New Haven: Blood Feuds

Chapter 1 - The Party

Death and Blood

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Scene 1 – The Preparations

Ellenore found herself in one of the penthouses in downtown, to which she’d been sent by her sire to meet with Mrs Diamond Eilders, the Master of Elysium and one of the Duchagne elders. The penthouse was pristine and beautiful, with huge windows from which the entire city could easily be seen. Opposite them was a wine cellar behind panes of glass, showing off an impressive collection. The only other person there was a ghoul, dressed up rather formally as a butler of some description.

He looked away from his mistress’s guest, directing his attention at the wine cellar. “Mrs Eilders will be here in a minute. Would you like some wine or anything else?”

There was a certain melancholy in Ellenore’s steps as she trailed a hand across the leather furnishing of the couch, her gaze drifting back and forth between the various pieces of furniture and the outside view. “Nostalgic. I used to live in a place like this too, did you know?” She took a few more steps before looking back over her shoulder, her hair resting gently against one of her cheeks, covering an eye. “Wine. I’m not sure it’s worth the mess… afterwards.”

The ghoul was not to be so easily discouraged. “Of course, not ma’am. Perhaps some special wine then? You shouldn’t create any mess with that,” he said, picking up one of the bottles in question.

A few elegant steps took her from the window to where the ghoul was standing, her smile brightening all the while. With a finger she traced the line of his neck, murmuring softly. “And Mrs Eilders doesn’t mind her visitors touching the… special wine, does she?”

He looked at her worriedly, wondering if she were joking or if she had merely misunderstood. “Of course not, shall I pour you a glass?“

Ellenore pouted slightly for a moment as realization dawned on her face, then turned around suddenly and propped herself down in one of the seats. “Very well,” she said, hard undertones giving away her annoyance, “I’ll try it out… I guess.”

He bowed before her and poured her a glass, taking a step backwards to allow her to peruse it at her leisure.

Ellenore picked up the glass and swished it around a bit, like she’d seen her father do many times. She brought the glass up to her lips with extreme skepticism and sniffed carefully, remembering but all too well what the last thing she tried to drink had tasted like. Strangely, the drink in the glass didn’t smell of wine. It wasn’t even familiar.

She looked at the ghoul again over the edge of her glass, her frown becoming rather pensive. Slowly she tipped it up, allowing the not-quite-wine to touch her lips, before taking a tepid sip. It had a taste like iron, but not quite like blood. Nonetheless it was really good.

A female voice drifted in from another room upstairs: “Enjoying my wine, are we?”

Ellenore put the glass down, shifting in her seat, suddenly startled. She got up quickly, and curtsied in the classical style. “I was… skeptical when your servant suggested it, Mrs Eilders, but I must say, your taste is quite exquisite.” She glanced to the side, her head still bowed, observing the wine as it moved in the glass, still in motion due to being so suddenly put down. “I didn’t know it was possible for us…”

Mrs. Diamond Eilders started to step down the stairs. Each step felt a lot heavier than it actually was. Her black dress was perfect, the make up gorgeous.

“So your cronie friends have not told you about it? That’s where I’m buying it from, after all. Where’s my glass?” she said and glanced at the ghoul, who scurried off to fetch a glass for his mistress.

Ellenore felt her unbeating heart jump a bit at every step, as if the tremors ran through the floor and shook her where she stood. This was someone to be reckoned with, and that unmistakable mix of refined grace and confidence was unmistakable. “I’m afraid that I’m not that close to the ‘cronies’ yet, as you call them, my lady.”

“At least you know some manners. We’ll see,” she said, sitting down on the couch and taking a sip from the glass her ghoul just poured. “So, tell me, what are you planning to do with your Requiem?”

“At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I’m afraid my answer must be: Finding the answer to that question.” She folded her hands in her lap, standing for lack of permission to sit. “I’ve always thought there has to be more to life. I feel death has given me the opportunity to find it, ironic as that may seem.”

“So, enjoy your unife, like the rest of our family, until the end of time?” said Mrs. Diamond looking closely at Ellenore.

“Always struck me as a fairly sensible stance… milady.” She looked around the room for a short moment, before focusing back on her host. “I must profess to a certain… fascination with the supernatural and the occult. The pleasure of the material world I am familiar with, these others are… new.”

“Yes… yes… We can move on. Do you know why you’re here? Using my precious time?”

Ellenore mulled the question over in her head, but in truth she’d been wondering that herself for some time now, and so far she hadn’t come up with any plausible explanations. “I’m afraid I wasn’t told, milady.”

“Well, it seems that Hadley decided that you’re worthy enough to become a neonate. And as you know, induction into our family happens in a great party. One held by you. I have the honour of instructing such inductees into our tradition and offering guidance where needed.”

Ellenore offered her a small bow. “The honour is all mine to be instructed by one such as yourself, my lady.”

“As you probably remember from Russell’s induction, the party traditionally consists of three performances. The last being yours. I will provide a venue for the whole affair, choice of performers is up to you. I guess once the word gets out you’ll be approached by some of our family with requests. And of course, after your performance, the party will truly be started. Any questions, darling?”

“What’s considered appropriate for these performances, lady Eilders? I wouldn’t like to overstep the boundaries of what’s considered acceptable when planning them.”

“Boundaries? Ha… You know of our family’s particular qualities… I think you’ll have a much harder time actually making it interesting.”

Ellenore curtsied again, trying to hold back a frown. The assertion grated on her, even though she knew most of what she could possibly think of had already been done many times over. She tried not to have her annoyance show. “Of course, milady. I wasn’t thinking. I don’t have any more questions.” She’d show her. It was time to get interesting.

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Scene 2 – Home

Ellenore returned home, a house she shared with a few others who paid her rent, though it looked like everyone was already sleeping. Considering the hour, that was no surprise. She unlocked the door, entered the corridor and smelledAbigaile right away. The girl was in the kitchen, apparently making a sandwich. Earlier that evening she’d sworn, once again, that she’d quit eating at night.

Ellenore came in, dropping the door behind her perhaps a little bit louder than was fair to her sleeping housemates. She couldn’t help but be in a bad mate as she left the penthouse, and brooding over it on the way home had only made her mood worse. She hadn’t really expected anyone to be awake, and so she stared at Abigaile for a few moments before really realizing she was there. “You’re awake,” she noted unnecessarily. It was a dry statement, just a vocalisation of a fact.

“Um… yeah,” the other girl said, looking embarrassed, “want a sandwich?”

“No, I’ve got a rather delicate stomach, and I don’t hold sandwiches down too well at this hour.” Ellenore swept a finger across the table. “I seem to remember that it doesn’t always end too well for you, either.”

“You don’t have to say it… “ She took a bite out of her sandwich. “So what are you up to, so late?”

“Night is more interesting, wouldn’t you agree? Nothing particularly fun happens during the day.” She watched Abigail eat for a moment, then glanced away, slightly uncomfortable.

“Well, yeah, perhaps for you… For us, it’s work and study time,” she said, turning towards the door. “Um.. Good night. Need to wake up for work in the morning.”

“Yes… good luck, and all that,” Ellenore said with a quick nod as she slipped past her and down the hallway. If only she had taken along some of that wine from earlier. Perhaps then she wouldn’t have thought the entire food situation to be incredibly unfair. Once up in her own room she took out her phone, putting through a call to her sire, Hadley.

“Hello?” her sire’s voice came from the other side of the line.

Ellenore kicked her shoes off as she let herself fall back onto the bed, her hair flowing out around her head. “Hey, it’s me. I went to see Diamond. So I have to throw my own party. Invite some people to do performances.”

“How did she react? And I know you’ll do fine. So do you have a plan?”

“She basically said I probably couldn’t make it interesting! She is so frustrating. Dignified, but frustrating. How do I impress a bunch of people who’ve seen it all before?”

“That’s a very good question. And a worthy trial for you. As your sire, I have a responsibility to offer a performance.”

“Ooo, that I have to see. What kind of performance would that be? Magic?”

“If that’s what you’d like… However magic is not quick. If you think that our family’s patience will be sufficient…”

“Yeah, no, probably not. I think I might go ask around a bit, see what people liked in past protegees’ parties. How’s that sound for a plan?”

“If they liked something last time, it doesn’t mean that they will like it this time. Surprise us, if we see something we have never seen before, you might succeed.”

“Well, I can’t know what you’ve never seen before without asking, right? What did you do when you were in my place?” She curls an arm under her head, giving herself a bit more of a comfortable position.

“Me. Well that was quite a while ago. I had the Carnival perform for me. A traveling vampire circus.”

“I could do an act with fire. I bet nobody ever does an act with fire, for obvious reasons. But fear is just another thrill, you know?” She chuckled half-heartedly, not really serious.

“That sounds interesting. If you can also prepare precautions. We don’t want frenzied Kindred messing up all the fun.”

Suddenly she bolted up, sitting in an upright position. “Wait! I got it! Alright, so picture this,” she said as she started making gestures with her free hand, “I’m up there on stage, wearing an elegant dress or something like that… then I just tear it off, revealing a gymnast’s costume tailor made for the occasion. Something feisty! Meanwhile, some people have to set up some props so I can do my gymnastics routine… only at the end I do a flip through a hoop that is on fire!”

She pauses a moment, nodding to herself enthusiastically. “They’d probably get a spike of interest when I tear my dress off, then get a bit ‘Ah, gymnastics…’ when I start. But then when the flaming hoop comes down I’m sure to get their attention! Especially if I let the Beast’s scary side flare at that very moment, like you taught me. I can make the fire seem even more exotically frightening, and the sense of unease will help build the anticipation. Then right as I stick the landing I let it go, and hit them with a bright smile, perfect pose and charm offensive instead! Maybe no one emotion can get through to our family, but such a fast juxtaposition might. The tension makes the release at the end feel bigger, as it were.”

“The fire won’t be anywhere near anyone, so that should be alright. Then it’s just a matter of keeping my cool and at least waiting ‘till backstage until I start shivering and curl up into a ball. Which, honestly, is a risk. But it might be worth it. I can’t think of a better way to impress them, and I’d be showing off my biggest skill from mortal life and the family specialties right away. It’d be a perfect illustration of why you thought I was ready.”

“Well, seems like you got a great plan. If you survive. Now, the other two performances remain.”

They hung up a little later, and Ellenore sent a message to Anna, her ghoul retainer telling her to make some costume arrangements. Thinking about her act some more she bolted shut her door, before closing her eyes. It was almost time for sleep.

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Scene 3 – Meetings

The following night, after getting up from a day of uneasy slumber and making herself presentable, Ellenore went to Pulse Nightclub and Lounge, an unofficial elysium for the Duchagne. When the family wants to meet, they usually does so there.

After getting through the public part of the club, she entered the Purple Lounge, where only the Duchange and those who invited by them may go. Most of the customers in the other parts of the club have long believed it to be the most VIP place of the club, and they all hope to one day get invited there. For many, this invitation brings their wildest desires to fruition, for some it means death. Not seldomly both.

Ellenore looked around the room and saw Dolores Ahner, Acolyte ancillae, Rachel Ridenour, unaligned protegee and Russell Folks, Invictus neonate.

Her gaze took them in quickly, and she failed to repress a little smirk; one couldn’t have imagined a more varied slice of the family. She decided against approaching any of them directly with her questions, rather preferring to see if one or the other would make a move him- or herself, first.

She put herself down at one of the empty tables, flashing her most honest of smiles, observing Russel bite the girl he brought with him. “They say the later the hour the finer the folk, but I see the fine folk decided to come out early tonight.”

Rachel looked worried, distressed even, Russell was enjoying a girl’s neck and Dolores was watching two men arm wrestle. The ghoul waitress came up to Ellenore:

“Would you like me to get you a drink?” said the ghoul, implying that she could send an invitation to someone having a great time in the main lounge inviting them for something even greater. Of course, Diamond Eilders always heard about every such request.

Ellenore shook her head. “Not tonight, thanks,” she told the ghoul, shifting her attention to Rachel, leaving the other two to their chosen forms of entertainment for now. “I get the feeling something’s eating you rather than the other way around tonight, Rachel. What’s up?”

Rachel switched the seats to join Ellenore’s table. “Yeah.. Well.. I’ve heard you’re almost done with being protegee. Congratulations, really. You achieved that in such a short amount of time, while I’m still stuck.”

Ellenore treated the girl to a sympathetic smile. “That’s not the end of the world, right? We have eternity, there’s no reason to rush it.”

“Maybe you do, after all, you’ll hold your great ball… I think that if I don’t prove myself soon, I might never get the chance. If my sire’s patience runs out… I might see the sun.”

Ellenore nods, thoughtful for a moment. She didn’t often get a chance to do the right thing, and deep inside she loathed herself for always taking the easy way out. Maybe it was time to do things a little different for once. “Everyone has something they’re good at. You must too, right? Maybe if you managed to show your sire, everyone would see you’re ready too.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I think! And I think you could really save me, if you let me perform in your celebration. I’d owe you everything, I think. It’s my best chance”

So the girl had gotten what she was hinting at, but now Ellenore took a long moment to consider the implications. What message was she sending based upon her choices? Her sire was a safe bet, but anybody else was a very different story. Rachel was unaligned, so no problem there, but what would the girl actually do on stage? Ellenore considered it, and decided it didn’t matter. She could plan in the girl’s performance first, and then if she failed, it would be the low that made the rest of the night seem higher. Just another of the contrasts her own performance was based upon. And if she did well… then there’d be no problem, and she’d be indebted to her in either case. She realized she was being callous once again. It would catch up to her eventually, and when it did she’d deserve it, every little bit. “Alright. You’ve got the spot. Don’t let me down, I want to see you shine out there!”

Rachel almost jumped out of joy “Thank you, Ellenore. You won’t regret it. I’ll go to see what kind of plans I could make and I’ll get back to you in a day or two, okay?” she said while standing up, with a huge smile on her face.

“Well, I admire the enthusiasm. Here’s my number,” she said as she handed the girl one of the convenient name cards she’d kept around ever since her mortal days. “Don’t hesitate to call if you need a hand in some preparations, alright?” The girl’s excitement and gratefulness only made her feel more guilty. Even when she did the right thing she just couldn’t be honest about the reasons behind it.

“Sure, thanks!” Rachel said, running off.

Ellenore noticed one of Dolores’s brutes approach her table. He wore formal attire, but Ellenore clearly saw it wasn’t what he was used to wearing.

“Hey. Mrs Ahner would like a word,” he said, extending his arm towards Ellenore.

“Truly? As luck would have it, I’m not averse to speaking with her myself,” she said as she stood up, putting a hand on the man’s arm to allow him to escort her.“Shall we?”

The brute led Ellenore to Dolores’ table, who took her in with a glance, nodding in the direction the other protegee had taken off in. “Hey, Ellenore, looks like you made Rachel pretty happy.”

Dolores wasn’t the kind of person who’d applaud charity, but Ellenore didn’t quite want to give away her other thoughts, either. “When I was young my only source of affection was a three-legged puppy I found by the side of the road. aMy parents didn’t care enough to prohibit me from keeping it. Ever since then I haven’t quite been able to resist the kind of look she just gave me. They have the same eyes.” She brushed the hair out of her own eyes. She hoped the explanation would sound sufficiently derogatory to throw Dolores off. “May I sit down?”

“Of course. Have a heart for the weak? Not afraid that they might bring you down? I’d advise you to get the strong ones as your allies. Finding a scapegoat is much easier than finding someone who can stand by your side”

Ellenore slipped into her seat in a relaxed fashion. “That does sound like good advice. I suppose it’s good to remember that even one on the eve of becoming a neonate still has much to learn from those older and more accomplished than she is. Maybe this’ll be one of those little mistakes of childhood that I’ll look back to some decades from now, grinning about the innocence of youth.” She let her eye fall upon the brutes accompanying the ancillae. “Are these the strong ones you talk of, to stand by your side? Or were you referring to a different kind of allies?”

“They are here to ensure that no one unworthy bothers me. If someone gets past them, then we can listen to what the poor shmuck has to say. And after that we’d see if I let them walk away.” She smiled at Ellenore. “The thing about mistakes is that they teach us a lot. But if we’re dead no amount of knowledge can help us. So I’d try not to make too many mistakes. Or make sure that those who wronged me, or whom I wronged, know that they shouldn’t be messing with me.”

“Oh yes, I do see what you mean,” Ellenore replied, reading a certain hidden undertone in the things being said. Going along with it seemed like her safest bet. “At the very least making two mistakes in one night might be a bit much, even for me. I suppose I’ll have to be very carefully not to make another.”

“In any case, if you do make a mistake, don’t forget to kick them in the nuts as well. Just so they know that pointing out your mistakes might be a mistake in itself.“ She laughed a little bit at her own words.

“That’s very close to something my mother once said. I’ll make careful note of it. I’m a bit surprised that you invited me over to talk about these things, I thought my banale problems would surely bore you.”

“Ha, in any case, you probably already realised that I want to perform at your induction party.”

“I was feeling some waves in that direction, yeah. I didn’t know you were big on stage performances.”

“Well organising and making sure there’s a spectacle is not the same as performing. In any case, what do you say?”

“True, I guess I’m just a bit more eager to show off some of my personal skills.” She smiled at the other woman, thinking back to the things that were said just a few moments before. There was still one more person left, but there had been far too large an emphasis on bloody violence against those who slight you for her tastes. After her earlier problems with some of the Invictus, she had no desire to send a message of support through the inclusion of one of their ranks, either. And as for Dolores… did she really dare say no? “I’d been wondering what such a fierce member of the family could pull out of her sleeves for the occasion, so I believe I’ll take you up on the offer.”

“Great. I’ll meet you there,” she said, motioning to the waitress. “Please send an invite to someone. A brunette girl would be best.”

“As you wish,” the ghoul said, turning towards the door to the main lounge.

“I’ll look forward to it,” she said as she stood up, preparing to leave the club; however, she quickly redirected her movement as she saw Russell lift his eyes towards her. Deciding there wasn’t any sense in being rude either, so went over to him. “You seemed to be having fun, so I thought I wouldn’t disturb you.”

“Was just waiting for you, beauty.”

She grinned despite herself as she sat besides him. So that’s how he liked to play the game. “And here I am, my Prince Charming. I think I know what you wanted to talk to me about today, and I hope my answer won’t spoil the mood on this fine evening.”

“You didn’t even hear my offer yet. Already predetermined to decline your path to greatness?”

“The last Invictus to talk to me like that left me in a gutter with a dagger in my back. Figuratively, but about as close to literal as you can get. It has made me… wary of such claims.”

“Invictus… Just because I chose that side of the fence shouldn’t instantly drive a wedge between us. We’re family after all, and when all is said and done, family will be the one collecting the bodies. Not some pretendo-ass aristocrats or mother of monsters worshippers”

She nodded. It was an angle she hadn’t considered often, but not entirely without merit. Still, her predominant thought was that she could probably use his argument in her advantage. “I don’t necessarily disagree. Family should stick together. That’s why, as family, I felt that I should give Rachel the shot she needs. You know she’s in a bad spot, how could I turn my back on that? And Dolores’s rhetoric is much the same. How would I choose between a sister and a brother?”

“And yet, it seems that you’ve done so even before speaking with me. Not even giving me a chance. Nonetheless, I just want what’s best for you, Ellenore. And if that lies with Dolores and a very likely fail of Rachel’s… She’s stuck as she is for a reason, you know. I could at least guarantee a great performance, which would put you in a good light. Considering the alternative… if she fails, it’s going to reflect on you, since you allowed her to waste everyone’s time. I wouldn’t want that for you, my love.”

Something about the dramatic delivery grated on her. She was ready to pay back in kind. “Alas, the frailties of this heart, still too much alive despite having beat its last a good while ago. I couldn’t turn down the dear and I suppose I sought to put a painful and difficult choice behind me when I gave Dolores a quick answer. I hope you won’t mind too terribly. Should the worst come to pass, I will forgive you any rightly earned ‘I told you so’s you choose to level in my direction.”

“I understand.” He glanced at Dolores who was biting a girl probably thinking that tonight was her night. “How about a dance? Some dancing always lets me forget any troubles”

Ellenore stood up, offering him her hand. “It would be my pleasure.” If he was a good dancer, that might even be true. If he wasn’t… well she deserved someone treading all over her toes.

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Scene 4 – Rachel meets Ellenore

After a couple of nights, Rachel called Ellenore and they agreed to meet. Pulse Nightclub and Lounge was pretty packed. Seems that the twins were creating an impromptu party in the VIP Lounge.

Ellenore found Rachel sitting at the corner table, eyeing one of the twins undressing a man on a table.

She slipped in besides her, whispering: “Jealous? We could undress you on the table as well, if you’re looking to compete.” A bit of public indecency she’d never feel guilty about, and doing it to Rachel might be fun. Just to see her squirm.

“Um.. No.. I.. I’d rather get our business straight first. We can always find the time for undressing once everything is alright,” Rachel replied, trying to put on a smile.

Ellenore let out a chuckle. “Well, it’s good to know that undressing on the table is still on the table. So, what’s up?”

“Well… I was thinking about my performance. The thing is, what I do best, is dancing. And I’m trying to figure out how to make that more exciting, since I guess a simple dance will not get me where I need to go.”

“Yeah, probably not. I had a similar problem with gymnastics, actually. I’ve added a flaming hoop finish to the mix, and some Kindred flair. That end is either going to be a nice touch or a giant mess, but it’s what I figured would work.”

“Wow… you’ll really try a flaming hoop? You might die, you know…”

“Paper doesn’t burn if you throw it through a fire fast enough, I’m sure I won’t either, even if I intended to touch the burning edges. And I don’t. I’m not averse to taking some risks. If I was, I wouldn’t have asked you. I hope you don’t take that personal, but it is a risk for me.”

“I understand… I owe you a lot, just for giving me this chance. So do you have any suggestions what I could do to improve my performance? And your party…”

Ellenore leaned back against the wall behind her, hooking her arms behind her head. Now she had to come up with the girl’s routine, too? She hated having to think things through too much. Once had been bad enough. “Ugh… I’m pulling blanks here myself. I’ve been so focused on my own stuff, I’m not sure the thinking juices are flowing right now.”

“Hmm… Well, I guess, I could get a couple of ghouls to dance with me.. and then.. then…”

Ellenore pats her on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Take it as part of the challenge. The ghouls might be a good idea in any case. And then… hey, have them dance on glass or something? Might be amusing.” She laughed hollowly for a second, then shook her head. That kind of comment was probably what Duchagne would expect from each other but dammit, she always felt dirty doing it. And did it anyway. “Just lightening the mood, dear.”

“Sure… Once again, thanks”

“Whatever you want to do is fine. Our family can be a bit… weird at times. Maybe disturbing is sometimes the right answer.” She takes her hand, pulling her upright as she stands. “Now come on, put your mind off of it for a moment. Let’s party!”

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Scene 5 – The Grand Masque of the Duchagne

The room had several sofas, a small stage and a lavish bar, but there were no vampire guests present yet, just Ellenore, Rachel, Diamond and some ghouls, as well as a few kine. Some of them looked pretty spaced out, either from Majesty, Nightmare or drugs… mere playthings for the real guests of the party.

Diamond turned to the two younglings. “I hope you’re sure about her performance, no offense, darling, it’s just that tonight Ellenore should shine. In any case, I’ve prepared all else as you can see. This should be a good night.”

Ellenore curtsied elegantly. “I am truly grateful for your help, Mrs Eilders. I’m sure Rachel will give it her all.” She was sure of no such thing, yet she offered the other protegee an encouraging smile as she stood upright again. Were she still alive her heart would likely be pounding with nerves, but then being technically dead did have its advantages.

After a while Vincent, Alise and Alberta came in through the door, arriving early as befitted their status as fellow protegees. They didn’t want to lose any opportunity to be around their family.

Ellenore didn’t lose any time herself, welcoming them to the party with a charming smile and a few kisses on the cheek. “Welcome! I hope you’ll all enjoy yourselves today.” No doubt that enjoyment would come at the cost of some of the poor saps wandering about, but she didn’t pay that any heed. It wasn’t her responsibility.

After a few welcoming and suck up gestures (Seems like they want to get on Ellenore’s good side) Russell came in through the door, with the Twins mere moments behind, looking around with smirks on their faces.

Ellenore continued playing the excellent host, greeting everyone personally as they came in with small comments about their clothing, hairdress, and other such compliments to accompany their arrival.

Some ghouls of the family came in as well, though their masters weren’t present yet, followed by Hadley and Dolores Ahner. Dolores was accompanied by a whole retinue of bodyguards, at least six of them.

“Ah, Hadley. I hope tonight will convince you that you’ve made a good choice in me.” She smiled, giving a little nod. “I’m surprised you feel you need that many guards tonight, Dolores. Expecting things to get rowdy?”

“Not really, but I don’t expect to return home with all of them. Ready for your party?”

“Ready as I can be. Preparations are all completed, so no use in worrying. Just need to actually do it now.” Her gaze flips to Rachel for just a moment, looking at her out of the corner of her eyes, before immediately refocusing. “It’ll be memorable, I have no doubts.”

“Of course it will. I trust you won’t disappoint me. We wouldn’t want me to have performed in a loser’s party, now would we?” She smiled. Her smile reminded Ellenore of a wolf’s grin. With that she noticed Marvin and Alvaro enter the room, leaving only the oldest member of the family to wait for.

“Naturally, we wouldn’t,” Ellenore said just before turning towards the new arrival.

Alvaro immediately turned towards the group, carrying his usual box with him.

“Alvaro, thanks for coming,” she said as she shakes his free hand and such. “Do you want me to find a place for that box, or are you preferring to keep it close?”

“Oh my dear, you know that it’s always by my side. However finding a table for it would be great, if you’d fancy this old man a game of chess,” he smiled generously at Ellenore

“Well, I’m not sure I should accept a challenge from you. The way I play you’d soon grow bored, and boring my guests seems like a poor way to go about the evening. Perhaps someone present would be better able to hold their own?” She smiled. “Of course, I’m willing to try, but I fear I’ll end up humiliating myself.”

“Nonsense, you’ll do as good as anyone else here.” He took Ellenore’s hand quite swiftly and started leading her towards one of the tables. Before she could react he seated her opposite of himself, setting up the board in a record amount of time, along with a chess clock, set to one minute apiece..

“Ookay,” she said with a dubious glance at the clock. She was there on the spot now, she might as well give it a try. She was only vaguely aware of how speed chess was supposed to be played from watching a movie, that one time, once, but she thought she got the gist of it. She started the clock putting a peon forward on the board, before pausing her clock and passing the turn on. She’d just have to focus on beating the clock and make whatever short term gain move she could make, forgetting the long term. She could never make it in one minute if she thought more than half a move ahead. Not that she’d really know what to think of if she had had more time.

Within the blink of an eye Alvaro’s hand moved a knight. Ellenore didn’t even notice how he pressed the clock.

Ellenore was stunned for a second, not having expected to be the one moving quite this fast again. She quickly threw out the best move she could think of, only realising after the fact that was pretty much the same move he had just made. She must have been thinking about his move a bit too much there. She passed the turn, keeping her hands ready to go. She’d be sweating if she could.

Several moves later it was clear that Alvaro is gaining an advantage, and Ellenore has a very slim chance of victory. Including making the 1 minute timer before her loss.

Ellenore felt herself getting into it a bit despite her normal disdain for chess. Somehow, the crazy time limit made it just that much more thrilling, appealing more to her sense of immediacy. She moved another piece forward, pressing her time button with the other hand as soon as she slid it into place. “Go.”

“Finally you’re trying,” Alvaro said. Even his speech was fast, making it hard to comprehend, as soon as Ellenore figured it out she realised that her timer was already ticking. After several more moves Ellenore realised that her timer sat at a pathetic three seconds when she passed the turn.

In his normal voice Alvaro said: “Checkmate, dear. Thank you for allowing this old man an interesting game with a gorgeous young girl. How are you? Do you have your plans already, for what you’ll do once the blood and sweat of this party is cleaned?”

Ellenore had always hated losing. “Ah! For a moment there I thought I could come back, but then you took the knight… Oh, what? You mean what I want to do with my Requiem once this is all said and done?” She glanced over the board again, with a sad frown at her collection of captured pieces, much less impressive than its twin on the other side of the board.

“Why yes, of course. Life’s too short to linger on a simple game, isn’t it? Especially when you have such a grand game before you.”

She considered the question for a moment. “I want to find out if there’s something in the game that I’ve been overlooking. A glimpse at the hidden sections of the rule booklet.”

“Ha, perhaps. And I bet you’ll find your own ways to break the rules. For me, recently in fact, a great understanding came. And the more I think about it, the more I see it as truth.”

“Oh?” she leaned in a little closer. “A great understanding?”

“Yes, look at these chess pieces. Look at them, and describe them to me.”

Ellenore frowned a bit as she picked them up. “Well, they have different shapes, uumm… they have different functions on the board, movement rules change based upon which one you move… some are black, some are white?”

“No, no. You’re looking at them the wrong way. Look at them closer. What is their identity?”

“What? They’re just pieces on the board, they don’t have identities. All these peons look the same.”

“No, they don’t. They have seen many hands. They have seen many things. They’re probably as old as you are. So look at them again, look at them and tell me what are the differences between them.”

Ellenore looked at the pieces hard, squinting a bit, turning one around in front of her eyes. “Well, alright. When they were first made they were probably close to the same, but this one has a little nick in it. So I guess the difference is their personal histories?”

“Well you could say so. Not what I was leading you to, but that’s the point. Now imagine that you’re a pawn. A size of this pawn.” He took one of the pawns. “For him, the others have faces, marks and touches. For him everyone on this board is completely different with only superficial similarities. Do you understand?”

“It’s a matter of… perspective?”

“Exactly!” He said with a smile on his face. “You can see the whole board. You know that the white king is pretty much the same as the black one. But for the king, the other one is his mortal enemy and they have nothing in common. Do you realise where I’m going with this?”

“This is leading up to an Invictus-Crone comparison isn’t it?” Ellenore said, pushing her queen a bit with a finger until it just barely didn’t topple over. She didn’t really want to talk about all that again.

“Yes. The witches and the knights think they have nothing in common, that they are enemies. That’s because they can see the scratches on each other, because they know what the other has done. Because they rememberer things which don’t really matter in the big scheme of things. But when you look at the whole board, you can see that they’re the same.”

“Assuming they’re playing the same game. What if I replace one side with pieces from another game, like… go?”

“I’ve seen and heard enough to believe they are. Both sides have done great atrocities against everything. Most importantly against themselves. As for replacing one side, that sounds good. But can you really change one side? Without changing the other or destroying the game?”

Ellenore combed her hair back with a hand. This was getting a bit complicated for her, a bit too abstract. She tried not to let her annoyance with the concept show as she answered. “I guess not. At least I haven’t ever seen it done…”

“Exactly. Remember this, once you get drawn into one of the sides, that those you’ll be destroying will actually be just like you.“

“I’m not really thinking of destroying anyone just yet. I vote Republican, but I haven’t really shot any Democrats yet…” She bows her head at him. “I will keep it in mind if it does come up, though.”

“Soon enough you will. I guess I’ve been boring you for long enough, my dear.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say it was boring. Perhaps a bit above my reach at some points, but never boring. Thank you for the game, and for the advice.”

“Ha, ha. No. Thank you for spending this time with me.” He turned his head towards the door. “Seems that she is finally here.”

As he said so the door opened and the eldest of the Duchagne entered the room. Thalia Kattaura was as gorgeous as ever, and as usual a group of mortals was following in her wake, each trying to find an opportunity to impress her, each praying for even the slightest sign of affection from her. Soon everyone’s head turned towards the new arrival.

Ellenore got up quickly, moving over to pay her respects. She curtsied with great reverence. “Lady Kattaura, it is my great honour to welcome you to the party. I hope you shall find it pleasing.”

“Of course, it will break the routine. You look a lot more confident compared to the last time I saw you,“ she said as one of her followers kneeled by her side and started kissing her hand gently.

“I give my sire, Hadley, full credit for the degree of confidence I now possess. Without her guidance I would not be where I am today.” She glanced at the eager follower for a moment. Such overt displays of control often made her a little uncomfortable, even now. It wasn’t so much the act that made her queasy, but more the duality inside of herself. She didn’t quite approve, but she didn’t ever do a damn thing about it.

You’ve always been a coward, she thought to herself.

“Yes, she has taught you well. I’ve heard you’ve made some interesting choices in your performers,” she said, completely ignoring the man by her feet.

“Both of them were very keen, and I saw the value in having entertainers who were enthusiastic about their part in tonight’s festivities. I hope you will find them, and me, interesting to the end.” She curtsied again.

“Are you glancing at him?” she tilted her head slightly towards the slave. Upon hearing himself being mentioned he froze, his eyes and face filled with ecstasy.

“I was… admiring the admiration of your subjects… my lady.”

“Would you like to share him with me? It would be the greatest gift to him. Isn’t that right, Raphael?” she turned her head to the man.

“I… I beg you,” he said while looking at Ellenore.

Was it really wrong if they asked? Even if, without a little emotional tampering, they might not have? Ellenore wasn’t sure of the answer, but she was quite sure there was at least one Kindred at the party she did not want to piss of that night. In the end, it was all one big rationalisation once more. The lies she came up with to keep living with herself. “I wouldn’t dream of turning down such a gracious gesture.”

“Come here, Raphael.” It looked like Raphael couldn’t believe what was actually happening. Thalia kissed him on the lips, then she turned him towards Ellenore, she she started to gently kiss his cheek, going down to his neck.

Ellenore wasn’t shy herself, once she got the moral qualms out of the way. She pressed herself against him and kissed him too, but that wasn’t enough anymore, now that she knew there to be a Kiss far sweeter. Her lips followed a trail down to his neck, the mirror image of the one Thalia was making. Her fangs sank into the man, delving into that font of warm, sweet blood below. She let it flow down her throat, shuddering against him as her hands roamed his body, for a few moments lost in the ecstasy that could rival (and perhaps overcome) all other sensations she had felt in life, or since. As his heartbeat—hammering keenly in her ears—began to slow down she blinked and stopped. Surely this was about what he could take, right? If she stopped here and Thalia continued, it wasn’t her fault. Not really. If only she believed it herself.

She looked at Thalia, but Thalia was completely lost in the Kiss. Within moments pale Raphael’s body fell to the ground.

“And you are now, within your Goddess,” Thalia whispered towards the body and other followers.

Ellenore kept silent for a moment. Something at the back of her mind told her that this was how it was supposed to be between Kindred and Kine, predator and prey, but the voice had no strength to add to its conviction. She wasn’t quite ready to see it that way yet, though it would ease her internal suffering to do so. Despite her personal doubts, the deviant excess was enough to make part of her sing, the part of her that wanted nothing but to throw itself into sinful pleasures some more. It made a shudder of longing run through her, but she repressed the urge for now.

“I will see you later,” said Thalia as she started walking towards one of the tables. Two of her other followers started dragging Raphael’s body along with them.

Ellenore made a quick bow towards her as she strode past. Hosting parties had been so much simpler during life. Make sure there’s booze, some music and snacks and away they go; here, she had the feeling everyone was constantly trying to test her. She looked around to see if the others were at least getting comfortable.

Ellenore noticed Russell walking away from Diamond. He looked like she just slapped him… using only words. Vincent was playing chess with Alvaro; Alvaro didn’t seem like was really interested in that particular game. Hadley was speaking with Alise, though she couldn’t tell what the conversation was about.

All in all, it seemed like the attending Kindred were not having too much fun.

Ellenore got over to Rachel. “I think it’s time we roll out the first of the entertainment, wouldn’t you say?”

Rachel shivered a little. “Sure, you’re right. Won’t you say some introductory talk or something? While I prepare.” She waved at the two ghouls she brought with her.

The socialite slapped her on the back. “You got it, I’ll get them ready for you, no worries. Don’t take too long though, alright?”

“Thanks,” she said before meeting up with the two ghouls.

Ellenore made her way over to the stage, climbing on and walking to the front centre. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?” she called out, waiting for the gathered Kindred and Kine to quiet down a bit. “I once again thank you all for coming out here tonight, to my Grand Masque. It is my great honour, pleasure and privilege to present the scheduled entertainment for tonight.”

She let her gaze go over the guests for a moment, smiling at each individually. The crowd looked back, though she barely held the attention of some of them.

Ellenore did her best to present the schedule in as good a light as she could, keeping an eye out for Rachel’s signal. Once she saw the girl wave, she announced her performance and left the stage to sit amongst the rest of the family.

Rachel stood upon the stage, the ghouls standing by her side. As the music started she started to slowly dance along with it, moving faster and faster with each pass of the music. Ellenore realised that quite quickly that she was using some of her powers to speed up her ritme, making the dance very energetic and very fast. In the end it was hard to see her movements at all. The music fell silent as she grabbed one of the ghouls, her face pale.

Ellenore was right next to Dolores, wanting to check if the other Kindred was all ready to go as the next performer, but it seemed like was just watching the stage, completely forgoing any sort of preparation. She glanced up at the stage, confused by the sudden pause, but sidled up besides her anyway. “Hey, Dolores. Do you have your act ready to go after this?”

She turned her head towards Ellenore. “Do you think I would have allowed you to announce my performance if I weren’t ready?”

“I’m just a bit nervous, that’s all. Can’t really blame me, right?” She smiled at the other girl apologetically.

“It’s not me you need to be worried about,” she said nodding towards Rachel as the music returned to the room.

Ellenore turned her head back to the stage right on cue, whispering: “With Rachel there’s nothing I can influence by worrying about it… Prep isn’t her problem.”

The music was getting faster again… Rachel had bitten the neck of the ghoul she grabbed. A moment later he collapsed.

“I doubt that’s going to help him dance,” she mused. A bit of a simplistic way to add a thrill, perhaps. She felt a shudder run along her spine, was it because of what she’d said jokingly? There was nothing to it but just grin and bear it right now, and if someone took a joke for actual advice that wasn’t really her fault, right? Maybe she just needed to refill to keep up the speed she’d had before…

The music was increasing in speed again, just like the first time, but now Rachel wasn’t moving to the rhythm; she lifted her head, turned around and pounced upon the other man, immediately grounding him as well.

“And the weakling couldn’t bear being hungry for a minute,” said Dolores, observing the situation.

“I think it’s planned, it just doesn’t mesh very well with the overall theme…”

“Planned? We both know that quite a few here wouldn’t consider this a good act when breaking the flow of the music so hard. You think she’d risk it? She’s too cowardly to try,” she said. At that moment the second man stopped moving.

“No. She’s scared enough to be desperate enough to… She’s not going to do the same with the second one, right?”

“I’d get her under control, if I were you. If she attacks someone who’s not hers…”

Ellenore stood up, clapping loudly in the sudden silence as she lets her own personal magnetism roll over the room, grabbing the attention of those on and off the scene alike. “And that was Rachel’s performance everybody!” she says as she climbs onto the stage. “Quite a lot of energy in such a small package, no?” she looks at Rachel over her shoulder. “Get a hold of yourself. You’re making a mess of things.”

As Ellenore spoke, Rachel lifted her head from the second body and leaped on one of the ghouls standing next to the stage. However, this one caught her in time, starting a struggle.

Cursing silently Ellenore rushed in to help the third ghoul out. Finally realizing what was going on, she tried to think of some other way to calm her other than just locking her in place, but she couldn’t think of any. Together they were able to restrain the girl… Barely. After some time, she finally calmed down.

Rachel mustered all her strength. “I’m… I’m so sorry.”

Ellenore struggled to keep herself calm, gritting her teeth for a moment. “We’ll… talk later. Just get this mess off the stage so I can try to salvage this.”

Rachel stood up and started going towards the corpses with her head down. Whispers went through the room. When she got close to the first corpse Dolores’s voice thundered through the room. “Get off my stage! You’re ruining the view. Those guys can serve as props for the grand tale I am about to tell, as well as reminders of your failure!”

If a high grade incendiary device had exploded in the room just then, Ellenore might not have minded particularly much. It wasn’t the first time the embrace of death had seemed tempting to her. She nodded at Rachel and motioned her off the stage. Part of her wanted to offer up some consoling gestures, but frankly she was more concerned with keeping the event together at that point. When it came down to it, she always did put herself first. “Duchagne’s own Dolores will take the stage for you next, ladies and gentlemen. Please give her a warm applause.” She bowed as she vacated the stage, hoping Dolores had something better in mind.

Dolores went a bit to the left of the stage, while her ghouls got on the stage, each wearing a different costume. She proceeded to tell a grand tale of the Blinded Queen and her travels, with the ghouls acting out the roles. Some other ghouls brought in tied up people, who were released upon the stage at appropriate times, to play the parts of those who would die.

“And so in the end, greatest champions fought for the chance to be by the Queen’s side. And so, we will see my ghouls fighting for this opportunity as well, to the death”. Four ghouls came upon the stage, naked with but a sword in hand.

Ellenore watched on in a silence that could very easily be mistaken for intense focus. Dolores had a good grasp of what their family found interesting, that was for sure. By now she was quite numbed to it all. She could only bring herself to care so much for other people’s suffering on one evening, and that was yet another part she hated about herself. Mumbling something about preparations, she went to make sure her own help and arrangements were ready to go.

The men started fighting, and it was obvious that they had had little to no training. The crowd watched them and picked sides. Some even had bets on the outcomes of each fight. One by one the men fell with only a lone victor remaining at the end. He had a stab wound in his side, which he was pressing a hand against to stop the blood. It didn’t seem too life threatening. The crowd cheered for him.

“And here is our victor, and my gift to Ellenore. I hope he serves you as well as his courage served him. Kneel before your new master, and be thankful, for your life is now in her hands”

The man fell on his knees looking up at Ellenore, fear clear in his eyes.

Ellenore put a smile on her lips, even though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. The things she had to put up with… “My champion… will you serve me well?”

“Yes…” he said, seeming a little lost.

“You should ghoul him. That will let his wound to heal, and will ensure obedience.”

“A fitting reward for his valour, I do agree.” She brought her wrist up to her lips and bit herself, belittling herself for not being able to hurt herself more with the bite; she deserved it for being part of this. Then again, weren’t vampires were probably all going to hell anyway? Or whatever equivalent to that human concept that was really out there. She held her wrist out to him, allowing a small trickle of her own blood to run out of the wound. “Partake of my essence and claim your prize.”

It was obvious that the man didn’t like the idea, but the alternative terrified him even more. As soon as he tasted precious Ellenore’s blood he couldn’t make himself stop. His wound closed, and he looked almost well-rested.

“Clean yourself up backstage,” she told him, “it won’t do for you to look so bedraggled. As for me, I’ve got to get ready too.” She gave a nod to Dolores, ‘thanking’ her for the ‘gift’ before she went to get ready.

Backstage she quickly got into the gymnast’s outfit Anna had procured for her, complete with phoenix motif. She hoped there wouldn’t literally be ashes to rise from tonight. All that was left was to repeat her instructions to the ones backstage. She didn’t need much, just for the lighting and the music to be controlled, and for her ring of fire to be put on stage at the right time. She glanced up at the hoop, yet unlit. There’d only be a small wreath of flame, but it would look bigger to her mind, she was quite sure. Yet instead of fear she felt… nothing at all, really. It puzzled her.

Giving out the last of her commands, she went back on stage, ready to perform.

The crowd was looking at her intensely. After Dolores’s performance she’d have to put up quite a show. The people who died during Dolores’s play were gone, but Rachel’s remained. It didn’t matter, she was agile enough to move around them.

Placing herself at the front of centre stage, she waited for the music to kick in. When it did she tore free of the flimsy dress that had been covering her outfit—designed exactly for that purpose—and started her routine. She wove flips and cartwheels seamlessly into each other, moving across the stage in an explosive fashion that very closely mirrored the beat of the music.

At the end, as she saltoed backwards to gain some distance, the hoop, now burning, was wheeled onto the stage. The crowd let a slight wail of fear and excitement out. She knew she only had one shot at it, as she let the ominous and frightful side of the Beast reign, making the fire look all the more dangerous and wild. She steeled herself, then ran, determined to make the flip clean through.

As she rushed headlong at the fire, she felt the Beast roar inside her, trying to pull her off her course. With a great effort of will she pushed it back; this was much too important. She skipped, flipped and then tumbled clean through, only registering heat for the barest fraction of a second before she landed. Inside she was still at turmoil, and she did another flip overhead to put some distance between herself and the fire, and to get closer to the front of the stage. Letting the frightful presence go, she drew in the adoration of the crowd and took on her ending pose. She fought back against the frightened Beast inside of herself a bit more and eventually shrugged off the feeling, pushing it back deep inside. She smiled at the crowd.

The crowd was applauding Ellenore. She could see them all, some with fear in their eyes, some with awe. Some of the mortals and ghouls couldn’t quite understand why it ws such a big feat, but they were impressed nonetheless.

It all worked out in the end.

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