Reading order:

1. Brujah for Dinner 2. The Shocking Mystery of Grape Soda Pop Revealed.

Now that I am no longer constrained by a certain word count with a challenge (see '...Grape Soda Revealed') this story can really fly. So get ready for long and frequent chapters. As long as my brain doesn't fizzle out and suffer from writer's block.

Disclaimer: I own no other character in this story beyond Marie, Verameth, and Joshua. Please don't sue me. I like my nice comfy home and I wouldn't be able to feed my monstrous cat if I was in jail.

This chapter posted on 7/5/07

The Aftertaste of Grape Soda

The sun was rising on the city of San Francisco and Marie du Vigne lay in bed reflecting on the past week's wild events. She had been invited by her Sire to help Daedalus in his duties as Enforcer for one full week after she'd broken the Nosferatu's nose while in a drunken fit. Three cans of grape soda led to her punishment.

Both Julian and Marie didn't have a clue caffeinated and carbonated beverages affect Kindred like a shot of vodka affected humans. Much to the Prince's consternation, it was a little known secret mostly enjoyed by the Nosferatu. Marie chalked it up as a learning experience in several ways. First, she learned that Nosferatu were sneaky little bastards who harbored secrets which that were fairly valuable. Second, getting drunk on grape soda definitely wasn't worth the punishment. Daedalus and her Sire held her down in the bathtub and drained all the blood out of her body before replenishing it in order to rid her system of the sugary toxin. That had hardly been fun.

So for one full week she would trot about the city and help the man whose duty was to punish and/or kill those who broke the Prince's laws. If the circumstances leading up to this job weren't so bizarre, Marie might have enjoyed it more. There was plenty of action to be had.

She recalled that on the first night she'd been stabbed by a human while trying to remove some Kindred entrails from the city morgue. Nothing a pint or two of blood wouldn't cure, but still. Being stabbed is being stabbed. It stung like a bitch and Daedalus wouldn't let her feed from the human who'd injured her. He said that in her anger she would lose control and wouldn't stop in enough time. At least he was nice enough to take her hunting afterward.

Night two had been no better. Daedalus was in a comedic mood and thought it'd be cute jump out and scare her when picking her up for their nightly rounds. Marie stepped into her bedroom, or rather her Sire's bedroom, when she sensed a Kindred presence behind her. The door mysteriously shut of its own accord and a Nosferatu rematerialized less than a food in front of her. Survival instincts in high gear, Marie gasped, her hand reflexively shot out and grabbed at the man's throat. The amused grin disappeared off the man's face while, just as reflexively, he put a hand on her sternum and shoved her back and twisted out of her deadly grasp. Marie crashed into her armoire, items flying everywhere. The worst of it was her container of LancĂ´me face powder. The room looked like a pastry chef had gone insane.

One thing she had to say in Daedalus' defense when Julian came running to investigate the commotion- at least he had the decency to look embarrassed when he apologized for the mess.

"Oh I see. You were just trying to keep me on my toes...hmm," Marie didn't sound vary convinced.

"What if you attack a friend thinking they are your enemy, young one? You need to be able to suppress certain reactions until you are sure of what kind of enemy you face."

"I understand your motive. I do. Truly, I do. However just a forewarning: if you ever scare me like that again I will not use duct tape on your mouth. Next time, I'll use superglue."

Marie's threat made the ancient Nosferatu smirk within the shadows he inhabited. "What makes you think you'd even get past my front door the next time without dying?"

The Ventrue's expression turned from bravado to mute respect. Some of the booby traps she'd seen his Clansmen employ were frightening. Rusty nails became warped weapons of mutilation. These guys didn't need razor wire or landmines. Chicken wire laced with potent poisons worked just fine, thank you very much. The mundane became murderous with the Nosferatu.

It had been hard enough to sneak into one of his havens on the borders of his Clan's territory when the Garou had been in town. At the time she'd brushed him off saying the only thing she needed to get past his defenses was a flashlight and common sense. That wasn't exactly the truth. It had taken her a solid ten minutes just to figure out how to open the door.

Now she wished she had never gone to look for him that night. Her ancient friend was a history buff, painter, alchemist, physician, and Enforcer. He naturally had a lot of 'stuff' lying about his havens due to his erratic multitasking lifestyle. Random papers strewn on one table had a weird sort of shorthand scrawled all over them. The one phrase written in longhand read "V and N. Mixed creates mutant childe. Throwback." Marie felt as though her stomach had been ripped open. Nauseous, she sat down at the small wooden chair. For the next hour she racked her brain in vain trying to think of what the phrase could mean. It struck a chord within her and why, she had no explanation. Why would Daedalus write about a 'mutant childe?' Who was this V and N? Throwback who? Who was being tossed away?

Due to the irritation he'd shown when discovering her within his haven, she had never mentioned what she had found. The mystery was something she doubted she'd ever learn the answer to. The Nosferatu Primogen was simply too secretive about certain things.

Her third night on duty as his assistant made her wish she was on a beach being baked to her Final Death. With no sunscreen.

Julian had called them both to the library. Like the dutiful servants of the city they were, they obeyed the summons. And like the aggravated Childe she was, Marie groaned when she heard the assignment: security rounds in the forest behind the Prince's property. She hated security rounds on the property. That particular assignment was at the top of her List of Hated Things. Just about as bad as hearing fingernails running down a chalkboard. The Gangrel who accompanied them usually sniffed at every twig in the vicinity like dogs. They were worse than golden retrievers.

Strange noises had been heard the past few nights and every time the regular contingent of guards investigated, no sign of violence was ever found and there didn't appear to be any other predators in the area.

"Are you scared there are more Garou in those trees, Marie," her Sire had asked tauntingly. The last one had tried as she put it; to chew on her neck like a chew toy. The youngest of his Brood had been a tad bit unnerved by the whole experience.

Marie just huffed and crossed her arms. "Are you scared I'll bring you another skull?"

"No. I'm scared you're going to beg me to keep it again," he replied with an honest looking frown. "Because you know I cannot allow that. The Masquerade is far too important to allow you to have more trinkets from your kills," he said referring to the two Garou fangs she kept on a necklace around her neck. Every time he looked at them he inwardly cringed and remembered his own days of killing for Archon. "But if something does need to be killed, please make sure it is properly destroyed and there are no traces left behind."

Just as the moon hit its zenith in the night sky, the culprit was found. A caitiff Gangrel.

The other Gangrel guards who surrounded the scruffy looking man sniffed him appraisingly. Eleventh or twelfth generation, they pronounced with concealed scorn. It certainly wasn't his fault his Sire had Embraced and abandoned him without telling him that he was now one of the most reviled specimens of his species. A caitiff Kindred that high of a generation is weak and typically without any real talent in the blood. Better off dead than alive, for he'd eventually wind up as food for Elders with a penchant for Diabolerie.

The young Gangrel was escorted back to the Prince's home for interrogation and judgment.

Night Four of her tortured existence as Daedalus' assistant ended with a bang. A particularly unruly Brujah had dared to set up a malicious prank on two Nosferatu living on the fringe between Nosferatu and Brujah territory.

The Fourth of July holiday was in full swing; San Francisco was buzzing and popping with the sounds and smells of fireworks going off overhead. Verameth and his lone Childe, Joshua, arrived at the door of their small haven from hunting. Joshua put his hand on the rusty door handle and just as he did a loud shrill startled him. His Sire's bulky form shoved him roughly against the door. The pair was assaulted by screeching and popping from an unknown source behind them. The smell of fire and smoke, and close by. Frenzy ridden, the Nosferatu howled in instinctive fear and clambered into their haven. Sounds of laughter echoed and a rustle was heard in a clump of nearby foliage as the intruder escaped.

When Verameth got his wits about him once again, he poked his bald vein covered head out the door to see who the evil doer was. The scent of Brujah was now hot in their nostrils.

When Daedalus and Marie heard about the incident from another nearby Nosferatu, all three Kindred made the forty-five minute trek to Verameth's haven. A gentle knock on the door and requests for entrance were made on each individual's behalf. The sight which greeted Marie made her laugh out loud in surprise.

The naughty prankster Brujah had been caught, turned upside down, and trussed up by his ankles to the rafters. Verameth was busy poking the man in the face with a lit sparkler, the flying sparks illuminating the Rabble's face and wildly dilated pupils.

Daedalus watched in rapt silence as his Clanmate teased the Brujah mercilessly with the long thin sticks exuding colored sparks. By the time a full box of the fireworks had been used, the Brujah was covered in blood sweat, trembling in fear.

"Come back and I'll poke you with something a hell of a lot sharper, you Rabble filth," Verameth growled at the man when he cut him down and let him fall in a heap on the floor. The visibility of gleaming fangs drove the Nosferatu's warning home in the Brujah's mind.

Nights Five and Six were thankfully eventless. Or at least, without a major catastrophe. Some shooting between the Gangrel and Brujah in town needed investigating. No one was seriously hurt. Just basic damage control to protect the Masquerade.

Her Seventh and final night was by far the most disturbing, at least to her sensible Ventrue mind. No violence occurred. Marie was sorry it hadn't, because by the time the sun rose again she wished she was in her grave.

Daedalus felt that on her final night of servitude to him that it would be wise to make her read the entire fifteen hundred page book titled A Childe's Rights and Responsibilities, written in the late 1800's by a Ventrue called Ian Woodley. For over nine hours she did nothing but read and recite portions of the text to the Nosferatu. At the end there was a verbal quiz. Marie felt her eyes cross and her mouth go dry at the last question.

"Tell me why you do what you do." The ancient held a lit cigar in one pale hand and a wine goblet in the other. The smug bastard was enjoying this.

"What do you mean," she hedged.

"Why do you choose to do the things you do?"

"Because I choose to do them," she answered hesitatingly. What did he want here?! A confession of all her sins the past dozen years of her life? Or was he concerned with the breaking of his nose?

She almost missed the hint of a smile he gave her. But it was there. His nose flared gently and then his face was a stony mask once again.

"Exactly. Good. You can choose everything about your existence from the friends you keep and how you react to events. You can even choose to be a worthy Childe for your Sire or be the most despicable creature he is forced to deal with on a nightly basis. If the latter decision is made however, I have no doubt he would put your life to a rather swift end. But either way, the choice is entirely in your hands."

"I would hope you understand by now what role the Beast plays in all this. Do you?"

Marie pondered the question for a moment. "I think you mean that the Beast is the one thing we have to control above all else."

"Precisely. Some call it the spirit of the wild and others call it a demon conjured up from Hell as Caine's punishment. No matter what it really is, the Beast is the most dangerous thing in our existence. Some can overcome it permanently. Most struggle against it every night of their undead lives. If the Beast is set loose, we in turn lose the very essence which makes us cousins of humanity. We lose our inhibitions and rational thought. Rational thought makes our society function. Rational thought is what has made Nosferatu Clan last as long as it has while others have long since died off."

"You are quite lucky, Marie. You were Embraced by a Ventrue and have the guidance of the Nosferatu should you desire it. Don't waste your precious youth by being a scourge to those who love you and would cherish teaching you all that they can."

At this point, Marie felt about two inches tall.

"I don't believe that youth is wasted on the young," he continued. "We were all young once. But I do believe that youth can be wasted in exercises in futility and ignorance. Impulsiveness leads to destruction. The best way to know something is to ask, especially with the complexity of our lives. Do you understand, Childe?"

The Ventrue sat stunned for a matter of seconds before her mouth opened. "Yes."

"You may go."

Marie slowly rose from her cushioned chair and let her feet take her up the stairs to her Sire's home, her heart heavy. The truth hurt.