Temperance

Takes place after the coterie’s encounter with the Brood-inspiring hotspot at the Old Jail in Belfast.

Brenna had been nearly consumed by her wrath. She felt the need to kill Miora and even Ian. She knew she would not have been able to kill Kian, but the thought had in fact crossed her mind. They openly mocked her and treated her with no respect at all.

Friends they say. Does not seem that way. Kian never treated me like that when I did well in a fight. None of them seem to care. Of course it was the place Aife says. But did it not simply strengthen my own feelings of anger? It magnified all the little things that buzz like gnats, making them huge.

Time had passed before Brenna was ready to see Kian again. She knew he was furious with her. The question was this time did she care? The only way to know was to speak to him.

Kian had a note waiting for him when he woke. I was delivered to him by Trina when he emerged from his hidden haven:

If you would like to meet me I will be waiting for you at Kelley’s. I think I am ready to talk about things if you are willing to.

-Brenna

Kian read the note, then left his home without a word to his ghouled servants. He made his way to the bar and made his usual greetings to the regular patrons he’d come to know so well before finally picking his way toward Brenna’s table. Since she was already seated, he dragged up a chair and sat down.

“Hey,” he said.

The moment she saw him she had her answer. She cared a great deal more than she should. All she could manage to say was “I’m sorry.”

Kian’s sad eyes immediately changed character. He looked back at her with surprise at first, and then cheer washed away the darkness that had pervaded them since the Old Jail. He knew exactly what she was talking about because it had been on his mind constantly since then.

“We’re good,” he assured her. He seemed ready to leave it behind and move forward again.

“I don’t know if I am.” She said calmly. “A lot of things happened to me that night that I just don’t know if I can ignore anymore.”

“We all took a nip at each other here and there. I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said. “If you don’t have thick skin in this society, you break. Actions are what you really have to pay attention to. Actions reveal what a person is really feeling.”

“Not always. It is not that I don’t have thick skin, or that I have thin. Whatever was down there intensified your own feelings. Everyone seemed troubled but you, and still you…” She took a small sip of her drink, letting it spill back into the glass slowly. So it appeared she were drinkng it.

“No what everyone said and did down there was meant, even if it was pushed a little. I was shown to be cared for as less than I should. Not that I ask for much in that way, but you have never been so excited about me doing well in a fight.

“Guess none of it matters anyway. But, Kian you know why I left that night right?”

“Yes,” he said. “And I think you made a very poor choice in how you did it. But you already apologized for that so why worry about it?”

“Because I think you assume why I left that night. Thinking it was because I was upset at everyone and pouting. But that is not why. I left because I was about to attack Moira. I wanted to kill her. That I think would have been the worse choice. Besides I left the only way I could to make certain I was safe. My best understanding was that Chris most likely followed Pat again. He had what she wanted anyway. He said that.”

“You’re rationalizing a bad choice, Brenna,” he stated. “I don’t care why you left. I only care that you left without saying a word, leaving me to think you were taken by that diabolist, or worse, destroyed. That’s worse than simply rude. I thought that’s what you were apologizing for.”

She could see the edge of anger she was pushing him over. It is always like this for us. Maybe I should reconsider being here. “Yes, to you. Because of how you looked at me when you came in. I was not sure untill I saw you.”

“Anyway, we’re all Kindred. Everyone’s a predator and everyone wants to build themselves up at the expense of someone else. That’s just our nature as I’ve observed it.” He said. “But now you know you can fight it, right? You don’t have to let those voices guide you. Just focus on something and don’t pay them any mind. That’s what I did.”

“Yeah, sure.” Brenna was suprised at him. She had expected him to maybe be concerned. But to her he seemed to be pushing it all away. Maybe because he had his answer at that was all that mattered. Case closed for him. Not so much the I am right and you’re wrong. More the I have the answer why can’t you see it.

She sighed and tried to move on, like always. Just push your feelings and everythign else under the rug. Or rather the back of your mind. You have been wronged and insulted and still can not take it out or get what is owed for such slites. Again you acted and it is wrong, no matter how. If I had stayed I would have been wrong in my actions because of an external influence. I leave and that was wrong too. I’m Nos how am I supposed to protect myself?

Kian stared at her, watching her face. “Brenna? Can I ask you something without you jumping to conclusions or assuming I’m feeling things I’m not?”

She nodded her head yes.
Kian shook his head in wonder. “What this is about is that someone cares about you and cares what happens to you. I care about you. So when you disappear in the middle of a struggle against a deadly monster, I get scared you’re hurt or worse. Is it really so difficult to believe that someone cares about you enough to worry?”

“Can answer without you being upset?” She looked at him. “Sometimes is the answer. I get confused to reactions. You yelled and said you would be sure to tell Aife. It made me feel like you did not care for my well being. But that I had not done my part on this mission. I have seen those who are concerned with the well being, scared and angry but still they hug the other in relief once they see they are okay. That is not why I did what I did, not for any reaction. I was not thinking it would matter for me to be gone. I mean…” She stopped.

“Sorry I am rationalizing again. This really is about me and what I was feeling down there. I wasn’t sure I wanted to apologize for my actions. Did not feel it was necessary. But when I saw you, saw how you looked at me, I wanted to say I was sorry to you.”

Kian wanted to reach across the table and hug her, but he restrained himself for the sake of appearances. “Aye. I was quickly growing frustrated with the in-fighting down there. I didn’t understand why my friends were at each other’s throats. I had focused entirely on finding the diabolist and it seemed like others were just slowing things down. At the time I didn’t understand that the rest of you had been so influenced by that irritating voice. Ah well, I suppose it doesn’t matter now. One day, She Who Sleeps may take some action to get rid of that place, but I don’t know.”

“Influenced. Magnified is more like it. Whatever we were feeling was made intense and impossible to ignore. That is the danger. It did not try to persuade or change our nature or minds. It simply amplified what was there. That is my problem now. My own feelings and what I wanted to do down there. That is what I can nto ignore. Because I am getting pretty used to ignoring what everyone else says and does to me.”

She paused momentarily. “What I really wanted to do when I reached the surface was leave, but I stayed and watched that you were all out safe. Then after the clean up I left. That is when I realized how much I wanted to leave Belfast.”

Kian looked very pained at the thought of her leaving. “I know, but it only brought out the bad thoughts. Everyone has those. But what about the good thoughts? They went unsaid because there was nothing forcing them to the surface.

“Please don’t give up on us Brenna,” he asked in a voice that was quietly pleading.

“You I would never give up on. Myself and what I am becomming in this time is another story. It is not that the good thoughts have gone away. But you are my only good thought here. You and Rory. William has been good. Patrick has at least not upset me further. But Moira compounds it. Did you hear what she thinks of me? I am beneath her she said. The fact that she gets to bed you makes that worse somehow. Now I am faced with working with those who think so little of me. Plus the fact that all of society know my student became Brood. That will be poor for me as well.” She put her head in her hands.

“Moira?” Kian chuckled a might evilly. “You realize that when She Who Sleeps rises, Moira’s place will most likely be forfeit, don’t you? Yours will remain, but somehow I don’t believe our true Prince is very concerned about keeping Moira as a Seneschal. I’m certain you will remain Master of Elysium, but Moira will have to carve out a new place for herself or be left with nothing. That means She Who Sleeps has a far higher regard for you than she does Moira and that must count for something, yes?

“And, I think maybe now is a good time to tell you. I expect to be removed from the position of Guardian of Belfast as soon as it is convenient to do so, so that I may server the Prince’s interest directly as her right hand and bodyguard. Technically, this is a demotion for me, too, though I would certainly choose it if given a chance.

“As for Moira sleeping with me? Well, it has not happened yet. Actually, I’ve been wondering when she will let the spirit have what it wants. I’ve decided I won’t make the first move, though I won’t refuse it either.” He smiled. “I want to see how strong Moira really is. Will she give in and get it over with? Or will she foolishly try to defy the will of the spirit within her?”

“Make no mistake. Miora wants to taste your flesh more than the spirit does. To the spirit you were a random choice. To Miora you are a prize. Personally I hope she is a fool and the spirit takes over her. At least then we wil not be subject to her ego. Her beauty is not earned. Nor is it a gift. She takes it for granted. It also gives her a false sense of power.

“As far as her position. Well she is Aife’s daughter. I am sure she will have words to keep her there.

“I have learned my lesson with Chris though. I gave her pity and lenience. I tried to help her. This will not be repeated with anyone.”

Kian thought about what she said about Moira. “I think you’re right about her.”

He shook his head and then smiled as he considered some new possibilities. “You know, we are not married to this coterie. If you know some people you like better, we could simply form a new coterie with them. Keep what we like, and if you find you cannot tolerate someone bring it up to the rest of us. If given a choice between you and Moira, I would choose you. Then we just start hanging out with new friends and gradually pull away from old ones that are no longer good ones.”

Brenna looked at him in shock. Had he just said that? streamed through her mind. Kian is loyal to Aife, and this was her coterie. Chosen by her. “You would really do that? Give up that much for me?” Surprise filled her voice.

He nodded. “Yes. I still must be loyal to the city and to the Prince when she rises, and I am loyal to Aife, too. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pick my own friends. It doesn’t mean I can’t choose to express that continued loyalty and service among those I consider most trustworthy. That’s you.

“I know we’ve had our differences, but it has never changed the fact that we have always stuck it out and have always talked things over when we had half a chance. It also doesn’t change the fact that you are the most competent person overall in this coterie and who has shown the most growth in terms of skill and power.

“Well,” he paused with a sheepish grin, “I could come up with good reasons all night, but the fact is I just like you best. And if it comes down to splitting the coterie into a couple new coteries, it’s better to do that when we might still be on amicable terms with them.”

“Don’t be mad. But I thought since you are not interested in the joining ceremony you did not have such a connection to me.” She thought for a moment. “How is it I say…” Brenna scratched her head. “I did not think that our connection this life was one so deep as that you would give up or risk such for me. To break the coterie would go directly against Aife. Not to mention it would upset her. That would be going against what you have chosen to do with your life.”

He shook his head. “I disagree. First, I think Aife would learn two coteries loyal to the good of the city was even better than one. Second, this coterie is a very distant second to my mission here in Belfast. We work as a coterie because working as a team makes us far more powerful than we are alone. But I say that when the coterie begins to limit us, its time to shed it and begin anew.

“Now, you know I am perfectly willing to separate from the coterie with you. Are we to that point yet? I know you have given Moira more than enough chances to straighten up. Do you think it would help if I informed Moira she was going to break the coterie if she continues her antagonism? I have no compunctions against telling her that she’s crossing the line too many times.”

“I don’t think it will be viewed as such. Even Aife will see that it is me, not the others. ”

“Well, she won’t say that because if she did, she’d be wrong,” Kian stated.

“How would she be wrong? I am the one that has the issues. Well known issues. It does not matter if there is merit to them or not. I guess I don’t have as much faith as you do.” She smiled as she looked at him. “You are a good to me Kian.”

He smiled back and took her hand. “Listen. You and Aife might have had a history, but this time you are not in the wrong. And you’ve never been the antagonist in this stuff. I can get her to see that.”

“I don’t know. Breaking hte coterie seems so wrong. It is just not what you do. You don’t betray your family. Guess that is my issue. I feel betrayed by my family because of how they treat me. As less than they, inept. As though I am unworthy to be near them.”

“Well, back to my earlier question,” Kian said. “Would you like me to speak with Moira to give this coterie another chance? I know she hasn’t been listening to you, and if she also does not listen to me, then we won’t be wrong to pick new friends. That’s what a coterie is, after all, a circle of friends, and when they stop being your friend, it is no longer a coterie. What do you say?”

“You make it sound so simple. If you go to talk to her it will make her accusations seem accurate. That you had to bail me out. I guess I would rather provide her the rope. But you can speak to her if you feel strongly about it. I won’t stop you. I have already told Aife my concerns when it comes to Miora.

“To me the easiest solution was to leave, maybe see this new world. I have never ventured off this island until our trip to London.”

“That may be,” he agreed. “Although, so long as VII is after you, such trips might be well cut short. And I intended that pun in the worst way,” he said with a rueful grin.

“Are you sure I never told you why they are after me? And now that you mention it I don’t really appreciate being put on the sppot like that. Or meetings being held to discuss me and my personal life.” She smiled. It was simply a statement no anger behind it.

He shook his head and held up his hands innocently. “That wasn’t me, love. That was Katherine’s doing. Both times. The first time she asked to meet, I did and then found out it was about you so I told all of them we would not be discussing this without you there. So then she called it a second time in Elysium with the idea that you being right there, you’d be able to join us right away. It didn’t work that way, and they tried to start without you again, but I told them to hold up. I’m no harpy.”

“Then would you like to know what the answer is then? To your question about seven?” She stood and offered her hand to him. ” We can go back to my place then if you like?”

“That sounds perfect,” he said with a wide smile. His mind was already thinking they could be more free in their actions outside the bar.

Once back at her apartment. She went to a hidden safe and removed an ornately decorated metal box with intricate sculpted metal covering. She sat it down on the table in front of Kain. She herself sat next to him on the couch.

“I would like you to meet my Grandsire. Roxanna”

He blinked and looked left, then right. “Oh! You mean… in the box?”

“Yeah. From what I can tell her essence is in there. She is still alive, some Circle magics. I think. Anyway I figure this is why they are after me. To get to her.” Brenna opened a folder of news clippings and articles. “I could have sworn I showed these to you. But here is VII’s marker in her grave. It is an archeological dig. Like I said the museums keep taking my things.”

“Or in this case, your grand-sire. So, what do we need to do to bring her back? I mean, this can’t be good for her soul, right? All stuck in this box instead of reincarnated or resurrected?” he wondered.

“Hmm. I hadn’t really planned on bringing her back. She is ancient and powerful. That might not be a good thing to do. Well I would have to bring it up with Aife.

“It is funny really. I made the deal with the Lady of London to get my other bracer and this back. I am not supposed to get the items until I finish this poem for her. But I did a large favor so to keep good faith she sent this. I don’t think she realized how important this item is.

“So you think we should bring her back then?”

Kian wasn’t certain. “Well, that or let her pass on. Of course technically she is something like a vampire in torpor and she’s now in Belfast, so that would mean only the Prince or her Regent can order a someone’s death in a case like this. So that means we should probably figure out how to raise her again, if it’s even possible. But I guess before we do that we should try to find out as much as we can about her. Do you know if she was Circle of the Crone? Given that she’s family to you, you’ll be susceptible to her powers, just like I am susceptible to my sire’s powers so we need to keep that in mind. Also, where did she originally come from?”

“Oh man questions. Ack.” She smiled and leaned up agains him. “She is a very hard person to find anything out about. Except she was alive until about a hundred years ago or so. She is called Bloody Anna. I know of two who might be able to tell me more. Vlad mentioned her in familiarity and then there is the Hob Goblin.”

“Hm,” Kian considered. “Neither information source sounds like they’re handy. Have we got anything else?”

“There are a couple who might be able to find out. But I don’t necessarily want them knowing. However there is one I could get in contact with to see what he knows. No wait, I think I spoke to him about her already. I was just going to play it by ear and see what I could find out along the way. Too bad you don’t have Dorian’s memories. He would know more about her.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I bet he would. I wonder if I dream about past lives during the day? But then I’m sure it would be all jumbled up even if I could communicate.”

Brenna looked at him puzzeled. “Communicate?”

“Yeah, I know, stupid idea anyway. Everybody knows that’s not possible,” he said.

Brenna was even more perplexed. “No it’s not. What is going on Kian?”

“I was just taking your idea about Dorian’s memories and running with it, but I really have no powers or way of communicating when I’m asleep during the day,” he said. “So I guess I was just being silly.”

She considered his words. “Or not teling me something.” She looked at the drawings on the wall. They were memories. She knew it and he told her not to ask. “You have never mentioned dreaming before. In fact I am the only one who has ever said such. So now you dream, and can see past memories. Or at least have someone who can. Unless you have developed such art skills. I would just suggesting that if there were someone who could see such things it might be helpful to try. Be it you or whatever.”

“I’ll give it a shot. Although, I really don’t remember what I dream about any more than any other Kindred, so I’m not at all sure I have the control to try to bring up images of Roxanne. But I can try and focus by thinking about it when the sun rises. If I get something, I’ll be bringing drawings directly to you. No one else will know,” he promised. “In fact, I’d rather not have anyone else know either. They’d think I was just making stuff up anyway.”

“Good enough for me then,” she said with a smile.

Back in Belfast

Takes place after Kian took Brenna to see Aidan Fitztancred about the Crone’s Axe.

Brenna had been quiet the trip back. But then daytime tended to make any vampire silent as a grave. Once night had fallen and Kian awoke he found that Brenna was not there.

Trina told him Brenna had business to attend. Two nights passed before Brenna contacted Kian. She left a message for him that if he wanted to get together she would be able to tonight.

Mystified by the sudden halt of their quest to find this Axe, and curious as to what she’d found out, he appeared in Elysium and requested a private conference room with her.

Kian had been waiting for a few minutes when Brenna walked in with William behind her, shuffling through a stack of papers ans her saying yes or no. “William please arrange the meeting with Foster, his earliest conveinence. With that you may go, and thank you.” She excused her aid and closed the door.

Her clothing was an exquisitely tailored suite. She wore hip hugging style silvery grey slacks that were made of a shimmery material, though it was more a flat shimmer than sparkle. She had a matching satin dress top and suit jacket that stopped mid calf accompanied the outfit and she completed the outfit with a pair of matched heels.

“Glad you could make it. I thought it would be good to discuss what I found out, what it means, and what the next step will be. Do you have the time now?”

He nodded. “I’ve been pretty curious.”

“Yes. It was enlightening. So to speak.” She moved to a chair and took out the ever growing journal.

“I was accurate in many of my assumptions, surprised by some things and have a “it figures” response for things I feared. So let me start with this. Freya and Aiden helped fill in blanks and reassure my research. No this will take to long. Okay I will start over.

“The axe was taken or rather kept by Haakon who is still alive. He told Freya he was taking it to the Giants Causway and giving it to the hand of Kulac. This is halfway between Ireland and Scotland.

“My research is accurate as to what happened. The group took the axe, Haakon killed Kellach for what they thought was stealing it. Though he was trying to do the right thing and return it. Haakon sent his childe Aiden and Freya to finish off the enemy, the Magda. He could not after meeting her. This was after the battle that Aiden killed Dorian. Haakon went on with the axe.

“There was another Kindred there and no he or she never left. What they did with the axe, and what we must undo for this to succeed is this. The axe was used to call the totem spirit of the pack, place it within a kindred, then kill the kindred. They severed the pack from it’s totem. In order to restore this, we have to reverse it. Call the spirit out it in a kindred and release it.

“We can go find Haakon with you. He is your Grandsire and he you will know when he is near.

“Why did we have to stay a night? I imagine the Magda wanted to see me. She promised Dorian long ago she would protect me, watch over me. So she has.

“Yes, I learned other things. Though they are of little relevance to this mission.

“One last thing. Freya called a favor of me. We are not to return there to them untill it is time for you to see Aiden again. None of us on pain of death. If any of us do venture there without you, death will be instant.”

Kian chuckled. “He was always pretty strict. So my grand sire still exists. That’s pretty interesting. Do we have any clues where to being looking for him? A thousand years is a long time and theoretically a person could be anywhere in the world by now.”

“Yes we do.” She said. “So is that what you want to do next. Go look for him?”

“Is that what we have to do get this Crone’s Axe back?”

“Possibly. We could bypass it and go to where the axe is supposed to be and see if we can find it. The point in seeing him would be to find out if he actually got rid of it.” She paused. “I found it almost impossible to dislike your sire. He and Freya are a good thing to see.”

Kian scowled. “I never got to meet her. I just had to guard a worthless piece of dirt while he actually paid attention to you.” Kian was very obviously disappointed he hadn’t had the chance to meet his sire’s chosen mate. But he shoved the feeling from his mind as he concentrated on more important issues.

“Well, I’m getting the impression that my bloodline doesn’t take all that well to visitors. If we can maybe look and see if we can find this axe first that might be best. Then,” he continued, “we could try to find gramps as a last resort. From what you told me of the history around this stuff, gramps might be a major grump over this axe issue so it might be best just to avoid him unless we have no choice.”

“It was not some worthless peice of dirt you were gaurding.” She said firmly. “It was the Magda. Your sire gave you a great honor in letting you assume his post. A father saying his child is good enough, worthy enough to fill in for him. Brief as it was. But you will see it how you wish.

“Besides I needed the time with Aiden to speak to him. You will get to meet Freya one day, I suppose.” Brenna had longing in her eyes. Then let it wash away.

“We will plan a trip then to the Giant’s causway. Our next step will be to search for the axe. This means leaving Belfast again, and facing who knows what.”

“Well,” Kian said, “you have the best idea where the axe is, you’ll have to lead that search. I’ll provide muscle, backup, and all the scouting we might need, of course.

“As far as having the honor of guarding Magda, I really don’t think much of an ‘honor’ wherein instead of being asked, I am ordered to do a thing on pain of death. Sort of loses it’s spark, you know?

“Anyway you realize he’s just doing that to salve his own conscience. That’s not honor he’s trying to uphold. It’s shame he’s trying to assuage. And as I recall, what happened here over a thousand years ago was a lot more his shame than mine — and by that I mean Dorian’s. He’s doing penance — as I think he should.

“But don’t get me wrong. I don’t think ill of him. In fact, I probably respect him more for knowing that he had a very human… well, failing. And he’s trying to fix it by doing the right thing. I really do think that. And if he chooses to share nothing of his own life with his own Childe, then that’s his prerogative. But being that I am that Childe, I don’t have to like it.” Kian sighed. “Well at least he’s also shown no interest in my own life. That’s a plus I suppose; I don’t have to share anything with him, either.”

“It hought this was your test Kian. To not be part of his life for ten years. To make it on your own for that time. It is not so strange really. But perhaps that is my age and time talking. Or perhaps it is centuries of the Magdas influence rubbing off. He has participated in the wedding ceremony after all. But then other clans might have that as well. Who is to say without research. ”

Kian shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess it’s just not important if I met Freya or not then since he never mentioned that to me, or even what her name was. I spent all this time thinking it was a guy, a comrade in arms.”

Brenna’s expression and manner softened. She stood and took him by the hand. “Come with me.”

Brenna lead him thruogh various back routes, so that she would not be disturbed. She locked the apartment door behind them. Kian noticed that the pictures he had given her were framed and on the wall.

“How long were you with your sire before he told you to leave?” She said as she took a seat on the couch.

He walked over and sat down next to her. “Six months.”

“Six months is not very long. Are you so sure he does not want to be in your life?”

Thinking about it she restated. “Sorry. You have told me the importance of when one of your line chooses to protect someone. He shares that oath with Freya. So anything else is not as important as that charge right? If that is the case, would he feel it necessary to tell you all the details of his life?”

“If it were your childe and you were going to be sending him off on his own to live or die, would you be more concentrated on teaching him to survive or filling him in on all the details of your past?”

Kian shook his head. “That’s not the point. The point is that he chose to share something with a complete and total stranger rather than share something with his own Childe. And yes, I’m positive he’s not interested in me or my life, or else he wouldn’t have told me he didn’t want to see me around for ten years.”

He looked at Brenna. “Look, I know you are trying to make me feel better, and I do thank you for it. But the facts are the facts; he only took me in because he thought his charge, the Magda, expected it of him. I was apparently nothing but a burden to him for that short time he had me under his wing and it seems he could hardly wait to send me off with Roma — whom he hates, by the way.”

Kian stood and paced back and forth once, then he stopped and looked Brenna in the eye. “But you know what? I really don’t like him. I might not have been his choice to make a member of the Khaibit line, but I’m still his Childe. He just can’t seem to accept that. He’s been an asshole to me since the moment he sent me with Roma and Aife and I’ve never done anything to deserve it. So screw him. I think I’ve proven I don’t need that jerk. I don’t care if my line seems to be even more rare than the Lhiannan. He can go die off for all I care.”

Kian smiled for the first time since they got back to Belfast and it seemed a cloud had lifted. His posture was again his normal cheerful self.

“So, when are we going to hunt about for this Axe?” he asked her.

“True that he had never met me. But I am no stranger to him. If he had any guilt for killing Dorian though it was a noble death then I am his way to atone. I am part of his world not this one.” She paused and looked away for a moment. “Sorry that is not what I meant.”

“I know enough that whatever I say will make little difference to you. So I will speak with Eife and we will leave as soon as preparations can be made.” Brenna turned her head to the side trying to choke back tears. She felt one slide down her cheek and she wiped it away with a slender hand.

Kian tilted his head and blinked in surprise. “Why… why are you crying?” He held out his hands, as if to embrace her, but paused in momentary uncertainty.

“I wish it was you with your sire that night. I wish you had seen him with his bride and not me. I am trying to accept my role here, but it is so very difficult for me.” Her words were soft as she spoke. Looking at him she continued. Her eyes held unshed tears. “You got to move on and change with many lives to forget me. But I didn’t.”

Kicking her shoes off she curled her legs in. “I get to be me, the same me with the same feelings and no way to change them. With no way to fulfill them. I see what role I have to take and it is difficult for me because I miss him so much. You hate your sire for a misunderstanding. You don’t know him enough to hate him. I have every reason to hate him and yet I find that I envy him.”

Sad she did not accept his offer of comfort, he let his arms drop to his sides. “Because he has Freya?” Kian continued. “I knew him for six months, and I know him well enough to make my own opinions based on how he treats me.”

“I know how you are with your choices. I am not arguing your reasons for it, just saying I see it and accept it. It is not becasue he has Freya, more that he has what I once did. What he took from me.

He told me they looked for me. Because the Magda promised to take care of me for Dorian. That they looked for She Who Sleeps, as they did not know my name. Magda did. I can’t really recall her, but I guess I met her before with Dorian.”

Brenna stood and moved slowly to Kian. Taking his arms, she wrapped them around her. “You are you, and I am the same. I will never have what I did. I am trying to be okay with it. It is so very hard for me though. Seeing and speaking with Aiden only brought back so many memories.

“I know you think I am trying to make you Dorian. Or that all I see you as is Dorian. I want you to understand my pain is because you are not Dorian. I know that. Once maybe, but now you are new and different than when last we touched. You returned to me, but in a different way.”

She looked into his eyes. “I am the bride of Dorian, not Kian. For Kian I am a friend, and lover.”

Kian was reassured at her touch. He smiled slightly and said, “You know, if I was in Dorian’s place a thousand years ago and saw you as I do now, I would never have tried to hide you away to protect you from your destiny. I would rather live, love, fight and die with you beside me than without you at all. While you slept, I must have lived and died many times, but none of those times mean anything to me like the lifetimes I’ve had with you in them.”

Brenna held him tightly. “Veronica really has trained you to be quit eloquent. Do you remember the other lifes? I guess it does not matter.”

“I was nearly dead after the wolf attacked me.There was no time to heal me, and he wanted me to live. Dorian was a great warrior and I doubt he thought he would be killed and not be able to return for me.

“I am sorry. I stayed away for two days hoping this had passed so I would not burden you with this. I see who you are now, and feel who you were then. I see a little of who you once were in you now. I wish I could bury Dorian have him no longer be a burden to you. But I also think I understand the limits of this relationship. I so want for more, but I understand your fears on it. So I can accept that.”

Welcome Back to Belfast

Brenna was feeling a little guilty that she had to run out on Kian. They had finally gotten some time to themselves when Aife called. Brenna had been appointed Seneschal for an interim period. So when Aife called her she had to leave Kian.

Brenna had left a voice mail with him asking him to take her on a date as it is called. If he accepted she would be waiting in her apartment at eight the next night. She was waiting for him in a new outfit she had bought for the knight. Her dark red top was a suit style long top. The neckline was low cut. It flared out at the waist leaving the perfection of her lower abdomen revealed. Her skirt was tight black leather that clung to the curve of her legs. The bottom of the skirt stopped about an inch above her knee’s and the black boots that covered her lower legs.

She was sitting in the bar when he came in.

Kian paused to take in the view. Brenna was all woman tonight — no ambiguity at all. He smiled because that meant she really meant to focus her attention on him tonight and he aimed to return the favor.

He stepped softly, almost silently as was his habit as he walked through the bar in his expensive shoes, black designer jeans with a heavy belt and brass buckle, and a long-sleeve dress shirt with the top two buttons open to reveal what appeared to be a brass and ivory necklace. His shirt was such deep crimson it appeared to be almost black in the lighting of the bar, and the cuffs and collar had ornate gold stitching.

Clearly, Kian had been taking fashion lessons and investing his money.

Brenna only had eyes for him as he crossed the room. She slid off the bar in one sultry motion. “You look tastey.”

He gave her a suave smile. “I barely hold a candle compared to your flame,” he said.

Brenna returned his smile. “Hmmm. You have been studying since left. Your words move more like poetry.” She moved in close to him, close enough that there was barely an inch between them. “I have learned a few things too.”

“Thank you,” he said. Smiled and then added, “Will you show me what you learned?” A blush of life entered his flesh, reddening his cheeks slightly and enlivening his lips. He put his arms around her and she felt that he was, indeed, happy to see her.

Brenna returned the favor of life to him, and she did indeed feel and look very much alive. With her gifts of bloodline and the blush of life, it was very difficult to tell that Brenna was anything but human, even to other Kindred. In fact, the only ones she came across who could tell were Mages for they looked at something entirely different. Maybe Lupines could smell the difference.

Brenna traced the line of his face and ran her finger down his forehead, nose and lips. Her heart was beating for him and he could feel the warmth in her skin. The delicate perfume she had chosen was intoxicating. “If you promise not to be angry, I will show you.”

He chuckled and said, “Promises? You don’t need them. Trust in me as I trust in you, my lovely one. Show me what you have learned.”

She smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Can we go out first? I hate to ruin your clothes before we get a chance to leave.”

Kian raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Well, that would be nice since I don’t have another set like this yet.”

Brenna’s eyes lit up. “Great!”

She took his arm in hers and headed out. “Where do you want to go?”

“Some place we can show off a little,” he said. “A place with some live music, maybe a little dancing, and where the drinks flow all night. I know just what we need. And I have a car waiting.”

Brenna practically purred with excitement as she followed him to the car. “I have to say Kian you are impressive tonight. Your time with Veronica is well spent. It shows.” Though her eyes were full of excitement, her voice was neutral and calm.

He smiled. “Good. I like to think I can learn new tricks. Besides, I like to show off for you.”

“You do?” Her smile said she knew the answer. She slid gracefully into the car and closed the door. Once they were on their way she spoke up again.

“I know I was a bit of a bother to you on this trip. I apologize for that.”

Kian laughed as he wove through traffic in the early evening. “I don’t mind that. I’m sorry if I was ever short with you on the phone, too. But you know, I kind of got used to talking with you and when you didn’t I worried.” He flashed her a grin before returning his attention to the road. “I realized I like being the guy you can depend on and the one you talk to when the chips are down — or up.”

Brenna let out a sigh. She was playing human at the moment and decided to do a thorough job of it. “I am glad to hear that. Well if there is anything you would like to know about the trip or anything just ask.”

“Is there something I should know?” he asked with a sly wink.

Brenna looked quietly at the floor. “There is probably a lot that you would find interesting. Other than your sire killing mine. But some of it I want to save for later.”

“Okay, then just tell me what you think I should know now,” he suggested. “It will be a few minutes until we get there anyway.”

“I have lost faith in two members of our Coterie. Also I think it would be a mistake for Shawn to be groomed as a Sheriff. He is too busy playing harpy to repsect even his coterie. It concerns me that he met with The Herald of London. I had meetings with elders of my own, but it was only to learn of my grandsire and times past. I have no one other than elders to turn to for such information. I am too old for anyone to even remember me unless they are an elder.”

Kian looked over at her for a moment, then returned his attention to the road. His expression was strange, difficult to read, but it passed almost immediately.

“If that was why Shawn was meeting with her I don’t care. But we were warned that she is dangerous and with his other actions, it makes me wonder what he was up to.

“Did I tell you he tried to turn me against you? He tried to manipulate me.”

Kian frowned. “Some people are like children. You let them out of your site for one week and they’re running wild.” He sighed. He didn’t question Brenna’s word in this because he knew she wouldn’t have embellished anything. Not for something like this. He knew it happened just the way she said it did.

“That’s serious stuff,” Kian said. “Very well. He will never be Sheriff so long as I have any say in it.” He looked over at Brenna again. “Anyway, you’d make a far better Guardian if you wanted it. I know that in terms of status in this city it would be kind of a demotion compared to being Master of Elysium, but maybe you’d just think about it for me?”

There was a pleased look to her as if being given a compliment from a master. “You think so?” She thought about it for a moment. “That is so very tempting. I hate the dance of polotics. However I am not sure that I should leave the spot to someone other than Coterie. Though I have to say I am impressed with how Tara has handled things. I always knew she could do the job hands down, but I had to make sure she was on my side, our side.

“You know Kian I feel bad by talking about Shawn and Moira this way. It pains me that they acted as they did. I have discussed it with Aife. Just so you know I told her of my behaivor too. I lost my temper more than once and I only lucked out that it did not cause a problem. Shawn even helped me with it, but then.” She shook her head.

“Do you think you’ll be able to work these things out with Moira and Shawn given a chance to really sit down and talk about it with them? Or has that tactic already been tried?” he asked.

“I tried talking with them. They both know where they stand with me and what their actions were doing, and they proceeded with them. I don’t know.

“You know I have to deal with the enemies of my past. I have to choose to rekindle an alliance that was betrayed by Palladius. I have to let go of my hate of the lupines. Moira and Shawn seem insubstantial to that. If I really wanted to I have enough to hurt them both.” She smiled slightly as she looked at him.

He nodded. “I believe it. I guess you will simply have to make a choice whether to have your revenge now or simply keep what you have on them against the day they ever humiliate or harm you again.”

“Aife has declared that I must take any revenge against Shawn within two days. As his death is scheduled. But that is for the human world, I will not forget what he has done simply because he wears a new face. I will hold my cards and wait for the right moment.” She watched him for a while.

Kian nodded. “That’s wise.”

He pulled off the road and into a parking ramp. From there, they walked amid bustling, early-evening activity toward what appeared to be a kind of dance club. There was a long line outside, but Kian led Brenna to the front, showed the bouncer a business card and was allowed immediately inside. Clearly, his influence in mortal society was growing — that or he had somehow made arrangements ahead of time.

Inside the pub, their ears were blessed with the lovely, rhythmic strains of celtic-style music. A local group was performing on a stage and a few people were even engaged in some distinctive cultural Irish dance. Kian paused and turned to her with a smile. “Would you like a booth out here where we can listen to the music and watch the dancers, or would you prefer a private room where its a bit quieter?”

Brenna was delighted with the music. “Dance with me first!” She moved toward the dance floor and held her hand out for Kian. She was all smiles as she moved her hair long and flowing red. She was in her natural form for him tonight.

He smiled and dove into the dance as well as he could. While he was certainly a beginner at it, he kept to simple moves and surprised her by knowing how and what to move at what time.

Brenna laughed in delight. Her joy was showing in everything she did all the way to her eyes. She danced with him for a couple of songs and then left the dance floor. She threw her arms around him in a hug. “I’m ready. We can go to someplace more private.” Her smile had not faded.

“Great!” He led her away across the dance floor, stopping only at the bar to order a couple drinks. They might not drink any of it, but it was expected so he ordered without really caring what they brought him. Then he and Brenna slipped away out a side door into a narrow hallway. There were several doors here, but he stopped at the far one in particular, produced a key, and went inside.

There were facing couches and a coffee table between them, as well as a house phone. It was a place for privacy, to do business, or simply to get away from the hubbub of the slightly touristy main area of the place.

Kian guided her to a seat on the nearest cushioned leather couch, then sat down next to her. They could hear the Irish folk music playing in the background, but it was reduced in volume enough to talk with ease, while still making it unlikely anyone outside the room would be able to pick up any part of their conversation.

“There are a few perks to having contacts with the Catholic Mob,” Kian explained with a wicked little smile.

Brenna layed down on her backplacing her head in his lap. Looking up into his eyes. “You really are amazing Kian.”

He ran a hand through her gorgeous hair and then smiled with amusement. “Well, let’s just keep that between you and I.”

Bernna sat up and curled her legs in next to her. Her eyes were full of mischief. “You want to see what I learned now? Or would you rather wait until we get back?”

He looked at her as his imagination ran off with him. An impish gleam reflected in his eyes. “Oh I think sooner is better than later in this case,” he said in seductive tones.

Brenna moved to the door and made certain is was locked and secure. Then she turned to Kian with sex in her eyes. She crossed the floor to him with every move promising delights he had not dreamt of.

Once in front of him she let her hands slide down his body as she sank to her knees. She gave him gentle pleasure until his body was rigid with need. Then she grabbed him by the arms and moved him into a lying position. She was being forceful, and showing him exactly waht she wanted while giving him what he enjoyed. She held him and moved him with a strength she never had before.

Although he was surprised at first Kian began to move his body in cooperation and coordination with Brenna’s startling forcefulness. Accustomed to a more docile Brenna, Kian found this new version so exciting he followed her lead to its orgasmic conclusion.

Kian had Brenna in is arms during the afterglow of sex. He couldn’t help but wonder, “You did learn something new in London, didn’t you?”

Brenna smiled like a child caught doing something naughty. “ I did. I hope you are not upset with me. I really am enjoying tonight and I would hate to ruin it by making you angry. However I do feel guilt over obtaining this knowledge.” She paused for a moment in thought.” Though technique is all I learned.”

Kian laughed. “I can see when I look in your eyes that you are with me when we are together. So I don’t mind if you gained an education in sex or how to handle yourself from someone else. I won’t be jealous or angry unless you tell me I don’t measure up to my rival.”

Relief showed on Brenna’s face. “There is no one who could ever compare to you Kian. Not in my eyes. I did not go out looking for it either. We had some time to kill while waiting for Princess to get things in order, and well he seduced me. Granted I had been curious about him and did not fight I guess. I am sorry for that.” She laughed.

“I was afraid I had betrayed you because I was with another Kindred. But he has a similar understanding with his Sire.”

Brenna was quite for a moment and then asked, “ Are you sure it is ok? That I have not hurt or upset you?”

Kian smiled, “Of course.”

Brenna looked worried and began to get up. “I knew it, it’s all tits up now.”

Kian grabbed her and kissed her forcefully until she stopped struggling. And then he said in a soft voice, “Silly girl.”

Sarah’s Report to Morwen

Morwen had received instructions direct from Aife, herself. The Regent needed to know what exactly happened in London, and she was to acquire a report from the new ghoul slave named Sarah Kennedy. Morwen had complied by taking Sarah to the park, where she hoped the ghoul would be able to relax.

It didn’t seem to be working, however. Sarah kept glancing over her shoulder, as if fearful of an impending attack. Realizing that getting details from the addled girl like this would be futile, Morwen opted to rent a small motel room on the edge of town where they might find privacy and security from prying eyes. It took two hours, a sizeable dose of Morwen’s own Vitae and half a bottle of wine to get Sarah relaxed enough to give a thorough report.

Sarah sat in a cushioned chair next to a table. She had a goblet of red wine from which she kept taking habitual sips.

Morwen switched on a mini recorder so that she could play the interview back for Aife, word for word. “Sarah,” Morwen said, “I need you to give me that account now.”

Sarah looked up from her goblet. “You mean about what you were asking earlier? About London?”

Morwen nodded.

Sarah took a breath. At first she had thought Morwen might be her executioner. She’d caught a glimpse of Morwen’s axe earlier and knew her defiance would be allowed to stand. Being certain of one’s death didn’t loosen tongues, but the wine did. Sarah had finally decided that if Morwen was going to kill her, then it would happen regardless of what she said or did at this point. The wine had loosened her inhibitions enough now that she just didn’t care anymore.

“Well. Mistress Moira, accompanies by Mistress Brenna and Master Shawn arrived in court about a week ago. They were dressed very well, I might add. It was during this presentation that my Empress chose to present me to them as a gift. I was instructed to help them in the ways of court and perhaps introduce them to people they needed to meet. I was flattered to be trusted so, but nervous, too. I wondered if the Empress was displeased with my service, and I didn’t know what would happen to me next.”

Morwen broke in, “Stick to the facts, Sarah.”

“Yes ma’am! I am sorry,” Sarah rushed to say. Her eyes searched Morwen’s for a hint of approval or anger, but found neither. She cleared her throat. “So after that, I went with Mistress Moira’s group. It was made clear that I belonged to all three of them, not any individual.

“The ambassador’s group went back to court many times to meet with people. Aside from introducing them to couple individuals they needed to meet, I was not allowed to be present during any actual meetings, so I can’t report on that.”

“Who all did they meet with?” Morwen asked.

“I am not necessarily aware of every individual they met but I can tell you who I am certain they did see. They Mistress Moira had meetings with the Empress, of course. There were several lesser members of court they spoke with as well, including contacts with the Circle of the Crone and including Mark, Prince of Kernow,..” she paused to see if she needed to explain.

“He is known to me,” Morwen stated. “Continue.”

“Um. I know that Master Tepish had interest in Moira, but I don’t know what was said.”

“Dracula?”

Sarah nodded. “That’s the one. They also ran into Charlie, who is blood relation to the Empress, and her coterie. I don’t know a lot about that directly, but I understand they had a favorable meeting.

“The ambassador’s group also had some time on their hands while awaiting the Empress’s decision regarding whatever matter they were in London to mediate. So, they asked me where I liked to go and then decided they would go there. I remained with Moira, but Shawn and Brenna went elsewhere because they couldn’t get in to the club. Moira and I are… special enough to be allowed. Anyway, I think Brenna and Shawn must have gone to a bad part of town but I am not sure.

“Soon after Brenna was attacked and injured by a hunter with a knife. It was a horrible wound. I suspect it was poisoned in a way that hurt Kindred. Moira collected us all and made us go after the hunter, but eventually they gained some assistance from the Sheriff’s people. It was… violent.

“Master Shawn had a couple private meetings with Mistress Diana. She is very powerful and answers only to the Empress and is of the Invictus group. But I don’t know what they talked about. I only know that I tried to warn the ambassador and Mistress Brenna that making deals with her was extremely dangerous.

“But Mistress Brenna then had a private meeting with … some people. I suspect they were very important because eventually I found out that we were going to the Underground, a place forbidden for Kindred to go on pain of death. Yet here we were, about to go exploring on foot.

“So, I suspect that Brenna made some kind of deal on her own, like Master Shawn did. I don’t know why. I only know that I was ordered to slog through the sewers armed with a couple flairs, hairspray and a lighter along with a backpack full of camping supplies. These were paid for by Mistress Moira. We were joined by a Master from a place called Detroit in America.

“In the sewers we encountered horrific monsters! They were attacking and killing one of their own kind, but my eyes must have played tricks on me because all of a sudden it was just a girl, maybe a teenager, that these monsters were tearing apart. I couldn’t stand it, so I dashed in and pulled her away. I used the powers my master taught me long ago to do it.

“Her name was Genevieve and she said she was a shapeshifter. She was very relieved and happy we saved her, too. The others said they had to go back down there and search for… whatever they were supposed to find. They never told me what it was. Gen and I were very hungry and tired from watching over them during the day — although a couple of the Masters stayed awake — and so they left us with money and I got us a hotel room. We were able to scrub the filth from our bodies finally and get clean clothes, too. I don’t know what the Masters did in the underground.”

Morwen nodded. “Very well. Tell me what you did with this Genevieve.”

“We got to talking and I thought I liked her very much. As a friend, you know. And that was… kind of new. I mean, I have a couple people in the London Court that were friendly to me but most turned on me because they felt I betrayed my master.”

“Did you?”

“I guess I did,” Sarah said.

“What does that mean, you ‘guess’?”

“I was accused of sleeping with someone without his permission and I was trying to prove that I was innocent of this. It’s a long story, but what happened was that I did end up sleeping with someone. I thought it was okay, that they’d help me if I did. I was wrong. And I found out nobody cared to listen to me. Master MJ then gave me to the Empress.”

Tears slipped down her cheeks from this. She stared into her wine glass and didn’t see the scathing look on Morwen’s face. If she had, she might not have understood that it wasn’t Sarah she was angry with, but the underhanded politicking she thought she saw within Sarah’s story.

“What happened after you and Genevieve spent the day together?”

“Well… I decided I had to leave London and she went with me.”

“Why did you do that?”

“My three masters spent much of their time at court meeting people without me. It was clear that although I was given to them to help them in their meetings, the truly did not need me. So I spoke with other members of the London Court while I was idle. Those I feel are my friends expressed concern that I was going to Belfast. Even my worst enemy, the one that smeared my name through the mud and made me get thrown out of my beloved master’s house felt sorry for me. I saw it in her eyes and in her voice when she spoke to me.

“I had realized that since meeting my new masters much of my time was spent running or fighting. Well, just running in my case, and so if felt like the truth.”

Morwen asked, “Didn’t you talk to your new masters about your future here before you ran out on them?”

Sarah nodded. “Yes. But just with Mistress Moira.”

“And what did she say?”

“Well, she knew I wanted to be an actress, but my manager only got me jobs doing porn — that’s how MJ found me. So I asked her what I might do in Belfast and if there was a chance I might be embraced. She told me she was the seneschal here and that she ran an escort service but she said I wouldn’t be Embraced.”

“You’re sure that’s what she said?” Morwen pressed.

“Well, not in so many words. But she said the same thing I’ve always been told, that she couldn’t give me an answer on that right now. I’ve heard that many times before so I know what it means. I don’t have any illusions about that and I didn’t think it mattered in the least if I simply left. And I didn’t want to be anybody’s whore, not even if they called it ‘escort’.

“I know better now,” Sarah said. “Sex is all I have. It’s who I am. Even though it has cost me everything, it’s the only thing I’m good at.”

Morwen felt ill hearing the younger woman talk like that. Yet for all she knew, it was the gods’ truth.

“So you ran.”

“Yes,” Sarah admitted. “I went to Birmingham with Gen. She’d lost everything, too. Her family was killed by the monsters in the underground so we went to crash at her friends’ flat. But bad people still found her and took her away.”

Sarah cried openly at that. Morwen let her be for a while, then went to the bathroom, liberated a box of tissues and brought them to Sarah. She set the tissues in front of the ghoul slave and she took several to dab her eyes and clear her nose.

“Master Shawn and Mistresses Brenna and Moira found me and took me back here.”

Morwen asked, “Now that you are here in Belfast, how do you feel?”

“Resigned,” Sarah said. “I’m not going to run again, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ve got no place to go and no friends anymore. I know it was wrong of me to run and that if I did it again, they’d have to send someone to make me disappear. And anyway, I was supposed to marry Master Shawn.”

Morwen looked surprised. “What? Why is that?”

“Something about life insurance,” she said. “I don’t know the details but I guess he wants the world to believe he’s dead pretty soon. He just wants me to give him the money after he returns from the dead.”

Morwen was appalled at the alleged greed of it. But then Sarah was a ghoul, a person made into a slave by the power of the blood. It disgusted her and reminded her exactly why she chose never to enslave people or animals in such a way. But Kindred were not known for being sensitive to their slaves’ feelings.

“I see,” said Morwen tensely. “It seems to me,” she said, changing the subject, “that you do have courtly skills beyond just sex. Why do you think that’s all your good for?”

“Because those skills didn’t matter to my three masters,” Sarah said simply. “Sex was the only real use I had for them.”

Morwen sighed and stood up. “You sell yourself short. I don’t care if you had sex with them or not. Those are mere games to the Kindred. You did introduce them at London court and you did point out who’s who to them as you were bade. If you think that providing a momentary diversion was the best thing you did, then think again.”

Sarah blinked and stared up at Morwen. She didn’t understand. Morwen sighed and tried to think of some way to get through to this broken ghoul.

“Look, if you are going to survive around here, you need to be good at what you do. If that’s sex, then fine but you better get right with it in your head because if that’s all you can do, you’d better be damned good at it. But if you get through that thick skull of yours that you can to a bit more than just that, you might have a real place around here. You definitely aren’t going to be considered for the Embrace until you do.”

Sarah looked up at Morwen, then nodded slowly. Morwen could see the gears were turning in that pretty blond head.

“Good,” Morwen told her. “We’re done here.” She turned off the mini tape recorder with a snap.

Trina’s Report on the London Trip

Kian took Trina aside for debriefing once things calmed down a little after the ambassadorial group had returned from London.

He took Trina aside in the kitchen of his haven and sat her down on a stool. “Trina, first I’d like to mention that I appreciate your efforts in the mission I sent you upon to London. They all arrived safely and everyone respects the job you performed. However, I would like to hear in your own words an account of what happened in the trip.”

Trina nodded. “Of course, master.

“The trip across the Irish Sea was both short and uneventful. Once we arrived in Britain we found ourselves in Lancaster. I could tell right off they appreciated a strict enforcement of the rules of hospitality and formality and did my very best to serve the ambassador’s group well. I must have gotten very lucky or said just the right things, however, as I seemed to become a slight embarrassment to the others, who were not as well trained in formal matters as I.”

Trina looked up worshipfully at the master standing before her. “I remembered all your advice and teaching, master, and I made it known to those who asked that it was you who taught me.”

Kian looked a little surprised, but he nodded for her to continue.

“After that I was sent away. I spent some time around town in the company of a ghoul that appeared to be attached to the Prince’s court or perhaps served the Master of Elysium there. When the group was ready to move on, I had arranged for transportation by train.

“Unfortunately, trouble struck while on route to our next stop. I was in the dining car having a drink and speaking with the bartender when there erupted a fight. I kept my head down when I realized they were lupine shapeshifters of some kind doing the fighting, and pulled the bartender with me into cover. Master Shawn and Mistress Brenna — I think Mistress was involved in this, but I am not completely sure — engaged the werewolves. I’m not sure why. In any case, we found that our part of the train had been separated. The battling shapeshifters left the scene and so did we, once the cars came to a stop. Moira, at this time, was then separated from our group.

“We stopped at Nottingham, but our stay was brief. I do not think the others liked that place very much. I was able to arrange for transportation from here and met up with Moira. From there we journeyed to London where I made sure they were delivered to the haven the local Kindred had prepared, then removed myself to a hotel suite where I awaited further instructions from you.”

Kian waved his hand. “You needn’t go into detail about that.”

“Yes master. Well, it was about a week later when the other were ready to return. But they’d lost a gift, as I understand it. The gift was in the form of a new servant, named Sarah Kennedy. We pursued her to Birmingham where we found that she had gained employment with a local limousine company. She had a friend with her, but she appears to have gone missing before we arrived. The masters took her again, though Kennedy seemed rather defiant and upset. I don’t know what her problem is.”

Kian frowned. “Was she mistreated some way?”

“Not that I saw, master,” Trina confessed. “But she was clearly terrified and remained that way all the way back to Belfast. It sounded to me like it was something Kindred of London told her that upset Kennedy to the point of rebellion.”

Kian appeared satisfied with her explanation. “I see. And was this Sarah Kennedy present with the ambassador’s team for the duration at London?”

“I believe so,” Trina nodded.

“Thank you for your report, Trina.”

The Return Part Four

“Most of the visions occur that occur during the day are the surreal ones and the one’s from ages past. I’ve have visions of what could only be hell, torment, and anguish; visions of ancient times and ancient loves. The Celtic/Viking ones are the strongest, but not the only one. They are the ones I’m fixated on though. So much so that I thought about going to the west country to find out if any of the places I saw are real.”

“Wow,” said Kian. “Are you sure all this is coming from the connection you have with me? Or are you perhaps tapping into someone else, too?”

“I don’t know. I never asked for this and certainly don’t want to purposefully steal into another’s dreams or nightmares. Can you answer me this, when you sleep – during the day – do you sleep, or is it like coma?”

Kian hesitated. “The simple answer is that I’m just a corpse. But that’s not strictly true. I mean, if disturbed I’ll awaken. And when we sleep for years on end, Brenna says you have dreams. Others say you have nightmares and that’s all you have to keep you company through the decades. I’ve heard some say that it happens so intensely, replaying old memories so often that they become warped, dream-like so that when you awaken you can’t be sure if your memories are just memories of fanciful dreams or if it was real.

“But that’s for the long sleep. For short times such as during the day? I’m not sure what really goes on since I don’t really remember my dreams. It’s possible I could be dreaming anyway, but… it’s just that some of those images, like the Celtic and Viking one you drew, aren’t familiar to me. I was born… not that long ago and died even more recently.

“Still I wonder because it’s been shown to me by powerful people that I’ve had past lives, some of which may have taken place during the periods you’ve drawn from. Brenna, I know, is convinced that in another life I was her lover — and the one that took her and made her what she is now. But who can really say? She slept for so long that no one can be certain of memories from back then.”

He hesitated. “But then again, maybe you can. If you are seeing even memories from past lives, or possibly connecting with those close to me, you could be seeing deeper truths than any of us can recall. Do you suppose there is some way for us to find out?”

“I don’t know. I really can’t control it, save to ignore it, wave it away and the like. Only an hour ago I literally read your mind’s eye, and that took a lot out of me. I guess with training I could learn, but who could train me? By myself I don’t know if I can. I discipling enough, that isn’t the issue. I guess, few people have experience with this, eh?”

“I guess it’s something you’ll have to learn for yourself, but you don’t have to do it entirely on your own. You can test things out with me,” Kian offered.

She smiled, “Thank you. This has been a change. But thanks to your forthrightness and kindness it is a painless one. I hope I can help you too. You are a good person Kian. Vampire or no, you are no monster.”

“I like to think so,” he smiled. He stood up. “Now I think I’ve taken enough of your time tonight. I’m sure you have a lot to think about. I could stop by in a few days, if you like, and we could talk again or perhaps try some experiments. I’ll try to come up with a safe way for you to contact me as well.”

“That would be nice, ” She kisses him on the cheek. Her lips are soft and warm. Her affection, genuine, unforced and without jealousy or envy, “You have my word, nothing shall be said of this. You have my numbers and know my place of residence. Let me know later how you wish me to contact you.”

“I will,” Kian replied.

He walked silently away from her apartment and then faded away into the night.

The Return Part Three

Kian barely hesitated. “I care for all those close to me. Who do you mean in particular?”

“I don’t know rightly. Whomever she is, I usually only see her in flashes during the day. Sometimes when I remember past boyfriends or such, or see a good-looking guy cross the street (which in Paris was most of the time), I would see a flash of her looking at you, protecting you, and you protecting her. She is young with deep red hair and a Nordic look to her. Often you would be surrounded by nightmares, but they rarely influenced you. There are some other faces, ones whom I couldn’t make out watching you both. I have a sketch of her if you would like to see it.”

He nodded. “Please.”

She goes through one of her sketchbooks, found in a half-empty box. She proceeds to show an amazing nude drawing of Kian and what could only be Brenna, but before her embrace, floating in a maelstrom of nightmares, clinging to each other like lovers, siblings or close friends. This Brenna is not the china-doll, nor the Nosferatu horror, but a young woman. Other sketches show her in Danish regalia beside a man who looks vaguely like Kian, but only vaguely. “What do you think?”

Kian stared wide-eyed, clearly overtaken with surprise, or perhaps even shock. “That… that is of no living person,” he said in a hoarse voice. Truly, it was the first time he had seen what Brenna had looked like when she was alive. It was also the first likeness he’d ever seen of Dorian.

What does it mean? he wondered. How could she see this? The images were nothing he’d ever before seen. Clearly, Cathleen was tapping into some very deep current of thought or soul that spanned oceans of time, centuries lost.

Kian stared at the picture a long time, but his startled looked had turned to one of fascination. “Do you have more drawings?”

“Sure”, she said. Over the next hour, Kian saw sketches (mostly rough, some detailed) of recent events he recognized, such as battling the Brood, nights with Brenna, kneeling before Aife after his acceptance as her Guardian, nights out with Veronica; event fraught with emotions. Little was seen of Tessa, Trina, other kindred whose connection wasn’t deeply emotional, or as emotional as a kindred could be. In addition there were several drawings of people Kian didn’t recognize. Aiden staring down at something with others standing beyond (POV of person on ground), an embrace (sketchy, could be Brenna & Dorian), a furious battle on a hill silouetted by the moon. What must be werewolves and many kindred fighting one another in an furious melee. Amazingly, most of the sketches of Brenna, to a fault both modern and past are of this Nordic ideal, usually not the China doll except if Brenna isn’t the focus.

Kian pointed out a few things that were familiar to him as well as which were not as familiar. “These, I think, are from real events,” he stated. Point to others he said, “these might be a bit idealized, or at least I don’t remember them quite that way. And this here — I’m not sure what this means because I wasn’t there. Those things look like they might have occurred a thousand years ago or more.”

He pointed out Brenna dressed as a Danish maiden. “I never knew her like this. But she is quite ancient and she’s changed since then. When I first met her, she mistook me for… this guy, I think.” He pointed out Dorian. “She thought I was him, returned to save her. It might be true, but if so that was an entirely different life. It couldn’t have happened any time in the past ten centuries. And I’m very young by our standards,” told her. “Since then we’ve been sometimes close, sometimes distance, and lately close again.” He watched her face, looking to read her reactions.

There was slight disappointment on her face, but only slight as it was obscured with her excitement of showing the images and gaining feedback about them. Kian wasn’t too sure of her feelings, but she seemed above all – honorable. She started talking, “I think I believe in re-incarnation. Always have I guess. People often seem to be together over many lifetimes. Sometimes friends, sometimes lovers, sometimes kin; but always together, if only for a brief time. I feel that I know you Kian, not personally, but emotionally. Maybe we met long ago; I don’t know. I’m smart enough to realize my infatuation with you is somewhat due to what those killers did to me to capture you. But this connection is very real to me. Here I am, looking at you, a vampire right out of some romance novel or horror story in the flesh and I am not afraid.” She paused, “I suppose your girlfriend is a vampire too?”

He nodded. “Brenna is a one of us.” His mind was still on her drawings. “Your connection with me is like nothing else I’ve ever encountered or even heard of before. I’d… like to see where this might go. Do you think you can keep all this secret?”

She smiled, “Of course. Anyway, who would believe me? I have kept more secrets in my short life than you know. Now that I know I’m not insane, but connected to you in a way; well, it is comforting. I’ll be there to help you. Be your sound board, so to speak. As long as none of your enemies learn of my wherabouts (which I certanly hope not), then everything should be fine.”

“Then I’d like to continue to see you. I think I can guarantee no one can follow me here with a small bit of effort. Is there a number I could use to call you so I don’t surprise you?”

“Of course.” She copied it down, “Call the land line, it is safer.” She handed the number to Kian, “While I believe I might be beginning to know you emotionally, I hope to know you better intellectually. I’m full of questions. Although on the flip side, I’m sure my life is not interesting to one such as yourself. On the other hand, isn’t it the mortal who asks too many questions like the curious cat?”

“Normally? Very much so,” he admitted. “But you’ve got me looking out for you on this.” He broke into a grin. A thought went through his head that he’d have to watch himself, or at least be aware that she might observe how he treats people, including and especially his sex life. But he quickly decided that he wouldn’t change his behavior. Rather, he’d just have to hope that she would notice that the way he treats her is quite different than the way he would treat any other person.

“I appreciate that. You have been so kind. Normally this would be the time that you would sweep me off my feet, make love to me, and feed off me. And..I would let you.” She looked a little vulnerable, “But you don’t want to do that do you?”

Kian stepped and suddenly he was very close to her. The movement was supernaturally fast. He slowly inhaled her scent with his eyes half-closed, then breathed, “Oh yes, Cathleen. I want to do that very much.” His eyes widened to reveal the intensity, the true fire of his hunger and desire. “I hold myself back now, at the very knife’s edge, because I sense that in your heart, you aren’t certain yet what you want.

“I will hold back. I will … try,” he struggled to say. “I don’t want to treat you the way I treat other mortal women. I take; whatever I give is just a by-product of my own indulgence. But not this time. I’m going to leave you with the power of choice. I’m not going to take what I want from you and leave.”

He forced himself to take first one step back, then another. He smiled. “It’s going to be a very worthy challenge for me. But I want to wait. I want something… new. If it is to happen, it will only happen if you are ready and if you go into this with both eyes open.

“You know me better than anyone, though we’ve spent almost no time together. Because of that, you can ask me any question you like, even personal ones.”

“The same goes for you Kian,” she said with an honesty Kian wasn’t used to. “I don’t know if I am ready. It’s not that I’m afraid of men. In college I shagged and disposed of enough one-night stands to nearly earn a reputation… nearly.” She leaned back and smiled, “But, I guess should we choose to do so, the best I could be is your friend… with benefits. You have known many women, haven’t you?”

Kian took a moment to savor the what-ifs associated with her “with benefits” description. Then he quirked an eyebrow, which matched the wry smile. “Oh, a few,” he said with a chuckle. “Or more. None that had any great meaning for me, except for Brenna, though.

“But since you offered to answer, I think I do have some questions for you,” he said. “Are you seeing anybody now? Anyone that might notice any changes that have happened due to our bond? And are you close to any family members?”

“Sure, I’ll answer. I’m not seeing anyone right now, though there were a few at the office that tried to get my attention, I wasn’t interested. I guess I want someone who isn’t associated with work.”

She continued, “My father was killed in the Troubles back in’79 shortly before I was born. I never knew him. My mother and I rarely talk. She’s involved in Sinn Fein now and again along with my elder sister Kirstin, who’s an MP in the Northern Ireland Assembly for North Belfast. They both don’t approve of me working even indirectly with the UK MOD, so I’m a kind of a pariah. So other than family gatherings and the rare phone call, we don’t talk much.”

“I see,” Kian said. “And how do you feel about knowing what I am, and about your connection to the world I’m a part of?”

“I’m excited about it. Happy to know it is real instead of dreams or nightmares I’ve envisioned. I’m happy to know you, Kian. I know you wouldn’t let anyone harm me, and I also know you are taking a mighty risk. As I said before, no one will know.”

“How do the dreams and visions come to you?” he asked. “Does it happen only when you are asleep? Or can you see what’s going on through me right here, right now, too?”

“Sometimes I dream about them, but usually it is a echo. Like someone is having a second conversation with you. If I’m busy, on listening intensely or such, I don’t hear or see them. If I concentrate on them, or am distracted from another task, they appear. I can usually ignore them. Actually for awhile I thought I was quite schizoid. Delusional. They thought it was post-traumatic stress. I’m glad they were wrong.” She looked at Kian intently, “I know your thoughts right now. You are thinking…”

Her face glazed briefly with anger, her hand almost rising to a slap; which just as quickly subsided, her hand dropping to her knee, “about my breasts…a lot.” It was obvious to Kian by her knowing and slightly sultry look that she knew more details about what he wanted to DO with her breasts but was holding back. “It’s actually refreshing, I think, that you think just like a regular guy sometimes. I’ll take it as a compliment, after all, the only thing worse than being treated as a sex object is to NOT be treated as one.”

“Aw damn!” Kian said. “I’m really sorry. If I was making my heart beat right now, I’d be really red faced. I sort of have a runaway libido for a dead guy.” He actually fidgeted. “I guess you know that. Damn! You really read my mind, didn’t you? I mean, I thought you were just seeing what I saw through my eyes. I’ve actually got some experience with that one, but this… you were actually [b]in[/b] my head, not just seeing what I saw.”

Physically, he was just fine. Psychologically, he needed to sit back down. Which he did. He slumped back into the nearest chair again. “Oh, I’m so sorry you had to see that. My mind was really in the gutter.”
She smiled, putting a reassuring hand on his knee, “I know. It’s okay. My dreams and visions are often highly erotic. Or highly violent. I’m glad you are thinking about the erotic side as opposed to the other!” she laughed. “You are a player, aren’t you? Were you before you…what do you call the change?”

He chuckled. “Some things about a person never changes.

“I’ve always loved women. I like loving women, spending time with women, sometimes just admiring women. I guess the difference now compared to when I was alive is that it takes conscious effort. Also, it’s harder to really feel emotion like I did. Emotions like love and affection don’t just happen like it does when you are human. Rage, fear, those things are tied to survival and so my guess is that’s why those feelings survive the Embrace. Feelings like friendship, affection… even love seem to be harder to attain. Like the good side of passion is bled from your soul after the Embrace. It’s not gone, it’s just… not as strong or fulfilling as they used to be. ”

He gave her a rueful, sad smile. “When I was alive I never bothered to think twice about stuff like that. I guess you only notice it when it’s gone. So to answer your question, I guess I do try harder to indulge my passions than I did before in a sad little attempt to truly feel like I did before. Yet, each night I feel like the tiniest piece of me is slipping away. I keep looking to tighten my grasp on passion, but…”

He shook his head. “When the day comes that I can’t feel anymore, I hope I sleep and dream of my humanity, but more likely I’ll be tortured by it. The irony is that even as these things slip away, I feel my power growing bit by tiny bit. I suppose that’s the nature of the beast, as they say.”

“Immortality, with a price. I think I understand. It is better to attempt to be human, at least the human experience, to feel, than become an inhuman monster like the ones you fight. I think you are braver and wiser than you think trying to keep the memories and feelings alive. That must be the point. You cherish what we often take for granted and have a unique view on our mundane lives.” She seemed genuinely compassionate with Kian’s plight and listened intently.

“Your Embrace, was it painful? Did you have a choice?”

“A choice as in, was I asked if I wanted to live forever in the night but be only a corpse during the day?” Kian asked. He shook his head. “No. My entire family had been slaughtered by… well actually by vampires who had deliberately turned away from the last remnants of their own humanity, who then killed and slaughtered the living simply because they could. They in turn were destroyed by those of our kind who took exception to that kind of behavior. At the end of it, I was lying on the ground with my guts ripped out, dying. I don’t remember much of what happened at that point. I don’t think it’s usually painful anyway but I don’t know. The body does die, after all. There are nice, quiet ways to die and then there are horribly painful ways to die. Mine was painful but not because of what I was to become.”

“So, you were in a sense saved?”

He nodded. “Yes. But everyone’s Embrace is different, individual. Some few had to serve vampire masters while slavishly addicted to vampiric blood for years before being Embraced. I imagine others might have been found and given the choice. A few may have been Embraced out of malice, an intent to torture someone for a very long time.

“And then the most unpleasant method I can imagine is one in which the Embrace is twisted into a sadistic ritual of pain and sacrifice designed to strip away a person’s humanity. This is what can create true monsters of the sort I fight against on a regular basis.

“Because every Embrace is really unique it’s hard to truly say if choice is involved. In some cases, perhaps. In other cases, no. Even in cases where there was no choice given, ultimately it is still the individual who decides whether they will continue their undead existence or not.”

“Why do you have to drink blood. It doesn’t make much sense to me, other than in an S&M erotic way. Can you drink any blood? If I’m asking too much, let me know. I guess I’m very curious, a little turned on perhaps…a little, but mostly intellectually curious. Also, why hasn’t the truth of vampires gotten out after all this time? You would think an investigative reporter or two would have found things out?”

“Not everything in this world obeys the rules of reason. Maybe we feed on something more than simply blood? I can drink human blood, yes. Weaker vampire may be able to subsist on animals. Others can only find sustenance by the very dangerous practice of feeding on other vampires.

“You also ask why the truth hasn’t gotten out after all this time?” Kian continued. “It’s because we take action to obscure the truth. And sometimes the public simply refuses to believe. Our society has a great deal of influence over the waking world and any person can be discredited, their stories warped or eliminated, nothing is truly beyond our reach. That’s why I’m stressing so very much how important it is that all of what I say, even knowing me, is an incredibly dangerous secret.

“But since you are already in here,” he tapped his temple, “I feel it is far wiser to tell you the what and whys rather than leave you to guess, to bring you into my world figuratively speaking, rather than be cruel.”

“It’s not like I’m in your exact thoughts like sci-fi or such, its just very strong feelings, emotions, and empathy. And… a bit of your primal nature as well. I am unfair though, you were asking about me before I so rudely carried on with my curiosity.”

He smiled. “It’s okay. I do have a question about the drawings you made of people that seem to be from a different time. I think I’ve identified a few of them, but I was wondering where they came from. Were they from dreams?”

The Return Part Two

Two nights later, Kathleen Innisfree moved into her new home. She would start her job next week. For now, as Prudence had said, she had earned some time off. Kian could observe the light on in her place and the flicker of a television set. The question being, does he observe this lion-haired beauty for a time, or present himself right away?

Kian finally decided to watch for just a while. The nights were lengthening as the season progressed toward winter and he felt comfortable gazing up there from his dark refuge in the shadow of a tree. He thought he might enter with a grand gesture of supernatural power and mystery, but he rejected the idea. No, she had been face to face with the unknown for weeks — no months now. And she’d had to do it alone. When he first crossed paths with her, it was under the guise of a mysterious but mundane person. It would be best to reintroduce himself that way again. There was no good reason to panic her, after all.

He made his way past the tall, dark hedge that framed the property, and up the short, steep steps to the front door. Feeling slightly awkward, he simply rang the bell.

A moment passed, and Kian heard sounds of a person approaching the entrance. Kian briefly saw the shadow of a form gaze from the peep hole of the door. After a short pause, the door was unlocked and opened. Kathleen stood there, dressed upscale casual, her long tresses gliding down from her head and gently sweeping over both sides of her shoulders. Kian noted no surprise in her look, in fact quite the opposite, it was like an old friend coming to visit after a long absence. She said, “Kian. Your name is Kian.” Completely unafraid, she gestured for him to come in, “Please enter. I’m afraid I haven’t yet gotten the place ready for visitors; so please excuse the mess.”
Kath-1
He smiled faintly and nodded. “Ms. Innisfree,” he greeted her. He stepped inside and paused to look around. “I apologize for my unannounced visit. I know you must still be settling in.”

Kian turned to look at her. A hint of sadness touched his eyes. “It’s just that I think we need to talk and I don’t think it can wait.”

“Of course, can I get you anything? Is there something wrong? I’m sorry if I called you Kian, it simply felt right and I thought you would like it. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”

“No, nothing thank you,” he said. “I’d just like to sit and talk a while. And it’s okay if you would like to call me Kian. Everyone does.” He looked about for a place to sit, then took a seat at a table.

“You’ve had some things on your mind lately,” Kian began. “I thought I might be able to help you put them in … context.” He used the word carefully and with intent. He wasn’t there to grant perspective or to try to control how she felt about it. The term, ‘context’ also insinuated some tentative knowledge of what she might have witnessed in her mind’s eye and that was meant to inspire a sense of informal confidentiality.

“You know? Well, that makes sense that you should know. I took your advice and tried to leave this all behind me, but it has been nagging at me ever since. It’s been, well, strange to say the least. But inspiring and scary at the same time. I’ve tried to be rational about it. How have these feelings and visions come to be, and how do they relate to you? In context of course.”

He paused. “Before I get into all of that, I have another question, if you’ll indulge me. Have you continued to have these images and dreams even when you were away?”

“Yes I have. During the evening usually and most intensely but more rarely during the day. But those are different. And other things have happened, strange whispers.”

Real emotion, sadness and regret, poured forth from him for a moment, before he returned his face to a calm, neutral expression. “To be honest I had hoped it would all go away, that the thing that bound us together would fade away. I see it was entirely a vain hope. I didn’t want you to be pulled into all of this.

“I don’t know what all you saw, how much was true and how much of it was distorted. The people who made this bond are likely dust now; but their power can’t be undone so easily. What was forged between us — against our wills — was a kind of psychic bond, as near as I can figure. It used a sort of sympathetic connection, through my blood, to connect to you. It sounds impossible, but it is true. Their purpose, I’ve discovered was to create a tool they could use to track and destroy me.”

Kathleen replied, “Last year I would never have believed such things, such as psychic powers, were true. But after seeing what I saw, I can see that they may just be. Who are they? I was told terrorists, but I’m not so sure now. To be honest, I was not sure what I was feeling was simply hysteria or madness. But they didn’t effect me emotionally, just like they were memories or dreams. Echos from a life long gone. Except most of them included you.”

He nodded. “We’ll want to address the things you might have felt during the day as well as the strange whispers you spoke of, but that can wait for now. I think you realize now that there is another world in addition to the one commonly known. It is full of danger and it’s hard to know who is enemy and who is friend. But there are certain laws that this other world operates by. They are few, I admit, but they are ironclad. More importantly, these laws protect humankind from the supernatural world, and the supernatural from humankind. Any breech, be it done by human or inhuman or more than human, can cause a terrible flood of violence and disaster.

“With that in mind, it is of the greatest irony that you have been bound to see into my world. You see, it is my… profession to ensure those laws hold for the protection of my kind — and yours.

“You may have seen me do terrible things in your mind’s eye. I don’t know what you saw, not exactly. I’ve been harsh when acting in my given role. But I’m not without compassion. What has been done to you is not your fault. I had hoped it would fade — yet a small, dark part of me, a selfish part, hoped it would not.

“You are in danger now, Miss Innisfree. You see into a world you weren’t meant to see — and do not doubt that it likewise now stares back at you. If the others knew how much you have been exposed to, they would no doubt order me to … take action.

“I won’t let that happen.

“I stood outside your place for a little while tonight trying to figure out why. I’m not sure I understand, but I think that somehow… I need your help.”

She looked a bit surprised, “You need my help? You just confirmed for me that there is more to this world than what I see on BBC or experience in my job; something terrible and wonderful. You say that by knowing this I could be in danger, but you won’t let that happen. I appreciate that, and I felt that you would always help me. I don’t know why. It’s not romantic, or a crush, its simply something I…know. But, how can I help you?”

A smile flickered but then disappeared. “Hm. That’s hard to explain, and harder to admit. For now, do you have questions about what you’ve seen that you’d like me to answer?”

She walked around the apartment, “Well, you have to understand. All of this is both strange to me and to a degree familiar. The things I’ve envisioned and dreamt about are so wild and vivid that I really can’t believe it, but for some reason, I do. Sometimes I remember details, other times it is vague and I don’t remember it all. I guess I should start with the big question and go on from there. Are you, and those you fight, vampire-like? I don’t mean like the bad sci-fi or horror movies, nor the silly romantic women’s fiction, but something real, supernatural but part of the natural world all the same. Is this you? And do you work for the government of a secret society?” The intelligence in her eyes was unlike anything Kian has ever encountered. She was confident, unafraid, and seemed genuinly curious even though this knowledge could threaten her.

He’d already decided to take a chance. It was a huge risk, telling her this, but his presence here already proved he was prepared to take the risk of breaking the very laws he was charged to uphold. It was his secret that drove him forward even now; it truly was a great challenge to undertake what he was about to do — and survive. He stood and left the table, then approached her.

“I was born, lived, and died like any other person would. As you are destined to. But my death was … different. Something took mercy upon me that night, if you can call it mercy. And so now, yes I am dead, but not passed on. That fate is gone from my own destiny. In its place I was given only a hunger for the living, that which must sustain me or I shall sleep forever, unable to die.

“But at least I have been given a purpose. They call me Guardian of the City now. So yes, in a sense I am a part of that government you speak of. My duty is to root out those who break our ruler’s peace, those who threaten my city. ”

“You are very ambulatory for a dead man,” she smiled, coyly walking past him. She turned toward him, asking, “How much of the Troubles were caused by these…haunts. Yes, I’ve heard the urban legends of late night Belfast. Are they the reason Ulster stays violent and no peace ever truly holds? Somehow I think not. Perhaps they hide in our wars? Am I right?

“The troubles have human causes, human hatreds. But there are also wars in my world. There have been times when the violence has been hidden within the mask of confusion and violence the people of Northern Ireland have caused on their own. Other times, the waking world never knows — or it shouldn’t. There are those humans,” Kian said with a hint of bitterness, “who think they are Van Helsing. Most often we simply disappear and wait for them to go away. But when these humans meet those of my kind who are… criminal — like those who assaulted you and jacked your car — then we all have big problems.”

Kian paused and looked at her intently. “Too many people get killed when that happens. And this is one area you may be able to help me.”

“How can I help?”

“Sometimes there are resources that I need that I just don’t have. It’s not like I can hold down a day-job,” Kian gave her a wry smile. “Or do much of anything during the day. And, while my position puts me in a good place to deal with criminal underworld elements, I don’t have the kind of contacts that would help me shield the common person from what goes on down here.

“Oh, there are some other of my people that do. But they aren’t the Guardian of Belfast. I am.

“I would never ask you to do something that would get you in trouble with anyone, and if I do by accident, then I’d expect you to tell me. Usually it’s just very simple things, and it’s rare. I do have others that help me, after all. And they really can’t help me the way I need the most. That secret thing I mentioned? The thing that’s hard for me to admit? It’s just this.

“Perspective. Sometimes I just need to talk to someone who’s seen what I’ve seen.” He sighed. “That’s what’s so embarrassing for me,” he admitted. “I barely even know you and I’m asking if I can dump on you. It’s just that you’re not supposed to know any of this stuff. But you do. It makes you utterly… unique.”

“I can help you Kian. Yet, haven’t you ever met a normal person who would keep your secrets? I’m sure you see dozens of vampire want-to-be’s in nightclubs or on campus. How am I different than them?”

Kian explained, “The laws that are held to keep the boundary between the supernatural and humanity forbid that humanity know what we truly are. We call it the Masquerade and breaching this law bring heavy penalties. Only those who’ve been brought into our society — the Renfields, so to speak, are permitted to know even a little.

“By the letter of the law, in order to preserve the Masquerade, I would normally be charged with making you… disappear. Or, perhaps employing mind erasure techniques to make you forget all that you know. The route I’ve chosen is dangerous precisely because I am defying this law, the very law I must uphold. But your situation is different — you never tried to discover all this on your own. You never meant to harm anyone at all. This isn’t your fault. So if I tried to protect this Masquerade we have then I would be guilty of harming an innocent person. I’m a monster, but I’m not so far gone as to know that’s just as wrong as breaking our own laws. You don’t deserve it.” His tone hinted at something, some buried emotion, but even he wasn’t sure what it was.

“So I’m trying a new route,” he continued. “Instead of causing damage to cover up damage, I want to mend the breach with honesty and clarity. If you understand why we exist and why we must have rules, I believe that you will help me keep these secrets. No one else in the mortal world can know what you know. And no one from my world can know that you know these things. Do you understand?” Kian looked at her hopefully.

“I do.”, she answered. “I find that I am a font of secrets, and I know how to protect them. This is just another one. I’m fairly certain the Prime Minister and MI-5 has suspicions of your kind; they do so much to cover things up and deny things that they must be in the know. Just my suspicion.” She looked at him thoughtfully and then slowly without malice she asked, “Do you love her?”

The Return – Part One

Prudence wasn’t too happy to be doing what she was doing. But, the boss had given her all the information necessary and assured her of the safety of the situation. She didn’t quite understand his fascination with the blood vampires, but as his student (Charity was more of a bodyguard), and servant she knew it was important. The boss truly believed that the Tremere were simply a different kind of kindred. So be it. “If he believes it, so do I”, she thought. In any case this action was to build trust. The boss likes Kian and his coterie, more so than he did their predecessors (save Veronica, but of course we wouldn’t be here without her).

She waited in Kelley’s, an Ardoyne pub that Kian frequented. At the door, she saw Kian enter. He noticed her and walked over. It was unlikely he knew what the meeting was about. “Kian,” she said (formalities in public spaces were to be avoided), “please have a seat.”

Kian smiled broadly. He was quite comfortable in this place. As it was within what was generally considered ‘his domain’ and very close to his well-known haven, he’d made it clear with nuance and suggestion that while kindred were welcome to visit or travel through the area, specifically vampiric activity was not to take place there. Hunting was not exactly discouraged, but rather if candidates were found, Kian merely ask that any distinctly kindred activity such as feeding be done outside the boundaries of his domain.

His strong and growing connections to organized crime combined with his presence was also making the human side of society more comfortable and safe, by inches. The effect was so slow most didn’t notice, but if one compared the current crime rate of the neighborhood with the rate eight months ago, they might see a slow, steady improvement that had become, over time, significant.

Kian sat down comfortably. On his way to the little booth, he’d stopped as he always did to purchase the obligatory beer and exchange a few warm words of greeting with the bartender and the young owner.

“Prudence. How surprising and pleasant to see you’ve found your way to Kelley’s. Any chance you’ll be frequenting our friendly little establishment?” Regulars always felt their favorite pub were as much their as as it was the owners and the other patrons formed a sort of extended family for them. Like any person proud of their favorite places, Kian was happy to share.

She had dressed casual for the meeting, though it was obvious to Kian that she was comfortable. Whatever her background was, being in a pub agreed with her (normally she was all too formal in the presence of her master, a little morbid and gothesque as well). “Should I find time, I certainly would stop in for a pint; however, time is something I rarely have. Our mutual friend has asked me to let you know that Kathleen will be coming back to town in a few days. He asked me to deliver some details and answer any questions you may have about her.”

“That’s quite neighborly of him!” he said. “Please do extend my thanks to him. And to you, too. I know that working for the likes of us can be trying at times.” He wore a small, knowing smile that echoed some sympathy — surprising for one of the Kindred.

“Something that’s really been weighing on my mind is whether our Miss Innisfree has been asking questions of a curious nature lately. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” he wondered.

“Through our contacts, we have learned that she has not asked either the Defense Ministry or the Home Office about the agent, i.e. you, that saved her from the cultists. She attended the funeral of the former ‘associate’ of Liam’s who was killed that day. Our mutual friend believes that this associate was a friend from childhood. They were not lovers. What he may have told her is unknown, though Liam’s many ‘associates’ all had a different level of ‘access’ to this ‘thing of ours.'”

“She did; however, confess to her psychologist about strange visions. She has dreams of you as a vampire, a hero, a murderer, a charitable man, a lover, an enemy, and as nothing but a shadow. This therapist was ‘advised’ to diagnose her situation as stress from the experience and from overwork. He advised her to take a position closer to home. So, she was promoted to preserve this thing of ours into a position of a strategic materials procurement negotiator for our mutual friend’s firm. It is an important position, but with less stress.”

“In inspecting her apartment in Paris, we noted that she had accumulated in a short time a large amount of information on kindred kind (most of it incorrect), magic, and the occult. She has remembered exactingly her experiences and has detailed it in several notebooks and sketch pads. She draws a notable likeness of you. She is a fabulous researcher and is exacting in every detail. We believe she is currently slowly moving toward expanding her experiences into a story or novel for publication. This could be a threat if it is too close to the truth, but our mutual friend does not want the powers-that-be to deal with her. It would be a waste as she is very useful to us. She could be useful to you in your position protecting this thing of ours. There will of course be rules that would be expected of such an arrangement.”

Kian looked very thoughtful. “Of course,” he murmured. “Of course.” He took a moment to complete his thoughts in view of the amazing news Prudence just gave him.

He focused his attention upon Prudence again. “I view this situation as a personal challenge, one I intend to conquer. As you know, the situation that resulted in my first meeting with Kathleen led me to save her life. I took some pains to keep her that way and I fully intend to continue to protect her as well as I can. You can assure your friend of that.”

Prudence nodded, “That is appreciated.”

He took a drink of the beer, just enough for a taste, but it was more to give himself more time to consider his next step. “She is at a very fragile moment in her life. Or I might say dangerous and that could be more accurate. The correct action taken can lead her to be even more valuable than she is now. A misstep will cause her to fall very hard. Like a beautiful porcelain figurine, she might shatter, and I would not like to treat art that way.”

“We would not necessarily consider her art; however, she is considerably talented,” Prudence replied. “For her to meet an untimely end simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time is simply a waste. It is good to see that our mutual friend and yourself agree on this.”

Kian put down his glass and looked directly at the young lady. “Prudence, I need to meet with her. As soon as possible.”

She answered slightly more businesslike than her previous statements, “Of course. Our mutual friend has asked the following terms. First, is that her work in the business world will not be unduly affected in the short-term. She has several contacts that might notice. She has few friends in Belfast as she is a career-oriented person who has had until now little time for a social life (at least that we know of). You know how her last social encounter ended up. Second, she cannot know of our mutual friend’s association with you; at least until (or if) she is an assured friend of ours. Third, she cannot deliver to you any information on her work with our mutual friend’s businesses, of any kind. She signed non-disclosure agreements, so I doubt she would under normal circumstances. But we are not normal. She can; however, use her contacts and skills outside of this very specific area to assist you.”

She continued, “Of course, what happens in the long term is up to you. Our mutual friend simply wishes to be advised should he need to terminate her employment or modify her status. Her current position is low-stress and only 37.5 hours per week. Should she request to go part-time, things will be arranged of course. Should you agree to this, we can proceed. If you have any reservations, I am authorized to discuss details.”

Kian thought about that briefly, then shook his head. “All your friend’s conditions are perfectly reasonable. I have no issue with any point. As of this moment forward, you have my word that my interest does not extend to anything related to your friend’s business. I also have no immediate plans to disrupt her professional life further than it already is.”

Prudence smiled, noting that this Kian was looking better every time she met him. Too bad most of her business was with Moira & Brenna. “We have an understanding then. That is wonderful. I think I may have that additional pint!” She waves to the waitress and orders pints for the table, “In any case your word is accepted. We have arranged a four bedroom place for 1600 quid per month in South Belfast off Malone Road. It is one of the best neighborhoods and far from any crime. She’s there in two nights. How you introduce yourself is of course up to you.

“Anything else?”

Kian shook his head. “You’ve been very helpful. Thank you.”

Session Twenty Five, Twenty Six & Twenty Seven

We had turned over the captured Kindred to O’Shea who wished to handle their interrogation for us. It appeared that he, too, wanted to take a greater role in serving the needs of the city. We let him and it was fairly soon that he began to show some success gathering new information.

It should also be noted that by this time, Tessa had recovered. Of course, I helped things along with several visits to grant her the healing benefits of the Blood. Soon she was up and about. She seemed to have no idea why she had been so depressed as to want to take her life.

Acting on information from O’Shea, we attacked another brood cell in order to capture a particular singular broodling whom O’Shea believed would have the information we needed in order to hit each cell and eliminate them in rapid succession. The hit was successful; I used Tessa and Trina as well. They had been foolish enough to ask me if I might find a job for them working for the mob. The hit was bloody and terrifying enough for them that such foolish thoughts were removed from minds quite thoroughly.

We did accomplish the goal, though several brood escaped alive. We did kill a few of them including the body of a demoness that had been summoned. It seems she was the same demon that the brood in Derry had summoned. I think.

Brenna was injured badly again and fell to torpor. This time, it was She Who Sleeps who appeared through Aife in spirit (I think — this is the only way I know to explain it) and roused her so that Brenna would not miss the upcoming first Court event run by Aife and her coterie.

I met with that mage. He did remove the professional vampire hunters from the city — for now. One less thing, you know? He asked me some questions, none of any particular interest to me. I did find out a little about him, however. Real names were not traded and I left him believing I was a spirit of Twilight whose duty it was to shield the material world from dark forces from beyond. The fact that it was at least half true helped the deception.

I also encountered that demon again. Astarte or some such. She was a tempting bitch, I’ll give her that. Still I held out. I know that she cannot yet harm me or pass to the material world again until she is summoned. I’m hoping that we’ll kill the rest of the brood and stop that.

Veronica and I held a clan meeting, mostly because the other clans were doing it. Our is the smallest of the city with only two members counting both of us. It was really a date. I enjoyed it very much. I so wanted her body by the end of the evening but she held out for fear of drawing Brenna’s wrath upon her. I reasoned that Brenna didn’t need to find out, but Veronica held strong for both of us. It was probably the wiser choice.