The next night Michael had left for Luther Fine Jewelry as usual. Richard had gone with him and to perform whatever nightly chores the ghoul did. And after the intense conversation of the last few days, Carl didn’t expect Thorn to return. So he settled into his office to catch up on some writing he hadn’t been doing for the last few days.

It wasn’t until the knocking became hard pounding that he realized someone was at the front door. It wouldn’t be Michael or Richard, since they both had keys, or would call him to let them in. There would be no salesperson going from door to door this late at night. Trevor, his great-grandsire, would summon him rather than come to him, just as a matter of principle. So he looked out the peep hole, and blinked when he saw who was standing there. Quickly he unlocked the door and held it wide, gesturing his guest inside. “It’s you,” he said lamely.

“Yeah.” Thorn scowled sharply as he crossed the threshold. “Why do you look so surprised to see me?"

“You came back,” Carl said with a stunned note in his voice. “I didn’t think I’d see you for at least a few nights.” Or, more likely, he thought, ever again. The young vampire had to deal with everything he had learned about Clinton’s views. And he knew what would be coming. It felt wrong to dump all this information on him at once. But all the events were so intertwined, Carl really didn’t have a choice.

Thorn shrugged, expression sliding into something carefully crafted to be neutral. “What can I say. You’re a great storyteller. I know how this tale will end, but I need to hear you say it.” He walked down the hall to the den, following the same path as before. But unlike those nights, there was no cockiness in his step. “Does it pick up with him—“

“No,” Carl said. “The next letter is dated a little over two weeks after you…” He didn’t finish the sentence. “He was killed less than a week later.”

Thorn went still. "That quickly?”

Carl nodded. “Yeah. He must have started making plans that night on how to reclaim you.”

“He told me he would get me back, to be patient,” Thorn said. “Guess he didn’t waste any time with the attempt. I was still allowing myself to hope he’d get me out of there somehow when I heard about his death.”

“How did you find out?”

“Gossip travels fast. Lot of the Sabbat are familiar with your works. It’s been discussed several times if it would be worth it to recruit you, and not just by Trevor. When Chris died, those discussions got louder and longer. It was generally decided that you were likely to suicide. So they’d wait and see if another opportunity came up.”

“And when I left San Francisco for LA, it was the perfect opportunity,” Carl said. That was why Michael had met him. He had admitted that much to him. But what hadn’t been foreseen was that he and Michael had developed a genuine love, and Michael chose to break away from the Sabbat.

“Trevor was fascinated that you said no. Not only that, but you drew Michael away also.” Thorn shrugged. “That was the only thing that kept us from sweeping in and taking both of you out. I don’t think you ever realized that you almost didn’t get away with it.”

“That’s me. Stupid lucky,” Carl agreed. “Do you want me to read to you or do you just want to talk about stuff.”

“Read now, talk later,” Thorn said. “I want to get through these letters as quickly as we can.”

“Then onto the next,” Carl said as he picked up the box. He fished out one letter, unfolded it, and began to read.

19th of September, 1988

Dear Calvin,

I must apologize for Christopher’s behavior earlier. If I had thought that he would confront Michael, I never would have granted him permission to attend the salon. I do hope that he has not caused irreparable damage to Michael’s psyche.

A blatant rebellious streak has been developing over time in Christopher. It is something I have been battling almost nightly, and is proving stubbornly difficult to tame. It has become more blatant after the incident with the Sabbat. He, with Victoria’s aid, has been attempting to undermine my authority in small ways, mostly by being slow to respond to commands or claiming they were too ‘absorbed in their art’ and forgot what was required of them. And from certain comments, I believe that he has told Victoria the secret of Carl’s Embrace, though I can do nothing to prove such.

It’s nothing I can easily punish him for, but they are little acts that while by themselves are minor, add up to a disconcerting whole. I do not believe that he is seeking to overthrow me for leadership of the clan. Christopher is too self-absorbed and would only attempt a coup if he thought it would allow him to indulge in his own desires. Carl seems to have no designs of any power as long as he is left to write in peace, something the demands of being Primogen will not allow. But Victoria has her eyes on the trappings of the position since the night her heart ceased to beat. Most likely she and Christopher are attempting to come to some sort of arrangement that would give them both what they desire, and I must counter it swiftly and surely.

Instead, I believe Christopher is attempting to free himself from my influence and control. He has not gathered the courage to tell Carl the truth of his origins, but I fear that he is nearing that stage. And when it happens, all hell will be loosed. I fear that Carl will do something rash that will lead to his immediate destruction. And Luna, to protect himself, will probably see to it that both Christopher and I are removed from the picture.

What worries me is why Christopher went to see Michael. I spoke to him afterwards, coercing him into revealing why, instead of participating or returning to Carl, he had sought out Michael. Although he couched in the terms of a jealous lover, I read the truth of it easily enough. Christopher was confronting him as a sire, testing him to determine if he is worthy. It was a test that Michael failed. He had expected Michael to stand his ground and not fold under pressure. Had he not, it is my belief that he would have begun influencing Carl to return Michael’s affections.

And this only leads me to one conclusion. Christopher intends to leave Carl, perhaps after telling him the truth about his Embrace. Or to inform him about his broodmate Thorn. And Victoria, while perhaps ignorant of specifics, is blindly supporting him the best she can. She is willing to help, if only to remove perceived rivals to her desired throne. Or rather, she is gathering blackmail material to be used against Christopher, Carl, and myself when she believes the time is right.

I am still determining the best way to neutralize Christopher’s plans. Of course, the most obvious is to come clean with Carl and explain everything to him. Unfortunately, that is exactly what I cannot do. Although he has grown somewhat adept at navigating Kindred politics, I still cannot trust him to keep his true lineage secret and maintain the public facade necessary.

The second option, and the more likely, is to cow Christopher into obedience. But it is only a short term solution. Some other long term plan will have to be put into place. But what that plan is I have not determined yet.

Perhaps There is some way the conflict with Michael could be made to play into my plans. I assume that Michael is both humiliated and angered by Christopher’s attitude. What are your thoughts as to how this can be used to keep both our childer in line?

Yours,

Clinton

“So Chris considered Michael a threat even way back then?”

“Yes, and I was completely oblivious to Michaels attraction.” Carl shook his head. “It seems that everyone was aware of it but me.”

Thorn shrugged. “You were in love. And he could be persuasive when he wanted to be. Probably smooth talked his way out of getting caught several times.”

“That or it was the blood bond,” Carl pointed out. “He made sure that I was bonded to him, but never shared his blood with me beyond my Embrace.”

“Jerk,” Thorn muttered under is breath. He refocused on Carl. “What I don’t get is where they saw each other. My understanding was Michael was kept on a very short leash by Calvin, and you guys never went back to Iron Rapids.”

“We didn’t go back,” Carl confirmed. “You’ve heard of a Salon, Thorn?”

Thorn’s brow wrinkled in thought. “Yeah. Big Toreador gathering. All issues of sect are put aside for a night of art and revelry. Kinda like Burning Man, only with a lot more blood.”

“Something like that,” Carl affirmed. “There had been one shortly after Clinton discovered your existence. All of us attended, including Victoria. Trevor was too, although I didn’t see him ever speak to Clinton.” He paused and frowned. “Where were you during that time? Even as young as you were, you would have been expected to make an appearance,” he said.

Thorn shrugged. “I didn’t know about it. The other Toreador in the pack didn’t clue me in. I didn’t meet Flynne or Trevor until a few years later, and there hasn’t been one know of that’s been scheduled since.”

“Oh,” Carl said. “Well, not only where we there, but so was Calvin, Michael and Darien. I only caught a glimpse of them through the crowds, but I never got a chance to talk to them. Chris, apparently, made an opportunity. I was kept distracted so I would not interact with any of Calvin’s bloodline. Or else I would have apologized for the loss of Darien’s manuscript.”

“It’s too bad that you didn’t,” Thorn said. “That would have saved you a lot of trouble. Especially once the book was published.” He tilted his head. “Clinton or Victoria?”

“Victoria,” Carl said. “Her attempt to get rid of me permanently and take out Clinton at the same time.”

“And all she really did was piss off Darien and get him killed,” Thorn said quietly.

“You loved him,” Carl said, realizing it for the first time.

“Yeah, I did.” It was a moment before Thorn raised his head. “So what cheery thing do we face next?” he asked in a sarcastic voice. When Carl didn’t respond, his face fell. “Oh.”

“If you want,” Carl suggested, “we could wait until tomorrow?”

“No,” Thorn said with a shake of his head. “Let’s get this over with.”

Carl nodded and picked up the next letter.

24th of September, 1988

My Dearest Calvin,

Neither Christopher nor Carl returned to their haven two nights ago. I wouldn’t have worried about it if not for the knowledge that the Sabbat were prowling around the city less than a month ago. Because of that, I had been insisting to speak with both of them before dawn. It is a way I can make sure that Christopher continues to behave himself. Caine only knows how many other illegitimate childer there would be if I gave him free rein to do as he pleased. But if Carl were with him, he would behave himself, I hoped.

The second night I used the power of the blood to summon them into my presence. And when they had shown up an hour later, I knew something was seriously wrong. Neither has the ability to resist when I demand their presence. So either somehow they simultaneously gained the strength of will to defy me, or something horrible had happened. The latter I decided was the more likely, for I did not wish to consider the ramifications of the former.

I was gathering the strength for another summoning when Reginald stepped into the room to inform me that the Primogen Archer of the Clan Gangrel was requesting to speak with me on the telephone. I dismissed him with the instructions to be left alone without so much as looking at him. But this was one of the rare times that he responded with a respectful questioning as to if I was certain I did not wish to hear what he had to say.

That caught my attention. Reginald is well trained and I expected him to go about his duties. I can count on one hand the number of times an order I have given him has been met with anything but a “yes sir.” He is solemn at most times, but now he appeared ashen and grave. He was trying to communicate something to me without saying a word. Since we were the only two beings in the room, I allowed it. He knew better than to do this in public, or else I would have to destroy him, just for appearances sake. I told Reginald that I would take the call and to leave the room. And it only took a few words from Archer to convince me to leave my haven.

You are aware that the shapeshifters favor woodlands for the most part. However, there are a few lupines who have their lairs in the city, San Francisco is no exception. For the most part, they confine themselves to the area in and around Golden Gate Park. And there has been an unspoken truce. We do not bother them and they leave us alone. Occasionally there are rumors that some Gangrel has made friends with one of the mutts, even going so far as to being accepted into the packs they run in. Such tales are usually discounted as fiction, but this time it proved to be true. Archer’s eldest childe ran with the lupines without too much difficulty. So when a story being passed around about two leeches, as they called us, having been destroyed by two pups seeking to make names for themselves, she immediately began investigating. And upon her discovery, she informed her sire, who sent word to Archer. Archer then contacted myself and Prince Luna.

Immediately I called for Reginald to drive me to where Archer was, an abandoned apartments near some small theaters that were part of Christopher’s hunting grounds. As we were leaving, Victoria arrived to speak with me on some trivial matter or another. I bade her to come with me, explaining on the way what little I knew of the situation. She appeared horrified and genuinely shocked, but I must always remember that she is first and foremost a devote of her art, an actress.

I was the second to arrive at the abandoned apartment building. Luna was speaking with Archer in hushed tones, and barely registered my arrival until I stormed up and demanded to know where they were. Archer tried to keep me from entering the building, but Luna indicated that he should let me see.

I walked in, Luna and Archer following. The building was filled with discarded furniture and other detritus left behind by squatters seeking warmth for the night, whores plying their wares, and addicts looking for a relatively safe place to indulge in their particular vice. But the trail of newly broken furniture, disturbances in the piles of trash, and fresh damage to the walls indicated the trail that the pursuit took through the building.

In a relatively large room that must have been a living area is where I found them. One corner of the room appeared to have a thicker layer of dust, at odds with the overturned, broken chairs and the trash that had been swept out of its resting place. This layer, however, smelled more of ash. And the keen eye would have picked out that it was vaguely man shaped. It was clear what end one of my childer had come to.

But which one? Or had I lost both?

I then turned my attention to the statue-still body laying in a crumpled heap against a wall. Despite the fact that he wouldn’t feel it, Victoria had knelt down and cradled the motionless head in her lap. She gently stroked his hair the way she would a lost puppy’s. Perhaps I was wrong and there was some maternal instinct or sisterly bond towards her broodmates that I did not normally see.

The windows faced due east and some of the skylights had broken panes, so any Kindred would have been caught in full sunlight at some point in the day. Archer pointed out some wooden planks ripped off a broken window and an old torn up couch that had been carelessly tossed in a pile, saying that they had found them over and around the body, protecting it. This room is a deathtrap for Kindred, Luna said. The meant for him to live. Otherwise they wouldn’t have built the crude shelter that protected him from the sun. But they felt that it would be better if I were the one to remove the stake, that the first face he see coming out of torpor was his sire. If Archer caught the irony that dripped from Luna’s last word, he gave no indication.

Carl lay on his back, the sharp end of the stake protruding through his chest. There were singe marks here and there where he hadn’t been completely protected from the sun’s scorching rays. His eyes were fixed wide open and his lips were drawn back in a snarl. If his fangs were bared in fear or anger I couldn’t say. I hope that he hadn’t seen whatever they had done to Christopher that reduced him to ash.

Archer came to my side as I stood studying Carl. He apologized for hearing of this too late to stop it. I said nothing in response as I thought out what to do next. Obviously, that stake had to come out of Carl, and he sooner the better. But it would have to be done carefully and under controlled circumstances. And there was no guarantee that he would be the same man once it was removed. The trauma of the attack and the sudden snapping of the blood bond may have done irreparable damage. It might be a mercy to leave it in him and let the sunrise finish the job. And the secret about his Embrace would remain hidden.

As I have said before, I could not lose both of my childer in one night. In the end I had him brought back to my haven and formulated a plan for awakening him. In an eerie echo of that night I discovered Carl’s Embrace, I sent Reginald out to procure a meal for him. I settled Carl with my own hands in one of the spare guest rooms I kept for Kindred visitors. Victoria shadowed my every movement, observing and displaying the wisdom to hold her tongue.

It didn’t take long for Reginald to return with a young man, scarcely more than a boy. He introduced himself as Sam and immediately began negotiations regarding the price for certain acts common in his business. I, playing the role of customer, agreed, paid him, and led him to the room Carl had been placed in.

Sam immediately balked, vulgarly stating that he hadn’t been paid enough for a menage a trois. I merely replied that he was for Carl. Then I pulled the stake out and sped through the open door almost before Carl began to stir. Reginald shut and barred it and we waited.

The screams were quite loud, even with the sound proofing padding the walls of the room. But thankfully, they were also quite brief. Shortly after, the silence was broken by a soft tapping on the door. Cautiously, Reginald opened it while I stood ready with another stake at hand. If Carl hadn’t regained control after feeding, I would not let his frenzy destroy my haven, no matter how many rent boys I would have to feed him.

Fortunately, he was standing in the door. Calm isn’t the right word to describe him. Dazed would suit better. His clothing was covered in vitae - how much of it was the rent boy’s, Christopher’s, and his own I couldn’t determine at a glance. After he was cleaned off, he was sat down in my office. Luna had arrived by then to hear from him exactly what happened.

But it seems now that words fail my writer. He merely sits, staring straight ahead. No request or form of persuasion has loosened his tongue, and I will not allow Luna to attempt more severe measures to make him speak. He has suffered enough already without our added trauma.

I will update you when the situation changes. I am certain that even now the tale is winding its way through the various Courts and is being molded into an object lesson about breaking the Masquerade. So if it has not already reached your ears, it will shortly. Given the interest Michael has shown in Carl, it may be best if this is withheld from him for the moment.

Yours,

Clinton

“What happened?” Thorn asked. “I mean, I know he died and that lupines were involved. But how…” He trailed off, not able to complete his question.

Carl stared at Thorn for a moment. “No one told you the details?”

Thorn shook his head. “All I got was a ‘Your sire has gone to his Final Death’ from Trevor. And that was the only time we really discussed it.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right from him.” Carl leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He caught his lower lip in his teeth and then released it as he put his thought in order. “Chris and I had been out at a club feeding. We were both a bit high from whatever alcohol or drugs was in the system of those we fed on.”

“You know one of the differences with the Sabbat and the Camarilla is that we’re taught from the moment we are Embraced not to feed to the death while the Sabbat has no such compunction—“

“Not completely true,” Thorn interrupted. “If we can get away with it, we’ll kill. But we’re not
stupid. If killing means we’ll get caught, we’ll show some restraint.”

Carl put up his hands in surrender, conceding. “The point is that Camarilla members are taught to take only enough to survive. So, while not exactly hungry, we’re never satiated. So when Chris pointed out this drunk man stumble into an alley, well, we weren’t going to reject a meal that practically fell into our laps.”

“It turned out to be an ambush. We got half way down the alley when our drunk suddenly grew wolf ears and a muzzle. There was one behind us, blocking our escape. Still, Chris told me to run, and pushed me into this abandoned apartment building. We hoped that we could lose them in a maze of rooms. We weren’t so lucky.”

“They eventually caught up to us. I was hamstrung and staked. Chris,” he paused and took a deep breath. “Chris’s head was bitten off. By the time I looked where he was, there was only a pile of ash.”

Thorn bowed his head. “How did you survive?” he asked in a low tone.

“The lupines, for some reason, covered me up after staking me. I didn’t find out until a lot later that not only was it an assassination, they had mixed up our identity. They bragged to the pack, which happened to have a Gangrel running with it. She got word to her sire, who got word to Clinton. They found me the next night and brought me back to Clinton’s haven. He revived me.”

Thorn’s head remained down. His shoulders sagged, and his palms pressed together framed by his knees. “I didn’t know,” he said. “I told myself the only reason you lived and he died was that you deserted him. You ran away and left him to die, either because you were a coward or because you found out about me and were punishing him. You figured out a way to turn the tables on him and killed him because of me.”

“If it’s any consolation, I blamed myself for a long time,” Carl said quietly. “I thought that I should have done something. If I had been faster, had been stronger, been braver…” He stared down at the floor. “And the funny thing? When I found out he was the one behind it, I still felt that way. I’m only now beginning to forgive myself.”

Thorn reached behind to scratch the base of his skull. “You’re a strange Cainite, Carl Dane,” he said.

Carl took a deep breath. “I know it’s still early, but I’m not sure I’m up to any more discussion tonight.”

“Okay. Tomorrow then?” Thorn had barely finished the question when Michael appeared in the doorway. He glared at Thorn before walking over to Carl and pulling the other man into his arms. “I’ll, uh, show myself out.”

If Michael or Carl heard him, neither gave any sign.