Good to his word, Thorn knocked on the door precisely at eight pm. Unlike the wariness of the night before, he stepped into the haven like he owned the place. He looked around. “No Michael?”

Carl shook his head as he closed the door. “He had other business to attend to tonight.”

“In other words, he doesn’t want to be anywhere near me, but trusts me enough to be around you.”

“Something like that,” Carl said. Michael had reluctantly left for Luther Fine Jewelry after a discussion with Carl. If they were going to make a go of it and actually accept Thorn as part of their family, then they would have to trust him. And that meant that he and Carl would have to be left completely alone at some point. He had proven trustworthy while Carl was in torpor, but you didn’t exist long as a Kindred without being a little bit paranoid.

Thorn was apparently thinking along the same lines. “It’s a start,” he said. He slapped Carl on the shoulder and they started walking to Carl’s office. “C’mon. I’m curious what deep, dark revelations you’re going to reveal tonight.”

“Deep dark revelations are going to be tomorrow night, I’m afraid,” Carl said as they walked down the hall. The words were a joke, but there was an underlying truth. “Tonight is more like medium gray revelations.” He opened the door and gestured Thorn in. “I could just give you the box and you could read them on your own.

Thorn considered it for a moment. “Nah,” he said. “I like hearing you read them. Almost like you’re telling a story. He looked sharply at Carl. “You’re not going to use them for a story?”

“Probably not,” Carl said. “Just because I don’t claim to be Camarilla any longer doesn’t mean they won’t come after me if they see me as a threat.

“True.” Thorn pushed open the door and then dropped onto the overstuffed chair he sat in the night before. “So bring ‘em on.”

2nd of February, 1871

Dearest Calvin,

I do hope that this letter finds you in good spirits. It has been a while since I have had word of you. Understandably, your position as Seneschal takes up much of the night, but I remind, although some would have us believe otherwise, you that we are artist first, and members of the court second. Do not forsake your art for your duty.

San Francisco is evolving. The city, while still having its pockets of lawlessness and vice such as the Barbary Coast, is maturing and refining its tastes. It is quickly becoming the center for arts on the West Coast, thanks in no small part to my influence I might add.

But if only everything were as easy to influence. There has been a slight problem with Carl. Apparently he is not quite as detached from his family as I was led to believe.

Earlier this evening he and Christopher sought an audience with me. Even though he is newly released and fully recognized member of the Court of San Francisco, Carl comes to me for advice on the proper way to do thing. At least he is wise enough, unlike others I could name, to know that he still has much to learn. This time was slightly different. Without preamble or any graceful introduction, he asked for permission to return to Louisiana to visit his family, namely his sister.

I didn’t bother to look up from the newspaper I was reading. I told him no, reminding him that he had to drop all his human ties. He would lose them to the ravages of time eventually, and it was better to choose when to start the process than letting fickle fate rip them unexpectedly. Or worse yet, for them to notice their inevitable decline while he remained unchanged. It was best to leave them ignorant of his condition and let them never see the monster he has become, I reminded him.

And then something I didn’t expect happened. I had barely finished speaking Christopher requested leave to travel to Louisiana and to take Carl with him. That caught my attention. I folded my paper, put it to one side, and told Carl to explain his reasons for wanting to travel.

Apparently he received a letter earlier in the evening from his sister. It was sent before his Embrace, but the posts being what they are, took some time to reach him. It contained news he had been fearing, but hadn’t been in a position to prevent. His unwed sister was pregnant, much to the family’s shame. And to compound this indiscretion, their stepfather had done this to her, against the lady’s will.

As he spoke, I carefully studied the pair. Carl was in anguish, alternating between anger at his stepfather and sympathy for his sister. You did not have to read his aura to know that. Christopher was calmly resolute, ready to defend his childe’s request and render what aid he could. I don’t know if they realized that I knew from the angle of their arms, they were clasping hands beneath the table they had taken a seat at. I thought of what Carl and Christopher’s had told me about their family and understood why they sought to do this.

It was a difficult choice to make. Carl would have to face the deaths of his mortal attachments, and Christopher knew that. He should learn to distance himself now and to ruthlessly push away that heartache. But without our ability to feel pain as well as passion, does that make us less of a Toreador? Are we not known for taking our pain and molding it into our art to achieve even greater works?

And maybe it was the wrong decision, but I told them that I could not sanction such a visit. And before Christopher could probe for opportunities to slip away without my official approval, I told them I expected them both to attend Court next week. That would not leave them with enough time for a trip. Carl was angry, of course, but acquiesced as a good childe should.

Christopher was also angry. I am choosing to take that as a good sign, that he is bonding strongly with Carl. I believe that Christopher is no longer seeing Carl as a nuisance and a punishment, and is growing quite fond of him. Carl appears to return the affection. I don’t believe he is yet aware that I know the two of them are sleeping together in the carnal sense of the term. And unlike our sire, I have no objections. Perhaps if he hadn’t been so intent on his machinations…

Ah, but that is the past, and there is no use in pining for it. I will be keeping a close eye on the pair to make sure that they remain obedient to my decree. Although I have been lenient with Christopher in the past, I cannot take that risk with Carl when it comes to matters other than his writing.

Tell me, Calvin, have you sought permission to Embrace? Or are your duties not allowing you the time to consider potential childer? Clearly it has affected the time allowed for you to correspond. I do hope that you are able to respond with what news is happening on the other side of the country.

Yours,

Clinton

Thorn look thoughtful after Carl finished reading. “You ever see her after that?”

“No, I never did,” Carl said with a sad shake of his head. “I did keep in touch with her by letters. She never did find out what happened to me.”

“How about her kids and so on?”

Carl shook his head again. “I did write them, eventually making contact as some obscure relative doing genealogical research and struck up friendships that way. Occasionally we spoke by phone once that became more commonplace, but usually it was through letters. Clinton eventually caught me writing to my great-grandniece. While I could argue the books were basically harmless, the letters had a lot more risk involved. So I had to give it up.”

Thorn looked away somewhat guiltily. “I never talked to my family after that night,” he said. “Never really gave them a second thought.”

“What did you have?”

“Older sister, younger brother, mom, dad - the standard family.” He gestured from his blue mohawk to his thick soled combat boots. “They said they never really got me.”

“You know,” Carl said gently. “You could try to contact them—“

“Nah,” Thorn interrupted. “I’m not following all the stuffy rules of the Masquerade, but it’s not safe for them or for me to pop back into their lives out of nowhere, even if they are still alive. Besides, they probably think I’m dead, and they’re not that far from the truth.” He leaned forward slightly in the chair. “So tell me. What did she have?”

“She had a daughter. A beautiful little girl named Mary.” Carl’s voice grew wistful. “Mary had a son, who had two daughters. One of them was pregnant when Clinton made me break off contact. I haven’t researched them further.”

“Sounds like a lot to keep track of,” Thorn murmured. “Did anything happen to your step-father?”

“It was the oddest thing,” Carl said. “Shortly after Mary was born, he disappeared. The gossip was that he left my mother for another woman. But he had been seen heading to one of the brothels that was also served as local Toreador’s haven. She was notorious for offering certain customers certain pleasures. And those customers would rarely be seen again.” Carl’s smile turned predatory. “It appears my step-father became one of those customers.”

Thorn chuckled. “Who made the arrangements for him to become a customer? You, Chris, or Clinton?”

“Why Thorn, I have no idea what you are talking about. Yes, I do have an acquaintanceship with Annabelle, and I do send her autographed first editions of my latest publications. But those actions are performed strictly out of friendship and not the repayment of a boon.

“No, no, of course,” Thorn chuckled. “So what comes next?”

“Next you get to hear about my frustration as a writer,” Carl said.

“Goody.”

15th of August, 1899

Dearest Calvin,

I’m certain that you’ve heard the furor surrounding this Stoker fellow’s newest novel. I had been hearing about it at it’s first publication two years ago in England. The moment it became available in America, I obtained a copy of Dracula to read. I suggest that you do also, if only to be able to answer the inevitable questions that will be asked by fledglings who should know better.

And I have already been answering them. Christopher appears to be uninterested in the novel. He is aware of it, but apparently hasn’t bothered to read it, most likely picking up his knowledge of it through second hands sources.

Carl had finished reading it almost before I. I do believe that he was stunned that a mortal had portrayed our condition in such vivid prose. Of course, he’s asking what he believes to be the most important question regarding the novel. Stoker has published more correct information about vampires than he has in his stories - although any vampire who would allow himself to be caught feeding so publicly deserves to be destroyed. So why was Stoker allowed to publish it without any consequences while there are those baying for his blood for even thinking of putting pen to paper regarding a similar theme?

I was forced to point out the achingly obvious. Stoker is a mortal without any connection to the Kindred. Inquiries have been made and if there is such an influence (most likely a Malkavian playing one of his mad games) it is too deeply hidden to find without an exhaustive search. If some human gets it in his head that Stoker was telling the truth and goes looking for ‘real vampires,’ all he will find is one mortal writer with a vivid imagination, although in reality he knows far too much about who and what we are. And while the book has not become an overnight success, it has garnered enough attention in mortal circles that the disappearance of the author would raise questions that may not be so easily quieted.

But that is not enough to satisfy my rebellious writer. He pointed out that no actions had been taken against John William Polidori, James Malcolm Rymer, and Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu. I returned with the facts that not only were all the writers kine, Polidori had clearly based The Vampyre on the infamous poet Lord Byron and the least said about that penny dreadful (in all senses of the word) Varney the Vampire, the better. Le Fanu died a year after the publication of Carmilla, and if Stoker wasn’t careful, he may go the way of his fellow Irishman.

Carl expression’s was thoughtful as he stood quietly absorbing my words. He made the obvious connection. If a human can be so disposed of for blundering too close the truth (something that nearly happened to him), there would be no hesitation making a painful example someone who had true knowledge. I do believe he is beginning to understand why so many feel threatened by his craft. It will be enlightening to see how he adapts his tale telling in his future stories.

So tell me, what are the thoughts on the book in Iron Rapids? Are there public howls for his head and private expression of admiration? And what other news is there from the courts of the East Coast? Has there been any word regarding our sire?

Yours,

Clinton

“Question” Thorn said as soon as Carl stopped speaking. “Why do you keep writing the stories if the Camarilla keeps threatening to kick your ass?”

“Why do you keep tossing out smartass remark to elders who could end you without a second thought?” Carl said. “It’s what I do. Besides, have you noticed who yells the loudest and the longest?” He leaned back in his chair and smiled smugly. “Other Toreadors, especially those whose chosen form of art is writing.”

Thorn shook his head. “Professional jealousy? That’s why they keep threatening you?”

“I’ve seen it happen before - similar rivalries between painters, sculptors, composers. It wasn’t the first time, and won’t be the last.” He grinned again. “Besides, they can hate my books all they want. I’ve had extensive parts of them quoted as ‘evidence’ against me, which means that they have to have bought and read them.”

Thorn looked at him with wide but not so innocent eyes. “So are you saying that if they stopped buying copies to see how you broke the Masquerade this time, you’d lose your place on the best seller’s list?”

Carl blinked and then started laughing. “I never thought about it that way. Now I’m going to have to deliberately almost break the Masquerade in every book.”

“And blame me for it,” Thorn snickered. “Okay, what’s next?”

Carl grinned. “You’re about to hear about how our world was shook up, even though we weren’t there to feel the shaking.”

19th of April, 1906

Dear Calvin,

First off, let me tell you that I and my childer are safe and whole. We were no where near San Francisco when the earthquake struck. Prince Alvarez asked that I personally take a missive to the Court in Seattle. I took Christopher and Carl with me, deciding that they should see more of the Camarilla than those who dwell within in our domain. We were there when we heard news that San Francisco was practically destroyed in a massive earthquake. Even now rumors of fires claiming that which remains of the standing buildings are reaching us.

Shortly after I sign this note, my childer and I will be sealed in our traveling arrangements to be placed on board the first train heading south. Under normal circumstances, we would reach our destination in a matter of two to three days at most. But given the circumstances, it may be a week to reach our haven, assuming that the roads leading into San Francisco are still passable.

Reginald has now informed me that they are ready for our departure and will see to the posting of this letter. Do not fear if you do not hear from me for several weeks. Given the severity of the situation, it may be months before I can spare the time to write you again. However, I do not want you worried for one moment about my situation. I will send you more details as I hear them.

Yours,

Clinton

“You guys weren’t there?” Thorn asked.

Carl shook his head. “No. Alvarez asked that Clinton act as envoy to Prince Bale of Seattle, and he brought us along for both the experience and, I’m sure, a sign of his prestige. The moment we heard about the quake we began the return trip home.”

“And those pictures you see in history books,” he asked. “Was it that bad?”

Carl shook his head. “Worse. We returned to the city eight days after the quake. By then the fires had been brought under control It seemed whatever wasn’t knocked down was in ashes. Hunting was difficult because of the refugee camps and the fact that looting was heavily discouraged, so lone stragglers were hard to find. Some turned to diablre to survive, but only a few were destroyed for their crimes once reconstruction began. Because so many haven were destroyed, some Kindred took to the ground for shelter, and several never rose from it. Fortunately by the time we returned, there were a few buildings that could be used for havens, and reconstruction started almost before the fires were completely put out. Still, things were very much on edge for several weeks, until we started getting support from the Camarilla” He gestured to the folded pages on his desk. “Clinton paints a much rosier picture than it was, mostly to tempt Calvin out here.”

Thorn shook his head. “How did he tempt him?”

“By appealing to his art. He was an architect, and with San Francisco needing to be rebuilt, it was the perfect opportunity.” He picked up a letter and opened it. “Here, I’ll tell you how he did it in his own words.”

1st of May, 1906

Dearest Calvin,

It has been an eventful night. And although news travels quickly via more modern means, I will continue to send it along in the medium I am most comfortable with. There has been a change in the regime here. Prince Alvarez has not been heard from since the night before the earthquake and is presumed destroyed.

With all the fire and destruction, many Kindred have gone missing. I don’t know if you have seen any of the photographs of the destruction, but they do not do the raw devastation justice. Half the downtown area lays in ruins, and what was not pulverized was blasted by the fires that raged. But from those ashes the phoenix is already stirring its wings. There is already talk of rebuilding, and some crude shacks have sprung up, forerunners of the permanent replacements of the grand structures that will be resurrected.

But I digress. Carl, Christopher, and I returned to San Francisco to discover that it was not Prince Alvarez directing the reconstruction, but Luna. He tells me that Alvarez has been missing since the day of the earthquake. The odd thing is that his haven was in one of the few areas that remained relatively unscathed by both the earthquake and the fire. Christopher had mentioned to me in low tones that he now can see fine black cracks in Luna’s aura, and Carl nodded confirmation. I immediately told both of them not to speak of it, reminding them that we do not need to make an enemy Luna.

Tonight the Primogen met to mourn the passing of Alvarez and, more importantly, to select his successor from among our ranks. Luna was immediately voiced as the most likely candidate and chosen unanimously. Of course I backed him, although I had toyed with tossing my name into the hat. But I could not seriously claim the position without the backing of the other Clans. And I am certain that I was not the only one with such thoughts. I wonder what Luna is holding over the others to have them submit to his well so easily?

With that piece of business out of the way, we are beginning the process of rebuilding the city, both in terms of physical and power structures. There is much work to be done. I don’t suppose I could talk you into relocating to San Francisco to help in rebuilding? There will be sections that will be redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up, an architect’s dream I suppose. The opportunity that was missed during the initial growth phase of the city has bloomed, just waiting for you to pluck it.

I will send more news if we learn more of Alvarez’s fate.

Yours,

Clinton

Thorn appeared to be considering what he just heard. “They ever figure out what happened to Alvarez?”

“No,” Carl said with a shake of his head. “Even after Luna took charge, there were a few people searching for him. Of course, he was never found and eventually all attempts to find him stopped. And those who could have exposed what Luna did? He could also expose as well. So everything remained a sort of status quo.”

Thorn let out a little snort of disgust. “Alvarez have any childer?”

“Yeah, two who also went missing around the same time. Again, no direct proof, but a lot of whispers about what happened to them.”

“And nobody looked into this?”

Carl shrugged. “We were all to concerned about saving our skins. There were fear that the lupines would take advantage of the situation and attempt to wipe us out. And to be completely honest, that kind of political maneuver is commonplace.”

Thorn shook his head. “And they say the Sabbat is vicious. What, you don’t still believe the ‘all we do is suck out your soul’ bullshit the Camarilla spreads about us? Yeah, we can be heartless, sadistic monsters, but then so can the Camarilla members. The difference is that we’re up front about it.”

“You’re saying ‘we,’ Thorn,” Carl pointed out. “Michael and I have left the Camarilla to forge our own path, but you’re still identifying as Sabbat. Is that what you are?”

Thorn put a moment of thought into it before speaking. “I’m not sure what I am any more.”

Carl looked Thorn up and down. “You are Cainite Kelly Henderschott, known as Thorn, bastard childe of Christopher Montague. No more, no less. Who you choose to be, Sabbat, Camarilla, or Independent, is something else entirely.”

Thorn appeared to be chewing that thought over. While he was silent, Carl reached for the next letter and unfolded it. “It’s not something you have to answer right away, Thorn. Just consider it.” When Thorn remained silent, he began to read.

22nd of February, 1915

Dear Calvin,

It is one of the amazing facets of the human spirit to endure, one that may, dare I say, even surpass that of our elders, that in less than a decade from the practical destruction of San Francisco that the city is hosting the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, displaying the crown jewel of the West Coast. Yes, Los Angeles and Seattle, our rivals, have a measure of grandeur, but neither has risen from the ashes and in such a short period even in terms of a limited human lifetime.

The Panama Pacific International Exposition opened two days ago. Of course, all Kindred of note were there the first evening for a private recreation of the opening ceremonies that took place during the daylight. Of course I have been instrumental in seeing that this came to fruition, and several of our Clan, both local to San Francisco and from distant places. I wish you could have been one of those visitors, and not only to show off the grandeur and grace of the exhibition.

We are spending most of our nights in the art exhibits, wandering among the halls and studying the murals, the paintings, and the sculptures. Statues are not only located in the stately display located in grand buildings, but half-hidden behind artfully planted shrubbery along the pathways, waiting to be discovered by those passing by. You round a corner and are suddenly confronted with a shy marble sylph hiding amongst the foliage or a stern stone horseman about to cross your path.

The buildings are as much a work of art as the objects that they house. There is already talk that the Palace of Fine Arts, which was meant to be a building that would only last the duration of the exhibition, will not be turned into a more permanent structure. It’s graceful dome and stately columns would make an excellent Elysium. Christopher has several of his portraits on display here, to his pride and delight. They are some of his best work, and are gathering not a little attention.

Another building of note is the Tower of Jewels. Even those not of Clan Toreador have fallen under it’s entrancement. It stands four hundred thirty five feet tall and is covered with cut glass jewels that are free to twist and sway in the wind. And just because we are limited to viewing it in darkness does not mean we cannot partake of its magnificence. Artificial lighting illuminates it by night, causing the jewels to sparkle as a star brought to earth. Also, not content with this display, they also perform an act referred to as “Burning the Tower.” Bright red lights are shone upon the building and containers in the colonnades are set alight, giving the building the appearance being perpetually engulfed, but not consumed. It is a true sight to behold, and enough to make more than one flee in panic believing that the fires that ravaged the City by the Bay had been rekindled.

Of course there are other displays that caught our attention. We did tour the industrial exhibits. And Carl’s attention was almost instantly caught by the giant typewriter created by Underwood for the display. I immediately informed him that no, he could not have one. That drew chuckles from both him and Christopher, something rather rare to hear from my elder childe. There were also displays of the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, and a massive working replica of the Panama Canal. How I wish that canal had been in place when I first traveled to San Francisco. It would have made the trip so much pleasanter.

There is much more to be explored. The exhibition is spread over seventy-six blocks. You could attend every night for a week and not see all that is on display. We have not even begun to explore the entertainment section referred to as “The Zone.” Here is entertainment for the vulgar masses - games of chance and skill, amusement rides, concession stands with both local and exotic fare, and live entertainment. In other words, it makes perfect hunting grounds for any Kindred who spends the evening at the Exhibition.

The Palace of Varied Arts offers a look into the domestic and industrial. It is amazing the number of people who will stand spellbound and watch the production of stationary. You would think that they were of our Clan staring at some work of unsurpassed beauty. It’s almost more amusing to watch them instead of watching the display.

I will write to you more about the Exhibition as I attend it over the coming months. The only way I could possibly enjoy it more would be if I would be able to stroll the sidewalks with you by my side.

Yours,

Clinton

“Giant typewriter?” Thorn was clearly amused by the thought.

“It wasn’t for sale, despite what Clinton said,” Carl responded.

“And you sound so disappointed,” Thorn said, wearing a small grin “But it would have been so much fun to watch you. Instead of two finger typing, it would be two hand typing. Although it would be frustrating for you.”

Carl frowned. “How you figure?”

Thorn’s grin grew from ear to ear. “You couldn’t throw it across the room easily when you got frustrated.” He ducked to one side as a paperback book soared towards his head, only to get beaned by a wadded up piece of paper. “See what I mean?”

Carl snorted.

“Oooh. Touchy. I’ll remember that the next time I insult you that you’ve got a great pitching arm.”

Carl snorted again. ““You want to hear the next letter or not?”

Thorn was still wearing the grin. “Go ahead and read the next letter if that will keep you from tossing the whole box at me.” He playfully ducked when Carl reached into the box for the next letter.

21st of June, 1927

Dear Calvin,

Congratulations on receiving the right to Embrace. But I thought you had said that you’d never take on a progeny after hearing all the difficulties I’ve been having with mine. Let me assure you that despite the levels of insanity they possess that make you think that your childe was swapped with a Malkavian’s fledgeling, it can be a very rewarding experience.

Please, do tell me all about your childe. I would dearly love to hear of the talent you have discovered that is worthy to join such an illustrious bloodline as ours. And perhaps you and yours can travel here to San Francisco to be recognized within the Clan and the Camarilla for the magnificent works of art that you and yours have created.

Yours,

Clinton

“Huh.”

Carl arched an eyebrow at Thorn’s reaction. “What?”

Thorn shrugged. “From what I heard from Darien and Michael, I would have thought that Clinton was dead set against him from day one. He sounds excited in this letter.”

“I know,” Carl agreed. “I’m not sure what happened. At first, I thought it was because of me. But from these letters, his dislike started long before we met.”

“Well, something happened,” Thorn said. “Any of the later letters say what?”

“No. They hint at things but never really say exactly what the issue was.”

Now it was Thorn’s turn to arch an eyebrow. “You haven’t asked Michael what he knows?”

Carl gave a brief shake of his head. “Not yet.”

There was a bit of glee in Thorn’s voice at his next statement. “Chicken.”

“Am not,” Carl sniffed.

“Are too.”

“The timing hasn’t been right,” Carl said defensively. “And I was more concerned about sharing these with you than digging into why Clinton turned against Michael.”

Thorn crossed his arms. His mouth was stretched in a bright smile. “Avoiding the situation.”

“I was delaying until the situation with you was resolved,” Carl said snippily.

Thorn gestured with his head towards the door. “So go out there and talk to him about it.”

Carl narrowed his eyes at Thorn. “First of all, he’s at the shop. Second, your situation is still ongoing. And third, it’s none of your business why Clinton didn’t like Michael.”

“Okay, okay,” Thorn said, holding up his hands in defeat. “Just read the next letter. I won’t say any more about you and poultry.”

“Okay.” But as Carl picked up the next letter, he heard a quiet “bok, bok, bok.” He rolled his eyes at Thorn, and began to read.

15th of March, 1930

Dear Calvin,

Despite having supported Luna in every effort he has made since the night of Carl’s Embrace, I have been called upon again to repay my deb. And this payment I find distasteful to say the least. I have been granted permission to Embrace again. And I have been directed as to whom my future childe will be.

Victoria Babcock styles herself an actress and has caught the eye of many a man in the theater. And the most powerful one would be Prince Luna. He wishes to take her for a lover. But he prefers not to sully himself with a moral partner. Aside from that fact, there is a heavy presence of Clan Ventrue in the city. So heavy a presence, in fact, the Embrace of another Venture might lead to protests from the other Clans, notably Nosferatu and Brujah. So he has couched his orders in terms of a polite request. He feels that she would be a beautiful addition to our illustrious bloodine.

In some ways he is correct. She is a physically stunning woman - fair skinned, statuesque, and with long, red hair that, and I will deny saying this, matches her temperament. But there is a hardness in her jaw and a glint in her eyes that speaks of cold ambition tempering the flame of her desire. With such a combination of control and passion, she would go far within the Clan. It makes it a pity that she, as Christopher put it, can’t act her way out of a paper bag. Carl was kinder in his assessment, stating that perhaps she was not expecting to be thrust into the spotlight suddenly and did not have time to perfect her role.

I do not entirely agree with my childer’s assessment. She can act, or else she would not have been the understudy for the play where we acquainted ourselves with her. And when the lead actress took unexpectedly (and some say was deliberately made) ill, she stepped into the role and portrayed it tolerably well. Clearly she believed that she had given the performance of her lifetime and now her star would be ascendant.

But did she keep us spellbound and on the edge of our seats every moment she was on stage? No. But by the same token, did we desire to pelt the curtain with rotted vegetables after a truly horrific performance? Again, no. She is, in a word, what all Toreador fear their childer will be once the glamor of discovery fades away. She is mediocre.

But Luna was besotted with her, would have her, and would not Embrace her. Instead he left me with the task. Carl is not certain that I have lost my sanity, although he has the good sense not to question my motive too deeply. Christopher appears to have made a guess as to why I made her my choice, but has not spoken of it. And Victoria, to my surprise, knew both who I was and why I insisted on meeting her after her performance. (Luna does have a way of forgetting all his preaching about maintaining the Masquerade when it interferes with something he desires.) We made the arrangements and I told her what she needed to do in preparation of shedding her mortal life.

A week later the play closed. Victoria arrived at my haven with Luna. I am not certain if he was afraid that I would deliberately break my end of the deal or botch it somehow and rob him of his prize. However, I fulfilled my end of the bargain without any difficulty. The act was quick and with no great pleasure for either Victoria or myself. But instead of handing her over to Luna, I insisted upon training her myself. I know that Luna feared I would break his new plaything through accident or out of spite, but I do have some sense of honor. Besides, there were bound to be unpleasant questions if it came to public notice that a Toreador was being instructed in the basics by a Ventrue.

This is not the first request for payment for holding his tongue that Luna has asked for, but it is the most involved. Before it had been backing him in requests to the court regarding his pet projects. There have been other personal requests made, some distasteful, some not so. I fear that there will be more such requests in the future. And I am not certain that there is a way I can easily escape them.

Yours,

Clinton

“So that’s how that bitch got Embraced.”

Carl frowned sharply at Thorn. “She is part of the bloodline, and your elder.”

“So I should show some respect?” Thorn arched an eyebrow. “C’mon Carl. You thought the same thing the first time you read that.”

“That’s besides the point,” Carl sputtered.

Thorn grinned and held up a hand in supplication. “Okay, okay. I’ll show her the same level of respect that I show you and Michael.”

Carl rolled his eyes. “In other words, not much.”

Thorn just smiled. “Does she know about me?”

“Unless Chris told her, no. Clinton knew she was ambitious, and tried to keep any information from her that could be used against him. Sometimes he was better at it than others. When it came to you, he was successful.”

Thorn chuckled. “Maybe I should go introduce myself to my big sister.”

“That I would like to see,” Carl chuckled. “She’d be absolutely horrified since she prides herself on being able to ferret out the most secretive piece of information. If she’s blindsided by your existence, her ego may never recover.”

“All the more reason for me to go,” he said with a teasing grin. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in San Francisco.”

“You won’t find her there,” Carl said. “She’s not in San Francisco. To be honest, I don’t know where she is. She left there in disgrace after almost causing the Final Death of the Primogen of Clan Toreador’s mate.”

Thorn frowned. “I didn’t know that Clinton had a mate. It sounded like he was still hot and bothered for Calvin.”

“It wasn’t Clinton,” Carl said in a low voice.

Thorn looked at Carl sharply. “You? You were Primogen?”

“For all of forty-eight hours,” Carl said. He shook his head sharply at Thorn started to ask how. “I won’t talk about it, Thorn. Not now. All you need to know is that she manipulated the situation so if I wished to remain, I’d have to diablerize Michael.”

“Okay,” Thorn said quietly, for once showing wisdom and backing away from a subject. It would be a story for another time. Seeking to distract Carl, he gestured towards the box. “So what happens next?”

Carl picked up the letter. “Apparently, Calvin took a little road trip.”

2nd February, 1935

Dear Calvin

Yes! I didn’t think that I would need to tell you that of course that you come. And bring your childe with you if you wish! I am certain with the advent of the rail system travel will be much easier for you than when I originally voyaged to here. I will see that all the necessary formalities are smoothed over so that there will be no objection to you sojourning in in Prince Luna’s domain. And if this area proves to your liking, a place can be made for you in San Francisco.

I know that such a display of emotion is unbecoming ancille of our age, but I fear I am unable to restrain myself. I dare say I have frightened my childer with this out of countenance expression of anticipatory happiness at the thought of seeing you after over eighty years.

But you didn’t write me to listen to my unrestrained emotions. Please send me the dates you wish to visit and I will begin to make the necessary arrangements and plans.

Yours,

Clinton

Carl paused as he unfolded the next letter. “Thorn, I think you should read this one instead.” Visually it would make more sense than if Carl had tried to explain it. Until now all had been in his sire’s neat, precise handwriting. Even the shade of black ink used hadn’t varied appreciably, making him wonder how many pens and ink pots had been rejected because they didn’t meet his exacting standards.

This letter as different. Instead of being the fine linen the other letters had been written on, this paper felt coarser and thicker and had aged to a darker yellow. Carl watched as Thorn carefully unfolded the first third. The writing in blue ink wasn’t in Clinton’s flowing script, but a blocky, but neat, printing. It only took a second’s worth of reading to realize who had written it.

Dear Clinton,

I am sorry. I lied to you. I am unable to stay with you. Obligations and expectations demand that I remain in Iron-

Thorn unfolded the letter further and hissed in surprised, fangs extending in a startle reflex. The rest of Calvin’s apology was obscured with a smear of fluid that had dried to a rusty brown.

You bastard!

Go fuck Michael, Villanova, and the horse you rode in on! Don’t you ever dare set foot in San Francisco again!


A quick, careful sniff confirmed that it was dried blood.

Thorn almost dropped the letter as he looked back at Carl. “This doesn’t sound like Clinton,” he managed to say around his fangs.

Carl shook his head. “I had the same reaction. In fact, I wanted to believe it was a forgery. Vulgarity wasn’t in his vocabulary, he told me once. ‘That was for the uncultured and uneducated, a sign of inferiority and a lack of discipline.’”

Thorn let out a little huff of laughter. “No wonder he didn’t like me from the start,” he said. “First thing I said to him was ‘What the fuck do you want?’ before Chris clued me in to who he was.”

Despite himself, Carl chuckled. “Yeah, that explains a lot about what he writes about you later,” he said.

Thorn looked down at the letter in his hand. “You sure that this is his writing? That it’s not some sort of trick.”

Carl nodded. “I had the same thought when I read the letter. So then I read the letter.” He passed his hand in front of the letter, miming a gesture he had seen in one of those mystical space battle movies. “It’s definitely him writing.” Which lead to so many more questions. What happened? Were the events behind this letter why Clinton had rarely mentioned Calvin and his childe? And what had Michael done to become the target of Clinton’s wrath? And why hadn’t Michael mentioned this to him before?

It looked like Thorn was thinking something along the same lines. “Does it say what happened in the other letters?”

Carl shook his head. “Bits and pieces, but nothing I could put together. Maybe you’ll have some other insight that will explain this?”

Thorn nodded. After carefully folding the strange note, Carl put it down, selected the next one, and continued on.

2nd of October, 1935

Dear Calvin,

I am certain after the events of the past month that you expected me to discontinue these missives to you. But as our sire has pointed out, I am a creature of habit, even self-destructive ones. And on the off chance that you will one day read these letters, I will continue to write them, although perhaps not with the same frequency. And I will learn to be content in that.

I will tell you this. Do not cast aside the advice I have given you. The sooner your rogue bastard childe is taken care of, the better. Hunt her down and destroy her as quietly as possible or she will cause further mischief.

Also, Make Michael a confidant regarding the situation with Taylor. For even if she chooses not to pursue him, there may come a time when Villanova will use this knowledge against you though Michael.

Regarding what happened to the bearer of the note - I do hope that your ghoul will not be too difficult to replace. It is rare that I lose my temper in such a display, and I do regret any inconvenience it may have caused you.

I will not speak to you of the night you spent here, nor what you revealed to me, again.

Yours,

Clinton

“Okay,” Thorn said in a puzzled tone. “I didn’t expect that.”

“Neither did I,” Carl responded. “Forgiveness wasn’t something that Clinton was known for.”

“What Cainite is?” Thorn mused. “Any clue what he was talking about?”

“No,” Carl said. “During that time, Christopher and I were both absorbed in our art. He was working on a painting and I was doing research for a novel. Neither of us had any idea that Calvin had been here.”

“Huh. I guess we’ll never know,” Thorn said.

“Yeah,” Carl agreed. “Unless something turns up somewhere, I don’t see how we can find out.

Thorn sighed. “So what comes next?”

Carl gave him a slight smile. “You’re going to find out that, contrary to popular belief, I don’t get away with everything.

15th of August, 1977

Dear Calvin

Just when I think Carl is showing maturity and wisdom, I find out he has been doing something not only dangerous, but unutterably stupid. He is under enough scrutiny for his novels. But this in addition would be enough to call for his blood.

He has been in contact with his mortal family. And he has been since after his Embrace. I had not expressly forbid it for the sole reason I believed it not necessary to state the obvious. He accepted my chastisement with some debate, but has agreed to halt communication. At least he had the intelligence to portray himself as a distant cousin and did not reveal his true self.

What is more disconcerting is that Christopher has known about it the entire time but has not seen fit to correct Carl's actions. I do not wish to think that this is a scheme of his to rid himself of Carl. I do believe he thought he disguised the disappointment in his countenance when I chastised Carl. And I cannot help but wonder if he thought that I would demand punishment in blood for what could be perceived as an additional breach of the Masquerade. I only discovered this from a word from Christopher, which may have been less mistaken and more deliberate.

And then there is Victoria's reaction. While she has not said anything i am aware of to Carl directly, she has told me that she was "positively shocked by his indiscretion” and she would never do something so foolish. I am certain that I will not be the only person she shares this reaction with. Luna is too familiar with the private happenings in my haven for there not to be a spy among my childer. That or he has managed to cast his influence on Reginald. Pity if that is the case. The hassle of training a new ghoul would almost equal the trouble of keeping a faithless servant.

I will be keeping a closer eye on Carl in the future. This is not the first time he has done something without thinking through the full implications, And he does not pay enough attention to the fact that his actions are under an unusual amount of scrutiny by Prince Luna. That lesson I will attempt to reinforce without revealing the why, or at guide him into incorrect assumptions.

As for Christopher, I intend t remind him that while he might not carry the title Sire when it comes to Carl, that is most certainly how I expect him to act. And any future misstep of Carl’s that I find out that he was aware of and took no efforts to correct I will consider as if he had committed the sin as well.

Yours,

Clinton

“Somebody’s busted,” Thorn said in a childish sing-song tone.

Carl rolled his eyes.

“Seriously,” Thorn said. “How observant are they if you were able to keep in contact for half a century?”

“They want you to think that they are all knowing. Although some elders are pretty damn close to being that. Clinton, however, wasn’t one of those people.” Carl filed the letter away and then closed the box. “I think we should stop here.”

“Why?” Thorn asked. “The night’s only half over. We’ve got three hours to sunrise.”

“The next set of letters are going to be very emotional.” Carl said.

The blue haired vampire closed his eyes. “They’re about me.”

Carl nodded once, despite Thorn not being able to see him. “Yes.”

The other vampire seemed to draw inward. “Yes, you’re right,” he said. “We should read them tomorrow.” He opened his eyes. “You want to get something to eat?”

“Thanks, but no,” Carl said. He stood up as Thorn did, and followed him out and down stairs to the entrance of the haven. “This time tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Thorn said. He slapped Carl on the shoulder before stepping through the front door. “See you then.”

“Good night, Thorn,” Carl said. He watched Thorn get on his motorcycle and drive off, thinking. The last two nights had gone well. But he had a feeling that the next few wouldn’t go as smoothly.