“We’ll always be there for you, Caroline.”
Monday morning, 7 March 2016
GM: Sleep isn’t like it was last day. It’s like it usually is. No gradual loss of awareness or sense of time passing. Caroline closes her eyes and then opens them. It’s light out, but not from any fluorescent bulbs. The drapes are drawn. Her head is still laid out against her new mother’s lap, whose dark eyes are now open as she smiles down.
“Good morning, my treasure. We have such a day ahead of us.”
Caroline: It’s… disorienting. Not only waking up to light, but waking up at all. Still, Abélia provides something for orient on, a northern star. Her eyes cut to the shaded window from which the sun peeks, then back to Abélia as the many possibilities play through her mind. The ability to stay awake during the day, the possibilities it opens for… well, everything.
“It sounds like you’ve got it all planned,” she answers lightly.
GM: Her new mother’s smile is radiant as she strokes Caroline’s hair.
“You and your sisters deserve no less.”
“I cannot lift Raphael’s curse from you wholly, my dear. Sol’s eye shall still burn your flesh, much as I might desire to cast it into darkness. But I may yet palliate its effects. Though dawn’s fatigue shall remain a millstone about your neck, you may, at least, find it less taxing to resist daysleep’s call within our home.”
Caroline: “It’s more than enough,” Caroline answers, turning her gaze to Simmone.
GM: The still-sleeping ten-year-old remains snuggled against her new sister.
Abélia’s fingers run through Caroline’s hair. “Ah, what a propitious moment this is for you to practice, my dear. Go on—tell Simmone it is time to rise and greet the day. You needn’t rely upon words.”
Caroline: Caroline rolls over Cécilia’s explanations from the previous evening as she studies her youngest sister’s sleeping face.
She forms in her mind the image of the sun creeping over the horizon, streaking the dawn’s sky in a vibrant array of colors. She adds in the soft chirps of birds awakening, the (barely remembered) feeling of sunlight softly creeping across her skin in the morning through the window.
And the slightest whisper of a name. Simmone…
The overlays the images with her mental image of the youngest Devillers, with the quiet bound she’d hardly even noticed when she came in the night before.
GM: "Oh, yes… you’re doing marvelously, Caroline… " their mother purrs.
Simmone’s eyes slowly crack open as she shifts in place, arms still wrapped around Caroline.
Caroline: Simmone. Her call is more languid, almost bemused, the second time.
It matches the expression on Caroline’s face as she watches the blonde stir, awaiting for her to awaken.
A flickering shadow appears in the sunlight creeping through, beyond it two azure flashes as two bluebirds dance with each other outside the window.
GM: Simmone opens her mouth and removes a hand to rub her eyes.
“Marvelous, Caroline,” their mother proudly repeats. "You’ve taken to things so quickly. I can hardly wait to see what you’ll be capable of by the end of the day… much less the year. "
Caroline: Thank you, Mother. A pause. It feels… natural.
“Good morning,” Caroline murmurs to her youngest sister, her bemused gaze set upon her.
GM: “M… orning,” Simmone yawns as their mother sits her up. Abélia pulls the child onto her lap. Simmone doesn’t look at all surprised to see either of them there.
“Bonjour à vous en effet, ma douce. As-tu bien dormi?” Abélia questions, kissing her youngest’s head.
(“A good morning to you indeed, my sweet. How did you sleep?”)
“Oh, je suis très content d’entendre. Caroline et Cécilia m’ont dit à quel point c’était effrayant la nuit dernière et quelle fille courageuse tu étais.”
(“Oh, I’m so very pleased to hear. Caroline and Cécilia told me how frightening last night was, and what a brave girl you were.”)
Simmone simply turns and nuzzles her head against their mother’s breast.
As Abélia holds Simmone back, Caroline feels a wordlessly palpable sense of pride and satisfaction at her last statement before their mother says aloud, “I’ll get your sister’s teeth brushed, my dear. Would you like to pick out some clothes for her? We’ll be inside all day, so we can dress however we like… up or down, it’ll all be just for us. Everything we do today will be just for us. Doesn’t that sound simply delightful?”
Simmone looks at Caroline, then declares mischievously, “I want to dress… sideways.”
“Sideways!” Abélia repeats with an amused smile as she strokes her youngest’s hair. “Well, we shall just have to see what your sister thinks up. Do you think you can pull together something with a dressed-sideways look, Caroline?”
If the Ventrue assents, Abélia stays for a bit to show Caroline where things are in the walk-in closet while Simmone uses the bathroom. After the toilet flushes, their mother departs to “help brush her teeth.” Caroline finds a large selection of girls’ clothes in styles ranging from formal to casual, trending towards lighter colors (especially pinks) and skirts and dresses over unisex clothes. There’s also several neglected-looking McGehee school uniforms and an almost equally large selection of theater and holiday costumes that include seemingly every Disney princess Caroline can think of.
There’s even two vampire costumes.
It would be comforting to think the high-collared, lacy-sleeved, black and crimson gowns (replete with a bat wing-shaped cloak) make Caroline the less obvious predator.
Caroline: The costumes draw an amused chuckle as Caroline goes through the wardrobe. In fairness, some do dress so obviously.
GM: The task is easy enough going, for which she may be thankful. It feels like she’s been woken up at 4 AM after going to bed at 3. Every part of her wants to rest.
Caroline: She ignores it in a way she could never ignore the call of daysleep. Or perhaps ignores is too strong a word: instead she forces past it. It doesn’t matter how tired she is, not really. Tired is a state of mind, a feeling that can be surpassed.
She digs out a pair of dark leggings with the word ‘DANCE’ in big bold letters of the same for printed sideways down their length, and mirrors it with a matching shirt that proudly declares ‘I LOVE PARIS’. After a moment she adds a too large hoodie by far that Simmone can, if inclined pull her head through a sleeve.
Not Caroline’s most creative effort, but comfortable for a day loafing in the house.
GM: There’s a flush from the toilet. Abélia and Simmone emerge from the bathroom shortly thereafter.
“Oh, what a splendid outfit your sister has picked out for you,” Abélia remarks contently as she raises her youngest’s arms and removes her nightgown. “That should be very comfy to spend the day in. Can you say thank you to her?”
“Thank you,” Simmone says.
Abélia dresses the naked ten-year-old. “Oh, don’t you look perfectly scrumptious in this,” she purrs once the oversized hoodie is alll the way on, hugging her daughter close. “I don’t think I should like you to ever grow up. I want you to be mine forever.”
“I want to be yours forever too, Maman!” Simmone beams, hugging her mother back.
Abélia rests a hand upon Caroline’s shoulder and smiles at her, as if to include her in the moment.
“There’s a glass in the bathroom, my dear. Can you fill it with some of your blood? That should buy us some time until we can decide on a more permanent recourse.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles in the moment, but that request—even coming from her mother—slams into her like a runaway train.
A thousand arguments against ghouling relatives come back to her. The memory of Adler’s wrenching (if, Caroline suspects, exaggerated) testimony about her mother’s death. The idea of Simmone struggling against the cravings that her servants fight—a fight she’s woefully unprepared for.
She opens her mouth to object, the argument already forming in her mind. The tasteful response in the moment that will invite a longer dialogue later. She looks into Abélia’s eyes.
Abélia knows better than Caroline the potency of vitae. The dangers of it. The costs associated with it. She’s the source of most of Caroline’s knowledge. The idea of arguing the point starts to crumble. It’s so much like arguing with one’s professor.
And it’s just to buy some time, right? Not a permanent fix unto itself…
GM: Abélia’s expression turns sympathetic as she touches Caroline’s cheek.
“You love your sister very much, my dear. This is plain to me. You wish only to do what is best for her. Your knowledge of what tragedies the Blood can cause has been bitterly won. You do not wish those same tragedies visited upon our family.”
The edges of her dark eyes crinkle as she smiles again.
“And yet, for all this, my words are unnecessary—such is your faith in me. A mother could not ask for a better daughter.”
She places a tender kiss upon Caroline’s forehead, somehow despite being the shorter of the two, then looks into the Ventrue’s eyes.
“I shall honor that faith, my treasure. You and your sister shall be so very happy.”
Simmone doesn’t even look curious over what Caroline and their mother are talking about. She simply hugs Abélia’s torso.
Caroline: Caroline releases the bite she had unconsciously on her lower lip and forces a smile into place. It’s a small request. It just requires trust. Trust that her mother knows what’s best for her sister.
Her gaze settles on Simmone and her mind dances back to the lives all of her sisters lead, interrupted in their beauty only by the stark, bitter, intrusion of a soon to be deceased elder ghoul.
“Thank you, Mother,” she answers. Breaking from the embrace. “I’ll see to it.” And who knows, perhaps the added confidence the blood might bring will bring her sister out of her shell.
GM: “Thank you, Caroline,” Abélia purrs when Caroline returns with the partly red-filled glass.
“Drink this, ma puce,” she says as she passes it to Simmone. The ten-year-old does so.
Abélia bares her breast before Simmone can even say “more.” The girl all but falls over it and sucks ravenously.
Well over a minute passes. Abélia’s cheeks seem to hollow, her presence becoming somehow smaller, but she makes no move to break Simmone away.
Caroline: Despite her trust, the scene makes Caroline uneasy. She gathers the discarded glass and breaks to thoroughly wash it out in the sink.
GM: By the time she’s back, Abélia is dabbing off Simmone’s mouth. Caroline’s new mother smiles at her serenely as if to say all is well.
“Can you say thank you to your sister, ma duce? She’s just done something very, very kind for you.”
Simmone doesn’t ask what it is. She just hugs the Ventrue around her torso.
“Thank you, Caroline.”
Caroline: “You’re welcome Simmone,” Caroline answers, bending to wrap her in the hug. The smell of her vitae in the girl’s veins is like an overpowering air freshener—sweet but sickly all the same.
“I’m going to go knock on Cécilia’s door to borrow something to change into, I’ll meet you downstairs?”
GM: “You might ask her without knocking, my dear… practice makes perfect,” Abélia smiles.
Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline smiles back as she slips out of the room.
And she’s not wrong. Caroline can feel the connection there, but it’s unfamiliar. Much like the power taken from the bishop.
She reaches out along that thread, that connection, to Cécilia. It’s like traveling a vine full of flowers: she instantly recognizes Cécilia as the only other one fully in bloom—the rest are still closed, in waiting.
Cécilia? Are you awake? she reaches out, mentally probing and grateful for the past experience with Poincaré using mental communication.
GM: The Ventrue leans into that bloom and breathes deep. It’s easy to do here, she feels. The entire house is utterly saturated with their mother’s essence. Simply to breathe within its walls is to take that essence in.
Yes. Maman said to expect you soon.
You’re a fair bit taller than me, but we have pretty similar figures apart from that, so most of my clothes should fit. What’s mine is yours.
Caroline: Caroline’s laugh comes through the connection behind images of cool spring nights with dew on the plants and a wind carrying the coying humidity against her skin.
She arrives at Cécilia’s door, pushing the idea of a knock through the connection ahead of her. A sharp rapping rhythm.
GM: Cécilia is walking, hale, and healthy when she opens the un-knocked door. She greets Caroline with a hug and exclaims how happy she is to be doing “such a sisterly thing” as lending clothes to one another.
“There’s plenty of serious things for us to talk about later, of course… " she adds more somberly, “but Maman says we can save that for later, and I for one agree with her. Last night was serious enough.”
Caroline: “It was,” Caroline agrees, returning the hug and following Cécilia into the room. “She says she has big plans for today.”
GM: “Always,” Cécilia smiles knowingly. “But I think a lot for today are mundane. With all eight of us staying inside all day long, she wants to be sure we’ll enjoy ourselves.”
She leads Caroline to the walk-in closet and lets her take her pick from the large selection of tasteful clothing. Cécilia is wearing a casual white and baby blue top and skirt set. Not dressy, but not sweats and pajamas.
Caroline: “Good thing too, I didn’t pack my sunscreen,” Caroline quips as she pages through her sister’s wardrobe. “How’s your hand?” she asks.
GM: “Oh, it’s better than good. No scars at all. Thank you so much for that.”
“Yvonne had to get surgery to remove hers. That wasn’t much fun for anyone.”
Caroline: “We can hope that won’t be necessary in the future,” Caroline answers. “For many reasons.” She stops her search on an emerald top for a moment, then frowns and continues on until she finds a lighter blue one.
GM: “It goes with your eyes,” Cécilia agrees.
“And I certainly hope not. But let’s talk about lighter things. Do you still use the shower every night?” she asks curiously. “Given how Kindred don’t produce any natural fluids or odors.”
Caroline: “Usually,” Caroline answers, setting the top aside. “I enjoy the warmth. And I guess it’s habit.”
GM: “Very true. I wouldn’t want to give them up either.”
Caroline: “It’s the little things, I think, that help keep me connected.”
She picks out a long light and flowing white skirt and holds it up against a darker red one for her sister’s opinion.
GM: “Hmm, I like the white. Darker tops with lighter pants or skirts make you seem taller,” Cécilia notes. “You could pull off that look better than me, with how tall you already are.”
Caroline: “Point,” Caroline answers. “It drives my father nuts when I look taller than him,” she admits. “Something about not wanting to look weak.”
GM: “Like father like son. Luke’s made a couple remarks about how I can be taller than him in heels.”
“But you don’t need to worry about that here,” Cécilia smiles. “I think Maman would like to see you standing strong and tall.”
Caroline: “He would,” Caroline laughs. “But I suspect he broaches the topic more tastefully.”
GM: “Yes, he doesn’t tell me off about it, or even ask me to dress down. I can just tell it twerks his nose a little.”
“I don’t want to do that, but I don’t want to wear just flats either. And I’ve told him so, which he understands. I’d just be a little shorter in his perfect world. Or maybe he’d be a little taller.”
Caroline: “The latter,” Caroline answers immediately. “I don’t think he’d change anything about you.”
She continues through her sister’s closet before deciding shoes are unnecessary. Besides, Cécilia has smaller feet.
“Honestly, back to your earlier question, one of the things I miss the most is working out and—since I’ve sort of rediscovered it—sparring without fear of losing control. There are so many things I’d like to practice, to try, without fatigue, with how fast I am, that I can’t exactly try on anyone.”
GM: “What about ghouls?” Cécilia asks.
Caroline: “I’ve thought about it. The older ones, maybe, but even then the danger is always there—for them.”
GM: “What about other Kindred? Even if one of you loses control, the worst that’s likely to happen is torpor, isn’t it?”
Caroline: Caroline gives a wry smile. “Most Kindred tend to regard torpor as a pretty big minus—but yes. I’ve made some inroads there.”
GM: “You’re right, it must be for most of them. Maman always speaks of it as if it’s a passing inconvenience—I suppose her blood is strong enough to revive most any Kindred.”
Caroline: “It’s far more passing than death,” Caroline offers. “But not having been on the receiving end, I can’t speak to it specifically.”
She has no intentions of ever being, either.
Monday morning, 7 March 2016
GM: Caroline uses the shower and joins Cécilia downstairs momentarily. The rest of the family is already assembling in the dining room, with Yvette and Yvonne playing on their phones while Cécilia talks with Adeline.
Caroline well remembers her last ‘talk’ with the twins. Yvette had angrily exclaimed she was being “’orrible, just ’orrible!” to Sarah. She’d mentioned how Becky Lynne’s niece had finally broken down crying in the bathroom at school during lunch, and (unheard of for her) had cut the rest of her classes. Yvonne had been more conciliatory, but the three had stopped showing up for fencing lessons after that.
Yvette wordlessly gets up from her seat, hugs Caroline and declares, “Fuck Sarah.”
Caroline: There’s a flash of guilt there. Sarah, who did nothing wrong. Who was trying to help her. She wonders what will become of all of that, what might still become of it, with the truth about Adler having come out. With what the future holds for Caroline specifically.
She shoves it aside behind a sad smile and hugs Yvette back. “It’s in the past.”
Her gaze sweeps over the other sisters.
GM: Her other sisters.
“Fuck ’er,” Yvette repeats. “Ah’ll spread it through the school, ‘ow she’s a retard now. ‘Ow getting shot messed up ’er ’ead. She’s really broken up, it’ll be easy. Ah’ll get ‘er to drop out. _’Caroline, Caroline, Ah don’t understand wah she’s being this way!’”_ she mimics in a high-pitched, sniveling tone.
Caroline: Caroline lays a hand on Yvette’s shoulder. “I know you’d do anything for me, but you don’t have to do that.”
GM: “Well Ah don’t ‘ave to, but Ah’m going to!” Yvette retorts. “Fuck ’er for saying no to you!”
Caroline: “It was for the best,” Caroline answers with a faint smile. “In many ways.”
She looks her sister in the eye. “Trust me when I say it’s better for her to go her own away, and that I don’t wish her any ill.”
GM: Yvette seems less than convinced, but eventually (or at least temporarily) relents under pressure from her other three siblings, who all cite that everyone but her wants to move on. Yvette does say she isn’t going to be friends with Sarah anymore, though.
“Just fuck ’er.”
“Language,” Cécilia mildly chides.
Caroline: Caroline laughs at that. “There are children present,” she piles on.
GM: Or at least soon present. Abélia arrives downstairs with Simmone and Noëllle in short order. Yvette rolls her eyes at the shirt and says, “Ah thought we all knew Paris isn’t all of France.”
“We do. So it’s no harm for her to wear around us,” Cécilia smiles.
Breakfast is a light affair of avocado toast. The younger four girls are initially upset when they have to get and make it themselves. The family housekeeper is “taking the day off.”
Caroline: Caroline is happy to make it for the younger girls, taking lighthearted direction from them.
It’s been a long time since she cooked.
GM: Cécilia initially suggests they all prepare breakfast together in the kitchen. Abélia says that’s a splendid idea; they can make conversation while she and Caroline prepare the younger girls’ breakfasts, though Cécilia and Adeline soon volunteer to help too. Caroline may be glad for the chance to foist off the task to them. The experience of scooping out and preparing the mushy fruit for kine consumption and digestion proves as enjoyable to the vampire as cleaning up dog poop.
In short order, the family are munching around the kitchen counter on plates of whole grain toast with lemon juice, salt, and black and pepper. Abélia declares contently that “I have an announcement to make, girls. Two, actually, in fact.”
Caroline: The Ventrue takes a spot at the end of the counter watching the rest of the girls eat, the whole room in her peripheral. There’s the mild disgust at the sight, but overwhelmed by the general fatigue of being awake during the day combined with the deep-flowing affection towards them.
She cleaned up her dog’s droppings. Making her sisters food—which she recalls too faintly enjoying herself—is a small concession.
GM: “The first is that Caroline is moving on from her clerkship at the Supreme Court to bigger and better things. She’s prohibited from saying very much about the particulars at this point, and she may be away for some time—but she is very, very happy to have landed this opportunity. It’s absolutely everything she’s ever dreamed of. All of us could hardly be more happy for her.”
“Oh, Caroline, that’s wonderful!” Yvonne exclaims.
“Oui, congratulations!” adds Yvette.
Similar sentiments come up from the others, more knowing from Cécilia, less understanding from Simmone.
Caroline: Caroline graciously accepts the congratulations.
GM: “But you’ll come back?” Simmone adds.
Caroline: Caroline cups her youngest sister’s face. “Of course. I’ll always come back.”
GM: “Maman said she was going to,” says Noëllle. “You’re such a baby.”
“‘Ey! Ah’m not-”
“Girls,” Abélia smiles, laying a hand on both their shoulders. “Both of you love your sister very much. Doesn’t it make you feel better, Noëllle, to hear from her that she’s coming back?”
“Oui,” the thirteen-year-old grants.
“As to being a baby,” her smile widens as she lifts Simmone onto her lap and wraps an arm around Noëllle, “what more splendid a thing could there be? You shall always be my mes bébés, no matter how old you turn.”
“Why, this brings us to our next piece of good news. Cécilia and Adeline are to be moving back in with us. Won’t that simply be marvelous, to always have them around now?”
The four younger girls immediately and enthusiastically agree, Simmone most of all.
“Ah wish you’d never moved out-”
“Yes, the ‘ouse feels so empty when you aren’t ’ere-”
“And you’re over all the time anyway-”
“What made you change your minds?” Yvonne.
“Convenience was the big reason,” Cécilia answers. “Like Yvette says, we’re always coming over. Especially with you two getting older, we don’t want the house to feel empty for everyone else. You’ll be off to college next year, after all.”
Caroline: Lies. Caroline knows. Maybe not entirely, but she knows the truth. They’re not safe. A killer who’s already put them in his sights once is still alive. The thought makes her tremble with fury.
She’ll find him.
It doesn’t mean it’s all lies—but that it’s colored everything even here, among them…
GM: Not lies, Caroline. Just not all of the truth.
We both know there’s plenty Maman hasn’t told them, for their own safety, even before this.
Caroline: Cécilia’s answer blunts Caroline’s irritation, but only just.
I know. I just hate the idea of him hurting you any more—even indirectly like this.
GM: I do too. But maybe that hurt, and growing past it, will be the catalyst for something better. That’s how we met you, after all, and everyone seems so happy at this news.
Caroline: I guess there are benefits too, Caroline agrees. More of an opportunity to develop a relationship with Adeline.
GM: You have one already, Cécilia replies contently. With her and Noëllle. They just need to be reminded what it’s like.
Simmone asks if Caroline is going to be moving back in with them too. Noëllle points out that’s not happening if Caroline is going to be ‘away for some time.’ Their mother simply says, “Your sister won’t be moving in with us right now. But once she’s back, we can expect to be seeing a good more of her. Isn’t that wonderful, girls?” Everyone agrees emphatically. Yvette makes a joke about millennials moving back in with their parents. That draws some laughter, though Adeline points out more reflectively,
“We might make jokes about that now, but for most of human history, living in extended families was completely normal. People wouldn’t just wait to move out from their parents’ homes until they had their own children. They’d live with their parents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives for all of their lives.”
“They did?” asks Simmone.
“Yes. I read a fascinating article about that in The Atlantic recently,” Adeline continues. “It wasn’t until after World War II that the concept of the nuclear family became accepted as normal, but even then, many families weren’t really nuclear. People were closer to their communities and moved away less often. Neighbors often doubled as extended families. It hasn’t been until relatively recently that we’ve seen those communal bonds fray, around the same time the nuclear family collapsed. Fewer than 20% of households conform to that social model now. People are more alone and more isolated than ever.”
“That is true about the nuclear family,” says Yvette. “Ah mean, we don’t technically fit it, with not ’aving a dad. And Ah know so many people at school with divorced parents.”
“Are people really more alone, though?” asks Yvonne. “So many millennials ’ave been moving back in with their parents, like you and Cécilia.”
“The trend actually has been reversing, for that reason,” says Adeline. “People were at their most alone in the 2000s before the recession. But since millennials are also putting off having children, it might balance out.”
“That’s so sad,” says Noëllle. “What can we really do about it?”
“Putting off kids, or being close to their families?” asks Yvette.
“Both, Ah guess,” says Noëllle.
“I think that to some extent, the era of the nuclear family might be over due to changing economic conditions,” says Cécilia. “I had a professor at Wellesley who described modern humans as ‘economic hunter-gatherers.’ We’re highly mobile and have adapted to packing up our lives and moving across the country in search of new professional opportunities. In the 1950s, though, we were ‘economic farmers.’ People were more likely to stay in the city they were born because jobs were more centered around production of physical goods. In Confederacy of Dunces, there’s a clothing factory here in our city that the owner has inherited from his father. What’s it it called-”
“Levi Pants,” Adeline fills in.
“Yes, Levi Pants. But during the intervening decades, it’s likely that Levi Pants outsourced its production to China. Economic output is now increasingly based around data or other specialized knowledge sets that aren’t as tied to a single physical location. If someone wants to be a doctor or programmer, they can be a doctor or programmer anywhere. But Levi Pants needed a large number of factory workers here in New Orleans—until, of course, it no longer did. Until peoples’ jobs become more tied to the cities of their birth again, which doesn’t seem likely, I think it’s inevitable that the nuclear family will continue to fragment.”
Caroline: Caroline taps a finger against her lips in contemplation before offering her own thoughts.
“20%? I hadn’t realized it was that low. That’s an interesting take on it. I read somewhere that there a big part of the nuclear family was as much a social response to World War II as anything else. You had a great many young men who were significantly more worldly and independent following the war—and a great many women as well who had been heavily involved in industry. The nuclear family model provided both greater ‘freedom’ from previous social norms and let them establish their own social norms, while also encouraging women to leave the workforce to allow men to reintegrate back into society in those now vacated roles.”
She shrugs. “Rather than try to swim against the currents of social change, they redirected them into a notionally conservative model that put women back ‘in their place’ at home and encouraged household independence. You can see a great deal of that in the media of the time—old magazine articles and commercials—that are all about reinforcing that a woman should be subservient to men, that they needed to quit their jobs and marry now before they were considered too old. ‘No one wants an old spinster.’ It’s pretty disturbing stuff, reading those articles today—‘how to best please your new husband’ and the like, but the media is just as polarized on the other side in how it infantilized women to their husbands—the same women that had held jobs during the war and managed households while their husbands were away for literally years.”
She lets off on the biting tone before continuing, “I think though that the economic answer is an awfully compelling one for both the rise and fall of the nuclear family. Some cynical economists have observed that when you’re a nuclear household you need far more of every type of goods than in a large communal household—so it drove consumerism, especially in the form of industrially produced goods that the manufacturing sector was particularly aligned to produce after the war. At some point in the ’70s and ’80s those same consumerists realized that a household with two incomes would have vastly higher purchasing power, and instead of selling things like ovens and refrigerators they could sell luxury goods too—which drove the two-income family and really was the beginning of the end for nuclear one as it drove families apart, spiked divorce rates, and embittered the entire millennial generation to the idea of marriage.”
Caroline looks to Adeline. “You raise an excellent point, though—which I think neatly dovetails with it—that the nuclear family had retained its roots in many ways with their communities. Even as you saw the family group shrink, you still had church functions, bowling leagues, book clubs, and the like springing up to fill the gap. With the rise of the two-income house, however, and then the subsequent single-parent one, you’ve seen a significant rise in social isolation as people simply don’t have time to maintain those same communal structures anymore.”
She wonders what some of the more socially involved Kindred might have to say about the varied theories on that—Coco in particular—but the thought is swept away as she continues with a faint laugh,
“My father would insist that I throw in that government intervention also had a part to play, especially in the lower-income and borderline-income households, when it created aid programs designed to help those in need that created financial incentives for not getting married or leaving your spouse. It meant families that might have been ‘forced’ or at least ‘encouraged’ to stay together instead split up.”
She smiles across the table at Cécilia.
Of course, if one wanted to be very cynical, they might observe that the same individuals that enjoyed the economic drivers behind the nuclear and two-income family have found a more effective model in permanent debt ‘slavery’ under student loans, car loans, interest payments, and the like that present an eternal well. But I think that topic might be a little dark for Noëllle and Simmone.
“Never being chained to any of those economic influences is a real gift,” she closes more positively.
GM: “Yes, it is,” Adeline agrees. “And it’s worth noting that the nuclear family is still very much alive and well at higher income brackets. It’s not as universal as it used to be, but it’s still accepted as the social norm. It’s only when you go to places like the Ninth Ward that the wholesale disintegration of the nuclear family becomes evident. The 20% statistic I cited is an average and can be misleading when considered out of context—which is also that people from lower income brackets used to have comparable marriage rates to wealthier people. That only really started to change by the ’60s, when-”
“Ah think your dad’s right,” Yvette interrupts. “It’s disgusting ‘ow those people ’ave so many kids without getting married. If they don’t ‘ave anything else in their lives, they could at least ’ave each other. They’re basically, well, animals.”
“I’m not sure that’s a completely fair assessment,” Cécilia observes mildly. “As Adeline points out, marriage rates among the poor used to be much higher. Those went down in the ‘60s due to the ’moral deregulation’ of the period. Poorer Americans were more likely to depend on cultural supports for marriage than their more affluent peers, who had greater economic stakes in marriage through home ownership. Marriage, in many ways, is now its own form of privilege.”
“Ugh, Ah’m so tired of ’earing ’ow privileged we are,” says Yvette. "It’s not like our lives are perfect… "
As the other talk, fluttering laughter meets Caroline’s declaration.
The desperate, the despairing, and the isolated make superior vessels to slake your thirst, upon my dear. It is a better time for your species.
An interesting viewpoint, Maman. Has consumer debt made feeding easier for the Kindred?
Every society requires an underclass, my dear. To feed upon its elites is rarely practical. The shared economic prosperity of the postwar years made feeding less convenient for Cainites than in earlier times. Although the loosening of sexual morals during the 1960s was heralded as a boon to the children of Caine, the rise of second-wave feminism and the demise of Jim Crow threatened to make kine society more egalitarian than ever. Wiser minds foresaw the threat posed by this. Economic chains would serve to keep the underclasses in their place, rather than social ones. The economic conditions of the postwar United States were always a historic aberration.
Abélia strokes Simmone’s hair.
Let the kines’ families splinter. Let debt payments replace the crack of an overseer’s lash. Isolated and wantful, they are easier prey for you.
“…Ah’ve seen some of those old magazine articles, too, about ways to please your ‘usband, they’re just awful,” Yvette remarks.
“Caroline, aren’t you ‘ungry? You ’aven’t ’ad any toast,” says Simmone.
Caroline: “I’m never very hungry in the morning,” Caroline admits to Simmone, eying the mashed fruit and charred bread with veiled distaste. She can scarcely believe she once ate like that. Shoveled food into her mouth like any common herd animal, chewed it up into a disgusting mush. Swallowed it, pieces of it clinging to her teeth, to her mouth, to the back of her throat.
It’s not a lie—not even a white one. Caroline doesn’t hunger anymore—not for food. She only thirsts.
“Besides,” she laughs. “I talk too much—and it’s rude to talk with your mouth full.”
The heiress turns to Yvette.
“It’s an attempt to leverage concessions,” Caroline answers in agreement to her sister’s complaint about privilege. “It’s always the nature of those with less to envy those with more. Given the moral decline of the U.S. and the general lack of spine in most, they’ve simply decided it’s better to extract by moral extortion and exaltation than by force. One could draw a very unflattering parallel between the rise of the welfare state and the decline of crime and the continued social creep across generations.”
“It’s not enough to enshrine equality in law—they want their own privilege enshrined not only in law, but also in our social conscience. They would have you castigate yourself for their misfortunes and hate your parents for their successes.” She pauses. “And many do. You only need look at how many affluent teenagers and young adults are sucked into those messages. It’s like a cult offering them redemption from imagined sins, and those lacking conviction eat it up.”
“That’s nothing to say you can’t feel sympathy for those less well off—or even that you can’t want to help them—but you don’t owe them anything simply because Maman has made wise choices for our own family and their own parents poor ones. The same kind that complain about the rich not paying their fair share are the kind that are refunded more every year in taxes than they’ve ever paid—that donate less to charity in their entire life than the same people they vilify do in a month. The whole thing is madness.”
I wonder, Maman, how does he feel about that? Caroline asks probingly. There is no ambiguity about whom she speaks of.
And that beside, isn’t there is a line that must be walked—you can only push people so far before they have nothing left to lose, before the fear of your lash is overshadowed by the certainty of their dread. I think the bishop might have learned that lesson a little too late.
GM: “Yes, exactly,” Yvette agrees. “And Maman and Cécilia do so much to ‘elp them, with all their charity work. Ah don’t see them doing anything to ‘elp themselves. Ah’m tired of being blamed for it, and seeing so many girls at McGehee ‘oo just won’t shut up about privilege. We ’ave problems too.”
“Well, it’s not like they can do much to ’elp themselves,” says Yvonne. “Beyond shifting the debate, and saying ’ere’s why everyone owes them even more.”
“Ugh,” says Yvette.
Fluttering laughter greets Caroline’s statement.
One must occupy the people with thoughts besides revolution, my dear. Foreign or domestic adversaries are the objects upon which their rancor must fall. All empires require external threats to provide cohesion, lest enemies rise up from within. Every state that succumbed to revolution did so once the hatred of its common people toward the ruling elite eclipsed their fear and hatred of all else—just as your hatred of the bishop finally eclipsed your fear of the consequences for his destruction.
Your sire has spent much of his reign persecuting followers of an enemy faith, yet he has devoted but scant effort towards convincing the common Cainite that this faith is to blame for their travails. Another would-be prince has thus positioned himself as a demagogue able to claim he represents the interests of the common Cainite. We shall see what comes as those interests grow increasingly opposed to your sire’s.
“Oh, girls, I can hardly bear to see those frowns upon your pretty faces,” Abélia smiles. “Come now, let us speak of happier things. You all look done with breakfast—so how should we spend our day? We could play hide and go seek, watch movies, host a play or tea party, do a treasure hunt, play some music, make some art… how shall we occupy ourselves?”
“Could we go swimming?” asks Noëllle, who’s started petting one of the cats that’s wandered in.
“Or go ’orseback riding,” suggests Yvette.
“Or go yatching?” asks Yvonne, who’s picked up another one of the cats.
“Or go to the zoo?” asks Simmone.
“Perhaps another time, my dears,” their mother answers them all. “I’m feeling a bit fatigued today, truth be told. Let’s stick to indoor activities… surely there’s something our bright imaginations can think of to do in this old house?”
Caroline: “Perhaps we could reconnect with the past?” Caroline offers innocently. “We could look through some photo albums.”
Caroline: “It’s why we take those pictures anyway, right?”
GM: “That does sound fun,” agrees Cécilia. “We do have so many, after all.”
“We could take new ones, too.”
“’Oo’ll we ’ave do that, with the ’ousekeeper not ’ere?” asks Yvette.
“We could take them.” Yvonne.
“Sure, but ones of us all.” Yvette.
“We could have Jeremy or Daniel or one of the other security.” Adeline.
“Ah don’t want them… " Simmone.
“It’d just be pictures.” Noëllle.
“No! Ah don’t want them!” repeats Simmone.
Caroline: “You’d prefer Mr. Shah?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Oui. ’E’d be nicer.”
“’E might ’ave a ’ard time with a camera,” Yvette observes.
Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “We can hold off on an everyone photo for now, or do one with a timer.”
GM: “But you ‘ave to run for those, and they’re not as good,” says Yvonne.
Caroline: “There will be another chance,” Caroline offers. “Unless you have a better idea?”
The Ventrue briefly considers offering up her varied ghouls to the task, but her mother clearly doesn’t want strangers present today, and she knows well their fatigue after the last couple nights. The work she has at their feet for today. They need some time off. Time to rest. Tired people make mistakes. Mistakes now could get her killed.
GM: “If it’s meant to be, my dears, it will be,” Abélia remarks serenely. “Perhaps a solution shall fall into our laps. Caroline, Cécilia, why don’t you two dig up the photo albums while the rest of us clean up here?”
Caroline: Caroline smiles. “Of course, Maman.”
She slides around the island she stand behind and slips away with Cécilia, grateful for the opportunity to get away from the meal.
Her new sisters are easy to get used to. Food is another story.
Monday morning, 7 March 2016
GM: The clink of dishes follows the two as they leave.
“Maman told me about Simmone,” Cécilia mentions once they’re out of earshot.
“I trust that she and you think it’s for the best. But I’m worried, still.”
Caroline: “Me too,” Caroline admits. “There are effects beyond just stopping aging… and even if there weren’t, it will eventually draw attention. But she asked me to trust her.”
GM: “I think Maman can take care of those things the most easily. I’m primarily worried about the psychological effects.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. "There are ghouls that have been eternal children before. Still are, in the city. I could ask, at least for the long term… "
“In the short term… it might be good. Might give her more confidence.”
“Especially if she’s pushed a little.” Caroline gives her sister a meaningful look.
GM: “Maybe that would be the right thing to do,” Cécilia admits. “It feels like it’s one step forward, two steps back with her, so much of the time. She was getting better for a while—you remember how we took her to your birthday party all without Maman. But ever since Maman died, Simmone’s refused to even leave the same room as her.”
“In many ways, she’s developmentally stunted. You’ve seen the tantrums she’s thrown. Those are behaviors I might expect from a four-year-old. But she’s ten.”
Caroline: “Maman seems to want it,” Caroline admits.
“She’s said she wants a child on her knee indefinitely.”
GM: “She said that to me, too. Her logic was that if Simmone is having such a hard time growing up, then maybe she shouldn’t have to.”
Cécilia looks uncomfortable.
“Maman has always made us happy. Always kept us safe. I don’t doubt her, or even want to doubt her. But growing up is a part of life.”
Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Is it? Is growing old part of life too? Is suffering? Pain? Discomfort? And what does that make me? Or her?”
GM: Cécilia pauses at that, then closes the door to the library they’ve since entered and sits down.
“Maman has asked me several times if I’ve wanted the Embrace. She’s said there are ways she could arrange it.”
“I’ve told her no.”
Caroline: Caroline takes a seat beside her. “That’s not the wrong choice.”
She bites her lip again, then continues, “She didn’t tell me how everyone else came to be her daughters, vice how I did. I gathered it was different.”
“I gather too, you understand what she is, beyond Maman?”
GM: “I suppose that depends,” Cécilia answers thoughtfully.
“I know much of what she can do, much of what makes her what she is. But there’s much of her I don’t understand. Perhaps even couldn’t.”
Caroline: “She’s not of this world,” Caroline fills in. “Not human, at least not now, in any sense we might understand it.”
She mulls over the irony of that statement for a moment. “To revive her is to conjure her forth, as a magician might.”
GM: “I’m not certain if she was ever human,” Cécilia admits. “She might have been, once. But if she was, it was so long ago I’m not sure it makes a difference either way.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I don’t at all doubt her desire for our prosperity—it would be a cold and brief Requiem without all she’s done for me—but it’s entirely possible that her conception of what a human life should be, should consist of, is… very skewed by that perspective.”
“She wants Simmone to be happy, but that might be so far as it goes. She might not see beyond her welfare in that way. Similarly, she wants the same for you. Wants your success. Your prosperity. Wants to offer you anything you might wish—including immortality… at least of a sort.”
“To be human is to be subject to a great many hardships, a great many ailments, that will never touch me.”
GM: “Yes. Unquestionably,” Cécilia agrees. “But there are reasons the Kindred envy the living, too, which Maman might not consider as consequential.”
“Perhaps your Embrace was the right thing for you. I think it can be for some people. But I don’t think it is for most people. I think the Embrace demands a special character and significant degree of mental resilience.”
Caroline: “I’m not saying you should have said yes,” Caroline reassures her. “Only that I think in offering she sought to offer you something.”
She pauses to bite her lip again. “Were there others… before us?”
GM: Cécilia thinks.
“I don’t know, to be honest. I do know that Maman has a sister. Our aunt. She wants you to meet her, in time.”
Caroline: “Have you met her?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Yes. We all have. We go back to Avignon for summers, usually, every year. That’s where we see her.”
“She doesn’t seem to like children very much, though. She always seems very tired.”
Caroline: Caroline can sympathize. “I wonder if she’s afraid of losing us.”
GM: “Her, or Maman?”
Caroline: “Maman,” Caroline answers. “Whether we’re the first or last.”
She shrugs. “How did we all come to be?”
GM: “To be honest, it hasn’t ever occurred to me to ask,” Cècilia admits. “Maman might be willing to answer your questions there, if it would make you happy. Truly. I know above all things, that’s her foremost concern.”
“But, as you say, her perspective may be skewed by her distance from humanity. In trying to shield Simmone from pain, she might inadvertently be shielding her from joy too.”
“I cherish my childhood and look back on it happily. But I wouldn’t want to still be a child. The pains of growing up were worth it.”
Caroline: “Do you remember when the others were born?”
GM: “Yes, I was already a teenager by the time Simmone was born. But, Caroline, I think what’s happening to her now may be more important than what happened to us then.”
Caroline: “Do you want to talk to Maman about it?” Caroline asks. “Or are you asking me to hold out?”
GM: “I think it would be helpful for her to hear those concerns from us both, if they’re ones you also share.”
Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue over her teeth. “They are.”
GM: Cècilia looks relieved. “Good. I’ll bring them up.”
“I suppose there’s some silver lining in that one month of delayed aging isn’t really that long, in the grand scheme.”
Caroline: “No more than other things that have happened. But Cécilia, it’s going to be painful to drag her into adulthood at this point.”
GM: “It is. But I don’t think growing up is ever painless.”
Caroline: “No, it isn’t,” Caroline agrees. “We all get our scars.”
GM: “You sounded like you’d had some thoughts earlier, so far as how?”
Caroline: “The blood will make her bolder. Make her feel stronger. If I’m gone, take advantage of it while you can. You might even consider it again, if that goes well. A month or two of delayed aging is nothing beside the psychological side.”
GM: Cècilia thinks. “You’re right. Maybe that could help. I admit I don’t know as much about ghouls as I do about Kindred.”
Caroline: “I know… a fair bit. And I’ve seen the reactions among my ghouls. I think she’ll be spared a fair few of them, because she’s younger, but I’m not certain how that works out.”
GM: “I suppose what’s done is done, and we can simply try to make the best of what has.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “She needs to go back to school. Or at least back out to deal with other people more frequently. Theater productions, dance studios, whatever works best.”
GM: “School could be… a challenge, though I’d like to get her up to that point by spending longer amounts of time away from Maman. Though maybe more time with non-family members would be a good idea too, even if Maman has to be around.”
Caroline: “She needs a friend. Other than the family. Maybe one of the bodyguards. Someone softer than a lot of the others that makes her feel safe.”
GM: “She had friends at school. She was actually very popular. But it’s been long enough that a lot of those friendships have faded away.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “And they’re not likely to react well to her current… well, trend of behavior.”
GM: Cècilia nods in concurrence. “Hmm. We still have her dance teacher come by for lessons. They get along pretty well. Maybe doing those more than once a week.”
Caroline:“Maybe bringing along another student too—a partner.”
GM: “Oh, that’s a good thought. Maybe someone who doesn’t go to McGehee.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “She likes attention, perhaps dance competition would suit her well too. There are all kinds of local events that start as young as she is.”
GM: “I’ll ask about those at her next lesson. It’s actually scheduled for later today.” Cècilia thinks for another moment. “What about your people? Do you have any, or any with children, who might get along with her?”
Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment. “No especially good candidates. One of them has a younger brother. Sister too, but I think she’s closer to Autumn’s age than Simmone’s. I could ask her about them. Another has a daughter… but I think she’s actually well-known to Simmone.”
“Well, Roger perhaps. His daughter is a little older, I think, but might be willing to hang around in Simmone’s shadow.”
GM: “Oh, she sounds perfect, then. Simmone could use someone she can maybe ‘upstage’ a little.”
“Autumn’s siblings too, if they’re the right age. Asking definitely couldn’t hurt.”
Caroline: Caroline nods slowly. “I’ll find out. Involving them carries a mild amount of risk, though.”
She elaborates, “Entwining the lives of ghouls with the family. They haven’t had the best… well, life expectancy to date.”
GM: “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. If you think we’d be putting them in danger meeting Simmone, then maybe we shouldn’t.”
Caroline: “No, just… it’s a slightly awkward relationship, with their parents as well… servants that are often desperate to please.”
She bites her lower lip, then gives a small laugh. “I actually think Maman might rather like the dynamic. She seems more old-fashioned like that. Servants’ children running with their masters’.”
GM: Cécilia smiles back. “You might be right there. I think she would.”
“It’s not really a dynamic we’ve had thus far. The family help has been either a little young to have children, or… well, incapable of having any.”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow at that.
GM: “You’ve seen our driver.”
Caroline: “He doesn’t seem especially happy,” Caroline answers.
GM: “He hurt Maman in the past. She believes his suffering is right and just.”
“I don’t agree with her there, admittedly, which she knows. But her mind is made up.”
Caroline: “You have a kinder heart than most of us,” Caroline muses. “You forgive.”
GM: “That’s kind of you to say. Admittedly, I’m not completely sure what he did, so that forgiveness is easier for me.”
Caroline: “I don’t forgive. Not easily. Not frequently.”
GM: “Would you like to?”
Caroline: The Ventrue considers for a moment, staring into space. “Maybe. It’s something I admire in you. But it’s not in my nature.”
“I’d sort of like to believe that the world can only have gentle hearts if it also has harder ones around them.”
GM: “Maybe so. It’s true I’ve been more sheltered than you and haven’t had to make the same sorts of hard decisions.”
Caroline: “It’s not about hard decisions. Just hard people. Too much Malveaux in me.”
GM: “I’d also raise that you’re more sheltered now, too, than you used to be. If that’s something you want to change about yourself, I think you could afford it now. But only if you wanted to.”
“Our family has its share of hardness. Maman and Yvette don’t forgive easily.”
Caroline: “Ying and yang, maybe. Yvette and Yvonne are like the sides of a coin in that way.”
GM: “Yes. I think they draw out each other’s best qualities. And blunt each other’s worse ones.”
Caroline: “We’ll see what the future holds. I fear the future among the city’s Cainites will leave little room for kindness, mercy, or forgiveness.”
GM: “Those qualities can be luxuries,” Cécilia nods.
Caroline: “What else is bothering you?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Hmm. I’m in the position, actually, of executing something close to a will. Or maybe better to say, honoring someone’s last request.”
Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.
GM: “I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but Emmett Delacroix—you might remember us talking about him with Luke at the Orpheum—was a boyfriend of mine in high school.”
Caroline: The name makes Caroline wince. “How did you end up talking to him again?”
GM: “After we broke up, I learned he’d been lying to me about who he was. He’d claimed to be an ambassador’s son and related to a movie star. He’d also arranged for Adeline to get embarrassed in public so he could swoop in to the rescue. Which sounds awful, and it was. But he later came clean when he didn’t have to. I think he was really just scared I wouldn’t accept him for who he was. He had a genius for making films. This simply amazing creative vision.”
“He was executed by the state of Louisiana not that long ago, in any case. I visited him while he was still on death row.”
“He was guilty of some fairly serious crimes. I don’t know the full circumstances of those, but it seemed to me like he’d more than paid for them. He’d lost his legs. He was a shell of the person I remembered.”
Caroline: “He was in the Dungeon,” Caroline offers quietly. “When I was.”
GM: Cécilia blinks. “I’m sorry?”
Caroline: “Someone brought him down there, when I was down there. In that pit.”
GM: “Oh. Maman told me some of the story there.”
“That’s… that’s simply terrible. For him and for you. Beyond terrible.”
Caroline: "Yeah… " Caroline nods. “We met, he and I, before that. Not for very long. I didn’t like the feeling I got off of him, so I asked Roger to pull his record.”
GM: “Oh?” Cécilia remarks. “That’s comforting to know he was telling the truth.”
“Yvette believed he’d sexually assaulted you. He denied it when I asked about that.”
“I did believe him, as he didn’t have much reason to lie at that point, and you couldn’t have told Yvette the truth about that night.”
Caroline: Caroline shuffles uncomfortably. “That night is… complicated. What happened to both of us there was complicated. Victim and victimizer is a blurry line. But no, she got… well… the easy lie.”
GM: “I understand. I don’t blame you. You couldn’t have told her the truth.”
“She was true to herself, though. She had Jeremy bribe the guards to abuse Em further in revenge for what she believed he’d done to you. She wanted them to… hurt him in the same way she believed he’d hurt you, let’s simply say, before killing him. Jeremy fortunately didn’t seem like he was going to let that happen.”
Caroline: More cruelty at him, her fellow victim of the Dungeon, because of her. She can tell herself he was a bad person, that he deserved it. But she’s not sure it’s really true.
GM: Cécilia looks at her. “I forgave Em for what he did to me and Adeline. But I can understand if you can’t for his other crimes. Yvette mentioned a scheme of his to get you pregnant and blackmail you.”
Caroline: “He’s dead now,” Caroline answers noncommittally.
GM: A look flickers in Cécilia’s eyes. “Yes.”
“I do think I was able to make his last days more comfortable. I left him some pens and paper, so he could write scripts for his movies.”
“The conditions on death row are just unspeakable. They’re kept in bare cells in total isolation, for potentially decades. I don’t know how someone doesn’t go crazy.”
Caroline: “For most of the people on death row, I don’t think that’s something anyone is worried about,” Caroline answers pointedly.
GM: “I think you’ll disagree with me, but I don’t think there’s any point in punishing them further, at that point. They’re soon going to face a higher justice than any human court.”
“Or not so soon, potentially. I was frankly amazed Em was executed after only six months.”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I just don’t know that they’re worth anyone’s concern. Plenty of more deserving people suffering.”
“That’s a quick turnaround, though. My father was trying to make it happen for years.”
GM: “Yes, from what I understand state law makes execution by any means besides lethal injection illegal, but the state couldn’t reach an agreement with any supplier for the drugs. Maxen Flores spent years negotiating with the pharma companies even after he took over from your father.”
“I suppose the state was in a hurry to make an example of someone after all those years they couldn’t.”
“I might also disagree with you so far as those people’s worth, but that’s a discussion for perhaps another time.”
Caroline: “Indeed,” Caroline answers. “He asked you to do something, though? Beyond trying to make his end less… well, miserable.”
GM: “Yes. He’s sent me the scripts he wrote for his movies.”
“They’re very good scripts, too. It’s… it’s such a shame how his life turned out. I’d really encouraged him to apply to film school while we were in high school.”
“I’ve been having someone send the scripts to various film companies, in any case. I haven’t been trying to make money off of them. I’ve mainly just wanted to get them out.”
“His last one, though, is written to be more of a moneymaker than the others. And he’s requested that the proceeds go towards a nonprofit set up to combat companies like Endron and Malveaux Oil.”
“Obviously, I’m not about to help establish an organization to hurt my fiancé’s company. So I’m just thinking about what to do with any money the script makes.”
“I thought about maybe using it against Endron, what with their being major pollutants and rivals of your family’s, but that seems a little… politically minded, and not fully in line with the spirit of his request.”
“My other thought was simply donating the proceeds towards a less divisive charity that everyone supports, like the Red Cross. But that seems a little milquetoast. I think he’d wanted to do something for his father, who’s an environmental activist.”
Caroline: Caroline smirks when Cécilia raises her concern over just targeting Endron. That’s what she’d have done.
“Maybe something more specifically focused on his life circumstances?” she offers.
GM: “Oh, that’s a happy thought. Maybe scholarships for film students?”
Caroline: “Or opportunities for post-release felons,” Caroline suggests.
GM: “That’s another good one. Or improving conditions for death row inmates. Maybe all three, depending on how much the rights sell for.”
“Those are some really good ideas, Caroline.” She smiles. “You should have gone into charity work.”
Caroline: "I attended enough functions for the family that I must have picked up a thing or two along the way. It’s unseemly, really… "
GM: “You might pick up some more things there, actually. Maman mentioned she was planning on firing the legal counsel retained by our charities, and hiring your firm.”
Caroline: “That would be… quite a windfall. She should retain at least one other, though, to bounce conflicts of interest against.”
GM: “Hm, you should mention that to her. But it might be a hard sell.” Cécilia smiles faintly. “It’s simply no question to her, about supporting blood over non-blood.”
Caroline: Caroline nods.
GM: “There was also something else to do with Emmett. Do you remember Mark Stines?”
Caroline: Caroline reaches back. “He was the head of legal for Malveaux Oil that got murdered.”
GM: “Yes. Luke told me he was a former JAG officer who’d really whipped the department into shape.”
“And it was such a brutal murder. I remember reading about it in the news. How he’d been… mutilated, before he died.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. She remembers her uncle’s rage about it.
GM: “Luke said it was the whole reason your family hired Roger.”
She remembers both her uncles’ rage.
Caroline: “Yeah. Before there had been security, but it wasn’t quite as refined. Roger had just come out of the Middle East. He gutted everything.”
GM: “Emmett asked that some of the money from his script go to supporting Stines’ wife and children.”
“It… stood out to me. It seems surprising he’d have had any personal relationship with the family. And the murder was a pretty long time ago.”
Caroline: “He’s assuming a lot, that there will be enough money to go around,” Caroline points out, even as she thinks back to Stines.
GM: “Yes,” Cécilia nods. “But the thing which stood out to me is that it was Emmett’s last request, from death row. You spend those on things that are very important to you. And I have a hard time seeing him being especially close to the family.”
“Yvette, when she first visited Em, got him talking for a while. And she told me that he’d told her he was the one to murder Stines. The story was so… well, I’ll simply say there were lurid enough details I wasn’t sure whether it was real or Yvette had maybe blown up the details she’d gotten from Em, because she was so upset.”
“But it feels a lot more plausible now, with Em wanting to make some kind of restitution to Stines’ family.”
Caroline: That confession takes some of the tension out of her shoulders.
She knew he was a bad person. But there’s a difference between knowing and ‘knowing.’
GM: “I’m not sure how much it truly means now, with Em dead, and Stines’ family having had eight years to deal with their grief. But he was an important man at the company Maman says you’ll be running behind the scenes, so I thought I’d simply let you know.”
Caroline: “I appreciate it,” Caroline answers quietly, contemplative.
GM: “It also means the man who was sent to prison for the murder was actually innocent.”
“He was, I think, still complicit. But he wasn’t the one to actually commit the murder.”
Caroline: “Emmett was a conman. A career criminal. That’s what Roger gave me.”
GM: “That sounds consistent with what Yvette had to say and my own experiences.”
Caroline: “I think the truth of everything he did in life probably went to the grave with him.”
GM: “Maybe. But if that man could be innocent, I think it’s worth looking into. And legal matters like these are your area.”
Caroline: Caroline rolls the idea over. “I can have someone start digging, but that case is awfully cold. And no one is going to want to touch it, to reopen that wound.”
GM: “I understand. Thanks for still looking into it.”
Caroline: Caroline nods.
GM: “Well, I think we’ve kept the others waiting for long enough.” Cécilia gets up and removes some albums from a shelf. “Maman must have distracted them. I’m surprised no one came calling.”
Caroline: “She has a way,” Caroline answers. She rises lethargically to follow Cécilia. Her typical effortless grace is absent this morning as she forces herself out of the comfortable couch that practically begs her to close her eyes for a little while.
GM: Cécilia looks at her with some concern. “If you’re tired, you could sleep until evening. Maman will come up with an excuse. You’ll still be able to spend time with the others.”
Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “This time is a gift. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’d cherish it while we have the chance. It’s just… sort of like the worst hangover you’ve ever had.”
GM: “Is there anything that could make it easier for you? Would blood help?”
Caroline: "If you could make that big blazing ball of hatred in the sky go away… " Caroline jokes. “But no, it’s just a price paid.”
GM: “Well, thank you for paying it. I know it means a lot to Maman and the others.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles.
“It means a lot to me too.”
Monday morning, 7 March 2016
GM: It’s a short walk back to the house’s living room. The drapes around the floor to ceiling windows are pulled fast. Some part of Caroline cannot help but silently whine whether they are thick enough, but no sun gets through. The lit chandeliers and tableside lamps make the place almost feels like it’s night out. Everyone has piled onto two adjacent couches, with Simmone sitting on Abélia’s lap. They’re looking through social media pictures on their phones and passing them around.
“Oh, just in time,” Abélia declares contently. “We’ve looked through all these recent photos… now we can delve into the past.”
Cècilia sits down as the others scoot aside and hands her mother the first album. “These ones start in 2005. Just when we moved over.”
“It’s funny to think it’s been close to eleven years. Sometimes it feels like it’s been so much longer, and sometimes like it’s been no time at all.”
“Chronos plays many tricks on us, my dear,” Abélia smiles as she opens the photo book. “He’s really quite a liar.”
Caroline: Aren’t we all.
GM: “Ah, here’s the first one of us in the States,” Abélia says. “Look at how young you all were! Simmone is just a little baby.”
“Where’s that we were?” asks Noëllle.
“That’s the Windsor Court,” Adeline says as their mother passes the photo book around.
“So many hotels were closed, but I remember that one doing everything it could to keep its doors open.”
“More than open.” Cècilia. “President Marshall stayed there when he came to the city, as I remember.”
“Ugh, Marshall was an idiot.” Yvette.
Caroline: More than you know, she reflects, knowing what she does of its owner, even as she takes a place looking over Abélia’s shoulder.
GM: “Freedom fries,” echoes Yvonne.
Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Yes, you have such strong memories of his presidency.”
GM: The photo shows all of the family sitting together at a table in the hotel’s Polo Club Lounge. It’s reminiscent of a private English club, decorated with dark woods and overstuffed leather furnishings. Abélia looks much as she does in the present. Cécilia is a teenager with younger features, but just about the same height. Adeline looks in middle school. Yvette and Yvonne are just little kids. Noëllle is a toddler sitting on Cécilia’s lap, and Simmone is still just a baby in the crook of Abélia’s arm.
“I remember talking to a couple of the Secret Service agents who were there,” Cécilia remarks. “They were very friendly.”
“You were a little shy to,” she smiles at Adeline.
“Yes. I did visit their website, though. It had a ‘for kids’ section. I remember it saying to study hard and get good grades if you wanted to join the Secret Service someday.”
“Yvette didn’t even want to talk to them. She convinced me not to,” Yvonne remarks amusedly.
“Freedom fries,” Yvette repeats sarcastically.
“But we don’t even call them that,” says Noëllle. “They’re just frites.”
“Yes, but Americans do.” Yvette.
“They changed the name to freedom toast, too.” Yvonne.
“Oh mon dieu, did they really?” Yvette scoffs.
Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Would you like me to put your hair up in a freedom braid?”
GM: “Jesus Christ, did they seriously rename that too?”
Caroline: Caroline laughs harder. “No, but I enjoyed watching you get worked up about it.”
GM: That draws some laughter from the others. Yvette rolls her eyes. “Ah bet you were all over freedom fries, with your dad,” she retorts.
Caroline: “It’s important to defend American values,” she retorts. "Things like liberty, egalitie, fraternity… "
GM: “Yes, we did those better. And we basically conquered the world after our revolution.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles, letting the joke go.
GM: “America arguably did that too. They just took longer,” Adeline observes.
“I had a college professor who liked to tout ‘the Sixth Fleet’ as evidence of American imperialism. He had this funny way of saying in a very exaggerated voice, ‘the Sixth Fleet. Have you heard of the Sixth Fleet? The Sixth Fleet makes sure Mare Nostrum stays alive under today’s empire.”
Caroline: “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”
GM: “As an interesting bit of trivia, he also pointed out that the U.S. actually has a comparable number of foreign military bases to Rome and the British Empire at their peaks. That’s all the more notable given how much warfare has changed over 2,000 years, or factors like the size of the territory held, or smaller contemporary forces being able to hold much more territory. All three empires still had a little over 30 bases.”
“Hmph,” says Yvette. “‘Ow many did Napoleon’s empire ’ave?”
“I’m not sure,” answers Adeline. “But under 30.”
“What’s Mare Nostrum?” asks Simmone.
“It’s Latin, my dear. For ’our sea,” explains Abélia. “The Romans ruled all of the land around the Mediterranean. It was ‘their sea.’”
“And as my professor liked to explain, the U.S. keeps a fleet stationed there.” Adeline. “So it’s ‘their sea’ too.”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “‘Eastern American Bathtub’ doesn’t have quite the same ring.”
GM: “Latin makes everything classier.” Yvonne.
Caroline: “The root of so many languages, too.”
GM: Abélia turns the book’s page. “Oh, my. The Krewe du Vieux.”
“Oh mah god, are those people dressed as sperms?” Yvette laughs.
“Look at ‘ow many there are. There’s families dressing up as sperms together.” Yvonne.
“Why are they doing that?” asks Noëllle.
“It was to protest the mayor’s handling of Hurricane Katrina,” explains Cécilia. “The Krewe du Vieux had a lot of material to work with that year.”
“But why sperms?” Noëllle.
“Because ’e’s jacking off, duh,” snickers Yvette.
“Ah know that,” the 13-year-old defensively insists. “Ah mean why’d they make fun of ’im doing that.”
“Be kind to your sister, my sweet. Save your mockery for those deserving of it,” Abélia smiles, patting Yvette’s hand.
“As to the Krewe, I believe they were mocking the mayor for his statement that the city was a ‘chocolate city,’ as well as lambasting his general performance in office.”
Caroline: “Added benefit of being shocking,” Caroline adds. “Everyone loves to make a statement.”
GM: “Ah’d ’ave wanted to be one of those sperms,” Yvette laughs.
Caroline: “To shock people?” Caroline smirks.
GM: “And make fun of the mayor. ‘E was an idiot. I think ’is wife’s on food stamps now!” she snorts.
“Yes, ’e actually want to jail.” Yvonne.
Caroline: “No less than he deserved,” Caroline answers.
GM: “He was very corrupt,” Cécilia nods. “That’s nothing new in Louisiana, but I suppose they were looking to make an example.”
“Yes, Ah’m amazed that actually ’appened,” says Yvonne.
Caroline: "They had to, when the entire country was watching. Internal problems are one thing, but when you let them out all over the national news… "
GM: “Yes, he’d appeared in all those photos with President Marshall, too.” Adeline. “People had rallied around him during a time of crisis and felt betrayed. By his corruption as well as his mismanagement of the disaster response.”
“That’s funny to think though. ’E’d been so on top of the world one day, showing up in pictures with the president.” Yvonne.
“Fortuna is a fickle companion, my dears,” Abélia smiles. “Be certain never to place yourself entirely within her care.”
Caroline: “The higher you climb, the further you can fall,” Caroline chimes in.
GM: “Ah guess you should be careful.” Noëllle.
“Or lay a mat.” Yvonne.
“A mat doesn’t make a difference from ’igh enough.” Yvette.
Abélia turns the book’s page. “Ah, and here Caroline is with the rest of us. This was the first time we’d seen her in quite a while, wasn’t it?”
Caroline sees a photo of them all watching a parade from a VIP balcony. They’re tossing beads and other plastic trinkets to the crowds below. Caroline’s lifting up Yvette so she can get a good toss while Cécilia holds Yvonne and Abélia holds Noëllle. Adeline throws from the side. Simmone is still in a stroller.
Caroline: Caroline’s blue eyes glitter as they settle on the image of her. This past recalled by all but her.
Still, she can imagine it, almost hear her sisters’ happy laughs. The feel of the plastic beads in her hand.
GM: It’s a smaller parade than normal, she can also tell. Mardi Gras was a much humbler affair in 2006.
“What’d you do for Katrina?” Noëllle asks. “Didn’t everyone ’ave to leave the city?”
“A lot of displaced people went to Houston and Baton Rouge. But Caroline actually lived in Baton Rouge already, back then,” Cécilia explains.
Caroline: Caroline nods. “It wasn’t until after Katrina that most of the Malveauxes moved back towards New Orleans. It made sense then—property values were low, lots of room for growth.”
GM: “Yes, I remember there being a lot of plans to completely rebuild the city. It was an opportunity like developers hadn’t ever had before,” Adeline remarks. “Though not much seemed to come of it.”
Caroline: “Too much red tape in the way,” Caroline observes. “Too many historical preservation societies and regulations.”
GM: “That’s just so stupid,” Yvette says.
“Amelie got in trouble for damaging an ’istoric site, though,” Yvonne points out.
“Oooh, that’s right,” Yvette smiles. “Ah guess Ah forgot next to all those other things ’e did.”
Caroline: “It has its value. There’s a lot of history here. A lot of what makes New Orleans unique.”
GM: “Ah guess. Though Ah wonder ‘ow it’d look if developers ’ad been able to do more.” Yvette.
“It might look closer to how the Pavaghis want it to, actually.” Adeline.
“Sarah ’as such awful taste in guys,” Yvette laughs.
“It’s creepy with ’ow much older ’e is, too.” Yvonne.
“I think he was simply there for her at a vulnerable point in her life, from the sound of things,” Cécilia says. “It’s very easy to fall for someone who swoops in to the rescue like that.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “We all want someone there for us.”
GM: “You don’t think it’s wrong, though?” Yvonne.
“Sarah’s old enough to consent. In the law’s eyes, at least, neither of them has done any wrong.” Cécilia.
“Ah’ve never wanted to date someone that much older than me.” Yvette.
“Your boyfriend’s in college.” Noëllle.
“’E’s 19. Way younger.” Yvette.
Caroline: “Statistically worldwide women marry men around seven years older,” Caroline observes.
GM: “Worldwide a lot of women get murdered for ’aving sex before marriage too,” Yvette retorts.
Caroline: “That’s a depressing topic,” Caroline replies sourly.
GM: “Ah’m just saying statistically worldwide a lot of women ’ave it pretty awful.”
Caroline: “True, but the propensity towards dating an older partner in women continues even here. I think George Clooney was in his fifties when he was rated the ‘sexist man alive.’”
GM: “Oh, we studied that in one of mah statistics classes.” Yvonne. “’Ow Oscars winners tend to ’ave lots of older men, but the women are always young. It was for an example with box plots.”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “And sexism. A shame it takes men so long to fully develop.”
GM: “The silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it takes a very clever man to manage a foolish woman,” Cécilia quotes with a smile.
Abélia only gives a fluttering laugh as she pages through the album.
“Come come, my dears. Let us speak of happier things and look back on happier times… "
There’s a lot of them. 2005 starts with photos of the family, sans Caroline, together at the Windsor Court. They lounge around at the rooftop pool, treat themselves at the spa, and even play with a litter of white-furred young kittens (the Court accommodated pets). Those pictures prompt Simmone to say she wants the cats; Abélia calls for them, and it’s not overlong before several hop onto the couch. Simmone pulls hers, Guimauve (“Marshmallow”) onto her lap and rubs the flopped-over persian’s belly as they look through pictures. The cats are completely pliable and willing; Simmone and Noëllle even stack another one, Glinda, on top of Guimauve, and roll her over to amuse themselves as they pet the felines.
“It’s really a shame what happened to the Court,” comments Adeline. “I’ll always prefer living in a real house. But the staff was beyond stellar and went to so much effort to keep the hotel running smoothly.”
Caroline: There’s a faint chill as Caroline reflects on how closely the family lived in proximity to Smith, but it’s undercut by the present.
“Some people just want to watch the world burn,” she laments with Adeline.
GM: “I think they were mostly just selfish. I read about that wave of scandals, and how the owner had to sell. It’s just a shame the new owners weren’t simply willing to turn over the hotel to new management.”
Caroline: “At least we got to enjoy it when it lasted.”
GM: You know we weren’t in any danger from him, Caroline. Maman made things very clear and reached an accommodation.
She’d never have brought us there if she wasn’t completely certain we’d be safe. From what she said, Smith was actually a very gracious host.
Caroline: And I know how it worked out, Caroline admits. I only met him once, and perhaps my feelings are colored by those of another.
GM: Desperate times drive men to desperate measures, my dears, Abélia observes. Mr. Smith, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun. Many were the hands willing to use such ambition towards their own purposes. In serving oneself above all else, one may easily be swayed into the service of others.
Caroline: An empty pursuit must be filled by something.
GM: Mr. Smith’s most worthy endeavor was his hotel, and he at his most worthy when pursuing that endeavor. He was a devilishly charming host and accommodating to our needs in ways no mortal hotelier could have been. I do not think the city will soon find another Cainite of his caliber. I look back upon our time within his domain fondly, and salute his memory.
The family reminisces over the Court a bit longer. There was that friendly old doorman, and the hostess—Adeline recalls her actually being French, and feeling more comfortable around her than the other staff. Yvette focuses more on the negative and the men implicated in the recent sex scandals. Yvonne brings up the hotel’s art collection, which she says looks very impressive from the photos they have. Abélia confirms that yes, it had a museum-quality collection worth an estimated $10 million. It featured paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and furnishings by more than 60 artists dating from the 17th to late 20th centuries. Many of the artworks were of British origin with an emphasis on works that depicted the Windsor Castle and life of British royalty. The collection included original works by William Powell Frith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Jacob Huysman.
When Yvonne asks how her mother knows this, Simmone chimes up that “Maman knows everything,” much to the laughter of those present.
Abélia then says that many of the art pieces were put up for sale. Some of them were purchased by museums she and Cécilia are involved with. Other pieces have disappeared into the hands of private collectors.
“Didn’t you buy one of them, Maman?” Cécilia asks.
“Why yes, my dear, I believe I did—a little keepsake of our time there. It’s at the Ogden. I need to bring it over to our house, still.”
Caroline: “There’s always an opportunity amid every sorrow,” Caroline chimes in. “If you can find it.”
GM: Speaking of, my dear, would you care to involve yourself further with the museum? There’s the Chairman’s Circle for individuals, or perhaps corporate membership for your law firm… patronage of the arts is a time-honored tradition among rulers, be they living or dead.
Caroline instinctively knows what such entails.
She recalls that Vera sits on the museum’s board of trustees, although her aunt never made much of an effort to involve the rest of the family.
Caroline: That could be very useful, Caroline muses. Particularly the opportunity to host after-hours events there. I think the firm might be more directly applicable, especially if my name is wedded to it, in time.
GM: Oh? Is your name not? Cécilia asks curiously.
Caroline: My ‘death’ seemed a likely outcome in the immediate future. Given that, I thought it better to keep my hold of it more indistinct. There are documents that tie me to it, but none publicly available. Nothing to make a mess if ‘Caroline Malveaux’ tragically passed away.
GM: Oh, that makes sense, then. I’d wondered why you were still clerking for the court.
Caroline: Appearances. It was also problematic to explain to the family where the money came from for the start up.
GM: Such appearances shall likely cease to persist, my dear, as your allegiances become known to interested powers… Antoine Savoy has but little reason to help maintain the Masquerade of his rival’s childe, nor to grant her access to that within his domain.
Caroline: A shame, he is very charming. Much like the serpent from the Jungle Book, I think. Mind not the coils as they encircle you in their warm embrace…
GM: Your future may hold many things, precious child. Hypnos eagerly waits to embrace your sire, while his gaze passes over the lord of the French Quarter. Far more allegiances are written in mud than stone. But in the immediate term, your one-time benefactor is unwise to depend upon.
If you need any help setting up your Masquerade, of course, we’ll do whatever we can, Cécilia adds. You could link the firm’s start-up capital to us, if you want to publicly tie yourself to it. Which doesn’t seem like a bad idea. What is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers doing now that she’s passed the bar, after all.
Caroline: What is she doing indeed, Caroline asks. Let’s see what my sire has planned, that we don’t tread upon that newly-planted earth. A beginning is a very delicate time.
GM: Yes, that’s true. There’s definitely no harm in waiting a little to see how things unfold there, Cécilia agrees.
Monday afternoon, 7 March 2016
Abélia continues to flip through the photo album and comment aloud as the three silently converse. Yvonve asks where the pictures are of Maman and Cécilia helping with the relief efforts. Abélia says those are ‘political’ photos, for the most part. These ones are just of the family.
The Windsor Court photos eventually give way to ones of everyone moving in to the Walter Robinson House, newly restored following Katrina (and fortunately undamaged by the storm, like much of the Garden District). There’s lots of the girls swimming in the pool or playing in the yard with Ulysses and Penelope, the family’s now-deceased cats who produced the current litter of Persians. Caroline is in a number of photos, though not all of them: according to Cécilia, she’d usually come over “every other weekend” and for holidays like Mardi Gras.
Caroline: It makes sense, with the bulk of the Malveaux family still living in Baton Rouge at the time. Caroline very much included. The pictures make her almost jealous of the life she might have had. Almost.
GM: They’ve just moved to pictures of the family’s first trip to Grand Isle when Abélia tilts her head. “Ah, someone is at the door.”
“Caroline, Cécilia, why don’t you see who it is? I shouldn’t like to displace Simmone and the cats.”
I sense great pain, my dears, and equally great longing. Tread carefully.
Maman? Is there danger to the others? Cécilia asks.
Caroline: Not here. Not now, Caroline answers with a hint of viciousness.
She flashes a smile to the others. “Of course.”
GM: There is no bloodlust. Perhaps words shall avail you over force of arms.
You shall come to no harm while I yet draw breath, my dears. Death will be a mercy to any who might threaten you in this place.
Caroline: It begs a question as to who could come here, who would think to come here, with that intent. Still, Caroline’s not afraid.
She does take the lead in front of her sister, however. Her fragile human sister.
GM: We will take care of it, Maman. Peacefully, ideally. But Caroline and the guards can manage by force, if need be.
Cécilia rises to follow Caroline. They make their way to the house’s atrium when she says grimly, “I’ll need to open the door. You should take cover.”
Caroline: Caroline reluctantly continues past the door, to the next bend, where she can watch Cécilia without being exposed to the light as the door opens.
GM: Cécilia turns the knob. Caroline’s eyes painfully burn, like she’s watching a nuclear explosion up close. Light floods over her sister. Light, pure and clear and bright and wholesome, like Caroline hasn’t seen in what feels like a lifetime.
Then it’s gone just as abruptly as Cécilia quickly closes the door. And Caroline knows shadows and darkness once more.
Caroline: She recoils. Pulls further into shadow, into the house, but keeps her eyes on her sister.
GM: It’s Daniel Hayes. He looks mildly surprised at Cécilia preemptively opening the door, but states, “There’s someone out front, ma’am. She looks sketchy. Claims she knows Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”
“What name did she give?” Cécilia asks.
Cécilia frowns. “Do you know someone by that name, Caroline? I don’t.”
Caroline: “I do,” Caroline answers, stepping forward, further out of the darkness. “She works for Jocelyn.” Her ghoul, her only one.
“Did she say what this was about?” Caroline asks Hayes.
GM: “That it was ‘a matter of life and death,’” the Blackwatch merc answers. “She asked if she could bring her car in.”
Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Why don’t you show her in, and we can deal with the car in a moment. Can you have someone keep an eye on it while we talk?”
She’s not especially threatening.
GM: “She didn’t want to leave the car, ma’am. But we can force her out.”
Caroline: The Ventrue’s frown deepens. "She’s done something rather rash… "
“So what’s her request? To pull the car inside the fence, then she’ll come inside?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Yes, ma’am.”
Caroline: She ponders for a moment. I don’t think she’d have the means to make a bomb or anything like that.
“Bring the car in,” she tells Hayes. “Then bring her in.”
GM: “Yes, ma’am,” Hayes repeats.
GM: Cécilia nods for Caroline to retreat. The door opens and closes.
“What do you think this is about?” her sister asks. “Maman said great pain and great longing-”
Cécilia is cut off by a blood-curdling, agonized scream from outside.
There’s more shouts of alarm, perhaps from the guards.
Thudding footfalls, approaching the door.
Cécilia yells for Caroline to get back.
It slams open and then shut.
Jocelyn, half-carried by Hayes and Jeremy, all but collapses into the house. Smoke pungently wafts from her blackened, still-crackling flesh as she writhes and screams. She’s completely naked and the sun has had little mercy for her so-exposed skin.
Meg wails and falls over her domitor.
Caroline: The sight and sound of Jocelyn, seared and blackened, screaming in agony, is like a kick in the gut. It tears at Caroline, rips at her like Meadows once did. Pulls her to action almost instinctively.
She flips over the edge of the rug and uses it to smother the last of the smoke and flame.
GM: Hayes simultaneously throws off Meg and throws Jocelyn to the floor to make her stop, drop, and roll. Jeremy runs deeper into the house, then runs back with the pitcher of ice water that every Southern family keeps in their fridge and douses the Toreador with it over the head.
“CAR… OL… L… INE… !” Jocelyn screams.
Hayes pulls out a phone, all but certainly to dial 911.
“No, don’t,” Cécilia preempts sharply.
“Ma’am, she needs a hospital,” Hayes states incredulously.
“Y’all got a burn unit in this house or what?!” Jeremy barks.
More exclamations go up from the two men as Jocelyn tries to crawl towards Caroline.
Caroline: The streams tear at her. Pull at something in her. Something that meant the worst. It rips and tears inside her. She stares at Jocelyn’s charred form, remembering too well her brief experience with the sun’s kiss.
“Oh, Jocelyn… what have you done.”
GM: “Car… ol… l… ine…” she repeats as the two hold her fast. "H… elp… "
Caroline: “Let her go!” she demands, kneeling before the Toreador.
GM: The men let go. Jocelyn shakily wraps her blackened arms around Caroline’s waist and buries her face against the Ventrue’s belly. The smell of cooked flesh and burnt hair wafts up Caroline’s nostrils.
“It… h… urts… "
Meg cries and runs her hands over her domitor.
“Don’t call 911!” Cécilia repeats as Jeremy pulls out a phone.
“Ma’am, you crazy?!” the ex-cop repeats.
Caroline: The yelling between the two rips Caroline’s attention away from what really matters to her. She lets out the Beast, cowering and whining though it is in the day, to begin to smooth the edges of Jeremy’s and Hayes’ concern.
“Don’t,” Caroline responds to him. “It won’t help her right now, and it’ll hurt all of us. Call Fuller. Tell him I need my medication. He’ll know what it means.”
She looks down at Jocelyn’s frail form. “I can take care of her.”
GM: “Trust us, please,” entreats Cécilia.
Hayes looks torn for a moment, then requests, “What’s his phone number, ma’am?”
Jeremy looks less torn as he dials a number that takes him only three taps. “Hey, we got—I don’t know, a burn victim?!”
Caroline: She looks up at Jeremy with a flash of anger. “Hand her the phone.”
GM: Yet the Ventrue’s will is not what it is with the sun’s wrath invisibly bearing down. The stubborn man throws off the mental command with an, “Yeah, address is 14-”
Jeremy dives out of the way as the chandelier abruptly snaps from its holder, hitting the floor with a resounding crash. Broken glass and crystal flies everywhere. Miraculously, none touch either of the Devillers, but Meg shrieks and Hayes yells as stray fragments open red lines across their skin. Cécilia snatches up the dropped phone.
Maman! Are you all right!?
I am… well, sweet child… knowing you are safe…
“I’m sorry… that was a prank by my brother. No, no… it’s just a loud sound system. I am so sorry… we promise it won’t happen again.”
But Maman, you’ll burn through your body. You already nursed me and Caroline, and Simmone for so long this morning…
What is done is done, my dears. Tend to this crisis. I shall keep the others preoccupied.
Jeremy stares at the sisters, then points at Jocelyn and yells as he advances towards Cécilia, “You blind?! She needs a hospital!”
“Jeremy, she’s going to be just fine! Please tr-”
“Like hell she is! The fuck’s she doin’ naked!?”
Jocelyn gives a broken smile as she stares up at Caroline. Even her gums and tongue are shriveled up and black. "Caroline… I knew… you cared… I knew… you still… cared… "
Meg weeps over her domitor. “J-Jocelyn! Drink from me! Please!”
Caroline: The yelling security, operator on the line, Jeremy advancing on Cécilia, Meg’s pathetic sobbing, Jocelyn’s charred body and withered, blackened bands holding to her, the savagery of her self-immolating manipulation. And of course her throbbing head, the weight of the sun on her shoulders as never before. And the bond tearing at her, telling her so urgently she must help Jocelyn. Must forgive Jocelyn.
It threatens to swallow Caroline in the moment.
It doesn’t. She stands, Jocelyn’s hands wrapped pathetically around her calves, the charred face laying on her feet.
“Mr. May, you will recall whose home you are in and in whose employ.” Her voice snaps like a whip across the room. She tosses her phone to Hayes to keep him occupied. “Under Fuller. Tell him to bring along Ms. Widney as well.”
She turns back to May. “You are here to protect this family. You are failing in that.”
GM: Jeremy finally balks as the force of the Ventrue’s words, backed by both Man and Beast, washes over him.
“All right, ma’am, if callin’ 911 ain’t the thing to do here, then… what in heck’s name can I do for her?”
Hayes looks like he’s wondering the same thing as he dials the number and repeats how “Miss Malveaux-Devillers needs her medication.” He doesn’t say anything else, but he doesn’t take his eyes off the trio as he hangs up. Blood steadily trickles from his cuts.
“…yes, things just got a little heated… we’ve turned it off. We’re so sorry to have bothered you, again. I know every minute could save a life… yes, of course. Goodbye.” Cécilia also hangs up.
Caroline: “Help carry her further inside,” Caroline answers. She reviews her knowledge of the home for the best place to shelter Jocelyn. Her irritation with the Toreador threatens to bubble over, but fades and is replaced by something else.
It’s her own fault. She should have had someone read into the supernatural outside. Even if she couldn’t have ever expected Jocelyn to do something this rash, she should have been more prepared for something.
“Find something we can put her on, a rug, a towel, something so you aren’t actually touching her when we move her.” Caroline knows well how easy it is to tear seared flesh from the muscle underneath.
GM: Cécilia delicately makes her way past the glass and retrieves a broom to start sweeping it aside. Hayes and May retrieve a bedsheet they get Jocelyn onto, who continues to moan for Caroline. One room seems as good as any to move the injured Kindred. Cécilia volunteers her bedroom. Meg, still cut and bleeding, begs Caroline to “give her my blood!” Jeremy and Hayes look at her like she’s a lunatic.
Caroline: The Ventrue snatches Meg as the two security guards turn a corner and snaps at her, mouth full of teeth,
“You have shattered the peace of my family with your stunt. Do not continue to tear at the fabric of the Masquerade in my home.”
GM: Meg visibly flinches under Caroline’s gaze, defensively raising her stick-thin arms as she whisper-begs,
“P-Please. Ma’am. I just… I just want to help her! She wanted to die! She was, she was going to, to kill herself… she… she… "
Caroline: “So you brought her here to immolate herself in front of my family?”
GM: “You’d save her!” Meg begs. "If, if it wasn’t here… no one, no one would’ve… "
Caroline: “No one would have cared,” Caroline fills in.
GM: The ghoul just gives her a crushed look, then softly cries, "I c-couldn’t stop her… I, I tried, I w-wanted to… "
Caroline: Caroline feels again that surge of anger towards Jocelyn. Her childish, outlandish reaction.
And also an unnatural thrill at the lengths she’s gone to.
GM: "She’s, she’s… you haven’t seen her… " Meg begs. "She’s, she’s just… she spends all night, all night just crying… she doesn’t do her art… she hasn’t taken any pictures in, in forever… she doesn’t do anything… just lies in bed… "
“Roxanne and Wyatt, they’re the only… only Storyvilles left… and she just told them to fuck off… "
Caroline: “I didn’t want to see her,” Caroline replies acerbically.
GM: Meg actually falls to her knees and clutches the hem of Caroline’s skirt as she half-exclaims, half-begs, “You’re killing her!”
Caroline: “She’s killing herself,” Caroline snarls back.
But she knows that’s not entirely true. Remembers her part in this. Remembers how she’d hoped it would make things easier.
GM: Tears leak from the ghoul’s eyes. "P… please… help her, please… she just wants to love you… she loves you… "
Caroline: “What a pleasant way of showing it,” she half-snarls, whirling to follow the men carrying the charred vampire.
“Come along,” she snaps back at Meg.
GM: Meg gets up and meekly follows behind.
Caroline: Caroline has the men set Jocelyn down upstairs, away from the rest of the family. “Don’t tell anyone about this except Fuller when he arrives,” she instructs them firmly. “Get the car moved.”
She pauses before they depart. “She’ll be ok. But even if she weren’t, bringing the police and paramedics charging in here would never be a better alternative. Not for a stranger.”
When Jeremy objects she looks deep into his eyes. “Jeremy, trust me when I assure you, I know what I am doing.”
She needs to wipe this memory, but after earlier just doesn’t trust herself. Not while the sun is up in any case.
GM: Caroline? How would you like to handle this? Cécilia asks.
Caroline: But people have bought silence other ways as well, for lesser wrongs.
GM: The guards outside might have seen things, too.
Caroline: I need them quiet for a while, just until nightfall… until I can wipe it. Fuller will help mop it up with Widney when they arrive.
GM: If it’s too much trouble, Maman has… ways, of obscuring things. But I’m concerned what exerting herself right now could do.
If she’d been at her full strength I think she’d have seen this coming, too.
Caroline: She saw enough, Caroline replies. We just need time. I need time. She suspects the others will keep quiet for now… talking about the secrets of the rich and powerful is fantastic way to end up in a bad way.
Do you think they’ll keep quiet? she asks, not trusting her judgment.
GM: Jeremy is… stubborn. We wouldn’t be the first employers of his who’ve let him go for doing things his own way. And Daniel wasn’t very happy with the work Blackwatch made him do or the people he worked with.
But I think they’d be a lot more cooperative if they believed Jocelyn was going to make it. If I were in their shoes, I know I’d be rushing her to the hospital. Burn victims need professional care.
Caroline: I don’t think they’ll react well to miraculous healing, Caroline answers.
GM: You’re right that’d also be hard to explain. Hmm. Maman could intervene, if there’s no other way. I hadn’t realized the day weakened Kindred so much.
Caroline: I could try again… Caroline admits.
GM: Maybe that’s for the best. Jocelyn must seem like a girl who’s about to die or be scarred for life, to anyone who doesn’t know what she is. I don’t think Jeremy and Daniel are going to be okay with that.
Caroline: The Ventrue nods wearily.
“Jeremy,” she calls after the departing bodyguard. “There actually is something you could do.”
GM: “Ma’am?” he asks gladly.
Caroline: She reaches out again with her will, trying to pacify his mind. She almost feels bad, for his eagerness to help.
GM: The man’s face goes slack at her command.
Caroline: She smooths over his memory of Jocelyn’s arrival, sanding down the rough edges of the badly burned vampire and leaving only the arrival of one of Caroline’s friends with a twisted ankle.
She hadn’t wanted to walk up to the house and needed a hand on the stairs.
GM: Jeremy seems to buy it and apologizes to Caroline for his previous behavior.
“Your family hired me to do a job, ma’am, and I threw a real hissy fit. I’ll make up to y’all for it. Swear I will.”
Caroline: Caroline eyes the supposed killer of her family’s tormentor, then smiles.
“I just might give you the chance.”
Jeremy is taken care of. Can you stop Hayes at the door so I can work him before the two get to talk again.
GM: Yes. We’re in my bedroom with Jocelyn.
“Carol… ine… !” calls out her one-time lover’s voice.
Caroline: The Ventrue steps back into the bedroom with Hayes and Cécilia.
GM: Jeremy still wants to “lend the little lady a hand” and follows after Caroline until told to go back outside. Meg trails after her. Jocelyn, lying on the bed, moans for her lover. Hayes does not look happy and is saying something to Cécilia about “being through with that kind of work.”
Caroline: Caroline sends Jeremy back downstairs and rounds on Hayes. She bids he follow her back into the hall and like Jeremy before him leans hard onto his mind, straining against the tyranny of the sun to wash away his anger, his concerns, his fears. A sprained ankle and some scrapes were nothing to get worked up over, were they?
GM: Nothing indeed, when there’s no need for a hospital trip then. Hayes takes Meg away to clean and dress her wounds over the rail-thin ghoul’s protests. Caroline and Cécilia are left alone with Jocelyn.
Caroline: The Ventrue bites back her growing hunger, tries to bite back her anger toward Jocelyn. Isn’t sure which feeds the other more strongly right now.
There’s a scowl plastered across her face, drawn in a lean and hungry way. She doesn’t even know what to say to Joceyln as she stands over her again.
GM: The Toreador shakily gets up and embraces her. The smell of burnt hair lingers in Caroline’s nose.
“Oh, Caroline… "
“You… saved… me… "
Caroline: I’m fairly certain that was the building, Caroline thinks, but narrowly bites back.
“Why are you here, Jocelyn?” she asks instead.
The smell of burnt flesh is nauseating, beaten back only by Caroline’s lack of respiration. Its presence in Cécilia’s room is an insult to the sanctity of the house.
One night. Not even one night and my problems are already following me here.
And Jocelyn is a problem.
GM: Jocelyn just stares at her for several moments. Red wells from the corners of her eyes.
“I love you… "
“I never… never said it… "
Caroline: “So you set yourself on fire in front of me?” Caroline doesn’t quite shriek, fingernails biting into her palms.
GM: "I… I had to… after what you said, how you never… never wanted to see me, ag… "
Jocelyn doesn’t finish the sentence. She buries her head against the taller Kindred’s shoulder.
“But I knew… I knew you still cared… I knew… "
“And if you didn’t… then fuck it… rather brighten a sunrise… "
Cécilia doesn’t say anything as she stands to the side, but her expression looks pained for them both.
Caroline: That thought both stills and sets her dead heart racing. The bond pushes and pulls on Caroline with her lover’s (however she might once label her ‘former,’ the blood knows better) declarations of devotion alongside the morbid thought of Jocelyn’s sudden destruction.
She wants to wrap her in her embrace and simultaneously shake her with fury. Wants to sink her fangs into her throat (and God does she want to do that for so many reasons right now) and throw her out the window to burn away.
At this point she doesn’t even know how much is real and how much is the bond.
GM: "Caroline, you asked… asked how you could make me happy… I was a bitch… I just wanna go back… to how things were… that’s what’d make me happy… "
Caroline: “You can’t keep doing this,” she almost growls. But she places her arm around her former lover all the same.
GM: "I don’t want to… I don’t… I love you… " Jocelyn cries, sinking into those arms.
Caroline: “You hurt me today,” she grinds out. “You hurt my family. You endangered other things I care about. What if I hadn’t been awake when you came in on fire?”
GM: Jocelyn blinks dully.
“I… I’m sorry… I just hurt, I hurt so bad… "
Caroline: “How did you even know I was here and not the Giani Building?”
GM: “We are okay, Caroline,” Cécilia quietly offers. She looks at Jocelyn for a moment. “Maman is… still okay. The girls aren’t hurt. I’m unhurt. It’s mainly Jeremy and Daniel who were upset.”
“I… I tried there, first… " Jocelyn mumbles, then pulls back to look Caroline in the eye. Red still leaks from the corners of hers. "Does… does it matter… "
“Do you l… love me, Caroline… ?”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know the answer to that question. But she knows what’ll happen, depending on which answer she provides. Knows how Jocelyn will react.
Knows that she’s ultimately to blame.
To cast her away is to destroy her. Destroy her for no crime greater than her affection for Caroline.
To take her back is to burden herself with her. To twist the knife in her, to embrace responsibility for her.
She knows the wiser choice. Knows what she should do. Ultimately Jocelyn is ‘just’ another relationship. She has other suitors. She expects she’ll have more still after the truth comes out. More politically viable ones, too—Jocelyn’s blood is too thin, her influence too weak, her temperament too volatile to be a good long-term match.
That’s what her father would tell her.
GM: Do you need some time to think about the answer to that question? Cécilia asks. We can give you that—some time, and space.
Advice, too, if you want to talk things over with Maman. Relationship advice is what moms are for, after all.
Caroline: I know what I should do, Caroline answers.
GM: Then we will support you in your decision, whatever it is.
Caroline: Her sire too, she expects, will be none too impressed by Jocelyn.
And yet… she’s done this. She’s destroyed the young (how much younger she seems, though they’re close in age) artist’s unlife. Not entirely, but how much has her Requiem spiraled apart since Caroline entered it.
She knows she should be strong. Should make the harder, right choice.
“Of course,” she answers.
GM: Jocelyn’s blackened, sun-scarred face lights up.
“You… you do… ?”
She doesn’t choke on her next words. She’s dead. More red just leaks from her eyes.
“Say it. I want to hear you say it.”
Caroline: “I wouldn’t have pushed you away if I didn’t,” Caroline answers.
GM: Jocelyn squeezes her.
“I want to hear you say it,” she repeats.
Caroline: “I love you.”
The words slide out more easily than Caroline might have thought. Much easier than the ones she should say, lubricated with the bond. They’re not even a lie.
Just not the whole truth.
GM: Jocelyn sobs, but there’s a happiness in the sound too.
A desperate, lonely, ravenous happiness.
She holds Caroline tight. She doesn’t say anything else.
Caroline: Caroline holds her back for a moment.
“You need to rest… you need to eat… Christ, you’re a mess.”
GM: Jocelyn gives a choked-sounding laugh.
“I’ll be… I’ll be better in the evening… "
She rubs her head against the crook of Caroline’s neck and smiles that same charred, broken smile.
“It’s all… better… now… "
Monday afternoon, 7 March 2016
Caroline: Caroline boards up Jocelyn and puts her to sleep for the rest of the day up in Cécilia’s room—a problem to be dealt with later. If her nerves weren’t already bloody nubs before, they are now. She helps herself to a change of clothing from Cécilia’s wardrobe when she’s done—the others smell like burnt flesh—before withdrawing.
GM: Cécilia is glad to provide and closes the door behind them.
“You could tell her that you erased my memory, once she’s back up. She’s probably going to be worried about the Masquerade once she’s feeling better.”
Caroline: “Or I could erase hers,” Caroline answers. “All assuming she even wakes tonight. She’s going to burn through a lot of blood trying to undo what she’s done to herself.”
“I didn’t get the feeling she had a lot to begin with. It’s possible she could throw herself into torpor.”
Wouldn’t that be convenient. For a time.
GM: Cécilia’s face flickers. “I’m not sure that’s setting up your relationship for success, Caroline, to… well, violate the sanctity of her mind. It’s one thing already to tell lies.”
She looks at her sister concernedly.
“How are you feeling? About her, and all of this?”
Caroline: “Angry. Frustrated.” She runs a hand through her hair. “Guilty.”
GM: “Do you love her?” Cécilia asks.
Caroline: “I care about her,” she deflects. Walking with Cécilia away from the bedroom. “But whether I love her or not may not really matter.”
GM: “I think it may matter a lot. But I understand if that’s a hard question to answer right now. You do care about her, and she put you in an extremely difficult place, emotionally.”
Caroline: “We’re awful for each other,” Caroline answers. “She can be such a child. And if—when—he acknowledges me, the politics of all that will eat her alive.”
GM: “Maman thinks it’s a matter of when, not if. For good or ill, he isn’t a prince to do things by half-measures. Or who likes dealing in non-absolutes. She thought he’d either destroy you or wholly accept you.”
Caroline: Caroline nods, clearly reassured by the thought.
GM: “I know how important that is to you. I don’t want you to have to worry about it.”
Caroline: “I’m not,” she lies transparently but reassuringly. “Just a mindset shift.”
GM: “You could go to sleep, so it’ll come sooner and you can finally get it over with,” Cécilia offers. “Maman and I can take care of Jocelyn.”
Caroline: “I need to fix her,” Caroline doesn’t quite whisper. “I did this to her. I need to make it right, before… well.”
GM: “Before you see your sire?” Cécilia asks.
Caroline: “Before it’s too late,” she answers.
GM: “I think this is a conversation we should have with Maman. In person.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I didn’t want to strain her for it earlier.”
GM: It’s then that Caroline notices Meg. Still hunched in place not far from the bedroom door.
“H… how is… ?” the ghoul squeaks.
There’s bandages over her.
The coppery aroma wafting from beneath is impossibly tempting.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite recoil from Meg, but she jerks away.
“When did that happen?!” she snarls.
She can feel her dead heart all but racing.
GM: “Wh-wha… ?” Meg stammers helplessly.
Caroline: Her vision narrows, tunneling in on her. “Did she make you do it?”
GM: Imagine, perhaps.
But it’s been a too-long time since she felt that.
Caroline: Perhaps. But she can practically hear Meg’s heart beating. Pushing that delicious blood through her…
GM: “Wh-what, I don’t, don’t know what you mean, m-ma’am,” the ghoul stammers, shrinking back further.
Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
Cécilia briskly walks towards Meg, pulls her up, and half-leads, half-pulls the ghoul back into the bedroom.
“You can take care of Jocelyn. It’s not safe for you to be close to Caroline with those cuts… "
Meg looks at Caroline furtively, then disappears after Cécilia. Caroline’s sister re-emerges without the ghoul shortly later.
“I’m so sorry, it completely slipped my mind she was still out there and had fresh wounds.”
She frowns with concern. “I can feel how hungry you are. Don’t worry, Maman can nurse you.”
Maman. Can you get the others somewhere else? Just for a little while?
Caroline: “It’s fine.” Caroline’s retreated into the corner, to a chair in the dark.
But it’s not. The smell of the blood still lingering in the room is infuriating. The Beast knows it’s somewhere. Knows a vessel was just here.
“More manipulation,” she growls. “I don’t think Meg started attending courses on a whim.”
GM: Cécilia frowns in confusion. “I’m sorry, courses?”
She shakes her head, then takes Caroline’s hand. “Come on, let’s get to Maman. Or would it be easier if I brought her up here to you?”
Caroline: “She was never my type before,” Caroline answers.
“College students,” she fills in after a moment.
GM: “Ah. Your feeding restriction.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I asked Fuller to bring someone by.”
GM: “Would it be easier on you if Maman came up here, if you’re not feeling well?” Cécilia repeats.
Caroline: “No, I can come down,” Caroline answers, rising.
GM: “All right, if you’re sure.”
They return to the living room. All of the others are gone except for Simmone. Abélia rises from the couch, her face welling with sympathy and shared pain. She wordlessly pulls Caroline into her embrace.
“Oh, my sweet, precious Caroline… " she murmurs, stroking the Ventrue’s hair, "I am so very, very sorry. This was to be a special day for you, and trouble has followed you to our door… "
She sinks to the floor, pulling Caroline with her so gently the heiress doesn’t even feel her legs fold. The top of her mother’s dress falls away. Midnight black wells from her nipple.
“We’ll make it better, my sweet… we’ll make it all better… "
“Now, first… let me feed you.”
Caroline: It’s almost profanely intimate, this tender thing Abélia offers. Drinking in darkness, suckling from her mother, all tinged with the eroticism always associated with feeding.
She wants to be bashful. Wants to hide it, at least from Simmone. But she’s so thirsty.
GM: That thirst is sated and more. It’s all that it was the last time: a whirlpool that irresistibly drags everything in. It tastes like midnight. It tastes like the ocean’s deepest, blackest depths: bone-crushingly heavy, and yet oddly welcoming, as if Caroline were one of the boneless fish so at home in those strange seas. It’s sweet like honey, thick like molasses, and fast-flowing like water. It rolls down Caroline’s gullet in a thick, comforting stream. It warms her. Fills her. Sustains her.
She feels her mother’s hands stroking her hair as she steadily sucks from the breast’s soft nipple.
“Drink, my treasure… drink all that you need… "
Simmone crawls up and starts suckling from their mother’s other breast.
Caroline: Caroline sucks greedily, soothing the Beast’s ravenous hunger, taking the edge off it. It’s better than blood. Maybe better than sex. She wants to keep going, keep drinking. It’s a balm against the Beast. A reprieve from the fatigue of the day’s fury. Nothing else matters, it all falls away.
But there are other things. Other worries. She recalls Cécilia’s earlier concern—about the strain on their mother already. About how much of this new form she’s already given.
She breaks away with a gasp of air, filling her dead lungs and suddenly parched throat with air rather than the ecstasy Abélia offers. It’s like the gasp of a drowning woman coming up for air, an aggressive, almost violent thing.
GM: Yet though Caroline pulls away, her sister does not. She continues to suck. And suck. And suck. Their mother looks so small and thin, but she makes no move to separate herself from Simmone.
Caroline: “Darling.” Caroline’s cold hand sweeps the hair back behind Simmone’s ear. “That’s enough.”
GM: Simmone doesn’t pause. Her head continues to bob back and forth.
Caroline: “Simmone.” Her fingers cup the younger girl’s chin.
GM: There’s no pause. There’s not even acknowledgement. Caroline found it hard enough to break away, even with her strength of will. What chance does the underdeveloped ten-year-old have?
Abélia topples backwards like an expired wind-up toy.
Simmone doesn’t even try to catch herself as she falls forward. She just keeps suckling.
“Maman!” Cécilia exclaims, dropping to their mother’s side. “Simmone, you’re hurting her!”
Caroline: Caroline’s firm fingers on Simmone’s chin become a vice as she turns her sister from their mother. Her eyes are hard.
GM: Simmone flails and gives a shrill, wordless scream as she tries to pull away.
Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t relent, turning Simmone to face her. “You’re hurting Maman,” she tells her disapprovingly.
GM: “J’ai soif!!!!” she shrieks.
Simmone starts loudly crying.
Caroline: “Tu es gourmand,” Caroline corrects less harshly.
“Look at Maman!” she instructs. “How weak she is. Do you want to hurt her? To hurt all of us?”
GM: “J’AI SOIF!!!” Simmone screeches, still crying and flailing.
“Simmone, please don’t!” Cécilia exclaims, holding their sister’s arms in place.
She’s a ghoul, Caroline, I think the addiction is all that’s talking now… and we’ve always given her everything she wants…
Caroline: That cannot continue, Caroline answers. It will not.
Not while she’s there. She pulls the thrashing girl away from their mother and wraps her arms around her as she flails.
GM: Simmone screams and shrieks and blubbers and cries.
Cécilia casts a pitying, pained glance at their sister, then lays her hands on Abélia’s shoulders and closes her eyes.
She’s still in there… her body hasn’t discorporated yet. But she’s put it into stasis, to conserve what strength it has left. That’s not very much…
“J’AI SOIF!!!” Simmone sobs.
Caroline: Caroline simply holds her sister, holding her tightly to her breast as the thrashes while passing calming reassurance through their shared blood.
You’ll be all right. It will pass. You aren’t hurt. Relax… rest…
To Cécilia, She’ll need a new one. A stronger one. I had no idea she would drain so quickly.
GM: I was surprised too, but she’s given a lot. She nursed you yesterday. Me too, when I was asleep, and more deeply than you—I could barely even walk before she did. She nursed Simmone again this morning, and Simmone also took a lot more than you did. She dropped the chandelier back then with Jocelyn, and shielded us from it. She nursed you again, then Simmone again, and Simmone kept taking…
She’s aware, still. You can talk to her… it’s just easier if you’re touching her.
Simmone wails, then sobs, then whimpers, then goes limp and closes her eyes.
Cécilia approaches Caroline and holds out her arms to take Simmone.
“Let’s take them up to Maman’s bedroom. Why don’t you carry her so you can talk? She isn’t very heavy, not at all.”
Caroline: Caroline passes the now more docile Simmone to Cécilia and carefully takes up Abélia’s limp form.
Maman? she probes tentatively.
GM: Cécilia sags a bit to shoulder the motionless girl, but remarks, “At least I’m not wearing heels like you did at Commander’s Palace. I don’t know how you managed.”
Caroline: “I cheated,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Oh, I know. But she still weighs a good 60 or more pounds, even with perfect balance,” Cécilia remarks as they start for the stairs.
“I guess I’m lucky we’re also on the lighter side.”
Caroline: Dead muscles don’t tire, Caroline answers. “It makes some things easier.”
GM: I am here, child.
I’m so proud of you both, looking after your sister so well.
Caroline: I needed to look after you better, Caroline answers. You’re going to need a new body much sooner than we’d planned.
GM: There’s the sound of a fluttering laugh at Caroline’s first words.
I know this form’s limitations, my dear. Your and your sister’s hungers must needs be sated.
Caroline: Hungers, perhaps, but not desires, Caroline counters.
GM: Your happiness is my highest purpose, sweet child. Desire the moon and stars themselves, if your heart yearns for them. Maman shall provide.
Your other sisters are swimming in the pool. I have kept the noise from all this tumult from disturbing them—fret not on their accounts.
Caroline: Happiness must sometimes give way to good, to purpose, Caroline offers, probingly. It requires growth, of some kind.
GM: Your happiness is its own purpose.
Your happiness is my purpose.
Your happiness is good.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue. It’s a conversation for later, with more parties to it.
I’ll find someone, to restore you to your full strength. Soon. She already has someone in mind.
GM: There is a ghoul within the house already. Does her life mean aught to you?
Ah… but perhaps that, too, is a conversation to have following another.
Caroline: I have another in mind, Caroline answers. One deserving of a traitor’s death.
GM: The four arrive at the master bedroom. It’s decorated in the classical style with whites, golds, and soft yellows, and large enough to have its own fireplace, couch, and multiple chairs with plenty of space left over. The curtains are tightly drawn even as the lights glow to life.
Cécilia lays down Simmone on the bed, pulls back the comforter, and tucks her in. She lays her hand on Abélia’s shoulder as Caroline sets down their nigh-weightless mother.
Waste not, want not. Very practical, my dear.
Caroline: Is there anything we can give you other than that? she asks.
GM: Time. To discorporate this body so soon after the destruction of my prior one shall risk further unhappiness to your and your sisters’ minds.
Bring your traitor here. Leave them bound, bled, and alive within the circle. When the time is right, I shall draw them fully into myself.
Caroline: How long? she asks.
GM: Until your minds’ troubled waters are smooth and calm.
Caroline: Caroline gives a grim smile at that.
GM: Your will and spirit are stronger than you believe, my dear. Though a mother always worries, I worry least for you… in this matter.
Caroline: Caroline nods. It will be done, then.
GM: But I do worry for you in another. Let us discuss Jocelyn.
You poor, poor thing.
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, then slides over, bids Cécilia join in.
I made that mess. In more ways than one.
GM: We are all of us responsible for our own actions, my dear. Though others may influence and even determine our external circumstances, we alone govern our response. We are the captains of our souls.
Jocelyn has hurt you. Deeply. Yet you care for her, still. You have had many happy times together. You desire her continued safety, prosperity, and happiness.
Caroline: Truth Caroline doesn’t deny. The wounds from the last time she saw her were scarcely scabbed over before Jocelyn tore them open, deeper than before. But those wounds only exist because there was something to be harmed.
GM: Yet she has hurt you, too. She has hurt that which you care deeply for.
Caroline: I cannot have someone in my Requiem so reckless, so disdainful of the consequences of their actions on everything I care for, she states.
GM: Yes. In her rages, she lashes out and destroys that which you would would build and preserve.
Is that your biggest problem with her, Caroline, or are there others? Cécilia asks.
Caroline: She bites her lip. She will never been an equal, she answers after a moment. And that gap between us will only ever grow. In status, in power, in influence, in blood. That imbalance too will endanger her, make her a target. A weakness to be exploited.
GM: How many steps removed from the Dark Father is that blood? inquires Abélia.
Caroline: Ten? Eleven? Perhaps Twelve? Caroline doesn’t recall ever asking her specifically. But she knows she’s further than Caroline. Significantly further.
GM: Ah, twelve! The blood of Caine runs as water in these nights!
Such worms were left to shrivel and die in times of old.
Caroline: She was not the least of her krewe, she reflects on Gwen’s thin-blooded childe. But none were strong in the blood. At least one was thirteen steps…
There’s a flash of anger at Gwen, who set this entire matter off.
GM: Pfah. Better such wretches were never sired to blight their founder’s lines. Your kind may well exhaust the ‘eternal’ curse of Caine in their hubris and selfishness.
Caroline: The line continues… if abnormally. I have one of the thin-bloods in my care.
GM: Oh, my dear! For what purpose? Abélia exclaims.
Caroline: Caroline rolls the question over.
She was with child when Embraced. Her Embrace was what split Jocelyn and I in the first place. One of her krewemates did it in the moment. She rolls the thought over again before continuing, The child still lived within her.
Perhaps it was simply pity. Perhaps because there should be some lines not crossed by my kind. The alternative was their execution.
GM: Oh, my poor, poor, sweet child… you know not what you do!
If you have any care for your standing, the regard of your sire, the warnings of your grandsires, or the prophecies of old—cleanse your house of this filth, lest the taint fester and spread!
Caroline: The force of Abélia’s reaction shocks Caroline.
The seneschal knew. He suggested that I should foster her, until the birth…
And there was something else… something that happened between her and one of the hounds. She saw something, said something, that deeply shook him.
GM: You invite doom upon your house, my child! Harbor not Gehenna’s harbingers beneath your door!
Philip knows the words of your forebearers better than I—he is given overly much to sentiment. His lover does not share that weakness.
The last generations cannot be permitted to spread. Such abominations must be exterminated where they are found, for the good of all your race.
Caroline: It is a stopgap, Caroline answers defensively. Until the child is born. That is not so far away…
She is hardly the only one to prowl the city. And she does little enough prowling.
GM: Oh, my poor, sweet Caroline… better that such a child is never born at all! To bring such an obscenity into the world, whose first breath reeks of the grave, is to blight the whole of the world.
Your sire understands this. His scourge undertakes a more vital mission than too many of the young ones realize.
Caroline: Caroline all but flinches under her mother’s admonishment, weathering each word as though it were a blow.
You bid me murder a pregnant woman.
GM: Every one of the last generations slain is a victory. Every one of their screams that greets the pyres is a respite to all your race. Every child strangled in a warmthless womb is a kindness done. I implore you, my treasure—suffer not this doom upon your house. If conscience stays your hand, allow your Maman to see to this matter.
Caroline: Why? she demands. Why is it so?
Maman? asks Cécilia. Caroline raises, I think, a valid question. We haven’t spoken about any of this. Surely if she is to be complicit in the death of a pregnant woman, she should at least know why.
Oh, my poor, innocent, precious daughters, it is not well to speak of such things.
Is there harm in simply speaking of it, Maman?
Words always carry the power to harm, my Cécilia.
Caroline: You would not speak them in this matter, Caroline fills in.
GM: There is an almost soft, hapless sigh.
Caroline: The end of the world, Caroline fills in. At least of my kind.
GM: Their existence invites doom upon us all, my child.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue. She simply doesn’t agree either.
Jocelyn’s blood. She changes the subject. Is only the beginning.
GM: There is another sad sigh from her mother, but Abélia replies,
If her extended bloodline is no cause for embarrassment in of itself, your sire may tolerate her as a private amusement of yours.
Caroline: But nothing of meaning.
GM: She shall never share your throne, but she may share your bed.
Caroline: Caroline’s seen plenty of those arrangements among the kine.
GM: Yes, my dear. The dead are not so different from the living, in truth.
Caroline: I might spare her that, Caroline muses. I should have spared her all of this, but I was greedy.
GM: Is there anything to spare her from, at least there? asks Cécilia. Would she want to share your throne, and not simply your bed?
Caroline: How many people have you loved, deeply, that you might share? Caroline asks back.
GM: Share in what sense, I suppose? The situations and expectations are similar with Kindred, but there are some important differences.
Yes, my dear, concurs Abélia. There is no inherent impetus among your kind towards marriage or partnerships… and lovers of co-equal stature to your own may be a great deal more tolerant of amusements that pose no threat to them. Monogamy is a construct of your living culture.
Caroline: Caroline muses. She hadn’t considered that. Not in truth. She thinks of how viciously possessive she was at the idea that others were with Jocelyn.
But then, she can acknowledge her own worst tendencies.
Other Kindred will use her, she continues on.
GM: Other Cainites will seek to use our family, the Malveauxes, and all that you care for.
Other Kindred may already want to use her, Cécilia points out. If they find out you were in a relationship. They might figure you still have feelings for her. Keeping her close has drawbacks, but advantages too. It’s easier to protect her.
Caroline: You would dismiss all factors but the personal then, Maman?
GM: External factors may be altered and planned accordingly for, my dear. External factors are malleable. But feelings of the heart are what they are.
What does your heart feel for Jocelyn?
Caroline: Anger. Frustration. Affection. Desire. Responsibility. Most of the former of late—these last meetings have been bitter things.
GM: Your heart is conflicted. If the world were as you would have it, sweet Caroline, what place would Jocelyn have there?
Caroline: I would see what the future might hold for us, Caroline admits.
GM: Then let’s try to build that future, Cécilia says. You’ve mentioned being angry at Jocelyn a lot of times, and I can see why. What could she do to make up for those times, or simply stop doing in the future?
Caroline: Hurting herself to get my attention. Playing the victim.
GM: Do you think she’ll continue to if you get back together?
Caroline: It’s worked for her, Caroline answers.
GM: That’s tricky, then. How do you think we could get her to stop?
Caroline: Threat? Boundaries? Something might be better than nothing for her.
Or rewards… a better incentive. I have what she wants.
GM: So you do, my dear. To discourage such behavior in the future, it must cease to be rewarded.
Caroline: You’ve given me much to think about, Caroline tells her mother.
GM: It warms my heart to hear that, my dear. Whatever you decide, remember: you deserve happiness.
Caroline: Is there anything else? Any other matters requiring immediate attention?
GM: Would you like us to hold onto Jocelyn for a while? Cécilia asks. If you just need space to think about things, or simply want her kept safe?
Caroline: Caroline considers it. Better for her to awaken. I need to know what else she may have done, and we may not have many more opportunities to talk after the next few nights.
GM: All right. She might slide into torpor, but I suppose you can revive her anytime.
Caroline: She’d enjoy that, Caroline answers. I’ll remove her tonight either way, and put some of my security in place. Until we can get you back on your feet.
GM: So sweetly devoted a child. Your father was blind to the treasure in his lap.
Caroline: Rest, Mother, Caroline tells her. Let me take care of you for once.
GM: Your father was blind to the treasure in his lap, Abélia repeats.
Cécilia rolls up the covers to tuck their mother in. Simmone turns, eyes still closed, and wraps her arms around Abélia.
Caroline: Caroline closes the door behind them as she and Cécilia withdraw.
“I’m sorry. I know you tried so hard to build a body that would last.”
GM: Cécilia nods. “Thanks. I’m glad it was able to last her this long, at least. We knew it wasn’t going to be as resilient as one of her usual bodies. And I do feel good knowing we can both contribute if we’re ever in a situation like this again.”
Caroline: The Ventrue nods, but it’s a lie. She’ll be contributing in the future.
She bites her lip for a moment. “What’s the dark secret, Cécilia? The one about us that Maman told you.”
GM: “I’m sorry?” Cécilia asks with some confusion.
Caroline: It seems a good time, as private as they’re ever likely to get.
“The twins think there’s something awful about them, or about us,” she fills in. “They wouldn’t tell me what, but they were horrified by it.”
GM: “Oh? When was this?”
Caroline: “My birthday,” Caroline answers.
GM: Cécilia’s face flickers. "Oh, no. Those poor two… "
“Maman has a lot of secrets. There’s plenty of things she hasn’t told them, and me, for our own good.”
Caroline: “Something she told you,” Caroline answers.
GM: “What else did the twins say? There’s… more than one which could have upset them so badly, to be honest.”
Caroline: “That they were monsters. That if I knew what they were I’d hate them,” Caroline continues.
GM: “I’m sorry. This sounds terrible, but… I don’t know which truth about us that might be.”
Cécilia’s face flickers again. “Those poor two. Whatever they heard, Maman hasn’t told them for a reason. There’s a lot about us they need more time, more perspective, before they can understand.”
Caroline: “Is it better for them to know a dark truth with no context or one with some?” Caroline asks. “Either way, they know something.”
GM: “You do have a point. Though context can be harmful too.” Cécilia seems to think. “Maman should decide what to do from here. Right now I suppose it’s moot until we get her a new body.”
“We’ll tell the others she’s not feeling well. That’s technically true. And once she talks with them, perhaps we can better know what to talk about with you.”
“There are a lot of things she hasn’t gone into with you yet, that she intends to. Maman wanted today to be a day for family, rather than… heavier topics.”
Caroline: “They were ashamed, Cécilia. Ashamed they knew. Ashamed they had found out.”
“I don’t know that confronting then with it is a good idea. Just… something I wanted to start moving. They shouldn’t sit in only darkness for too long.”
GM: Cécilia nods firmly. "You’re right to. That’s terrible for them. And for it to have lasted all these months… "
Her face flickers again before she declares no less firmly,
“Maman will make it right.”
Monday afternoon, 7 March 2016
GM: Adeline, the twins, and Noëllle get back from swimming in the pool outside, wrapped in towels and hair still damp. They’re all distraught by Cécilia’s news that their mother isn’t feeling well. They want to stop by her bedroom, but Cécilia says she’s resting with Simmone and could use space.
Abélia’s ‘illness’ seems to put a damper on everything. None of the younger girls seem to have many ideas, or enthusiasm, for how to spend the rest of the day. Yvette gives a tired, “Don’t feel like it,” when Adeline suggests working on homework.
Caroline: Caroline suggests a mellow actively, picking out a movie to put on, seemingly content to spend a quiet afternoon with them.
GM: Yvette acerbically calls the movie a stupid idea. “It’s the afternoon. What are we even supposed to do all day?” Noëllle starts to say it’s “not that bad,” but her twin continues to rant what a moronic idea spending all day indoors is. “Why are we even doing this?” Adeline tiredly tells the two not to fight. Yvette sourly remarks “You’re not Maman,” and Yvonne takes her side. Everything feels worse without Abélia.
Cécilia interjects that the twins can “burn off some energy” practicing their sparring with Caroline. “It’s been a little while since you three have done that, hasn’t it?” she suggests. “We can watch a movie after you’re tired out from that.”
The teenagers seem to relent at that idea, but are in a glum mood throughout the session. Noëllle goes to her room to talk on the phone with friends. Cécilia and Adeline, the latter of whom is seemingly still sore at the twins, spend the time getting some “work from home” done.
Caroline: Caroline is slow, lethargic as they practice. She apologizes to the twins towards the end of the lackluster session.
“It was my idea,” she admits as they put away equipment. “To have people stay in today.”
GM: The twins don’t seem to notice. She normally has to hold a good deal back from the human teenagers, after all. Today she just didn’t have to be as conscientious of it.
They both give her curious looks. “Wait, wah’d you want that?” Yvette asks.
Caroline: “I just wanted to spend some time with everyone. It could be a while before I have a chance to come back, and you two are going off to college soon. It just seemed like one of the last chances we had to have everyone together for a while.”
GM: Both her sisters instantly look guilty.
“Oh, we’re so sorry-” Yvette apologizes.
“-Ah guess we ruined it being bitchy… " Yvette.
Caroline: “You didn’t ruin anything,” Caroline reassures Yvette. “It would have helped if I planned some things, it’s just all moved very quickly, and Maman agreed sooner was better.”
GM: "And maybe if we’d gone outside to do stuff… " Yvette suggests.
“Well, and Maman didn’t get sick.” Yvonne.
“Oui. Bad timing, Ah guess.” Yvette.
Caroline: “Maybe,” Caroline admits. “But we both also liked the idea of it just being the family.”
GM: Cécilia asks Caroline to “come help get things ready” for the movie in the kitchen. The twins initially want to help, but she suggests they go pick out what to watch. Cécilia has fixed a somewhat late but large lunch for everyone that looks like a combination of leftover and freshly prepared foods: spinach salad with strawberries, clementines, pistachios, dried cranberries, dairy-free cheese, and a honey lemon olive oil dressing. The main course is warmed-up grilled salmon with tomatoes, onions, ginger, and pepper. Two bottles of red and white wine clear the palette, along with some bread and more dairy-free cheese for anyone still feeling hungry.
“We can say you were hungry after skipping breakfast and already helped yourself here,” Cécilia offers. “I don’t imagine throwing the food up is much fun, even if you can hold it down.”
She then lays her hands on Caroline’s arm and closes her eyes. The Ventrue feels her pangs of hunger recede, although color starts to bleach from Cécilia’s cheeks.
Caroline: Caroline blinks at her sister. "You didn’t have to do that… " she says tenderly.
GM: "It’s fine… " Cécilia says slowly as she sits down. “I don’t need to be too physically active today, and you might need it more.”
“You can also learn to do that… to give of yourself for us, and to ask us to give for you. They’ll help. Even the ones who don’t understand. Some part of them knows.”
Caroline: “Thank you.” She lays a hand on Cécilia’s arm.
GM: “You’re welcome. We all want you to be strong.”
“Oh,” she thinks after a moment, “we should get some of that food up to Megan… I’m sure she’s getting hungry, not to mention bored.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll bring it up to her. I need to step away to call my people anyway.”
GM: She finds Meg curled up in bed with Jocelyn. She instantly bolts up when Caroline comes in, like she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t.
The anorexic ghoul stares at the dish of hearty food the Ventrue offers and looks like she wants to cry. She mumbles thanks. She shifts back and forth on her feet several times. Caroline isn’t sure why she’s doing that.
The heiress calls Fuller and tells him to cancel picking up a vessel. The ghoul assents without complaint. That was always Audrey’s bailiwick.
Caroline: Business taken care of, Caroline turns her attention back to Meg, studying the pale anorexic girl as she eats.
GM: The ghoul hasn’t touched the food.
“I’m, I’m sorry, I don’t like being watched when I… " she mumbles.
Caroline: “When you throw most of it away?” Caroline asks piercingly.
GM: Meg cringes at the suggestion, but doesn’t deny it.
Caroline: “You want to look good for her,” Caroline observes. “Have you thought on how much better you look to one of us when you’re more than skin and bones? Or how much more helpful you would have been to her throughout all this if you weren’t starving yourself?”
GM: "But I’m fat… " she protests.
Caroline: “You’re anything but, and even if you were, if you throw away or throw up the food my sister made for you I’ll make you re-eat it.”
GM: The ghoul looks horrified. She meekly eats as Caroline watches. She looks sick but full by the time the plate is cleared.
Caroline joins her sisters back in the living room. Cécilia has removed the painting that’s kept over the TV (“Maman doesn’t like to have screens in our life all the time”). Yvonne apologizes to Adeline for her earlier behavior. Yvette follows suit after her twin does. Lunch seems to put everyone in better spirits. Cécilia doesn’t seem concerned about Simmone’s appetite; when Caroline telepathically asks, she answers that Maman’s blood “is very filling.” Simmone won’t even be hungry.
Everyone watches a 1976 movie called The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane that Yvonne suggests. The plot focuses on 13-year-old Rynn Jacobs (a young Jodie Foster), a child whose absent poet father and secretive behaviors prod the suspicions of her conservative small-town Maine neighbors. It’s attained cult status, with writers and academics having interpreted it as a statement on children’s rights and variously placed it in the thriller, horror, mystery or other genres.
Caroline excuses herself midway through to “use the bathroom.” She finds Meg on her knees by the toilet, sticking fingers down her throat.
Caroline: The Ventrue stares down at her piteously. She peaks over the ghoul’s shoulder at the toilet bowl.
GM: There’s mushed, toilet water-sogged, only partly digested tomato salmon and fruit salad.
Caroline: It’s even more repulsive the second time.
Caroline scowls down at Meg. “What did I tell you?”
GM: "I’m… I’m sorry… " the ghoul whimpers.
Caroline: “What did I tell you?” she demands again, forcefully.
GM: Meg bows her head before Caroline. "I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… "
Caroline: “You’re sorry you got caught,” Caroline snaps. “You’re not sorry for what you did, or you wouldn’t have done it, would you?”
GM: The ghoul clutches Caroline’s leg as she begs, her voice quavering, "Please… I’m so fat… she hates how I look… "
Caroline: “I don’t care. I told you what would happen. Didn’t I warn you, Meg?”
She cups the ghoul’s face with her pale hand. “Didn’t I warn you?”
GM: Meg starts crying. "I’m sorry… I’m sorry I threw up your sister’s food… I was wrong… "
Caroline: “You’re going to be a lot more sorry.”
GM: Meg cries harder. "Please… "
Caroline: “Are you ever going to disobey me again?” Caroline asks the pitiful ghoul.
GM: "No… I swear, no, I won’t, I won’t ever… " Meg implores.
Caroline: “Liar. But I bet you’ll think twice after this.” She stares into the ghoul’s eyes. “Don’t resist.”
Caroline flushes the food away even as she invades Meg’s mind, as she rewrites her memory of this event. Of being forced to eat her own vomit out of the toilet.
GM: Meg looks sick. She curls up in fetal position and rocks back and forth, her mouth silently gasping open and shut like a fish’s.
Caroline: “You’re leaving,” Caroline tells her when she’s done. “I’ll call you when you deserve to see her.”
GM: She gets up, enough, to trail after Caroline on her knees. "Please… please, I’ll stay here, I won’t both, bother anyone… "
Caroline: Caroline looks down at her. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”
“You already bothered me.”
GM: Meg looks confused at Caroline’s question.
She looks ready to cry again at what she hears next.
“I’m sorry… I won’t bother anyone else, I swear… "
Caroline: “Meg, did begging work for you last time?” Caroline asks scornfully.
GM: "No… but, please… "
Caroline: “Do you know what would have worked?”
GM: “Wh… what?”
GM: Meg starts crying again. "I won’t, I won’t ever, ever disobey again, I swear… "
Caroline: Caroline’s gaze bores into Meg’s.
“Go home, Meg. Pick out clothing for Jocelyn—something she’ll like, that’s soft, and loose, and covering. Bring it back here. One of my people will let you in through the side door. Do not bother my family again.”
“And Meg, if I ever catch you puking again I’ll make you eat and eat until you’re three hundred pounds.”
GM: Meg’s initial look of gratitude at getting to do something for Jocelyn swiftly gives way to an expression of pure horror.
She babbles a reply before leaving to do as instructed.
The movie lasts a while. All of Caroline’s sisters declare how much they liked Jodie Foster when it’s done.
Caroline: “She was in Taxi Driver around the same time,” Caroline points out. “Which I think was her big breakout.”
GM: “Yes, I liked her a lot there,” Adeline nods. “I think she had a stronger presence here, though, even beyond being the main character. She’s someone you can’t help but root for.”
Cécilia concurs and suggests putting on a second movie to fill more of the day. She leaves the others to pick a title while she and Caroline go to check on Abélia and Simmone. Their mother’s state is unchanged, though Simmone is awake and wordlessly clinging to her side. She’s not even playing on her phone. Caroline can’t say how long she’s been doing that.
Cécilia checks if there’s anything they need. Simmone needs to pee, but is unwilling to leave their mother. Cécilia looks a bit hapless for a moment, then retrieves a pot from downstairs and tells their sister she can pee into it.
I wish she’d be a little more like a young Jodie Foster, sometimes.
Caroline: Caroline is less tolerant, suggesting a better compromise might be for them to leave the master bathroom door open. Simmone can watch their mother from the bathroom.
GM: Simmone doesn’t even respond. She just clings to their mother.
Cécilia joins in with Caroline, entreating Simmone that “Maman will be right there, the whole time.” Simmone just keeps clinging. She’s eventually coaxed away when Caroline leaves the door open and Cécilia holds her hand the entire time she’s on the toilet.
I’m glad we didn’t have to clean the pot, Cécilia thinks once she’s settled back.
Caroline: Or the bed, Caroline observes.
She’s getting worse. I don’t know what to do, she admits.
GM: It’s what’s been happening to Maman. Every time something’s happened to her, Simmone has gotten worse.
I think she’s right not to assume a new body so soon.
Caroline: It just worries me, having her so weak.
GM: It worries me too. She’s not going to become an independent adult at this rate.
Do you think we should have that conversation with Maman now, or later?
Caroline: It’s worse than that… this is how a toddler reacts, not a preteen.
She muses, I wonder if she isn’t soaking up a lot of the pain everyone Maman reincorporates.
GM: Maman is… she can be stifling, in some ways. It’s easy to get dragged into her orbit. To always be going to her for this or that, basing your life around her. She has a way of insinuating herself into everything.
That can be a good thing. It is a good thing. She keeps us grounded and our family together.
But she has a very strong… I suppose force of presence. It can be easy, too easy, for people to get enamored by her, to involve her in every aspect of their lives.
Someone as young and sheltered as Simmone, who doesn’t have a very developed sense of self, and who spends so much time around her… I suppose can get swallowed up.
She’s always been very babied by the family. And the shooting last year, on top of recent events, have caused her legitimate trauma that makes everything else worse.
Caroline: The Ventrue gives a not-quite sigh.
I don’t want to have that conversation now, it feels almost like taking advantage of Maman as weak as she is, but I think we need Simmone to have some time away from her, even if it’s just today.
GM: I don’t think Maman would mind. Remember that she is so much more than her body. It being incapacitated like this is more like you or I communicating through a phone with a shorter wifi signal range than anything else.
Taking Simmone away from Maman seems like a big step, though. I liked your suggestion of exposing her to more people outside the family, initially with Maman.
Caroline: I just mean downstairs, vice letting her sit here curled up with her all night.
GM: All day, you mean.
Caroline: Caroline catches herself. Yes. Habits…
GM: I guess that’s funny. I’m sure you were corrected at first, by other Kindred, to use ‘night.’
We could try to separate them, in any case. That did take a lot of time and progress after the shooting, though. Maybe start her off with something more modest, like… not hugging her for hours, and playing on her phone like a normal girl.
Caroline: I’d like to try downstairs, with the rest of us. I feel like that shouldn’t be too much… should it?
GM: I don’t know. Simmone was terrified not to be in the same room with Maman for a long time, because something bad happened to her when they were apart. And twice in one day now, she’s had Maman either go missing or get really hurt. On top of all the blood she’s had to drink.
I think anything is better than her just lying in bed with Maman for hours. But if you want to make up for lost ground, we can try that. I’d certainly like to have her around the others again.
Caroline: You have more experience with this than I do, if you think it’s better to start slow, we can do that.
GM: I do have more experience, but I’m not sure how much we have to show for it. Maybe we need to try something new.
But on the other hand, there have been extenuating circumstances… I suppose things never are clear with family, are they?
I’m just glad you stopped me from letting her pee into a pot.
Caroline: Few things are.
Caroline looks at her youngest sister seated beside their mother once again.
“Simmone?” she asks.
GM: ‘Seated’ is a generous way to put it. She’s lying sideways in bed, arms and legs wrapped completely around their mother, face planted against her breast.
“Quelle?” comes a dull response from the bed.
Caroline: “We’d like you to come downstairs and watch a movie with everyone else. Will you do that with us?”
“Simmone?” Cécilia preempts.
“Nous aimerions vraiment, vraiment. Tu peux choisir le film.”
(“We’d really, really like you to. You can pick the movie.”)
Caroline: “Tout le monde sera là,” Caroline piles on.
(“Everyone will be there.”)
GM: The pair work her for a while. Simmone doesn’t want to leave Maman. She asks why the others can’t just come up here. Caroline and Cécilia finally settles on the idea of setting up a camera in the room and connecting it to Simmone’s phone, so that “you can see Maman and have her in your hand the entire time.” Simmone is extremely slow to let go of Abélia and clutches the phone like a lifeline, as well as Cécilia’s hand, whose lap she sits on throughout the movie. She picks Frozen for everyone to watch. She stares at her phone periodically, but seems to enjoy her sisters’ company, who all seem glad she isn’t spending the day in bed (Cécilia tells them most of the truth). By the time the credits roll, Cécilia considers the effort “a good start to recover that earlier ground.”
Caroline: Caroline largely agrees.
GM: Yvonne shares a college-themed parody of the signature song that gets everyone laughing, though Adeline admonishes her nearly-college-age siblings to never have that attitude about grades. Yvette rolls her eyes. More wine gets everyone in a good mood, though Simmone still goes back to bed with their mother. Cécilia encourages her to look at more funny videos on her phone.
Caroline: Baby steps, Caroline admits.
GM: Yes. Though I suppose I can understand why Maman wants to let her stay ten forever.
Caroline: Oh? Caroline asks.
GM: Just after the amount of effort today’s been. I don’t agree with her. But I can understand.
There’s still a good chunk of time until night falls. In the absence of any alternative ideas, everyone spends it on schoolwork or career work, leaving Caroline to her own devices.
Caroline: Caroline lets them scatter throughout the house as they please. She checks in on Jocelyn and makes arrangements to let Meg back in.
GM: Jocelyn remains sleeping like only the dead can. Meg delivers the requested clothing. She wants to see her domitor.
Caroline: Caroline lets her do so and brings her up to Cécilia’s bedroom, where she’s largely withdrawn to after everyone split for the afternoon.
GM: She remains until and if Caroline kicks her out. Time passes. Caroline is struck by just how many hours in the day there are. The others eventually invite her back down to help make dinner together.
Cécilia keeps it a relatively simple affair of (dairy-free) cheese fondue. Easy to make for a lot of people. Some roasted vegetables, as well as bread and various other things lying in the fridge, make for good dipping material.
Caroline can’t get out of eating this time. Cécilia has already helped her excuse two meals in the day.
Caroline: She doesn’t object or complain, though she eats lightly. The food is ash, worse than, but the company is better, and she can feel the power of the sun beginning to wane at long last.
GM: Indeed, even as night falls and the sun’s invisible but blistering glare recedes, Caroline finds Jocelyn has failed to awaken. Her charred and blackened skin looks better after the day of rest.
Caroline: It’s far from a surprise. Judging from Meg’s description of her activities before trying to immolate herself in front of Caroline, the Ventrue doesn’t think Jocelyn had a ton of blood available in the first place. She considers awakening her, but decides to hold off for a better opportunity, where the starving vampire won’t be in the same house as her sisters.
In return for the ‘invite’ back into the home and opportunity to see her domitor, Caroline pries any additional details as to Jocelyn’s activities since their breakup from the ghoul.
GM: Jocelyn seems more defined by her lack of activities than anything else. She mostly lay in bed watching TV and doing nothing. She fed on Meg.
She also told the other Storyvilles about Gwen. And Evan. They took it badly.
Jocelyn told them about both at once when she was in a “really bad mood.” She did it over the phone. That’s the only thing that saved her from the resultant frenzy that ended the call. Jocelyn laughed that Roxanne was going to “completely self-destruct over this.”
Meg doesn’t know what’s happened to her or Wyatt since that fateful call. But the Storyville Krewe seems like it’s largely disintegrated.
Caroline: “Misery loves company,” Caroline observes.
GM: "I guess… " Meg agrees.
Caroline: True nightfall brings with it a descent of Caroline’s servants on the house. The Ventrue is very eager to hear about their activities throughout the day.
GM: They have a number to report. The signs of destruction in the house’s atrium are conspicuously absent.
Kâmil has spoken with Dr. Grémillon at Tulane Medical Center, who has pledged the Krewe’s cooperation with covering up the death. He’s said he will pick out first responders and a physician to blame for Claire’s fatal medication prescription. He’ll look into different drugs that could be responsible and stand up to a sustained investigation. He’s requested Claire’s existing medical records to assist in this and related details of the cover-up. It’s remarkable, Caroline may briefly think, how the same news from more important people gets them treated as fellow responders and crisis managers rather than troublemakers to bring before the sheriff.
However, given the high-profile nature of Claire’s death, as well as her ties to hunters, the Krewe wants to coordinate details with Donovan and Bishop Malveaux. Dr. Grémillon wanted to set up an in-person meeting between Harlequin, the sheriff, and the bishop, which Kâmil concurred as to the necessity of. Details have already been shared with the three Kindreds’ heralds to brief their domitors on (though Donovan has likely already been informed by Congo).
But they still can’t find the bishop.
Even his herald doesn’t know where he is.
Kâmil has informed several of Donovan’s and Camilla Doriocourt’s ghouls as to this fact, who have begun to search for the erstwhile Ventrue in earnest. They haven’t found him. They, and Kâmil, are considering the possibility of foul play. The timing is suspect.
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip in thought for a few moment before observing that it sounds as though there are really two different problems in play—the bishop’s absence and the Masquerade cover-up with Claire.
One of these things she has experience with (meager though it might be) and the other of which she has no place in.
Caroline: If there’s truly a concern that some ill might have befallen the bishop, she suggests that perhaps seconds may stand in with the Krewe in this matter, while the sheriff seeks out the bishop—she doesn’t expect the coverup of Claire can wait much longer.
That she has a less acrimonious relationship with, for instance, Hound Wright would be a small benefit too while coordinating this matter.
GM: Kâmil states that Wright will likely not be invited to the meeting, given his minimal involvement in the extended operation to subvert and bring down Claire’s hunters. Donovan and Bishop Malveaux were the ones jointly responsible for that—at least, as Caroline knows, until she took matters into her own hands by murdering Claire and the bishop and going over the sheriff’s head.
However, Bishop Malveaux’s absence makes obtaining Claire’s medical records more difficult. The seneschal would likely be pleased if Caroline were able to do that, vice a member of Vidal’s court having to indebt themselves to one of the medically connected Kindred in D.C.
Caroline: The Ventrue considers. The family certainly maintains copies of those records. It’s also likely they could be obtained illicitly—she’s heard that cybersecurity in hospitals is notoriously bad.
GM: The ghoul states he had been unaware as to that fact, but repeats that his domitor would be pleased were Caroline able to retrieve the records. If she doesn’t, someone else will need to.
Caroline: Caroline agrees that she’ll have her people look into it tonight.
GM: Gisèlle, meanwhile, went to Luke’s apartment, per Caroline’s request to scope out the site and assess what actions would be needed in the cover-up. There wasn’t a great deal for her to do until the body is ready to move into place.
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes alight at that. Perhaps not for the casquette girl, but Caroline and her own people lack Gisèlle’s extensive powers. She looks over whatever the rest of the ghouls came up with in terms of approaches, cameras, paths, security, and so forth.
How they get ‘Claire’ into the building convincingly is as important as what they do with Luke, and how they frame things thereafter. It’s not enough to get in ‘unseen’ anymore. They have to be seen in the appropriate places.
GM: Gisèlle has seen to all of that. She has less technological expertise than Caroline’s younger ghouls, but planning around security cameras was within her means. Her activities simply essentially consisted of low-risk intelligence gathering. Moving the body into place and doctoring memories will be where the ‘action’ is. Caroline’s brother lives in a posh high-rise protected by mortal security, but the casquette girl does not seem to think they will pose much inconvenience.
The hard part, after all, will be after the body goes public.
She still does not speak to Caroline. Flashing images within the Ventrue’s head wordlessly show her the ghoul’s observations and conclusions.
Ferris reports that the liquidation of assets associated with Audrey Morrow has given him something to tide his people over with and quell their discontent until payday. He’s tentatively given them word that they can come out of hiding, move back into old homes or purchase new ones, and start repatriating family members (where applicable) they’ve moved out of the city. The past few months of living on the lamb have been trying on them all.
Widney says she’s “salvaged” several of Elysian’s now-former escorts and has arranged for them to continue seeing Caroline as an exclusive client. She’ll be essentially paying them for their blood.
Caroline: Caroline is happy to hear both reports.
GM: Ferris delivers the requested dossier on Michael Hill. He’s originally from Columbus, Ohio, where he was born to a working-class family and enlisted in the Air Force out of high school. He met his spouse while serving overseas in Germany and moved to New Orleans with her (she had family there) when they were ready to settle down and start a family. He joined NOPD and has worked as a detective there for a little over ten years. He’s done so while attending Loyola University as an undergrad, where he majored in criminal justice, and later its associated law school. He recently passed the bar exam. He has no prior experience working in a law office, though Caroline knows that ex-cops are valued at many firms. And, of course, he was willing to tender the Devillers evidence of Yvette’s crimes against Amelie in return for a bribe. In his personal life, he has two daughters around high school age and a long-time relationship with Detective Ralph Moore, who is still on NOPD.
Caroline: Plenty of work remains to be done, along with new problems this evening. She wants Jocelyn brought down and transported back to the Giani Building with them.
They need to pick up a source of blood as well along the way as well, for when they wake her up. Fortunately her tastes are less particular than Caroline’s.
She inquires as to when the meeting is with Harlequin and the sheriff, and as to what part she has to play in it.
She passes on to Ferris the bit about her mother’s medical records and inquires as to whether or not Ramsey can provide, or if he had access to begin with (or knows where they might have been kept).
She reads the dossier on Hill on the way back to the Giani Building.
GM: Before she takes off, Cécilia gives her back her dress (she adds, “I’ve put it through the laundry”) and shoes from last night. She’s decided to cancel Simmone’s dance lesson for today (“I’m sorry you won’t be able to see that”), but is hopeful for how Caroline’s idea to introduce her to more children her own age may pan out. The family also all wants to say goodbye, especially if she’s going to be gone for a while. Everyone except Simmone and their mother is there, along with most of the cats, to see her off with many hugs and well wishes for her future.
Caroline: It’s a bittersweet moment. One she hopes isn’t actually a true departure. There are other matters she would speak with her mother about. Other things that need be seen to. But better to say a farewell than to be denied it.
GM: Cécilia does silently ask her, as she exchanges hugs with the others, whether there’s any things she’d like to ask of or otherwise pass along to Maman.
Caroline: For now, the matter with Simmone.
She bites her lip. I’ll do my best to come by again, for her. It’ll probably be late though. Do you want me to wake you?
GM: Yes, please. If we don’t know how much time we’ll have, I couldn’t imagine turning any more down.
Caroline: Another hug, and predictably French kisses on the cheek.
It’s cruel, to have this so briefly, then to potentially be spirited away. But it gives her something to look forward to on her return. A reason to strive to return.
And they’re never really gone, never that far away. Especially Cécilia.
GM: That’s right. It won’t be as clear, unless you really push yourself. But we’ll always be there for you, Caroline.
Her sister’s next word seems to spring not from a single voice, but six.