“You’ve lied to me for as long as I’ve known you.”
Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM
Celia: With Emily asleep, Celia gets ready for the rest of her evening. She starts with her face, turning herself back into Jade for her upcoming meetings, and once that is done she scrubs all trace of her “party” with Emily from the spa, putting the leftover sliders into the fridge and tequila bottle into the recycling bin. She cleans the lab of the spilled booze and relocks the door from the inside so that even if Emily were to wake up she won’t be able to get in.
She doesn’t want her around other licks, especially in that state.
She writes a quick letter in a hand that is decidedly not hers and finally locates Carolla’s body. Through a door that isn’t a door, using her pinky finger on a scanner that doesn’t beep, set into the wall at a natural knee-high divet that’s impossible to find unless you know exactly where it is. That opens a panel, which allows her to put a key inside another lock, then enter a combination, and finally she’s in.
Cool air greets her. The tiny, cramped room beyond is packed with plastic and glass containers on rubber coated steel shelves, labeled in a precise hand. A lilac tarp hangs from one of the lower shelves.
Jade pulls it aside.
And there he is, still torn and bloodied from the fight in the park, gaunt in torpor and pale from blood loss.
GM: Worse than bloodied. Roderick tore him almost completely apart. Crushed and bashed and beat him in worse than Maxen ever whaled on his children. Time has not healed Carolla’s injuries. Time never heals their kind’s injuries.
And no one is sparing any blood for a torpid vampire.
Celia: No. No one is sparing any blood for this piece of trash. Shame, too, she’d kind of liked him from afar. Before he opened his mouth. She could see herself playing a different mask for him, Mafia moll maybe, the kind of girl who tosses her hair and giggles and—
Well. It doesn’t matter. She still has Gui, doesn’t she? Until she sets him up. Then it’s Roderick in charge of the mob in Savoy’s domain. Interesting, that. She’ll have to ask what he wants to do with it.
Later, though. For now she has work to do, and a limited amount of time to do it.
Jade pulls his body out of the cooler, dragging it across the floor and hefting it onto her work table. He’s heavy, only made lighter by the fact that he’s got no blood in his system and one of his limbs is torn off. She makes a second trip for that, then wheels her cart of tools to the side of the table.
She hadn’t been exaggerating to Savoy when she told him that night-folk subjects are hard to come by. She could get an assortment of half-bloods, sure, but actual licks with actual non-stolen powers are more her speed. Even though he’s torped she makes sure the stake is firmly lodged in his heart before she begins. Who knows what kind of shenanigans he could pull if not.
Celia starts on his leg. She lifts the tattoo gun from the tray of tools, douses it in her blood, and marks the fallen Brujah in a rough, crude sketch of triangular ears and a flicking tail. Above it she adds the suggestion of leathery wings outstretched as if in flight, membrane taut between each little piece of cartilage. It’s not the most beautiful rendition she’s ever drawn, but it’s just for testing purposes anyway. She sets aside her tools and reaches for the knife, cutting past the epidermis and dermis into the subcutaneous layer beneath. Slowly, she peels it back.
Bits of white fat cling to the underside of the tissue as she pulls in slow, smooth, even strokes to lift the flesh from his body. She uses her knife and her own claws to cut anything that sticks until, with a final tug and slice of the knife, the tattooed part of him comes off. She reaches for a sharpie and writes “1” on it, then sets it aside.
Crafting done with, Celia looks down at the torpid Brujah.
“All right, bucko, we gon’ carve you open, ’kay?”
She’s not quite as sober as she thought. No wonder the cat is just ears and a tail. She giggles at it before she starts on the rest of his leg. She might not be able to manipulate bone, but she can certainly manipulate everything around it. Another knife cuts into the flesh over his hip, digging through until she hits the bone beneath it. Already half-off from the fight, it’s not much cutting to remove the rest of the skin and tissue clinging to him, and she gives a tug to rip the head of the femur out of its socket.
“Gon’ give it to my mommy,” she says to Carolla, patting his head as if he can hear her. “‘Cept you’re kinda tall, so we gon’ fix it. But tha’ can wait, yaknow? ‘Cause it ain’t goin’ nowhere.” She beams at him and sets the limb aside.
“Y’ever go huntin’?” she asks him, as if he can answer. “‘Cause my daddy never took me, yaknow? I dunno if he ever went, come to that, but s’okay. I had tuh learn this offa videos. But s’okay, I got practice. Lossa practice.”
GM: Maxen did go hunting. He took David and Logan.
Of the two boys, Logan was the most into it.
Celia: She doubts he field dressed his own kills, anyway.
She wouldn’t ordinarily do this while mildly intoxicated, but Gui is due soon, so she gets started.
“See, you s’posed to hang ‘em up from a tree, but I ain’t got a tree here. But I do got hydraulics, ayy.” The press of a button lifts one side of the table. Carolla’s body flops off of it and Celia stares blankly at where he lands on the floor. “Oh,” she says, “I f’got to chain you. Whoopsie.”
She lowers the table, puts Carolla back onto it, fastens the steel manacles around his wrists, and lifts the table again.
“Graaaaavity,” she says to him. “Y’know your average body gots ‘bout 8 poundsa flesh? An’ if you lay it all out, righ’, you got like… 22 feet. S’alot! An’ you’re kinda tall, so you gots more. But I ain’ gonna take it all, k? Jus’ a little.”
So it begins. Celia plunges the knife into his body with a little more force than necessary, then begins cutting his skin and peeling it back. She doesn’t take all of it, just enough for a handful of experiments; she doesn’t want Gui to get the wrong idea, does she? She sets the skin aside in strips as it comes free of his body, and once she has harvested what she needs she looks to the skin she’s worked free and marks it in a similar fashion to the first. She puts a “2” at the top of that one.
“Shoulda done this earlier,” Celia confesses to him, patting his cheek. “Coulda regrown ‘n’ stuff. Bitta blood waste tho, innit? ‘Oo knows, this works I’ma carve your brother too.” She grins at him.
GM: The skin decays as Celia carves it off, like Roxanne’s did when she died. It loosens and ugly blisters appear across the surface.
Celia: “Tha’s ’kay,” she says lovingly, “I’ll fixit, ya hear?”
GM: Carolla’s ruined face stares back at hers blankly.
Celia: “How ol’ are you really?” she asks him.
GM: The ruined face is just as silent.
Celia: “S’okay, body tells all, don’t it?”
“Now lessee,” she continues, lowering the table again. “Y’empty, yaknow? But she saidta jus’ keep goin’, so we gon’ keep goin, ‘kay? Then I’ll cutcha open ‘gain an’ see what yer insides hafta say.”
She’s not quite sure how it works, only that Caroline had told her to keep drinking. So she sinks her fangs into Carolla’s neck, one of the spots she’d left him intact, and pulls.
GM: Celia is not sure what she expected to happen.
But there is nothing within Carolla’s veins to pull. They are empty of vitae. Celia and Roderick emptied his veins themselves.
She sucks and sucks, as though with a straw at the bottom of an empty glass.
Celia: She’d heard someone say once that “she sucked my dick like there were diamonds in my ballsack.” Not about her, but about some whore he’d fucked recently, laughing with his buddies about it at the bar.
She does that here. Only with his neck instead of his dick.
GM: There are diamonds in his neck, Caroline said, or at least something of equivalent value.
Celia ravenously sucks empty and bloodless veins.
But that is what they remain.
Celia: Had she lied to Celia?
Or… is it like when you get to the bottom of a soap bottle and you have to add water, shake it around, and get it all out?
Celia stops pulling long enough to cut into her wrist with her fangs, then trickles the blood into Carolla’s mouth. She starts sucking again immediately.
GM: Drinking your own blood is like masturbating. Enjoyable, but just not the same as involving someone else. Still, Celia is no stranger to giving or enjoying pleasure. She is an artist of pleasure. Her masturbation is better than most people’s sex. She’s so pretty. She made herself this way. It was a lot of work. She loves to appreciate herself, and the flawless results of her handiwork, not a mere accident of genetics and birth. She is right to take pride in how pretty she is.
She drinks of herself, and she enjoys the taste of herself. She enjoys her sweetness, that all but permanent lustful flavor inherent to her blood. (What would it take to even get that out?) She does taste like makeup, like her mom said. Not literally like makeup. She tastes like putting on makeup makes you feel. Prettier. Better. Anyone who drinks of her becomes better. She’s already the best, she can’t be made better by drinking more of the best, but it reminds her, oh yes, just how good everyone else has it when they get to drink of her—
She drinks deep—and hits gold.
Someone else’s gold.
The partner she was looking for. The handsome stranger who’s walked in on her masturbating, not yet at climax, and helped her the rest of the way there.
It’s not liquid she’s drinking anymore. It’s as heavy as gold and weightless as air. It’s so pure and powerful that she seems to be swallowing liquid fire. She feels a burning in her veins, starting in her throat and spreading outwards through her entire body. It’s indescribable: pleasure so piercing it’s agony, pain so sweet it’s ecstasy.
Staked and torpid, her partner is unresponsive. But even absorbed as Celia is in her own pleasure, the long-time masseur is sensitive to the feelings of another’s body. No two massages are ever the same, once she lets her hands take over and slips into that meditation-like state where her mind blanks. Her mind blanks and her hands listen. The body tells stories to her listening hands. She can feel the tension in the body. She feels literal memories stored in the muscles. She remembers one of her first clients, the mom who started sobbing on the table under Celia’s touch, and confessed she’d lost her son, all without her masseur ever once asking.
Celia is not massaging Carolla. She’s just holding him. Her hands are not asking the body for its story. The hands are barely listening.
They still hear the body scream.
Every muscle fiber is a shard of glass turned against its neighbor, cutting, piercing, shredding. The human neuromuscular system, in all its glorious complexity and perfection, now feels as if every molecule was turned from its purpose to the causation of pain. It’s Maxen spanking her bloody when she just wanted to be hugged. It’s Paul making her eat piss-soaked blondies when she’d make them just to be nice. It’s Roderick beating her torpid when she told the truth. It’s her sire showing her indifference when all she wanted was love. It’s all of her many, many rapists (how many times has she been raped?), turning an act of intimacy into one of violation. Everything that could bring joy brings pain. If Celia were to give a deliberately hurtful massage, her hands could not inflict such pain, could not inflict this rape of the soul. Celia knows, beyond all certainty, that Carolla is feeling this. Even staked and torpid, he is feeling this. The body does not lie. The body screams its violation and its torment and its agony and its desire to cease to exist, to never have existed, to embrace oblivion, so the pain will stop. She has never beheld another sentient being in such pain.
A soundless scream rings back and forth in Celia’s ears like the tolling of a great church bell. It dongs with every mouthful of that transcendent, soul-scorching flame she sucks into herself. It’s fast at first, like the beating of a vessel’s heart. It slows with each mouthful, yet rings all the deeper, all the louder. It hits her like an orgasm in her loins, but it doesn’t stop there, oh no, oh no. Clitoral. G-spot. Vaginal. Anal. Nipple. All at once, exploding like a crate of bombs simultaneously going off, but it still doesn’t stop, oh no, there are so many parts of her body beyond her ass and her cunt and her tits, she knows herself that if her blood vessels were laid out in a line, they would measure 60,000 miles in length. The human body has nigh-infinite parts in all of its staggering complexitude.
Only now does she realize they can all bring her pleasure.
She’s like the dumb virgin teenager, who only just figured out she can feel good by sticking fingers inside herself. So limited was she, to think pleasure was limited to so few parts of her body! Every inch of her body knows orgasm. Every cell, every atom, every quark, is turned towards pleasure. She could not stop the scream that tears from her lips even if she wanted to. THIS is true pleasure, THIS is the “better than sex” that every vampire lies feeding is. It lights up every inch of her skin like she’s been struck by a divine thunderbolt, oh god she wants it to stop, it’s too much, no, she wants it to never stop, no, she does, the mind cannot fathom, there is no thought, just pleasure, consciousness-obliterating pleasure, and she feels ready to burst like a star going nova, so inadequate is her dead shell to contain all the bliss that she feels. Space vanishes. Time hangs still. She feels herself expanding, racing, as she fills that existential void, and she becomes MORE than she was, and takes into herself everything that Carolla was even as the Brujah’s psychic scream reverberates through her, piercingly loud but in the end unheeded. Is this what it felt like for her mom to merge with Lucy?
She claims her own Lucy.
And, with all the subtlety of a whispered sheet against skin still shuddering in post-coital bliss, she claims something else:
Truth concealed in bliss.
Truth coated in an ugly lie, a lie that’s enough to make even Roderick turn from the light’s path.
Truth, and how ugly that is.
Coco had never been his sire.
His blood is not her gateway to more power.
He is her peer, not her superior, not a betrayal by Roderick’s sire. He’s nothing but a patsy. Another pawn—and she doesn’t need to wonder whose hand is behind this, who had set him up, who had broken her boyfriend beyond recognition to turn him into a shadow of his former self. Dark where he had once been light.
He had used her. Turned her lover against her. Turned him into a wreck, turned him into a monster, stolen the only good thing from his life—
Rage spirals through her. Rage that she has never known before, rage that consumes her in a way her Beast cannot fathom, rage that has a sharp edge to it, rage that turns her nails into claws, that makes her roar her fury to the world as, at last, the veil is lifted from her eyes.
“I see now, Celia,” he’d said, and what a lie that had been. He sees nothing. He is blinded by the others, older, more powerful, more established, more gifted—he is blinded by every lie that they have ever told. A puppet on his string dancing for his master, and she no better.
The collar chafes and she tugs against it, snarling at the bond that holds her taut in its grip, snarling at the sire that had told her not to trust, snarling at the sire that shows indifference when she wants love—
It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t matter.
And, oh, how her eyes bleed at that thought.
She is nothing but a piece on the board, shoved this way and that by whatever hand wants to touch her.
Just like that, control snaps.
She gives in to the Beast lurking inside her chest, the one she’d thought was a sleeping kitten earlier this evening. How silly, that thought. How silly that she would ever think of her Beast as anything other than the monster that it is. How ridiculous that she thinks she can conquer it with a bit of old, stale blood (nothing like what she just experienced).
Rage consumes her. She sees red. She becomes the inferno, blazing a path through her own “lab” like a hurricane—and she sees, finally, why they are named after people when she snaps out of it at the end of her cycle of destruction, clothing torn and bloodied and strewn across the floor in haphazard disarray.
Carolla’s body has taken more damage. The steel tools she uses have been flung far and wide through the space.
Chest heaving with barely contained fury, Celia is glad that she locked the door. Glad that her Beast is not smart enough to finagle the series of locks to find the sleeping kine in the other room. Hatred thunders through her.
GM: Carolla’s body hasn’t just taken damage.
All that’s left is his skeleton. The bones have turned jet black, as though melted under an impossible heat, and a sticky residue pools beneath, like half-melted plastic. A foul smell wafts from the bones.
They smell like Paul’s plastic smile.
Celia: It’s not quite what she thought she’d find when she cut him open. But the cunning, medically-based side of her appraises what’s left to determine what she can from the body.
GM: It’s hard to make many visual estimates of the bones’ wear and tear from what’s left. The usual kine indicators of ossification and decreasing joint size don’t apply to Kindred. Celia can surmise no explanation for why the bones turned black, or why the residue smells so foul, and makes her think of the way Paul made her feel. But her own blood feels no thicker… Carolla can’t have been more than half a century old, can’t he? Unless he was eleven or more steps removed from Caine, anyway. Then his blood could get no thicker, even with greater age.
Celia: She takes a look at the flesh and bone she’d removed before she’d claimed his soul for her own, wondering if those changed as well.
GM: The conveniently taken skin samples, in contrast, prove much, much easier for Celia to identify. The skin has reached the initial autolysis stage of decay, yes, but she’s done enough experimentation upon her own (and seen what final death looked like for her share of vampires) to know that Kindred corpses age far slower than kine ones when the weight of their years catches up to them.
Celia pegs Carolla’s age within several years of Roxanne’s, who she knows was a 2010 Embrace.
Seemingly just another neonate.
As if that means anything.
He was seemingly Coco’s childe, too.
Celia rips a blackened bone from his ribcage and finds a container for the black goo. She doesn’t know what it is, but surely someone does.
She’s careful not to touch it with her bare skin when she scoops it into a jar.
GM: She moves most of it without issue.
The bone doesn’t look burned. It doesn’t feel hot and there’s no ash coming off. It’s just a normal bone that happens to be solid black.
Celia: She’s not sure what to do with him now. He hadn’t yielded what she’d expected.
Everything she’d thought about him had been a lie. And now she’s got… this. Black goo. Black bones. No idea what any of it means.
She doesn’t know who she’s mad at, only that she’s furious and curious and frustrated all in one, and she hates that she doesn’t understand. She cracks another rib out of place, then series of finger bones. She sets them aside, turning her eye to his spine.
She’ll wait. Wait for the Ventrue to get here and decide if this is proof enough about Carolla, and if not then she’s not sure what she’s going to tell him either.
Bitter disappointment surges through her. More lies. Another setup.
Maybe nothing will compare to the liquid gold of his soul.
Or maybe she’s just tired of being used.
It takes a moment of further consideration to place where she has seen this sort of goo before: Savoy’s roof. She’d stepped over it on her way to meet with him following his conversation with Roderick. That was the night she’d learned the truth about “Melton” and had seen a ghost become a vampire.
Why hasn’t he called?
Perhaps she’ll ask after him tonight when she goes to meet the lick with the poison eyes. Call in the marker he owes her for this situation with Marcel.
Celia cleans the remnants of the goo from the floor with a hose, sending it swirling down the drain. She tucks the bottle of gathered goo away for further study.
There’s little left for her to do except wait for Gui to show up. She tidies her lab in the meantime, putting away the bones and flesh she’d harvested from the Brujah to deal with later. Everything except the skin she’d stolen from his face, and she’s glad for that tipsy side of her now that had thought it was hilarious at the time. The rest of him had disintegrated into nothing. Muscles, tendons, ligaments—everything, all the tissue in his body. Vanished. As if it never was. Inconvenient, certainly, but drunk Celia had ended up being a boon in this case.
She thoroughly washes the table where she’d cut him apart, picks up her scattered tools, and sets everything to right. She lays the skeleton on the table and puts the literal face mask beneath it in the storage compartment; she’ll pull it out later if Gui needs to see it, but she doesn’t want to flaunt it for no reason.
A glance down at herself shows that her dress is rather tattered from her Beast’s earlier frenzy. She takes a moment to strip from it and pull on a spare “Flawless” tee and sneakers, hair swept back into a ponytail. She assumes the shirt hanging in the break room belongs to Landen because it hits her in the mid-thigh, long enough to look like she meant it this way when she uses a belt to cinch it around her waist. It’s not the particularly glamorous look she goes for when she’s Jade, but tonight, riding the high from the golden, full-body bliss she’d found inside her victim puts a swagger in her step.
Something has certainly changed. She has certainly changed.
Done with the menial tasks, she waits for her guests.
Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s not overlong before Celia receives a text message from Gui.
Celia: Jade glances in the mirror on her way to the back door she uses for her Kindred guests to keep them out of the main area, fixing a piece of hair that had slipped free from its tie. The back entrance has just as much security as the front and side doors, leading into a stone foyer that then allows entrance to the lab once she goes through yet more security. A tiny, reinforced peephole in the door lets her look out to verify that it is in fact Gui waiting for her.
GM: She sees Gui and that ghoul of his she fucked.
Celia: Where oh where is the promised friend? Jade opens the door for them.
GM: “Hello, lush,” smiles Gui as he steps inside.
“Your friend’s stashed nearby. Let’s see the proof.”
Celia: Jade beckons him forward, turning to lock the door behind the pair of them. She winks at the ghoul as she steps past him. She walks the pair of them through the foyer and opens the second set of doors leading to the lab.
“How was the rest of your evening?” she asks as they go.
GM: The Venture ghoul stares back with a look of unconcealed lust bordering on possessiveness.
It makes her think of Carolla.
“Promising,” answers Gui. “You’re dressed down.”
Celia: She wants him, she decides. Whatever happens to Gui, she wants this one.
“Mhm,” she says to his comment on her clothing, “hardly conducive to harvest parts in a ball gown.” She’s still a knockout, even in the stolen tee. It’s the “girlfriend wearing my shirt” vibe. Sexy in a soft, understated sort of way. More romance than smut.
Once inside the lab, she gestures toward the table where the blackened skeleton lies.
GM: “The fuck?” says Gamberro.
Celia: “Oh, you didn’t tell him,” Jade remarks, as if this is perfectly normal.
GM: “Doesn’t look much like Carolla,” remarks Gui.
Celia: “No,” she agrees, “not anymore. Hard to come by Kindred subjects, you understand. I borrowed most of him.” She bends, reaching for the skin she’d stolen from his face. It looks like him… but flattened. Like someone had ripped off his head and run over it with a heavy truck a few times.
She sets it on the table.
“Saved his face for you.”
GM: Gamberro laughs.
“Look at fucking that.”
Celia: Jade smiles at him.
GM: “Yes, that does look rather more like him,” remarks Gui.
He picks up the face, almost experimentally.
Celia: It flops over in his hands. White clumps of fat still cling to the inside.
GM: Gamberro laughs some more.
“This is proof, all right,” says Gui, setting the face mask back down.
“Gamberro, go bring in the sire.”
“Need the key,” the ghoul says shortly.
Celia: Jade hands him two of them.
GM: Gamberro takes them and leaves.
Celia: Ordinarily she’d walk him out, but there’s something… off about Gui. She waits until his ghoul leaves to turn her attention back to him, watching his face and body.
GM: “So how’d he get this way?” asks the Ventrue, turning towards her.
Celia: “Which way? Dead?”
Celia: “Another experiment. I admit the bone work is new to me. When I started with the flesh I began simply, changing colors, textures. I wanted to see how far I could go with this, and the longer I worked the more it clicked. I’d decided to turn it into an art piece. Functional. Armor, perhaps.”
Jade tilts her head, considering him.
“Black felt fitting for one of our kind.”
Gui runs a finger along the bones.
Celia: Jade touches a hand to Carolla’s skull, feeling for the heat.
GM: It’s cooler than it was, after she drank his soul, but well above room temperature.
Celia: She shrugs.
“As I said, new to me.”
GM: “In ‘93, you know, Chicago had a nasty war with the area’s Lupines,” says Gui. “Or Loup-Garoux, here. You hear of it?”
Celia: Jade shakes her head.
GM: “Well, it’s not the important part of the story.”
“Some Sabbat crept in during the chaos. Taking advantage, like they do here with Mardi Gras.”
“They did some pretty nasty things to some licks. I got to see what was left of them up close.”
Gui picks up Carolla’s skull and turns it over in his hands.
“The bodies weren’t just nasty sights, though. They were bizarre.”
“One of them had pustules and boils. On the bone. I thought that only happened on skin, but sure enough, this was on bone.”
“On another one, the decayed flesh had turned this sickly green hue and half-melted off. Smelled worse than anything I’d ever smelled before.”
“And another one,” remarks Gui, holding up the skull, “looked and felt a lot like this one.”
“Interesting, isn’t it?”
Celia: “Mm,” Jade says. “That is interesting. Perhaps I chose the wrong color.”
She should have hidden the bones. Of course he wouldn’t believe they were Carolla without the proof of his face. She hadn’t been thinking straight.
Jade smiles at Gui, letting her supernatural charm wash over him to blur his senses. It’s a subtle, slippery thing she sends his way, accompanied by a tilt of her head and a little giggle, the perfect picture of Kindred allure. She takes a step toward him, touching a hand to his chest and lifting her chin to find his face. She doesn’t quite meet his eye.
“Are you implying that I’m friends with Sabbat, Reynaldo?”
She giggles again.
GM: Gui chuckles and sets down the skull.
“No, I suppose not.”
“We never did find out what they’d done to those bodies.”
“Might have just been ‘art’, too.”
Celia: She smiles up at him, sliding her hand from his chest to cheek.
“Shame, I’d thought I was so clever for it. I’ll have to find something else to please the guilds for my journeyman’s piece.” She forces a sigh but there’s no real sense of loss to it, and she’s smiling past the parted lips.
“Was that when you fought one? A Lupine?” Admiration shines in her eyes.
GM: Gui smirks faintly back. “Yes, though not by myself. That’s a fast ticket to final death.”
Celia: “How many did it take to bring him down?”
GM: “Too many. The city lost a lot of licks.”
Celia: It’s hardly the thrilling tale she’d been fishing for. She removes her hand from him, nodding in apparent understanding.
“Let’s hope by river is a safer travel route than through the dark. I’ve secured us a private yacht.” She smiles winningly.
Jade certainly doesn’t do anything by half-measures.
“Speaking of friends, though. A dear one of mine is in from Houston. I mentioned you when we spoke and he asked me to arrange a meeting. Something about a shared interest.”
GM: “That feels very good,” says Gui. He doesn’t sigh under her expert touch, being long past the physiological need, but Jade can feel tension leaving his body. “You weren’t kidding about dead muscles still being able to feel.”
“I’ve thought about boats before,” he continues. “Sailing up the Mississippi. The pr-”
The door slams open. Four figures stride in, their footsteps masked by the lab’s soundproofed walls. Laura Melton. A comely redhead who smells like Kindred. The Gamberro. He smiles, showing fangs, and Jade suddenly smells that he is Kindred, too. ‘Michael’ walks at the group’s head.
His eyes carry death.
At least she doesn’t need to set Gui up a second time, right? A glance at his face tells her all he needs to know: he’s not in on it. How had they known…? Gamberro. Why? Why turn against his… had he said… fuck.
All sorts of fuck.
Jade slides off the table, turning to face the band of licks. Four on two, and she’s not even sure how well the Ventrue handles himself in combat. She forces a smile, thinks about saying something sarcastic, and finally bites her tongue.
“Gamberro. You’ve brought friends.”
GM: Gui doesn’t talk. A switchblade flashes in his hand. Michael seizes the Ventrue’s arm with both hands as it flashes towards him, then pulls. There’s a hideous crack, then bone splinter gorily jutting through flesh. Gui hisses.
Celia: Celia might have once flinched at the sight. Her stomach might have churned. But she’s taken enough bodies apart in the past years that the sight doesn’t faze her, and she’s not even in control right now.
It’s the fact that Michael did it with his bare hands. With just a yank.
What’s he planning on doing to her?
Jade skitters backwards.
GM: Celia’s lover yanks the Ventrue forward by his broken arm as the switchblade hits the floor with a clatter, then executes a two-handed shoulder throw, sending Gui crashing back-first onto the ground. Michael’s foot comes down on the Ventrue’s other elbow, audibly crunching bone.
The other three watch and laugh.
“Pathetic,” sneers Michael.
Celia: She’s not interested in seeing this side of him. Gui is dead anyway, now instead of later. He’s brought enough licks to make sure of it.
GM: Michael’s three friends close around the door.
“You going somewhere, Kalani? What’s the hurry?” asks Michael.
He stomps down hard on Gui’s knee. A cry of pain goes up from the Ventrue as that breaks too.
Celia: Good thing there’s a second door, since that’s where she’s headed.
She’s next. She knows she’s next. She’s next and she’s not going to wait around for it to happen. Jade launches herself at the door to Celia’s closet—only an hour ago she’d been joking about it being Narnia—and wrenches it open so she can disappear on the other side.
GM: “Yeah, where you goin’, puta!” laughs Gamberro.
Footsteps thump after her. Jade isn’t sure how many of the licks give chase. Just the three? Or Michael, too? She doesn’t look to see. Laughter rings in her ears as grasping hands lunge for her, but the preternaturally quick Toreador blurs ahead.
Celia: She slams the door shut behind her, throwing the lock into place.
How long will the steel door hold? She doesn’t know. But she can’t sit here and find out. Her mind races even as her feet carry her down the hall.
Why? How? Who?
Something for a later date, isn’t it. But Roderick is in bed with Setites. What else had they given him? And Savoy—is this another betrayal? Had he traded Jade for Roderick, too? Or was she supposed to stand and watch, then take her beating?
She wants to cry. There’s nowhere to run. Roderick knows about her haven, about Celia’s place. The Evergreen might not be safe. He knows where her mom lives. Would he endanger her family like that? And Emily. Here! Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Stephen wouldn’t hurt them, but Stephen is dead. So’s Roderick, she thinks, and she watches her plans crumble into dust. Every single one of them.
Where can she—?
She can’t. She can’t go anywhere. She can’t leave Emily behind. The keys she’d given Gamberro only work for that one set of doors—because what kind of idiot has a “secret entrance” with the same keys as the normal entrance?—but she wouldn’t put it past them to break into the spa another way to find her. And if they find Emily instead, and Roderick doesn’t control the others…
Emily is locked behind a door. No one knows she’s there. She smells like booze instead of blood. That helps, right?
Jade passes a table in the hall. A glass vase with hydrangeas catches her eye. She flings it on the floor, watching the glass shatter, and cuts into her wrist with her fangs to dribble blood along the floor. All the way out the front door. She flings more droplets onto the sidewalk, then licks her wounds, locks the door from the outside, and doubles back. She takes a different path to the Vichy room where she’d left Emily. She lets herself in, quietly closes the door, and locks it.
He knows she can fly. He’ll think she took off.
Once inside, Celia pulls the dead weight of Emily’s drunk, passed out body into her arms. She’s heavy. But undead muscles don’t get tired, and Celia staggers toward the closet with the noirnette. It’s cramped, full of body scrubs and dry brushes and fragrant oils and salts and sugar scrubs, mud masks and extra towels, a handful of spa tools, but there’s room for the girls.
Celia nudges aside a bucket of pink Himalayan sea salt scrub and gently lowers Emily onto the ground. She’s back a second later with the towels that she’d left in the main room, Emily’s vomit-scented clothes, and her phone. She wedges Emily behind the hamper of used towels, uses the clean ones to cover her as best she can so it looks like a pile of excess laundry, and double checks that the phone is on silent.
They’ll be safe here. Won’t they?
She settles in.
GM: Emily grogs awake as Celia moves her.
“Don’ wanna go t’ Nar’nya…”
Celia: She’d been afraid of that.
“It’ll be fun,” Celia says in a whisper. “Just for a minute, then you can sleep, ’kay?”
GM: “Mmmugh… fuckin’… Jesus lion…”
Celia: “Fuckin’ Jesus lion,” Celia agrees, stashing the pair inside the closet. “Blankies,” she says when she covers Emily.
GM: “Asla my ass…”
Celia: “Sleep now,” Celia says gently.
GM: Emily dumbly presses her palm against the door.
“Don’ like this… bed.”
“Ol’ one, be’er.”
Celia: “It’ll be okay,” Celia says to her, “we just have to be quiet for a few minutes, then we can go back.”
Celia: Celia waits, but she doesn’t wait idly.
Whatever Roderick has said to her in the past, she isn’t stupid. She knows that the scent of Emily’s blood isn’t actually more alcohol than booze, and she’s got more than enough things in the closet to help mask it. She reaches for a towel, then opens a bottle of oil they use for aromatherapy and sprinkles the towel with lavender-scented oil. Another wet, rolled towel goes beneath the closet door to better soundproof the room and hide Emily’s scent. Celia stuffs the lavender towel against the wet one. Hopefully it’s the only thing that leaks out.
It has the added benefit of helping people sleep, too, which she hopes is the case for Emily. Lavender isn’t an out of place scent in a spa, either. There are enough air fresheners and oil diffusers that anyone who isn’t used to it usually remarks, “wow, smells good in here” when they step inside. The scent here won’t shine like a beacon, summoning them toward her.
She stuffs more towels beneath, around, and over Emily to make her comfortable and hidden, doing her best to lull her to sleep.
And then, not knowing if it worked or not, not knowing if any minute one of them will wrench open the door, Celia borrows her friend’s phone, downloads an app, and opens the stream for the lab. She’d been concerned about meeting with the Ventrue. That he might turn on her. Mesmerize her, even, and make her forget anything they might have talked about. So she’d prepared, setting a device beneath the lip of her table to pick up any sound in the room.
She turns the volume down as low as she can, stops breathing, and listens.
GM: Celia finds that Emily’s phone has a pattern unlock, but her sister groggily unlocks it at her request.
The video quality comes out terrible, though. Celia can’t tell how many licks are still in the room, or if any lacks are still in the room.
She doesn’t hear anything, though.
If anyone is still in there, they’re keeping pretty quiet.
Celia: Did they leave?
Or are they waiting for her to come crawling back?
Her eyes close for a brief moment. She doesn’t think she can stay here all night. And she’s sure they’re just out there waiting for her. Melton, at least, knows more shadow dancing than she does.
She logs into another app and sends a text to a certain diamond-studded Caitiff.
2 2 many people @ this work party lol can u & R stop by to help close down?
Two plus two is four. Everyone knows that.
She stares down at the phone for a minute. Pete. She could call Pete to get her out of this. They wouldn’t attack him, right? He knows about Emily. Can help get her to safety.
Or she could just call Roderick.
She waits on that, opening the security app once more and scrolling backwards until the little squiggles of noise appear. She listens again.
GM: There’s silence for a bit.
Then footsteps again.
“…we’ll finish here, if she’s gone,” says Michael.
“Already got all the tools we need,” says Gamberro approvingly.
“Place is well-stocked,” smiles a female voice.
Celia hears sounds. Movements. Metallic.
Then a grisly, gory tearing. The unmistakable cut of steel sawing through flesh. Sawing through bone. She knows that sound. She’s heard it herself, plenty of times in that room.
“Too bad we can’t hear him scream,” says Gamberro.
Celia: Celia listens silently, hand pressed to her mouth.
GM: It’s not as if she breathes.
But some instincts die hard.
“Yes, much too bad,” concurs a female voice.
There’s a light giggle.
“You’re doing well against the collar,” says another female one.
Celia: He’s an idiot. He, more than her. Killing Gui without even questioning him. Without waiting for the sire to be delivered. Does he care about that anymore, or is he only interested in spilling Mafia blood?
And who the fuck is that bitch?
GM: There’s a sound like spitting.
“Pedazo de mierda was never gonna give what he owed.”
Celia: Melton couldn’t know how to sculpt flesh, could she? She’d have done that rather than rely on cloaking to take the place of the Gangrel. Savoy wouldn’t have sent for Dicentra if Camille had her own doc. The redhead, then? Dr. E? Or is it just more cloaking?
She texts the Caitiff again.
nvm, can handle
GM: “One can see why he wouldn’t,” smiles the first female voice. “You’re going to do his job much better than he ever did.”
Celia: Of course he is. Rod won’t even get his hands dirty, will he. The coward.
GM: “Probably saw you as a threat,” agrees the second female.
Celia: Who gave him the blood, then? One of the girls? Rod himself?
Does he know she’s a Setite?
Does he care?
GM: That question remains hauntingly unanswered when Michael’s voice sounds again.
“How are you feeling now, Mr. Gui?”
“Been better,” replies the Ventrue. Haggard but cool. “Been worse, too.”
“Well, we’ll see what we can do about worse before the night is over,” smiles Michael.
“Couldn’t hack it as a Ventrue, could you, Gamberro?” says Gui. “Settling for snakes. Ah, too bad. You’ll regret that eventually.”
“You too, Mister…”
“Drakon,” answers Michael. “I’d like you to know my name, Mr. Gui. Many of your fellow scum will know it too, soon enough.”
Celia is glad there’s no air in her lungs with which to snort.
GM: “I’m no snake,” sneers Gamberro. “I’m not settling for anything. Including Ventrue.”
“Drakon,” sounds Gui. “Sounds made-up. A bit pretentious, too, if I’m being honest. Young ones always pick the dramatic names.”
Celia: She’d always liked him.
…which is why she’s sitting in a closet while they torture him, isn’t it. This is how she treats her friends.
GM: “Mmm,” says Drakon. “Do you know much Athenian history, Mr. Gui?”
“My clan’s always preferred Rome to Greece, Mr. Drakon,” answers Gui.
Celia: Celia clenches her teeth together. Fuck him. Fuck him and everything he’d ever been to her. Fuck him, the abusive fucking piece of shit. Fuck him, fuck everyone.
She lets the sound play in the background, sending another text. This one to her favorite thief in the whole world.
How many nails you think you can hammer before someone notices?
GM: “He was the first law-giver of ancient Athens,” explains Drakon. “Until he came along, during either 622 or 621 BC, oral law and blood feuds were the order of the day. He replaced that system with a written legal code enforced by a court of law. His laws were harsh. Stealing a cabbage was punishable by death. In fact, his name is where the term ‘draconian’ originates. Something that is like unto Drakon’s harsh laws.”
“But what’s interesting is that the citizens of Athens greeted him not as a tyrant, but as a force for justice. According to a Byzantine source, Drakon died at a theatre. It was traditional to throw hats and shirts and cloaks at speakers as a sign of approval. The crowd threw so many clothing items on Drakon that he suffocated. He was buried in that same theatre.”
There’s what sounds like a smile.
“It’s probably apocryphal. We aren’t sure how he actually died. But the fact that people told this story in the first place tells us a great deal.”
“Sounds like he did too good a job, if they killed him,” says Gui.
ok cool the Caitiff texts back.
Celia: Another text to the Caitiff from earlier.
I lied, they stuck around. Wanna come?
GM: “That’s interesting,” says the second female voice. “‘Draconian.’ Is that where the name ‘Draco’ comes from?”
“Yes,” Drakon answers. “There are three different spellings for his name, in fact. Drakon, Draco, and Drako, the first and last with a ‘k’.”
“I considered Draco, but it’s too associated with pop culture.”
make up your mind girl
Celia: I’m fucked tbh.
GM: “Yes, it is,” agrees the second female voice.
Celia: Another text to the thief.
I got a prob at work tbh, think you can help?
w/e you want.
GM: “The ‘k’ feels like it’s overdoing things a bit, though. What about a ‘c’?” she suggests.
Celia: Please, she entreats the thief.
Bring R she tells the Caitiff. Front door.
& prob backup
GM: what is this?
It’s from Benji.
“A ‘c’,” says possibly-Dracon, testing it experimentally. “Hm. Not bad. It feels like it could use a surname, with that spelling.”
“You can pick your fuckin’ name later,” growls Gamberro.
Celia: She doesn’t know where to begin explaining. Maybe drawing them in is a bad idea. Maybe she should just let this happen.
Finally, Celia texts her… lover.
Am I next on the list?
GM: “We’re not in any rush,” says Dracon.
“In fact, this is a good place to let it happen.”
“I’m 90% sure th….” he trails off to a buzz from his phone.
There’s a pause.
“The fuck is that?” snaps Gamberro.
“Kalani, actually,” says Dracon.
“She’s concerned we’re going to kill her.”
Laughter sounds from the other three.
“Are we?” the second female asks idly.
“I’ve entertained the thought,” says Dracon.
“Could be fun,” smiles the first female.
“Mmm. I’ve not made any plans to go through with it,” says Dracon. “It just occurred to me, a few times when I was angry at her.”
“I’d want to get Savoy’s sanction, anyway.”
“Fear or guilty conscience that she ran,” muses the first female voice.
“Yes, that is interesting,” says the second female. “I thought you said she knew how this was going down.”
“She partly knew,” says Dracon. “I told her she was going to set up a second meeting with an alias where the hit actual would take place.”
“But I assumed she was going to fuck it up somehow, so she got this surprise.”
He taps back.
No. Why would you think that?
Celia: Because I keep disappointing you, and I thought you were out of patience. I was trying to find out about D’s boyfriend from him. Was supposed to trade.
GM: I am out of patience.
You have no chances left.
Celia: I was setting it up when you showed.
What do you want? I was going to swing by your place later.
GM: Come back if you’re sincere.
Celia: Am I going to be hurt with him?
GM: Only if you lie. Will you lie?
Celia: No. Tired of lying. D told me I was treating you like a kid. Made me realize I was wrong about everything. You were right. Was going to tell you tonight after I set up the meeting.
Send your friends away. We’ll talk privately. You can decide what you want to do with me then.
GM: “Kalani wants to come back,” says Roderick.
“So long as the rest of you leave.”
“Setup,” says Gamberro flatly. “Fuck her.”
“Possibly,” agrees Roderick. “But her presence could be useful.”
“So here’s what we’ll do.”
“You’ll leave the spa and watch from somewhere close.”
“If she shows up alone, she gets to go in.”
“If she doesn’t, well, I suppose she can still go in, but she’ll join Mr. Gui on the table too.”
well? comes another text.
Celia: Celia taps on her phone. A final message to Benji.
Stay away. Handling it. Final answer. Meet you later. If you don’t hear from me, ask Lana to talk to Em.
She uses a pen from Emily’s purse to scrawl a brief message to her sister on her arm.
GM: “Mmf… sto’ fuckin’… wa’me up…” grogs Emily under the ticklish sensation.
Celia: It’s over quickly. Celia rubs her back to sleep.
GM: “Sto’ jerkin’… mk’u your min’…” mumbles Emily under Celia’s nevertheless expert touch.
don’t change your mind later, Benji texts back.
Celia: love you too
GM: “She shy?” asks the second female voice.
“Not particularly,” smiles the first.
“Don’t see why she’d want to do this alone,” says the second female. “She got a history with you?”
“Yes,” says Dracon.
Laughter from the same voice. “Kalani’s just going to use you.”
“Everyone uses each other,” says Dracon.
“She, me. I, her. I, you. You, me.”
“The great symbiosis of life.”
“And we are so angry when we’re the ones used,” tsks the first female. Almost sadly.
“Go ahead and use her, Dracon, if you think this is the best way to. We can keep ourselves…. amused in the meanwhile.”
There’s a giggle.
“I bet you putas can,” grins Gamberro.
There’s laughter from both female voices.
“Don’t worry, we’ll keep you amused too,” smiles the second female.
“Good enough for me,” laughs Gamberro.
There are some indistinct sounds. A few more giggles. But movement. Footseps.
Then fingers tapping.
Celia: On my way.
Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM
Celia: Celia sneaks out of the room, closing and locking the doors behind her once more. She logs out of the apps and leaves the phone behind.
It’s between her and Roderick now. With his friends nearby should they need to be. She takes a breath. Another. They do nothing for her. Stupid, useless habits.
She waits. Long enough to make him think she’d had to fly. Time enough to visit the break room and retrieve her purse. Then she steps into Celia’s room and opens the door inside the closet.
GM: He’s there.
Waiting, with his arms crossed.
His face is his, but isn’t. Similar. But distinct. Harder lines. Stronger brows. Thinner lips. The suggestion of a shadow around his mouth and jaw, the barest beginning of a crease across his forehead and around his eyes. Him. But not. Not the face in the mirror, but one seemingly drawn with his essence in mind. The new him. He doesn’t look like someone who routinely beats his girlfriend… only like someone who is capable of such a thing.
There’s blood all over the table. Gui is gone.
Just between the two of them.
Celia: Celia draws to a halt.
It’s one of the faces she’d picked out for him. One of them that’s burning a hole in her purse right now. She doesn’t mean to stare but she does, drinking her fill of the image in front of her. Staring at dinner would have been a tell.
She hasn’t closed the door behind her. But she nods to the one behind him.
“Close it. Lock it. Please.”
GM: He does so, then turns back to her.
Celia: Gamberro has a key. It’s not like the movement sets her at ease. But the fact that he was willing to, right?
“Emily is inside the spa,” Celia says after a moment. “If your friends come back, please keep them away from her. I was unable to move her on my own.”
She lapses into silence, considering him.
“Dani told me that if I tell the truth everything will be okay. You told me that if I tell the truth I’m not going to be hurt. Does that still stand?”
GM: “You know, Celia, that really says it all,” says Roderick, arms still crossed.
“You don’t actually care about the truth.”
“You don’t actually care about me.”
Celia: “Please let me talk before you cast your judgement.”
GM: “Okay. Then I promise nothing.”
“If the only thing you care about is yourself, and finishing this talk still with a boyfriend, this whole thing is fucked anyway.”
Celia: “It is,” Celia agrees. “It is fucked. But that isn’t why I asked. I told you the other night there was more to say. You said we’d discuss it later.”
“How long do we have before your friends come back?”
GM: “I can text them if we require more time,” is all he says.
“And don’t believe for a second that I’ve forgotten.”
“I don’t think you care about the truth. I think you just want to give whatever answers are most conductive to satisfying me so we stay together.”
“You’ve lied to me for as long as I’ve known you.”
Celia: “I don’t think you’ve forgotten anything.”
She doesn’t pace. She wants to. It’s a human instinct, something she’s done out of habit for years to keep up appearances. Now, though, she stands still. She watches him. She has no doubt that he could cross the room to her in a blink if he so chose, could smash her face against wall or floor.
“I spoke to Dani this evening,” she says at length. “She helped me see a different perspective on things. Something I was lacking. Something I told myself I was handling okay. But I wasn’t. And you paid the price for that.”
GM: “That sounds accurate enough.”
His arms are still crossed.
Celia: “I lied to you,” Celia says, agreeing. “I did. I lied to you. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, and it wasn’t. I was mistaken. I was wrong. The entire time, I was wrong, and I hurt you. Selfishly. Very, very selfishly. Narrow-minded. Stupid, you might say.”
She doesn’t look away from him when she says that. No flicker of emotion crosses her face.
“It hurt, when you said that. But you were right. And I don’t think an apology is going to cut it. Not now. Not this late in the game. But I’d like to offer one anyway. I’d like to tell you that I’m sorry for all of the times that I lied to you. That I used you. That I manipulated you. That I hurt you. I’ve done a lot of terrible things in my life and unlife, but I think that what I did to you is… it’s the worst thing I’ve done.”
She lets out a breath.
“I was going to stop by tonight. I was… I was so eager to stop by, to tell you that I’d gotten the meeting with Gui, that I had Dani’s sire, that I had the blood, that I set up Duke. I thought it would show you that I’m committed to being honest with you. That I don’t want to continue like it has been. That I want to do better for you.”
GM: No flicker of emotion crosses Roderick’s face either.
“When was the first time you lied?” he asks.
Celia: “By omission, or directly?”
GM: “Lies by omission are still lies.”
Celia: “When I didn’t tell you about Paul.”
“Or about cos school.”
GM: “You know, cos school I remember at first being puzzled by, and then hurt by.”
“Because why wouldn’t she tell me this.”
“But I forgave you.”
“Was only the first lie, after all, and no real harm done.”
Celia: “I felt like it wasn’t good enough for you. Pre-law. Big dreams. Dance major who wants to play with makeup.”
GM: “Yes, you said.”
He shakes his head.
“My fucking god.”
Celia: “Do you want to know my thoughts there, or would you rather I not?”
GM: “Are they going to be more excuses and justifications?”
Celia: “Explanations. But I understand that they can sound the same, and I don’t want to waste your time.”
“Or sound as if I’m defending my behavior when there is no excuse.”
“What I did was wrong, no matter what I thought at the time.”
“After my Embrace… when I found out he was a ghoul, I used to cling to the idea that he mesmerized me. Made me come back. Maybe hit me with star mode. Because what other excuse did I have? I didn’t want to take responsibility for that. It was an awful thing to do.”
“I don’t know if that’s true. If he did. I think it just made me feel better.”
“I told myself my mom needed the money. I believed her when she told me not to ask you for help, that getting into debt with a boyfriend is a bad idea. I told myself a lot of things.”
GM: “It’s easier to glamor someone who’s already willing to go along with you,” says Roderick.
“Harder if they don’t want to.”
“If they’re actually fighting.”
Celia: Celia nods.
“I… wanted to believe it wasn’t my fault. But it was.”
GM: “Did you mom recommend you cheat on your boyfriend and whore yourself out to a man… how many times your age?”
“I’m pretty sure she’d have said that was a worse idea.”
Celia: “No. I lied to her, too.”
“I told her it was coming out of my trust.”
“She didn’t know.”
“She… she asked me once. Her wages had stopped being garnished. I brought up celebrating, maybe going out. She said she still needed the extra cash. It’s not her fault. She didn’t know.”
“I imagine she’d have rather gone hungry than let me do that.”
GM: “She always struck me as a decent human being.”
“I wonder where she went wrong with you.”
Celia: Celia bows her head.
“She tried. I made my own mistakes.”
GM: “So what would you have done, with this new level of bedazzling self-awareness, in lieu of whoring yourself out to Paul and cheating on me?”
Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “It’s easy to see the fault with a lot of plans I might suggest now that I know about Kindred. Going after my father earlier might not have panned out, but I could have. Cutting ties would have been better than what I did. Asking for help from someone who knew more than me. You. My grandmother. Viv. There were other options.”
GM: “So why the fuck did you sleep with him?”
Celia: “The first time… I was afraid. I went to him for help. My mom told me that he was Maxen’s friend. That I shouldn’t. But I thought I knew better, and… and he put me on my knees. After that, I thought I could outsmart him. I thought I could blackmail him into changing the trust so I could get out from under my dad and not be a burden on anyone else. I took photos. I recorded things. There are anomalies in his home, did you know? It’s…” she shakes her head.
“I was the protagonist of my own movie, I thought everything would turn out okay and by some miracle I’d come out ahead. It was naive. Ignorant. Stupid. And selfish. Very, very selfish. Like I had to do everything on my own. Like just one more visit and Mom would have enough to live on, and I could stop. But there was always another excuse. Car broke down. Rent is due. Mom needs groceries. Always more. She ran herself ragged for me.”
“I wanted to help without being a drain on someone else. I told myself if I got enough money I could walk away from that entire life. Leave Audubon behind.”
“And… I don’t think I expected us to last. You were always…” she gestures vaguely at him, “…just better than me. Smarter. More driven. When I met your dad and Dani for the first time…”
Celia trails off.
“She told me how much you liked me. So I… I wanted to find another way. I reached out to my real dad. I met him. I didn’t ask for money, but we talked after I took the DNA test, and he wanted to cut me a check for cos school. Said he wasn’t my dad, but that he ‘liked my story,’ wouldn’t mind hanging out. So I let him.”
“I was angry. At Paul. For what he’d done to me. I was angry, and I let that rule my actions, and I went to see him. One last time, I said, so I could tell him it was over, so I could… be satisfied, I guess, watching him be disappointed. I could tell him to fuck off.”
“It didn’t work out like I thought. It was dumb. I was dumb. I thought I was taking my power back or whatever, and it just got worse.”
GM: Roderick listens impassively.
“So why did you try to sleep with Emmett after that? Or go home with Pietro? Because those times sure as hell weren’t for your mom.”
Celia: “Emmett’s a conman. I’m pretty sure he could talk a nun into bed with him.” Celia shakes her head again. “It was right after Dad was arrested, and I found out he’d been released. Em was the only ‘negative influence’ I knew. There was some scandal in high school. I… I don’t know why I thought he could help. We’d talked about framing Maxen for something else. Drugs. Said he knew someone in Blackwatch that could help. But we were kids. Just dumb kids. And I think he might have been lying. We had a few drinks. We danced. We smoked. I thought… I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking clearly. It all made more sense at the time. I wanted to believe he could help me. Do something dirty that normal people wouldn’t consider.”
“And Pietro… god, I don’t even know. I could pretend I was someone less pathetic with him. Cici the dancer, not Celia the whore.”
“I was drinking, but that doesn’t excuse it. I thought he might have hit me with his charm, but I doubt he needed to. I just wanted to forget for a while. I wanted to be a kid and make bad decisions and not worry about my dad. It was… it was really immature.”
“I wish I’d just gone to you instead. That I’d called you. Showed up at your door. Any assortment of things that didn’t have to do with other people.”
GM: “Immature is a good way to describe it,” he says.
“So is selfish.”
“Hurting your partner and permanently hurting your relationship with your partner for your own immediate gratification.”
“And I doubt Emmett could talk a nun into bed.”
“Not unless that was what part of her actually wanted. He was a breather. He didn’t have star mode. He couldn’t artificially implant desire where none existed.”
“And yeah, you could have shown up at my door.”
“You could have gone to me and told me about the monsters.”
“You had no reason to believe Emmett was any more likely to believe that story than me.”
“Even the cheating, I could understand, in a warped and twisted way. It’s explainable as simple selfishness. Obtaining gratification at someone else’s expense, because you value your pleasure more than their happiness. There’s a mental calculation there, even when it’s an impulsive decision. ‘I am more important.’”
“It’s the lack of trust in telling me about what you saw and experienced that I still find so bizarre.”
“Or, what, did you figure I was going to break up with you if you told me about the preceding circumstances, and that would have required explaining how you slept with Pietro and tried to sleep with Emmett?”
Celia: “Do you mean, why didn’t I tell you about Pietro and Veronica?”
Celia: There’s a beat of silence.
Then, “They told me if I did they’d kill me and whoever I told. I valued his life less than yours.”
GM: “You had two encounters with them. They told you that during the first one?”
Celia: “Oh, I thought you meant the second. They told me that at the second. At the first… they knew who I was. I saw he’d gone through my purse while I slept. Didn’t bother putting it back to rights, pulled my license out. Had my address, real name, et cetera. Implied I was a loose end. Same reasoning, just less explicit.”
GM: “And was that the correct reasoning?”
Celia: “I was afraid they’d find me if I went to someone I was publicly connected with. I was afraid they’d hurt me and whoever I was with. I didn’t go to my mom’s. I didn’t go back to the dorm. I didn’t go to you. No one knew I was friends with Emmett. I’d already seen them kill one person and shrug it off like no big deal.”
GM: “So you were right, to tell Em and no one else?”
“Speaking from a breather perspective.”
“One ignorant of the Masquerade and larger Kindred society.”
Celia: “Honestly? No. I shouldn’t have dragged him into it either. I was scared and not thinking straight. I imagine the police would have been a better call if I had been.”
GM: “So you should have called the police, and left everyone else out of it?”
Celia: “How would you have helped, if I’d gone to you? What would you have done without knowing about any of this?”
GM: “You haven’t definitively answered my question, Celia. Is that or is that not your answer?”
Celia: “I don’t know. Leaving you out of it shows a lack of trust. Bringing you into it feels like I’m putting you in danger. Calling the police and then bringing you into it… maybe that was the better play, calling for help from the people who are supposed to help, then coming to you. That’s what normal people do, turn to their partners for help. I didn’t know they were Kindred. Just killers. I guess I didn’t have any reason to think they’d come after me, or you, if they were caught.”
Celia is quiet for a moment.
“I see,” she says. “I see your point.”
“That I’ve been doing it this whole time. Keeping you ignorant because I thought it was the right thing.”
“Because I thought it would protect you. That I could handle it.”
GM: “Yeah. You’ve got a real savior complex there.”
Celia: She runs a hand through her hair.
“Treated you like a kid. Like Dani said.”
GM: “That’s a better way of putting it than savior complex.”
Celia: She leans heavily against the side of the table, ignoring the Ventrue’s blood.
“This whole time,” she says quietly, “I thought… I thought I could do it all on my own, and I could keep everyone out of it, and if I messed up I’d be the only one punished. I’ve kept everyone at arm’s length. I’ve lied to everyone. And it’s not like that. Not at all. That’s… not how the world works. Not how our society works. Not how relationships work.”
“I have been. Treating you like a kid. Treating you poorly. Been selfish. Stupid. Trying to… to please everyone, and hurting you, and… making up excuses that it was for your own good, but it wasn’t. It never was.”
“I did the same thing with Dani. Told her not to come to Elysium. Told her it wasn’t safe. Thought it was best.”
“Took everyone’s choices away from them.”
GM: “Dani’s not a kid either. She can make her own decisions.”
“And yes, you did.”
“You took away everyone’s choices and completely fucked up our relationship.”
Celia: Celia closes her eyes. She nods.
“Yeah. I did.”
She can’t look at him. She did. She’d fucked up. Needlessly.
GM: “All for nothing. For absolutely nothing.”
Celia: She keeps her eyes on the floor but nods again.
“I… you’re right. I fucked it up. For nothing. And now it’s… I can’t undo it, I can’t just… say that I’m sorry, it’s all…” Celia finally looks up. “It’s all just fucked, and it’s no one’s fault but mine.”
“I don’t even know where to begin fixing it. I thought tonight might…”
She trails off. It doesn’t matter.
GM: “It is your fault,” Roderick agrees.
“Completely your fault.”
“We also aren’t finished here.”
“You had more things to tell me, when we last talked at my haven, and which we postponed.”
“And maybe more things have happened since then, too.”
Celia: Silently, she nods again.
“I did… I did something. Something really bad.”
GM: “Just one something?”
Celia: “In general, or in regards to you?”
Celia: “More than one something.”
GM: “Color me surprised.”
He doesn’t sound surprised.
Celia: She’s past the point of being hurt by his words.
“Can you help me take Emily home,” she says, “so she doesn’t have to sleep here? And then I can… I’ll tell you the rest of it.”
GM: “No,” says Roderick.
Celia: She hadn’t really expected him to, had she?
“Where do you want me to start.”
“From the beginning.”
Celia: “Everything, or just the bad things?”
GM: “Everything left unsaid. Everything you’re supposed to tell your partner.”
Celia: “For starters,” Celia says with no inflection, “the spa is bugged, which is the other part of why I’d like to take this conversation elsewhere.”
GM: “Yes, I assumed Savoy had bugged it.”
Celia: She doesn’t let anything show on her face.
“He’s hardly the only one with reason to.”
GM: “Fine. Where else in the Quarter is secure?”
Celia: “Haven. Assorted homes I have access to.” A pause. “Random hotel room.” A longer pause. “The place we had dinner.”
“Tell Gamberro to bring back my keys.”
GM: “Do I look as if I give two shits about where Emily sleeps or your stupid keys right now?”
Celia: Celia turns and walks away.
GM: Roderick seizes her by the shoulder.
Celia: “I can’t lead the way to another location if you grab me.”
GM: “No. I’m deciding where we’re going, if we’re leaving the spa. I don’t trust you.”
Celia: “We’re not. I’m not leaving my friend behind with four licks in the area.”
GM: “Then why do you want to go to another room?”
Celia: “Because this one is bugged, and there’s one that is decidedly more difficult to hide something in.”
GM: “Fine. We’ll talk in the frenzy room. I presume it’s soundproofed.”
“Leave your phone. And your clothes. The lack of trust goes both ways tonight.”
GM: “Fine,” Roderick repeats shortly. “Yours too.”
“And don’t even think of coming onto me right now.”
Celia: “I wasn’t,” she says flatly.
While he strips, Celia closes the door to Narnia, then shoves a chair beneath the handle of the outside door. It won’t stop them forever, but she feels better for its presence all the same.
She kicks off her shoes. Pulls off her belt. Yanks the borrowed shirt over her head. There’s nothing seductive in the way she strips. It’s quick, efficient movements, panties tossed on top of the shirt with a flick of her wrist.
Naked and unarmed, Celia steps into the panic room.
GM: Roderick methodically strips his clothes too. Coat, shoes, socks, belt, shirt, pants, boxers, in order. His body is well-muscled and well-proportioned, exactly like it was the last time she saw it, despite the different face. Coco made sure to Embrace him in his prime, Celia well knows, after a vigorous fitness regimen, after every stray hair was plucked and every imperfection ironed out. He’s angry, too. So angry. The two of them are walking into a small room together. Naked together. It’s cute. They are a cute couple together. In this little room naked together. Both eternally young and eternally pretty (even if he’ll never be as pretty as her, of course).
All they need is a good hard fuck to get it out of their systems…
Celia: It had been true when she’d said it.
Now, though, looking at him without a stitch of clothing between them, trapped in a small, steel room together… she remembers the taste of his blood. Hot. Fiery. All the better with so much anger behind it. All the better when he slams her into the wall and pins her arms above her head and—
Not tonight. Not with him. She is not a slave to her body’s desires. She has been. But not now.
Her Beast whines. It wants blood. His blood. Wants to show that he might be able to slap her around but this close proximity, this naked flesh, this desire? That’s her domain.
It’s an effort to shut the damn thing up. It snarls at her when she denies it.
Nothing crosses her face. She refuses to give him the satisfaction of knowing that she wants him.
“How familiar are you with shadow dancing,” she finally asks.
GM: And they say their clan walks without a curse.
Perhaps one merely more subtle than his.
Roderick’s face, for his own part, could not look less aroused.
“Familiar enough,” he says.
Celia: “Familiar with the illusions that the tricksters can create?”
GM: “That’s not secret knowledge, Celia. Everyone knows they’re illusionists.”
Celia: Celia smiles.
“Yes. I was leading into something different. I have a similar ability that I developed. I believe it’s unique to me, or at least the way I do it. With your permission, I’d like to use it here. It’s an additional layer of security. It’s not harmful. You can end it any time you want. I believe it will aid with explanations in some cases when images are better than words. It also becomes relevant later in what you want me to tell you. Showing you rather than telling you will allow greater insight.”
GM: “No,” says Roderick.
He does not smile.
“This a human problem. You can explain it in human words. Without the magic light show.”
“And I don’t believe it’s harmless. I don’t trust you.”
Celia: Celia nods. She hadn’t thought he would agree, but it had been worth the ask. She settles against the wall, hands behind her back, and keeps her eyes on his face.
“There’s a possibility that things I share will get me into trouble. Possibly killed. Before, I’d have lied to you about them. I don’t want to do that anymore. I also don’t want you to have to keep secrets for me, or know things that will get you into just as much trouble. That’s why I’ve demanded this,” she waves a hand to indicate the room, “and asked for the assistance of the illusions, as there would be no verbal record of this communication. But I understand you don’t trust me. Do you want to know the things that I’d consider dangerous knowledge?”
GM: Roderick’s eyes and voice are short.
“Celia, get on with it. All of it.”
Celia: “Then, just… let me get it all out before you say anything.”
She takes a breath. And then she begins.
“My sire never told me why he Embraced me. I think it’s something I’ve struggled with since it happened. He should have killed me. At that point I was Pietro’s ghoul with Veronica’s powers and I had every intention of destroying his pawn. Ghouls have no rights. No one would have cried foul.”
“If I were to guess… I think he knew he could manipulate me, that I had a darkness inside of me that spoke to his own. I’ve wondered if I was designed for this. To be his childe. To accept the way he treats me. He told me that growing up with Maxen in that house of terror taught me to be strong. There’s a significant amount about my parent’s relationship, and my mother’s rape by Ron, that doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve pushed for answers where I can. But that’s… later, that comes later. My point is that when I first saw him, when I was eight, he started… grooming me. He came for my father, but he took me as well.”
“When Veronica shared her powers with me, I planned to use them for murder. Free my mom, kill my dad, and set Paul’s house on fire. I ran into Lebeaux and he told me the monster’s name. Where he lived. I thought… I could handle it. And if not, at least I’d trade my life for something worthwhile.”
“So when he came for me… I wasn’t afraid to die.”
“I remembered his face from my dreams. When I was eight. Again at fourteen, when I watched Maxen cut off my mother’s leg. He could have made me forget. All of it. He could have made me forget that I had ever seen him. But he didn’t. He picked me up. He carried me down the hallway. He told me everything would be okay. He told me that I was… special. His special little girl. That he loved me very much.”
“That night, he took me into the sky. I saw the whole city below us, and I was… cold, so cold, he was like marble. My teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. I tried not to be afraid, but he was… he was killing me. Draining me. It was different than when Pietro and Veronica did it. They took too much from me that night. But I felt him killing me. Sucking all of the warmth out of me. And I knew… this was it. He’d drain me and drop me.”
“I said his name.”
“That’s it. One word. Just his name. He stopped drinking. He looked at me and I saw my blood on his lips, but it was… far away. So far away. Because I couldn’t look at anything except his eyes. The storm inside his eyes swept me away.”
“Then he was inside of me, and I was inside of him, and I saw… Hell. Torment. Agony. Demons.”
Despite herself, Celia shivers. She crosses her arms over her stomach.
“I’ve never spoken of it, never told anyone the things I saw. I don’t know if he showed them to me, or if I simply took them. I don’t know if he knows I know. I learned things. Dangerous things. Things he’d likely kill to keep quiet.”
“For years I’ve been looking for answers. Savoy hasn’t said much to me about him. I’ve looked for other ways. Recently I spoke to someone who seemed to know more. And I found it. The demon.”
“That’s why I believed my father when he told me about it. Because I’ve seen it. Because even though it’s hard to explain that Maxen was once a good dad and we were happy, it’s true. I think my sire spread the demon to him, and I think Maxen had it exorcised.”
“Last night,” she says with a grimace, “I was tailed from the Evergreen. That’s when I called you. Agnello. I drove back, I parked right outside, and I tried to run back in. He grabbed me. Pulled me under the car. Staked me.”
“They took me to Perdido House.”
“Bornemann turned me in for infernalism because of our chat. Doriocourt told me that they were going to burn me. I was supposed to die at Elysium tonight.”
“I made a deal. I’ve got… a week, I think, to make it happen. Then they come for me.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. I’ve been setting some things in order in case not. I told Dani I’d find her sire. And I told you I’d find her sire. That’s why I was dealing with Gui. He was supposed to deliver the staked sire tonight, but with everything that happened…”
“Dani was raped,” Celia continues quietly. “She asked me not to tell you. She thinks her sire raped her. We went hunting together tonight and she was… it’s not her scene. She’s afraid of men. She said she’d… she said she’d never been with anyone before, so this was…” She stops. Her fingers clench into fists.
“She wants to know why this happened to her. I thought I could find out for her. I told her I found him, because he was supposed to be delivered, and I thought we could question him together. The three of us.”
“I might have found a way to make her a true-blooded vampire. It involves some pretty dark magic. I haven’t spoken to her about it yet.”
“I broke the Masquerade. There was an incident earlier tonight, and I willingly broke the Masquerade. I think it’s past the point of a quick memory fix.”
“The night started out poorly. Dinner and all. Then Dani and I talked. Then Savoy stood up for me at Elysium when they were calling for my head. Then you came outside and kept Agnello from beating me, and I assume it was because you knew I had your sister with me, but it… you still came.”
“That and some other things… it helped open my eyes. And it just made me think that I don’t want it to be like this anymore. I don’t want to be this person. I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t want to cheat on you. I don’t want to hurt you because I’m selfish or stupid or short-sighted. So when Gui came… I was just… I was so eager to make the trade for Dani’s sire, to tell you I’d set the meeting for him, to bring you the rest of the blood, to tell you… all of the plans I have that I didn’t get to share with you, to make it… better. To make everything better. To be honest and open and tell you all of it. To tell you I can get into his head and find out whatever you want to know from either one of them, to show you things I’ve been working on, to… make up for everything I’d needlessly fucked up by being a liar and a coward. To stop treating you like a child or justifying my lies. Apologize for all the hurt I caused you. Find a way forward.”
GM: Roderick listens.
The demon talk doesn’t elicit much of a reaction from his face. It has little enough to do with their relationship, Celia supposes.
Then he hears his sister was raped.
Roderick screams and slams his fist into the steel wall, to a resounding boom. He screams and slams his other fist into the steel, to another boom. He screams and his fists blur, back and forth, too fast for Celia to keep up with. Boom, boom, boom, boom. His eyes bulge and fangs jut from his mouth as he howls and his fists strike. Boom, boom, boom, boom.
He keeps at it for at least a minute.
Yet, when he stops, the catharsis appears to have healed little. If anything, he looks even worse. Celia can feel the Brujah’s wrath gathered about him like a barely contained inferno. Just waiting to pour out and consume all.
“So,” he seethes, “is that all, or is there more?”
Celia: Celia remembers the last time he’d lost it in front of her. How she’d tried to hide, thinking she was next. How that had drawn the rampaging Brujah’s attention instead. He’d come after her, torn everything apart in his haste to get to her—
She doesn’t move. Doesn’t blink. Doesn’t breathe. Not until it’s over.
Silently, she waits it out.
“I might have messed up with my dad,” Celia says to his question. “I did the right thing for my mom. But it might have cost us. I know you wanted to find a way to utilize him.”
GM: “I don’t give two shits about your dad right now.”
Celia: Celia lapses into silence.
He couldn’t shut up about her dad the last time they spoke.
GM: “Is that all, Celia?” he growls, and Celia can see his hands clenching and unclenching as the wrath burns behind his eyes like a hungry fire. “Is that everything you’ve wanted to tell me? Every lie, finally unmasked, the truth finally come out?”
“There’s no longer anything between us?”
Celia: “There’s… minor things, but when I think about them they mostly sound like excuses for past behavior, and I’m working on them so they don’t further damage what’s between us.”
“Your anger,” she says quietly. “The clan curse. I’ve seen you control it. That means I can control mine. So now it just sounds like an excuse to do things I’ve done, and I don’t want to hide behind that.”
GM: “So minor things,” Roderick repeats. The words are slow, like the rumblings of an angry volcano.
“That’s all that’s left.”
“Things that can wait.”
“Nothing else you think we need to have out here.”
Celia: “No,” Celia whispers. She looks up at him, hands at her side, eyes wide. “That’s… that’s it.”
GM: Roderick turns, walks to the door, and solves the combination puzzle.
GM: He opens the door. He doesn’t look back.
Celia: Silently, she waits.
Seconds tick by.
Something about this is familiar. Steel walls. Cold room. No clothes. She scratches the itch until it bleeds synthetic artifice sacks.
Plastic taints the taste. It disappears with a pinch of her fingers.
The voices start eventually. They always find her, don’t they.
“You should have burned.”
“It’s the only way to be useful anymore.”
“He’s right. Black hole.”
“No one would have come for you.”
“No one loves you.”
“They broke you.”
“And they never put you back together again.”
Someone screams. She thinks it might be her. But she’s not her, she’s a little girl and there’s a monster under her bed and he’s coming for her and she tells her sister to run but she can’t move she’s rooted to the spot she’s cold so cold she can’t breathe there’s no air and it’s dark and she’s screaming but no one is listening she’s drowning, drowning, the air flees her lungs, it bubbles from her lips as she sinks deeper, deeper, deeper—
“Stop it, stop it, STOP IT—”
Something in her mouth, she’s choking, they’re holding her down, fingers around her throat—
The kids cried out, “Please stop, you’re scaring me”
I can’t help this awful energy
God damn right—
“—you should be scared of me.”
“Who is in control?”
Then she’s gone.
The scent of blood wafts from the room. Overwhelming. Overpowering, it masks even the strongest chemical scent. Inside, the steel walls have been painted red.
An artist dances in the midst of the splatter. Red leaks from the gouges in her flesh, dripping down the pale skin of her forearm to coat her hands. She leaves smears everywhere she touches: images and words etched in blood.
All across the room they scrawl.
The words blur in places, as if another hand went through it while wet.
Beneath the words, images have been daubed in red by crude fingers. An artist, though paint has never been her medium. The suggestions of shapes remain.
..VER DI…HEN…M DEAD…
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…
“Princess,” she sings, twirling. Blood flies from the tips of her fingers with the movement. It splatters across the floor and walls. “Princess Looooootus Blossom!”
She flicks her wrist. Drip, drip, drip goes the red. It ruins her art, but she doesn’t notice.
“Flash of… flash of silver… knows it, she knows it…”
“Momma Goose. Momma? Luce. Momma Luce.”
“You… you’re still my… my mommy…”
She looks without eyes. White orbs stare from her sockets. Three fingers brand her throat.
“I see now.”
“There was a monster under my bed.”
“And now it’s in my head.”
She giggles. Her face goes slack, white eyes wide.
She cocks her head to one side. Her lips split into a smile that stretches far wider than it should. When she giggles—always giggling—the points of her teeth show red.
“Can you hear her?”
“Always. Always screaming.”
“Tell her to stop.”
“Tell her—tell her it’s over, so she—”
“Keeeeeeeep hooooooldin’ on…”
“…make it through… make it… through…”
“…no other way…”
“…when it comes… to the… truth…”
“…hanging… by a… thread…”
“Shut up shut UP SHUT UP!”
She drops to her knees on the floor and scoots forward until she can touch the wall, using the bloody tips of her fingers to draw a rough square. She stares at the empty stretch of steel inside the box.
“I’m going to cut you out,” she whispers to it. “I’m going… I’m going to cut, to cut you, to cut you OUT! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT YOU’RE DEAD!”
Long, wicked claws spring from her fingers. She digs them into her stomach and howls.
GM: But she can’t cut it out.
She told her mom, once.
“She’s me. I’m her.”
She can still give a show.
And the best lies are spun from truth.
How lucky she told him and Dani about her multiple personalities.
Roderick returns. He doesn’t run. He walks. He seizes Celia by each of her wrists, pulls her up, and pins her against the blood-smeared wall. It ruins one of the illustrations. He’s got his clothes back on.
There’s a lot on his face. And not on his face. There’s the familiar fury, white hot, but seemingly held in abeyance by something cold and detached and distant. It’s a look that feels at home on Michael’s, Dracon’s, whoever’s face. She could have seen it on Roderick’s face, and perhaps even did see it presaged on Roderick’s face, but never like this. Never with so little life behind his eyes, or a mouth so squarely set it looks as if it might never smile again. She does not think Dani would like this face.
There’s something else on it, too, written in the eyes.
What a broken creature she must resemble.
What a broken creature he must think she is.
Trying so desperately to seize the last, just-snapped strand of their years-frayed and unraveled relationship, and pull everything back. To keep him from leaving. What cost, now, to tell another lie, if he’s leaving her?
He can’t leave her.
She can’t be broken by herself.
If a black hole is bereft of light and matter to devour, will it finally devour itself?
Oh, there is her sire, the cold one who her thoughts always return to. Whose collar rests as securely around her neck as it ever has. He will always be there.
But he has no use for broken things.
“I suppose you have more you want to say, Celia,” Roderick says tonelessly.
“Let’s have it out.”
Celia: She hangs limply by her arms when she’s done thrashing, wrists caught in his steel grip. Blood drips down the flat plane of her stomach where her claws managed to slice into her skin before he stopped her.
This isn’t how the story is supposed to go.
But she sees it writ all over his face: it’s over.
More red threatens to leak from her white eyes. She blinks it back. She keeps herself still once it’s stabilized. Absolutely still. She stops pretending she’s still human.
“She’s lying,” Celia finally whispers. “She—I’m…?—lying.”
Naked. Naked, and he’s clothed, and there’s nothing to hide behind anymore.
“I don’t want her anymore. I don’t want to be her anymore. I don’t want Jade.”
GM: When has the story gone how it was supposed to go?
“Let’s have it out,” repeats Roderick.
His voice isn’t impatient. It’s still toneless.
“Let’s have out the truth you say you want to share.”
Celia: The triad of finger imprints around her throat bob when she swallows.
“She killed him. She killed him.”
And then she shakes her head.
“I killed him.”
GM: Roderick simply stares.
Celia: Dead eyes stare back.
“You said she isn’t real,” the mouth says, “but all night I hear her whispering. ‘Lie. Cheat. Fuck. Kill’. Every time I start to tell you she comes back, slipping inside, filling my mouth with empty nothings—anything to get what she wants.”
The eyes start to leak.
“I don’t want her anymore. I don’t want her anymore. You said we could get rid of her. She’s lying, they’re all ly—”
The mouth giggles. It splits until its jagged smile cuts the face in half.
“She thinks you’re going to save her,” the monster purrs. “She still thinks it’s love. You should hear how she screams. Vying for control. ‘No, not him, don’t touch him, stop hurting him, he’s good.’”
“Good.” It spits the word. “Good. We showed her how good you are when we cooked her, didn’t we.”
“You’re the same as everyone else.” It cocks its head to the side, smiling widely. “How many more times will you have to hit her before it sinks in?”
“You’re just… like… me.”
It giggles again.
“I killed him,” it hisses, “and I fucked him, and I fixed that little issue when she spilled his plans, didn’t I, because she’s weak, pathetic, stup—”
The body shudders. Its eyes widen. It pleads.
It snarls, lips drawn back over its teeth at an unseen adversary.
And then it chokes. Blood dribbles out of its mouth. Its eyes narrow and it screams—
But the sound is just a gurgle. Crimson vitae flows past its lips, splattering across his chest. A wet plop strikes the floor.
A severed tongue lies between them.
The monster rasps.
Then it’s gone and there’s a cat on the ground, darting toward the tongue to pick it up with its mouth, streaking towards the wall—
The girl is back, tongue clutched in her hand, using the bleeding stump to scrawl—
GM: Celia starts it.
Maybe he believes her, this mad and gibbering and thoughtlessly hurting thing.
Because it’s Jade’s fault.
Maybe he just wants to hurt her, this mad and gibbering and thoughtlessly hurting thing.
Because it’s Celia’s fault.
He seizes her up in his hands again.
Because it’s either of their faults?
Because it’s both of their faults?
Whoever’s fault, the fault lies in the body. The body’s tongue moves and speaks all the lies, the many, many, many lies.
Preternaturally strong fingers dig into the Toreador’s already wounded belly and gruesomely rip.
Celia: How do you scream without a tongue?
The body manages. Rage. Pain. Terror. It screams at a throat bleeding pitch as the Brujah tears into it with his bare hands. It thrashes. It struggles to escape. But he’s stronger. Faster. Smarter. Even when the Beast takes over its fists are pitifully small, inconsequential things. Eventually it exhausts itself, just in time to hear the swishing inside the stomach.
Tequila dribbles out.
So does the bottle.
And the letter tucked inside.
Nights ago, he’d asked for it. This evening, while Jade waited for her guests to arrive, Celia had written it.
GM: Celia isn’t lucid enough to tell, for much of it. Perhaps she is glad when the Beast takes over in all its impotent rage.
But Roderick’s coldly impassive face changes little at her mangled, raw-throated screams.
He dumps her to the ground without crremony, yanks out the red-dripping bottle with a messy squelch, and removes the letter inside.
Celia: An ink-stained page unfolds in his grasp, the words blurring together. Some of the sentences are fragmented, like there was no time to do it right. As if any minute she’d be interrupted.
I freed Mom. But I couldn’t get out. I wasn’t fast enough. Never fast enough.
He came for me. I couldn’t get away.
Now he won’t let go.
It’s too tight.
The Malkavian trapped Diana. She built her prison with her own hands and wove herself into its fabric. They turned her into the perfect wife and put the discarded pieces into a doll.
It took three to make the perfect Toreador. I made them with my own hands, never realizing what it was.
She said I was her best creation.
Vain. Selfish. Hedonist. Arrogant. Cruel. Fickle.
Mom was right. Jade is evil.
I tried to stop her.
I thought I could do the right thing when they came for you.
What follows is a list of lies. Written in Celia’s shaky hand, like she’d fought with herself the whole time she tried to get it down on paper. Some words have been scratched out and rewritten multiple times. A particularly vicious slash cuts through the page itself to hide a sentence. She’s drawn a leash and collar around a cage instead, the image rudimentary and crude. Everything he’d asked about. An outpour of honesty onto the page.
What had he always said? Truth comes out.
This is hers, in all its ugly, desperate, tangled glory: the story of a girl in love with a boy, stolen by a monster when she’d tried to rescue her mother. She became one, too. Bit by bit, they killed her. They broke her. She tried to put herself back together again but it was never enough. She was never enough. She couldn’t heal their destruction fast enough.
Not by herself.
And burying the pieces of her inside of porcelain smiles, trapping the dead girl in a cave beneath the water—none of it had kept her from spinning further into the abyss. Like Nietzsche said.
She thought that when the monster came for her, when he took her to his castle and chained her, when he ripped her apart and stitched her back up—she thought that was love. Every broken bone was love. Every swing of his sword was love.
When you’re not fed love on a silver spoon, you learn to lick it off of knives.
And how exquisite that love is when paired with the thrill of danger.
But that’s her curse, isn’t it. That her heart is just too big. For so too it was love on the roof, when the girl saved her mom. It was love on the roof, when the boy attacked the monster. It was love in the air, when the girl bargained for his safety. It was love in her haven, when she told him to get his sister out.
And the monster they created sabotaged it all.
I’m so sorry. I failed.
GM: But she was fed love, wasn’t she? From her mother. From her sisters. From the broken-hearted boy. A rich and steady diet of it, eaten off silver spoons.
It was the love dripping from the knife that tasted so much sweeter.
His love that tastes so much sweeter.
And for all the words of her sister-in-blood, it is not her sire who stands before her now, threatening to leave her forever.
Roderick looks from the letter in his hand towards Celia.
His cool eyes do not scan the page yet.
“This is all of it, Celia? This is actually everything you want to tell me, every lie exposed?”
Celia: It is?
No. Of course not. It will never be every lie exposed, because she will never betray her sire. She will never put the pair of them at risk, not again. Not when the punishment is her family used against her. Not when her punishment is her ghouls slain in front of her.
Not when her punishment is his disappointment.
She feels it tugging, tugging, tightening, pulling—
She’d tugged back, but it hadn’t been enough. She hadn’t been able to state it plainly. He wouldn’t want that.
So she’d tried to draw it on the walls. Put it behind the words of the letter. Had marked it into her very flesh. Subtle, tiny things, clues that the bond hadn’t made her destroy, cross out, or smear.
Maybe it’s not enough.
Blank eyes stare out at him from the pretty face. It has no entrails to dangle from the torn apart flesh on its stomach. Just a gaping hole where he had ripped and shredded his way inside, a handful of other objects visible in the tomb of the torn-open stomach. The snake hasn’t taught her that trick yet. Maybe he can see some of them: the bloody pages of a rose-covered notebook, a strip of mangled leather tied around the edge of a wickedly curved claw, the rounded corner of a crimson box…
And the flash of a years-old golden chain wrapped around the muscle that keeps on beat, beat, beating even years after her death.
Does he remember?
A girl and boy sit on the beige carpet of a college apartment, books spread across the coffee table in front of them. She’s in a long pink cable knit sweater with knee-high socks and otherwise bare legs, and he’s cross-legged in chinos and a polo. He’s laughing as he reads something over her shoulder; mock scowling, she gives him a playful shove.
‘You promised,’ she says.
’It’s just silly,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘You really have to learn this?’
‘They said it was on the test.’
‘Remind me which class has you studying the healing properties of crystals and… chakras.’
‘Esthi school,’ she mutters, cheeks turning red when he laughs again.
‘Do they really expect people to believe all this? Do you believe all this?’
‘I think stones can be good for some things,’ she says, turning to look at him with a gleam in her eye, ‘like whacking sense into mean boyfriends who promi—’
Her words cut off into a playful shriek when he launches himself at her, taking both of them to the ground in a tangle of limbs. He stretches her arms above her head, pinning her beneath him.
‘Mean?’ he breathes into the crook of her neck. She shivers. ‘Would a mean boyfriend do this?’ He kisses her jaw, the long line of her neck when she stretches it out. ‘Or this?’ He kisses her bare shoulder, then slowly slides her shirt up to expose her stomach, kissing her there as well. ‘Or… this?’ His mouth slides lower.
The couple loses themselves in each other.
Does he remember?
Weeks later. The same couple, the same apartment, a tiny Christmas tree in the corner with a single red ornament dangling from a string, mugs of hot cocoa on a familiar coffee table. They’re curled beneath a blanket on the couch.
‘Mine first,’ he says. He hands her a neatly wrapped box, eyes on her softly smiling face. She accepts the gift and starts to open it, sliding a nail beneath the tape holding it together.
‘You can tell me if you don’t like it,’ he says, suddenly nervous, ‘if you think it’s sil—’
’I’m sure I won’t,’ she interrupts gently. He swallows and nods, watching her pull open the paper. A white box rests within. She opens the lid and breathes in wonder.
’It’s from your books,’ he says in a rush. ‘The heart one is green, right? Well, emerald is green. I looked it up. Free-flowing energy that directly empowers the heart center. Love, compassion, sensuality. It’s my birth stone. And the lilies are for you. Flores. I thought—’
’It’s us,’ she says, lifting the necklace from the box.
It’s us. It’s you and it’s me. Together.’ Tears shine in her eyes when she brings them back to his face. ‘I love it. I’ll keep it with me. Always. It’ll remind me… remind me of you. Of us. Of this.’ She leans forward, holding the necklace in her hand while she brings him into an embrace.
Does he remember?
Silently, she lifts a hand.
GM: Maybe he does remember, that happy memory from literally another lifetime ago. Back when they were both alive. Back when there was nothing between them and everything ahead of them. Back when they were a simple college romance.
But that was another lifetime ago.
That was two lives ago.
Roderick seizes the necklace out of Celia’s hand, throws it on the ground, and stomps his foot over it. The green stone shatters into pieces.
Contempt smolders in his cold eyes.
That’s all these reminders of the past are to him, Celia sees. More manipulations. More tugs upon his heartstrings, meant to distract him from the truth. She is a lying and dishonest creature, weaponizing every good and beautiful memory, using it to bury the ugly truth of her misdeeds.
He thrusts the letter at her.
“Yes or no, Celia. Every remaining lie is on here. Yes, or no.”
Celia: She wonders if tomorrow she’ll think it was worth it. Trying to keep him. Trying to hold onto something that burns every time she touches it.
Celia stares up at the boy she once loved, the boy who once loved her.
There’s nothing left for her to say.
She just nods.
GM: Perhaps Roderick will wonder the same thing.
Trying to hold onto something that burns every time he touches it.
Trying to get the truth, and getting more lies every time.
But for now, he stares down at the letter in his hands, and he reads.
He reads how she cheated on him with Gui and Gamberro last Saturday.
He reads how she she blood bound his sister.
He reads how she never gave Carolla to vampire hunters.
He reads how she is ‘addicted’ to sex, sought out Malkavians, merged her mother with Lucy, Dani’s rape, Maxen’s demon, who actually threw Diana off the roof, why she lied.
Everything except her sire, and truth of how the place Roderick holds in her heart has always been shared by another, another whom she is bound to by chains of blood.
Everything except his sire, and the truth of how she never lied to him, never betrayed him, and Savoy is the dark hand behind all of his pain and shattered faith.
Like last time.
Like before last time.
Like it has been every time.
Celia: In fairness, she’d tried to tell him about her sire. Had fought and struggled and jerked against the chains around her heart and throat.
She hadn’t been strong enough to contest his will.
While he reads, she puts herself back together. She starts with her stomach, pushing and pulling at muscle, tendon, and flesh until there’s just a tiny slit. She pinches it closed. Then her tongue, putting it back in her mouth and blindly groping for the severed edge so she can smooth that over, too.
Perhaps she shouldn’t have bothered. No doubt in a moment he’ll tear her open again.
When it’s done she doesn’t speak. She waits. Silently. Always waiting.
Like she has for her sire, night after night.
It’s no different this time.
She’ll wait long enough to be disappointed.
She’ll be left alone.
She’ll cry and lick her wounds once he’s gone, never mentioning the shattered pieces he left inside of her.
GM: But first, Celia shatters him to pieces, with the truth of more lies and sins finally dragged into the light.
The rage overtakes her lover like an erupting volcano. Celia sees it coming before he even finishes the page. Before an inferno stares out from his eyes. Before the soul-deep howl tears from his lips. Before the legendary Brujah rage, held so long and desperately at bay, finally and inevitably bursts through to destroy all in its path.
Celia sees it coming.
She slams the door shut just in time as she blurs from the room, escaping the unleashed monster within. Thunderous booms sound, again and again and again, as she listens from the other side. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Each one a blow that would shatter some piece of her too-fragile flesh and bone. Each one a blow that would pay back the hurt she has inflicted upon his heart with hurt upon her body. How much did she pay to build the frenzy room again? However much she did, it was a bargain. It was the bargain of a lifetime.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
Celia: Of course she’d seen it coming.
Both other times she’d told him the truth he’d lost it on her, too.
She stands outside the door and listens to him vent his frustration on the walls. She imagines it’s her in there. How many blows to her face? How many to her body? How many before she’s beaten into torpor? Would her grandsire care if the Brujah dropped her off at the Evergreen?
No. Not if it kept Roderick on his side.
The knife in her gut twists.
Her sire had beaten her too. But his was a cold, methodical infliction of agony. A lesson. Roderick’s is nothing but a blast wave at the thing that hurt him the most.
For long moments she stares at the door. Is this the time it finally comes off the hinges? What will he do when he finds her out here, naked and unarmed? She yanks her clothing on at the thought.
This was a mistake. She should have quietly let them kill Gui and crept out once they were gone to pick up the broken pieces of her Requiem.
She doesn’t want the door to open. She doesn’t want to face him.
GM: But since when has anyone gotten what they want?
The door opens, the puzzle lock on the other side solved by a lucid mind.
Roderick walks out.
He looks paler.
He looks colder.
He looks as if a little more of himself has died inside.
So many things have driven him here. So many traumas and tragedies. His sister’s Embrace. His first murders. The countless lies and betrayals he’s caught Celia in. The ‘betrayal’ by his sire that pushed him into Savoy’s welcoming arms. Now still more betrayals at Celia’s hands. Still more lies exposed.
Another push down whatever dark road he is on.
Who can say where it shall end?
He looks Celia over.
He says nothing.
Celia sees it on his face, though.
He removes his phone from his pocket and taps into it.
After a moment, he tucks the phone away. He starts to walk away.
“Come along, Celia.”
Celia: She should have run.
Should have hidden.
Like a coward.
Which of his new friends is he taking her to? Which of them is going to carve her open? Will he watch, or will he want to do it himself?
He could do it here, if that was his goal.
Maybe he’s taking her to Savoy to ask for the pleasure of it. Or Don Carolla, to blame her for his nephew’s death. Maybe they’ll string her up on the table next to Gui like he had threatened.
But he doesn’t need to leave the spa to hurt her. And the past two nights she’d been taken to a second location after being staked, where things had gone from bad to worse.
“No,” Celia says. She lifts her chin. “We don’t need an audience for whatever retribution you plan. Just do it here.”
GM: “I’ll deal with you later,” replies Roderick. “No, this is something else you need to see first.”
Celia: “I’m not going to watch you torture and murder someone.”
GM: “Have it your way, I suppose, Celia.”
Celia: What does that mean? She falters. Then she takes a step after him.
GM: Before Celia can do so, she suddenly goes rigid as a wooden stake pierces her chest. She topples over backwards. Her head crashes against the floor.
Celia: Three for three. She stares up at the ceiling.
GM: “That was very stupid of you to say, Celia.”
Celia: She continues to stare.
GM: Roderick slings Celia over his shoulder like an ungainly sack of potatoes. He starts towards the door.
“Come along, now,” he repeats, like he’s inviting her. He smiles as he says the words. It’s a dead smile. There’s no humor in his voice.
“We’re taking a field trip.”