Against All Odds
Chapter One: Train of Thoughts
Disclaimer: All the characters and places belong to their respective creators and owners. I only own my OC and make no money whatsoever out of this.
"Need a Ride?"
Funny how a catchphrase you have heard dozens of times can suddenly take a whole new significance.
Indeed, I most definitely NEEDED a ride, my very un-life depended on it.
I practically jumped in the cab, eyeing the driver with a balanced amount of gratitude and suspicion. Something about him, his voice for instance, had always struck me as odd and mysterious. Since the night I met him, there had been this uneasy feeling in my gut that there was more to him than met the eye.
Our brief conversation revealed that I had been right: he was a Cainite, and seemed to know quite a lot (even too much) about what was going on in the city. Plus he knew Jack… but then again, who didn't, really?
Speaking of Jack, he reconfirmed what the Pirate Legend had told me: finally the time had come for me to choose a side. A moment I had dreaded and tried to postpone as much as possible, by staying on the good side of both the Anarchs and the various members of the Camarilla I had had the "pleasure" to meet. I had done my best to navigate myself away from any topic that may have lead to expressing a definitive opinion; I had been polite and helpful, although I had refused to stoop to the pathetic sucking-up.
Except with everybody's favourite Prince, but with him it was just a matter of survival. I knew from the get-go that he could literally have my head on a platter if I fell from his good grace. Moreover, he basically considered anything short of adoration as insubordination. Despite all of my efforts, it apparently had not been enough, or I wouldn't be sitting in this taxi, being chased by all the West Coast vampires. In reality I had not seen any of my fellow Ventrues on the streets of Santa Monica, but that had not come exactly as a surprise. I was sure it had nothing to do with sympathy for someone sharing the same lineage: they simply let the others do the dirty job, as usual.
Looking back, my fatal mistake had been to let LaCroix know that I was privy to the existence of an alliance between him and the Kuei-Jin. I berated myself for my stupidity for the umpteenth time: why couldn't I have kept my bloody mouth shut? Evidently my attempts to reassure him that I understood and would have done the same hadn't sounded very convincing. Truthfully, I thought it was an incredibly foolish and reckless decision: it was like inviting vipers in your garden to get rid of mostly harmless rats.
The Anarchs may have been a thorn in his side, but they were familiar, and had been already defeated before. Moreover, this used to be their last stronghold, they were practically isolated. Even if they managed to regain some semblance of power, it would be short-lived at best. The Kuei-Jin on the other hand had already proved to be very powerful and very dangerous, and there were too many things we still ignored about them. Never choose the unknown over the familiar: in politics it was most likely suicide.
This brought me back to the matter at hand: my decision. Despite my occasional slips, I had played my cards reasonably well up to this point, so I had many options, besides the very appealing opportunity of telling them all to go to hell and be my own boss, walking a solitary path: a lone wolf, like Beckett. I could join the Anarchs, I could try my luck and go back to the Prince, hoping my return would make him see me as too naïve and trusting to be a threat or I could side with someone in the Camarilla who wanted him gone. Considering his recent behaviour and the many relationships he had strained because of his obsession with the Ankaran Sarcophagus, I wouldn't have to search very hard. Strauss was the most obvious candidate, he could barely conceal his disdain for the Prince and he owed me, most especially for the whole Gargoyle affair.
Of course I could always take up on Ming Xiao's offer: she had been apparently nothing but kind to me and I had reciprocated, but if one peeled away at the several layers of make-up, the resulting portrait would be less than flattering. She was behind the kidnapping of Kine and Kindred alike, hell she was financing a scientific study on the most efficient ways to kill vampires! Trusting her would be pure madness, and even in the extremely unlikely hypothesis that she was sincere I would still be an outcast in her society, and all of her comrades and subordinates alike would take the first chance available to get rid of me.
So one option down, four to go.
The Anarchs: I admit I liked the late Nines Rodriguez, respected his drive and sometimes just wished I could see the world like him and be so passionate about an ideal. Still, I simply wasn't that kind of person, even as a human. Someone may deem me as a pessimist, or as a coward hypocrite who could rightfully belong in Dante's Ante-Inferno. I'd rather call myself a realist, and, despite Damsel's charming claims, I truly could not see how communism could work any better for vampires than it had for humans. In theory it was noble, yes: everybody as one, Kindred in the primitive meaning of the word. Alas, there is and there always will be someone who will try to rule over the others, if there is an ounce of power you can bet someone will try to take it. If humans are power-hungry, vampires are ten times more so, that had been the first lesson I learned in my un-life. In Santa Monica three vampires (or better two personalities and a vampire) were basically on the verge of killing each other for ruling over what, two subordinates?
So, no, Kindred were as far removed from the concept of communism as they could ever be. And about the Camarilla Rules: sure they were logical, they were simple, every wise vampire should follow those spontaneously, there shouldn't be the need for someone to enforce them. Yet, even as a human, most laws were common sense: don't kill, don't steal… That didn't mean that everybody did respect them, quite the opposite. Rules obviously do not deter everyone, but they do work for most people (and most vampires). Even if I was being chased to death for something I most certainly did not commit, I could still see that the Camarilla had a purpose and made sense. Moreover, as I had already said, the Anarchs were isolated, LA was their last bastion and it had fallen. Even if I joined them and we managed to regain control over LA, either the Camarilla or the Kuei-Jin would try another assault very soon, and I just couldn't see myself spending my un-life fighting for a cause I did not believe in.
So two options down, three to go.
Being a "lone wolf": that was appealing. When I had been first introduced to the manipulations of the senior, the concept of the Clans, the sects, the war, I remember feeling this overpowering desire to just give them all the proverbial middle finger and run away. How was I involved in any of this? Why should I care? It's not my war, I wasn't even born, no my great-grandparents were not even born when most of the events that caused these animosities happened. I still felt quite that way, although I had developed a fierce revulsion for the Sabbat. They stood against everything I believed in and I prayed that I never let the Beast turn me into such a twisted monster. I remembered when I stepped in that Hollywood Manor where they filmed the snuff tape: I had had to force myself not to throw up.
Anyway, now more than ever the possibility of tracing the steps of Beckett sounded alluring. But I wasn't him: sure, for a combination of sheer luck and some skills I had managed to accomplish in two years more than most vampires did in a century. I wasn't a Neonate in the original meaning of the word anymore. Still I wasn't a superhuman warrior: I used my brain, stealth and disciplines more than brute force and tried to avoid all-out fights if at all possible. I wasn't sure I could afford to become a Legend and therefore be the target of Bounty Hunters, Kine and Kindred alike, that wanted to prove they could surpass me and bring my scalp home for a trophy. I wasn't that confident in my abilities: hell, I was amazed I had managed to survive this far. Maybe in a few decades of years, maybe when I had more skills, more connections, more knowledge of the inner workings of vampire societies and how to avoid being crushed between the gears. Now it would be suicide, and, for some strange reasons I wasn't ready to give up on my un-life.
Three options down, two to go.
Consequently I had decided to side with the Camarilla: I guess my unlucky Sire hadn't been completely off the mark in thinking I would make a good Ventrue. Still I didn't see myself as the stereotypical power-hungry social climber. If it didn't affect my chances at leading a mostly hassle-free existence, I wouldn't have cared less about who should be the new Prince, and I entertained no dreams whatsoever of claiming that position one day. Power was always more trouble than it was worth, and it was terribly addictive: once you gained some you always craved for more, or feared to lose it. To put it shortly I would have been perfectly content to reach a status where not every other vampire felt entitled to walk all over me and mind my own business from then on. Cultivating my passions, my studies… My studies… To think that not so long ago I used to be an economist, but it really felt like it had been ages, like something out of someone else's life.
Shortly before being Embraced I had just gotten my PhD at the MIT and won a temporary position as researcher at UCLA, which was the reason why I had moved to LA. I had always been much more of a scholar, a mathematician, a theorist than a prospective capitalist, happy in my world of numbers, charts and demonstrations. Sadly, it was not meant to be…
I had met Lawrence at the first dinner party held by the Department. He had been invited as CEO of a flourishing bio-tech firm but there was something about him that struck me as different, unique and made him stand out from the other executives I had had the "pleasure" to meet either because of my family's connections or my job. He looked no older than 35 but seemed so much wiser than his years; a charismatic orator, he was well-versed in many fields and not obsessed with figures and revenues: truly a breath of fresh air. Moreover, he didn't look at me as if I were a piece of flesh, listened carefully to what I had to say and kept his eyes trained on my face instead of my cleavage. Although I wasn't exactly a breathtaking beauty, way too curvaceous for today's fashion standards and never stood out in a crowd or made heads turn, I was young and fresh and not terribly hard on the eyes. As many young women of my age, I tended to attract wealthy men over forty, looking for a diversion or a "cure" for their mid-life crisis.
Lawrence didn't seem to fit the profile and I had felt drawn to him by some magnetic pull. Looking back I wondered if it were a mild Domination. We had dated briefly, always for or after dinner, but with our busy schedules it didn't strike me as odd. Finally one night, in the throes of passions, we had headed to the Luckee Star Motel: I wanted to avoid gossip and speculations so I couldn't bring him to the campus and his apartment was off-limits, since he lived next door to the Head of my Department. I still wondered why he chose me, why he felt such an urge to Embrace me even without permission. What was he up to and more importantly how had LaCroix so rapidly got wind of it? I guessed I would never really have the answers, so I tried my best not to think of it.
Sadly, I failed miserably. A thousand times I had regretted that decision, that weakness, even coming to California. Still, it had been a mixed blessing: at least here it had been easier for me to get off the radars and disappear. Not many familiar faces I risked to run into, nobody that really cared about my fate. With the notable exception of Samantha… She really was my best friend… She had come all the way from Boston to look for me, I still couldn't believe it and I felt terrible at having to lie to her, but it had been for the best. It wasn't that I didn't miss her or my parents, I did, but I knew that I had to leave that life behind or risk hurting them and myself more that I already had. They could never accept what I had become, it would drive them insane. I couldn't hope to hide it, so it was best for them to elaborate their grief now and lose all hopes of having me back, rather than exposing them to a prolonged impotent sufferance.
There, I had strayed off again, even at a critical moment like this. I was supposed to make a decision, not indulge in reminiscence. The driver stared at me through the mirror, and, even with his sunglasses on, I could see he was growing impatient.
All right, so it all came down to a simple question: Strauss or LaCroix?
Both choices had their Strengths and Weaknesses… Oh goodness, I chuckled aloud at the irony of the situation: I was using the SWOT analysis to decide for my life! How insane was that? No, not insane, rational, a part of me provided. Rational, yes, I had always been a logical freak, overanalysing and over-thinking everything. The one time I had acted on impulse had brought this so-called curse upon me, so maybe it wasn't such a bad trait, after all.
The driver cleared his throat and I composed myself. Ok, time to make up my mind.
Strauss: he was surely intelligent, experienced in vampire politics and so far had been quite honest and helpful to me. Of course, I had paid him nothing but favours, but gratitude wasn't an automatic or common feeling among Kindred. He seemed to have taken a liking to me and to trust me, since he had shared some sensitive bits of information that I could have easily used to undermine his reputation. But maybe, as his calling me a Neonate suggested, he merely thought me as too gullible to really pose a threat or he had just taken a calculated risk in order to sway me by his side and deal a fatal blow to the Prince.
With LaCroix's demise there was a high chance that he no longer would have any use for me, and his behaviour might change dramatically. I may become a threat to him: after all if I betrayed LaCroix for him, he had no guarantee that I wouldn't do the same to him at a later time… Plus he was a Tremere, which wasn't necessarily bad per se, I had no prejudices in that sense, but, as he had admitted himself, his first loyalties were to himself and to his Clan; the Camarilla came third, at the very least. I wasn't Tremere and as much as he might respect me, that was something that wasn't going to change. There was a very big part of him I could never truly understand and, in the long run, it was bound to have some repercussions. Still, when all was said and done, as for now at least, I trusted him a hundred times more than LaCroix. But that wasn't really saying much.
And finally, my "beloved" Prince. The man who had executed my Sire and spared me to play the magnanimous ruler in the face of his Anarch Nemesis, only to send me on what he surely believed would be a hopeless, kamikaze mission. Unexpectedly I had proved him wrong, and he wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I knew from the get go that as long as I was useful and did not pose a threat, we would get along just fine. I really didn't have another choice, it almost seemed as if I had to purchase my freedom: I was no more than a slave, a tool, a property in his eyes. Insubordination was not contemplated, I could do his bidding either willingly or by force, but in the end I had to comply anyway. Thus I had decided to spare myself the trouble and be the good little soldier he wanted me to be, playing up on his Napoleon Complex and telling him what he wanted to hear. Our relationship had seemed to improve with my accomplishments: outwardly he now treated me as his best agent, the apple of his eye, his treasured protégée. He even indulged in some casual conversations and, to an external observer, we would have given the impression to be perfectly at ease in each other's presence. Up until my fatal mistake, of course.
However, not all was lost. I could still get back on his good side: he was so obsessed with that bloody Sarcophagus that I knew I could get almost anything out of him if I brought him back the key… But, really, how long would it last? It was like Aesop's fable of The Farmer and The Snake: even the greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful. I actually would have trusted the snake more than him.
Yet, although I didn't like him in any sense of the word, I had to admit I felt a strange admiration for his ability to turn the tables in his favour at the speed of lightning and tell the most blatant lies with a charmingly straight face. You just had to give him credit: he was born for his role, to be a consummate politician, and, even if he had made a lot of mistakes as of late, you could easily see how he had gotten where he was.
Moreover, he was a familiar "evil": at least I knew what to expect from him, both in the best and worst case scenario. Really, it couldn't get much worse than this… On the other hand, who knew what his successor would be like? Funny, yet another Aesop's fable came to mind: the one of The Frogs Asking For A King. Of course LaCroix was no log of wood: he was dangerous and governed with a velvet-gloved iron fist. Still, there was no guarantee whatsoever that a new prince would be more honest or less selfish. Au contraire, virtuous Kindred usually did not make it to the top, if they ever did.
"Have you made up your mind, Childe? The Sun does not wait."
He was right: I had to fight against the procrastinator in me and stop over-analysing things. Time was up.
It was an internal struggle between my rule of "Not choosing the unknown over the familiar in politics" and the moderate probability that the next Prince would be more reliable. Between the desire to make LaCroix pay, to wipe that smug smirk off his porcelain face and to free myself from his grasp for good and the irrational, sudden feeling in my gut that, for some twisted reason, I would actually miss it. Maybe it was some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, but now, faced with the opportunity of finally being able to choose for my destiny, I almost feared it. LaCroix had been the one fixed mark since my Embrace, and, no matter how loathed and enforced, his guidance over my life had been strangely reassuring. I could blame him for everything and avoid responsibilities: now only I would have been accounted for my actions.
"Maybe there's some Malkavian blood in me!" I chuckled aloud. Damn! Had all this feudal society nonsense finally taken its toll upon me?
"No, my Childe, only a true Ventrue would spend hours pondering over every possible outcome of a vital decision. Usually not in a cab, I will give you that," the driver teasingly drawled in that gravel voice.
I was so enthralled by my own problem, that his calling me his Childe did barely register. Later on, with a lucid mind, it would give me the chills and a deep sense of foreboding.
"Take me there!" I finally exclaimed, shaking my head in a vain attempt to clear it and pointing to a familiar place on the map.
"I should ask you if you are really sure, but I do not want us to meet our final death on a highway," he joked, making me feel like a fool.
"Yes, just… just drive me there before I change my mind…" I sighed, trying to shut off all thoughts for the brief time it took us to reach my destination.
The cab came to a stop and I paid the fare quickly, doing my best to still my trembling hand. When I entered that building, I had to be unreadable: I could not afford a breakdown.
"Remember: wherever we go it's the blood of Caine which makes our fate. Farewell, vampire!"
A/N: This is the first fanfiction I have ever written for this fandom. I know this chapter is very long and introspective, but I needed it to introduce my OC, her personality and how she acted throughout the events narrated in the game, without actually having to write about them in detail.
Being a train of thought, it is deliberately a bit chaotic. Moreover, as in reality, she may not be exactly sincere in analyzing herself, though she does not realize it.
Considering the way LaCroix behaves with the main character in Bloodlines and their psychological traits I just couldn't see them developing anything while the Ankaran Sarcophagus was still around and they were basically "Prince" and "Do-girl". The next chapters will be quite different, there will always be some introspection, but they will focus more on events, dialogues and interactions. The "romance" will be there eventually but it will build up really slowly, otherwise it wouldn't be plausible.
And, finally, a reassurance: the fact that the alleged Caine calls her "His Childe" only means that, as for all vampires, he sees her as his progeny. Her Sire is most definitely Lawrence, she is a normal Ventrue and in no way related to the Antediluvians or strange prophesies. She will not suddenly develop unknown powers of awesomeness or have the whole male populace of the game fall for her.