This time when Thorn showed up, it was with a lot less bravado and swagger. He was almost somber when he stepped into the haven. Probably, Carl thought, because he had a good idea of what would be coming. “Are you sure you want me to read these out loud?”

“Yeah,” Thorn said as he climbed the stair to Carl’s office. “We started it that way. We should finish it up the same.”

“If that’s what you want, Thorn,” Carl said. “And feel free to interrupt me at any time.

Thorn nodded and took his customary seat by the door. “Michael gone again?”

Carl nodded. “He feels that it would be best that we should face all of this before adding him to the mix.” But he knew that he was nearby, ready to come to Carl’s defense if things turned ugly.

"I think I get that," Thorn said. "We weren't exactly best buddies when we ran with the pack.

That was another reminder of the Sabbat that Carl pushed to one side of his mind. “I do have a question or two before we start,” Carl said. And the first one had weighed heavy on his heart since he had learned about Thorn’s existence. “Clinton gives some of the details in this, but not all. Why did Chris choose you? Did he know you a long time before he Embraced you?”

“No,” Thorn said. “He knew me for less than five minutes before he bit me.”

Carl, although starting to trust Thorn some, checked his aura for the truth of the matter. There was no sign of deception in his soul. “That sounds like Chris,” he said softly. “Always impulsive. He, ah, wasn’t much of a planner. Claimed it stifled his artistic muse.”

"Yeah, he told me something like that. It was the reason he Embraced me instead of killing me." He looked up at Carl, a little uncertainty in his voice. "I can tell you how it happened if you want to know."

Carl thought about it for a moment. "I want to know, but I don't think tonight's the night to tell that tale. We'll have enough to deal with reading these." He tapped the first of this night's letters, already unfolded and laying on the desk.

“Okay then.” Thorn said. False bravado filled his voice. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

6th of June, 1988

Dear Calvin

He did it again. I had thought Christopher had learned his lesson with Carl. I thought that the responsibility of a childe (even if it was not public) would settle and mature him. And then he turned around and Embraced again! This time, he tried to hide it from me. And this one…

And I was a fool for almost letting it slip by. If Carl hadn’t mentioned that Christopher seemed deeply involved in the creation of his latest painting when I knew that he had completed it two weeks prior. Carl seemed to believe the flimsy excuse completely, but I knew it for the falsehood immediately.

Apparently he learned of an ‘artist’ who had been copying his work. And instead of consulting me first, he did what any true Toreador would do. He set out finding this artist and intended to rip his head off. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be suicide.

But he did not destroy this imitator. I cannot in good conscience even call him a forger. Yes, he takes money for the duplicates he draws. But his canvas is not fabric, but flesh. He is what is vulgarly referred to as a tattooist. Not only is he covered in that type of ‘art,’ his hair is an unnatural shade of blue. And I do not understand how he does not live in fear of magnets due to the number of piercings. He is loud and rude and has no sense of decorum.

And Christopher, in a fit of what I can only term insanity, Embraced him! This blue haired freak is now part of our bloodline.

Some of his previous actions make perfect sense now. Christopher had approached me earlier about his situation with Carl. He broached the idea that Carl should be told the truth, and he be released from the form of Accounting Luna and I have placed him under. Of course I told him that he would be released from it when I felt that he had paid proper penance, and not one second sooner. What he didn’t know was that I was considering it, but his request to have his punishment end convinced me that it needed to continue.

Now the question is what to to do with this “Thorn” as he calls himself. For obvious reasons I cannot go to Luna again for assistance. What was done with Carl will not work this time. If it were to become public knowledge, we would all be destroyed - Christopher for Embracing without permission, myself for withholding knowledge, and Carl and this Thorn for being innocent victims. Only Luna would manage to squeak through unscathed, and only because he is the reigning Prince who would be casting judgement. For the moment I have told Christopher that he will begin teaching Thorn the proper ways to behave, and that Carl (who thankfully is in the middle of writing his latest novel and has not noticed that something is wrong) is not to be informed.

So at the moment, Thorn will remain a dirty little secret. I will be keeping an eagle eye on Christopher to make certain that nothing untoward happens to the neonate until the decision about what to do has been made. The last thing we need is for the sin of an unauthorized Embrace to be compounded with the uproar a diablre would cause.

Yours,

Clinton

Carl looked over at Thorn when he finished reading. “No comment?”

Thorn was resting his head on his hands, propping his elbows on his knees. “Nope. That wasn’t much of a surprise. I’m sorta shocked he didn’t demand my immediate destruction, even though I was on my best behavior.”

“I don’t think he could,” Carl said. “Not without pushing Chris into outright rebellion. And if Victoria caught any hint of wrongdoing, she’d betray him if it was to her advantage.”

“One big happy family,” Thorn muttered.

“No worse than any other,” Carl said. “Sending you off to the Sabbat may have been the best move when it came to protecting you.

“Didn’t feel like that at the time,” Thorn said.

“No, it probably didn’t.” Carl agreed.

Thorn let out a deep sigh. “So what comes next? Me being sent off to boarding school?”

“Actually no,” Carl said. “Do you remember a period of time where Chris was gone for a bit more than a week?”

“Yeah,” Thorn said. “He said that he had to go out of town on Clinton’s orders. He wouldn’t say where or why. He hinted that it would help out our situation.”

"I don't know how it would have," Carl said. "That was when we went to Iron Rapids to see Darien inducted into Prince Adrock's court. He had said at the time that it was an object lesson for me. It was expected that Adrock would rip out Michael's throat for breaking the Traditions, and that I needed to watch myself or the same could happen to me."

"Did he always do that?" Thorn asked. "Make his lessons out to be about someone else?"

"Yeah, he did." Carl's voice grew quiet. "Several times he told me that he was teaching me what I needed to know because Clinton didn't have the patience to put up with how long it took me to pick up on the rules. After that statement, I never did ask questions like why he was acting more like my sire than Clinton was."

Thorn stared at nothing with hooded eyes. "I'm starting to think that you're right. Maybe it was a good thing that I got shipped off to the Sabbat."

Carl waited for Thorn to say something more. After a moment of silence, he began reading

30th of July, 1988

Dear Calvin

I have returned to my haven safe and sound, as have my childer. The trip was uneventful, and allowed me time to put my thoughts in order regarding the observations I made regarding you, Darien, and Michael. Please do indulge me in reading these thoughts. I feel the desire to explain why I chose to reject the rings that Michael presented. Normally I feel no desire to justify my criticisms, but since this is intimately entangled in our personal lives, I feel that you should have understanding.

I will not presume you were so blind as not to see that Michael has an blatant infatuation with Carl, I believe what humans refer to as a “crush.” It was obvious to almost everyone in the room. Christopher was aware of it from the moment Michael spotted us, and I believe Darien noticed when Michael made the comment about he being a writer. I am certain the only person who was blissfully unaware of the clumsy attempts at flirtation was Carl himself.

That is why I was not panicked when it was discovered that Carl and Michael were missing. I know my grandchilde well enough to be certain that Carl was innocent in terms of emotions. Other than departing from the Elysium when he had no leave, there would be no other wrongdoing. Had he realized Michael’s intentions were more than those of a fellow clansmen’s desire to display his art for an esteemed visitor, Carl would have refused to go with him. Or upon realizing Michael’s intentions, would have, as the phase goes, tried to let Michael down gently. Still, I am certain that his departure was noticed by certain members of your court, putting you and I in an awkward position when it comes to certain gossiping tongues. He will answer for this.

What I did not expect was for Carl to make the request of rings from Michael. He had spoken to me earlier, seeking an opinion on if such an expression of affection to Christopher would be well received, or if it would be perceived as being too human. I had told him while it might among some of the other Clans, due to our sensitivity and our connections, tenuous though they sometimes are, to our emotions, it would not be shrugged off at large as just one more Toreador foible. My shortcoming in this is that I did not have the foresight to see his request. I do freely admit, I was curios to see what Michael could create. Would he rise above his unrequited attraction, use that passion and pain and infuse it into the requested art?

This is no reflection on you. I am certain what led you to Embrace Michael was some spark of brilliance that you believed you could nurture. But these rings had none. They were skillfully executed. I could see no flaw in the materials or the composition. But they lacked the fire and the passion a master craftsman should impart. These, rather than speaking to my soul, laid mute in my hands. The events of the prior evening had no bearing on my decision to not give my approval to Michael’s promotion to master craftsman.

As to the manuscript by Darien that Michael gave Carl, do not concern yourself. I understand why you feel that there should be a clean break with Darien’s mortal life, and have taken steps myself to assist you in that endeavor. Christopher smuggled the papers to me when Carl was not paying attention. The manuscript is now locked away with my private papers for safekeeping. I know I should burn it to be on the safe side, but cannot bring myself to destroy another’s art, tawdry as it may be. Carl is convinced that he has misplaced it, and will be tendering the appropriate apologies to Michael and Darien shortly. Knowing him, he will be too ashamed to continue further contact, so we have obtained two objectives with one action.

Unfortunately, I did not achieve a third. The lesson of the trip appears to have been lost on Christopher. He seems to understand that he and Carl were brought there for a reason. What seems to have been lost, or he will not admit to understanding, was that the lesson was for him about the dangers and consequences of siring without permission. Rather, he seems to have given Carl the impression that it was a lesson about what happens if you breach the Masquerade and allow yourself to be distracted from your art.

As for the situation with the tattoo artist, I leaned that his real name is Kelly Henderschott. (What is it with Christopher and this penchant for men with ridiculous names?) He did leave the childe behind with strict orders to behave himself. And the boy did just as he was commanded, eager to please his sire and gain my approval. Christopher does not believe I am aware of this, but I know he is training the boy on how to be a proper member of the Camarilla. It is my belief that he will make his move soon to attempt to force recognition and legitimacy. How he will do this I have not discerned, but I sense it is coming.

I do hope that this does not cause too much of a setback for Michael. If you can direct him in channeling his angst and pain and disappointment back into his art, I am certain that he will achieve greatness. If he can harness his emotions properly, I am most certain that he will become one of the great names among the Toreador. Until then, I am afraid that it is his lot to languish in obscurity. Keep a firm hand on him, guide him, and he will become your greatest work of art, though only those who are truly perceptive will realize it.

Yours,

Clinton

Thorn sat with his chin cupped in his hand thoughtfully. “So we weren’t the only ones that Clinton did wrong.”

Carl nodded. “And it appears that both Clinton and Calvin were in on it together. It was really the perfect thing to sour Michael on having anything to do with me. Between me being associated with the failed rings and the loss of Darien’s last manuscript, Michael, if he reacted like most Toreador, would turn away from me.” But he hadn’t. They hadn’t realized it then, but the flaw of House Van de Nacht had come to the fore. Michael’s obsession with his ‘cousin’ had remained strong.

Thorn rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Isn’t there some sort of rule about letting your emotions interfere your judgement?"

Carl laughed. "Half the time, that's what are judgements are. We listen to what art speaks to our soul. And when it is mute, or worse, screams dissonance when it should sing..." He shook his head. "But yes. It is frowned upon for a patron to let his personal dislike of a journeyman prevent his ascension to master. Proving it, however, is another matter entirely."

Thorn pushed back in the chair until it balanced on the two back legs. “Typical,” he snorted in disgust.

Carl tilted his head to one side, considering Thorn closely. “You’re upset,” he said.

“Yeah, I’m upset. You forget, I know Michael. We may not have been best buddies, but we ran with the same pack. That counts for something.”

“Which I’d buy, except for that stunt you pulled imitating Evan.” Carl’s eyes narrowed at the memory. Thorn’s imitation of the Cainite had been so perfect that not only had he been fooled, but Michael, who knew Evan intimately, had been deceived as well. “I still haven’t figured out why you’ve gone from trying to seek vengeance for what I did to Darien by seducing Michael to helping him while I was in torpor.”

Thorn stared at him, expression drawn into a defensive scowl. “Maybe I want something different. Maybe I want to get to know the other vampire my sire created instead of destroying him. Maybe I just grew up.”

“Fair enough, Thorn,” Carl said. “Do you want me to continue?”

Thorn nodded once stiffly, still wearing the scowl. Car selected the enxt letter and began to read.

2nd of September, 1988

Dearest Calvin,

It is done. For good or for ill it is done and San Francisco is safe. Caine forgive us, we… I did the deed.

Four nights ago we received an envoy from the Sabbat traveling under a flag of truce. Luna received the Cainite cautiously, a man with dark hair and bright green eyes named Jerrod Clay. He is the ductus of a pack that was sent to scout out this territory. He and his had been active in the city for over three months now, and were preparing to leave to report back to his superiors what he has discovered about San Francisco. And he was willing to make a deal.

He has told us, rather convincingly, that one of his pack members was destroyed — something about swimming with sharks off of the Bay to prove his strength. And well, the shark proved stronger. But returning with a head count less than he left with would be seen as a weakness on his part, something he could not allow. So he was willing to strike a bargain. If we were to hand over one of city, he would leave and tell the Archbishop that San Francisco is unassailable. He would give us three nights to pick which among our citizens would joining them. Once Jerrod had taken his leave to await our answer and our discussions had begun, I learned the true value of Luna’s friendship.

Luna believed that there was some germ of truth to Jerrod’s story, and that he could be trusted to keep his word. He said that it was better to sacrifice one than let the whole city, everything we worked so hard to build be destroyed in an orgy of blood. The question was who would be handed over. The first name floated as a sacrifice, from own Luna’s lips, was Carl’s.

I would not stand for it. Carl was a liability for both the wonderful, terrible stories he writes, and for his illegitimate secret Embrace. Luna knew it could come back to haunt him. So he was using this as a way to kill two birds with one stone. San Francisco would be safe and a damning secret would be swept further under the rug. It could have been easy to step back and allow it to happen to protect myself. But when I thought about what art the world would lose, I could not.

I am certain that the others took my strident oration as both the passion of the Toreador and the desperation of a sire fighting for a childe’s life. Jerrod’s story was pure lies, I argued. Most likely he wanted to abduct some poor fool to interrogate for the information that his pack was not able to suss out. Better to Embrace some random person who knew nothing than hand over a resident of the city who knew more than enough to be dangerous.

Most of the Primogens backed my stance - Justine of Clan Brujah, Archer of Clan Gangrel, Pablo of Clan Malkavian, and Mordecai of Clan Nosferatu. Only Alicia stood with Luna, most likely in a show of Clan Ventrue solidarity. All but Pablo are are no friends of Carl, but they all saw the wisdom of my words. They also knew that if they allowed this, the next time there was a knock at the door, it could be their childer thrown to the Sabbat.

With his the majority of his court against him, Luna backed down. Instead, he offered this idea. A neonate would be procured and given to the Sabbat. He or she would know enough about San Francisco’s geography to deceive the pack, but would hold no actual knowledge about the inner workings of the Camarilla defenses. As punishment for daring to oppose him on this and a statement of the importance of my bloodline, he charged me with Embracing the sacrificial lamb.

The alternative was quickly supported by the others of the Court, mostly because they wouldn’t be the ones to do the deed. I was ready to argue that this was possibly a worse idea. A neonate a few nights old would still be in shock from the transition and not be able to enact such a deception. The Sabbat would know instantly they had been deceived. They would tear the offered neonate to shreds. Then the would turn their focus back on us. The terrors they planned to inflict would be all the more horrifying because of our attempted deception.

But before I opened my mouth to protest, I realized something. I didn’t have to Embrace anyone. Someone already existed in my bloodline that could be sacrificed. Thorn had enough knowledge of who and what we are that the Sabbat would believe that he holds more. The only question was if Thorn could be convinced to throw himself on the sword for the good of the Court.

And the there was Christopher to consider. He would have to be informed of what would be happening to his progeny. Most likely he would rant and rave at how unfair this was, but in the end his survival instinct would overcome any attachment he had to the tattoo artist. But he would not escape punishment for his creation, even if his sin did end up saving us all. But if I played this right, I could kill two birds with one stone. I would be the one who saved this city from the Sabbat, and I would have gotten rid of a mistake that could destroy everything I worked so hard to attain.

I left the Elysium and returned to my haven in preparation to summon Christopher. Carl was still focused on his writing, so he was oblivious to the fact that Christopher was spending more and more time away. Perhaps if he had not been so engrossed in his writing, Christopher would not have the tendency to stray. Because, and I was not at all surprised at this, when Christopher showed up at the haven, Thorn was in tow.

It appeared that Christopher had some affection for this poseur he had Embraced. Or he was trying to avoid the punishment that he was certain I was about to deal by having trained the tattooist in the basics of etiquette and protocol. It was amusing to see this fledgling that appeared to be a Brujah attempt the refinement of a Toreador. I requested that Thorn wait in the other the room while I had a discussion with Christopher.

The conversation went as could be expected. But what surprised me was that the fire Christopher put into his painting was now directed in the defense of his childe. With Carl, he had come to me in shame and seeking forgiveness, willing to do whatever it took to regain my approval. For Thorn, he stood toe to toe with me, attempting to challenge my authority. He told me that he agreed with Luna, that if anyone should be handed over to the Sabbat, it should be the Masquerade breaker Carl.

I did something then that I have never done before. I raised a hand to my childe and slapped Christopher across the face. It didn’t have the full force of my will behind it. But it had enough, or he was shocked enough to fall to the ground. I stood over him, and I told him exactly what he was going to do. Exactly what he was going to tell Thorn. Or else he would not merely be handing Thorn over to the Sabbat, but joining him as well.

He glared up at me, still daring to defy me. But after a moment, he relented and dropped his eyes. When he rose to his feet, his features were composed in a submissive expression. But his aura still flamed with anger and hatred. At least he was wise enough to keep it in check. He told me without meeting my eyes that it would be done.

That was four nights ago. Three nights ago I sent word to Luna that I had Embraced a childe. Two nights ago Luna informed Clay that we accepted his terms. Last night I watched Christopher escort Thorn to meet the pack. And I watched the pack leave, Thorn traveling with them. The boy looked frightened and confused, but gave no resistance. Christopher had trained him well in that regard.

And now my elder childe has not been able to meet my eyes since. I understand that it hurt losing his unacknowledged childe. Both Carl and Victoria sense that something is wrong, but neither are sure what. The rest of the Primogen are satisfied that I have prevented the Sabbat from attacking and have bought San Francisco more time to fortify itself against an attack. And Luna is satisfied that he now has knowledge of another of my sins to keep me in check.

I keep reminding myself that I did what had to be done, and in the most efficient way. Carl could be kept secret. Thorn would be discovered eventually, tortured, and he and his sire would be destroyed. This way, Thorn saved Christopher’s life, as well as the Kindred of San Francisco. And in the end, it would be for the best.

Caine damn my soul.

Yours,

Clinton

When Thorn didn't spout out some smart ass comment when he was done, Carl knew there was going to be trouble. He as surprised that Thorn wasn't frenzying in the middle of his office. Although the Cainite's fangs were bared, Thorn remained in the chair. He held onto the arms, sinking bone white fingers into the leather, and he shook violently. “He doesn’t get to feel guilty!” Thorn hissed. “He knew what he was doing! He could have stopped it.”

Carl spoke in in a low, gentle tone, as if attempting to make friends with a hostile dog. “Maybe if Clinton had met you before the Embrace he would have fought harder—“

“Not Clinton! Chris!” Thorn stood up and began pacing back and forth. “He told me that going with the Sabbat was temporary. That I would be back with him in a few days, maybe a week at most. I told myself that Clinton was stopping him. That you were stopping him.” He spoke in a low harsh tone, just realizing the truth for the first time. “He never intended to get me back.”

“Thorn, we don’t know that—“

Thorn punctuated each word with a stab of his hand. “Like hell we don’t! He got rid of me, was going to kill you, and probably start over. He didn’t give a damn about what I was going through. How I was lucky they let me live after they found out I knew shit about the Camarilla or their plans for defending San Francisco.”

“Thorn, listen to me,” he said. “That was Clinton’s belief about what happened. Chris isn’t here to tell us what his thoughts were. He might have planned to bring you back after I was dead.”

He froze and looked at Carl in shock. “You’re defending him? He was plotting your death and you’re trying to defend him.” He spun on his heel. “I can’t be here right now. I can’t listen to any more.”

Carl didn’t say anything as Thorn stormed out of the room. A few seconds later he jumped at the sound of the front door slamming shut.