“I remember who my real friends are. And who the fair weather friends are.”
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
Celia: Jade sends a text to Draco as she wraps things up with Celia’s mom, asking if he’d heard anything from their friends.
GM: Haven’t asked.
Celia: Oh good. Got you in time. Don’t bother, I figured it out. Thanks though.
She even includes a heart emoji, just to keep him guessing. Then she mutes the text thread, preventing any notifications from him until she unmutes him. She’s not really interested in anything he has to say anymore.
She dials Benji’s number.
GM: It rings for a while.
“Yo. Leave a message.”
Celia: “Hey, it’s me. Just making sure you’re okay. Hit me up. Mwah.” She blows a kiss and hangs up.
Surely Savoy doesn’t have a reason to detain Benny. He hadn’t done anything. Probably just wants to avoid her for getting him staked, right?
She takes off.
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
Celia: The first stop is the clubhouse. Located on Royal, the building isn’t far from Flawless and the Evergreen itself; she should be able to hit all three if needed.
Jade uses her key to unlock the panel to put in the code that lets her inside.
GM: Jade looks as if she has the place to herself. Andi, Tyrell, and Nova are still off on their road trip, last she heard, and Roxy and Benji do not currently seem in.
Celia: Disappointing, but expected.
Jade resets the alarms and security systems and heads out. She stops at Flawless long enough to make sure that is securely locked down as well before she swings by the Evergreen.
Celia would run from this place, tail tucked from her earlier chastisement. But she isn’t Celia. She squares her shoulders, straightens her spine, and approaches the door.
GM: Flawless is quiet and still at this hour of night and appears secure.
The Evergreen is quiet too, at this hour on a Monday (well, Tuesday), and though bereft of crowds its lights remain on. Fabian receives Jade cordially and inquires what he can do for her with a wide smile.
Celia: How much does he know about what goes on here? Was he aware that only hours ago she’d been held captive in the same interrogation room where she had murdered her sister?
Does Savoy keep his people apprised of his moods towards his subjects?
Jade answers with a smile of her own. It’s politics, not personal. She inquiries after Benjamin, asking if he’s still here, or if he was released.
GM: The smiling ghoul gives no indication either way.
Fabian answers that Mr. Moore is no longer enjoying the hospitality of the Evergreen, though he is expected back tomorrow night.
Celia: She asks for clarification: did he leave of his own volition or was he taken to another location? Essentially, is he free or not?
GM: Fabian chuckles like Jade just told an amusing joke and replies that of course Mr. Moore left of his own violation.
“All of Lord Savoy’s guests may enter and leave his house safely, freely, and—he dares hope—while leaving something of the happiness they bring, madam.”
Celia: Her smile doesn’t slip.
“Naturally, Fabian, and let no one suggest otherwise. I merely wished to complete my business with him. When did he go?”
GM: “Perhaps an hour or so ago, madam.”
Celia: “With friends, or alone?”
GM: “He left in the company of two ghouls, madam.”
Celia: “Why is he due back tomorrow?”
GM: “He had some business he wished to conduct with a one Mr. Draco, madam.”
“Any friends of theirs are welcome to attend.”
Celia: Why the fuck.
GM: “10 PM, madam.”
Celia: She thanks him for his assistance and heads out.
GM: Fabian beamingly replies she is very welcome, wishes her goodnight, and declares the Evergreen has been made all the happier for her presence.
Celia: Sure it has.
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
Celia: Celia dials the Caitiff again.
GM: “Yo. Leave a message.”
Celia: She continues to call.
GM: She continues to get voicemail.
Celia: Anxiety gets the best of the other girl inside of her—is he mad at her? Pissed she got him staked? Turning on her? Going to leave her krewe for Draco’s? Did Draco get his own office within nights and she hasn’t in years? Is he going back on their deal not to fuck with each other?—but the lick in control beats it back down. She finally sends a text to the Caitiff.
Sorry for the spam. Big shit happening, want to make sure you’re okay. Lmk when we can discuss. Owe you.
It’s late. She’s alone. She doesn’t like being alone. There are too many people whose relationship with her are up in the air for her to settle down.
How did it come to this?
Her flesh ripples, shifts, changes. Celia stares into the rear-view mirror in her car, hating… everything. She wants her mom. She wants Pete. She wants the boy Stephen used to be.
Mostly she wants her sire. His arms around her. His lips at her throat. She wants to find whatever it is that turned him into this beastly thing and kill it so she can free him, so they can be happy together. She even wants her sister-in-blood, wants the genuine warmth and kindness she’d seen beneath the mask, wants—
Celia takes a useless breath.
Blood ties them together. Blood ties her to her sister and her sister to her. There’s no one else in the world who understands what it’s like to be his childe, lying to everyone, cut off from… from everything. Her grandsire had let Gui be killed because he’d only ever served his sire; what if he finds out the same is true for her? What if, even now, he’s plotting her demise?
It’s anxiety talking, that’s all it is, anxiety because she’d messed up; every time she thought the worst would happen she’d managed to pull out of it, hadn’t she? And Pete would have brought her back in if her grandsire was pissed. She’d be dead. He said so.
And Draco is… they have a deal.
Benji, though? Her ghouls? That hunter? The Setites and Marcel?
She wants advice. Needs advice. Needs someone who isn’t pissed at her, someone who doesn’t think she’s a weak, burdensome fuckup, someone who she can trust.
Can she trust anyone?
That’s the discussion she’d had with her mother earlier tonight. Take the mask off, let them see it doesn’t have to be like this. Her sister had done so.
Celia closes her eyes, searching inside of herself for the ties that bind the pair of them together. Donovan’s childer, linked by blood that doesn’t care what sort of mask they wear because its ties are stronger than the lies they tell each other, stronger than the lies they tell themselves, stronger than the lies that their whole society buys into. She finds the connection and marvels at the clarity of the red hue, as if all this time it had been waiting for her to simply see it.
GM: That is what her mom had said. Be the change you want to see from others. Like she’d been the change she wanted to see from Celia. And from Jade. Show there’s no need to lie, that the masks can come off.
And Camilla had too, hadn’t she? Celia had hated her, or at least resented her, until she took off her own mask. So many years spent hating the Kindred who could have been sister.
Yet Camilla’s mask, Celia knows all-too well, is strong. And for all that she risked on her younger sister’s behalf—that’s its own thrill, isn’t it, to have someone else who’s the big sister, who can be the one to give advice—that mask came back on, flawlessly in place, the moment they left that cold cell in Perdido House.
For all the world knows, Camilla has no sister. Jade has no sister. And Celia, if she has any ties to the masked city at all, is but a ghoul.
Celia: Disappointment is her constant companion.
She wants a win.
Needs a win. A victory over someone else. Needs to feel in control again, to take back the power, to… to just stop feeling like a fuckup.
Celia sends her thoughts to Jade, but it’s another that comes out, another that makes a call to a boy on a phone that doesn’t belong to Celia or Jade.
Ayame: Ayame scrolls through her contacts to find his name. Durant. She presses the ‘send call’ button and holds the phone to her ear.
GM: To her chagrin, she gets his voicemail.
Celia: She’s perhaps unsurprised to once more be sent to voicemail. Celia decides against leaving a message; she hadn’t needed him for this, not really. She knows where the bitch hangs out. And it would be too hard to explain to him why she’s doing what she is.
But it will hold for tomorrow. Tonight she wants to get lost in the comfort of the arms of someone who adores her.
She goes home to Alana.
GM: She finds the ghoul wearing a babydoll nightie and soundly asleep in bed. She’s wrapped around a large pillow in seeming substitute for spooning with her domitor.
Celia: Alana won’t be asleep for long. Not if Celia has anything to say about it. She strips from her borrowed clothing and deposits it across the back of a chair before sliding into bed behind her ghoul. She presses her lips to the back of Alana’s neck and snuggles close, arms snaking around her body.
GM: The ghoul soon wakes at the physical contact. She shifts and turns around to face Celia with still-bleary eyes.
“Mistress…?” comes a sleepy purr.
Celia: “Hello, darling,” comes the answering purr. Jade’s voice. Jade’s face the ghoul sees when she attempts to turn over, but the Toreador takes her by the wrists and gently pins her down.
“I missed you all night,” she murmurs, nuzzling at Alana’s neck, “and I want to make up for it.”
GM: “Mistress…!” comes a second explanation with suddenly wide, delighted eyes.
Alana squirms under Jade’s grip as her domitor gets on top. The position does not look displeasing to her.
“I missed you so much, too… more than I can say… but you’re here, and when I’m done, you’ll never want to leave…”
She leans upwards, as much as she can with her pinned wrists, and plants trails of tender, rapturous kisses along Jade’s neck and naked breasts.
“You’re so beautiful… you know that… just absolutely, stunningly perfect…”
Celia: “I know,” Jade says with a smirk, “but I love hearing you say it.”
She nudges Alana’s thighs apart with her knee and settles between her legs. And then she… changes. Her skin ripples below the waist, the padding from her firm, round butt moving to take on a new position in front of her. She builds from her clit outward, turning the tiny bundle of nerves into a larger, thicker shaft that she presses against the girl beneath her, rubbing her stiffening cock between her lips.
“Do you want it?” she whispers in Alana’s ear, nipping at her lobe. “Tell me how badly you want this. How much you want me inside of you.”
GM: “Mistress…!” Alana gasps, eyes widening as she feels Jade’s budding manhood brush against her lower lips.
The ghoul’s face looks as if Christmas just came early.
She instantly spreads her legs, already dripping wet, and arches her back as she moans wantfully and tugs against Jade’s grip.
It’s amazing how fast she’s woken up.
“Fuck me, mistress,” she begs. “Please fuck me. Please fill me. Please give it to me. Please let me take you inside me. Please fuck my brains out. Please, mistress.”
Celia: With her back arched maybe Alana doesn’t see the rest of the changes take over Jade’s body. Perhaps she misses the darkening of the skin, the way her hair recedes back into its follicles, the way her chin and cheeks darken with scruff. Soft feminine curves slide beneath her skin to pad her arms and legs, filling out what needs filled and giving her the appearance of more muscle tone. Her chest flattens into the smooth plane of pecs.
Jade can’t make herself taller. She can’t create matter from nothing. But she does rearrange her body’s structure, and the result is a very, very handsome man now poised between Alana’s legs.
“I prefer,” Jade—Jade?—says in a deeper, more masculine voice, “if you’d call me master.”
He pushes inside in one quick thrust.
GM: Alana gasps. From surprise. From delight. From the cock that’s now inside her, its owner now busily thrusting back and forth.
The ghoul’s inner walls are warm and wet around Jade. This isn’t his first time with a cock, but it’s still an altogether distinct form of pleasure. There’s no wanting someone to hit the spot. She’s—he’s—not ‘taking’ anyone into her. He’s taking the wet and willing woman beneath him. He’s the one whose cock is soaked with Alana’s juices. The ghoul’s pussy is soft like the finest silk. It’s similar to the feeling of a french kiss when Jade’s tongue is entwined with another person’s tongue, but this feels a hundred times more pleasureful. Jade can feel everything in his pulsating manhood. Alana’s pussy feels like the most natural place in the world to be. Jade goes in and out and in and out, remembering how her—his—partners did it, keeping his rhythm constant.
“Thank you… master…. thank you for your cock… master…!”
Even the word is different. Master. Shorter. Blunter. More direct. None of the trill that comes with ‘mistress’.
Celia: He likes it. The power that comes in having his own cock to fuck this warm, wet pussy. The way she writhes and pants beneath him when he hits that spot he knows so well, the one that makes her thighs tremble and the breath leave her body in tiny little gasps. When her back arches it presses her tits against his chest, firm nipples rubbing over his skin with every bounce and jiggle.
He growls, shifting, hooking her knees over his shoulder so he can press further into her, drilling deeper to make her toss back her head and moan. He keeps at it, but only for a little bit. Then he shifts again, spinning the pair of them so that he’s on his back and she’s kneeling above him.
“Ride me,” he says, sliding a hand between her thighs to stroke a finger across her clit.
GM: It seems obvious, that familiarity with having a penis and vagina makes one better equipped to provide pleasure to one’s partner.
But how many people can claim the same firsthand familiarity with both sex organs that Jade now has?
A flushed, sweaty, and breathless Alana eagerly obliges her master’s request. It’s different from this angle, and pleasantly so. The ghoul does more of the work. It’s less actively ‘drilling’ than it is… the closest thing Jade can think of, absurdly, is his mom juicing lemons with one of those handle-less, hand-operated juicers. Pressing the fruit against the hard, thrusting, jutting surface. Pressing down and squeezing, watching the juices all run out, as soft yielding flesh meets immovable tower.
Jade’s pleasure builds with every upwards thrust from him and downwards grind from Alana. Soon, but not too soon, he feels it coming. The explosion he’s on the brink of from all the pressure built up in his penis. It’s so different having the sensation concentrated in an appendage. Jade’s muscles tighten. He cries out in pleasure, in tune with Alana’s gasps and moans and cries for more. Jade wants to release the tension, to finally cum inside his ghoul.
And then he does. Jade can feel his penis pulsating like it did earlier, but now in waves rather than quivers, as he climaxes. He feels a release of fluids. Vaginal juices, from his ‘wet’ penis. The wetness couldn’t have just been Alana’s. Does it feel different for men to release thicker ropes of white cum? That’s one detail which would take deeper than surface-level work.
The afterglow is similar, though. He feels calm and at peace. The tension is gone, there’s just a relaxed state of pleasure. He can feel his penis returning to it’s flaccid state. He lies still for a moment, entangled in Alana’s arms. Nothing could move him from this position. This feels like the place he is meant to be.
Well, except for round two.
“You were magnificent, master…” purrs Alana, lying her head against Jade’s flat chest.
Her fingers lightly play across his abs and pecs.
Celia: Jade rather enjoys the sensation of soft, warm hands on his chest and abdomen, his partner tucked beside him in bed with her cheek on his chest. He wants more mass. Wants to be able to pick up Alana and take her against the wall, the way Celia likes being taken. Wants to be taller, broader, stronger.
Bone work, he thinks. He needs to learn the bone work. Already he imagines a way to replace his bones with calcified collagen, storing the rest of it inside of him where no one can see but where he can get to if he ever needs to be bigger.
He could be as big as a Brujah.
“I need a name,” Jade says at last, his fingertips running up and down Alana’s spine.
GM: “Hmmm,” Alana muses, nuzzling her head against her domitor’s chest in apparent thought before looking up.
“How’s Jason, master?”
She smiles as she uses the word again.
Celia: “Not Kalani,” Jade says. Something about the name “Jason” rubs him the wrong way.
“Caelum is what Celia comes from. But perhaps that’s too close.”
GM: “Caelum is a weird name,” says Alana. “You don’t see anyone with that.”
“That’s a strong, tough guy name.”
Celia: “Mm,” Jade says at the suggestion. John rubs him the wrong way as well. It’s not a name he wants to respond to.
“We’ll think of something,” he says at length. “Master will work for now.”
Jade runs his fingers through Alana’s hair.
“I have a job for you.”
“Today I’d like you to go shopping for this face. Get me something casual and get me something dressier. Fitted. Find shoes in my size with an insert or inconspicuous platform. Make sure the pants are long enough to hide it; we can hem them if needed. An inch or two.”
Alana has good taste in clothing and will know to take his measurements with her when she goes. It’s not a hard task. She might even enjoy it.
“Your friend down at the coroners, you still see her? Find out what happened with her boss. Friend of a friend mentioned he was attacked. And a missing body or something.”
GM: Alana gives a delighted trill.
“Sure thing, master. Clothes and shoes. Ones to look taller.”
“And she’s not my friend, just a client. But I can ask. Maybe send her a gift card, since it’s been a little while.”
Celia: “Do so. Send one to the woman running for mayor as well. And my father.”
Jade slips from the bed, padding silently across the floor to where he’d set his purse. He brings it back to bed with him and sifts through the contents before finally holding out a wallet.
“I’d like to find this man. Sooner rather than later. Ordinarily I’d send Reggie, but I still haven’t heard from them. See what you can do. Carefully. I suspect he’s a hunter.”
GM: “Sorry, master, who’s the woman running for mayor?” asks Alana.
Celia: “That city council lady. Ocampo.”
GM: The ghoul nods. “Sure thing, master. Dale, Ocampo, and your dad. Do you want to do any of their treatments yourself, or to leave it to me or the techs?”
Celia: “Put Ocampo and my father with me. You have a rapport with Dale already.”
GM: “Okay, master,” Alana nods again.
She looks over the wallet.
“Do you want me just to find him for you, or to bring him in?”
Celia: “If you think you can bring him in safely, do so. Otherwise just find where he’s squatting.”
Jade sets the purse aside and turns to face the ghoul.
“Did you kiss my mom?”
GM: Alana nods again at that directive, then pauses.
Celia: “Did you kiss her. When you first started at Flawless.”
GM: Alana gives a faint laugh. “I don’t think your mother and I are much each other’s type, master.”
Celia: “No. It sounded out of character for you.”
Jade settles back against the pillows, pulling his girl toward him once more.
“We need to find the boys.”
GM: Alana nods and snuggles up against her domitor.
“I can’t believe they’d just abandon you like this.”
Celia: “I don’t understand why. Or where they are now. Why they won’t pick up. There were voices on the other end of the line, yelling at them about being on the phone. Rusty got lippy. Laughed when I said I wanted to make sure they were safe. Said they were.”
His fingers curl against Alana’s back.
GM: “What awful people, master,” murmurs Alana, nuzzling against Jade’s chest.
“I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you.”
Celia: Jade purses his lips.
“Their brother was missing. I get it. But it doesn’t explain why they wouldn’t let me help.”
GM: “Who knows, master. Maybe they’re just weird about it, since he’s family. I think he always came first, with them.”
Celia: “But I could help.”
GM: “I know, master. It’s completely irrational.”
Celia: “I wanted him back just as much. I wanted to find out what happened just as much.”
GM: “Completely irrational,” Alana repeats. “I never thought we could rely on them.”
Celia: Jade scowls at the top of her head.
“You’d have it be just us if you could. But you’re not muscle. Not an investigator. You can’t stop other licks from snatching me up off the streets and torturing me.”
GM: “They’d say things about you, when they thought you wouldn’t hear, master. They never took you seriously.”
Celia: “Like what.”
GM: “That you were fuckable. That it was the only thing you were good for. That he’d have been out of here, Reggie that is, if it weren’t for the sex.”
“Or how he was ‘humoring you.’ Letting you think you were in charge. That sooner or later, he was going to ‘make’ you give him a blowjob. About how much he was looking forward to ‘putting you on your knees, where you belong.’”
Celia: Jade is silent for a moment.
Then he twists, pinning Alana beneath him with her wrists in his hands.
“Don’t lie to me, darling. They know too much about me for us to let them go rogue. The truth now. What they said. When. No embellishments.”
GM: Alana looks up with wide, half-aroused and half-fearful eyes.
“He said you were fuckable, master. He said he was going to make you give him a blowjob, master, if you didn’t on your own.”
“The other things were more, implicit.”
Celia: “Wanting to get out. To get away from me. To no longer be mine. Did he say that?”
GM: “Not directly, master. It was other things, and the way he said them. I don’t think he ever really took seriously the idea you were in charge.”
“You were someone he fucked, not a literal mistress.”
“I don’t think he was ever scared of you, of displeasing you. Of disobeying.”
“I’ll admit that Randy at least had that, he knew who was in charge.”
Celia: “His brother will be a cripple without me.”
“A week, two, and he’ll be right back in that chair.”
GM: “Reggie cuckolded his brother, mistre—sorry, master. Laughed about it. Enjoyed it. I don’t think that family was ever completely right in the head.”
Celia: “Was I supposed to beat him harder to keep him in line?”
GM: “Maybe, master. There was just something wrong about them, I thought.”
“Reggie tried to rape a girl at Flawless once.”
Celia: “He what?”
GM: “Mira, you remember her? Quit a while ago. Reggie had come over to the spa for something, figured he’d get a massage while he was there. She was his massage therapist, and seemed pretty upset after they were done together—she ended their session early. She clamped up when I asked about it, said she wanted to just move on. I couldn’t prove anything. You remember how she was moving across the country, and you’d been nice letting her quit before her two weeks were up. She said she didn’t want to make waves, risk you saying bad things if another employer called for a reference.”
Celia: “That motherfucker,” he snarls.
“And who the fuck would give a woman trouble if she said she’d been raped?”
“What kind of person do they think I am?”
GM: “I think that was actually part of it, master,” Alana says thoughtfully. “She’d had a really good experience with us. She didn’t want to ‘tarnish’ it, if that makes sense—which, I know, doesn’t make sense.”
“She just wanted to bury the whole thing.”
Celia: “Send her something. A gift basket.” As if that makes up for it. “Something nice.”
Jade lets the ghoul go, anger in his eyes. He’ll gut the bastard.
“He’ll need a hit eventually. Or he’ll go looking to get laid. Or his brother will stop walking and not even juice can put him back to rights.” Rusty will need a doctor, someone like Jade.
No, it’s even easier than that, isn’t it. He doesn’t have to go looking at all. Jade will lure Reggie back in without expending the effort of a search.
“We’re looking for replacements in the meantime.”
“And we’re moving. Get the havens ready. Start looking for a new place. Up the security on the spa and have the locks changed.”
GM: “Okay, master. I’ll send her something,” nods Alana. “I’ll write her something sensitive, too.”
“Change the locks. Okay. What sort of place do we want? Nice like this?”
“Inside your domain, still? I know that’s how things are supposed to be, but there’d be a lot more options if we moved outside.”
Celia: “Stay in the Quarter. We’ll use alternative identities if we end up outside my turf. Apparently,” he spits the word, “we can count on my landlord to hunt us down eventually, but I’d like to make it at least a bit of a challenge for him.”
GM: “Okay,” repeats Alana. “What about a haven in Flawless, too, master? Obviously it’s not a place to have sex—well, bed sex—or watch movies, or anything like that, but you are safe there. Surrounded by people who’d all do anything for you.”
Celia: “Put something in place. Discretely. And have the whole spa swept for bugs. I’m tired of my conversations not being private.”
Maybe even this one isn’t. His lips pull back from his teeth at the thought.
GM: Alana nods. “Sure thing, master.”
Celia: “Get your sleep, pet. We’re going hunting tomorrow.”
GM: “I can’t wait, master,” the ghoul purrs.
Tuesday evening, 22 March 2016, PM
GM: Jade wakes up. It’s a second later than it was eight hours ago. Alana is snuggled up next to him in different clothes.
“Good evening, master,” she purrs.
Celia: “Hello, darling.” Jade slides his arms around the ghoul. “How was your day?”
GM: “Not as good as last night, when I got to see you,” Alana beams.
GM: After some more early evening cuddling and kissing, the ghoul has the following things to report:
Courtney Dale is scheduled for an appointment later this week.
Maxen and Thalia Ocampo have both been sent Flawless gift cards. Ocampo’s with “a little more pizaz” than Maxen’s since she’s an important woman who doesn’t yet have a relationship with Celia.
Mira has been sent a nice gift basket and handwritten note saying something thoughtful and validating.
Alana has some real estate listings for Jade to take a look at, both within and without her domain.
Alana has changed the locks at Flawless, bought some further cameras, and upgraded the alarm system to one that will send a mobile alert to her and Jade’s phones whenever it’s triggered.
She was, regrettably, unable to locate the man whose wallet Jade recovered, or to find any bugs in the spa.
Celia: Jade hadn’t really expected Alana to find the man. They had waited too long. It should have been done on Sunday immediately following Jade’s departure from Elysium. But he praises Alana for the rest of the good work; he has other avenues he can pursue to locate the hunter.
GM: Alana beams at the praise.
Celia: Jade reaches into the bedside table to find his laptop, tapping in his password when prompted and then connecting to the Wi-Fi through a VPN.
“What do you know about Hensler,” he asks.
GM: “Sorry, master, I don’t know who that is,” she admits. “Maybe I could go to more lick events with you, to pick up on these things.”
Celia: “Mm,” Jade muses, “are you going to keep it in your pants if I bring you around?”
GM: “Of course, master. I don’t want to cause problems for you.”
“And I’d be more helpful to you that way, if I knew about things and people like Hensler.”
Celia: “It’s okay, darling. I know about Hensler. I wanted to see what you knew. But you’re right. That answer was… illuminating.”
Celia’s mother’s words about trust echo in Jade’s head. Alana will be a terrible teacher for Diana if she doesn’t know what she needs to.
“He’s one of Cartwright’s. Animal trainer, of sorts. If I’m not mistaken, either Nova or Roxy got one of their hounds from him.” Or sent one to him. Or liberated one from him; Jade doesn’t quite recall the details. “There was an incident at my mother’s house. I might get her a dog.”
A smile broadens his lips.
“His domitor and I discussed some collaborative work a while back that never quite got off the ground. Perhaps now the opportunity is ripe.”
Jade taps a handful of letters into the address bar of the laptop before he changes his mind and disconnects it from the Wi-Fi. He turns it off and reaches for his phone instead, scrolling through to find the text thread with Diana.
How’s Emi & Goose?
GM: “Your mother can get her own dog if she wants one,” hmphs Alana.
But she smiles as her domitor does.
“Maybe it is, master. I’ll remember that, who Hensler is. Cartwright’s ghoul.”
Diana texts back soon enough.
Hi sweetie. Things have been hairy. This was a very big change for Goose. You want to come over tonight?
Celia: “I like you more when you’re less insecure,” Jade sighs, nudging Alana with his elbow to move the girl off of him. He rises, tapping back an affirmative to Celia’s mother.
“The more secure her home, the less I need to visit.”
“The less I need to visit,” he says, padding across the room to the closet to pick out a variety of outfits for the evening, “the more time I spend with you.”
GM: “You’re right, master,” agrees Alana.
Celia: “Then don’t begrudge the time I spend setting her up for success. It saves in the long term.”
GM: “I guess it does, when you put it like that.”
“You said you wanted to go hunting tonight? Do you want to come by the spa, too?”
Celia: Jade turns to look over his shoulder at Alana, a dress in one hand and leggings in the other.
“Oh, darling. We’re not hunting kine tonight.”
GM: “What are we hunting tonight, then, master?” the ghoul smiles.
Celia: “Something a little more slippery.”
Jade doesn’t offer further on the subject, only tells Alana to get a message to Cartwright’s hag to set up a meeting, and to “be sure to clear it with his regent, once you get a date." A glance at the clock on his phone tells him that most of his kind probably isn’t even up yet.
Hunting. Then Diana. Then big game hunting.
Gonna grab dinner, but on my way, Jade texts to Diana.
GM: “I’ll do that later this evening, master,” nods Alana. “It might take me a little while to track down her number.”
Great, see you then. :)
Celia: “Text me when it’s done.”
Jade’s flesh begins to ripple and change as s/he peruses her/his closet for additional items. S/he asks where Alana left the male clothing as s/he packs a bag with tonight’s necessities.
GM: Alana tells him/her where they are in the closet. The clothes are stylish and range from casual to semiformal. The shoes have Jade’s female size but are male-appropriate.
Celia: S/he checks the lift on the shoes.
GM: As requested, there’s a discrete insole to boost his/her height by a bit.
Still pretty short for a man, but less short.
Celia: “Perfect,” the voice from the body says.
GM: Alana beams at the praise.
“Do you want me to come with you, mast… er, mistress? Cartwright’s hag might be easier to reach during the day anyway.”
Celia: S/he shakes her/his head.
“Not yet. I have some personal errands to run first. I was thinking about sending you over to see Ron. He mentioned he wanted to speak to me.”
The face finally settles into Celia’s. She pins up her hair with a deft flick of her wrist, letting stray tendrils of it cascade down her back and curl to frame her face.
“But I’d prefer to do it myself, truth be told.”
GM: “Flawless as ever, mistress,” Alana purrs, reverently stroking a handful of that silky hair.
“Okay. I’m here if you need me for anything.”
Celia: “You’re a gem, ’Lana.”
GM: “You’re a star, mistress. You’ll be one in every sense of the word, too, after Ron comes through for you.”
“You deserve to be famous. More famous. You deserve to have people all through the world talking about you, idolizing you, wanting to be you. Worshiping you.”
Celia: “I know,” Celia says with a smile. “I will be.”
GM: The ghoul continues to reverently stroke Celia’s hair and face, then leans close to plant a trail of kisses along her domitor’s head.
“You’re the most beautiful, fabulous, incredible woman in all the world, mistress.”
Celia: Celia tolerates it while she gets ready. Then she’s gone, a trail of her signature scent in her wake and a final kiss lingering on Alana’s lips.
GM: “I love you, mistress,” the ghoul calls after her.
Tuesday evening, 22 March 2016, PM
Celia: Celia texts him on the way. It’s a casual text, an innocuous line about “being in the area” and “thinking about swinging by,” but they both know there’s nothing happenstance about it.
She sucks in her aura as she traverses the city streets—habit with this face after so many years—and keeps an eye in the rear view mirror. Perhaps to look for pursuers. Perhaps just to touch up her lipstick with the tip of one finger before she pulls into the complex where her friend is waiting. Nude heels click against the pavement with every step that she takes once she parks her car, dress dancing around her knees. Not too short, no, not for Celia. Not too formal, either. Casual. Maybe even a little risque, though the soft mauve color and fluttering skirt prevents it from being aggressively sexual.
Celia presses the number for his floor once she reaches the elevator and takes it up to knock upon his door.
GM: Celia’s date for the evening lives at a ritzy condo building in the CBD. He says he’ll let the people downstairs know to let her in. It’s a relatively long elevator ride up to his unit; she feels like there has to be some kind of metaphor there about the recent reversal in the Montobons’ declining fortunes. She vaguely recalls the family either currently or formerly owning a more historic property along St. Charles Avenue. Whether the Montobons lost it when times were tough, or whether Joseph simply prefers to live in the CBD’s more modern and forward-thinking environs, downtown is where he makes his home.
Working late, just getting off. I’ll meet you at the lobby.
The girl at the front desk is smiling and pleasant, the artwork trendy and contemporary, the plants bright and green, and the chairs around the unlit fireplace large and comfortable. Celia doesn’t have to occupy herself on her phone for long before her date for the evening comes in.
Joseph Montobon is a young and handsome man around 30 with short brown hair, strong facial features, clear blue eyes, and a very carefully maintained stubble outline suggestive of a beard without the actual hair. It gives him a crisp and focused look while making him look more masculine and mature than going clean-shaven. He’s dressed in office clothes, dark navy suit with black oxfords and white dress shirt, though his jacket is undone and his tie loosened in seeming concession to the late hour. All things told, he looks attractive, confident, healthy, successful—everything a man in the prime of his life should want to be.
Celia: And everything she wants in a man.
Celia is all smiles as she watches him approach, enjoying the way his jacket gapes open to reveal the smooth planes of a chest she is intimately familiar with. Right now it’s tucked away behind the white collared shirt, but soon…
She rises as he draws near, though she makes no move to greet him more personally than she would any other friend. The exact nature of their relationship has long been confined to behind closed doors.
Well. It’s not like she doesn’t greet all her friends like that.
GM: Almost everything she’d want in a man.
He’s fit and healthy, but he’s not as buff as Roderick is. There’s no six pack swimming beneath that white shirt, even if the chest and stomach are smooth. There’s equally little question who would win in a fight, probably even before the Embrace.
He’s almost everything a breather might want in a man.
But to her kind?
Just another plaything.
Nevertheless, Joseph smiles as he sees Celia and greets her with a touch along her shoulder.
He takes the elevator up with her.
“So how’s the biz?”
Celia: Celia doesn’t linger on thoughts of Roderick. He isn’t hers anymore. Perhaps he never truly was; perhaps they’d been doomed from the start. The monsters have been in her life for so long. And she knows Joseph is only a passing distraction, knows that she’d called on him because despite the lack of six pack abs he reminds her so thoroughly of her ex-lover. Because, were she kine, she could see herself happy with him. Instead she comes like a hungry wolf in the night.
No, she hasn’t forgotten what she is.
She’s just so very good at pretending.
Physical proximity comes naturally to Celia after spending years of her Requiem touching others. The predator inside of her doesn’t even stir when she casually leans against his side, as if quite by accident.
“It’s going well,” she enthuses, “busier than ever. Working on the expansion plan and have a few collabs coming up. More medically based. I’m pretty excited.”
The truth of the statement is in the smile she turns on him.
“What’s got you tied up this late?” A nod to the suit and tie.
GM: She’s always been good at pretending.
“Is it? Good for you,” Joseph smiles back, rubbing his hand up and down her side. “Expanding a business is one of the most satisfying things you can do.”
“For me, it’s work. Surprise.”
“If time is money, spending time on your business is giving it a cash infusion.”
Celia: It’s as easy as talking to Roderick once was. Her chest aches at the thought.
“And there’s never enough of it,” she says with an effected sigh. “Big project?”
GM: “Yeah. Contract with NASA.”
“Things got fucked up for a bit when our lead engineer disappeared.”
Celia: “Disappeared? Like quit or just vanished?”
“Think he was selling secrets to a competitor, maybe? People do weird things for money.”
GM: “Vanished. And yes, that’s part of what caused the delays. His wife was indirectly involved in some drug deal turned massacre. They sent her to prison. It made the news, but thankfully wasn’t ever connected to me. Enough degrees removed.”
Celia: “Oh good. Your piles of cocaine bricks are safe.” Celia shakes her head. “That’s… honestly crazy. Hopefully things have calmed down a little for you.”
GM: “It’s mainly losing my lead engineer that set things back. There was a lot to make up for.”
Celia: “I bet.” Celia gives his hand a squeeze. “I’d ask if you need anything, but y’know, not an engineer and all.”
GM: “Nah. Another guy I know stepped in and he’s been great.”
“Retired guy who knows what he’s doing.”
Joseph lets them into his condo after they’ve stepped out from the elevator.
Celia: She follows him inside, slipping out of her shoes and setting down her purse to pad after him through the space.
GM: It’s a nice place. Neat, clean, comfortable and modern-looking furniture, a few paintings, nice view of the waterfront. It looks like he’s rarely here to do anything besides eat, sleep, and (she knows) fuck.
Joseph takes off his shoes, removes his tie, and lays down his jacket over the couch.
“Was gonna grab some food from the fridge. You had dinner?”
Celia: “Not yet,” she says, “swinging by my mom’s later. She always has something waiting for when we show up.”
Maybe a new face could get a place here. Nice view. Celia steps toward the window, already wondering what it would take to get away with making a haven in the building.
“They allow pets here?”
GM: “Hm, good question. Probably. Moot for me.”
“Had dogs growing up, but I’m not around enough to give one attention.”
Celia: “Could get a cat. Or a bird.”
GM: “Cat still needs attention, and birds aren’t real pets.”
Celia: “Maybe a turtle,” she muses, turning to join him in the kitchen.
GM: “You want a drink?” he asks, pulling open the fridge.
Celia: She does.
“Watcha got?” Celia slides in behind him, touching a hand to the small of his back.
She peers over his shoulder.
“Tell you what,” she says, “I’ll mix up some cocktails and you get started on dinner.”
GM: He’s got some Ten Tickle microbrews and Woody Creek Kentucky bourbon. The latter kept outside the fridge.
“You sure? I was gonna wait on dinner if you’re eating at your mom’s.”
Celia: “You worked all day,” Celia says, stepping away to find a pair of rocks glasses for the bourbon. “I’m sure you’re hungry. Besides,” she glances at him over her shoulder, “I’ll probably steal a bite before you’re done.”
She finds the glasses in a cabinet and has to stretch to reach them, rising to the tips of her toes.
Joseph grabs something from the fridge and sticks it in the microwave.
Celia: “Master chef,” Celia teases, getting to work on the cocktails. Ice in both. A pour of whiskey in both. Celia raids his refrigerator for lemon juice and soda water—or any bubbly, fizzy clear drink—and tuts at his lack of simple syrup. No soda water, either. She supposes it’s not something most people keep on hand. But there’s maple syrup in another cabinet. And a jar of honey.
She glances as the rocks glasses and shakes her head, putting them back to find something taller. She grabs the cocktail shaker while she’s at it.
“Don’t suppose you have Campari,” she says as she pours the bourbon and ice from one glass into the shaker. The Italian liquor is nowhere to be seen. “Hm, back in a flash.”
Celia carries one of the glasses into the living room where she’d left her purse, pretending to search through it while the flesh on her wrist ripples and parts, exposing a blood vessel to the air. That, too, parts with just a thought, and Celia thanks Jade for the cool trick while she bleeds into the cup. She makes sure he’s busy looking elsewhere—the microwave is really interesting all of a sudden—while she works and sets things back to normal.
It doesn’t take long to mix the drinks after that. Lemon juice and honey join the bourbon in the shaker. She caps it and shakes until the container itself is cold, then strains it into a glass for him.
“Gold Rush,” she announces as she hands it over. “And this is… well, it was going to be a Boulevardier, but no vermouth. So we’ll see.”
She clinks her glass against his in a toast.
GM: “Busy chef,” retorts Joseph.
It’s interesting mixing drinks like this when she never really got to enjoy them, or even learn much of anything about them, as one of the kine. Drinking was always out of the question at her father’s house, her mother had the desire literally programmed out of her, and Stephen only drank occasionally. Emily was the person deepest in her cups that Celia ever knew, and she wasn’t big on mixing drinks, just swigging tequila and cheap shitty stuff out of the bottle.
Maybe in another life she’d have been a connoisseur.
Joseph raptly watches the microwave’s rotating dish before using an oven mitt to take out what looks like some leftover chicken alfredo. He carries it to the counter while Celia carries the drinks.
“Fancy,” he says, impressed, and toasts his glass to hers with that praise.
Celia: She spends enough time at bars to know the names and common ingredients. Better for the Masquerade. And better to know a few drinks that look red, like hers, to avoid questions.
“Mostly,” she admits, sipping at her drink, “I can’t stand the taste of it straight.”
GM: Drinking one’s own blood, for all the lust-sweetened flavor of Celia own, just never does it like someone else’s. It’s like masturbating. You’re simply missing out without a partner, even if you’re objectively a far better lay than they are.
The mixed-in ice and bourbon just make it worse. This is like masturbating with a hand that’s coated in sewage.
She supposes it beats having a sewage-coated hand without masturbating, but it’s really just a different degree of bad.
Celia: But as she’d shown Emily, at least it lets her get a little bit tipsy.
Well. A lot bit tipsy that night. She’s gonna slow it down tonight.
GM: “Think more guys prefer it straight,” remarks Joseph, tossing his back before starting on the steaming food. He’s brought out an additional fork and napkin for her.
“I’ve known girls who did too, but not as many.”
Celia: Celia leans a hip against the counter while he eats, sipping slowly at her drink. She doesn’t let the distaste cross her face, not even to wrinkle her cute little nose.
“Acquired taste, they say. Had a friend who used to wax poetic about notes of cherry and vanilla and oak whenever he drank. Open it up with a little drop of water. He’d be livid if he saw me mixing it like this.” Celia smiles at him over the rim of her glass.
GM: “Ha. Sounds like a snob.”
Celia: “He was. Glad he moved, to be honest. One of those people you end up with as a friend and you’re not really sure how but they kinda just keep coming around.”
GM: Joseph takes another bite of alfredo.
“I know how that is. Lot of them are pretty bad friends.”
“When things weren’t doing so well at the business, a lot of them drifted away.”
“Now that things are better, surprise. They’re back.”
Celia: “You get that everywhere,” Celia sighs. “People disappear once the whispering starts, then change their story once it’s over. Hope you told them where to shove it.”
GM: He shakes his head.
“Alienating people doesn’t do me any favors.”
“But I remember who my real friends are. And who the fair weather friends are.”
Celia: “That’s fair,” she concedes. “Think I’m just… annoyed right now with some who went that way.”
GM: “What happened there?”
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
“It’s not quite the same. Just finally parted ways with a friend only to find out some really dumb stuff was going on behind my back with the whole family and another friend.”
GM: “Too bad, but least you finally cut them loose.”
Celia: “Just makes me wonder what the mutual friend is still keeping from me, since she didn’t bother mentioning it until they were gone.”
GM: “Could be she was lying and trying to make you split. Or just didn’t figure you’d believe her until you decided to split.”
“Depending when she told you.”
Celia: “Last night. Wasn’t quite ready to write off the whole family, just the one kid who kept causing problems. Spoke about it to her.”
Celia shrugs. “Minor problems, I guess.”
GM: “You writing them off now?”
Celia: She shrugs again. “Guess I’ll see what they have to say if they come around again.”
“Someone cute once told me that alienating people doesn’t do me any favors.”
GM: Joseph smiles. “It doesn’t. Though if they’ve walked off, sounds like they’d only be fair weather friends if they came back.”
“Because they wanted something.”
Celia: Blood, mostly. But Celia doesn’t share that with him. She smiles back, setting down her drink to slide her arms around him.
“Everyone wants something. What about you?”
GM: “Restore the business. Grow the business. Make my family’s name respected again. Pass it along to a son.”
“Everything I do is for that. My family used to be important. Few of us went into politics, back in the day.”
“My dad really bungled things.”
Celia: “Did they? I don’t think you’ve mentioned that to me before.”
GM: “Yep. My grandpa ran for mayor. Lost, obviously. Pretty ancient history now.”
“It’s not something I’d want to do, but my mom says she’d love a grandson who went into public service.”
Celia: “So one son for the business, and another who goes into politics. What about the rest of them?”
GM: “Two boys’d be enough for me.”
“Maybe a girl too.”
Celia: She’d meant it to be light-hearted and fun speculation, but it’s too close to another memory, too clear a reminder that this isn’t a world where she fits anymore.
GM: “But kinda feel like I’m already being half a dad to my younger sister.”
Celia: “How old now?” She reaches once more for her drink. It’s disgusting, but isn’t all booze? It still does the trick. If her body weren’t so carefully controlled her cheeks might begin to flush.
But she’s dead. So they don’t. Not unless she wills it.
“Joseph,” she says slowly, swirling the blood and bourbon around her glass, “if it’s not too personal… what happened with your dad?”
GM: “Sixteen,” he says. “Still living with my mom. Other sister’s 24.”
“My dad killed himself.”
“Left a note and blew his brains out.”
Celia: Celia’s eyes briefly close. She’d meant the business. What happened with the business that his dad had bungled. But perhaps it was the suicide that had done it.
She murmurs an apology for bringing it up, returning her drink to the counter and sliding her arms around him, cheek pressed against his chest. Her fingers move across the shirt covering his back, slow and soothing.
GM: “It’s fine,” he says. The way he wraps an arm around her and squeezes her shoulder makes it seem more like he’s comforting her than the other way around. “I’ve had a bunch of people bring it up way worse than that.”
“Even had some try to use it against me.”
Celia: Celia stares up at him. “What? Why? How even—?”
GM: “That sort of thing can tank a company’s value if you let it. Make investors or business partners not want to associate themselves. Plummet stock values. Wind up in newspapers. Ruin workplace morale.”
“Competitors might want to air dirty laundry to ruin you.”
“Or unscrupulous types who want to buy up a business after they drive down its value.”
“Again, sort of situation where you find out who your real friends are.”
Celia: “People are just…” she shakes her head.
“I mean, I get it, I guess. Use what you can to get ahead. But wow, just…” she trails off. “My dad mentioned he might run for higher office. I keep wondering if there’s going to be some ugly digging into our family history because of it.”
“You expect it in politics, you know? I guess I didn’t think it’d show up everywhere else too.”
“Naive of me.”
GM: “It shows up everywhere. It’s just worst in politics. So if your dad’s running, yeah, I’d expect to deal with the paparazzi.”
“And any ugly old stories to get dug back up.”
Celia: “Gross. I’m changing my name and moving.”
GM: “Good luck.”
“Some people thought I should do that, though, just sell and move to Florida.”
Celia: “Doesn’t sound much like you.”
Celia: “Unless you want to run off together.” Celia wiggles her eyebrows at him.
GM: “Ha ha. Maybe for a weekend getaway sometime.”
Celia: “That could be fun.”
GM: “I know a bunch of people who like to yacht across the Gulf.”
Celia: “Hmm. I was just looking into one.”
GM: “Funny timing. Just be sure not to fall off and drown like the Malveaux kid.”
Celia: “I’ll buy some arm floaties.”
“My mom was really unhappy things didn’t work out with Savannah, marrying up and all, but right now I feel like I got the better end of the deal.”
Celia: “Hard, losing someone that young. Losing someone before their time no matter the age, really.”
GM: “Harder losing two someones like they did.”
Celia: Celia can only nod in agreement, thinking of her own family. Her mother losing two daughters. Henry losing his son, his daughter walking the edge of a tightrope to stay safe so he doesn’t lose her, too.
GM: “Crazy what that family’s been through lately. Wonder if someone has it out for them.”
Celia: She can think of who.
“You think foul play?”
GM: Joseph shrugs. “There’s plenty people who don’t like them. Didn’t get where they are being nice.”
“I don’t know if there was or not, but it’s sure possible.”
Celia: Probable, even, but she doesn’t say.
“I heard a story once about how everyone who is ever successful has to make a deal with the devil to get there.”
“One of those real heavy-handed morality stories.”
“Maybe they sacrificed a goat once and now it’s coming back to haunt them.”
Her smile slips.
“That’s kind of worrying to think about. Being a target because someone doesn’t like your family. I’m, ah… well, glad you’re not involved anymore.”
For many reasons, like the fact that if he were she wouldn’t be here.
“I used to date a guy who said his family was threatened a few times because of his dad’s job.”
GM: “What was that, cop?”
GM: “Not surprised there.”
“I think there’s some truth to that story, anyway. Success doesn’t come without work and pain, and plenty people want to take shortcuts.”
Celia: “And here you are slaving away for hours and hours and hours instead of drawing occult symbols on your floor.”
GM: “Ha. Well, I’m sure there’s plenty people who would if they thought it’d get them results.”
Celia: Her father certainly had.
What deal had he made with her sire? Giving up his first born? She’d been there that night; had he realized, even then, that she isn’t Maxen’s child, or had it been later?
Is that why they took Isabel too?
Celia forces a smile, dismissing the thoughts. She’s being silly. She turns to pick up her drink and finish it off, draining the contents.
GM: “What really gets you through the tough times is friends. People with friends they can count on don’t make devil’s deals.”
Celia: It’s like a knife in her chest.
Maybe it’s not too—
She can’t finish the thought. The collar tugs, reminding her of her job. Her place.
“Knowing that someone is there for you, even if you’re at your worst… that’s pretty priceless. Imagine it would get someone through a lot.”
GM: “Yeah. I’ve been lucky. Not everyone is.”
Celia: Not that it had helped him escape the rumors.
“D’you want to—” she falters. She came here for blood. Sex. Not to get further involved with the kine. There’s no future here. Pretending otherwise is stupid.
He’s not just going to replace Stephen for her.
GM: “You okay?” he asks at her pause, eyebrows raising slightly.
She’d ruined someone.
Sold him out.
“I lost someone close to me recently. Watched him kind of… spiral out of control. Think there was more I could have done to prevent it.”
Turned him into a monster.
“I miss him.”
She broke him.
Celia lets out a breath.
“Little close to home is all.”
GM: “Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t. Only person we can be totally responsible for is ourselves.”
Celia: “When did you get so wise.”
GM: “Ha. I’m not wise.”
“Sorry for your loss. Maybe you should lay some flowers on his grave.”
“Still do that with my dad, every now and then.”
Celia: “Does it help?”
GM: “A bit. Helps my sisters more than me, I think.”
Celia: “Girls and their silly emotions.”
GM: “I mean, call it sexist, but they are more emotional. That’s my experience.”
Celia: “Or more willing to show their emotions, at least.”
“I don’t think our brains really produce more or less chemicals on average.”
GM: “I think it’s more than that, even if it is that too.”
“How’d he die, if it isn’t too raw?”
Celia: “ODed. He was going through a tough time and started getting into harder and harder things as the time passed. Hanging out with some sketchy people. Lost some of his support systems all at once, so it was… was a bigger blow than I realized at the time.”
GM: “That’s pretty rough. At least he had you there for him.”
Celia: “No,” she says, “I wasn’t there when he needed me. I could make excuses about having my own family things going on, and that’s true, but in the end I messed up.”
GM: “You think you could’ve saved him?”
Celia: “Yeah. I do.”
GM: “That’s pretty rough, too. Sometimes there isn’t a happy ending.”
Celia: “I’ll get to feel guilty about it for the rest of my life, so that’s something to look forward to.”
GM: “What do you think he’d want you to do?”
Celia: Die in a fire, probably.
“The guy I used to know would want me to move on. The person he turned into would want me to suffer like he had.”
GM: “Well, you didn’t give him the pipe or sell him whatever he OD’d on.”
“Either that last dose or the first one.”
“You’re not responsible for someone else’s bad habit.”
Celia: “Thanks. I appreciate you saying that.”
Even if it’s not true. She manages a smile, subdued though it is.
GM: “Least I can do. Also the most.” Joseph finishes his glass.
Celia: “That’s not quite true.”
She takes his empty glass and sets it aside, stepping into the circle of his arms. Her palms flatten against his chest, lips parting slightly as she lifts her gaze to his face.
GM: She doesn’t see it for long, at least from a distance, before Joseph meets her lips with his. His hands encircle her waist, roaming up and down her hips as his tongue explores her mouth. She remembers, as a 19-year-old with Stephen, wondering what to even do with her hands.
Celia: She doesn’t wonder now. She starts at the top of his shirt and works her way down, deftly unbuttoning as she goes without ever breaking away from his lips to watch what she’s doing.
GM: Joseph busies himself pulling off her dress, then undoes the clasp to her bra while continuing to kiss her. He hefts her off his lap, sets her down, then pulls at her hand, leading her to the couch.
Roderick could’ve just carried her there.
Celia: Maybe she’ll give Joseph a little something back so he can be just as strong.
She strips from her panties as they go, leaving them on the floor, and slides right back onto his lap once they reach the couch. Finished with his shirt, she pulls it open to run her hands down his chest, admiring the view of his body beneath hers. He’s not Roderick, no, but he’s certainly no slouch. A moment later her lips follow, fingers pulling at his belt, then the buttons and zipper of his pants. She slides them past his hips and off of him until, for an instant, she’s kneeling on the floor in front of him.
This is why Reggie had left. This, right here, this unwillingness to put a cock in her mouth now that she’s a lick. But she’d sucked off Roderick, hadn’t she. There’s nothing less than about doing this, not anymore than her kind would see the sex itself. So she kisses the inside of one thigh. Then she does the other. And finally she brings him into her mouth.
GM: Reggie wanted something for so long that she freely gave to another.
Perhaps, in that regard, he and his brother are not so different.
Joseph enthusiastically lets Celia please him with mouth and tongue, but has her stop short before he cums, so that he can enter her between her legs as well. It’s a pleasant change of pace to go back to after she was the one to fill Alana, but Celia has a newfound appreciation for what the experience is like for male partners. Is her pussy silky soft like Alana’s? Does it feel like the most natural place in the entire world for a man to be? Joseph seems to think so, if his face and rapid movements are any indication. He’s vigorous and hungry and looks like he relishes every moment with the incomparably gorgeous (and experienced) woman beneath him. He lasts a while before he cums and fills her with his seed, collapsing onto the couch with her in a sweaty heap.
“I needed that,” he pants.
Celia: His seed isn’t the only thing that fills her; she waits until his breathing changes, until he can’t quite hold back the sounds he’s making, until he twitches inside of her. Then she bites. She’d come over with the intention to drink her fill and then leave him a bloody mess in her wake, but something decent that might be a conscience or a promise made last night makes her stop after a single hit.
The taste of his blood is enough to bring her over the edge she’d been riding from the sex, and once she licks his neck closed and cleans off her lips with her tongue she’s content to lie beneath him, satisfied smile in place. Her chest rises and falls in mimicry of his.
“Yeah,” she nods, taking unnecessary breaths, “me too.”
GM: Joseph’s blood tastes crisp and energetic. It’ss got a dark, woody undercurrent that’s harder to place her finger on, but the Kentucky bourbon gives it a good further seasoning and leaves Celia feeling pleasantly buzzed. The simultaneous orgasm is a bonus: there’s no sensation quite like feeding while cumming.
Joseph nods sleepily, looking a little paler. Perhaps the late-working man would be a weakly breathing, near-motionless heap if she’d drank as deeply as she’d intended.
Celia: Decent, she thinks, but still a monster. Still feeding off of others to exist.
Celia presses a kiss against his lips as his lids begin to droop, lightly teasing that it had “taken a lot out of him.” She excuses herself to the restroom to freshen up and rejoins him after a moment, letting him know that she turned the water on to warm up for a shower.
She says she’ll bring a movie next time, or maybe work out that knot in his traps for him, but she understands that tonight he just wants to lie down. Celia doesn’t overstay her welcome. She even cleans up their plates and glasses before she goes, sticking them neatly into the dishwasher.
Then she’s gone, leaving his place as intact as she’d found it. Almost like she’d never been.
Tuesday evening, 22 March 2016, PM
Celia: She calls Delta on the way to her mom’s house to speak to the woman who inquired about Emily.
GM: She gets a voicemail saying their corporate office is closed right now and listing their business hours.
Celia: Celia doesn’t bother to leave a voicemail. She’ll have to make it work another way.
Shortly thereafter she arrives at her mother’s house, sending a text when she’s near so Diana has time to put the cats away.
GM: Thanks sweetie, her mom texts back. I’ll be in Emi’s room.
Emily, Diana, and Abigail are all there when she arrives, the (biological) 18-month-old sleeping in a crib and the adults sitting on Emily’s bed. Emily looks mostly okay, if rather subdued. Celia’s mother looks beat. Circles ring her eyes. This is the second night she’s not bothered with makeup or looked like she’s spent any time on her hair, and it makes her look closer to her true age than not. The woman would probably look like a dump if Celia hadn’t given her that “touch-up” after her sire’s visit. She’s wearing an older dress with paint stains that she doesn’t look like she cares if it gets further damaged. Nevertheless, her embrace lingers as she hugs her daughter.
Her voice is a whisper, seemingly so as not to wake the baby.
Celia: The sight draws her up short. Any thought she’d had of taking a nip from her mother vanishes when she sees the circles under her eyes. She should have taken more from Joseph; why had she thought that her mom could feed her like normal?
Diana needs a hit, not the other way around.
“Hi, Momma,” Celia whispers back, moving across the room to hug her.
GM: Her mom releases her after several moments to sit back down with a cautious glance towards Abigail.
Emily hugs her next. “Hey,” she whispers. “I’ll keep this short-”
“-we do not want to wake the baby,” Diana says tiredly.
“-but I remember everything.”
She rubs her head.
“Everything Pete did unraveled when Emi saw Abigail,” whispers Diana.
“I guess no surprise.”
“Didn’t have an explanation for her.”
Celia: Celia can’t even pretend to be surprised. She should have known that Abigail would make it unravel; none of them had mentioned her to Pete.
Celia hugs Emily tightly.
“Thank God. I hated the idea of you not knowing.”
GM: Emily squeezes her back.
Celia: “It’s messy,” she says in a whisper, “but we’ll figure something out.”
Maybe hunt for alchemists tonight instead of rats.
GM: Abigail suddenly starts crying and screaming at the top of her lungs.
Diana sighs wearily.
“Oh my lord-”
She gets up, walks to the crib, and fits the ghouled child into the crook of her arm. She starts to rock her back and forth and lowly starts singing ‘Hush, Little Baby’.
Abigail keeps bawling.
She squirms in Diana’s grip and snaps at her. Celia’s mom awkwardly tries to keep the child away while still singing and holding onto her.
Celia: Celia frowns at the sight. “Is she like this all day?”
GM: “Yes,” her mom answers.
“I’ll take her,” says Emily, holding out her arms. “Go talk with Celia.”
“Mom. You need a break. Go talk with Celia.”
Celia: Celia reaches out with the gifts of her clan on her way out the door, attempting to soothe the child in Emily’s arms to stop the screaming.
GM: The child is still in her mother’s arms, but promptly shuts up. Both women have odd expressions. Simultaneous frowns and looks of relief.
“All right, take her while she’s calm,” starts Diana, foisting off the child to Emily.
“Hey, Abi,” says Emily, fitting the baby into her arms with several pointers from her mom. “There there, who’s a lot nicer now tha-”
“Emi, don’t move your hand so clo-!”
Abigail promptly sinks her teeth into Emily’s nearby hand.
“FUCKING-!” Emily swears, jerking her hand away. The held baby nearly falls. Diana swoops in to stop that, only for Abigail to burst into tears again.
“Just put her on the bed, Emi!”
Celia: “Here,” Celia says, holding out her hands for the child. “Give her here.”
GM: “Celia, she bites. A lot. Emi, let’s get her on the bed.”
The two women carry the crying child over. She kicks and thrashes as they set her down.
Celia: “There are two bottles in my purse, Emi. Can you heat them up in the microwave? And bring the first aid kid over so I can look at your hand.”
GM: “Celia, tell me you don’t want to feed her more vampire heroin,” frowns Emily.
She winces as her mom takes a look at her hand.
Celia: “If it’ll get her to shut up? Yeah. I will.”
GM: “Yes, you need the first aid kit.” Diana rubs her head. “I’ll be back in a moment.” She gets up and walks out of the room.
Celia: “Take the purse!” Celia calls after her.
GM: Celia smells the blood welling from her sister’s hand before their mom says anything, though.
Diana gives it a dull look.
“Celia, we can’t use that every time she cries or bites. Do you want to be here, drugging her up, 24/7? Because that is what it would take.”
Celia: Celia was thinking about pulling her gums down over her teeth to prevent the biting, to be honest.
She rubs the side of her head. Keeping Abigail was a mistake. She should have let Draco drain her.
“No,” she admits, “but until we figure something else out it might help.”
GM: Her mom shakes her head, looking in little mind to argue, and walks out.
Emily swears softly and sucks her hand while Abigail kicks and cries.
Celia: “Let me see, Emi,” Celia says, reaching out.
GM: She turns her hand over.
It smells luscious, that tantalizing flow of red, even short as it is.
“Been like this all day, from what Mom says.”
“I guess no surprise.”
Celia: She hadn’t gotten nearly enough from Joseph. Celia all but licks her lips at the sight of it.
“I can fix this.”
GM: “Oh, how?”
Celia: “Don’t tell Mom,” Celia says seriously. Then her fangs are out. But rather than sinking into her sister she turns them on the screaming, kicking child. By the time they’re five or so, children have almost the same amount of blood in their bodies as adults do. Abigail isn’t yet five, but she certainly has more than a newborn, and she has enough to donate a hit to Celia without risking serious injury.
GM: Emily holds out an arm to forestall her.
“Celia, what the fuck!”
Celia: “It’s just a little, and it’ll make her tired. She’ll fall asleep. It’ll replenish.”
“Do you want a scar or permanent damage?”
GM: “Uhhh. I don’t feel comfortable with you feeding on a baby, sorry.”
Celia: Celia gnashes her teeth in frustration.
GM: “Especially if you don’t want me telling Mom.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Celia: “Then we’ll wait until she gets back and I’ll do it then.”
GM: “I don’t think she’s gonna be a fan either. You’re supposed to weigh 110 lbs before you can safely donate blood.”
Emily rubs her head.
“This was no surprise.”
“Abusive home. Chemical dependency. Change in caregivers.”
Celia: “I don’t know what else to do for her.”
Diana walks back in with a first aid kit. She sits down, opens it up, and takes a look at Emi’s hand again.
Celia: “Mom, I can fix that, that’s why I wanted the blood.”
“I can take a hit from Abi and it’ll probably put her to sleep like it does you.”
GM: Her mom blinks at Celia’s first words, then her gaze sharpens.
“No! Abi is a baby, Celia, she can’t give blood! She cannot consent like I can.”
Celia: She has the decency to look ashamed, at least.
Diana swabs away the blood and applies some disinfectant to Emily’s hand.
“Look, sweetie, I appreciate you want to make things easier for us, but all of this with mind controlling her, giving her blood, drinking her blood, it is just going to cause more problems.”
Celia: Celia sits beside Emily on the bed, looking down at her hand. It’s not a large wound. Maybe she doesn’t even need to use her craft. She could just… lick it.
“Can I try something?”
GM: Emily considers her for a moment.
“Okay, go ahead.”
Celia: “I’m not going to bite you,” Celia promises, lifting Emily’s hand to her mouth. She extends her tongue, lapping first at the blood dripping down her wrist, then moves it across the wound itself.
GM: Emily’s blood is fantastic.
It’s fierce. Alive. Sharpening. It makes Celia feel strong and alert. It’s not dissimilar from Roderick’s vitae, in some ways, that Brujah fire, but this is an altogether different vintage. This is… natural. All-human flavor. But there’s something else, too, something deeper. That love for her, her adoptive sister. They’ve meant so much to each other. It tastes…
But that’s all she gets. She can’t sample the rest. Can’t roll it over her tongue, can’t swallow mouthfuls of it down, can’t experience the full heady flavor, can’t compare the depth of its love to Diana’s blood. How delicious must a sister’s love taste? She’s already had a mother’s. She’s had just the barest sample of Emily’s. It does hardly more than whet her tongue before she’s swallowed it all, and then it’s gone. This is cruel. Torturous.
To just get the full thing…
The alcohol-based disinfectant is so bitter and cruel against her tongue. Then just like that, Abigail’s bite marks are gone, sealed over. The baby’s teeth were hardly sharper and deeper than a true lord of the night’s.
“Wow,” says Emily, looking over her hand. “That’s good as new.”
“I remember, you did this on Mom, when you first told me.”
“I went on about how many medical applications this could have.”
Abigail continues to cry despite Diana’s soft words and efforts to calm her down.
Celia: Celia doesn’t seem as if she’s listening to anything Emily says. The wound is gone, healed as if it never was, but the taste of her sister’s blood lingers on her tongue. The disinfectant isn’t enough to turn her off; it’s like the other night when she’d mixed tequila with the bagged stuff, just something to get through.
But if she bites… if she bites, and takes a full drink, it’ll get rid of that sharp acidity in the back of her throat, she’ll be able to…
Celia’s eyes glaze over, tongue running across her lips and fangs like an alcoholic trying to get the last drop from an empty bottle.
GM: “Uh. You doing okay?” asks Emily.
Celia: “Hungry. Tastes… really, really good.”
GM: “Should I say thanks?”
Celia: “Could say you’re welcome,” Celia says, “if you want to donate.”
GM: “Uh,” says Emily.
Celia: Is the moon shining just for her? Her eyes sparkle something fierce when she lifts them to look at Emily. This is her sister. And she’s hungry. And all Emily has to do is let her take a little nibble. It won’t hurt. She’ll recover quickly. Celia can show her so many cool things…
GM: Emily’s eyes swim in and out of focus before a smile spreads across her face.
“All right, go ahead…”
Celia: That’s consent. Even if it’s assisted consent. Right?
Celia smiles at her sister. She slides closer, murmuring something about taking from the wrist for the first time, and lowers her mouth to Emily’s arm. Her fangs pierce the soft, supple flesh of her sister.
GM: She tries to.
The slap connects full on with her cheek, turning her head around.
Her mother’s face is furious.
Celia: Her mother is met by lips pulled back in a snarl, eyes narrowed at this bitch that thinks to keep her from a meal. She snarls.
GM: Perhaps the Diana of old would flinch, but the one tonight does not. If anything, she looks emboldened.
“Get out,” she says in a low voice.
Celia: For a long, tense moment Celia stares her mother down.
Then she blinks, eyes focusing on the scene at hand. Angry mother. Wailing infant. Star-struck sister.
Color creeps across her face. Shame fills her eyes. She lets the aura drop as she turns on her heel and strides from the carriage house, picking up her purse along the way.
GM: “What the fuck!?” exclaims Emily.
Diana doesn’t say anything over Abigail’s cries. Just watches Celia leave through the door.
Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says before stepping out into the night.
She shuts the door behind her.
GM: It’s started to rain outside. The night is not cold, not in New Orleans in late March, but it is dark and wet.
Celia: It’s a quick walk to the car. Celia catches sight of herself in the reflection from the window: fangs distended, eyes wild, hunger plain to see.
The face of a monster, isn’t it?
Her hand curls into a fist. She brings the bottom of it down on the roof of her car just above the door. She’s not strong enough to dent it, and all she gets for her effort is an aching hand.
Stupid. Reckless. Useless. Selfish.
Selfish to ask her sister for blood. Selfish to hit her with a mind control power rather than letting her make an informed decision.
She’s supposed to be better.
Supposed to be making life better for her mother and family rather than more difficult. What was she thinking, dropping a baby off? What was she thinking, asking to feed from the child? From her sister? Snarling at her mother?
GM: Roderick was supposed to be better, too.
He was the shining example of all that was better.
And look at him now.
The lines are so easily crossed.
Celia: That’s her fault, too, isn’t it. No matter what Joseph had said. She’d told her grandsire what sort of heroin to hook him on. The easiest way to get to him. Slammed the final nail in the coffin with all the lies and cheating.
GM: Who among them stays better?
What saints remain among the ever-swelling legion of devils?
Celia: No one. It’s all just a slow descent into darkness.
She’s itching for a fight. Itching to take out all this pent up frustration on someone because sex just hadn’t cut it tonight. She needs release. Another outlet. She wants to hurt someone.
She knows who, but she can’t. Or won’t. It’s just going to fuck her night up some more.
Celia doesn’t want to be here anymore. She tugs at Jade, skin and flesh rippling to become the pretties lick in the city—and what a crock of shit that is. As if it means anything. As if anyone respects her after years of playing airheaded lapcat.
Celia’s last thoughts are of her mother’s angry face and low voice. Then she’s gone, Jade in her place, and the beautiful lick knows exactly how to let go of this mounting pressure. She opens the back of her trunk and strips from her clothing, pulling on the men’s clothing Alana had gotten for her. A moment later she’s gone too, the male version with his lifted shoes in her place.
He tucks a handful of necessary items into his pocket and calls for a Ryde from his new phone, glad Dani had suggested two that night. He leaves the other phones behind and sets his pickup spot down the block, closer to Rampart. Then he takes off.
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM
Celia: The nameless male doesn’t speak to his Ryde driver on the way. He’s not overtly rude about it, just absorbed in his own thoughts, eyes staring out the window at the passing city.
He doesn’t have the same troubles as the girls. He’s not quite one of them, not really, just a step removed from their problems and drama and petty bullshit.
A bit of shadow dancing keeps the predator tucked away as the car approaches the edge of the turf he’s looking to invade. Once he’s out of the car another bit of it prevents anyone from thinking he’s out of place. He’s just another nameless face in the dark, walking through the rain to see what the night brings him.
GM: Mid-City is a working-class neighborhood, even if gentrifying forces may be at work. The nameless man passes by fast food places, an auto repair shop, cheaper-looking hotels, a self-storage space, a dollar store, a laundromat, and apartment buildings with rents in only the triple digits. There are more black faces than white faces out on the streets.
Celia: He fits right in, dark-skinned as he is.
He glances through the windows of the fast food joints that he passes, looking to see who’s inside.
GM: Breathers, more dark-skinned than not. Some younger. Some older. No kids, at this hour.
Celia: The man steps inside one of the joints, shaking the rain off his coat. He lingers near the door with his eyes on the menu, lips moving soundlessly as if he’s debating what to order. He waits for a likely subject to head to the restroom down the hall.
GM: He doesn’t wait long before another man in worn jeans whose tired- and jaded-looking expression belies his 20- or 30-something years heads down to the loo.
Celia: The man slips after him.
GM: The O’Tolley’s bathroom looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in ages, with formerly white tiles that are now stained an ugly yellow-brown. Crude graffiti mars the walls. It smells like the previous occupants did their business on the floor rather than the toilet.
The other man unzips his fly and starts pissing into a urinal.
Celia: The girls have seen worse in club bathrooms. Drunk girls are disgusting.
He waits until the door closes behind him to hit the guy with the same trick Celia had used on Emily, making him seem powerful, important, maybe even a bit desirable. Not in a weird way, though. No homo.
He flicks the lock on the door. Starts to wash his hands in the sink. Does a double-take at the dude.
“Hey. You Mike’s friend, ain’t you?”
Everyone knows a Mike.
“He still slingin’?”
GM: No guy in a public bathroom likes a stranger starting a mid-pass conversation with them.
The other man, though, gives a downright friendly-looking nod.
“Nah man, he got picked up last week. LeBron’s slingin’ now.”
Celia: “Ah, shit, I was lookin’ to get somethin’ tonight. Y’aint got anything, eh?”
Celia: “I got cash if you cool partin’ with some.”
GM: The other guy finishes pissing, wiggles his junk, and zips back up.
“I got some weed.”
Celia: The man gives him a look. He steps away from the sink to let the other guy in, lowering his voice.
“Listen,” he says, “I know Mikey got picked up, I jus’ need a few to get me through the next few days, aight? Jus’ like a few, my girl been on my ass an’ I can’t hardly deal with her when she gets like this, yaknow?”
GM: “I know, man, I totally know,” other man nods, caught on his words. “All I got’s the weed. But I can hook you up with LeBron if you need somethin’ harder, yeah?”
Celia: “Wha’ like t’night? Aigh’ yeah.”
“Lesgo see ’im.”
GM: “’Kay. You got money, right?”
Celia: The nameless man gives his new friend a look. “Jus’ said so, ain’t I?”
GM: The other man rubs his head. “Right. Sorry, man. Tired an’ shit.”
“Had a shitty day.”
Celia: “Yeah? What happen?” He leads the way out the door, unlocking it with little fanfare to let the pair out.
GM: The other man glowers. “Asshole brought in her dog where I work. Shat all over the floor. Boss yelled at me while I cleaned it up, about how I shoulda kept her out, when I was already swamped dealin’ with even more assholes.”
Celia: “She made you clean it up? Fuckin’ bitch.” They leave the restaurant. He falls in step beside his new friend.
“Who brings their fuckin’ dog places like that.”
GM: “I don’t even fuckin’ know, but I got a million horror stories.”
The other man digs out a phone and taps off a text.
Celia: He seems receptive to listening to the stories while they head out, nodding his head and making disgusted sounds as needed.
GM: “Like, one time a lady tried returning somethin’ that wouldn’t scan, an’ she didn’t have a receipt. I called an’ called for a manager, but nobody showed. So I told her, okay, I’d go to the back an’ find a manager. Soon as I was in the back, she was right behind me. And she just ran up and fuckin’ punched me in the back! I got no fuckin’ idea why. Like, I was so fuckin’ shocked I didn’t even say nothin’ about it when I found the manager.”
Celia: “Punched you? You shittin’ me, right?”
GM: “Nope. Just ran up an’ hit me.”
Celia: “The fuck is wrong with people.”
GM: “Really weird’s how it was a woman. Like, figured that would be a guy.”
Celia: He shakes his head.
“You smack ’er back?”
“Sometimes, y’know, my bitch gets lippy, I just wanna—” He makes a backhanding motion.
GM: “Yeah,” the other man nods.
“And I wish man, but I was just totally surprised. She ran off after she hit me. I was still standin’ there goin’ ‘what the fuck.’”
He leads the first man to Comiskey Playground. It’s open 24 hours, or so proclaims the sign, though no kids (or adults) are enjoying themselves on the play equipment during this dark and rainy night.
The two wait for several minutes, listening and telling more retail horror stories, before two other guys show up. They don’t ‘look’ like drug dealers, or at least any more than two other 30-something African-American males in a working-class neighborhood in do.
“Yo,” says the other man.
“Yo,” says one of the newcomers.
Celia: “Yo, sup sup,” the nameless man says, clapping hands with one of the newcomers and pulling him in to pat his back. He repeats the motion with the second.
“Heard y’all took over for Mikey since he got pinched.”
GM: One of the new men, who’s wearing a blue rain jacket, returns the motions.
The other one, who’s wearing a gray rain jacket, doesn’t.
“Yeah, what you hear?” he asks.
Celia: He jerks his chin at Mikey’s buddy. “Said you the guy to talk to.”
GM: The guy in the gray jacket grins.
“Ah, yeah, Brian here set you straight, din’t he?”
Celia: “Said LeBron’s the new guy, got what I’m lookin’ for.”
GM: “Uh huh, uh huh,” nods the blue jacket guy. “DeShawn, ain’ it?”
Celia: “Who, me? Nah man,” he holds out his hand again to bump, “I ain’t think we met yet, it’s Z.”
GM: “Z, huh,” says blue jacket.
Gray walks behind ‘Z’.
“Well, there ain’ no DeShawn, give you that.”
Blue jacket walks closer and gives a mean smile. He spares a glance at Z’s ‘friend’.
“But his name ain’ Brian.”
Celia: “Never sai’ it was, man, jus’ ran into him at O’Tolley’s an’ knew he was Mike’s buddy.”
GM: Blue spits at his feet.
“You givin’ me this shit?”
Gray takes another step closer.
Celia: “Look dawg,” Z says, taking a step back with his hands up, “I ain’t want whatever bullshit y’all into, wanted some bennies, y’ain’t got it then it’s cool.”
GM: “Nah man, we ain’ got no bennies, donno what you heard,” says Blue.
Celia: “Oh, aight. S’cool then. S’all I was lookin’ for.”
GM: “Yeah, I bet it were,” sneers Gray.
Both men cast dark looks at ‘Brian’, who’s been rather conspicuously quiet, then turn to leave.
Celia: Z turns a look on ‘Brian.’
“The fuck, dude. Said he had the shit.”
“Said he’s the guy.”
GM: “Hey, he is, man!” the supernaturally charmed man nods.
Celia: “He ain’t sellin’ it, is he?”
GM: “Sure is, man!” ‘Brian’ nods again. “I dunno whas’ up with him, you the shit!”
“Like, why the fuck wouldn’ he wanna deal to you?”
Celia: “I ‘unno, man, why don’t you ask him. He’s still righ’ there an’ all.”
Z waits for ‘Brian’ to call out before he hits the other two boys with the same charm. How could they not want to sell to him? He’s got money. He needs something small, just a few pills, ain’t a big deal. So he didn’t know a dude’s name, they probably met at a party or something. Those are all loud and shit, can’t hear anyone.
GM: The two men aren’t still there, they’re walking away. Though they haven’t gotten far yet.
Celia: “Yo, LeBron!”
Z jerks his chin at ‘Brian’ and takes off at an easy jog to close the distance so he doesn’t have to scream across the park.
The supernatural charm hits the pair of boys before Z even gets close.
GM: The two turn around once it hits them. Both men look impressed, and a little cowed.
“Yeah?” says Gray.
Celia: “Think we got off on the wrong foot,” Z says, slowing to a halt.
GM: “Yeah, might be we did, man,” he nods.
Celia: “How’s we start over, eh? I’m Z.”
GM: “Okay,” he nods again. “Nice to meet you an’ shit. I’m LeBron.”
Celia: “Like that basketball guy, eh?” Z grins.
“Shit, man, wish my momma woulda thoughta that. Betcha could pick up a buncha babes with it.”
GM: “Yeah, man,” LeBron grins. “He’s better’n MJ, you ask me.”
“No he ain’t,” says Blue.
Celia: “Yo ain’t they both play fo’ the Cavs at the same point an’ they still sucked?”
GM: LeBron ignores his friend completely as he scoffs in agreement.
“Carryin’ all the weight, man.”
Celia: “I mean, depends’n how you lookin’ at it,” Z says to Blue, “like yeah Jordan put up more points but LeBron got ’im beat everywhere else.”
“‘Cept free throws, that kid can’t sink a shot to save ’is life.”
GM: “There’s no comparin’ with MJ,” says Blue. “Man’s a legend. I remember, growin’ up, how every kid wanted to be MJ.”
Celia: “Now every kid wanna be LeBron.”
GM: “Everythin’ from when you was a kid seems better, though,” says ‘Brian’. “LeBron’s MJ to kids today.”
GM: “Fuck, that makes me feel old,” mutters Blue.
Celia: “S’like lookin’ at actors, man. All these new faces.” Z shakes his head. “Can’t fuckin’ keep up wit it half the time.”
GM: “Well actors at least stick around,” says LeBron. “Like, Towers. I watched his shit as a kid and he’s still makin’ movies.”
“Wait, I thought he’s dead,” says ‘Brian’.
“Yeah, drank himself dead, din’t he?” says Blue.
“No man, he ain’t dead,” says LeBron. “Was in some shit, but he’s still makin’ movies.”
Celia: “Shit, feel like I been under a rock, tellin’ me he dead. Damn.”
GM: “Yeah man, his life was a fuckin’ train wreck,” says LeBron. “Gettin’ arrested an’ shit.”
“I know a guy who says he was in OPP same time.”
“Get out,” scoffs Blue.
“Someone like Towers, he gets bail.”
Celia: “Nah man nah, sometimes they wanna make a point.”
GM: “I didn’ say I believe him, just that he said s…” starts LeBron, then trails off as Z disagrees.
“Yeah, man, maybe,” he then says, changing track. “Example makes sense.”
Celia: Z shrugs. “But ‘ey, who’s surprised the rich guy got off on bail? Ha!”
“Hey, let’s get outta this rain, eh?”
GM: “A’ight, sure, you goin’ someplace?” asks Blue.
Celia: “I got a date later, na’mean?” He smiles.
Z slings an arm around Brian’s shoulders.
“Not-Bri, you hostin’?”
“Or y’all wanna kick it with the good shit?” A nod towards LeBron.
GM: The men’s smiles start to slip.
“Look man, you cool and all, but we don’t know you,” Blue says slowly.
“You could be a cop,” says LeBron, his tongue clearly loosened by Celia’s supernal presence.
Celia: Z looks at LeBron like that’s the dumbest shit he’s ever heard. Then he laughs.
“Oh shit man, you serious?” He looks at Brian. “He serious? What kinda half-assed—” Z cuts off with a shake of his head, looking back to the ‘dealer.’
“What kinda whack-ass fantasy world you living in, nigga? What kinda fuckin’ cop goes after a small time nobody for slingin’ a handful’a bennies? You think you in a fuckin’ movie ‘cause you mention Towers? Fuck man, only way some lightweight like you gets picked up is at a routine fuckin’ stop after speeding down the street in yo mama’s car with fuckin’ drugs in it. He said you was new, I ain’t think he meant you don’t even got hair on your nuts.”
Z gives an exasperated sigh.
“You got the pills or not, clown? I got shit to do.”
“Or is this one’a them ‘gotta frisk you to make sure you ain’t wearing a wire’ shit to get me outta my shirt? Cause fuck, I ain’t into that homo faggot shit, n’ I’ll buy from someone who ain’t a pillow biter if that’s the case.”
GM: LeBron’s face reddens as he takes all of the insults in. Small-time nobody. Lightweight in his mama’s car. New. Hairless nuts. Homo faggot. Pillow biter.
Then he throws a punch.
Celia: Z’s pretty sure this kid ain’t never been in a drug deal before, ‘cause he ain’t even playing by the rules. No one wants escalation in a deal. It ain’t like the movies. It’s chill. It’s all real chill. A lotta smack talk, lotta posturing, but nobody starts shit like this.
Maybe it’s all those souls he’s collected lately. Or maybe it’s that old “fake it til you make it” bullshit. Either way, LeBron gets an air ball. Like the real LeBron when he goes for a free throw; that shit don’t even strike the rim.
Z’s fist is nothing but net, though. LeBron’s nose crunches under his blow and the wannabe dealer hits the ground. Z reaches into his pocket for the pills while he’s dazed, then throws a wad of cash down on his chest.
“Coulda been real fuckin’ easy, man.”
GM: Crack, goes Z’s fist. Blood messily spurts from LeBron’s nose. Z might not be big enough to knock someone over with a punch, but sweeping the stunned dealer’s legs out from under him does that just as well. LeBron moans as he hits the wet earth with a crash.
The other two men don’t make a move, seemingly cowed by the combination of quick takedown and Celia’s preternatural aura of power and importance.
Z’s search proves disappointing, however, for LeBron’s pockets are empty but for wallet and keys.
Celia: Z takes the wallet and keys, flipping open the former to look at LeBron’s ID.
“Lawren Bernice Jackson,” he reads. Then he laughs. “No wonder you fuckin’ go by LeBron. Your parents too poor to afford them extra letters for Lawrence?”
Z stuffs the wallet in his pocket.
“This for wastin’ my time, faggot. Now I know where you live.”
Celia: “See you ’round, twinkletoes.”
He takes off.
GM: The last thing Z hears is LeBron cursing the other two men while picking himself up from the wet, hard ground.
“You chickenshit numb-nuts…!”
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM
Celia: Z doesn’t go far. A bit of shadow dancing, a bit of shape shifting, and a very hard-to-spot nightjar lands in a nearby branch. It looks like any other bird. Harmless.
The drugs might not have panned out, but Z isn’t going to waste the damage done to the bloody dealer. That red dripping down the front of him is like a neon sign pointing to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Some predator is bound to notice.
GM: The nightjar swoops down in time to see the spot of trouble ‘Brian’ has landed himself into. Blue and LeBron are kicking the shit out of him as he yells and protests his innocence. A particularly fervid explanation earns a particularly hard kick to the ribs. The two men spit on him, take his wallet, split the cash, then go their separate ways. LeBron gets into a car and drives off.
Celia: Even better. There are all sorts of wild predators that cull the weak, slow, or injured from the herd.
The bird sticks with Brian.
GM: ‘Brian’ curses and stares death after the two. He slowly picks himself up, sticks his hands into his pockets, and walks back to the O’Tolley’s. It’s a damp and miserable-looking walk for the sullen-faced man. He walks towards the glowing ‘O’ over the doors, as if to order something inside, then seems to remember he doesn’t have his wallet. He gets a darker look, stalks back to his car, gets in, and drives off.
Celia: Unfortunate. The bird had thought that Brian might be in for a long walk home, all the better to spread that blood across the streets and lure in any hungry fish.
But the bird is patient. It follows the car. Perhaps something might yet be hooked.
GM: The car drives for a bit until it reaches a shitty-looking apartment building. ‘Brian’ parks, gets out, unlocks the front door, and lets himself inside.
Celia: What’s that over there? That thing that catches the eye? It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s—
Oh. Nothing. Just a trick of the light. That mirror with the cracked edge draws the attention every time.
How fortunate. The bird takes advantage of Brian’s distraction to swoop after him, flitting near the ceiling on silent wings with the mobster’s stolen gift.
GM: Brian ignores the bird completely as he shuts the door behind him and stalks up the creaky stairs. The building looks dirty and neglected. Sounds of yelling are audible past the paper-thin walls in one unit. “Shut the fuck up!” Brian yells.
“You shut up! Fuck you!” a voice yells back.
Brian loudly kicks the door, then walks down the hall to his own unit, unlocks the door, and walks in.
The bird follows him in. It finds a place to perch where it can see the door and Brian both.
GM: Brian doesn’t leave the door open for long, or for particularly wide. It’s when he turns around to lock it that the nightjar seizes its chance. The 1.7 foot wingspan is an awkward fit, and the bird has to close its wings to come to an awkward landing on the floor, but the door closes behind in.
The apartment is pretty shitty. Dirty dishes are stacked high in the sink. There’s stains and cracks over the walls. Whether from Brian’s personal habits or the building being a shitty building, the nightjar cannot say. The mirror over the sink is caked with toothpaste spittle. The windows and cheap tile floors have weird splotches on them, and the wood looks black and decayed. There are some squashed bugs sticking to the walls too. The whole place smells vaguely unpleasant. Brian removes his shoes, walks up to the freezer, and removes a Young & Smith frozen dinner to stick in the microwave.
Celia isn’t a total stranger to shitty apartments. But Diana at least did her utmost to spruce the place up with as many homely touches as she could. This is a rather stark look at what someone who isn’t a long-time housewife and expert homemaker can’t manage.
Celia: It smells like poor people.
No wonder the kid has turned to drugs; he’s living in a literal shithole. Getting high is probably the only thing he has to look forward to.
The nightjar settles in while Brian makes dinner for himself. Perhaps the bait hadn’t been tempting enough. Perhaps it will need to search the turf itself to find the disgusting little creatures.
For now, though, it is patient. It takes stock of the layout of the apartment while it waits to see if there are any other visitors.
GM: There’s a combined kitchen/living room area and a bedroom. That’s it. The bathroom must be communally shared.
Brian sits down on a chair and plays on his phone until the microwave dings. He pulls the hot plastic tray onto a plate.
There are two rubbery-looking ‘steaks’ swimming in some kind of sauce that smells like liquid sodium. Some sad-looking mashed potatoes and corn lurk in adjacent depressions in the tray. The brownie looks like a turd.
Celia’s mother would weep if she saw this.
Brian starts eating with a spork while watching a MeVid clip on his phone.
Celia: Even if the bird ate human food it doesn’t think it would touch this slop. It keeps a keen eye on the floor, looking for signs of disturbance. Wet footprints from a second pair of shoes. Indentations on the carpet from someone unseen moving around.
GM: The bird can make out none as Brian continues to slowly chew his ‘food’.
Celia: Maybe his trip in the car had prevented him from letting his scent out.
Maybe the Nosferatu are busy.
Maybe they don’t feed this way, or just wait until people go to sleep.
Maybe it was a stupid plan anyway.
GM: There are always maybes.
Tinny sounds and voices continue to go up from Brian’s phone as he eats. The consistency of the mashed potatoes he picks up in his spork looks runny and gooey.
Celia: The bird is hungry too, but not for the runny, gooey potatoes or steak. It hops from one perch to another, taking a quick survey of the apartment.
GM: As the bird observed, there’s a bedroom and a kitchen. Unfolded clothes are littered around the bed, some clean, some dirty.
Celia: It makes its way to the kitchen, where dirty dishes have piled up in the sink and the remnants of someone’s “home cooking”—which smell just as foul as the TV dinner—stick to the bottom of a pot.
The bird becomes a man again. With shadows still clinging to him he circles back to the kitchen, where Brian is absorbed in the video on his phone.
“Protect your pretty," Reggie used to tell her when they squared off against each other. “Tuck your chin. Keep your hands up. Ain’t you ever seen a fight before? I said hands up!"
No doubt he’d taken some pleasure in knocking her around whenever they settled in for the lessons, happy for the opportunity to get in free shots on a vampire. He’d used to say things like, “thought y’all were supposed to be strong and tough," as he broke her nose when she let her hands dip.
She’d thought that was what he meant to protect, since it had sent pain spiraling through her whole face and her vision had blurred with bloody tears. Apparently everyone tears up when their nose breaks, he’d said, and a bit of blood had set her to rights.
Then he’d taken her to see a fight. The underground kind with the chain fence where almost-anything goes and bare-chested men with wrapped hands squared off against each other. He’d pointed out how they stood, with their chins tucked, looking through their brows. She’d finally seen why when one of the men had taken a right hook to the jaw and toppled backward, out before he hit the ground.
“Wow," she’d said, “must have been a hell of a punch."
Reggie had snorted.
“No. That’s just an instant KO. You get a jab in on the chin and it don’t matter how small you are, you gonna rattle their brain and send ‘em sprawling. That’s why I keep tellin’ you to keep your damn hands up. You remember this next time you get in a fight without me."
So she’d tried it. Multiple times. On Randy first, testing to see if even her small frame packed enough of a punch to knock him out. The first time it hadn’t worked. Then Reggie had stood behind her, hands planting her hips, toes nudging her feet apart, and he’d shown her how to rotate the hips. How to throw a hook rather than a jab. How to put her whole body behind it rather than just punching with her arm.
It had reminded her of the times Stephen had taken her to the batting cages, how he’d said the same thing. Plant one foot. Take a tiny step. Rotate from the hips. Once she’d mastered that the balls she’d hit had gone farther and faster.
So she’d done it with Randy. And she’d sent him sprawling. Then she’d tried it on Reggie, since he’s bigger and all, and she’d been amazed to see that had worked too.
Now Z plants one foot and curls his hands into a fist. He pulls back. He takes a step. He swings.
GM: The angle isn’t the best with Brian seated and facing a table, but he doesn’t in a million years see the punch coming. Who the fuck would in their own apartment? The punch connects solidly with his chin, like a rock ‘em sock ’em robot. The ’off-switch’ that if punched straight on, a forceful level action in their skull will cause their brain to rock around violently inside their head.
The man’s eyes don’t even widen in alarm before he’s out like a light, slumping face forward into his Young & Smith microwavable dinner.
Reggie always said the best way to throw a KO punch is for the other guy not to see it coming. The entire reason boxing requires a fighter to keep their hands up and jaw clenched is to make chin shots more difficult.
But not many boxers, Celia supposes, expect to get KO’d at their kitchen table while eating shitty microwavable dinners.
Celia: Maybe it’s not the same as beating up a lick or ghoul, but getting the better of two kine tonight in a physical contest has left Z feeling… well, like a man.
The video keeps playing on the phone where Brian had set it, but Z pays no mind to the voices coming from the speaker. He’s hungry, and this vessel is all-too-easy to snack on. He even deserves it, doesn’t he, wasting Z’s time like he had with a dealer who’s too chickenshit to carry product with him.
“You might be a cop."
Right. Name any normal cop that stalks people back to their homes so they can break in and feed.
Z punctures Brian’s neck with his fangs and drinks.
GM: Maybe lick cops like Pete feed this way. How does he feed?
The man’s blood tastes salty with simmering anger and sour with hopelessness and depression. Not the good kind of salty, like homemade cheese crackers or carrot chips. Not the good kind of sour, like Diana’s lemon bars. This tastes cheap and preservative-laden, perhaps as a result of a steady diet of Young & Smith microwavable dinners. You are what you eat, Kindred or kine. This tastes exactly like a cheap microwavable dinner. It tastes like a dead-end minimum-wage retail job where random customers punch you in the back and your boss yells at you. It tastes like cheap and dirty apartments without proper sofas.
But it’s blood, hot and coppery and claimed as the fruits of victory, claimed by force, and it fills.
Celia: The Beast inside wakes at the taste of hot, coppery blood. It’s different. Less sweet than the usual fare. None of the admiration or sexual chemistry that normally rounds out the flavor profile. This tastes like strength. Like power. Like a win.
The Beast purrs, rubbing against the rib cage that contains it despite its hunger, letting the lick drink his fill without interruption. It settles back down.
Z drinks deeply. He licks the wounds closed when he’s done. The video on the phone continues to play.
GM: It’s looped into a video ad for King Distilleries beer.
Just as well that he’s missing it.
Celia: It’d be easy to leave Brian dead on the floor. Easy to walk away from this scene. No one knows who he is. No one will connect this dead kine to the lick who runs a spa in the Quarter. Why would she slum it? Let him slake her hunger. Let him fill her completely. Z already knows how he’d make it look like an accident.
I want to be better, one of them had said.
So he doesn’t. Like Celia hadn’t earlier. Z finishes with the kine and drags him across the floor to his bedroom, taking his shoes off and tossing the comforter over his unconscious body. Then he sees the sauce splattered all over his face and dampens a napkin to wipe it off.
He glances down at the wallet stolen from LeBron and effects a sigh, taking out the cash to stuff into the pocket of a pair of jeans laying on the floor. It’s not like he needs the money. There’s even a gift card in there for gas, so he leaves that too.
Z turns the screen off on the phone and plugs it into the wall charger.
He knows what other licks would say if they could see him now. He’s glad that he’s alone. Z moves into the kitchen and slides the window up so he can leave. His form blurs and twists and the nightjar takes to the sky.
GM: As unhappy as the kine’s life might look, no doubt he prefers it and a bruise to being dead.
No doubt he prefers waking up in bed to waking up with his face over a cold microwaved dinner.
Better is better, even if it falls short of good.
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