Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, White Wolf, World of Darkness and any associated content is not owned by me, all rights reserved. Any resemblance to persons real or fictional is entirely coincidental. The character Jia Lin is my own creative content. Thank you to all who have had any hand in bringing Vampire the Masquerade:Bloodlines to fruition. It is a marvelous world you've created for the audience.
I hope I describe any Asian characters in this story in a way that is authentic and respectful. I really love China and so I decided to make the main character of Chinese origin. I hope you enjoy this story.
**This chapter is kind of violent and describes some elements of sexual assault toward the end. If this would trigger any painful memories I urge you to read on carefully or just skip this chapter.
They are like ghosts. I live in a house full of them.
Although the building was old, it had been restored and the rooms were rented out at no less than 1200 per month. No pets, only two tenants per unit. Jia Lin had no pets, but currently shared her apartment with 3 girls instead of one. Sometimes it was just her on the top bunkbed while the others were sleeping over at their boyfriends'. She didn't blame them, although it got lonely sometimes. Little did she know that their whimsical start in the US would end as abruptly as it began.
She had met them through a friend at the language institute, and they had all secured an apartment behind the Fu Syndicate. It really was a beautiful building, she thought. Beautifully restored Manhattan style brick with metal railings both front and back. Sometimes they'd all hang out on them and smoke. Inside the dark wood floors shined with newness and the foyer had a fishtank. Across the way there was a chintzy, ornate hotel that was really meant only for tourists. But the lobby served breakfast and sometimes they'd get their tarot cards read by a strange woman with orange hair that spoke barely any english. Between all five of them, the fortune teller Slavic and trembling with age and the four girls, all fresh from the other side of the world, much was lost in translation. But somehow they all walked away in understanding. When you've decided on what you want to hear, words made little difference, she would muse.
She did not yet have a visa and her english was broken, at times intellilegible. This made the young woman, only just blossoming at 23 but already old in her mind, feel aimless during pensive moments. She dreamt of the university life, this time in a new country with new people. Her studies had been rudely interrupted in Macau two years prior, and there were times when she could not believe that she ended up in building that, seemingly overnight, became lined with plaster and tape apartments that stank of mold and carrots and rancid oil, with strange occupants that squinted unseeing at her when they crossed paths in the halls.
To her right, the Golden Temple embedded itself in her line of sight ominously. Those heavy double doors illicited disgust and fear from the young woman for reasons undefinable. Supposedly a priestess ran the temple and was sought out by more wealthy members of the community for counsel. Although apparently anyone was welcome. But her feet would never take her too near.
"Whassa matter, girly? You need help opening those doors? You wanna go talk to the priestess?"
Grin wry and grey, it was the first part of him she saw, apparating Cheshire Cat like in the coming dark. Did he know the priestess? Just once she had seen this supposedly holy person, very briefly; a beautiful lady, but the moon has been strangely unkind, painting her face harsh and dull, as if repelled from her supple, smooth skin when it should have gleamed. Would he tell her that she was staring at the doors like an insane person? What if she was summoned to the temple to be questioned? These thoughts paralyzed her for a few seconds.
Picking up on her nervousness, he gestured openly with thick arms insulated by layers of thermal clothing.
"What you wanna ask her? Ask me first, ok? Want to know about love? I see love coming to you, alright. Wanna know who it is? Five dollars and I'll tell you."
On impulse, she handed him the money, still crisp and young, not having seen a change of many hands. The wind whistled through her, hot and dry. Her first date in the United States had been a blind one, in more ways than one. Tentatively, she brought a hand to her lips. The young man's smoky kiss lingered. She hadn't wanted to kiss him, she hadn't liked him enough. But when you are hungry, you eat what is offered, even when the food has no taste. In her loneliness and boredom, she had made out with near stranger that her roommate engineered for her to meet, and his flavor was candy that a couch dweller shoves into her mouth when there is nothing on tv and every day and night is replaying itself. Perhaps getting her fortune read would dislodge the sick weight in her belly. Perhaps it would remove the irony.
"What's your name, girl?"
Briefly, she hesitated.
The fortune teller looked up at her as he shook his bag of coins and let them spill out on a little card table playfully, then treated them as if they were little live things that he corralled in his hands. You could tell he knew what he was doing, that there was a science to it as the snake oil appeal slid off for a moment as he searched for whatever messages that lay in waiting. He was a likeable sort of person, for all his rough edges.
"That your real name?"
His eyebrows waggled comically.
"Oh ho! So you have been very unlucky since you were born, haven't you? Loose a lot, gain very little, am I right?"
"It's true in some ways, yes."
Her oval face crimped.
"But that will change soon. First though, you will get into some big trouble, lotsa stress. You gonna go through some big changes, then come out on top."
Jia Li blinked absurdly and nodded.
"Ok, thanks. Have a nice day."
The fortune teller guffawed, slapping his knee. He picked his teeth with an over-long pinky nail, eyeing her at length.
"You're a weird girl! What, you don't believe me?"
She pressed her lips together, hoping the look she gave was affable. What did she expect, anyway? She didn't want to insult him.
"No, I believe you. Thanks for the fortune."
He pushed his sunglasses up. He was old, with deep rivets extending from the corners of his eyes and between his eyebrows. Scratching his chin, he wagged a thick, yellow nailed finger suggestively.
"Say, do you walk a lot at night? I think I've seen you before."
He slid his glasses back down and laughed to himself, a shuffling grunt. Her gaze followed him worriedly as his posture morphed from careless to rigid, leg fidgeting and causing the card table to shake.
"Well, you shouldn't! Hasn't anyone told you it's dangerous? Strange things happen around here at night," he exclaimed. His expression was hard to read, a mixture of amusement and perplexity. They both glanced toward the temple in unison.
It was dusk. The air had cooled down and the sky was smoky blues and curdled yellows. Was he just trying to scare her?
"Strange things, mister?"
Thumbing through his revenue, he seemed to think better of it and put the cash away.
"Yeah, strange people hang out. Dangerous people. LA is a risky place for a young girl. But even Chinatown has it's problems, you know."
"I'll be careful."
He shrugged and paid special attention to his watch. Arms at her side, she waited for him to say something. He seemed to be ignoring her now. She turned on her heel, then coltishly spun back around.
"Say, weren't you going to tell me about love? You said I'd meet somebody."
"Oh did I now? Ok, I'll give you two answers for the price of one. Just this time, though."
A girlish laugh bubbled out of her. It felt sudden and foreign but illicited a toothy grin from the older man.
"So you are gonna meet a few guys, of course. But there is one for you that is going to teach you a lot about life. An unusual man, a man people fear. A man many people don't like, but a man of influence. It will be..."
He stroked his chin again, pinching grey hairs that grew downward like tiny roots.
"ahh...it will be...hard love. He will not be easy to love but you will have no choice because you so young! You don't know any better. But it will be good for you, it will teach you things! Cause you like a flower bud that won't open, you know?"
"Yeah...I think so."
It was true. His comment was corny and struck her a bit harsher than she would have liked, her inner core shrinking in the way a lemon would cause her mouth to pucker. It was appropriate to her situation. But his prediction was hard comprehend. Big changes? An unusual man, hard to love? Her mind brushed his words to the side, grateful just for the simple human interaction, nothing too complicated.
"Thank you, mister. I'll remember everything you told me," she murmured, nodding respectfully. Her voice was an unintentional near whisper.
The fortune teller was nowhere in sight this time and she found herself mostly alone on the little dead end street. It had been dark for an hour now. She was waiting for Mae to call, but the girl was a flake and the kind of too-nice that really was just someone always weighing their options. Mae had promised her a room with a friend now that they all were moved out, save for Jia Lin. She supposed that she would just stay in a hotel until she found a new place.
At first, the building was occupied by tenants like them. Mostly young, a few families and a few elderly. No one seemed particularly close, but everyone was courteous when they passed in the halls. Then all of the sudden, most of the tenants vanished. The ones that stayed were not as Jia Lin remembered. She'd never seen anything like it, they shuffled like grey clouds through the halls, peering dumbly and hungrily around corners and thru windows. Their skin had no color, as if they'd been slit and hung to drain dry. Their eyes were rheumy, toxic, dull. The apartments stank of rot, their was garbage placed outside the doors.
"You need to move out, we're renovating the building," stated the manager one morning as Jia Lin was leaving. She'd never much liked her, with greasy flat hair and timid, unkind eyes.
"But we signed a lease!"
"You've got a few weeks. If you need help finding a place..."
The woman twirled a stray, dull lock of hair that had fallen from a too tight bun. It struck her as oddly girlish for all the woman's underhandedness, and Jia Lin could not help but scrunch her nose in distaste. The manager grimaced in return, reactionary to a fault, then her penciled in eyebrows raised and her brightly coral lips pursed in a pantomime of thoughtfulness.
"...the priestess Ming Xiao might be able to assist you."
The young woman's stomach tumbled it's contents around in protest. She felt the urge to run, inexplicably.
"No, that won't be necessary!" Jia Lin had blurted out, grabbing her roommate's arm and leading her upstairs.
"Jia Lin! You're usually so quiet, what came over you?"
"I got a bad feeling about this. Let's just leave now."
"But we've still got a few weeks. I know, it's really strange."
Jia Lin grabbed the girl opposite of her by the shoulders. Her roommate's long, heavy face was befuddled under the lamplight. As always, the girl caked her makeup on so that you couldn't know what she looked like underneath it all. Her shoulders were rounded like the tops of dove wings beneath her pink cashmere sweater.
"Li, something really weird is happening. Ok? Have you seen the other tenants? They look like...like drug addicts or something. And those dangerous looking guys, they've been coming out of the building a lot lately."
"I haven't noticed any dangerous guys! Our neighbors look normal to me. Maybe you're just imagining things!"
"You wouldn't notice, would you..."
"What the hell do you mean?"
"You've been hanging out at that club Glaze ever since you moved in. That guy you've been dating goes there a lot."
"Sonny is a nice guy! What's wrong with me going clubbing?"
"Glaze isn't exactly the place for college age girls. You know the sort of people that own it."
"Well you're a little old, anyway, Jia! Twenty three and you still have three years to go before you graduate! What? Have you all been spying on me?"
"We hear you on the phone, you dumbie! You broadcast it to everyone,"I'm gonna see Sonny! I'm gonna be at Glaze! Glaze, Glaze, Glaze! You're not even old enough to be getting in, and do you really think they want you telling everyone within shouting distance that you'll be going?"
Jia Lin crossed her arms, insulted but resigned to the girl's behavior, as it was typical. Li was the youngest of them all, at 19.
Tears streamed down the younger woman's face. As always, she was the one to cry.
"I'm sorry, Jia Lin! I'm just really stressed out by all of this!"
"Well, it's not such a big deal! We just have to pack our stuff and leave."
"Yeah, it's not just that."
She threw up her slender hands, fingers spindly and nails buffed.
"I still really like Sonny, but I know what you say is true. And I...I just want to feel good, you know?"
"I mean...I feel special, he treats me so nice. And his friends have been really nice to me, but it's hard because I know they're not the sort of people I should hang with. Daddy wouldn't like it at all."
"Maybe that's why you're doing it then. Make your father angry, eh?"
She jutted her lower lip out. Her mascara was running, but just as Jia Lin moved in to wipe it away she pulled out a tissue and dabbed her puffy skin.
"No, it's more than that. I can't tell you about it though."
Jia Lin shrugged. It was like pulling teeth with her, always. And now she just wanted to get the hell out of this place. There was no time to chit chat about nothing.
"Well, let's just get our things packed. I'll call the girls."
That was how it went. Just like that they were leaving their little treasured apartment. The newness and exhiliration of starting something new was abruptly replaced with disorientation. They had painted, they had cooked together. Now the entire building was haunted by this inexplicable, moldy kiss that made it seem like they were somewhere else entirely. But Jia Lin had been the only one to really absorb the change.
Something really weird is going on. It's like some sort of sickness has descended on us. And I feel all around me, especially when I go near that damned temple.
The temple had become something of an obsession to her, and yet she did not dare venture too near too often, let alone go inside. Since her very arrival it held an almost morbid fascination over her mind. And the priestess...again, her waxy image played over in her head. That frosty, dull skin, all at once too smooth to seem real and yet repellant of the lamplights, the moonlight, feasting on shadows only.
Jia Lin headed back to the apartments, eyes burning. Thinking of that woman made her feel insane, being near the temple made her feel as though she had lost touch with reality. She had to leave tonight, she should have already left with her things which she had carefully packed away.
She came to an awkwars, tense halt as she entered the apartment building, nerves lifting off beneath her skin.
Damn myself. I'm so jumpy, what's my problem? Why can't I just react the way any normal person would?
A stonefaced young man clad in black leather jacket and expensive jeans leaned against the fish tank in the lobby. A group of men, some older and presumably all associated with him, sprawled out on the leather sofas. They carelessly drew on their cigarettes, letting the ash drop to the shining wood floor. Her eyes must have been large in their sockets as they trailed the smoke and ash, for the men snickered to each other as they looked on darkly.
"You're supposed to be moved out. You live up in apartment 6?"
He pointed vaguely upward, smirking in unreadable fashion. More laughs were illicited from the group. His ethnicity was questionable, and for some reason she could not make out his features. It was if he had no identifiable traits, and his face appear to swim in her vision so that her eyes could not focus. This startled her immensely. Could she have been drugged without knowing? Could the priestess have known she had lingering nearby and cast a spell? The young woman's nerves became even more white hot with anxiety.
"Yeah. I'm getting my stuff right now. I'm gonna call a cab."
"You better give him the keys then."
Striding over toward her, he put his hand in her face, grinning widely now.
"Yeah, gimme your keys!"
She looked confused. She was sweating nervously.
"I-I...I have to open the door-"
He shook his open palm.
"Gimme your keys and I'll open the door. I need to inspect the room, make sure everything is clean, no damage.
Digging her hand around in her purse, she grasped them with numb fingers. They slipped through her fingers to the floor.
He crossed his arms and nodded his head.
"Pick them up!"
She felt automated as she bent down to gather them. He immobilized the key ring with a designer sneaker, white and stinking with newness.
"Go on! Pick them up! What's wrong with you?" he barked, voice gravelly yet strangely high.
Her expression was helpless, soft. She hated it, but was too afraid to be truly angry.
"No? Ok, fine."
He sighed and removed his foot. More laughs as he gingerly kicked them between her legs and she dumbly reached for them.
I can't believe this is happening. I just want to get out of here. What do they want?
"Ok, thanks honey! Now follow me."
He opened the door and strode in, surveying the tan plush floor, the pink and yellow walls.
"Hey, what's that?"
Jia Lin regarded his accusatory finger anxiously.
"Over there, stupid! What is that shit?"
A pinkish stain, vaguely apparent, beneath the window. Her roommate had spilled punch, she remembered. They had all laughed, what with her staining her evening dress and white satin heels and squealing in drunken protest.
"Hey boys, come look at this mess the little girl made!"
Dreadful stomps resounded in her ears as they came up the stairs. Her gaze aligned with the stain, but she knew they were in the room when the air quality became noxious with male sweat, heavy breathing filling the space the ways pigs pile themselves in an undersized pen.
"What happened? Did you have your period? Did you lose your virginity there?" shouted one of them in Chinese.
Cold, hard fingers dug into her shoulders, spinning her around. With horror, she gasped as her inspector's fingertips pierced her flesh much too sharply for human hands.
"Hey, little girl? Are you a virgin? Are you old enough to know what that means?"
He was growling now. His irises were swimming with muddy yellows, pupils dilated, her reflection apprehended by his dull, filmy cornea.
"Do you know what happens when you die? Do you believe in heaven?"
He trailed his hand up and down her milky cheek, still pudgy with residual baby fat. She bit her lip til blood sprang up and filled in the cracks in her teeth.
What is he doing...I feel tired now. I feel like all the life is draining from me...
Vaguely, she felt his mouth near her, opening and closing like a fish. His eyes were slitted, he was concentrating on something she could not see. The men were quiet now, and somehow, she could sense they were afraid.
"Oh yes...you are everything and more. But I...I wonder what you feel like on the inside!"
A hand clawed at lower belly, gathered the skin where beneath lay her womb. Something burst inside of her solar plexus, something desperate and proud all at once. She kneed her attacker in the groin and he collapsed like a wilted flower. The group was stupified, then enraged, and they moved forward toward her with vehemence. Like a cornered animal, she backed away, eyes scanning the room with panic.
"NO! YOU WILL NOT DO THIS TO ME!"
Something came crashing down. She realized that one of her aggressors was now pinned beneath the ceiling fan. She quickly rubbed herself down. Not a scratch. The other cronies looked on, bewildered as she.
"Bitch is bad luck! Shoot her!"
One the men hissed something unidentifiable and made a move to apprehend a tall, older comrade brandishing his pistol.
"No you dumbass! Don't shoot her, they'll hear-"
What happened next would be forever burned in her memory. In the room she shared, there was a door leading out to the balcony. Quickly, she headed out, sure that she would soon associate the resounding, surreal gunshots with intense pain in her flesh. But as soon as her foot touched the concrete, the entire platform of the balcony seemed to stretch downward toward the ground. Instinctively she hopped the railing and headed around the corner where they couldn't see her, then hesistated.
What the hell?
The balcony was back to it's original position.
"Stay there, girl! We just want to talk to you-"
Jia Lin didn't stick around to hear the rest. She stumbled past the Fu Syndicate, her lungs fizzing out, her legs runny gelatin.
A cab pulled up just as she was about to cross the street.
The driver nodded in bewilderment as she stumbled in, joggling the passenger side door with his worn fingers, checking to make sure she had shut it.
He plopped it her outstretched palm and floored the engine. It rattled all the way like a pair of pneumonic lungs.
NOTE: So I have mixed emotions about how the near sexual assault scene ended. I feel bad because, of course, people that have experienced this could not influence their reality in such a way as Jia Lin did to escape it. So it almost feels like wishful thinking, which feels off to me. I want to rewrite this chapter a little bit, not only to clean it up but also to tweak that scene. She will still have a close call but I would like to elaborate a little bit on how she escapes rather than by means of supernatural feats.