Update Note: Busted some typos/lazy editing. No real reason to reread.
Author's Note: This exercise in introspection attempts to craft a glimpse into what the Prince might be – what the intimate part of his mind and personality could look like. I hope to show, briefly, a private face that is more human and touchable than what we see on the exterior, but do so without losing the established character.
BOOKKEEPING: As usual, there are heavy parallels with my other Bloodlines works (especially For Honour), but you don't need to read them to tackle this. (For Byzantine Black readers: Woeburne is not mentioned; she's not excluded, so to speak, but I didn't want to force my OC into this. On White Shores is intended for everyone. Let this be your own LaCroix if you'd like, or consider it an extension of his portrayal in BB. Up to you.)
As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy.
ON WHITE SHORES
He can hear the ocean break.
From where he stands in the penthouse of this steel tower, the night so thin and awake around him, Prince LaCroix can see nothing but streetlights and concrete. The sky is choked by smog and progress. The air is lit by technology and a constant pulse of cars. Los Angeles is a rip of new life as it grows, a thicket that has burnt itself down, green folding upon the scars of upheaval and spent wars. It does not abide darkness and will not control its excesses by choice. Downtown is so noisy, so manic, so constant-in-motion that there is no room for silence in a modern age. Sebastian LaCroix has always been a modern man. Yet this he finds regrettable – a frustration – one that cannot be corrected, balmed, made mute.
Even from the bitter white walls of this office, where heels strike like cannon-fire, he can hear the drawl outside. It is maddeningly imprecise. It offends in its sloppiness, its selfish push to multiply, its disregard for regulation. These are all characteristics he has fired servants for (some more permanently than others). His discontent is cruel and unrelenting. That is the penalty one pays for living older than a human mind can bear. The weight of this creature's years have turned him arctic, his passions powerful, his needs unattainable. It churns irritation into hate; twits frustration in upon itself when there is nowhere left for ambition to swell. Sebastian LaCroix is exigent. He will bunk no failure and be satisfied with nothing but the finest.
Sebastian LaCroix has not been satisfied in such a very long time. His existence is one of routine disappointments, agitations, tasks incomplete. His nights are heavy with the knowledge of infinite days.
They are not so different, standing here above this coast: the bleakness of American desert, Italian fields, and exhausted South African mines. The timeline of his past began to blur together many decades ago. Yet these images are crisp and poignant to him as the sounds they conjure. Drummer boys, muskets, horses and men with screams stuck in their throats. Pickaxes against sediment and soft metal. Car horns, pistols, static through his telephone. All are conquests stunted before completion. All have provided him with means, sustenance, legitimate power; none have given what it is the caliph truly wants.
Sebastian frowns and stiffens in the half-solitude of this office. Outside, he can hear evening breeze whorl around skyscrapers, rattle ugly wire verandas. There are jet engines howling overhead. Women's shoes are clacking into an elevator across his hallway. Someone downstairs is tipping at their computer, fingers indecisive, and the smack of a spacebar every third sentence bothers him. The Prince purses full lips. He pushes away from the foreboding enamel of his desk and stands up. There is no real reason; it is simply too distracting to sit.
He did not hate the noise. What he hated was the imperfection of this quiet.
It has been a usual evening in Los Angeles tonight. The usualness of this court, however, does not make holding it grate any less. A leader must tend to many marching lines if he is to be successful. It is not enough to control your flock with an authoritarian glove, but one must also cajole; soothing the worries of paranoid, doddering seniors is equally important as beating imprudent rabble back into their dens. Simple strategy, complicated times. Unlike his hesitating peers, spooking at myths, complicated has never heralded defeat for Sebastian LaCroix.
He did not wait and equivocate. This magistrate was a Ventrue one, and took action. Sabbat, Inquisitors and Anarchs must be dealt with curtly, forcefully, bluntly – headship by the sword. Primogen can only be won with smiles. So Sebastian fits a taut mouth nicely around ambassadorial language. It is a constant effort, even now… perhaps especially now, with so many prospects before him, so many arguments broken. When he shows teeth in this hall, they are those of a king lion, not a lamb; his own smile looks like a rajah about to bite.
At his root, Prince Los Angeles is a military man. His diplomatic hand has little patience before it turns from a stroke to a strike.
He does what is necessary, at any rate. These politics wear upon him, but LaCroix has become accustomed to the wastefulness of timid Elders and inured to accusations of youth. It is a pathetic, regretful state of affairs, yet it is one he has come to expect. Some are stuck in the old ways. Some cannot appreciate that their minds must change with the zeitgeist. These grey-hairs are an embarrassment to a continent not-so-long ago dubbed New World, hemming and hawing with buckled knees at real vision, balking at the drive to take them there. They are an anachronistic parliament that clings to its relics of bygone eras. They are unable to see it so plainly as he does. And so the young Prince does his best to placate them, tolerate them, to halter and lead this stubborn mule of a city to its proper place. He is a tenacious director, a one-man dynasty. He will steer his Domain toward its future, whether they fight his ropes or not.
The Prince lingered alone now. It was the way he wanted it – how, truthfully, it always was. Once LA's Primogen left, having taken all their squawking, bickering and pecking with them, Sebastian ordered his Sheriff outside. He did not generally mind the shadow of beast motionless behind him. But he could not stand the way its muscle settled – primitive whispers, something animal, when his building moved with saline California wind. It was so simple what this gentile khan wanted. Perfect space. Perfect silence. They were both so close, a ghost commodity that did not exist.
Venture Tower, too, groaned; its cement and iron were the bulwarks of an Elba.
Sebastian used to stand across from the bluffs of Dover when he was a boy, bare toes in cold Calais sand, and watch that place beyond where waves crashed in. They had been far from him – far enough to look flawless. Impossible that something could be so old, so immutable. So hard to stretch his young mind back to a time when those formations had not existed. The bleached heights stood far above the lull and tumble of chaotic blue; their shadowless cut was a rightness that not even unstable earth could change. In the humble sight of England's whitest shore, he would catch toothed silver fish in his nets, grasp them in both hands, bodies that twisted like snakes. He would go deaf from the roar of surf and seabirds upon coarse, lowly brown rock. He would rub finger blood from their pin pricks into shirt, trousers, sleeves, turning thin cotton to red velvet. There had to be more. There had to be a place on that bluff, colorless and dirtless, where no sound reached, where even the brute force of Atlantic turned to music.
Forward and back, forward and back, meaninglessness hammered into routine by a natural state that is dumb, taciturn, blind. There had to be a way to rise above, make sense of it. If he could find that bowstring where chalk met cloudless sky and twang, there would be something to answer back – clear, crisp, immaculate. There is a structure to be found in this world. There is a chord lain just between those azure horizons that rings perfect; that will bring all discord, all ugliness together. He was so sure of it.
But he had grown into a man, then, mean and glistening as all poor boys become – and he had reached those bluffs, his little hopes become a boat to be pushed on the winds of war. And Sebastian had seen how he had been wrong. He saw the moss strangle clean, impeccable rock; how its alabaster skin, flawless across that blue-green water, peeled back to guts and bones of prehistory. Waves and time had eaten it up. And the boy – because perhaps there was still a boy, bottled up behind scowl and bayonet like toy ships in glass – had felt the next hurl of ocean like a kick. A kick like a Hessian boot to the core, the tender underbelly, the place where even great snakes cannot grow scales. It might have broken his ribs. It rattled the red velvet heart.
Perfect is an illusion until it is made to be real.
And he will make it. Because that is what he does. And because, in an endless life, he must.
What a strenuous thing it is – to loathe so fiercely, and love a nothing-word like "perfect." Being Prince LaCroix is not an easy lot. Yet it is not because he is a Ventrue diabolic, duplicitous and gnawed raw by his paranoias; it is not because leadership has ever been a game of stresses; it is not because his claims are threatened by small, barking mutts. It is not because his prospects, predictably colonial, have on occasion foundered and failed beneath their own mass. It is because – for all the commands and stipulations, the details and addendums – for all the blood spilt in the spirit of la gloire, it is because Sebastian LaCroix seeks something pure. No court has ever formed that would reach his aims. No squire, no Seneschal, no corporal exists who is unflawed enough to truly serve him well. He seeks an El Dorado, a Fountain of Youth. He asks for so little within so much.
It is difficult thing to be Sebastian LaCroix. It is agonizing.
In the summit of his tower, a Prince has plenty of space to think. The noise and darkness fall away beneath him, one hundred stories between spit-shined tiles and filthy asphalt. A sallow moon peers in through these ominous windows. Sebastian stands soldierlike as he looks back at it, shoulders straight, hands clasped behind his back. This is the proper way for a man to be. This is the comfortable stance of those made to lead. He can see far from up here, a step away from the chaos; he can predict, assess, delegate.
Sebastian LaCroix stands at the precipice over a black and churning water and he thinks of a brighter future – his future – where this world is as it ought to be. Sometimes that vision seems unattainable. But some nights, such as this one, it seems one step – one last latch – away.
As rare and gossamer as his desire was, its shortcomings had built their dreamer a small empire. Almost-perfects were commonplace fodder. Calais had been almost perfect in spring, chimney smoke pure, gravel a melancholic grey. Flanders had been almost perfect in the idyll of green grass moors; so too had been the texture of English fog. Johannesburg had been almost perfect enterprise behind chain walls and manor shade. His posture and notes had been almost perfect at the study of a maple violin… almost perfect was in each thrust of horsehair bow or steel epée. "Too cold," his mentor had said, tutting and sighing at the young nephew with that unsmiling face – too rigid, too right – words that meant little to Sebastian then, and much less now. Prince LaCroix would invest riches in a single soldier that knew how to march just as he used to play.
It is so deep a hurtle between almost and utter, but the distance is not so very far. He can see it glister – white shores across the impervious blue.
There have been many battles and a few wars since the Los Angeles's current magnate first drew rapier to join this great game. There have been twice as many theatres, both mundane and supernatural. All had been lands of honey and milk in their own way. France birthed him into this world, but it was the bloody plains of Lombardy and dour England that whittled him sharp, precious flint to the stone of youth. Gold and diamonds lay sparkling in the basin of Witwatersrand. Sebastian can remember when he first stepped upon them, rust-colored rock, holding dirt like velvet in one hand. It shined. Red mineral melted to mud beneath the slightest savannah rain. Now America promises fortune, its goldrush spent in paper, its air amiss with something strange.
Prince LaCroix is not sentimental; he is practical. He is pragmatic. A true gerent must be, for there are no orchestras or crab cages or Coalitions here. It is not inheritance, after all, but quickness to change that strains weak nobles from rightful monarchs – titles held by the best men to own them – status proven, not arbitrarily filtered down. Status proven. Sebastian has many enemies, some wolves and some devils, but none can say that their Prince has not proven his potence. He is not a result of ancient nepotism – of stuffed, fat Estates that swagger on birthright rather than meddle. Prince Los Angeles is a capitalist in every sense of that vague word. He is modern, and he evolves.
Evolution is psychological and biological. It is a nature-against-nurture debate that emerged long before mortal scientists had words or numbers to attach to their predispositions. There are genetics, and there is the conscious will that manages them, and there is the pulse that flows through that consciousness.
Great minds do not take orders from weak, prehistoric forefathers; great men are not determined by blood. They determine it.
He can still taste the tang of victory upon his mouth: copper, iron, zinc – all the metals that would one day mean frustration in hand but everything behind teeth and tongue. This is hardly the defining moment in a long line of victories, and yet there it remains, a vertebra on the spine of his memory. Sebastian can remember standing alone in that echoing hall, the Scottish marble beneath his riding boots, a shine of white reflection in that polished, militant black. He could not tell if it was the moon or his murderous canines in that crease of leather, but it glistened. Brighter than the dust stuck in his Sire's inanimate clothes, than scarlet on the knife he had dropped, than the sudden clarity of five hundred years drumming through his heart, than starlight upon Viscount du Viron's spotless and empty ballroom floor as he fell dead upon it. And struck. And shivered. And vanished from the malicious, wet, tainted world.
Marble is derived from the Greek word shining stone. Sebastian swallowed that last gulp of his progenitor's life and hears the cells, the shift, the music that tightens every note of this world so much sharper and clearer. He can hear everything now. See everything. Color, touch, the jangle of chandelier glass overhead – they are all more perfect, more meaningful, more beautiful. That first bite had been in hatred, a fulfillment of revenge plotted for a thousand nights, but the vitriol faded as quickly as his Sire's flesh did. The guilty blade and his fingers scatter vitae. And he watches each droplet turn to red velvet on shining stone.
For a moment, it had been perfect; he had been perfect. The immensity of that vision – the lucidity of its pitch – dwindled as his age advanced, of course... as the Ventrue came to recognize more powerful beings, more difficult masters, and retrospect put what once seemed like flawlessness into a smaller caliber. But with that brutal act, that murder most foul, that succession deserved, he had taken a step nearer. He had ingested a finer life and made it his own; had liberated eldritch power from a worthless vessel; given it focus. And he had been made better for it – mind, body, soul – absorbing the most basic building blocks that would stack high, be stable, scale straight to this throne. Diablerie is a philosophy and not an act. Like Kindred, this bloody form of evolution is lasting – one of the few resources that are. Generation is something no tide or storm can erode.
For a moment – in that moment – Sebastian LaCroix is free on an open path. He can see straight to the finale. His course of action is striking, it is apparent, and it is meant to be.
Perhaps there had been a storm outside that night, punitive and literary, cracking through yawning conservatory windows. Or perhaps it had been not so much a sky but a sea, an ocean, a monstrous nothing that hung over the Belgian fir. Sebastian had run the cooling gloss of his Sire's blood between tongue and throat and fang and noted the chill, the odd texture, something like triumph. How strange not to regret this sudden aloneness. How strange that it tastes so much like his own.
LaCroix has been his own example for a dire principle: you cannot rely upon armies or corporals or favorite pets you groom. Trust not your image, imperfect and secondary, but only what you can assuredly make your own. Du Viron learned it. Ming-Xiao will learn it. Cain and Abel learned that lesson, too.
Sebastian LaCroix does not humor fables, merely the truths they are based upon.
The Prince places his hand upon the sill of this curtainless window. It is cold, colder even than the thatches of his fingers, and the glass feels wet. Fog condensation, a byproduct of altitude and climate, clings in droplets that pull themselves shapeless as gravity drags everything downwards. He soaks some of it through the thin space where fixture meets foundation. Thumb and palm rub the spot out, hinges that are two-hundred years in interim – a permanence that is not-quite-alive. The dampness disappears. His hand endures.
Waves crash somewhere out in that unending night. He can hear it from here, and knows how – with every rush and recess – some of Los Angeles is washed away.
That is how the tide works. And that is something every Prince, soldier, boy and man must come to understand.
It is not Dover's fault that it is imperfect. Those bluffs are but a weatherstone in the ebb and flow of centuries. All shores deteriorate. They are worn tired, standing alone, feet sunk deep into the harangue. It is a noble fight. To tower there so silent and pale, it must be an honorable thing – not to crumble at once and whisk off into that great, furious, orderless blackness. The odds are so very strong against it. Angry, borderless water – sounds, tumult with no lines; no sense; no honest form – rushing at the foundations of you, tearing away at what you are. It would be easy to buckle and fall to nothing. They fight to stay as they are.
Sebastian LaCroix has fought from this war room every evening spent in Los Angeles, a bereft orphan of a Domain, the wasteland he will make strong. A thinking chamber where battles are planned and fired into life – where old era lineage and individual ambition meet – is where he strives toward victory. That is what Venture Tower is. That is what Elysium has always been. The politicians call them something different now, but it is a war room all the same. Here is where he makes decisions, diktats, ultimatums, history. Here is where the adversity comes to face him with their repertoire of weapons, promises, veiled threats.
The faces change – a man with a cross and rifle, a barbarian chief forced off his throne, a witch lord looming, an eastern demon speaking bargains, servants who grow past their uses – but they are all the same foe. Montebello, London, Johannesburg, New York. Los Angeles is another notch upon the list, another rung on the ladder. Perhaps it will be the last. Perhaps, after so many years of disappointment, this is the earth where water turns to wine.
It will not be easy. His enemies are small, determined, regenerating beasts that snap at him in droves. Advance, retreat; withdraw, engage; forward, back. They are repetitious and they, too, unending. They are jackals in a desert and winds that stir a sea.
The sea eats the cliffside away with needlefish bites, needlefish teeth; a thousand eddies devour the sandstone and turn it all to white foam. He will not listen to them. He will cover his ears, a boy across from those chalk bluffs, to block out the mindless forward and back of a violent tide.
He will triumph, because it is not enough to endure.
Time does not mean the same thing to a vampire as it does to fumbling mortal kind. You do not go feeble and deaf as Kindred. Your body does not deteriorate like the crags and niches of those distant rocks; your face cannot be eaten away by bathymetry, boat hulls or fish with mouths full of teeth. Years spin out to sand and bone around you, until you can trace fine lines through nine hundred seasons, connect winters from seaside to savannah to bottle-strewn coast. The music only grows louder, the pitch more perfect. It has demands to be met. It promises with one more step, one more age, one more vanquisher, to become whole. My god, he is old; he is so, so very old; he sees the flames of children rise and quench like seeds on a salt breeze, nations rage and topple. But he is somehow not so old at all.
His hair is gold. His face is ashen white. His eyes are a mournful, suffocating, seawater blue.
There are snakes greyer and thicker than he; puff adders with dark, beady button stares watching for any flash of bare skin. There are the vociferous young that rage at the groundstones of this tower and threaten to shake him down. And there are those that follow – those that march – that simply cannot give their sovereign what it is this pale-maned Prince most needs.
He will not crumble and whisk away to nothing. Dark disorder can not swallow him. He will take these dull, clumsy, imperfect tools, and he will carve a new face into the bedrock of Los Angeles – recreate the façade of that perfect place again someday. His destiny is one written in shorthand, an autobiography, a binder of records and profit charts. They will not matter once the myth is disrupted, the truth drained dry. Sebastian LaCroix has endured for too long. He will triumph. He will make a white rock kingdom no tumultuous water can wash away. And it – and he – and this – will be perfect.
The ocean has brought him limestone, ancientness, a lock for a key. It has carried to him a chance.
When it is perfect it will be beautiful – perfect beauty, flawless orchestra – and the fish and the seabirds will fall from this shore. And the beach, his beach, the land promised to him, this small empire he'd earned, will shine white and flat and impervious again.
Sebastian can feel himself begin to smile.
The hungry ocean breaks on the beach of Los Angeles. Let it come. Let them all come. He is a rock that will break the sea.