Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
Celia: There’s a cat on the side of the road near the border of the Mid-City. It’s a pretty cat. Gray fur, bright eyes, a cute little black nose. There’s no collar on the cat’s neck, but it looks well cared for; it clearly belongs to someone, and the bag sitting half-hidden in shrubbery beside it suggests that this person is nearby.
Only there’s no one around but the cat.
The cat waits for her boy, tail flicking beneath the pale moonlight, eyes on the road. She searches for his car.
GM: The cat doesn’t wait long.
The boy’s car arrives soon. The boy gets out.
“Hello, puss,” he smiles, getting onto his haunches to scratch her ears.
Celia: The cat purrs at her boy, rubbing her face against his palm and winding herself around his ankles. She shows him the bag, then rolls onto her back to expose her belly.
While the cat might not want the petting to end, the girl inside of her knows that she has things to discuss with the boy and they can’t spend all their time here on the side of the road. She can’t hide in this form tonight and avoid conversation. So it isn’t too long before she paws at the car, leaping inside once he opens the door and moves to his lap as soon as he starts the car so they can leave. She kneads his thighs with her paws, turns in a circle, and settles down with her limbs tucked beneath her for the drive to his place.
GM: Roderick smiles and rubs the cat’s belly for a while. He lets her inside and brings the bag with him.
Then he picks up an old-fashioned cat carrier with a caged door, opens it, and gently but forcefully pushes the feline inside. He closes the cage door after her.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he says as he starts the ignition. “This is better for the Masquerade.”
Celia: The cat doesn’t take kindly to being shoved inside the cage. It twists, trying to get around his hand, but he’s stronger and bigger than her feline form and he closes the door on her before she can escape. She yowls in distress, scratching at the box with her claws.
GM: “Bad,” the boy says firmly as they drive. “You will be corrected if you cannot stay good as a cat, Celia.”
Celia: Her answering meow is distraught. But she’s quiet after that.
GM: “Good cat,” says Roderick, his eyes remaining on the road.
Celia: She settles eventually, curling up on the floor of the crate with her head on her paws. There’s little else she can do given the situation.
GM: The cat waits for a while. Roderick eventually parks the car in the garage, takes the bag and the cat carrier, and gets out. He takes the stairs up to his apartment.
Luna doesn’t see the man from last night.
Celia: She wonders if he’s dead. Or if he just broke a bunch of things falling down the stairs.
She sniffs for blood.
GM: Roderick doesn’t say either way.
The cat smells none.
He takes her into his new apartment. It feels similar to the old one, but less personal. It’s clean and well-maintained, and decorated with the same modern and relatively minimalist aesthetic. Grays, whites, and beiges predominate. Much of the wall space used for art seems to have gone to bookshelves instead. The baseball pennant for the New Orleans Pelicans is gone, though. So is the John F. Kennedy election poster. The three family photos of the Garrisons are gone as well. His grandmother’s mirror has already been shattered. The framed degrees from Tulane University and Tulane Law are still present, though. There’s also two new additions: one is a statue of a tall and proud-looking woman in an imperious pose, fist raised high above her head. There’s an inscription at the base in what looks like Greek, which Celia cannot read. There’s also a mosaic of Alexander the Great on his horse.
Roderick sets down the bag, then puts down the cat carrier next to it. He opens the barred metal door for the cat inside to leave.
Celia: Luna darts out of the cage, streaking past Roderick to dive beneath the couch, crawling across the carpet on her belly to fit into the snug space.
GM: She hears a frown in Roderick’s voice.
“Enough of that, Celia. You are not a cat.”
Celia: She is a cat. Her answering meow is plaintive.
GM: The couch is suddenly gone. Roderick lifts it over his head in one hand. There’s a stern look on his face as he grabs for the cat.
Celia: Oh. The cat starts to flatten herself against the ground, then catches sight of his face and thinks better of it. She doesn’t move when he reaches for her.
GM: He picks her up by the scruff of her neck, lowers the couch enough that it doesn’t make too much impact when he drops it, then stuffs the cat back inside the carrier.
The barred metal door locks closed again with another click.
Celia: She could twist. Hiss. Scratch his arm.
But she doesn’t. She hangs limply from his hand, goes quietly into the carrier, and doesn’t make a peep once she’s inside.
GM: He looks at her for several moments.
“You will remain in the carrier until you show me you are in control of yourself.”
“Shake your head if you are not a cat. Cats do not shake their heads.”
Celia: The cat meows at him. But she shakes her head.
GM: “No meows,” he says.
“Shake your head twice if you are not a cat.”
Celia: What sort of cat doesn’t meow?
The cat shakes her head. She pauses. Then shakes it again.
GM: “Good,” says Roderick.
“I am going to let you out. You will immediately turn back into a human. Nod your head if you understand.”
Celia: The cat nods her head.
GM: Roderick opens the cage door.
Celia: There was a cat once. Now there’s just a girl, sitting on the floor where the cat had been while she looks up at her boyfriend with large eyes. She’s dressed down from Elysium and her meetings, in yoga pants and an off-the-shoulder sweater that exposes her neck and collarbone on one side, hair pulled back off her face in a low tie that twists in and around itself to lend some elegance to the typical “pony” look.
She looks younger and more vulnerable than her years suggest. There’s no trace of Jade in her face despite the mask she wears. No trace of the slutty Toreador. No trace of Savoy’s lapcat or Veronica’s childe, the killer or the chameleon.
There’s no trace of her sire when she looks up at Roderick, wringing her hands in front of her.
She looks like his college girlfriend again. Casual. Uncertain. Timid.
“Y-you pu… you put me in a—a cage.”
GM: “It’s better for the Masquerade,” Roderick says simply.
She’s making such a big deal about this.
He hangs up his coat, then sits down on the couch. He’s also dressed down from Elysium, albeit slightly. Button-up navy shirt. Black slacks. Oxfords.
“You seemed fairly intent on selling me that you belonged in a cage.”
Celia: “I just—I just wanted you to p-pet me.”
She doesn’t point out how many people put their animals inside their cars without cages or boxes or leashes.
GM: “I did pet you. Multiple times. Do you not recall that, Celia?” he asks, seated above her on the couch.
Celia: “What if there was an accident? What if there was a fire? What if you got jumped?”
How could he do that to her? She doesn’t ask. Her eyes find the floor. Her shoulders lift, as if to protect herself from his anger and disappointment.
Where’s the boy who wants a cat? Where’s the boy who will cuddle and pet her all night because it’s cute and adorable?
Dead and gone.
“R-Roderick?” She can’t shake the stammer. She breathes. The hesitance is there in her eyes when she lifts them from the ground to find his face, wide and imploring.
“I… I think I…” She trails off, eyes dropping to the ground again. She’s not going to cry. She’s not going to cry. She’s not going to cry. She’s not afraid, she tells herself. He could have hurt her earlier and he didn’t. He’s not going to hurt her. He’s not going to kill her. He loves her. He’ll help her. It’s better this way. He’s smarter. Stronger. Faster. She’s lost without him, floundering. He’ll put her back on the proper path. It’s for her. For them.
She takes another breath. They should do this first. Before anything else.
“I n-need… I need to be corrected,” she finishes in a whisper.
GM: Roderick leans down from his seat to touch Celia, who’s still sitting below him on the ground, and places a hand on her shoulder.
“For questioning my judgment over the cage, Celia, or for something else?” he asks, understandingly.
Celia: She can’t help but lean into his touch. She closes her eyes. She breathes again, but it does nothing for her.
“B…both?” The uncertainty makes it a question. Is he going to correct her about the cage? She’d stopped. She had.
GM: “Why both?” he asks, still patiently.
Celia: “I… I shouldn’t question you? It’s better. Better for the Masquerade. I should—I shouldn’t play. I’m not a cat. I’m a per… I’m a person. You told me to stop but I didn’t. I wanted to play. It was…. it was wrong. You said stop.”
GM: “Correct,” Roderick answers. “We did play, when I first arrived to pick you up. We enjoyed that. But you got too ‘into character.’ I’ve heard it’s something that Gangrel can do while shapeshifted. They can lose their rationality and higher faculties. They can truly become animals.”
“I don’t need to say that neither of us wants you to ‘actually become’ an animal.”
Celia: Celia nods her head.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t… I wasn’t lost. I know who I am. I’m Celia. I just… I wanted… cuddling. More of it.”
She tries not to think about the prop she’d bought for them sitting at the top of her bag.
GM: “Then you need to ask for that as a person, or you need to find a way to intelligently communicate your desires while shapeshifted,” Roderick explains. “You are not actually a cat, Celia. You can enjoy ‘play’ as a cat. But that is as far as it should go.”
Celia: “You seemed happier last time when we played,” Celia says quietly. “I just… wanted you to be happier.”
GM: “Do you think it makes me happy to discipline a misbehaving cat?”
GM: “Do you think it makes me happy to explain to my carmilla that she is not actually a cat?”
“I’m sorry,” she says again. “I misjudged. I won’t do it again.”
“I’ll go in the cage when I need to. I won’t… meow.”
GM: “Good,” says Roderick.
He rubs her shoulder.
“We can play when you’re a cat. But when I make clear that playtime is over, it’s over. Understood?”
Celia: “Yes.” There’s a pause, like she’s debating saying “sir.”
GM: “Good,” he repeats.
He rubs her shoulder again.
It’s good she understands.
“I don’t like yoga pants, Celia,” he then says. “Please change into something else. You can keep the top if you’d still like to.”
Celia: “Oh. I didn’t know. I’m… I’m sorry, Roderick, I didn’t know. I’ll change.”
She’s on her feet quickly, moving towards her bag to find something else. She had brought everything she’d need for the evening, for the day, for tomorrow as well. The prop she’d ordered for the pair of them is moved aside as she shifts through her bag, searching for something more suitable.
“Are… are pajamas okay?”
GM: Roderick gets out his phone and scrolls through it while she looks through her things.
“Pajamas are okay,” he answers.
“You also don’t need to be sorry for this,” he smiles. “I hadn’t told you I don’t like them. But no more yoga pants around me in the future. Okay?”
Celia: Has he always disliked them?
“Do… do you have a preference on what I wear around you? More formal?”
GM: “No, I generally like your clothing styles,” he answers. “If something else comes up that I don’t like, I’ll let you know. You won’t be corrected for it.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick. Thank you.”
She doesn’t know if he wants her to change in front of him. She excuses herself from the room to do so, moving back in only once she has donned her nightie: a sheer teddy with a bow off to one side and matching panties.
She hesitates on the threshold of the room, as if to ask him if this is okay.
GM: Roderick smiles at her and nods.
“You look lovely, Celia.”
Celia: She’s not immune to compliments. Her cheeks turn pink. She smiles shyly, dipping her head, and puts the offending clothing back into her bag. A small pink box is displaced when she does; she reaches for it to tuck it back away.
GM: Roderick watches her do so.
“Do your employees at Flawless still wear yoga pants?”
“And tennis shoes?”
Celia: “Y… yes?”
“They’re easy to move in.”
“And they’re on their feet all day.”
GM: “You can draw up a uniform proposal and run it past me. I’m fine if they wear comfortable footwear, but I don’t like tennis shoes, either.”
Celia: She wants to argue with him. It’s her business.
But she nods instead.
“Are… are you going to be coming by the spa, Roderick? It’s usually only me at night.”
GM: “Good,” he says. “Uniforms will help your employees look more professional. That will help draw important clients to your business.”
“And I’d had the thought to do so more frequently, now that I’m going to be spending more time in the Quarter. Do you like that thought?”
Celia: “For services?”
GM: “For services, to simply spend time together, and to assess how your business can be used to advance our interests.”
Celia: “Oh.” Someone breathing down her neck. Telling her how to run things.
Making the tough decisions so she doesn’t need to.
GM: “I’ll come by when your employees are no longer wearing tennis shoes and yoga pants.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”
GM: “Good,” Roderick says. “Sit down, Celia. You’d said there was something I needed to correct you for?”
Celia: Celia takes a seat beside him. Half of her had hoped he’d forgotten. The rest of her knows he’s too smart for that.
GM: He turns to fully face her.
“Tell me about it.”
Celia: At least he hadn’t put her on the floor, right? She tries to take that as a good sign. He loves her. He respects her. He wants to listen to her.
But he’s in charge.
“I… I did a… I p-put our rel-relationship at—at risk. I be… I be…” She cuts off. She can’t breathe. She doesn’t need to breathe but she still can’t; the air traps itself like a bubble in her throat. It burns. She blinks back the red, unable to stand his disappointment.
Not scared. She’s not scared. He’s not going to hurt her. He’s only going to correct her.
“I be-betrayed y-you. Us. I betrayed us.”
She can’t look at him. She can’t. One night in and she’d already messed up.
Stupid, he says inside her head.
She nods. She is. She’s stupid. He’s smart. He’ll make it better. He’ll fix it.
Pathetic, someone sneers.
Crafty, a lick with green eyes says.
He loves her, the blonde sighs.
“Stop it,” she whispers.
GM: She hears the frown in Roderick’s voice.
“How did you betray us, Celia?” he asks.
He’ll know what to do.
All she needs to do is tell him.
Celia: “I… I… I…”
She looks up. She meets his eyes. She looks away again. Swallows.
“I me—I met with… with a contact. I have… I have a lot of contacts,” she explains in a whisper.
He’s going to hurt her.
He’s going to kill her.
He’s going to leave her.
“He’s not,” she whispers. She puts her hands over her ears, as if that will make it stop. “He’s not. He’s not. Stop it! Stop. Please stop.”
GM: Celia can’t see his face. But she hears a deeper frown in her lover’s voice.
“Who are you talking to, Celia?” he asks.
Leilani. Jade. Someone Else.
Crazy, one of them giggles.
They might not understand, the masked man says.
Slowly, Celia uncovers her ears. He won’t understand. Not yet. It’s too much for right now. She needs to be corrected first.
“No… no one. Sorry. No one.” Everyone. She changes the subject as delicately as she can. “I have… I have a lot of—of contacts. Friends, some. They tell… they tell me things.”
“But that’s… that’s Jade. Pretty. Whore.”
“He touched me.”
“I let him. I let him touch me.”
GM: Roderick frowns.
Perhaps at both statements.
But he lets the first one drop for now.
“Who touched you, Celia?” he asks.
“I see,” he says after she tells him.
“I need to speak with him about this. You’re going to bring him someplace where I can do so.”
Celia: Celia bobs her head up and down.
“We talked about things,” she says. An offering, if he wants it.
GM: “Good,” says Roderick when she nods. He puts a hand down over hers.
“You can do that soon, and you can do that on your own?”
Celia: “I usually go to him,” she admits.
GM: “I see. Do you think you can’t?”
Celia: “I’ll make it work. I’ll do that. For you. For us. I’ll bring him.”
GM: “Good,” Roderick smiles, patting her hand again.
“Would you like to sit on my lap?”
Celia: She nods again.
GM: He pats it.
Celia: Celia clambers onto his lap. She shivers, as if expecting the worst, then settles against him.
GM: He wraps his arms around her and hugs her against him.
“You did good, Celia, telling me like this. You don’t need to be corrected when you tell the truth.”
“Telling the truth is good.”
“Telling the truth is virtuous.”
Celia: She can’t help the sob. The way she clings to him. The red that runs down her cheeks after she’d spent the past few hours fearing the worst. She presses herself against him, nodding her head as he talks to show she understands but crying in relief all the same.
GM: “Shhh. It’s okay, Celia. I’ve got you,” says Roderick, hugging her close.
“I’m proud of you for telling the truth.”
Celia: She apologizes anyway, stammering out a handful of _sorry_s and I didn’t mean tos.
“I w—I went for, for you,” she finally gets out. “Be-because you said you wanted to-to kill him.”
GM: “Yes, I still do,” answers Roderick. “So why did you go there?”
Celia: Celia tries to breathe. The tears slow as Roderick holds her close. She curls against him in her sheer teddy, legs drawn up almost to her chest.
“Information,” she finally says. “We talked about… about a few things. I thought if… I thought I could leverage our friendship if he were made a hound, and keep you updated.”
“And I found out… something else.”
GM: “What did you find out?” Roderick asks.
Celia: Celia leans in close to whisper in his ear.
GM: “Celia, you know less about these things than I do,” Roderick says frankly.
Celia: She looks as if he slapped her. Her face falls.
“Yes, Roderick,” she murmurs.
GM: He runs a hand along her cheek.
“You need to remember that,” he says softly. “When you get worked up over these things.”
“Who is the smart one?”
Celia: “I’m… I’m sorry,” she stammers again. She presses her cheek into his hand. “I’m sorry. You’re the smart one. You’ll tell me what to worry about. When to worry. I’m sorry.”
GM: He hugs her.
“This is still new for you.”
Celia: Celia slowly nods her head.
GM: “You remembered where things stood when I reminded you. So that’s good.”
Celia: “I… I didn’t mean to overstep. I want… I wanted to tell you. To tell you ev—everything.”
GM: He rubs her back.
“I know you did. I’m glad you did. You should tell me everything. This was worth telling me.”
“You just got caught up and forgot who the smart one was.”
Celia: “Thank you. For… for reminding me.”
“For running the ship.”
“For handling it.”
GM: “You’re welcome. I will handle it. I’ll always take care of you.”
“As far as this…”
The pair discuss a few related things before Celia leads him back toward the first point she’d tried to make.
GM: “I told you to stop talking about this,” Roderick frowns.
Celia: Celia abruptly shuts her mouth.
GM: “I’ll let that slide for now, but showing me you can’t follow instructions tells me you need correction.”
Celia: “I’m… I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’m trying. Please… please cor… correct me. If. If I need it. I don’t want to disappoint you.”
GM: “I know you don’t,” says Roderick. “Now, please clarify for me. You said Caroline threw your mother off a roof?”
Celia: “Punishment. Trespassing.”
GM: “Where was this?”
Celia: “My haven. When you came. And she was there.”
GM: “So Caroline came to the French Quarter, and threw your mother off your haven’s roof?”
Celia: She’s caught.
In her own lie.
Slowly, Celia shakes her head.
GM: “No?” Roderick asks. “What detail am I getting wrong, Celia?”
Celia: “I… I don’t…” Celia shakes her head.
GM: Roderick grabs Celia’s hair, makes a fist in it and yanks it back hard, splaying her throat.
“I don’t like where this conversation is going, Celia.”
Celia: Celia becomes absolutely, perfectly still.
GM: “Why don’t you tell me the full story of what happened to your mother at the roof.”
Celia: She blinks back red tears.
“Sh… she… the shuh… the… sheriff. The sheriff. Catch. Stupid. Catch her. Catch. Threw her. Threw her. He threw her. Catch. Said catch.”
GM: “Ah, the sheriff,” says Roderick, nodding thoughtfully.
“I suppose that makes more sense.”
“There was a lot about the ‘Caroline threw my mother off a roof’ story that didn’t make sense to me.”
He looks down at Celia and sneers.
“You’re so disgustingly dishonest, Celia.”
“You wouldn’t know the truth if it bent you over this couch and fucked you.”
Celia: That’s not how it’s supposed to go.
This isn’t how it goes.
She stays quiet. She’s already dug herself deep enough.
GM: Roderick abruptly dumps Celia off his lap and rises to his feet. He stares down at the prone woman on the floor with a cool expression.
“What do you have to say about what a liar you are?”
Celia: “I’m… I…” Celia blinks up at him. Then she lowers her gaze, dropping her eyes to the floor. She kneels, bending, and presses her palms against the ground with her head bowed, supplicating herself before him in a pose that is pure submission and exposes the back of her neck.
“I don’t want to lie anymore. I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to. Please. Please help me. Please make me better. Please correct me. I want to tell you. Tell you everything. I don’t want to lie.”
GM: “I am going to give you three choices now, Celia.”
“One, we can end our relationship here, and you can tell as many lies as you like.”
Her face spasms in pain at the thought. She shakes her head frantically from side to side.
GM: “No? And yet you keep telling me lies, even though you know how much truth means to me. Is it unreasonable of me to think you value lying more than you value our relationship?”
Celia: “I don’t. I don’t. I swear. I don’t. There’s… just… there’s so much that… I’m afraid, Roderick. I’m afraid you won’t accept me. Won’t want me. Won’t love me.” She can’t hold back the tears. She tries. She knows he doesn’t like her like this so she tries. She wipes at her eyes as if that will hide it.
“I d-don’t wa-want to, to lie anymore.”
GM: “The second option,” Roderick continues impassively, without so much as a trace of sympathy in his voice, “is that you leave my haven and sleep by yourself tonight. You will write a testament for me. Of your lies. All of your lies. One of your ghouls will deliver it to me. I will call you when I have finished reading it. We will not see each other until then.”
Leave and go where?
There’s more to say. More to tell him. More to discuss.
Celia doesn’t say anything. She waits for the final option.
GM: “The third option is that you turn into a cat, and I put you in the microwave for several minutes.”
“You may then spend the night with me.”
“You will still give me a full accounting of all of your lies.”
Celia: “Won’t… won’t that kill me?”
GM: “You are a vampire, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently.
“A microwave cannot kill you.”
“It will cause you considerable pain and injury, however.”
“If you don’t want to go through that discomfort, you can spend the night somewhere else.”
Celia: Humans explode in a microwave. She’d seen it once. In a movie.
“I… I want the… the microwave, please.”
She doesn’t want to leave him. He hates her. Thinks she’s stupid. And she still clings to him.
GM: “Okay, Celia,” says Roderick.
“Turn into a cat.”
Celia: Celia needs no further encouragement. She disappears, the cat in her place. The cat doesn’t try to cuddle the boy. She doesn’t flick her tail or wash her whiskers or purr. She’s just still. Waiting. Dreading.
GM: Roderick picks up the cat and carries her to the kitchen. It’s a clean- and modern-looking kitchen, though there’s no food out.
He sets the cat down on the countertop.
He opens the door to a black microwave.
Celia: The cat doesn’t need him to place her inside. She walks in on her own once he opens the door.
*GM:* The cat has a clear ceramic dish to sit down on. Roderick closes the door. The cat hears him pressing buttons.
Almost instantly, the cat’s vision blurs and she begins to feel dizzy. Like someone is shaking her eyeballs. The dish underneath the cat starts to spin like a perverse merry-go-round.
Almost instantly, it gets hot.
The cat can feel every cell in its body vibrating at grotesquely high frequency. All of the water in the cat’s body—all of the blood—starts to boil. Eyes, mouth, skin, the cat’s entire body feels like exploding as the animal is cooked alive from the inside. Around and around goes the microwave dish. The Beast screams in the cat’s ears.
Roderick’s arm moves over the microwave door, holding it firmly shut.
That’s the cat’s last sight before she sees pure red.
Celia: She’s dying.
He’s killing her.
She’s going to boil.
The cat yowls in pain. She hisses. She claws at the sides of the microwave. She launches herself at the door, but her lover is outside holding it shut. There’s nowhere to run.
Around and around and around she goes.
The red haze descends. She escapes the pain. Escapes the heat. Escapes the stupid.
The Beast is furious. It comes out of the girl-turned-cat to find itself trapped in a box. It doesn’t like boxes. It doesn’t like heat. It doesn’t like pain.
And it doesn’t like the boy holding it in here. Keeping it here. Trapping it.
Like it’s not a deadly thing in its own right.
The Beast launches its body at the door. It scratches with its claws, howling and spitting while it cooks from the inside out. Its organs, if it had any, would fail. Its fat melts from its very bones, turning its muscles sluggish. It trips. Falters. Falls.
It tears at its own burning flesh, raking its claws down its body to rid itself of the fur that seeks to trap it. Muscle and skin peels away with every scrape. Anything to escape. Anything to get free.
Just like that.
The red haze clears. The pain ends. Absolute heat plunges into room temperature, or something that might feel like room temperature. The microwave door opens with a light chk. Smoke wafts out.
The door seems taller now. The cat is lying flat on her belly. She feels like she’s been cooked from the inside. She has been cooked from the inside. Everything burns. Everything hurts. Part of the cat just wants to curl up and die.
“I’m going to pour cold water over you,” sounds Roderick’s almost warbling voice. It’s hard to hear. He’s holding a tall glass in his hand.
“Make a sign if you don’t want me to.”
Celia: There’s no sign of anything from the cat. No sign it’s even alive anymore.
Maybe he killed it.
GM: But the cat is a vampire.
A microwave wouldn’t be enough to kill it.
Or maybe he’s testing now, to see if he has.
The boy is smart.
Ice-cold water pours all over the cat’s body.
That’s a mild way to put it.
The cat remembers how to scream when the water touches its body.
Lukewarm for burns.
The girl was always better at medical stuff than the boy.
GM: The boy’s hands approach. The dish lifts up from the microwave.
“There we go, Celia,” sounds his voice.
The cat feels a sensation like movement. Gray approaches in its blurred vision. Then more gray, from all sides.
It must be in the sink.
“I’m going to turn on the cold water. Make a sign if you don’t want me to.”
Celia: The cat slumps in the sink. It doesn’t bother making a sound. All of the “warm water for burns” probably only applies to humans anyway.
She’s never been burned this badly before.
Maybe if it’s cold enough it’ll finish her off. He can dump the cat’s carcass in the garbage.
She won’t be able to disappoint anyone anymore.
GM: Just like that, cold water floods over the cat from all sides. Steadily rises. The drain must be plugged. Maybe the boy did that ahead of time.
The cold water hurts.
But it’s colder.
And gets colder still as the water level rises.
So she can’t get flushed down the drain.
Just float around and dirty someone else’s water.
Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe. Which means she doesn’t need to swim. So she doesn’t bother keeping her head above the water, just lets it cover her until she’s a gray blur beneath the surface.
Death might feel better than this.
GM: She feels hot. She feels cold. She feels like she’s melting. She feels like she’s freezing.
Mostly she just feels like shit.
Celia: Burning in Hell can’t be this agonizing.
GM: Time passes.
The boy doesn’t say anything.
The cat just lies there in the cold water.
Lies there, burns inside, and suffers.
But steadily, the burning subsides.
Celia: Her sire has beaten her. But he’s never tortured her. She wonders where she went wrong that the boy who loves her could fathom doing this to her.
GM: She never hurt her sire like she hurt the boy.
Can anyone even hurt her sire?
Celia: Maybe she doesn’t want to know.
Maybe one night she’ll go too far and he’ll just… snap her.
Like a twig.
Or a piece of glass.
Isn’t she already shattered?
He broke her.
She was his and he broke her.
She was her sire’s and he broke her too.
GM: She broke him, too.
They’re perfect for each other.
Celia: No. Love doesn’t hurt this much.
She was made for someone else.
But he’ll never love her.
GM: Eventually, the water starts to drain.
Celia: She watches it swirl. It pulls at her fur, pulls at her tail. She wishes she were small enough to go with it.
GM: She sees a towel descend. Feels it start to dry her off.
That hurts, too.
The cat feels motion underneath it. The boy is lifting out the microwave dish.
He carries it to the couch.
Sets it down.
“You can turn back into a person now, Celia.”
She’ll be lying flat on her belly in this position.
Celia: The towel sloughs off more of her fur and skin. The cat whines as it detaches from her body.
Change back. Become a girl again. She doesn’t want to. She wants him to shove her back in the cage. She should have stayed there. It’s where she belongs.
But she doesn’t fight the voice that tells her what to do. He’s in charge. He’s smarter. He’s helping.
The cat becomes a girl.
And the girl curls in on herself to make her body smaller. She tries not to cry. She knows he hates it.
But the fur hid the burns that stand out on her hairless skin. Red. Shiny. Wet.
Or at least it is on the spots that have skin left. Some of it came out with the fur that he rubbed off with the towel. Stupid. Don’t rub burns. She was always better at bodily care. If she were human it would blister over, burning through the epidermis and dermis into the third layer. Hypodermis. The little bit of fat that separates the dermis from the muscle. It’s white on most humans, that fat, but here… here it’s black. Burnt. Like bacon left in the pan too long.
The cells are dead.
So is the rest of her. But it usually doesn’t hurt this much.
GM: Roderick looks down at her.
There’s an odd expression on his face.
“You chose this,” he says after a moment.
“Two alternatives. One in which we’d still be together. You chose this.”
Celia: She didn’t want to leave him. Even for a night.
“I chose this,” she echoes in a rasp. Talking hurts, too. The movement of her muscles pulls at the charred, tight skin on face and throat.
There’s that same odd look on his face.
Celia: Where does she even begin?
“Lost you. Twice. Not again.” Talking hurts. “Never again. Not even… for a night.”
GM: “You keep lying to me.”
His voice is flat.
“You keep saying you don’t want to lose me. And you keep lying to me.”
Celia: She’s not lying now.
“W’d’you wan’ know?”
She’d told him. She’d told him she wants to tell him everything.
It was supposed to be Thursday.
They wouldn’t be here if Thursday hadn’t gone down like it did.
They were supposed to talk.
She was going to tell him everything.
But she never got the chance.
The thought hurts as much as what happened to her body.
GM: Timing is everything.
Roderick looks at her for a while.
He doesn’t say anything.
Just looks at her.
Celia: She’d told him she’s not a mind reader.
He’ll have to use his words if he wants something.
Big brain like his, she’s sure he can think of plenty of them.
GM: “Why did you lie to me?”
Celia: “Said you… kill him. Scared. Need help.”
The burns along the side of her face pull taut when she moves her mouth. It’s just as unpleasant to look at as it probably feels. Her eyes don’t seem very focused, as if she can still only make out blurry shapes.
“Don’t belive me… ’bout her. Need help,” she says again.
GM: “So you lied because you needed help? Or I needed help?” he asks.
Celia: “Me.” She pushes her hands against the cushion beneath her, struggling to rise. Every movement is another wave of searing agony. She gives up with a pained exhale.
GM: Roderick asks a question.
Celia: Sort of.
“Scared for you. Going after him.”
Otherwise yes. She nods.
GM: “You needed my help, but because I didn’t believe you and said the discussion was over, you lied to me so that I would help you,” says Roderick.
“Why did you need my help?”
Celia: He’s got it wrong again. He’s ignoring the very real fear about him going after the sheriff. Why would she tell him that he threatened her family when it will only make him want to protect her and take out the problem? She doesn’t correct him. He doesn’t want to hear it.
“Faster. Stronger. Smarter.”
GM: Roderick questions her some more.
“That’s what you always do,” he says at length.
His eyes are cooling.
“You lie to me. You lied to me and would have thrown me into danger because it suited your purposes to do so.”
Celia: “No,” she protests. “Not danger. I wouldn’t. Not you. He’ll kill you.”
GM: “Yes, that’s what makes things so murky. You really did think you were protecting me. It was just a nice little bonus that your lie would result in me taking care of another problem for you, mmm?”
“You know, Celia, I was actually starting to feel bad,” he says.
“To feel guilty.”
“Like I’d crossed a line.”
Celia: It’s not like that. He’s got it wrong again.
Celia doesn’t say anything.
She doesn’t know how to fix it.
GM: “Like I’d done something terrible.”
“I was starting to feel very contrite.”
“I was starting to wonder if I’d made even more mistakes, since you told me the truth about Coco.”
He regards her coolly.
“But this? Oh, it’d be catastrophic for a breather, but a little blood and you’ll be good as new.”
“I wonder if I’d have been in the same position.”
“If you’d manipulated me into fighting your battles.”
“I wonder if I would have walked back from the battle at all.”
Celia: “It’s not like that.”
“I didn’t want you to fight.”
GM: “No? Explain how it is then, Celia. I’m pleased you’re starting to find your voice again. A little time in the microwave only hurts for a little while, doesn’t it, when we’re Kindred?”
Celia: “I don’t want… I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. Ever. I didn’t want you to fight.” The tears threaten to fall. She blinks them back. She doesn’t want him to see. “I wanted help. Planning. Not fighting.”
She still hurts. All of her nerves are still on fire. Her voice is a rasp. But she pushes through. Pushes past it. She has to make him understand.
GM: “But you lied to me, Celia,” he says in a very patient, explaining voice.
“Now why would you do a thing like that? Why would you tell me a lie? We’ve already established that protecting me from the sheriff wasn’t your sole motivation, so don’t give me that.”
Celia: “Can… can I talk about… what you told me not to talk about?”
GM: “I suppose so, Celia, if the context is necessary.”
Celia: She tells him.
Talking hurts, too.
So does the look on his face. The coolness in his eyes. That’s worse than the burns. Worse than the scratches from her own claws. Worse than being boiled from the inside.
She blinks again. She won’t cry. He doesn’t like crying. Stop crying. No tears. Don’t be a baby.
Don’t be a scared woman.
But she is.
Movement stretches her burned skin across her bones. She bites back a gasp. He doesn’t want to see weakness. She tries to hide it.
But that’s lying too, isn’t it?
“I should… I should have… should have asked. Asked, not lied. I don’t want to lie. I’m tired of lying. I want to tell you. Everything. All of it. Everything.”
He said she could tell him. Said she could tell him everything. But she tried and he didn’t believe her.
“I lied. It was wrong. I lied. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You… you can… hot water with… with burns. Hurts more. Y-you can cor-correct m-me ag-again.”
GM: “You’ve already been corrected, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently.
“I’m not sure I believe you about the rest of that, though. That’s why I’ll talk with Savoy.”
“Always verify whatever a liar tells you.”
Celia: Of course he doesn’t believe her.
Celia just nods her head.
GM: “You will be corrected further if any of what you told me turns out to be a lie.”
Celia: “Y-yes, s… Roderick.”
GM: “You were right. You shouldn’t have lied. I’m running out of patience for your lies. Who knows how many more of those you can tell before I decide to dump you?”
Celia: “You… you won’t d-dump me for… for the truth?”
GM: “Never, Celia.”
“Ugly enough truths may require correction, but it will always be gentler correction than more lies.”
Celia: Her lip trembles.
“What… what if I… what if I already lied ab-about it?”
“What if it’s bad?”
GM: “Come clean, Celia,” Roderick says patiently.
“Come clean over everything.”
“If I find out you’ve lied about something significant after tonight, we are finished.”
“I’m tired of your lies.”
Celia: So she does.
She tells him.
She starts at the beginning. Back when she was still human. She tells him about the monster under the bed. She tells him about the monster shaking her dad’s hand. She tells him about the hallway. The hacksaw. The screaming. Carried to bed. Tucked in.
It’s all in your head.
I love you very, very much.
She tells him about the secret her mother told her. She tells him about college. Paul. Going to him for help for her mom. Their relationship. The things he’d done to her. She tells him how she tried to end it and he’d held her down while another man used her. How she’d thought that was the end until the night he showed up at her dad’s party. The bathroom. The bedroom. The knife.
She’d told him about Paul before. The times she had gone to see him. What she had done with the money—everything came back to her mother. But she knows more now than she did then. Remembers the details of what had been done to her. She doesn’t want to tell him. But when he pushes she does. Everything. Her mother’s continued financial distress even after the wage garnishment stopped. Celia’s continued visits to his home to collect the money for her mother. Her father’s words on New Years Eve: “Celia would be happy to receive instruction.”
Her voice is flat. She doesn’t let him see her tears. She doesn’t let him know how much it hurts to share these ugly parts of her past. She doesn’t want his sympathy. She just wants him to know. She tells him about her suspicion that he mind fucked her, but it’s only a theory. She has no proof. And it doesn’t excuse what she did.
She tells him about getting her dad arrested. Chase at the bar. Taking her home. The arguing. The guns. The fire escape. Veronica. The rape.
Star mode, she’d told him years ago, but she’d never confirmed it. It’s just a theory. Pietro had never much wanted to talk about that night, only confirmed that they’d never had sex. He’d fed from her. Gotten her off, maybe, but the details are fuzzy. She was inebriated. It’s not an excuse, just an explanation.
She tells him about calling them the next night. Knowing they weren’t human but he’d said he was a thief so she thought he could get her mom back. Veronica’s test. The bargain. Power. Her plans. Pete showing up. Explaining the rules. The video of her mother tied to the bed. Getting her out. Getting her safe. Going back to hurt him. To hurt him and to hurt Isabel. The rage.
She’s never told anyone that before. Pete knows, but only because of the tape. She’d never said what she’d done. Her awful revenge.
She tells him about the second Maxen. The monster in the window. The sky. His icy grip.
That same cold grip seizes her throat when she tries to tell him about her Embrace. She touches a hand to it, hoping he understands.
GM: Roderick listens.
The basic story is familiar to him.
But the details likely aren’t.
They are such ugly details.
His face gets ugly, too, to match. During the parts with Paul. With Pietro. With Veronica.
He asks for details. All of the grisly, gory, ugly details. Everything from the piss-soaked blondies to the blowjobs while she was leashed to a wall to how much better ‘Chase’ was in bed than him.
Celia can see the rage welling in his eyes. The fangs jutting from his mouth. The way his fists clench and un-clench.
But he keeps it down.
He keeps it under control.
He understands, too.
But only so far.
“No, no, no, no, Celia,” he says patiently, interrupting her story when she clamps up about her Embrace and gestures towards her throat.
“Spit it out. You don’t get to keep secrets anymore. Not from me. Not after everything you’ve done.”
There’s that same cool look to his eyes.
“You are going to spit out every last ugly little detail, every last dirty little secret in your head, and come completely clean. Or I am going to dump you, right here, and you will go through the rest of your Requiem alone.”
Celia: Celia watches his face. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t shrink back. She doesn’t let anything show on her own face; it’s marble, porcelain, another mask. The unafraid girlfriend. The trusting girlfriend. The “he won’t kill me” girlfriend.
She takes a breath. She sends the blood inside of her body where she needs it to go. She can’t focus on defying her sire while she’s busy worrying about the pain in her body. So she heals it. She lets the pain fade away.
And wishes she hadn’t when the hunger gnaws at her instead, snarling inside of her like the unthinking Beast it is. It rises to the surface. It wants to fight. To feed. To fuck, but only to show dominion. This boy has put it through so much tonight. The stake. The name calling. The demands. The cage. The microwave. Now this. Making the girl tell him everything. Making her spill the final secret. The one she has guarded more preciously than any other.
The one she’s never told another soul.
She snarls. Her fangs jut out from her mouth, eyes blazing with a mindless fury and hunger.
She’s halfway out of her seat before the girl reaches for the leash. The blonde girl with the blue eyes. The one who still believes in love. She gets in the way. Not him.
The Beast snarls at her, too. It draws back its hand to strike.
Not him, she says again.
Not him, the dead girl agrees.
Not yet. Someone Else. Her presence is calming. Cooling. It soothes the ragged edges of the Beast’s frayed nerves. It turns from a slavering tiger to tiny housecat. Someone Else picks it up and puts it back in its cage, locking the door tight.
The blonde girl shows dimples when she smiles. She reaches through the bars to bleed herself for the monster in the cage, letting it slake its hunger on her instead of him.
And she bleeds for her love.
Celia takes the reins again. She slumps back against the couch, exhausted from her fight with the Beast. Exhausted from her hunger. Exhausted from her emotional turmoil. Wondering if he’s going to hurt her. To correct her. To leave her. Exhausted from pulling so hard at her bond all evening and now, here, her opening. She slips the collar.
There’s one lie left. The thing it all comes back to.
And it might be too much.
“He killed me,” she whispers to her knees, drawing them up to her chest. “He killed me that night. He’s my sire.”
Maybe it all clicks into place for him then. Why she’s so close to Savoy. Why she said she could “handle” him. Why she wasn’t afraid when he showed up. Why he even showed up in the first place.
That time she asked him if he thought sires were important. If the childe will become like their monstrous sire given enough time.
Her affiliation with Savoy from the beginning, long before Veronica jumped ship.
All of the lies.
Every single one of them.
They all go back to Donovan being her sire.
It’s an ugly truth. She’s the childe of the most feared lick in the city. She’s the childe of the monster that let her father torment her family, that gave him the tools to do so. She’s the childe of the lick Roderick wants to kill.
She feels better for the telling. Even though her heart breaks. Even though she’s worried that he won’t love her as she is. Won’t love her for the secret.
But she keeps going.
She tells him about falling. Waking up on Savoy’s lap. Veronica’s rage.
She tells him she wanted to keep him. She could taste his love. She almost ripped his throat out for it. But she wanted better for him.
She never thought it would lead to his death.
She’s blamed herself for so long. It’s her fault Coco could come along and take him. She hurt him. It’s her fault. She’d thought she was doing the right thing but it’s her fault.
It’s always her fault.
She tells him about seeing him at the release. About asking Coco if love is real among licks when she’d woken up on her couch.
She fills in the gaps of the years they were apart. Online school. Medical training. Her business. Her other business. Collecting intel. Her krewe. Another New Years Eve disaster.
She tells him about her projects. The prince. The other prince. The demons. The ghosts. Maxen. Her mother. The dolls. Hunters. Research. Experiments. The vision.
Her relief earlier this evening when he said that he’s in charge. Every time she tries to get it right she gets it wrong. She doesn’t want to get it wrong anymore.
All of the ugliness. All of the lies. All of her partners. All of the secrets she has been holding onto. She tells him.
GM: He said it would feel better.
Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.
But at least for him, the rest of it seems to go down easier.
Her true sire. Her projects. The prince. The other prince. The demons. The ghosts. Maxen. Her mother. The dolls. Hunters. Research. Experiments. The vision.
None of that is about them. Except for the last bit.
His face stays calm. He doesn’t seem to be wrestling with his Beast anymore. His fangs don’t jut. His hands don’t clench and un-clench.
“So that’s everything, Celia?” he patiently asks when she’s finished.
“Those are all your secrets? That’s everything about yourself you want me to know?”
Celia: Maybe it’s worse this way. Maybe she could forgive him if he reached for her in anger. Maybe she wouldn’t take it so personally. Maybe she wouldn’t tremble, then try to control her trembling, then shake her head at his final question.
He said everything.
She starts with Jade. How she came out the night of her Embrace. How she’d called her cousin, and how he’d asked for her name. Jade, she’d said. She’d said it again when Savoy told her Celia should disappear.
Part of her. But separate.
She tells him that there’s more than one.
She tells him that sometimes she’s afraid she doesn’t know who she is anymore. That she’s changed her face so often she doesn’t think any of her body is actually hers. That she doesn’t know if she’s Donovan’s childe or Roderick’s girlfriend or Savoy’s lapcat or Veronica’s clone.
She sounds crazy. She knows that. She admits it. She tells him so before he can even reach the conclusion himself. She’s never spoken to anyone in depth about it. Except this evening. Harlequin. He’d approached her first and told her that she’s cracking.
And this is why.
GM: “I see,” Roderick says simply.
He drums a finger along the couch’s armrest.
“I will render my judgment once you’ve told me everything, Celia. The fact you have multiple personalities is a very germane piece of information. That was wise of you to bring up.”
He regards her calmly.
“Is that the last of your secrets? Anything I find out later which you don’t bring up now will go much, much worse for you.”
Celia: She’d told him everything. She can’t think of anything else. But she feels like there’s a trap he’s waiting to spring on her. Like he knows something she doesn’t. So she tells him, again, about the cowboy. Just in case he’d forgotten anything she said about him earlier. She doesn’t want to be accused of lying or hiding things.
When it’s done she’s empty. There are no more secrets left to reveal.
She asks, finally, if she needs to expand on anything.
GM: “What about the licks you’ve shared blood with, Celia?” he asks, still calmly. “Which ones, since we got back together?”
“I just want to be pretty clear over that.”
Celia: She tells him. All of them.
GM: “Well, well, well,” Roderick says patiently.
He drums his fingers against the armrest some more.
“I think I’ve heard just about all I need to render judgment.”
“But Carolla, first.”
“My dear brother. Who’s touched you. Who’s fucked you.”
“How did his hand-off to the hunters go?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you expect he’s going to suffer?”
Celia: He’s done with her.
She can hear it.
GM: “What makes you think ten?” he asks.
“What’s a one, for comparison? What’s another ten?”
Celia: “Reggie said it went well. That they told him about their training program. They sound well organized. Methodical. A… a one is…” She doesn’t know. “Broken bones. A one is broken bones. A ten is…” The microwave. Her broken heart. Losing everything she’s ever loved.
“Burning. Forever. Hell. Ceasing to exist. His soul cleaved from his body. Oblivion.”
GM: “Really?” Roderick asks. “What makes you think they’re going to inflict such agony upon him?”
Celia: “I don’t know what else they would do with him. When I studied things… I took them apart. Bit by bit. Saw what they could handle. Their pain threshold. How far they would bend before they broke. Research.”
“But… but we didn’t know if they could wake him up,” she says, “so maybe… maybe not..?”
“If he’s unconscious…”
GM: “Yes, he is unconscious,” says Roderick. “Or torpid, to be precise, which is a distinct state from simple unconsciousness, Celia.”
“‘Maybe not,’” he repeats, parroting her words.
Celia: “There’s still a lot to do to a torpid lick,” she offers, as if that helps.
“I know what I would do. If I were studying him.”
“Or another supernatural.”
GM: “You do have the technical knowledge. Just not the big picture,” says Roderick.
Celia: “No,” she agrees. “I don’t have the big picture.”
GM: “Because you’re less intelligent than me.”
GM: “You are my intellectual inferior. Even if you earn a degree from Tulane, it’s unlikely that we will ever be equals in that area.”
Celia: Celia drops her eyes to the floor. She nods.
“Yes. You know more. You’re smarter. I have… I have makeup.”
GM: “You have makeup,” Roderick repeats. “It’s a literally surface-level vocation.”
Celia: “I found… I found majors,” she offers, “but it won’t… you’re still smarter.”
GM: “Yes, Celia, we just discussed that. ‘Even if you earn a degree from Tulane.’”
Celia: That’s not what she meant. But she nods anyway.
“I only meant that you told me to find something. So I did. I have a list. So you can see.”
GM: “Are we all finished now, Celia? Have you told me everything I need to know to decide the future of our relationship?”
He looks her in the eye.
“You should be very thorough. Anything you tell me now will be considered with an eye towards leniency. Telling the truth will either be rewarded or corrected less harshly. Anything I find out later will go much, much, much worse for you.”
Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment.
Finally, she shakes her head.
“There’s more. There’s more I want to tell you. It doesn’t directly involve us, but it… informs some things, maybe. I’m still working out part of it, I’m researching… but it’s… I want to tell you. Everything. That’s part of everything.”
GM: “Very well then, Celia,” says Roderick. “We will discuss these other things later.”
“Kneel on the floor.”
Celia: Celia moves off the couch immediately. She kneels.
GM: “In front of me.”
Celia: She edges forward on her knees until she’s just in front of him.
GM: “How does it make you feel to assume this position?”
Celia: It reminds her of Paul.
“Afraid. Lesser. Anxious. Unworthy.”
GM: He nods.
“You should feel all of those things.”
“I wonder, should I make you wait to hear my decision?”
Celia: “If… if that… if that’s what you want. To leave me anxious. Unsure.”
GM: “How would it make you feel, Celia?”
“To not know where things stand.”
“To not know what future you are going to have with me.”
Celia: “Nervous. Like I don’t matter. Hopeful. But resigned. Like I’m… on eggshells.”
Like she’s back at home with her dad.
“Adrift,” she tacks on.
GM: “That idea has considerable appeal,” says Roderick.
“To make you unsure about me like I’ve been so unsure about you.”
“Given what a liar you are.”
Celia: It’s fair. Fair punishment. She blinks back whatever emotion tries to creep into her face and nods her head again.
GM: “That’s the problem, with pathological liars like you.”
“There are just so many little ways you can bend and distort the truth, and you told me so many ‘truths.’”
“It’s like looking through a needle in a haystack to find all the little lies.”
“I’ll definitely be independently corroborating a great deal of this, since I can’t trust you.”
“Really, whether I dump you or stay with you, that fact won’t change.”
“I don’t trust you.”
“You haven’t proven worthy of my trust.”
Celia: “Can I?” she asks. “Is it possible? After everything?”
GM: “But,” he smiles, “I’m going to be merciful here.”
“Even if you’ve fed me still more lies, I suspect you still disclosed a large number of truths.”
“Many of which won’t take overly much effort on my part to verify.”
He reaches out and places a hand on Celia’s head.
“I’m not going to break up with you. Not here, at least. How does that make you feel?”
It makes her feel worse.
Because she doesn’t deserve good things after everything she’s done. After all the lies she’s told him. She doesn’t deserve another chance. She doesn’t deserve to have him touch her.
Worse, too, because of the phrasing. Not here. If not here, then where? When? Is he going to do it anyway? Her stomach ties itself in knots. Red leaks from her eyes.
But she tells him what he wants to know. That she’s afraid she’s going to lose him still. That she doesn’t know what he means, not here. That she’s afraid Donovan will find out she told and kill them both for it.
GM: “Mmm-hmm, yes,” says Roderick.
He pats her head.
“There are some outstanding issues to resolve, first, before our relationship can fully resume.”
“There will no sex, kissing, blood sharing, or sleeping together until these issues are resolved.”
Celia: “Which issues?”
GM: “First, the various licks and breathers who’ve used you.”
A sneer crosses his face.
“I’m not accepting anyone’s sloppy seconds.”
“Or sloppy thirds.”
“You’ve whored yourself around so much, I’m not sure a number in the single digits is even appropriate.”
Celia: Celia sinks lower with every number he says.
GM: “We can fix that, though.”
He takes her chin and tilts it up so she meets his eyes.
“You want to fix that, don’t you?”
Celia: Celia nods her head.
“Yes, Roderick. I want to fix it.”
GM: “To make up for what a whore you’ve been?”
“You’re going to arrange a meeting for me with Reynaldo Gui.”
“Not as Roderick, though.”
“You’re going to give me a new face.”
“You can come up with whatever name, identity, and story you like.”
Celia: “To hurt him?”
GM: “You’re going to arrange a meeting between this new lick and Reynaldo Gui,” Roderick continues.
“You will wear a different face and give him a different name when you do so.”
“Neither of us can appear directly involved.”
“If you fail to secure this meeting, I will break up with you.”
“Are we understood?”
Celia: “Lord Savoy knows I can change my face.”
GM: “Then you’d better have a good cover story for why Gui is meeting you, and you’d better make sure Savoy doesn’t know.”
“You shouldn’t rely on just the fleshcrafting. That’s lazy.”
“But you are a very good liar, if nothing else, so I’m confident you can arrange it.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I understand.”
“I will arrange a meeting. I will lie. I will change our faces.”
GM: He rubs Celia’s shoulder and gives her an understanding smile.
“If this meeting goes the way I want, you’ll stand to benefit quite a bit too.”
“I know what’s best, Celia.”
GM: “Do I know what’s best, Celia?”
Celia: “No. You said. We’d both benefit.”
GM: He raises his eyebrows and removes his hand.
“No? You think I don’t know what’s best?”
Celia: “No. I do. I don’t understand the benefit. I know you know what’s best. I know you do. You do.”
GM: “Good,” says Roderick, rubbing her shoulder again.
“You don’t need to worry about the details.”
Celia: “Okay,” she says quietly.
GM: “You wouldn’t understand them as well anyway.”
Celia: “What else? What other issues?”
GM: “There are several others, but you don’t need to know about those just yet.”
“I’ll take care of them.”
“It will make our relationship stronger.”
Celia: “Do I… do I need to do anything else?”
“Some other significant issues in your Requiem to address are your sire, your father, and your mental health. But we don’t need to resolve those issues before our relationship can fully resume.”
He pats the seat next to him.
“You can sit next to me now, if you’d like to.”
“Which of those issues would you like to discuss first?”
Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything. She just slowly rises to take her former seat, sitting beside him on the couch.
GM: “Your dad is scum,” Roderick says shortly.
“I was… I wanted to ask…”
GM: “What did you want to ask?”
Celia: “He’s supposed to see my family on Sunday. For dinner. My mom wants to… to see him. Emily thinks it’s a trap. He said he had a demon exorcised. It’s possible. The priest died. Mr. Bornemann told me that the priest or the host can die in an exorcism. But that holy ground hurts them. But he kept going to church. But not all holy ground is created equal. I wanted to… to see if you’d come, so you can see. If he’s real. Or lying.”
GM: “It’s immaterial whether he’s lying or not,” says Roderick.
“He hasn’t earned forgiveness either way.”
“I also know from firsthand experience with you that lying runs in the Flores family, even if he isn’t your biological father. It’s entirely possible that dinner could be nothing but a pack of lies.”
Celia: “That’s why I wanted to ask if you’d come.”
GM: “I just told you it’s irrelevant whether he’s lying or not, Celia,” Roderick reproaches. “At least as far as it impacts what we should do with him.”
“I mostly just don’t like listening to liars spin their lies.”
“It makes me want to bash in some fucking skulls.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t do so much as flinch. She’s still. But not the stillness that he’s used to when he gets angry. Just the normal kind. The dead kind.
“I had… ideas. On what to do with him. If you want to hear.”
GM: “Proceed,” says Roderick.
Celia: “He’s running for governor, he said. I don’t know how many people outside of my family and the politicians he works with know yet. I’ve been planting seeds to ruin him politically if needed. Or to assist, if needed. I just pull the things I’ve been working on if we want a political pawn. He’d be in Baton Rouge. It’s not that far. Invictus controlled. I have a… cousin there. In Baton Rouge. I thought about a new identity to go with him. An older lick. One the licks there maybe couldn’t push around as easily.”
A pause. Then,
“You know more, though.”
“I was waiting to see if he was still infected or not before I made a decision on what to do with him. To see if I could make him useful.”
“And no one would suspect Celia visiting her father.”
She’s waiting, she realizes, for him to tell her that she’s stupid again. That she doesn’t know enough about politics to play that game. That they’re just going to ruin and kill him because he’s a scumbag.
GM: “Yes, you mentioned he was running,” says Roderick. “I’d been considering that question, too. What to do with him.”
“Part of me is tempted to punish him for what a vile scumbag he is. He did despicable things to the family whose welfare he was responsible for. That he should suffer for his actions is right and just.”
“Incidentally, Celia, the philosophy behind the Lancea et Sanctum seems much more attractive to me these nights. I don’t agree with them on many of the finer points of dogma. But the essential purpose of the Kindred being to punish the wicked? That’s an actual constructive purpose for our species.”
Celia: “Did you kill Elijah?” she asks abruptly.
GM: Roderick gives her an almost affronted look.
“Elijah’s actions didn’t warrant death, Celia.”
“He was a terrible human being, though. He was punished for that.”
GM: “He still is being punished for that.”
Celia: “…still being..?”
GM: “We’ll see if it’s enough to set him on a better course.”
“As I said, the philosophy behind the Lancea et Sanctum seems very attractive to me these nights.”
“It’s a shame there aren’t any priests among the Bourbons. Not since Katrina.”
“Ah, well. I suppose it’s easy enough for me to talk with the Hardliners.”
Celia: She almost tells him that Benson is being ordained.
But he’s the one who told her that last week, so she doesn’t.
GM: “Is this going over your head, Celia?” Roderick asks in an indulgent tone.
Celia: “No. I was… I didn’t want to question you.”
GM: “I suppose that’s why I should talk with someone more educated than you, as the whole point of philosophical discourse is to ask questions.”
Celia: Celia sinks further into herself. She draws her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. Suddenly the sheer teddy feels absurd. She’s exposed. Vulnerable.
“I didn’t know if you meant you wanted to bring one over or convert to the Sanctified faith yourself. You said the Hardliners are easy to talk to, so I thought it could be either, but I’ve heard some people don’t view Lord Savoy as legitimate because of his lack of priests.”
“Like it’s all a show.”
GM: “I’m not thinking about converting at this point,” says Roderick. “I’m simply interested in discussing their ideas with someone who’s well-educated in their theology. The best-educated such Kindred are priests, Celia.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”
GM: “Savoy doesn’t have any priests. Not since Katrina. Hence why it’s a shame, as discoursing with someone over Sanctified theology is also useful as a ‘networking tool.’”
“And it’s less useful for me to build relationships among the Hardliners than the Bourbons.”
Celia: “It could be useful.”
“If you wanted to…”
“To play both sides. To protect your cover.”
GM: “Most Sanctified are happy to talk about their faith with someone who displays interest in it. That’s evangelism, in so many words.”
“But that’s also true enough. There is social benefit in approaching any Sanctified, Bourbon or Hardliner, about their faith.”
Celia: “It would also give you some legitimacy with a new identity, if you wanted to go that route for your time in the Quarter.”
GM: “My new identity won’t have any cause to talk with the Hardliners, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently. “I can already do that as Roderick.”
Celia: “I know. I meant. If you wanted him to be Sanctified rather than Anarch.”
GM: “You can be very stupid sometimes, Celia.”
Celia: She blinks, but nods her head, drawing her knees further against herself.
“Yes, Roderick. I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”
GM: “I hope so.”
Celia: “You were telling me what you wanted to do with my dad,” she says quietly.
GM: “The new identity is going to be a Bourbon,” Roderick explains. “Because the Bourbons live in the French Quarter. The Bourbons and the Hardliners do not make a habit of engaging in friendly conversation with one another. Picture it like the Bloods and Crypts, Celia.”
Celia: “That isn’t what I meant.”
GM: “No? Then explain for me.”
Celia: “I meant that speaking to a Hardliner priest as Roderick will offer you a foundation to build a new Bourbon identity that can be Sanctified rather than Anarch, as being an intelligent Brujah Anarch in Savoy’s court may make people look at you twice, but being a Sanctified is a further step away from where you are now. You could also claim another clan to further distinguish the identities.”
“I didn’t mean that you would fraternize with the Hardliners as a Bourbon.”
“I must have misspoken.”
GM: “You do that a lot.”
Celia: “I’m sorry.”
“I only wanted to help create a good cover for you. Your talk about the priests made me think that it would be a good cover. But then I also thought maybe you’d want to take control of the Anarchs, but I don’t… I don’t know what you want, you said you’d tell me later, but I’m trying to account for multiple angles. I didn’t mean to overstep if I did.”
GM: “You didn’t overstep,” says Roderick. “It’s good that you’re concerned for my future. We will talk about that in due time.”
Celia: “Okay. I’d like to… to help. How I can. If I can.”
GM: “I think you will be able to. And you did misspeak, earlier, but the conclusion you reached is one I also share. The new identity should be a Bourbon rather than an Anarch.”
“Actual knowledge of theology isn’t necessary for it, though. Savoy’s followers are much less devout.”
“Yourself, case in point. I doubt you’ve read the Testament.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick. Unless… you wanted to be older, to take that spot, to give him more legitimacy..?”
GM: Roderick gives Celia a scornful look.
Celia: “It’s, um, people confess to priests. It would give you leverage.”
GM: “I am not a priest, Celia. I am unlikely to acquire a priest’s spiritual knowledge through conversation with a priest.”
“I am more intelligent than you, but that doesn’t mean I know everything. I have only a layman’s knowledge of Sanctified theology.”
“That was a very stupid suggestion.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I’m sorry. It was a stupid suggestion.”
“I won’t make more suggestions, if you don’t want. I don’t want to waste your time.”
GM: “You can make further suggestions. More opinions rarely hurt and can potentially help.”
“Just make fewer stupid suggestions, okay?”
“You can also ask me if you aren’t sure whether a suggestion is stupid or not. That shows greater humility and self-awareness.”
Celia: “Before? Or after?”
GM: “You mean before or after you make the suggestion?”
GM: “Concurrently. You can bring up the suggestion and ask me if it’s stupid.”
Celia: “If it’s stupid, will you tell me how, so I don’t repeat the mistake?”
GM: “Of course. I’ve been doing that already, haven’t I?”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick. You correct me. I only wanted to be certain I’d receive further correction when I say stupid things.”
GM: “You will, Celia. I’ll help you to be smarter, even if it takes a long time.”
Celia: “My… my dad said… stupid can be taught, it just takes longer.”
GM: “Your dad was wrong about many things, but he was right about that.”
“In any case, we’ve grown sidetracked. We were speaking about your father.”
“Part of me wants to punish him for what a vile piece of shit he is.”
“But he’s protected by your sire, so that would have repercussions.”
“And, of course, there’s the separate issue of whether and how to make use of him.”
Celia: “Roderick? I have a thought? But I don’t know if it’s stupid? But the Tremere told me they can test to see if he was possessed, but I’d owe them for it, but that could maybe tell us more if he is or isn’t, but I don’t know if you care about that versus what he’s done, but if it wasn’t him, if he was possessed… does that mean he’s still good, that we could use him? I’m not attached to him, but it’s an avenue for further information and I didn’t want to not tell you about it.”
GM: “He isn’t a good man, Celia.”
GM: “His potential demonic possession is material only insofar as it makes him harder to punish or manipulate.”
Celia: “Is it something you want to know about? Demonic possession?”
GM: “I want to know about everything, Celia. But whether that knowledge is germane is a separate matter.”
Celia: Celia bobs her head up and down.
“I didn’t know how to look into the exorcism because the priest is dead.”
“But that doesn’t matter next to what you want to do with him.”
“And the sheriff being in the way.”
GM: “There are still ways to investigate the alleged exorcism, you’re just not smart enough to consider them,” says Roderick.
“Unless the political landscape significantly changes, I would give reasonable odds that your father is going to become governor,” he muses. “Roberts is a strong candidate, so I wouldn’t write him out completely, but Louisiana is a red state now and he’s fighting an uphill battle. He won’t have Fred Pavaghi’s corruption to campaign against this time.”
Celia: “I have a contact,” Celia volunteers, “that could be used to look into Roberts. If we want to find out more about him.”
“Dirt. Um, to sway things.”
GM: “We’ll consider that issue later.”
“The governor is obviously a very attractive prize pawn to any Kindred. But just consider, Celia. What would we actually do with him?”
“What uses would we employ him towards?”
Celia: “Um. There’s no… term limit. He’d be a long-term puppet. The state is more day-to-day for, um, policies. Connections. Resources. It could help with… with you wanting to take down the Mafia, maybe, and putting, um, heat on other licks through various connections and agencies. He told me it opens additional doors for him, and he might seek a national seat, but that gets messy with DC…”
GM: “These are very vague and half-formed ideas, Celia.”
“Some of them very poorly articulated.”
Celia: Celia is quiet for several moments before she finally admits she doesn’t know how best to utilize his position.
GM: “How would you even influence him? Do you suppose he’s going to take political advice from the daughter he thinks is stupid?”
“Is he going to invite you to cabinet meetings?”
Celia: “N… no.”
“I have some sway over my brothers, but they’re young. I don’t know if he’d listen to them either.”
“I have a contact.” A doll. “Her husband is a political consultant.”
GM: “I’m going to think about what I want that your father could help me accomplish,” says Roderick. “I want you to do the same. What you want that your father could help you to accomplish. The consultant could help, once you’ve figured out what you want from your father.”
Celia: “Okay. I will.”
“What about the local scene?”
GM: “What ‘local scene’, Celia?”
Celia: “The mayor.”
GM: “You have no connections to any of the candidates, so that subject seems rather moot.”
Celia: “Not a personal connection. But I know some things about them, maybe enough to sway the outcome. And the woman could easily become a client.”
GM: “Do that,” says Roderick. “It could have value even if she doesn’t win the election.”
“Get your employees in uniforms before you bring her in. It’s important to project a professional image with your business. Especially around higher-profile clients.”
Celia: “I want to open a second location.”
GM: “That could have value. Where?”
Celia: “Marigny, because of its neutral locale. I was also considering Riverbend, but my sire… I know he will say no. We don’t publicly associate.”
GM: “Of course he would say no.”
“Would this second location exist to primarily service Kindred or breather clients?”
Celia: “I thought both, like it does now, since I already have the setup and the managers ready to go. The cost of the business mainly comes from the building and renovations itself. The employees are commission based; if they are not busy they don’t get paid. That helps keep them motivated to bring people in. The actual product cost for services is marginal. It would be almost passive income.”
“The problem I foresee with that is the location itself. Marigny is not known for its spas, and another location with more upscale clientele would be ideal if I choose to pursue more meaningful breather clients. The buildings would also be very close together in a grand scheme, which means rather than drawing from a new pool of clients I would only be expanding the circle slightly. I also had plans to move Alana to a different role within my service, which would necessitate someone else to oversee the business, though I don’t necessarily need to ghoul them.”
“I also… I’ve been working on experiments. With the kine. Hybrids. I can show you some of my work, some mockups. I would like more space to focus on that. I am also concerned that there are too many people who know that Celia is Jade and can thus connect me to Dicentra, so I had also considered making it exclusively for Kindred and only operating under the Dicentra name.”
“Less overhead that way. But I’d need better security.”
GM: Roderick considers.
“Uptown is another potential location in lieu of Riverbend. The kine there are generally affluent and it’s far removed from the Quarter.”
“I’m not certain how McGinn would feel about letting a Bourbon set up shop in his domain, but he’s obviously more likely to say yes than the sheriff.”
Celia: “I believe I will be able to help make the idea more palatable for him.”
“I was also looking to add a service to Harrah’s. Not an entire spa. Just a few girls.”
GM: “Yes, you’d mentioned your plans there. Expanding into Harrah’s seems promising as well. It’s removed from your locations in Uptown and the Quarter in multiple senses of the word.”
“It could also be possible to set up the location in Uptown without McGinn’s knowledge. What benefit does that offer?”
Celia: “I wouldn’t owe him anything. It wouldn’t be connected to me at all.”
GM: “No, Celia. I asked you what benefit his knowledge of your ties to the second location offers.”
Celia: “Oh. I wouldn’t need to worry about getting caught. It would allow me possible access to his domain on other unrelated business, as I could say that I’m just there to do spa things. The Flawless name is already known so I wouldn’t be starting from scratch. I could find a way to build a more solid relationship there, either for myself or Lord Savoy, and utilize that to further our plans and goals.”
“His patrols are fairly violent,” Celia mentions as an aside.
GM: “Yes, and he gets fewer poachers as a result. His methods work.”
Celia: “Yes.” She thinks about mentioning the trip to the library. But she’d handled it. No harm done.
GM: “I think cultivating a relationship with him could have value,” considers Roderick. “He is one of the more influential Kindred in the city. Likewise with his wife.”
Celia: “I haven’t spent as much time with her as I’d have liked recently. I had to put other things ahead of the harpies. I’d like to fix that so I’m not cut off.”
“But that’s a different subject, I didn’t mean to derail us.”
GM: “Yes, we were derailed from your father.”
“Suppose, Celia, that you’re Lawrence Meeks, the prince of Baton Rouge. A new governor is elected, and a new Kindred shows up in your city who seems fairly close to the new governor. What do you do?”
Celia: “Take out the lick.”
“Protect the domain. Stay on top.”
GM: “That’s correct, Celia. You take out the threat to your domain.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick, I understand. That’s why I thought it was beneficial that I can pass as a mortal and just be seen as his visiting daughter.”
GM: “Correct. You’re going to limit how many people know Celia is a ghoul. You’d mentioned that. Meeks is a city away, so that fact will help us, but the Nosferatu have damnably good intelligence.”
Celia: “There are a number of people who know that Celia is a lick. I haven’t played up being a ghoul as much as I could, but there are others who believe that as well.”
GM: “Who knows Celia is Kindred?”
Celia: “The full list is you, Lebeaux, Preston, Savoy, Donovan, Caroline, Coco, Veronica, Pietro, Dani, Mélissaire, Alana, Diana, Reggie, Rusty.”
“Possibly the seneschal, as we discussed prior.”
GM: “That’s too many names.”
Celia: “Five of them are ghouls. One is your sister. One has been covering for me this entire time.”
“There are only two names on the list that cause me great concern.”
GM: “How long have Reggie and Rusty known?”
Celia: “Less than a week.”
GM: “Get Savoy to wipe their memories. Ask him to do it.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”
GM: “Need to know, Celia. If those two don’t need to know something, don’t tell them.”
Celia: “I believed they needed to know at the time. The threat has passed. I will have their memories removed.”
GM: “At least Randy has been tied up as a loose end, I suppose.”
Celia: There’s a flicker of something across her face. She smooths it over before it can be more than that.
The screaming starts again in her mind. The ragged, throaty gasps of a girl in the clouds. The blood curdling shrieks in a hallway full of blood. The death rattle of a lost boy with a broken smile, instants before a heavy boot crushes his skull.
“Yes,” someone says. It might be her.
“I always struggled to find a use for him. He didn’t offer much, next to his brothers.” Cold, flat words.
Warmth. Love. He gave her that, at least. Gave her that when she needed it most.
Now he’s just an excuse to take what she wants from someone else who disappointed her.
Valuable, in the end.
GM: “Alana, Rusty, and Reggie all have clear uses,” Roderick concurs. “What use is your mother?”
Celia: “Cover for daytime absences. Feeding. Cultivating relationships at McGehee, where I can groom them from an early age. Performances. Toreador acclaim through performances. Safe house if needed. Possible sway over a future husband. Possible breeding. She is learning swordplay and defense to serve as a protector and bodyguard. Contacts through her in the theater, dance, and academics world. Insignificant; no one suspects that a former ballerina would be a ghoul, therefore she is overlooked. Invisible. She has access to a large number of instructors at her current job and was able to find information for me the evening after I asked, which has been confirmed by another source.”
“She has also assisted with the mental health issues you and I mentioned briefly.”
Clinical, detached observations. As if it isn’t her mother she’s discussing, but a random breather on the street.
GM: “Breeding?” Roderick asks, eyebrows raised.
Celia: “Ghoul families. She is very fertile. Getting on in age, but still possibly fertile. I believe she would be accommodating were I to wish to experiment upon her body for such a purpose.”
“It is an admittedly narrow window before the opportunity passes by.”
“As I don’t believe that even with fleshcrafting I can completely reverse the clock long enough to keep her capable of pumping out children. Perhaps a more advanced form. But weaning her from the blood for nine months will cause her to jump forward in age.”
“The archon and I discussed some of this when he visited. When he returns he has asked me to assist him with a project, and if I impress him he has agreed to take me on to learn under him.”
“I had already been considering the implications of combining Tremere blood magics with what I can do, and how far I might be able to go. I am admittedly not an expert in that subject, but I have a teacher willing to pass on knowledge.”
“I think it might be the key that I’ve been missing in my current research.”
GM: “I see,” says Roderick. “There’s a number of further things here to discuss.”
“But first, tell me. What are your thoughts and intentions regarding Lucy and Emily?”
Celia: “I had no intention to interfere in the life of Lucy or Emily. Emily’s stubbornness would be a handicap to her usefulness as a ghoul, and I believe breaking her will be more trouble than it is worth. Thus far I have mostly used her for medical knowledge, though I can never push too deep. I think she also has an idealistic streak that wouldn’t allow her to fathom the idea of going as far as I’d like when it is human lives on the table.”
Emily isn’t a monster.
“In lieu of that, I had planned to use her connections in the medical world as needed. She is close with a number of other professionals. She will be more valuable once she graduates and comes into contact with people I can also use to further my goals and research. Even something like a medical examiner will open doors. Her boyfriend is also useful for his swordplay.”
GM: Roderick nods.
“And what about Lucy, Celia?”
“I really thought she might have been my daughter for a while.”
Celia: “I have not made long term plans for Lucy. She is young enough that she can go a number of different directions—”
She cuts off at his words, blinking. Her hand touches her stomach.
She’d never taken the second pill.
GM: Roderick looks at her calmly.
“I wonder if he killed it.”
“If there was something there.”
Celia: “It… it would have only been… a day, maybe…”
She blinks again. Red stains her vision. She wipes at it.
“Can I… can I hug you?”
GM: “You may not, Celia,” he answers.
“This will serve as your correction.”
“Because you just did something that required correcting.”
Celia: Another blink. She moves further from herself, floating away on the wind.
It’s lucky there are so many other girls to pick up the pieces.
“Please tell me what I did so that I do not repeat it.”
Hollow, wooden words. A girl playing a role.
GM: “I want you to figure this one out for yourself, Celia. But I’ll give you a hint.”
“I don’t want to ghoul my father. I’m still nice to Dani, despite the fact she is of limited practical value. Why is that?”
Celia: “She’s family.”
GM: “But I don’t plan to belittle her like I have you. Why is that?”
Celia: “She’s not stupid.”
“She will rebel if you do.”
GM: “Try again, Celia.”
“Dani also is more intelligent than you, though she is still less so than me.”
Celia: “I don’t know.”
GM: “Let’s try my father, then. Why don’t I want to ghoul him?”
Celia: “You would be intruding on someone else’s domain. You don’t want to expose him to this world. He can be used against you if anyone knows about the connection between you. He is too strong willed and already has his path laid out for him, which means you would need to rely on the addiction alone to keep him in line, which creates rebellious and often disloyal ghouls. You don’t need to ghoul him in order to make contact with him through various other pawns or ghouls to assist each other.”
“He believes that you are dead and your death broke him.”
GM: “Most of these facts are true, Celia. But none of them are the reason I don’t want to ghoul him.”
Celia: “I don’t know, Roderick. I don’t know your personal feelings on the matter. I was only looking at the objective information.”
GM: “Then consider my personal feelings, Celia. Towards him and towards my sister. What might those be?”
Celia: “You care about them. You left them to keep them safe.”
GM: “That’s correct, Celia. I do care about them.”
“But that isn’t all of it, either.”
“Why did I do what I did to Elijah?”
Celia: “He is a sinner. Corrupt.”
GM: “How sinful and corrupt are Dani and my father?”
Celia: “Not very.”
GM: “How sinful and corrupt are you?”
Celia: “Do you mean what makes me a sinner, or do you mean how did I become this way?”
GM: “What actions have you committed that make you describe yourself as very sinful and corrupt?”
Celia: “I lied to you repeatedly over the course of our relationship. I cheated on you. I betrayed you. I lied to everyone. I hurt people. I have killed people. I am selfish and lustful.”
GM: “That’s correct, Celia.”
“That is why you deserve worse treatment at my hands than my father and sister.”
Celia: “When I am no longer corrupt and sinful, will our relationship change or adapt?”
GM: “I find it unlikely that you will stop being corrupt and sinful. But our relationship will change and adapt when I feel you have faced sufficient punishment and made sufficient restitution for the wrongs you’ve committed against me.”
“I’ve even offered you a path forward with Reynaldo Gui. Is that fair and just of me?”
Celia: “Can you clarify? You find it unlikely that I am able to be less corrupt and sinful?”
Celia: “If I am corrupt in areas other than our relationship, will that be sufficient for you, or do you desire a full overhaul?”
GM: “Punishment and restitution for the wrongs you’ve committed against me will be sufficient, Celia. Whether you desire to re-orient your moral compass outside of our relationship is your own decision.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I have further questions on this. I will be corrected and punished for the wrongs that I have committed against you and our relationship. I would like to be worthy of you outside of those corrections, and am looking for guidance on how I can become so. You have mentioned getting a degree, though this will not make me as smart as you. Outside of my intelligence, will re-orienting my moral compass assist with my desire to become a more ideal partner for you?”
GM: “We’ll return to this point later, Celia. Some other questions first. How sinful and corrupt are Lucy, Emily, and your mother?”
Celia: “They are not, Roderick.”
GM: “Do you believe I would undertake the actions you’ve considered for Emily upon my own sister?”
“Do you believe I would undertake the actions you’ve considered for your mother upon my father?”
Celia: “No, Roderick. I had no intention to ghoul Emily or Lucy. You only asked, so I shared my thoughts with you. I would like to assist them with their goals, whatever they are, because they are my family and I care deeply for them.”
“My mother’s ghouling was an unfortunate accident, and after it was done I had an opportunity to erase her memories. It would not have ended well if we went down that road, as I could not erase the emotions. Those I spoke to suggested that it would do more harm than good to leave the gap in her memory. While I do not believe that a ghouled parent is unique to our world, I do believe is is not very common and there are few people I trust with my mother’s safety to speak to openly about it.”
“I have struggled with her since it happened and looked for ways to make the relationship work for both of us. I only wanted to thoroughly answer your question about her and inform you of all the possibilities that I considered for her.”
“You had asked after her usefulness, and in the aftermath of her ghouling I had thought she might only be an addict and vitae sink, which I did not want for either one of us.”
“There are many options I considered and dismissed. I had only wanted to give you a complete answer.”
GM: “What would you do if your mother did not wish to be used as a breeding vessel, Celia, and it appeared to be a promising research avenue?”
“What if it looked as if it would allow you to start a ghoul family?”
Celia: “I would find another.”
“There are many breathers. There is only one Diana.”
GM: “What if the other candidates you found were inferior?”
“What if I told you I wanted a ghoul family?”
Celia: “I find the idea of all other candidates being inferior to be unlikely. There are more than seven billion people on the planet. While I do not have access to all of them, or even most of them, I would take the time to find one who is her equal. However, her traits are not unique to her. She has been broken mentally by another Kindred, which suggests it is possible to do again if the obedience is what I desire, and many females are fertile.”
GM: “So you would refuse to use her, and would look for other suitable candidates, even if it required considerable effort and expense? When I wanted a ghoul family?”
Celia: “I would only want to provide you with the best possible option, Roderick, and do not know what toll another child would have on my mother, or if her advanced age would play a significant factor in the development of the fetus.”
“Much research suggests that advanced age of both female and male partners leads to undesireable developmental issues in their offspring.”
GM: “That research is correct. So that is your final answer, Celia? You would refuse to use her as a broodmare if it were more advantageous, but she did not wish to be used as one?”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick. My relationship with my mother as my mother predates my relationship with her as my ghoul. It is an admittedly gray and murky area, but I would like to cause as little interrupt to her life as possible while also ensuring she is more than a vitae sink. Her other qualities make up for her lack of breeding.”
GM: “You have answered correctly, Celia. Good job,” Roderick smiles.
Celia: “Thank you.”
GM: “Justice is paramount, Celia. I punished Elijah because he was corrupt. I punish you because you are corrupt. But our mortal families are not corrupt, and consequently do not deserve punishment.”
Celia: “I acknowledge the breakdown in turning my mother into a ghoul. I am looking for the best way forward for us both.”
GM: “Giving her combat training is useful. For her, you, and your other family members.”
“Fix her leg. She won’t be able to achieve her full potential until that’s taken care of.”
Celia: “Yes. I will.”
GM: “Toreador acclaim is also useful. Give her another face when you do. Other Kindred shouldn’t know she’s a ghoul.”
Celia: “Yes. I have a mask prepared for her.”
“She has also already been marked to hide what she is. I have been working to correct the lapse in judgement and security.”
GM: “Masks aren’t perfect. They can be damaged. They can come off. We saw that earlier. Dancing and fighting offer many opportunities for them to come off. Alter her face the same way you altered mine.”
Celia: “My apologies, I meant a mask as in a new identity.”
“I will be more clear when I speak.”
GM: “Good,” says Roderick. “Feeding on her is useful and permissible, so long as you have her free and uncoerced consent.”
Celia: “She has consented.”
There’s a soft smile that pulls at her lips.
“She enjoys being able to feed me what I need rather than the breather fare.”
GM: Roderick smiles faintly back. “That’s very sweet.”
Celia: Before, she might have reached for his hand. Now, though, she keeps it on her lap.
GM: “Don’t feed on her when you think she’s going to be dancing or fighting soon. Those are physically intensive activities where you want her at peak physical condition. Give her time to recover.”
Celia: Isn’t that common knowledge?
Celia just nods her head.
GM: Roderick tells her all the time that she’s stupid, though.
Celia: He must be right.
She’s lucky she has someone who cares enough about her to make sure she understands the basics.
GM: “Having a willing subject for your research could also be useful. Just make sure you explain all of the risks and potential side effects, if any. Gain her full consent, and be very careful too. You only get one mother.”
Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I will do so before I proceed with any research. Thank you.”
GM: “I care about your mortal family, Celia. Her and Emily and Lucy. This isn’t an ideal situation for them, but you can make the best of it. You can still have loving relationships with all of them.”
Celia: “Thank you.” Her voice has lost its wooden quality. There’s something resembling emotion in the tremulous whisper. “Thank you for understanding.”
GM: “This is justice, Celia,” he answers seriously. “People who aren’t corrupt deserve to be treated well.”
Celia: “I don’t want to be corrupt anymore,” she tells her knees.
GM: “The first step will be Reynaldo Gui.”
Celia: “The meeting.”
“Are we going to kill him?”
Celia: “Do you still want to infiltrate as Carolla?”
GM: “You’ve been a good girl, over the matter of your family, so answering that question directly is your reward.”
Celia: Good girl. She’s been a good girl.
GM: “And you know what will happen when Gui is dead, Celia?”
Celia: “The Mafia will be weakened.”
GM: “Yes, but in addition to that.”
Celia: “Our relationship will begin to heal.”
GM: “That too. But someone else will also need to manage parties at the Evergreen.”
GM: “Do you think you’d do a good job, Celia? What benefits are there for you in doing so?”
Celia: “I am adept at planning parties. I think I would do a good job. It would allow me to further network, to become closer to Savoy, to welcome new faces, to control the doors. Gui is considered inner circle by some, and is generally well regarded by the Bourbons. Further social power for me, and thus you, which can transition into something new when Savoy takes the throne, and will make me useful to him in a way that doesn’t only rely on my blood.”
GM: “Very good, Celia,” smiles Roderick. “And even more than that, Savoy’s parties are the bread and circuses he gives his followers. They’re an essential component of his image as the more ‘fun’ alternative to Vidal.”
Celia: “I’m fun.”
“Getting rid of Gui also opens his domain to someone else.” A sidelong glance at Roderick.
GM: “It does,” Roderick concurs. “So you can see how this opens many opportunities for us.”
Celia: “Roderick? Can I tell you what he told me? About Chicago?”
GM: “Go on.”
Celia: “He said that the atmosphere is different there. More Anarchs, but the city is looking forward, and he said ours is sometimes looking backwards. He said there’s more progression. I don’t know what your long term goals are, and you mentioned you’ve traveled so perhaps this is redundant, but it might be worthwhile to look into even if it isn’t with him.”
GM: “It’s always useful to listen to other perspectives. I’ve spoken with Anarchs from Chicago.”
Celia: “Have you spoken with any from the Free States?”
GM: “Yes. Coco wanted to expose me to a wide range of ideas. I suppose she was good for an education, even if she was also a two-faced liar who Embraces scum like Carolla.”
Celia: “I have an opportunity out there. But we can talk about it at another time if you’d prefer.”
GM: Roderick glances at the clock.
“The sun’s going to be up soon. We’ll continue this in the evening.”
He leads Celia to his bedroom, then lays out some blankets and pillows on the floor for her next to the bed.
“We can sleep together once the outstanding issues in our relationship are resolved. Your body is dead, so a day on the floor won’t be physically uncomfortable.”
Celia: They were her sire’s words to her. The affront against him makes a tiny kernel of red spark in her chest.
This boy. This pathetic boy thinks that he is smarter than the sheriff? Thinks that he has broken her, suborned her to his will, that he has won?
No. He only walks the forest path that others have cleared, only treads the ground already so fertile for his seeds to take root. He has not broken her. He has only bent her, and only because she has allowed it. He sees only the mask she wants him to see. Only what she allows him to see. The truth, certainly, the truth of her deeds.
But not her heart.
He cannot touch her there.
He cannot reach inside her chest as her sire has done and pluck her heartstrings one by one, forcing her body to dance to a tune that only he can hear. He does not dangle her on the end of a string, does not open the door to a cage that she joyously steps into.
He is a brute. A tyrant. Another Maxen. He uses stick when carrot would suffice, forgets the aftercare for the burning bottom. Her sire beat her and then mended her with the blood from his own veins, and even had he not slipped that collar around her throat the leash would still pull tight. He slaughters her ghoul and kisses her, cuts open the boy’s heart to share a meal. That is a master. That is love.
This one sees only what people let him see and thinks himself enlightened. He has been a sheltered pet his whole Requiem, has not dallied in the dirt with thugs and ruffians and unsavories. He thinks that his college degrees and learned tutors has woken him to the ways of the world.
A lie broke him. A single lie. A single betrayal. She has been broken and twisted and raked over the coals so many times that she has lost count. She has been abandoned, abused, deceived, and still she carries on.
Still she moves forward.
He thinks her lies corrupt? He has seen nothing.
She has shown him nothing.
Who will she become, the masked man asked, and the girl in her fairy dress said that she does not know who she wants to be.
Two faces in the mirror. Beauty. Beast. Corruption incarnate. Poisoned smiles and hidden knives.
The dreams of her sire slip away and out comes the little girl, the dutiful wife, the flower that once bloomed so brightly.
Come into my trap, little fly.
Beauty lies her head upon the pillow and snuggles beneath the provided blanket. She smiles with lips as red as the roses of her clan and eyes the color of turbulent skies.
“Goodnight, Roderick. I love you.”
Ice masks have no place in the sun. And she is not her sire. She is not ice. She is the liquid that ebbs and flows. She is the dancer in the dark. She is the chameleon and patience is her virtue.