“Much tidier just to kill her, ma’am.”
Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM
Caroline: There’s much to be done, like there always is. Caroline heads out into the night to meet with the seneschal’s servants.
GM: Kâmil informs her that he called Congo while she was occupied. He has been unable to locate the bishop.
“His Excellency is known for his dislike of electronic communications.”
Caroline: “One can hardly blame him, but we have lost much of the night already,” Caroline observes.
GM: “Yes. Herald Congo says we are to begin without His Excellency.”
Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue across her fangs in contemplation. “Then we will do so in the least obtrusive way to his domain for as long as is possible. I’ve given thought to your words, regarding the Krewe of Janus. I would not ignore the resources they present in this matter.”
“It is my intention to frame Claire’s death as the byproduct of an interaction between two or more medications. Doing so will require the coroner’s office to sign off on that conclusion following an autopsy that cannot happen, a paper trail of prescriptions and medical records, and ideally someone deserving to take the ‘fall’ as it were for their malpractice.”
“I can arrange most of these matters, but it would be… easier, and less cumbersome if they were willing or able to exercise their influence at Tulane Medical to support that narrative.”
GM: “A prudent course, bayan, to provide your family an outlet for their grief.”
Caroline: “It’s a believable narrative, one less convenient for our purpose than the typical accident. Perhaps enough to muddy her death for her allies.”
GM: “Less convenient, but perhaps more efficacious, bayan. Gisèlle or I may both secure an audience with Regent Harlequin or Mr. Gremillion.”
“As our master does not wish your true lineage revealed, either of us may attend in your place, if you wish, and present you as a servant of His Majesty in this matter. Your involvement is plausible given your known relation to and continued involvement with the family.”
Caroline: “As well as my status as a tenant under the seneschal?” Caroline fills in as much as asks. “It seems wiser if I am involved to meet with Regent Harlequin, which opens other doors to complication.”
GM: The ghoul nods. “Regent Harlequin and his broodmate are equally known for their powers of induction.”
Caroline: She nods. “Better to keep distance for now, until the prince and seneschal have made their arrangements and desires known.”
GM: The ghoul assents to this, and says he will (if Caroline desires) seek to schedule an audience with the regent tomorrow night, so that Caroline may see him without delay—should the prince and seneschal also approve of such.
Caroline: Caroline recommends instead he seek a meeting with the regent’s ghoul tomorrow during the day, asserting that they’ve lost a significant amount of time already, and that a day meeting will attract less attention while also allowing them to move forward before Claire is reported missing. Caroline does not expect the latter will hold another full day into night.
GM: Kâmil states he shall do so.
Caroline: She inquires as to what Gisèlle discovered with the family’s security.
GM: The casquette girl merely points at the singled-out guards.
Images flood Caroline’s mind. She sees one of the two, a shaved-headed and midnight-skinned man, bending to drink from the wrist of a pallid figure with a crooked smirk.
She knows that man. René Baristheaut.
Caroline: It’s remarkable, she reflects briefly, how infrequently she ever knew the man that hunted her as his childe.
She contains the impulsive over reaction. She knows that René was recruiting shooters prior to his capture and final death. It’s not shocking that shooters from that same limited pool would find their way into other work.
GM: The other figure Gisèlle points at is a short-haired woman with a blank expression. Caroline sees her lying in a bed, her belly simultaneously swollen and deflated, screaming a soul-deep wail.
Bullets gorily mow down young women who look like Caroline’s new sisters. The older woman does not rush to their sides, but sticks her gun in her mouth and pulls the trigger.
Caroline: The Ventrue flinches at that image, jerking her head away sharply. It replays again and again, and a scowl works its way across her face. Scum. Filth. Pretending to protect her sisters.
She’ll clean house soon enough. Tonight they’re not important, not if the girls are staying home.
“The Giani Building,” she instructs Green as she climbs back into the SUV.
Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM
Caroline: Caroline runs several ideas past the elder ghouls as they ride past.
She expects that the sooner Claire’s body is discovered, the better, but she’s fair from certain as to the best method of arranging that discovery. Ideally she would leave the body in her hotel room, staged to look as though she’d passed in her sleep, or in the bathroom, or elsewhere in keeping with the narrative that some medication interaction had ended her life. Given that the hotel is in the French Quarter however, Caroline suspects doing so would be…. unwise. She’s open to possible suggestion on how else to frame such a thing, suggesting perhaps the idea that it could be during a visit with her half-brother Luke, though doing so would infringe on the bishop’s domain more explicitly and require more… aggressive efforts to ensure he interpreted events the ‘right’ way
GM: Kâmil agrees the French Quarter is undesirable. He is unfamiliar with what homes the various members of the Malveaux family own, but perhaps there is a suitable one within the prince’s territory?
Gisèlle remains as silent as before.
Caroline: Caroline nods, observing that Luke is both a logical individual for her to visit in the city, more easily accessible to Caroline than other members of the family, and that his apartment is in the CBD.
GM: “A potentially efficacious solution, then, bayan,” the ghoul concurs.
Caroline: Caroline is pleased the elder ghoul agrees with her plans, but after musing for a moment directs ‘Ms. Green’ to take them to Ericson’s home, rather than back to the Giani Building.
Her mandate from the seneschal was to put her affairs in order and to clean up the mess with Claire. The former requires more personal attention than the latter—at least until the Krewe is involved.
GM: It’s a 13-minute drive from the Walter Robinson House to New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood, where Autumn previously informed Caroline that her ghoul’s family had purchased a home. That makes the third time she’s been to the area recently.
Lakeview is an affluent suburban neighborhood situated on the southern edge of Lake Lake Pontchartrain, far north of the city’s downtown hub. A steady rain plunks against the dark lake’s rippling surface. Staring into that black expanse is like staring off the edge of the world.
A decade ago, those edges overflowed. Dozens of homes clustered right against Pontchartrain’s waterfront made Lakeview one of the worst-flooded areas in the city during Katrina. Rebuilding efforts were a much higher priority in the upper-income, majority-white neighborhood than the Ninth Ward, however. Caroline could hardly guess that Pontchartrain’s hungry black waters once devoured everything her car drives past. Now, the neighborhood is merely still and peaceful after having bedded down for the night. Golf courses sit empty, and no ice cream trucks, dogs being walked, or tricycle-riding children are visible on the vacant streets. Rows and rows of seemingly cloned McMansion houses endlessly stretch sideways and behind Caroline, stopping only at the edge of the lake. It doesn’t even feel like she is in New Orleans. There are identical development lots to this one in countless other suburbs throughout the country.
Nerea Ericson’s house at 7461 Jade Street isn’t as palatial or close to the waterfront as Uncle Matt’s and Aunt Vera’s (these days, really just Vera’s) 12,000-square-foot mansion. But it belongs to a family whose spouses clearly both make six-figure incomes. It’s a two-story brick affair with a rear courtyard, family-friendly backyard, and two trees growing directly in front of the house in a distinctive little touch.
Caroline: The Ventrue first tries calling the fencer turned lawyer. Most attorneys keep their phones on for client emergencies—and such calls are not so unusual, even if they aren’t terrible common.
GM: It’s as she’s pulling out her phone that Gisèlle points to another car not so far away from theirs. Roger Ferris and Brett Goodman are inside.
Caroline: The Ventrue gets out of their SUV and walks over to Ferris’.
GM: She does so a few moments before Ferris also does. The ex-CIA agent is to the point. “Brett and I are here to kidnap her children, ma’am.”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “No doubt with good reason.”
GM: “I’ve been looking into your people. Too many of them aren’t loyal or trustworthy. Ericson’s near at the top of that list.”
Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t argue the point, and instead gestures to the interior of his vehicle to discuss the matter, vice the street.
GM: The ex-CIA agent has been whispering, but assents after reminding her that Goodman is ignorant of the existence of vampires. The former con artist greets Caroline cheekily but gets down to business at his boss’ direction. Ferris explains his plan to cement Ericson’s loyalty by “recovering” her children after an apparent kidnapping. She will likely be profusely grateful to Caroline.
Secondary objectives include getting her “accustomed” to working alongside Caroline’s people as part of the recovery efforts. “Rabinowitz says she doesn’t play well with the others.”
The kidnapping can be blamed on anyone they’d find convenient to inflame Ericson’s ire against. Ferris wants to foster a siege mentality of “us against the world” within the former Olympian. He wants Ericson to feel like the only people she can trust and rely on are Caroline’s.
“We’ll let her stew for a while after the children go missing. She can go to the police and get frustrated when they don’t do anything. She’ll come to us on her own time.”
Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her teeth. “You think that superior to the alternative?”
GM: “People like Ericson get investigated when they turn up missing or dead, ma’am. It’s already going to be all hands on deck covering up your stepmother. I’d also sooner retain her as an asset than not.”
Caroline: “That’s dark, Roger,” she observes. “I’d simply meant fired, with anything especially sensitive deleted ahead of that.”
GM: “What’s deleted can be recovered, ma’am. I’d sooner tie up loose ends. How many of your associates know she’s yours?”
Caroline: “Too many,” she admits. “Though we could make her relocation a precondition. Few of them, I think, have reach beyond the South. I don’t need—and can’t afford—disloyal people.”
GM: Ferris nods. “She’ll probably get stubborn over uprooting her life again, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”
Caroline: “The hardest part would be a replacement with similar skills, but I intend on cleaning house now as is. Bishop’s loyalty was always tenuous, and Ms. Morrow’s likewise.”
GM: “You could bring in one of the other attorneys. We’ll do it right this time. But none of them are also Olympic fencers. Doubt we’ll ever find a replacement with the same skillset.”
Caroline: “True, but similarly, few have the same vulnerabilities that she does. Her family—and their ignorance—will always be a weakness someone else could exploit just as we can.”
GM: “We could get rid of them. Most of your people have someone in their lives though. Rabinowitz has her family. Widney has her grandmother. Fuller his girlfriend. Green her daughter. Tracking them down isn’t hard. Rabinowitz wishes she’d thought to use a pseudonym after she was first brought in. Learned that lesson too late.”
Caroline: “One perhaps we can pay forward to the next batch. Still, Ericson is uniquely…. troublesome for the combination of young children and willful husband. She’s fighting two wars.”
GM: “Only people of yours who don’t have anyone are Bishop and Morrow. And I suppose Goodman.”
“Hey, I have lots of people,” the con artist smirks. “But none tying me down, no ma’am.”
Caroline: Caroline knows very well just what kind of people Goodman has, and what kind he’d like to have. Or specifically who he’d like to have.
GM: “Ericson does have more dependents than they do, though,” Ferris continues without replying to Goodman. “The children consume a lot of her time and attention. She’d be more useful if it was just the husband. Killing them could unhinge her though. A spouse is easier to lose. Cleaner to just send them away. The kidnapping could convince her that’s in their best interests.”
Caroline: “He could be valuable on his own,” Caroline muses.
GM: “I’ve looked at his record. Fencing and a professional career. His wife’s isn’t substantially better. I don’t think it’s in our best interests to remove him. An adult spouse is less impediment to Ericson’s usefulness than two young children.”
Caroline: “I rather meant bringing him into the fold might be easier, generate less potential resentment… or perhaps not. I don’t know how that would affect their dynamic at home.” The two elder ghouls might have thoughts on the matter, though…
GM: “It could more fully cement their loyalty to you, ma’am, if they were both working for you directly. And keep their own relationship more stable. Not many married people like being unable to share their full life with their spouse.”
“If we’re getting them to send away their children, though, largest challenge is convincing them not to simply move away too.”
Caroline: “Is that why you have three ex-wives?” Caroline asks, half seriously.
GM: “Partly,” Ferris answers, fully seriously. “They weren’t part of my work. Didn’t know that world. They didn’t have sympathy after I bitched for long enough.”
“All in how you do it,” Goodman smirks.
“Brett, if there’s one thing you know absolutely nothing about, it’s married life.”
The smirk doesn’t slip. “Won’t argue there.”
Caroline: The moment of levity is a welcome relief from the dark subject at hand.
She waits a moment for the smirk to slip. “I don’t object to your conclusions or plans in principle. In this case, however, given… well, many factors, including the timing and other matters likely to attract attention and require significant resources, I’m going to take an alternative option.”
She continues, “I intend on dismissing Bishop and Morrow. I’d like consideration on replacements in the firm—my initial leaning is Ms. Bowden. I assume you spoke with Autumn regarding other difficulties with the rest of my staff. If not, do so. I’d like plans on ways forward with each of the problems she’s raised.”
GM: “I have, ma’am. I had several conclusions.”
“First, people need to be brought in with more care than previous ones. They need to be made loyal through normal means in addition to your special incentives. They need to be instilled with a sense of hierarchy and acclimated to how this sort of life works. If they’re employed or otherwise financially dependent on you, that’s preferable.”
“Many of your people have military or law enforcement backgrounds that already instill respect for hierarchy, which is reinforced by your status as their employer. When they don’t have that, like Morrow or Ercison, they need to be broken in. Like Rabinowitz already was.”
“She says there are associates of yours, and some associates of hers, who specialize in that. For a nominal fee, they can take any person and make them properly receptive to your expectations. I was and remain concerned about potential tampering and issues of trustworthiness. Rabinowitz says it’s not a significant issue or the market wouldn’t exist. I’d nevertheless be more comfortable with associates of Rabinowitz’s than associates of yours, should you choose to enlist an outsider’s services.”
Caroline: “Interesting, from within her own demographic?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Yes. She said a number of them are independent, and want the sort of payment you can imagine.”
Caroline: “Short-term or long-term?”
GM: “She said that depends how long you enlist their services for. Obviously, the more broken-in you want someone, the longer it takes. And I’m sure they’re like lawyers who’ll find any excuse to bill extra.”
“She said the trade-off is they’re less reputed than associates from your own demographic. They take longer and can’t break someone as completely.”
Caroline: “I expect she recommended Ms. Widney for that sort of conditioning?”
GM: “She thinks Widney is untrustworthy and should be liquidated as an asset. In lieu of that, she recommended Widney for conditioning too.”
Caroline: “Who else?”
GM: “Ercison. Morrow, if we keep her. Bishop’s a special case.”
Caroline: “Bishop is unlikely worth the effort,” Caroline observes.
GM: “So far as him. You only need one attorney who’s fully brought in. Anything more is redundant and presents an opportunity cost. I don’t need to remind you the number of people you can fully bring in is limited.”
“Ercison or Bishop need to go. Ercison’s asset is her fencing experience. You won’t find many other lawyers with that. Bishop’s assets are his experience, which is more extensive than Rabinowitz’s. He has no family ties, though with some work we could get rid of Ercison’s. He lastly has knowledge of his prior employer. I’m not sure how useful an asset that still is.”
“Bowden lacks Bishop’s experience and Ericson’s fencing skill. I don’t see her offering anything beyond a clean slate.”
Caroline: “He is, unfortunately, not trustworthy,” Caroline points out.
GM: “Neither’s Ericson. We have to work on either of them. We’d need to condition Bowden too, if you wanted her. That’s happening no matter which lawyer.”
“Wait, Bowden? Denise Bowden?” asks Goodman.
“I didn’t think you knew many lawyers,” says Ferris. But his tone doesn’t sound surprised.
“I think I might have banged her once,” says Goodman. “Yeah, I’m positive I did. The lawyer chick who gets around with everybody.”
Caroline: “Truly your conquests are legendary,” Caroline replies dryly.
GM: “Nah, those are my other ones. That Bowden chick really gets around. She wasn’t hard.”
Caroline: “She’d hardly be the first of my employees you’d slept with,” Caroline observes more pointedly.
GM: “Oh really? Who was the other one? Or ones.” Goodman grins. “Pretty easy for me to lose track.”
Caroline: “Back to the point, Ericson brings the most to the table, but that’s also true in baggage. Bishop brings less, and Bowden the least of all three. What was your feeling on Widney?”
GM: “Interlinked with my feelings on Rabinowitz. I’ve begun instituting a hierarchy among your people. ‘Palace intrigue’ has been rampant. Widney and Rabinowitz both think they’re your right hand. Or should be your right hand. They’re jealous, insecure, and hate each other.”
“Rabinowtz has been sabotaging Widney and setting her up for failure. Widney has been refusing to listen to Rabinowitz’s experience and implement her suggestions. The latter is partly Rabinowitz’s fault. Widney might be more receptive to input if she felt she could trust it. She considers everything from Rabinowitz suspect, and not without basis.”
“Widney’s also been telling her grandmother too much. Rabinowitz said so and Widney confirmed it. I haven’t had time to find out the full details of what she’s been spilling. I don’t think it’s as bad as Rabinowitz claims. She has a reputation as a good butler. Client confidentiality seems important to her. But I can see things slipping past.”
Caroline: “One needs to go,” Caroline summarizes. “It sounds as though the relationship is too poisoned to fix.”
GM: Ferris considers. “I thought about that. Both are considerable assets. Be a pain to lose either.”
Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement.
GM: “Their bad blood is a chink in our armor, though. It needs to get fixed before somebody exploits it. Or one of them gets rid of the other.”
Caroline: “Widney’s problems don’t all go away with Autumn. Autumn, I fear, would express the same hostility to anyone she perceived as replacing her,” Caroline observes.
GM: “Widney has an ingrained sense of professionalism and respect for her employer. I think it’s simply that expectations on what she is and isn’t allowed to talk about haven’t been made sufficiently clear. Might take orchestrating the grandmother’s death and leading her to believe it’s her fault. Might also just take a lecture.”
“As far as their respective assets. Widney has financial expertise and can ably coordinate the daily and nightly administration of a lot of things. In a pinch, we could get by without her, but that’s not desirable in the long term.”
“Rabinowitz does cover-ups, which you’re always going to need someone for. The media relations thing is you throwing her a bone.”
Caroline: “She has to grow,” Caroline justifies.
GM: “She does. I think you’re right to have tossed it. But it’s not a developed asset that factors into your immediate decision whether to keep or liquidate her.”
“Before my people and I joined yours, I’d have said Rabinowitz was indispensable to you. That’s no longer the case. We can do cover-ups. She also has experience that we don’t. In time, we’ll acquire that, and she may eventually become fully redundant. But until we do, she’s more useful than any of my existing people.”
“Always nice to know you care, boss,” Goodman smirks, though he doesn’t sound the least bit surprised.
“She also has connections to other people from her demographic that none of your other people do,” Ferris continues. “I’m not sure those are replaceable. But I’m also not sure how directly useful they are to you, either. I think she’s been ‘slow’ about introducing your other people around. I’d do that too if I was her. And less professional, of course.”
He might be joking.
Caroline: “Honestly, I’d rather keep both. I guess the operative question is whether you feel your structural changes can get a handle on the two.”
GM: Ferris thinks.
“Structural changes should help. Your liquidating the less useful people should send a message too. Rabinowitz told me about Rivera, but that was different.”
Caroline: “He crossed a line,” Caroline agrees. “Several, really.”
“And I mishandled it from the start,” she admits.
GM: “Morrow, Ericson, and Bishop present similar problems to his. But we’re dealing with them preemptively this time.”
“I’ll see what I can do so far as getting Widney and Rabinowiz to play nice. I’ll bug their phones in case they get ideas. Or have any. Anything you can think to do yourself, do it. Bad blood like that doesn’t go away easy. I can be a lot of things to them, but I won’t ever be you.”
Caroline: “We’ll see. I’m told I may not be immediately available for an indeterminate amount of time following the resolution of this matter.”
GM: “Oh, who’s telling you that?” asks Goodman.
Caroline: “Something comparable to a very high profile internship,” Caroline clarifies, both for Ferris and Goodman, but for very different reasons.
GM: “Oh, congrats. You’d been pretty on the outs,” he remarks.
Caroline: The understatement of the year.
GM: “Speaking of bugged phones. You should consider fully bringing in Ramsey,” Ferris pivots. “You know as well as me what she’s had access to. She’s personally loyal and financially dependent, but I wouldn’t feel bad about another leash on her. There’s a lot that a cybersecurity expert might do for you.”
Caroline: “The thought had occurred to me,” Caroline agrees. “More a question of how and where resources are spent though. Physical security has eaten a lot to date, and I expect it to eat more going forward.”
GM: “Moving up in the world means you should have to solve fewer problems with physical violence. I’ll take Ramsey on my team over another heavy hitter any day.”
Ferris glances out the window towards the sleeping house.
“For another day. Brett and I were going to leave with Ericson’s children unless you want to belay that.”
Caroline: “Hold on that one,” Caroline decides after a moment. “The timing, after her refusal to respond may seem too coincidental. Let me speak with her. If it goes well, that’s a new opportunity without the poisoned fruit at the start. If not… well… that problem resolves itself.”
GM: “I don’t think you’ll be able to turn her loyal just by talking, ma’am. But as you say.”
Caroline: “I don’t either,” Caroline agrees, darkness in her blue eyes.
GM: The phone rings. Not many people would answer a phone call this late, but as Caroline well knows, attorneys are among those few.
“Mf… Caroline…?” grogs Ericson’s voice.
Caroline: “We need to talk, Nerea.” The Ventrue’s tone isn’t imperious, isn’t angry. It’s just… tired. Maybe disappointed.
“Meet me outside.”
GM: Caroline can picture Ericson tiredly running a hand over her face. “What is it… that can’t wait ’til morning?”
“Evening,” she amends.
Caroline: “I’ll be waiting on the porch,” Caroline answers. “I met you more than halfway on this one.”
GM: There’s a tired sigh.
“Caroline, it’s 4 AM. On this what?”
Caroline: “Don’t make me let myself in.” Caroline hangs up.
GM: Time passes. Ericson doesn’t come out.
Caroline: Caroline takes the time to quickly check the porch for a spare key in the usual spots: under the mat, above the door frame, in the potted plants.
Sometimes it is that easy. She remembers Jessica once telling her a huge percentage of the burglaries she saw involved a key.
GM: Apparently, it is that easy. The key is under the welcome mat.
“You shoulda let me talk to her,” Brett had smirked.
The house isn’t entirely bereft of security, though. A Cadabra Ring video doorbell watches the vampire, or at least tries to, with an unblinking black eye.
The lights inside the home are off. Caroline can make out a tastefully decorated interior with various smarthome amenities like an Alexa light switch and digital thermostat. A few stray children’s toys litter the floor around the living room couch.
Caroline: Caroline leaves her retainers behind as she enters the home. The darkness is no impediment to her.
She reflects on how rarely she’s had cause to visit any of her ghouls’ homes.
GM: Never, in fact, until now.
Caroline: She stalks forward in search of her wayward servant.
GM: Caroline’s search of the house eventually finds Ericson fast asleep in a bedroom by herself.
Caroline: That’s interesting.
But not that surprising, she admits to herself. Being someone’s ghoul can’t be healthy for relationships.
It bites the edge off her anger over Ericson ignoring her.
GM: The sleep mask-wearing woman breathes softly in her sleep.
Caroline: Caroline watches her for a moment before approaching, taking in the room, its details. Whether the other half of the bed looks rumpled, whether there’s anything on the other nightstand.
GM: The king-sized bed has room for two, but is occupied by only one. Ericson still sleeps mostly on the right. The left is unrumpled. Each side of the bed has an adjacent table, but the one on the left is bare.
Caroline: She moves over to the ghoul and lays a hand on her shoulder.
GM: “Wha, whazzit, hon…” she groggily starts.
Caroline: “This isn’t a good look,” she tells Ericson quietly, standing over the ghoul.
GM: It takes a moment, but then her former fencing partner pulls off the mask, switches on the bedside lamp, and stares in bewilderment.
“What the fuck are you doing in my house!”
Caroline: “Well, you wouldn’t met me at mine, or outside,” she answers calmly. “That left relatively few options.”
GM: Ericson stares at her. “You’re crossing a huge line. Get out.”
Caroline: “You don’t even know what the lines are,” Caroline answers. “But then, that’s why I’m here.”
She steps back and gestures to the empty bed. “That’s new.”
GM: Ericson’s stare hardens. “Get out of my house. I’m not asking again.”
Caroline: “Stop it,” Caroline snaps, a hint of anger peaking out. “You have all the power of a child arguing with their parent—which is to say only the power to throw a tantrum, and I’m in no further mood to humor you.”
GM: Ericson gets out bed, pulls out a sword from one of the dressers, and levels it at Caroline.
Caroline: “Do you want out?” Caroline asks bluntly staring into the ghoul’s eyes and regarding the sword-wielding woman with all the concern that she might a child with a toy.
GM: Ericson makes a grab for the Ventrue.
Caroline: “Freeze.” Caroline snaps out the word like a striking serpent, her will bearing down on the ghoul like a mountain.
She disarms the ghoul, commands her to remain still, and goes to explore the rest of the house.
GM: The outlines of two small children are asleep in separate bedrooms. The outline of a larger male figure is asleep in what looks like a converted guest bedroom.
Caroline: The Ventrue returns to her wayward ghoul and restrains her more conventionally, borrowing cuffs from Ferris as needed, before sitting down to discuss their future together—and apparent lack thereof.
She casually skims the ghoul’s mind as she asks about her home life, why she ignored the call this evening, and her general feelings about ‘their’ relationship, liberally applying presence as needed if the ghoul proves especially taciturn.
GM: Ericson tries to scream after Ferris arrives to cuff her down spread-eagled to the bed. She tries to shout threats, tries to burst free, and ignores all of her domitor’s questions.
Caroline’s mental scan reveals feelings of outrage, anger, and increasing fear that are rapidly overpowering the blood bond’s instilled fixation.
Nascent feelings of lust and attraction burn shamefully underneath, too, like smothered coals.
Ferris tsks. “I still think she offers more than Bowden or Bishop, ma’am. But she needs to forget all of tonight if we’re going to make her loyal.”
Caroline: “That’s a lot of effort for someone whose life is falling to pieces and may become more unreliable. I suppose of the family was out of the way that might help. Car accident is the easy go to. Bang, bang. No more husband, no more children, in the way. Drunk driver,” Caroline observes, standing over the bound ghoul.
GM: Ericson’s shouted words come out as a muted, “No! No! What do you want!?”
Caroline: “Now you want to talk?” Caroline asks. “We had a similar conversation once, not that long ago. I’d hoped the bond would make you a little less strident.”
Caroline’s anger cools as Ericson becomes more willing to talk. She asks about many things. About Ericson’s home life. About what’s happened with her husband. About her desires, as they relate to Caroline, and her ghouldom.
It becomes clear in the questioning that Caroline’s inclination—and intention—is to cut Ericson loose, but also that she doesn’t want to do so haphazardly. She seems genuinely interested in the ghoul’s answers, and if she proves willing to talk, proves willing to remove restraints from the ghoul to make her more comfortable.
GM: Ericson plays along, giving Caroline whatever answers the woman who threatened her family and tied her up seems like she wants to hear. As soon as she’s untied, she physically attacks her domitor with a stifled cry.
Mortal, unarmed, and wounded from combat against other champions, the one-time Olympian was easy enough to subdue. Hale, within reach of a sword, and augmented by the Blood’s powers, she might well give the Ventrue a run for her money… if the conflict came down to one of arms. If she could even remember that her domitor can make her freeze with a word. Like the Ventrue does again. Ferris re-affixes her restraints.
Ferris thinks the ghoul has been turned completely against Caroline. If she wants “any degree of cooperation,” Ericson can’t remember any of tonight.
Further probing of Ericson’s thoughts reveals feelings of fear, hate, and outrage. The tugged and stretched blood bond appears to have finally snapped. Ercison is not accustomed to this sort of abuse. She has not been “broken in” like Autumn and other longtime ghouls.
The handcuffed, spread-eagled woman tries to shout, struggle, and whisper-scream what Caroline even wants.
“Why are you doing this!?” she cries.
Ferris repeats his assessment that Ericson could make superior ghoul to Bowden, after she’s suitably broken in (“one lawyer’s as good as another. We can get rid of the children easy enough, but we can’t turn Bowden into an Olympian”). It’s up to Caroline, though, and he adds that “Bowden isn’t damaged goods like this one.”
“I recommend mentally programming her to die in a car accident, ma’am, if we go that route. Wrong turn at a bad time.” Ericson is a partner in the firm, after all. The other lawyers need to buy her out if she’s going to leave the city. “I’ve been talking with Widney about finances. There are some significant new expenses that have come up. A partner’s severance package won’t help in paying those.” He thinks Ericson and her family will “be stubborn” at the idea of uprooting their lives all over again to move back to Atlanta. Her memories of Caroline go back months, too. And she’ll still have an inconvenient vitae addiction.
“Much tidier just to kill her, ma’am.”
Ericson’s eyes are huge with terror. She thrashes against her bonds and tries to scream.
Caroline: Caroline agrees with Ferris on all points. “Damaged goods. Too damaged. Honestly what I get for being too gentle at the start. Maybe I should have split up her family or conditioned her in the first place. A lesson learned.”
GM: “Too gentle at the start, too rough at the end,” Ferris concurs.
Caroline: She looms over the struggling woman as she states, “I want you to know this, want you to understand. Your children are going grow up without a mother because of your stupid fucking pride.”
“I came here to talk to you about giving you a way out of this life, because you seemed to hate it. Even after you pulled a sword on me, I was still planning on letting you go. I was even going to try to fix your fucked up marriage and relocate you and your family as painlessly as possible while trying to keep you from simply being snatched up by another lick.”
She glares down at the Olympian. “But you’ve made it too much damn trouble. You did this. So you can reap what you sow.”
She bores down with her will against the ghoul. “But don’t worry, you won’t remember this conversation. Any last words?”
“No, never mind. I don’t care. You’ve already shown nothing you say can be trusted.”
GM: “No! Noooooo!!! Don’t do this to them! Please! I’ll do anything! Anything!” Ericson screams, her voice shrill with panic. “Take the money! Take the severance, take it all! We’ll leave, we’ll never come back! Please!”
Caroline: “No, you won’t.”
She turns to Ferris. “Start scrubbing any evidence of this visit. Make sure you don’t miss the doorbell camera.” She doesn’t want him to watch what comes next.
The Ventrue brutally invades Ericson’s mind, smashing apart her memory of this evening’s conflict. She replaces it with an uneventful evening and plants a seed of pending commands for the ghoul’s death the following morning.
A simple thing, to take a life. So trivially simple a thing, to shatter three more. The blood on her hands runs thick and red, and when will it end? With every death, it gets easier. With every death, it seems that much more sensible practical, that much more practical, that much less of a headache.
GM: Ericson can’t stop her former fencing partner. Not with words and not with swords. The most she can get in is a final verbal riposte, spat words of final defiance, before the invisible guillotine comes thunking down:
“You were always second best to me!”
Caroline: Not anymore, Caroline silently spits back.
Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM
Caroline: It’s the little things that get her, always. That get most people, she reflects later. What was the saying: ‘a single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic?’
Even a single death, even one of someone she knows, even one that’s purely for personal gain, can seem like a statistic in a fury. When they’re snarling in your face and just won’t fucking listen to you like they damn well should. When you’re angry, and hurt, and frustrated to begin with, with your own life on the line and their obstinacy in the way. It can be a rounding error, another life crushed beneath the ineffable weight of her Requiem.
Right up until their crying child is in front of her, demanding their mother’s attention. The cries like nails on a chalkboard, like little needles into her cold dead heart. A mother she just sentenced to death for being an inconvenience.
It’s one thing to make any sacrifice for your family, or to survive, or even to make any sacrifice on the way to power.
It’s another thing to do so callously. Not because it’s unavoidable, or even difficult. But because it’s easy. Easier to be a monster to someone whom she brought here, whom she initiated so poorly into this life, and whom she’s known for years. Someone with people that depend on her.
Caroline already can barely stand to look at herself in the mirror. She’s not willing to go further. Not tonight. Not for this reason. Not because it’s the easiest option.
She tears down her buried orders from Ericson’s mind. Blurs the memory of this visit. Begins reinitiating her into the Blood. And she puts the crying child back to bed.
Later, she tells Ferris they’ll find an answer. Perhaps conditioning Ericson via one of the numerous Kindred and ghouls that might provide such a service. Perhaps slowly initiating her more deeply into the horrors of this world. Perhaps even eventually cutting her loose—there are means to wipe away more of her memory than a few nights. Those may be more available to her soon. But she does have some standards. Will have some standards. They’ve severed enough loose ends these last nights that Ericson is one they can afford to grow out. For now.
It doesn’t make her a good person, she reflects. Or even not a bad one. It just makes her a little less awful.
As awful as she needs to be.
Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM
GM: Ferris briefly remarks as to the “efficiency” of Caroline’s mental powers on the drive back to the Giani Building. “I’d have done more than kill to have access to those when I was working for your stepmother. Or in Jordan.”
He still thinks the best answer, if they want to secure Ericson’s loyalty, is to arrange her children’s kidnapping and rescue. Gratitude can be a powerful thing. Getting accustomed to relying on Caroline even better.
He brings up several further matters during the 17 minutes in the car.
“I spoke with your sister Cécilia earlier. She mentioned the police detective who prevented Yvette’s online habits from getting her into trouble recently passed the bar exam. He’s about ten years NOPD experience. Air Force enlisted before that. She thought to offer him a job at your firm in thanks, if you were looking for more lawyers.”
“Seems to be a vacancy even if you weren’t.”
Caroline: “We’ll see.” Caroline is clearly not eager to bring in another ghoul right away, but after a moment she amends, “Build out a dossier on him, and we can schedule an interview.”
GM: “Ramsey would be my first recommendation so far as ghouls, versus employees. But as you say, ma’am.”
Caroline: “Someone read into tech has value,” Caroline agrees. “Though there’s some Kindred-specific tech stuff that has made me… well, fairly wary of trusting it, in truth.”
GM: “That’s the reason I’d recommend Ramsey, ma’am. I don’t trust it. Keeping sensitive things offline is good. But you can’t fight, or avoid, what you don’t understand.”
Caroline: Caroline offers no disagreement.
GM: “Other thing I’ve talked over with Widney is finances. You have a very big new expense.”
“My team are used to salaries. Fat salaries. They didn’t stay working for the Malveauxes because of my scintillating personality.”
Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. “I can think of several means of offsetting it that were not previously available. Your people will get paid.”
GM: “Your bishop had your uncles fire them all after he decided to come for me. Part of his little purge. Your stepmother and I knew that was coming. He’d have killed or flipped them all if we hadn’t.”
“But everyone took a hit financially. Had to abandon lots of homes and other assets. And your stepmother by herself couldn’t pay us what the family used to.”
“I’ve been stringing them along with promises. Back pay as well as bonuses in compensation for the lean times, once we’re clear of those.”
“Your stepmother was confident she could arrange it once the bishop was out of the picture. Think she planned on using assets seized from you to help pay everyone.”
Caroline: “How typical that my inheritance from her is more problems.”
The sourness in her voice is from more than simply Ferris’ newest concern.
“Is there anything else waiting in the wings with her?”
GM: “Not that I’m aware of, ma’am. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was.”
“I had a stepkid with one of my wives. She hated me too, by the end.”
Caroline: “She didn’t murder you, so small victories,” Caroline answers cynically. “Talk to Widney. We’ll liquidate as necessary. I lean towards all investments currently vested in Ms. Morrow as a start on satisfying those debts.”
GM: “She knew I’d have killed her if she tried,” Ferris answers humorlessly. “Her mother too. No one stays reasonable after losing a child.”
“Liquidating was one idea Widney and I talked over. We had a few others.”
Caroline: “Such as?”
GM: “First is getting people back on payroll for the Malveauxes. Simplest, though not without complications.”
Caroline: “It’s a good long-term answer, but meddling immediately sends all the wrong messages,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Yes. Have to be subtle if we did. Risk versus reward.”
“Second option is going to your mother’s family for help. She’s already putting together a security force.”
Caroline: “We’re shifting either Fuller or Green to oversight on that, as an aside,” Caroline answers. “They’re about to have some openings.”
GM: “I’d recommend Fuller. He has a level head. Green’s mouthy and doesn’t have much leadership experience.”
“Widney also thought that was a more attractive option than I did. The Devillers have some financial issues of their own.”
Caroline: “Do we?” Caroline’s blue eyes glitter.
GM: “Your stepmother had me look into them. Your other family’s been shifting a lot of money to paying off the mortgage on the LaLaurie House as fast as possible.”
“They still have a little while before they’ll own it in full. That house was a big purchase even for them.”
Caroline: “Priorities,” Caroline agrees again.
GM: “I don’t know how much they’ll be able to help so far as my people. But vacancies in their security is promising.”
“Third option is putting people on payroll for the Giani Building’s staff. Phimlee and Cleveland seem tractable. But have to be subtle there too.”
“All of my team are a big staff bump, and not typical rent-a-cops. Stand out. There’s been a lot of strangeness at the building in recent months already. Pavaghis could notice. Might have already.”
“They have a master too. Don’t know who. But your stepmother and I have looked into them. Attempts by Kindred to seize control of the family have turned ugly.”
Caroline: “There are plenty of beings that go bump in the night that aren’t part of the conventional power structure,” Caroline offers. “Reclusive elders and so forth.”
GM: “Your mother, too. Your stepmother was awfully curious what she is. Wasn’t able to have me investigate that in much depth. Always other things.”
Caroline: “That isn’t a matter that requires further investigation,” Caroline answers bluntly.
GM: Ferris seems to consider her for a moment before replying, “As you say, ma’am.”
The rest of the drive passes uneventfully. Ferris pulls the SUV into the garage alongside the one driven by Goodman and the elder ghouls.
Widney and Autumn both have things they want to talk about, but the remaining hours in the evening grow short. Kâmil and Gisèlle silently await their next directives.
Caroline: Caroline has a great deal of business with the ghouls as a whole.
The effort towards covering up her stepmother’s death continues apace. The plan remains unchanged—they’re going to stage her ‘death’ at her brother Luke’s apartment in the Central Business District following complications from a combination of medications. The location needs to be examined and prepared for the event. That includes a fair amount of groundwork being laid—walking routes for security cameras (and creating doctored footage that will stand up to scrutiny of her stepmother’s arrival), identifying points of entry and routes between the Giani Building and the apartment—much of it to be done by either ghouls or Ferris’ security team.
She’s also acutely aware of the high probability that mortal hunters are still in play with this event. She inquires of Ferris whether he was involved in the original ‘breach’ of her panic room in the earliest days of her Requiem, and if so who else was involved. If not—and even if so—she expects that Claire has at least one more unit of hunters answerable only to her that she’s kept separate from both Gettis and Ferris. Her stepmother was both cagey and canny—too much so, she estimates, to entrust either her security or her plans to an agent she repeatedly planted deep among her foes—to say nothing of decades to build such relationships.
She suggests it was probable that many of her Claire’s devices are in ‘their’ hands—and that they’ll use Claire’s death—or at least the attempt to cover it up as a means of either gaining more information, or directly counter-punching her killers. The Ventrue is acutely aware of the mortal threat presented. She dearly would like to either tease out and destroy—or tease out and compromise such a tertiary group.
For the two elder ghouls the looming meeting with the Krewe of Janus to secure their involvement in the matter is the largest immediate concern. They need the medical coordination to create a convincing paper trail. One that will stand up to examination, especially as—she admits—there’s likely to be extensive scrutiny over this matter. In particular, she expects a wrongful death suit will be filed, and that it will both settle more quickly and with less headache if the responsible parties are well-insured. The entire matter will require initial ‘first responders’ to her collapse, documentation for her arrival at the hospital, a post-mortem toxicology report, support from the coroner’s office for their ‘fake’ corpse, and so forth. The elder ghouls are quite correct that managing it all without an error slipping past her and her people—no matter how meticulously they approach it—would be a mammoth task—and that it’s only marginally less monstrous even with the Krewe’s aid.
She also proposes that when it comes time to actually plant the memory in her brother’s mind if his mother’s death, that the casquette girl might be better suited to it than Caroline. Not only will it avoid the appearance of directly meddling in her elder’s domain, she’s also happy to admit the centuries-old ghoul almost certainly has greater finesse. She has no desire to brute force such a painful memory.
There’s also the secondary matter of liquidating Ms. Morrow’s assets, and beginning to funnel initial payment to both Roger (no doubt already begun) and his loyal team. The liquidation can wait, but she needs assets frozen immediately.
GM: Ferris answers that he was not present for the initial breach of Caroline’s haven, although he and Claire both concluded Caroline was Kindred when he picked up Aimee the previous night. Ferris had pretended to be dominated when the Ventrue ordered him to deliver the ghoul to another address.
Caroline recalls the ex-CIA agent stating that he knew there were further unaccounted-for hunters under Claire’s direction. The Barrett Commission, of whom Claire was the regional leader (Ferris believes their national headquarters are in D.C.), tend come from the ranks of corporate, political, and military elites. They prefer not to get their hands personally dirty and often bankroll other hunter organizations, such as NOSTF, to do that sort of work.
In keeping with Caroline’s assessment, Ferris and Claire both agreed Ferris should not know the local Commission’s membership. He was too close to the front lines. This sort of clandestine cell structure is common among hunter organizations.
Ferris does not believe that Claire included any of the Barrett Commission’s members in the breach of Caroline’s haven. Rather, he believes she involved a tertiary group whom Claire was personally allied to. There are numerous hunter organizations active in New Orleans, some whom are allies, some of whom are enemies, and some of whom simply stay out of each other’s way. Some hunters are willing to work with Kindred (a few are almost friendly), more hunters will do so on a provisional basis, and other hunters will not (knowingly) work with vampires under any circumstances. Hunter organizations have vastly different goals, methodologies, ideologies, backgrounds, and internal and external relationships. Paranoia and distrust run rampant.
“All of that is good news for your people, ma’am. I can’t even imagine what they might accomplish if they were able to effectively work together.”
“But that isn’t happening. You might think of them as separate intelligence agencies, and not even of nominally allied countries.”
Ferris can identify suspected and confirmed members of many of these organizations. He cites numerous names: Ashwood Abbey. The Cainite Heresy. Les Mystères. The Lucifuge. The Maiden’s Blood Sisterhood. The Night Watch. The Orpheus Group. The Arcanum. Task Force: VALKYRIE. The Society of Leopold (recently rechristened the Society of St. Leopold), also known as the Malleus Maleficarum. The Long Night. Network Zero. There are more than even these, some of which Ferris knows, many whom he’s certain he doesn’t know, and numerous independent hunters and hunter cells not affiliated with a larger organization.
“As I’ve said, ma’am, all of these organizations have vastly different goals and methods.”
He cites a few examples to help impress this fact upon Caroline and further her understanding of hunter culture.
“Terrel & Squib, for instance, doesn’t care about vampires or have any interest in fighting them. They’re a pharmaceutical company that wants to find out what happens to people’s souls after they die, because they think they can make money off it. Clients can also pay them to take care of ghost hauntings.”
“Yuri’s Group, which doesn’t have a presence in New Orleans, is an extended support group for Iraq War veterans who saw too much. They only take offensive operations in defense of their members.”
“The Talbot Group tracks down children who’ve been abducted and transformed by night-folk and tries to turn them back into humans. Their focus on vampires is also minimal, or at least has the highest failure rate.”
“The Faithful of Shulpae hunt vampires and other night-folk in order to cook and eat them. They think that’ll turn them into gods. They don’t have much, if any, presence in New Orleans.”
“Hototogisu is a multinational corporation headquartered in Tokyo. I hear they’re so large, knowledgeable, and well-funded they’ve managed to exterminate the most powerful of Tokyo’s night-folk and actually forced the survivors to work for them as employees, using their powers to increase the company’s bottom line. Ones who don’t follow regulations or who fail to meet profit quotas get liquidated. Hunters who threaten their profits by attacking ‘employees’ also get liquidated. I’d love to know how they were able to pull that off.”
“Ashwood Abbey are bored aristocrats who hunt night-folk to get their thrills. They don’t object to what the Kindred do or even see them as competitors, like the Barretts do. They kill and torture your kind because it’s fun for them. Savoy has made significant inroads with the group and been successful in turning them against Vidal’s and the Baron’s people.”
“Just one of the ways he’s flexible where Vidal isn’t. The prince wastes resources fighting the Abbey and adds another millstone around his neck. Savoy turned them into assets and probably planted spies in their ranks by essentially throwing a few orgies. Cost him nothing.”
“These people and more are the sorts of individuals your stepmother had allies among. If I were her, I’d have invaded your haven with help from an organization that had nothing to do with Kindred. I’d want as few other hunters as possible knowing my stepdaughter was a vampire. Especially NOSTF or fellow Barretts.”
Ferris has some guesses as to specific organizations Claire has relationships with. He’s even had personal dealings with a few. In many ways, he knows more about groups outside the Barretts than he does about the Barretts themselves. Claire considered it a lesser security risk.
He’s not sure how many members the local Barretts have. Losing Claire, though, is a significant and potentially decapitating blow to the organization. It could lead to infighting or the Barretts being attacked or absorbed by a rival hunter group during this period of weakness.
Ferris always got a sense that Caroline’s stepmother didn’t face any significant rivals for power. That was probably good for the organization as long as she was around, but it’s bad now that she isn’t.
Claire’s devices, as Ferris reported, were all gone when he revisited her stepmother’s hotel suite. He thinks Caroline raises a valuable point that the other Barretts will be frantic to discover what became of those devices after they realize their leader is gone.
Caroline: Caroline is interested in the guesses mostly as to how they color his approach to countersurveillance. She instructs Autumn to get him up to speed on their prior investigation into her haven’s attack, likely suspects, and the raw data as well.
GM: Ferris says the Barretts will likely begin where anyone would: investigating Claire’s last known whereabouts and associates. It’s a simple trail from there to bribe hotel staff into talking about her last visitors.
“Could be they’ll even come to you, ma’am, if she’s been able to hide what you are.”
“Could also be the new owner of her devices will come for them first.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a toothy grin. “That would make things easier.”
GM: “I’d set a lure, ma’am. We’re already faking her last known whereabouts. Be more convenient if they came to the CBD than the Quarter.”
Caroline: Caroline agrees. “You know more about them than I do. What would be most effective? My presence at her apparent death?” She muses over the idea for a moment.
GM: “If you were present and they know you’re Kindred, then they’ll know they need to get those devices back as soon as possible. Might launch a preemptive strike at your haven. I don’t know what sorts of allies or resources they could bring to bear. Maintaining the narrative with your brother Luke seems more likely to catch them off-guard.”
“Better for the Masquerade too if you aren’t at the center of the investigation into Claire. Too many people will want to talk with you, and during the day.”
Caroline: Caroline nods.
GM: Maldonato’s ghouls, meanwhile, assent to Caroline’s instructions. They will discuss with Gremillion the most convenient doctor to frame for Claire’s death.
They (or at least Kâmil) agree that it would be most proprietous to have Gisèlle alter Luke’s memories. Neither ghoul voices any reservations over doing so in the first place. The bishop has not been reachable and this is clearly happening with or without him.
Widney has already taken steps to freeze Morrow’s assets and inquires if they should attempt to remove the ghoul from police custody procedurally. They do, after all, have a law firm.
Ferris expresses doubt that lawyers will be able to quickly get Morrow out if NOSTF is involved, but also doesn’t think it could hurt. It has the potential to tie up some of Gettis’ resources through use of ones Caroline has no other immediate use for.
Dawn, meanwhile, fast approaches. Fuller waits to convey Caroline back to the Walter Robinson House.
Caroline: Caroline muses on the matter. “Start the process legally. Perhaps it’ll expose individuals of interest, or bring her back to us.”
She has few other direct items for them tonight, save the admonishment that they get some sleep as well today: tomorrow night is likely to be more demanding than this one. Still, she sees a bright spot on the horizon.
GM: Widney says she will start the proceedings. She and Autumn immediately seem about to jealously one-up the other with declarations about Caroline’s work being more important. Ferris preemptively interrupts with a castigation that competing against one another in this area will make them more prone to needless errors they can’t afford. Autumn says something about a trick of the blood that allows ghouls to subsist without sleep. Ferris says it’s moot.
Like always, they work with what they have.
Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s a brief drive back to the Walter Robinson House. The same hired guards remain at their posts outside the historic property. Caroline realizes Abélia never gave her a house key as she walks up the front steps, but the door silently swings open at her approach.
Caroline: By the time they arrive she can feel the building weariness that always accompanies the dawn. It sets in as early as ever. She wonders how much has to do with the events of the last few nights and how much is general weariness.
The restored home just feels right. It’s safe and welcoming, like she imagines returning to a childhood home is, even with the eerily opening doors.
GM: The interior looks much improved from Caroline’s last visit. Fallen pieces of furniture are righted. Off-kilter paintings hang straight. Wrinkled drapes and rugs are now smooth, though stairwell’s broken-off banister piece remains missing.
Three white-furred Persian cats sit motionless at equidistant points from the front door. None stir or blink until the door clicks firmly shut behind Caroline.
As one, the three animals pad silently towards her and rub their necks against her knees.
As one, three fanged mouths part.
“Welcome home, dear child.”
“Welcome home, dear child.”
“Welcome home, dear child.”
Caroline: She bites her lip at the sight of the waiting felines, but breaks into a genuine smile at their approach and welcome. She kneels to pick one up, running her hands through its soft, warm fur.
Her father hadn’t ever wanted a cat (‘looks weak, voters are more sympathetic to dogs’), but it’s been so long since any animal didn’t react to her with terror that she’s far from picky.
The friendly greeting is a reminder of Caesar, last handed off to Autumn, and in mortal terror of her when she last saw him. That memory is like a foul odor in the wind—and gone just as quickly as it arrives when she runs her fingers though the Persian’s long fur with almost childlike glee.
She’s taken aback when they speak, but recovers quickly and scratches the held cat behind its ears. “Thank you, Mother.”
She kicks off her heels by the door as she advances into the home.
GM: The cat purrs beneath Caroline’s touch and arches its head as she scratches it. The heart-shaped name tag under its collar reads ‘Mr. Shah.’
The other cats lead Caroline to Simmone’s room, rubbing against her legs as they go. Her new mother lies in bed with her youngest sibling, who’s snuggled up against her breast. Though Simmone’s chest steadily rises and falls with her breaths, Abélia’s remains completely still.
The walking cats leap up onto the bed.
“You can join Simmone and I, my dear,” says the one in Caroline’s arms. “With all that’s been going on, I’m afraid there’s been no time to set up your room yet… but we shouldn’t wish you to spend your first night here alone in any case.”
“Don’t fret about the drapes. Sol’s eye shall not harm you here.”
Caroline: Caroline looks down on the sleeping girl in their mother’s arms and continues to run her fingers through the cat’s fur. “They won’t be disturbed when I don’t stir?”
She doesn’t even raise the point about the sun—Abélia wouldn’t so needlessly endanger her—but a beginning is a very delicate time.
GM: “Blood is not disturbed by its own,” the cat purrs in Caroline’s arms. The other two rub their necks against her flanks.
“You can wash your face in the bathroom, my dear. We’ve left out some sleepwear for you, too… with all there’s been to trouble you, I’m certain you’ve had other things on your mind.”
Caroline: She’s right. Caroline hadn’t thought of clothing at all. She’s still in the white gown she met her sire in, the one she so sharply remembers so sharply getting bathed in her mother’s blood. That blood has long since faded, but the memory has not.
“Thoughtful, it’s been an eventful evening.” Caroline lets the cat slip from her hands onto the bed as she walks towards the bathroom. “I’ll be back shortly,” she tells her mother’s still form.
GM: The cat settles itself upon the bed with the other two. Caroline finds a folded white nightgown laid over the rim of the tub in Simmone’s Little Mermaid-decorated bathroom.
Caroline: The Ventrue actively tries to avoid watching the mirror as she washes her face and slips out of the gown in favor of the nightgown.
The water is warm, delightfully so, and she soaks it up in her cold dead hands as she splashes it across her face. As she avoids the mirror she takes in the decorations, reflects on her mother’s comments about her youngest sister, on her desire to give her what she wishes: eternal childhood. On her desire to give all of them what they wish.
It leaves only the question of that. She cuts off the water and heads back to the bedroom.
GM: It’s as Caroline sits down upon the bed that her mother’s body abruptly rises. Its eyes don’t open. Its face doesn’t change. Its chest doesn’t rise and fall. Simmone, still seemingly asleep, clutches her arms around its neck.
The body doesn’t speak. Its hands simply start to slowly pull back the blankets and tuck Caroline in.
It disentangles Simmone as it does so, latching her arms around Caroline’s shoulders, and her face against the Ventrue’s bosom. The body pulls the comforter up to Caroline’s neck and lays her head upon its lap.
“Oh, my sweet, precious Caroline,” purrs the cat as the body strokes her hair. “You are such a treasure. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have you here with us tonight. To have you in our lives.”
Caroline: Having Simmone cradled against her breast stirs unfamiliar but not completely unwelcoming feelings of things Caroline thought were long gone. It’s been years since she shared a bed with anyone but a lover—and the less said of children, the better.
Similarly unfamiliar is her mother’s so calm, so gentle touch. Her gentle but firm words of affirmation. So different than anything she remembers from Claire, or even her father. Always pushing. Always critiquing, always instructing. She didn’t feel like an afterthought, but rather…. an investment, perhaps? A means to an end, rather than an end unto herself.
She isn’t certain if Abélia’s commentary is ‘more’ normal or less. From anyone else the words might feel patronizing, the affirmation something she turned up her nose at (she doesn’t need to be coddled)… but with Abélia it’s different.
She believes it.
GM: A faint chuckle sounds from below Caroline’s head, where one of the cats feels like it’s lying. The body’s hands continue to stroke her hair.
“Intimacy nourishes the soul, sweet child. It has been too long since you shared a bed.”
“It has been too long since you were loved.”
She feels the body’s slack lips place a tender kiss upon her forehead.
“Sleep now, my treasure. Know those times of want are far behind you, so long as Maman and your sisters are here…”