“Guess whose closet I’m raiding right now?”
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
GM: “…reaching this part of the story has aroused my lusts, my whore,” smiles Paul, staring down at Celia’s staked corpse.
“Let us have an coital interlude before I finish it. A last round with my whore.”
He unbuckles his pants and unzips his fly.
“For that is what you are, Celia,” he smiles, stroking her cheek.
“That is what you have always been, from the moment you first entered my house. That is what you shall always be, until the moment that I dispose of you. That is what you shall live on as in my memory, and that is what you shall love on as in the memory of your family members, after I tender them the evidence of our purchased liaisons.”
His cock is already hard.
Without further ado, he moves to enter her.
Celia: She’d been here. Abused. Chained, like she is now, with little booties on her hands and a collar on her neck.
A collar she willingly accepted.
Like she accepted her sire’s.
He’d fed from her. Terrorized her. Let her father terrorize her mother. Got him off when the accusations came rolling in.
Thrown her mother off a roof.
Slain her loyal ghoul.
For years. Her whole life. She was only eight when he came for them. How many of the pieces inside of her are because of him?
He’d abandoned her. Told her not to trust her grandsire. Told her not to trust anyone but him. They all want to use her, he said.
Like he did.
Paul had broken her for him. Easy pickings.
Like now. She’d lain still. Put the stake in her own chest.
Convenient, isn’t it, that the wood had missed her heart.
But she’s so very, very good at pretending.
That’s the thing about whores: they’re all dishonest creatures.
Her rage fuels her movements. She shifts: the girl is gone and the cat springs free, quick as a flash. Booties, collar, and gag fall away, fitted to a humanoid rather than feline form. She shifts again: the cat’s rumble turns to a roar when the striped one takes over. Claws and fangs come for Paul’s face.
He’ll never get a chance to fuck her.
GM: The chains fall away too, likewise fitted for human rather than feline knees and wrists.
No. Not just any human.
Kids, young and dumb and vulnerable, who Paul puts on their backs and turns into his whores.
Turns into Donovan’s vessels.
Turns into corpses, when he’s had enough of them.
How did she escape?
Why didn’t she meet the same fate?
Paul didn’t get to that point in the story. Just her screaming past the gag.
His bad luck.
When the red haze clears, the tiger can be certain of one thing:
His bad luck indeed.
Paul doesn’t look like he died from the suffocation caused by a straight neck break. That’s the best way to go, if a tiger kills you. That’s their preferred way to kill. Faster. Cleaner.
Paul did not die clean. The man’s limbs have been ripped apart. Wholesale chunks of flesh have been ripped off from the ruined corpse. Chunks of meat lie strewn about the living room, some of them wrapped in shredded strips of suit like half-opened birthday presents. Others meat chunks in the tiger’s mouth. The man’s neck is completely destroyed and the head half ripped off. The torso is a scratching post covered in inches deep claw lacerations. The smell of blood and gore is overpowering for the tiger, though not so much that it can’t smell the shit and piss expelled from Paul’s voided bowels.
There’s not much expression left on the shredded-apart face.
But the tiger feels confident that this man died in great pain and great fear.
Celia: She hadn’t needed anyone to save her this time.
Perfect, isn’t it, since no one is coming.
Celia might feel bad in the future. Paul probably knew something that could have helped.
Now, though, she’s only hungry.
She feasts, savoring the sour taste of his fear.
GM: The tiger chews, squeezing as much blood as it can from the shredded bits of meat in its mouth, then spits. It’s a novel way to feed. Paul’s sour, adrenaline-spiked blood is some of the most luscious she’s ever tasted, and so unlike her usual lust-sweetened fare. The man’s fear is completely real, and fresh like a succulent lemon plucked straight from the tree.
How often was he the scared one?
Celia: Not nearly often enough.
Shame, too. She could have made him scream for years.
GM: Rain steadily patters against the house’s windows.
The three girls’ naked corpses blankly stare up at the ceiling.
What’s left of Paul’s head has no intact eyes to stare with.
Celia: But she didn’t come here for him.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Celia: Celia moves on once her hunger has been slaked, tearing through her sire’s haven to find anything that might be even remotely useful. She leaves the bodies where they’re at. She can come back to fully drain them when she’s done.
She starts by lifting the key card off of Paul and taking the stairs two at a time to search the rooms behind the steel doors.
GM: The first door also requires a finger scan to be let in. Celia retrieves Paul’s hand and presses it to the surface. The steel door slides open to reveal racks upon racks of military-grade firearms and ammunition. Manual, semi-auto, and automatic pistols. Shotguns, subguns, assault rifles. More ‘exotic’ weapons include a flamethrower, two grenade launchers, and a belt-fed machine gun. There are also canisters of grenades, explosives, gas canisters, vials of poison, and almost as many melee weapons as firearms. Claymores, longswords, shortswords, fencing foils, switchblades, nightsticks, stakes and mallets, and still more. Some weapons and ammunition are labeled as ‘silver’, ‘cold-forged iron’, and other more exotic substances and materials. There are more instruments of death than Celia can count or identify.
The second room contains Kevlar armor vests, riot shields, and a wide range of surveillance, communicative, and survival gear. Drones, burner phones, SIM cards, bugs, bug sweepers, wiretaps, flashlights, medical kits, binoculars, metal detectors, radios, city maps, GPS devices, hardware tools, canned food, water, antibiotics, emergency blankets and ponchos, gas masks, water filtration units, and still more assorted tools. It looks as if there’s something there for every occasion.
The third room contains a modern-looking office space. There are bookshelves, stacks of papers, filing cabinets, and several phones and password-protected computers. There are no plants, pictures, artwork, or other personal touches. Bolted to the wall is a heavy-looking steel safe.
The smell of death and suffering hits Celia the moment she opens the fourth door. The room beyond contains variety of wicked-looking steel instruments whose only purpose can be the infliction of pain. Some of the torture devices look downright medieval and pulled from another era. Others are modern and include a suite of surgical tools. There are cabinets of labeled drugs and sedatives, as well as a wide range of personal restraints. Materials range from steel to plastic to cloth to leather.
A college-age woman is restrained in spread-eagle position along the surgical table. Brains, blood, and skull shards messily decorate the floor underneath her. Someone shot her in the head.
Celia: It’s like getting the winning ticket for a lottery she hadn’t known she’d been playing. Weapons. Armor. Survival equipment. Everything anyone could need for the end of days and more.
And now it’s hers. Hers, provided she can get it out.
The thing about bad guys, like every movie has ever shown, is that they’ve all definitely got a way to transport all the shit in their arsenal, which means there’s some sort of vehicle in the attached garage below with enough trunk space (or space in general, sometimes they’re into the SUV thing) to get it out.
Celia puts on a burst of speed to fly through the rooms upstairs, gathering duffel bags and suitcases to fill with what she finds. Weapons. Armor. Restraints. Medications. The tools in the room with the dead girl. The locked computers in the office. Files. Everything in that room, everything except the safe in the corner. She’ll come back to that in a moment. She snaps a photo of the dead girl’s face on her phone, then makes sure she does the three other girls downstairs.
There’s enough blood here to feed a handful of licks. She doesn’t waste any of that, either. Mason jars, empty wine bottles, whatever she can find—she drains them and tucks those away too.
Then it’s back up the stairs, searching the other rooms. Beneath the bed. Inside the closets. Along the walls. Behind the mirrors, the shelves, the books. Even Roderick had a secret space in his haven; there’s no reason the sheriff wouldn’t as well.
Thinking of him makes her wonder where he’s at. How long ago had she called him? She checks her phone for the time before resuming her search.
GM: There are several more steel doors.
Paul’s keycard does not open them.
Celia: She looks for another way in. Surely there’s more than just a keycard. Number pad. Hinges. Retinal scanner. Anything.
GM: The remaining doors have retinal as well as keycard scanners.
Celia: Paul’s eye finds itself removed from its socket. She scans it.
GM: A panel opens in the ceiling. Fire pours from the nozzle. Heat incinerates Celia’s clothes and consumes her body. Skin blackens. Fat pops and liquefies. All is pain. All is suffering. The Beast screams as Celia’s vision goes red.
When she comes to, she’s lying at the foot of the stars, blackened and suffering and all but naked. The pungent smell of smoke and cooked flesh fills her nostrils.
Celia: Someone takes their security seriously.
Sprawled in red hot pain at the bottom of the stairs, Celia lies still for only a moment before she’s on her feet again. Paul’s stolen blood heals barely any of the hurts. Even in death, her sire wounds her.
She moves to Paul’s body, popping the other eye out of its socket.
Not many licks can claim that they have stared into Donovan’s eyes. But Celia is one who can. She sculpts the eye until it resembles the stormy depths of her sire’s gaze, then goes up the stairs to try again, one eye on lookout for other traps.
GM: The rug upstairs where Celia stood is all but incinerated. It and the only partly scorched wooden floor are also soaked wet.
Celia scans the new eye.
The ceiling panel re-opens. Fire belches forth.
Celia sees red. She comes to at the foot of the stairs again. She’s avoided the worst of the flames, but there are some nasty black burns along her right arm.
Celia: Maybe she hadn’t gotten the eye right.
“You know what the definition of insanity is?” someone pretty sneers. “Doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
“Not the same. Paul’s eye. Donovan’s eye.”
“Except Paul didn’t have any eyes left, genius. You took one from a whore.”
Celia glances at the girls in question. Ah. So she had.
“Move over, I’m driving.”
Quick as that, Celia becomes Jade. The green-eyed goddess takes the stairs two at a time to find the first room with the weapons, selecting a heavy sledgehammer from the wall. Then she’s back at the room with the door that won’t open, moving past it to the adjacent room.
She taps a few times with her knuckles before she finds a likely spot, one of the hollow sounding clunks when she raps. Then she puts the sledgehammer through the same spot.
GM: The sledgehammer smashes through wood.
To her chagrin, it loudly clangs against steel underneath.
Celia: “La-de-fucking-da,” Jade snarls at the wall. “My name is fucking Donovan and I don’t love anyone and I put steel in my walls like a fucking psycho.”
“Just because he outsmarted—”
Jade glares at the wall, red hot in her rage. It burns, but only for a moment. Quickly it’s replaced by cool rationale.
“My name is Donovan,” she repeats.
Her voice is the first thing to change. From Jade’s smooth, dulcet tones the pitch drops to the frigid cracking of a glacier that is her sire’s sound. Then the lips, flattening from full, plump, kissable to the aborted gash across his face. Her cheeks sculpt into the hard lines and angles so familiar in his. Her hair shortens, coiffs itself across her brow, nose lengthens, fingers become even more delicate…
She stands before a mirror and sees her sire writ small. Her sire in miniature. Her tiny frame, but he fills it, makes her that much larger just from wearing his face. And the eyes… turbulent. The achromatic steel found in the sky just as it begins to storm. A tempest swims in its depths.
She mimics his walk, kills everything that has ever made her resemble the kine she no longer is, and puts her eye before the scanner.
GM: The ‘sheriff’ strides confidently through his house, as would one who has every right to be here.
Yet, for all the chill terror inspired by Jade’s visage, the response is as pitiless as her own sire:
The ceiling panel re-opens.
Fire belches forth.
Celia: Fire engulfs her.
Fire consumes her.
Fire dismantles her.
Fire drenches every inch of her body in its red hot tongues of flame that light up skin that may as well be made of paper for all the succor it manages in the face of such heat.
The girl inside the stolen body screams. She screams, she screams, she screams. She screams as her eyes sizzle and pop, fluid meant to open the door leaking down her cheeks to land in a sticky, semi-solid goo at her feet. Paul would be so mad if he knew. If he were alive. That stupid Latina cunt would have to get down on her hands and knees to scrub it from the floor, and even then there’d always be a little spot of stiffness that spoke of the girl whose eyes liquified and ran like white rivers down her face.
Her skin blackens. Finally, the truth of her is out, and it’s writ plain across her body for all to see. First and second degree where the flames barely licked her, the tender touch of virgin fingers, but split and cracked beneath the more experienced kiss of the heated bitch that knows what she wants and goes after it.
Her Beast screams with her.
Screams as it vaults headlong down the bare hallway. Screams as it outraces fire itself. Screams as it flings itself down the stairs to huddle in the spot it has come to know as “home” in these short moments in the house.
It screams at the girl inside of it and she screams back, and the brown-eyed beauty laughs at their misfortune and mockingly asks, “What happened to that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results bit?”
Jade bares her teeth at the bitch and says she has it handled.
Only then she sees the empty bag with the red X on the front of it. The blood she’d gotten from Marcel. The lucky hit she’d been saving for a good time.
She looks down at herself. She looks terrible. Burns and cooked and blackened skin everywhere. Incinerated hair. Blackened, smoking rags for clothes.
But she’s still walking.
The part where it killed her wasn’t real.
“Thank your lucky stars. Now stop being stupid. Think.”
“Could’ve at least left me with a swallow considering I got that for us,” Jade mutters darkly. “Selfish bitch.”
“Because this didn’t bene—”
The sarcastic reply is cut off with a shake of her head. Stop talking to yourself, she says. Quietly, though. So only she can hear. She, or he? She stares down at the body that belongs to her… and her sire. The singed clothing leaves little to the imagination.
“Figured he’d be—”
“Maybe we’re just—”
“Probably why he never…”
Jade hums amusement beneath her breath. She pulls out her phone to scroll through her list of contacts, looking for a likely friend.
She hasn’t many of those left anymore, has she? There’s always her krewe, though how are they going to get in? She could call Draco. Because that’s… been interesting.
Or her mom. Claim she’s going to see Maxen. Use her help to get shit out. Does she need help getting shit out? Not really, she needs help getting in. All she has to do is figure out how to get past the flaming death trap and force her way in. Or go through the wall. With the fucking explosives that he has. There’s bound to be something that cuts through steel, right?
Jade takes a moment to send a text. Then she’s in the living room with the blood she’d gathered from the whores, taking a container of it to the kitchen to nuke and drink. Her Beast wants out; she shreds his kitchen table when she lets it have its way with her as the taste of blood hits her tongue, then she’s back, mending her wounds with a thought.
“Yeah,” she tells it, “kinda like jacking off if there’s no one to fuck but you’ve been thinking about wet panties all day.”
Her sire’s voice comes from her mouth. She starts. Then laughs. And finally resumes her own form, the bitchy beautiful one with the green eyes that may or may not match her name.
Jade takes the stairs two at a time to count the doors she can’t get into. She searches the walls, ceilings, and floor boards for any sign of… weak point. As if her sire had such a thing.
GM: Jade hears heavy footsteps sounding through the house.
Approaching in her direction.
Celia: Probably not the best sign. Jade steals across the hall to the most out-of-the-way place she can be, and with a thought she’s not Jade at all. She’s Lotus, staring serenely from a pair of painted porcelain eyes.
GM: Three of the police officers from outside tromp upstairs with their firearms drawn. They frown as they inspect the area.
Celia: Maybe she should stop screaming in pain with the whole being on fire thing. Something to work on, yeah?
Lotus isn’t super concerned about that, though. She’s busy casting attention at the steel door. Making the men think that maybe something got inside, maybe they should open it up and check it out.
GM: One by one, the cops turn to look at the door.
“Hey. Got a feeling,” says one.
“Yeah. Me too,” says a second.
The third pulls at the handle.
“Locked, dumbass,” says the first.
The third bangs on the door.
“Think the intruder’s in there,” says the second.
“Yeah? How the fuck did he get in? That looks like a retinal scanner,” says the first.
“Wonder what Simmons keeps in there…” says the third.
The cops talk for a while, but can’t seem to find a way inside. It’s solid steel. None of them try the retinal scanner. They decide to make a sweep of the house to see what else they find before coming back to the door. They’ve already radioed in for backup, they mention, given the corpses on the first floor.
One of the cops gives the doll a look and mutters about Simmons probably branching off into “younger” girls.
Lotus is left by herself.
Celia: A girl with a phone is never truly alone.
Help waits just around the corner. All she has to do is press a few buttons and summon it to her aid.
The problem, of course, is… well. Deciding who to call. Two weeks ago she’d have dialed Durant without a second thought and he’d have been here immediately. A week ago she’d have called Reggie and his brother and they’d have brought all the force they could muster to get in and get her out. Maybe she’d have even called Gui. He’d get a kick out of raiding the sheriff’s haven.
They’re all non-starters.
If she were a better fighter she could probably take the cops on her own. Make them call off the backup. Unless the backup is good, since they seem to know all about what Simmons gets up to (got up to, she mentally corrects herself) in his spare time. No doubt he’s got the “cleanup crew” on speed dial for the whores he murders. Maybe it’s not a bad thing to let them come.
She just needs someone to play the role of Simmons.
When Lotus disappears the girl in her place is, in a word, young. Already short, Jade uses her small stature to her advantage and gives herself the youthful appearance of a girl who still carries dolls around: the round, chubby cheeks of a baby face, full lips, large, guileless eyes. Blue, of course, with hair so blonde it’s almost silver in certain light, and maybe there’s the sheen of the aurora when she tosses her head. Pert nose, tiny little breasts that have barely begun to grow, more areola and nipple than anything else. Skinny. Not skeletal, just slender.
She’s not a threat, this girl.
She uses some of that excess skin and padding from her breasts to create a collar around her neck, a black choker that’s different than the others the girls downstairs wear. This one has no buckles, no D-rings, no metal hooks. It’s a single, solitary piece of leather, and it’s meaning is clear: she’s a lifer.
The little girl steals into one of the already opened rooms to find a… aha, here. The room with the poisons. A bit of shadow dancing and it’s the discarded Lotus doll from the floor, held in one hand as the other dials a familiar number.
She’ll need to do something about the burns, though. She looks like she should be in a burn unit. Or dead. Maybe graft some more hale skin over them from the dead girls.
She checks her phone for a response from her favorite thief while she waits for the call to go through. She’d texted him earlier.
GM: His response pings back.
Celia: What a fun invitation. She holds tight. But she’s also already on the line with someone, so…
GM: The call continues to ring. Draco finally picks up.
Celia: “What do you mean, yes. Don’t pretend you have other friends with this face.”
“Guess who died.”
GM: “Not your sense of jealousy, clearly.”
Celia: “Cry harder,” she says dryly.
“You want in on this or not?”
GM: “Depends what ‘this’ is.”
Celia: “Daddy died.”
GM: “Good riddance.”
Celia: “Mmm. I’m at his place.”
“So many fun things.”
“Quit being an asshole and show up for me, yeah?”
GM: “And what do you want me for when there are so many fun things?”
Celia: “Calling for backup,” Jade says. She tosses her hair even though he can’t see that or the wicked way her smile sharpens. “While I wait for them I thought I’d diddle myself and your voice just really does it for me.”
GM: “That’s probably true. What’s the opposition?”
Celia: Jade glances out the windo—oh. No window. But she flew overhead earlier and recalls the amount of vehicles and people she’d seen. She gives him the number, then the three inside, and finally the backup they called.
Then she tells him the real problem.
“Steel doors, retinal scanner. Steel walls around. Safe I can’t lift. Most of it’s packed and ready to go but I can’t get into those. My buddy with the quick fingers is on his way, concerned we’re gonna get rolled up on before I can get it all out.”
GM: Draco scoffs.
“You are stupid.”
“If you let the cops call for backup, you’re going to have SWAT all over you in minutes. I guarantee your dad’s house will get a record-fast response time.”
“And you won’t get out of Audubon through the front entrance. They’ll have sealed it off.”
“And what do you mean, the ‘three inside’? That’s not how police operate. I presume you mean ‘formerly inside’.”
Celia: It’s like he’s forgotten who he’s speaking to. What she can do. How very, very good she is at slipping in and out of places.
Jade lets out a long suffering sigh.
“You can say you told me so when you spring me from jail, then. Better go find my friends since you don’t want to party.”
GM: “If you wind up in jail, I won’t be springing you out. But actually make it out of Audubon, and I’ll help you escape your dad’s friends back to your grandpa’s.”
Celia: “You’re a gem.” Jade blows kisses into the phone and hangs up after saying she’ll see him soon.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Celia: Jade’s out the door after that, predatory aura killed in favor of something a little softer. A little innocent. A little trustworthy.
Just a naked teenager with a doll in her hands. Nothing scary here.
The burns aren’t worth paying attention to.
GM: The house stands seemingly silent and still.
Celia: But where had her friends gone?
Sweeping the house, they’d said.
That doesn’t sound like they’d left.
Or that they’re doing things the “routine way” her boytoy had mentioned.
GM: If there are answers to Jade’s questions, none make themselves known in the hallway.
Celia: Jade always enjoyed the game of cat and mouse, feline that she is. She creeps through the hallway to the top of the stairs, listening for sounds from below.
GM: She hears voices and noises coming from the direction of Paul’s office.
Celia: Easy enough to pop back out once she desires to let them see her. Jade’s stolen tricks from Gui come in handy this evening: she melds into the shadows around her, then pads quietly down the stairs to look in on Paul’s office.
GM: She finds the police officers grunting with effort as they lift up the safe together.
“Tell you, man, I wanna see what’s behind that door,” says the third cop.
“Fuckin’ keep it in your pants, SWAT’ll ’ventually get inside,” says the second.
“Our lucky day someone killed Simmons,” smiles the first, patting the safe’s side.
Celia: Definitely would have gone south if she’d approached with this face. So much for sleeping her way out of this one. Not that it’s not an option, just… not the right option for this situation.
She hates that Draco was right. She hates that he’s going to be able to say he told her so. Just once, really, just once she’d love for him to not be such a smart fucking know-it-all cockmongler.
Way she sees it, she’s got three options: handle these three now, wait for SWAT, or wait for Pietro. No doubt the thief will have some ideas of his own, but it’s better to head off SWAT if she can and find another way into the room. She’ll worry about extraction later. And if she can’t head off SWAT, then she at least tried to do something instead of—what’d she say to Draco? Waiting around diddling herself.
Weird that they’re coming though, isn’t it? There’s not an active shooter, not a hostage situation, not a bomb threat… her sire and sister have strong ties to the police, perhaps it’s just another level of protection.
Jade steals out of the room, creeping back up the stairs to raid a closet for a spare set of clothes, her own long since ruined. It doesn’t much matter what they look like so long as they’re dark. Her face and body shifts as she moves—she’ll never get tired of this, she decides—and soon it’s her own sister-in-blood’s face staring out from the mirror when she wraps a dark coat around herself and pulls a hat down over most of her visage.
She abandons the doll illusion and pockets the poison, then straps a firearm beneath her coat. Discrete. She spends another few seconds reaching out to her own backup.
To the detective: Dad’s dead. Thought you guys should know.
To Draco: I’ll take that naked photo of you off my ceiling if you call in a bomb threat elsewhere.
To Benji: Diversion. SWAT. ASAP.
To the thief: Heads up I look like my sis tonight.
And finally to her dad. Her kine dad. The pretend one. Hi daddy. Can I come by tonight?
GM: The messages on her phone ping back:
Heard from your ex. Good to know, says Pete. Sorry for your loss.
From Draco: You’re stupid.
There is no immediate response from Benji.
From Pietro: Hot.
From her dad: Of course, sweetie. I’ll let the guards know to let you in.
Celia: Of course Draco talked to Pete already. Why would she ever get to deliver news herself. She sends a quick message back to the detective.
Swung by his place. Think your/his work pals are coming over. Kind of want to be alone right now to mourn. Can you call them off?
GM: Nope. Sorry.
You shouldn’t stick around there.
Celia: Don’t think there’s an inheritance for me here?
GM: None you could get.
Celia: Jade tries not to let that annoy her.
Not alone. P on the way.
GM: I know.
Celia: …you don’t think he can get in? I should bail?
GM: No, I expect he can. I don’t think sticking around your dead dad’s house when a bunch of people are going to show up is a good idea for you.
Celia: Yeah, my ex already told me I’m stupid for it. She presses “SEND” on that before she adds in any of the spiteful or petty things she’s thinking.
Jade flips back to the text from Pietro.
If you’re driving in, Celia is expected.
It’s handy to have shadow dancing friends.
Finally she locates a nude photo of Draco on her phone, carefully crops out his face, and sends it over with a handful of fire emojis, an eggplant, and some sweat drops. Technically it’s Roderick’s body, but technically he’s Roderick.
She wonders if he’s going to think it’s funny, or if he’ll regret that time she talked him into letting her take it.
She’s left wondering when she takes the stairs back down, still concealed, to check on her friends.
GM: Pete sends no immediate response.
Handy, replies Pietro.
Draco sends no immediate response either to the cropped nude.
His body looked about the same as Roderick’s, as far as she could tell.
The three cops have set the safe down in the atrium as they catch their breaths.
“Fuck. It’s gonna be a bitch and a half to get that thing in the car,” complains one.
Celia: At least someone appreciates her, she thinks. Pietro was always her favorite.
Maybe she’ll date him now.
Lazy of Draco’s night doc not to change his body at all, too. Jade doesn’t make petty mistakes like that.
That’s what he gets for going to the discount doc, though. Unless he’d given away her little trick with the masks… asshole. She’ll never tell him anything ever again.
Jade dismisses the thought of snake oil and refocuses on what’s at hand. She works a series of charms from where she stands obscured in shadows. The first will be to make them her friends. All of them. But she starts with one.
GM: The first man looks towards where Jade’s standing.
Then he does a double take as he suddenly realizes she’s there.
The other two look towards where he’s staring.
They startle too. More than that.
Color drains from their faces.
Celia: Jade can’t say that she particularly minds the effect this face has on them. Perhaps she’ll cultivate another identity that is just as feared as her sire and sister seem to be. Maybe come out as someone else’s childe…
She lets no expression cross her face, channeling her sister’s icy aloofness. Maybe she doesn’t need to hit them with the aura… but she does.
Frigid tones, a single word. Yes, she can play this role.
GM: “It was their idea,” says the first cop, pointing at the other two. “I just went along with it.”
“He’s-he’s lying!” stammers the second.
“Hey, I was gonna report them,” claims the third, nervously licking his lips.
All three men blink as they stare at ‘Camilla’, as if wondering where the hell she came from.
Or what’s happened to her, burn victim that she is.
Celia: Camilla isn’t in the habit of explaining herself to kine.
“Your babbling,” she says coldly, “fails to explain.”
GM: “Some, someone’s here,” says the first cop.
“Simmons is dead.”
“Torn apart,” says the second.
“His girls are all dead, too,” says the third.
Celia: “And this is how you spend your time.”
GM: “Figured the killer might take it, sensitive shit inside,” says the third cop.
“Ma’am, they were gonna rob the place,” says the first cop.
“They’re full of shit.”
“SWAT’s been called,” says the second cop.
“If they’re in Audubon, they won’t get out.”
Celia: “Call them back,” Camilla says, “and cancel their arrival.”
GM: The three look at ‘Camilla’ for what feels a long moment.
The first cop finally activates his radio.
“Code 4,” he says slowly.
He’s answered by a very pissed-sounding voice from the radio.
“She’s here,” the officer says. “Doesn’t want SWAT.”
Celia: Camilla waits.
While she waits she uses more of her charms, this time targeting the second officer.
GM: There’s some back and forth between the cop and the voice over the radio. A false SWAT alarm does not sound as if it’s making anyone happy. The cop ends the transmission soon enough, though.
Celia: Finally, she hits the third officer with it.
GM: Her Beast growls angrily.
Celia: Her Beast will feast soon enough.
GM: “They’re not coming, ma’am,” says the first cop.
Celia: Camilla turns her gaze on him.
“Put the cabinet in the car.”
GM: The three don’t waste time. They pick up the safe and start carrying it back outside.
Celia: Camilla sends another text while they’re gone, letting Pietro know the role that he’s to play when he arrives.
GM: They’ve loaded it into the police car after a short wait.
Not my style, comes the thief’s response.
Celia: Camilla busies herself while they’re gone. She heats and drinks more blood while they load the safe… and has a private moment with her Beast. It wants out. Wants fresh blood. Wants to rip and tear and kill, and Jade (she knows who she really is, even with this face) can’t pretend that she doesn’t want the same. But not tonight. Not right now. Soon. But not yet. She snarls at the thing inside her chest and, with white-knuckled control, beats it back down.
Camilla glances at her phone when Pietro’s response comes in. She finally calls the thief.
GM: Not now, comes the answering text.
Celia: Camilla tucks the phone back into her pocket.
“Soon” isn’t very specific. But she busies herself in the meantime. And when the officers come back she coldly informs them to move the safe into the car in the garage, as if they should have read her mind and done that to begin with.
GM: None of them look happy, but they return to their car outside to do so.
Celia: Camilla makes another sweep of the house, looking for anything she missed in her first once-over.
GM: The house is fairly large. A once-over didn’t take too long, but a thorough search of all the rooms is likely to.
Celia: Not much else to do while she waits for Pietro. She enlists the assistance of the three charmed cops.
GM: She has some time to wait while they pant and drag the safe back from the car to the garage.
“Ma’am, what are we looking for?” the first asks in confusion.
Celia: They’re not looking for something. They’re looking for the absence of something. Whoever took out Simmons clearly wanted something, so they find what’s out of place, what’s missing.
“The absent piece,” she says shortly.
GM: “Piece, ma’am?”
Celia: “Someone was here for a reason. Your slow response,” not so much as a withering look crosses the perfect planes of her frigid face, “allowed them in and out. We find what they were after by finding what’s missing.”
Mostly, though, she’s just waiting on Pietro.
GM: “All right, ma’am,” says another of the officers. “I’ve heard you usually call Aidan for things like this. Should we here?”
Celia: Camilla gives a minute nod. Then she pulls out her phone and fires off a text to the detective.
Handled the friends. You know Aidan?
One of the police officer’s visages abruptly shimmers like dissolving water, revealing Pietro in the man’s place. He winks.
The other two don’t spare him a second glance.
“Okay, ma’am. You want us to maybe get that safe someplace, ah, safe? If you don’t need us anymore?”
Celia: Oh thank God. She’s never been more happy to see someone. She keeps her mask up, though.
“You,” Camilla says, jerking her chin at Pietro. “Stay. See to the safe. You two can go.” She waits until they start to walk away before she calls after them, “Keep it clear here. Alert me if anything changes.”
GM: The two cops say they will and seem more than happy to be gone.
“Funny,” says Pietro.
Celia: “Seems like the kind of thing she’d say. Didn’t want them touching the safe.”
Camilla/Jade leads Pietro up the stairs.
“Got into these four. Can’t get into these.” She nods toward the steel door that has so far kept her out. “Retinal scanner. Fire shoots from the ceiling if you get it wrong. Key card hasn’t worked. Steel goes all the way around the walls; tried to use a sledgehammer from an adjacent room.”
GM: Pietro looks the door over thoughtfully.
“Better valuables behind this one, then. Who’s the key card from?”
GM: “Who is…?”
Celia: “One of Daddy D’s ghouls. Guy who owns the place.”
GM: “Card is probably one Donovan has, then. Do you give your ghouls the run of your entire haven?”
Celia: “Mm.” She doesn’t bother to answer the rhetorical question. “Handled the kine authorities and I can handle my sister if she shows. Got a guy able to meet us past the gate for some assistance on the route back if anyone tries to muscle in. Dad thinks I’m stopping by; things get hairy here we can lay low over there until the heat dies. Can probably sneak the car downstairs into his garage between the pair of us dancing, use him to get out if need be.”
She waves a hand at the door.
“Give it a look, then, I’ll be back in a sec.”
She’s down the stairs before he can say much else, checking to make sure the doors to the house are locked, that the garage door is closed, that the safe is in the SUV where she told the cops to put it, and finally that the entrances to the garage and car doors are locked up tight.
Then she’s back.
GM: “If your sister shows, it’ll be in force, and we’ll both be screwed,” Pietro says as she leaves.
The front doors are locked and the garage is closed. The safe is not in the SUV, but sitting next to it, as the cops presumably lacked keys to open the still-locked vehicle.
Celia: She’ll get it loaded in later.
Jade doesn’t correct Pietro’s assumptions about her sister. He’s right that she’ll probably show in force, but not that they’ll be completely screwed. Each of them have ways to look like other people and pass unobserved.
And if she’s not terribly mistaken, she thinks Camilla might be more lenient than he perceives her to be. Then again, their sire is dead, perhaps…
Jade’s obscenely warm blood runs cold. Where is her sister? Surely she felt him die. Why is she not here, doing the same thing Jade is doing? Was she with him? Is she, too…? Was that the warmth and love that she felt her sister’s death?
Blindly, Jade gropes for the link between them.
She sends her concern, her gut-wrenching worry, her fear down the line. Fear for her sister. Concern for the lick she has barely gotten to know, that she meant to spend more time with, the sister who knows what it means to be their sire’s childe. The expectations. The demands.
Camilla knows exactly how it is.
Jade reaches for her, and a single word comes with it: Where? Where are you? Where is he? Are you safe? Hurting? Dead?
GM: For all the fervency of Jade’s concern for her newfound sister, her only answer is ominous silence.
Perhaps they will never get to spend more time together.
Celia: Maybe she’s… busy. Maybe, even now, she’s murdering whoever took out their sire. Happy retirement party, had to be someone, right? Camilla hunted them down rather than looting his haven like Jade is doing. Maybe she hadn’t felt his hatred. Maybe she’d… maybe…
Jade’s back at Pietro’s side a moment later, asking about the door, focusing on the task at hand rather than the thoughts of…of being orphaned. No sire. No sister. No lover. No—
A mom, though. She has a mom. And another sister, even if she’s not blooded. And a grandsire. Even though she’d displeased him enough to end up in the interrogation room.
She distracts herself as best she can, keeps her mind from wandering down the path of how royally she’d messed up, about what this… what all this means for her.
No sire. He’d hated her. Used her. Hated her. Thought she was useless. A waste of blood.
Now what? Now, without him, who does she… who does she serve? Who does she trust? Who will tell her what to do, how to be, who to be—
No longer locked in the gilded cage she and Caroline had discussed all those nights ago. Free to make her own decisions. Take her own path. Utterly unbonded. Her thoughts don’t pull her toward one thing or another. They’re her own. Finally. For the first time since her Embrace she isn’t concerned about what other people want from her.
Now it’s about what she wants.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Celia: And right now she wants answers.
She heads back upstairs, seeking Pietro.
“What do you think?” Jade asks, turning her thoughts to the task at hand. “Able to get in?”
A moment later she tacks on, “How long have you known about him?”
GM: Jade finds Pietro at work on the door when she returns. He’s pried or cut open the keycard scanner and looks like he’s engaged in some delicate work with the wiring on the underside.
“Later,” he says, not taking his eyes off the door. “Go take care of Simmons’ body while I’m working on this. Don’t know how much that’ll help after the cops all saw it, but can’t hurt.”
“When you’re done, keep watch somewhere with a view of the front entrance. We’ll be lucky if mundane cops are the only visitors we have to deal with before I’m in.”
“If anyone else shows up, let me know. Or take care of them if you think you can on your own.”
Celia: “Will do. I know you can vanish and all, but if we end up at the Flores house—number three, across the way—hit me with your ESP for a cover face and name.”
GM: “I don’t know that ESP trick,” Pietro tells her. “Give it to me now in case we need it.”
“Hiding out with your dad might be our best option, depending how things shake out.”
Celia: Jade’s flesh ripples and changes at the request. Her lips become thinner, brows thicken, jaws widen. Not the bone itself—she doesn’t know that trick yet—but it’s wider all the same, and if he were to ask her (he won’t, she bets), she’d tell him how she allocates flesh from different parts of her body to pad the jaw. The face is strong. Hard. Chiseled. There’s a suggestion of shadow around mouth and jaw, the barest beginning of a crease across the forehead and around the eyes.
He looks like someone who regularly beats his girlfriend.
“Michael,” she says in a voice that isn’t hers. “He’s dating Celia. We came to ask for Maxen’s blessing to get married. It’s new, but we’re certain.”
She gives him a height and weight and tells him the body is very, very in shape.
GM: True to her guess, Pietro doesn’t ask. He doesn’t once take his eyes completely off the door, as though he’s expecting it to sprout fangs or belch fire at any time.
“Okay,” he says. “Lovebirds.”
Celia: Given her own history with the door, she doesn’t blame him.
GM: “If you can get any blood out of Simmons’ body, or the other girls’, save some for me. I may need it after this.”
Celia: Jade leaves him to it, taking the steps back down to take care of the body.
Bodies. She’s good at bodies. Good at creating them, even better at making them vanish. Even her ex had been impressed with her last night for all that he called her degree half-assed bullshit.
Not that school had taught her how to destroy a body with gastric acid.
She picks up a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and snags a large container from the kitchen to set up. Then she gets to work, using her claws to cut open what’s left of Paul’s abdomen and pulling his stomach out to empty into the container. After a glance at the girls she decides to vanish them too, and their stomach juice joins Paul’s.
“Fitting, isn’t it? That your own body can destroy you. Did you know,” Jade says with an empty smile that doesn’t reach the eyes on her stolen face, “that every animal has enough brain matter to tan their own hide?”
She rips apart the pieces that remain intact. There aren’t many left, not after the tiger got to him.
“Fascinating, really. You kill the animal, strip its skin, cut open its skull, and mix the brain matter with a little bit of ash and water.”
Bits of skin, muscle, and bone hit the acid with a tiny splash. The pieces begin to dissolve immediately; Jade douses them with hydrogen peroxide and the process quickens.
“You were a villain in my story, did you know? Oh, don’t give me that look, I’m a villain in someone’s story too. The problem is that you’re not a very good villain. Yes, you scared a teenager when she was desperate, but in the end Paul… in the end, you’re nothing but a sad, pathetic little man.” She pats his dead face. “I thought about keeping a souvenir. Something to hang on my wall. Turn your flesh into a tapestry, perhaps.”
Now there’s an idea.
“But Paul, you’re not worth the space.”
Jade drops his head into the tub. It sinks beneath the surface of the mixture as she turns away. As if he’d never been.
Things move more quickly after that. A burst of speed and the assistance of her claws has the women dissected and added to the mixture in a matter of moments. One of them, a redhead, has exceedingly soft skin that reminds Jade of a particular serial killer, and she harvests a patch of pale, milk-white skin from her back when the thought crosses her mind.
While the bodies dissolve Jade cleans the floor and walls. Seven years a lick and seven more of menstrual cycles has made her particularly adept at getting blood out of cloth.
GM: Paul’s mutilated, clawed-apart face offers no response to Jade’s gloating words.
It’s cathartic, though, to again see him be the powerless one, who must mutely accept whatever fate Jade has in store for him.
The women are more like girls. Teenagers, maybe early 20s. They look so young, next to Emily and the girls at Flawless. Children with adult-sized frames, practically. Are college students really this young-looking?
All of their throats have been slashed. It’s a gruesome way to go. The sensation is supposed to be like drown-choking in and on your own blood. All of their young faces look terrified, and their eyes are red from crying. Paul was not wrong to call them Celia’s sisters. Perhaps they have Dianas, Emilys, and Stephens of their own, who will wonder what has become of them.
Not all could have been well in their lives, though, to bring them to Paul’s house. So much was unwell in Celia’s.
Celia: They deserved better. No matter what they did, what was going wrong in their lives, they deserved better than to die beneath Paul’s hand.
Hatred surges through her at the thought of what they’ve been through. What he’s done to them. She should have killed him. She should have killed him years ago. Should have ended his reign of terror before he had a chance to ruin more lives.
Is it better for their families that they’ll never know what became of their daughters, sisters, girlfriends?
It’s the sort of thing she once might have asked Roderick about, what to do for the victims, but she doesn’t think this new Roderick will care about the whores she found in Paul’s house.
Jade pushes the thoughts aside. Celia can deal with it next time she comes out. Jade only wishes she’d left Paul alive long enough to inflict the terror and pain on him that he had all the girls over the years.
GM: He surely experienced both in the moments before his death.
But they were such brief moments, next to what he surely put his ‘whores’ through.
The girls’ bodies are as easily disposed of as Paul’s, at the end of the night. Jade slices them open, pours their stomach juices into the fermenting acidic stew, and lets their flesh and bones dissolve next while she cleans. It’s slower going without Draco to break apart the bones, but Paul’s house is well-stocked with everything she needs to chemically dispose of a body. It’s a serial killer’s dream suite. All that’s left is her former tormentor’s clothes, phone, and the girls’ bondage gear.
Celia: Jade pulls the battery out of Paul’s phone and tucks it away for later. Who knows what sort of interesting things he keeps on there. Maybe nothing, but maybe something. She cleans the bondage gear and finds a closet to drop it into. Paul has plenty of it laying around; it’s not going to raise any more eyebrows than usual.
The clothes join the body parts in the mixture. Clothing dissolves as easily as flesh in this particular acid.
She puts everything back in its proper place when she’s done. She checks her phone while she heats more blood to feed her Beast to see if any of her contacts have gotten back to her. When she’s done drinking she drops some off for Pietro before heading back to the kitchen to find a container of salt. She slips it into her pocket.
While she works she dials the number she should have dialed from the beginning.
GM: Jade has no further texts.
She finds a salt carton picturing the umbrella-carrying girl in a yellow dress. The label reads, This salt supplies iodine, a necessary nutrient
“Why hello there, Miss Flores, what can I do for you?” greets Mélissaire.
Celia: “Kalani,” Jade corrects absently, eyes on her victims. “Are you with Gramps? I have a message.”
GM: “Miss Kalani, of course,” smiles the ghoul. “Not at this moment, but I’m rarely too far. What’s the message?”
Celia: “It’s about our mutual relative. It’s rather time-sensitive. I’d like to speak to him.”
GM: “I’m afraid that’s not possible, ma’am, if you want to this moment, but I can make certain it gets to him.”
“I can also pencil you in for a meeting.”
Celia: “My dad is dead,” Jade says bluntly. “I believe the detective passed on what I told my ex. There are details he should know. I’m at his place looking for the will, but I wanted to know if Gramps has any… needs.”
GM: “Your dad’s already sent by a friend of his,” says Mélissaire. “You’ve met up, haven’t you? The will you’re looking for is probably a in a computer or filing cabinet. Anything else is extra. It’ll be somewhere secure and out of the way.”
“Beyond that, try not to attract any attention from his neighbors or co-workers—you know how they can get. Just a quick in and out, leave the house as spotless as you can.”
Celia: “Dad sent a friend?” Jade repeats. “Saw his roommate, but no friends. Some of his coworkers did get a little anxious already. I talked them down. I brought my mother’s cousin, and my old fling is giving us some space but said he’d meet up with us on the ride back.”
“Pencil me in with Gramps, if you don’t mind. Dad called me right before he died and there are some other things I think he should know.”
GM: “Yes, your cousin is who he sent,” clarifies Mel. “I’ll let you know when your gramps can see you—things over here have gotten pretty crazy. For now, did your father tell you anything absolutely essential that we should know?”
Celia: Ah. He’s going to take credit for sending Pietro even though the thief was the first one that Jade had reached out to.
It’s like she can feel her esteem dropping.
He doesn’t want to see her. Not even a line about getting her in this weekend or next week, just nothing. No offer. Zero. “I’ll let you know” is the biggest cop-out in the book.
No lover. No sire. No grandsire.
Jade swallows her emotions before they can pull her under. She is not a child. She is not going to throw a temper tantrum because her grandsire does not want to see her. This is the first time in her entire existence that she has not had some strong, dominant male figure telling her what to do and she is not going to spend it crawling over to someone on her knees with her tail tucked, begging for orders, asking to be collared, climbing onto a lap so she can be coddled.
She is done with that. She is done playing at fairytales. She is done serving as lapcat.
She wants his respect? She will earn it. She wants his ear? She will make herself worth listening to. She wants his attention, affection, admiration? She will take it.
She is Jade Fucking Kalani, and there is no man or lick or ghoul who will put her back on her knees now that she is risen.
“There was a battle,” Jade says to the ghoul on the phone. “Loud. Fire, bombs, guns. That’s where it happened.” Clipped, efficient, businesslike. She is not offended that her grandsire does not have time.
“I know he planned to take out his competition, and I know she suspected and hated him. There’s more that can’t be said here, but I don’t believe it to be essential. I have some research and an idea he may find beneficial during these crazy times to capitalize his gains while minimizing losses. Who should I report it all to once I’m back?”
“Also,” Jade adds, “I can’t reach my sister. Straight to voicemail. It’s possible she and the others were with him. His normal friends around the house are gone, as are the majority of the vehicles. He went in force.”
GM: “Oh, my,” murmurs Mélissaire. “That’s all certainly something, Miss Kalani. Thank you for letting us know. I’ll be around at the Evergreen to hear it all once you’re in.”
“Take care of yourself. I suspect a lot of things are going to get very hot, very fast.”
Celia: “There’s more. His roommate is… missing.” The very pregnant pause lets the ghoul know she means dead.
“He had some lady friends over. Left a mess after their party. I cleaned up, left it as sterile as he likes it to be. Dad’s coworkers saw, though. Called their friends. I held them off for now, but…”
But now she’s wondering why she thought it would be a good idea to vanish the college girls, too. And drain them completely. And let the cops go.
Masquerade breach. No body, no crime some part of her thinks, but the other part recalls what she’d just said to Mel: the cops saw and called it in. The kine know.
They saw. The cops saw. They saw and they’re going to be looking for the bodies and she let them go. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. No panicking allowed. Think.
“It might get very hot here, too.”
A question. Arson covers a lot, but it will need to be explained.
GM: “Ah, I see. That is a messy situation,” muses the ghoul.
Mélissaire goes on to say, in a roundabout way, that a fire would explain the girls’ deaths very conveniently if responders found a matching number of charred female bodies. It would also helpfully deny any assets contained in the haven to Vidal’s people, if Jade and Pietro can’t get them all out.
Jade would need to work fast, though. The prince’s agents could show up at the house any minute.
Celia: Jade makes a vague noise of assent as she tears through the house with a burst of speed, looking for wallets, purses, any other identifying information. She’d come with it when she met Paul; no doubt the other girls had too.
GM: She finds the girls’ clothes and personal effects stored in neatly organized and padlocked little cubbies with glass doors.
There are enough cubbies for many girls.
Celia: “He had a whole harem,” Jade mutters aloud, phone still tucked against her shoulder. A second later she locates a hammer and smashes her way in to swipe the contents.
GM: “Ah, that’s no surprise. I’m sure your old man had appetites,” chuckles the ghoul.
Beyond their clothes, the girls all came with purses containing phones, wallets, and the various things one can expect to find in various women’s purses, from lip balm to pens to tampons.
Somewhat less usual is the pain relief medication in all four purses. There’s also bandaids, cigarettes (in one), lots of concealer, and various other aftercare items Celia might have thought to bring to a visit to Paul’s.
Items to ease and conceal pain.
Celia: Jade, with the help of Dicentra, does some quick calculations.
First and second degree burns only damage the upper layer of the skin, the epidermis. It turns red, might get a little sensitive, but the skin repairs easily enough. Even for humans. Third degree burns go deeper. They damage the sweat glands, the hair follicles, everything in the dermis itself.
Those are the three that most people know about. But it gets deeper than that, where fourth and fifth degree damage the fat and muscle so that bones are exposed. Celia had been hit by this sort of damage when Roderick put her in the microwave.
And then there’s the final heat wave, the sixth degree burns that damage bone itself. But bone is made of two types of collagen, calcified and non. Non burns easily. Breaks down easily. It’s the calcified she’s worried about. Because that takes about an hour at three hundred degrees to denature, and she doesn’t think the authorities are going to let the house burn for an hour.
Lucky for her, she’d knows the average house fire can reach over 1100 degrees in a matter of minutes, which accelerates the process at which the bone will break down. Unfortunately… well, unfortunately it’s going to leave behind the hydroxyapatite, and that doesn’t start getting weird until 1300 degrees. Even crematoriums don’t actually reduce bone to ash; they have fragments of it left that they grind into powder once they remove any inorganic bits. (Apparently some people take umbrage with bits of identifiable fragments of their loved ones remaining—who knew?)
Which means… which means the fire won’t cover their tracks completely, but it can be doctored…
Jade moves through the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement, tearing through the darkness to the freezer where he’d said he once kept her. Nothing looks familiar to her even though she knows she’s been here. Or he said she’d been here. Can she really trust him?
It doesn’t matter. She yanks open the door.
And there they are: two girls bolted to the wall with all the trappings Paul had described her in, full bowls of excrement in front of them.
GM: Jade cannot find a basement when she goes looking.
There is a walk-in freezer on the ground floor, though, replete with two blue-faced motionless girls in steel restraints. Ice crystals rim the frozen blood congealed around their slashed throats.
The shit in their bowls is frozen solid.
Celia: Jade yanks out one and then the other, setting them in the living room where she’d found Paul’s whores. She brings the shit with her. That and the cigarettes she’d found in the purse can help explain the fire. Manure is an accelerant. Even human.
GM: The girls’ leashes pull taut against their fixtures in the wall as Jade tugs at them.
Celia: They’re easily discarded with a swipe of claws.
GM: Celia could have used those.
Celia: If only.
Perhaps another lick had saved her, as she… well, not saves, since they’re dead, but… found these women.
Perhaps she’ll find the truth of things when she goes through Paul’s belongings.
Regardless, she doesn’t dwell on it now.
She puts the bodies in their place and starts hacking them apart with her claws, scattering bones to make it look like there are three girls rather than two.
“I’ll see you soon, Mel,” she says into the phone before hanging up, slipping it back into her pocket.
She puts the contents of the cubbies into the car. And, finally, calls up to Pietro, “should I drop this at my dad’s?”
GM: “Drop what at your dad’s?” his voice calls back.
Celia: “The car with the stuff in it.”
GM: “If he’ll stay out of it, sure.”
Celia: “Mel expects the prince’s boys to show up soon.”
GM: “Yeah, probably.”
Celia: “We’re burning it when you’re done.”
GM: “Fire will draw attention. Not good.”
Celia: Jade is up the stairs half a second later.
“Mel said it’d keep the prince from finding anything and explain the deaths of the girls.”
“You can wipe it, yeah? From a seer perspective?”
GM: Jade finds Pietro at work on the retinal scanner. He doesn’t look away from it.
“Let the ghoul take the heat for that. He’s the one who killed them.”
Celia: Jade briefly explains that she’d sort of vanished their bodies.
GM: Pietro swears in Italian, but doesn’t cease his work.
“What the fuck did you do that for? I said get rid of the renfield’s!”
Celia: Because she’s—
It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.
“There were two more in a freezer. I can make it look like those three.”
“Hence the fire.”
GM: “Well that means there’s still two missing, if there’s three out of five girls.”
Celia: “With no ties to him.”
“It’s a problem for future Jade.”
GM: “No, it’s a problem for future Pietro if the Krewe of Janus comes after his ass,” growls Pietro. “And they pretty well are fucking tied to him if they’re dead in his freezer!”
Celia: Oh, good. She’d fucked up again.
GM: “Yeah, fucking great, a fire, six dead bodies, three missing, and one—” Pietro gives another foul-sounding swear in Italian as his fingers dance over exposed wires, “and two cop witnesses! Fucking son of cocksucker, I was gonna take care of those two, but I didn’t fucking sign up for this mess! The Krewe’s going to be over this like-”
There’s a sudden spark from the wiring. Pietro exclaims, “Merda!” just as fire pours from the ceiling.
Through steel nerves and simple distance, Jade keeps her screaming Beast on a firm leash. It will not rule her actions this time. Pietro, though, is not so fortunate. Although the nimble thief avoids the flames, his lightning reflexes do not let him dodge his Beast. Madness overtakes the screaming Toreador’s eyes as he blurs down the stairs, perhaps to the very same spot where Jade waited out her own frenzies.
Celia: There’s a sudden spark from the wiring. Pietro exclaims, “Merda!” just as fire pours from the ceiling.
Through steel nerves and simple distance, Jade keeps her screaming Beast on a firm leash. It will not rule her actions this time. Pietro, though, is not so fortunate. Although the nimble thief avoids the flames, his lightning reflexes do not let him dodge his Beast. Madness overtakes the screaming Toreador’s eyes as he blurs down the stairs, perhaps to the very same spot where Jade waited out her own frenzies.
Jade waits until his Beast has run itself ragged to move in front of him, taking the Toreador by the shoulders to get his attention.
“Listen to me,” she hisses in a low voice. “I am Krewe, and this is all going to plan. You just need to get in there and get out. I’m on the hook for this, not you. I’ll take the fall, not you, and it won’t come back on him. You tell him that. Car is loaded in the garage, guards don’t stop you on the way out of here unless you look sus. Two bodies in the back. Hold them for me.”
“Can you wipe the scene or no?”
GM: Pietro throws her hands off.
“You aren’t Krewe,” he scoffs. “Krewe wouldn’t leave a fat stinking sloppy mess like this! And this is fucking bigger than us, if you missed it! There’s a giant ‘oops’ here, guess who gets blamed? Savoy! And guess who he blames? Us! And guess what that could mean? We’re fucking dead!”
“Fottuto idiota!” he swears.
That’s when they’re joined by a figure apparating out of thin air.
It’s Camilla. She looks terrible. Much of her brown hair is burned away. She’s missing her hat. Her face is sliced open to the bone and missing much of the flesh around her jaw. One of her eyes is gone. Her pale skin is half-shredded and stained with blood, ash, and grime. Her overcoat is little more than blackened rags, poorly sufficing to conceal the ravaged latticework of burned, bruised, and broken flesh beneath. She smells like blood, gunpowder, and drywall. A battered sword hangs from her hip. A scuffed sidearm rests in a tattered shoulder holster.
“You fools are triggering every defense in this place,” rings the hound’s cold voice.
“Cazzo di inferno!” Pietro swears again. A knife suddenly dances across his fingers.
“My sire and I tried to kill the prince’s childe,” Camilla says perfunctorily, not looking at the weapon. “He will not forgive this. I am defecting. I am here to bring Savoy my sire’s secrets to prove my loyalty. You may assist me or you may get out of the way.”
Celia: Anger blazes in her eyes at the thief’s words, but the moment her blood sister appears it vanishes as quickly as it came.
She looks terrible. Concern and relief dance across Celia’s face at the sight of the damage done to Camilla.
“Cami,” she breathes, stepping in front of Pietro before he can do something stupid with his knife. “We’re assisting,” she says firmly.
GM: Pietro swears again in Italian.
“Clean up this fuckwit’s mess if you want to help! Or this will all be for nothing! Oh, sorry, less than nothing! Fucking better to never have come at all! Busted our asses for a kick in the balls!”
Just like that, he’s gone again, back up the stairs.
Camilla’s head turns to Celia’s, exposing a grisly rent along her neck.
“Our time is limited. The prince’s agents will be here soon, if they are not already. What mess?”
Celia: Jade keeps it brief. She can’t quite meet Camilla’s eyes as the words come tumbling out, but at least her voice doesn’t waver. She doesn’t waste time apologizing or saying she fucked up. She can cop to that later.
GM: Camilla listens. She doesn’t waste time with questions or accusations as she hears that Celia disappeared all of the bodies, or that the cops saw them and reported them.
“Simmons’ body must be recreated,” she says shortly. “He is the lynchpin upon which this all rests.”
“It is not viable to conceal there were deaths here. The police report has been made. Responders are already on their way.”
“I will locate the police officers. I will compel them to inebriate themselves from Simmons’ liquor cabinet. I will alter their memories. They will be found to have exaggerated their story. Simmons was found dead with one girl. Not three.”
“You will recreate her body.”
“They will be dead from something ignoble. A drug overdose.”
“No murders. No headlines. Merely a man overindulging himself in bed with a girl half his age.”
“The remaining four girls must be explained, but that is a problem for later, and for Riverbend’s subsequent regent.”
“We will remove the girls’ personal effects. I will alter the guards’ memories to recall the girls leaving Audubon Place. As far as the world will be concerned, they are still alive.”
Camilla stares at Celia, fangs long in her half-ruined mouth.
“I require blood.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t waste time feeling sorry for herself. She has no time to wallow in stupidity or to hear the echoes of voices in her head. She can only hope that Pietro keeps his mouth shut—how many boons to buy his silence on this?—and that Camilla doesn’t write her off.
She listens raptly, already abandoning the idea of explosions and drugs and arson that had begun to formulate in her mind with a million moving pieces. Camilla had told her once before to keep it simple. This is simple.
She needs materials.
“The freezer girls?” she asks, already biting into her wrist to offer it freely to her sister. “I can turn one into him and one into her.” She’ll need more than that, and she won’t be able to sculpt the bone properly, but the hardened collagen she’d planned for her mother and possibly pulling from her own body will have to do.
GM: Camilla walks to the kitchen and retrieves a cup for Celia to bleed into.
“As long as the bodies are visually identifiable, the police will not bother to forensically verify their identities.”
“The girls from the freezer will serve.”
Celia: Celia bleeds until Camilla tells her to stop. This is what sisters are for. She nods at the words.
“I’ll make it work,” she says. Then a murmured word of thanks. No doubt they’ll need to discuss it later, but right now there isn’t time.
GM: “Transform your face,” Camilla says as Celia bleeds. “If Celia Flores is seen here by the prince’s agents, that will have the potential to cause a great many problems for her.”
“Jade Kalani, too, gains nothing from being seen here.”
Celia: Her skin ripples and changes at the command, becoming no one specific. Just another girl on the street.
GM: She must have turned back into Celia, for Camilla to be addressing her so.
Does that happen all on its own, now?
Celia: Worrisome, but perhaps expected with the tumultuous emotions coursing through her right now.
GM: Camilla drinks deeply of the cup. The several cups. Celia watches as her sister’s ruined and ravaged flesh starts to mend before her eyes, though her hair remains in the same burned, half-destroyed state. Hair cells are already dead, after all, but should return over daysleep.
She rinses the cups out and puts them back when she’s done.
Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia murmurs as she fills them. “I tried to reach you. I’m glad you’re safe.” She licks closed the wounds.
Time to get to work.
GM: “Neither of us is safe,” replies Camilla.
“Hide your presence, if you can.”
Then she’s gone.
Celia: “You can go to my dad’s if you need to lie low and can’t get out,” Celia says.
Then she’s gone. Just like their sire.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Celia: Celia vanishes herself, dancing through the shadows of the house to give herself an extra moment to prepare should someone else show up.
Then she moves, working to recreate Paul’s body first. She decides on a pose for him to have died in—half slumped—and gets to work creating the proper narrative. She borrows the drugs from Donovan’s storeroom. Fentanyl. Cheap to produce with a very high risk of overdosing. It’s stronger than morphine. Stronger than heroin. And it comes in various forms, which makes people think they’re doing something else: cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamine, heroin itself. Dealers cut it into the pills or powders or sprays and never let their clients know they’re taking something stronger.
That’s what kills them.
She pockets the small baggie to disperse as needed into the bodies and on the scene. Then she gets to work, carving one of the girls from the freezer and moving her fat and muscles around. The extra padding from her butt, hips, thighs, and chest are used to make her look bigger in the shoulders and stomach, to form a relatively small flaccid penis. Some people think that dicks get hard after death, and they can, but erections require blood circulation. There’s no blood if the heart stops moving. Nothing to make it hard.
Paul’s body comes together nicely. She removes the excess hair from his head—a quick swipe of her claws and half a second lifting her hand to her scalp has it blended in with the auburn curls she’d given herself—to give him the salt-and-pepper wisps she’d just seen, adds the wrinkles to his face that have been seared into her memory, puts the plastic half-smile on his face.
She hates that smile.
Celia pulls collagen from excess tissue to artificially lengthen his bones, hardening it with a touch and adding it to femur, humerus, clavicles, and scapula. When she runs out of material on him she pulls from the other girl in discrete places, giving her a tummy tuck and butt lift and breast reduction.
She smooths it all over once she’s done with the girl, then goes back in for a second round of details to properly set the scene.
Lividity. It’s the way blood settles in the body after death when gravity takes its hold. She makes sure to push and pull it into the right areas, concentrating on Paul’s lower half. Buttocks, back of his legs, one side of his torso when she gives him a slight bend, then the hand she sets on the floor as if he’d simply keeled over while sitting. People don’t pay much attention to that when they stage murders, though people don’t necessarily have her ability to fake it, either. The blood starts to settle around thirty minutes and stops between four and six hours later; a glance at the time has Celia arranging things for somewhere in between. She stiffens the muscles that need to be stiffened to set him up with rigor mortis, and as she works she adds the Fentanyl to his blood stream. It doesn’t take much to OD. She dusts extra powder on the inside of his nose and rolls a bill, dusting powder inside of that as well. She sticks it in both their noses before putting it halfway in Paul’s grip.
Paul seems like the sort of guy to do cocaine rather than heroin. It’s a rich man’s drug. Shame it wasn’t coke at all, really.
She works the girl next, moving the settling blood to her side of her body, curled up between Paul’s legs as if she’d died sucking his cock. She dilates the pupils with a touch, rids both bodies of any evidence of having been frozen, and fills her blood with the drug as well. More powder in her nose. Then a disturbed, messy line of powder residue along her ass, like that’s where Paul had done the coke from. She does the same to his cock. It’s easy to imagine him making a young girl do a line of blow from his dick.
Blow and a blowie.
She’d seen a dead girl once who died on her side like this. She remembers looking at the body wondering where the bruise had come from on her face, why her cheeks were so swollen. The purpling had been corrected with yellow concealer and heavy foundation by the funeral home her family had taken her to, but Celia remembers how the makeup had done little to hide the evidence: she’d been dead for some time before anyone had found her.
She doesn’t go to that same length here. She gives her a similar time of death as Paul, one arm stretched slightly above her head with her cheek on her upper arm and the blood pooled accordingly along her side. She makes sure to darken the organs when she reaches inside to do her work so that it isn’t just flesh that tells the tale.
No clothes for either of them, but Celia raids the kitchen to find two rocks glasses and pours a measure of bourbon in each, then dilutes it with a splash of water to look like melted ice. She curls the girl’s hand around one to leave her prints on the glass and presses her lips against the rim to make it look like she’d been drinking. She does the same for Paul. Some of the prints and lip marks overlap. While the bodies are still open she pushes the same bourbon into their blood streams and stomachs, making sure to dilute it the proper amount.
Celia closes everything up when she’s done, surveying the scene with a critical eye.
She adds a small dusting of powder to his fingers and leaves the baggie laying on the couch behind him and to his right, just where his hand would stretch to.
It’s like Camilla said: Paul and a younger girl who were drinking, fucking, and doing coke. Or MDMA. That’s more of a sex and party drug, and the powdered Fentanyl could have been passed off as either. Sometimes people snort that too.
GM: It’s a convincing-looking scene, when she’s done. Paul the pervert fucking a college girl half his age and overindulging on not-actually-coke.
Maybe it’s something about making Paul with her own hands. Adding the plastic smile. Giving him a better death than he actually met.
But her Beast hates it. She can feel the hunger roaring to life within her as her hands blur at preternatural speeds to stage the scene.
Camilla abruptly returns. The hound looks presentable again. Her face has been washed and she’s changed into a new hat and overcoat, exactly the same as her old ones. As if she had spare clothes stored in her sire’s haven.
She starts to methodically look over the scene.
The Beast hows in Celia’s ears. That’s her blood in Camilla’s veins. She should just take it back…
Celia: She should take it back. Camilla is already hurt, right? She can rip, tear, kill, drink her fill—
It’s her sister.
Abruptly Emily’s face swims in front of her. Not the anger, no, but the look of grief and betrayal she’d had when Celia had tried to feed from her. The accusations of rape. The horror over what had been done to her in the past.
She lifts a hand to slap herself in the face, just like her mother had done, and forces the Beast back into its cage with every bit of willpower she has.
“Look okay?” she asks through clenched teeth.
GM: Camilla regards her, but not overlong before her eyes turn back to “Paul’s” and the girl’s bodies. She examines the bodies, asks a few questions about how their insides look, whether there are chemicals in their blood systems, and nods her satisfaction upon hearing so. She makes a few alterations: the placement of glasses, the location and position of bodies, and a few other subtle details. Her biggest change, though, is retrieving a set of clothes and shoes for Paul and leaving them discarded over the floor, as if he’d just taken them off. Camilla also lays out clothes and shoes for the girl.
Celia can only guess how many times the hound has staged death scenes like this.
“Yes. This will serve.”
Celia: Right. Clothes. She’d overlooked that detail in her desire to get the bodies just right.
She’s glad again for Camilla’s presence. This would have been a terrible, terrible mess without her.
GM: “That will be all for now. I am going to bring the police officers back inside. Make yourself scarce if you think you could frenzy. Dead or injured police are the last thing any of us need.”
Celia: “You want me to leave you.”
Half a question, half incredulous statement. She can’t deny the wisdom in the command, but she can’t just leave Camilla to fend for herself. What if someone shows up?
Hunger gnaws at her. The Beast lurks just below the surface. Who nearby will not be missed if she loses the battle against it once more?
She’s in Riverbend. They’ll all be missed.
Celia reaches into her pocket, tossing Camilla one of the burner phones she’d liberated from upstairs. She rattles off her number and says she’ll be back after she takes the edge off.
GM: “I need to speak to the police officers. You cannot be nearby if your Beast is close to the surface,” Camilla says simply.
She catches the phone and tucks it into her coat.
“You do not have time to hunt. Stay nearby and veiled. We need to be ready to leave as soon as Silvestri is done.”
Celia: “Hope you have a stake handy,” Celia says, a twinge of contrition in her voice.
GM: “I do.”
Celia: “I’ll be in the garage.”
With the door closed, she won’t be able to see or smell the police outside. She won’t be dangerous. She’ll tuck herself inside the car she’d loaded things into earlier and curl up on the floor as Luna.
Then she’s gone, slipping through the house to let herself into the garage.
GM: Camilla is gone just as swiftly. But not before repeating her prior words:
“Neither of us is safe while we are here.”
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
GM: Celia’s phone buzzes on her way to the garage. The caller ID is Mom.
Celia: Celia lets the text go for a moment, eyeballing the safe in the garage. She wonders if she can get it into the SUV by herself, or if… no, she’s not that strong.
Where’s that boy Draco when she needs heavy things lifted?
The thought of him doesn’t hurt as much as it had earlier. She slips into the back seat of the SUV, hunkers down on the floor, and texts her mother back.
She wonders if Camilla would want to meet her mother. If Diana would love Camilla as much as she loves Emily.
She doesn’t think she’d ever explained her real sire to her mother. She’d still pretended, even there, that she was Veronica’s, though she’d never mentioned the name, had she?
Something else to come clean over.
And for the first time in her Requiem, the thought of telling someone about her true sire doesn’t make her throat close up.
GM: There’s another text from her dad.
Are you coming by, sweetie? I’m headed back to bed soon if not.
Celia: She hadn’t forgotten about her dad, but she doesn’t know if she needs to hide out there or not. She sends a vague “car trouble, sorry!” text to him that doesn’t really answer his question.
GM: Her mother replies,
I’m so sorry for her. Do you think that’ll be safe? I am cautious after how things went with Caroline.
Celia: I think so. But I’ll talk to her first. Lotta stuff up in the air right now. Will have to tell you about it tomorrow. Too long to text lol.
GM: Her dad texts her back to let him know when it’s fixed.
Ok. If you think it’d be safe, and she’d be more like Pete, then I’d be happy to meet her. :)
Celia: I think she’s more Pete-like than she lets on to most people tbh.
GM: Like with you and Jade?
Celia: No, not like that.
Just kind of like it’s pretend with her, if that makes sense. Like a front.
Idk, I really like her though.
Talked to Alana btw. She said sorry and that she won’t bother you again.
Celia takes a break from her phone to glance around the garage, as if she’s able to see anything going on beyond the walls.
GM: The garage remains still and undisturbed.
She sounds like someone worth knowing if that’s how you feel. :)
Emi’s asleep. She went to bed a little while after you made up. Glad you did.
Glad to hear that about Alana.
Celia: She hopes everything is going okay inside. She hates how close she came to losing control; she’s been nothing but a liability here.
No time, she reminds herself. No time for this. She’d fixed it. It’ll be okay. Camilla is here. She’ll ask Pietro not to say anything. Or maybe see if Camilla will—
No, he’ll still be irritated with her. She remembers Pete’s and Caroline’s words about the intensity of emotions. A boon, maybe. Two? That’s enough to buy silence, isn’t it? She can ask. Worst he says is no.
Glad we did too. Felt terrible. I don’t know what I was thinking.
Tell you what though I could go for like a whole pizza right now, hahaha. She includes a pizza emoji.
Is that weird to talk about with her mom?
Her mind moves back to the safe. There’s got to be something interesting in there, right? They’ll load it up before they go.
She wishes she could do it herself. That she were stronger. Maybe she’ll see about grafting more muscle onto herself. The lean kind so no one knows.
Maybe she can even move the muscles in her body right now to bulk up certain areas. Bulging biceps. How much effort to lift the safe?
No, that won’t work. Lift with your legs, that’s the rule. Not that she can throw her back out. But lifting something like that is a full body motion; only bulking her top half won’t matter much.
The thoughts keep her mind busy. Keep her from worrying about what’s going on inside the house. Keep her from thinking about her sire’s hatred. Keep her from thinking about the loss of two loves that have turned to hatred so that she doesn’t fall apart in the car.
Later. Later she can dissect everything running through her. Not now. Not safe here, that’s what Camilla said. She can’t lose her head here. She has to be calm. Focused.
GM: Draco could probably lift it.
It’s not that big. The size might be awkward, but even just her pitching in might be enough.
Maybe he could even do it all himself. Heft the thing over his shoulders.
Maybe Reggie or Randy could also do it.
Where’s a man to lift something heavy when she needs one?
Oh can you not get anything right now? her mom texts back.
Celia: Draco could lift a lot of things. Like her. Over his shoulder, or in his arms, carry her into—
She needs someone new to fantasize about. Someone else who makes her fangs long in her mouth. Someone else whose hot, fiery blood warms her in just the same way.
Celia pushes these thoughts aside as well. She doesn’t need Pietro and Camilla getting into the car wondering why she’s dry-humping the air.
In the middle of some stuff.
GM: Anything I can help with?
Seeing as I’m still up
Celia: Can she? Celia considers the question.
Not sure. Nothing jumps to mind right now. Will let you know though.
Celia: Unless you want to deliver a frozen pizza or something hahaha
She glances at the time. How long until they’re ready? She hates sitting here not doing anything.
GM: How badly do you need one? You know with Abi now I need all my strength, but if it’s an emergency…
Celia: Nah it’s more than I’m comfortable with. You know how I get. Gonna stop at a drive thru or something.
Celia glances into the space behind her seat, sifting through the bags. Maybe there’s blood back here. It’s one of the things elders and smart people stock up on in case of the civil war Rod had been so worried about, isn’t it?
GM: She sees none.
Celia: Maybe her sire isn’t—wasn’t?—that smart then.
GM: Or at least doesn’t keep his blood in the exact car she happens to be in.
Celia: But the wine cellar. Has to be blood instead of wine, doesn’t it? Why would Donovan have wine.
GM: Maybe he appreciates a good Bordeaux in his vessels’ veins.
Celia: No. He appreciates terror and pain.
And obedience, maybe.
GM: Paul gave her plenty of that and no Bordeaux.
Sounds good, let me know if there’s ever anything! texts her mom.
Celia: Camilla had told her to make herself scarce. But what if she’s in trouble? What if Celia hadn’t heard someone arrive and she’s fighting for her unlife?
Hunger and worry vie for domination.
GM: Oppressive silence is Celia’s only answer.
Celia: She can imagine the report Pietro and Camilla give her grandsire: “we did all the work while Celia made a mess."
Then he’ll ask why she did what she did. And she won’t have a good answer for him. After she’d told Pete she’d knock it off. And Pietro will mock her again for the Masquerade fuckup, and maybe he’ll eventually ask how she was going to “handle it” and “keep it from coming back on him,” and she’ll have to say…
She purses her lips.
No, he’s not going to see her anyway. She won’t have to say anything.
She slumps back in her seat, staring at the garage door.
Do you think Dad was telling the truth about the mood disorder & the specialist he saw?
GM: Her mother’s answering text is nigh-immediate, despite the length.
Sweetie, there is no way we can ever know for sure. Not even if he took a polygraph. That’s why I kicked him out. I am taking no chances with Lucy’s safety. I am not taking even a 1% chance that he will abuse her like he abused us.
Celia: Celia could find out. All she has to do is go across the street and spill some salt on him.
She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t tempted. But there’s no time to think about that right now. Celia makes sure her phone is on silent before she slides it into her pocket. Then she closes her eyes, disappearing into her self.
She’s hungry. But she’s messed up this evening. And she cannot afford to make anymore mistakes. Her sire is dead. Her sister says the house isn’t safe. Her ex is waiting outside Audubon and multiple licks have said that the prince’s agents are on the way.
She doesn’t have time for hunger.
Her Beast rears its ugly head, but the girls inside of it snap back. They are in control. Celia is in control. Jade is in control. Not the Beast. Not the monster that only wants to fight and fuck. No, a different sort of predator stalks the night.
Jade slips from the car with her stolen face, sticking to the shadows in her way to the door. Quietly, she starts to open it a tiny bit to find out what’s going on inside.
She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t tempted. But there’s no time to think about that right now. Celia makes sure her phone is on silent before she slides it into her pocket. Then she closes her eyes, disappearing into her self.
She’s hungry. But she’s messed up this evening. And she cannot afford to make anymore mistakes. Her sire is dead. Her sister says the house isn’t safe. Her ex is waiting outside Audubon and multiple licks have said that the prince’s agents are on the way.
She doesn’t have time for hunger.
Her Beast rears its ugly head, but the girls inside of it snap back. They are in control. Celia is in control. Jade is in control. Not the Beast. Not the monster that only wants to fight and fuck. No, a different sort of predator stalks the night.
She doesn’t have time for hunger.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Celia: Jade slips from the car with her stolen face, sticking to the shadows in her way to the door. Quietly, she opens the door a fraction of an inch to peer inside.
GM: Opening the garage door takes Jade to the rear foyer, where Paul has his laundry machines and seemingly uses for storage space. The average family’s garage foyer may be a catch-all teeming with belongings that have no home elsewhere, are forgotten upon drop-off, or which family members take with them to and from the car. Paul’s foyer, though, is immaculately clean and organized. It looks as empty-souled as the rest of his house.
Past the foyer’s other door is the living room.
Jade hears voices and footsteps. Many people’s footsteps.
Angry, yelling voices.
“The fuck? You idiots see a dead guy and figure, ‘hey, party time?’”
Celia: At least she doesn’t need to worry about tripping over something and alerting the cops to her presence. He was good for something after all.
The words from the other room bring a small sense of relief. It sounds like Camilla was successful in making the officers on scene forget what they saw. The alcohol had been a good cover.
Jade slips further into the foyer to view the scene with her own eyes, peering around the door frame. She doesn’t want to be caught unawares by cops or licks.
GM: Doing so requires Jade to open the door leading from the foyer into the living room. She sees police and paramedics on-scene. Some are gathered around the bodies, seemingly attempting to ascertain the cause of death. Several police are exchanging furiously heated words with the officers Jade has already met, who look badly inebriated.
Camilla stands amidst the center of the mortals. No one looks at her.
She regards Jade’s presence questioningly. And not especially kindly.
Celia: Jade, still with the stolen face, sends a look back to Camilla. The worried sort. The “checking to make sure things are okay” sort. She gives a tiny thumbs up and dips back into the foyer.
GM: Camilla does not look pleased by the faint creak of the closing door, but at least this time, no one among the occupied responders seems to notice.
Celia: Make yourself scarce, she’d said. So Jade goes back to waiting. Camilla seems to have it under control.
GM: Celia’s face stares back at her from the foyer clock’s dim reflection.
Its hands tick by. Voices continue to sound from the living room beyond, followed by with duller, heavier noises.
Celia: Tick tock goes the clock.
Celia: But only for a moment. Camilla had told her to make herself scarce, not to make herself useless. She slips back into the garage and eyes the safe. Something interesting has to be inside, right? Otherwise the cops, and Pietro, wouldn’t have wanted to take it.
Allow me, purrs the voice in her head, and Jade slinks across the floor to stand before the safe.
I may not be the best night doc in the state, she’d said earlier. But she is. Through sheer versatility she can accomplish things that the others can’t do. Things they don’t even think about. Things that don’t occur to them to attempt. For the entirety of her existence she has been so many things to so many people, flowing into the crevices of the mold their expectations create. Is it any wonder that she has adapted that attitude with her physical as well as her mental state?
She is not a brawler. Not a hacker. Not a mind-reader.
She is a skeleton key.
The Chameleon offers the safe a predatory smile; the contents will be theirs.
Without delay The Chameleon gets to work. Dicentra watches over their shoulder to provide additional medical support and intel on the bodily manipulation. They begin by pressing a hand to the safe’s lock.
Articular cartilage cushions the bones in wrist and finger. Each joint in the hand and wrist is cushioned by this articular cartilage: between the phalanges and metacarpals, the metacarpals and the carpal, the carpals themselves. Yet more tendons run the length of the hand from wrist to just below the tips of the finger, providing allowing for the flexion, extension, and opposition of the hand.
The Chameleon and Dicentra focus on this cartilage and these tendons, and calls further yet from the stolen body parts of the dead gunman. Their flesh ripples as tissue moves from the “storage space” in the hollow stomach to the shoulders, biceps, forearms, and finally into the hands.
There, Dicentra says, and the Chameleon nods its head as its index finger locks into place. The extensor indicis tendon disconnects from the extensor digitorum, rendering the finger inert. Like a worm slinking through the earth, the tendon inches its way down the index finger until it reaches the nailbed; The Chameleon splits its skin open with a thought to let the dense, fibrous connection tissue to move into the open air.
The tendon slithers into the keyhole.
Collagen makes up the connective tissues of tendons. Celia, Dicentra, and Jade have all used this substance before for a variety of purposes. Like them, it lends itself well to whichever task is needed.
Now it’s needed to crack a safe.
Locks are designed to only open when a specific key applies the right amount of pressure to the pins, which cause the springs to move aside the tumbler. Move all of the tumblers and the lock opens. In this regard it’s rather like a double-handled door held shut by a pipe between the handles: once you remove the pipe, the door opens.
More complex locks contain more tumblers (or more pipes in the above example), but no matter how many exist the process remains the same: move the tumblers, move the bolt that secures the container.
Nervous tissue spans the entirety of the human / Kindred body. The central nervous system connects to the brain and tells it what to feel and how to adjust, while the peripheral nervous system contains the neurons that, through dendrites and axoms, carry messages from synapse to synapse back to the CNS. It’s automatic or somatic, controlling the automated personal needs (like pupils adjusting to light), and allowing beings to feel. Eyes, ears, skin, muscle: it all contains the neurons that feed back to the CNS, and it all takes orders from the CNS to make muscles contract or relax. That allows us to move.
The Chameleon uses the neurons in the tendons to find the pins in the keyhole, applying the specific amount of pressure to move the spring and adjust the tumbler. It moves one pin at a time; once it finds the right size it hardens that bit of collagen and cartilage to keep the spring activated and moves on to the next, repeating the process until every single pin has pressed against every single adjoining spring to slide every single tumbler out of the way.
Once done, it’s just a matter of twisting the collagen key to free the bolt that secures the safe.
GM: The Chameleon is at it for some time, carefully fitting its tendons to fit the pins. After all, perhaps there is a lockout delay. Pietro once told Jade that it’s a very, very common security measure used by Kindred and ghouls with safes. The ability to enter a thousand combinations in the blink of an eye becomes moot if a failed combination locks you out for a minute, a half hour, or even longer.
It’s more than that, too. Gui’s voice is also there. The Ventrue mafioso knew a few things about breaking and entering, and Jade ripped that knowledge from his screaming soul when she devoured him. It guides the Chameleon’s hand even now.
The safe clicks open.
The Chameleon sees stacks of $100 bills in mustard currency straps labeled $10,000. It counts ten stacks, bringing the total to $100,000. There’s also a variety of documents, including a foreign passport in Paul’s name, the deed to his house in Audubon Place, and a last will and testament from Paul Simmons to a one Timothy Peters. A casual inspection of the will states that Peters is to be left all of Paul’s worldly possessions.
Last of all, there is a handgun with ammunition, and two white pills.
Celia: An empty safe is just as telling as a room tossed for furniture. The Chameleon knows this, and when Gui whispers the assent in its ear it nods its head.
The documents interest it. It takes photos with Jade’s phone of the various papers, then pockets the will that cedes everything to Peters. The name doesn’t ring a bell, but then The Chameleon isn’t quite able to focus as deeply as it would like when even tiny movements pull at its charred flesh and send agony rippling through the neuron synapses to alert its brain.
It shoves the cash inside of itself. Not all of it, but 80% of the hundred grand; who would look askance at a safe that holds 20k when 20k is a lot to most people? 20k isn’t unusual for a rich man like Paul to have on hand, but 100k might be.
No one will miss it.
The Chameleon pilfers the pills, the gun, the ammo, tucking that inside as well.
It gives the safe a last look over.
GM: The Chameleon’s belly visibly swells as it adds the gun, ammo, and eight stacks of bills into its flesh.
Not a bad haul.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s not overlong before the door opens and Camilla strides in. She glances at the open safe, then starts looking through the contents.
“Take the rest of the money. The next individuals likely to see the inside of this safe are the prince’s agents, and there’s no sense in leaving them with a cash windfall.”
“What else did you remove?”
Celia: “Gun. Ammo. Pills. Last will.”
The Chameleon takes the rest of the money.
GM: “Take the rest. The prince is already going to know the house was robbed.”
Celia: It needs no further encouragement. Quick movements empty the safe of the remaining contents.
“Everything good inside?”
GM: “Sufficient. We do not have time for me to supervise the entirety of the police investigation. Come.”
Camilla turns and leaves the garage.
Celia: The Chameleon wastes no further time; it strides after Celia’s sister, safe closing gently behind it. Maybe someone else will waste time trying to get in and be rewarded with nothing.
GM: In the foyer, Camilla twists one of the coat hangers. A concealed door-sized panel in the wall slides open, revealing a set of stairs.
She waits for the Chameleon to follow her inside, then presses a button in the wall. The door panel silently closes behind them.
Celia: Jade is impressed. Celia is reminded of the story Paul had told her about taking her into the basement.
The Chameleon simply starts down the stairs.
“Silvestri?” it asks in a quiet voice.
GM: The stairs lead upwards rather than downwards, but level off after only a few steps. Camilla strides briskly through an unlit corridor narrow enough that the two Kindred must walk in single file.
“He is still entering the vault. Both of you have set off a thousand alerts to my, our sire’s, and his servants’ phones, for all the good that will now do.”
Celia: “Sorry,” Celia murmurs. “I didn’t want anything to fall into the wrong hands. Hasty and reckless.”
GM: “Harmless in this case. Everyone whose phone was linked to this house’s alarm system is now either dead or seeking to rob the house.”
The hound’s footsteps dully sound against the hard floor.
“Should you find yourself attempting to infiltrate a powerful Kindred’s haven in the future, however, know that your recent actions would have greatly jeopardized your success. Technology has made it easier than ever to become aware of intruders in one’s haven, and often without an intruder ever realizing they have triggered an alarm.”
Celia: “Yes, Camilla. Thank you.”
She tucks the information away. No doubt she’ll need it some day.
“Can you make him forget.”
Celia: “Silvestri. The fiasco.”
GM: Camilla stops in front of a mirror-shaped window in the wall. She stares out from it, surveying the police and med techs who are even now still documenting the scene of Paul’s and the girls’ bodies. No one looks back at them through the window.
Celia thinks she calls Paul having a mirror in his living room around this spot. It was a kitschy piece of art she didn’t pay any mind to.
After a moment of inspection, Camilla resumes her march down the corridor.
“Is he the sole individual aware of it?”
Celia: “The specifics. Mélissaire was told there were bodies that vanished. That cops saw. Could convince her she misunderstood what I said.”
“Shouldn’t have come.” She’s not going to beat herself up about it further. Not here. There’s no time. She watches the emergency workers in the next room.
GM: “And if you cannot convince her, or she has already relayed your words to Lord Savoy?”
Camilla keeps walking. The tight corridors split off in multiple directions. There are mirrors along each one staring out at the house’s rooms. Camilla takes several turns, then a flight of stairs leading up.
Celia: Celia follows behind. It’s a brilliant setup. She takes notes for her own future haven rather than commenting on Camilla’s use of the address ‘Lord’ when she had burned Jade only nights ago for saying the same.
GM: Nights ago she wasn’t defecting to Lord Savoy’s side.
Celia: “Could spin it. Just can’t explain the cops.” She lifts her shoulders. “Already displeased with me.”
“Is she dead? The Ventrue.”
GM: “I do not know,” answers Camilla.
The pair pass Pietro. He’s still at work in front of the vault door with a very pissed off expression. Then he’s gone, as Camilla rounds another corner. She stops in front of a heavy steel door with a retinal scanner. Camilla scans her eyes, then removes a keycard from her coat and swipes it over the lock.
Celia: A pang of guilt thrums through her at the thief’s expression. She keeps moving.
GM: The door whirs open. Celia smells blood. Camilla strides inside. The scent of blood grows stronger. They’re in a bare room full of computer terminals and security monitors. The monitors cover every room within the house, as well as several feeds around Audubon Place’s perimeter and gatehouse. The police, who’ve seemingly taken over for Blackwatch tonight, look sharp-eyed and alert.
There are further feeds into rooms that Celia doesn’t immediately recognize. It’s in one of them that she spots her father. Maxen is reading a book in his living room and looks half-asleep. In another feed, Edward McGregor lies asleep in his bed. Celia sees the faces of several more sleeping neighbors in their bedrooms. Seemingly every house in Audubon Place has been fitted with cameras watching the residents’ private lives.
Celia: He’d been watching. Her whole life, he’d been watching. She’d been watching. Someone had been watching.
“I’d wondered how he knew.”
She stares into the monitor with the feed at her father’s house.
GM: The book Maxen is reading looks like a presidential biography on Andrew Jackson, though his eyes are half-closed. After a moment, he shakes himself awake, glances at the time on his phone, then turns a page in the book.
There’s also two corpses splayed over the ground. Black men in seemingly their middle years, with closely shaved heads and dressed in servants’ uniforms. Their bodies are thin and their cheeks hollow. Their throats have been gruesomely slashed. Blood pools over the floor. There’s no shock or even pain written across their faces, though. Just vacant, zombie-liked stares.
Camilla glances at them, then types a password into one of the security terminals. She doesn’t bother to sit.
“He knew everything in Audubon Place.”
The (former?) hound removes her phone, glances at it, then types another string of characters into the terminal.
Celia: Celia slides her gaze to the bodies, then back to Maxen.
“He was there the night I went to kill my father. That’s when he took me.” Her expression stills. “He hated me.” She’d given him everything, would have given him even more, and he hated her the whole time.
She twists her lips into the mockery of a smile.
“Maxen is expecting me. If we don’t need to lie low there I’ll send him to bed.”
GM: “He neither hated nor loved us, until the end. Tools are unworthy of emotion, save anger when they fail in their function.”
Camilla removes a USB stick from her coat and plugs it into the terminal. Celia watches data start to copy over.
“We will not stay here. Our grandsire will want what we’ve recovered as soon as possible.”
Celia: Celia hasn’t recovered anything. But she doesn’t say that. She sends a text to her father that she isn’t going to make it tonight, she’s sorry, she’ll call him tomorrow.
GM: “Much of the prince’s strength was likely destroyed tonight. Lord Savoy will move soon. Our sire’s tactical and strategic data should prove a considerable asset.”
Celia watches in real time as her father glances down at his phone and types back that he’ll talk to her then, and that he loves her. He yawns, closes the book, and walks upstairs to his bedroom.
“No one will miss these men,” states Camilla. “Turn one of them into me.”
Celia: Celia gets to work. She picks the body closest to Camilla in size and crouches beside it, using her claws and fingers to sculpt muscle and flesh into a perfect likeness of the (former?) hound.
“What about his master?” Celia asks from the ground, where she builds a mound of tissue into a pair of breasts.
GM: Camilla shakes her head.
“The prince will know of his final death, if he does not already.”
Celia: Then, a moment later, “Will I alter your face before we see Lord Savoy?”
GM: “No. Save the vitae. But perhaps later.”
Camilla glances down at the body as her sister-in-blood sculpts the flesh.
“Work quickly. Our time is limited.”
“I have been Kindred for approximately sixty years. The body should appear in a state of advanced decay.”
“If we are able to convince the prince’s agents of my demise through your help, that will earn you some measure in redemption in our grandsire’s eyes.”
Celia: I may not be the best night doc in the state, she’d said earlier. But she is.
Any knob off the street could turn this black man into Camilla Doriocourt with a handful of quick changes. But Celia, Jade, and Dicentra are not some knob off the street. They’re educated, resourceful licks with a medical degree and plenty of first-hand experience conducting interactions with both the living and the dead.
Celia gives herself the burst of speed that she needs to complete her task in a fraction of the usual time; she relinquishes control to Jade and Dicentra and their hands blur across the body of the dead male.
Sixty years dead. Sixty years of decomposition that Dicentra mimics in sixty seconds.
Decomposition begins to occur minutes after death. Without the blood circulation and respiratory functions the body has no way of getting oxygen or eliminating waste; the excess carbon dioxide ruptures cell membranes, leading to released enzymes that begin to eat the cells from the inside out. Tiny little blisters form on organs and skin. When they rupture they create a sheen on the body, and the skin begins to loosen. Those enzymes released earlier create their own gasses; the body’s bacteria emits a compound containing sulfur that causes skin discoloration.
The body bloats. Some of them double in size, even. They start to stink; Jade recalls the stench outside of Joel’s room. Citrus, but not summer lemonade on warm sunny days. More like a can of industrial orange cleaner mixed with a bucket of fish that has been left in the sun to rot for a week. It’s this putrefication that calls to necrophagic insects to eat the decaying flesh, lay eggs in the body’s open cavities, and begin the process again.
But Kindred don’t have bacteria in their guts. Any they once had are long dead; even if the corpse of a young lick went through the autolysis and bloat of a human cadaver there would be little to no stench to summon the flesh-eating insects.
Which alters the decomposition of a Kindred corpse. No insects means that the decay happens more slowly, though with a corpse as old as Camilla’s, and even Celia’s, the active decay will both begin and end. Organs, muscles, skin—it all liquifies, seeping out of the body’s orifices to pool in rancid puddles on the ground. Once the soft tissue is gone just the hair, bones, and cartilage remain.
Then it begins to skeletonize.
The rates vary according to a number of factors: humidity, ambient temperature, season, fat content. Even the location itself can affect the way a body begins to skeletonize. As humid and warm as New Orleans is, the process of decomposition happens more rapidly, allowing the skeletonization to begin.
Sixty years dead, there will be little left of Camilla Doriocourt besides the skeleton itself.
Jade doesn’t waste time building Doriocourt from the black man. She strips apart the skin and uses her hands to pulverize the soft tissues inside into little more than liquid, like some sort of organ soup. She leaves some of the collagen and cartilage intact, knowing that she’ll need it to shape the skeleton, and tips the body to splash some of the liquid onto the floor. As if it had leaked from the rapidly decaying body.
Unable to do proper bone work, Jade improvises. A glance at this skeleton could convince someone that it is Doriocourt who died—the facial features remain even with skeletonization from the dry skin stretched across the bones—but anyone with a deeper medical knowledge of male and female anatomy will be able to spot the difference.
So she fixes it. Because she is the best night doc in the state.
Male skulls have a boney ridge on the brow line and a heavier, square shaped mandible. The skull itself slopes backwards. On a female the shape is different: her forehead is vertical, the mandible is rounded, and even the orbits are more rounded than the male’s square. Jade uses the borrowed cartilage and collagen to sculpt the skull into the proper shape, evening out the slope of the skull, rounding the edges of the orbit, softening the square of the mandible.
She moves lower, focusing on the pelvis. While she cannot adjust the bone itself, she can and does loosen the ligaments to place the pelvic bones as needed. She widens the pubic arch, sculpts yet more collagen and cartilage onto the ilium to create the illusion of wider hips, and shifts the pubis to create the wider opening of a female.
Maybe that would be enough for most night docs. But Dicentra isn’t most night docs, and she puts the finishing touches on the pelvis: the ventral arc. The elevated ridge of bone is found in females but not males (though they have a bony ridge it’s not a true arc), and the most pronounced of them create the squared-off appearance of the pubis.
Skeleton re-sculpted with the additional hardened tissue, Dicentra closes it back up. The only thing left to do is dry and darken the skin, stretch it taut across the bones, and shift the facial features into Camilla’s. A gross, dried out version of Camilla, but Camilla all the same.
Not the best, she’d said.
What a lark.
“I mean our sire’s master,” Jade/Celia says from the floor.
As dry and desiccated as the Camilla corpse is, Jade/Celia still thinks it looks better than her. Each movement of her hands had cracked and split her burned skin, stretching it across her muscles to send sharp agony through her body.
At least it’s over quickly. She’d rather suffer intense pain for a minute than prolonged pain for an hour or more.
GM: Not the best, she’d said.
But Camilla could likely ask for little better.
And could likely ask for nothing at all, if Jade/Celia weren’t here.
Camilla interjects, initially, to explain that Kindred corpses decay at a slower rate than mortal corpses. A sixty-year-dead vampire’s body should not be a skeleton, but somewhere between decayed corpse and dessicated mummy.
Yet her words soon prove extraneous, for Jade/Celia reaches that conclusion already. Flesh, as ever, is clay in Jade/Celia’s hands and submits to her will. The zombie-faced black man is soon no more, and Camilla Doriocourt lies dead and rotting on the ground in his place.
Jade/Celia can feel her own flesh reshaping, too. Perhaps on another occasion, she would not notice it. But this time, she does. It hurts. Cracked and burned and charred flesh is put through the ringer and twisted into agonizing new shapes. The driver changes and the car changes to match. No more confusion. No more mix-ups, Jade had said.
Camilla, meanwhile, removes the USB stick from the port and slips it back inside her coat. Her fingers fly across the keyboard, typing what looks like a script into a terminal.
“I am uncertain what you are asking,” she replies, then looks over the fleshcrafted corpse.
“Good work. This will be enough.”
“Change back your face. Celia or Jade being seen here only invites greater danger upon you.”
Celia: Good work.
It’s the sort of praise her sire would never bestow upon her, but here is her sister giving her the recognition she deserves. Celia cannot help but smile down at the corpse as she finishes her work. The damaged muscles beneath her flesh scream their displeasure at the movement.
She rises, burned skin already rippling to take another face.
Concerning that it continues to shift without her active consent. No more mix-ups. Jade and Celia take a back seat to The Chameleon, an androgynous face and body with a slim waist and narrower hips than the typical woman.
“Donovan’s master,” The Chameleon clarifies. “He was never Vidal’s man. I am asking what we do about him.”
GM: “Nothing,” answers Camilla.
Pain lances through the Chameleon’s body at the change.
“The prior face was better. A female one is more forgettable and consistent with your clothing than an androgynous face.”
Celia: The Chameleon can assume any face. It resumes the mask of the auburn-haired female.
GM: Camilla closes the script terminal, then starts placing what look like explosive charges along various points throughout the room.
Celia: “We do not inform Lord Savoy when you tell him the rest of his sire’s secrets?”
“Do you know of it, or do we need to discuss later?”
GM: Camilla glances again at the security monitors, scrolling through more feeds. The responders in the living room are finally taking away Paul’s and the girl’s bodies.
“I have no secrets to relay concerning Maria Pascual that our grandsire does not already know,” Camilla answers. “Answer what he asks of you, if anything. Otherwise, speak to no one of your sire whom Lord Savoy has not already entrusted with that information.”
Celia: Maria Pascual. Her great-grandsire. Is that who Donovan had served this whole time? But Maria is a feminine; she’d be marquise or marchionesses, not marquis—
No. The dead do not recognize genders; a female prince is still a prince. Only the kine bother to change the titles to feminize them.
The lick with the made up face only nods.
“What else can I do?”
GM: “Speak plainly. What you know or believe you know concerning our sire’s activities could place you in vastly greater danger than you realize.”
“I am not choosing to fabricate my final death for frivolous reasons.”
Celia: “When Donovan Embraced Celia he took her into the abyss of his mind. She was shown who he was, why he defected from his sire’s camp, and who he truly served. Marquis d’Avignon. Is this Maria Pascual?”
Celia: “The old foe that Vidal has defeated twice?”
GM: “The prince has done no such thing.”
Celia: “Then who is the marquis?”
GM: Camilla glances back across the security monitors.
“That is a conversation for another time and place.”
Celia: The imaginary face nods once more. “I will say nothing of it.”
GM: “Good. Speak of that name to no one, and only to Lord Savoy if directly asked.”
Celia: “Yes, Camilla.”
GM: “Do you or Silvestri possess any nearby allies?”
Celia: “Durant is waiting to provide escort once we leave Audubon.”
GM: “Is Durant loyal to Savoy?”
“Or to Celia?”
GM: “What pseudonym is he using tonight?”
“He may be with Setites.”
GM: Camilla picks up a landline phone, recites what sounds like a pass phrase, and orders that anyone who identifies themselves as ‘Draco’, along with any other passengers in their car, is to be let through into Audubon. All other traffic until dawn is to be denied entrance.
A male-sounding voice answers in the affirmative.
Celia: The lick taps off a message to the boy in question, alerting him to his clearance into Audubon.
GM: I could already get in if I wanted to. Why should I now?
Celia: “He wants to know why come in now.”
GM: “You have help. The prince’s agents are watching and his own help my prove instrumental in our escape. It is better if he and his friends wait in their car outside of the house and can be ready to depart with the recovered materials as soon as possible.”
Celia: She relays the information to Draco.
GM: She receives no response.
Celia: You said you were coming to escort. Is that still true?
GM: No response.
Celia: If not lmk. Will need to adjust plans accordingly.
GM: There is still no response.
Meanwhile, Camilla’s visage runs and flows like water, coalescing into a small-framed Caucasian female. She closes down the terminal and slings the body over her shoulders.
“There is a ghoul newly in my service, formerly in our sire’s, named Jamal Harrison. Are you familiar with his appearance?”
GM: “Make the other body resemble him. You may remove flesh from me if you require more materials.”
Celia: “Draco has not responded,” the girl says, already bending her knees to balance on the balls of her feet to adjust the second body. “We are not as close as we were, though I do not believe he would leave me to fight alone without Savoy’s direct order. The hatchet was supposedly buried.”
Slender fingertips work against the body of the slain man. There is no shaving here; the night doctor expands the body this time, adding mass as needed. She does not yet cut into Camilla for the flesh, but opens the skin of her abdominal cavity to pull the borrowed tissue from the gunman.
Borrowed. As if she’d return it.
The thought makes her giggle.
On its own the muscles, ligaments, and tendons from the gunman seep from her opened stomach to adhere to the ghoul, like snakes slithering through the air. For a moment the pair of bodies are joined via tissue bridge; while the meat is connected to the night doctor’s body it moves at her mental command, and only once it has settled into the appropriate positions does she sever it from herself to make it truly part of the man.
“Date of ghouling?” she asks as she continues to work.
GM: “Irrelevant,” Camilla answers. “A ghoul’s body will not give away its true age unless all vitae is expunged from its system.”
Celia: Two of the girls inside of her are intimately familiar with the man she seeks to create on the floor. She recalls him towering over her, hands on her throat, and she lengthens and broadens his fingers accordingly. She recalls him beneath her, face flushed while she takes her pleasure, and broadens the shoulders and pecs she’d scratched open with her claws when she found the release she’d craved.
When the likeness is complete and Camilla has given her the approximate age of the ghoul, Dicentra begins the process of decomposition.
GM: Camilla watches the girl work, hands blurring and turning a labor of potentially an hour into less than a minute.
“Good work,” she repeats. She lays down the smaller body for the girl to take and hefts the larger one across her shoulders.
Celia: “Is Harrison available for trade or purchase?”
GM: “No. All of my other ghouls are likely dead.”
“Nor would he obey any domitor who could not physically overpower him.”
Celia: “Then I’ll find a combat instructor.”
The night doctor hefts the smaller body over her shoulder. Even someone relatively weak can move a significant amount of weight in the fireman’s carry: Nova is even smaller than her and she’s seen the Malk lug the dog around on her shoulders as if he were a toy poodle.
The movements disturb the charred skin, but the pain stays buried deep inside of her where no one can see.
GM: “You are overconfident to believe you might so easily defeat a trained killer decades into the Blood. He would likely rape you. The point is also moot.”
Camilla opens the door and proceeds down the narrow hallway.
“I am aware of your sexual history with Harrison. He is not for sale. I have been left with almost nothing after tonight. I likely have no other ghouls. I no longer possess a domain, herd, or mortal agents. I am without title or office or reputation. I am without friends or allies save you. I am penniless but for the cash recovered from Simmons’ safe. I approach our grandsire with nothing save the clothes on my back, the secrets within my mind, and the one servant I have salvaged from this disaster, with whom I have a decades-long working relationship. You are sparing little thought to the current state of my Requiem if you seek to part this from me.”
Celia: The Chameleon follows in Camilla’s wake.
“No,” she says, “I do not seek to relieve you of what you have left. I sought to trade once you were re-established. You said no. I will not push further.”
Each step pulls at the burns on her body.
“I have domain. I have a herd. I have multiple havens. Cash, clothing, contacts, family. You are welcome to any and all of it. No expectations in return.”
“I will not leave you to flounder on your own. I am with you.”
GM: “Thank you, Celia. I welcome your assistance. Nor do I expect our grandsire to leave me with nothing in the likely event that he accepts me into his service. There are some ‘rainy day’ assets I have concealed and may be able to recover. But that is a concern for later.”
Camilla presses a button to open another panel in the wall. They exit into a room the Chameleon recognizes as Jamal’s quarters. Camilla deposits the corpse on the floor, then starts changing it into some nondescript clothes she removes from the closet.
Celia: “I have multiple Kindred identities,” she says as Camilla changes the corpse. “You are welcome to someone already established, though none will have your current reputation.”
GM: “That and other assets will take decades to fully rebuild. I have put some consideration into the alias I will adopt. I will wait some time before re-entering Kindred society.”
“Harrison saw extensive combat,” she remarks as she removes the body’s shirt and pants. “He can be presumed to have regenerated his wounds through vitae, but the incendiaries will have destroyed his hair.”
Celia: The Chameleon deposits the Camilla corpse on the floor to make the alterations to Jamal’s doppelganger. She does not need to bother crafting the flesh itself; with claws as sharp as razors she can simply remove the hair and gather what falls out to avoid leaving evidence behind.
“Donovan told Celia not to trust Savoy. That his affection is but a means to cultivate loyalty. I imagine his death has changed things regarding loyalty, so I will not tell you how to feel.”
She finishes the work on his scalp.
“I only pass along what was said.”
GM: “Leave a used razor in the bathroom,” Camilla says upon observing Celia’s last handiwork.
“Our sire’s approval, on those rare occasions it was demonstrated, was but a means to cultivate loyalty. The same may be accurately said for many Kindred of advanced years.”
“I will return soon.”
Then she’s gone in a blur.
Celia: The words serve as reminder that Donovan had never felt anything for Celia. He’d saved her. Hunted for her. Fucked her. But he’d never loved her.
The one certainty of her Requiem had been a lie.
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
Celia: The Chameleon slips from bedroom to bathroom, locates a razor inside a cabinet, and dulls the blade by wiping it across her pants. The edge looks like it has been little used, but still used. She wedges a single hair between the blades. Donovan expected fastidious cleanliness and austerity; Jamal, careless, had left the one behind after cleaning his razor.
She rinses the rest of the hair down the sink and runs the water until the final strands disappear.
She returns to the bedroom and checks her phone while she waits.
GM: There’s a new text from Celia’s mother.
Do you want him back?
The previous ones in the conversation thread read:
_C: Do you think Dad was telling the truth about the mood disorder & the specialist he saw?
M: Sweetie, there is no way we can ever know for sure. Not even if he took a polygraph. That’s why I kicked him out. I am taking no chances with Lucy’s safety. I am not taking even a 1% chance that he will abuse her like he abused us._
Celia: He could be a valuable asset.
Celia sends the text. Then types another.
Sometimes I just want a dad. Kept telling Pete to date you so I’d have a surrogate one.
GM: I want to find a husband. I want Lucy and Abi to have a father figure. And you, if that’s something you want.
But not Maxen, ever again.
Celia: Then again I also want Stephen back, and he’s done some fucked up shit, so that shows how good my judgment is.
GM: I think it’s different in your cases. But I know, sweetie. I know what it is to want someone back after they’ve cut you out of their lives.
I’m not going to say it gets better overnight, or that you’ll ever fully stop missing them, but you can surprise yourself just how vibrant and rich a life you can enjoy on your own.
Celia: Yeah. I’ll get over it. What kind of dude you looking for?
GM: Someone my age or older. Stable. Traditional. Gentle but strong. Able to love my children like his own flesh and blood.
Celia: Someone like Stephen would have been.
I’ll keep an eye out.
GM: Stephen didn’t meet ‘my age or older’, at least.
At least her mom wouldn’t have wanted to steal her boyfriend.
Thanks. I don’t know how much time I’ll have for dating with Abi to now take care of.
Celia: Pete is in love with you. Says he’s not but he is. Tried to pass it off as loving the idea of you.
GM: You mentioned. He seems like a good man. But I don’t know. There are too many things he’s missing.
Or maybe I should say, too many things he’d miss.
I want a partner who can be by my side at all hours of the day or night.
Celia: So not a vampire.
someone like you?
GM: There are things an adult daughter can miss out on that are much harder for a husband to miss out on.
Like me in what sense?
I don’t think so.
Celia: Lots of secrets.
They’d make it work.
GM: I don’t want a husband who’s in love with someone else, though. I’m not sure they’d even want me as a wife anyway.
Or an addict in the house raising my kids.
A second addict.
Celia: Good point. Wasn’t thinking.
GM: Telling the truth has a lot of appeal, though. This is such a big thing to keep secret.
Celia: I’ve gotten good at lying.
GM: Forgive me if this sounds cruel, sweetie, but how did that work out with Stephen?
Celia: She sends back a shrug emoji.
I’m a black hole, remember?
GM: Only if you decide to be. Every night you get up, you get to decide what you want to be.
Celia: Too late. She’d already sucked the life out of the boy she loved because she’d been chasing a lie.
Could try online dating.
GM: Good idea! Time-saver and lets me do it from home.
Celia: Plus Emi and I can judge from afar. And follow you on your dates to judge from up close.
GM: I’m so lucky to have you both. :)
Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM
GM: Glancing up, Celia sees that Camilla has already returned. She did not hear her sister-in-blood enter the room. Camilla is strapping weapons onto Jamal’s and “her” corpses. Phones go into both of their pockets. She’s dressed “her” corpse in an identical overcoat and is planting USB sticks inside of it.
“Give me half of the money, too. It will be more believable if that’s lost.”
Celia: Celia slips the phone into her pocket. Her face changes once more.
She pulls the 50 grand from its place inside of her.
GM: The money is wet and sticky with bodily fluids. Camilla impassively rinses it in the sink, dries it, and sticks it into the pockets of “her” coat.
“Were there any documents that would be useless as pictures, rather than in their original forms?”
“They, at least, we may simply make copies of.”
Celia: What bodily fluids? Dicentra cut them all out of her.
She pulls the documents she’d liberated from the safe.
“Will could be altered. Deed as well. If we want it. Don’t know who Peters is.”
GM: “If the full name is Timothy Peters, a legal fiction. He was a future alias our sire’s ghoul intended to assume after retiring the Simmons identity.”
Celia: “It is.”
“If the legal documents exist we can use the identity. Not sure how feasible it is under a new regent.”
“Did we need him? Simmons.”
“He cracked. Collar snapping, I assume.”
“Sorry,” she offers.
“These we can keep digital copies of. I’ve already taken photos.”
GM: “I do not believe anyone outside this room knows that Timothy Peters is a legal fiction,” Camilla considers. “The identity could be possible to co-opt.”
“As to Simmons, there could have been advantages and disadvantages, but what is done is done.”
“It is preferable if the documents are dry. Send me the pictures. I will make copies.” Camilla gives her a phone number.
Celia: She does so.
She starts to clean and dry the documents; she’ll need to restock on bags. She’d given the last of them to the thin-blood with his $500.
“Did you know about it? What he did to Celia.”
GM: The girl swiftly finds drying the soaked and only half-legible documents to be a futile task. Paper documents are much less resilient than dollar bills.
“I will make copies,” Camilla repeats as she looks at the images on her phone.
“I was unaware what Simmons did to you.”
Celia: “Ah. He mentioned leaving her to die. We are curious how she survived. No matter.”
GM: “That is also a discussion for later,” says Camilla.
“Carry the bodies as far as you can through the passageway. Leave them by the mirror that overlooks the vault. I will join you there.”
Her sister vanishes in another blur.
Celia: She’ll add another pocket to her body later. Something to keep things dry rather than rely on bags; perhaps the stolen flesh from the girl downstairs will make for convenient storage.
The girl hefts the larger body over her shoulder and begins the trek through the passages.
She returns for the second to do the same once the first is deposited.
GM: She sees the thick steel door slide open after depositing the first body.
Pietro gives a quiet whoop and exclaims something in Italian.
Celia: For a moment she halts and observes, taking stock of the contents within the vault.
GM: The inside of the vault contains featureless steel walls, several safes, a computer terminal, several racks of arms and weapons, and several secure-looking steel lockers. There’s not even a bed. Her sire’s sanctum sanctorum looks as bare and empty as the rest of him.
Pietro does not immediately stride into the vault, but warily starts to examine the adjacent walls and floor with a gadget she doesn’t recognize. After he does that, he runs his fingers along them.
Celia: She’s not sure what she expected. More. Just… more.
But there’s nothing. No personal insights. No photos, no possessions, nothing that suggests he was ever anything but cold and unfeeling.
She makes the return trip to pick up the second body and lugs it back to the mirror across from the vault.
Then she waits, watching the thief across the way.
GM: Camilla returns with copies of the documents before Celia drags along the second body. Her sister helps carry it and sticks the documents inside the body’s coat.
She opens the panel door in the wall and steps out. Pietro curses, then calms when he sees who it is.
Camilla looks across the vault’s interior.
“This doesn’t make sense,” says Pietro.
“You don’t build a vault on a building’s upper floors, if you can avoid it. You build it on the ground level, or even better, the basement.”
“So there are fewer points of ingress,” concurs Camilla. “A powerful enough drill could have penetrated the walls or floor.”
Celia: “Decoy,” she suggests. “Everyone knew about this place. Secondary or tertiary haven.”
GM: Pietro glares.
“I am not leaving this McMansion with fucking nothing.”
Celia: “I imagine he has something here. Just not the golden egg we presumed.”
“If the vault had nothing then anyone who isn’t familiar with what you do would know it’s a decoy. He’d include something to stop further searches.”
“After all,” she says, “not knowing of its existence is the best defense against thieves.”
GM: “I guess you’re an expert on jobs like these,” sneers Pietro.
“There is something here, and it is not in this room,” says Camilla. “If the entire haven was a decoy, he would have built the vault in a more secure part of the house.”
Celia: The Chameleon considers the thief with a tilt of her head. She smiles. But she holds her tongue. Sometimes silence is stronger than venom. And she’s not wrong: there is a decoy. It’s just the vault rather than the whole haven. Everything else she’d said still applies.
He must be salty he’d spent all of his time breaking into what is effectively a fake room. Like stealing a painting only to find out it’s a forgery.
She walks past the other Toreador, shadows still clinging to her frame, and moves down the stairs to check that the coast is clear. It appears the kine have finished up. She moves through the living room where she’d slaughtered Paul and into the kitchen.
He’d mentioned a basement. She hadn’t looked for it earlier, not after seeing the freezer on the ground floor. Maybe Paul had added it to the story to scare her. Or maybe he’d slipped up in mentioning it. Either way, she searches for it. Rather than look for the door itself she looks for the lever that activates it, just as Camilla had activated the hidden door into the walls.
GM: The Chameleon finds the coast anything but clear. While the two corpses have been removed, police officers are still present. They are photographing and videoing seemingly everything related to the scene. Every footprint, partial footprint, and trace of footprint, looks like it is being diagrammed, measured, and photographed with scales. Investigators are scouring the area, looking for other things to record in diagrams and photographs. Yellow crime scene tape, watched by further police, cordons off the house.
Seems a bit like overkill for what is clearly an overdose. But she’s not a cop, and she only knows what her client told her about her sister’s death. The police hadn’t bothered to take many photos or do an inventory of the house; she doesn’t think they’d even swept for prints. Doors and windows had been secure, so no one suspected foul play.
Maybe rich white men get better treatment than everyone else even when they’re dead.
Rather than risk alerting the police to her presence—who knows what sort of noise she’ll make trying to sneak between the officers and technicians present, or who she might accidentally bump into—she returns to the top of the stairs and down the hall to the vault.
“Simmons mentioned a basement. Possibly off the kitchen. Will the walls take me there?”
GM: Of course rich white men get better treatment.
She finds Pietro and Camilla methodically looking through the vault. It’s the thief’s hands, running across a concealed wall plate, that suddenly cause a section of floor to pull back. A shaft roughly wide enough for a single spread-eagle body yawns beneath them. There’s another heavy-looking steel door at the shaft’s bottom. There are no stairs, steps, or ladders leading down to the door: the only way to get down is by jumping what looks like two stories.
Celia: It’s a good thing she takes after her sire in that regard.
“I can float down.” Pietro can crawl, she thinks. Or they could jump. It’s not like two stories will kill them.
GM: “Walls are trapped,” says Pietro. “It’s what I’d do, if I were him. Every inch of them. Because he’s never going to touch them.”
“Never going to have any heavy falls, either. Pressure-sensitive alarms could trigger more nasty surprises.”
“Are you capable of floating up as well as down?” asks Camilla.
“I can fly.”
GM: “I suspect what we find will be too heavy for a bird to carry,” says Camilla. “Wait here.”
She’s gone in a blur, then returns a moment later with a leather suitcase.
“I do not see a locking mechanism,” she states, staring down into the shaft. “Do you?”
“No,” says Pietro.
“Feel like it won’t be a conventional lock.”
“Was already one up here.”
“Already delayed an intruder plenty. Already plenty of alarms. At this point, he’d either be here already or he wouldn’t be coming at all.”
Celia: Her skin splits itself apart when Camilla returns with the suitcase. She’d already gotten rid of most of the mass inside of her, first by sculpting the additional muscle onto the Jamal corpse and then by handing Camilla the documents and half the pilfered cash. She pulls out what’s left inside, setting the other 50 grand on the floor, the gun and ammo beside it. She keeps the white pills tucked inside and out of the way.
She reaches for the suitcase so she can stuff it inside of her.
“I’ll float back if it doesn’t fit.”
GM: “It is currently empty,” states Camilla.
The leather suitcase looks fairly small, as far as suitcases go, but still like a very large fit for the 5’3" woman’s torso even were the bones, heart, and lungs removed.
She looks at Pietro.
“What would you make the last lock?”
“Blood magic,” he says. “To hedge out anyone who isn’t me. No technology, so no hacking that way.”
“I’d say he could’ve gotten that from you, but you’ve obviously not been in here. So probably not magic. I’d make it-”
“It will be magical,” states Camilla.
Pietro raises an eyebrow, but says nothing further.
The former hound rises aloft into the air and starts to float down the shaft.
“Do not touch the door,” she tells Celia.
Celia: Then her stomach closes itself back up. She’ll float down with it and float back up with it. No matter.
Celia drops down after her.
GM: The two float steadily downwards. Featureless steel slides past them. The hole at the top with Pietro grows steadily smaller.
The “door” at the bottom of the shaft, if it can truly be called such, is more featureless steel. There are two handle-shaped protrusions at opposite ends for someone to wrap their hands around, seemingly to pull the door open with. Even there, the door’s architecture is designed to be as unfriendly to non-fliers as possible: someone who was physically standing atop the door while (awkwardly) pulling the handles would be incapable of opening it, because their own body weight would still be pressing down against the door. Only someone capable of flight, and seizing the handles without touching their feet to the door’s surface, looks like they could actually pull it open.
Celia sees no locks, keyholes, access panels, or other physical means of preventing a flier’s ingress.
Camilla murmurs something that sounds like a prayer. A spiderweb of runes and symbols suddenly appears across the floor. They are dark and sinister-looking, all brutally hard lines and angles with viciously sharp edges. The blade-like pattern works in a spiral towards a droplet-like shape at the center of the door.
“The final defense. His blood alone is the key.”
Celia: “His actual blood? Or what he passed off as his?”
GM: “The blood from his veins, and no other. Ours will not be sufficient, though it may afford some measure of protection.”
Camilla clasps her hands and murmurs another prayer. The runes flicker and fade, for a moment, but return to full strength. Camilla looks unsurprised.
“The architecture has been designed for a Kindred who fit his physical profile. The door will be extremely heavy. We will need to expend blood to lift it.”
She looks over Celia’s fire-ravaged body.
“I will attempt to open the door alone. You are in no condition to do so. Whatever curse it triggers will fall upon me. If I survive, and if I know him, there will be an emergency reserve of blood on the other side. His own blood, by dint of its greater ease of preservation. Use it to revive me.”
Celia: Celia winces. She was careless earlier to be caught by fire so many times. She can’t be useful when she needs to be.
“I will,” she says.
GM: “Float upwards.”
Camilla passes Celia the suitcase, then clasps her hands and recites another prayer. A dark yet radiant halo-esque light spills from her body, enveloping her like a shield. She removes one of her leather gloves, presses a finger against an unsheathed fang, and lets the drop fall onto its seemingly indicated place on the door. The runes turn a violently shade of red. The blood angrily burns and fizzles. Without further ado, Camilla seizes both of the door’s handles and pulls.
Fire immediately consumes the former hound. Not orange and yellow fire, like normal fire. The hissing tongues are red as blood and black as sin. They crackle with palpable malevolence. With hatred. Their smell is unbearably foul, like rotten eggs.
At first, Camilla’s pale flesh merely bleeds and bruises, not burns. The dark light seemingly wards off the worst of the evil flames. Her arms strain as she burns through vitae to push dead muscles to their limits, and beyond. Slowly, torturously, she starts to lift the door open. It looks incredibly thick. How much easier it must be for their sire, so much stronger than any mortal man, to open.
How much easier it might be for Roderick, too.
But with every inch the door rises, the light around Camilla dims. Finally, as she pulls the door open just high enough to squeeze through, the light dies, devoured under the malevolent flames. Camilla’s body becomes a black and scarlet torch. The former hound is roasted alive as she rasps at Celia,
Celia: Celia can only stare as the fire engulfs her sister. No, she wouldn’t have been able to open that door. Wouldn’t have been able to take that much more fire consuming her body; she’d be dead. Well and truly dead.
Rotting eggs. Sulfur. Fire and brimstone. Hell.
Demons some internal part of her screams. This isn’t just fire magic; these aren’t the flames her mother summoned in her living room. This is black magic, infernal magic, demonic magic.
She stares. And then she drops, twisting through the air and into the open door to the other side as soon as Camilla rasps the word.
GM: Celia has to squeeze as much as drop. Camilla has barely managed to lift the impossibly heavy door upwards. No sooner has she done so than the former hound blurs after her, following her in. The vault-like door slams down. Camilla plummets like a falling star. She crashes to the ground and does not get up.
Celia: Celia descends more slowly to the ground to stand beside her sister. She casts her gaze around the vault to find the blood.
And to see what else her sire kept down here.
GM: The room’s interior is made for one of the Damned. One of the Damned with few creature comforts. It is pitch dark, without any light sources save a computer screen. There are no chairs or beds or tables or cushions. Everything is just steel. If her sire sleeps here, he does so by simply lying flat upon the ground.
It looks like the interior of a Cold War-era bunker. There’s a closed laptop with a plugged-in USB stick sitting on a table. There are racks of weapons and munitions. There’s a computer terminal with a number of floor-to-ceiling monitors, much like the ones in the security room. However, these monitors also include live feeds into the hidden corridors behind the house’s walls, the security room, and the vault’s interior. Piles of clothes in her sire’s preferred style, dark and austere, are neatly folded and laid out. They aren’t even placed inside a dresser. It’s as if he assumed neither dust nor insect nor anything else would ever disturb the tomb-like bunker’s interior. The air is stale and foul. Celia cannot imagine it being pleasant for any living creature to long endure. There are several glass jugs of blood near one of the walls, below an elaborate mural that looks like a family tree.
Celia’s name is on it.
Celia: Celia steps forward, eyes glowing bright in the darkness. There will be no secrets kept from her in this dark tomb. She surveys the mural, tracing the line backward from her name.
GM: Directly above Celia’s name, and linked to it by a dark line, is “Diana Underwood (Flores)”. Diana’s name is paired with another name, also directly lined to Celia’s, which reads “Generation Seven.”
Written underneath “Generation Seven” is “presumed Ronald Landreneau.”
Written underneath Ron’s name is “presumed Maxen Flores.”
Celia: She traces it back further.
GM: Payton Andrews (Underwood) and Timothy Underwood are the names above Diana’s, and branch down to Stanton Underwood and Prudence Bellamy (Underwood). Prudence and her husband branch down to Lily Bellamy. Stanton, who Celia was told had no children, branches down to Adam Shanks.
Above Payton are Celia’s great-grandparents William Andrews and Marie Freneau (Andrews). They branch down to Payton and her sisters Doris, Judy, Beverly, and Kathleen, all of whom are dead but for Payton and Beverly. Celia’s maternal great-aunt, she dimly recalls, lives in South Carolina with her family.
Doris’ name is written thicker than the other Underwood girls, but written underneath it is, “Failure.”
Celia: Celia checks the thickness of Doris’ name against her own, trying to make sense of… this. How long had he been watching her family? How long had he waited for someone in her line?
GM: Celia’s name is thicker than her siblings’, too.
There’s also a “Failure” written underneath.
Celia: Her hand clenches into a fist.
GM: He’s been watching her family closely, if some of the other names are any indication. All of the Flores family’s dirty secrets are on there. Lucy’s name branches down directly from Maxen’s and Diana’s. Ethan’s name crisscrosses Maxen’s and Isabel’s (“Roxanne Gerlette”), which is annotated with, “Unworthy.”
Celia: She looks for more notes. More failures. More unworthies.
If he knows Ethan and Lucy are Maxen’s, then what are the “presumed” notes next above hers? He doesn’t know? Neither one of them?
GM: Lucy has a “presumed” note for Celia Flores + unknown father. Ethan has a “presumed” note for Mary Flores and her husband.
Both children’s names are circled.
Celia: Celia’s lips move soundlessly in the dark. Presumed. What the world presumes. Then neither Maxen nor Ronnie are…? No. She’d taken a DNA test. Ron is her father.
And Doris? Another childe? His childe? Celia looks over her shoulder at the fallen hound. Is this Doris, the dead great-aunt? Sixty years. Dead for sixty years. Payton is, what, 70s? Doris would be… older. Payton was the last for four girls, that’s why her father had treated her as he had. Her grandmother has told her the story plenty of times.
Doris. Dorio. Court. Like her judge father, right? Doriocourt.
She laughs. Camilla is her great-aunt.
Why the circles, though? Had he planned on testing Lucy and Ethan for candidacy? She searches for more circles.
She searches for more notes. She searches for more family lines.
She searches for his name.
GM: Above Payton and her sisters, the genealogy continues to trace up through Marie Freneau and her brother Bernabé Freneau, from whom descend the still-living Freneaus to bear that name.
Sebastian Freneau is circled. Twice.
More dirty family secrets are on display. Rachel Freneau branches directly from Sebastian Freneau and Kimberly Guillory (Freneau), but Olivia Freneau branches from Kimberly and an unrelated man. A note adds, “Presumed Sebastian Freneau.”
Celia: Why circled? What do the circles mean?
Is Uncle Seb a lick, too? She’d thought him another sort of supernatural, one of the lucky ones the exiled prince had mentioned.
She has no context for what she’s looking at. Maybe Camilla will.
Celia moves forward, reaching for one of the jars of blood. Her sire’s blood? She opens it… and takes a drink.
GM: The familiar taste of her sire’s vitae flows across her mouth, deathless and powerful and icy cold as ever.
Celia: That’s not what she wants. She searches for something deeper. Something he can’t hide with sorcery or shadow dancing now that he’s dead.
It’s… different. Stronger. Much stronger. He had been hiding it.
…hadn’t he? Or is she only tasting what she wants to taste in his blood, distracted by the burns and pain that wracks her body?
She doesn’t know. Not yet. But there are multiple jars; she tucks the half jar she’d sipped from into her open abdominal cavity and wraps it securely when she thins a tendon long enough to encase it. Then she takes a second and does the same. She closes herself back up.
She wants to study the mural longer, but time keeps ticking. She takes photos of it in its entirety, letting her phone flash in the darkness, then checks to make sure they came out okay.
Finally, Celia opens another jar to wake her sister. Or great-aunt.
GM: The vitae trickles down Camilla’s charred and blistered lips. She seizes it and drinks the full thing. The former hound still looks catastrophically hurt, and only a step removed from final death. Celia can only guess how much blood she’s already burned through outside the door.
She stares at the sole remaining jar with blood in it.
Celia: Silently, Celia offers another jar, leaving just the one for herself.
She bites into her wrist and begins to fill one of the empties.
And a third.
She sets the jars beside her sister. Aunt. Sister-aunt.
“Were you born Doris Underwood?” she asks quietly.
“I can spare more, if you need it.”
GM: Camilla, Doris, or whoever she is, is ravenous. Her fangs are long against her ravaged face. Celia may wonder if she’s about to frenzy right then and there, but the hound forces the instinct down. And drinks. Her ruined body slowly begins to repair itself, but she leaves the one remaining jar with Donovan’s blood untouched.
Celia: Celia bleeds for her.
GM: Camilla continues to drink. The former hound’s body mends, but not completely. The hateful flames leave unhealed wounds that look at least as ugly as Celia’s.
Camilla stands up and surveys the bunker. Including the family tree.
“How much of his blood was originally here?” she asks, depositing the jar into the briefcase.
She puts the laptop inside too and slips the USB stick into a coat pocket.
Celia: “Five,” she says. “I took one. I thought maybe I’d finally learn the truth about him, but I’m… well.” She gestures at herself. “I have one tucked away. I thought I could use it for something. Or test it. Or something.”
“Is Savoy our grandsire? Or our brother?”
GM: “The vitae could still serve a purpose. It is better to have more than one draught. Savoy is our grandsire.”
Camilla removes the family tree mural, rolls it up, and fits it inside the briefcase.
Celia: “Oh. Mel mentioned that Donovan didn’t need instruction on anything when he was Embraced. That he seemed born for it. I thought maybe he was older than he said.”
Celia takes another look around the room, searching for anything she can use to gain insight on her sire.
GM: She sees naught else than the items she has already, minus what Camilla has taken. Her sister produces a tablet, hooks it up to the desktop computer, and busies herself on it.
Celia: Celia peruses the rack of weapons.
She feels… extraneous. Like Camilla could have done this all on her own.
And she’s just slowing things down with questions.
GM: She finds two swords of the make used by her sire, two hunting knives, two handguns, a shotgun, a machine gun, and assorted ammunition. Fewer arms than were stored upstairs, but a respectable enough personal arsenal.
Celia: She wonders if he had died with the bracers on. If they had helped in any way.
GM: Who knows how or at whose hands he died?
Celia: “Did he wear bracers?” she asks. “During the fight?”
GM: “Yes. He slew one of our attackers with them.”
Celia: “Good.” A pause. “I made those for him.”
GM: Camilla’s fingers type across the tablet.
“They appeared well-crafted.”
Celia: “I can make you a pair. If you want. I have the material already. I planned second set.”
She reaches for the sword her sire must have carried.
GM: There are two swords, both identical.
Celia: She only needs one.
But she takes both.
One for Camilla.
And the knives.
They belong to his childer.
GM: “I would,” Camilla answers Celia’s first statement. “Their utility was proven on the battlefield, and close-range weapons were of less use to him than me.”
Celia: “Did you ever meet your niece? Payton’s girl, Diana.”
GM: “I have not met your mother.”
Celia: “But you are Doris.”
GM: “Doris who?”
GM: Camilla finishes with the tablet and stows it back inside her coat. She pries off the desktop’s external casing.
“On what basis do you presume this?”
Celia: “It was on the mural. Same as mine. You died around the right time. He was tracing our lineage.”
Celia fingers one of the dark shirts her sire wore.
GM: It’s identical to a half-dozen others. Non-identical shirts, pants, coats, socks, and underwear are all there, neatly and impersonally folded.
Camilla pulls out the computer’s hard drive and adds it to the briefcase.
“It is unfortunate you saw that, if apparently unavoidable.”
Celia: She pulls off her layers of clothing on top and slips into the shirt, wrapping her arms around herself.
“I don’t know if I should apologize or not. I’m not… I mean it doesn’t change anything for me to know who you are.”
She touches one of the unique shirts. Then a coat.
GM: The shirts are simply not identical to the black turtlenecks she touched initially. The others are black button-ups.
Celia: Oh. Well she takes one of those, too. Nothing cuter than a girl in a pair of socks and borrowed button-down.
GM: “It changes more than you realize,” Camilla answers, then retrieves another explosive charge and places it inside the computer. “It places your family, you, and I in greater danger.”
GM: The former hound stares into the screen. Celia cannot see her sister’s face reflected in it. Her visage is as lost to reflective surfaces as any of their kind’s.
But her voice, when she speaks, is tired.
Like all the hurts of the evening have at last caught up.
Like all the hurts of a lifetime.
Of several lifetime.
Celia has to strain to hear her voice.
“I was once Doris. I have not been Doris for many years.”
“It is better that she stays buried.”
“Speak of her existence to no one. Not her niece. Not her sister. Not any of her living kin.”
“And not ever to our grandsire.”
Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly.
She says she won’t tell anyone. Especially him.
GM: Camilla smashes in the monitor’s screen, then turns and makes a final-seeming sweep through the bunker.
Celia: Celia lapses into silence, doing what she can to help after tucking away the clothing and pulling her other outfit back on.
GM: Camilla locates several unmarked black books that she fits inside the briefcase. It’s getting full by this point. She stuffs one into her coat.
The former hound rises aloft into the air. There is no ladder leading down from the vault-like door on the ceiling: this portion of their sire’s haven is designed exclusively for fliers. She slips the briefcase’s handle along her wrist to free both hands.
“This side of the door will not be warded.”
Camilla pushes against it, straining to lift the unthinkably heavy slab of steel. Doubtlessly, she’s burning through more blood.
Roderick would be useful here, even unable to fly.
Celia: Celia does not let her do it alone. She takes to the air, pushing against the steel with the strength she can muster, burned and broken though she is.
GM: The vault-like door feels impossibly heavy. It’s like trying to lift a tank. It swiftly becomes plain she cannot contribute towards its lifting without also expending vitae to augment her dead muscles.
Celia: So she does. Her sister is not alone in this.
GM: The women strain their arms. Slowly, tortuously, the vault door starts to lift, but the gap yet remains too small for either of them to fit through.
Celia: This won’t do. Celia grits her teeth. She sends still more vitae surging through her body.
GM: Camilla, too, continues to heave and push. The slab-like door finally lifts, just barely high enough to squeeze past.
GM: “You,” Camilla grits out.
Celia: “I can shift. Go.”
GM: “I am stronger and less injured,” states the former hound. Perhaps a mortal would be wheezing and breathless, but the dead have no need to breathe. “We do not have time to argue. Go.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t argue further. She keeps her hands on the door to assist as she can, squeezing through the opening.
GM: Camilla nearly buckles beneath the added strain, then streaks through in a blur. The vault door slams thunderously shut after her. The flame-scorched former hound’s fangs are long and hungry in her mouth.
She floats upwards, out of the shaft. Pietro is talking into his phone, but closes it as he sees the two Toreador approach.
“Yes,” answers Camilla.
“Great, but the idiota has still fucked things up for us,” says Pietro. “The prince’s goons are here.”
“They would have been here regardless,” says Camilla. “How many did you see?”
“Four, and at least as many ghouls.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t acknowledge Pietro’s words. Camilla is right: they’d have been here regardless. And if she weren’t here they’d have never gotten in or back out of the vault.
She taps off a text to Draco. Eight here. 4R. You bring friends?
GM: There is no response.
Celia: “Where are they? We can all dance. Go through the walls. Get out that way.”
GM: “You’re a fucking idiot,” says Pietro.
Celia: Celia finally rounds on him, fangs distended. “Shove it, Silvestri. It’s fixed. What’s your bright idea on getting away?”
GM: Pietro blurs and rams a stake into Celia’s heart. She topples over with a crash.
“We create a diversion around her,” he says to Camilla. “Vidal’s goons grab her and we’re long gone by the time they realize she wasn’t alone.”
“No. We must engage them and win,” the former hound replies coolly, without glancing at Celia. “Doing so is necessary to convincingly stage my final death.”
“You’re fucking nuts with those odds,” says Pietro.
“The ghouls will not pose an obstacle,” replies Camilla. “My sire’s haven has a defense I may activate to eliminate them quickly. I have a ghoul nearby. That leaves four Kindred against four of us.”
“Against three of you, you mean. I’m not here to help you stage your death. I’m here to steal shit and get out.”
He’s leaving with nothing. Camilla and Celia had gotten all the relevant material.
GM: “Which is now in my possession,” replies Camilla. The former hound’s voice is chill as ice.
“Chance your odds against me, thief, if you prefer them. Or slink back to Lord Savoy empty-handed. The choice is yours if you will not assist us.”
“I’m bailing the second it looks like we aren’t winning.”
“Acceptable,” replies Camilla.
She bends and removes the stake from Celia’s chest.
Celia: Celia rises to her feet.
Was it Savoy who gave the order to leave her behind, or had Silvestri decided on his own to abandon her?
She doesn’t ask. She looks to Camilla.
GM: “Who are our opponents?” asks her sister.
“The Snake Hunters and Joshua Pacuad,” says Pietro.
“Waiting for us to penetrate the vault, probably. Couldn’t have done it themselves.”
Celia: Meadows’ childer, aren’t they? The Snake Hunters. And Harrison. She’s gone up against him before, but she’d had her krewe behind her.
She glances at her phone. He said he’d come. He said he’d be there. Is he, too, not assisting at her grandsire’s order?
GM: “No. That is inconsistent with their characters,” says Camilla.
“The Snake Hunters would not care what is inside the vault.”
There is still no response from Draco.
Celia: Whatever. She doesn’t need him. He can go fuck the redhead and believe the lies about his sire forever, then.
“Location?” she asks again.
GM: Pietro ignores Celia completely.
“Then explain why they’re waiting. Orders from higher up?”
Celia: Hatred surges through her. She had fixed it.
If she hadn’t been here he’d have nothing to show for his time. Neither he nor Camilla would have been able to do it on their own.
GM: “I am uncertain,” says Camilla. “Regardless, we must incapacitate them quickly. If any escape, they will alert the seneschal. He is capable of arriving within moments.”
She doesn’t add, Then all is all lost.
Celia: Two wounded. No pressure.
Celia quietly absorbs the information.
GM: Pietro taps into his phone.
“This sounds like better and better reason to bail.”
“I require the phone number of Lord Savoy’s herald or steward,” Camilla says without preamble.
Pietro rattles a number off.
Camilla dials it into her phone.
“Preston Senescalli. Nosti qui sim,” she begins.
The two have several further exchanges in what sounds like Latin before Camilla hangs up.
Celia: Celia begins to change as the conversations take place. She isn’t needed here. Jade is. But not with Jade’s face. The stolen face from earlier.
She looks down at her blackened, scorched skin, lower layers of skin and muscle exposed to the air. She swallows. Easy target. But there’s flesh that isn’t broken, isn’t there? And she can… stretch it. Hide the damage. Make herself look like she isn’t one solid punch away from falling over.
Or make it look worse. Like she’s wounded and barely standing. If the Gangrel are anything like the animals they so commonly mimic they’ll probably toy with her rather than kill her outright. Or is that instinct just left over from their human years?
She stays silent, tapping into her phone to see if either of her in town krewemates are available.
Who else does she know nearby? The dollmaker. The frat boy. Neither of them would assist against the prince’s own men, though.
Her mother. If she were willing to risk her. If Diana has mastered the fire trick. And if not? If the woman arrives and is slain by the licks or ghouls?
She can’t bear the thought.
It’s a hard pill to swallow when she draws a blank on anyone else willing to help. She has alienated her friends and allies, has disappointed her mentors.
She blinks down at her phone, as if a number is going to magically appear.
A second later, Celia slips the phone back into her pocket and closes the distance between herself and Camilla, whispering into her ear.
“I think he can create illusions. What if we cover the hole with one and lure one or two in? Even if they fly, and some do, we can slide the door back into place. Evens the odds.”
“We could do like Pietro said,” she says after a moment, including the thief this time. “Cause a distraction, use me as bait. Not staked, but a runner. You’re both faster than me, can do more with the shadows. You follow. Grab them before they grab me. Stake two before they know you’re there. Evens the odds in our favor. If they do catch me I figure they’ll want to interrogate rather than kill; last time Harrison picked someone up he held him for ‘questioning.’ And if I’m wrong then it’s not much of a loss and you two still get out.”
“Won’t give them much time to call the seneschal if two are taken out that quickly and the other two are busy fighting.”
“And I can pass as a snake if that’s what they’re after. Or you.” A nod to Camilla.
GM: “I think he can create illusions. What if we cover the hole with one,” Pietro mimics in an exaggerated, lisping, and faintly Valley Girl-esque rendition of Jade’s voice as she talks.
He is only several feet away from Camilla.
Perhaps a mortal with duller senses would not overhear.
Celia: Jade turns to him. Supernatural charm pours from her, turning his mind to putty.
“I don’t know what I did to offend you, Pietro, and I’m sorry that I distracted you on the lock enough to trigger the fire trap. But whatever you were screaming about Masquerade breach has nothing to do with me.”
GM: The stake suddenly pierces Jade’s heart again. There’s a very cool look on the thief’s face as the knife re-appears in his hands.
Celia: Oh, good.
GM: Camilla’s sword intercepts a flash of steel from Pietro just before he can slash open her throat.
“Fuck this spoiled cunt,” snarls the older Toreador. “She’s out or I am.”
No emotion crosses the cool face of Donovan’s elder childe.
“Kalani has proven volatile. We will make do without her. Torpor her if you wish, but restrain yourself from taking her head off. I will not be the one to inform Lord Savoy that one of his Blood met final death.”
“Lights out, fuckwit,” sneers Pietro, and then his knife slits open her throat.