The next night, Thorn showed up at his usual time. Carl was waiting at the door, opening it just barely after Thorn’s knuckles impacted with the wood. Although he opened his mouth, Carl spoke first. “I’m sorry about last night,” Carl said. “It just hit me a lot harder than it usually does.”

“No problem,” Thorn said as he came inside. He looked relieved but somewhat subdued. “I was going to call it a night anyway after hearing what you and Chris went through. Besides, I had some thinking to do.”

“Thinking about?” Carl asked as they walked to his office.

“About Chris,” Thorn said. “About who he really was compared to the memories I had of him. If they are accurate memories and not that persuasion shit I’ve seen others do before.” Thorn more flopped than sat down on the chair. “He was probably pulling the same crap on me that you’re saying he did on you.”

“But you loved him. Just as I did,” Carl said quietly. Or he though he had loved Christopher. Love could have been easily confused with the emotions of duty and affection of blood bond that Clinton had forced Chris to bestow on him.

“Yeah. I did.” He gave Carl a sidelong glance, making Carl wonder if he was thinking the same thing. “You up to doing this tonight?”

“Yeah, I should be okay,” Carl said. “The next two letters explain the aftermath. That I can usually handle without any difficulties. The rest aren’t about him directly.”

Thorn nodded. “Think we can get through the rest of them tonight?”

“That’s up to you,” Carl said. “All depends on how much you want to hear.” He grinned. “Let me guess. You can’t wait for this to be over with so you can be on your way.”

Thorn’s expression was serious. “Actually, no.”

Carl looked at him, head tilted in curiosity as he waited for Thorn to continue. When he didn’t, Carl picked up the next letter in the series and began to read.

13th of October, 1988

My dearest Calvin,

I had hoped that Michael’s obsession with Carl had begun to cool. But with the most recent events, I am afraid that you are correct in your assessment. He has become fixated on Carl to the point where it is dangerous for both.

It was difficult to deny Michael’s request to see Carl. But I did not wish to reward Michael’s behavior. And also because I am afraid Carl is in too fragile a state. With the abrupt loss of the blood bond and the trauma of watching his sire die (for he did witness the entire act), I fear we will lose him as well. Victoria is watching over him, and seems genuinely concerned as well or is a far better actress than I gave her credit.

It was a shock to receive Michael’s phone call. My first thought was that he was merely calling to express condolences regarding the news. I knew that word of the attack had been spreading, mostly likely along with whispers that Carl deserved it as some sort of karmic revenge caused by his breaches of the Masquerade. And perhaps I was much harder on the boy than I should have been.

No, I take that back. I was not. He was here without permission of either you or myself, and has violated Prince Luna’s domain. And with Luna showing the true value of his friendship, deception was the only way to prevent Michael’s destruction. That fact needs to be impressed on him greatly - that giving into any simple whim, let alone as momentous one as breaking the Traditions, will eventually be his downfall.

I had hoped by the time I next wrote to you, I could say that Carl was in a better mental state. He is not. He has passed beyond the waking torpor and is now somewhere between the the fascination and rapture of a Toreador’s art and the madness a Malkavian expresses. He has started to write, something that I was not sure would happen for months and possibly years. But he has gone into a curious cycle. He will write, sitting for hours in the same cramped position as ink streams over the pages. He will not use a typewriter and insists on only using pens. I believe if he thought he could be supplied with them, he would insist on using quills and an inkwell. What is only holding him back from making such a demand is that he would need a large supply for one quill would shortly dull and possibly snap from the feverish pace he is setting.

But that is not the end of the oddity. Every few hours he will stop and stare at the papers surrounding him, picking up pages seemingly at random and reading them. One page will be examined for half an hour, the next for twenty seven minutes, the next for twenty two, and so on in decreasing order. When he is picking up and putting down papers almost simultaneously, something breaks. He lets out a loud cry and begins shredding the pages until it is snowing ink covered confetti. Once the last paper is torn, he slumps into his chair and stares into space for a time. Then he picks up his pen and starts the cycle again.

Victoria managed to smuggle one paper out of the pile before it was shredded in Carl’s frenzy for me to look at. Most of the writing was smeared or scrawled to the point of illegibility. But what words that could be read spoke of pain, of loss, of terror. It had the potential to be his greatest work. It was a pity that it was not fiction, but fact and therefore cannot be allowed to see the light of day.

And while Carl is in this state, I will not allow Michael to see him. Yes, the boy means well, but all he will have to do is say the one wrong thing and I will lose him to the Beast. It is enough of a risk leaving Victoria with him. The only reason she hasn’t made a move yet is she probably sees the advantage of nursing Carl through this mental instability to gain an ally or pawn in her future chess games.

And those games have already begun. Victoria has never shown a passing interest in the events in Carl or Christopher’s lives. She has shown up to the art shows when Christopher has a new exhibit opening at a gallery and to the publication parties when Carl’s latest book has entered the New York Times Bestseller list. But she has done nothing more than make the required appearance and say the required congratulations. For a long time I believe she angry for being spurned by Carl. The poor dear worked in theater and knew of alternative lifestyles, but didn’t believe that her charms could be resisted by a man who only was attracted to other men.

But now she is playing the role of the solicitous younger sister worried about her older brother and grieving for the loss of another. She has not objected to any of my requests to watch over Carl. I wouldn’t be surprised that instead of soothing him when he falls into this frenzy that may lead to his destruction, that she is somehow triggering it to hasten that end or trying to implant the idea that he needs her by his side to prevent him from lashing out. Of course Carl is ignorant of her motives, and of the fact that she and Christopher had several trysts over the decades. Christopher may have taken some pains to hide them from myself and Carl, but Victoria made sure I was aware of each and every one in an attempt to force me to remove obstacles without her name attached. If she wishes to be promoted, she’s going to have to get her lily white hands dirty like the rest of us.

And for the moment, we are settled into this fragile routine. Shortly something has to give. Carl will either snap out of his fugues and return to normal, or I will be forced to put him down like a rabid dog. It’s ironic no that he is facing the same fate I was trying to protect him from all those years ago.

As for Michael, he does deserve some sort of punishment for his flaunting of common sense and protocol. Had he gone through the proper channels or had Carl been in a more stable state, I would have allowed the meeting, once it had your sanction, of course. And perhaps once he shows some maturity and outgrows this infatuation of his, and if Carl regains his mental stability, they can meet in purely public venues. I fear that both would prove to great a distractions for the other under the best of circumstances, and that they would lead each other into downward spirals of destruction under the worst.

Yours,

Clinton

Thorn let out a low whistle when Carl finished reading. “Man, you were really out of it.”

“It was the snapping of the blood bond,” Carl said. “Between that and the trauma of seeing Chris killed in front of me, It was a wonder that I came out of it sane.”

A wide grin stretched over Thorn’s face. “That’s debatable.” He ducked the ball of scratch paper that Carl wadded up and chucked at him almost too quickly for the eye to follow. “And as for Michael,” Thorn continued without missing a beat. “I can’t decide if that was romantic or stupid.”

“I’d like to think it was romantic,” Carl said with a pout. “Perhaps no the wisest move, but definitely romantic.”

“You’re just saying that because he’s standing outside the room, listening to everything we say.” Thorn tilted his head. “And you never knew that he came to comfort you?”

“Never had a clue. Clinton made sure that I wasn’t aware that Michael made the trip. And he didn’t say anything about it until I asked him about it after reading that letter. Michael, unfortunately, lost a lot of status in Iron Rapids because of doing this so publicly. He was lucky that Clinton smoothed things over and Luna didn’t take personal offense at his breach of protocol.”

“From what he told me, Darien caught hell for not being more of a restraining influence on his sire,” Thorn commented. “Not that I think Michael would ever really listen to him. From what I saw, Michael was just as clueless about Darien as you were about Michael. He wanted something from Michael that Michael was only willing to give to you.”

Carl shook his head. “Sometimes I think we’re all doomed to turn against our sires, our elders.”

“Speaking of,” Thorn said warily. “There’s a rumor going around about you and Clinton’s disappearance. Not that I believe you’re capable of it, and I’m sure Vicki started it as a nasty slander. But they say that you’re responsible for Clinton going missing.”

Carl focused on Thorn intently. “Those aren’t rumors.”

“Damn,” Thorn said softly. “After I saw what you did to Darien, I knew you had the balls, but I didn’t think that you’d actually do it.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t figure that out earlier, although the black in my aura could have been from Darien as well.”

Thorn shifted uncomfortably and then looked away. “I can’t see auras,” he admitted through clenched teeth.

Carl arched an eyebrow. “It’s not that hard to do,” he said. “I taught myself how to do it. Just takes some patience and a lot of practice.” Neither of which he was certain Thorn had. “If you want, I can help train you to see them.”

Thorn now stared at him sharply. “What do you want in return?”

Carl shook his head. “No strings. Just consider it a thank you for helping Michael while I was indisposed.”

Thorn eyed him suspiciously for another moment. Then his expression softened. “I’d like that. Thanks.”

Carl smiled slightly at him. “We can start after we’re finished with the letters. You already have keen senses, so it shouldn’t be difficult to open them up further. But I think we should finish this up first.”

1st of November, 1988

My dearest Calvin,

The corner has been turned. Carl appears to be recovering from his loss and is slowly regaining his sanity. He has yet to speak of that night, except in fragments that he forces between his lips. I am hoping eventually returns to the man he was before, but I fear that will be a long recovery. Eventually he snapped out of the cycle of writing and then destroying his work. I am worried that he has started a different one.

He appears to have developed an intense dislike of Luna. Worse, he does not attempt to be subtle about it. Whether this is a reaction to his recent trauma or Luna’s mental manipulations are breaking down I am not sure. All I know is that Carl has begun making small Masquerade breaches in his stories that are directed at the prince.

And he cannot be blamed entirely for his attitude. Once he was feeling more lucid, he began receiving visitors who wished to express their condolences for his loss. Some were sincere, having seen firsthand what the lupines are capable of, or had been on friendly terms with Christopher. Others were there merely to twist the knife, taking perverse pleasure in a perceived troublemaker’s grief. I’m not sure which party put the idea into his head. And in the end it probably will not matter. But during the next meeting of the Court, he approached Luna with a formal request for revenge against the lupines.

It was a moving speech, filled with his pain and rage and sorrow. He brought all the powers of persuasion and passion that are the gifts of the Rose. It was difficult to maintain composure, and I am certain that only the eldest of us managed to keep a stone facade. Even I debated seconding Carl’s request as the last of his pleas faded into silence. Had Luna said yes, I am certain then and there that a mob would for armed with any silver they could scrounge and scour the streets of San Francisco clear of the lupine menace.

But Luna shook his head and said no. He paternally (but with a condescending tone if you paid any attention to his choice of words) told Carl that no matter how he wanted to see the particular lupines pay for their misdeed, there was no viable way to do so. To strike back would only lead to more bloodshed on both sides and most likely the extermination of the Kindred of San Francisco. That was something that Luna would not allow.

In the end Luna talked us out of our homicidal rage. We all saw the wisdom in his words, even Carl, although he did not wish to admit it. His request denied, he faded into the background of the Court, or as much as one of his notoriety could, to watch the rest of the evening’s business. But he has never had the ability to hide his emotions, and his expression was one of anger and hurt. But at least he showed enough self-control to remain present until dismissed. But his eyes remained fixed on Luna the entire time, seething in pain and rage.

If Luna as aware of this (and I’m certain he was) he gave no sign. And once the business of the Court was concluded, we prepared to leave. But Luna’s childe Alicia informed me that the Prince wished to have a private discussion. I believed it was to discuss Carl’s request, and sent him and Victoria on their way. After the rest of the Court had dispersed, I was led to Luna’s office. There, sitting on the leather chairs, he spoke to me me of something that changed the entire situation.

He said that information about the attack came into his possession, but he would leave it to my discretion regarding its disposition. The local lupines are interested in preserving the status quo for the moment. To avow their interest in avoiding a senseless slaughter on both sides, the alpha werewolf, or whatever they call their leader, sent representatives to Prince Luna as soon as they learned that we had found my childer injured and destroyed.

According to them, the lupines who attacked Christopher and Carl were outsiders with no local recognition or standing. As a matter of fact, they were not part of any acknowledged pack, but roaming assassins willing to do the dirty work of any willing to pay their fee. Apparently they had been hired to come into the city to perform “a hit” as the modern slang goes. In doing so, they had broken some rule, which the lupines considered a grave insult. Interrogation of the interlopers had revealed that Christopher’s death was an accident. The intended target the had been Carl.

I was furious. I know that Carl has enemies who would see him punished for his writings and the supposed risks he takes, but none had dared done more than float whispers. His position of second childe of the Primogen of Clan Toreador of San Francisco had protected him when a Kindred of lesser station would have been slaughtered. It was as much an affront to my power as an attack on my childe. I demanded to know who had placed the bounty on his head.

There was a smirk of amusement on Luna’s face when he told me the name. My heart would have stopped from the shock, if it still beat. For a moment I was perched between the madness of disbelief and the terror of acceptance, ready to plunge in either direction. I demanded proof, and it was provided in the form of the letter found on the assassins describing the victim wrapped around a sizable quantity of one hundred dollar bills. I recognized the writing right away. There was no question as to who the author of this letter was. And still, I could not believe that Christopher Montague, the eldest of my childer, had died at the fangs and claws of those he hired to commit murder.

I do not know when I lost control over him. This is not something I saw coming. I know that Christopher was still upset by the loss of Thorn, but this… this was beyond a petty strike at me. I do not know if he intended to remove Carl and replace him with Thorn, or if he intended for another bastard-sired childe to take his place. All I know is that I feel that I should have known that something was very wrong, and that I failed. I failed myself, failed him, and failed Carl.

I asked Luna not to speak of this. I would be the one who decided when, or if this information would be divulged to him. My fear was that this would push Carl back into his repetitive fugue, or even worse. So I have made the decision that until Carl arrives in a mental state where he will be able to process the information without resorting to madness, I am withholding the full truth from him.

And I ask that you keep this truth to yourself. The last thing we need is for some harpy to spread this choice bit of gossip. Or worse, a hopeless romantic such as Michael to decide that Carl deserves the truth and reveal it to him before he is prepared.

Yours,

Clinton

“Let me get this straight,” Thorn said. “After almost getting your head bitten off and watching it happen to someone else, you were going to go hunt down those bastards?”

Carl nodded. “Yeah, I was. And if I knew where to find them today, I’d track them down and skin them alive before the sun had risen. By the time I started looking for them, they were long gone. And Luna and Clinton made sure that I had no way to follow their trail”

“So you never found them.” Thorn quirked an eyebrow and studied Carl carefully. “Have you ever hunted a lupine?” he inquired.

“No,” Carl said, wondering where he was going with this.

“Thought so,” Thorn said with a smirk. “Let me tell you about a little game I played once, and never wanted to again. It’s called Dogtagging.” He leaned back in his chair in a mimicry of a professor about to give his student a nugget of hard won knowledge. “You head out into the woods on ATVs or maybe a big four by four. You find a lupine and tie it up using steel cable and hope it’s not strong enough to break it until you’re done. You put a tag on its ear, like the ones that ranchers use on cattle, and hope that it doesn’t bite off your hands. Then you turn it loose and get the hell out of there before the it kills you, or it comes back with some friends. If you get out of there anything less than mauled, you’re considered to be coming out ahead of the game.” Thorn shook his head. “And you thought you would be able to wipe out an entire pack?”

Carl shrugged. “I didn’t claim to be sane at the time,” he mumbled.

Thorn blinked, and then laughed. “Okay, I stand corrected. I thought all of the Camarilla are stuffy, humorless, stick-up-their-ass, old fogeys without spines and too much common sense for their own good.” He snickered. “You get to be on my list of exceptions.” And then he quickly grew serious. “But if it’s all the same to you, if you do ever find out where those mutts were that killed Chris, I want in on that hunt. And we’ll bring along some serious firepower so there isn’t a repeat of what you’ve been through.”

“Deal,” Carl said.

“So did Luna ever use that bit of info to blackmail Clinton?”

“Nothing, as far as I’m aware,” Carl said. “Now let me ask you a question. How much did you know ahead of time?”

Thorn’s eyes narrowed defensively. “Nothing,” he said. “All I knew was that Chris swore to me he was going to get me back, and that I needed to be patient. I didn’t know how he intended to or when.”

Carl stared at Thorn hard, searching for the smallest hint of deception. Thorn met his gaze without blinking. Both were so still they could have passed as wax figures in a museum.

Carl was the first to blink and look away. There was nothing in his aura that indicated that he was lying. If anything, Thorn looked offended that Carl thought he was lying.

Thorn stared at him levelly. “So are we continuing or not?”

“Okay,” Carl said. He picked up the next letter.

19th of October, 1989

Dearest Calvin,

To follow up the phone call I placed before we were disconnected, yes, we are all safe.

The afternoon of the seventeenth I was woken around 5:00 PM by the earthquake. I had experienced many since arriving in San Francisco, but none of this strength or duration. And none had woken me up from my daysleep before. Unfortunately the sun was still high, but I willed myself to remain awake after the tremors had ceased. Reginald was by my side almost before the earth stopped shaking. I immediately dispatched him to ascertain Carl’s and Victoria’s status.

It was an hour later that the sun went down and shortly afterwards Victoria arrived. Her haven is outside the boundaries of my territory and is the closest. For once she wasn’t dressed to the nines. She disguised the fact that he hair was not brushed to its usual sleekness by having it pulled into a tight bun. And the lack of makeup only emphasized the paleness all Kindred possess. For the first time since I have known her, she looked like a lost and scared childe. Not even when confronted with the knowledge that vampires exist did she ever appear so frightened.

It was another hour later that Reginald returned with Carl. He came with the news that while his haven in Russian Hill was safe for the moment. But there was a fire on Divisadero Street and there were buildings collapsing in the Marina District. And I only had to look at his expression to know that we were both thinking of the stories of the fires that ravaged the city in 1906. Although we had not personally experienced them, we both had clear images the ruins left in their wake.

Because of San Francisco’s reputation for earthquakes, there was already an emergency plan in place. After any sort of natural disaster, all Kindred in the city were to meet at the Elysium to take a headcount and determine who may need assistance or who may no longer be among us. Rather than head for the de Young Museum (which is in the heart of the Marina District), we went to check in at a secondary gathering spot that was declared a temporary Elysium - the Sir Francis Drake hotel located in Union Square.

Luna, Alicia, and her childe were there. Over the course of the night, others began trickling in. All the Primogen were accounted for, and most of the residents as well. There was discussion about what to do next - organizing into search parties to determine the fate of those who did not show, arranging emergency havens for those who had lost theirs, determining what areas were safe for hunting, and how to deal with the inevitable influx of those who mortal and immortal who would seek to take advantage of the situation. Several aftershocks shook the area, almost provoking some of to frenzy in fear that the building was about to collapse, but the Drake proved stable. Even those with havens intact opted to spend the day.

Last night the search parties were sent out. All of us with heightened senses were pressed into service to search for those missing. Of the ten who did not report in, we were able to locate three who had been trapped by the rubble and not touched by the sun. Four had not been so lucky. And the other three we were unable to find any trace of.

The phone and power lines are slowly being reconnected, but they are still unreliable. Although the destruction is not as severe as the 1906 earthquake, the damage is still considerable. From what information we have gathered, aside from the fire, most of the damage is in the Marina district and a portion of the Nimitz Freeway has collapsed, as had a section on the Bay Bridge. The only reason the death toll wasn’t higher was because of that baseball game just about to start, so traffic was much lighter than usual. We are also receiving news that other cities in the area have sustained damage. The worst appears to be the town of Santa Cruz, about fifty miles south of us.

It is events like this that reminds us for all our power and scheming, there are forces that we are not able to counter. Among the missing and presumed destroyed could have easily been Carl or Victoria, whose haven has been deemed unfit for habitation and needs to be repaired. She has thrown herself on the mercy of her sire and begged to be allowed use of my haven until she can rebuild. Of course she’s not aware that I very well know she had gone to Luna with the same request and her lover turned her away. I wonder if he is worried that the same circumstances that played into Alvarez’s demise are now arraying themselves against him. Clearly he discounts the old saying of keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Carl’s haven was not harmed, and after the memorial this evening for those lost, he informed me that he would return to it. Although shaken, no pun intended, by the events of the last few nights, he has come through this with quiet composure. Or he is still in shock and will not be expressing his fears in the future.

And I? I am handling it night by night, and in some cases hour by hour. For a while, every time the haven creaked I was ready to dive under my desk for fear of flying wooden splinters. Even now we are still experiencing aftershocks, although those have tapered off. Things are starting to calm down and returning to a semblance of normal, same as the city. Like in 1906, rebuilding has begun.

And like last time, I will ask again. I don’t supposed I could talk you into relocating to San Francisco to help in rebuilding?

Yours,

Clinton

“How bad was it here?” Thorn asked. “When I came back, I was surprised to see a lot of the buildings I remembered still standing. News reports made it sound like everything from Point Reyes to Monterey had fallen into the ocean.”

“It was bad,” Carl said. “The entire city wasn’t leveled though. But several buildings collapsed in the Marina District. There was a large fire on Divisadero, but they were able to put it out using a fireboat pumping water from the Bay. There was that section of the Bay Bridge collapsed, and then the Nimitz Freeway. If it hadn’t been for the World Series game going on, the death toll would have been much, much higher. It wasn’t like the destruction I saw in ’06, but it was bad enough.”

“I’m surprised that nobody took advantage of the chaos and tried to take out Luna like he took out Alvarez,” Thorn said thoughtfully.

“I’m certain that was something he had on his mind,” Carl said. “All of us who survived the 1906 quake did. Most of us were more interested in sitting back and watching instead of taking swing ourselves. Oh, I’m sure one or two people did seriously consider it. But Luna was certain that we knew there was someone loyal with him at all times.”

“Paranoia, thy name is Prince of the City,” Thorn intoned.

Carl shrugged. “Can you blame him? How do you think someone becomes Prince? It’s not attrition through retirement,” he pointed out.

“Nope,” Thorn agreed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone dying peacefully. Or living forever in our case. Eventually, everyone gets staked, drained, or the sunburn from hell.”

“Unfortunately that’s the truth,” Carl said.

Thorn clapped his hands together and then rubbed them. “So, let’s get move on to something less depressing. What’s next?”

“I think you’ll find this interesting,” Carl said. He picked up the next letter. “It’s about someone you’re familiar with.”

27th of July, 1994

My dearest Calvin,

A most disturbing rumor has just reached my ears. While the modem nights may have provided us with miracles of communication, they also have made it all to easy to spread misunderstood information and outright lies. I pray that what has been relayed to me from Villanova via the telephone resides in one of those categories.

Are the tales about our sire Trevor Reinhart true? Even on the other edge of the continent there are disbelieving whispers that he has forsaken the Camarilla, and cast his lot with the Sabbat. What pushed him into this madness?

I await your confirmation that this is some Malkavian’s attempt at a very bad joke.

Yours,

Clinton

Carl held up his hand to silence Thorn when he saw the other vampire open his mouth. “Let me finish this other letter first,” he said. “Then ask your questions.” He shuffled the second letter to the front and resumed reading.

4th of August, 1994

My dearest Calvin,

Yes, I am aware that the telephone is a much more efficient means to convey information in a timely manner. I also do not trust that someone may be also listening in on our conversations. And I am not referring only to Trevor using some means of technology or blood magic to do so. Victoria has a much deeper knowledge of my private actions than she should, and I do not trust that she is not attempting some ill planned and inadvisable coup. I do not wish to place a loaded weapon into her hands. Until such a time as I am convinced of her innocence and benign intent, I will continue to use means that are more difficult for her to intercept.

I am still in shock that Trevor has indeed gone over to the Sabbat. This is disturbing, to say the least. With his knowledge, they have gained an advantage. Not only is Iron Rapids now at risk, but also San Francisco. We will both have to be scrupulous in our dealings and disavowing our sire’s actions or else we may come under the same judgement.

Yes, I know there are rumors. There are always rumors when someone as old and powerful as he disappears for any length of time. But do you honestly believe for one moment that he would allow himself to be held captive in a laboratory, subject to the same level of study he was so fond of? Or that he, and by extension us, are not true Toreador but a bloodline of the clan? That is about as likely as him having gone to his Final Death. No, his defection to the Sabbat is the most likely explanation. Anything else is ludicrous speculation.

For now our best defense is to discover why Trevor has done so. Have any of the rumors provided even a hint of a reason? We also need to impress on our childer how dangerous Trevor is, especially now. Carl should be the easiest to persuade. And I believe you will have no difficulties with Michael and Darien. Darien, from your description, holds what you say in the highest regard. And I’m certain that Michael’s instinct for self preservation will assert itself. The trick will be for me to convince Victoria that he would not be a person for her to ally with. I would advise you to distance yourself as well.

But I worried about you. Every day some new rumor, or worse, fact comes to the attention of the Court about the encroachment of the Sabbat. Every day they press their borders forward. Every day more Caramarilla territory is swallowed up. And I see the shadow stretching longer towards Iron Rapids and Adrock’s domain, and I fear.

Let me now what news you hear of our sire. And most importantly, keep safe.

Yours,

Clinton

“Wait a minute,” Thorn said. “Trevor joined the Sabbat after I did?”

“Yes,” Carl said. “He doesn’t make that publicly known, mostly so he can still travel in Camarilla territory without concern, but yes. He only joined the Sabbat recently.”

Thorn shook his head. “And here I thought that he had been a member for a long time. About the time I met him was probably when he joined.” He tilted his head. “Do you know why he did it?”

“No,” Carl responded. “I hoped you did. You’ve spent far more time with him than I have.”

“He was the pack priest,” Thorn pointed out. “He didn’t exactly invite you to chat about family history over a mug of warm blood.”

Carl chuckled. “From what I could gather from Clinton, that was him, period. You didn’t cross him if you valued your life.”

“More like you don’t attract his attention if you value your life,” Thorn muttered. “You guys are lucky that he’s too curious to do much other than observe to see what you’ll do next.

“Wonderful,” Carl said. He reached up and rubbed his chest over the spot where Trevor had shoved a stake through his heart and left a scar in the shape of a vine. “Michael once said that for Trevor people fall into three categories - partners, pawns, and projects. Guess which one I fall under?”

“If you’re a project, I’m probably a pawn,” Thorn grumbled.

“I don’t know about that,” Carl said. “Pawns are disposable. You’re probably another project because we are his great-grandchilder.”

Thorn snorted. “Any idea what the project is?”

“Other than idle curiosity about how we all interact? Not a clue,” he admitted. “And I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to ask him.”

“Good move,” Thorn agreed. “So what’s next?”

Carl’s grin was small and rueful. “You get to hear about the stupid choice I made regarding my love life. Again.”

Thorn’s grin was wide as he leaned forward. “This I gotta hear.”

1st of February, 2006

Dearest Calvin,

I cannot begin to tell you how things have been in an uproar here. Apparently while Carl was in New York dealing with a publisher, he made the mistake of falling for a mortal. Fortunately the situation has resolved itself in the best way possible The mortal has ended it when Carl attempted to convince him to come to San Francisco to continue the dalliance. Due to some concept that love would conquer all, he did not ghoul the mortal. Apparently this boy was familiar with our kind and recognized Carl for what he was. The instinct of prey to flee the predator too strong to overcome any notions of love he may have possessed for Carl.

Carl is despondent, of course, but does not seem to be showing any signs of wishing to end his existence as he did when he lost Christopher. I believe this will turn out to be a good lesson in the end. He is still connected with his human emotions, although it could be argued that perhaps he is too connected. I believe that it is part of what makes him such a great writer. But it would be better for all concerned if I could get him to act like a proper Kindred and take care of that human before someone else finds out that this time he really has breached the Masquerade and demands that he pay the price. But I dare not press too hard, because it is this very humanity that allows him to write so exquisitely of the horrors and the wonders he has been witness to.

It is times like these that I wonder if we did the right thing by keeping Michael and Carl apart. For all his faults, Michael has taken on his role as a true Kindred and could have taught many things, while Carl has clung desperately to his humanity. Even though Darien is under your guidance, Michael has been willing to take on the role of sire unlike Christopher. Perhaps I have coddled Carl too much and should have thrown him to the wolves as you did Michael.

Yes, I am well aware that was a poor choice of metaphor given Carl’s history.

But back to the situation with the human. He was let behind in New York, and I have been told that he will not be seeking Carl out. But there was something about the tale he told that does not sit well. He found this human practically on his doorstep with obvious fang wounds in his throat. Carl preserved the Masquerade by healing them, and that led to the short tryst between him and this Alpheus DeVries. None but the most recent neonates would be so sloppy as to leave such obvious wounds. I cannot help but believe that he was serving someone’s purpose, though what it may be I cannot fathom.

Still, it appears that he is gone. And hopefully it will have taught Carl a valuable lesson. I know that we tend to obsess over the lost emotions and opportunities of mortality and attempt to recreate them in whenever we are given the chance. But hopefully this will be the lesson that teaches him that humanity cannot be trusted and to be careful about his obsessions.

Speaking of obsessions, are you having any further difficulties with Michael? I assume you were able to warn him about Trevor. Both Carl and Victoria have been warned and I believe took it to heart. Darien, from your descriptions, is listening to your every word and obeying. Michael, however, with his fragile mental state and difficulties, worries me. But I do believe that Michael will not fall for his seduction and has enough wisdom to not become insnared by the Sabbat. Still, Trevor may see him as the weak link and attempt to get to you through him.

Yours,

Clinton

“You fell for a human?” Thorn snickered.

If he felt like wasting the vitae, Carl might have blushed. Instead he maintained a steady look at Thorn. “It happens.”

“DeVries, DeVries,” Thorn said after he mastered the giggles. “Isn’t that the kid Trevor’s been stalking on and off the last eight years?”

“Yeah, that’s him,” Carl said. “Apparently Trevor needed a someone to watch over him. He made sure that I would cross paths with Alpheus and feel compelled to watch over him. I don’t think he expected the connection to be quite as strong as it was.”

“He found it interesting, to put it mildly.” Thorn leaned forward. “So what happened between you two? Why is Michael here and Alpheus isn’t?”

“Alpheus may have had some feelings for me of some sort, but he could never get around the fact that I was a vampire and he wasn’t. And that he had no wish to be one. So when I left New York for home, it was easy to end things cleanly. Or at least I thought. But there was always a connection of some sort between us. We ran into each other in L. A, and the attempt at friendship deteriorated from there.” Carl let out disdainful snort. “The last straw was when he tried to save Michael and myself from our curse. He and another hunter broke into my haven,” the last words were growled, “and used something they found there to attempt to reawaken the humanity in me.” That journal scrawled by a child barely able to write and the snuff box had been carefully hidden away, reminders they couldn’t destroy but couldn’t bear to look at. “I attacked him and we both did our best to kill each other. Obviously, neither of us were successful.”

“So where is he now?”

“He called Michael when he saw what he had done. Michael showed up at his apartment and he as gone. Obviously, he didn’t finish the job, for some reason.”

“Dude, you’re lucky he didn’t. I’ve heard stories about these hunters and what they can do. Hell, I think they even scare Trevor, though he won’t admit to it.”

“Yeah, I know,” Carl said pensively. “Thing is, Alpheus only did that to me once before. About five years ago, I got a call from him out of the blue. He was in San Francisco, and was blind drunk. So, stupidly, I went to his rescue and brought him back to my haven. While I was waiting for him to sober up, I decided to get some writing done. I was concentrating on it and when he woke up, he startled me, and I think my response scared him. I pinned him against a wall. And just before it became something else…” Carl spread his hands as if the explanation was self-evident.

Thorn stared at him with wide eyes. “Wait a second, he did this to you before?”

“Yes,” Carl said. “But that time it didn’t hurt, just blinded me for a moment. And when I opened my eyes, he was gone.”

“You tried to bite him, didn’t you?” Thorn asked. “Were you going to feed or Embrace him?”

“I was just going to give him a love bite,” Carl said. He glared darkly at Thorn. “Don’t tell me you haven’t gotten nippy in the heat of the moment.”

“Well, yeah,” Thorn admitted. “That’s happened a few times.”

“I rest my case,” Carl said. “We’re almost to the end. Ready for the next one?”

Thorn nodded. Carl picked up the next letter and began to read.

6th of April, 2009

Dearest Calvin,

I just received news of Darien’s passing. You and Michael have my deepest condolences. Although none of us can choose the time we face our Final Death, he, at least was spent in the service of protecting his haven, his domain, and his Prince.

I was surprised to hear that Adrock had selected him for this mission. It is rare honor that one as young as he is entrusted with such a responsibility. And a tragedy that he was the only one not to return. I know that you were close to your grandchilde, and the loss must be as devastating as losing a childe of your own Embrace.

How is Michael handling the loss of Darien? Is he coming to terms with it and moving on? Or is he brooding and obsessing? Showing similar signs of rebellion such as Carl has been? Sometimes I wonder if I should have handled Carl’s situation the way you have Darien’s. I can’t help but believe that part of Carl’s emerging rebellion tendencies is because his subconscious is starting to reassert itself against the story that Luna and I told him the night of his Embrace.

But at least when Michael mourns Darien, he is mourning in the proper context of sire and childe. If you wish my advice on this situation, please do not hesitate to seek it. But I will say this. Perhaps it would go better for Michael if you were to loosen the tight leash you have kept him on since he Embraced Darien.

You can stop laughing now. It is a serious suggestion. Just show him a little of the humanity that you claim to so disdain, but I know that you possess. Let him see that you are mourning the loss of your grandchilde the same as he. It can work wonders as a manipulative tool to keep your childe in line. Or at the very least, it will start Michael wondering what you are up to and he will forget to obsess over the loss.

Please do keep me updated about Michael and about the current political situation in Iron Rapids. Perhaps I will be able to visit and pay my respects to Prince Adrock, if I can find a way to curtail any attempt at an overthrow that Victoria may attempt in my absence. And if not, I may be tempted to come to your side anyway.

Yours,

Clinton

Thorn sat there with his head bowed. “Nobody suspected he was still alive.”

Carl shook his head. “Michael believed what he was told. He didn’t have any idea until he. And you saw how he reacted.”

“It almost broke him,” Thorn said. “He couldn’t deal with the fact that his beloved Darien, who he thought was dead, was alive.” Thorn shrugged. “The fact that Darien wanted him, and he was in love with you didn’t help either.”

“And you loved Darien,” Carl pointed out gently.

“Yeah, I did then,” Thorn said with a rueful shake of his head. “If you haven’t noticed, I tend to get obsessed with what I can’t have.”

“Yeah, I picked up on that,” Carl said. “He used you, didn’t he?”

“He knew that I was pissed that you survived and Chris didn’t. And he knew that I was attracted to him. So yeah, what Sabbat wouldn’t use that?”

“Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt, even if you expected it,” Carl pointed out.

“No, you don’t get it,” Thorn snapped. “Michael wasn’t considered a genuine Sabbat. He had performed some of the rituals that would make him one, but he was seen as too emotional, too human, no matter how Trevor and Flynne tried to train him.”

“And that was why they attempted to block out any memory of Darien being Sabbat and sent him to try to seduce me into joining.” He didn’t wait for Thorn’s confirming nod. “So here we are.”

“Exactly,” Thorn said. “And for what it’s worth, I am sorry for my part in what happened to Michael.”

Carl nodded. Thorn’s involvement, even if it was only standing guard, in Darien’s attack on Michael and its aftermath was still something of a sore spot he couldn’t fully reconcile. It hurt just as much as Thorn’s attempt in disguise to seduce Michael away in revenge. “Why are you saying this? I thought you wanted revenge for what happened to Darien.”

“Maybe I’ve had some time to get my head on straight and see around the bullshit he was feeding me. Maybe Michael wasn’t the only one in the pack as they saw as too human for their own good,” Thorn said. Before Carl could follow up that statement, he asked, “Let’s get that last letter read and done for the night.”

3rd of May, 2009

Dearest Calvin,

The situation with Carl has not resolved itself as neatly as I had hoped. While he is no longer has any contact with the human, he has not completely returned to normal. Instead he is displaying a rebellious and stubborn attitude similar to the one Christopher maintained. With the rise of popularity of ‘vampire fiction,’ it has been harder and harder to dissuade him from writing stories that many of the old guard would consider as a violation of the Masquerade. While I may be an ally of Prince Luna, I do not solely have his ear. He is coming under other pressures and influences. Carl has done nothing to smooth things over or show any contrite behavior, and I have been forced to take a step into the breach.

After the most recent book was publish published (something involving a vampire in love with a human who was killed by a werewolf), Luna suggested to me during a semi-private conversation that I should give permission for him to relocate. This falls in line with Carl’s latest request to have leave to relocate to Los Angeles to be closer to his publishing house. Luna has pointed out that a dose of the “real world” might be just what Carl needs to appreciate the protection afforded him in San Francisco. And although it galls part of me to do so, I have agreed and informed Carl to make his arrangements to move.

Oblivious to the difficulties of relocating or the reputation that will precede him, Carl taken made the preparations for his arrival in Los Angeles. In fact, I have just returned from seeing him off. He has declined the offer of Reginald’s assistance in favor of making his own way. It will be interesting to see how much time will pass before Carl seeks permission to resume residence in San Francisco. The current odds on favorite is two months before something happens that will send him scurrying home with his tail between his legs. Of course as the Primogen, I am above such petty wagers, but personally I believe it will be closer to 90 days.

As expected, Victoria had been encouraging him in his bid for independence. I believe this is a calculated move on her part to 1.) remove any potential allies I have and 2.) clear the way of any perceived rivals since Carl will be considered her senior. Christopher was right to warn me the night I brought them to see her in a play that she was far too ambitious for her station. I may be paying for my arrogance one night. But not tonight.

But enough about my troubles. Has Michael been giving you more difficulties? I do hope with the death of his childe that he has not begun to revert to old, troublesome habits. If it weren’t for the fact that I would be afraid it would trigger old obsessions that he seems to have under control, I would suggest he and Carl speaking. I know he will not listen to me regarding dealing with the pain of losing a childe. But if you believe that I may be of some help, please let me know and I will impart my wisdom to him.

Yours,

Clinton

No sooner had I signed my name above than I received word that you have been hand picked by Adrock to go on a mission of great importance. You are to infiltrate Detroit and gather intelligence until you are recalled in preparation for an invasion.

Do not go! It is suicide and you know it! Detroit is lost to the Sabbat. And if Adrock thinks that he will be able to reclaim that viper’s nest then he is mad. More likely, it is a way to dispose of those he deems to be his enemies without dirtying his hands. Adrock probably likely believes you are a threat to his security, but will not move in public against you for lack of proof. He intends to assassinate you for some fault or sin, and this is how he does so while naming you a hero post-mortem.

I beg you, love. Do not go to Detroit! Do not become another Darien! Break ranks and come to San Francisco. If you stay in Detroit you will be a dead hero to the Camarilla whose sacrifice will be forgotten the moment the last word of your eulogy fades to silence. I would much have you a living coward by my side. I will call in every favor I owe to protect you. I will beg, bribe, and threaten, even leave the leadership of the clan to Victoria if that mean you will be safe by my side. We can find some place together where we do not have to worry about the Camarilla or the Sabbat, or our sire or childer. It will just be you and I.

Please head my words.

Please come to me.

I fear the only response to this letter will be silence. Or worse, it will be returned to me unopened. But I make one more attempt to convince you to come to San Francisco, and will do so as long as I hold out hope.

Please.

Bound to you in blood and love,

Clinton

Thorn leaned forward with his hands resting on his knees. “And that's it? No more?”

“No more,” Carl confirmed. He folded the letter carefully and returned it to the box. "Apparently Calvin did get this last letter somehow, but there weren’t any more letters in that box after this one. I don’t know if he responded or not. All I know for certain is that Clinton was unaware of Calvin's destruction until Michael and I showed up in San Francisco to inform him of Calvin's Final Death.”

Thorn sat back in his chair. A subtle tension that he carried since the first night flowed out of him. “It seems so tragic,” he mused. “So pointless.”

“It is,” Carl said. “So much deception, so much pain, and for what? What did our elder’s scheming gain them?” He gestured vaguely with an upturned palm. “Ultimately nothing. I eventually learned of the truth of my Embrace, and Michael and I are a couple. And you know what the really ironic part of this was?” He leaned in closer. There was a sparkle of grim humor in his eye and grin. “Villanova, the Kindred who Clinton felt so strongly shouldn’t be part of their bloodline that he left and touched off this whole thing, wasn’t Embraced by Trevor.”

Thorn sat there. He blinked once. Twice. As the fact sank in with all its implications, he began to chuckle. And then to laugh, a full deep belly laugh. He wrapped his arms around his stomach in an attempt to contain himself as he shook and doubled over.

Carl’s grin grew wider. And before he realized he was doing it, he was laughing at Thorn with the absurdity of it all. A Malkavian couldn’t have set up a better practical joke that this turned out to be.

After three minutes, the laughter died down as both Cainites mastered themselves. When he could speak again without breaking into giggles, Carl asked, “So are we still enemies, Thorn?”

“No.” Thorn stared down at his hands, suddenly sober. He drew in a deep breath. “We’re not.”

Carl hadn’t realized that he had inhaled until he released the breath. “Thank you, Thorn. I don’t wish to be your enemy any longer either.”

“So if we’re not enemies, what are we?” Thorn asked.

“Working on becoming friends?” Carl suggested.

“Friends,” Thorn said, testing the word. “I think I like that.”

Carl nodded. It was a good start. “So do you want to share any stories about Chris? You knew him for such a short time but they are still important. Or Michael, during the time he was with you.”

Thorn winced, but turned it into a shake of his head. “Maybe sometime. But not tonight.” he said. He stood up and stretched. “I should get going.”

Carl nodded. That seemed to be Thorn’s usual pattern. He would show a little vulnerability and then flee until he felt comfortable with resuming contact. “I’ll walk you out then.”

Both of them walked in silence out of the office and downstairs. I’ll talk to you and Michael tomorrow. Maybe come by if I have the time,” Thorn said as he opened the door and stepped through. “Goodnight, Carl.”

“Good night, Thorn.” Carl watched the blue haired vampire walk down the street for a moment before he closed the door. He then returned upstairs, passed his office to walk to the room where Michael was working. He leaned against the doorjamb without saying anything and watched Michael, who was focused on the jewel he was mounting in a pendant’s prong setting.

Michael did eventually sense he was being observed. He turned in his chair to look at Carl. “What is it love? Is something wrong?”

“Nothing, Michael,” he said, crossing the floor. Carl wrapped his arms around his lover and squeezed tight. “Nothing at all.”

The End