Dead of Night: Tales from the Big Easy

CHAPTER FOUR: Lines in the Sand

You Gotta Make a Choice

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The cell door swings open into the concrete corridor. The bare light bulb throws the walls into stark yellow light and dark shadows as the coterie step out. Their Beast whines, dawn is coming and they have little time before the daystar rises.

Across from the cell, another cell door is half open, the room dark and full of shadow. From within the coterie hear a rustle of clothes and a low bestial growl. A pair of legs is whipped into the darkness leaving a bloody trail on the floor.

The bulb strikes feral murderous eyes in the cell. They stare out unblinking in their rabid hate. The Beast sends one simple single thought through the coterie’s bodies. Run! They have a head start, they’d better use it. The Taint sweeps over the coterie at whatever is in the cell. Foucault grits his teeth.

‘Split Up’ – Foucault heading up the corridor followed by Hampton.

Cross hesitates before breaking the opposite way. He feels the Vitae burn in his veins as his movements become preternaturally fast, accelerate by Celerity. He feels the presence of the Hound behind him… impossibly it seems to be closing.

Thinking quickly, Foucault calls to Hampton to tear out the lights. Hampton misses, howling in frustration as the grasping hands of another Hound seek purchase.

Cross reaches a steel reinforced door, tearing it open. It comes too easily. Outside dawn is in the air, a light blue streak stains the horizon. He can make out the shape of a 12 ft fence surrounding him on three sides. A growl from a dark shape stalking towards him confirms that he is in some kind of enclosure. Cross sprints for the fence, a claw flashing out of the darkness rakes his back. His undead body throbs with impossible speed as he leaps at the fence, neck and neck with the Hound.

The echoes of Foucault and Hampton’s footsteps down the corridor merge into those of the Hounds behind them, pursuer and quarry indistinguishable. They crash into the steels door. They quickly realise it is locked. They can hear the ‘things’ from the other cell move swiftly behind them, their growls turning to snarls. In blind panic Hampton tears the door from its hinges, the Beast giving him strength. Foucault and Hampton bail out, Hampton pulling the metal door shut and jamming it in place to delay the Hounds. Their arrival at the door is greeted by frustrated grunts, buying them valuable seconds. Ahead in the fading darkness is the floating light of a torch. They run in the opposite direction to a grey building advertised as ‘The Reptile Enclosure’, Foucault pulls ahead while Hampton resists the urge to look behind at the Hounds close enough to feel despite his delaying tactic.

Cross hurls himself at the steel mesh fence, landing about half way up, clinging with fingertips laced through the mesh. He drags himself up desperately trying to avoid the overhang. As he clambers up he spots a dark van parked in the shadow of a tree its engine idling. He also notices a brightly marked fuse box with a switch. The fence is electrified.

Pulling on what reserves he has left he navigates the overhand and trips the switch. His pursuer screams in pain as she is electrocuted. Cross drops to his feet and sprints into the darkness towards the van.

Foucault and Hampton burst through the swinging double doors of the Reptile Enclosure, struck by the sudden heat. The place is dark with only warm red light marking the path. They move quietly in the shadows hoping to buy valuable moments. They split up, Foucault heading towards the Snakes while Hampton moves to the ‘Gators. The pursuers pause at the fork before splitting up themselves. One Hound each and on their tails.

Cross makes it to the dark van, its engine a growling animal. He is startled by the group of 5 grungy looking men and women carrying bolt cutters, banners and bottles of beer. They are clearly more startled by his appearance than he is by theirs. The first rays of dawn break over the horizon, sending Cross’ mind into a whirlwind of primal fear. He pushes past the lethargy in his limbs and the Animal Rights Protestors but it isn’t enough. Steely claws wrap themselves around his limbs, dragging him to the floor. The last thing Cross feels is the wooden stake plunged into his chest.

Hampton bursts into the Gator enclosure, a high walkway over a fake swamp. As his feet hits the rope walkway the alligators slide into the water. He is halfway across when the rope walkway starts swinging. Glancing behind him, he sees his pursuer, a Kindred woman in a tailored knee length coat is shaking the ropes. She is laughing, her fangs out and claws drawn. Hampton hangs on like grim death as it swings wildly. Looking around he sees a drainage tunnel below him. Biting his lips with his fangs he desperately tries to slow the lethargy that is creeping over his body. At the opportune moment he lets go, diving into the drainage tunnel… hopefully losing his pursuer in the dark foulness.

Foucault runs full pelt through the snake enclosure, the snakes reacting badly to his presence. They hiss and spit silently at the glass partitions. Up head Foucault sees a dead end, a giant glass tank built in the wall. Beyond he sees two exits. Thinking quickly he leaps, ducking his head and crashing through the glass partition, his undead flesh lacerated by the shattering glass. Through all this the Beast keeps time with a pulsing metronome. Dawn is getting close. Despite his body trying to shut down he nimbly avoids the vipers as they try to strike. A hand, bloodied, pale and embedded with glass fragments catches his arm. Foucault shakes it off.

Hampton falls at the bottom of a pool of muck, mud and concrete dust. A corrugated tunnel leads at a downward angle under the street. Following it he reaches a manhole by a bus stop. He peers out as the light of dawn blisters his face, stumbling backwards he lets the manhole clang into place. He tries to push past the lethargy as he turns to see feral eyes in the dark closing fast on him. The strength leaves his body and his eyes close.

Glass scatters around Foucault as he avoids the street and heads in the direction of the Loading Bay. The open metal shutters throw dawn’s early light into the space, coating Foucault in its warm glow for an instant, scorching his flesh. With an effort of will he jumps into the shadows behind a lorry, using the Beast’s terror to give him the last dram of strength to pull himself up into the cool blackness of the lorry. The day sleep catches up to him but a dark shadow barrels out of the door way, knocking him off his feet as blackness swallows him whole.

The last thing all three remember before consciousness is snuffed out is the clap of thunder and the heaven’s opening. The hiss of pouring rain casts Cross’ mind back to 1954…

Blood trail

The heaven’s weep on New Orleans. Cross walks the streets of his coterie’s domain, slightly unsteady on his feet as the opium tainted blood courses through his body. He is due to meet Hampton and Foucault at the office. With the rise in Nosferatu, poaching has increased. There is one in particular who has been troublesome. The coterie is meeting to try and hunt it down.

Cross climbs the dark steps to the office, casually noticing that there are more cobwebs here than there used to be. The dust is thick. Perhaps they should bring in a cleaner or something but it’s not like any mortals come to this particular office.

He opens the door, expecting Hampton to be sitting somewhere in the shadows, glowering at something while Foucault stares out across the city lost in his own thoughts. The office is empty.

The noise of the rain hitting the window, the screech of the wind whipping around the building almost masks the soft knock at the door.

Ashley Tanner, Herald of the Invictus, steps forward. The Kindred has sandy blonde hair, a wide face and narrow brown eyes. He is dressed in a dark blue suit. He holds a dripping wet ivory handled umbrella.

Tanner looks unusually solemn, a Ventrue, used to commanding, tonight he looks like he is the one being commanded.

“Good evening, Mr Cross. Primogen Chastain would like a word” – Tanner

“I’m always at her willing service, Mr Tanner. Lead on” – Cross

A black car is parked outside. Tanner opens the umbrella to shelter Cross from the down pour and opens the rear door. He shuts it meaningfully after Cross before taking the passenger seat. He rattles off an address to the driver, vaguely familiar to Cross as a ghoul of the Invictus.

The car drives slowly but purposefully through the sodden streets. Mardi Gras maybe a faint memory but the revelry still continues despite the inclement weather. The driver honks the horn occasionally at party goers who linger too long in the street.

The black Packard pulls up outside a dilapidated mansion, apparently abandoned but for lights in the windows. Tanner gets out, popping the umbrella and opens the rear door for Cross.

Cross feels uneasy, cursing his lack of foresight at dismissing his bodyguards earlier in the evening. He follows Tanner up the cracked steps of the oak and brick mansion. The door is opened without needing a knock by a pale Kindred in her late teens. Her golden blonde hair cascades over her shoulders and back. Cross’ Beast snarls in hatred but he has seen her before if not been introduced. His blood starts to tingle as she introduces herself as Bonnie Delacroix. They are related.

Cross’ mind goes back to what Valentine told him about her past. Rhett infiltrated the Delacroix household and Embraced Valentine who did not go by the name Delacroix then, she was a slave used as a plaything, a tool, and a method of enjoyment. She rebelled against that and using her wiles and Kindred Disciplines she married Delacroix, the master of the house, ensuring that Bonnie, his daughter, was cut out of the inheritance. As soon as Valentine showed signs of independence from Carver he moved on to Bonnie, Embracing her.

Tanner and Bonnie lead Cross up an impressive red carpeted staircase. Although it looks like the entire place is falling to pieces, underlying that is a sense of opulence and luxury. The shadows seem to reach out to the 3 Kindred as they climb the stair case.

Bonnie opens a wide oak door to a bedroom, indicating that Cross should enter.

“Get changed” – Tanner

The door slams shut suddenly. Cross is alone. In the wardrobe is a sackcloth and broken sandals Cross stares at these shabby articles as an adjoining door creaks open. Cross quickly changes, realising this is some form of initiation. He carefully folds his clothes and places them on the bed.

An imperious cough draws Cross into the other room. An elderly Kindred woman, tall, thin and spindly sits at an antique desk facing Cross. Her hair is grey and scraped back in a bun. She is dressed in a severe black dress with an ivory cameo pinned at her throat. She fails to introduce herself, Cross has never met her before but he guesses that this is Mrs Butler, revered Judex of the New Orleans Invictus, an impartial judge used to make judgements and resolve disputes. A person of considerable importance in the covenant.

Mrs Butler raises her eye glasses to inspect Cross.

“What is your relationship to your sire Valentine Delacroix?” – Mrs Butler

“It has been remiss of late, we have had a falling out of sorts” – Cross

“How do you feel about your sire Valentine Delacroix?” – Mrs Butler

“How would you like me to feel?” – Cross

“That is not the question, I would remind you neonate that it is impolite to answer a question with a question”, looking down at a list, “Mr Cross” – Mrs Butler

“My apologies ma’am. Valentine and I did not part under the best of circumstances. I would be upset if I were in her presence right now” – Cross

“Would you kill your sire?” – Mrs Butler

“If the situation merited it” – Cross

“What is your opinion of Rhett Carver?” – Mrs Butler

“I’ve not known the gentleman for long enough to form an opinion. He seems a fairly decent sort” – Cross

“Would you, given his position in the Unconquered, obey his command?” – Mrs Butler

“Without question” – Cross

“What is the nature of power?” – Mrs Butler

“The ability to destroy that which stands in your way” – Cross

“What would be your course of action if your wife or child broke the Masquerade?” – Mrs Butler

“It would be regrettable but I would end them” – Cross

“What is your opinion of the Invictus?” – Mrs Butler

“We are the First Estate. They have always been and always will be. They operate through intelligence rather than monstrosity” – Cross

“A hypothetical. An Elder of the Invictus asks you to put to Final Death a rival in exchange for your choice of money, blood or a favour. What would you say, choose and how would you benefit?” – Mrs Butler

“I would say yes. I would ask for the favour and I would make sure that favour would be of benefit not only to myself but those that worked with me” – Cross

“Another hypothetical. An enemy of the covenant approaches you with information that an ally is going to double cross you. The enemy promises details in exchange for information of the covenant . What would you do and how would you benefit?” – Mrs Butler

“I would never reveal information about our organisation, especially to an enemy. I would feed them misinformation that was plausible enough to be considered as truth. At the same time I would inform my superiors in the First Estate who would guide my hand in a beneficial arrangement for us and then make sure my hand was invisible in these actions” – Cross

The lady stands pointing at a closed door.

“I am satisfied. You may proceed. Please remember you are a guest in my house” – Mrs Butler, sitting back down

“Thank you ma’am. I will proceed” – Cross

Cross walks towards the door and opens it. He looks back, the lady has vanished. Only a pool of blood lies on the bare floor, as he watches it seeps into the floorboards and disappears.

Cross enters a more opulent bedroom, intact and pristine. Nothing exists of interest in the room except a stand with a pearl necklace draped around it. Cross’ desire is peaked, he could have that necklace. No one is watching.

Cross resists the urge to take the necklace, his confidence shaken to the core. He walks on down a staircase.

A figure stands framed against the window, looking out at the pouring rain. It’s Rhett Carver.

“You Mr Cross are a disappointment. Valentine should never have Embraced you. You are a disgrace to this covenant and in my personal opinion you should rot and die. You are no better than the Unaligned.” – Cross

Cross endures Carver’s scathing criticism but is aware that his Beast is rising. He could feel it in his gorge and the tingle of his Vitae. He hurls himself at his grand sire but in a blink of an eye he is gone, the door slamming shut behind him. Cross hisses in unsuppressed rage, tearing the room to shreds.

He comes to his senses as a crash of thunder rolls overhead, the room a total wreck. Adjusting his sackcloth he attempts to recover his composure as he walks into an adjoining dining room, a large oak table highly polished to a shine takes up the long room. He startles another Kindred, an albino woman with white skin , white hair and pale pink eyes. She drops the oil lantern she carries, breaking on the floor in a rush of flame. She cowers in the corner as the oil fuelled flames creep towards her and the antique curtains, Cross leaps forward grabbing the antique curtains, putting them over his shoulder and leaves the Kindred to burn.

Cross makes his way through the corridors of the mansion, seeming to have a will of their own, leading left and right until two double, mahogany doors face him. He pushes them open and he enters a ballroom shrouded in darkness. A candelabra lights a small pool of light in the centre of the room, in front of it are three ornate chairs. Cross recognises Pearl Chastain, John Harley Matheson and Ashley Tanner. In front of the table is a naked figure, bound and gagged on his knees. He is blindfolded but he flinches as Cross approaches.

Ashley Tanner stands and picks up a cavalry sabre from the table and walks towards Cross. He unsheathes the sword, offering the hilt towards the Daeva.

“The bound Mekhet is a traitor to the Invictus and to truly become Unconquered, you must execute him” – Tanner

Cross takes the sword and tests its weight. He brings the blade down in a high arc, severing the figures head from his quivering shoulders. The body falls to the floor in a growing pool of blood. The blindfold slips as the head hits the floor, his eyes stare accusingly at Cross.

The hall is suddenly alight with music and people. Hampton and Foucault are among the onlookers, they rip pieces of tape from their mouths. A rolling applause fills the ballroom.

Pearl Chastain asks Cross kneel in the pool of blood. Ashley Tanner approaches with the Holy Bible and asks Cross to swear fealty to his lord, Pearl Chastain, the Invictus and Prince Vidal. Cross places his hand on the Bible and utters an oath.

Tanner intones the rules of the Invictus:
• The Masquerade before all things
• The Invictus must be respected
• The purpose of power is power
• Always make yourself available to the Invictus as a duty
• Appointments must be absolutely respected

The sackcloth and sandals are removed, leaving Cross standing naked. Rhett Carver walks forwards with a tailor carrying an expensive suit and tiepin in the shape of an I. Pearl Chastain walks forwards and hands Cross a gold ring with a pearl embedded on it. Ashley Tanner, with the cavalry sabre now cleaned and returned to its sheath. Pierpont McGinn steps forwards smoking a cigar and hands across a silver plated .45. He holds on for a fraction of a second too long and whispers “there’s one bullet in there half breed”.

Cross notices a gold ring with a pearl on McGinn’s finger.

Foucault notices Ashley Tanner approach McGinn, he stretches his senses to overhear

‘Please Pierpont, stop harassing your sister in blood. Rosa may not be Invictus but she is family. I would be displeased if anything were to happen to her’ – Tanner

Cross can’t help but feel a little sorry for the dead, headless figure and wonders who he was and where he came from. His reverie is interrupted by Hampton’s glare, clearly struggling with his Beast as he sees Cross being inducted to the covenant he should have been a part of.

Hampton walks up to John Harley Matheson, careful to ensure that Pierpont McGinn sees him talk. He knew Matheson when he was kine but had never realised him to be a Kindred.

“Mr Matheson, well bless my soul, I never realised you were Kindred” – Hampton, cowering before the force of Matheson’s Beast.

Foucault sees Matheson’s aura, a tranquil colour. He is calm and untroubled. Foucault however, is considerably troubled by the black lines bleeding through his aura.

“It is an honour and a privilege to see you and the weight of history that you carry. I’m very grateful to be in your presence. I was edified by the initiation of my coterie mate” – Hampton

“It is a fact sir that as time goes on, blood diminishes. He is a nigger” – Matheson

“Let us hope he may be elevated by the Invictus rather than the Invictus be polluted by his presence” – Hampton

“Amen to that” – Matheson, taking Hampton’s hand in a firm, cold handshake.

“You are not like the other Worms I have had the misfortune to encounter. There is a backbone to you sir, a degree of character” – Matheson, leaning in to inspect Hampton closer.

His eyes widen and he takes step backwards “Mayfair!”

“You perhaps know my family?” – Hampton

“I know of your family” – Matheson

“I have made a great study of my family perhaps with your seniority, forgive me if I overstep my place, you could help?” – Hampton

Matheson’s gaze travels to Hampton’s neck for a moment and he muses “Mayfair”.

“I believe this maybe an inopportune moment to have that conversation. You are welcome at my plantation whenever you want, despite my present misfortune which will be rectified. If there is anything I can do please do not hesitate to ask. But this gathering has been arduous for me and I must ask for you to excuse me. I do not wish to outstay my welcome” – Matheson

He gives a short bow and walks away.

Foucault’s ears pick up as Matheson walks out of the ballroom.

“Mayfair! This maybe some leverage on Pierpont. Interesting” – Matheson, talking to himself.

Foucault walks over to Cross and congratulates him on his new status. Foucault is mindful of Marcus’ advice, to watch and observe before undertaking action.

As per their agreed coterie dynamics, Cross casually shakes Foucault’s hand , dismissing him by turning his back to mingle amongst his privileged peers, pushing out his charisma.

He meets Pierpont McGinn properly, a rising star of the Invictus, having secured access to the Mayfair family’s considerable wealth and influence, he is a childe of the Herald, Ashley Tanner and despite his obvious distaste at Cross’ heritage he thaws a little under Cross’ Awe. It is clear he believes Cross is one to watch.

Foucault lets his hearing stretch out over the gathering. He picks ups on some chatter regarding the Mayfair family. McGinn’s success at bringing the Mayfair wealth into the First Estate is impressive but many are talking about Sebastian and the fact he has yet to be introduced yet. There is gossip that he is the brother of Hampton, the Nosferatu. It is clear that the Invictus want the Mayfair money and influence but they are afraid of Aaron Mayfair. The consensus around the room is that either Sebastian or Hampton would be ideal Kindred to develop as allies.
Conversation moves on. Some are talking about rumours of the return of Papa Iblis. A powerful Elder returning could shake up the situation in New Orleans somewhat. Others scoff reminding that the Baron took care of Iblis. It is unlikely he will be returning anytime soon. They point to Ashley Tanner’s involvement in aiding the Baron to deal the crushing blow. There are guarded references to Tanner’s ‘speciality’.

Pearl Chastain pulls aside Cross. It is clear she doesn’t like McGinn despite being his lord. It is also clear that McGinn does not realise this. Chastain thinks him crass and uncouth, a Kindred without subtlety, all blunt force and action. Chastain and Cross wander out into the garden. The Daeva Elder relaxes a little and begins to reminisce about a Kindred friend of hers. Maria Pascal, the sire some say of Antoine Savoy. Pascal disappeared, presumably meeting Final Death way before Cross was even born. There is a bitter energy to her words, it is clear that the only thing that would shake her current lethargy is revenge against the one who robbed her of her friend. She holds Savoy responsible for this death, explaining her deep hatred for her clan mate.

“Jacob, I want to ask you for a favour. Your grandsire, Mr Carver will ask you to a meeting, a business meeting that concerns redevelopment of the old Storyville ruins. He will ask you to be involved, you and your coterie. It will be of significant benefit to your coterie, money, power and influence. I would like you to ensure you and your coterie say no” – Chastain

“Of course Madame Chastain. Anything” – Cross

Foucault betrays no sign of overhearing this most private of conversations. His eyes slide across the room to Rhett Carver. It looks like he definitely wants to talk to Cross. Hampton crosses Foucault’s view as he bustles in on Pierpont McGinn, emerging through a haze of cigar smoke, grinning wildly with cold, white eyes.

“What a pleasure to see you” – Hampton seizing his hand and squeezing.

The grip is met firmly, for an awkward 5 seconds; there is a battle of wills between the two Kindred. The entire Invictus presence stops and watches the clash of two Beasts in human clothing.

And then a quiet crunch of bone as McGinn’s hand gives up under the pressure of Hampton’s grip.

“Nice to meet you again, Hampton” – McGinn gritting his teeth.

McGinn excuses himself and walks away from Hampton and the rest of the party. He stops suddenly, his back trembling. McGinn spins around, pistol in hand aimed at Hampton and fires point blank into Mayfair’s chest.

Gasps and sounds of dismay whisper through the gathering.

“Bad show!” – Hampton, still grinning, hand to his chest, his own Beast pushed to the back of his mind.

“Really sir? Where is that Southern decorum? I’d expect a lot better from one of the Unconquered” – Hampton

McGinn looks around, the Beast fading from his eyes. He turns, holstering his weapon and strides quickly out the ballroom, followed by sniggers and whispers, nursing his hand.

Cross leans in to a group of Invictus.

“What is a party without entertainment?” – Cross

“Does anyone have any tweezers to remove these bullets?” – Hampton

A cluster of Invictus gather to help the Nosferatu.

“Watch out there. The flesh is moist” – Hampton

Carver takes the opportunity of the distraction to approach Cross.

“Mr Cross” – Carver

“Thank you for being here Mr Carver” – Cross

“It is always a pleasure to welcome another neonate into the Unconquered. I believe we have a business interest that would be of considerable advantage to your coterie. I understand and appreciate that you have not incurred upon my agreement with Valentine. In recompense, I believe something I am about to seal with the kine could be of benefit to you. Would you be available in 3 night’s time to sit down and talk about it?” – Carver

“3 nights? I have a rather pressing social engagement at that time” – Cross

Carver’s face drops and darkens in disappointment and anger.

“Mr Cross, I do not have to include you in this conversation but I am” – Carver

“And I am very grateful” – Cross

“I would appreciate it in 3 night’s time that you will have cleared your calendar. The meeting will be at the Museum of Art in the City Park. It is Elysium so you should have no worries regarding your safety” – Carver

“I will do my best. I’ll let you know” – Cross bows and walks off.

He splits the Invictus as he walks away from Carver, the covenant’s ‘wildcard’. Half believe he is one to be watched; the others believe he doesn’t appreciate his Elders. A dangerous game.

Blood trail

Hampton hunts. He patiently stalks down transients and dock workers, clinging to shadows without success.

At the office, Hampton enters to find Cross musing in the office chair.

“I need to ask a favour” – Hampton, thickly

“I thought you would never ask Hampton. What do you need?” – Cross

“Hungry” – Hampton, his voice a whisper

“I know just the place” – Cross

Blood trail

Cross leads Hampton to a favoured opium den of his. Hampton finds the Blood thin, unsatisfying but it takes the edge off.

“This is subsistence living, Jacob. Hand to mouth. You’d think so long in the afterlife we’d have something to show for it” – Hampton

Blood trail

Foucault walks into the offices of Cross & Associates. He doesn’t find his coterie mates but a note is on the inside of the door, slipped under the crack.

“Tomorrow night. Meet at St Louis Cemetery #2. Come armed. Midnight.” – Maldonato

Foucault decides to visit Stella and Ash, his hunger a cold presence in his mind. He feeds rapaciously on Stella, the demon giggling at the attention. Foucault is satiated. The wounds on Stella’s neck heal.

Blood trail

Cross rolls his eyes at Hampton’s lack of subtlety. He walks the streets of New Orleans using his Majesty to advance on the ‘professional’ women of the city. Hampton gratefully descends on the whore Cross entices into the shadows.

“I needed that” – Hampton, muffled over the neck of his comatose victim.

“As I am sure I will need you” – Cross

“We should investigate that Museum. Before the meeting.” – Hampton propping the comatose whore against the alley wall.

“Agreed, but I don’t wish to anger any prominent figures” – Cross

Hampton straightens his soiled linen suit. He explains that he’s done a little digging and that on the night in question he has heard that there is an exhibition to be launched. A lot of prominent kine of the city will be in attendance. Where mortals go, Kindred go.

Cross considers. It could be an opportunity to mingle further. Or feed. Or possibly blood bond.

Hampton has heard that a Dominic Gage will be there, as will Antoine Savoy and Carlos Marcello, the new Don of the New Orleans Mafia. Word on the street whispers of a planned hit

Blood trail

Foucault talks to Stella about Ash’s request to have Aaron as his new tutor.

“The letter hurt. But it’s probably a good idea. Not many people could keep up with Ash, Aaron could. I’m worried with what’s been happening to the children. 6 and 7 year olds aren’t supposed to gather together like that. Perhaps Aaron could curb it; push Ash’s interest somewhere else.” – Stella

“Do we warn him about Aaron? Explain that he is hostile to us? That he regards us as tools?” – Foucault

Ash is at the doorway. “Tools? Really?” He smiles knowingly before walking to his room, getting ready for bed.

Foucault grits his teeth in frustration. The child knows something. Somewhere though is a sense of pride that this offspring of his is in some ways an equal. It’s refreshing.

“Write a note to Aaron. Ask if he would be interested in tutoring Ash.” – Foucault

Stella pulls out a piece of note paper and a pen. She quickly writes a missive to her father/ maker. Foucault nods with approval.

“I’m worried about him, Willem. He won’t tell you. He’s been having night terrors, that there has been somebody in the room with him. A boy in school, a friend of Ash’s, died. He died after being mean to Ash. There’s a strange presence at night. Creepy. I keep seeing a figure at the window out of the corner of my eye. But when I look, it’s gone.” – Stella

Stella’s eyes harden for a moment.

“Its not you is it Foucault?” – Stella

“Of course its not me” – Foucault

“It’s not one of you… ‘friends’ is it?” – Stella

“I’ll check in on the boy” – Foucault

Foucault investigates outside the house. The earth is soft and he finds a pattern of regular footprints below Ash’s window. They are high heels, obviously female. They cross each other and it looks like this has been going on for some time. Someone has been watching Ash.

Foucault follows the path the footprints take. He eventually narrows down the pattern of prints and makes his way through Uptown following these footprints and signs of recent passage, all the way to the gates of the mansion where Cross was initiated. Foucault casts his mind back to the residents of the house. All female, all Invictus. Mrs Butler, the Venture. Bonnie Delacroix, the Daeva. Felicity Bron, the Nosferatu.

Foucault concentrates his angst and uses it to invoke Aldous MacArthur. The ghost’s ephemeral form coalesces next to the Mekhet. As he does so, Foucault gets a spike though the Predator’s Taint. He was or is Kindred.

“This has nothing to do with the Nameless of Belial’s Brood. Ash is important, I have been watching and it is the one called Felicity who is oddly compelled to watch Ash, to protect him, to make him safe” – MacArthur

Foucault calls the office to ask Hampton to seek answers amongst the Worm Underground. They are of the same Clan. Someone must know something. He returns to Stella who ignores Foucault’s attempts to talk, dragging him into the bedroom.

Blood trail

Jacob meanwhile reads Julianne a bedtime story, she quickly falls asleep. Cross resists the urge to take a quick bite from her innocent flesh. He makes his way to Ash’s bedroom.

Ash is wide awake, looking at the window. Cross notes a flicker of movement but he pretends to ignore it. He takes a book from the shelf, one of Ash’s favourites, Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart’.

He starts reading, acting out and moving around the room getting as close to the window as he can, keeping track of the figure from the corner of his eye.

There is a closed window between Cross and the figure. He check’s Ash’s expression, wondering if any confrontation would unsettle or damage the child. Ash is oddly calm, a sly slight smile on his lips.

“It is the beating of the Telltale Heart!” – Cross screams and launches himself through the window, glass shattering around him.

He manages to grab hold of the figure, a flash of pale skin, red rimmed pales eyes and hissing fangs.

They tumble down one storey, Cross finds his feet first. He recognises Felicity Bron, the albino Nosferatu from his Invictus initiation. The one he believed went up in flames.

“You. You’re already dead.” – Cross grabbing Felicity by the throat.

Cross bends down over her still jugular, sudden heat hitting his face as Vitae burns through her cold flesh. Her head snaps forward, butting Cross and loosening his grip.

“Foucault!” – Cross shouts

Foucault alerted by the crash of breaking glass in Ash’s room, leaps through the window as Felicity breaks into a run. He spreads himself wide, almost gliding down over the Nosferatu. His fingers get a grip on her expensive suit jacket, as they do they brush her pale skin casing a shiver of disgust to run through Foucault’s body. He pulls her to the ground.

“Give me… he’s so special” – Felicity, staggering to her feet.

“I know. I understand. I just wanted to thank you for keeping watch over him” – Foucault

Felicity looks from Cross to Foucault and leans into the Mekhet.

“What does he taste like?” – Felicity

Foucault snarls.

“I wouldn’t know and if you were ever to find out I would tear you to pieces” – Foucault

Felicity begins to fade from sight but with an effort of will Foucault manages to keep sight of the insubstantial blur, grabbing her arm and throwing her back against the wall of the house.

“Don’t hurt me!” – Felicity

Foucault can feel his anger rising at the sight of the huddled albino.

At the question of what Ash tastes like, Cross can’t help but wonder the same thing. He glances at the glass sharded hole on the second storey. Cross knows that Felicity is known as a respected hand of the Invictus. She is known for cool, calm and rational decisions. She isn’t known for her emotion. She is definitely acting against her reputation.

Blood trail

Hampton strolls around Felicity’s haven, following a tip off from the Worm Underground that she makes her dwelling at Mrs Butler’s mansion. He ensures he puts his soil stained fingers over anything that looks personal. He finds a wall covering grainy photographs of Ash Mayfair. Despite the low light levels when the photographs were taken, his pale face is clearly visible. At first glance what appears to be a smudge seems to be some kind of blurred aura caught on camera.

Hampton pockets one.

His foot steps on a creaking floorboard and the house seems to sigh.

Blood trail

Cross moves closer to Foucault, the shadows at the side of the house throw his coterie mate’s face into darkness.

An invisible figure materialises as Foucault concentrates his anger, the refined features of Aldous MacArthur become visible.

“This lady wants to know what my son tastes like. I would like to know why” – Foucault to MacArthur

“I don’t know” – Felicity wailing

“I saw him with his mother in the Garden District. He was, he is beautiful. So strange, so different, so captivating. He needs protecting. He’s special” – Felicity

“I know that” – Foucault

“Do you?” – Felicity

“I do” – Foucault

“I don’t think you do know how special he is” – Felicity, a fleck of scorn creeping into her voice.

Foucault takes a step forward, flanked on one side by Cross and on the other the invisible form of Aldous MacArthur.

“Really? You don’t think I realise how special my son is?” – Foucault

“Yes. I know him better than you do” – Felicity

Foucault loses his grip on his anger for a moment as the Beast surges through him. He leaps at the Nosferatu, his voice coldly calling for MacArthur to bring down his wrath upon Felicity Bron.

Felicity meets Foucault’s Beast but the Mekhet flings her to the ground, chunks of blood, hair and flesh in hands and between his fingernails.

Aldous MacArthur doesn’t move. He looks at Foucault, up to Ash’s window, he looks at Felicity’s bloody form and then back to Foucault.

His shape shimmers and changes into the twilight form of Azazel. He sneers at Foucault before flitting to the room of Ash Mayfair.

Foucault feels the shock drain the Beast’s anger. He clambers up the side of the house. Cross is left below, in shock and confused.

“Its Azazel” – Foucault to Cross

Cross draws his gun on reflex.

“Nut job” – Cross mutters

“Make him stop Cross” – Foucault reaches the window ledge, pulling himself up

“STOP” – Cross shouts, pushing out with his Majesty.

Foucault crouches on the window sill. The spectral form of Azazel is frozen in place before the bed of Foucault’s son.

“Is that really supposed to work? The last time I stopped it was because I was meant to” – Azazel, twisting his neck to observe Foucault a cruel smile on his face.

Azazel turns his gaze to Ash, Foucault can see his boy start to choke, his eyes pop open and bulge focused on Foucault at the window.

Foucault thinks quickly. Azazel has been posing as the ghost of Aldous MacArthur. It is no time to think of what he has learnt. MacArthur’s anchor would have no effect on the spectral form. Regardless of what Azazel said, Foucault believes he commanded him before. Foucault’s power over spectres has grown considerably over the last 7 years. Perhaps he could command him to stop.

Foucault reaches out with all his remaining focus. Vitae bleeds from his eyes as the projection of Azazel flickers for a moment.

Foucault drops to his knees, the focus gone, his will spent. Azazel’s will is too strong. He failed.

His son will die.

Blood trail

The house’s atmosphere seems to shift slightly, shadows are darker, the air is thicker and more oppressive, every noise is amplified.

Hampton turns to the window to leave. The storm shutters, securely fastened outside now cover the open window. Hampton doesn’t like this. One bit.

He punches through the wood of the heavy shutter, long splinters lacerating his arm. Behind him the sound of the door opening causes him to tense and look around, ready for a fight. No one is there. The door stands ajar.

Hampton turns back to the window. The wooden shutter is undamaged; there is no sign of the ragged hole he made with his fist. He runs to the door which swings shut as he approaches, the lock turning loudly in place.

He’s trapped.

And then the lights go out.

Blood trail

Foucault is aware of the space around him starting to distort, the room seems bigger. Ash and Azazel appear miles away, the dimensions of the room how looking more like the Invictus ballroom.

A faint whine grows in prominence like a crystal reverberation filling the air

Foucault has encountered this distortion before. Aaron Mayfair is approaching.

Ash’s eyes bulge, his young face has gone purple. He’s staring at his father hopelessly. Azazel stands over him, a cruel look of satisfaction on his face. Pressure marks are visible on Ash’s windpipe, despite Azazel not touching him.

Foucault runs forward, plucking Ash from the bed scattering bed clothes everywhere. He calls for Stella, screaming her name. He feels the presence of Azazel right behind him as Ash takes a wheezing gasp.

Cross stands over Felicity Bron, she is looking up at the window clearly in conflict. Her natural instinct to flee is married with her instinct to protect Ash.

Cross slaps her across the face.

“Pull yourself together. Get up there” – Cross, standing back.

Felicity Bron helps Cross climb the outside of the house to the window. They drop into the room. Cross sees Foucault’s hand reaching for the door knob. The distance is impossible; Ash’s room is bigger than the entire area of the house yet seems to be enclosed by it.

They are both hit by the force of the whine, the humming quickly becoming more painful. Everything moves in slow motion, a tapestry of tragedy writ large. Foucault reaching for the door, Cross running after Foucault, Felicity Bron at his side. Azazel looms over Foucault and his dying child, sheltered in his arms.

The whine is extremely painful. It feels like the inside of their heads will explode, almost resonating with the whine on some unknown psychic frequency. Stars dance before their eyes, the room not only widens but it twists.

Stella runs her finger around her wine glass, dipping it into the pale yellow liquid. The whine fades to match the sound her finger makes around the circle of the glass. Foucault and Cross sit at a dining table; the remains of a meal are untouched and cold. Stella’s plate is covered in the detritus of a dinner.

Foucault feels weaker all of a sudden. Both Cross and he share a look, disorientated they both have no idea what just happened.

“This is a bad thing” – Foucault

“What did you do?” – Cross

Stella is drunk, swaying slightly as she runs her finger around the outside of the glass. She meets neither of their eyes.

“Stella what just happened?” – Foucault

“He’s gone” – Stella

“Who?” – Foucault

“Who? Our son” – Stella, throwing the wine glass at the wall

“Who took him?” – Foucault

“He did” – Stella

“Aaron” – Foucault

“Yes Aaron” – Stella

Foucault and Cross struggle to remember anything. It’s not even a blur. Just a moment of lost time.

Foucault has felt this before. Cross feels violated somehow. He also feels weaker than he did before. The clock ticking on the mantelpiece shows little or no time has passed. About 9pm. Yet something feels different.

Foucault recognises the dining room of the safe house he shares with Stella, Ash and Julianne. It is deathly quiet apart from the ticking clock.

Stella stands, unsteady on her feet. She walks to the kitchen, returning with a fresh bottle and another glass. She drives the corkscrew into the top of the bottle twisting several times before yanking the cork out angrily and filling her glass to the brim. She sits back down, dipping her finger into the glass and starts making the crystalline whine again.

“I’ve been patient. I’ve been reasonable. I’ve even tried to get along with him, despite his disgusting attitude but this is too much now” – Foucault

“Why haven’t you done anything? What stayed your hand?” – Cross, confused

“Aaron Mayfair is a very powerful will worker. He has power over the mind. Specifically, my mind. So there is no real way I can do anything. I’ve tried to reconcile myself to this. I’ve tried to reach out with an olive branch. But he slaps me in the face, spits in my eye” – Foucault, cold anger creeps into his voice.

“Why do people have such a problem with you?” – Cross

“It’s complicated” – Foucault

“When is it ever not with you Foucault?” – Cross

“When we were hunting Belial’s Brood, one of the Mayfair’s, Seth I believe, was part of the trio of killers. I managed to find out via one of his victim’s spirits where he was. I went with the vengeful spirit to kill him. I admit now that this was rather rash. At the time I believe I had the advantage” – Foucault

“We’ve all been there” – Cross, sarcastically

“I didn’t realise that that was the house of Aaron Mayfair, who caught me there with Stella” – Foucault

Stella drops a bleary wink without any humour, at Cross

“If you know what I mean” – Foucault

Cross pushes himself back in the chair.

“So basically you’ve been fucking with what’s his” – Cross

“Yes” – Foucault, reluctantly

“Boil it down. Its basically ‘you’ve fucked with what’s his’” – Cross

“He didn’t…” – Foucault

“And now he’s fucking with what’s yours” – Cross

“Exactly” – Foucault

“When do you think he’s likely to think this debt will be repaid?” – Cross

“He seems utterly insane so unfortunately… I’m usually quite a good read of character but this time” – Foucault

He shows Cross a letter.

“When I tried to reach out to him and make amends” – Foucault

“Tricky” – Cross, reading the letter

“He’s not the most reasonable of people” – Foucault

“He doesn’t seem the most balanced of people” – Cross

“There are quite a few things he has done that make me feel it is a little rich for him to take the moral high ground. That aside, he is… what he is… an utterly insane, powerful will worker who has stolen my son” – Foucault

“I can’t remember how we came to be here” – Cross

“I have no idea” – Foucault

“So he’s been in my head too?” – Cross

“Yes” – Foucault

“How do we know, if he can restructure our minds that any of this is really happening?” – Cross

“That’s a rabbit hole we have to avoid going down” – Foucault

Stella laughs. Too loudly.

“You don’t” – Stella

“Stella. That’s not helping” – Foucault

“Another fine mess you’ve gotten me into Foucault!” – Cross

Foucault looks non-plussed.

“We can’t actually fight him. We’re compromised” – Cross

“Yes” – Foucault

“So we find someone else who can” – Cross

“Yes” – Foucault

“How are his relations with the Invictus do you think” – Cross

“I believe he wants control over the Kindred Court. Potentially he’s got alliances or ‘mind hooks’ in people in high places. Perhaps the Mafia? A bullet could do more than any supernatural power” – Foucault

“Worth a try but if it goes wrong it leads directly back to us. If he can read our thoughts he would know you would do that?” – Cross

“Yes” – Foucault

“I don’t suppose there are any other mages you haven’t fucked with in N’Awlins?” – Cross

“I only know the one and he’s put me off any others” – Foucault

“We have to hope they can’t all be psychopaths… We’re going to lose” –Cross

Foucault assents.

“How badly do you want the kid back?” – Cross

“Very badly” – Foucault bluntly

“Me too. God knows why” – Cross

‘How about I make enquiries via Marcus’ – Foucault

“Do you trust him?” – Cross

“At this point I trust him more than a will worker we’ve never met before” – Foucault

Stella’s nails tapping against the oak tabletop stops. She slams her hand down, knocks her glass aside and stands; she strides out towards the front door.

Foucault follows after her into the narrow hallway.

“Stella?” – Foucault

Stella screams.

Foucault takes a step back from the scorched and rotting corpse, pinned in a crucified fashion across the inside of the front door. It is dressed elegantly in tasteful understated business wear; a high heel has fallen on the floor.

Foucault notes the pale, almost white hair. Jacob runs into the hallway and swears under his breath.

Foucault remembers:-

• Aaron battling Azazel, the bedroom shaking with the force of the conflict of two wills
• The dying body of Ash in his arms, obeying the command of Aaron to bleed into his son’s mouth and the sudden rush of colour in his pale face. A ragged indrawn breath.
• Felicity Bron trying to snatch Ash from him. Aaron Mayfair catching her gaze. Her body going limp and walking out the room.
• Dawn. Safe in the haven, impossible to move as the lethargy creeps across his limbs. A faraway scream, female in pitch, terror and indescribable pain cut off in a dry rasp

“You’ve got that look on your face again.” – Cross

“Yes” – Foucault, looking after Stella as she backs away, her own scream ended. Her mouth still open wide.

“Who is that?” – Stella

“I think that was Felicity Bron” – Foucault

“I need to report this” – Cross

“Yes. Yes you do. Because Aaron Mayfair has just killed a member of the Invictus” – The glee evident in the Foucault’s voice.

“They might be able to help out” – Cross, doubt in his voice.

“Indeed. Poor Felicity” – Foucault

“Useful though” – Cross

Foucault stops his smile fading.

“This is a night later” – Foucault

“Just don’t talk to anymore dead people just yet” – Cross

“Or not…” – Foucault reaches out his hand, feeling with his sense. There is a slight trace of a presence. He tries to call on the Felicity’s spirit but as quickly as it appeared it fades again. If Bron had a soul or a spirit, it has moved on.

Foucault and Cross tear down the remains of Felicity Bron, wrapping her up in tarp and sacks.

“Your car” – Cross, looking at the ooze seeping through the sacking.

At this point Foucault realises Stella has gone, the back door bangs in the wind.

“Take my car. I’ll stay. I’m concerned about Stella” – Foucault

Cross looks at the corpse.

“It’s probably not a good idea you are me with me anyway, Foucault. You are not Unconquered.” – Cross

They arrange to rendezvous outside St Louis #2 for the meeting with Maldonato at midnight.

Blood trail

Cross drives carefully, unwilling to attract attention with a Kindred corpse in the trunk. He passes through Uptown heading for the Lower Garden District and Pearl Chastain.

The streets are quiet; Jacob takes back streets to avoid attention. A Plymouth passes, its headlights shine directly into the car, dazzling Cross. He can’t help think of a full moon. For some reason he thinks that is important.

He pulls up outside Pearl’s haven, a lavish if faded house in the Lower Garden District. He nervously knocks at the door.

It is answered by a tall, handsome young Adonis. He is stripped to the waist, muscles oiled. He zips his fly nonchalantly, staring at Cross.

“Can I help you?” – Adonis

“I need to speak to Pearl. It is a matter of some urgency” – Cross

“Madame Chastain is currently occupied. Whom shall I say is calling?” – Adonis

“Mr Cross. Tell her I have some disturbing news about Miss Bron. One of us.” – Cross

“Very well Mr Cross you can wait in the drawing room” – Adonis

“He leads Cross into the drawing room, it’s covered in dust, clearly not having been used in a very long time.

Cross waits patiently for about half an hour before the drawing room door opens and Pearl enters, wearing a negligee that she lazily covers up with a gossamer thin robe. Her hair is messed and her feet are bare.

“Madame Chastain, apologies for disturbing you but there is something you should see” – Cross, kissing Pearl’s hand.

“I’m not really dressed for leaving the house Mr Cross” – Pearl, taking a pull on a cigarette

“I don’t want to sully your house. Perhaps I should just tell you” – Cross

“”Perhaps” – Pearl, reclining on a spider infested chaise long.

“Felicity Bron has met Final Death” – Cross

“Tragic” – Pearl tapping ash on the floor

“Aaron Mayfair was the one who made it happen” – Cross

“Aaron Mayfair. As in ‘the Mayfairs’?” – Pearl, her body lounging but her voice suddenly sharp

“I believe that is the one yes” – Cross

Pearl leans forward.

“I wasn’t acquainted with her, only in passing but this is a grave trespass. I thought it prudent to tell you. Her body is in the car” – Cross

Pearl stands, smoothing her robe.

“David. There’s something in Mr Cross’ car that I wish you to bring in the house” – Pearl, raising her voice.

“Yes my beloved” – David the Adonis, walks in with a bow. He glares at Cross.

“Please do so quickly” – Pearl

“I’d use the servants entrance David” – Cross

“Yes, Madame Chastain” – David leaving after another bow.

“I will inform Mrs Butler that one of her own has expired. I do not know how much help that I can be. Why did Aaron Mayfair do this?” – Pearl

“Why does Aaron Mayfair do anything? His motives are very confusing to me” – Cross

“He certainly seems to dislike our kind, that is why there are strict… guidelines towards not antagonising him. He would not have attacked unless he were provoked” – Pearl

She takes a long pull of her cigarette, blowing the smoke from her nostrils. They flare.

“Did you provoke him? Be honest.” – Pearl

For a moment, Cross sees Pearl as an alluring sexual figure, offering comfort and confession. He fights past the vision of her Majesty.

“I’m not aware of any offence I may have given Aaron Mayfair. Then again perhaps the rules have changed and we were not brought up to speed” – Cross

Pearl sits back down.

“Troubling” – Pearl

“Indeed” – Cross

“But how do we use this to our advantage?” – Pearl, absently

“I hope your many years of experience could furnish me with a better plan than I could come up with” – Cross

“I… don’t really see how I could be of service. This is a little outside my area of knowledge. Perhaps… you should find out why Aaron Mayfair has attacked?” – Pearl, crossing her legs slowly.

“With standing instructions not to engage or associate with him, that might be difficult” – Cross

“Don’t approach him directly, use your resources, use the First Estate to unpick the thread” – Pearl

“Would it be advisable to take some action? I’m merely thinking this is a grave insult to the First Estate and if were seen to do nothing it would damage our credibility” – Cross

“The Invictus must be respected but Felicity was well aware of the guidance concerning this… man. I would be tempted to say let sleeping dogs lie and chalk this up to… a tragedy” – Pearl

“As you wish” – Cross

“If that is all I feel the need for a massage. David should be done now” – Pearl.

“Very well. Thank you for your council. As always it is appreciated. I’ll keep you in the loop. Have a pleasant evening” – Cross

“Oh. I always do.” – Pearl, smiling coldly, a tone of bitterness in the words.

Cross bows and leaves. He overhears:

“David. Bring the oils” – Pearl, wearily

Cross closes the door, racking his mind for any Unconquered who might be a little more rash than his lady and master.

Cross swings his car keys on finger, a sudden look of determination on his face.

He walks towards the car

Blood trail

Foucault goes to the back door stopping it banging with one hand. The small yard is empty; there is no sign of Stella.

He shuts the door carefully and turns the key sharply in the lock.

His other hand clenches and relaxes as he forces the Beast into a corner, his thoughts becoming cooler and clearer.

He doesn’t need Stella right now. He needs someone else.

Blood trail

Cross searches bars and jazz joints until he finds a redneck ghoul who he knows has connections to the Ku Klux Klan. He is clearly a bigot and a racist as sits on the bar stool supping a beer, refusing to look at the Creole Cross.

Jacob’s Majesty is enough to get an address reluctantly scrawled on a stained bar napkin.

Blood trail

Cross pulls up outside a Church hall in Uptown. Cross opens the inner door to see a circle of white hooded figures standing before the Southern flag. A figure is talking in the midst of the circle.

“… it is not the niggers we need to worry about. We keep them in their place, as we always have done. It’s the nigger lovers we need to watch. Those who will support them in some misplaced guilt, those who shelter them from their master’s punishment and worse of all those women of loose morals or weak character who lie with the beasts of the field…” – Pierpont McGinn’s distinctive twang rings out in the small space.

Pierpont sees Cross standing in the doorway, the circle turns to see what has interrupted one of their own. The temperature in the room drops, a stony silence fills the hall.

Pierpont tenses.

“Excuse me” – Pierpont, striding towards Cross, pulling his hood off, careful not to show his face to the circle.

Cross backs out to the street.

“Mr Cross” – Pierpont, turning his head left and right, checking the street.

“Mr McGinn” – Cross

“How did you find me?” – McGinn

“A man in my position is expected to have an ability to track down people. Its not important how I found you, but why?” – Cross

“How did you find me?” – McGinn, gazing into Cross’ eyes.

Cross spills the description of the redneck, handing McGinn the napkin with the address on.

“I hope he isn’t in too much trouble” – Cross

McGinn smiles thinly, tearing up the napkin into small pieces, letting them scatter on the wind.

“Onto the other matter. Why you found me.” – McGinn

“I hoped we could reconcile the bitterness between you and my coterie. I know that…” – Cross

“You’re a nigger. Or half-nigger. You’re low blood” – McGinn

“Surely the Blood…” – Cross

“Speak up boy” – McGinn

Cross considers quickly. He changes his tack as McGinn lights a cigar, blowing smoke in his face. He plays the ‘good nigger’, he isn’t capable of taking action against Aaron Mayfair but McGinn could, if he could remember Cross in the future he would be mighty grateful.

“It’s my duty to serve my betters after all” – Cross

Pierpont pats Cross on the back, absently wiping his hand on his robe afterwards.

“Thank you boy. You did the right thing coming to me. I’ll see what I can do, pass this on to Mr Tanner” – McGinn

Cross nods and smiles. McGinn smokes, looking down the street. He turns back to Cross.

“You still here?” – McGinn

“I’ll leave” – Cross

“I would. Some of my … friends aren’t as forgiving as I am” – Pierpont, walking back to the church hall.

Blood trail

Foucault steps out the car. Marcel needs no instruction to keep the engine running.

He looks up at Warehouse #9, a dark and lonely building behind wire mesh fencing. It’s been 7 years since Marcus took up residence here and 7 years since Foucault arranged for the security guard who still recognises him.

“Evening Mr Foucault” – Security Guard

Foucault glances at the guard as he steps through the gateway; the guard holding the gate open respectfully for him.

He walks up the rickety metal staircase to the small door on the first floor. The light bulb above the door has been smashed, creating a pool of shadow that Foucault finds comforting.

He knocks and the door opens a crack after a few moments. A pungent mix of odours escapes before the solitary eye appears floating in the darkness beyond. Foucault makes out sulphur, a light, fragrant herb-like smell and a sharp, caustic incense.

Marcus opens the door wider. Foucault has never seen is sire like this before. His hair is tousled and dirty, his suit is rumpled, shirt unbuttoned, tie loose. He looks around hurriedly before stepping back, beckoning Foucault inside. He shuts the door behind his childe, quietly slipping bolts and locks into place.

“Foucault” – Marcus

“Marcus” – Foucault

Marcus flashes a weak smile and leads Foucault along the gantry above the warehouse floor towards a thin walled office at the closest corner where two gangways meet.

Foucault looks down into the warehouse. A pentagram in a circle extends to fit the cleared floor of the warehouse. It is lit by hanging lamps that run the length of the building. Some aren’t working, some flicker periodically. Those that do show groups of large black candles at points of the pentagram. In the centre is an old, busted down padded leather chair. Shackles have been bolted to the arms and legs. The chair is empty but around it are smears and splatters of blood. Some are very old, dried brown. The fresher marks stand out as a wet, ruby red.

This is a summoning circle. Foucault knows that this is either to summon and bind a demon or to summon a demon of a particular vice, that of Sloth.

Doing mental calculations, the demon Marcus is trying to summon would be extremely powerful.

He looks around the warehouse space with his vampiric senses. The very fabric of the reality here is being distorted. Hands and heads seem to push against the very air. The walls of the warehouse stretch and bend like rubber. The air in here is cold, much colder than outside. Frost has formed on the windows and the metal girders. The warm New Orleans air condenses as it tries to enter the warehouse, forming streams of vapour through the open windows. Screams of pleasure and pain alternate and overlap, just beyond the range of hearing.

Marcus hurries Foucault into the office space and locks the door. There are two doors in the office and both are covered in the seal of Solomon. The window overlooking the warehouse floor is similarly marked. Runes and hieroglyphs have been inscribed into the frames of both.

Marcus visibly relaxes as he turns to Foucault.

“It looks like we have quite a lot to talk about but for now I’ve been playing along with Aaron Mayfair to see what he will do. It looks like he has played his hand. Ash was having night terrors…” – Foucault

“Ash?” – Marcus

“My son” – Foucault

Marcus’ eyes go wide.

“You have a son?!” – Marcus

“I have a son, yes” – Foucault

“Not in a metaphorical sense” – Marcus

“No. In a literal, impossible sense” – Foucault

Marcus’ shadow stalks the wall as he passes back and fore in front of the angle poised lamp.

“Very interesting” – Marcus, clapping his hands together rapidly.

“I heard to…” – Foucault

“How? How did you do this? It’s impossible.” – Marcus, turning to search through tomes and scrolls piled high on a shelf against one wall.

“I suspect Aaron Mayfair had a hand in it. Enjoying myself with his demon of Lust, I appeared to have got her pregnant despite that being impossible. I need to bring you up to speed as Aaron and Belial’s Brood are contesting for possession of this child.” – Foucault

“I don’t believe Belial’s Brood would want to possess this child. They, of all Kindred, would know this child should be killed” – Marcus

Foucault is about to ask another question.

“How much time have you spent with this child?” – Marcus

“Quite a lot. 7 years. I have tried to learn from your example. When I first encountered Aaron Mayfair, your advice was to try and learn about his motivations, the birth of Ash took me by surprise but I raised him in secret” – Foucault

“Wise. Very wise. Do not let any other Kindred know” – Marcus

“The only other Kindred that know are my coterie” – Foucault

“Foucault, take a seat” – Marcus indicates a comfortable armchair. He sits opposite Foucault.

“I did try and reach out to Aaron Mayfair as I was now part of the family so to speak but he rejected me with this letter” – Foucault, showing Marcus the letter.

Marcus scans it quickly.

“He’s a hard man to like. We raised Ash…” Foucault

“He knows about Ash?” – Marcus

“I’m certain of it. When he refers to ‘the tool’ I think this is what he means. He has plans for him. Last night, a member of the Invictus, one Felicity Bron, found my safe house and seemed caught under some kind of spell. She wanted to protect Ash and wanted to taste his blood. At this point Aldous MacArthur was revealed to be Azazel, astrally projecting. He attempted to kill Ash. I tried to take Ash out of the room, in the process Ash was abducted by Aaron Mayfair after a conflict with Azazel. One of my coterie has made certain influential Kindred aware that Aaron Mayfair has killed Felicity Bron. Potentially we can turn the tables on him. Up to this point it feels like he has been manipulating us and calling all the shots. Perhaps we have thrown a spanner in the works. It will be interesting to see what happens next” – Foucault

“You will not get any Kindred to attack Aaron Mayfair. His reputation precedes him and the Court wouldn’t risk a breach of the Masquerade or their own demise by antagonising him further… the child, the child is interesting. I’d be tempted to call a Caucus of our Order. Due to your involvement that might be a little unwise. We’d have to play our story very carefully. To provide enough information but also not to implicate you… Do you know what you have?” – Marcus

“Not vampire. When I researched, I found no real precedent. There were myths and stories. I found reference to three. The Nephallim, the Dampyr and the Cambion.” – Foucault

“I would hypothesise that you have some form of cross breed” – Marcus

“As in a Dampyr and a Cambion.” – Foucault

“Yes. Now, the Dampyr are legend. Nobody has encountered one for well over 1000 years if the stories are to be believed or they ever existed at all. This gives us concrete evidence they exist! The legends say they are warriors and are drawn to slay vampires” – Marcus

“That is interesting. Aaron Mayfair seems to want him and combined with his prejudice towards our kind it would suggest that that is the role he is grooming him for. Perhaps rather than control of the Kindred court, he wants to wipe it out. In our favour I have raised Ash as my son and we have a strong bond. If there is something innate in him that hates us, then Aaron Mayfair may be able to tap into that” – Foucault

Marcus leans back in his chair.

“The legends are vague about how the Dampyr slays the vampire. They are immune to our powers. This much is known” – Marcus

“Aaron Mayfair instructed me to bleed into his mouth. He still has control over my mind and I could do nothing but obey” – Foucault

“You say Ash was attacked” – Marcus

“Yes. On the verge of death” – Foucault

“Then there are limits to Aaron Mayfair’s power if he had to use Vitae to save Ash.” – Marcus” – Marcus

“Do the Dampyr feed on Kindred?” – Foucault

“Some legends suggest they have partial fangs, the fury of the Beast but earlier texts before translation refer to Dampyr as a curse on vampires. There is no mention of warrior prowess. Their very presence somehow corrupts and destroys vampires. This is why I wanted to know how long you had spent with the child. Clearly you are showing no ill effects” – Marcus

“I wonder if it could come to the fore at maturation?” – Foucault

“An interesting theory Foucault” – Marcus

“Could this have anything to do with the presences that seem to be feeding on the auras of the Kindred Court?” – Foucault

“I have been engaged in some study on this and used some of your findings to bolster my own position in our Order. Do you realise you have one of these Whisperers yourself?” – Marcus

“No. How do we get rid of these Whisperers?” – Foucault

“I do not yet know, my research has taken me that far though the fact that there are so many here… look towards the possible influence of Belial’s Brood. Perhaps they are trying to encourage the creation of demons” – Marcus

“I was prepared to overlook when I didn’t know what Ash was and thought he had a more demonic purpose. The Brood seem to know far too much about this. We need to remove their presence from New Orleans” – Foucault

“There has been a blood hunt on Azazel for seven years without apparent success” – Marcus

“So we use our resources to track them down and put a word in the ear of Maldonato to deal with it. In the meantime, my own position in the Order could be furthered by sharing my knowledge of these phenomena” – Foucault

Marcus nods, confessing that it is overdue for Foucault to begin learning the Coils.

“Is Aaron working revenge or given the Prophecy is he trying to stop it?” – Foucault

Marcus’ eyes narrow, he studies Foucault for a moment. He stands to look down into the warehouse before turning back to his childe. One side of his face is lit, the other is in shadow.

“I would suggest that you have stepped into a battle of influence over what else but blood. The Brood is searching for their saviour in the bloodlines of the kine, breeding them like pedigree animals to create one of Les Enfants Diabolique. It seems Aaron Mayfair has taken a page from their book to use you to create a weapon that would not only destroy the Brood but perhaps every Kindred in the parish” – Marcus

“A weapon that if we were to gain control over would give us immense power” – Foucault

“This sword has two edges Foucault. Be careful!” – Marcus

“What is your own interest in this? It is clear your research is into infernal areas” – Foucault

“Your grandsire, David Wilkes Cassidy was rumoured to be dealing with the infernal. It is not discouraged by our Order but if such a Kindred was to give their will over to a demon, then that is punishable by Final Death. So be very careful around this Stella” – Marcus

“Yes” – Foucault

“He was accused of this. His research and studies were undertaken here, in this very building. I am trying to find out why he disappeared and where he went to” – Marcus

Thinking it potentially relevant, Foucault explains about Donovan being Papa Iblis, cheating Final Death and being reincarnated into another body. Marcus nods slowly.

“There are rumours that the Brood have access to powers that go beyond what we know Kindred are capable of. This particular faction of the Brood seems to worship the will, the spirit, and the pneuma. Perhaps this thing which is now Donovan has learned to transfer its spirit from one vessel to another. Potentially living forever, without fear of Final Death.” – Marcus

“That would be interesting” – Foucault

“Of much interest to the Order but be careful Foucault. As your grandsire perhaps find out, ‘you dance with the Devil; you think you can change him. But he changes you’” – Marcus

Foucault notices an involuntary twitch on the left hand side of Marcus’ face.

“Well bear your own advice in mind” – Foucault, patting Marcus on the shoulder as he stand to leave

Marcus straightens his clothes

“I will try. I am not rushing things” – Marcus

Blood trail

Cross looks at trying to locater the poacher. He finds it surprisingly difficult, picking up trails, following leads that quickly turn cold. He is always conscious of the time and meeting Foucault at St Louis #2.

He decides to use his ghouls, Laura Lee and Vito Minacore. He gets Laura to lead the investigation into the bloody murders barely concealed beneath the Masquerade.

The office phone rings shortly afterwards. Vito has found gossip that suggests the poacher is using the Roxy Cinema as a haven. Laura Lee has a description.

“Thank you Laura Lee” – Cross, hanging up.

He looks at the clock, too close to midnight to do anything now. Perhaps after the meeting with Maldonato.

He grabs his hat before leaving the office, musing as to why Mike “Frenchie” French of the Carthians would risk unauthorised feeding?

“He seemed such a nice guy” – Cross, shaking his head

Blood trail

It is midnight, the witching hour. Foucault and Cross meet outside St Louis #2. There is no sign of Hampton.

The temperature has dropped sharply. Both Foucault and Cross check their weapons before crossing the gates. A homeless man, wild eyed and clearly drunk staggers out in front of them. He is muttering. Something weird tonight in St Louis #2. The dead don’t rest easy.

Foucault and Cross exchange a glance before crossing the threshold. As they do so a creeping sense of foreboding blossoms in their minds. Their undead flesh goose bumps involuntarily, their hairs standing on end.

Cross pushes past the rising panic, gripping his silver plated .45 that little tighter. Foucault is edgy after his meeting with Marcus; he can’t help but jump at shadows, distracted by the slightest movement, real or imagined.

They walk the narrow alleyways of mausoleums and crypts, the streetlights of the city fading behind them. Event he sounds of the never-ending party in the French Quarter are muted and distant.

Cross flicks on a flashlight. The night is still. The silhouettes of angels look down on the vampires as they move further into the cemetery. The moon above watches impassively, with a lazy eye.

“I don’t like this. This feels like a trap” – Foucault

“It felt like a trap when were invited. But why would they advise us to come armed if it was a trap?” – Cross

“A test?” – Foucault

“Possibly. Keep your eyes open” – Cross

Foucault can see the path clearly in the darkness not illuminated by the weak circle of Cross’ flashlight. There is no sound or sign of life. Not even crickets. A flash of movement form the corner of his eye attracts Foucault’s attention. It flitted between a statue and a crypt for a second. He turns, his pistol levelled and realises it is his own weak shadow cast by the light from Cross’ torch.

Cross inspect the crypt. It has vodoun trinkets, gris gris and charms decorated over it, pleas to the loa inscribed in charcoal

They are now in the centre of the cemetery.

“Switch the light off Cross. Let me see” – Foucault

“Cross clicks the light off.

Foucault peers into the darkness, comforted slightly by the pressing gloom.

With an effort of will he pushes past the panic to let the sights, sounds and smells of St Louis #2 wash over him.

A bell rings in the distance. Marks have been made in the earth; they travel up and over the tombs and statues forming an unbroken line. There is a presence just off the path, hiding behind the tombs. There is more than one. A soft pad from the opposite direction and alight, ragged, panting indicates an animal. No, two animals. Both are moving in parallel to them. A chill runs down Foucault’s spine as he sees a figure flit across the path ahead of them.

“Oh dear” – Cross

The path opens to a small clearing, a crossroads. A figure in black stands with his back to them. His hand rests on an ebony can, topped with a human skull. His head is bowed, as if in prayer.

The figure turns around, the suit jacket flapping in the air revealing no shirt, only bare, pale flesh. It’s Donovan. His eyes are utterly black, gleaming evilly in the light of Cross’ torch.

“Welcome” – Donovan, his voice hoarse and with a heavy lilt of the Caribbean

“Good evening. Papa Iblis” – Foucault

Donovan smiles.

“The thing I am now is known as Donovan. The thing I was then was Papa Iblis. But I am the First among the few. You have been very, very, very busy. I have to say that perhaps I have underestimated you somewhat. Perhaps to a fault. But here I’d like to draw a line in the sand. We could spend a lot of time, waste a lot of time at each other’s throats. I don’t want that. My part here is coming to fruition and I’d like to call truce. I have no wish in hurting you. We are the chosen of Belial. We are brothers. Or could be. Let me make it clear that this is the only moment that you have this chance. After which, at this point if you reject my offer I will destroy you. As I have destroyed others. You may speak.” – Donovan.

“What’s your price?” – Cross

“I have no price” – Donovan

“What do you stand to gain?” – Cross

“Time. Only time.” – Donovan

Foucault sees the demon he has seen with Donovan before, standing beside the Sheriff. Every now and than it whispers into Donovan’s ear. After first staring intently at one or the other of them.

“I appreciate you seeking an alliance to avoid needless conflict” – Foucault

Donovan smiles widely, his tongue brushing his white fangs slowly.

“How important is Azazel to you?” – Foucault

“He is here. Right there” – Donovan, pointing to Foucault’s left.

Azazel’s spirit form appears, cradled in the arms of a statue of an angel. He sneers at Foucault.

“The flesh is nothing. If you want the flesh you can have the flesh. Does that answer your question?” – Donovan

“This is an interesting ability you have developed. This ability that I could be interested in acquiring” – Foucault

Donovan looks at the ground, carving shapes in the earth with his cane

“The price may be steep for you. The power is there. You have it already. I cannot say, for sure, whether you have the will to harness it” – Donovan

“Time is on my side to find out. You are wanting to sign a truce, no conflict, no interference” – Foucault

“We need some gesture of good faith, you haven’t exactly treated us fairly thus far” – Cross

“Especially him” – Foucault pointing at Azazel

“Now the thing that should not be is an interesting development. Azazel was acting on instinct. Where the Beast calls we go. What the Beast wants we do” – Donovan

“What assurance that you won’t turn on us when the Beast calls you to do so?” – Cross

“The will. My will is strong. I will not turn on you” – Donovan

“But he might” – Cross pointing at Azazel

“And he will be punished. I give no assurance. I will not give my word” – Donovan

“What about the trespasses already committed, surely he should be punished?” – Cross

“I have told your… friend. If he wants the flesh of Azazel he can have the flesh of Azazel” – Donovan

“I would suggest…”

“But the power of the soul, the power of the Beast is eternal” – Donovan

Foucault notes the black eyes. Donovan is clearly channelling Kalfou, the vodoun loa of bad luck and sorcery. Perhaps here is a power to rival Aaron Mayfair?

Cross feels a wave of déjà vu.

Donovan taps his cane on the ground and around the coterie and himself, green flames leap up to knee height. Flames without heat.

“The bale fire” – Donovan

Outside the flames they see Abner Broadbank in his hat and scarf, Azazel cradled in the arms of an angel and a third figure, female in her late 50’s, steps out of the darkness accompanied by two hounds. Black and the size of small ponies, they growl at Foucault and Cross.

The demon leans into Donovan’s ear.

Donovan’s pupil less eyes shift to Cross, “Money is for the mortals. Power is for the Kindred, Jacob Cross”

Donovan cranes his head to look at Foucault, “Do you want to get even with the one who pulls your strings Willem Foucault?”

Both are suddenly assaulted by images brought on by Donovan’s words. Foucault sees the bloody body of Aaron Mayfair lying at his feet, Stella draped over his shoulder. Ash Mayfair on his knees, worshipping his father.
Cross sees himself as Prince, ruling all of New Orleans. All of the money, blood and power flow upwards. To him. He looks out a window and sees New Orleans devastated and in ruins. Cross, the saviour of the Kindred rebuilds, owning everything.

“It’s time to make your choice. The Beast needs no words” – Donovan, drawing a line in the grave dirt with his cane.

“All you need to do is decide. Which side of this line do you stand on?” – Donovan

There is a pregnant silence. The gathered Kindred’s eyes glint in the sick light of the balefire.

Donovan blinks. His eyes return to normal he smiles with only his lips.

“A pleasure doing business with you.” – Donovan

Foucault goes to shake Donovan’s hand. He stares at it, making no effort to meet that oh-so human gesture. He stamps his cane. The flames die out.

“You can go” – Donovan

Blood trail

Foucault and Cross gather their thoughts at the office. No words pass between them for an hour.

“We need to deal with Frenchie, our poacher.” – Cross

“I have an idea that could be ‘more fun’. And without a body count” – Foucault

“All he needs is a slap on the wrist” – Cross

Foucault smiles evilly

Blood trail

Cross and Foucault wait, hidden from sight in a darkened alley, across from the Roxy Cinema. A window at the rear slides open and the heavy shape of Frenchie clamber out. They have both forgotten how big Frenchie is. Well over 6 feet tall and heavily muscled he is an imposing figure. For a tall man, he is quite quick on his feet. He loses them for a second but Foucault manages to find his trail as Frenchie takes them on a tour of his crime scenes throughout their territory.

They are all bloody and violent. The bodies are no longer there, the only memory the chalk outlines. Each scene is marked by police tap and with a police guard. Frenchie ensures he is not spotter and shows no sign of realising he himself is being watched.

The first crime scene was a mother and her baby. The broken pram lies discarded in the taped off area. Cross looks Foucault with his eyes closed. He opens them and shakes his head at his coterie mate.

The next crime scene was an elderly gentleman, his broken cane lies next to his broken chalk outline. Foucault channels the presence he feels in the area, causing it to materialise as an outline of a bitter old man, cane in hand, stooped over. The police officer shivers involuntarily. He looks around nervously and slides off looking at his at his watch.

The temperature droops. Frenchie seems agitated; he hunkers down behind several trashcans in the alleyway and looks around.

He spots Cross, his expression changing to shock. He pulls a .45 out of his waistband and points it at Cross.

“I didn’t mean it” – Frenchie, whispering loudly across the alley, the crime scene between them.

“These kine are ours Frenchie” – Cross in a flat, deadly voice

“Fella’s gotta eat” – Frenchie

“Not here” – Cross catching Frenchie’s eyes and Entrancing him.

Frenchie’s gun drops to his side. He looks almost like he is about to cry, a pained expression on his face.

“Hey, I’m sorry, Jacob. Really. I am” – Frenchie

“Turn around” – Jacob pleasantly

Frenchie turn to face the ghost of his victim. The old man screams at the Nosferatu, raising the cane that Frenchie used to beat him to death. Frenchie takes a step backwards, hitting the wall. His eyes bulge in terror. The cane strikes Frenchie. He drops his gun and sprints down the alley.

The ghost glides after him, muttering. Neither Cross and Foucault give chase, they turn and walk down the alley. The old man suddenly appears in front of Foucault; it screams and raises his cane. Foucault puts up his hands as the ghost strikes, chilling Foucault’s Blood and hurling him across the alley.

Cross sees Frenchie run and then Foucault disappears backwards. He pulls his weapon but he sees no one in the alley.

Foucault holds out his hand from the floor, focusing his will as the ghost bears down on him.

“Stop” – Foucault

The ghost stops, the cane lowered. Its face twists in hate and contempt.

“Kneel” – Foucault, getting to his feet

It floats down to the ground and bows stiffly.

“I allowed you to take vengeance and this is how you repay me? Begone” – Foucault, waving his hand dismissively.

The ghost moans as it discorporates

Blood trail

Cross finishes a meeting with his childer Joseph Krieger at the office as Foucault walks in. Rain falls steadily outside.

“Marcel is outside” – Foucault

Cross tells Krieger to leave. He waits for him to go.

“No Hampton” – Cross

Foucault shrugs and checks his watch

“He might meet us at the Museum” – Foucault

Marcel drives through the rain, Cross and Foucault sit in the back. Cross sniffs suddenly.

“It still smells of corpse in here” – Cross

“Given that there are two vampires and a ghoul… you’re surprised?” – Foucault

Cross is dressed sharply in his Invictus suit. He adjusts his tie. Foucault is dressed in a long coat, pinstripe and trilby. He looks like a Kindred ‘on the make’.

Marcel pulls up on the gravel driveway of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the rain showing no sign of letting up. The museum is a massive, white Grecian style building with four ornate pillars forming the entranceway. It is lit up, a banner proclaiming some ne artist’s exhibition. Ushers carry umbrellas, ferrying the VIPs from their cars.

The figure of Rhett Carver stands to one side, a ghoul holding an umbrella above his head. He is dressed extremely formally in a 19th century dinner suit.

“Welcome to you both. Kine are present here so the Masquerade must be maintained gentlemen. (To Cross) Thank you for clearing your social calendar. I appreciate it. (To Foucault) I do not believe we have had the direct pleasure of meeting Mr Foucault” – Carver, his voice a powerful whisper.

“Good to meet you” – Foucault, shaking Carver’s hand
He walks them into the museum. The main gallery is a sea of people, practically obscuring the black and white checked floor. The Grecian style continues with carved stone pillars and steps. Large paintings line the walls in alcoves beneath a gallery that meets, opposite the main doors in a wide stone staircase.

The coterie’s cold flesh is hit by the combined body heat of so many kine. The Beast looks on greedily.

Cross flushes his body with Vitae to blend in. He smiles, plucking a champagne glass from a passing waiter.

“The meeting is upstairs in the far ante-chamber. I will join you shortly. I just need to deal with one or two details.” – Cross

The coterie climbs the staircase to the room. It is unlocked and empty save for a long boardroom table and a diorama on the window wall. A large leather chair stands at the head of the table with smaller chairs lining either side. There is enough room for 20 people.

Foucault and Cross approach the model. A model of their territory, showing the planned redevelopment of the old Storyville ruins. Straightaway they can see that the Nite Owl and St James’ Church will have vanished. The Roxy Cinema still stands, forming one corner of a series of large multi storey buildings. The model makes it look modern and clean but they can both tell that it will be cramped living spaces but the amount of ‘blood’ in their territory would double, if not treble. Although St James will have been knocked down, a new church is planned to be built in the centre of the community, at the heart of a crossroads.

Foucault reminds Cross of the Prophecy, involving Storyville. He is not familiar with the leylines of his order but such a shift in the geometry of their territory would lead to a substantial change in the lines of power that runs through New Orleans. Someone is creating a geomantic nexus of power.

Cross tells Foucault of Chastain’s desire to stop this from happening but Foucault already knows having overheard the conversation at the mansion. Cross tells him that it is not relevant to the Prophecy; her desire to stall the project is related to her vendetta against Antoine Savoy rather than any higher purpose.

“Chastain was most unhelpful with our little problem” – Cross

“And given the Prophecy, this would be ‘Ground Zero’, a powerful bargaining chip with the Brood.” – Foucault

“I’m tempted to ignore Pearl’s request in this. The Unconquered are to be beaten after all” – Cross

“We’ll look stronger as a coterie if we both agreed” – Foucault

They nod at each other as the door opens and Savoy walks in, he surveys the room and breaks into a mischievous grin at the sight if the coterie. They feel the force of his Beast and manage to suppress the urge to flee.

“Mr Cross! A pleasure to meet you sir. I have heard a great many things about you!” – Savoy, taking Cross’ hand in two of his.

“A pleasure” – Cross, inclining his head

“(to Foucault) and who is your friend?” – Savoy

“Mr Foucault” – Foucault

“One of Mr Cross’ associates? I’m afraid word does get to the French Quarter every now and again” – Savoy, taking his seat at the head of the board room table

“But… no one’s sitting here I hope?” – Savoy

“Not that we’re aware of sir” – Cross

“Marvellous. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. How is your coterie mate? Hampton… Mayfair…III?” – Savoy

“Otherwise indisposed. At the present time” – Cross

“Is he still suffering from the public humiliating at Elysium?” – Savoy

“He’s a proud man” – Foucault

“The city needs proud people. I wouldn’t be one to speak against our august Prince but I thought that was pushing the line a little too far. (To Cross) What do you think?” – Savoy

“Time will tell Mr. Savoy and we have time in abundance” – Cross

“Indeed” – Savoy, grinning

“And you Mr Foucault? What do you think?” – Savoy

“I think he used Hampton to make a point. It was an exercise in power whether or not that will be a wise course of action, as Jacob says, will be revealed in time” – Foucault

“I sure as hell don’t want to play poker with you gentlemen. You do play your cards close to your chest, don’t you?” – Savoy

Cross smiles politely

“If you ever need anything, you come, see me. Let me know. In these sad times, you always need a friend” – Savoy
“As a matter of fact…” – Cross, recognises an opportunity to expand his legitimate businesses to make ties. They chat for a while, Savoy is more than happy to talk business and although Cross finishes the conversation satisfied, he can’t help but feel that Savoy got one over on him.

The door opens again. Foucault recognises them both, Carlos Marcello, boss of the New Orleans Mafia and Joseph Poretto, Consigliere. Poretto is known as a smart man but also a dangerous man. He has killed more than a handful of people and gotten away clean.

They both nod at Foucault without speaking and Marcello goes straight to Savoy shaking his hand warmly. It is obvious they know each other. They sit at the head of the table next to Savoy on his left hand side facing the coterie.

A man walks in. Tall, dark and a swarthy face with thick eyebrows. He wears an expensive charcoal suit and an open necked white shirt. Horn rimmed glasses magnify his eyes, distorting the shape of his face. Foucault has never seen him before but can guess who he is. Cross knows him well. Dominic Gage. His father-in-law. He starts a little at the sight of Jacob.

“Jacob?! I did not realise you were in town” – Dominic

“Last minute thing. It’s surprising to see you here” – Cross

He reads his father’s body language. That he is surprised is genuine but he is hiding a little resentment, maybe anger at Cross. It’s not seething hatred. Whatever Rebecca, Cross’ wife, has been telling him has been bad. Just not ‘that’ bad.

Foucault thinks it’s probably a good job Hampton isn’t here. The feud between the Mayfair’s and the Gage’s is widely known.

Gage takes a seat next to Poretto, failing to acknowledge them.

Carver enters “Are w all here? I apologise for my tardiness”, taking a seat next to Foucault.

Cross activates Awe. Carlos Marcello and Poretto relax visibly. Foucault lights a cigarette, the smoke hiding his features a little.

As the pleasantries continue, Foucault feels uneasy. He slides his hand to his pistol, a reassuring presence in his pocket. His hand slides into his pocket. He can’t help but think of the rumour that Mayfair heard that there’ll be a hit tonight.

“Do we have anyone on the door? – Foucault

“(to Savoy) I arranged security… boss” – Carver, the word halting on his tongue.

Foucault nods approvingly, his fingers sliding around the .38

“So, gentlemen shall we get to business. The details of the Iberville Project have been handled by Rhett but I wanted to make sure everyone gets a nice, equal slice of the pie here. You’re all here because you all have a stake. Rhett?” – Savoy

Carver stands and puts the model on the table so everyone can see. He explains what the project means. As he talks Cross and Foucault note he seems more interested in the architecture than the nuts and bolts. He is questioned regularly on more practical matters. It boils down to; it should be completed in the early 1960s, wiping away the distasteful mark of the Storyville ruins. It will provide modern, clean housing for the black population of Treme. Carver speaks of an agreement with city council to “move” some of these people in an orderly fashion.

Cross and Foucault exchange glances. The Baron would not be in favour of this. The created community will provide ample opportunities for Gage and Savoy’s entertainment interests.

Marcello taps the table, “What’s my end?”

“Where the Negro goes, you’ll get a good market for your powder Carl” – Savoy

Everyone nods.

“What do we get from Iberville?” – Cross

“You are a prominent person in the area. A cut of the income.” – Carver

Marcello squints by Poretto keeps a straight face, only nodding. He looks like he is sizing the coterie up.

Foucault stays stony faced, meeting Poretto’s gaze.

“I hope that answers your question” – Carver

“But what will over contribution have to be?” – Cross

“We’ll need security; we need to make sure this happens. That’s why we want you. Everyone does their bit, everyone gets their cut” – Savoy

“Sounds very fair. There has to be a catch though. Come on; tell me the bad along with the good?” – Cross

“Some nose might be out of joint” – Carver

Foucault can think of the Baron. They are creating a ghetto and they’ll be moving the Baron’s people. Pearl Chastain won’t be happy.

“Maybe we can do some things to smooth that over. The Nite Owl is a vital part of that community. That needs to stand” – Foucault

There is a lot of talking but Foucault gets his way. The Nite Owl stands.

“The movement of people. Go too far and we can create flashpoints. Lets give them reasons to move” – Foucault

“We need to minimise bad feelings. Perhaps an opening ceremony?” – Cross

“A band or fireworks or something. Let’s give a contribution to the church. It’s the centre of the community” – Foucault

“Religion is the opiate of the masses. Show them we are improving not only their physical conditions but also their lot with the Almighty” – Cross

“That’s an excellent idea. I’ll back that” – Dominic

There’s resistance but with Gage’s backing, Foucault gets his way. In the short term, there’ll be less money but it means the people will move rather than moving the people. Everyone stands to shake.

Cross notices Foucault has withdrawn. His expression has dropped completely. His hand is in his pocket.

Foucault blinks slowly, the voices in the room become hypnotic and insistent.

“Kill Dominic” – Savoy, pleasantly flashing a smile.

“Kill Dominic” – Marcello mutters, cigar in his mouth, nodding

“Kill Dominic” – Carver says pointing at the model

Cross leans into his coterie mat, his face a picture of concern

“Kill Dominic” – Cross

Foucault shakes Dominic’s hand with his left. The world turns slowly.

“Kill me” – Dominic

Foucault pulls the pistol form his pocket, hiding it in the folds of the coat. No one notices

He continues to shake Dominic’s hand. His mind screaming but his body doesn’t obey.

Foucault cocks the gun and pulls Dominic forwards over the table. He raises the gun, his face expressionless.

“Aaron says hello” – Foucault, pulling the trigger.

A crater erupts in Dominic’s chest, blood spraying everywhere. The air is thick with cordite and the gunshot echoes off the walls.
Dominic drops to his chair, a look of surprise written on his face, his head lolls down over his chest.

He blinks.

There is a flurry of motion

Savoy disappears, the door slamming.

Carver backs into the wall, his face covered in blood, his fangs extending.

Cross in a blur, acts. He charges Foucault and knocks him through the window; it smashes as the Mekhet tumbles out the room. Marcello and Poretto draw their pistols and fire at Foucault but shots go wild as he is knocked out the way. He cracks his head on an ornamental rock and lies immobile.

“They’ve gone insane” – Poretto screams, pulling Marcello out the room, firing wildly.

Cross glances at Dominic and see his chest wound healing, flesh knitting in front of him. His face is white, sweat matting his hair but he is still alive.

Carver lost to the Beast launches at Cross, who dodges, reluctant to leave the room due to the Masquerade and his Celerity fuelled movements.

“Rhett we need to get out here” – Cross, desperately trying to reach Carver’s mind.

The blurring form of Carver shows he too has the discipline and grand sire and grandchilde manoeuvre at great speed around the table.

Cross is scored across the face by manicured nails as Carver claws at him, hissing in irrational fury.

Dominic stands, one hand supporting himself on the table. He pulls a switchblade with a “schnik”. Unsteady on his feet and his eyes glazed he focuses on Carver. His wound almost healed, his heart pumping.

“You have something I need” – Dominic, thickly

He throws himself across the table at Carver, knocking him to the ground and slicing Carver’s jugular and cradling his head as he sucks greedily at the wound.

Carver grabs Domimic’s writs and pulls them apart. He stands, the knife falling to the ground. Carver grins maliciously as he overpowers Dominic, his mouth snapping at him.

Cross picks up the bloody switchblade, lost in the melee.

“Sorry. Its family” – Cross plunges the knife in Carver’s back. The Daeva falls to the floor, his legs crumpling under him. Dominic slumps over the table his mouth covered in Vitae.

Cross fangs extend and he stalks forward over Carver’s paralysed body.

He draws deeply, fighting past the love of the Blood and digs deeper. Carver attempts to fight, Cross’ will is stronger. He sees flashes of memories, Rhett Embraced in South Carolina, making his way on steamer to New Orleans, Embracing a feisty raven haired beauty on a porch of a plantation, Embracing Valentine on a swing, Embracing Bonnie in a kitchen. His deal with Savoy. The ridicule of the Invictus. The satisfaction of being right. The memories face, replaced with raw emotion. The tinge of regret, the tang of arrogance. The rush of power. His passion for architecture. The authority to rule.

Finally, Cross sees a bloodline stretching back hundreds of years. He has the opportunity to join, if he wishes, the whispers of the last of Carver’s soul encourages him to do so, to not let his Final Death be in vain.

But Cross has interest in art or architecture.

The Blood turns to ash on Cross’s lips and Carver’s body crumbles to dust. Cross blinks, he feels stronger, more powerful. He feels good.

Cross, flush with stolen Vitae and the potency of Carver’s soul walks up to Dominic and pulls him to his feet, pulls him close. His father in law turns his head from Cross’s fangs.

“You. You have some questions to answer” – Cross snarling

Blood trail

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