Disclaimer: This piece is not for profit and is entirely fictional. The characters in the following story with the exception of Ashley Kendall are owned by Spelling Television Inc. [A subsidiary of Spelling Entertainment Group Inc.]. Vampire: The Masquerade is owned by Mark Rein*Hagan/White Wolf Publishing. My use is not intended as a challenge to their copyrights. Lowell High School is a real school located in San Francisco with both Red Cross and Recycling Clubs.

Basic story concept was generously provided by Jade, from the beginning of her story "Julian's Hard Day's Night," which can be found at her Kindred: the Embraced fan-fiction web site:

http://www.angelfire.com/ks/pirncejulian/index.html

The character of Jeffrey was created by Kelly Schweighauser, whose Kindred: the Embraced fan-fiction web site can be found at http://hometown.aol.com/KindredToo/index.html

 

Completed May 22, 2000

 

 

Midnight Encounter

By Jenny Hagiwara

Idea by Jade

 

 

Prince Julian Luna leapt over a fallen tree, streaking through the night air as a long gray blur in wolf form. It had been a hectic week and he relished this opportunity for quiet escape by himself – Cash had believed him to be in for the night. Julian was in the wooded hills that overlooked the side of his compound, territory that he in fact owned. Trespassers were heartily discouraged so that the stray hiker was few and far between.

Julian had barely a moment to make a stumbled lunge forward as the ground suddenly seemed to give way before him. Landing safely on solid ground, he changed back to his regular human form to investigate. As he did so, Julian realized he was at the edge of a small opening in the ground. It seemed as though the earth had recently given away presenting an opening to an underground cave of some sort. He cautiously peered over the edge. To his surprise, from some thirty feet below in an underground cavern, an adolescent female stared back up at him.

She was obviously younger than his own teenaged niece, Sasha, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years of age - a typical American teenager with faded blue jeans, battered sneakers and an over-sized tee shirt sporting a large black peace symbol superimposed over a cartoon planet earth. But she was a very dirty and disheveled teenager - a slender girl with a pixie-like face and dark eyes. Her auburn hair was held back in a fraying pony tail.

"Watch out!" she called. "Don't get too close to the opening or you could fall in." She grimaced. "I, like, found that out the hard way."

"Are you hurt?" Julian asked with concern.

She made another face. "No. Just bored. I've been stuck here forever." Suddenly she brightened. "Do you happen to have a mirror or anything shiny?"

Julian's mind immediately went on alert. "No," he said slowly. "Why do you ask?"

The girl looked crestfallen. "Oh, never mind. I was just hoping that I could see my reflection - you know, to side-step into the Umbra. Well, not that I'm very good at it, but still… it would be a way out of this pit."

Julian was definitely alerted now. The remark about the Umbra… that was the shadowy spirit realm that werewolves entered at will to traverse distances in the real world. Julian realized that he was dealing with Garou and he very much doubted that she would have mentioned the Umbra unless she had first scented him as Kindred.

A flicker of hope crossed the girl's face. "Well, do you maybe have a cell phone? I could call my mom and dad." She waited his reply, her expression sincere.

Julian frowned. This young girl was certainly not behaving like any Garou he had ever encountered before. Where was that typical Garou revulsion and disdain toward the undead? Had he walked into a trap of some sort? That was cause to be wary. Julian looked around. He certainly hoped her presence didn't signify a whole pack of Garou trooping around his back woods. Not exactly a welcoming prospect. He would make it a point to talk with security when he got back.

As the girl pointed upward, Julian took a cautious step back, somewhat unnerved by her plain mannerism.

But all she did was explain, "I was walking up there when I felt a small tremor. I think it loosened the soil covering the hole over this cave. I sorta fell in." That would certainly explain her disheveled appearance. The girl shook her head, decidedly unhappy. "The only way out is up."

Naturally, Julian had no intentions of leaving her stranded down there. But first things first. "Where's your pack?" he asked carefully.

The girl gave a quick scowl. "Oh, everyone got into a fight big-time. Nobody was listening to me when I tried to stop them, so I just left. I don't like fighting."

Julian raised his eyebrows. Now this was news, coming from a Garou. He finally realized that she must belong to the werewolf tribe called the Children of Gaia; they were the peacemakers and least prejudiced among the Garou. "You seem awfully forthright," he observed. "Don't you think your pack will come looking for you?"

"Probably," she said, "but not here. No one would ever think I'd be dumb enough to walk around…" and here she made quotation marks with her fingers, "'Leech Land' by myself. But I thought it'd be okay since I've been here before and never seen any Leeches-- uh, I mean, Kindred. Well, not until you." She pushed back some stray hairs and then shrugged. "I guess I should've stayed away." Her voice caught and she quickly looked away, wiping at her cheek with the back of her hand. She was clearly trying hard not to cry. For the first time, Julian understood just how afraid she really was.

He spoke gently, "You have nothing to fear from me, young Garou." As he said this, Julian was silently thankful for whatever power had caused him to choose the trail that had led him to this cave. Starvation was not a pleasant death and that would surely have been her fate had he not stumbled upon her.

Then the girl interrupted his thoughts. "Uh, my birth name is Ashley Kendall. Well, my Garou name is different but, uh, I still like Ashley."

"Then it's good to make your acquaintance, Ashley Kendall. I'm Julian."

She frowned a moment, biting her lip. "That sounds…. Familiar. What a minute – Julian? As in Julian Luna?"

Julian Luna nodded.

"Oh." He noticed as Ashley began edge away from his sight, doing a poor job of covering her apprehension. "Aren't you the Prince or something?"

"Something," Julian agreed. Then attempting to reassure her, he added, "but you have no need to worry, Ashley. I'm not your enemy."

"Right." She still continued to slide away from him. "So that means you're going to go and just leave me alone, right?"

"No. It means I'm going to leave and return with some cord to free you."

Ashley stopped and stared at him in surprise. "Why would you do that?"

"I told you, Ashley. I'm not your enemy." Julian had to shake the sudden mental image that he was speaking with Frank Kohanek.

"But you’re the Kindred Prince…"

"Which is precisely why I'm going to help you. Just stay right where you are, Ashley." Saying this Julian gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile and then spread his arms as he shape shifted into bird-of-prey, rising to soar back toward the compound.

"Ha-ha, very funny, Mr. Prince!" Ashley's parting call managed to reach him.

 

LATER…

Someone was gently shaking Ashley awake. Dazed and disoriented, her body instantly tensed as she smelled leech. Instinctively she lashed out, but she found herself struggling in the grip of a much stronger being. Panic engulfed her sleepy mind. She needed to shape-shift --

"Ashley, shh… Ashley, it's all right," a voice saying. "It's Julian. I'm back now."

Memory drifted hazily into place. "Julian… Luna?" she asked, ceasing her struggles for the moment.

"The same." A hand helped to right herself and then pulled her up.

It was as he said, the same handsome man stood before her, as mysterious seeming as ever, only now that he was close Ashley could see him better. He was clad in a black turtleneck and equally dark pants. Ashley looked past him and saw a long rope dangling from the small opening in the cavern's ceiling above. She blinked a few times. "I thought maybe I'd dreamt you."

"I'm not a dream." Julian reassured, eyeing her critically. "Are you in any shape to climb?"

Ashley gave a shrug and looked over the rope once more. "I guess I'll have to be," she said. "Are you sure it's anchored up there? I'd hate to fall down here twice."

Julian smiled. "I'm sure. I'll climb up behind you in case you need any help."

She looked at him in surprise. "Uh, thanks. That'd be good." She walked over to the rope, gave it a good yank. Satisfied, Ashley began to haul herself up. There was a bad moment at the very top when she suddenly scented Leech from above and an unexpectedly arm reached out to help pull her up. She was so surprised she actually let go of the rope. But fortunately whoever it was on the surface had fast reflexes and neatly snagged her before she could fall. She let herself be dragged upward and outward, relief pouring off in waves.

"Whoa! Easy there. Are you all right?" a young man asked - at least he looked young to her. But he could have been eighty for all she knew. He had a short goatee with matching light brown hair - hair that Ashley thought could use a good combing.

Behind her she heard Julian exit the hole. "Thank you, Cash, for your assistance," he said. Then Julian motioned in the young man's direction. "Ashley, this is Cash, Gangrel Primogen."

"How ya doing, Ashley?" Cash gave her a quick grin. "So I hear you like our backyard."

"Backyard?" Ashley shook her head, clueless.

Julian had already begun to pull up the rope. "This is my property which you so poetically referred to as 'Leech Land.'"

"Leech Land?" Cash started to crack up.

Ashley turned beet red. Then a sobering thought stuck her. "Uh, so are you mad?" she asked Prince Julian Luna with some trepidation. She had no idea what he was planning – after all she was dealing with Leeches. Would she be forced to fight?

Julian had finished binding up the rope and threw it over to Cash, who expertly caught it and hoisted it around his shoulder, still chuckling. Julian gently Ashley pushed in front of him, in the direction that she assumed would lead to his compound. Ashley wondered how long it would take them to get there if they all retained their human forms.

"No, I'm not mad," Julian told her. "But the next time you decide to take a walk back here, I want you to notify someone at my compound first. If any of my staff had discovered a Garou wandering around, they might not have taken so kindly to you."

Ashley listened closely but couldn't detect any malice underscoring his words.

"Cash here is my head of security," Julian continued. "He's the person you'd want to see."

"And if I'm not around just ask for Lorraina - or Jeffrey - they'll be able to clear you," Cash added.

Ashley frowned. It actually sounded like these Vampire creature things were inviting her back. "You mean you'd trust me?" she blurted in surprise. "You'd actually let me come back?"

"Well…," Julian hesitated and Ashley's heart sank - she knew the offer had been to good to be true. "… provided you don't go falling into any more holes."

Ashley whipped her head around fast enough to see a quick grin fade from the Prince's face. She realized he'd been teasing her. When they made eye contact Julian smiled again. "I ran a quick check on you, Ashley Kendall, while you were waiting for our return. You're a very trusting and tolerant homid Child of Gaia, ah, Theurge auspice - the second child of Kinfolk parents who are respected members in the scientific community, specializing in genetic research. They both actively support Greenpeace and Amnesty International. You're in the top ten percent of the freshman class at Lowell High School and participate in junior varsity Field Hockey and are a member of the Recycling and Red Cross Clubs. And you've played the piano ever since you were five."

Ashley made a face. "Only because my parents make me… --hey! How d'you know all this? And besides, grades are supposed to be confidential!" She nearly stumbled over a root.

"I have various contacts that come in handy from time to time. And speaking of contacts, I phoned your parents to let him know of your whereabouts."

"What? You did what?"

"I thought they might be concerned about you. It's after midnight."

"Oh. Are they mad?"

"No. As I said, just worried. They're both on their way to pick you up."

"Really?" her voice was tinged with obvious disbelief.

"Really. Unless you'd like to stay here with us longer, of course."

"No! No, thank you," she said so quickly that both Julian and Cash chuckled. "I just didn't think -- didn't think you Kindred guys would be so nice."

"I told you before, Ashley, I'm not your enemy."

"But you're, well…"

"… Leeches?" Julian offered.

"… worm taint?" Cash seconded.

Feeling her cheeks flame, Ashley shook her head rapidly. "No, no, nothing like that. Never mind, I was just being stupid."

Ashley felt Julian's hand rested on her shoulder momentarily. "I think you're far from stupid, Ashley. You've handled a scary situation very impressively. You were very brave and didn't panic."

Julian's praise had it's desired affect, Ashley blushed again but no longer in humiliation.

"Ah, there--" Julian announced after some time. "--you can see the roof of my guest house now - that's the back part of the compound."

"That's not all I can see," Ashley grinned a moment later. "That's my parents' car parked out front. They got there before we did." A sense of wellbeing and warmth rose up inside of her. Without realizing it, she shifted to wolf-form and bounded the rest of the way down the wooded area. She stopped only when she came to the high stucco wall. Assuming her normal human form she waited for Julian and Cash to open the gate that would lead them into the side of the compound.

"You run pretty fast with four legs," Julian observed with raised eyebrows. Using their own Celerity, he and Cash had not even bothered to shape-shift when they'd followed her. He reached past her and punched in the entrance code on the electronic lock.

They walked into the middle of a white rose garden. "Ohhh," breathed Ashley. "I love white roses. I wore a whole wreath of them in my hair for my sister's wedding. She lives in Oregon now." She promptly walked over to the nearest bush and touched a large blossom.

"I'll be sure to have my butler make up a bouquet for you to take home," Julian said. He and Cash then escorted Ashley inside the mansion.

 

It was approaching dawn when the Kendalls finally left Julian's compound. As promised, Julian Luna had asked his butler, Jeffery, to prepare a bouquet for the young Garou. Taking a liking to Ashley, Jeffrey had actually prepared several, turning the Kendall's car into a veritable florist shop. Although the Kendalls had been naturally wary about entering the Haven of the Kindred Prince of San Francisco, that had changed as Julian put them at ease through polite conversation, while Ashley appreciatively wolfed down a late night snack that had made by Jeffrey. Julian found the Kendalls to be a quietly charming couple, and highly educated.

He would look into some of the data they had told him about the current state of genetics – in fact there was a company he was looking to acquire that specialized in such things. Perhaps he would even entice Ashley's parents there with a promotional offer of better employment. Julian had also assured their daughter Ashley that she could continue to use his property as a private retreat whenever she needed to, provided that she informed someone at his gatehouse first.

After all, it never hurt to make allies out of Kinfolk… or Garou, for that matter.

 

 

 

 

 

*FINIS*