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*Hagan/White Wolf Publishing. My use is in no way a challenge to their copyrights.

The story and events are mine.

----------------------------------------------SNAKES-------------------------------------------------

-------------------------------------by Kelly Schweighauser-----------------------------------------

Stephan rested his head against the window frame and gazed out at the passing darkness.

With only one dim light in the small compartment, the window overlaid the shadowed landscape

with his own reflection. He had always prided himself on how his dark hair had framed his

patrician features, but now it all seemed a pretense. Worry had coarsened him.

Yesterday the train had sped through endless fields of grain, and tonight all he could see was

rock and stunted trees as they left the mountains. He should be glad that they were making good

time, but the closer he came to his destination, the larger his unease grew.

"Are you sure he will be glad to see me?" he asked the red-headed woman sitting in the

darkness opposite.

"That is the tenth time you have asked that question since moon-rise," Nenet replied, her

voice as placid as always. "Yes, Stephan; your great-father will be glad to see you."

"It's just that," Stephan swallowed and started again. "I'm just nervous about being away from

home. And meeting strangers, telling them about the family; Grandmother wouldn't approve.

What am I going to do if he doesn't accept me? Where can I go then, Nenet?"

"He will welcome you, Stephan," Nenet repeated. "He will be so delighted that his seed yet

continues that he will take you into his house and shower you with honor."

"But Grandmother..."

"Stephan, listen to me," Nenet leaned forward into the light of the cabin's single reading

lamp. Her ritually scarred face was unpleasant to look upon, yet Stephan couldn't look away.

"The Ventrue do not countenance your family. That hatred will keep your Grandmother from

pursuing you. She will not dare set foot in a city ruled by a Ventrue Prince, and if she does, she

will suffer the consequences."

"And the Ventrue will trust you," Stephan said it as if he didn't believe it.

"Trust me? No." Nenet smiled, Stephan felt his blood chill. "But he will listen to me. No

clan truly trusts any other, but it was the Ventrue that invited the Followers of Set to join the

Camarilla. When he sees what gift I have for him, he will offer you his protection. And once

you have begotten another generation for him, he will Embrace you; of this I am certain."

"Why are you helping me, Nenet?" Stephan asked. "What's in this for you?"

"I will diminish the power of your Grandmother's clan and gain the gratitude of a Ventrue

Prince in one stroke." Nenet answered, settling back in the shadows. "Those are not small

prizes to be won."

Stephan opened his mouth to ask her another question, but was interrupted by a soft knock on

the cabin door. After a brief pause the door opened and the steward leaned in. "You asked to be

notified when we reached San Francisco, Mr. Luna? We'll arrive in less than an hour, now."

"Yes. Thank you," Stephan nodded to the steward. Nenet had faded back into the shadows

when the man entered. He didn't even know if she was still in the compartment. In any case she

would not return to answer his questions.

"Now, we got a lot of negative mail when we showed that picture of the bodies in Bosnia on

page one, but our circulation actually jumped, so I don't think it was a bad move." Caitlin said.

She casually brushed against Julian's arm while turning the pages of the circulation statement for

him. "Saturday is still pretty weak; I'd like to run a couple of special features to perk things up."

"No one reads the paper on Saturday, Caitlin," Julian replied. "They don't have time. Even I

wait for the Sunday edition."

"Traitor," she grinned at him, but he didn't smile back. He just turned back to the report and

scanned ahead a few pages. Caitlin forced herself to move away.

"So, how have you been?" she tried, knowing it sounded lame. It would be a lot easier to talk

to him if they were alone, but his bodyguard, Cash, was apparently dozing in her only other

office chair. Julian had only recently started keeping Cash so close - it had happened about the

same time he's stopped calling her, in fact. Caitlin didn't like the chaperone.

"Busy," Julian held out the report to her. "About these advertising revenues, they don't seem

to be keeping pace with the increased circulation. Have you spoken with the sales department?"

"Yes, Julian. If you want more revenue, we have to add more pages..."

"Paper costs money, Caitlin. A great deal of money, recently. Why not institute a modest

line-rate increase, or decrease the number of column-inches you run?"

"I am not going to skimp on the news to run more ads! This is a newspaper, Julian. A News

Paper, not an advertising rag that you pick up in the supermarket."

"Lower your voice," Julian replied mildly. "There is no need to shout at me. If there is a

problem we can discuss it like rational adults."

Sometimes the direct approach was the best one, Caitlin thought to herself. She decided to

ignore Cash, who was probably sleeping anyway, and get out what was really on her mind.

"Why haven't you called me?" Damn him for making her act like a love-sick schoolgirl.

"As I said," he answered after a pause. "I've been busy." But he wasn't looking at her any

more.

"So. Are you busy tonight?" She pressed. "Do you want to talk about the page count over

some dinner? We could order in or go out."

"I...can't," He smiled ruefully. "I have another appointment."

Caitlin licked her lips. "I saw you at the Haven with Lillie last weekend."

"Yes. She wants to borrow my money to sponsor a small theater group. We are still working

out the details. And there is a new artist, a photographer, that she is pushing at one of her

galleries."

"I see," Caitlin nodded carefully.

"With Lillie there is always a new artist for her to spend my money on," Julian smiled at her.

"Now about the page count..."

"Have we broken up, Julian?" Caitlin asked. "Because if we are over, I'd really like to

know."

Julian looked at her, really looked at her for the first time since he'd come in that afternoon.

There was something soft, almost mournful about his eyes that didn't quite touch the rest of his

face. "Caitlin, I...."

The intercom on her desk buzzed, interrupting him. "Ms. Byrne? Is Mr. Luna still in with

you?"

Julian stabbed at the button. "I'm still here, Stacy. What is it?"

"Oh," Stacy said. Caitlin's receptionist was madly in love with the owner of the paper, but

tended to stammer when she had to actually talk to him. "Oh, Mr. Luna. There is a woman here

to see you. She doesn't have an appointment, but she's very insistent."

"Of course it's a woman," Caitlin muttered under her breath.

"Does this woman have a name, Stacy? Has she told you what she wants?"

"She says her name is Sophia Giovanni, Mr. Luna. She said that you would know what she

wanted."

There was a thump behind Caitlin. She turned to find Cash on his feet, his gun held stiffly in

his hand. Every muscle was tense, the young man was actually quivering. Caitlin turn back to

Julian, but he too had been suddenly transformed. Anger was written on his face and in every

muscle. He appeared ready for violence, capable of it, eager for it. This was a man she didn't

know, someone she had convinced herself didn't exist.

"Tell her I'll be right there," he barked at the intercom. As he stalked towards the door his

was back was as stiff as if he expected a confrontation. At his shoulder, Cash moved with an

equally predatory grace. Caitlin blinked when she realized that the hair on Cash's nape was

actually standing on end. She'd never actually seen a man with his hackles up before. Julian

wrenched the door open. It banged against the interior wall hard enough to rattle the glass.

Neither he nor Cash appeared to notice.

Confused and concerned, Caitlin trailed after them. Keeping at a respectable distance, of

course. If Julian really was involved in something bad [her heart wouldn't let her even think

Organized Crime], she didn't want to get caught in the cross-fire.

Three people stood around Stacy's desk, two women and a man, but there was really no

mistaking which of the women had to be Sophia Giovanni. She was smaller than the other

woman, with curling dark hair spilling out from below the broad brim of her wide straw hat and

her tiny waist nipped into a designer suit that probably cost more than Caitlin made in a month.

The other two looked like they might be her parents, or possibly an aunt and an uncle. Broader,

thicker, but with a strong family resemblance. The trio practically genuflected as Julian strode

towards them.

"Signori," the woman in the designer suit started.

"How dare you," Julian growled at her. Caitlin had never heard him so furious. "How dare

you come here."

"Please," the woman protested. Her accent was musical. "I tried to call from the airport, but

I could not reach you at your home. The operator here would not forward my calls. It was not

my intention to surprise you this way."

"Get out," Julian snarled. "Leave the city at once, Giovanni."

"But we must talk," Sophia raised her gloved hands in supplication. "It is of vital

importance."

"Never," Julian's voice was very low. Somehow that was more frightening than if had

shouted. "Don't make me call security to throw you out." He took a single step back from the

trio.

Sophia Giovanni threw herself to her knees and seized Julian's hand. "Please! I beg you,

Signori Luna! Fifteen minutes, ten, five! You must listen to me. Grant me five minutes, and I

swear by my family name that I will do as you command."

Julian shook her off with a look of pure disgust. She immediately clutched at his thigh. "I

swear, Signori, I swear by my family name. We must speak together. I have information I must

give to you."

Julian grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and dragged her to her feet. "Five minutes,

Giovanni. Not a second more." He shook her as if she were a kitten then propelled her

forcefully into Caitlin's office.

"Cash," He instructed over his shoulder. "Watch these two."

"Yes, sir," Cash replied with a satisfied air.

Julian threw the Giovanni woman into the office chair and slammed Caitlin's door shut. "Tell

me this 'vital information '," he snarled at her. He paced behind Caitlin's desk, trying to calm

himself.

"My Grandson has fallen in with a Setite." Sophia blurted. "It is my belief, and the belief of

my family, that she will Embrace him. No Giovanni has ever been Embraced by a rival clan. It

can not be allowed to start here."

"As the Prince of the city, I appeal to you to stop this from occurring," Sophia's voice just

barely trembled. She kept her eyes to the floor and her posture humble. Julian could smell the

fear pouring off of her.

"You think they are here," Julian stated. "Your Grandson and this Setite."

"They will be coming here," Sophia Giovanni hastened. "If they are not here already."

"Why?" Julian demanded. "Why San Francisco?"

Sophia looked up at him, her dark eyes wide. She was trembling all over now. "The

Giovanni Clan has been concerned about in-breeding for the past century. Forty-five years ago,

before my Embrace, I seduced a young American soldier stationed in Venice after the war. At

the request of the family, of course. I bore him a son. My Grandson knows this, he will be

coming to seek his 'American family'."

"And this family is in San Francisco?" Julian prompted.

"Stephan's Grandfather," Sophia swallowed. "The man I seduced, was Augustus Julian Luna,

your great-grandson."

Julian struck her out of the chair before he even realized he had moved. His ring, the ring

that marked him as Prince, left a bloody gash across her delicate face. "Giovanni slut!" he swore

at her.

She sprawled on the carpet and glared at him. "What does it matter if I stole your seed? You

did not know. You were not harmed in any way."

"I will be the judge of what harm was done, witch," Julian seized Sophia by the throat and

lifted her off the floor. "Do you think I want my line mingled with you degenerate

necromancers? You will pay for this, Giovanni, I swear it. Pay with your blood."

"Destroy me," Sophia grated. "And you will not find the boy."

"Oh, my God," Caitlin gasped. "He just belted that woman." She had been watching Julian

and the mysterious Sophia Giovanni through the glass walls of her office. Julian had appeared

to be getting calmer as the woman talked, then he just suddenly lashed out, knocking the delicate

visitor out of her chair.

Neither Cash or the woman's companions moved a muscle. Cash still had his gun cradled

unobtrusively in front of him, while the mature couple stood as placidly as cattle. Obviously

they weren't going to attempt to do anything to aid their colleague.

Julian reached down and lifted the woman by her throat. It looked almost as if he were

strangling her. Her Julian couldn't do that. Her Julian was the gentlest, kindest, most

understanding man....but her Julian couldn't have just struck a woman with the back of his hand

hard enough to knock her out of her seat, either. Only this Julian had just done so.

Caitlin knew she was making useless motions with her hands and distressed little "Oh, oh,"

sounds were somehow coming out of her mouth. She was not a helpless woman, she told herself

sternly. But that woman in there, that Sophia Giovanni, whom Julian appeared intent on

murdering, was.

"I'm calling security," She announced. She tore her eyes away from Julian and reached for

the phone on Stacy's desk.

"Uh, Caitlin?" Phil Silberman interrupted her. "Do you really think that security is going to

toss out the guy who owns the paper?"

"Phil!" Caitlin exclaimed. He was a man, he had worked on the metro crime division, why

wasn't he doing something? Because he didn't want Cash to shoot him, she answered herself.

Behind Phil, Julian had pushed Sophia Giovanni away from him and back against Caitlin's far

office wall. Sophia had one elegantly gloved hand cradled against her face where Julian had

struck her, she gestured pleadingly with the other. Julian wrenched her purse away from her and

dumped it's contents on Caitlin's desk.

"Stacy, get security up here!" Caitlin ordered. Maybe if Julian saw the guards, knew the kind

of attention he was attracting.... She had to stop him, somehow. Before things got worse, before

he did something he'd regret.

She heard Stacy stammering into the phone, calling security. Poor Stacy, another illusion

shattered. Julian had found something in Sophia's purse, he gestured with it. Sophia nodded and

Julian slammed open Caitlin's office door.

He is definitely going to break that glass, Caitlin thought disjointedly.

Julian strode over to Caitlin and thrust the article from Giovanni's purse into her hands. It

was a photograph, a handsome young man standing next to Sophia Giovanni, perhaps her

younger brother. He had the same patrician Italian features, his dark hair was slicked back.

"Send that downstairs to the photo-lab," he ordered. "Have them make me fifty copies."

"Julian?" Caitlin questioned. "Are you all right?"

"I need them immediately, Caitlin."

Behind her the elevators slid open. She turned to see four security guards hustle out and stop,

confused. They had obviously been expecting a riot.

"You," Julian pointed to one of the guards. "Take these two the airport and put them on the

first plane to Europe. Any destination." He gestured towards Sophia's attendants.

The security guard looked around and then pointed to himself. Who? Me? He mimed.

"All of you!" Julian snapped. "Get them out of here. Now."

"Are you really sure the rent-a-cops are up to this?" Cash murmured.

Julian turned to him and answered. "See that they have an appropriate level of company."

Sophia wobbled out of Caitlin's office and crossed to her unruffled companions. At least the

woman looked a little concerned at this point. Sophia started to speak to them in Italian, but

Julian's hand clamped down on her shoulder and she faltered to a stop.

"It's all right," Sophia whispered in English, after a moment's pause. "He says I may stay. But

you must return home to Venice."

"She's staying?" Cash asked, incredulous. Julian glared at him and the younger man snapped

his mouth shut. "As you wish," he grumbled.

Caitlin treated herself to a drink at The Haven. She tried to talk herself out of it, but ended

up at the club anyway, drinking a Fuzzy Navel instead of white wine. God, what an afternoon!

She hated the feeling that she really, really needed a drink to calm down. Maybe more than one.

So, she and Julian Luna had [probably] broken up. After the way she'd seen him treat that

woman at the office, breaking up was presumably a good thing. If he could manhandle one

woman like that, then it was just a matter of time before he turned on her, right? So why did it

feel as if her heart were breaking? Why did she feel as if she's just lost the best thing she'd ever

had?

"Waiting for someone?" Lillie asked, startling Caitlin. She hadn't heard the club owner

approach, and the place was half-empty yet.

"Oh," Caitlin said, feeling foolish. "No, Lillie. Tonight I am most definitely alone."

"Mind if I join you?" Lillie didn't wait for an answer to sit down. "At least until Julian gets

here?"

"Julian won't be joining me," Caitlin sighed. "Probably not ever. I think we broke up."

Lillie looked concerned. "You had a fight."

"No. Not really," Caitlin frowned at her drink. "It's hard to explain."

"Try me," Lillie insisted.

"Well, he hasn't called me in over a week..." Caitlin began.

Lillie dismissed her with a wave of her hand. "Nonsense. That's just Julian, he gets busy.

He'll be back, once he's lost interest in his current project. It's a ... passing thing," she frowned

with distaste. "I'm sure. It's a matter of willpower. And I doubt if he has the willpower to stay

away from you for long."

"If he does, I won't be around," Caitlin shook her head regretfully. "I really love him, Lillie.

There is just something about him, like he's a magnet or something. But I can't handle this."

"What do you mean?" Lillie prompted softly.

"He never lets me in," Caitlin tried to explain. "He never tells me anything, never talks about

himself or his life or his work or his dreams or... or... or anything. It's like he doesn't trust me.

It's like he doesn't trust anybody! It's like there is a part of him that he doesn't want me to touch.

I can't live with that coldness."

Lillie nodded thoughtfully. "Well, Julian is very independent."

"I could handle independence," Caitlin insisted. "It's worse than that. It's like he's two

different people. He can be the sweetest, nicest, gentlest man, but he has a mean side, too. And

it scares me, Lillie. It really does."

But Lillie was looking over Caitlin's head at the stairs. "Who in the world is that?"

Caitlin twisted around in her seat and looked at the couple coming down The Haven's

extravagant staircase. It was Julian and the Giovanni woman, walking arm in arm. Sophia had

changed from her suit into a simple black dress. She looked fantastic. Well, it didn't take him

long, Caitlin thought bitterly. She sat back down with a frown.

"That is Sophia Giovanni," Caitlin told Lillie. "I can't imagine why he brought her here. He

wasn't all that glad to see her this afternoon....Lillie?"

Lillie was staring unblinking at Julian and Sophia. She was so still that Caitlin couldn't even

see her breathe.

"Lillie?" Caitlin asked again, beginning to feel concerned. The expression on Lillie's face

was so strange. Caitlin put one hand over Lillie's, they were as cold as ice. "Lillie!"

Lillie blinked and looked at Caitlin. "Giovanni, did you say?" She said faintly.

"Are you okay? You look like you're going to faint."

"Fine, fine," Lillie smiled, looking vaguely sick. "Do you....would you like to come upstairs?

I don't want them to see us."

"Sure," Caitlin answered, rising. "Are you sure you are okay?"

Lillie stood and led Caitlin toward the backstairs. "I'm fine, really. It was just a surprise...and

anyway it reminded me of why I wanted to talk to you." She gestured for Caitlin to proceed her

up the narrow stairs to her office.

"I ordered some gowns from Paris, like I do every season, and I don't know why, but I bought

a green one, and that is absolutely my worst color," Lillie explained. "So I thought that you and I

are about the same size, and if you liked it, I could give it to you."

Caitlin looked back at Lillie, startled by her unexpected generosity, but Lillie was looking

back into the club, at where Sophia was still clinging to Julian's arm.

"Lillie, there is no way I can take this dress," Caitlin insisted. The gown in question was a

lovely teal silk that was both simple and elegant. Wearing it made Caitlin feel like Cinderella.

Even in her bare feet with no make-up or jewelry she felt like she had been transformed into a

fairy princess.

They were behind Lillie's office in a spare bedroom. Lillie had explained that if she worked

late at the club she needed a place to stay. Having slept on the floor of her own office a couple

of times when the deadlines were tight, Caitlin completely understood that sometimes you were

just too tired to go home. But Lillie's spare bedroom had it over her office floor by a mile.

There was a wrought iron queen-size four-poster bed, a dresser, an armoire and the three-way

mirror in which Caitlin was currently examining her reflection. Double doors led to a bathroom

with a sunken tub and a closet the size of Caitlin's living room. Lillie sat on the edge of the bed

surrounded by garment bags with the names of Paris couture houses emblazoned on them in gilt

lettering. She poured Caitlin another glass of champagne and laughed. "You have to. You look

wonderful."

"I'm serious," Caitlin wavered, turning away from her image in the mirrors.

"So am I," Lillie insisted. "It's not as if I can return it. It's a perfectly good dress. It's the

color I ordered. I must have had some idea that it would bring out my eyes." She pressed the

glass into Caitlin's hand. "It makes me look like a corpse."

"At least let me pay you for it," Caitlin pleaded.

"You can't afford it. Trust me," Lillie replied. "Besides, you need something to wear to

award banquets and charity affairs. You know, your hair would look so nice pulled up on one

side..." She forced Caitlin to turn around and demonstrated by piling her hair up. "I think I have

some hair pins around here someplace." She stood up in search of them.

Caitlin ran her hands across the rich silk of the skirt. "I don't have anywhere ..."

Lillie was looking through the dresser. "I know! There's that Mayor's re-election thing

tomorrow night. Let's go."

"The Campaign Ball?" Caitlin exclaimed. "Those tickets are two thousand dollars a plate!"

"I know," Lillie answered blithely. "I already have a pair. You'd be so much more fun to go

with than boring old Julian. And maybe we could pick up some cute guys."

Caitlin giggled at the thought of picking up men at an election fund-raiser, but she would

have a chance to wear the dress. She looked at herself again in the mirror. Lillie was right, she

looked like a million bucks.

"Alright," she agreed. "I'll borrow the dress..."

"You'll keep the dress," Lillie corrected. "Look at this," she held up a mohair sweater. "I

haven't cleaned out this closet in fifty years. I bet I have a lot of clothes that would fit you. Try

this on." She tossed the sweater at Caitlin.

"Lillie," Caitlin wondered. "Why are you doing this?"

"What else are girlfriends for?" Lillie looked at her appraisingly. "You said that Julian

wasn't glad to see Sophia Giovanni this afternoon. How do you know?"

Caitlin drained the champagne glass and stepped out of the teal gown. While Lillie helped

her into the mohair sweater and a matching skirt that she rescued from the depths of her closet,

Caitlin told her about Julian's reaction to Sophia's arrival.

"He hit her, Lillie," she said, glad to be able to talk it over with a friend. "He knocked her

right down. It was awful."

"Well, I'm sure she provoked him," Lillie commented, stepping back. "You are an awful

bitch, Caitlin."

"What!" Caitlin exclaimed.

"You look so much better in that outfit than I ever did," Lillie shook her head disapprovingly.

"I'll hate you until you die. Now, let's find something else you can wear."

They were still engaged in a treasure hunt through Lillie's closet when there was a knock at

Lillie's office door. A handsome young man stuck his head in. "Mr. Luna wants to see you,

Lillie," he smiled.

"Oh, dear," Lillie pouted. "I have to go back to the coal mine, darling."

"Lillie!" Caitlin exclaimed holding up the now empty bottle of Champagne. "Did we drink

this whole thing?"

"I'm afraid so," Lillie laughed. "We've been up here for hours."

"How am I going to get home?" Caitlin moaned.

Lillie put a consoling arm around her shoulders. "Marc will drive you. Won't you, Marc?"

The handsome young man bowed chivalrously. "I would be delighted to."

"But my car..."

"Marc will drive your car," Lillie ordered. "And catch a taxi back. Marc, take these clothes

and put them in Ms. Byrne's car. Caitlin, where are your keys?"

"Oh," Caitlin looked around vaguely. "In my purse."

Her purse was buried under a pile of clothes on the bed. She extracted her keys and turned to

find Marc with his arms piled with half-a-dozen suits, and an equal number of dresses dangling

from his hands. "Lillie!" Caitlin cried. "That's too much."

"Nonsense," Lillie took the keys from Caitlin's hand and put them in Marc's mouth. He

couldn't have held anything else. He grinned at Caitlin and left.

Lillie started to pile the remaining outfits into Caitlin's arms. "Lillie, I'm serious," Caitlin

protested. "You're being too generous. I'll never be able to pay you back for all this."

Lillie looked at her seriously. "I don't want you to pay me back. That's not why I'm doing this

at all. I just want you to look good." She brushed her fingers against Caitlin's cheek. "I am a

veteran of many broken hearts, Caitlin. The best thing to do when one man steps out of your life

is to celebrate, and really pamper yourself. You'll be surprised at how fast another man will step

in."

"Happy women attract men," Lillie continued, zipping the teal silk gown back into it's

garment bag. "So don't ever be unhappy. That's my motto, and it's served me well for a VERY

long time."

"You're a pal, Lillie," Caitlin smiled.

Lillie wrapped an arm companionably around Caitlin's waist and led her toward the door.

"Let me walk you down. Julian will be waiting for me."

Marc was waiting at The Haven's back door in Caitlin's car. He helped Caitlin load the

remaining clothes into her backseat and gently laid the designer gown on top.

"I'll pick you up at seven," Lillie reminded her. "For the Campaign Ball."

"Thank you, Lillie," Caitlin answered, clutching Lillie's cool hands in hers. "I mean it. I had

a really good time."

Lillie's lips brushed her cheek. "Wait until tomorrow."

Julian had assembled an informal conclave in one of The Haven's private dining rooms. He

sat at the head of the main table, the Giovanni woman trembling at his side. Cameron sat

opposite, making a great show of being at his ease, while the Gangrel Primogen, Cash, paced in

a short arc between his seat at the table and the door. Cash's brood-sister Lorraina stared daggers

at Cameron's Fledgling Nicholas. Neither one was old enough to understand the threat posed by

the dainty foreigner. Even if they did outnumber her seven to one, Lillie put the odds only

slightly in their favor.

In Lillie's opinion, only Daedalus showed a sensible attitude. He sat still but watchful,

relaxed but apparently ready. But, of course he was Nosferatu. He had the least to fear from the

Giovanni witch.

Lillie used the time it took her to cross to the table and sit to examined the woman carefully.

The Giovanni hadn't been Kindred long, certainly less than a century, but her blood was

powerful. Whatever the Giovanni clan wanted in San Francisco, they must have wanted it badly

to risk sending such an envoy. Accidents happened, Lillie thought, and powerful blood was

rarely a match for experience.

"This is Sophia Giovanni, of Clan Giovanni," Julian began formally once Lillie had settled

herself in her seat. "I have granted her leave to visit my Domain for a short time. Be it known

among the clans that she has the right to exist, the right to travel, but not the right to hunt in my

city and my Domain."

Lillie smiled. So Sophia Giovanni's stay would be a short one indeed. That was certainly a

relief. The other Primogens felt it too; Cash stopped pacing and Cameron's shoulders relaxed

noticeably.

"She brings news that there is a Setite in the city," Julian continued and Lillie felt a shock of

fear race through her. She saw it reflected on the faces of the others as well, even Daedalus

looked worried by Julian's pronouncement.

"She lies," Cameron objected automatically.

Julian ignored him. "I have reasons to believe she speaks this much truth: The Setite travels

with a young man of Giovanni descent. His name is Stephan Giovanni, but he may travel under

the name Stephan Luna. He is probably still mortal."

"I call a Blood Hunt against the young man and his Setite companion." Julian said

ceremoniously. "They endanger the Masquerade. They are not welcome in my Domain. They

must be extinguished."

"So be it," Daedalus agreed.

"So be it," Lillie echoed. Cameron and Cash added their assents after her. The Giovanni

woman looked extremely relieved. Don't be, Lillie thought viciously, the next Hunt may be

called against you.

Julian pushed a folder into the center of the table. "These are copies of a photograph of the

boy. Take them and distribute them among your people. Cash, Daedalus, have your clans be

especially vigilant. I want these two found and destroyed as quickly as possible."

Cameron lifted one of the photographs and examined it. "The Brujah have contacts in areas

where the Setite will try to hide. With your permission, my Prince, I will distribute this picture

to my people. We would also serve."

Julian's eyes were icy as he regarded the new Brujah Primogen. "Agreed." He glanced over

the table. "Are there any questions?" No one moved. "Then you may begin. Keep me informed

of each development. You are dismissed."

"I can't believe that you humbled yourself before that butcher," Nicholas sputtered as he and

Cameron crossed the alley behind The Haven. At least, Cameron thought wryly, young Nicholas

waited until they left the building.

"Nicky," he chuckled. "I am so glad that you have escaped the cruel ravages of intelligence."

He put an arm around his Fledgling's shoulders. "Firstly, I am glad to help keep a Setite out of

the city. They are very bad for business. Especially the Brujah kind of business."

"Secondly," he continued. "I will not let Julian Luna simply ignore us. Oh, no. He can try to

crush us, or he can try to command us, but he will acknowledge our power. Or he will be made

to acknowledge it."

"Thirdly, and most importantly, I will do anything I can to get close to our dear Prince. Even

if the first two reasons weren't good enough, I'd still kiss his ring and do his menial work. My

one goal is to earn his favor for the Brujah clan, and more specifically, myself."

"Why?" Nicholas demanded, hurt.

"Because, dear Nicky," Cameron confided. "The closer you are to the target, the easier it is to

hit the bulls eye."

When Caitlin opened the door, promptly at seven, Lillie entered like a queen in a cloud of

black velvet and perfume. Rubies gleamed around her ivory throat and flickered from clips in

her chestnut hair. She presented a leather jewel box to Caitlin with a flourish. "It didn't occur to

me to dig these out until after you had left last night," she smiled. "Unfortunately you can't keep

them."

Caitlin open the box with a little trepidation, and nearly dropped it completely when

diamonds and emeralds blinked back at her. "My God, Lillie! Are these real?" She touched the

stones with one trembling finger.

"Of course they are real," Lillie laughed. "I wouldn't let you wear paste. Here, let me help you

put them on."

"Where did you get them?" Caitlin sighed as Lillie draped the necklace around her neck.

"Once upon a time," Lillie confided. "In my wicked youth, I had an affair with a married

man. He was generous." Lillie snapped the catch closed and turned Caitlin to face her.

"Pompous, self-important, but definitely generous. Put on the earrings."

Caitlin had to struggle a little to attach the old-fashioned drops to her ears, but the effect was

certainly worth it. "These must be antiques," Caitlin sighed at her reflection. "They are so

Victorian."

"Edwardian," Lillie corrected her. "These were made just before the First World War. They

made such lovely things then."

Caitlin fingered the earrings lovingly. "Do you ever wish you were alive back then? When

life was so much more gracious?"

"Oh, it wasn't so great," Lillie frowned. "A woman was her father's property until she

married, then her husband could do anything he wanted with her. Women couldn't work,

couldn't vote, had to wear those awful corsets. I prefer independence and indoor plumbing."

Caitlin sighed. "Another fantasy shot to hell."

"Let's go," Lillie urged. "The limousine is waiting."

As far as Caitlin was concerned Cinderella's night out had nothing on the Campaign Ball.

The food was certainly not the normal banquet cuisine, but a really excellent shrimp ragout

followed by veal medallions in Madeira. It was so delicious that she couldn't believe Lillie only

picked at her food.

"Special diet," Lillie explained. "I had something before we left."

"You do not need to diet," Caitlin protested. "You look great. And besides, you felt like ice

last night, so you must be overdoing it. I was really worried." Lillie just smiled at her.

Surprisingly, their dinner companions were as genial as the food. Caitlin had expected a

group of middle-aged political flacks, but instead she and Lillie were surrounded by the most

interesting local celebrities and tycoons. It didn't hurt that they were the only two women at the

table. None of the men were Julian Luna, but several were attractive, and all of them tried to be

charming. The conversation sparkled like the wine.

Then Julian Luna entered with Sophia Giovanni. He circulated, shook hands, introduced his

demure companion and apologized repeatedly for being so late. Caitlin's dessert turned to ashes

in her mouth.

"Ignore him," Lillie whispered fiercely in her ear. Caitlin managed a sickly smile.

"Excuse us, gentlemen," Lillie said rising. "I think it's time Caitlin and I powdered our

noses." Her grip around Caitlin's elbow was like iron as Lillie dragged her to the Ladies' Room.

Caitlin kept her head down so she wouldn't have to see Julian at all.

"I'm sorry, Lillie," Caitlin said when the lounge door closed.

"Don't be stupid," Lillie sounded vexed. "Remember what I said about being happy? Smile

and you'll get a man. Frown and...well, you'll end up going to charity affairs with your

girlfriends."

"Look at me," Lillie cupped her hands around Caitlin's face. "I was with Julian for more

years than I can count. If you still want him back, then play hard to get. Flirt with other men.

Ignore him. He's the kind of man that always wants what he can't have. And if you don't want

him back, there are six men at our table that are eager to take his place. But I don't think you are

going to let that Giovanni bitch take Julian away from you, now are you?"

Lillie's green eyes were as deep as oceans. Caitlin was entranced by how beautiful they were.

She smiled, so relieved that Lillie was here. Of course, everything Lillie said made perfect

sense. She'd do just what Lillie told her and everything would turn out fine.

Julian saw them as they crossed the dance floor back to their table. He stopped talking to the

Governor and just stared, apparently shocked at seeing Caitlin arm-in-arm with Lillie. When

William Harrison and George Walker jumped to their feet to hold her chair for her, there was no

mistaking the look of hot jealousy in Julian's eyes.

Caitlin felt so much better on seeing Julian discomforted. She smiled warmly at him, then

turned back to the conversation at the table. Lillie was obviously correct, Julian needed to see

that she wouldn't be taken for granted. And both William and George were such interesting men

in their own right.

She let Lillie talk her into dancing with William, who he insisted that she call him 'Bill'. He

was fascinated by her knowledge of the situation in Bosnia, and asked for her advice of how she

felt it would effect the European Market. Julian never made her feels so intelligent.

Then George cut in. George was a part-owner of the Giants and invited her to share his box

at Candlestick Park. After she had finished waltzing with George, she was swept up by David.

David was the station manager at the local ABC affiliate and wanted to get together over drinks

to discuss joint election coverage - his station and her paper. Matthew was the President of a

pharmaceuticals company and wanted to talk about Health Care Reform. Richard was one of the

Trustees of the University of California in Berkeley and only wanted to dance.

By the time she reeled off of the dance floor well after midnight insisting that, no, she really

had to sit this one out, she had a handful of business cards, half of them with home numbers on

them. Lillie had been dancing every dance as well, and didn't look at all tired, but Caitlin was

exhausted.

"You look like you're wilting," Lillie sat down next to her and fanned herself languorously

with her purse.

"It's past my bed-time," Caitlin confided with a conspiratorial grin.

"Well, this party is about over," Lillie agreed. "Let's get you home. Unless you want to check

out my competition with me?"

Caitlin groaned. Lillie's offer was too tempting... "I have to go to work in the morning," she

groused. "I'd really love to but... What are you doing Friday?"

Lillie helped Caitlin to her feet. "Working at the club, for that slave driver, Julian Luna, as

always. If he ever offers to back you in something, Caitlin, run. He's merciless." Caitlin rested

against Lillie's shoulder as they wove their way through the crowd to the door.

"On second thought," Lillie paused. "To hell with him. Friday night would be a great time to

check out what some of the other clubs in the city are doing. Let's go."

"To hell with him," Caitlin agreed.

As they waited for Lillie's limousine, Julian and Sophia joined the small crowd of people

leaving the ball. With Lillie by her side Caitlin didn't even feel self-conscious. Julian led his

demure companion over to them. Sophia's eyes glanced over them quickly and then at Julian's

face before returning to her shoes. It was something Caitlin had noticed earlier, how she

avoided looking at anyone but him.

"Hello, Julian," she answered when he greeted her.

"I didn't expect to see you here," Julian's smile at Lillie was almost brittle. "Certainly not

both of you."

"Well, I knew that you would be otherwise occupied." Lillie gave Julian a little kiss on his

cheek, then stepped back and put her arm around Caitlin's waist. "So we decided not to waste

the opportunity to get to know each other better. Caitlin and I have had so much fun."

Caitlin laughed and gave Lillie a squeeze. "I'm Cinderella, and Lillie's been my Fairy

Godmother."

"And here comes our carriage," Lillie said. "Julian, it's been delightful, as always. Sophia,

it's been so...pleasant...to see you again."

"Good night, Julian," Caitlin said as Lillie led her down to the car.

Julian gave a short, stiff bow in their direction. "Good evening, ladies."

Nenet and Stephan watched the Prince place his women in their vehicle and then wait for his

own conveyance with Stephan's Grandmother. Hidden as they were on the rooftop opposite,

Nenet felt they were safe enough from the Prince's servants. Far enough away that they could

not be detected by his Gangrel's heightened senses, and high enough that even his Nosferatu

would not find them.

"Do you see the Kindred with the red hair, Stephan?" Nenet asked her mortal companion.

"That is the Prince's lover, a Toreador. We must be careful of her. Toreador appear to be

frivolous, but are often tricky."

Stephan watched his thrice-great-grandfather with hungry eyes. But when his gaze touched

Sophia Giovanni, he winced. "You said Grandmother would not come here," he whined at his

accomplice.

"See how fearful she is," Nenet breathed. "He has brought her like a dog to heel. I thought

he would destroy her, but this is much better. He is strong, your ancestor."

"She will poison his mind against me," Stephan insisted. "She will tell him that I am

unworthy of the Embrace."

"She will tell him nothing," Nenet countered. "Look at them: it is he who commands, and it

is she that listens. Yes, I think she will try to control him, but I also think she will fail. This one

is not easily swayed. He is a great prize, indeed."

She shifted her position to look at Stephan. The lights from the gala below illuminated one

half of her face perfectly, it resembled a road map of hell. "You must do exactly as I say,

Stephan," Nenet warned. "This Prince will be tricky. Allow me to do all the bargaining with

him. I understand Ventrue ways. And if you are silent, he with think you meek and compliant -

two traits your family failed to instill in you."

Stephan tried to smile back at her. "In exchange for continuing his line for another

generation, he will Embrace me," he confirmed.

"Yes," Nenet's eyes gleamed copper in the reflected light. "That is the essence of it."

"Good," Stephan sighed. He turned back to watch Julian's Gangrel watch-dog help the Prince

into his limousine. Nenet said that that particular Gangrel was the Primogen of the clan in San

Francisco and yet he waited on the Prince like a menial. And Gangrel were said to be

autonomous to a fault.

The thought of possessing such power made Stephan's heart race. He would Embraced by the

Prince of San Francisco, and then he would be more powerful than even his Grandmother's Sire.

This Julian Luna must be strong to control so much territory. The Domain of San Francisco

was two or three times as large as the area the Giovanni controlled around Venice. Even the

Cattle felt his might; Stephan had watched the mortals below bow and scrape as Julian entered

and left that evening. And Stephan would be heir to that power, when Julian Luna's potent blood

flowed through his veins.

He shivered in anticipation. Not long now. Not long before he was the one who gave orders,

not the one expected to obey them. When he was Embraced he would be the one to command.

Other Kindred would bow and obey him. And if they didn't, he'd have the power to destroy

them.

Just as he'd finally have the power to destroy his Grandmother.

Caitlin rushed over to The Haven immediately after work. She had carried Lillie's jewel case

with her all day, and was a nervous wreck for fear that she'd lose it. Once the emeralds were

back in Lillie's safe, Caitlin felt she could finally relax.

The Haven was unusually loud. Although the club was still nearly empty this soon after

opening time, a rock band played full blast on the stage. Lillie saw her come down the stairs and

greeted her with open arms.

"Aren't they terrific?" She gestured to the rock musicians. She was shouting to be heard

above their noise. "Don't you just love this? You want to dance?"

"I only came to give these back," Caitlin shouted back over the din. She handed Lillie the

jewel box. "Thank you for letting me wear them."

Lillie caught her by the hand and pulled her to the bar. "Red wine, Mario," She ordered.

"And see that these go back in the safe." She tossed the jewels casually on the bar. Mario

grinned and bobbled his head in confirmation. He left with the jewel box and returned with two

glasses of red wine.

"Oh, no," Caitlin shook her head and help up her hands. "I can't. I have to go home." She

motioned towards the stairs, but Lillie caught her arm.

"Come on," Lillie coaxed. "One little dance. Live a little."

"I think I danced enough last night," Caitlin yelled, but Lillie tugged her out on to the dance

floor anyway. Laughing, Caitlin allowed herself to be coerced into dancing with the club's

owner.

"I haven't danced with another girl since high school," Caitlin cried above the thump of the

bass. Lillie laughed and gave her a twirl. The dance floor was practically empty like the rest of

the club, and Lillie wasn't shy about taking up most of the available space.

Unfortunately after the first dance, there was a second, then a third. She protested when

Lillie pressed a second glass of wine into her hand; she hadn't had any dinner at all, but gulped it

down anyway. Dancing was certainly thirsty work. Then the club started to get busy and men

wanted to cut in. Caitlin wanted to continue to dance with Lillie, the club owner was incredibly

graceful, but Lillie insisted that she dance with at least some of her eager suitors.

Caitlin knew that she had gotten quite drunk and that several hours had past when she finally

insisted that she couldn't dance anymore. Lillie guided her to a booth and sent for something

from the kitchen. She kissed Caitlin on the cheek, then rushed back onto the dance floor to do

the shimmy with a middle-aged man with a beer-belly. Lillie was so light on her feet she could

make anyone look like a good dancer.

And she certainly knew how to enjoy herself, Caitlin sighed. The last three days with Lillie

were like riding a roller coaster, or being caught up in a tornado. Scary, at least until you just

surrendered to the inevitable and forced yourself to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Her dinner arrived. Caitlin was just helping herself to the sesame chicken when a shadow

fell between her and the band. She looked up right into Julian's eyes.

"Hello," he smiled at her in that way that made her feel all warm and melting. "May we join

you?"

Of course, Sophia Giovanni was still with him, clinging to Julian's arm as if she had somehow

grown attached to it. That woman was really becoming an annoyance. Caitlin wished that Lillie

were in the booth with her.

If Lillie had been sitting next to her, Caitlin thought, there would have been no way that she

would have acceded to Julian's request. But as she was alone, she agreed to let Julian and the

much despised Sophia Giovanni join her in her booth.

"You remember Ms. Giovanni, don't you?" Julian asked.

"Of course," Caitlin agreed, trying to remain cool. "From the office." Where you nearly

knocked her block off, she amended to herself.

"Sophia is an old acquaintance," Julian explained. "Our families have had business dealings

in the past."

"I'm sure," Caitlin nodded; like she believed that one. She tried to remember what Lillie had

said; play hard to get. Easy to say, but not so easy to do when that thousand-watt Luna charm

was focused right at you.

"I'm sorry we had to leave so abruptly from the office the other day," Julian continued.

"Perhaps we could finish our meeting tomorrow afternoon."

Sophia Giovanni had finally surrendered Julian's arm. She was sitting on the edge of the

booth watching Lillie on the dance floor, evidently trying not to listen to Caitlin and Julian.

Cash, Julian's bodyguard, stood so close to her that the hem of her exquisite dress brushed his

boots. Caitlin hated it when he hovered like that. She always felt like she had no privacy around

Julian.

"That's very tempting, Julian, but I've got a pretty full calendar," Caitlin stalled. Truth was

she couldn't remember what she had scheduled for tomorrow - or even what day of the week

tomorrow was.

"Well, I think we should get the issue of the page-count and the advertising revenue worked

out." Somehow Julian made it seem like a proposition. She had to fight to keep from staring

into his eyes.

"I'll call you," Caitlin declined. Then she couldn't resist adding, "I still remember YOUR

number." Somehow the little guilty tic near his eye didn't make her feel better at all.

"If that's the way you want it, Caitlin," Julian answered, and Caitlin wanted to cry that, no,

that wasn't what she wanted at all. But maybe it was the way she needed it to be.

Julian's phone rang. The sound attracted Sophia's attention. She watched Julian minutely as

he extracted it from his pocket and answered the call. Caitlin wondered if they had cellular

phones where she came from.

"Julian Luna," Julian said quietly. Caitlin could barely hear him over the band. "Yes,

Stephan, I've been waiting for your call." Sophia reached for the phone but Julian pushed her

gently away. When she persisted, Cash seized by her shoulder and dragged her backwards out of

the booth.

"Let me talk to him," she pleaded, shrugging away from Cash's rough hands. Julian just

shook his head 'no'.

"Please repeat that Stephan," Julian said into the mouthpiece. "It's very noisy here." He

paused, then nodded at Cash. "Yes, I can meet with you. And your associate, if you insist. Just

tell me when and where."

"That will be fine, Stephan," Julian continued after a pause. "I look forward to seeing you.

Yes, yes, she is here. No, Stephan, I won't. May I ask you to take the same precautions with

your traveling companion? I have had dealings with members of that family, they are not prone

to keep their word."

Another, longer pause. "Thank you, Stephan. I look forward to seeing you." He snapped the

phone shut and turned to Caitlin. "I'm afraid we have to go. Look, I'll be back in a few hours."

"I have to get home," Caitlin responded. It was certainly the truth, she was exhausted.

"Well, then I'll call you," Julian rose. Behind him Sophia was practically dancing with

impatience.

"No, Julian," Caitlin told him firmly. "I'll call you."

Julian looked like he wanted to say something else, but just gave her a swift kiss instead. "I'll

be waiting for your call then." He turned and gestured Sophia to proceed him.

"I am surprised that you allow one of your Herd to speak to you in such a manner," Sophia

said to Julian once they were settled in the back of his limousine. "Such disrespect would not be

tolerated in my family."

She was referring to Caitlin. Julian regretted the necessity of keeping Sophia constantly by

his side, it allowed her to witness things he would like to keep private. But the only other

Kindred in the city who he could trust with her was Daedalus, and Daedalus was better

employed looking for the Setite. Besides, she might attack Daedalus and injure him, and Julian

felt too far in the Nosferatu's debt to risk him idly. So Julian was stuck with guarding his

unwelcome guest. As long as he remained cautious she probably wouldn't risk attacking the

Prince.

"Please do not speak of things you do not understand, Sophia," he corrected her.

She bit her lip and lowered her eyes. She was making a great show of how humble she could

be. It probably worked with her Giovanni masters. It didn't fool Julian for a second.

"Stephan often spoke with little reserve," Sophia informed him. "Such candor is thought to

be a weakness by my Clan. You think differently, perhaps?"

Julian examined her. "He says he wants me to Embrace him," Julian replied. As he

expected she tensed.

"The Giovanni council examined him and found him unworthy," Sophia tried to sound causal,

but Julian could hear the stress in her voice. "We, of course, discourage any other Clan from

Embracing any of the Giovanni family." That was an understatement - Giovanni assassins

hunted down both Sire and Fledgling when one from their line was taken by another Clan. "But

certainly no Ventrue would want one rejected as unworthy by another of the Kindred."

"As I said," Julian replied. "I do not want my blood mixed with that of your depraved line of

necromancers. Have no fear that I will keep the boy, Sophia. I shames me deeply that my

great-grandson had the lack of discernment to submit to your seduction. If he were not dead

already, I would punish him for it." An idle comment, Julian hadn't interfered with the affairs of

his descendants in over sixty years. He smiled coldly at the Giovanni. "All I wish is to drive the

Setite, and you, from my Domain. You may do what you wish with Stephan, as long as you leave

my Domain when you are finished."

"Did Julian leave already?" Lillie slid into the booth next to Caitlin. "I saw him and that

wretched Giovanni woman sitting with you, but I couldn't get away from that man." She

gestured vaguely at the packed dance floor.

"Yeah," Caitlin confirmed. "He got a call and had to leave. He said he'll be back, but I've got

to get home too. I'm exhausted, and I remembered that I've got a meeting of the Editorial Board

at eight."

"Spend the night here," Lillie put one hand over Caitlin's.

"You mean," Caitlin floundered. "In your spare room?"

"I'm not coming on to you, Caitlin," Lillie laughed. "Yes, spend the night in my bedroom

upstairs. You look absolutely spent. And I don't like the idea of you driving all the way home

after you've had six glasses of wine. If Marc were here tonight, I'd make him drive you, but he's

not."

Had it been six? Caitlin had lost track. "Well, I guess, okay."

Lillie helped her to her feet and led her towards the backstairs. "Of course okay," she smiled

happily. "Just think how shocked all those editors are going to be when you wear the same outfit

two days running. It'll do your reputation some good."

"Let me do the talking," Julian told Sophia. If he had a choice, he would leave her in the car,

but he didn't trust her enough to leave her alone. The Giovanni had earned every inch of their

treacherous reputation a thousand times over. And he would need Cash to deal with the Setite.

"I will tell him that I agree to Embrace him. You will tell him that the Giovanni Clan will respect

my decision. The important thing is to subdue the Setite."

"You can not Embrace him," Sophia insisted.

"It's called lying," Julian sighed. "As a Giovanni I am certain that you are familiar with the

concept."

"It is not a believable lie," Sophia objected.

"He wants to believe it," Julian replied. "So he will believe it, no matter how unbelievable a

lie it is." Sophia continued to look doubtful. "Do as I tell you, Giovanni. You agreed to respect

my edicts in my Domain. I order you to speak as I direct."

"I will speak as you direct," Sophia agreed sullenly. "I will tell my Grandson that the

Giovanni will take no action against either of you when you Embrace him." She paused and

added under her breath, "But he will not believe it."

Cash stopped the car near Golden Gate Park. Julian stepped out and helped Sophia to stand.

"Stay close," he directed Cash.

"In the trees," Cash murmured. "Over to your left. One mortal and one Kindred."

Julian disentangled himself from Sophia's arm. "Walk behind me, Giovanni," he instructed

her. He stepped onto the lawn and walked half-way to the tree line. He was aware of both Cash

and Sophia at his back.

A young man that had to be Stephan stepped uncertainly out of the trees. Julian could see the

resemblance, not just to Sophia, but to his own son and grandson. Stephan approached

cautiously, but stopped twenty feet away from Julian to bow formally. The Setite never left the

cover of the trees. Julian could barely see her in the shadows, he trusted that Cash's eyes were

better.

"My Prince," Stephan said. He had a thicker Italian accent than his Grandmother.

"Grandmother."

"Welcome to my Domain, my child," Julian bowed his head in acknowledgment of his

great-great-great-grandson. "I am pleased to greet a son of my line. You bring me hope that my

name will not end before me."

"I greet you also Great-Father," Stephan licked his lips nervously and let his eyes flicker to

the trees. "Would you come and speak with my companion, Nenet?"

"Not under the cover of the trees, Child," Julian answered softly. "Please ask her to join us."

"She wishes us to speak alone, where my Grandmother cannot hear." Stephan bowed again,

evidently to soften the disrespect in the message.

"There is nothing to be said that your Grandmother cannot hear," Julian maintained. "Let her

come out and present herself to me in accordance to the Traditions. It distresses me that I do not

know her face."

Stephan turned to face the trees, hands spread helplessly, to request direction from the Setite,

Nenet, and crumpled. He clutched at his heart, grunting in pain. Trying to writhe, to crawl away

from the weakness and pain that beset him. The night turned uncanny as witchcraft filled the

air.

Julian pivoted smoothly and struck Sophia in the hollow of her throat with the edge of his

hand. Damn the woman for attacking the boy before he had a chance to capture the Setite. Cash

and Nenet jumped forward at the same instant to grab at the crumpled boy.

Cash watched the Setite beneath the trees very carefully, all his senses alert. He heard only

Julian and Stephan talking, smelt only the boy's nervous sweat and the vague scent of corruption

from the Setite. But something nagged at the back of his mind saying they were not alone.

He scanned the area once again, then returned his eyes to the Setite. Maybe it was only her

appearance that raised his hackles. She stood in the shadows beneath the trees, but he could see

her clearly enough. More clearly than he wanted to, actually. Kindred flesh was sturdy; it

healed quickly and well. She must have put a great deal of effort into acquiring the scars on her

face. Cash didn't like to think about the kind of effort that took. Or about the kind of creature

that would do such a thing to themself.

Out of the corner of his eye Cash saw the Giovanni make a breaking gesture with her hands.

Simultaneously her grandson collapsed and the Setite broke from the cover of the trees. Nenet

was running toward Stephan - and toward Julian. Cash rushed forward to intercept her.

He was peripherally aware that Julian had struck the Giovanni woman, and saw the effect of

what she had done lessen on the boy, Stephan. By the time Stephan raised his head from the turf

Cash was on him. Unfortunately, so was the Setite, Nenet.

Nenet ignored Stephan's sprawled body and lunged directly for Cash. The Gangrel grabbed

her shoulders, but her charge knocked him sprawling. She was all fangs and claws. Cash

managed to keep his grip on her and keep her teeth from his throat.

He leveraged one leg underneath him and rolled, pinning her under his body. It was like

laying on a bag of snakes. She wouldn't stay still, and he didn't dare take his hands from her

shoulders. Her hands, though, were free to claw at his back, and he felt her shred his leather

jacket like silk. It would be his muscles next.

He lifted her torso from the ground and slammed her back down with all his might, wishing

that the ground wasn't so soft. It didn't seem to affect her. Her face was demonic; her eyes

gleamed red in the moonlight.

He repeated the gesture, desperately. He could feel her claws sink into his shoulder blades.

They burned. She grinned at him as he cried out and spat into his eyes.

Agony. Cash pulled back and clawed mindlessly at his face trying to get the venom off .

Beneath him Nenet shoved once and he went toppling backwards off of her. He heard Julian cry

out his name, and knew the Prince would never get to him before Nenet ripped out his throat.

Then something struck Nenet from the side. Cash felt the newcomer tear her away from him,

heard her hissing snarls and the other's deeper growls. He rolled away from the fight and wiped

his eyes with the grass.

"Daedalus," Julian called. "Step back." Then four flat cracks of Julian's pistol echoed over

the little glen.

By the time Cash could see again, Nenet and Stephan were fleeing. He lunged after them, but

Julian called him back. Reluctantly, because he had sworn he would, he obeyed.

"I could have caught them," he gasped at Julian. But Julian seized him by his jaw and

dragged him to where the Giovanni was still laying on the grass.

"Can you heal this?" Julian demanded from the petite woman. "Can you pull the Setite's

poison from his blood?"

Daedalus was stripping away the remains of his shirt and jacket with his claws. So you were

the one I could barely sense, Cash wondered. He wiped one hand across his face, and the

remaining venom burned where it touched his fingers. He wiped them on his pants and the cloth

smoked. I'm in trouble, he realized.

Sophia climbed to her feet, glaring at Julian. "You let them get away," she accused. "Why

should I help you?"

"You did not obey me, Sophia," Julian breathed. "Save the boy and I might be merciful

towards you."

Sophia placed her hands reluctantly over Cash's face. "Yes," she admitted. "I can help him.

I'll need something to catch the blood."

He gritted his teeth and tried not to cry out as she pulled the polluted blood from his body.

He watched it pour, black and reeking, into the container Daedalus had retrieved from the trunk

of the limousine. It felt like she was taking all of it, every drop in his body. He felt near to

collapse when the flow finally regained it's normal ruby color and healthy smell.

"The safest way to dispose of that is to set it where it will be exposed to sunlight," Sophia

said. She handed the container back to Daedalus. "He'll need to Hunt."

Julian drove the limousine back to The Haven. He insisted that Cash stretch out in the back,

the young Gangrel was obviously too weak to do anything else. Daedalus watched Sophia

Giovanni.

"You had discovered the Setite?" Julian had asked Daedalus quietly as he loaded Cash and

Sophia into the back of the car.

"I was following you," the Nosferatu had answered. "I didn't like the idea of leaving you with

the Giovanni." Julian had simply shaken his head ruefully and laughed.

The Haven was closed, of course; it was after three in the morning, but Julian had a key to the

back door and let them in. Lillie was there, as was Cameron, and several of their respective

Clans. Sasha gave a startled cry when she saw Daedalus helping Cash in. She rushed over to her

lover and supported him on the other side. The Brujah just rolled their eyes and looked

disgusted at this show of affection toward a Gangrel.

"Sit over at the bar, Sophia," Julian directed. "Where the Toreador and Brujah may watch

you." She moved off reluctantly and sat, trying not to notice the small army of Kindred

surrounding her.

"They got away," Cameron stated.

"Yes," Julian admitted. "Thanks to the Giovanni, they got away."

"It does not matter," Cameron replied. "We have found one of their havens. It looks as if the

Setite means to make it her Temple." Julian looked at him sharply, and Cameron shrugged.

"They were not there when my Brujah found it, but I am having it watched. When they return,

you will know, my Prince."

"I have other teams out, continuing the search," Cameron continued. "In case this 'Temple' is

merely a pretense to hide another resting place."

Julian paused before nodding at the Brujah Primogen. "Excellent, Cameron. Good work."

Cameron inclined his head modestly. "Thank you, my Prince."

Sasha left off licking the wounds on Cash's face to fetch a clean cloth to wipe him down with.

She walked proudly past the grinning Toreador and frowning Brujah to behind the bar. Cash

looked even better without his shirt, except for his ghastly wounds. He needed blood, she could

smell it on him.

Cash brushed her off when she returned with the damp wash cloth. He made it seem as if she

wasn't welcome at the meeting of the Primogens, but she knew that he was more easily

embarrassed by the Brujah's jealous glares than she was. Who cared what her Clan-mates

thought? She meekly left him and returned to the bar, making sure that her hips had an extra

swing with each step.

"So," she said, settling next to Sophia Giovanni. "You did it with my dad?"

Sophia eyed her uncertainly. "You are?" She asked.

"Sasha Luna," Sasha grinned. "Augustus Luna was my father. He," she jerked her thumb

toward Julian. "Is my great-great-grand-daddy, but I just call him 'uncle'."

"You are Ventrue?" Sophia said, sounding shocked. Several of the Toreador tittered.

"Oh, yeah," Sasha rolled her eyes. "Sure, right."

"He allowed you to be Embraced by another Clan?" The Giovanni whispered.

"Look," Sasha said, annoyed. "We're not talking about me. We are talking about you doing

the horizontal bop with my father. Did you or didn't you two get down and do the dirty?"

"I seduced him," Sophia admitted.

"And, like, had a kid, right?" Sasha pressed. "Who had this Stephan-idiot that's causing all

the trouble?"

"Yes, Stephan is my grandson," Sophia confirmed.

"Which makes him my nephew, right? He IS my nephew cause his grandfather is my dad,"

Sasha continued. She paused for Sophia to nod affirmatively. "So, where is my half-brother,

huh?"

But Sophia just stared at her hands and refused to answer any more questions.

"Cash," Julian said to his injured bodyguard. "Do you need help with your Hunt?" It was a

delicate question, one he would only ask a friend. A Kindred who could not Hunt on his own

was easily destroyed. But the young Gangrel had taken a great deal of punishment in his fight

with the Setite, Nenet. And blood was the only thing that would cure him.

"I'll help," Sasha offered. Cash flushed, but didn't say anything. She was just a Fledgling, and

didn't understand the nuances of Kindred society yet. It was one thing to be offered aid from

your Prince, quite another to have a new-made Fledgling offer to help her elder Hunt. And it

didn't help that she was Brujah.

"I'll be fine on my own," Cash assured them both. He staggered a little when he got to his

feet and Sasha opened her mouth to object.

"Fine," Julian said to cut Sasha short before she insulted the Gangrel all unknowing. "Good

Hunting then. Sasha, go home with Daedalus. I'll follow shortly." Cameron and the rest of the

Brujah had already left. Sophia remained at the bar being watched by a dozen Toreador.

"But," Sasha started, watching Cash weave his way to the door. "What about..."

"He's old enough to Hunt for himself, Sasha," Julian said gently. "Let him be."

"Yes, sir," She said begrudgingly.

That left him alone with Lillie, finally. Julian offered her his arm and walked her across the

dance floor. "We need to talk about Caitlin," he said when he was reasonably certain that none

of her Toreador could overhear.

She didn't look abashed at all, she simply smiled and faced him, saying nothing. "If she is too

dangerous for me, then she is too dangerous for any of us," Julian stated.

"I was wrong about that," Lillie answered. "I'm sorry. I thought she was a danger to the

Masquerade, since she works for the media, but she's so modern! She discounts the evidence of

her senses. She thinks there is a reason for everything. She doesn't believe in monsters or

fairy-tales." Lillie laughed. "She doesn't believe in us."

"You've asked her?" Julian questioned.

"I haven't had to! Julian, she's perfectly oblivious to everything and she thinks she's so

discerning." Lillie laid her hands against his chest and gazed up at his eyes. "She's completely

safe. There is absolutely no reason you can't have her, if you still want her." She smiled archly.

"She still wants you, you know."

"I'm beginning to understand your attraction to her," Lillie continued coyly. "She's really very

sweet. Almost innocent, and just a little brazen. No wonder you like her. You've always liked

that type."

"I though you didn't like her," Julian said cautiously.

"I didn't," Lillie agreed. "But that was before I bothered to get to know her. She's not my

taste, but I know she is yours."

"All right, Lillie," Julian smiled. "Since I have your permission..." He leaned down and

kissed lightly her on the lips. Lillie certainly seemed sincere, perhaps she'd really changed her

mind about Caitlin. "I'll continue my pursuit."

Lillie wrapped her arms around him and laughed against his chest. "Cash wasn't the only

man around here with the Thirst tonight," she sighed. "When was the last time you fed?"

"Three days ago," Julian answered. He hadn't wanted to leave the Giovanni woman, even for

that short of a time.

"Come upstairs," Lillie said, stepping back. "I have something for you."

"What?" Julian let Lillie lead him forward a few steps. She could be so pleasant when she

wanted to be. "What do you have?"

"She's here," Lillie tugged at his hands, leading him toward the stairs to her office. "Caitlin.

She's upstairs, waiting for you."

"He trusted her," Stephan raged. "I warned him and he trusted her nevertheless! She'll never

let me near him. We have to kill her, Nenet. It's the only way he'll ever listen to us."

"Too late for that," Nenet murmured softly. Rage was useless. Now was the time for cold

reason. "He does not want you close to his heart, Stephan. I miscalculated."

Stephan's jaw dropped as he stared at the Setite. "But he was glad to see me! He said that he

wanted me!"

"His mouth was full of lies," Nenet answered. "Perhaps his family means less to him than I

was told."

"No!" Stephan cried. "It's not true. He said he didn't want his family name to end. He said..."

"Be silent," Nenet said without any heat to her voice and Stephan's tantrum ceased as though

severed by a knife. "He said nothing. His words were empty, they had no meaning."

"He does not want you," she continued. Her flat eyes regarded Stephan dispassionately,

weighing and measuring his worth to her. If Julian Luna placed no value on Stephan, he had

very little value indeed. "Perhaps there is something else he wants," she thought out loud.

"And what of what I want, Nenet?" Stephan sulked. "The Embrace. To be Kindred. You

promised me. You promised."

Nenet tilted her head slightly as she stared at the Giovanni boy. She had blundered badly. If

the Prince had accepted the boy he would have paid - eternally. Perhaps he thought the boy's

lineage too diluted with Giovanni blood...no, that line of speculation was useless. She had to

salvage what she had and still obtain her goal - a Temple in the city, a seat on the Conclave, her

voice in the Prince's ear.

"You wish to be Kindred?" Nenet revealed her teeth; it was not a smile. "Do as I say and I

will Embrace you." The Prince accepted his Brujah niece, and there was bad blood between the

Ventrue and the Brujah in San Francisco. What would he do with a Setite descendant? What

would the Giovanni do? It did not matter. Sometimes when things fell apart it was best to tear

everything down and start over.

"Do you remember the red-headed Toreador I showed you? The Prince's lover?" The

Toreador so loved their beauty, and Set favored those with red hair. There were many things

Nenet could do with such a pretty Kindred. Things that would take mortal lifetimes to finish.

Of course the Toreador would not be beautiful afterwards, but she would be fit to become a

sacrifice to Set. And would no doubt welcome any end to her existence. "She makes her haven

in a club called The Haven. When the sun rises you must go get her and bring her to me."

"Kidnap his lover? You mean to blackmail him, Nenet?" Stephan sounded doubtful. "I don't

think..."

"No," Nenet snapped. "You don't." She stared at Stephan and saw him flinch away from her

eyes. "Obey, Stephan. Or you will not see the next sunset, much less eternity."

Julian stood in the doorway of Lillie's extra bedroom and tried to control his Thirst. Caitlin

lay sprawled across Lillie's bed, deep in sleep. She wore one of Lillie's innumerable pink

nightgowns, it's lace plunging gently across her breasts. It had bunched a little at her hips,

revealing one shapely calf where she had kicked back the sheet. Golden hair spread like a

corona on the pillow. Her scent filled the room.

"Go on," Lillie urged. "I know you want her as much as she wants you." Julian looked at her,

his face carefully blank. "Oh, all right," Lillie sighed. "You think far too highly of privacy,

Julian." She kissed him on his lips and sauntered out of the room. He heard her stop at the top

of the stair. She would wait until he was finished.

Julian crossed the room and sat on the edge the bed. Carefully he brushed a stray lock of hair

off of Caitlin's face and she sighed, turning her head a little toward his fingers. She was so

warm, like a miracle of light. Sunlight made flesh, she illuminated and never burned. He

wanted her, and it was much more than just the Thirst.

He could hear her heart, her gentle breath. He remembered the taste of her blood on his lips,

a taste like innocence itself, so sweet and pure. If he drank now, she'd never know....

"But I would," he whispered. All Kindred knew this mad love for mortals at some point in

their existence. It was what they had been, what they had lost when they gained immortality.

They tried to preserve it through the Embrace, but it always faded. Knowing that others had felt

what he felt didn't ease his pain. Her blood would, he knew, for at least a little while.

He leaned forward slowly and pressed his lips to her breast. The beat of her heart roared in

his ears, he could feel her pulse like an ache in his teeth. She tasted fresh and salty and

sublimely human as he moved his mouth upwards to her throat. His fingers caressed her face,

lightly so as not to awaken her, tilting her head ever so slightly away from him. Exposing the

vein.

He forced himself back, trembling with desire. And with Thirst, too, he admitted to himself.

"Not like this," he breathed. The one taste had been bad enough, it made him want her so much

more. And he knew if he submitted to that craving he'd not be able to resist it again. He'd

continue to take her until he'd drained away everything he loved in her. He wanted her - as she

was. His Kiss would change her, corrupt her, mark her with eternal death.

If he could preserve her like a fly in amber he would. But he couldn't, so he'd leave her to her

life. He leaned close again, ruthlessly suppressing his Thirst, and began whispering softly into

her ear.

Lillie's face was like an ice sculpture when he returned to the top of the stair. "I lay out a

feast and you don't even bother to taste it?" She snarled. "You grow more human every day,

Julian."

"I don't want her," Julian said. He knew that Lillie would know that he lied, but it didn't

matter. "Not like that. Leave her alone, Lillie."

Anger distorted Lillie's face, but by Caine's Name, she was still beautiful. "If you don't want

her, than you won't mind if I add her to my..."

"Yes," Julian interrupted. "I would mind. I said leave her alone, and I meant it. There is

more to the world than just predators and prey, Lillie. Some people are just meant to be people."

He turned and descended the stairs.

"And Caitlin is one of those 'people'." Lillie demanded, trailing him.

"Yes," Julian looked at her flatly. "Are you coming home with me or not?"

"I'm coming," Lillie growled. Under her breath she added. "Do you think I'd leave you in the

clutches of that Giovanni slut?"

Caitlin awoke confused. She was in a strange bed, had had strange dreams, heard a strange

noise. Lillie's bed she realized. She had spent the night in Lillie's bedroom at The Haven, too

drunk and too tired to drive herself home. No wonder she'd had fitful dreams. She groped for

her watch on the nightstand and peered at the dial.

Seven-fifteen! She had an editorial meeting at eight! Damn, damn, damn. Caitlin rolled out

of bed, grabbed her clothing from the night before and took one step toward Lillie's huge

bathroom.

She stopped dead when she saw the young man emerge from the darkness. He was strangely

familiar, then her mind made the connection. He was the young man in Sophia Giovanni's

picture. The one she had assumed to be Sophia's younger brother.

"What are you doing here?" Caitlin demanded. She covered the skimpy silk nightgown she

had borrowed with the armful of her clothing.

"Where is she?" The young man demanded. Caitlin stepped back when he pointed a gun at

her. In the dimness she hadn't noticed it before.

"Who?" Caitlin gasped. "Where is who?"

"Do not play foolish games," he snarled. His accent was so thick that he was barely

intelligible. "Where is your mistress?"

Mistress? Caitlin shook her head. Was he crazy? He looked crazy. "I don't know..." He

gestured threateningly with the gun and some of the pieces fell into place. "Lillie? You want

Lillie? She isn't here. She lives with Julian Luna...."

The young man swore violently in Italian and stamped his foot. Crazy as a loon, a

dispassionate voice commented in Caitlin's head. Another part of her mind composed headlines;

'Times Editor Killed' was the way most started. She knew she had to do something, but had no

idea what that was.

Caitlin threw her clothing at him and bolted for the door. He caught her by her hair in the

office. She swung a desperate elbow into his ribs. He grunted a curse and she managed to pull

free.

She darted down the stairs, the crazy young man mere steps behind her. She screamed for

help, but the club was completely empty. Not even the cleaning crews were there so early in the

morning. The crazy man lunged forward and caught her around the waist. Knocked off balance

Caitlin careened into one of the tables and got the wind knocked painfully out of her. Together

they crashed to the floor.

She tried rolling, kicking and scratching at his face, but he simply shrugged her off . He hit

her on her head with the butt of his pistol and stars exploded in her vision. She pushed her

thumb into his eye as he brought the pistol down again. There was sudden darkness and Caitlin

knew no more.

Nicholas lounged in the shadows of the loading bay, nursing a grudge against Julian Luna.

His Sire, Cameron, had been the one who had told him to watch the Setite's haven through the

day, but he couldn't hate Cameron. So he hated Julian instead. Julian had ordered the Blood

Hunt against the Setite and the mortal boy. It was Julian's fault that Nicholas was here in the

bright shadows, hurting his eyes looking out into the sunlight.

The Setite Haven was in a big empty factory in the middle of the Wastelands. Brujah

territory, make no mistake about that. It was a poor hunting ground, but a good area to find

resting places for the day. Nicholas thought longingly of a rusted equipment locker not more

than a mile away. He had spent many days since his Embrace in that snug little locker. He

wished he were there now, resting in the dark, waiting for the sun to set.

He gave himself a shake and changed position. Cameron had said to watch, so Nicholas

watched. No rest until after noon when another Brujah would be sent to relieve him at his post.

Then he'd curl up in his locker until sundown when Cameron would come and take him out to

Hunt. Noon was almost four hours away, though, and it was hard to fight the lethargy the sun

brought.

A car pulled up to the factory and the mortal boy stepped out. Stephan Giovanni Luna had a

slight resemblance to the Prince. Nicky had never heard of a Blood Hunt called against a mortal

before, but didn't care. Cameron said that he and the Brujah would pull the boy down. It would

be good to taste the blood of one of Luna's descendants. It might even make all the daylight

waiting worth while.

Stephan pulled something bulky from the back of the car and slung it across his shoulders.

Nicky leaned forward; it was a woman. Not the Setite, supposedly she had red hair. Not even

Kindred, it was a mortal woman, one that was either sleeping or unconscious. Stephan put her

down against the side of the building and opened the padlocked door. Nicky strained to glimpse

her face.

He got a good look when Stephan lifted her back to his shoulders, and the sight made

Nicholas twitch. He knew that woman. Cameron had pointed her out to him, sneering about the

Prince's mortal lover. It was the newspaper woman - Caitlin something. Caitlin Byrne. He had

to tell Cameron.

Cameron strode up the steps to the Luna mansion at just after two in the afternoon. He was

not a happy Brujah. He hated rising in the daylight hours. He hated having to come here to the

Prince's mansion. And he hated his mission, and his message, even more.

He slammed his palm against the heavy doors, cursing the sunlight. Cursing Julian Luna for

not providing shade on his doorstep. Cursing the Ventrue servants who didn't respond quickly

enough. He made a fist and banged against the door again and again. The heavy wood rattled

under his blows. He could hear the sound echo through the house's interior.

You have one more minute to open this damn door, he thought to the servants inside, and

then I am going to claw my way in. He raised his fist again, and the door opened.

Cameron pushed past the guard into the blessed dimness of the hallway. "Where is the

Prince?" He snapped at the Ventrue flunky. "I have urgent news."

"The Prince is at his rest," The funky told him stiffly. Of course that's where Julian would be,

like any sane Kindred would be during the day, Cameron thought to himself. Look at where I

am, up in the sunlight.

"Rouse him," Cameron ordered. The flunky hesitated. "Rouse him. Now!"

"You should not be here, Brujah," the guard stated flatly. "Leave your 'urgent' news. I will

give it to the Prince when he rises."

Cameron turned on the flunky, his eyes wide with disbelief. This Ventrue nobody, this

ignorant, low-status leech, was challenging him? Cameron took a step closer to the guard.

"Rouse him," he repeated. The guard didn't move. "All right," Cameron conceded. "I'll rouse

him."

"JULIAN!" Cameron bellowed at the top of his lungs. It was very loud indeed, and the

Ventrue guard twitched in surprise. "RISE, MY PRINCE!"

He paused a moment. The house was filled with small sounds, as other servants peered into

the hall to discover the source of the commotion. There were perhaps ten in all, at least seven

were Ventrue.

Cameron sneered to himself. How happy they all were, sharing this luxurious haven.

Flaunting their trust in one another. Laying down to their rest in the midst of the other clans as if

there was no danger at all. Only a few of the Brujah knew where Cameron made his haven

during the day. His beloved Nicky, of course. But when Nicky got older, Cameron would move

his haven, and not inform his Fledgling of the change. That was the way Kindred were supposed

to exist.

"JULIAN!" He repeated. One of the Toreador flinched and covered his ears with his hands.

Cameron knew he could be loud, but he was trying to rouse the dead after all.... Since it wasn't

working he'd have to find Julian's resting place and shake the Prince into consciousness. "Where

is he?" He demanded from the guard. The guard said nothing.

Cameron strode over to a doorway beneath the main staircase and wrenched in open. A

closet. Where were the stairs down? Probably behind a locked door. The flunky tried to get in

his way, Cameron shoved him aside. "WHERE ARE YOU, PRINCE?"

"What is it, Cameron?" Julian asked from the top of the stair. That surprised Cameron, there

must be an interior room up there. Surely the Prince wouldn't rest in a room with a window.

Julian was dressed in a black turtle-neck and trousers, but his feet were bare. Cameron's cries

had awakened him, after all.

"The Setite has returned to her lair," Cameron grimaced up at Julian. "The boy is with her.

And one other."

"Who?" Julian demanded.

"They have your favorite Vessel." It was hard for Cameron to disguise his grin. "The

newspaper woman, Caitlin Byrne. I believe the boy has kidnaped her."

Julian became very still. "Is that so," he said after a moment's pause. He was silent a

moment longer, considering. "Jeffrey, rouse the others," he instructed the flunky. "Rouse the

Giovanni, as well."

Nenet examined the blonde Vessel very carefully. Stephan, the stupid boy, had not returned

with the Toreador Primogen as she had ordered. Instead he had brought her this simple mortal.

She had punished him severely for his failure. In truth it had been hard to refrain from killing

him, but she didn't want his suffering to end too quickly. Nenet wondered what else could go

wrong with her plans in this wretched Domain.

The mortal Vessel was still unconscious. Nenet knew it was her proximity that prevented the

Vessel from waking. Set had blessed his followers with an aura that cause small things in their

presence to die and strong things to weaken. She'd have to be careful not to handle the mortal

too much if she wanted to keep her for another use.

Nenet examined the woman's throat, arms and thighs carefully. She hadn't been drained

recently. That was confirmed by her other senses as well; the woman was healthy and full of

The Life. The Thirst stirred in Nenet, but the night was early yet. She didn't like to drown her

Thirst until the sun was ready to rise. Perhaps she'd save the mortal for the morning. She'd

probably need blood before the dawn came again.

Nenet remembered seeing this mortal with the Toreador at the gala. The Toreador had her

arm about the mortal's waist, the mortal had rested her head on the Toreador's shoulder as they

spoke to the Prince. So the Prince's lover had a lover. It was well known that Toreador were

more attracted to mortals than most other Kindred. Perhaps she was still in the phase they called

Seduction. Perhaps the Toreador had not yet tasted the blood of her beloved.

Well, night would come and the Toreador would discover her darling missing. Would she

come to get her back? Nenet had seen the Brujah watching her haven. She had planned to send

some of her Disciples after them, but was glad she had waited. The Brujah would tell the

Toreador where her Vessel had been taken, and the Toreador would come to retrieve her.

Perhaps all was not lost.

She wanted that Toreador, wanted her for Set and the Temple, almost more than she wanted

the Prince. Well, the Toreador would come for her favorite, and the Prince would come for the

Toreador. Perhaps he would even come with the Toreador, both of them captured together. No,

that was too much to hope for.

Nenet sank her fangs into her lower lip, savoring the pain, drawing on the taste of her own

blood. The Prince would be extinguished to dedicate Set's Temple. What a sacrifice he would

make. It was good to destroy something so strong and noble. A pity she had not managed to

corrupt him first.

Then there would be war among the clans, Nenet could feel it simmering beneath the surface

even now, needing only an outlet. She would aid both sides, fanning the flames of their hatred,

assuring that they destroyed each other. And she would latch onto a new Prince, and help that

one rise to the head of the Conclave. It would take longer than she had planned, but Set would be

pleased by all the wasted blood.

Perhaps Stephan had not failed so badly after all. Nenet turned from the unconscious woman

and regarded the pile where the moaning boy lay. She smiled as inspiration took her. Stephan

was so eager to be Embraced that he did not care which Clan took him. He would consider it a

reward, an honor, even if she were to Embrace him.

Nenet licked her fangs and shook with silent laughter. It was too cruel a joke. She'd have to

heal some of the damage she had done to him - the broken spine, and perhaps his legs, but she'd

leave most of the wounds she'd just inflicted on him. She'd Embrace him, as she promised she

would, and let him go through his existence with his mangled face and twisted arms. Not that

he'd last long. No, she was certain of that. She had no desire to preserve him from the

vengeance of the Giovanni or the anger of the Ventrue.

No, Nenet would preserve herself, and once she had her red-haired prey in her clutches, she'd

preserve her pretty Toreador Primogen. Her pretty Toreador who would curse the night she was

Embraced, curse it forever. Humming, Nenet crossed to Stephan.

Cash parked the limousine in an overgrown lot less than a mile from the Setite's haven.

Cameron and his Brujah were already waiting, and there were other cars filled with Ventrue and

Toreador. Cash's Gangrel had gathered at the mansion and followed the big, black limousine on

their motorcycles. There must be over one hundred Kindred here, Cash wondered. He had

never seen so many gathered in one place before, not even at The Haven.

Cameron approached as Julian helped Lillie out of the car. "Several mortals have entered the

building since dark," Cameron made a little bow, but there was still bright contempt in his eyes

when he spoke to Julian. "As you instructed, we have done nothing but watch them."

"The Setite has gathered a following," Daedalus added as he materialized out of the dark.

Cameron was startled by the Nosferatu's sudden appearance, but Cash and Julian didn't flinch.

Cash had felt - something - as Daedalus approached. Julian was probably used to the Nosferatu's

ability to appear and vanish at will.

"She is definitely working to establish a Temple," Daedalus continued. "It lies in the center

of that building in a pit in the floor. I think it used to be a basement that housed machinery."

"You were inside?" Julian asked, holding Sophia Giovanni's arm as she slid out of the back of

the car and rose to her feet. She and Lillie studiously ignored each other.

"There is a lot of equipment left," Daedalus replied. "Machines and barrels. It was easy to

hide."

"How many?" Cameron demanded. "How many disciples?"

Daedalus looked the Brujah Primogen over carefully before answering. "A dozen mortals,

plus the Setite and the boy." He turned back to Julian. "She has Embraced him."

Sophia gasped in anger. She opened her mouth to speak, but Julian silenced her with a tiny

gesture. "We must not alert the disciples," Daedalus continued as if nothing had happened at all.

"They will kill their hostage and sacrifice their own lives to allow Nenet to escape."

Julian nodded sharply at his friend. "Cameron," he ordered. "Have your people surround the

building. Make sure no one else enters, and no one leaves. Take the Toreador with you, their

senses are the sharpest. I want nothing to escape."

"Cash, Daedalus," he turned away from the Brujah Primogen. "Pick a dozen of your people.

We'll go in together and attack the Temple directly."

"You choose Gangrel to do your fighting over Brujah?" Nicholas sputtered. "You insult and

ignore us at your own cost..."

"Shut up, Nicky," Cameron snapped irritably. "The Prince knows what he is doing. Our

Prince knows the Brujah can be trusted to keep the Setite from escaping."

Cash grimaced at the Brujah Fledgling. Brujah couldn't be trusted to do anything right. But

better they were out here than in there causing trouble. He turned to his pack and began picking

out the twelve best fighters. They jostled each other and struggled for his attention, grinning like

wolves. It was going to be a impressive brawl, no one wanted to be left out.

He handed out weapons to the twelve he had chosen. Wooden dowels, sharpened to a point.

Lorraina grinned and tapped hers against her teeth. "Nothing like a good stake," she grinned.

Julian arrayed his troops carefully. He assigned four each of the Gangrel, Nosferatu and

Ventrue to each side of the building. He, Daedalus, Cash and Sophia would make up the fourth

side. Lillie slid up to him and took Sophia's arm. "I'll go with you to watch her," she smiled.

"Lillie," Julian began. Lillie could be deadly in a fight, he knew, and she had a killer's

instincts, but he would prefer her somewhere safe. He didn't want anything to happen to her,

irreguardless of their recent discord.

"We'll both watch her," Cameron interrupted. "So that the witch does not distract you at a

crucial moment, my Prince." No mistaking the contempt in Cameron's eyes. So he was willing

to allow his Brujah to stay in the rear as long as he could join the front rank. Daedalus touched

Julian's hand in placating manner.

"Very well," Julian swallowed what he had been going to say. This was no time for a duel

over dominance. But afterwards, it might be enjoyable to take the Brujah Primogen down a peg

or two. "Let's finish this."

They split into their small groups and shadowed across the field towards the hulking ruin of

the factory. Thankfully the moon was still a quarter full and the night was cloudless. There was

plenty of light for Kindred eyes to see by.

As Daedalus had promised, the factory was filled with abandoned equipment. Barrels of foul

smelling liquids were piled in the aisles, some leaking across the cracked cement floor. Above,

there where holes in the ceiling sky-lights that let the dim moonlight peek through. Rain had

come through those missing lights too, most of the machinery was rusted beyond repair. Up

ahead, in the center of the factory, a warmer light flickered. Too dim for human eyes to detect,

candle light and not much of it. A whispery suspiration of chanting came from the same

direction.

The shadows from the overhead girders were blacker than midnight, and the footing was

treacherous. Julian signaled his Kindred to move forward slowly. No need to alert the

Followers of Set with a misplaced footfall. Nor was there a need to hurry, the night was early

yet.

Cautiously they approached the pit. The floor-beams remained, although most of their

covering had been torn from them, giving them a panorama of the Setite's Temple. There were

bolts and rods still attached to the walls were pieces of mechanism had been removed. But the

walls had been smoothed and painted, and the beginnings of hieroglyphs written on them. Metal

stairs led down into the pit on the wall opposite.

Candles stood in four stands around a crude metal altar, casting the only light. Caitlin lay on

the altar, bound with duct-tape, her eyes wide and terrified over her makeshift gag. She still

wore Lillie's pink nightdress, but the bottom third was stained with blood. She was surrounded

by ten of the Disciples of Set. Men and women, they had linked hands and were swaying to the

sound of their own soft chanting. The red-haired Setite, Nenet, and his descendant, Stephan,

were inside that circle of linked hands. They moved to the soft chanting like cobras. The stink

of blood filled the air.

Julian moved out onto one of the floor beams and gestured the others to surround the pit.

Cash and his Brood-sister Lorraina stepped out onto other beams. When Julian gave the signal,

they would all pounce at once.

Caitlin had awoken as they were attaching her to the rusted metal slab. Her hands were bound

with duct tape and they were using more of it to practically swaddle her to the platform. When

she had started screaming her captors had just run a length of the tape over her mouth to quiet

her. She had stopped even trying to struggle an hour ago. She had realized that there was no

way she could manage to escape from fourteen insane people.

The crazy young man who had attacked her in Lillie's club was standing over her, although

his features had been savagely rearranged. His eyes looked even less sane than they had before,

although that might just be the effect of his crooked jaw and broken nose. Opposite him, also

looming over Caitlin's bound body, was a woman. She may have been beautiful at one time, but

Caitlin had looked only once at her face before averting her eyes. Her red hair was matted and

filthy, but her clothing was spotlessly clean. It looked like a formal gown of some kind, in sheer

white cotton. The woman frightened her even more than the crazy young man.

They had killed a man tonight. Some of her captors had brought him with them as they

arrived. All she knew was that he was unconscious, maybe drunk or drugged. Caitlin had tried

to scream as they threw the poor man across her bound legs and cut his throat with no more

ceremony than a farmer slaughtering a calf. The man's death throes had made the whole altar

shake and his blood had run hot over her legs. She had already been gagged at that point or she

would have never been able to stop wailing. She'd been struggling with herself not to cry ever

since. Only muted whimpers passed her gag now.

Then her captors had smeared themselves with the man's blood, linked hands in a circle

around her and begun chanting. She couldn't understand the words, sometimes they sounded

like something from the Middle East, sometimes like French. Occasionally her ears picked out a

word in English. They were very quiet, almost whispering. Caitlin tried not to listen.

She knew that they were going to kill her. She hoped that she would faint first, or that it

would be over as quickly as it had been for the man. The waiting was making her crazy. She

kept closing her eyes and praying to God to make it be over, please, then opening her eyes

because one of the lunatics had touched her or the chanting had changed in some way.

Her nerves were stretched beyond the breaking point and she changed her prayer to please

God, let me go mad, let my mind break so that at least part of me is out of this place. God,

Caitlin begged fervently, let them drive me insane so that the fear goes away. So when she

opened her eyes and saw Julian Luna crouched on one of the beams twenty feet over her head

she was certain her prayer had finally been answered.

Daedalus crept around to the top of the stairway down into the pit. This place disturbed him.

An empty factory like this should have teemed with small verminous life. Rats, bats, and insects

should be everywhere in a building abandoned by mortals. But there were none anywhere within

reach of his senses. The Setite's aura, he knew. Those that could escape would have fled, as

living animals fled any Kindred. But most would have died as she approached them. What

frightened him was the area her aura of death covered. She was strong. He had been lucky

when he confronted her in the park.

Julian crept out onto one of the beams that crossed the pit and Cash and Lorraina followed on

parallel beams, their stakes ready in their hands. The Gangrel might be Childer, but they were

brave and gallant fighters regardless. From the expressions on their faces they were eager for the

battle to begin. Below them the chanting from the pit never wavered. They would be incredibly

fortunate if none of the disciples noticed the Kindred surrounding them until it was too late.

Julian signaled the Giovanni witch to begin her spell just as Daedalus felt something uneven

beneath his boot. The Nosferatu crouched to examine the oddity. It was not a crack in the floor;

it was a wire running across the concrete, leading from the pit to a stack of barrels.

"Julian!" Daedalus cried out, turning away from the bomb. "Wait! It's a trap!" But his

warning came too late; Julian had dropped into the pit, Cash and Lorraina following. And as

they disappeared the night lit up with fire.

A dozen explosions echoed through the building within a second of Daedalus' warning. Lillie

and Cameron cowered and clutched at each other as fire sprayed over their heads and all around

them. They clutched at the Giovanni, too. Sophia appeared stunned by the sudden light and

noise, no doubt it had interrupted whatever magic she had been working.

On the other side of the pit Kindred screamed as their flesh caught fire. The stairs seemed to

have been especially heavily booby-trapped. Lillie looked into the inferno and saw Daedalus

silhouetted against the flames. He was burning.

Lillie thrust the Giovanni into Cameron's arms. "Watch her," she snapped, racing around the

pit for the Nosferatu. The Kindred that weren't on fire were all fleeing back into the night. At

least all of those that hadn't already leapt into the Setite's Temple.

Lillie jumped the last dozen feet and landed on Daedalus, knocking him to the ground. She

rolled him over the rough concrete, batting at the flames with her hands. He struggled against

her, maddened by the fire and all the light. "Look at me," Lillie ordered him. She pushed her

will against him, soothing the Beast that raged beneath her hands. It wasn't easy, she was

frightened too.

Another barrel exploded, spilling it's contents into the fire. Lillie dragged Daedalus to his

feet. "We have to get out of here, Daedalus," she cried over the roar of the flames.

"Julian," Daedalus answered. She looked into the pit. Julian was locked in combat with

Stephan. Cash and Lorraina were battling the Setite. Many of the disciples were dead.

Somehow Sophia Giovanni had fallen into the pit. Perhaps Cameron had pushed her. Good for

him, if he had. Now the Brujah was kneeling on the pit's edge, shooting at the remaining mortal

disciples.

"He'll be fine," Lillie assured Daedalus. She started back through the flames. Cash and

Lorraina would protect Julian. They had to. Just as she had to get away from the fire.

Everything was burning. As they had entered the abandoned factory Lillie had the impression

that she had entered a world of metal, but now every piece of that world was ablaze. Sheets of

flame rose from the machinery, seas of fire crawled across the floor. She and Daedalus raced

through the conflagration, sparks lighting on their clothing and their flesh. Her vision was filled

with red and she feared that she would Frenzy with terror. That loss of control could likely send

her careening into the flames instead of out into the safety of the night.

Then suddenly they were out of the holocaust and running across the empty field. The night

with bright with the light of the blazing factory. The Kindred Julian had left behind were

milling in confusion.

"Hold your positions," Lillie called. "Stay where you are. Don't let any of the Setite's

followers escape the fire." It was important to appear in command. It calmed the others. It

helped to calm her, too.

Julian signaled for Sophia to work her magic against the Setite, Nenet, then dropped into the

Temple. He would destroy Stephan. It was a duty he hadn't wanted to lay on anyone else. He

heard Daedalus cry out that it was a trap even before he landed. On either side of him, Cash and

Lorraina dropped into the pit. Above them the air caught fire.

Julian suppressed a moment of concern for the Kindred he had left above. He had to deal

with the Setite first. Setites, plural, now that Stephan had been Embraced. Archon had trained

him to deal with the most important matters first, and keeping the Followers of Set out of his

Domain was the most urgent crises that had confronted him since he became Prince.

The enemy had no time to react to his sudden appearance. He seized Stephan by the throat

and pulled him out of the circle of his followers. The Disciples threw themselves at him, trying

to aid the Setite Fledgling. Julian knocked a few away but Stephan wrenched free and dived

back behind several others. Julian broke the neck of a Hispanic woman and the kneecap of a

black man before he could get to Stephan. The metal stairway had collapsed, trapping them all

in the pit. There was no where for Stephan to go.

Stephan darted back to threaten Caitlin. He produced a jagged stone knife and lifted Caitlin's

head from the rusting metal slab. Caitlin's eyes were completely round above her gag. Julian

saw that her delicate face was bruised and a small patch of her hair had been torn from her scalp.

His anger slipped it's leash at the thought of his gentle lover mistreated by these devil

worshipers. A growl rose in his chest and he felt his fangs descend. He didn't even try to resist

the Beast as it seized control of his heart.

Surprisingly it was Nenet that thrust Stephan away from Caitlin. The Setite screeched "No,

she is mine!" And clawed at Stephan's back. It gave Julian the opening he needed to grab at

Stephan again. It gave Cash and Lorraina an opening at Nenet, as well.

Snarling, Julian launched himself over Caitlin's body on the altar and forced the Fledgling

away from her. Stephan stabbed at him with the stone knife leaving a jagged wound on his left

shoulder. At least the sacrificial weapon wasn't poisoned.

"Weakling," Stephan hissed at him. "You let my Grandmother control you. Now I give the

strength of my service to the Followers of Set!" His eyes had no sanity left in them.

"Yes," Julian agreed. "I am weak. I cannot be cruel to those I love. I can not bear to see

them suffer. Forgive me." He thrust Stephan back away from him as hard as he could and

impaled the boy on one of the steel bolts still protruding like spikes from the wall. Stephan

gaped at the rod projecting from his chest and was still. Julian picked up the stone knife from

where it had fallen from Stephan's paralysized fingers and hacked with it until he had taken the

boy's head.

Then he threw back his head and howled out his misery and loss.

Two mortals attacked as Lillie raced away to save Daedalus. One tried to snare her with a

net, but she was too quick and he cast too late. Cameron doubted Lillie ever even knew that they

were behind her. The man with the net never turned from her, so intent on capturing the

Toreador that he ignored the danger behind him.

Cameron struck the one with the net a slashing blow across the side, his claws extended. The

man screamed but even Cameron could barely hear him over the conflagration. A second slash

disemboweled the mortal. Cameron bared his fangs in a grin. He liked killing these mortal

followers of Set. It was easy.

The second mortal was struggling with Sophia Giovanni on the very edge of the pit. The

stupid woman wasn't even fighting effectively. She obviously relied too much on her clan's

necromancy. One kick from Cameron's boot sent both tumbling over the side.

The Giovanni landed wrong and knocked herself unconscious. Cameron shook his head, so

much for her deadly reputation. He shot her injured assailant, then knelt and shot the rest of the

mortals. He took his time to aim well and still used up both of his clips. It was like shooting into

a barrel. He would have been enjoying himself if he hadn't been surrounded by the fire.

He didn't shoot at Stephan, too much chance of hitting Julian - and wouldn't that be hard to

explain? He ignored the Setite as well; the Gangrel had teamed up against her, and more luck to

Nenet if she took one of them down. Unfortunately, they worked well as a team and seemed to

have her pretty much off balance. Pity, the city would be a better place with two less Gangrel in

it.

When Julian finally finished with the Giovanni boy and turned back to the rest of the battle

Cameron bellowed his name. Julian looked up, his eyes golden, his face smeared with the

Fledgling's blood, and Cameron felt a chill of fear despite the inferno. The Beast was clearly

visible in Julian's eyes. Cameron wondered just how much control Julian could manage of

himself.

Cash and Lorraina divided the Setite's attention between them. They had fought together

often and knew each other's timing perfectly. Each time Nenet attacked Cash, he danced back

and Lorraina darted in from the side or the rear. When Nenet focused on Lorraina, Cash

attacked. It was like a dance the pair knew perfectly. There was no one Cash would want at his

back more than Lorraina.

Nenet spat her venom at him, but he caught it on his leather jacket. "That's the second one

you've ruined this week, bitch," Cash taunted his opponent. "I'll get the next one made out of

your hide!" Hopefully she couldn't produce too much of that venom. If any of it struck his

Brood-sister....

Lorraina cut Nenet off as she darted toward one of the candelabras. "Whatcha want, huh?"

Lorraina laughed. "This?" She jabbed at Nenet with her stake then swayed away from the

Setite's claws. Cash raked both of his hands down Nenet's back while her attention was focused

on his clan-mate. Nenet screamed, more in anger than in pain from the sound, and went back

on the defensive.

Steadily they forced the Setite to retreat into a corner. They would have to face her head on

then, but if they both attacked her at once they should be able to finish her quickly. Nenet's

back touched the wall and Cash stuck at her, a feint to draw her attention.

Nenet reached out towards him with those poisonous claws and Lorraina stepped forward, her

stake thrusting in fast and low. It caught the distracted Setite between the ribs and slid through

her chest, pinning her against the wall. Nenet shrieked, her voice thin and high. The Gangrel

pair closed to finish her.

Then Nenet did the impossible. She pulled the stake out of her chest with one hand and

seized Lorraina with the other. Cash interposed his own body between his Brood-sister and the

wooden doom in the Setite's claw. Only then did he realize that he'd come close enough to his

enemy that his neck was vulnerable to Nenet's fangs.

Sophia lifted her head from the concrete floor and tried to shake it. That proved to be a

mistake. No Kindred could die from a head injury, but damage to the brain was hard to heal.

She thought that she might have such a difficult to heal injury.

The air was filled with the stink of smoke and the light was too bright.... With difficulty she

remembered where she was. The misshapen corpse pinned to the wall, that had to be Stephan.

Amazing how his destruction hurt her. Her poor baby, she thought. It was her fault, she had

encouraged his flaws.

The two Gangrel were attempting to corner the Setite, Nenet. Sophia's lips curled at the sight

of the red-headed Kindred. Nenet was even more responsible for Stephan's destruction than his

grandmother was. Sophia would have her revenge before she abandoned this existence.

The female Gangrel thrust the her stake through the Setite's chest, but Nenet simply shrugged

off the damage. Sophia nodded her head in understanding as she struggled to her feet. Like

most of the Setite Elders, she had no heart. No stake could harm her. Well that advantage could

be turned against her easily enough.

Sophia gathered her will and worked a spell similar to the one she had cast the night before

on Stephan. No Kindred understood death the way the Giovanni did. They played out their

mock-lives, deluding themselves that their existence, their animation, made them little different

from the mortals that surrounded them. Sophia knew what death was. She gathered all the

decay within herself and thrust it at Nenet.

The touch of corruption worked better on Kindred than mortals. It worked on Setites best of

all. The Followers of Set exploited desecration, reveled in it, tried to inflict it on others. Nenet

would have no defense against Sophia's curse.

Sophia poured everything she had into her spell. Forty-five years of servitude when she

should have been moldering in her grave. The destruction of her favorite grandchild who had

shown such promise. Her terror of the fire that surrounded her. Her certainty that she too would

be extinguished soon. Her hatred, her pain, her loathing for the creature that had stolen her

future from her. Sophia's head throbbed with the effort.

Nenet began to decay. Her pale skin discolored, then bruised and blackened. She grabbed

the Gangrel woman in suddenly stick-like arms, and the male tried to defend his Clan-mate.

Sophia concentrated harder and felt Nenet's frame become even weaker. The Setite's skin began

to suppurate, until she resembled a month old cadaver.

The Gangrel pulled away from Nenet, breaking the evil Kindred's now brittle corpse apart.

Sophia let the spell dissolve as Cash gave a disgusted cry and kicked Nenet's rotting skull away

from the rest of her putrefied remains. The fire would finish her, Sophia sighed. Now her

enemy was destroyed. Now Sophia could face her own end with dignity.

The battle lasted scant minutes, Caitlin knew, but it seemed terrifyingly endless. She could

see so little attached to the altar, and hear too much. The fire raging above her, the sounds of

gunfire, the screams of the wounded and the dying. She struggled against her bonds with all her

strength and the altar didn't even rock.

Julian appeared above her. His face was smeared with blood, his eyes where copper in the

light of the fire. He tore at her bindings and she was free. "This will hurt," he warned her, and

tore the packing tape from her mouth. It did sting, but she could breathe easily again. She threw

herself into his arms. "Oh, God, I can't believe you're really here," she sobbed.

"I have to get you out of here," Julian said. Caitlin wasn't sure he had even heard her. He

jumped up on the altar and lifted her to her feet. "Cameron," he shouted at a man kneeling at the

top of the wall. "Catch her!" He turned to Caitlin. "Hold your arms up over your head."

Cameron shook his head. "Leave her," he cried back. "Save yourself!"

Caitlin shook her head, the wall was twenty feet high, the altar only subtracted three feet

from that. There was at least ten feet between her outstretched hands and Cameron. Not to

mention a good seven feet between her and the wall. She'd never make it. She felt Julian seize

her around the hips and toss her up and forward.

Cameron caught her outstretched arms easily and hauled her over the top of the wall as if she

weighed nothing. She looked around, the room that she had been kept in was a pit in the floor of

a large building. And that building was on fire. The heat and smoke were unbearable. She

began to cough helplessly.

Julian was helping Sophia up to the altar, preparing to toss her up the same way he had

thrown Caitlin. Next to her Cameron cried out in frustration. "No! She is an enemy!" But he

caught Sophia's upraised arms too. Caitlin's eyes teared from the smoke, but she couldn't believe

the easy strength with which Julian jumped up to the top of the wall himself. He didn't need

Cameron's help to escape the pit. Cash and another woman scrambled up after him.

"Out," Julian snapped.

Caitlin managed two steps before burning her bare feet on a piece of super-heated metal.

Strong arms lifted her and tossed her over a man's shoulder. She covered her face with her

hands to protect herself from the worst of the fumes and felt herself being carried through the

inferno. Julian, it had to be Julian who held her so protectively. She could see Cash and Sophia

immediately behind her before she closed her eyes against the suffocating smoke.

There was an explosion and she was almost dropped as Julian nearly lost his balance. He

staggered forward under her weight and together they burst out into the night. He ran across a

wide field before putting her down.

"Oh, darling," Caitlin turned and started to reach for him before she realized it wasn't her

lover. It was the other man, Cameron, that had lifted her from the pit. She looked beyond him,

behind him. "Where's Julian?" Cash ran up, his arm protectively around the blonde-haired

woman who had also been in the pit. "Where is Julian?" Caitlin repeated. Sophia was missing

too, her mind registered.

Both men turned and looked behind them. No one else ran out of the burning building.

"Julian," Cash whispered. He hesitated a brief second then ran back towards the blazing

building.

Cameron took a step after him and was restrained by a leather-clad boy. "Cameron! No," the

young man cried. Cameron thrust him away and raced after Cash.

"Caitlin?" Lillie's voice called. Caitlin staggered when she tried to look around. Even in the

clear night air it was still hard to breathe. Lillie trotted over to her and grabbed her in a hug.

Caitlin was more than glad to collapse in Lillie's arms. "Where is Julian?" Lillie demanded.

Caitlin gestured towards the inferno. "He's still in there," she barely managed to croak.

Lillie's clutched at her convulsively, her face a mask of horror. She stared at the inferno,

unmoving, unblinking, seemingly frozen with anguish. Caitlin realized that Lillie was crying. In

the hellish light of the blazing building Lillie's tears looked just like blood.

"Why?" Sophia demanded, clutching at Julian's jacket. "Why did you save me? Why did you

not leave me to the fire?"

Flames roared all around them, illuminating the factory like daylight. Julian could barely

hear Sophia over the inferno's roar. He shoved her after the others, but she continued to tarry.

"Why?" She screamed again.

"Move, damn you," Julian swore. Fire blazed all around them, giving off a heat no mortal

could withstand and no Kindred would want to, and she wanted to have a conversation. He had

allowed the Beast to control him while he had fought Stephan and had to struggle to contain it

now. The primal fear of fire, of the final death, wasn't helping. He had to get out of the

building, right now. Damn Sophia Giovanni if she wouldn't accompany him.

The others had the sense to run, Cameron carrying Caitlin over his shoulder. Julian seized

Sophia by her neck and forced her in front of him. "Run!" He roared at the protesting Giovanni.

With no other choice, she ran. They were less than ten feet behind Cash and Lorraina, perhaps

eighty feet from the exit.

A stack of barrels exploded to his right and drove a section of metal into his back. He felt

himself lifted, flung aside, as if a giant's hand had casually buffeted him. His body smashed into

something hard and hot and he sank into the welcoming dark.

"Where's Julian?" The mortal woman had asked, and Cameron swung around to look behind

him. The Prince wasn't there. "Where is Julian?" she had repeated, and if he hadn't been

surrounded by Julian's Ventrue retainers Cameron would have ripped her throat out right there to

silence her and her foolish questions.

Cash didn't even hesitate. When he realized that Julian was still in the burning factory he

raced across the field, running back into the conflagration. Cameron would have liked to let

Julian burn, but wasn't about to let that Gangrel idiot get all the credit for rescuing the Prince.

And there was no doubt in Cameron's mind that Julian would survive. The man had Caine's own

luck.

So he started to run after Cash, back towards the inferno himself. Nicholas nearly stopped

him. Cameron's Fledgling clutched at him, sobbing with terror and Cameron had one second's

clear thought about what exactly he was risking to save the Prince he despised. Then he threw

Nicky off and raced after the Gangrel.

No way was Julian going to remember that the Brujah had just waited in safety while the

Gangrel rushed to aid the Prince. No one would ever say that Gangrel were braver than Brujah,

not if Cameron had anything to do about it.

Cash disappeared into the factory a full five seconds before Cameron even reached the door.

Fire streamed everywhere, hurting his eyes with it's light. The stench of smoke overlay

everything, Cameron wondered how he could find Julian in this blazing corner of hell.

Then the beams overhead caught his eye. The flames did not reach that high - yet. The

Brujah leapt to the top of a piece of machinery, then up to one of the beams. It was hot enough

to scorch his hands, but he pulled himself up quickly and was rewarded by a panoramic view of

the holocaust below.

He spotted Julian almost immediately. Sophia Giovanni was trying to pull a slab of wreckage

off of him, and failing miserably. Gratifyingly Cash was no where to be seen. Maybe the

Gangrel Primogen would lose his way in the conflagration and be incinerated.

Cameron jumped down to Julian's aid. He pushed the Giovanni back and hefted the broken

piece of equipment to the side. He even took Julian's arm and helped the Prince to his feet.

So he was completely surprised when Julian, instead of expressing proper gratitude, went for

his throat. Cameron was knocked backwards onto the floor, Julian frenziedly clawing at his

torso. Cameron realized his error as his stared up into the Prince's face. The Beast held clear

dominion in Julian's eyes, there was nothing left of Julian Luna in them anywhere.

Cameron tried to block Julian from his throat and managed to deflect the Prince's fangs into

his collarbone. While Luna was busy savaging his chest, Cameron tried to roll and trap the

Ventrue beneath him. Julian pinned him down effortlessly.

Luna lifted his head and grinned at his prey, blood dripping from his extended fangs, eyes

completely insane. Cameron was forcibly reminded that Julian Luna had been the Ventrue

Enforcer for a century before Cameron had even been Embraced. Julian's ability to fight had

become so ingrained it was indistinguishable from instinct. He was suddenly grateful that he

had never challenged Luna to single combat.

Not that Sophia Giovanni was proving to be much of an ally. She tried to lay her hands on

either side of the Prince's head, but Luna shook her off. "Hit him, you stupid witch," Cameron

snarled at her. Luna slammed his head against the concrete floor to silence him.

The blow was powerful, stunning. Cameron had double vision for a few precious seconds

and felt Julian change his grip rather than saw it. Julian wrenched Cameron's head to the side,

exposing his jugular. This can't be happening, Cameron thought. The Brujah wasn't ready for

extinction.

Cash pounced on Julian from out of the fire. The speed and strength of his attack rolled the

Prince away from Cameron. Cameron writhed free of the growling combatants, clutching his

throat, unwilling to believe how close he had been to the Final Death. Worse, Cash seemed to be

defending himself better against the Ventrue than Cameron had. Luna hadn't managed to pin the

Gangrel yet.

The fire roared all around them. Let those two kill each other, Cameron decided. I am

getting out of here. But he had forgotten Sophia. The diminutive Giovanni pushed him toward

Cash and Julian. "Grab them!" she commanded.

Cameron grabbed hold of Julian's jacket before he even had a chance to think. Damn the

woman for ensorcelling him! Julian swung around and turned his attention back to Cameron.

The Brujah tried to kick Julian in the chest, but Luna grabbed his leg and jerked him off balance.

Cash grabbed Julian from behind in a headlock before he could finish his attack on Cameron.

Furious, Cameron swung his fist into Julian's jaw with all his strength. Julian's head snapped

back and slammed against Cash's skull. "I WAS TRYING TO SAVE YOU, YOU BASTARD!"

Cameron screamed.

Sophia interposed herself between Cameron and Julian, blocking a second blow. The witch

was really getting on Cameron's nerves. All he wanted to do was beat the Prince unconscious

and get out of this burning building as quickly as possible. Let the Gangrel carry Julian out, if he

could. He grabbed Sophia around the waist in an effort to push her away, but she had anchored

herself by grabbing Julian's head with both hands.

Cash saw stars when Cameron smashed Julian's head back. He wasn't certain, but he thought

the Brujah might have broken his nose. Worse, Cash felt his grip on Julian loosen. Cameron

wasn't going to be happy if the Prince got free and attacked him again. Cash thought that even if

the two of them worked together, they wouldn't match Julian Luna before the fire claimed all of

them. And right now cooperation was not a likely proposition.

Cameron wrenched Sophia out of his way and lashed out with his fist again. Julian shrugged

out of Cash's grip and blocked it easily with one upraised arm.

"What do you think you are doing?" Julian asked, standing up. Oh, good, Cash thought. He's

back. Now we can get out of here. Julian turned from Cameron's incredulous face to look at the

pale Giovanni. "What have you done?" the Prince asked her.

"Signori," she clutched at him. "The fire! We must flee."

Julian pushed away the hands that held him. "Tell me what you have done," he insisted.

"I've killed your emotions," she cried. "Your fear, your anger, you can feel nothing. They

will return, in a few days, if we survive. But we must get out of the fire!"

To Cash's relief Julian nodded an affirmative. It was very hot, their clothing was smoldering.

Cameron looked almost wild with fear. "I do not remember the way out," Julian informed them.

He could have been discussing the weather. The preternatural calm was eerie, but with terror

clawing at the back of his mind, Cash couldn't help but wish that Sophia would lay the same

spell on him.

The smoke had grown too thick to see more than a few feet. Nothing could survive in the

inferno, but then, they were all dead already. Thankfully none of them had to breathe.

"Up," Cameron shouted over the roar of the flames. He gestured at the overhead beams.

Julian nodded and gestured for Cash and Cameron to proceed him. He lifted Sophia up to Cash

on a piece of equipment, who lifted her up in turn to Cameron on the beam.

The air was clearer up there, but not much. At least they could see the closer wall. The lead

between the window panes had started to melt down the glass. Flames leapt up and licked the

bottoms of their shoes. They proceeded along the beam as quickly as they dared.

Caitlin shivered in Lillie's arms. The frailties of the flesh, Lillie reflected. The mortal was

cold; Lillie should do something, but she couldn't quite decide what. Cash and Cameron had

disappeared into the blazing building long minutes ago. Lillie stroked Caitlin's hair and

whispered softly comforting words into her ear. Anything to keep from dwelling on Julian

burning in the fire.

"We've called the police and fire departments for help, Lillie," Jeffrey informed her. "They'll

be here soon."

She was in charge, wasn't she? With Daedalus injured and Cash, Cameron and Julian all....

"Thank you," she answered the young Ventrue. Good, her voice was surprisingly steady. "Has

anyone tried to leave the building?"

"No, Ma'am," he shuffled his feet in the thin grass. "We're keeping a sharp look-out."

"Good," Lillie nodded. How long had it been? Could anyone survive in that inferno for so

much time? Caitlin made a small noise, Lillie was holding her too tightly. "Give me your

jacket," Lillie told Jeffrey. She wrapped the garment around Caitlin to keep her warm. She'd

keep Caitlin safe and warm until Julian walked out of the fire. And if he didn't...

There was a thumping roar as part of the roof fell into the factory. Caitlin buried her head in

Lillie's hair and started to sob. Lillie stared at the flames, entranced by their deadly beauty.

Julian is dead, she told herself. I abandoned him and he's gone. I'll never again feel his touch,

his kiss, his gentle caress. Her aching heart couldn't accept the truth.

I was afraid, she explained to Julian's spirit. I was afraid of the fire. I couldn't stay to help

you....

A shadow moved in front of the flames. Lillie blinked and focused on it. On them; a group

of tiny shadows, behind the glass over the door, silhouettes against the flare of the burning

interior. She thrust Caitlin towards Jeffrey with a cry and raced across the field.

The glass shattered as a blazing body leapt through it. Then another, a third and a fourth.

Each landing heavily in the grass, clothing alight. A dozen Kindred raced behind her, crossing

the distance in seconds. They beat at the flames, but all Lillie saw was Julian. She flung herself

on him and smothered him with glad kisses.

"Signori," Sophia's voice was soft. She thought she might have burned her lungs breathing in

the super-heated air of the fire. "Why did you not leave me in the pit? I could not have escaped

on my own and the fire would have destroyed me."

"I never wanted to extinguish you, Giovanni," Julian informed her. He guided her gently over

the uneven ground to the waiting automobiles. "I just want you out of my city."

"But I was sent to you to be destroyed," she argued. "For my failure to control Stephan..."

"Then I am pleased that you survived intact," Julian replied. "I will not serve as an assassin

for the Giovanni Clan, no matter who their target is."

Sophia smiled up at him. "My masters will be very surprised at your mercy." Lights on the

highway caught her attention, police and fire equipment pulling off of the interstate to battle the

blaze. Many of the Kindred were slipping away, back into the darkness.

"I'll have the Gangrel take you to the airport," Julian said. "I trust you have no objection to

traveling by day?"

"I will be on the first plane," Sophia confirmed. She slipped a silver locket over her head and

looked at it regretfully. "This has been enchanted," she whispered hoarsely. "It will protect the

wearer against many of the mental powers of the Kindred. Take it," she pressed the locket and

it's chain into Julian's hand. "Keep it for yourself, or give it to your Vessel to fend off the

Toreador's advances."

"I don't need it," Julian began.

"You may change your mind, Signori," Sophia interrupted. "And it will not be able to protect

me from my Clan, should they wish to express their disappointment at my survival. Take it,

please. It is a small return for saving me."

Julian nodded. "Good-bye, Sophia."

"Good-bye, Signori Luna," she lifted his hand to her lips and kissed his ring. "I apologize

again for entering your Domain uninvited."

One of Cash's Gangrel held the door of one of the Ventrue cars open for her. She settled

herself in the back. "Sophia," Julian called. "Your son, does he yet live?"

Sophia turned her head and smiled sadly. "No, Signori. Not for many years." She saw the

understanding in his eyes before he signaled the Gangrel to drive her away.

Cameron waited for Julian to turn from seeing the Giovanni off before approaching him. He

kept his eyes down, partly to show humility, partly to disguise the anger and humiliation he felt.

"I would like to apologize for striking you, my Prince. But it seemed the easiest way to remove

you from the fire was to knock you out and carry you."

Julian looked him over carefully before replying. I hate you like I hated your Sire and you

know it, Cameron seethed. You know I don't want to humble myself before you, don't you? Go

ahead and humiliate me in front of all the Clans, it's your right, you're the Prince. The Brujah

will cut you down one night.

"Thank you for saving me, Cameron," Julian nodded cordially. "If you had not aided me, I

would have certainly been destroyed. I will not forget that I owe my continued existence to you.

How may I ever repay your bravery?"

Cameron closed his mouth with a snap. "To serve is payment enough," he answered gruffly.

He had heard Archon say that once. It sounded real good.

Julian shook his head. "I insist. Such heroism can not go unrecognized."

Then why aren't you thanking Cash? Cameron wondered. I get the public praise and the

bone, while he gets what reward? He forced himself to swallow his resentment and bow.

"There is an area on Broadway," he began. "Between Montgomery and Columbus, that is

currently Toreador territory. It is filled with bars, massage parlors and strip joints; prostitutes

and the men who patronize them. The Toreador rarely Hunt there, it's inhabitants are too crude

to suit such refined tastes. But the Brujah enjoy that kind of Vessel. If you would see fit to add

it to the Brujah territory..."

"I'll make the necessary arrangements with Lillie," Julian nodded. He rested his hand on

Cameron's shoulder. The Brujah quelled the impulse to shrug it off. "I thank you again."

"That was wonderful, Cameron," Nicholas enthused when the Prince had moved off to

confer with a beaming Lillie. Caitlin had been pushed aside to wait for the arrival of an

ambulance. "I admit I thought you were crazy to risk yourself for that Ventrue wimp, but you

won him over to our side now! You've got Julian Luna just where you want him."

"No, I don't," Cameron snapped. "Julian Luna trusts me no more tonight than he did last

night, or last week or last month. And he still hates the Brujah with every ounce of his being.

He's a slippery bastard, Nicky."

"But he just said," Nicholas looked at Luna's back with wide, puzzled eyes. "He said he was

grateful."

"And a fine performance he gave too," Cameron sneered. "How gracious of him, how

even-handed! Pompous Ventrue blue blood."

"Then why did you save him?" Cameron turned and saw the pain written all over Nicky's

face. His Fledgling was still so young and innocent some times. "You risked your whole life

and all you got was a couple of blocks of worthless territory!"

"Now, Nicky," Cameron threw a comforting arm around Nicholas' shoulders and squeezed

him reassuringly. "We made out very well, considering. That worthless bit of territory you

disparage is just crawling with hot-blooded young soldiers from the military bases. Hot-blooded

young soldiers make excellent Hunting. And hot-blooded young soldiers are always interested in

buying the kinds of things that Brujah want to sell. Hot-blooded young soldiers that have access

to all kinds of interesting weapons...."

He continued to enumerate the territory's riches as he motioned his people to clear away from

the approaching rescue vehicles. Let Julian handle the police and maintain the Masquerade.

Cameron had plans to make with his Brujah. Important plans.

Julian knocked on the door of Caitlin's hospital room. "May I come in?"

Caitlin gestured him over to the hospital bed and fumbled her oxygen mask off. "Hi," she

rasped. "Haven't you gone home yet?"

"I just finished with the police," Julian answered. He sat on the edge of her bed and took her

hand. Outside her window dawn was just breaking. "The doctor said that they'll release you this

afternoon. I can send a car if you want."

"I'd appreciate that," Caitlin replied. She brushed a hand through her singed hair. "I must

look like hell."

"I'm certain you've felt better, too," Julian smiled. Caitlin wrinkled her nose at his joke. "I'm

sorry you got involved with this," Julian continued. "I never want you to get hurt."

"I heard you talking to the cops," Caitlin voice was hoarse. "That boy was your nephew?"

Julian nodded. That was what he had told the police. He hated lying to her, but he had to

protect the Masquerade. "He was never quite right," he repeated his fiction. "Sophia came to

warn me that he had escaped from the home - the mental institution - he had been in, and was

looking for me. I'm sorry he found you instead. He was always a little obsessed with me."

"Who were those other people?" Caitlin coughed and Julian slid the oxygen mask back over

her face.

"You'd better not talk," he told her. "I don't know who they were. There was a woman there

who helped Stephan escape from the hospital, but I'm not sure which one she was."

"The red head," Caitlin shuddered. "What happened? I didn't see anything."

"Stephan killed himself," Julian answered. "As for the rest, I'm not certain myself. I suppose

the police will figure it all out." The police already had their orders, everything would confirm

his story. He patted Caitlin's hand gently. "You should get some rest."

"Stay with me," she pleaded when he stood. He wavered for a moment then settled back on

the bed. "I had horrible nightmares."

"Well, that's to be expected," Julian told her softly.

"No, even before," Caitlin looked embarrassed. "Even before I was kidnaped. Kidnaped,

God, that sounds so weird."

"Nightmares?" Julian asked.

"Yeah, well, strange dreams, anyway," she qualified. Her voice was muffled by the mask. "I

dreamed that you and I had a big fight and I told you I didn't love you anymore." A single tear

slipped across her bruised cheek. Julian caught it with the back of his fingers.

"It really upset me, Julian," Caitlin continued. "It's so stupid, I can't even remember what we

were supposed to be fighting about, but the argument was so real."

"It was only a dream, Caitlin," Julian assured her. Of course it hadn't been a dream, it had

been an suggestion. He wanted to protect her. From his enemies and most of all from himself.

It would have been so much easier if she would leave him. He couldn't make himself leave her.

Caitlin smiled. "Yeah, then I woke up to the real nightmare." She stroked his arm. "I knew

you'd save me. And you did." She smiled crookedly. "I love you, Julian."

"I love you -"

"I had to go down three flights of stairs just to get water for these flowers," Lillie burst in.

Her arms were filled with roses, Julian guessed she must be holding five dozen. Where she had

managed to find that many at this hour of the morning was beyond him. "Oh, hello, Julian. I

didn't see you there."

"Lillie," Julian answered coolly. "I thought you had gone home."

"Oh, I couldn't leave Caitlin in this depressing little room," Lillie smiled. She placed a

container of roses in the window. "I hate hospitals," she confided.

"Lillie has been a real lifesaver," Caitlin confirmed.

"I'm sure," Julian responded drily.

"The roses are beautiful, Lillie," Caitlin rasped. "Thank you."

Lillie arranged the rest of the roses at Caitlin's bedside, then kissed her on the forehead.

"You're welcome."

Julian reached into his pocket and ran his thumb over the locket Sophia had given him. He

had the feeling that no amount of warning was going to keep Lillie away from Caitlin. "I

brought you a little something," he said pulling it out. He let the locket dangle from it's chain so

that the silver winked in the light.

"It's beautiful," Caitlin sighed.

"Put it on," Julian replied. He worked the clasp as Caitlin leaned forward and fastened it

around her delicate throat. He had to be careful not to entangle it in the oxygen line. "Maybe

that will keep your bad dreams away," Julian leaned forward and kissed her on her forehead.

The oxygen mask prevented him from kissing her on the lips. "We'll let you get some sleep.

You look like you need it."

"Okay," Caitlin touched his arm again. "Thank you. For everything."

"Pleasant dreams," Lillie wished putting her arm around Julian's waist possessively.

"Will you come see me tonight?" Caitlin asked.

"Of course," Julian volunteered. "I'll bring some soup and make you take care of yourself.

Don't even think of going back to work tomorrow."

" 'kay," Caitlin yawned. "See you tonight. Love you."

By the time Julian closed the door Caitlin was asleep. Lillie's arm dropped away from him

immediately. "Don't start," Julian warned her.

Lillie turned to face him, her eyes wide with feigned innocence, but Julian could smell the

fury pouring off of her. "Start? I'm not starting anything. If you want her, she's yours, Julian.

Enjoy her. But I hope you won't interfere if I find a plaything of my own."

"Go right ahead," Julian answered icily. "Be my guest."

<end>