My Little Ventrue Pt. 07 Ch. 08
High within her tower, Antoinette perused the latest information she had acquired through her network of spies. Pictures of Terra Den and its enforcers were cropping up, far more than she wished, as were pictures of the various Xnomina thralls and ghouls, moving against them during daylight. Forever a frustration, that a Kindred's movements and actions were limited to the night, while their far less capable thralls and ghouls could move about freely whenever they desired. Every night come dusk, she had to examine the latest reports, and see what silly maneuvers the enthralled humans performed while she slept.
Garry, was likely the reason Terra Den continued to be aggressive toward Invictus and Xnomina. If this aggressiveness continued unabated, soon thralls would be shooting each other. Once that occurred, the insulted covenant would argue it was damaged property, and demand recompense. The other would not agree, and make a similar argument. Kindred would argue with each other in dark alleys and behind closed doors about the loss, and these disagreements would escalate into violence. The moment a Kindred died, it would escalate further, to skirmishes; nothing more than an appetizer to outright war.
As she acquainted herself with the details of the previous twenty-four hours, thralls had appointments to visit her. Each night, several of her thralls stepped into her office, eyes down in reverence, and she performed the routine of maintaining them as a resource. Those she had bound with the Vinculum were given a taste of her blood, to ensure the addiction and affection continued. Some were bound with only Majesty, though these thralls could not be trusted with vital information, or more impressive weaponry. Some were bound with both, those she trusted with handling the most deadly weaponry and deadlier information.
None of them were told anything about her experiments. Let them live in ignorance of it, lest an unruly thrall divulged information they should not. For all the squabbles of the covenants, and her need to manage them, they were secondary to her true goals of mastering the rules of ephemera, spirits, and what else may lay beyond.
Sometimes she still wondered if it would be better to leave Dolareido, continue her experiments where no one knew her, and no one knew what sort of science she pursued. Jack would be with her of course, and her new childe.
Samantha Terry. Antoinette smiled as she brought up yet another report about covenant activity; Samantha was not in the report, and yet Antoinette's mind drifted to her nonetheless. Her childe had departed to visit her old home, and say her farewells. Jack had gone with her. She had been tempted to join them, but no, it was far too personal. Let the two of them bond, reforge their relationship, and move on from the death of daughter and sibling. Antoinette would be there when it was time for Samantha's funeral. A month was quite a length of time to wait for such an event, but Samantha's new life took precedence.
Bless her heart, Samantha was simply too adorable. While mother and child shared much in common, such as their penchant for honesty, Samantha was soft, resilient in that she would bend when forced, but far too passive to strike back at whatever bent her. The sort of woman who would stay with her husband, even if the man proved abusive and aggressive. Delightfully fortuitous of the woman, to have wed a loving husband and bear two loving children. Or perhaps, not fortuitous, but diligent, to have raised her children as she did, to have raised Jack into the man he had become.
Daniel stepped into the office, and she gestured to him with a gentle hand as she leaned back upon her throne. "I assume you know of Terra Den's new aggression. They continue to poke at Xnomina."
"Did it come up at the Primogen meeting?"
"It did, but Garry did not admit to the severity of his actions, and the Invictus refused to admit how damaging those actions are. Strange, is it not? It is usually Garry who refuses to show weakness, while the Invictus claw at his domain."
"It is strange. The power balance has been upset, and Garry continues to take advantage."
Sighing, Antoinette caressed her jaw with a single finger, and scrolled through the various pictures her thralls had taken. Garry's thralls were never subtle. While the Invictus knew to operate quietly, in secret, establishing many plots with a dozen avenues each, the Carthians were content to operate openly, burning down whatever they felt was an obstacle. In the past, Garry would force himself to hold back on his more reckless Carthian urges, due to the dual power of the First and Second Estate. His rise to greater power continued after the purge, and had only continued to grow in more earnest after the death of Viktor and Tony. Naturally, now that Maria had decided to focus her efforts on the revival of the blasted Lancea et Sanctum, leaving much of the Invictus duties in Michael's lap, Garry would continue to push to expand his territory, in retribution for the Mirrden district, but also with an inevitable desire to rule the city for himself.
Perhaps, instead of fleeing Dolareido for a more private life, she should simply kill all the Carthians and Invictus in her beloved city? A tempting thought, but ultimately it would undermine her goals. If she wanted Kindred to cooperate in preparation for the future, Dolareido and the truce it maintained between covenants were her greatest chance.
"The Uratha," she said, "are a factor in this. Garry feels comfortable being aggressive, because the infuriating Gangrel is friends with Avery. How far have the Invictus come in... seducing, the werewolves into their arms?"
"Not very." Shrugging, Daniel walked behind her to stand at the enormous window looking over her city. "Clara and Carter continue to sleep in the Invictus hotel, and while the First Estate has offered other incentives to the Uratha, Avery has been slow to take the bait."
"She is intelligent. I... have to respect that."
"She killed Minerva," he said.
"She killed Minerva at Simon's order, and because my... old friend, had crossed a line." A line of which she had yet to be informed of. "You do not trust her." She could practically see the frown through the back of Daniel's head. Which was quite surprising, considering how rarely the man frowned.
"I think... you have been unusually forgiving, as of late."
This again. Antoinette sighed, got up from her chair, and joined her old friend at the window.
"Did you enjoy the purge, sheriff? Did you enjoy walking in the ashes of dozens of Kindred?"
"We have a responsibility to the Ordo Dracul, Ann. Being Voivode of this city has provided you with the resources to pursue your experiments."
"You know very well my goal is not only my experiments with ephemera, Daniel."
She expected a sigh, but that was her mistake; Daniel rarely made such noises. He stared out the window, adjusted his glasses, and shook his head.
"You expect too much. The Carthians will stir violence with the Invictus, sooner or later, and Jacob will throw gasoline onto that fire. The werewolves will get involved. And, because tragedy is an avalanche that does not stop until it has destroyed everything, the Begotten will become involved. Do you not remember the damage Azamel caused the last time she was here?"
"I... cling to the peace we have. It is the only hope our kind has, Daniel."
As if God had decided to make a statement, Daniel did indeed, sigh. "Then you have more hope for these Kindred than I. It will come to violence, Ann."
"You believe we will be forced to choose between the Carthians and the Invictus?"
"No. I believe, when the time comes, everyone will be at each other's throats. We will be forced to leave, or..."
Or kill them all, and purge her city of all meddling forces. The issue with that approach, was that, for all the strength she possessed, her and Daniel, it would not be possible for them two of them to defeat two hundred Kindred in battle, when the enemy would have the support of several ancilla, Maria, Michael, Garry, and now perhaps the Uratha. In the worst case scenario, Jacob would become an issue, and that was not a battle she was sure she could win.
She was more confident that she could defeat the Uratha, than she could Jacob. But then she remembered Simon, and the others of his pack, and the powers they possessed. While all Uratha could transform into fierce beasts of legend, it was the Uratha that wielded special abilities upon that, that were truly frightening. Some could disappear, in a similar manner to Kindred. Some could summon flames to their claws, which would be especially problematic for her kind. And some, she knew, could unleash roars that could render even a Kindred catatonic.
Daniel was right, of course. With time, the habits of Kindred would lead to violence, and Avery would find herself involved; Azamel as well, considering Dolareido's luck of late. All of this, and they still had the hunters to deal with.
"No," she said at last. "If it comes to it, we will act with violence, but not only do I believe these Kindred can learn to coexist, but that you and I can deal with the troubles that arise in pursuit of coexistence."
Large words. She had become more passive, accepting, and forgiving of the transgressions of her fellow paranormals as of late. The sheriff and her had had this conversation before, and at the time, she had felt that perhaps her relationship with Jack had softened her; Daniel felt the same way. With time, she was not so sure it was simply her being in a loving, healthy relationship that had softened her heart, but hope. Hope that, perhaps, the covenants could grow to cooperate, and the Lancea et Sanctum, with the reforged Burksen within, could become something healthy for her city, instead of the ludicrous traditionalism and totalitarianism of Lucas's approach.
Alas, perhaps she was being naive. Perhaps, given time, Daniel would prove to be correct, and the two of them would be forced to deal with the covenants, the Uratha, and the Begotten. She had measures in place, should such a battle happen upon the horizon, but she would not engage such tools unless absolutely necessary.
Her phone began to ring. Only her two ghouls, Jack, the sheriff, Natasha, and Samantha, could pull a ring from her phone, and she smiled as she reached for it upon her desk. She had chosen a gentle song to play, when Samantha called; it fit her.
"Yes, my childe?"
"Antoinette, I... um... something's happened."
Antoinette froze, and felt her fingers tighten on the phone. How long had it been since she felt the fear of a guardian, that perhaps something horrible had happened to someone she cherished? Not since the death of her previous ghouls, at Lucas's hand. Tony's death had been a sad night, but not for the same reasons.
"What has happened, Samantha?"
"Um... it's personal. Can we talk, in person? It... might involve some of the things we... we do."
Without Antoinette saying a word, Daniel nodded to her, and left, leaving the Prince smiling at his back. Her old friend was far too wise.
"Oui. Come, see me in my main office."
Samantha came to her tower, alone. Jack had dropped her off, and had sent her a text explaining that he had to meet with the other Right Hands to pursue covenant business. She acknowledged, and watched through her window as her love walked off. How she wished she could help him with the weight on his shoulders. Her poor little Ventrue.
She trusted him to manage the stress being laid at his feet. And at the moment, she had her own situations to manage.
"Samantha, my dear childe, come sit." She gestured to one of the chairs near her desk. There was no glass table in this office room. Instead, there were several large, cushioned chairs, black leather.
With trembling hands, Samantha sat down, and slid in closer to Antoinette's desk. She had a wooden box in her hand, a foot wide and a few inches thick, with a split down the center. A jewelry box?
"Something... happened, at the house." The look of fear on her face was blatant. If Jack wore his emotions on his sleeve, something he struggled to manage, Samantha put them up in lights.
"Are you alright, my childe?"
"I think so. I didn't know what to take, so I grabbed my old jewelry box; lots of gifts from my family in here. Some things from James and Mary, and Jack. Other people too. Some of them are... important to me, in memory, you know?"
Antoinette smiled. "I know indeed. But, I do not understand. You look as if you have seen a ghost."
Her childe blinked at her, several times, and clutched the box tight on her lap. "That's... that's what happened."
"Jack and I, we were walking around the house. It was cold, strangely cold, and it got dark, and it felt strange, and... heavy."
"That does sound unusual."
"And... and then..." Samantha looked down, and her shoulders started to shake. "She attacked Jack."
"Someone attacked Jack? But, I witnessed the boy's departure moments ago. He looked unharmed." But then, as she examined the memory, she did notice he looked heavy. She had thought it was the stress her poor little Ventrue must bear, but perhaps it was more?
"He says it's the curse. It heals him pretty quick. He's still hurt, but he's up and moving around."
So Jack had confessed to his mother of the curse. Smart of the boy to break the news to her himself, before a ruthless rumor did it for him.
"I do not understand. Who would attack Jack in such a location? Was it the hunters?"
"No! No no, it was... it was... Mary."
Antoinette peered at Samantha closely, squinting for a moment as she sifted through the emotions pouring out of her childe. "Your daughter."
"My daughter. She... she's a ghost... and she's haunting our home."
So, she had seen a ghost, then. Were the situation not so terrible, she would have laughed at her previous deduction. "I... I do not know what to say, Samantha. That is an extreme situation to be caught in, and one I have not seen in many decades. I cannot imagine the horror of seeing your daughter return in such a fashion."
"It was... it was hard. She attacked Jack, because Jack wiped her memory of an encounter they once had. To preserve the Masquerade, you know?"
"And, and... Mary remembered it, as a ghost, I guess."
That was a disturbing portion of knowledge to discover, that a ghost could recall memories they had lost in life, those wiped away by a Ventrue. It stirred questions about memories, about the soul, and whether the two were connected. Her experiments suggested events left lasting impacts on ephemera, that could manifest given the correct stimuli, but memories were a different creature, than events themselves.
"I calmed her down, and she apologized," Samantha continued, voice wavering. "It was really her, Prince! My daughter, a... a... ghost. Oh, it was terrifying. She was so angry, and not... not herself." Slowly, Samantha opened the box, exposing some of her old jewelry. It was delightfully juvenile, old fashioned and inexpensive, necklaces with broaches and pictures, bulky gold rings, and loop earrings.
"I can only imagine, if she felt the need to attack her brother."
"She threw him around! It was like that movie Carrie, you know? She threw Jack around, and plates, knives, and the couches. Two couches were ruined, and both televisions."
"That... is a powerful ghost, my childe." For a ghost to lash out with destruction force of such magnitude was rare. Normally they haunted an area, but their influence was subtle, distorting paintings or knocking over glasses. Their occurrence was so rare that sometimes she wondered if her few encounters with spectral entities in the past couple centuries had actually been, indeed, ghosts at all.
Nodding, Samantha set the box on Antoinette's desk, and withdrew one of the necklaces. A thin gold chain, one of the more elegant pieces, and timelessly fashionable.
"Mary got me this." Ah, yes, it made sense that it was the daughter that acquired the jewelry that a mother would wear. Bless the men and their failed attempts at purchasing jewelry; twice bless her silly childe, for keeping the gifts, and not trading them for store credit. Juvenile, and ultimately emotions misplaced. But then, she was not Samantha. Do not judge, Antoinette.
"It is lovely."
"Thank you!" Samantha, still shaking with what must have been the aftereffects of overwhelming fear, elation, and heartbreak, beamed. Forever weak to compliments, her childe, a weakness Antoinette was hesitant to train out of her. "I... I... I don't know what to do! My baby girl is back, Antoinette. She's back. She called me Mom." The word 'Mom' had her shaking all the more, and she had to clutch the necklace on her lap before she could settle. "Jack insisted this is bad, that she shouldn't be a ghost, that... that..."
"Your son is wise, Samantha."
Antoinette took a deep breath, and sighed. "I had not foreseen this, but perhaps I should have."
"You said you hadn't seen something like this in decades. You've dealt with... ghosts, before?"
Nodding, Antoinette got up, and walked over to her window, before gesturing for Samantha to follow. She did a moment later, necklace still in her hands. The two Daeva stared out over the city, and Antoinette held her hands behind her, in the small of her back, as she considered her words.
"I have had the good fortune of never having to deal with a specter from someone I knew, my childe. But, a couple times, ghosts have likely haunted places in my city. They hide well, and only expose themselves when they feel the need. Normally they hide in Twilight, and only emerge either to pursue resolution, or to let their emotions boil over into the real world."
Samantha looked from the city to her, eyes widening, and lips parting. "You know a lot about this sort of stuff."
"That I do, my childe. Studying aspects of Twilight, and the peculiar entities that lurk within, and beyond, is what I do for the Ordo Dracul." And for herself, naturally.
Samantha gasped. It was so joyfully typical, it were almost if Samantha did stock sounds for old television.
"You've never told me about what you do, for the Ordo. Not in depth, I mean. You mentioned spirits before, but I... didn't really know what that meant."
"With this unexpected situation, perhaps it is time that changed."
She guided Samantha down into the depths of her tower. Her childe had her own room within the maze and luxuries of her tower's underside, but Samantha did not have the courage to explore without Antoinette to guide her. Perhaps that would change, if the woman began to feel a connection to her new role.
It was Antoinette's duty as sire to teach her childe the basics of her covenant. An easy task for the Carthians or the Invictus, whose purposes were clear, and who dealt with tiers of information as many normal societies did: with rank, or respect. An even easier task for the Lancea et Sanctum, who felt content to strip away skepticism and critical thinking from their recruits, and only give them enough information to pull them deeper into the pyramid scheme.
She frowned at herself as she walked. Her opinion of the Second Estate did not need to be so harsh, but it was difficult to release. Not all who were devoted to religion were needlessly traditional, and blind to scientific reason, or weighing evidence, or pragmatic conclusions. Perhaps Damien could be such a soul, or Maria could learn to be.
To learn the basics of the Circle of the Crone, to enter its dark embrace, would not be as easy as the first three. They did not have the mindless worship mentality of religion, but that did not change that they were a dark cult that encouraged treating each other as a family. They openly pushed for their members to go out, explore, dive deep into dark arts, and to test the limits of pleasure and pain. It was not a group you could test the waters with first. You must dive in deep, and learn to swim.r"