Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

======================================== NAVIGATION: CAMPAIGN SIDE ========================================
======================================== NAVIGATION: DASHBOARD SIDE ========================================

Caroline VII, Chapter XX

Bride Price

“There can be no power without sacrifices made, risks ventured, or obligations incurred.”
Abélia Devillers

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: “How did you find your audience with our guest, sweet child?” Abélia asks as she lifts Simmone into the crook of her arms. A few rocks and murmured words, and the child is out like a stone.

Caroline: “Enlightening, though perhaps not as he had intended.”

Caroline has retreated to a chair. The departure of Savoy took with it the unbearable pressure on her chest, but the relief is almost worse. The feeling that she’s done something wrong.

“This is all going to accelerate, isn’t it?”

GM: “The couch, please,” says her mother as she assumes one of its seats. She lays Simmone down to rest on her other side, then lays a hand upon Caroline’s shoulders.

“This Jyhad enters its endgame, my treasure. I fear for you and your sisters. I know they are safe. I know you are strong and clever. But a mother’s heart cannot do aught but worry for her children.”

Caroline: “You have cause to worry,” Caroline agrees.

“With the lines drawn there is little need to pull punches, to probe for opportunities. The blows will rain down now.”

GM: “You shall not be without time, sweet child. You may yet plant the seeds for many endeavors. But nor may those endeavors span centuries and generations. Their fruits must be harvested soon.”

Caroline: “If my sire has his way I will not be here to till those fields for some time,” Caroline observes. “And there are plenty that I expect will salt any earth over which I have passed in that time.”

“One in particular.”

GM: Her mother smiles serenely.

“What would you do, my treasure?”

Caroline: “As cunning and manipulative as Savoy is, he spoke truthfully when he spoke of sheriff. He must die. Now. Before he is left to spend months or years unchecked poisoning every well, dismantling everything I have built, ruining me in the eyes of the entire city before I start.”

GM: The raven-haired woman’s dark eyes shine proudly.

“Fight the first battle, win the first war.”

Caroline: “He’s not Savoy’s childe,” she states with certainty.

“Who is he?”

GM: “You are wrong, sweet child. On what evidence do you base this conclusion?”

Caroline: Caroline’s brow furrows. “The potency of the blood of each of his childer, for one.”

GM: “The strength of a Cainite’s vitae may vary considerably for many reasons.”

“The amaranth’s fruits and simple attunement with one’s Beast may also thicken the Blood prematurely.”

“And it is not in the sheriff’s nature to sire childer who shy from any path to power.”

Caroline: “It seemed to me that his presentation to the prince as childe of his rival the best way to earn his entry, rather than the truth of his origins… but you are certain?”

GM: “This is speculation, sweet child. And what you have cited previously is evidence, not proof. I am certain the legal distinction is not lost upon you.”

Caroline: “Evidence of his actions I have aplenty. Evidence of his origins I have less,” she admits.

GM: Her mother nods. “It is well that you distrust the purported origins of your fellow Cainites. Many of them are lies and fabrications. But it is one matter to suspect a lie, and another to believe a truth of one’s own telling.”

“Yet the sheriff’s origins matter but little if you now seek his destruction. Whether he has walked the night for many centuries or merely one, such a trial shall test you as no trial has before.”

“Nor may I undertake this trial upon your behalf.”

Caroline: “I would not ask you to fight my battles,” Caroline agrees. “What aid might you offer, however?”

GM: Caroline’s shadow begins to darken. And lengthen. So too does Simmone’s. And the furnishings’. The grandfather clocks’. All the assorted contents of the living room. Black and deep as if against a desert sun at high noon, but no light shines here. The room grows only darker.

“Make war upon the sheriff alone, my child, and you shall die.”

“You require strong hearts and skilled swords. You require allies.”

Darkness swallows the last of the room’s features. Caroline’s deathless sight does not pierce the gloom. Her mother’s voice buoys her like a raft in a storm-tossed sea.

“We may find allies.”

A figure strides out from the gloom, shadows dripping from his features like water from a swimmer. His clean-shaven face has a boyish, all-American sort of wholesomeness. His side part style for his short brown hair gives him a faintly retro look. He walks confidently with his head held high, bright blue eyes fixed on the better tomorrow just ahead. He’s several inches above the average height and naturally slim of build: the sort of body that’s made for baseball rather than football, but not without muscle bulk either. At first glance, one might be forgiven for thinking he was an upwardly mobile young businessman rather than a Brujah Anarch, clad as he is in his three-piece gray suit.

Caroline recognizes him from Coco’s side, when she delivered Amelie. Roderick Durant, the primogen’s childe.

“Soon, his heart shall be poisoned against the sheriff.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes light up in the dark. Coco’s childe would be a valuable ally.

GM: “The two shall come to blows. Troile’s scion will not triumph, but he shall survive this battle—and vow its continuance upon a more favorable field.”

“Approach him no sooner than March’s nineteenth night.”

Caroline: Come to blows? What would Coco’s childe possibly have to come to blows with Donovan over?

She doesn’t doubt her mother.

“I will do so.”

She has other allies in mind that will take some time to position.

GM: Shadows wash over Roderick’s face. Boyish features turn hard, suddenly, and arrogant. Contemptuous and cruel. Something dark grows in his eyes.

“Beware, my treasure. I sense another hand upon his shoulder. I sense rage beyond even his clan’s burning hot within his heart. His aid is not preordained. It must be earned with subtlety and care.”

Caroline: Rage. What might enrage the pampered elder’s childe?

A question for a future night.

Herself, perhaps the Lasombra if they arrive in time, her own ghouls, Roderick.

Not enough, she fears, if the sheriff is all she fears.

“Are there others?”

GM: Shadows consume the young Brujah.

They disgorge another man. He wears trouble. Trench coat, long and dark. Tie, slim and darker. Shirt, white with forgotten stains: blood, gumbo, guilt. Sensible shoes, the kind of shoes you wear to stalk devils. Felt hat, gray and banded, casting shadows. A man, obscured. He carries a silver thermos, like a bullet. It probably holds booze. A gator-skinned briefcase hangs from his other hand, or where it should be. In its place, a prosthetic hook gleams. Sharply. A stray shadow rustles the man’s coat, momentarily exposing a pair of well-oiled revolvers. They sleep in a single shoulder holster. Lightly.

Beneath his gumshoe armor, a once-muscular man lurks. His frame is held together by gristle and grit. His shoulders, slack with the weight of sleepless nights and cases gone cold. Swollen joints crack and groan, badges of hard-won gutter brawls and lonely stakeouts. Scarred knuckles, meat-slab hands. His skin, riddled with scars, rat out old injuries like bad alibis. A history of hurt. His face, grim. Unlovely. Unloving. Atavistic brow. Thick-slabbed nose, mangled from kissing too many fists, crowbars, and brick walls. Iron-brush hair. Jutting underbite. Lantern jaw. Limp cigarette dangling from pale lips. A countenance of low cunning and stubborn pursuit. His eyes, deep-sunk. Heavy-lidded. The hue of old bourbon, a watery brown that runs to black and drinks in everything they see. Lies. Lusts. The glint of truth in the flood of grime.

Caroline: The sight of the ancient detective stirs unpleasant feelings in her breast.

“He disappeared. Went into hiding.”

GM: “Do you doubt Maman that he may be of help, my treasure?”

“That which is lost may be found.”

Caroline: Fontaine.

Lou, who taught her so much of this existence. Who risked his own to save her from René, and again after Matheson.

Who told her the truth. Poison.

Part of her thrills at what his strength would add to this quest. What he could do.

Part of her fears what he’ll say if he sees her again. What he would think.

She swallows the fear. There’s no room for hesitation.

“Then there’s a chance.”

GM: Darkness swallows back the old man too.

“Your paths shall cross,” her mother pronounces.

Caroline: Then there’s a chance.

GM: “A chance, my dear,” her mother concurs. "These forces arrayed against Savoy’s childe alone shall face a difficult battle. "

“But Savoy’s childe is not without allies of his own, and he shall not wish to face you alone.”

Caroline: “We spoke of the use of lives, of souls, for temporary power.”

“Is that too blatant an interference?”

GM: “We did speak of such things, sweet child. Yet I fear my answers were displeasing to you. I answered that the souls of mere kine were insufficient to increase your puissance in the Blood.”

Caroline: “But not my puissance in the moment. For a night, for instance.”

She stands in the oppressive darkness. “I was not eager to direct their lives to such ends on a whim, but this is no whim.”

GM: There is a rueful chuckle from her mother.

“If the canaille’s lives could be snuffed out for even fleeting advantage, my dear, Caine’s children would rule barren cities indeed.”

“The canaille slake your thirst. They allow you to draw upon your Blood’s gifts. That is the power their lives grant.”

Caroline: “Then their essence,” Caroline concedes.

“I would leave no stone unturned against the sheriff.”

GM: The gloom recedes. Caroline’s shadow is a grotesquely misshapen thing that does not look like her own, or even remotely humanoid. But after a moment, it’s normal again. All of the shadows are returned to their proper place. All is well in the house.

Her mother alone casts none.

“I fear you are seeking to wring blood from this stone, my dear. There are arts by which to draw power from living souls. Yet they are obscure arts and there is but little time for you to master them.”

“Unless you seek to devour the souls of further Cainites before your battle with the sheriff, I believe your own puissance has come as far as it may—at least through my own paltry abilities.”

“Alliances, and strength beyond your own, must be the sword you wield against your foe. Now and in the future. Even your sire, bereft of his servants and allies and station, is little more than a dangerous beast to be put down.”

“Your aunt would lend her covenant’s assistance, I believe, in return for a sworn oath to accept her childe’s hand in marriage.”

“Lord Savoy already conspires with you against the sheriff. It would be no great leap for him to assist in his childe’s murder.”

“Are there are other Cainites whom you believe enmity towards the sheriff, affection towards you, or simple self-interest might induce them to assist your cause?”

Caroline: The answer is clearly not what she wishes, but she moves on from it.

“The Lasombra covey, perhaps now en route to the city, should they arrive in time. One has history with the sheriff and may be predisposed to strike him down even without the potential for his diablerie should we succeed.”

“Malveaux’s sire, should we have means to paint the sheriff as her childe’s killer.”

“No others I would meaningfully trust in this matter this night.”

Her gaze settles upon her mother. “You believe I should take my aunt’s offer.”

GM: “I believe that is a choice you must make for yourself, my dear. Do you believe Fortuna will smile upon you against the sheriff and those allies he may marshal?”

“I do not, however, believe that you presently have sufficient evidence to turn Malveaux’s sire against the sheriff.”

Caroline: “No, not by far,” Caroline admits.

She should take the offer.

She knows she should take the offer.

GM: “There can be no power without sacrifices made, risks ventured, or obligations incurred, my dear. Even your sire has made compromises and entered into alliances he found distasteful.”

Caroline: It’s an excess of modernity, she admits.

Being married off to unite two great powers feels like the product of another age, when high-status women were closer to prized breeding sows to be bartered off by their fathers.

That isn’t really what this is, she admits. It’s an offer brought to her. One that will bring in the Invictus on her side. That will promote and strengthen her position in the long run. It’s an alliance she needs.

“I suppose I always assumed it would be for love,” she admits. “I mean, certainly someone my father approved of, which limits the pool significantly. But the idea that it would be entirely political didn’t cross my mind.”

“I could do far worse,” she admits.

Like end up ashes in the wind. She brushes aside that thought with the honest one: Accou is loyal, respected, honorable, cunning, even affable. He’s a Kindred with a sterling reputation unblemished by treachery or connivance.

A better match by far than even the other most appealing, most powerful, alternatives. Better than Savoy, who she expects would begin plotting to put her in the ground the moment she agreed.

No, she chastises herself. It isn’t that she couldn’t do worse.

She cannot do better. There is no better match in all the city.

GM: “Love is a luxury of this modern age, sweet child,” smiles her mother. “In prior eras, marriage was entered into out of duty.”

“But fear not that duty may exclude pleasure. Accou is your elder by many nights, and of the Rose Clan as well. I do not believe him jealous of temperament or likely to begrudge you outside pleasures.”

“So long as you do not bring a Cainite of comparable puissance to his own into your marriage bed.”

Caroline: “Few enough of those,” Caroline concedes.

It’s not about sex, though—not Kindred nor kine. However enjoyable those activities, they’re a distraction she could pass over—especially since her Embrace.

It’s about self-determination. About creating her own path, through wits and will. About being the creator of her own destiny.

That too, though, is a modern construct.

No one succeeds alone. No one avoids compromise.

“Please communicate to Aunt Mur that I am interested in accepting her offer. That I will sell this union to the seneschal. And that my bride price is one of practical need: the sheriff must die.”

GM: Abélia’s dark eyes close, then re-open.

“Your aunt is amenable to this price.”

“She will receive you shortly at one of her havens to discuss the details.”

A smile softens her features.

“I am proud of you, my dear.”

Caroline: The words are like a salve on a burn, but rather than lean into them Caroline hardens her expression. Now is not the time for comfort. She’d rather the sting, the reminder, until this matter is done.

“Is there anything else I should know about the sheriff, Mother?”

GM: “Further swords at your side cannot do aught but help you. I worry that even those you have gathered may be insufficient if Fortuna withholds her favor.”

“Now is the time to pledge or invoke any boons within your power.”

“Now is the time to seek out any alliances that may bear fruit, no matter how sour their taste.”

Caroline: “My hands will not be idle,” Caroline assures her mother. “Though too, mindfulness of tipping my hand in this matter remains important.”

“I would speak more to his allies and capabilities. His childer, obviously. The other hounds. Are there other forces he might turn to this matter?”

“Beyond his speed, skill at arms, and wits, what must I fear?”

GM: “Once, the bishop. But you have removed that sword from his arsenal,” her mother smiles.

“And a fortuitous thing that you have. The bishop’s destruction was a great enough trial.”

“Beyond those Cainites you name, Elyse Benson now numbers among his closest allies, though she is no warrior.”

“Duke Elmhearst is his lickspittle, but one useful enough in his function.”

“Father Polk and Roxanne Gerlette once numbered among his most loyal supporters, but they too have been removed from the board.”

Caroline: “Fortunate, then, that his stable is so depleted.”

And all the more vital that they strike now.

GM: “Beyond those Sanctified Cainites who owe him direct vassalage, there are a number of further Cainites who pay him corvée for the privileges of feeding and domain rights in Riverbend. These too, he could call upon should the need arise.”

Caroline: “All the more important then that we strike with surprise, or elsewise give him cause to leave them behind.”

GM: “The Snake Hunters often coordinate with the Guard de Ville in their duties. One of their number has gone missing as well, but they would respond to the sheriff’s call should he have need of aid.”

“The same may be said for many other Sanctified loyal to the prince.”

“The bishop’s sire shall doubtlessly work hand in hand with him to uncover her childe’s killer.”

“Should the need arise, the sheriff could find ready friends among the Invictus and Clan Tremere. Their dealings over the years have been amicable. Your aunt could do much to stymie his support among the First Estate.”

“Among the warlocks, Jonathan North was the greatest threat after their primogen you would have had to personally fear. He served alongside the sheriff on the Guard de Ville. His absence from the city is another blessing.”

Caroline: “Among the Snake Hunters he arranged their leader’s death,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Evidence of this deed could make them your allies. None are strangers to battle.”

Caroline: She suspects such evidence might await in Claire’s safehouse, though perhaps Ferris was so wise as to maintain it.

“And himself?”

GM: “He is doubtlessly proficient in other gifts of Caine, but I know of naught else you must fear.”

“He and all of his allies, of course, may draw upon half-blooded thralls as well.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods.

“New matters to consider,” she agrees, still thinking on the Snake Hunters and whether Mr. Ferris can enlighten her as to other clandestine activities the sheriff was up to.

There’s something, a lingering uncertainty of something left unsaid that dwells in the back of her mind as they move on.

Or perhaps it’s just her nerves. It’s not every night you resolve to murder the sheriff.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline and Maldonato’s ghouls drive to an address in the Lower Garden District. Kâmil and Giselle do not ask who she is missing. Perhaps they know. The Turk states they will wait outside the door.

Pearl receives Caroline at one of her havens there. It’s an old Greek Revival mansion that looks designed by Henry Howard. It looks like it was once the epitome of Antebellum elegance, taste, and luxury. Now it’s a moldering, cobweb-shrouded and dilapidated husk of its former glories in a way that reminds Caroline of her sire’s abode within Perdido House. Pearl makes no apologies as to the state of her home and receives Caroline in the garb of a medieval courtly lady. Cloe attends silently nearby.

Caroline: Caroline leaves Ferris with the two elder ghouls as she enters. No doubt they’ll engage in titillating conversation.

The Ventrue makes no commentary about the state of the house, other than to mark in her mind that surely she can locate someone talented enough to restore the building to its appropriate and period-specific glory.

GM: The Toreador matriarch’s terms are simple: the First Estate will help Caroline to kill Donovan. Pearl is willing to enlist the services of local Unconquered, to bring in one or more “professionals” from out of town, or to hire an assassin of the Banu Haqim. Pearl will cover all costs associated with enlisting the services of any of these parties—fortunate for Caroline, as the Assamites’ services can run extremely costly (and the Unconquered have little cause to help at all).

Simple promises, however, are not sufficient for Pearl. Especially if Caroline cannot secure her sire’s blessing before she destroys the sheriff, which the Toreador primogen believes unlikely.

In return for the Invictus’ assistance in the battle, Caroline will swear one of the First Estate’s mystically binding oaths. Its own terms are simple:

She will wed Accou and they will jointly be crowned prince. If either their union or mutual ascension to power does not come to pass, Caroline will be cast into torpor for a century. She will miss the throne she stood to inherit.

Caroline: Caroline is willing to do so, with minor conditions of her own.

The wedding and coronation may take place following the prince’s slumber, if required. She believes within the next five years to be a promising time frame.

If Accou is unable to ascend to the throne with her due to his destruction or exile by a third party, she is not so bound.

She is willing to swear a second oath precluding any plots and plans against the Invictus elder on her part to alleviate the concerns undoubtedly raised by the aforementioned caveat.

So far as assistance, she requests further aid from the elder in two regards. She acknowledges that Pearl no doubt wants her own direct hands clear.

First, when the assassination is to take place, in helping provide an alibi for Caroline.

Second, if she is able to enlist the aid of Fontaine, she requests Pearl provide a sample of her vitae to the ancient ghoul.

She hopes the alibi will not be required, that evidence will come out exposing what she believes to be the treachery of the sheriff: between the potency of his blood, that of his childer, the account of René returning as Donovan’s servant, the works against the prince’s house from within, Donovan’s use of Claire’s hunters to assassinate loyal Kindred…. there’s too much smoke for there not to be fire.

But she would be foolish not to consider it—and Abélia’s concerns about the elder ghouls is well founded.

GM: Five years means little to an immortal of Pearl’s years. She is willing to extend the date for Caroline’s wedding and coronation, or not make the oath’s penalties contingent upon a specific date at all, but merely the event: either Caroline and Accou both become prince, or neither of them do.

“Bring the ghoul before me, childe, and he may receive the vitae from my wrist,” states Pearl. “I do not relinquish my blood for others to do with as they will.”

Caroline: Caroline is happy to abide that condition.

GM: Pearl is willing to assist in providing an alibi for Caroline. As the Ventrue has gathered, she will not personally involve herself in any incriminating activities. Beyond that, she will lend her covenant’s aid to keeping Caroline’s name in the clear.

Accou can hardly become co-prince if his bride is found guilty of the sheriff’s murder. Self-interest alone is enough motivation for Pearl to assist there.

Caroline: Caroline agrees that leaving the date open ended may be preferable, and is willing to ‘wed’ her fate to Accou’s so far as the throne.

GM: Pearl initially looks far less amenable at Caroline’s term regarding the matter of Accou’s relocation (she is indignant her childe would ever be exiled) or final death, and states that it would “serve Caroline well” to be heavily invested in preventing those very things.

The Ventrue, however, is no stranger to contract law, and upon listening to her golden tongue, Pearl is willing to relent on that specific prerequisite. She is willing to accept one of two alternatives:

First, Caroline may swear an Oath of Blood Loyalty to Pearl Chastain that will only trigger (and last for the duration) of Accou’s banishment, torpor, or final death. As an added bonus, she will allow Caroline to draw on some degree of its power now… and provide her with a further edge during the battle against Donovan.

Secondly, Pearl is willing to accept a narrower version of her prior condition. Caroline will only be cast into torpor if Accou is destroyed or banished at the hands of a Ventrue, member of the Lancea et Sanctum, or anyone who carries Caroline’s vitae in their system.

Caroline: Caroline is swift in agreeing that even without any form of enforcement Accou’s welfare is in her interests. She is wary of the coming conflict, but has no intention of betraying her aunt or Accou.

She is surprised by the generosity of Pearl’s first alternative, and once she has heard the second has no reservations about the first. “Any action taken against him would harm me as well—but I’d as soon it not provide that shared foe the opportunity remove us both with a single stroke.”

GM: “Then so be it. Which gift of Caine do you desire for your use, childe?”

Cloe procures several sheets of parchment and a savage-looking quill with no inkwell. The child-faced ghoul calmly stabs it into Caroline’s palm and proceeds to write the terms of the agreement in the Ventrue’s own blood. Pearl states that the contract’s signature rather than existence is mystically binding—the subsequent loss or destruction of the contract will not render its terms void.

If Caroline wishes a copy for her own records, the ghoul will manually hand-write a second one, also in the Ventrue’s own blood.

Caroline: Caroline trusts that her aunt will retain her own copy, and more to point trusts her memory of the exact terms and conditions. She declines the copy as she stoically watches the child ghoul spill her blood.

She respectfully inquires as to breadth and depth of Pearl’s gifts.

GM: “I do not volunteer such information to any Kindred, childe,” the primogen reproaches in a severe tone. “I am skilled in many of Caine’s gifts. You may name those whose use you desire most.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the chastisement with grace, acknowledging the lack of decorum in the question and noting she wished only to avoid squandering her aunt’s generosity.

Her first inclination is something that would further her own virulence in the conflict: blood’s might most significantly given her own aptitude in bolting—unless her aunt’s bolting significantly outstrips Caroline’s own.

Barring physical disciplines, her first choice is soul scrying.

GM: Pearl states she will grant her niece the gift of sight beyond sight.

As to one of the most crucial remaining matters, does Caroline desire the assistance of local Unconquered, extralocal Unconquered, or the Banu Haqim against the sheriff?

Caroline: Caroline proposes that the Banu Haqim is likely the most ideal option: if things go especially poorly it will tie Pearl and the Invictus least firmly to the attack.

GM: “Very well,” states Pearl. “An assassin’s services shall be enlisted.”

“The Banu Haqim only ever take out one contract upon their targets. If the sheriff should survive the attempt upon his unlife, there will not be a second one.”

“The assassin will be of comparable age and closeness to Caine as the target.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “He will strike alone, or with the thrust we intend?”

GM: “He or she may be contracted for either service.”

Caroline: “I would propose the latter. I believe the sheriff’s abilities to be significantly greater than commonly believed, and would weigh the blow against him with all the might I can muster.”

GM: “Very well. I shall inform the Banu Haqim that their target is a century blooded and eight steps removed from Caine.”

She glances at the blood-written contract.

“Swear to never again partake in foul amaranth, and I shall enlist the services of a more puissant Cainite.”

Caroline: “I swore in our first meeting those activities would end,” Caroline begins.

“And I stand by that. It is no wish of mine to be a slave to such desires, nor is my ambition without end. That magnitude of the crime is not lost upon me.”

“I will not offer the disrespect of repetition of my motives, but nor too would I make such an oath around my mother and her own wishes.”

“But I will offer this oath freely, regardless of the might of the assassin brought to bear. No more than once further, and never again after my marriage to your childe, whichever should come first.”

“And I would that I be held to that, for I would be no slavering beast, feasting upon kin and kind.”

GM: Revulsion twists Pearl’s face at the words ‘once further.’

“‘Once further’ is rarely a refrain said but once, childe. Far more often, it is one repeated many times.”

“And even but once more is one too many times. Under no circumstance shall I permit further amaranth to stain my childe’s marriage bed. You are well to accept that provision as part of your oath.”

“My offer remains. Pledge also that your last indulgence was your last ever, and I shall contract the Hand of Vengeance herself.”

Caroline: Carole offers a small bow to her elder. “I must decline.”

She pauses before continuing, “But beyond this contract, I welcome you, Aunt Mur, to gaze into my heart and mind on this matter. I would that there be no doubt as to my sincerity in both my intentions, and my genuine desire to be held to them.”

“You have insight and certitude into my actions that few Cainites ever enjoy, and can be certain as few others might ever not only now, in my intent, but in the future as to my follow through.”

“I seek not approval—no Cainite of standing might ever offer that—nor concession of any kind. Instead only to offer reassurance.”

GM: The Toreador primogen falls utterly silent for several long moments.

Disgust is naked and plain on her features.

Once may be a folly of youth. Twice is a degeneracy of the soul. I need no skill in anima visus to know this.”

“Do you remember my words, childe? I value propriety. I remember when this city was a beacon for sophistication and civilization. I remember the Grand Dames de la Nuit. I remember remember when this city was praised as a jewel in the Camarilla’s crown. I remember a land of cavaliers and sugarcane. I remember a patrician world where the Age of Chivalry took its last bow.”

“I will not bow.”

“I will raise no hand against the daughter of my sister, whatever her degeneracies. But neither shall I stain my own house with them.”

“I will not wed my childe to a cannibal. I will not wed my bloodline to all that is base and despicable. Were I willing to bow, the usurper in the Vieux Carré would name me his ally, and not this city’s rightful prince.”

“If there is another foe whose vitae you lust for, and whose demise would profit your fortunes, that bride price is acceptable to me. I will contract the Banu Haqim to slay the sheriff and your second foe with two puissance-matched assassins, as an alternative to contracting the Hand of Vengeance for one target alone. That is the final concession I shall offer.”

“You may have the amaranth. You may have my childe’s hand in marriage and all that comes with it. You may not have both.”

Caroline: The silence when Pearl has said her piece is deafening.

It does not take long for Caroline’s razor-sharp mind to reach a conclusion.

It was one thing to wed herself to a third party without her sire’s consent. It was another to tie herself to said wedding indelibly. It is quite another entirely to stunt herself here, now.

She can see the future, though, in which she keeps this oath. There can be no parity between the Sanctified and the Invictus as she is now. As weak as she is. As vulnerable as she is.

With the torpor of her sire and looming departure of the seneschal—made all the more likely by the stability the union might impose on the city—she and the Sanctified both will be nothing but a second fiddle to the Invictus. Accou will be prince in all but name, and she will be not even so much as the figurehead she fears with the seneschal.

And in a hundred years, assuming she survives, those gaps will not close. Her husband will always be in position to dominate the union, to isolate her, to stifle any attempt to grow. And even should he prove completely honorable, the rest of the Invictus’ powers will not. Nor is her dominance among the Sanctified certain, or even probable. How many older, more potent licks might claim that mantle?

She will be a princess of spun glass. And she will not be a princess of spun glass.

It’s buying victory now with the long slow starvation and withering on the vine that will follow.

And that’s before the bubbling fury of yet another Kindred who seeks to control her. To chain her. She’d believed it different with Pearl. With family. Foolish. Foolish, girl.

She closes her hand before the child-like elder ghoul’s quill.

“As Primogen Chastain, my eternal respect and admiration is yours.”

“As Aunt Mur, my eternal love and gratitude is yours.”

“But I cannot be a prince made of porcelain, kept by your childe like a princess of the kine.”

“I would that there was another path I might take, but a will and a wish is not a way.”

“Your childe will always have my support, and you will have, if you ever need it, my blade. But I cannot give you my word.”

“And I will not give you a lie.”

Is this the right path?

There is no certainty. To cast aside the power of an entire covenant for the want of power, for the pursuit of a crime that damns her even among the Damned, that stains her very soul, may be the height of foolishness.

It may end with her destruction under the sheriff’s blade, or the seneschal’s, or even her sire’s.

But it will be her path.

You knew, that this would be her price.

GM: Caroline well remembers her grandmother as a decrepit, wheelchair-bound shell of the woman she used to be.

Once, she was a force among the family. Once, she was so much more than she now is. But with every passing year, she became more and more spent. One of the last times she was in Baton Rouge, Caroline heard some of the help joking about how she would chase them around with a broom. No one took it too seriously. They joked about it when she was in the room, thinking she was too addled to understand.

She wasn’t.

Camille had wrenched a poker from the fireplace and taken it to the mouthy girl’s head. Caroline knew how head wounds bleed like crazy, but it was still something to see, her red-faced grandmother standing over the prone domestic worker and spitting and frothing and thundering that she would not be made light of. That she was a Malveaux.

She didn’t have the physical capacity to actually beat the girl to death. It wasn’t even a struggle to pry the poker from the already fatigued woman’s grasp.

But all of the help all remembered after that, for a while. Not to make light of the house’s mistress. They could look into her eyes and they would see the ember of rage.

The same ember now burning in Pearl’s.

Caroline falls screaming to the floor as flames lick at her mind, boiling away the blood in her veins. The Toreador’s presence seems to swell immensely, until she is a giant standing within her darkened and decrepit home. Words thunder down as heavy and remorseless as a judgment from on high:

“And Caine will call aloud the names of those to be destroyed,
for their crimes are too great,
and all those who have consumed the heart’s blood of their sire
will be brought before the Black Throne
and made to drink of Caine’s blood
and Caine’s blood will eat their blood.”

Then just as swiftly, the effect is gone. Pearl lies brooding in her chair, smaller and feebler than ever. The Toreador matriarch’s gaze is vacant, her features waxy and sunken, her hair limp and withered, her garb lined with dust and cobwebs. She resembles a skeleton with flesh piled atop it, left to brood and wither in the tomb of her past glories.

Five hissed final words escape her lips:

“Get out of my sight.”


False_Epiphany False_Epiphany