After the fall of the despotic LaCroix, a new Prince is sent to take the L.A. throne. Will the Camarilla emerge triumphant out of these ashes? Or will Gehenna bring an end to all things?
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I originally intended to make this quite the saga, but I don't have time, so for the moment this is it. Also, if anyone has any ideas for a better title – it would be much appreciated. =)
Elizabeth stepped out of the chauffeured car, her high Louis Vuitton heels crunching against the cold hard tarmac. A grimace, barely perceptible on her vermillion lips, as she glanced over the blackened, twisted remains of what had once been Venture Tower and the seat of LaCroix's "Foundation". The screaming sirens of fire engines and police cars, the malaise of army vehicles and helicopters in L.A.'s hazy night sky had long since passed: what remained was merely an echo of one Napoleon's dreams of empire. One among many.
Clutching her black fur coat a little closer to her ivory skin chased away a portion of the shiver running up her arms, the intuitive prickle of a place which had mattered. In the chaos of the last month there had been no funds to access, no way to begin anything more than the slow process of removing detritus and debris. No one wanted to be entrusted with the task of cleaning up this mess – the situation on the ground was, could you believe it, even worse now than when LaCroix had first taken his peculiar interest in the post of L.A. Prince.
For Elizabeth it was a punishment, an ordeal by fire, and she knew it.
Her amber eyes darted to her man, still holding open the door as she stood on the curb-side and obstructed it. Fingers brushed the satin of her clutch, red nails flashing in the streetlights.
"They are already here?" her voice was articulate, but possessed none of the coldness inherent in her predecessor's clipped tones. It was a voice which longed to be loved.
He bowed his head, grey eyes in an expressionless face, a beautiful, ghostly picture. For a moment she found herself caught by the sight of him, but his tenor broke the spell, "Yes Madame."
Gaspard had never been one for words.
She stepped on, through the iron gates of the opposite tower, where the archaic faux-gargoyles guarded the thin railings. The door here had none of that bureaucratic boardroom style Ventrue were so fond of, speaking instead of libraries and museums... institutions of knowledge. The same church-like motifs continued like some garish Hollywood set, into the lobby where a secretary in a sharp, elegant suit stood to greet their guest.
The Kine had the air of a librarian, despite her obvious taste.
"Elizabeth Rossetti. I believe the LaCroix Foundation delegates are expecting me?"
Her eyes had lit instantly at the name, her nervous hands shifting between paperwork, grasping for something, "Of course Ms Rossetti, they are in the Masonic Suite." Her fingers pressed a small button, "Tubbs here will show you up."
At the sight of the rotund security guard shuffling towards them Elizabeth raised a single eyebrow at the secretary's curious attempt at, what she could only presume to be, humour. Except the woman – mild mannered as she appeared – gave no indication that 'Tubbs' was anything but his honest-to-god surname used in place of a Christian moniker. Elizabeth's lips quivered with amusement, though the unwitting, sleep-deprived Kine seemed not to notice.
"Right this way Ma'am." The guard beamed with enduring obliviousness.
Seeing no need to communicate with the underlings Elizabeth followed with the grace of a chatelaine, though she had yet to feel so in command of this new domain. The elevator took the three of them up to the tenth floor, the bell sounding almost surprised when it finally reached its target. In the future, Rossetti had no intention of allowing such an ill-smelling creature to share such confined spaces with her. The odour from the man was overpowering – sickly sweat tinged by garlic, chilli, and sugared carbs produced the kind of aroma she'd expect from the back alley of a fast-food joint, than a Camarilla Elysium. Needless to say, she was glad to breathe the more familiar scent of eau-de-office once the doors pulled back.
"Tubbs, was it?" She enquired, stopping half-way into the hallway and forcing the security guard to heel turn with all his hideous, Hamburger-induced volume. "Is there a locked door ahead?"
"Errr nope, no ma'm. Jus' wanted to make sure you got to the right place is all."
She smiled charmingly, "Oh my dear, I'm sure we'll find our way just fine with your directions. Which way is it?"
He beamed back, "Jus' through that door there and on to the right." He pointed, "There's a sign above the door at the end of the corridor. Tha's the one, right there."
"Thank you." She purred, "I wouldn't want to keep you from your post any longer than is necessary." Or make my first introduction to the LA Kindred being escorted by the likes of you.
Tubbs took the elegant smile and began to return to the elevator with a look of self-satisfaction, "A, alright then. If you're sure Ma'm. Take care now, have a good night."
"Thanks." She offered half-heartedly as the elevator doors opened back up and swallowed the unwitting cretin inside. The moment he was out of sight the friendly façade dropped, and she spared Gaspard a look of severe disparagement. From the slight tilt of his head, it was a sentiment he shared.
Shaking herself like a crow ruffling her feathers Elizabeth moved on, finding their way to the Masonic Room with Tubbs' directions barely registering in their minds. They hadn't needed the information. It was obvious where the Primogen were gathered, their combined power slithered through the walls, the taste of dry bones and papery skin growing stronger as they approached.
When Gaspard opened up the double doors it was to a grand meeting room, in an opulent fin de siècle style. If she'd have had it her way, Elizabeth would have held an informal blood-reception, but with the infrastructure in current disarray, such luxuries had to be set aside. Seated around the large cherry wood table were the lacklustre remnants of authority amongst the LA Kindred: five faces in all with which to contend and not a Nosferatu in sight. She wished she could be glad not to have to stare at their hideous, disfigured faces for the duration of tonight's proceedings, but in reality it only posed a bigger problem: where the hell were they? More importantly whose side were they on?
"I see our Nosferatu brothers have disinclined to attend." She began, archly, whilst casting a fast appraisal on those present.
Nearest the chair reserved for her, on the right hand side, no less, and apart from the rest sat a bald Tremere. Maximillian Strauss, she presumed. His red-rimmed glasses and scarlet leather coat had an old-world feel, despite the outlandish colours, and made him seem, in these modern times, like something of a steam-punk reject… but the over-the-glasses stare was a considering, calculating one. He was, of course, the oldest here by decades. To his right sat the Ventrue second, now Primogen in the face of LaCroix's demise. The blue eyed, fair haired jock was standard-issue Ventrue from his clean-cut suit to the manicured nails, but there was something of a subdued temper in that stare – a flicker of lightening. A lingering loyalty perhaps? A sense of injustice at having been passed over in favour of a Toreador for the chance to fill the position of Prince?
Opposite the Ventrue a surprisingly mature Toreador, grey-haired and age-lined, occupied the seat. Distinguished by his mortal years, but lacking the formality of the old-world, this one had LA written all over him; that lackadaisical attitude of one who had lived with the sun and surf and smog in their hair, on their human skin – the wry attraction to the youth and beauty which she possessed, despite an obvious disinclination to be generous towards someone in her position. The Anarch representative, no doubt. Interesting.
On his left, and clearly suspicious of her, jealous even, was a woman dressed for the office of her superiors. Dark-rimmed glasses pushed firmly onto the bridge of her nose, tight controlled chignon with just a few escaping wisps of blonde betraying her. Her thin lips drew thinner at the sight of a woman more overtly sexual than herself, her eyebrows knotting as she appraised her. Opposite the control-freak sat Sandra, the city's original Toreador Primogen with whom she had met briefly on her arrival to LAX. The woman's taste was a little brash, a little under-developed one might say… her role in the establishment thus far had been negligible: a gossip girl, and little more.
As Elizabeth and Gaspard rounded the table to take their seats it was Strauss who responded to her observation: "Though one would be foolish to think they are not watching, Miss Rossetti."
She kept her eyes on him as Gaspard pulled out her chair, allowing her to settle into the seat with her hands placed deliberately on the surface before her. From this angle the LA Kindred suddenly seemed more numerous, more over-arching than before. Shaking herself mentally from the intimidation, she set herself to the task in hand.
"Indeed, well, let us not stand on their account. Shall we begin with the necessary introductions Maximillian?"
He was slow to respond, as though the distaste at her using his first name hung on a held breath, but gradually he nodded. "As you wish," he turned to introduce the gentleman to his right with an opened palm. "Dean Miller, our Ventrue Primogen, was instrumental in rooting out LaCroix's most enthusiastic protégés following the events at the tower.
"I believe you are already acquainted with your own clan's Primogen, Sandra Esperanza." The palm turned to the other woman, "Therese Voerman is currently Baron of Santa Monica," the dry tone carried with it disapproval, though clearly it was nothing Voerman had not heard before, as she showed no sign of disquiet at his rebuke. "To her right, Isaac Abrams, Baron of Hollywood." Here the disapproval had the edge of a wary and bitter respect for a man he'd been forced to treat – for the time being at least – as an equal.
The Anarch Baron too, had detected the subtle indication of the man's distaste, and a smug smile settled easily into his relaxed features. Despite herself, and regardless of loyalties, Elizabeth was already warming to a clansman who so clearly understood how these puppets were pulled, even if he was not – yet – the master of them.
"The Malkavian Primogen, Alaistar Grout was, as you've no doubt heard, a casualty of recent events. A replacement has yet to be found. Though we rather fear that any of Malkav's childer present here in the city have been seduced by the Sabbat… or other Sects."
His hard stare was clearly aimed at Abrams, though the man was not in the least bit ruffled by such veiled accusations.
"The few Brujah and Gangrel who remain in the city are, uniformly, under the influence of the Anarchs for whom Mr Abrams here is qualified to speak."
"Why thank you Max," came the silver-screen drawl, the sparkling crystal eyes shifting onto LaCroix's replacement, and the smile becoming fixed in place, "it's a pleasure to meet you Ms Rossetti, though I cannot say I hold your position in high regard, I hope it will not come between us treating each other with the respect we each, individually, command?"
She smiled back easily, "Naturally Baron, I would expect nothing less from so committed a member of the Anarch cause."
The barb was subtle, but Abrams felt the sting of that whispering doubt nonetheless, and in the corner of his eye there was a momentary flinch. He had not been aware that the Anarch rumours about his survivalist behaviour in the past year had found their way to Camarilla ears. Now he was left wondering… who?
"We all know that the first mode of business is to establish the parameters of our relationship and eliminate our common foe." Elizabeth continued, "The Kuei-Jin may be eliminated, but the renewed Sabbat infestation is of great concern. We are all agreed on this, correct?"
Nods all round – but who the hell was going to deny such a fact anyway? Bishop Andrei may have been removed and his nest eradicated, but no sooner had tales of the ensuing events reached further afield had the newest wave of Sabbat miscreants moved in. It appeared that this time they were searching for the walking Antediluvian, convinced he had awoken and destroyed Venture tower where it stood – this, at least, was the rumour. Others surmised they were in fact seeking the agent who had brought LaCroix's doom… and they weren't the only ones.
"Not to mention the fledgling at the heart of this raucous, still roaming abroad apparently undeclared as either Camarilla, Anarch, or even Sabbat. I understand that our people are all on the look out for him?"
She addressed the Primogen, but it was Strauss who spoke.
"Our agents are on alert, and advised to notify us of any sightings but not to approach."
She nodded slowly, "The blood hunt on him has not officially been repealed, and in light of the attention drawn onto our kind by his actions, I am disinclined to do so… unless anyone has any convincing argument to the contrary?"
The Ventrue spoke up: "Marv might have been innocent of the original charges, but his actions following his persecution would merit a blood hunt anyway. We had to explain away a giant bat for crying out loud."
"I have to agree," murmured Strauss, "in principal at least, though the Anarch attacks did not help matters."
"On the contrary," Abrams intervened, "they provided an excellent smoke screen for the… stranger events in your precious tower."
"At great cost." Strauss bit, turning to the newly instated Prince, "If you so wish it, we could renew the blood hunt?"
Elizabeth glanced at them all, faces turned to her, and paused a moment for effect. "I want him found." Was all she said. "Now, Mr Abrams, Ms Voerman, I am most obliged that you have accepted this invitation tonight. The Camarilla cannot, and shall not, deny the necessity for a working relationship with the Anarchs here in LA. I know that you are concerned to have the truth as to the demise of your Downtown baron Nines Rodriguez, and LaCroix's involvement with the Kuei Jin, out in the open. As are we. I would like to extend, here and now, my assurances that there will be a full disclosure of LaCroix's apparent treachery once it has been thoroughly investigated."
"With respect, Prince, there was no apparently about it." This from Voerman. "I have it on good authority."
Elizabeth allowed the pause to extend into a silence. "Whose?"
Voerman was unmoved, "Nosferatu authority, as it happens. I'm sure Gary Golden will be more than pleased to illuminate you when it suits him."
She nodded once, "I have every intention of making contact with the…" sewer rats was on her tongue but she swallowed it in time, "Nosferatu at the next possible convenience, Ms Voerman." She smiled with a forbearance she did not feel, "Until I possess the facts, however, well, it is my duty not to run away with all gossip and no proof.
"In the mean time, it all comes down to a simple question, of whether the Anarchs wish to reopen old wounds, or accept that the Camarilla is here to stay? I intend to keep an open-door policy. A laissez-faire attitude, if you will. We have strong ideological differences, but neither can afford, in these uncertain times, to wallow in them. Lest I remind you, one slip up, and we will be facing another Kuei-Jin invasion too. Yet, should we but put aside the rhetoric, and start on a fresh footing, I am sure we can both uphold the Masquerade and allow each other the space to continue pursuing our ideals."
She allowed herself a glimpse at her fellow Camarilla Kindred, and was unsurprised by the flash of outrage in Dean's eyes. More unnerving was the steadfast contemplative silence of Strauss, who had not moved a muscle – not even to breathe.
"Perhaps when you have apprised us with a full disclosure of the Camarilla's involvement in recent events we can speak in such terms Ms Rossetti. Until then, this is all talk – pleasant talk." Abrams was relaxed in his seat, "We would consider it an indication of your good will if you would only formally accepted LaCroix's deeds as happening under your name, but so far, your Primogen seem reluctant to do so."
"That would be because his reckless treachery was as damaging to us as to you, Abrams." Strauss put forward crisply, "He was not acting in our name."
"Be that as it may, it happened under your watch, how can we be sure it won't happen again?"
"Gentlemen," Elizabeth spoke levelly but was unquestioningly drawing the attention back to herself, "this is the very reason why I require the most detailed facts on the matter. Only then can we learn our lessons. Only then can reparations be made. I am unwilling to speak anymore on the matter until I myself understand the situation."
It was the end of the matter, and they all knew it from her tone.
"Until then, Abrams, it is a fact that LaCroix held a position of responsibility within the Camarilla and no one here can deny that."
The Baron tipped his head at the small concession, acknowledging the slight giving of ground, however reluctant, and miniscule, it may have been.
"I would like to include the Anarchs in our plans for the Sabbat, but I cannot do so if you are unwilling to put all other matters to one side. Do we, or do we not, have an understanding Abrams?"
He considered her carefully, until slowly something warmed in his expression. Elizabeth had the unnerving suspicion that he was figuring out what bait he might need to entrap her.
"I… We would be content to extend the amnesty and work in partnership to eradicate the Sabbat. But this is not an alliance. Each co-operation is to be negotiated for. You cannot rely on us to protect you, and be your… bodyguards." The wry disdain for being demoted to guard dogs of the Camarilla was audible.
"Primogen?" Elizabeth looked to the Camarilla, lined opposite the two Barons, "Are you content with this arrangement?"
Sandra was the first to nod, followed, to Elizabeth's surprise by Strauss's slow, purposeful acceptance. It was Dean who, under the stare of the vampires on his flank, was last to give his assent.
"So long as they can be relied upon during joint-combat operations."
"Are you accusing Anarchs of shooting their colleagues in the back, Ventrue?"
Dean's gaze flashed hot one moment, before being swallowed up by the cool calm of business etiquette. Nervously he straightened his jacket, his composure returned. "I am merely pointing out that undertaking shared combat missions provides opportunities for rogue members to break ranks… unless their superiors can keep them in line."
"Trust me, Dean, Anarchs aren't known for going back on their word, nor shooting the hand that feeds-"
"Quite." Elizabeth interrupted before he made the obvious comparison with the Camarilla, "It is in the common interest. Any incident caused during the course of operations, which results from a withdrawal of assistance, or an outright attack on fellow team-members, would be dealt with severely, using appropriate force… a blood hunt if necessary. I'm sure that Mr Abrams, and Ms Voerman, understand this."
There was an uneasy silence, both men staring each other out whilst pretending not to notice their adversary. Inwardly Elizabeth sighed – she could feel the executive headache coming on already.
"Very well. Let this arrangement stand and we shall be in contact with details as regards strategy in dealing with the Sabbat. If you have any proposals in that area – any of you – contact me. If you have information, or weapons, or people you can nominate to aid this mission, let me know. Otherwise I will, personally, oversee the coordination of our combined forces." She stood, signalling an end to proceedings, and was soon followed by the others with the scrape of wood on cold marble floors. "I look forward to our working together, and for this city to become the beacon of the future it has always promised to be."
With little more to say to each other they gradually filed out, though Abrams took Elizabeth's hand and shook it.
"Ms Rossetti. I'll email you with any known Sabbat hot-spots in our domain."
"Thank you, that would be most useful. I shall send you our equivalent information."
He turned and looked at Strauss, nodded and left.