Status Imperfectus

Annabelle stands on the rooftop of Griffith College. She doesn’t mean to imitate the brooding nature of Batman, however cool it would be to be him, or Kate Kane. She knows that she should leave the brooding to Jasper, even if these nights he doesn’t have as much to brood about. Even now, after everything Nelli and Victor would find it absolutely hilarious that “Baby B” is being all angsty up here like some stereotypical vampire. Hell, even Ramona would heckle her if she were here with one of her Rat Pack.

She wishes Ramona were here, even with her duties to the Valkyries: one of the results of her own decisions as leader or the face of the Anarch Movement such as it is. Annabelle also wishes X were here too. And …

Annabelle replays the song on her phone. She knows she shouldn’t. She knew the risks. But she can’t let herself forget. The Brujah cannot ever let herself forget.

“I hurt myself to-day, to see if I still feel …” 

She laughs, wetly, through her blood tears. The song is both ridiculous, and it hurts. It hurts that this is the music on the Playlist tonight.

“Well, it’s no Linkin Park.” A gruff, almost gravelly voice says right beside her.

Despite all this time, and everything she’s learned, Annabelle feels the blood rise inside of her. Part of it is instinct. The predator, the Beast that is now her constant companion, snarls and wants to brace itself against a potential threat in her personal space. According to her own experiences, and talks with both Nines and Casey, their Clan are even more prone to angry outbursts, to rage, than some of the others: just as they were capable of still feeling great moral outrage and passion. But it is more than fury, it is also fear: fight or flight. And it is more than just being startled, even with her heightened senses and still being caught off guard.

It’s the vampire next to her. The other Brujah in her life. It’s him catching at an emotionally vulnerable moment.

“Carver, fuck!” Annabelle growls, deciding on anger, snatching her cellphone away from him, wiping at her eyes. “Personal space, dude!”

Carver, the smug son of a bitch, holds up his hands in a semi-placating manner, backing away a little bit but still amused with himself. He still wears his leather jacket, black where Annabelle’s is red, and sporting his Mohawk where Annabelle’s head is still shaved only on one side. “Hey, Babydoll, it’s not my fault you forgot your vigilance. You’re an important girl these nights. You can’t afford to laze. I mean.” He looks at a spot in the shadows and stares. “I know you’re there Jasper, but you won’t always be.”

Annabelle can’t help but bite her lip in some amusement at the familiar guttural snarl from the darkness, but she’s still annoyed. “Still none of your business.”

The older Brujah smiles, as though knowing there isn’t nearly as much vehemence there as there once was. A lot’s changed since they first — officially — met. She still doesn’t like him very much, but she doesn’t hate him anymore. They came to something of an understanding. But she never really calls him Dad. Not like with Victor. Not even sarcastically.

“Well, what it’s worth it’s still better than ‘crawling in my skin.’ Damn.” He says, taking a flask of … something out of his jacket pocket. Annabelle doesn’t see a blush of life appear on his features for it to be just alcohol. “Gives me the jeebies. Reminds me too much of a Tzimisce.”

“A … what?” Annabelle asks, quirking one brow.

Carver chuckles and shakes his head, taking a swig from his flask. For a few moments, Annabelle actually thought she saw an uneasy look, a grimace, form on his face. “Never you mind, Babydoll. Not here for you to take more note-taking.”

Annabelle is aware that, even now, she’s still learning new things. She’s had time to acclimate, one way or another, but she is still the youngest of the coterie. She has a lot to learn. And she will be damned, one way or another again, if she lets anyone else make fun of her for it: least of all Carver.

“Then why are you here, Carver?” Annabelle asks, exasperated. “Is Mr. Sisters of Mercy criticizing my taste in music?”

“Easy there now.” For his part, Carver sees her irritated confusion, and somehow manages to smile even more widely, his own growl a light mockery. “Did Nines introduce you to Damsel yet?”

“No …” Annabelle draws it out, squinting at Carver.

“In a certain light, you kind of look like her: except it’s the pop cultural ranting instead of just the political stuff.”

“Well no.” Annabelle gathers herself up. “Nines’ been too busy helping me through the ‘political stuff’ himself.”

“And how he must hate it.” Carver shakes his head, with a rueful grin. “The politics, I mean.”

“Huh.” Annabelle doesn’t have the energy to be annoyed anymore, but there is still a degree of impatience. She notices, as well, that her face is still warm and wet. Right. Vampires cry blood tears. All she did before in attempting to rub them away, was smear her face with its redness. To Carver’s credit, he doesn’t react — not making any snarky remarks, or so much as even smirk — as she takes out some tissues from her pockets — her many pockets — of her jacket, and wipe her face. “Power is everywhere.” Annabelle remembers, from her classes, now so long ago.

“And the personal’s political, isn’t that right, darlin?”

So much for that shred of decency, Annabelle supposes. She’s about to retort, to tell this jerk to go fuck himself despite her curiosity about his presence —

“You know, they can take care of themselves.”

At first, Annabelle didn’t think she heard him properly. Can vampires suffer hearing loss? But then she realizes, he’s spoken so softly, so uncharacteristically gentle, that it almost sounds like distant thunder, more of a rumble than a growl. Annabelle doesn’t know what to say to this, doesn’t know how to deal. “I know.” She says instead, thinking about Mark and Ellenore sabotaging political offices together, organizing protests, even the rally in Griffith Park where everything almost turned to shit … and other moments since then. “I just worry. I …” Annabelle’s words, and thoughts trail off to a place darker than anything a Lasombra can summon, but she feels stupid talking about it, especially to someone like Carver.

“You’re worried about all this.” Annabelle focuses her attention back on the older Brujah, who takes another drink out of his flask. There’s a funny smell to it, kind of like vitae, and anything else that she can’t quite name. “About you.”

“I’m …” Annabelle says, then straightening her shoulders out again. “I’m not afraid for myself. Of dying. I’ve risked my life –”

“Not death.” Carver sighs, and it occurs to Annabelle how much affectation they all still have, that they sigh when they don’t even have to breathe anymore. “I mean what you’re fighting for. Losing that battle. Losing … sight of what it is.”

“I know what I am fighting for.” Annabelle says, with more force in her voice than she knows is necessary. “I was at the Succubus Club. I saw what the Duskborn were doing in the student houses, what they were driven to do. And what the Inquisition is doing. And what Victor, and Nellie, and Jasper went through at Elysium …”

“And what you had the Gangrel do to Rags.”

Annabelle narrows her eyes. She … she knows it hadn’t been perfect. But it had been a choice between letting him go, or being destroyed. It had been a test: a test the Valkyries had set up for her. To see if she was worthy of mentoring, of allying alongside. But how dare he come here, after all this time, and dredge that up. Carver would have killed everyone, or blown them up, or left everyone there to clean up the mess while taking whatever it was he came for. How dare he condescend to insinuate anything when he didn’t even try to do better. When he didn’t even have loved ones …

When he didn’t even have Ghouls …

“I gave him a chance.” Annabelle says. “I try to give everyone a chance. And then …” Her shoulders droop. “I know I don’t have the answers. I know I know nothing and all that Socratic crap. But the Tower has to be stopped. There’s no need to treat people like objects. It’s … it’s wrong. Oppression is wrong. And everyone … everyone deserves a home.”

“We declare our kinship with oppressed Kindred everywhere and offer a home to all Kindred of all generations and clans who will agree to dwell in harmony with us.”

This time, Annabelle looks at Carver. She really looks at Carver. He shrugs. “The Status Perfectus.” He takes another drink. “Jeez. I’d have thought that Nines would’ve shown you it by now, or at least talked to you about it. Or maybe Abrams. Maybe.” He looks back at her. “Really. Here they are, going on and on about how you’re like the reincarnation of MacNeil, and they don’t even tell you about his and Salvador Garcia’s Second Anarch Revolt Declaration of Freaking Independence? Of the Anarch Free State. Heh … I mean, MacNeil was a screw-up, and Garcia probably a fucking traitor, and everything turned into a clusterfuck, but really.” He wipes at his mouth. “I expected better from Nines at least, if this is going to be your freaking heritage.”

“Well, who pissed in your Polyjuice Potion?” Annabelle finds her patience rapidly disappearing, fueled even further by information she never had. Why hadn’t anyone told her about this yet? Why does she keep getting left in the dark? Is she that much of a figurehead to the other Barons? Even … She shakes her head. “You disappear for God knows how long, leave me to my own devices, I do the best I can, and Nines picks up the slack, and you have the audacity — the freaking balls — to start lecturing me like you’re my –”

“Hey.” Carver interjects. “I did try to look for you. I got that favour from Eva, and it seems you got some too. You really should wash that jacket. It reeks.”

“No. Just. Don’t.” Annabelle points at him, right back to the level of fury. “Why are you back here, Carver? Are you just here to get your jollies telling me just how much I don’t even know? After you threw me right into the middle of all of this?”

“No, darlin.” Carver says. “I’m not here to lecture like Abrams, or give you a pep talk like Nines — a Kindred afraid of his own power. And I like the man. But seriously. You are a born activist. A student. You keep wanting to change things, but you don’t really look at everything that came before, at what others tried to do. You have …” He looks down at his flask, at his hands. “You are different. It’s the reason I didn’t leave you to die in that building. I could’ve. I think some days, when it’s really bad for you, you wish I did. Just …”

“What?” Annabelle demands, her blood rising despite herself. ‘What else should I know, Carver?”

“Look at the tools, the … tools of the oppressor, of the colonizer. The master’s tools. That’s what they teach you these days, right? At this college.” Carver has a strange light in his eyes, even as his tone remains the same steady, growling pitch it has always been. “Look at the fears that motivate us. The sun. Fire. Humans knowing what we are, and how that all affects anything we build. The Traditions, like the one that tells us to hide from humans, those existed before the Cam. And the Cam, the Tower, they formed in Europe when the Inquisition — which had been made by other Kindred trying to one-up each other — to supposedly protect all Kindred. To hide us. But look at what happened before that. When the Inquisition, the kine tools of power, got out of control and the Elders threw their childer at them. To save themselves. That’s when the First Anarch Revolt happened.”

This catches Annabelle’s attention. “The First Anarch Revolt …” She thinks about it. “Victor said something about that. Maybe Nellie too.”

“Yeah.” Carver nods. “It was a big deal. That’s kind of what led to all of this. I guess the Baron of the Valley knows some stuff after all.”

Annabelle doesn’t rise to the bait. Victor has made his mistakes, but she will never doubt his loyalty to her, the friendship of any of the coterie no matter their flaws. None of them are perfect, and Carver is one to throw stones. “What happened to them?” She asks instead, the question suddenly extremely relevant and overshadowing any sense of personal grievances with this man. “What happened to the first Anarchs?”

Carver is quiet for a while. He blinks, once. “When the others formed the Cam, with the surviving Elders, they rebelled. They became pretty much the Sabbat.”

Annabelle feels something crawl down her back at the way Carver speaks that word. She has heard it before. Victor has mentioned it. Even the others seem to know what it is, but they never really talk about it. Finally, he speaks again.

“Remember Nick the Asshole?”

Annabelle tries not to shudder, attempting not to remember the Nosferatu killing her, or the savage beating she laid on him afterwards after Carver had — arguably — saved her. “Yeah.”

“Yeah. Imagine a whole Sect like him. But worse. They wanted revenge on humans for hunting them. They wanted to turn them all into chattle, into things to feed on, hunt … play with … and kill. The Cam, it’s fucked right? I don’t have to tell you that. But mostly, it just wants to leave humans alone so they get left alone. And when they kill, well, it’s pretty brutal but just necessary. That’s the idea anyway. The Sabbat though? They enjoy it. They make games out of it. TThat’s what they would do to the whole world if they could’ve gotten away with it. The Lasombra and the Tzimisce especially.”

“That’s …” Annabelle wonders if she needs the blush of life to return the colour that she feels is leaving her cold skin She recalls the Scourge Rodrigo back at the Maharani, his eyes deeper than the abyss, asking her what she would build with the framework or the tools left from the systems that she would destroy, understanding the impart of those words a little more now. “That’s horrific.”

“And they all started from Kindred that just wanted to be free.” Carver sighs. “But this isn’t History Class. You want to find out more about those assholes, ask Nines or maybe your coterie. Hell, the Valkyries hate them too. You know, they come from Europe right? Another Old World group. They’re not just an Anarch faction. Just something you might want to look into on your own.” Carver shakes his head again, as though disgusted with himself. “I’ll give you another tidbit for free, darlin.” He says. “The Perfectus was made before the Baronies. MacNeil and Garcia, and the others, they had to make them when it became clear as a night of freezing rain in the ninth level of hell that Kindred couldn’t govern themselves without causing great fuck-ups. The point is, as you probably figured out by now, the Baronies were concessions to our baser natures. Little better than Domains — freaking Princedoms — in the Cam. A point of failure. I think that’s why MacNeil up and left. He knew, you know? He knew we used the tools of the masters, that trying not to made things worse. He didn’t want another Sabbat. Another Cam. Probably broke his damn fool idealistic bleeding heart. So when our better natures didn’t work out, I guess he gave up. Left us to our devices.” He takes another swig from the flask, a deeper one. Annabelle almost thinks she sees his skin flush from that drink. “I guess it was better than becoming a dictator, or a monster. Sure better than what happened in Carthage, or Russia. Anarch socialist experiments — especially Brujah ones — they don’t always go well, Babygirl.”

“Well …” Annabelle tried to take all of this in, tries to remember all of these terms to look up later, to pester Victor and the others about. “Why do you tell us how you really feel, Carver.”

Carver pauses for a moment. Then, he laughs. He laughs hard. It is a deep, belly laugh tinged by wheezing. Annabelle wonders, at first, if the older Brujah is choking until she remembers what they are. “Me? I just get stuff done.”

“With who?”

“With a gang or two that I put together.” Carver replies nonchalantly.

This time, Annabelle looks at him. Really looks at him. There is something different about him today. She can’t figure it out. “Don’t you have a coterie?”

Carver looks down at his flask. “I did.”

Annabelle doesn’t know what she’s looking for. She doesn’t have Nellie’s Discipline in Auspex, nor can she develop it on her own as far as she knows. But she has a decent skill at reading people. “What happened to them?”

“They’re gone.”

Annabelle thinks about Mark. She thinks about Ellenore. Her eyes go back to her phone and the Playlist that she had just heard. “What about anyone else?” She knows she’s prying again, but she had been so angry at Carver this whole while that she didn’t know anything about him. And for some reason, right now, this bothers her. “Did you have anyone else in your life?”

“I did.” He says, simply. “She’s gone too.”

“I’m sorry.” Annabelle replies, totally at a loss, awkward, wondering why suddenly she cares.

“Eh.” Carver shrugs his shoulders. “Shit happens.” He turns to her. “The important thing, darlin? Why I’m here now? I might not be lecturing, but just … I know how hard this must be for you. Figuring all of this out. It helps that you have friends. Something more than a crew. They keep you here. They keep you real. I went on about all those Sects and names. But the real enemy’s not even the Beast. It’s us. It’s time. A lot of those fuckers probably started out, even selfish, with some good ideas. But when you live forever, you forget things. Especially when you get caught up in the Jyhad. It’s easy to forget that Humanity after a while. Or take it for granted, until it’s gone.”

“I still remember who I am.” Annabelle says. “Do you?”

Carver grins at her, a big shit-eating grin. “Babygirl, I know exactly what I am. Just … heh. But seriously. When you have to make the hard calls — and you will — just remember who you have. And what you have. Because disappointed idealists, they make the worst kinds of sons of bitches. Don’t let yourself be a monster, Annabelle.” He says, his tone direct, his face flat again. “But don’t let them keep making you their puppet. I didn’t save your life for any of that. Ask the right questions. Keep asking everyone those questions. Keep asking yourself.”

Annabelle nods. “I … I will.” She bites her lower lip. “Thanks.”

“For my childe, anything.” Carver wryly smiles back at her, before putting his flask back into his coat pocket.

She can’t help it. Annabelle rolls her eyes. “Yeah, says the guy that made me and left me to wander the campus feeding without telling me what I was.”

“It’s better than some Gangrel Embraces.” Carver replies, putting both of his hands in his pockets. “And it seems to worked out pretty well for you.”

“I guess.” Something a little more hopeful enters her heart, thinking about it all now. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

“Also,” Carver says, looking at Annabelle a little longer.

“Uh, yeah?” She asks, feeling awkwardness before discomfort.

“Annabelle.” He tells her. “You are a lot more powerful than you think you are. When you’re doing your homework,” he points in a dismissive gesture, but his tone doesn’t change, “remember that.”

She nods again. There is something direct. Imperative. Clear. For a few moments, it’s as though Carver is speaking to her in a different way.

“Well, enough socializing.” Carver says. “I have situations to kill and all.”

“Hey.” Annabelle says, something occurring to her. “That thing you quoted.”

“Yeah?” He says, turning around.

“What was it again?”

“The Third Principle of the Perfectus.” Carver says. “Offering a home to all oppressed Kindred of all kinds in the Free Anarch State.”

“I see.” Annabelle nods. “I was thinking, when I find a copy, and read the whole thing of changing that. To all Kindred. All kine. All … people.”

Carver seems to consider it for a few moments. “Huh. Go figure.” He smiles at her. “I knew all the Unbound needed was some new blood.” He turns around and begins to walk away. “You’re just starting, and you’re already better than MacNeil ever was. As for the rest, just get ready to break some heads.”

Then, Annabelle only blinks once, and Carver is gone. She opens her phone and looks down at the Playlist. It takes her a moment, but she adds a new song. Right below Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” now resides a song from Halestorm. “Love Bites (So Do I).”

It’s a little risque, even cliché considering the circumstances, but Annabelle figures that it’s worth it.

*

Carver speeds away, his Celerity taking him from the rooftop in almost literally the blink of an eye.

It had been close. Annabelle is far from stupid, and perhaps he overplayed his hand. Chimerstry only takes you so far, taking your vitae, masking an appearance you’ve taken pains to disguise independently, before it runs out like some kind of glamour. Fucking A Song of Ice and Fire with Mance Rayder as Rattleshirt comes to mind. He doesn’t suppose that the Nos of the coterie could teach his Disciplines. Or worse, what favour he’d owe if he asked Golden. He doesn’t like his chances there.

Then again, just saving Annabelle’s life had been a risk. He is lucky, in some ways, that some Kindred remember the person he used to be. Eva owned him that major boon, one that has kept Annabelle safe up until this point. He wonders how Isaac hadn’t sensed his presence, or Annabelle’s earlier, but he has his suspicions: that the elder Toreador had already known what Annabelle was, and where she came from. Perhaps he even hoped for this outcome, whatever it may still be. Indeed, from his own sources, he knows that many people from the beginning of the Movement saw something in the young Brujah that they hadn’t seen in a long time.

It is all the more reason for him to keep his distance. For just as he had allies who knew who he was, he had enemies with long memories as well. Especially from the Tower. He never forgot the day that the Prince had made him humiliate himself, bowing and scraping, and worse. How he forced him to smash his head against the floor until his Ghouls took him out and threw him in that dumpster.

He wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He especially doesn’t want this for Annabelle.

He said he was done. That the Experiment hadn’t worked, like so many failures before and after it. There were never supposed to be Barons or Baronies. There especially wasn’t supposed to be a Baron of Los Angles. He didn’t want any of that.

So he went underground. He kept making crews. Just impersonal adhoc operations to make things uncomfortable for the elite. All grassroots. All under the radar. He would not associate with anyone closely again. It … hurt too much.

And he especially wouldn’t sire another. The one he left in New Orleans still rankles, even if he’d gone to the Cam for his own purposes.

But then there was the Office, and that asshole Nick, and then the girl and everything he saw her do with Mark and Ellenore. It reminded him of something. It reminded him of something that he had lost a long time ago.

Perhaps, looking at Annabelle, he saw the person that everyone else saw. The inspiration that he used to be. No, deep down Carver knows that he sees something better. If it survives.

Armando will look after her, he keeps telling himself. He might not want power, but that is why he trusts him with her all the more. And, as she goes on, she will come into her own true power: something beyond Generation or age. Perhaps beyond Faith. Carver doesn’t know. He knows that he knows nothing. In the meantime, he will lay the groundwork, do the grunt work, help light the flame that Annabelle will ignite.

His time is long passed now. Perhaps Annabelle will do better. He has hope that she will do better.

“You’ll do fine Annabelle,” he says, his voice no longer gravelly as he whispers to himself. “Break some heads, Babygirl.”

Paper Moon

Jasper fucked up.

He knows he fucked up. The pain in what’s left of his arm, after touching Eva like an idiot — twice — almost obliterating his claw on her personal ward, is nothing compared to the chagrin and the mixture of feelings he’s experiencing at the moment. In a way, he’s almost grateful. After the ritual Eva conducted, she had destroyed her hand too in the Thaumaturgical fire she created. It’s the least he deserves after putting her through this, after putting Chloe …

But that’s only a taste of the pain he’s put both of them through, and he knows it. He’s been set on fire before, he should be used to it by now.

Just like he should be accustomed to his own sense of self-loathing.

The Nosferatu cradles his twisted claw against his ribs, watching Chloe follow Eva out of the house where they staged their “intervention” on the former’s behalf. When Chloe regained her senses, for a few moments he almost hoped she wouldn’t recognize him: that he would be another, more hideous stranger, next to Eva and Fiona in that room. In some ways, her knowing exactly who he was, was far worse. The look of utter betrayal on her face hurt more than any reaction to his repulsiveness.

There are other feelings as well. Anger towards Fiona for making Chloe … his Chloe, his … into a Ghoul, fury at the Inquisition for somehow finding Fiona’s territory and Chloe instead, that awkward self-consciousness of asking Eva to do so much for him, despite everything they …

He resists the urge to snarl to himself. It all comes back to his self-hatred, his selfishness. What did he, of all people, think would happen with that one note he left on the napkin on the Griffith College campus cafe? That they would have a Hallmark moment, some contrived moment of grace, a Touched By an Angel God loves you segment? Chloe never stops. He knew that. Even when he watched her over the years, after that piece of shit took his life in his apartment and left him like this, he never forgot her drive to see her own research to its end. And he never forgot the depth of her feelings for him.

Jasper recalls Chloe’s words to him, not that long ago: that somewhere, deep down, he didn’t want to let her go. That wanted her in this world.

And Jasper hates himself for it. Somehow, it’s even worse than the whispers when he is hungry, of wanting to consume her and sometimes mistaking it for the intense fire he still feels towards her, being in her skin again in some way, and the happiness of being seen. That rebellious joy is treacherous: that she still wants to know him, and what he’s gone through, and that this — this ugly abomination his body’s become — can’t keep her away. In a way, his Clan’s deformities have been something of a blessing to him, more than even the Mask of a Thousand Faces could ever be. The fact is, when most people see his face Jasper knows they see a monster, something to shy away from, and scoff at, and either fear or underestimate him. It is the perfect mask. Very few people bother to look past it. They don’t have to.

But Eva did. It made sense, in an empirical way. The Tremere are warlocks, thaumaturgists that had dedicated themselves to uncovering the mysteries of the world underlying the surface. It made sense that Eva could eventually see right through him. It had just been a system of Prestation between them, that’s what he kept telling himself. A boon for a debt, a debt for a boon. Even when she started him on the path to Thaumaturgy himself, it had simply been a greater boon. But they both love puzzles and secrets. They’ve worked closer together over time. And Jasper knows he loves Eva’s mind, just as he is beginning to suspect that she loves his.

He can’t afford to have attachments, Kindred or kine. They can be used against him. Worse, they can be fleeting, ephemeral, lost in an instant of bad judgment: such as what he displayed back at the cafe. Tonight was the first time he touched Eva, as she burned for Chloe … for him, and he burned in return. It is fitting, it makes sense in the twisted, intuitive way that his Labyrinth also does.

It’s infuriating. If he had just thought it out, he should have reasoned Eva had her own personal wards. He should never have reached for her. If he hadn’t, he could have offered her his blood — his vitae — to heal her hand. Instead, he hurt himself and knows — he fucking knows — she will create another batch of that cream to heal his burns despite all the trouble he’s put her through. She broke Chloe’s compromised blood bond to Fiona, and then made her her Ghoul. And he knows she did it for him. She knows that Chloe is his touchstone to the mortal world, and even that might change soon …

He wanted Chloe away from this. That’s what he keeps telling himself, even now that she made him face the truth. That’s why he left her those years ago, left her arms and her warmth so she wouldn’t see what a monster he had become on the outside, what a demon he was on the inside …

But her words win out. And here they are now. Somehow, he thinks Annabelle will be laughing at him. And as he follows along behind them, thinking about how Fiona could have imprinted Dominate commands into Chloe’s mind or used her as a piece against him in the current political climate, or even killed her, and smelling Eva’s familiar, soothing floral vitae in Chloe’s body — the woman he loves saved and Ghouled by the other woman that he loves — as dangerous as these thoughts are, these signs of weakness and vulnerability are to his current state, he can’t help but think to himself that he doesn’t deserve either of them.

*

Eva grits her fangs together, less against the pain in her charred hand, and more to bite back the hunger that wants to consume the young woman walking alongside her. It would be so easy, but counterproductive given all the work she put into saving her to begin with.

The prospect of breaking Jasper’s heart hurts even more than that.

She doesn’t like this. Any of it. Not the Inquisition getting so close. Not the Camarilla attacking her sisters. And especially not what Fiona may or may not have attempted to do with this young girl. That in particular overrides any other feelings she has on this matter. She had been in Clan Tremere for ages, when its Pyramid was still strong. She knows what coerced blood-bonds do to a person, be they kine or Kindred. It is a mixed blessing that her Clan can no longer create blood-bonds, even if they are now especially vulnerable to such acts from other parties.

As long as Eva is in the Anarch Free States, she knows she is essentially free. Without the unity of the Tremere, and even their reduced status in the Camarilla, they cannot come for her: the other Houses. But that can change. The Camarilla still has its resources. It can still succeed in proclaiming praxis: even her Haven in Griffith Park. Clan Tremere, such as it is, could find a way to take her back to the fold.

Maximilian Strauss could find his way back to her.

Jasper … Jasper made that promise to find the vial with her vitae. To finally free her from … that monster. She didn’t go into details, but she knew she didn’t have to. She knows, deep down, he would die for her. And this thought terrifies Eva, more than she will let on: even to Jasper.

Eva has always had to owe someone, or something. The Sect with which she used to belong. Her Clan. Its Elders. Strauss. She never truly knew freedom until that night, those nights, when she made the choices that led her here amongst Anarch territory. She does provides services, of course. Nothing is free: neither her protection, nor her services. Hers, and Jasper’s association began in a similar fashion. Certainly, his work for Baron Abrams and her consultations with the latter, often led them to similar domains of duty and inquiry.

It occurs to her, sometimes, just how young the Nosferatu truly is. He is quiet, and askance. Brittle. Even tonight, when he touched her for the first time, when it finally registered through her pain of the ritual that he did so, she recalls how hesitant it was, how … tentative. It doesn’t escape her that the reason he did so was because she was in pain … and because he was afraid she would feed too much from Chloe. Eva doesn’t like this. She doesn’t like how her wards burned him. As she told him, he was not the one for which those protective wards were created. She had meant to come here and find out what the Inquisition had fed into Chloe’s system, to find a way to neutralize it. It had been some form of chemical compound, but more than that, an alchemical solution that targeted a Regnant’s vitae: the master of a thrall’s blood. It had been drawn to Fiona, and while Eva feels nothing for the Ventrue one way or another, especially with her political games and her Clan’s usual penchant for taking what little freedoms away from their servants or those under their sway, this is a weapon that cannot be ignored. It could be one more arsenal in the extermination of their species.

But she hadn’t intended to break a blood-bond, though she doesn’t regret it. Then again, she hadn’t intended — nor wanted — to become the Domitor to a Ghoul: even if she could temper the Bond to not interfere with the girl’s thoughts and feelings. Chloe … is a complication. Jasper is not as strong as others believe. This entire situation is almost entirely of his making, but she doesn’t have the heart to judge him. He already knows, and admitted, that he made a mistake. She is his touchstone, Eva recognizes that. Chloe has an inquisitive mind, and a fierce thirst to find the truth.

Only recently did she and Jasper talk about the Labyrinth under Griffith Park, with its energies beyond that of even thaumaturgy. She had heard enough lore in her Clan to suspect and even know that there are powers and magic independent of Kindred Disciplines. It is a fascinating and terrifying prospect. She understands why the Nosferatu are so keen on investigating this phenomenon. Jasper has slowly been letting her in, which means much to her, and she knows that Victor Temple’s dealings as Baron with the Nosferatu rub them both the wrong way: for all their sound pragmatism.

But it’s more than that. Jasper is harder on himself than most Kindred. She knows this. He rarely keeps himself around people, even other Kindred beyond … what he has to do, and his own coterie. It is actually miraculous that he even has the others in his coterie. Knowing what she does of their kind, and the Beast, Eva admits to herself that they are actually good for him. For all they themselves cause complications, they have some spontaneous, even ingenious moments.

It’s true what they said to Chloe. Kindred are monsters. They are nothing to aspire towards. But sometimes monsters can do good things, as Jasper said. And Jasper, touch-starved Jasper, angry Jasper, sad Jasper, who can only feed off of “monsters like themselves,” who is smart, and strong, and brave except in matters of the heart … Eva is terrified of letting anyone have influence over her beyond Prestation again. But it’s different with Jasper.  It wasn’t just the fact that he helped save her Tremere sisters and was burned in the process. Sometimes, especially after she brought him those flowers, hoping he would find peace in being a monster, in leaving what he loved behind as much as he could, she thinks about offering him her vitae: to let him feed from her. He has taken it in her substances, to heal his body, but this is different. He would tell her that too, she knows. He would tell her that his feeding is different: that he needs to feed from those that deserve it, that are monsters, that need to be punished …

But they also, his vessels, need to feed. She sees him deal with this torment every night, and she knows that she could offer him her arm, her vein. A part of her wishes she could tell him that it is all right. That he can take what is offered. That they can be monsters together. That they can explore the Labyrinth of the night forever, or as forever as drifting feelings over centuries or possible imminent death by Sect war and manipulation would allow.

And then, this girl. Chloe. She finds them. The Ventrue told her all about them. She could have wiped her mind, but she didn’t. She could have even killed her, but decided not to. They can’t afford to turn on Jasper. They need him in this coming conflict between the Anarchs and the Camarilla, and Fiona knows that. A part of Eva is glad to have Chloe with them, away from Fiona’s blood-bond, a way of potentially taking one more chess piece away from the Ventrue to use against Jasper. And she can’t help but admire Chloe’s curiosity. She feels it in her veins from where she drank from her. It would be so easy. So … easy  …

She could also take him away. A treacherous voice in her mind whispers to her. Take him away from you …. 

Eva squashes that ridiculous thought before it can continue. She doesn’t know what will happen next. She doesn’t know if Chloe will return to Fiona under her own free will to continue to be a Ghoul, or become one of them. Or if she will continue to be with Eva, or become something else. Jasper will not turn her. Jasper sees what he has as a Curse, and Eva sees her fate as no less: even if she does have some solace in it.

All she knows is that, this night, she is not going to leave Chloe anywhere else other than with her: with them … whichever way it turns out in the end.

*

Chloe attempts to take everything in.

It’s a lot. She pieced everything together, but nothing made any sense. And then, right after she went to the police with her information — or the lack of information and sense with regards to Jasper’s death — she met Fiona, and everything changed. She recalls her deal with Fi, to stay by her side, feed from her blood, learn what she could of vampire … of Kindred society from her, and she would tell her all about Jasper. Even meet him.

But then, there was a raid in on her Haven. Black-ops soldiers. They questioned her. And then they knocked her out and pumped … something in her body. After that, there had just been blackness and nightmares. And then this old house, the room, and so much pain until the bliss of two sharp points in her neck and ecstasy, the smell of burning blood and … Fiona in front of her, actually looking both worried and fascinated, the white-haired, flowered woman she would get to know as Eva, and a man in a hoodie whose features were warped and distorted.

Her memory hadn’t been that bad, or that compromised to realize who he was. Who he is.

Maybe he thought, after all this time, she wouldn’t be able to read his facial expressions or his body language. Jasper stood across the room from her, away from her, and when she really thinks about it, everyone else. Fiona had told her a little bit about the nature of his … condition, but telling is one thing, but seeing is a whole other. But it’s still him. Still the same gentle touch, the same concerned face, the eyes of the person who had always been at her side, the one who held her at night, the same individual who wrote that note on the napkin that nearly broke her mind.

Nothing about Jasper’s death made sense, neither the dearth of evidence nor the too brief testimonies of the authorities. It just didn’t add up. But there had been a funeral. She thought, maybe, she had been losing it: that the grief, and the stress of school had finally gotten to her … But that drive kept her going. That napkin was a sign.

And she had been right. Chloe was right.

It all seems clearer now, with Eva’s blood in her veins. It doesn’t make her emotions any more simplistic. She’s angry at Jasper. She’s furious at having left her, at not telling her the truth, of leaving her that message, and letting it eat her up inside. But she feels rage on his behalf: on the vampire — his sire — that stole his life, and their life together, away without his consent. Chloe thinks about how violated he must have felt, and then to have that thing this … Beast fighting in him constantly that he was too afraid of getting close to anyone. Including her.

She’s also happy. She feels immense joy knowing that he’s still … alive? Existent? That he had been watching over her? But still angry that he hadn’t said anything, that he led her into this place without her knowledge. Fi had informed her as much as possible. It’s true. Now that she knows a little more about the soldiers that abducted her, those agents, members of this Second Inquisition she realizes just how much her search would have endangered the vampires … these Kindred if the wrong people in law enforcement or research fields had listened to her questions, or looked at her information and saw how she was putting it all together. Likewise, most authorities might have simply thought her deluded or insane. But Chloe isn’t stupid. She’s tired. The pain inside of her, from the chemicals they pumped her with that kept her unconscious, is gone: purged by Eva and replaced with her blood. There are factions among the vampires, and she could feel that tension in that room with like the earth heaped on the coffin in which Jasper had never been buried.

She does feel betrayed, but also elated. And immortality? Chloe is still thinking about the implications of this discovery. Yes, there is a Beast that comes out in a vampire when they are made, and they do need to feed off blood. But Fiona’s words about affecting change and influence still echo in her head. And she’s seen what Eva is capable of doing. And even Jasper … Fi had told her that, for all of Jasper’s faults with endangering the Masquerade, he was a fairly potent and powerful vampire now. Though … she can understand why he doesn’t want to turn her, if his Clan looks like …

In retrospect, she’s glad she didn’t make a decision tonight, and that she has a little more time. She also feels protected. Whatever else Jasper did or didn’t do, she knows he will be there. And, in a way, looking at Eva now and the way she looks at Jasper, she feels a little better in knowing that Jasper hasn’t been completely alone: with both Eva and his friends, whom Fiona had said were quite some … characters.

The fact of the matter is, even in this clear state, even outside of the besotted almost drunken feelings that her bond with Fiona had possessed, Chloe still has a lot to think about. Reality still feels new, not as permanent or as concrete as she believed. Everything has changed. Everything is changing. Chloe majors … majored? She majors in Communications at Griffith College, but as one of her electives she took a film class that dealt with media. Once, she and her class sat down and watched some old films that played with reality. It’d been an old black and white French film by a man named Méliès. It was supposed to have some kind of anti-imperialist or a film that made fun of preconceived concepts of reality. Right now, she feels like one of those Selenites that exploded if someone touched them the wrong way. Chloe recalls, at the end of the film, the spacefarers returning home with one of the Selenites captive. The thought hits too close to home, like a rocket in her eye.

Jasper’s face kind of looks like a cratered moon now. She tries not to giggle at the image. Something about moons seems appropriate. Instead, Chloe focuses on more of the questions she wants to ask. Fi’s burner phone weighs heavily in her pocket, full of more promise. But, right now, Chloe decides to think about how Jasper is still here, how he is here with her, how she feels safe with him and Eva, and how she has so much more to learn.

And, perhaps, they all still do.

A World of Darkness Closes Its Eyes

During the period of 1991 to 2004, the White Wolf Gaming Studio created The World of Darkness.

It was a dark urban fantasy, or cyberpunk near-future version of the modern world, in the form of a table-top role-playing game. In this world you could play as a vampire struggling with your inhumanity, a mage discovering the esoteric patterns underlying reality, a werewolf fighting to regain environmental equilibrium, a fae being navigating strange and treacherous faerie courts and urban decay, or a wraith exploring the realms of the afterlife. And these are only a few prominent examples of what to expect in the World of Darkness: a role-playing game created for mature players with disturbing and, conversely, intelligent and philosophical themes.

Now imagine all of this made into a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

It’s not too much of a stretch to consider. Crowd Control Productions Games (or CCP Games), along with White Wolf, were planning to take Vampire: The Masquerade and use its emphasis on in-character or player politics to create an interesting dynamic with the rest of the dark world as a backdrop. Essentially, you as the player would know what it would be like to be an individual vampire attempting to interact with and understand undead existence amid the mortal world. It very much sounded like a multi-player expansion of the Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines game.

Unfortunately, CCP has been forced to cancel this project that had been in the making since 2006 and CCP Atlanta is currently in a process of staff layoffs and internal reassignments within the company. So the World of Darkness seems to have been foiled in its attempt to spread throughout the Internet. Perhaps that is just as well. MMORPGs tend to lose cohesive story development and meaning, becoming a repetitive item-drop and annual enemy killing cycle over time. Of course, I could definitely be wrong and I admit that perhaps there were different rule mechanics in this game project that might have been different from generic MMORPG game-play.

Who knows: they might have even expanded on it and added other denizens from the World of Darkness as well in a very cohesive and well-rounded manner.

I suppose we will never really know for sure now. Above is some of the first in-game footage. Tell us what you think.