Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline VII, Chapter XII

Elder Gratitude

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: The Lasombra start to clean the scene up.

First is Mahmoud’s ghoul. She gorged herself on Kindred vitae before her death, so Mahmoud says she will have the woman’s corpse decapitated (not here, that’ll just leave a bigger mess) to prevent her from rising as a postmortem Embrace. Cimpreon suggests just burning the body, but Mahmoud replies cremation is taboo in Islam. “She can still pe puried facing Mecca eben if her head isn’t attached to her body.”

Caroline: A brutal measure, but understandable.

GM: “You care about that shit?” asks Cimpreon.

“She did,” is all Mahmoud answers.

“Suit yourself, so long as she doesn’t come back,” shrugs Westphal.

The Lasombra send their surviving ghouls to check the road ahead for IEDs wile they clean themselves up and change clothes, evidently packed in anticipation of running into trouble. The aged bodies of the Lasombra and Tzimisce are stored in the trunk of the car. Caroline also checks the road with the ghouls. Shrapnel can’t hurt her incorporeal form. If she could even trigger an explosion.

True to her prediction, she and the half-bloods locate and disarm a number of concealed and very nasty-looking IEDs.

Some of the unluckier Kindred might have been torpored right then and there. Survivors would’ve been softened up for the shovelheads and real Sabbat. It was a decent ambush.

“Too bad ‘decent’ wasn’t good enough,” Westphal sneers.

The coterie works as quickly as they reasonably can. It’s not long before a smaller, private-looking jet touches down near the parked cars.

“She takes zhe one we didn’t do it in,” Mahmoud mutters.

The other two nod their agreement as they approach the landed plane.

Caroline: “Many reasons for extra cars,” Caroline observes.

GM: “It’s unlikely she’ll be both capable of reading psychic impressions and bothering to do so, but it’s a precaution that costs nothing,” Westphal says.

“Smell, too,” says Cimpreon. “You have any idea how fuckin’ hard it is to get out blood out of car seats, to the point other licks can’t smell it?”

Caroline: Caroline genuinely laughs. “Yes, yes I do. Or much of anything cloth. It’s usually easier to burn it.”

She smirks at him. “I spend a fortune at Bed Bath and Beyond.”

GM: “Wonder how much business they owe to customers like us?” he wonders idly.

Caroline: “Enough that if you don’t space it out on different credit cards and ghouls it’d be a great way to identify licks.”

She pictures going through sales records, circling repeated purchases. Definitely a vampire here, new sheets every week—oh, and this must have been a banner week, every other day? Hussy.

GM: “Bloodier licks,” says Westphal thoughtfully. “If I were a hunter and had the resources, I’d put as many nearby stores out of business as I could. Or simply bribe retail wage slaves at each one to report any repeated sales to the same individuals.”

Caroline: Caroline nods insubstantially. “Easier with middle-aged licks, though—internet gets in the way otherwise. And there you’re getting the middle-aged failures that haven’t made something of themselves yet—low-hanging fruit.”

“Twenty years ago, though? Easy money there.”

GM: “Zhe world moves on,” says Mahmoud.

The plane door opens. A small entourage of ghouls file out, followed by a pale-skinned Kindred. She is an imperious woman with high cheekbones, coal-black hair, a slender, pointed nose, and spear-like blue eyes that don’t look into Caroline and her companions so much as stab into them. Her face is hard and cruel, and the air around her feels cold even to the insubstantial Ventrue. She’s dressed in a black pantsuit, leather gloves, and a long coat.

This is all?” she asks, looking between Caroline and the Lasombra.

Her voice isn’t critical.

That would be too kind a way to describe it.

Caroline: Elders.

“Welcome to Cairo, ma’am,” Caroline interjects, gliding forward before the others can respond.

“Other Kindred obviously await in the city proper, but we’ve been instructed to provide escort to those meeting from the airport.”

She gestures to the others. “An additional element of ghouls is securing the vehicles, but this is the Kindred force. A smaller but more elite group was judged to be an ideal balance of providing proper security to a dignitary without attracting undue attention from the kine or other elements.”

GM: “You may convey to your masters my dissatisfaction at your poor judgment and poorer initiative,” the woman answers imperiously. She strides towards the nearest vehicle without a glance backwards at Caroline or the Lasombra. Her ghouls trail around her, one opening the door first. She’s followed by two other well-dressed Kindred, a young-looking Caucasian man and woman, neither of whom look at their escorts either.

The Lasombra make their way to their own vehicles with hard stares, as if regretting disarming the IEDs.

Caroline: How might you have chosen your words more carefully had you known the architect of this plan? Caroline takes cold comfort in the fact that the rebuke, though landing upon her, is not of her.

“I’ll be certain to convey to my prince your dissatisfaction,” she provides politely, bowing low, as the elder swirls past her.

When the elder has passed she nods to the others. “I’ll keep watch from above. I need not tell you that if the first vehicle is immobilized the rest are to keep moving.” They previously agreed the first vehicle would contain only a single ghoul. “I’ll check in periodically.”

Of the elders comments she says nothing. They made their choice, their trade, between gentle words and actual power. It’s much too late to regret it now.

GM: Cimpreon mutters something dark-sounding but gives a nod. Mahmoud just glares angrily after the elder.

Westphal looks as if he’s wondering how she’d taste.

Caroline: She makes note of the elder’s female companion and wonders how she might leverage it to her advantage. You they knew by name, my dear.

GM: Everyone gets into their vehicles. The Lasombra take the ‘diablerie car.’ The elder’s two Kindred companions get into the same car as her.

The convoy drives. Dessert gives way to urban sprawl. They don’t run into apparent trouble.

Caroline: Caroline ranges ahead for most of the journey, swooping back through the night on occasion to check in on her Lasombra allies. Mostly though she appreciates the time to herself.

She needs it after what they did. The silence leaves her alone with her own thoughts.

GM: Maman would be proud. Wouldn’t she?

Caroline: She reaches out, takes the tie that binds them in her mind. Reassures herself that it’s still there.

The silence earlier had been deafening. She’d grown accustomed to it, to always having her to reach out to, to lean on.

But maybe that’s one of the gifts of this journey—reminding herself that she can make her own decisions. For good and ill.

She lets the thread go and drifts through the night, ever closer to the city.

GM: Out of nowhere, Maldonato’s astral form appears. A silver cord spirals from his heart off into infinity.

“Madam Kriemhild shall arrive at her destination without incident. Well done.”

Caroline: The words bring a whisper of a smile to her face, but only a whisper.

“She wishes me to inform you, Seneschal, of her displeasure with the party provided,” Caroline replies.

“Poor judgement and poorer initiative,” she quotes, her eyes still on the vehicles.

To do otherwise would require she meet his, and she fears what they might hold.

GM: “Her displeasure is noted, as is your own diligence in reporting it,” Maldonato replies. “Tell me of what you have learned tonight, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: A leading question or a loaded one? And if it’s loaded, is she loading her executioner’s weapon?

“I learned of you, Seneschal. And of him.”

There can be only one him in her life. God, doesn’t she see how easily the compromises he makes are made.

“Of Clan Lasombra, how your kin are both alike and different to other Kindred I have met.”

“Of the strength of many. My whole Requiem, I’ve fought all my battles alone. Tonight I didn’t have to. I valued that.”

“Of the delicate political situation in Cairo and the lack of unity of vision even among those in Clan Lasombra that desire entry into the Camarilla.”

GM: “I am pleased that your understanding of these things has deepened, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal replies. The night hangs still around them as Cairo’s lights and life thrum beneath.

“Tell me what you have learned of your sire.”

Caroline: There’s no polite way to say it, and she doesn’t pretend there is.

“Truthfully, when I looked upon those allowed to rise within Clan Ventrue, I saw at best pale imitations of him. Reflections so empty that I questioned how he might stand their sight, much less presence. Racists. Bigots. Liars. Headhunters.”

“Flawed men. I judged him for it, for his lack of discrimination, of what I thought was discernment.”

“And in him, I saw brutality and cruelty in his manner. I saw his fury roused and directed terribly.”

“But flawed men are better than the alternative. Better than what stalks most of the world. And we are, most of us, so very flawed no matter our intentions.”

“How easy it must be to look aside a man’s flaws when you’ve seen actual monsters that spit in the face of God.”

“And how hollow the rage I’ve seen in him now, knowing what his true rage must look like—those things that draw him not to issue harsh words, but to take up his sword and destroy.”

“Our experiences are beyond compare—not only a year against a thousand, but a world before the one we live in now. The Camarilla is all I have known. The bounds of a city wrapped in its dark cloak, in the frayed but binding rule of law.”

“What it must have been to see centuries without.”

GM: “I am pleased, too, by this broadening of your perspective,” Maldonato answers.

His gaze surveys the thrumming roads and cityscape beneath them.

“Few Kindred do not know of the Sword of Caine’s incursions into our city. Many take for granted your sire’s zeal in ensuring those blighted seeds, planted yearly every Carnivale, do not blossom into enduring fruits.”

Caroline: “You could spend your entire Requiem fighting only them and it would not be a wasted one. But nor, for most, would it be a long one.”

GM: “Yet nor did I bring you here merely to gain insight into your sire’s past, Miss Malveaux. The Sword of Caine fears our prince as they fear few other princes. In his absence, their incursions will grow bolder. More seeds shall take root in the archdiocese’s soil.”

Caroline: “Worse, I think, than you may believe, Seneschal,” Caroline agrees.

“Their dogma appeals to those that lack or fear faith, and faithlessness grows nightly.”

“You once counseled me on the value of the Sanctified, and the Gospel of Longinus, in a meaningful and fruitful Requiem. This night gave me fresh insight into that wisdom I had… received more poorly than intended at first.”

“If you do not believe that God has set you apart from the kine, it is very tempting to believe that something has set you above them—for as their superior all manner of sins become sport, and one need never grapple with one’s own.”

GM: “Few Kindred wish to believe themselves damned. It is a more pleasing thought to believe oneself exalted. Yet the cost of that pleasure is dearly paid for by others,” the seneschal concurs.

“But for all the evils you have witnessed tonight, you have also seen that it is possible for strong arms and brave hearts to drive back those evils, and for many individuals to succeed where one alone might fail.”

“What opinions have you formed of Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud?”

Caroline: “Very capable. Distinct from one another in their approaches in a complementary way. Practical. Lethal.” She runs her tongue across incorporeal fangs.

“Immoral.” She pauses. “Or at least different in their morality. Not beasts or savages, but… nor are they motivated by faith or any moral imperative.”

GM: “Pragmatism and self-interest are the guiding imperatives for many of our founder’s childer.”

“Do you believe the archdiocese would benefit from any of their additions?”

Caroline: “I believe that I could benefit from any of their additions, Seneschal,” Caroline replies. “Though Mr. Cimpreon and Miss Mahmoud present the more obvious assets in filling roles sorely needed. Mr. Westphal and I have the more considerable overlap in interests and perhaps temperament—for both good and ill.”

“As to the archdiocese as a whole… I think it mostly a matter of presentation and Clan Lasombra’s future. If the desire is to present the clan as highly capable, unyielding, practical, and ambitious—which I think it is—they are fine exemplars of those characteristics. I think they could carve out a place for themselves, and that place might help to normalize Lasombra—though obviously their presence might draw in additional Sabbat eager to destroy those very same symbols of normalization.”

“On the other hand, if the Sabbat does grow more aggressive with the prince’s torpor, known targets they may begin with, and skilled and trusted swords at our back rarely lack value, and they would have all the more reason to be wary of duplicitous offers.

She bites her lower lip. “Given the Sabbat and outsider considerations in the city, I might suggest an all or nothing position, regarding relocation. They will require their own mutual support structure early on.”

She pauses before continuing, “Their ambitions and different cultural norms also present challenges, and their introduction is likely to invite speculation and scandal, but rare is the blade that will not cut an incautious wielder. Popular support is already as low as it has ever been—to my knowledge—of the prince. I do not judge the additional questions they may raise to outweigh their individual value.”

“Especially as there are efforts that can be undertaken—should be undertaken—to rebuild that support prior to any transfer of power that require significantly less time and effort than growing three capable Kindred vested in their powers.”

GM: “It may yet prove an advantage should the Sabbat seek their destruction,” considers Maldonato. “If the Sword of Caine seeks to place new blades at our throat, it is preferable to know what veins they seek to cut. It is preferable for the Sabbat’s objective in the archdiocese to be assassination. Should they instead seek to convert your sire’s subjects to their cause, there are many disaffected Kindred who might prove receptive to their words. A slain subject is a subject lost, but a converted traitor is a subject lost and a foe gained.”

“I am but passingly acquainted with Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud. I have not shed blood alongside them. If you believe they would prove assets to the archdiocese, then it is foolishness to discard strength out of fear of wagging tongues.”

Caroline: “I should think they might find a city with a luminary elder of their own clan and another they are more than passingly familiar with rather inviting,” Caroline adds.

GM: “Then they shall be invited to make their domains in New Orleans, and Mr. Cimpreon’s banishment rescinded,” answers Maldonato.

Caroline: “Banishment?” Caroline asks, suddenly curious.

GM: “Mr. Cimpreon was involved in an attack upon Sheriff Donovan’s domain in 2010. He was punished and exiled from the city upon pain of final death.”

Caroline: Was he now. She likes him more already.

Curious, though, what brought him to New Orleans in the first place.

“I trust he’ll make the most of that second chance.”

An admission that he has his own concerns about the sheriff? A concession to hers? Or a coincidence. It’s difficult to say when the elder’s games run so very deeply.

She lets the silence hang for a moment.

When Fatimah asked her to speak to the seneschal she’d believed it something she had room, time, to weigh. Something she could set aside until she was more ready for the conversation without concern.

But that isn’t really true, is it? She thinks of all the Requiems that ended tonight—and might have ended tonight. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Her tomorrow more than most.

She breaks the silence softly, sliding into it like a diver into the water without a splash. “Your cousin, Seneschal, told me you feared I regretted my Embrace. That the matter weighed upon your conscience.”

GM: “In and of itself, Miss Malveaux, your regret does not weigh upon my conscience. Regret is an emotive response and means but little against the damnation of a human soul. Should you prove a worthy childe to your sire, and spare others death and suffering like you witnessed tonight, then a higher purpose will have been served by your damnation. A higher purpose will have been served by the suffering and death you yourself have wrought. These deeds already weigh upon mine conscience.”

“But should you prove an unworthy childe, whether as a consequence of regret or any other cause, then your damnation and the harm you have visited upon others shall have been for nothing. A terrible mistake will have then been committed in not allowing you to die a natural death, and one that shall weigh heavier still upon mine conscience.”

“Though I see greater potential in you than in your cousin, I believe his temperament more stable and better suited to the ordeals and trials of faith you have undergone. Kindred of mine years are disinclined to take risks. Yet the temptation to grant your sire’s vitae to an already dying woman, and to spare the life and future of another young man, proved too great.”

Caroline: Caroline mulls over his response.

“I cannot grant you absolution over the worth of my Requiem with words,” she replies. “Whether I succeed or fail as my sire’s childe in the lofty aspirations that role requires will be shown through time and action.”

“But even if your concerns lie only in the practical and rational measure of my efficaciousness, that the childe you sired, as surely as any sire, hated and regretted their existence, must be a weight.”

“I could not, would not, share this with your cousin, but would with you: had things all gone as you might have imagined and wished, your fears might have been realized.”

“Had I marched forward to my first meeting with the prince driven only by duty, all that I had once loved and cared for razed to the ground and trampled into the dirt alongside my pride, I fear precious little might have guided and driven me past that meeting.”

“Even duty, which can carry one past their physical limits, has its end.”

She bites her lower lip.

“It was not, is not, so. Though I know outside influence must always be the enemy of one’s faith in this existence, so too has that influence given me what had been taken from me by the events that shaped my Requiem: something to treasure, and to lose. And for that alone I will not bend or break.”

“For that, I do not hate or regret my Requiem. Damned though I am.”

GM: “Perhaps you are correct, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato reflects. “Duty must be born of love, and love must be guided by duty. Only a union of iron and carbon may produce true steel.”

“Love may be cruel. Love may care nothing but for the object of its affections. Love may trade the welfare of many for the happiness of few. Yet in so doing it may poison even that happiness which is most precious to it.”

“Duty may be cruel. Duty may care nothing but for the object of its goals. Duty may trade the happiness of few for the welfare of many. Yet in so doing it may poison even that social order it most desires to maintain.”

“In your second mother, I see love without duty. In your sire, I see duty without love. I see instructive examples for you in them both.”

“Perhaps duty alone would have motivated your cousin to fulfill his intended role, but what is done is done. Yours and not his is the hand that now wields a blade on your sire’s behalf, and better that you wield steel than iron. You may convey your second mother my thanks for her role in that blade’s creation.”

Caroline: “I am certain she would convey her own appreciation for your part in my ‘forging,’ seneschal,” Caroline replies.

“I do not judge that to have been an easy decision, given the suffering even the least of us is responsible for.” A beat. “And I am not the most benign.”

“May I convey an accord of sorts between you then?” she asks.

GM: “You may convey my thanks alone, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. The terms of our association are unchanged by the words you and I have shared. I name your second mother neither friend nor foe.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head. “As you wish, Seneschal.”

GM: “Your sire, your second mother, and my clanmates have valuable lessons to impart to one who is yet new to the night. Yet they are none of them faultless individuals, and they are also exemplars of behaviors you would be well-served to avoid. Take heed from their failings as well as their fortes, and beware that their worse inclinations do not become yours.”

The seneschal’s gaze rests steadily upon hers.

Caroline: He knows. She knows he knows. If he saw the battle she has little doubt he saw the rest.

She feels like a schoolgirl called to task by her favorite teacher, like she’s disappointed her father in public.

What can she even say? That it was a moment of weakness? Done with a purpose? A victimless crime? That she had to, for so many reasons?

All the excuses sound hollow.

And what penance can she offer? ‘I won’t do it again’ sounds so pitifully hollow when the crime was cannibalism and consumption of souls.

“I have no vices but love, and no ambitions but to make worthy my Requiem. The path to the latter has ever been fraught, but know that when I have strayed from it, Seneschal, it was in blundering from it, not turning from it.”

GM: “Come, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. There is another before whom you shall explain your actions this night.”

Maldonato’s astral form floats towards the city.

Caroline: The Ventrue continues after him in silence.

GM: “Near the time of my Embrace, there was a new arrival in the City Triumphant,” Maldonato begins. “He gave his name as Mukhtar Bey. He could claim no sire, nor would any sire claim him as childe. In an act then unheard of, he presented himself to Sultan Antonius.”

“An affronted Antonius directed his guards to tend to the clanless bastard, and was stunned by the ease with which Mukhtar dispatched his two would-be executioners. Mukhtar repeated his introduction and offered his services to the shocked Ventrue. Impressed, Antonius made the neonate his bodyguard. Mukhtar Bey served Antonius faithfully, and Antonius was equally loyal to his new vassal. In time, Mukhtar was more than Antonius’ bodyguard; he was his right-hand man.”

“Antonius had ruled Cairo for many centuries, but his praxis came to an end during the 15th century amidst the Kindred’s wars with the local Lupine population. Antonius’ childer were either slain, torpored, had established their fortunes in other cities, or were estranged from their now-slain sire.”

“Mukhtar Bey, by this time, had been the sultan’s lover, bodyguard, and confidante for nearly a century. None knew the inner workings of Cairo’s court as well as he. There seemed little alternative but to ask a Caitiff to serve as sultan. He has reigned over the City Triumphant ever since.”

“Prince Bey, who assumed that European title when the winds of change blew through the Middle East, is no tyrant as your sire. Cairo’s elders are ancient creatures not to be trifled with, nor treated with the casual flippancy so common among American undead. Prince Bey pays great heed to the advice of his consultative council and has maintained his rule through a simple policy: he will acquiesce to any reasonable demand that comes before him. The burdens of administering so large and cosmopolitan a city are immense, but his broad shoulders bear them well.”

Caroline: The message isn’t lost on her.

Her sire could be a tyrant. She cannot.

“It sounds as though there are many lessons I might take from Prince Bey’s rule,” she ventures.

GM: “Tell me of these, Miss Malveux-Devillers.”

Caroline: The heiress floats through the night. “Most obviously, Seneschal, my sire’s rule is not one I might aspire to, however much I admire it. Certainly not within New Orleans, where the city’s elders are not to the trifled with in a lesser but similar manner to Cairo. A more moderate path seems the most likely path.”

“Prince Bey may be a model for how that may be achieved. That he took power when there was a vacancy created without bloodshed through the position and respect he had gained is also an ideal model to aspire to in any change of regime.”

“That a Kindred of no great lineage achieved this in one of the great cities of the world dismisses claims as to the impossibility of such a task.”

GM: “Prince Bey is an unliving example that any Kindred, no matter how lowly their origins, may rise to high office and rule capably,” Maldonato concurs.

“Yet the then-sultan did not claim his throne without bloodshed. Merely without bloodshed authored by his hand. Many lives and unlives were lost in the Night of Long Knives that spelled the end of Antonius’ almost half-millennial-long praxis.”

Caroline: “No transition of power is without conflict, and no conflict without bloodshed,” Caroline agrees. “I simply meant to convey that it sounded as though his ascension was not a bloody campaign on his own behalf.”

GM: “It was not. Prince Bey did not seek the sultanate: others requested that he assume it. Few princes enjoy a more auspicious start to their reigns, especially when one considers Prey Bey was then only a century initiated into the Blood. Many of Cairo’s then-elders recalled an era when Christ’s faith was foreign to Egypt.”

Caroline: “Better him than any of them?” Caroline speculates. “A compromise of their varying agendas and desires rather than an all-consuming conflict?”

GM: “Prince Bey knew the inner workings of the old sultan’s court better than any other Kindred. Yet there are many elders who would sooner whisper into the ear of a throne’s occupant than sit upon a throne themselves. My cousin is one such elder. She has no desire to rule Cairo when Prince Bey is attentive to her counsel and receptive to her requests.”

“Were she or any of her peers to attempt to seize praxis, war would consume the Mother of the World, and could well result in the would-be prince’s destruction. Few of Cairo’s elders wish one of their number to rule directly.”

“Yet do not mistake Prince Bey for a simple puppet. It is testament to his perspicacity that he is able to accommodate the conflicting agendas and desires of so many puissant elders. Were the prince unable to shoulder that burden, he would have been removed from his throne long ago.”

Caroline: “I would not underestimate any prince so,” Caroline replies. It does remind her more of a legislative leader than the executive figure she has come to view the prince as.

“And of Prince Bey’s own agenda and desires?” Caroline asks.

GM: The city below them draws steadily closer.

“On the surface, those are the same as any prince: the protection of the Masquerade and the maintenance of the Camarilla’s and the Ashirra’s rule.”

Caroline: “A laudable, dutiful, if dry goal.” Stability has its own rewards.

GM: “You are not a native daughter of Cairo, Miss Maveaux-Devillers, yet nor are you wholly a stranger to the city either. You have shed blood upon her soil and conversed at length with one of her primogen. What agendas and desires might you ascribe to a Caitiff prince of the City Triumphant?”

Caroline: “A more open and tolerant city? Or at least the possibility of one?” Caroline speculates. “It seems home to many competing interests.”

“Though I understand that the simple managing of those varied elements might consume much of his effort. Especially with the Gehenna War in his backyard.”

[Rest of log to come]


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