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Rise of a Shadow

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Chapter 1 – Embrace

September 11, 2004

 

For me, life was nothing but a toilet that someone forgot to flush. I had just come from midnight mass at the Saint Martin of Tours, and was headed home, thoughts on the events of the past month. First my mother had mysteriously died in her sleep. Everyone suspected my father of murder. That suspicion was short lived when he was found not a day after mom’s funeral, again dead of mysterious circumstances.

For almost a week, four days really, I had found solace at my sister’s home in Irvine, my grief nearly crushing me when I received a call from the Irvine police department asking me to come to the station. For me, it was a blur. I had to identify a body, and was barely able to discern sissy’s features, but it was unmistakeable. Then I had to sit and listen to the police chief describe her final moments, mainly that she was sexually assaulted by multiple men, then had her eyes and tongue ripped out before being beat to death by fists.

At that point I had thrown up in the nearest trash bin. I had left the office, and before the second week was out, had buried the last of my remaining family. My friend Samantha had taken me in after that, saying I didn’t need to be left alone. I liked Samantha, the lawyer-to-be was there for me when I felt I had no one else. If life had left it there, I might have decided my family’s death was just God wanting to test me.

With the new semester coming up, though, I soon became immersed in preparing. However, even that was soon robbed from me. The admissions office had denied me, stating that my GPA was falsified and I would have to straighten that out with California State Polytechnic by providing a certified copy of my transcript. The drive to San Louis Obispo was short, not that far from me, only to be told that my records had been destroyed and would take months to rebuild. Feeling defeated, I had tried to throw myself into my work at the Bel Air Country Club, only to be called to the manager’s office a day later and had it revealed that a customer had complained that I was snarky and argumentative, and had spilled coffee over their shoes. When I tried to explain that I had never done that, the manager refused to hear me and I was fired on the spot.

One month. Not three weeks total, and I had went from aspiring model with friends and family, ready to start on my medical degree, to being practically homeless, unemployed, living off the good will of my last true friend, and now as I approached my little red Mazda, my one last stronghold, to find it was stripped to the frame and sitting on blocks.

“Just fucking great,” I said, looking around for a phone booth, not finding one, started walking toward the Chevron just down the street. Might as well, I thought, it’s on the way home.

“Hey sweetie, are you needing a ride?”

I turned to see the well dressed man in the Mercedes that had pulled up beside me, then went over to lean in his window.

“Actually, I do. Care to give me a lift?”

“Hop in,” he said, his honeyed voice somehow sending every red flag I had up. Still, I needed the ride back to Samantha’s apartment, and this would be the fastest way of getting there. Sliding into the front seat, which was real leather, and we headed down Sunset Boulevard to UCLA. When we got to the interstate, I was surprised when he suddenly turned right and headed towards Santa Monica.

“Hey, this is the wrong way!”

The man did nothing but laugh. I tried to open the door, but the door handle didn’t work. I tried to roll down the window, his Mercedes having electric windows, but even that didn’t work. I began to try and break the glass window, but a hand of iron gripped my wrist, forcing me down in the seat.

“You try that again, and I will break your arm,” he said, his voice scaring me into quieting down. I was scared, certain that I had just been kidnapped. Stories I had heard about girls being sold as prostitutes began playing through my brain, and I hoped that he just wanted to rape me, then kill me. I so didn’t want to live the rest of my life as a prostitute hopped up on drugs. I looked for a weapon, not finding one since I’d decided to wear pumps as they were more comfortable, than my heels. The heels I could have used on him and the window, and maybe have gotten away. But I was forced to sit and wait, as we drove down the freeway.

We finally arrived at a fenced in warehouse, in some industrial area near Long Beach. At first I was hopeful that the guards I saw might call for help when they saw me, but that was short lived as my kidnapper stopped the car. One guard opened my door and I tried to bolt for the closing gate, but he grabbed me. I used a technique taught by my sensei in martial arts class to get free, leaving the guard clutching his instep as I again bolted for the gate. This time three guards penned me against the fence, then dragged me back kicking and screaming to my kidnapper.

“Still got a little fire, I see,” he said, his hand lifting my head to meet him in the eye. Looking past me, he told the guards, “Take her inside, and tie her down on the bed. You can do anything you want to her, but leave her skin unblemished. If anyone breaks her skin, I will flay them alive.”

A chorus of “Yes, sir” sealed my fate as I was dragged into the warehouse, down a flight of steps into a room with a grimy little bed with blood stains where the head would go. Though I tried my hardest to get free, I might as well have tried to jump the moon. As soon as they had me in that room, a knife was produced and my clothes were cut from my body. Then they tied my arms with metal cuffs to the header of the bed, while the first guy stripped his clothes.

“Sure looks like her sister,” one of the guys commented.

“Na, she’s got more fire than her sister did. She’d already given up by the time we tied her up.”

Tears spilled from my eyes as their words sank in. My sister was raped by these men, and it was her blood that my head now rested on. I was jerked to reality as the first one climbed on top of me, forcing my legs open, as his buddies cheered him on. I howled and screamed and kicked as I tried to keep him off of me, but rope was produced and they tied my stomach to the bed then yanked my ankles back to the legs of the header. It left my pussy open to his cock as he probed my labia. I screamed at the assault, and a rubber ball was taped into my mouth. The man who was on top of me forced his cock deep into me, opening up my tight womanhood as I screamed into the gag.

After several minutes of his attentions, I felt him squirt his cum into me. The jerk then got off of me and another guy replaced him, his cock larger and had something on the shaft that ripped at my delicate insides.

“She likes that tickler,” one of the men said as he continued to thrust in and out of me. I could feel the tears run from my eyes, and soon thereafter I felt another guy blow his load into me. My mind soon lost track of the men assaulting me, even lost track of time in the windowless room. I was pawed at, assaulted, molested, raped, sodomized and tortured. I had more men shoot their seed in me and on me, some even made me drink their piss. The assault never let up though, though I didn’t know where all the men came from. Long after the assault began, I grew tired, and though I tried to sleep through the assault, they’d just torture my sensitive parts until I came screaming back to consciousness.

Somewhere along the way I passed the point where the torture could keep me awake, and I began to experience the nightmares, only to come to and find the nightmare hadn’t ended, just the face had changed. Though I lost track of time, I experienced several more times the overwhelming need to sleep, sleep so needed that not even torture could keep me awake.

Finally, I opened my eyes to see nothing over me. Thinking I was alone, I lifted my head. No one was around me. I tried to move my arms, but found they were still tied to the bed, though there was enough slack I could turn my head to see the knots they used. Using my fingers, I started to work on loosening the knot, and to my surprise the velvet ropes slid easily apart. As my first wrist became free, I turned to the other wrist, and was able to quickly free it. I dropped the gag back onto the bed after pulling it off, then rubbed at my sore lips.

I was forced to slowly get up, the assault the men had committed between my legs making me too sore to move much, but desperation soon had me moving to the door, then up the stairs. Not seeing anyone around, I started to look for a phone, but didn’t find one before a man’s voice started speaking not far from me.

“The master is going to kill her tonight,” the voice said, causing me to stop moving and crouch down. “He said we aren’t supposed to touch her anymore.”

“Aw, man,” the other voice started. “I liked hearing her howl, too.”

“Maybe the master will bring us another girl.”

“Doubt it, they don’t let us have fun that often.”

Fear had me run the other way, and before I could think, burst through the emergency exit into a group of guards, knocking one down from the surprise. They began laughing and jeering at me, then one man looked at the setting sun, and started saying, “Better run, little whore. The master will be out at sunset to get ya.”

As I scrambled to my feet, I managed to grab the shotgun off the guard I had knocked over, causing the others to back up and lift their own as I ran for the fence, first trying to scale it, then when my foot slipped on the wire, decided I should crawl under it when I saw the slight gap as I lay on the pavement. I was almost to the second fence, when I heard the guards start to chant, “Sim-E-on, Sim-e-on.”

Going to my knees, I bent down to get under the last fence, making sure to keep a hand on the shotgun when I looked back to the setting sun, not knowing why it was so important. The day was starting to get dark as I got to my knees on the far side, and looked back at the guards when I saw him exit the warehouse. My kidnapper, Simeon apparently, had just come out the door and was headed straight for me. I ran down the nearest alley, when I heard the rattle of the fence. Knowing he was right behind me, I put all the little stamina I had left in the sprint for freedom. Soon though, I was trapped in a dead end, and turning, I saw Simeon round the corner, grinning at me.

Knowing I was trapped, I tried to remember what I could about using a shotgun. I tried to pull the barrel grip back, as I’d seen them do in many movies to load the gun, but it wouldn’t move. Since Simeon was now so close, I jerked the weapon towards him to scare him but it discharged, knocking me back into the wall, and momentarily knocking me senseless, and just barely managed to keep my feet under me. When I looked forward again, Simeon was picking himself off the ground, a bloody gash across his shoulder from the gun, and I pulled the grip again, this time to the satisfaction of the racheting mechanism as the spent casing was ejected. Simeon started to laugh as he noticed the wound, and I fired again, but missed due to the greater distance. Simeon lounged for me and I started reloading and firing the gun as fast as I could, but either I missed or Simeon dodged and soon he was on top of me. I swung the weapon by the wooden end, to use it as a club, but Simeon just caught it and ripped it away from me.

I then used used the palm of my hand to strike him in the face but I barely started to swing my hand and he had my wrists in his iron grip as he spread and lifted my arms in a mock of the crucifix. With my feet off the ground, I tried to kick but he pressed against me and bared his teeth, turning his head to bite my neck. I felt his teeth sink into my flesh, and was surprised at the ecstasy I felt, making me squirm even though I could feel my blood run down my neck and over my chest. Eventually, I began to grow weak, and though I still felt the chewing of his teeth, I no longer felt any energy at all, just a loud beating that began to fill my ears.

Finally, he let go of my arms and I collapsed onto the pavement. I tried to move, but wasn’t even able to lift an arm. I realized then that beating sound was my heart as it beat wildly, trying to keep me alive, but the only realization I had was that he drank my blood. Laying on the ground at his feet, I could hear my heart slow, the roar lessening, when he hooked his shoe under my shoulder, flipping me onto my back.

Forced to look at him, as even moving my eyes was getting hard, he bent down next to me. Laughing, he put his wrist into his mouth, bit down and then moved his wrist over my mouth. He had to force my mouth open a little as I lie there, feeling his blood pour into the back of my mouth. He used his free hand to massage my throat, and I was surprised when I actually swallowed. The darkness began to close in though, and soon I lost all sensation as I fell into oblivion.

 

-o-0-o-

September 16, 2004

 

I awoke with a start, with a burning sensation at the back of my throat and extreme feeling of hunger. I could still see Simeon standing over me. I scurried back, glad my muscles worked again. Simeon just laughed, and thinking he was distracted, tried to dart past him. I didn’t have any luck though. He reached out a hand and caught me by the throat and lifted me off the pavement.

“Let’s take care of that hunger shall we?” he said, and carried me back to the warehouse and through the gate. He finally set me down once we were inside, and I could see the guard I had knocked down was hanging by his bound wrists from a metal hook.

“So this is the one you stole the weapon from? He shall make a fine first meal for you,” he crooned at me, making me shudder. I was expected to be a cannibal now?

He released me, but a quick look around and I lost any hope of trying to escape. Guards stood at every exit, shotguns in hand. Using my hands to cover myself, I watched as Simeon took a knife and carved a shallow cut across the mans neck. It was as if the red line became a beacon. Every sense I had was suddenly locked on to that shallow cut. My eyes wouldn’t turn away. I swear I could taste it. The smell of iron filled my nose. And the beating. That awful thumping sound I’d heard when Simeon had bitten my neck. Except from twenty feet away.

Drawn to it, I began to walk forward. That line of red became all I could see. No other sound could be heard except that racing heart. Soon, I was standing in front of him. His head was forced to the side, exposing the wound. My mouth opened, I was so hungry. I wanted to feed. My mouth fastened onto his skin, and I bit down. Something warm flowed into my mouth. More, my body screamed at me. Wrapping my arms around him, I kept sucking on the warmth that flowed from his neck. His racing heart was like the beating of a drum throughout my body. Soon, the taste soured in my mouth and became so repugnant that I released him. Though my eyes clearly saw the bite marks in his neck, no blood came out. His head was hanging forward, but the beating of his heart was slowing, receding.

“Bloods never as sweet as the first kill,” Simeon said.

“K-kill?” Oh my god! I killed him!

“Yeah, sucked him dry. Feeling it now aren’t you? The power?”

I looked at my hands. I killed someone? Looking at the man hanging in front of me, I actually felt powerless, naked and afraid. What was I becoming?

“Take her to her room. Let her get cleaned up from the filfth you vermin left in her.”

“Yes, master,” he said, then waving me to follow him, and headed up the stairs. Following him to the second story, he led me into the office area. Approaching a set of fancy doors with frosted glass set in them, he opened it and held it for me. Once we were inside, he went over to another door and opened it, revealing a fancy bathroom.

“The master wants you to clean yourself up, mistress. These are your rooms now.”

“Mistress?” I kill someone and now I’m mistress? What kind of creeps were they?

“Yes, you are the mistress now. I am just a lowly servant,” he said, kneeling in front of me.

Walking past the kneeling guard, I entered the bathroom. Extravagant didn’t cover this room. Opulent maybe. It just didn’t have any mirrors. Suddenly feeling every jerk inside and out, I crawled into the tub and turned the hot water on. Taking a loofah, I put a generous amount of soap on it and started to scrub at the grime. Soon, my skin became red from a combination of hot water and scrubbing, but I was starting to feel normal again.

Normal. How could I ever be normal after killing a man. Why did I bite his neck? Memories of the event came back to me, and then it hit me. Blood. There wasn’t any blood. Rinsing my hand, I put it inside my mouth. Fingers rubbed against my front teeth, then moving down the knife-like ridge until I found the oddity. A mountain in the hills. A fang. My fingers ran to the other side, and there I found another one. I had fangs!

Whimpering, I sank into the tub, no longer caring to keep my hair dry as the hot water poured over me. I had fangs! Whipping my head around I found the one reflective surface in the entire bathroom in the sink fixture. Scrambling over to the sink, I looked into the shiny faucet. I could see the bathroom reflected, the lights, the walls. But not me. Even though the overhead light should have been blocked by my face. It shown right through me.

It’s true then. I am a vampire! I was an undead predator of the night. I so wanted to hurl.

Crawling back into the shower, I continued to scrub my body clean. Knowing I was dead somehow made it easier. Somehow my brain still functioned and kept coming up with awkward questions. Would I still sweat? Did I need to breathe? Is the inability to cross running water really a thing?

After cleaning every last inch of my body, several times over, I finally stopped the water. Taking a towel, I dried myself off, then wrapped myself in the big towel. Taking a smaller towel, I used it to dry my hair, then wrapped it so it would dry out properly. Stepping out into the bedroom, the guard who had led me up was still standing by the door. Looking around, there was a fancy bag on the bed. I opened it up, to find a pearl gray bustier. Reaching back into the bag, I pulled out the matching bikini bottom.

I couldn’t help but feel the guard eying me, and as there was no where else to change, decided I might as well push my luck.

“Turn around.”

The guard quickly turned around and faced the door, and not taking the chance in case the perv wanted to see me naked again, started getting dressed while facing him. I dropped the towels, and slipped the bikini bottom on and then put the bustier around my tits. Reaching into the bag I pulled out the slacks that were inside. The slate gray wasn’t going to do anything for me but they were stylish in their own way. Once I had them on, I pulled out a slate colored cotton top and slipped it on. Looking back in the bag, I found a pair of socks and black leather shoes that looked like they’d fit without problem. Least they can get my sizes right, must of took them off my clothes when they shredded them.

Finally dressed, I looked around for the mirror. God, even if I had one I couldn’t see myself. I’m such a doofus. Is being a vampire good for anything? I can’t see myself so I’m going to end up a fashion disaster. I gotta kill to eat, literally, so I’m going to be a monster. An immortal bloodsucking fashion disaster.

Stake me now.

At that moment the door to the room burst open and a woman walked in carrying a knife. The guard tried to shoot her, but the blonde woman was faster and buried the knife into his chest. I was scared, and backed up against the wall. The woman let the guard fall, wiping the knife clean on his shirt. Then she looked at me. If my heart was still beating, it would have roared I was so scared.

Holstering her knife, she pulled a stake from her back. I knew what stakes were used for; I’d seen enough Buffy enough to know. She was going to put me down. She was a hunter, I was the prey. It was to me a moment of clarity. I had only killed once. It was unforgivable. But I didn’t have it in me to be the monster. To fight her.

Lifting my shirt, I revealed my heart. I wanted it to be clean. To be over. I flat refused to be the monster.

The woman watched me, then with one deliberate motion threw the stake. I felt it thunk into my chest, and then I collapsed into darkness.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 – Trial

September 17, 2004

 

I was kneeling on a stage when the world was brought back. I tried to bring my hands around to rub my sore chest, but they were tied behind me. I looked around, and found Simeon kneeling ten feet away, his hands tied behind him. Serves the murderer right, even if I was still alive.

In a way, at least. Why was I alive? I thought hunter bitch had staked me.

Casting my eyes around, I found the theater packed with people. Many of the people on my left were rough types, like gang bangers. To the right were more upscale types in suits. The pale faces, though, told me everyone here was likely a vampire. My eyes silently counted the people already seated, and the few stragglers coming in. Over two hundred.

Why was I on stage? What were they going to do? Torture me for fun? Bleed me for pleasure? A man walked to the front of the stage, while a big guy stood watch over Simeon, a big, heavy blade in his hands. More men were flanking around the stage, all carrying swords of varying types. All looked serious.

“Good evening, my fellow kindred. Tonight we have struck a major victory for Los Angeles. The Sabbat leader, Simeon Bellomo, was captured along with his freshly sired childe. Many of the Sabbat’s packs were destroyed, the rest scattering to the wind. We have won.”

Simeon must have found that funny, because he was laughing hysterically. “You haven’t won a thing. Andrei will rally the packs. We will take Los Angeles from you mewling wimps and teach the kine their rightful place beneath our heel.”

The gallery erupted in noise, loud enough to make me flinch. Many of the people it seemed were angry, shouting complaints and insults at the fancy suited man who had been speaking before. He turned to face Simeon, and I swear I saw the devil smile.

“Simeon, you stand accused of breaking Masquerade by revealing to non bound humans the existence of Kindred. You stand accused of breaking the rules of Domain by hunting within the limits of Los Angeles without permission of its Prince. You have broken the rules of Progeny by not getting permission of the Prince to Sire a childe. You have violated the rules of Hospitality, by not presenting yourself to the Prince. You have broken almost all the Traditions that guard our society. As Prince of Los Angeles, I hereby sentence you to death. Let the penalty commence.”

I watched the big man raise his sword. Simeon was forced over, too well bound to fight back. He looked at me, the fear in his eyes evident as he silently pleaded for help. I knew what they were going to do, and I was thrilled for it.

“Die you son of a bitch!” I spat at him, smiling even as I knew I was probably going to meet the same fate. With no way to get free, the executioner brought the sword down to cleave its way through Simeon’s neck. The moment his head started to fall, it turned to ash. His entire body became ash and made a small pile where he was kneeling. He was dead, and I was happy. Murderer and rapist anyway.

The man in the million dollar suit faced me, and while he was smiling, it wasn’t friendly.

“That leaves the ill-begotten progeny. The Tradition of Accounting states that childer are the responsibility of their Sires until they are released. However, this childe was not sired with permission. Tell me young one, are you even aware of what you are?”

“I’m a vampire,” I said, trying to be brave for the theatre full of vampires.

“Do you know how to feed, to sustain yourself? Do you know the Traditions we follow?”

“I have fed, yes. I can survive, given the chance,” Ok, lie, lie, lie! “The Traditions? You got me. But as Simeon just like broke every one of them and laughed about it, I don’t think I was given much chance to learn them.”

“She’s just a childe!” I heard a soft feminine voice shot from the audience. I looked back out on the crowd, seeing hunter bitch was standing for me. I smiled at her, letting her know I appreciated her speaking on my behalf. Maybe she wasn’t so bad.

“Which is why she must be destroyed!” Lacroix roared back. “She is too great a risk to the Masquerade! She doesn’t know the Traditions!”

“Were you Embraced knowing the Traditions? Were any of us? We Gangrel don’t even get the chance to meet our Sire for weeks after our Embrace,” Hunter Bitch shouted back. “Hell, I didn’t even learn to feed until a Toreador showed me how! My sire never cared if I lived or died!”

“But you are still the responsibility of your Sire. If you had broken the Masquerade in that time, he would have been called on it.”

“I say she was until you killed him,” she threw back. “She hasn’t broken any rules. She even allowed me to stake her without a fight. I say give her a chance!”

“Yea, Cammie! She’s not on Trial here. Simeon was. Unless you have proof she broke one of your precious rules!”

That last speaker was one of the gang bangers. Dressed in an open blue shirt with some kind of white tank underneath, he looked every bit the scrapper. I turned my eyes to look at million dollar suit again, almost seeing the anger pour off him.

“Mr. Rodriguez, this fledgling is capable of destroying the fabric of our existence. All it takes is one slip. This is the age of cell phone video cameras. Small slip-ups cannot be tolerated.”

“Still goes that she hasn’t done anything wrong.” The man looked ready to get scrappy, and so did a lot of the people around him.

The tension in the theater was almost palpable. The scrapper and million dollar suit looked ready to have it out. Finally he caved.

“Fine. But she will be held accountable same as any other Kindred, and she will also owe me a boon, as I am sparing her life,” Turning to me, he looked me right in the eye. I could see the rage there, and knowing that power loving richy boys hated to be showed up, decided that the best course was to take the deal and get out of his hair.

“Alright. I’ll owe you a boon. Just, uh, what’s a boon?”

That caused the entire theater to erupt into laughter. Apparently I was going to become the butt of a joke.

“That means, fledgling, you owe me a favor. As the one to whom the favor is owed. I get to decide how it is to be redeemed. While I figure out the best way to use this boon, I will grant you temporary status as a kindred of this city. There are going to be, restrictions, placed on you. You will be brought to Santa Monica. There, one of my agents will watch over you while you pay your boon. Until it is paid, you are not allowed to leave. Understood?”

“Yes. Go to Santa Monica. Pay a favor. Until then, I’m under parole.” At least I wasn’t going to die, but what about becoming the monster? That’s why I let myself get staked.

“Very astute,” million dollar suit said, “Remember fledgling, we are a secret society. It is a secret we kill to protect.”

“I’ve already killed. Not proud of it, I just don’t want to become a monster.”

Turning away from me, he addressed the gathered people. “That concludes tonight’s proceedings. Thank you for attending.” With that, everyone seemed to file out in minutes, while someone behind me released my arms. First thing I did was rub the still aching spot on my chest, secretly glad I had lifted my shirt to get staked. But I all I get is knocked out? Interesting to know. Maybe the movies don’t have it right.

Soon, it was just me on the stage, everyone having headed for the exit. Santa Monica? And who was this agent I was supposed to meet? Heading the way everyone else did I found myself walking down a hall. Million dollar suit was talking with another guy, also in a suit but way less expensive, but upon noticing me, gave one last glare and then left. New suit guy waited by the door.

“Miss Flores, I am Scourge Victor Walsh. If I may have a moment?”

Well, they know my name at least. “Can I help you?”

That seemed to make the guy chuckle, as he reached behind him and opened the door as a long black Cadillac pulled up and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. A chauffeur hurried back and opened the rear door, waiting on him.

“I figured I might help you by offering a lift to your new home,” he said. Warning flags went up from his tone. It was obvious he didn’t want to help me, even though his words offered the very thing I needed. Deciding that the lift might be worth more than any problems that would arise, I accepted, and entered the limo.

“So, I will assume you have many questions about your new life. I am aware that Simeon has only just turned you this evening.”

Many different things whirled through my brain. Did I have to kill to feed? Why was Simeon so mean to me, when apparently not all vampires accepted that behavior? Who was the guy in charge and what kind of Mickey Mouse Club from hell was I being forced into? Hanging my head, I decided to start with the one that weighed on me most.

“Do I have to kill to feed?” I could only look out the window, afraid his answer was yes. I’d seen a lot of vampire flicks over the years, and in almost all of them, vampires killed their victims by draining them of blood.

“No.” What? I heard him right didn’t I?

“We… we don’t?” Why did I sound like a beaten puppy?

“Miss Flores, when you were alive, did you finish your meal? Or did you leave some on your plate? You will find it a fitting analogy later, after you’ve adjusted more.” Ok, he had my attention. “With experience, you will find that you can drink deep from a mortal, and depending upon your own hunger, that it is all you need. You will not wake each evening with the feeling of being famished, but as you may have had in life. That soon you will need to feed, and can function well for hours without slaking your hunger.”

“Great, um, thanks,” I said, glad that I might not have to kill again. Ever. What is with people and vampires anyway? Is it just because, deep inside, so many people just like to see death and gore? “So, um, what kind of organization did I join anyway?”

“We are the Camarilla, a group founded by seven clans in Medieval times. Inquisitors were finding and killing us. We were nearly wiped out of existence. A conclave was called, and the idea was made that we would take our society deep underground. This idea paved the way for the Camarilla to be born. While many Kindred believed in the idea, two clans vehemently opposed it. Those two clans would form the Sabbat.”

“Clans?”

He sighed, “There are thirteen clans, but only nine are currently in Los Angeles. The Brujah, Gangrel, Giovanni, Malkavian, Nosferatu, Toreador, Tremere, Ventrue and your clan, Lasombra.” Holding up a hand to hold back my question, he continued. “The Lasombra are not well known to me. I do know that they have no reflection and are the only clan to have this weakness. You will also develop an affinity for shadows, being able to mold and shape them into actual objects. Your clan also has the powers of Potence and Presence. Potence allows you to increase your strength greatly, while Presence allows you to project emotions into others.”

“What about the others?”

The man shook his head. “There’s too much information for you to digest in such a short time. I will personally see that any information you need to complete your task is given you. Such is my job.”

I looked out the window as we left the freeway. We were in some shady area of LA, definitely not the type of place I wanted to live as the buildings were so rundown. After several moments, the limo stopped in front of a pawn shop. Walsh exited the limo and I followed behind him. He led me down a dark alley through a door and up the stairs. At the door to apartment 8, he used a key to open it and let me inside. The place was just as bad as the rest of the town honestly. On the right just past the door were the remains of a kitchenette. I say remains because the doors on the cabinets were literally falling off. I didn’t open the door on the fridge, but it looked ancient enough to have belonged to my grandmother. Past the kitchenette was a door, the only door in the apartment. It opened up into a grime filled bathroom. Just outside to the door against the windows was a turn knob TV with rabbit ears. An empty desk sat past that in the corner, and by the door to the hallway where Walsh stood was a twin size bed.

“Peachy.” I was so leaving this dump when I could. Maybe move back in with Samantha. What’s it like to live with a walking, talking Happy Meal?

“This place is used by ghouls sent here on their masters business. It is the only asset we have in Santa Monica. For the next month you have sole use of this,” he looked around again, taking in the grimy walls and falling apart furniture, “haven. After that you will have to secure your own.” He started to turn around, then paused when he got a text message. “You will also have to cut ties to your old life. People think you are dead, and have been for a week. The coroner has even closed your file. “

“But, Samantha!” I knew the auburn haired woman wouldn’t stop until she found me.

“Samantha Timms held a vigil in your memory on Tuesday. Remember, the Masquerade must be maintained. She has to believe you are dead. If you ever see her again, even by accident, she must not believe you are still alive.”

“So, if I see her, I have to kill her.” These rules were so stupid! I was alive! All I needed was to just play it easy, make a comeback, and no one would know. Right?

“Yes. Dawn comes in thirty minutes. Might want to make yourself comfortable.” With that he turned and left the apartment, leaving me alone in my misery. My friends think I’m dead. My family was dead. What more could happen to me? Being Kindred sucked.

Deciding that since I couldn’t seem to cry anyway, I’d best prepare for daylight in the next little bit anyway. Glancing around, there didn’t seem to be any place where I could survive daytime. Am I going to be awake all day? Or do I sleep?

The best way to find out would be to get comfortable in the bathroom so I stepped into the tiny room. Just too small really. A shower on the right, a sink and commode on the left. Not more than five feet long. Not much to get comfortable in. I think the trunk on my Mazda was roomier. Knowing that I might pass out at any moment as the sun rose, I stripped my clothes off, hanging them over the shower rod. Sitting on the commode, I didn’t have long to wait before the first wave of sleep hit, like drinking warm milk. Knowing staying awake during the day was a losing battle, I closed my eyes, and went to sleep leaned against the wall.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 – Meeting the Ghouls

September 18, 2004


I awoke, still leaned against the wall. I stood up and stretched, eying the new towel hanging in front of me. I opened the bathroom door to see sunlight pouring in on the desk. Oh-K! and slammed the door to prevent a serious case of sunburn. Wow, I was up before sunset, or was it sunset? Deciding I didn’t want to risk it, and not having much else to do, I showered. After drying off with the fresh towel, decided to use the new toothbrush and generic toothpaste to brush the fangs. I then got back into my clothes.

This time I opened the door to find the room halfway dark. Creeping out, I took notice of the changes in the room. A computer had been setup on the desk and was on. On the bed was a sheet set in cheap plastic along with a small pillow. Deciding someone had a case of hysterics, I left them and went to the computer. Tapping a computer key, it switched to a login screen for the Lacroix Foundation.

It asked for a password, and I had a momentary feeling of shock. A look on the desk revealed a cheap notepad. The top page had a note signed by a Mercurio. He told me the password was “sunrise”, then joked I’d never see one again. I suddenly felt a bolt of anger about joking at my expense. I didn’t ask for this life. I entered the password into the computer and that brought me to a list of all emails received into the account. It was pretty basic really, more like Macintosh from the early 90’s as opposed to recent Yahoo.

I started cycling through them, most of them being spam. One was from “Mysterious Friend,” and I wrote it off as spam too as the sender was talking about opening moves in chess. The last was from Mercurio. He left me directions to his apartment, which was only a few blocks away. Also, he told me he left a hundred bucks in the drawer to the desk along with keys to his apartment. Thank god, a man that leaves money.

Taking the money, I left the apartment, locking the door on my way out. Out in the alley, I met a bum, though the rank smell was a definite turn off.

“Got some change lady?” he asked, edging close enough to make me nauseous.

“I’m hungry,” I told him, then grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him hard against the wall. With his head lolled to one side I bared my fangs and bit him, drinking his precious blood and slaking my thirst. When I let the bum go, he fell against the wall, groaning. He was still breathing, and the bite holes disappeared as my teeth left.

No longer having to worry about my thirst, I followed the directions Mercurio gave me, walking by a clinic on my way. Soon, I found a nicer building that seemed to be the one I needed. Stepping around the fresh blood pool on the stairs I went through the double doors, using my key to get in. The blood trail turned out to be a trail right to the needed door, and I worried something had happened I was going to get blamed for.

I opened the door to find a guy laying on the couch, covered in blood. He was trying to bandage some of his more serious wounds with a first aid kit, and failing miserably. I knelt by the couch, and took over without a word.

“Those mothers...ripped me off,” he panted, the pain he was in obvious. He should be in an emergency room, really. I reached for the phone to call one, but he grabbed my arm.

“Whatcha doin?” he asked. He had a grip like iron, which was surprising considering the blood loss.

“Calling for an ambulance,” I told him, wondering if I could overpower him.

“What? No, I gotta record back East. I’m heat bait.”

“You sure?” I said, looking him over again. He was pretty bad, but maybe as some kind of supernatural he was resilient to this.

“No cops!”

“Fine, Mercurio I take it?”

“Yea, your the new kid everyone is so riled over. Looking for the Astrolite? I got shanked by those bastards! Blood ain’t working no more.”

“Blood?”

“Once a month I get fed vampire blood. Heals me, keeps me young. Wouldn’t know it by looking but I’m over seventy.”

“Can’t I just give you mine?”

“No. Has to be the master’s. I’m a ghoul, newbie. Any order I’m given I’m compelled to obey, even up to one that will cost me my life. That third sip of his blood sealed my fate.”

He looked down from where he’d propped himself up. “What is this lump? Is it my rib? My ribs poking out my side?! I’m all numb…you gotta look and tell me!”

I looked under his coat, finding a small bottle top lodged into his side. I pulled it out with very little blood coming out and showed it to him. He relaxed back into the couch and I threw the broken bottle shank away.

“Goddamn chemist. Can’t trust any operators in LA. I verified him, organization seemed reliable. Guy mixes stuff, his crew sells it. Sometimes he does explosives. So I set up a drop. I show up with the money, right? Four of these guys, they jump me out of nowhere. Junkie pricks. Head feels like a horse kickin’ it. Amateur move. Never should have gone alone. Now they got the money, they got the Astrolite.”

“Where can I find them?” I didn’t know what I was going to do when I caught up to them, but I was an undead creature. What harm could they do to me?

“Small time sons of bitches live out in a dump on the beach. Four of five, I think. The one’s got the explosives is Dennis. Got my money, too. You gotta get it back from them. Maybe reason with ‘em, maybe break in. God I wanna kill ‘em. Do whatever you people do. I blew it.”

“Is there anything I can do to help you?” I asked, his wounds had stopped bleeding, but he wasn’t healing.

“If you could get something for the pain,” he said, still breathing heavily, then seemed to pass out.

I left him on the couch. It was better for him if he didn’t move, anyway. I left his apartment and headed for the beach, rather easy to find since all I had to do was head west, when a thought entered my brain. Any chemist worth his salt was always looking for the next best drug, and I had one in my veins. But how do you make a chemist suck on a bare wrist?

I turned and headed back to the clinic. If I could get access to the right equipment, most of which was readily available in the right cabinet in public access, I could offer my blood as a simple drink. All he had to do was drink it, and maybe somewhere along the way I could find some pain meds.

As I got back to the clinic, a man got in my path.

“You, you’re a vampire aren’t you?” he asked excitedly.

I was torn between running for the hills and listening to the voice I could hear saying “kill him!” I decided to stay calm and reasonable.

“Vampire? What are you smoking?” Just stay calm, and let the nutcase go away, I thought.

“C’mon, you are too! Don’t bullshit me, girl! Just come clean. I just wanna talk!”

What is this? This guy was too clean cut to be one of those Gothic vampire wannabe types. I got to thinking that maybe I should see what he knew before I offed him on basic principles. I was on thin enough ice without heating the water.

“So talk.” I needed a gun so I could make the next guy sidewalk meat.

“Hell yeah! Oh man, I knew it! I could just tell. And then I saw your teeth an-and I was like, damn! The name’s Knox Harrington. Pleasure to meet you.”

“You too. Are you vampire? How do you know all this?”

“I’m a ghoul! I didn’t know any of this until a few months ago. Then this nasty dude showed up and well, all of a sudden – bam! Whoa man! Vampires are real and in front of my eyes! Blew my goddamn mind.”

Well, at least my neck wasn’t on the line here as he was a ghoul, already. And he seemed to enjoy it. I glanced at the sky, knowing that the hours of the night wouldn’t hold forever before I’d have to head for the apartment. “Knox, I’d love to stay and chat, but I have things to take care of before the sun rises.”

“Oh, I understand,” he said, never once frowning. “That’s usually what I get asked to do; pick up blood packs, equipment, or pass on messages.”

“So as a ghoul, your a kindred’s servant?” I asked, making sure I heard him right.

“Yep, but its all good. He takes care of me, and apparently I won’t age! I do get time for myself, so if you want me, look me up at the Asylum, its just a few blocks south of here.”

“Thanks, Knox,” I said, as I opened the door to go inside the clinic. He was an ok guy, but he really needed ‘lady friends.’

Inside the clinic, I found a lobby full of the sick and injured. Making my way past the registration desk, I was stopped by a nurse asking me to wait. Knowing that they couldn’t keep track of everyone, I just told her I was bringing a friend some personal items, and they let me go on back. The first room I tried had a young red haired woman in a yellow shirt who looked far worse than Mercurio did. She was hacking up blood, which was never a good sign, and had several blood bandages trying to hold her precious red stuff in.

Thankfully, I wasn’t thirsty, but seeing so much was making me want to take a lick. I looked her over, and what little bit I knew of physiology said she wasn’t going to make it. I hated to leave her like this, but did I want to take the risk of ghouling her?

Looking at her again, I decided I couldn’t let her die without trying. Baring my fangs, I bit my wrist and drew blood. Holding my wrist over her open mouth, she seemed to follow it like a babe to its mothers breast and drank my blood. After several mouth-fulls, I pulled my wrist back, and she seemed to come around a bit.

“Who...who are you,” she asked, as if she was really tired, which she probably was with all the blood-loss.

“Just a nurse,” I replied, settling her back onto the examination bed. “Just rest, I must be going now.”

The red haired woman passed out, but her color was better. Hopefully she’d survive, now I just had to find her again. Rummaging the cabinets, I managed to find a blood draw kit and several test tubes for blood. Taking it all, and hiding it in my bra, I walked out of the room, and headed deeper into the clinic.

Down a hallway, I managed to find a supply closet. Ducking inside I scanned the bottles, finding the usual bottles full of antivirals, antiseptics, and weak pain killers. Finally, in a rack that was supposed to be reserved for anti-fungal meds, was a single bottle of vicodin. Taking the bottle, and shoving it in a pocket, I left the clinic.

Heading back out to the beach, I found the parking garage filled with police cruisers, lights flashing erratically. Searching around, I found the beach access stairwell was still open, so I took it down. It led me through a long, dark tunnel that opened up on the sandy beach. I hadn’t even gotten a good look around before a dark haired woman ran up to me.

“Up there. Through that chain link gate and up those stairs,” she said, her accent carrying a deep hint of Spanish.

“Thanks,” I replied, not caring she knew who I was after. I am a vampire after all, so what else is new in the night?

I went up the stairs, stopping on the last platform. After looking over the last stair, I could see a guy with a bat guarding the entrance to the house. The area looked too bright to sneak through. Ducking back out of sight, I took a blood draw kit and cracked it open. Taking the butterfly needle, I stuck the one end in my arm and into a vein. Attaching the hub, I then took a tube and inserted it into the hub, watching it fill with my blood. After the first, I filled the other four, tucking each full one into my bra.

Only after I was done did I take the butterfly needle out. I didn’t have a sterilization pad, but, hey, I’m already dead. What more could happen to me? Poking my head over the top stairwell again, I decided it was time to pull my courage together and face these men down. Climbing the last stairs, I stepped forward just as the thug nearest me lit his cigarette. He turned to face me, and blew his smoke in my face.

Oh, yea. We’re off to a great start.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 – The Beach House

September 18, 2004


“Help ya?” the guy holding a baseball said. He actually looked yummy with no shirt on, and I decided to try a little something different. I might be stuck with him for awhile if this worked, after all.

“Do I look dangerous?” I said, sticking my chest out a little and rocking my hips from side to side. “I’m sure a big man like you can think of better things to do than beat up on a sweetie like me.”

A big smile came over his face as he looked me over and I swear my heart actually beat again before I actually felt really nauseous at the thought. “I tell you what,” he said, as he put an arm around my waist and felt of my butt. I just smiled at him, hoping my fangs weren’t too visible in the dim light. “I’ll let you in. And if on your way out, you want to work out a little fair trade for future purchases, you come see me. I’m Brian.”

I leaned in close, and I swear I could smell a girl’s perfume on him. I settled on giving him a little peck on the cheek. He let me go and I went inside the house. There was a guy just inside the door fiddling with a TV. I looked at the screen and it definitely needed tinfoil. I tried the door at the back of the room, but it was locked.

“Go around, fool!” came from the other side.

I started around, turning left at the back of the room and left again into the kitchen. I was beginning to wonder if my eyesight might be off somehow as their kitchen seemed to be just as shoddy as mine was. I found two more guys playing rummy at a kitchen table. One guy pointed a finger and mumbled a “that way” before going back to his game. I edged by them, going through some kind of weight lifting room before finding their computer room.

I continued on, ending in the room with a set of bunk beds. Some kind of utility room, I guess, as it contained the washer and dryer. What drew my eye was the large vent built into the wall. This house had central air conditioning? And why a vent that big? I could almost crawl through it. My dorm room had a vent, but it was the size of a shoe box.

I looked at it, and saw that the vent itself actually had hinges hidden on the top. Pulling the bottom, It lifted away easily, and I poked my head inside. Maybe they kept drugs in here? What little light I had showed me it was a small closet-type space. On the floor next to me was a shoe box. I opened the shoe box, to find it stuffed with cash. I did a quick count and come up with about five hundred. Much of it had to have been Mercurio’s, with the rest being from selling drugs.

Pocketing the money, and hoping no one saw me, I crawled back out and closed the vent cover. Straightening my clothes, and dusting myself off, I went through the far door. Inside were two men, one looked like the other thugs with his gray hoodie, but the other was dressed in a nice white coat and red patterned shirt and what could only be fake gold chains hanging from his neck. He was trying for class and coming up short in this dump.

“Yea, that is what I love about this business. Fine women come to my house for my shit. I don’t even have to call ‘em on the phone. Say there, pretty lady, what can I hook you up with tonight?”

‘Play it cool’ ran through my mind, so I cocked my hip with a hand, and told him “Whatcha got?”

“My staff maintains at all times a twenty-four carat smorgasbord of A plus narcotics guaranteed to make the competition’s shit seem like weak cappuccino in comparison. White, green, blues, reds, black – pick a color.”

“I’m looking for something different. I need explosives.”

His face twisted a bit, “Explosives. Fun stuff. Get yourself a lotta attention that way. Yea, I got something. Why would you need to get your hands on some fireworks?”

I had a brief moment of panic, but decided to try to keep playing it cool. He was agreeable, just keep playing it. “Money problems. Need to make a withdrawal on the insurance.”

“Sure, okay. I got some stuff that’ll do the trick. Astrolite. TNT’s bigger, meaner cousin with a prison record. Don’t like to keep it around, too dangerous. I’ll let you have it less than the going rate.”

I felt the cash in my back packet, and not knowing how soon I could get my hands on more, decided I should try and hang on to it. “Anything you take besides cash?” I bat my eyes at him and ran a hand suggestively down a hip. Yea, I’m bad.

“I’m open to suggestions,” he said coming, eyes falling to where my hand was now rubbing at my panties, “Question is, how open are you?”

Glad he took the bait, I looked at the other guy who was enjoying this way too much. “How about sending your buddy out of the room and find out?”

Dennis didn’t even look away from leering at me. “Yo, go check the odometer of my car.” The thug in the room with us sneered at me before unlocking the door behind him and leaving us alone. I walked up to Dennis, and he ran a hand over my shoulder before reaching down to grab and fondle my ass. “Now, I’ll give you what you want…but I got what you need.”

“Indeed,” I whispered, reaching under my shirt to get one of the vials of my blood. “Fair trade? How about a better pick-me-up than speed. Safer too.”

“What is this? Blood?” he said, eyeing it.

“Just a special mix of mine, it’ll make you stronger, tougher.”

“Still looks like blood. Probably tainted with AIDS or something.” This was going south fast.

“If your so scared, give it to me, I’ll sample it for you.” I said, holding out my hand.

“Yea, and your ass is probably already got it. Shit!” he said, his hand reaching behind him. “You can cough up five hundred bucks now, or I can take you fishing.” His hand came back out with a gun, and it was pointed at me. I was really starting to wonder how far I could push my dead body. Did guns still hurt?

“How about you give it to me, and no one gets hurt.” I said, trying to put an edge to my voice.

“Yo boys,” He called out, and the other guy immediately came in leaving the door open, bat in hand. “Get the boat ready, we’re going fishing.” I only had eyes for that gun, wondering how I was going to salvage this when the first shot rang out and I felt the sting in my chest and the thump like I’d been hit with a sledgehammer. I stumbled back and he shot me five more times, each shot hitting me in the chest and knocked me back into the wall.

I somehow managed to stay on my feet, and looked down at my bloody chest. That was just pissing me off. I only had the one shirt, and it wasn’t like I could go shopping for more. I looked up to see a startled Dennis reloading his pistol. With deliberate steps I walked forward and grabbed his gun hand just as he was bringing it back up to fire again. I started to bend his gun arm around to face him, and I could feel him use every muscle to fight me. I still managed to keep turning the gun to face him and as I started to line it up with his face, saw the stark fear there. Once I had it lined up, I pulled the trigger myself.

The gun barked once, the bullet ripping into left eye and painting the wall behind him with his brains. After that he went limp and I let him fall to the side. I looked around to see the other five guys lined up at the doorway. Each one had a shocked looked on their face. The guy closest to me, one I think was in here with Dennis when I came in, shook his head then charged me. I reached up and caught the bat down swing, the strength still flowing through my body. He looked just as shocked as Dennis did when I twisted the bat away from his hands with no effort. He reached behind him to grab for something.

Fearing it was another gun, and not wanting the nearby cops to come and lock me up for disturbing the peace, I swung as hard as I could. The bat caught his chin in an upswing, and with a sickening crunch as loud as a gunshot, broke his neck clean through. His head continued to roll back from my swing, and he looked at his buddies as he died, falling backwards to land in front of them.

I looked at the last four guys, and saw the stark fear on their faces. I looked at the bat in my hands, and wanting to see how strong I truly was, grabbed the thick part in my hands, then brought it down over my raised leg. The resounding crack sounded like a homerun hit, and I was left with two pieces of ash in my hands. One of the survivors looked at his dead buddy, and ran like a frightened rabbit.

One more joined him as I walked towards the last two. One was Brian, the other was a blond haired boy who looked like he was about to bolt. As I got near enough to smell the stench off Brian, I felt something flow from me to them. I didn’t know what it was, but I the look in their eyes was of cornered prey.

“Please don’t kill me,” blonde boy whimpered as I reached under my shirt for my vials, only to find them all shattered. Shit! That must be where the blood was from.

“You two boys want a job with perks?” I asked, my voice amazingly calm even though I had just killed two people. I reached down and took blonde boys knife from his limp fingers. Both guys at my feet didn’t even nod, but stared up at me with wide eyes. I took a bite out of my wrist, allowing the blood to start flowing. “You boys want to live to see the sunrise, start drinking.”

Brian immediately started drinking, only stopping when I pulled him off my wrist. Blondie looked at my proffered wrist, then bolted for the door. I took the knife and threw it at him, hitting him in the head with the handle end. It did cause him to stumble and miss the slightly open door, and he slammed it closed with his body. Suddenly thirsty, I stepped past Brian towards Blondie as he started to pick himself up. He didn’t hardly get to his feet before I shoved him back against the door, then yanked his head to the side revealing his neck. Pushing my fangs out with muscles I were beginning to realize I had, I bit hard into his neck. He struggled for a moment, then stood there, as gulp after gulp of his blood went down my throat. I could feel the blood thin, but I kept drinking him deep. Only when his blood quit flowing did I release his dead body.

“You,” Brian started to say, before I shut him up with a serious look.

“Yes, I killed him.” I admitted. “The people I’m with don’t take violations of our privacy lightly. So you want to live, rule one, you never tell people about vampires being real. Got it?”

“Yes,” he said, the fear still in his voice.

“Bring the Astrolite,” I commanded, looking up at the passing moon. “Much to do, so little night to do it in.”


Chapter Text

Chapter 5 – Thin Blood and Thinner Ice

 

As we went down the stairs, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for killing three people. I’d never wanted to kill, but now four people were dead by either my hands or my fangs. I knew logically that Dennis was going to kill me, or at least try, and had shot me five times but I still couldn’t help but feel that maybe it could have went better.

Down on the beach, a few vampires still stood around a fire barrel as if trying to keep warm. It struck me as odd. I mean why would an undead person feel cold? I barely felt anything at all from being shot. Deciding it deserved a look, I walked up to one, who like Brian was shirtless. I needed to let Brian collect some stuff too, and didn’t want him to get lost.

“Hey,” I called and the guy jumped a little as he turned to face me, hands already clenching into fists.

“Listen, it’s like I’ve told you types ‘bout a thousand times now. We know we can’t hunt ‘round here, alright? We’re minding our own business, so no reason to hassle the weaklings,” he almost yelled at me. He was itching for a fight though, or maybe as I thought about his words, people were itching to fight him.

“Easy, I just want to talk,” I said, holding up my bare hands, the same hands that could overpower a man three times my size and turn a human head into a baseball while still attached. Maybe they had a right to be afraid.

“You mean you ain’t here to run us off?” He was lowering his hands and straightening his fingers, so maybe I could learn something.

“Um, no. Is that common?”

“We’re getting pretty sick of it. Someone citing domain or in the worst cases, hunting us for sport. Don’t know why, either. We all seem to have the same disease,” he cast his eyes down, then kicked at the barrel. “Ah hell, who am I kidding? We’re a bad horror show, alright? We seem to be the runts, the mistakes. You types call us thin-bloods. I say we’re all equally screwed.”

“Amen to that,” I said, thinking about the Prince. My head was on a chopping block, and the sword was already raised. “I’m new to this myself. What’s a thin-blood?”

“Damned if I know. I know you don’t want to be one,” he replied, shaking his head. He looked at me with a serious look, then went, “You seem to be in the loop, you tell me.”

“I was still breathing, yesterday,” I quipped back, realizing just how screwed we all were. I needed info because you can’t just dig into a chest, even if you know everything about how its put together, until you know what you’re looking for. Otherwise you could spend hours and find nothing. “How did this happen to you?”

“I’d just come to town for a surf tourney, seems like years ago now, but it’s only been like 6 months. Every night during the finals I used to hit the local diner after the beach parties fizzled out in the AM. That’s where I met her. She had a natural beauty, not like all the plastic dolls littering the sand. Her name was Lily. I remember introducing myself, the way she seemed grateful for the company. Well, a few nights after our meeting, we were and the beach alone and...”

He kicked at the sand, and I felt sympathy for him. He had it worse than I did. At least I was on the inside, even if I was on the chopping block. He was also turned against his will, but unlike me, he was hunted and hated. Pushed out and away, I hoped he knew what he was, but I needed to know what a thin-blood was, so maybe I could help him.

“She tried to tell me what she was, but I didn’t understand. And so, she showed me. I was furious with her when I took it all in. I cursed her and left, never really knowing what I was. I realize now how she must’ve felt. So here I am, a mystery to meself.”

“Well, I can tell you one thing. You’re all vampires, though the preferred word is Kindred. You do need blood to survive, but you don’t need to kill to do it.”

“That’s what Lily tried to tell me, but what I don’t understand are the rules and the terms and the reason some of ‘em are at our throats claiming we’re harbingers of the apocalypse. That’s what I want to know.”

“I’ll look into it, let you know if I find anything.”

“Well, I hope you have better luck than I did. Only reason we’re still in Santa Monica’s cuz we haven’t been run out yet.”

“Oh, we’d appreciate it. Oh, ‘fore I forget, names E. The black-haired beauty over there is Rosa. That nervous bloke is Copper, and the one who can’t speak so well is Julius. Kids’ gloves with them; they’ve had it rough.”

“Any idea where I might start looking for information?”

“Seems no one’ll talk about it. This all started that night in the diner. Maybe you could start there.”

“Soon as I can,” I said, seeing Brian come down in a shirt with some fancy sort of bag over his shoulder. He approached me, then I led him back out the parking garage up to the street. I stopped back by Mercurio’s apartment, finding him still passed out on the couch. He wasn’t breathing hard, and as I looked at him, didn’t see him breathe at all.

“Aw, damn, did you die on me?” I so did not need this. The Prince would laugh himself silly if his agent died, then I would. I knew it. Thankfully, Mercurio came around, groaning a bit. He looked at me, then past me to Brian.

“He’s with me. Hang on, got you some vicodin. It’ll ease the pain.”

“Ohh, holy Christ I needed that. Are there any other survivors?”

“Two ran away. Dennis is dead. Brian here is my new ghoul.”

“Great, welcome to the club. I’ll track the other two down later. If I have a later.” I knew he was trying to kid, but whomever was jerking his chain obviously didn’t like screw-ups. Good to know, but I really needed him to concentrate.

“So what’s the story with this Astrolite?”

“Astrolite, twice as powerful as TNT. Be on the other side of the world when you start that timer,” He shook his head, coughing up some bloody phlegm. “You gotta make some place disappear. A warehouse, looks to be Sabbat.”

Blow up a warehouse? I hope the Prince had a lot of pull in the FBI. I was going to be searched for all over this country, probably for years. Maybe he did, and this was just standard operation for Kindred.

“What do you know about it?”

“Heard a lot about that operation. I’d love to get in there, get my hands on some of their equipment. But it’s suicide to walk in there, they got a small army of trigger-happy types and they’re all packing’. There’s a guy, never met him, but I’ve heard a lot about him. Name’s Tung, Bertram Tung. He’s one of you types. If there’s anyone who knows more than me about this city, it’s him. Unfortunately, he’s hiding out at the moment.”

“Why?” I asked, knowing I wasn’t going to like the answer. Why was this getting complicated?

“Tung’s lying low cuz of Therese, Therese Voerman. You know her? Word is Therese and Tung are feuding. Don’t know the details. My take’s that Tung thinks he’s about to get whacked, so he’s gone underground til Therese calls it off. If you want to put that warehouse into orbit anytime soon, you’re going to have to get Therese to call of the feud.”

“Where can I find her?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t outside Santa Monica. I was on a short leash after all, and while I didn’t know how well their eyes were watching me.

“She and her sister, Jeanette, run the Asylum just a few blocks south of here. Some freaky customers frequent that place. I try not to do business there.”

“Alright, guess I better head to the Asylum.”

“Take my bag, by the door. Got a gun in it. Thirty-eight special. Leave your ghoul here, though, we need to talk.”

Brian gave me a pleading look, and I felt sympathy for the guy. But Mercurio knew things that Brian probably should know, like if he needed to register as a ghoul and how much his life was going to change.

“He’s got a point,” I told him, as I picked up the bag and slung it over my shoulder. “Stay here, but defend yourself in necessary, and keep him alive.”

Heading back out, I began thinking of the ghoul I’d made in the clinic. Not wanting to lose track of her, I swung by. Getting in was easy, as the three in the morning tiredness hit everybody and no one was paying attention. I went into the exam room I found her in, only to find it empty. “Shit,” I swore. I had hoped to keep tabs on her, but she’d been transferred to who-knew-where. Without her name, I couldn’t hope to find out anything more.

Heading down the hall, I found an office door unlocked. I checked the computer, but it seemed to be mostly administrative. I did find a list of personnel, though I needed patients. On the other side of the hall, I checked the other door. The door here was locked, and remembering my new potence ability, let the strength flow through my arm. The sound of the lock busting was loud, though quick. Ducking inside before someone saw me, I checked the computer.

One of the first things to jump out after I hit a button was the ‘Patients’ tab. I quickly opened it, only to be prompted for a password. Cursing silently, I pulled open a drawer. A stack of memos lay inside. I shuffled through them, finding one marked with a password. It didn’t tell who it was from, but it gave the new password as ‘hippocrates.’ Typing it in, I gained the system, and found information on four patients. The first was H. Poe, and she was listed as having been in critical condition. She had been transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. I checked the others, but most of them were just guys who needed to keep it in their pants and take their penicillin. God, men are such pigs!

Going back to the door, I cracked the door and checked outside. A security guard was walking the hall, but he didn’t appear to be interested in anything. I slipped out as he was faced away from me and quickly walked down the hall towards the exit. Thankfully no one stopped me, and I was able to leave. Once I was outside, I headed into the alley and started walking towards Asylum.

I thought about Poe, sure she was the ghoul I had made. Though with the restrictions on my travel made it where I couldn’t go retrieve her, I had to just accept the fact I could hunt her down later if need be. At least I knew her name, now.

Asylum was easy to find, though I was running out of night when I got there. You could still hear the loud music from inside. It wasn’t Jewel, so I really didn’t care. Going in, I found the usual bar fliers outlining the various acts set to appear. I didn’t even glance at them. After cutting though the ID check area which was vacant, I entered the main club.

I hadn’t even gotten the chance to glance at anything other than the fat guy tending bar before I was approached by the clubs hostess. I hoped it was the hostess. She was dressed as a complete slut. From the six inch high heels, to the white thigh high stockings and the barely-there mini skirt which was just longer than her panties but far short of her stockings, and the tied on white shirt which did not conceal her scarlet red bra. The slut-ensemble was topped with a red choker, that contrasted so sharply with her pale alabaster skin I was sure she either hated the sun or used makeup.

Pale alabaster skin? I did a double take real fast, even as she began to welcome me to her club. I caught the barest hint of fang and the realization I was talking to another vampire was like an electric shock. A fellow Kindred?

“What do we have here? Another scrumptious young plaything straight outta life and into my club? You smell new, little girl, life fabric softener dew on freshly mowed astroturf.” She paused to take in my frightened look. “Ooh, I’m not scaring you, am I, duckling?”

“I just realized you were Kindred,” I said, trying my best to keep my voice even. “You’d be the first real one I’ve actually had a chance to talk to since my...”

“You mean that farce of a trial? I was there duckling. The Prince wanted you dead so bad we all could taste it,” she said, a trace of venom lacing her formerly sweet, innocent voice. “My name is Jeanette, and this bit of chaos crammed in a certifiable giggle is my club. I’d love to just give you funny feelings all night, sweetheart, but I really must trouble with some business. We’ll reunite soon, I promise.”

She turned and walked to an elevator set into a corner, and what I’m sure a lot of brain dead men came here to see was on full display. Shameless, really. She gave me one last smile as she stepped in, leaving me alone.

I took the in the bar scene. The dance floor was still full, and two people were at the bar. One, I noticed happily, was Knox. He had something dark in his glass, and was sipping it. A girl with red hair was also at the bar, waiting on a drink apparently. She had the tanned look common with girls today, and was dressed more modestly than Jeanette in tight fitting printed top and cotton pants. She waited, looking out over the club as if waiting on someone, thought I had the feeling she was trying to get picked up.

I’d heard girls talk before about getting so desperate they’d wait by the bar and wait on some guy to come along and hit on them. Samantha said once she got hit on by a girl, though I think that was more my friend trying to brag. I hadn’t ever tried anything on a woman before, but I wanted to try feeding from someone without using violence, and I was getting a little thirsty.

“Hey, sweetie,” I purred, still not sure how to attract a girl.

“Um,” she said, turning to me. I tried to think of my best line but ended up saying one that I’d heard from one too many a desperate guy.

“Since I walked in here, I hadn’t been able to take my eyes off you,” I purred out, hoping my looks hadn’t gone to hell since I’d been turned. My hair felt fine, but without a reflection I couldn’t see myself at all.

“No,” she drawled, her tone almost playful.

“Yes,” I drawled back, hoping she took the line. She purred at that, smiling and probably thinking she was finally going to get out of here. I didn’t have that in mind, but I could practically feel that jugular vein sing beneath her skin. “How about a kiss before I go?”

She wrapped her arms around me, and I gently brushed the hair from her neck, clearing the way to her jugular. As she lolled her head to the side, expecting me to kiss her, I leaned forward and brushed my lips against her ear. She giggled, excited by my playful act, and I brushed my lips over her neck. God, that jugular called to me.

Unable to hold back any longer, I let my fangs out and sank them into her neck. God this was heaven. The blood, now that I was able to take my time, was so much sweeter. I drank several deep mouth-fulls, before releasing my bite and licking the blood off her neck. It was only then I became aware that I was holding her up as she was passed out in my arms. Must have been heaven for her too. At least it tells me I’m not a complete monster.

I lowered her onto a bar stool, and leaned her up against the bar. I then turned to the bar keep, who wasn’t even looking at us. I stepped up to the bar, and he looked at me as if just seeing me.

“What can I get you, beautiful?”

Beautiful? Really? Well, after seeing his bosses look I probably came across as better than most. “I’m looking for Therese. Where can I find her?”

“Therese? She’s upstairs, bickering with Jeanette. I can hear them from here. Why do you need to see her?”

“I heard they’re looking for a part-time hostess and wanted to talk to her about it,” I lied, hoping that he didn’t know any better.

“Damn, wish that was my job. Go on up and see her, just take the elevator behind you.”

“Thanks,” I called back as I walked to where Jeanette had disappeared to, and went inside. There were only two buttons, so I hit up and came out in a small hallway. There wasn’t anywhere else to go, but the only door was locked. I could also hear them arguing. Apparently the sisters didn’t get along.

I didn’t much bother following the argument, but the paper on the end table did catch my eye. I thought it might be yesterday’s but it was this morning’s paper, and the headline was a story about a murder at the pier. Guy was strung up and gutted, according to the picture, but I just turned away. I didn’t need to get caught up in mortal affairs.

Finally a slamming door pulled my attention back to the sisters, and I could hear steps come to the door near me. Therese was more bitter than Jeanette, but both had the same voice. When the door opened, I though Jeanette had just changed into a more professional attire. The woman before me was identical to Jeanette in body, but this one didn’t have the gothic slut look. She wore a professional gray suit, and her heels were two inch, not six. She also wore glasses, but the lack of distortion told me that they were for show only, and not correcting any eye problems.

“Please, come in. I do apologize for my sister’s crassness if it made you uncomfortable. She’s unabashedly scandalous, but…in the club business, I suppose that kind of personality is a necessary evil.”

“She’s gone?,” I said, looking around the room as I was led to the desk. It was large, and divided in half by a partition. On one side was a desk and computer, creating a small office space. The other side had a heart shaped bed that looked liked it belonged on a porn set, not that I knew of such things, and was setup for a bedroom. I knew they were sisters, but I was beginning to think they were twins. No one said different, but either something hinky was going on, or they were indeed twins. Time would tell, I guess.

“She’s got issues she’s still trying to get over so she’s locked herself in the bathroom. Jealousy, really. You see, I was the family favorite and I’m the successful one and as you may have noticed, she’s obviously starved for attention.”

“That slut outfit? Yeesh, are guys that hard up around here?” I asked, which made the woman in front of me laugh. Taking it as a good sign, I continued on, “I assume you are Therese?”

“Therese Voerman, yes. I’m the proprietor of this club, and the only person whose good side it’s in your best interest to stay on. What brings you to Santa Monica.”

“I need to find Bertram Tung, who’s hiding out because your feud.”

“Tung’s exile is self-imposed, I assure you. But then, what reason would I have not to hate that loathsome Nosferatu scoundrel. Bloody Nosferatu. They’re so...unclean.”

“Why do you hate him?

“He meddles in my affairs. He’s a bad influence on my sister, and she on him. If you were in my place, would you let him compromise your authority? You wouldn’t. I’d quite like it if I never had to hear that name again.”

“Then can you put out the word that you’ve got no feud with him? Or at least tell me where to find him?”

“Why would I do either? Let him think I mean to kill him. That way, I don’t have to worry about him sabotaging everything. Do you realize how this subterfuge makes me look to the Camarilla?”

“Do you realize how close my own neck is to the chopping block here?” I responded back, not caring if I was incidentally burning any bridges made. “The Prince is this close to killing me, and if I were to report back that I can’t do his bidding because I can’t find one Kindred because YOU have a petty feud with, how do you think the Camarilla will like that? I’m on orders to blow up their warehouse, so cut me a little slack here!”

Therese seemed to think at that. I didn’t much care about politics, never have or will. She turned her chair to look at the partition, and I waited. I knew the sun was coming, and I needed to get back to my dingy bathroom before it rose, though I hated the thought of spending another day naked on the commode. Therese finally turned back to me, and the look on her face wasn’t a very happy one, though her tone was still conversational.

“I’d be willing to put the word out that my grievances with Tung have been swept under the rug, but in return, you have to help me remove a particularly burden-some spirit from a property I’m looking to invest in.”

“A spirit? You mean a ghost?”

“I forget your knew to this. Allow me to break you in. Yes, ghosts exist. Werewolves, mummies and I’d expect a whole lot of things I’ve never seen share the nights with us.”

“So, what do I need to do?” At least I was getting somewhere now.

“Rumor is a personal item of a ghost’s may be used to draw it out or excise it from its haunt. While I don’t put much stock in heresay, it is my last option. So I want you to go to the Ocean House Hotel, find an item of the ghosts, and bring it back.”

“I’ll do it if you promise to call of the feud.”

“Oh, I fully intend to do so. You’ll find that dealing with me, on the whole, is appreciably more predictable than dealing with some of the egomaniacs that are my peers. So long as our business doesn’t go sour, my word is gold.”

“Good,” I said, getting up to leave.

“Before I forget, take this,” she said, offering me a key. “The only way to reach the Ocean House at night is through a tunnel in the sewers. You’ll need that key to open the gate for that tunnel.”

“Sewers?” I started to protest, then upon seeing her downright bitter face thought better of it. “If I must, very well.”

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got situations to set straight.”

I walked back out the door and entered the elevator. Once downstairs, I headed straight out the door and back to Mercurio’s to pick up my ghoul, Brian. He was actually outside, sitting on the steps.

“Where’s Mercurio?”

“Back to his master, they came for him ten minutes ago,” he replied, head bowed. He had the bag containing the Astrolite between his feet, and seemed tired.

“Well, nothing you can do. He is where he needs to be. Let’s go home,” I said, then started for my apartment. I looked at the sky, it was already brightening, the outlines of the buildings becoming visible. It was just before six when I entered the apartment. Brian kept quiet the entire way, eyes going up as he took in the dilapidated state of the apartment. He settled himself in, and then I had a moment of worry.

I couldn’t lock myself in the bathroom. Brian was still mortal, and would need it during the day. That also meant I couldn’t sit on the commode, arguably the cleanest part of the place. Taking one of the covers, I made a little pallet on the shower floor. I could feel the sun rising, and quickly stripped out of my clothes. Wrapping myself in a towel, I put my clothes on the desk.

“Brian, here’s two hundred bucks. In the morning, at about nine or ten, I want you to go get me some replacement clothes. No more than two changes, neutral tones; grays, blacks. Just like what I’ve been wearing, a t-shirt, pants, a package of socks, panties and bras. Also, go by Good Samaritan in Los Angeles, and see if you can find an H. Poe, she’s a redhead. She’s also my ghoul. She was hurt here in town, and was taken to the local clinic, then transferred. If she won’t, or can’t come back, just let me know. Don’t make a scene, don’t get arrested. I need to know where she is and if she’s alright.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

I felt the sunrise, literally, as I stifled a yawn. “I gotta…go through...the sewers...tonight, get a….light…batteries,” I said, unable to stifle my yawns any longer. I staggered back into the bathroom, and my world sank into gray as I felt myself drop into blackness.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 – Ocean House Hotel


I awoke the next night on my blanket in the shower stall. I was actually leaned against the corner, hands folded over my chest like a corpse on display. Brian must have a sense of humor. I still had my towel wrapped around me, thank god, and the door was still shut against the light. I got up, and folded the bed cover into a small bundle and put it aside. I then showered, toweled off, brushed out my hair, then brushed my teeth.

I looked in the mirror, praying desperately for my reflection to briefly appear, but it remained blank. Taking my toothbrush, I tried a brief experiment. I held it up in front of the mirror, but as expected it didn’t appear. I poked the mirror with it, and though the mirror flexed with the pressure, the toothbrush still didn’t appear. Holding it up high then dropped it. The moment it left my fingers it appeared in the mirror.

I don’t know why my clan lost their reflections, but I was really beginning to hate whoever did it. How was I supposed to clean up and make myself pretty without being able to see what I was doing? Even basic makeup was impossible without a mirror, and I couldn’t have Brian do it. I’d have to teach him how. As much as I hated it, I needed Poe. She’d understand how to apply makeup and do my hair. Also she’d be better able to assist me in making wardrobe choices. Depressed, I went out to get my clothes.

Brian was reading a surfer magazine when I stepped out, but upon noticing me, shut it and laid it aside. “I got your clothes, they’re on the desk,” Brian said. “I also went by that hospital, and uh, I couldn’t find anything about her. Then they started eyeing me funny, so I left.”

I sighed, I was hoping he could find her, but I would just have to hope the Camarilla had ways of finding her, or maybe if I could get out soon I could track her down myself. I looked at the bags of clothes, getting a little miffed that he hadn’t unpacked them and put them away. I started to unpack, then realized, I didn’t even have a dresser.

Feeling Brian eyeing me, I looked at him. He had a smirk on his face, as he felt he was soon going to get to see me naked. Well, I could deal with that. “Turn around.” He didn’t seem to want to, then grimaced and turned. It was odd, and I’d ask Mercurio if I ever got to see him again.

Soon I was dressed, and taking the flashlight out of its package. It was a long Maglite, that used four “D” batteries and was also good as a club. Handy really. I inserted the batteries, then checked that it worked. It did, and I clicked it off and put it in my bag. I then took out the thirty-eight. It was a small revolver, with shiny metal. I had to admit, I knew more about the flashlight then I did this thing.

“Brian,” I said, noticing he was still turned to face the door. “Do you know how to shoot this?”

“The thirty-eight? Yea, its easy. Once its loaded, just point and squeeze the trigger,” he said, I think with a note of sarcasm in his voice.

“Ok, so how do you reload it then?”

He stuck his hand out for the gun, and hoping he wasn’t going to shoot me with it, I handed it over. He turned it so I could see the left side. “This little button here, that’s the release. Hit it, and the drum pops out. Tap the rod on the other end, and it’ll eject the shells. Then just insert new bullets, snap it closed, and point and squeeze.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“It’s the easiest gun I’ve ever seen. Want complicated? Try the Desert Eagle. Semi-automatic fifty caliber with an internal magazine and enough power to break a wrist. For you though, you could probably empty it in a few seconds with the strength you got,” he said, then handed the gun back to me. I thought about it, but decided to see how it went before I started buying guns to carry around.

Putting it back in it’s special holster built into the bag, I closed it all up. I was a little thirsty, and weighed whether or not to head for Asylum to find a quick meal. I decided against it, and then went to head out the door. I turned back to face Brian, one last thought on my brain. “I’m heading out for Ocean House Hotel, don’t know when I’ll be back. If I’m not here in the morning, don’t come looking for me. Got it? Stay here, I’ll be back tomorrow night,” I told him, then added under my breath, “Hopefully.”

Brian didn’t look happy but just nodded his head. Down on the street, I looked around for a sewer access. I found one, right at the entrance to the alley I lived on, so convenient really. I was about to pull the cover when I caught sight of a girl lighting a cigarette on the far side of the street. The mini skirt and tube top letting me know she was a hooker. I fought a brief war between wanting to get to the Ocean House, and needing a drink, but in the end my need for the red stuff won. I didn’t know how long I’d be looking after all.

I walked over to her, and she looked me over, smiling a bit at what she saw. I was really starting to wonder what I looked like.

“Hey, sweetie, you swing both ways?” I asked, not sure how one asked for a date, and especially stupefied how a girl like myself asked for one.

“Hmm,” she purred, looking at my chest, “for a hot one like yourself, how about thirty.”

“Okay,” I said, and she led me into the alley beside a tattoo parlor. Once we rounded a corner, and were outside of traffic, she dropped her tube top to reveal her breasts.

“Ready to make the earth shake?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, handing her the thirty dollars, which she hid down in her heels. I took her in my arms, kissed her briefly on the lips, then licked my way down her jaw. The stench of cigarettes was a definite turn off, but I needed a drink, and damn if that jugular didn’t call to me. She never resisted my awkward attempts to hide my real reason for the love of her neck, and I bit hard and deep into her. She gasped as my fangs broke skin, then turned to moaning and writhing in pleasure as I drank her precious blood into me. Knowing she was probably my only meal for the night, I kept drinking until her blood started to thin, then I pulled my fangs out and licked the blood from her neck.

She was still breathing as I lowered her to the street, my vicious bite nothing but a giant hickey mark. She was still moaning in pleasure as I pulled my thirty dollars from her heel. Money was precious right now. Sue me.

Spotting a man-hole cover nearby, I let my supernatural strength flow and pulled the heavy metal lid off like it was plastic. I held the metal disk, then held it like I was about to throw a Frisbee. It was so light with my Potence ability it was freaky. I slipped down the ladder, pausing for a moment to replace the cover and hide my escape. There was no light here, so I began to pull my flashlight when suddenly it was if the light’s came on.

“Whoah,” I said, steadying myself against the wall. I pulled the flashlight out and clicked it on then noticed the freakiest thing ever. The beam wasn’t white, it was black?! It was if someone had hit the invert color scheme on the TV, but I was seeing this with my eyes. Must be a Lasombra thing, didn’t the Scourge say I was going to have an affinity for shadow?

Putting the light back in my bag as it was useless anyway, I looked down to the icky mess below me. Not wanting to ruin my shoes, I slipped them and my socks off and put them in my bag. I then rolled up my pants legs and gritting my teeth, stepped into the muck. Oh Therese owed me for this! It was like stepping into mud, all icky and getting between my toes, but I had doubts that it was mud I was stepping into, though I was sure it was brown.

Wading through the muck, I struck out towards the south where I thought the Ocean House was, bypassing several similar corridors along the way. I finally found a map posted on the way, I guess for the inspectors if they got lost down here. It was overlaid with the area above me, and from it I learned I overshot the desired sewage pipe. Getting proper directions, I headed to where I needed to be, soon coming to the locked gate Therese said was waiting for me. Unlocking the gate, I headed to the ladder beyond it, and found the appropriate ladder, and climbed to the top.

I had to use my Potence ability to life the man-hole cover, those things were heavy without it, and climbed out. After climbing out, I looked down at my feet. Yea, no way I was ruining my socks and shoes. I’d have to wait to put them on until after I found a functioning sink.

Standing up and checking out the area, I found I was in some kind of graveled parking lot, with a road right beside it. Damn Therese, bet she made me walk through that muck on purpose. It was a nice place though, very large and very fancy. It was being remodeled, or demolished, not sure which. They did have a crane though, so maybe remodeled. I could definitely see the charm here, and the lull of the nearby ocean was calming.

Definitely worth a remodel.

I walked across the graveled over lot, which was painful in my bare feet. I looked down to see most of the muck gone, which was a relief. I knew this was the parking lot because I could see the lamp-posts laid out in the typical grid. I walked up to the door, doubtful it’d be that easy. I was right. Locked. The fanciness of the lock meant that it was either really tough, or really flimsy. I doubted Therese would like that I destroyed her locks, so I looked back to the small office. Definitely some kind of foreman’s office, centrally located, and looked portable.

I walked down the steps to it, glad to find it was unlocked. A small desk stood against, one wall. On the end wall to my left was a plaque with keys, easily finding one marked for the front door. I took it, and went back to the front stoop. I no more than set foot on it than a light exploded in front of me. I jerked back, looking at the offending light. Therese had said the hotel was haunted, and apparently the ghost within didn’t like me.

Swell.

I unlocked and opened the door, stepping inside. The weirdest damn feeling came over me, telling me I should run. I did my best to shake it off, but it wouldn’t go away. There was enough light that I didn’t have a problem seeing, and deciding if I had to find a personal object, I needed to try and find its room while it was here. I headed for the double stairs, but a sharp crack above me dropped the chandelier on my head and dropped me to the floor.

Rolling the antique off me, I regained my feet and looked around. A slightly burnt copy of the newspaper caught my eye. It was a late edition of the LA Sun announcing the grand opening of the Ocean House. The photo showed a much nicer version of the outside, and I wondered how long ago this hotel had been built. The newspaper offered no clue, the date having been burnt off. The ghost took the opportunity while I was distracted to explode the vase at my stomach, ceramic shards ripping into my gut. I looked down at my ruined shirt, and decided I really hated this ghost.

I dropped the newspaper back on the coffee table, then started up the stairs, taking the right hand side. They seemed solid enough, as I started up. Halfway up, though, I fell through. It wasn’t as if the wood was weak, more like something ripped it out from under me. My butt broke my fall, and I got back to my feet. The room was dark, but there were a few lights giving me an idea I was in a room in the basement. Some kind of rack was overhead, and I had to take a second glance to find the exit. It wasn’t clearly marked. Place must be really old to not have those marked better.

The corridor out led me to an elevator. The doors refused to open, though. I looked at the doors briefly wondering if I could force them apart, when I realized the light hadn’t come on. Okay, so the power is out. Needing to find the power box to restore power, I took the hallway back. I think I was directly underneath the stairs, so I headed to the rear of the hotel.

I had a brief flash of a girl with long back hair in a long white dress with a red sash around her waist flash by whimpering in fear. I turned at the corridor, sure I’d see her just feet ahead of me, but she was gone. My ghost was a girl?

I ran down the hall, trying to find her but the room dead-ended in some kind of room. It had desks, but they looked stored rather than used. Beside them was a set of shelves with bottles on it. A flash of purple lit the rack, and then they flew at me. I managed to raise an arm, but they ended up being more nuisance than weapon. I tried the door, but it had shut behind me.

“Idiot ghost,” I muttered, needing to hear something, “I can wrap it like a pretzel.” I let the strength flow through my arms and twisted the handle. What the hell? I twisted harder, but the lock refused to yield. I then hit the door, figuring I could break it the old fashioned way, but it still held solid. “Okay, maybe not so idiotic.”

Walking the wall, I found a section along the far side where light seeped through. Giving it a kick, a hole formed into the next room. Getting on my knees, I crawled through to the other side, finding more desks and some overturned shelves. I tried the far door, but it too, was locked. Beside the door was another newspaper. I read the headline, if nothing else to pass the time. It said that there was a severed child’s head found in a dryer, even showing the dryer in the picture accompanying it.

I was about to start wandering the room looking for another weak spot when the door creaked open. I opened it the rest of the way, and found myself back where I started. Great, just freaking great. I went back down the hall, turning left this time. The first door I found was the laundry room. Remembering the headline, I checked the dryers out of morbid curiosity, finding a key with a boiler tag on it.

Thinking it might be important, I took it and left through the far door. Heading deeper into the maintenance area, I found a door with a red light over it. It was also locked, making me really hate this ghost chick. Something nagged in my mind though as wrong, and not just overall creepiness of the place. Why would a woman kill a child, only to be running in fear? Or was it the child I saw running? Was that the ghost then? A frightened youngster running from her killer?

Too many questions. I headed through the door and down the stairs, finding myself with some large equipment whose use I couldn’t guess at. All of a sudden, a bone chill of fear crept over my skin. It was worse than all the things Simeon had ever done to me when I was still alive all wrapped in a cold drizzle running down my spine. I turned to the right to check for a control panel and I saw a man walking towards me, axe in his hands.

RUN!!!

I was beating on the elevator doors, my nails having left scratches in the shiny metal when I regained my senses. I didn’t know how I got here, but I headed back down to the machinery room. It was starting to make a little more sense, but I wasn’t sure if I had it right yet. The ghost that was haunting everyone wasn’t the girl, she was just the victim. It was the guy with the axe. Back in the machinery room, I still felt the dread running down my spine, but it was manageable this time.

I kept looking for an electrical box, not finding one at all until I was at the back of the room. I opened the gate, and flipped all the switches on. The machinery around me roared into life, and a few pipers burst open spewing steam. I picked my way back through the maze, but it seemed that damn ghost kept bursting pipes around me giving me slight burns on my exposed skin. I was glad when I got back to the door, I stopped, watching as my burnt skin lost its red look and returned to its normal pale tone.

Once I was healed, and sufficiently calmed down, I headed back to the elevator. It was waiting for me, and I quickly got in. I was hating this ghost, really hating him. What kind of sicko kills a family?

The elevator took me to the second floor, which was where I wanted to be. I was just about to step out when I saw the picture shake. Ducking quickly around the corner, I decided to search the far side first, as I could see the girl in a white dress hovering near the railing on that side. I headed over, getting pelted by pictures and lamps along the way. I wish the ghost would learn a new trick, this one wasn’t working and was just making me more determined.

As I got closer to the two chairs and the end table, the ghost disappeared leaving behind another newspaper. The headline on this one detailed the death of a second child in the hotel, having been ‘chopped up like firewood.’ Barbaric, and they called me the monster.

I left the newspaper behind and passed another elevator. There were a few doors here. I opened the first one, finding a room with a double bed. I walked in and started checking things out. The only thing to really note was a child’s drawing of a family. Something clicked, and I picked it up. The father was drawn as a man on fire, with a mother and little boy and girl drawn normally. After having seen the father’s ghost, and reading the two newspapers, it was starting to come together. The father, for whatever reason, had killed his two kids. The girl in the white dress I saw must be the mother, who was still being tormented by her killer husband.

Well, I could fix his goat. I left the room and took the child’s drawing with me. I wanted to make sure no ghost remained behind after all, and wasn’t sure if the kid’s weren’t still haunting the place, though I hoped they weren’t. I left that room, and went to the next. I no more got inside to start rummaging through the drawers when the light’s went dark. I tried to will my invert-o-sight into being, and though I felt the change still couldn’t see anything.

Weird. Something must be messing with my sight. The light’s slowly came back on, as if someone were messing with a dimmer switch, and since everything came back inverted, I knew it worked, something was just wrong. Maybe it was because the blackout was supernatural, and not just an absence of light like in the sewers. I was going to need to find another Lasombra and ask them that. I looked around the room, losing my own supernatural vision to find ‘Get Out’ etched into the wall.

I scoffed at the idea, I was in this one for the rest of my life, if need be. Searching around, I found one of the drawers by the bed had a key in it so I took it in case I needed it. I guess I was going to become a klepto, but I’d make sure to leave their keys by the door when I left. Outside I was going to turn left again when I saw the girl in white hovering at the other end of the hotel. Knowing she was trying to help me, now, I went that way.

She was hovering by a door when I got there, but unlike most other times when she’d disappear as I got close enough to see her, she stayed until I was almost on top of her. The red sash I thought she was wearing before was actually a mortal wound to her side, the red being her blood-stained white dress. The deep wound slashed from her right breast, through her rib cage to reveal bone and down into her stomach and was deep enough that as close as I was, could see her upper digestive system. She lifted a hand and pointed at the door without looking up, then faded out of existence. I tried the handle, but it was locked. Remembering the key, I tried it. It worked and I entered a badly burned room.

There was a patch in the floor, and an ethereal woman’s voice whispered throughout the room, “Down there.” It was eerie, and powerful, and set the hairs on neck standing straight out.

I kicked out the patch, and dropped down into a small bar and restaurant combination. Another newspaper was sitting on the bar. It detailed a murder suicide, which I was already figuring out. It also said the killer was the one believed responsible for setting the fire. I looked out the door, finding I was on the ground floor of the hotel, where I thought I’d be. That still left two floors to sift through, and though I’d not been here an hour, I think, knew this search wouldn’t take long with the help I was getting.

The only way out seemed to be to use the dumbwaiter. I hit the button, and it opened up. It would be a tight fit, but it seemed to be the way to go. I climbed in, and as soon as I slid my head past the doors it shut me in. I was about to get scared when it gently lowered me, the doors at the bottom opening for me when I got there. I immediately sprang out, in case the mean ghost tried to harm me.

I found myself in the hotel kitchen, and a slightly burned book on the counter. I picked it up, opened it and found that it was a diary that belonged to a Jennifer. I flipped to the last page, dated June fifth in fifty eight, and was dumbstruck.

‘Oh my God, Ed covered in blood... coming to kill me... locked myself in the bathroom... he's gone crazy... he keeps shouting we'll be together forever and he'll never let me go... someone please hel...’

I put the book in my bag, as a personal item of the ghost’s, it was perfect for my intentions. I could hear the pots begin to rattle, and then Jennifer’s voice whispered in my ear again. “He’s coming.”

I tried the far door but it wouldn’t budge. The pots and pans began to fly around the room, and I knew the killer ghost was causing it. I ducked beside a rack to avoid the debris as they pelted the door. Finally something large hit the door, crumpling it enough to open. I ducked through and found myself in the storage room. At least he wasn’t making things fly in here. The sounds of things pelting around the kitchen still rang out, so no going back that way.

There was a ventilation grate in the wall over a small shelf. I ripped it off the wall, then climbed into it, the sounds of the kitchen’s disasterous remodel fading behind me. I popped the grate off the other end, and Jennifer whispered in my ear again, telling me to be careful. I was glad she was helping me, and I made a silent vow I’d see her clear of this bastard Ed.

I plopped out into an elevator shaft. I no more than got to my feet when a wrenching sound overhead brought my head to reveal the elevator dropping to fall on me. I jumped for the maintenance access, rolling hard into the far wall as the elevator crashed into the ground beside me with an ear shattering boom.

Ed was really pissing me off. I got to my feet, and looked up. I could see where the elevator doors were open on the top floor. Deciding that was where I needed to go, climbed the ladder. I ran out of ladder on the third floor, thankfully that was where the open door was. Turning to the door, I spotted a ledge that was just wide enough to jump on to. From there, I slid through the doors, finding myself in a hallway. I turned the corner to check for anything obvious and saw Jennifer running around the corner. I took off after her, Ed throwing small objects at me as we went.

Jennifer led me around to the far side of the hotel, to where the hallway had fallen in on itself from fire damage. I searched a few rooms, not finding anything. In room 216, I found a few fallen beams that seemed to lock a door closed. Getting closer, I could see the fire damage was more pronounced here. Odd, but then a thought hit me. The fire was supposed to have been set by Ed, and Ed said he and Jennifer would always be together. As it was a murder suicide, I could only guess that the fire had been set where Jennifer had died, and I wasn’t close yet, the damage wasn’t extensive enough. If I found a lot less damage elsewhere, maybe, but so far, this was just small potatoes.

I climbed the fallen beams, and found myself in a lightly burned room. Well, I say slightly burned. I could see the starry night in the missing roof. Still, not enough damage for what I would assume was the place where the killer had set the fire as I still had a floor to stand on. Ed must have been getting desperate to scare me off, as he set the walls aflame in some kind of mystical purple fire. I ran to the door, wanting to find the final destination before he tried to kill me with that axe, which I was sure would hurt.

The door give easily enough, and then the entire corridor burst into that ethereal flame. Jennifer flashed briefly at the end, as she disappeared through a door, and I took off at full speed. Ed started to literally bring the house down around me. I made the end of the hall with pieces of glass and wood sticking out of me, and I paused to pull them out. I was now at room 310, and thinking this might have finally been Jennifer’s room, opened it up.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of walls. A quick glance to my left and I had the final piece I was looking for. This was the initial burn spot, as all those years watching crimes shows had taught me. The floor where the bed would be was missing with no walls or roof. The fire had burned longest here, spreading later to the rest of the rooms on this floor. I could even see the lighthouse by the ocean, leading a ship to safe harbor.

I stepped fully into the room, hoping I would easily see something that stuck out, when a bright flash nearly blinded me. When I could see again, the room was no longer burned, but was actually bright and sunny.

The sun! I knew it was an illusion made by Jennifer, and I couldn’t help but open the curtain on the window. The sun was warm on my skin, and I felt a pang at what was stolen from me. I’d never need a tan again, thanks to Simeon and his cronies, but this little bit was heaven. After a few moments, I let the curtains close and looked the room over.

An exquisite ruby necklace was laid out on the table between two chairs. I went across the room and picked it up and the illusion of the room faded, leaving me on the other side of the burnt remains of Jennifer’s room. Sadness washed over me and Jennifer herself appeared, finally looking up into my eyes.

“That necklace can be used to exorcise my husband,” she stated calmly, her voice soft and not the ethereal whisper I’d been hearing. “With him gone, I can finally rest in peace.”

“I’ll make sure you get that chance,” I said, and she nodded in understanding, then faded back out of existence. It was sad really, and I vowed to read her diary when I had the time. Maybe I could figure out why Ed had went psycho and killed his family.

Not needing anything else to satisfy Therese, I hopped down through the hole and exited the room. The elevator door was still open, and I leaned in and looked down. The doors below were open to the second floor, and I figured that would be the way out. I got on a knee, and started to lower myself to the next ledge, finally having to resort to using my Potence ability again to hold my weight. I hated to do it, as it was making me hungry, but I needed out of this mad house.

I dropped onto the ledge, and quickly stepped back onto the balcony. I didn’t give Ed a chance to attack, because as soon as I was on the balcony, I vaulted over the railing to land with a quick tuck and roll on the ground floor. I sprinted the rest of the way to the door, opened it and left so quickly the door slammed behind me. I kept sprinting the rest of the way to the man-hole cover, taking a knee and started climbing down the ladder. I tried to move the man-hole cover but was forced to again let the strength flow from my Potence ability to get it back in place.

God I was hungry! I activated my shadow sight, and walked out to the sewer. A rat crawling across a pipe caught my attention. I’d seen movies before, like Interview With A Vampire and it said rats could be used as a blood source. I didn’t know if that were true or not, but I was hungry enough to find out. I caught the rat by lunging real fast and quickly brought it to my fangs. I no more than got one mouth-full of blood before it died in my hands. The blood was lacking in taste, but it did take some of the hunger off. I could feed when again when I hit the street, anyway.

I headed along the main sewage pipe, finally ducking into a marked access point. I had to use my Potence ability to lift it and get out, but I finally put my dirty feet back on solid pavement. I didn’t recognize this part of town, but the convenience store was welcoming. I went over, noticing that it had outside restrooms, like many stores out here. I headed into a ladies stall, using the sink to wash my dirty feet. I toweled them dry, then slipped them back into my socks and shoes out of my bag.

Once I had my shoes on, I took my top off. The shirt was shredded beyond repair, resembling something a heavy metal rocker might wear. I only put it back on as I didn’t have anything else to hide my bra with, and my bra stood out as being not-so-sexy lingerie. I needed a cell phone. Seeing as I didn’t have anything to change into, and still feeling dirty from my sewer trip, decided that I should head back to my apartment.

I went inside, and asked the clerk how to get back to Asylum, finding I was only a few blocks away. I headed straight for it, then past it to the apartment, not stopping till I was home. I desperately needed a shower.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 – Favors and Shadows


Upon opening the door, I saw my ghoul Brian in bed with a magazine in hand. One look at the model splayed across the two pages made me shake my head. Guys are such pigs!

I didn't even acknowledge his existence, just rummaged in my bags for a second set of clothes and showered, making sure to scour my legs clean of any residual muck. After the shower, I didn't bother brushing my teeth, and just dried myself off. Stepping back into fresh clothes, I was about to open the door when I heard Brian open the main door.

"Brian, what happened to Dennis?" It was a female voice, high and soft, and I paused for a moment to figure out what was going on.

"He got killed, Sharon," Brian said, "I got a new boss, now."

"You still got the shit, though, right?"

"Yea, I got it, had to get a new supplier, so the price went up," Brian said. Damn, knew I was forgetting something. I didn't want to stop Brian from making money, money I could desperately use, but I hated being locked up in this crummy bathroom! What was that smell, anyway?

"I only got forty," she said, her voice whining.

"Maybe we could, uh, work something out," she said, her voice still high and soft. Could vampires still vomit?

I waited for several long minutes, hearing nothing. I hoped Brian had the presence of mind to take his fun elsewhere. After five minutes, I eased the door open, and immediately regretted it. Brian and Sharon were in the bed, a pile of clothes beside it. The motion the cover was making left no doubt what was going on, and I felt uneasy, even if I had a measure of protection as I held his leash.

Seeing as they weren't noticing me, and hoping I could silently slip away, I decided to try and check my emails. The Mac-like screen was easily accessed and took me right into my email. I had only one new email, from a Lacroix. The name tickled my memory, and then it struck me. The Prince! The email said that a sample of werewolf blood had been acquired and was at the Clinic and needed to be retrieved immediately. I was also told to put it in my mailbox when I was done.

Looking over at my ghoul and his customer, I wondered how well I could sneak past them. I was supposed to be a master of shadows after all. I reached a hand out to the shadow, and pulled on it. To my surprise, I felt the drain as if my strength were kicking in, and the shadow became tangible in my hand, like a dark, inky blanket. Wrapping it around myself, my intro-vision kicked in, and I could see normally. I started to creep to the door, not attracting any attention. I eased the door handle around, and opened the door. The creak of the door drew Brian's attention, and I unwrapped the shadow around me so he could see me leaving. He nodded, never stopping the festivities with his well-endowed customer that kept her boobs jiggling while I slipped through and closed the door, letting go of the shadows as I did. It was interesting, molding shadows like that, and I grinned as I headed out the door. Knowing that the best way to keep my head attached was to satisfy the Prince, I decided to get the blood first.

At the end of the alley, I stopped. One thing I was bound to run across were locked doors at the clinic. Even the offices were locked. I didn't want to go around spreading wanton destruction, I needed a better way. Heading left, I decided to check out the pawn shop I lived over to see if it had anything that might help. Once through the door, I went to the guy behind the counter.

"How's it goin'? You, um, lookin' to buy or sell or..." he stammered, eyes glancing up and down. As if I had to guess what he was staring at?

"Hey, I need a way to get through locked doors," I said, trying to sound cheerful.

"Alright," he said, as if waking up. "Got a set of lockpicks, all wrapped up like a Swiss Army knife," then he pulled out the picks and set them on the counter along with a magazine that seemed to detail how to use them. "Everything you need to start picking doors like a pro."

"How much?" I cooed, hoping it wouldn't cost too much.

"A hundred."

Wow! So much for locked doors. I thought about trying to do this without them, but the memory of the lock snapping was what finally brought my money out of my bag. I couldn't afford to keep replacing clothes after every fight, and needed to get smarter. Tucking the picks into a pouch on the outside, I started to read the magazine as I went out. Fairly easy stuff, most of it was just a matter of holding down the pins in the right sequence, which if you turned the knob a bit and jiggled the pins up and down you'd get the right sequence and open the door. The accompanying picture illustrated the point, and now I knew why keys had that serrated look.

Great!

Feeling hungry, I stopped at the street and looked around, finding a few hookers looking for customers. I put the magazine away in my bag and walked up to them, deciding to ask the blonde for her services.

"Hey honey, looking for a date?" she asked, running a hand around my waist and playing with my backside.

"Yea," I said, then stuck my bottom lip out in a mock pout, "but I'm a little short of cash."

The hooker bought my story, and with an 'aww', led me down the alley. When we rounded the corner, I pushed her up against the wall, and kissed her. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around me, and I kissed my way down her cheek to her neck. Once my lips met her neck, I let my fangs extend and sank my teeth into her neck gently. She moaned as my fangs pierced her skin, her body bucking against me in pleasure. I drank her blood until it thinned, then pulled my fangs out and licked the blood off her makeup covered neck. I looked at where I fed, seeing only the barest hint of a bruise, and decided that I would drink this way from here on. No sense in leaving hickey's everywhere. I let her collapse to the ground, then felt her bra for money. Finding the familiar square, I reached in and pulled it out, counting out a hundred bucks, and put that in my bag.

Walking down the alleys, I came upon the side of the clinic, then deciding I needed to practice my lockpicking, went to the rear entrance. Kneeling down, I pulled out the picks and selected one that would fit, and did like the magazine taught me. It took me a few tries, but soon the handle turned fully, and I opened the door. Now I just had to find that blood.

Up or down? Well, the blood bank was listed as being downstairs, evidenced by the sign pointing down the stairs, so I headed down. The blood bank door itself was unlocked, and an attendant was waiting inside a glass booth.

"You next up for the needle? Your donation could save a life, you know," then he shook his head, an impish grin on his face. "Oh, but itsn't it a little late for altruism? I don't think you're here to buy blood at all. I bet you're here to take blood. Am I right?"

"You offering, ghoul boy," I snapped back. I hated to get caught off guard, but ghouls were hard to spot without tells. That grin didn't disappear off his face, though.

"Right down to business. None of this pretend I don't drink blood shit. Very refreshing to find a decisive customer. I respect that. So, what'll it be."

"How about werewolf?" I asked, hoping as a ghoul he'd know about it. Maybe this would be easy.

"Werewolf? Listen, Betty, ain't no Kindred going after one. We're not that stupid," he spat back.

"The Prince sent me down for a bag of it. Apparently some tabloid sent it here to be tested, and I have to get it before that can happen."

"Oh, well you'll want the top floor then. That's where the testing is done," he said, as if we hadn't just had a fight.

"Great, thanks," I said, and turned and walked away. Well, at least I knew where to get blood if I couldn't find a neck to bleed. Though, I think I'd rather take it fresh than bagged. I went back up the stairs, to the second floor, but the door here was locked. I knelt by it and began picking it, easily getting the tumblers right and the door open. This was so easy I might even become a professional thief.

Once inside, I crept along the wall, the low illumination helping to hide me in the shadows. A guard on patrol came out into the corridor, looked around, and then turned to walk deeper into the building. Just great, I needed the run of the place, and now I had security to deal with. I paused for a minute to decide how best to handle this turn of events, but knew I was forced to play the monster. He was going to die. I couldn't let the werewolf blood be tested, not with the Prince monitoring the situation.

I waited in the shadows, as the guard came back around. I then stretched a hand into the shadow, willing them to start moving. The shadows came alive around me, and the guard jumped back as one shadow took form in front of him, and made to jump at him. He landed badly, his half-drawn pistol skittered away. I then pulled on the shadows again, blanketing him in darkness. I could hear his muffled scream as the cloud enveloped him, then nothing. I walked over and picked up his gun, tucking it into my bag, as the inky cloud dissolved. The guard shivered once as he lay on his side, then lay still.

I knelt by him, checking his pulse to find it gone. He was dead. I had killed him with my shadows. I turned him onto his back to find his eyes still wide in terror. I ran my finger over his eyelids to close them, and then pulled the keys from his shirt pocket. The nearest door was marked CIS, and the guard's keys unlocked it. Inside was a computer, and not much else. Well, that was a waste.

I walked around, ducking when I found a few glass windows being watched by a camera. I looked at the camera while slinking back into the shadows. With the guard dead, I knew the cops were going to want to watch the video footage on this floor. I continued on, finding a door marked security. I unlocked it and eased it open, finding it unoccupied. It did have the security cameras, and after looking around sat to the computer. It was easy hacked, as almost all the keystrokes filed in the system were of camera 1, or camera 2, and optometry. Really, they couldn't do better?

I hacked in, and accessed camera 1, which was something called the controlled substances and deactivated the camera. That also kicked on the other cameras, which according to the various CCTV screens weren't in important areas anyway. I went back out, and found the door for controlled substances, which was about the only other door up here. It was locked, and after several long minutes with the tumblers, finally opened the door. The cabinet was also locked, and needed some kind of access code to open.

I leaned against the cabinet, and thought about it. There had to be a way past it. I looked at the computer pad, and decided that the best way to check the offices again. But where? I remembered the computer behind the door marked CIS, which usually mean Clinical Information Systems. Stuff you knew when you worked in the medical field, or was going to like I was.

I headed back into that office and accessed the computer, the computer easily hacked open. I was going to have to remember to thank my friends in high school for teaching me how to find passwords in the keystroke files, then remembered I'd have to kill them after. I was really starting to hate these Traditions. Who were we anyway? Anatevka refugees?

The menu was pretty straightforward, listing a door and a safe. I accessed the safe, and unlocked it. The computer acknowledged the request, then told me that the camera had been turned on for my safety. Nice to know, and since I knew where the camera system operated out of, I was going to erase that thing before I left.

I went back to controlled substances, found the cabinet door unlocked, and rummaged through it to find the werewolf blood. Once I had it in hand, I stashed it in my bag, then closed the safe. Hoping no one found it suspicious that it was unlocked, I went to the camera control system in the security room, then pulled up the footage. I was just about to think the camera was busted when I saw the safe open, but I never showed up on camera. I began to think about that, then figured that since I was robbed of my reflection, anything that required one to work, like modern cameras, were useless against me. Maybe an old, old 1850's style tintype might get me, but who even knew how to operate one?

Well, if I could find one, I'd learn if I could see myself again, at least to know how bad a hot mess I was looking.

I pulled the tapes that the system operated on, stashing those in my bag as well, then left the scene. I needed to get this in the mail to the Prince, so I went back to my mailbox. Once I had the blood in, I locked it back and went up to my apartment. Sharon and Brian should have been done by now, and it was soon going to be dawn. I didn't even knock, and opened the door to find a still naked bimbo and ghoul on the bed with a rock in a crack pipe to her lips, while Brian lit it for her. They jumped when I walked in, Sharon dropping the pipe in the bed with them and giving me a dirty look.

"Wait your turn bitch!" she spat at me.

"Brian, if you're done playing with her you can show her out," I said, not even trying to look at her obviously enhanced bust. I didn't need this drama this close to sunrise.

"Who do you think you are!" She shouted.

"His boss," I said, keeping my cool. "And if he's still peddling his rocks, he's not showing you shit."

"Got something better?"

"Ask Brian, he's on it," I said, nodding to my ghoul.

"Brian, sweetie," she cooed, "What's it like."

"The best energy shot you'll ever get. Like being on fairy dust and X at the same time. One hell of a kick though, and it lasts too, like a month," he said, rubbing his manhood. "I swear, I feel stronger, better than ever."

"What's it take to get a hit of that?" she asked. I stood at the entrance to the kitchenette, eying the growing light outside, not sure if I wanted the bimbo for a ghoul. If I did, it'd be for the money she'd make me. Like, what was I supposed to do? Get a job? The Prince would laugh his fangs out.

"Three grand," I said, finally naming a price. If she could come up with that much, she might be worth it.

"But that's like," she started, then she stopped. "Take anything besides cash?"

"Cash only," I told her. "You have nothing else I want."

"Great," she muttered, starting to slip her clothes back on. Brian stayed leaned up against the wall, and I swear I was missing something. One look down and I felt uneasy again, but I sure as hell didn’t want to show it. I was supposed to be in charge here.

Once she was dressed and out the door, I checked my remaining clothes. I had enough clothes for one more night, and decided to try sending Brian out to wash my clothes. I took the pad from the desk, thankful it had a pencil in the drawer, and started writing out instructions for Brian on how to wash my clothes. Once I had it done, I noticed a fancy embroidered card waiting on the desk. The initials on it were MJS, and I read it.

"At your convenience, please come and visit me in my home downtown. I leave this to guide you. Dark blood, our curse, a light this verse. Such power I sense in one so young, come find me where burns the mystical sun. M Strauss, Tremere Regent."

"Brian, who brought this?"

Brian who had finally slipped his pants on, stood up from the bed. "Some creepy guy, made my skin crawl. He was definitely Kindred and said to make sure you got that."

Well, I couldn't head downtown until I blew up that warehouse, so he was going to have to wait. I stashed it, along with the security tapes in the drawer, then stashed my messenger bag under the desk.

"Brian, I left you specific instructions on how to wash my clothes. See to it that they all get washed before I wake up."

"Yes, mistress," he said, grimacing. Probably thinking he was going to have to hold my bra in public. Well, he could man up.

The sun must have been rising, cause I was tired. I stepped into the bathroom and spread the blanket in the shower stall. Once I had my "bed" made, I started to strip. I actually had the towel wrapped around me before the first yawn, and made myself comfortable sitting in the corner. Leaned up against the wall, I let myself fall into sleep, hoping the next night was better.


Chapter Text

Chapter 8 – Slash Job


I awoke the next night, still leaned against the wall. I went through my now usual routine of packing up the bedding, and showering. I didn't know if any of it was necessary, but it helped to keep things normal.

I needed normal.

Under the shower head, my thoughts went back to the security guard. He was the fifth man I had killed. Were our secrets that important? Was this all I had to live for now? Killing to keep my existence secret? My thoughts went unbidden to the warehouse I was supposed to blow up. Surely no one would be guarding it, right? No one ever stole anything if it wasn't guarded, no guards meant there was nothing to steal. It was that worthless.

I shook my head, holding it under the head to rinse the lather our for the third time. I didn't need to wash my hair so thoroughly, but I couldn't help but feel dirty for even thinking about Simeon's warehouse where my life had been ripped from me. That place had been crawling with people, and now that I think about it, humans. They weren't Kindred, just normal people who knew what they were dealing with and liked it.

Feeling trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place, I decided to just focus on the task at hand. Finding Tung. The guy was my link for getting in anyway. Maybe he could get me in behind everybody and I wouldn't even have to kill. Best shot at it anyway.

Turning off the shower and toweling dry, I wondered how the Sabbat kept people around them loyal considering we were the undead predators of human existence. Fear? Or were they ghouls? If that's the case, how did Simeon keep the like hundred people around his one warehouse supplied in blood? Too many questions that needed a teacher.

A teacher, now that made me smile. I was the only Lasombra for hundreds of miles. The Camarilla didn't even know how my shadow powers worked, and I was thinking of a teacher. Looking for my nonexistent reflection as I brushed my fangs and teeth, I thought of my clan. Was Simeon going to make me a monster? Probably, I mean, he did laugh about me killing a man. Or did we need to kill the first time? Well, that makes no sense. But then again, my heart didn't beat, I didn't breathe, and yet I walked and talked.

An undead predator. And people? They were my prey. I could feel something inside me, crawling through my skin. It reminded me of when I met Ed for the first time, and I tried to squash it. I couldn't help but shudder as the sensation passed through me, filling me. Then it settled. I mentally sighed as I rinsed the toothpaste out of my mouth. Definitely needed a Kindred teacher if only to help answer the basic questions like what the hell was that crawling in my skin?

With a towel wrapped me, I left the bathroom. Brian wasn't on the bed, but my clothes were carefully folded on top of the desk along with a paper bag that contained a new outfit. I pulled the clothes from the bag to find a new pair of black denim skinny jeans, a wine colored halter top, and a pair of black vinyl motorcycle riding boots that had a one inch heel. Also in the bottom of the bag were two makeup kits, one with glitter and one plain. Not a bad gift, but I wondered how they knew my size. I mean, perfectly. Unless this was some sort of present from Brian, which made me oh so warm and fuzzy inside. Not!

I slipped the jeans on, and after doing the standard skinny jean wiggle had them buttoned up. I flexed my legs, and found them flexible enough. I slipped on a pair of my socks, then slipped my feet into the boots. I eyed the halter top and slipped it on, finding it a bit tight around my stomach and ladies, but otherwise perfect. Using my brush I began to brush out my long, black hair so I could tie it in a ponytail when Brian walked in.

"I see you found Sharron's present. She's hoping you'll drop the price a bit."

As if. Though, it seemed more likely that Poe had eluded me and I was going to need a female ghoul to do my makeup. Or teach Brian. Maybe I could teach a dog to do it. Ugh, I hated this!

"Fine, I'll change the agreement. She can get her fix if she defers her pay to me. She can sleep here with you, and she has to be here when I wake up to do my makeup."

"Ah," Brian started, turning his head and scratching his neck, "she can't do that. She works Tuesday through Saturday night at a gentleman's club called Four-Play, but the four is a letter. Classy place, but the owner is a complete ass."

"Swell," I said, then thought about how she was dressed. A complete bimbo, honestly. I didn't remember much about her, except trying to shoo her out the door before the sunrise. Maybe I should try again, over coffee or something.

"Tell you what, have her meet me at three. Any good local diners around?"

"Yea, across from that crazy all-night dance club, Asylum. Food's alright, but what are you going to eat?"

"Don't have to eat, just be there. Also, look into a pair of cellular phones. I need to be able to stay in touch, like this meeting. If something comes up, I need to be in touch with you and vice versa."

"I can arrange something, I think," he said, laying back in the bed with his magazine. The cover said Playboy, but I don't think it had anything to do with boys because that model had no bottom on to that corset and was using her hand to hide her naughty bits.

I set the hairbrush on the dresser, hoping I had it dry enough that it would be nice and shiny. I really needed to get this locket back to Therese, so Jennifer could be free of her murderous husband, Ed. I figured I'd make that my first stop, then see if I could find that diner E had mentioned. Maybe I'd run into Lily. Just have to keep an eye out for Kindred.

I stood, taking my messenger bag from under the desk. I checked it for everything, then slung it over my shoulder, knowing it was ruining my image. Well, if I wasn't on business I'd leave it behind, or maybe I should get another car. Maybe a Mercedes.

I headed out, then decided to let it ride. I might not live long enough to need a car. I couldn't park one in the immediate future anyway, living down an alley like this. It didn't take long to get to Asylum. I didn't see any Kindred on the ground floor, but there was a familiar face at a private table near the dance floor.

"Knox!" I called to the ghoul. He waved me over to his table, where I took a seat opposite him. He looked haunted, like someone was chasing him. "Whatsa matter, not get your fix?"

"No, but I probably won't though," he said, swigging his beer. "I screwed up bad."

"What happened?"

"I was supposed to watch this Asian guy who's been poking around Santa Monica. Bertram thought he might be a vampire or," he paused, shaking his head, "something like a vampire. I dunno."

"So, what happened?"

"This guy got wise to me. Now instead of me watching him, he's watching me," he said, getting rather animated. "I see him appear around me all the time, like off in the distance watching me then he'll like warp up next to me, then disappear."

"That must be unnerving."

"It's freaking me out! I know this thing is totally toying with me. I want to put a bullet in its head but who knows if that'll do anything. So I was waiting till I talked to Bertram but hell if I know where he disappeared to. It's messed up." He took another long swig of his beer, then set it down. "Look, I didn't want to ask you but since your a kickass vampire and I'm just the lowly ghoul, would you mind getting rid of this thing?"

"If I got time, I'll look into it. The Prince has me pretty busy trying to blow up a Sabbat warehouse."

"That place? Wow! You really are a kickass vampire! Bertram told me not to go near it."

Oh crapola. "Why?"

"The Sabbat guard that place with Mac-10's and shotguns. All over it too. At night, they even have vampires running around."

Just great. Bertram obviously had a way in, but then I was stuck. I was going to have to hope I could master my Shadows before I had to fight for my life, or go in like Ripley or Sarah Connor. Where does one get an assault rifle in California? Preferably one of those Rambo types that used several hundred rounds and had full auto.

I shook my head, but that just meant more killing. It was really tempting to run for it, but then I'd probably be hunted down like the Thin Bloods on the beach. I was being forced to kill, like the first guy I'd killed. The fact that they were likely all involved with my torture in the days before my "death" did little to assuage my conscious, but I guess I was going to have to accept it. They were the enemy, my enemy, and I was going to have to get used to it. Maybe I needed to accept that I was going to have to kill eventually.

"Oh, before I forget, take this," he said, sliding me a drivers license. The guy in the picture wasn't asian, but the picture was so terrible I couldn't tell if he were heavily tanned or a brother. "I took that off the guy, but it's not him. Hope it helps you find him."

Great, detective work. Who did Knox think I am, anyway? Nancy Drew? "Alright, if I can find anything, I'll deal with it and let you know," I said, getting up.

I needed to talk with Therese, and Knox's problems weren't helping. I went over to the elevator, hit the button and waited. The doors opened after a brief wait, and I took it up to Therese's private room. I didn't wait, knowing she was expecting me and walked in on Jeannette putting her stockings on. Well, shit. Didn't want to see that.

"Not even a knock? I could have been undressing, and who knows what I would've had to do to you. You're here to see her royal majesty, Queen Victoria, aren't you?"

"Yea, just made it back from the Ocean House Hotel, and I brought that item for Therese."

"Well, she's out making a showing of how well her lips meet up with the Camarilla's backside," she said, finally straightening out up and facing me. "So, can I see it?"

Yea, right. I knew better than to let anyone have it besides Therese. I've watched enough movies to know better than to let anyone else handle the final part of a deal. Jeanette would probably throw it down a drain, or worse, take credit for my success. "Sorry, but I'm only giving it to Therese."

Jeanette started pouting. "I'm not just some silly doll, you know," she whined. "All my life my sister has made me out to be a joke. She told you I was an embarrassment, didn't she? That I couldn't tie my shoes, let alone hold on to something for her. Is that it?

"She's always belittling me," she said, sitting in front of her mirror and adding her Gothic white face paint. "She's the smart one, she's the favorite, the success. Well it's not fair! This club's success is just as much my doing as it hers!"

"I understand," I said, "but I still can't give it to you."

"Fine, you hold on to it," she said, her tone now patronizing. Oh, she was up to something.

"Hmm, since you were so willing to brave that big, spooky place for my darling sister, how 'bout doing a teensy, tiny favor for little, troubled me?"

"First, what is it?"

"Do you know Gallery Noir, next to the beach parking? I happen to know there's a charity event being organized there. Lots of influential Santa Monicans slithering in for token appearances. But there's one thing thing they don't know. The whole event's been set up by a Kindred trying to establish their own power clique in our city. We can't let that happen, can we? So I need a young upstart to spoil the milk.

"I promise it won't take long. Take this knife," she said, pulling a knife from under her dresser and handing it to me, "Give the paintings a good slashing. Don't get caught and don't turn it into a massacre. And steal the charity box, would you? Buy yourself something velvet."

"Fine. I do it and the feud will be called off?" This was starting to sound a lot like politics, and I hated politics with a passion reserved for well, politicians.

"I'm sure Therese will be thrilled to honor your agreement when you get back. But in the meantime, get to the museum and ruin those paintings, then come back tomorrow. Therese should be back then." I turned to leave, but then she spoke up.

"There was something about the paintings, what was it? O well, can't remember. Have fun duckling!"

I continued out the door, but her words haunted me. I dropped the knife into my bag, and entered the elevator, riding it down to the main floor. Knox still sat nursing his beer, and I just turned for the door, wanting to get it over with. Finding the beach access was easy, just head west, and doubled back to find Gallery Noir. Small place, a few lights on, and an overweight, a sleepy eyed security guard standing half in shadow watching the front door. Pitiful. At least there was a rear door down the alley. Noticing the barred "windows" along the side, I went back inside the parking garage and noticed a set at near the door that was rusted. Too easy with my strength to pop them loose.

I crawled through the window to the alley, heading for the rear door. I doubted the security guard would even notice. Rent-a-Cop wannabe. I had actually made it to the door, lockpick in hand, before I was noticed. Well, he was somewhat useful.

"Hey!" he shouted at me, running down the alley. "Hold on a minute there. I'm afraid you're committing a three-fifty one, tresspassing on private property. I'm gonna' have to ask that you vacate the premises immediately or I'll be forced to radio this in."

Two thoughts hit me fast, either leave, or kill him. I turned to face him, and decided to see if I could try for a third option. Eat him. I was hungry after all. Got to keep better tabs on that.

"Wow," I said, laying on the charm and cocking a hip. "The way you said that was so, commanding."

"Well, missy, that's just a natural response that people have to someone in my kind of position." The risk, the prestige, the authority," he said, sticking his chest out and doing his best to suck his oversized gut in. "It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it."

"Wanna know a secret?" I said, running a hand over his flabby arm, pretending he was really hot stuff. "Power is a real turn-on for me."

"Uh, yeah," he said, blushing hard. "It's the uniform, you know. Women just can't get over the uniform."

"Oh, don't stop talking," I breathed into his ear.

"Well, if I continue to engage you in conversation it's a violation of code six-one-three. You know, uh, you and me should hook up after I get off my shift."

Wasn't planning on waiting that long. "How about we get to know each other right now?" I breathed, then sank my fangs into his neck. He groaned as I drained him, taking most of his overly-sweet blood, then lowered him into the shadows

With the security guard out of the way, I picked the lock with ease and entered the gallery. There were four paintings already on display, arranged in the corners. I walked over to the one closest to me, pulling the knife from my bag. I slashed the knife across the canvas, then jerked back as the canvas glowed red and screamed in agony as some of my blood was ripped through my skin.

I stumbled away, looking at my arm, seeing it was already mending. That was new. Must be what Jeanette said about the paintings be "off." I began studying the paintings, noticing each one was marked with a golden sign. The one I had tried to slash first was marked "Cain Cursed By God." The one directly across from it was marked "Cain Kills Abel." Biblical Cain? I looked back at the other two, "Cain Meets Lillith," and "Cain Spurns Lillith." A sequence?

I slashed the "Cain Kills Abel" painting, but the painting stayed slashed. And my blood stayed inside. I walked over to "Cain Cursed By God" painting, then slashed it. Again, nothing happened, and that left me wondering. What kind of Kindred could do this? Taking a last look at the other two, decided that you'd have to meet someone before you could spurn them, and slashed them in that order. As I slashed the last one, a line of blood oozed from the canvas and I dove to the side, afraid of being attacked.

The blood formed a river, and as I looked at the center of the room, saw that it was pooling blood from all the paintings, and from somewhere behind me. I never got a chance to figure out from where, the blood coalesced into a form, that of a man, but nothing besides blood was there. It seemed to look at me, then charged at me.

I failed to do more than raise my arm to shield myself, before the creature slashed at my arm. He hit like a baseball bat and knocked me back. I caught myself at the wall, and brought my knife up and slashed at it. We circled each other, then it brought a hand up to slash me, but I dove right, rolled behind it, then used my Potence ability to bury the knife to the hilt in its back.

He reared back and then pitched forward, trying to throw me off, but thanks to my Potence and now much increased strength, was able to drag the knife down his back. It fell to its knees, and I pulled the knife out. Grabbing the creature by its head, I cut its head off clean off in one vicious swipe, and it dissolved into a pile of ash. Looking at my arm, I could see the large, bloodless gash that was healing a little too slow for me to be seen in public for a bit.

I looked around, finding the a small box marked charity and pulled out my lockpick. Didn't take a moment with the cheap lock to have it open, and pulled out three hundred in cash which I stashed in my bag. I then left by the rear door, and after crawling through the window I had opened up. I stopped to inspect my arm, finding it nearly healed, then decided to see if I could find Lily.


Chapter Text

Chapter 9 – Tying Loose Ends


As far as diners went, I only knew of one, and I returned to it. I was tempted to go up to Jeannette and Therese's room and tell whichever one was there there job was done. As I looked at the door to Asylum though, I wanted nothing to do with those crazy sisters. I wanted out of this devil's contract, and the chance to find my own niche, whatever that may be.

Entering the diner, I found it mostly empty except for the short-order cook and the old lady at the register. She eyed me absently, and I walked up to her.

"What'll it be, honey?" she asked, in a tired, nasal voice.

"You ever see any pale, kind of strange types in here, really late at night?"

"That a trick question?"

Ok, so maybe a little more direct-ness is needed. "You see any girl's hanging out here? Pale girls?"

"Pale girls? Like the Fitzsimmons' albino? She hasn't been here in ages."

So no vampires. Maybe Lily wasn't the pale type, or maybe she hadn't paled out yet from a serious tan. "Ever hear the term 'thin blood?"

"Thin blood, sounds familiar. That one of those tropical diseases?"

Elation nearly had my heart beating. She was here. "Try to remember, I'm trying to find a friend. She's kind of a strange, pretty girl that would have been by recently. She's gone missing and I'm trying to find her."

"Oh, that girl. Nice girl. First decent human being I've seen in here for years. Not like all the junkies and crazies I normally see. Yeah, I remember her. Weird? She left a tip but didn't order a thing. Looked so hungry, too. Just sat there all night with a full glass of water in front of her, talking about this and that. She seemed lonely, scared, so I let her stay in the booth as long as she wanted. She left her stuff here, why don't you give it back if you find her."

"Sure," I said, taking the purse, "Thanks for telling me she was here.

I left the diner, then turned down the sidewalk, pausing underneath a lamp-post to examine what was in the purse. Not much, besides the lint, but I did find a photo of a girl with red hair in a tye dye tank top and low cut jeans. The back of said photo marked it as Lily, and was taken the month before at the beach where E and the thin bloods hid at. Also there was a printed receipt from Kilpatrick Bail Bonds for a Rolf Toten and a set of car keys. As far as leads went, this one went nowhere, but the bail bond might lead me to someone who might know where Lily went.

I checked a nearby phonebook for the address, and found it was just down the street from here. A quick walk later found me at a dingy little shoebox of a building. There was a small neon open sign still lit in the front, so I went on in. The dingy-ness extended inside the building, and the room's only occupant was a slightly overweight man in a red shirt and black slacks.

"Welcome to Kilpatrick Twenty-Four Hour Bail Bonds. My name's Arthur Kilpatrick. How can I help you?"

"Looking for some information on a person you bonded out. Name's Rolf Toten."

"Toten, huh. I remember him. Bonded him out just a few weeks ago. Euro-trash prick. His girlfriend bonded him out, put up her car as collateral."

Well, that told me just about nothing. Something nagged on my brain though, something a guy had told me back in high school. License plates…

"Got the license plate number? I'm trying to find her, return her purse." Ok, it was flimsy, but like I had anything to work with?

"Sure, the car is in the parking garage at the beach, anyway. Had it booted so it couldn't be disposed of," he said, sitting to his computer and looking up the information. After writing it down, another thought occurred to me.

"Wouldn't happen to know a Virgil Crumb? I found his driver's license on the sidewalk, and was about to mail it in to the DMV."

"Crumb? Might as well throw that ID in the trash, he's dead. Had to go to the morgue below the clinic yesterday and identify the body. Don't know what got into that guy, but he ain't right."

"Thanks Arthur," I called as I headed out, glad that I had at least a clue. Didn't know if that would help me or not. I headed back to the parking garage, knowing I was mainly just burning time. I still had like five hours till I met Sharron, so I could at least hunt down Lily. Since I had the license plate number, and vehicle model, it wasn't hard to find the car. I used Lily's car keys to unlock the trunk, finding nothing but a spare and some crumpled up papers, and a journal. I took the journal out and looked at it, and skimmed through it.

Most of what it covered was Lily meeting Rolf, the time she was turned, and her time as Kindred, up until last week. It also covered her meeting and accidentally turning E, and that he forced her out of his life. The last entry said she was going to the blood bank to steal some blood because she couldn't bring herself to feed anymore.

So, the blood bank was where Lily went. That meant I'd need to speak with ghoul boy again. Well, at least ghoul boy would know what happened to her. I put the planner and purse back in the trunk and closed it, then headed back for the clinic. I could also check the morgue for Crumb, see where that led me. I used the back door for the Blood Bank, soon finding myself looking at ghoul boy again.

"Need a fix?"

"Information. Young red-headed Kindred name of Lily came here not long ago to get blood, need to know what happened to her."

"Never heard of her," he said, his face carefully neutral.

That just struck me as wrong, if he remembered me, he should have remembered her. So he was hiding something. "Then you won't mind if I check things out?"

"Nobody is allowed back here, orders from the Queen Bitch herself."

I wonder if Brian talks that way about me? "Listen ghoul, Therese might not be able to rip through this wall, but I can," I threatened. "Open the door, or find out what we're like when we're angry, then you can say hello to my shadows. They scared that poor security guard to death."

He looked worried, and finally grumbled, "Fine."

I heard the door beside me buzz open, and I opened it. I started forward, finding the first hallway was a row of freezers. I checked each one, finding no bodies in it. The first one had a keypad in the back. Odd, what were they hiding?

I went back and continued my door to door search, but the door behind the freezers was locked. So they were hiding something. Letting my strength flow through my arm, I twisted the lock and broke it. Opening the door, I found Lily strapped into a donor chair, an empty bag of blood was hooked into her, and I wondered if they were keeping her alive for experimentation, or torture. Judging by the amount of blood on the floor around the two donor chairs, I'd say torture.

"Hunger, I need it," she breathed, head still hung down. She looked up at me, but there was hardly any life there, just a glassy sheen. "A drop of it on my tongue, I can smell it everywhere, blood..."

I started walking forward when she started talking again.

"Let me go," she said, pleading with me. "It's painful, like I'm going to die. It's calling, never felt like this before."

"Hang on, Lily," I said, undoing her straps. "I'll get you out of here."

I was just unfastening the last strap when the door opened. The orderly was saying something but Lily flashed by me in one step, jumped to the wall on the second, and tackled the orderly with the third. I watched her as she fed on the orderly, then as she finished she turned back to face me. It was like looking into a predator's face, our true face. She got up, leaving the orderly on the floor. I looked at his chest and it had stopped breathing, telling me he was dead.

"The heat, it's never been so satisfying. All of it, I drank until I heard his heart stop and I was sucking on a dry dead artery. It was euphoric," she said, a wicked grin on her face. Then her face lost it's glow, and she suddenly looked worried. "But I've, I've killed him. I've never killed anyone before. What happened? What came over me?"

Damn. I was hoping she had some answers. "I was hoping you could tell me. It's happened to me once before. I didn't kill anyone, but it took over. You are Lily? Toten's girl?"

"Yeah. He left me here, last year. I tried to steal some blood, heard they sold it here. I was hungry and I can't hunt in town. They caught me and," she said, leaning against the wall, shaking her head, "strapped, trapped me. I thought I'd never escape. But I've killed a man, I have to get out of here."

I shook my head. Here was what I was afraid of becoming, a lonely, trapped woman unable to hunt and dying of unnatural thirst. Without being on the inside, accepting my new condition and the liabilities that came with it, I was going to be stuck on some beach, hoping to prey on some lost and lonely soul, hoping that I was never caught. It wasn't worth it, and I silently promised I wouldn't let myself be ousted. I was going to have to be the undead predator, even if it meant I'd have to kill to stay in.

"You're the one E told me about. I hunted you down so to find out more about his condition."

"I tried to tell E about that, but he was so furious at me for what I'd made him into he wouldn't listen. A thin blood, from what I've been told, is a vampire whose blood is weaker than most. Rolf, my Sire, told me some vampires consider Thin Bloods a bad omen and want them destroyed. Rolf wasn't a Thin Blood, and apparently I am. I don't know why. Rolf anbandoned me. His clan wouldn't take me in. They said I was a liability.

"He left me with so many questions, and I did the same thing to E, but I didn't want to leave. He forced me out of his life. I should go, I have to get out of here, out of this city, soon."

"You should go see E," I told her, even as she was eying the door. "He forgives you and wants to see you. He was the one who sent me to find you."

"E doesn't hate me anymore," she said, looking back at me, hope coming into her eyes.

"Quite the opposite. You should go talk to him."

"I'll go see him," she said, moving into the door then turning back to see me one last time. "Thank you. What I did, here, please don't tell E. It's not my fault. I couldn't control it. I'm no killer."

"Your welcome," I said, giving her a small smile. "Goodbye."

Lily disappeared through the door, and I started to follow her. I hadn't made it out of the door though before Therese's ghoul stopped me.

"Why'd you have to go and let that bitch out? There's one less Phil in the world now. Now I'll never get to do that bastard in myself. Well, you know what? No blood for you, no more!"

I had it with the ghoul. Letting my strength flow through my arms, I reached forward and grabbed him by the throat, swirled around and buried him to the shoulders in the wall behind me. I could also feel my the shadows swirl around me, and a glance at my arm showed them creeping towards the ghoul. The ghoul in question went slack jawed at my display of strength, and then his eyes followed the shadows creeping up my arm and then his eyes got wide.

"Listen ghoul," I spat at him, letting my anger at Lily's condition show, "I need to get blood from somewhere, and yours is just as good."

"Mistakes are made from time," he coughed. "Without them, some of us might never have been born. Here, have a freebie, my compliments." He pulled a unit of "O Positive" from the pocket of his scrubs and handed it over. I took it with my free hand, then dropped him.

"I'll be back, and next time, the service better be with a smile. Now which way to the Morgue?"

"There's a hole, in the laundry room behind you. Other side is the Morgue."

I didn't even look back, just opened the door and closed it behind me. Once I didn't have the ghoul watching me, I bit into the blood bag. It wasn't quite as good as biting into a neck, kind of tasteless, but it did take the edge off my hunger. How did Kindred survive off these things? They couldn't be cheap, and the tastelessness made me long for the sweetness of a neck to bite into.

I dropped the empty bag into the trash, and entered the morgue. I could see the wall of freezers in a glass walled room, and Crumb was laid out on a bed, apparently just have been autopsied. I went into the morgue, and checked the locker marked for patient effects, to find Crumb's personal items. The paper bag contained a broken watch, a fancy engagement ring, and a key card marked "Foxy Boxes" and his clothes. I took the key card and the ring, the latter to sell if I could find a buyer, and put the bag back.

With a new lead, I could only hope it lead me back to this person who was scaring Knox half-to-death. I headed out the door, tucking the card into my pants and the ring into my bag. They had ramped stairwells to help get the rolling beds down here, and soon I was back up in the clinic and in Malcolm's office. His phonebook was easy found, and I looked up Foxy Boxes, finding it was a warehouse not far from the beach access. Putting the book back, I left the guys office and the clinic and headed for the warehouse.

The warehouse itself was easy found, and once I had a look at the door handle could see where the card key was needed. It was one of those new card lock doors, supposedly more secure as it didn't need keys and had no lock to pick. With the card key, it was easily going through and left me in two offices. The left office was empty, but the right one had a laptop open and powered up. I checked it, finding a list of reports. The guy I was looking for was checking up on the "Cainites" in the area, which I guess meant Kindred. He seemed to catch on to Knox pretty fast, confirming his story, and also knew I was on his tail, and that I was an agent of the Prince. It left no clue as to whom he actually reported it all too, so I shut it down, closed it up, and tucked it and the power cord into my bag. If we were under surveillance, the people in charge needed to know.

He also knew I had found him, and was waiting somewhere for me, probably in the warehouse where he had the ability to snipe me or otherwise trap me. Just great. I pulled my pistol from the bag, and following Brian's instruction, checked the drum once again to make sure it was fully loaded. I tucked that in the back of my jeans, then pulled the knife from my bag. That I kept in my hand, and walked to the door marked "Warehouse." It opened easily enough, and I knelt and looked up to make sure nothing would fall on my head, then from side to side to make sure nothing was there.

It seemed safe enough, so I stepped through. I hadn't made it more than a few steps in, my heels making a nice clicking sound to give me away, when a small Asian man stepped out from behind some crates. He faced me, bowed, then hefted a hand-held crossbow. I ducked behind the nearby crates as a bolt thudded into the wall behind where I had been standing. I reached for the shadows, pulling them over me like a blanket and ran for the next set of crates. I didn't see him, so I snuck around the side, to see him setting a bolt back into his little dart thrower.

I charged at him, burying the knife into his stomach, then with my strength threw him to the ground. The small crossbow clattered from his hands, and I pulled the shadows over him, hoping if he were mortal they'd kill him. The pull on the shadows left me hungry, and I hated that I hadn't made sure to feed before getting into a fight. I picked up his small crossbow with my left hand, as the shadows started to fade over the man, but he wasn't dead. He was crouched, some sort of short katana in hand. He looked at me, with eyes wide from fear, and charged.

I caught the blade on my knife, and let it slide off the end and stabbed it in his arm. His hand went limp, and I left the knife then stepped past him, using a now empty palm to shove him over my leg hooked in behind his to trip him. Spinning around, I tried to reach for his blade, but he somehow slid underneath my hand and knocked the blade away.

I did a quick hand change on the crossbow, as he spun to face me, my knife already gone from his arm, and his short katana in his hand. I pulled the trigger, letting the bolt fly, but he jumped from his crouch and launched himself over twenty feet away. If he weren't intent on killing me, I'd ask how he did that.

I tossed the crossbow, not having a fresh bolt for it, and picked my knife up. The vampire, and I knew it was a vampire, eyed me warily. I didn't know what all he could do, as each clan seemed to do different things, but he seemed to be a warrior type. I didn't have any way of leaping like he did, but I did have shadows.

My enemy made a lunging feint, leaping to my left, and rounding the corner of the crates. I rolled clear even as he started swinging, and summoned my shadows again. I could feel the hunger roll in like a storm, raging inside me, with each boom of thunder a pain of hunger I was finding hard to ignore. The Asian vampire was caught not by a shadow, though, but by a long tendril of solid shadow that wrapped around his leg. He tried using his sword to slice the tendril, but the slice proved too shallow to separate it entirely, and it instantly healed. He had his back turned to me, and I spun the knife in my hand so the blade faced down.

It was a perfect setup, and I lunged forward and buried my knife deep into his neck. The vampire let out a screaming gurgle, and I wrenched the knife sideways in his neck, ripping out the blade through the side. My shadow tentacle had already dissipated, letting the man fall to his knees and dropped the blade so he could grasp his badly injured neck with both hands. I reached down and grabbed the blade, dropping my own knife in its place, and used it to make a quick uppercut on the vampire's neck. The blade was as sharp as its longer cousins, and it sliced clean through the hands and remaining piece of neck.

The vampire immediately crumbled to ash, consuming every easily burned item on him, leaving nothing behind but a pile of ash, with the spare bolts and scabbard for his little katana behind. I picked up my knife, and retrieved the scabbard and extra bolts, stashing all three in my bag. I pulled the gun from behind my back, retrieved the hand-held crossbow and stashed all three in my bag, though it was far from being able to fit everything. I had to pause and resituate everything, and ended up carrying the sword, and the top handle of the crossbow poked out of my bag. No way was I carrying this thing everywhere I went, and the sword would need some kind of overcoat to hide.

I left the warehouse, noting the time on the desk-clock as I passed as a little after two. I hurried back to the apartment, glad it wasn't far and went inside. Brian was sound asleep, so I didn't wake him, and dumped the overstuffed bag under his bed where it would be safe.

I looked at the sword, pulling it from it's scabbard, noticing the foreign lettering on the blade. I had no idea what it meant, but was sure I could find someone later who could tell me what it meant. I knew from my prior experience with the martial arts that swords carried into battle wore adorned with their owner's name. That made this little gem an ID card of sorts, I just had to learn how to read it. At least I had the time over the next few centuries.

I also kept forty dollars from the bag, after stowing the sword under the bed, so I could buy the services of one the girls. After that, I left the apartment and headed back down the stairs and out the door. There was indeed a hooker waiting across the street, and I hurried over to her.

"Hey sweetie, I need some loving," I said, trying to be playful. "I need some loving."

"You got forty baby?" she said between puffs from her cigarette.

"Sure," I said, handing her the money. She stuffed the money in her purse, and we went into the alley behind her. I swear I could hear her heart beat as we walked to the end of the alley, and when we turned the corner and she rolled down her tube top revealing her breasts, I could see the jugular vein throbbing in her neck. I took her in my arms, then bit deep for the jugular. Her blood was like heaven in my mouth, and I kept drawing it into my being. It lasted for a bit, but at last it began to thin and I pulled my fangs out before I took too much, licking the last of the blood from her neck.

I lowered the girl to the ground, then pilfered her purse for her cash, only finding my forty in it. I closed it back up, dropped it beside her and walked away, her blood humming in me. It felt good to be sated, and I headed straight for the diner, so I wouldn't be late. I got there, and took a booth in the back, ordering only water to drink. I sniffed it, and it seemed like a sourness had taken root in it. I put it to my lips, and tried to drink some, and immediately gagged on it. It was sour and bitter in my mouth, and I guess I couldn't stomach even that anymore.

It didn't take five minutes for Sharron to enter. The buxom enhanced bimbo with the dyed blonde hair was easy to spot, she dressed in a form fitting tube top that didn't keep the ladies from jiggling as she walked and drew every guy's eyes. She also had a pair of low cut leather pants that showed off every curve she had, with four inch heels making her hips sway with every step she took. It wasn't hard to see why she thought she could be an actress, but her one mistake, to me at least, was she was heroin chic with a boob job. It just didn't mesh well together.

She spotted me in the corner booth, and came right over, heels clacking on the linoleum tile. Sliding into the booth opposite me, I wondered how best to handle the situation, then decided the best way was to face up to what I was asking.

"Sharron," I said, deciding to introduce myself first. "I'm Eliza Flores. You decided you want in?" I asked, leaning back in my booth and pitching my voice low.

"Yeah, and you look good in what I picked out. What Brian was washing yesterday makes you look kind of...nerd-ish."

"Definitely lacks a certain aesthetic," I agreed. "I'll drop the price for you, but it's still going to be high. It does also last longer than hitting a pipe."

"Brian said it was safer too, that you can't overdose on it."

"True, but I don't know all of its effects. It's still experimental. Brian is one of my test subjects, and I was looking for a third. The cost is in the actual procurement, not in what it takes to make it."

"Experimental? So any side-effects?"

I frowned, knowing I was tap-toeing all around the 'You'll be my slave, forever' part. "Extreme dependance. Like heroin or cocaine, it takes only one hit. Some studies in mice show it to help keep mice from aging, but you have to keep taking it."

I could see her think over that for a bit, so I pressed on. "Also, it's made our mice harder to kill. We don't understand the why yet," I said, bending over to study my glass of water as if I was trying to contemplate the a vast and highly complex problem. When I looked up, I could almost see something in her eyes. Hope maybe? The secret to eternal life?

"You mean your lab might have the cure for aging? Ok, major nerd issues here, but what do you need me and Brian for?"

"Mice can only tell us so much," I lied, trying to think of a plausible reason I'd need human test subjects so soon. "Brian is going to be testing the physical nature side of things. Healing factors and so on. He's in on it free for that as it does still hurt to get beat up. My first test subject is actually displaying better warrior capabilities, using the hard-to-kill nature to increase their endurance and strength."

"The first? Who?"

I shrugged, why not tell her a bit. "Me. I was hoping to make Dennis an offer, farm some of the experiments and profits out, but his flat refusal almost ended my life. I'm not kidding when I say this drug makes you harder to kill. Dennis shot me five times at point blank range to the chest just a few days ago. Pulled the bullets myself, not even a scar."

Her mouth dropped open at that. It was unbelievable, but the truth was in connecting the few dots she'd been given. Dennis's death, Brian having a new boss, a new drug, yeah, she wasn't a complete idiot. "Why did he not like it."

"He wanted the formula to make it himself. Just means he wants to cut me out, which I can't have. He got mad and threatened to use me for shark bait. The long and short is, he's dead and I'm still looking for test subjects. But I'm willing to drop the price back, a lot, to get a few. I just have to add a few things. One, any problems, any whatsoever, you come to Brian. And two, you can never tell anyone you're on this and what it's doing for you."

"Do I still have to hit the eight ball?"

"I don't know. That's one you'll have to figure out. Just be careful about it. Might just make you sick, might just make you jittery. Might even break the hold of it and just leave you dependent on this. That's why I need test subjects."

"So how much?"

"I'll drop it back to five hundred, with the price of the first hit delayed until your second hit, IF you want to hit it again."

"So a thousand in a month? Okay," she said, nodding her head. "When can I get the first hit?"

"Tonight, say seven. Should be back by then," I said, pretending to drink the swill in my glass. Had to keep up appearances, right? "Meet me back at Brian's, and I'll have it ready then."

"Great, I'll see you then," she said, getting up from the booth.

I followed her out, and while she called a nearby taxi, while I headed straight for Asylum across the street. I had one last thing to do before I could do whatever I wanted. Entering Asylum, Knox was still nursing his beer, though his glass was almost empty. I sat at his table, and he looked blearily at me, taking another sip of the amber brew.

"Did you find him?"

I nodded, a smile at my lips. "I got him. Definitely Kindred. Left nothing behind but a pile of ash and his weapons."

"Wow, that guy was really fast!"

"Not fast enough. Caught him in the shadows, and then I showed him who the mistress of all shadows is," I told him, knowing bravado was a sure way of getting dead. Well, dead-er in my case.

"Great," he said, reaching into his jacket and tossing me a small wad of money. "Thanks for helping out. If I see my master, I'll let him know you're looking for him."

I took the money, and stood up. "Thanks Knox. Keep it safe out there, ok. Seems like he was spearheading some kind of invasion. They think Santa Monica is weak, and if that guy wasn't their best, we might be in for some serious trouble."

Knox paled at that, but nodded. He took another long drought of his drink, finishing it. "Think I'll stay here for a bit. Drown the worries."

I let Knox drown his sorrows, and left Asylum. Turning back to the clinic, I needed a fresh set of blood draw kits. I used the Blood Bank entrance, then cut left for the clinic itself. At the T-section, I cut right and found the supply closet at the end. Ducking inside the empty room, I rummaged through the cabinets for two kits, tucking those in my cleavage, and then then four empty tubes to fill joined them.

I didn't stick around. I might have a few hours left before sunrise, but I didn't want to get caught out either. That didn't end too well for Dracula either. I stopped by a newspaper stand, and got a paper on my way out of the clinic. Figured if nothing else I'd look for apartments for rent. Back at the apartment, Brian was just getting out of the shower when I walked in.

"Good, she'll be here at sunset tonight for her fix," I said, fishing the blood kits and tubes out of my cleavage. "I'm giving it to her for free, but she's also been told to come to you if she has problems. Try not to tell her more than she already knows. She also believes it's some kind of new experimental drug. I did tell her about the anti-aging properties, and that she'll be more resistant to dying, but that's about all she knows. Don't tell her it's my my blood okay?"

"Alright. Anything I need to do today?"

"See about a long coat, preferably black leather. Just find out how much it will cost, and shop at several stores, I want to get a good price."

"As you wish, mistress," he said, as he sat on his bed with his magazine. It was a different magazine, the cover having some kind of fish on it. Men and their toys.

I turned the news on, and sat at the end of the bed on the floor to read my paper. I found several places with several bedrooms, most being over a grand a month. I'd also need furniture, and that was just increasing the cost. I also considered using a motel room, but if the cleaning lady found me playing corpse, I'd wake up in the morgue if I was lucky, ash if I wasn't. No, I needed a private place where no unwelcome guests would find my corpse. No, even as the sky brightened on me, I knew I'd have to have a private suite, I just needed to find something affordable, even if my eye kept going to the higher end apartments near Beverly Hills.

Like I'd ever be able to afford that.

I folded my newspaper and placed it on the desk, then went into the bathroom and stripped out of my new clothes. I unfolded my bedroll in the shower stall, and wrapped a towel around me. I took my clothes out and laid them beside the desk then went back into the bathroom and settled into my spot as the sun began to rise. I didn't even fight it, and let myself slide off into sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 – Bad Blood and Sibling Rivalry


The next night saw me blast straight through my routine. I was actually ready in my usual blah gray clothes, a vial of blood already pulled and waiting when Sharron came through the door. She surprised me, showing up in something resembling reasonable. She wore a blue t-shirt over a pair of skinny jeans, and her heels were only two inches. Her hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, and her makeup was light.

"You got it?" she asked, after Brian had shut the door. I pulled out the vial of blood and handed it to her.

"Just pop the top, and drink. Same stuff that me and Brian are on."

"It, it looks like blood," she said, eying the contents.

"Same stuff I took," Brian said. "That's the best though."

"Okay, then," she said, popping the top. With a quick motion, she downed a dose of my blood. "Hmmm," she purred. "it works so fast."

"Just remember, any problems at all, come back here, and don't tell anyone about taking it," I said, knowing she was enthralled by my blood to do my bidding. "And remember, if you want your next fix, you'll have a thousand for me."

"Yes, ma'am," she said, turning for the door. She had it open and was stepping out, when she turned back. "Anything for you," she breathed, a smile on her lips as she closed the door behind her.

Once the door was closed and I was sure she was gone, I turned to Brian. "How did the hunt for a long coat go?"

"Seems like one hundred fifty will buy a cheap one, though a heavier coat can cost upwards of three hundred. A cheap coat for just keeping the chill off is like fifty."

Reaching under the bed, I pulled out my messenger bag and the short katana-like sword and placed both on the bed. "I kind of wanted a coat long enough to hide this while I wore it," I said, modeling the sword against my back. "Which coat do you think is long enough?"

"I'd go with a leather coat, about knee length. Kind of expensive, but if you want to carry that thing, or a sawed-off shotgun, couldn't get better."

"Give me a few nights to think it over, and to see what's to come," I said, having dumped the bags content on the desk, and slid only the essentials back into the bag. Those essentials being the Astrolite, the thirty-eight, and some ammo. "Hopefully I get to see Tung before the nights over. If it's early enough, I might go ahead and blow that warehouse. So I might not be back for a day or two."

"I'll be here, waiting," he said, kicking back on his bed, and pulling a magazine from under the mattress. It was another Playboy, and I seriously didn't want to know what was in it. Men.

I left the apartment, and walked past the "ladies" on my way to Asylum. I was a little hungry, but their blood lacked any pizazz. Once through the door at Asylum, I checked the bar. No one was hanging around, so I headed over to the elevator and took it to the top floor. I no more got inside the door where Therese sat behind her desk when she sharply stood up and locked eyes with me.

"You, that was MY event at the Gallery! Did you think I wouldn't find out!" she yelled.

"But," I started to say, reaching into my bag, when she cut me off.

"Shut up! I thought I could control my sister as long as Tung was out of the picture, but nothing's changed! I should have expected you'd succumb to Jeanette's wild influence like all the others. But how dare you!" she said, eying my hand as I withdrew it from the bag.

"I didn't do it!" I tried to protest. I had the locket in my hand but Therese was on a full rag.

"Don't lie to me! Jeannette already confessed she tricked you into doing it! But that's still no excuse for your ruining my important celebrity function."

I held out the amulet, trying to sound as meek and persuasive as I could. "I swear I didn't do it. I even brought you the item from the Ocean House."

Therese stalked forward real fast and snatched the locket from my hand, then eyed me. Her eyes were as cold as a snake, and I worried she might have some kind of speed power. I so did not want to get staked again.

"Jeanette claimed you did it for her, but let's say I believe you. After all, you've acted decently and rationally up to now. I imagine you'd still like me to call off the feud?" She eyed me, and I must have said yes by entire body language because she continued on. "There's only one problem. If Tung gets word that I've threatened Jeanette, which he most certainly already has, it's not likely he'll believe me. So, in order to call off the feud, you're going to have to convince Jeanette to forgive me first."

"Couldn't I just kill her?" I tried to ask, then smiled as if I was only making a joke. "I'd be happy to talk to her."

"I've asked her to me at the diner across the street, to reconcile, but I'm busy with the club and other endeavors. I'd like you to go to the diner and promise her that I don't plan to take any action against her. Wait for in the back booth, near the phones."

"I'll go, then the feud is off?"

"Yes, I'll call it off once I've spoken with her myself."

Feeling dismissed, I left her room and took the elevator back to the dance floor and left out the front door. I headed across the street to the Diner and went in. The place was almost empty, the short order cook was cleaning the grill when I walked in. I went to the back booth and sat down, waiting for Jeanette to show up, though with an airhead like that, I might be waiting all night long.

I was just starting to wonder if I should email the Prince to settle Therese's problems when four men walked in. I was just about to dismiss them when the first one through the door raised a shotgun and blasted it towards me. I felt the sting as the buckshot tore at my face and arm, even as I rolled under the table. I could hear more shots ring out, smaller and more like fireworks going off, with small splinters flying around me. Okay, these guys needed a reminder where they stood on the food chain.

In a few seconds, when everyone's gun was empty and being reloaded, I exploded from under the table and charged the thugs. A thug on the right was the first to snap his pistol back together, and the first to find out how strong I was when I grabbed his wrist and shoved it under his chin. Pulling the hammer back with my trigger finger, I mashed the trigger with my thumb and the gun discharged into the man's brain.

Picking the man up with now free hands, I dumped him on the nearest thug. The man with the shotgun had finally finished inserting bullets into his big gun and I reached over and yanked on it, pulling it from his hands before he could even shoulder it. The last thug raised his pistol, and I planted a foot against his ribs, tossing him to the wall. Spinning the shotgun around, I blasted his chest wide open. The thug who I'd dumped the body on, cocked his pistol, and I put a shot directly into his face before getting an awful earache from a thirty-eight which caused me to drop the shotgun in pain and surprise.

I spun on the frightened youth, seeing nothing but red, and charged him. He let fly with the rest of his pistol, the five shots impacting my chest, and I fell on top of him and extended my fangs and bit for his neck. The guy must have been a wrestling champion because he got his arm between us, and flipped me off him. His mistake, was instead of wrestling me, he tried to scramble for the shotgun. I jumped on his back and sank my fangs in, sucking in mouth-fulls of his precious blood. He didn't last long after that, and as soon as his heart faltered I pulled away.

I then picked up the shotgun, which was just in front of me and inspected it. It was too long to carry, and I wiped my prints off with a napkin. The short-order cook was still cowered under the counter, and I stepped into the bathroom to check my wounds. I didn't feel anything missing, and a lack of holes had me confident enough to leave. I was just stepping out of the bathroom when the phone rang. Figuring it might be Therese with news on Jeanette, I answered it.

"Hello?"

"Miss Flores, I'm terribly sorry about that. My sister was furious about your refusal to take part in her designs, so she sent those men to kill you. I'm going to make sure that it never happens again."

"I take it you got the chance to talk to Jeanette, then?" She better, or I was thinking of using that shotgun on her.

"Yes, I did. Drop by, we'll take care of this Tung business."

"On my way," I said, hanging up the phone. Great, now I could down to the really gritty, then as I saw the carnage I had already unleashed on the kill squad. Pitiful, weak humans. I guess I really am the top of the food chain.

I left the diner just in time to hear sirens approaching, and scurried across the street to Asylum when a cop car slid to a stop in front of the diner. I didn't wait around, in case anyone saw me and headed inside and took the elevator to Therese's room. I walked in, to see Therese holding a pistol on the wall. Though when she looked at me, yeah, I wondered why I didn't see it before. Asylum, as in Insane Asylum.

Half of her face was the professional businesswoman I was trying to work with. But the other half was the makeup clad face of Jeanette, including her ponytail. Twin sisters, both of the same clan, no way to tell them apart. No wonder no one saw it.

"You," Therese said, locking eyes with me, gun swinging in my direction. "I'll deal with you in a moment. Now, I'm going to make sure she never crosses me again."

"Don't listen to her! She'll kill us both! Save me and I'll help you find Bertram I swear!"

"Shut up, Jeannette! I warned you to stay away from Tung. He's turned you against me! I always looked out for you! But you couldn't stand my success, you had to meddle, didn't you? I didn't want it to end like this but you forced me!"

"You never gave me credit for anything, Therese! I was the one calling the shots! Bertram was dancing on my leash!"

They eyed me, and I honestly didn't know who to support in this insane fight. If both knew where Tung was, I could support either one. I guess the biggest question was, which side did I trust more? I needed more information on these two nuts.

"Why are you both fighting?" It was a simple question, and one I needed an answer to.

"Isn't it obvious? I'm about to rid the night of this deviant, backstabbing whore! Do you realize that, despite her condition, she still," Therese paused, face screwed up in disgust, "fornicates! With Kine, no less!"

Kine? Must be humans. They did seem to have their own weird words for everything. But we could still do it? Damn, I'm missing out.

"You're one to talk, dear sister," Jeanette's high voice said. "Or should I say Daddy's little girl? Do you want to know just how depraved the Baron of Santa Monica can be?"

Therese's deeper voice then shouted, "Shut up, Jeanette!"

"You'd love the world to think you're a saint, when you thought I was asleep, I used to hear father come in at night. I heard him whisper in your ear before he..."

Therese's deeper voice shouted again, "Don't finish that sentence or you're dead!"

"Both of you stop!" I shouted at them. Yeesh, no wonder she was crazy. Who knew how long she'd been molested.

"Don't you want to hear what happened?" Jeanette asked. "How she became the pillar of the community she is today?"

"Stop it right now," I commanded, as Therese began to point the gun towards her head, while the other arm held it off. "Both of you."

"Don't try and stop me," Therese said, as she struggled with her other half. "I've had to overlook her treachery, her seduction," then shook her head, "relations, with my enemies and the consequences of it. But I won't endure her any longer."

"Endure me?" Jeannette asked, hurt in her voice. "You've done everything you could to smother me. You'd love to bury me in your closet, along with all your other skeletons."

"I'm the good girl," Therese said, exerting herself to overpower her other half. You'd think she would have done it by now, but maybe she was left handed. "You're the wicked one. You've done nothing but plot against me when I had our best interests at heart. And despite that, I've always covered up your mistakes. I've taken care of you. And this is how you repay me?"

"Taken care of me?" Jeannette said, disbelieving. "You've done nothing but keep me down, blamed me for every mistake. Did you expect me to let you rule my life until the end of time? No, sister, you've had it coming since our last sunrise."

"Is that right, dear?" Therese mocked. "If it wasn't for me, you would never survived this long. Remember? They tried to seperate us, but I refused. I chose this life and I brought you into it so that we could stay together. Obviously, you've forgotten."

I needed to get a handle on this, and like now. "If you both want to continue to exist, you're going to have to live with each other." Okay, it sounded lame, but it was getting their attention.

"She's a control freak!" Jeannette said. "People, things, emotions. And if she can't control something, she gets rid of it."

"And you're a wild animal. You'll rub up anything that'll take you in for the night. Then, when you're stuffed and bored, you bite the hand that fed you."

"Both of you have been working against each other. Together, you'd be a power."

"I don't think that's possible," Therese said, kind of quiet. "How could I ever think to trust her again?"

"Trust me?" Jeannette said, surprise in her voice. "Who could trust you after what happened with Father dearest?"

"Father loved me. I was a good girl," Therese said, hurt over Jeanette's words. "I always did what I was told. You always hated that he loved me. You disobeyed him. You brought men home when he wasn't there. You were an awful daughter to him."

Wow, no wonder these two hated each other with a passion. "That's in the past," I said, trying to persuade the two from letting blood flow. I so didn't need the Prince's ire from all this drama. "Forget about it."

"How can I forget that Therese killed father with the shotgun after catching him in bed with me? Blew his mind all over the silly clown wallpaper."

"That's a lie, Therese said rather quickly. "Father killed himself because of Jeannette. She made him miserable."

"As I recall," Jeannette said, smiling a bit at the memory, "he died with a smile on his face."

"Forget about the past, you two need each other to move on," I said, trying to be the sage of wisdom. Right now, I really wished I'd brought the shotgun.

“Why?" Therese demanded, pulling the pistol away from Jeannette's hand. At least I think it was Jeannette's. "How will this time be any different?"

"Think of how powerful you could both be if you worked together," I said, hoping they bought it and inching my hand into my bag for my knife.

"Therese doesn't like to share," Jeannette pointed out.

"Jeannette's irresponsible," Therese countered. "She's undependable. A venture like mine requires class and distinction, which is something a pig-tailed, face-painting harlot does not lend very well."

"You do have a way with words, sister," Jeannette said in what I though was mock sincerity. "You're right, I'm not in the same class, am I? I mean, murderers are so respectful these days." Okay, that last part was just pure sarcasm.

"Therese, let Jeannette have more responsibility."

"More responsibility?" Therese nearly shrieked. "So that she can ruin every opportunity I give her?"

"Of course," Jeannette mocked. "You're the only one who can secure zoning permits and shake hands. I'd never be able to keep up!"

"Jeannette, stop sabotaging your sister's plans."

"But I only do it out of love," she pouted.

"You do it because you're vindictive and jealous," Therese spat.

"And you deserve it!" Jeannette shouted back.

"If you call a truce and run this place equally, there's no need to kill each other," I said, trying to keep calm even though I had my hand wrapped around a knife.

"If she would stop treating me like a child!" Jeannette yelled.

"If you would start behaving like a rational adult!" Therese yelled back.

Okay, almost there. Now we need some common ground. "You must have gotten along at one time, right?"

"Yes," Jeanette said, almost in a whisper. "There was a time."

"When I was a child," Therese started, almost in the same whisper. "I didn't have many friends. I suppose Jeannette was the only one. We never did get to go out of the house much. Father wouldn't allow us."

"He said we'd get hurt," Jeannette's slight higher whisper told me. "So we stayed together inside and we imagined our own worlds. And we spent so much time there, together, ruling over those places those were..."

"Happier times," Therese's deeper whisper finished. "Before we grew apart."

I swear, it was like listening to a bad ventriloquist act. "You don't really want to kill each other, do you?"

"I never did," Jeanette said.

"No, I guess I don't," Therese said. "Jeanette, if I were to give, offer, you equal control in Santa Monica, would you quit consorting with Tung?"

"I'll stop working against you with him," Jeannette said, "But since I've got him in my pocket already, there's no reason for me not to pay him a visit once in a while, when he can be of use."

"That's not a bad plan," Therese said. "There's just one more thing. I want to be in charge of Santa Monica, but only pubicly. I want you to continue to convince others that are relations are strained. That way..."

"We know who our enemies are," Jeannette finished. "I agree."

"Give me the gun, Therese," I asked.

"Here, take it," Therese said, giving me the pistol.

"Tung's hiding out in an abandoned oil tank at the old gas station," Jeannette said. I'll tell him to expect a visitor and be extra nice."

"Thanks," I told them, heading for the door.

"And keep your tongue tied tight about what happened tonight," Jeannette called to me.

"Or we'll have to kill you," Therese finished.

I smiled, with my back turned to them. They had to say something. Well, they might be older, but if all they could do was run a club, maybe they needed a lesson. I pulled on the shadows, drawing them to me like a mother to her children, and watched their faces falter from smug satisfaction to horror. I pulled the darkness over every source of light, until they were barely visible, then my Shadow sight kicked in. I could see they were horrified at the shadows surrounding them, so I opened the door and let them see me, even as I darkened the light there too.

"Kill me? I'm not four days old, and already done more than either of you seem capable of. Want to kill me? Come join me in the shadows and I'll show you a party," I threatened, then walked out, letting the shadows fade back to the room. I hated bullies, but now, I guess I was one of the bigger bullies in town. What could they do anyway? Party hearty?

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 – Demolition Party


It didn't take long to find the gas station they mentioned. It had a chain link fence around the place, but the gate was unlocked. I opened the gate up, and walked in, finding the large, rusted out tank behind the building. The guy inside? Well, maybe losing my reflection wasn't so bad. He was hideous, and I mean beaten to death by the ugly tree and risen again as a Kindred. His head was rather bulbous, as if it had grown several large cysts, and the rest of his face was rather angular and sunken; like a starving cro-magnon man with those ridges over eyes and sunken cheeks.

"Tung? I presume," I said, stepping through the rusted out hole into the Kindred's living space.

"One and only," he said in a rather deep and gravelly voice. "No need to introduce yourself, Miss Flores. I know who you are. News travels down the Kindred grape vine like wildfire. And that courtroom spat between Lacroix and Rodriguez is a juicy morsel, with you in the middle. How interesting."

"Great, so you can get me into that warehouse?"

"I've been watching the place. The Sabbat has a bunch of lowlife humans working day and night to move stuff through there. There's some major staging going on since Simeon died."

"Just humans?"

"As far as I can tell. The humans seem to know the score from the way they've been talking. I think most of them have aspirations of joining the next graduating class of shovelheads. Losers."

"Shovelheads?" That was a new one.

"Typical Sabbat-style vampire. The Sabbat usually sire en masse, drop everyone into a hole and bury them. When they wake up, they are so frightened and scared they frenzy. Most don't survive long, so if you see one just put 'em down. You're doing them a favor. Half the time, they don’t even get fully turned before they’re turning more; results in a lot of thin bloods."

"So the humans know they're working for Kindred?"

"Yes. The Sabbat like everyone to know just who they're dealing with. So if you get in there and have to bust a few heads, don't feel bad. Think of it as 'upholding the Masquerade."

"So, got a car around here?" That must've been funny to him, because he started laughing really hard as he moved a mattress to reveal a trapdoor with one of those shiny metal ladders people buy to get up on top of their house to work.

"We Nosferatu don't have any use for cars. We use the sewers to get around. And before you fret your pretty little head. It's not like the slop you trudged through to get out to Ocean House. These lines are older, and no longer in use. You'll stay pretty, don't worry."

"Great," I said, as he began climbing down the metal ladder into the darkness. The darkness itself didn't bother me, so much as the smell and ruining another set of clothes. Oh well, guess the shirt wasn't going to last anyway with some more bullet holes in it. Least I wasn't going to ruin a third shirt in this fight. I followed him down, finding myself in a well-lit tunnel. He then began leading me down it, towards the warehouse, hopefully.

"So, ever met a Lasombra before?" I asked, more to just pass the time.

"Nope. We've kept the Sabbat out for years. It wasn't until recently they've even had the chance. We've been at war with the Kue-Jin for the better part of the last century."

""Kue-Jin?"

"That vampire you dusted for Knox, he was a Kue-Jin. A scout,” Tung told me.

I remembered the laptop I had taken from the Kue-Jin’s warehouse and pulled it from my bag. “Took this from the warehouse I killed the scout at. Has his reports to someone on it.”

“Thanks for getting that laptop. It can reveal a lot of secrets for us."

"Glad to be of help. So can we all move that fast?"

"Don't I wish. Guess no one had told you about the different clans and what we can do."

"No, been meaning to ask someone. So what about the others? What other clans are in town."

"A lot of Kindred in Los Angeles are Brujah. They're a bunch of malcontents. They get pumped up by rousing the rabble they keep around them, like that's hard. Nothing breeds faster than contempt, and that's what the Brujah are all about. Jealousy and contempt.

"The Gangrel fancy themselves loners and drifters, running the countryside and barking at them moon. Gangrel can walk upright but choose not too.

"Malkavians are, interesting. Like Jeannette, there's something to them. Learning to sort the wisdom from the bullshit can be some work and not all of them are worth listening to, but they are all good fun if you ask me."

"Is Therese all good fun?"

"That was silly vampire politicking cupcake, no more. You get used to that kind of thing."

"Did you know she and Jeanette are the same person?"

"Uh," he started to say, struggling to find a way of digging himself out of the verbal hole he had made for himself, "I had my suspicions. What an interesting specimen, but a pain in my dead ass for sure."

"What about your clan, the Nosferatu," I asked, not wanting to pry but desperately needing information.

"The Nosferatu are damn good at what we do, no one even argues that. If you need to know, if you want it found, you come to us. We're indispensable. Not a bad place to be in the afterlife."

"Lucky you."

"The Nosferatu stick together and pool resources. We have more going on than anyone could guess at. Our web blankets the night.

"Then you have the Toreadors. I don't rub elbows with the pretty bloodsuckers much, but I've seen them work people like puppeteers and that's admirable. Now if they would get off their slimy asses and put their talent to some use besides feeding their egos.

"Next you have the Tremere. Mages, all of them. I don't have any reason to trust them. They're creepy and I think they like it that way. But to be honest, I don't hear much about the Tremere. There's a few in town, but all in all there's not that many of them.

"The last clan in the Camarilla are the Ventrue. They get a bad rap if you ask me. Everyone likes to take shots at the man in charge but when it comes to getting the job done the Ventrue know how to step up. They can take the heat.

"And now there's you. A Lasombra. A few Lasombra broke out of the Sabbat a while back and joined the Camarilla, but they were mostly hunted down by their own clan. A few survive, but mostly, they turn back to their clan. It's going to be interesting to see where you'll go. Or if you even survive."

We continued on in silence for awhile. Mostly because I wasn't interested in talking. My own clan would hunt me down? Just effing great. I wasn't even sure what all I could do, and those that knew how their shadow powers worked would come to kill me. Well, first they had to know I existed. That might take a few months. Hopefully.

Too soon we arrived at the end of the tunnel, and I was shaken out of my thoughts about dying a second time. We had reached some sort room, and Tung had stopped.

"Around the corner, duck through the tunnel, up through the floor to the door. It'll put you behind most of their security. Warehouse is on the other side of the train yard. Get inside, find the second floor offices at the center, then find a place to stash it. Get as close to the center as you can, that bomb you're carrying will ignite the ANFO and C4 they store under the center offices."

"Great, then run right?"

"Right back here," Tung said, leaning against a wall. "I'll be waiting."

I nodded to him, then turned the corner and started heading forward. It led to a sharp incline, where I had to duck to crawl through the last of the hole, coming out in a collapsed floor in a small room. I walked up the door, cracked it open to find myself looking at a Sabbat thug. A quick battle raged through my mind. To kill him, or sneak by him. Well, too much risk, and I was so outnumbered

I knelt down, and crept up behind him. It wasn't hard to figure out what he was doing. With his hands in front of him at the urinal, and a telltale steady stream as a dead giveaway, yeah, not hard at all. I hadn't had a chance to actually feed yet, so I slowly stood, waiting for him to finish. The moment he started to zip up, I yanked his head to the side and sank my teeth into his neck. The taste of his blood was sweet and I fed until after it had thinned out. With the thug now dead, I let him fall.

Walking out to the other door, I cracked it and checked it. There wasn't anyone in the room that I could tell, so I slowly walked into it. Without anyone around, I walked through the room and checked the far door. There was a door nearby, half blocked by a desk, with another thug at the far end. So I crept up behind him. He didn't even notice me as he puffed on his cigarette. I pulled out my knife, as he took a puff, then I stood and yanked his head back, burying the blade into his chest. The thug then fell, as my blade had found his heart and I dropped him. Yanking my knife out, I cleaned it on his hoodie before turning back to the room..

Moving back through the room, I checked the other door, finding it locked. I pulled my lockpicks, unlocked the door, then cracked it. All I could find was an elderly man in tattered clothes warming himself by a fire. I didn't know how a bum got this deep into a heavily secured area, except that he was some type of guard or wannabe. I inched out the door, knife in hand, and before he ever saw me, buried the blade in his back. He barely let out a gurgle before he collapsed and I cleaned the blood off on his own clothes.

I looked around the train yard, I guess finally seeing it for the first time up close. I'd seen these yards before, but never thought I'd be in one. Box cars were lined up on rusty tracks, some were hitched up, some weren't and had gaps between them. The box cars were mostly sealed, so I couldn't go through them, and most were so low, I didn't try to sneak under because that meant I'd get dirty.

I crept through the first row, turned the corner to find two guards talking to each other. Thinking fast, I turned the shadows loose on the one facing towards me, then dashed forward and buried my knifed in other before he could shout. My shadows over the other thug soon dissipated, showing me he had died in horror. Taking my knife and leaving the corpses behind, I continued on, finding one more guard walking away on his patrol. I left him, not wanting to chance him getting wise to my presence, and continued on. The two remaining rows of box cars had no guards around them, and I found myself looking at an old steam locomotive. A thug was leaned up against it, smoking a cigarette, and I pulled on the shadows again, thinking of the tentacle I had made against the Kue-Jin vampire, and created a six foot long tentacle that wrapped around and strangled him.

Looking at a nearby access ladder, I climbed it into the roof of the garage building, and started to crawl through the access to the warehouse itself. I came out on the beams that made up the warehouse roof. I looked down to see a bunch of people unpacking crates, revealing all kinds of weapons. Burt Gummer would be envious. I didn't recognize all the different kinds, but I knew several were strictly military, looking like M16 from all those war movies, and those big Rambo guns. They also had tubes I knew had to be Bazookas, and didn't that make me all warm and fuzzy.

Some crates they unpacked revealed gray bars with a center wrapping. These crates were taken into another room. I looked around, not wanting to drop in on all the humans with the heavy weaponry, and saw that there may be a path across the beams and around the cooling ducts by just staying above the bright lights. I started over the beams, picking my way carefully around every obstacle I encountered. On the other side, I found my way deeper into the warehouse, only to see more crates being unloaded. I didn't really know much about the Sabbat, but the guy that was running things now, this Andrei, was preparing for a full-out war.

I kept on going, but the beams stopped at a brick wall. With nowhere else to go, I was forced to stop and evaluate my position. The second floor offices were just twenty or thirty feet away, and I was over an empty catwalk. It was bright below, and I felt a twinge of anxiety about being in the light like that, but over by the door was a lot of shadow for me to hide in. I looked around, no one was paying any attention to the catwalk above them, so I dropped down to it and sprinted to the end and disappeared back into the shadow.

At the door, I paused a moment to watch for signs of anyone seeing me, but nobody had. I pulled my lockpicks and opened the door, entering just as the water tank gurgled. I quickly closed the door and hid behind a nearby desk, and remained there as I heard someone walk in. It wasn't until his footsteps left the room, that I dug the Astrolite out of my bag. I set the timer for as long as I could which was only three minutes, and left it under the desk. They wouldn't find it there unless they were looking.

With time wasting, I ran to the far door, already pulling the shadows around me as I ran. The next room had two guys in it. They looked at me in astonishment for a second, then pulled guns. I took the moment while they were stunned to slash the throat of one, the other actually managed to get the gun out of his pants before I got to him. I used my greater strength to shove him into the wall, knocking him senseless, then biting into his throat to slake my thirst.

With that one dead, I pulled the shadows over me, like a blanket, opened the door and sprinted down the steps to the rear exit. I was either really lucky, or my shadows concealed every last inch of me, because not one alarm was raised. I felt better in the shadows, and the guy leaned up against the corner of the building never got a chance to scream before my knife was buried in his back. Some security they had. I didn't even take the knife with me this time as I continued to sprint to safety.

I found myself in some kind of unloading area, a box trailer backed up to the warehouse. Nobody was in sight so I sprinted to the fence, back towards the building I came from. The chain link fence that ran between the two buildings was easily ripped apart. I was starting to like being Kindred, and continued my mad dash. I didn't see anyone, and soon I was rounding the last boxcar to the building.

I never actually heard the explosion. I felt it though. It picked me up and threw me into the building in front of me with all kinds of debris around me. I looked back to see that the warehouse was gone. Even the boxcars were reduced to piles of wood and metal.

A howl rang long and loud, and I saw a large white wolf bounding off the top of the boxcar to run right up to me. I was still stunned from the explosion, and slow to react. Thankfully, wolfie wasn't gunning for my throat, but stopped. He then kicked off his front paws to stand on his rear legs, then morphed into a trench-coat wearing Kindred. He was tall, a good six feet, with long dark hair and glasses. Except for the trench-coat, he kinda dressed like Indiana Jones.

"The warehouse," he drawled, "You're handiwork, I presume?"

"What the?" I started, startled by his shape-shifting. "Are you a werewolf?"

He snortled at that. "Not experienced much in the creatures of the night, are you? For future reference, you might keep in mind that werewolves aren't in the habit of introducing themselves."

Okay, that's what Bertram meant when he said Gangrel could walk upright but chose not too. They transformed into wolves. "Neat trick mister?" I prompted, hoping he was at least somewhat sociable.

"I see my reputation for once does not precede me. My name is Beckett. Sorry if I unnerved you."

"After dealing with the local Malkavian, that's going to take some doing."

"Tell me, Miss Flores, have you by chance seen or felt anything strange since your embrace?"

"Saw a ghost. She helped me free her from her murderous husband."

"Quite ordinary. I generally pay wraiths no mind. All but a few are willing to give up their secrets."

"Really haven't seen anything out of the ordinary. Though I have felt like there's something under my skin."

"That would be your Beast. Try to keep a tight lid on it, it can be quite unfortunate for you if it were to be let out for any reason."

"Found out the hard way about losing control, but thanks for the information," I told him. "So, that all that brings you out here? Couldn't have been easy getting past all the guards."

"Most of my contacts here report something unusual in the night air, like a sense of dread or pressure. I'm not a native to these parts, so I can't tell if it's irregular, and since you're still fresh, perhaps you're not attuned to it."

"Guess not," I said, as Beckett looked quickly around. I didn't see anything, but if he still had his wolf senses, he might smell a guy coming.

"Pleasure making your acquaintance, but there are rumblings for me to discredit. We shall, I'm certain, meet again. Or never again. Goodnight, young one, and be careful. You're likely being hunted by the Sabbat."

"Night, Beckett," I said, then watched as he morphed back into the wolf. With a howl, he leaped to the top of a nearby debris pile and disappeared in another bound. I didn't want waste any time making myself scarce. I went back inside the ruined building, finding the hole nearly blocked by rubble. I squeezed back through the hole, then used my Potence ability to tear the blocks around the tiny hole out, letting it all fall in. With the way blocked, the Sabbat wouldn't be hunting me that way.

Now, to meet Prince Lacroix and pay off this boon.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 – Sabbat Intercept

September 28, 2004 = Tuesday


The walk back to Bertram's tank was quiet. He didn't say much, except to congratulate me on a successful attack. My only thoughts settled decisively on my upcoming meeting with Lacroix. My first and only direct contact with him was when he was going to behead me, then again by email when I secured the werewolf blood before it could be tested. I still hadn't heard back from him. Had I done something wrong?

At Bertram's, we climbed the ladder to find Brian waiting on us with a bag in hand.

"Miss Flores," he said, handing me the bag. "You've been requested downtown."

I bet. I took the bag, finding the clothes that Sharron had bought me. I glanced around Bertram's makeshift home, and after finding no place to hide while I changed, glanced at Bertram.

"You've got nothing I want, Fledgling," Bertram said, his face as stoic as ever. I looked back around the makeshift home, finally deciding that the only place for privacy would be back down in the tunnel. I lowered myself back down to the ladder, climbing with the bag hanging on an arm. Back down in the tunnel, I stripped off my clothes off, and put on the skinny jeans and halter top that Sharron had sent me. The motorcycle boots made me feel more butch than I wanted to display, but they were a class better than the cheap things I got from Simeon. I really needed to buy a better grade of shoe.

Once dressed, I put my near ruined clothes in the bag, hung the bag back on my arm, and climbed back up to the tank. Brian was still waiting for me, but Bertram was sitting to a computer, not paying any attention to me. I handed my bags off to Brian, then led him out to the gate. A limo was waiting for me, a uniformed chauffeur waiting by the passenger door. Upon seeing me, he opened the door.

"Brian, get with Sharron tomorrow and have her pick out some more clothes. Use the money in my bag to pay for anything she finds. Try to steer her into something with a little more class. Alright?"

Brian nodded, and I sat myself into the plush leather seat of the limo. The driver closed the door behind me, and I couldn't help but shudder at the sensation of finality. In moments, the driver had circled around and was at the wheel, driving me to my destination.

The ride itself was boring, as I was too wrapped up in my own thoughts to enjoy it. I didn't really take notice of where we were until it was too late. The sound of screeching metal woke me out of my reverie, then everything went bottoms up as it rolled. Once the limo ground to a stop, I used my Potence ability to rip the door free and rolled out.

Facing me, about twenty feet away, were three men, their clothes as rough as their faces. The one on the right held a large weapon, which I guess was some kind of grenade launcher. Just effing great. The three then rushed me, with one dropping to his front hands to run like an animal on his elongated arms. I turned and sprinted down the road, glad for once I wasn't in high heels as they would have kept me pinned.

I still didn't make it more than a dozen steps before I was tackled by the hand running one. I let the strength flow through my arms as I fought back, trying to get away but my grip of iron was overpowered by his, shocking me. Just how strong could we get? With hand boy fighting me, his stronger Potence ability overpowering mine, he forced me flat. The others quickly ringed us, the one on top of me shifted to my left, while another held me on the right. Any hope of escape left me. They didn't know it was me that blew up the warehouse, right?

"Let's drain her," the one on my right said.

"Let's stake it and leave her for the sunrise,' the one on my left offered.

The last one knelt over me, almost sitting on my stomach. "We're going to have a lot of fun with this one. Think you could blow up our warehouse and get with it?" he shouted into my face. "Huh, Lick?"

I briefly thought about trying to overpower these guys again, but then a new thought hit me. Potence wasn't my only Dark Gift. I smiled, then yanked on the shadows. I tried to use the shadows to make a group of tentacles, but it fell apart before it could form. Just great. Not only am I about to die, but my powers decide to quit working so epically that these three stiffs don't even notice my

"Let's pull out her eyes and her tongue and her teeth," long arms said from my left.

"I want her teeth," the one said as he leaned forward to get right in my face. I frantically began to wonder what happens to a Kindred who had their fangs pulled when a gunshot rang out. The Sabbat sitting on my stomach was suddenly gone, and I could hear him sputter. I found him at my feet, nursing a bleeding head. The other two vampires looked to someone behind me, and they were worried. I didn't know who had joined the fight, but he was enough to worry the Sabbat holding me down.

"Leave," a very strong, male voice said. The power on it had them nervous and I wondered who could make three Sabbat Kindred that nervous.

"There's three of us, Rodriguez," the one who had been shot declared, rising to stand in defiance. "What are you going to do? Shoot us?"

I didn't get to see the response but the Sabbat guys backed up, releasing my arms. I rolled free to see the brawler guy from my Trial, the one who made the Prince rethink my execution. On his belt was a grenade, and I guess that was what made them nervous. Made me nervous too, thinking about how deadly I'd heard they could be. The Sabbat were slinking away, but the one who had been shot decided to get one last parting word in.

"This ain't over! We'll find you, Flores. You too, Rodriguez. No one messes with the Sabbat and lives!"

Rodriguez held his ground, finally lowering it once the last one had slunk into the shadows. I went over to thank him, while Rodriguez locked eyes with me. I was just about to speak when he brought his gun up real fast, and I barely had time to register that the leader of the pack had just got caught trying to jump him while his guard was down, but he just pulled the trigger. Rodriguez shook his head as the Sabbat vampire crumbled into ash, and then he eyed me again.

"Trouble sure seems to like you. Name's Nines." He had a rich, deep voice that resonated within me.

"Eliza Flores. Thanks for the help."

"Should've been more careful, newbie. This ain't the burbs."

"I'll remember that. Didn't think they'd be on to me so fast. I just blew up their warehouse a few hours ago."

Nines looked around, then at the cheep plastic watch on his wrist. "You do that, kid. I got things to deal with. Why don't you pay me a visit tomorrow night at the Last Round. I don't know what you heard so far, but it's time you heard the real story about the Camarilla. This is a mean existence. Stay out of trouble, kid."

"I'll see you there," I said as I watched him start at a jog, then disappear as he ran faster than my eye could follow to look like a blur. Wow, Brujah, least I think he was Brujah from Tung's earlier statement about pumping up the rabble, sure seemed to match.

Looking at the twisted wreck that was the limo, I figured I needed a cab. Damn Sabbat, anyway.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

September 28, 2004 = Tuesday


I was riding in the back of the cab when we got to Lacroix Tower. I had the driver pull off to the side in a darkened area and got out. I actually felt bad for what I was about to do, but I had no money since I left it all with Brian. Stupid of me, really.

“Hey, miss!” the driver called as I passed the front of his car. “That’s ten-fifty you owe me!”

I stopped, as if I were thinking. In truth I was, just not about paying. My patience was awarded when the guy stepped out of his cab, and started to come up behind me. I turned, slowly so as not to startle him and let him approach. I knew I had a faint smile on my lips as the fool stopped and held out his hand. With one swift motion, I hit him in the stomach with an open palm, then shoved the windless sap back onto the hood of his cab. With no thrill like that of hunting, I descended on his neck and fed, long and deep. I was careful not to take too much, but left the cabbie slouched beside his car.

Walking towards the front door, I wondered how many people might be inside. I mean, it was supposed to be the headquarters of the Prince of the local Kindred. Had to be somebody home right? Inside, at the front desk was Chunky butt. Small world. Well, at least it shouldn’t prove too hard to get past him. He noticed me as I walked through the glass door, his mouth falling open in awe.

“Snack cake? What are you doing here?”

I shook my head. What were the odds? “Mind buzzing me up moon pie?”

“I’d love to, uh, buzz you up, but according to building security protocol nine-one-six, I’m going to have to verify you’re supposed to be here before I can open the elevator.”

“I’m here to see Lacroix.”

“Sebastian Lacroix of the Lacroix Foundation, or Dwayne Lacroix of Insurrection Baby Formula Company?”

“Sebastian Lacroix. I have a report for him.”

“Oh, okay then. Go right on up to the top, he’s expecting you.”

“Thanks,” I said, and headed around his desk to the elevators. I didn’t need any drama right now. The elevator door was already called, and the door was open by the time I got there. I stepped inside and hit the button marked “PH,” hoping it would take me to the right floor. The doors closed and a quick ride later I was greeted by Scourge Walsh. At least he was looking good.

“Miss Flores, nice to see you again. I trust Santa Monica was friendly enough?”

“Well,” I said, not wanting to sound like a whiner. “They didn’t kill me when they saw me, but they sure do like trying to make me do everything for them.”

He chuckled softly at that, then gestured for me to proceed. Across the lobby was another set of elevator doors, this time flanked by two men in full tactical gear carrying large assault rifles. “Just a little security,” he said, as we passed between them to the waiting elevator. “This elevator will take us straight to the top, where Prince Lacroix awaits your report on the Sabbat Warehouse attack.”

“Don’t know why. I came, I saw, I killed, then I blew it up,” I explained dryly. “The only real ‘fun’ part was that your limo was destroyed when they caught me on my way here.”

The doors closed and he hit the top-most button. We began to ascend, then he turned to face me. “Yes, we are aware of the destruction of the limo. Local police were informed it was a terrorist hit. They believe it to be such. Luckily, Mister Rodriguez was able to save you from the Sabbat pack.”

“I’m not used to what I can do yet, and that one has a stronger Potence ability than I do. I’m not sure how to fight Kindred like that.”

“Blades work best, and the cuts they inflict take much longer to heal. Fire also has a similar effect, and can be used to create obstacles if you’re trying to flee.”

“Fire? So in addition to becoming something akin to a monster, we’ve become like animals in that we hate fire.”

“It’s the Beast in us. A wild animal that you will carry with you for the rest of your nights. The Gangrel can explain it better, if you can find one. I’m not saying you’ll always be blocked by fire, you can overcome the fear associated with it same as you could before, but a single fire can make you stop an attack, or stop an attacker.”

“Thanks for the update,” I said, as the elevator stopped and the doors opened. The doors opened to a small room, where two more men in tactical gear stood guarding a door. This door was different though, the white wood polished to a high shine. The door was also embossed with gold, though I was sure it was only gold plated. Still, a classy door. And only someone who felt entitled, and high brow would have a door like that.

The Prince.

I’m pretty sure my heart took a swan dive to hide in my ankle. The Scourge waited by the elevator, and I reluctantly opened the door and stepped inside. The Prince sat at a large wooden desk, the Sheriff on his right and behind him, that big sword he used to kill my Sire plainly visible. I was so glad that Mister Rodriguez had stopped them from killing me too.

“There you are. I was informed of your presence in the building,” he said, his tone and body language dismissive, though his eyes were locked on me. “Since you’re here, I’ll take the liberty of assuming you’ve destroyed the warehouse. This is correct, yes?”

“Yes, that is….” I started to say when he cut me off.

“Most excellent. I had no doubt you’d prove my decision a prudent one. I trust you encountered no impediments to your progress on account of my personnel?”

My thoughts went to Mercurio, figuring this was his master, and decided I liked the ghoul. “None whatsoever,” I lied.

“You’ve done well, circumstances being what they were. I will admit, not many in your position would have overcome such a trial. But don’t misunderstand me, it was no fool’s errand.”

I shuffled a little, not sure if I should be glad or mad at his remarks. The man was being carefully neutral. Just trying to be a good leader, I guess, so I decided to play along with what he had in mind until he called our debt good. Which should be any second now.

“You may yet prove to be a genuine asset. It’s disturbing, the lack of talent within this organization as of late. Tell me, what would you say to doing a bit of reconnaissance for me?”

As if I could say no? “I guess,” I said to him. “What exactly do I have to do?”

“There’s been whispers, rumors spreading around the Kindred community concerning the Elizabeth Dane, the cargo ship being towed into port today. Have you heard of it?”

“No, I don’t have a habit of watching the news.”

“The Dane was found out at sea. The early reports say it was without crew, but they have yet to report a fate of said crew. The police are investigating the Dane as we speak, but even the Nosferatu have little information on what’s been found. However, the reason the ship has caused such speculation is because it was transporting an object called the Ankaran Sarcophagus.

“Now, I’m not one to predicate a decision based on conjecture, so what I need is fact, and more importantly, I need evidence that the occurrences on the Dane were not supernatural in nature, and in no relate to this Ankaran Sarcophagus.”

Was there a job in that mess anywhere? “What do you need me to do?” I just wanted to make sure what I was needed to do.

“You have three objectives. One, I want you to examine the Sarcophagus for anything unusual. You may sense something peculiar about it, in fact, many Kindred in the city have reported an uneasiness in the air since news of the Dane was due to arrive today. Do not, under any circumstances, open the Ankaran Sarcophagus. Secondly, the police will have begun their investigation. Find out what they have concluded thus far. Thirdly, take the cargo manifest for the ship. I want to find out what else it was carrying.

“The last thing we want are the authorities aware of our existence, so be careful what you do in front of them. And unlike the warehouse, you cannot wholesale slaughter a ship full of lawmen without consequences. Is this understood?”

“Yes,” I said, glad I’d not have to fight this time unless it was necessary.

“Good. It has come to my attention that you had an encounter with Nines Rodriguez earlier. The man so does love to throw that cretinous charm of his brashly about. What exactly did Mister Rodriguez say?”

“He asked me to visit him at the Last Round tomorrow night.”

He smiled, and I barely suppressed the shiver that I felt. “I see. Then you should go humor the by-the-numbers rhetoric he’s so desperately aching to spew. Please, before the chants of ‘fascist opressor’ from that dive of theirs clog the air and choke the local kine.”

“I’ll see him first thing tonight then.”

“And give the Anarch community my regards.”

Feeling dismissed with that, I turned and left the opulent room. Outside, the two guards turned and watched me leave, but said nothing. The elevator stood with doors open, with Scourge Walsh talking to a young woman in a pantsuit. Upon noticing me, he dismissed the woman and she entered the elevator and left us. I walked over to him, and he smiled.

“Meeting go well?”

“I suppose, I’m being sent out to the Dane after it get’s towed into port.”

“Ah, still under the Prince’s boon, I take it?”

I let my shoulders slump. “Yes. I’m guessing it’s standard practice to screw over the new recruits?”

“Fairly standard, I assure you,” he said with a chuckle. “Soon, though, you will be the one being owed. Boon’s are the currency of the Camarilla, and you may use a boon owed to you in any way you and the debtor can agree to. Whether that be money or to have them perform an action such as blowing up a warehouse or getting information.”

“So I risked my life for nothing?”

“Not nothing. As long as you are running errands for the Prince, I am authorized to give you an expense card to be used with the local cab company. You will be able to move where you need to at no cost to yourself. I’ve also procured you a phone and my number is pre-programmed. Please call me if you see any breaches to the Masquerade, or other supernatural occurrence that my office needs to clean up. You will be paid accordingly for such information, and more if you can take care of the matter yourself.”

“Great,” I said, taking the expense card and gray flip phone and bag. It looked new, so I wasn’t going to complain. The elevator soon returned, and me and Scourge Walsh got on board. He hit the button for the lowest floor available and soon we were descending.

“Are you having any problems that I should be aware of?” Walsh asked me.

“Just need to find a missing ghoul. I lost track of her after feeding her my blood.”

“Does she know what she is?”

“No, nor that I am kindred. She was in critical condition when I found her and fed her my blood. But after that I’ve lost track of her.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much over her. Ghouls tend to be able to find their masters wherever they may travel.”

“So she’ll return for her next fix?”

“Probably in the next few days,” he confirmed.

The doors opened and we stepped out, and he escorted me over to the main elevators down. While waiting for the elevator, he turned to face me again. “Good evening, Miss Flores, and happy hunting.”

As I watched him walk away, I couldn’t help but hate the structure they were trying to set up. It seemed so easy to screw someone over, especially the newbie who wasn’t even comfortable in their own skin. Like this prince. I would have called the debt settled once I got back, but now I was being made into some kind of go to girl.

I thought about the Prince’s words. A lack of talent, he had said. Well, if that were the case, I was about to become one of the most powerful Kindred in the city. I just needed to figure out how to get massive amounts of money, because living in Los Angeles wasn’t cheap.

Maybe I needed to expand. Brian could use a boost in his sales, and more free time once I had a safe place to sleep might help him. I also needed to find out about Sharron’s situation, whether she had a real place to live, rented, or lived with someone. It would be better if she lived with me, as I could reap her money better, but I wanted to make sure she was bound before I did that.

That just left Poe, who I was thinking might be more house maid and personal groomer than money maker. I needed to figure out where she was, and get her bound soon. Once I had that, I could plan more, but I didn’t really see her as making money, just keeping me from becoming a mess.

That meant I had two ghouls making money. I needed more. As I left the building, stunned at how deep I was thinking that I hadn’t noticed myself at this level until now, I couldn’t help but think I needed more income.

Too bad Dennis turned me down. His place, while a wreck, would let me corral my ghouls and make some money. Illicit business always did seem to turn more money than honest work. I would just have to hope I could get more people to work for me and not piss off any Kindred when I did it

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

September 28, 2004 = Tuesday

 

I decided to head for home with what time I had left tonight. I didn’t need to get caught by a rising sun, and the night was mostly spent anyway. The cab ride was swift, and it dropped me off at the end of the alley. The card Walsh had given me was accepted without question, so that was a relief. I looked around the alley, not seeing any of the girls that haunted the area. I wasn’t really hungry, but it was nice to know that breakfast wasn’t far away.

I headed upstairs, only to hear something pound a wall. It wasn’t until it happened again that I realized it was coming from my apartment. I ran to the door, and was just turning the knob when I heard a woman shriek, “Where is it?!”

I opened the door to find a tall dark haired woman holding a gun on Brian. She never even noticed me, which made it easier to grab her wrist by the pressure point, then twist her arm back. She looked back at me, mouth twisted in a snarl, then I squeezed her pressure point harder, and made her fall to her knees.

“Ow, you dumb bitch!” she yelled at me. I didn’t really care, but I did take the gun from her, tossing it to Brian. I kept her on her knees, and looked her over. She was short, thin, naturally gorgeous, and the dark hair was real. Her makeup was light, and only used to accentuate her natural beauty. She was dressed in a leather mini, with a light flouncy top. The only thing I noticed that was odd was that she had a little glitter in her cleavage, which was almost completely hidden in her top.

And the only reason she’d have glitter in her cleavage was that she was a stripper like Sharron.

“How did you find out,” I asked her, making her lock eyes with me. She did, and she began shivering.

“Amber said that she’d only ever gets her stuff from Brian, so I wanted to know what he had given her that made her so good,” she said, her lip trembled a little, making it sound like she was crying. “But he said he didn’t have it.”

“He doesn’t,” I told her, and her face fell. “I do.”

“Please, that bitch doesn’t deserve it,” she began to plead, and I turned away to look at Brian. He was just getting up, but he didn’t look badly hurt. Just a few bruises.

“Amber is Sharron’s stage name. This here’s Angel, Four-Play’s best girl,” Brian explained for me.

“Please, that tramp can’t upstage me!” she said, and I began to wonder what she talking about. “All night long, all my best customers would take one look at her, and her obvious boob job, and walk right by me. How does she do it?”

I began to think about that, then the answer seemed so obvious I actually chuckled. I could do it, I didn’t know my ghouls could. Must be something I would have learned had I actually been properly schooled. Well, I had been wanting more income. I began to think how to best describe it without giving away the secret.

“I got a product, something I been working on,” I lied. “It’s a pheromone enhancer, that’s how she gets your customers. Quick boost of confidence, and she’s suddenly the hot topic of the scene.”

“How much?” she said, regaining some sense of composure. I smiled, business I could do. As long as we were doing business, I let go of her arm and she rubbed the sore spot on her wrist.

“Three grand per hit. Once it builds up in your system, should last a month between doses.”

“Three grand?

“Cash only,” I said, as I went to stand by Brian, glad he wasn’t in worse shape.

“I can have it as soon as the bank opens in the morning.”

My eyebrows went up at that. Three grand that fast? I would be in my own place in no time at this rate.

“Deal, come back and see Brian then, he’ll have your dose. Maybe if you’re nice when you do it, he’ll give you your gun back,” I said, as she got up. She really was short, I noticed as she stood no higher than me in six inch heels, but she had no fat anywhere on her. Her arms and legs were highly toned, and it was obvious she kept herself in excellent shape.

“And Angel, if anyone asks, you don’t tell them about this new drug. I don’t have a lot of stock to give to every dancer that comes along. If I find out you’re telling people about it, I will cut you off and send someone to shut you up. Understood?”

“Yes,” she said, then turned and left. I so needed more income, but I was really starting to feel like a juice box. Angel would make the fourth ghoul, and I decided that if I did get more ghouls they better not be dancers. It wouldn’t do to have them all fighting over the same customers.

“Thanks, mistress,” Brian said, going to sit on his bed. He laid the pistol beside him, and began rubbing at a sore spot on the side of his head. “That girl went crazy when I said I couldn’t help her.”

I went over to the desk, checking my stock. I was going to need more blood draw kits, as I had just the one left, and I didn’t know when any of my ghouls would need their next hit. It was also puzzling that Sharron had developed my Presence capability, I really needed to talk with Mercurio again. I eyed my last draw kit, then decided I’d have to go get more. I only needed one more for Sharron, Brian drank straight from me. Poe would do that too, as I’d have to keep an eye on her since she’d be closer to me than most other ghouls I had. Angel would need at least two, and I really needed a spare in case I got the opportunity to make another ghoul. Just had to find one.

“Brian, I’m headed down to the clinic. I’ll be back soon,” I said, as I grabbed my bag from beside the desk. I really needed to find a medical outlet to get these from, or start making all my ghouls drink from the source. Might work, but I needed more info to make that call.

Brian only grunted as I left the small apartment, and once outside headed back to to the end of the alley. My eyes caught the sight of the lone red headed girl standing there, as she eyed the distant traffic. She didn’t notice me until I was halfway across the road. “Hey baby, looking for a date?” she asked.

I nodded, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, and we headed back into the alley. We no more than turned the corner before I slipped in behind her, wrapping both arms around her. She chuckled, not realizing what was about to happen, and I pulled her hair to the side with an arm. “Pay up, baby,” she said, but I bit her bare neck before she could do or say more. Her blood was like pure honey, sweet and thick, and I drank her deep. After feeding, I licked her wounds clean, and set her down on the ground. I then frisked her body, taking several bills from her bra.

She wasn’t the usual detritus I saw on my corner, and I looked her over again. Tight dark colored jeans, and wine colored halter top? If I had to guess, I would guess she was a young runaway. She was dressed in clothes not entirely suited for getting them off easily, and her Mary Janes with the baby heel were black and shiny, not the scuffed up mess I’d expect of a drug addict. No, this girl took care of herself. Her red hair was neat, freshly brushed, and pulled back in a neat ponytail and had not one split end.

I decided to leave her anyway, not that I didn’t care about her, but what am I supposed to do? Stuff her in my bag? I walked through the back alleys to the clinic, taking the back door that led to the blood clinic. Inside, I headed straight for the supply room, glad that the early hours meant that most people were either tied up with patients or sitting at a desk trying not to nod off. I pulled four more kits and six more tubes out of a drawer, stuffing it all in my bag.

I left by the front entrance, not even getting a look from anyone, and headed back to my apartment. Miss runaway was standing hunched over, eyeing all traffic as it came and went. She eyed me, then kept going back to scanning everyone else.

“Hey, did you see anyone come into the alley after we finished?” she asked when I got close.

“No, it was just me and you,” I told her. I didn’t want to stop, not wanting to get into a fist fight which I’d obviously win, but traffic made me. She just shook her head, and kept leaning against the light post.

“Someone took all the money I had saved. I was hoping to buy a ticket out of here.”

“Home life not that great huh,” I responded, still not looking at her.

“Yeah, well,” she said as she leaned against the light post to eye the sidewalk for another mark, “Anything is better than here,’

The traffic stopped, and instead of crossing the street, I paused. “Anything? Like feeling the ecstasy again that I left you in?”

I didn’t look at her, but I could feel her staring at me. “I don’t even remember what we did. I thought the attack had gave me amnesia.”

“More like I left you so out of it that your attacker lifted your money while you were slack jawed on the ground.”

“What’s your name,” she asked me, though I didn’t look back.

“Eliza. Yours?”

“Constance,” she said.

“What do I have to do,” she said, coming over to stand with me. I looked at her, smiled and said “Follow me.” I crossed the traffic and led her through the door to my apartment. Inside, Brian lay on his bed with his eyes covered, and I led my new ‘friend’ inside. I turned around to see the girl look the place over with disdain, her eyes settling on Brian. She shied away from him, but didn’t run.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked, her eyes on Brian.

“Simple,” I told her. “I want you to be here when I wake up tonight.”

“Um, for?” she prompted.

“Your blood is actually rather sweet and I’d like to keep it on hand, even if that means keeping you on hand.”

“My blood?” She asked, her eyes going back to Brian. “Why?”

“I’m a vampire. Not the Bram Stroker kind, or even Interview kind. Hollywood hasn’t actually quite nailed it yet. But we do need blood.”

“So you want to drink my blood?”

“Already have. That’s what left you feeling so good inside that I took this from you without you realizing it,” I said, holding up her money.

“Oh,” she said, rubbing her neck. “So, you feed on me when you wake up. Then what?”

“One thing Hollywood has partly right, is that there are some of us that don’t have reflections, like me. I can’t see myself if I look in a mirror. I want your other duties to include doing my makeup and hair.”

She paused, looking at her Mary Janes as she decided. She looked around the squalor that was my apartment, then shivered. “Are you going to be here long? It’s just a bit tight.”

“No, I’m wanting to move into a house soon. If you were older, I’d have you file the appropriate paperwork and buy one for me. But since your still young enough to be in school during the day, I’ll find someone else to buy one for me.”

“Why not buy one yourself?”

I shook my head, looking down as I thought about what had happened to me. “I’m legally dead. I didn’t just die in private, and get to walk around like I’m still alive. The coroner autopsied a body he identified as me, and they buried me. My best friend, Samantha gave the eulogy at my funeral, or so I’m told. My public life is over.”

“Wait, I thought you looked familiar. You’re Eliza Flores, right? The girl that was stabbed and left in a barrel full of water. The only reason they knew it was you was your wallet was nearby. I heard they ripped out your eyes and tongue.”

“Yes,” I told her. “I’m Eliza Flores. But I wasn’t stabbed. Simeon kidnapped me and let his men rape me for days. When I escaped, he hunted me down and made me a vampire. I’m here now because of vampire politics. Don’t ask, even I don’t understand it, but they love to make my life hell.”

“You know Samantha doesn’t think you’re dead? I heard her on Channel seven. The body they found, she refuses to believe its you.”

I shook my head. If Samantha were searching for me, she’d find me eventually, in all likelihood. “It’s best if she doesn’t. The rules we vampires live by means we stay secret, a secret we kill to protect. If she finds me, I might have to kill her. And I don’t think I can do that.”

“Oh,” she said, as she seemed to hunch down, and think.

“I get my own room?”

“Sure, as long as you do as you’re told. One quick rule for you. You never tell anyone I’m a vampire. You do, and I’ll drain you completely. Understood?”

“Yes,” she said, then eyed the small apartment. “Since I’m going to be so close, can I get my clothes and stuff from home?”

“Okay, but don’t tell anyone where you’re going. I’ll send Brian with you to help you move it all. Provided he hasn’t OD’d on pain pills by then.

“I’ll be there, mistress,” he said, slightly startling me and the girl.

“What’s his deal, anyway? You need that much?”

“No, Brian is my bodyguard. He protects me while I sleep. Speaking of, you might also get sent with him to help pick out clothes for me to wear. For obvious reasons, I can’t go shopping while the stores are open.”

“Daylight restrictions, huh?” she said, as she took a seat on the counter, which groaned in protest from her light weight.

“I think I can stay awake,” I told her, as I went to check on my email, “but it doesn’t seem worth it in this tiny room with nowhere to go.”

She looked around at the cramped space, nodding. “Where do you sleep?”

“In the shower. I thought about sleeping under the bed, but the shower seemed cleaner.” She laughed at that, and I scrolled through the junk mail, looking for actual messages I needed to look at.

“So, where do I sleep?” she asked me.

“You can have the bed at night. How do you feel about school?”

“I hate ruining my four-point-oh GPA, so maybe I’ll go back if that’s alright? I kind of wanted to be a doctor one day.”

“So did I,” I said under my breath. I looked outside at the sunlight that was coming up. Daylight would soon be upon me, and it was time for me to get ready for bed. I went into the bathroom, laying out my makeshift bed, and started stripping my clothes off. The sun actually rose before I was ready so, I wadded everything up into a pile and wrapped myself in a towel. Stepping out, I put my dirty laundry in the bag by the desk for Brian to wash later.

“Brian, still up?” I asked, even as I yawned.

“Yes, mistress,” he said, not moving an inch to get up or acknowledge me.

“If Constance runs, tie her up. If she starts to get away, kill her. Understood?”

“Yea, tie her up if she runs, kill her if I can’t catch her. Anything else, mistress?

“I’m going to rig the blood draw kit before I go to bed. All you have to do is put the rubber end into the needle and it will fill. Make Angel take it here, with you watching. Alright?”

“Yes, mistress,” he said. He must have one killer headache to still be hiding from the light.

I yawned again, as I was really feeling tired. Constance looked at me, for the first time probably figuring out how deep in the shit she was. “And if you haven’t taken care of the shopping by the time she gets out of school, take her with you. And Connie, if you aren’t there, we’re going to assume your running. Understood?

“Yes, ma’am,” she said, looking down.

Nodding more to myself that my orders would be carried out, I took a blood draw kit and went back into the bathroom, closing the door behind me. I unwrapped the towel, then laid down on my makeshift bed and draped the towel over my body. It didn’t take a moment to have the needle inserted into a vein, then I laid back. With a final yawn, I let myself drift into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 – Brian’s Day = Brian’s POV

September 29, 2004 = Wednesday


‘She definitely has an ass,’ I thought as I watched the mistress walk into the bathroom. Well, I had my orders. Get the girl to her house to get her get her stuff, then send her off to school, plus everything else I had to do today. Get Angel her fix, get the mistress some more clothes, make sure the runt didn’t run.

‘Yeah, not a good day,’ I thought as I pulled the rag off my eyes and put my feet on the ground. I still had a headache from the beating Angel gave me, but as Mercurio had told me, I’d heal faster than I’d thought possible. My arm no longer hurt, nor did my ribs, but my head still felt like I had the top ten worst metal bands going full grunge.

But I had a job to do, and something in me wasn’t going to let my mistress’s wants go unneeded. I glanced to Constance, who stood at the window. Shivering? Na, that couldn’t be right. What did she have to fear? Well, except maybe the fact that she was food for the mistress. But she knew that going in, right?

I stood and went to stand behind her. She flinched at seeing my reflection, wrapping her arms tight around herself. What was she afraid of?

“So, I guess your going to do it now?” she asked, her voice a full octave higher. She still never looked back at me, but kept her eyes forward.

“Do what?” I asked, shifting on my feet. I didn’t have much time, and I needed to be back by eight.

“You’re going to break me in, right? Make me obedient by doping me up on something?”

I shook my head. What did she think she was going on anyway? “Not my job,” I said, sidestepping the issue. The mistress would have my head if she didn’t have her breakfast. Was it breakfast? Or was she more like a milkshake? “Mistress said to take you home and get your stuff. That’s what we’re going to do.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, very visibly relaxing.

“Come on, kid,” I said, turning around and walking for the door. “Gotta get going.”

“Yeah,” Constance said, turning to follow, “Just not looking forward to going home again.”

Constance’s directions for her house took us away from the beach into a troubled neighborhood. The buildings were more run down here and the streets were rougher. Constance didn’t seem happy to be going home but she kept walking, even as the sun rose overhead raising the temperature. I began to wonder why she hated going home so much, but there wasn’t a lot that made sense about her. Then again, nothing made sense since the mistress walked out of the shadow and into my life.

God, I didn’t need to be distracted by her right now. I kept my eyes on Constance, then followed her as she turned in to a small run down dump. She used a key hidden under the front steps to get in, not even bothering to replace it. I hesitantly stepped inside, not from any fear that I wasn’t invited, but that I didn’t know who was home.

The first thing I noticed was the empty whiskey bottles. Like, lots of them. Questions formed in my mind, but for now they’d go unanswered. Not like I wouldn’t have a lot of time to get them answered. If she ever decided to talk that is.

I followed her into what I assumed was her room. Constance was pulling clothes by the handful from her closet, tossing them onto her bed which set flat on the floor. I looked around the room, noticing some of the furniture was broken, including a broken box full of CD’s. I perused the broken cases, finding Santana, Christina Aguilera, Aaliyah, and Destiny’s Child among the mix.

‘What a waste,’ I thought, as Constance left the room. I suddenly felt awkward, being in her room without her, but just leaned up against the wall and pulled out my cigarettes. I had just lit one when Constance came back with a couple of trash bags. She pushed her clothes into the bags, leaving only her school uniform out. She had actually undone most of the buttons on her slutty halter top before she remembered I was in the room. Clutching her top closed, she spun to face me.

“God! Mind giving me a little privacy, you perv?”

“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” I told her. Not that I was interested in her, but I was trying to keep my mind off Eliza. Constance gave me a pleading look which I ignored. She turned around, trying to minimize what I could see as she took her halter top off to put on the white button-up shirt. I could see the bruise on her back that had been covered before. She then put on the gray skirt before undoing her jeans and taking them off. They also went in the bag, along with her fancy shoes. She pulled a set of pumps from the other side of the bed and was just setting down to put them on when the front door thumped open.

“Constance! Get your ass out here!” a loud voice yelled. I looked over at Constance, to see a tear roll off her cheek.

“I’m not doing it again,” she whimpered softly. “Not with him.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her, taking hit off my cigarette. “You’re not for him anymore.”

Constance nodded, and finished getting dressed. After bagging up the last of her stuff, she tied off the two bags. I picked them up, and Constance led the way back out. Back in the main room, I met the man who seemed to terrify Constance. He was sitting on the couch, wearing only his boxers, a half empty Jack bottle in his hand.

“You little, slut!” he yelled at her.

“Goodbye, Charlie,” she said, as she walked to the door. That seemed to piss off the man on the couch as he roared to his feet and charged us. He managed to knock Constance off her feet, before I realized what was going on. I then dropped the bags and threw a punch at the drunk, knocking him away from Constance before he could further harm her. The drunk quickly floundered around and found his feet, charging me.

I found I could easily sidestep the brute, and pushed him enough to plow into the wall. That caused the drunk to hold his head, this time staying on the floor. I checked on Constance, who was picking herself up off the floor. She seemed fine, but there was hatred in her eyes.

“I’m leaving. Tell mom whatever you want, I don’t care any-fucking-more,” she said, her voice as venom filled as a snakes. She then picked up a bag, and walked out the door, leaving me alone with the nearly naked drunk.

“Let me add something to that,” I said, kneeling down beside him. “If you come for her, if you send any cops to get her, Death itself will come visit you,” I said, sure that my Mistress would come herself to retrieve Constance. She seemed to have a thing for the young girl’s blood. The drunk nodded, and feeling the man knew better than to try and do anything foolish, I picked up the last bag and ran after Constance.

I caught up to her about half a block away, not that she was trying to get away. She kept her head down, not happy with having to contend with her step-father. I let her deal with her own problems, mainly because I didn’t know how to deal with them either. What is it with women and their mental hang-ups?

My thoughts went to my mistress, Eliza. How am I going to deal with my feelings for her? Anything she said, I’d do. Even being forced to turn around when she got dressed. But during the day, when she would lie there, I couldn’t help but admire her beauty. And at night, when she’d come out dressed in a towel, I’d look at my Playboy magazines so she wouldn’t think I was getting off looking at her.

I shook my head but couldn’t stop thinking of her. I knew her blood was my drug, but it was so addictive that I couldn’t ever stop thinking of her. I looked at Constance, wondering how the girl dealt with her problems. As a guy, I usually never did. We just exist, letting the problem take care of itself in time. If it was a girl, well there were always more fish in the sea.

But Eliza? She was the legend. The one you mount and show off to your friends.

I shook my head again. ‘Focus,’ I told myself. ‘Quit thinking about the mistress.’ I was glad when we finally got back to the apartment, and we placed both bags in the falling-down kitchen. I checked the time, thirty after seven. I had time before Angel showed up, but Constance needed to get off to school.

“Shouldn’t you be heading for school?” I asked and she nodded absently.

“Yeah,” she said. “Where’s Eliza?”

“Asleep,” I said. “Sharron will be here at probably three, so when you get out, rush home. Now, better go before you’re late.”

Constance nodded, then left the apartment. I sat on the bed, preparing myself for the great waiting game. All day long, if I had nothing to do, I would just lay out on the bed. Making sure nothing harmed her. At least now I’d have someone to share it with after three.

I was so lost in my thoughts that I almost missed the knock at the door. Getting up and pulling the Glock from under my pillow, I answered it. Angel stood there, still dressed the same as she’d been earlier. She didn’t wait for an invitation, but just came straight in, aggravating me.

“Where is it?” she demanded.

“Cash first,” I said, making sure to keep the pistol on her. I wasn’t going to take a chance, not with the mistress in the next room. Angel pulled a bank envelope from her cleavage, tossing it to me. I caught it with my free hand and opened the envelope, counting the hundred dollar bills out. The full three thousand was there, which really didn’t surprise me.

Angel wasn’t an addict, like most dancers. She actually had a brain and refused to enslave herself to any drug, which made her decision to take the same stuff Sharron did seem off. Though as I had it figured if it made Sharron, who usually was just another fly on the wall seem like a pretty flower, what would it do the pretty flower? Make it a rose bush in full bloom?

Tucking the money into my pants, I looked at a waiting Angel. “Alright, sit on the bed, both hands on your knees.” Angel complied, though the lady in her had her legs close together. I slipped past her, and into the bathroom, closing the door behind me. Eliza lay on her blanket, passed out while the sun was up. The vial was in her hand, with a needle thing sticking out of her arm. I had the basic idea, and took the vial from her hand and stuck it in the needle, and it began to fill. The idea that I could milk my mistress like this forever hit me, but I dismissed it. I was her slave in a contract written by blood. I’d never get away with it.

Never.

With the full vial, I went back out to find Angel waiting on me. I handed her the vial, but I kept the gun ready. “Drink it, here and now.” I told her.

“It looks like blood. It’s tainted isn’t it? AIDS or something?”

“Hardly. Same stuff Amber takes. Guaranteed to make you the most desired girl in the room. Oh, and you take that here and now, or I,” I waved the gun a bit, never taking it off her. Angel got the point, popping the top on the vial and downing it. She gasped as it hit, and I finally lowered the gun. She was hooked now, forever bound to our mistress.

“Okay, that’s a rush. Can I get my gun back now?” she asked, smiling a bit to entice me. “I kind of need it to protect myself.”

I smiled. Yeah, I can be a dick. In more ways than one. I slipped a free hand into my pants to rub my limp noodle and her face fell. I had never been able to afford any of the girls at Four Play and the occasional fling with Sharron was as close to heaven as I could get. Sure I used drugs to get girls to sleep with me, sometimes they were young like that Constance kid. Those were the ones I was probably the biggest dick to, forcing the girls to trade their bodies for their fix which in turn led to more drugs and sex.

Watching as Angel slipped off her flowery top had my limp noodle rising to attention. With her top off, I could see her white push-up bra and how it held her those perfectly formed tits. She reached behind her back to unhook her bra, then laid it on top of her shirt beside the bed. I stared at her perfectly formed breasts and her light pink nipples transfixed by her beauty. It wasn’t until she leaned back on the bed to slip her leather mini off that I realized I was overdressed.

Stashing the gun on top of the fridge, I used both hands to push my pants and underwear to the floor. It was only then I realized that I still had my shoes on, so I slipped them off with my pants around my ankles. As I looked up to Angel, my hardening manhood pointing the way, I saw that she was already slipping her panties down creamy legs. Seeing the slit of her womanhood had my own manhood achingly hard. The moment she added the panties to the pile that was her clothes, she spread her legs and used a hand to spread her slit wide in invitation.

Like I needed one?

Taking a knee below Angel’s precious entrance, I began to slide my manhood into her. She moaned as my large pole entered her slit, but since it wasn’t a tight fit I thought it more a comfort moan than from any actual pleasure. Still, I enjoyed the feeling of her silky walls around my pole as I entered her. I pushed myself in deep, loving the picture of seeing Angel wrapped around my pole with her leg over my shoulder.

Angel continued to moan with each push into her womanhood. I ran my hands over her creamy white skin, cradling the mounds of her breasts. Even though I was liking having Angel on my bed like this, I couldn’t help but get an idea. She looked so much like my mistress that if you could cover or hide the head…

“On your knees,” I said, sliding out of her slit and stood by the bed.

Angel rolled over to be on her hands and knees on the bed to put her ass on full display. Leaning low enough to nearly put her head on the bed, I stepped in behind her with one knee on the bed and inserted myself back into her velvety walls. I was right about the view being better this way, and it was so easy to imagine Angel’s flawless, creamy skin as Eliza’s. My manhood ached from the blood swelling inside it, and I started to pummel into Angel as hard and deep as I could.

“Sl-slow down,” she panted, whimpering and moaning as I drilled into her. I drilled her harder, imagining Eliza as the woman under me. I ran my hands down her skin to cup her breasts as they hung in space, jiggling from my constant drilling. It was so much like heaven that I could feel my nut building and with one last pump blew it deep into her heavenly depths, each blast filling her channels with my burning cum.

“Never…cum…in…a…girl,” she complained between pants as she went limp on the bed to catch her breath.

Like I cared?

I looked down at my still aching pole, then at the panting chick on the bed. ‘Yeah, I’m a dick,’ I thought as I positioned myself over her, my pole probing that fine ass. Angel turned around to look at me as I let my pole guide itself between her perfect cheeks.

“What are you doing?” she asked as I began to push my pole between those firm hills. I pressed into her backside, momentarily hitting an obstruction as I fished around a bit. Wriggling my hips a bit, the tip of my pole found something that give a little as I probed it. Angel fished around as I started to press into the forgiving area, hate filling her face. “What the fuck?” she yelled as I shoved hard, my large pole entering into her back door.

I pressed her face into the bed as she screamed, using the musty mattress to silence her plea for help. She tried to roll me off of her, but I used my strength to hold her down as I forced myself balls deep into her ass. Something about her screaming and fighting me made me even harder than I already was, and I began drilling that perfect ass. Her scream turned into sobs, and I relished each shove of my manhood deep into her ass.

Soon though, I was ready to nut again. When I could no longer hold back the explosion that was coming, I quickly pulled out and rolled Angel onto her back. Wrapping a hand around my pole, I shot jet after jet of my seed onto her perfect tits and tear streaked face. When my pole finally signaled Taps and went flaccid in my hand.

Suddenly tired, I sat back on my heels as Angel wiped my seed from off her eyes. She looked pretty pissed, but didn’t try to hit me as she shuffled for the edge of the bed. I let her go, collapsing onto the bed behind her. It wasn’t until she turned to head for the bathroom that I remembered that the mistress was in that room. Thinking fast, I blurted out, “Bathroom doesn’t work.”

Angel turned to face me, face scrunched up in annoyance. “Then how am I supposed to get your jizz off of me?”

“Use the sink,” I said and she walked into the kitchen. I got up to get her a wash cloth from the bathroom so she wouldn’t see the mistress sleeping in the shower. She snatched it from my hand and wet it in the running water. I left her to clean herself and sit on the bed. It didn’t take her long to get herself back in her clothes, which I found odd considering she made a career out of taking them off.

“My gun?” she said, as she straightened her clothes and looked around for the weapon.

“Top of the fridge,” I said, watching as the short woman searched with her hand to find the weapon. When she brought it down, she looked pissed, but didn’t point it at me as she checked the drum then she snapped it closed.

“So, who do I see when I need the next dose and how long do I have?” she asked as she stowed the gun in the waistband of her leather mini and hid it with the flouncy top.

“Come back here for it,” I told her and she nodded. “Doses last about a month, but you have any problems you’re to come back here to me. I can get a hold of her and get you lined out pretty fast if there’s any problems. Oh, and like she told ya,” I said as I looked her right in the eyes to make sure she got the seriousness of what I was saying, “You tell anyone about this ‘drug,’ and I’ll dose you with heroin and you’ll think of your time at Four Play was a leisure cruise as you spend your nights in some foreign brothel serving fifty men a day.”

“Not like I want anyone to be better than me,” she said sourly as she turned for the door. I let her go, then lay on the bed in the nude as I relived the sex in my brain. With nothing left to do and hours to go before anything was required of me, I let myself fall asleep.


=o=0=o=


I lay on the bed, only bothering to put my pants back on after getting up. I didn’t know which one would show up first, but didn’t want to be wholly undressed in case the kid was first. She actually was, and came bursting into the apartment just after three. She looked around, seeing me and dropped her bookbag by the door.

“Waiting on me?”

“And Sharron,” I said, looking at the ceiling. I could hear Constance rummaging through the bags, but didn’t bother to look at her. I was still imagining Angel and being in heaven. It wasn’t until I heard the door beside me open before I was brought back to reality.

“Brian, sweety,” Sharron said as she walked in. “Are you ready to go?”

“Might as well,” I said, sitting up to slip on my shoes. I could finally see Constance was going through her stuff, maybe looking for something, or organizing. Hard to tell.

The three of us then left the apartment, using Sharron’s car to go the store. I ended up playing referee between the two girls, and wished I had the will to blow my aching head off. But my orders stood. I finally just decided to pay for Constance’s purchases myself to keep Sharron happy. It was better that way, to let the mistress decide I thought. After that, Sharron us them outside our one room apartment, as she had to get to work, which meant that I had to carry all the clothes myself. I was glad I was strong enough, because leather was heavy and boy did Sharron love to buy and wear leather.

“I gotta use the bathroom,” Constance said, as she opened the door to the apartment. I no more got the door closed behind me before Constance came running out, screaming. Thankfully I caught her before she could get out of the door.

“She’s dead!”

“Of course she’s dead,” I said calmly, barely able to hold the struggling teen. “She’s been dead since before I met her.”

“No, I mean really dead. She’s got no pulse! I checked! She OD’d in the shower,” Constance said, still trying to get out.

“She’ll be up in a few hours, promise,” I said, finally forcing the girl back from the door. “Until then, you stay here.”

“But she’s dead!”

“Listen,” I said, my voice rising a bit. “If she were dead, I’d think I’d feel it. She’s a vampire. I drink her blood. Sharron does too. But you can’t tell no one that. When she brought you here, I thought you knew what you were getting into.”

“I thought she was like a Goth or something and she’d take my blood by needle. I didn’t think she actually was a vampire with fangs.”

“She is. Let me show you something,” I said, letting go of her. When I was sure she wouldn’t bolt, I reached under the bed to grab a gray shirt with some blood stains on it. I held it up, with the bloody side facing her, letting her see the bullet holes in it clear through to the untouched material on the other side. “She wore this the day we met. Dennis, my former boss, shot her six times. As close to her as I am to you. Knocked her back, but she got back on her feet and killed him. I’ve seen her break a bat at the thick end just by twisting her wrists. If she ain’t a vampire, then I’m a leprechaun.”

“But,” Constance started, then looked at the bloody shirt again examining the thumb sized holes with her own thumb. “She really is going to eat me? Tonight?”

“Yeah,” Brian said. “Does that bug you?”

“Yeah, I don’t want to die,” she said, sitting down on the bed. “It’s why I left Charlie. I got tired of him beating on me cause he was too drunk and old to get it up.”

“Well, welcome to the weird world of our mistress,” I said, folding the shirt back up and stashing it under the bed. I don’t know why but I didn’t want to let go of that shirt. “She’s got a rule, number one thing she told me. Vampire secrets stay secret. You’re staying here. If you’re going to be a problem, she’ll have me chain you to the bed. So just calm down alright?”

Constance sank into a chair at the desk. “Can we at least get something to eat?”

“Sure, we can get pizza.” I said, as I picked up my mistress’s cell phone. I never had used one of these before, but I understood the basic principles. “You got any homework to do?”

“Chemistry,” she said, getting her bookbag. “Oh, I’d like extra garlic.”

I called up my favorite pizza spot, ordering a large supreme with extra garlic. I kept myself next to the door, while Constance settled herself at the desk and began to work, occasionally glancing back at the closed door or out the window. I pulled the gun from mistress’s bag to make sure Constance didn’t try to scream for help. Constance noticed the pistol in my hand, but didn’t say anything.

The pizza was delivered and paid for by me, while Constance sat to her desk. I was glad she didn’t start shouting for help, not that she was able to see the delivery boy all that well. I didn’t open the door much, dealing with the kid through the small crack while I kept the pistol in the back of my waistline. Once the kid was gone, I shut the door and laid the pizza on the desk between us.

For the next hour, me and Constance sat in silence. I watched the outside window as the shadows sank so low that the side of the building was now shades of gray and black. Constance became so embroiled in her homework that she didn’t notice the shower come on and I smiled. The mistress was crazy about showering, did it every time she woke up. I couldn’t blame her though. That stall was so grimy it probably had her feeling as icky as a week without a shower.

When the door opened, I saw the mistress wrapped in her towel. Constance noticed my smile at seeing the mistress, and then promptly fell off her chair.

‘Well, I told her,’ he thought, and smiled at my mistress when she looked my way. Anything for her.

“Constance?” my mistress asked as she looked at the startled teen.

“I thought you were dead,” she said, almost hyperventilating from the floor. “You really are a vampire?”

She nodded, smiling at the teen’s antics. She eyed the pizza, before shaking her head. Eliza sat in the now empty chair, still wearing nothing but her towel, and waited. Constance quickly picked herself up, and with a haste and jerkiness born out of fear, quickly setup the makeup kit and started brushing out the mistress’s hair.

I could see Constance mutter something under her breath, but I couldn’t hear her. Apparently my mistress could, and chuckled before responding.

“Ghosts are also real, as are werewolves, but don’t ask me why they won’t introduce themselves when you see one,” she said, chuckling at some private joke. Even Constance got a chuckle out of it before stifling herself and getting on with the mistress’s personal grooming.

“I guess I was just expecting you to pimp me out. Not eat me.” she said, as she continued. I rolled my eyes, letting the women have their private moment but kept my eyes glued to her in case I got to see a breast by accident.

I watched as the mistress smiled as Constance quickly brushed her dark hair out, helping it dry from the recent shower. Constance then came to stand in front of Eliza, and I could see the nearly gray complexion the kid had. She quickly applied a base, taking a moment to decide on an appropriate color with the slightly off skin tone.

“Oh, Angel came by while you were out,” I said as I watched her be attended to by Constance. “Money’s in the drawer.”

Soon Constance finished applying the makeup. She then brought out several bags for them to peruse through, all containing various clothes.

“I picked some of these out myself. Sharron doesn’t seem to know the meaning behind conservative,” Constance said, as some of the wilder choices became clear. Tight leather pants, leather crop tops, and heels in excess of six inches had been bought, and I could see the mistress grimace as she saw the various risque choices she had to wear.

Soon though, Constance laid out several other outfits that I had bought myself. The first was a dark pair of trousers with a wrap crop top and sleeves that would fall around her elbows. The second outfit was a little more girlish, a white tank with a deep v neck and unfinished hem suggesting it was designed to be tied in a knot, along with a dark cotton skirt that was a bit long, or was to my way of thinking.

As Constance laid out the third set, I saw her face light up in delight as she fingered the business suit with its red silk shirt. The whole set was made of satin, and promised to wear well. Really a nice set. Expensive, but nice.

“I’m going to have to remember that store,” Constance was saying. “I swear, it’s like all the best styles for nothing.”

“Sharron said that the girls who don’t make it in the movies usually end up selling everything they have for a bus ride home. Kind of sad, really,” I explained to my mistress. “If they hang on too long, they end up in the porn industry. Sharron is one step above it right now.”

“And Angel?” she asked, trying to take in all the information I was giving her.

“She’s one step below making it in Hollywood. Just hasn’t quite got that last little bit to make it in movies.”

She nodded, trying to figure out which of the sets she should wear. She settled on a pair of candy apple red leather pants, and a leather crop tank top. I could see the distaste in her face at the selection, but was forced to assume she was going to ruin another set and didn’t want to choose one she might want to wear somewhere important.

Taking her outfit into the bathroom, she slipped it all on. It fit well, though the leather looked a bit stiff and needed to be rolled a few times.When she stepped back out into the main bedroom, Constance had several sets of shoes from low heels to almost foot high stripper shoes. Again the mistress shook her head, before reaching under the bed for her regular shoes.

Now was fully dressed, she stepped up behind Constance who was putting everything away under the bed. She was trembling, and dropped the box containing the eight inch heels onto the floor. She bent over, hesitating as she picked it up, then stood up with the box in her hands.

Eliza ran a hand over her shoulder, then leaned over Constance’s neck. “Lean your head over,” she commanded, “and pull your hair out of the way. Do this every time, understand?”

Constance nodded, raising a hand to move her hair to the side. All that was left now was her bare neck. I saw Eliza’s fangs slide out as she pulled her close, then bit slowly into her neck. She stopped after drinking a bit , Constance going limp in her arms. Eliza picked her up, moving her to lie on the bed as I watched from the window . Eliza arranged her in a sleeping position, then tucked the cover in around her.

I watched as she came over, picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder. I handed her back the pistol from where I kept it in the back of my pants, and she slid back in the bag.

“I take it you gave Angel back hers?” she asked as she checked the bag for stuff she might need for the night.

Yeah,” I said, not going into the details of how I fucked her five times, cumming in her pussy each time. I’d always wanted a piece of her, and was glad I’d taken the chance when it presented itself.

“Good,” she said as she headed for the door, satisfied that there was nothing left for her to take with her. “She might need it for her own protection.”

“Stay safe out there,” I said as Eliza opened the door, she smiled a wan smile before bowing her head and heading out, the door sliding shut behind her.

Now there was nothing to do but wait. This time for her to come home. I spun the chair to face the window and sat in it backward so I could watch the runt, silently wondering how long she’d be out. I didn’t know what to expect, but I ’d keep an eye on her in case I needed to find the mistress. It actually didn’t take a minute for her to start moving, the first thing she did was to rub her neck.

“That was intense,” she whispered, still trying to focus.

“Wouldn’t know. She’s never fed from me,” I told her from my chair. “Only other time I saw her eat was when she killed a buddy of mine. Drank him to death. That was the night I became hers. So tell me, how does it feel?”

“At first, painful. But then, it’s like the pain goes away and you experience nothing but pleasure. It’s like your first time, but only a million times better.”

I nodded, but didn’t understand her reference. “Still want to run?”

Constance shook her head. “I don’t know. Were you the one who put me on the bed?”

“No. She did that after you passed out.”

“She cares,” I heard her whisper. “I guess I’ll stay for awhile. Though I am gonna need a lot of iron rich food though, so I can replace my blood faster. I’m already light headed.”

“Well, we can go shopping for food tomorrow,” I said, glad the kid wasn’t going to rabbit anymore. “Mind if I ask you something?”

“Sure,” she said, fluffing the pillow up a bit under her head so she could see him.

“Why did you go with her if you didn’t think she was a vampire?”

She frowned, closing her eyes a bit, before she responded. “I’m not stupid. I know I can’t really do a lot on my own without money. When she offered me a place to stay, I thought she was going to become my pimp and sell me. I didn’t know it was her that took my money, but it was all I had. I mean, you saw where I come from. I didn’t want to go back to that.

“Charlie,” she paused, closing her eyes again before she continued on. “He doesn’t care for me. He just thinks of me as his own personal sex slave. With someone else, I hoped at least they’d want me safe for the money they could make selling my body. Give me a place to stay, food. I figured if nothing else, if they addicted me to drugs, I could get clean later. It would set me back a bit, but just about anything was better than staying there.”

“That’s about as stupid as I’ve ever heard,” I said, causing her to stare at me. “There’s a whole host of drugs that can induce memory problems. I should know, made a few of them myself. Scopolomine is the worst, but doesn’t last long, and there are some that keep you from making new memories. How would you like to relive the same day over and over again? And you think you can get cured from an addiction? Try meth once, and you’ll want it again for the rest of your life. Guaranteed.

“I seen girls want their fix so bad they’ll do anything to get it. And yeah, I used that against them. I couldn’t even stack all the girls I forced to have sex with me in this room if I tried. I seen girls sell their gold jewelry for one hit. And you think you can just quit cold turkey? It never goes away. Never. Take it from someone who’s taken the innocence of a bunch of kids. Drugs are bad news.

“Take our mistress’s blood for example. It has benefits, but you realize the next time I drink it, that’s it for me? The only way for me to get away from her then is if she dies. I’ll be hers. Even if that means I’ll have to take a knife to my own throat. And I can’t get her out of my head. Mercurio said that goes with the territory for me now. They are the master race, the predator above us in the food chain. You’re better off being her pet, hoping for her grace and mercy, than on her bad side.”

“She really is a vampire, huh? Undead predator that hunts humans for food.”

“Yeah, just be glad she doesn’t have to kill to eat. And she likes you. As far as I know, tomorrow morning, you will go to school. I don’t know, but if you can go to UCLA she might actually let you, as long as you are here when she wakes up.”

“A favored pet,” she whispered, turning to face the door from where she lay on the bed. “I guess it’s better than being sold for sex.”

“Well, if what you say is true, it’s better than sex.”

Constance laughed. “How about steak and eggs in the morning? I’m not kidding about needing iron.”

“Sure. I’ll take you up to the diner if it’s opened back up. They had some sort of shootout there. Bloods and Crips, probably.”

“Okay, but first, I think I’ll sleep. You going to be alright?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll sleep while you’re at school. See ya in the morning, alright?”

Constance just nodded, her eyes already closed. I figured the girl had a rough day, and let her sleep. Now, I just had to wait for mistress to come home.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16 – Going to the Elizabeth Dane

September 29, 2004 = Wednesday


“You covered my ass,” Mercurio said, as I stepped out the door into the alley. The old ghoul didn’t have a scratch on him, at least not that I could see, and looked like he’d been living the good life not getting the piss beat out of him.

“If I didn’t know any better,” I said, smiling at the one person who had the information I needed, “I’d say you just got off vacation, not getting off your deathbed.”

“I’m telling you, that blood you got is a wonderful thing. Since I’m feeling well enough, I’ve been sent to get you out to the Dane. Boats down by the beach.”

“Great,” I said, motioning for him to lead. “Could have used you a few days ago. Got a wayward ghoul.”

“She’ll come home. Even now, I can feel my master back in Lacroix Tower. They’ll come to you, wherever you might be, looking for their fix. That first taste really does seal our fate.”

We walked down the street, and I couldn’t think that with Mercurio working with me this mission to the Dane would be a piece of cake. Once we were down on the beach, Mercurio led me to the small, rubber motorboat he had tied off on the nearby boardwalk. The boat was barely beached, so I walked straight from dry ground onto the boat to sit in the middle. Mercurio shucked his shoes and socks off, dumping them in the front and rolled up his pants. Untying the boat, he shoved us off the beach, then climbed in behind me. Starting the motor we sped into the night.

The ride out to the Dane was silent. It wasn’t hard to spot, though, as she was lit with lights enough to show the entire length of the ship. It actually had me nervous. What if they caught me? Bullets do hurt, and how was I supposed to explain the blood drinking and the sleeping all day in the dark. That I was sick with a rare disease?

We arrived at the rear of the ship where a rope ladder hung. Mercurio shut off the engine, and we bumped lightly against the ship. I looked up the ladder, then stood up. I put my foot on the rung, and got ready to climb.

“I’ll be here waiting,” Mercurio said, readying a cigarette. “If they start shooting, I’m going to slide this out in the darkness and wait. Try to come off on the shore side, I’ll be watching for you there.” I nodded, then climbed the ladder. At the top, I peaked over the deck to see if anyone was nearby, finding myself staring at the glossy shined shoe of an officer.

“For Chrissakes. Tell Jacobson if he plans to make editor-in-chief, he’s gotta start work with me. I can’t keep getting him these scoops if he’s gonna send high school journalists who don’t know enough to wear something that would blend in.”

“Jacobson called me from a rave I was covering that was supposed to feature Nerf Herder,” I explained, trying to think of a local band that was still only local but popular. Had to love that theme song, though I’d have to run if I met any actual slayers. “Apparently the guy who was supposed to be here got sent to the hospital. Crashed.”

“Alright, look. I got you a copy of the initial report,” he said, handing me a stapled stack of pages, “and I can get you in to the cabin to see the feed, but you gotta make yourself real scarce after that. Anybody catches you, I don’t know you. And no goddamn flash photography, brainchild.”

I looked around, unsure of where the ‘cabin’ was supposed to be. “Where do I go?”

“Hold up a sec,” he said, grabbing the mike off his shoulder. “Heinz to Marsh, Heinz to Marsh. Marsh, they need you in the bridge, over.” He let go the mic and looked at me. “The security room will be clear. Just head over, wait in the shadows, and I’ll call Anderson off the gangplank. Take it to the first door on your right, head up the stairs to to the security room. The password for the computer is ‘lighthouse,’ one word. You getting all that?”

I nodded, and he continued. “Don’t forget to stay out of sight. If anyone sees you, you’re on your own. Now get a move on, and don’t forget to tell Jacobson I get double my usual fee for this one.”

I smiled, glad this dumbnut had given me the report so I didn’t have to hunt one down. I didn’t know what was in the security room, but it had to be connected to a camera system. Maybe they had a camera on the sarcophagus?

I ducked into the shadows, hiding behind a large piece of machinery. The officer nodded, then called Anderson over to the rail to see a baleen whale. That let me slip past him, without even using my shadow powers. Kind of a let down, really. I hadn’t made it far before I saw another officer lighting a cigarette at the end of the gangplank.

Glad I was at the door, I opened it and went through. The stairs were apparent, so I went up, then silently opened that door. Finding no one inside, I went in. There was a TV monitor on the desk, but it wasn’t displaying any video. What the officer said about needing a computer password had me tap a button and look at the menu choices. Control seemed the most likely, so I typed in the access command for it. When prompted, I entered the given password and it was accepted. So anti-climatic. The next menu options made it clear why I needed the password, and I typed in the command, ‘deck cams on.’ The monitor then displayed the video feeds, and I cycled through the available options, finding one of a container ripped open.

I looked at the monitor closely, finally figuring out what I was seeing. The container containing the sarcophagus was in pieces. The grainy video showed hand prints and blood streaks. One hand print near the center caught my attention. It looked half formed, as if it were made from moving the lid from inside. Scary thought. What kind of vampire sleeps long enough to need a permanent bed?

Shaking my head, I stood and thought about where to go to find the last thing I was sent for, the cargo manifest. I looked around the computer, but luck was not with me. If it wasn’t here, I was going to have to do a room by room check until I found it, working my way to the bridge, unless I found a records room.

Which I found as soon as I got to the bottom of the stairs.

I slowly opened the door, checking to see if anyone was inside. A single bulb lit the room, but nothing was inside. I went in, finding a book on the desk in the center. The cover said cargo manifests, and inside was a bunch of paperwork pertaining to containers. Hoping it was the right thing I picked up the large and heavy book and put it in my bag. I did a quick mental check, and finding that was the last thing I needed, decided to slip back to the boat.

Knowing that the officer that had been called off from guarding the gangway was probably back at his post, I took the other door out. It led into a hallway, and following the doors rearward came out on on the gangway I came in on. I slipped through the shadows, with the officer who gave me the report not even noticing my exit. I slipped down the ladder, where Mercurio was waiting for me. I sat in the front, and Mercurio started the motor.

In silence, we headed back to the beach which gave me time to wonder. What kind of kindred sleeps millenia away?

Chapter Text

Chapter 17 = Moving Right Along

September 29, 2004 = Wednesday


After getting back to land, I headed downtown to the Last Round. The building itself was unimpressive. A two story bar with blacked out windows, even on the top floor. I paid the cabbie with the card, and left him, walking up to the unguarded door. The bottom floor had a few people milling about, and not seeing Nines I headed for the stairs to check there. I was about to put my foot on the first step when a redhead in a beatnik outfit stepped out of the store room.

"Sabbat chase you in here, Cammie?" she asked me.

It was her tone more than her words that stopped me. I'd never known beatniks to be violent, but if she were kindred, who knew what she could or would do. I stopped and looked her over, and then decided I was wrong. Though in the dark of the doorway she wore a beret, tight shirt and the Capri pants I'd associate with the lifestyle, there were differences. Her Capri pants were actually skinny jeans that had for some reason been ripped off below the knee. Her shirt was a military patterned camouflage one, and her beret was dark green, again army style. It screamed warrior, so I figured I better tread carefully.

"Why do you ask?" I said, taking my foot off the stair and facing her.

"Heard Nines saved your ass again,” she said, leaning up against the door’s frame. “You think Lacroix would've stopped counting his money long enough to get your back, jack?"

I mentally rolled my eyes. This must have been what Bertram meant when he said Brujah were troublemakers. "What's the fuck is your problem?"

"Oh, ho, ho," she said, getting a little animated as she straightened up and putting her arms in the air. "You want to know what my problem is? Alright, I'll tell you what my problem is. You ready? YOU are my goddamn problem. Anyone who would lay it down for some cape in an ivory tower deserves what they get."

"What alternative do I have?” I asked her. “Lacroix has me a short lease right now."

"You want an alternative? Being here, that's a step in the right direction,” she said, calming down some but still looked as scrappy. “I'm Damsel. Den mother of these mothers and one pissed bitch since Lacroix rolled in."

"Trust me, if I could I would,” I told her. “I'd rather be left alone."

"Hey, Cammy," she said, seeming deflate a whole three inches as her tone lost its edge. "I don't apologize often, but," she shook her head and leaned against the wall by the stairs, "It's just with all the shit's been going down lately, and to top of it this plaguebearer getting the CDC's attention…maybe I misjudged you's all I'm saying."

"It's understandable. So, what's a plaguebearer?" I asked Damsel.

"A fool that doesn't care who they feed from,” she said and my eyes went up at the thought that I might have gotten sick and not known it. “Yeah, I know what you're thinking. We can't get sick, but the kine can, and kindred that feed on them start spreading disease. Enough get sick, it's an epidemic. CDC's in town as we speak!"

"Kine? Normal people I suppose?” I said as I tried to process what she was saying. “So if we feed from them when they're sick, we can pass it on like a carrier?"

"Yeah, but it's only blood-borne diseases, like HIV, hepatitis, stuff like that,” she said and I sighed in relief. “It may even be supernatural in origin. Don't know, don't care. But we gotta stop it before someone figures it out."

"Let me guess,” I said as I figured it out. “The kindred becomes a carrier. So, how do you get rid of one?"

"Seen Old Yeller? May sound cruel, but it's necessary,” she said and I nodded. “If someone puts together two and two as to the true cause of the outbreak of blood borne diseases, guess what happens? So the plaguebearer's got to be found and put down. If the Camarilla really gives a damn, they'll help us out."

"Well, the Anarchs helped me out before. Where do I start?" I asked and I swear she smiled a bit before steeling herself with that scowl that seemed etched into her face.

"One of our boys' ghouls, name's Paul, lives nearby in the Skyline Apartments. Apartment 5A. Been a stranger the past few nights. Looked like death last time he was here. Said he didn't get bit, but maybe you can get more info out of him."

"I'll go check on him,” I said. “Night's still young, after all." I started up the stairs, intent on finding Nines. The upstairs had a good dozen small tables littered around it. Two people stood against the walls. One was Nines, the other was a rough looking man smoking a cigar. The look in his eyes was one of pure hatred, and he watched me like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse. I walked over to Nines, making sure to keep an eye on the other man.

"Yo, kid, you made it," Nines said, extending his hand in greeting. I took it, smiling at the older kindred, glad to finally meet someone who genuinely glad to see me for me.

"Glad to be here, Nines,” I said then turned my head to watch the kindred in the corner and the hate he was sending my way. “What's with the stink eye in the corner?" Nines looked over his shoulder, then turned back to me.

"That's Jack,” he said, chuckling a bit. “He's usually alright with newcomers, but he absolutely hates Lasombra. Think he had a run-in with one once in the Caribbean couple of centuries ago. But don't quote me on that."

"Nice to know we can make friends." I said, then dismissed him so I could concentrate on Nines.

"I figure you have a right to know the score," he said, getting to the heart of the matter. "The Camarilla? Here's the short of it. They operate a lot like a pyramid scheme. There's a bunch of these old timers at the top, with God only knows what plots in mind. But, if they lose their power, they die. So they Sired more to carry out their plans, and looking for a little power, those kindred sired for their own schemes and so on and on and on, it makes my head hurt just thinking about the mess. What it works out to is, only a few people at the top have any real power."

"Sounds like a pyramid scheme alright,” I said, letting it sink in. “So what's Lacroix in this scheme?"

"Lacroix? Shit, he's just the man who wheeled and dealed to become king son of a bitch of the other local Camarilla. He's really just one step above the rest of us."

"Aren't you part of the Camarilla?" I asked and Nine face hardened fast.

"Them's fighting words newbie, but I know you don't mean anything bad with it so I won't make an example of ya," he said, smiling a bit to let me know he wasn't serious about the beat down. "See the Camarilla claims all Kindred as members even if we don't want to be, which is, of course, the biggest load of horsehit a man ever heard."

“So what about you?" I asked.

"I learned the way of this world during the depression,” he said, and I settled in for a speech. What is it with old timers and speeches. “Bunch of old, rich bastards screwed the country. But did they suffer? No, the little people suffered. You can't trust the people at the top. The world'd be a better place without them.

"All you can do is get a group of people together who aren't assholes, find a place to put your feet up, and make examples of the quote-unquote elite to keep the rest the hell out. Everyone's an equal here, the same thing this country used to be about. That's what Los Angeles has been, an Anarch Free State."

"Anarch Free State?" I asked as I hadn’t heard that term before either.

"The Camarilla was kicked out on their ass a long time ago,” he said and I wondered why they hadn’t kicked them out again. “We, the Anarchs, didn't want to play their politics anymore. Now Lacroix and crew pop in like they never left. Uh-Uh, no goddamn way! Their laws don't apply to us."

"Amen to that,” I said, glad that there might be a group where I didn’t have to fear losing my head. “I just want to go home to my friends, back to Samantha, but if I do..."

"Lacroix would call you in breach of the Masquerade, and kill you both," he finished for me. "See how they like to keep you down?"

"Thanks for laying it out for me, Nines,” I said, genuinely glad for him laying it all out for me. “As long as the Prince doesn't make it too difficult, I'll help where I can," I said, extending my hand as I prepared to leave.

"Just remember, you get careless, that blood you got will make you into a monster. But you start rampaging you get put down. Two, don't kill when you feed, no reason to. In this city, there's lots of ways to slake the Beast without leaving a trail of dead.

"Three, the Camarilla is full of shit. Four, watch your back. And lastly, always be ready to fight, cuz a speech ain't gonna save your ass when you're staring down the barrel of a shotgun."

"I really do appreciate the help," I told him, sneaking one last look at Jack in the corner.

"LA's the school of hard knocks, so keep your friends close and your enemies in a barbecue pit. I got my eye on you kid," Nines told me, as I started for the door. I had things to take care of with a ghoul, and maybe find out about this plague that was supposed to be hitting LA.

I mused for awhile, as I hit the door to the street, and started for the corner and the phone booth. There, I learned where the Skyline Apartments were, by looking it up in the phone book and then finding the street in the maps on the front. Wasn't far from me, maybe six blocks. Figures that the ghoul wouldn't be far from his master.

I walked that way, keeping an eye out for a midnight snack. Since I was walking, it was far easier to see the men in HAZMAT suits as they looked for signs of contagions than it would be if I were in a car. I ducked down an alleyway, intent on keeping clear of them and their fancy equipment. I came out of the alley facing some sort of apartment building. There wasn't anything special about it at first, and I was about to dismiss it except for the eerie feeling I got from it. I looked it over again, then found one thing odd about it.

There was a purple glowing 'window' that was obviously supernatural in origin at the very peak of the building. That was odd in and of itself, but then I remembered a letter that I had gotten a few days ago. 'Come find me where burns the mystical sun.' That letter was from Strauss, and he wanted me to find him. Well, here he was.

I crossed the street, heading straight for the front door. Being an apartment building with no obvious lock out on the main door, I tried the knob to find it opened readily for me. Entering the building sent rivers of dread down my back, but I kept going. The main entryway was bare except for a staircase going up. It ended with a small landing and a door, so I figured that way was secure. The halls before me seemed open, but there wasn't anyone there to guide me.

I walked to a T-section, heading right. I didn't pass anyone, but after following the hallway for a bit, I found a small study area. I poked my head in, not seeing anything but a lone book on the coffee table. I picked it up and examined it. The binding was plain leather, with no name visible, but the first page listed it as 'Thaumaturgical Creatures.' Not knowing what that was, and with my curiosity getting the better of me, I slipped the book into my bag and left the study. I kept wandering the halls, eventually realizing that I was lost. I tried every door I came upon, but they were all locked.

I finally found a double set of red doors at a dead end. I tried the knob, and it turned freely. I opened the door on a larger study. A man in a red coat sat in a wingback chair that was also red. He was bald, and dressed in a nice suit with glasses perched on his nose. He set the book he was reading aside, then addressed me.

"Miss Flores, glad to see you've made your way here. I have been looking forward to meeting you for quite some time."

"Strauss, I presume?"

"Maximillian Strauss. I'm the Regent of this Chantry. Please, take a seat," he said. His voice was neutral, and he was very hard to read as I sat opposite him in an identical chair, placing my bag beside me.

"What is a chantry, exactly?"

"A chantry is a local gathering place for those of the Tremere clan. I live here, as do apprentices from time to time."

"And the regent is the leader of said chantry, I presume?" I asked him.

"You learn quickly," he said, a cold smile appearing on his stern face. "You would have made an excellent Tremere. A regent is also a teacher to the younger Tremere apprentices who are studying the mysteries of our clan."

I thought of the book I had stolen from the other study I had found. Mysteries, huh. "Can you tell me about the mysteries?"

"I'm sorry, neonate. The secrets of the Tremere clan are hidden from all but those who share our blood. You would do best not to look into them any further."

Bummer. "Well, what CAN you tell me?"

"Some advice, young one. Your survival in Kindred society will often depend on your ability to find out for yourself what is going on around you. Remember that well. As for what is going on in downtown LA, the word seems to be epidemic."

"That a kindred is spreading diseases through the kine?" I asked and his eyes shot up in surprise, finally breaking that perfect poker face of his.

"Again, you surprise me with how fast you learn,” he said, relaxing his face back into it’s neutral expression. “Yes, a kindred seems to be spreading a supernatural disease among the local kine at an alarming rate. Considering our particular," he said, pausing to choose his words carefully, "appetites, the local kindred are more than concerned about these developments."

"Interesting," I said, as I thought about it. A supernatural disease really only made sense on two fronts. Either the person was trying to kill all the humans through a disease which hasn't worked in the history of the world, or they were trying to oust the supernatural to the kine. The latter was more likely, but why?

"Yes, indeed,” he continued. “My opinion is that the local anarchs are responsible for these outbreaks. Their precipitous indulgence of certain passions often lead to such things. Ergo, their need for the watchful eye of the Camarilla..."

I made my face as neutral as I could as I thought about it. The Anarchs thought the Camarilla was responsible, and vice versa. That didn't mean much, but it made it easier for a third and fourth option to come to mind. The Sabbat, or an independent party. "Maybe I could look into it for you," I said finally.

The Regent nodded his head in an agreeable manner. "An interesting proposition. If you succeed in finding the cause of this epidemic and putting an end to it, I will compensate you appropriately for your efforts."

I sighed, knowing the one thing I wanted more than money or favors. My frustration attracted the Regent's attention. "You wish something more?"

I nodded. "I never thought I'd miss it, but I wish I could see my reflection again."

"It might be possible," he said, as he studied me. "It might not work, but there should be something that can be done. I will research this, and if you are successful, we will attempt to restore your reflection as best we can. It might only be in a single mirror, but it should be possible."

"Then I shall see what I can do. I overheard the Anarchs discussing this same problem when I was at the Last Round earlier this evening. It seems there's a third party involved," I said, standing.

Strauss stayed seated, but he he gave a slight shake of his head, but I cut him off before he could say anything. "The Prince ordered me to pay a visit to the local Anarch population after meeting Nines on the street," I explained.

"What do you think of them?" he asked, again studying me.

"They seem to live up to their clan's reputation of rousing the rabble and are easily excitable,” I said, thinking of Damsel the Den Mother. “Still, I've not seen enough of either ideas to form a clear idea of who might be right." I paused, as a thought came to me, and it made me frown. "History has shown before that there must be some sort of order to keep complete anarchy from taking control. Though they seem to eschew any leader besides Nines, and even he doesn't lead. He just does.

"On the other hand, the Camarilla currently seems to micromanage kindred's lives. I don't need someone telling me how to feed, or whom to feed from. I also don't need someone standing behind me ready to cut my head off at the slightest slip-up before I've had a chance to fix things. Again, as history shows, a too heavy handed leadership is just as bad as no leadership."

"You feel Lacroix is overly burdensome?" he asked, the question hanging between us.

"Yes, I do," I finally admitted. "I know you were probably at my trial, so you are aware of the circumstances of my new life, but how does one so callously kill? Even I'm not so low," I said, pausing myself before my temper ran away on me.

"Lacroix is a Ventrue, neonate, and prince on top of that. Even if he weren't as young and indiscriminate as he's already proven himself to be. I," he shook his head, looking down to avoid my gaze as he thought of something, or hid something from me. "But I say too much. Let us just that he and I have differing ideas on the use of power."

Trouble in paradise? "I don't suppose there is some sort of regulatory body that the prince has to answer to somewhere in the city?"

The Regent nodded. "They are called the Primogen, of which I am a member. There are currently seven in the city, one for each of the clans that comprise the Camarilla. Though at our last meeting, we briefly talked about adding an eighth, we have decided to table that for now."

That was surprising, and I quickly thought about who would be an eighth clan. "My clan, the Lasombra," I breathed as it hit me. I was the only new clan to enter the Camarilla recently, that I knew of anyway.

"Indeed. Our main concern is whether or not you have what it takes to survive. At the time of our meeting, you had only just survived your trial."

Of course, but now that I was proving myself capable who knew what would happen. Then he continued on, "At five in the morning, we intend to meet with him to discuss the current problems in the city. I would like for you to attend as well as we discuss adding you to the city's Primogen."

"It would be an honor," I said, as he stood as well. He was just a bit taller than me, but not stocky. I could see him being more bookish, as he had several studies that I'd seen so far. Maybe that was what the Tremere did, as he did just say that they study mysteries. I need more info on this clan.

"Than I shall see you at the tower, young one," he said, extending his hand to me. I took it, and we shook before I turned and headed for the door. Strauss stayed behind, and I left. Back in the maze that was the Chantry, I headed back out and promptly got lost again. Since I wasn't trying to get to anywhere but the front door, I didn't stop and try any doors but just kept to the hallways. Soon I was back at the front door, and left. The eerie feeling dissipated as I left, and feeling glad, headed down the sidewalk.

I couldn't help but think of Strauss' offer. To become a primogen seemed to be an important step into gaining some independence, even if that was all I gained, plus I would get the chance to meet the other primogen and maybe gain some useful contacts. I also couldn't help but think of what Strauss said about Lacroix. That he was too young and inexperienced to be prince. I couldn't help but wonder what he meant by that, though I knew it spoke volumes about the varying ways of leading. Maybe things under Strauss would be better than under Lacroix. One could hope.

I was almost to the apartments when I heard the loud techno music coming from a church. At least, it looked like a church on the outside. The gated fence read Confession. It was tempting to stop in, but I decided not to give in to my hunger. I had just fed hours before, and didn't need to feed again for a bit. Walking past, I found the apartment building and went in. The lobby was bare, though it did have an exercise room and pool, with an elevator at the front. I hit the button to call it down, and then went up to the fifth floor.

There was a short hallway that branched off into differing apartments, but 5A was just on my left. I tried the door, finding it locked and quickly used my lockpicks to get in. The lights were off, but my shadow vision kicked in, allowing me to see just fine. I was really starting to love that power, and I give the place a once over. The door was in the living room, with a couch facing an entertainment center beside the door. Behind that was a kitchen and dining room. Upstairs was probably the bedroom and bathroom. That's when I found Paul in the kitchen. Or at least I think it was Paul. It was a male corpse, in his early twenties, and there seemed to be nothing physically wrong, though as Damsel said, he looked like death with his pale skin. Almost kindred pale.

'Well, he's a dead end,' I thought, trying for a little snark to comfort myself with. I didn't have anything to go on, and knowing that the cops were bound to go over the place with a fine tooth comb, most likely, tried not to touch anything. The phone picked that moment to ring, startling me, and I fought the urge to answer it. Instead, the answering machine picked it up after four rings, and played the message as it recorded.

"Paul? It's Hannah, in 6D. Hope I didn't give you what I got. I feel like crap," she said, coughing wetly into the receiver. "I need to ask you a favor. Could you pick me up some cough medicine at the store," she asked, coughing into the phone again. "I hate to ask, but I can't seem to get out of bed. Passcode on my door is 1203.

"Hey, listen," she added, pausing again to cough, "I had a really good time the other night. Maybe we could do it again sometime? Sorry, I'm rambling. Okay, bye."

Well, that sounds like a place to go. I headed back out, leaving the door open a crack to invite someone in to find Paul, and took the elevator to the sixth floor. 6D had a steel door on it with a passcode lock instead of a traditional knob and key. I punched in the code, and it clicked open. The apartment here was like Paul's, but definitely felt warmer under a woman's touch. I went up to the darker second floor expecting the bed to be on the balcon. It wasn't, just an office with some potted plants, but the door to my right led to to a bedroom. I opened it, and my inverted vision kicked in and I saw Hannah laying on a queen sized bed, though she'd kicked the sheets off and lay in a tank top and loose shorts while her body was drenched in sweat.

"Paul?" she breathed, not really looking at me until I knelt beside her and put a hand tentatively to her forehead. She was burning hot, and I meant that literally. Her skin seemed to be on fire as I felt it and I yanked it back as quick as I would a burning stove.

"You're not Paul," she said weakly before breaking into another coughing fit. "Who are you?"

"I'm a doctor," I lied, pretending to look her over and take her pulse. "Your friend Paul called 911 and the CDC sent me out to check on him. He got your message and he sent me up to look at you."

"He did? That's so sweet," she said, turning her head to cough into her satin covered pillow. "He's such a nice guy. Is everything okay with him?"

"He could be doing better," I said, not really lying on that one. "You sound terrible, what have you got?"

"I don't really know," she said, barely able to turn her head away and cough again. "I-I've taken all kinds of medicine but nothing seems to help. I feel like I have a fever and a sore throat, and I feel real weak, can't seem to get out of bed."

"Sounds bad," I said, letting go of her wrist and her hand fell limply onto the bed. I hadn't heard of a case like this outside of advanced tuberculosis. Even then, Doc Holliday took years to advance this far while Hannah seems to have advanced here in a few weeks. "Do you know where you got it?"

"I think," she said, then started to throw up. I turned her body so she could clear her mouth of vomit, and then she continued. "One of my clients. I was feeling fine until, I uh, I saw her a few days ago," she said, coughing again.

I briefly thought about giving her my blood, but I couldn't help but think of Paul. He was a ghoul, and even he couldn't survive it. No, this was more likely engineered to take down a ghoul and kine alike and leave us kindred with no food source. Which made no sense. Who would want to take out our food source?

"Who was she," I asked, desperate to track her down. It didn't look like Hannah would last much longer, and I needed that answer before she died.

"She was just a woman who called. She, uh," she said, then puked again. It was hard to tell, but I was beginning to think it was blood. My inverted vision didn't do colors all that well, but it let me see the dark stain forming on the bed. "She found my ad in the newspaper. I usually only do business with referrals, you know, but she was offering a lot of money." I wiped her brow with a nearby cloth, hoping she hadn't just met the woman here. I needed to find her again.

"Did she give you a name?" I asked, wanting something to start with.

"Jezebel, Jezebel Locke," she said, her voice getting fainter, as if she were getting weaker, and not able to force the air out to make herself heard. "I'm usually not too good with names, but hers was so strange."

"Where did you meet her? Where is Jezebel Locke?" I demanded, knowing she was slipping away even as she talked to me. I needed that last piece of the puzzle.

"She had a room at the Empire Hotel," she said, coughing a few more times before turning her head to look at me. "Are you sure Paul's okay? He's not sick is he?"

I didn't have the heart to tell her Paul was dead. "Paul's just fine, Hannah. Don't worry about him."

"Good," she said, barely breathing the word out. "He's a nice guy. I hope he calls me again, sometime."

"I'm sure he will, Hannah," I said, holding her hand. I would have cried if I still could, as it broke my heart to listen to her fade away like that.

"I hope so," she breathed, her words barely audible in the still room. "I really do." I continued to hold her hand. My vampire senses, finely tuned to tell me about a victim's blood if I was near enough, picked up on her slowing heart. I couldn't help but think that she was someone's daughter, but that now, they'd never know what truly happened to their little girl.

We were monsters. We might pretty ourselves up, hide behind graces finely tuned over a hundred years and move with a grace no human could match, but we were supernatural predators who preyed on humanity. The fancy graces just made it easier to feed.

Hannah didn't deserve to die for our secrets. She was a sweet kid just trying to survive. Now someone had killed her because of us, and she deserved justice. As she began to spasm, I took the phone from where she had laid it on the nightstand and dialed 911, then laid it under her hand. I wanted her to be found before she began to rot in here. She didn't deserve this.

"911 emergency, what is your location?"

Leaning down, I breathed, "Help."

"Help is on the way, ma'am. Do you require medical assistance?"

Not wanting to implicate myself farther, I dropped the phone onto the floor hoping that whoever was on the other end took the hint. I walked silently out of the apartment, leaving the door open for whoever came. The shakes didn't set in until the elevator hit the ground floor. And it wasn't from crying.

No, I was mad. Jezebel Locke was a dead bitch walking.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18 – Meeting Jezebel Locke

September 29, 2004 = Wednesday


I entered Empire Arms, no longer shaking but focused solely on finding Jezebel Locke. Since I didn't know what room she had I went over to the front desk to the desk clerk in a suit and tie. "I'm here for Jezebel Locke. I assume she's here?"

"Yes," he drawled. "She's one of our more popular guests."

"I need a key to her room," I asked, giving the man an intense eye.

"I'm sorry. But our policy..." Then I cut him off by grabbing him by the tie and nearly pulling him over the counter.

"If you don't give me a key to her room now, I'm going to use your tie to hang you with!" I hissed, trying to be quiet in case anyone was around.

"One, one moment," he stammered, scrambling backwards. I let him go, watching him as he went to a machine to punch in a code. He came back with a card bearing the name and logo of Empire Arms Hotel. I'd heard of these cards before. They'd unlock any electronic lock they were meant to unlock. Not very secure, but that's what mechanical locks were meant for.

"If anyone comes asking," I threatened, as I took the card, "I wasn't here." He started nodding emphatically, finally stammering, "Room five-nine-three." I left him there, going over to the elevator and heading for the fifth floor. I headed right, down the hallway, searching for her room. It didn't take a few doors before I found her room, and used the card to go in, unannounced.

A lean, long limbed red head in a deep v-necked top and leather pants was stretched out on the couch, reading. She looked up, making the move sensual even though there was nothing sensual about it. She closed the book, every move and act somehow evoking the longing of a lover's touch without trying as she set it aside.

"Well, look who we have here," she said, sex dripping off her voice. "Are you a believer, little morsel? Have you come for the kind of enlightenment only Jezebel can give?"

"I take it you're Jezebel Locke?"

"Yes, I am Jezebel," she said, running a hand down her lean body as she lay on the couch, her fingers catching the edges of her shirt to reveal a touch more skin as they passed over. "And I have such things to show you, such beautiful, dirty little things. Won't you come into my parlor?" Her hand finally found it's way to the promised land, but thoughts of Hannah and her death reminded me of why I was here. I shook my head, snarling at the lapse as her Presence literally had me feeling her desires of love and lust.

"Yeah," I said, pulling myself together and shoving the lust out of my body, "and death's coming with me."

Jezebel got off her couch, pulling a large hunting knife from behind her. "Oh, you cannot escape me. One way or another, you and I will intertwine our beings on the way into the Ninth Circle, and I will send you forth, full of the sweet sickness I carry."

I yanked on the shadows, a tentacle forming at her feet. "For Hannah, you bitch!" I yelled, and the tentacle began to wrap around her leg, and then suddenly she wasn't there, but plunging her knife into my open stomach right in front of me. The sharp blade stinging my insides, and not in a good way. I then staggered a bit as she tried to wrench my insides apart, hitting the light switch. The lights went out, and I used my potence ability to throw Jezebel across the room as my vision switched over to shadows. Jezebel recovered, and she cast around trying to find where she was. I smiled, realization that I had the upper hand flooding me. I then began moving on my tiptoes, sneaking around to pounce her from behind. Jezebel began moving forward, trying to find her way to the light switch, moving right past me in the darkness.

I waited till I had moved directly behind her, then jumped on her back and wrapped an arm around her neck, my other arm struggling to keep her from bringing the knife to bear on me and make her stab herself. It didn't work as well as I intended, and Jezebel lost her footing as our combined weight broke one of her heels and sent us both tumbling on the floor. The jar of hitting the floor knocked me from her back, and she quickly pounced me. I managed to get both hands on the one that had the knife, but even my potence fueled strength in both arms barely kept her from stabbing me. Desperate, I called for the shadows, and felt them envelope us.

Maybe it was because of my sight, but I could still see Jezebel on top of me. Her features quickly twisted into horror and she began to pull away. Fearing the knife, I kept hold of her even as she began to scream. She flailed, trying to get away, even dropping the knife. Without the knife I let her go and snatched for it to find it missing. I rolled over, searching for it, but couldn't find it. Then I became conscious of the Void. My sight illuminated the inkiness around me, making it look somewhat like the bottom of a pool the way the darkness shimmered with pure blackness. I couldn't see anyone, but I knew there was something else in here, dark swirling wraiths and then I was back in the motel room, the knife beside. I snatched it, and began looking for Jezebel, finding her curled up in a corner, arms wrapped around herself. I waited for the attack that didn't come, and I realized she was scared and mumbling, "don't hurt me," over and over again.

I cautiously made my way up to her, and she didn't even react to me. Taking her big knife, I used my potence to lift the redhead and quickly buried the blade in her neck. She reacted by exploding, probably from pain, and with a wrench of the blade separated her head from her shoulders. She immediately incinerated, and crumpled into ash, the near burning material pouring over my hand to form a pool of ash on the floor. With her dead, I thought back on what I'd seen when my shadows had enveloped us. There was something in their all right, and it scared her. Now I was curious as to what was in there, and resolved to look again when I could.

With her death, I looked myself over. The blade wound to my stomach had bled a little, but wasn't all that noticeable. I went into the bathroom, and used a washcloth to wipe the blood off my wounded stomach. I also used the cloth to clean the ash off my leather pants and black leather shoes. I didn't want to leave until my wound cleared, so I began to rummage through Jezebel's clothes. Most of her clothes were actually my size, according to the tags, but I think they were smaller. Why can't they get just one size chart for all companies?

I did find a dress that I liked. It was a royal blue evening gown with crystal beads and sequins all over the bodice which crossed in the back, leaving it open for an off the shoulder halter top look. I really liked it, and laid it out on the bed. I had several hours before my meeting with the primogen at the prince's office, so I decided to change into something a little more appropriate. Might as well, not like pile of ash over there was going to need it. In fact, she wouldn't need anything in this room at all.

I looked around, finding her large travel case tucked under the bed. I pulled it out, and opened it. I then started to undress, putting all my clothes into the travel case. Once I was stripped, I slipped the dress on, the whole thing was chiffon, and felt great against my skin. I also found her shoe collection, which I'm guessing was just her travel edition. They were a half size large than me, and I pulled out and slipped on a set of three inch royal blues sequin pumps that were meant to compliment my dress. The dress now just barely skimmed the floor, which was a perfect height.

With the last addition to my personal wardrobe, I started to pull the various clothes from the closet and place them in the large travel case. I also stole the shoes, placing them in the case. I started to go through the rest of the room, and found her jewelry case hidden in the dresser. The jewelry was exquisite, and was probably real. I didn't know how to tell, never having seen any real diamonds in my life, but the way most of it sparkled made me think it was real. I slipped on a large diamond bracelet, and then put on a set of diamond stud earrings. I wondered if I should do anything with my hair, as it hung straight down my back. Deciding that there was nothing I could do without help, I packed up the jewelry box into my travel case.

I went over the room one more time, looking for anything I might need. I didn't really like stealing, but there was no sense in all this going to waste. Plus, with no body, people would just think Jezebel had left, leaving a few things behind as she fled furious wives or police authorities. Which wasn't far from the truth, not that they'd ever learn that.

My second run through the apartment turned up a small bundle of cash, probably what she used to pay the hookers and escorts with. Not that they'd be able to turn away from her presence ability, but they had to be paid eventually. I counted it out, just over four grand, and stashed it in my bag.

Feeling I had everything, I closed up the suitcase and set it on its wheels. I stopped to inspect the pile of ash that was Jezebel when I got to the door. There was nothing left of her, the ash looking like a pile of burnt coals. If I didn't know any better, I'd say someone cleaned out a hibachi grill and dumped it on the carpet. Well, you break the masquerade, you pay the price. Besides, I needed to tell Scourge Walsh about cleaning up his messes.

I opened the door, leaving the key I'd been given by the TV, and left. With anything I was holding blind to the cameras as long as I held on to it, I kept the travel case rolling behind me by the handle. No one paid me any attention, even as I left in the middle of the night, using my free hand to keep my skirt off the pavement. I walked straight back to the Last Round, to check in with Damsel about the plaguebearer.

I was almost back before a Hispanic man stepped out of the alley, making me sigh as he pointed a large caliber gun at me. There was a time that this might make me scared. Now it was just an inconvenience.

"Hey, chica," he said, smiling lasciviously at me. "Whatcha doin' with all that ice?"

"Going to a party to which you are not invited, swine," I growled back. I didn't want this nice dress ruined before my meeting.

"How about you slip into this alley, give me everything you got, and I let you walk away with a boatload of sailors?"

I groaned at his remark, but turned and walked into the alley, dragging my case behind me. I could feel my beast want to rip his throat out, and I was halfway to letting it out, but to do so would make me the monster. And I couldn't use any of my overt powers to get out of this, or the prince would still call me in breach of the masquerade, myself. With few options, I decided to draw on my presence, and give it a stretch. Once we were well within the alley and around the corner, he stopped me. "This is far enough. Now, strip it all off chica."

I turned, and forced a smile on my lips. Hoping I was doing this right, I began pushing feelings like lust towards him. He began to smile, the gun lowering a bit. I let go the case, and raised the hem of my skirt. The chico was almost close enough now for me to grab him, and I leaned over, the degrading move causing the guy to get right behind me. I let myself rise up, as he put his hands on my hips. He didn't even sense anything wrong as I got my mouth close enough to breathe on his ear. Remembering what Damsel said about not caring about whom you feed from, I wrapped an arm around his head.

He didn't know how screwed he was until I used my potence to flip him over my head from behind me. He hit the ground in front of me hard, knocking the air from him. I then used my heel to press into his neck.

"Listen idiota," I said, so aggravated with the jerk I was mixing my Spanish with English. "Drop the pistol and run for madre, or I put my talones through your neck. Comprende?"

"Comprendo," he breathed, dropping the pistol. I let him up, and he scrambled out of the alley. I reached down and picked up his pistol. I didn't know much about it, except that it wasn't anything like the .38 I already carried. This one was one of those little black self-reloading numbers cops used. I looked for the safety, and accidentally dropped the bullets out of the handle. I picked them up, stashing them in my bag, then pulled the top part back like i'd seen them do in movies to reload it, causing one more to fly out the top. With no other bullets in it, I pulled the trigger, and it went click.

Putting it all in my bag to have Brian explain later, I grabbed my travel case and headed back to the Last Round. The chico who'd tried to rob me was nowhere in sight, and I let out a sigh of relief. I wasn't afraid of dying, as having already done it once it no longer scared me. I was more afraid of what else he had planned. I didn't want my body violated by a man again, and it was making rethink my situation. I never viewed women as potential partners before, but I was starting to wonder. If I no longer liked guys, should I rethink my views on women?

Soon I was at the Last Round, and entered through the front door, taking my case with me. Damsel was seated at a corner table, head down as she looked at some kind of paperwork. She looked up, still scowling, but quickly waved me over.

"Cammy," she said when as I sat next to her. "Are you heading to a fashion expo or are you going on a date?"

"I have a meeting with the Prince and the primogen at five. Saw some things in the plaguebearer's motel room I liked, so I took them after cutting her head off."

"Righteous," she said, actually smiling. "So are you going to do your hair and makeup before you go? Or are you just going to rough it?"

I sighed, wishing I had a reflection. It would make my nights so much easier. "I guess I'll rough it. I can't see myself in a mirror to do it myself, so I figure to just do a rough braid before I meet everyone."

Damsel scowled, shaking her head. "Cammie," she started, then got up. "Just wait right here, alright? You're an embarrassment." She left out the back door, and I briefly wondered what she had that would help. She came back a moment later with a large box. She sat it in a chair and opened it up, revealing all sorts of makeup supplies. I didn't even get much of a chance to speak before she pulled out a hair pick. "Just sit your ass still, cammie. I'll make a decent woman out of ya."

"Why all the makeup?" I asked, sitting with my back and shoulders straight as Damsel picked the tangles out of my hair. She was a little rough, but then most stylists were with a customer.

"I carry it so I don't look like a schmo when I go see my sire," she said, tossing the pick back in the box. She pulled out a think black box, and sat it on the table in front of me and opened it up. As I figured, my reflection wasn't there in the boxes mirror, and Damsel looked at it. "Huh, you really don't have a reflection. I thought that was just a myth."

"No, it's a clan thing. Like Brujah seem to be rabble rousers and idealists."

"Yeah, well, I seen them do good things with their ideals, Cammie. Wait till you see Michele Riviere, the Toreador primogen. She always looks like she came off a runway." Damsel then began brushing out my hair, and I was left to ponder what she said about Riviere, and really just glad she was helping me to look my best. Then it hit me.

"Damsel, what clan are you?"

"Toreador, Cammie," she said flatly, placing the brush on the table. "How do you want your hair? As fancy as I can get? Or do you want it in a bun?"

Toreador? "What do you suggest?" I asked, trying to figure her out.

"I'd go with a full French braid, myself. It's classy, and would really work with your long hair. My sire would have loved you. He was always into pretty women. Fad of the month. That bastard ruined a lot of girls lives though, including mine."

"Where is he?" I asked, as she began to sort my hair into strands.

"Beverly Hills. Sometimes I go see him, to listen to him speak. He doesn't realize the art he can make with his words, but he'd flip if I showed up like this. So, I keep the kit handy and a dress in the backroom in case I just have to go scratch that itch."

"Cool," I said, as Damsel worked on my hair. She worked carefully, and I could tell by the tugs that she wasn't using large strands of hair to make my french braid with, but much smaller strands that would look extravagant. Damsel really wanted me to look good. Once she had the braid itself started, it didn't take her long to finish the braid. She tied it off with a rubber band, then started pulling out more makeup. She had me turn to face her, so could redo my makeup.

"So, who did your makeup for you. I know you can't see to do it yourself," Damsel asked me as she used some kind of wet rag to remove Constance's work.

"Um, a girl I picked up. She was a runaway and I'm giving her a place to stay if she'll do my makeup. I, uh, also drink her blood before I leave home."

"Oh, started your herd already. That's good," she said, as she started to apply the base. "You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you knew exactly what you were doing."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, you got a herd started, already. That's important in this life. You can't just feed from anybody, otherwise you end up with a disease that you pass from victim to victim."

"True," I said, being careful to not move.

"Got any ghouls yet?"

"Four," I said, again being careful to only speak when she wasn't brushing makeup on my face.

"Wow, where'd you get them?" she asked, as she started to change out what she had on the table.

"Poe was my first. I found her dying in an emergency room from critical injuries. Brian, he was a thug I spared getting the astrolite to blow that warehouse. I use him for a bodyguard, so I don't get found and carried into the light during the day. Sharron is my third, she's a stripper at a lounge in Santa Monica. And Angel found me after Sharron stole all her customers demanding whatever I gave Sharron. Both Sharron and Angel are currently paying me, thinking my blood is just a drug you drink because I give it to them in vials. This next time though, I'll have them drink directly from me."

"How much you got?"

"Um, maybe eight grand?"

Damsel spun real fast to face me. "Eight grand? You're what? Five nights old? You sure you're not Ventrue?"

"Not unless Ventrue can summon and mold shadows. Something only Lasombra can do, or so I'm told."

Damsel regarded me with a sense of awe. "Cammie, you're racking up points here like no ones business. Do you have your own haven yet?"

"A home? No, not yet," I said, as Damsel began to apply nail polish. She had chosen a glimmering blue to compliment my dress and jewelry, and began to apply it. "Brian seems to be on the run from the law, and I've not taken direct control of Sharron and Angel, nor do I really intend to. Poe," I said, pausing. "I lost her when she was moved out of the emergency room and taken elsewhere. There's no telling where she is, and I don't really have the time to hunt her down."

"She'll turn back up Cammie," she said, moving to the other hand. "So, all the basics of living your own life, all on your own, with no one telling you what to do? Sounds like you've got this thing nailed."

"Just as soon as I can get the Prince off my back, I'm gone," I said, admiring the beautiful job Damsel had done.

"What are you going to do then?"

"I don't know. I just don't like these political games. Nines, I like him and if he needs me, I'll probably be there backing him up."

Damsel looked at me, as she finished my other hand. "Really? You're not in tight with Lacroix? Because that's what it looks like."

"If it wasn't for this boon, I wouldn't have went out to that ship where everyone was slaughtered."

Damsel just nodded, putting her makeup kit away. "So, what's your meeting with the primogen about?"

"Strauss wants to add me to the council so I can represent the Lasombra clan."

"Strauss? The Tremere mage? Cammie, you can't trust him. And don't ever drink any blood in their chantry! Ever!" She yelled, emphasizing her point.

"Why?"

"The Tremere practice blood magic. They call it thaumaturgy, but it can do some really messed up things to people," she said, placing the kit on the floor and sitting beside me. "I've seen them blow kindred up just by willing it."

"That's insane," I said, horrified at how powerful they were.

"Word is, they drink the blood of some elder council. It binds them all to one cause, and they don't have any problems tricking other kindred into serving them."

"What else should I know before I meet the primogen?"

"Let me give you a rundown of some of the clans you'll meet. Brujah, yeah, they get a bad rap for fighting. But it's not all unearned. They do fight for their ideals. Mostly they want freedom, to build a utopia, but they've never agreed on it. Ask some of the guys what they think it is, you'll never get them to agree. Useful if you need to distract them.

"Toreadors. We're artists, but like utopia for Brujah, we can't agree on what's art. My sire thinks it's beautiful women. I prefer a good speech. Some like Riviere, she prefers paintings. If you ever see one staring at something, block their view. It'll pull them out of their reverie, or you can distract them with it."

"Interesting," I said.

"Also, you can usually spot the ones that interested in beauty, because they tend to get touchy-feely. Literally. My sire can get roaming hands bad if he's interested.

"Gangrel. They don't tend to like city life much, but the ones that do, treat it like a concrete jungle. They are hunters, and they can command the beast within you if they are strong enough.

"Malkavians are nuts. They have this inner voice, and it can be eerily accurate about the future, the past and the present. That's IF you can figure out what they're talking about."

"I met one in Santa Monica. Therese and Jeannette? They are one person, but they think they're separate people."

"Crazy, Cammie. After them you got the Nosferatu. They're the information brokers. If you really need to know something, you go to them. They can be horrible looking, but they know what they're doing.

“The Tremere are one of the creepiest groups I've ever met. Don't ever trust one, ever. The things they can do with blood are legend. And finally there are the Ventrue. They are money, Cammie, and power. They love to make others twist to their will, and they have the ability to make you do what they say. Again, literally."

"So what about us? What are our weaknesses?"

"Sunlight. Every sunrise you will sleep. You can sometimes stay up an hour or so past sunrise but you will still pass out. You can't beat it. In time, you will start waking up before sunset. So be careful. Okay?"

"Alright," I said, wondering if my nails were dry.

"So, your body. Well, kiss dandruff goodbye, thank god. You can still get lice though, as it's a bug. You can't get sick, but you can carry diseases. Oh, and crosses are mostly harmless. Mostly. Heard tale of one kindred who met a hunter with real faith. The cross he carried kept her from being able to attack him, and eventually he forced her into a corner. Unable to flee, or attack, he pushed forward. Eventually, his faith alone destroyed her.

"Most of the other stuff, garlic, running water, body odor," she paused, sighing, "none of that affects us. Your senses are getting sharper. In another week or so, you'll be able to start smelling things at a distance, see better than you ever could, and hear a lot better.

"You've probably already noticed the differences in blood. Don't ask me why, but the better cultured a person is, the more class they have, the better their blood tastes. A bum or a hooker will taste bland, while biting into a doctor is like pure nectar."

"And one well on their way to become a doctor is like honey?"

"Yeah, I guess. Never bit a student so I wouldn't know."

"Hmm." Wow, Constance really needed to stay in school then. I finally worked up the courage to test my nail polish and found it was nice and dry.

"Hey, if you want, you can leave your baggage here, I'll watch it till you get back," Damsel said.

I looked at the wall clock. It was close to four, and figured that by the time I caught a taxi to the tower, it'd be about time. "Sure, I'll swing by after the meeting and get everything before I head home," I said, carefully swinging my messenger bag onto my shoulder.

"I'll be waiting," she said, as I walked to the door, once again keeping my skirt from touching the floor as I headed for the door. I turned and waved to Damsel as I walked out the door, and she smiled and waved back. I had a friend, someone I could count on to help me understand things that were beyond me. That was important to me. Now why did I have this sudden desire to see her all dressed up?

Chapter Text

Chapter 19 – Meeting the Primogen

September 29, 2004 = Wednesday


The taxi was actually very prompt, needing only a few minutes to pick me up, and soon had me at Lacroix tower. I wasn’t paying much attention, and was surprised when a redhead in a yellow t-shirt and glasses walked up to me, physically blocking my path.

“Hey,” she shouted, smiling as I stopped to avoid ramming into her. “I know this might seem creepy and all, but please don’t blow me off. Somehow I knew I could find you here, I mean, I’ve been looking all over for you since I got out of the hospital, because I wanted to, uh, I’m in your debt. I owe you my life, and I feel like I need to repay you.”

Recognition lit through my brain. Poe had finally found me. “Nice to see you again Poe.”

The redhead blushed at that. “It’s Heather, please. I’m not weirding you out, or anything, am I?”

“That’s hard to do lately,” I said, smiling back at her. She was as tall as me, though without the heels in her plain sneakers and blue jeans, but she was beautiful, in her own way. “You look much better, I’m glad to see it.”

“Only because of you, and what you did for me,” she said, again that sheepish nature of hers making her blush, running a hand through the hair over her ear nervously. “Here, I got you this,” she said, handing me a ring box. I took it, finding a gold ring inside. Actually that was an understatement. The setting was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There was a gold ring, but on top, instead of a diamond setting, or other precious stone, there was an arrangement of rubies set in gold to simulate a rose. It was beautiful, and I carefully took it out of the box and slipped it on my left hand to help balance out my jewelry. I had my bracelet on the right, and earrings in both ears, but nothing on my left.

“I thought you might like it,” she continued, as I continued to examine the new ring. “I can be useful to you, I’d do anything,” she paused, wrapping her arms around her middle as she looked at the ground. “Just tell me you’ll let me help you, let me stay with you. Make me feel this way.”

That last line snapped my head up, even though Heather wasn’t looking at me. Was she in love with me? O-kay, that was a new one. Brian never mentioned any feelings like that, so I wondered briefly if it were feelings of love, or if it were associated with her being my ghoul. I’d have to wonder about that later, though, as I wanted to get inside and meet with Strauss before I met the rest of the primogen. “Of course, Heather,” I said, wrapping an arm around the sheepish woman. “I’d love for you to stay with me. I’m trying to find a new place right now, so it might get a little cramped in my one room apartment.”

“Yeah,” she said, leaning into me and putting her own arm around me. “I went by earlier. You’re really loud when you do it, you know?

I shook my head, thinking Brian must’ve gotten lucky when Angel came back for her fix and her gun. “That wasn’t me, and Brian isn’t my boyfriend. That’s one of the reasons I want a bigger place. One that can fit us all.”

“Really?” she exclaimed, hugging me tight enough that a foot came off the pavement. “I promise you won’t regret it! Promise! I’ll get you money, things...everything! I want to be important to you. I can even make you dresses like that if you want. I went to college to study fashion design, so I can make you stunning clothes like that without having to buy from an overrated line.”

This was getting better and better. “Just tell Brian you’re to wait on me, and that I’ll be back at sunrise.”

Heather released me, beaming as she smiled from ear to ear. “I’ll wait for you at your place then. And when you do come back, I’ll take care of whatever you want.”

“I’m looking forward to it Heather,” I said, as Heather began bopping down the sidewalk. Well, at least she was now accounted for, so I could get that off my mind. I walked inside and groaned. That overweight guard was sitting behind the front desk as if it were his personal mission to ruin my nights.

“Evening, missy,” he said as I approached. “You here to see Mister Lacroix again?”

“Yes, I am,” I replied, as I looked at my dress to make sure it was still perfect.

“Yea, he told me to send you up as soon as you came in. Lotsa people here to see him. Nice guy, seems a little different though. But that’s his business.”

“Well, I’d stay and chat, but I have reports to file, Chunk” I said, reading his name tag for a name, before I headed around the reception area to the elevators. The elevator was waiting when I got there, and I headed up to the upper floors. Stepping out into the Camarilla headquarters, Scourge Walsh glanced towards me before quickly stepping over to greet me.

“Greetings, miss,” he said, bowing slightly in front of me. “Are you here to announce yourself to the prince?”

“No, but I do have his report on what happened at the Dane,” I said, enjoying the fact that I was dolled up enough to not be entirely recognizable. Watching his face as he realized who I was was interesting. The shock value alone was worth it.

“Miss Flores? I must say you surprise me with your transformation, and such finery. I wouldn’t think you would have invested in this for some time.”

“I acquired this after clearing out a masquerade breaker’s hotel room. She was spreading a supernatural disease and attracting attention.”

He looked concerned at that. “Supernatural?”

“It can kill a ghoul,” I informed him.

“This is, not good,” he said, his face showing the worry he felt. “I thought it was just a normal disease, and you say it can kill a ghoul? Do you have proof?”

“Ghoul’s name was Paul, lived in Skyline Apartments. I don’t know who his master is, an Anarch I think, but he succumbed to his death before the person who infected him did. I tracked it back to a Jezebel Locke, who was staying at Empire Arms Hotel. After I killed her, I took everything she had, this was part of it.”

“Thank you,” he said. He seemed hesitant, then continued. “As compensation for dealing with this serious threat to the masquerade, I’ll make sure you receive a large bonus for handling the situation, as well as keeping her pilfered belongings. I honestly did not think you would be so beneficial so soon. Have you found a place to stay yet?”

“No, I’d thought about sending my ghouls out to do some house hunting in the morning. We’re getting too cramped in the apartment.”

“How much do you have to start your loan with?”

“I can put five grand on the down payment with no problem. Though if I need to, I can use up to eight grand,” I told him, and he spun to face me.

“Eight grand? What did you do? Rob a bank?!”

“Just my normal day to day running,” I told him, though something in me sang at seeing him slack jawed.

“Eight grand?” he said, leaning against the wall, his eyes glassed over as he thought about it. “It took me over a year to earn eight grand. At least that was in 1861, we did have a war on.”

“The Civil War?” I asked, and he nodded and added, “Back when a nickel bought an entire meal, and a man’s wages wasn’t five dollars for a month. He makes that now in an hour.”

“Time flies, huh?” I snarked, as the man composed himself.

“Use your wealth, wisely, young one. A time will come when your wealth will be one of the few things you have. When you leave your meeting with the prince and the primogen, my ghoul will be waiting for you. She’ll have a packet listing some of the homes I have available in the LA area for sale and lease, along with cars and other services the I can offer.”

“Thank you,” I said, as he led the way to where our presumed meeting was to take place. He opened a door allowing me through before shutting it, and inside were six people. Strauss was the only one I recognized as he stood talking with a well dressed man in a suit. A gorgeous woman in a gold sequined dress with her hair up stood to the side, her eyes staring at a large painting on the wall. It was of a forested mountain looming over a beautiful lake, and looked good enough to be real.

On the other side, three men stood talking, one looking like a heartthrob from the thirties in a tuxedo. The other men were much rougher, the one on my left had blonde hair and was dressed like a biker sans shirt, chains hanging from his belt to loop around his back. The other seemed hunched over in his dirt caked jeans and denim coat, with yellow animal-like eyes that seemed to bore through me. His hair seemed to be matted, and he was by far the dirtiest one in the room.

“Ah, Miss Flores,” Strauss said, coming to talk to me, bringing the man he was talking to with him. Strauss was dressed in a crimson vest while the other man was dressed in nice suit with some kind of neckerchief around his collar, and his shoes were mirror finished black leather. “This is the Ventrue primogen, Herr Mueller.”

“Guten tag, Herr Mueller,” I said, extending my hand and trying to remember as much German as I could while hoping he wasn’t Swedish.

“Gute nacht, fraulein,” he said with a thick German accent, taking my hand in his and kissing it like a gentleman of old. “I see you have been busy these past few nights.”

“Miss Flores has done well, considering she was only Sired a few nights ago and left alone on her own without aid,” Strauss said, coming to my aide.

“Indeed,” he said as he seemed to look me over without moving his eyes from mine. I couldn’t help but feel as if I were being weighed and measured in that moment. In embarrassment, I looked away, my eyes going back to the woman looking at the painting. She hadn’t moved at all, though the rest of the room seemed to have noticed me by now. Remembering what Damsel told me about Toreadors becoming enthralled by beauty, I walked over to her. She never noticed me at all, and I raised my braceleted wrist to block her view. I thought at first she wasn’t going to come out of her enthrallment, when she raised her hands to grab my wrist, as she twisted it in the light.

“Moissanite,” she whispered, her accent hinting at French as she examined it carefully. “I would say Grace has done herself proud with this.”

“Thank you,” I said, as she released my wrist, before she looked me over. I was trying to figure out what she meant, but it was beyond me. “Moissanite is a fake diamond, I take it?”

“Yes, but it has a very colorful sparkle. It’s usually the best substitute for the real thing, and Sheila does wonders with it. You simply must stop by her store sometime. It is Forever Finery, on Rodeo Drive,” she purred, before noticing my ring. “Oh, how lovely,” she gasped, and I raised it so she could see it. She again took my hand, twisting it so she could see it in the light. “That, at least, is a real ruby. But the gold is tainted. Fourteen karat at most.”

“I wish I were better at identifying the knock-offs from the real thing,” I intimated, even as she continued to fawn over my ring.

“Do not worry yourself so much with it. Last time I went shopping for diamonds, I could not find a real one in the entire store, and the gold was all plated,” she said, shaking her head lightly so as not disturb her hair, as she lowered my hand and wrapped an arm around me. I’d get offended by the personal invasion, but, as Damsel said, it was just the Toreador way.

With her arm around me, she led me to the kindred in a tux, the biker, and the man desperately in need of a bath. Even Michele wrinkled her nose at the odor. “Dusty, are you ever going to rid us of your odiferous aroma?” she chastised the kindred.

“Then I wouldn’t be Dusty the Bold anymore, would I?” he retorted. I’d personally settle for a little less stench, but as I was now close close enough to get a good look at him, I realized his hair was different. It looked like it had been greased, but it lacked the shiny nature associated with it. I could also tell this close that the hair seemed thicker on his arms than normal, but I wondered if it were an old kindred male thing, or maybe something associated with his clan. The hunch look also became apparent, as it was a hump between his shoulder blades. What was he turning into? A grizzly?

“No,” said blonde biker next to him. “You’d be more bearable to be around,” he said, laughing.

“Always with the bear jokes,” Dusty grumbled.

“Well, it helps that you resemble one so much,” biker replied, still laughing.

“Boys,” Michele interceded, trying to stop the fight before it could begin, because even I saw Dusty’s fingers turn into claws. “This is Eliza Flores, the one Strauss wants to add to our council to represent the Lasombra now that we have one in our city.”

“Lasombra,” the tuxedo clad man said, his voice deep and dripping with sex like honey. “It’s not unusual to see their antitribu in the Camarilla. What is unusual is to see them last.”

“It’s becoming more common to see them, as things in the Sabbat fall apart,” biker boy stated. “Heard there’s some sort of problem their having with the Tzmisce. And you do know one is prince of Washington DC, now.”

“That’s propaganda,” tuxedo said, “Don’t believe everything you hear Scott. We Nosferatu have been spreading those rumors for years.”

“Speaking of rumors, Gary,” Michele interjected, stopping another argument from forming, “Have you heard whether or not Isaac managed to acquire a new actress for his recent project?”

“Not yet, cupcake. Though to be honest, he hasn’t been hosting any casting calls recently,” Gary replied, as he opened a nearby cabinet door to reveal rows of blood packs. “Tell me, Miss Flores, are you hungry?”

“I could use a good neck to bite,” I stated, earning a smile from Dusty, and a guffaw from Scott, the biker. Even Michele seemed to vibrate as she snickered.

“Sorry, we quit keeping kine around for drinking purposes the better part of a century ago,” Gary said, as he retrieved several bags and distributed them to the group.

“Drink up, kid,” Scott said, smiling as he took his. “Lacroix goes all out. If I’m not mistaken, it’s virgin.”

“Scott!” Michele exclaimed in mock protest, and I could tell it was mock as she was laughing so hard she really was vibrating, and it made me feel loved. They were joking with me, making me part of the group.

“What? Eighteen is a good year for virgins,” he said, biting on a corner and deflating the bag as he sipped it clear. “Ooh, it goes down so nice.” Michele sipped hers, and Gary quickly pulled a second for himself, putting one in his tuxedo jacket.

“For keeping up appearances, fledgling,” he said, as he and Dusty sipped on theirs. I looked at it again, wondering what the trick was then figured I’d try to snag it with a fang. Extending my fangs, I slipped the plastic into my mouth and bit lightly, and I could feel my teeth pierce the plastic. Then I began sipping the blood out, and it was heaven as it went down my throat. Only Dusty seemed to be disappointed.

“Eighteen is good, but I miss the thirteen,” he said, grimacing at something unpleasant only he could see as he drank his.

“It became socially unacceptable, Dusty,” Michele offered, looking sadly down at her expensive shoes.

To soften the mood, I decided to ask Gary a question. “Why do you need it for keeping up appearances?”

“I’m a Nosferatu. You’ve met Tung in Santa Monica, and all the Nosferatu are similar in appearance to him.”

“In exchange for him assuming a pleasing appearance, the Prince provides us all with blood. It works best for everyone, especially Gary.”

“Rat gets old after the first thousand,” he said smiling, and Michele shivered. “That’s another thing that’s not ‘socially acceptable.’”

Before things could resume, the doors opened and the prince entered, the exceedingly tall sheriff right behind him as always. With his arrival, everyone went to take seats. Michele led me over to where Strauss and Herr Mueller sat, while Dusty, Scott, and Gary took the other side. Then the prince took up a small silver striker, and rang the shiny golden bell on the table.

“As prince, I call this meeting to order,” he said, taking his seat at the head of the table.

“We are short one person,” Michele said, her eyes going across from us to the empty seat.

“Has anyone heard from Doctor Grout?” the prince asked the group at large.

“Nein,” Herr Mueller said from where he sat by the prince. “Though he was acting odd at our last meeting.”

“Maybe he’s finally went insane after a hundred years,” Scott said.

“Or maybe something else has happened. But what could go after an ancillae Malkavian?” Michele offered.

“I’ll send an agent tomorrow night to check on him. Will that be satisfactory?” Prince Lacroix asked the group.

“That would be helpful,” Strauss said. “They can then report to you and we will discuss this topic again at our next meeting.”

“Which brings us to the matter at hand. I understand that you wish to add a Lasombra representative to the council?”

“As a recognized member of the Camarilla, and a clan currently unrepresented by those present, I feel she does have the right to have her clan’s say in these matters,” Strauss argued to the group.

“But it’s just her,” Scott argued back. “There’s no clan yet.”

“I must second the Brujah representative,” Herr Mueller stated. “One person does not a clan make.”

“All those in favor?” the prince asked. Michele, Strauss and Dusty raised their hands. “Those opposed?” Gary, Herr Mueller and Scott raised theirs. “As we seem to be tied, and under rules granted and approved by this council previously, I will vote to break the tie. My vote is no. This is not any reflection against you, neonate. But as Primogen Scott and Herr Mueller pointed out, there’s no clan to represent, and one person does not a clan make. Maybe once you reach say, five Lasombra, through either embrace or immigration, we will revisit this matter.

“Now, to further speed along your night, and to streamline matters. Why don’t you present us with your findings on the Elizabeth Dane?”

I nodded to him, and stood, going over to my bag to get the reports and documents I had acquired. “According to the report I read on the way here, the fate of the crew has been decided. They were slaughtered aboard the ship. The walls in some areas were painted with blood. Bloody handprints on the sarcophagus itself indicate it was opened at some point from within.”

“Within?” Michele whispered, and repeated by everyone at the table.

“Let’s not get over-excited over nothing. Leave the reports on the table, and I’ll look over them later. As you are becoming indispensable to me at the moment, and as you are so wont to prove yourself, head to Grout’s mansion in San Bernardino. Pry him out from whatever rock he’s hidden himself under then, check back with me. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” I said, pulling the reports and everything he’d need and placed them on the table. It significantly reduced my load, and I hung my bag over my nearly bare shoulder. I left the room to find a woman in a dark gray blazer with light pink shirt. She held a professional leather binder, that was about three inches thick.

“Miss Flores?” she asked, as I came close to where she stood.

“Yes?” I asked, figuring this was Walsh’s ghoul.

“My master wishes you to have this binder. I just updated it, as we have recently acquired several properties in the Ontario area, and one in Beverly Hills. Half of all pictures of the home shown are in midday, and the other half are night. All listings show both retail and lease information. The car leases come with an optional maintenance plan, and all other services are as listed. Oh, and your payment for your assistance in keeping the masquerade is inside. All cash. Any questions, my business card is on the inside cover. Just ask for Rochelle.”

“Thank you, Rochelle,” I said, pulling two grand in fresh filing the binder in my bag. The thing was heavy, and definitely not something I wanted to carry around. Rochelle then walked away, and I headed back to the elevator. I was able to quickly get the ground floor, and get a cab back to the Last Round. I had the driver wait, while I went in to get my case.

“Cammie,” Damsel said as I entered the bar. My recently acquired travel case was right beside her.

“Damsel,” I said smiling back at her. “Well you were right about Michele, absolutely stunning.”

“Told ya,” she said, smiling back at me. “So how’d it go?”

“A Doctor Grout was missing, so the prince got the tie breaker,” I told her. “He said that without more members of my clan, there’s no clan to represent. So I was denied.”

“Figures. I was hoping you’d get on there precious counsel. Oh well Cammie. We tried,” she said, a hint of sadness in her voice. “Keep your eyes out for more plaguebearers though. Skelter dusted another one an hour ago.”

“Great,” I said, no enthusiasm at all in my word. Jezebel was hard enough to take, the next one might not be so easy.

“Well, here’s your bag,” she said, handing me my case. “Did Michele at least like your fancy jewelry?”

“Yes, though she said it was moissanite and not real diamonds. She did like it though.”

“That’s all that matters. Think all mine is cubic zirconia.” she said as we walked to the door.

“I’ll get on the case of those other plaguebearers when I find Grout. He wasn’t at the meeting. Herr Mueller said he was acting strange last week, and Scott thought he might have went nuts.”

“Grout? Don’t know much about him except he’s like the most sane malk you’ll ever meet.”

“He’s not nuts? I thought you said they were all nuts.”

“They are, except for him. He’s supposed to be so sane that they couldn’t hardly tell what clan he was until another Malk pointed it out. Be careful, Cammie. If Grout went nuts, there’s no telling what he might or might not have done, or will do. Malks can and will pass on their insanity to others, even make you see things that aren’t there. One Malk and I got into it once, and for the rest of the night I had to be watched because I thought I was back in high school. Even tried eating and couldn’t understand why it made me sick.”

“I’ll be careful, Damsel, and thanks for warning me.” She was way too close, with absolutely no space between us. I couldn’t help but try to picture the tart redhead in a fancy gown, but it was too alien a concept. The moment seemed to stretch as we stared into each others eyes, but it was finally me that broke eye contact. “I think I need to go. I have a long way to go and the sun will be up soon.”

“Yeah, you better get going Cammie,” she said, her voice sad as I walked down to the waiting cab. I didn’t look back as we drove away, but I wanted to. As much as I liked Damsel, I wasn’t sure if I felt that way about her. I couldn’t but feel awkward about such thoughts, when before Simeon I wouldn’t have thought about women at all. I was raised Catholic and to like boys. But since Simeon had done what he did to me, I couldn’t think that way about men at all.

But ever since, I was finding myself more and more attracted to other girls. I didn’t know why this attraction started, or if it would go away. I didn’t even know if it were real or not, or how to make it go away. And Damsel? I didn’t want to hurt her. She was too good for that. Though as I thought about Damsel, I suddenly realized I did care for her. At least my inner beast hadn’t ruined that. But had I ruined it with the way I left?

I continued to contemplate it the entire ride home, even as it got bright outside. I kept hoping we’d make it to the apartment before the sun rose, but with miles left to go through the thick morning traffic, I felt the now familiar drain as the sun rose above the horizon. Panic filled me, as I knew Brian and Heather wouldn’t know to be watching for me, and the cabbie couldn’t know that I was kindred.

I ducked down into the seat, feigning that I was just sick. I tuned the cabbie and his complaints about puking in his car out as I dealt with staying awake. Soon, the cabbie announced we had arrived, and I flinched at the brightness around me. It was giving me an excruciating headache. I handed the cabbie my card, flinching at the pain of sunlight hitting my hand. I made sure to keep my hand out of the sunlight as I took my card back.

“Can you pull off into the alley a bit? I don’t want sunlight to ruin my fair complexion,” I lied. The cabbie grunted, but I felt the cab shift as he pulled over the curb. “Thanks amigo,” I whispered, carefully lifting myself out of the cab to keep myself in the shadows. Grabbing my bags, I started to stagger down the alleyway to the door that led upstairs, thankful the building itself blocked the light.

Damsel wasn’t lying when she said we couldn’t stay awake during the day. Even this little bit was brutal. I finally staggered to the apartment door, just in time to see it open as Constance was getting ready to leave. “Mistress!” she shouted, rushing forward to help me inside. Brian and Heather were there in a heartbeat, with Brian getting under my other shoulder and physically carrying me while Heather picked up my feet and dress. Inside, Brian began barking orders to shut the blinds.

“Get me out of this dress,” I said, but I think in my tired state I was slurring my words. Heather seemed to catch the idea, and soon she was stripping me out of my dress. Stripped of my dress and jewelry, Brian picked me and carried me into the bathroom, and I could feel the small beams of light that seeped past the blinds as they raked across my skin. I was so tired though that all I could do was whimper, even as Brian settled me onto my pallet in the shower stall. Settled in and secure, I let myself drift into the abyss of sleep.


Chapter Text

Chapter 20 – Old Ally, New Friend

September 30, 2004 = Thursday

 

I woke to searing pain, and couldn’t help but whimper as each and every movement was agony. I soon became aware though, that I wasn’t alone. I was being held to the bosom of another, and by the soft, fleshy lumps pushing into my arm, a feminine someone. I opened my eyes, and quickly shut them as bright light flooded my eyes as if I were staring into several one-hundred-twenty watt bulbs.

“Mistress?” I heard Heather say. “Do you want me to help you up?” I nodded my approval, and Heather helped me to stand. I was glad they had stripped me out of my clothes, but I wasn’t sure if I could heal sunlight damage like this, or how long it would take if I could. I did know I was hungry, and my lunchbox was in the next room. Heather helped me to the door, and I cracked an eye to find Constance waiting on me. She rolled her head over, baring her neck for me.

I took a tentative step toward her, wrapping my arms around her and using her to support me. I could feel the blood thrum in her veins, and licked her neck before I sank my teeth deep into her artery. She moaned as I drank her life giving blood, and I could feel life return into me as the pain left my body. Unfortunately, her blood thinned quickly and I was forced to stop lest I kill her. The teenager was limp in my arms, as I was now holding her up, but the light’s were still bright enough to give me a headache.

“Brian? Can you settle her onto her bed please?” I asked him. Brian scooped the girl up, and laid her down to rest while I fumbled my way back into the bathroom. I turned off the bright light and let my shadow vision kick in while I examined my body. I had large scabs on my left arm and shoulder, and on my right hand. It still felt uncomfortable, but not the deep searing agony it was when I woke up.

Huh, guess feeding makes me heal fast. The burns looked almost third degree, which would have required the flesh to be cut away as it would be more like burnt steak at that point, but now? Maybe first degree? No more than having a bad sunburn or accidentally get near boiling water splashed on you. I rolled the pallet up, stashing it on the commode before turning the water on cool and showering. It still felt somewhat warm, even though it shouldn’t reminding me of an extremely hot day where the water would be heated in the main pipes underground.

I washed at the scab, using the water to soften and remove it without ripping any skin under it. The scab start to peel away, leaving red skin underneath it, confirming why the pain lessened. I was almost healed, just a quick bite and I’d have perfect skin again. Maybe being a monster was useful for something.

Stepping out the shower and drying off, I wondered how Constance was doing. I did almost drain the girl dry. Wrapping a towel around me, I left the dark bathroom and stepped back into the lit main room, the bulb was still bright, and my headache began to resume. Constance was laid out on the bed, tucked in under the covers with Brian sitting beside her, trying to get her to wake.

“How long did she take last time?” I asked him.

“A minute, maybe two. I don’t like this, mistress,” he said, not looking back as he continued to stare at her.

“Let me check,” I told him, and he moved to stand by the fridge. Heather watched, horror filled her eyes. I put my ear above her mouth, listening to her breathe and seeing the bare rise of her chest. I then moved down, putting my ear right on her chest in the valley of heaven, and listened to her heart. I could hear it as thumped weakly, straining to pump a near empty system. She was going to be weak from blood loss for days, but she’d survive. “She’ll be okay. I just took a bit too much.”

Brian nodded his head, his eyes wide as he looked at me, and even Heather looked scared. I couldn’t help but feel I was the monster in the family, the matriarch everyone respected but not nobody liked. The kind who had problems from everyone playing their petty politics as they tried to gain favor. I did have four ghouls, plus whatever term Constance was. Damsel said she was the start of my herd, so cow maybe? Blood bag? I still think Happy Meal suited her best.

“Mistress,” Heather began, as she continued to stare wide eyed at me, “what’s wrong with your eyes?”

“What do you mean?”

“The colored parts aren’t there anymore,” Brian said as he looked at me in horror. “Can you even see?”

“What do you mean? I see fine,” I said as I looked between the two. “I have a headache from the bright lights in here, but other than that...”

“Mistress, there’s only two lights in the apartment,” Brian told me. I looked around, and he was right. That one bulb I could see was the source of my oncoming migraine. But why?

“Is it like when they dilate your eyes?” I asked them. Brian shook his head, then Heather dug into a schoolbag for a notebook and pencil. She sketched something real fast and then showed it to me.

“This is what an eye looks like, right?” she said, showing it to me and Brian. It was a good drawing, simple but complete, with the white of the eye, the veins and the colored iris all being displayed along with a solid black for the center lens.“This is what it looks like now, she said, as she used the pencil to blacken the center of the eye. Now, all that was left was the white of the eye, and I couldn’t help but feel robbed of something.

Of course, now I was also a walking masquerade violation if anyone saw my missing iris’s.

A knock at the door broke me out of my thoughts, and we all looked to the door. Brian looked at me for guidance, and I nodded. It seems we never got visitors, and I wondered who might trouble themselves to brave the sun to see me? Michele? Damsel? Strauss?

Brian opened the door to reveal a light golden-brown haired woman in a leather outfit. From where I stood behind the door, that was about all I could see. Her voice was high pitched, very feminine, but the outfit was very butch. Then I remembered, this was the girl who staked me at Simeon’s warehouse, and then stood up for me at the trial. A Gangrel. It was Hunter Bitch.

“Hi,” she said to Brian, as I hid behind the door still dressed only in my towel. “I’m here to see Eliza, who’s hiding behind the door? My name’s Jean.” I fought the brief surge of panic as she singled out where I was, and instead of wondering how she knew, stepped around the end of the door to feel naked in just a towel. I really should have gotten dressed after my shower.

“Jean,” I said, extending a hand in greeting, even as my left kept the towel from falling. “Nice to see you. Thanks for standing up for me at my trial, by the way.”

She giggled at that, leaning against the door frame. I’d call her a bimbo, like Angel, except where Angel tried to be sexy by dressing to reveal her voluptuous body, Jean hid her alabaster skin as much as possible. Her leather pants were skin tight as they should be, but the white tank was loose under her heavy denim jacket and seemed tucked into her pants. I could tell she had a large rack by the way her coat stuck out from her shoulders, but she didn’t show any cleavage. Even her ass was hidden under the long denim jacket and not out for display with only a standard boot heel, not some kind of stiletto or heel. She seemed to have been a model before her change, but now she hid it.

And why was I ogling her like I was Brian? She seemed not to notice, or maybe she did and was just used to it, and took my offered hand. Her hands were rough, covered in small callouses, but the nails were neat and trimmed. Actually, the difference between her and Dusty was night and day. And they were the same clan? How did you tell the different clans apart then?

“It’s not a problem, sweetie. I know how it feels to be Embraced into something you don’t understand,” she said, her breathless way of talking was amazing, and seemed to quiet something in me. The panic that was filling me abated, and I almost shuddered at realizing how nervous I was. “You really should keep a better hand on your Beast. It felt like it was ready to take control.”

I nodded, starting to realize what everyone meant by the inner beast. “If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll get dressed. I feel like a harlot standing here in nothing but a towel.”

“Go ahead, I’ll be waiting. Someone forgot to get you the address to Grout’s mansion, so I’m supposed to drive you there. My truck’s downstairs,” she said, as I turned my back to get the clothes Heather had laid out for me. It was one of Sharron’s all leather ensembles, and probably fitting considering I might have to go digging for Grout. I just hope it wasn’t literally.

“Oh, you poor thing!” Jean exclaimed as she saw Constance laid out in the bed. She leaned over the youth, sniffing, before finally setting an ear to her chest. “She’ll be alright, but sweety, you can’t drain them that deep. It’s not good for their heart.”

“Yeah, I was trying to heal from a bad sunburn I got coming home. That and I drank from her yesterday. I’m still getting used to this,” I said apologetically as I entered the bathroom. I could hear the bed creak as something shifted on it, and I dressed quickly in the cotton panties, leather pants and crop top. I stepped out to see Jean on the bed with Constance, the happy meal smiling as she wrapped herself around Jean, her lips moved as she murmured something I couldn’t hear.

“I still say she looks familiar,” Brian said, looking at Heather. “I just can’t figure where I know her from.”

“She’s a vampire!” Heather silently argued back. “You know, blah-blah vampire? She could be hundreds of years old!” Jean stroked Constance’s hair as the youngster continued to hug the kindred in bed with her. It made me wonder if the kid was an adrenaline junkie.

“She’s only seventy eight,” Constance mumbled, and we looked at her. She knew a kindred?

“So who is she?” We all said together. Constance mumbled something about comfortable and I chalked it up to blood loss. The mind can often do strange things under stress, after all. More likely she was a celebrity look-a-like, the kind that can’t make a name for themselves unless it’s impersonating their famous counterpart in movies or TV. Still, who did she remind me of?

“Well, the name I use is Jean Baker,” she said simply, her breathless voice so feminine and at odds with her attire. Brian and Heather exchanged glances, shaking their heads. The name meant nothing to any of us, so I chalked up another point in the look-a-like column. Constance seemed to be okay, so I slipped on a pair of three inch heels with straps to hold it tight to my foot.

Fully dressed, I pulled my bag from beside the desk. The pistol I had taken from the thug was on top, and I pulled it out. Behind the trigger, it said ‘Made in Austria, Glock, Inc.’ I pulled out the part that held the bullets, and the spare that came out the top after I slid the top part back. I really don’t know much about guns.

“It’s a Glock, Seventeen maybe, maybe a nineteen?” Brian said, moving to stand behind me.

“Yeah, it’s a Glock 19, third generation. Holds fifteen in the clip, and has a universal rail to mount a laser sight or a flashlight on. I recommend the laser sight, unless you’re bad with your night vision,” Jean said from the bed. “It’s great for when you need to kill kine and not make it look supernatural, or just intimidating people. Not so great on kindred. It’s just a nuisance, even hollow points don’t do enough damage to really stop us.”

“So, how do I do this?” I asked Brian, who showed me how to put bullets in the clip, the part that goes in the handle. He even showed me where the button for the clip release was, and the safety on the slide. It was more complicated than the revolver, which I pulled out and gave to Brian in case he needed it. I was about to stash it back in my bag when Jean piped back into the conversation.

“If you want, I can give you a holster for that. You can keep it on your belt in the back in case you need it. If you keep everything in your bag, all someone has to do is take the bag to leave you defenseless.”

I weighed her words, then nodded. I had been lucky so far, in that I had never been separated from my bag, but that was changing. I needed to adapt, to change before I ended up dead. If that meant packing a pistol like an outlaw, well, call me bad. I was so not going to die tonight, and Nines did say I needed to be ready to fight at a moments notice. “Brian, take Heather and Constance back to that shop and get me a selection of coats. Preferably long enough to hide a holster.”

“Sure, mistress,” he said, as I slid the weapon into the bag to keep it out of sight. Jean slid out from under Constance, being careful not to jostle her and laid her on a pillow. I followed Jean out the door and down the stairs to the alley. At the end of the alley sat a black Toyota 4x4 that had more dents in it than a golf ball. Jean went around to the other side, and I opened the door and climbed in.

The first thing that drew my eye was the badge hanging from the review mirror. I turned it a bit, to see it said bounty hunter. When Jean got in, she reached into her coat and pulled out a huge pistol with a shiny finish. Jean noticed my gaze as she slid the weapon into a holster attached to the dash where it would be by her knee.

“This is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off. You’ve gotta ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” she intoned, pitching her voice low and deep. It finally clicked after a second. She was quoting Dirty Harry as he talked about his gun. I smiled, shaking my head.

“Still not good against a kindred?”

“Takes several shots to kill one, best thing is to aim for the neck or the heart,” she said as she started the motor. It purred into life, and the headlights came on. It was nice being in the dark, and my headache eased. “Detach the head, and they turn to ash. Destroy the heart, and they turn to ash. Problem is, not everyone has their heart in the same location, so be careful.”

It was odd listening to her talk, as her voice was so light as she talked of dark things. She also had an odd lilt in her voice, owing more to her probably being old than anything else. Still, she was helping and I needed that. “So, what way do you prefer?”

“There’s no good way, unfortunately. Stake works best if you want them alive, just shove it through their heart. A pencil works in a pinch, but like a straw through a potato, fast and straight. Knives and swords are good for getting close in for like Tremere and kindred who like to fight. That’s one reason I liked you, you didn’t fight me and let me stake you without a problem. You just seemed so innocent, like I was.”

“Turned against your will?”

“Some gangrel who was a serial murderer decided to have a little fun. Instead of killing, he decided he was going to turn them. As the gangrel way is to leave the childe alone after embrace, I didn’t know what was going on. So, I turned back to what I knew, drugs and alcohol.”

“How? I smell water and it turns my stomach,” I said, remembering my experience in the diner when I met Sharron.

“Just popped the pills into my mouth and swallowed. Couldn’t stomach the champagne I once liked so well, so I took them dry. Never take drugs, Eliza. Never. Our system doesn’t clear it out and it throws your body off. Since I took a bunch of sleeping pills, I woke up two nights later, after my autopsy. Drained a tech and got found by a ghoul. He recognized me as a kindred, and helped me hide my “death,” using another young girl to take my place. Isaac got involved, helping control the people who saw the difference. They used a whig to get the hair right, and an old friend was dominated into doing her makeup to more look like me. After that, no one knew.”

“Sorry,” I said, saddened by the news she had been ripped out of her life. “At least you had your shot, right?”

She started laughing. “Had my shot? You can say that. I starred in almost thirty films, so...yeah, I had a shot.”

“You’re not lying are you? You really were a movie star?”

“Oh yeah. I starred alongside Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Betty Grable, Cary Grant. Then I died, and it all got ripped from me. Isaac was a godsend. I’d met him before at parties, didn’t realize who he was at the time, but he helped me through the changes and set me up in a place. Taught me how to survive.”

“Thank God for Isaac,” I said, not sure who the kindred was. “So, how does a former movie star end up in a battered old Toyota?”

“Gift from Isaac. It’s an old movie prop for some sci-fi movie, I think. The kid went on to do good work,” she said as we continued on. “Oh, you might want this,” she said, reaching behind us to grab something. It turned out to be the holster she promised, made of leather and almost identical in color to my pants. I was going to put it on when I realized I didn’t have a belt.

“You wouldn’t to have a spare belt, would you?” Jean reached behind us and pulled out a belt. It was some kind of military belt, designed to use friction as a way of staying locked. “So, Jean Harlow?”

“I’m not that old,” she said, laughing. “Jean Harlow was big in the thirties. I’m more of a fifties star. But don’t worry, I’ve gotten good at hiding it. Right now, only Isaac really knows who I am. And not even that pretentious pup of his recognizes me.”

“Another star?” I asked, and she nodded.

“Ash Rivers? Has that big movie that came out a few years ago, Negative Zero? He’s kindred now too. He overdosed a few years ago, Isaac found him dying and brought him back as kindred. He’s also been forced as I have to see his career flush itself down the toilet because he can’t act anymore.”

“Why not? He’s not Nosferatu is he?”

“No, he’s Toreador, which is where I wish I’d been embraced. Or at least as a Brujah. Even Malkavian has a certain charm in it over Gangrel.”

“Because you don’t want to end up like Dusty? He seriously needs a shower, by the way.”

Jean frowned at that. “It’s not the personal hygiene. It’s the fact that we Gangrel are closer to the Beast in us. Every clan has a curse, for some it’s not so bad. For us? Well, we turn into animals. Literally.”

“You mean like he’s got bear parts?” I said, and Jean nodded.

“As we lose ourselves to the Beast within us, we’re left with parts of ourselves that aren’t...human, anymore. I’ve already lost it a few times, and I try hard to avoid it, but sometimes staying in touch with my humanity is about all I can do, some nights.”

“So, if we lose ourselves to this Beast, what happens to us?”

“You lose parts of yourself. Eventually, it can change you. Maybe not physically, like us Gangrel, but you’ll find yourself loving to harm others. Taking pleasure in their pain. Like my sire, he laughed when he found me dirty and crying weeks later, and all I can remember after that is that I killed him. So be careful, okay? Promise me you’ll fight it. I can help you at times, like tonight, to keep the Beast calm.”

“I’ve felt it before, like something crawling under my skin. Does it always cause you to black out?”

“Every time,” she said, as we continued at a crawl through the interstate traffic. I couldn’t help but feel sad for her, and wanting to change the subject, decided to go back to figuring out her identity.

“So, was Jean the name your mother gave you?”

“One of them. My surname Baker is mom’s anyway. I don’t know whom my father was, though the one I’m popular for came from one of mom’s husbands. Mom was committed when I was seven, and I spent the rest of my childhood in one home or another.”

“Sorry, it doesn’t sound as if you’re life was ever that happy.”

“Not really, no. I didn’t become happy until I started acting. Always knew I’d die young, though. I was right, in the end.”

Not wanting to keep the sad train of thought going, I decided to put my belt and gun holster on. The first few loops were easy, then the gun holster went on, before tracing my way through the other loops to fasten it properly. I pulled the gun from my bag, and checked it. I knew my trembling fingers might accidentally set the thing off, but I had to get used to it. Once I was sure I had the safety on, I put it in my holster, handle up, and felt the sold object acutely as I leaned back in the seat. It would take a lot of getting used to.

“Have you ever fired a gun before?” Jean asked me.

“Besides the hundred times I accidentally shot myself in my mind?” I snarked back, but knew she was right and that I needed to spend some time in a gun range. “Just the day I became kindred. I managed to run from Simeon while I was still alive, stole a gun from a guard and ran for it. He caught me in a dead end alley and I gave him everything I could with the shotgun, only hit him once though.”

That set her to laughing again. “You have more than those seven rounds I smell in that gun?”

“You can smell that?”

“Side effect of being Gangrel. We have an animal’s sense of smell. Wolf, I think.”

“If it weren’t the turning into an animal thing, you’d have it made, huh?”

“Well,” she started as she turned off the interstate, “I might have had it better if I were another clan. Any clan but Nosferatu.”

“So where we headed?” I asked as we headed into the downtown area.

“His name is Fat Larry. He sells guns and, other things from the back of his truck. He’s the best way we kindred have of staying stocked on our guns and ammo, as he doesn’t exactly do this legally.” Great, a black market arms dealer. “But, he does have good prices, and you don’t have to worry about hiding yourself around him. He belongs to a Brujah, not sure which one, but he’s been around for a bit and is quite knowledgeable about guns.”

“Great,” I said, as we pulled up to what looked like a UPS truck, but was just dull brown. Jean killed the motor, and stepped out, her hand pulling the magnum from its holster and putting back under her jacket. I was curious about how she fit the large gun there, but decided I’d ask her later. We went together to the back of the truck where a large, fat soul brother sat on the tailgate. He looked at us and smiled.

“Say Jean! You bringing me new customers, I like that. I am Fat Larry, and that’s with an F-A-T because there is more of me to love. So what can I do to help you fine looking ladies today?”

I pulled out my Glock, and held it up. “Need some spare clips for this, maybe a coat if you have one, and a lot of bullets so I can practice.”

“Sure, baby doll. I got all the firepower you could ask for,” he said as he opened his truck. Racks of various guns filled the back end, making look like a military armory in a movie. There were so many, I had no hope of identifying them all. Rifles, grenades, pistols, and several ammo crates. This guy was prepared for a war. He climbed into the back of the truck, opening a crate to rifle through a box of clips, coming away with two more clips for my Glock. He then turned to the opposite wall, opening a few boxes, and pulling out three coats and a trench coat. He brought them out and showed them to me. “Don’t exactly carry your size, you’re so small, but I do have a selection of fine merchandise,” he said. I tried on a few, liking one that was made of wool that came down to my thighs. It also fit me reasonably well, spilling off my shoulders and falling straight down. More of a man’s coat than a woman’s.

“Coat like this was designed to hide one of these babies,” he said, as he reached into the truck and pulled out a shotgun. I’d seen it before, as the kind police officers carry. It had a pistol style grip, and a pump action system, but lacked the shoulder stock that rifles had. It did have some kind of weird rail on top of it though, and figured if I knew anything about guns I could identify it. “She’s an Ithaca 37, with an extended tube and can fire slugs or buckshot. Prefer slugs myself. One good hit with his baby, and a kindred will shite themselves into ash. She also has a folding stock,” he said, as he flipped the funny rail over the end and it formed the stock I thought it should have had. “Designed for police, good enough for kindred.”

“How much?” I asked him. It was worth it, if it was cheap enough.

“Hundred fifty for the shotgun, and I’ll throw in a couple of boxes of buckshot. Coat’s fifty, ten a piece for the clips. How many bullets you need for that nine mill? Cost is five bux a box, hundred rounds a box.”

“Six boxes then,” I said, and Jean gave an approving nod. I counted out the money and gave it to him, stowing the boxes of bullets in my bag and using the cord provided to stash the shotgun on my back. Once I slipped the coat on, both guns were hidden from sight. Now, all I needed was a rifle in a case and I could pass for a professional hitman.

“Looking good, sugar,” Larry said as I looked myself over. Even Jean was nodding in appreciation. I couldn’t help but feel good, knowing I was getting more capable with defending myself in a tough situation.

“I’ll take you out to a bare patch of desert in the mountains that’s far from any werewolf dens. Up there, you can shoot off a box and I can teach you a thing or two real fast, okay?” Jean said, as I lifted my bag.

“Great, it’ll give Grout a bit to maybe get himself together, and maybe I won’t shoot myself if I have to use this thing.”

With our business done, me and Jean got back in her truck, and I could feel the guns press into my back. It was actually uncomfortable. “Hey, mind if I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” Jean said as we got back on the interstate.

“Is the reason you take your gun out of its holster because it gets uncomfortable to sit on?”

She nodded. “Yeah. In my case, the barrel catches on the door and presses into my shoulder. It bruises after a while.”

“So, where do you keep it?”

Jean opened her coat to show leather around her left arm and a holster connected to it. “It’s a shoulder holster, got it from a catalog for police officers. And yes, I am a licensed bounty hunter. Did that years ago. Cuffs, guns, holsters, mace, tasers, got it all and know how to use it. And you’d think I’d at least be taken seriously at a Gathering.”

“Let me guess. Gangrel seem to shun guns?”

Jean held up her hand and after turning it over, I watched as it turned into a monster like paw with long claws. “They shred skin like a hot knife through butter.”

“Gangrel power?” I guessed. And Jean nodded as her hand returned to normal.

“It’s called Protean. It’s our special ability, like your ability to do stuff with shadows. If I were so inclined, I could later use it to transform into animals, like a bat, wolf, bird or bear. It’s how most of our clan gets around. I can barely form claws, even after forty years. So, like a pup, I have to drive to Gathering, then announce my name in front of the clan. I usually get laughed at.”

“Ouch. That must make you look like a rookie.”

“Yeah, but the name,” she said, shaking her head, “Gangrel names are long things. My first two minutes read like a Toreador’s life.”

“And I guess it’s a source of pride that your name is long, and filled with worthy things?”

“Yeah, so while an actress can go on for minutes about her acting creds, it goes nowhere. The clan cares more for my taking down criminals than being famous. Weird huh?”

“Wonder what my clan is like?”

“Probably meet by candle light, but beyond that? Who knows,” she said as we left the interstate. We were past any lights now, and my shadow sight kicked in. I could now see as if it were daylight, but there wasn’t anything to see. It was an open, barren desert. After several minutes, Jean pulled off the road and we went through the desert, where every jar of the sand was easily felt. I thought the desert was supposed to be smooth? After a few more minutes, we drove down into what looked like an empty river, and there we stopped. Jean stopped the motor, and hit a switch, flooding the area in bright light. We got out, and I kicked off my shadow vision to see normally. Jean’s truck had a row of bright lights on a roll bar above the cab, with more on the front grill.

The washout area was littered with cans and trash, and Jean came over to stand beside me. “First things first. Pull your gun.” I pulled my gun out, taking a moment to click the safety off. “Okay, next time you’re stuck somewhere safe, you need to practice clicking the safety off with one finger, and not having to look at it. If you can’t be good and fast, you’ll be slow and dead.”

I nodded, wrapping my hand around the gun, raising it and clicking the safety off with my thumb. “Good, one handed is good if you are in a bind, but get used to having two hands on your gun at all times. It gives you better control of the weapon, and thus better aim.” I put two hands around the handle, feeling more confident. Why didn’t they do this in the movies?

“Now, since your gun has a slide top, keep your hands low to keep from getting bit by the slide when you fire it. It has to slide to reload, so keep that area clear. Now, aim down at the far bank, and empty your gun. Get used to its recoil, and try to hit the same spot each time,” she told me as she backed behind me. I aimed the gun down at the bank, and started pulling back on the trigger. The gun kicked in my hands, and the pop was loud enough to ring my ears.

“Not bad, but classic newbie mistake. Squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it. Pulling it throws off your aim, which we’ll get to later.” I nodded my understanding, and squeezed the trigger. My aim seemed to be truer, and I kept squeezing the trigger, each shot close to the first. After a few shots, the gun clicked. I looked back at jean, who was pulling bullets from a box, loading the clips I’d bought earlier.

“Not bad, you’ve got talent. Now, with one hand, hit the release, using the other to catch the clip and pull it out,” she said, and it felt clumsy, but I pulled it out. “Little clumsy there. Lock it back in, and do it a few times. That needs to feel smooth, natural. The faster you reload, the faster you can get back to surviving.” I put the clip back in, practicing taking it in and out. It took me close to twenty times for it to feel natural, but Jean liked my improvement.

“Next up, aiming,” she said, setting up a can ten feet away. “Hit it,” she said, giving me a clip full of bullets. I set the clip in, and took aim at the can. Once I had it lined up in the sights, I squeezed the trigger and the can went rolling. “Good, you can hit a stationary target. Hit it again, and this time, keep it rolling,” she told me. I took aim at the can again, hitting it once again, and began to fire multiple shots and the can rolled along. I smiled as the gun clicked empty, and the can was lost to the darkness. Jean handed me a fresh clip, and using one hand, popped the empty clip out and slipped the fresh in as if it were second nature.

“Doing good, Eliza,” Jean said, smiling her approval. “Once you get used to it, you might think about checking out different guns, and finding one you like. Most guns operate the same way, so it should make it easier. Revolvers like my magnum are the difficult ones, but Larry can help you figure one out.”

“Thanks Jean,” I said, flipping the safety on with my thumb and stashing the gun back in my holster. “You probably just saved my life.”

“That might be stretching it, but you’re welcome. Now, slip out the shotgun,” she said, and I pulled the shotgun from it’s cord. I folded out the stock, feeling the awkward weight of the weapon and knew I wouldn’t be firing it one handed. It was designed for two handed use. Jean pulled some large bullets and handed them to me. “They slide in, copper side back,” she told me, and I loaded the weapon. It took seven bullets for the gun to be fully loaded. Then Jean set up another can.

“Shotguns are a lot like pistols. Especially those with pistol grips. Squeeze the trigger, use your left hand to steady it, and keep it tight to your shoulder. After each shot, pull the grip back to reload it, and then forward again. With practice, it will become natural. Once it’s loaded, the grip locks in place, and then has to be fired to unlock it. Under the front trigger guard is a button, you can hit it to rack the weapon again, especially to unload it for storage purposes, or to change ammo types. Larry can fill you in on that later. For now, hit the can, then try to keep it rolling.”

I nodded, pulling the grip back like I had done to attack Simeon. The gun racheted, and after pushing it back forward, I lined the can up with the sights. “Keep your head upright, don’t lean over the sights. It can throw off your aim.” I kept my head up, and adjusted the gun on my shoulder. With the gun lined up, I fired the first shot, making the can jump. I quickly pulled the grip back, finding it almost natural in my pose, and pushed it back into place. The can barely had time to land and start rolling before I had it lined up again and fired my next shot into it. The can flew down the riverbed, and in an instant, I had the gun reloaded and fired a third shot after the fleeing receptacle. I reloaded, activating my shadow vision, and saw the can rolling just beyond the light. I put one more round into it, and Jean laughed.

“Wow, you must have really good night vision to hit it in the dark.” I turned, slowly ratcheting a fresh round in the weapon and looked at her. Here eyes had an eerie glow, that as I turned off my shadow vision, found was red. The glow faded from her eyes, and we locked eyes.

“Part of my clan abilities. I can see in pitch black darkness. In fact, light shows up black when I use it.”

“Nice,” she said, handing me four more bullets. “Reload your gun, I think you’re ready to head off into the sunrise,’ she kidded me. I reloaded the gun, and looked at the trigger for the safety. “See that button, just behind the trigger, left hand side? Push it in to turn on the safety.” I did it, then folded the stock back over and hung it on the cord under my shoulder.

“Grout’s mansion isn’t far from here,” she said, as I tied my coat closed. “I’ll drop you off, then you can call a cab to pick you up from there.”

“Sounds good. So, who taught you to shoot?”

“When I went to get my bounty hunter license, they taught me the basics. Learned the rest over forty years of hunting. Come on, we better get a move on if you want to get done before the night’s over.”

I got back in the truck with Jean, and we headed for Grout’s mansion. I couldn’t help but think of how much I’d already changed, then I remembered Jean having said something about changes before. “So, Jean. What about these changes?”

“Well, I don’t know if everyone is the same, but,” she paused as she seemed to think about something, “it seems as if they’re intended to make us all monsters. Sometimes I wonder if we’re doomed to hell because of something our ancestor supposedly did.”

“Ancestor?”

“Supposedly, we all come from Cain. You know, book of Genesis? The man who killed his brother because he grew crops instead of raising cattle? Legend has it, that God cursed him to be the first vampire. From there, he met Lilith. She taught him magic. From that magic, all our powers are based. He created childer, and they created more. They became the Third Generation. In polite society, they’re called Antidiluvians. We each trace our ancestry back to one, and from there to Caine.

“The further down the line you are, the greater your Generation. From what I gather, at unlucky thirteen, you can’t embrace anymore. You can’t feed. They’re called Thin Bloods. They’re barely kindred, so watered down from Caine that they’re almost alive.

“We also have a book, our own version of the Bible, called the Book of Nod. The short of it is this. One day, the antediluvians will rise again from their sleep. This will happen in the Time of Thin Blood, when kindred with weak blood and those who have no idea of their kindred nature will become so common they rise to the level of Prince. When they do, they’ll feed on us, killing many of us off. Other stuff happens, and it’s over. We will all be judged, probably by the very God who turned his back on us.”

“So, what do we do?”

“We survive. Every night is a fight for survival. I’m weak, I know. Just a scared little valley girl who was more house wife than Rosy the Riveter,” she said, her voice cracking a bit as she dredged up bad memories. “It’s okay, I made it to the new millennium. I’m seventy eight years old now. Never thought I’d make it this far. Always thought I’d die a young, beautiful woman. Even had arranged ten years before I ‘died’ to have my makeup done. Even paid for it. I was ready to go. Here I am. It’s two thousand four, forty years after I died and I’m still surviving. Just trying to be normal.”

I couldn’t help but feel for the actress. She was a lot like me, ripped from her life and forced to face a terrible future. I couldn’t help but feel for her. Soon though, we arrived at a large house. We were on the outskirts of town, on a hill near a small brushy area.

“I’ll take a guess and say we’ll never be normal Jean. Mortal’s are our prey. We’re the monsters in the night. But,” I hung my head as I thought about the lives I’ve taken already. “We don’t have to be. You keep on suppressing that beast, and I will too. Okay?” God, she was going to make me cry.

“You best go. No telling how long it might take you to find him. It is a big house.”

“Yeah, what is it? Four stories tall?” I said as I looked at the large mansion.

“Five. But, he’s like old, from old money in England. Still, bigger than my home ever was.”

“I’ll catch you around, okay,” I told her as I got out of the truck.

“Sure. I’m around the tower a lot. Give me a shout if you see me, and I’ll gladly talk to you again.

“Later, hun,” I said as I watched the gangrel drive off. I couldn’t help but wonder who she had been. But as I looked at the mansion, and went through the gate to enter the front yard, I knew I had to shelve that thought. I had bigger fish to fry.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 21 – Paging Doctor Grout

September 30, 2004 = Thursday


I no more entered the main gate when the front door opened. I thought for a minute Grout might have decided to come out and this would be easy but it was Nines who stepped out. Well, that’s a surprise.

“Hey, Nines,” I called out, hoping to have a word with the Anarch who walked towards me. “What’s up?”

“You, what are you doing here?” he said, his voice sounding off, a little high pitched and...scared?

“Looking into Grout’s disappearance. Did you find him?”

“Look, you should get out of here. This place is bad news, pardon me” he said as he walked by me and out the front gate. I went to follow him, and to find out what was going on, but he had vanished.

“Huh,” I said aloud, then turned and headed inside, where it was brightly lit and my headache went up a notch.

The front doors were unlocked, and the first thing I noticed was the woman huddled in the corner crying. She was dressed in sweats and a t-shirt with some kind of face mask that barely allowed her to see with fine mesh over the mouth piece. I went over to check on her when she noticed me. She quickly rose to her feet, pulling a kitchen knife from her back and charged at me. I didn’t have time to reach for my pistol, so I jumped back as she slashed, then punched her in the face.

‘Bad idea!” I screamed mentally, as I nursed my injured hand. The mask was some kind of hard plastic that protected her as much as inhibited her, and the woman charged at me again, barely knocked back by my attack. With nothing else to do, I caught her knife hand, and we fell back at the force of her attack. I reached for the shadows, and formed a tentacle around her neck to strangle her. The woman started to buck and kick but I held on to her knife hand to avoid getting cut. Soon, she quit struggling and went limp and the tentacle dissolved into nothing. I took the knife from her, throwing it across the room and got up. She wasn’t breathing, so I let her lie.

‘Damn ghouls. They really do protect their masters,’ I thought, looking her over. ‘Now, did she try to kill me because I’m here without her master’s permission? Or is there something wrong?’

I didn’t get a chance to ponder that before the interior doors burst open to reveal a guy in a leather gimp outfit and mask. My hand was already reaching for my pistol as the ghoul took in the situation, giving me a half second to get the pistol into my hands and somewhat aimed before he charged me. I let fly with the bullets, but the ghoul took eight before falling to the tiled floor. I kept my gun trained on the door, waiting for more to show up. Two more ghouls burst through the door, and I began firing more in panic than surety, putting rounds in both of them. After a few minutes when nothing more came through the door, I pulled a full clip of bullets from my coat pocket and reloaded the gun, dropping the empty clip before slamming the full clip home. I used my left hand to pick up the empty clip, stowing it back in my pocket.

Putting both hands back on my pistol, I started to advance through the house. The second set of doors opened up on a long hall that dead ended in sitting area. I walked back to the first door, which was on the right, but it was locked by some kind of drop arm that secured to both handles. With one more hall, to check, I let it be and went back to the hallway that was on my left, finding it was blocked by couches and chairs and one unlit lamp in a makeshift barricade. I tugged a few pieces off the top, nearly getting caught in the avalanche of furniture as it fell around me.

With the barricade down, I continued down the hallway, finding another locked door on my right before coming into a two story library with a large open center. At the back was a ghoul playing with some lights, making them go off and on as he pulled something. I was halfway through the library before I realized he was pulling the light bracket itself, turning them off and on in some bizarre sequence.

Then he noticed me. He spun to face me, already beginning his charge, and I took a moment to aim putting three into his chest which dropped the ghoul at my feet. I guess I was going to have to start shooting every ghoul I came across if they were all going to be hostile to me. I glanced around, then decided that this was some sort of puzzle that unlocked that one door. Grout really was insane, for his own security. Most people would assume that he had some sort of hidden door, but his own ghoul had betrayed him on this one.

Looking at the area, again, I figured maybe the tape recorder might hold the answer. So I switched it on to hear a deep voice start talking in a slightly British accent.

“Another unfortunate casualty to tide of time: Insane Asylums. I lament their loss not only as brokerage houses for the breadth and depth of human psychoses, but also I shall mourn the disappearance of that peculiar environment present only in an insane asylum. That palpable atmosphere of blistered brains and churning bowels, the odiferous melange of freely flowing bodily humours, that gently rolling cacophony of distant sobs and screams, the muttered cursing of perceived enemies and the blissful gurgling of the lobotomized. Like a new-born babe discovering the sky. I shall still find test subjects as surely as I find bloody sustenance in the night but this climate, I fear, may never be replicated.”

As the tape finished, I was sure the doctor was insane. Well read, very articulate, but if he loved the atmosphere of the insane asylum where people were abused, mistreated, and often where the sane were driven insane, he was nuttier than pecan pie.

Finding no help in the musings of the good doctor, I continued my search for something to help me out. I did find a note on the table.

‘Perception at once shapes the Mind and rules over Time. Time however, erodes human Perception and then in turn warps the Mind. The Mind is capricious, having various effects on Perception, Time, and the Mind itself...With harmony, progress is made.’

Well, that wasn’t much help. And I hate riddles. So Mind, Time and Perception? I looked at the light brackets, each one had a small button emblem at the bottom of the bracket. An Egyptian symbol for Ra which was for Perception, an hourglass emblem for Time, and a symbol for a brain I took for Mind. Well, now I all I had left was to pull the right one. Thinking over the riddle again, I went to the far right one with the brain symbol on it and pulled it. With nothing noticeable happening, I pulled it again and heard a large bong go off far to my left.

Taking that as a sign, I began walking back to the way I came and found another tape recorder. Needing a moment to reload and restock my gun, I hit play while I reloaded.

“It is quite peculiar the happenings I've been made to witness from my supernatural longevity. I'm thinking of one unfortunate phenomenon in particular of unique interest to my station, both as a professional and as a sufferer of this Vampiric condition. It seems the stream of time has begun to erode the moorings of my chosen course of study, for the methodologies that gave birth to psychology are slowly disappearing. I find myself in an era that overlooks the physical component of psychological pathology, time and again in favor of the sophistic practices of Freud. Phrenology, Dactopindalism, and the rest of the old guard is fallen by the wayside, its champions all silenced in death with my unique exception. Would that I could make my voice heard again, although it may be suspicious should I return to popular medical discourse fifty years after my apparent death.

“No, better that I continue my studies into the psychosis in secret. One day I may hold up my own cure as validation of the methods. I am confident no cure for my condition, or that of my beloved wife, lies within our figurative minds, waiting to be unlocked by the correct combination of memories recovered from our childhoods. And I'm most certain that it has nothing to do with the relationship between myself, my parents, and my genitals. Sorry, Sigmund, but I choose to stay my course. In time, too, may your star fade and disappear.”

I couldn’t help but listen to the tape in its entirety. Insane he might be becoming, but he was trying to find a cure. Well, good luck doctor, because they haven’t found a cure for being dead. I had a fully loaded gun now, and all my clips were reloaded from the box of ammo from my bag. I went back down the hall, back to the hall where I came in. I checked the other door, finding the bars were now gone and it was open.

There were four ghouls in this room, one of them a male. I took a steadying breath, then went in the room, and put one right into his brain, dropping him. The other three began to charge me, and I moved my sights to the closest. My first shots went into her chest, and it took four to drop her. The second was over halfway through the room, making a mad dash straight for me. I started firing before I was even sure of my shots, too intent to stop her before she reached me.

Unfortunately, it took the better part of the clip before she fell, which left only a round or two in the pistol. The last ghoul came right over the couch in a single bound, and my last shot caught her right as she tackled me. I threw her off me, as quick as I could, while I rolled the opposite way. I dropped the pistol, raising a hand to summon my shadows but the ghoul stayed in a ball where she fell. I picked the pistol up, reloading while I kept an eye on her, then inched forward to nudge her over with my foot.

The ghoul was dead, having landed on the knife when she tackled me. Lowering the pistol, I checked the doors, not finding one that was unlocked. I did find another candlelight holder, though this one lacked any identifier. Giving it a tug, I heard a loud creak above me. Going to the foot of the stairs, I looked up to see an opening where one wasn’t before. I went up the stairs, finding another ghoul waiting for me. I put two in her head, dropping her before she could do anything.

I looked around, finding another tape recorder and paused to listen to it. Any clue the doctor may have left behind might hold the answer to where he was hidden, whether here or elsewhere, and I couldn’t afford the time it would take to come back through the maze this house was turning into.

“Often I reflect with great regret on the missed opportunity that was my infector. Had I been conscious after the attack, I could have stopped the orderlies from locking her in the roaming pen. What I would give for just one interview, a few simple questions of the plague ridden woman who met her end that dawn.

“Of course there is no guarantee she would have been any more helpful than my current crop of test subjects - Mewling wretches! Few could be called 'enthusiastic' - Given the nature of the tests, I cannot expect the same fervor from all, but a modicum of cooperation would be appreciated. Animals. The one called 'John' went so far as to gnaw off his arm and escape into the floorboards like some feral rodent. I still hear him scurrying about at night, he must be making an atrocious mess in there.”

Well, hopefully John passed some time ago, or I was going to play exterminator and get rid of a rodent infestation. I continued on, going down some stairs and found a corpse laid out on a couch. I also found another tape recorder and listened to it.

“My studies proceed at a languid pace. I'm mired in a foul ennui as my wife's illness advances. My subjects grow restless without proper supervision, but I cannot pull myself back from this black depression. How many nights I've wasted now, gazing from the tower walk, pondering the frailty of existence.”

Well, still no help, but I was beginning to put a picture of Grout’s life together. The great illness of life was old age, and if Grout didn’t know how to turn her, she would have died of old age, or been succumbing to it. As she needed more and more care, Grout’s work suffered. So how long ago was this? Psychoanalysis was an early twentieth century psychological study, falling out of favor for other fields of study as Grout earlier attested, but was still used by most psychologists in one on one practice. Hence the couch most psyche doctors still used.

I wondered if the picture I saw on a nearby table was supposed to be his wife, but doubted I’d find that answer. There was no timeline here. These tape recorders were primitive, maybe early thirties or forties. Not that I’m an expert, but it was that kind of ancient technology I was seeing. Even a nearby light switch wasn’t a standard plastic flip type I was familiar with, but a small metal one I had seen once in my nana’s house which had been built in during the Civil War by my great-great grandpa.

There was nowhere left to go, but up the spiral staircase, so I began climbing. The door at the top led out on a walkway between the two turrets of the house. I was also now on the roof, on top of a hill, and the view was spectacular. I could see downtown LA, with Lacroix tower well lit up. I paused to take in the view, letting my headache ease, before I went through the other door and down the spiral staircase there.

It led me to another ghoul, and I popped her in the back of a head before she even moved. I knew she’d attack, just like every other ghoul and test subject had, and I wasn’t going to risk missing. The floor kept sloping down, curving back on itself and dropping down again. I had to be back on the ground floor by now. I came out on a green-lit room that had two more ghouls in it. I put a bullet in one’s head before she moved, and the other began charging me. I locked on to her and dropped her with three to her chest.

I paused, switching clips, then checked the room. The door on the left was barred like the one with the staircase in it, and finding nothing to get me through it, went to check on the two doors opposite. They led back to the staircase room I had been at earlier. This whole house was turning into a maze, and that left me wondering if Grout was the prize at the center. Well with one more door to check, I went through it, made a sharp left and opened that door to find two ghouls waiting on me.

I quickly backpedaled through the door emptying the clip into the pair as I went, finally dropping both. I reloaded, then pushed on into a sitting area with a fireplace and a tape recorder. I hit play, hoping it had some clue where I needed to go.

“After decades of solitary study into this affliction, I have learned that it is by no means mine alone. Indeed, this city is home to an entire society of similarly afflicted individuals with whom I've only recently made contact. They are an understandably standoffish sort, by and large, but I have been able to confirm with them that the condition is indeed vampirism, which apparently comes in a multitude of strains, each with a spectacular set of symptoms such as invisibility and even a sort of lycanthropy.

“Through numerous official interactions with the governing body of this secret society, I have concluded that their fundamental understanding of the vampiric condition is woefully lacking and mired in suspicion and pseudo-religious dogma that would make a Turk balk for its strictures. Indeed, they seemed impressed with my studies and the eloquence with which I was able to present them. Apparently the typical sufferer of my particular strain of vampirism is far from the vanguard of the King's English. So impressed were they that they even offered me an office in their government, a rather high office, by the sound of things. I believe I shall accept. If nothing else, it should provide a lofty vantage point from which to observe the breadth and epidemiology of the affliction so that I may move more expeditiously toward a cure.”

“Lot of help you are, doctor,” I muttered, as I sat in one of the chairs. King’s English? That could have meant any time before the fifties. The old broad was still reigning, so he had to have been raised in England before then. It made him older than Jean, whoever she was supposed to be, and an interesting case. So he made contact with the local Camarilla, which meant he had to have been locked away since the sixties, or earlier. That made his puzzles more interesting, so I got up and inspected the room I was in. The answer was here, somewhere, and as I looked into a mirror, nearly had a panic attack.

Two ghouls stood watching me, and I quickly turned and raised my pistol, but nothing was there. I looked back into the mirror, seeing them clearly. Lowering the pistol, I looked into the mirror, and saw a perfect copy of the room. Everything was identical, chairs, table, wallpaper. Even the tape recorder on the…

I looked again, the tape recorder sat on my side, but on the other side the table sat empty. I went back to the fireplace, checking for switches, finally finding a soft button like piece of wood and pressed it which caused the center of the fireplace to lift up. I dropped to a knee, and fired at the ghouls on the other side, killing both as they tried to get at me. Once through, I went through the door and followed the hall around to a staircase. It led me back to the library, though I was now on the second floor of it.

I went left, checking out some of the bookshelves as I went, though I was almost to the rear before I found a problem with one of the bookcases. Most of the books displayed were in a series. But this one bookcase had a one-off oddity. A Webster’s Dictionary. With all of the other technical journals and scientific thesis on display, why a dictionary?

I pulled on it, it budged only slightly, and a loud creaking came from underneath me. I leaned over the railing to see a bookcase had swung out. Clever, that must have been his expedient path to getting around, rather than say the light brackets hung not ten feet away next to the tape recorder? I went over and hit play, hoping for more information.

“I have accepted the role of 'Primogen' for clan 'Malkavian', the dreadfully winsome label applied to the particular strain of vampirism I suffer. So named for some supposed vampire father figure of old. More poppycock grown from a backwood culture that seems interminably drawn to childrens' tales and the fiction of Victorian romance when it should concern itself with the science behind their suffering. No matter, for I have taken this office for no greater reason than the advancement of my research.

“I must make mention however that even among my would-be peers in this governing body of vampires, the level of paranoia and superstition is frightening! Their intelligence is not the question, no, indeed, as they courted me for this appointment, I had to suspect that their overtures were hand-tailored for what must be my obvious infatuation with reason, for the devil would do well to have such honey-tongued tempters. Even so, I could not help but notice the dressing of language these vampire leaders chose for their siren song. Whether it is born of habit, from addressing their unwashed, ill-educated subjects or from their own deep-seated beliefs, their linguistic flourishes belie a faith in superstition over the providence of empirical reason that must be an all-pervasive theme in this society of darkest night. Damn it all now, I'm doing it, too”

“Congratulations, doctor,” I said, as I continued on after listening to the tape. With the next passageway open, I didn’t need to fool with the puzzle, but just dropped over the side to land stealthily on my feet. I went through the passage behind the bookcase, down some stone stairs and found myself in some kind electrical room. Giant rods hung from the ceiling and arced electricity into electrodes on the wall. One guy seemed to have already fried getting through and his chest had scorch marks gouged in it.

I looked around, knowing there had to be a way through without becoming fried kindred, and found a switch marked closed and open, with the lever on closed. My basic science came back, and I remembered that closed is how you properly mark a completed electrical circuit. I flipped it to open, and the energy quit arcing through two electrodes. I carefully inched my way under the now dead electrode, and through to the other side, hitting the switch there into the open position. More electrodes were now dead, and I went to go open the switch when my foot nearly twisted underneath me from something I stepped on. I looked down, finding a large toothlike thing under my heels.

I picked it up, to see it was a large fang wrapped in a leather string. I could feel a soothing effect on the panic within, and decided it was probably mystical in origin, and tucked it away in my bag. On the other side, I opened that switch, and the electricity quit arcing beside me. I went to the next one, just stepping over to the platform and opened that circuit. That killed the power at the exit, and with that one open, I headed out the passage to the exit, finding one more switch. I flipped that lever, and heard a gong come from the stairwell room again.

I took the passage ahead, coming back out near the ruined barricade. To my right I could see the library, so I went left and back to the room with the stairwell. The door beside it was now open, so I went through, and found myself facing an odd shaped door with what looked like dentist chairs in it. To the right was a freezer door. Or maybe it was a cooler? Either way, a large metal door with a locked handle.

To my immediate right was an operating theater with several ghoul inside who were ripping the wooden slats off the door in an attempt to get out. I calmly raised my pistol, shooting one right in the eye. He was thrown aside as another ghoul took his place and I shot her right between the eyes. She was again replaced by another gimp suited ghoul, and my shot seperated his ear from his head. With a roar, he broke the last board as he charged me. I put two in his head, and three in the chest of the woman who followed. One last one darted out, moving fast in a zig-zag pattern. I tried to get a bead on him, but he always seemed one step ahead of my bullets.

Finally, with one last lunge, he tackled me to the floor just as the gun clicked empty. He was strong, but I used my potence to wrestle him him over onto his back. He wriggled around, trying to break my stronger grip, but I kept him somewhat pinned as I let go his left arm and grabbed him by the chin. With a rough wrench of my arm, I snapped his neck, feeling more than hearing the bones crack throughout my body.

Rolling his corpse off of me, I picked up my pistol and reloaded not only gun, but the empty clips I carried. How many ghouls did this guy have? And were they all ghouls? They might just be insane people who escaped their cells. But what cells? I hadn’t seen any holding rooms at all.

I turned right, where the ghouls had come from and checked there, finding nothing but a key marked cooler. I took it, and went back to the cooler beside the dentist chairs and found the key unlocked the cooler. Inside, there were boxes upon boxes marked perishable. I opened one, finding it was full of blood bags from a blood bank. I immediately drank one, needing the red stuff as I was starting to get hungry. I then took five more, stashing them in my bag.

I went back out, finding another tape recorder sitting by the wall near the staircase leading down. I hit play, and listened to Doctor Grout’s message.

“As I expand my dealings with the vampire government, I have encountered a disturbing new symptom of this affliction. Frequently, in conversation, I will hear voices emanating from other vampires. Voices that are not their own but which seem to have insight into their lives beyond what I could gather from simple conversation. These voices seem to echo from deep within my fellow vampires and I cannot be certain if this symptom belongs to my strain of illness or theirs, for the voices are various and inconsistent. I dare not mention this symptom to my vampiric peers, for they have proven themselves true predators to whom I could be loathe to reveal any sign of weakness. Indeed, these voices have counciled me against confessing their presence and until I can confirm their source, I will listen. The information the voices have given me ranges from curious to frightening. The latter is especially true of one powerful vampire whose name I shall not commit to recording in the interests of self preservation.”

I thought about his words, then hit rewind on the tape. I listened to it again, paying particular attention to what was and wasn’t being said. What became clear to me, was one of the kindred Grout met with was particularly powerful, and he was beginning to develop his inner voice Damsel had told me about. I hit rewind one more time, this time taking the tape off the recorder and slipping it into my bag. I didn’t know what to do with it yet, but the good doctor deserved some kind of justification if I could prove his case.

I took the staircase down, where it seemed to drop a few stories under the house. I was just beginning to wonder if Grout had holed up down here when I came upon a set of doors. I opened them to a pair of ghouls. I raised my pistol, killing the one before he could do more than notice me. The other ghoul charged, and I put four in her chest, felling her to the floor.

Three more came around the corner, and I began to empty the clip into the mass of ghouls, barely dropping the last before another two came around the corner. I backpedaled like crazy, dropping the pistol and reaching for the shotgun under my arm. I didn’t even unclip it, just yanked the gun into a ready position and fired blind. The first shot, took the ghoul right in the stomach, doubling him over to create a stumbling block for the other one. I racheted the mechanism, blasting the other ghoul in the head before racheting the mechanism again and finishing the first ghoul off.

I took a moment, waiting for more ghouls to appear. When none did, I took a few shotgun shells from my bag, and reloaded the shotgun until it was full loaded. I also unclipped it from the chord which still kept it anchored to my shoulder and folded out the stock. I went back to where I had dropped my pistol, picking it up and reloading it before stashing it with the safety off on my belt. I continued to follow the maze, though the doors I was now finding were the familiar style of an insane asylum with heavily reinforced doors and padded interiors.

I came around a corner, finding three more ghouls. I aimed at the first, putting a round of buck shot right into his chest, knocking him off his feet. The other two started to charge, and I began to zero in on them, putting two shots a piece into them, dropping both mid charge. I paused, reloading the shotgun, and continued on. I eventually entered some kind of concrete bunker style area, with an elevator shaft-like thing going back up to the main floors. Various beams blocked the shaft, creating a sort of ladder to the upper areas.

I folded the stock back up, slinging back on its chord under my shoulder, and started climbing the beams up the vertical shaft. It took a bit to climb to the top of the shaft, seeming to be over three stories of back and forth across the beams. When I got close to the top, one of the ghouls jumped from the top and landed on my back and wrapped his arms around me. I instinctively threw my arms up, breaking his hold on me which caused the ghoul to fall backwards down the shaft. I quickly grabbed the beam in front of me, and looked down.

The ghoul wasn’t so fortunate, having hit his head on a beam on the way down and breaking his neck. Whether or not he was dead was moot, he wasn’t able to bother me anymore. I continued climbing up, finally making into a large room. One of Grout’s tape recorders sat on a nearby table, I sat in a chair, and gave it a listen.

“The voices have increased in frequency and direction of late. They have begun to stay with me long after conversation has ceased and are serving as quite a distraction. I fear others are beginning to notice my preoccupation at the vampire gatherings. I am thinking again of the particular vampire of whom I spoke of previously, who I dare not name for my growing fear. If the voices are to be believed, then my caution is warranted, for they speak of his blackest crimes both past and future. More than once I have seen the suspicion in his eyes and heard the distrust in his voice when speaking with me! The fear must register on my face for it is all I can do in these moments to keep from crying out in chorus with the voices!”

What Herr Mueller said about Doctor Grout acting odd came back to me. I took the tape and put it in my bag, then I pulled out my pistol, going through the doors and immediately found another tape recorder. I took a seat and hit play, and got just a bit more info on Grout.

“I am no longer safe - I know it! The voices have proven themselves authentic, and I have withdrawn from the vampire society entirely. My absence will no doubt draw attention, but I could no longer hold my fragile composure around the ravenous eyes of my vampire peers, especially not around him! The voices compelled me to make what I fear is a Faustian bargain. But I had to, for their demands are constant and merciless. I have secluded myself within the mansion. I know he will strike out at me. He will go to any length to achieve his ambitions, and he knows that I know!

I have taken precautions to protect my beloved wife. A cure will have to wait until our immediate safety is guaranteed. The mansion was constructed with security in mind, but at that time I was not privy to the full range of vampire capabilities! The voices echo in the twisted corridors of my psyche, dark whisperings of a macabre and formless menace, the approach of which portends an end, an end to all of this!”

I immediately pulled that tape, too, making sure I had the evidence that Grout was running from something, or someone. I still didn’t know whom to take it to, yet. The Camarilla was a time bomb, with whomever this person was ready to intercept my good intentions and silence me. That thought really creeped me out. There were two I’d take for being nice at first, but secretly being evil. Lacroix, and Strauss. Lacroix was an easy pick because he was the man in charge, but Strauss? I really figured he was the one ready to upstage Lacroix if he was given the chance. Why else would he want me as a Primogen?

Neither point much mattered, unless I found Grout. I really hoped to find him alive, but that seemed doubtful at this point. I got up, held my pistol in both hands and headed through the door at the top of the stairs. What I found was a trophy room of sorts, or more aptly put, a mourning room. In the center of the room were the remains of Doctor Grout’s wife. Around the room were memento’s of their years together. I carefully walked around the room, going to the far side and finding the door their locked by dropbars.

Okay, it’s the last piece of the puzzle. I looked back to the Missus Grout, seeing her with her arms wide and head back, almost like she’s dancing. Dancing? My eyes fell on the old phonograph player by the entryway. Simplistic, but effective. I went to the phonograph, flipping the switch and hearing the old brass band come to life as it played. The mechanism under Missus Grout activated, turning her to face me. Once she faced me, the music ended and the draw bars on the far door lifted, unlocking it.

I went to the door, opening to find a bedroom. I cast my eyes on the bed, hoping to find Doctor Grout but nearly cried in frustration as I found the skeletal remains chained to the bed, a stake through the ribcage, and a pile of ash under the skeleton. Beside the bed was another tape recorder, and I wearily sat on the bed and hit play.

“My night has come. I realize that this will be my last message to she who has been sent. Take heart childe, for your nights will be many, but they come with a price. Your dark forebear has noticed you, and in his footsteps will you be protected when the time comes that you are to be hunted and killed as I have. I wish now that I had embraced these voices as the portrayers of truth they are, but that is of little consequence now. Report my death immediately, for only then will you discover the truth about the puppeteers behind your recent tasks, and the risks that lie for you ahead.

“Beware little one, for the nights are filled with savage predators who hide their true selves behind genteel manners and smiling faces. There are few the voices tell me to trust, and only one person in this city who doesn’t have an ulterior motive for either of us. Find her, trust her. She can no longer help me, but she can help you. Miss Monroe...”

The tape cut off mid-sentence, the last thing I could hear was something in the background like slapping flesh, and I figured that was when he was staked. I took that tape too, needing to find out more about how my forebear walked so I could survive what Grout called my own hunt. That was uncomfortable to think about, but he said I could survive it if I walked like my dark forebear. I thought about it for a bit, then wondered who Miss Monroe could be. Surely he wasn’t talking about Marilyn…

Damn! Marilyn Monroe? How could I be so blind. Of course, you don’t expect to run into a living legend or have one drop by your apartment dressed in casual clothes, but to not see her after she revealed practically everything about herself? Oh, I was so blind.

I was shaken out of my reverie when an explosion shook the mansion underneath me and the ceiling fell in on the mourning room. With only one door left, I burst through to find myself overlooking the staircase room which was among my first finds. On the opposite side, on a balcony type overlook, was a large shouldered man who looked like he meant business.

“Grout! Lay low and be cleansed by the flames!” he yelled across to me.

A second explosion shook the mansion, and fired poured through room below us, making me back up a step in fear. “Grout’s dead! Who are you!”

“Grout is dead! Pity it wasn’t by my hand! No matter, soon your self-made kings and false prophets and all who bear the mark of the beast will be washed from the earth, for the coming of the Lord!”

“Hey, wait! I’m a Catholic! And I have done nothing to warrant this kind of condemnation!”

“Babble your tongue in the pits of the abyss! I will not hear it anymore!”

“But...” I started to say, but the guy cut me off.

“As you burn, tell them it was Grunfield Bach who sent your damned soul to that lake of fire! All agents of Satan shall return from whence they came!” He started to run, as the fire started to spread through the attic, causing the ceiling to fall. “Let this righteous display serve as a promise to all who serve the archfiend Lacroix! I’m coming for you, Lacroix! By the power of the Lord, I will cleanse your black soul!”

I looked the fire pit of a room over, it was going south fast in here, and I could feel my beast start to freak out. I shoved it down, then looked at the balcony on the far side. I didn’t know where it led, but it had to lead out of here. It was time to figure out just how strong I was.

Lunging forward, I surged over the railing and landed on my feet. I didn’t waste any time trying to fight the fire, just dodged the burning debris and headed across the room to the balcony on the other side. As I got close, I used my potence to strengthen my muscles and jumped up, managing to cling to the railing and hauling myself over to collapse on the floor. Another explosion shook the house, and I rolled to my feet, taking off after Bach with my pistol in my hand. I passed a few dead ghouls, my beast relaxing a bit as the fire hadn’t spread here yet.

I followed the corridor around the corner just as another explosion rocked the floor underneath me. I looked back to see that the hall was engulfed in flames. At the end of the hall I took the first door on the right, finding myself in a spare bedroom. The window overlooking Downtown Los Angeles never looked so inviting, and I quickly opened the window, scrambled out and jumped to the ground below.

Some guy in a brown leather duster sat astride a motorcycle, as he tried to make the thing start. He didn’t even notice me as I approached, but he had the same look as Bach. Vampire Hunters. Had to be. Well, the prey should have kept his guard up as I approached and pulled my pistol from its holster and bashed in the back of the guys head with the grip. He fell over, and I re-holstered my gun and used my strength to right the bike. I looked over the fuel system, finding the off switch for the fuel flow. As normal with rookies it was off, so I turned it on and sat on it. I held the clutch as I hit the starter switch, and the motor roared into life. Needing to get out of here before the neighbors up the hill called the cops, I tapped the transmission pedal down and let off the clutch slowly, and started trying to figure out how to ride a bike all over again. Maybe it would have been easier if I had driven one instead of having ridden one with my ex-boyfriend.

Because I was out of my element here. In more ways than one.


Chapter Text

Chapter 22 = Betraying Trust

September 30, 2004 = Thursday


Driving versus riding a motorcycle is like riding in a car versus driving it. You might see most of what was going on, but it’s different than doing it yourself. Getting the rhythm of hitting the clutch while shifting the transmission was difficult, but soon I had the bike up over eighty-five. I tried to shift up again, but that was about as fast as it would go.

Not bad, making sure to remember that the shift pattern was one down and four up as I tooled it down the highway. I passed a few cars as I went along the main roads back to downtown, then figured I was going to need a map so I could find way around this town. Finding Lacroix tower, though, was easy. Follow the beacon.

Pulling up in front of Lacroix Tower, I parked it under a light to better examine it. First thing I noticed was it was a black with bright red striping on the gas tank and fenders, which seemed an odd accent to the dark color scheme. It had full seat, rolling over the rear wheel fender and gave it a nice little seat back, which made it comfortable to ride. There was also no back rest for the rear passenger, but there was a set of feet rests for the passenger which made me wonder who was riding with the hunter. The bike also had a set of saddlebags bolted over the rear wheel, giving me some space to store items and transport them to different places.

All in all, a good bike, and I was definitely thinking of keeping it. A painted emblem on the fuel tank caught my eye. I knelt down, adjusting the bike to better reflect the silver, black and red emblem. The Harley Davidson logo stood in stark relief, and I smiled. I thought I recognized the characteristic lub of a Harley motor, but I wasn’t sure. Well, definitely keeping it. If for no other reason than so I could split lanes to cut through traffic when returning home.

I crossed over the street to the tower, and went in. Chunk sat at the front desk, throwing tator tots in the air to catch them with his mouth. He stopped as I got near, then smiled as he wiped his salty fingers on his pants.

“Evening,” he said, then sniffed and shook his head. “You smell something burning? Smells like someone burnt the burgers.”

I feigned sniffing, then looked at him, smiling at the security guard. “I don’t smell anything. I’ve got an appointment with Lacroix. He’s expecting me.”

“Sure, I’ll open her up,” he said, and I started walking around the security post to the main elevators, as Chunk leaned back in his chair and began talking again. “Aw geez, I could go for I could go for one of them double Space Burgers, with the onions, the cheese, some bacon and that guacomole...”

I was thankfully spared his choice of greasy food items as the elevator doors sealed me in and I ascended to Camarilla Offices. The doors opened and as I stepped through to head for Lacroix’s private lift, caught sight of a familiar face down a corridor.

“Jean!” I called, making the former legend stop. I hurried down the hall as fast as my heeled feet could carry me until I was standing right beside her. She was slightly hunched over with her arms around her middle and her face had a sour look to it. “Hey, you alright?”

“I will be. Just so you know, there’s a trial tomorrow at nine. Masquerade breaker by the name of Jose. He was a Brujah,” she said, not really looking at me. “After his trial, his ghoul will be presented to find out if anyone wants to add her to their personal coterie.”

“Jean, that doesn’t answer my question,” I said, getting concerned. “All you alright? You seem out of it.”

“Yeah, it’s just,” she paused, looking down at her boots. “Being a deputy in the Camarilla isn’t always about bringing in the bad guy. We have to keep the masquerade, too. Jose, he...he lost control of his beast and killed three people. Then he fed from some poor girl while her best friend watched. We found out when she called 911 screaming for help about a monster, and we got there first. Jose is staked and I...” Jean paused as she wrapped her arms tighter around herself. She didn’t need to finish, I already could guess what happened next.

We were kindred. Our very existence is a secret we kill to protect. With such a blatant violation, there was no way of playing it off, so Jean had killed the poor girl for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For the Gangrel though, she obviously didn’t like having to kill the innocent, but she had done it and was having remorse over it. I wrapped my arms around her, and gave her a hug. She returned the hug, briefly, before straightening up.

“Thanks,” she said. “So what rock did Grout hide under?”

“He was killed,” I told her, deciding not to tell her then about Nines. “I found his remains tied to his bed with a stake in his ribcage. The rest of him was ash on his bed.”

Jean nodded, “Did you have to burn the house down?”

“I think they were vampire hunters, and they seemed to know Grout was kindred. They torched his house, I barely got out of their alive,” I told her, her eyes wide at the horror I spoke of. “One of the hunters is a newbie with motorcycles, and I waylaid him before he could leave. Left him out cold in front of Grout’s and left on his Harley.”

“Nice, at least you got something out of it, besides becoming fertilizer.”

“Yeah, thinking of keeping it, so I don’t get stuck in traffic again,” I told her, as she began walking deeper into the tower. “I got burned by the sun when I got stuck in traffic.”

“A hog would do it,” she agreed as we turned some corner and reached a door. “Well, I have to meet with the other deputies and figure out if we’re needed anywhere. Seems like there’s always a fire to put out.”

“If you need someone to talk to, you can always talk to me, okay? It’s the least I can do Marilyn,” I told her.

“Finally figure it out? Yeah, keep it to yourself, okay? I wouldn’t have even admitted what I did if it wasn’t for your blood doll,” she told me.

“You know, if she remembers seeing you, and that she was too out of it to do more than mumble, she’s going to stake me.”

“Maybe I’ll drop by again sometime,” she said, opening the door and slipping inside. I got a glimpse of a room full of people, most in T-shirts and polos, with a few men in suits. All looked capable, and that was enough to ensure I never wanted to break masquerade. I wouldn’t last.

With nothing left to anchor me to the door, I began to drift down the hallways, trying to figure out where the elevators were when I heard a pair of voices coming towards me. One was very German and loud, while the other was more restrained, but familiar. Herr Mueller and Regent Strauss. I could feel my beast stir, so I looked around for a hiding spot, then ducked inside a door. Turned out to be a maintenance closet, and pressed my ear to the door. I silently wished I could see what was going on, when my perspective changed and I had a bird’s eye view of outside.

“And I say she’d be better kept from returning to the Sabbat if we had made her a primogen! Her desire for personal power would have ensured she stayed with the Camarilla!” Strauss said through clenched teeth.

“That mewling hündin won’t be allowed from under her boon to the Prince until we have her so buried under favors that she can’t even function. And as Harpy, I will make sure of it!” Herr Mueller yelled back. I didn’t know what he called me, but I was tempted to drop in on them and call him out for it.

“She is more powerful than we give her credit for, and your tactic of a suicide run may not have driven a large enough wedge between her and Andrei. She is just a fledgling struggling to survive, not hours old when we ripped her from their clutches. She may still return!”

“And if she does leave while owing so much as a boon, I’ll call her in contempt and have the Sheriff bring her to trial. Let us Ventrue handle the Lasombra, Strauss. Return to your chantry and train your people in your blood magics. It’s what you know best,” he said, uttering the last sentence as he walked away.

I ‘turned’ to see where he went, and Strauss gazed upwards, seemingly looking at me. If my form still had eyes, we would have been staring at each other. It was Strauss who broke the staring contest, as he shook his head. “I fear she is far more powerful than even I give her credit for,” he said, walking away. I watched him go, waiting until he had rounded a corner before I let myself snap back into my body. It was an odd experience, existing that way, and I had to try that again sometime if only to figure out what had happened.

I left the closet, heading down the hallways before finding a sign with directions back to the elevator. It wasn’t far and soon I was heading up to the prince. I couldn’t help think of what Herr Mueller said about not getting out from under my boon. If I couldn’t force the prince to settle it, I was going to be stuck working for him for many long nights. There had to be a way out, maybe if I somehow got the harpy changed to another person, they might release me. I also needed to know if their were any rules about boons and how they were paid.

Once at the elevator, I took it up to the top where the men guarding the door opened it to allow me in. Lacroix stood behind his desk, going through various pieces of paperwork. The Sheriff still stood right behind him, the large sword very visible on his back. I was noticed as I walked through the large room, my heels clicking on the floor.

“The primogen still haven’t been contacted by Grout. I thought I made it clear that you were not supposed to come back until we had heard from him.”

“Grout was staked and murdered. I found his remains in his room,” I told him as I came to stand before his desk.

“Grout is dead? What proof do you bring of this?”

“None. A German hunter named Bach set his house on fire. I barely escaped.”

“Bach! Every time I think he’s lost the scent. So Bach killed Grout to draw me out.”

“Bach arrived to the house long after I did,” I told him. I really didn’t want to report this next part, but I felt I had to. I really hated politics. “On my way into Bach’s home, I saw Nines Rodriguez leaving. He was scared, but I’m sure it was him.”

“Look at me, Miss Flores,” he said and I looked into his eyes. “Are you sure it was Nines Rodriguez? Because if it was, the consequences… Do you know where this might lead? Do you really have any idea?”

“Civil war between the Camarilla and the Anarchs? A war that might break the masquerade and reveal our very existence to the kine,” I said, again looking at the floor. Why did I feel like I was betraying Nine’s trust.

“That is correct,” he said, sitting to his desk. “My first action, would be to call a blood hunt for Mister Rodriguez. This would result in heightened tensions, and may even be considered an act of war. I do not want a war with them, so this decision will take some time while I confer with the Primogen.

“In the meantime, I’ve come to a decision about the Ankaran Sarcophagus, and I believe that for the safety of the inhabitants of this city, we need to place the Sarcophagus under Camarilla protection, until its contents can be confirmed.”

“I understand, sir, but as I’ve already completed three tasks for you, should not my debt be settled?”

Lacroix looked at me for a moment, then nodded. “Quite right, fledgling. I will release you from your boon. How are you doing for funds?”

“Quite well actually. I’ve managed to secure a few ghouls that have a working income, as well as do a few tasks for Scourge Walsh. To date since my trial, I’ve managed to acquire almost ten thousand dollars.”

“That is...remarkable,” he told me, his face giving hint at surprise. “It almost saddens me that you were embraced as a Lasombra, as many Ventrue childer are not as quick thinking as you seem to be. You would have made an excellent Ventrue.”

“The few kindred I have talked to are surprised by my resourcefulness. I would like to think that it is all skill, but mostly it’s just luck and being at the right time.”

“Such is the way with many schemes. Only the quick witted can truly capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves in these dark nights. To such, I am prepared to offer you an investment into your future. Five million dollars.”

“All for the price of a boon?” I said, and he nodded. It was tempting, but I wasn’t wanting to risk not getting away again. “I think I’ll pass.”

“I think, you’ll take it,” he said, and I couldn’t help but finding myself agreeing with him. He wrote something on a sheet of paper, then handed it to me. I found it a note to Scourge Walsh to deliver five million to me however I wished to take it. I then looked back at the prince.

“So, when does the sarcophagus become available?”

It’s not due for delivery to the museum until Saturday night. I want you to take it then, as right now it’s under lock and key in a police building and I don’t want to risk revealing ourselves if we don’t have to. This will give you a few nights to acquire a proper haven. Also, keep an eye out for a small box. It’s from the same dig, and was listed as missing, but may have simply been overlooked. It’s crucial we get the sarcophagus secure before anything can happen.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll bring it back on Saturday night then,” I said, then feeling dismissed, turned and left. I walked out the door and took the elevator down, feeling giddy about receiving five million dollars for a few tasks.

As I re-entered the elevator and descended to talk with Walsh about my newly acquired millions, a strange sensation of vertigo hit me. As it settled and I could see clearly again, it was like I was watching myself back in the prince’s office and seeing more of what was going on. This time though, I saw I had said “I think I’ll pass,” before accepting the offer.

‘That son of a bitch,’ I mentally cursed as it hit me. Damsel’s warning about Ventrue and how they could make you do whatever they say came to mind. He said I should take it, and I had. Damn! I was just rooked and not give the courtesy of lubrication.

My good mood soured as I rode the elevator down. I exited to find Walsh was coming down the hall towards me.

“Miss Flores,” he called, and I waited for him. “I was just giving my deputies their nightly duties when I got the call. If you will follow me?” he said and I followed him down the hall to his office. He took a seat behind his desk while I sat opposite him and handed him the paper the prince had given me. He whistled as he read it, then placed it in a paper shredder and ran it through.

“How would you like your five million? Cash, check, or money order?”

“If I had a bank account still, I would say check,” I told him.

“Never got around to reading the binder that listed our services, have you? We Ventrue are the primary banking institution around the world. Essentially, all money is play money to us. So,” he started to say, before turning to a filing cabinet and pulling out a sheathe of paperwork. “Let’s get you started.”

We began going through the paperwork, and he reached into the cabinet again in another drawer for another sheathe of paperwork. “Let’s get this started properly. I need to establish an identity for you, first. The name you wish to use?”

“Eliza Leya Flores,” I told him, wishing to continue using my birth name.

He paused before writing anything down. “Do you want to try a different spelling of the name? To make it more difficult to be confused with your previous life?”

“The masquerade,” I mumbled. “Make it Elisa Leia Flores, with an ‘S’ in the first name instead of a ‘Z.’ As for my middle name, spell it L-E-I-A, like the princess from Star Wars.” Walsh began writing it down, smiling a bit as he found something funny.

“Do you know your initials are elf?” he asked, not hardly keeping the humor to himself as he filled out paperwork.

“My mother was a Tolkien fan,” I said, remembering the times I dressed the part of Arwen in as angelic a costume as mom could make. “She used to dress me up as Arwen at Halloween, taught me to walk with grace and not just barge in everywhere.”

Walsh made a small hum of acknowledgment as he filled out boxes. “I’m leaving you as a Latino, though you could probably pass for Italian with your faded tone. Is there a specific birthday you would like to use?”

“My original birthday was June 2, 1984. Why not make it June 12, 1984, so nothing changes but one number.”

“Smart, then if you forget when writing it down, the one is easily added,” he said as he continued to write. “Any special regards on your license I need to put down? Glasses? Motorcycle endorsement maybe?”

“Both, I guess. I need to start wearing sunglasses for when I’m in public. My eyes...”

“I wasn’t going to comment, but what happened?”

“I was held up in traffic this morning. I got burned by the sun while attempting to secure myself in my haven. Ever since, my eyes haven’t existed, even though my face itself was burned.”

“I saw a Lasombra once. He was about my age. This was in New York City back during the Depression when many Ventrue saw their businesses suffer as Wall Street fell apart around us. His eyes also looked like yours,” he said, as he pulled a yellow highlighter from his pen holder and began highlighting spots on the pages in front of him. “I must admit, it’s disquieting, not seeing a person’s eyes. From what I gather, it happens to all of your clan in time.”

“Hooray for me,” I nearly groaned as Walsh continued writing.

“The easiest way of securing your property and bank account is through a corporation, as it doesn’t require the owner to really be registered anywhere. This makes it easier for our ghouls to be a front for our interests, while we hide our assets in plain sight. Many CEO’s and corporate leaders today don’t truly own their property, they are owned by the corporation behind the man. It makes it somewhat easier to pass a property through the years. That said, are you interested in starting your own corporation?”

I thought it over. “I would have to pay taxes on a corporation right? This isn’t a free ride as if I were playing dead?”

“Double taxes, actually. All money is taxed as it comes in and as it goes out. You would also be required to pay taxes on all property owned, ghouls who would be paid would be required to be put on payroll, and that’s costly.”

“But as a corporate entity, I’d be entitled to live again? To buy and sell property openly, have checking accounts, all while not actually existing.”

“Correct. If you choose to drive yourself, you will still need a driver’s license, which I have those forms ready for you to sign,” he said, as he readied another form. “So, do you have a business name you would like to use?”

I had to think on that one. What was a good name for a kindred corporation? I thought several names over, then decided I could honor my mother at least, and name the corporation after her favorite species. “Elven Incorporated.”

Walsh lifted an eyebrow at that, a smile quirking his lips as he continued to write among the now myriad pages on his desk. Then he he began turning pages around and offered me a pen to sign with. “Just sign where it’s highlighted, and please make sure to use the now correct spelling of your name.”

I signed where he showed me, handing him his pen when I was done. He started to arrange all the paperwork, then filed it in a folder. “That just leaves your picture, which we can take just down the hall,” he said as he stood up with the folder under his arm.

“There’s a slight problem with that,” I said, standing beside him. “My clan has no reflection. That also means that modern cameras don’t pick me up at all. Even objects I’m holding or wearing don’t show up.”

Walsh stopped at that. “That means you cannot take your own driver’s license photo.”

I shrugged, “Added expense? Try holding a casting call for Latino women who match my physical description. It shouldn’t take too long to find a possible look alike,” I said, thinking about some of the ideas I had on how I might do a photo.

“Until then, Miss Flores, try not to get caught riding that new motorcycle of yours,” he said smiling. “I will have a ghoul bring over your new checkbook, birth certificate and social security card, and as soon as we have a viable replacement for your photo, we will have it shipped over as well.”

“Thank you, Scourge Walsh,” I said, glad to have at least that much taken care of tonight. “I’ll be sure to have my ghoul talk to your ghoul about those properties. I really am looking forward to getting things started in earnest now that I have the funds to start my own endeavors.”

Walsh looked uncertain, and I was just turning to walk away when he finally said. “Would you care to take a bet?”

That had my interest. “On?” I prodded as I turned back to face him.

Walsh grimaced as he chose his next words. “Many successful businesses are started and ran entirely by mortals. However, there are some that we,” he looked down as if choosing his next words as if his life depended on them, “make games of. See, almost every kindred needs money in one form or another to survive. Sometimes, they start their own company. Some, like us Ventrue continue operating their business or reap the rewards of a title for as long as we can in this new life. Many others use their funds to become silent partners in a kine’s business.”

“This is building up to something, I know it,” I said, smiling at the thought that maybe I could upstage the Ventrue again. Something about that made my inner beast dance with excitement.

“There is a business, a local one, that we have made a game of to try and control in one form or another. The owner is, tenacious, and has sought help of an illegitimate sort to keep we kindred out of her till.”

“So, what are the rules and the stakes?” I asked, wanting to know what the deal was that the kindred of this city had failed to ghoul a simple mortal.

“She has to accept her status willingly, so no using any vampiric powers to coerce her into being a ghoul or partner. The kindred who will win must become, by either ghouling her, or by getting her to sign a contract stating that they either own a portion of her business or possess her loan, thereby receiving payments from her.”

“Sounds simple,” I said, thinking it over. If all you had to do was somehow become the kindred behind the woman, how hard could it be? “So what does it take to get in on it?”

“A million dollars or a boon to be owed to the winner,” he said, smiling. “It sounds simple, but I offered her ten million once for her business and she refused to sell. The Toreador’s in town who are trying have run off all of the good talent from her club and she gets by now on second-rate garage bands and third-rate techno remixes. Still, somehow, even after two years of having this bet, and many Ventrue having offered to buy out her loan or repay it, she persists. Even the man who owns her loan, Boris Checkov, refuses to let anyone take the loan from him. So there is nothing simple about this wager.”

“Mind if I ask what the pot is up to?”

“Currently, I’d say over twenty million with about twelve boons attached to it. One buy in gets you all the access you want, and as many tries to succeed. Once the debt is settled, the Toreador’s will allow the talent to play their again, so it’s not as if you are buying into a failed venture.”

I thought the debt over, and decided that the prince was right about one thing. You had to capitalize on the opportunities as they presented themselves, and this was definitely an opportunity. Well, time to open the door. “I’m in. One million dollars. I guess I can thank the prince for at least getting me this far,” I said, smiling back at Walsh as he led me back to the elevator.

“The club in question is called Confession. The lady in question goes by the name Venus Dare. No one knows her real name, but that’s the stage name she uses and is known by. If you are successful, or have questions, you can call me. You still have your phone yes?”

“Mainly use it for calling the cab company,” I said, waiting on the elevator. “But if I have a question, I’ll contact you. Or if there’s a masquerade violation to report, such as the rampaging Brujah I heard about. Trial’s tomorrow at nine right?”

“Nocturne theater, where you had your trial. Jose will not likely be so lucky,” he said as the elevator arrived and the doors opened.

“Such is the masquerade, right?”

“Correct, There’s nothing we can do about your motorcycle at present, but there are shops where you might be able to buy a replacement VIN number that can be safely registered. At the Last Round, where the Anarchs like to keep their company, you can find a man named Skelter. He’s got a few friends in the illegal car trade and might know someone who can get you a proper VIN.”

“Thank you, Walsh. I’m headed by that way later to talk to Damsel. She’s on the trail of some more plaguebearers. Apparently, they have some sort of cult going and we’re tracking them down.”

“Keep me apprised of any you find. Names and clan affiliations would be helpful, or at least any supernatural powers they possess. And,” he said, pausing as he looked at me. “Be careful. Jean is not one I would normally use for a deputy, but she came with thirty plus years of bounty hunting experience. She is also quite resilient to harm. You don’t have those same luxuries.”

“I’ll be careful. The last thing I want to do is win that bet and then wind up as a pile of ash,” I said, letting the doors close between us. Walsh smiled as the doors closed and I descended to the ground floor. I didn’t stop to talk to Chunk as I left, heading straight out the doors to my ride. I sat on the seat, then went through the startup list and fired the engine into life.

I headed down the street, going straight to the Last Round. I spun the bike around, and parked it in front of the bar and shut down my ride. Leaving it parked at the curb, I walked inside. Damsel wasn’t at her usual spot at the bottom of the stairs, which surprised me. I went upstairs anyway, finding a large kindred with a mean look to his eyes guarding the stairs from the top. He was dressed in military style, with canvas pants and military style boots.

“Well! If it ain’t the talk of the town, poster child for Camarilla benevolence. What does the prince have his Lasombra bitch doing today?”

“I’m here to see Nines. I got a problem and he better have answers,” I said, stopping and crossing my arms. He better have good answers anyway.

“Well then go on up to him. Nobody stopping ya,” he said, his voice heavy with sarcasm common with hood rats. I hated guys like him when I was alive, always making a girl feel scared and dirty, and I was so not taking his bull tonight. I walked past him, my heels smartly tapping out my lack of patience and even Nines looked edgy.

“Yo, kid. What’s up,” he said, his voice deep and calm despite the twitchy right hand.

“I need an answer, Nines. Were you, or were you not at Grout’s mansion tonight?” I asked him pointedly.

“I wasn’t. I was actually out tending to business, had a new pack of Sabbat hit Anaheim. They won’t hit anything but an urn now.”

“Then, until your crew calls you, get out of LA. Tonight. Someone is setting you up and making me the patsy.”

“Kid, you better start explaining yourself on that,” military guy said behind me, moving to block the exit.

I turned so I had both military guy and Nines in sight, with my back to a wall and Jack right in front of me. Jack appeared to be fondling something under the table, and I don’t think it was a bouquet of flowers. “I saw someone who could be Nines’ twin leave Grout’s and just reported that back to the prince. Grout is now dead, and the prince is going to blame Nines.”

I was glad I turned to keep military guy in sight as he rushed me shouting, “You measly fuck!” I caught his wild swing with a Miyagi block of my left arm, then used my knee in an attempt to break his family jewels before tossing him down the stairs. Jack rose to his feet, leveling a shotgun my way, and I moved before anyone could think, including myself. I now stood BEHIND Jack, who said, “What the hell!” before I jumped back to brace against the wall and mule kick him across the bar.

I looked at Nines, who had pulled his big gun and had it trained on me. “Calm down, kid. If I thought you were here to kill me, I doubt you’d waste time with words.”

“They started it,” I said, crossing my arms and leaning into the dark corner. Nines harrumphed at that, holstering his pistol and leaned up against the wall.

“And here I thought I was going to have to keep saving your ass. That’s a neat trick, though. How fast is that? A hundred? Two?”

“Um,” I said, recalling how I just appeared behind Jack, my vision only blacking out for a second as I thought I had moved, then my mind went back to Star Trek. “Instantaneous transport? I think I jumped here,” I said, then a brief flash of memory made me realize, I went through the shadows to do it. “I jumped here through the shadows?”

“That’s a neat trick,” Nines said, as Jack got to his feet and military guy climbed back up to join us. “You two boys need to apologize to the lady. You were out of line just attacking her like that, especially in Elysium. She has every right to call the sheriff and haul you two boys off to Trial.”

Jack stared daggers at me, while military guy hung his head. “I did it again, didn’t I Nines?”

“Yeah, Skelter. You did. I warned you about that. We can’t keep up a war with the Camarilla if they keep chipping away at our people. She came here to warn me, and you jumped her. Nice moves, kid. Where were they when the Sabbat had you cornered?”

“Just a cheap karate trick from a movie. Skelter right? Know where I can get a VIN number changed on a Harley Davidson?”

“I know a few places,” he said, relief at being let off the hook making him relax. “Give me a night or two to line something out. We good?”

“Yeah, we’re good. I’m actually getting fond of it.”

“Well, Jack,” Nines said, still leaned against the wall.

“Scraped better kindred off my boots,” he muttered, before reaching down to pick up his shotgun and going down the stairs and out of sight. It wasn’t long before we heard the bar door slam hard.

“If anyone sees him again, tell him it’s cool. I know he’s trying to protect a friend, and I can respect that.”

“Glad to see we’re all on the same page. Now, someone mind telling me what the hell happened and why Jack is muttering like a possessed man?” Damsel barked from the stairwell. At least I think it was Damsel. The hair was red like hers, and the voice matched, but that body? Damsel wasn’t a hottie and, Oh! I needed my head examined.

“Damsel, you doll up good,” Nine said. “Kid here was just telling me Lacroix has it in for my hide. Apparently, he got some Nos to do themselves up as me and kill Grout.”

“And she was there just out of the goodness of Lacroix’s heart? He knows we won’t buy it.” Damsel said, arms crossed across her chest. Yeah, that was Damsel and she really looked different in a dress.

“The primogen sent me there because Grout failed to make it to the meeting last night. Lacroix sent me as a quick stop gap measure to keep the meeting going. He even asked them if sending me was acceptable. IF he is the man Grout was talking about, then we got problems.”

“What do you mean, ‘the man Grout was talking about?’ Am I missing something here.” Damsel asked.

I pulled the old reel to reel tapes I had taken from the mansion out of my bag and held them up. “Grout recorded messages and had them strung throughout his mansion. Each one painted a scene of his life and led me to the end. Near the end, after Grout had mentioned being made Primogen, his inner voice started to flare up, and told him a lot. Someone he knew, a very powerful someone, came for him to kill him. That someone can only either be Lacroix or Strauss.”

“My money’s on Lacroix,” Nines said. “That son of a bitch thinks he can take LA from the Anarchs by framing me for murder. It don’t make any sense for it to be Strauss. The mage has nothing to gain.”

“Like you can trust any of them,” Damsel shot back.

“Strauss at least plays fair. You might not always know what his overall plan is, but even if it goes against him, he treats you fair. Lacroix, though? The only place he belongs is in a barbecue pit.”

“No arguments here. So, what do we do?” I said, bringing the brainstorming session back to reality.

“I can hide out, use the slums to feed from. It’s best if you don’t know exactly where kid. No offense, but you are currently in tight with the Camarilla. Your allegiance is your own choice, but I can’t risk my life on a chance,” Nines said, looking me in the eye as he said it. I felt respect for the man, and had to agree with his choice.

“Then we’ll leave it at that. What should I do with these tapes?”

“Take them to Strauss. Call it evidence of a powerful presence doing harm in the city and you don’t know whom to trust in the Camarilla. Strauss tried to get you on their precious council, so he has to think something of you. You can play that back and see if he’ll bite. He does, its one more ace up our sleeve to pit against Lacroix when the times right.”

“I guess that war Lacroix warned me about is about to happen,” I said, sadness entering my voice. I didn’t want to have to choose sides yet, I just didn’t know whom was right.

“Yeah, it’s about to start. Maybe a month away, maybe less. Don’t know how it’s going to go right now. We lost so many in the past few years, and more have swapped sides or are riding the fence and don’t want to get involved. The Camarilla doesn’t really have us outnumbered, just outgunned with that brute of a sheriff.”

“If it comes to it, we can get the sheriff,” Skelter said, eying me from across the room. “I’d love to introduce him to the wonders of the modern military.”

“Modern, hell, introduce his ass to a flamethrower,” Damsel said, proving she was still tart and tiny as always.

“I’m just going to go, let you guys plan your war,” I said, as I started weaving my way through the tables back to the stairs.

“Thanks for the heads up, kid. Likely we wouldn’t have know about it until every deputy showed up on our doorstep demanding my blood,” Nines told me. “That could have gotten hairy.”

“They wouldn’t take any prisoners, would they?” I asked him.

“Not me,” he said, his voice had a hint of sadness in it. “It’s just that I’m probably the last person who can keep the Anarchs from falling apart completely. Even Isaac isn’t as vocal about the cause as he used to be.”

“Figure it out, Nines,” I said, as I stepped down the first step, “Otherwise, kiss the cause goodbye.” I continued down the stairs and back out the door. I was just about to hit the ignition when Damsel came running out, her skirt picked up in her hand to keep the hem from getting dirty.

“Hey,” she said, and I sat back to give her a moment to get down the stairs. “I got word about a new plaguebearer. Some guy named Tin Can Bill said he was kidnapped by a monster and taken underground. From what he described, I’d say it was a Nos. He’s down by the Griffith overpass.”

“Thanks, Damsel,” I said, “I’ll go check it out.”

“Love the ride,” she said, trying to not to smile. “Harley Fatboy? These things were all the rage ten years ago. Still a good ride. You’re going to have to take me out sometime.”

“Know any good spots,” I asked, not sure about LA area. I was raised a bit further up the coast, and not sure of the local area.

“I know a few spots that are excellent for riding. Even know a few good overlooks if you want to stop and look at the stars,” she said, cocking a hip and smiling at me.

I smiled, thoughts of me and Damsel parked out on some lonely hilltop with nothing between us but the night running wild through my mind. I had to admit, I was attracted, I just didn’t know how to show it. Guys at least were easy. Show any interest at all and the follow you like a puppy dog. But another woman? “I need to track this guy down fast, Damsel. Unfortunately, this disease doesn’t take long to kill, and it seems I’m already a day late.”

“Yeah,” she said, seeming to deflate. “Best get a move on.”

I hit the starter, slipping the bike into gear and easing off. I really needed dating advice.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23 – Rising Shadow

September 30, 2004 = Thursday


I rode my Harley down the street, hoping I was heading the right way. Griffith Street was actually an easy find not a few blocks away, so I turned south and found the overpass for I-10. I parked underneath it, pulling the key so it was less likely to be stolen. I looked around, seeing a few old abandoned cars, then I heard it.

Coughing.

I followed the sound to a guy leaned up against a building. He was drinking from a large bottle, and just downed the last of it before attempting to toss the empty bottle away only to have it fall beside him and not even break. I walked up to him, kneeling beside him as he tried to physically cough up a lung. He reminded me of Hannah, how she sounded right before she died, and I was glad I hurried over to find him. His eyes were already glossing over, and I shook him a bit to rouse him.

“Betty? That you?” he said, before coughing again. “I ain’t got no booze tonight, so you may as well get out of here before you get sick too.”

“It’s not Betty,” I told him, trying to keep him upright. “I heard you were kidnapped by a monster, Bill. I need to find him, so where is he?”

“I might be able to tell ya,” he said, coughing again. I couldn’t help but notice the thin red line form at the corner of his mouth. “But I’m awful thirsty tonight miss, and I done run out. Spare five bucks for a man down on his luck?”

“Sure,” I said, trying to sound happy when I was pissed. This damn plague didn’t need to be, and another one was about to die. I pulled a bill from my bag and held it up. “Just tell me where.”

Bill started to laugh, but quickly turned into coughing. “He came up out of that manhole down the alley,” he said, barely lifting his hand to point towards it. “I been watching for him, see if he comes back out, but he hasn’t showed yet.”

“Thanks,” I said, handing the man the money. The man tried to stand, but ended up falling back against the wall.

“I think I need a rest,” he said, his eyes rolling back in his head. I laid him back against the wall, where he seemed to pass out. He was still breathing, so I let him sleep peacefully while he could.

I went over to the manhole cover, using my potence to lift it and set it aside. This didn’t seem to be a sewage line, to which I was thankful for, but a utility maintenance line. The room it opened up into was bare concrete, with anything beyond lost to the shadows, so I switched over to my shadow vision. I could see the room much better now, so I continued on, heading down a dark corridor for several hundred feet before coming on a set of steel bars that looked more reminiscent of a set of prison bars with a swinging door.

I pushed on the door to find it unlocked, and headed through into a large, dimly lit room with corpses hung on the wall, entrails spilling out. I walked into the room, and a man misted into existence in front of me. I could tell by his grotesque appearance he was a Nosferatu, dressed in ragged pants with no other clothes visible and an earring hanging from a leathery ear, but his skin was pulled so tight over his head it was ripping apart, revealing the pink flesh beneath.

“Found your way down here, did you? Looking for a free meal, little bloodsucker? Follow the smell of entrails and rotting flesh to my kingdom?” he said, almost growling every word. He was probably American, but his growling voice made it hard to tell if he was local or not.

I looked around my surroundings, at the various bodies strung up on the walls and decided it truly was a cult. But why hang them up like this? So I asked, “What’s going on down here?”

“The doors have been opened, the seals broken, and the final steps into the abyss; the terrible mysteries of the ninth circle!”

I laughed a bit. “You know nothing of shadows,” I told him, my anger at his callous regard for life causing the room to darken around us. He sneered, at me, then pulled a piece of paper from behind his back.

“The darkest dawn is almost upon us! Join us in these last nights, spreading our disease upon the earth, and share this unholy communion with our human herd!”

“You got a name I can tell the Scourge to collect on your masquerade breaking hide?” I asked him.

“Brother Kanker, they call me. High Lord in the diseased halls of the dead. Look around you!” He said, waving his arms at the hanging corpses, “The blood, the maggot-ridden mortal shells, These are the signs, the coming of a new age!”

I pulled my pistol from its holster. “I think it’s time someone pulled your card.”

He charged me, and I barely got my gun up before we were grappling on the floor. Surprisingly, he wasn’t as strong in his potence as I was, and I managed to line the gun up with his face before he did something unexpected. With me using all my force to line the gun up, he suddenly yanked my arm in that same direction, and I felt my shoulder pop out of place.

I kicked him away, screaming from the pain. My gun fell from my now limp arm, and I rolled to my knees. Kanker came up, grinning wickedly at me as he saw me practically defenseless on my knees. I smiled, pulling on the shadows, intent on enveloping him in the darkness so scary that it could kill. Kanker saw the shadows start to envelope him and he tackled me, pulling me in along with him.

In the inky blackness, Kanker screamed at something he saw and I rolled free, my right arm still useless. I looked around, seeing a man walking towards us. He was tall and lithe, with white milky skin and long dark hair. His eyes were black pits of blackness, and he caught Kanker in one arm, lifting the Nos into the air as if holding a winning ticket.

“You, are a diseased sewer rat,” the man told the Nos. He gave a shake of his hand, and the Nos crumpled to ash at his feet. I stood as the man approached me, and I couldn’t help but feel fear. I was sure I’d never seen him before, but yet he seemed so familiar to me.

“Should I know you?” I asked him, not sure if I should try to communicate with him or not.

“You should, young one. You intrigue me,” he said, walking around me and studying me closely. “You have done by accident what few do by intent. And here you are again in the Void, facing me.”

“And yet you have not given me your name. What might I call you?”

“I was known by many names, and you carry one of those names still, childe,” he said, his odd accent hinting to Europe. I tried to think, why would he be familiar, and have a name I carry?

“You’re Lasombra?” I breathed, as he came to stand back in front of me. He nodded, then grinned at me and scared me down to my soul.

“My own childe, Montano, banished me here. I was blinded to the true nature of the Void then, and let it happen. That was many centuries ago,” he said, drawing his words out. I tried to figure his intentions, then decided to just ask.

“So, what do you want from me?” I asked him.

“I wish to be free of this prison. My power is limited here. I can see out, but I cannot directly affect the events that are unfolding. I will be free of this prison, young one, and you will be my vessel to freedom.”

I stepped back, afraid of what he might do. “And how do you intend to bring this about?” I asked him.

His smile deepened, and then with a sudden movement jumped towards me. I never felt him hit me, but my beast suddenly roared to life, crawling through my skin from my hair to my toes. I clawed at my skin, but there wasn’t anything to grab hold of. I could feel something in me, and I fell to my knees as things in me felt like they were shifting. I struggled with the pain, and soon it eased, leaving me very hungry.

I rose from the ground, dusting myself off. I turned to leave, when my I heard a paper crunch under my heel. I picked it up, finding it said ‘I am enlightened’ in fancy script. There was a large drawing in the middle of the page, and I couldn’t help think that it might be a way of identifying the cult. It was a bloody star, with a fanged skull in the center of it, and I stowed it in my bag, then left the Nos’s lair.

My bike was where I left it, and I put the key back in it and started it up. I started to cruise the streets, checking for that symbol. It was likely to be ignored as graffiti, so I went slow, finally finding it after almost an hour of searching. I ducked down the alley it was marked on, finding that there was a door that had the same mark on it about halfway down. I parked my bike next to it, then went in. It looked like some sort of old doctor’s office, with run down chairs around the wall and large glass windows with one of those teller slots in the middle one.

I walked to the slot, finding a dark-skinned man behind the glass waiting for people to arrive while he read a book. He closed the book as he noticed me. “What’s up, sister,” he said, eying me. “You enlightened?”

I pulled the flier I had and slipped it through the slot, as I looked at the shadows behind him. Somehow I knew I could just jump straight out of it if I wanted. The man looked at the flyer before setting aside. “I see. The Bishop is upstairs. He’ll be seeing you now.”

“Is the Bishop the one in charge of everything?” I asked him, wanting to make sure all the plaguebearers would be stopped, or if more were out there.

“He is. The kindred of the city aren’t very welcoming of his message, so currently it’s just him, Brother Kanker, and Sister Celeste.”

“Well, thank you for that information, ghoul. But I’m here for the Bishop, and I’ll take care of Celeste later,” I said, and his face went slack as he realized what I was here to do. I jumped through the shadow, coming out behind him and knocked him against the glass as he reached for something I couldn’t see. I pulled my pistol, aiming for his head as he slumped down. With a gentle squeeze of the trigger, I ended his life.

I then pulled out the pistol he was reaching for, an ugly little revolver that had a rhino engraved on the side in front of the drum with ‘Rhino 50DS’ written there. Under that it read ‘.357 Magnum.’ I didn’t know if that was any good or not, so I stashed it in my bag. I didn’t know much about guns, but the numbering system was messed up.

With my Glock in hand, I went through the side door, finding myself in some kind of lobby. The place was completely trashed, with only one girl huddled in the corner beside a sofa. She looked about my age, and whimpered when she saw my gun.

“Are you going t-to kill me?” she asked timidly. I looked her over, from her brunette hair, hazel eyes and well tanned skin to her ragged jeans, wrinkled shirt and cheap sneakers. It was hard to say if she was a ghoul or not, but I could tell she wasn’t kindred.

“Why would I kill a kindred?” I asked, wondering if the term had ever been told to her before.

“Oh,” she said brightening. “You’re one of the sisters? I’ve not been su-summoned yet. S-Still t-trying to shed my f-f-fears,” she said, shaking.

“Have you heard what goes on in the temple,” I prodded, figuring she wasn’t even bound or anything.

“I-I had a friend once. She snuck up there, a f-few days ago. Said s-she saw things...bad things, y-yeah.”

I shook my head, as the girl hugged her knees tighter to her chest as she huddled by a pillar. “She said, ummm, b-blood everywhere. There were a f-few of the summoned, t-tried to talk to them, but they j-just...stared at her with these b-blank looks, ya-know. One of t-them started to r-reach for her, and she ran away! K-Kyle, the guy who watches the door ran a-after her. I-I was tempted to go too, but he brought her back.”

“Where is she now?” I asked and then noticed a tear run silently down her face.

“I-I heard her scream. S-She…” she tried to say before she lowered her head and let out a sob. I pushed the couch aside and knelt beside her, putting my hand on her back. “B-bishop said, w-we have to s-shed our, umm, our earthly f-f-fears on our journey to the N-Ninth Circle, but I’m scared to go upstairs and l-look for her. I, uh, I just w-wanna go home, y’know? I just wanna go home,” she said, then put her head between her knees and cried.

I put an arm around her, hugging her close to me while I had a silent war with myself. She had maybe seen too much of kindred happenings to be allowed to live, but I don’t know if I could kill her without sacrificing a part of my soul. And if I let her leave, it might be my own life that was lost. Needing an answer, I pulled my phone out, and dialed the only contact I had.

“This is Walsh,” his voice said, coming through my phone.

“Walsh, this is Eliza. Got a problem. Young kine that’s maybe seen too much, but its hard to say because she’s too frightened to talk,” I said, trying to keep any clues to the nature of my call private. I didn’t want to make her any more scared than she already was.

“Has she mentioned anything remotely masquerade breaking?”

“No, she said there was lots of blood, and her friend got scared by something upstairs and is likely dead because of it,” I told him, laying the truth out for him to judge the situation.

“Then she has nothing concrete and the masquerade is safe. You may let her live, and thank you for calling me,” he said, sounding sincere in his concern for the girl and that I interrupted his night with such a small matter. But that was what he was paid for, I guess.

I let the girl cry for a moment, then helped her to her feet. “You go on home. There’s not going to be a brotherhood after tonight anyway,” I told her and she nodded, slowly walking for the door. When she opened the door, she screamed at the side of blood on the teller window where I had blown the ghoul’s brains out then bolted out of sight. I let her go, before readying my gun and taking the stairs up.

I could hear groaning, and thinking I might be able to save another victim charged that last few steps to find several people standing around. One noticed me, a frail looking man, and started to amble forward. I watched him, and his shuffling step, and tried to figure him out. He had the skin pallor of a dead man, but his eyes were lacking of any intelligence.

“Are you kindred,” I asked him, as he got close. The man didn’t respond as he got within arms reach, then he lunged at me and knocked my arms to the side grabbing for my shoulders. I immediately brought a knee up, scoring one between his legs. The guy didn’t even flinch as he grabbed my shoulders and bit my neck, ripping at my flesh. I jammed the gun against his head, and put one through an ear which dropped the guy lack a bag of potatoes.

I held my neck with my free hand, feeling blood seep around my fingers. I saw the other two approach, and I took careful aim with my pistol. I shot the first in the left eye, felling him, and the other I managed to hit it just under the scalp. It fell to the floor, twitched a few times, then stopped. I wiped my hand off on a nearby ruin of a couch, then felt my wounded neck again.

With the bleeding somewhat curtailed, I started to turn and go up the stairs. I found several more of the walking dead, all standing around. They just stood there, unmoving, until one noticed me, then she started forward. I took careful aim, using the three for target practice. They were surprisingly easy to kill, one shot dropping each before they could move far. I was about to start up the stairs again when I noticed a trail of blood.

I followed it down a hall, dropping each corpse as I found it. The trail went into a room, but as I tried the door, I found it locked. I reloaded my pistol, then kicked in the door. One of the corpses was ripping pieces of flesh off a dead girl in the corner. I calmly put a bullet in him, dropping him before he noticed me. I went over and pulled him off the girl, but she was long dead judging by the smell that was just starting to become noticeable.

I left her there, going back to the stairwell and went up another floor. There weren’t any corpses walking here so I went up again, finding that the stairwell ended here. There wasn’t any corpses here either, but the lobby-type area was bricked off, with only one door accessible. I reloaded my pistol and all my clips before stashing my gun back in its holster. I then slid my shotgun out from its simple sling and unfolded the stock. I racked in a fresh shell, then replaced the one in the tube. I was as ready as I ever was going to, and decided to end this. Opening the door, I saw several of the corpses standing around, but the man who sat on a raised platform in a highback chair was the one who caught my eye.

He looked at me, smiling before standing up and holding his arms wide, “Greetings, sister. Welcome to the Temple. I see you’ve been enlightened. Are you searching for something, truth maybe? Well you’ve come to the right place, sister. We’ve got more truth here than we can handle,” he said, sounding like a TV preacher. It was so tempting to raise my gun and fire into his ugly mug, but I needed to find Celeste. Or at least more about her.

“Celeste enlightened me,” I lied, lowering the shotgun but keeping my hand on it so I could use it if I needed to. “She said we were bringing the kindred down with our disease.”

“Disease, sister? You’ve got to open your mind! One man’s disease is another man’s sanctity! Here among the Brotherhood of the Ninth Circle, we have shed these earthly labels! Come! Partake of our divine communion!”

I approached him, surprised the corpses didn’t start approaching me as I got close. “Who are you, anyway? All she called you was Bishop.”

“They call me Bishop Vick, Shepherd of the Damned, your midnight guide through our last days here on earth,” he said, going over to a corpse still draped on a ruined couch. “Do you feel it sister? The curtain being drawn back at last, drawn back by my hand, by the Brotherhood of the Ninth Circle!”

“You mean when our ancestor’s rise to eat us?” I asked, knowing Lasombra was already rising through me. I could still feel him shifting inside of me, but clamped down on it.

“Gehenna? Judgment Day? The Apocalypse? Oh again, sister, you are too indoctrinated into the antiquated beliefs of this material world,” he said, inspecting the corpse on the couch. “There is no rhyme or reason, no all powerful and terrible gods who watch over and protect their chosen children. We are all damned to hell,” he said, raising his eyes to look at me.

“You talk of disease, what about the disease that you and I both carry, our flesh remade into nothing more than an abomination, feeding on our brothers and sisters like so many cattle? What god watched over me when that demon tore into my neck and made me this monster you see before you?” he said, his eyes burning with an intense hatred over his fate. “No, sister. There is no god who would tolerate such a thing. So I have become God, and the diseases I carry to the masses will bring about an end of my own making, until we have all journeyed into the Ninth Circle.”

“So, who gave you the disease? Celeste?”

“It’s been her pet project since she was ripped from her coven,” Vick said, moving around the couch. “She was just as infuriated with her gods and goddesses for not protecting her when she needed it most. So she devised this disease, molded it, created it, and gave it it’s terrible power. Those that now die of our new disease ridden blood will rise like zombies. Feeding on all they came across, spreading their taint and amassing a great following! It will be glorious, sister.”

“I understand how you feel about being ripped from your life,” I told him, meaning the words. “But this is no way to deal with it. You are killing innocents! Hannah did nothing to deserve dying alone in her bed! She was just a poor girl trying to survive this harsh world, and I’m going to avenge her death by killing you and every one of these walking corpses you’ve made, and then I will find Celeste and avenge Hannah’s death on her too.”

“The time for words is gone, sister,” he said, “You and I will take those last steps together, and see what truth lies behind the curtain!” With that he became a blur as he ran to a crumbling wall. I readied my shotgun, firing just as he was bringing a shotgun of his own out from behind the wall. My blast knocked him over a turned over table, but before I could even ratchet a fresh round into my shotgun, he came over the table with his and blasted at me.

I felt the blow strike me, and I tumbled across the floor from the force of the impact, but it didn’t hurt. As I got to my knees, I could see I was now wearing some kind of inky black armor which moved like a second skin. I reading my shotgun, just as I was hit again, the blast knocking me further away. I got up, hiding behind the wall just as another blast blew through the wall beside my shoulder. I couldn’t fight this guy head on, so I needed to outsmart him. I looked past the edge of the wall, then ran fast to another of the crumbling walls just as Vick blasted at me again. I wasn’t hit so I hid there, waiting. I saw Vick change vantage points, just as he blasted at me again, the blast striking the wall by my head and pelting my armor with splinters. I blasted back, hitting him in the shoulder and making him drop his shotgun. I charged across the room, firing as I went. My next shot hit him in the chest, rolling him against a wall. My next two shots ripped his guts open, then I put one into his leg.

I was about to start putting rounds through his head when I felt a club like blow from behind which made me stumble forward. I rolled over, losing the shotgun along the way to see one of the corpses marching towards me. I reached behind my back for the pistol, barely getting it lined up to squeeze off two shots before he could pin me to the floor. He fell over backwards, and I fired hard and fast at the others who were close by, dropping four more.

I barely saw Vick as he went running by, shotgun in hand. I emptied my pistol into his general direction, and he ended up rolling behind the wall. I scrambled for my shotgun, ducking behind a wall just as Vick started to blast his shotgun towards me. I reloaded both my pistol and my shotgun, kneeling in the corner while Vick blew holes near the corner.

Once I was reloaded, I crept to the corner to see Vick fire once more into the corner where I had just been. I could see his shadow as he set the gun stock first to the floor as he began reloading it. I smiled, then jumped into the shadow and come out right on top of him. He looked up, slack jawed at seeing me as I put a round into his face. I began to ratchet the gun as and fire into him as fast as I could, hitting him in the face and chest. He crumbled into ash just as my last round fired into him as he disintegrated.

I looked around, and began plugging the last remaining corpses with my pistol. When I had the last one dropped, I took a round for my shotgun and used my lockpicks to open the end up, pulling out the bullets. When I did, I put the round in the shotgun and ratcheted it into place, then loaded it up full. I fired it into the sofa where the corpse lay, the half-ignited gunpowder burning the fabric. The fire caught, and in moments the fire was burning hot enough to push me back to the door. Once the fire spread to the whole couch, the flames went all the way to the ceiling, already burning a hole in the old wood there and catching the insulation on fire.

I went ahead and left the room, heading down to the ground floor. I checked the ghoul, finding a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in a pocket. I took the lighter and the body, dragging both to the old sofa the scared girl had hidden behind when I first got here. I dumped the corpse on the sofa, then lit the sofa with the lighter. Once it had caught, I left the building, stuffing the lighter in a pocket along with the cigarettes. I used to love a good smoke, never developing the habit, myself. If nothing else, it helped complete my biker girl image.

I got back on my back just as flames poured through the roof. I could barely make out the smoke, but it was spreading fast. At least any surviving walkers in the building would die before they could be found, and the heat from the fire would destroy their diseased corpses and hide the evidence. That just left Celeste, so I dialed Walsh again.

“This is Walsh,” I heard once the call went through.

“Scouge Walsh, this is Eliza Flores. I just stopped the main source of the epidemic. I’m currently at Pico and San Julian and I set fire to the building they were holed up in. The disease has changed. The dead turn into zombies now.”

“But you stopped all the plaguebearers?”

“One remains. Her name is Celeste, and she was into magic pretty heavily.”

“Magic? I see,” he said, pausing for a moment. “Her name is Celeste Evans, and she is a Tremere.”

“So I’d find her at the Tremere Chantry?”

“Yes, you would. Would you like to bring her in? I’ve even posted an award for making the epidemic stop.”

“If I can, I will. I assume she will be given her Trial tomorrow right after the Brujah?”

“She will, if she can be caught. Be careful of the mages. They might not seem powerful at first, but they are deceptively powerful.”

“Noted. I’m on my way to the Chantry now.”

“Godspeed, young one,” he said and the line disconnected. I started my bike, heading for the chantry as fast as I could. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I was going to be damned sure I got all of them.

Out in front of the chantry, I stopped the bike and shut it down. I walked in the front door to find a three people coming down the stairs and I could feel the hairs on my neck stand on end. Two were female, and one was male, none of them were familiar to me, so I decided to ask a simple question.

“Can you tell me where I might find Celeste Evans?” I asked the group. They all stopped and surveyed me, when the guy spoke up.

“She’s Celeste. If you have need of us, we request that you speak to Regent Strauss. He is the master of this chantry,” he told me, his voice only mildly annoyed at my interruption. “Nyx, come,” he said, looking up at the banister to several cats and what looked like looked like living winged fairies hiding behind it. It was downright eerie.

“Celeste Evans, you’re under arrest for masquerade violation,” I said, just as the group turned to walk deeper into the chantry’s ground level. They all stopped, with blood pooling in the guy’s hands, as he spun to face me.

“That’s a serious accusation, Lasombra,” he snarled and a black cat hissed from where she was ready to jump down from the banister.

“I have authorization from Scourge Walsh to bring her to the tower. Her Trial is tomorrow, right after the Brujah’s,” I said, hoping that wasn’t going to be a problem.

“What am I being accused of,” Celeste said, her own hand coating itself in blood as she readied herself to fight.

“Being one of the plaguebearers, and more importantly, being the one who masterminded the disease’s creation and mutation, probably through your clan’s blood magic,” I said, watching her eyes. They widened in shock when I told her about the mutation part, so I decided to see if I could pin it better. “Bishop Vick was glad to lay it out for me. He said you were mad that your goddess didn’t protect you from your sire, so you wanted to punish all of us.”

I watched her face as she tried to hide her anger, but she was ready to snap. The other two started to glance between us, then the woman spoke. “Keenan, go get Strauss. Bring him here, okay?” A large tabby meowed above us, then jumped down and took the left branch of the hallway, it’s tail high in the air. The others continued to watch the drama unfold, and I connected myself to the shadows.

I knew if they all attacked, this could go south fast, and likely I’d be a greasy smear on the wall. My best chance was that they didn’t press the issue, but common sense told me Celeste, at least, would try.

The other female dropped back a few steps, getting behind Celeste. The move didn’t go unnoticed, and I knew this was about to go south like an undercover drug bust. Celeste finally snarled, and balled the blood around her hand and threw it at the Tremere guy standing almost next to me. I expected it to go splat like a paintball, but the blood ball fused into him and he began convulsing in pain.

“Run,” he groaned, and I sprinted up the stairs as he blew apart, literally, as if he’d been wearing a suicide vest. I was knocked off my feet by the blast, and could hear sounds of fighting below me. Celeste and the other woman were grappling and rolling around on the floor. I rushed down the stairs, grabbing a stray piece of wood off the bannister and rushed over to the two women. The other woman must have noticed me as she suddenly threw Celeste back against the wall. I wasted no time in burying the piece of wood in her chest, and her eyes rolled up like a light.

Strauss strolled through the door as she slid to the floor, the big bellied tabby right behind him. “What is going on here?” he demanded.

“Celeste killed Kenny,” she said, gesturing to the blood stained entryway. “She also apparently used her advanced thaumaturgy skills to create the disease we’ve been trying to obliterate. Oh, I’m Eloise, by the way. I’m the magister of the Chantry.”

Strauss gazed around, eyes going to the cats and living fairies then said, “Grab her familiar. It’s the gargoyle in blue cloth.” he said, and one of the living fairies suddenly bolted for the door, using its wings to glide the length of the staircase. Several more of the ‘fairies’ took after it, and several streaks of cat could be seen. I was certain that the familiar-in-question was about to be mauled to death, but as I got closer, saw that they’d actually just pinned it down, with a large black cat being the last one to back away, a low warning yowl issuing from it.

Eloise brought a carrier out of a closet, and then reached down and grabbed the familiar and put it in, before locking the door so it couldn’t escape. “Your master has been a very bad person,” she said, the fairy pouting as she wrapped her arms around itself and settled itself in a corner.

“What is that?” I asked, entranced by the living doll.

“Familiars,” Strauss said, observing the pouting creature. “They are, servants, of a sort. Guardians of our havens. They are constructed using our magic, and its usually one of the first things an acolyte learns upon entering a chantry.”

“Wow,” I said, looking at the creature.

“They are not so easy to look at when first created, but it has become something of a fad amongst the apprentices and acolytes to transform their creations into more pleasing shapes,” Eloise said, holding the creature up for inspection. “I say its vanity, but the young are more foolish and prideful and don’t accept the fact that a beautiful object doesn’t always equate to more power or increased usefulness. There’s even talk of hosting a beauty pageant next month.”

“Let the young have their fun,” Strauss said. “It gives them ideas, and allows them to innovate.”

“Some innovations shouldn’t be found,” I said, and Strauss nodded.

“Too true, but such innovations often lead to useful innovations,” Eloise added.

“I’ll give you a hundred if you can name one,” I smarted off, wondering what hideous weapon could lead to improvements in something else.

“How about the atomic bomb? It started off as nothing more than the world’s foremost destructive device. Today, that same basic technology has led to nuclear technology that powers entire cities.”

I fished in my bag for a hundred, feeling a bit dumb. I handed the bill to Eloise, who shoved the bill down her cleavage. “Having lived it, I can say it was a very scary day indeed, when you learn the kine kill an entire city while you sleep.”

“So what happens to the familiar now?”

“They kill me,” she said, looking more like a scared eight year old than any creature I ever saw before.

“Only if your mage dies,” Eloise said. “If she lives, you’ll be returned to her. Until then, we’ll keep you secure so you can’t escape.”

“Well, you’ve done well, neonate,” Strauss said, looking back to me. “You’ve solved the epidemic, including it’s mastermind. That just leaves your reward.”

“My reflection, you can restore it?”

“Unfortunately, that’s not possible,” Eloise said. “Our magic is powerful, but to overcome a clan curse? That’s like making a Nosferatu a supermodel. We do have a workaround. It’s not a real reflection, but a living fairth, or magical painting. It will capture and reflect your essence, and as it will be tied to you by blood, will perfectly reflect your image.”

“How hard is it to do?”

“Not that hard, as the painting is ready. All we need to do is sketch some symbols in Tremere blood, then apply your blood,” Eloise said, stashing the familiar in the closet. She then led me into the maze, and I wondered how they found their way around. Soon we arrived at a door, which Eloise opened with a key. Inside was a large frame which had to be ten foot by ten foot. It was actually so big it had to be leaned at a slight angle to fit in the room.

Eloise picked up a knife, slicing her left hand before placing the dagger back on the table. She started by sketching a circle, then started sketching symbols above it and circling around to back to where she started. I was sure they had meaning, but it was beyond me. After finishing, she stepped and cleaned her hand and the blade with a rag. Then she offered the knife to me.

“Just slice your dominant hand, let the blood coat your palm, then place it in the center circle. The symbols are written in my blood so it’ll get its power from me. There’s little maintenance involved. It’ll never need to be dusted, and if it gets blurry, just smear some of your blood on the painting. It’ll be absorbed into the painting and rejuvenate itself, just like a ghoul.”

I nodded, then taking the knife in my left hand, sliced my right. Blood pooled over my hand and I partially squeezed my hand so blood would coat the edges, then placed it in the center of the circle. The effect was instantaneous. The colors coalesced into an image, which then formed into a person by a beach on a moonlit night. I looked at the image, and it was like looking at an imperfect reflection. Nothing itself was wrong, but as she didn’t reflect my movement it was more like a perfect double of myself.

“Wow,” I said, studying her. I was thinner than I used to be, and my hair had lost its shine. My eyes were just gone now, leaving black orbs in their place, and my skin tone had gone from luscious tan to light peach. More importantly, it was me. I could finally see myself.

“Are you satisfied with your payment?” Strauss asked me. I nodded my approval, then watched as my painting started to move around, finally settling herself into a chaise lounge and assuming a provocative pose.

“That’s amazing,” I finally whispered.

“We’ll have it delivered to your haven tomorrow night, after the affairs of the trial are concluded,” Strauss said.

“Good,” I said, finally stepping back from looking at my own image. I couldn’t help but stare at it, then forced myself to look away. “There is one last thing I need to speak to you about. First off, this is rather sensitive, and do you trust all people in this room?”

“I do, young one. It is a wise question to ask when one is unsure of loyalties,” he said, looking past me to Eloise. Apparently she was a little angry at being called unfaithful. I pulled the tapes from my bag, and held them up.

“When I was at Doctor Grout’s earlier, he had left these tapes out in various recorders in his home. I played them, wondering if it might help me find him. They reveal he was afraid of someone rather powerful who was about to do something terrible in the city. Someone who wanted him killed, who might be on the primogen council.”

Strauss glanced to Eloise, then back to me. His face was hard to read, but he didn’t seem happy. “I am glad you brought this to me. Such rumors might fuel the fires in the city and cause more unrest than is already being displayed.”

“Yes, and the Anarchs would be quick to point out the corruption in the Camarilla,” Eloise said.

“You are proving quite powerful on both your own, and in social skills, Miss Flores,” Strauss told me. Eloise came up and took the tapes I was offering, momentarily leaving to take them somewhere. When she returned, she addressed Strauss.

“I put them in your private study and locked the door, sir,” she said.

“Good. If you will pardon us, I will have one of the acolytes bring me my old tape player. Miss Watson, if you will join me once you have shown Miss Flores the door.”

“Yes, sir,” Eloise said, bowing her head respectfully to her elder.

I nodded myself, “Thanks for your help. I still have things to do, so I’ll leave you to it, Regent Strauss.”

Strauss nodded, and Eloise led me back to the entryway. Several kindred worked at scrubbing the blood from the walls and floor, while overhead cats and familiars watched from the banister. A sudden thought hit me. “Is it hard to make a familiar?”

“Not in the least. But it is thaumaturgy, so you wouldn’t be able to invoke it anyway,” Eloise told me. Something in me said I could, and I kept my mouth shut. I was about to walk past the kindred scrubbing the floors when I noticed that Celeste wasn’t lying on the floor.

“Where is Celeste?”

Eloise looked around, then walked over to the kindred by the door. “Did you move Celeste’s body?”

“No, Magister. We haven’t seen Celeste lying down here.”

I looked around, then opened the closet where her familiar’s cage was kept. One was missing.

“Her familiar must have freed herself, then pulled the stake from her mage’s heart,” Eloise said. “We’re going to have to get better cages if they can free themselves so easily.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll inform Walsh that we had her, and she escaped. I suppose he’ll have the Camarilla deputies looking for her.”

“Yes, though it means more scrutiny and hatred for us,” Eloise said. “It’s not like Tremere stole our immortality from them.”

“He stole it?”

“A story for another time, kindred,” she said, heading back into the maze of the chantry.

I walked past the scrubbing kindred, and out the door, getting on my bike and heading for the Tower. Chunky butt wasn’t at his post, so I went back and called the elevator personally, taking it up to the top, then headed for Walsh’s office.

“Come in, my dear,” he said as I entered his doorway. “Good work on stopping the epidemic. I assume you got Celeste somewhere?”

“I did, but she has a magical assistant that pulled the stake from her heart. She escaped when we thought she was secure.”

“I’ll take this to the prince, then,” he said getting up from his desk. “The posted amount for stopping the breach of the masquerade will be deposited into your account. It’s a million dollars, by the way. If you see Celeste again, you may stake or kill her with full immunity, as she’s now under the auspices of a blood hunt.”

“Good, because I intend to find her, though I figure she’ll probably leave the city.”

“Doubtful. If she does, she will have to enter a Sabbat controlled city, or one where we have no control. Once she presents herself to the local prince, her blood hunt will be revealed and she will again be hunted and killed,” Walsh told me.

“Well, the longer I stand here, the further she goes,” I said, stepping out into the hallway as Walsh closed the door behind him as he joined me.

“Indeed,” he said walking down the hall with me. “If your nights become boring, or if your wits fail to find you suitable funds, you can always join my deputies.”

“Maybe one day, far in the future,” I said, not wanting to burn that bridge just yet. We bid each good night at the elevators, and I went down to the lobby and left. I still had one thing left and with only a few hours left in the night, needed to get it over with. I hopped on my bike, and headed for the Last Round. I parked next to the front door, and went in. Damsel stood by the stairs, waiting, so I walked over.

“Cammie,” she said as I got close enough to hear her over the bar’s loud music. “Didn’t think I’d see you until tomorrow. Can’t stay away can ya?”

“Well, you do have your own charm,” I said, leaning up against the other side of the door. “I got all the plaguebearers, except one. Her name is Celeste Evans, one of the Tremere,” I said and Damsel snarled. “We had her staked but she had her familiar pull the stake out. She’s currently running loose, and the Camarilla is putting a blood hunt out for her.”

“Great,” she said, mood lightening a bit. “Cammies finally get off their ass and did something. Only after we Anarchs started working on the problem.”

I shook my head, not wanting to add that no one had told Walsh about the problem and therefore couldn’t fix what he didn’t know to be broke. I needed to keep my allies as allies and not make enemies. “Well,” I said, not knowing what do next. “Nines said this place is Elysium. Mind explaining that?”

Damsel smirked at that. “Any kindred meeting place is considered Elysium. Neutral territory. Basic rules are, no use of your special abilities, and no attacking other kindred. Anyone is free to say what they want without fearing an attack. People that break that rule can be brought before the prince at a trial, where the prince will dole out punishment. Like what happened with Jack and Skelter. You have the right,” she said, teeth grinding at the thought, “to take them before the prince and ask them to be punished. Lacroix could punish them by making you owe boons to exiling them from the city to execution. Knowing Lacroix, it’d probably be execution. He’s turning into a regular Mary, Queen of Scots.”

“Not worth it though,” I said, putting the redhead at ease. “Skelter was at least man enough to apologize after I knocked him down the stairs and I mule-kicked Jack across the room. Even Nines was impressed by how I got past Jack.”

“Yeah, he said you jumped right through the shadows? I didn’t know you could do that,” she said, smiling at her own thoughts.

“I can, apparently. Useful if you’re on the wrong end of the gun.”

“Best I can do is sixty. I hear Nines has been clocked around two hundred, and I thought that was fast.”

The conversation lulled, and I looked at the clock. “Well, I need to get home and tend to the ghouls,” I said, turning for the door. Damsel put a hand on my shoulder, and I stopped.

“I mean it though. Thanks for helping out, and if you ever need help,” she said, her voice gentle for once.

“I’ll come see you. And if you want to ride with me after the trial tomorrow, I’d leave the beret at home,” I said, taking her hand in mine and Damsel smiled.

“Sure. I’ll see you there,” she said, and I kissed her hand, not knowing what else to do with it. I was suddenly hit with an urge to get close and feed, but I suppressed it as best I could. I got close to Damsel, pressing against her as leaning my head to the side. I could feel the demand inside of me to feed, and my fangs extended. Damsel kissed my cheek, wrapping her arms around me and pulled me closer, my fangs almost brushing against her skin, I was so close. I could feel the power of her blood in her veins beneath my fangs.

I finally recovered my senses enough to kiss her on the neck, but it was agonizing to feel her skin on my lips and not feed. Almost in a stupor, I pulled away and walked out of the bar, leaving Damsel shocked at the foot of the stairs. I quickly got on my bike and brought the engine to life with a roar. I needed to escape, to settle my mind. I also needed to feed, so before heading off, I pulled out a blood bag I had gotten from Grout’s and bit into it, draining both before slaking my thirst. Only then did I head down the interstate for home.

I kept my Harley at almost top speed the entire trip, wanting to get home to look over the houses Walsh had to offer. When I parked it in the alley by the pawnshop, I saw a couple a girl waiting across the street. She was in obvious clothing, most of it being sheer with only her naughty bits actually being covered. I took the key out, and headed inside, finding Brian sitting by the door as he watched two white guys box. Constance and Heather were asleep on the bed, giving evidence that the two could somewhat get along. Or maybe they were just tired from cleaning the apartment. It did look better in here.

“Mistress, you’re home,” he said, getting up to take my bag.

“It was an interesting night,” I said as I handed my bag off, glad I no longer had the tapes to weigh it down. I took the last blood bag I had, storing it in the fridge. The fridge itself was no longer empty, housing various sandwich items and a case of pop and several beers. “Everyone getting along?”

“So far,” he said as he set my bag by the desk. I pulled my pistol out, handing it to him to stash in the desk drawer. I then unclipped my shotgun and handed it to him. “Sweet Jesus, what do you do? Go looking for trouble?”

“I wonder about that sometimes,” I said, as I bent over and pulled out the gun I had taken from the ghoul. “Care for an upgrade?”

“A .357? Sure you don’t want to keep it?” he said, looking the gun over.

“Not sure how to handle it. I can barely use the one I have now,” I told him, “And besides. You need a good weapon for defending me during the day. I got a woman gunning for me now. Her name is Celeste Evans, and if I had a picture of her, I’d give it to you. Best advice, if you do encounter her, shoot first, shoot second, and shoot some more. She can, and will, blow you up just by throwing a red ball of blood at you.”

“Sounds serious,” he said, stashing the pistol on his back.

“Deathly serious. We’re hunting her down now. She’s wanted by the city for her actions, so hopefully she doesn’t last long.”

I then reached down and pulled out the binder that Walsh’s ghoul had given me, and set it on the desk. “Today, while we sleep, and she can’t get to me, I want you, Heather and Constance to go look at new homes. I’m going to check a few out in here, and send you where I think most appropriate. If you don’t find anything really wrong with it, tomorrow I’ll settle things out with Walsh and maybe day after tomorrow we can move in.”

“Good, because they are seriously thinking of making me take a walk while they shower at night.”

“Extra bathrooms,” I muttered, sitting down to go through the listings. Many of them were simple three and four bedroom homes, though the first dozen are so were even smaller two room apartments. Most seemed to be set up for a kindred and one ghoul, which most newer kindred probably only had, as they meticulously worked to build an empire. I knew I was skipping steps with how I was doing it, but many of the older kindred knew it was necessary to build fast to have something later. The question I asked myself was, can I keep it growing or will I get ripped apart.

I flipped a page, finding I was looking at an even higher price range. The second one caught my eye, as it was a duplex near Ventura with beach front access. I could feel something in me desiring it, and I thought it over. I flipped through several more, finding more properties similar in size, but nothing seemed to settle something in me as seeing pictures of the ocean.

‘Definitely going to need to be on the ocean,’ I thought, as I saw several properties that were actually duplexes, but that was risking a masquerade violation if anything supernatural happened. No I needed single occupant style home. I flipped a page and my heart skipped a beat. It was a Malibu estate, beach front access, with a georgous three story home not a hundred foot from the water. I looked at the listed price tag and almost whined. Thirty million?

Still, I looked over the ten thousand plus square footage displayed. It had six bedrooms, six full and two half bathrooms, attached three car garage, it’s own theater room, game room, artwork room, study, exercise and work rooms. Holy Mary. This place had everything, even a large outdoor hot tub on the patio right at the edge of the sand. This was a palace built for billionaires and movie stars. Way out of my price range.

Still, I couldn’t help but think that I had a good sixth of it already, and if I could win that bet with Walsh, another twenty million more. God, I was salivating at the prospect of owning it. It was perfect as every picture showing the ocean seemed to calm my beast, leading me to think that my clan must have a weakness for the sea. Why else would seeing the ocean sooth the beast in me?

“Oh, hey, your back!” Heather said as she rose out of bed. Constance was still rubbing her eyes, and I looked out the window to see the sky brightening.

“Heather, Brian, what do you think? I said, showing them the page with the thirty million dollar estate.

“You can afford that?” Heather gasped.

“If she can, she’s no small timer,” Brian said, shaking his head. “Makes me feel like I wasted my life.”

“There’s a bet,” I said, flipping past that page to see it started to list rentals for business locations, “That if I can win will provide two-thirds of the funds needed to purchase it outright. I have a sixth of it now.”

“And we live here?” Heather said, incredulous. “We are three people living in squalor! And you have millions?”

“To be fair, I just acquired it. Now, I’m going to send you and Brian out to check on these properties. Find out how close the neighbors are and if there are any problems with the house itself. They are all on the beach, so don’t worry about not getting yourself a tan. Your personal habits are your own, but Heather, I need you awake when I am. At least when I wake in the evening. Also, I want to get you setup to start making me clothes.”

“Yeah, can you model something for me? Brian said you wanted a coat, but there’s nothing that fits better than a tailored one,” she said, pulling what looked like a long cloth vest off the wall. I slipped in on over what I had, finding it went just past mid thigh. I then realized it was a blank for making things like jackets. “Let me just get this to sit right,” she said, and started putting pins in it to make the material fold into a jacket shape.

“Brian, could you get the katana from under the bed?” I asked him, deciding that maybe having Heather rig me a way of carrying the short blade might work better than trying to carry the shotgun in public. Swords were supposed to better against vampires, and with my ability to teleport, I could easily get the upper hand in a fight by appearing behind a kindred and decapitating him before he knew where I was. Brian came back with the sword and I showed it to Heather. “Is there anyway to hide this on my back?”

“I don’t know,” she said, placing it against my back. “You might have to take your coat off to put it away again, and you’re going to have to take your coat off to sit. So taxi driver’s are going to notice...”

“Oh, I have a motorcycle now,” I told them. “It’s down in the alley. Took it from a vampire hunter I came across.”

“Sweet,” Brian said, as Heather took a marker and sketched the outline of the sword on my back before setting it aside.

“I’ll work on it today, but if we’re going to be out much,” Heather said, concern in her voice as she thought about everything she had to do.

“The coat isn’t important right now. I have another that can hide a shotgun, so it will work for a bit. I just wanted something to hide my arsenal while I’m out and about,” I said, feeling the sun beginning to rise. It was time to shut down for the day, and Constance came out of the bathroom, as she got ready for her day.

“Okay, I think I have everything,” Heather said, slipping the vest off of me. “To hide a sword on your back, and keep it where you can draw it easily, a duster will probably work best. It’s like a trench-coat, but it has panels below the waist instead of being solid.”

“I leave it to the professional,” I said, heading into the bathroom to undress, finding my bed was already ready. I was really going to be glad to have a proper bed and wouldn’t be sleeping in a mold covered shower stall. Once I was free of my clothes, I settled into my pallet, pulling the sheet over me to cover my body. The sun cracked over the horizon, and I gave in to the pull of sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24 – Good News, Bad News

October 1, 2004 = Friday


I awoke the next night to a candlelit bathroom, and immediately went through my routine. I could hear everyone talking in the next room, chattering away about their day. They were all rather excited, which was understandable given the fact that they’d been checking out multimillion dollar beach homes all day. They probably felt rich.

I came out to find more candles lighting the place with Sharron waiting for me with my usual coterie. She sat against the desk drawers, secured with duck tape and gagged in a leather mini so short I didn’t see how it covered anything and her crop top was sheer and let just a hint of the skin underneath through, not that the it covered much anyway. There was a deep V-neck that plunged deep into her cleavage to the bottom hem of her top. She saw me and became rather animated.

“What’s with her?” I asked them, and everyone got to their feet as Sharron started to thrash on the floor.

“She needs her fix,” Brian said, crossing his arms. “I’ve seen this before, that’s why I tied her up. She was getting a bit too rowdy waiting on you to wake up.”

“I know how she feels,” Heather said, rubbing an arm. “I can’t feel it anymore. There’s like a hollow spot inside me where I could feel you before, but now...”

“Come here, Heather. You want this?” I asked, biting into my wrist to draw blood. Heather knelt in front of me, taking my wrist in her hands before sucking on my blood. The room was silent as she drank, whether it was out of respect for the moment or fear of what was to come was hard to say. Even Constance looked uncomfortable, but her eyes remained locked on my wrist as she watched Heather drink.

After several mouth-fulls, I pulled my wrist away and Heather leaned back, here eyes fluttering as she reveled in the high of drinking my blood. I looked at Brian, moving aside a bit so he’d have a place to kneel, and held my still bleeding wrist out for him to take. He got the idea, coming to kneel in front of me and sucking on my wrist like a newborn babe. Sharron began to thrash as she watched Brian drink from my wrist, but the tape held as I gave Brian his dose.

After I felt Brian had enough, I pulled my wrist away and he groaned in pleasure. I turned to face Sharron, who was still thrashing and screaming, though thankfully it was muted by the tape across her mouth. I looked at her, and if looks could kill, I’d fill an urn.

I went into the bathroom and dressed in the outfit Heather had laid out on the desk, which gave Heather and Brian a chance to recover as both of them looked like they’d just been at an all night marathon. The clothing Heather had for me wasn’t the low cut waist leather Sharron preferred, but rode so high on my waist they almost covered my belly button. I liked it because it kept me covered while sitting. The boots she had for me were a polished black with a flat heel, to which I was grateful for, and were a snug fit.

The top she had laid out was a slate gray long sleeve shirt that as I checked the tag found was made of spandex. I slipped it on over the supplied black sports bra and found it very form fitting. In fact, the whole outfit hugged every curve I had, though only my hands, neck and face showed skin. I was liking it, but I wondered how I was supposed to hide my pistol. It would stand out on this outfit.

Leaving the bathroom, I found Sharron had calmed down from where she sat by the desk. Brian and Heather were by her, and I couldn’t help but see a difference in them. Brian seemed darker, scarier even though he was just leaned against the desk. Heather, by contrast, seemed to glow with Constance beside her to illustrate the change.

It made me wonder what the difference was. The only thing that changed beside being their second feeding was Lasombra had chosen me to return to the land of the living. Could he have done something to make my ghouls stand out more? If he did, what was he doing to me?

I shook my head and looked down at Sharron. “Brian, did she have the rest of the thousand dollars for her fix?”

“No, she’s a hundred short,” he said, reaching into a pocket and producing a wad of bills and some receipts. I nodded to him, then dropped my eyes back to Sharron, and felt my ire rise. She was given the power of presence, her only job to seduce money from men, and she had failed.

I knelt down, straddling Sharron’s stomach and let my disappointment and hatred at her flow out. Brian quickly edged away and I could hear Constance whimper somewhere behind me. Sharron’s eyes grew wide as she realized I was probably ready to kill her, but I forced myself to think. I wouldn’t kill her, that just made me a monster, and I was going to honor that vow no matter what.

“Sharron,” I said, my voice hard and lacking in warmth. “If I take the tape off, you’re not going to start screaming and wake the neighbors, right?” She nodded slowly, and I pulled the tape off her mouth. “Now, you care to explain why you failed? You were supposed to either bring me a thousand dollars in clothes, and make up the difference with cash. So, where’s my cash?”

Sharron whimpered, tears were starting to leak from here eyes. “I tried. At first, I could take any guy I wanted. But Angel, like the next night, she took every well paying guy in the club away from me. I tried, but...” She said, her voice cracking slightly as she was so close to outright crying. I was tempted to sink my teeth in and drain her for being a failure, even as Lasombra seemed to scream at me within my brain that she was a waste of blood and didn’t deserve any.

I fought him down, still glad I could do so and struggled to think through the rising din in my mind. It was like having a million thoughts all at once, and I fought it back, to think without becoming the monster, but it was difficult. As quickly as it rose, the din faded and I could think my way forward. I wasn’t going to kill her, it was a waste of time and effort, though her ghouling did bring me Angel and she was the better choice by far. At least she had a better chance in the movies, Sharron would be better served in the darker side of Hollywood in the adult film industry.

I smiled. A roommate in college my freshman year had taken up the dark profession as a way of making lots of money for little work. She had always told me that the pay was several thousand dollars for a shoot, with bigger named stars making ten times that. No shortage of film shoots were available as more and more people clamored for video stimulation and release.

“Please, it hurts,” she said, fidgeting underneath me even as I sat on her stomach. I leaned in close, making very sure she understood I was serious.

“I’ll give you your fix,” I breathed, my voice still hard, as I decided her course forward, “But you are going to earn your hundred dollars before you leave the block.”

“Anything, please,” she begged. I raised my wrist, biting it again to open a wound for her to suck on. I slid off her stomach to position myself on a knee beside her, and offered her my bleeding wrist. She leaned forward, sucking on my blood, and I let her have several mouth-fulls before I pulled my wrist away. She was panting, her eyes rolled back in ecstasy as my blood slid down her throat.

I stood, finding Constance scared in the corner as Heather tried to comfort her. She looked at me and I smiled as I put a hand on her foot, trying to make sure she knew I wasn’t upset at her. It was just Sharron I didn’t like.

“Let her up and untie her, Brian,” I said, going to stand by the fridge. Brian picked her up with one arm, and started to pull the tape from her arms. Once she was free, she looked at me expectantly, then at the others in the apartment and the one tiny bed that Constance and Heather currently occupied.

“So, what now,” she asked me, hand going to her belt.

“Well, the trash usually take their business down to the street,” I told her, my words causing her to stop undoing her belt. Constance was frightened enough, already. “You can earn my hundred bucks there. Since you seem to need the money so badly, after tonight you’ll start looking for a new job.”

“What do you want me to do,” she asked, her voice small and frightened.

“After tonight? You’ll still work the club when you’re not going to be a movie star and model,” I said, taking one of the Playboy magazines from Brian’s back pocket. I opened it up at the middle at the centerfold and looked at the model there and her state of complete undress.

“But, I tried. They didn’t want me,” she said, almost crying again.

“That’s not the only type of movie they make,” I said, turning the magazine around to reveal the nude model. “Or the type of model they want.”

“But, that’s...”

“What you’ll be doing from now on,” I finished for her, my ire rising again as I handed Brian his dirty magazine. “Since you can’t seem to make money the normal way, you’ll start off across the street at the light post. That’s a normal spot for the trash around here. Go there and find yourself some customers and bring Brian a hundred dollars. When you have it, you can go home and start looking for someone who needs a young slutty woman for ‘special roles’.”

“Alright,” she breathed, hanging her head as she started out the door. Once she was gone, I looked at the rest of the group.

“So, how did house hunting go?” I said, trying to act like it was a normal night in the apartment.

“It don’t feel real, at times,” Brian said, still glum while looking out the window. “I used to be a two bit druggie who dealt a little on the side just so I could get women to sleep with me. Now, I’m checking out million dollar beach homes I’d expect somebody important to be living in, and that person is going to me. Taking that first sip was the best thing ever.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. After my parents died, I thought I could just throw myself into school and forget about it, but,” Heather said, holding Constance close so both would have moral support. “That last one we saw though, that was fancy.”

“I remember rule number one,” Brian said, his voice low and serious, “So every time we were somewhere, I looked around to see how close people are and how easy it’d be to get away with something. All but one place had neighbors right across the wall from you, and that was the estate we went to last. You could kill someone there easy and not get noticed. No neighbors for almost a mile in either direction. The place is on a little point, and takes up the entire thing, so unless someone were just lucky...”

“You could fire off a gun and not raise suspicion. Like Dennis’ house,” I said, and Brian nodded.

“Plus, it’s real fancy on the inside,” Heather said, and Constance nodded.

“According to Patricia,” Constance said, her voice sounding more sure of itself since I wasn’t trying to scare everyone, “It was built by a lotto winner, but he was stupid and lost all of his money in Vegas. So he’s selling the house he already paid for and furnished because he can’t afford it anymore.”

“Good,” I said, and I went over to sit on the bed beside the girls and put a hand on her shoulder. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I didn’t know everyone would be affected.”

“It’s okay,” she said, smiling at me. “I didn’t realize you could be so scary, like Charlie on a bad drunk.”

I looked back at Brian, who shook his head warningly at me. Apparently Charlie was her father figure and wasn’t nice to her when he got drunk, which gave me a clear picture of what her home life was like and why she’d prefer to be my snack than at home being the entertainment. “So, I guess that means everyone like’s the thirty million dollar home?”

Everyone started to talk at once, each illustrating differing points about the estate that they liked and none of it making any sense to me in the din. I smiled, even though I didn’t understand one word the three talked about. Finally I held up my hands. “Alright, I get it. I’ll talk to Walsh and see about buying it,” I said, and they all cheered.

“Oh, your coat,” Heather said, quickly getting up and getting the duster she was making for me. “It’s not ready yet, but I got the sleeves on it and everything. It still needs a lining, and I’ve got a few things to plan out that I’m going to add to it, but we can do a fitting now.”

She held the thick woolen duster open for me, so I got up and slipped my arms down the sleeves while Heather raised it up and settled it on my shoulders. It fit well, if a bit stiff, and Heather buttoned the three buttons it had over my stomach before going behind me to get something. I leaned over, seeing the panels fall just above my knees, but leaving the front open, meaning I’d have a lot of freedom of movement.

When Heather returned, it was with a long piece of leather she wrapped around my waist like a belt. She produced a piece of chalk and began making marks, which was intriguing. I’d never seen a tailor at work before and was really liking that Heather would be something of a personal seamstress for me. It was making me feel important. Soon, she pulled the leather belt off and slung it over her shoulders.

“So, what do you think?” she asked, looking at me expectantly. At times like this, I wish I could see myself in a mirror, but I wouldn’t have my living painting until later, hopefully before the night was through and I was in my new beach home.

Looking at the coat though, it was designed to be somewhat loose, not so much hugging my curves but form fitting enough that it wasn’t unisex. The lower panels seemed to be designed to split and protect my legs while on my bike, but being open and to the side when I would be doing something like running. I didn’t know where I’d stash my pistol, but maybe Fat Larry knew something, which just left the sword I wanted to carry. At least it didn’t need reloading.

“So, the sword?” I proffered to Brian, who went to retrieve it while I asked Heather another question. “Where will it go?

“Brian took me by several stores, and we actually looked at that,” she said as Brian came up with the short katana and several small boxes. He laid them out and then handed a cane with a skull head to Heather. I raised an eyebrow at it, and Heather twisted it and slid out a sword. I almost laughed at the thought of using such a sword, but put a hand over my mouth to stifle it into a cough. “Cane sword,” she said laughing. “I thought it was cute.”

“I prefer something with a bit more bite,” Brian said, pulling out another small sword. This one looked like a machete on steroids, on the verge of being considered a Chinese Dao. Brian handed me the sword, hilt first and I took the blade in hand. The hilt was just long enough to use two hands and was made of wrapped cord, with a blade length just shy of twenty inches. The blade curved like a typical dao, with a slight thickness at the leading curve for a good chop.

“Nice,” I said, testing it as a cutting weapon. It lacked any reach to make it a good sword, but it’d do in a pinch. Plus, it’d be far quieter. I twirled the blade once, finding it nice, light and responsive. The only problem I could find with it was that it was a show weapon, designed to be put on a wall and admired and wouldn’t withstand an actual battle.

“It’s designed to be a ninja weapon,” Brian said. “more fanciful than useful, I guess, but it’s an idea. The scabbard is designed to be worn on your back, hidden under a coat. ”

“Well, if you want useful,” Constance said, pulling a small box from a bag, “try mine. I was going to ask why you didn’t wear sunglasses when I woke up this morning but I forgot. I kind of figured you couldn’t get close enough to buy any so I bought you a set,” she said and handed me a box. I opened it, finding a set of sunglasses in it. They were a sports frame wrap-around type with a dark smoky lens with a mirror finish. I tried them on, and my world darkened a bit.

“Hey, I can’t see your eyes, anymore” she said, and I smiled at her playful attitude and forward thinking. The idea of turning her kindred when she was older lit my brain, and I would have to talk to her about that one day.

“Let’s try turning on the lights,” I said, and Heather turned on the overhead lights. The room brightened to a normal glow, but not the brightness I last associated with them. “And who’s idea was it to bring all the candles for me?” I asked them, as they all pointed to Constance. The kid was really proving useful, more so than my ghouls which made me like her more. I really needed more like her.

I thought about the only ghoul I hadn’t seen yet, the one who could probably make me the most money. Angel was probably busy at Four-Play. I needed to pay her a visit before I went to the Trial tonight, and give her a fresh dose before she burnt through what she already had and made a fool of herself. I remembered what Brian had said before about her not having that last little bit to make it in movies, and wondered if my blood could cure that. If it did, maybe I could get a Toreador to put her in one and start her movie career.

Of course, that also meant that she would want to play herself as the head of the house, probably using the master suite. That could be arranged as I’d take a room where my body couldn’t be seen, much less found by accident. I’d look the house over myself before deciding where I would sleep, but probably in the basement somewhere, or in a quiet corner of the attic that could be made to block all sunlight, either would need to be sealed from the inside so I couldn’t, and wouldn’t be disturbed.

Looking at Constance, I smiled at the young woman. She had a wicked smart mind, and was a forward thinker. She was still young, still learning the truth of the world, still frightened by some of the things that lurked in the shadows of the night. But I was going to guide her through it all, and make sure nothing harmed her.

“Well Constance,” I said, addressing her directly. “Since you seem to be so helpful with everything, I’m giving you first choice of a room,” I said, no more getting the words out before she nearly tackle hugged me to the floor. “I take it you’re thrilled?”

Constance just squealed happily, and hugged me all the harder. Heather and Brian frowned, exchanging glances with each other. I caught the exchange, knowing they might pull something, and I was going to have to keep an eye on them. “Anything but the master suite,” I said. “That’s going to someone else.”

“Who?” Heather asked me, and I was tempted to ask if she was an owl.

“Don’t know yet,” I told them. “I got something I need to work on, and when it gets realized, they might get the room.”

“So who is this lucky someone?” Brian asked, frowning as he thought it over. “Can’t be Sharron, unless you’re one serious actress. You seemed ready to kill her.”

“No, I won’t kill her. And she’s not going to be anything more than a lackey at this point,” I told them and Brian relaxed. “I was thinking if I could get Angel moving towards being an actress, she might get the room. Otherwise, I need to find a pretty young thing and start making one young.”

“As long as it’s not me,” Constance said, and I looked at the youngster in my arms. “Marilyn Monroe was my idol when I was a kid, and up until mom met Charlie, I wanted to be just like her.”

“So what happened?” Brian asked, and I wish I could slap him.

“Charlie found out about my little obsession and told me if I wanted to be a real actress one day, I needed to get used to trading my body for things.”

“Oh,” Brian said, realizing the hole he just dug for himself. I hoped he had more brains than to dig it any deeper, but he dug on, “So, what did he do?”

“He traded me permission to be a cheerleader for my virginity,” Constance said sourly, getting up off me and turning away from everyone. “When I finally ran out of hot water, and started to bleed from scrubbing so hard, I burned everything I had on her. I couldn’t see how she traded her body like that.”

“It was a different time, then,” I told her, thinking about how Jean seemed so tough as we talked in her pickup.

“Yeah, well, next time you nearly drain me dry, I’ll ask her,” she said, going to look out the window. “It was nice to think she had come to just cuddle with me.”

I watched Heather and Brian’s face light up as they figured out Jean’s secret identity. “Wait, that was Marilyn Monroe?” Heather breathed, and Brian sat hard on the bed.

“Can’t be. She was way too butch. Marilyn was a sex icon, hottest woman on earth. That couldn’t have been her.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Constance asked, turning quickly from the window to face everyone.

“They are just now figuring out that the one of the Camarilla’s deputies is a kindred named Marilyn Monroe,” I told her, watching her mouth open in shock. “And to answer your next question, she had a bad first night. She got scared, took some drugs, and passed out. Woke up two days later during her autopsy. She’s been hiding ever since, even from other kindred. No one but us and one other kindred know her real identity, and it is my order for it stay that way.”

“Yes, mistress,” Brian and Heather acknowledged simultaneously.

“Marilyn Monroe is alive?” Constance said, no surprise showing in her voice. She actually sounded somewhat like a jilted lover.

“Do you want to meet her sometime?” I asked her, and she turned back to the window.

“Yeah,” she said, after pausing a moment and sighing as she thought it over. “I guess I can’t blame her for my stupid, perverted step-father.”

“Hey,” I said, going over and hugging her. “You’re loved here.” Constance sighed, relaxing into me as she did so.

“Kind of loved, anyway. I don’t know what the blood does to you, or them, but I don’t know if it’s love. Heather, she’s okay, I guess but she seems to want to impress you so she can keep you to herself. She worked most of the night and what bit of the day we were home on the coat trying to get it ready for you. If we hadn’t been gone shopping and looking at houses, she might have finished it.

“Brian, he reminds me of Charlie. You know he wouldn’t even look away when I changed at my house? I had to strip in front of him!” I looked at Brian who seemed ready to bolt. I was definitely going to have words with him later. “I think the only reason he protected me from Charlie that day was so he could bring me back to you.”

“Well, that’s his job,” I said, hugging her. “He’s supposed to protect us. But if anyone harms you, even him, you tell me okay. I’ll protect you from everything in the night.” Constance nodded, putting her arms over mine. I looked down at the street to see Sharron standing in the streetlight waiting for a customer. She waved to a passing car, flashing her chest as it passed by. After a few moments, Constance lifted an arm to pull her hair away from her neck to showcase her bare skin. The enticement was clear, but I remembered Jean’s warning.

“Not tonight, sweetie,” I said, kissing the spot. “You’re still weak from last night.”

“Please,” she pleaded, wrapping an arm around my head to pull my head down again. “It’s the best feeling in the world. Don’t deny me this. Maybe not more than a taste?”

I nodded, lowering my head to her neck and extending my fangs. I bit shallowly, taking a few sips of her blood as she wallowed in the ecstasy my bite offered her before pulling away. She went limp, and I picked her up and carried her to the bed and settled her in.

Heather pulled out the makeup kit and picked up a brush. I settled myself into the chair, taking off my new shades and letting her work while I thought over Constance’s desire to have me feed from her while she was in such a precarious position. Did she not know how sick she was? Or did she not care? She wasn’t dumb, and she seemed smart enough to be a world class doctor one day. One thought sped through my brain, she was an adrenaline junkie. It made some sense, to me at least, as that would explain why she seemed to accept her fate as my evening snack. Even having me feed from her as she barely clung to life.

Soon, though, Heather had my makeup done and I was able to stand and put my shades back on. Brian pulled out one last box, as I pulled my money cigarettes and lighter from my bag, stashing all of it in a pants pocket and eyed the box which was too large to carry any type of gun. “Since you’re going to be riding a Harley, I thought you might want to somewhat look the part of a biker chick,” he said as he opened the box to reveal a black vest. I pulled it out, finding it had a large Harley-Davidson logo on the back and sides that laced up. I slipped it on, and buttoned it up while Heather retied the sides.

Once it was on and tied tight, I looked at Brian. “Follow me,” I told him and headed down the stairs. I didn’t look back, knowing he was going to do as he was told. Once I was down in the alley, I stepped into the shadows and turned back to face Brian.

“Do you want to tell me what the deal was with treating Constance like your own personal harlot?” I snapped at him.

“I can’t get my mind off of you,” he admitted.

“So that gives you a pass on treating her like your own personal sex slave?” I said hotly, almost ready to yell at him. He shrank under my stare, and I couldn’t help but feel my beast stir. “If you ever mistreat her again, you better run because I will rip your head off your shoulders. You hear me, ghoul?”

Brian nodded again, looking small and scared as he finally sank to his knees and cowered under my gaze. “P-P-P-Please, m-m-mistress,” he begged me, voice quivering from fear, “I-I’m sorry. I d-didn’t mean any harm by it.”

I reached down and grabbed him by the hair and lifted him even to my eyes. “Only warning, Brian. One more screw up, and I will take every last drop of your blood.” Brian whimpered, and I released him to fall to the ground. “Now go make sure Heather and Constance stay safe.”

“Yes, mistress,” he said quickly then scampered back through the door to head home. I watched him leave before straddling my bike, deciding to take a moment to calm myself before riding off.

I glanced to the end of the alley, looking to see if Sharron was still struggling for a customer but didn’t see her anywhere. I began to wonder if she had vamoosed or if she was busy with a customer. I looked down the shadow filled alley, and decided to test my powers out. I concentrated on the shadow at the far end, and suddenly I was looking back towards my body. I looked down to see Sharron was on her knees sucking the cock on a well endowed, if overweight, customer. I tried to close my eyes, but the vision wasn’t physical in nature. It actually took me a bit to figure out I had to want to stop it through mental will, more than just a simple thought of ‘Not that!’

Shaking my head, I thought about what all I needed to do in the few hours I had before the trial. Grout said I needed to find Rosa, so I headed to the beach first. It would also let me tell E and Lily about Thin Bloods. So, with a last glance down the alley where my ghoul worked, I started my bike and headed for the beach, which was hardly far enough away to warrant the bike except that it made it where I wouldn’t have to come back to get it.

Once at the beach, I parked it in the garage and headed down the access stairs to the beach where I’d met E before. He and Lily sat on the beach, side by side looking out over the waves as I approached.

“Hey lovebirds,” I called to them as I got closer.

“Hey, there you are,” E said in his Australian accent. “We was gettin’ concerned you weren’t comin’ back.”

“Had a lot to do,” I told them. “But I did find out about Thin Bloods, if you want to hear it.”

“Sure,” Lily said, and patted the sand beside her. “Pull up a beach and sit.”

I did, and then started telling them what I knew. “Apparently, Lily, you are a twelfth generation kindred. We use the term Kindred because saying vampire can draw attention to us. At thirteenth generation, which is what E is, you lose the ability to feed. Apparently, at that point, you’re so thin you’re hardly called kindred anymore.”

“So why do they hunt us down?” Lily asked me.

“Not you, him and them,” I said, gesturing at the others along the beach. “Lily, as a twelfth generation, you have protection of a sort. But, Thin Bloods...There’s a book, a kind of bible for kindred. It details the time when Thin Bloods start to rise to power. When they do, Gehenna, which is kindred Armageddon, happens and we all die and get judged. Apparently they think that by culling the Thin Bloods from the cities, they can hold off Gehenna indefinitely.”

“That’s...” E started to say, then hung his head.

“That’s terrible,” Lily said. “Well, we planned to leave anyway,” she said, rubbing E on the back as she tried to console him.

“Yeah,” I said, looking the handful of people on the beach over searching for Rosa. “You guys know where I can find Rosa?”

“Yeah,” E said, glancing down the beach to where a burn barrel lit a patch of sand. “That’s her in the purple sweater.”

“Thanks, and you two might think of getting out of here tonight. Though if you stay, Lily needs to head downtown to a place called Nocturne Theater. We’re having a kindred’s trial and attendance is mandatory.”

“What’s that?” E asked me.

“Like it sounds. When someone breaks the Camarilla’s laws, they have a Trial. If you can’t prove your innocence, you’re sentence is carried out at the end. Usually, it ends in death.”

“So what are the laws?” Lily asked me. “In case we end up somewhere in the Camarilla.”

“First, announce yourself to the prince. He has to grant you the right to be in his city, and that includes the right to feed. Second, keep a lid on your beast. You start rampaging and killing innocents, they will stop you. Three, no creating more kindred without permission. You got lucky with E. No one knows he exists as you’re not in main kindred society. Four, and most importantly, keep the secret secret. No one is to know you’re kindred, even if you have to kill to protect it. Fail that one, and everyone will come for you.”

“Thanks, and thanks for getting me out,” Lily said. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to Rosa. She can be a bit odd.”

“It’s appreciated,” I said, following her over to the raven haired woman. She watched me approach, picking up a stick and throwing into the barrel as we got close enough to talk.

“I cannot help you,” she said, her voice low and heavily accented in Spanish as she stared at the sand under her in the firelight. “I thought I was cursed. But you, you have it far worse.”

Lily mouthed ‘sorry’ before kneeling beside Rosa. “What do you mean?” I asked before Lily could say anything.

“You carry a curse that eats you, gnawing at your soul. He is like a parasite, making you stronger even as you grow weaker. He will devour you, maybe, maybe not. The scales have not decided.”

“Is there a way to stop it? Maybe a kindred can...”

“No childe of the Dark Father can help you. The path he has set you down has entwined you together. Only the strongest wins.”

I nodded, trying to figure out what I could do. If it all that mattered was strength, how does one get stronger? “If I win,” I asked her, hoping she could answer this question. “Does he go away?”

“He fades, becoming like the beast we carry. Always there, but unable to harm you anymore.

“Great,” I said rather sourly, finally piecing together what she was saying. If I couldn’t overcome Lasombra by pure strength of will, he’d take me over like a second beast. Well, wasn’t letting that happen.

I fished in my bag for some twenties, splitting them between Rosa and Lily. “Thanks for the help. Take care of yourself, okay?”

They nodded their thanks and I left wondering if personal power meant anything in my upcoming mental battle. Couldn’t hurt, I suppose, so I went back by the apartment to check on Sharron. The ghoul was just coming out of the alley as a car sped off with squealing tires. I pulled up in front of her, killing the motor as she came to stand by me.

“Get my hundred yet?” I asked her, and she shook her head.

“He only gave me twenty,” she said rubbing at her cleavage with her panties and giving me a dirty look that threatened violence. “That was gross, by the way.”

“Well,” I said, locking eyes with her and steeling myself. I should at least make myself follow through on my actions, and mean what I say. “If you’re having trouble with just one, maybe you should get used to it.”

“What do you mean,” she said, her mouth opening in shock.

“Stay here all night long servicing customers at forty bucks a pop. Give the money to Brian if I’m not back by sunrise,” I said and she started to pout.

“But, it’s gross and I might catch something,” she whined, and I felt somewhat guilty about making her do this. I forced the guilt down, telling myself she chose my ‘drug’ as a thrill of her own free will. In fact, if I thought about it, only one of my ghouls was forced into it and that was Heather, but I didn’t hear her complaining. She seemed to enjoy the benefits.

“Then tomorrow night, bring lots of condoms,” I said. “Oh, and if you meet a pimp out here, I want his name. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said hanging her head.

“Now, where is Four-Play? I need to go check on my other ghoul.”

“You made that bitch Angel your ghoul too? That’s how she got the guys away from me?”

“Yes, but she paid full price for her fix. All three thousand of it. She actually makes money stripping, unlike you,” I said, watching her face fall.

“It’s on Cotner, just south of Olympic next to the freeway,” she said, eyeing a car coming up behind me and I started the bike and pulled away to let her work. The last I saw before I turned a corner was Sharron leaning in through the window to talk with the driver. I couldn’t help but feel guilty again, and forced myself to believe that she had made her own bed and I was just making her sleep in it.

Finding Four-Play wasn’t hard, the building lit by neon lights in the dark. I parked in the provided parking lot in front of the building and walked in, finding myself in what looked like a motel lobby. The guy behind the counter started to say something, but he stopped at my stare and gestured for me to proceed through a turnstile. Inside the club area, I found myself looking at the stage where a bunch of guys sat around the stage as a blond with an obvious boob job removed her top to the cheers of the men assembled.

I sat in an empty chair at a table next to the entrance, watching as the blond would tease guys by rubbing their face into her cleavage, and one guy got to bury his face between her legs after he held up a twenty. As the song ended, the DJ announced the next girl as June, as the first girl gathered up her clothes and disappeared down some steps built into the back of the stage. A waitress came by, asking for my order. I ordered a Pepsi, and she disappeared, coming back just as June finished. I paid with a twenty, getting seventeen in change back and I nearly balked at the cost of such a small drink. At least I had change for getting Angel’s attention later.

As June’s song finished, the DJ announced Angel as the next dancer. I took my drink and hurried up the stage, snagging a chair on the corner as Angel walked up the steps, her presence in full swing as every eye in the place fell on her. If I was noticed, she didn’t give any indication as the music started and she put on a show, dancing around the pole and teasing the customers.

She was dressed in full white like her angelic name, with a rainbow array of philomene flowers in a crown on top of her long and luscious dark hair as if she were a bride on her wedding day. Her top was made of lace and gave just a hint of modesty of her bouncing bosom, and the skirt had a waistband of lace and a mesh bottom that revealed her long and tanned legs ending just above her ankle and putting her golden calf high wrapped cord stilettos on full display.

I couldn’t help but feel some attraction to her, and chalked it up to her minimal presence ability affecting my brain. I pulled the ten dollar bill the waitress had given me and held it up, which caused Angel to come over to stand in front of me at the edge of the stage. She dropped down, putting her chest in my face before lifting her top and burying my head between her bare breasts. My first reaction was to pull away, but I found I was actually loving the intimacy of this. Soon, she let me go, holding her garter belt away from her leg so I could slip my ten in, and then she resumed her dancing.

When the song was over, and she had disappeared through down the stairs, I went back to my table to wait on her. After dancers Desire, Ivy, and Anna came out and danced, Angel appeared from a door behind the stage and headed for my table after spotting me.

“Hey, is there a problem,” she said, sitting beside me.

“First dose isn’t as strong as initial thoughts led me to believe,” I said, remembering the lie I had previously told her about my blood.” Probably just the size and weight ratio not being right. Amber came for her fix and was in a pretty bad way by the time I got to her, so I’m here to make sure you don’t end up like her if you want to keep taking it.”

“Oh, definitely,” she said, almost laughing. I looked around at the disappointed guys who almost openly stared at us as we talked and got the idea she was pretty hot stuff. I smiled at one guy, as I pulled my wad of money and waved it at him as if to say he didn’t have as deep a pocket as me and he turned away.

“So, let’s go somewhere private,” I said, noticing that even the bouncers had noticed us together. Words were exchanged in walkie-talkies, and the bouncer holding it looked concerned over something.

“I know a spot,” she said, looking upstairs and the small rooms they had and the curtains that were closed on some.

“Cameras?”

“Ceiling, but they’re mostly on the stage and the semi-private dancing areas. The VIP area upstairs has one on the stairs only” she said, getting up and leading me by the hand to a nearby set of stairs. We climbed up, the upstairs area darker and more private and past a bouncer who nodded to Angel and me as we went into an empty booth. I sat on the leather couch as Angel closed the curtains then pointed out the camera just outside the booth that faced the stairs. Thankfully it was pointed away from our booth, so anything we did was completely private.

“So, you got it on you?” she said, as she leaned in close in her lingerie and gave me a beautiful view down her top.

“First off, there’s a quick truth you need to know,” I said, as I got in close enough to almost whisper in her ear and be heard. “I’m a vampire, and you are my ghoul.”

“Nice try, hot stuff,” she said, laughing as she straightened up. “Prove it.”

“Strip,” I told her, and while still laughing, she got up and removed her clothes laying each garment on the divan across from us. It wasn’t until she had dropped her g-string that she realized what she had done and tried to cover herself.

“You really are...” she said, her voice trailing off as the weight of it sank in. I nodded, and then patted the spot beside me. She sat down tantalizingly close, and I eyed her well cared for body.

“Do you want your next dose?” I asked her, putting my arm around her bare shoulders and pulling her in tight.

“Yes please,” she said, her nose sniffling as if she were ready to cry.

“Are you crying” I said, pulling the hair away from her face to see her better.

“Am I going to end up like Renfield? Eating bugs and going insane?” she whispered, her proximity to me the only reason I heard it over the blaring techno music of the club.

“Not that I know of,” I told her, and she looked at me. “I didn’t lie about what it can do. You’ll live your full life and longer as long as you drink my blood, never aging or growing old, always beautiful and young like you are today. As for what I want from you in the long run? I want to turn you into a movie star. Some of your money will of course be deferred to me, but never to the point your broke.”

“So, you don’t want me here forever?”

“Not if I can help it,” I told her and she smiled. I raised my wrist to my lips and used my fangs to puncture my skin and let the blood flow. She licked the trail of blood off my arm before sucking on the wounds themselves and drinking me into her. When I pulled my wrist away, she leaned against me and moaned at the rapture she felt. I couldn’t help but admire the view of her naked body as she relaxed against me and I placed my arms around her to keep her from falling to the floor.

Knowing that I needed to wait to avoid strange stares from the bouncer, I decided to stay in the booth for a bit longer, my hand dropping a bit to stroke her breast with a finger. Angel took a moment to recover, then finally turned her head to face me.

“That’s a hell of a kick,” she said, smiling. I licked my dry lips as I stared into her eyes, my whole body tingling with desire as I held the modelesque woman. Finally I decided that I was a grown woman and could love who and how I wanted and kissed her strawberry flavored lips. She returned the kiss, and for several long moments we stayed that way.

When we broke apart, she was breathing fast. “How about a private dance?”

I smiled, and she got up as the DJ announced a girl named Dominique. The speakers began to play a slow beating pulse, and Angel began swaying to the beat in front of me, making her entire body a sexual display as the guitar rang its chord. The drums played on, with Angel getting closer as the synthesized sound of “In The Air Tonight” filled the club. Soon, Angel was pressing her body against me, breathing her hot breath into my ear. Her hands ran down my sides as Phil Collins began to sing, then down my legs to my knees.

She slid down my front, pushing my knees apart to kneel in front of me on the couch. Her hands kept rubbing my thighs, sending waves of pleasure up my legs and making me bring my legs together at the intense feeling. Angel didn’t protest, as she suddenly wrapped her strong hands under my legs and pulled me almost all the way off the couch, or at least far enough that my ass was barely on the seat cushion anymore. I was about to protest when I could feel Angel’s hot breath over my lower-most pants button, and I moaned.

Ideas of what was about to happen began to play quickly through my head, adding to my mental confusion. Half of my brain thought she surely wouldn’t go that far, while the other half screamed for her to quit teasing me. Angel though, wasn’t ready for me to have any release yet, and began crawling up on top of me, kissing and rubbing me in places no other woman had ever touched before until we were looking into each others eyes. She continued on, rubbing my face into her cleavage as she straddled my chest. Soon, she was kneeling over me, giving me a close up view of her womanhood before starting to slide down, pressing her womanhood against my nose to slide her body the entire way down until we were eye to eye again.

Angel leaned over, dropping one of her pastie covered teats onto my lips. I opened my mouth and began sucking on her bosom. Angel moaned, undulating her body roughly into me as she straddled my left leg, her hands undoing my leather pants as I sucked on her plastic coated nipple. When she had my pants fully unbuttoned, she sat upright on my leg and pulled the top of my leather pants down to bare my panties.

Angel then slipped my panties down, baring my own woman hood before dipping her leg between my womanhood and panties. Just then the tempo changed and the drums rolled and began to beat, intensifying the music. I lost the ability to think as Angel ground her bare womanhood into my leg and her leg ground into mine while undulating and gyrating on my hip and keeping time with the more frantic beat of the song. It was sweet joy to me, the pleasure I felt wrapped up in the heat and pleasure had me wanting more. Angel was panting, sweat already forming on her skin as she kept up the frantic pace, though she leaned forward and ran her other hands up my body to massage my chest.

‘When in Rome,’ I thought, lifting my own hands to embrace Angel’s bare and sweating body. She moaned at my soft caresses, her muscles tensing as she regaled herself of the full range of pleasure to be taken in the situation. I could feel Angel tense more, her now vise-like grip on my leg giving testimony to the joy she was feeling as she began to arch her back as we enjoyed ourselves. My own feelings of lust spurring me to caress the only part of her body now within reach, her bare and ample bosom. I had no more began to caress the fleshy mounds when Angel gave a high pitched moan. Her hands immediately snapped to mine and she began to quiver throughout her body as she reached peak, every muscle tensed and taut.

The moment over, she began to relax, pooling in a fleshy puddle on my front as she panted in my ear. I put my arms around her, comforting and nurturing her even though I wished her to go on. Angel though, offered no movement as she lay on top of me, and my own feelings subsided to leave me yearning again for the experience while my brain kept imagining what it’d be like to achieve the heights of ecstasy with another woman.

‘Is it rape if I have her come to the house and share a bed with me?’ I thought, wondering that since she couldn’t resist my command she had no ability to say no to whatever order I gave. Suddenly I felt dirty, thinking of Sharron as she sold herself to strangers just outside my apartment without protection. Did I have any right to steal a person’s life like that? I forced that thought away, again trying to force myself to remember Sharron had chosen the course that she wanted, even bartered for my blood, practically begging for it, and that was before the first drop passed her lips.

No, Sharron had made her bed, and I wouldn’t have her on the street corner hooking if she could truly make money. Angel finally began to stir on top of me, bringing me back to reality.

“Hmm, sweetie,” she purred, looking into my eyes with nothing but love and a smile of satisfaction. “I think I made a mess.”

“Do you do that for all your clientele?” I asked as I wrapped my arms around her naked body and held her close.

“Just those that tip me four grand,” she finally admitted, her lip quivering. “that’s why there’s no camera’s watching what we do up here. Also, notice the music is much louder up here? That’s because the speakers are up here to cover up any stray moans.”

“Is that why Amber can’t make any money? She won’t put out?” I asked Angel, who nodded before laying her head on my collarbone.

“My first night in here, I had a customer offer me ten grand after I danced for him if I’d let him...” she said, her voice trailing off. “Of course, I refused. I wanted to save myself for marriage and he left. Jokes on me though, Duke took my virginity before I went home that night anyway,” she said, her body giving a small hiccup at the sad memory as she probably relived that night. “Looking back, I could see that was my first lesson. It’s best to take the money and put out, or they’ll find a way to take it anyway. Though I doubt you’d understand that.”

I gave a hmm in response. “I can. Not long ago I was kidnapped by a maniac and tied to a bed while he let his gang do everything imaginable to me,” I said, hugging Angel tight to my chest as I thought for the first time since it ended of that grungy bed I was tied to and the things I had endured there. “I think that last night, when he made them all stop, he let me escape to see if I had the strength to get up and run for it.”

“Is that how you got away?”

“No.” I told her, thinking of the fear of seeing Simeon walk out into of the warehouse and chasing me through the alleys. “He chased me down and killed me. But he deemed me worthy to become kindred. I’m probably lucky that the Camarilla caught him and saved me from what he had planned. He was one warped man, and he wanted to turn me into a monster like him, I think.”

“I guess that’s something to be grateful for,” she said, forcing herself to roll off of me with a grunt. I pushed myself back up on the couch and looked down at my leg and the shiny spot she left behind. Reaching under the couch, she produced a box of tissues and began using one to wipe my leather and herself clean. “So, how long you been…?” she asked as she tried to make conversation.

“About a week. The Camarilla rescued me last Friday,” I told her and she snapped her head to face me.

“So, you’re not that old? Do vampires even age?”

“No, I’m not,” I told her. “And no, we don’t age. I’ve seen hundred and fifty year old kindred who look as young and vibrant as you do. I suppose that never changes unless the person does, and the centuries weigh on you.”

“What do you mean about it weighing on you?” She asked with her head on my shoulder as we lay in each others arms.

“Ever wonder what it’s like to see everyone you know grow old, the way things are done change? I couldn’t help but think of the way Michele and Walsh have seen things change since the mid 1800’s. Telephones, power, running water…Everything about their world has changed, and now I’m going to live to see what the next century brings.”

“So what do you do? I mean, if everything changes? How do you deal with that?”

“By building a business empire, I guess. Or at least a personal empire. Almost every kindred I’ve seen that’s been around for awhile has some sort of business that they run.”

“So, you intend to run an agency? With me as your first client?” she asked, lifting her head to look at me.

“Yeah,” I said, and Angel curled back up next to me. I probably could have laid next to her all night long, but I had that Trial to get to. “Well, I have a meeting to attend,” I told her as I began to untangle myself.

“Can you put it off?” Angel asked as she sat up on the couch and pulled her leg from between mine and seemingly comfortable with being nude as she didn’t even try to cover herself.

“Nope, attendance is mandatory, it seems,” I said, getting to my feet and pulling up my panties and leather pants. I walked to the curtain, then looked back to see Angel just getting up and pulling up her g-string.

“Just leave the curtain down and you can head on out,” she said as she looked at me, and I slipped out of the curtain. The bouncer at the head of the stairs seemed to be waiting for me to come out, keying up his walkie-talkie. That made two more men in dark clothing turn and face me from the bottom of the stairs.

I couldn’t help but feel a bit of panic as I passed the first bouncer and the way he eyed me. It wasn’t sexual in anyway, as his eyes constantly roamed over and around me, sizing me up for a fight. I barely heard him say something about weapons as I went down the stairs. One of the men then drew my attention by unbuttoning his coat and pulling it aside enough for me to see the butt of a gun. Judging by the slight bulge under the arm of the other man, he was also carrying something.

I briefly thought about trying to force my way out of here, but any type of fight and the cops would pull the security footage. My eyes were one thing, but I wasn’t going to show up on any camera, and that would raise a lot of questions. No, my only way out of here was by playing nice and ditching them later, preferably taking the tape of my time here before it could be checked. At the bottom of the stairs, the guy who hadn’t flashed his gun grabbed me by the arm. I gave him a cold gaze, and though he flinched, didn’t back off.

“Ma’am, follow me,” he said, his voice low and menacing. I nodded, and the one who flashed his gun led the way through the club to a rear door, while the other followed behind me. They took me through the door, which had two doors behind it. One was an emergency exit door, probably to satisfy some fire code, while the other was a heavy wooden door. The guy in front of me opened it, staying outside while I was roughly pushed through to the other side.

I quickly took in the room. It was small, consisting of a private stage on the far end with a pole running into the roof lit by a small array of lights. A black, leather couch faced it, looking rather stressed with evenly spaced scratch marks from fingernails all over the leather. A man sat at a corner desk directly to my left, with a cheep chair for visitors to sit on. He also had several monitors showing the club’s various cameras cycling in a display behind him. One thing was certain, with the door now shut, and the club’s music a very faint pulse coming through the walls, no one would hear a scream from the soundproof room.

“So, did Velour send you?” the man in the suit said from behind the desk. I was guessing he was the club’s owner, which made me either a prospective dancer, or a threat by the way his bouncers behaved.

“Who’s Velour?” I asked him, crossing my arms and staring him down through my sunglasses. He continued to eye me, probably trying to tell if I were lying or not.

“Velvet Velour is the owner of Vesuvius, the only other place that’s even remotely considered better than mine. She hires only the best dancers for her club, most of them struggling models, and now she’s after Angel,” he said as he continued to eye me. “From what I’ve been able to dig up, her real name is Susan Murphy. Real heavy into drugs and prostitution. Served a year, then another after violating her parole. Now she’s got her own club, trying to hide her past behind a ton of plastic surgery. Supposed to still be a looker, but I don’t see it.

“So if you’re not here for Velour, why the interest in Angel?”

“Sex?” I said, shrugging and smiling innocently at him. He didn’t seem to find it amusing as he scowled at me. One thought did spin through my brain. If he wasn’t reacting to my light complexion, he probably wasn’t a ghoul. Meaning this was another one of those rare opportunities to make a play for his business. I just had to survive if he turned me down. Of course, I thought smiling, now that we were alone, maybe my presence could help me now.

“A hot woman like you doesn’t spend four grand to sleep with another woman. A man I could understand, that’s why we exist, but not a woman,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “The last person she sent to me was supposed to pick her up and take her to Velour. Sent him back in a wheelchair. That was last week, so we’ve been watching.”

“Cutthroat business, huh?” I said and he nodded. “So I take it you run this place all on your own? No silent partner I should be worried about before making any deals?”

He smiled at that. “What kind of deal? Want to dance on my stage so you can get closer to your lover?” he said in a somewhat mocking tone.

“I was thinking of giving you a contract alright,” I said, making his smile grow even more as I eyed the well scratched couch to my right. I couldn’t help but think of Angel saying she lost her virginity to a man named Duke, and add in the couch…Yeah, he was a bad one. But even they could be useful in their own way. Besides, I needed a money train if I was going to buy Malibu beachfront property tonight. The taxes alone would be horrendous.

“The real reason I’m here,” I finally began to admit, looking back at him, “Is that I’m looking for businesses to expand into, becoming a sort of silent partner.”

“What are you offering, exactly? I’ve got all the money I need,” he said as he studied me.

I mentally went through my cards, finally settling on the Godfather approach. It seemed to work for the Sicilian mobster, but like my other ghouls, I’d give him somewhat of a choice.

“How about you agree to take my drug, and defer twenty-five percent of your profits to me, or I spread your blood all over the floor,” I deadpanned, kicking my presence in at full effect and making him flinch. I watched his face, as he seemed to fight it, but eventually he began to shrink in his chair.

I smiled thinking I had won when his arm shot forward and drew a gun. He pointed it at me, and he seemed to find his backbone in the steel contraption. “What say we spread your blood on the floor,” he growled at me. He was certain he had the upper hand until I began laughing, that wiped the smile off his face. I took that as a cue and forced my fangs out a bit and he began to turn white as he realized he was in over his head.

“Do it,” I said, and the gun lowered a bit. “Fire that gun and give me every reason to shove it down your throat. I’m a vampire,” I told him, feeling my pointy canines bite into my lip when I wasn’t speaking, so I knew they had to be visible. “That gun will no more work on me than a water pistol. So, either fire your gun and die, or come kneel in front of me like the slave you are.”

He studied my face, then lowered the pistol. “What happens to me?” he asked, and I retracted my fangs so I could better talk business, or talk in general. Didn’t realize how hard it was to speak with them out and wondered if that was why Dracula talked funny in the movies. Certainly seemed to throw my enunciation off.

“You run your little club however you want. I don’t know enough about that to have much of an opinion, so I leave it to professionals,” I said, and he somewhat relaxed. “All you do is make weekly payments to me for my cut of the profits. If anything comes up, like this Velour business again, you let me handle it. I might take her club over too, if she’s not kindred.”

“What about my motel?” he asked, and I raised an eyebrow. “It’s for the girls, mostly. I got a franchise down the street that I shuttle the girls between if they have no home. Most of the girls here came to work in Hollywood, only coming here for work because their broke and have only their looks and can’t do much else.”

“So like Angel, you break their will and sully them so they feel they can never go home?” I said, almost disgusted that I was doing business with the man. Shouldn’t I have ethics or something?

“I found out a long time ago that clubs do better where the girls put out. Angel tell you about the trust fund kid she declined when she first came here?” he asked and I nodded. “He complained to me, and yeah, I brought her in and pulled her card. Let her know that if she doesn’t put out, I’d put her out. Ever since she’s been good to me, like all my other girls.”

“Well, this is a package affair,” I said, deciding that if the girl didn’t have the will to complain to the cops, they certainly wouldn’t have the will to stand in court and put the man away. It was a hard lesson I had to be taught once, even though I was only eleven when I learned it. You had to stand up to your bully otherwise you were nothing. I guess it was the best thing I ever learned in that place.

Shaking my head of the memory of being so thoroughly disgraced in my sensei’s dojo, I pressed on. “Twenty five percent of all profit, in ANY business you have, run, or make a profit from.”

“So this is a racketeering operation? I get ‘protection’ while you get money.”

“You also get a long life as long as I’m happy, and if you’re attacked, say beaten by five men with baseball bats to the point that most men would die, you’ll still be strong enough to call for help and I can have you back on your feet in a day or two. Plus, you seem to get one of my ‘special’ abilities. Angel can attract any man she wants, whether the man is interested in her or not. Not sure about the rest yet, I’m actually very young, vampirically speaking.”

He nodded, getting out from behind his desk and coming around to face me. He didn’t look all the certain, but he had left the gun behind. He seemed to think for a moment, then lowered himself to his knees in front of me, the movement stiff and making him wince in pain. He caught my observation with a grimace.

“Old football injury,” he explained. “Got sacked by a punk who missed his dive, hit me full force in the knee. Not been able to bend it all that well since.”

I nodded, moving beside him and bit into my wrist, opening a pair of small holes and held it in front of him. “Drink,” I told him, and he took my wrist in his large hands and hesitated for a moment, before putting it to his lips and sucking on the wounds. I let him have a few mouth-fulls before pulling it away, and he leaned heavily against his desk as my blood went down his throat to become part of him.

I moved past him, sitting in his chair and eying the security system. It was unfamiliar to me, so I studied the screens, watching the girls as they danced for patrons. Soon, I could hear my new ghoul groan behind me, and I turned to face him.

“The pain’s gone,” he said, rising to his feet quickly. “My knee even works better.”

“Fringe benefits for joining the club,” I said and he spun to face me. He grimaced at seeing me in his chair, but didn’t say anything else. “You are my fifth ghoul. Angel is number four, Amber is actually number three.”

“I thought she seemed to get better. I dismissed it as Angel having a bad night when she got her customers back the next night.”

“That would have been after I dosed her,” I said and he nodded. “Numbers one and two are Heather and Brian. Heather is my personal stylist, and Brian is my daytime protector. You can go to them if you need to contact me if I can’t answer my cell,” I said as I wrote out my number on a post-it note.

“Do you have any idea where Amber is? I was expecting her to show up tonight, but she’s not at the motel and certainly not here.”

“She’s hooking for me,” I said and he grimaced, clearly wanting to say more but wise enough to know I might take offense at that.

“She’d make more money if she were here,” he finally said, deciding that was the line least likely to get him killed. Not that I would. Even the simple math of how much a girl could make in a night times how many different girls I saw added up to a lot of money fast. Not that it was all about money, but I wasn’t going to cut my nose off to spite my face.

“She’s going to move sideways a bit, do some adult film shoots. Having two dancing ghouls in one club isn’t working out for them,” I said, and he nodded. “Also, does this security system record everything on a tape? Or does it have to be recorded manually?”

“It records to a tape,” he said, leaning against the wall. “I have to be able to rewind and watch girls to make sure they do what their supposed to do, and make them obey if they don’t.”

“Make sure then, that the tapes of tonight are misplaced permanently. Other kindred, which is our word for vampires, might show up on camera, but I don’t. We have a very strict law on letting people know we exist, so keep my existence as kindred secret. Understood?”

“Comprendo,” he said, moving over to a wall and lifting a panel to reveal a VCR. He pulled a tape from it, handing it to me, before sticking a fresh one in and letting it record. “If you want to stay off the cameras, you can use the side door to leave. It can take you back to the street.”

“Good,” I said, then picked up the sticky note with my number and handed it to him. “This is my personal cell phone number. Need me, call me. Otherwise, I’ll see you in about a week for your next fix. And don’t be hard on Amber when she comes back tomorrow, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, backing away and opening the door, sensing I was ready to leave. A glance at the clock said it was just past eight-fifteen, so I needed to hurry.

“Thank you,” I said, showing a small deference in front of his men so he could keep up appearances as the boss here. Most men didn’t like working for a man who worked for a woman, or seemed to anyway. Must be a male thing.

“Anytime,” he said, smiling as he caught what I was doing. “Sorry you don’t have what I’m looking for, and for the mix up. I thought you worked for someone else.”

“Not a problem. Have a nice day,” I said, then turned and left the club by way of emergency exit, catching a glimpse of his two bulldogs eyeing my butt as I left. Typical men. If it were a threat, they’d beat it to death. If it weren’t, well, they’d still beat it, just in a different way.

I headed back to the front and sat on my bike, feeling glad I was working the money flow out. Twenty-five percent of this club’s proceeds would likely pay for most of my current life choices, but it never hurt to have more. Plus, his motel would likely come in handy if I needed use of extra rooms.

Starting my bike, and backing it out of its slot, I got on the freeway and started booking it for downtown. I certainly didn’t want to be late, and I needed to ask around to see if this Miss Velour was a ghoul or a kindred that I would have to talk to about staying out of my club. Or, if she wasn’t, maybe make an offer to her.

Girls did want to stay young and beautiful after all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25 – Trials and Tribulations

October 1, 2004 = Friday


I was able to make good time with light traffic, my Harley purring right along. For me, it was a time to think, with not much else to do as I hummed along with my subconscious doing most of the ticking down to my exit. I noticed the gas gauge reading into the red as I slowed to take the exit, and idled it to a pump at an all night gas station.

I popped the cap off, fueling it up at a buck and a quarter per gallon and ended up putting in five dollars worth which filled it up. I went inside to pay the cashier, noticing a rack of CD’s. One caught my eye, titled “Pieces of You” and I picked it up. Tracks one and ten made me smile, remembering them from when I was first in college. Track ten actually made me feel at home in my dorm room, the first time I had ever tried living away from home. Listening to it had brought me some peace with its simple guitar melody, and I couldn’t see starting my life over without it.

Placing the CD on the counter, the guy rang it all up and I paid for it, taking the CD back out and putting it into the saddlebag next to the tape of my time at Four-Play, then got on and started my bike back up, heading for the theater. Rounding the corner, I was shocked at the sheer number of cars and vehicles lined up. Every kindred in the city was here and it looked that number was several hundred strong. At least there was a place near the entrance for motorcycles where I pulled in and parked. I looked them over as I dismounted, seeing some as old as the concept itself to modern ones like the one I had. No two were alike, and one even had handlebars that were taller than I stood, and I wondered how the guy drove it. Some seemed to be works of art, both in construction and the fanciful artwork displayed on the gas tank. All seemed to be in good condition, with the worst defect noticeable being worn out seats from supposed years, if not decades, of riding.

It felt kind of strange to be entering the place where I came so close to meeting my end. Entering the theater, several men in uniforms stood screening all entrants for weapons. That was a laugh, considering what the Tremere could do to your blood as I remembered poor Kenny. The Tremere kindred hadn’t stood a chance when one of his own clan turned on him, causing him to blow up and coat the wall in blood.

I cued up, putting my money, lighter and cigs in the basket and stepping through the metal detector which stayed a nice green and put the items back in my pocket. The next guy had some kind of a portable metal detector in his hand and waved me on by and I went through the doors into the theater. I was correct about their being a lot of people. Those in biker and rough type clothes seemed as dominant as professional suits and expensive dresses, with differing groups off in packs to themselves.

One lone man dressed in a t shirt and jeans was standing near the door, smiling as he extended a hand and said in a faint New York accent. “Hey! Looking good! Have you noticed it yet?”

The question alone took me by surprise, let alone the man’s exuberance. Smiling, I responded, “Noticed what?”

He started laughing softly, “Your memory? Or were you always good at remembering things? I tell ya, it’s downright killing me!” he exclaimed, rather animated.

I smiled, thinking I was better at remembering things when he went on, “Read a book lately? What’s the second paragraph on the fifth page? Think about it,” he said his smile growing wider. “We all have perfect memory. Every thing you read, every number you write, you can remember,” he said, and I thought about the road signs on the way here, remembering the first, then the next and the progression all the way here. “If you have trouble finding your way around the city, take some time to read a map of the city. You’re brain will remember every street, side street, and once you start riding around, every alleyway, manhole cover, and business will be etched into your brain. We could be cab drivers in London once we learn the fastest routes!”

“Never been to out of California, honestly,” I told him, thinking him quite odd. “I’ve also not the time lately to read.”

“I read all the time,” he said, leading me deeper into the crowd. “I’m cursed to be a speed reader with a love of books who can remember every last word he’s ever read! Two years, that’s how long it took me to read every book the library had. That’s one thousand six hundred and seventy four books. Decided to make it an even one thousand seven hundred and read their encyclopedias. I run a book store now, in Pasadena. I still read every night, and the bloody Network bugs me constantly for information. If I wasn’t insane before, I bloody am now! I SAID the Nile is four thousand two hundred fifty eight miles long! Yes! I know it’s almost a mile of miles! Geez, people read!”

Malkavian, I thought, once he mentioned the insanity. At least he was somewhat sane, like Therese, though I was going to have to remember the eidetic memory. Really useful. It was then that I spotted Damsel among a knot of bikers, the Toreador was dressed in leather pants with a white tank top and knee high boots with three inch heels. I smiled at seeing her, though she didn’t notice me. I drifted over to her as the bookstore owner started talking to another man dressed in what I would almost describe as an ermine robe and matching stove top hat.

“Hey Damsel,” I said, getting close enough to see her. She turned and smiled at me, but it was the man beside her that spoke first.

“Hey newb,” he said, grinning at me as he extended his hand. “I’m Burris. Nice to see some new blood in the area. You ride?”

“Sure do,” I said, shaking hands with the rough looking kindred. “Picked up my Harley from a hunter who didn’t know about the fuel cut-off.”

“Sweet,” he drawled, giving me a one-armed bear hug and pointing me towards the others. “Not bad for a Lasombra!” he roared to his buddies who all cheered. All they need were a bunch of long neck beers to complete the image of celebrating bikers.

“Hey,” she said, hands in her pockets as she drifted closer. “They came for Nines at sunrise. Nearly tore the Round apart, but he was long gone. If it weren’t for you, he’d be onstage tonight.”

“Take care of him, Damsel,” I told her and gave her a hug.

“Yeah, Damsel filled us in,” one of the others bikers said. “You warned him that Lacroix was about to frame him for killing a primogen. You did good kid, we got him out and he’s as safe as anyone can be in this town. Even the Nossies can’t find him which is definite trick. She also told us that you were to be left alone, you’re just the innocent patsy to try and make us swap leaders again.”

“Is there anyone else who could?” I asked them, hoping Nines wasn’t their only voice.

“No,” Damsel said, as she eyed some of the suits across the room. “Nines is probably the last man we all respect, and that’s because he’s been in the shit trenches since before most of us even got turned. One of the last Old Guard still fighting.”

“What happened to the rest? I believe he said something about they switched sides...” I said but Burris cut me off. Seemed to be his thing.

“Thank that bitch Michele for that one,” Burris spat. “Got several good men killed when she betrayed us to the Cammies.”

“She had reasons,” Damsel said, eyeing the bigger men around her. They all bowed up, getting ready for a fight, but she stared them down, making each one back off.

“Political reasons?” I asked and Damsel nodded, letting her shoulders relax. The rest of the group went to talking among themselves, leaving me and Damsel out of it. I had the feeling they were all Brujah, and me and Damsel just didn’t quite mesh with them, but the little Toreador seemed to have the grit to make them back off. Typical bullies.

“Ever hear of a Miss Velour?” I asked her, desperate to have something to talk about, and needing to ask about her anyway.

“VV? Yeah, I know her. She’s a Toreador and runs Vesuvius in Hollywood. She’s an Anarch, but runs with Isaac. Not really the same as the rest of us. Hate to say it, but there’s almost two breeds of us. You got Isaac’s bunch, which is more like Camarilla lite, then there’s us. We’re free spirits and don’t trust people to govern us,” she said, then looked at me. “How did you hear about VV anyway? She like never leaves her club, and never drink from her girls. She will ban you for that.”

“I got a new ghoul, runs Four-Play in Santa Monica where I have another ghoul working,” I told her and she shot me a serious look.

“Really? Didn’t think you’d tolerate one of those places. You know how they operate?” she said with a grimace on her face.

“Um,” I said, thinking about it. “Not really, no. I know the girls make money by enticing guys into giving them money, but I don’t guess I know where the club gets theirs. He says he makes a lot of money at it, but I didn’t see to ask him how they do it.”

“They charge for the stage. Place like that probably charges several grand each night or half the girls tips,” she said, crossing her arms as she looked at me.

“So?”

“A girl can typically make only a grand or two a night, unless they have rather lax policies on touching and intimacy. They charge more for that, which is good for the girl if she’s interested. I heard some places might force girls into it, but that depends on the place. Honestly, I wouldn’t touch a strip club with a ten foot pole.”

“That bad?” I asked, puzzled by her response.

“You want to know what they do to girls who don’t have the money? They don’t take an IOU.”

“The leather couch with all the scratches...” I said, remembering seeing it in Duke’s office. I figured he was using the couch for ‘auditions’ and punishment, Angel’s own testimony letting me know that for a fact. But I didn’t think it was the bad. Apparently I was wrong.

“Whether they like it or not,” she said, staring me down with that same hard stare. “So, what did you do? Tell him to take an IOU or get rid of the girls who can’t make that kind of money? Maybe send them to your home to be a snack?” she snarked at me, easing off as she saw the fear come across my face.

“I...” I said, trying to think. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was condoning this? Where was my empathy, my compassion? My sister went through that twice, dying the second time. Hell, even I went through it. And I was condoning it? What kind of monster was I becoming?

Damsel gave me a hug, holding me in her arms as I thought about what I was doing. “It’s the beast, sweetie. You have to fight for your humanity. Weighing every decision against what it will cost your soul. You have to have compassion, love, and start helping people or the next piece you lose might be the part that keeps you from killing people.”

I felt something on my cheek as I returned the hug. I brought a hand up to find a tear of blood running down my cheek. I resolved to stop back by the club and tell Duke that he wasn’t to molest any more girls, and use my status as his domitor to force him not too. Damsel gave me a little smile, and I thought about the little scene between me and Angel and how good it felt. One good thing about our improved memories was I remembered Damsel asking me for a ride. And it wasn’t like I had anything else to do tonight, though I did want to go talk to Venus.

“How about a ride after the Trial?” I asked, trying to redirect our conversation into something more tolerable.

“Sure,” she said, leading me over to sit with the bikers as Jean and several deputies drug a young man to the center of the stage. It seemed the Trial was about to start. I sat beside her, surrounded by bikers, though I didn’t see Jack anywhere near us. The Prince walked out, his seven foot tall Sheriff right behind him with that huge sword in it’s scabbard on his back. When everyone was in place, Jean leaned over and pulled the stake from his chest, and the kindred came alive.

“Quiet, please,” the Prince said, holding his hands up to quiet everyone. The weight of the moment seemed to fall on everyone and the voices fell away. When it was quiet, his hands fell to his sides. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We are here tonight to deal with a break in the Traditions. Specifically, a break of our first and highest tradition, the masquerade, by Jose Garcia, a member of clan Brujah. He revealed our presence and nature to several kine.”

“I lost control!” Jose said from where he was kneeling. “Nearly got burned by a carburetor backfire and I couldn’t control myself.” I winced at that, remembering the one time my granpappie had to pull his shirt off to stuff in the carb because it was burning. It ruined the shirt, forcing him to go without in the sun, which I thought odd. Course, I was only six at the time.

“Mister Garcia,” Lacroix said, turning to face him. “You are responsible for your actions. Do you deny this?”

“No, but you’re going to kill me for something that wasn’t my fault!”

“Do you deny killing several kine and drinking from one in the full presence of a kine whom you did not kill? Thereby revealing our presence while she called 911 for help?” the prince asked, his voice raising as he addressed the doomed kindred.

“I didn’t know about her!” he yelled back. “When I came to I was just dropping the dead girl to the pavement. I didn’t even see the kine leave! I thought I had killed everyone and that was the end of it until your deputies ripped through my door and burned my shop down!”

It was making me uncomfortable, listening to him defend himself from something the beast had done. I could feel mine shift under my skin, probably reacting to the tension in the air and I stifled it as best I could. If Nines were here, he’d probably make a case out of it. Cry and yell about how we all lost control. Even I had, but that was due to a ghost freaking me out, but it did leave me with questions.

“Excuse me,” I said, standing to make it known who was addressing the gathering. “It might be because I’m so new and without a teacher, but who hasn’t lost control of their beast?”

The question alone set the theater to talking a low hum, as everyone seemed to address the issue with their neighbors. Even the bikers around me talked about losing control and ripping their beloved rides to shreds because of their loss of control.

“Miss Flores,” the prince said, addressing me. “You are indeed correct that most of us have lost control, but usually we correct our mistakes. Mister Garcia did not.”

“Sounds like he didn’t know their was a mistake to be corrected. Did anyone call him? Let him know their was a kine he missed? Or did you just assume he meant to reveal our nature to the young girl?”

“And what would you have me do? Condone his actions? Allow countless breaches of the masquerade because he didn’t know?” the prince said, and I could feel his anger like a wave over me. Presence, I thought, realizing his clan must have it too. Well, if we could use our powers like that, maybe he needed a taste of his own medicine. I sent as much of my anger and disappointment back out as I could, and the whole room gasped, with the Sheriff and deputies backing away. It was only the prince who stood still, but even his features softened as his wave was swallowed under mine.

‘Thanks for the help, Lasombra,’ I thought as the prince started to motion for the crowd to calm down. “First, no, I don’t condone his actions. But, he has paid a price,” I said, keeping people looking at me as I seemed to take control of the situation. ‘Don’t let me mess this up.’ I thought, then addressed Jose. “You say you lost your place? That the deputies burned it down?”

“Yeah,” he said, addressing me and looking at me as if I were his last salvation. Sad thing was it was probably true. “Some idiot knocked over a can of gas where I was working on a car. It’s what I do, I was a mechanic. I had already run out the front, thinking the Sabbat was raiding me and when I looked back, just before they staked me, I saw the flames rise in the back. I hope Jacqueline got out.”

“Mijo!” a woman yelled from the corner of the stage. I could see a young woman tied up, being held by a man in a suit.

“Don’t hurt her!” he said, struggling against the men holding her.

“Well, he hasn’t lost his compassion,” I said, as the prince raised his hands again.

“People, listen!” he yelled, and the crowd quieted down again. “Miss Flores, what would you do in this situation?”

“First, establish that the person did it either by accident or design. In this case, it seems to be by accident. Second, call him on it in a manner that is consistent with the manners of law enforcement. That means you stop by his place and ask him nicely. Your deputies seem to have failed on that one; breaking the door down and making him think he was under a Sabbat raid. I’d say there’s a little bit of fault on both sides.

“As for punishment? Well, you did take his business away from him. Since this was an accident, I say he’s been given his punishment if this is his only offense. Given that death seems to be the only punishment you like to dole out, I’d say so.”

“These are serious times, Miss Flores,” the Prince said, his voice low and even, and if it weren’t for the great acoustics of the theater, probably wouldn’t have heard him at all. “They call for serious punishments.”

“Losing everything you have isn’t serious enough?” Damsel said, standing by me. “It’s all we have some nights. It took me years to get the Last Round.” More people began to rise, and finally the prince raised his arms to quiet the theater down again.

“Alright, settle down everyone. Miss Flores raises a somewhat valid point,” and the Anarchs around me cheered. “This situation may not have been handled in the best interests of all concerned. But a breach of the masquerade has occurred, serious enough that it endangered our secrecy and had to be handled by a deputy. Thereby your sentence is exile,” the prince said, turning to face the condemned man, “for a hundred years. Should you return before that hundred years is over, I will call a blood hunt on you, and this time Mister Garcia, I will have your head. Your exile starts at midnight, which is in a few hours. I suggest you hurry.”

“Thank you,” he said, as he was released. Jacqueline was also released and together they jumped off the stage, running for the exit. No one stopped him, and soon we were all looking at the prince.

“Well, that concludes tonight’s meeting. I hope this serves as a lesson that I do hear what the kindred of this city has to say. My only goal, is to ensure our well being. You are dismissed,” he said, turning to leave. Everyone started to rise and leave, and I followed the bikers out as the suits across from us waited for the rougher types to leave.

“Want to ride with the pack?” Burris said as we swarmed around the bikes. Damsel gave me a slight nod of her head as I stepped beside my Harley.

“Sure, we’ll probably break off somewhere,” I told him as I mounted my Harley and lifted the stand with my boot like a professional rider. Damsel got on behind me, settling her feet into the passenger rests and snuggled up real close behind me.

“Heading off to your own fun, huh?” one of the riders joked. I would have responded, but he kicked his engine to life, the roar drowning out any response I could give. The other riders kicked their bikes to life too, and I started my own, getting ready to back it out as everyone on my right pulled forward in a hard turn and hit the street.

“Just roll with it,” Damsel yelled in my ear over the din, and kicking it into first pulled out with the rest of the riders, getting a cheer from the pack. Apparently that was the first step in acceptance, and the pack roared up onto the interstate going at least forty strong. I looked around, seeing the varying riders and their rides and was in awe at the sheer presence these people pulled off with their sight. To look at them, you’d think this was another biker gang with a love for older bikes, but knowing the truth of their age, made you realize each one still reveled in the glory of their biker years.

We headed north, into the hills and left the interstate Santa Clarita, heading out the road to Palmdale. “Take a left up here,” Damsel said in my ear. I slowed, then banked over and took the turn a bit faster than I probably should have. I could hear the whooping of the pack as we separated, and I smiled at the thought that maybe somebody out there actually liked me. Damsel continued to point out turns until we were well out of civilization and out in the scrub brush on a dirt road. When we hit the edge of a hill, she told me to park it.

“Beautiful spot,” I said, after I killed it and let the sound die away.

“Used to come up here when I first came to town,” she said, hopping off and stretching her legs. “Course, back then it took me longer. All I had to ride was a scooter. Damn thing couldn’t do twenty.”

“Guess that’s the benefit of having a proper bike,” I said, putting the kickstand down before I got off.

“Yeah, and the guys loved you. Didn’t hurt that you got Jose off, though he’ll have to head for San Diego or San Francisco and set up shop there. At least he’s alive if we need him.”

“Small favors,” I said, putting an arm around Damsel’s shoulders. I wasn’t sure how to push it where I wanted to go so I let Damsel steer things for a bit. “Couldn’t let Nines hear I let an Anarch burn when he might’ve been able to stand up to Lacroix.”

“I’m starting to think if you might be itching for his job,” Damsel said, snuggling closer to me.

“Lacroix?” I gasped, then blew a raspberry at the thought. “Town would burn if I did that. No way I could keep the Camarilla together.”

“Fuck Lacroix,” Damsel said. “I meant replacing Nines. God, Eliza, do you even know how fucked we are right now? We lose Nines, I might as well catch a tan. He is ALL that is left of the old guard Anarchs. All. We lose him, we lose our Anarch soul, and the Free State is over.”

I hugged her close to me. “Some things are worth fighting for, Damsel,” I said, and she wrapped her arms around me. “I can’t always say I agree with the way things were done, but I know Lacroix’s type. He’ll kill every person in his way to complete domination, and that means I just put my head on the chopping block along with every other Anarch in town.”

“It has benefits,” Damsel said, nuzzling my ear. I nuzzled next to her ear, feeling my hunger grow. I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t really that hungry, but I could feel the blood in Damsel’s veins. I kissed her neck, and I could feel the want, the need to bite so bad it was painful. I licked the spot right over her artery, eliciting a soft moan from her, and felt my fangs slip out.

“Damsel,” I whispered, as she lowered a hand and began to fondle my ass while her other wrapped around my neck and held me close. I pulled her hair off her neck, and taking one more lick, sank my teeth into her neck, her blood feeling like electric milk as I drank her in. Damsel moaned, bucking against me once as I gripped her tighter. It felt so right throughout my body, as I took gulp after gulp of her blood.

I had one moment of clarity that what I was doing was wrong and pulled my fangs from her neck. Damsel was silent, leaning against me when I realized I was supporting her weight. In panic, I let go and she dropped to the ground, the angle of her legs and arms telling me she was a lifeless husk.

“Fuck.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 26 – Choices (Part 1)

October 1, 2004 = Friday


Looking down at Damsel’s lifeless body, I was ready to skip panic and have a meltdown, but for some reason, I knew she wasn’t dead. What Gary said about feeding on rats sprang to mind, and I hoped Damsel would forgive the social faux pas if I used it to save her life as I looked around the hill top for any signs of animal life.

A hare several hundred feet away caught my eye in the darkness. There was no way I could catch the fleet footed animal without using my shadows, so I bolted straight through the shadow, coming out on top of the fleet footed animal just as he raised on his hind legs to check for danger. I dove for it, snagging it by the scruff of the neck as it kicked and pawed at my wrist.

I ran back to Damsel, who hadn’t moved from where she’d fallen. I knelt beside her, using my free hand to open her mouth, her fangs barely visible behind her bluish lips. I held the rabbit’s paws with both hands, using my own fangs to rip out the animal’s throat and let the blood flow into Damsel’s mouth, hoping the fresh blood would wake her up.

It was only after the last drop entered her mouth that Damsel swallowed, and began straightening her limbs. “What the hell,” she yelled, rubbing at her neck. “What the blue fuck made you bite me?”

“Damsel, I’m so sorry,” I said, helping her to her feet. “I don’t know why I did that, it just called to me.”

“So, quack like a duck,” she said, her serious face melting into a smirk.

“Are you alright?” I asked, wondering if she might have some sort of aphasia and thereby have some of her words mixed up.

“No, I’m okay,” she said, frowning as she dusted herself off. “But, still, why the hell did you bite me? Trying to diablerize me or something?”

“No, I,” I said, hanging my head and turning away from her. “Is it that way every time I get near a neck?”

“Shouldn’t be,” Damsel said, putting her arms around me. “It’s probably one of the problems you’ve been having with your beast.”

“Guess I really could use a teacher,” I told her, letting her pull me in close even though I wasn’t facing her. I nearly killed her, and the memory of the first time I had nearly killed someone was still etched into my brain. Tom Cullen was many things, but mean wasn’t one of them and I had put him in the hospital for nothing more than startling me. Guess, I was destined to be the monster.

“All you had to do was ask,” she said, kissing my cheek. “Come on, sit over here with me,” she said, leading me to the edge of the hill. “First off, as far as you’ve come, I get the idea you know the basics by now. Keep yourself fed, don’t feed from just any schmuck, and spit out anything with a sour taste. The sour taste is actually your body telling you its bad blood.”

“Good to know,” I said, as we sat and looked over the valley. “What about ghouls? I know how to make one, but I guess no one really said anything about laws for them.”

“For the most part, there aren’t any laws but one for non kindred,” she said, pulling her knees up to rest her chin on her arms. “The masquerade. And since you made them, you’re responsible for them. Problem is, they tend to be rather loose lipped when it comes time for them to feed, even going into frenzy if they get hungry enough.”

“Frenzy? They lose control?”

“Yeah, it can be bad then,” she said, then turned her head to look at me. “Take Patty for example. Her master was a friend of mine, but now that he’s dead, she’s going out of her mind looking for him.”

“What will happen to her?”

“She’s got three options. One, her best, is to accept another kindred as her master, but the average ghoul is so hopelessly addicted to their master though, there’s no saving them. You could, maybe mind you, save them if you locked them up in a cell. Though, there’d have to be a helluva reason to do it.

“But it is possible. Would the Camarilla be willing to do that?” I asked, already figuring the answer was no when she laughed.

“You saw the way they wanted to kill Jose. Just lop his head off for a backfire! One hellacious argument, though. ‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone?’ Even Lacroix had to admit his faults at that!” she said laughing. “And it’s not like he can lie because we Toreador would have caught his lie.”

“So, what would the Anarchs do?” I asked, and she sobered.

“Nothing, most likely,” she admitted, settling her head back onto her knees. “Usually we don’t mess in other peoples affairs, and Isaac’s bunch would probably see her as a threat and shoot her.”

“The Anarchs aren’t coming off as all roses, here,” I told her.

She sighed, looking out over the valley. “No, but we wouldn’t have been after Jose’s head, either. Lacroix wants to kill everyone who doesn’t support him, we leave people alone to fuck things up, and Isaac’s somewhere in between. Like Patty’s other two options, die or learn to live without him. The last is the best. She’s still young and can go on and live her life. Not like Michele’s ghoul Remy. She’d die now if she wasn’t drinking from a kindred’s wrist.”

“Why? What’s wrong.”

“First off, she’s like a hundred and fifty. Michele made her a ghoul when she still lived in Paris, back around the mid 1800’s. It was because of her Michele survived the fall of France in World War Two, leaving on foot and trekking across country at night, hiding in a makeshift grave by day.”

“You know a lot about Michele,” I said, looking at her.

“She’s my grandsire,” Damsel explained. “She came out here about the time the Anarch Free State got started, but like Nines said, there’s not that many of us left. Those bikers we came up here with? That’s it. That’s all that’s left of the Free Anarchs.”

“Why did she switch sides?” I asked, wanting to know the reason someone would join the Camarilla.

“She’s trying to shut down the Camarilla from inside,” she admitted. “That stays between us, okay? Lacroix thinks she’s loyal, and if he even gets wind she’s against him...”

“He’ll move against her,” I said and Damsel nodded. “That means we need more people in his inner circle who he thinks are loyal, or can at least be bought.”

“And you go and make that big move tonight, and probably got Lacroix working against you,” Damsel said, chuckling softly to herself.

“Like he needed an excuse. From what I gather, Ventrue and Lasombra hate each other with a passion reserved for ex-husbands,” I said, and Damsel laughed at that one.

“Yeah, well, you are one against their many. When all the Camarilla showed up, it was like someone called a Ventrue clan meeting in town. Lots of people with no claim or stake in LA just showed up and stayed. They got the Camarilla rolling, caught us with our pants down just after our cease-fire with the Kue-Jin. We just don’t have the numbers to fight back, and we can’t make more unless we go to Hollywood. There’s no guarantee that the newbies will choose the Anarch way, anyway.”

“Rock and a hard place?”

“More like choosing your own style of execution. Slow, steady and painless, or quick and painful. I just don’t know how long Isaac can hold out,” she said, letting that sink in.

“So, the guys we rode up with are about the only ones Nines can call on to actively fight?”

“They make a great first wave, but after that we wouldn’t have anything to back it up with. Every kindred clan has strengths and weaknesses. Brujah would be your shock troops, riding in and making chaos wherever they go. But once the shock wears off...”

“Why not ghouls?”

“Ghouls couldn’t stand against a kindred,” she said. “Tried and done. They’re just too weak.”

“What about guns. Military style guns.”

“Won’t work on anyone who’s good with Celerity. I’m not that good with it, I prefer my Presence and Auspex abilities, but even I can see the vapor trails the bullets leave behind. Nines can actually dodge the bullets IF he know’s he’s being shot at,” stressing the word if. “All you see is him blurring, and then when the bullets stop...”

“He can attack. So, best way of attacking is something that they can’t dodge. What about using the Brujah to keep their speedsters busy while the ghouls use machine guns to suppress their counterattack,” sounding like a military general arranging an attack on a vastly superior enemy. “Or use flamethrowers.”

“And we bug out just as bad as they do,” she pointed out as she stretched out on the hillside to look at the stars.

I stretched out beside her, thinking it over. The only time we were vulnerable was when we were asleep, but there ghouls would be watching over them. A thought hit me, “Who watches over you when you sleep?”

“Me? No one,” she said. “Never had a ghoul because I couldn’t rip someone from their life just to serve me.”

“How many other kindred feel the same way?”

“Couldn’t say,” she said dismissively. “What’s on your brain?”

“If you knew where they slept, I mean just the house or building not the actual room, you could burn the house down around their ears during the day...”

“Incinerating their ass while they slept,” she said, rolling over to face me. “Risky, what if the fire didn’t catch them? Or they slept in a fire proof coffin?”

“You sleep in a coffin?” I interjected, finding the idea odd but logical. We did have problems with light and being caught by people who didn’t know we were kindred.

“I hear some do,” she said defensively. “I prefer satin sheets myself.”

“Well, when I get a bed I’m going silk,” I told her, and she laughed.

“What do you sleep in now? Or under?”

“The shower stall,” I said, grimacing as she laughed louder. “It’s like the only place in that tiny apartment that is protected from sunlight.”

Damsel nodded, looking at the stars. “So, you’d use the ghouls to attack them while they slept? That could work. Even the Tremere wouldn’t be able to defend against that, I think. It would thin their ranks, and if it were done in broad daylight, it’d be hard to pin on any one kindred. That’s brutal.”

“War is hell,” I said, quoting an old war movie. “The Anarchs have two options on this one, attack with everything they can, or find another place to call home.”

“What, some small town in No-where-ville?,” she said, appalled. “There’s a reason we favor the big cities, sweetie.”

“Well, they’re ideas you can pass on to Nines. Don’t tell me where he is, though, I’m going to try to get into the prince’s good graces. See if there’s anything I can pull apart and mess up his works as best I can.”

“Good, we could use more people on the inside. If you’re going to go that route though, we need to separate. Lacroix won’t think you’re in tight if you’re still chummy with us Anarchs.”

“If that’s the case, how about a little fight?” I said with a smirk on my face.

“Lover’s quarrel? Bit old fashioned even in my day.”

“Well, I am supposed to be straight, and we ride off together...” I said, leading her to the inevitable conclusion.

“And I made a move on you, which you didn’t like and we’re through.” she said, nodding in approval as she rolled back to stare at the stars. “Looks good, the rest depends on the strength of our performance.”

“Just react to what I do, and the rest should be automatic,” I said, getting up. I held a hand out to Damsel. She took it, and I helped her to her feet and we headed back to my motorcycle. “Just remember, it’s an act, okay?”

-o-0-o-

The entire way back to the Last Round consisted of me riding as fast as I could through the cities streets, before finally turning the last street on which the bar was located. I made sure to never let the bike get under fifty the entire way back, and more than several times took a curve so sharp and fast that I scraped my feet rests against the pavement. Damsel must have thought I was nuts because she wrapped her arms around my middle and refused to let go. At least I could be glad I didn’t need air anymore.

In front of the Round, I locked the front brakes up and turned the bike sharply to the side, before using my strength to break her hold on my middle and throw her off. Damsel was taken by surprise as she went rolling down the street. I turned the bike around to face her, as Damsel got to her knees.

“Listen, you little bitch!” I yelled for the benefit of anyone listening. “I’m not going to be you’re little whore! So you keep your hands to yourself, and leave me the fuck alone.”

Damsel spit at me, and I kicked it into first gear and popped the clutch to make the tire roll smoke as I peeled out. Damsel went wide eyed at my show of hostility, and I raised a boot and kicked her right in the face as I passed her, knocking the little Toreador down on the pavement as I passed. I didn’t look back as I turned the corner, and I hoped she understood that it was all in the name of getting rid of Lacroix.

I headed for the tower, needing to talk with Walsh about buying that house. The area around the tower was empty as always as I parked my bike. I went in, finding the back in five minutes sign out so I went straight for the elevator and up. When the doors opened, I spotted Walsh.

“She did what?” Walsh said, walking through the upstairs lobby, talking on his cell phone. He looked at me as he listened to his phone, face slack in surprise. “Alright, get me a report about it on my desk as quick as you can. I need to go,” he said, motioning me on to his office. “Goodbye,” he said and ended the call. “Evening, Miss Flores. How can I help you, tonight?”

“Well, my ghouls did the house shopping I asked them too, and I need to see about buying some Malibu real estate.”

“Ah, that would be the Pryce estate,” he said, moving to a filing cabinet as I sat down. “Wonderful bargain, picked it up for a fraction of the price it’s truly worth.”

“Making your money in real estate?” I asked and he nodded.

“Real estate, rentals, car sales,” he said as he rifled through the files. “All rather lucrative for a man who’s tied to his office at all hours of the night.”

“I don’t guess you have the luxury of moving about anymore,” I agreed, as he found the file he was looking for and put it on his desk. “But I would have thought you had some time to yourself, if only to hunt.”

He smiled as he sat down, pulling his pen and began to fill in the blanks on a form. “As a Ventrue, I don’t have the luxury of having multiple blood donors to drink from. In fact, there’s only four people I know of that meet my strict criteria.”

“Clan curse?” I asked, and he nodded.

“How much did you want to put on the down payment?” he asked, changing the topic.

“Let’s make it four million,” I said, and he wrote it down as he filed the appropriate paperwork.

“From penniless to millionaire in a week, to buying premium beach front property when you were living off the graces of your friend,” he said, impressed by the results I was churning out. He pulled out a calculator and started to figure out the rates, then made a small grunt. “The monthly payments on a ten year note come out to two hundred thirty-eight thousand and five hundred dollars a month.”

I whistled at the number. It was enough to make me rethink buying the place, but I forced myself to keep calm. “Sounds good,” I said and he turned some paperwork around to me.

“Just sign on the line with your alias, Miss Flores, and I’ll get you a key to the front door.”

I couldn’t help but smile as I signed the paperwork and he fished out a key from the file. “This should unlock every door in the house. It has some furniture and is free as part of the estate. It was bought and paid for before the money ran out.”

“That should do it,” I said, pocketing my new key as I stood. “Take care,” I said, as I walked out the door. I took the elevator down, and was soon back on my Harley. I headed for Santa Monica to Four-Play, deciding to take care of Duke and his way of disciplining the girls.

The club looked deserted when I got there, so I parked my bike out front and walked down the alleyway to the side door. It wasn’t locked, so I went on in, finding a couple of guys standing outside his office door while some hard rock music blared over the speakers to drown out any sounds coming from the office.

“Guys,” I said as they blocked the door.

“He’s with a girl,” one of them said as I stared him down.

“Yeah, well, he’s going to see me, and he’s going to see me right now,” I said, letting my presence flow a bit to unsettle them. They started to get jumpy, looking at each other and then back to me. Finally they moved away from the door and let me pass, and I went inside.

A girl lay on the couch, dressed in only her skin, while Duke was positioned over her. I could hear her moan and whimper, and enraged, I marched across the room and yanked Duke off the girl as tears rolled down her cheeks and threw him back to his desk.

“What the fuck!” he yelled as he picked himself off the floor. The girl curled up in a ball on the couch to cry, and I kept myself between them to protect her.

“If I knew what kind of horror show you ran out of this office,” I yelled at him, “I wouldn’t have made a deal with you!”

“What are you doing here?” Duke asked me as he straightened his cloths. I advanced on my new ghoul and forced him back against the wall.

“First, get out of here,” I told the girl, who was just straightening herself up to sit on the couch. “Get dressed and go home.”

The girl promptly pulled a one piece sun dress up before grabbing her other clothing items up and darter out the door, tears still streaming down her face. The guys at the door look puzzled, but pulled the door closed to leave me alone with my ghoul. Duke scowled at seeing her leave, but only muttered, “Well, there goes the fun I was going to have tonight.”

“Fun? Listen hotshot, I just found out how these places operate and you’re lucky I’m not ripping your spine out and beating you with it,” I snapped back, letting my anger flow out. Duke winced, and I got up in his face. He started to backpedal, finally being forced back onto his chair as I cornered him. “You want to keep living, you’re going to start treating these girls with some respect!”

“Respect?” he croaked? “Respect doesn’t make money.”

“Then you better find a way to make money,” I breathed, pressing close. “Because if I find out you so much as forced one of these girls back onto this couch,” I said, straddling his lap and getting an inch from his face, “I will come back and make you cut it off yourself. Got it?”

He nodded, and I got off of him, leaving him while he calmed himself. The two guys didn’t say anything as I left and headed back to the apartment. A cheap Honda sat at the end of the alley when I got there, and a look over to the light post revealed Sharron wasn’t in sight.

I briefly thought about interrupting her, but decided that if the guy was jumpy enough he might do something stupid like pull a knife. I wasn’t worried so much for myself, but that Sharron would get hurt or killed. So, rather than stand under the light and get funny looks from guys as they passed, I went upstairs to the apartment. Opening the door, I found Brian leaned up against the desk with his eyes closed. Heather and Constance lay in the bed, cuddled under the blanket. Not a light burned in the entire place, so I lit the candle with the lighter from my pocket.

“Is it morning already?” Brian said, opening his eyes and stretching.

“About five,” I told him, and began to take stock of the small room, noting for the first time that there wasn’t anything left but the candle and bedspread. “You three must have been waiting for me to get back.”

“Well, didn’t figure you’d want to waste anytime, so we packed everything and was waiting,” he said, rising to stand by the desk. Heather stretched to let me know she was awake, probably just lightly dozing while she waited. She was at least fully dressed in jeans and a tank top.

“How is Constance doing?” I asked them, and we all looked at the sleeping youth as she slept in her pajamas.

“Good so far, she came right around this time,” Heather said, as she folded the blanket. “Did you get it?”

“Yeah,” I said, fishing the key out of my pocket and holding it up. Heather smiled and even Brian had a big grin on his face. “I assume the Honda at the end of the alley was yours?”

“Yeah,” she said as she finished folding the blanket and set it on the desk. “It’s about all I have left from my parents.”

“Constance, honey, it’s time to get up,” I said, shaking her shoulder.

“Go away,” she mumbled, rolling towards the wall. I reached over and shook her shoulder again, this time she huddled herself into a ball as she whimpered. I sat beside her and began to rock her gently. “Constance, come on sweetie,” I said, and shook her again. She came to, sleepily, sitting up beside me and rubbing at her eyes.

“Still dark out,” she mumbled, leaning against me.

“Well, I got it,” I told her, and she looked up at me and smiled.

“Sweet,” she said and laid her head on my shoulder. I put an arm under her and helped her to her feet, while Heather finished stripping the bed and folded the sheets.

“We got a CD player, right?” I asked Brian, who nodded.

“Already loaded up,” he said, as he began to go around the apartment to make sure we had everything, finally removing the blood bag from the fridge and handing it to me. I took it, and feeling a bit hungry, drank it on the spot.

With my hunger satisfied, I threw the empty bag in the trashcan and looked around the now empty apartment. “Let’s get out of here,” I said, leading the way with Constance leaning against me. I was never so happy to leave a home before, but this place was most definitely the pits.

Out in the alley, we headed to the car when I spotted Sharron walking back out of the alley with a john. Constance stared at my ghoul, as we both neared the street, and the John bolted for his parked car. Sharron grimaced at seeing me, but leaned up against the post without saying a word. I walked across the street and I swear the scowl on her face deepened with every step.

“What now?” she whined as I stepped onto the curb. I looked her over, taking in her now dilapidated appearance. Her mascara had run a bit from crying and she needed to touch up her makeup as it was smudged a bit. I looked down, where she rubbed at her leg and there was white stain. She looked pitiful, tired and ready to fall down if it weren’t for the lamp post she was leaned against.

“Go home,” I told her. “Tomorrow, head back to Four-Play and return to stripping.”

“Want your money,” she said, pulling a wad of bills from her purse.

“Just my hundred,” I told her, as she quickly counted out the bills and handed them to me. “Duke’s one of mine now. If he rapes one of the girls, report it to me or Brian. I’m not letting him run Four-Play like he used to,” I said, turning to join Brian and Heather as they stood next to the car.

“What changed?” she called as I started across the street.

“I refuse to become the monster,” I said as I mounted my bike, and hit the starter. I couldn’t help but think of Lasombra lurking under my skin. I had to keep my ancestor from taking over, and delving deeper into my monstrous nature wasn’t helping.

Damsel could attest to that.

=o=0=o=

I followed Heather’s car out to Malibu while I rode my bike. It was a beautiful drive along the Pacific, with long rows of condos lining the beachfront. We were almost into Malibu before Heather made a sharp left turn into a driveway marked by a stone fence topped by what seemed to be old lamps. The steady burn was a dead giveaway that they were electric, but still, they lit the road driveway well enough to see by at night. The driveway curved and made a loop around a central water fountain that shot streams of water over the top tier.

The garage was four bays abreast, with a space just past it for visitors to park. Heather parked her car there and I pulled in behind her, shutting it down and taking in my new home. It was beautiful, made of blue stone with a large arch over the entryway. I pulled my new CD from the saddlebag, then went and unlocked the door. Stepping inside to find myself in the foyer, with a staircase on my left that led up to the second floor, which was open on both sides.

I walked past it, finding another staircase under it leading into the basement. On the right was the formal dining room, lit by crystal chandelier. The table under it was a large, single slab of wood, probably redwood judging by its cherry shine. In fact, as I looked around, all the wood I could see was cherry red. Continuing my straight line through the house found me in some sort of trophy room. It had a large fireplace that was currently unlit, but the potential for it to be one of those cozy gathering places to sit and act sophisticated.

“Figures if you asked about this, you might have wanted it for something,” Brian said, bringing in the boom box and set it up on a table. I unwrapped my CD, and placed in the tray. It spun up, and the heavy bass pattern of ‘Who Will Save Your Soul’ started to play.

“People living their lives for you on TV, say they’re better than you, you agree,” I sang, practically dancing through the kitchen with its gleaming stainless steel counter tops and shiny appliances. There was a breakfast nook surrounded by large glass looking out over the ocean. Past that was a living room, which was larger than my dorm room in college at twenty feet square. A large TV sat against the wall, surrounded by shelves designed to hold VHS tapes in neat orderly rows. I looked at all the shelving, and decided the guy must have either wanted every movie ever made in his personal collection, or he planned to add some books to balance it out. There were a few couches in here, and Heather brought Constance in, laying the tired girl to bed on one of the couches before draping the cover over her.

Continuing my clockwise inspection, I went up the stairs to the second floor. I found the place was mostly open, with a bedroom at each corner. Though there were windows for the third story on the southern wall overlooking the ocean, there was no porch, so the view remained unsullied. Each bedroom had its own complete bathroom and walk-in closet.

With nothing else to view, and as the CD progressed on to the next song, I took the stairs down back into the foyer and continued to inspect my new home. I’d never thought I’d by a house before, let alone without inspecting it myself before I bought it, and couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at the sheer size of the place. On the other side of the stairwell from the foyer was a private library. It was partially furnished, with a long row of shelving on one wall. Seriously, was this guy that big a nerd? Or did he just not know what he wanted so he built everything?

Across from the private library was the master suite. It was fully furnished, with a large four poster king sized bed that had curtains that could be pulled to give the sleeping couple some privacy, even if others were in the room. I checked the egg-colored sheets to find that they were satin. The room had its own balcony access, and I followed it out to find a large grassy yard.

I went down the stairs, finding a large hot tub nestled between the stairs just under the balcony. There was some patio furniture already there, several chaise loungers and a couple of tables, and I knew that Heather and Constance would be working their tans just as soon as they could. Feeling envious, I went in through the lower doors into the basement to find a green velvet pool table and a selection of pool cues on the wall. There was even a wet bar on the back wall.

“Just great,” I breathed, as I turned right to find another bedroom. Shaking my head, I continued on, finding myself walking down a long wall before finding the stairs that led back up to the main floor. A painting on hinges was left open, revealing a hidden hallway by the staircase from the rest of the room, I followed it into a large bare room. It didn’t have any windows, but it did have a bathroom.

“A safe room,” I muttered, looking the area over again. No windows, designed to be hidden, and large enough to house several people comfortably for a long period of time. I went back to the painting, finding a set of steel doors that were designed to lock together to keep people out during an attack. I went back down the walls, tapping, and judging by the solidness of the walls, figured that there were probably several inches of steel hiding in there somewhere.

“Well, found my room,” I said as I went back out into the game room. The place easily matched the trophy room in size, and under the kitchen was another large bare room. Thoughts of Heather and her clothes-making had me deciding that this would be her private studio, and I’d probably need to get her some mannequins in my size so she could model outfits for me without having to try them on all the time.

The far door left me speechless. It was the same twenty square feet as the living room, but this was designed to be a private theater. Several rows of theater chairs were already set into the floor. In the center, near the back was the entertainment center and projector setup. Most of what it was designed for was to play DVD’s and VHS tapes, though I’m sure if it could play that then it could also be used as a TV, and thereby play cable. Smiling I left the room, traveling up the stairs to find Heather and Brian waiting for me.

“Do you like it?” Heather asked, looking a little apprehensive as Brian suddenly decided to take on astronomy and began gazing out the window.

“Loving it,” I said, smiling back. “I was thinking we could use the large room by the game room for your fashion studio. It’ll give you plenty of room to work on my outfits. Also, the safe room hidden under the painting is where I’ll sleep.”

“Are you sure? Why not one of the upstairs bedrooms,” Heather asked me.

“Well, with my sun restriction, one stray gust of wind on the curtains and I’m fried,” I said, and Heather nodded. “Besides, I need to stay out of sight during the day. That’s what happened to Jean. She was found by her doctor and he freaked. Called the police and they took her to autopsy. She’s lucky she wasn’t burnt when they took her out of the house.”

“Yeah,” Heather said, sounding kind of sad. “I just figured you’d want the grandest room in the place, or at least an upstairs view of the ocean.”

“I’m happy just being here,” I told her. “Since there’s only one bed in the whole place, today, you and Brian need to do a shopping trip with Constance. Go pick out beds and any remaining furniture that’ll be needed.”

“Also, we’re going to need dishes, cooking supplies, food,” Heather listed off as we drifted into the kitchen. “Do we need to get you anything in particular for your room?”

“A comfortable bed, silk sheets, wardrobe, dresser, maybe some mannequins,” I said, leaning on the countertop.

“Simple or fancy?” Brian asked me, leaning up against the fridge.

“Fancy,” I told them and Heather giggled. “We’re living the high life now. That means we have an image to uphold. That means from now on, everyone needs to start dressing like middle class, not like we’re all just recently escaped the projects.”

“I did just escape the projects,” Constance groused from where she lay.

“Suppose that goes with the million dollar house,” Brian groused also, just as my favorite song on the CD began to play. The simple guitar rift had me feeling pretty happy, as I began to sing along.

“I hear the clock, it's six A.M.
I feel so far from where I've been
I got my eggs, I got my pancakes too
I got my maple syrup, everything but you.

I break the yolks and make a smiley face
I kinda like it in my brand new place
Wipe the spots up off the mirror
Don't leave the keys in the door
I never put wet towels on the floor anymore 'cause

Dreams last so long
Even after you're gone
I know that you love me
And soon you will see
You were meant for me
And I was meant for you.”

I couldn’t help but think of Samantha while I sang the chorus and where we first met in college. The brunette had been a friend to me when I felt lost in the big ocean of life. We’d grown close over the years we spent together, but now the chorus hit me hard thinking of her as an ex-friend. I’d always remember her fondly, as a true friend if nothing else.

“I called my momma, she was out for a walk
Consoled a cup of coffee but it didn't wanna talk
So I picked up the paper, it was more bad news
More hearts being broken or people being used.”

I couldn’t finish the song as the part about my mother reminded me she was dead. Killed by the same man who had killed my father, my sister, and me then ruined my life by turning me into a vampire. I felt something wet on my cheek, finding it was another tear of blood. I had nothing to remember my family by. No photos, none of my heirlooms, it was all in boxes at Samantha’s.

Without warning I turned from my confused ghouls and stepped into the shadows, thinking of the one place I wasn’t supposed to go. Samantha usually ran in the early mornings, during the pre-dawn hour while it was cool and the streets were mostly empty. Hopefully I’d be lucky and all I’d have to do was just slip into her apartment and back out again without her knowing I was there.

I did seem to be luckier than usual. Maybe I could get lucky one more time and abscond with my property before Samantha found out I was there.

And maybe pigs will grow wings and fly.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27 – Choices (Part 2)

October 1, 2004 = Friday

~Damsel~


I sat at the bar of the Round, while one of my bartenders popped my nose back in place with a spoon. Most everyone left was upstairs repairing the damage the sheriff’s deputies had done when they stormed the place looking for Nines. Most of it was superficial, thankfully, but I was going to be out several grand on finding new tables and chairs and a few pieces of paneling. The bathrooms up there could go without for the most part, not that most of my clientele needed to use them anyway. Mostly just the ghouls who came in for a drink, provided they could find the blessed things during their drunk.

“This might hurt a bit,” Steve said as he pushed hard and my nose crunched back into place with a yell. If those damn fool Cammies didn’t believe that, then she’d never be trusted. I was just glad that we gave such a good performance, even if it did ruin my white tank top with my own blood.

“Geezus, Steve,” I said, wincing as my eyes watered. “I know people think I’m the toughest bitch in town, but my nose is tender.”

“Relax, Damsel,” he said as he threw the spoon into the wash basin. “If you don’t get it set right, it’ll heal wrong and your pretty face will be ruined. And I don’t want Michele breaking my hands because I let your pretty face get ruined.”

I smirked at that. “Least I can expect you to have my back. Think you can keep them working upstairs? I need to see Michele for a loan.”

“Them?” he said, looking up as if he could look through the floorboards. “They’re pushovers. Not a backbone in the entire lot. All talk and no show.”

If only he knew, I thought as I slipped off the bar-stool and went into my office, locking the door behind me. Within the privacy of my office, I stripped off my clothes, including my underwear and socks to get dressed in fancier clothes. Not that I needed to, but Michele loved her refinement and if I showed up looking like a hobo I would get treated like one.

We Anarchs couldn’t afford anymore gaps in our defense. Michele’s defection hadn’t gone the way it was intended, she was supposed to just walk away from it all and take up with the Camarilla as a primogen, which was her right as the oldest and most powerful of our clan. Even Isaac didn’t have the same power base as she did. But where Isaac built his empire solely in the movie industry, Michele built hers on the arts and music industry, with rare strays into Sci-Fi and fantasy movies that Isaac thought tasteless and without merit. Money didn’t buy all that much in kindred circles, it was the pull that mattered, and no one had pull like some of those music stars. To many people, they were more out there since they toured the country and performed for people live. Movie stars were rarely seen in public outside of their own select circles.

Thinking of Michele’s defection had me thinking of Otto. He was the one who had led the charge to attack Michele and had paid dearly for it. Michele had wanted to keep her status as a double agent secret, and that led to misunderstandings, and Otto paid for it with his life. Michele’s ghouls opened fire on him and his boys, and though Otto was fast enough to jump from his bike, he wasn’t enough to stop Michele from pouncing him with her sword and cutting him to ribbons. The others had frenzied, attacking randomly and making themselves easy fodder for her blade and celerity.

In the end, the ruse had worked in her favor, and she had been taken in wholeheartedly by the Cammies after that. She even had Cammie witnesses that Otto had attacked first, thereby avoiding her own trial. Not that there wouldn’t have been much of a problem with it anyway, as Lacroix was glad to be rid of the troublesome head of the Anarchs. Nines had stepped up to keep people from going off half-cocked, but more and more people defected every night, until now we barely had a riding pack.

Scowling, I looked in the mirror and surveyed my face. It didn’t take me long to clean my healing nose of the dried blood and wash the makeup from my face. Drying off, I put on a fresh layer of makeup, adding lipstick, and eyeliner where I normally wouldn’t. With my face on, I opened my wardrobe and pulled out my dress. It was a black sleeveless evening gown with a silver pattern on the bodice that hid my chest rather well. I stepped into the sumptuous gown, zipping it up. I then pulled out my black four inch heels that made the dress fall just at the right height. I opened up my jewelry box, pulling out my rhinestone necklace and slipping it around my neck. It hung right over my collarbone, filling the black sheer spot with a bit of color, then hung my rhinestone earrings from my ears to add more color to my dreary look.

Not my best look, but it was presentable in respectable circles. Lifting my patterned hem from the floor, I walked to the door, and picked up my clutch purse that held my license and some spare cash, and snatched my car keys from the hook. Heading outside, Steve gave me a wolf whistle in appreciation as I left out the back door and entered my Buick sedan. Once inside, I hit the interstate and went north to Beverly Hills.

Michele’s place was tastefully lit, accentuating its gorgeous artwork and majestic fountain, even at night. I pulled up to the front door, leaving my car parked where all could see. Everyone knew I came here, though most people thought that was because my sire also lived here. We were still on speaking terms, though most of that was because of Michele not allowing me to be thrown to the wolves after he abandoned me two months after he sired me. She had given me a job, couriering messages around Hollywood, allowing me to grow my contacts over the years. It wasn’t until several years later that I was able to start the Last Round, though at first it was meant to be a coffeehouse for my beatnik lifestyle. The problem was, by the time I had started the Round, the beatnik population had shrank so far that I wasn’t able to keep it going as a coffeehouse.

That was when Otto had started using the place as a meeting area for the Anarchs. I had snagged a deal with Doctor Cuddy, buying packets of blood from their overstock and helping keep her flagging hospital open. With a supply of blood, I was now able to serve everyone that came through my door, charging a good price for blood and helping flagging members of all clans the chance to feed without feeding the beast. After that, I took to dividing the customers, with the upstairs reserved for kindred and the downstairs used by ghouls and kine. Eventually though, the kine stopped coming, but I kept my old post at the foot of the stairs that way I could keep the rowdier people under control when tempers flared.

That’s actually how I got the handle Damsel the Den Mother. I usually helped everyone who came through my door slake their beast, feed and find companionship. After twenty plus years, it was hard to come to Michele’s and be reminded that when I was born, even when I was first sired, I had a different name. Not that I hated it, but it wasn’t me anymore. I wasn’t the damsel in distress Otto took me for when he first set foot in the Round. I was the den mother who made even the biggest, baddest and meanest Brujah back down and cower. I guess after all the years of people calling me Damsel, no one even bothered with my real name anymore.

“Mademoiselle Swan,” Remy said as she opened the door for me. “We did not expect you so soon after your most recent visit. Mon chère maîtresse is in the study,” she said, her accent heavily laden in french.

I walked past her, heading through the foyer and down the hall to my right. Michele had built her home on the idea of her study being spy proof. It was solid, with no windows to the outside world and walls a foot thick to deafen any sound from leaving. The room itself was a testament to the nights of old, lit by soft candlelight that never flickered because no breeze could reach their flame. The walls housed some of the most rare artwork found outside of a museum and included paintings and sculptures. It was enough to make any Toreador swoon.

Any that was but me. I didn’t swoon over artwork. I prefer a good speech in the vein of Martin Luther King Junior or Winston Churchhill. My sire is a gifted orator, that was what drew me to the square, but what drew him to me were my good looks and the fact that I was a cool hipster at the high tide of beatnik fashion. That was why my sire left me in the end, I fell out of fashion and he moved on.

“Elizabeth!” Michele said, taking small steps in her cream colored hobble skirt with a white top that accentuated her curves and wrapped her arms around me. “What brings you back so soon? Did something happen to Miss Flores?”

“I think she’s having problems with her beast,” I said, preferring to be direct on the issue. We didn’t have much time, and I wanted to return home before I got stuck here. It wasn’t bad, but just didn’t feel right.

“Come and tell me everything,” she said, leading me to the loveseat. We sat, and I was about to spill on Eliza when my sire walked in looking rather disheveled in a crumpled suit and with at least three tears in the jacket.

“For all that is unholy these nights,” he started to say, only stopping when he saw me. “Elizabeth, my dear, what on earth are you doing here?”

“I had a development with Eliza and needed to ask Michele about it. What happened to you? Get caught in a blender?”

“Sabbat raid,” he gruffed, going to sit opposite us in an armchair. “The savages raided me just after midnight. I was in the recording studio with my new group, the Fey, when they burst through my door.”

“How bad?” Michele asked, putting a hand over her mouth to cover up how shocked she was.

“The studio,” he said, hanging his head. “I was only able to salvage one of my girls. One of the feral beasts had tried to feed from her, but he lacked fangs and so ripped her throat out with his teeth. I ghouled her, trying to save her life, but she has yet to even speak. I left her with Remy who’s trying to get her cleaned up.”

“Les autres?” Michele breathed, asking about the other girls in the band. If he hadn’t changed things, the band had five members in it, girls he had helped raise from their barely teens to be beautiful and artistic goddesses whom he would mold into the next hit band. It was one of the few times I’d seen him stick to something on a long term plan, but the Cammies wouldn’t let him embrace willy nilly anymore. Maybe there was something to it after all.

“I tried. You know my thoughts on ghouls, but my blood couldn’t save them all. I fed it to three, but Sarah and Cherise stopped breathing just after. Only Dianna continues to draw breath, though she hasn’t uttered a sound since.”

Michele muttered in french, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for the girl. She probably didn’t know a thing about kindred society, and was in shock from her near death experience. But, if her vocal cords had been ripped out, she’d forever be mute even though her skin would knit itself back together with flawless precision because we couldn’t regenerate lost body parts. I honestly couldn’t think of a worse fate for a singer.

“Yes, it’s very tragic,” he said, deflating into the chair. “Four years of work down thrown into the well of hostility.”

“I’m sure you will be able to recreate your work in time, Monsieur Barker. You knew going into this that the kine are only temporary, anyway,” she said soothingly, consoling the bastard. I didn’t like what happened to his pet project, but I’d be damned if I gave him any consolation for ruining another set of lives.

“So, what is happening in the life of my childe?” he asked me, looking at me from where he sat in the chair. I swear I saw the man smirk at the thought I was in distress, and I had to repress the urge to slug him.

“Eliza has the problem, not me thankfully. She tried to make me a snack after the trial,” I said, and Michele gasped.

“Surely not?” she said, taking my hand.

“Surely did,” I responded back. “We were making out and suddenly she sinks her fangs into my neck like I was her personal blood doll!”

“Surely you jest? She attempted to diablerize you?” my sire asked, making light of what happened.

“Attempted? She put me in torpor!” I hissed at him. “She had an attack of conscious and left off just before she actually did kill me, thank god. Not that I had that much blood in me at the time, anyway.”

“And it was during your affair that she fed from you?” Michele asked and I nodded.

“Just nuzzled right under my ear and fed. She’s stronger than she looks, she never even wavered when I tried to resist, just kept right sucking from my jugular until I passed out,” I told them. “She used a rabbit to bring me back, which is about the only reason I didn’t stake the crazy bitch and leave her.”

“That and I’d be severely upset,” Michele said, dipping further into her French accent and adding an edge to her voice. She had the ability to be the softest person you ever met, but that was a ruse she used to make people underestimate her. “You know my plans for toppling this travesty of an empire Lacroix has wrought on us. Using Eliza to create unrest is crucial to my plans. I only wish I knew of her aptitude for politics, but there was nothing in her school file to indicate she wished to pursue such a career as such.”

“I was amazed she made the prince back down in front of the whole kindred population,” Barker added. “Are we sure she’s not a Sabbat plant?”

“What do you mean?” Michele asked, losing the edge and dropping back to her feminine ways.

“This Andrei that Simeon warned us of,” Barker started, leaning forward and putting his hands together in thought, “We know so little of him, except that he’s a Tzimisce fleshcrafter. Simeon said he’d rally the packs, but what if there was another, one whom he didn’t think would survive trial?”

“We already know she was embraced as a Sabbat,” Michele said, cocking her head as she thought. “You suggest that Miss Flores is only a cover, that he killed the poor girl and they are using another, older kindred to masquerade as her? For what purpose? The poor girl is watched everywhere she goes.”

“Yeah, but the idea does have merit,” I said, hating to admit my sire might be right about anything. “She’s too powerful, too good at being kindred.”

“Oui, my contacts in the tower said she’s worth millions already,” Michele added.

“Within a week. How does she do it if she’s not more knowledgeable than she seems?” Barker stated.

“I don’t know,” I said, thinking it over. “I think she really is just that clever. But she keeps making rookie mistakes.”

“What else could there be?” he asked me.

“What if it’s like the Ravnos we had in town a few years ago.. Right before he went crazy and we put him down?”

“I did hear the rumor that Zapathasura, their clan antediluvian, rose in Bangladesh the week before,” Barker stated. “His death at the hands of the Kue-Jin, the hunters and the lupines done their clan under. There’s not even a clan anymore.”

“You think the Lasombra antediluvian has risen successfully?” Michele asked, a little shock to her voice. “That could go bad for the Camarilla, and the world as a whole.”

“Maybe,” Barker said, leaning back in his chair. “But the last word I ever heard on him during my time in London was that his own childe killed him and confined him to the Void.”

“A place the Lasombra travel?” Michele asked him.

“Yes, that’s how their elders travel. I’ve heard it said that they can travel from shadow to shadow regardless of how far it is, but to get there, they have to go through the Void,” he told her, eyes closed in private thought.

“Is it possible that he could escape?” I asked, thinking of what Nines said about Eliza jumping behind Jack when he pulled his sawed-off on her.

“Not without a body,” my sire told me, then his eyes jumped awake as he sat up in his chair. “You’ve seen something?”

“She jumped behind Jack in the Round after he pulled a gun on her. Just appeared behind him and mule-kicked him across the loft.”

“Merde,” Michele whispered.

“This could be a disaster. If she’s fallen to their antediluvian, the ramifications to the city are undeniable!”

“Think of what a Methuselah could do to Lacroix, though,” Michele said, and I looked at her.

“I would sooner plant a bough of holly in her heart,” Barker groused, dropping his head into his cupped hands.

“Methuselah?” I asked, not familiar with the term.

“After a while, kindred evolve into something more than what we are now. The blood of kine will no longer sustain them, and they are driven by a powerful hunger,” Michele explained. “I never thought you’d meet one here, where so few of the elders have moved and thought you safe from their predations, but a Methuselah is to kindred what we are to kine.”

“They hunt us?” I said, not wanting to believe what I was hearing. “Wouldn’t our blood bind them?”

“They aren’t mere paltry beings that are so easily enslaved,” Barker continued. “They feed from us like cattle. If they were so easily brought low, we wouldn’t fear them so.”

I was about to mouth back at my sire when I remembered that Eliza resisted my command to quack like a duck. She asked about aphasia, but I just thought she hadn’t had enough of my blood. My shock must have shown on my face because both Barker and Michele started to cuss.

“She did something, I see it in your face,” he said, rising to his feet.

“After she brought me back, I asked her to quack like a duck. I thought it would make it easier to do my job if I had a measure of control on her, but she didn’t even acknowledge my command. I thought she just resisted it since she’s only a stage one ghoul.”

“Such a simple command should have been followed,” Michele said, rising herself and moving to one of the bookshelves containing old tomes. “For her to so blatantly defy you is proof she is becoming something more,” she added as she began to fiddle under the lip of a shelf.

“I think we might need to alert the city to the danger we all face,” Barker said, moving beside Michele as she pulled something from its hidden spot on the bookshelf.

“Non,” she said decisively, and I saw the edge form in the petite woman, the same edge I used to keep the Brujah in line. “We tell no one that Lasombra might have returned to kindred society. So help me Felix Barker, if you defy me on this I will not stay Remy’s hand from your throat.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” he said, stepping back from a woman who was a good foot shorter than he was as if she were a deadly snake. I smirked at thinking Remy might finally get revenge for all the things Barker had subjected her to during his time with Michele. That slimy bastard definitely needed taking down a peg.

“And the law would be on her side. I will see to that,” she snapped back as the old tome hit him in the chest. It wasn’t one I recognized, but it had easily seen better years. She sat to an antique rolltop and turned on a light.

“My sire, Louis had a ghoul with a penchant for writing. She traveled with my sire wherever he went, usually keeping notes on important people they met. One of them was Mithras,” she explained as she turned a page. I went over to look at the diary, but couldn’t make heads or tails of the scrawled words, recognizing a few as Latin. “Mithras was the prince of London for over eight centuries, and my sire was often forced to travel there for important functions of the royalty. Unfortunately, that meant he was under the auspices of the prince, and Madeleine often recorded their interactions.”

“What happened to them?” I asked, not remembering ever being told of her sire or his ghoul.

“Louis was killed by the Wehrmacht when they took control of Paris. He had tried to protect the artwork of the museum from their plundering hands and they shot him down for it. Madeleine was later killed by the Heer for rampaging in the street after losing her mind. That was why I left Paris on foot, hiding in shallow graves as we traversed to Spain to escape the Nazis. I could not even save my own artwork.”

“So what does this diary say of Mithras?” Barker asked.

“Here it is,” she said, sliding the diary to the side so we could read it, or at least Barker could. I had no use for the dead language.

“I have noticed my master on rare occasion return home in a rare mood of hostility,” Barker read for me.” On such occasion he has been with Prince Mithras, and all I can get in response is a mumbling of being fed from. Who could feed from a kindred? This thought scares me, for I have seen the power of my master move crowds in his favor. To see a kindred more powerful than he is a thought that should scare anyone.

“Third of May, Seventeen ought Seven. Tonight the Prince has come to our home. I had went to the cellar and procured a pitcher of blood from the ‘cattle’ there and had returned to the library to see the Prince feeding from my master. I wanted to run from the room but I felt my fears multiply until I sagged to the floor with rivers running from my eyes. It was only after the Prince had left that I was able to rise and attend my master, the fang marks of his recent feeding still evident on his neck. He has yet to rise, and I fear he may be truly dead.”

“Damn,” I said, thinking it was just like me and Eliza. We really had a Methuselah on the loose? Moving to No-where-ville suddenly sounded like the plan of the century.

“She goes on to say that he finally rose the next night, ravaging one of his blood dolls to death in a near frenzied state before calming down. They left London after that, sailing on a ship back to Paris.”

“He would often tell me not to travel to London for fear of meeting my end there at the hands of the prince, Michele said. “He said it was the eeriest thing he’d ever experienced. To be fed from, to experience sheer pleasure and pain at once, to know that his life was mere inches away from death and there was nothing he could do to stop it. These Methuselahs, she talks about them later in the diary. It took her the better part of fifty years to uncover what Louis knew of them. They are the ultimate predator, and the power they possess is untold of when they learn the powers of other clans.”

“What should I do then?” I asked her, not certain if I wanted to be close to Eliza again or not. “The way we kind of left things publicly, she’s not that close to me anymore.”

“What do you mean, child?” Barker asked me.

“She’s going to try to get in tight with Lacroix, see if there’s anything she can rip apart. When she left me earlier at the Last Round, she broke my nose as a way of signaling she wasn’t going to be with the Anarchs anymore.”

“You were seen, oui?” Michele asked me, looking at me with intent eyes.

“Two Nos on the rooftop nearby. Pretty sure they were Gary’s boys,” I told her.

“Pah,” she said, standing and taking short strides in her hobble skirt to one of her high backed chairs. “That sewer rat had to vote against me on principles of beauty. At least that Nazi Mueller I can understand opposing me, as he has since my days in Paris, but that sewer rat,” she spat, holding her hand as she thought over something, “That sewer rat will oppose me just because I am still beautiful.”

“And I suppose Scott is still mad over that little bet about that movie remake?” Barker asked smiling.

“That ‘movie remake’ cost me over a hundred million to make,” Michele said, shaking her head. “Just because it beat that zombie soldier film he was so proud of at the box office. And for your information, it was a prequel, not a remake. The originals did very well for themselves.”

“Yeah, well,” I said, trying to head off this argument before the sun came up and we all passed out arguing, “No one knew that Star Wars was going to be the hit it was. I still say it’s going to make you a billion dollars.”

“Time will tell, mon cher,” she said, smirking. “All I needed was one more vote that night to have her on the Primogen Council, and with her Anarch tendencies she would have listened to me and me alone.”

“How did you know she would side with the Anarchs?” I asked, wondering how she knew from such simple reports how Eliza would react on such a complicated issue.

“I did not,” she said, frowning a bit. “I did however gather that she is a trained martial artist and knew that Nines would be in the area when she would be passing through. Letting that Sabbat pack know that their intended target would be was a simple matter with a phone call, and with Nines there to save her,” she said, trailing off as I shook my head.

“You set her up to die?” I growled, ready to snap.

“No,” she said, sitting up and facing me. “I set her up to shift her loyalties. From such a simple thing, she now trusts in Nines Rodriguez, even going so far as to warn him that Lacroix was about to frame him for murdering Grout. Without that small bit of trust, we might as well shift our loyalties for real because he would be dead, and there is none that can rally the city under them.”

“I still don’t like it,” I said, sitting back on the love seat.

“As I told you when I made you, this life comes with drawbacks, my childe,” Barker told me as he sat in an armchair near Michele. “Often you will need to endanger or kill in the Final Nights, and to hesitate might mean you yourself will be the victim.”

“I know, sire,” I growled, mad for him making me feel like a childe again that was being told some things just had to be, “But they used an anti-tank gun on the limo. She could have been killed before she ever made it downtown.”

“Anti-tank gun?” Michele asked, looking between me and Barker.

“In this case, it launches an explosive designed to punch through armor and kill its occupants. The fact that she was kindred is probably the only reason she survived,” I explained to her. She really needed to learn her way around military weapons. “If they had flamethrowers, they could have incinerated her where she stood.”

“Which is why I’m glad the Sabbat like to make trophies of their kills,” Michele said defensively. “They would take her eyes to keep her from running away, her tongue to keep her somewhat quiet and her fangs to use as trophies. Sabbat packs are nothing if not predictable.”

“I think we’ve argued these points for long enough,” Barker said as he looked at his watch. “It’s already past six and the sun will rise in twenty minutes. If anyone should want me, or want to join me, I’ll be in my room upstairs,” he said as he stood and left the study. Remy came in as he left, with two glasses of warm blood and offered me one which I greedily took.

“Thanks, Remy,” I said, drinking the warm vitae she offered. It was warm and sweet, and with a clear head, I was able to feel almost alive and warm in my skin. Returning the cup to Remy I stood and stretched. “Well Michele, I was going to head home before the sun rose, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to borrow my old room.”

“Oui, mon chere,” she said, standing and offering her now empty cup to Remy. “My house is always available should you need it.”

“Monsieur Barker’s ghoul Dianna is set to sleep in the northern bedroom and I’ve already prepared Mademoiselle Swan’s old room,” Remy said as she stood to the side, ready to assist her mistress should the need arise.

“Merci, Remy. You are very helpful,” I said, thanking the ghoul who bowed before me.

“De rien, Mademoiselle Swann,” she said, as I stepped past her and headed up the stairs.

Upstairs, I went into the communal bathroom and washed my makeup off my face, wanting to do that before I entered my room. That was the problem with the communal bathroom. First one there got priority, and I was just grateful that Barker didn’t need it for anything. Stepping out of the bathroom and into my old bedroom, I found a platinum blonde sitting on the bed in her nightgown.

“Hello,” I said, and the woman flinched. She scurried back away from me, but didn’t make any sound. “Dianna, I’m not going to hurt you,” I said and she seemed to shrink away as I approached. Slipping out of my heels, I stepped into the closet and put on my silk nightgown and was surprised that Dianna was still waiting on my bed.

“Sweetie, are you okay?” I asked, and she rubbed her throat as she moved her mouth. I slipped in beside her on the bed, and wrapped an arm around the petite blonde. She was shaking from fear, and I held her close as I remembered a tune my mother used to sing to me when I was scared as a little girl. I think she got it off a movie, but it always put me to sleep.

“A gentle breeze from Hushabye Mountain
Softly blows o’er Lullaby bay
It fills the sails of boats that are waiting
Waiting to sail your worries away

It isn't far to Hushabye Mountain
And your boat waits down by the quay
The winds of night, so softly are sighing
Soon they will fly your troubles to sea

So close your eyes on Hushabye Mountain
Wave goodbye, to cares of the day
And watch your boat from Hushabye Mountain
Sail far away from Lullaby Bay

So close your eyes on Hushabye Mountain
Wave goodbye, to cares of the day
And watch your boat from Hushabye Mountain
Sail far away from Lullaby Bay.”

After I finished the song, Dianna was sleeping comfortably in my arms, and I let her sleep. I continued to sing songs from my childhood, keeping my tone soft to allow the newly minted ghoul a moment to sleep. I continued singing as long as I could after the sun rose, but the pull of sleep had me passing out before long and I slept with Barker’s ghoul in my arms.


=o=0=o=

~ Eliza Flores ~


Looking at the apartment complex in the pre-dawn light now that I was supposed to be dead was somewhat eerie. I hadn’t seen so much as a curtain move in the apartment her father rented for her in the ten minutes I had been standing here, and I finally decided it was safe enough. Samantha liked to go for a long run in the morning to help keep her in shape, and she usually did it in the morning when it was still cool and the traffic wasn’t bad.

Stepping into the shadow of the pillar, I stepped out in the familiar confines of Samantha’s one bedroom apartment. I didn’t want to get caught here, because I had so few options available then; kill or ghoul her. Killing her was something I didn’t think I could bring myself to do, and ghouling her seemed to be too harsh a lifestyle to force on her. Especially if it made someone lippy when they needed blood. Samantha’s lifestyle as a lawyer-to-be would keep her away during the day, so if she got lippy, I was liable to see it on the news right before the sheriff’s deputies came for me.

No, I needed to get my stuff while she was gone. Her running shoes were missing from beside the door, which was a good sign as I went into the hallway. I opened the door, still trying to be as quiet as I could so no one knew I was in here. I began to move things from the boxes in the bottom of the closet. I had just moved a box marked fragile off of one with my name on it when I heard Samantha speak behind me.

“If you don’t get on the ground right now, I’m going to splatter your brains all over the floor.”

I froze, momentarily panicked by being caught in the act of stealing multiplied by the fact that she wasn’t ever supposed to see me alive. My two choices came to mind, and very carefully I stood raising my hands to show my surrender.

“I said on the ground,” Samantha hissed at me, as I slowly turned around and faced her. Her face went slack as mine became visible, and the bat she held in a ready swing position fell from limp fingers to clatter on the floor.

“Liza?” she whispered, just as the sun came up high enough to start putting me to sleep. I leaned against the wall, torn between risking a violation of the Masquerade by stepping out or staying and going to sleep. I didn’t get much choice in the matter, as in the next moment, Samantha ran forward in her pajamas and wrapped herself around me, hugging me tight. “You’re home,” she sobbed, happily crying on my shoulder as I patted her back. We rocked back and forth for several minutes, and I decided that there was no way I could keep my humanity if I forced Samantha to think I was dead again. I was going to have to figure out a way to keep her from making a big deal of my return.

“I’m home,” I whispered, holding my one true friend. I could feel the sleepiness in me build, and between the wall and Samantha, it was all I could do to stay on my feet. I guess I was in this for the long haul now.

“What happened? I found your car stripped when you didn’t come home and I called the police,” she said, still crying as she hugged me. “Then two days later they found your purse next to that drum and they told me you were dead. I had to go the morgue to identify the body, but it wasn’t you. I’m glad it wasn’t you.”

“How did you know it wasn’t me? I heard the police confirmed it was me and the coroner closed the file.”

She pulled away, bring my left hand up to hold between us, and kissed my thumb. “I don’t think anyone has ever noticed this, but there’s a brown streak down the center of your thumb. That other body, the nails were perfect.”

I blinked at that. One fingernail was what she based her conception that I wasn’t dead on? “But, I was told you delivered my eulogy,” I said, stumbling like a drunk towards her bedroom. I was going to pass out soon, and I would rather make it to a bed than sleep on the floor.

“I was kind of forced to,” she said, shaking her head as she lowered me to the bed. She knelt in front of me and started pulling my boots off, but I wasn’t sure if she understood I was tired and wanted to sleep or if she wanted to help me change clothes. “Some of the students in your class wanted to have a wake, and I got pressed into it even though I kept telling them it wasn’t your body they found. I do have a Polaroid of your headstone though. Figured you’d want it for a laugh if I ever found you. So what happened? Where did you go?”

I sighed, not sure if I wanted to tell her everything, or how much I could tell her. I decided on telling her half of it anyway, the half I could tell her. “When I came out of confession after midnight mass, I found my car stripped. I decided that I was going to walk home since it wasn’t far back to campus when he showed up. His name was Simeon, and he offered me a ride.”

Samantha finished pulling my boots off and sat beside me, putting an arm around me. “He kidnapped you didn’t he?”

I nodded. “ He took me to a warehouse, and they took me downstairs to a bed. They ripped my clothes off and, well,” I said, not wanting to relive those terrible days even though they were burned into my brain forever. Samantha understood and pulled me in tighter. I knew the sun was now above the ground, and leaned heavily on my friend. “It lasted days, Sammie,” I told her. “I couldn’t even stay awake through it all. After, he,” I said, pausing and choosing my words. I didn’t want to say blood, so I opted for a word that I often used to describe my blood, “he gave me drugs, Sammie.”

Samantha hugged me tighter, and I put my head on her shoulder as I was getting more and more tired. I could feel my body shutting down and needed to sleep. “It’ll be okay,” she said, consoling me. “We’ll get you into rehab and we’ll take care of you. I’ll have my dad pay for everything.”

I yawned as I fought off the desire to sleep. My mind started to slow down, making it harder to think. Somehow, I figured I wouldn’t be able to step out through the shadows if I wanted to. “Sammie, I need to sleep, okay?” I asked her, slurring my words slightly. “But the drugs they gave me, you can’t let the light touch me okay?”

Okay, sweetie,” she said, laying me back in the bed. She began stripping me of my clothes, and I fought to stay awake. I no longer had any say in what she took off as my body became limp, and soon Sammie had me laying in my birthday suit on her satin sheets.

“I mean it,” I slurred, knowing I was about to slip off to sleep. “The sun will hurt me. Just cover me up and let me sleep. And don’t tell anyone I’m back. I don’t think I can take the strain” I said, and I felt something warm on my cheek.

“Sleep, sweetie,” I heard Samantha say. “I’ll make sure no one knows you’re here. We’ll get you counseling and rehab,” I heard Samantha say as I drifted into the darkness of sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28 – Choices (Part 3)

October 2, 2004 = Saturday

~Dianna~

 

It was soft and warm, so I knew I wasn’t back in the motel room. There was nothing warm about that room, damn rat trap anyway. I opened my eyes to find myself laying on the bosom of the redhead whose room I must’ve been in. She had been calming, even as I was freaking out over the deaths of my friends. She even sang me to sleep. I was careful to disturb her as I got out, not wanting to wake her.

For some reason, I wanted to find Felix. I couldn’t imagine why I felt I needed to find the slimeball, especially after the way he treated us girls, forcing us to become supermodels to appease his ridiculous ideas about beauty. The idea of the man trying to rip my throat out sent me scurrying to the bathroom for a mirror. When I woke up from the man who had tried to rip my throat out, Felix was tying a scrap of Sarah’s dress around it and telling me we should run. It still hurt then, so I didn’t argue with him and we skedaddled in his Audi.

I knew enough about where I was out to know I was in Beverly Hills, but the shock and trauma from last night didn’t let me remember much past that. After getting to the house, I was placed in a woman’s care, a women Felix called Remy. She was cute, about my height, if a little heavier and healthier with long wavy brown hair and sparkling hazel eyes. She had led me up to the bathroom and let me wash myself, even giving me a silk nightie to wear to bed.

She had explained that I was to sleep in the house that night, which was owned by her mistress, a woman named Michele. After being shown my room, I headed back to the bathroom for some relief issues, then was dumbfounded on which room was mine. I guess I chose badly because the redhead came in after I got comfortable on what was her bed, and frightened me.

I thought about it as I stood in the sunlight seeping through the shuttered windows, the speed with with Felix moved left him a blur, and I know I saw several bullets rip into him. I remember him also pulling a knife from his shoulder and me drinking from his wrist. I shuddered at what it added up to, but thoughts of Felix tugged at me, leading me out the door. On the landing outside, I turned to a door at the head of the stairs. How I knew, I couldn’t say, but I knew Felix slept in that room.

Want and need made me walk towards it. I couldn’t help but think that I wanted to open the door when my mind finally screamed at me to stop. At war with myself, I nearly bawled at the thought of what my brain and my body wanted and leaned against the door with my hand atop the knob. My brain wanted me to run, and my body demanded I open the door. It wasn’t until warm hands wrapped around my shoulders and led me down the stairs that the feeling passed.

After I was set on a barstool, I discovered the hands were connected to Remy. The brown haired woman was dressed in a silk bathrobe that was tied around her waist. I tried to speak, but no sound came out of my mouth. I rubbed my neck, but it wasn’t sore anymore, and I couldn’t even hum.

“Your throat,” Remy said in her thick French accent, “it still hurts?” I shook my head no, and she lifted my chin as she inspected it herself. “Can you make any sound at all?” I opened my mouth to speak, but again, no sound came out. I finally slumped on the stool, and shook my head.

“Then, I am sorry, young one,” she said as she patted my back in sympathy, “but that Sabbat bastard must have ripped your vocal chords out trying to feed from you.”

I tried to process what she was telling me as it sank in. I was already coming to grips that I wouldn’t be able to sing again, let alone speak. But the last bit it was hit me hard. She knew who had nearly killed me. I spun to face her, giving her an intense glare that demanded answers.

She sighed, then explained. “Our masters are vampires. They are part of an organization called the Camarilla and are violently opposed by the Sabbat. The bastard who ripped your throat out was trying to feed from your blood. Your master, Felix Barker, saved your life by feeding you his blood. You are his ghoul now. You can feel it, can’t you? That you want to go crawl into his bed?”

I nodded, turning back the counter where I crossed my arms and laid down my head. It was all adding up in my head fast, that everything she said was true. She sat beside me, putting her arm around my shoulders. I couldn’t help but stare out the window at the sun as it was still high in the sky. How long until it went down?

“Right now, you are capable of leaving if you choose,” she said and I perked up at that. “You’ve only tasted his blood once, in a week, you’ll crave it so bad you’ll lose your mind for a day. If you can make it through that day, you’ll be free. You will never crave him again.”

I picked up at that, and looked into her eyes. She smiled at me, then spoke softly, “You want to leave him, yes? To run away from this madness?” I nodded yes as she paused for my answer. If what my brain said was true was right, I didn’t want no part of it.

“Then you need to leave before your master makes you drink from him again,” she said and I looked at her.

“Surely you do not want to end up like me? I am my masters slave until her death, and even then I will not easily take another master if I so wished,” she said, then sighed. “We are ghouls. Mortals who are fed their blood to become something more. As long as we drink their blood, we are ageless. Sounds good, yes? It comes with a price,” she said as she got up and started to make coffee. “We are their servants, doing whatever they ask without regards to what we want or whether we live or die. For all intents and purposes, every word they say is law we must live by.”

I slumped at that. I didn’t mind living forever, but losing myself to be his slave. That rankled me at the core. Remy brought out a serving set and set it out for me. “You must make a choice. Stay or leave. If you stay, I know Monsieur Barker will not care for you very well. He does not like us ghouls, ever since my master used me to lure him to our home in Paris.”

She began to pour the hot coffee into a lightweight porcelain cup. “Monsieur Barker is not the sort to offer you his blood freely. He will make you beg for it, where my Michele offers hers freely to me.”

I thought about it as I sipped the coffee she offered. It boiled down to whether I wanted to accept Felix and become his slave. Well, as a pure bread American, not ever going to fucken happen. Grandpa Radar might actually break his pacifist streak to pass a fist across my cheek. ‘Can I leave?’ I wrote on the pad.

“Oui,” she said as she sipped her coffee. “He has given you no orders, yes? It makes it easier. Right now you at the first level of ghouling. You can resist, but its not easy. In a week, maybe less, you’ll want him so bad you’ll come crawling back. It will hurt, but if you don’t resist, he will own you.”

I put my head back on my crossed arms. I didn’t want this, any of it. I left Iowa to be a pop star, not become a slave. ‘Can you help me? I don’t have anything left,’ I wrote.

“Oui, I can,” she said, and I relaxed. “I can give you some of my clothes, we are about the same size. I do not have much cash, but if you need to return for any reason, please do so during the day. They must sleep then, and will have no hold over you.”

‘Can you tell me about them? Like what their weaknesses are and how to protect myself? Maybe identify them?’ I wrote on the pad.

“Not much,” she said, frowning as her jaw quivered. “My master’s laws keep me from telling you since you are not hers. Protecting yourself? They are powerful, but sunlight burns them. Stakes to the heart will stop them, and fire takes a long time to heal, plus it stops them and can make them run away. Anything else is wasting your time.

“Identifying them is easy, regardless of what type they are. Their pale skin usually is the first thing you will notice. If you get closer, you might see their fangs when they speak. Many of them are pretentious, and will overlook you, and they mainly stick to large cities where they can feed easily at night. Smaller cities and villages lack the night life to sustain their activities, so their you will be safe.”

I am so going to the farm, raise everything I need to survive and never leave it. Grandpa Radar could teach me everything I needed to know, and I’d stay far, far away from any kind of night life.

“Come with me,” Remy said, as she began to leave the kitchen. “We need to have you far away from here before the sun sets.”

Good, I thought as we went back upstairs. I wanted to be gone before Felix woke up.

 

-o-0-o-

~Eliza Flores~

 

I came awake in a murky blackness. It resembled the void I found Lasombra in, and the swarmy bastard was smiling as I faced him.

“Tonight is the night, childe,” he said, almost growling. “My power has finally grown and it is time for me to assert my will on this world again.”

“Over my undead body,” I said as I braced for his attack, then my eyes snapped open as I felt a jolt of electricity surged through my body, making my muscles spasm. The paramedics had me laying on the floor with wires running into a defibrillator machine, and I immediately pulled the wires from my chest before they saw that I had no heartbeat. I closed the top on my old pajamas, glad Sammie hadn’t left me nude on the bed.

“We got a live one,” one of them laughed as they helped me to a sitting position. “You alright ma’am? Any tingling, numbness, pain?”

“No,” I said as I imitated breathing deep as I fumbled to get my shades back on. “Must’ve taken one too many sleeping pills,” I said, trying to keep the cops out of this. Like I needed any more attention. The paramedics started to pack up, giving me the usual spiel about being careful taking sleeping pills or any other kind of depressant, and I assured them that I would be more careful in the future as I escorted them to the door. I had to step back when the door opened to reveal a sunlit parking lot lest I get burned by the light, a look at the clock over the stove telling me it was only four in the afternoon. Samantha stood in the corner, nervous as I ushered everyone out. It wasn’t until I looked back that Samantha even moved out of the bedroom door.

“I’m sorry, it didn’t look like you were breathing, and I kind of panicked,” she said, looking scared in the doorway to her room. I rushed over and put my arms around her and gave her a hug.

“It’s okay,” I said as I gave her a reassuring squeeze. “You did good.”

“I just didn’t want to lose you again,” she said, tears in her voice, as she held onto me. “So, I checked on some rehab places for you and most of them are right here in town.”

I pulled away, surprised she was still on about rehab. “Sammie, I don’t need rehab.”

“You so do,” she said arguing with me as she followed me into the front room. “I don’t even have sleeping pills, and last you were in this apartment, you didn’t use them either.”

“No, I didn’t,” I started to say, sitting on the sofa and well clear of the little light coming through the closed blinds as Sammie took a spot next to me and we turned to face each other so we could better talk.

“In Bobby Donnell’s criminal class, we were taught to examine a suspect’s habits and how they changed to indicate criminal activity. So let me tell you what I see when I see you. You leave here, you get abducted and when you come back, I can accept that you passed out from exhaustion. But to wake up and take sleeping pills? It tells me two things, one you want to die, or two, you’re addicted to drugs. So what is it?”

“Killing yourself is a mortal sin, Sammie,” I told her softly. “And I’m not addicted to drugs.”

“Tell me another one,” she said, scoffing at me.

“Sammie, what I’m involved in is serious business.”

“Then tell me about it,” she pleaded. “I can help you.”

“You can’t,” I told her and she made to get up. “Sammie, I didn’t escape. I was rescued by a super secret organization that I’m forced to be part of. They are serious about their secrecy. I’m not supposed to tell you I’m alive, and if you make a big deal about this, they will kill me and you too.”

I hung my head, trying to think how to explain this without her making a scene. “I can give you three options here. One, you take the drug I’m on and join me. Your life doesn’t change, and I get to stay a part of it. Two, we lie. I tell everyone you’re under the drug and I risk my life when tell you things I swore to keep secret, and if they don’t like it, if you spill the secret at all, they kill us both. Three, I just walk out and you forget about me, and you quit searching for me. Maybe one day I can come back.”

“Your options suck, by the way,” she said, leaning back at her end. “So, what kind of secrets are we talking about anyway? That you kill people? Is Elvis part of your ranks?”

I shook my head. “Not if you can help it. Loose lips make coffins with us, so say the wrong thing to someone,” I said, pausing to let it sink in.

“Then I’m forced to plug the leak I made,” she said, finishing my line of thought. “Well, besides being able to see and talk to you, anything else I should know?”

“Not before you’re a card carrying member of the club,” I said while I reseated myself to cross my legs. “I can guarantee you a better life, though. I’ve got money now. Like millions of dollars.”

“Any life with you is better,” she said, pulling her knees up to her chest. “What can you tell me about this drug?”

“It’s highly addictive, has stimulant uses and lasts about a month between doses like a hormone injection. It’s designed to keep the people we use compliant, and under our control,” I told her and she nodded in understanding. “Plus, I think it has ecstasy like properties that produce love-like feelings and it has a few properties that I think would seriously help you as a lawyer in the courtroom,” I said, thinking of my presence abilities that seemed to pass on to my ghouls.

“So, if I went option number two?”

“I’d treat you as if you were, which risks my life as well as yours. Either way, you’re my responsibility and any leaks you cause are blamed on me. Those leaks will get us killed if not immediately plugged. I’ll admit now I’ve killed a few people, but if I can, I don’t.”

“Well, you know what my dad says about secrecy. I was raised on it so I could keep attorney-client privilege when I became a lawyer. You’re secret is safe with me. Besides, if I like what I hear about that drug, I might take it and seal the deal.”

“Are you sure? There’s no getting out of this without a coffin of you’re own,” I asked her, though I wanted her to say yes.

“I am,” she said, extending a hand and taking mine. “I take option two.”

“Let me show you something,” I said, unfolding my legs and standing up. “Let’s go into the bathroom,” I said, leading her into the tiny room and pointed her towards the mirror.

“Are you going to show me my split ends?” she asked and then I stepped behind her. She didn’t notice me until I put my head on her shoulder then picked up her toothpaste and held it in front of her.

“Why,” she started to say when I dropped the toothpaste and it appeared in the mirror. “Holy shit!” she exclaimed as she backpedaled into me. I held her by the shoulders and extended my fangs as she looked at me.

“This is the club I joined,” I told her calmly with my fangs fully extended. “The bastard who kidnapped me and tortured me also made me a vampire. We use the term kindred,” I told her and retracted my fangs. “For the most part, we don’t harm the innocent, but we must keep our existence secret. No one must ever know I’ve risen again as an undead.”

“Y-Y-Y-you,” she stammered as she bolted into the bedroom and fell on the bed. I sauntered in behind her and took in her pale complexion. I sat on the bedside and placed a hand calmingly on her leg.

“I’m not going to harm you, Sammie,” I told her soothingly, letting my presence flow out in an attempt to calm her. “But this is why I wanted to come, get my stuff, and slink back out. I was hoping you were out running,” I said as I finally found her running shoes by her dresser which sparked another question. “Why weren’t you by the way?”

“I always ran for you,” she admitted, balling herself up against the headboard. “I can still remember that comment you made that I was getting a little chunky for that cocktail dress I love so much. So I began running so I’d fit in it and look good for you.”

“While living, I must have had a blind spot the size of San Francisco to not see it,” I said, kicking back to lay on the bed. “You know, I’ve had two women come onto me strong since I got turned.”

“And?”

“One of them used me to get herself off,” I admitted, thinking of Angel as she danced naked on my lap with her leg pressed against my bare womanhood.

“Sounds hot,” she said, shifting around to lay next to me. “So what else can you tell me about this drug of yours? Is it even a drug?”

“No, it’s my blood,” I told her and she blanched. “Kindred blood binds the person who drinks it to the kindred they drank from. But there are benefits. You get some of our special powers. Two of my ghouls can attract any guy they want, even against that guys will, and should be able to influence an entire room to feel whatever they want. I know I can make an entire theater feel how I want them to feel, got a man out of an imminent execution that way.”

“So if I had that power...” she said as she thought about it, then her mouth went slack as it reached it’s conclusion.

“You could influence a jury to see things your way and no one would be the wiser,” I said as she leaned back against the headboard to think. “Some of the other things I can do is manipulate shadow, even step through it to safety if need be, and increase my strength greatly. I once snapped a bat in two with just my hands.”

“Wow,” she breathed as that sank in. “So what are the drawbacks?”

“Well, for one you have to keep taking it every month,” I told her as she started nodding. “Two, as your master, you become my slave. If I give you an order, you must follow it.”

“Like a hypnotist?” she asked and I shook my head.

“You can’t be hypnotized to do something you don’t want to do,” I said, citing an old maxims of magicians everywhere. “But, once you are drinking my blood, you can never say no to me. Ever. Even if I tell you to kill yourself.”

“That’s harsh,” she said. “So, can you force people to drink it?”

“Yes, I could,” I told her and she blanched again. “There’s no acceptance needed with it. I can even slip it to a person as a drink with them thinking it’s something else.”

“So, what happens if one of these other ‘kindred’ find out I’m not taking your blood and dose me with theirs?” she asked me, and I blanched at the answer that I was forced to give her.

“You could sell me out and be forced to cause a masquerade break which as your supposed domitor, I’d be held responsible for,” I told her. “You wouldn’t be able to warn me either, if you were told to not tell me about it.”

“Kindred blood can do that?” she asked me in an astonished voice.

“Last night I made a girl sell herself as a hooker even though she didn’t want to do it,” I said, feeling guilty about it even as Sammie scowled at me. “It’s a problem I have to face that I’m losing myself. We call it the beast, but what it means is I’m capable of losing my humanity and empathy. If I’m not careful, I could wind up as a real monster.”

“Do the other kindred have this problem?” she asked and I nodded.

“They do, but you seem to get used to it after awhile,” I told her, then added, “Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m still so young and adapting to my conditions. I’ve only been kindred for a week.”

“So you couldn’t come back to me until recently,” she said as she moved closer to me. “I’m glad you’re here though. Are there any other things about taking your blood I should know?

“It seems as though the people who take it become infatuated with me, and sometimes not in healthy ways,” I told her. “Brian can’t get me off his mind, Heather works endlessly on a coat for me, and Angel used me to get herself off. I imagine soon they’re going to start fighting for my affection, which considering two live with me in my new beach house will be just lovely.”

“I’m going to have to have to see this house of yours for myself,” she teased, and I couldn’t help but smile.

“Well, once the sun goes down I can take you out there on my Harley,” I said and she smiled.

“One of the things you learn as a lawyer is the art of compromise,” she said. “You said you can get around through the shadows, can you take me with you?”

“Um, I guess,” I said, smiling at her acceptance. “Once you know where I live, you can bring my stuff out to me.”

“Sounds good,” she said as we stood up. “I might even move out there if I like it, though dad might stop by when he hears about moving into a beach front condo.”

“Condo? Try mansion,” I said and her jaw dropped. “It’s a thirty million dollar, five bedroom and with five full and three half baths. It also has it’s own theater room, weight room, game room, library, study and safe rooms.”

“Says the woman who before she was kidnapped was sleeping on my couch,” she snarked in disbelief. “What are you doing, knocking over banks?”

“One of the groups of kindred pretty much owns all money worldwide,” I said, remembering what Walsh told me about the Ventrue. “That in mind, they can be pretty liberal with it to make other kindred do what they want, sometimes to the tune of millions. That’s actually what I’ve been up to since I was turned, doing the business of the older, and much more powerful kindred.”

“Who in turn pay you in millions?” she said, nodding absentmindedly. “Guess it works out alright,” she said as she moved past me to grab my boots before turning back to face me. “Shall we?”

“Sure,” I said, taking her in my arms and stepping into the shadows with my powers. When I stepped out, we were right where I wanted to be, the safe room that would be my room. The lights were on showing a bed that was partially assembled and a mannequin wearing Heather’s finished duster. A few other boxes were leaned against the wall, the pictures on them showing them to contain a nightstand and dresser. I was just about to send Sammie out to find my ghouls when Brian and Heather came in carrying a large wooden object that seemed to be a freestanding closet between them.

“Mistress!” Heather exclaimed, dropping the clearly heavy piece of furniture much to Brian’s dismay. “You’re awake in daylight!”

“Heather!” Brian yelled as he held the piece on his own. I reached over and hefted the piece, using my potence to steady it before it fell. Brian and I set it down in a corner, and Heather grimaced when I faced her.

“Sorry,” she said, making herself small against the wall near the entrance. “I just got carried away at seeing you. You just walked out.”

“Had to take care of some personal business,” I explained as Sammie came to join me. “Everyone, this is Samantha Timms. She’s a friend of mine from when I was still breathing.”

“Glad to meet ya,” Brian said extending his hand. “Ya’ll just get up or something?”

“Pretty much,” she said as she took his hand. “When she showed up in my house this morning, she didn’t tell me anything about her new status. I kind of flipped when I checked on her and she wasn’t breathing. I thought she had overdosed.”

“OD’ing usually leaves lines of vomit around the mouth,” Brian said, and I shrugged at Samantha’s questioning glance.

“Well, she’s here now,” Sammie said, trying to defuse the situation. “So what’s going on with all the furniture?”

“Well,” Heather said as she turned to gesture at the stuff already stacked into the room. “We did the shopping today and picked up the furniture we needed. It’ll probably take us a few days to get it all pieced together, but we’re starting to move forward.”

“Good,” I said, glancing around again, my eyes settling on the duster. It looked finished, and I ran my hand over the material. “Is it ready?”

“Yeah,” she said as she moved to remove the it from the mannequin. “I even fashioned a leather holster for that katana you brought home. It’s hidden in the back of the coat.”

Heather slipped it off the mannequin and I slipped my hands down into it and she pulled it up on my shoulders. It fit rather well, and the katana was almost unfelt on my back. Heather buttoned it up, and I flexed the material to find it gave where I needed it to.

“You do good work, Heather,” I said and Heather beamed at my appreciation. I reached under the rear panel for the sword, unsnapping the safety and pulling it free. It wasn’t easy to get out, but with the sword free, I was now able to face another kindred in direct combat if need be. Sliding the sword back into it’s scabbard wasn’t easy, but with both hands, managed it quite well.

“That looks handy,” Sammie said as she studied it. “Bulletproof?”

“I don’t even know how to make anything like that,” Heather admitted as she turned to Samantha. “Can you tell me how it’s done?”

“You need kevlar,” she said, explaining it to her. “You can order it in a bolt just like any cloth, and cut it to fit. Adjusting the thickness is how you adjust if you want to be lightweight and only bulletproof against handguns, or heavyweight and protect against all but armor piercing bullets.”

“I guess if it can protect against handguns it can protect against stakes and arrows?” I asked and Samantha nodded.

“Your average arrow doesn’t pierce any more than a nine mil,” she said, and I looked at her. What all did her dad teach her?

“You are going to become my new best friend if you can get me some,” Heather said which made Samantha chuckle as she said, “Sure, no problem.”

“Well, now that we have that out of the way,” I said as I slipped the duster off and put it back on the mannequin. “Are my clothes unpacked yet? Or are they still in the car?”

“Unpacked, but in the garage,” Brian told me. “I’ll be right back,” he said as he disappeared down the hallway to my exit.

“Wow,” Sammie said as she watched him go. “They really do follow your orders. Even perceived ones.”

“Yeah,” I said as Heather excused herself to get some chairs. “Now that I’m awake, it’s time for them to get me ready to meet the night.”

“But it’s still like five in the evening,” she said as she looked at an imaginary watch on her wrist. “Sunset won’t be till six thirty.”

“No, but they can get me ready for when it does come,” I said as I looked around the room. With nothing to do but to wait, I looked things over. “Besides, it keeps them busy.”

“They look good, though. Normal,” she said as she followed me. I smirked, wondering where she was leading this. I could hear someone running down the stairs, and turned to the hallway leading to my room’s only exit to see Constance come running in, almost out of breath.

“I wondered if you were coming back,” she blurted out between pants. “I was upstairs doing my geometry homework at the table when Heather said you were back. I guess when you can teleport around the sun doesn’t mean anything, huh?”

“Not really,” I said, as I looked to the bed. “I still need to sleep like anyone else, though, and currently that’s when the sun is high. If it weren’t for the EMT’s giving me a thousand volts into my heart I probably wouldn’t be awake right now.”

“Ouch,” Constance said as she winced in sympathy. “So who called the ambulance, anyway.”

“I did,” Sammie said as she stepped forward. “She didn’t have time to tell me what she was, just to not let the sun hit her when I put her to bed. When I checked on her, she wasn’t breathing and I thought she had died.”

Constance chuckled as she backed up to me, her movements slow and sultry. “Yeah, well, I trust you know what she is now?”

“She told me,” Sammie said, eyeing Constance as she wrapped an arm around my neck to pull my head down to her neck. I knew where this was going, allowing it only because I was hungry.

“Well, around here,” she said as she moved her hair off her neck as she leaned her head over to give me a better access, “I’m the one that satisfies her.”

I could feel the blood thrum in her neck as I brushed my lips over the bare expanse. I looked up to see Sammie eyeing me, rooted where she stood by fear. Wrapping my arms around my ‘meal,’ I extended my fangs so Sammie could see them, before sinking them slowly into Constance’s neck. She gasped as they pierced her skin, allowing me to drink her blood. Each gulp of her precious blood caused her to moan in ecstasy, writhing in my arms as I fed.

Once I finished drinking and pulled my fangs from her neck, I looked up at Sammie to see her eyes were still glued to the spot where I had fed from. I licked Constance’s neck clean, then picked her up in my arms and set the teen on the uncompleted bed.

“Is she?” Sammie asked, and I shook my head.

“She’ll be alright in a minute or two,” I said as I stepped away from the sleeping teenager. Sammie moved to inspect her as Heather brought a pair of chairs in and set them down. I took one as Sammie inspected the now nonexistent bite marks.

“No wonder kindred are considered myth,” she said as she stepped away from Constance as she rested from my recent feeding. “What happens to her now?”

“She’ll wake up, be weak for an hour or two, go to bed I think and wake up tomorrow feeling fine,” I said as Sammie took the other chair Heather had brought down. Heather herself had left, but I could hear Brian’s heavy footfalls coming down the stairs in the quiet house.

“So, was she writhing in pain or,” she asked, stopping as she caught my eye.

I chuckled, remembering Constance’s own words on it. “No, in pleasure. Apparently my bite is its own orgasm now, and she loves to get off on it.”

“How old is she anyway? And where did you get her?”

“Don’t know,” I said, shrugging as Brian brought my clothes in in several large cardboard boxes. “I found her on the street hooking for money. I bought her services so I could drink from her and she was back at the corner when I was on my way home. I don’t know much about her home life, but I think she was molested.”

“Definitely molested,” Brian said as he set the boxes by me. “Old man was using her as his private...” he started to say but shut up at my glare. “You get the picture, I take it?”

“Vividly,” I said then looked at what could only be half my clothes. “Go get the rest, including my shoes,” I said and Brian left.

“I couldn’t leave her on the street, and since she had the sweet blood of the learned, decided to keep her around. It’s been good so far, and it helps keep me from getting infected by bad blood,” I said and she made a curious face at that knowledge. “Yes, we can’t get sick, but we can become carriers of disease. Like the recent plague problem they had in LA. Kindred were responsible for that.”

“How do you deal with infected kindred?” she asked and I blanched a bit.

“I killed all but one,” I told her. “It wasn’t that they were unaware that they were doing it, they were modifying it to where it would make zombies out of the infected. Only kindred were immune, and we were the carriers. Even our ghouls got sick and died. So I killed them and destroyed their precious little disease.”

“And got paid for it?”

“A full million,” I said and she whistled. “Plus, one of the plaguebearers was a woman in my size that had a motel room full of fine clothes and jewelry that I took with me. It also helped with the masquerade because people will just assume she left.”

“Great,” she said as Heather came back with the make-up kits. She set them up on a nearby dresser, and I watched as Sammie built up the nerve to ask me something. It was clear she wanted to know more about my new world.

“So,” she said and I nodded for her to go on. “I guess you don’t need to feed again tonight?”

I cocked my head to the side as I thought about the impetus behind the question, smiling to let her know I wasn’t offended in any way. Truth was, I was still hungry as Constance didn’t have much blood in her that I could skim off. Was Sammie wanting me to feed from her?

“Truth is,” I said, slowly working my way the question so I didn’t seem to eager, “Constance doesn’t have as deep a blood supply in her right now due to the constant feeding. If I keep going at her like I do now, she may develop anemia or something later, so I try to keep from taking more than a pint or so at a time. So, yes, it’s not as satisfying as I’d like.”

“Oh,” she said as she turned her head to look back at Constance, clearly thinking about offering me her blood.

Brian’s heavy footsteps on the stairs told me he was about to enter the room. When he came in, Heather was still sifting through the make-up kit as she got ready to prepare me for my day. “Set the box down and leave us, Brian,” I said to my ghoul. He did, leaving without making a fuss. Sammie watched him go, before turning her eyes came back to mine.

“They’re like ants,” she murmured as she watched Brian leave and Heather come over with the make-up and start applying it.

I sat still as Heather worked, my eyes closed or open as she dictated. When she was done, I stood and started to go through the boxes, laying out my clothes for the night. Constance woke up about that time, only moving around on the bed so she could watch us while she laid down.

My clothes for tonight seemed to consist of leather pants, big surprise, another one of those spandex tops and a sports bra. I dressed quickly, but my shoe selection left a lot to be desired. I finally settled on the motorcycle boots Sharron had once given me. I could at least trade them for the boots I had at Sammie’s if she wanted to go home.

“Heather, would you mind checking to see if the sun has set, yet?” I asked and my ghoul moved to find out.

“So, still hungry?” Sammie asked as she smiled wanly as she mustered up her courage.

“Sure,” I said as I offered her a hand. Taking it, I pulled her to her feet so that she was facing me. She chuckled nervously, and I smiled a toothy smile.

“So what do I, uh,” Sammie said, suddenly unsure of what she needed to do.

“Just make out with her,” Constance said blearily from the bed. “She’ll take care of the rest. Just keep you hair out of the way.”

“Oh,” Sammie said, as I spread my arms. Sammie stepped into my embrace, and laid her head on my shoulder. I used a hand to move her hair from her shoulder, and she shuddered. I brushed my lips over her neck, feeling the thrumming of her artery as it pumped her life giving blood.

My fangs unsheathed themselves and I bit softly into her neck. Sammie bucked hard into me, her arms wrapping around my waist as I bit softly, her blood seeping into my mouth and down my throat. She moaned as I fed, my slow intake of her blood causing her to writhe in pleasure in my arms.

I kept feeding, my bite going deeper as I fed from my best friend. It wasn’t until her blood started to thin that I pulled my teeth out of her skin and licked what little blood off the closing wound. For once I wasn’t left supporting my victim, but she was still loopy. I guided her over to the bed, where Constance guided her to sit beside her. I was only now noticing Heather as she stood in the hallway, standing quiet and respectful while I fed.

“The sun is almost set,” she said and I nodded my understanding. Soon, I’d be able to show Sammie my beachfront mansion.

“Close the blinds on this floor,” I told Heather, who nodded before turning to leave.

It took a bit, but Sammie finally snapped herself out of her funk, moaning in the ecstasy she still felt. “That’s a rush.”

“Now you know why I stick around,” Constance said beside her. Sammie just nodded numbly, her hand rubbing at her neck.

“How about a quick tour,” I asked her and she smiled. “First welcome to my room. It’s the safe room in the house, but I kind of like it because it keeps me out of sight and mind.”

“I guess that’s a big thing when you can burn in the sunlight,” she said and I nodded.

“One kindred screwed up her life by getting caught on her bed by kine, our word for humans,” I said and she looked horrified. “She’s okay now, but it was rough on her. I figure it’s best for me to stay hidden. Look at what happen when one person noticed I wasn’t breathing.”

She blushed at that, muttering,”It’s just freaky to see you laying there and not breathing.”

“You should try posing her sometime,” Constance said as she chuckled. “Since she can’t see herself in the mirror, I once drew cat whiskers on her while she slept.”

“So, still moving in?” she asked as she rose and looked around the sparse room.

“Just started today,” I said watching her. “Kind of hard to do the shopping when you can’t get out during the day. Still,” I said as I looked around the room, “doing the best I can for now.”

“I can help them with that,” Sammie said as she shook her head at something she found. “I know the stores that sell a better grade of furniture, items that better belong in a house like this.”

“We went all over to all the best places,” Constance told her. “What more is there?”

“A lot, actually,” Sammie said as she opened the new wardrobe. “This piece is good, actually. Real wood. Particle wood might be cheap but it’s the real wood that lasts and make people take notice.”

“Well,” I said as she came back to stand near me. “Monday, you can take the ghouls out for some more shopping.”

“Would love to,” she said smiling at me. “In fact, I’d love to spend the day with them, see what they’re like when you’re not around. Maybe ask them some questions about what their life is like now.”

“Interested in the other side of my life?” I asked her and she blushed.

“Well, I could definitely use your abilities to influence people to my benefit,” Sammie said. “So, what’s next?”

 

=o=0=o=

 

“Well, that’s the house,” I said as we stepped into the garage.

“Wow,” Sammie said, now that it was just the two of us. “It’s a great place.”

“Thanks,” I said as we moved down the garage to where my Harley was parked. I couldn’t help but wince at Heather’s car as we passed it, figuring it was another thing I’d have to change. Well, maybe when I see Walsh again I could ask him about replacement cars.

“Wait!” Heather yelled as she came bursting through the door from the house. She was carrying the duster over one arm and my messenger bag and gun holster around her neck. “Do you want these?” she asked as she came to a skidding halt in front of me.

I smiled as I took the gun and belt from Heather, slipping the belt around my waist and putting the holster where it belonged. Heather held the pistol with two fingers, as if she were afraid the gun might bite her, and slipped it into the holster and buckled it in. When I put the duster on, I checked to make sure the sword was still in its sheath, which it was, and fastened the buttons all the way up. With it properly fastened, I reached back for the sword, then the pistol, finding both were accessible.

I then eyed the messenger bag, but shook my head when Heather offered it to me. I had thought about taking it, but decided traveling light might be the difference in being seen or staying hidden.

Turning to Sammie, she giggled at seeing me. “You look like an assassin, or something,” she said, trying not to burst into a fit of laughter.

“Considering I have to go break into the Natural History Museum, it’s fitting,” I said and her mouth dropped. “You know that sarcophagus thing that’s been in the news this week? I have to steal it tonight.”

“Be careful,” she said as I slipped my leg over the Fat Boy and lifted the kickstand.

“I will,” I said as she slipped on behind me. “Last thing I want is to die.”

“Good,” she said as I started the Harley. Heather raised the door for me and I eased out the garage and down the road.

The glow of sunset was fading in the west, and I had my best friend at my back as I rode down Highway One. Life was looking good and soon I’d have my second boon paid to the prince. All I needed to do was sneak into the museum and steal a big box.

Easy peasy. Right?

Chapter Text

Chapter 29 – Museum Break-In

October 2, 2004 = Saturday


After dropping Sammie off at her apartment, I headed for the museum. Thankfully, Sammie had told me how to get to the museum so I wasn’t going to get lost and made good time to the museum where I parked out in the parking lot, just west of the building.

I looked up, to see the air conditioning system on the roof in the waning light. I smiled, then jumped into the shadows cast by the large system so that I was standing on the roof. I stepped around the AC system to find the roof access on the other side as I donned a ski mask I had borrowed from Sammie and my old leather gloves. I then pulled my lockpicks and opened the door, heading downstairs to get scared by a velociraptor posed as if attacking.

I pulled my pistol and was about to fire when I realized it was a trick. Still, I approached it cautiously, keeping the pistol ready. A note on the wall, caught my eye and I pulled it off to read it. ‘Damned funny! You scared the crap out of the cleaning crew. Now would you put the damned raptor back in its exhibit? Oh, and don’t leave your keys lying around or Marshall will fire your ass.’

I tossed the paper aside, and headed through the door, scanning the exhibits near me. Not finding any missing a guest, I headed left to check out those exhibits when I hear the footsteps of a guard coming my way. I ducked into the shadows, covering myself with them and let the guard walk right by me. It was kind of nice, if weird to be so easily overlooked. Once he was past me, I let the shadows go and slipped out and around the corner. Still, no exhibit was missing it’s raptor, so I started looking around for a way downstairs. I found one with a T-rex skull over the stairs, and was heading down when I heard a sound like a roar. My ears pinpointed it to the skull, my eyes just barely seeing the glint of the speaker before the sound of running shoes made me vault over the railing to crouch in the darkness under the stairs. Several guards with the guns out checked just about every square inch around me, while I stay cowered in the shadows. I could almost hear Lasombra whisper kill them in the back of my skull, but I refused as I waited it out.

Once they left to patrol other areas, I kept to the shadows as I looked around for the offices. One door was marked Museum Security, which I avoided like a plague. Lord knows I didn’t want to just march into their office and say hello. The next door, across the atrium from me, was marked with an authorized personnel only sign. I checked that door, finding it locked so I pulled out my lockpicks and quickly forced my way through.

Inside was a small cubicle setup of four desks, with a door in the back. I checked it, finding it was also locked. I had to try several times to get through the lock, finally aligning the pins in the correct sequence and opened the door to reveal a staircase going down. With the heightened security, I stuck to the wall as I went down, then almost had a panic attack as a guard turned right in front of the stairwell as he waited by the door to the stairwell.

It was a good thing I did, because waiting for me in the doorway was a security guard who had his hand on his holster as he looked around. I backed off, trying to figure out what the best way forward was going to be. If I charged the guards, alarms were sure to go off and bring the local cops. That left me with going in silently, but just how far could I push it? Could I jump through shadows I couldn’t see?

I inched back to the railing, and waited for the guard to look away. When he did, I vaulted the railing as silent as a mouse before ducking under the stairway and back out of sight. The area didn’t have as much shadow as I wanted as it was lit by a pair of vending machines, but it was out of sight of the guards. I looked past the guard to the shadow on the floor, and pushed my sense of sight into it. I looked around, finding another shadow running along the ceiling. I concentrated, and managed to push my sense of sight into it and was congratulated with seeing the hallway with a green line running down it. I followed a shadow along the wall and soon was looking down a different section, this one protected by camera. I concentrated once more, then jumped into the shadow under the camera, finding myself past most of the guards.

Dropping down, I moved slowly along the wall into an area that didn’t have doors large enough to get the sarcophagus inside. Those doors I passed, not wasting my time with searching for miscellaneous artifacts. Besides, the sarcophagus was likely to be under heavy security, which meant likely behind more security guards. Following the green line, I found where it intersected a red one, which ended at a secured door with a keypad. Figuring I hit paydirt, I was just about to pop the keypad apart to try and force it when I heard a guards footsteps coming. I ducked around the corner and used the shadows on the wall to watch him come at me. When he was about to turn the corner, I snapped back to my own eyes and charged him,

He wasn’t expecting my attack, and I spun around to plant him hard against the door. It held, but he was knocked senseless and I pressed an elbow into his neck to choke off any cries for help while my hand held his wrist well away from his gun.

“Code,” I growled, as I held him there with my potence as he fought me. My chokehold was strong enough to make him gasp, so I backed off the hold and sucked in some air.

“Two-three-five-eight,” he breathed, and I quickly thumped him against the door to knock him out, then drug him to a nearby office with a still unlocked door. Inside, I pulled his shoe off and used his laces to bind his hands, then pulled his other shoe and sock and made a makeshift gag. I was about to smile when I realized I had everything I might need, except for the feeling of hunger. I lifted the guard back to his knees, biting his neck as he head lolled to the side.

After drinking him deep, I let him drop back to the floor, then locked the door as I went back to the keypad-locked door and tapped in the code. The door buzzed as it unlocked and I quickly stepped through into the hallway and went deeper into the maze. I found nothing but a single camera as I walked down the hallways, almost laughing at the simplicity of the security here. A drop gate was all that secured the loading docks, which led to a single door past that. The only thing I saw that seemed to be any kind of security was a large window right before the door.

I snuck a glance through the glass, finding a pair of security guards watching the monitors and door, then sighed in frustration. I needed to get past the door, but without knowing what was beyond it, stood no chance of jumping there. Reaching out to the shadows, I pushed my sense of sight to the shadow under the door, but was unable to push my way past it.

Withdrawing back into myself, I then concentrated once again, wondering if I could jump my way under the door when I felt myself shift. I didn’t understand what was happening, and as I looked around at myself, found only an ink-like blot upon the tile. Smiling inwardly, I moved through the door, and found my new form slid easily under it to find myself in another hallway, this hallway had a T-junction at the end of a long line of laser beams. A shift in the shadows at the far end gave me pause, and a quick look in the shadows at the far end told me it was a guard leaned up against the wall just out of sight and stretching his aching muscles in an attempt to stay awake.

Pulling back from the shadows again, I looked up with my inky body and started trying to climb the wall. Instead of climbing, I felt like I was floating, with even my sight rising until I was now moving along the tile on the ceiling. My new form raised the tile, and I crept through the ceiling over the wall and was able to slide back into the room across from me, finding myself in some kind of storage room. I dropped back to the ground, sliding out into the middle of the aisle before resuming my human shape.

I looked at my hands, smiling at the new ability I seemed to have, then looked to the door that was the last obstacle, hopefully, to the sarcophagus. I opened to find Beckett noisily sliding the top of a crate off which took the side with it to land with a thump. I removed my mask as I looked at the contents, hoping to find the sarcophagus but instead was a desk. Beckett only looked at it for a second before scoffing at it and coming around to look at me.

“I can’t understand why someone would go through the trouble of stealing a box with a very ancient corpse,” he said leaning against the desk as he pulled a flask from inside his jacket and sipped it. “This city’s not that dull.”

“Hello Beckett,” I said, addressing the much older kindred. He smelled kind of earthy, but not in a disgusting way. “What are you doing here? Looking for more rumors to discredit?” I snarked, remembering our last encounter.

“Indeed,” he said, smiling a bit to show his teeth. “I’d heard of the speculation about the sarcophagus containing an antediluvian and being a portent of Gehenna and it was making me cringe. My guess is that it’s a Mesopotamian king. I needed confirmation. Besides, these are the kinds of ridiculous, superstitious assumptions I came here to debunk.”

“Antediluvians? Like Lasombra?” I asked, trying to keep neutral.

“Indeed, but no one I know has ever met one,” he said, filling in the blanks for me as he went on. “But each of the clans and their bloodlines supposedly trace their origin to an original vampire, an antediluvian. Some swear these grandsires still exist into the present. But then, both kindred and kine believe a lot of strange things.”

“Gehenna,” I breathed. “The kindred apocalypse when our ancestors rise to eat us.”

“I see someone has been doing their homework,” he said, again the corners of his mouth tweaking upwards in a smile. “I’ve found little direct evidence to support it until a few years ago when Zapathasura supposedly rose and began devouring his children. After his alleged death, his bloodline went crazy and they began to kill and devour each other as cannibals. Few survived the ordeal, but it does make me wonder. Either way, humans and kindred are just as capable of managing their own destruction as a deity. A self-realized Gehenna warrants more vigilance than a god-induced one, don’t you agree? Such is my argument, which so frequently falls on deaf ears.”

I leaned against the door as I took in his words and thought about Lasombra trying to rise again through me. If it hadn’t been for being electrocuted awake earlier, I might not have risen at all. “You should believe in it more,” I said softly, gathering my will as if it were sands falling through my fingers. “I found Lasombra in the shadows, stuck there.”

Beckett’s eyes locked on me as he studied my sunken posture. “You aren’t lying are you?” he whispered. I nodded, then decided to show him my favorite trick and stepped through the shadow to the desk he leaned against. He immediately jumped to his feet, then whirled as I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked to where I had been to where I was standing now, and I could see his nostrils flare as if he were sniffing. Remembering what Jean had said about Gangrel having a wolf’s sense of smell, it was likely he was following my scent and his eyes widened in belief as he figured out I had transported myself here.

“Shadowstep,” he breathed as he put the pieces together. “I’ve only heard of ancillae and elders developing that ability. So unless you diablerized an elder recently,” he said as he studied me, trailing off into thought as I sat on the edge of the desk.

“Lasombra is rising again through me,” I told him, deciding someone should know. “I found him when I attacked someone with my shadows, and they pulled me in wherever they were sent. He wanted out, so he’s using me to rise again.”

“I believe you,” he said as he continued to study me and my subdued posture. “In cases of diablerie, the diablerized vampire becomes like an infectious body, trying to subvert it’s host and use it for its own ends.”

“So how does one kick the infection out?” I asked him.

“Usually, as in life, your body rejects the infection. My advice to you is to keep in touch with your humanity, as that seems to keep most diablerists sane even as it costs them their precious peace of mind in the process.”

“So, if I’m a good little girl who obeys the rules of society and helps others out, I won’t lose myself to this asshat?”

“Should be,” he noted for me. “Most of the time, the victim of diablerization isn’t strong enough to even survive the process. That said, most of the time even elders can’t survive the process. Think of it like a nervous tic, most of the time it’s unnoticeable. Then in certain situations, you find yourself succumbing, most of the time unaware of what’s going on.”

“Thanks, Beckett,” I said as I looked around. My mind chewed on what he said, as Beckett himself cocked his head as he turned towards the door.

“Well, my work here’s stolen away into the night, think I’ll do the same,” he said as he walked out the door and closed it behind him. I heard two footsteps before everything became silent, and I figured he went wolf and stole out some way I hadn’t seen. I concentrated on my bike, then stepped through the shadows to it’s location, just as a large white wolf ran across the parking lot. It howled once as it run, and I smiled at Beckett’s somewhat playful attitude.

Settling myself onto my Harley, I grimaced at the thought that I was about to have to deliver the prince some bad news. Well, there’s only one way to get through it, and I brought the bike to life and headed for what was sure to be certain death as I knew I would get blamed for this.

I parked in front of the Tower, not five minutes later and went inside. Chunk sat with his head nodding down to his chest, and my boots clicked on the tile as I got closer which brought him awake.

“Ah, ‘scuse me,” he said, yawning and stretching. “Starting to doze off there.”

“Lacroix’s expecting me,” I said and he nodded.

“Uh say, fruit pie,” he said, sounding somewhat unsure as he looked at me with sleepy eyes. “If you’re still up in a few hours, why don’t you stop by for my break and I’ll treat you to donuts?”

“I’d love to,” I say, hedging away from the overweight security guard, “But I’ve got business to attend to. Sorry,” I said, mocking a wince but he just brushed it off. “See you later.”

“Later, cupcake,” he said as I stepped around the partition to the elevators, finding the elevator already waiting for me when I get there. It rose swiftly through the building, and I stepped out into the Camarilla headquarters to find it practically empty. I crossed the lobby to the private elevator and took it up to the top, and entered Lacroix’s office to find Lacroix alone in the room as he looked out the window behind his desk.

He didn’t turn to face me when I get closer, and I stepped up behind him without a word when he silently began, “The folly of leadership is knowing that no matter what you do, behind your back there’s hundreds certain that their own solution is the sounder one, and that your decision was the by-product of a whimsical dart toss,” he said, turning finally to face me.

“I pronounce the blast sentence and I soak the critical fallout,” he said gesturing to emphasize his words. “I make the decisions no one else will. Leadership, I wear the albatross and a bull’s-eye.”

I smiled at the prince, even as my stomach dropped into my boot somewhere. What was I supposed to say to that? “I’ve met few who speak ill of you, sir,” I say, and watched his face contort with a grimace.

“I’ve had my fill of sycophants,” he said, as he went to sit down in his chair with a huff, “I need adjutants I can trust.”

“While I can’t speak for the rest of the city,” I stated, hedging my bet with the prince, “My only concern is that you seem to favor one punishment for any crime. Besides that? I’m fine with you as prince.”

“Hmm,” he said, as he deflated. “My apologies. I’ve been fielding calls all evening. It’s become wearisome,” he said, as he steepled his fingers. “The blood hunt on Nines Rodriguez for the murder of Alistair Grout was called early this morning before the sun rose. Rodriguez’s execution is only a matter of time. I have lit the fuse,” he said, turning to his desk and opening a drawer for a ledger of some sort, “If a war ignites, it’s my head they will sharpen the pikes for. At least I can rest easy in knowing that you, my most promising attendant, has relieved me of one encumberance tonight. Do you need assistance bringing the sarcophagus upstairs?”

I slumped, it was now or never. “I’m sorry, sir,” I said as I hung my head. “The sarcophagus appears to have been stolen and a desk put in its place.”

The prince jumped up at that, knocking his chair back to roll against the windows. “Stolen!”

I nodded, and was about to open my mouth to speak when he continued on. “Stolen?! How? Who would,” he said, finally leaning over his desk as he calmed himself down and thought over the situation. “Oh, Gary,” he finally said, after a minute of him thinking the situation over. “Gary, you treasonous maggot! I should have anticipated your treachery, sewer rat!”

That name rang a bell in me, and I looked at him as he collected his chair. “Let me guess, he sold the information to someone else who had the balls to steal it from the cops.”

“Precisely,” the prince chewed out. “I need Gary found, but more importantly, I need that sarcophagus secured. If there is something supernatural within that is capable of escaping and slaughtering hundreds to fulfill its hunger, it is my responsibility as prince to contain and neutralize said threat.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, standing ready to handle anything he gave me. He looked at me, his features softening as he took in my attire and ready posture, and then grinned.

“Did you have any military aspirations?” he asked, and I shook my head in a silent ‘no.’ “Your bearing is one I find only in the most dedicated of agents. I like that,” he said and I smiled that my subversion was working. I could really care less that he got his precious sarcophagus, but if I could help the Anarchs rip this thing apart, I would.

“I need Gary,” he said, biting his tongue from saying killed, and instead said, “found, and the sarcophagus secured. The sarcophagus and its occupant might be, exploited, causing who knows what catastrophe to this city if it were to fall into the wrong hands. The Nosferatu lurk in the filfth below the streets of Hollywood, but not even I know just where they hide. Also, Hollywood is, unfortunately, lacking in any Camarilla loyalties.

“Hollywood’s baron is an Anarch named Isaac. Isaac’s more civil than the Anarchs in the downtown area, but” the prince paused as he sat back in his chair, “Nonetheless, he wears his distrust of me on his sleeve. He may know how to contact the Nosferatu.”

“I’ll find him, sir,” I said, then turned to walk to the door with no further word when his next words stopped me.

“Before you go, Miss Flores,” he said, and I turned back to him, my phone buzzing that I had a text. “You’ve no doubt formed some inkling of a disdain for me that you can’t name. I’ll agree that allowing you to live past your trial has been difficult for me as a Ventrue, but I am also willing to look past it as a prince. I’ll give you a headstart for tonight, but tomorrow I am going to open the city to a hunt for that sarcophagus. If you can bring me the sarcophagus before sunset Saturday evening, I’ll not only call our current boon settled, I’ll give you the privilege of siring a childe.”

I perked up at that, because it meant that I was one person closer to making myself a primogen. “I’ll get right on it sir,” I told him as I headed for the door. This time the prince let me leave, and I passed his sheriff on the way in. I squeezed myself against the wall to allow the big brute room as he passed me in the hallway, and I took the elevator down and left the tower.

I sat atop my bike, thinking over my options when I decided I better check my text message. It was from my ghouls, saying they had an emergency, so I headed home. It was still early in the evening, only like eight, when I pulled back in front of the house. There was a strange car parked in front of the house, but the lights were on. I went in, finding Brian sitting on the stairs, the .357 I had given him was hanging with the handle out of the top of his pocket.

“Mistress,” he said, as he saw me. “We got a slight problem.”

“Name it,” I said, hoping it wasn’t the Sabbat.

“Some guy followed Heather home,” he said and I shook my head as he filled me in. “He got lippy with me, pulled a knife so I tied him up and locked him in the master bathroom. Heather is watching him right now.”

“I’ll take care of it,” I said, then put a hand on his shoulder. “You did good, Brian. Thanks,” and the ghoul perked up at that. Brian led me around to the bathroom where Heather sat on the furnished bed watching a door while she chewed on her nails.

“Mistress,” she said, acting panicked as she stood as I came into the room. “I swear I didn’t mean for him to follow me home. I met him at the liquor store in Santa Monica and he followed me back saying he could make me scream in pleasure. As if,” she said, rolling her eyes a bit before hugging herself.

“You know who your mistress is,” I said smiling and opened my arms and let the woman get close. Once she was in my arms, I held her, and I swear she was close to tears as she hiccuped in my arms. “It’s okay, Heather,” I cooed as I held my crying ghoul.

“It’s just, you want us to keep things we do a secret and I bring home a guy who’s a creep,” she sobbed into my shoulder, and I patted her back. I could feel something in me shift, and I felt happy as my ghoul let out her frustration. I didn’t know exactly what caused it, but it seemed she had been worried I was going to hurt her for failing me.

“It’s not your fault someone followed you home. Next time, if this happens, have Brian deal with him okay?” I said and Heather nodded, finally getting control of herself now that she knew she wasn’t in trouble. “Go get some rest, you look tired,” I told her and she nodded and headed to her room. Once she had left the room, I went to the door for the master bathroom and opened it. The lights were on, and there was a young guy with brown hair tied up with lots of duct tape to a wooden chair. Even his mouth was taped. I yanked the tape off, much to his dismay and waited for him to get over it while I tried to figure out how to keep him quiet.

“What the hell is this shit?!” he screamed at me. “Let me out, goddammit! I’ll kill that motherfucker that locked me in here!”

“You’ll do no such thing,” I said, as he struggled to get free.

“Psycho-bastard locked me in here and beat me up, hit me over the head and tied me up. What the fuck!” he said, struggling against his bonds. “Who the fuck does that?!”

I nodded, and hoped he was just as afraid of the cops as I was. “If I let you go, will you leave and never come back?”

“Hell no,” he said as he struggled again. “My old man’s a cop. I’m coming back with the full force of the law and arresting that psycho!”

I shook my head, then slapped the tape back over his mouth and walked back to the door leading into the master bedroom. I was running out of options with this guy, and that left me one. “Brian, would you mind doing some fishing?”

“Sure,” he said as he leaned against the door.. “Bass, barricuda, tuna, yellow tail?” I let my fangs slide out, and Brian chuckled. “Shark, my favorite. I’ll get the boat,” he said as he left. I turned back to the ‘snack,’ hiding my fangs as I did so.

“I would have let you go if you had just said you’d leave in peace,” I told him and his face went white. I grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him to face the large mirror over the sink with my potence, and his face searched the mirror for me. I put my hands on each shoulder, then whispered in his ear. “There’s a reason you think we’re mythical creatures,” I tell him, hearing him scream through the tape. “Too bad this is a lesson you won’t survive to learn from,” I tell him as I force his head over and bite into his neck. He kept screaming into his gag as I fed, his blood tangy as I swallowed mouth-full after mouth-full. I don’t stop until long after the blood thinned and finally quit flowing.

With the kid dead, I let his head hang forward, and shut the door behind me as I left. I can hear footsteps overhead and Heather complaining about having to drive Brian to Santa Monica. I sighed, shaking my head as I spot Constance smiling at me from upstairs.

“Well?” I said, once I had joined her on the second floor of the hous.

“I thought you weren’t coming back tonight,” she said.

“So, how’s your homework?”

“It’s done,” she said, leaning up against me. “You want to look at it?”

“Not really,” I tell her, as I pull her tight. “Why don’t you show me which room you chose?” Constance squealed at that, practically dragging me to the far corner on the south-west side. Her room had a great view of the ocean and was close to both stairs giving her great access to the entire house. The only downside was her room was right over the kitchen, which was often the busiest room in the house, and the loudest.

“I checked all the rooms up here, and this one has the biggest closet,” she said, showing me the spacious closet where her clothes were already hanging. “I was thinking of a bed or something here,” she said, motioning to the interior wall next to the great room, “and putting a desk over here,” she said, motioning to the area by the closet. “That way, I have the best view at night when I sleep or when I’m working at my desk.”

“Looks good,” I say, wrapping my arms around her as she’s facing the sea. “You like it here?”

“Oh yes,” she said, as I nuzzled her neck. I wasn’t really hungry, still stuffed from all the blood I’ve taken, but I licked at her neck which made her moan as I breathe on the wet spot. She leaned her head over, giving me great access, and I force my fangs out and slowly puncture her skin and start to lap once at her blood. She moans, bucking against me as she enjoys the sensation of me draining her life from her.

I don’t take more than a mouthful before I pulled my fangs out of her neck and lapped the remaining blood off her neck to leave it clean. Constance was limp in my arms, and I folded her up where she wanted her bed, and used her bookbag for a pillow. She looked so peaceful then, as I looked down at her, that I went ahead and turned out the light and shut the door to allow her to sleep.

As I headed down the stairs, I couldn’t help but think that somehow, in Hollywood, my life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30 – The Fate of Doctor Grout

September 26, 2004 = Saturday

~Doctor Grout~


I sat here, waiting for my own demise. I had little hope left that my Faustian bargain would save me and she would arrive before Prince Lacroix’s agent arrived, and that I would perish this very night. I had no idea whom he would send, but my fear was the big brute of a sheriff would be sent to destroy me. He feared me that much.

The voices had guided me in the required mysticism for my particular strain of vampirism, allowing me to place a ‘spell’ over my test subjects. When, or if, anyone should come to the house against my will their sanity would break and cause them to attack said person. I could only hope that the sheriff would be taken off guard and I could gain the upper hand in our altercation, but I doubted it.

‘She is coming,’ one of the voices whispered, and I nodded absently as I moved to the balcony where I hoped to meet her.

My first defense was already in place in a skeleton I had acquired from a local cemetery. It lay on my bed, chained and with a wooden peg through it’s chest and the ashen remains of a barbecue pit were spread out over the skeleton. If all went well, one would simply cast their eyes on my ‘corpse’ and walk away, reporting to my hated oppressor that I was dead. I couldn’t be so fortunate, but such was my life at the current time.

On the balcony overlooking the parlor, I waited. Several of my test subjects milled about the room, but as they were causing no mischief, I let them be. My eyes were transfixed on the door, my ears listening for any sign that she about to save my God-forsaken soul.

Then, without any warning whatsoever, the door to the hallway beyond opened and in walked my savior, Ming Xiao. She was wearing a gold colored cheongsam, the typical long dress of her Chinese ancestors. Like most Chinese dresses, hers was form fitting and caressed every curve of her body. She advanced slowly, but she dismissed my test subjects with only a glance.

“Doctor Grout,” she said, as she stopped some five meters from the balcony, “I believe I am here to safeguard your security.”

‘She lies,’ I heard in the cacophony of voices that assaulted me. ‘She wishes you dead!’

I shook my head lightly, trying to dispel myself of their influence. Surely my savior was not here to kill me. I was too valuable as an insider of Lacroix’s circle, the secrets I held could be invaluable to ridding myself and the city of his hideous visage.

“You have come alone?” I asked, and she nodded. I might have believed her if not for the voices had not whispered me the names and locations of the five men and the van waiting for me at my own gate outside.

No, I was not to survive this night. I only wished to know why she had decided to betray me.

“So Cai Huan, Yang Jie, Zi Su, Mao Fu and Sun Wu are not waiting to haul me off to the Fu Syndicate building?” I inquired, watching her expressionless face break into surprise as I named off each of her henchmen awaiting outside. She soon steeled herself, and crossed her arms in anger.

“How do you know those names?” she demanded of me.

“My particular clan, Clan Malkavian, has an insight into others,” I explained to her. “It’s also how I know you are lying when you say you have come to uphold your end of our bargain.”

“I see,” she said, allowing now emotion to pass across her face. “Such an unusual clan you come from. I have not been able to learn anything of your clan. As such, I will not be carrying out a strict interpretation of my deal with your prince.”

I stared hard at her, wondering what my fate would end up being. I had been councilled before to record that tape for the female agent that Lacroix would soon send, and to leave my ‘corpse’ behind for her to find, but I was hoping for another option to present itself, and I could only move the chess pieces I could see. It would seem Lacroix also formed a relationship with the dreaded Kue-Jin, the Kindred of the East, but the queen he moved to intercept me had her own ambitions.

“So what interpretation of your deal with the prince are you going to carry out?” I asked, as she moved her hand to an item hidden behind her back.

“Only that I remove the problem you are causing him,” she said as her hand came out wielding a wooden stake. I had no more turned to flee than she used some unknown power of her people to stretch her legs to slide over the banister. She tackled me, and we rolled once to the large rug in the center of the room. The stake was brushing against my suit, but I was able to hold off the arm.

“Zài jiàn,” she said, cracking a mischievous smile as once again her limb stretched. There was no hope of blocking the ensuing attack, and the last I felt was the stake pierce my heart.



Chapter Text

Chapter 31 – Entering Hollywood

October 2, 2004 = Saturday


First thing I had done was head for Hollywood, following the overhead signs to Downtown then back up Highway 101. I was then able to take the exit for Sunset Boulevard, and headed into the lion’s den.

I was nervous not sure what would happen when a man stepped into the street. He was rough, and the pale skin that was illuminated under the streetlight told me he was kindred. Riding the brakes hard, I managed to not run him over, and he just crossed his arms like I was wasting his time.

“I haven’t see you in Hollywood before,” his deep timbred voice proclaimed. Struck as odd by someone who didn’t immediately recognize me, I said nothing as he hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “If I ain’t see you, neither has Isaac. Means your next stop is the Golden Age Jewelry store, three more lights and a left. Isaac’s office is accessible through the alley on the left. Consider yourself invited.”

“Thanks,” I said as he got out of my way. He only harrumphed in reply, walking on down the sidewalk. I kicked off, passing several businesses that were still up and running, including what looked like an open air restaurant that was still being setup.

The jewelry store wasn’t hard to find, as it was still brightly lit. I parked my bike in the alley, and went into the office. Isaac sat behind a large desk, eyeing a necklace through a jeweller’s monocle. The way it sparkled in the minimal light, I could only assume it was made with real diamonds.

“Ah, welcome,” he said as he took the monocle out of his eye. “I’m Isaac Abrams. I’ve been expecting you, neonate. Seems the wooden soldiers of the Camarilla shuffle in a little too often these nights. That baby-faced, two-bit prince Lacroix got something to say to me?” Isaac raised himself as he talked, and I couldn’t help but feel like he was trying to put me in my place and start a fight.

I shuffled uneasily on my feet, not wanting to start a kindred war on the prince’s behalf. The guy was already kill crazy. “I’m just looking for the Nosferatu clan, more importantly, their primogen, Gary,” I said, and he deflated a bit at my honesty. “Seems he angered the prince and I’m supposed to bring him in.”

“So, you’ve come to barter information with the sewer rats?” Isaac said as he almost spat the last. “Lacroix must really be desperate if he’s stooped to consorting with their kind, and asking for my help, of all people.”

“Any idea where I can find them?” I asked hopefully, hoping he could lead me right to the source.

“Perhaps,” he said, then a wicked smile played across his face. “However, before we discuss how I might help you, there is the matter of tribute.”

My hopes fell in that I could get this over with fast. Seemed like every kindred I met was going to make me their errand girl. “And what is it you want?” I asked with an irritable growl.

“A tape,” he said with a smirk on his face. “Head down to the Ground Zero Internet Cafe and find out how to meet the guy,” he said as he wrote down some instructions. “One of the computers will have this login ID, use this password to open it,” he said as he handed me the post-it note that also contained an address. “Meet with him and bring back the tape.”

“Sounds easy,” I said as I pocketed the note. “Do all older kindred like making the newbies dance on their string?”

“Keeps them in their place,” he said as he continued to smirk at me. “Live long enough, and you might even be doing it yourself to some newbie that comes along.”

“Be back soon,” I said as I stepped out the door and got back on my bike. Soon I was pulling up to the internet cafe, it’s lights on to tell me it was still open for business. I walked in, finding almost no one inside but a few people who were glued to the screen in front of them. I pulled the post-it note from my pocket, then began looking for the computer with the required log-in information.

I finally found it in a back corner, and used the password to open it up. Checking through the emails in the account, I found one without a subject, and I opened it up. The contents told me to meet the guy in an alley behind the Fast Buck down the street. I deleted the email, more out of habit then anything else, then left the cafe.

I drove to the alley, parking my back near the street. One thing I didn’t fear anymore was a thug, so I walked openly down the center, not finding anything till I rounded the corner. The guy I was looking for was smoking a cigarette and wearing a dark hoodie and jeans, and he looked nervous as his eyes darted around the graffiti covered walls.

His eyes found me, and he stammered a bit as he said,”Y-yeah? What do you want?”

“You got the tape?” I asked him, and he went wide eyed. “Isaac sent me.”

“Ye-yeah,” he started then back tracked himself when a thump came from a nearby garbage can. “I-I mean what? Who the hell is Isaac? I don’t know anyone named Isaac. Get lost, wii ya.”

That made me angry as I crossed my arms. “Fine,” I said as I turned to leave. “I’ll tell Isaac you wouldn’t give me what’s his and you can deal with him.”

“Alright, sorry,” he said as he turned went to check around the corner. He looked extremely nervous, but it didn’t stem from me. “It’s just that,” he said turning to face me and running a hand over his hair to toss his hoodie back. “I mean something is, I just want out of the whole thing. I don’t want anything to do with that damn tape.”

“Why?” I asked as he checked the corner again. “What’s going on?”

“I-I don’t know,” he stammered a bit. He looked like someone who had the shit scared out of him, but not a mark marred his clothes. “I mean, when it comes to video, I’ve sen everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING,” he said, emphasizing the last word for effect. “But this thing, this tape? It’s sick. I-it can’t be real, but,” then he turned back to me and I understood. That tape showed something he couldn’t explain, and his world was coming apart. “It is, I know it. It’s real and it scares the hell out of me.”

I put a hand on my hip, slipping a finger under my duster to reach for a weapon if he bolted. He’d already seen too much, and I couldn’t risk him breaking the masquerade. “Really?” I said, trying to make him think it was nothing. “Is it that bad?”

“You have no idea,” he said as he leaned against the wall. “it’s disgusting. That girl, the things that are happening to her? It just ain’t right, man. It just ain’t right? And now...” he said, his voice trailing off as he checked around the corner again, “Something’s wrong, something’s after me. I swear to God, something’s after me!”

“Just hand it over, and I’ll take care of it,” I said, holding out an empty hand. This guy was ready to bolt, but since this was Isaac’s territory, I’d let him handle his own problems.

“I don’t have it,” he said as he pulled a pack of cigarette from his pocket. “I stashed it some place. Look, you need to find Ginger Swan’s...” he started to say, when a loud crash and a screech metal sounded through the alley. “Oh shit, did you hear that! I’m outta here,” he said as he bolted around the corner. I started around to follow, but a blood curdling scream filled the alley. When I rounded the corner, he was gone, but the manhole cover was missing off a sewer access.

I dropped down to see if I could find any evidence of the guy, but there was nothing but a chewed up corpse. I turned to climb out, finding the manhole cover had been knocked aside as it was tossed off its cover. I put it back where it belonged, hiding the man from any casual observer.

With nothing to show for my troubles, I headed back to Isaac. He stood as I opened the door and entered, but he had slight smile as he saw me.

“You made good time! Hand me the tape, I’m anxious to see what the man was talking about.”

“He didn’t have it,” I said and Isaac scowled.

“Did he at least have a good excuse?” he asked me, his smile fading.

“He said something was after him,” I said, and Isaac scowled a bit. “He was right too,” I added and Isaac cut me off.

“If you,” he started but I held up a hand.

“I didn’t. Something came out of the sewer and drug him down fast. Nothing left but a chewed up corpse under the manhole cover behind the Fast Buck,” I said and Isaac nodded in understanding. “He also said something about a Ginger Swan, but I didn’t get all of it.”

“Ginger Swan,” he said, then hmm’d at something he thought about. “Brings back a lot of memories. Fifty years ago, wasn’t a man in this city that wouldn’t have given up his family, career, or anything else for one night with her. Hell, even twenty years after she was buried there were still grown men weeping at her grave. I don’t know how she’s relevant, but I have faith you’ll figure it out.”

“I’ll start with the grave then,” I said as I looked to Isaac. “Where was she buried?”

“Hollywood Forever Cemetery. She was laid to rest in a mausoleum vault in the back corner.”

“I’ll go check it out then,” I told him and headed out.

Mounting my bike, I headed down the street, following the signs to the Hollywood Cemetery. The main gate was closed, so I circled around the high wall, finally finding a quiet alley that butted against the wall. I parked my bike behind a parts store, and looked around the alley.

It was pretty quiet, so I vaulted over the head high steel fence and landed on my feet. I ducked behind a headstone as I looked the cemetery over, finding the place wasn’t well lit and that even if someone looked in through the gate, I wouldn’t be easily seen.

That made me feel over-confident as I walked down the street. So confident that I was startled when a man carrying a rifle walked over a rise and pointed a gun right at me. I fell back, scrambling for my own pistol when he lowered the rifle.

“Whoa there sugarpuss,” he said as I finally brought my gun out. “Might want to think about announcing yourself next time. I nearly took your head off.”

“Why would you do that,” I said, lowering but not putting away my pistol.

“Thought you might be a zombie,” he said, which shocked me. “See it’s like this. Every night about this time for the past, oh, several months now, the dead’ve been getting up with an itch to stroll down Hollywood Boulevard. Nobody knows why, but until they figure it out, they needed a volunteer to patch the problem. I stepped forward, problem temporarily solved, baron’s happy, and I get to practice my marksmanship and get my blood for another month.”

“What’s causing them to rise?” I asked and he shrugged.

“Who knows,” he said as he looked around for possible zombies. “Could be vampire necro-hoodoo, toxic waste, solar radiation. Important part is: they continue to rise up, and I get to put ‘em down. Everybody’s a winner.”

“Sounds like fun,” I said, holstering my pistol. It wasn’t hard to get back in, and since ghoul boy wasn’t going to shoot me I figured I was safe enough.

“You’re telling me. As far as I know I’m the only person around Hollywood who considers marksmanship an art,” he said as he brought his eyes back to me. “Plus, a lot of the stiffs around here used to be asshole celebrities too. Bonus.”

“So, who puts back in the ground?” I asked and he chuckled a bit at that.

“Morning crew does that,” he said. “People just think of it as maintenance on the grounds.”

I shook my head. Isaac definitely seemed to have it all together in Hollywood. Maybe that’s why the prince stays out. “Well, I have to go find Ginger Swan’s grave. Apparently there’s a tape there that Isaac wants.”

“Last mausoleum on the left, bear left once your inside and it’s vault three-oh-four,” he said from memory.

That struck me as funny. “Were you a fan?”

“Big fan, actually,” he said as he wiped at his eye. “You can still get copies of her movies at the Sin Bin. Best place for smut in Hollywood.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said as I moved past the ghoul. “And good shooting.”

“Thanks,” he said as he started up the path.

Left alone, I continued down the street to the mausoleum and entered. Some lights were still on, giving just enough light to see the vault numbers. Ginger Swan’s vault was easy found and I opened it by pulling on the flower holder. It was odd that it came away so easily, but I found that it was only held in place with a few drops of a rubbery glue.

Searching inside, I found a battered VHS tape just in front of a coffin. Pulling the tape out, I found it had a name marked in masking tape and an emblem of a skulll like mask with tentacles surrounding it like hair that was sticking straight out. Holding it up the light, I read the name as ‘Monsters Eat Chick.’ Figuring I had the right tape, I took it and put the cover back in place before I left. I didn’t see the ghoul on his rounds as I headed back over the wall, so hopefully he was taking care of business.

Hopping back over the fence, I mounted my bike and booked it to Isaac’s store. He was waiting on me when I got back, and I handed him the tape. “All this for a tape? They have online shopping now,” I told him.

“I didn’t doubt you’d find this,” he said as he turned to his entertainment center and put the tape in the VCR. “And I apologize if I was overly imperious before, a reflex action. I get a lot of young blood in here forgetting their place. I’ll assist you as reasonably as I can with your task but first,” he said as he hit rewind. “This tape. I’m in a hurry to find out what’s behind all the hype I’ve been hearing about it. I do have a feeling that whatever’s here may be of use to both of us, however.”

I sat in one of his chairs as Isaac hit play. The tape TV showed nothing but static for several minutes, then the screen blared to life showing a brown haired woman running up a set of stairs. She was being chased by three creatures compromised mostly of a head and two powerful arms they used for legs. If they were CGI, they were expertly crafted but it was hard to tell with the snow still dancing across the screen. The woman ran through several doors, finally barricading herself in a bedroom. She was crying as she braced herself against the door, the door rattling as the monsters tried to break in.

The view shifted to a further view, showing that there were two more monsters in the bedroom that jumped over the bed and attacked her, ripping her skin from her and tearing her apart. The scene faded, showing the logo on the tape along with some heavy breaths before it ended in snow. A name also appeared under the logo, Death Mask Productions.

I got up, rewound the tape and played it again and began studying it. After my third playthrough of the tape, I stopped it and looked back to Isaac, who had steepled his fingers in thought. He looked at me, and his grim lines spoke volumes. What were we dealing with?

“It’s more disturbing than I was led to believe,” he said finally. “You can understand my concern now, can’t you?

“Yes, and if these things were what drug your mule underground, they are fast, small and deadly,” I said and Isaac nodded.

“It just so happens that around the time this snuff film began circulating, the Nosferatu disappeared,” he said and I quirked an eyebrow. “That was Friday evening, and not one Nosferatu has been seen since. Not a one. I tried to elicit their help in tracking down the source, and for the first time in all these years, I was dismayed by their absence.”

“So you assume this tape and these monsters have something to do with their disappearance,” I asked, wondering if I had kicked Damsel in the face for nothing. She would be pissed if that were the case.

“I assume it does, it’s awfully coincidental otherwise,” he said as he moved to sit back behind his desk. “I don’t know how many professional FX houses could pull those off. There’s a problem though in that the film’s incomplete, the first half is damaged. We need a complete copy.”

“And since those monsters are what I need to get past, I need to help you so I can help myself,” I thought aloud. Isaac nodded, confirming my thoughts with a smirk on his face. “So where do I find a better copy?”

“Behind the spit-shine of the Hollywood dream factory, there’s another city churning out a vile by-product for the furtive consumption of a debauched audience,” Isaac said in what I would assume was a Toreador style of talking. “I have no doubt the film’s found its way to another smut peddler, so I’d ask around.”

“Smut, huh,” I said, again thinking of what the ghoul in the cemetery had told me of the Sin Bin. “I think I have a line on that one.”

“Good luck in your hunting,” Isaac said as I stepped back outside.

I mounted my bike and found a phonebooth, using the phone book inside it to find the Sin Bin. It wasn’t too far away, and directly across from another place I’d been thinking of going to visit. Vesuvius Gentleman’s Club, home of one Velvet Velour.

I stopped in the Sin Bin’s parking lot, mainly because Vesuvius was full and walked over. The bouncer outside gave me a some serious stink eye, but only opened the door and allowed me in. Walking inside, a pretty little lady in pink lingerie sat behind the counter filing her pretty red nails, gesturing me on through with the file.

Walking into the main area of the club, the first dancer I saw was actually leaned up against the VIP entrance as if asking men to take her up on her offer. She looked at me, her smile dropping from her blonde face and going into full panic for all of three seconds before she started to smile again. I looked at her for a bit, then decided to ask her about it.

On my way over, I realized she was kindred. Her skin had paled some, but maintained an almost pink quality about it that fooled me into thinking she was still human. But as I got closer, I could see tell it was somewhat too light to be normal. She was dressed in a red and black silk bustier, red thong and black thigh high fishnet stockings while standing there in pair of 6 inch spiked heels with no platform under the toe to help alleviate the stress her foot must be under.

“Oh! Look what just walked in,” she said, wrapping an arm around me and getting close enough to press her glitter covered chest against mine. “I can’t imagine you’d get much of a rise out of Vesuvius, being what you are,” she crooned in my ear. “Maybe I’ll have more luck with you in the VIP suite, where we can...be ourselves,” she said, smiling her prettiest at me.

“Sure,” I said, and she untangled herself from around me and pulled my hand so I followed her into the area marked VIP. I started up the steps, with her beside me when she flicked some sort of switch that turned off the lights on the stairs. I figured it must be some sort of signal that the room was taken and shrugged it off.

The VIP room turned about to be a lava themed room with a private stage for the dancer to dance on. I could tell she put a lot of effort into her VIP area, and looked at some of the photos of dancers on the wall, figuring they must have be the current crop of candidates VV kept as entertainers.

VV sat on the couch, right in the middle, and patted the area next to her. I sat there, and immediately VV curled up next to me, again getting intimately close with her arms around me.

“Isn’t this better?” she purred in my ear, her voice soft and low and sultry and...

‘Oh for pete’s sake!’ I thought as I forced myself not to fall for her charms as she rubbed at my soft skin. ‘Damn Toreadors are such seductresses that they can make just about anyone fall for them.’

“You and me, alone,” she continued, doing her best to play the lover card, “For just a little while? Away from the Jyhad, the nonsense, and the dangers. Just the two of us. Mmmm?” she said, purring each word into my ear.

I knew she had likely felt the sword on my back as her arm was around my back but she gave it no mention or thought. I just crossed my legs and looked at her, taking in the silvery eyes and strawberry lipstick. “You asked me up here?” I said and she nodded.

“The reason I asked you up here is because I, and the rest of the Hollywood kindred, have been under surveillance lately by hunters,” she said, dropping the lover card a bit but not uncurling herself from around me. “At first I thought you had come for me, but then I realized who you were when I saw the pale skin. I asked you up here because I didn’t want you to say anything that might draw attention.”

“Well, thanks for that,” I said and she smiled. “Are you Velvet Velour?”

“I am,” she told me. “You can call me Velvet. It’s been months since I’ve seen anyone new in here. I was starting to take it personally. And who should come in but a real celebrity. You’re quite the talk in salons. So much so, that I’ve already heard a lot about you,” she said as she smiled playfully at me. “So, uh, wouldn’t you like to know about me?”

“I know a bit already,” I said and she giggled. “I know you’re trying to recruit Angel from down at Four Play.”

“Yes,” she said, her angelic face frowned a bit. “But Duke keeps sending my boys back empty handed. This last time, he broke poor Lenny’s hand. Poor dear probably won’t help me again for months.”

“So you don’t use ghouls?” I asked her and she shook her head before leaning hers on my shoulder.

“Oh, I do,” she said, her finger making circles over my stomach. “Most of us have at least one. Mostly I use mine as a bouncer, you met him outside.”

“So that’s why he allowed me in when I look like a hunter,” I said. Velvet nodded, then added, “He probably saw your skin and realized you weren’t a threat. He’s been trying his best to keep the hunters out of my club for me.”

“You’ve had hunters in your club?”

“Up until a week ago, I had one working for more,” Velvet said, and I looked down at her as she continued on in a sad tone. “They’ve been staking out Hollywood for several weeks. They’ve been in Ash’s club, mine, a few others. I think they’re whittling down their list of suspects. The one I had here was keeping an eye on the clientele. I found a weapon in her locker and fired her, but she’s still in Hollywood, watching my club, and me.”

I stared at her as she kept tracing circles on my stomach, and she finally looked up at me, the sadness evident in her eyes. “I know it’s difficult to accept,” I said, the hurt look in her eyes deepening, “But you may have to kill her.”

“I’ve had to adjust a lot to this existence,” she said, her silvery eyes staring into mine. “And I’ve accepted that I may have to do just that. But I’m a suspect, and if she ends up dead and I’m seen, they’ll either kill me, or chase me into obscurity.”

“Maybe I could get rid of her for you,” I said and she smiled. I had the brief idea I was being played, but what did VV really get out of this?

“Would you? I think it might be a little much to ask,” she said and it clicked. Yeah, I was being used, as an executioner. VV got the opportunity to keep her hands clean as she was probably a ‘lover, not a fighter’ and I would get to face a hunter, a hunter who was probably as lethal at hand to hand combat as me.

“Depends,” I said, figuring this was just a ploy by the Toreador to get me to take care of her problem for her. “What are you offering?”

“I’ve got a girl, Misti,” she said, pointing to a poster on the wall marked with the dancer’s name, “She’s divine and a willing blood doll for the right amount of money. I’ll set her up for you, my treat.”

“I already have a blood doll,” I said and Velvet looked up at me. “Her blood is as sweet as honey and she loves to give it all to me.”

“Then what would you want?” she asked me.

“Information,” I said and she smiled at that. “I recently acquired Four Play, and I need to know a few things about how to run a club like this.”

“You handle that hunter,” she said, smiling to light up her whole face, “And I’ll tell you everything I know about running a club.”

“Deal,” I said and VV giggled. “Where can I find her now?”

“She works over at the Sin Bin now,” she told me as she rolled over to lay in my lap. “Her hair’s blonde on top, broken heart tattoo on the small of her back. Dances in the peepshow under the name Chastity, as if that wasn’t a dead giveaway.

“I want you to understand,” she said, her face growing serious as her smile faded. “I don’t want any innocents killed on my account. So if there are other dancers or patrons around, you’ll have to lure them away from her. Do it as quietly as you can. No witnesses, please. And be careful using disciplines around the hunter.”

“This won’t take long,” I said, giving her a brief smile. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

“I’ll be waiting,” she said as she sat up and allowed me to rise.

She didn’t join me as I left, just laid back on the couch in a provocative pose. I stepped down the dark steps and back into the club, getting eyed by a guy in a dark suit. He was drinking alone, and I flashed him a smile as I passed and left by the front door. The bouncer ghoul was still standing by the front entrance, and gave me a wave as I walked by and crossed the empty street.

Entering the Sin Bin was easy. No bouncer or patron blocked my way. It was also somewhat more quiet, the only sounds I could hear were music coming from the basement. Behind the counter was a man in a 70’s style suit with a cheesy moustache. It screamed cheap, and I assumed he was at least the manager.

“Heya hotpants,” he said as smiled lustfully at me as I walked up.

“Keep it in your pants,” I muttered, not liking the way he was eyeing me. It was men like him who thought of women as things to be conquered and owned.

“Hey hey,” he said defensively, raising his hands to show he was unarmed. “Sounds like you’re a little pent-up. You came to the right place for that problem?”

“Oh?” I asked him. “You got the answer to everything in this store?”

“Pretty much,” he said, smiling a bit. “Anything you want, you can get here at the Sin Bin. ‘Depraved’ ain’t a four letter word here, if you know what I mean.”

“Then maybe you can help me out,” I said and he smiled at me lustfully again. I so wanted to pull him over the counter I had to fight not to actually do it. “I need to find Death Mask Productions.”

“Those guys?” he said, his smile dropping as he talked. “Ye-yeah I heard of ‘em. Why do you want to know?”

“I’m looking for a tape they made and I’m trying to find out if it’s real.”

“You mean THE tape,” he said, his mouth hanging open as he looked at me. “You’ve got a copy of it? Have you seen it?”

“Yes,” I said and he shook his head lightly. “What of it?”

“Look, just get the hell out of here, alright?” he said, moving around the counter as if he could throw me out. “I don’t want no part of that scene. I hear people seein’ that tape ain’t been comin’ home for dinner. I don’t deal in that kind of snuff anyway, so just take it somewhere else.”

I grabbed him by the lapels and lifted him with my potence. “I’m not going to ask you twice. Tell me how to find DMP.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, getting scared as he realized he was a foot off the ground by someone half his size. “All I know is that a guy calls on the pay phone down the street at the Shell when the watch starts a new hour. He’ll say something like, ‘The moon is a terrible mistress’ or some creepy shit like that and then all you have to say is ‘Who walks the night with demons of dread.’ Supposedly, you’ll be told where to meet the guy to buy a tape. I don’t know for sure. I never tried it.”

I dropped the man to the floor and watched him as he sprawled out. “Thanks for the info,” I said as I went downstairs following the signs for the peepshow.

I’d never actually seen a peepshow before, and was puzzled at the four doors on the right in a line. I checked the first one, finding it locked. I picked it quickly and quietly, finding that it led into a dressing room. I checked the second door, finding it occupied by a guy in a suit. I closed the door on him before he noticed me. The third one was empty, and the fourth one had a security guard in it.

Picking up a coin I found outside the third booth, I slipped in to test the mechanism. After feeding it the coin, the cover over the window rose and I could see into the room beyond. Chastity was dancing far enough back I could see her broken heart tattoo. There was another woman in the room also, who came over and danced in front of the window. The window didn’t stay open long, and I left the room when it closed.

Looking around the room, I needed to find a way to make people leave. Looking at the coin changer, I pulled my lockpicks and opened it up, taking the bills out of it and unhooking the internal wires so it wouldn’t work. I then went through the first door, marked manager, finding it was the office. It had a computer on the desk, and I sat to it.

The main menu options included one for ‘peepshow,’ so I accessed it with the password ‘sinner’ that I pulled out of the keystroke log. It showed window one as being unavailable, but the other two as being operational. I locked them down, and could hear one of the guys start cussing. I left the office, waiting in the corner as the man in the suit came out, muttering under his breath.

I went back down to the last door, finding that the security guard was watching the still open window. Swinging the door open wide, he turned to face me. “Excuse me, sir,” I said, trying to sound sweet as he closed the barn door. “We need to shut down the peepshow for an hour or so,” I lied.

“Aww, well,” he said as he looked at his watch. “I need to go anyway, good while it lasted.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said as he left down the hall. “And come again.”

He just waved as he went up the stairs. I smiled as I checked the dressing room, finding the other dancer leaned up against the wall, smoking a cigarette. She wasn’t a good looking woman, track marks up one arm giving evidence to her habit. I slid the door between the peepshow room and the dressing door room closed as I pulled two of the twenties from the coin changer out of my pocket and held them up to the dancer.

“Take this, and make yourself scarce for a bit,” I told her.

“I’ll be in the pleasure palace if you want me,” she said in a bored voice.

I watched her go down the hall, going into a room across the hall. I went down to the door, closing it almost all the way before reaching in and using my potence to rip the handle off the inside of the door. Dropping the handle in the trash, I went back into the dressing room and pulled my pistol from my holster.

Opening the door, I entered to find Chastity leaned against the back wall, also smoking a cigarette. She went ashen as she saw me, pulling a katana she had hidden in the folds of the room’s curtains. I pulled my pistol, and I saw the fear in her eyes. She knew she couldn’t cross the room without taking a bullet or three from me, but I could see the hatred in her eyes.

She finally darted to the side, arm already winding up for a swing. I didn’t give her a chance as I lined up my first shot and shot her in the chest. She buckled and fell to the floor, her katana clattering across the floor. I lined up my pistol as she struggled to regain her feet, but her legs weren’t moving. Squeezing the trigger again, I put one more in her, ending her life as my bullet tore out her brain.

Leaving the mess, I went out the back and holstered my pistol. I had followed VV’s orders about how to kill Chastity, so now it shouldn’t be a problem on collecting my payment. I went back to Vesuvius to collect.

Chapter Text

Chapter 32 – Monster Mash

October 2, 2004 = Saturday


VV was still posing on the couch when I returned. She sat up, patting the seat beside her where I sat down. As soon as I was seated, she slid herself across my lap, curling herself around me and preventing me from moving. Taking advantage of the situation, and for the sole reason to have something to do with my arms, wrapped my arms around VV’s petite body.

“The hunter?” she asked, her silvery eyes locked on to mine.

“Dead,” I told her. VV didn’t flinch, but her eyes were intense as she stared into mine.

“And the innocent?”

“There were none,” I told her and she stared into my eyes for a few seconds more before breaking eye contact. She curled up on my chest, a soft purr of contentment coming from her.

“If we’d never taken the paths we did in life, coud we have grown fond of each other?” she asked out of nowhere. I didn’t know how to respond, but she continued on anyway. “A shame you had to take her life, but you’ve saved mine, and I won’t forget that.”

“I don’t much like killing,” I told her, getting a soft hmm in response as if she fully agreed with me, “But she would gladly kill us all if she could.”

“Indeed,” she said agreeing with me. “Hopefully, though, I’ll have some lovely young kindred by my side to protect me.”

“I’ll do my best, Velvet,” I said, and she looked up at me and smiled.

“Call me VV,” she said, smiling as she said it. I might protect her, but I’d also somehow make her pay for it too. I felt her muscles tense a bit, but the smile never fell from her face.

“VV,” I said, correcting myself. “So about the club situation...”

“Yes,” she drawled, making it almost like a purr in my ear.

“How do you sort the girls into those that will draw men, and those that won’t?” I asked her, getting a chuckle back.

“That’s why I’m so interested in Angel,” she said. “I know she makes Duke a lot of money, and she has the looks that men are interested in, so my work is mostly done. What Duke does, that I don’t do, is break girls into this business. Every girl at Vesuvius is a proven professional, while most of Duke’s are just starting out and have no clue about dancing, exotic or otherwise.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking it over. It was a valid point, and maybe I had to talk to Duke about that. “So, what if you have a girl that isn’t make money, anymore. What do you do then?”

“I have one girl, Ginger, who’s getting past her prime,” she told me. I hmm’d, and she continued on. “The important thing is to keep in mind an amount for each to girl to make you every night, keeping in mind that not every night is the same. She barely makes the cut, but as long as she does, I’ll keep her on. When her time comes that she can’t make my cut anymore, I’ll have to let her go, even though it breaks my heart. That’s the trouble with this business, you can’t get too emotionally attached. It can take you down.”

“So what will you have her do after her time dancing?” I then asked.

“That’s the where the part about emotional attachments come in,” she said, and it made sense. “We can’t protect the kine their whole lives, and it’s a threat to the masquerade if we stay around them too long. Let them come and go, and live in the moment, for that’s all we have. This moment,” she said, rubbing her heels suggestively against my leg, “here now.”

“So, would you consider breaking in a girl to dancing?” I asked, trying to keep our conversation on topic.

“No,” she sighed. “It’s a terrible thing, and I don’t have the heart for it. Breaking a girl to this is the worst thing you can do to her, it takes a certain light out of them, a light they’ll never get back.”

“Sounds like you had experience,” I said, noting the sadness in her words.

“I did,” she said, and I held her tight against me. “And I won’t do that to another human being.”

“Me neither,” I said, getting a smile from VV. “I ghouled Duke a few nights ago, so he won’t be bothering the girls again. I’m just trying to figure out how to run a club so the girls aren’t harmed but we can still make money.”

“Very noble,” she said, giving me a peck on my cheek. “I wonder if I might get your help with another problem.”

“Another hunter you know about?” I asked but she shook her head.

“Poor, poor David Hatter,” she said and I looked down at her lithe body. “David Hatter’s an aspiring screenwriter and hotel manager. He comes in more often than he would admit, several years now. Poor dear just can’t get a break. I overheard him talking about his new screenplay with one of my girls. It was about secret societies and creatures that found themselves dealing with inner beasts and persecution by elder monsters,” she said, then looked up into my eyes and laid her head on my shoulder, her strawberry lips inches from my chin. “Sound reminiscent of something to you?”

I nodded my head, my lips brushing hers because she was so close. “It’s about kindred,” I said.

“The details of his story were too insightful to be coincidental. I think someone’s working with David, a kindred who doesn’t realize the consequences of their actions. Do you know the penalty for revealing ourselves to kine is?” she asked, her voice still low and sultry but I think that was just her normal way of talking. It also carried a pain in it that cried at my soul, wanting me to help her even though my brain screamed I was still being played.

“With Lacroix in charge, they’d be looking at their own beheading,” I said, the words making VV flinch with their honesty.

“I’m afraid poor David’s big break, the screenplay he’s worked so hard on, must be destroyed and his less than silent partner must be,” she said, pausing at the last word as if she didn’t want to say it and make herself accessory to the fact.

“Killed?” I said and she nodded her head.

“I know David too well, I’m very fond of him, and I’m too close to do what needs to be done,” she said.

“You want me to just destroy his screenplay?” I asked her.

“I don’t think David knows his collaborator is kindred,” she spoke almost in my ear. “You’ll have to take David’s screenplay, and somehow, you’ll have to coax the name of his source out of him. Once you’ve found out who, kill,” she said, the last word almost a sob, “the traitor, but do not touch David.”

“And what do I get for this little favor?” I asked her. She looked up at me again, but my eyes fell just south of her chin to her neck and the little silk choker she wore. Something in me wanted to bury my fangs in her neck and suck her blood out like I had Damsel, and it was a feeling I had to force myself to not follow.

VV must have noticed my view had drifted south, but she didn’t know I was looking at her neck and not her chest. “I promise you can have all of me once all of this is over.”

I looked into her eyes, seeing the promise that was there and nodded my assent. “David works at the Luckee Star Motel. He’s very passionate about his writing, and loves to talk about his craft. I’m sure he’ll talk about his screenplay. It may take some persuasion to get him to ive up his collaborator’s name, however.”

“I’ll sort it out,” I said, hugging VV close as I used my potence to lift her as I stood. She giggled as I found my feet, and I lowered her to her spiked heels. “And you can tell me about the club scene when I get back.”

“I promise you’ll have my full attention when you return,” she said, smiling as I slipped down the stairs.

I went back out to my back, finding a few police cars at the Sin Bin as the processed the crime scene I left behind. No one looked twice at me, dismissing me as they noticed I came from Vesuvius, and obviously not their killer. I could smile at the simplicity of it and headed down the street to the gas station. I parked under the awning, filling the tank on my bike with a few dollars in gas when I heard a phone ring. I checked a nearby clock, finding it was time for DMP to call the payphone, so I ran over and picked it up.

“The moon is a mysterious mistress,” I heard a deep voice say.

“Who walks the night with demons of dread,” I replied, hearing a quick chuckle.

“Luckee Star Motel, room 106,” he said then the line went dead.

I laughed, knowing I can kill two birds with one stone. I went inside to pay for the gas, finding a young kid with long brown hair sitting behind the register. A quick look around told me that we were alone, so I walked up to the counter.

“S’up,” he said in a somewhat bored and stoned out voice. “Welcome to the Red Spot, home of the Monstro-Chug, seventy-two ounces of your favorite blah blah blah. You need some help or something?”

“Pump three,” I told him.

“Three twenty-five,” he said after ringing it up. I paid him, noticing his guitar case behind the counter.

“You play?” I asked, and he smiled.

“Totally,” he said, becoming slightly more animated. “You should come out and see my band, Ebola Cereal. We’re playing tomorrow night at the Crematorium. No cover for chicks. We’re gonna RUIN the place.”

“I’d love to be in on that,” I said with a smile. “Anything else going on in town?”

“Yeah!” he said, throwing his hands up in the air. “The Vesuvius rocks! They don’t let me in anymore, but damn, the girls in there…”

“Bare naked models?” I asked and he nodded emphatically.

“Totally,” he said, in a tone only a California stoner could do. “Hey, you should REALLY ask me about the special.”

“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said, giving him a somewhat toothy grin. “What’s the special?”

“I’m glad you asked that, baby,” he said, bringing up a duffel bag from behind the counter and opening it up. “Seeing as how you look, trustworthy or something, I got this special where you buy some really expensive burritos or Grapple juice, you get a free weapon of your choice. Interested?”

“Sure,” I said, looking inside.

Most of it was ammunition, a few other things including a shoulder holster like Jean wore, and one pistol. I pulled it out, and inspected it. I remember seeing one just like it once before, Jean had one, but I hadn’t touched it. Inspecting it now, I found it was so similar to the thirty-eight I already knew how to use it.

“How much for the forty-four?” I asked him, clicking the drum into place and testing the weight of the piece. It only weighed a few pounds, maybe a pound more than my Glock, but the trigger stuck out further. Pulling the trigger back a bit, I was surprised to see it start cocking and rotating the drum. Letting off the trigger, I dropped the hammer back gently and turned to the clerk.

“Five hundred,” he said with a smile on his lips. “I’ll even throw in the shoulder rig it came with and a box of shells.”

“Deal,” I said, laying the pistol down and pulling out the wad of money I had taken from the Sin Bin’s coin machine. It took it all, but I had enough to get the pistol.

I slipped my messenger bag and duster off, doing my best to hide the sword hidden in the duster, but the clerk didn’t take notice of the thunk the supposedly all cloth duster made when I set it on the counter. The shoulder holster was simple, a cloth strap like affair that resembled a harness with a latch in the front.

After adjusting it to be tight, I slipped my new forty-four into place, finding it stayed snug on my side with the handle just under my lady. Slipping my duster back on, I found the gun was so well hidden, it didn’t even show, but pulling it required I leave the top buttons open. I pulled the gun out, using bullets from the box of shells to load the gun up full, stashing the rest of the shells in a duster pocket and throwing away the box.

“Thanks,” I said as I sauntered back out to my bike. I had a few things to do, and quickly headed down the street for the Luckee Star Motel, finding it with no trouble since I’d passed it on the way to the Sin Bin. The lot was full, but I parked next to the entrance since I didn’t plan to stay long and walked in.

David Hatter sat behind the counter, a brown haired guy in a dirty white and black windbreaker. He looked lonely as he sat there, scribbling in a pad and often chewing on the end of his pencil in thought. He looked up and noticed me, then shook his head before going back to his writing.

“No vacancies,” he said in a completely bored tone.

I walked over and looked at what he was scribbling but he quickly blocked my view with his arm. I saw enough to know it looked like some sort of screenplay, and I smiled at him. “You a writer?”

“Writer’s is such a tarnished term, you know what I mean?” he said, in a high pitched voice. “It’s like, like every other guy says he’s a writer, right? You write a letter, you’re a writer, you know? I-it’s like, what I do,” that’s like screenwriting, like, I encapsulate the essence of excellent film in my scripts, alright? Like, I’m a, a,” he said, stuttering for a word as he snapped his fingers, “blacksmith with pens, right? I’m a welder of montage.”

“What do you write?” I asked him, giving him a smile and leaning over the counter a bit but keeping my eyes glued on his.

“Does a writer write, or does he just ink the flotsom and jetsam floating in his subconscious into a hundred-twenty page piece of film genius?” he asked, avoiding the question. I give him a curious glance to let him know I wasn’t buying it, and he stammered on. “But, y-y-you know, most of my subconscious is filled with old horror films, so that-that’s what I write mostly, I guess.”

“Like vampire films?” I asked and he shook his head.

“Me? I’m like, looking to redefine the vampire movie, okay? Like tons of people make vampire flicks, popular characters, but me I’m gonna be doing the real deal. Like, not only is it going to be scary, but it’s gonna be like, it’s gonna be believable.”

“How do you make vampires believable?” I asked, and he rubbed at the back of his neck.

“Well, in my story, it’s not like about garlic and bats, it’s about vampire societies and stuff,” he said, and I nodded my head for him to keep going. “Like, what would vampires be really all about? How do they blend into society without being discovered.”

“Well,” I said, giving him a wan smile as I looked once at his pad to see it was mostly character dialogue between to names I didn’t recognize, “I have a friend in the movie industry that’s always looking for a good script. He’d love to look your screenplay over. Have a copy on you?”

“A friend, huh?” he said, sounding somewhat skeptical. “And what’s his name?”

“Isaac Abrams,” I said, and Hatter’s mouth fell open. “I’m supposed to meet him in a bit at his jewelry shop to talk about his upcoming film.”

“You know Isaac Abrams? He’s like a legend in this town!” he said, then bent under his desk to reach something.

“He can be a bit of a dick at first, but if you show him the proper respect, he’ll treat you right,” I said when Hatter came up with a bundle of pages in his hand.

“Man, that’s fantastic!” he said as he showed me the screenplay. “I’ll give you my only copy of the screenplay if you promise to keep it safe and show to Mister Abrams. Hopefully he’ll like it.”

“Sure,” I said, taking the screenplay from him. “Did you have any help writing it or any collaborators?”

“I really can’t talk about it,” he said, grimacing a bit. “He likes his privacy.”

“Don’t you think he wants to be famous too?” I said, smiling and turning on my presence to influence the sap. “I mean, who doesn’t?”

“Okay, okay,” he said, getting a bit nervous, but smiling to show it wasn’t directed at me. “Guy calls himself Julius. Don’t know if he has a last name or what it is, but he lives under the Santa Monica Pier. Weird guy, weird guy, but really creative, you know? I love how his mind works.”

“Thanks,” I said, tucking the screenplay into my messenger bag. “I have to go see a friend here for a moment, make sure they’re staying sober,” I lied, hiding my meeting with DMP, “But then I’ll go see Isaac about this.”

“Thanks,” he said, going back to his pad.

I went out the door, finding it was like a backwards motel in that the doors had outside access, but the doors were all protected behind a fence and night clerk. Piss poor excuse for security it seemed, as I saw one girl that could only be a hooker in her fishnets, tight mini and tube top. I headed over to DMP’s room and knocked, and didn’t get an answer.

I pulled my new magnum out and used my potence to bust the old lock, and entered the motel room. Blood painted the floor, especially in the back where the bathroom was. The door leading to the tub and toilet area was shredded, giving evidence to the little monster that was becoming the bane of my nights.

I looked the room over, finding a row of tapes in the drawers. I searched each drawer, not finding one marked ‘Monster Eats Chick’ in the mix. I instead took one of each that they did have, though their titles weren’t the most revealing or sounded even close. It was only when I was about to leave that I noticed a key ring under the bed. I pulled it out, finding it only held three keys. One was marked ‘Internet Cafe’ with ‘Ground Zero’ on the other side.

Taking the key, I left Luckee Star and gave Hatter a cheerful wave as I passed by, not wanting to impicate myself in any crime. I took my bike back down the internet cafe, going in the front way. Pulling the key out, I checked it against the back door marked ‘employees only’ but it wasn’t locked to begin with.

The door behind that one though, was, and I unlocked it with the key and stepped through to a stairwell. A sudden feeling of unease hit me. If those little monsters found the motel room, did whoever sent them find this place as well?

With that thought in mind, I pulled my magnum out and cocked it, proceeding slowly up the stairs. The door at the top of the stairs started to bang in its frame, and I aimed for the door. I was almost to the top when the little devil burst through the door, a loud howl announcing its arrival.

It was far faster than I thought, and I no more had my pistol lined up then it jumped for me. I ducked, my shot going wide as my target ended up leaping over me to the bottom of the stairwell. I fell on my backside as I twisted to get the target back in my gunsights, slipping a few stairs down in my haste. The little monster acted confused for a minute, and I put one into it’s brain just to watch it explode in a ball of blood and viscera. I held my gun on the remains for a second, before reloading the magnum and going back up the stairs.

I followed the gun into the improvised studio, hammer back in case any more of those things showed up. A naked lady cowered against the wall to my right, tears streaming down her cheeks as she stared at the far wall. A monster suddenly leaped towards her, and I began yanking the trigger back as fast as I could to kill it before it landed on its next victim.

One of my bullets hit it, causing it to explode before it could reach it’s target, saving her life but a noise in the back of the studio yanked my attention as another monster chased a man from around a corner, catching and shredding him with what had to be potence-like strength.

I aimed my magnum at it, firing once but it just went click. The monster noticed me, leaving its now dead victim to charge at me. I dropped the magnum, reaching under my duster as time seemed to slow and the monster hung in mid-air. I grabbed my katana, pulling the sword and getting into a ready position just before the monster reached me. With a solid swipe, I cut the creature’s leg off as it sailed past me and it landed and rolled once before exploding.

Holstering the katana, I went over to the surviving woman, who still stared at the wall opposite us. “Hey,” I said, snapping my fingers in her face. She finally jerked her face to me, but the fear was evident in her eyes. “Get out of here,” I yelled, and she bolted for the ruined door, not even bothering to find something to cover herself with.

I picked up my magnum, reloading it and stashed it back in its holster. It packed a punch, but it took too long to reload and only carried six shots. I reached under my duster and pulled out my Glock, hoping the smaller pistol would work better on these fast little monsters.

Heading through the studio, I checked all around me for more of those monsters. They were too fast and lethal not to be taken seriously. It also afforded me a chance to see more of the studio, each of it’s little ‘rooms’ showing a different setting; a motel room, possible bedroom, dining room, and a dumpster surrounded by wooden ‘brick’ paneling to resemble an outside scene.

I was just about to turn my back on the dumpster when a monster jumped out of the dumpster, it’s scream my only warning as I spun and fired several shots into it’s forehead as it leaped at me. Changing the clip, I continued on, finding another door in the back next to a scene with a stuffed zebra and some potted plants.

I opened the door, finding myself in a hallway that had windows along one wall, showing a storeroom full of tapes and the equipment to make copies with. A man stood at a table, oblivious to what was going on around him. I had just found the door when one of the monsters burst through a vent. I brought my gun up, hoping I wasn’t dealing with bulletproof glass as my first shots ripped.

Damn little monsters were too fast though, as the one in the room made short work of the guy inside, loud techno music assaulting me now that the glass was shattered. I kept firing, eventually killing the monster and covering the area with blood and splattered meat. The windows had that built-in mesh designed to keep intruders out. I tried the door, but it was locked with an electronic lock I couldn’t pick.

Heading around the corner, hoping to find someone with an access card, and found a door with DMP scratched into the hard wood. ‘Bingo,’ I thought as I went through and found myself in a dungeon from hell. Two of the creatures stood scratching and eating at a woman on an improvised rack. I stashed my Glock in a pocket, pulling my magnum out and taking careful aim.

I exploded one over the girl, the other taking notice and screeching as it turned to face me. I forced myself to be calm, thumbed the hammer back and took careful aim as it raced for the stairs up to me. I held my aim, waiting for the overly fast and brainless creature to hit the wall, which it did. Momentarily stunned, I had the perfect shot, and I blew into a bloody mess.

I reloaded the magnum, not wanting to take a chance on needing the hard hitting weapon and not having enough bullets in it. I then stashed it back in the shoulder holster and reloaded my Glock’s clips. Glock in hand, I went down the stairs and looked at the familiar face of the woman that had been tied up in the dungeon.

I found I knew her, one of the hookers I had fed from while I was on probation in Santa Monica. Leaving the corpse behind, I went through the small room which dead ended in a utility closet.

“Damn,” I muttered, slightly angered at not finding anybody alive.

One of the boxes moved slightly in the corner, and I brought my gun up and fired, thinking I was about to get ambushed. A guy in a gray tank top and red bandanna burst out from under the boxes, scrambling almost on all fours as he tried to get by me in a blind panic. I reached down with a hand and grabbed him by his tank top and threw him back against a shelf, pointing my Glock in his face.

“Oh, Jesus, man,” he nearly screamed, tears coming from his eyes as he stared at my gun, almost going cross-eyed from it being so close to his nose. “What the, what the FUCK is going on up there? Huh? Don’t make any noise, th-they’ll hear us.”

“You DMP?” I asked him, voice stern as he was likely my only source of information.

“Y-Yeah,” he started to say, before finding his brains and shaking his head. “I-I, uh, mean, n-no,” he said, then I stuck the Glock on the end of his noise. “Aw, fuck it! Yeah, I with DMP. You five-oh?”

“What the hell is going on?!” I shouted at him, giving him a shake to keep his attention on me. “Those are the same creatures on your tape!”

“Yeah, yeah, I-I know,” the guy said, terror evident in his eyes, “but we didn’t make that shit. Uh, one of the guys stole it, f-found it in the creepy house in the hills while he was cleaning the pool. We just copied it and put our names on it. Worse than anything we ever did. Worst thing I ever saw!”

“What house!” I demanded, shaking him to keep his attention on me. “Where is it?”

“Please, please, please,” he begged, and I suddenly got a whiff of piss.

“Jus-just get me outta here!” he yelled, then he screamed, long and high pitched as I was knocked hard into him and fell into a pile of boxes. I had a close up view as the monster recovered, literally at my feet as the thug I had been questioning bolted in an attempt to escape. The monster recovered in seconds, and with one loud screech, brought the thug down and ripped his back to shreds.

I calmly lined up the Glock, putting several bullets into it’s head and destroying it, but the thug was already dead. It was from my vantage point on the floor that I saw the vent above me and what looked like the locked room above that. Climbing up the shelving, I managed to climb into the room through the smallish vents.

I searched the equipment, finally coming up with the original tape. I took it, stashing it in my bag, then started to leave. I was just coming up on the main studio area when two cops burst through the ruined door. I ducked back out of sight, apparently not seen. I then used my shadows to step out to my bike, finding the area crawling with cops.

I hopped on, calmly leaving before I was noticed and went back to Isaac’s, and hid my bike in the alley. Isaac was talking with a pretty woman in a blue satin suit when I came in through the door, and the annoyance at being interrupted settled quickly into grim lines on his face.

“Did you find it?” he asked me and I pulled it out of my bag.

“Yes,” I said, and he dismissed the woman, saying that they could finish up later. After she left, shutting the interior door to the store behind her, I added, “And the creatures on the tape are real. Small, fast, and very deadly if you’re not armed.”

“Then this is no doubt the work of a fiend,” he said, extending his hand for the tape. “Hand me the tape, there might be something on it that will give us some insight into what its motives are.”

I handed him the tape, and he put it into the entertainment system and played it. My earlier suspicion was bore out, it wasn’t something that had been shot by a tall individual, the time and date stamp had been removed from the now obvious security footage. It showed the brown haired woman as she arrived by taxi, walking bravely up to the door.

She knocked, and the double doors opened and the scene changed to an interior shot, showing her shock at seeing nothing on the other side. Still, she walked in, calling out for an Andrei when the doors suddenly closed on her. There was nothing to show how the trick was done on opening and closing the doors, but the walls looked as if they were coated in a layer of blood, the paintings by the door showing mutilated bodies in the dim light. The woman tried the door, but it refused to open.

The camera showed the monsters as they lined up along the door, as if they were just servants waiting for orders from the mistress of the house. The woman didn’t seem to see them, and fumbled along the wall until she found a light switch. She screamed the moment she saw them, and run deeper into the house and up the stairs.

The rest of the tape was what we’d already been able to see before, where the woman ran through the rest of the house until she locked herself in a room with two more monsters and was killed. This time, the tape didn’t fade to black immediately, but showed them lapping at her insides, trying to get to her blood the only way they could, as it pooled inside her wounds.

When it ended, it was Isaac who broke the silence. “The house in the tape, I know it. It’s in the Hills, on King’s way. My guess is that the fiend that made this tape is using these creatures to hound the Nosferatu, which would explain their sudden absence. They’re trapped.”

He turned around in his chair to face me, after taking the tape from the VCR and putting it in his desk. “Well, it’s unfortunate that the prince needs you to see the Nosferatu, because it looks like this fiend know how to get at them, and I doubt he’s going to draw a map for you. King’s way is your only way in, unfortunately.”

“I’ll just follow the little critters to their target,” I said aloud, trying to think and plan. I was going to need a lot of ammunition and weapons.

“If I don’t hear from the Nosferatu within the next few nights, I’ll tell Lacroix he’s going to need a new leading lady and march a few of my own troops up there,” he said, a smug expression on his face.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Isaac,” I muttered as I turned to leave.

“If I may give you one final word of warning,” he said, making me turn back as I wondered if I had crossed the line with my mutterings, “Do not trust LaCroix. Do not play the damned politics of the Camarilla. This city hasn’t needed them in a long time, and won’t ever.”

“I’m at the point in my undead life I don’t trust much of anybody, anymore,” I told him, “Especially the prince.” He smiled at that, knowing I didn’t trust LaCroix and was probably looking for a way out. I decided to squash that thought. “He pays me well for my services.”

I left him with a scowl on his face, knowing his pockets weren’t deeper than a Ventrue’s. According to Walsh, money didn’t matter to a Ventrue. Made me wonder what did, though. I hopped on my bike, deciding I needed to take care of Julius before heading to Fat Larry’s for something to take down these monsters with and stock up on ammo.

I was almost to the pier when I spotted Mercurio getting a large duffel out of the trunk of a Mercedes. He spotted me too, and shouted at me, but I didn’t hear it over the roar of my Harley. I circled back, parking beside his car to see him smiling.

“Just got back from seeing a friend of mine,” he said as he set the duffel on the trunk of his car. “Guy’s been miffed about a pay freeze, so he’s agreed to start filling my wish list for a cut. Got two rifles outta this trip. Interested?” he said as opened it to reveal the contents.

The first weapon he pulled out looked like an AK-47 assault rifle, wood grips gleaming in the streetlight. “This baby is the Spas fifteen. Twelve gauge semi-automatic rifle. Dual-fire modes, but why anyone would want to go pump is beyond me, and eight round magazine. About the only gun I can get to beat it is a Saiga twelve with a drum magazine. This thing was designed to rip kindred apart, especially if you use these,” he said, holding up a box marked Dragon’s Breath.

“Dragon’s Breath ammo is illegal in Cali,” he said, grinning, “but it turns a twelve gauge into a flamethrower with a punch. Hit a kindred with this, they’ll frenzy and burn, and burn damage takes much longer to heal. Add to that you can put eight rounds into ‘em in a heartbeat…”

“And you can take a kindred down with ease,” I said as I looked lovingly at the rifle. “Ooh, I’ll definitely take one.”

“Thought so, since the master has you running all of his rougher errands,” he said, pulling out a case. When he opened it up, he pulled out a rifle that was long and sleek except for the two sticks attached under the barrel, and it was done all in black with a telescope mounted on top of it. Setting the Spas to the side, I took the rifle, finding I really didn’t know much about it.

“This one is from my buddy’s private stock,” he said as he laid the Spas to the side. “Remington Em-twenty-four sniper rifle with Leupold Mark Four scope and Harris bipod and all the other goodies are accounted for in the carrying case. It’s one of the most accurate weapons in the world, and almost impossible to get, outside of law enforcement.”

I looked the rifle over, noticing its simple lines and lack of sophistication. “How far away is a weapon like this supposed to be used?” I asked, lining the telescope up to my eyes and flicking the covers open. The range I could see clearly was astonishing, easily allowing me to see the bolts on a distant light post as if they were at my feet. I ranged the rifle further down the street, finding a guy sitting in his car smoking a cigarette, his face briefly lit as he puffed.

“Nine hundred yards,” he said, and I whistled. “A good marksman is lethal at further ranges.”

“Like that ghoul in Hollywood Forever Cemetery?” I asked and Mercurio nodded.

“Romero’s one of my best customers,” he said as I lowered the rifle. “And I’ve never seen a better shooter. Man could take the wing off a fly clear across town.”

“This rifle is probably right up his alley,” I said as I handed it back to him. “I don’t usually get the chance to fight at a long range. Half the time, I’m close enough to use a sword,” I told him as I handed him the rifle.

He shrugged as he took it back. “That I can understand,” he said, putting it back in its case. “Has the Sabbat hit your place yet?”

“No,” I said, thinking of my mansion. It was a sitting duck out there in the middle of nowhere, but I had only just acquired it. “I did only just get it though, so I’m hoping they won’t attack it for a bit. What’s one of their hits like?”

“They hit like a Mack truck, and that’s just on their worst days,” he said as he turned to face me. “Back in New York, I was working bodyguard for one of the old boys. There was me, a couple of other ghouls and some young kindred types like you. Sabbat hit us, hard, tried to pull a dine and dash. Just two of us walked away, and one was the elder.”

“Sounds rough,” I said, thinking that if only two people walked out of a hit, one of them an elder, he was either very good, or very lucky. Probably lucky. “Any advice for my ghouls on how to survive their hit?”

“Yeah,” he said, hefting the Spas. “Flamethrowers, or leiu thereof, a line of Spas and Dragon’s Breath ammo. If you could get access to one, a belt fed automatic and tracer rounds would be best. Tracer rounds work better than normal bullets because they burn as they’re shot, and you types don’t heal that damage very well.”

“Preach,” I said with a smile, remembering the pain and difficulty I had when the sun had burned me on my way home. “So how much for the Spas?”

“I can let you have it for five, mainly because you saved my ass,” he said as he handed me the Spas fifteen again.

Thinking of my upcoming meeting with Julius, it was a perfect chance to test it out when I executed the traitor. It didn’t sit well with me, being an executioner, but we did live under strict laws. I couldn’t expect everyone I met to be as understanding as Samantha and accept my unnatural hunger. In fact, most people would probably freak out if they saw me feeding.

If there was one thing I could agree with the prince about, it was the need for our secrecy. Mortals couldn’t handle the fact that undead predators walked among them. The hunter I had killed in the Sin Bin was proof of that. I hadn’t no more appeared than she pulled a weapon and tried to kill me. I could have been coming to her with information about a dangerous kindred that needed to be killed, and she didn’t care.

Shaking my head at my train of thought, I reached into my messenger bag for my money. I’d kept several grand in here, or so I thought, only finding a few hundreds. Frowning, I checked the rest of my bag, eventually finding the rest of the required money, though I was down to just a few dollars. It seemed my ghouls were using my cash on hand, though I couldn’t fault them for following my orders. Maybe I needed to start a ledger and any expenses they made could be tallied on it. I had to keep track of their expenses somehow.

Counting out the five hundred dollars, most of it in fives and ones, I handed it all to Mercurio. He handed me a box of Dragon’s Breath ammo, and he helped me load up the Spas. It carried eight rounds in its magazine, and we put nothing but Dragon rounds in it.

Once we had it loaded, Mercurio stuffed it back in the duffle and I slung it over my back, making it impractical to carry all the time. It wasn’t that it was heavy, but it was kind of easy to guess what I had in a large duffle bag slung over my back as I rode. And all I needed was a cop to pull me over and ask to search me to end up on the wrong side of mortal law enforcement.

Taking the bag and bidding Mercurio farewell, I headed down to the beach access under the pier, and walked down the steps and out onto the beach. There was only one person out here, a kindred in a white t-shirt and a mohawk. I walked up, shifting the duffle bag so I could pull the Spas if I needed it. The kindred noticed me as I walked up, shifting around to get on his feet, ready to bolt.

“You Julius,” I asked him.

“W- wh-wh-what de-d-do you want” he stammered, looking at me. He seemed ready to bolt, and E’s earlier warning when we first met about Thin Bloods being hunted rang through me.

I pulled the Spas from the duffle and aimed it at him. “You goddamn traitor!” I yelled, shouldering the Spas and getting ready to blow him to ash.

Julius backpedaled hard, falling into the sand where he lay frozen. “Nuh-n nuh-nuh-nuh-no,” he stammered fast, looking at the wicked shotgun I held.

“What were you thinking? Telling a human about us? Do you know what the consequences are?” I yelled at him.

“Puh-puh-puh-please! I-I-I duh-doh-don-d-dinon’t know!”

“You know what the penalty is for breaking the Masquerade, Julius! Do you?!” I yelled at him. I wanted to pull the trigger, to end his suffering before my own nerve failed.

“I-I-I I’m suh-suh-sorry! Puh-please,” he stammered on. “I’ll never do it again!”

“The punishment is death!” I yelled at him. I knew I should fire the gun, incinerating the poor sap, but I couldn’t do it.

“Y-y-you cuh-could lemme go!” he said, stammering on as he pleaded for his life. “I-I-I puh-puh-promise I-I-I wuh-would leave Los A-Angeles, I swear!”

“I don't know, Julius,” I told him. “I could end up in just as much trouble as you.”

“N-nuh-no one ha-has t-to know!” he yelled, and my heart fell.

One person did, besides me and him, and if one did, more might know. Running the various scenarios through my mind, I couldn’t help but remember something the prince had said. Lowering my gun, I knew I was taking a risk, but since I had plugged the leak in the masquerade, it should be over and done with.

“Get out of here, tonight,” I said and Julius nodded emphatically. “And if I ever see you in Los Angeles again, Julius, I will kill you.”

“Th-thank y-you,” he said, as he scrambled to his feet and ran off down the beach.

I watched him go, then put the Spaz back in the duffle, wondering if I’d saved or damned myself by not killing Julius when I had the chance. At least the Nosferatu weren’t around to leak that back to the prince.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33 – Verdammt Wir Leben Noch

October 2, 2004 = Saturday


It was with a some trepidation I headed up to King’s Way. I hadn’t faced but a few kindred in battle, winning against Jezebel and Kanker due to my shadows, and only by my shadows. In a straight up fight, I was probably going to lose. At least now I had the Spas fifteen, and I hoped the fancy ammo worked as planned. If it did, I could incinerate Andrei in seconds. If it didn’t, well, I still had the katana on my back.

It didn’t take long for me to find the house, a large two story with several garage doors facing the street. I parked my bike behind the fence, where it wasn’t easily seen. While I could step back to it anytime I needed to with my shadow abilities, I was going to have to follow whatever conduit Andrei had to the Nosferatu.

Stepping to the front door, I tried to open it, but the handle spun freely. I tried budging the door with my shoulder and potence, but it was solid as a rock. I looked around for windows, but they all seemed to be solid panes of glass with tin foil covering them on the inside. Circling the house, I came upon a trellis where vines grew to the second story.

I climbed up, soon finding myself on the third floor balcony. Looking around, I found a sliding glass door with tinfoil taped over it, making it a poor man’s sun shield. I tried to slide the door open, but it was locked. I looked at the glass door, then pulled my Glock and blew the glass apart. I probably should be mortified at causing so much property damage, but one look inside and I decided to torch the place as the walls were covered in so much blood that the wallpaper looked like viscera. Grimacing at the sight of the room, I looked up to see even the ceiling looked bloody, making the room feel as if it were once a living thing.

I stepped through the door just to hear the screech of one of those little monsters. I had barely had time to turn before it tackled me to the floor, it’s claw-like feet ripping at my duster as we fell. Thankfully, it fell off when I hit the floor, and I brought the Glock up, firing directly into its face and destroying it. Being so close to the monster as it blew up, I could see the fiery ash I would associate of a kindred dying mixed with the blood and viscera.

So they are at least part kindred,’ I mused, getting back to my feet and reloading my pistol with a fresh clip. I looked around the room, finding a pile of bones in the corner. I toed some of the cloth aside, finding out that it was the remains of the woman in the tape. I went through the door into the hallway, finding it had some sort of upstairs study with bloody chairs.

Another of those little monsters came out a far door, and I leveled my pistol, firing twice before it could even screech it’s warning. I kept my pistol aimed at the far door, using my powers to see into the shadows as if it there were lights on. I found it an empty room, and turned back to take in the hallway better. The house seemed to be growing bones, as they were sprouting out and back into the drywall as if they belonged there. I didn’t dare touch the walls for fear of getting blood on me, but at least the floor seemed to be made of solid wood.

I found the stairs down, finding they ended in a dining room and kitchen combo. One of the monsters took notice of me, screeching just as I put another round down it’s open mouth, silencing it. It tried to shake it off, but I followed it up with several more, until it was destroyed.

I cast around, not fin ding any more in sight, but grimaced at what I did see. Seemed like they butchered meat here, several slabs of rotting meat chunks giving evidence to that fact. A rustle behind the center island brought my gun up, and I found another of the little monsters pawing at a cupboard. I fired three rounds into the back of its head before a screech behind me made me duck and turn as another one came into view. I fired wildly, emptying the clip as it launched itself at me, covering me in ash as it disintegrated right in front of me.

I raised myself up, reloading my clip from rounds in my bag. I then continued down the steps, finding myself on what was likely the ground floor. There was another set of stairs beside the entryway door that led down, and I followed it into a parlor type room. The door in the corner began to bang, and I brought my gun up just as the monster behind it broke the door off its hinges. Lining up my shot before it could pinpoint me, I blew it away with several well placed shots.

Noting the last door, I opened it to find it was a long set of stairs going down, where what I could only assume was a man as he worked on something I couldn’t see on a table in front of him. Figuring I had finally found Andrei, I looked around the ruin of a house and decided I needed to destroy this before any kine found it.

Going back up to the kitchen, I used my potence to yank the old gas stove out of its hole and break the pipe that was there. I could hear the hiss of the gas as it flowed into the room, then went back to the parlor and used my lighter to start a fire on one of the old armchairs. Hoping my homemade bomb worked, I then took the stairs down to meet Andrei.

It was on the first step I decided to use the Spas on Andrei. Taking a moment, I put my Glock back in its holster and pulled the assault shotgun out of its bag, making sure the weapon’s safety was off. Andrei didn’t take notice of my arrival until I was nearly at the bottom of the stairs when a step creaked as I stepped down it. It gave me a chance to see what he was working on; a person laid out on the table in the center of the room.

Andrei turned to face me as I came around the banister at the bottom of the stairs, Spas in hand. He didn’t seem to pay it any mind as I faced him, and I steeled myself from his icy glaze. He didn’t even look human. His eyes were yellow and orange, giving him an alien look with skin of leather and absolutely no hair at all. If I didn’t know he was kindred, I’d probably take him for an alien on his say so alone. He had spikes coming through his trenchcoat, giving him a sinister look. Even his hands didn’t have much semblance of normalcy, looking more like the claws Jean sprouted that night in her pickup.

Hello, young Lasombra,” he said in a deep resonating voice. It was probably the one part of him I found comforting. “I see your face is not so lifeless, the nerves not so deadened, that you cannot express shock. Tell me, young one, is my appearance that frightening?”

It’s unsettling,” I admitted. “So you’re Andrei? Leader of the Sabbat?” I proffered. Andrei dipped his head in acknowledgement, a smile quirking his face.

I would have hoped you tracked me down on your own merit, young one,” he went on. “But I find it more likely you were sent here to kill me.”

“It’s always an option,” I halfway joked. “It’s not like kindred leave evidence behind when they die. I doubt you’d be able to find a speck of Simeon’s corpse on that stage they decapitated him on.”

Oh, so true,” he said, a smile again quirking his lips. “I have known many Lasombra over my long years, and the one tenet of their clan I find most appealing is their desire that the strongest survive. You have done well on this, having your family ripped from you, your life torn away, your own body assaulted, yet here you are. Richer than you were before, more powerful than Simeon could hope to attain, deadlier than almost any pack I have, yet I wonder why you take orders from that puppet prince?”

“Because I can’t fight an entire city,” I told him, and he frowned. “You have other ideas?”

“I am but one kindred, yet I have repeatedly thwarted their attempts to stop me, and now,” he said, turning back to the table where I watched as he warped the man on the table even further until he turned into one of those wicked little monsters. It thrashed a few times, then fell off the table to land on its feet and looked up at Andrei.

Go little one, join your brothers,” he said and it scampered off through a little doorway set low into the dirty floor. “Blessed little creatures, my szlachta. I have broken through the crust of their existence and brought forth their greatest strength; mutability. Coaxing bone, weaving flesh, and lacing sinew tight until it’s straining to lash out! Perfect creatures to drive the Nosferatu from their nests. The sewers beyond are filled with my creations, and now the Camarilla is blind to the Sabbat’s designs. All done by one kindred.”

“Good point,” I said, looking around the walls at the people who were chained there. “Where do you get the people for this?”

Illegals, mongrels, caitiff, Thin Bloods, the bane of both kindred and kine society,” he said in a dispassionate voice. “They are of little consequence to authority as they are to me. It is a, culling, of sorts.”

I toed through the pile of clothes beside the table, thinking Andrei was just about as nuts as the prince. “So, what are you going to do with the Anarchs once you subdue the Cammies?”

“They can join us, or join the Camarilla in their final death,” he said, and I shook my head when my boot unearthed a tie dyed halter top with a familiar pattern.

I presume you have a position for me in this grand scheme of yours?” I asked absently, spreading it out to see the familiar yellow and orange of Lily’s top.

Simeon was our Archbishop, heading the various packs we were to use as a military force,” he prattled on, though I was past caring. Finding Lily’s top here could only mean one thing, and I searched the walls for E. “He intended you to be a Bishop, but if you were to come back, I would be more than happy to extend his title to you.”

I locked eyes on a man hanging in the far corner, and my hands gripped my Spas tightly. “So generous,” I said, turning to face Andrei. “And if I decline?”

Oh, childe,” he said chuckling. “You have lived in my good graces since you were captured by the Camarilla. My packs have hit many of the weak among them, silencing some. Though they have wished to come after you, I have denied them this. Celeste especially wants the chance to face you for destroying the plague she was creating and ruining her life in the Tremere, pitiful spawn that she is. To stand against me is to face her. Is that what you wish?”

“What I wish,” I said, turning to face him fully as my rage built, “was to be left in peace. I didn’t want my life ripped apart. I didn’t want to be kindred! AND I SURE AS HELL DIDN’T WANT MY FRIENDS TO DIE!” I yelled, pointing the Spas directly at Andrei and began pulling the trigger as fast as I could. Each shot let out a roar of flame that engulfed him, the bright flash blinding my sensitive eyes. I was sure that there’d be nothing left when I finished putting the eighth shot into him, but he just chuckled as he patted out the smoldering ruin that was beginning on his shoulder.

I could only stare in disbelief as Andrei stood there chuckling in the ruin I had made of his dark red trenchcoat, which was about the only damage I had done. I could see the hardened armor his skin made, articulated and hardened like the shell of a beetle.

“Peace it is, then,” he said, raising his hand. “Peace of the grave!”

Loud screeching filled my ears as more of those szlachta poured out of pipes set into the walls. Dropping the empty Spas, I hesitated for a brief moment before yanking my katana from it’s sheath on my back and slicing the first one as it leaped for me. Two more tackled me from behind, their claw-like hands ripping at my duster.

I rolled forward, shaking the two off my back, slicing my katana at several more. Panic filled me as I struggled to stay upright as several more tackled me from the sides, their claws ripping my duster to shreds. I did a quick hand-stand-flip combo that put me over the mass of creatures, and I swiped at the nearest one to leave a deep gash on its forehead. I landed on my feet, grabbing the katana in both hands and activating my potence as I swung again, hoping the former Kue-Jin’s sword was up to the task required of it. The sword bit deep, cutting several in two to leave them piles of ash and bloody chunks. I couldn’t even keep track of how many there were, just kept the sword swinging at anything that seemed to move.

An ear shattering boom rang out over us, and part of the ceiling cave in over the stairs to engulf them in flames.

“What have you done, you miserable puppet!” Andrei roared as he took in the devastation upstairs.

Made sure that no matter what happened down here, I shut your operation down,” I told him as his creatures backed off. “One kindred with a mission,” I bounced back at him. Another piece of the ceiling fell from the kitchen area, and he regarded it with cold compassionless eyes.

“Then you can burn with my creations you were so eager to destroy,” he said, turning his back on me as another piece of the ceiling fell. The old wood must be pretty dry to catch fire and go so easy, and his szlachta attacked me again en masse.

Using my potence, I continued to swing my blade for all it was worth as I ducked under or rolled over the creature’s attacks. Another piece of the ceiling fell in, driving me back as the fire nearly caused my beast to take over. An unven step brought my gaze to the ground, and I saw my Spas and where I dropped it.

I picked it up, stashing it back in my duffle before looking at the ceiling to see it had become a fiery inferno up there. It was burning too hot, and my beast screamed at me to run. I watched as the creatures split up, trying to find a way around the fire so they could attack me, when I made my move. Using my potence, I jumped the fiery debris and bolted into the tunnel Andrei had disappeared down.

Turning back to the fiery basement, I watched as the building began to collapse and the surviving creatures were trapped in the blaze, ensuring their death. I paused to take stock of my duster, finally removing it and tearing the sheath out of the back so Heather could reuse it again.

Moving away from the wall, I headed off down the sewers, my hunger growing from overuse of my vampiric powers.


=o=0=o=


I clawed my way up the muddy bank, my internal clock telling me it was nearly dawn. I had gashes all over my back from where I kept getting pounced by Andrei’s creations. Turns out, they had a knack for getting into tight spaces where you didn’t think they’d fit into. I paid for that lesson dearly, and had to get used to carrying my sword in one hand and Glock in the other.

A s I finally stood on the bank, I took stock of everything. One thing I knew for sure, as I stood there with Katana in hand, I was completely out of ammo. My duffle was long gone, my Spas now held across my back with a strap of cloth as if I were a militant guerrilla fighter and my Magnum and Glock out on display for all to see.

I started walking away from the underground lake that I had been dumped in after getting through the last trapped door. Seems like the Nossies had been doing their best to stop the szlachta, but that wasn’t the only thing Andrei had been making. One of his creations was even larger, almost eight feet and pure muscle and was capable of ripping gates out of stone . Good thing the damn thing wa s all muscle and no brain, because I was able to slip past it to cut its Achilles tendon which made it fall and I could cleave it’s head off with no problem.

I had to hand it to the Nos, they picked one hell of a back door to their lair. No living person could survive the trip, not unless they packed, and could use, scuba equipment, but here I was, squishing my way forward in my soaked clothes, water sloshing in my boots with every step. Gary was going to laugh his ass off when he saw me.

I was still hungry, even after slaking my thirst as best I could. I managed to find an access to the surface streets, momentarily leaving my guns behind to go feed. I found a bar near the sewer access and began to start seducing anyone I could. It took four necks to slake my hunger, surprising me. Apparently as Lasombra changed me to accommodate his desires, kine no longer satisfied my thirst for blood.

I shook my head at the thought that soon I wouldn’t be able to feed normally at all. One thought did creep into my head, even though everything I knew about what I was becoming told me it was wrong; I needed kindred blood. I thought of what I had done to Damsel when we were alone and cringed. Now I wanted VV’s neck? What was I becoming?

I slogged along the tunnel, determined to ask Beckett if I ever saw him again when I started to see doors set along the path. I passed by many of the plain wooden doors not even bothering to check to see if one held Gary. Had to figure the Primogen would have a fancier door than just a simple wooden one.

After a multitude of doors I found one ringed in green lights. I opened to see a young Nos tapping away at a computer screen. “Wow! You really opened it!” he said, not even looking up at me. “I can’t believe you just opened it. What kind of a freakin’ idiot just opens it.?”

I closed the door silently before I had to deal with a kindred break down and kept going down the line of doors in the tunnel. It wasn’t until I found one with purple lights that I tried it again. Inside was a woman talking to a marked up picture on the wall. “Just look at her! Too fat, big teeth and her complexion! Does she wash her face with a cheese grater?”

I closed the door quickly, then did a double take at my bony body. Too fat? There was nothing left! Suppose it could have been that time of the month and was left bloated for eternity, but no. I had to be starved for a week first.

I continued on, crossing a chasm where water ran along, presumably to the lake. There was a metal walkway over it, and I crossed over to find myself in a small cavern with a large set of double doors at the other side. I passed over and walked up to the doors, opening them to see another tunnel that led around a bend.

I followed it to find a dinner party. At least it should have been a dinner party. The ‘guests’ were actually corpses sitting propped up in their places with dead rats on the table.

By the clack-smack cracking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” I heard Gary’s voice say, though I couldn’t see the tuxedo wearing kindred. “I don’t remember seeing you on the guest list for the dinner party. We’re having a wrap party for the Misfits about forty years late. Cast and crew only, boss.”

“Funny, Gary,” I said, forcing a smile on my lips even though I felt like shit, and probably looked it. “The prince sent me to talk about the Ankaran Sarcophagus.”

“You don’t say,” I heard him say. “You should have got here sooner. That lot’s been sold.”

“Who bought it?” I asked him, hoping it could be that simple to finish this run but knowing it wouldn’t be.

“I like to discuss business face to face,” he said, then chuckled. “Up for seeing what I really look like?”

“Sure,” I said, preparing myself to see the ugly mug of a Nos again.

“Are you sure?” he asked, trying to mess with my head in whatever mind games he liked to play. “You don’t want my image in your subconscious. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.”

“Remind me to show you what’s in the void,” I said, smiling at the silence. “I’ve seen kindred adopt psychosis at the shit in there, and I’m still here, doing the work of the prince.”

“Behind you, boss!” Gary shouted, misting into existence as I turned to face him, sworg poised to block an attack that thankfully wasn’t coming. He had the bulbous, hairless cranium I was coming to expect from all Nos and Elven like ears. And while he still wore a tux, it was minus it’s sleaves.

“Delighted,” I said, lowering the katana. “Now where’s the sarcophagus?”

Where, where, where did it go?” he said, rubbing his chin. “That thing gets around more than Mae West. Why, might I ask, should I give you that information?”

“Because I got rid of Andrei’s szlachta for you, clearing out the sewers so you wouldn’t lose anymore kindred. You lost a one, by the way. They ganged up on him before I could save him.”

“Oh my hero,” he said in a somewhat sing-songy voice that made me want to stab him. “Had it not been for that damn Tzimisce, you’d still be searching under rocks for us. It was hardly a favor, but, I know where your prince’s prize is. There’s very little that doesn’t leak down into this place. Tell me boss, you ever gone up against a Kue-Jin?”

“Yeah, I have,” I said, and Gary snorted in laughter.

“That’s a good one boss. You been feeding near the skids again?”

“Where do you think I got this?” I said, holding up the katana to him. Gary looked at it, then shook his head sadly.

“Damn, you have beaten a Kue-Jin,” he said as he handed me the sword again. “The Kue-Jin are vampires, but not like kindred. Sometimes known as vampires of the East, but they ain’t kin. They’re just someone else that, if you aren’t careful, might give you the Final Death.”

Taking down this little sucker for Tung nearly got me killed,” I said and Gary’s face smirked at that. “Damn guy was blindingly fast and an astonishing jumper. Apparently he was scouting for the rest of his kin. Making a play?”

“Maybe,” he said, his hand scratching at his chin again. “We’ve been fighting them for years, only making peace this last year because we both couldn’t keep the fight going. Heard that got a new priestess from China, and it looks like she’s about to start the war up again.

That’s one reason I sent Barabus into Chinatown, doing some snooping, a little hacking and make some contacts. Problem is he’s not been checking in, and I need to know what happened.”

“Sounds simple, just find him, and if needed, break him out if the Kue-Jin have him?” I asked and Gary nodded.

“Head for the Golden Temple in Chinatown,” he said, giving me a place to start. “It’s a piss poor copy of the real place. That eyesore is where you’ll find the leader of the LA Kue-Jin. They call her Ming-Xiao. Just talk to her, find out where my boy is, and get him back. Once he’s safe, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the sarcophagus.”

“Great,” I said, as I felt the sun rise. “I’ll just head out there this evening.”

“In the meantime,” Gary said as he leaned against the wall, feeling the sun rise as well, “I got a room you can lay out in. You’ll be safe, I promise.”

“No thanks,” I said, shaking my head slowly. “You got an easy access out?”

A risk taker, eh?” he said then nodded his head to something behind me. “That door will take you back to Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It’s actually the front door in, and how we usually get in and out. You’ll be the only non clan member that knows of it, so keep it a secret.”

“Sure,” I said, heading for the door. “I’ll let you know what I find, but be warned, the prince isn’t happy with you right now. He wants that sarcophagus bad.”

“Then maybe next time he can pay me to not tell anyone else what I told him,” he said with a chuckle as he disappeared in front of my eyes.

I took the door out, finding myself in a hand dug tunnel that led to a ladder. The ladder led to a heavy door with interior hinges, and after swinging it out, found myself back in the mausoleum where Ginger Swan was buried. With the light becoming bright out, I stepped home through the shadow, coming out in the one thing I wanted more than anything after being through who knew what muck, the master bathroom.

I didn’t even announce myself to my ghouls, just started to strip my ruined clothes and bathe while I could. When the door opened, I checked around the edge of the curtain to find Heather picking up my ruined clothes and a look of utter disgust on her face.

Just throw the clothes out,” I said as I lathered up. I didn’t pay any attention to her after that, but concentrated on getting clean.

When I stepped out, everything was cleaned up and a gray silk bathrobe was hanging there waiting for me. I slipped it on, stepping out to find Heather and Samantha waiting for me.

“Where’s the duster?” Heather asked me.

“Shredded,” I said, and she made a pout-y face. “Got attacked by some small creatures that ripped it to pieces, brought back the katana and it’s sheath, but that was all I could salvage out of it.”

“Wonder if kevlar would hold up any better,” Samantha added to the conversation.

“What’s kevlar?” Heather asked her.

Bulletproof cloth,” Samantha said, looking at my ghoul. “Enough of it together and you can stop a rifle shot even if you’re right at the end of the barrel it’s fired from. It’s supposed to be stronger than steel, so maybe it will help against knife attacks.”

Can you get a hold of some?” Heather asked, and I smiled at her take charge attitude.

“Maybe,” Samatha said. “Let me make some calls.”

“You two handle that,” I said, yawning as I was so tired. “I’m going down to bed.”

I left the two to talk over my next duster, going downstairs to find my bed. I shut myself in my room, heading over to my now finished bed and pulled back my deep purple satin duvet. The sheets under the duvet were silk and the same deep purple as the duvet. I sat on the bed, looking down at my overstuffed pillows. Heather must have had a very fun shopping spree at my expense, but I couldn’t fault the ghoul for wanting her master to have the best.

I lay back in the bed, covering myself up as I began to drift off to sleep. If I had any thing bad to say about my bed, it was that I only slept in it for so many hours before waking. Otherwise, it sat unsused.

Oh well.

Chapter Text

Chapter 34

October 3, 2004 = Sunday

~Constance~


I sat in a comfy, overstuffed chair in the Great Room watching Eliza’s magic painting. She was currently splashing about in the pool she seemed to be stuck by. Having watched her most of the day, I could honestly say she was nothing like Eliza herself. Eliza was shy about her body, hiding it from view at every chance. The painting? Well, she was skinny dipping, not even trying to cover herself at all.

I stretched my aching legs, knowing I needed to stand and stretch but lacking the will to do so. I knew I was risking anemia if I kept trying to be Eliza’s sole source of blood. She had brought home that Samantha lady, apparently an old friend from when she was living, and had shown her what it was like to be fed from. I had watched it all, half hating her at usurping my spot and envious that she could be fed from for so long.

I guess in the end, it was the envy that won out. The little slips she took from my neck didn’t give me the same feeling it had when she first fed from me. I wanted more, but here I was, stuck in this chair, too weak to even go to the bathroom not thirty feet away. I had chosen this spot because one, it was comfortable, and two, it was entertaining to watch the painting as she played.

First thing was she knew I was here, having actually waved at seeing me this morning. Second, she seemed lonely stuck there in her painting. Technically, she didn’t even have her own body. She was just a consciousness and it made me wonder how smart she really was. It also made me wonder if it were like those paintings in the Harry Potter books in that she could talk, but maybe didn’t know how.

As I sat watching Heather came in from the veranda wearing a silk bathrobe. She had been out sunbathing and was obviously enjoying herself, but I couldn’t help but wonder at the changes drinking her blood had. I knew I was on the giving end, but maybe after a while I could switch to the taking end.

Heather noticed me from where I was stretched on the brand new La-Z-Boy which was one of Brian’s few demands for the house, and gave me a smile. “I don’t think you’ve moved from that spot all day,” she accused. “I figured you’d get out and get a tan or something. You could have come out and got a tan at least. Brian would have loved rubbing you down with lotion so you could have gotten a full tan.”

I smiled wanly back, but didn’t otherwise move. “I haven’t,” I admitted to her. “And not right now. I’m really just wondering how mad Eliza might be if I ask to get let off from my duties tonight.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” she asked, getting concerned. I could see past it though, as all she really wanted was to keep Eliza happy.

That was one thing I wasn’t sure about becoming one of her ghouls. Both Heather and Brian would do whatever she wanted, even going to extra lengths to keep her happy, and that’s all I was to them. Something to be kept around to keep Eliza happy. If it weren’t for the fact I chose it to feel the ecstasy of her bite, I might just get up and leave.

“I’m so weak right now that I’ve not gotten up,” I told her. I could see the relief in her eyes that I wasn’t likely to bolt, but that didn’t help. “I think she’s taking too much of my blood, and if I keep this up it might make me sick.”

“Okay,” she said, turning to look back out the window to the setting sun. “Mistress ought to be up soon. We can talk to her about it then.”

“Okay,” I said, dropping my head against the chair.

Heather left to go upstairs and dress, taking the room east from mine and still facing the ocean. Brian ended up with the downstairs bedroom, next to Eliza’s hidden bedroom, mainly so he could protect her I think. He had one of these La-Z-Boy recliners down there too, next to the painting that hid the access to her room.

I continued to watch the painting as she climbed out of the pool. The sun never set in the painting, so she donned a bikini and set herself in a chaise lounge to get a tan. I waited, watching her try and tan her pale skin. After watching her for ten minutes, without either of us moving an inch, I began to wonder if she fell asleep.

After some time, and the sun began to sink low against the water, and I finally saw the painting stretch. Figuring Eliza was up, I finally raised myself and began the walk downstairs. It wasn’t until I was stepping through the hidden access that I saw Brian and Heather as they tended to a very naked Eliza as she stood in the center of the room. That was the first thing that shocked me, as Brian was never allowed to see her naked. Hell, Eliza got mad at

“Brush my hair, ghoul,” Eliza growled at Heather. Heather fumbled with the hair pick, dropping it on the floor. She had no more bent to pick it up when Eliza reached down and smacked her, knocking her into a wall. “I said ‘brush my hair,’ not ‘drop the brush!’” she yelled at the sulking Heather.

“Sorry, mistress,” she whimpered as she crawled across the floor to pick up the pick from where it had fallen.

‘This is all wrong,” I thought, but didn’t say anything. If Eliza had flipped her lid, there was no telling what she could do. I’d heard from Brian about how she could easily break bats and survive multiple gunshots to the chest, and in no way did I want to be on the receiving end of her misery.

“Now, brush my hair,” she commanded, and Heather quickly scampered to fulfill her mistresses request.

Brian watched, impassive, as he retrieved the items Heather asked for. I couldn’t help but watch in astonishment as they went through her routine. Brian was even allowed to help her step into clothes, which she normally did herself.

“Come here, doll,” she commanded, now dressed in a pair of black dress slacks and a red silk shirt. She stood on two inch heels, looking wholly professional with her hair done in a French braid. It wasn’t until her hard eyes fell on me that I realized she had called me doll, and not in any kind of sweet or sexy way. “Are you hard of hearing?”

“No mistress,” I said, stepping forward.

Her hand shot out and grabbed me by the neck as soon as I was in reach, and she lifted me clear off my feet. “Your pitiful blood is a measly meal,” she said, before twirling me around in her arm so that my back was to her front.

There was no warning as she used her other hand to twist my head to the side as her teeth sank into my neck. The pleasurable feeling I’d come to expect from her feeding wasn’t there this time. Instead, it was painful to feel her teeth rip into my neck and into my vein. I could only cry silently as she drank my life-giving blood, my strength fading as she drank until my world began to blur at the ages.

When she finished, she flung me to the bed where I lay in a crumpled heap. The world around me lost focus, as if I were too tired to stay awake, but I kept my focus on the world around and refused to slip off to sleep. Even so, I could only watch as Brian slipped a long leather coat over her arms and rested it on her shoulders as she left me without so much as a backwards glance.

I was still laying there minutes later, finding only the strength to raise my head enough to put it on one of the silk pillow cases me and Heather had bought for her bed when Heather and Brian came back into the room. They both took one look at me before eyeing each other with curious looks.

“That wasn’t Eliza,” I told them, my voice weak as I struggled to just breathe.

“Sure it was,” Brian countered. “I could feel it in my blood when she gave me orders.”

“Me too,” Heather said, concern on her face. “She’s just having a bad night.”

“Bad night?” I asked, aghast that she was blowing off such blatant un-Eliza like behavior. I could feel the tear run down my cheek as I forced myself to keep going. “Since when did she let Brian see her naked? When does she strike people because you dropped a hairbrush? Eliza would never do any of that!” I cried to them. Didn’t they understand?

“Sweety,” Heather said, helping me to sit up as I kept trying to raise myself and couldn’t.

“Don’t Heather,” I said, feeling more tears slip down my face. “As soon as I can make it up the stairs, I’m just going to go.”

“And do what, exactly?” Brian asked, blocking me from rising. “The mistress has me under orders to make sure you stay put. That’s never changed.”

“That wasn’t Eliza!” I cried. “Think Brian! When I mentioned you tried to see me naked, she reamed you out! Every time she changed clothes, she made sure you weren’t in the room! Yet today she allows you to put her panties on her as if she were entitled to royal treatment!” I screached at him, my voice giving out as I was forced to lean against Heather because I was falling down weak.

“She’s got a point, Brian,” Heather said. I looked up at her, and she gave me a wan smile. “Remember how concerned she got when Constance didn’t wake back up after she got burned? She’s got a sensitive side. And she’s right. Maybe her blood is doing something to us. Maybe we should all leave.”

“Withdrawal from this is going to be a bitch,” Brian said. “Maybe you ain’t never done drugs before, but I was raised with it. When the withdrawal hits, you’ll want her so bad you’d do anything to get it again, and I don’t know if I can survive that.”

“What do we do?” Heather asked him, and he shook his head.

“Maybe we should leave for a time. See if she calms down,” he said finally.

It seemed like a good plan, but I knew if she ordered them to do something, they’d be compelled to obey. “We don’t give her any warning, either,” I said, glad they were finally listening. I don’t know what her blood was doing to them, but if I didn’t get out of here before her next meal, it might be my last. “In the morning, we just pack up and leave.”

“Why the morning,” Brian asked, as he eyed me from where I was leaned against Heather.

“Because I have no strength left to walk,” I said, and he rolled his eyes. “Carry me upstairs to bed?”


=o=0=o=

~Jean Baker, AKA Norma Jeane Mortenson, AKA Marilyn Monroe. Bounty Hunter of Kindred and Kine, Deputy to Scourge Walsh and Sheriff Kondo of the Camarilla~


Driving along Sunset Boulevard in my Toyota Hilux, I was just downright bored. The police scanner was silent about the perp that had been reported earlier engaging in sword fights around Chinatown, but I wasn’t foolish enough to go in without backup. I’d been in the fight with the Kue-Jin long enough to know you didn’t take them on mano-a-mano and live to tell the tell.

If the perp turned out to be kindred, I was thinking of taking them back to Vesuvius for a celebratory drink, regardless of their preferences. Only one kindred I’d ever known had tried, and he was a true hunter who made his home in the hills north of LA with the werewolves. He had come to town after a Gathering in the early 90’s brought to his attention how bad the Kue-Jin could be to hunt for a lone kindred. He’d taken his time, hunting several on his own.

I shook my head, remembering the man’s full name as it was spoken at Gathering. Though I’d heard much from others at the gathering about his exploits, he refused to name half of what he’d done because it hadn’t been a challenge. Hell, if I had done a third of what he refused to name, I’d wear it proudly at a Gathering.

I turned to go up North Main Street, cutting it as close as I dared to Chinatown. I was just about to find an abandoned lot to turn around in when a shadowy figure was briefly illuminated by my headlights. I hit the brakes, but the person thumped against my brush guard and was briefly pinned against my hood until the momentum of my braking threw them forward down the street. I quickly got out to check on them, finding it was a woman in a black business suit and heels. I sniffed the air, not finding any traces of gunpowder in the air, so I stepped forward to turn her over and got a shock.

“Eliza?” I said, astonished at the little kindred being here. She glanced around, confusion on her face.

“Jean?” she said, looking around before getting to her feet. “I feel like I lost a fight.”

“You did,” I joked, looking back at my old pickup truck. “I think you caused a dent or two, at least. Would you like to try round two?”

“Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head. “Um,” she said, glancing around. “I got places to be, so if you don’t mind?”

“Not at all,” I told her and she seemed relieved, “but have you heard of someone causing a disturbance around here? Police are hunting for someone causing sword fights up here.”

“No,” she said with a slight smile. “Not carrying my katana tonight. Andrei’s szlachta took care of that when they ripped my duster to shreds.”

“Hmm,” I said, glancing around and not sure what a szlachta was. “Well, if you happen to hear of a kindred causing a disturbance up here, let us know. I don’t want to see the Kue-Kin prowling for kindred blood again.”

“My intentions are peaceful here, I assure,” she told me, and I wondered at that. “Gary just wants me to find one of his missing clan that went missing here.”

“Good luck then,” I told her as I headed back to my truck. “And be careful. The Kue-Jin aren’t to be trifled with.”

“Will do,” she said as she walked off.

I hopped back in my truck, then looked at the receding figure of Eliza. She wasn’t carrying a gun, not one that I could smell anyway, and she didn’t appear to have any other weapon on her. I smiled at the thought of someone walking unarmed into Kue-Jin territory to start trouble, but knew it would mean a lot of trouble for me.

I drove off, leaving Eliza to her own troubles. I really hoped she didn’t start trouble with the Kue-Jin. As deputy, I’d be forefront in the fight against them, and there was nothing in my arsenal I could use that would be effective.

I glanced down at my hand, and shook my head. I just didn’t have it in me to shift forms with my protean ability. I was pretty talented with my fortitude, having grown accustomed even when I was alive to taking hits to my person and career and shrugging it off, but I was ash walking if I thought about fighting this war.

“Please, God,” I silently prayed as I prowled the streets near Chinatown, “Don’t let her do something stupid.”

Author's Note: Okay, I had to come up with my own way of describing Celerity from a first-person POV. Hope you enjoy it, as it took me a while to figure out how to make it believable and powerful without being too vague in how it worked and felt. Hope everyone likes it, and enjoy your holidays!

Chapter Text

October 2, 2004 = Saturday

~Eliza Flores~

I walked into an alleyway as Jean pulled away and checked myself. I wasn't packing any kind of weapon, not even a Swiss Army Knife. I was wearing a nice set of clothes though; black dress slacks, red silk shirt and a hip length black leather coat on two inch black pumps. Classy, but probably put together by Heather and not Lasombra. The only thing I was missing were my customary shades, but with the hour being late, I could only hope no one noticed. At least I didn't have to worry about someone taking my picture as proof and just closed my eyes to mere slits so it was harder to notice.

I could only wonder what my ghouls had went through as I came out of the alley and into the heart of Chinatown. Eyeing a passerby, I felt extremely naked without a weapon and shook my head. A week ago I wouldn't have even wanted to handle a pistol, now I wanted one. Of course, a week ago I had still been breathing, and I could only look forward to the day when I could walk the streets without needing guns.

Like that was ever going to happen. From what I could tell so far, every night was a struggle to survive, and I had survived so far only because I hadn't played the game everyone else was playing. So far, I had yet to rise above the ghouls, only dealing with VV because I had walked into her club. Tung had played me without seeing me, and even the Prince had only to send an email to make me jump to his tune.

Stopping under a streetlight, I found a map of Chinatown posted there and looked up the Golden Temple. It was only a block away, but with all the people and buildings so close, it was hard to see anything. Heading deeper into Chinatown, I passed the covered entryway into a restaurant called the Red Dragon which was done in the typical style China was known for.

Further down on the other side was a smaller eatery, this one with outside tables being tended to by a very young Chinese girl in a very short-to-the-point-of-being-inappropriate Chinese dress with achingly high four inch heels. She gave me a sharp eye as I passed, almost spilling a bowl of food into a customer's lap when her heel found a crack in the concrete sidewalk. I continued on, even as she got a tongue lashing from the customer I was glad I couldn't understand.

Entering the Golden Temple, I found it to be a zen garden, with carefully manicured grass and flowers arranged in a comforting pattern lit by paper lanterns. The only path though, led into a small hut that was lit by soft light. Hoping I was committing a faux pas, I opened the door to find a Chinese woman sitting in a high backed chair sipping from a porcelain cup.

"Welcome, kindred," she spoke softly, her voice carrying a slight accent and more than a hint of authority, "and thank you for respecting our traditions by announcing your presence in our domain. I am Ming-Xiao, High Priestess to the people of Chinatown. Can I get you anything? Tea, perhaps," she said as she gestured to the serving set beside her.

"No, thank you," I said, frowning as I remembered the sour taste water left in my mouth.

"Ah, that is right," she spoke, as if just remembering something. "Your kind drinks solely of mortal blood, correct? No longer may you partake in the pleasures of the mortal realm. A shame."

"You can?" I asked her, wondering if her asking me for tea was taking a poke at kindred.

"Yes," she said with a slight smirk on her lips. "We Kue-Jin are similar to you kindred in fewer ways than you might imagine."

"But you are vampires?" I asked her. It didn't hurt to have more information on her kind, and this was a rare chance to get it from the source.

"We are supernatural," she explained to me, her voice calm and carrying no hint of annoyance or hatred, more like a teacher explaining things to a questioning mind. "That does not mean we are like yourself. We are beings returned through the Second Breath for a purpose."

"Second Breath?" I asked her and she continued to explain it to me. "The Second Breath, our rebirth into the supernatural form. It is a spiritual awakening, not some lowly blood ritual to spread a despicable curse."

I smiled as she quietly mocked the kindred again, as if she believed the Kue-Jin were the superior species. "But we are similar?" I asked her, silently wondering if she might try to kill me while I was here.

"We share superficial similarities," she explained, her voice neutral. "Kue-Jin feed on essences that can be found in blood, yes, but as we refine our existence, rarely are we lowered to consume the bodily fluids of others."

"So do you choose as a mortal to become supernatural?" I asked her and she shook her head slowly.

"No, we do not choose, but events of our lives can awaken dark spiritual energies. We are not born of the whims of another as the Kindred are."

"Sometimes I wish we weren't," I muttered, then saw Ming Xiao smile as she caught the remark. Realizing I might have let something slip that could be used against me, I decided to change the subject. "Ever heard of the Ankaran Sarcophagus?"

"Of course," she said, her face brightening a bit. "The entire city is alight with news of its arrival and speculation about one of your ancient vampire grandfathers and his evil apocalyptic plot."

"It does sound funny, doesn't it," I said, and her smile deepened.

"It all serves to distract the kindred," she said, and I smiled back at that. "Such a distasteful existence you live, skulking in shadows, fighting for scraps and fearing the return of your ficticious fathers, completely oblivious to your true purpose."

"Do you know the true history of the kindred," I asked her, again she shook her head slowly.

"No, I do not," she admitted, not that I found it surprising. I couldn't tell you squat about Chinese history, other than a certain poem about Mulan and that she killed herself rather than become a concubine for a Hun, or so the ancient story goes.

"Do you know where the sarcophagus is," I said, trying to keep the conversation going. It was really going nowhere, but I didn't want to be rude.

"We seek it, of course. I have two of my best agents looking. It could be a powerful bargaining tool in dealing with the leader of the Camarilla."

"Not if I find it first," I snarked and she looked at me with an intense gaze. I stared right back, the challenge laid down between us.

"Let me just say that I do not encourage you to seek the sarcophagus," she finally said after we had stared into each others eyes for several minutes without blinking.

"I just hope he's better than the scout you sent into Santa Monica," I told her and her eyes went wide. "Oh, yes, we know," I said, pressing my advantage now that I had one. "I was the one who killed him in Foxy Boxes after he sent in his final report."

"An admirable feat," she conceded, working on relaxing her face to make it unreadable again. "Your path must have been stronger than his."

"That time, and while the prince might have me looking for the sarcophagus, I'm currently looking for a missing Nosferatu in Chinatown," I said, steering our conversation further to where I needed it to go.

"So, the great Nosferatu have lost an agent, have they," she said as she became thoughtful. "It was not by my hand, if that's what they think."

"Do you have any idea where he could be?" I asked her,but she shook her head again.

"I don't know where he is," she said, and something in me said she was speaking the truth. "Perhaps you should speak with Wong Ho about this. He owns the Red Dragon restaurant. As a prominent businessman who has garnered much respect among his people, he might know if something is amiss in Chinatown, and may know how to help you."

"Then I'll head there then," I said, bowing slightly to show my respect as I prepared to leave.

"I grant you permission to operate in the Kue-Jin domain, for now," she said somewhat darkly, as if she were wondering how best to kill me. "May you find your path, kindred."

I turned and left her, making sure to close the paper door on my way out and left the temple. I passed by the noodle shop where the young woman had dumped the noodles on a customer, finding the young waitress closing things down for the night. She eyed me as I got closer, as if I had plans on stealing the till and I made sure my eyes were barely open to hide my missing pupils.

"I saw you enter temple," she said with a hard accent, turning with her cleaning cloth to wipe off a table even though it revealed her panty-line in the too-short dress. "I know what you are."

"Is it wrong to be religious?" I said, trying to persuade her otherwise.

She turned and gave me a hard eye again, arms crossing over her chest as she studied me. "My name is Yukie. I am demon hunter. I come to this city for the blood of the demon that kill my master. Do not interfere, my revenge will cut through you if it has to."

"What demon?" I asked her, following her into the shop only to find we were the only one's inside. A quick look around told me the shades and shutters were all drawn, so no one could see inside if it turned violent. Since she was a Hunter, that might happen at any time, which made me worry. I didn't have a gun to kill her with, and there was no telling what she had hidden around here.

"I hunt hengoyokai." she said, dropping the cloth into the sink. The duffle bag on the counter drew my attention, as it's long design gave me an idea she had a sword in there. "My sensei killed demon that killed my family and now I take the life of his killer. I follow trail of corpses from Japan to Los Angeles, but I lose its trail. Hengoyokai is here and it will die here."

"What's a hengoyokai?" I asked, wondering if that might be a Chinese monster like our werewolves.

"Hengoyokai is demon that hides in skin of man, but it is not man," she said, continuing to clean the kitchen as if she actually worked here.

"Why do you continue to actually clean here if you're a Hunter?" I asked her as she began to scrape down the grill with a tool. The little Hunter turned to face me with a look of curiousness and something else. Shame maybe?

"I, need to eat," she said, turning back to the grill as she continued to clean it, continuing on in a low voice. "Even you, demon, must eat to survive."

"True," I said, inching forward to sneak a peak inside the duffle bag, "But I don't dress like a hooker doing it."

The hunter blanched at that, but kept on scrubbing. "How do you spot a hengoyokai?" I asked her, deciding she wasn't going to argue her choice of attire with me.

"They smell like fishes, always," she said, putting the grill back together after cleaning it. "I do not know why, but they do."

"So a guy who smells like fish, shouldn't be too hard," I said, deciding to help the young hunter. "If I find him, I'll let you know."

"Why would a demon help me," she said, turning to face me with a serious look.

"Well, if it's in Chinatown that means its allied with the Kue-Jin," I told her, and she looked thoughtful for a moment as I pressed on, "And if you can kill it, that weakens them that much more and makes it easier for our side to push them out later."

"Demons do not all get along?" she asked and I shook my head.

"For the most part, we don't even get along with each other of our own kind, let alone other creatures of the night," I told her. "Politics don't die when we do. If anything, it gets worse with age," I told her, remembering something Samantha had told me while we were taking a civics course in college. "And when you can't die..." I said, trailing off to allow her to come to her own conclusions. Her face fell as she realized the implications of kindred politics, something I was only starting to realize myself.

"Thank you," she said softly, giving me a wan smile. "Defy your nature as best you can and my sword will have no vengeance for you."

"I refuse to become a monster," I told her, meaning it as I slipped back outside into the night.

I headed over to the Red Dragon, finding it a more upscale eatery than the noodle shop I had just left. The hostess was still on duty, standing at a podium near the entrance to the main dining room. I walked over, and she gave me a sad smile.

"I'm sorry," she said in an apologetic voice. "We're no longer serving dinner this evening. However, our bar is still open if you would like to enjoy a drink."

"Actually, I'm here to see Wong Ho," I told her. "Ming Xiao said I should speak with him."

"Of course," she said, reaching he under the podium with a hand. "Second floor, and have a good night."

The walls next to me opened up to reveal a hidden elevator, and I stepped in. I pressed the button for the second floor, and the elevator took me straight up where the doors opened onto an office setup. A man set with his head in his hands, and I could hear his sobs as he cried softly. I stepped into the room, my heels clacking softly to alert him of my presence.

He looked up at me with red puffy eyes, and his face turned into a snarl. "Do you have my Kiki? Did you take her?!" he demanded as he rose to his feet.

"Whoa," I said, raising my hands in self defense. "I didn't take anyone. Ming Xiao sent me here. I'm looking for a friend who has went missing in Chinatown."

The elder looking man deflated at that, before falling back to the couch in grief. "Please forgive me. The Tong took my daughter, Kiki. They called and said I had meddled with Tong for the last time. Now I am in a most terrible situation. I apologize for my inconsiderate behavior."

"No problem," I told him, as he continued to mourn his loss. "What's going on?"

"The Tong, a local street gang here in Chinatown just broke into my restaurant and kidnapped my daughter at gunpoint," he said, almost sobbing. "The Tong grow more bold every day, and now they have my Kiki!"

"Do you know where they took her?" I asked, not sure if I wanted to get involved in mortal affairs or not. I still didn't much like violence, but the guns that they would use would have little affect on me. My poor clothes might suffer, but I'd survive.

A phone rang, and Wong Ho reached over and picked up the antique looking handset from its cradle. "Hello?" he asked, then brightened some. "Zhao!….Huh?….Yes!….How did you?….Of course….I see….Thank you, my friend. Your debt has been repaid a thousand times over….Yes, of course…. Goodbye."

"That didn't sound like the Tong," I said, stating the obvious.

"That was, someone who owed me an old debt," he said, turning to face me with his face set in a serious expression. "It has been repaid. I know where the Tong are keeping my daughter."

"Just tell me where and call the coroner," I said, deciding I'd help Wong Ho without needing to be asked. I didn't hold with kidnapping, especially what was probably a young innocent girl, and I sure didn't want what happened to me to happen to her.

"Kiki is being held at the Lotus Blossom, a massage parlor here in Chinatown not two blocks away" he told me, his face holding a small glimmer of hope as he wrote down directions to the building. "If you bring her back to me, I will help you in anyway I can."

"She's as good as here," I said, stepping back into the elevator with his directions in hand and went back outside.

It didn't take me long to find the place, but my thoughts along the way went to how to hide the bullet holes I was bound to take when I would be shot up. I finally settled on removing my leather coat, since most of the damage I was bound to take would be to my chest as they shot at my heart.

As the Lotus Blossom came into sight, I wondered why Lasombra would walk without taking a weapon with him. Sure, he was thousands of years old, a walking god quite literally, and had full use of his powers. I had full use of those powers too, as far as I knew, but I didn't know what they really entailed. Something nagged at the back of my mind, then I remembered what Scourge Walsh had told me about the Lasombra being able to mold shadows. Pulling on the shadows as I passed through a darkened area, I molded a full length katana, though it was all black as if had been spray painted that color. The blade felt real in my hand, though it was far lighter than an actual katana.

Before entering the Lotus Blossom, I shrugged out of my leather coat and draped it over my left arm that held my shadowy katana. When I entered, I set it on the counter next to a sparsely dressed woman in her lingerie who I guessed was meant to be both an advertisement and clerk. She looked horrified at the black shadowy katana that was now revealed.

I fixed her with an icy stare, and she shrank away. "Leave now, and live, or stay and die," I breathed, pointing the katana at her. She went wide eyed, then scrambled over the counter in a blur of pink lace and heels and ran out the door.

Leaving my coat where it wouldn't get damaged, I walked through the beads into the hallway beyond. Several guys were playing cards at a small table in what looked to be a lounge. Upon noticing me, they dropped their cards and reached for their guns from their waistbands. Willing myself to move, my body felt sluggish as I watched the men raise their guns, even as I crossed the distance between us so fast that the guy I had my eyes on didn't even have time to aim his just pulled gun. With a slash of my sword, I cut the guys arm off and left a deep gash across his chest before turning my attention to his wide eyed buddies.

I paused for only a moment, taking in the fact that they were aiming in the complete wrong direction even as one turned his face in slack jawed amazement. Pushing off from where I sat, I slashed under the rear most thugs gun to cut the man's chest and neck before following my slash through on the other guy and decapitating him, then kicking his body forward to avoid arterial spray.

It was only as I watched the blood squirt in seeming slow motion that I began to understand what happened. I was moving and comprehending faster than should be possible. Enjoying the power of celerity, I moved out into the hall, finding it filling with men. Using my new power, I made short work of everyone, even as they began to spray bullets into each other trying to hit me making me feel surreal as I slid under guns and defenses to decapitate, maim and kill.

As the men fell silent from blood loss or death, I started going door to door looking for Kiki but didn't find any that held a captive woman. I soon realized that she wouldn't be on the first floor, as the rooms here were either locker style rooms where men would strip their clothes and store them and communal massage rooms. There were still a few attendants around, but I let them live and invited them to flee by leaving the doors open so they could flee.

I continued on up the stairs, pausing halfway up to push my sight into the shadows on the ceiling above the landing to make sure the coast was clear. The sight that filled my vision made me glad I hadn't just barged in, as there were more than twenty men lined up with uzis and ready to fill the first person through with lead. That in itself might pose a problem as the only men I had faced until now had used semi-automatic pistols and revolvers, not automatic weapons.

Willing myself to move as fast as I could, I charged up the steps and swung wide as they began to fire into the mouth of the stairwell. Adding my potence to my attack, I swung my shadow katana in a vicious slash that cut not only the first thugs arms off, but cut him in two at the chest. I then waded into the group, using my medical knowledge of the human circulatory system to slash at arteries as I waded through the gang of Tong.

Feeling my hunger from the exertion, I left the men who held such little regard to human life to die a pool of their own blood as I began to search for Kiki again. As the men fell silent from blood loss or death, I started going door to door again, but the first doors here seemed to hold equipment. Looking closer, I realized it was recording equipment, and I wondered why they'd bother to record a massage.

It seemed strange to me, but it wasn't until I hit play on the camera that and rewound one of the tapes that I understood as I watched the masseuse entice the older gentleman into sex by teasing him sexually. I figure the tapes were being used to probably blackmail clients who had sex with their masseuse, who as I studied one as she cowered in her room, was probably underage and forced to do it or die.

Hunger wouldn't let me leave the cowering woman, so I reached down and hauled her to her feet. She cried, probably thinking she was about to die as I spun her around to face me and then sank my teeth into her neck. Her blood lacked any flavor, but I drank her deep enough that she passed out from blood loss. I left her on the floor, but was still hungry for more blood. Apparently whatever I was or becoming could feed on regular blood, but it did little to satisfy the hunger I felt.

I moved on to the next room, finding another young masseuse there. I drank from her as well, and it finally felt as if I wasn't dying of hunger. Going back out into the hall with a towel, I pulled an Uzi from one of the dead men and cleaned off his blood. The little automatic was surprisingly light, and with what I had learned about using the Glock, soon figured out how to change the clip in it.

Stashing it in my waistband, I went through several of the dead bodies and pulled spare clips for the Uzi out of their pockets and cleaned them with the towel. Then, as I thought of Brian and his little pistol protecting me during the day, grabbed a second Uzi and cleaned it as well and carried that one in my hand as I continued my search. Armed, I went to the last door on the hallway I hadn't already been in, and examined it. It was locked, but a swift kick and a little help from my potence and the thick wooden door broke in two and swung in.

Inside the dark lounge, hung from a hook, was a young Chinese girl with duct tape across her mouth. I approached her, and she give me a hateful look as I reached up and ripped the tape off her mouth.

"You bitch!" she screamed at me, then raised her foot to kick me. I dodged the attempt easily, and she quickly calmed down. I smiled at her feisty attitude, and figured she had been hung there so she couldn't escape. "Let me down, I can't hardly breathe!"

"Kiki, I suppose?" I asked, and she locked eyes with me.

"Yeah, I'm Kiki," she said as she studied me. "Who are you?"

"Wong Ho sent me to rescue you," I told her, then brought a rolling chair over so she could stand on it and release herself.

"Oh, I'm soooooo impressed," she said, mockingly as she leveraged herself up on the chair. "What? Like, you want me to like thank you or something? In your dreams, bitch."

Having had enough of her mouth, I kicked the chair out from under her to let her fall back on her restraints. "If you're going to bite the hand that frees you," I said, turning for the door, "You can wait on the cops and hope more Tong don't show up first."

"Okay, okay," she said apologetically. "You don't have to get all sensitive. I'm sorry. Okay? You know what it's like to be tied up by guys and told they're going to make you a sex slave?"

"You should try being the sex slave," I said, going back and getting the chair. "Not too long ago, I was tied up and gang raped. So, yeah, I know how you feel and you're getting off easy. Now, let's go. I'll take the rope off you later. Let's skedaddle before I have to explain the blood bath to the cops."

"Alright, she said, leveraging herself off the hook and hopping nimbly down to join me.

As we stepped into the better lit hallway, I narrowed my eyes to keep her from getting a good look and led her back down a nearby staircase. It came out back at the beads, with more stairs going down into the basement. Since no one was coming up, I hit the escape bar across the door and entered the hallway across from where I had killed the first three men.

Kiki didn't react to their bodies, and as we entered the lobby, I pulled my coat from off the counter and slipped it back on. Searching behind the counter for a bag, I quickly found one and dropped the Uzi I carried for Brian in it before Kiki and I left the bloodbath behind. Kiki and I were actually a block away when the first cop car screamed around the curve. Kiki pressed tight into me, hiding her bound arms and the cops went right on by. In fact, no one even noticed Kiki was bound until the hostess at the Red Dragon saw us enter. She opened the elevetor, then produced a pocket knife and sliced one of the ropes free so we could start freeing her arms. The hostess then took the rope and threw it away, as I took Kiki back to her father.

I hung back next to the elevator as Wong Ho was reunited with his daughter. It was an awkward situation, and I was just the fifth wheel along for the ride. The two spoke for several minutes, then two broke apart, Wong Ho approached me with a smile, then bowed in front of me in a show of respect as Kiki went deeper into the upstairs maze.

"Thank you, my friend," he said, once he had stood up straight. "I owe you a debt of gratitude! You have returned to me my greatest treasure. Kiki told me how you rescued her. You are a woman of great courage and honor. Again, thank you!"

"Of course," I said, smiling and doing a polite bow for him. "Now, for my own problem."

"Of course," he said, gesturing to his couch where we should both sit. "What can I help you with?"

I sat on the overstuffed couch, with Wong Ho beside. "I'm looking for someone who's gone missing in Chinatown. His name is Barabus, he's uh, a business associate," I said, not knowing any other way to describe Barabus without breaking masquerade.

"I see," he said, then looked doubtful as something crossed his mind. "I do not think I could find him for you, but I know someone who could."

"Where do I find this person?" I asked.

"His name is Zhao," he said, and I recognized the name. "He is the man who called me and told me where Kiki was being held. Zhao has many connections. Some are legal, many or not. I will call him and ask for his help. I would send you to him, but he is currently hiding from the Tong."

"I will return tomorrow evening, then," I said, not wanting to waste any time waiting. I had things to do, and the night was waning. "I have other people to see in the meantime."

"Then I shall expect you tomorrow," he said, rising to his feet.

He escorted me back to the elevator, and I descended to bar area. The overpowering smell of fish caught me, and I followed it into the bar to a corner booth. I smiled inwardly, knowing my body was starting to improve. I walked over, and the man looked up from his beer with a blank face.

"Five hundred up front, another five hundred after the deal. No questions asked or I walk," he said in a flat, and fast, and tone.

"A lot to ask for information," I said, and his eyebrows creased as he studied me. "I seek a man called Hengoyokai. The information I have has led me to you."

"And what would you do with him if you had him," he asked, suspicion in his voice.

"I know a young girl with a big sword who wants to say hi," I said and he smiled at that.

"That's what I wanted to hear," he said with a smile and alarm bells went off in my brain. "If that's your goal, I'd be willing to help arrange a meeting with him."

"Where?" I asked him.

"I was supposed to meet him at the fish market soon," he said, and I remembered it from earlier when I looked at the sign to find the Golden Temple. "You go in my place, but if you do, I hope your intentions are serious. He is a very serious man."

"After tonight," I said darkly, "He'll be a dead man."

He chuckled at that, and I left him to his beer. I figured he was probably the man I was looking for, or like me to the prince, just a junior agent of the same basic species. Either way, I had the chance to make it back to the noodle shop and catch Yukie before she left for the night. I made it there just as she locked the door, a heavy leather coat covering her bare arms and reaching further down her legs than her dress.

"Yukie," I called out, and she stopped to give me a hard eye.

"Demon," she said, her hand dropping to the slightly open zipper on her duffle.

"I found the Hengoyokai," I said and her face lit up. "I'm to meet him at the fish market. We can ambush him there."

"You want to kill hengoyokai with me? Why?" she asked me in a serious tone.

"For the chance to slow down the Kue-Jin," I told her, reminding her that we didn't all get along. "We kill him together, and we can do that."

"If you trick me, I kill you after hengoyokai," she said as came to stand in front of me.

"No tricks, Yukie," I said, smiling a bit and meaning it. "Let's go."

"Walk with me, demon," she said, and she turned down an alley as she cut straight through the buildings.

Oh yeah. Nothing to fear here, I thought as I followed a hunter into the dark and deserted alley. Nothing to fear at all.

We came out right on top of the market, the large building dark and foreboding. I figured Yukie to pull some armor out of her bag and slip it on during our walk but all she did was pull her katana from its scabbard. It wasn't until I noticed that the only click clacking of heels were mine that I looked down to see she was finally in a pair of sensible sneakers. Good thing too, because that girl couldn't walk in high heels, let alone fight in them.

Once we were inside, we made oar way quietly away from the door when the lights came on. The man I had met in the bar of the Red Dragon came out of the stacks of frozen fish at the other end, a smile on his face. As he got closer, I pulled the Uzi from my bag, which made Yukie flinch as I prepared it to fire. I gave her a wan smile as I shouldered the mini stock against my shoulder and faced the man coming to us and hoped the bullets would actually affect him.

"How quaint," he said once he was about twenty feet away and his voice echoing in the empty space. "My hunter, and my target. This is very convenient."

"I'll show you convenient," I shouted back as he began to morph right in front of us, gaining both increased height and mass until he looked like a cross between a man and a giant hammerhead shark.

I let loose a clip off the Uzi before he even finished shifting, then Yukie charged in with a battle yell. She ducked under a swipe from the shark/man thing, slicing deep into his leg before he backhanded her into a shelf. I reloaded the Uzi, dropping the clip rather than pocketing it, and gave him another dose from the lethal weapon.

He gave a shriek, stepping back and raising an arm defensively. Yukie recovered herself and waded back into the fight, slashing at its gut as it was the most sensitive place she could reach. She ducked and dodged several attacks, and when she rolled clear of a ferocious swipe that ripped her leather jacket in two, I give the hengoyokai a third blast from the clip emptying most of the rounds into its face.

In a blind fury, the monster picked up a nearby crate full of fish and chunked it at me which forced me to dive to the side. From the floor, I watched as Yukie made a vicious slash on its wrist that she must have thought would cut the hand completely off, but the bone stopped it. Angry, he yanked his arm back, taking the katana with it even as Yukie tried to get the blade free.

Momentarily, knocked off balance, the hengoyokai swiped at Yukie again, this time catching the petite woman full on with its claws and she flew backwards into the shelves. Angry at myself for not protecting the young huntress, I scrambled back to my feet and willed my celerity and potence to fill my body. I felt the sluggishness that came with celerity, and with a tug on a passing shadow, formed a copy of the big bastard sword the sheriff used to decapitate my sire with.

Only a step or two away, I jumped high on the unprotected man's head and brought the sword down as hard as I could, cleaving a line from the top of the skull to its neck before the thick bones stopped my swing. Using my potence, I wrenched the blade free and brought it around for a baseball bat style swing even as the monster hit its knees. My aim was true, and I took the head clean off in one last swipe.

Dropping the shadow sword back into the shadows now that I didn't need it, I ran for Yukie. The little huntress had tried to get to her feet, but fell back to the floor. I rolled her over, finding several deep slash marks across her front. The cuts themselves weren't deep, but she'd lost a lot of blood already. I cradled the petite woman's head in my hands, and she looked at me with teary eyes.

"I fail," she sobbed, her arms around her middle as if she could hold her blood in.

"He's dead, Yukie," I told her, and she smiled at that. "I got him for you."

"I miss spot in hand where I could cut hand off, or I'd still be alive," she said, then began coughing up pink blood.

"You're going to wake up just fine," I said, and she frowned.

"Do not make me like you," she said, and I nodded once, even though I felt like crying.

"No, not like me," I told her. It was dangerous, but I had to act fast to save her life. "But this is going to hurt," I said, then pinched the open flesh in one of her wounds. She screamed before passing out, and I quickly bit my wrist to let the blood flow out. I let it flow into Yukie's mouth, massaging her throat to make she swallowed, then licked the excess off my wrist as it sealed itself.

Hoping I was in time, I quickly went to the fallen monster and wrenched her katana free, then went back to the entrance where she left her duffle and placed it back in its scabbard. Then I found the Uzi I had dropped it, and placed that in the bag and zipped it up. Going back over to Yukie, I picked up the huntress and shadow stepped back to the mansion to find Brian carrying a bag as a black-eyed Heather helped Constance walk out the door. Brian looked at me for a second before he pulled the gun I had given him and aimed it right at me.

"Don't say a word," he said, his hand shaking a bit as he aimed the gun at the spot between my eyes. "We're leaving. We can't trust you not to hurt us."

I opened my mouth but Brian cocked the large caliber pistol. "Don't, mistress," he said, his voice cracking a bit. "I know I can't disobey, but I'm leaving. It'll hurt, but I don't care. If you say one word to try to make me stay, I'll blow your head open."

Sighing that I couldn't do anything with an injured huntress in my arms, I stepped back out through the shadows and deposited her in the La-Z-Boy. Free of my burden, I then faced off with Brian again who was beginning to sweat as he brought the pistol around.

"Stop," I said, and Brian quit moving. I could see him trying to force himself to keep moving, but he was losing the fight. "Heather?" I asked my other ghoul as she turned to face me and I got a good look at the bruise on her eye. "Who gave you the black eye?"

"You did," she said, and I hung my head.

"You changed," Constance added as she clung to Heather for support. "When you fed from me earlier, it actually hurt."

"It wasn't me," I told them and looked back at Brian where he struggled to bring the gun to face me again. "Brian, put the gun away before you hurt yourself."

Brian did so with a grunt, and I invited them all into the main room. Constance dropped into a La-Z-Boy chair opposite Yukie and eyed the huntress and her deep wounds. Heather also eyed the small Asian woman, and Brian positioned himself in a chair near her feet, looking like he wanted something between us if a fight started.

"First, I should tell you that I'm sorry I didn't bring this up sooner," I said, placing a hand on Yukie's jugular vein to feel it throbbing strong. "Several days ago, I was possessed by the spirit of Lasombra. Now, he seems to be capable of taking over my body, and there's little I can do to stop him."

"So when he takes over..." Constance said, following along with my explanation, "He what? He becomes you?"

"Probably a good way of looking at it," I said, and Heather's mouth fell open. "I'm only back in control now because Jean hit me with her truck because apparently three thousand years ago, they didn't learn to look before crossing the street."

"How long will it last?" Heather asked, and I shook my head. "I don't know. He might take over again before I walk back out that door, it might be a week before he takes over again. I can't say. It might be best if after I wake tonight and we figure out what we're going to do with Yuki that you three make yourself scarce. Might get a motel room or something."

"Any ideas? I can't exactly stroll into the Hilton and put my name down," Brian said a bit sourly. An idea hit me about that, as I thought about Duke and his club. He owned a motel, or so he said, and getting a room or three would be nothing and easily kept off the books. Brian might even enjoy himself in the estrogen ocean the place likely had.

"Check with Duke down at Four-Play," I told him and he nodded in understanding. "I'll talk with him about it, and give him his next dose of blood if he needs it. I'll continue to sleep here, with the door locked for my own protection, and I'll come to you if it's me. If Lasombra rises instead, he'll only have an empty house."

"Good idea," Heather said, as she touched her eye in sympathy. "It's scary how strong you can be."

"So who is she?" Constance asked to interrupt our conversation as Yukie moaned in her sleep.

"Yukie," I said. "She's a hunter that helped me take down a Chinese monster. The problem is, she was nearly killed trying so I gave her my blood to save her life. If she wakes up and I'm not here to stop her, she could kill all of you trying to get to me."

"I could just shoot her," Brian said, and all three of us girls frowned at him. "What? If she's going to try and kill us, I'm supposed to defend us."

"I don't want her killed," I said and he hung his head. "She can be a friend, but things didn't end well before I had to...pass her out," I said, struggling to think as my hunger settled back in. I eyed Constance and her weak state and figured she might need a transfusion just to make it to school on Monday. "So until then, what are we going to do with her?"

"Well, if we had some bondage gear, we could just tie her to a bed and let her sleep until you get back to take care of her," Brian said, and I gave him a sharp look. "What? I had a life too, you know."

"If she wakes up before I get back, and that's doubtful," I said as I took in the deep claw marks on her body and the fact she was still out, "Just let her go if she wants to. Tell her nothing beyond the fact that I saved her life, and she's free to live her own life as she sees fit. Understood?"

"Yes, mistress," Heather and Brian said together.

"Good," I said, then straightened myself up. "Brian, get my bag. I got to pick up my bike, then I'll be back at sunrise. Heather, see that she's gets cleaned up. Her wounds are already scabbing over. She'll likely be healed at noon, but there's no sense in leaving her covered in her own blood."

"Eliza?" Constance said, giving me a smile as I looked to her. "Glad to have you back."

"It's good to be back," I said as Brian returned with my bag. "Oh, Brian, before I go, a present, I said as I pulled the Uzi from Yukie's duffle where I had left it. "Little gift from the Chinatown Tong."

"Sweet," he said, as he examined the lethal instrument and the spare clip I had given him even as I dropped the other one I had kept in my waistband into my travel bag with the extra clips. I paused to take in the moment, then stepped back to my bike as Heather and Brian began to bicker on how to move Yukie to the tub.

There was nothing left of the house but smoldering ruins. I didn't even look around as I climbed back on the Harley FatBoy and brought it to life and pulled out the driveway. Thankfully my attire for the evening didn't go against riding my Harley and I was soon back in Hollywood at the Sin Bin. Flynn was behind the counter with his eyes glued to a woman taking on three men at once, and I just rolled my eyes as I scanned the cards for the bondage section.

Once I found the section I needed, I soon became inundated with the differing variety of products offered, and not sure which ones would work best. It took me several minutes of reading their boxes, but I finally found a corner restrain system that would hug the bed like a sheet and allow me to tie Yukie down so she didn't hurt anyone in her pursuit to escape.

Other thoughts entered my mind after that, like how would we keep her quiet in case people came to the door. A loud stereo only went so far, so I picked up an item called a ball gag that was 'guaranteed to keep my submissive quiet.' My lip quirked in a smile at the boxes claim, but a thought nagged at me. Yukie had already drank once from my wrist, and if she did so two more times, she was mine for life or as long as I wanted her. She was good in a fight, only getting injured when her youth and impetuousness in trying to cut the monster's hand off. Give her another five years, and she'd be truly lethal. Plus, add in that my blood would make her more resilient and stronger…

I shook my head to clear away the thought but it kept coming back. I couldn't force her to become my ghoul like that, but if she chose it, accepted it as a way to become better, that I could live with. I passed over some other bondage gear that was clearly intended for use between lovers, finally finding a set of leather cuffs that would tighten to enclose the tiniest of wrists and be secure. For added measure, they could even be locked with small padlocks that were surprisingly sold right next to the cuffs.

All that left me were clothes for her to wear since her work dress was shredded. I ended up buying her a black robe that was almost thick enough to not be naughty. I was praying that her undergarments weren't ruined and were salvageable, and that this would help get her home. I would worry about buying her more if she accepted my offer, but only then.

Flynn was still watching his dirty movie when I went back to the counter, and grudgingly rang me up. Putting the new items on the Harley, I eyed VV's ghoul as he monitored things outside the club. Figuring I needed to tie things up with VV, I checked my bag to make sure I still had Hatter's script, finding I had everything I needed and usually carried.

I headed over, setting my mind for what was to come even as my own hunger grew. I hated politics, and hated it with a passion, but I would be damned if I let my own hate for the game keep me from coming out ahead. I just wasn't sure if I'd ever win.

Like that ever stopped me before.

Chapter Text

October 2, 2004 = Saturday

~Eliza Flores~

Entering Vesuvius was a riot of sound on my ears as VV's DJ had a techno-sounding song running loud through the speakers at what had to be two hundred beats a minute. The girls that I could see were dancing excitedly to the music and most of the customers eyes were glued to one of said girls as they danced half-naked around the room. Except for a guy I recognized on my previous trip. He was scratching at his left wrist and I could see the fresh, fancy cross tattoo he had under a bandage. He glanced at me as I passed, his eyes going up briefly before he broke eye contact with me and looked towards the nearest girl.

I walked on, figuring the man for a hunter. Right now I had to figure he was currently VV's problem, as it was her place. Glancing around as I reached the entrance to the VIP area, I didn't see her. I had to search around to find the blonde kindred sitting at a bar sipping at a red drink in a crystaline glass. I shook my head at her almost blatant breach before noticing a similar setup going by on a waitresses tray, my more sensitive nose smelling the liquor in it.

Smiling at VV's ingenuity, I walked over to the bar and sat beside her, not getting noticed as VV sipped at her blood. "I'll have what she's having," I told the bartender, who smiled at me before dropping to a knee behind the bar. VV sat her glass down, and smiled when she looked at me.

"Look who's back," she purred, as she spun her barstool to face me and intermingle a leg in mine. "Couldn't stay away, could you?"

"Like I'd want to," I said, smiling at our playful back and forth and took in her attire tonight. She was wearing a crimson corset over black stockings and garter belts. "I've a screenplay to sell, if you're buying."

"Why don't we take this upstairs," she purred, as I watched the bartender raise back up, a glass of blood in hand. He set it in front of me, and I picked it up as VV sensually slid from her barstool and took my arm to lead me upstairs.

I went with her, arm-in-arm up the stairs to her private VIP suite and couldn't help but feel short next to VV in her ten inch heels. I flicked the switch to the stairs with my elbow, something in me enjoying my time with the kindred on my arm and I didn't want to lose or waste a precious second of the contact.

Since we were now alone in the private lounge, I opened my eyes fully to the neon lights that lit the room, taking in the lava themed room without the shading my constant wearing of sunglasses had given me. I found I could see the fluorescent bars under the thick colored glass of the stage that made the floor 'glow,' and the gentle glow of the walls and ceiling were accomplished by a thin layer of wallpaper over more fluorescent lights, though not enough to make it seem like it all glowed bright, but in certain sections to allow customers to see by.

VV led me to the sofa, and I sat first which allowed VV to curl up on my lap and press her lady lumps into mine. "So, here we are, alone," she purred, as she wrapped an arm around my neck in an unneeded attempt to keep me close. "David was in earlier, happier than I've seen him in some time. I'll take it that you managed to get his screenplay?"

"He thinks that I'm an agent for Isaac, and that I'll give his screenplay to Isaac for his approval," I told her and her smile saddened a bit.

"I'm afraid that Isaac is somewhat of a legend in this town, and that the younger writers don't understand the art that Isaac considers his movies to be," she explained to me. "Isaac loves his older style films, and many of them have become legend. Films such as The Godfather, Gone With The Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, they're all Isaac Abraham's productions, but he won't authorize just any movie."

"So a vampire movie that almost perfectly emulates our reality..." I said, trailing off as VV put a finger to my lips silencing me.

"Is not something Isaac would ever be interested in, I'm afraid," she said, finishing my sentence. "Michele, maybe, but definitely not Isaac. Thankfully, I'll be able to play this as a rejection and learning experience for David, as I'm sure you have his only screenplay. Correct?"

"I do," I told her, but was unable to reach into my bag as she was curled too tightly around me.

"Would you mind destroying it for me?" she purred, and I nodded. "I can't rip up the product of a man's soul."

"I'll take care of it," I said, and she grimaced at something.

"Did you find the source?" she asked, and I realized that her hatred of violence was what she was grimacing at and what I might have done to preserve our secrecy.

Giving her a warm smile, I told her, "Yes, I did, but I couldn't pull the trigger on him," I said, and she purred in glee that I hadn't let the monster destroy something beautiful for her. "I told him to leave LA, and not come back or I'd have to kill him for what he'd done. It was a Thin Blood that lived on the beach, so I doubt anyone misses him."

"If it had been any one else, they wouldn't have been so kind and for that and I thank you," she said, then kissed my jaw in appreciation. "Now, I think I owe you something," she said, almost breathing in my ear as she did so.

"You can have whatever part of me you want," she said, kissing my cheek as I moved to nuzzle under her ear as my thirst screamed for me to feed, her perfume and its flowery scent an afterthought as I zeroed in on the intoxicating scent of her blood.

I kissed her neck once, before sliding my fangs out and biting into her tender flesh. VV gasped as my fangs pierced her skin, and began pushing away from me. I wrapped my arms around her, and we ended up on the floor as I fed from her. Her blood held flavors my brain wasn't even registering as I sucked mouth-full after mouth-full into my mouth and down my throat,

It wasn't until her blood thinned and was hard to suck out that I stopped, my thirst satisfied. I propped myself up on my arms, as VV moaned on the floor, her eyes unfocused and her arm instinctively going up to her neck to caress the spot where I had bitten her. The moment her hand found the spot, her eyes snapped into focus onto mine, and she moaned.

"Of all the things I thought you'd take from me, my blood wasn't on my mind," she said, the sultriness of her voice now gone. "You do know that feeding from fellow kindred is considered taboo, or so Isaac has told me."

"Damsel didn't like that I'd fed from her either," I told her as I stood up and VV smiled as I extended my hand to assist her back up.

"From what I hear about the Brujah, your lucky to be alive," she said, as she stood up herself, again dwarfing me in her taller heels.

"Damsel is a Toreador, not a Brujah," I said and VV burst out giggling.

"That little tart is an artist?" she finally got out as she continued to giggle. "I've never even seen her at salon, and she's an artist? Who told you that?"

"Damsel herself," I said and VV continued to laugh.

"Did she happen to tell you who her sire was?" VV said as she tried to bring her laughing under control.

"She never mentioned his name," I told her as VV brought herself under control. "Said he was an artist with his words and he had a penchant for beauty, fad of the month type of thing and that he ruined a lot of girl's lives because of it."

"Felix Barker," she whispered, and it brought my head around. Did this guy get around or something? "Yes, he's ruined a lot of girls lives in pursuit of the 'perfect' woman," she said sourly. "I don't know if I have a lot to say on the matter though, he did kind of save me."

"Barker is your sire, too?" I asked her, and she nodded.

"He sired me, oh, ten years ago now," she said and my jaw dropped as VV sat back on the sofa. "It was spur of the moment, and he didn't stay with me but a few days. Michele helped me get the club going soon after, and I changed my name to hide my past. All because he saw me walking down the street and liked me."

"What was the fad at the time?" I asked and she smiled at a memory.

"It was back in the nineties during the Western craze and it was somewhat fashionable to wear corsets," she told me, as her eyes glossed over in memory. "I had been walking down Vine to a meeting and was wearing this fancy styled dress and corset when he saw me. I never did make that meeting, as Barker shanghaied me and sired me. He was less than thrilled to learn the truth," she said, sighing in her recollections.

"What truth would that be?" I asked and she smiled wanly.

"That I wasn't the high-brow woman he thought me to be," she said simply, without adding to it. "I've known for years that he's done the same to other girls, but I never figured he sired Damsel. She just seems so, anathema to art. Did she say why Barker was drawn to her?"

"Well, when she was sired it was apparently at the height of Beatnik fashion, which Damsel still carries with her," and VV's smiled warmed at that.

"That would be Barker's style," she agreed with me. "I guess since she's always seen with the Brujah I just figured she was Brujah herself. Wonder why she never comes to a salon?" she silently wondered.

"Couldn't say," I said as I looked down at her. "We're not really that close, not since the Trial of Jose," I lied, not wanting to betray myself to the gossip circle VV was likely connected to.

"Hmm," she said and I looked at the exit. I did need to get on with my night, as there was so little left. It was getting on four.

"Well," I said, looking back to the stairs, "The night wanes, and I'm a busy woman."

"Do come back and see me sometime," she purred, stretching out on the comfortable couch in a provocative pose. "I do hate being here all alone."

"I'll come back, VV," I said with a smile, and meant it as I disappeared down the dark stairs. The hunter wasn't in his spot when I came back down the stairs, and that set me on edge. He knew from my lack of eyes that I was supernatural, and if he waited for me in the parking lot, I might have a few problems. I ran through my list of options, deciding I couldn't risk losing my bike to theft and needing to get the bondage equipment back to the mansion

At the door, I paused at the empty entrance and scanned the parking lot. Not seeing anyone waiting wasn't a comfort, and I kept scanning the lot for the hunter while silently hoping he just went to the bathroom. Crossing the street, I still hadn't seen him and it was making me uneasy. Being out in the open like this, I was a sitting duck should he try to shoot an arrow into me so as soon as I got to my bike, I hopped on and started it up and practically peeled out of the Sin Bin's parking lot and didn't slow down till I was back on the freeway.

It was almost a mile later before I noticed the car racing up behind me. I gunned the motor in my Harley, but found I couldn't outrun the car. Hitting the next exit, I raced down the ramp and leaned into the hard turn in an attempt to hold my bike. When I finished the hard turn, I could hear the screech of tires where the Hunter followed me.

It was maddening, knowing I had a trained vampire killer following me and as I looked back saw that he wasn't that far away. I took the next turn, turning into some kind of warehousing area and cutting off a semi that blew its horn at me. The Hunter followed my turn, only seconds behind me when I realized I had made a very terrible mistake. Looking ahead for the next turn to escape, I realized the road ended in a cul-de-sac and the only way out was now blocked by a religious fanatic. Blowing straight through the open gate of a dark warehouse, I soon found myself running out of room to run with the motorcycle and was forced to stop.

The Hunter gunned the motor as I pulled up, and I managed to step out through the shadow my bike made as I was out of options and tried to save the bike by pulling it with me. I only stepped to a spot between two semi trailers some ten feet away where I'd be safe from the crash but the bike was no longer under me. I watched as the Hunter slammed hard into the wall where I had been, the Harley I had ridden crumpled underneath the car which was not totaled.

Walking to the driver's door quickly in an attempt to kill the hunter, my hand scrabbling for a gun in my bag, I was shocked to see the Hunter quickly emerge unscathed with a mini crossbow in his hand. Together, me and him locked eyes and brought our weapons to bear on each other and fired, my shot wide and high as I rushed it too much. His shot was true, and only my newfound celerity allowed me to dodge the lethal dart.

His shot wasted, he dropped the crossbow and began to pull a wicked looking short sword from under his jacket. I brought my weapon back to bear, and snapped off a shot but the Hunter shrugged it off as he charged me. I didn't get a chance to aim, instead emptying my clip at the Hunter as he brought his sword high and tried to cleave me with it. I dropped the gun, and rolled, his strike barely missing.

Turning and rising, I managed to tackle him before he could bring that sword to bear again. We went tumbling, the sword falling to the ground as we rolled. I brought my strength to bear, and soon pinned his arms. The Hunter only smiled, then with amazing flexibility for a guy wrapped a leg under my head and pealed me off of him to tumble away.

He was on me in a flash, pulling a stake from somewhere and trying to find a home for it in my heart. I barely got my arms up in an X to block his strike, then flipped him over me. Spinning to face the Hunter, he got back on his feet and we squared off again. He was fast, as fast as I could be with my basic celerity power and he was wily enough to beat my potence ability.

I had one last way of beating him, and with a smile, I slunk back into the shadows of the trailers. The Hunter followed, and I kept backpedaling until we were well within the shadows of the trailers. When shadow fell across him, I stopped moving, letting him think I was going to fight him in the narrow confines we were now in.

Without warning, I stepped into the shadow, coming out behind him and grabbed him with my potence and threw him against the metal sided trailer. The Hunter was knocked somewhat loopy, and I pressed my attack by doing it again several more times. Eventually, the Hunter was so disoriented from having his head beaten again a metal wall that he dropped the stake and stumbled away as he attempted to escape.

Picking up the stake, and knowing that if I didn't stop him he would kill some other unsuspecting kindred, I walked up behind him and spun him around. He tried to swat me away, but his eyes were unfocused and I quickly pinned him against the wall and buried the stake in his heart. His free hand went to the stake, and tried to pull it out. His strength must have waned though, because he was still trying to pull it out as he collapsed to the ground.

I checked his pulse after several minutes to find it was gone, and let him be. Walking out from in between the trailers, I got in the car and backed it off my bike. The nineties model Fatboy was ruined though, it's handlebars bent and fuel tank had a huge rip in it. I sighed in my misery, hating to lose the bike and decided to replace it as soon as I could. Maybe I should

I pulled out my Sin Bin purchases and stuffed them in my messenger bag, then checked out the Hunter's car. He had several duffle bags full of weapons, some medieval and some containing guns and clips, and one that looked like it contained some sort of armor. I took the bags, needing my potence to handle the weight, and walked away from the ruined wrecks of my bike and the Hunters car to where the crossbow had fallen and picked it up. Picking up the crossbow, I packed it in a duffle and shadow-stepped to Four-Play because all I had to do there was call a cab to take me home.

Stepping into the alley, I walked to the door that led directly to Duke's office. Once I opened it, one of Duke's bouncers noticed me and opened the door to the office and let me in while his buddy went to get Duke for me. I set the heavy bags down, taking the one with the modern firepower and setting it on his desk and opened it, pulling out a wicked looking rifle with what looked like a miniature scope that at first glance seemed more like a paintball gun for all the plastic on it. It wasn't until I found the clip that went with it and saw the bullets in it that I realized it was a rifle.

Examining the rifle, I found that the clip snapped into place behind the grip in the shoulder stock, seeming odd to how I thought rifles were supposed to be used. Shouldering the short rifle, I examined it and found the 'scope' was just a fancy aiming guide with a round circle and a small dot, but figured any assistance was better than firing blind.

Setting it in the seat, I examined the bag to find another semi-automatic pistol in a carrying case, though this one was much bigger and heavier than my Glock. Examining this one, I found it said Desert Eagle on the slide where mine said Glock 19. Pulling on the slide, I found it was loaded and that I had just ejected one of its large shells which I caught by snaking my hand. The rear said it was a Hornady .0 AE, which I though bigger than the .357 I had given Brian, and the other end seemed to be hollowed out, though it had some sort of wax there. Finding the release for the clip, I pulled it out and inserted the bullet back in before slamming the clip home in the grip.

Setting it aside, I pulled out the next weapon which I was sure was a paintball gun, given that it had a canister attached under it. It was a crude gun, seemingly homemade and heavy from the metal in it. I examined it, but was puzzled by the small hole in the barrel. My nose picked up the small of something burning and with a shock, I realized it was coming from the gun. Taking the gun back out into the alley, I flipped the safety off above canister and pulled the trigger, only to get the bejeesus scared out of me when a gout of flame shot out twenty feet down the alley.

Taking the gun back inside, I carefully reset the safety and set it aside. It made sense that the Hunters would have weapons like this, but there had to be reasons that they didn't use it, such as difficulties in acquiring replacement fuel or dangerous to reload. Lord knows what the countryside would be like if you fired this off on the brush and lit the hills on fire. Those were bad enough when they were accidental or the cause of bad storms and destroyed millions of dollars before they could be stopped.

I had just set the gun on the chair with the rifle when Duke walked in. The ghoul was wearing a light gray business suit and was happy to see me. "Hey ya doll," he said, cheerily as he shut the door behind him, his eyes falling on the firepower I had set in the chair. "Business been rough?"

"Somewhat," I said, finding that there were more arrows for the small crossbow I had tucked away somewhere. "Had a Hunter after me before I came here."

"If he comes here, I'll make sure my boys break his spine," Duke said defensively as he walked closer and examined the rifle I had recently acquired. "Wow, Steyr Aug. Thought this bad boy got outlawed back in the 90's. Where did you get it?"

"From the Hunter I killed," I said flatly, and couldn't help but think of the Hunter's face as he died. I refused to feel sorry for the man's death, as he had tried to kill me, but I would have to be more careful about such things in the future. If he had led off with the flamethrower, I'd likely be dead now. "He won't be needing it anymore."

"Gun's really don't work on you, do they," he said, as he lifted the small weapon and shouldered it, the small weapon looking somewhat goofy in his hands.

"Not so much," I said, replacing all the weapons in the duffle and setting it back on the floor. I picked up the other duffle and set it on the desk, finding it was a selection of swords, plastic bottles filled with holy water, and stakes, making it the more lethal bag to kindred. Setting it aside, I picked up the third duffle, and examined the contents. It contained some sort of dark blue, almost black, armor, mostly made of leather with metal studs throughout.

"Ever seen armor like this?" I asked him, showing him one of the pieces.

Duke pulled a piece out and examined it, then frowned. "No, looks new though because the leather isn't cracked. And it's female," he said as he held it up, sizing it against my body. "Or at least made for a young man."

"Wonder why he had it then?" I wondered, then put it back in the bag. It wasn't like I could ask him now. "He was way too big to confused with a woman, unless..." I started to say when it hit. Predators and prey. I killed the predator, but what if he had been, until recently, assisted with someone acting as bait? Say, Chastity, a small woman who had until recently been dancing at Vesuvius? "Well, she won't be needing it either," I said for Duke's benefit.

"Good to know you won't be disappearing on me anytime soon," he flatpanned, and I nodded at the grim admission. I had taken on two Hunters since ghouling Duke, though only the last one knew of my existence for any length of time before I dispatched him.

"So, how are things going in the club?" I asked him, trying to lighten the mood.

"Good so far," he said, as he moved to take his spot behind his desk. "Been keeping an eye on one of my new hires. Got a new one, she's got charisma, but she's nothing like Angel or Amber."

"Show me," I said as I moved around the desk, and he flicked through the cameras to bring up a platinum blond sitting between two men. She seemed to be talking with both as she leaned back against the bar, her barely covered chest on display as both men seemed to fight over her. "So what's the deal?" I asked and he spun to face me.

"Blondie on the left is into redheads with big breasts, preferably in the double letter range, while the rich boy on the right prefers petite Asian," he said as if he were discussing menu options and not women. He brought up another shot, this one of a petite Asian woman who couldn't have been over sixteen and leaned back in his chair. "That's his usual girl and after he gets drunk, will gladly take her into the VIP rooms upstairs to get in her panties, if you know what I mean. So far, I have yet to see Sugar take any of my customers upstairs, but instead she takes them into the members area. Not bad for a girl who can't speak."

I studied the screen while my brain worked, and hit on the problem that Duke was presenting me. Bound my order, he could no longer break the girls to do what he wanted them to do by forcing them onto his couch. As such, Sugar was doing the bare minimum to make money, and not putting out.

Still, there was only one way my brain saw that Sugar could pull two men with such different appetites to her with looks alone, and that was by presence. She didn't look like a kindred, but as my own ghouls could attest, ghouls could acquire kindred powers.

"Can you bring her in? I'd like to talk to her," I asked Duke and he nodded.

"Give me a minute, and I'll have her brought in," he said as he got up and went to the door. After telling one of the bouncers to bring him Sugar, he went back to his desk and pulled out a pad and pen from a drawer and placed them on the other side of the desk. I give him a questioning look and he chuckled. "She doesn't speak. Said she had her throat ripped out by a dog a while back. Can't make a sound, but she's had the cosmetic surgery to make it like it never happened."

Nodding in acceptance, I waited while his bouncer interrupted the two men who were about to start a fist fight over Sugar and led her back to his office. As soon as she was headed our way, the two men split up, each one shaking their head as if to clear before going separate directions.

Soon, the platinum blonde entered the office and I got a good look at her. She wasn't very tall, naturally speaking as she wore four inch heels and was still several inches shorter than the bouncers. The hair seemed natural though, and not out of a bottle and her skin was pink and not pale, making her a ghoul instead of a kindred. Her eyes lit up as she saw me though, and it wasn't in any form of glee.

No, she was terrified.

"You know what I am don't you?" I asked her, and she nodded slowly as she inched back to the door. "Who's your master?"

Sugar shook her head, and bolted for the door forcing me to sprint on the tips of my toes to get to the door before she did, and I pinned her there as she silently sobbed and struggled to get free. Using my potence, I drug her from the door and back to the couch and tossed her gently onto its cushions. Knowing she was beat, she curled up on herself and I watched as tears fell down her cheeks.

"Who's your master?" I asked again, while Duke handed her the pad and pen. She wrote something down, and showed it to Duke who was closer.

"She says his name is Felix Barker," he said as he read her note. "She just wants to go home."

"And so Felix ruins another girl's life," I muttered and shook my head. Sugar began writing something else, and when Duke read it, he scrunched his forehead up.

"She wants to know if you're going to take her back to him," he said and I shook my head.

"No," I said, as she pleaded with her eyes to me. "I won't take you back, nor will I tell him where you've gone."

She got up and embraced me at that, and I gave her a warm hug as we rocked back and forth. "Sweetie," I said, and she looked up at me with hope in her eyes. "You do know that it's painful to go through blood withdrawal, right?"

She nodded her head, and that made me wonder where she got her information. "Who told you that?"

Duke gave her the pad and pen again, and she wrote down Remy, which I recognized as another ghoul of Toreador Primogen Michele Riviere. Since Barker was also a Toreador, it stood to reason that they were either closely allied or Michele was Barker's sire, and either was possible. It made me wonder what else was going on, but likely that Barker was going par for the course and Remy was trying to save Sugar as best she could.

"If you get to wanting blood, have Duke get a hold of me, okay? I'll treat you better than Barker will," I told her, and she nodded.

A thought hit me, and I dismissed it. If she wanted to go home, she surely didn't want my blood. "Stay here for a bit, I need to talk to Duke alone, okay?" I asked and she nodded in understanding. I led Duke out of his office, taking the duffle bags with me as we stepped into the alleyway.

Once we were completely out of the club, I turned back to him in the pinkish glow of the coming dawn and stared hard into his eyes. "I've gotten a better look at how these clubs operate, but I can't in good conscience support your desire to rape women to further your own pocketbook."

"If I can't break..." he started to say but I held up my hand to silence him.

"That I have learned," I said as I hung my head a bit. "I've talked with Velvet Velour, and I got her to teach me a bit about the business. One thing I was taught was not to have emotional attachments, and I guess that means I can't say much about how you run this club. My only rule to you now is, you can't kill them. That's one thing I don't want you doing."

"I can live with that," he said, giving me a wan smile. "It's starting to get bright out, so shouldn't you be heading home?"

"Yes, I should," I said as I looked to horizon as it started to glow brighter when I remembered I needed to ask Duke something. "I need a room or three for some of my other ghouls. Something's come up and I don't need them at the house at sunset. They're names are Brian, Heather and Constance."

"Alright," he said from behind me as I scanned the brightening horizon. Soon we would be turning the world over to the mortals, and it was time for good little kindred to slink off into the shadows.

"I'll be in touch," I said as I stepped back into the shadows and stepped out at my mansion in my secret room and set the duffle bags down. No one was around, so I went out through my painting covered exit, only to find everyone sitting around the master bed at a sleeping Yukie. Heather was sitting on the bed, one leg curled under and the other hanging off the side. Brian sat backwards in a hard backed chair at the foot of the bed with his head resting on the top of the seat back while Constance lay beside Yukie who lay there covered in a long T-shirt featuring a howling wolf.

"How is she?" I asked and everyone jumped slightly as they hadn't noticed I was there.

"She's still sleeping," Heather said from the other side of the bed. "I guess we were just hoping if we were all here when she woke up we might better control her."

"I got something that will help with that," I said, as I pulled the bondage gear from my overly stuffed messenger bag. "Brian, go set this up on my bed in my room. I'll bring her down in a bit."

"Yes, mistress," he said as he took the packages and left the room.

After Brian left the room, I sat at the edge of the bed and looked back at the petite young Asian and wondered if I should dump her in a motel room before I was forced to sleep for the night. But, if there were any problems there'd likely be no one there to help her and she'd be vulnerable to kidnapping until she woke up.

Shaking my head, I reached over and lifted her up, finding I barely needed my potence to carry her downstairs. I moved slowly and carefully, so to not bang her head and carried her down to my private room. Brian had the basic straps for securing her to the bed laid out, and I set her down in the middle and he wasted no time in securing her arms and legs.

After he had her arms and legs tied to the four corners, he took the ball gag from its package and put it in her mouth and secured it, making sure she didn't start screaming if she woke up. With that, Brian gave a nod to me and smiled.

"You got the good stuff," he said as he backed away from the bed. "I thought for a bit you might bring back handcuffs with fuzz pink fur all over it, not leather straps."

"Ah, but you forget the best part," I said, as I went to the messenger bag and pulled out the locks that were under the black robe I had bought. "Added insurance," I said and Brian quickly worked the locks out and put them on the leather straps. "Now, unless she's much stronger than she looks, she can't get free. She's not to be abused, but I would say don't let her out either. If she wakes up before I do, try to be nice to her, and tell her I'll let her out when I wake up. In the meantime, I got Duke to let you have motel rooms at his motel. Just go see him for the keys."

"Do you want us to stay there all day?" Heather asked, and I shrugged my shoulders.

"You can if it makes you feel safer, though I'd like to have someone with Yukie if she wakes up," I told them. "I know I'm a bit of a liability with Lasombra's ability to rise through me, and if he does wake up instead of me, he'll kill her if he knows what she is."

"What if I set her free when he wakes up?" Brian said and we all looked at him. He shrugged his shoulders and continued on. "She is a vampire hunter, I say give her a weapon and let her kill him."

"If she does kill him, she probably kills me," I said and everyone oohed at that. "We do share one body."

"It was a thought," Brian said, raising his hands as Heather and Constance gave him a hard eye.

"A bad one," Constance said and I had to agree with her.

"Well, I'm going to shower," I said as I headed back out, letting my ghouls argue about whether or not they'd stay in the mansion tonight.

I headed back up to the master bath, stripping my clothes off on the bed as I watched the sky continue to brighten outside. It was definitely early in the morning now, and I turned off the lights to end my headache as I stepped into the bathroom to begin my shower.

When I stepped out, my gray bathrobe was waiting for me and I slipped it on. Back downstairs in my hidden bedroom, only Brian remained by Yukie's side. He sat backwards on a kitchen chair, his eyes staring holes while he watched Yukie. He jumped a bit when I put a hand on his shoulder, but quickly settled himself back down and continued to watch her sleep.

"Heather and Constance are packing up," he said glumly. "They're going to get rooms today with Duke, and I'll join them tonight, but for today I'm going to watch Yukie. I can't just leave her here with you. What if she got loose? She could kill you before you woke up and then where would we be?"

"Thank you, Brian," I said, feeling the sun rise and the wave of dizziness that came with it. "What was it like when Lasombra rose?"

"She's scary," he said, not taking his eyes off Yukie. "She demands obedience, and will beat you if you screw up. She also has no modesty, and even let me put her clothes on her. It wasn't until after she left that I realized she didn't even carry a weapon out of here, and you come back with Uzis. Boy was Dennis a fool for not becoming your ghoul."

"Thanks, Brian," I said as I moved to the wardrobe they had bought to house my clothes in and sat down beside it so Yukie could see me if she tried. Maybe it would help keep her calm if she knew I was out of commission with the sunrise and would set her free with the sunset. One could hope, right?

It had been a long night though, and I was out as soon as I my butt met the wood floor.

Chapter Text

October 4, 2004 = Monday

~Eliza Flores~

Waking the next night, I found Brian sitting backwards on his kitchen chair, again. Watching him, I saw him flipping cards and laying them on the desk while I stretched my muscles. It wasn't until I stood up that I saw he was playing solitaire on top of the cover covering up Yukie's tied down leg. When my gaze traveled north, I also saw Yukie was awake, though still gagged, and was struggling to get free.

"Hello, Yukie," I said, and she glared at me as she stopped struggling. "I'll remove the gag if you'll agree not to start yelling, okay?"

Taking her calm appearance as a yes, I reached under her head and undid the buckle that held the ball gag in her mouth and pulled the large red ball free. Once Yukie had full use of her mouth she let loose a string of foreign words and none of it sounded good. Using my free hand, I shoved her chin down forcing her mouth open and reinserted the ball gag and tied it back on. Yukie went back to struggling quietly, but I ignored her and turned to Brian.

"So, everyone at the motel?" I asked him and he nodded, handing me my shades to slip on which had been hanging from the neck of his shirt.

"Yeah, we got rooms with the girls at Four-Play," he said with a smile. "Might end up with some new customers."

"Supplying Duke's girls with blow?"

"Yeah," he said with a chuckle. "They need a pick-me-up to help them and I have it. Doesn't hurt that they're open to alternative payment options."

"Where do you get the cash to pay for it?" I asked him, wondering how he managed to buy drugs when he wasn't getting any money for them. I knew he wasn't getting the money from me, he didn't have access to my bank account yet.

"I sell them at three times what it costs to get them," he said proudly. "Means I need only one paying customer to pay for two girls who prefer to get down and dirty. Works for me."

"And you make no money," I said, and Brian shrugged his shoulders.

"Not everything in life is about money," he said with a mischievous grin. "If you don't enjoy it, it passes you by and you're dead."

"Preaching to the choir," I said with a rueful smile. "So who gave you the idea for that anyway?"

"What? Having paying customers pay for my sexy time? I did," he said proudly. "Back when I first became a pusher, I used to use my money like everyone else and buy it at the street corner. Not a few months later, my good friend Bo, who was also a pusher, caught something Ajax wouldn't wash off from one of the girls. Made me learn fast another way to get my quality time in and not kill myself doing it. And always wear a condom, can't understate the importance of that."

"Ouch," I said, wincing in sympathy. "So how long you been pushing?"

"Aw, gee," he said, running a hand through his hair. "I'm thirty-two, so been doing this," he said, looking up as he did the math, "Twenty years. Twenty-one years now. I've survived nine bosses."

"How?" I said and he shrugged his shoulders.

"Never had a registered home, no phone or anything," he said as he shuffled the cards as he hit the end of his current game. "Pretty sure the cops want me, but they've had no way of tracing me. Hard to find a guy with no home."

"Well, your home is with me now," I said, meaning it.

"Aww, don't go getting mushy on me now," he said with a chuckle. "I wouldn't know how to handle it. Besides, life is a gamble anyway. I could end up dead or in prison tomorrow."

"Or laid again?" I said with a smile. Yeah, he was bad, but he was loyal.

"Always," he said as he put the cards away.

"Are you going to be quiet now?" I asked Yukie after she quieted down since I began ignoring her. She nodded her head in acquiescence and I unbuckled and removed the ball gag.

"Release me, demon," she said calmly, and I set the ball gag on my dresser since she was being somewhat compliant.

"Only if you agree to something," I said and her face twisted in a snarl.

"I will never serve a demon," she spat, and I shook my head as I wiped the spit away.

"Okay, but that wasn't what I wanted you to agree to," I said and her eyebrows went up in shock. "You agree not to harm anyone in this house, or return to it to cause anybody in it harm, and I'll let you go. I'll even have Brian take you wherever you want to go."

"You will not force me to serve you?" she asked quizzically and I shook my head.

"No," I said and sat beside her. "I told you once that I'm not a monster. I did what I had to to save your life, and that carries some drawbacks to it. Yes, I used my blood. Yes, I could keep you tied up here and force you to take my blood again and again until you are my slave, but that would make me a monster. I just didn't want you killing my servants."

"If you release me, I will not harm anyone here," she promised and I nodded at Brian who pulled the cover off her to reveal the restraints.

She calmly waited while Brian undid the restraints, stretching what had to be sore muscles from being tied up all day. Once she was free, she sat up, rubbing her wrists as she examined her surroundings. She hobbled to her feet, examining the wall before she turned to me.

"Is there toire?" she asked, then shook her head. "I mean, restroom, here?"

"Brian, show her the master bath on the ground floor. I'll see her in t