“You can always count on the dead to dish out more hurt.”
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Caroline: Just as suddenly, the light is gone. Caroline feels so desperately alone, and hungry, and hurt, and exhausted.
It feels like a lifetime ago that she fled Claire’s safehouse, her body pushed to the absolute limits of what it could endure. It feels like a lifetime ago that Donovan’s bullet splattered the casquette girl’s brains across her face. It feels like a lifetime ago they dueled the Guard in the gym, that she stood with only a ghoul beside her as the sheriff tried to devour her soul. A lifetime ago that they’d fled the gym into the nightmare that is the flame-, blood-, and trap-filled school. A lifetime ago that they pinned Donovan to the ground, that they finally turned the tide.
How many centuries has she lived tonight?
When did she fall to her knees?
It doesn’t matter. Her gaze sweeps the room.
GM: Caroline could not behold a scene scene of greater devastation.
There’s almost nothing left of the auditorium and its contents. The rows of seats are little more than slag and ash. The stage is demolished. Rents gape along the floor. The roof is caving in. The walls are collapsed.
Lou remains kneeling and bowed in prayer, hands clasped around the humble object, the relic, that delivered them. Caroline cannot see his face. What must it even look like? What can he even be thinking, this old man and weary and ready to die man who has had his prayers fulfilled, who has felt God’s(?) touch in his hour of most urgent need?
What’s left of the sheriff lies before him.
Westphal looks terrified. Absolutely terrified, like nothing has made him. His eyes are enormous and rimmed with blood. His head is curled against the lap of Roger Ferris like a frightened little boy.
Ferris is dead. That bullet hole in his neck from Camilla could only have been fatal. No heart beats from his chest. His mouth hangs faintly open, revealing two pointed fangs. The look on his face is… bewildered. Doubtful.
Mahmoud looks half-confused, half-panicking. And poisoned. Like she’s swallowed something indigestible, that’s burning her up from the inside. She looks furious, though whether at it or herself, Caroline cannot say.
Kâmil, too, is kneeling, his head bowed and his hands clasped. His deep voice mouths words of prayer in his native tongue.
The cloud of gathered wraiths looks… many things. But above all, yearning. Hope alights in their translucent eyes. Longing. Weariness. Many of them look as if they want nothing more than to pass into that now-vanished light. To simply rest.
All but for their leader.
Severed, infant-sized fists desperately pull at his ashen-hued locks. Blood and pus weeps from his furiously popping boils. For his face is furious. There is no peace writ upon it. Perhaps, for a moment, there was grim satisfaction. Or maybe it wasn’t anything, just gaping emptiness. But there is no awe. No humility. There is scorn. There is contempt. There is rage.
And there is undying, eternally burning, forever unsatisfied, hate.
Cat-quick, the old wraith suddenly blurs behind Mahmoud and drives his sword into her back.
“Epi kounyeya nou pral fini travay la, parazit!” he roars.
Caroline: Caroline is tired. She’s starving. She’s hurt. Not just physically, not just mentally, but spiritually. The brush with the divine aches in a way her vampiric regeneration does nothing for.
She wants nothing more than to lay down where she is and rest.
But there’s no rest for the wicked.
Westphal knew it before any of them. But Caroline knew it the moment she looked into the wraith’s hate-filled eye, even before he ran through the Lasombra.
A man, a ghoul, and even a Kindred might take their victory tonight and be satisfied with it. The death of the sheriff is a rare victory for the vampire-hating spirits. But Lou said it best earlier: “You can always count on the dead to dish out more hurt.” Even now, at the moment of triumph. All they have left is hate, not even the promise of redemption on Judgement Day that all Kindred enjoy.
Maybe that’s why it hates them so much.
GM: The violent act shatters the spell over the group.
The remaining wraiths howl their wrath and descend upon the vampires. There are many of them. Were there this many, in that last battle against the sheriff and his childe? Lou springs to his feet, seizes his sword, and then he’s gone in a barely visible blur.
Westphal does not stick around for this battle, either. The look on his face says it all: Yeah, I didn’t sign up for this fight. Or maybe it’s more, Fuck everyone else, I’m saving my hide. Sped by Caroline’s vitae, the Lasombra turns and runs, flashing across the auditorium.
Across the now-leveled rows of seats, Caroline makes out the bloodied and battle-scarred features of Camilla Doriocourt. The hound floats into the air, and then she’s gone in a blur.
Caroline: Many things happen at once.
Caroline drops Lou’s smoking, probably ruined shotgun.
She swaps her blade to her left hand as she leaps into the teeth of death again. Into the old wraith.
She lets loose a war cry, catching his attention.
And she opens no less than three mental dialogues.
:: Fleeing alone into this maze will get all of us killed faster than the wraiths will achieve. Flee south in the path of Doriocourt.:: This she sends to everyone.
:: Roger, Wright’s shotgun was full of rock salt, please use it to keep the crowd back as we withdraw. Be judicious—I only counted six remaining rounds on his bandolier. ::
:: Raaid, I have no right to ask this of you, but that monster’s childe is fleeing to the south. She is badly mauled. She will no doubt set off every trap along the way. If you prevent her escape on our way out, I will be in your debt. ::
And then she’s there, blade in hand against the ancient wraith. Fighting another foe she knows she can’t defeat in a losing, withdrawing action. The individual spirits are a horde, dangerous, and potentially lethal. But the old monster, she knows, is something more. More, too, she knows none of the others have a hope against him. Not on their best day, and certainly not today. Not Ferris, minutes into the Blood. Not Kâmil, who can have so little left after recovering from his wounds. Not Mahmoud, who is already so badly injured.
No, she’s the only one left that might stall him as the others flee.
But their flight must be deliberate. It must be together.
GM: The one-eyed wraith doesn’t even try to block or dodge Caroline’s sword. The blade passes harmlessly through his translucent body like it’s made of air. Just like her fist did against Emmett. How did Donovan fight him?
The wraith twists the spectral blade embedded in Mahmoud’s gut. Spectral tongues of sickly green fire dance across it, blackening the Lasombra’s flesh to a crisp. She slumps to the ground, torpored before she can even scream.
Kâmil doesn’t try to fight the ghosts. Seeing Caroline’s intention, he leaps into the fray, grabs Mahmoud, and slings her over his back. The other wraiths can’t physically stop him, not with their incorporeal hands. But a hail of debris flies after the elder ghoul as he takes off, relentlessly pummeling him.
The horde of wraiths descends. Upon Caroline. Upon Ferris. Upon Kâmil. Smoke-like ephemera pours into mouths and nostrils. One spirit pours into Caroline, and her vision swims for a moment. Then the unfortunate wraith is spat out just like Turner was, writhing on the ground as his blacked and rotting flesh melts like so much wax.
Another wraith descends upon Ferris. The newly-dead man, perhaps still riding the indescribable high of his Embrace, is not subverted so easily. A thin wave of shadow lashes from his hand at the ghost pouring into Kâmil’s mouth.
:: Ma’am, finding that shotgun wherever it fell is finding a needle in a haystack! We need to get out, NOW! ::
There is no immediate response from Raaid.
But the Lasombra fledgling’s attack is enough. Kâmil shakes his head and vomits out the ectoplasmic cloud. The elder ghoul waits a split second for Caroline to join him, then takes off in a blur.
Ferris runs after him.
The one-eyed wraith’s hollow laughter rings after them as he calls in French,
“Courez, parasites! Courez, sangsues! Courez, voleurs de vies! Vous n’échapperez pas si facilement…”
(“Run, parasites! Run, leeches! Run, stealers of lives! You shall not escape so easily…”)
The three flee through the building and its maze of traps and passages, the wraiths like baying hounds at their heels. The three catch up with Westphal in short enough order. Doubtless, he’d make no apologies for abandoning Mahmoud even if he was willing to spare the breath he doesn’t actually need.
Of Doriocourt, Caroline encounters no sign.
The Ventrue moves like lightning. The others can barely keep up with her. She blurs to and fro through the building, helping the stragglers, zapping ahead of them to check if the way is clear.
Something is wrong. No matter how far Caroline runs, she can find no way out of the building. The doors don’t seem to be where she remembers them. Corridors stretch on forever. An infinitude of crossroads offers a morass of hopelessly confusing exits out of the school. Was the building always this large?
Caroline: :: There’s sorcery at work, hobbling the way out, :: she sends to the others.
GM: :: This feels wrong, :: echoes Ferris.
:: I remember the building’s layout, :: concurs Westphal. :: We should have reached an exit by now. ::
:: I believe you are correct, bayan. Supernatural interference is a probable explanation for our inability to leave, :: transmits Kâmil.
Caroline and Kâmil both ably outrun the horde of descending ghosts, the latter with Mahmoud slung over his back. Westphal and Ferris, however, soon fall behind.
Caroline might be able to grab one of them, if she’s willing to leave the other.
Caroline: She isn’t.
Instead, the Ventrue is willing, though not happy, to hang back, doing everything in her power clear obstacles for her slower allies while creating whatever impediments she can to the wraiths—mostly herself. The revelation twice over that those attempting to possess her are so badly harmed is something she uses to her ruthless advantage.
Her own perception, even aided by power stolen from others among the damned, is clearly insufficient to penetrating the eldritch maze that the school has become, but the putrefied ghosts that attempted to steal her body spark an idea.
She doesn’t need to navigate the actual maze.
No, she has a string that leads to something outside of it.
She grasps at the tie holding her to her sisters and mother, all conveniently in one place. All together, every strand pulling in the same direction.
She can’t lead from the front, but she can direct the others thanks to her blood in their veins.
:: Left up here. ::
:: Bear right. ::
GM: Unwilling to so abandon her slower allies, who cannot outrun the wraiths, it’s in the school cafeteria that the ragged band of survivors makes their final stand. Ghosts pour from the walls, howling their wrath. Clouds of ectoplasm pour into everyone’s mouths—everyone but Caroline’s. The wraiths have apparently learned from their mistakes, for they do not attempt to possess her again. Instead, they fling objects and sundry at her. Pots. Pans. Bricks. Tables. Utensils. A storm of debris relentless batters the vampires who do not succumb to possession. Westphal finds himself the only one who can effectively fight back through his shadows. The wraiths make him their primary target, for his childe’s are so much weaker. The one-eyed wraith dissolves into smoke and pours towards the boy Lasombra’s mouth.
It’s as the battle rages that a voice intrudes within Caroline’s thoughts.
Calm. Somber. Stern.
:: What is your approximate location, Miss Malveaux-Devillers? ::
Caroline: :: Mt. Carmel High School. The cafeteria. Corner of N Galvez and Annette St. ::
She tries to keep the panic out of her voice as she slices flying objects out of the air and blurs through the clouds of ectoplasm that assail her allies, hoping to harm the ghosts with the contact.
:: The sheriff is dead and the hounds scattered. We’re losing to a sea of wraiths. Quickly. ::
GM: Caroline’s hope is swiftly dashed. Attempts at possession may have grievously harmed the wraiths, but mere physical contact with her does them no apparent injury.
:: Abel’s children may be harmed with salt. If you lack this, abjurative prayers, recited to the Almighty with great faith and conviction, may serve to hold them at bay. ::
:: I have arrived at Mt. Carmel High School with a relief force. The conclusion to your battle draws nigh. ::
Caroline: That much is no news. Sadly, they lack both.
Perhaps if Doriocourt had remained they might rally around her faith.
Perhaps even Agnello.
But she knows Roger’s faith lies in himself, and Westphal’s even more so.
And her own? She might believe in God. But she knows, knows, after the appearance of the divine here tonight, that He has no faith in her.
And salt? Surely Lou removed it, didn’t he?
Except hadn’t the old wraith reported exactly the opposite? That as they fought the hounds through his very room, the attackers had found salt to use against them?
She certainly hadn’t seen any in their hands during the fight in the gym…
Not scattered across the floor. Not in the open. But in the kitchens? How salty and disgusting is public school food? She doesn’t actually know, but she’s heard plenty.
“Kitchens!” she yells, blazing in through double doors like a lightning bolt, tearing open every cabinet and container looking for that most essential of spices since the dawn of civilization.
GM: Caroline’s search proves fruitless, but her preternatural speed at least allows her to make that assessment quickly. Wherever Wright got his rocksalt shells, it doesn’t look like the kitchen.
Ferris and Kâmil manage, at least for now, to withstand the lesser wraiths attempting to seize control of their bodies. Perhaps Ferris’ sire might too. But not against their leader. The arrogance on the boy Lasombra’s face gives way to seething hatred, and then the survivors are fighting him too.
Not for long, though, before Caroline’s stake pierces his heart.
The one-eyed wraith pours out of Westphal’s mouth and towards Ferris. Lightning-fast, a second stake pierces the fledgling’s heart next.
Caroline can’t well fight the wraiths, but she can damn well deny them her allies’ bodies.
A shuddering boom reverberates through the building, as if it’s been struck by an immense battering ram.
Caroline: “Run!” she orders Kâmil, standing alone before the sea of wraiths from a position atop the staked corpses of the last of her allies.
Her blade—the one she stole from the mimic seemingly a lifetime ago—is a blur, slicing objects of every conceivable shape from the air as they’re hurled at her. Its edge is nicked and chipped—swords are not meant to split bricks or smash pots and pans out of the air—but no less swift for it.
Not that it matters. The worthlessness of all her martial skill is on full display against the ghosts. She could be the greatest swordmaster in the city—she’s not, though deaths and final deaths this evening have almost certainly elevated her several spots on that list—and it wouldn’t matter a bit.
GM: Perhaps her skills are irrelevant against the ghosts.
But not their stolen bodies.
Kâmil starts to shout something, as he grabs her in his flight. That it contravenes his domitor’s orders to abandon her—and then the one-eyed wraith pours into his mouth as the storm of rubble and steel continues unabated. The thought of the deathless swordmaster in so formidable a host should terrify anyone. Caroline’s reflexes, though, prove faster still, and perhaps Kâmil yet fights against his possessor. Two lightning-fast cuts to his legs, and the suddenly hamstrung ghoul lies bleeding on the floor. Caroline blurs away. Wrath bubbles on Kâmil’s face, and then the one-eyed wraith pours out from his third victim’s mouth.
Then it’s just him, and all his remaining ghostly followers, against the last standing Kindred.
A second boom reverberates through the building, this one even deeper and stronger than the first.
Caroline: She should run.
She might be able to get away.
Faster than all the spirits—knowledgeable enough on her own, and with her mother’s thread to guide her out, or the seneschal to achieve her relief.
But that isn’t who she is.
It’s never been who she is.
She’s loyal—to a fault. To an abusive family, an abusive father, and an abusive sire. How much pain would it have saved going over to Savoy? She could have met the sheriff with his faction behind her, instead of her own covenant stabbing her in the back. No, instead she came crawling, across a bed of broken glass, to her sire.
And that same loyalty is here. Pragmatic Ferris, pessimistic Mahmoud, even cowardly Westphal, all came here to fight with her. To fight beside her. Perhaps for their own reasons, but beside her all the same. She won’t leave them to their final deaths if she still has strength to prevent it.
Not when she’s built something with them. The beginnings of something. She’d begun laying plans the moment they agreed to journey to New Orleans, for what it might look like after. How they could fit into her vision for the prince’s bloc when the sheriff was destroyed. She was ripping out a cornerstone of the kingdom, she always knew that, but she had plans to build something in its place.
She won’t throw that away. Won’t watch it all collapse.
Too, she wants their respect. Wants them to know that whatever their failings, whatever their weakness, she was better. She fought for them even when everything told her to run. Even when they tried to abandon her. As they stare up with glassy, frozen eyes, they can see that she never broke faith. That she was worthy of their own.
And too she hates the idea of running, of admitting defeat. Not to a dead man, a memory of a miserable old shade with nothing but hatred. She hates it like she hated the idea of running from Donovan.
GM: So she doesn’t.
Caroline knows well how useless her sword is against incorporeal flesh. She doesn’t try to duel the scarred and hate-fueled wraith. It doesn’t matter which of them is better, against that fact. She just has to stay ahead of him.
The one-eyed wraith made a mistake, when he and his followers struck down Mahmoud and had the advantage of his surprise.
He didn’t try to strike Caroline down first.
It’s his loss now. She weaves a dance of steel with her sword, deflecting hurtled objects like a spinning fan would chew through paper. She races to and fro across the room in a blur of pale flesh, too fast to see, too fast to touch. She runs up walls and cartwheels across cafeteria tables. She moves like the wind. The one-eyed wraith curses her in French. He curses her as a coward, a parasite, an abomination and plague upon the city. But none of the ghosts can pin down the lightning-fast Ventrue. For all their insubstantial state, they simply cannot keep up.
A third boom rocks through the high school. The building’s halls and corridors seem to warp and fold in on themselves, like a vast pretzel being twisted, before suddenly unraveling. A fog of confusion lifts from Caroline’s mind that she had not realized was there. She remembers the way out. It seems so obvious, now.
The one-eyed wraith scowls, only for a sly look to enter his remaining eye as he raises his sword high above Kâmil and prepares to bring it down—just as the cafeteria doors burst open.
Caroline recognizes Gabriel Hurst, Charlie Harrison, Becky Lynne, the two nameless Kindred her diablerie-honed memory recalls from Rocco’s long ago party, two male vampires (one black, one white) she doesn’t recognize, Gus Elgin, and perhaps twice as many ghouls. The Hussar is there too, sword drawn. His gaze instantly fixes upon the one-eyed wraith, and the one-eyed wraith’s upon him, heedless of the gathered Kindred.
Then the wraith espies Philip Maldonato’s stern visage.
At once, he and his followers wink out like snuffed candles—the night’s third battle seemingly over before it can begin.
Caroline: Sixth battle, by Caroline’s count, if one gives credit to her stepmother’s trap. Though she doubts any histories will record that, nor the flight through the city’s streets, nor the initial battle within the gym.
She lowers her battered, ruined sword as the ghouls approach. Her gaze seeks out the seneschal’s.
Her blonde hair is no longer blonde. What’s left of it is stained as red as her pale skin from countless injuries given and received this night. At some point the tie that held it back in a ponytail was lost, and it hangs in stained wet clumps around her face.
The white arming coat is in tatters. The front is sliced to pieces and the back is literal rags pierced by countless pieces of shrapnel. Her pants and boots aren’t much better—her feet squish as she moves, blood having long ago run down her legs to fill her boots. There’s a single stake hanging from her belt, alongside three empty sheaths.
As hellish as she looks, one could be forgiven if on a casual examination she looks mostly hale. One less familiar with the Damned, at least. The wholeness of her body has come at a terrible cost in blood. The monster dancing behind her eyes looks terrifyingly alive, on the verge of escape at any moment. Her always pale skin—what little isn’t stained red or black with soot and blood—is almost porcelain-like.
She shakes her head as the ghouls get close, fangs standing out oh so clearly.
“Don’t… get close.”
It’s impossible to tell, even for her, if she’s shaking with relief or barely contained need.
GM: Many pairs of eyes fix upon Caroline. Others look towards the seneschal, who stares silently ahead as though seeing beyond the room and its confines. A few voices start to talk.
Then, as the last figure strides through the shattered doors, all fall silent.
He is tall, dark, and terrible in his purpose, the fury of heaven matched with the fire of hell. 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—
And now they rest upon his childe.
They take in her state.
And they grow wroth.
They grow wroth.
“Who has done this.”
Caroline: She comes to a knee as he breaks through the crowd, bowing her head.
His fury all but stills her tongue.
She raises her voice but not her eyes. “The sheriff sought my destruction, Your Highness.”
It takes her a breath to realize it doesn’t fully answer the question. “He led the hounds, and many others, against myself and any who would stand with me this night.”
GM: Murmurs sound among the younger Kindred.
Caroline’s sire makes no immediate reply. His black gaze burns silently ahead. None attempt to meet it.
Maldonato’s voice fills the silence.
“Master Elgin, Primogen Hurst. Divide into teams and search the building for survivors.”
The other Kindred divide into two teams of four and disperse, along with most of the ghouls. They seem glad to be gone. The Hussar numbers among the few who stay, alongside the seneschal and Caroline’s sire.
Caroline: She does not rise.
GM: “It will prove more expedient for our purposes, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, if you consent to allow me access to your thoughts,” states Maldonato. “The night’s events have proven long and arduous, I am certain, and shall otherwise require much time to recount.”
He strides to Kâmil, who has hauled himself to sitting position. The seneschal opens a vein with a slender knife, then bends to offer the ghoul his wrist. Kâmil drinks gratefully.
Caroline: She’s grateful for her bowed head, that she doesn’t see the vitae. Hearing it is bad enough.
The Beast is all but roaring in her mind. Only the presence of her sire keeps it at bay.
“I have no secrets from you this night, Your Grace,” Caroline answers truthfully.
She’s grateful, to be honest. She doesn’t know how she could possibly put into words the sheriff’s fate, the darkness that lurked within him.
GM: She smells it, too. The scent of the seneschal’s spilled vitae.
But she also smells a second Kindred’s.
The scent would be unmistakable. Even if he were not the only other Kindred in the room.
“Drink,” says her sire.
Caroline: Perhaps if she was less starving she would show more decorum. Would show even a measure of reservation at taking from him in any way.
But she is starving. Not in her bleakest night has she burned through vitae like she has tonight. Not since she first awoke in Louis Armstrong Park alone has the thirst raged against her mind, like it does now. How much of her blood was spilled? How much burned away to pull her savaged body back from the brink over and over again.
She doesn’t argue. She doesn’t question. She doesn’t even pause to acknowledge the command.
She falls on the offered wrist with like a dying woman and is rewarded with vitae beyond all other vitae she has ever tasted. Vitae to make all blood taste like piss.
The Beast roars up: she’s held it at bay too long. It wants. It needs.
It fails. In an alley, or in her haven, or even with a lover, she might have succumbed to it. But not here. Not in front of her sire. Not in her moment of triumph. She will not allow herself to be humiliated before him, to be weak before him, to be unworthy before him.
Nor to snatch this moment from her. This moment of intimacy. The third time her lips have touched his flesh.
GM: The draught is everything it was last time. Everything and so much more, for even the memory was faint against the reality. It washes over her like a tsunami, but leaves her whole and radiant and glorious in its wake. It leaves her feeling powerful and exalted beyond all others, a sovereign among the clan of sovereigns. Out of all the kine in the city, he chose her. Perhaps not to receive his Blood. But to retain it. To be worthy of it. To be his childe.
Even her starving Beast, howling its bottomless thirst for more, cannot compel her to show unworthiness.
Caroline: The woman and the childe wants to drink forever, to latch onto that wrist and never let go.
But a more practical part of her pushes down the impulse as the red recedes.
This is her sire, the prince, at this moment of disaster for his reign. How many of his servants lie dead? How many challenges await him this night?
How can she take from him now?
Horrible, selfish, childe.
She breaks away to look up at him, hands still cupping his own.
GM: Amidst it all, she almost doesn’t feel the foreign mind inside hers. The seneschal’s touch is light. Thoughts run through her mind’s eye like a fast-coursing but shallow river. Triumphs and terrors, trials and tribulations.
Caroline: It’s different than the last time: she’s not trying to build something for him, to resist him in any way. Instead she just puts low rails up that he can easily see over, just to keep him on track because of how much they have to cover, and starts at the safe house.
The fight through the traps. The near-destruction upon their escape. The plan to return to Perdido House and the appearance of Lou. And the dreaded certainty once the casquette girl relayed the sheriff’s and hound’s intentions that death stalked her tonight.
The bullet that ended the life of the ancient ghoul—carefully crafted to pierce the bulletproof glass. Delivered into a moving vehicle. An impossible shot for perhaps anyone else.
Their flight through the streets to the location Lou provided and urgent summoning of allies—of any that would answer her call—under fire.
The vicious fighting in the gym—late she wonders, without passion, if Jocelyn survived—and the desperation of that battle as they lost on all fronts. The sheriff’s fangs in her throat, and the reprieve offered by Lou’s arrival.
Her explanation of her first suspicions about him to the Lasombra.
Then the running battle against him. Against the hounds. Against the sheriff’s allies. Against the sheriff himself.
Finally, the confrontation bleeding into the auditorium. The nail that drove a nail in the sheriff’s coffin.
The turning of the tides… and then the hell that awaited within him. The gate to hell that threatened to swallow the entire school, and the divine intervention at the last moment.
She tries to gloss over the feeling of that white light.
And then there’s the flight from the spirits, flowing by more quickly than all the rest: he doesn’t need to see their flight, their weakest moments after the sheriff’s death.
They speed to the last moments, the hopeless fight against the spirits she couldn’t harm, right up until the doors open…
There are many nights in her Requiem she is not proud of, that she would not share.
This is not one of them.
Tonight she has no secrets, no lies: what lie could match the truth?
GM: Caroline’s sire resembles a statue. Frozen. Unmoving. His black gaze burns slowly ahead like a simmering blowtorch.
Maldonato, too, speaks not as the memories rush through Caroline’s mind.
He does not speak after the cafeteria doors again burst open.
Nor does her sire.
Silence stretches, as if the two elders are engaged in their own telepathic counsels.
It does not escape Caroline that her sire does not once look upon Maldonato’s face.
Nor does the seneschal attempt to catch his prince’s eye.
Caroline: Nor does it escape her notice that they’re both here, together. That the prince has permitted his once-lover to touch his mind. That they’re speaking at least, if only in extremis.
GM: Maldonato is the first of the two to move. His head slowly turns.
The stakes lift themselves from Westphal’s and Ferris’ chests, clattering to the floor. He approaches Mahmoud and feeds her a trickle of vitae from his wrist. The younger Lasombra comes to. Her clanmates restrain her as she howls and thrashes at the doubtlessly powerful taste until she is herself again.
“Great rewards shall await you who have aided your prince’s childe in her hour of need,” states Maldonato. “Yet greater still is his kingdom’s need. Go now, and locate Primogen Hurst. You may assist him in his present endeavors until others are assigned you.”
The three Lasombra murmur their assents. They look at the prince as they depart, but none attempt to catch his eye.
He does not glance at them. The statue-like elder’s black gaze continues to burn silently ahead.
“The sheriff was not to die in this manner,” Maldonato states once his clanmates are gone. “Events have not proceeded as they should.”
Caroline: You could hear a pin drop in the silence that greets that declaration.
Pieces slide around into new places.
GM: “Mine designs have been thwarted again. The proof is irrefutable.”
“Woe that I did not heed your counsels, Philip,” answers the prince.
He still does not look at him.
“I have erred. In my folly I have allowed a serpent to entwine itself about the foundations of mine house.”
“Even mine suspicions paled before the truth, my prince.”
Caroline: Present tense.
That’s new. She’d believed the sheriff was the serpent.
GM: “The Blood tells,” pronounces Caroline’s sire. “The Blood always tells.”
His dimming gaze slowly comes to rest upon her.
“Your vitae touched her first, my prince,” sounds the seneschal’s voice.
“Death may not conquer itself through life.”
She hadn’t expected him to be pleased this evening.
Not with the death and destruction of what were likely many loyal servants.
But is he displeased with her more directly?
GM: The prince’s gaze slowly simmers, then moves past Caroline.
“Her folly set us upon this path.”
“Her folly was but the latest in a chain of follies,” answers the seneschal. “And until but recently, her victories were greater than our own.”
Her sire’s face is as a statue’s.
“That was no victory.”
Maldonato’s gaze sweeps across the ruined building.
“As much as was this.”
Caroline: The words hurt more than the sheriff’s blade did.
Being set upon by the sheriff virtually the entirety of her Requiem, and all the more directly tonight?
Was she to roll over and let him kill her?
The same sheriff who had been actively hacking away at the prince’s strength from within, murdering supporters and feeding them to hunters in equal measure.
She bites her tongue.
She hadn’t expected happiness, but she’d hoped for at least… pride.
She’s spent the last three hours getting burnt, shot, stabbed, sliced and beaten in equal measure. Fighting every moment for her Requiem, to buy another second, another moment, another tortured breath. Fighting against what she thought was the foe of her sire.
GM: “Folly not to have slain her long ago,” states her sire.
“Great would have been the cost,” answers Maldonato. “And great, too, the peril risked in striking stem and not root.”
“These ruminations serve no purpose,” says the prince.
“I shall search the building for other survivors,” states the seneschal. “There are more pressing errands upon which to set what remains of our house’s strength.”
Maldonato is abruptly gone, as though he were never there. Caroline is left alone with her sire and the ghouls.
He does not look at her. He stares silently ahead.
Footsteps sound down the corridor.
Karena Cingolai, or what’s left of her, emerges. The battle’s toll looks as terrible upon her as it was on Caroline. Her clothes are shredded rags. Bloody, half-healed abrasions mar her shredded and dirtied skin. She’s missing an eye. Clumps are gone from her ragged hair. She walks as though pulled by an unseen chain.
Still she kneels before the prince, bows her head, and recites smoothly,
“Strategos Vidal. There is much of which Your Majesty should be informed.”
Caroline: Caroline watches Cingolai out of the corner of her eye as she approaches. Like she might track the approach of a candle in the night while seated beside a bonfire.
GM: “I have been informed, Lictor Cingolai,” states the prince.
“I do not doubt it, Strategos,” answers Cingolai, raising her head. “Yet not all not doings germane to this evening occurred this evening, and may contextualize much.”
The Ventrue’s cool stare rests upon Caroline as she rises.
“This eiren slew the gerousiastis.”
Caroline: “Gerousiastis Malveaux was set upon by hunters in the employ of Claire Malveaux, Lictor,” Caroline replies quietly, not rising.
“The same hunters who at the direction of the sheriff arranged the destruction of many of the archdiocese’s loyal servants.”
“I have no doubt that when the files recovered from her safehouse tonight are examined they will contain documentation to that effect, as well as detailed notes about his banes and other weaknesses. Undoubtedly, that was part of why he felt so compelled to make his move immediately upon their recovery.”
“Upon the ‘discovery’ of the bishop’s death, the sheriff immediately used it to elevate his own childe to bishop, and attempted to annex the gerousiastis’ domain into his childe’s—to say nothing of using the death as a pretense to execute any Kindred that had ever had meaningful dealings with me.”
“Had you seen fit to speak with me of the matter before taking up arms against me, Lictor, I could have directed you to the seneschal himself, who examined my memories of that night in detail.”
GM: The respected lictor ignores the ignoble neonate completely as she regards Vidal. In fact, she talks right over Caroline, after ‘loyal servants.’
“The sheriff and I have uncovered direct proof of the eiren’s guilt in the course of our joint investigation, which may be pres-”
They are the last words Cingolai ever says.
Oily darkness washes over the lictor like a thirsty tide. Its waves swim with rending talons, ink-slathered tentacles, and bogeyman’s grasping hands—a child’s night terrors given horrifying semblance and animation. Rents split open across the Ventrue’s ruined flesh. She simultaneously explodes into gore and implodes into ash, her scream as brief as it is terrible. Sizzling chunks of blackened bone and meat spatter over the floor.
Caroline: Caroline cuts off her words abruptly.
It’s unfortunate, in some ways. She’d have preferred to turn the lictor. She’d have made for a powerful ally and perhaps even teacher. Ventrue in the city are in increasingly short supply.
On the other hand, it does neatly tie off another loose end. And the satisfaction of watching her sire slaughter those speaking against her is undeniable. She wonders what evidence the sheriff could have found against her that was so compelling.
Not that it would matter with that delivery: evidently, the bishop learned his interpersonal skills from his sire.
GM: Caroline’s sire broods from his seat, which she only now observes, a throne-like thing of congealed shadows and blackness. Yet even it is not so black as the rage burning from his eyes as he stares at what’s left of Cingolai. The lictor’s remains smoke and writhe and shrivel into ash, but he does not look away. Hate pours from him in nigh-tangible waves.
Caroline: She tries to remain silent, but the weight of the moment builds, and finally the question escapes her lips.
“Have I failed tonight, Your Majesty?”
The ‘you’ is implied.
GM: Her sire gives no answer.
Perhaps he does not hear.
He stares at Cingolai’s remains, and Caroline feels nothing but hate.
It is then that Maldonato abruptly reappears, as though teleported into the room.
“The battle’s survivors have been accounted for or have fled the building.”
The prince slowly seems to rouse.
“Whom that raised hands against my Blood is unaccounted for?”
“Hound Doriocourt remains unaccounted.”
Vidal’s gaze burns black with that same hate.
“I shall invoke the lextalionis.”
“Pretext against the nominated bishop may prove difficult to manufacture, Your Majesty,” Maldonato states. “An explanation must needs be contrived for the sheriff’s final death—and one that does not invite further calamity upon our house.”
Caroline: There’s so much she doesn’t know—of their plans, of the levels of politics they consider. If she’s already orchestrated the sheriff’s death against their wishes, is her own suggestion valuable, much less welcome?
She bites her lip but remains on her knees.
The immediate answer that occurs to her seems painful, but also the most valuable in the long term—maybe a way to stem the bleeding from the Sanctified, to hope to stabilize.
GM: “Speak, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Perhaps your counsel will prove wise and perhaps it will not. We would turn aside none in so dire an hour.”
Caroline: “The death of the sheriff and bishop so close in proximity cannot be readily or convincingly hidden, Your Grace,” she begins.
“To paint another for the deed is to invent more foes that struck us so deeply—it makes us appear weak, crumbling. We were dealt two near mortal blows by another without response?”
“And too, to frame another is also to create new enemies we must strike down in a moment of relative weakness—to expend strength perhaps better shepherded.”
She continues, “I would propose some version of the truth of the sheriff’s treachery be revealed.”
“As bad as it may look, the truth may be the easiest way out in the now while also paying intermediate term dividends not as apparent to those the sheriff served.”
“As respected as he was among the city’s elders for the ruthlessness and diligence in the prosecution of his duties, Sheriff Donovan was a terror to many others. He chased away would be converts to the faith. Too, he used Claire’s hunters to slaughter many Kindred that to all appearances were loyal. That will come out eventually—used to flip their sires, lovers, friends at the worst moment by our foes.”
“Vilify and disavow him now, and you remove that treacherous arrow from our foe’s quiver. Too, much of the strength Donovan considered personally loyal and accessible is already here—expended. The survivors can be dealt with as their relative crimes dictate. There is no need to move against a third party and leave us more vulnerable while ding so.”
“Make this a cleaning of our house. Make it an invitation for those turned from it by his treachery to return to the fold. Pin anything you wish upon him in full and reclaim the banner of Justice the pretender in the quarter wishes to wave.”
“It still hurts, the loss of such a terrifying servant does weaken our house in the eyes of most, but presented properly… his defeat at the hands of new and loyal servants will keep the more cautious predators at bay, leave them asking ‘what new strength is present in Perdidio House that could cast him down?’”
GM: Maldonato offers Caroline’s final question a wan smile.
“Our house’s strength shall not be questioned in the coming nights, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but tested.”
Caroline: “Unavoidable, Your Grace,” Caroline agrees.
“I would reiterate, though, that all those who would loyally serve a house in which Sheriff Donovan was a dominant power already serve that house. I see little additional strength to be found by making him a martyr or victim, but believe some could be garnered by making him a villain.”
“I cannot overstate how much he was not just feared but hated by so many of the prince’s subjects.”
GM: Caroline’s sire silently broods, his black gaze silently burning ahead to some intangible horizon.
Hate is all she feels from him.
Maldonato speaks again.
“Were the world as I would have it, Sheriff Donovan would have ‘left’ our prince’s service for a justicar’s to accept a position as archon. He would have honorably discharged his duties to the archdiocese while reflecting well upon the quality of its Kindred.”
“Failing that, I would have had him perish a hero in the archdiocese’s defense. His treachery reflects upon his masters’. Every judgment he rendered, every power he was granted, flowed from your sire and I. His treachery, to many, would be evidence of our incompetence and ill judgment.”
The seneschal’s gaze sweeps across the ruined building.
“Yet, that a battle occurred at God’s vineyard will be impossible to conceal. Too many of its participants remain unaccounted for, and the bishop’s final death has already been publicly laid at the feet of hunters. Perhaps the Birds of Dis might be blamed, but such a story will ring hollow to many.”
“Your narrative may prove the least of the evils we must decide between, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”
“Truth is often the most convenient narrative. That the sheriff envied the prince’s childe and sought to end her Requiem is truth.”
Caroline: “And that thing inside him, Your Grace?” she probes.
GM: Maldonato’s face is grave as his gaze fixes upon Caroline.
“Mr. Westphal’s, Miss Mahmoud’s, and Mr. Ferris’ memories of those events shall be expunged.”
“Once these immediate crises are dealt with, we may turn our attentions towards locating the surviving witnesses of Donovan’s final moments.”
“All shall be silenced or put to death.”
Caroline: “Should we fear something similar, as it relates to his childe?” Caroline probes.
GM: Caroline’s sire at least speaks, the burning gaze drawn away from its unknowable horizon.
“We do not fear.”
“The sins of the sire are the sins of the childe. No further seeds shall grow from the tainted fruit.”
“The cardinal may be informed of the sheriff’s and his childe’s disloyalty. Disloyalty alone will be cause for the withdrawal of her nomination as bishop.”
“What you witnessed in the traitor’s final moments shall be spoken of to none outside this room. None. Am I understood?”
Caroline: “Fully, Your Majesty,” Caroline agrees without hesitation.
GM: “Capitán Gaultierrez, Kâmil, look into my eyes,” orders Maldonato.
The ghouls approach him and meet his gaze. Little surprise is writ on their impassive faces, but perhaps there is some envy upon the Hussar’s. The seneschal tells them to forget Caroline’s last two questions and his and Vidal’s answers. The ghouls blink and accept this.
“The sheriff’s destruction need not be immediately explained,” states Maldonato. “Better that it initially emerge as rumor and hearsay from Mr. Savoy, and not be confirmed as fact until the trials soon to come have passed. Their outcome may greatly shape the final narrative we disclose.”
Caroline: “A believable rumor given how quickly it will originate from the sheriff’s sire,” Caroline muses.
“And were it me, I’d already have my people in motion to capitalize. He no doubt knows any conflict with the sheriff that would result in his death would attract much of our strength and attention.”
GM: “The fact of the sheriff’s final death may not be long concealed, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. But the cause of his final death is yet our purview to explain. Even the sire can know but little of how the childe was destroyed if Doriocourt does not find her way to his side.”
“You are correct that Mr. Savoy will not remain idle, however. Even we speak, his agents are surely mobilizing—as are own. There are several matters to which we must now attend.”
He stares ahead.
“Mr. Hurst and Master Elgin shall join us momentarily.”
Seconds later, the Ventrue primogen and Nosferatu priest appear, perhaps already having been summoned by the seneschal or Caroline’s sire.
“You three are our foremost remaining captains,” Maldonato states to them and Caroline. “There is much to be done.”
Caroline: It’s very far from what she wants to hear.
Not after her near torpor at Claire’s safehouse, not without even a single one of her ghouls accounted for, not after the horrific injuries she endured in the repeated battles with the sheriff, and certainly not after gazing into the very pits of Hell.
She wants to inventory her losses. She wants to see her sisters. She wants to rest, for a century at least.
Instead she nods in acknowledgment, painfully tearing her gaze away from her seated sire in his furious brooding.
GM: Heavy is the head that bears the crown—and expects to bear the crown.
Maldonato begins that first, as in all times, the Masquerade must be observed. The battle at Mt. Carmel has surely already attracted attention from the sheer noise—Robert Congo, thanks to Caroline’s warning, has already set into motion what levers he could to delay the arrival of emergency responders. Maldonato states Donovan has already used his influence within the NOPD to do the same. There is no hiding there was a battle here—Maldonato is inclined to attribute it to gang conflicts—but the scene must still be staged, and evidence destroyed which does not fit this narrative or betrays the Kindred’s existence. The Krewe of Janus will soon be here to assist in the clean-up, but nor is this a duty the Sanctified may shirk. The prince cannot look as if he is prioritizing his political interests above his foremost responsibility to the Camarilla.
Secondly comes the defense of those interests. Savoy and the Baron may seek to expand their domains and seize territory in the wake of the sheriff’s death. Maldonato judges those areas of the city adjacent to Tremé and the French Quarter to be the most vulnerable. Savoy will likely strike first, given that he will likely know of the sheriff’s death first. The prince’s agents must prepare a defense.
Third, messages must be dispatched to those Kindred blocs least nominally allied to the Sanctified: the Invictus, the Tremere, and the Anarchs. Their leaders must be informed of the sheriff’s death, and their followers enlisted in the defense of Vidal’s territory. If enough aid can be mustered, Maldonato is inclined to consider an offense into the French Quarter, under the pretext of clearing out the vagrants along its borders, if only because it may be the last thing Savoy expects.
Maldonato himself will pursue a related diplomatic mission to enlist further aid, “though bitter may be its price.”
Fourth, Riverbend is now undefended. While Maldonato does not believe the parish is in danger of falling to Savoy’s or the Baron’s followers, given its geographic distance from their territories, loyal Sanctified must still be dispatched to secure any assets and sensitive materials contained within Donovan’s haven. One of Antoine Savoy’s—and Camilla Doriocourt’s—first moves may be to do the same.
Fifth, Camilla Doriocourt remains at large. She may know more of her sire’s secrets than anyone, and already knows a great deal of sensitive information pertaining to both the Lancea et Sanctum and Guard de Ville. Maldonato believes she will either flee the city or defect to Antoine Savoy. The now-renegade hound is to be staked and brought to Perdido House for interrogation. Her final death is also acceptable if she cannot be captured, and preferable to her remaining free.
Sixth, Louis Fontaine must also be apprehended and brought to Perdido House for interrogation. The elder ghoul has interfered too many times in the prince’s affairs and knows too many secrets to be allowed to walk free. While capturing Lou would normally be a task for another night, there is another factor that makes this mission far more pressing: the trove of intelligence on the city’s hunters that Caroline lost. The secrets within Claire’s files must be recovered, for Antoine Savoy has contacts and alliances among witch-hunters and may use them in upcoming offensives. Claire’s files could identify names and faces.
Maldonato states there are “many further labors to be undertaken,” but these six are of the most vital importance to accomplish tonight. He organizes what is left of the prince’s followers into four task forces. Some of these Kindreds’ help will be enlisted through corvée, others through temporary hunting rights in Riverbend’s college campuses.
Hurst will lead LaCroix and McCandles. Adler is not Sanctified, but will surely assist her brother.
Harrison will lead June, Cleo, and Pacuad.
Caroline will lead Westphal, Mahmoud, and Ferris.
Elgin will lead Benson, Huang, and Marrow.
Maldonato inquires which of the above tasks Caroline believes herself and her coterie best-suited to.
Regardless of which and how many tasks she accepts, she will accompany the seneschal on his diplomatic mission.
It is then that Caroline’s sire, silent as Maldonato architects how to preserve his crumbling power, finally speaks.
“Inform the Krewe of Janus that I shall supervise their efforts. I shall remain here.”
Neither Hurst nor Elgin ever truly looked away from the prince, but their eyes immediately fall back upon him.
“Let them bear witness. Let all my subjects bear witness. In the hour of my sheriff’s treachery and my would-be usurpers’ plotting, their sovereign upheld the First Law above all else.”
“Their sovereign remembered his duty.”
Caroline: Her initial inclination, upon her sire’s declaration, is to say first the cleanup here.
It’s not totally wrong: her gifts are well-suited to the task, and it would provide her people with an opportunity to recover. But the real reason is it would put her in proximity to him. A chance to prove herself in front of him, especially after this so-called disastrous night.
But she knows that isn’t where she can best serve. If he’s here, nothing she might offer will matter: he’s the prince. No other help is needed.
Which leaves six tasks. She cuts them to five.
“I retain copies Claire’s files, Your Grace,” she admits.
She had not intended to share that, but with her covenant pulled so dearly, the fewer resources they can waste tonight, the better.
GM: “Then six missions are made five,” replies Maldonato. “Mr. Fontaine’s capture may be accomplished at a later date.”
:: Why did Gisèlle make no report of this fact when she relayed the files had been stolen? ::
Caroline: It’s a very awkward question for him to ask. There’s a brief pause, then an honest answer.
:: It was kept from her. I believed you, and by extension she, underestimated the treachery of the sheriff, and that the most likely outcome upon their recovery was their immediate turnover to the sheriff or his childe. ::
:: I believed if that happened incriminating evidence against him would be destroyed. Evidence I hoped to use to recruit allies against him, as I knew he had directed the destruction of numerous Sanctified Kindred. ::
GM: :: Your sire and I shall address this matter later. ::
Caroline: :: Yes, Your Grace. ::
No good deed goes unpunished.
GM: “I shall presume you do not possess them upon your immediate person. See that they are swiftly tendered to Mr. Congo. Are the copies located upon a physical drive that was ever handled by Mrs. Malveaux?”
Caroline: “No, Your Grace,” she answers.
GM: A frown creases the seneschal’s face.
“Unfortunate. Encryption may require some time to break, and of that resource we possess scant little.”
“To which tasks do you believe yourself and your fellows best suited, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?”
Caroline: “I may yet have strength left on the border of the Quarter, Your Grace,” Caroline answers. “I know the ground, and expect my allies to be quite a rude surprise for interlopers—unknown as they are. The death of most of our ghouls though leaves us shallow in depth for that task.”
“I do not believe us incapable of presenting messages of the sheriff’s death, nor of selling the importance of honoring their oaths to their liege, but my own ambiguous position—and youth—may make that a more difficult task than for a more familiar face and invite undue speculation.”
She chews her lip. “Given the option, I think we are best used to contain those that might seek to take advantage of a moment of perceived weakness.”
“We too have Doriocourt’s scent. It may be parts of those tasks align, Your Grace.”
GM: “Very well,” states Maldonato. “If you require resources, Mr. Congo is at your disposal.”
Gabriel Hurst and his people will assist Vidal in the Masquerade clean-up, since they are already here. Their gifts are also well-suited towards such.
Gus Elgin and his people will assist Maldonato in securing aid from Sanctified allies. The master of elysium is well-suited to diplomacy.
Charlie Harrison and the other three Gangrel will be dispatched to Riverbend. Their gifts will allow them to quickly reach the parish and bypass Audubon Place’s walled perimeter. They will help muster defenses along Vidal’s borders when they are done at Riverbend.
“Time shall be of the essence in locating Doriocourt. Enough has been lost already. Begin with her.”
It’s not overlong before the other Sanctified return, bearing with them bodies. Some of the bodies may be ones deemed unsuitable or simply too numerous to be found at the scene of the crime—Caroline can only guess how many men died here tonight, and how many national headlines it will make on major news networks if the truth is not buried here.
Indeed, while one would expect some number of wounded survivors from any battle, this one had remarkably few. Whatever mystic defense prevented Caroline’s escape from the building also prevented the escapes of other survivors—who were then helpless to flee the wrathful ghosts. The vampire-hating shades could freely traverse the building’s maze-like passages in their incorporeal state. No mortal who allowed Kindred vitae to pass their lips was spared. Wounded survivors were savagely bludgeoned to death with telekinetically hurled objects, or possessed and made to kill their fellows with their bare hands. All told, the casualty rate of the Battle of Mount Carmel is horrific: over 90%. Caroline is hard-pressed to name any historic battles, which did not involve the mass execution of the defeated side’s soldiers, that compare.
Of the dead and the survivors, an accounting is made.
What’s left of Jocelyn Baker’s corpse is set down before Caroline. Held immobilized by Westphal’s command, she was helpless to flee when the gym became a battlefield. Jocelyn looks as if she was blasted into torpor beneath grenade detonations and weaponsfire—but what finally killed the Toreador was the sword stroke that separated her head from her body.
Megan Wilkins, against all odds, numbers among the battle’s few survivors. The pitiful (and badly wounded) ghoul was found mindlessly clutching (and drinking from) her domitor’s corpse, some distance away from the gym, and looks incredibly traumatized. She flinches at any touch and is incapable of coherent speech.
Alexander Wright’s torpid body is recovered.
Raaid’s destroyed body is recovered. It is yet uncertain at whose hands the Assamite met final death.
Rocco Agnello’s body is not recovered. Westphal and Mahmoud, however, report that they torpored the hound alongside Raaid. That fact, together with the escape-proof killing field the school became, causes Maldonato to deem the Gangrel’s survival unlikely.
The body of the vampire who aided Lou was not recovered, nor is her final death confirmed.
The body of the woman who attacked Wright is not recovered, nor is her death confirmed.
Cingolai, of course, has already been executed by Vidal.
Duke Elmhearst’s body is recovered. The Brujah is believed to have met final death at the ghosts’ hands after he was torpored by Raaid—or perhaps sought to flee Mt. Carmel and was unable.
Two further ghouls belonging to Karena Cingolai and Duke Elmhearst are recovered alive and badly hurt, though not so traumatized as Megan Wilkins.
Many of the recovered bodies are in terrible condition. It will require some time to identify them all, including whether there are any further surviving ghouls who fled the battle.
Louis Fontaine among them. No trace is found of the elder ghoul.
It is impossible to know, too, how deeply or recently many of the slain ghouls fed from their domitors, or whether their bodies were contaminated by any of the Kindred blood spilled during the battle. Arrangements are made for the bodies to be burned or decapitated to prevent any postmortem Embraces. This is a kindness on more than one level: many of the slain ghouls suffered such catastrophic injuries that to allow them to arise as Kindred would condemn them to an eternity of suffering.
Among those slain ghouls with largely intact bodies, Maldonato orders all who were not Donovan’s or Camilla’s ghouls to be spared burning and decapitation. It will be left in God’s hands whether any of them arise as Kindred. Any such childer already acquainted with the vagaries of the Kindred world will prove sorely needed in the nights ahead.
Caroline: It’s an unmitigated disaster, a bloodbath on the scale rarely seen in the Americas, much less the States. A Masquerade problem the likes of which she can hardly imagine: this many deaths cannot all roar in at once. No accident will explain them. Which means they have to keep some of the men and women alive, at least for a time. A Masquerade endeavor she’s never attempted individually, much less on such a scale.
The scope of that disaster perhaps overshadows the final deaths of five loyal Kindred tonight. Some she didn’t know: Elmhearst is a stranger, and she sheds no tears for Cingolai, but Rocco was a mainstay of the covenant for a century, to say nothing of Donovan and his childe.
The destruction of the treacherous sheriff was a necessity, she still believes, but she would never have initiated a conflict like this. There are no winners tonight, only the dead and survivors that must pick up the pieces. Half the covenant going to war with its own members was madness. She wants to snarl at the traitors that flocked to Donovan’s banner, to demand what manner of insanity they engaged in, but it’s a pointless exercise. All the more so because some of the deaths land closer to home. None more than Jocelyn.
Jocelyn, who was the first lick to treat her with any warmth. Jocelyn, who she found in fervent prayer at a church, who answered her questions, who asked so little. Jocelyn, whose kiss she first felt, whose embrace she first enjoyed.
Jocelyn, without whom she wouldn’t have survived after the fight with Kelford. Who begged in tears before the seneschal for Caroline’s unlife when she was forfeit.
Jocelyn, whose krewe she almost singlehandedly destroyed, who she tried to push away, and whose Requiem she’s now ended.
Caroline had told Cécilia that she had no further feelings for the Toreador. Not after the bond to her sire, not after Jocelyn’s ill-advised near-Masquerade breach before her home that put her sisters in danger. But that was not a whole truth.
Caroline might have no longer felt any burning passion for the brunette Kindred. Her affection had waned with the obsessive, self-destruction infatuation the bond inflicted on her, with her anger and frustration and shame over dominating her. But Jocelyn was her first Kindred lover. She was her first Kindred friend. Seeing her rotting body cradled by Meg is a grossly unnatural thing.
It was weeks, not months ago, that the two were shopping into the evening, blowing thousands of dollars on clothes. That they shared vessels. That Jocelyn shared her frustrations over the lack of respect and appreciation her art received. How much it hurt not to be considered an artist by older, more established licks.
Jocelyn, another lick whose Requiem she ruined, then claimed, for the crime of being kind to her.
She knows how important touching, or holding, the body of a loved one is. Remembers Fatimah’s tale of gathering her sire’s bones for internment.
The heiress feels no such urge. She doesn’t want to cradle Jocelyn’s broken, scorched, rotting, defiled body. There’s nothing left there—the rapid decay that’s set into the body makes that clear if nothing else.
Jocelyn is gone, like a candle snuffed out in the night. All light has gone out of her eyes. Clinging to her corpse would make her as pathetic as the ghoul set before her.
Does she feel grief? It’s hard to say. Perhaps guilt, perhaps sadness, perhaps remorse.
But most certainly, anger.
The word tears across her mind like a psychic scream.
The Toreador was literally no threat, would never be a threat, to the sheriff or his coterie. Even if she hadn’t been dominated. Even if she hadn’t been torpored. Her murder was senseless. It was cruel. It was petty. They destroyed her not because they needed to, not in the pitch of battle, but because they could.
There’s some savage satisfaction in the sheriff’s horrific demise, tempered by the knowledge that the same fate awaited him as did Jocelyn: they’re both in Hell, and it’s Caroline’s fault.
It was Caroline’s fault for dragging her into this. For dragging her into her own Requiem. For letting her back in. For bonding her in the first place.
She’s like some great albatross, bringing destruction everywhere she goes, and to everyone she knows.
She holds back tears.
It wouldn’t do for a Ventrue, for the prince’s childe, to show such public emotion. Instead, she digs her nails deep into her palms. She bottles it up. Another casualty of this—whatever this is. This Requiem she’s carved for herself.
She doesn’t regret the path she’s taken. There was no other path. She just wishes it less frequently ran through those she cared for, and those that cared for her in turn.
Little things, and great things, and perhaps in the end, all petty things.
Her request, to bring a vessel into the school.
The sheriff turning her into a weapon.
Westphal’s furious order to freeze.
The sheriff’s attack.
The resulting battle.
The game being played by him, by Caroline, by all the city’s powers.
The this that claims so many lives and unlives.
So few of those gathered here tonight know who Jocelyn was to Caroline. Only the seneschal, besides Meg herself.
“I believe Miss Baker to have been a casualty of the wraiths,” he states as he examines the body.
:: I am sorry for the loss you have suffered, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. If you would do Miss Baker a final service, I believe she would desire her ghoul to be cared for until more permanent arrangements may be reached. ::
Caroline: :: I will see to it when the crisis is passed, Seneschal. ::
There’s a stoic resignation echoed in her thoughts. She has no idea what use Meg might be put to, or how to keep the already suicidal ghoul from taking her own life. Caroline will figure it out, she supposes, if she survives the night.
She doesn’t have time to worry about that problem. Not yet.
GM: Meg is ordered taken outside with the other departing Kindred.
Vidal, meanwhile, seizes control of his gathered follower’s minds without any pretense or subtlety. He orders the glassy-eyed Kindred to forget select details of what they have seen and heard tonight, then sends them along their way. Gus Elgin is made to drink from the prince’s wrist, then commanded to forget having done so.
The Lasombra are among the last to depart. Vidal commands them to forget Donovan’s final moments: the ex-sheriff never surrendered and was destroyed in a great invoking of the holy man’s religious faith. He orders all three Lasombra to drink from his wrist, then to forget having done so, evidently trusting the strength of the command to overcome even the strength of his vitae upon their tongues.
Maldonato instructs his clanmates to wait outside and states they will be well-rewarded for their efforts tonight.
A long moment passes in silence between seneschal and prince before Maldonato feeds his vitae to Alexander Wright, reviving the torpid hound.
He kneels before the prince upon seeing his liege. Maldonato questions him while Caroline’s sire watches in utter silence. The Brujah hound seems quite reserved under that black gaze, by his usual sarcastic standards, and provides simple and direct answers to the questions asked of him. He professes to have been ignorant as to Caroline’s identity, after Maldonato informs him of it. Donovan told the hounds that Baristheaut’s troublemaking childe murdered the bishop and was defecting to Savoy.
“I wouldn’t have believed that shi—who her sire was if it was anyone but you tellin’ me, sir.”
Maldonato invades the hound’s mind without pretense or subtlety. Several moments pass before he declares, “Your words are truthful. In lieu of the present extremis, you may rejoin our prince’s service. You are acting sheriff until a permanent replacement may be found.”
Wright glances at the prince, but not does attempt to hold the Ventrue’s terrible gaze. It is hard to imagine a less congratulatory atmosphere as the acting sheriff offers a simple,
“Thanks. Your Grace. Your Majesty.”
Maldonato tells him to join Hurst, LaCroix, and McCandles on their mission. They will inform him of what has transpired since his torpor. The Hussar passes him a phone. He leaves without further word.
Caroline: Wright’s words of doubt sting her pride. Caroline stares him down as he speaks. She wonders if he’d ‘believe’ it now, a fist of ancillae smashed against no answering (surviving) vampire with a decade in the Blood.
GM: Wright meets her gaze as he leaves. The hound’s expression is uncharacteristically flat. He says nothing further.
Maldonato discusses offering temporary feeding rights in Riverbend as payment to the Sanctified who have answered the prince’s sire’s call tonight. Others, where applicable, may satisfy their corvée. It is not lost upon Caroline that many of the Kindred she has seen tonight do not appear to be her sire’s dedicated agents. They seem more akin to auxiliaries or a citizen’s militia, mustered in this hour of need, and paid for their efforts. The Sanctified’s main fighting force has been shattered. Only Wright remains.
Caroline: The cost of her actions is not lost on the Ventrue, necessary though they might have been. She may have broken the Sanctified’s back to cut out the cancer killing it. That the loss of Donovan would be a blow, she knew. She hadn’t imagined the sheriff would be able to bring so many to the fight so easily, that he would bring down so many with him. The wraiths’ betrayal made it all the worse: how many of those destroyed this night might have merely been torpored if the dead men had not sought further blood?
The damage the traitor has wrought is staggering, but the tools she wielded reaped their own butcher’s bill.
GM: You can always count on the dead to dish out more hurt, said Lou.
Maldonato states he will dispatch messages to several prospective sheriffs. Perhaps if luck is with them, these Kindred may arrive by tomorrow. Slane Holland’s name is the first one floated. The former hound and Sanctified Ventrue. Vidal states he is disinclined to trust any Kindred to the post who is not bound by blood as well as faith.
Caroline: Holland, she knows, serves her sire still in another capacity. How much more damage will withdrawing his agents, recalling them in this latest crisis, do? It’s impossible for her to guess.
GM: The prince’s eyes burn into the distance. He still has not once looked upon his former lover’s face.
Finally, he states,
“Your punishment is overdue, Your Grace.”
“You have confessed to bestowing the Embrace without my leave. My sole punishment has been banishment from my presence. Even this judgment has now been undermined by extremis. No.”
“I have prayed long on how I might punish you without weakening the archdiocese. My vision is now clear, thanks be to God. I sentence you to the same violation of your will that you imposed upon me. No oath have you sworn, but no greater punishment can I think to devise. You shall experience your crime in all of its fullness, and by your suffering you shall rebuild my weakened house. Yes. This is just.”
The prince’s voice is a near-whisper.
“You shall Embrace another.”
Caroline: The declaration steals the breath from Caroline’s dead body.
She turns to regard the seneschal more fully.
GM: Maldonato’s visage is utterly still.
It feels as if a chasm has yawned open between the two elders.
As if an iron curtain has descended.
As if the ruined cafeteria is now a tomb, thick with years of silence.
The moment feels as though it lasts a century.
It passes in a second.
“It shall be as my prince commands.”
He turns to regard Caroline.
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers, I would have you gain experience in manipulation of kine institutions. Please arrange Adam Malveaux’s expulsion from the priesthood and his financial ruination once these immediate crises have abated. Take care to arrange avenues for his reinstatement and the reversal of his fortunes should his character prove unsuitable for our purposes.”
Caroline: Oh, Maldonato.
Centuries-old oaths betrayed, whatever the purpose, the intent. Trust broken. And repaid in kind. Her sire lashing out at his lover. The pain between them only growing with time, with each cut they inflict on one another. It’s watching two titans carve each other apart, and to what end?
Only grief. Grief that she is at the center of. How can either of them stand her presence, the constant reminder of what has broken them?
The Ventrue barely has time to register the pain between the two, the wounds inflicted on one another, before the seneschal’s words hit her, like the next wave brought in by the tide as she tries to draw herself up over the last.
Her mouth opens, closes, then opens again as she finally finds her voice.
“It will be as you have spoken, Your Grace.”
She dares not say ‘as he wishes.’ She knows, has heard well from the seneschal’s cousin, his view of the Embrace. He does not wish this at all.
The slap in the face of his choice to Embrace her cousin, his choice over her in the first place, barely registers. The blow to the Malveaux family from the loss of a third scion this year doesn’t land. The entire matter leaves her feeling numb.
:: I’m so sorry. ::
She doesn’t know if his mind touches hers still, if it remains open or has slammed shut amid his resolve, but she means it. She wishes there were some word of comfort she could offer.
GM: Whether because his mind no longer touches hers, or whether because he chooses not to, the old Moor offers no reply.
There is little enough comfort to offer.
“The Masquerade has been imperiled by the deaths of enough Malveauxes,” he states. “Adam must retain his identity among the living.”
Without further word, the seneschal turns and departs. Caroline, too, is dismissed and told to see to her duties by her sire. Even as he orders her thus, Harlequin and masked Kindred who can only belong to the Krewe of Janus arrive, along with those Sanctified whom Vidal has commanded to remain and assist him.
Corpses and signs of battle of everywhere. The noise from so many weapons discharges was tremendous. Even in a derelict building in a poverty-blighted neighborhood, Caroline can only guess what local residents are thinking, what the police response will be, and what the Masquerade cover-up will involve. Something like this, she is sure, could make the national news if mishandled. More than a score of men did in a pitched battle with military-grade weapons.
Perhaps some of the present Kindred harbor doubts as to whether they can accomplish the labor before them. Perhaps they despair they cannot. Perhaps they merely mean to bitch and complain.
The Krewe look stunned to see their prince in the flesh. He offers no explanation for his presence. He simply issues orders in his sharp Spanish staccato. Doubt, despair, and indecision vanish like a child’s nightmares after a parent turns on the lights. His presence fills the room, imbuing them with purpose and confidence. He commands them like a maestro before an orchestra, flawlessly ordering and directing each instrument into a greater whole than any might achieve alone.
There are so many occasions where it feels Caroline’s sire terrorized his subjects, ruling through force and tyranny too great to oppose. Yet here, tonight, he does something else:
He leads them.
Caroline remembers Autumn once sarcastically remarking, during one of her moments of self-pity, “I thought Ventrue were supposed to be take-charge types who got stuff done.” There is nothing sarcastic or worthy of scorn that she now sees. There is no sense of arrogantly or jealousy presumed superiority like there was when Matheson or McGinn demanded that she bow before them. They demanded she debase herself to raise them up high. They demanded she pay obeisance to a sovereignty that was unearned.
Here, tonight, that sovereignty is earned. The present Kindred want Caroline’s sire to lead them. She sees it in all of their eyes. They want him to take command. His command makes possible great works unachievable on their own. They accept Ventrue sovereignty and they accept it gladly. The Kingship Clan will drive back the barbarians at the gates and hold up the sky from collapse. Right to rule is demonstrated through rightness in rule. The thousand breaches of the Masquerade before them can be repaired. The great labor before them can be undertaken. Father is here to take care of things.
Against the outline of her sire’s figure, standing tall and unbowed as he issues commands, Caroline feels as if she’s gazing upon a window into the past. She sees an older New Orleans, one that has not sunk into vice and degeneracy and lazy Southern sloth. She sees a thriving metropolis renowned the world over for its exquisite culture and material prosperity, a city in the summer of its strength and vitality. A city from that nebulous “good old days” era her father recalls in campaign speeches, a golden and glorious and better time when there was pride in the past, achievement in the past, and optimism for the future. For all of Savoy’s easy charm, slick deals, and byzantine schemes, Caroline knows:
This is what it is to be a prince.
Yet there is an undeniable and gnawing sense of loss, too. For if the sight of her sire taking command is like unto witnessing an aged and decorated general take to the field, it is because he is bereft of subordinates who can perform the job in his stead. They are all dead or occupied upon other errands. The Sanctified are stretched too thin. They can no longer rule the city without their prince’s intercession. Like Alexander, he has founded an empire that cannot outlast its founder—and his remaining time upon the throne is limited. The Sanctified’s side of the chessboard has been swept almost completely clear of knights, bishops, and rooks. The king and queen are now active pieces in the game.
Caroline thinks, too, to a quote by C.S. Lewis, repeated by Benjamin Edwards during a sermon she attended in undergrad:
“But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.”
Caroline’s sire is not God.
But perhaps he is an author.
How soon to end is their play?