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Immortal Desires Detritus's GURPS World of Darkness PbP game.

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Old 01-06-2009, 11:27 PM
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Default Ancient History (Anneke's Embrace)

Seated at a round table just large enough for herself and her tutor, Rebekka watched as Lazarus placed a small object wrapped in silk between them. As soon as he unwrapped it, she recognized her sister's hairbrush, even bathed as it was in the silvery light from the floating, ethereal globes that Lazarus had conjured at the beginning of the evening's instruction. They were the only source of illumination in the room.

"Do not anticipate the result," Lazarus said, a hint of sharpness in his voice. "That will only contaminate your reading."

The tone in his voice drew Rebekka's eyes to his, something that had become almost reflexive, instinctual, in the months during which Lazarus had had the primary responsibility for her instruction. Lazarus was a wiry man, and slight of stature, yet he was also possessed of a presence that radiated authority. Rebekka supposed that part of that was due to the fact that she had had her Embrace barely 18 months ago where Lazarus had been Kindred that many decades, and more.

"Close your eyes, empty your mind of all thoughts, all images, all feelings, and prepare to draw forth the image from the brush," Lazarus said more calmly. "When you are ready, pick up the brush, and tell me what you see."

Rebekka did as she was bade, but no image presented itself. She tightened her closed eyelids, and her eyebrows began to knit as she exerted herself, to no avail.

"Do not strain, childe, that will interfere just as much as inappropriate anticipation," said Lazarus. "For your mind to be a receptacle for the image, it must be completely open and relaxed."

Rebekka felt the first traces of irritation form upon her features after being addressed as a childe, and then realized almost instantly thereafter that it had been intentional. Lazarus was trying to break her concentration. Their relationship had always had an adversarial undercurrent for reasons she did not understand. Very well, sometimes that was just how the game was played.

She shifted her grip from the brush's handle to its back, and concentrated on how the feel of coolness filled her palm more fully this way. All stray thoughts and emotions were frozen into inactivity. It was then that she saw the image of a woman with long, flowing hair who was roughly the same physical age as Rebekka herself.

"It's Councilor Meerlinda," Rebekka said after opening her eyes in surprise.

"That is correct," said Lazarus, "but the reading is not yet finished. Set aside that image, and try to conjure the deeper one."

Rebekka narrowed her eyes in puzzlement. How could she just set aside the image she had just seen? The vertigo of incomprehension began to overcome her thinking.

"You will be unable to satisfy your curiosity if you cannot master yourself from allowing it to be expressed so strongly. Maintain your focus, childe. The image is to be set aside in the same manner that all your other thoughts and emotions were."

Anger flared in Rebekka's breast, but instead of trying to clamp down on it, she used the associated mental energy to power the image of a flame. The vision of Meerlinda, any lingering resentment towards Lazarus, all of it went to feed the flame. It was a technique that she had found essential in order to make any progress at all under the instruction of Lazarus. Once she was calm again, she returned to the cool feel of the brush. It had not warmed at all while she held it.

Suddenly another image appeared to Rebekka. She saw her sister's smiling face, green eyes shining bright. Eyes just like their mother's. Anneke had always had such a pretty smile. Just like mother there, too. Fondness for her sister bloomed in Rebekka's heart, and the second image from the brush abruptly disappeared.

"You did well to spot the second image, childe, but you must maintain discipline to complete your readings," said Lazarus. "Stray thoughts, undue exertion, unbidden feelings, all of these things can interfere with your readings, or forestall them altogether." Lazarus replaced the silk wrappings around the brush and gave it to Rebekka.

"Tonight's lesson must stop here. Take the brush with you and practice. There are now three images there for the taking -- yours, the Councilor's, and your sister's. Try to retrieve them all without contaminating the brush further. This will require you to be able to read it with the lightest touch possible. Find a sandglass of at least 2 minutes' duration, and practice until you can hold your sister's image for the full amount of time."

Rebekka considered these instructions for a moment. To suppress all emotion towards her sister while holding her in her thoughts for so long would be very difficult.

"I will not deny that that is an ancillary goal of the exercise," Lazarus said, startling Rebekka. She could not recall him ever continuing to read her thoughts once he had terminated a lesson.

"Some emotional detachment from our former associations is worthwhile no matter what, but such distance is crucial when employing The Spirit's Touch. And if you are not wholly successful in severing your ties with your breathing days, it may come to pass that you will have to make such readings in connection with your loved ones when much more is at stake than a gentle rebuke from your tutor. You must learn control."

"Yes, elder," said Rebekka. Lazarus had scored a telling point there.

"Good," he said, and stood up. Rebekka followed his lead.

"And now our lesson is truly over. I have learned from Councilor Meerlinda that Councilor Etrius has completed his return from Venice today. We are to meet with them both after Matins at Stephensdom."

"May I ask why, elder?"

"I do not know," Lazarus admitted. "We shall learn together. I will have a carriage prepared to depart in one half hour's time. We will meet again then."

After he had left the room, Rebekka pondered the words of Lazarus regarding emotional detachment. Had he been trying to tell her something else there? Perhaps it had been her imagination, but she thought that Lazarus had worn an unusually expressive face when speaking of these matters, at least for him. Most mortals probably would not have noticed any change in expression at all, save possibly for the flicker of an eyebrow.

Coming back to the present, Rebekka scurried out of the lesson room. Lazarus had very strong opinions on the matter of tardiness, and it certainly would not do to keep Two of the Seven waiting tonight. Despite her haste, she continued to wonder about what she had done to merit such an audience. She feared she would learn all too soon.
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Old 01-09-2009, 03:03 AM
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Default Anneke's Embrace, Part 2 of ???

Etrius stood outside the Giant's Door of Stephensdom still garbed in flowing priestly vestments. He spoke with two others whom Rebekka did not recognize, a man and a woman. The man was thin, graying, and tall, taller even than Etrius by a handsbreadth. He wore dark robes; brown she would guess, but now was not the time to sharpen her senses to make sure of her guess. That could well be construed as eavesdropping and incur the wrath of her elders.

The woman carried a case in the shape of a harp. She was short, no taller than Anneke and perhaps a trifle shorter. She was certainly shorter than Rebekka herself. She wore a hooded riding cloak that obscured her head, and also riding boots. As she and Lazarus ascended the cathedral's steps, she saw that the woman was also girded with a sword, a bizarre blend of traveling minstrel and mercenary.

"Ah, Lazarus, welcome," Etrius said just before the two shook hands. "Rebekka," he said in the same voice, but she noticed that his expression soured a touch. Etrius had always been the most conservative of the Council of Seven with regard to the Embrace of new neonates, and was rarely happy to see one. She would not have been surprised to learn that he had only just stopped considering Lazarus to be a neonate within the past year.

"May I introduce to you Taliesin, my Toreador counterpart on the Inner Circle," and the tall man gave a fractional bow, "and his protege, Gwynnis," who made a small, precise curtsy. Though the harp case she carried reached nearly from hips to chin, it did not seem to unbalance her in the slightest. "They have accompanied me from Venice."

"It is our pleasure to meet you," Taliesin said in deep, resonant tones. Rebekka was surprised to hear such soft speech from one with such a manifestly powerful voice. "Gwynnis bears a gift for your Councilor Meerlinda," he said, "an item known as a triple harp. The instrument is currently in fashion in the Venetian courts."

"She'll be delighted, I'm sure" Etrius said with a smile. All heads turned to Gwynnis, who returned the Tremere lord's smile. She was in the middle of another curtsy when it happened.

For a terrible moment, Rebekka saw with other Sight. Anneke lay unmoving, cradled in the arms of Gwynnis. Her left eye was gone, and livid burns surrounded the socket. Gwynnis lowered her head, and Rebekka could only watch in horror as bared fangs drew ever nearer to her sister's exposed neck. Just as abruptly as it had come, the vision was gone.

Rebekka had not realized that she had cried out until she felt the irritation in her throat. The other four Kindred looked at her in alarm. Rebekka lingered for a moment on Gwynnis's face, but saw nothing but shock becoming mere concern once she realized nothing serious was amiss.

"Are you well, Rebekka?" asked Taliesin. "Will she be equal to the journey to Paris?" he asked Etrius before Rebekka had had a chance to reply. The bottom of Rebekka's equilibrium dropped out for the the second time within a minute. Anger flashed in Etrius's eyes, but Lazarus cut off the bile that was sure to flow from the Councilor's lips.

"Forgive me, Councilor, but I believe she will be," said Lazarus. A look of pure fury crossed Etrius's face for an instant before he could school his features to a less agitated expression. "At the very least, it may give her a chance to learn not to be so easily daunted." Lazarus turned a bland gaze upon Rebekka, yet the look screamed "Control!" to her.

"I see that I have spoken out of turn. Forgive me," said Taliesin, "it was not my place to inform you of your Council's decision. I am in your debt." He gave Rebekka a bow no deeper than his first, but much sharper.

"Perhaps we should go inside," said Gwynnis, breaking her silence. Her voice was a pleasant alto, and she spoke with a stately cadence. "Sunrise waits on no one, man or Kindred alike."

"Yes, there is still much to do and discuss tonight," said Etrius. "Please be welcomed to Stephensdom, We shall meet in my private chapel. Be advised that the cathedral is dimly lit. Do not be frightened upon entry," he said with a withering look for Rebekka. She felt her blush rise until it felt like her head was aflame, but there was nothing for her to say to that.

Trying her best to grapple with the implications of what she had just seen and heard, Rebekka felt as if her feet were rooted to the landing before the cathedral door. Luckily protocol dictated that she enter last, a brief but welcome respite in which to gather her wits. Paris lay over 200 leagues from Vienna, and it seemed likely that she would make the journey with only Gwynnis for companionship. She had heard many tales of the uncanny social adeptness of the Toreador clan, and now it was probable that she would be alone with a Toreador elder for weeks, if not months. Rebekka repressed a shiver.

It also struck her as unusual that one as inexperienced as she would be transferred so far away so soon. That had certain implications for the danger of the mission that she did not like. But, why would the clan expend the effort to train her at all if her new assignment was so dangerous? Her brow furrowed in concentration.

"Shall we attend the meeting?" Gwynnis asked, bringing Rebekka back to the here and now. Not trusting herself to speak, Rebekka nodded once in the affirmative, and then fell in beside Gwynnis. They were, after all, in the seat of the Tremere clan, and it should not be too much trouble for her to act as escort to a foreign dignitary for a moment. But what was waiting for her in Paris?
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Old 01-12-2009, 02:33 AM
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Default Anneke's Embrace, Part 3 of ???

The candlelit interior of Stephensdom was as gloomy as Etrius had said it would be. The atmosphere suited Rebekka's mood. With her recent experiences outside the Giant's Door still foremost in her mind, she could not think of anything to say to Gwynnis. Nothing besides the obvious, that was, but Rebekka was sure she did not want to talk to Gwynnis about that now, not with an audience with two of the Council of Seven looming before her.

"Your... outburst on the cathedral steps," Gwynnis said, "you were looking right at me when you cried out." She squinted in concentration and then said, "perhaps looking through me would be a better description, now that I think about it. What did you see?"

Rebekka looked down at her feet to stall for time. So much for her wishes, she thought. She knew it was unintentional, but Gwynnis was not being the least bit accommodating. Most likely unintentional, she amended; she knew that Toreador were as adept at Auspex as her own clan, and who could say what a Toreador elder was capable of?

Rebekka looked sidelong at Gwynnis. She had lowered the hood of her cloak to reveal dazzling golden hair that picked up ruddy highlights from the candlelight. She had a lovely face, even prettier than Anneke's, and there were few who compared favorably to her sister. Large eyes of wide spacing and deep intelligence were Gwynnis's best feature. Though her face was neutral, Rebekka thought those eyes were trying to bore into hers until they reached into the deepest recesses of her soul.

"If it pleases you, elder, I would prefer not to speak of it right now. May I ask how your journey from Venice went? Was the weather pleasant while you were there?" Really? The weather?! Rebekka knew it had been a feeble effort to redirect the conversation as soon as the words left her mouth.

"Relaying the details of my journey to Vienna to a Tremere neonate interests me far less than learning why that neonate looked at me and then screamed bloody murder," said Gwynnis. "I think I have the right to know. Tell me, now," she said in an imperious voice.

Rebekka felt The Beast stir within her, weak effort to steer the conversation elsewhere or no. Elders had wide latitude when dealing with their lessers, of course, but Gwynnis was in the very seat of the Tremere power. Such impertinence was uncalled for. Striving for just the proper level of indignation, Rebekka said, "I regret if I have given offense by my unwillingness to share my most intimate thoughts with you, elder, but I do not believe it appropriate."

"You were looking at me as if I held your favorite sister dead in my arms," Gwynnis said in a much softer tone. Rebekka stopped short, and hardly noticed Gwynnis halt smoothly beside her. She knew! Rebekka felt her jaw working, but no sound passed her lips. Gwynnis heaved a soft sigh.

"You must learn to prevaricate better if you are to have any hope of surviving in the courts of Paris," she said. "Given what little I know of the Tremere, it is an odd hole in your education. Tell me, are you some magical prodigy that your elders chose to fill with Thaumaturgical knowledge at the expense of all other subjects?"

There was no mistaking the Toreador's contempt for her or her clan, but Rebekka found herself once again at a loss for words. Mortification replaced her righteous anger, and then she felt The Beast devour her shame, felt the need to lash out at her tormentor, to gouge out her eyes and feast on her vitae. Gwynnis raised the harp she carried until it was directly between the two of them, a sardonic grin on her lips.

"You would not damage your Councilor's gift just because you came out behind after a little verbal sparring, would you?" Gwynnis asked her. "Or keep her waiting for it to salvage wounded pride? We now stand alone in this corridor," she said.

Rebekka was shocked to learn the truth of Gwynnis's words as she cast a wild look down each direction of the corridor. The men had indeed left them alone. She was about to offer hurried apologies when another realization hit. She had been left alone with Gwynnis on purpose. Rebekka could not prevent herself from scowling at her guest.

"If you feel that you have been ill-used, I suggest bringing it up with your Councilors tonight," Gwynnis said while drawing Meerlinda's harp back against her body. "I am sure they will take your questioning of their wisdom under advisement. I believe this exchange will be more productive, however, if you thought of it as," and Gwynnis paused to choose her words, "as your first lesson in your foster education. Your mind now is as an open book, and I see your thoughts forming page by slowly turning page, yet a shrewdness is there to nurture."

Rebekka was stunned. Was this some kind of joke? She gave Gwynnis an accusing look, yet the Toreador wore a completely guileless expression. Rebekka had to admit that invoking the Councilors' approval probably was not a lie, since it would be so easy to refute it otherwise. And she returned to the warning that Lazarus had given her earlier tonight. Had that been a warning about this encounter? Had he known all along what was to happen tonight?

Gwynnis smiled. She outshone her sister in this aspect as well. Rebekka felt as if she was beginning to hate this Toreador harpy, but her next words were a complete surprise.

"Yes, it will be my pleasure to take up your education, however briefly, Rebekka," said Gwynnis. "You have already begun to grasp the basics of your next lesson, realizing when forces are aligning against you. That is another indispensable skill for life at court." Gwynnis then shifted her grip on Meerlinda's harp until she held it under her right arm, and moved until she was well within arm's reach.

"Greatness lies within you, Rebekka, of this I am sure. I feel it here," and Gwynnis laid a fingertip upon the center of Rebekka's forehead. She felt a small yet electric thrill at the point of contact. "And here," she said, and she moved her fingertip to the hollow between Rebekka's breasts. "And here," and her fingertip moved to just below Rebekka's navel. The same sensation accompanied each new touch. Rebekka felt long-forgotten passions begin to rise inside her, but they vanished as soon as Gwynnis withdrew her finger for the last time.

Had she still been mortal, Rebekka would have been gasping for breath. As it was, she was held transfixed, unable to tear her gaze away from those all-consuming eyes. After a seeming eternity she was finally able to close her own eyes and then turn her head downward.

"If it pleases you, elder, it would be my honor to receive your instruction," she managed to say to her feet. Rebekka closed her eyes when she felt Gwynnis's finger under her chin to lift her head up. She dreaded what she would see when she opened her eyes, yet when she did, she saw eyes that were only pretty looking back at her, and nothing more. Only then did she realize that the thrill that had accompanied Gwynnis's touch was likewise gone.

"It would please me greatly, but you must call me Gwynnis," she said.

"Thank you, Gwynnis," said Rebekka, but the name came haltingly to her lips. It occurred to her that treating an elder with such casual familiarity could end up being one of her more difficult lessons. Her timidity brought another smile to Gwynnis's face.

"We have lingered here overlong," said Gwynnis, "longer perhaps than your Councilors have allowed for. We should not keep them waiting any more. We are, after all, in the very seat of Tremere power," she said with a little smile.

Rebekka returned the smile, but did not say anything as they proceeded to the meeting. After a moment's reflection, it dawned on her that Gwynnis had addressed her by name, but did not once refer to her as a childe. A neonate, yes, but not childe, and that was a significant distinction. Rebekka gave Gwynnis another sidelong look, and realized that the Toreador's lessons would give her just as much food for thought as the most exacting lesson from Lazarus. She chose for now to believe this was a good thing, but it remained to be seen if that choice was correct. She offered a brief but fervent prayer to St. Stephen that it was so.
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Old 01-20-2009, 02:38 AM
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Default Anneke's Embrace, Part 4 of ???

"If you would open the door for me, I shall take the lead for now," Gwynnis said to Rebekka once they had reached Etrius's office just beyond his private chapel. Rebekka was happy to comply. They were most likely running terribly late, and the Councilors' attitudes towards tardiness made Lazarus look like a doting grandfather.

Once inside, Rebekka saw that Meerlinda and Etrius were seated to either side of his desk. Lazarus and Taliesin stood to Rebekka's right, nearer to Etrius. All three of her clan elders had conjured several globes of handfire apiece, although Etrius's were red and Meerlinda's a golden yellow. The three colors mingled to interesting visual effect. Rebekka noticed a small grin on Gwynnis's lips, and she thought the Toreador might have rolled her eyes when she was at the bottom of her bow to the Councilors.

"Please forgive the lateness of our arrival, Councilors," said Gwynnis, still holding the harp case in both arms. "I was curious about some of the architectural features of the cathedral, which Rebekka explained to me at my behest."

"I had no idea she was so knowledgeable about architecture," Etrius said in a dubious tone.

"Peace, Etrius," said Meerlinda. Her voice was deep for a woman yet still melodious. "We shall hold your penance in abeyance," she said to Rebekka, "given your impending journey abroad."

"Before we proceed, may I present you with this gift, Councilor," said Gwynnis. She set the harp case down on the desk next to Meerlinda. "It is a triple harp, made in Venice, and presently high in the esteem of the court bards there."

Curious, Meerlinda opened the case and removed the harp. "It's lovely," she said, and plucked experimentally upon it. "Naturals on the outside, and accidentals in the middle, if I'm not mistaken. Ingenious," she said, and favored Gwynnis with a smile.

"Your ear is sharp, as always, Meerlinda" said Taliesin, "but I sense that your fellow Councilor is impatient to proceed with the night's business."

"Of course, to business," said Meerlinda. "To begin with, we have good news for you, Rebekka. We have decided, despite the protests of some," and Meerlinda gave Etrius an exasperated look before continuing, "that your probationary period is now over. You shall no longer be considered a childe, but instead a full-fledged neonate of Clan Tremere. Congratulations," she said with a warm smile.

Rebekka nearly reeled in disbelief. Apprenticeship with the Tremere almost universally lasted several years, and could stretch to decades in some cases. Yet here she was, less than two years since her Embrace, and her own woman once again. More of her own, at least; the duties her clan placed upon her would not abate that much with this promotion.

"No one can deny your skill at learning Thaumaturgy," Etrius said to her, "yet you must realize that with increased freedom come increased responsibilities. It will be doubly so for you, as you will learn soon. You will have to bear the brunt of your errors from now on, and your mistakes will only impact your instructors indirectly, unlike before."

"That brings us to the reason for your transfer," said Meerlinda. "There are rumors of rebellion in Paris. One especially pernicious tale that comes to us is that there may be one or more traitors to the clan, perhaps defectors to the Sabbat, who are part of the conspiracy."

"In this case, it is our surmise that such conspirators would be eager to recruit powerful yet manipulable allies," said Etrius. "This is where you come in," he said. His expression left no doubt that this was the only reason why he agreed to end her probation.

"If these conspirators make contact with you," said Meerlinda, "it will be your job to express interest while remaining less than fully committed to them. It will be a fine line you walk, should matters come to that, and either side may move to destroy you without a second thought if you obstruct their plans. This is an extremely volatile situation, if the rumors are correct."

"Indeed, this volatility will be confounded by the fact that Richelieu is dying," said Taliesin. "From what I have heard, he will not live through the year. There is potential for great upheaval in mortal politics, in addition to the intrigue in play with regards to Kindred interests.

"It will not be your responsibility to direct matters in the mortals' affairs," said Etrius, "but you must realize that the Cardinal's foreign policy has ever been one of opposing the House of Habsburg. This damages Tremere interests, and no doubt Richelieu has been able to carry out his foreign policy without any opposition from the Prince of Paris, who is Toreador. It is likely that he has even encouraged such behavior. It will therefore be important for you to make a good first impression with Prince Villon."

"Your arrival to Paris with me will serve two purposes," said Gwynnis. "Villon will likely see it as a conciliatory gesture by the Tremere to see a neonate of that clan under the instruction of a Toreador elder. It will also increase your attractiveness as a potential recruit to be seen with a highly-placed member of the Kindred community of Paris."

Meerlinda began to speak, but waited a moment when she saw Rebekka struggling to assimilate all that she had heard in the last few minutes. So much was at stake, up to and including the potential loss of one of the bastions of the Camarilla. Rebekka began to think that her promotion was taking on the distinct appearance of a poisoned apple.

"Under normal circumstances," said Meerlinda, "this briefing would end with a formal declaration of orders for your new assignment. In this particular instance, we have decided to impress upon you the delicacy, the importance, and the peril of this mission in the strongest terms possible. We shall not order you to go." Rebekka saw Etrius grimace at this last statement. All eyes were on her, save for Gwynnis, who was looking at Meerlinda, her hands upon her abdomen, fingers intertwined. Rebekka had already made her decision, the only one possible, really.

"For the good of clan and sect, I volunteer for the transfer," said Rebekka. She took private satisfaction in the faint look of surprise that registered on the face of Etrius.

"And now, your standing in the clan is truly confirmed, Rebekka" said Lazarus. Rebekka looked at him and had her own surprise. Was that pride she saw in her tutor's eyes? Surely not. Then she noticed that Gwynnis was tapping her belly with her topmost finger, although she had remained looking at Meerlinda.

"Excellent," said Meerlinda, and there was no mistaking the gloating look she directed at Etrius. "You will leave with Gwynnis one hour after the next sunset."

"So soon?" Rebekka asked, her head once again swimming.

"The mission is urgent," said Etrius.

"A clean break is best," Gwynnis said softly, a look of sad reminiscence upon her face. She seemed to be gripping her sword hilt without realizing it, and then cast what Rebekka thought was a rather heated look at Taliesin, but his eyes looked downward.

"Agreed," said Meerlinda in the same quiet tone. "It is regrettable that we must administer this lesson in such fashion, but it is for the best."

Rebekka looked at both women in turn, and then Lazarus, before nodding her head.

"Very well, I believe we may adjourn this meeting," said Meerlinda. "You must prepare for departure," she said to Rebekka. "My thanks once again for your gift," she said to the Toreador, who both gave gracious but wordless acknowledgment.

After the return carriage ride, Rebekka had gathered such belongings of hers as she could take by horseback at night. She held the silk-wrapped brush that Lazarus had given her earlier tonight against her heart. It seemed like something weeks distant in memory, given all else that had happened tonight. Then a knock came at her door, and when she answered it, she saw Lazarus standing before her. His eyes flicked down to the brush, which she still held.

"Please come in, elder," she said.

"Thank you, Rebekka" said Lazarus. "You handled the meeting well, at least once you got inside."

"Thank you, elder," said Rebekka. She looked at the brush she held.

"This object was not chosen at random for my last lesson, was it, elder?"

"No, it was not," said Lazarus.

"Was it your idea?"

"It was. Meerlinda found it fitting as well, although Etrius did not share our enthusiasm for this little gesture."

"Then you did know what was going to happen tonight."

"Most of it, yes," Lazarus admitted. "Consider it one final lesson. Do not let your guard down, even among those you trust. Be ready to reevaluate your conclusions whenever you receive new information. This is especially important with those whom you nominally trust.

"You will also have to be proactive in your lessons with Gwynnis. She is very good at what she will be teaching you, but her instruction will occur in the order that best serves her interests. If you find an explanation lacking, it will fall to you to ask the questions that fill in the gaps."

"That is unlike the way instruction within the clan works, elder," said Rebekka, and the beginnings of a smile curled her lips.

"It is," replied Lazarus with a smile of his own. "A fair journey to you."

"Thank you, elder," Rebekka said, and then watched her mentor leave. She set the brush down atop her other belongings she would bring with her to Paris. There was little room in the clan's pyramid for affection, yet these last few hours had illuminated a new facet of her relationship with Lazarus.

She stretched once upon feeling the lethargy of approaching sunrise creep up on her, and then laid herself to rest for the last time before leaving Vienna behind, and her sister with it.
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Old 02-23-2009, 07:34 PM
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Default Anneke's Embrace, Part 5 of ???

After three nights of following the northern bank of the Danube, Rebekka had been disappointed to learn that she and Gwynnis were crossing at Linz.

"Why are we crossing the river here, Gwynnis?" She had stumbled over the name again. "We'll only have to cross again somewhere else. We can follow the river to Ingolstadt and then turn west there."

"You speak the truth, Rebekka, but I was told in no uncertain terms to avoid Ingolstadt. Do you honestly believe that your Council would send you away from Vienna, and your sister dearest, with all haste only to have me bring you to the lands of your birth? Think before you make such suggestions."

"But Salzburg and Munich are leagues out of our way," Rebekka protested. "Stuttgart is due west from Ingolstadt, and the path would miss most of the forest and mountain terrain. I thought this mission was important enough to make all possible speed towards Paris."

"What you say is true, once again, and it would even be a commendable plan, if Ingolstadt were part of the Domain of Stuttgart. But it is not, it falls instead under the ambit of Praxis Munich. If we were to pass through Ingolstadt without presenting ourselves in Munich, it would breach the Tradition of Domain. That is out of the question."

Rebekka opened her mouth and closed it again, feeling a bit nettled. She recognized the air of finality in an unyielding elder's words. A Domain violation really was inexcusable if it could be avoided, she had to admit to herself. She nodded in silent acknowledgment of Gwynnis's point.

"Then we are agreed. We shall proceed from Linz to Salzburg, and then to Munich. We can cross the river again at Ulm, on our way to Stuttgart. It shall not be that much further than if we stayed north of the Danube, in the end." Rebekka took in this travel itinerary in dignified silence.

"There is no need to pout," Gwynnis chided. "Linz and Salzburg are the last reasonable hunting grounds before we leave the Domain of Vienna, and we will need to keep our strength up in the early stages of our journey. The Domain of Paris is vast, and we must traverse its eastern half after leaving Stuttgart. We must refrain from hunting until we present ourselves to Prince Villón."

"How long will it take to complete that last leg?" Rebekka hated hearing a trace of sulkiness in her voice.

"That will depend on your horsemanship. We have not yet pressed our mounts for a full night's riding, but we will after Stuttgart. It is one hundred ten leagues from there to the eastern gate of Paris. I could do it in one week, were I alone, and would pass into the Domain of Paris during the second night."

"I'll be able keep up," replied Rebekka. Something about what the elder Toreador had said provoked a niggling doubt. She flicked her eyes to Gwynnis and saw the golden-haired woman already watching her.

"In Vienna, you said you were a highly placed member of the Kindred community in Paris. Wouldn't you already be able to hunt during our approach to the city?"

"I would, but I do not have the power to grant you hunting rights in the Domain. I shall share your privation. A gesture of solidarity, let us say."

Rebekka considered this a while. "Thank you, elder," she said at last. That sounded inadequate to her ears, but she hoped that Gwynnis would hear its sincerity.

"Do not trouble yourself over it," Gwynnis said, smiling, "but remember to address me by name." Rebekka assayed a tremulous smile of her own. This was a difficult lesson to master, as she had known ever since its assignment.

"Morning twilight approaches, Rebekka. We should find a room for the day. Perhaps for more than one day. Constant travel becomes thirsty work before very long."

"As you wish, eld..." and Rebekka cut herself off after a sharp look from Gwynnis. "As you wish, Gwynnis," she finally said, and then reminded herself of the lecture she had received on addressing her fellow Kindred.

"What you do when addressing your clan elders is between you and them, but I must explain why I will go to some length to wean you off the habit when you are at court. It is not a mere gesture of collegiality on my part. Others must see that you have your own voice, else the rebels would never approach you."

"But if I am to project an air of pliability, would I not do better to seem deferential?"

"Think about what sort of attitude a rebel would be looking for in any prospective recruit. At a minimum, you must appear to be capable of defying the established order. That capability will be impossible to project if constant deference makes you look like a lapdog of the city's elders."

"'At a minimum,' you say. What else is there?"

"A touch of defiance from time to time would be of great value. Capability is one thing, but willingness is more convincing. You knew this would be difficult when you volunteered for transfer," Gwynnis said after seeing a look of trepidation cross Rebekka's face.


"Your argument about traveling to Ingolstadt is a fine example of the sort of defiance I was talking about last night. Find things that are important to you and defend them with vigor, and you will find your own voice. Do not be sorry for it," Gwynnis said, sensing Rebekka's mood, "I did not go to the trouble of inserting the first few ingots of iron in your spine just to see it snap at our first disagreement. Shall we find our room?"

Rebekka followed Gwynnis into Linz in silence. Everyone in Etrius's office at the time she accepted this assignment had to have known that she would object to crossing the Danube before Ingolstadt. She repressed a shudder and contemplated the depth of her elders' foresight.
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Old 03-30-2009, 05:10 AM
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Default Anneke's Embrace, Parts 6-8 of ???

Parts 6 & 7 can be found here:

http://forum.criticalfumble.net/showthread.php?t=17934

Part 8 is given below.

=======================

Rebekka spent the remainder of the performance in a slow burn. She had had little trouble deflecting any of the patrons' advances earlier in the night, but now hardly anyone gave her a second look. Few gave her a first look, for that matter. She bided her time until she could speak with Gwynnis alone.

That time would never arrive. Gwynnis was serene and unruffled after the incident with Anneke, and played the room as masterfully as she played her harp. After her performance was over, she had several men in tow with her, and they left the common room as one group. Rebekka followed and did the best she could to remove the scowl from her face.

She did not catch up until everyone was upstairs. "Bring her with you!" one of the men cried, but Gwynnis merely shooed them into their rooms, saying that she would be with them soon. She set her harp down and turned to speak with Rebekka at the head of the stairs.

"Why, Gwynnis?" Rebekka hissed. This time the name came easily to her lips. "Why is Anneke here?"

"You don't know?"

"I'd like to hear it from you."

"Keep your voice down, Rebekka." The scowl returned to Rebekka's face, but she did resolve to argue more quietly. "You really must put your past behind you."

"So that's it, you're just using her as another lesson? She's my sister!"

"And I would be unable to use her thus, had you already managed to sever your ties with her. You are vulnerable because of her so long as you do not. If you wish to keep Anneke away from me, send her back to Vienna."

"You will not interfere?"

"I did not say that."

"What?!"

"I mean for Anneke to accompany us to Paris. If you do not wish for this to happen, then devise a way to stop me." Rebekka could not believe what she was hearing. Gwynnis's eyes began to glitter.

"You would try your luck now? Is that your only answer, to surrender to the Beast? I think that would be a disaster, don't you?"

Rebekka realized her lips were curled in a snarl, and her fangs bared. She was on the brink of losing control. Desperately, she burned a night's worth of vitae to regain her equilibrium, and felt her anger dissipate with the blood.

"A wise choice. We shall see it one of these days, but now is not the time. My public awaits me. Do what you must, and so will I."

Rebekka watched, speechless at the nerve of it all, as Gwynnis entered one of the mens' rooms. It did not help matters that she was unsure of her ability to stop Gwynnis even knowing what she planned. Rebekka's calm did not last very long, but now anxiety threatened to consume her, not wrath.

She went to the room at the end of the hall. She received a mental jolt when she realized that Anneke had lit all the lamps. Her sister lay sleeping on Gwynnis's bed. Was that happenstance, or another little flourish from Gwynnis? She found she had no answer, and that speculating would simply waste energy.

It was important for her to re-center herself, and doubly so if she was to deal with Anneke. She dimmed all the lamps and meditated in preparation for making the room proof against sunlight. She lost herself in the ritual, and by the time she was licking her self-inflicted wound shut, she found herself in a much better frame of mind to employ the Piercing Gaze.

With a sigh, Rebekka concentrated on her sister's sleeping form to replenish the blood she had used since coming upstairs. She did not like it, but it would make Anneke more susceptible to her suggestions. Then she kneeled and roused her sister. Rebekka seized the moment and held Anneke's gaze as soon as her eyes opened.

"Hear me, sister, and do not waken further. You are exhausted, and will sleep deeply for as long as possible. Sleep until nightfall, if you can. You will disturb neither myself nor Gwynnis until evening twilight has passed. Then you will return to Vienna when I ask you to tomorrow night. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Rebekka," came the muted reply.

"Good. Now return to sleep, and have pleasant dreams."

Rebekka listened with satisfaction as Anneke's breathing swiftly returned to the slow rhythm of slumber. After a moment's thought, she moved her bed in front of the door. She did not think Gwynnis would come back tonight or during the coming day, but if she did, Rebekka would give herself every chance to be warned of her return.

Gwynnis lay still as death as she eavesdropped on the sisters in the room next door. She did not think that Rebekka had noticed that her "public" included those in this room. It had been a quick and simple matter to give nearly half the floor memories that would light fires in their dreams until the day they died, and to make sure this room was empty once she was done feeding. She had had half a mind to insert Rebekka into their memories, but that might be a card she could play later, so she let that be for tonight.

She had counted on Rebekka being spooked enough by tonight's events that she would wait to deal with Anneke. The attempt to send her sister away had been solid, and quite thorough, but she knew that Rebekka did not realize just how much Gwynnis outclassed her with the Piercing Gaze. A little smile crossed her lips once she returned to her body.

She reached out with her mind and found Anneke's, defenseless as a newborn babe. Just as she knew it would be. Anneke would follow her sister's instructions to sleep late and leave them alone, but she would be determined to follow Rebekka to Paris. In fact, every time her sister asked her to leave, it would double Anneke's resolve to remain with them.

Gwynnis did not permit herself the luxury of another smile after her work was done. It had been child's play, really, and hardly sporting. But necessary, if not for all the reasons that Rebekka would have said. Having neglected to use vitae to power the last of her exertions, Gwynnis brooded in her lethargy on who it was that pulled her strings, until sleep took her.
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Old 05-05-2009, 06:39 AM
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Default Anneke's Embrace, Part 9 of ???

Rebekka found herself in a pitch black corridor. She made to conjure handfire, but stopped short. For some reason, she thought it was vital to remain hidden, but she could not have explained why. She decided to soldier onward in the dark.

She sharpened her senses, surprised at how calm she was. She knew she was doing something important, but could not recall exactly what. Looking for someone? Yes, that was it. She still could not see anything, even with enhanced vision.

She drew and released a breath. From the faint echo, she thought she was near a wall. She reached out a hand and contacted something solid when her arm was half-extended. She groped her way along the corridor, finding a door after several lurching, truncated strides. As she sought the handle, she sensed a corridor opening at a right angle over her shoulder.

Suddenly Rebekka felt exposed. She looked to her right, yet could see nothing down the new corridor. She saw nothing behind her, nor ahead of her. When she turned back to the door, she was able to make out the faintest outline around it, barely enough to guide her to its handle. She was sure the one she searched for was behind this door.

Slowly, quietly, Rebekka turned the handle and pushed the door ajar. She turned her head back down the corridor now behind her, and for an instant she thought she saw a pair of eyes, gleaming red where normally there was white. Their shape brushed against her memory, but she could not recall their owner's face.

"Rebekka?"

She turned at the sound of her name, red eyes forgotten for the moment. Thin, nearly horizontal beams of moonlight entered the room through high windows. Rebekka looked to the floor, and saw Anneke lying there, looking in the direction of the door. The urgency of her sister's call belatedly impressed itself upon her. Anneke was terrified. After a closer look, Rebekka saw that her left eye was gone.

"Anneke!" Rebekka hurried to her sister's supine form.

"Rebekka?" This time Anneke's voice sounded calmer.

"Rebekka?"

She opened her eyes to find Anneke standing over her. Concern filled her sister's face, but she let out a sigh of relief after seeing Rebekka waken.

"You gave me a dreadful fright there for a minute. You slept even longer than I did, and when I went to check on you, I thought you had stopped breathing." Rebekka felt chilled to the bone, but she forced herself to sit up, and concentrated on her breathing.

"Well, can you help me move your bed out of the way? It must be full dark by now. I'm parched, and famished." As Rebekka breathed, she realized her sister had already attended to another need. She rolled out of bed, guilt nagging her for her treatment of Anneke last night, and she kept her face hidden as they moved the bed enough to permit egress from their room.

She had been careless, and only upon awakening had she realized just how bad it was. Just as well that she would be sending Anneke back to Vienna tonight. Then she remembered why it was so important to send her sister away, and she scrambled around her bed and made for the door. Just then Gwynnis poked her head into the room.

"Ah, good, you're awake. And in a hurry." Rebekka had barely managed to stop before colliding with Gwynnis. "We shall be leaving Linz tonight, and I wish to depart within the hour. I believe you are right, after all, about how Salzburg is out of our way. We'll be turning west at Wels instead, and making directly for Munich."

Rebekka narrowed her eyes after Gwynnis had finished speaking. A shorter journey would mean fewer chances to talk Anneke out of coming to Paris with them, but Rebekka was confident that tonight would be all she needed for that. She had managed to stay awake for several minutes after sunrise this morning, and in all the time after she laid herself to rest she had not seen Gwynnis at all. Yet it did not seem to Rebekka like Gwynnis was one to give up so easily. She was not sure what she was leaving out of her calculations. It would not matter if she could get Anneke headed eastward tonight.

"Shall we finish replacing your bed?" asked Gwynnis after Rebekka had let her silence stretch. A faint smile and knowing twinkle in her eye accompanied the question. Rebekka shrugged and made her way to the end further from the door. Was she missing something here? Anneke returned, a plate of cheese in one hand, a flagon of ale and two pewter cups in the other, just before the bed was back in place.

"I was just telling Rebekka that we must leave Linz tonight. Once you have both eaten, shall we say? Bon appetit," said Gwynnis, and then left the room with another little smile for Rebekka. Anneke sat down on her bed and Rebekka pulled up the room's only chair to the bedside as her sister poured out ale into the two cups she had brought with her.

"You've attached yourself to a very unsettling traveling companion, Rebekka. Are you sure you need to go all the way to Paris with her? We are not that far from Vienna."

"Yes, Anneke, I must go, but you do not have to. The return journey to Vienna is short enough to be safe even if you travel alone." Rebekka was surprised to see resistance to her suggestion harden in her sister's face.

"Can you at least tell me why you have to go haring across half of Europe? Some reason why I should just turn back and let you leave?" Rebekka did her best to keep her face neutral, and watched calmly as Anneke popped a piece of cheese in her mouth.

"I have... obligations to my benefactors that require me to relocate. Obligations that I alone can discharge. More I cannot say." Dared not, Rebekka thought, not without placing both their lives in jeopardy.

"That's it? 'Obligations to your benefactors'? That could be anything." The scolding gaze of their mother appeared on Anneke's face. "Are you an outlaw?"

"An outlaw, Anneke? Don't be ridiculous. I am not fleeing anything, and travel to Paris of my own volition. You would be much safer returning to Vienna, however." Anneke studied her with a disconcertingly unreadable expression as she chewed on another piece of cheese.

"Then it's danger you've volunteered for," she said at last. "Mortal peril, unless I've missed my guess. Don't look so surprised, Rebekka, you've never been that good at hiding things from me." A rueful grin spread itself upon Rebekka's lips. If Anneke knew the whole truth, she would likely be at Rebekka's throat.

"So you've pieced it together, have you? Then you must understand why it's so important to me that you return to Vienna. I could not bear living with the knowledge that my duties had resulted in injury to you, or even your death."

"And I couldn't bear living with myself if I let you march off to duties so perilous that you can't even bring yourself to describe them to me. It's obviously affected you deeply, much more deeply than you seem willing to admit to yourself. You're so pale, and you haven't touched your food," said Anneke, a plaintive tone entering her voice. "And you've been so distant these last several months."

Rebekka shut her eyes, shaken by how close Anneke had come to stumbling upon truths she must not learn. The pain in her sister's voice cut to the bone. One thing was clear to her now. Somehow Gwynnis had managed to meddle with Anneke. Somehow, but Rebekka had no idea how. Anneke spoke again, pressing her advantage.

"If you can't return to Vienna, then come with me to Ingolstadt. Papa will find a way to protect you. I'll make sure he does."

"That will not be possible," said a voice from the doorway, and Rebekka hung her head and slumped her shoulders without opening her eyes. Gwynnis had returned, and Rebekka had failed to convince her sister to return to Vienna. Indeed, Anneke seemed more determined than ever to come along.

"I'm coming with you," said Anneke, and Rebekka looked up to see the defiant expression she was sure her sister wore.

"How delightful," replied Gwynnis. "Isn't this exciting, Rebekka? Paris is a lovely city, the grandest in all of Europe, if I may say so. You'll have a lovely time there, Anneke, and I'm sure Rebekka will be most welcome of your company."

"We'll see about that," said Anneke, giving Gwynnis a look like she knew that it was the golden-haired woman who was putting Rebekka up to performing her unspoken duties, and that Gwynnis would not get away with it. The elder Toreador simply beamed another smile at them both.

"We can meet in the stables whenever you're ready," Gwynnis said before departing once more.

It is still a long way to Paris, Gwynnis, thought Rebekka. You've carried this night, but you'll not have her. I will make sure of it. As she watched her sister preparing for their departure, Rebekka wished desperately that her thoughts sounded less like the empty boasts she knew them for.
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Old 11-13-2009, 05:21 AM
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Default Anneke's Embrace, Part 10 of ???

Rebekka rode in stoic silence as they approached Isartor through a driving rain. They had gotten caught in one of the frequent autumn squalls that rolled down from the Alps to Munich. Rebekka could tell that Anneke was miserable, but she did her best in putting on a brave face to conceal her feelings. Gwynnis looked up every so often and let the rain splash full bore on her face, let the water run down her hair, heedless of the drenching she took while opening herself to the downpour. The blasted woman seemed to be enjoying herself.

Making a mental start at the vehemence of that final thought, Rebekka realized that she had no better a rein on her feelings than Anneke. She had anticipated the mixed emotions that her return to Munich was bound to evoke in her, but had not factored in what effect the miserable weather would have on her while she tried to maintain her equilibrium. It did not lighten her mood.

Munich. Her family was just important enough to make regular appearances at the court of Duke Maximilian, and now eleven years had passed since Rebekka and Anneke had first wintered in the city. She had known then that her life was going to change, but it had not been at all as she imagined. The Swedes conquered the city before the spring thaws, and she and Anneke had been two of many who had been made hostage after the conquest, making a return to Ingolstadt impossible. She hadn’t yet returned to her ancestral homelands, nor could she foresee any possibility of such, given her assignment in Paris.

Rebekka had met Lille, the woman who would become her sire, in that summer after the Swedish invasion. She had not known at first how important Lille was to become in her life, of course. Then, she had simply been a woman with some influence with Munich’s Swedish rulers, one who was sympathetic enough to the plight of the hostages to make life bearable for them.

During her second summer in captivity Lille had introduced her to Meerlinda, another seemingly innocuous meeting that had gained a great deal of import with the benefit of a decade’s worth of hindsight. It was in essence Rebekka’s audition for clan Tremere, she now realized. Rebekka had always felt a reserve of power in Lille, but chalked that up to her station. With Meerlinda, that feeling was amplified tenfold. A hundredfold, perhaps, and with that amplification came the understanding that the power she felt was something inherent to the women themselves.

The plague had fallen upon Munich towards the end of her third autumn in captivity, and both she and Anneke accompanied Lille on an embassy to Vienna. They had not returned to Munich before tonight. Lille and Meerlinda had both revealed their thaumaturgical abilities in her first few months in the city, and explained how her sensitivity to their power signified Rebekka’s own magical potential. She had eagerly accepted their invitation to learn from them.

They had also concealed their true natures from Rebekka until Lille Embraced her, nearly six and a half years after her arrival to Vienna. They had not given her a choice in the matter, but by then all Rebekka saw was the chance to continue her studies indefinitely far into the future. The more she learned, the more she wanted to learn, and the stricture on keeping her immortal nature secret from Anneke seemed like a small price to pay.

Rebekka looked at her sister, still miserable in the rain, and realized that they had passed through Isartor, and were now in the inner city. Gwynnis led them towards Hofbraühaus, the very place where she had met both Lille and Meerlinda those many summers ago. No doubt that was where the presentation to the Prince of Munich would occur, though it would have to be done on the sly with Anneke present. She was not sure if Gwynnis would send her sister away or not. Each presented its own challenges, though Rebekka was sure that Gwynnis would be equal to the task whichever way she chose.

Rebekka felt the weight of her duty to uphold the Masquerade now, much more than she ever would have thought possible when she had blithely accepted it after her Embrace. She stopped to examine her feelings of resistance towards Anneke becoming more deeply enmeshed in Kindred society. After all, they had been close even well into their time in Vienna, and the distance that had started to grow between them since her Embrace could be greatly reduced if Anneke were somehow made aware of Rebekka’s true condition. Shouldn’t she be enthusiastic about such a revelation?

And yet, that resistance remained. She supposed there was some feeling that Anneke would be taken from her. If not by Gwynnis, then by whomever would eventually introduce her to the Kindred world. Perhaps that was it, though the conclusion did little to settle her unease. Rebekka was all that stood between Gwynnis and her sister right now, and she harbored no illusions about the outcome should Gwynnis truly apply herself.

Then another thought occurred to her. After they had first met at Stephansdom, Gwynnis had suggested that Rebekka treat their first meeting as the beginning of her foster education. Had she found herself in another such lesson? If so, Gwynnis had raised the stakes considerably.

She wished that she had had more time to prepare for her departure. Her acceptance as a member of full standing in her clan had come so abruptly, years before Rebekka had expected it. Anneke’s arrival had been a similar shock. It all came so fast, leaving little time to think about what was happening to her. Something about that last thought nagged at her.

Thinking back on her own formative experiences, Rebekka recalled being content to master the arts of Thaumaturgy as best she could. Even with such focus on that goal, she had known how little autonomy her new existence afforded her. That was one thing she certainly wanted to spare Anneke. Another piece of the puzzle had clicked into place.

Something else still bothered her, though. The more she thought about Anneke being used as an object lesson on Kindred ways, the less she liked it. Gwynnis had been very forthright, even brazen, in her pronouncement that she was bringing Anneke along with them to Paris. Feelings of impotence assailed Rebekka, and she felt despair seeping into her.

Another thought then came to mind, though it did not raise Rebekka’s spirits any. This was the same lesson that Lazarus had tried to teach her just before she had left Vienna. As dear as Anneke was to her, her sister was still a liability, a lever that a foe might use to manipulate her. Despite this vulnerability, Rebekka could not see a way to simply stop considering Anneke as close kin. How could she possibly find her way out of that thicket? If only it were so easy as letting the rain dissolve that bond.

“Who’s ready for a pint of Maibock? It should be an agreeable nightcap after such a lovely ride.”

Rebekka looked up after the question from Gwynnis, and saw that they had made their way to the stables just outside the beer house. Anneke dismounted in grumpy silence and left them as soon as she could hand her reins to the sleepy groom. Gwynnis shrugged at Anneke’s swift departure, but held Rebekka back when she made to follow her sister.

“You did well in thinking things through, but there was one thing you missed.” Rebekka felt the startlement on her face, and clamped down on her irritation at seeing Gwynnis’s flash of amusement. She balled her fists to keep from clawing at the elder Toreador’s eyes.

“When the time comes – and it will come, whether or not you believe it now – that you will use the weaknesses in others to achieve your aims, remember that you will very likely evoke the same feelings in those you’ll be using that you’re presently experiencing. If those feelings are strong enough, they may inspire foolish thoughts, and foolish actions, yet no less dangerous for being folly. Quite the contrary, irrational behavior is potentially the most dangerous of all.”

Rebekka took an involuntary half-step backwards from the knowing gaze that Gwynnis leveled at her.

“We will work on guarding your thoughts. It is a common failing amongst Tremere neonates, given the usual childe-rearing techniques of your clan.” Gwynnis’s expression left little doubt as to what she thought about those practices, and Rebekka stifled another spike of irritation. Carefully keeping her thoughts from betraying any more violent impulses, she followed Gwynnis through the rain into the beer house.
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