“You have FUCKED UP, SO BIG!”
Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM
GM: Caroline’s return home is greeted with a hostile, baying growl from Caesar. The big dog’s ears are flat against his head and he walks with a pronounced limp. White bandages are half-wrapped over his face, giving him an almost mummy-like appearance.
Caroline: She pauses in her tracks, emotions warring on her face, before settling on resignation.
GM: The home’s smashed lights and windows have been repaired. New drapes have been put in place. Replacements for many pilfered or destroyed possessions, however, have yet to arrive, require Caroline’s input (which she’s had little time to give), or simply weren’t insured. Sofas, chairs, tables, television sets, stereos, framed pictures, and more are all missing. The house doesn’t look trashed so much as empty, as if some vital part of were simply ripped out. Bare walls and floors blankly stare at the Ventrue indirectly responsible for their present state.
Caroline: Someone, likely several someones, have been busy putting her home back together even as her life continues to fall apart. A paradox. Caroline moves around Caesar slowly, giving round as needed, trying to keep things between the two. She doesn’t even try to speak to him. To calm him. He can see the plain truth, and in a way it is refreshing.
GM: The big dog only growls as the vampire leaves. The dining room wasn’t as hard-hit as the rest of the house, though a number of smashed pictures and china cabinets are now missing, giving it that same barren appearance. Aimee is seated at the dining table, next to a young man who shares Caroline’s green eyes and tall frame, though at the age of eighteen he still looks like he hasn’t fully grown into it. He has full lips, high cheekbones, and meticulously combed dark brown hair. He wears a dark red shirt and black jeans. He smiles when he sees Caroline, but it looks forced.
“Hey, sis,” her youngest brother says. “It’s been a while.”
Caroline: Aimee, what have you done?
She can’t meet the boy’s eyes. She can’t let him see. She puts on a small, shy smile as her eyes skitter across the table, then the floor. It’s almost demure. She pulls her hand away from the phone she was holding ready. This is so much worse than she’d feared, but in its own way.
“Gabriel. I didn’t realize you were in town.” Her voice is soft.
GM: Gabriel tries to smile back. “I figured I owed you a visit. After…”
“We need to talk, Caroline,” Aimee says quietly.
Caroline: She nods, more to Aimee. “I’m sorry, I was held up this evening.”
GM: “Aimee tells me your house was… broken into,” Gabriel begins.
‘Tells’ is a polite way of putting it. The bare walls and rooms tell their own story.
Caroline: “It hasn’t been my best week,” Caroline grants.
GM: Caroline’s brother clears his throat, glancing towards Aimee.
The Ventrue’s roommate pauses, as if unsure how to put things, then finally states, “Caroline, ever since… Decadence, you’ve just been disappearing.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her bottom lip, still not looking up at her little brother. “It’s complicated.”
GM: Gabriel trades looks with Aimee.
“Well, complicated how?” Aimee finally asks.
Caroline: It would be so much easier to wrap them in her power, to bend them just slightly to her will. But she doesn’t. When the people closest to her become little more than pieces to be pushed around, what is left of her? It seems all too muddy a slope. She opens her mouth to speak, then closes it once more. She glances from Gabriel’s feet to Aimee’s.
GM: “Caroline…” Aimee begins quietly. “You haven’t been to class for… nearly a week. You know that law school has attendance requirements.”
Caroline: “I know. I need to talk to Dean Abel.” She bites her lip. “I just have to find time.” She winces as she moves over to take a seat opposite the two.
GM: “Caroline…” Aimee gives her a long look. “Where have you been disappearing?”
Caroline: “It’s all related,” she answers vaguely. “And it’ll make sense one day. I promise.” She pauses for a moment before going on, “But I can’t tell you. Not right now.”
GM: “Caroline,” Gabriel says quietly. “Aimee told me about the blood.” He tugs at his shirt’s collar, as if uncomfortable with the intervention-like proceedings. “I told her that our family doesn’t have a history of hematological disease.”
Caroline: She quietly snorts a small laugh. “Not technically true, but that kind of detailed history isn’t exactly a popular subject, and you have to go back a fair bit to find it. It’s rather beyond the point though.” She refuses to meet their eyes. “You’re worried.”
GM: Gabriel nods slowly.
“Ever since the shooting… Mom and Dad should’ve let you take the semester off. I’ve talked with Carson, and he says you were blaming yourself over what happened. You know it was Gettis’ fault.”
Aimee nods. “You saved those girls’ lives. You did a good thing! But ever since then, since Decadence, it’s like nothing’s been the same… the bleeding. The house getting robbed. You missing class and disappearing all day. And your car’s not even gone when you leave. That’s the really strange part.”
“We just want to help, Caroline,” her brother says softly, reaching out a hand to place on hers.
“Whatever you need,” says Aimee. “We just want to help.”
Caroline: Caroline has to make a mental effort not to jerk her hand back. Not to flinch from his touch. Her hand trembles a bit all the same. She lifts her other hand to shelter her face from the two, ignoring the pain from raw open wounds as she does so.
You should probably fake your death. The words return to her. It would be easier in so many ways. No more school, family, friends. No threatening emails from her father’s aide. No more of this. She can see why so many Kindred do. It’s so easy to live this horror story when you cut out everything related to actually living.
But then… what’s left other than the horror story? What’s the solution? Make herself like them? Not going to happen.
Tears well, but don’t flow, beneath her hand. “Thank you.” The words are soft, half utter truth and half absolute lie.
GM: “We’re here for you,” Gabriel says.
“Whatever you need,” Aimee repeats.
The two’s voices are a mix of concern and hope. As if convinced this is a problem they can actually help her fix.
Caroline: The smell of Aimee’s tantalizing blood is horribly distracting. It’s with a bit of horror that she realizes just how soon her kid brother will join the flock she feeds from.
“The short version is, Decadence wasn’t a one-off.”
GM: “Uncle Orson didn’t say much about what happened. Just that it was a one-off,” Gabriel ventures quietly.
Caroline: She looks up, peaking between the hand resting on her face, at Aimee. Not the partying, drinking, or debauchery.
GM: “Maybe it can be, Caroline,” Aimee almost pleads.
Caroline: “I’m not talking about the fun parts, Aimee.” Caroline’s voice is thin.
GM: “We aren’t either,” Aimee implores, laying her hand on Caroline’s alongside Gabriel’s. “All we want to do is help you…”
Caroline: Caroline looks away, her eyes sweeping the wreckage of the first floor. The worst of the damage is gone, but the home is no less wrecked. The security it once provided is an illusion.
“Can we go for a drive?” she asks. “Just around the neighborhood. I don’t want to sit in this.” She gestures.
GM: Aimee and Gabriel both nod, almost too eagerly. It’s apparent that the pair want to make Caroline feel at ease.
Caroline: She rises with them and makes for the driveway. She skirts around Caesar as best she can.
GM: They take Gabriel’s parked car. Her brother offers Caroline the driver’s seat.
Caroline: She slides easily into the driver’s seat. They leave the home behind and slowly cruise about the street. Audubon Place is a rectangular loop. They can keep driving forever and never go anywhere.
She’s quiet for a couple minutes.
“Many things happened that night which I won’t talk about.”
GM: “Whatever you’re comfortable with,” says Aimee.
Gabriel nods, giving Caroline time to get to the things that she can.
Caroline: “I caught the attention of some very dangerous, very powerful people that night,” she begins. “And much of what has followed has been the fallout of that.”
GM: “Who, Caroline?” Worry creases both faces.
Caroline: “One of those things,” she replies tersely, stopped at a stop sign. “It wouldn’t do you any good to know.” The car sits there for a moment while she thinks. “I’m a piece in a bigger board between some of them, I think. Not that it makes it any easier.”
GM: “Okay,” Aimee says. “We could go to the police, since they might actually care about a Malveaux, or bring in your uncles. Or both.”
Caroline: “You heard about the big drug bust this week? Crack? Officer died in the raid and the suspects were broken out on the way the lockup?”
Caroline: “That’s what happened when I brought in the police. And those were the police that I trusted.”
GM: “Your uncles, then,” Aimee says. “You know there’s no one in this town who…”
Gabriel cuts her off. “What about Dad, Caroline? You could move to D.C. No one’s going to try anything around a senator’s daughter. Too much publicity.”
Caroline: “They don’t have to kill me, Gabriel. There are plenty of other ways to get to me. That’s what the house was all about. Showing that they wouldn’t even slow down. If it were some petty thug, some local gang, some stalker…” She shakes her head. “But these people… they’re well-connected. Politically powerful. Wealthy. Violent… sadistic.”
GM: “If that’s what the house was about, you’re in danger, Caroline,” Aimee presses.
Caroline: “They don’t want to kill me, Aimee. They’ve had… opportunities.”
GM: “Then what do they want, Caroline? What happened at Decadence?” She pauses. Winces. “I mean, beyond…”
Caroline: “They want him.”
GM: “Him, who?”
Gabriel shakes his head. “Caroline… just start at the beginning, please. This isn’t making any sense.”
Caroline: She all but glares at Aimee for dragging this out. “Someone attacked me at Decadence. A member of this group. He broke some rule among them when he did. He exposed them, or insulted them, or some such. Broke a ‘tradition.’ When they found out, they abducted me.” She glances at Aimee. “That’s why I didn’t go home with you the next night, at my uncle’s house. And they gave me a choice. Help them find him, or die as his ‘accomplice’.”
GM: Aimee and Gabriel exchange very long looks.
Caroline: Funny how the most ridiculous tales are the true ones.
GM: “Caroline, this sounds insane,” says Gabriel.
Caroline: It’s too much to tell them. This kind of information could set them digging their own graves if she can’t find René and gets executed.
Guilt nibbles at her, but her hesitancy immediately vanishes into the night. She needs to get it out. She needs to talk to someone. She needs someone to understand on some level that it’s not her fault, that she’s not just a fuckup.
“More insane than a Catholic archbishop who plans out his family’s lives from birth?” she asks Gabriel. “It’s just next step up the food chain.”
GM: “This sounds like something out of a movie.” Gabriel doesn’t quite scoff, but his skepticism is plain.
Caroline: “No, it doesn’t.” Caroline’s words are cold, bitter. She stops at another stop sign, they’re really just circling Riverbend, slips off her seatbelt. While they’re stopped, she carefully slides her coat off her shoulders. She reveals her raw, ragged, shredded skin to Aimee.
“I’m sorry I was late.”
GM: Aimee gasps and clamps a hand over her mouth. Gabriel just stares in mute horror. Finally, he takes out a phone and dials a number.
Caroline: She snatches the phone out of his hand.
GM: Her little brother’s face is reddening. “Damn it, Caroline, what do you expect us to do?!”
Caroline: Caroline tucks the phone in a a pocket and she covers up rent flesh. She doesn’t face him.
“I love you, Gabriel. I love that you always want to help everyone. You’re the best of us… but sometimes you can’t solve every problem. Who were you going to call? What were they going to do? What was going to happen when they started digging? When they asked questions I didn’t have good answers to?”
GM: Caroline’s younger brother takes several calming breaths before replying, “Dad. Uncle Matt. Uncle Orson. And I’m still going to them. I don’t care who these people are, Caroline. No one hurts our family.”
Caroline: “You’re right, Gabriel. No one does. Especially not our family. Nothing good can come of that. The family is bigger than one wayward daughter.”
GM: Gabriel just glares out the window.
Caroline: “And if I can suffer through the pain, you can suffer through the indignity. There’s still a way out through this. A path through the muck that avoids starting a war that we. Can’t. Win.”
GM: Gabriel doesn’t look away. “Just take us home.”
Caroline: She keeps driving. “Gabriel, I need you to trust me. I need you to give me time before you blow this up.”
GM: “Time for what, Caroline?”
Caroline: “To see if I can end it. On their terms. If I can make it go away.”
Caroline: “The man they want. I’m not so foolish as to believe it’ll be that simple, but it gives me a chance to moderate things. To deescalate.”
GM: Gabriel doesn’t say anything.
Caroline: “Gabriel. Orson would cut a deal anyway. Dad might argue, and maybe Matthew, but the Malveaux family hasn’t made it this far by starting wars over every daughter.” The words are cold.
GM: “Orson doesn’t whip our cousins.” So are Gabriel’s. “You remember what happened to Aunt Vera? That sicko who cut up her face?”
Caroline: “It’s not the same, Gabriel. This isn’t some random psycho. They were willing to murder police officers, break their men out of police convoys, and call in the DEA to help cover it up. And they did it all in minutes. If you run to the rest of the family, the best case is they cut a deal to hand me over. And they kill me for talking about it. If I’m very lucky, they don’t kill you two.”
“The worst case is the family goes to war… with a group they don’t know, don’t understand, and which has equal or superior resources. This isn’t a simple problem like a DUI that can be made to go away. And if they think that’s going to happen, they’ll kill me for talking about it, and God knows how many other people. Please. Trust me.” She doesn’t have to feign desperation. “I trusted you.”
GM: “Trust me with what, Caroline?” Gabriel asks, turning away from the window. “Who are these people? What the hell did you do to them? What isn’t Uncle Orson telling us about what happened at Decadence?”
Caroline: “With enough to get you killed!” Caroline snaps, hurt. “With enough to get us both killed.”
GM: “No! Just enough to make me wonder what the hell’s going on and feel like there’s not a damn thing I can do to help!” Caroline’s little brother exclaims.
Caroline: “You can listen.” Her voice is soft. “You can be here.” She tries to blink away tears. “You can tell me it’ll be okay. That I can do this. And that there’s something other than horror, pain, and darkness in the world. You can help keep the family off my back.”
GM: Gabriel sounds like he’s trying to be sarcastic, but his words come out as an almost-plea. “So that someone else can feed it through a paper shredder?”
Caroline: “If need be? Yes.”
Better me than you.
“Do you think it’ll be better for me if you’re standing beside me in front of the firing squad?”
GM: “Why not? Two targets. Less fire hitting each one. And if that fails, we’ll go down together.”
Caroline: “Because it’s not two targets, Gabriel. It’s two bullets, and if I go down in flames… I don’t want you to.”
GM: “I don’t want you to either. I guess that makes us even,” Gabriel declares resolutely.
Aimee finally speaks up. “That makes us two to one, actually.”
Caroline: “I’m trying to find a way through this. As best I can.”
GM: “Caroline, ‘trying’ isn’t good enough,” Aimee presses. “What are you doing? What are you doing that we can help with?”
Caroline: She could all but scream with frustration… and weep with shame and humility. “You’re asking me to put you in crosshairs.”
GM: “You’re asking us to watch you die.”
Caroline: “Phone.” She holds out a hand to Aimee.
GM: Aimee pauses, but digs one up and hands it over.
Caroline: She deftly removes the batteries from both phones and drops them in the cup holders.
“If you want to help, if want to know anything further, there’s two conditions. First, this doesn’t go any further. Period. You don’t bring other people in, you don’t go to the rest of the family, and you don’t go digging around blindly. Second, if I tell you to do something, not ask, but tell, you listen.”
GM: Aimee and Gabriel shake their heads. “You know that’s bad legal practice, Caroline,” Aimee tries to joke. “Know all the relevant circumstances before you agree to the terms.”
“We need to know everything that’s going on before we agree to anything,” Gabriel adds.
“We need to know everything before we agree to anything,” Gabriel adds.
Caroline: Caroline is silent for a long time. A minute, perhaps? An eternity in conversation.
“We like to think that we Malveauxes rule Louisiana, but we’re only the most public face of things, a couple tiers removed from the man on the street. And these people, we’ll call them the Court, are the sharks to our minnows.”
“Matthew and Orson have bodyguards. They have private armies. We play with millions of dollars. They play with hundreds of millions. We have ties to judges, police, and local lawmakers, but they give those people the 3 AM phone calls they jump out of bed to obey. I would not be surprised if one of them has ties to Dad, another to Matthew, and another to Orson.”
“Their connections go beyond the official. Gangs, MCs, organized crime. They’re the people pulling the strings.”
“The thing is, as far as I can tell, they don’t even really play at power on the level we do, because they’ve got it. Instead it’s about their Traditions, which govern their interactions with each other. And that’s where the game is. Showing each other up. Humiliating each other. Climbing their own power structure.”
She waits for any responses before continuing.
GM: Aimee and Gabriel are both staring disbelievingly.
“Who are these people, Caroline?” asks Aimee.
Caroline: “You’ll forgive me, Aimee, they didn’t exactly sit me down with a brochure.”
GM: Gabriel’s brow furrows. “But… where does this all begin, Caroline? How did you get involved with these people?”
Caroline: She awkwardly looks away.
“One of them, one of moderate influence…” There’s sile searching for a word that will obviously stand in. “…attacked me at Decadence.”
GM: “But how did you find out about all this? And… why you? What’d you do?” Aimee.
Caroline: “I don’t know why,” Caroline snaps. “One of my contacts suggested it was part of some power play between them. As to how I found out, that would be when I was dragged out of Orson’s driveway and casually threatened with murder. Everything since has been…. picking up pieces. Putting them together.” She shakes her head.
GM: That’s when Caroline notices it. Out of the corner of her eye. The black minivan that’s been following their car this whole time.
Caroline: Caroline digs out her phone and makes a call. “Change of plans. I need you to meet me at…”
GM: Audubon Place, as a residential neighborhood for rich homeowners with spacious yards, doesn’t have many alleyways. Caroline works with what she has. The gated community is shaped like a narrow rectangle, with two roads on opposite horizontal sides. Three intersections connect the two roads at the top, bottom, and middle of the “rectangle.”
Caroline drives through the neighborhood’s middle intersection, followed by the minivan… itself now followed by a black SUV. The minivan’s driver, however, isn’t buying it. He or she continues south, driving past the intersection and away from Caroline.
Still, the game of cat and mouse is not over… there is only one access route, guarded by Blackwatch mercenaries, for vehicles to enter or leave the walled-off neighborhood .
Caroline: Caroline whips the car around to follow. Into my web, said the spider to the fly. There’s a fierce predatory gleam to her eye, a pounding in her unbeating chest that demands victory. She looks to her stunned companions. “Buckle up.”
GM: Both of them trade bewildered looks. “Caroline, what’s going on?”
Caroline: “Someone following us,” she grinds out. “Or did you think that the minivan circling the block four times with us was lost?”
GM: Gabriel and Aimee both strain to catch a glimpse out the car’s windows.
“And whoever’s driving that,” Gabriel begins, “they work for-”
Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline replies. “But I’d like to find out.”
GM: The minivan continues to slowly drive past the rows of multi-million-dollar homes, headed towards the guard house at the neighborhood entrance.
Caroline: She closes in behind it as they approach the guardhouse.
GM: The minivan pulls up. Two of the Blackwatch mercs approach. After a moment, the iron gate to Audubon Place swings open.
Caroline: Caroline turns to her friends as they pull up. “Whatever happens, stay in the car.”
She smiles as she climbs out of the car with just a bit too much grace. It’s funny how the lights seem to dim around her as she steps out, all except those that shine on her. “Just a minute, boys, if you don’t mind.”
Her smile is dazzling. The Beast shows through, capturing the guards’ attention. Not something she wanted to do in front of Gabriel and Aimee… but she isn’t letting the Beast bend their minds into putty, and this is for them. Isn’t it? Is she going to let these monsters take everything from her? Everyone?
“I’d like a word.”
GM: The Blackwatch mercs stare at Caroline like there’s a spotlight shining down on her. Some of their eyes widen. The merc in charge manages not to. He waves at the black-uniformed man in the guard house. “Hold her up.” Caroline recognizes his voice as Johnson’s.
“I’d like more than one, Miss Malveaux,” he grins through his mask.
Caroline: Heels clap on asphalt as she advances on the van. “In a moment.” She glances inside.
GM: A college-age woman with messy dark red hair, large eyes, and a slim build smiles back at Caroline. She’s dressed in a t-shirt, hipster glasses, and lip ring. Altogether, she looks nonthreatening.
Caroline: “You seemed to desire my attention. Is there a matter I can help you with, Ms….”
GM: “Oh, nah, I was just leaving,” the young woman answers.
Caroline: She lets the Beast out. She lets it rampage against the girl’s mind.
“Please, it would be rude not to at least introduce yourself and your master.”
GM: The woman blinks as Caroline’s presence washes over her like a wave over a beach… but there is one tall rock it washes past.
“Yeah, but… we shouldn’t talk in front of them,” she manages after a moment.
Caroline: “Of course. Perhaps you should leave me your name and number, so we can arrange something.”
GM: “Autumn Rabinowitz,” she states. She gives Caroline a phone number.
Caroline: The monster wants more. Wants her to rip this girl out of her car. To take her here. It would be so easy. That darkness in the back of her mind whispers that it could even be justified. Protecting her brother and friend. This woman knows their faces.
She bites down on her lip.
“Call first next time. I’d hate for there to be a misunderstanding.”
GM: Autumn glances to the side at Johnson. “I’ll try.”
“Listen,” she then implores, “We have to talk, soon. This can’t wait.”
Caroline: Caroline considers. “Tonight. I’ll text you details.”
GM: Autumn shakes her head. “As soon as possible. This can’t wait.” She looks as if she’s going to say more, but the mercs’ presence gives her pause.
Caroline: She glances at him. “Mr. Johnson, could you give us a bit of space? You’ll get your minutes when we’re done.”
GM: “I’d love to, ma’am, but this is the community entrance. Can’t you talk somewhere out of the way? Some other bigwig rolls in, it’s gonna be my boys he takes it out on if there’s two cars blocking his way home.”
He frowns, blinking against Caroline’s glamour as he goes on, “This is an intersection, not a goddamn living room.”
Caroline: She glances at the other woman. “Why don’t you come back with me?”
GM: Autumn nods eagerly.
Caroline: She blinks at Johnson. “My apologies, then. Another time.”
GM: “Caroline? What’s going on?” Aimee calls. Gabriel frowns too.
Caroline: Caroline smiles emptily at the other woman. “Excellent.” She moves back to the other car and climbs back in the driver’s seat.
“She’d like a word with me, in private. We’re headed home.”
She throws the car in reverse and heads back into the neighborhood, slowing only to see if ‘Autumn’ follows.
GM: The minivan obediently follows after her brother’s car.
“Who is she, Caroline?” Gabriel asks.
Caroline: Caroline lets the glamour drop with an unnecessary sigh, seeming to deflate. “Just a messenger.”
She types a text with one hand to her following SUV.
GM: “For who? One of… the Court?” Aimee ventures.
Caroline: “Seems likely.” It’s not a far drive. “Just head inside. We’ll finish this conversation in a few minutes.”
GM: Gabriel shakes his head.
Caroline: “She won’t talk if you’re there.”
GM: “She won’t talk. I guess I’ll just let one of the people who whipped my sister bloody be alone in a room with her.” The sarcastic words only come out angry as Caroline’s brother clenches his teeth.
Caroline: Caroline points over her shoulder. “Black SUV. That’s my ace. She’s not going to start anything here. If she does it’ll be the last thing she does. Trust me, Gabriel. Please.”
GM: He shakes his head again. “I want to look these people in the eye. They think they can just… walk all over our family, do they?”
Caroline: “GABRIEL,” Caroline all but shouts. “Get in the house. I’m not fucking asking.” Her temper is frayed to a ragged edge.
GM: “YOU SHOULD BE IN THE ER!” her little brother yells. “For God’s sake, that wound’s still red!”
“Guys, guys, calm down-” Aimee begins.
Caroline: “Don’t let your pride get me killed.”
GM: Gabriel just glares.
Caroline: “You can watch from the window.” She tries to reason.
GM: “I’m not leaving you alone with one of those people,” Gabriel declares resolutely.
Caroline: She pockets the phones. Her kid brother, trying to protect her. Her, this monstrous creature. Would he still be so protective if he knew what she was? What she’d done?
Probably. That’s who he is.
GM: “Who’s the one that hurt you, Caroline?” he abruptly asks.
Caroline: She pulls into the driveway. “Last chance. Gabriel.”
GM: Her brother just stares.
Caroline: “Aimee, don’t let him do anything brash.”
GM: “Caroline, you can’t just expect us to sit around while you go talk to one of these people,” Aimee says, trying to sound reasonable. “Why is it that you don’t want us to see them?”
Caroline: She pockets the keys. “Because right now you’re clean. You’re only at the edge of their vision. And I’m going to keep it that way.”
GM: “You’re treating us like kids, Caroline.” She still tries to reason.
Gabriel just glares.
Caroline: “I’ll be back shortly.” She climbs out of the car before the other girl can pull in beside them and races out for the passenger side door of the van.
GM: Gabriel and Aimee immediately move to bolt out of the vehicle too.
Aimee has much shorter legs than Caroline and wasn’t ever much of a runner. She’s quickly left in the metaphorical dust, yelling for her roommate to come back.
Gabriel, Caroline recalls to her chagrin, is a star athlete. His longer legs steadily thump against the pavement as he chases after his sister. “Caroline, STOP-!”
But even top of his gym classes, Gabriel can’t keep up with his sibling’s unholy alacrity. His hand manages to snag onto the key’s in Caroline’s for an instant before she awkwardly leaps onto the approaching minivan, hanging on by one foot with one hand wrapped around the side mirror.
Autumn blinks in surprise as the car’s new passenger literally jumps on.
Caroline: She gestures to keep going with her free hand, even as she tries to manage the door and climb in.
GM: Caroline hears a click as the door unlocks.
Caroline: With grace she couldn’t have managed in life, she slithers in with the still-moving vehicle.
GM: Slithering in entails climbing through the rolled-down window, as actually opening the door would likely knock Caroline off the vehicle. The car isn’t objectively cramped, but it is for someone with legs as long as Caroline’s, and she has to spend several uncomfortable moments disentangling herself.
Autumn stares bewilderedly at the whole scene. “You told them, didn’t you?”
Caroline: “If I told them, I wouldn’t be running from them.”
GM: “That’s why they were literally chasing you onto a moving car?”
Caroline: “And that foot race would have been far more one-sided.”
GM: “Oh God. We have to clean this up!” Autumn exclaims, returning her eyes to the road. “You’re going to be in so much trouble, with the Krewe, with the sheriff…”
Caroline: “Autumn.” Caroline’s voice is crisp, cold, un-winded by the exertion. It cuts through panicked words like a knife. “Pull yourself together.”
GM: Autumn rapidly shakes her head. “You don’t get it! Once this gets out, you’re DEAD, and so are they!”
Caroline: Caroline’s hand snakes across the narrow distance between them to grip the ghoul. “I hate having to repeat myself. I told them nothing.”
GM: Autumn shakes her head again. “I heard it all. ‘The Court.’ What were you thinking!?”
Caroline: “And all of your kind, and mine, and the details?”
GM: “This isn’t law school!” Autumn yells, anger edging into her voice. “They don’t care about technicalities like ‘I never said vampires’! The only question is who’s going to kill all of you first, a remover from the Krewe, or the sheriff after he hauls you in to get torched for blasphemy against Longinus. If we don’t get this cleaned up, NOW!”
“God, you BLABBERMOUTH!” she yells, slamming her palms down on the wheel. “That’s the First Tradition, you DON’T TALK about vampires to mortals! Zero, nothing, not a word!”
Caroline: “And why do you care?”
GM: Caroline knows the answer to that question as soon as it tumbles out of her lips.
“I—don’t know, I guess that…” Autumn just frowns.
The ghoul’s face briefly twitches as she fights the Ventrue’s influence.
Caroline: “Who’s your master, Autumn?”
GM: “The Krewe of Janus,” she answers. “I’m a probationary member. They’ll let me in once I’ve proven myself.”
Caroline: “And they told you to keep an eye on me. Very generous of them.”
GM: Autumn nods. “They’ve marked you as a potential repeat offender, since you’re so young and don’t have a sire. And you’ve already screwed up once.”
Caroline: “You have a contact number?”
GM: “For who, another of the Krewe?”
Caroline: “A full member.”
GM: Autumn frowns. “The last thing you want to do is talk to them. They don’t care what your explanation is. You broke the First Tradition, and they’re going to kill you—and your friends—unless we make sure they never find out.”
Autumn glances out the window. “They’re everywhere, you know. They have people in the hospitals, the press… I wouldn’t put it past them to have a real member tailing me.”
Caroline: “And how would you suggest cleaning it up?”
GM: “Get your friends’ memories erased, turn them into ghouls, or… kill them.” The ghoul gives a helpless shrug as multi-million-dollar homes roll past. “You don’t have a lot of options, but all of you are dead if this gets out. Donovan and the Krewe do not screw around with the Masquerade.”
Caroline: Draw someone else into a conspiracy, but even then there’s no guarantee that the girl won’t `go blab and cause trouble, taint her best friend and kid brother with the poison… poor options.
“How often are you supposed to check in? How long do we have?”
GM: “I check in with them after every stake-out. They’re in constant contact with each other. I think they even have a couple ghouls whose job is to do nothing but receive and relay calls from the other members.”
Caroline: She curses and falls silent for a moment. Finally, “Turn around, then. If we need to clean this up, we need to clean it up.”
GM: Autumn turns around the car.
Caroline: If she could shiver, she would.
GM: “I just hope they weren’t already tailing me.”
Caroline: “We’ll clean it up. And then you’re going to explain to me exactly the sort of limits there are on the First Tradition, since no one else can be bothered to.”
GM: Autumn scoffs. “That’s because it’s common sense. You don’t talk to mortals about vampires. No innuendos, no hints, no allusions, no half-truths, NOTHING. If you have to ask if it counts, it does.”
“Why do you think so many licks fake their deaths? It’s impossible to keep up all the lies around friends and family. Or at least damn hard.”
Caroline: Caroline sits in silence.
GM: The ghoul mutters and drives on.
Caroline: “Why is ghouling so acceptable as an alternative then? The bonds?”
GM: Autumn nods. “We’re not mortals anymore either. You’re either in the club or out of it.”
Caroline: She’s silent the rest of the way back, wrestling internally. Damn her friends, threaten them with death, or slit the throat of the girl beside her… for what little good it will do in the long run.
GM: “We’re immortal too, after all,” she adds. “Eventually we have to disappear.”
Caroline: She wishes she had Lou’s number, but she already knows what the old man would say. She screwed up and no matter what she does, others are going to suffer. A bitter pill she’s swallowed once already tonight.
GM: “So what are we going to do?” Autumn asks, eyes once again on the road.
Caroline: “We’ll see which option they prefer,” she murmurs. “It’s the best I can do.”
GM: Autumn rolls her eyes. “Oh come on, what do you think they’re going to say if you ask them to drink your blood? They’ll think you’re crazy, unless you can glamour them into doing it.”
Caroline: She smiles sadly. “I think you’re wrong, Autumn. But we’ll see. There are other options if not. Still, I’m glad you’ll be there to help.”
GM: “Like what? I mean, it’s what I said. Wipe their memories, turn them into ghouls—and you’ll probably have to make them drink—or kill them.”
Caroline: “Exactly those things.”
GM: Autumn’s phone buzzes in her pocket. “Can you see who that is for me? I don’t like to text and drive.”
Caroline: She digs out the phone for the girl.
GM: sis when u comin home? me and Stef tried to make cookies
Caroline: She reads off the message dubiously.
GM: Autumn laughs. “Oh god, they probably just made cookie dough and ate it all.”
Caroline: The sound is jarring. “I take it you haven’t faked your own death.”
GM: The ghoul pauses. “We can move around during the day. We can still eat and drink, get angry at someone without going postal… a lot of ghouls still lead mortal lives. Licks like you still need people to actually sign leases, hold properties, manage bank accounts, and stay plugged into the system.”
Caroline: “Why?” she asks, abruptly. “Why did you do it? Did you chase this life?”
GM: “I can go to college without drowning in debt,” Autumn answers. “They’ll make my career after I graduate. I’ll live forever, vitae’s better than anything else I’ve ever done… why wouldn’t I?”
She pauses, trailing off. “I’ll have to say goodbye to my family eventually, but… I’d still have to do that. And I can make life better for them with the Krewe’s help. I’m not a junkie.”
Caroline: What a monster.
GM: “I mean, we used to eat out at Big Kahuna Burger all the time. Stef has diabetes. So much for being healthier than O’Tolley’s, right? Now we can actually shop at those overpriced organic supermarkets. I couldn’t go to college without taking out a ridiculous amount of debt, either, didn’t have the money. They helped out there too.”
Caroline: “Why you?”
GM: “I’m a journalism student. They’re going to set me up on a news company to help monitor the Masquerade. I’ve already squashed more than a few weird stories on the student paper for them. I owe them too, not like if I were an established journalist.”
Caroline: They’ll kill her. The thought floats through Caroline’s mind unbidden. She only smiles. They can’t be far now.
GM: Audubon Place is only two streets long. It does not take much time to find Gabriel. He angrily stalks past rows of million-dollar houses, Aimee nowhere in sight. When Autumn’s car approaches, he dashes into the middle of the road to arrest its path.
Caroline: Caroline directs the car to a stop. “Get in.”
GM: The words have barely left Caroline’s lips before her brother is all but throwing the door open. He plants his arms on either side of Autumn’s head, pinning her against the wall and shouts, “If you did anything to hurt her, my family is going to DESTROY YOU-”
Caroline: “GABRIEL.” Her words carry a sudden weight. “Get in.” It comes so much easier than the first time.
GM: “We’ll have you ROTTING in some private shithole prison where you’ll just wish-!” he continues, almost spitting over the girl.
Caroline: “She’s convinced me to tell you everything, Gabriel, now get in before I change my mind.”
GM: Gabriel’s facial muscles jerk as he struggles between his sister’s arrogant, “my way or else” tone and the adoration commanded by her unearthly presence.
Autumn simply glares through his tirade.
Caroline: “She’s not your enemy, Gabriel. She didn’t hurt me, and if she weren’t here…” Caroline shakes her head. “Just get in the car please.”
GM: It still takes a few moments for the Beast to batter down the last vestiges of her brother’s free will, convince him that everything is all right. Finally, he slurs out, “Yeah. Sure,” and climbs into the car.
Caroline: “Where’s Aimee?”
GM: “The gatehouse,” Gabriel slowly states, as if half-asleep. “She’s waiting there in her car.”
Caroline: Caroline directs her new friend in that direction.
GM: They find Aimee’s silver Prius waiting there, on a driveway out of the direct path of any incoming vehicle traffic (perhaps at Johnson’s growled insistence). Aimee does not react as poorly to Autumn as Gabriel, but is still set immediately on edge, demanding to know wh—and it’s even easier for Caroline to bend her friends’ minds like putty the second time.
Caroline: Caroline feels sick. It makes her want to curl up and die. It makes her grateful for the Invictus whipping her. The pain is more than a distraction.
It is, like it has been all night, a cross to bear.
Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM
Caroline: Before long they’ve reassembled upstairs, away from Caesar and the ruins of the lower floor. Caroline’s bedroom, a hard, metal and glass place, is an appropriate venue. She drags over a chair and closes the door behind them all. The ghoul is seated beside her, opposite Aimee and her brother. It is half reluctantly, and half with relief, that she releases her hold on the two’s will.
The words hang in the air and are followed by a ragged sigh. “So you want to know everything. You should know, before we start, there’s no going back. You’re asking to take on a burden the likes of which… you can’t even imagine.”
GM: The two mortals and half-immortal both reel for a moment as Caroline’s Beast recedes from their minds.
Autumn’s eyes flash. “This is NOT the right way to do this. We need to be prepared for if they say no after hearing everything.”
Caroline: “What would you have me do, Autumn, lock them away?”
GM: Even with Caroline’s Beast pressing against her mind, forcing her to be a friend, Autumn looks exasperated. “No. You need to make arrangements for what will happen—immediately happen—if they say no before telling them ANYTHING more. We shouldn’t even be talking about this in front of them!”
“What do you mean, arrangements?” Gabriel glares. “You’re going to do what if we ‘say no’?”
Caroline: “Autumn, you’ve made clear what the outcome of the current circumstance would be in any case. I think we’re rather past half-measures.”
GM: “NO,” the ghoul says abruptly. “These are FULL measures. You don’t tell them ANYTHING more, without being in a position to… deal with them saying no.” A vein bulges in Autumn’s temple as her natural disposition struggles to reassert itself.
“What do you mean, ‘deal’ with us? Have us killed? Is that with this is, Caroline?” Aimee angrily demands.
Caroline: Caroline stands and walks over to a safe built into the wall. Several beeps later, she pulls something heavy and metallic from it. She tosses the object to the ghoul.
GM: “I don’t know what this is,” Gabriel almost shouts, “but I don’t like any of it, Caroline! Is she from ‘the Court’? What’s she even doing here?”
Caroline: Tears drip down Caroline’s face. Tears of blood. Not a stream, but a flow.
“Gabriel… I’m sorry.” She moves over and sits beside him, on the ground. “I know you have questions. I know you’re angry. I know you’ve ridden an emotional rollercoaster all evening. I’m sorry I put you in this position. I… I can’t seem to stop screwing it all up.”
She looks back to Aimee. “But for a moment… just wait. Just be quiet. Just trust me. For once this evening, trust me. I’m trying to come clean to you. And she’s trying to help, on terms that won’t get us all killed.”
GM: Both Aimee and Gabriel startle in horror at the blood freely running from Caroline’s eyes.
“Caroline! You said that was-” Aimee.
“It’s not!” Gabriel shouts to preempt her. His face is a tortured mosaic painted with equal parts horror, rage, helplessness, and not least of all, pain for his sister. “Whatever this is! No more! No more LIES, Caroline! You want us to trust you? Trust US!”
But as the already strained and stretched Masquerade finally snaps, so too does Caroline’s hold over Autumn. The ghoul drops the firearm and lunges at Gabriel with a taser that suddenly appears in her hands. Not the kind college students buy. Heavy duty. Police issue. Caroline’s brother screams as the electric current plays havoc with his neural system. The pungent scent of burnt flesh wafts up the Ventrue’s nostrils. Gabriel collapses to the floor like a dropped sack of potatoes, fingers still twitching.
Caroline: Caroline clamps a hand over her mouth.
GM: “Lights out for her—NOW! You’ve fucked things up bad enough!” Autumn shouts, her face livid.
Caroline: Caroline looks in Aimee’s eyes. “I won’t let her hurt you, but you have to be quiet right now, Aimee.”
GM: Aimee stares at Gabriel’s comatose form with wide eyes, then abruptly turns and runs out of the room.
Autumn’s footfalls immediately thump behind hers. “Oh no, you DON’T-!”
Caroline: Caroline is past her in a heartbeat, down the stairs, and with her hand around her best friend’s throat. It’s such a natural action, so close to what the Beast wants…
“You wanted this!” she cries in Aimee’s face.
GM: Aimee struggles and starts to shout something back—before Autumn all but stabs the black and yellow taser gun into her back. Caroline’s roommate gives a raw scream (how many times has she screamed since the Ventrue became what she was?) and crumples to the ground, her head loudly banging against the stairwell.
Autumn pants and turns to face Caroline. “Oh, you have FUCKED UP!” the now-lucid ghoul yells. “You have FUCKED UP, SO BIG!”
Caroline: Caroline numbly stares at her fallen friend. At this stranger who has destroyed another pillar of her life. Who’s screaming at her in her home.
She shakes with rage. “I fucked up? Check your fucking tone.”
The Beast prowls so close to the surface, and the woman is all-too ready to unleash it on this engine of destruction. Only fear of the consequences stays her hands.
GM: “Me? ME?!” Autumn shouts. “You’re the one who’s been juggling the Masquerade like a glass vase for God knows how long, and now you’ve finally dropped it! You didn’t even hear a WORD I said! The Masquerade means YOU DON’T TELL MORTALS ABOUT VAMPIRES! Nothing! Nada! Zero! And that also means you don’t just TELL THEM EVERYTHING AND FIGURE YOU’LL TAKE CARE OF THEIR MEMORIES LATER!”
Caroline: “Stop screaming the word ‘vampire’ at the top of your lungs.”
GM: Autumn’s cheeks are flushed red. “Oh, so NOW you’re concerned about the Masquerade? After just blowing it wide open with your crying, you ricer!”
Caroline: Caroline lunges at the other girl. She grabs her by the throat and pins her against the stairwell.
“I get it. You’re trying to make a life for yourself. You’re trying to do what you’ve been taught. But not everyone is invited into this life with someone holding their fucking hand, you spoiled child.”
GM: As Caroline’s hand clamps around her throat, Autumn gives a strangled shout and jams the taser against Caroline’s chest. Electricity jolts through the Ventrue.
Caroline: Caroline twists her left hand with lightning speed, trying to turn the taser uselessly aside into the wall.
GM: Caroline still isn’t fully used to her preternatural speed. As her hand blurs towards Autumn, the taser goes off, sending jolts of sizzling agony coursing through the Ventrue. And just like that—on top of her unconscious friends, her intended revelation going so horribly wrong, all the stresses of the evening, all the stresses of her entire new life—control slips away.
Caroline: And just like that, the fangs appear in her mouth. Control leaves her tortured body. It’s Beast vs. ghoul now.
GM: Caroline’s fangs sink into the other girl’s neck. Her blood is hot and heady, just what she’s looking for. She’s even a college student. Autumn’s screams are scarcely audible to her ears. The taser gun’s sting, however, remains all-too tactile to her flesh.
Caroline: She fights through pain, the Beast instinctively mending scorched flesh as she sinks her fangs deeper… deeper. The gun is long forgotten.
GM: Blood is spattered all over the staircase walls. Autumn weakly struggles against Caroline, tries to hit the Ventrue with the taser gun, but it discharges harmlessly into the red-smeared wall with a dull burr-ing sound. Her face is so pale.
Caroline: Caroline throws her off her, recoiling like a cat from water.
“Goddamn! You idiot!” she cries at the ghoul.
GM: Autumn tries to stand, wobbles, and almost falls down the stairs. She barely holds onto the banister with trembling fingers. The stun gun clatters as it hits the floor.
Caroline: Caroline moves to catch her, to steady her. “Why would you do that?”
GM: “I… I… oooh…” Autumn crumples into Caroline’s outstretched arms. Arms warm and flush with her stolen life.
She shakily looks up and sees her lifeblood smeared over the Ventrue’s still-protruding canines. She turns and retches to the side. Only some of her bile spills down her and Caroline’s legs, but the stink is all-too foul to Caroline’s sensitive nose.
Caroline: “No. No. No. Not again.” She bites at her wrist, holding the wound to the maimed ghoul’s mouth. “Stop bleeding… pull yourself together… come on, I’ve seen it before…”
GM: Bile has barely started dribbling down Autumn’s mouth before she clamps her jaw around Caroline’s wrist with a vigor exceeding even Paxton’s. She sucks with all the contentedness of a hungry babe at its mother’s teat. Her eyes close as a needful moan escapes her throat. Color doesn’t return to her whitened cheeks, but the hideous gashes on her throat slowly close. Caroline tries to pull away, but Autumn won’t let go of her.
Caroline: “You have to stop…. I can’t…” She jerks the torn flesh away. She slides back against the wall, though whether she’s giving the ghoul a bit of space or it to herself is unclear.
GM: Autumn pants and wipes a palm over her mouth. She sticks her fingers in and sucks off all five, even the one smeared with vomit.
Caroline: Caroline watches the scene without comment. Her face is streaked with bloody tears, a hole in her coat where the stun-gun burned through. The open wounds on her back ache.
“I’m sorry,” she forces out at last.
GM: The gashes on Autumn’s throat have shrunk to still-raw, still-red, but much smaller puncture marks. She’s almost as much a mess. Her clothes are streaked over blood and her shirt is torn. Bile is smeared over the right leg of her jeans. She winces as she touches the wounds, but her eyes don’t leave Caroline… or meet the other girl’s gaze. They remain fixed on the Ventrue’s pallid, bleeding wrist.
Caroline: She shakes her head. “I can’t. It’ll get out again.”
GM: “I guess that’s what… happens when we lose tempers,” the ghoul finally manages.
Caroline: “I’ll make it right to you… but not tonight… not now.”
GM: “I just…” she groans, “wanna lie down. But your friends… they’re gonna wake up.”
Caroline: Caroline nods, a thought resolving in her head, even as she watches the ghoul. “I need someone who can wipe their memories of tonight.” The words hurt to say, the relinquishment of the fragile, clumsy admissions. “Someone who isn’t going to freak out and try to kill me for it. I don’t suppose you have a number?”
GM: She shakes her head. “The… the Krewe won’t help… just make this all disappear.”
Caroline: “We keep this between us then,” she groans. “And we find another way.”
GM: “What? We don’t have all night…”
Caroline: “That’s all we have.” Caroline drags herself to her feet. Slowly. Painfully. “And I have an appointment.”
GM: “Wha… who…? I… I have to report back, or they’ll wonder…”
Caroline: “How long do you have?”
GM: “I was supposed to when I left Audubon… but…” Autumn closes her eyes and gives a half-wince, half-shudder. “I don’t sound right… not tip top… I need more. I know you don’t have a lot, but… you could drink from your friends.”
She hurriedly continues, “Just a little bit, and I could bleed them for you, when you’re not looking, so you’re not tempted… we both need it.”
“They’d give it, they love you…”
Caroline: Another stream of tears run down Caroline’s cheeks. Cold dread grips her undead heart. Her eyes close. Then she looks up, trying to blink away tears.
GM: “Where’s… a knife, a glass? I’ll heat it up over the stove, so they don’t get infected.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No.” Cold pragmatism sets in, brutal realpolitik. If either of them miss their meetings… Aimee and Gabriel are dead.
“He won’t work. And if I’m going to suck the life out of my best friend… if I’m going to be a monster… the least I can do is own it.”
GM: “The girl then,” Autumn continues. “But you shouldn’t watch. You’re hungry, you’ll just get tempted… don’t you owe it not to endanger them because you want to feel better?”
Caroline: “No… I owe it to her to feel worse. I’m not letting you bleed my best friend, Autumn.”
GM: “But you’re risking her…” The ghoul almost pleads. “What happens if you snap and take more? Take it all? She’d rather be alive than have you feel bad, right? Or at least have better odds of staying alive? Sure odds, I won’t cut her deep, I’ve done it before…”
Caroline: Caroline pulls herself to her feet. The great irony is that as bad as her wounds are, this abomination barely slows down.
“I suppose that depends on how confident you are. Would you bet your life on it?”
GM: “I’ve done it before, like I said… it’s not hard, you just stop after a couple bags’ worth.”
Caroline: “Two pints. No more. And you take your time with it.” The words burn in her throat and in her ears. “The danger of blood loss is in speed more than volume.”
GM: “Two’s not enough,” Autumn pleads, “the human body can lose three, four… she’ll feel really out of it, but she’ll be okay, and not any worse than we’re feeling.”
Caroline: “God help you if you’re wrong.”
Caroline turns and trudges up the stairs.
GM: Caroline can hear the other girl’s footsteps as she makes her way down.
Caroline: She sees to Gabriel. Ropes, cuffs, a chair, a cloth gag. He’ll make no noise before she returns. And then she’s left with waiting in muted dread. She strips out of her clothing, Adelais’ gown, and digs out something from her walk-in closet. Something dark, something that showcases her ravaged flesh. Her shred back. She wipes blood off with a wet towel.
GM: It takes some minutes further before Autumn returns. The ghoul’s messy hair seems even more unkempt than when Caroline first saw it, and her skin and clothes are still spattered with blood and bile. She holds several plastic bags, like someone might stick a sandwich too. They’re filled up with a dark red fluid that Caroline doesn’t need to be a vampire to identify as human blood.
“Here… drink up,” Autumn says, extending the bags.
“Your friend’s fine.”
Caroline: Caroline accepts the bags wordlessly, confident Aimee is almost as far from ‘fine’ as possible. Her savage wounds, hidden until now by her coat, are on display.
GM: Autumn hands her a straw.
“So you don’t spill any.”
It seems almost funny. A straw. Such a mundane item in this bloody existence.
Caroline: And yet… she takes it. And she hates herself more that Aimee’s blood is velvety bliss.
GM: Aimee’s blood is like a mother’s home cooking. Sure, other cooks might be technically superior. But there’s just something that’s right about a home-cooked meal. Drinking up her best friend’s life, Caroline feels for a moment as if she’s truly gone home.
Caroline: She tries to rush through it. Tries not to focus on it. Tries everything…. and finds herself licking the bags, turned inside out, clean. It’s so wrong. It’s the most terrible betrayal she’s done… and it feels so right.
GM: Autumn lightly touches Caroline’s arm.
“So, can I…?”
She glances meaningfully at her wrist.
Caroline: She drops the bag in her hand and looks the other girl in the eye.
“Take it. Please.”
GM: The ghoul nods. “You should bite it. It’s less messy than if I use a knife.”
Caroline: Caroline does so as if in a daze.
GM: Autumn lifts Caroline’s bleeding wrist to her mouth and slowly sucks. Her eyes close with bliss.
Caroline: Caroline, mindful of her last attempt, draws away sooner, lest the ghoul refuse to give it up. She cradles her wrist. “Is that enough?”
GM: The wounds on Autumn’s neck are completely gone, without so much as a puncture mark remaining. Her skin is still smeared with blood, but it’s half-dried.
“Yeah,” she nods, licking her lips. Her eyes are a little glassy.
She shakes her head. “I better call the Krewe. Now what are we going to do with your friends?”
Caroline: Caroline looks away. “I need you to watch them when I go out to find someone. Can you do that?”
GM: Autumn wipes a bit of blood off her hands. It doesn’t look wholly dried.
“Sure. Who are you finding?”
Caroline: It’s an excellent question, and one that causes Caroline to pause in thought. Two names run at the forefront of her mind. McGinn, his cigar and white suit, and Donovan, the blade on his hip, with those piercing eyes. She pushes them back instantly. Not away. They can’t ever seem to get away, but back.
McGinn and his devils, if they even spoke to her, would be happy to contract for the service if she begged. Then they would slit Aimee’s and Gabriel’s throats when they were done, just to make a point. That casual cruelty.
Donovan… a pocket hand, but one she suspects she’s read well enough. He’d do whatever is most efficient. Part of her suspects that might be erase the two’s memories, just to avoid any mess. But she somehow doubts she’d survive the explanation.
Not that such would be a bad thing.
Wright, her easiest point of contact. He can do it, she suspects. But any report will go back to Donovan, even if he does anything but despise her. And that well is well-poisoned.
The pool of Kindred dwindles. Jocelyn, perhaps. It’s not clear which Kindred have which powers, however, and there’s no indication the other girl has any interest in getting involved in this matter, even if she can help. Caroline is like a protopterus swimming in mud that can be described as ‘waters’ only by the most generous of souls. Unlike them, she can’t survive months out of water.
Malveaux. Might he make an exception for another of his kin? She reflects on the cold efficiency of the man. Cast in the same mold as Donovan, she suspects. He might wipe them, to avoid the cleanup, but only that, and it would be flipping a coin. Maybe if she confessed it to him. Sought to make penance. Another part of her suspects he’d want blood even if the matter was kept between them. He has to make an example.
This entire culture is built on fear, on reputation, on pain. Architects of suffering laying bodies like beams as they climb ever higher. They’re all monsters. All of them as cold as the corpses they are. Any one of them is a gamble. A gamble for Aimee’s and Gabriel’s lives.
One name does stand out. “You should say thanks to Primogen Duquette and Seneschal Maldonato sometime. My sire says Prince Vidal used to put all… illegals to death.”
Long odds, but if she’s going to bet, maybe the best she has. There was something about the woman, something… measured. She could have beaten her, maimed her, mind-controlled her… her petty anger over Coco’s cowing display seems so trivial now. Maybe, just maybe, she can offer something to Coco. If she can’t, the woman seems the least likely to lash out simply because she can. It’s not an ember of hope. Those have been drowned in blood and screams. But it’s the beginnings of a plan.
Lou absently darts through her mind. The hint of hook hand and smell of cheep booze and even cheaper smokes. Fuck you, old man. What did he give her? Thin advice. Suggested she commit suicide. Promised something. Promised nothing. All without even a number to reach him at. The alternative to the monsters is a washed-up shell of a man. Bitterness and regret mixed together with grain alcohol. I wish I’d never met him.
Coco then… and maybe Father Malveaux if that fails, if she has to throw the dice.
“Would any name I offered have much meaning to you?” Caroline finally asks Autumn. “The evening. Give me till dawn to clean this up. Succeed or fail, you can then bring it—and me—to the Krewe if you wish, and on whatever terms you wish. I’ll owe you for it.”
GM: Autumn nods. “That’ll help later, but it’s not taking care of our three… immediate problems. Let’s just get those cleaned up now.”
Caroline: “Then make your call,” Caroline tells the ghoul. “And then I’ll be about my business.”
GM: Autumn disappears to report back to her masters, but Caroline does not trust the ghoul. Autumn tries to make sure she’s alone, closing and locking the bathroom’s door and speaking in a low voice, but she doesn’t know the house like its owner does… or the ways by which guests’ privacy might be compromised.
Not only does Caroline overhear Autumn telling someone that she saw nothing at Audubon Place but was able to bug Caroline’s house, the Ventrue picks up the location of the bugs in her bedroom and dining room.
Caroline: Satisfied, Caroline moves below to check in on Aimee.
The feeling of shame is immediate.
GM: Aimee lies trussed up and gagged on the bed, just like Caroline left to her brother. Her face is pale. Not as chalk-white as Autumn’s previously was, but pale. There’s a bandage over her wrist. The bathroom is clean to a human’s naked senses. Caroline’s far sharper ones can still detect coppery traces of her roommate’s blood.
Caroline: She spends a few moments over the girl, checking pulse and other vitals. It’s a wrenching experience, made all the more so by the the blood pounding in her veins.
GM: The almost-doctor assesses that Aimee’s life is not in immediate danger, nor does she even need a trip to the hospital. She has, however, lost more blood than a donation center would feel comfortable taking… she’d be well-advised to get a lot of rest and eat a lot of vitamin D.
Caroline: Caroline gathers her important belongings in another thousand-dollar bag and makes ready to leave.
GM: Autumn is helping herself to some food in the kitchen downstairs and stares dumbfoundedly at the Ventrue’s macabre gown. “You’re not actually wearing that thing out in public, are you?”
Caroline: She pulls a snappy long white coat off the back of a chair. “Problems?”
GM: “None except ruining your coat, I guess.”
Caroline: She smiles. “I’ve worn it out twice already. It’s due for retirement,” she says of the $700 garment.
GM: “Well… licks can smell blood a mile off. Walking around with that much painted over your back is gonna be like catnip to them. Hungrier ones might go apeshit on you.”
Caroline: The ghoul has a point. She’s painted enough of a target on herself already.
She draws on her friend’s blood and wills mutilated flesh back to pristine wholeness. A quick sponge bath gets off what’s left before she pulls on the coat.
GM: Autumn finishes making herself a sandwich.
“See you whenever you’re back. Hope you don’t mind if I raid your kitchen.”
Caroline: “Until then.” Caroline spares a glance upstairs, where Gabriel and Aimee lie unconscious and tied up like prisoners, then heads out the door to the waiting car.
Whatever happens to me after this… I just have to get them clear.