When Satine walked in, LaCroix was not pleased to see her. He had still told Chunk to expect her and let her up which was a little odd come to think of it since he hadn't heard from the primogen yet. Maybe he just couldn't be bothered communicating with Chunk on a regular basis (it was a little trying for her as well and she was a lot less…just less than he was) and so had a standing order for her to be let up and trusted his orders about when to come back to be sufficient to keep her from bothering him unnecessarily.
"The primogen still haven't been contacted by Grout," LaCriox said crisply. "I thought I made it clear that you were not supposed to come back until we had heard from him."
Well, no, they hadn't been but how could he possibly know that? Were they under orders they'd actually follow to call him the moment they got proof that Grout was – sort of – still alive? What was she supposed to do if Grout were fine but couldn't be bothered to call? Wasn't it enough she went there to get answers?
As was becoming her habit, she pushed down her annoyance at LaCroix's treatment of her. "I understand that. When I went to Grout's mansion, however, I found him dead and thought that you should know immediately."
That seemed to take LaCroix by surprise. Maybe it was just because she was new and didn't fully grasp the ways of the kindred but when a vampire, yes even an erratic Malkavian, went missing for so long they needed to be searched for 'maybe they died' would be the very first thing to occur to her. LaCroix didn't seem like the type to welcome things not going according to plan and having to find a new Malkavian primogen who would be sane enough for the job was sure to be a headache. Would looking be his job? She doubted the Malkavians would be organized enough to find somebody and from Grout's tapes it appeared that the last time they got one they literally just saw that Grout appeared sane-ish and so made him do it five minutes after they discovered that he existed.
"Grout's dead? What?"
"When I arrived he was already dead and he had clearly been immobilized by a stake first, rendering him helpless. He was found in bed so I believe there was a good chance that he had been surprised while he was sleeping," Satine reported. "Right when I found him the mansion was set on fire by some sort of religious zealot named Bach. He seemed to know you and told me to tell you that he was coming for you."
"Bach!" LaCroix scoffed. "Every time I think he's lost the scent...So, Bach killed Grout to draw me out."
"Who is Bach?"
"He's a meddlesome hunter who has been chasing me for years," LaCroix told her.
Satine wondered why, if this Bach were such an annoyance, LaCroix didn't just kill him and move on instead of merely trying to avoid him. But then, maybe Bach were more dangerous than she thought. Or maybe LaCroix just liked a dangerous hunter being fixated on him and got off on the power trip. It really could be either or here.
She didn't think that Bach had actually killed Grout and that put her in a bit of a difficult position. Bach had intended to kill her there with the fire and he was a hunter who specialized in killing her kind. He wanted her dead just because she existed when he knew literally nothing else about her and she certainly didn't believe the world would be a better place without her. It made no sense for him to deny killing Grout if he were actually guilty and he had to know that if they were the only two there his denial would ring false no matter what the truth was. No, he was probably not the guilty party.
But who was?
She had run across Nines Rodriguez leaving Grout's house. He had seemed really spooked. Had he somehow managed to get up to Grout without carving a bloody swath through Grout's little freak show? It was possible. Maybe he saw the corpse and, not wanting to be blamed, quickly left and advised that she did the same. She knew that killing a primogen was serious business.
Or maybe he did it himself and that was why he was so out of sorts. But then why leave her as a witness? The idea of Nines Rodriguez killing Grout was just so completely out there that without a witness like herself she doubted anyone would make the connection. Yes he had already taken pains to save her twice but Nines could very well be executed over this. If the bastard who had killed her could be executed for not asking permission for her murder (actually one reason she didn't resent LaCroix as much as she could have for forcing her to be his minion. He hadn't killed that man for her sake but he had killed him and over her murder, too) then surely Nines could expect the same for killing a primogen. It was one thing to protect the Sire-less fledgling and quite another to give his life for her.
And the Anarchs, when she'd asked, had all seemed stunned and angered at the idea of Nines killing Grout. Yes they could be lying but something told her they weren't. If only Nines were around to ask! Skelter wouldn't tell her where he was but swore up and down that he wasn't killing Grout and asked why he even would. Well she just didn't know. Maybe he decided to play it safe and so lie to his people about where he was going.
All she was sure of was that she had seen Nines walking out of the mansion and Grout was dead. She couldn't know more until she talked to Nines and surely if killing Nines would be such a big deal (even just fighting with him was a big enough deal that she had been allowed to live) then LaCroix would get to the bottom of it instead of just casually dispatching the command to kill him. She really hoped that killing him would not be her next task. She wasn't sure she had the heart for it or was even physically capable of it. And, unlike with certain others she'd met, going into hiding and quietly moving weren't really things she could imagine Nines would be willing to do.
Maybe Nines hadn't gone there intending to kill him but after seeing the madness he possessed and what it had led him to do to so very many (presumably) innocent people he hadn't been able to just walk away. As a very private person and a primogen of a clan who wasn't exactly overflowing with candidates for the position, Grout was practically untouchable as long as he wasn't threatening the Masquerade or angering the wrong people and he seemed too canny for that, particularly with his paranoia.
So what if Nines had killed Grout? Could she really say it was the wrong choice? What if she had found him alive and well and torturing people into insanity to try and bring himself back to life? Could she really say that she wouldn't have done the same? It was a nice thought, that people could be cured from vampirism, but she couldn't say that she set much stock in it. This was Dracula and not Frankenstein.
"Well?" LaCroix asked impatiently and Satine realized that she had been standing there in silence for some time.
She forced a smile. "Yes that must be what happened. I wasn't there to witness the killing but it seems like the logical conclusion."
To her slight surprise, LaCroix seemed…disappointed almost in her answer. "Bach did it? You're sure?"
"Reasonably sure given that I did not witness it," she lied. Why not let him have this? He was already targeting LaCroix and would have killed Grout if he'd gotten there in time so she wasn't putting him in any more danger than he already had intended to be.
"You're sure that nobody else was there?" LaCroix asked. "Nobody else who you might not have expected to be there?"
"Well I certainly didn't expect his mansion to be stuffed with mutilated ghouls that he seemed to have been trying to turn into Bane from Batman and Robin. They even had that creepy serial killer mask! They reminded me strangely of cats," Satine added as an afterthought.
LaCroix didn't seem to get the reference. "I…see. And nobody else was there? You didn't see any enemies of his? Maybe an Anarch?"
"Why would an Anarch be there?" Satine hedged.
"Look at me," LaCroix commanded. "Did you see an Anarch at the mansion?"
A strange feeling came over her and she felt like she couldn't lie. Was he dominating her? Really? It was insulting. And why did he doubt her word? Granted she was lying but he was the one who proposed Bach killed Grout so why was he doubting that now?
"I did not see any Anarch in the mansion," she said at last. Nines she had seen as she was leaving.
LaCroix looked almost furious for a second but his anger didn't seem to be directed at her. Maybe he was just really hoping that if Grout was going to be killed an Anarch would have done it to give him a reason to go to war with them and take control of his city. Well she was sorry she couldn't oblige him. Nines meant far more to her than he did and he had never dominated her. Granted he probably didn't have the power to but that wasn't really the point. Dominating another vampire seemed decidedly anti-Anarch.
"I apologize for pressing you on the matter," LaCroix said smoothly, his face impassive once more. "It's just that you seemed to be troubled, more troubled than I would expect seeing a dead stranger – even one as powerful as a primogen – killed at the hand of a hunter."
She clearly needed to work on her poker face.
"Well, I am upset," she told him. "Bach told me that I was one of the damned and had to be killed. He's never even met me and knows nothing about me but he's comfortable making that sort of judgment call!"
LaCriox looked confused. "I'm sorry that a relentless vampire hunter didn't like you."
"And he just got me thinking, what if he's right?" Satine went on. "What if I really am one of the damned? A lot of people say things like that but what does it even mean?"
"I would presume that it means you're damned."
"But in what way? Am I going to hell once I'm killed again because I had the misfortune to be turned into a vampire without my knowledge or consent? What if you had decided to kill me along with that other guy?" Satine asked. She hadn't actually been intending to broach this subject with him but now that she needed a cover for being uncertain about Nines she might as well make it convincing. And it had sort of been eating at her. "I would have done literally nothing wrong and it wouldn't be fair."
"Surely by now you've realized that 'fair' has nothing to do with anything," LaCroix told her.
"Well, yes, but I can't accept that. It doesn't make sense. I suppose it could mean that I'm damned for all the evil acts I'll undoubtedly commit but the only people I've ever killed are actively trying to kill me at the time so it's strict self-defense and I mostly just buy from the blood bank. I know the Bible, if we're going off that, says 'thou shall not kill' but surely an exception must be made for killing people who are trying to kill you! Why would God demand that people die without a fuss when they encounter bad people who want to hurt them?" Satine demanded.
"I don't think the self-defense rationale works when your body count is in the hundreds," LaCroix told her. "You do keep putting yourself in these situations. When you went to blow up the Sabbat warehouse, for instance, and had to 'defend yourself' against the people attacking you, you did choose to go there. Would you consider it self-defense if you chose to go to a prison, start a prison riot, and then kill everyone in your way?"
Satine winced. "Well…no. But I do try to stay hidden when I'm in these situations! And I had another idea about being damned!"
"Do tell. I find this fascinating," LaCroix said in a way that made her think that maybe he wasn't being entirely truthful.
"Well, maybe 'damned' doesn't mean what we think it means and it just means that our lives are very bleak by human standards in that we're forced to kill to survive and to subsist off of blood and we've lost everyone and everything that ever meant anything to us," Satine suggested.
"Or maybe anyone, kindred or kine, who says that we're damned is just guessing because nobody who has died twice and experienced whatever happens to us after that second death has ever returned to elucidate the matter for us," LaCroix said pointedly.
"I…like that a lot better than the Buffy answer," Satine told him.
LaCroix seemed to be fighting an internal battle. Finally, he said, "Buffy answer?"
"It's from this TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Satine said. "While they didn't always keep the mythos consistent, they say in the beginning of the show that a vampire isn't the same person they were before they died. Like I wouldn't still be me only a vampire. My soul would not be damned and have gone to heaven – hopefully – but now I'm a demon that's possessed her corpse and has all of her memories and thinks I'm her but I'm not. And that would be why I'm damned because I'm a demon and what made her a person is gone."
"But why would a demon possess a corpse and think that they were that corpse and not have their own identity?" LaCroix asked, frowning.
Satine shrugged. "Why is Caine's punishment for killing his brother contagious?"
"I think we had better go with 'damned' being an overdramatic term that's veracity cannot be proven at this point," LaCroix said.
Satine nodded. "That's probably for the best."
"And I think that you had better go to the Museum of Natural History to retrieve the Ankaran Sarcophagus while I work out what to do about Grout's murder."