“By and by, we all pay our dues.”
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
GM: The gray stone monolith arrogantly looms over the surrounding CBD. Tall, unbent, unbroken. Unconquered by crumbling mason, acid rain, and the relentless march of time, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is supremely confident in its holy purpose—but not its hegemony. St. Louis Cathedral smugly holds up the 221 years since its dedication to Patrick’s 178, showing them off like jealous children comparing baseball cards. St. Patrick’s must sullenly accept its status as only second-grandest, second-oldest, and second-best cathedral in New Orleans.
Caroline: The building is massive, so massive that as she approaches she can almost feel God standing at its apex, looking down, judging. It makes her skin crawl and hollows her soul with shame.
Were it not for such particular purpose, Caroline doubt she could even approach it.
GM: Caroline’s pale skin is flush with hot blood stolen Sasha and three other victims as she approaches the church’s threshold, where but a week ago (it feels like a lifetime) she confessed her sins to her cousin Adam. Yet the gut-churning dread that greeted her upon the last occasion is not present… only an oddly sluggish weariness. It’s like comparing a migraine to a stomach ache. Distinct, even less painful, but still unpleasant.
The cathedral’s interior is a vast and cavernous space. The faintest whisper feels as if it could echo and echo off the Gothic arches and stained-glass windows until it reaches the ears of God. Whether He would respond to Caroline’s kind is another matter.
So is whether they would want Him to.
Caroline: She chooses not to tempt Him and keeps her mouth shut for now, taking in the familiar scenery—and any occupants. The entire scene reaffirms her more conservative choice for the night, a long, flowing gown with a transparent top that slides halfway down her arms. Cinched just a bit at the waist. Classical, with a bit of modern. Conservative. She’d planned on wearing it to the next major party function. It’ll serve a better function here—she hopes.
GM: Caine’s damned children have converged upon God’s house like flies to a corpse. Some hide their natures as Caroline does underneath bespoke suits, haute couture gowns, and fashions so cutting that they would hardly seem to need fangs with which to feed. Other Kindred revel in their sinful natures, adorning their eternally young and nubile bodies in the most head-turning extremities of dark couture: dresses made of knives, jackets constructed of barbed wire, and shining black PVC garments that cater to the wildest fetish. Others simply don’t bother dressing up: some wear leather jackets, torn hoodies, and denim jeans. The especially slovenly and monstrous-looking (or simply pathetic) garb themselves in little more than moldering rags and the dirtiest, dumpster-scavenged grunge fashions. Still others are dressed normally, in jeans and t-shirts and everyday clothes, and seem monstrous only by their association with their obvious fellows.
Caroline can’t begin to count how many there are. Many are like her. Kindred. No heartbeats. Slowed to nonexistent breathing and blinking. All those other telltale predatory cues, even among the best actors among them. But no matter what they wear on their bodies, so many of the pale faces carry the same leering expression. Their dead nostrils sniff just as hungrily. Blood is in the air. A number of bulk ghouls clad in black suits, mirrored shades, and stone-like expressions stand guard throughout the holy place. Even in Elysium—and especially tonight’s—the potential for bloodshed feels ever-present.
Caroline: She can hardly blame them, seeing what she has. This entire trial is ugly, with ugly truths underneath. Truths part of her wishes she didn’t know. It was easier when she could pretend, as Jocelyn does, that the prince is all virtuous. That despite all that she’s suffered, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
The more exotic outfits she forces herself not to stare at, for a moment taken aback by—but when she thinks about it, it makes sense. For all their power and depravity, this might be the only place they can truly show off what they are. That they can dare others to look at them, where they can be who, and what, they are. Even in the hearts of their domains they must always keep to the Masquerade. Only in these rare gatherings can they put on a performance befitting their nature. It’s pathetic in its own way. But she understands it.
GM: An arriving figure brushes past Caroline. Her hair is as green as a lime Popsicle and fritzy as a cat’s bushed tail. Her lower face glints with metal. A ring in the shape of a crescent moon pierces through her nostrils, while a second one is worked through her lower lip. Two studs adorn the skin just above it. Her thick eyelashes are as long as her eyes themselves, and the skin around her lids is solid black, seemingly adorned more with war-paint than makeup. She wears a studded black leather collar with three steel D-rings, attached O-rings, and further attached linking chains that clink as she moves. A metal-boned corset constricts her waist, and she wears no pants or underwear, simply thigh-high leather boots with platform heels and studded with straps and buckles. Two half-naked, leather-clad ghouls trail behind her, wearing spiked collars with chain links clipped to their domitor’s own collar.
“Licks coming through! HehEeHe!”
Caroline: The Ventrue gives the freak a second glance, but slides out of the way, further into the crowd, to get away from the slavering ghouls following in her wake. Everywhere the insanity of it all is an assault on the senses, perhaps not bit of it so much as the jarring disconnect between the well-dressed and the wildly insane. Unfamiliar faces greet her at every turn. How can there even be so many Kindred in New Orleans? How can it have gone on, under the surface, for so long without others noticing?
Ghouls as pets, treated as slaves. Human beings reduced to ornaments on Kindred arms, shown off, or simply made a show of. The scene is sick, and she can at once understand the bitter divides among Kindred, among those that try to cling to a shred of sanity, and this mass.
GM: Yet Caroline cannot help but recall similar scenes in the French Quarter nightclubs where she hunted on her Requiem’s second night. She recalls the sweaty, angry masses hypnotically swaying to oblivion’s entropic chords, and the lusty cries of the couples fornicating in the bathrooms. She remembers how well she fed.
As ever, the Kindred can but mimic the kine.
Caroline: And perhaps punish them. Memories of the worst of humanity make thoughts of turning God’s vengeance and judgment upon them easy to embrace.
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
Rocco: Most faces in the dark cathedral may be unfamiliar to Caroline, but there is at least one hidden within the pale ocean.
“It’s certainly pleasant to see a familiar face, Miss Malveaux,” a male voice interjects in the cacophony. It carries the softest lilt of an Italian accent. “How goes your night?”
Caroline: The Ventrue settles her gaze on the hound. It’s aged by at least ten years, not physically, but in experience since that gaze last settled upon him. Since that night in an Elysium not so long ago. Her skin is flush, warm, stolen blood running through her veins, and her gown dazzles in black, showing simultaneously nothing… and just the hint of something, and shining all the more with the golden wristband on one hand, the diamond glittering on one finger, and the diamonds at her ears—understated, but more potent for it. A small and simple cross of gold lays across her breast, the thin gold chain barely hidden around her neck, standing out only because she is oh so pale.
"Hound Agnello, how pleasant to see you as well. It goes… "
She gives a weathered smile.
“Well enough. And yourself?”
Rocco: Hound Agnello takes a moment to take in Caroline’s svelte figure and decorous appearance. He doesn’t hide his appraisal.
“I am better now that I have the chance to make small talk with a beautiful woman,” Rocco replies, finally looking up to meet Caroline’s gaze. The Gangrel is dressed in his own finery: his signature, plum-colored suit.
Caroline: There’s something missing in her gaze from the last time he looked into her eyes. A less experienced Kindred might name it something like innocence. Rocco is not so inexperienced. This well-fed, well dressed, well composed thing before him two weeks after her Embrace wasn’t innocent even when he met her a week ago. It’s hard to picture those discerning green eyes as ever being truly innocent. No, what’s missing is something all the more striking. It’s fear.
When he last saw her at an Elysium she stank of it. It ran off her like sweat off a kine. Tonight there’s tension. Stress. Maybe even concern. But not fear. She keeps that smile on, her too-white teeth against too-pale skin. It’s terrifying to think what manner of marble she might be carved out of in a hundred years.
“Hound Agnello, you are as charming as you were when we first met.”
Rocco: The change is not lost on Rocco. His dark brown eyes bore into Caroline and a look of approval appears on the Gangrel’s face.
“Thank you, Miss Malveaux. You’ve certainly come a long way since the last time I met you.”
He adds, “I must congratulate you on finding your sire. It was no small feet for a fledgling.”
Caroline: “Ah, Hound Agnello, you have no idea, or at least I should hope not. That was no pleasant experience.” There’s a sly smile on her face.
Rocco: “Why do you say that?” he asks, smile growing.
Caroline: “Staring death in the eye, knowing it is coming for you with all the ancient certainty of an avalanche coming down the mountain?”
There’s a hint of teeth to her smile.
“Being utterly within someone’s mercy, with all your secrets laid bare? I should hope that such an experience never finds you, Hound Agnello. Or if it has, that it is swiftly forgotten.”
Rocco: Hound Agnello’s gaze narrows and his smile lessens.
“We’re all at God’s mercy in the great scheme of things,” he answers, stiffly. “We have no secrets from God.”
Caroline: “Sadly, I fear there will ever remain many from me,” Caroline deflects. “Perhaps for the best, though.”
Rocco: Rocco pauses, staring as he considers something.
“I take it you’re not referring to your ordeal with your sire when you say that,” he remarks, remaining cordial. “In saying that, more avenues and opportunities are opening up for you now that you are to be accepted into our society more properly.” Hound Agnello’s smile reappears. “Are you making favorable inroads with the Storyville Krewe?”
Caroline: The surprise that crosses her face is only there for a moment, replaced by a genuine smile, the first he’s seen of her.
“That was your request, was it not, Hound Agnello?”
Rocco: “Yes. I have seen many talented fledglings wither without the right allies,” Rocco mentions, honestly, “and it is my wish that the blood of Father Malveaux and Sheriff Bastien remain Sanctified.”
GM: Caroline’s phone inconveniently buzzes.
Caroline: “Or at least return to it? It would seem late for René Baristheaut.”
Rocco: Rocco nods with a small, still-charming smile.
Caroline: “I do appreciate the concern,” she replies.
Rocco: “You’re welcome.”
Rocco adds, “I take it you’ve met Gwendolyn Wade. She is one of my tenants within my domain.”
Caroline: “Only in brief,” Caroline replies. “Though she seemed pleasant enough. I imagine she must be quite the dutiful tenant.”
Rocco: “I make a point to be on good terms with all my tenants, Miss Malveaux,” Rocco answers, “and in saying that, I plan to invite her and the Storyville Krewe to my domain for a pleasant get-together in a few nights time. In fact, I am curious to know if you would be interested in attending, as well.”
Caroline: “That sounds delightful, Hound Agnello, and you certainly have my interest.”
Rocco: The hound nods, giving Caroline a genuine smile as he thinks on the particulars.
“Excellent. I have yet to speak to the Storyville Krewe, but expect a visit from one of my ghouls in the coming nights with details on the night I plan.”
Caroline: “It may be easier for them to call ahead Hound Agnello, as I’ve been… renovating of late. Still, I’d welcome such an invitation,” she smiles.
Rocco: Rocco nods. “Do you have a ghoul that frequents Elysium, Miss Malveaux?” the hound asks.
Caroline: “Ah, I wish I could manage that right now, Hound Agnello, but I’ve had something of a problem maintaining ghouls at all. It’s certainly something I’d like to do eventually.”
Rocco: “Unfortunate.” A pause. “In any case, have you given much thought to who you might swear fealty to as a tenant in the coming nights?”
Caroline: “The current terms of my serfdom to the sheriff require that I do so for him, presumably that is not an arrangement that he’ll be willing to reconsider,” she replies.
Rocco: “I understand that you’re Sheriff Donovan’s serf, Miss Malveaux,” Rocco replies with a patient smile, “but after being released, have you given any thought into swearing fealty to another regent or vassal?”
Caroline: Caroline’s own smile remains in place.
“I apologize, Hound Agnello, I must not have been clear: as a requirement of my serfdom I am required to swear fealty to him upon my release.”
Rocco: Rocco’s eyes betray a little bit of disappointment.
“Sheriff Donovan is certainly a good regent to have, especially with you living in Audubon Place,” the hound remarks thoughtfully, holding his chin, “although its location isn’t very secretive.”
Rocco rubs his chin for a couple more seconds before letting his hand fall back to his side.
“I should probably let you go now, Miss Malveaux,” he says, politely disengaging himself. “I will have one of my ghouls get in touch with you in a couple nights time. Good night.”
Caroline: “Of course, Hound Agnello, my thanks for your time. And of course if the sheriff does prove willing to reconsider his current position, I’d be happy to be in touch.”
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
GM: After taking her leave of Rocco, Caroline glances down at her phone. The text is from her mother.
Date still in the air. See you at your house again tomorrow?
Caroline: No promises. I’ll let you know a time. You pick the place.
GM: Give me a day’s notice.
The sea of deathless, pale-faced, leering predators stretches before Caroline as she looks up from her mother’s text.
Caroline: For the moment she’s content to watch. You can tell a lot about social dynamics by who talks to who, who avoids who. Who’s important. Who’s dangerous. Here it’s all the more so—who can be approached. Who is dangerous to speak to. She finds a spot on the edge of the crowd and watches.
GM: There’s no such thing as a giant party. Every party is a collection of smaller cliques and gatherings; people can only pay attention to so many other people at once. The Ventrue’s eye picks out several distinct cliques among the larger throng.
The most prominent one is centered around a dark-haired man who looks in his mid-30s. He’s shorter than Caroline, and short in his own right, standing perhaps half a foot below the neonate Ventrue. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that’s simultaneously casual and resplendent: an open-breasted bespoke white sports coat, red silk dress shirt, black slacks, dark brown snakeskin belt with a slim gold buckle, and matching polished brogue shoes.
In contrast to the severe demeanors of other prominent Kindred Caroline has encountered, the short man is all smiles and laughter. He seems to coax them from the vampires surrounding him as easily as bubbles from a stream. Several of their number include a glasses-wearing woman in smart business attire and a dark, smoldering beauty in a sinuous red dress.
Another prominent clique is centered around Philip Maldonato. The seneschal’s tall frame, one of the most visible in the room, is garbed in a somber gray three-piece suit, lighter dress shirt, and deep blue necktie. A matching handkerchief rests in his breast pocket. Silver cufflinks and an old-fashioned pocketwatch’s chain offer two concessions to the past. Caroline only recognizes Father Malveaux among the Kindred who are gathered around him. No one laughs, though there is an occasional thin smile. The clique feels not only distinctly but deliberately separate from the short man’s. The two are even located on opposite ends of the room… Caroline may recognize pitifully few of the present Kindred, but she recognizes when a battle line has been drawn.
The crowd between the groups is sufficiently thick that they need not even look at one another. The tension, however, casts a distinct pall over the rest of the cathedral. The social hierarchy among these “middle ground” cliques and sub-gatherings is less apparent to Caroline… they have their own centers of gravity, Kindred whose presences attract others into their orbit, but none seem to command the same degree of attention as either the city’s seneschal or his short, dark-haired counterpart.
Further, they are less permanent. Kindred hangers-on periodically break off, trade passing conversation or form their own new cliques, then dissolve into the sea of hungry faces once more. Caine’s children might be dead, but any social gathering is a living ecosystem, constantly changing and evolving.
Yet Caroline has precious little time to further analyze the social dynamics at work as she feels the weight of increasingly many predatory stares settling on her. The Ventrue is reminded of seemingly every mother’s adage to their children that staring is impolite. The Kindred value politesse. They do not like being watched. They have no place for those without a place.
No. There is one place for such outsiders. And Caroline senses that she will occupy it if she persists in her role as the friend-less, vulnerable, ignorant stranger.
Caroline: The battle lines. Caroline has little doubt who the shorter man is, even before meeting him, before speaking with him. She suppresses a smile as she slides back into the mass of flesh in the middle, seeking out some vestige of normalcy in the sea of insanity.
GM: Caroline’s search swiftly proves all-too futile, but the Ventrue thinks she spots several waves in that sea which are as small as her own:
The first one is identifiable by a musty, urine-like smell. Kindred may not sweat or produce other bodily odors, but the vampire’s raggedy, hole- and stained-lined coat doesn’t look like it’s been washed in decades. The odor of cigarette smoke, cheap booze, stale sweat, and hundreds of dirty streets it’s clings to it like a babe to its mother. The wearer’s ancient, deeply-lined face is smudged with dirt and other less identifiable gunk, and her stringy white hair is matted and unkempt. She occasionally tugs at it as she stares around the room with out-of-focus eyes.
She doesn’t look like a Nosferatu. Just a really, really ugly, really, really old woman.
The second is a mildly attractive, young-looking African-American woman with short black hair and a round, pleasant face with an ineffable quality that seems like it could cause people to remark, “You look like someone I used to know.” She wears a plain white blouse over black slacks. The clothes look neat and presentable enough, but not tailored luxury brands like the Malveaux scion is accustomed to wearing.
The next is a young-looking man with a freckled, corn-fed and sun-tanned complexion that seems slightly blanched of color, leaving it with an odd cast that’s at once paler and ruddier than the kine’s. His frame is tall and gangly, and he looks perhaps 90% grown into it. His hair is blond, his eyes a clear sparkling blue. He’s dressed in a pressed pale blue dress shirt and black pants tucked over cowboy boots.
There’s also a well-endowed, comely young woman with long, messy blonde hair that falls all the way down to her waist. She wears a pair of blue denim shorts, brown ankle boots, and a lacy white top that shows through to her bra.
An emaciated, rail-thin boy seemingly in his mid to late teens stands in sharp contrast to the vital-looking young woman. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a Kindred, with hollow cheeks and dark circles under his watery gray-blue eyes. He stands about half a head below Caroline and wears a finely-tailored navy suit that partially hides his bony, stick-like limbs. His shoulder-length brown hair is thin and wispy.
Caroline: Caroline makes a line for the freckled young man—perhaps the most normal of the bunch, sliding to a stop a polite distance from him.
“Good evening,” she offers.
GM: Caroline finds the young-looking man breaking off from conversation with a glasses-wearing, seemingly middle-aged man. Up close, he’s maybe an inch or two taller than Caroline bare-footed, but her heels close the gap. He regards her for a moment before answering, “Evening, miss.”
Caroline: She puts on a friendly smile. “Quite a setting for a party. I’m Caroline.”
GM: “Carter,” the male Kindred offers back. “Yeah, it’s something having this hootenanny in a church. Wonder how it works with the Masquerade.”
Caroline: Caroline has a very good idea of just where that starts, if not where it finishes. “Contacts in the church to have it cleared or closed. Lots of security and other resources to keeping everyone from looking in.”
“Given the prince’s control of the police it probably isn’t that hard to keep it from dusting up into something,” she offers. “Still, I imagine that with so many Kindred here there’s all kinds of other problems, spikes in assaults or even deaths… probably a wild night for the dispatchers.”
GM: Carter shakes his head. “Probably not tonight. Prince says no hunting in five blocks. You miss the memo?”
Caroline: “All the same, presumably it’s still a regional spike with so many active tonight, vice at home. I wonder if it’s possible to track gatherings like this with crime data…” she muses.
GM: “Could be,” Carter shrugs. “Don’t think I’ve seen you around Vieux Carré before. You new?”
Caroline: “Hot off the presses,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “You another Houston refugee, then?”
Caroline: “Native, actually.”
GM: “Guess that’s how it usually is.”
Caroline: “New faces often?” Caroline asks.
GM: “You mean from Houston? Sure.”
Caroline: “I actually meant in general.” Another smile. “Still, that’s interesting. I’d heard it was quite dangerous to travel between cities.”
GM: Carter shrugs again. “Guess it’s sometimes worth it.”
Caroline: "Greener grass and all of that? Caroline laughs lightly. “And yourself, if you don’t mind me asking? Native or…?”
GM: “Transplant. Houston.”
Caroline: “And was the grass greener?” Caroline asks
GM: “Wouldn’t say. The ‘give your blood to Jesus’ Anarchs there are damn weird.”
Caroline: “Give your blood to Jesus?” Caroline repeats. “Remind me not to book a trip.”
GM: “Wouldn’t blame you. Crazy city now.”
Caroline: “Mhm.” Caroline makes a show of looking around briefly. “This must be quite the event.”
GM: Carter shrugs again. “Guess it must.”
Caroline: A light laugh. “No real stake in it, then?”
GM: “Politics just gets folks killed. Better to keep your straw outta the kool-aid.”
Caroline: “Just here for the show, then?” she asks.
GM: “Everyone’s talking about it. Can’t hurt to know how it shakes down.”
Caroline: “I suppose so.” Another smile. “I’m certain you have other matters demanding your attention, Mr. Carter. Thank you for your time.”
GM: “See you round, Ms. Caroline,” the other Kindred replies with a nod. The two drift back apart into the larger sea of predators.
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline’s drift leads her in the direction of the black Kindred woman, the one trying too hard and oh so failing to appear presentable. She makes no mention of that as she approaches.
GM: The woman glances towards Caroline and offers a faint smile. “Do you know me from somewhere, miss?”
Caroline: “Not yet,” Caroline replies, “but I’d like to.” She smiles in a way that she hopes is somewhat disarming. “I haven’t had many opportunities to meet other Kindred.”
GM: The woman’s own smile seems to dim a bit at Caroline’s initial answer, but it’s still there.
“I’m Desirae Wells.”
Caroline: “Caroline Malveaux,” Caroline introduces herself.
GM: “This might sound a bit vain, but have you heard my name anywhere before, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment, then shakes her head. “I’m sorry Ms. Wells, I can’t say that I have—though that means little. My sire has kept me rather occupied.”
GM: Desirae gives a soft sigh. “That’s too bad, but it’s nothing new. Thank you for trying.”
Caroline: “Anything you’d like me to pass on to others in the future?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Why, yes, if you’d be so kind,” the other vampire answers. “I don’t know who I am. I’m hoping there’s someone in the city who does, but no luck so far.”
Caroline: “I’m sorry?” Caroline asks. “Don’t know who you are?”
GM: “I have what’s called retrograde amnesia, Miss Malveaux,” Desirae replies in a half-reciting tone that doesn’t sound like this is the first time she’s explained herself. “I’m actually not sure if Desirae Wells is my real name, but it’s what I have to go by.”
Caroline: “How far back does it extend, if you don’t mind me asking? Until your Embrace, or since it?”
GM: “I’m not sure. The last thing I remember is coming to on the streets after 2013’s Mardi Gras. I might have been Embraced that night, or maybe years before.”
Caroline: “No sire to be found?” Caroline bites her lip. “That’s awful.”
GM: “There wasn’t any they could find, but I’ve gotten by. Besides, for all I know, I could’ve had a sire who I knew for years.” Another soft smile. “It could even be that I’m an elder from ancient Egypt, while I’m speculating.”
Caroline: “Happier thoughts,” Caroline smiles. “How’d you settle upon your current name then, Ms. Wells? Again if you don’t mind my asking.”
GM: “It was written on the tag of the shirt I was wearing. Maybe I had a lot of roommates or lived in some kind of dormitory or group home. It could also be I was just fastidious. I hope it’s that, or at least that I wasn’t borrowing someone else’s clothes at the time. It might not really be my name. But it’s what I have to go by.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. The story is too familiar, hits too close to home.
“I’m sorry.” There’s sincerity in her words, but she is not as sorry as she is for all the similar similar stories to come that’ll be executed because of her mess.
“I’ll see if there’s anything I can dig up.”
GM: “That’s kind of you to offer, Miss Malveaux, but there’s really no need. I’m sure I’ll turn up something one of these nights.”
Caroline: “It costs me little, Ms. Wells. Little enough that even I can attempt it. Fax machine must be broken.” Caroline rolls her shoulders back.
“If I find nothing, you owe me nothing. If I do, you can decide then if it’s a price you wish to pay. Fair enough?”
GM: “Fair enough,” Desirae nods.
Caroline: “I assume you’ve already checked missing persons databases, reports, medical records, and the like?”
GM: “Yes, all the sources I was able to pull up. They didn’t seem to have anything for a Desirae Wells.”
Caroline: Caroline thinks. “If this is too much to ask, please say so, but do you have a picture of yourself? A selfie or something I could use?”
GM: “Yes, I have a few. I presume that’s for in case the name isn’t really mine.”
Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “It’s a means of searching independent of the name entirely—you might have changed your name, Ms. Wells, but it’s harder to change your face.”
GM: Desirae asks Caroline’s number, pulls out a phone, and sends her a text message with an attached picture. It’s shot against a simple, well-lit white background, with a clear view of Desirae’s face and upper body. It’s a good reference. Caroline gets the sense that the amnesiac might have already tried looking for her face.
Caroline: Caroline saves the contact. “I’ll be in touch if I find anything,” Caroline assures her.
She gets the feeling that it’s something Desirae has heard before, she has little better to offer on the topic.
GM: “Thank you for taking a look, Miss Malveaux,” Desirae replies. The two exchange final pleasantries and disperse back among the crowd.
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
GM: It does not take Rocco long to find Donovan after he breaks off from his discourse with Caroline. He finds the sheriff issuing terse instructions to a few of the ghouls responsible for security.
Rocco: The tread of Rocco’s shoes is as soft as a cat’s padded paws. He approaches Donovan in a measured, deliberate fashion, giving the sheriff a deferential nod. Cautiously waiting for his superior to finish issuing instructions, a patient smile settles on Rocco’s porcelain-white face.
GM: Donovan dismisses the ghouls as Rocco approaches and silently looks towards the hound.
Rocco: “I hope everything is going well for you tonight, Sheriff Donovan,” the hound remarks, beginning with the necessary pleasantries he is certain Donovan doesn’t care for.
GM: “The night is satisfactory,” the sheriff replies coolly. “What is your business, Hound Agnello?”
Rocco: Rocco’s smile widens and the mafioso is only too happy to dive right into business.
“I was talking to Caroline Malveaux. I am curious to know your opinion of her and her value as a tenant.”
GM: “What is your interest in Caroline Malveaux?” the sheriff asks in turn.
Rocco: “I want her as a tenant.”
GM: “Very well. My price is two boons,” the sheriff answers.
Rocco: “What would you say to me offering one?” he counters.
GM: “Insufficient,” is Donovan’s sole reply.
Rocco is well-aware that two immediate boons is an incredibly cheap price against an eternity of weekly prestation… though a debt from the century-old hound is worth more than any fledgling’s, the sheriff’s price remains almost humiliatingly low—for Caroline, at least, and is a testament to just how little Donovan considers the Ventrue to be worth as a tenant.
He’s not even trying to charge Rocco more.
Rocco: Rocco laughs playfully, clearly amused by Donovan’s steadfast answer.
“I can freely admit when I am bested in negotiations,” the hound compliments in acquiescence. “I agree to your initial price: two boons for Caroline Malveaux’s tenancy.”
GM: “Very well. I will inform her of her expulsion from my parish in two nights’ time. She will be informed of your willingness to accept her as a tenant. She will be permitted a further 24 hours to remove herself and her possessions from Riverbend before she is dealt with as an intruder,” the sheriff coolly intones.
Rocco: Rocco thanks the sheriff and gives a polite bow as he takes his leave.
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
Caroline: As Caroline separates from Wells, she nearly runs into the blonde and her nest of hair that looks as though she’d be more at home in a Tennessee strip club.
“Oh, I apologize.”
GM: There’s a flash of fangs from the other blonde before she takes in Caroline and then simply snickers.
“It’s okay, sugar tits.”
Caroline: “Sugar tits,” Caroline repeats.
GM: “Yeah, your girls looked white as sugar in those Fangbook pics. So sugar tits.”
Caroline: “Charming,” Caroline spits out.
GM: “Sluttish too, dawlin’.”
Caroline: “Well, it is so important to rise to the standard of others.”
GM: The other Kindred snickers again, tapping her lips.
“Not too many other blue blood girls who’d put themselves out like that, far as standards… I’d say you must have been desperate, but from what I hear, you didn’t buy anything from Gutterball. If you were just wanting to break into the biz, Greasy can probably get you into a few pornos.”
Caroline: “Master Elgin made a very generous offer,” Caroline agrees, “but as it turned out my sire was generous enough to offer himself up for a staking without the need for the information, so all’s well that ended well.”
She smiles sweetly. “I don’t think we’ve met before?”
GM: “Arzilla Boudon, dawlin,” the blonde Kindred smiles back.
“I guess you traded those tit pics for absolutely nothing, then.”
Caroline: “Ms. Boudon. Well, this has been a pleasure.”
GM: “Oh, you can just call me Arzie. Only fair, with how familiar you are.”
Caroline: “Oh, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, Ms. Boudon. Whatever you might think, this is, after all, only our first date.”
GM: “Mmm… in person,” Arzilla snickers. “See you around, dawlin.”
Caroline: “Not if I see you first.” Caroline returns the smile—one that vanishes as soon as they turn from one another. The Kindred’s words are like a splinter under her thumb. Petty. Pointless. Nonthreatening next to the actual dangers and concerns she faces… and yet it’s uncomfortable. Irritating. Difficult to completely ignore.
She supposes she’ll never get used to humiliation.
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline checks the thin gold watch on her wrist. Running out of time.
She still needs to talk to Savoy, but a glance over reveals the crowd is not abated. Rude to approach him without an introduction, but worse to let that problem fester, wait until her release. The Ventrue slides out of the no-mans-land in the center of the room in the direction of the shorter man’s crowd. Pressing into it, not quite through it.
GM: The short man at the center of things, who Caroline can only presume is Antoine Savoy, is still talking with the same general circle of Kindred. There’s several new faces, including a tall and imposing black man whose head is shaved, and another olive-skinned man with curly black hair and a rakish smile.
The short man does not look as if he’s going anywhere. With the trial due to start in less than half an hour, Caroline can only presume that all of the elders’ double dealings are long since done, and that they are merely passing the time until the fruits of their handiwork are made manifest.
Predatory sets of eyes turn and follow Caroline as she ventures into their alpha’s territory. Their weight and number only increases the deeper she ventures in. No one moves to greet the Kindred nobody. They just stare. Some are amused, others curious, others disdainful, a few even hostile. Caroline feels like a piece of meat being scrutinized. Or a minimum-wage office drone who’s wandered into one of her father’s fundraising events. It’s as bitter a pill as ever for the former heiress to swallow. Her family’s name is worth nothing here.
She’s worth nothing here.
Caroline: She searches for Harlequin among the crowd of leering faces, and frowns when she discovers his masked visage among those in the center of the room instead. Paying no more attention to the leering gazes than she would to the gaze of a disturbed house cat, she alters her course towards the masked Kindred. Someday. Someday every glaring, scornful, laughing face will regret it. They’ll sit and wonder at events like this is she remembers the slight. But not today.
GM: It is with no small irony that she finds herself approaching another one-time social adversary for his aid. Harlequin and his entourage are impossible to miss.
If Lord Byron seduced the sister of Oscar Wilde, the result of their union could hardly be less ostentatious than the garish peacock standing before Caroline. Harlequin wears a white domino mask with elaborate gold filigree, a black tricorn hat, and brightly-colored, almost jester-like clothes that are threaded with gold. No flesh is visible beneath his gloved hands and masked face. His pale blue eyes have an oddly still, porcelain-like quality, and might almost appear part of his mask at a casual glance.
If the Malkavian looks like he’s stepped out of a Mardi Gras parade, his attendant ghouls look like they only did after stepping out of an insane asylum. Their masks range from a spike-studded, black metal facial encasing to an uncannily realistic sobbing toddler.
As one, all five heads simultaneously turn to regard Caroline.
Caroline: The effect is unnerving even to the Ventrue, but she proceeds on.
“Regent Harlequin, I wanted to express my gratitude again for your willingness to release Ms. Rabinowitz into my service.”
GM: “That sodden pile of leaves? I’d supposed she would have been scattered to the four winds by now,” the harpy titters behind his domino mask.
All four masked ghouls simultaneously laugh. They don’t move their arms, tilt their postures, or even smile. They just laugh, the sound spilling from their gaping mouths like crushed walnut from a nutcracker.
“That’s fortunate she’s been of enough use for you to be grateful, Miss Malveax. I suppose she was still one of the Krewe’s.”
Four voices echo as one.
“One of his.”
“One of his.”
“One of his.”
“One of his.”
“Nonsense, my darlings,” Harlequin opines, tracing the first ghoul’s half-exposed chin. “She upheld the Mask—or at least tried to, I suppose—but she never wore it.” His blue eyes glitter. “She never became it.”
Eight pairs of eyes shoot towards Caroline.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite recoil from the ghouls, but there’s a string of doubt that coils out of her plan as the ghouls chatter, laughter, and Harlequin’s reaction to them.
“Well… that matter aside, I had hoped I might offer a boon to make an introduction? I can think of no so distinguished and universally regard individual who could do the same.”
GM: The Malkavian tilts his head at Caroline. “A gentleman is one who never offends another’s sensibilities unintentionally.”
“A gentleman is a man who is never unintentionally rude,” offers the horned ghoul.
“Intentionally rude,” echoes the spiked woman.
“Or a lady,” murmurs the toddler.
“A lady,” echoes the upside-down screamer.
Harlequin emphatically raises a single finger as if to declare, ‘just so.’
Caroline: “Such I had hoped to avoid, and mend.”
GM: “Your hopes are worth less than sodden leaves in a compost bin,” Harlequin declares. He reaches out to cup Caroline’s cheeks in his gloved hands.
“So brittle. So limited. So trapped. Perhaps one night I will free you from your tower, my savage princess.”
Caroline: “And here I was trying to let down my golden locks,” Caroline replies, head turned slightly on its side.
GM: The harpy releases her head.
“Come. I will introduce you to a gentleman.”
Caroline: “How exciting,” Caroline replies, deadpan, but she falls in with the harpy and his entourage.
GM: “There is no such thing as good or evil,” Harlequin blithely declares. “People are either charming or tedious. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Caroline: She’s taken aback by the question, but finds her voice.
“Yes, and no, good and evil exist, but good and evil people may not.”
GM: “I will make your introduction for a boon, Miss Malveaux, in compensation for the tedium of this conversation,” the Malkavian declares in a bored tone.
His ghouls chant in unison,
Caroline: “And what if the introduction proves entertaining?” Caroline asks, amusement mixed with an undercurrent of irritation.
GM: “It won’t,” Harlequin answers dismissively.
Caroline: “Mr. Savoy,” Caroline replies slowly.
GM: Caroline notes that Harlequin is already leading her in the Toreador elder’s direction.
Caroline: A debt owed for his amusement. Caroline grits her teeth.
“Far be it from me to argue.”
GM: “If you cannot be charming, you may at least avoid making a greater fool of yourself,” Harlequin agrees with her.
Caroline: She falls silent.
GM: Caroline trails alongside Harlequin’s ghouls as the harpy approaches the short vampire’s closest confidantes. A young-looking woman several inches taller than him stands by his right side. Where the short Kindred’s companions are smiles (or at least leers) and laughter, the minimalist expression on the woman’s resembles an upturned frown more than it does an actual smile: there is no mirth behind it, merely politeness. Her dirty blonde hair is pulled back into a tight bun and her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative gray business jacket, matching skirt, white blouse, and black pumps.
Caroline: The image sets Caroline to thinking about whether or not those glasses are required: do such banal physical limitations continue into undeath? Is a deaf old man a deaf Kindred? She sets the thought aside.
GM: The female Kindred next to her is her exact opposite. She’s dark of skin, with long wavy hair and the sort of curvaceous figure that begs a man to put his arm around her waist—though in her case, it seems like it dares more than begs. Her green eyes smolder like slow-burning coals, and her full lips don’t smile so much as sneer. She wears a knee-length dress made from knives and barbed wire that reveals a great deal of her unblemished chocolate skin underneath, and tall stilettos made from the same items. Rubies glint from her ears and neck.
Caroline: While the first woman brought on only curiosity, the second arouses… competition? That’s not quite it. Interest. Concern. It’s like looking into a mirror of her mortal life: attached to the most important people in the room. Effortlessly mighty. Amused and domineering. If Becky Lynne brought on jealousy, then this woman brings on something else entirely: nostalgia. And yes… attraction. It’s not something she’d ever considered, really, beyond the simple peer evaluation, prior to her Embrace. But Caroline cannot deny now that the woman’s very presence calls to her. That thought burns shamefully.
GM: The male Kindred next to her is also tall and dark. Where she’s sheathed claws, he’s the pointed barrel of a gun. His heard and bare chest—he wears no shirt—are shaved completely bald, giving him a blunt and imposing appearance that seems to have cut out all extraneous elements except for thickly corded muscle. His torn gray denim pants and black steel-toed boots are afterthoughts. A silver ankh dangles from a short chain around his neck. His canines flash whenever he laughs, a hard and blunt sound like pounding fists.
Caroline: In another setting, a dark alley, she might have given him a second look. Here he’s jarring only for how he stands out painfully against the others.
GM: Where the dark man is imposing, the olive-skinned male Kindred on his left is rakishly handsome. He’s shorter, slim and sinewy, like a cobra with four limbs. His hazel eyes variously twinkle with amusement, and his full lips are quirked in a faint, self-content smirk. He wears a black sports coat, white shirt, silver Rolex, and multiple gem-set gold rings.
Caroline: She can’t deny that he catches her eye, in his own way. The mashup of clothing and expensive watch and rings though stands out to her. Trying too hard? she wonders. It all but screams ‘new money’ or ‘no money’ to her.
She keeps the opinion to herself. After all, it may not be long before she falls into that category.
GM: Next to the short vampire and has four comely, or at least distinctive companions, the last figure in his closest proximity is quite ordinary-looking. She’s a biracial woman in early middle age with a bush of straw-like salt-and-pepper hair tied up in a green scarf. Her garb consists of a plain white cotton dress, blue shawl with swirling yellow, black, and white patterns. Beaded necklaces with a crucifix and tiny leather pouch dangle from her neck. Where the glasses-wearing woman merely looks as if she is ‘smiling’ to be polite, the darker’s one expression is blank. She simply doesn’t seem all the way present. A featureless, milky-white glass eye stares blankly from her right socket.
Caroline: The woman is so ordinary that Caroline’s gaze all but slides off of her.
GM: “…that’s what the fourth monkey is for, after all,” the olive-skinned man smirks to the laughter and amusedly curled lips of his fellows.
“On the contrary, Lord Savoy. Hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil, and you will never be invited to another party,” Harlequin quips, casually inserting himself into the Toreador’s inner circle as if he’s been there all along. Further titters sound as the short, scruffy-haired man who can only be
Antoine Savoy turns to face the harpy. An easy grin steals over his face. “Harlequin, my friend! How is Sebastian these nights?”
“He remains so clever that neither of us understands half the things he says, my lord,” Harlequin answers. “Why, I almost wish Katrina had drowned the city for good—then I might have had an excuse to stay at his club forever.”
“If every saint has a past and every sinner a future, our city was founded yesterday and should last until the end of time,” Savoy retorts, to further titters from his entourage. “But Prince Thomas’ loss was our gain! Now who is this beauteous creature you’ve brought along with you?” His grins remains in place as his gaze turns to Caroline.
“Oh, how good of you to remind me, Lord Savoy—our company almost made me forget her,” Harlequin answers. “This is Caroline Malveaux—our evening’s soon-to-be released Ventrue fledgling.”
“Ah, so here’s the neonate we’ve all heard so much about!” Savoy exclaims, bending slightly to kiss Caroline’s hand. He smiles up at her as he releases it.
“I’d make a second quip about your beauty, Miss Maveaux, but you’d need to sweet words all night for that beauty to be done its proper justice.”
Caroline: Death becomes you. Caroline hides the shiver behind a smile.
“Lord Savoy, those words are very kind. I cannot imagine what I might have done to earn attention from such a remarkable gathering, but I’m very grateful for the opportunity to make your acquaintance.” There’s a brief pause. “And deeply apologetic for not having done so earlier.”
GM: “Why should you apologize? You haven’t done something to offend his lordship, have you?” the Kindred in the knife dress asks, her perfect lips curling at the question.
Harlequin and the olive-skinned man don’t titter, but their eyes sparkle with amusement. The glasses-wearing woman and the bald man take in the words but evince no reaction. The glass-eyed woman doesn’t seem to do even that.
“I’m sure she just wants to be on the safe side, Madam Alsten-Pirrie. We can’t blame a neonate for wanting to be careful around a harpy with claws as sharp as yours—or claws concealed in so beauteous an exterior,” Savoy winks.
Alsten-Pirrie’s look at Caroline doesn’t subside, but a purr sounds from her throat. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Lord Savoy.”
“Always let a woman see through your flattery—what really flatters her is that you think she’s worth flattering,” the olive-skinned man quips.
“Flattery also raises the same question as an insult. What does the speaker really want?” the glasses-wearing woman dryly asks.
“The esteem of two lovely women, of course,” Savoy replies, smiling. “Flattery is like a fine dress—a collection of threads or words on its own, and made beautiful only by the woman who wears them.”
Caroline: “Lord Savoy, you are as magnanimous and charming as I had been led to believe.” Caroline keeps her smile in place.
GM: “All charming people are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction,” Harlequin declares.
Caroline: “What uncharitable things that says of those around them.”
GM: “What’s it they say? A woman who isn’t spoiled isn’t charming. A woman who can’t make her mistakes charming is only female,” Alsten-Pirrie derides.
“Spoiled people always get their way. So never pay attention to what common people say, and never interfere with what charming people do,” the olive-skinned man quips back.
The circle of Kindred variously chuckles, titters, shows their fangs, and for a moment appears content to simply bask in one another’s wit and wordplay.
Caroline: Spoiled. Like overripe fruit left to rot in the sun. It’s an apt observation.
GM: The surrounding din of conversation grows louder. So do the sounds of footsteps. The great mass of Kindred appears to collectively shrink as they sit down throughout the cathedral’s pews.
“Well, Miss Malveaux, it looks like the trial’s going to start in a few minutes, and that’s not nearly enough time to become acquainted with a woman as charming as yourself—though it’s more than enough to become charmed by her,” Savoy winks. “It would be my privilege, and I hope your pleasure, if you stopped by later at the Evergreen. Nat, when’s a good opening in my schedule?”
“10 PM on Wednesday, sir,” the glasses-wearing woman answers.
Caroline: “I’ll be there,” Caroline replies easily. “My thanks for your time, Lord Savoy.”
GM: “Good luck with your release, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy smiles before turning to exchange parting pleasantries with the other Kindred in his circle. None of them seem to be paying attention to Caroline as they leave.
Caroline: Just how she’d prefer it, truly.
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to slide away and find a seat.
GM: She observes Savoy making his way to a front-row bench, where the members of the primogen are also seated. Harlequin takes a seat along the second row. Carter Landry takes a seat far to the back. Most of the ghouls are even further behind him.
Caroline: The Ventrue moves to find a spot near the back—not so far as the ghouls, but far enough away that she’ll avoid offering offense to older Kindred.
GM: Caroline makes her way down the cathedral’s aisle. She finds a spot by two other Kindred. The first is a pale-skinned Cajun boy with long dark hair and smoky black eyes made all the more striking by his pasty complexion. His frame is long and gangly but he is not nearly as tall as he seems, his thin body seeming to exaggerate his height. He is casually dressed in jeans and a red tee shirt.
The other nearby vampire is the awful-smelling, filthy old woman Caroline spotted earlier.
“You smell nice,” she remarks with out-of-focus eyes. One of her grime-crusted hands tugs at her matted hair.
Caroline: “I try,” Caroline replies back tightly, making an effort not to breathe.
GM: “There’s lots of vampires here,” the old woman babbles. She yanks out several strands of hair and lets them drift onto the floor.
Caroline: It takes effort to keep her disgust off her face.
“You’re not wrong.”
GM: The woman opens her wrinkled mouth and starts scratching crusted brown-red blood off her yellowed, gap- and cavity-ridden teeth.
Caroline: The Ventrue turns her attention towards the front of the church, intentionally not engaging with the disgusting woman beside her.
She cannot, for the death of her, figure out who would Embrace such a creature.
GM: The crowd continues to chat among itself. More than a few eyes have likewise turned to the front of the cathedral. A towering judge’s desk, the monolithic church itself in oaken miniature, looms before the alter in seeming blockage of the path to salvation. The crowd’s murmurs slowly take on a lower, more excited tone. Meanwhile, Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text.
Caroline: She checks it.
GM: It’s from Jocelyn. where are you?
Caroline: Caroline quickly counts her rows from the back and texts how many rows she is from the back.
on the outside. Where are you?
GM: Jocelyn texts a location that’s still in the back, but on the opposite side from Caroline’s. The Ventrue looks ahead, but it’s hard to make out specific faces among the crowd of seated, forward-facing Kindred.
okay i think the trials about to start we can meet up during the recess
Caroline: Sounds good. Have you been here the whole time?
GM: yeah did you just get here?
Caroline: No, been making friends, didn’t see you.
Well, she made one. It’s only half a lie.
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
GM: The cathedral’s doors swing open wide. The crowd collectively turns to stare. There’s a single Kindred being escorted by several ghouls. He’s tall and hale like an old oak tree, some six feet in height, and around some two hundred pounds. He’s also just a touch doughy, with little to no muscle definition to his frame. Soft, light brown hair coifed into a business cut. His face doesn’t look like it’s ever worn an expression but a smile.
As he strides down the tiled floor, escorted on all sides by guards like the prisoner he is, the crowd erupts. Milk-white canines gnash. Dry tongues hungrily lick drier lips. One woman pulls down her black leather pants, mooning him. Red spurts out of her pallid ass cheeks as she shits blood. The crowd literally howls with laughter, a sound like hyenas fighting over bones. They hurl invectives and scream obscenities. They don’t care who he is. They don’t care why he’s here. They just want to see his blood flow.
George: George is adorned in some of the finest make-up and clothes money can buy, though he has chosen a somewhat more understated outfit than he likely would if he were among the crowd rather than the accused. A dark brown suit, with a white undershirt and black accouterments, including an eldridge-knot black tie. He lifts his black-gloved hands to brazenly wave to the crowd as he’s marched down the aisle, smirking with his head held high the whole way like the wretched fool he is.
Caroline: Smith, Caroline presumes, tucking her phone away. She watches the elder Ventrue pass by. She makes no move to react to his presence, less bloodthirsty, but perhaps simply less involved than others.
But he wasn’t wrong, at least in fact. See here the folly of being right about the wrong person.
At least he’s getting the dignity of a trial—such as it is among the animals in the crowd.
GM: Black-suited security personnel in mirrored shades escort another Kindred in after George. He is a rectangular-faced man in seemingly his mid-20s with black hair, a neatly trimmed goatee of the same color, and bright blue eyes. He’s dressed in a dark suit of the same color with a lighter dress shirt and maroon necktie. The suit’s right sleeve hangs limply, bereft of any arm, and is pinned to the bottom corner of his jacket. He maintains a firmly polite smile as he’s escorted down the aisle.
Caroline: She cannot so easily put a name to him.
George: When George reaches the aisle’s front row, he turns and gives the assembled Cabildo—and their representatives—a full and proper bow at the hip. And he continues to do so, even to any vacant seats. When he finishes, he turns his attention to the sounds of Hurst being ushered in. As he finally comes into view from behind the wall of Kindred and ghouls, George gives him a light, deferential nod, before returning his attention to the judge’s desk.
GM: The crowd’s leering, mocking reception is only mildly more pleasant than George’s. Then they abruptly grow silent.
The last figure to enter is a young-looking man, Embraced in perhaps his early 20s, with a rectangular, clean-shaven face, Roman nose, and sandy blond air pulled back in a short ponytail. Despite his seeming youth, there is an oddly marble-like cast to his pallid features, as if Caroline were not staring at a real person but a frighteningly well-crafted statue of one. His clear blue eyes are cool, distant, and have the dangerous glint of a man who is rarely denied the things that he wants. He wears a fine charcoal suit and walks with his head high and unbowed. He does not seem to register the presence of his escort and calmly surveys the cathedral as if it were his property and its inhabitants his subjects.
The crowd’s silence lasts for only a moment. If George believed his own reception was lukewarm, it is nothing before that of John Harley Matheson.
Those members of the crowd not booing his arrival express their own wrath no less keenly. They shriek. They hiss. They gnash their teeth. They pantomime slitting their throats. They extend their middle fingers. They curse his name, spitting insults and obscenities filthy enough to make the Mississippi even browner. They enumerate the grisly fates he will suffer at their hands, if they get those hands on him.
Caroline: Caroline says nothing, but she understands the beginnings of how they must feel. Frustrated. Angry. Vengeful. He’s more than a headhunter, for which most of them likely have no care. He’s a stand-in for every elder that has put their boot on the back of someone’s head and shoved their face in the mud. Why wouldn’t the idea of such a monster facing justice appeal to them?
And yet, Caroline has little belief that justice is what will be on display tonight. Not for Matheson. Not for any of his many victims, Kindred and otherwise. How many friends might she have won by delivering the tape, not into the hands of the prince’s agents, but into Savoy’s? How much evil might have been removed from the world?
She shakes the thought aside. The past is the past.
George: George offers precisely zero reaction to the arrival of Matheson. He does not flinch. He does not look at him.
GM: Matheson’s escort Matheson remains protectively encircled around him. They do not reach for their weapons, but their hands are not far. The Ventrue neither flinches nor retorts. ignores the crowd’s jeers as he would the buzzing of fly. He too meets the gazes of each primogen and inclines his head ever so slightly—a greeting seemingly of peers. Accou and Pearl Chastain both return the motion, inciting a renewed though also diminished chorus of boos.
Until they all cease as abruptly as a dropped bomb.
GM: Each of his footfalls echoes loudly through the now-silent cathedral.
He is tall, dark, and terrible in his purpose, the fury of heaven matched with the fire of hell. Where Matheson is merely dignified, the newcomer comports himself with the bearing of an emperor. His raiment is a midnight-black suit of the finest cut. Not so much as a crease is visible, making the garment seem cut and spun from the night itself. His pristine white undershirt and and blood-red necktie bring to mind the ermine mantles worn by kings of ages past. A gold signet ring set with a ruby adorns his finger. The blood-red gem seems to pulse and glisten as he walks, hungrily devouring nearby light. His frame is tall and broad-shouldered, his features crisp, Mediterranean, and utterly still, like a marble statue by one of the old masters come to life. His slick black hair appears wet, and his mustache is trimmed into a uniformly straight Van Dyke. His gaze carries the weight of centuries and civilizations swept aside by time’s inexorable march. His eyes dominate his face: cold, fanatical, implacable. Those who stare too long feel dizzy, their mouths warm with the taste of blood. The eyes are primal and inhuman and they are strong. They have seen the passing of kings. Kingdoms. Civilizations. They are older than this city, older than it and all its inhabitants, older than its streams and rivers, older than—
One figure in the crowd does not look away: a short man with scruffy black hair. His lips are set in a slight, self-content smile, all the more impudent for its understatement.
The newcomer does not spare him so much as a glance.
The foremost ghoul by the newcomer’s side is as ugly as his master is terrible. His face is a horribly burned, dark mass of scars. He is half-bald, with his remaining black hair neatly combed back from his scalp. His thick mustache and short beard are only partially successful in hiding the teeth visible through his right cheek. His eyes are dark and hooded. He wears a pair of crisply pressed black pants and jacket, not a business suit’s, but one reminiscent of a military’s Class A Uniform. Its gold buttons and his black leather shoes are polished so meticulously that one can see their reflection in them. Medals gleam from his chest, while a polished cavalry saber hangs from his hip.
As his master’s dark gaze stares out from behind the judge’s panel, he announces over the silent cathedral in a clear and resonant voice,
“All rise for His Majesty Augusto Vidal, Prince of New Orleans, Lord Paramount of Orleans and Jefferson Parish, Archon emeritus, Fellow of the Most Noble Fellowship of the Exemplars, Knight of the Supreme Order of the Dark Prophet, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Daniel, Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Ulfilas, Knight of the Order of the Holy Lance, Prior of the Ordo Argentarius of the Congregatio Professio Legatarius, Legate emeritus, Bearer of the Onyx Spear, Defender of the Monachal Creed, and Blessed of Longinus!”
Or, as Caroline knows him:
Monday night, 14 September 2015, PM
GM: Jocelyn isn’t flushed or panting like a mortal partner might be. Her face, however, is messily smeared with Caroline’s (and own) blood, and her clothes are savagely torn. A snapped bra strap hangs halfway down her arm. One of her shoes is missing. Her hair is a frazzled mess.
Her mouth hangs open for a moment before she whispers, “Your blood… it’s so strong…”
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Louis: The droplet of Caroline’s damned blood tastes like hell and hurts like heaven. It burns his throat like a falling star. One tiny God-damned droplet crashing into his heart, a meteorite catching on fire, violent and beautiful and terrible, somehow containing all the false joys, regrets, and hopes of a hundred million dreams, something you watch fall and make an asinine wish, like a kid pleading for a bicycle as he watches the whole world about to end. It makes a hell of a crater. It makes a hell of a man.
Lou cries, wretches, moans, and pisses himself in a minute of ecstasy, shame, rage, confusion, and enlightenment that lasts for three hours. His aged body lies crumpled in the front seat of Chica’s car like well-used, but ill-regarded trash. His soul and psyche, however, drift away like spider eggs scattered by the wind, settling and forming miniature webs across centuries and the wider chasms of the heart.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Louis: “I was tired, Chica. Tired as Hell’s devils the day after Mardi Gras and then some. But now… now I’m restless. Because tonight, tonight, I learned… something that can change the game. Maybe change it in a way that we haven’t seen in centuries.”
Lou turns to face his old lover, or at least her lightless shadow. “Just knowing it feels like an armed atomic bomb sitting in my head. I’m not sure how or whether to disarm or launch it. Yet. I need time. Not too much, just a night or two to think and watch and see how the dust settles–_if_ it settles.”
“It probably won’t.”
Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM
GM: “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.
“Your sire was not René Baristheaut, but Augusto Vidal. Our prince has need of an heir to his throne. Your mortal background made you a compelling candidate for his Embrace.”
Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline is on her feet before she knows it, her eyes locked on the dark figure. This ancient evil she has known not even in her dreams, that calls to her so sharply. Vidal. The prince. The mightiest Kindred in the city. She drinks in the vision of him, and her striking green eyes are blotted out by the darkness reflected in them.
Rage. Frustration. Fury. Hope. Ambition. Desire. Loneliness. Need. Pain. Pride. Emotions well within her breast at the sight. This monster that inflicted the most awful thing she could imagine on someone. Who brought her over into this world without her consent, without even her knowledge. Who threw her to the wolves, out into the night alone. This devil that created her, then denied her. That named her a criminal for an existence he manufactured. That set her on the course against René. A path that saw her torture at the hands of others. That saw to the death of her brother. That created so much misery for an agenda she can’t even begin to understand. That denies her still. Sitting out in the back rows of the church, beside this filthy and pathetic thing. Her rapist, in spirit if not in body, who condemned her to Hell by his will and has seen her soul dragged through the gutter, through the filth and broken glass that has left her faith tattered, bleeding, and infected with the Sanctified’s darker strain.
She hates him. Wants to scream at him. Wants to demand answers. Wants to demand recognition. Apologies. This king among kings among kings. This being that has seen century after century of life, that walked the earth before Europeans walked the Americas. That has seen things she cannot imagine and risen to the top. She’s seen the competition. Seen Coco, and Matheson, and Savoy, and even Maldonato. Beings of ancient power that could only pretend at being what he is. That he chose her, picked her among millions. Pride, that most difficult of sins, burns in her heart. And desire: to be taken in, to be embraced, to be loved. To earn his affection, or at least his respect. She wants to reach out. To weep at his feet. To touch him and see if he’s real. A sire. She hardly knows what that means, what it could mean. Her maker. Her dark progenitor, this being that opened her eyes up to an entire world she couldn’t imagine, a world she wouldn’t turn away from now even if she could. Her father and her mother. She loves him.
But just like her father, just like her mother, there he stands. Not even looking upon her. Focused upon his business at hand. Sparing her not even a glance. This man that calls to power, that is called to power. Responsible. Occupied. Busy. It’s a cruel joke, like much of her Requiem. An heiress heir to nothing, and to everything. The mightiest sire in the city, and yet sireless, selling her future for crumbs dolled out by the all-seeing, all-laughing, jesters of the court. A new father, this one into the blood. And no different than the last.
And, she decides, he would mourn my death no more than my flesh and blood.
All these things she wants, and needs. This figure that could be everything to her. And she can only watch, as silent as the rest.
George: George, already very presently risen, plants his cold blue eyes firmly on the prince as he strides down. His usual grin is replaced by a firm line as he softly bows his head in deference while the Hussar recites Vidal’s titles. At the ghoul’s completion, he offers the prince a distinctly deep bow, a full head deeper than the one he afforded the Cabildo. He all but bangs his skull on the floor.
GM: No Kindred jeer or snicker at George’s motion. The prince of New Orleans regally takes his place, standing, behind the altar’s desk, staring down upon the congregation like a wrathful god judging his children—and finding them wanting. Maldonato stands to the prince’s right hand. Donovan stands a further pace behind to his left.
Vidal raises both his arms high. “Behold Longinus, spear of damnation, humbled and exalted before man! Behold the fruit of the blood of the anointed one, wandering in the wilderness! Behold his hunger, his fangs bared, his eyes empty! Woe unto you, children of the night, that such sin has come unto you!”
The prince motions and attendants begin the sacred ritae with much pomp and circumstance: smoldering incense, flasks of blood, rote memorandum chanting of parts of The Testament of Longinus, call-and-response. A choir of young boys, their eyes blank and glazed, sing hymns in Latin.
“Incline your ears, O my children of the night, and let these humble words fly to your hearts. Know that the teachings of our father Longinus are a great burden upon us, and that the judgment of God is most justly severe. Recognize that these words are written not at the bidding of any man, nor any demon, but for and through the purpose of our God.”
“That though you are Damned, your Damnation has purpose. It is the will of God that you are what you are, and the will of God is that the Damned exist to show the evils of turning from Him. The evil become Damned; God has taken those worthy of His love to His own side. It is the will of God that we yet walk, even after death, for we are his messengers to Kindred and men. We are the wolves of Heaven, and in our presence, only the faithful do not tremble. We are holy lightning, and when we strike, only the faithful do not burn. Where we walk, evil is destroyed. Where we walk, God takes those worthy of His love to His own side.”
“We know that as the Damned we are preordained to sin, both venal and mortal. How blessed are we, then, that our mortality is guaranteed through our Damnation! For we are not only doomed to die, but are dead already. We have died and we will die and our death shall be everlasting. Let hymns of praise be sung to God and his almighty Damnation!”
Vidal motions for silence, then sharply bows his head and clasps his pale hands in prayer. The rest of the congregation follows suit.
George: George follows the rote he has been taught as one of the Sanctified, though it would be expected of him even if he were not counted among their membership. He folds his hands and bows his head. He knows the eyes of the prince are upon him most grievously, but he endeavors to pay it no mind.
GM: When the moment of prayer has passed, Vidal motions for communion to be set ready. Ghouls heft a number of bound and unconscious black men and women before the altar, assuredly Vodouisants if Vidal’s past choices are any indication. Father Malveaux draws a gold-hilted ceremonial knife. Every Sanctified Kindred is familiar with their covenant’s act of communion. Mortals who have transgressed are ritually bled into a sacred chalice over which the priest says his blessings, transubstantiating the mortal blood into Kindred vitae: sanguine proof of God’s own judgment upon them for their sins. In the Blood, one finds faith.
Yet as Father Malveaux approaches the sacrifices with the communion chalice, he sheathes his blade. Vidal informs the congregation in stern tones that there will be no communion. No one here shall not receive the Blood of the Dark Prophet—not yet, at least.
“Even among the Damned, there may yet be transgressors, my children,” the prince declares.
He goes on to iterate that several of his flock are guilty of blasphemy: communion cannot be administered to such sinners until they have atoned for their transgressions.
Many eyes look upon the prince in askance. He intones, “‘’So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!’ A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed.’”
Silence stretches before Vidal pronounces, “We are already damned, my children. God will not intercede to save us. He will send no angels to hold the lions’ jaws fast.”
The prince’s black gaze burns like the hungry ruby set upon his finger.
“The Testament of Longinus already names us wolves. Is it any great stretch to name ourselves lions?”
“Lions do not pray for deliverance, my children. They fight with tooth and claw. The Kindred who stand accused of blasphemy are damned and guilty by their natures: let them do battle with their fellow lions if they would postpone God’s judgment for their sins. George Vernon Smith, step forward!”
George: George strides forward confidently, to the front of the congregation. Into the circle before the pulpit. The center of the place, the center of the whole damned world it might very well be tonight. He stops as he reaches the very middle, and looks up to the pullpit. He does not draw his eyes parallel with Vidal’s, but keeps them politely on his stern face.
GM: “George Vernon Smith, you stand accused of the following sins: blasphemy through violation of the Masquerade and blasphemy through profaning the name of our Lord God. You have also been accused of the following lesser sins: obstructing the duties of diocesan officials and endangering the Requiems of three Kindred. Do you submit to immediate confession and penance for your sins, or do you maintain innocence in spite of your damned and guilty nature?”
George: “I am indeed guilty of many things, my prince. But I profess my innocence of these particular sins,” George says with a firm nod.
GM: “So be it,” the prince pronounces. “The advocate for the accused will step forward.”
“I am present, my prince,” replies a perfunctory voice with a British accent. The speaker is a young-looking African-American man with close-cropped hair and steel-rimmed glasses. His features are crisp and sharp, like newly-printed paper still warm with the printer’s heat. He’s dressed in a black Saville Row suit, white dress shirt, and navy necktie.
“The advocate for the prosecution will step forward,” Vidal bids.
“I am present, my prince,” responds a female voice. The speaker is beautiful, if one judges the symmetry of her features and he fullness and richness of her long brown hair. But her eyes are dark cool, her features unsmiling, and her skin is deathly pale. She does not look as if she has smiled in a very long time. She’s dressed in a conservative dark gray business suit that gives away little of who she is.
“Prosecutrix Cingolai, you may call your witnesses to the stand,” intones Vidal.
Cletus: The cathedral doors swing open like the welcoming gates of hell. And in walks another devil.
Cletus: He wears a half-buttoned shirt, spun from Angola’s finest felon-picked cotton, its fibers indelibly soaked with slave-labor sweat. His thrift-store overhauls are stained with blood, barbecue sauce, and cannibalistic lard. His sleeveless vest, crusted with dried mire and tooled with the heraldry of the Lost Cause, cannot conceal the hard, rangy lines of his powerful frame.
Muscles taught as a fishing line hooked to a two-hundred pound catfish swim beneath his clothes. Thick shoulders, corded neck, forearms built for strangling. Nor can his garments hide the coiled puissance of his gait. It is the stride of a swamp-cat, confident in its predatory strength, yet alert for prey. His cottonmouth-scaled boots click on the church cobblestone like a man knocking on a coffin.
Savage, acetylene-blue eyes shine beneath the brim of a dented, manskin-leather hat. So beshadowed, his unblinking gaze burns like a butane torch, alluring and deadly. Equally mesmerizing and feral is the fanged smile that teases his supple lips. That smile promises much. Pleasure, pain, perfidy.
His body has the palpable odor of libido and heat lightning. His ruggedly handsome, sepulchral-cold face is slick with the night’s humidity, gleaming like moonshine. He carries the paradoxical mien of the bayou-born, the look of simple-mindedness mixed with the honor and hospitality of Southern aristocracy. Yet, lurking behind that mask is a monster, a remorseless sociopath whose evil blossomed long before his Embrace, but has since only grown into the most wicked of orchids.
Yet, the devil’s ‘guest’ is perhaps even more surprising. A half-ton gator, still dripping black bayou water, is slung over his shoulder with an alarming ease. Reptilian beast in tow, Cletus strolls down the cathedral center, up to George, and dumps the gator in his lap.
Up close, it is immediately evident that the gator is dead, its entrails gruesomely exposed and its body carved with colorful slurs. Maggots splatter at the sudden, violent impact. Cletus wipes his hands, messily splatting the viscera upon the manacled vampire.
GM: Most of the crowd’s leering, pale faces stare in stunned silence—as if unsure what to make of this unannounced newcomer, and whether his presence foretells mirth or the prince’s wrath.
Vidal’s expression remains motionless and unknowable, like a marble-carved statue.
George: George regards the strange Kindred with a cold but ultimately slightly confused mien as he dumps a dead gator at his feet, splatters him with gore, and proceeds to do so again. “I trust this is going somewhere,” he says as he looks towards Cingolai.
Cletus: “A present fer ya, George. Finer than frog-hair split four ways.”
George: He looks back towards the strange Kindred. “I can’t say I know precisely what to do with it. Not much you can make out of gator this long dead, save perhaps some shoes or of course gumbo,” George says with a grin.
Cletus: “Yer all wore out from bein’ nice. And we all done know how good a liar ya is. How yer shit-eating grin loves ta shovel it in, and shovel it out. We all know how ya love a good scapegoat, so I broughtcha one. Another bloody mess ya can blame on a beast—one other than ya one’s.”
GM: “You have many Kindred here at a disadvantage, Mr. Boggs,” Cingolai states levelly. “You know the name of the accused, but yours is yet unannounced.”
Cletus: “Cletus Lee Boggs,” the Cajun answers to the prosecutor’s query, but his blowtorch eyes remain fixed upon George’s. Unblinking, unflinching.
George: George is in the midst of attempting vainly to brush off his coat when he looks up to meet eyes with the Cajun staring at him. Distantly aware of the gore on his chest, he clearly doesn’t put his whole soul into the stare-off, and silently trails his eyes down to the floor in silence.
Cletus: Cletus spits as George caves. He half-snarls, “I’m da big mama-fuckin’ fella whose home y’all blue dicks crashed and den decided to throw a Kindred BBQ.”
He casually picks up the gator’s head and violently crushes its head, splattering both of them with its gore.
Caroline: The bizarre Kindred’s entrance is the only thing that jerks Caroline’s attention away from the prince, and he occupies her attention for only a few moments as he hauls in his grisly trophy. The words themselves are nearly lost as they’re traded by the two elder Kindred. The prince proves magnetic to her gaze, and it is only with purpose that she breaks away, in brief, now and again.
GM: Caroline’s sire watches like a silently judging god. Seemingly content to allow events to play out.
Cletus: Seeming satisfied, Cletus walks over to wherever the prosecutor motions him to stand or sit. He wipes off his hands once again, and then an almost beatific smile spreads across his face, like a cool breeze off the Potchartrain during summer’s inferno. He gives the proper salutations, verbal or otherwise, to the gathered elders.
GM: Cingolai does not smile, but her eyes look pleased upon hearing Cletus’ acrimonious words—and witnessing the results of his battle of wills. She motions for him to remain where he is. At the prosecutor’s tacit acceptance, laughter begins to sprout among the crowd of predators like out of control weeds. Suddenly, the sight of the rotting gator is funny. Laughter echoes and echoes throughout the cavernous church.
George: “I fail to see in what way you take issue with me then, Mr. Boggs,” George says plainly without lifting his eyes from the floor. “Your issue is with Mr. Slane Holland. He chose the place for the—barbecue, as you put it. Everything occurred under his supervision.”
GM: “Don’t you go blamin’ me for that clusterfuck, Smith,” growls a voice from the crowd.
The speaker is a tall man in his early middle years with black hair just starting to gray, a thick nose, and a full beard. His steely gray eyes stare unrelentingly into George’s. He’s dressed in an old-fashioned wool suit and vest without any necktie.
“You know what I was there for? Damage control. In case any funny business went on. Like the whole warehouse blowin’ sky high.”
George: “Nonetheless, you had control of the meeting place, Mr. Holland. It was your decision which placed it within Slidell.”
GM: “And yours to blow up half the goddamned town.”
Cletus: “You be done a good job controlling the damage, too, yun did,” Clete says with a harsh smile at Holland’s retort.
George: “Because you were failing to do your one job—as you—and the good Mr. Boggs just put it. With whom were you and your men too engaged to assist me against Mr. Matheson’s attempt on my unlife?”
GM: The elder Ventrue does not deign to reply to his younger clanmate. His eyes remain cool and his head proud and high.
Cletus: “And are you’s saying,” Clete further cuts in, “that Holland done supervised your Willy Pete fireworks?”
George: “He very well had the opportunity to search me before I went in, and elected not to,” George adds.
Cletus: Clete just laughs.
GM: “Let me spell things out for you Yanks and hicks nice and simple,” Holland snarls, rising to his feet.
George: “Does this explanation include why you and your men were having such trouble with Miss Adler that I had to detonate a grenade to preserve my Requiem?” George intercuts.
Cletus: Clete waves a shushing hand. “Na, let ‘em jabber. I’d like to hear ’em.” He tilts back his hat, exposing his raised brow to Holland.
George: George shrugs, with his soft grin at the sight of the snarling lictor being forced to explain why the whole thing—under his supervision, went to such shit.
“Yes, please, Mr. Holland. Do expound upon your failures to do your job.”
GM: Holland looks more than ready to continue, but Matheson’s cool eyes cut towards the prosecution.
“Objection, Prince Vidal,” Cingolai speaks up. “Mr. Smith makes accusations against his elder and impugns his character before Mr. Matheson’s trial has even begun. I request that appropriate disciplinary action be taken.”
George: “Excuse me, Prosecutrix Cingolai. I wasn’t aware that owls had character to impugn,” he says with a snide look back towards the crowd.
GM: Matheson’s cold blue eyes freeze on George.
“How dare you,” he whispers.
His voice is so quiet George almost does not hear it.
He says nothing further.
All of the room’s Ventrue are staring at George too, for this unprecedented public slandering of his elder’s dignitas. Cingolai. Holland. McGinn. Guilbeau. Malveaux. Hurst. Brown. Adler. Brodowski. Gui.
Their faces could be carved from stone.
There are no friends among them.
George’s advocate starts to speak. “Prince Vidal. My client-”
He looks upon the prince’s eyes, then loses his voice.
Then he looks away.
The prince’s gaze is black as night and terrible as a gathering storm. It scours through the younger Kindred like an unholy fire.
Cletus: Cletus shivers, surprised, and even a bit excited by that stab of fear.
GM: “Prosecutrix Cingolai,” rings his voice, “Your objection is sustained. This trial will proceed in an orderly fashion. Accusations against Mr. Matheson will be dealt with during his own trial.”
His black gaze slowly settles upon George.
“You will refrain from further slander against your elder’s character.”
“Your previous slander shall be dealt with in due course.”
George: George nods in simple, but firm understanding to the prince’s order.
GM: “Mr. Holland,” Vidal continues.
The storm loses some of its fury.
“You shall hold your tongue against Mr. Smith until you are permitted to cross-examine him. Mr. Smith and Mr. Boggs shall hold their tongues against you.”
Cletus: Cletus sucks on his gums and nods real slow-like.
George: George simply nods in assent—again.
GM: Holland nods squarely.
“This trial will continue,” the prince orders.
Cletus: Cletus gives a look to the prosecutrix, twirling a muscular finger as if to ask if George or he have the floor.
GM: The Ventrue flicks a hand towards Cletus.
George: George’s eyes finally settle back firmly onto Cletus’ face, though their eyes do not meet for a second time. To address whatever he has to say.
Cletus: Cletus drawls, “So, just likeyat, why donna ya tell me, for Mr. Holland, what his role was, far ya understood. At yer lil’ BBQ, that is.”
GM: “Damage control, you inbred hick! Do you need it broken up into fewer words?” calls a voice from the sea of pale faces. More than a few chortle at the remark. George and Caroline recognize the speaker as Roxanne Gerlette.
Cletus: “Sticks and stones,” Cletus poo-paws with a smile and a hand. “I’m tryin’ to ascertain George’s understandin’. His lips are shifty, after all.”
George: “Mr. Holland’s involvement was pervasive and total. As far as I knew, when I contacted him with my plan to convene myself, Mr. Matheson, and Primogen Hurst to discover the identity of an unknown Kindred who attacked me…”
George briefly summarizes the chain of events that led to the warehouse meeting in Slidell. He relays the details of Hurst’s roadside attack as they related to him personally, leaving out those exclusive to Clan Ventrue, such as the Gerousia’s meeting and clan-wide search for the traitor among their ranks. He casts Holland as acting as a neutral mediative party.
“…I left it to Mr. Holland to select a place for the meeting, and whether it should occur at all. Mr. Matheson and Primogen Hurst can attest to his presence, as they would have both had to pass by him to enter the warehouse. To my understanding, no aspect of the events that occurred in that warehouse in Slidell were outside Mr. Holland’s control, or opportunity to control. Including that it was in Slidell. Or that it occurred at all.”
GM: Holland’s eyes remain hard as rocks, and his jaw set like a shotgun ready to go off.
But the lictor does not disobey his strategos.
Cletus: Cletus turns back to the Ventrue. “So, in your sweet fine mind, did Mr. Holland approve of your Willy Pete party?”
George: “By failing to act at his one job—damage control, as he himself put it, yes. I only resorted to the use of the grenade when my Requiem became endangered by Mr. Matheson’s frenzy. I would not have done so if he had taken them from me. Or if he had elected to be inside the warehouse. Or had he and his men audibly engaged with some other party, likewise his responsibility to forsee and protect against. What precisely would you do if you had an enraged elder in front of you, and a grenade beneath his feet, Mr. Boggs? Allow him to kill you?”
Cletus: “I wouldn’t ‘ave smuggled in a white phosphorous grenade, particularly not in Slidell. But maybe I’m just an inbred hick, and I think real simple.”
George: “Call me paranoid if you will, but it turned out to be a necessary precaution to secure my Requiem.”
GM: “Objection, Prince Vidal,” Cingolai cuts in. “Mr. Smith is blatantly misconstruing facts. It is well-established that Mr. Holland and his subordinates were engaged with an unknown third party at the purported time of Mr. Matheson’s attack.”
George: “Pardon, Prosecutrix Cingolai, Prince Vidal, those gathered among us. If it was heard that I did not believe Mr. Holland to be otherwise engaged, I wholeheartedly lost track of my tongue. I believed I said ‘If he were not otherwise audibly engaged’. Due apologies if it came out or was interpreted as anything else. I would not have used the grenade if I believed Mr. Holland were in a position to assist me against Mr. Matheson.”
GM: Vidal’s black gaze settles on George.
“This court does not look favorably upon such slips of the tongue, Mr. Smith, and will consider them in rendering your judgment.”
George: “Of course, my prince. Dearly sorry again.”
Cletus: Cletus continues, “See, e’en an inbred hick like me knows dat Article 1 of Protocol III o’ da Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons be defining an incendiary weapon as ’any weapon or munition which is primarily designed ta set fire ta objects or ta cause burn injury ta persons through da action of flame, heat, or combination ’of, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on target.”
“An inbred hick like me knows that da same protocol prohibits the use of said stuff, Willy Pete included, mind, ‘gainst civilians, which is also a big no-no by dem Geneva Conventions or in civilian areas. And so, even an inbred hick like me knows dat Slidell is home to Textron, a multi-billion dollar company dat does what, o guess o darlin’, but build and sell military-grade weapons and explosives.”
“So, when ya lit yer white candle, ya done set off a damned firestorm wit all kinds of Yankee feds crawlin’ o’er ma domain, askin’ all kinds o’ questions dat threaten da very Masquerade. So, if I done had a chance to lit dat candle, I wouldn’t. But dat’s jus’ me, an inbred hick. Maybe all ya don’t care too much ‘bout keepin’ dat First Law or whatnot.” Cletus cracks his neck, and smiles. It’s not a comforting one.
George: In reply to Cletus, George can only offer a soft smile to the other Kindred. “I would like to apologize for inconveniencing you personally with the fire, Mr. Boggs. But I fail to see in what way my detonating a bomb in a building violates the First Tradition in any way.”
GM: Sounds of open disgust go up from the crowd at George’s words.
“Failure’s the only bit you got right there, Smith!” jeers a voice.
Cletus: Cletus gives him a dead-pan look, as if he’s looking for signs of life, or unlife in the skull across from him.
GM: Brown quickly, mutely jerks his head at George.
“So you are saying, Mr. Smith,” Cingolai continues evenly, “that you resorted to justified measures to preserve your Requiem?”
George: “I resorted to the only measures available to me, Prosecutrix Cingolai. That it occurred in a warehouse in Slidell is an unfortunate circumstance—once again, a decision made solely by Mr. Holland. It is said readily among the Damned that intent matters for nothing against action. I will freely admit to exploding that warehouse in Slidell, but I did choose white phosphorous for more reasons than its flame. It burns at a high enough intensity to reduce basically all evidence to ash. I am plainly not responsible for the actions taken by other Kindred after the explosion, their violations of the Masquerade are their own trouble to defend. I took what measures were available to me to preserve the First Tradition and my own Requiem.”
Cletus: “Did ya, now?” Clete asks scathingly. “When ya ran yella from the BBQ, what did ya do? Did ya check on ol’ Holland—cause ya said he didn’t be having no control o’ things.”
GM: Holland’s stare has grown no less hard.
“To preserve the First Tradition and your Requiem,” Cingolai continues. “I see. Then I gather, Mr. Smith, that you believed the greater risk of other Kindred violating the First Tradition was justified by the preservation of your own Requiem.”
Cletus: Cletus looks as if he has more to say, but pauses.
GM: “Prince Vidal,” the prosecutor asks, “will you please explain before this assembly whether a violation of the Traditions is mitigated by the personal inconvenience of a single Kindred?”
Low peals of mocking laughter go up Cingolai’s query. But the crowd’s eyes linger on George.
“The canons of the Sanguineous Catechism and the Traditions of the Camarilla are absolute, Prosecutrix Cingolai. To break the Silence of the Blood is blasphemy against the word of the Dark Prophet and a violation of the Six Traditions,” the prince sternly pronounces. “Blasphemy cannot be mitigated by intent or circumstance—only forgiven through confession and penance.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Cingolai turns to George. “Well, Mr. Smith, I hope that clarifies matters. The Camarilla’s laws—and the commandmanets of Longinus, within the Archdiocese of New Orleans—do not exist for your personal convenience. Your Requiem is less important than they are. The survival of all our kind, ensured through the Masquerade, is more important than any one Kindred.”
George: “I did not insinuate otherwise, Prosecutrix Cingolai. If I have violated the First Tradition, then obviously I will tender my Requiem to this court in whatever manner best resolves that violation. The protection of the Camarilla is paramount.”
Cletus: Cletus guffaws, “Oi, now ya so interested in being protection’ da Camarilla? But whatda ’bout back den, back in Slidell? Tell us whatda ya been done after ya threw den horseshoe.”
George: “Mr. Boggs. I maintain plainly that in no way did I, George Vernon Smith, reveal my true nature to those not of the Blood. That is the precise wording of the First Tradition, is it not?”
GM: “‘If’ you have violated the First Tradition? For a Kindred of your age, Mr. Smith, you appear to have a very narrow view of the actions necessary to maintain the Masquerade. Attracting significant attention from kine legal authorities, at the site of an otherwise private altercation among Kindred, is nearly as great an offense as openly demonstrating the Blood’s gifts.”
George: “You have just said yourself, Prosecutrix Cingolai. Intent and circumstance do not matter. The Tradition, as it is written, was upheld on my part.”
GM: Cingolai only shakes her head. “Mr. Smith. I should not find this necessary to explain to you, but unlike the kine, our race does not base its legal system upon the law as it is written. We take into account the purpose and spirit of our laws as much as their technical language. The purpose of the First Tradition is to conceal our existence from the kine. Mr. Boggs, do you believe that Mr. Smith’s actions in exploding a bag of phosphorous grenades within your domain were conductive to doing so?”
Cletus: Cletus bares his fangs in a fierce growl. “Ya have no fuckin’ clue how close ya came to ripping the Mask off, how ya endangered it. But I do—cause I been da one cleanin’ all ya messes.”
George: “Then you have done a fine job upholding the First Tradition in my stead, Mr. Boggs. If you would like to discuss a commensurate boon, I would be agreeable to such an arrangement. But as it is, you’ve merely concluded the argument.”
GM: “Concluded the argument? Mr. Boggs only found it necessary to go to such lengths to uphold the First Tradition because of your actions, Mr. Smith. Nor is a boon the normative sentence for violations of the First Tradition. Not in this archdiocese, nor any other Camarilla domain. Prince Vidal, would you be so kind as to explain the sentence in full?”
The prince utters but two words, his voice as heavy and relentless as an executioner’s axe:
Cletus: Cletus feel a rising bump in his throat—and his crotch.
George: “I understand the punishment at hand, Prosecutrix. But Mr. Boggs just admitted that he’s cleaned up the ‘mess,’ as it were. There’s nothing more to discuss on this matter. I did not violate the First Tradition in the explosion, and Mr. Boggs has done a fine job in making sure the fallout did not also violate it.”
Cletus: “Been da, not been did,” Cletus adds, “And ya jus’ found dat out, and be believin’ cause I done told ya. It took me tellin’ ya, not ya comin’ to me, or comin’ back to check on ya mess.”
George: George smiles easily. “Prosecutrix Cingolai, I’m sorry to belabor the point again. But you seem to be contradicting the prince’s words not moments ago. When it comes to the Traditions, does intent matter? Either it does, or it does not.”
GM: Cingolai smiles thinly. “The intentions of lawbreakers do not matter, Mr. Smith. The intentions behind the Traditions do. Mr. Boggs’ actions do not exonerate your own. If he had not intervened when and as he did, the damage to the Masquerade would have even graver—as, indeed, you admit by the possibility that ‘the fallout’ of your own actions would have ‘also’ violated the First Tradition. You would appear to assume that all parties are innocent of blame in this matter, when, in fact, a grievous violation of the Masquerade nearly occured. Our prince has both obligation and every desire to eliminate the chance of another such breach ever occuring.”
“Your testimony thus far suggests it is highly probable you will violate the First Tradition again if you should find it personally convenient. You do not appear to understand the consequences of your actions, and you have presented no solution by which to ensure the future preservation of the Masquerade. I offer one, Mr. Smith—your final death.”
Cletus: Cletus cools, a wan smile at the affair before him, so tantalizingly close—but not so close he’s on the menu.
Caroline: The banter, so buzzing compared to her sire’s intoxicating presence, throws a wet blanket over Caroline’s longing. The conversation is not so unlike some that she herself has had in recent weeks, in fact it bears an uncanny resemblance to several. Such resemblance that she can well see the outcome of Smith’s argument even early on.
Maybe he could argue that the fire could have been attributed to mundane efforts, if he had taken actions to control the fire investigation. Maybe he could claim some degree of shelter had he done anything but flee the scene and pretend it hadn’t happened. But this… she can see only one outcome, racing forward like an engine under a full head of steam, and just as unstoppable… and unforgiving.
GM: The crowd seems to share Caroline’s sentiments. A few faces grimace. Some look disdainful. Far more leer like Cletus in anticipation of what can only come next.
Brown abruptly rises from his seat. “My prince. My client is guilty.”
Incredulous murmurs go up from the crowd. Brown’s face does not waver as he continues,
“He is guilty of leveraging a boon from another Kindred in exchange for his silence—a Kindred who attempted to obtain their own boon from Mr. Smith by placing explosives within his bags, in an ill-considered attempt to ensure his survival in the event that negotiations with Mr. Matheson sufficiently deteriorated.”
Brown turns to his client. “It is no longer tenable for you to fulfill your promise, Mr. Smith. You must name this criminal.”
Cletus: Cletus cocks his head, as if someone just changed the channel on his rabbit-eared TV.
Caroline: Too little. At this point he’s only dragging others down.
GM: “An obvious farce, Mr. Brown,” Cingolai smiles thinly.
George: George offers a polite, but pleased smile to his counsel, before returning his attention to the court. “Yes, it’s true. I have been protecting someone…”
George sadly turns his head towards Hurst, and bows it softly.
“I’m afraid I cannot shoulder the burden of your actions any longer, Primogen Hurst. I wish I could keep my promise that your name would go down unsullied by all this, I certainly do not blame you for all that you tried to do to preserve your lineage’s honor, and my Requiem at that, but as I said in the warehouse. ‘By and by, we all pay our _dues.’_ I release you of your debt.”
George subtly inflects on certain words, to remind Hurst of certain things.
GM: The crowd roars with laughter as if they’ve been told some grand joke. Cingolai eyes George like a wolf about to tear out her prey’s throat.
The entire room’s amused gaze settles on Gabriel Hurst.
He stares back at George with deliberate, knowing eyes. He raises no objection. He offers no defense.
Hurst is silent.
The crowd’s laughter begins to die.
“Primogen Hurst, please answer the court—did you plant those explosives within Mr. Smith’s bag?” Cingolai demands. “Did you pledge him a boon in return for his silence?”
Gabriel Hurst only stares back in silence.
“Primogen Hurst, answer this court!”
Caroline: Caroline narrows her eyes at the sheer viciousness of it all, but it does little to move her. A card played too late, however powerful it may be, she decides.
GM: Hurst finally speaks, his eyes impossibly heavy.
“Mr. Smith is right.”
The crowd erupts.
“Slander,” Matheson hisses. “That viper would let the entire city burn for his actions if he believed it would preserve his own Requiem!”
“I did it, my sire. I planted the bombs,” Hurst stonily answers, but his words are soon scarcely audible.
The crowd’s roar is an almost palpable thing, washing over George as explosively as the fallout of his bob: “HURST! HURST! HURST! HURST!” Dozens of pale faces contort into malevolent sneers, jab their fingers, and scream pitiless vindications—it’s Hurst! HURST! HURST!
George: George, for his part, regards Hurst with a face which mirrors remorse almost perfectly. Almost.
GM: The elders’ faces are masks—mostly. Savoy looks as if someone just handed him a Christmas present. Maldonato’s could be carved from stone. Cingolai sharply calls out her own objections, as do a number of other voices—Holland’s own angry one included. But they are in a sharply decreasing minority against the chanting, screaming mob:
“HURST! HURST! HURST! HURST!”
Cletus: Cletus turns towards the ‘accused’, his gaze flicking once or twice up the brim of his hat at Vidal.
GM: The prince’s face remains the same chiseled marble statue that Cletus last glimpsed. Vidal’s stare meets Donovan’s, who issues several orders to the nearby ghouls. One of the black-suited men hands him a pump-action shotgun. Two others drag up something indistinct. The sheriff turns and promptly fires his weapon into the staked, limp body of Bliss Jackson.
The gunshot’s explosively loud roar finally silenced the animated crowd. They look towards the source of the noise, and the ghouls already beginning to clean up the mess.
George: George nods and wheels back around to face Vidal, the Cabildo, the prosecutrix, and Vidal. While the shell housing a monstrous desire for power forces another stupid grin onto the thing serving as its fate, what little remains of a consciousness remarks inwardly that Hurst is a poor tool to lose, but perhaps at no better a time. Centuries hence from this night, when all have forgotten it save George, he might favor a neonate of Artemis Orthia with the tale of Gabriel Hurst and John Harley Matheson. But for now, he remains firmly in the present. Grinning like a moron.
“There you have it.”