Dialog X, Part I

by Dustin Evermore and Lisa Hartjes

The invitation had arrived in the mail, hand written in Latin and sealed in wax inviting Lady Berengiere to a small dinner in a private room at the Holiday Inn. The unique invitation promised a private catered affair and an evening of good conversation between friends. The text was stylized in the beautiful, yet archaic script and illuminated with celtic designs and knots worked through the the first letter of the invitation and the 'B' in Berengiere. It was signed by Fianna, someone she had not seen or heard from in months. The seal was a stylized 'F' that Beren had seen Fianna use before.

Beren leaned back in her chair and read through the invitation again. Her curiosity was burning, but she had long ago learned the virtue of patience and caution.

She flipped open her laptop and sent a brief, encoded message, instructing the recipient to check out, set up surveillance and secure the location of the meeting soonest, and report back through the usual routes.

Beren picked up her phone and dialled the phone number on the invitation.

"Hello?" It was a familiar voice with a strong hint of Irish accent.

"Good evening," Beren replied with a friendly smile in her voice. "I trust everything is well with you?"

"Oh, hi!" replied Fianna as she recognized Berengier's voice. "Yes, things are well, although I have missed our chats. I take it you received the invitation?"

"Yes, I have," Beren replied. "I don't get many like that these days."

"Great! Shall I look forward to seeing you there?"

"How could I say no," Beren replied, her voice tinged with laughter. "Is it casual or formal dress, may I bring an escort, and will I have to behave myself?"

Fianna laughed. "It will be just me, but feel free to bring who you wish. And I expect you to behave exactly the way you want to behave," she added with a voice tinged with amusement. "It will be private."

Beren chuckled. "You should know by now that is a dangerous thing to say to me, my sweet. Is this a celebration?"

"And a conversation," agreed Fianna. "I have a brief session with the Inquisitor now, but I'm looking forward seeing you very soon, B," she said with heartfelt sincerity.

They said their partings and closed the call.

Berengiere took a sip from the crystal goblet on her desk, and placed it back down with delicate elegance. It was older than most of the cities on this continent, and she sometimes found surrounding herself with beautiful antiquities helped her feel not quite so alone.

Everything she owned held special meaning for for her, and a gentle smile curved her lips as the memories associated with the goblet came back. Beren's musings were interrupted by a gentle chime from her laptop, telling her that there was an urgent email for her.

With a sigh, she opened and decoded the email, noting it came from one of her operatives. The hotel had been chcked out, with no signs of it being a trap. There was a comment about magical wards being present, but they were determined not to be of a threatening nature.

Beren frowned, and the distaste and anger on her face was completely at odds with her youthful appearance. She felt... dirty. Normally an encounter as she had just had would have left her feeling a certain satisfaction, she felt more annoyance at being delayed than anything else.

She checked her appearance again to make sure that there were no signs of what had just happened, and just as she was almost satisfied everything looked normal, she spotted three small drops of fresh blood near the bottom of the cuff of left sleeve of her white t-shirt.

Beren growled softly, then took a deep breath to calm herself down. It wouldn't be polite to take her grievance with her to her engagement with Fianna. The best she could hope was Fianna wouldn't notice it.

She opened the door to the stairwell, walked out into the hallway, and made her way to the hotel room Fianna had mentioned in the invitation. By the time she reached and knocked, all traces of the anger and other negative emotions that had been storming around her were gone.

Fianna was there to open the door when Beren arrived. She let Beren inside and before she really paused to see if anyone had come with Beren, she'd thrown her arms around the small elder in a warm embrace of greeting.

"It *is* good to see you, Beren. And it's good to be home again," she said with a wide smile.

"It is good to see you too," Beren replied with a warm smile as she returned the embrace. "This is for you," she added, holding out the small crate she was carrying. Through the slats, Fianna could see it was a bottle of some kind. The writing on the label was faded with the passing of centuries, and Fianna suspected that the wax seal on the bottle was the original seal.

"Why, Berengiere!" She took the crate and after looking for an approving nod, she opened the lid. Is this... Oh! This must be truly old," she said with a pleased smile. She picked up the and gave it a closer look.

It was a very dark bottle, so dark that between the glass and the accumulated dust on it, the contents could not be seen. The handwritten label was practically illegible, and Fianna could ick up parts of words that might possibly be French.

"It is old," Beren replied with a shrug and a smile. "It is a bottle of spirits from my private stock, one I laid down a long time ago."

"Thank you, Beren, you are too generous!" Fianna, wearing a sleek red silk dress (she seemed to fancy red dresses) curtsied gracefully, naturally displaying rather medieval savoir-faire. "Maybe we can open it and share some after a little bit. I have some really wonderful news that I think may even be worthy of something like this."

She nodded with a smile. She turned to a narrow little table placed not far from the door upon which rested a bottle containing some red fluid so dark it was nearly black, and another bottle labelled as sparkling wine from Champagne. She picked up a pair of goblets half filled with a viscous red fluid. "Please come in. Would you like a drink?" she asked, offering an ornate cup.

Beren paused for a moment. "You will forgive me if I ask its vintage before I partake," she asked, hoping Fianna would not take offense.

"Certainly, Beren," she replied. "It's male, slightly drunk, mid twenties. Fresh, of course."

Fianna gave Beren the goblet and led her into the room. There were two over-stuffed chairs angled toward each other slightly, with a small coffee table between them. Here they took their seats, but Fianna spoke first. "Are you okay, Berengiere?" Her sharp eyes had not missed the small stains on Beren's shirt, and she was looking at it now.

Beren followed Fianna's eyes, and sighed. A frown teased at the edges of her lips. "I decided to let Andre drop me off a block or so from here and I walked the rest of the way. I unfortunately encountered someone who mistook me for a helpless young woman. He will never be preying upon any child ever again. His type tend to be very messy when they die, and I thought I had managed to keep myself clean."

"I hope the experience won't darken your evening." She chuckled. "That reminds me of the little encounter I had last night." She rolled her eyes in disgust. "I was waiting on a street corner to be picked up, but some guy stopped asking if I'd like to go with him. He didn't take no for an answer very well. I believe he thought I was some kind of well-dressed street whore. When I finally got clear on this, he tore off, spinning his wheels in the mud of the roadside gutter. I was soaked and muddy, and I was to have a meeting with the Prince! Anyway, I know how you feel.

"But don't worry. Sometimes you have a rough start for an evening, but it still ends well!" she added cheerily. "So how have you been these past months?"

"My life has been a barren wasteland without thy presence," Beren replied with practiced ease, the inconsolablility in her voice belied by the very obvious amusement and mischief in her eyes. "I've been keeping busy. Business has been quite brisk, and I have been doing some traveling."

"Mmm. Traveling? I hope that you moved in comfort and safety, then." She took a sip from her goblet and licked her lips. "I understand Baron von Roden is no longer monitor of Chicago. He has left. I know better than to ask why, but I wish him success in his endeavors, whatever they might be."

"But it would appear that my own traveling is nowhere near to an end. I'm afraid we'll have to take full advantage of what time I have, my friend." Fianna looked at Beren with mischief in her eyes. "I certain my life must seem always precarious, dangerous and uncertain to you. But I've learned to put my trust in the stars and they show that things will be well for me. And I think things will be well for you, too, Beren."

"Really," Beren replied with a smile. "And what do they say for me?"

Fianna chuckled. "I think I can talk about the stars some other time, though," Fianna said. "This road trip I went on was very hard. We, that is Celeste, Ezekiel and I, encountered werewolves on three different occasions, although we were able to escape without a serious fight in two of them. And I personally defeated a werewolf in one of them." She laughed, "And that is a very interesting story. And our escape from the third encounter is even more interesting."

"I was also discovered by the last disciples of my cult of a thousand years ago. True believers and faithful, too." She looked away for a moment, a dream in her eyes. "So dedicated for so long since the last of the bloody rites that my elders exacted from the populace." She shook her head. "Amazing."

"We investigated the activity of psychic vampires. Did you know that some mortals can use psychic powers to feed on the emotions of others? I didn't. We also encountered and rescued an ancient Ventrue.

"Then, when we returned only the other night, Roma had the most wonderful news waiting for me.

"So tell me, Beren. What would you like to hear first?" Fianna grinned with excitement.

"Start at the beginning," Beren replied, getting comfortable in the chair. "What happened from when we last spoke?"

"Well, it seems this nut-case who used to know my ghoul, Will, got wind that he was kicking around Detroit. Unfortunately, the nut-case also happens to be Seneschal of Chicago and a respected assassin. It was thought wisest to get us around town while some of my allies here led her on a wild goose chase until she got bored and went home. She turned out to be unmanageably persistent, but I didn't find that out until we got back.

"So Celeste, Will and I set out for Minneapolis, taking a rather circuitous route by auto. This little vamp called Ezekial sort of invited himself along. Celeste thought it was "cute", him calling us his parents and all. I wasn't too thrilled with that, frankly. At any rate, we left pretty fast. None of us felt sticking around was worth having to confront a well-connected Malkavian assassin.

"What prompted you to go to Minneapolis," Beren asked.

"Celeste, actually. We really didn't have anywhere to go. But she grew up in Minneapolis and knew the town pretty well. She thought they'd be friendly there.

"The first leg of the journey went rather well. That is, until we got to Iowa. I hate Iowa. I really do. The first thing that happened, as we passed something called Dubuque, was that ran over someone. A werewolf. What kind of masochistic, idiot werewolf goes around throwing himself at cars full of vampires? Never mind, I just answered my own question." She laughed abruptly.

"The rest of the pack jumped us while we were still going down the road, fast. Those critters are scary-quick. Anyway, use of guns and a little magic allowed us to escape that encounter.

"We pulled into Des Moines without any sort of fanfare. I thought. Yet, somehow the little princeling who controls that city knew it damn fast. We had intended to stay only until nightfall the next night and be gone before anyone knew it. But things got very complicated, very quickly.

"The first thing that happened was that the little princeling sent over some enforcers to "ask" us to visit him. It was made clear that he'd be pretty miffed if we declined. But it was late, so we made arrangements to see him the next night. We very nearly weren't able to make it. Had things gone just slightly differently, I certainly wouldn't be here now.

"That day, William was on guard. The others had rejected my suggestion that I open the earth and seal us in for the night, so we stayed at Hotel Fort Des Moines, or something like that. So what happened was that this woman and a man visited us that day. William answered the door, refused them entry, and the next thing he knew he was lying flat on his back staring at the ceiling. The door was open and he detected a scent. Someone had come in, walked to my bed and then left. I still do not know what magic was used to knock out my ghouled Cat. But I will.

"Naturally, we were more than a little upset at this turn of events. What had they done? Where were they now? Why did they do it? We went downstairs to let William get a bite to eat and pretend to be normal people until we needed to see Prince Nicolas. That's when we saw *him*.

"He was a being of extremely powerful magic. He was also a vampire. For a crazy moment I even wondered if he was responsible for the daytime visit. In fact, he was a being named Ritter, the Beast of Boulder, the devil of Colorado. The one against whom the Sabbat had launched repeated attacks. They all failed. Wiped out. And the creature who invited us to speak with him in our own hotel room was he. His very presence made my blood run cold and thick.

"I have deduced that he is Tzimisce. He is certainly not Tremere. And he is an overlord to Max, Stazi, and Nuyen van Faulk. I also suspect that he is of an ancient line of some kind that wielded magic, not the demonic Vicissitude. He hinted that we was building a far-reaching network in fact. He'd come to recruit myself and Celeste." Fianna shook her head.

"In a gesture of goodwill, he even used his magic to trace who our mysterious daytime visitors were. He wanted me to follow his philosophy and join his faction. They believe that humanity should be sacrosanct. They should not be interfered with by meddling and inherently evil creatures such as vampires, werewolves, and other powerful supernaturals. He was absolutely, rock-solid lucid. He even had a very rational point of view. But he is also insane. For some reason, his bizarre infatuation with humanity has overridden the obvious logic that however important humanity may be, it is we who are the shepherd and humanity the sheep.

Beren had remained silent during Fianna's monologue, absorbing everything the younger vampire said, until now. "Humanity is essentially a creature ruled by fear, which is why they create stories to explain things they do not understand. I have heard many stories about monsters who live in the shadows, stories created by humanity to explain weird, unusual, and terrifying events. It fascinates me when their stories have some shred of truth behind them. This 'Beast of Boulder' is one. I have also heard of the 'Devil of the Rockies'. Are they the same being, this Ritter?"

"Yes," responded Fianna. "I have heard the term Beast of Boulder applied to him. So you have heard of this person, as well." She nodded to herself. "It seems many know of him, but few know *about* him."

"Humans are naturally predisposed toward religion and worship," she continued. "And we are beyond the average mortal's ken. If anyone deserves the adoration of the masses, it should be us. History has clearly indicated what happens when humanity has no gods to follow. They create their own prophets and enslave themselves to their own kind. Death, torture, abuse, and slavery invariably follows. No, for all Ritter's power, he has not seen history as I have. He has seen only himself as humanity's "savior". He is the ultimate hypocrite.

"But faced with angering and insulting an extremely powerful vampire in our own room, what could we say? Celeste and I conferred and told him that we must think carefully on his offer. He in turn threatened us with death if we revealed any of this to Roma or anyone else. He also threatened to destroy our Chantry should we expose his "children" to Roma or any other." Fianna shook her head. "I do not believe his threat is idle. But nor do I believe he would have a serious chance of succeeding on that count. He shall soon enough know my answer one way or another. For now I cannot afford to allow my loyalties to seem anything but absolutely clear. My life depends upon it right now.

"Ritter left and we took up the hunt for the ones who'd visited during the day. It didn't take long. We found them, but I did not permit anyone in my company to come near or touch them. You see, Ritter showed us what they did. There was an older man and a younger woman. They had come to where I slept but did not touch me. Instead, they prayed to me.

"I spoke with the two. The man's name is unimportant. He will die soon, but has performed his service. But no man should live with the knowledge he inherited. You see, these two were the representatives of the last cult of the Lhiannan. For a thousand years, without guidance, they have preserved the traditions, knowledge, and even the magic of my cult of old. This knowledge is meant only to be passed down from priestess to priestess, but because of the long years attrition took its toll even on these extremely loyal people. He was taught because, at the time, there was no other candidate. But now he has passed on his knowledge to his student, Heather. His time is passed now; to me, he is already dead.

"Heather told me they had come to find me. The Ancient Sleeper, who spoke to them in dreams, told them they could find me here. They wished me to come back with them to Ireland. I would be the first among them. I would fulfill the prophecy and bring back the Sleeper.

"But I knew what that meant better than they, for the Sleeper will be hungry when she awakes. Very, very hungry. I told Heather that I would indeed return and soon. I told her to make ready, that terrible death may be coming but when she saw me next she must come to my side and I would save her and bring back the Sleeper. Her old master and many other would necessarily be sacrificed. The greater the Magic, the greater the Sacrifice that is necessary. She was one of the true believers and new instantly that I spoke the truth. I then sent them home.

"It was then that William again sensed the presence of a werewolf, this time with a mate. We left the area and met Prince Nicolas.

"Prince Nick is an infuriating fruit. The man is an obvious Malkavian, just as our twisted little Ezekial was. He seems to believe that life is a play and that we are but actors. He even looks at blank books and insists they are scripts and that we must speak the lines correctly. I think I might kill him next time rather than be subjected to repeating myself five times until he decided I had "gotten it right". Celeste thought it was funny, though. Ezekial seemed to accept the odd behavior and natural. I therefore elected Ezekial to be the one to engage in all future negotiations with Nick.

Fianna sighed, shaking her head. "Nick wanted us to perform a task for him. There aren't many vampires in Des Moines; the population can't support very many. He wanted us to check out a new club in town and find out who really owned it. I exacted a high price for the deal. He agreed to arranged to give me a stretch of land along a river in exchange, which I selected. The others opted for cash. Why, I know not, since Celeste can easily simply ask any ATM machine to give her whatever money she wants." Fianna shrugged.

"Anyway, what happened when we investigated is a rather long story. Suffice to say that we discovered that humans have their own sort of vampires as well. These feed on psychic energy. The club owner was a psychic vampire who'd been establishing these clubs across the country. He seemed to be well-connected in the entertainment industry as well. They were able to use a combination of skill and some sort of mind-magic to drive the crowd -- and even vampires -- into a state of ecstasy, after which he'd drive the crowd of some of their emotional vitality. The individual effect was minor. The net effect was not. Ezekial saw him change from an old man to a middle-aged man of health.

"They are dangerous. They can catch anyone, even those protected by magics like Celeste and myself, in their little web. You will have a good time and leave that night strongly wishing to come back. Insidious, really. But also effective.

"After informing Nicolas as to the nature of the club, we also advised him to stay clear of it. The psychics there had no knowledge of vampires and it is best they never do.

"We went directly to Minneapolis thereafter. The Prince there, a Toreador, was very kind. Indeed she knows about Celeste and my little experiment with music and found it very interesting. We were grant refuge of course. We were unable to keep a low profile, however.

"A second visitor from Ireland found us. It was a werewolf that seemed to be targeting me. He ripped up Ezekial first and I sent in Will. He saw he was too powerful even for Will, however, so I tricked him into looking at me. I caught his gaze and summoned all my power into my eyes and face. He was defeated then. I struck him with such awesome fear and panic that the creature collapsed before me." Fianna flashed Beren a proud smile. "It is true I have such power, but against more than one werewolf, I would never be so lucky. But I did not want him did. I needed answers, and so I asked Celeste to bind him in metal so that he could not escape or even struggle.

"He called himself a fianna warrior and was a white werewolf. Very powerful. He actually tracked me all the way from Ireland. I know not how. But he claimed to be of a Pack that was dedicated to wiping out the last of the Lhianna. He said they feared that I would come to Ireland and awaken the Sleeper. Their prophecy said it would be so and that Ireland would die if this happened. It makes me worry very much about who the Sleeper may be. Very much.

"So. He told me all this freely and I knew that more would come after him. Simply killing him, therefore, would not be useful to me. Over Celeste and Ezekial's urgent protests, I decided I would let him live. I made him give his word that he would not pursue me again and that he would tell his Pack that I would not return to Ireland so long as they left me alone. I bought a little time. I do expect his Pack to kill him, and then send another. And I have every intention of going to Ireland very soon. Thus having his word, and over Celeste's repeated protests, I let him go. And this fianna warrior has not been seen since.

"Later we happened to stop at the Mall of America. Good shopping, you know. I got a computer. But outside they were digging in the ground and turned up a body. Celeste, Ezekial and I handled it, of course, because the body was in fact a vampire lying in torpor. He should have been much disappointed if he'd be awakened in daylight, I think," Fianna grinned at the thought.

"It turned out that he was a Venture, put down the night of his very embrace. He was like a babe delivered from the womb of the earth. He knew nothing and thought this to be a strange new world. Which is true, I suppose. But the Prince of the Twin Cities had no use for him there. She asked me to teach him and watch him and perhaps deliver him someplace where his own clan would take him in.

"I did this and he even asked me for help recovering some gold he'd hidden away. Unfortunately, this meant going to Dubuque. My price was a quarter of everything he recovered. The others extracted favors, which I thought was foolish. Favor? From a babe? He could barely tie his own shoes and seemed unlikley to survive his first year. Still, they were satisfied with the bargain.

"The area we went to was actually outside Dubuque, in a wilder place. Our Nosferatu ally from Detroit found us there. I'm not sure how. People are always talking about "technology" but it's still just another magic to me. I also spotted signs of fairies about and was intrigued. Unfortunately there were also werewolves. Damn them to hell! The world seems to have unending numbers of these smelly, vicious beasts! We ended up retrieving the gold, but had to ask a fey creature aid in escaping.

"We were in the Other World for a time. I even spoke with Winter Court there. These fey are more disposed to speak with our kind, although they are the trickiest sort. It is not only in my blood, but also in my nature that I am close to the Fey and they would talk and deal with me.

"There were several ways home, but in the end none of them worked. Ezekial's foolishness trapped him there with the Fey, likely forever. Santiago the Nos found a way home and took it on his own, though it led to daylight. Only Celeste, Will and I escaped. I was about to make a very important deal with the Winter Fey, in fact, when we were summoned by an acquaintance of my who is a witch. That was most inconvenient. Is suspect the Fey are even now still considering the deal and may arrive at some unexpected moment to ask about finalizing it.

"Anyway, the short of it is that we escaped and returned to Detroit a couple days ago. I'm very happy to be here, but I'm afraid that soon I will have to go once again to Iowa." She fell to muttering "Damned, were-infested barrens, anyway."

"You have indeed been very busy," Beren said finally. "Why will you have to be returning to Iowa?"

"I've been sitting on some information as a personal favor to the current Prince of Detroit. Do you remember the stories of how, a couple years ago, the previous prince was captured by the Sabbat and a Tzimisce dupe put in his place?"

Beren nodded.

"And that it was that dupe that I supposedly tracked and killed personally below the city a few months ago? Well, that was a lie, but one that I was made to say because the current Prince didn't want the truth to get out. My choices were to give my word I would tell no one, or he'd use his powers to reprogram my mind. Which didn't sound very fun." Curiously, she didn't sound particularly bitter about it. In fact, she seemed to take it as a matter of course that's what a vampire in a position of authority would do.

Beren nodded again, remaining silent.

"The truth was that I confronted Max, Ritter's vamp. Very powerful. Sire of Stazi, actually. I was the go-between in a deal between max and the Prince. Max thought he could convince the Prince to leave him be and let him stay if he told the Prince where previous Prince Nathaniel Morgan, Childe of Prince Caleb Morgan of Chicago, lay as a prisoner of the Sabbat. It worked in reverse. No way did our Prince want a past Prince suddenly making an appearance here.

"So I had the un-fun position of being go-between among two powerful, pissed-off vampires. I also had information about the deal and the location of Nathaniel that our Prince did not want to be public. Nathaniel still had too many friends here.

"Now, however, our Prince has decided that he can show that Nathaniel, being captured and duped by the Sabbat, was an incompetent Prince. He can now show that he is the rightful Prince of Detroit, whether Nathaniel lives or not. Therefore, the story is that I had secretly uncovered the information as to Nathaniel's whereabouts as I battled the Tzimisce under the city to the death. I then supposedly kept the information secret even from the Prince until I was certain that it was the truth and that I had the resources and approval to retrieve him. That kind of puts me in an awkward position, don't you think?"

"Most certainly," Beren replied.

"But I can handle it. And so far, it's winning me a lot of positive popularity. The official story is that I have now come forward to the Prince about it and he has assigned me the task of wiping out all Sabbat protecting the fallen Nathaniel Morgan and bringing him home any way I can, so long as he lives. Our Prince is going to use him to give the Prince of Chicago a bit of a political black eye, because now he can say, 'Look, here is your incompetent son. I had pull his ass out of hell, and now you owe me,' to Prince Morgan.

"AND, our Prince doesn't even have to get his hands dirty. Slick, huh? And tough as hell on me."

"It is the way that those in power rule," Beren replied simply.

Fianna nodded in agreement. "He's told me I may take a team of six. I could choose anyone in Detroit except Primogen or Tremere. He feels the Tremere have been too prominent in city politics lately and doesn't want more of us saving Ventrue butt, I think. So don't you worry. I've seen my Fate and I'm not about to end my days in some god-forsaken, filthy cornfield in Iowa. I've chosen the best of the best in this city." She looked slyly at Berengiere. "And don't think I didn't strongly wish I could take you with. The Prince gave me enough authority in this that I've got the Prince's word with me. But I would never do that to you. I do wish things were different sometimes. I've got a good plan and I think you'd have fun." She grinned with the hunger of a wolf before a venison feast.

Beren raised an eyebrow. You do?"

"I did choose the best of the Brujah, Dutch. He's kind of a rude bastard, but that's just how Brujah are these days. He's the strongest and fastest vampire in town. That I know of anyway. I also chose Cassandra. She's Nathaniel's childer and has been hurting pretty bad since it all went to hell for her. She's also still very powerful in her clan and by reputation I know her to be very tough. I've got Will, and I'll try to pick out the best of the Toreador for this mission, too. On the way we're going to pick up a tough customer from Chicago. I hear that the head of the Brujah there is just itching to kick dirt in the face of Prince Morgan and this would be a prefect chance. I can be blameless, claiming that I only wanted a representative from Nathaniel's home territory. I certainly can claim ignorance of the politics even if it's not true. That's the current perception.

"But running through foreign territory with a pack of big-time vampires along with their big-time egos is the least of my problems.

"I saw Roma last night. I've never seen her so happy and excited. It's utterly unlike her, but I can only describe it as, well, giddy. She was that excited. Meerlinda herself finally gave Roma permission to reveal the details of what we are going to attempt in Ireland. It would appear that Fate has indeed woven a complex and very complete web, my lady."

"All webs have a weak point," Beren replied, "and always be wary of the spider who spun it."

"True. And first off, I should tell you again that Roma does know that I come to see you. She knew from practically the beginning. But she also approves. She may not know you very well, but she does know me better than I thought she did. And she likes what I've become precisely because I have been seeing you. You've helped me so much, just by listening. And sometimes by more than listening..." She paused, looking into Beren's eyes quietly.

A slight smile curved Beren's delicate lips.

"This thing we're going to do in Ireland... It's a big deal. Really big. The end result will be a massive gain of power for me and two others. There needs to be three. One will be my apprentice, February. She has enough training to bridge the gap between myself and the Tremere. She'll be embraced by Roma, herself. The third will be Heather. It will be a blood ceremony that will elevate myself and my sisters-to-be to equal status and imbued with the power of the Sleeper. I don't know if the Sleeper will or is meant to survive, but she might.

"But there must be three, do you see? There must be three to finish the triumvirate. Mother, Maid, and Crone. The question is who will take on which role? We won't know until it happens. The Crone... I hope that it is not my Fate to be the Crone, for she shall be as... She will be the balance against the Mother and Maid. Do you understand?"

"I'm afraid I do not know much of the triumverate of which you speak," Beren said. "I was raised a Christian, and learning about other religions has not been one of my hobbies."

"Oh. These three aspects are of primary importance in my religion, much like the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is in yours. Remembering only that your Father-god can often be very stern, fearsome and often ruthless toward unbelievers, the Crone might be much like him. I suspect the Crone may be Heather. Which is unfortunate, because I should like to know her better. I almost feel like she is a lost child. Perhaps if I take the role of the Mother..." She shook her head. "Best not to expect too much. One can only be disappointed then.

"But I must tell you the most important thing right now. It scares me a little. This ritual has never been attempted before. Never has a youth like myself been the beneficiary of such power without diablerie. The Tremere Council is concerned. I'm not well-liked. I'm the personal project of Meerlinda and because of that I'm tolerated. This ritual is meant to bridge the gap because the blood of the Tremere will mingle with my new Bloodline, and I have assurances that it will not inhibit the mystic, Fey Ogham powers.

"The Council won't allow it, frankly. Not until they are absolutely certain of my loyalties. They have sent an Inquisitor here to test me. Should I be found wanting, he will destroy me and end the debate.

"It was determined that the completeness of my report as to what happened over the past couple months was very important to this end. But I held nothing back from Roma. I told her even many things that I didn't bring up tonight with you that happened.

"But I am not afraid. I do not believe it is my fate to die at the hands of this Inquisitor. I have told Roma my final secret. The one reason why Tremere can never learn the power of Ogham and why it is they need me and my line to do it. The truth is that the mother of our line, Lilith the Crone, bound a woodland fairy to the blood of the first of us. It is this power that provides our incredible connection with nature, the Fey, and the land. The Fey spirit in my blood is unruly and powerful. I will never be able to fully control it until I have gained immense power. Power that I could never control without the diablerie -- or this ritual the Tremere have planned. Then... Then I shall be able to command the magic of the earth and call the names of ancient creatures of unbelievable power that have not been seen on this world in a thousand years... The Tremere has asked that my new Bloodline be their Warriors. In this, I think we will be perfect."

"Are you so certain that the only way to survive is to bind your line into slavery with the Tremere," Beren asked, her voice calm. "Are you sure that what they plan, this ritual, will leave you your own being, and not steal your very essence from you? Have you forgotten how they became one of us in the first place?"

"I was concerned about this once. I was afraid of losing my identity and sense of individuality. But I am forced to finally admit that I have never in my 955 years of existence been on my own. I have never been a leader of anything but mortal cultists. I have always only been the servant of a greater power. There is a lot of security in knowing that although I must follow the command of my superior, my superior will also watch out for me because letting something happen to me reflects poorly on them.

"Now I have had more freedom these past two years than I ever had before. I am bound to no one. I am not even one step toward a blood oath like the Tremere all are. I have always been exempted from that. My loyalties technically lie only with Roma and Meerlinda. By extension that means the whole of the Clan, but that is unlike all other Tremere.

"It took the previous two years for me to even begin to build up the confidence in my own survival skills. Defeating the werewolf alone was a major turning point in the way I perceive myself.

"I have even suggested courses of action to Roma that would have been commonly expected among my own kind, even if it was suicidal. But the Tremere have demonstrated far more interest my well-being than ever my own Clan did. Even the ones that don't particularly like me or are jealous of me are very nice compared to what I am used to.

"If I prove myself to the Inquisitor, then I will be granted great power. I have been promised the permanent position of being the mother of a new bloodline. I will be its primogen.

"Already, Alexandrea, Lexi to her friends has shown me great respect because of what I have achieved. She is the Keeper of Elysium and a Toreador elder, and she has even asked to see more of me.

"Also, Roma offers me the final revenge. My ancient rivals, the Druids, called Diende by the Tremere and long since absorbed by them, will be as sacrifices before me. They will be finally purged, the last of them eliminated from the ranks of the Tremere to be replaced by *my* line. Their knowledge has been promised me and their troublesome practices will be put to an end. I was a ghoul for 800 years specialized in seducing and destroying them, and I will finally be given a chance to complete this ancient mission." Fianna was grinning triumphantly.

"I have been promised many things by many people, Beren. Powerful Tzimisce have offered me their protection if I would follow them. You suggest freedom can only be attained by separation from the Tremere, but you know as well as I do that the Tremere could never rest while an independent Lhiannan still lived. And who would help me against such a powerful clan? None can stand against them for long. I should know.

"And why should I be opposed to them? They grant me power, magic, responsibility, respect, and a future. I never had such prospects! I *like* Roma. She hasn't just been a leader of the Chantry to me. She has been a good friend. She has certainly been better to me than any elder I knew from my Dark Age past. I also care for Celeste. She is my opposite in color, philosophy, and powers, that is true. But I like her for her differences. I couldn't even think of betraying my friends. For survival's sake, I thought I might once. But now I am certain I would not ever.

"I know you dislike the Tremere. You don't trust them because of how they became what they are. But the truth is that they were betrayed into it by an ambitious, greedy man. Once you are stars are set, you must live by them, Beren. I won't ask you to change your opinion. I just hope that you can understand my decisions given my perspective and the truths that I believe."

"Of course I understand them," Beren replied. "I simply wish to remind you the greatest gift that any god or goddess ever gave humanity was the ability to question what we are taught and told are truths."

Fianna was quiet for a while. "I think I understand what you mean. Yet we are not human," she stated softly and simply. "We are are the dead and we will always do what we do.

"But it is good that you bring this up. I wanted also to tell you that I have released all my people. The tribe that I have created lives on, but without me now. It is for the best. They served me well, but now they must serve only themselves. I gave them the lands I secured in Iowa; I will not return there. I may keep my own Haven because I have made it a fortress."

Beren paused for a moment. "And right now is a perfect example," She said with a slight smile. "Where in Ireland will you be going?"

"Well... Why do you ask?"

"Just curious. I have travelled the world extensively in my time," Beren replied with a smile. "I have been to Ireland in the past, and a branch of my family exists there today."

Fianna looked a little chagrined. "Well, to be honest they haven't told me exactly where it is. I'd been assuming somewhere in the western portion, but I can't say I know precisely."

Beren noddded. "Need to know basis, and you don't need to know," she said. "Or so they think. Have you been given any kind of information about the site to help you plan what's going to happen? One of the things my... Sire taught me was to never accept information about a dangerous place I am going to without doing research about myself. What are they building there? Can it be used against you or would it be an asset to your plans? That kind of thing."

"I was told that there was a company who is digging in the area. Cable? They put cables in the ground sometimes, I understand. I don't know what the cable is for, though. It's the digging that is disturbing things. I can only imagine that Kele De has a complex underground and if they break through, then what she has guarding her could get out. But they are really concerned about her waking before we're there. In any case, it won't help me much. From what I have been given to understand, Meerlindia and Roma will attempt to suppress the powers of the Guardians. My team is to go in there, clear them out, and retrieve Kele De. I think they may fear Kele De will turn me against them, though."

Beren nodded, then a curious look crossed her face. "Would Kele De have entombed herself in a barrow or hill? I'm not familiar with Kin who would build their havens and realms underground."

"It is a barrow that my look very much like a hill now. It may not even have any obvious point of egress at all."

Beren nodded. "That is only to be expected, given the passage of time, if one even existed."

Fianna was quiet for a little while and then stated. "I have let time escape me again, Berengiere." She smiled and looked at her friend. "But thank your for spending this time with me. I hope we shall not wait as long for our next chat."

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