Hello, all my loyal readers. It's been a year, and it's been a mad and strange year. I'm sorry to you all for making you wait so long. I appreciate all the new readers who have found my work over that last year, as well as the loyal ones who have no doubt been waiting impatiently for more of Lucius' journey. I don't know how impressive this chapter will be, but I've also been working on a side story about Paul and Hannah, which I will be posting shortly. I plan on running both stories parallel to each other, and I plan on posting updates to both far more frequently than I have been. I hope you enjoy this very, very delayed update to Lucius' unlife. Happy Haloween, everyone!

Well, what now? I wondered to myself as I sat on a bench on the side of the road, next to the spot where I'd put Patty in the cab.

I'd had little time for introspection since the disaster with Jezebel. I pulled a cigarette out of my pack and put it to my lips, looking forward to the familiar sensation. I pulled out my zippo and flicked the flame into life from nothingness. My creation startled me, making me jolt back in fear of death. The primal urge, to flee from flame, was so very... physical, so solid. As the fear faded, I laughed, enjoying the fear, enjoying the reality of it all. After the surreal adventure I'd just had, anything that could anchor me was welcome, even fear. I lit the death stick and inhaled, feeling the familiar burn, tasting the familiar taste. But the sensation... the ritual had been enough up until now, but I wanted that nicotine rush to remove the mild itching in the back of my mind. The chemical was stuck in dead lungs, and wouldn't be pumped to my dead brain by my dead heart. But I had living blood, blood that could animate my muscles if I wanted them to move – I was a corpse, but I had just a sliver of stolen life. I pumped my heart by hand, forcing the blood to carry my vice to my mind – and I felt like I was eighteen, smoking my first cigarette all over again. Light headed, I coughed, I laughed, relaxing for the first time in far too long.

It was all so... mundane. So normal. I felt... alive. And yet, as I was forced to pound my heart back into action, I was more acutely aware of my status as a corpse than I had been in a long time. How long has it been since I just sat and thought about that whole mess? About what it's like to be alive and dead at once, it a strange limbo state that defies all laws of reality, scientific or mystical. When did I... My mind drifted back, to my shitty Santa Monica apartment, my haven – though it had never really felt that way – but that was the last place I'd thought about my new nature. I remembered the way I'd stumbled through the full realization of what I was, of my undead state. I remembered the way I'd stared out at the streets from my window, confused and angry, hungry and afraid to feed. It had been so confusing... and so simple. No factions to play against one another, no elaborate political tightrope... a tightrope I've fallen off of quite dramatically. Now, I'm worried that the Anarchs might come after me. And LaCroix is still probably trying to kill me, or at least lead me into death. And Strauss is far from a safe bet, as the Domination he put on me shows. I have no real friends, no one to turn to, no one to help me. I feel so... vulnerable right now.

I thought back to my old apartment, and realized that it was completely insecure. I don't know if the Anarchs know about it yet, but LaCroix does. And I... I left a diary there. Incriminating evidence of my intentions. God, how could I be so stupid? I need to... to... I took another drag and calmed myself down, letting my worries drift out with the smoke. Okay, so I need to take care of that, but it underlines a far bigger problem. I should be able to keep private documents somewhere safe. I need a haven. A real haven. Somewhere I can know that I'm not being watched, not in danger. Bit where do I find one? I guess I could get an apartment or something, but... I need money. And a fake ID. And I'd have to fake a lot of paperwork.

Resigned, I leaned my head back onto the brick wall behind me, and I felt the throb of bass echo through it into my skull. I smiled. I'd never liked this kind of music, but it was rapidly becoming comforting – The Confession was a place where I was under no pressure, a place of easy blood and easy opportunity. Hell, doesn't Venus owe me money for something? I don't even remember what... oh yeah, I killed some guys for her. Ha! After the night I've had, I can see how a few minor murders might slip my mind. God, so fucked up when I consider what I know about death now. And yet... they attacked me. I mean, I don't plan on being so cavalier about killing, after this whole experience, but I'm definitely not going to hesitate when someone decides to threaten me. It's one thing to respect the sanctity of life and the soul, another to refuse to stand up for yourself. But, whatever. I could use a drink, and I could use some money.

I stood up and wandered around to the entrance of the club.

I walked up to the bouncers and tried to walk past, casually. They weren't having it. They immediately closed ranks. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" The one on the right boomed at me.

I stepped back, trying to act nonchalant. "Um, I'm trying to go see Venus. Is there a problem?"

He crossed his arms and scowled down at me. "Yeah, there's a problem. I don't know what you've been doing tonight, or who you killed, but you look like a goddamn psycho that crawled out of the sewers." Not far off the mark, actually. "You're gonna freak out everyone in the club. Get the hell out of here before the cops show up and shut us down."

I took a moment to assess my situation. Walking away would make sense. It would be the easy option. The sensible option. It was also the cowardly option. I thought back to when I was huddled in the bathroom of The Last Round, humiliated, realizing that I'd just gone along with what I was told, that I was respected by no one. Goddamnit, I won't be fucking talked down to by these humans. I did Venus a favor. She owes me money. She owes me something. And I'm fucking hungry. We don't have to take this. And if we do, we're just going to keep getting walked all over. "Look, I'm fucked up because of something I had to do for Venus. I'm going to go in and talk to her. You can either let me in, or be next on my list. Now move."

I stared into his eyes and bent his mind to my will. He moved aside. His silent companion reached out as though to stop me, but I just stared at him and put him in a Trance. I walked past, smiling, my grin barely concealing my fangs, my hunger rising up. But I refused to lose control. I just smiled at the patrons as they stared at my bloody, ripped suit as I walked into the Confession, kind of loving the attention.

In the darkness, the blood stains were less noticeable. Or maybe people were just too fucked up to realize how out of place I was. It didn't matter. I walked over to the bar and sat down. Venus was busy, dealing with a slew of customers. She had some fumbling young blonde girl with short curly hair, dressed in a short black dress and nothing else helping her deal with the deluge. It took a minute before she saw me.

"Hi there, what can I get you this evening?" Her response was mechanical and her eyes passed through me.

"You can get me the money you owe me."

That made her look up and actually see me. "Lucius! I, um, I'm glad to see you! And in one piece! I heard about happened, and-"

"There he is!" The bouncer I'd Dominated had come into the club, and ran over to me, grabbing me by my jacket collar.. "I don't know what you did, but you're in for a world of hurt if you think you can come in here and-"

"John!" Venus exclaimed, running around the bar towards me. "You let go of him this instant! What's wrong with you?"

"I, uh, this guy, he was," John stammered, sounding dumber with each word.

"Didn't I tell you to let 'this guy' in? What am I paying you for if you can't even follow basic instructions?"

"But Venus, he was-"

"I don't want to hear it. Go outside and do your damn job, before I decide to give it to someone else!"

John meekly backed away. It was extremely gratifying to watch the lummox realize he'd screwed up. The feeling of having influence, of having a powerful mortal ally, was intoxicating. I need this. I need to have a place where I can feel like I'm in control. Things have been completely out of my hands since my embrace. Quite frankly, I'm sick of it. I smiled at Venus once he was gone, asking her, "It's kind of loud. Could we go somewhere more private to talk?"

She beamed back at me, saying, "I was about to suggest the same thing. Follow me." She to a door behind the bar, gesturing me to follow her, telling the already overwhelmed girl to, "Hold down the fort 'til I get back." The poor girl's dismay at being left alone couldn't have been more apparent. I just smiled, amused. Wish that was the worst thing I had to worry about. Venus opened the door and I followed.

We walked up stairs, onto walkways that went over the club. I looked down at the mass of humanity below me. I watched them throb in time to the beat, I watched their auras swirl in time to the music, bursting with the colors of lust and love, wild abandon and ecstatic release. I smelled blood drifting up from the throbbing mass of bodies, and I knew that I'd have frenzied if I was inside it, hungry as I was. But from above, detached, I could just appreciate the sheer mass of blood-filled humanity. Still, my mouth couldn't keep from watering as I wandered past two girls dancing in cages above the crowd, dressed only in blood-red bra and panties, handcuffed to the bars, gyrating to the music. I reached out to the girl on the right, the redhead, and my hand caught in the bars. She looked down at me and laughed, dancing her breasts closer to me, swaying her flesh mere millimeters from my fingertips. So close, yet so far... god I'm hungry. Must have used more blood up in that ritual than I thought.

"They're quite nice, aren't they?" I pulled my hand back and stared at Venus. She was dancing now, swinging her hips as she caressed the cage. I stared hungrily. "Hot little things. They're half the reason I have a packed crowd every night. I'm the other half." Venus gave me a wicked smile as she slid her hand along the curve of her body. Heh. She's not quite right about why I'm staring, but close enough. I think we found our meal. I licked my lips. Venus turned away, giving me a seductive look out of the corner of her eyes as she crocked a finger, telling me, "Come along, now. We're almost there."

We headed past the cages, past the crowd. We passed above the altar with the inverted cross that put a smile on my face. "Nice touch, there. Heresy always had a special place in my heart."

Venus smiled back at me. "Excellent. I was worried that you were like most mob fools, heart of stone except when it comes to God. Never made a lick of sense to me." She turned and opened a door past the altar. Behind it, the music cut off as thick stone absorbed everything but the bass. Everything was different back here. The club was all open space, vast gothic arches overhead making you feel like it stretched on forever. Back here it was thickly claustrophobic, with tight hallways made of huge bricks, making everything feel small and cramped. The hallway led off to the right and left, but Venus took me straight forward, down a winding spiral staircase in a small tower. At the bottom, we passed through a narrow arch into a what was once some sort of rectory, converted through redecoration into a comfortable modern office.

Venus walked to her desk, turned and leaned back on it as she casually eyed me up and down. "No offense, but you look like shit. I hope those men didn't hurt you too badly."

I looked down at my torn suit, covered in blood. "Oh, this? No, this is from some other bullshit I had to deal with tonight. I killed those Russian idiots with no problem."

Her eyes widened, impressed. "Is that so? Seems you've had a busy night. Is every night like this for you?"

As hectic as this night had been, I thought back over my existence since my embrace, and honestly, it only stood out because of the whole thing with Paul. In terms of pure violence, there was nothing to make it particularly exciting. Hell, I've had to kill fewer people tonight than any other since becoming Kindred. "In recent memory, yeah. Kind of wish it wasn't, but you do what you have to, I guess. So, about the money you promised."

"Yes, of course." Venus reached into her cleavage and pulled out a wad of cash, smiling mischievously as she handed it to me. I smiled hungrily back at her as I took the payment. Is she actually this into me? A quick scan of her aura revealed otherwise. This was all calculated – she wanted me to want her, as part of some plan to get me to agree to help her, no doubt. Problem was, it was working, in a way – all I could think about was how to get close to her, how to penetrate her with my fangs. Sure, I could jump her here, but that would ruin any potential business relationship we might have. I had to play this carefully. "You certainly did better than my bouncer did – poor dear can't turn his neck to the right any more. You're tough. I must say, I'm impressed."

Once again, she looked me over, slowly this time, smile growing as she did so. I was getting sick of this game. I was impatient to figure out what she wanted, and impatient to feed. "So what do you want from me?"

She opened her mouth in mock surprise and indignation. "What, I can't just thank you for helping me out of a sticky situation?" Her mouth turned into a pout.

I probably could have played things better, but I'd been jerked around enough tonight. "I get the feeling you're not quite unstuck yet."

Her pout turned into a smile, this one genuine. "Glad to see you're as smart as you are tough. And you already made it clear that you won't do business unless you have all the facts laid out. Very smart. So let me lay it out for you. To start this club, I had to take out a significant loan from a king bastard named Boris. Every time I haven't been able to make the monthly fee plus far too much interest, that bastard takes what he feels is a suitable late fee. It's the reason I can barely stay afloat, even though this is one of the most successful clubs in downtown LA."

"Ah. I take it the men you sent me to deal with worked for Boris?"

Venus nodded, fear and desperation coming into her eyes. "Already had a call from Boris – wasn't too happy about tonight, son of a bitch. Said he's going to make me pay... one way or another."

I felt a twinge of pity for this woman – but only a twinge. She got herself in this mess. Still, there's opportunity here... big opportunity, if she's as desperate as she seems. And unless I'm reading her aura wrong, she's not faking that. Who cares? Just agree to whatever she says so we can feed, think about it later! I silenced the Beast with a little strength of will. "So I take it you want to end your business relationship with this man, and he won't let you off the hook."

She shook her head. "Listen, I know it's a lot to ask, but you're obviously someone well connected. I assume you're in the mob or some kind of criminal organization – you have allies and resources you can call on, right?"

"I mean... I'm not really in any sort of organization. Without going into too much detail... I'd say I have connections and contacts with a lot of groups, but I belong to none. Though after tonight, I'm pretty sure I've cut my ties with one organization – disorganized as they are, fucking Anarch...ists. But yeah, I'm kind of a free agent."

Her eyes lit up at "anarchists," and she was smiling from ear to ear at "free agent." "How very interesting. I knew there was something about you that clicked when we met. See, you and I, we both like having our independence, no?" I nodded. "Right. Well, I'm sick of being under Boris' thumb. In fact, I'll be blunt." She squared her jaw, and I saw steely determination hit her eyes. "I refuse to... fuck," she spat the word like a curse, "that fat, misogynistic old man one more time to hold on to this club. I'm better than that, god damn it! So I need you to... eliminate him." Her lips slid into an evil smile at those last two words, obviously relishing in the fantasy of being a mob queen, of putting out a hit. And she wanted me to be the hitman.

Great! Just agree so we can feed already! Hold on a minute, I need to know, "What do I get out of this?"

She stepped closer to me, nearly touching me, looked right into my eyes, and asked, "How would you like to get into the club business, hm?"

"What exactly does that entail?"

"Well, basically I'd make you co-owner with me. I'd continue operating the club as I see fit, and you get to reap all the benefits."

And suddenly I was intrigued enough to forget my hunger for a moment. I'd expected promises of payment, but not this. My own domain. My own territory. My own personal blood supply, available whenever I want... Hold on, let's not jump the gun here. Details. "What's that mean? What sort of benefits?"

"Well, first of all, you'd get ten percent of the profits every week. I'd say that should run three or four hundred. I only take ten percent myself, I invest the rest back in the club. And of course, you and your friends get free admittance, free drinks, the whole VIP treatment."

Hm... tempting, tempting. "Speaking of VIP, what about access to a private VIP area?"

"I considered having the walkway or one of the areas back here as a VIP lounge, but I ran into security issues. Too much access to my personal office and all that. There's three towers at the back. I use one of them for storage, this one is my office, and the last one is this dusty, creepy old thing, used to be the priest's room or something. Full of old books and stuff. I haven't gone in there in ages, honestly."

And I was hooked. Another Haven. One not controlled and monitored by LaCroix. No one would even know this place was mine, wouldn't think to look for me here. Even Strauss doesn't know about it, meaning I could keep necromancy notes here and he'd have no idea. I smiled. "Could I have that tower? Like, as my own personal area? Where I have the only key?"

She eyed me askance. "What on earth for?"

"Don't worry about it. Just tell me – could I?"

"I, uh, I suppose so. I don't use it. Don't see why you'd want it, but fine. It's out of the way – only way to get to it is through the walkway and those small hallways behind the club. No other way in. Really inconvenient."

So it's hard to get to. It's hidden. It's secure. It's perfect. "That's actually a selling point. And I'm nearly sold."

She casually slid up to me, leaning against me, running her hand along my blood-encrusted tie. She coyly looked over at me. "Nearly? Well, could it possibly take to seal the deal?" Fucking finally! God, all work and no play really do make Johnny a dull boy. Can you stop talking business now and fucking jump her already? I laughed. "Well I would like to get to know you a little better, first. After all, we are about to become business partners."

She laughed, genuinely amused, though her aura was also emanating a feeling of triumph. She suddenly stopped the laughter, face dead serious. She looked into my eyes intently. "Before we go any further, I need you to give me your word. You have to promise me, here and now, that you'll kill Boris. That you'll find some way to end that disgusting, miserable old fuck forever."

I smiled. I don't know about forever, but he'll be dead, yeah. I nodded. "I promise I will kill Boris for you, if you will make me co-owner and give me the unused tower." I reached out my hand and she shook it.

I watched her face bloom into a triumphant grin, and she squeezed my hand. "Agreed. I have complete faith in you. I get the feeling that this is the start of a mutually profitable and pleasurable relationship." She relaxed against me, eyes languid and sensual and full of promise. "Well, now that we're partners, is there anything you'd like to know about me? Ask me whatever you want, I'm open to anything."

I smiled at her, eager and hungry, ready to shred this charade. I could feel the Beast inside me, ravening, raging, screaming about cravings and sex and violence and blood, and I could tell there was some kind of echo of that inside her. "Tell me, Venus – does the thought of ordering a hit on Boris turn you on? Do you like having this kind of power?"

There could be no questioning the effect my words had on her – her eyes lit up, as a wicked smile crept across her lips, and she positively purred, "Oh god, yes. Let's end this silly game. Come here, you brutal killer."

She pulled me into a forceful embrace, aggressively shoving her tongue into my mouth. I felt her gasp, and realized I was corpse cold. I bit down on the offered appendage, my mind lighting up as the precious vitae hit my tongue. I was lifted up on that familiar wave of life, and warmth flooded back into my flesh, spreading out from my tongue entwined around hers. We were in utter bliss for a few stunned seconds. I released her tongue, wanting more, needing more. I swirled my tongue around hers as she pulled it out, all signs of damage erased. She stumbled back and felt her tongue for blood. There were a few drops, but not enough to alarm her. She laughed at the blood and stared at me with naked hunger. "My my, but aren't you vicious. Good. I like it rough. Now, show me what you can really do."

With an evil smile, I complied, pulling her hair back and plunging my fangs into her inviting jugular. I was swept away in that rush of ecstasy, that absolute fulfillment of the one need that was my existence, that mixture of lust and hunger and thirst, of every physical desire a mortal could feel combined, and stacked on top of it was that most fundamental desire – the desire to live, to live forever. And more, sliding on the waves of ecstasy, of sexual union, was that ultimate invasion – the invasion of the mind. Her memories slid into me with her life essence, and I gobbled up her mind as greedily as I sucked out her life.

I saw Venus, a rebellious teenage rocker in London, radical and wild. At sixteen, in the late eighties, she ran away from her stuffy, proper, middle class home to become a groupie for a local metal band, Corrosion. She lived in their garage, drank their beer, smoked their pot, fucked all of them, and actually managed to get them to get along and play well. They got decent and made money, so their manager set up a tour of a bunch of towns in the English countryside, and maybe London if they did well enough. She followed them on a wild ride of increasing debauchery that could only be described as any parents worst nightmare, and Venus took it upon herself to bring as many people as possible in to the carnival of excess. She shamelessly promoted her band, made sure to acquire excess amounts of anything that could get a human fucked up in any way, then pushed herself to go above and beyond everyone around her in her pursuit of excess, and calling anyone who couldn't keep up with her "a' right fuckin' pussy!' Corrosion was a wild success thanks to Venus, and they got to play in London. London was more than I could handle. The sheer overwhelming rush of pleasures and pains, highs and comedowns and sexual escapades of such intensity and variety that I can't- it made no sense but god was it good. I watched Venus's life slide into a writhing pit of decadence and abandon, as I watched her slide to her knees, her legs unable to support her. I held her up, not wanting to give up the rush of confidence and power that was blasting into me with her memories rushing in fast forward, a spinning haze of sex and drugs and rock and roll rioting across London, rioting across my mind...

I pulled out, terrified of what was happening to me. I'd felt this before, with Dennis. I hadn't had enough context at the time to understand, but I did now. I was high on some kind of drug, because Venus had been. I threw Venus to the ground, disgusted and afraid. Afraid of how much I liked this. I felt powerful, even more than I usually did after feeding. I felt confidence race through me at the same time nervous energy made me jittery to the point I was almost shaking. With a shudder, I pulled myself back to myself. Task at hand. And I felt like I could focus on any task superbly. So what's my task? Uphold the Masquerade, as always. Make this all look like sex rather than feeding.

I leaned over Venus, licking her wounds shut. I unzipped her jeans, then pulled her shirt over her head. I took a moment to stare at her exposed breasts, not feeling embarrassed in the least. Nice, I thought, but my mind already on the next task. I removed both of my coats, loosened my tie, unbuttoned my shirt, and then sat myself down in a chair, lighting another cigarette to calm my raging nerves and to fill time until Venus woke up.

Good god, I both can clearly see why people do drugs, and I can't fathom it. This feeling of power and confidence is amazing, but definitely not worth being this jittery and nervous and paranoid. Although, I've got to be paranoid. Have to be paranoid of myself. Can't risk getting hooked on anything. I took another drag of my cigarette. God, I can't stop thinking in overdrive. Will she remember anything when she wakes up? I just jumped her, she felt me when I was cold. I'm warm now that I've fed. Got to figure out how to do that all the time. Make sure I do it whenever I interact with mortals. Is there anything else I should do to make the story seem more believeable? Maybe take all her clothing off? Yeah, that would make sense. Or is that too much? Nah, she won't care, I've seen her life, she's woken up in way more fucked up situations. I bent down and took off her underwear carefully, so as not to wake her. This is weird. This whole situation is weird. What am I doing here? What the hell kind of life do I have now? Got to calm down. No reason to freak myself out. It's just this drug, whatever it is. I'm new to it. Let's keep it that way before I get addicted to addict blood. I watched this kind of thing destroy lives while I lived. I shook my head and pulled back into that meditative bubble, let myself slip into that old familiar pattern of relaxation as I inhaled my nicotine to drive out the feeling of this strange new substance, strange new experience.

I rapidly poured my thoughts into planning to distract myself. So, first things first, I need to make sure this club is safe. I need to make sure I can trust Venus. How? Ah, I know just the way. I only need to be alone in the tower I'll use as a haven. Then, to take care of this problem for Venus and make this my domain, I need weapons. I'll talk to Mercurio. And some way to bind Venus to her promises, since it's not like I can drag her into court if she screws me. Oh, and something I didn't think of before. What if this place is someone's domain? What if I'm stepping on shoes here by killing Boris? Oh, shit. I need to make sure of that before anything else. Is Venus a ghoul? I don't think so... that seemed like normal blood, though I don't know if I could tell normal addict blood from ghoul addict blood. I wish I'd drunk more so I could have seen more of her memories, so I'd know for sure... I looked down at Venus and began to ponder her.

I was trying to simultaneously consider all the different angles to making this my secure domain when Venus began to stir. Slowly, at first. She sat up, looking around, dazed. She stretched and yawned before pushing herself up. She spotted me. I gave her a satisfied grin before sucking on the end of my cig. She looked down at herself, then laughed. She stood up and quickly covered and composed herself, clearly not at all put off about finding herself naked on the floor of her office with no memory of what just happened but a pleasurable haze. Of course not. I've seen her memories. She's been through far more mad situations. Once dressed again, she just stared at me trying to express something... gratitude, awe, maybe even a little fear... but more than any expression or emotion, I saw eyes that were heavy-lidded and glazed with a narcotic happiness that I was sure had nothing to do with any chemical she'd ingested – I'd put that in her mind, with my fangs, which I licked discreetly. It looked like she liked this high. She spoke first. "I must say, I'm quite impressed. I haven't felt this good in... god, far too long."

Ha! She means she's never felt this good. Too proud to admit I was your best, eh? But her aura confirmed that she was genuine - she was really and truly stunned with pleasure, and therefore she was completely unfamiliar with the bite of a Kindred. At least I know I'm not stepping on any toes with her. Boris is another matter. "Well, I aim to please," was the only comment I could think of.

She shook herself. "You aim well. God, I feel light-headed. I need a bit of focus." With that, she started breaking out lines of white powder on her desk that my movie-trained mind tagged as cocaine. At least now I know what she was on. I was a little too stunned to say anything – I wanted to demand she stop, but knew I probably couldn't do so successfully without using Dominate. After all, this is her office, and drugs are an integral part of her life. Not that I have to like it. She quickly cut out lines and was putting them up her nose, while I looked down mine at her. After doing a line, she looked up to offer me a rolled up twenty, but I just gave her a withering look that sent her back to her drug. Between bouts of inhalation, I offhandedly, almost casually commented to her that, "You know coke is extracted natural insecticide from the cocoa plant, right? You do enough of that shit and it will make your heart pop, just as it's intended to do to bugs."

She looked up at me, resentment and disdain in her eyes and aura. "You know nicotine kills more people than all illegal drugs combined? Don't tell me you're one of those 'straight-edge' types I've heard about? Didn't know they actually existed."

"Yeah, I suppose you wouldn't," I replied as I took out another cigarette, thinking over her life, the way she had literally not interacted with a voluntarily sober person since she was sixteen. I shook myself. How has she even got this far? No wonder she ended up in such a fucked up situation. It's not like she even had a chance to live a normal life. She was just pulled into this strange world and had to adapt to it. Heh, not unlike someone I know...

She shot me back a withering glance of her own, asking, "What's that supposed to mean?"

My eyes flicked down as I flicked the lighter on, embarrassed that I'd spoken so freely. What am I supposed to say? I know because I saw your whole life when I ingested your blood and part of your soul? "Nothing." was all I said. I just smoked my cigarette, and she turned back to her coke.

She inhaled the last line of the toxic substance as I inhaled the last of mine. Right after doing her line, she cried out and pressed a finger to her nostril. I stared, wondering if she had hurt herself. "Are you okay?"

She just laughed. "Far better than okay. Goddamn! I said goddamn!" She chuckled to herself, obviously making some joke I didn't get. Then she turned a withering gaze my way. "Have you ever tried this stuff, or do you just rag on shit you know nothing about?"

Nope, never in life. I had more sense than that. Though in a way... I guess I have now, thanks to you. God, this does feel wonderful. I want her again... Task at hand, Lucius. I need to just change the subject. "Hey, do you think we could check out that tower you told me I could have? I just want to make sure it can meet my needs."

Smiling now, she playfully asked, "What, I don't meet your needs?"

I rolled my eyes. "I have many needs. You couldn't possibly meet them all. Though you're coming awfully close." I tried to give her my best smile, but from her reaction I probably only looked like a leering creep. Which was fine – the deal was already sealed and my hunger sated. I was done maintaining appearances – especially for someone that I knew had seen far, far more decrepit and uncouth beings than I and had accepted their behavior as normal. Of course, she has no idea the depths to which I've sunk... The thought unsettled me. If this kind of addiction and lack of control unsettled me, how could I be comfortable with my Beast? Maybe because you're a hypocritical little shit.

She interrupted my unsettling thoughts. "Well, alright. But I warn you, it's really a dusty old miserable place, nothing worth, well, anything really. Come with me." She got up and headed out of her office with me in tow.

We walked up the steep spiral staircase, into the narrow passageway that felt claustrophobic and prison-like. Or like a fortress. Let's stay positive. This place is amazing. No one could harm me here. No one will even know I'm here. This is my refuge. My sanctuary.

Venus pulled out an old key, like something from a Victorian mansion, and opened a wrought-iron lock on a thick oak door inlaid with intricate metalwork. It creaked as it swung open, revealing a dark chamber within. She flicked on a single light bulb on the ceiling, which provided barely enough light to fill the place, casting deep shadows everywhere. It felt like something from another time, like an old castle tower, complete with the narrow and tall windows. Easier to block out the sun. A rough circular wooden table sat in the middle of the room. A small desk sat on the far side of the tower, next to a few shelves that were full of ancient books with cobwebs sticking between those few titles not packed tight next to their fellows. In fact, cobwebs seemed to hang from every corner, and dust covered every surface, floating freely in the air now that we'd disturbed it.

"Well, this is it. Not much, I'm afraid. The old priest liked to live the simple, life, I guess. Hey, there's something you two have in common." She chuckled, a smirk on her face.

I just gave her a look out of the corner of my eye, muttering, "I wish my life was simple. Still, this could do. Is there anything else in this tower?" I looked around, seeing only a small cot.

Venus pointed to a narrow stairway spiraling up the side of the tower. "There's an attic, though I don't think it's in any kind of order. I don't even know if there's even a light up there."

I picked up one of two candelabras sitting on the desk. I lit all three candles on both, then handed Venus the other. "Well, let's go take a look. I'd like to see everything I'm getting in this deal, down to the smallest detail." I led the way up the stairs.

The stuffy room was lit only by my candle light. Every flicker sent shadows dancing across strange artifacts of this place's past. I feel something... A presence. A hostile presence. I heard whispers in the shadows, drifting on the still air, screaming at me to get out. The room was cluttered haphazardly with boxes full of dusty stacks of bibles or old religious books. Old vestments of the priestly office lay draped across a massive circular mirror leaning against the far wall, its edge elaborately carved wood. I set aside a large wooden cross the size of a man that stood in my path at the top of the stairs. Large metal symbols stood against the far wall, the his and chi rho, alpha and omega, a quarterfoil... I could see a baptismal font, a communion wine goblet, various ceremonial objects important to church rituals, along with large candles intended for the same purpose. Everything looked old, but not too old. This had all been used ten or so years ago. This place had once been a church. And this tower, this pile of discarded trash is all that was left of it.

Venus stepped in, her flickering light adding to my own. "Well, here you are. Not much to look at really. In fact, I've been meaning to throw most of this junk out since I bought this place, just never had time."

"It's fine as is," I replied. I knew there was a ghost here now, a very terrified one, demanding that I get out, that I leave his holy relics alone, calling on the power of God and his righteous anger to make us leave him and all that's left of his church, screaming about how Venus could desecrate everything else, but couldn't destroy this last refuge. After my experience with the Ocean House Hotel, the last thing I wanted was a ghost angry at me. But I knew a way to calm him down. To bring him over to my side. "I just need that mirror over there." I grabbed the priestly robes on top of the mirror and threw them on a desk. Venus moved to help me with the mirror, but I easily lifted the thing on my own, despite it being about three yards across. Not that it would be too heavy, but it was almost too awkwardly large to get a grip on. Venus watched me, impressed and a bit worried as I carefully made my way down the steep and narrow spiral stairs. Once it was clear I could handle myself, she grabbed my candles and went down after me.

I made it to the ground and hefted the mirror to the circular table, which was almost exactly the same size. I perched the mirror on the edge of the table facing the wall, and leaned the mirror up against it, its base barely resting on the edge of the table, two circles at right angles, only just touching. I'd just finished my arrangement when Venus made it down.

"Redecorating already? Well, I suppose that means you like the place, then?" She set the candles down on the table.

"Perhaps. Perhaps. I'd like to be here by myself for a few minutes."

Venus raised an eyebrow. "What, trying to get intimately acquainted with the old books?"

I chuckled. "You could say that, yeah. Just... give me a little time to think on some things. Like how I'm going to kill Boris. I'll meet you at your office when I'm done here."

I might have come off wrong, because Venus tensed up. "I, um, alright, fine. I'll just be along then. Come see me when you get bored of the cobwebs." She gazed at me, curious, trying to read my face – but I was showing nothing but a pleasant smile to her, maintaining it until she was out of the room, the door was closed, and I heard her footsteps move down the hall, and her door open and then close. Okay, so maybe I'm a little paranoid right now. Calm down. I dropped the expression like a mask, along with all outwards signs that I was breathing and alive.

I walked to the table, chalk in my hand. I spoke to the air, to the spirit I knew was there even if I couldn't see it, as I drew the circle and the symbols within. "I know you're there. Watching me. Watching over this place. I want you to know I intend you no harm. I could be a great help to you. You heard that Venus wants to throw away your things. I know how important these are to you. I know they tie you to this world. I can make sure they never go anywhere. Never." I emphasized the final word as I finished the inscription. I then hopped up on the chalk drawing I'd just completed to repeat it on the mirror in my blood. I continued speaking as I continued the ritual. "I also want you to know that I can drive out spirits, and I can reach into your world should I wish. I'm far more than I appear to be. But I really have nothing against you, and I'd rather we get along. Because I'm going to be staying in this tower, and we can either coexist agreeably, or you can be evicted." I felt a physical thickening in the air, as the ghost tried to steal my breath – breath I no longer needed. I laughed at his feeble attempts to fight me. I finished the ritual and placed candles at the points of the star, lighting them all. After a moment of consideration, I flipped off the lights. Sure, it made the whispers floating on the air that much creepier, but that only helped set the mood for the ritual.

I sat in front of the table, opposite the mirror, and concentrated. The barrier between worlds was already thin here, I had to do next to nothing to pierce it. I placed Paul and Hannah's fingers in the center and concentrated on them, calling their names aloud. They appeared instantly.

Hannah was still naked, except for one accessory – the shackles she had been wearing when I first summoned her. She had hooked one wrist into the other, fastening them around her waist like a belt. It kinda of works. Better than nothing, I suppose. Paul looked the same as always. They both looked surprised for a moment, then Paul burst out laughing.

"Lucius, you have the best timing. I swear, I had just mouthed off to the wrong ghost. You saved me from getting my face smashed in by this old guy claiming to be a legionnaire. Hell, he probably was in life. Definitely looked the part."

His left eye was bruised and swollen. Hannah had already moved over to him, gently running her hands over his face. "Are you okay?"

Paul laughed flippantly. "Ha! I'm fine. I've been through far worse." The bruise was already starting to fade.

Hannah looked up at him, worried. "Is the afterlife really that violent?"

"Oh, uh, I meant while I was alive. My afterlife was pretty boring until you died. But, uh, I guess you really don't know about half the stuff I got into while I was alive, do you?"

Hannah stared at Paul, eyes wide with concern but also seeming to reassess her lover. Hannah really didn't know anything about the supernatural world. Well, I guess letting the dead in on the secret isn't a breach of the Masquerade. "There's a lot you don't know – about the world of the living or the dead. I'm one of those weird ones that get to sit halfway between the two, never dying but never really living, either." Hannah turned to me, eyes widening, now reassessing me. "Paul helped out our kind while he was alive." She turned back to Paul, questions on her face. "I'll let Paul fill you in on the details later, I don't really have time right now. There's something we have to discuss. So if you two don't mind, I have a proposal to make to you both." I'm making a gamble here, but if I can trust anyone, it's these two. Especially because I have power over what's most important to them. Not that I ever plan on using it, of course. No, these two are the closest thing I have to friends right now. It's just, well, it just eases the mind to know I've got a backup plan.

"Yeah, of course. What's up?" Paul looked at me attentively, like a loyal dog eager to help me however he could.

I smiled a little, glad to know that I had someone to count on. Why did I even think of blackmailing Paul? He's never done anything but help me... except when Hannah was in danger. And now that he's with her, he'll be fine as long as the two of them are safe and secure. Which I can make sure of. "Well, look, we all kind of are... a little unstable right now. You both need a place where your things, your fetters..." I opened the backpack onto the table, spilling the things connecting them to this world haphazardly over the symbols. "...can be kept safe.. And, I guess you need some kind of place to stay, right? Some kind of home, or-"

"A haunt!" Hannah exclaimed, laughing. "I mean, that seems like as good a name for a ghost home as any, right?"

I nodded. "Yeah, sure, a haunt for you, a haven for me. See, I need a place to stay that's mine, that's safe. So I was thinking that this tower seems safe and secure. Plenty to eat for me out in the club, and I can keep all your stuff safe in here. What do you think? Is there any reason you can see why I shouldn't stay here?"

"I-" Paul stopped and looked to the side, staring at something that looked to me like a sputtering aura. "Huh? Wait, slow down, I can't understand you. Okay, hold on." He turned back to me. "There's this ghost here, he's a priest, and he's shouting about how this is his home, how this is hallowed ground being desecrated, and, uh, he's kinda mad and ranting."

I looked over at the priest, who I could see as a wispy outline of a man, his face only just barely perceptible if I concentrated really hard. He seemed scared and sad. Hannah was looking at him with pity, and tried to comfort him. "I understand. I mean, I only just died, and its already hard to accept that I can't really change anything. Of course you want to be remembered. It must be hard for you, with all these people partying here where you used to have a whole congregation and stuff. Hey!" She was suddenly upset, crossing her arms in front of her breasts. "Don't call me that! I'm just trying to help. And it's not my fault I didn't come into the world of the dead with any clothes on."

I chuckled. If he called her what I think he did, he's more accurate than he knows. "What's his name?"

Hannah had turned her back to the priest, sulking. Paul answered me. "Father Francis. He says we can stay, but he's not giving up on driving out the patrons and turning this back into a church."

I rolled my eyes. Whatever, I can always drive him out if I have to. "Father Francis, you can do whatever you want with your afterlife. Good luck convincing the people of LA to go to church instead of a club. As long as you don't try and drive me away. Last ghost that tried that found their fetters destroyed, you understand me? Leave Paul, Hannah and I alone, and I'll make sure you can stay here. Mess with us, and you'll end up... I don't know, wherever ghosts go when they can't touch the world of the living any more. Heaven of Hell, I imagine you believe. And obviously you still have something to do to earn Heaven, or your wouldn't be here. So don't make me kick you out before you're ready to ascend, yeah? Can you handle that? Are we good?"

I saw him nod and smiled. I knew playing on his religious beliefs would work. Paul excitedly exclaimed, "He says yes! This is gonna work out! Cool. Nice to meet you, roomie!" Paul moved to shake the man's hand, only to run into an invisible wall at the edge of the circle. I could see the priest roll his eyes when Paul started moving over, and laugh when he hit the wall.

I chuckled, too. "Yeah, that was funny. Paul, you already know you spirits can't get in or out of the circle. We found out when we rescued Hannah, remember?"

I saw Father Francis turn to me in surprise. Hannah turned around to look at me directly, instead of through the mirror, so her image turned around and I was staring at her back. I tried to focus on her actual ghost, in the circle, but it was hard. The image was so much more solid. "You can see him? Like, you can actually see us?" She turned to Paul, yelling, "Paul, you said we were invisible to the living! That Lucius could only see us through the mirror!"

"Turn around. I can see you a hell of a lot clearer through the mirror." She turned and sat to face me. "Paul told you the truth. I'm not alive, remember - I'm a vampire." I let that one sink in for a second. I watched Hannah switch from laughter, to confusion, to fascination. I could see the priest backing out of the room, so I fixed my gaze firmly on him and spread my hands reassuringly. "Father Francis, I want to swear to you right now that I'm nothing satanic or evil. I'm simply a person who has to feed on blood. I got this way because my Sire decided to Embrace me, not because I chose to in some dark ritual. So you can make all kind of prayers against evil with your cross that you want." As I was speaking, he was doing that very thing, holding out his cross at arms length and walking towards me. "Because they won't work. Because I'm not evil." Believe whatever you want, choirboy. You know you're lying. Deep down, you know you're lying to him and to yourself. Because deep down inside you, I'm there. And I may do many, many horrible things every chance I get, but I don't lie.

It took every ounce of willpower not to snarl at the Beast. I just fed! Why is he so loud right now? I kept my expression open and nonthreatening, and I watched the Priest scream at me, rant at me, and then run up to me and start smashing his huge wooden ghostly cross into me, or rather, through me. It seemed to tire him, and eventually he just stood there, hunched over and trying to pant but unable to.

Hannah broke the silence. "Yeah, I bet you never get used to that. Not being able to breathe, I mean. I catch myself trying all the time and it's so frustrating!"

Father Francis laughed at her. It was the first time I'd seen him smile. Paul smiled at her and then turned to me through the mirror. "Yeah, Lucius, you're lucky. You get to breathe if you want to, you just don't have to."

Father Francis turned back to me, glowering but no longer openly hostile. Hannah moved as close to him as she could, pressing up against the invisible wall at the edge of the circle. "Look, Father, I know you probably don't trust Lucius, but he's honestly one of the best people I've ever met. I've only just met him, and already I know he's an amazing person. I died tonight, did you know that? From this disease, I'd been wasting away for weeks. Right as I came through to this side, I had these chains put on me by a slaver who'd been sitting beside me, waiting for me to die. I had no chance, no hope. Then Lucius and Paul rescued me from slavery. Paul had known as soon as I'd died, and Lucius held me safe, even while I was shackled, until Paul could come and rescue me." She turned to her knight in shining white armor and kissed him, deeply and passionately, and for an instant the two of them were a perfect picture of undying love.

She pulled away, gazing adoringly into Paul's eyes for a moment before turning back to Father Francis. "Since then, I've seen Lucius help someone who was in a bad place. I've seen him do nothing but good. You can trust him. I do."

I was genuinely touched by Hannah's words, and was genuinely kind of happy and embarassed. Maybe it was Hannah's story, or Paul's adoration, or just the shy way I chuckled, I don't know, but Father Francis bought it. I watched his assessment change in his aura, not on his face, but I could tell just the same. I saw him shrug and then smile. Hannah jumped up and down, incredibly pleased, while Paul turned to me and told me, excited, "He's okay with it. So it's all okay. We can all stay here, all our stuff kept safe – and we all make sure you stay safe. Because you're it, man. You're our only way of making sure of anything in the land of the living. You're all we've got."

I was a little taken aback. I chuckled, a little emotionally raw. "You know, it's funny, but I don't have that many people alive or undead I can really trust, either. You two are kind of it. But you know what, I think all of us, together, could keep one another safe, yeah?" They all nodded, joy and hope on their faces. I could see that the newest addition to our entourage was not as thrilled. I had an idea. "And the first thing I need done, Father Francis, I need you to do. And I think you're going to like it. So, I imagine you're not too happy with Venus, are you? After the way she just destroyed her church. Okay, so how would you feel about spying on her for me? If you catch her breaking any of her promises to me, you catch her coming into this tower and messing with any of our stuff, you come tell me, and I'll make sure she's... punished properly" I could see his aura immediately light up with the joy of schadenfreude. He nodded.

Hannah laughed, telling me "He says that sounds like the most fun he's had since he died! Now he can finally make sure she's punished for something, even if it's not for destroying his church or living without any sense of morals."

I chuckled. "Glad to hear it, Father Francis. I promise, from here on out, the memory of you and the church this once was will always exist. I can live forever, and can protect this place forever. Now, why don't you go check on what Venus is doing right now? Come back and get me if she's up to something, like calling the Russian mob boss, Boris, who I'm supposed to kill, and setting me up or something, okay? If she's doing that, she's really going to regret it." He nodded vigorously, and then ran right through the locked, thick wooden doors. His anger will make him hound her constantly, so I can ensure her loyalty. But how can I ensure his? I turned back to the two ghosts I knew were loyal to me, the closest I had to true friends and companions. "Okay, cool. Glad we've got him on board, but I'm glad he's gone. I don't trust him. Maybe I will in the future, but I don't right now. Keep an eye on him, okay? Make sure he's not up to anything, in case he starts making up stuff Venus did to make me try and hurt her. I really just told him that to give him something to do, I'm not planning on hurting her or anything. But, for our safety, we do have to make sure we keep an eye on her. You agree?"

I got nods from both of them. "This all sounds right on. That's what I love about you Lucius, you're always on point, always have a plan."

Hannah nodded, smiling, and gazed at me almost... wondrously. "I never feel lost or scared with you around, even with all the weird shit going on since I died. I can't really describe it, you're like the only rock I have to cling to."

I looked away. I guess it looked like I was embarrassed, but it was really shame and fear. Good god, I have no idea what I'm doing. And you're betting your afterlife on me? Shit, and I'm betting my existence on you. I guess we're all that we've got right now. I looked back at them, smiling, really and truly grateful. "I... thank you. It's good to have people you can trust with your life – or existence, or whatever the hell we have." We all laughed, because it was something we'd all wrestled with, and for the first time since the Thin Bloods I felt like I was part of a group that got me, that understood me. I felt one with them, like they were on my level. Yeah, and if they ever stop being on your level, you can always just use threats of destroying their fetters to whip them into shape.

The laughter choked in my throat, but it was dying down anyway. Paul looked at me, earnest and open, and asked, "So what can we do for you, Lucius?"

I smiled, replying, "It's about what you can do for all of us. This is our home now. So keep an eye on it. See what happens in this place. Let me know about anything supernatural that might cause us all trouble. Make sure Venus isn't fucking us over. Make sure Father Francis isn't fucking us over. And most of all, don't bring any trouble here." I pointed at Paul like a scolding father, telling him, "Don't get in any more fights with those Legionnaire guys, or anyone you can't handle. I can't fight your battles for you. I can sometimes rescue you, but I'm not on call. I call you when I need to, okay? I know you can manifest, and I guess you can get my attention if it's an emergency, but not ever in front of anyone that shouldn't see, you understand? We can't let normal people know about this. That's absolutely vital. That's the Masquerade, and if it ever drops, my entire species dies. I know you've been given this speech before."

Paul nodded, solemn. "I know. I would never have done that, if it was anything but Hannah dying. Hell, I had to make a deal with my Shadow to even get that ability, I don't even know if I could do it again. I won't, I swear I won't unless I absolutely have to, and even then, no violating the Masquerade."

I smiled. "Good. You know you're my right hand man right now, right Paul? You're gonna have to make sure things are taken care of around here. It's your job to watch our Haven – I know its a lot of responsibility, but I think you can handle it. Can you?" I almost felt bad about manipulating him to protect this place. Almost. After all, he needs this as much as I do, if not more.

Love, loyalty and pride radiated through his aura and advertised themselves on his face. Him and Hannah both, though she was looking at Paul, not me. Paul stared me straight in the eye as he assured me, "You can count on me. This is our home. You're in charge, I understand that – but you've shown me as much respect as I could ever expect, and I will always remember that. You have my undying loyalty – ugh, pun not intended. This place is as safe as Ft. Knox with me here."

I smiled an nodded, knowing I'd accomplished my goal. "Okay, good to hear it. Well, I need to get back to Venus – she's probably wondering what I'm up to. So I'm ending the ritual, but shout if you see anything – I'll keep my hands on your fingers so I can hear you if I need to, and I'll contact you again soon." With that. I exited the morbid state, and the pair disappeared from the mirror immediately as the blood fell off the mirror. I picked up their fingers and placed one in each coat pocket. I decided to leave the chalk outline on the table – might save me time later. With one last look around, I shut off the light, bathing the place in utter darkness except for the band of light coming through the door, and as I shut the door, it returned to the darkness I had found it in.

I walked through the tiny halls back into Venus' office. I found her pacing nervously, though she immediately put on a relaxed pose as soon as I came in. If her pacing hadn't given her away, her aura would have. She wanted to make sure I was still in on this deal.

"So what do you think? You like what you see?"

I slowly nodded. "I do. A lot. I left some stuff in the tower – don't touch any of it. If we are going to be business partners, we need to establish the rules of trust. That tower is mine, and you aren't going to go poking around in it or in my business. If that's not okay, if you have to know what's happening in every inch of this club, then the deal is off."

She nodded eagerly. "Normally, I'm quite obesessive about controlling my club, but I don't consider that tower to be part of it. It's all yours – I'd never go in there anyway. But, in exchange, the rest of the club is mine. I've been in this business for far too long to have you or anyone telling me how to run my venue. So no music suggestions, no interference in my business at all, understand?"

I wouldn't want to deal with those details even if I could. "It's a deal. As long as the money keeps coming in, I couldn't care less about what you do, as long as I have freedom to get to that tower and do whatever I want in it."

She eyed me askance. "What exactly are you planning on getting up to in there? If you're going to be having your own little bondage club in there, I don't care. If anything, I'd be rather interested in joining in..."

I cut that off. "Not happening, unless you want me involved in running your club. Our businesses stay separate, okay?"

She shrugged. "Whatever pleases you, Lucius. Shall we shake on it?"

I stared down at her outstretched hand. So this is where I have to fully commit myself, reforging the bond we just made. Here's hoping I'm not getting in to something over my head. Or, if I am – and knowing my luck, I am – I can get myself out of it. I took her hand and grasped it firmly, staring her in the eye. "Honor your agreement, and I'll honor mine."

She stared, vacant-eyed, for a moment, before blinking and shaking her head a little, confused. I wasn't sure how well that would work – it was a complex instruction, and I wasn't sure how exactly Domination worked – but it was better than nothing. "Of course. Of course. So, I, uh, I suppose we're done here, aren't we?"

"Almost. Tell me a little more about Boris."

Her face became hard, and she was all business now. "Boris is high up in the Russian Mafia. Is that going to be a problem?"

I shrugged. "Depends. Do you know if he has any particularly... unusual business partners? Anyone he seems to answer to directly?"

Venus shook her head. "I'm not quite sure what you mean. I suppose he answers to someone in the Russian mob, but from what I understand he's in charge of their operation in LA. He's got free reign in this town, as long as he doesn't screw up the profit margins of the mafiosos back home. Which, I suppose him dying would do. Are you worried about retaliation?"

I nodded. "Yeah, but not from the Russian mob. I can find out if he's connected with any of the players I refuse to mess with. If he is involved... I'll still think of something, I just need to be more careful, that's all." I'm probably going to just have to ask him directly if he's a ghoul. No other way to know. If there's any Kindred involved, I back out right away. But if there's nothing but humans... then I'm free to wipe everyone out and carve my own domain out of unclaimed turf. And then I can finally feel a small modicum of security.

"Glad to see you aren't getting cold feet," Venus replied cooly, though her aura still showed stripes of worry and anxiety.

"Never. Can you give me any more details?

She nodded. "Boris is at the Empire Arms Hotel, the one downtown. You don't want to go there tonight – apparently there was some kind of shootout earlier tonight, which is probably the only reason I'm not being shot right now."

I did a double take. "You've got to be kidding me. I was just there!"

Now it was her turn to do a double take. "Wait, you're telling me that you were the one that was responsible for that? My, but you've been busy tonight. Is that why you look like an extra on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?"

I chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, pretty much. Ugly situation in there."

She stared, fascinated and impressed. "What exactly went down?"

I sighed, unpleasant memories surfacing. "Long story short... a business associate lost his cool. He flew of the handle, and acted unprofessionally. Hence why my business relationship with them is over. And why I desperately need a new place to hide out if I need to, somewhere that's not associated with any of my business contacts so far. Which is why I'm going to kill Boris for you."

She got that look again, the one she got when she was turned on by the idea of ordering a hit – that look of basking in power, in playing a role in a mob movie. "Excellent. I'm sure you have a weapons guy, but I can recommend someone to you. He's named Fat Larry. He has a whole arsenal available in a truck he drives around town, though its well hidden. He's keeping a low profile right now, but I can give him a call, make sure he knows you're alright – he should be able to help you."

I took the number and thanked her. "I do have someone, but more ordinance can't hurt." I took his number. "I won't be doing anything until tomorrow night, anyway. So, if you don't mind, I have things to do, crimes to plan. Another busy night in the life."

She nodded knowingly, still caught up in that look of loving the violence and power. "Of course, don't let me keep you. And if I might say, it's been a real pleasure doing business with you."

I nodded and smiled before walking out the door, out of the club, out of my new soon-to-be domain and Haven.

… … …

I found myself on the streets, suddenly no longer enveloped in noise, able to hear myself think and unsure of what to do. Where to? I really have nowhere to go. I just wanted to leave. It was starting to get uncomfortable, with Venus looking at me like she wanted to eat me – especially with the temptation to taste her again. I definitely do not need another addiction. I lit up a cigarette. I mean, who would I want to be with right now, anyway? Who is there to talk to? The Anarchs? Ha! I'd be torn limb from limb. If only there was somewhere safe I could go to relax, think, make sense of things, maybe read a good book...

It was as though my feet wandered over to the building on their own. I barely needed to use Auspex to see the place any longer – the Chantry stood out in my mind like an oasis in the desert. Why the hell not? Sure, Strauss is trying to use me, and he definitely put some kind of compulsion in my mind – but at least I know he's not trying to kill me. He needs me, he's trying to use me. At least I know I'm safe there. Oh, and I may as well report concrete success with the Plague. After all, he did promise me some knowledge of Thaumaturgy if I could produce concrete results...

I walked in and was immediately calmed by the complete silence – I couldn't hear a single car, not a single sound other than the scratch of pen on paper, and a light, eerie ringing sound. The order and rigidity of this place calmed my anxieties. I let out a sigh I hadn't realized I'd been holding in. The receptionist looked up.

"Um, can I help you, uh, Mr. Marshall?"

I smiled at that name. I'm a part of this clan, like it or not. Connected to Serena, my only lifeline runs through them. Am I really ready to give it all up and tie myself to them, though? "I need to make a report on my progress on the plague. Regent Strauss will be very interested in what I have to tell him."

"I see." He pressed the buzzer button and spoke softly though an intercom. I tried to hear the conversation, but he quickly relesed the button and looked up at me. "Go right in. Regent Strauss is expecting your report right away." With that he opened the way into the Chantry. After signing my name, Lucius Marshall, half chosen by me, half from my sire, I passed within.

The hallways took me where I needed to go. Behind the final door stood Straus' imposing figure, framed by flickering firelight. He turned, slowly, at my approach, though I had no doubt he was well aware of where I was the instant I cracked the doors open. He gestured casually as I came near. "Greetings, Neonate. Please, sit. May I offer you refreshment?"

I sat and nodded, glad to finally be in a place of comfort and decency. "Yes, please. Thank you. I must say, this kind of hospitality has been rather... lacking, among the Kindred I've met so far."

Strauss smiled slightly as he poured blood from a carafe into a pair of goblets, before sitting himself and taking his engraved silver cup as I did. We sipped simultaneously – okay, so I was slightly paranoid about something being in the blood, and I wanted to make sure it was safe, make sure he would drink it before I did – and he took his time placing the goblet back on the table before answering, "Think nothing of it. Though if you wish for more such courtesey, you must make it a point to find better company among our kind. Still, you can hardly be blamed for that. Necessity has kept you with the less... polite members of our society. Tell me about your efforts with the Anarchs."

I smiled at that not-too-subtle barb. "They were incompetent, and I barely survived. Skelter, the Kindred I went to the location of the plaguebearer with, was headstrong, and got tricked by the Plaguebearer – her name was Jezebel, by the way, appropriate enough for someone spreading disease among sex workers. She managed to stake him while his back was turned, so his strength was useless. As it was, I barely managed to survive thanks to my knowledge of Thaumaturgy, limited though it is. Without going into too many details, the whole thing was sloppy and involved far too much frenzy for my tastes. Skelter ended up attacking me and threatening me, even though I was the one who saved his life! If I never have to work with them again, it couldn't be too soon."

Strauss nodded, calmly taking in my report. "Were you successful? Is the plaguebearer destroyed?"

"Yes. She is ash. And I have a sample of her blood." I pulled the tube out of my jacket pocket and handed it to Strauss. He took it, eagerness breaking through the calm mask on his face. "I have to ask – was I under compulsion to take this sample? I felt it overcome me as soon as Jezebel was incapacitated."

Surprise skittered across the mask, then annoyance, and then Strauss was serene once more. "I hope you understant the necessity. Often, in the heat of combat, it is easy to forget anything but survival and victory. This sample is invaluable to our efforts. With one more such sample, we can triangulate the location of the ultimate source of the plague, just as we found this plaugebearer with the blood of her victims."

Well, at least he's honest about it. "I understand completely. Just let me know next time so I can be prepared. I almost fought it off because I thought Jezebel was manipulating my mind somehow." Not true, but at least this will make him that much more interested in keeping me in the loop.

Strauss seemed to be ignoring me, focusing intently on the vial of blood. He carefully put it away in his pocket, never taking his eyes off it until it was gone. Then he turned his eyes to me, carefully studying me as he took a sip from the goblet. He seemed to be trying to weigh and evaluate every piece of me, to be measuring me and determining my worth. He placed his goblet back on the table and spoke. "A reasonable request. You have proven yourself reliable and wise, Lucius. Far beyond your years, and I believe you will continued to impress with your wisdom and abilities. However, it seems you are lacking in both at present – it sounds as though you were in a dangerous position and needed acess to more capabilities than you currently posess during the last encounter – am I correct?"

"Yes, most certainly. I'd like to be much better-equipped to handle these problems for Clan and Camarilla."

"Very well then." He stood, and I follwed him as he glided serenly across the room, into the hallway. We eventually approached a door that opened at Strauss' mere touch. It was a library, with a simple desk, a comfortable, vermillion cusioned chair, a pen and notebook on the desk, and behind the desk, a shelf filled with strange books, old tomes. Strauss turned to me, and explained. "This is a study, for theinstruction of new members of our clan in the art and science of our so-called 'blood magik,' Thaumaturgy. I have many reference books here, containing knowledge as to the various specialities of our our Clan's talent. While you may not remove them from the Chantry, you may peruse them and take notes. Tell me, Lucious, what was your acadmenic field life? I assume you were an educated man."

I was taken aback by the opportunity here – and the strangeness of the question. "I, uh, was a chemist."

Strauss smiled. "I see. I would recommend, then, that you study the Thaumaturgical field of Alchemy – the most ancient way of transforming the properties and nature of physical matter." He reached up and pulled down a large, leather-bound tome and placed it on the table, next to the notebook. "Begin reading this – it is a thorough introduction to this field. Isolate yourself from all concerns external to this chantry – all worries, desires, and responsibilities. You have executed your duty to your fellow Kindred excellently, and have earned your rest – for now. Focus only upon your studies. Do you find this arrangement acceptable?"

I couldn't nod my head fast enough. "Yes! I appreciate how much this knowledge is worth, and thank you for sharing it with me."

"Yes, well, if you need anything, please use the buzzer. Jerald, our front desk ghoul, will see to any need you may have. He shall be here shortly with blood. I would not have anything distract you during your intellectual development. You shall be taken care of here. Now, if you'll excues me, I shall leave you to your education."

With that, I was left alone in a library full of secret, forbidden knowledge. My god, this is what I've wanted to do since my Embrace. This, this is how I wanted to spend eternity. I opened the book on Alchemy to page one, and felt at peace for the first time since I had died.