July 16, 2010

Like Sire like Childe

((This is current time line. After the battle with Citysmith.))

I woke up to darkness. It wasn't unusual, my room was in the basement, and my door didn't allow much through it. But this darkness was thicker than usual, and felt familiar.

I sat up and swung my legs off the bed. There was someone sitting in the arm chair across the small coffee table. Giuseppe.

He was shuffling a deck of cards that looked too large to be normal playing cards. He spoke without preamble.

"I command you to torture a captured prisoner so as to intimidate his comrades. Do you obey? Or refuse?"

I was used to situations like this by now, and gathered my wits about me pretty quick. It wasn't an actual command.. This was a test of some sort.. and it felt familiar. I slid off the bed and settled in the chair opposite him. I considered the question. I would go to great lengths to find another way to get the job done.. but that wasn't the question. I thought back to when we'd been attacked by Valkyrie. I would've resorted to torture, had my other methods not worked. I didn't like the idea, but I recognized its necessity at times.

"I'd obey."

He took a card off the deck and laid it face up on the coffee table. Ah. Tarot cards. Something clicked in my head, a memory falling into place. I'd taken this test before, when I'd first been inducted into the Order. Giuseppe had not administered it, though. I wondered why he was giving it to me again. I'd been under the impression that it was a 'new member only' kind of deal.

He continued

"You have pursued a traitor against your king for many years. At long last, you bring her to bay, only to have everyone around her swear solemn oaths and offer persuasive evidence that she has amended her ways and now leads a righteous and loyal existence. Do you punish her for the crimes she committed long
ago, or do you give her a second chance?"

"Give her a second chance." but watch her like a hawk. I don't forgive easily, or often, but I have my moments..

He placed a card in another location on the coffee table.

"You have evidence that a powerful lord has committed treason. He is ensconced in a fortress, and removing him will be difficult and dangerous. But it will cost him time, men and money if you make your attack, so he offers riches, titles and territory to me if you will overlook his previous betrayal...do you attack, or do you accept his terms?"

"I attack." I'd be loath to let him bribe me to ignore a betrayal.

He placed another card on the table. He placed a card on the table after each question. Sometimes in a new position, sometimes on top of another card.

"You know a woman has been falsely imprisoned. DO you implore the judges to reconsider her sentence — a process that may take months — or do you offer to take her place as a surety."

This one required less thought. I wasn't altruistic enough to put myself in prison for someone else, wrongfully imprisoned or not. I had shit to do. "Implore the judges." Besides, I could break them out later, if need be.

"You have sworn total loyalty to your master. He orders you to rob a poor man for the benefit of a rich one. Do you remain true to your oath, or do you refuse?"

I mulled over this one for awhile. If Giuseppe told me to do this, would I? Probably.. if only because I trusted it was necessary. The situation could always be rectified later if need be.

"Stay true to my oath."

"You are sent to parley with a violent and intolerant tribe. Their customs call for the imbibing of strong drink. You have chosen to abstain from such liquors. Do you drink in order to make peace with the tribe, or do you decline?"

"Drink." I said without hesitation.

"After a lengthy pursuit, you catch up with your enemy, only to find that a fall from a horse has left both his legs and one of his arms useless forever. Do you avenge yourself, or do you decide your enemy is no longer a threat and let him

I knew all too well that an enemies mind could be much more dangerous than his arms or legs. "I avenge myself."

"You have confessed a sin, and your priest imposes a penance upon you that seems disproportionately harsh. Do you meekly perform the penance, or do you avoid the penance and pray for forgiveness and understanding despite it."

This question was a little tougher to get my head around. I'd never been very religious, so I had trouble picturing myself in the situation. But ultimately I decided that if I had the faith to confess, I'd probably have the faith that the penance was just.. probably..

"Perform the penance."

"It is war, and you are on the defensive. You see
a much larger force fast approaching. Do you retreat by stealth, or do you entrench yourself and prepare to fight."

"Retreat." Live to fight another day. I was no coward, but a doomed battle is seldom worth fighting.

"A debtor has defaulted on your loan. He promises that if you but wait six months until his caravan returns, he will pay you triple what he owes. Do you take possession of his home — the loan’s collateral, or do you grant him the

"Grant him the extension." Money seemed a silly reason to take someone's home, especially if it isn't necessary..

"Your cousin is in danger of being sentenced to debtor’s prison. Do you lend her money, with little hope of repayment, or do you let her suffer the sentence?"

"Lend her the money." I don't care about many people, but I wouldn't want any of them in prison, even justly.

"You are dedicated to a noble cause, but your organization is perilously low on funds. Do you think stealing to uphold the larger cause is justified, or would you would rather see the cause fail than dishonor it with theft?"

I rolled the situation around in my head for awhile. When I came to my conclusion, I was a bit surprised with myself. I wasn't sure when I'd started to believe that the ends justified the means.. "I would steal."

"A fellow lord despises you, but you are enamored with his daughter. He is a master swordsman. Do you risk his wrath to woo his beautiful daughter?"

"Most certainly." I said with a smirk.

"Your feckless retainer, though unquestionably loyal, has failed you again. Do you give him another chance, or do you dismiss him for incompetence?"

Whats the point in having an employee if they're not getting the job done? "Dismiss him." I said with a flick my fingers.

"You have a store of seeds, and your family is starving. Do you grind up the seeds to make meal for your hungry children, or do you plant the seeds in hope of a greater yield in the spring?"

They may starve to death before spring, and feeding them now would buy me more time to solve the problem. "Grind up the seeds."

"Your innocent friend is falsely accused of a dastardly crime. Do you perjure yourself to free him, or do you remain silent but honest?"

"Perjure myself." I've never been above lying.

"A beautiful woman, whom you’ve loved from afar, offers to abandon her second husband and elope with you. Do you accept?"

"Yes." Whats the point of loving her if I didn't?

"You are judging a man accused of stealing a horse and running it until its leg had broken. It emerges that he stole the horse to get his ill child to a doctor, lest she perish. He cannot pay the horse’s value. Do you lighten his sentence, place or do you obey the letter of the law?"

"Lighten the sentence." I've never been one to follow rules unquestionably.

"After a hard war, you are ordered to break bread and make amends with old foes. Do you remain wary of your enemies and scrutinize them
for any sign of treachery, or do you make a concerted effort to obey your orders and forgive?"

"Always wary." Only a fool wouldn't be.

"You have been rewarded for your courage with lavish and extravagant gifts bestowed by a figurehead of the court. Do you keep the gifts, or do you give them away to people who will use them more wisely?"

I thought back to the sword, and the Aegis Kai Doru. I had not wanted to give that thing up. "Keep them."

"You are given the honor of hosting a feast on a beloved holiday. Do you splurge and spend to your very limit, or do you hold back and spend the barest

I frowned. I hate all or nothing questions. "I suppose since I don't have an option in the middle, I'd spend the barest minimum."

He didn't react to my qualifying statement. He placed the card and then set the deck on the table. There were seven stacks of varying sizes spread across its surface. He picked up five of them and shuffled the cards back into the deck. Then, he put the two remaining stacks next to each other and looked at me.


I looked at him, then at the stacks. "What do they represent?" I didn't recall choosing between two piles the last time I took the test.

His voice adopted a slightly harsher edge to it. "Choose."

I regarded the decks a moment, but there was nothing to go on. So I tapped the stack on the left. He picked up the pile, removed one card, and set it aside. The rest were put back into the deck. He held it out to me. "Shuffle."

I did, then handed them back. The questions began again, but took on a different tone this time, more harsh and negative. What was surprising was the fact that they also became easier for me to answer. I didn't have to think as long on each one. The answers, for the most part, just flowed. I wondered what that said about me..

"Your neighbor, preparing for a trip, leaves her car momentarily unattended. You can steal a bottle of fine brandy, or a small box of jewelry. Do you take the jewelry, or the the brandy?"


"You meet a beautiful and desirable woman who treats you with haughty disdain. Do you trick or intimidate her into bed, or do you earn her admiration so that you can reject her?"

I couldn't keep the smirk off my face. "Earn her admiration."

"Your honor is being besmirched with ridiculous calumnies. Do you spare no effort to find the source of the rumors, or do you consider it unimportant?"

I really don't give a shit what rumors people want to spread. "Unimportant."

"An irksome associate has invited you to a lavish feast. Do you gorge yourself at her expense while ignoring her company, or do you ply your host with drink, hoping she will humiliate herself?"

"Ply her with drink."

"A colleague offers to recommend an expert assassin-for-hire to slay a slippery foe of yours. Do you pay the killer’s high fee, or do you search for a less expensive alternative?"

Quality costs.. Money would be worth the surety. "Pay the fee."

"Would you crawl and beg like a spaniel to please a new lover?"

My face twisted into disgust. "Fuck no."

"A man who has wronged you flees across the ocean. He is no longer a threat, but he is now beyond your reach. Do you pursue him, or forget about him?"

"Forget about him." Until he comes back, and is once again a threat at least.

"You are planning a burglary that will ruin a rival, when you learn that he’s earmarked the money for a new business venture. In a few weeks, his vaults will
contain even more cash, and his other assets will appreciate as well. Do you wait to rob him until after his investment pays out, earning you more and hurting him less, or do you ruin him immediately, earning yourself less but hurting him more?"

"Ruin him immediately."

"Your sworn enemy has hidden herself in a town under quarantine. Do you adopt the humiliating disguise of a leper for a chance to kill your foe, or do you insist that your enemy know he was slain by you?"

"Dress as a leper." Just seems more efficient..

"You have come to possess a rare and renowned drug. Do you keep it for yourself, or do you give it to a paramour to make her yield to your

This one stumped me for a few moments but ultimately I decided I'd give up a drug if it would help me reach my goals. "Give it to the paramour."

"You have conquered an enemy town and pillaged the treasury. Do you quietly slip the treasure back to your own vaults, or do you spend the treasure on a triumphal
celebration of your own glory?"

I waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. "My own vaults." I wasn't Giovanni. I didn't need to tell the world how great I am.

"You stand to learn embarrassing gossip about your rival, if you can endure the endless prattle of a courtier. Do you endure the chatter, or do you not bother?"

This was probably the easiest question of the entire test. "Endure the courtier."

"The opulent clothes you’ve ordered to impress the Emperor arrive, but they’re too small. You’re expected to meet the Emperor at a lavish soiree in three days. Do you starve yourself for three days to fit into the
clothes, or do you simply wear something you already owned?"

"Wear something I already own."

"A courtesan of notorious skill and beauty insists on an outrageous price for her services. Do you gladly pay, or do you haggle shamelessly?"

"Haggle." No reason to give up things I don't have to give up.

"You are at a wedding feast when you get word that a bankrupt debtor of yours is trying to flee town. Do you let him go to savor the celebration, or do you leave to thrash and imprison him?"

"Leave." Social events be damned, I'd get my pound of flesh.

"You behold a high priest in a disgraceful state of drunkenness. Do you believe you are better than him, or worse?"


"You have an opportunity to moonlight for extra money without your master’s knowledge, but to do so you must sneak out each night. Do you enrich yourself dishonestly, or do you not bother?"

I paused on this question. Money? Probably not. But I changed the question in my mind. If I knew I could enrich myself some other way.. more Coils, more information.. I gave Giuseppe a small smirk when I finally answered. "I'd sneak out."

He didn't so much as bat an eye lash. He just continued with the test.

"You have slain an enemy and plan to hang his severed head from your castle wall. His lovely widow comes to you and begs that her husband’s corpse be released
unmolested for a dignified burial. Desperate, she offers to give herself to you for one night in exchange. Do you agree to her proposal, or do you turn her down?"

I'd like to think I'd turn her down, yet give up the body without collecting on her offer. But that wasn't one of the options. Either way, her offer would hold no interest to me.. "Turn her down."

"You are invited to a bounteous feast, but it is to be held many miles away, and the road is arduous. Do you take the journey, or do you decline?"

Again with the fucking social functions.. I wondered who made this damn test. "Decline."

"You are defending a captured palace, and the gates have fallen. You must flee. Do you burn the palace behind you as you flee, or do you leave it intact so that you may retake it in the future?"

"Leave it intact." I'd get my shit back, by god.

"A tedious, gossipy old nurse is the only servant allowed access to a beautiful young maiden whom you’ve been eying. Do you feign friendship with the nurse to get access to the girl, or do you not bother to tolerate the tiresome hag?"

"Feign friendship."

He set down the last card. I watched in the darkness as he slid all piles but one to the side. Apparently I didn't have to choose this time. He picked it up and drew one card, setting it face down on the table. Then, he went back into the deck and removed another single card.

He picked up the card from the first set of questions and turned it over in front of me. It was the Hermit. He watched my face as he explained the meaning.

"Your nature disposes you to solitary efforts and contemplative pursuits. Considering every side of a problem is your great strength. Being unable to choose between options is your great weakness. You work best with time to consider, study and find a compromise between all factors. Anything that forces you to rush, guess or make do will drain you."

I considered that a moment. It seemed apt enough, though I liked to think I was better at rolling with the punches than the card suggested. It was something to think about..

He gave me a moment, then proceeded to turn over the card from the second set of questions. It was the King of Coins.

"Your faith in a better future ably equips you to build for it, and even when you fail you can start over with good cheer. With some luck and discernment, you can
accumulate great wealth and power, and that is when you must choose. Will you spend what you have in pursuit of that brighter future? Or will you decide the bright
future has arrived?"

I never really considered myself someone with vast amounts of 'good cheer', however, despite the overly sunny explanation of the card, it hit on a few good points. I don't think I'll even feel like my 'bright future' has ever fully arrived.

He put a finger on the last card, tapping it. "This.. is your fate card."

I perked a brow. "Alright.."

He flipped it over and laid it on top of the other two. I got the impression that I should consider it more important. It was the Five of Coins.

"The thoroughness with which you can grind down an enemy, whether the cause be personal, political or philosophical, is breathtaking in its awfulness. Never act rashly — such passion is not you. Instead, make your plan with care, plot each deed with foresight and step by step you can produce total ruin..." It may have been my imagination, but his voice seemed tinged with pride.

I was slightly taken aback by the last card. Not because of what it said, but because it sounded so much like Giuseppe. I wondered if he had gotten the same card when he took the test. I knew we had similar characteristics, but I was surprised at the extent of it... was I really that much like Giuseppe?

"Are you surprised about these facets of yourself?"

I nodded slowly. "A bit.. but I suppose not as surprised as I would have been before we killed Citysmith. I've been.. reevaluating myself a lot lately.."

He leaned forward. "I have a proposition for you."

My expression shifted from contemplative to curious. "Okay.."

"You have met the priest, yes?"
I nodded.
He tapped the stack of three cards that rested on the table between us. "Take these to him."
"Okay.." I waited for him to continue, to finish with the proposition, but he didn't. The shadows coalesced around him, and when they thinned, he was gone.

In his place was one last tarot. I stood and retrieved it. It was hand painted, as all the others had been, in his own style. I don't actually think it was a card that exists in the Tarot deck. The art depicted an oroborous identical to the one he had tattooed to my arm, but in blue.

I grabbed my weapons and my coat, gently placing the cards in one of the inner pockets, then headed upstairs.


"Hey, Boss.. you got a package."

I stopped and backpedaled back into the living room where Becca was watching TV, head in Nadi's lap as the mage read a book. I school my expression to only show the curiosity towards the package, and not the annoyance at the display of affection. "Where did it come from?" I was suspicious.

"The PO Box. I checked it while you were out. It's from New Orleans. I think its just papers. Its on the table in the kitchen."

"Who was it addressed to?" There were any number of people who could be sending me shit from New Orleans..

"Allison Damore.. that's you right? The Post office didn't screw it up?" She lifted her head to look at me and gauge my reaction, but I didn't give her a chance to make an assessment. I turned on my heel and walked into the kitchen.

"Boss?" She called after me, her voice slightly uncertain.

But I ignored her and grabbed the thick envelope. I tore it open and pulled out a relatively well packed file folder, sat, and began spreading its contents out onto the kitchen table. Becca wandered into the room and peeked over my shoulder. Her aura flickered with nervousness.

"Yes, it's mine." I said, answering her earlier question so she wouldn't think she'd fucked up. "Thanks." I added as my eyes were skimming the papers.

"What is it?" usually Becca didn't pry, but I think she was looking for something to say to play off why she'd walked into the room.

"Surveillance data from a PI that I hired to watch some people in New Orleans.." I read through the report quickly, then started flipping through the pictures, spreading them out on the table.

Becca turned to leave when one particular photo caught her eye. "Surveillance on strippers?" she asked incredulously.

I smirked faintly and set another photo of an attractive woman dancing next to the first. "I guess so. Though she wasn't a stripper when I started watching her."

"Who are they?" I glanced up at her as she leaned over my shoulder, examining the images. The nervous colors in her aura returned, uncertainty, and a very brief flash of what may have been jealousy. It made me wonder how on earth some Kindred could maintain more than one ghoul and not have them hate each other..

"These three are all related to a guy I killed back when I was first embraced. This," I tapped the picture of the stripper. "Is a girl he worked with."

Her aura flared with curiosity, but she didn't say anything. But I decided to answer anyway. "I lost control when I fed and killed him." My stomach started to knot, I paused and fought back the feeling until any emotion associated with the murder was gone. Old habits die hard I guess. Funny that I still had moments of regret about Vincent, yet not a moments pause about Ray, which had been intentional.
"Giuseppe knew it would happen, and sent me on a little mission to watch the ripple effect the death had."

Her aura flickered briefly with fear when I mentioned the murder. "Does that happen a lot..?"

"Only the once.." My voice was quiet. "I've been following it ever since. When I had to come up here, I hired a PI to watch for me and send me reports...now, I need to go over this shit.." I looked at her pointedly. I didn't mind her questions, but I was on a schedule, and needed to go through the stuff uninterrupted for a few minutes.

"Oh! Right. Sure thing." She headed back into the living room.

That was probably the most politely I've ever told someone to leave me alone before.. but then, Becca didn't annoy the shit out of me like the majority of my other 'housemates'. I also felt responsible for dragging her into this mess, and was still somewhat unsure of how she felt about that.. even if she had agreed to the terms.. it was probably a little silly to feel that way about an employee, but there it was, nonetheless, even if it was milder than it had been when we first arrived in Chicago.

I pushed the thought from my mind and focused on the task at hand. There was a good deal of information in front of me, and I wanted to make some sense of it before I left for the night.

It took a good hour to read over everything in the file, most of it seemed unimportant, but I didn't want to dismiss anything until I was sure.

The father was still alive, which I found a bit surprising. He'd been drinking more and more, his health rapidly declining.

Vince's brother had been sent to prison for a couple months for burglary.. he wasn't any less angry. He'd fallen in with a white supremacist group. They convinced him to shift his rage to the people who undoubtedly killed his brother.. the blacks. I wondered if this may cause more killings. I decided not to dwell on the thought. The deed was done and there wasn't much I could do about it.

The girl that had loved Vince from afar had quit the bar. If the conversations I'd overheard while in New Orleans were any indication, it was because it reminded her of Vincent. She now worked at a strip club (hence the photos) and had recently been approached about starring in a few adult films. Reading over the report, I was a little shocked. Each time I got more information about this trail, the more it surprised me how large an effect one death can have on people's lives. But then, that was the point.

There was a silver lining to all the bad news, though. Vincent's sister had reacted in a more positive way to the death. It had given her a renewed sense of purpose. She had quit her dead end job and pursued her dream of acting.. and had been rather successful. She had been cast in a few local plays, and was making a name for herself. The self confidence was spilling over everywhere else too. Apparently one of the director's had been making passes at her during production. She had consistently turned him down. Two nights ago there was an after party, and he had forced himself on her.

I coudln't help but smile when flipped the page and saw the photo of the guys knee. Compound fracture. Looked like she kicked him as hard as she fucking could right in the side of the knee. He was currently in the hospital, and judging by the extent of the injury, and my own personal experience with my own knee being fucked to high hell, he would be very lucky if he only had a minor limp for the rest of his life.

I shut the file and sat back in the chair, thoughtful. The option that currently presented itself could be sticky. I wondered, not for the first time, if I should interfere. I didn't honestly think I could help any of these people. I certainly didn't want to admit to the brother who had really killed Vincent. And I found that I actually had very little sympathy for them now. Each one of them had made their own decisions. I tipped the domino, but they had options, just like I had when Driscoll died. One action could have far reaching consequences, but didn't take away free will.

However.. prodding things a little might turn up something interesting. Change the experiment up and see what happens?

Damn, did I really just refer to it as an experiment?

I suppose its an apt enough description, and I had certainly began to develop a scientists detachment. But that also meant that changing the control group would render the experiment moot. I would no longer know what was a cause of the death, and what was my meddling.

I gathered up all the materials and returned them to the envelope. I took it all down stairs and put it behind lock and key in my bedroom. It was tempting to stir the waters, but ultimately unwise.

I did, however, send Giuseppe an update. I sat on the edge of my bed in the dark and sent him a series of texts. I was mildly annoyed that I couldn't just call him, but it was an unfortunate, and permanent, side effect of separating his Ka from the rest of him. And not the worst of them either.

I decided to even clue him in on what I'd been thinking. He probably wouldn't respond, but if he did, it might give me an idea on what steps to take next..


From: H
To: G

I considered interfering, to see what might happen. However, I think it would be better not to taint the process at this point. I want to see the effects of his death, not my meddling.


To my surprise, the phone buzzed with a response almost immediately.


From: Blocked
To: H

I'm proud of you. Enjoy your studies with Father Nicolai


From: H
To: G

Thanks, and I will.


I took out my phone and dialed the priest.

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