by Dustin Evermore and Lisa Hartjes
Fianna stood before the door of Beren's house again, waiting for the help to answer her knocks. This time she was dressed in ordinary cutoff jeans and a tank top. That meant she must have visited Stazi again, since she never seemed to own a change of clothes of her own. However, the plain yet comfortable clothing she wore now was certainly far cry from what Stazi normally would select and certainly different from all the outfits she had worn to see Beren previously.
She surely would have looked comfortable had she not been gripping the satchel as if her life depended upon it. She wore it on a strap which crossed her neck and shoulders, but she held the lip of it down over the latch as if she feared something might try to get out. Or perhaps she feared someone might try to get in.
Andre answered the door with a smile, and was obviously going to say something suggestive but changed his mind when he saw the look on Fianna's face. He ushered her into the house and straight to a small room near the kitchen that had been turned into a kind of office.
Berengiere was sitting behind a beautiful oak desk, at least one hundred years old, that had been custom made for her petite size. She was wearing the suit that Fianna had seen her in the previous night, though her hair was swept up in a french twist. Beren looked up from the papers in front of her, and a look of concern crossed her face when she saw her friend.
"What's wrong, Fianna," Beren asked, quickly putting the papers away.
A broad, genuine smile stretched the other woman's lips. "Nothing at all! In fact, things are very, very good," she replied, with hands still firmly gripping the satchel. "I wanted to tell you I decided to confront Stazi about the tainted blood she gave me the other night. Remember how I was worried because I knew it had traces of werecat blood in it?"
Fianna fingered what appeared to be a little silver ankh. Beren hadn't seen her wear jewelry before. "Well, it was true. She knew I had tasted it before, and she knew that I longed for it. In any case, I told her I thought it was manipulative and cruel. She was either genuinely shocked or she's a very good actress. Apparently she knew it was addictive, but she had no idea what it did to a person besides give them powers."
Fianna sighed. "She thought she was doing me a service. She looked like she had accidentally swallowed a wren, then she asked me what she should do with the six pints she had collected. I told her I would take them, so that they could not be used against me. I pressed her a little and she let slip that the blood was in fact from Jack, and that someone she knows there was holding him in Colorado. I do not know geography in this place, but I hope that it is far from here."
She took the satchel's strap off and put the bag down, backing away from it, but staring at it with thirst in her eyes. "Berengiere, may I ask a small favor?"
"You wish me to dispose of the contents of the satchel," Beren asked seriously.
Fianna grinned and stuck out her tongue. "Ha-ha. I wish. No it's just that I don't trust myself with these. I'll get into them when I shouldn't and I will need to take it with me when I go to Ireland," said Fianna. "It will be a last resort, and only if necessary. And if I have a choice, it won't be me using it." Although, she knew she was the only one of them likely to have the power to resist going directly into a frenzy when it was consumed.
"Very well," Beren said, her expression neutral. "You are here early," she continued, suddenly changing the subject. "What happened to the 'drop by just before dawn to keep from being seduced' method of visiting me?" Berengiere grinned with good-natured humor.
The taller woman responded teasingly, "Maybe I was bored tonight." She winked at Beren, "Or maybe I'm getting spoiled, being able to visit you every night"
"Actually, I may not be able to return for a few nights. I read in the stars tonight that my fate is crossed with some troubles that I'm going to have to deal with. They aren't my problems directly, but they are in my path. Also, Berengiere I really wanted to thank you for last night. I don't know if it turned out the way you expected, but I really do feel better than I have for as long as I can remember." Hoping that it was okay with Beren, Fianna stepped close for a hug.
Beren returned Fianna's hug warmly. "What else did you talk to Stazi about," she asked as she turned to take a peek inside the satchel. Beren noted with some concern that all six of the containers inside appeared to have tampered with.
"She talked to me a little bit about her 'childhood' I guess you'd call it. Did you know that these Tzimisce who cooperate with the Sabbat keep lines of breeding ghouls? She comes from one of these lines." Fianna stopped, observing Beren's quizzical look in the satchel. "Is something wrong?"
"The containers have all been tampered with," Beren replied. She looked back at Fianna with concern.
"Oh. That was me," admitted Fianna. "The werecat blood won't last forever, so I mixed in some of my own. It will deter the others from taking too much when we go to Ireland, too."
"Very clever," Berengiere said with an approving smile.
"So, Stazi was a ghoul before she was embraced? What clan is she?"
"I think 'ghoul' would be not really accurate," Fianna replied. "They're somewhere between human and vampire. I don't think you can ghoul them, exactly. She's Tzimisce now, like Nuyen. She was supposed to serve the Sabbat, but somehow she wound up with Nuyen. She gave me the impression they have someone or something backing them. If I had to guess, I'd think that whoever it is, is in this 'Colorado' place she mentioned. Anyway, they are officially adopted into the Brujah clan, but Stazi is often unwelcome in society."
"What else did you talk about? Did she tell you about the Sabbat?"
"Oh yes, she did. She told me how they set themselves up in a perverse hierarchy, mirroring the Church of Rome, how the Tzimisce there and the Lasombra engineered the whole thing. Pretty ugly stuff. She said that the Lasombra were the worst and told me how they enjoyed inflicting psychological and physical pain upon the ghoul lines. She called those lines Revenants, even though they certainly aren't incorporeal spirits. You know, I don't think she had any experience with Lasombra outside the Sabbat, but she rather pointedly warned me against trusting any Lasombra. She said they always have another motive or plan in motion. Apparently, only the Lasombra ever benefits. Sounds like bad news to me. But then we both know von Rhoden, don't we? And I know he's a pre-Sabbat Lasombra of honor."
Fianna looked sideways at Beren for a moment. "I never thought to ask, Berengiere. What clan are you?"
Beren moved to sit on the edge of her desk, her legs crossed daintily to conceal the treasures beneath her wisp of a skirt. "From what you have seen and know of me, what clan do you think I am," she asked with an easy smile.
Fianna didn't hesitate. She'd been thinking about this. "You are as charming and sensual as the best of the Toreadors, and from what I've seen the night I encountered the creature, you're as stealthy as night. You like the old formalities like the Prince of this city does. But so did Baron von Rhoden back in the old days. I can't say I've met a Nosferatu, nor have I made more than momentary acquaintance with a Malkavian, so I can't compare there. I'd have to guess that since you are probably very old to know von Rhoden well at all, you could be either Ventrue, Toreador, or Lasombra, given that you might know any number of disciplines. I'd been having to be satisfied with the term 'unique'." Fianna smiled at her host.
"Thank you," Beren said with a smile. "I was wondering if you were going to bring that sighting up. You were very lucky to have spotted me." She reached up and brushed a speck of fluff from her suit jacket with a lazy finger. "You'll find that the older and more powerful the vampire, the less important clan definitions are when compared to what their actions say about them." Berengiere paused for a moment.
"Did you tell anyone else that you saw me that night?"
"At the time I was worried about it, so I brought it up to the others. They didn't see you, of course, and as far as I know, the matter was dropped."
Fianna fingered the ankh she wore. "Celeste did something very nice for me again. I can never tell if she's just being kind or if someone told her to do it, but it always seems like she just does things for me. She's very young, but quite proficient in magic. She helped me conceal my lands from those who'd use magic to pry or gain entry.
"That was very nice of her," Beren commented, a thoughtful look in her eyes.
"Yes, that's what I thought. And just a short while ago, after I expressed my desire to properly provide for my followers, Roma saw to it that we were able to expand our lands considerably. Since it was for a tribal organization, owned by the group, we were able to set up some kind of organization and she arranged for someone to send money that way. She then arranged things so that I would be able to purchase farmland in the area that had lain fallow for the past twenty years. It was a part of some government program I'm not familiar with. Anyway, the really interesting thing was that there was a Cairn there! I hadn't had time to explore it yet, but Celeste told me about it. Isn't that just about the nicest thing you ever heard?"
"I suppose," Beren said, "but how does having a cairn a benefit for you? They usually attract all kinds of weres."
"True," Fianna continued. "That's why I have built scores of followers. I hope to be in the hundreds, soon. In addition, I'm assembling a special team of five Bear Warrior ghouls for further protection. And now that the Cairn is magically concealed, no one should even be able to detect it. That means there is a place of power I have personal access to and it is located right in the heart of my lands. Either ancient shaman or perhaps a werewolf or a solitary, powerful werecat probably constructed it, at one time.
"Did you know that werewolves are not native to this continent?" At Beren's shake of her head, Fianna said, "Oh yes. According to the occult studies I've been doing over the past year, only the werecats, pumas, lynxes, jaguars and things like that are native. But they've been all but annihilated by the intruding werewolves from Europe.
"In any event, I've got this cairn at my haven, see? And the nature of my potential means that I can draw from it directly without any need for any complicated spells." Fianna paused and studied Beren. "I shouldn't tell you this next part; they'd be unhappy with me to say the least. But I feel like I can trust you." Fianna also knew that the information she was about to give was so important that most elders would be fools not to use it against her, if they had planned to do so anyway. However, the fact that she was, or soon would be, the only creature on the planet capable of this meant that in the end, she'd still hold all the (tarot) cards.
"If you feel it would get you in trouble, please, do not tell me," Beren said.
"I won't if you don't use it against me," Fianna looked at Beren steadily, with a small conspiratorial smile. "And you have no more reason to try to harm me, than I do you, correct?"
A wry smile twisted Beren's lips. "No, I have no reason to harm you at all," she replied.
"Right, me either," said Fianna with a flash of a smile. "Now, here are the facts. Once I master the technique, I can draw the power directly into myself and use it to accomplish all kinds of things. I can even use it to grant myself so much power that I can create Childer of far stronger blood than I normally could. That's part of the reason why this Ireland trip is so important. It's crucial that I learn to harness the power of the magic of the earth. With it, I can even destroy these magic nodes and ley lines by funneling it into whatever great work I desire. That means I would have the capability to bring down the core power of any werewolf pack, Tremere Chantry, or any other Chantry. *This* is why the Druids of old, the Weres, Gangrel, and other human mages hated us so much they wanted to exterminate us all. But the Tremere know that to be able to do that is the ultimate power in the political game among their kind. And this is why Meerlindia, the most powerful of the Tremere on this continent and only four generations removed from the source of all vampiric power, has chosen to extend her protection to me and even desires that I should build a new bloodline in my own image."
The thoughtful look returned to Beren's eyes.
"You see, in this age, the world is controlled by a different kind of magic. I know they call me backwards and archaic, but I *know* that the technology used today is simply another, complex form of magic based on defined rules. And so do the smartest of the elder Tremere. I also know that this world has been governed by the use of and the creators of this kind of magic. It is my belief, then, that the Tremere also want a weapon to use against the techno-magic of this world. In future decades, that will be my Bas Filidh, the Death Poets. That is, if I survive," she added matter-of-factly.
"Are you sure you want your progeny born into slavery to the Tremere," Beren asked softly.
Fianna laughed, but her eyes showed no humor as they carefully watched Beren's face. "As if I had another choice? Believe me, if I had had another choice when I met with Meerlindia, I would have taken it. My kind will never be seen to be significant enough to be allowed membership in any protective organization such as the Camarilla. The Sabbat would simply absorb me. As Caitiff, I would be hunted and exterminated by Inquisitors on both sides just because of the threat I pose to their precious magic. Where else in this world can I find shelter? Once I thought to find security in obscurity, but because I tried to help a Nuyen van Faulk hunt the Sabbat in the city and saved his life, my true nature has been permanently exposed to those who give a damn.
Fianna stopped, still looking at Beren intently. "Unless someone can show me a viable alternative, this is my fate."
"We all make our own fates, Fianna," Beren said softly. "There are viable alternatives, but I cannot tell you what they are. You must find your own path."
Fianna shook her head. "You have a strange, but interesting philosophy, Beregiere. As for my childer, they will be under my direction. I have made it very clear to the Tremere that only carefully selected and trained women will become Bas Filidh, because one must adopt my philosophy in order to grasp the intricacies of Ogham. I lied." A mischievous twinkle lit up her eyes. "It would be difficult but not impossible to retrain a Tremere in the use of Ogham, but that would make me rather redundant, wouldn't it? No, I will never teach any of the Tremere any of my powers. Strangely, I even think they accept that, or choose to believe the lie."
"Again, Fianna, you are very clever," Beren replied. "But you must be careful that the Tremere do not catch you."
Fianna nodded, "Of course." She found a chair to sit in. "May I?"
"Please," Beren said, indicating one of the oversized chairs. "Forgive my lack of manners. May I offer you something to drink? I'm afraid John is unavailable tonight. I'm sure I can find something else that's to your liking." She slid off the desk and into the chair opposite. It was then that Fianna realized that the chairs were the perfect size for Berengiere and one other person to sit with her, especially if they didn't mind being cozy.
"So what is it about this place that interests you? Why Detroit rather than any other place in the world?" Fianna took a seat, gracefully crossing one leg over the other and settling down into a sensual slouch. Her mood was infectious, spreading high spirits and confidence, but her gaze did wander to the satchel now and then.
There was a short knock on the door to the office, and Andre stepped in. "You summoned me, oh beauteous one?"
Beren chuckled and shook her head. "You never quit, do you," she said, and Fianna got the impression that this was a well-worn routine with them.
"Isn't that why you hired me," Andre responded with a lusty laugh. "Would you like the rest of your dinner now?"
Beren nodded. "Best bring it in a goblet. Be sure to let her know that I am in no way displeased with her, and that I will want to see her later to show my appreciation."
Andre nodded, then turned to Fianna. "Might I get something for you?"
"Thank you, Andre. I'm fine"
"Andre," Beren said, before the man left. "Please put a seal on this satchel, and put it in the refrigerated vault. No one is to touch it except upon my direct order. Understood? And it is never to be offered to anyone to drink, especially not to any
"Yes, Berengiere," he replied, picking up the bag from the desk and carefully carried out of the room.
Fianna's eyes followed Andre and there was a trace of a smile upon her lips. "Berengiere, if you had plans this evening, just say the word and I can leave you in peace." The bright spark in her eye said there'd be no hurt feelings.
Beren waved a neglegent hand. "It was nothing important. I was planning on having a leisurely, four course dinner, and I hadn't yet had dessert."
Fianna gave Beren a curious look. "Do not let me interrupt you."
Beren shook her head. "It would be rude of me to abandon you, a guest. It was going to be a moment of self-indulgence, but I can dine from a goblet as easily as the vessel." She paused, and then decided she ought to explain. "I have something of an... appetite. When I take sustenance from my servants, I take a small amount from several. This lessens the harmful effects of the blood loss upon them, and allows me to bestow and gain pleasure from a larger number of them. It helps cut down on the jealousy."
"That is something I certainly understand. You are a wise woman. And you are especially kind to make it a pleasurable thing. I have seen many Toreador and Ventrue ghouls recently, and none of them have been so well-treated. In fact, they were treated mostly like mere animals. The sick truth is that they even liked it." Fianna looked away for a moment before she continued. "And mortals always become very sensual when exposed to the Kiss, or promise of a taste of Vitae. It is a good thing for them that you enjoy making them happy."
"I have always followed the song of a different piper," Beren replied with a wry smile. "It is my experience that servants who are treated well are far more valuable than those who are abused, and are less likely to turn on you.
"I agree," Fianna smiled. "So, was it Detroit's edgy glamour and excitement of the struggle with the Sabbat that drew you?"
Beren chuckled. "I suppose you could say that. I move around every couple of years, trying to stay one step ahead of boredom. The way things have been going here, however," she said, giving Fianna an angelic smile, "I may stay here for an extended period of time."
Fianna gave her a wide smile. "Yeah. Me too." She was quiet for a moment, but then stood up in a single, fluid motion. "I think I should go now. There are a number of tasks I need to attend to at home. I don't need to come into the city but for a few days out of a week but I need to make some arrangements with the Tribe. I want them to be happy with their lives, but a lot of them don't even have a permanent home to live in out there yet. I need to enlighten them as to what I intend to do about the situation so they won't suffer a shock later."
"Must you go so soon," Beren said with a teasing smile. "You arrive several hours ahead of your usual time, yet stay even shorter than your regular visit." She moved from her seat like a shadow skipping over the water and stood before Fianna, her distinctive scent wrapping itself around Fianna like a seductive veil. Hidden deep in the layers of Berengiere's scent, Fianna could smell sex and sexual hunger, but not at whom it was targeted.
Fianna touched Beren's sensual lips, tracing them with a finger. She stepped close, nostril's flaring and eyes bright and large. She leaned down slightly to whisper into the shorter woman's ear, "I will be back in three days, and I will bring you a gift." She drew back then, fingers lightly brushing the inside of Beren's arm. "Good night, Lady Berengiere," she said. With a lingering glance at the undead angel, she walked away.