Well, right now there’s still so much to iron out with… Westley,” Claire continues. “It’s hard to say. Your father’s not actually in town right now. He’s been meeting with various state and city officials throughout the parishes, giving a few speeches, and of course fundraising. He also has a town hall meeting planned and an appearance at one of the jazz clubs here. Good way to make him seem close to the constituents, I suppose, having those events outside of the usual congressional recess periods.”

Her mother sighs.

“He’s making the most of having to be down here, but he’s not happy to be gone from Washington. Even if it looks like there’s nothing we can do about that damn Iran deal.”

Caroline: She finds herself simultaneously admiring and resenting her father’s laser-like focus on his goals. The will to power, at any cost. At every cost. She flirts dangerously close to offering a comment on the callowness of his actions in response to his son’s death, but bites it back. Who is she to criticize him? She who is doing just the same, plotting her own future. She who put Westley in the ground.

All my life I wanted to be like him… and now I am.

These thoughts pass unspoken behind her green eyes, but not unconsidered.

“Next week is better. I expect this weekend to be demanding.”

GM: “What happened with school?” her mother asks.

Caroline: “I received a head in a box and lost track of it last night.” Caroline replies bitterly. Ashamedly.

GM: “I’m sorry, someone’s head?” Claire asks.

Caroline: Caroline gives a short, bitter, half-sob and half-laugh at the sheer ridiculousness and brutality of it.

“Someone I knew. A warning, and a threat.”

She looks away.

GM:Leeches,” Claire mutters, her voice thick with contempt.

“I’m sorry, Caroline,” she repeats.

Caroline: Caroline looks back, wipes her face, her eyes, grateful for the darkness.

“Me too. She deserved better.”

GM: “Most of your kind’s victims do,” Claire answers.

“In any case, we can’t afford to let another death slow us down. We need some kind of cover to explain you being dropped from your classes and unable to take the internship.”

Caroline: “Did you have something in mind?”

GM: “No, I didn’t. And there isn’t an easy explanation for those things. I suppose it’s no surprise that so many of you fake your deaths.”

Caroline: Caroline seems to consider the question for a time.

“Our standing story might suffice for a time,” she says at last.

GM: “It won’t in the long term. Eventually, they’ll expect you to recover. That all before the perpetrator your father will want to punish.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Well, he got that, if not in the way he expected.”

She thinks for a moment longer.

“Social pariah?” she offers.

GM: Her mother looks at her questioningly.

Caroline: “I could do something… be something… conventionally unacceptable.”

GM: Claire frowns. “If it’s unacceptable enough, there’s not much benefit that offers over simply faking your death. And if it’s something ‘mild’ like dating another Democrat, the family will still expect you to carry on your life like usual.”

Caroline: “A fine line to find, then,” Caroline murmurs. “Though faking my death brings as many problems for the Masquerade as it fixes. Maybe more.”

GM: “I could care less about your kind’s Masquerade in this case, Caroline, save insofar as violating it has the potential to draw even more trouble on you.”

Caroline: “Then think about this. What happens if Gabriel sees his dead sister on the street? Or at a store? Or at an event?”

GM: Her mother frowns. “You don’t actually mean to stay in New Orleans in the long term, do you? That’s only going to put the family in danger. And you will have to publicly die at some point, Caroline, before it becomes obvious you aren’t getting any older.”

Caroline: “I don’t know, Mom. I can’t know yet. Eventually?” She nods her head side to side. “If it was possible, then yes, for exactly that reason. But I don’t expect it to be today, or next week, or even next year.”

GM: “Which brings us back to the cover story to use in the meanwhile. What are you thinking of?”

Caroline: “I could come out,” she offers half seriously.

GM: “You’d tell the family you were gay,” her mother repeats, half-disbelievingly.

Caroline: “I’d tell the family anything to shield them from all of this,” Caroline replies.

GM: Claire sighs.

“Well, Orson will certainly want you disowned, cut off from your trust fund, and thrown out of Matt’s house. Or at the very least put into therapy.”

Caroline: Caroline looks down. “I know.”

GM: “Your father I can see going either way on it. But if he doesn’t disown you, being gay is no excuse to fail your classes or turn down the internship.”

Caroline: “I don’t have a better answer right now.”

GM: “Well, Caroline, unless you want to tell your father that you’re a vampire, we need one,” her mother states impatiently.

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth.

“I’ve given you two answers, Mom, one for the short term, and one for the long. I’m sorry they aren’t perfect ones. Or perhaps even good ones, but they’re the ones I have. A short term way to explain this current disaster, and a long term way to phase me out of the family’s dealings without overly compromising anyone else in it.”

“If there was some magic wand I could wave to make all of this go away, to return everything to how it was, I’d happy wave it, but at the moment this is the hand we’ve been dealt.”

“I could give you others—but they’d only drag down Dad. Or you. Or the family. Or they’d bring more attention—and attention is bad. You might not care about their Masquerade, but they do. They’ll kill for it. And the thought that they might kill you, or someone else in the family, or some poor employee that’s just snooping a bit too much makes me sick.”

“I’ve caused enough harm. If what I have to sacrifice is my privilege in the family, my father, and my pride to keep them out of it, then I’ll do so gladly.”

GM: “Well, Caroline, you might talk about doing that, but none of your plans are at all conductive to it happening,” her mother replies with rising annoyance. “We tell the family you were raped. Fine. Your father is going to want someone to send to prison, if not death row, and eventually he’s going to expect you to get over it. Putting it off how to address that problem is not going to make it go away, though it will make it harder to solve.”

Caroline: “Not if we sell him that nothing good comes of it. Or at least, of it coming out into the open.”

GM: “He’s not a man who’s content to sit and do nothing, Caroline.”

Caroline: “You’re right, but he’s also not a man given to letting emotion get in the way of reality, and the reality is a headline of ‘Malveaux heir raped’ and ‘Malveaux rape trial begins’ does nothing positive for him or anyone in the family. In fact, it only undermines the family and his reelection chances by making him look weak.”

GM: “There are still ways he can send any purported rapist to prison. Catch them for some other unrelated crime, or simply set them up for one. Lord knows that Roger would enjoy that.”

Caroline: “It’s not as though we couldn’t find someone who deserved it,” Caroline quietly murmurs.

GM: “All right, we send some hoodlum to prison who the system hasn’t been able to convict,” her mother agrees. “That would normally require a good deal of effort to set up—more to make him look the culprit without Roger’s team seeing through it than anything else. Your kind’s powers may be useful there.”

Caroline: “I wasn’t physically raped that night, but I wasn’t lying about what else happened. It wasn’t for lack of trying.”

GM: Her mother nods. “Then tracking down that… other man is certainly something else to do down the line. But we shouldn’t drag him into this.”

Caroline: “There are plenty of others out there that could use a trip up river,” Caroline agrees quietly.

“In any case, with any luck that explanation buys us into next semester, which lets me begin to put my life back on track, and put things in place for… well, for when it all comes down, one way or another.”

GM: “You know, there was a black stalker who tried to break into Cécilia’s apartment,” Claire remarks thoughtfully. “He could be the perfect patsy to use for this. Goodness knows your brother isn’t happy about him not getting a jail sentence.”

Caroline: “No one would ever believe it,” Caroline replies, perhaps too quickly.

GM: Her mother raises an eyebrow.

Caroline: “College students,” Caroline reminds her mother darkly, almost shamefully.

“I thought targeting someone who deserves it was better than some poor jock. But that stalker is small, effeminate, and autistic. I don’t even think he realized what he was doing.”

GM: Her mother frowns again.

“How do you know that, Caroline? Luke’s passed on the details of the arrest record. He assaulted the building’s security guards, tried to beat them unconscious with just his guitar.”

Caroline: Caroline’s guilty look doesn’t fade.

GM: “And Cécilia, the poor girl’s had to hire a bodyguard just to feel safe. Your brother did too.”

Caroline: “He couldn’t beat a pinata with his eyes uncovered,” Caroline replies quietly.

GM: “To which I’ll again ask what makes you so certain. From what Luke has had to tell me, he’s a dangerous menace.” She pauses. “No. You fed on him, didn’t you.”

Caroline: She looks away.

GM: Silence stretches the night.

Finally, her mother answers, “Better him than someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

Caroline: “That was what I thought. It’s the whole principle of the Sanctified. Anyway, I can tell you there’s no way that Roger would ever believe he was capable of getting the better of me.” She pauses. “And he’s attracting a bunch of attention right now in any case. MeVid sensation. There are easier—and more deserving targets.”

GM: “Well, Caroline, you admittedly won’t find as many criminals among Tulane as you will the Ninth Ward, but there are still their fair share. I’d certainly feel better knowing you were feeding on rapists, drug dealers, and simple meathead frat boys than the hardworking sons and daughters of families like ours.”

Caroline: Caroline shuffles uncomfortably in her seat at the subject of the discussion. “It’s not always that easy… there are limits on where I’m allowed to go, where I’m allowed to… hunt.” She substitutes the word for ‘feed’ just as uncomfortably.

“But I try to avoid hurting people, Mom. And when I have… I’ve tried to make it right.”

She looks down. “It’s been hard the last two weeks. All the violence… the pain.”

She clenches her fists. “But I should be able to be more… selective in the future.”

GM: Now it is Caroline’s mother who falls silent for another uncomfortable moment. She finally brushes her hand against her daughter’s.

“I suppose that’s… everything you can do. More than others of your kind ever do.”

Her tone grows introspective. “Time marches on, and it feels like so little changes. Leeches hurt people just like they did when I was your age.”

Caroline: The comment brings up a swell of emotion in Caroline, and the Ventrue looks back at her mother.

“I don’t ever want to be like that. To mindlessly hurt people with no regard. I don’t want to ever create another… me. You’ll tell me, if you see me going that way, won’t you?”

GM: “If you really are, Caroline, it might be too late for telling you to do anything,” Claire answers somberly. “But I’ll do whatever’s necessary.”

Caroline: Caroline pushes her cold hand up against her mother’s—the most contact she’ll dare at the moment.

“I wish that there had been fewer secrets between us before.”

GM: “Some secrets are for the best,” Claire replies quietly. “Bringing the rest of the family into this world would only hurt them.”

Caroline: “I don’t just mean these secrets,” Caroline clarifies, but she goes no further. Not here. Not now.

The moment drags on in silence. At last, Caroline looks down at the slim silver watch on her wrist.

“I need to go. He’ll beat me if I’m late.”

GM: Her mother’s expression wavers.

“All right. But we need to suss out the particulars of your supposed rapist, and the sooner the better. Tomorrow night?”

Caroline: She bites her lip. “Monday. If you haven’t heard from me by then… something has gone wrong. And I’ll try to reach out tomorrow before my second meeting. But I don’t want to make promises.”

GM: “We need to do this earlier than Monday, Caroline,” her mother says in mild reproach. “Putting it off can only hurt us.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I know, the timing is just…. bad. The trial is this weekend, along with my release, meetings, initiations… I’ll call you tomorrow—or as soon as I know more.”

GM: “All right,” her mother relents. “But that reminds me—no discussing anything we wouldn’t tell the rest of the family over phones. Face to face only.”

Caroline: “Agreed.”

GM: “Texts included,” Claire adds.

She finally rises from her seat on the bench. “We forgot all about the labyrinth. I can’t tell if we walked it or not.”

Caroline: Caroline rises to stand beside her.

“We walked it,” she answers quietly, letting that answer hang before continuing, “My home is not a safe meeting place for us either. Too many eyes on it. The wrong kind of eyes.”

GM: “I’d figured so, Caroline. That’s why we met here.”

Caroline: “In the immediate future you should always set meeting locations.” She pauses. “And I should know no earlier than an hour before.”

She outlines a few less friendly areas of the city to herself—mostly McGinn’s domain and the French Quarter.

“Riverbend is good. Downtown. I can even make Mid-City work—though that’s relatively dangerous ground.”

GM: “Mid-City isn’t a very wholesome part of town, Caroline,” her mother reproaches. “I don’t have much known cause to be in Riverbend apart from seeing you, so I suppose that leaves the CBD.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “We can hash it out in more detail to follow. And… if I bring up Dad on the phone, you should get out of town.”

GM: “That won’t be able to happen until your brother’s funeral is taken care of, but it’s a good enough warning.”

Caroline: “I can’t promise I’ll be able to give it, but it’s the best I can do,” Caroline continues.

“Should I be worried about any of your friends that know what I am right now?”

GM: “No,” her mother answers.

Caroline: “They did not seem particularly happy,” Caroline probes.

GM: “We’re not talking about them,” Claire repeats.

Caroline: "As long as I don’t wake up with my house on fire, " Caroline agrees.

GM: “You’ve got a more immediate concern right now anyways. Let’s get you back home,” her mother states, making her way back across the brick path to the parked Mercedes.

Caroline: She arches an eyebrow at her mother but lets the topic drop as they head for the car.

GM: The two get in. Claire buckles her seatbelt and pulls the car out. The park’s darkened scenery rolls past.

Caroline: It’s a start.

GM: They arrive outside Caroline’s home after a brief drive. As the Ventrue opens the door to get out, her mother touches her hand again and states, “I love you, Caroline. Things will… I can’t say they’ll get easier, but they’ll at least settle.”

Caroline: “I love you too, Mom,” Caroline replies, letting the contact linger. “And you’ll get through this too.”

Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM

GM: The wan glow of the moonlight peaks through the garden’s daintily shrubbed fruit trees, casting leaf-shaped shadows against Maldonato’s dusky skin. There is neither tension nor pulse in the elder vampire’s motionless hand. The sensation is akin to clasping a statue, yet one made of dark hardwood rather than the pale marble that characterized John Harley Matheson.

The seneschal releases Caroline’s hand and resumes his seat upon the bench.

“There are further words you would speak, Miss Malveaux, before your conscience is clear.”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress’s other, free, hand clenches into a fist. There’s something burning in her eyes that wasn’t there before the seneschal’s revelation, but it burns more brightly with each moment. Not anger, though a touch of it is there, so firmly controlled against the Beast. Not fear, though it too is there, standing at the edge of the abyss as she is. No, what burns within Caroline is something else: a resolve, an ambition, and perhaps even a hope.

“No doubt, Seneschal, you must think me a fool. Clumsy, careless, and shortsighted… and perhaps I am by the standard of an elder. And yet, I am not so much as I may be thought. I foresaw for instance that this matter with my mother could not stand as it was. She has already agreed not only to aid in the maintaining of the Masquerade among my family until my ‘death’ is arranged, whenever that may be, but also to direct her hunters against enemies you direct—so long as they are not sent only to utterly senseless deaths. Willingly, without Discipline use or bonds.”

She grinds her teeth, continuing, “It is much the same with Louis Fontaine, whatever his true name may be. I presume I was set along that course intentionally, but even so it was one I walked precisely. You may have heard his message, for all those watching, this evening? Exodus 23:22? Given time I can bring him wholly back into the fold. Out of the cold. He cares… he wants to believe in me.”

Again she grinds her teeth, as though each admission, each victory waved as a banner takes something from her. “And as a backup, it’s only a matter of time until I identify my mother’s associates, until I begin to build my own map of what that network looks like. I’ve already identified several potential members, and the longer I have, the more I’ll find. I’m not so arrogant as to think that she will always remain amendable to our standing agreement, or that ignorance of her organization is healthy in the long term.”

A brief war plays out, but speaking once again wins out, and Caroline continues still, “And of the matter of the tape’s handling… while it was certainly not managed to your standard, seneshal, for which I make no excuses, it was handled with intent such that it was unlikely anyone without my cooperation could have a hope of rapidly acquiring the tapes, encrypted or locked away and forgotten by all but myself as they were. I was aware of, if not fully capable of managing, the danger, and did the best that I could, not knowing if I would even hear back before I was to meet with Mr. Matheson.”

A small trickle of blood flows from that clenched fist as she digs her nails into her hand.

“And that such is taken as a question of my loyalty… I’ve been offered opportunity and again to flee the city and state with support from outside powers. I’ve been courted by other powers. I’ve had every reason to betray the prince’s justice, the harsh hand of that justice… and even in the face of insurmountable tasks, even when alone and hurt, even when the prince’s agents delivered the heads of my mortal friends in boxes to me…” She finally looks down. “The Sanctified are all that I had…. and I have more now than I knew.”

Seeing the turn in the seneschal’s mood with the back end of her explanation of Autumn and Turner, she returns to the topic. “That is to say, Seneschal, that I judged taking no action and sitting on the tape at my home to be the more dangerous of the two options than sending it out, under specific terms. If anyone was spying upon me, or even simply observing comings and goings from Mr. Matheson’s home, the more dangerous option seemed to be sitting upon the tape in my home, which has been repeatedly assaulted, with the appearance of forting up.”

“Vice sending out my ghouls in the dawn hour, when they were least likely to be intercepted by Kindred directly, to secure them elsewhere with the appearance of business as usual. I didn’t know that help was coming. Or that it would be so timely. I do not mean that to say that I bear no responsibility for the danger, but it was ignorance, not recklessness, that guided my hand. Such might matter little in assigning punishment, but I hope that it might have some bearing in potential.” She clutches her bleeding hand to her side, wiping more vitae across her dress rather than let it stain the garden like so much already has. At least she’s wearing black.

GM: Maldonato makes a brief motion with his index and middle fingers. When Caroline’s eye returns to the garden, her blood no longer stains the garden’s white, maroon, and blue ceramic tiles, nor the brick floor near her shared bench. Her dress, too, appears clean again. Yet the wound over her heart remains unmended. She can already feel her vitae seeping and spreading outwards, re-staining the newly-pristine black fabric.

“There is much that my hand may undo, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato reflects. “Yet no action is without cost. Men of science know this principle as Newton’s third law. Other men know this principle by the adage of ‘no power without price.’ Yet none of your blood would flow had you willed your wounds to mend—and your blood shall continue to flow and stain my garden, no matter how many times I might pay the price to undo the consequences of your inaction.”

Caroline: Caroline grimaces. “I had made enough presumptions for lifetime,” she replies, “and done enough harm. Always the lesser of evils—to suffer and bleed and stain rather than risk a life callously for my own advantage.”

GM: “Your blood shall continue to stain my garden for as long as it flows, Miss Malveaux. Will you staunch its source, or shall I continue to efface the products of its flow?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, but her flesh knits with staggering speed.

“I will make no further messes for you, Seneschal. Anywhere.”

A lean and hungry look settles into her, not so much in expression as in body language, and the grievous wound does not fully close, but the flow slows.

“As best I am able,” she continues.

One hand crosses her chest, applying pressure to the still-savage wound inflicted by the Hussar’s strength. Despite her pain, her hunger, and the emotional rollercoaster of a night so far there is still a bit of wonder on her face at the seneschal’s display of power.

GM: “I am afraid your best is insufficient, Miss Malveaux. By your actions, you have proven a repeated threat to the stability of the archdiocese and the praxis of Prince Vidal. Your actions cannot be allowed to persist. Your sentence of final death shall remain in effect.”

Caroline: She bites down, clenching her jaw, and closes her eyes.

She wants to cry out. She wants to scream.

Instead, she stands shaking in the night.

A long moment passes. Many thoughts pass through her mind. Regrets. What ifs. Further arguments she might make. She speaks none of them.

At last she speaks, bitterly. “If that is the order of the prince and the seneschal, then who am I to contest it?”

And how could she anyway? Here, in the seneschal’s garden. With this ancient Kindred. Surrounded by his servants. Weak. Hurt. Hungry. Alone and without allies. It would be nothing but a farce. A final disgrace.

GM: “The order is my own, Miss Malveaux. Our prince is occupied by graver concerns and has delegated the sentencing of your crimes to me.”

Caroline: “I understand,” Caroline replies simply. She sounds numb. Empty.

GM: “I will serve your execution in a year and a night.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes snap open and settle back upon him. There’s no hope in her voice, not even curiosity truly.

“And until then?”

GM: “You will bring down your mother’s network of hunters and permanently neutralize the threat which she and they pose to the Masquerade—or else convert them into servants as wholly under our prince’s influence as the New Orleans Police Department.”

“You will gather intelligence of equivalent value to Mr. Matheson’s feeding proclivities on Mr. Savoy, Regent Cimitière, or a chief follower of either.”

“You will orchestrate your mortal death in such a manner that arouses no suspicion alongside your mortal brother’s.”

“You will attend the public executions of every illegitimately sired fledgling who should meet final death due to Prince Vidal’s repeal of his prior edict, and will commit each of their names to memory. "

“If your mother should cease to cooperate against our enemies or desist in her dealings with you, you shall immediately be put to death.”

“If the recording of Mr. Matheson’s confession should be revealed during his trial, you shall immediately be put to death.”

“If I should witness or hear word of any further infractions you have committed against the Camarilla’s laws, our prince’s edicts, or Longinus’ commandments—be they as minor as poaching in an Acolyte’s territory, or as grievous as another violation of the Masquerade—you shall immediately be put to death.”

“I shall bring you before Prince Vidal in a year and a night to serve your sentence of execution. If, upon hearing of your deeds and conduct over the past year, he should wish to commute my prior judgment, I am His Majesty’s obedient servant.”

Caroline: The rest of the seneschal’s judgment falls upon Caroline, brick by brick. Perhaps were the light in her eyes not already snuffed out it would go out under the titanic weight of his demands. As it is, the only physical sign is in how she ceases to shake and goes as still as the statue speaking to her. Only when she is certain he is finished speaking does her mouth move, but for a moment nothing comes out. It’s almost too much to grasp in the moment, the emotional highs and lows of the evening.

Finally, she speaks. “Is there anything else needed of me in this moment, Seneschal?”

GM: “The matter of your ghouls yet remains. Prince Vidal has sentenced them to death for your attack upon Capitán Gautliterrez. If your sentence of final death is to be postponed, I may no longer shield them both from our prince’s judgment.”

Caroline: Another brick atop the pile. Caroline closes her eyes for a moment again, but forces herself to reopen them. “Both or either, Seneschal?”

GM: “Miss Rabinowitz has a family who will mourn her death,” the seneschal reflects. “Her efforts to preserve the Masquerade in your vicinity have been of greater value to our prince than Miss Turner’s services to you as a bodyguard. Miss Rabinowitz’s fate may be decided alongside your own after a year and a night.”

Caroline: Caroline closes her eyes again. She bows her head for a moment and brings a hand up to her face, laying it across her forehead and eyes. Grief plays across her face, but once again she sets her jaw and looks up.

“May I speak with Ms. Turner before she’s executed?”

GM: Maldonato regards her patiently before replying, “I do not find such a request unreasonable, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “My thanks for that, for what it is worth.” Caroline’s response appears sincere.

GM: “You have also expressed a desire to make restitution for your prior wrongs done to Mrs. Christian and her son,” Maldonato continues. “Whether you still wish to do so is your own prerogative. As you now possess the requisite time, I shall not make amends in your stead.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I understand.”

She waits for the next brick to fall on her head, or to be dismissed.

GM: The seneschal issues one final instruction.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip again. The hunger is more distracting than the pain was, but the seneschal has her full attention.

“In intention, if not direct parallel, Seneschal.” She pauses before continuing with her question.

And her request.

“Very well,” Maldonato answers Caroline’s. “If you would entrust another to corral your thoughts, then I shall bar you from revealing all memories whose release I judge detrimental to our prince’s interests.”

“Yet I shall not erase your own recall of those memories. For good or ill, we are the sum of our experiences—and your experiences prior to now have proven a destabilizing influence upon the archdiocese.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression freezes in puzzlement between gratitude.

“Please forgive me, Seneschal, does that mean that there is an extension on the earlier forbiddance on discussion points, or that my request shall be granted by another means?”

GM: “Clarity is seldom the result when others gain egress to one’s mind, Miss Malveaux. I have no wish to inoculate you against such an intrusion’s undesirability,” Maldonato answers.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, still not fully understanding the seneschal, but does not dig further.

“As you say, Seneschal.”

“Two last questions, if I may. Will any others know of my looming, sentence, and is there any particular way that the seneschal would have the matter Mr. Matheson dealt with? Given that I failed to appear before him as instructed.”

GM: “Capitán Gautliterrez will inform you how to proceed with such matters, Miss Malveaux. A critical moment approaches and I fear that I may no longer divide my attentions without consequence.”

The seneschal’s gaze does not seem to look at Caroline so much as through her.

“Our audience is now at an end as you shall recall it. Farewell, childe.”


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