Full Disclosure

Disclaimer: The following story is based on the world of "Kindred: The Embraced" created and owned by Spelling Entertainment and White Wolf and their corporate parts. The story is mine, but I'm borrowing their characters for our own private amusement.

"Full Disclosure"
A "Kindred: The Embraced" story by Julie Beamer

Part 1

(Manzanita, 1856)

Julian Luna stood in the field near his small house and stared at the night sky bitterly. Less than two months ago he and his wife Evelyn were laughing together, enjoying the thought of becoming parents. Now -- there was nothing. He had a son, but he had lost the woman he adored. For him, the baby in the cradle was not enough of a reason to live. Not without her. He held a revolver to his head and felt strangely calm.

"Is that what you really want to do?"

Julian spun around at the sound of the voice to face a stranger. The man was elegantly dressed and certainly didn't belong to this small farming community.

"Who are you?"

"I am called Archon. I've been watching you. For a long time."


"You interest me," he replied. He gestured to the open field. "Shall we walk? I would like the opportunity to talk to you."

They walked towards a small grove of trees that separated two fields.

"I'm sorry about your wife," he began. "I know you loved her deeply, passionately."

Julian looked at the stranger suspiciously. "What do you know about me?"

"I know a great deal," Archon replied. "I've been keeping an eye on you almost since the day you arrived in California. And I've made inquiries periodically ever since."

Julian shook his head, unable to believe it.

"Shall I prove it to you? You were born in New Orleans in 1830, which makes you 27 years old in five months. Your mother's maiden name was Broussard. She was born and raised in New Orleans, but her grandparents were all Acadian refugees. Your father arrived in the city from Naples -- but Luna is really Spanish, not Italian. Your father's family are Sephardic Jews originally from Spain."

Julian was surprised. "You have been busy."

"It wasn't difficult to find out; there was a big scandal in the synagogue when your father was thrown out for marrying outside his faith. And I understand your mother's family weren't very happy either." Archon smiled slightly at these petty concerns.

"My mother's family eventually got over it," said Julian. "But my father never went back to the synagogue. And I don't think his family in Italy ever knew we existed."

Archon nodded and continued with his recitation. "Your father died of yellow fever when you were fourteen along with your two older brothers and one sister. You went to work on the docks. Your mother died a few years later and your only surviving sister entered a convent..."

"She died there a few years later," Julian added.

"...and when gold was discovered in California you talked yourself aboard ship as a deck hand and came to the mines, where you met your wife and instantly fell in love with her, eventually overcoming the reluctance of her father to the match."

"We never overcame it," Julian stated honestly. "He hates me." A shadow crossed his face. "More so now."

"Just so," said Archon. "But while I am sorry for you, I'm glad for me, because I need you now and you would never have accepted my offer in her lifetime."

They had reached the trees. Julian leaned against a tree trunk. "What offer," he asked.


Julian laughed bitterly. "I don't want to live at all, and you want me to live forever?"

"I offer the chance to live outside the bounds of humanity. Outside the bounds that robbed you of your wife. You were considering taking your own life. Give it to me instead; I have use for it."

"For what?" Julian asked.

"I need someone who knows the mines and knows the valley. Someone who can fight and isn't afraid to stand up to those around him. I need you, Julian."

"I need you." The words reverberated in Julian's head. He looked at the revolver he still carried. His son needed him too. His son -- without Evelyn? John, his son. John would be better off with Evelyn's brother Jack and his wife Edna. But where was he, Julian, better off?

Julian turned to Archon. "All right," he said. "What do I have to do?"

"Sit down," Archon instructed. "And loosen your collar."

* * *

Pain. Pleasure. A myriad of emotions and sensations ran through his body. Then a darkness overtook him, a velvet blackness that enveloped him.

He was dragged from the quiet nothingness with brutal force. His mouth filled with a hot liquid and a metallic taste. A liquid fire worse than any rot-gut liquor he had ever consumed. But he drank and became accustomed to the fire.

* * *

Julian woke up, feeling much as he had after a night in the local saloon. But it wasn't a hangover. And he had no idea where he was.

He was in a large room, expensively decorated in dark mahogany, marble, and blue velvet drapes. The bed he was in was of the same mahogany, with a fine mattress and feather pillows. Someone had undressed him. The curtains were still drawn, but he could see sunlight peaking out from around the sides.

At that moment an elderly woman entered the room.

"Good," she said cheerfully. "You're awake. I'll go tell the master."

"Wait," Julian begged as she turned to go. "Where am I?"

"You're in San Francisco. In the home of Archon, Prince of the City. Your Sire."

Memories of the previous night began to trickle back. The pain. The hunger. Drinking -- no!

He shook his head from that memory. "Who are you?"
"My name is Consuelo de Valenzuela. I am the housekeeper." She almost mentioned she was also the Ghoul of the Prince, but decided that could wait. She turned to the dresser and came back with an armload of clothing.

"If you'd like to get dressed first, I'll tell the Master you'll be coming downstairs."

Julian looked at the clothes on the bed, surprised. "These aren't mine," he said.

Consuelo looked noncommittal. "Your clothes are being cleaned. I think you'll find these fit."

Julian fingered the fine linen. He had never owned anything like that before.

Consuelo smiled again as she moved to the door. "The drawing room is downstairs to the left of the staircase," she told him.

Julian wasn't sure if he heard a muffled chuckle once she had left.

* * *

After he had risen and dressed, Julian looked at himself in the mirror. It was no farmer, miner, or laborer that stared back at him. It was a gentleman, as fine as any ship owner, mine owner, or land owner he had ever seen or envied. Consuelo was right, the clothes fit perfectly. The grey trousers and blue swallowtail coat suited him well and the waistcoat was hand embroidered. Even the black leather boots were fine and new.

He left his room and followed Consuelo's instructions down to the drawing room. It was furnished, like the rest of the house, in the height of Victorian elegance with velvet drapes, finely upholstered furniture, and marble topped tables.

There was another occupant in the room. It wasn't Archon; this man was tall and thin and had the air of a schoolmaster. Julian was instantly wary.

"You must be Julian Luna," he said. His accent proclaimed his British heritage. After a moment he held out his hand. "Robert Vavasour. Archon should be down in a moment."

Julian politely shook hands with the man, but he continued to look around, trying not to be awed by his surroundings and failing. He had never been in a house like this. He had never been in a room like this.

"Could I trouble you to read me that statement on the desk? I forgot to check it earlier."

Julian picked up the paper and read it haltingly. He looked up to see Vavasour shaking his head.

Irritation was beginning to build in Julian when Archon entered the room. Julian was relieved -- he was beginning to wonder what was real and what he had imagined.

Archon smiled slightly. "I hope you introduced yourself, Robert."

Vavasour nodded and started to circle Julian, staring critically.

Julian resentfully stared back.

"I don't know what you think I can do, Archon," Vavasour said. "He's completely ignorant -- "

"I can read," Julian retorted.


"And write."

"Most likely illegibly."

"And I can speak French."

"No doubt a gutter patois picked up off the streets. No, Archon," Vavasour repeated. "It's too much."

"Nonsense," Archon said. "He's intelligent. He can learn anything."

"Learn what?" Julian was by now completely confused.

"Learn to be a gentleman," Archon told him. "A Ventrue gentleman."

"I thought you said you needed someone who knew how to fight," Julian reminded him.

"Yes," Archon acknowledged. "But not all the fighting will be done in the mines and on the docks. I need someone who can get through the front door of the finest houses in the city. It would also be helpful if you understood the businesses I run. You can't now; but with my help and Robert's help, you will."

Julian shook his head. "I'm the son of an iron monger..." he began.

"Class is a human boundary," Archon informed him. "Break it."

Julian regarded Vavasour resentfully. "You can teach me to talk like a gentlemen?"

"By the time I'm finished with you," Vavasour informed him. "You'll be one."

* * *

Julian sat at the desk in his room, painstakingly composing a letter to his sister-in-law. Jack and Edna Morrell had been caring for his son John with their own daughter in the months since Evelyn's death. Until his meeting with Archon, Julian had been too drunk most of the time to look after his son himself. Looking back, Julian was ashamed by his behavior. But it was all water under the bridge now.

He had left them a note before leaving Manzanita with Archon saying that he was going to the city to find work since he wasn't a farmer and never would be. But Jack was a farmer and a good one. He could run both farms until John was old enough. It would be better that way. And so Julian had left his son in Manzanita.

Now he was detailing a modified version of the truth. That he had found a well paying job in the city and would be remaining there. Now for the hard part:

"Unfortunately," he wrote, "the job requires that I live in. My employer is a bachelor and it would be impossible for John to live here with me. So we must remain apart for now. In any case, I am not sure the city is the best place to raise a child."

It occurred to Julian that he hadn't discussed with Archon the possibility of visiting his son. Carefully, he finished the letter and then went in search of his Sire.

* * *

Archon looked impassive as Julian detailed his request.

"I won't forbid you to go," he said finally. "Only because I know you would ignore me. But take care, Luna. Humans aren't all stupid. You will have to break off the relationship sooner or later. It's easier when it's sooner. Trust me, I know."

Julian regarded his Sire stubbornly. "I won't abandon him completely. He is my son."

Archon nodded. "You're only setting yourself up for greater heartache. But you must learn this for yourself. You can go when you like, I won't stop you. You can take one of the small carriages if you like."

Julian kissed his hand in gratitude.

* * *

After he had gone, Archon heard a faint rustle in the shadows.

"What do you think of him?" he asked the darkness.

Consuelo came out from behind the curtains. "I think he'll do very well," she said.

"Still," Archon continued. "There's a moroseness, a distance that wasn't there before. I can't tell what it is."

"He's lonely," Consuelo said. "He misses his wife. He needs companionship -- love."

"So you think I should get him a woman?" Archon was faintly amused by the suggestion from the straightlaced woman.

"No," Consuelo replied. "You'd pick the wrong person. I'll find him someone."

* * *

While plans were being made unknown to Julian, he continued his lessons with Vavasour and Archon. He found business easy to understand and even correct manners began making some sense. Only his accent, with that New Orleans twang, still refused to leave without a fight. And so Vavasour battled with his pupil over pronunciation and articulation.

* * *

Archon entered the library just as Vavasour was deciding whether to slam his own head on to the oak table, or Julian's.

"How are the lesson's going?" he asked.

Julian answered that question with another. "*He* has an accent. I don't see you trying to get rid of his."

"Archon," Vavasour replied. "Speaks with an accent, but he speaks correctly, like a gentleman. His accent is foreign, yes, but close your eyes and you'll think of waltzing in a Viennese ballroom, not carrying bales of cotton on a Louisiana wharf."

Only the pressure of Archon's hand on his shoulder kept Julian from reacting to that statement.

"Honestly, Archon," Vavasour continued. "I don't know what I'm going to do with him. He fights me every chance he gets. He refuses to learn anything. You'll never make anything more of him than what he is. If he could speak as I do, he could handle all your businesses in the mortal world for you. As it is, he'd never get through the front door."

Archon smiled. "Well, Julian. Can you speak like a gentleman, like Vavasour, and be a help to me?"

"If all he wanted was for me to speak as he does," Julian replied. "He should have said so." It was a perfect imitation, British accent and all.

Vavasour was stunned. "That's wonderful." Then he turned to Archon. "May I kill him now?"

Archon laughed. "I don't think so. There's a ball tonight. We should all go. It will be good practice for Julian."

* * *

Later that evening, laughter rang from one of the large houses in the city. It was a private party hosted by the Toreador Primogen. The guests were all Kindred except for a handful of favored Ghouls. The party would be labeled a success, an outstanding success since the Prince, normally not the most sociable, had decided to attend, bringing his newest Childe with him. No one had met the young man yet, and all were dying to see this new Ventrue and gossip.

Julian escaped from the stifling atmosphere of the ballroom as soon as he could. Not out of embarrassment but from exhaustion. He had done well. As long as he concentrated on imitating Robert Vavasour, his accent stayed correctly British and the appropriate vocabulary followed. Everyone was charmed by the young Ventrue. The general impression was that Prince Archon had chosen well. No one guessed Julian had been born in poverty half a continent away.

But the masquerade took effort and created its own pressure. Julian escaped to the front of the house. As he stood on the front street, he breathed in the cool evening air and wondered if he'd ever feel really comfortable in a ballroom.

The stillness of the night was broken by shouts and a woman's scream. He easily traced the sound to a nearby alley.

There, a female Kindred was valiantly trying to defend herself against two attackers.

Julian didn't bother to wonder what Clan they might be or what was going on and threw himself into the fray.

Seeing that the numbers were now even, the woman's assailants fled into the night, leaving Julian to help the woman pick up her scattered possessions.

"Thank you for helping me," she began.

"My pleasure," Julian replied. "Is that kind of thing common?"

The woman made a face. "I'm just better at earning a living than they are." She hesitated for a moment. "My lodgings aren't far from here; would you mind accompanying me there? They might decide to come looking for me."

"I'd be happy to accompany you there."

"My name is Germaine," she said.

"Julian. Julian Luna."

Her smile was bright. "I'm happy to meet you Julian. And I mean that."

* * *

Around the corner, the two Kindred thugs happily divided the money Germaine had given them earlier that evening. They hoped she had been pleased with their performance.

* * *

Germaine's lodgings were only a few blocks away. It was a pleasant evening walk. Germaine was a delightful companion, witty without being coarse, with a lighthearted view of Kindred life.

They reached the steps going up to her rooms.

"Would you like to come up?" she asked.

Julian hesitated. "I should get back. My Sire..."

"Is he that strict with you?"

"No," Julian admitted.

She took his hand and held it to her face. "You haven't let me thank you properly," she whispered.

Julian felt desire stir within him, desire which for years had been centered on only one woman. Evelyn. What would Evelyn think of him now?

Probably laugh, Julian acknowledged to himself. She had known him so well. She hadn't expected him to live like a monk when they were courting and she was refusing his advances. She certainly wouldn't expect him to live alone now.

It didn't take much encouragement for Julian to mount the stairs with Germaine to her rooms.

* * *

Much later that evening, Germaine lay back in the small bed. "It's a good thing I'm not human," she commented. "You bit me twice and didn't even realize it."

"I'm sorry," Julian began. He didn't know what had come over him. It was as if every emotion he had ever possessed had overwhelmed him, demanding to be acknowledged and satisfied.

"Don't be," Germaine laughed. She reached out and stroked his cheek. "I liked it."

A loud knock on the door broke the silence.

"Gerrie, are you there?" It was a man's voice.

Germaine sat bolt upright. "Oh, my God, it's my Sire." She threw the bedclothes over Julian's head. "Stay here and I'll get rid of him."

She quickly tied a dressing gown around herself and used her body to keep the door from opening far.

"Stevie," she exclaimed. "I wasn't expecting you."

The Gangrel leader Stevie Ray looked knowingly at his Get. "Aren't you going to let me in?" he asked.

Germaine looked back at the bed. "I'd like to," she confided in a low voice. "But, well, I'm not alone."

"Gerrie, you haven't gone back..."

"Oh, no," she assured him. "I just wanted some company."

Stevie Ray shook his head. Germaine had been a prostitute working in a brothel at the beginning of the Gold Rush when he found her. But she had the spirit of a survivor, not a victim, and Embracing her into the Gangrel had been a delight. Germaine was his favorite among his Childer.

"Well, when you've finished with him," Stevie said dryly, "Come to the saloon. We might be leaving soon."

"I'll be there," she assured him as she shut and locked the door.

Julian pushed back the blankets. "Is that my cue to go?"

Germaine grinned back at him. He had a sense of humor rare in Ventrues.

"If you don't mind," she acknowledged. "Stevie might get a little upset if he knew you were here."

Julian got out of bed and began to dress. "Why should he be upset?" he asked as drew his shirt over his head. "It's not like I paid you." Then it hit him. "But someone else did."

Germaine shrugged.

"Who? Archon?" Julian was having a hard time keeping his temper.

"No, it wasn't the Prince. Does it really matter who? I only asked to be paid because -- I didn't know you. Now I do -- and you're welcome to come back. And I won't be paid," she added as she kissed him goodbye.

Julian didn't see the figure of Stevie Ray hiding in the shadows when he left.

* * *

Julian returned to the mansion to find Archon looking for him.

"We missed you at the party," his Sire said dryly.

"Oh really," Julian responded with some insolence and then used a more respectful tone. "I met someone and stayed the day with her; I didn't think that would be a problem."

"It wasn't," Archon responded. "I was just curious." (*He knows -- he knows it wasn't an accidental meeting, Archon realized. But it worked. The fire is back in his eyes. I can see it.*)

"I'll go up and change then," Julian said, mostly to break the silence.

"Do that," Archon advised. "Then come back here. I have a job for you."

After Julian left, Vavasour entered the room.

"The Prodigal has returned I see."

"Yes. The timing is good. I want him to deal with Marley."

"Is he ready for that?" Vavasour asked.

"He'll have to be."

* * *

Julian returned, freshly washed and clothed, to the study where Archon was waiting. Vavasour was nowhere in sight.

"Do you remember when I Embraced you that I said I needed someone who could fight?"

"Of course." Julian had had to defend himself and his claim a number of times as a miner.

"Our laws are strict, Julian. The Masquerade is vital, it is all that protects us from our enemies. We cannot tolerate those among us that would risk it."

Julian nodded his understanding.

Archon continued. "There is one among us called Marley. He has jeopardized the Masquerade and has been warned. He has endangered us all again -- there can be no reprieve."

Julian understood. "But -- how...?"

Archon uncovered a velvet wrapped object on the desk. It was like a hunting knife with a massive blade or small machete. The blade glinted in the light.

Julian picked up the weapon carefully. It was surprising light and easy to hold. The blade was well balanced.

"You must separate his head from his body and burn the carcass so the humans find no trace of him. It is the only way we can be killed."

Julian met his Sire's eyes. "I won't disappoint you."

* * *

Finding Marley wasn't a problem; he was exactly where Archon told him to look. And Julian appeared to be expected.

Marley stared at Julian uncompromisingly. "Well, then, that's that," was all he said when Julian stated his mission. "Cut clean, Ventrue. Don't make a mess of it."

Julian stepped forward and with a single movement it was over. He covered the body with kerosene and straw he had brought with him in preparation, just as he was instructed to do. Then he lit the match.

The flames mounted and glowed. Julian looked in growing horror at the flames, finally allowing himself to think about what he had just done. He had killed a man. Granted, Marley was Kindred and it was actually a second, final death, but still, he had killed someone and set them on fire. Was the crime really so bad that it merited death? Was this Kindred justice? Was this what he had become?

Julian took a step back from the bonfire. And another. And another. Before long he was running. Running from the fire, from the murder, from what he was now. He ran and he ran and he didn't stop running until he was deep in the woods. Finally, he stopped and realized with some trepidation that he was lost.

"Why were you running?"

A voice and a figure came out of nowhere. He was Kindred and Julian had no trouble recognizing a Nosferatu. Julian turned and bolted -- and knocked himself out on a low hanging branch.

The Nosferatu looked down at the young Ventrue with a mixture of amusement and pity before picking him up off the ground.

* * *

Julian came to slowly. First he was aware of the rough boards underneath him and then the dank, moist air. There was a sound of water dripping somewhere in the background.

He lifted his head painfully to bring the rest of the room into focus. It was large and cluttered. There were tables and easels and paintings. Paintings everywhere. Also scattered about were the odd chair and stack of books. There was none of the calm order of Archon's home.

"Ah, you're awake. You left a considerable dent in that tree."

The Nosferatu appeared as if from nowhere. Julian was both startled and confused.

"Who are you? Where am I?"

"Two questions at once. So many questions left unsaid. I am Daedalus, Clan Nosferatu. You are in my Haven. I didn't think it was appropriate to leave the Prince's newest Childe unconscious and defenseless, so I brought you here."

That sounded reasonable enough. "You know who I am?"

Daedalus's twisted features broke into a slight smile. The young one was surprisingly ingenuous. "I know many things. But when the Prince of the City creates a new Fledgling, that is news known to all."

"Oh." Julian tentatively sat up and then swung his legs off the wood shelf he had been lying on. The dizziness was going and his mind was rapidly clearing. He remembered Marley. He remembered the bonfire.

"Did Archon send you to keep an eye on me?" Julian asked his host.

"No," Daedalus responded honestly. "I had business with my Primogen, who lives near there. I saw the flames and realized what had happened. Then I saw you run."

Julian said nothing. There was so much he didn't want to talk about. Instead, he wandered over to a small table where a chess board had been set up. He picked up one of the pieces and examined it more closely. Daedalus noticed the Ventrue's hand shaking as he did so.

Julian concentrated on the pieces before him. It was a beautiful set. The figures were carved ivory and ebony; the board was inlaid with different types of wood. It was an elegant chess set completely incongruous with its surroundings.

"Do you play chess?" Daedalus asked.


"Here," Daedalus sat down at the small table. "I'll teach you."

Daedalus had always felt there was something calming about chess. The young Ventrue certainly needed something to help him pull himself together. It would give him something to think about other than the death of Marley.

As the game progressed Julian's hands stopped shaking. Daedalus watched him concentrating, calculating the moves. Julian won the third game.

"Very good," Daedalus nodded approvingly. "You have the makings of a fine player. But now I think you need to return to Archon. The Prince will be wondering where you've gotten to."

Julian nodded. He had lost all sense of time in the underground Haven.

Daedalus showed Julian to the end of the tunnel and gave him directions to return to the Prince's home. Julian was startled to realize how close the haven was to the mansion. He had never realized it was there.

"I receive few visitors outside my Clan," Daedalus said suddenly. "If you ever feel the need of a game of chess, or conversation, you are always welcome here."

"Thank you."

The Nosferatu smiled. "You're welcome."

* * *

Julian wearily mounted the steps and entered the hall and pandemonium.

House guards and staff were swirling about the hall, anxious to carry out the orders of the Prince. In the middle of all the chaos, stood his Sire.

"Where the HELL have you been," Archon bellowed.

Julian blinked and decided to tell part of the truth. "I had an accident and got knocked out. A Nosferatu found me and brought me back. His name is Daedalus."

It was Archon's turn to blink. His fledgling had the bizarre tendency to just trip over very important people in the Kindred world without realizing it. But he was safe. That was the main thing.

"I was worried," he admitted softly.

"I'm fine," Julian assured his Sire. "And the situation is taken care of. If you don't mind I'm going to rest now."

He went to his room and watched the light of dawn slowly break across the sky. He didn't want to sleep here. There was just enough time to get to a cheap little rooming house across the city.

* * *

Germaine blinked in surprise when she saw Julian standing on her doorstep in the gentle light of the dawn.

"You did say I could come back," he reminded her.

"Of course you can," she said quickly, pulling him inside out of the light and firmly shutting the door. "But you shouldn't cut corners like that. You're still too young; suppose you got caught in the sun..."

He silenced her with a kiss and she realized he didn't want to talk.

* * *

Julian woke with his head at Germaine's breast and her fingers gently combing through his hair. The way Evelyn had. He shut his eyes tight to block out the pain.

"It's almost sundown," Germaine informed him.

He sighed and rolled onto his back. "I suppose I should go."

She nodded. "Archon will probably be looking for you."

Julian closed his eyes and said nothing.

"Marley had it coming," Germaine said suddenly.

Julian opened his eyes again. "You know?"

"Of course," Germaine seemed mildly surprised. "No one is killed for breaking the Masquerade without the Prince making it well known ahead of time that it's going to happen. No one's gone near Marley for days. He was probably relieved when you arrived. It put him out of his misery."

"He was relieved," Julian said slowly.

"I'm not surprised."

"Did he deserve it?"

Germaine pulled a face. "Archon is your Sire -- and the Prince. You shouldn't ask me that question."

"I ask you because I know you'll tell me the truth."

Germaine got out of bed and reached for her dressing gown. She tied it firmly before turning back to Julian.

"Marley wanted the protection of a Prince but wanted to live outside the Prince's rules. He was sloppy and he was careless. If the Masquerade is broken, we would be hunted down and destroyed. Kindred justice is harsh, but for a reason. Play by the rules, Julian, and you can do pretty much anything. But *don't* ever try to take on Archon. He loves you, but he'll break you."

"He's been good to me," Julian murmured.

"He'll continue to be good to you," Germaine responded. "Just - - learn to bend your will to his. Just a little."

Julian smiled as she kissed him again. He got out of bed and washed and dressed. He'd have to return to the mansion sometime.

As Germaine opened the door to the hallway, she mentioned a neighbor needing to borrow money. Julian, having retained a generous streak, pulled out some bills, saying she could repay him later. But he was unprepared for what happened next.

He was pulled from the doorway and floored by a wicked right hook. He looked up from the ground to see a small man with a shock of dirty blond hair staring down in a fury.

"Stevie!" Germaine remonstrated with him. "What did you do that for?"

"*She* isn't for sale, Ventrue," Stevie Ray snarled. "Gangrels aren't for sale."

"The money's for *Becky*," Germaine stated firmly. "It's a *loan*."

Stevie looked at his Childe and then back to Julian, still lying on the floor.

"Oh," he said and held out his hand to help Julian to help him up. "No hard feelings?"

Julian got to his feet and immediately lashed out, sending the Gangrel sprawling.

"None taken."

Stevie watched the Ventrue proudly descend the stairs and then looked back to Germaine, who was shaking her head. He then threw back his head and laughed.

* * *

Julian returned to the mansion and during the next few months gave Archon no cause for worry. He continued to learn about Ventrue businesses and even to take part in some of them. He also handled two more "jobs" for Archon, easily compelling the recalcitrant back on the straight and narrow.

In spite of that, Archon *was* concerned. For one thing, there was his Childe's strange choice of companions. Julian had gotten to know most of the Ventrue in the city and regularly associated with them, but he retained his relationship with the Gangrel Germaine, even bringing her to the mansion. Archon caught sight of her once. She seemed unusual for a Gangrel. For one thing, she apparently owned a comb. He could have tried to forbid the affair, but Archon had always made it a point to stay out of his Childer's love life. And the Gangrel woman would bring Julian to no harm, he was sure of that.

But through Germaine, Julian had met the leader of the Gangrel, Stevie Ray. Archon was surprised to hear that they seemed to hit it off. They were seen drinking together more than once. That was a friendship Archon would never have envisioned. Stevie was a tough wanderer, breezing in and out with his Clan when it suited him. Julian was already losing the rough edges under Archon's and Vavasour's tutelage and was fast becoming a true Ventrue gentleman. They made an odd pair.

However, even odder was the friendship that had appeared to have developed between Julian and the Nosferatu, Daedalus. Archon couldn't imagine Daedalus putting up with a mere fledgling, even if he was the Prince's Childe. But Julian was seen frequently heading for the Nosferatu's nearby haven, especially after a difficult "assignment". Try as he might, he couldn't imagine his Childe sitting happily in a Nosferatu haven. But apparently it was true.

The Nosferatu Primogen, Goth, had even complained to Archon about it, saying it was unseemly for the young Ventrue to spend so much time with the Nosferatu. Archon listened politely and responded politely, but decided not to do anything to stop Julian. Daedalus could turn into a valuable ally for his Childe. It was probably why Goth didn't like it. If the Prince didn't act to stop his Childe, there was no way Goth could interfere. Daedalus was no fledgling, but a long-time member of the Clan Nosferatu, and a powerful one at that. Goth had very little control over him. The Nosferatu stood by the letter of the law and there was nothing in Kindred law that said members of different clans couldn't be friends.

No, Archon decided, Julian's unusual choice of friends was causing some gossip, but that was nothing to be worried about. So why was he worried?

* * *

Goth watched the young Ventrue jealously. He was, in truth, jealous of all the Ventrue. Their power, their money, their ability to walk among the humans. But he was especially jealous of anyone related to Archon. *Prince Archon*. Like Archon, Goth had come to California when it was part of Mexico, under Spanish rule. But they had come for different reasons. Archon had been sent to Mexico to discover if it would be safer for the Kindred there. Goth had fled to California with his beloved Camilla to escape the remnants of the dreaded Inquisition. For a short time, he had peace. Even the establishment of a tiny Ventrue enclave in the farming valley of Manzanita didn't bother him.

Then gold was discovered and in typical Ventrue fashion, Archon moved quickly and ruthlessly. He established himself in tiny San Francisco and organized banks and developed a strangle-hold on the city's commerce. The poor humans had no idea the city was, in truth, being run by a Ventrue Archon who grabbed the title of Prince but retained the name "Archon" to remind all the Kindred who entered the city his close relationship with the Justicars, the lawgivers of Kindred society. But gold meant people, and people meant hiding again, and peace was over for Goth. And he resented it.

So anything he could do to cause difficulties for Archon, he was quite happy to do.

* * *

Julian smiled as he listened to Consuelo dressing down one of the guards for some infraction, in both English and Spanish. Although she was the Prince's Ghoul, a human servant bound to a Kindred, everyone in the household was frightened by Consuelo. The power a Kindred held over a Ghoul was often described as so strong to make them as a slave to their master. But only to their master, which explained Consuelo's ability to rule Archon's household with something close to terror.

He turned the corner and almost ran into the Nosferatu Primogen, Goth. The ability of the Nosferatu to seem to appear out of nowhere always made Julian uneasy. To be honest, the Nosferatu Primogen himself made Julian uneasy.

"Forgive me, I wasn't paying attention," Julian began, trying to be polite.

But Goth appeared to be in an affable mood. "It's nothing," he replied with equal politeness. Just then a door slammed and Consuelo could be seen storming across the courtyard.

Goth shook his head. "It amazes me that Archon allows his Ghoul such power in his house. But then, she is his family after all."

Julian was stunned. "What...what do you mean?"

Goth smiled at the young Kindred without mirth. "She's his sister-in-law. Decades ago she found out too much, so the Prince ghouled her and made her his servant."

"Consuelo? His sister-in-law?" Julian couldn't believe it.

"Yes," Goth acknowledged, enjoying the other's discomfiture. "Ask her, if you don't believe me."

He smiled as Julian turned back down the hall to the servants quarters.

* * *

Consuelo looked up from her mending when Julian entered her parlor.

"Did you require something?" she asked.

"Yes, I... Goth told me something," Julian swallowed, unsure how to proceed.

"And what did that little toad tell you that upset you so much?"

"His said you're really Archon's sister-in-law. That you found out too much and got in his way and he turned you into a Ghoul."

She sighed and put down her sewing.

"Is it true?" Julian asked gently.

"Yes," Consuelo replied calmly. "But not quite the way he told it. Archon was married to my sister. He Embraced her and took her away from the capital. For years, our only contact was by letters. As we aged, she did not. But none of us knew that. Until a war broke out between him and a group of Brujah and my sister was killed in the fighting. I had arrived unexpectedly and witnessed the slaughter. It was obvious what Archon was. He couldn't make me forget -- I had seen too much over too long a time. And because of the love he had for my sister, he didn't want to kill me. He also didn't want to Embrace me against my will, so this was his last option to control me."

"How could he...?" Julian murmured.

"It's not that bad," Consuelo said, surprised. "He treats me with respect and sees to it others treat me with respect. I'm ninety-six years old -- but I don't look a day over sixty. I have more power and authority here than I did in my father's home."

"But you're his slave."

She shrugged. "I don't think of it that way. I can't tell the difference between my wishes and his. I prefer to think that we are *simpatico*. I wouldn't let it disturb you. It doesn't disturb me."

But it did disturb Julian. It disturbed him for days.

* * *

In his study, Archon could feel Julian's eyes on him, puzzled, always on the brink of saying something, but never quite managing to get it out.

"What's wrong, Julian?"

"Don't lie to me. You haven't spoken much for days. Something is wrong. What is it."

"I knew Consuelo was your Ghoul, your servant. But I didn't know she was your wife's sister."


The syllable irritated Julian. "Is that all you have to say?"

"What do you want me to say, Julian?" Archon asked softly.

"Tell me that it doesn't have to be that way. That we don't end up destroying the people we love."

"I warned you to keep away from your family. Now you know why. The closer they are to us, the closer they come to learning the truth. And that can't be allowed."

Julian swallowed. "Isn't there another way?"

"Just be very careful, Julian. In the old days, human family were never targeted -- it wasn't considered acceptable behavior. But now, I'm not sure. The old ways are going. Make sure no one knows, Julian. That's the only way you can protect them."

"I understand," said Julian. "But I don't understand how you could do that to Consuelo."

"We tried to keep them away, but Consuelo decided to surprise us. Unfortunately, immediately after her arrival, a band of Brujah attacked. My dear wife died in my arms, begging me not to harm her sister. I couldn't take away the memories of what Consuelo had witnessed without sending her insane. And I didn't want to kill her. I offered her the choice, to be Kindred or my Ghoul. She chose."

"Did she understand what she was choosing?" Julian asked slowly.

"Do any of us?" Archon countered. "Perhaps -- you should go home for a short time. Visit your son. Come to some understanding in your own way. But don't stay too long. You gave me your life, Julian. I still have use for it."

* * *

Back in Manzanita, the tiny farmhouse parlor rang with laughter.

Jack Morrell savored the fine tobacco in his new pipe while his wife Edna tried on her new imported hat in the mirror. On the floor sat baby Emily, with a doll bigger than she was.

Also on the floor was Julian, coat and tie off, happily helping his son stack the wood blocks on top of each other and then knock them down again.

Just like his life, Julian mused. Build it up and then knock it down. And then build it up again. But build it up upon what? A constant fight within himself? And what of his family, his son?

He was glad now he had left his son in Manzanita. He didn't want his child to have any part in the life he led now. He would make the best of the decision he had made. Learn to live with it. Learn, perhaps, to enjoy it. But there was this one advantage to his existence -- he would always be able to watch over his descendants and protect them.