Please send all comments to Julie Beamer
Disclaimer: The following story is based on the world of "Kindred: The Embraced" created and owned by Spelling Entertainment and White Wolf and their corporate parts. The story is mine, but I'm borrowing their characters for our own private amusement. * * *
"Out of the Darkness"A Kindred: The Embraced Story by Julie Beamer
Part 11985 Julian Luna was late coming back from Manzanita. He had been gone for a long time. Too long, thought Lillie Langtry grimly, as she waited on the stairs in the hall of the mansion. She had stopped pretending she wasn't worried hours ago. It was the kind of mission Julian had been on hundreds of times before, carrying out Archon's judgement against those Kindred who had broken the laws of the Prince. But this time it was different. She could feel it. So she sat on the stairs, waiting. And if Archon was disturbed seeing her on the staircase every time he left his study -- well that was just too bad. Just before dawn Julian returned. Archon met him in the hall. Lillie took one look at Julian's face and realized she should stay upstairs on the landing. Something had happened. "Well?" asked Archon. "It's done," replied Julian simply. "But we need to talk." The heavy doors of the study shut firmly behind them. Lillie stared at the doors, wondering, wishing she were inside to hear. She could hear Archon's voice raised from time to time, but couldn't make out the words. Twenty minutes later Julian emerged and bolted up the stairs. Lillie grabbed his arm. "Julian?" The face before her was completely stricken. "I can't stay. I can't do this anymore." "Then I'll come with you." It was said before she even thought about it. Julian gratefully took her hand and they went to his room. It was an example of Archon's formal views that even though he knew Lillie and Julian were lovers and seldom slept apart, he insisted they maintain separate rooms in the house. Lillie watched as Julian pulled a small case from the wardrobe and began to pack. "Where were you planning to go?" "I have no idea. Somewhere. Anywhere." She took his hand again. "Let's go to London. I haven't been there in decades. We could even visit Jersey. You'd love my home, Julian." He smiled slightly. Lillie could always get a smile out of him. "All right," he said. "Better go pack some things. I want to be out of here before the sun is much higher." * * * It wasn't long before Julian and Lillie were in the foyer, bags packed and ready to leave. "Julian." Archon was in the doorway of his study. He held out his hand for the traditional obeisance. "You will always be welcome in this house." Julian took his hand and kissed it. "I'm sorry," he said. "So am I," was Archon's quiet reply. * * * The darkened car took them safely to the airport and the ramps and overhangs kept the rising sun away from them until they were safely inside. Air travel had increased the Kindred's ability to move easily and quickly from city to city, but they still had to be careful, staying inside the airports and keeping away from windows. Limiting themselves to how humans traveled said much to Lillie about Julian's state of mind. He wanted to leave -- now. Julian booked them on a flight that was leaving immediately, but they had a two hour layover in Chicago before catching their connecting flight. They settled themselves in the bar at O'Hare Airport, sipping on drinks, happy for the darkened atmosphere. Julian sat in his chair, lost in thought. Lillie took his hand and kissed it, waking him from his reverie. "Are you going to tell me what happened?" He shook his head. "I can't. Not yet. Maybe -- maybe later. Not now." Lillie had learned through the decades that Julian had to push the pain within himself first and deal with it, before he could confide in others. What she didn't realize was how long that process would take this time. * * * Julian's self imposed exile in London didn't last long. Barely fourteen months. Archon obviously bore no grudge -- Julian was well received by the Ventrue Prince of London. The Prince of London even found Julian a job, placing him in the "special section" of the Bank of England, handling the accounts of Ventrue owned businesses. Apart from learning about banking operations in general (the lifeblood of the Ventrue clan), Julian also gained valuable experience in all aspects of Ventrue run finances. Lillie decided not to take up any employment in London (not only could Julian's salary support them both, but she also had her own money). She enjoyed life in London, making a wide circle of friends in the large Kindred community there. There was always a party or gathering of friends in their apartment in the evenings. And if anyone wondered about the odd pairing of the serious Ventrue and the vivacious Toreador, everyone admitted that the relationship seemed to work. * * * London was a conservative city, as were most European Kindred. Although blood allowed them to face the sunlight, they did so less than their American brethren. Kindred social life revolved around the night far more than it did across the Atlantic. The daylight hours were for rest. Lillie had forgotten this trait after residing for more than fifty years in San Francisco, but she picked it up again easily; Julian, American born, decided it was quaint, but adapted to the custom. He admitted to needing a rest, but only Lillie knew how unsettled his days were. Most of his sleeping hours were tormented by nightmares. Rarely could she wake him and break their grip; usually she could only hold him until whatever demons within his soul released him. When questioned, Julian refused to tell her about the dreams. To convince Lillie he was well, Julian agreed to travel, to let her show him London, Jersey, Paris, the south of France, all the places she had known and loved in her heyday when she held European and American theater audiences (and more than one member of royalty) enthralled. Time passed pleasantly enough and Lillie had begun to think of the move as permanent. But one day a telegram arrived from San Francisco. ("Doesn't he know there's a telephone," Lillie had sniffed.) Archon wanted Julian to come back. He needed help, of a "different" nature. Lillie had protested that Julian was just dropping everything with no explanation, but she knew his attachment to Archon was strong and knew he would go back to San Francisco. And she also knew she would return with him. * * * This time they traveled via night flights in easy stages. They arrived in San Francisco at 10:30pm. Sonny Toussaint, a Childe of Julian's, met them at the airport. He was unabashedly glad to see his Sire. "It's good to have you back," he said as he hugged them both. "Archon's been impossible since you left." Julian grinned wryly. "So how have you been?" "I just got promoted," Sonny announced proudly. "No string pulling either. All on my own." "I always said you were smarter than you gave yourself credit for. So you like being a cop?" "Yes, I do. Besides it's good to have more of us in the department. We usually hear what's going on in the city, even if we can't always do something about it." Light chit-chat continued on the drive back to the compound over looking the bay. It was impossible to know Julian's thoughts as they swept up the drive in front of the long flight of stairs. The guards at the house, most of them Julian's youngest brood siblings, smiled and nodded when they saw him. Archon was waiting for them in the hall. There was no hesitation; after receiving Julian's formal kiss to the hand, Archon happily embraced him. "Welcome home," he said. "I've missed you." His smile even included Lillie, whose relationship with Julian he hadn't always approved of. But it was much later, after Lillie had tactfully retired to leave the two men alone, that Archon finally told Julian why he had asked him to return. "This last war could have destroyed us," Archon acknowledged as they sipped wine from Julian's family's winery. "You tried to warn me, but I wouldn't listen. You were right; I was being too heavy handed." Julian said nothing; it was an admission he never expected to hear from his Sire. "The peace is holding, but barely," Archon continued. "I need help getting the Clans to negotiate with each other. I tend to give orders; it's my nature. Orders are resented. But you have friends within most of the Clans -- any statement coming from you would be less of an order and more of a suggestion. It's more diplomatic that way." "I never thought of myself as a statesman before," Julian commented. "You are, whether you know it or not. I had good reports of you in London," Archon added. Julian smiled slightly at these words. Even under the circumstances of his leaving, Archon had kept an eye on him. "Then I'll start tomorrow," he said.
Part 2It didn't take Julian long to find his old friend, the Gangrel boss, Stevie Ray. The Gangrels were drifters by nature, but they always knew what was going on in any city they inhabited. Stevie could bring him up to speed on recent events. Julian found Stevie where he had last seen him over a year ago, in his favorite pool-hall. "May I join you?" It was a voice Stevie was afraid he'd never hear again. He turned and grinned at his old friend, handing him a cue. "I heard you were back." Julian stripped off his jacket and loosened his tie before joining the game. "Yesterday," he acknowledged as Stevie racked up a new game. "How's the truce been holding?" Stevie shrugged. "Not bad. Archon gave me permission to bring the Clan numbers back to pre-War levels. The Brujah have been allowed to bring their numbers up to Gangrel population, but no more." "That's good," Julian said. "Hmmm," Stevie replied. "The problem is, we were almost wiped out. Most of the Gangrel here now are my Childer, and only a few years old. The Gangrel can't continue the way they have, Julian. Some of the old traditions of freedom are going to have to go." Julian understood what he was getting at. "Do you want me to talk to him?" Stevie almost smiled. "Maybe later. Archon's the old school; he's not big on change." Julian had to chuckle at that as they continued the game. * * * Julian's next visit was to another old friend, Daedalus of the Clan Nosferatu. Stevie could tell him what was going on in the city -- Daedalus could frequently tell him *why*. Daedalus made his Haven near the Prince's home. Julian sniffed the air and smiled. Only Daedalus's Haven held that odd mixture of damp, mold -- and paint. For Daedalus was an excellent, albeit unusual, artist. Daedalus handed his friend a glass of wine as if it had only been last week, rather than last year, that they had seen each other. "Did Stevie Ray have anything interesting to tell you?" he asked. Julian wasn't surprised that Daedalus already knew he had seen Stevie. "Not really," he replied. "Although there are going to be some interesting changes for their Clan." "They should make some changes," Daedalus said. "They were almost destroyed in the last war." Julian nodded. The Nosferatu had carefully remained aloof from the war, watching all the other Clans ravage each other. By the end of the war, there were more Nosferatu left in the city than either Gangrel or Brujah, the bloodshed had been that enormous. Julian felt sickened by the part he had played in it as well as by the events in Manzanita that had sent him fleeing the city. "I hear you will not be taking up your old duties," Daedalus said conversationally. "No." Daedalus tucked away the simple word. So much had been said in one quiet syllable. They continued their conversation. Julian learned much of the events of the past year; Daedalus suspected much was coming in the future. But Daedalus kept that to himself. * * * Julian joined Lillie in her room for their morning rest. But she wouldn't let him sleep. She was brimming over with news. "I went to see Miguel today," she said, naming the Primogen of the Toreador. "And?" "He wants to step down and retire. And he's going to offer my name at the next Clan meeting to succeed him!" Julian was startled. "You want the job?" "Of course," she said. "Power, prestige, money. I've been very helpful to him since coming to San Francisco. I turned the speakeasies into legitimate clubs after Prohibition ended. I got us into the music business and negotiated the takeover of the record companies. I deserve this." "I suppose now I'll be replaced," Julian teased. They had broken up repeatedly over the years and repeatedly made up, but it was always for intensely personal reasons. Status had never entered into it. "Well," she temporized and giggled when Julian rolled over on top of her. "You'll have to be nice to me." "Absolutely," he replied as his mouth found hers. It's a good thing that neither of them were sleepy. * * * Julian spent the next two years helping Archon keep the peace. Archon had been quite right; with Julian's friendships running across Clan lines, it was easier to bring the different parties together. Even Lillie helped. As Toreador Primogen, she also had contacts that ranged throughout the state. The truce between the clans, at first very uneasy, slowly solidified. Julian proved himself a master of negotiation. Of course, his reputation as a fighter also helped. Everyone knew of his actions during the war. Everyone remembered the deaths of the Manzanita Brujah. No one wanted to see that side of Julian again. Archon was well pleased with his favorite Childe. Everything was going according to plan. Now all he had to do was tell Julian. * * * They sat in Archon's study, sharing a glass of wine and going over the most recent events in the city. It was an evening they had often shared. Tonight would be an evening Julian Luna would remember for the rest of his life. "I have something to tell you," Archon began. "Something I decided on some time ago. But I couldn't put it into practice until you returned and were ready." Julian was wary. His Sire was unpredictable. He *said* he would never ask Julian to repeat his actions at Manzanita - - but no matter what excuse he gave now, Julian would *never* do that again. "What are you planning?" he asked cautiously. "I'm going to step down as Prince," Archon stated calmly. "And I want you to take my place." Julian couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You're going to step down -- and make me Prince? You can't be serious!" "I am." "But -- I can't take your place. I have no idea how to be Prince, what to do." Archon smiled. "The Prince has only one job -- to keep the peace. I came close to forgetting that. When there's peace everything else falls into place." "I don't know what to do, how to do it." "You know more than you think. You've been doing the hardest part of the job for the past two years. Why do you think I asked you to come back? I wanted to prepare you for this." Julian's mind was reeling. "You're serious." "Very." Julian found another objection. "The other Clans would never accept it." Archon smiled again. "You'll have the support of the Ventrue -- and I would assume the Toreador. The Brujah are still disorganized from the War. Eddie won't like it, but he's in no position to cause trouble." "And the Nosferatu?" "Goth will probably be a problem," Archon conceded. "But he's also losing support in his Clan. If he oversteps the bounds, I don't see the Nosferatu having any trouble in replacing him. Besides," he added, "they haven't forgotten how you rescued many of them after the 1906 earthquake. You personally have support among many of the Nosferatu." Julian regarded his Sire steadily. "You've thought this whole thing out." "Yes, I have. Since the day three years ago when you said you wouldn't kill for me anymore. I knew the time had come. *Your* time, Julian." For a moment, there was silence between them. "I still don't think I can do it," Julian confessed. "You won't be alone," Archon assured him. "I can take over as Ventrue Primogen." Julian glanced at him sharply. "I won't be a puppet." "If I had wanted a puppet," Archon responded drily. "I never would have asked you to come back." He held up his wine glass. "To change," he offered. Still shaking his head, Julian drank to the toast.
Part 3Julian was nervous about the whole affair, but he shouldn't have been. Archon had orchestrated more than one coup d'etat -- although this was a first in that he was ousting himself. The first salvo was barely noticed. Archon announced the stepping down of the Ventrue Primogen, to "retire" to another city. It was a perfectly ordinary, not uncommon announcement. What no one else realized was that he had been *ordered* to retire and leave the city by Archon. Lillie was the only other Primogen who had been told what was about to happen. Julian had insisted on that. The support of the Toreador, the second largest Kindred Clan in San Francisco, was essential. She was thrilled with the news. To be Primogen in her own right was wonderful enough. But being the lover of the Prince on top of that -- that only added to the power of the Toreador. And who knew, Lillie thought ambitiously, "Consort" had a nice ring to it as well. There were two other Kindred Julian told -- Stevie Ray and Daedalus. They would be his eyes and ears in the city. There would be changes in San Francisco, for Julian would start the way he meant to go on. * * * Finally, the day came. The Conclave meeting would be held in the mansion. Julian waited for the others to arrive with Archon. His mouth was dry and more than anything else, he wanted to run. He smiled slightly at the memory of the last time he had physically run from something. He had rammed right into a tree. And met Daedalus in the process. There had to be a lesson there somewhere, he thought. Finally, all the Primogen were assembled. It was time. * * * Eddie Fiori wasn't surprised to see Julian Luna enter the Conclave room with Archon. He had been betting that Julian would get the plum position of Ventrue Primogen. He sniffed when he saw the Gangrel, Stevie Ray. The Conclave would obviously be talking about something that affected the Gangrel Clan directly. Scum, he thought venomously. Julian and Archon took their places -- with Archon as Ventrue Primogen and Julian at the head of the table as Prince. Eddie stared in total shock. This -- this couldn't be. *Julian* was Prince? It couldn't be true, it couldn't. Goth was equally dumbfounded, but unlike Eddie, had enough sense not to show it. Inside, he was seething. I should have known, Goth thought to himself. I should have been warned. Why wasn't I? "As you can see," Julian began. "There have been some changes. Effective immediately, Archon has renounced the position of Prince of San Francisco. I have taken over that position. The Ventrue Clan requested that Archon stay on as Primogen. I have agreed." "I won't accept it!" Eddie shouted, finally finding his voice. "The Primogens have not been consulted." "They seldom are," Goth answered him drily. He would not allow the other Primogen to realize how unnerved he was by Julian's elevation. "The question usually is, is there another Clan that is strong enough to fight the Ventrue for the position of leadership?" He stared Eddie down. "I didn't think so," he said as Eddie began to deflate. "The Toreador Clan," Lillie said from her side of the table. "Supports our Prince. And we are delighted that Archon's wisdom and abilities will not be lost to the city." Archon found himself smiling inwardly. Lillie was always good with a turn of a phrase, he thought. But Julian had better watch himself with her. Archon knew she could just as easily turn those phrases against him. "The first order of business," Julian resumed calmly. "Has to do with the make up of the Conclave itself. For over 140 years, the Gangrel have been a part of the San Francisco Kindred community. Yet they've never had a permanent place at the Conclave. Until today." At the nod of Julian's head, Stevie Ray joined the others at the table. "NO!" Eddie Fiori jumped to his feet. "Sit down, Eddie," Julian responded. Enraged, Eddie remained standing, staring at the Gangrel. Stevie calmly met his gaze. "SIT down," Julian repeated. It was a tone that would brook no defiance. Eddie met Julian's eyes and something in them made him blink. He wasn't strong enough to take Julian on, he realized. The Brujah were still too weak from the war. Slowly, he resumed his seat. Julian continued as if there had been no interruption. "The composition of the Conclave is dictated by tradition. When there are a certain number of Kindred of one Clan resident in the city, they have a right to representation at the Conclave. The word "resident" has always been a sticking point for the Gangrel. But there are always a certain number of Gangrel in the city, and Stevie has expressed a willingness to remain to provide a representative for his Clan. The Brujah opposition has been noted. Is there any other?" There was silence at the table. "No? Then shall we move on?" The Conclave meeting continued with no further interruptions. * * * After the Conclave had ended, Julian fled not to Lillie, nor to his Sire's rooms, but to one he had gone to in many a crisis. Safe in the haven of Daedalus, Julian could now let his real feelings show. He sipped on the wine his friend poured for them. "I feel like a fraud," he admitted. "You won't when you start work; Archon ignored some recent problems, so there is much to be done," Daedalus replied. "I heard you did very well at your first Conclave." Julian shrugged. "That part wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I just imitated Archon." "But you made changes, which is good. Giving Conclave representation to the Gangrel is a sensible idea. However, Stevie Ray needs more status for his Clan to be accepted fully by the others. Have you thought of a bodyguard?" Julian grinned ruefully. "I never needed one before." Daedalus waved his hand dismissively. "Not because you can not defend yourself; because there is strength in numbers. No one will attempt an open attack if there is the possibility of witnesses. And to be the Prince's personal bodyguard is to be held in a position of trust -- and respect." Julian nodded. It was a good idea. Daedalus held up his hand and began ticking off on his twisted, clawed fingers. "You have on your side the Ventrue, the Gangrel, the Toreador," (for now, he thought to himself), "which leaves only the Brujah, who are not organized enough to be a threat, and -- ." "Goth," Julian supplied. They sipped the rest of their wine in silence. * * * Meanwhile, far away from the Prince's compound and hidden by the natural surroundings of a local park, Goth raged to his consort, Camilla. Safe in the depths of his own Haven, he expressed his true feelings. "...and the Prince installs his own whelp! No discussion, no preparation. And worse, I didn't know it was coming. I should have known. Someone should have told me." Camilla said nothing and continued her delicate stitchery. She had her suspicions, of course. Others of their Clan would have known; Daedalus for one. Camilla would stake her life on that. "Perhaps they were afraid you would organize the opposition against such a move?" she offered. She didn't believe that for a moment, but she wanted to placate him. However, Goth would have none of it. "I'm not trusted," he snapped. "I've lived here almost as long as those who cavort above ground. I am the strongest Primogen at the table. And yet I am ignored. But the day will come when no one would dare to ignore me." Camilla grew alarmed. "What do you mean?" "I am not the only one who was angry by this unworthy elevation. Perhaps it's time to strike before this new Prince can consolidate his rule." Camilla was uneasy. She knew, as much as her spouse ignored, the rumblings in their own Clan. Archon had been less than popular with the Nosferatu, but he had never actively antagonized them. There had been murmurs of dissatisfaction, but that was all. Goth did not seem to realize the personal respect many Nosferatu had for Julian. Many living in the city had been rescued from the rubble of their Havens by the young Ventrue after the 1906 earthquake. The Nosferatu had long memories and that act alone would give Julian a chance to prove himself to the Clan. Likewise, Goth's star appeared to be falling. Whispers tapered off when Camilla was near, but she knew some felt that Goth was starting to interpret Kindred law and Nosferatu tradition to suit himself. That did not sit well with their Clan. Unlike the Gangrel and the Brujah, the Clan Nosferatu was not a collection of Neophytes, but a stable society of established members. Goth could easily be replaced if he went too far... Camilla started from such a thought. Goth was strong, she told herself. He had never failed before and wouldn't now. In contrast, the fear that he could lose never entered Goth's mind. Julian was young and lacked the caution and experience of his Sire. He would be easy to trip up in the Conclave. With a lack of confidence from the other Clans, he *couldn't* rule effectively. It might not even be necessary to kill him and Archon. Goth was the most senior and experienced of the Primogen. The Conclave would have no choice but offer him the position of Prince. Then the power of the Nosferatu would be supreme. With surprising tenderness, he took Camilla's hand. "We shall rule together, my love." Camilla forced the uneasiness from her mind. Goth had never failed before, she told herself again. He wouldn't now. * * *
Part 4Goth trudged through the underground tunnels that linked many of the Nosferatu havens. It had been a week since Julian's sudden elevation to the Princedom. It had been a week of -- nothing, Goth thought sourly. He had sounded out his compatriots, expecting support. What he got was a surprising ambivalence. The Nosferatu were quite happy to allow Julian time to prove himself, time to settle the city. They enjoyed the peace of San Francisco, of being above politics. Such thoughts made Goth sick. Allies, he thought, grimly. I need allies. Goth couldn't bring himself to beg for help from the other Clans. Not that he would get any, he knew. The Gangrel and Ventrue were fully on Julian's side, and the Toreador followed their Primogen, who was the Prince's whore, he thought venomously. Only the Brujah would help him, and he had no faith in their abilities or the abilities of their leader, Eddie Fiori. He would have to act alone. And quickly. Then he would seize power before anyone had realized what had happened. The Nosferatu would support their Primogen then, he decided. Then they would enjoy the full benefits of a Clan in power. * * * Julian sat on a stone wall in the patio at the rear of the mansion, staring at the night sky. It had all worked out, just as Archon said it would. Ruling was much easier than he thought. He had the support of the Ventrue, the Toreador, and the Gangrel. Eddie was transparent in his hatred, which made him easy to outmaneuver and control. Only Goth was a difficulty, but Julian knew that the Nosferatu Clan as a whole were willing to give him time to prove his abilities. Dawn was coming and he was growing tired. He got off the wall and stretched, taking the colonnaded walkway back to the mansion. A sixth sense developed after over a hundred years as Archon's Enforcer alerted Julian to the danger. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a shadow move and dodged. Goth stumbled, breaking out of the darkness, knife raised to strike. Julian grabbed his wrist to deflect the next blow, and used his own weight to force them into a column with a thud. Julian heard shouts behind them but he ignored them, concentrating on staying away from the blade. Quickly, Goth was surrounded and overpowered by the household guards. "Julian, are you all right?" It was Stevie Ray. "Of course." Julian turned to Goth, his eyes expressionless. "Take him downstairs," Julian commanded. "And find a representative of the Nosferatu to come see me." Julian returned to the house. He was shaking and didn't want anyone else to see. He forced himself to go to his rest, feeling a little better when he heard Stevie Ray order the guards doubled. He thought of his Sire before he closed his eyes and how often Archon had been the target of an attack. This was something else that came with the job. * * * That evening, Julian met with the representative of the Nosferatu Clan. He wasn't surprised to see they sent Daedalus. The tall Nosferatu looked decidedly uncomfortable standing before Julian in his study. "I can't let attempted murder go," Julian stated without preamble. "Our Clan does not expect that," Daedalus replied. "We are ashamed by the behavior of our Primogen. We knew he was against you, but did not expect him to act in this manner. We ask only for mercy." Julian gripped the mantlepiece. Mercy. Others had begged for mercy only a few short years ago and he had not given it to them. Mercy. Formally, he extended his hand for the traditional kiss of respect. "Tell your Clan," he said. "Goth will not be executed. If they remain loyal to me there will be no repercussions." Daedalus kissed the outstretched hand with gratitude. It was more than they had a right to expect. Assassination was seldom treated lightly. * * * The following evening, Goth was brought before the special assembly of the Conclave. All the Primogen around the table looked grim. Julian sat at the head of the table, looking calm and determined. Goth stared at Julian silently, unflinchingly. He would not sully the name of the Clan Nosferatu. He would be dignified, regardless of how his Final Death would be carried out. "Goth of the Clan Nosferatu," Julian announced. "For the attempt on my life, as Prince I hereby banish you from this Domain. You will be taken to the outskirts of the city immediately. If you return, your life is forfeit." Goth blinked in surprise. Banishment? Simple banishment? Archon was equally stunned. He stared at Julian in shock, but Julian ignored his Sire's gaze. Julian then nodded to the guards and they led Goth away. He rose. "This Conclave is adjourned." Without another word, he left the room. The door to his study was shut -- pointedly. He wanted no visitors. After a while, he appeared on balcony and called down to one of the guards. "Have someone find Daedalus. I'd like to speak with him." * * * For the second time in two nights, Daedalus stood before Julian. Warily, Julian waved his friend to the chair across from him. "Sit down, Daedalus. Please. I just want to talk." Daedalus nodded and calmly sat and waited. "I didn't order his death," Julian stated with his eyes still closed. "I know," Daedalus responded slowly. "We are all grateful and are ready to prove our loyalty to our Prince." But Julian was in a pensive mood and wasn't interested in formalities. "Do you think I was wrong?" "Only if he returns," said Daedalus bluntly. Julian found himself smiling at that. As befitting a son of the city of New Orleans, he had gambled. He would only be wrong if the gamble didn't pay off. But the Nosferatu owed him now -- he knew it and so did they. There would be no trouble from that quarter and they would fall over themselves bringing him information for the next few years at least. He had bought peace at the price of his own safety. That would have to do for now. "Would you like some wine?" Julian offered, much like in the old days. "I would like that." Julian walked to the sideboard and poured two glasses for them. "Please tell Camilla that Goth's banishment does not extend to her," Julian said. "She's welcome to stay." "I have explained this to her," Daedalus replied. "But she chooses exile with Goth." Julian nodded. Camilla was a woman of honor and dignity. She had remained with her mate through all the days of power and glory -- she would remain with him through all reversals as well. Julian hoped he would be lucky enough to find such a consort himself one day. But as Prince he now had other duties besides his own happiness. Julian and Daedalus continued to sip their wine, each thinking their own thoughts. * * * On another floor in the house, Archon, Ventrue Primogen and former Prince, sat comfortably in his own chair, reviewing the past few months. Everything had gone according to plan. The city had been saved for the Ventrue by the removal of their most powerful rival. The removal wasn't as permanent as Archon would have wished, but Goth was no longer a threat to them. And as Prince, Julian was doing well, better in fact, than Archon had really expected. Archon could not hide the ghost of a smile. Yes, he thought, everything had gone according to plan. Julian was Prince and the city was still safely in Ventrue hands. And now he, Archon, was free -- free to enter the light. The past would no longer bind him to the darkness. Manzanita was only a memory which would cease to trouble him. He only needed time to forget. THE END