Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Caroline X

“This is the face of the evil my sire fought against.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline and Fatimah do not wait a great deal longer before Maldonato’s astral form materializes through a wall.

“All is in readiness?” inquires Fatimah.

The seneschal nods.

The two say nothing further, but set off through the complex.

“I hope your time with my cousin has been fruitful, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato states.

Caroline: “She was most illuminating on many matters, seneschal. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met with her,” Caroline replies.

GM: “I am pleased by this,” Maldonato replies as they walk.

“Clan Lasombra will soon petition the Camarilla for formal entry into the sect. My cousin and I have worked with like-minded antitribu to lay the groundwork for this event for some time. Recent events have accelerated our plans.”

“Others, we fear, have imperiled them.”

Caroline: She wonders if she metaphysically rocks backwards at that revelation, given her ethereal form, but certainly mentally does.

A clan joining the Camarilla? She’s never heard of such a thing happening.

And, how, in this world of lies and mistrust could it ever happen?

“Does your exposure count among such factors by placing yourself and many others that might associate with you under suspicion, seneschal?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It does, Miss Malveaux. Mr. Smith’s hastily spoken words now threaten the work of decades. Change may happen slowly among our kind, but calamity’s pace is rarely deterred.”

Caroline: It makes more sense now. Her sire’s abject rage, a fury so intense that it drove her to action, overwhelmed her.

Certainly, it was rage at the traitorous words of another of his clan, a final rebuttal of everything proper and decent. Certainly, it was rage at the attack on his rule, and the besmirchment of his lover.

But the undermining of said lover’s dream, centuries in the making? She remembers George’s childe’s screams as she was drawn from the crowd and thrown into the flames. They haunt her. But she understands.

GM: “Your sire was also to be one of Clan Lasombra’s greatest advocates and sponsors for entry into the sect,” Maldonato continues, as if proceeding down Caroline’s same line of thought. “I need not say that recent events have also undermined this component of our plan.”

Caroline: “In many ways.” Timing is everything. A few years later…

No wonder, though, that he has held on so stubbornly to his throne.

GM: “Yet nor are all tidings ill ones, Miss Malveaux. Recent events have also furthered our plans. Events which have occured far beyond New Orleans, but whose ripples touch even our city. I have brought you to Cairo so that you might bear witness to some of these events with your own eyes.”

Caroline: “I am here to serve, seneschal,” Caroline replies.

GM: Maldonato takes Caroline by the hand. Fatimah’s palace disappears as the pair hurtle through space at speeds the Ventrue can only guess, yet it hardly feels as if they have moved at all. They reappear outside of an airport. Planes roar in the background as they land and take off.

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Caroline sees three vampires and four mortals waiting around three cars. They’re parked on the tarmac a ways off from the terminal.

The first vampire is a thin young Caucasian boy who looks around Simmone’s age. He only just breaks four and a half feet tall. There’s a knowingly smug, self-content smirk to his lips, and eyes that take in his surroundings with subdued but unmistakable arrogance. They’re eyes that say, I’m the smartest person in the room. He’s dressed in a tailored navy suit that fills out his slender frame, along with a pressed white dress shirt and black necktie. His brown hair remains uncombed and unruly in juxtaposition to the rest of his ordered appearance.

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The second is a 20-something Hispanic man who’s a walking piece of art. A punk rock stereotype bound up in black leather and chains, with a mouth that looks like it was made to hold a cigarette. Tattoos cover every bit of exposed skin below the line of his jaw, itself a hard, cutting thing that looks like it could take a solid blow. His head is shaved on the sides and longer up top, hair slicked back with enough product to tame even the unruliest of strands. Deep-set navy eyes peer out from under a strong brow, lips quirked up in a perpetual smile. A pair of gold rings glint off his right hand, and over the charcoal three-piece suit he wears a distressed leather jacket.

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The third is a 20-something Egyptian woman with short black hair, dark almond eyes, and a slender frame. She’s dressed in a tank top and black pants, rather immodest apparel for the region, although Caroline only notices so up close. Shadows coalesce thickly around her, faintly rippling against the night. Even the Ventrue’s deathless sight cannot fully pierce their depths. A full-looking bag hangs from her shoulders.

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The three vampires all turn as Maldonato and Caroline abruptly appear out of thin air.

“Miss Malveaux, may I introduce you to Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud,” states the seneschal.

“They will brief you on the details of your present mission. You are in operational command.”

The Moor’s form fades into the night as though it were never there. The other three vampires’ gazes settle on Caroline.

Caroline: If the seneschal’s abrupt disappearance bothers her, she gives no indication of it outwardly. Indeed—her reaction is perhaps stronger at his severing of half of her name. An oversight or an intentional commentary? Either way, one that bodes ill.

Her gaze sweeps across the assembled vampires once, then again, as she takes in the details.

The boy genius, convinced of his superiority. She knows that look. Has echoed it more than once, though less since her death. Ventrue? She could see it, but part of her doubts one from the clan of kings would choose a child.

The second dredges up memories of Diego she buries more deeply than she buried the once gangster now corpse. Here too she could see something that might appeal to her clan: this man made over in the image of modern success. Young, potent, confident. The others might be of any age, but the tattoos mark him as a product of this or the last century—likely its latter half.

The last, the woman, is harder to read, and not only for the darkness around her. Local, rebellious but practical. Well-armed, she suspects.

It takes only a second—barely one longer than it might have once but noticeably less all the same.

She recalls wise words, ‘a beginning is a very delicate time.’ Here as in all things. Whomever she addresses she gives implicit legitimacy to within their hierarchy—and she might too show her own ignorance in so doing. Better then to let them choose their own speaker.

“Gentlemen,” she preambles, nodding in her insubstantial form. “Lady,” a further not quite bow to the dead woman.

“My name is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers,” she considers adding more, but dismisses it just as quickly. “We can speak here or en-route to our destination, as better suites the timeline.”

We. Our. Establish the bonding words quickly. They’re hard to ignore, break down barriers. At least, it works among kine.

Is this a test? A pressing matter that truly requires oversight? An opportunity? Perhaps all three she admits to herself.

It doesn’t really matter. Her role in matters may have changed but the truth hasn’t: the only way forward is through.

GM: “Conroy Westphal,” the boy enunciates crisply by way of introduction. “We’re already here.”

“Nico Cimpreon,” continues the man, not interrupting Conroy mid-sentence, but picking up where he might have continued. “Mission’s to escort a Camarilla bigwig to Cairo, once they get off their plane. Maldonato’s worried about Sabbat attacks.”

Conroy’s I’m-smarter eyes seem to look as if their owner considers himself smarter still when Nico says ‘Maldonato,’ but the smaller vampire says nothing.

“Talibah Mahmoud,” the Egyptian woman introduces, echoing the others, but adds nothing further.

Caroline: Sabbat. The bogeymen of Camarilla stories. She knows they exist, but relative to the more pressing dangers to her Requiem they’ve rarely occupied her thoughts.

That the boy spoke first helps clarify the bounds of the relationships between them, but doesn’t clearly bound them either, what with Nico’s interruption.

A personality conflict, then? Thrilling.

“These are your available assets?” She gestures to the yet unspoken for ghouls.

GM: They’ve each brought several. Westphal’s look a lot like the security types Caroline grew up around. Close-cut hair, dark suits, disciplined posture, and hard but blank expressions all suggest former military, but there’s an arrogant edge to their expressions. Cimpreon’s ghouls look like gangsters. They’re in suits too, sporting tattoos similar to their domitor’s. Their faces look more mean than arrogant. Mahmoud has just one ghoul, a thin and pasty-faced Egyptian woman in similarly casual attire. She’s black-haired, slim of build, and looks in her 20s.

“Yes,” answers Westphal. “All former Blackwatch contractors. Mine, at least.”

“Members of my crew,” answers Cimpreon. “They don’t like the suits, or the heat, but we’ve worked together for twenty years.”

“I can also conjure Apyssal entities, put not wizout risk to ze Masquerate,” answers Mahmoud.

Caroline: She acknowledges the inventory of ghouls without comment, then turns her questions immediately towards the intended extent of their mandate: are they to simply interdict any such attack, or are they intended to actively prevent it from occurring—at least so far as the representative is concerned?

Even as she asks the question her mind is already churning. She wishes she had Ferris or Fuller with her, but she’s listened to them enough that principles of force protection are far from lost on her.

Any dignitary in this circumstance almost certainly has their own protection in place—to say nothing of likely fearsome powers of their own. Contrarily, any attacker almost certainly has accounted for this protections. Their job then is to complicate those calculations and throw them out of balance.

GM: “All the elders said was to get the bigwig to Cairo in one piece,” answers Cimpreon. “Without having to get their hands dirty, knowing them.”

Westphal gives a humorless laugh. “We don’t want to prevent any attacks. We’ll look better if one happens and we fend it off than if the ‘bigwig’ never feels as if they’re in danger. The seneschal and the emira will want the Camarilla to feel as if they need us.”

Cimpreon sneers, though seemingly not in disagreement.

Caroline: Abyssal entities. Shadow magics. ‘Us.’

Of course they’re a coterie of Lasombra.

“Open-ended means opportunities,” she offers Cimpreon, not quite providing a smile. “Still, if the goal was a show of strength, there would be more pieces on the board. Presumably there are multiple political aspects in play, including a desire not to step on the toes of Cairo’s elders.” She nods to Mahmoud. “I presume they would be as displeased by a Masquerade-damaging conflict in a very public place as any other.”

And she’s essentially only a watcher in this game, at best a puppet master, not a blade on the field herself.

Shame, that, in some ways.

GM: “The elder’s from Europe,” says Cimpreon. “There’s been a lot of them lately. They might not even know any of Cairo’s Kindred.” He doesn’t quite smile either. “You’re right though. Opportunity, that’s wherever you fucking grab it. The bosses don’t want to give the order. But they know we’ll grab what’s in front of us.”

“Ze trib to pe city’s also pretty long,” shrugs Mahmoud. “And you Americans haf a stricter Masquerate zan us.”

Caroline: “That’s where you’d strike?” Caroline asks, her eyes meeting Mahmoud’s.

GM: “Yes,” the woman answers.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. In some ways that makes it easier. A conflict at the airport would be a disaster. “Are we providing explicit protection for him—traveling with him—or is he bringing his own? Regardless, how many do we expect him to be traveling with?”

GM: “They didn’t care to tell us,” shrugs Cimpreon. “That’s elders.”

“The elder’s a woman,” says Westphal. “We’re expected to escort her to the Khitta Antonius.”

Caroline: “Excellent,” Caroline answers. She takes a moment. “Is there anything else immediately pressing?”

GM: “You need a physical body,” says Westphal. “Mahmoud can give you one.”

Caroline: “Eventually,” Caroline agrees, mostly to cover up the fact that the idea—even the capability—hadn’t occurred to her.

She turns her gaze to the other ‘female’ Kindred. “Presuming you are willing.”

“Before we do so, however, I intend on taking the opportunity survey the route from the air.”

GM: “Further intelligence can’t hurt,” says Westphal. He surveys Caroline for a moment with his I’m-the-smartest eyes, then says, “Sabbat packs have made a regular practice of ambushing newly-arrived Camarilla elders. They’re convenient targets for reasons you can probably guess.” His gaze rests on Caroline for a moment. “Cairo’s bishop can’t control the packs anymore. Or at least the new ones.”

“Less chance of us being ashed if zhere’s four of us here,” answers Mahmoud.

Caroline: “Oh, I expect if they’re here to diablerize the elder getting ashed is one of the least of our concerns,” Caroline answers pointedly.

“How long do you need to prepare a body?” she asks the sorcerer.

GM: The word ‘diablerize’ doesn’t elicit any surprised or curious looks from the presumed Lasombra. But they seem to consider her thoughtfully upon hearing it.

A cut above the average Camarilla lick? Caroline never heard that word before she accepted her now-mother’s forbidden knowledge. Somehow she doubts anyone else would have told her.

“Longer I have, zhe petter zhe pody,” answers Mahmoud. “Rush job, 10 minutes. Somezhing better, hour.”

Caroline: More evidence they’re from outside the Camarilla, then, if the word isn’t new to them.

Caroline nods. “Do you need me present to begin?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “Then I’ll return presently. In the meantime,” she turns her gaze to the other two Lasombra, “adding at least one, and preferably two additional cars would be ideal.”

She flashes a smile at the tattooed vampire. “I presume that can be easily arranged?”

GM: Cimpreon smiles back. “When it’s a beautiful woman askin’? Easy.”

Caroline: “I love strong men,” she almost purrs, turning her gaze to the last if their group.

“In the meantime, while an attack on the road may be most likely, the airport presents the most certain position to any attacker. We’d be foolish to discount it. Presuming you screened them from the top vice the bottom, your contractors will more readily sniff out something that doesn’t smell right here. I’d like them to poke around while we wait.”

GM: “They already have,” answers Westphal. He doesn’t say that of course he’d have thought of that. “We’ve been here for nearly an hour. We arrived early to check for ambushes and other surprises.”

Caroline: “Prudent,” she agrees. “Your diligence and forethought warms my cold dead heart.” Parry, riposte.

“I’ll not attempt to hold your hand then—you’re clearly far from a child.” Soothe.

A seed planted with each—perhaps enough. Prudence, lust, and respect. It’s superficial scatter, but she judges them to have all done something.

“I don’t intend on being long. If I am… you’ll have learned something of value from that, at least.”

She shoots into the sky, floating up, high enough to get a vantage on the airport and surrounding terrain both.

GM: Grim smiles answer the Ventrue’s final statement.

Caroline’s silver cord trails after her as she ascends, spiraling off into infinity. It has to be thousands of miles long, to reach her body back in Perdido House. The Ventrue feels no air against her face, nor any of the coolness of the desert night. The skies are dark but clear. There is none of the soggy humidity so endemic to her home city, even this close to a major water source.

Cairo’s airport, like most outskirts, is located on its city’s outskirts. Glowing white and yellow lights illuminate the signs of human civilization and the stretch of road back to Cairo. Beyond that is nothing but lightless, barren desert.

With some few exceptions.

Caroline soars down.

It’s far enough away from the airport that she’s not surprised the Lasombra didn’t notice it. She doubts anyone without a means of flight would have.

There’s a couple Toyotas, a few more aged-looking cars, and a military jeep. A small party of vampires stands outside them. Each and every one is unmistakably a monster. Some look like ISIS fighters, clad in dark face coverings, camo fatigues, and bristling with the amounts of weapons one only sees in the Middle East. Others make no effort to conceal their faces. It’s hard for Caroline to tell if they’re Egyptian, American, or something else. Almost one and all, they’re as pale and lifeless-looking as corpses. Some of them have hideous scars and ritual piercings and tattoos to rival any Amazonian tribe’s. Some have lamprey-like mouths with rows upon rows of hungry fangs. One has a tiny suckered mouth where he should have an eye. Some have claws and horns. Some of them wear necklaces of fangs, severed hands, and in one case, a half-decayed breast. They look like freaks. They look like savages. They look like monsters.

Caroline sees no ghouls among them. But she sees many kine. Maybe several dozen. They come from every walk of life. Some wear pajamas. Some wear tourist clothes. Some wear airport uniforms. Some wear military fatigues. Some look Western, some look Egyptian. Some are youths. Some are mature adults. A few elderly. There’s several young children.

One man tries to run. The vampires are on him in seconds. They literally disembowel him, cutting open his stomach and pulling out guts as the crowd of onlookers helplessly watches. They rip off his fingers and plug them up his ears and nostrils. They literally feed him his own guts, but before he can expire, they rip off his pants and shove an AK-47’s barrel up his rectum. They squeeze the trigger. The man explodes into gory chunks. The gun’s barrel and stock explode too, no doubt due to the obstructed muzzle capturing all of the rounds’ kinetic energy. One piece slices apart the vampire’s cheek, another piece opens his throat, and several more fuck up his fingers, but all he does is laugh. He and the other vampires roar with laughter as they point at the man’s red-stained leftover pieces.

“Anyone who runs dies like this! Do as you’re told, and you’ll die fast!” shouts one of the vampires.

“Someone translate for the sand niggers,” sneers another.

“Ay shakhs yarkud yamut hakdha! afeal ma qil lak, wasatamuat nzyfana!”

The white-faced kine turn to their tasks. The vampires toss them shovels. A few people vomit. When one woman freezes up, the vampires execute her in similarly gory fashion, then rip off her head and punt it around as a kickball. The one who blew up his gun messily slurps from the corpse to heal his wounds. The vampires scream orders. The survivors quickly start digging and excavate a pit. The vampires scream at them to hurry up. The kine dig until their hands are blistered and bleeding. Anyone who slows gets disemboweled on the spot. The survivors manically dig until the shovels are slick with red.

They don’t need to be told they’ve dug their own graves.

The vampires still tell them. They taunt the kine. They tell them how they’re going to rot in the earth, how they will never see their families again, how all of their ignoble lives led to this ignoble demise. How does it feel, to know they will die here?

One of the vampires dressed in a blood-caked Catholic priest’s habit chants something over a chalice. All of the other vampires bleed into it. The priestly vampire continues chanting. It sounds like the scraping and hollering of beasts. The vampires go down the line of mortals, one by one, and drain them each, then feed their corpses a little blood from the chalice. The kine all look too paralyzed to run, perhaps held at bay by supernatural means, perhaps by simple terror. Eventually, the vampires kill everyone, then dump the lifeless bodies on top of one another into the pit. It reminds Caroline of Holocaust and Khmer Rouge photos.

The vampires finally pick up shovels themselves, then start to throw earth over the corpses.

Caroline: A year ago, the sight might have made her vomit. Might have driven her to tears. Might have even sent her in terrified flight. A year ago she was kine.

Tonight, Caroline is one of the Damned. Her hands are stained with the blood of dozens. Her soul is stained with among the darkest sins even the Damned could indulge in. She doesn’t vomit, doesn’t cry, and doesn’t flee.

But that doesn’t mean the horrific scene leaves her unmoved. There’s valuable information here. About their soon to be attackers. About individual vampires’ capabilities. The strong ones, the quick ones. The weapons they have available. These are all things she notes almost subconsciously. Has to note subconsciously. Because while the scene doesn’t drive her to despair, it does drive her to something else: cold fury.

The callow slaughter—and presumptive mass Embrace in progress—by these monsters makes even the prince’s worst excesses seem tame. This is the face of the evil her sire fought against. This is the evil that makes sins like McGinn’s casual bigotry and Matheson’s deviance so easily overlooked.

Wanton violence and damnation conducted with a casualness only borne in long familiarity. Does she truly care for the slaughtered kine? Perhaps not. But these beasts, these monsters, these abominations, should be, must be, destroyed. Their very existence hardens her will.

There will be violence to follow. Violence she’ll be gladdened to be a part of.

She withdraws to her own band of licks.

GM: Her last sight as she floats away is of the shoveling vampires playing kickball with one of the riped-off heads.

The other three are where she left them. They look up at her approach.

“See anything?” asks Cimpreon.

Caroline: “Almost a dozen licks, and not fresh ones. They abducted and murdered twice that many kine for a mass Embrace. They have half a dozen vehicles and automatic weapons.” Her voice is calm, measured.

GM: Three scowls greet the news. But not surprise.

Caroline: “Presumably their intelligence is good enough to identify when the elder is arriving. I would expect them to be in place ready to ambush us on the road, likely using IEDs to disrupt the convoy, then releasing the starving fledglings onto it before cleaning up when it’s done.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “At least, that’s what I’d do. Alternatively, you could hit with the fledglings from one side and the ones that know what they’re doing from the other.”

GM: “It’s never fuckin’ easy,” mutters Cimpreon. “You guessed their MO. You fought the Sabbat before?”

Caroline: “Not like this, but like I said, it’s what I would do. It’s a good tactic if you can stomach murdering and damning a few dozen men, women, and children. The kids are a nice touch—they’re counting on your people to hesitate.”

GM: “They won’t,” says Westphal with a contemptuous smile.

Caroline: She gives the ‘youngest’ of their group a grim smile. “I didn’t think that would be an issue with your people, especially not from Blackwatch.”

GM: “The IEDs won’t be enough to destroy any Kindred,” he continues. “They’ll incapacitate the ghouls and soften up the Kindred. But the pack will want to save the elder and any strong-blooded childer to diablerize.”

Caroline: “I saw a few RPGs as well. Presume they’ll use those along with the explosions to try and immobilize vehicles.”

GM: “Almost a dozen is pad odds,” says Mahmoud. “Did zhe shofelheads dig out yet?”

Caroline: “No. They are still burying them now,” Caroline answers.

Which says very bad things about how good their intelligence is, she doesn’t need to add.

GM: “We need to stop that from happening,” says Westphal. “Dig up the pit. Decapitate or burn all of the corpses.”

Caroline: “Presumably they’ll hang around to make sure that doesn’t happen. It didn’t see one, but if it were me I’d try to cram them into a van or truck to deliver them to the point of the attack,” Caroline answers.

“There’s another thing—this isn’t a local pack. Looks like hitters brought in from elsewhere to reinforce.”

GM: “Not a surprise,” says Cimpreon. “They’re probably here to have fun in the Gehenna War.”

Caroline: The what? She keeps her face still.

GM: “They’ll be able to control the shovelheads. Van delivery would be convenient but they ain’t gonna need one.”

“Mostly control, barring interference,” corrects Westphal.

Caroline: “Will the control survive the priest’s destruction?”

GM: “They use a combination of mundane and supernatural control,” answers Westphal. “The priest’s control won’t be fully precise either. Most of the shovelheads will be frenzying from starvation and mental trauma. Even the ones who drain the slower risers won’t have much blood in their systems. Packs mostly point shovelheads at a target and let their Beasts take over.”

“But destroying the priest will make it harder for the pack to control the shovelheads and direct them towards targets not in their immediate vicinity.”

“Priest’s someone we’ll want to take out fast anyways,” says Cimpreon. “Second-in-command and all. What’s he look like?”

Caroline: Caroline provides a description, complete with the Catholic robes.

GM: The three take note.

“You need a pody,” repeats Mahmoud. “Zhese are pad odds. As I said. I can give you a rush job zhat won’t last long, or take my time to make a petter one.”

“Zhe rush jop will fall abart in apout an hour. Zhe petter one, a night.”

“We need to capture the priest, ductus, or both for interrogation,” says Westphal. “They’ve obviously received good intelligence to set up this ambush.”

Caroline: “How long for the shovelheads to dig out?” she asks Cimpreon, smiling at Westphal’s observation.

GM: “It’s up to them,” says Cimpreon. “They can hit the shovelheads with a shovel, drain ‘em, blood ’em, then dump ’em in the ground. They’ll wake up fast after that.”

“But the pack can take longer if they want. If they make the shovelheads postmortems.”

“They won’t do that here,” says Westphal. “The elder’s arriving tonight. Which they know.”

“Any back can berform a bostmortem or immediate mass Emprace,” says Mahmoud. “Briests who know ze ritae can time when zhe shofelheads wake up.”

“I’d assume the shovelheads are going to start digging out shortly before the elder arrives,” says Westphal. “That’s what I’d do if it were me. I’d perform the mass Embrace with a window of time in case something goes wrong, lay low, then time the shovelheads to wake up when they’re needed.”

“I’d also hafe eyes on zhe airport, if it were me,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline nods and sweeps her gaze across the group.

“Capturing or killing is a pleasant fiction, but let us proceed under two assumptions I judge safe given their information as to the arrival of the elder.”

“First, they likely know the strength and capabilities of the elder and of all assembled here—myself excluded. Second, that they have judged their strength sufficient to overcome not only this gathering, but it in addition to the elder and their retinue.”

She waits a moment for any interjections or objections.

GM: “Yeah, but those fucks don’t know what we know,” says Cimpreon. “They’re countin’ on an ambush. They’re countin’ on the shovelheads. They’re countin’ on rocket launchers and maybe IEDs. We take those things away, and their plan’s gone to shit.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Verily? Assuming we could approach with all of your ghouls and Mr. Westphal’s without alerting them, how many of their ten would you expect to account for, presuming they average fifty years in the Blood and there are no elders among them?” Her tone carries no mockery or scorn.

GM: “Sabbat elders don’t go on missions like this,” says Cimpreon, shaking his head. “Be surprised if they average fifty years dead. Packs tend to be young.”

“There’s about as many of us as them, after Mahmoud gives you a body and brings over helpers. We stage an ambush too, fight this fight on our terms? Edge goes to us.”

“Or we let the pack attack the elder,” says Westphal. “It’s a better look if we help save her than if we simply say ‘there was a pack we took care of before you got here.’ Who would care about something like that? It’s better if she actually gets attacked, feels threatened in a foreign environment, and sees how much she needs us. And our elders.”

Caroline: This is taking too long. She’d hoped to let them reach the conclusion on their own, but the egos are too significant in the group.

Caroline shakes her head. “If we let them take the fight where they want and how, with the elder, we’ll lose. They’ve measured their strength as sufficient, and given their intelligence so far, I’d not doubt them. Even if the body Miss Mahmoud could provide was everything I might wish, I am not confident that I would meaningfully tip the scales in that conflict. I have less stake in that than you, since it won’t be me getting diablerized out in the desert, but I do have a persistent aversion to failure.”

“Which means you’re right, Mr. Cimpreon,” she gestures to him. “We need to attack them and disrupt their plans.”

She gestures to Westphal. “You’re also right, Mr. Westphal, simply disrupting them is the least of the victories we could take from this. If we attack them without the elder present, we need something to show the elder for our efforts: a captive with specific information, for instance, to lend credibility to our efforts.”

“But four on ten is poor odds, even with the ghouls,” she nods to Mahmoud. “In the night, in the desert, I expect them to be less effective. And if they’re able to wake the shovelheads against us we won’t be able to withdraw effectively either. Bringing the ghouls likely also forgoes the element of surprise.”

Her gaze sweeps across each in turn. “We need something to tip the scales significantly in our favor, and I don’t expect it to be our dignitary or further aid from the city,” she gives Mahmoud a moment to interject, “so we need to make our own.”

She settles her gaze on Mahmoud. “Something like two dozen frenzying shovelheads in their midst when we attack. Is that something you could accomplish, Miss Mahmoud?”

GM: Some very mean-sounding laughter goes up from the three vampires at Caroline’s suggestion.

“Yes,” answers Mahmoud with a hard smile. “Zhere’s some Apyssal creatures I can summon to really fuck with zhem.”

“We still need to take out the priest, and quickly,” says Westphal. “He’ll be the one best-positioned to disrupt that plan. If it comes down to it, the priest is expendable so long as we still capture the ductus.”

Caroline: “I think that can be arranged,” Caroline agrees.

She looks at Mahmoud. “Is there a different in capability between the bodies you might provide, based on time, other than longevity?”

GM: “Bropaply not, but zhis is ze first time I’ll hafe done zhis.”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “No pressure, then. It’s only your Requiem at stake tonight.” She looks to Westphal. “I presume your people came equipped for this? Explosives? RPGs? Magazines loaded with tracers?”

GM: “It’s bretty likely you’ll lose some of your mind, soul, or poth if you die in it, so no bressure eizher,” Mahmoud smirks darkly back.

Westphal nods. “We expected there’d be trouble.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly at Mahmoud’s claim. “I don’t suppose you brought a spare blade as well, Mr. Westphal?”

GM: A sardonic smile. “We’re not amateurs.”

“Swords. Firearms. Help yourself.”

Caroline: “Who says chivalry is dead?”

She turns back to the Arab vampire. “Shall we then?”

GM: Mahmoud calls out in Arabic. Her ghoul gets out from one of the cars. Mahmoud starts to chant in a dark tongue that sounds only vaguely like Arabic and makes several of the nearly ghouls’ skin crawl. She seizes the female ghoul’s shadow by the throat and yanks it free from its owner. It writhes in place like a spider only half-squashed by a fat book as its limbs jerkingly flail. The syllables in Mahmoud’s chanting grow darker and her eyes turn solid black. Minutes pass as she beats and flays the shadow until it has six limbs, ten limbs, then is finally a formless black and blood-like mass seeping through the gaps in her fingers.

“Open wide,” she tells Caroline in a deep and chill voice that sounds nothing like her own, then raises her hands and blasts the formless shadows into the Ventrue’s mouth. The taste is horrific, like swallowing nitrogen alive with crawling spiders. Blackness pours over her vision as voices whisper in her ears.

You’ll never make him proud…

Seneschal’s plan is doomed…

You can’t protect them…

Caroline: If Caroline had teeth to grind she might. Instead she twists and jerks as the darkness pours into her, as it’s poison fills her soul even as the whispers fill her ears.

It’s not the first time she’s been on the receiving end of demons that whisper to her of her worst insecurities, but that doesn’t make it easier to hear them. Her fears repeated back to her, given form and voice beyond the everpresent voice of Claire in the back of her mind.

She falls, suddenly no longer weightless, and lands hard, hands and knees. The sharp stinging pain is nothing to the skewering of her own hopes and dreams, sharp barbs sunk into her spirit.

She could stop perhaps, could dig them out like the hooks and barbs and splinters they are. Reason them away. If there was time. If she believed they weren’t true. If she wasn’t mainlining the source of them in a way a junkie could only dream of. Getting her own fix.

Instead she does what she always has, rising, squaring her shoulders.

Don’t let them see your hurt. Better to bleed quietly beneath your clothing than to stop, clean, and bandage it where all the world can see. Isn’t that why she wears black after all?

You can’t see the blood if she’s already clad in night.

GM: More than clad.

As the shadows retreat from Caroline’s sight, she looks down and and sees her once-translucent body is black. Her surroundings are in black and white, too. She feels weightless and cold. Very, very cold. Mahmoud commands her ghoul to open her mouth. The Egyptian woman looks less than thrilled, but does so. Mahmoud gestures again, and Caroline’s vision races as she floods inside the woman. There’s a roaring in her ears, then a hammering thump-thump in her heart. She feels sweat beading down her back. She feels queasy and sore. But no longer cold.

Her vision, though, remains in black and white.

“You’re bysically a ghoul, and any of zhe zhings zhat hurt zhem hurt you,” says Mahmoud. “You’ll hafe your full range of bowers.”

The vampires don’t wait for Caroline to recover her footing. One of Westphal’s ghouls tosses her a sheathed, one-handed sword that looks like an extra long tactical knife.

Caroline: She snatches the blade out of the air with she could never have managed in life, despite the unfamiliar body, taking the opportunity to judge the body’s reach, how it reacts, how it feels.

The breath that comes with the motion is an unpleasant reminder that the body is alive, as if she needed another beyond the bizarre aches and feelings.

“I’ll try not to get your ghoul killed,” she answers.

The body is shorter. It’s reach is less than her own. Its weight is different. Unfamiliar.

“Do you have anything longer?” she ask of the group as a whole, checking the blade’s edge.

GM: The edge looks sharp, but one of the Blackwatch ghouls tosses her another sword that’s a few inches longer.

The three vampires spend some time reviewing strengths and tactics. Cimpreon is best at hand-to-hand combat. Mahmoud at Abyssal magics. Westphal at controlling minds. Cimpreon points out that’ll make him useless against the shovelheads.

Caroline: She belts on the first blade and holds the second as she takes note of the coterie’s specialties.

Then she lays out their plan in greater detail.

As previously stated, the goal is to strike when the shoveheads awaken, then introduce panic into their ranks, causing them to frenzy on the pack. Westphal’s soldiers will open with RPGs into the vehicles and incendiaries into the group as a whole. When the fighting is joined, they’ll aim to break up any packets of resistance with the same while holding back to screen Mahmoud and her sorcerous ghouls.

Mahmoud will focus her efforts on disrupting control of the shovel heads and sowing chaos into their ranks, screened by Westphal’s ghouls.

Caroline and Cimpreon will lead the laters ghouls into the pack from the opposite side from the shovelheads, screening Westphal with them. Their goal is to kill or capture the priest and/or leader, ideally with Westphal’s control abilities.

Once they’ve captured one and induced panic and confusion the intent is to withdraw as effectively as possible—the goal is to stop the attack, not attempt to slaughter a pack with twice their numbers.

“I expect the first few moments to be where this is decided—the fire and suddenness of our strike inducing frenzy into the pack as well, driving some away or at each other. In that moment they will not know our numbers or strength. The longer the battle goes, the worse our odds.”

GM: Cimpreon points out that the shovelheads will almost certainly be frenzying when they burst from the earth, as a consequence of their traumatic deaths and ravenous hunger. Only a few fledglings of exceptional strength of will don’t succumb to their Beasts after that dark rebirth.

Mahmoud has brought no additional ghouls. She will call forth shadow servants, what Cimpreon terms “helpers,” before the attack.

They will also be what facilitate the shovelheads’ attack of the pack.

Westphal agrees with her objective. They don’t need to take out the whole pack. They just need to make them give up the attack on the arriving elder as a lost cause.

“The shovelheads already present a significant asset loss. If we take out the pack leadership too, the rest of them will likely give up the mission.”

“There’ll be a few motherfuckers crazy enough to fight ‘til they’re ash, though,” says Cimpreon. “How it is with these packs.”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “Not just among them.”

Her gaze settles on him. “One more thing, for you specifically. If I should lose control in this body for whatever reasons, get away.”

GM: “You think so little of me, beautiful,” says Cimpreon in mock hurt. “You’re lookin’ at one of those motherfuckers. If you go apeshit, we’ll leave you. But the rest of us ain’t leavin’ until the ductus and priest are in the ground.”

Caroline: “Oh, to be clear, darling,” Caroline answers in a voice that’s not quite her own, “I wasn’t suggesting you flee from the battle. Only from me.”

GM: “I’ll give you the same advice,” he smirks.

Caroline: “Any final points?” she asks, tearing her gaze from him and to the group.

GM: Mahmoud says the others have some time while she calls forth servants.

Caroline: She looks back to Cimpreon. “In that case, might I trouble you for a warm-up?” she asks, loosening the longer of the blades in its sheath.

GM: “Get used to the new body,” he nods, borrowing another from one of Westphal’s ghouls. He doesn’t seem to be carrying his own.

Caroline: Caroline steps away from Mahmoud’s ritual with Cimpreon and draws the offered blade. It doesn’t quite make up for the loss of reach in this body, but it’s better than the first one offered.

She opens several paces between them and nods her ready to the Lasombra. “Be gentle, it’s my first time,” she offers wryly.

GM: “I’ll treat you right, baby. Just relax and let me in…” he smirks, raising his blade.

Then the vampire lunges at her, bringing down the sword in a high arc that scores the tarmac as Caroline sails past. She feels sluggish, though, like she’s been drugged. In a sense, she supposes she has been. She perspires, gets winded, and has to deal with so much noise in her ears from her bodily processes. Cimpreon doesn’t have to deal with any of that as he viciously presses his assault: his undead body never slows down. It’ll always work at peak efficiency.

Compared to her early nights, fighting blindingly fast Kindred like René, Caroline supposes she’s gotten in more practice with brutally strong ones of late. Baker, Meadows, and now Cimpreon, who isn’t so fast as either of the last two. Caroline just has to duck his savage blows and wear him down with a thousand cuts. He provides a good match, and by the time they’re done, Caroline is sore all over. Calluses are starting to form on her hands. The ghoul’s hands.

Westphal observes the fight with interest.

“You were wrong, Mahmoud. She doesn’t have her full range of capabilities,” the child vampire assesses. “The ghoul’s body doesn’t have any of her old body’s muscle memory. It’s never received any combat training.”

Cimpreon shrugs. “Extra sword ’gainst the pack either way. When the fuck do we get to pick the fight we want?” He puts away the sword he was using. “Good match, beautiful.”

Caroline: Caroline’s chest heaves in great gasps of air. Or rather, the ghoul whose body she’s inhabiting does. Sweat runs from the body and has already soaked through its hair.

She’s pushed it beyond what it thought its limits were, or perhaps are. She’s too accustomed to not having to deal with tiresome needs like breathing. Not being encumbered by muscle fatigue is an advantage she’s not fully appreciated since her earliest nights.

“We’ll… have to go again… on my terms.” She grins despite the obvious fatigue.

Still, this had value. It showed her the weak spots. The difference in her reach she has to account for. In stamina. As predicted, the flight will be over in its early moments one way or another.

Still, for it, she’ll put up a better showing against the real enemy.

She downs several bottles of water from the groups stores, mindful of the frailty of the body she inhabits and the desert’s dry heat, while waiting on Mahmoud to finish her conjuring.

GM: All of the ghouls have a fair amount of water bottles between them, perhaps little surprise for non-Egyptians unaccustomed to the country’s heat. However, the desert doesn’t feel too warm at night, either. Probably 50-60 Fahrenheit. All of the ghouls have coats or jackets on. Caroline’s, having lacked the initial recognition and then chance to remove it, is soaked through with sweat.

The desert night is alive with shadows. Mahmoud has traced a summoning circle over the ground, etched within her own blood. It looks like the section of tarmac inside has fallen away into a realm of utter nothingness. Animate shadows cavort inside of it. Sometimes they’re shaped like demons, sometimes cobras or crocodiles, sometimes skeletally thin humanoids with too-long arms and hands. The air around them seethes with cold hatred. The other ghouls do not look eager to stand nearby. Mahmoud barks a final word in a guttural tongue and the circle collapses. The shadows seep out, their shapes alternately morphing between three dimensions and just two, pressed flat against the tarmac.

Caroline: She reverses the jacket, ignoring the appearance in favor of function—she’s not accustomed to getting cold—and ties back the ghoul’s hair. She’ll have to ditch the jacket before the fighting starts either way.

The Ventrue doesn’t study the shadows too closely, but nods her approval to the occultist.

Time to go. She’s certain calling and controlling the monsters is not easy.

GM: The vampires and ghouls pile into cars and drive off. Westphal accepts a shorter blade from his ghouls. He’ll need to get up close to meet the pack’s eyes, and his mental powers will avail him not against frenzying Kindred. Mesmerizing some of the pack into attacking their ductus will be the only way to be certain who that is.

Once they’re close enough, the cars disembark for the party to proceed in greater stealth on foot. One of the Blackwatch ghouls volunteers binoculars.

The pack is still there, standing vigil over the mass grave. Many of them look bored and are playing a grisly game of kickball with some of their victims’ severed heads, now stripped clean of flesh into little more than grisly skulls with clumps of attached hair.

Caroline: Caroline puts all the ways this could go wrong out of her mind as they walk.

Once the die is cast, there’s no longer any room for doubt.

She looks over their numbers again. In for a penny.

When Mahmoud answers affirmatively to her whispered inquiry about the potency of blood across her ghoul’s body, she quietly offers the gift of her speed to the other vampires and Cimpreon’s ghouls.

GM: The ghouls are all-too glad to imbibe. Mahmoud says Caroline’s vitae, technically a ghoul’s, won’t be able to bond the other vampires. They merely offer thin smiles and say they’ll let it cool for a few seconds anyway, “Just in case.”

Caroline: “Of course,” she answers almost mischievously. She lets each of the licks take their turn and three more ghouls besides before pulling back, tightly wrapping the shallow wound. Each throb of it his another reminder of the weakness of this flesh.

GM: It’s actually painful, too, to cut into her flesh with the hard steel. Caroline has some inkling of what Cécilia went through, though no one volunteers to do the cutting for her. Mahmoud takes Caroline’s wrist before she can wrap it and licks the wound closed, then carefully licks up any trace of remaining blood.

“Zhat plood’s smell will gife our bositions away pefore any noise efer does.”

Caroline: She nods to the mystic.

GM: Everyone seems to walk with that much more spring to their step after imbibing. The pack, meanwhile, has a few sentries keeping watch via binoculars. Caroline initially fears that stealth may be a foregone conclusion between the flat terrain, the pack’s night vision, and the size of her temporary coterie. Everyone digs down to wait after Caroline suggests one of Mahmoud’s servants cause a distraction. She confirms they can lift corporeal objects, and after a few thrown rocks, the pack sentries sharply turn away at the noise and send several vampires to check it out. Most of them, though, either watch the mass grave or play games with their victims’ remains. Several of them look very bored by the waiting.

Mahmoud’s other shadows seep across the earth, then sink into it.

Bestial howls start to go up from the shaking earth. Several packmates laugh. All turn to watch the spectacle. Caroline sees it happen through the binoculars. Badly gashed, newly-pale, and madly clawing hands burst from the graves like zombies in a horror movie, but terribly real. The fledglings that drag themselves out are ravenous-looking things with sunken eyes, protruding fangs, already corpse-pale skin, and shredded and earth-specked clothing. Almost all of them are bleeding, and screaming bloody murder as they throw themselves at their killers. Their sires. The pack laughs and starts to subdue them until the frenzies pass, clearly old hands at this. The ones who get hurt just earn more derisive laughter from their fellows.

Then the Blackwatch ghouls open fire.

Caroline: She’s moving when they rise to fire. Soft steps carrying her forth quickly across the desert. They have to time these attacks carefully, give them no chance to set themselves against the charge, to gain their own weapons. Chaos.

Chaos is the order of the day. The longer blade is naked in her hand, the shorter one still belted at her waist.

GM: Cars go up in flames as the HEIs go off, exploding 900 steel balls and 2-3,000 incendiary pellets over a 15 meter radius. The pack roars and screams. Someone bellows orders to disperse, to make less clustered targets. Several vampires lose themselves to their Beasts and mindlessly tear into their fellows, but most of the pack responds with discipline under fire and charges towards the source of the explosions. The priest raises the chalice and starts chanting in that same bestial tongue, only for a blast of shadow to knock it from his grip.

Then the shadows rise.

Mahmoud’s servants give bone-chilling screams of hate like nails over a chalkboard as they tear at the shovelheads, whipping them into frenzy and then seeping back into the earth, leaving them to turn upon their fellows. They lope forward on all fours like animals, smashing into the more experienced vampires with mindless savagery. Packmates roar back and tear into them, many losing themselves to their Beasts too. The voice from earlier shouts, “Take out the shooters!”

Caroline: She told the others their goal was to strike and withdraw. She told them they had no interest or hope in slaying the entire pack. She spoke truthfully. But not honestly.

Caroline is no saint by any measure, but these creatures are worse than monsters. They’re savages, heathens, nightmares from one’s darkest dreams.

The screams of the dying men, women, and children and the glee of the pack as they taunted, murdered, and damned them ring in her ears. Dozens not only slain—god, she’s slain plenty of her own—but callously consigned to Hell and Earth and thereafter in a cruel mockery of the divine justice of the Embrace.

The Sabbat. This pack. They deserve every ounce of fury she can muster, are a foe she can fight without reservation or hesitation. As that anger burns bright she can almost feel the touch of her sire, through her blood. Perhaps it’s her imagination, but she imagines it’s the same thrill he must have felt in his youth against the same foes.

She flies into this battle with blade in hand and joy in her heart born from righteous fury. It beats in rhythm with the heart in her breast in a rising crescendo.

GM: Automatic weapon fire sprays the night from both sides; from the Sabbat, armed to the teeth, and from Cimpreon’s ghouls, shooting as they advance. Several vampires soar into the air with stupendous leaps, or simply blur across the desert, too fast for mortal eyes to follow. Distance means little to these creatures. Caroline ducks past a slashing blow from a vampire with knife-length claws and a woman’s half-mummified breast swinging from a chain around his neck. Her sword slashes through his neck, and then his howling face rots a month in an instant as his corpse hits the earth.

Caroline: Going for the guns was a mistake, Caroline well knows. They might be effective against the ghouls, but they’re the least of the threat to the damned with the advantage of their surprise—and especially the fire—spent. The rest of this fight won’t be decided by ghouls with firearms—it’ll be decided up close on the edge of her blade, Cimpreon’s strength, and Westphal’s will.

The thought is among the last of the tactical ones that cross her mind before the conflict turns very pointedly into a more personal one, time seemingly to slow as she avoids the first vampire’s attack.

She doesn’t quite howl with satisfaction as her blade finds its first lethal purchase, but the feeling is there all the same, a violent thrill echoing through the all too human hands she wields when the blade makes contact.

Going for the throat had been dangerous—if he’d been tougher the blade might have snagged on his spine and been yanked from her hands. That’s a risk she’s willing to take while she retains a second at her belt. They need to even these numbers quickly, before the frenzying vampires turn their attention to them instead of their fellows.

GM: The guns mainly seem to be used by the slower vampires without a fast means of closing distance or ranged supernatural attacks. Shooting other Kindred is less than efficient, but it’s better than doing nothing. Shotgun and automatic weapons fire scream past her as she scans the sea of monstrous faces for her target. He’s still there, chanting and waving his hands at the shovelheads as they and his frenzying packmates savage one another. He tries to knock aside the anvil that’s come between his pack and the attackers’ sudden hammer.

They don’t give him the chance.

Cimpreon soars through the air, lands in front of the priest, and smashes a fist into his face with a hideous crunch of bone. Caroline blurs from point to point and slices into him from behind, dragging up her sword from the small of his back to shoulder blade. Up close, the priest’s ecclesiastical robes are a mockery of the church: the garment looks like tanned leather sewn from multiple human skins. Their flattened, eyeless faces soundlessly scream up at Caroline from his chest. Woven human hair provides a fur lining to the hood.

The priest himself resembles an alien with leather gray skin and no lips, nose, or mouth. Satanic tattoos dance along his features. He gives a pained grimace as the two vampires tear into him, and then inclines his head in a motion almost like a bow. His robes explode apart as his muscles gorily rearrange themselves and he grows over eight feet high. His new form resembles a scaled, greasy-furred humanoid with apelike arms tipped with jagged black nails, and a bristling row of spines tracing the length of its backbone.

Enormous claws slash through the air. Caroline ducks and weaves past them, but they rake across Cimpreon’s chest, leaving ugly red gashes through the Lasombra’s now-ruined suit.

Westphal’s ghouls maintain covering fire with the HEIs. Burning pellets explode through the pack’s embattled ranks, stopping the ones not battling the shovelheads from getting too close to Caroline, Cipreon, and the priest.

Caroline: She pulls back, breathing hard already as she pushes the kine’s body to its limits, but only to build speed on the charge—something to add weight to her attack against creature as monstrous on the outside as it’s deeds have been. Part of her instinctively recoils in terror from the monster, this creature far beyond her conception of Kindred, but he’s not the first such beast she’s seen.

The memory of the first only drives her at at him with renewed fury and hatred, his form overlaying in her mind with the last. Hack down, hack apart. She should have brought an axe, but any edge will do its work against flesh. And ultimately, he is still flesh.

This thing bleeds. She’s seen it bleed. And if it bleeds, she can kill it.

She’s killed a demon before.

GM: Caroline ducks low, avoiding another swipe of those enormous claws. She slashes her blade across the monster’s leg, sending it stumbling as she hamstrings it. Cimpreon leaps into the air and delivers two more bone-crunching blows to its already broken face, one of which puts out its right eye. Then he grabs the monster’s shoulders and launches himself over it. As it claws the air, Caroline blurs past on the ground, hamstringing its second leg. The monster topples to its knees, but catches Cimpreon by the torso. Claws rip through his chest. The Lasombra tosses Caroline a stake as it prepares to dash him head-first against the ground. She blurs up the creature’s leg, then rams the stake through its back. The wooden doom slides through the creature’s ribs like a knife through butter as she pierces the unbeating heart. The thing collapses and doesn’t move.

More vampires, however, are already breaking past the ghouls’ covering fire, howling as they converge upon the Kindred who’ve laid low their priest.

A short ways away, an imperious-looking man with solid black eyes conjures his own writhing tendrils of darkness, then sets them against Mahmoud’s. The night tears itself apart as whirling shadows fly between what can only be two Lasombra. Their contest reminds Caroline of the clash between Maldonato and her sire.

Caroline: She takes one look at Cimpreon’s maimed condition and the onrushing attackers. “Take him and go!”

The words cost her something—precious breath, but there’s not much choice. She trusts the Kindred’s speed-enhanced ghouls to buy him the time to withdraw with their prize and turns on the Lasombra conjurer. There can be no escape with sorcery dogging them into the night.

GM: Westphal’s voice rings through the din of combat over and over: “Stake the ductus. Stake the ductus. Stake the ductus.” Caroline briefly catches a childish glee in his eyes as he catches packmates’ gazes and orders them to attack their own leader. The look of supreme arrogance on his face grows with every will he crushes.

Cimpreon’s savaged flesh is already knitting itself back together, and he scowls as if to object, then seems to realize he’s the only one strong enough to carry the monster and hoists it over his shoulder. Caroline slashes through ranks of onrushing vampires rallying to the rival Lasombra’s side. He sneers at Mahmoud, casually exploding apart one of her monsters into a shower of screaming motes. Mahmoud’s conjured servants, the frenzying shovelheads, and the ghouls’ covering fire are keeping the pack from mounting a united response, but Caroline wonders how long it will last.

Westphal, however, beats everyone else to the kill. While Mahmoud pits her shadows against her clanmate’s, and Caroline cuts, slashes, and blurs closer, Westphal simply lets his dominated puppets bury the ductus under weight of numbers and ram a stake through his heart. One of Cimpreon’s ghouls blurs up to the paralyzed corpse and hefts it over his shoulders.

WIZDRAW!” shouts Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline blazes across the front as the ghouls and other Kindred pull back, seeking more distraction and disruption than outright harm of the the regrouping pack. Even down three of their number for the count—that she’s seen—they still outnumber the Lasombra almost two to one.

GM: Perhaps others have fallen too, but the situation looks grim. Animate shadows grasp at Caroline’s legs, trying to pull her down. Spectral wolves howl and bound through the flames. One of the HEIs stops firing—out of ammo, ghoul taken out, doesn’t matter. Grenades start exploding around them. Those can’t be the ghouls’. Where did the pack get those? Did they always have them? Meanwhile, the shovelheads, for all their savagery and numeric superiority, are going down hard against the more disciplined, experienced, and only marginally less savage pack. Mahmoud’s servants harass their flank, but the battlefield’s present state is all-too plain: they’ve accomplished their objective and it’s time to get the hell out.

Caroline: Everything aches—she can feel this body’s muscles burning as its feeble heart struggles to pump enough blood to keep it going, to match its demands. She pushes onward, the blade slicing through the grasping shadows.

It’s just not enough. She’s a flicker too slow, this body a flicker too weak. Everything just off enough to slow her down.

She pushes harder.

Weak.

The blade dances, blazing through the night.

Slow.

She’s bleeding, doesn’t even know where it came from in the chaos, but it doesn’t stop her.

Pathetic.

She fights as much against her own demons as against these ones as the plan starts to unravel. She just has to snip that fraying thread. She has to hold things together. She can’t fail. Not like this.

GM: Mahmoud runs, but the clash of shadows seems like it’s drained her. Shadows still cling to her legs and she runs as though caught in quicksand. Caroline wonders how much slower she’d be without her borrowed speed. Westphal only has a child’s legs: Caroline doubts he’d get very far without her blood, either. Cimpreon is either weighed down by the monster’s corpse, or the bulky thing is just awkward to carry even if he isn’t weighed down. Caroline may be unaccustomed to this body, but she’s accustomed to being fast. She blurs and weaves from point to point, harassing the regrouping pack from half a dozen positions seemingly at once, buying the others time to withdraw. A few stray gunshots clip the vampires’ backs, along with another blast of shadow before Caroline severs the owners’ fingers from their hand. The monstrous vampire screams in her face, and then she’s gone in another blur.

The ghouls, however, fare dismally. One of Cimpreon’s renfields goes down in a heap beneath two Sabbat vampires. They shred him apart like starving wolves before throwing themselves back at the shovelheads and Mahmoud’s shadowy demons. Cimpreon’s other ghoul, the one with the ductus’ body, seems like he’s about to break past enemy lines. Then one of the spectral wolves savages the Blackwatch ghoul with the remaining HEI right as he pulls the trigger. His aim goes wide and catches Cimpreon’s ghoul in friendly fire. The man loses half his face and goes down in flames, writhing and screaming over the ground. The remaining Blackwatch ghoul, however, rises magnificently to the occasion. He blurs right back into the fray, dodging and weaving past the still-clashing pack and shovelheads, then hoists his fallen comrade and the ductus’ bodies over his shoulders. He’s gone in another blur.

The glowing wolves harrow the survivors’ flanks as they withdraw. Spectral jaws close and tear around Caroline’s legs before she slashes open the creatures’ flanks. They dissolve into mist with ghostly howls. Lobbed grenades explode around the coterie. Mahmoud fires back with blasts of shadow. Westphal conjures a few lesser blasts. Bullets whiz back and forth between both sides.

The remaining shovelheads and Mahmoud’s servants keep the pack pinned down as the coterie pulls back. They get into their cars and drive like hell.

Caroline suspects she could run faster than any of the vehicles, at least in her real body. The tortured and gasping lungs in her borrowed one, however, wheeze for relief. She slumps back against the seat as the car moves underneath her, hurting everywhere. There’s cuts and gashes from more places than she can guess.

But there’s one sensation burning in her gut hotter than any wound.

Victory.


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Comments

Pete Feedback Repost

Lasombra Stuff

Lasombra to Camarilla reveal was interesting. It’s something in the metaplot that’s interesting and makes a fair bit of sense given their more autocratic ways and the increasing push of the Sabbat to darker and darker bogymen / fringes of the civilized world.

The Coterie

Westphal feels like such a smug little shit, but also a really capable one, and one that’s had to get really good at what he does to be successful. I’d be interested in the story of his Embrace.

Cimpreon, Caroline obviously hit off with pretty well. I appreciated that for a number of reasons, including the fact that it provided an opportunity to show Caroline with a male figure. The lion’s share of her relationships of all kinds are with women / female Kindred, and I enjoyed the hint of chemistry / flirtatiousness of their interactions.

Mahmoud as a sorceress type I appreciated. There’s been a lot of sexual tension on a fair number of Caroline’s encounters with other female Kindred, and I liked that it didn’t really exist here.

I sort of had the feel from the beginning that they were probably Lasombra, but appreciated that it got explicitly revealed, though I didn’t want to jump to it with Caroline, as I figured there was probably still some intellectual rigidness in how she evaluated others in the Camarilla clan framework.

Mahmoud as able to provide a body was a neat trick.

I missed the bit about the bishop not controlling packs anymore—sort of suggests an interesting dynamic in the city between Sabbat / Camarilla.

The Sabbat

The high roll on the perception paying off with locating the Sabbat and letting Caroline / Lasombra stage their own ambush ahead of time was awesome. That it also let you demonstrate / show pretty exhaustively just how depraved, horrifying, disgusting the Sabbat is/can be was an added plus. Great first appearance for them.

It really captured that your Sabbat pack, the Sword of Caine, isn’t just a bunch of asshole vampires, they’re something significantly darker, with none of the respects / taboos / limits that even more depraved Camarilla guys try to respect—i.e. shovehead Embraces of kids and women and the abject cruelty of it just for the sake of cruelty to the living. In comparison, at least McGinn’s bigotry is a coherent framework, however vile it may be. These guys felt different.

And the scene went on and on.

It also I think provided an really interesting contrast to things like (as Caroline sort of notes in her internal dialogue) even the worst of Vidal’s excesses and what made him so hard and cruel. If you saw this kind of stuff over and over for centuries, hard not to harden your heart. That makes it easy to compromise with lesser forms of evil. It also, in a lot of ways, makes Maldy’s morality more interesting / rare.

The Fight

Setting up the ambush was a lot of fun. The odds were stacked pretty heavily, but this felt like a good example of how smaller numbers of Camarilla vampires can fight and win—ghouls to aid, good tactics. I feel like if she hadn’t found the Sabbat the fight on the road would have been much more brutal, difficult, and with high casualties. Glad it didn’t come to that. This felt a lot like one of the first real up and out wins that Caroline could really hang her hat on. Superior numbers, older vampires, and they smashed them. And people that deserved to get smashed too.

I’m glad you liked the idea of using the shovelheads against them. It immediately jumped to mind for me as a balancing factor in the fight.

Lead up also filled in a lot of blanks for Caroline about MO, capabilities, etc. Most of her Requiem has been pretty straight forward fights of raw ability, and the sorcery elements here and elsewhere, mass Embrace, etc was a good look behind the curtain for her.

I like to think that her little bout before the fight with Cimpreon helped out in some way with how things played out. The idea of inhabiting a ghoul immediately seemed like it would have some drawbacks.

Did forget about handing out Celerity, but glad I remembered before the end. If I did it again I’d have done it in the car on the way over or before getting in cars, vice so close, but glad it didn’t blow up.

Enjoyed writing this as a fight that Caroline actually wanted to take, vice one that she knew there would be costs to, that she was forced to.

Story Twelve, Caroline X
 

Calder Feedback Repost

Calder: You may well get to find out Westphal’s (and the others’) Embrace stories if you see them more
And/or, really, if I post wiki pages for them
I did like Caroline moving away from the lesbian angle a little
Figured you had enough of that between Jocelyn and Kat

Pete: Mhmm, it’s something I’m mindful of as a player.
Caroline’s preference should be males.

Calder: Josua satisfied that too

Pete: Yeah, but it did feel a little shoe’d in

Calder: I thought it made sense
he was a rebound

Pete: It did / was, but didn’t have much depth as a result.

Calder: Got a portrait for it at least
But he’s not really Caroline’s type

Pete: mhmmm

Calder: Celia has fucked him and they’re all over each other

Pete: mhm, for Caroline it was a fling that was easy and convenient.

Calder: Similarly, her flirting with Cimpreon didn’t really feel serious
Hard being half a world away anyway

Pete: mhmm
She was definitely trying to bait him a bit, form a bit of a connection there. Felt more solid with him than the others.

[…]

I couldn’t see her fucking Josua again

Calder: Poor him
But knowing him, he’s moved on

Pete: I heard he found this little tart
that he can satisfy all of his interests with

Calder: He and Celia have banged something like… half a dozen times?

Pete: oh jesus

Calder: Only two evenings together

Pete: mhm

[…]

Pete: Oh, I didn’t mention it, but meant to. I really appreciated that that we were sort of fast/loose with time here, and I didn’t feel like I was on a hard timer with how long until the elder arrived, how long she was in her body, etc.

Calder: You probably couldn’t have postponed forever, but it was a pretty quickly executed attack

Pete: Yeah, but they didn’t have to rush through conversation, etc.
I tried to stay mindful of it all the same, but just thought it was a good shift

Calder: Glad you did. Bishop bit is also why it benefits players to reread logs

Pete: ’don’t dawdle’ vs. “You have 10 minutes”
Which was a notorious point of contention in Kain’s game.

Calder: Was it? I remember us spending forever debating how to get through the doors in Drac’s palace
Rath getting annoyed and disintegrating them

Pete: Maybe it came later, but how long buffs had run came up several times

Calder: Might have been after my time

Pete: especially minute/level buffs many of us thought could go through multiple fights

Calder: Minute/10 minute buffs is so fucking stupid though
I prefer powers that last a scene/combat or a day

Pete: eh, mixed feelings

Calder: I don’t even know how I’d track IG minutes like that

Calder: Like, I don’t even know how Kain did it
Seems largely arbitrary
Well, not arbitrary
Seems more annoying to have to make an arbitrary decision so many times that’s liable to cheese players off

Pete: Yeah, that’s fair.

[…]

Calder: Your Perception roll paid off in spades, anyway. You’re probably right you’d be looking at a much uglier fight if they got to stage their ambush

Pete: Yeah, arguably most important roll of the entire scene

Calder: Possibly with IEDs, likely with their own rocket launchers, and certainly with the shovelheads on their side
Intelligence can be everything

[…]

Calder: I’m pleased the Sabbat came off so well during their first appearance. As you note, McGinn’s monstrosity has a framework, but Caroline didn’t see any to the Sword of Caine
Well, first appearance to Caroline
Certainly the first of a rampaging pack

Pete: have they showed up elsewhere in the game overtly?

Calder: Yep. Last known Sabbat to show up IG was Verene, a Toreador antitribu in Adelais’ prelude
Who played a game with Pearl to Embrace her
Adelais didn’t find out who Verene was until she asked Accou
Who admitted their clan was friendlier with its antitribu than most

Pete: filthy traitors

[…]

Calder: I also liked the callbacks to her sire/Maldonato and their own struggles against such evil
Which was a moment that highlighted for me how Caroline is her sire’s childe as much as she is her mother’s daughter

Pete: I’m glad you liked that, it was something I made an active drive towards

Calder: Probably hard to picture Abelia crusading against the Sabbat like Vidal

Pete: yeah. Abelia… provides different sorts of incentives

Calder: Abelia from what Caroline has seen only really cares about her family
And says fuck off to everything else
And while Caroline may share that familial devotion and lack her sire’s tyrannical impulses, she believes in social order and even (perhaps) justice to an extent far more like his than Abelia’s

Pete: I think that’s a pretty fair view of her
She’d put family over everything else, but views social order and justice are required, in part to protect them.

[…]

Pete: Also, it wasn’t lost on me
that the fight between the two Lasombra was explicitly mirrored in the fight between Vidal / Maldy

Calder: Obtenebration is a pretty unique Discipline
Watching two users of it clash is even more so

Pete: is it its own discipline again?

Calder: no, it’s Blood Sorcery

Pete: mhm, just a specialization there

Calder: snowflake Disciplines are history
Just Blood Sorcery with a Theme virtually no other sorcerers take

Pete: or can take without training I presume

Calder: correct. In-clan only for Lasombra

Pete: its interesting, I wouldn’t have picked Vidal for a big Blood Sorcery guy
but I guess most of the elders should have it given it is more widely available in this setting

Calder: correct. In-clan only for Lasombra
There are plenty of elders who don’t have BS
But it’s probably no surprise the prince with a centuries-long Lasombra lover would develop Obtenebration

Pete: I mean, it is and it isn’t.
The only thing I don’t like about the BS swap for it is that makes its use reflexively feel very weird to me
i.e. when Vidal used it in a frenzy
It was an excellent / very cool visual, but lashing out with another Discipline just feels more natural

Calder: Actually not very many you can lash out with in frenzy
There’s Celerity/Fort/Potence

Pete: Potence ;)
Auspex, depending on which you have
#mind bullets

Calder: Frenzy generally doesn’t play well with the ones requiring independent cognition
You guys had some interesting talks about Vidal’s Disciplines back then

Pete: lashing out with telekinesis I could see though

Calder: Izzy pegged Vidal as not being a big Auspex guy and using Maldy for that
Continuing, you’re right that good rolls/tactics served to turn this fight around pretty significantly. First there was spotting the pack at all, then turning the shovelheads against them, and finally having the specific objective of taking out the pack leadership rather than the entire pack
All of which served to make this a much less difficult fight than it could have been
You also indeed noticed how the Sabbat didn’t bother with ghouls
The shovelheads were their ghouls

Pete: Which makes sense when your entire ideology is the kine are little better than livestock

Calder: And the fact no one needs permission to Embrace/can do it quite casually

Pete: Mass embrace really pissed her off though

Calder: Very clearly
Children
But even if not

Pete: Mhmm

Calder: Draught of Elegance was also a huge help
In getting all the vamps out in one piece

Pete: Mhmm, and sneaking in effectively I expect
I was glad that paid off though.

Calder: I don’t remember the exact rolls, beyond that Cimpreon got out on his own, and Westphal and/or Mahmoud only did via Draught
Helped out Celia too big time when Caroline gave it to her

Pete:



Calder: Disciplines that empower others tend to go pretty far

Pete: Mhmm. I was particularly pleased that none of them were quick and she was able to give them just a flat buff
well grounded group
getting a lot out of her largest Discipline investment was nice though
playing force multiplier

Calder: I’d figured it would be pretty circumstantial when you first took it
But it’s pulled through
And tends to make a difference since the people you’re empowering usually have fairly lower pools

Pete: I mean, she had a lot of ghouls, it was a good fit
also helped explain things like Polk

Story Twelve, Caroline X
False_Epiphany False_Epiphany

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