Staking a Life
A Kindred: The Embraced Fan Fiction by Elena
Disclaimer: Not mine, no money made. I'm only borrowing the characters and the White Wolf Universe. Hands off Frederick, though. He's mine.
Category: action, hurt/comfort
Tom Cohen sighed in frustration. "Jeez, Frank, paranoid much?" he muttered under his breath.
None of the passwords he had tried so far had worked, none of the obvious ones, anyway. Mother's maiden name, date of birth, name of latest girlfriend - Alexandra -, dates of birth and middle names of various family members. No luck.
At least, being a cop meant that confidential information like that was readily available to him. Sometimes, Tom loved his job.
He looked around surrepticiously. The other members of the department did not pay him any attention, so he figured he was safe for the moment. His computer screen was situated so only someone standing behind him could see the display, but it never hurt to be careful. After all, getting caught accessing a colleague's private files could get him on some bad sides, not to mention in trouble with his superiors.
He typed in a few other likely passwords, but none of them got him inside Frank Kohanek's private folder.
"Come on," he muttered. "I only need a second."
If there was something about Frank's obsession in his files, Tom would find it. And the way Frank had gone on and on about the subject despite lots of raised eyebrows around the department and the sometimes very vocal scorn of his own partner, Tom was almost certain the other man had committed some of his evidence to file.
Vampires. It sounded like utter bullshit, and yet... in a twisted sort of way, it made sense. If there was a man in San Francisco whose power needed to be explained by supernatural means, that man was Julian Luna. Tom had seen him once. The man was... uncanny was not too strong a word.
On a hunch, he tried it.
The folder opened.
Whistling under his breath, Tom copied the files and closed Frank's folder, then settled back to read.
Daedalus took a step back from the canvas to look at his latest painting.
As always, he had let his hand do its will, putting no conscious thought into the mixing of colors or the shapes forming beneath the brush. To him, painting was a form of meditation as much as a way to give a voice to his subconscious and to lend an outlet to his fears, sorrows, and desires. Most of his paintings were disturbing, to him as much - maybe more - as they were to others. But painting disturbing paintings meant less disturbed rest, or thoughts. It was good to create them, to look at them, give them names, then put them away never to be seen again, or to take them out again to stare at them, if the mood so took him.
His subconscious had had centuries to absorb horrors (many), joys (very few), disappointments (countless), and lots and lots of experience, most of it unpleasant.
So he was not surprised to be, well, surprised by this newest painting.
Dark colors (nothing new there), lots of red (not unusual either), and amidst it all, fire. And Julian, lying extinguished among the flames.
"Sammy, bring the car around," Julian said to his Gangrel driver. "And tell Cash to find another one of his men and to come with me. We are leaving in five minutes."
The Gangrel nodded and left the Prince's office.
Julian sighed. With the election of their new Primogen, matters with the Brujah were settling down somewhat at last, but there still seemed to be some things that he, as Prince, had to get involved in personally. This meeting would hopefully end the need for this.
Contrary to Julian's first impression of Cameron, the Brujah seemed to be inclined to listen to reason, and to observe the Commandments and the Traditions. Maybe now the time had finally come for real peace among the Clans.
Still, something told Julian that it was too soon to relax his guard. He couldn't quite quantify it, but there was a niggling sense of... something. Sighing, the Ventrue opened his desk drawer to pull out his gun and check it, even though he hated the thing and kept hoping he could really lay it down for good.
The Prince turned around.
Daedalus faded into sight in front of him. "You are going somewhere?" he asked in his measured way.
"Yes. Brujah business. Something to do with territories, among other things. Nothing major."
The Nosferatu looked down at his hands before drawing a breath and meeting the Prince's eyes. "I'd like to come with you."
Julian raised his eyebrows. "Why?" he asked, surprised. This had never happened before. Usually, the Nosferatu Primogen expressed no interest in the petty squabblings of the other Clans, preferring to let them sort out their politicking by themselves.
"There's no reason. I merely... feel it would be best if you didn't go there alone," Daedalus said slowly, deepset eyes fixed on Julian's.
"No need, Daedalus. Cameron said it's a meeting about a small matter - nothing to go to war on over. Besides, I won't be going alone. Cash and his Gangrel will be with me. I'll be back before sunrise."
Daedalus did not look away. "If it's such a minor thing, then you'll risk nothing by letting me accompany you," the Nosferatu stated irrefutably. "I'll stay out of sight."
Julian smiled. "I know you will. That's not the point. I simply don't see -"
"I can give you no clear reason," Daedalus, uncharacteristically, interrupted his Prince. "Merely a feeling. I'd feel better if I were there with you." He straightened to his full height, forcing Julian to look up at him.
For a long moment, grey eyes locked with brown ones in a silent battle of wills.
Julian hesitated. He knew that if he refused the request now, Daedalus would simply find a way to be at the meeting with the Brujah anyway. If the Nosferatu felt strong enough about something to bring it up, he usually had already formulated his course of action with the full intention of going through with it, even against the wishes of his Prince. He could be commanded and relied upon in all matters concerning Kindred law and traditions, but in all other things, Daedalus, like all Nosferatu, would do whatever he damn well pleased.
But Julian had his own feelings of - something - about to happen. And he would feel better if he knew Daedalus was safe back at the mansion.
Their gaze held for a moment longer, then the Ventrue finally sighed and looked down. "I'm opposed to this, but I know I can't stop you." No one could. Daedalus was the oldest and most powerful Kindred in San Francisco, a fact familiar to both of them.
The Nosferatu looked away at last, resuming his more deferential pose, but the point was made.
Julian shook his head ruefully. "If it means that much to you, be my guest. But please, stay out of trouble."
Daedalus inclined his head. "I will, if you heed your own advice, my friend."
"You can't seriously claim that I force all Brujah into bancruptcy by insisting on adherence to human law," Julian said, trying to remain calm. "Your clan already owns most of the West Coast, Cameron. Your enterprises have subsidiaries in all major cities from San Diego to Seattle. You can afford to leave my city out of your empire."
"This is not about any Brujah empire! I merely ask you to give my clan the same lenience you give your own, Julian," Cameron returned hotly. "Ventrue bankers, politicians, lawyers, all earning money on the side. And don't tell me you don't know about it!"
Julian felt a sharp flash of anger. "That's a lie!"
Cameron's chair scraped over the concrete floor as he stood. "I can prove it to you, Prince!"
For a moment, both Kindred stared at each other, visibly fighting to control their tempers.
"Sit down, Cameron," Julian said with forced calm. "Sit down, and stop being unreasonable."
The meeting had not gone well. The "small matter" that Cameron had contacted Julian about had turned out to be a series of minor and not so minor grievances. Of course, Cameron, as newly elected Primogen of Brujah Clan, needed to demonstrate some authority to his clansmen, so he was now insisting on every single issue being resolved tonight. They had been at this for hours already, and tempers were beginning to fray.
A slight gust of wind alerted Julian to Daedalus' invisible presence by his side. "Something is happening outside, Julian," the Nosferatu's disembodied voice softly informed him.
"Cash, Cameron," the Prince said immediately. "Watch out."
All Kindred seated at the table froze, supernatural senses straining.
Suddenly, the warehouse windows all around them shattered.
Amidst a shower of glass shards, more than a dozen dark clad figures hanging from ropes crashed through and rolled to a stand. "Don't move!" one of them shouted. "The building is surrounded! Don't move, and nobody gets hurt!"
Julian stepped away from the table and looked around quickly, trying to assess the situation.
"They are human," Daedalus, still hidden from normal sight, said into Julian's ear.
Julian recognized the uniforms. "Police!" Frank. The sense of betrayal was overwhelming.
"They have Dragon's Breath, Julian!" Cash shouted, already rolling for cover.
"I said don't move!" one of the attackers yelled. There was a sharp retort, and the flaming projectile of a phosphorus gun slammed into the table, spewing flames over all the Kindred still near it.
"Don't shoot! Stay calm!" Julian shouted in an attempt to contain the situation, but it was too late. Corin, the young Brujah who had been standing next to Cameron, lost control as the phosphorus flame licked over his clothes, burning them. His eyes turned green with frenzy. With an animal roar, he ran for the nearest attacker and tore him down.
The humans retaliated by opening fire on the Kindred. Projectiles hit floor and walls and singed undead flesh while Kindred and humans dove for cover.
"Don't kill them!" Julian shouted over the din, diving for the nearest shelter behind the still smoking, overturned table. "Try to take them alive!"
"They have phosphorus guns," Cameron shouted back from where he had hidden himself, Brujah rage evident in his voice. "They are trying to kill us!"
The Kindred, regardless of Julian's order, began to return fire.
Julian noticed Cash signaling his Gangrel to secure the exit, where they would be met by fierce opposition from at least six mortals.
Getting a quick head count, Julian estimated that there were almost two dozen humans against ten Kindred, not counting Daedalus who as yet remained hidden by the powers of his Clan. The humans were also in a more favorable tactical position. This is going to get ugly, he thought.
The frenzied Brujah, Corin, was still going for the policemen who scattered, trying to get out of his way, and sheer luck was keeping the young Kindred from getting hit by the deadly projectiles whizzing though the air. Then one of the Gangrel screamed as his luck ran out, and Julian saw his driver fall, streaked with blood.
"Nooo! Sammy!" Cash yelled the name of his brood-brother, his own eyes green now.
Still Julian hesitated, although the gun was heavy and familiar in his hand, calling to him, calling for him to kill.
Suddenly, there was a roar and the sound of a gun from behind Julian, and something heavy slammed into him. He whirled.
And before his increasingly green-tinged vision, Daedalus faded into view, sliding along the floor next to Julian before coming to rest on his side, curled around a hissing, smoking phosphorus impact in his mid-section.
A confused mortal, gun still smoking, cowering behind his cover, aiming at him.
Julian roared, and the gun in his hand began to sing.
Julian did not see the human reacting to the sight of the dead Nosferatu, nor did he hear his cries of horror. There was only the killing frenzy. The next thing he knew was that suddenly, there were no more enemies, and Cash and Ronny were trying to get him to calm down.
"Julian, they're gone! It's over!"
Panting, the Ventrue lowered his gun, wiping his mouth with his free hand, not surprised to find it bloody. The other Kindred, too, had blood on their mouths, and there was the unlucky cop, white as a sheet, white, and quite dead. Sucked dry.
Julian's clothes where torn and bloody, and the others were not looking much better. They had been injured, and they had fed. Some of the Brujah were still in frenzy; Julian could hear Cameron trying to calm them.
One cop dead. The others had fled.
One Kindred extinguished.
"Daedalus," Julian forced out, trying to get his legs to carry him to the body of his friend, a surprised Cash in tow.
"Daedalus? What's he doing here?"
"He insisted." Julian knelt down next to the motionless Nosferatu. "He saved my life." He reached out to turn Daedalus over. "You saved my life..."
But before Julian's outstretched hand touched him, the Nosferatu's eyes snapped open. They were glowing red.
Then he threw back his head and screamed.
Instinctively, Cash jumped back, but Julian only knew at that moment that his friend had not met his final death, so he remained kneeling. "Daedalus!" he shouted, light-headed with relief, trying to make himself heard over those inhuman screams. "It's all right. Look at me!" Cautiously, he reached out. It was always dangerous to approach an injured Nosferatu, and it was obvious that Daedalus did not recognize him.
And indeed, sharp talons suddenly clawed through the air. Hissing, Julian pulled his hand back.
Cash tugged at him. "We should leave him alone, Julian."
Julian let Cash drag him to safety, knowing that his bodyguard was right. Powerful, stronger than any of them, and now, out of control. Julian had seen what those talons and teeth could do, had felt it himself when Daedalus gave him the gift of the Nosferatu's powers for a little while. The Beast was there within all of them - no way to deal with it except fight it, and, occasionally, let it run.
He also remembered something Daedalus had told him then, something about ancient ones sometimes surviving the phosphorus gun. Julian had not quite believed it, but now he was glad that Daedalus had once again been right.
Time to pull himself together. Daedalus still lived, and now it was time for Julian to be the Prince again, to contain this somehow. He took a deep breath. "Cash, Ronny, pursue the humans. Stop them. Bring them here. We need to make them forget. All of them."
"Sun's rising," Cash objected.
"Try. They saw us and what we are. They probably saw Daedalus. We need to preserve the Masquerade."
Cash nodded and left. It was a risk, as neither Gangrel had fed enough to survive the sun for very long. But if they let the humans get away now to tell about what had happened here, the Masquerade would be broken for good.
Julian looked down at Daedalus, who was now writhing on the floor, talons leaving white furrows in the concrete, obviously in agony. His screams had quieted to a series of continuous groans.
Cameron stepped next to the Prince. "Preserve the Masquerade? They attacked us with Dragon's Breath, Julian. That's no coincidence. They know about us. Who knows how many more of them know? You should have killed that human cop Frank Kohanek when you had the chance!"
"Not now, Cameron!" Julian brushed him off, sickened as he saw that the gunshot wound in Daedalus' chest was still smoking. Cautiously, he knelt back down next to the Nosferatu. The smell of blood and burned flesh was heavy in the air. "Daedalus. Daedalus, can you hear me?"
No reaction. The injured Kindred's normally grey eyes were still red and glowing with rage, and he gave no sign of recognition.
"It's me, Julian. It's over, you're safe. Let me help you." He reached out a hand towards him.
"You probably shouldn't touch him," Cameron said conversationally.
Julian looked at him, surprised that the Brujah cared. True, things were settling down between the Clans, but there still was too much history between them, and between Ventrue and Brujah in particular. And since Daedalus' Clan had thwarted Eddies bid for power, no love was lost between Brujah and Nosferatu. "I have to. That phosphorus is still inside of him. It may yet end his existence."
"And how do you propose to get it out, even if he should let you touch his injury? With your bare hands? Your teeth?"
With another inhuman scream, Daedalus suddenly curled up on his side, armed crossed protectively over the injury in his midsection, talons shredding his overcoat, teeth bared and mouth half open as he continued to groan.
He's right, Julian realized. They couldn't help Daedalus. But they had to do something. He sat back on his heels and pulled out his cell phone.
Dr. Martin Jones, Ventrue surgeon at the San Francisco Mission Hospital, arrived ten minutes later, carrying a physician's bag and another bag containing blood bags which he issued to the Kindred. Julian nodded at him wordlessly in greeting while he continued to tend to Daedalus.
The Nosferatu had finally calmed down enough to let Julian touch him, even though the red streaks swirling in and out of his eyes with each breath he took told the Ventrue how close the Beast still was to taking control of Daedalus. He was panting and trying to suppress his groans.
Still, every attempt to touch the wound or make Daedalus roll over onto his back would shatter his tenuous hold on rationality instantly, and he would lash out with claws and teeth at everything within reach. The latest such attempt had almost cost Julian a hand. The Ventrue could only guess how much pain his normally so controlled friend must be in.
Julian had managed to place his jacket under the Nosferatu's head to protect the hairless skull from the rough concrete floor he was lying on, and when Julian noticed that his presence and touch seemed to help keep the Beast at bay, he had remained by his friend's side.
Martin knelt down next to them, his eyes looking a question at the Prince.
"Dragon's Breath gun," Julian said shortly, licking his still stinging hand and accepting a blood bag from the physician with a grateful nod. "He won't let me look at the wound."
Martin only nodded. This was always a problem with Nosferatu, as with any Kindred. Rational and controlled though they normally were, venturing near an injured one was more dangerous than dealing with a wild animal. Blood loss did not help matters, either, and Daedalus was lying in a pool of red. "Is he alert?"
Julian nodded, grimacing. "For all the good it does us and him."
"Daedalus," the doctor said gently, "how are you feeling?"
"Hurts," the Nosferatu forced out after a moment, his voice a deep growl. "Can't feel my legs." He panted hissing breaths though bared pointed teeth. "Hurts." His arms were still crossed over the injury, taloned hands opening and closing spasmodically. Julian placed his hand along the side of Daedalus' head, trying to keep him calm. Under his hand, he could feel the constant clenching and unclenching of the Nosferatu's jaw muscles as he ground his teeth with the pain.
Martin proffered another blood bottle. "Here, Julian, give this to him. It's not much, but it may help for a bit."
After a moment's hesitation, Julian gave both rations to Daedalus. His own loss of vitae was not nearly as great. "The projectile must still be inside of him," he informed the doctor while Daedalus made short work of the blood. "Can you help him?"
Martin nodded. "There is a way, but it's not pleasant, and we have to act quickly." He got up and motioned for Julian to follow him.
Julian rose as well and went with him, curious what it was the physician obviously did not want Daedalus to overhear. "Have you discovered an anaesthetic?"
"No such luck. Kindred physiology is too different from human. Even the strongest known sedative would only knock him out for a few minutes. Although we've been trying, we found nothing so far. Neither have the Nosferatu alchemists." He took a breath, bracing himself. "The only known alternative is staking."
Julian stared at him, aghast. "Staking?"
Martin grimaced. "I said it wasn't pleasant."
Julian looked back at his injured friend, horrified at the thought of doing something as brutal as that to the cultured Primogen.
"It will paralyze him, maybe send him into torpor," Martin went on, "and if we act quickly, we can examine the wound and do whatever needs to be done before the damage becomes too great."
Julian said nothing.
"We can't hold him down long enough to tie him up, and I don't even want to imagine the kind of rage that would evoke. If I have to perform surgery, he needs to be completely still. I'm sorry, Julian. It's the only way."
Julian ran his hands over his face. The whole idea was anathema.
"Julian," Daedalus gasped from behind him. "I heard," the Nosferatu continued, when Julian had returned to his side. "I agree."
"I don't want to injure anyone." For a moment, his eyes grew clear and calm, resigned. Then he grimaced sharply, hissing through clenched teeth, and the frenzy glowed back into his eyes. "Do it now!" he screamed, even as all rationality fled.
Julian nodded heavily. "Very well."
Hidden behind a large container a few hundred yards away from the warehouse, Cash shielded his eyes to squint out into the sunlight, trying to catch a glimpse of their quarry. "I think all of them are still there," he whispered to Ronny. "I'm counting nineteen."
"I agree," his brood-brother said softly. "They couldn't have gotten past us, either."
The two Kindred froze, listening.
"Yeah," Ronny said. "I can hear them. They have walkie-talkies."
Cash swore. "They're calling in reinforcements. No word on what we are, though. He claims we're terrorists. That's something." He squinted up at the sky. Only a few more minutes, and the sun would destroy what little shade they had found. "Let's get outta here and warn the others. We're about to have company."
"We need to turn him over onto his back, and then you'll want to hold him down long enough for me to use this." Martin held a slim wooden stake in one hand, a mallet in the other.
Julian nodded sharply, trying to get his heart to stop beating. The Beast in him was beginning to see the doctor as a threat to his friend, and Julian was having to fight down the urge to attack Martin.
The physician looked at him, obviously realizing the Prince's problem. "Maybe it would be best if you did not witness this, Julian. You're too involved emotionally."
Julian took a deep breath. "Then all left to help you would be Brujah." He nodded towards Cameron and his three clansmen who were quietly conversing in a far corner, as far away from the injured Nosferatu as they could get. "They couldn't care less if he lives or dies, and the feeling's mutual. Daedalus would probably make mincemeat of all of them. I'm his friend. He'll let me live if I'm the one to hold him down."
Martin simply nodded, not bothering to point out that this was an optimistic hope, nothing more. "All right, then. Let's not delay."
Julian closed his eyes, folding his hands, trying to draw strength from his inner reserves. "I'm ready," he said, hoping he was.
It was over fast. Julian managed to make Daedalus bite down on his jacket and so took the Nosferatu's razor-sharp teeth out of the equation, then he knelt on one taloned hand, held down the other hand with both of his and leaned his full weight on it, stretching Daedalus out on his back and at the same time shielding the Nosferatu's eyes with his body so he wouldn't see the stake placed over his heart. For a moment, Julian was sure Daedalus would throw him off, wounded and weakened by blood-loss though he was. Then there was a dull thud, and the muscular struggle beneath Julian ceased abruptly.
"Okay," Martin panted, putting aside the mallet. "Now we can handle him." Tearing away the bloodied, scorched clothing to expose his patient's chest, he reached for a scalpel.
Julian couldn't watch. He focused on Daedalus' face instead.
Shockingly, the Nosferatu was still conscious. The frenzy had left his eyes, and he looked back at Julian with an expression of terror mixed with naked pleading.
"Soon be over, Daedalus," Julian said. "Hang on." He removed the jacket from his friend's mouth, torn and bloodied where Daedalus had bitten through the fabric and his own lips, and placed it back under the Nosferatu's head.
"I'm beginning to incise," Martin commented.
Julian looked back into Daedalus' eyes. Already, they were starting to blacken with fear. Julian tried to project an aura of calm to counteract the fear he could sense in his friend. He must be terrified out of his mind, Julian thought, his own insides cramping in sympathy. To lose control so utterly... and to be conscious during something like this...
"The injury is very close to his heart", Martin said distractedly. "Acid damage is extensive. Bits of metal embedded in his spine... keep him very still now, Julian..."
The Ventrue framed Daedalus' face with both hands and looked into the now completely black eyes, trying to find his friend's rational soul amidst all the fear. "Don't be afraid," he said softly. "It's me, Julian. We're only trying to help you." He reached out and took a slack hand in his, noting the bloodied and broken talons, the subdued twitching of the long fingers he held in his hand. "We're going to get out the thing that's hurting you, Daedalus. Soon be over." He squeezed the cold hand, stroked the white face. "How long, Martin?"
"Can't say. I have to be careful here. Severe trauma caused by impact, aggravated by acid burns. It would eventually have extinguished him if left untreated. I've neutralized the acid and removed most of the foreign bodies, but there's a bit of metal in his spine that I can't easily reach without damaging his heart if I'm not careful. It's probably what's paralyzing his legs. I'll have to cut around it."
Daedalus' slack mouth opened slowly, an almost inaudible gasp escaping. His blackened eyes bored into Julian's.
The minutes stretched into eternity. Through their physical contact, Julian could sense his friend's mindless terror, a world narrowed down to the feel of the hurtful wood inside him, paralyzing him - an alien thing that had penetrated and stilled his heart. And pain.
So much pain. Each cut brought a new wave of it. And no way to escape.
Or even scream with the agony of it.
And memories of dark times, other times where there had been nothing but pain and fear, threatening to swallow him whole.
Julian had to fight to disengage from the contact. "Hurry," he said softly.
"Working as fast as I can."
There was a commotion behind them. Julian looked up to see Cash and Ronnie confronted by the Brujah. Cash pushed past them urgently.
Good to know the Brujah are at least keeping watch, Julian thought distractedly. "Where are the humans?" he demanded when the Gangrel reached him.
"We couldn't get at them. They'll be back soon with reinforcements. No idea how many."
"Damn," Julian muttered. "We're stuck here for now. Daedalus can't be moved yet."
"How is he?" Cash asked softly, kneeling down next to Julian. Then he saw the stake in Daedalus' chest. "What the hell...?"
Martin interrupted, "He would get better sooner if you lot didn't crowd me like that. I'm trying to perform surgery here, so if you don't mind...?"
"Cash," Julian said shortly, motioning for the Gangrel to do what Martin had told him.
Cash frowned at him, but he did draw back, Ronnie in tow, both Gangrel muttering about Ventrue arrogance.
With one last glance at Daedalus, Julian gathered himself. "Cash," he called after them. "Bring the Brujah over. We need to plan our defense. Martin, do you know how to use a gun?"
"All right, listen up, men," Tom Cohen shouted. "Our objective is the complete extermination of everything that moves within that warehouse over there. I've been given full authorization. The weapons you have been issued contain phosphorus projectiles, one single round of which will kill your target. We assume there are less than a dozen hostiles inside. The area within the warehouse is partially obstructed by objects of varying size, so be clear of your target before you shoot, and mind your friendlies. Surround the building, and on my signal, storm it. No one inside is to leave it alive. Is that clear?"
Around him, almost three dozen men nodded. None of them had showed surprise at the harshness of the order, but then again, these were not your garden variety cops. Cohen had used up every favor he was owned in order to get them. But if he managed to destroy the godless monsters that had infested this city once and for all, it would be effort well spent.
"What is our signal, sir?" one of the men asked.
Cohen grinned, squinting up at the cloudless sky. "The warehouse has a roof that can be opened to let all that lovely sunlight in. As soon as that happens, storm the building."
Inside the warehouse, the Kindred awaited the attack, tense and silent. Julian had assigned the Gangrel and Brujah to posts up on the rafters, both to keep them out of the line of fire and to give them an overview over what would become a chaotic battlefield.
Daedalus and Martin were where they had been, now protected from three sides by heavy metal containers the Kindred had dragged there. With any luck, Julian, who had assumed a post nearby, would be able to keep any attackers away from them. Inside the improvised shelter, Martin was continuing feverishly with his surgery.
"They're surrounding us, Julian," Cash called down from his post. "They'll probably come through the windows."
"I'm counting ten on this side," Cameron added.
"Same here. Ten on this side."
"I see twelve on my side."
Julian frowned. They did not have enough ammunition for this many enemies. During the day, they couldn't use any of their Kindred powers. Most of them, in spite of Martin's blood bottles, had not fed enough to withstand the sun for very long. And Daedalus was still staked and vulnerable. This is not looking good, he thought grimly.
"I need about ten more minutes, Julian," Martin said, reading Julian's mind.
"Damn," Julian whispered. "Sonny, what's keeping you?"
Suddenly, a deep grating sound echoed through the warehouse. And before Julian's horrified eyes, a bright sunlit line appeared on the floor from one end of the warehouse to the other. The Ventrue looked up.
"THE ROOF!" he yelled.
The roof was opening.
The line of sunlight on the floor rapidly widened. When the roof was fully opened, there would be no shadows left for the Kindred to escape the deadly light.
At that moment, the attackers charged.
The large gap in the warehouse roof was clearly visible to Frank and Sonny, who doubled their efforts to reach the building. Since Julian's call to Sonny twenty minutes ago, they had wasted no time, but now it looked like they were going to be too late anyway.
"The roof mechanism's gotta be inside, Frank," Sonny yelled.
"I got it," the human cop shouted back. "You try and reach Julian. He'll need another gun on his side."
Fortunately, Frank knew the layout of the warehouse, so, once inside, he quickly managed to find the control panel for the mechanism.
He also found Tom Cohen.
"Tom?" he said, surprised. "What're you doing here?"
Tom whirled, pointing his gun at Frank. "Damn, Frank, you were right," he said, ignoring the question. "They're vampires. See? See how they're scuttling to save themselves from the sun?"
"You're behind this?"
"Oh yeah, Frank, I'm behind this. This will be my victory. See? Soon they'll all be burning, just like you described. Just like Alexandra." Tom turned his head to look over to where the battle was raging.
The casual mentioning of Alexandra and her gruesome fate was all it took to put Frank firmly in the Kindreds' camp on this one. He took his chance. Whipping out his gun, he slammed it across his colleague's head to knock him out. A few short steps while the man was still falling, then Frank's hand slammed down on the button marked "close".
Roaring with pain, Julian and Cash threw the tarp over the opening of the square formed by the three containers surrounding Daedalus and Martin, creating a small island of shade amids the unforgiving sun that now filled the entire warehouse. Then they darted under into the crammed shelter, hissing as the burning pain on exposed skin abated.
Martin looked at Julian and hefted the gun the prince had given him, a hopeless expression on his face. "I've fed last night, Julian. I could try -"
"It's not over yet, Martin," Julian snarled. "I'm not about to sacrifice anyone in some needless heroic act when there's still hope!"
"Ronnie is extinguished, Julian!" Cash shouted, licking his burned hands. "Cameron and Lloyd are the only Brujah left, and they're cut off! We've only managed to kill -"
"Quiet!" Julian interrupted him. "Do you hear that?"
They froze, listening.
"The roof is closing!" Cash shouted. "But how...?"
"Sonny," Julian said. "That hopefully means he's brought reinforcements."
"And Frank!" Cash added. "I bet he trailed along. I never trusted that cop!"
"We don't know that Frank is behind this, Cash," Julian said sternly. "We will hear his story first." He looked at Martin. "I want you to take care of Daedalus now. Get him mobile, whatever it takes. Cash will protect you. We are getting out of here!"
Suddenly, a human appeared in the open side of their shelter and aimed his weapon at them. Before anyone could react, a black and white shape jumped on the man, tore him down and knocked him out by bashing his head into the floor. Then the black-clad, bald figure looked at the three Kindred out of glowing red eyes that quickly faded to brown.
"Prince Julian? I'm Frederick. I understand you are in a bit of a tight spot...?"
Julian grinned. "You might say that. Thank you."
The short, thin Nosferatu grinned back, showing two rows of sharp, pointed teeth. With his bald domed head and spindly arms and legs, he looked a bit like an alien as he stared at the Prince out of large, unblinking black eyes. "Sonny told us what's going on. All Nosferatu within hailing distance are here, and a number of Ventrue, Gangrel, Toreador and Brujah."
A shadow fell over them. The roof was closing.
Julian and Cash stepped out of their shelter. All around them, humans were being overwhelmed by the largest army of combined Kindred Clans San Francisco had seen in a long time. Gangrel and Brujah were ganging up on mortals in one corner; in another, three Toreador, dressed like Celtic warriors and painted blue, were chasing a handful of cops into the waiting arms of two Ventrue dressed in expensive sports outfits. And among all of them, the silent, deadly Nosferatu were aiding any and all Kindred to bring down the Clans' common enemy.
Frederick grinned more widely and bowed theatrically. "The Masquerade will be preserved, my Prince."
"All right," Martin said ten minutes later. "I've removed all the fragments. The damage will take a while to heal, but he won't retain any permanent injury. We can remove the stake now."
"I'll do it," Julian said immediately. As soon as the battle was brought under control, he had returned to Daedalus' side to wait for precisely this announcement.
Martin looked sceptical. "We should try to immobilize him first, so he won't rip your head right off."
"No. He's been helpless long enough. Just see to it that he doesn't accidentally diablerize me."
Martin nodded. "As you wish. But be careful, my Prince."
"Excuse me," a voice said behind them.
Julian turned around.
It was Frederick. The Nosferatu was holding a live rat in either hand. "If you don't want him to feed on you, maybe you should offer him an alternative."
The Ventrue's face twitched in disgust. To him, drinking animal blood was out of the question; the mere thought made him feel sick.
Frederick saw the Prince's reaction and said reproachfully, "A nice fat rat is nothing to sneeze at if you're Nosferatu. The boss'd be grateful. If you don't like it, fine. Just don't blame him when he's turned you into a dried up husk." The Nosferatu smiled to lessen the disrespect in his words. Of course, in his case, smiling didn't help.
Fortunately for him, Julian was used to the sight of the members of this most inhuman-looking of Clans, and to their matter-of-fact attitude, having been friends with Daedalus for decades. Besides, Frederick had a point. "Oh, all right, give me the rats."
Julian shuddered as he felt the animals' warm bodies squirming in his hands. The things I do for you, Daedalus, he thought.
"He'll probably need more of them," Frederick said helpfully. "He's looking pretty dried out." The Nosferatu had knelt down next to his Primogen and was stroking the unmoving face with surprising tenderness. "Good idea with the stake, though."
Julian felt a sharp stab of some unidentified emotion. "Step away and let me help him," he said gruffly. "We've delayed long enough."
Wordlessly, Frederick obeyed. He merely threw Julian a surprised look and scuttled off, presumably to catch more rats.
Martin, who had watched the exchange with suppressed amusement, now grew serious once more. He looked questioningly at his prince, one hand closed around the end of the stake.
Julian moved into Daedalus' line of sight, squirming rats held ready. He was chilled to find that his friend's eyes were still black with fear. He looked at the doctor.
"We should try to prevent him from moving too much," Martin said. "The injury is barely closed."
Julian nodded, kneeling down. "We'll try."
Martin yanked the stake out with a burst of vampiric strength.
Immediately, Daedalus surged up. Julian caught him and wrapped his arms around him, holding him, keeping him from getting up and injuring himself further. The Nosferatu's long arms in turn closed around him and held on.
For a long moment, they remained locked in each other's embrace. Julian could feel the sustained tremors in his friend's body, the cold, almost panting, breaths against his neck where Daedalus' face was buried.
Making no attempt to bite him.
Relieved, Julian let go of the rats he was still holding, using his hands instead to run them up and down Daedalus' body. He could feel his touch calming the terrified Nosferatu bit by bit.
At last, Daedalus sighed. "Thank you, Julian," he whispered, face still pressed against the Ventrue's neck.
"You're welcome," Julian whispered back. "How are you feeling?" He made no move to let him go.
Neither did Daedalus. "Better." His arms tightened. "Much better."
Across the warehouse, a few Brujah were watching.
"Aren't they a pretty pair?" one of them snickered. "The beauty and the beast."
The others laughed nastily.
Cameron didn't join in the laughter, or in the more saucy remarks that followed. He was, of course, aware of the rumors concerning the relationship Julian had with his Nosferatu Enforcer. And here seemed to be proof before their eyes. The Brujah were having a field day.
For some reason, Cameron only felt sad.
"They attacked us, Frank," Julian Luna had said. " Of course we fought back. We were simply fighting for our lives, just like any human would have done. We're not that different from you."
And just like humans throughout history, the different Clans had put aside their differences and stood together in their defense against a common enemy.
He's right, Frank thought, putting down his coffee cup onto his desk. God help me, he's right.
After the excitement of this morning, it had turned out to be a quiet day at the precinct, and here, among the soothing hubbub of everyday cop life, Frank could even imagine a common enemy uniting humans and Kindred to fight side by side.
But then Frank shook his head. No common enemy could be scary enough for that.