All the characters in the following story are owned by Spelling

Television Inc. [A subsidiary of Spelling Entertainment Group Inc.].

Vampire: The Masquerade is owned by Mark Rein*Hagen/White Wolf

Publishing. My use is in no way a challenge to their copyrights.

The story and events are mine.

---------------------------------- INNOCENT BLOOD ----------------------------------

--------------------------------By Kelly Schweighauser----------------------------------

----------------------------------San Francisco, 1919-------------------------------------

"Beasts we are, lest beasts we become," Archon intoned. "You have never appreciated the

wisdom of those words, Alexandra."

"I am not a beast," she retorted sullenly. "I won't let you turn me into one. And I won't let

Julian turn me into one, either."

Archon sighed and try not to glare down at the beautiful blonde woman sitting meekly in

front of his desk. She had always been a difficult Childe, but recently she had grown worse.

And Julian was blind to it, still infatuated with her after nearly twenty years, willing to

give Alexandra the moon and stars if she wanted them. Archon saw trouble there, that is why he

had insisted that Alexandra come to his office while her Sire, Julian, was busy with other

business. He would do his best to nip the trouble in the bud, before Alexandra's problems

could hurt her - or her Sire.

Julian lavished his love and attention on her, but he couldn't give Alexandra the one thing she

thought she wanted - the humanity she had lost when he Embraced her. And seeing Alexandra

unhappy distracted Julian terribly. It had begun to interfere with his work. Archon had let

the situation go on for too long already.

"It's a very old saying," he explained, doing his best to hide his impatience. "It means that we

Kindred must satiate our bestial nature or it will overwhelm us. If you continue to starve

yourself, as you've been doing, your hunger for blood will grow stronger and stronger.

Eventually you will give in to it, and any humans near you will suffer horribly for your

foolishness."

"You can't change your nature, Alexandra," he continued. "Believe me, all of us want to. No

one wants to be Damned, condemned to eternal night, stealing the very life out of the veins of

our loved ones. But we are what we are. You can't become human again," Archon reminded her

gently. "Forget your mortal life. It's over. Learn to live with what you are - Kindred."

"'Live with'," she repeated bitterly. "I can't 'live with' anything."

"Don't play with words," he snapped. "It's just a figure of speech. It doesn't change the fact

that you must *Feed*. If you don't, it is only a matter of time before you will go mad and attack

the first living thing that crosses your path."

"You've never seen a Kindred in the grip of blood-lust," he persisted, more benevolently.

"You have had a very sheltered existence since your Embrace. But Julian can't protect you from

the hunger you feel inside of you. No one can."

"You don't understand," Alexandra whimpered.

"Then explain it to me Alexandra," Archon took her pale hand in his and crouched down so

that he was at her eye level. "Make me understand. I want to help you."

"Where is Julian?" She asked, instead of answering.

"Working," Archon replied, pushing down the irritation he felt. "He'll be busy until dawn, at

least. I wanted to talk to you without any interruptions. I don't want to burden your Sire with

this."

"You make it sound like I'm in trouble," she tried to hide it, but her voice trembled.

"You will be in trouble - when you lose control of your hunger you will probably break the

Masquerade. As Prince of the city, I have to prevent that."

"I won't.... I won't lose control of myself," Alexandra insisted.

"You promise to Feed?" Archon insisted. "Every night?"

She shook her head 'no', probably without meaning to, and Archon repressed another sigh.

"It's loathsome," she explained. "I hate it."

"Alex...."

"I try, Archon. I try to force myself, but I can't! The Thirst gnaws at me, but when I get close

to a human.... When I think about what I have to do.... "

Archon stood up to cross behind her chair and caress her hair soothingly. "How long has it

been, Alexandra? How long since the last time you Fed?"

"Five..." she sniffled. "No, six nights ago."

"Too long," Archon replied. "Much too long! I know you have your Sire's strong will, Alex,

but no one...."

"No!" she insisted. "I can't. Archon, it frightens me! Every time I Feed it gets harder to stop.

If I ever killed anyone I couldn't live with the guilt. I'm not a murderer...."

"Of course you aren't," Archon assured her.

"...but I'll become one! I know I will. If I keep drinking blood, one night I'm just not going to

stop in time."

"Alexandra," Archon interrupted. "I am going to be honest with you I'm not trying to frighten

or coerce you; I'm just going to tell you the truth." He waited for her to nod before he continued.

"If you starve yourself into a Feeding-frenzy and break the Masquerade, I will order your

destruction. Julian won't be able to protect you."

Predictably, she started to cry. "I'm not a beast," she sobbed, curling up in the chair like a

human infant. "I won't be!"

"Now, now," Archon attempted to console the pretty blonde. He had little experience with

being gentle, it had always been easier to order and threaten. But there was Julian to consider.

He was jealous and protective of his Childe; Alexandra was Julian's first. "There's no need of

that. Dry your tears." He handed her his handkerchief, but she twisted her face away from him.

"I'll take you Hunting tonight. We'll get you over this aversion of yours, you'll see."

"No," Alexandra sobbed, blood-tears staining her pale beauty. "No more! No more blood!"

Archon felt the last of his patience slip away. He gripped the young Ventrue firmly by the

shoulders and forced her to face him "Enough of this foolishness, Alexandra. I will not tolerate

any more silly tears. Your Sire released you because you insisted you could Hunt on your own.

Was he wrong? Did you lie to him?"

"Please," she moaned.

"Did you lie, Alexandra? Are you unable to Hunt on your own? Was Julian wrong to release

you? That can be remedied, you know."

"No!" Alexandra looked shocked at the suggestion. She had badgered Julian unmercifully for

her freedom. "I'll.... I'll go Hunting."

Archon let go of her shoulders and took a step back to look her up and down. "I'm not sure I

believe you," he said.

"I promise," Alexandra replied wearily. Archon let the words hang in the air without

acknowledging them. Alexandra looked up at him, her eyes widening as the silence wore on. "I

will."

Archon remained impassive.

Her shoulders slumped even further when she realized what he wanted. "I swear I'll Hunt,"

she whispered. "By my Blood and Clan, I swear it."

Archon pushed up his sleeve and made a long gash along the inside of his forearm with one

thumbnail. He held the wound out to Alexandra.

"That isn't necessary," she protested. "My word is good."

"I think it is necessary," Archon maintained.

Reluctantly, Alexandra bent her head down and drank. Sealed with such powerful blood,

Archon knew she'd keep her oath.

***************

Daniel was hurriedly loading his suitcases into his great black Packard. There were a number

of them; it looked as if he would be leaving the city for quite some time. The girl he had

kidnaped sat expectantly in the passenger seat, her dark ringlets twitching as she watched him

through the car's rear window.

Julian kneed his horse into the mouth of the driveway. "Daniel," he called. "I've come for

you. For the crime you have committed against this human child, your Prince has sentenced you

to the Final Death."

"Julian," Daniel grimaced. He didn't look surprised at the Enforcer's sudden arrival. "I don't

suppose I could talk you into waiting half an hour? For the sake of an old friend?"

"Step away from the car," Julian replied stonily. He gestured with his shotgun; it wouldn't

extinguish Daniel, but it would cripple him long enough for Julian to take the elder Kindred's

head.

Daniel didn't obey; Julian hadn't really expected him to. Instead the older Ventrue looked

back at the door of his house, an expression of regret written across his handsome face. "How

did you find out so quickly?"

"The girl's parents went to the police," Julian replied. "They knew you had her. The human

authorities will be here at dawn. You didn't think you'd get away with this, did you?"

"No," Daniel's laugh was mirthless. "Actually I didn't."

"Then why?" Julian demanded. "Why throw away your position in the city? Your

reputation? Your wealth? For a single human girl? Why, Daniel? I couldn't believe it when

Archon gave me the order. This is beneath you."

"I wish I could answer that, Julian," Daniel replied, his voice strained and tired. "I've been

asking myself that very question." His eyes met the girl's through the car's rear window. Daniel

smiled automatically, as if trying to reassure her. "She's a brazen little bitch. I'd offer her to

you," he sighed. "But, well frankly, I don't think your palette is quite that refined."

Julian stiffened at the insult. "Step away from the car," he started to repeat, gesturing again

with the shotgun. But he made the mistake of looking into Daniel's eyes. Which was why the

Ventrue Elder had insulted him, of course. Julian cursed himself when he realized that he

couldn't look away.

"You don't want to fight me, Julian," Daniel replied, his voice soft and reasonable. He had no

need to flaunt his power to command. "You are...what? Sixty? Seventy, now? I am four times

your age. Tell your Sire you arrived too late, I was already gone."

Julian tried to fight off the subtle lure of Daniel's Compulsion. "Not without the child," he

said, more for his own benefit than for any other reason. Daniel's will was strong. Julian was

tempted to turn around, go back to Archon with empty hands. He concentrated on the girl. She

was so much like his own numerous granddaughters....

"Go away, Julian!" Daniel bared his fangs. "Leave here, damn you! I don't want to have to

Destroy you...."

It took all of Julian's strength to pull the shotgun's trigger. The barrel wasn't aimed at the

older Ventrue - Daniel's will was too strong to allow that. But the bird-shot riddled the driver's

door of the Packard with a noise like thunder. Inside the car the kidnaped girl wailed in sudden

terror. Daniel's attention shifted immediately to her - and the pressure on Julian's mind

disappeared.

The horse shied back a bit and tossed it's head; Julian kneed it forward again. Daniel wasn't

running, he was pulling the frightened child from the front seat of the car - not to use her as a

shield, the way most would have done, but trying to comfort and protect her. What was she that

Daniel had risked so much to possess her?

He fired the second barrel into the disgraced elder's legs. Daniel howled and pushed the girl

towards the porch. "Hide, Emily," he snarled.

Julian leapt off of his horse as Daniel shapechanged to wolf-form. It was well trained and

used to Kindred, but the transformation was too much for it. The horse screamed, sounding

much like the girl had, and bolted through the gate. Julian pushed his concern for the animal out

of his mind. It would come back to him after the battle.

Julian kept his own shape and circled to keep the wolf in front of him. He drew the

ritual-knife, knowing that his guns couldn't help him now. Even weakened by the gunshot

wounds, Daniel would be no easy prey.

Something struck him the back of the head. Julian pivoted towards the new threat

automatically, just in time to see the girl throw a second stone. This one caught him in the

forehead at the same moment that Daniel crashed into him from behind. Julian lost his footing.

The ritual knife slipped from his fingers and slid across the gravel drive.

Julian barely managed to roll over before Daniel went for his throat, still in wolf-shape, his

long fangs gleaming in the light of the moon. The ritual-knife wasn't Julian's only weapon; he

pulled his small Colt from his coat pocket and jammed it against his opponent's side. Daniel

howled when Julian pulled the trigger and shot the Elder in the belly. Julian pushed him away

and lunged for the knife.

Emily kicked the ritual knife away just as his fingers touched it. Julian grabbed the girl

instead. Archon had stressed that rescuing her was more important than taking Daniel's head.

Julian was beginning to believe that the latter was no longer possible.

Julian swung around with the girl tucked under his left arm and his pistol still in his right

hand, cocked, five bullets left in the revolver's cylinder, looking for the enemy. Daniel

straightened back into man-form, the ritual knife held in his trembling hand.

"Let her go," he snarled. "She's mine! I won't let you have her!"

Julian took a step back, unnerved by the naked Beast in Daniel's eyes. If he falls into Frenzy,

Julian thought with cold clarity, I'm finished. "Give her to me, Julian," the older Kindred

repeated.

"No," Emily cried. "Don't let him touch me!"

"Witch!" Daniel cursed, rushing forward. Julian barely had time to pivot to protect the child

before Daniel stabbed him with the ritual knife. He felt the wickedly sharp blade grate against

his bottom rib and slice through his diaphragm. The impact knocked him to the ground, and he

landed on the girl, Daniel on top of them both.

Emily screamed, struggling frantically to get out from underneath him. Daniel pulled the

knife out, stabbed down again. He's trying for my heart, Julian realized, rolling to protect his left

side. Emily beat hysterically at his shoulders. As Daniel stuck down a third time, Julian

discovered he still was holding on to the Colt.

It was wedged between their bodies; Julian twisted it closer to Daniel's chest and pulled the

trigger. The bullet stopped the older Ventrue from stabbing him again. Julian shoved him back

and shot him in the face. Vitae showered everywhere.

Julian managed to push Daniel's body off of him and roll away from Emily. The disgraced

Ventrue's body twitched, already healing. Julian pried the ritual knife out of it's fingers. It didn't

take much effort to remove the head.

Blood-scent was everywhere; his flesh cried out for it. But the only source of sustenance was

the child. She stood over him, her eyes round, her face dotted with Daniel's blood, like bright

freckles. Her handswere over her mouth as if holding back a scream. She was the most

succulent female he had ever seen.

Julian tried to push the Hunger away, but it was difficult. Daniel had almost disemboweled

him. His horse, he thought. If he could find his horse....

***************

"Oh, sir," Emily exclaimed, flinging her arms around his neck. "You saved me. I was so

scared."

"Get away!" Julian snarled, thrusting her back. Thirst screamed and clawed, filling his mind

with a hunger for blood that he could barely control. His horse, he thought desperately. He had

to find his horse. After he'd killed it he would have a long walk back to the Prince's mansion,

but at least he would calm the Thirst.

"You're hurt! I didn't realize," Emily seized his coat sleeve. "Let me help you."

"No," Julian insisted, trying to shake her off. Now that he was close to her he could see that

she was older than he had first thought. Emily's beautiful face had lost it's childish roundness.

Beneath her bodice bloomed a pair of budding breasts. Shapely calves peeked out from beneath

the hem of her sailor dress. She was small, less than five feet tall, but no longer a child. He

could tell she was past her first menses; too young to let down her skirts and put up her hair, but

an adult under Kindred law. She was legitimate prey.

He jerked himself away from her, cursing Daniel, cursing the Thirst, cursing himself. He

didn't dare touch her. As hurt as he was now, if he drank from her veins he'd certainly kill her.

"It's all right," she moved to stay in front of him. "I'm not afraid of you. I know what you

are."

He tried to walk around her, but she grabbed his sleeve again. "Don't go," she pleaded.

"Please.... Don't leave me here, I'm frightened." She didn't look frightened. Somehow her warm

little body was pressed against him, his arm was around her delicate shoulders. She was a soft

as a woman, and her scent....

"I can't stay," he tried to disentangle himself. "I can not resist you."

"You don't have to," Emily whispered, her breath warm against his throat. "I want it, too."

Julian brushed back her dark curls with a trembling hand. Wanting to stop, trying to stop,

unable to do anything but watch himself kneel down and gather her into his arms. He felt

detached, overwhelmed as he unbuttoned Emily's light summer coat. The skin of her throat was

as soft as a newborn's. Emily's dainty hand cradled the back of his head with all the familiarity

of a lover.

He bit into her soft flesh before he even realized what he was doing. Her blood was warm

and fragrant, carrying every bit of her youth, her sweetness. He had never had anything so fine.

Julian gulped it down, drinking and drinking until he drowned in her heated innocence.

***************

Emily still sleeping when Julian made it back to the house he shared with his Childe,

Alexandra. Not surprising considering all the blood he had taken from her. He had no illusions

that it was anything but pure luck that kept him from draining her dry. And if Emily had died,

Julian knew he would have shared Daniel's fate before the sun dawned again.

He would report his lack of self-control to his Sire, of course.

Archon would not be pleased. Sometimes it was not easy being the Prince's Childe - Archon

always seemed to be hold him to a higher standard.

He made it a point to be more lenient with Alexandra. That irritated Archon, but Julian was

more than willing to bear his Sire's disapproval. Archon thought that Julian was making

mistakes, because Alexandra was the first person he'd ever Embraced, but Julian knew what he

was doing. Keeping Alexandra happy made him happy. When Alex was pleased she filled their

little house with her merriment and laughter.

Julian left his horse standing in the yard of the modest stone home he had recently purchased

as a gift for his only Childe. He shifted Emily over his shoulder so that he could climb the steps

to his door. The door swung open as he fumbled for his key. Alexandra stood in the front hall

wearing her coat and hat, although it was well past midnight. She looked startled to see him.

"Where were you going?" Julian demanded.

"Hunting," Alexandra explained. "What are you...?"

"Hunt later," he instructed her curtly. "I want you to watch this girl until I get back." He

pushed past her and deposited Emily's limp form on the parlor sofa, then headed toward their

bedroom, stripping off the remains of his shirt as he took the stairs two at a time.

"Who is she?" Alexandra called after him, clearly flustered. "Julian, why did you bring her

here?"

"Her name is Emily," Julian called back. "Daniel Stewart took her from her family last

night."

"Daniel Stewart?" Alexandra gasped. "Julian did you...? Is that what Archon wanted you to

do tonight?"

Buttoning up a clean shirt, Julian skipped quickly down the steps and headed back out the

door. "Don't fret, Alex. It's over with. I'll be back after I report to Archon." He checked his

appearance in the mirror on the hall tree and brushed a stray lock of hair back from his forehead.

"We'll go Hunting then. There's always good Hunting near dawn."

"Daniel could have killed you!" Alexandra protested. "He's so much older!" Julian stopped

in the doorway to kiss her lightly on her forehead.

"But he didn't," he told her gently. "Watch over Emily for me, Alex, please. But don't touch

her. I'm afraid I... I was injured and lost control of myself for a moment...."

"Oh, Julian," Alexandra assured him. "I know you would never Feed from a child...."

"I did," Julian said levelly. "And I'll tell Archon why. But take care of her for me, will you?

See that she doesn't die?" And Alexandra saw more than just concern for the child in her Sire's

eyes; she saw fear in them as well.

***************

Alexandra closed the door with a sigh. Julian rarely spoke about the 'work' he did for Archon,

but she'd heard the gossip. In the limited confines of Kindred society, she couldn't avoid it.

Julian killed people; Kindred and human both. Whoever Archon told him to kill. A lot of the

Kindred were afraid of him.

She took off her coat and put it back in the closet, hung her hat on the hall tree. She didn't

like to think of Julian that way. How could her sweet, gentle Sire be a cold-blooded killer? The

Julian she knew was gentle, honest, honorable. Was Archon's hold over him really so strong that

he could make a good man like Julian kill?

Obviously, it was. Julian had extinguished Daniel, a man he liked and respected. They had

entertained Daniel here, in their little house, not three months ago. And now Julian had....

Alexandra couldn't complete the thought. She had to stop obsessing about it. It hadn't been a

very good evening for either of them, she reflected mirthlessly. Perhaps it would be a relief to

Hunt together when Julian returned.

There would be better Hunting near dawn, as Julian said. Factory workers off to their early

morning shifts, milkmen on their rounds, boys delivering newspapers. Usually Alexandra

preferred the criminal element; she felt less guilty that way. She had planned on walking the

post-midnight streets until some thug accosted her, his blood rank with bootleg alcohol or drugs

or even disease. Someone who deserved to be attacked by a vampire. Someone who wouldn't

be missed if she accidentally killed him.

The need to obey her oath to Archon was making her jittery. She paced the length of the

hallway, rubbing her arms and taking unnecessary breaths, until she had it under control. She

would obey. She would Hunt. Later. When Julian came home. The oath, wrapped up in

Archon's powerful Vitae, simmered in her veins.

She walked into the parlor and turned on the electric lamp. Gas-lights made everyone

nervous even though it had been nearly two decades since the earthquake; even humans

preferred electric lighting. She gathered up the newspapers for Julian to read later, knowing he

would harangue her about how the "Black Sox" baseball scandal pushed the news of labor

strikes in steel and coal off the front page. The influenza epidemic raged on unabated, socialists

were taking over Russia and Austria and all people wanted to read about was Sir Barton

winning the Triple Crown.

Alexandra wished Julian was here so that she could nod and pretend to listen to him while

she surreptitiously read 'The Magnificent Ambersons'. She looked around their cozy little parlor.

She found such comfort being wrapped up in the illusion of an ordinary life.

The child stirred on the divan. Alexandra turned around and smiled reassuringly as Emily

opened her eyes.

***************

Procrastination couldn't delay the inevitable, it only dragged it out. Julian knew that, yet he

couldn't force himself to make his horse walk faster. The closer he came to the Prince's

mansion, the slower the animal moved. Julian could have traveled faster on foot. But he didn't

dismount.

It was getting late. The speakeasies and brothels had begun to disgorge their rowdy clientele

into the street. The drunks traveled in noisy packs, laughing and cursing in voices that shattered

the normal midnight quiet of the Kindred world. They rode in automobiles even noisier than

themselves. Julian avoided them.

The world was changing faster and faster, even Archon saw it. Julian would have never

guessed that the world could change so much. It was less than a century from his birth, yet the

modern world was more like the fantasies of Jules Verne than the one he had been alive in.

Thinking of Archon made him want to sigh. Julian had never been afraid of his Sire. Many

Kindred were, he knew. Some lived in absolute terror of their maker's wrath. Yet, despite

Archon's infamous temper, Julian had never before been fearful, apprehensive or even nervous.

But tonight it wasn't just Archon's anger he was afraid of.

If the girl died, if he had killed her, he couldn't live with himself. If he had destroyed

something so beautiful, so fragile, so innocent then he was a monster. He would probably

destroy himself before Archon could give the order. If Emily died.

Emily, he sighed. No wonder Daniel had taken her. She was perfection, the essence of her

purity and her naivete captured perfectly in her blood. Despite that she was knowing, she had

yielded to him like a woman. It was as if she had never known fear. Innocently trusting

him with her life, yielding to the Beast within his heart.

Julian wrenched his thoughts away with an effort. She was a beautiful girl, ripe, on the cusp

of blossoming into a beautiful woman. There was no need to become obsessed with her. Even

if her raven curls were softer than an evening breeze and her eyes were the blue of lazy

afternoon skies. But Julian's thoughts kept returning to the satin skin of Emily's cheek, the

delicate curl of her earlobe, the sleek line of her jaw as she bared her throat.

The taste of Emily's blood still stained Julian's lips. His heart still beat in rhythm with hers,

and he was reluctant to still it. He knew it would annoy Archon and Archon would soon have

enough to be angry about. But her heartbeat, like her scent, was something he was reluctant to

surrender.

Let her live, Julian prayed. Whether he prayed to God or Caine he didn't know. He prayed to

whoever would listen, as fervently as he had prayed when his wife took ill after the birth of their

son. That prayer hadn't been answered, but maybe this prayer would be. I'm in love with her,

Julian realized. I want to watch her grow into a woman. I want to watch her loveliness ripen.

I want to have her again.

I'm in love with Alexandra, Julian told himself sternly. What I feel for my Childe must be

greater than anything I could feel for this girl I have just met. Cold logic didn't stop the fever he

felt for Emily. Maybe his slow progress wasn't hesitation to report to his Sire, but

rather reluctance to leave the young human.

He felt a sudden urge to wheel the horse around, to gallop back home. Julian pushed it down.

He knew his duty.

He had arrived at Archon's mansion. His Brood-brothers opened the gate without a word.

Julian kneed the horse through the wrought iron portal and threw his reins to a groom. Taking

the saddlebags containing Daniel's head, he mounted the steps to the Prince's front door.

***************

Julian gave his report to Archon in as flat a monotone as he could manage. To accomplish

that he had to avoid looking at his Sire; instead he stared at the paneled wall over the Prince's

left shoulder. He knew that Archon would know that he was holding back, but he had to sort

out his feelings before he discussed them with anyone.

Julian had rarely felt so confused.

It wasn't until he'd walked into the Prince's front hall and started going over the night's events

that he realized that he'd been snappish and short-tempered with Alexandra. She certainly hadn't

deserved to be treated like a servant. That he'd done so showed just how unsettled he was. He

had to appear calmer to Archon.

Standing stiffly in front of the Prince's massive mahogany desk, Julian related every detail of

Daniel's destruction and what had followed. He found himself holding back about Emily - not

that he had taken her, but that he wanted her still. He felt guilty over that little deception, but

couldn't find the words - or maybe the will - to explain. Archon watched him intently, not

interrupting, not showing any emotion at all.

"She'll live?" The Prince asked when Julian had finally finished.

"I hope so, Sire. I mean," Julian corrected himself. "I think she will. She was unconscious,

of course. But her heart-beat and breathing were steady when I left her with Alexandra."

"Daniel stabbed you three times," Archon frowned. "You couldn't restrain yourself."

"No, sir, I couldn't," Julian repeated. "I know that I've broken...."

"Be quiet, Julian," Archon snapped. "I'm Prince of the city; I'll decide when the

commandments have been broken."

"Yes, Sire."

"It bothers me that you left this girl with Alexandra," Archon sat back in his chair and

steepled his fingers beneath his chin. "Why not bring her here?"

"No reason, Sire," Julian replied. Archon's face said he didn't believe him. "I just thought...

our house was closer... and she might be a distraction here. I can return her to her parents at first

light. After I've Fed again, of course."

"Why do you think Daniel kidnaped her?" Archon asked.

"I didn't have time to ask him," Julian shrugged.

"That's not what I asked, Julian," Archon smiled to take the sting out of his words. "Why do

*you* think that Daniel took her?"

"She's very beautiful," Julian confessed reluctantly. "Very pure."

"She wasn't afraid of you," Archon commented. "She wanted you to Drain her."

"Yes," Julian nodded, suddenly embarrassed. He didn't want to discuss the details - they

seemed too intimate, too private, almost sacred.

"So it's likely that she'd been with a Kindred before," Archon continued. "Probably Daniel."

"Yes," a spark of jealousy flared in his chest and Julian pushed it down. He didn't know why

he was so attracted to young Emily, but knew the obsession was foolish.

"It's good that you Destroyed him, Julian," Archon confessed. "It was more than I hoped for -

he was many years your Elder."

"It was what you sent me to do, Sire," Julian reminded the Prince.

"Yes," Archon smiled. "But I would have been satisfied for you to chase him out of the city,

and hopefully prevent him from taking the girl. I am very pleased with your success."

"Thank you," Julian ducked his head modestly.

"Under the circumstances, I think it is understandable that you would have needed to Feed

from the girl," Archon continued. "And you did manage not to kill her. Very commendable,

Julian."

"Thank you, Sire," Julian felt his shoulders relax a bit.

"Sit down, Julian," the Prince turned his attention back to the papers on his desk. "Have some

wine. Pour me a glass as well, please. Then close the door."

Julian poured the wine, handed one of the glasses to the Prince, closed the door and sat in one

of the leather guest chairs.

"Something is bothering you," Archon prompted. "I would hope you could discuss anything

with me, Childe."

"I was thinking, sir," Julian swallowed. "About Daniel.... The girl, Emily, is past her first

menses. I know that adolescents are usually grouped with children...."

"You think that you've committed the same crime that Daniel had," Archon finished for him.

"And that I'm showing favoritism." Julian nodded.

"I'm not above that, Julian," the Prince smiled. "But Feeding from the girl and kidnaping her

aren't exactly the same thing. And taking young Emily is only the straw that broke the camel's

back, as they say. Daniel had been behaving increasingly erratically in these last few weeks.

You heard about that death-duel he had with the Nosferatu, Jonah?"

"I understood that it was a proper duel, complete with witnesses," Julian objected.

"It was," Archon nodded. "But just last week Daniel destroyed his youngest Childe, Charles

Bradley. It was his right to do so, of course, the man hadn't been Released, but it still made

trouble. When I asked why, Daniel told me to mind my own damned business."

"I didn't know about that," Julian frowned. Daniel was an Elder, and held high status in the

city, but not even a Primogen would speak so to the Prince.

"He missed the last meeting of the Directorate Assembly," Archon continued. "And the

Harpies have noted how secretive he'd become in these last few months. None of those things

were anything I could penalize him for, of course," the Prince shrugged. "Still, I wondered

what he was up to."

"Whatever it was," Julian replied. "It's over now. Thank you for telling me, Sire. It eases my

mind."

"Good," Archon smiled. "There's just one more thing, then you may go. I want you to take

the girl back to her parent's home, and leave her there. And I want your Blood Oath that you will

not try to see her again."

***************

"Who are you?" Emily asked, not looking the least bit frightened. She pushed herself upright

and looked around the small parlor of the home Alexandra shared with her Sire, Julian.

"My name is Alexandra," Alex informed the young girl. "It's all right, Emily. You're safe

here."

"Why is your hair so short?" Emily's disconcertingly blue eyes looked frankly at Alexandra as

if expecting an answer.

Alexandra touched her hair self-consciously. She had stopped wearing a hair-piece last year,

when bobbed hair had become the latest fashion. It had taken her a while before to get over her

feelings of shame. "I had to sell my hair," she explained. "A long time ago." A half-truth at

best; she tried to repress the memory of her father cutting it all off in a drunken rage. The truth

was that he had sold it and bought more whiskey with the money. That was nearly twenty years

ago, two days before she had met Julian Luna and almost year before he Embraced her. Funny

how something that happened so long ago could still hurt.

"It's pretty," Emily smiled. "I wish my hair was short."

Alexandra laughed and caressed the child's raven curls. "Your hair is pretty, too. Why would

you want to cut it?"

"So that my father wouldn't pull it," Emily replied candidly. "That man is going to take me

back to my father, isn't he?"

"Yes, as soon as he gets back," Alexandra nodded. "Why does your father pull your hair? Is

he playing? I'm sure he doesn't mean to hurt you."

"Yes, he does," Emily insisted. "He pulls it hard when he tells me to be good. Sometimes he

pulls it out." Emily pointed to her scalp. Alexandra parted Emily's dark locks and was shocked

to discover an angry red scab where some of the child's hair was missing. "He twists my arm

when I'm bad," Emily volunteered. "He'll beat me for running away again."

"Again? You ran... you ran away?" Alexandra asked, her mind in a whirl. "I thought that you

had been kidnaped."

Emily simply shook her head 'no'.

"Did you run away because your father beat you, Emily?" She'd talk to Julian. Surely he'd do

something to protect the child. He'd look into the man's eyes and force him to treat his daughter

better. Alexandra would make sure that he did.

"No - " Emily whispered. She looked up at Alexandra through sooty lashes. Her eyes were as

blue as summer mornings. "He made me promise not to tell."

"You can tell me, Emily," Alexandra promised. "I won't tell anyone."

"I ran away," Emily's voice was very small. "Because I don't like the way he touches me."

"Touches you?" Alexandra couldn't believe that her voice was so steady. Her heart had

contracted into a hard little knot in the center of her chest. She felt like she was about to

implode into the aching, empty void it left. "Where is your mother?"

"In Heaven," Emily answered. Alexandra gathered the girl up into her arms but Emily didn't

cry. She allowed Alexandra to pet her and hold her, but never shed a tear, brave little creature

that she was.

"Don't you worry, Emily," Alexandra crooned as she rocked the girl on her lap. "You're safe

here. Your father will never touch you again. I promise."

"But that man," Emily protested, pushing back to look at Alexandra with worried eyes. "He's

going to take me back to my father. He said he had to."

"Don't worry," Alexandra assured her. "Julian is very kind. He saved me from my father. I'm

sure that once we tell him what your father has done...."

"But he knows," Emily retorted.

"That's not possible," Alexandra retorted automatically, but her mind went back to Julian and

how unsettled he'd seemed tonight. The way he'd thrust the girl at her, his agitation..... No, it

was impossible. Julian would never do something so evil -

- unless Archon told him to.

The summer night, previously so warm, seemed to turn much, much colder.

***************

"Alexandra," Emily protested. "Why are you packing *his* clothes? I don't want him to

come with us."

Alexandra paused in the act of folding one of Julian's shirts. "He'll come after us," she

explained to the child. "When we leave the city, he'll follow us."

"I know!" Emily cried, her blue eyes wide. "And he'll kill you, like he killed Mister Stewart."

Alexandra shook her head and put Julian's shirt in the satchel. "No, Julian would never hurt

me. Not even Archon could make him do that." She picked up another of Julian's shirts and

favored Emily with a smile. "He's a good man, underneath. A good man."

Emily looked dubious. "No, he's not," she sighed. "He'll hurt you. You don't believe it, but

it's true." She played with the combs on the dresser for a moment but Alexandra didn't answer.

"You said he saved you from your father?"

"Yes," Alexandra nodded. "I never knew my mother, she died when I was very young. When

I was ten my father brought me to the gold fields. I did the laundry and cooking, while he

panned for gold." Or that was what was supposed to happen, anyway. The only gold that

Alexandra's father ever saw was what she earned by cooking and cleaning for the other men.

And most of that went to buy his damn whiskey.

She pushed down her resentment. Her father was probably dead of apoplexy by now - if he'd

hadn't been murdered over a card game. Julian had gotten her out of that sewer, she

remembered with a small frown, she hated having to pay him back with this kind of betrayal.

But she had to protect Emily, too.

Surely Julian would see that getting away from Archon, getting away from San Francisco,

was what was best for everyone.

"How did that man...?" Emily demanded. "How did... Julian... help you? Did you get

married? He must have struck gold - you must be awfully rich."

"No," Alexandra winced. "We're not...." married she was going to say, but she didn't. She'd

been using Julian's last name so that people would think that they were husband and wife, but

Archon wouldn't allow any kind of service. Blasphemy, he called it. And no Childe of his was

going to take a vow "till death do them part"; at least not to anyone but him.

So Alexandra swallowed hard. "...rich," she finished lamely. "We get by. But we're not

rich." She finished packing the rest of Julian's things with shaking hands and began pulling

some of her plainer dresses out of the armoire. "Julian saw me one day... one evening... when

he was riding by...." Her throat closed up, stopping the rest of what she was going to say. It's not

just the memories, she realized, so long repressed, that were upsetting her. The unsatiated oath

coursing through her blood was tearing down her composure too.

Emily seemed to understand. She walked over and took Alexandra's hand in hers. "Your

father was hurting you, wasn't he?" Alexandra nodded, fighting back the tears. She hadn't

thought of it in years, the ugliness, the cruelty. "Julian stopped him?" Emily prodded. "Did he

kill him?"

"No," Alexandra retrieved a handkerchief from a drawer and dabbed her eyes. "No, Julian

didn't kill him. He told... he told my father that he needed a serving girl.... He paid my father

seventy-five dollars for me." Seventy-five dollars and the gold fob from his watch-chain. He

never even got down from his horse. Alexandra had thought that the contempt on Julian's face

had been for her.

But Julian had been so different, so gentle, so kind. He took care of her, protected her, and

asked for so little in return. He hadn't even forced his attentions upon her; he merely let her

know of his interest. It had taken him nearly a year to overcome the barriers she had built up

after a lifetime of brutality. But when she had finally overcome her fear and went to give herself

to him, he didn't make love to her as she had expected.

He Embraced her, instead.

Julian had given her a life worth living. And then he had taken that life away and given her

all eternity. Alexandra cursed herself for feeling cheated. After all that Julian had done for her,

how could she be so petty?

And now she was betraying him by taking Emily out of the city when Archon wanted the girl

returned to her monstrous father.

"You love him," Emily marveled. "I didn't think you could...." She reached up and pulled the

handkerchief away from Alexandra's face. "You don't have to hide it."

"Hide?" Alexandra asked.

Emily pointed to the blood tears on the linen. "You're like Mister Stewart," she smiled. "You

don't have to hide it from me. He told me all about it."

Alexandra felt her heart sink. If Archon knew the girl had seen behind the Masquerade he'd

order her death. "What did he tell you, Emily?" Now they had another reason to leave the city.

"That you live forever," Emily smiled. "And that you have to keep it a secret because

everybody would want it. And that you have to pretend to be like everybody else. I can keep a

secret. You don't have to worry - I won't tell anyone."

She looked down at her shoes shyly. "I could even help you keep the secret.... I could

pretend, too. I could pretend that you were my mother...." She looked up at Alexandra through

her thick lashes, and the Ventrue woman was struck again by how beautiful Emily was. "I'd

like to tell people you were my mother," she admitted. "If you'd want me to...."

Alexandra gathered the child into her arms. "Oh, Emily! I'd like that very, very much."

***************

"Sire," Julian protested. "You want me to swear a Blood Oath not to see Emily? I wasn't

going to.... I wouldn't...."

"Julian," Archon corrected. "I can see that the girl had a profound effect on you. I am not

surprised. And I forgive you for attacking her. But you must never see her again. Have I made

myself understood?"

"Yes, Sire," Julian objected. "But surely that isn't necessary."

"If it isn't necessary," Archon asked. "Then why are you protesting so vehemently?" Julian

didn't have an answer to that. "Why do you object, Julian? What does this girl mean to you?"

"I think I've fallen in love with her, Sire," Julian forced the reluctant words from his mouth.

"Nonsense," Archon retorted, his brows contracting in disapproval. "Do you mean to

Embrace her?"

"No!" Julian protested. "I hadn't thought that far. I just wanted to watch her grow up."

"And perhaps become involved with her later?" Archon probed.

"I suppose so, Sire," Julian admitted, grudgingly. He managed to keep himself from blushing,

although it was a struggle.

"Why?" Archon demanded.

"I don't know," Julian sighed. "I just... I just can't seem to stop thinking about her. I want her

like I have never wanted anything... anyone.... I think Daniel felt the same way - obsessed,

consumed. It's as if she took my soul when I took her blood." He looked up helplessly at his

Sire. "It's like an addiction. Is it possible? Could her blood be... addictive somehow?"

Archon nodded to himself, his expression serious. "It would explain much."

"Sire?" Julian asked.

"Nearly four hundred years ago, in Salamanca, which was in the Kingdom of Leon," the

Prince began slowly. "I had the honor of helping my Sire hunt down and kill a young monk

named Giles Pilar de Givrey. This young human, no older than twenty-two, had no skill in the

military arts, yet he managed to single-handedly wipe out the entire Kindred population of that

city in less than a year."

Archon shook his head, his eyes clouded with the memory. "It was my only encounter with

what some call a Cornucopia - a Blood Doll. Bloody creatures they are, and seemingly innocent

toys. I have only known the one, but I have heard of others."

"No one knows where they come from," Archon explained. "Perhaps they are some weird

hybrid of Garou Kin-Folk and Faerie Changeling. Perhaps they are simply another kind of

human, one with strangely sweet blood the way others may have webbed toes or no ear lobes.

Some say that they are what is born when a Kindred feeds from a pregnant woman. Mages are

as interested in them as we are; perhaps they create them somehow. Or Blood Dolls may even

*be* mages - the one we destroyed had an uncanny power to persuade."

"They seduce Kindred into destroying themselves. Somehow they divine a Kindred's worst

weakness and exploit it. Driving Brood-mates apart, pitting Sire against Childe. The stuff in

their veins is supposedly finer than any mortal blood - how amusing that you, my Childe of this

modern age, would call it 'addicting'. But that is as good an explanation as any I can offer."

Archon favored Julian with a sad smile. "They seem to be attracted to Kindred, but it is they

who are the flame, and we the hapless moth. No matter how much blood you take from a Blood

Doll, it will not die. Instead, once their blood touches your lips, they have a power over you

that makes a blood bond seem gentle, or so it is said. I do not envy you, Julian if Emily is such a

creature."

Julian sighed, and nodded. How would he have the strength to resist the siren call of Emily's

blood?

"Julian," Archon prodded gently. "If Emily is a Blood Doll then she has to die. Tonight.

Before she can seduce another of our kind."

***************

"I won't," Julian blurted, and then stopped. Archon raised his eyebrows in surprise; his

Childe had never before spoken those words to his Sire, to his Prince. Even Julian looked

shocked at what he'd said. Archon sighed, so he was right about the girl - she was a Blood Doll.

And a dangerous enemy.

"I was afraid you would say that Julian," Archon nodded. "And I wouldn't send you against

the Blood Doll anyway. Not since you have tasted her blood. Giles de Givrey seduced one of

my brothers and turned him against our Sire. I know how insidious these creatures are."

"Perhaps she not a Blood Doll," Julian argued. "Perhaps she is just a child. You can't order

her death until you know for certain ...."

"I know," Archon sympathized. "I know why you want to save her, I know why Daniel fought

the Death Duel and extinguished his own Childe. I know, Julian." He stood and straightened his

waistcoat. "I want you to stay here until it's over." He didn't want to have to fight for control of

his Enforcer.

"I want to go with you," Julian said. He held up his hand to keep his Sire from interrupting.

"I know what you're thinking. You're right, I can't.... I won't take her life. But she is at my

house, with my Childe, Alexandra, and...."

"Damnation!" Archon swore. "Alexandra! I forgot." He frowned at Julian, his lips

compressed into a thin line, debating what he should tell his Childe. "She didn't happen to tell

you if she'd gone Hunting this evening, had she?"

"She was just walking out the door when I came home," Julian replied. "I told her we'd Hunt

together before dawn. Why? She wouldn't drink from Emily; I told her that I had...."

"And if Emily seduces her?" Archon demanded savagely. "She seduced you, Julian. I don't

want to lose you both." If it was just the Blood Doll's control pitted against Julian's loyalty to

Archon, Archon was certain that Julian would not betray him. But if Emily had Alexandra under

her power.... That could tip the balance of Julian's loyalties against his Sire.

"Alexandra wouldn't," Julian objected, the color draining from his face. Archon reached to

grab his arm, but Julian jumped to his feet before the Prince could touch him. "Alex couldn't..."

The young Ventrue looked strangled, torn. As Archon's Brood-mate had looked four centuries

before when the Blood Doll had gotten to him.

"Julian," Archon started to warn his Childe.

But Julian choked out a single word and bolted for the door. By the time the Prince reached

the drive, his Enforcer had mounted his horse and was galloping out the gate.

Archon bit back an oath. "Frederick," he barked at his groom. "Get the car." Julian would

go straight to his own home, that much was obvious. Archon prayed that Alexandra had the

strength to resist the Blood Oath he'd forced upon her. Because if she didn't....

If she didn't, Archon realized, Julian might very well Extinguish her as Daniel had

extinguished his Childe, Bradley. Unless the girl turned them both against Archon and his

guards. Either way Archon would have to destroy Julian - whose last word had been the Blood

Doll's name.

***************

"That'll be a dollar," the hack driver said as he piled the last of Alexandra's baggage next to

the gate of Daniel Stewart's house. "Unless you need me to carry these in...?"

"Would you mind waiting just a - " Alexandra started to answer, fishing the money out of her

purse with shaking fingers. She could smell the man's blood, even over the stink of the carriage

horse. She knew she would have to Feed before the sun rose - she had sworn an

oath on it. This man could be her only chance.

Emily interupted her with a decisive, "No, thank you. We're fine."

Startled by the child's tone, Alexandra looked at Emily in confusion for a long moment.

Only when the driver reached out and took the dollar bill from her hand did she realize that he

was actually leaving. She caught the man's eyes, pushed aside his will. "Stay," she ordered,

and he paused obediently.

"No, Mommy," Emily warned, grabbing her hand. "*Daddy* will be here soon. We should

get ready to surprise him, don't you think? Send this man away."

"Go in the house, Emily," Alexandra tried to untangle her hand from Emily's, but the child's

grip was stronger than she expected. "I'll follow in a moment." It was almost dawn. The

combination of her oath to Archon and her long-denied Thirst was making her lightheaded. It

was hard to think of anything else but the need for blood.

Emily's delicate little mouth went down at the corners. She turned to the driver. "Go!"

"Wait," Alexandra couldn't capture the man's gaze and extricate herself from Emily's grip at

the same time.

"Run," Emily almost shouted. "Get away! Now!"

The driver gave a little shake as Alexandra's hold on him dissolved. He climbed back up to

the driver's seat before Alexandra could stop him. As he snapped the reins and released the

carriage's brake, Alexandra tried to grab hold of the driver's leg, but Emily jerked at her

hand and pulled her off balance. With a sharp whistle to his horse, the hack driver got away.

"Emily," Alexandra scolded. "You shouldn't have done that. I needed to talk that man."

"No, you didn't," Emily retorted, finally letting go of Alexandra's hand. She started to walk

through the gate. "You'd better come inside. The sun will be coming up soon."

"I want you to go inside, Emily," Alexandra tried to keep her voice calm. The need for blood

that raged through her only made her voice shake a little. "I'll be right back for you...."

"No!" Emily whirled around. "You can't go!"

"Emily!"

Emily's expression softened suddenly. "Please? I... I'm scared. That man... Julian... He took

Mister Stewart's head but he left the rest of him in there. You can't make me go in alone. I'm

afraid of the dark. You can't leave me in the dark with what is left of... of...."

Tears trembled in Emily's eyes, and Alexandra rushed to comfort her. "All right," she

whispered into Emily's hair. "It's all right." She carried the child through the gate and towards

the house, not even glancing at Daniel's remains. Julian had left the body were the sun

would take it, there would be very little left once the dawn came.

Daniel's door was locked; Alexandra broke the window with her elbow. She balanced Emily

on her hip as she reached through to unlock the door. The heat of Emily's blood filter through

the double layer of their clothing and into Alexandra's flesh. The warmth burned her like

the light of the sun.

She practically dropped the girl onto the entrance hall floor in her haste to get away. "I'll be

back in just a moment, Emily," she mumbled. "Wait here..."

"No!" Emily had a double handful of Alexandra's coat caught in her little fists. "You can't

leave. I won't let you!"

Alexandra slipped out the coat rather than fight with the girl. She could feel the sun rising,

feel the need to Feed, to obey the oath she had given, rise up in her like a wave. She held on to

the shreds of her intellect desperately, fearful that her mind would be washed away by that

hungry tide.

She had to get away from Emily. If she didn't, she knew that her Bloodlust would overwhelm

her. Archon's warning rang in her ears. Alexandra had never seen a Kindred lost in the throes of

Bloodlust. But she knew that Emily would never survive her Thirst if she didn't satisfy it some

other way first.

But somehow Emily managed to cling to her no matter how hard Alexandra tried to throw her

off. If she fought any harder, she would hurt the girl, maybe break her bones. "Please,"

Alexandra begged. "You don't understand. I must do something before the dawn comes."

"You have to drink blood," Emily met her eyes squarely. "I know. Mister Stewart did too.

But it's too late; it's already dawn. If you go outside you'll burn up. And then Julian will come

and take me back.... I can't let you go. You'll have to drink from me."

Alexandra shook her head, tried to push Emily away. She couldn't drink from a child. There

were rules about that. Reasons why a child's blood was forbidden. Only she couldn't remember

any of them.

Her veins were on fire. Her mind burned with the pain, with the Thirst. With the need for

blood. Emily pressed her tiny body against Alexandra's, cooing, "It's all right." But the words

meant nothing to the trembling Ventrue.

Alexandra wrapped her arms around the child, wrenched Emily's head back by her raven

curls. Emily gasped as Alexandra sank her teeth into the her soft throat, trembled all over, then

slowly, softly, relaxed.

***************

Emily's skin was pale and cooler than was healthy. Her breath came in rapid gasps as her

small body struggled for oxygen. No matter how Alexandra shook her, Emily wouldn't open her

eyes.

Emily couldn't open her eyes. She was dying.

And Alexandra knew she had killed her.

"Please, Emily," the frantic Ventrue woman begged. "Please....." She wanted to cry for God's

help but didn't dare. She had no right. She was a vampire, a demon. God had turned his back

on her kind. "Oh, please...."

She held Emily's frail body to her breasts and rocked back and forth in grief, blood tears

dripping down her face. What had she done? What kind of monster was she? Alexandra

squeezed the child tighter and the girl gave a tiny moan. Alexandra froze, stock still, listening

with every fiber of her being as Emily struggled to speak.

"Water," Emily gave a little cough, then moaned again. "Please, water."

Julian's patient lessons on anatomy and nursing sprang to the front of Alexandra's mind.

Blood loss was often accompanied by torturous thirst as the body tried to replace the fluids lost...

or stolen. She leapt to her feet, still cradling the child's limp body to her bosom.

Alexandra started carrying Emily to the kitchen at the back of the house before she

remembered that Daniel had lived too far out of the city to be hooked into San Francisco's water

or electric systems. There had been a pump in the front yard. She reversed direction frantically

and hurried back the way she came, through the front door and out into the early morning

twilight.

"Water," Emily gasped when Alexandra laid her down next to the pump. On the opposite

side of the water trough from Daniel's body, just in case Emily opened her eyes. And hopefully

Emily wouldn't notice the smell....

Human senses were much less acute, Alex reminded herself. And anyway, Julian has poured

gasoline over the body, so if Emily did notice anything, it would be that. Why Julian had

bothered was a bit of a puzzle; Alexandra had never pried in her Sire's business before, but

everyone said that once the sun touched Kindred Vitae, it ignited instantly. Surely that would be

enough to destroy what was left of Daniel Stewart.

Alexandra threw her weight against the pump handle. It had been decades since she had done

this, she had forgotten how stiff a pump could be before it was primed. The wellhead screeched

rustily, once, twice, before gushing forth a great spray of water into the trough. Alexandra

scooped out a handful and held it to Emily's lips.

Emily sipped it gratefully, and Alexandra scooped out more. Water dripped over Emily's face

and bodice, she blinked it from her eyes. Alexandra was getting more on the child than in her.

She needed to get a cup.

But when she stood up to fetch one she was blinded by a single ray of sunlight that peeped

over the sheltering hill. The sudden burning startled her so much that she cried out and ducked

down again, shielding her eyes with her hands. The sun was rising over the horizon, the sky was

golden with it's light. The remains of the shadows were shrinking rapidly.

Alexandra was torn. She couldn't leave Emily, in the time it took her to run to the kitchen,

find the cup, and get back the sun might have moved enough to set the corpse alight. But she

couldn't move the child either, she couldn't take Emily away from the pump. Away from the

liquid she so desperately needed to survive.

Unless....

There was a way she could heal Emily, a way she could protect her forever. A way to keep

Emily from all harm, to protect her from her father, from aging....

Alexandra tore off her glove and pushed her sleeve as far up her arm as it would go. She

made the gash across her wrist with her teeth. Emily was struggling to sit up, trying to reach the

water still in the stone basin. Alexandra cradled Emily's head with her right hand, gently pressed

her bleeding left wrist to the child's cupid-bow lips.

Emily's reaction was startling. She cried out and shoved Alexandra's arm away. Twisting

away from the Ventrue woman, Emily climbed unsteadily to her feet, swaying as if she might

faint. "What are you trying to do to me, you bitch?"

Alexandra's mouth dropped open at the unexpected profanity. "Emily...." she started, trying

to sound soothing. She reached out to steady the girl before she fell.

Emily slapped her across the face. "How dare you...?" She gasped, nearly overbalancing. She

had to clutch the pump handle to stay upright. "Do you think I want to be like you?" Holding

onto the handle for balance, Emily circled the pump so that the water trough was between them.

Alexandra shook her head, hurt and confused. Where was the sweet child who wanted to call

her 'Mommy'? She had barely felt the slap, but Emily's words were breaking her heart.

"Don't touch me!" Emily continued. "You disgust me. Do you think I want to be dead, like

you?" She reached into the pump's basin for another handful of the water, rinsing her mouth

with it and scrubbing her face clean of Alexandra's Vitae. Alexandra cupped her hands to offer

Emily another drink but the child backed away.

"You're dead! You're nothing but a walking corpse." Emily took another step backwards and

trod on Daniel's limp hand. Unbalanced, she sat down suddenly on the dead Kindred's chest.

Alexandra expected her to cry out in fright, but all Emily did was wrinkle her nose at the stink of

gasoline.

"But Emily," Alexandra protested. "I'm trying to protect you. Your father...."

Emily laughed, an incongruously adult sound. "My father has never laid a hand on me," she

sneered, climbing back to her feet. She wiped her hands clean on the front of her coat and

staggered over to sit down on the bumper of Daniel's great, dark car. "But I couldn't tell you that

Daniel was the one who pulled my hair, now could I? Then you'd suspect that was why I had

him killed."

"Archon ordered Daniel's death," Alexandra shook her head, feeling muddled. "A sweet little

girl like you shouldn't talk about having people killed."

"Sweet little girl?" Emily's smile didn't reach her eyes. "Maybe you'll think differently when

you roast in the light of the sun. I was going to make the other one... Julian?... I was going to

make him destroy you, but I think I've changed my mind."

"What are you talking about?" Alexandra gasped.

"Fire cleanses," Emily smirked. "Or maybe it's the fires of Hell, finally catching up to you."

Her blue eyes narrowed as she looked at Alexandra. "You're going to burn and burn...."

The was a sudden clatter outside the gate. Julian rode through it, his horse's dark coat

covered with a lather of sweat from the long gallop. The animal was wheezing and shaking;

Julian had obviously pushed it cruelly hard while following them. The Prince's Enforcer had

pulled his coat up to protect his face from the early morning light, but Alexandra could see

where the sun had scorched him from where she was kneeling on the other side of the yard.

"Don't let her hurt me!" Emily screamed, making Alexandra jump with surprise. What was

the child saying? She wasn't trying to hurt her....

But Julian swung down from his horse and strode towards them, silhouetted by the light of

the sun. His face was harder than Alexandra had ever seen it, his eyes blacker than midnight.

He had the ritual knife in his hand and looked as if he wanted to use it.

On her.

Alexandra tried to say something, anything, to explain as Emily stood up unsteadily from the

car's bumper to stagger towards Julian. The child's arms were wide, as if greeting her savior.

She tottered and nearly fell, still dizzy from the blood loss. Alexandra reached out instinctively

towards her before she collapsed.

And saw the danger with heart-stopping clarity.

"Emily!" Alexandra cried out, stumbling over the pump basin to try to push the child's body

back. Knowing it was too late. Knowing that Julian would misunderstand and try to stop her.

Knowing that there was nothing else she could do.

Julian was on her in the blink of an eye, pushing Alexandra back over the pump before her

fingertips could brush Emily's coat. He had the ritual knife at her throat and murder in his eyes.

"Emily!" Alexandra croaked, still reaching for the girl. Emily turned to watch, smiling with

satisfaction when she made eye contact with the prone Ventrue woman. "No!"

Julian paused, his hand trembling, sudden indecision in his eyes. "What are you waiting for?"

Emily screeched. "Kill her! Destroy her, now! Cut off her head like you did to him!" She

kicked Daniel's corpse for emphasis.

Julian raised the knife; it's blade flashing wickedly in the light of the sun. The knife gave off

coruscating rainbows across the car, the ground, the front of Emily's dress. One beam touched

Daniel's flesh...

Daniel's body exploded into flame as soon as the first ray of the sun's light touched it. Emily

was standing too close, almost on top of the headless corpse. The fire licked up around her,

igniting her gasoline soaked coat. Emily screamed as she reeled backwards, her pain and

terror distressingly real.

Julian reacted instinctively, shielding his face from the sudden blaze. Shielding Alexandra

too, although she still struggled to throw her Sire's weight off of her, still reached for the burning

child.

Emily fell back against the Packard's trunk, beating at the flames with her hands. Fire raced

along the trail of gasoline, circling Daniel's body, back to where the empty gas can lay next the

car. When the fire reached it, the can detonated with a sound like a clap of thunder, but that was

nothing next to the roar of the exploding car.

But by the time Julian rolled away from Alexandra, by the time she was able to get to her

feet, it was already too late. Julian grabbed her again before she could throw herself on the pyre.

He wrapped his coat around her struggling form and dragged her to the shadows of the porch,

cradling her head against his chest so that she wouldn't have to see.

It didn't matter. Long after the fire burned out Alexandra could still hear Emily's screams.

***************

<finis>