Misdirection

 

A closed gallery at night. A group of whispering, well dressed individuals who all arrived seperately, but parked out front. Rachel regarded the Kindred surrounding her and suppressed a sigh. They couldn't have looked more suspicious if they had tried. Fortunately, this location was secure. Rachel had made sure of that, herself, before arriving. These Kindred may be willing to risk their own lives, but she wasn't going to risk hers.

The leader of this small group, a tall, blonde woman, glared at her. Her name was Michelle Lavec, member of clan Ventrue and she was, according to the Prince of Lyons, Antoin Renard, a definite threat to his security. Rachel was withholding judgment until the end of this meeting.

"So, how did you get here?" Michelle asked Rachel carefully.

Rachel looked around and saw the familiar face of a Toreador dandy - Charles Duvalier - she had met at Renard's court. "He told me." Rachel pointed at him. "We met. We talked of power and other things. I went to Chez Rouen, as he told me after our meeting, ordered the steak tartare and commented on the weather to the waiter. This address was written on the bill, and that's how I got here." Kindred will play such silly games!

Michelle nodded. "And do you know why we meet?"

I must play the naive conspirator, Rachel reminded herself. I cannot sigh, roll my eyes or inquire about this woman's intelligence. "Because you disagree with the Prince. And you meet in secret because Princes have a nasty name for those who disagree with them."

"Exactly." Michelle smiled slightly. "Now, why are you here?"

"Because I agree with you. Your declaration that our methods must change is one I believe in. The Prince is holding you back and you need support in..." Rachel chose her words carefully. "...Any action you may be taking."

Duvalier stood, his expression condescending. "But weren't you licking the Prince's boots at court just two evenings ago?" he challenged.

Rachel allowed only a touch of her contempt to show. "Of course I was. One must sometimes join the dance, even if one doesn't like the music." Rachel saw Michelle's nod of approval and decided to push things a little. She didn't like this fop. "Just as you were complimenting the Prince on his fine taste that same evening, Primogen." Rachel looked around. "You and several other Kindred here. If we were honest, we'd be dead."

"True enough." Michelle interrupted as Duvalier was about to reply. "And a certain amount of trust must be granted automatically in this conspiracy. But not too much." Michelle's tone moved from light banter to serious. "I must insist that you give Yves here," She pointed to another male Kindred in the room. "Some of your blood. Certain things must be verified."

Rachel knew exactly how to play this. She had done so before, many times. Her expression became anxious and slightly stupid, self-assurance evaporated. "Well, of course, but, ah, what do you need to verify, precisely?"

Yves spoke. His voice was dry and suggested that he had smoked too much during his breathing days. "Your clan and closeness to Caine." The assembled were watching her very closely, now.

Rachel looked crestfallen and slightly afraid. "I see. All right, I can understand that. But...you don't have any prejudices against the clanless, do you?" she asked hesitantly. Rachel was banking on their eagerness for recruits to overcome this potential hurdle.

Yves and several others, including the Toreador Primogen, frowned. Michelle glared and them and spoke quickly. "Of course not. All are welcome in the pursuit of greater freedom." Her tone implied great inconvenience for those who didn't agree.

Rachel smiled widely in relief. "Oh good. Some Kindred..." she trailed away.

"It's alright." Michelle assured her. Rachel hoped she would choke on that attitude. "Now, if you could..." Michelle nodded towards Yves.

"Oh, right now?" Rachel hoped she was succeeding in sounding stupid and enthusiastic. Judging by the poorly concealed expressions around her, she was.

Rachel approached Yves and pulled a long knife from a sheath in the small of her back, beneath her battered leather jacket. That caused a response, a ripple of unease through the room. Rachel deliberately shrugged it off. "I hunt in a bad part of town, sorry." She held the knife over her left wrist. "Where do you want this?"

 

Rachel met with Antoin Renard, Prince of Lyons, at his public business address, a stockbrockerage in the wealthy financial district. The office was lush, with the latest Avedon photographs adorning the walls, and otherwise empty. Bodyguards were mere feet away, outside, but this was a private meeting with the Prince - a dangerous rarity.

"So Michelle is trying to stand for everything you oppose, while simultaneously trying to appear old-fashioned enough to appeal to traditionalists. She's walking a thin line, but she's impressing a lot of Kindred, especially the younger ones. I've given you the list of names already." Rachel shifted her weight uneasily. She didn't like wearing high heels, but the Prince preferred his courtiers attend him in formal attire.

Prince Antoin Renard nodded solemnly. He was still unsure about the motives of this young Caitiff, but he correctly guessed that power was beneath all of them. The risk that she might be working both sides of the conflict was a risk he had to take. Besides, if that was the case, he believed he could turn it to his advantage. He had outwitted many neonates before her.

Prince Antoin was old, by neonate terms - more than a century had passed since he had last seen the sun - and neonates were more numerous than ever within the city of Lyons. Renard had ruled this city for nearly thirty years, but they, especially the younger ones, were beginning to grumble about the current Prince, and his old-fashioned methods.

Michelle Lavec was the most prominent in a field of potential threats, and keeping an eye on her and the extent of her support had been more difficult than Renard had expected. This Caitiff, Rachel DuNoir, had presented herself at court a month ago, metaphorical cap in hand, and had begged for permission to live within the city.

Renard knew of the predicaments that befell clanless Kindred, and also of the value of having Kindred owe you greatly. Rachel had eagerly acknowledged that debt of gratitude and suggested this way for her to repay some of that debt. Only some, Renard knew that debtors should always be kept just behind the interest they owed. However, if DuNoir was able to inform his of Michelle's plans and allies, then she may be worth far more than he originally anticipated...

Rachel frowned in apparent puzzlement as the silence stretched on, waiting for the Prince to end his reverie.

Renard nodded again. "Yes. There were some names that I hadn't suspected. And you say you think you can convince Lavec that you work for her against me?"

"Yes, m'lord, a double agent, if you will." Childish enthusiasm, there.

"I think you've read too many adventure novels." Renard commented.

Rachel lowered her gaze. "Please excuse my eagerness." She apologized.

The Prince excused it by ignoring it. "Very well, Keep making these reports, only to me, of course. Put nothing in writing. Is there anything else?"

Rachel decided that it was too early for the next step. "No, my lord. Nothing."

"Very well. You've pleased me. If you wish, you may hunt on the Promenade tonight."

Rachel smiled and her pleasure was genuine. She was only allowed to hunt in city slums, where the pickings were thin and tainted, and competition - between all the area's predators - was fierce. The touristy, fashionable seaside Promenade was the richest area in the city, and hunting there was only by the Prince's permission. "Thank you, Monsieur! If I may...?"

Renard dismissed her from the private conference room with a wave of his hand, and turned to other business.

 

Rachel sat on a wooden seafront bench, warm with recent blood and assessed her situation. She was walking a very thin line, herself. She was a double agent, trying to convince both the Prince and his rival that she worked for both of them, while working towards her own, very private, goals. Rachel was confident that she could convince both sides that she worked against the other. Playing up the part of an insecure Caitiff, a type expected by most Kindred, stopped them from looking, or thinking, further. Rachel was sure that her secret alliances were safe. Exploiting that situation was the dangerous part...

 

Secret meetings continued, and the stringent security and the cloak-and-dagger games that Rachel had sneered at were proving effective. Rachel remained the Prince's best agent against Michelle. Plans were discussed, although caution prevented quick implementation. The Kindred grew restless and Rachel patiently waited for the opportunity to stir things up. It would come, sooner rather than later, she was sure.

 

Antoin Renard was a being who rarely showed his anger, but even a hint of it was fearsome.. "She specifically stated Montpellier?" he demanded, his fingers drumming on the wooden desktop.

Rachel nodded. "Yes. She didn't say what it was, though. Just that if you couldn't be made to see the way the wind was blowing, then she'd have to remind you of the incident at Montpellier." Things couldn't be going better. Michelle had decided to threaten before Rachel had thought of a suitable fabrication for Renard's ears. The truth was much better.

Renard swore fervently for a few moments. Rachel was impressed by his command of that particular mode of expression. "I take it that you don't want to be reminded of that?" she asked boldly.

"No, I don't." He replied tightly, ignoring her forward manner. "Did she mention a deadline?"

Rachel shrugged. "No particular date was mentioned, but she's pushing it."

Renard lapsed into thought. "I'm going to have to bring someone in." He told his companion. "This has gone too far."

Rachel nodded. He didn't need her permission. Renard picked up the phone on his desk and asked for Paul Viersan. Rachel frowned. That name seemed familiar, but she wasn't sure why.

A few moments later, Monsieur Viersan entered the Prince's office. He was a tall man, with short light brown hair, blue eyes and a complexion that must have been pale even in life. His features were familiar, in an annoyingly generic way. His bone structure suggested Scandinavia, but Viersan was a German name...

Rachel leaned against the Prince's desk for support and suppressed a gasp of remembrance. She now remembered Monsieur Viersan, and desperately hoped he wouldn't remember her. Meeting a central figure of her nightmares was disturbing enough, even in the most sturdy of situations.

Renard was making introductions. "Paul, this is Rachel DuNoir. She's the one who's been keeping an eye on Madame Lavec lately. Rachel, this is Paul Viersan, one of my closest aides and one whose advice might be of assistance."

Rachel nodded and kept her gaze low as she shook his proffered hand. It took a great effort of will not to wipe her gloved hand on her coat.

Renard quickly told Paul Viersan of the situation, including the Montpellier Incident. Rachel kept her gaze down and willed her features to suddenly change. A momentary glance upwards to answer a question of Renard's showed Viersan's own frown of concentration aimed in her direction. Whether he was frowning over the situation, or her, was unclear.

Renard concluded his explanation. Viersan continued frowning and sat, uninvited, in a nearby chair. Rachel continued to stand, unsure of the protocol and privileges of the situation.

"And we can't afford war?" Viersan finally asked.

"Absolutely not." Renard replied firmly. "We're still recovering from that last lupine attack and the incursion from Rome."

Viersan nodded. "Unfortunate to have our resources so thin."

In the long silence that followed, Rachel decided to risk a suggestion. "What if Michelle Lavec was to, ah, become seriously indisposed?"

Viersan stared at her, astonished. Renard was barely less surprised. "Then she becomes a martyr to her cause. No good. It'll give her supporters something to rally around, and affect those who are still undecided."

"But what if the circumstances of her Death discredited her cause?"

"How?" Renard demanded.

Rachel tried to ignore Viersan's curious gaze. "I'm not sure yet, but I have some ideas. She would lose her followers if they thought she had become what they despise, for a start."

Renard nodded. "It's food for thought. How would such a character assassination be accomplished?"

Rachel steeled herself. "I'd do it."

Renard laughed, Viersan, oddly, did not. "You?" he asked. "A neonate? Against an experienced Kindred? You may have big plans, little Caitiff..." he laughed.

Rachel decided to risk it all. This could be a golden opportunity and if it failed, she would still be able to get out of town with her skin intact. She hoped. "I'm better at some things than others, my lord." She told the Prince defiantly. This drew a short laugh from Viersan.

Renard looked from Viersan to her. "Am I missing something?"

"I'm afraid you are, sir." Paul smiled, staring at Rachel. Rachel scowled and returned Viersan's direct gaze. "It's been a while since Paris, hasn't it, Mam'selle Collier?"'

"Excuse me?" The Prince's tone was short.

"We've met." Rachel replied, equally short. "In Paris, during the war."

"She was still alive at that time..." Viersan remembered, a slight smile upon his face. His apparent amusement chilled Rachel to the bone.

"And...?" the Prince asked.

"Rachel was working for the French resistance. I wasn't. She-"

"He was part of the Abwehr." Rachel snapped. "Nazi intelligence. He's why you won't see me without gloves." Rachel held up her covered hands.

"That's not my fault. You knew what you were getting into. I didn't force you to do what you did." Viersan replied mildly.

"Oh, of course not." Rachel replied angrily. "You were just following orders, right? You and your thugs-"

"Whom you managed to kill with what...?" Paul interrupted curiously.

Rachel sighed, suddenly feeling ridiculous. She supposed there was no harm saying now. "A sharpened spoon handle, actually."

"What?" Renard disliked the fact that he had lost control of the conversation and he tried to seize it back. "You," he pointed at Paul. "Met her during the war, while you were with the Nazis?"

Paul nodded. "I've not made a secret of my association with them."

"I know." Renard dismissed Viersan's history with a casual wave. "And you, Rachel, fought your way away from him by yourself?"

"I know it sounds impossible, Monsieur, but I had great incentive. And once I'd killed the first one, I had a knife." Rachel's voice was tight - it was a period of her life she had tried very hard to forget.

"I remember that." Viersan nodded. "You have no idea the trouble you caused."

"I'm so sorry." Rachel growled, not meaning a word. "I was hoping they would kill you for it."

"Not me." Paul said calmly. "I can be very persuasive, as you might remember."

"That's enough!" Renard snapped, jarring both conversants out of an increasingly private moment. "You can remenisce and plan revenge some other time. There are problems now, not twenty years old, that must be dealt with." Renard faced Paul. "Do you think she can do it?"

"Do what?"

"Kill Levac." Renard said flatly. Rachel smiled inwardly. Renard must be backed into a corner to entertain her idea, and that was fine by her.

Paul began to disagree, but immediately stopped. His expression became thoughtful. "Maybe. Where did you get your training from?" he asked Rachel bluntly.

"You don't want to know."

"No," the Prince disagreed firmly. "I do."

Rachel sighed and did what she had to: tell the truth up to a certain point. "I was trained by an assassin. He claimed to be an Assamite, but how could I know?"

To her surprise, the Prince did not automatically call for his guards upon hearing this. She continued. "I suppose he took pity on a Caitiff, and wanted to teach me a trade. Of course, killing people was the one he was best qualified to teach and for me to learn. I'm no stranger to it, my father was Michael Collier, of the Union Francais." Renard nodded, recognizing the name. "And I've been helping him since I was twelve years old."

Paul nodded. "I'd say we got off easily."

Rachel didn't reply. Facing Viersan was draining, but she was damned if she was going to admit it.

Renard thought for a moment. "So, you've killed Kindred?"

"Yes, but not within this city." She answered.

Renard glared at her, an expression she recognized as use of aura perception. Rachel was glad that she had been telling the truth. The Prince nodded confirmation of her statement.

"That's how I usually buy my way into a city: kill a few pesky opponents to the regime. It makes things more peaceful and ingratiates me with the powerful."

"Brutal but effective." Renard commented. He lapsed into silent thought. If I send her to kill Levac and she fails, well then, no-one is the wiser. If she succeeds, I'll be rid of an irritating opponent and I can easily conceal any connection I have with her death. I can ensure DuNoir's silence. No one is going to miss a Caitiff. Especially an ambitious one.

Although she could not read minds, Rachel knew exactly what the Prince was thinking, she had been in this situation before and the powerful could always be counted upon to be treacherous.

"Alright then." Renard decided. "If you believe you can dispose of Levac and discredit her cause, do so." Rachel cheered within - her gamble had paid off.

"Good, Monsieur. Now we can discuss terms." Always appear mercenary and no-one will suspect any other motives, she thought.

"Excuse me?" Renard was astonished by her audacity.

"Nothing for nothing." She shrugged. "If I succeed, I want better hunting grounds and a decent haven."

"And?" Renard asked sarcastically.

"That'll do." Rachel smiled slightly.

Paul laughed out loud. "I should have realized you'd go far." he asked.

"Will you two stop that." Renard snapped. "She is just a Caitiff, she has been consistently telling me the truth during our meetings. You've made me weary. I agree to your terms, DuNoir, but I want Levac dealt with as soon as possible." Rachel apparently shrank at the Prince's ire, as she should. She wondered if Viersan's slight wincing reaction was equally false.

"Of course, Monsieur. If I may be excused?"

"Bien sur, au revoir."

Rachel risked a parting shot as she left. "Herr Viersan, if you come near me outside of the Prince's presence, I'll feed you your eyeballs." The door slammed as she left.

Renard raised an eyebrow at his companion. "She really doesn't like you."

Paul shrugged. "She's clinging to an old grudge. She'll get over it."

"Time heals all wounds, hm?"

Paul paused before replying, momentarily lost to memory. "No, not all of them."

Renard wondered what was distracting Viersan - something about DuNoir, apparently - and then realized that he probably didn't want to know. Viersan was a man with a reputation of unpleasant habits - even for a Kindred.

 

Rachel sidled up to the table of Charles Duvallier, the Toreador Primogen, in the smoky basement club, La Nuit. He acknowledged her with a barely polite smile and nod as she sat down across from him.

"So what's the Montepellier incident?" Rachel asked directly. She didn't have time for coy word games.

Charles glanced sharply at her and lied so gracelessly that Rachel wondered how he had become his clan's Primogen. "I wouldn't know." The fact that he did know was enough for Rachel. It was obvious that it was political dynamite and the opportunity she had been looking for.

"Oh, alright." Rachel shrugged it off with the apparent boredom of the ignorant. "I was just curious. It sounded important, the big gun."

Charles tried to look disinterested, failed, and scanned the room as if expecting other company. "I wouldn't know." He replied flatly. "But desperate times..."

Rachel allowed herself to be diverted away from their topic. "Of course." She agreed quickly, her tone dropping IQ points. "I'm sure...our mutual acquaintance knows what she's doing."

Charles only just failed to sneer at Rachel's stupid enthusiasm. "Exactly."

Rachel gave another indifferent shrug and also scanned the room. No-one else she knew was present, but it was best to assume that every conversation could be overheard. She leaned towards Charles, her expression becoming mischievous.

"I've found a great new place to eat." She told him like one imparting a great secret.

"Oh really?" Charles barely cared.

Rachel raised a hand, protesting his tone. "Hear me out. There's a place on the outskirts of town where the kids like to go. Party, listen to rock and roll, neck, all that. I must have seen twenty of them last Friday."

"Yes?" Charles interest increased, as Rachel had guessed it would. She had already heard the gossip about Charles' preference for young prey. Combined with the Toreador's typical love for the new and flashy, like rock and roll teenagers, Rachel was betting it would be hard for Charles to resist.

"Yes. I know you Toreador are always looking for the nouveau place, and the pickings are really worth checking out. Youngsters are silly and very, ah, open to suggestion, especially late on a Friday night." Rachel smiled, wheedling.

"Perhaps..." Charles mused with feigned disinterest. Rachel knew she had him. "Where is this place?"

"It's not much." Rachel explained. "But it's large and remote. Please, at least let me show you. You've been so helpful, getting me in touch with our friend..." she wheedled.

"Hm, yes, I was." He stood suddenly. All impulse, these Toreadors. "Certainly, I haven't dined this evening, and it's not my night on the Promenade."

Rachel stood with him and discreetly adjusted the knife and gun beneath her coat. "Oh, good. I'm sure you'll like it. It's very upbeat, very modern." Rachel gushed as she led the way into the night.

 

Rachel peered out of the window and into the night. As far as she could tell, she had been unobserved. Her gun was silenced, of course, and those shots would have been inaudible outside of the abandoned tenement she had lured Charles into. This was indeed an occasional party spot for youngsters, but Rachel had ensured the building's vacancy this evening by calling in a false angry-resident report to the police earlier that evening.

It had taken several incidenary rounds to destroy Charles, but his corpse was still recognizable. Even if his body disintegrated before discovery, Charles' distinctive clothing would identify him. Rachel tucked a note into his shirt collar. It had been written by a local notary, under the pretense that Rachel was illiterate and wanting to send this odd letter to some individual. Rachel wasn't certain, but she hoped it would confuse any psychometric reading. The letter was short and stated "Forget Montpellier. Remember how vulnerable you are, Madame Lavec."

Satisfied with her work, Rachel left the building and returned to the night.

 

The next evening had a rude, abrupt beginning. Rachel was awoken by several armed ghouls, claiming that Michelle desired her company. Unsure of the reason for the armed guard, and very nervous, Rachel meekly accompanied them to the small private gallery that Lavec used for a meeting place. She used the time in transit to assess her options and possible mistakes. She couldn't think of anything, but that didn't mean that she hadn't made a mistake.

Upon entering the main galleria, Rachel was seized by her Lavec's men. Their firm grip, and the dozen other Kindred coldly regarding her prevented any thought of fighting a way out. Rachel carefully calmed herself, and kept her role in mind.

"What is this!" she demanded. "Unhand me!"

Michelle emerged from the group, her face stiff with ill-concealed anger. "In a moment." Noticing Michelle's anger, Rachel allowed herself an anxious moment. But if she was very careful, she could talk her way out of this.

"I've been told." Michelle began. "By a reliable source, that you are one of the assassin clan, sent by the Prince with me as your target." Rachel noticed Yves, the blood tester, standing next to Michelle with a large mug and small knife in his hand. Rachel suspected where this conversation would lead and relaxed somewhat.

"Your source is wrong." Rachel protested. "You've tested my blood!"

Yves looked uncomfortable as Michelle shrugged. "Reluctant as they are to admit it, the Tremere can be fooled, and the Assamites have been working towards that goal since the Treaty of Tyr."

Haven't we just! Rachel had to swallow that reply. Despite her clanless state, Rachel still considered herself a part of her Sire's clan - especially where their goals were concerned.

"However," Michelle continued. "I know this is one certain way of answering that question."

Michelle took the cup and knife from Yves and cut open her own wrist. The mug was filled with her own vitae and then offered to Rachel. "All of us know of the curse upon the Assassins. Our blood is injurious to them. So all you have to do, Rachel, to assure me that you're not one of them is to drink this."

Rachel glared at her. "You can't Bond me." She stated, playing the paranoid Caitiff.

Yves nodded. "We know." He said. "Who are you Bonded to?"

So they did test for that, Rachel thought."Fuck you." Rachel snapped back. An apt enough response.

Michelle shook her head in anger. "We can discuss that in a moment, and we will. Drink this."

Rachel scowled. "Not much choice, is there?" The thugs released Rachel. She took the mug and quickly swallowed the contents. She hoped that the vitae had not been tainted to produce a hoped-for reaction. Who set this up? She wondered.

Rachel handed the mug back to Michelle, trying not to look triumphant. "I'm fine." Rachel said truculently.

This placated Michelle only slightly. "That's one question answered. Now for the rest."

The next two hours were trying. Rachel depended on the strength of her created history and her ability to lie like a thief. That, and the learned fact that Ventrue were usually very reluctant to believe that their trust had been misplaced.

Finally, after a barrage of questions from all sides, Michelle seemed satisfied. Rachel had recounted her sorry story several times. How she had been Bonded to a Sire who had left like smoke on the wind, her own mercenary history - yes I have killed, but not your allies - and her thoroughly pathetic coat-tail-grabbing modus operandi. Most Kindred automatically found her contemptible for being clanless, and this was what they expected to hear. It was easy to play along with people's comfortable prejudices.

Rachel dared to ask a question. "I think your source was wrong. Don't you think that the Prince is trying to feed you disinformation to create disorder?" And while I don't mind that, I don't like being caught up in it!

"I think that killing one of his own Primogen is a rather extreme measure to reinforce such a venture." Michelle commented.

"Not if Renard had discovered Charles' alliance with you." Rachel countered quickly.

Michelle frowned. "I don't like it. A move like this starts wars, and I know he's not ready for that."

Rachel decided to gamble again. "How do you know that? From the same source that told you I'm an Assamite?"

That stopped Michelle short. Obviously it had been the same source, and now that source was suspect. Rachel pushed the issue. "If I was ready for war, I wouldn't necessarily let my opponent know that. I don't want to be an alarmist, but that could have been the opening shot." And I'm starting to think I know who fired it, Rachel didn't add.

A murmur of anxiety disturbed the dozen Kindred in the room. Rachel was sure she noticed some of them moving towards the exits. Rats off a sinking ship, she thought. That's kafir loyalty for you.

"Fetch Samuel Prudhomme, he's probably at that dump he calls a restaurant." Michelle ordered. The group that had fetched Rachel left the room.

"If he isn't here already." Rachel muttered and sat down to wait.

An hour later, the search party returned with a squat, noisome being clad in a dirty greatcoat and cast off clothing. Rachel didn't know - she had to default to the male pronoun - him, but made a point of giving him lots of room. He stank.

The individual, a typical Nosferatu, wheezed and coughed theatrically, causing a further retreat of those nearest to him.

"What the fuck do you want?" he grated. That voice was certainly male, Rachel decided, and only the Nosferatu could get away with that attitude towards the Ventrue..

"You remember me?" Michelle asked.

"Of course I do. What do you want this time?"

"You told me that a reliable source identified Rachel DuNoir as an Assamite, Renard as unready for war and a few other things besides. Who was that reliable source?"

The Nosferatu stared at her incredulously. "Lady, you ain't got enough money, blood or power to buy that answer. I've got to protect my sources."

"What if they're deliberately misleading you?"

The Nosferatu shrugged. "Risk of the game. He seemed reliable enough. Has been in the past"

"He?" Michelle pursued.

"It looked like a he." The smelly vampire countered. "We can change our appearance, you know." He jeered.

Michelle took a deep breath and tried to wheedle him. "Surely there's something I can give you that your source - " she was interrupted by wheezing laughter.

Rachel had maneuvered closer to Michelle during this exchange. "Michelle, this isn't going to work." She said quietly. "I hate to suggest it, but if you can't order him to tell us, I can be extremely persuasive."

Michelle frowned, stepped away from the object of their conversation. Rachel was sure he could still hear every word. "Violence is rarely effective." She replied.

"That depends on the violence." Rachel said tightly. Michelle was surprised by this sudden change in Rachel's manner. The nervous, eager-to-please persona was gone, replaced by something far more calculating. "I can be very effective, but I'd like to do it in private. Some small room, with one well guarded exit. I don't want him disappearing on us."

Michelle was disturbed by this suggestion, but realized that they had little time to waste, and she could not order Samuel to disclose his source. She had tried to dominate him once before, and failed miserably. She finally nodded her agreement...

 

Rachel and Michelle exited the heavily guarded room, both a little paler than when they entered. Rachel was furious, Michelle, a little sick. "I'm sorry that had to be done." Rachel lied, aware that kafir usually cherished their tender feelings. "But I'm confident he was finally telling us the truth. He'll heal soon."

Michelle nodded weakly. "It seems that Viersan is up to something quite unexpected."

Rachel shrugged, trying to hide her anger. "Maybe he's planning a power grab himself." Inwardly, Rachel raged at the confirmation of her ealier hunch. That bastard!

"You're very angry." Michelle observed. Rachel smothered a curse. She shouldn't have let her fury show. "Why?"

"I have my own score to settle with Viersan." Rachel explained shortly. "I thought he had died with the other Nazis."

Michelle's eyes widened in surprise. "He was...? I didn't know that!" She frowned in disgust.

"That's odd." Rachel commented with false surprise. "He doesn't seem to make a secret of it. Admitted it to the Prince and everything. Maybe Renard doesn't care, either." Making life difficult for Viersan was an unexpected bonus. "I was wondering why Renard tolerates him...or maybe Viersan needs the cover of trouble to get out of town." She mused.

"I need to think about this." Michelle muttered. "I hadn't anticipated his becoming involved. I thought he was just another toady of the Prince's."

"Don't think about it too long." Rachel warned. "I'm going to kill him." She didn't care who heard that. Having an aware target made the chase more interesting.

"What?" Michelle was stunned by Rachel's blunt admission.

"Well, if it will interfere with your plans, I can wait, but I do have to settle that score."

Michelle saw Rachel's honest, bitter anger and knew better than to argue. "Alright." She agreed. "But I want you to wait until Renard is out of the picture." Rachel reluctantly agreed.

That won't be long, either. They shared this thought, but for different reasons.

 

Two nights later, Rachel realized that she was stumped. She had already admitted to herself that she couldn't divert herself with a bit of personal killing. The Talamut would be angry if she took time out of her orders for that, even if it would be in keeping with those orders to cause as much confusion in the area as possible. However, she had been told by the Talamut to kill Renard, and Renard had hired her to kill Michelle.

Michelle could be taken down with minimal fuss. She wasn't guarded nearly as well as the Prince, and she was beginning to get a little too confident as her cause gained supporters. The trick was getting to Renard, and Rachel had reluctantly realized that she could do it through Viersan. If he was planning a coup of his own, he would also want the Prince out of the way, and would know far more than she did about his vulnerabilities.

Setting her resolve, Rachel made her way to Chez Louis.

Chez Louis was an expensive dinner-dance restaurant, a place that hadn't changed overmuch since the 'twenties. It was anachronistic, with superb food and patronized by only the most proper people. The Ventrue, of course, loved it. Rachel knew it was the logical first place to look for Viersan.

It bothered her to be wearing a long dress, with her various weapons much less accessible, but she had to adhere to the antiquated dress code. At least she had a holdout in her clutch purse, but she still wasn't comfortable. She sat at the plush wood and leather bar and soon spotted Viersan apparently dining with a young lady in a booth halfway across the room. Rachel quickly wrote something on a napkin, and gave it to a passing waiter, with whispered instructions. The waiter nodded and carried it over. The place may be old fashioned, but it wasn't prudish.

Rachel watched carefully as Paul took the note, read it and then, with a misleadingly casual manner, write a reply on the same napkin and return it to his waiter. Rachel followed his cue and hid any suspicious energy as she read his own message.

I need to get rid of Renard, do you?

We have something in common. Meet me at 143 Avenue Des Autres in thirty minutes.

Rachel quickly weighed her chances. He could be setting her up, but he could have done that merely by retaining her message and showing it to the Prince. She would go to this meeting prepared for an ambush and hope that her theory about Viersan's own play for power was correct. There was little else she could do this late in the game.

 

Thirty-four minutes later, Rachel arrived at the address Paul had given her. As soon as the taxi that had delivered had disappeared around a corner, the front door opened and her host waved her inside.

The house, while in a good part of town, was sparsely appointed, and Rachel believed that Viersan must only use it for private meetings. He wouldn't have been stupid enough to bring her to his haven.

Paul led her into the front room and opened the conversation without even sitting. "You can try to feed me my eyeballs some other evening. I can take care of the Prince if you can get rid of Lavec." Veirsan's tone was brisk, his expression calculating and evaluating the situation.

Rachel nodded. "I can get Lavec, but I need to ensure her movement is discredited." she admitted.

"Why? Are you living up to the letter of what Renard asked you?" Paul asked curiously. "That's a little pointless."

"I'm not just taking care of his contract." Rachel replied quickly, wondering how much that admission might cost her. If he's playing the same game I am, I could regret saying that.

Paul raised an eyebrow. "I know you're not an Assamite." He said. "You can't be. But you were telling the truth when you said you were trained by one..."

Rachel nodded. "I can't talk about that. And you don't have time to make me."

"Oh, I've outgrown that." Paul dismissed the past with a wave of his hand. Rachel shivered with hazy, sharp edged memories. "Besides, it's rather reassuring that you've been trained by the best."

"Fine." His patronizing attitude irritated her. "It would be best for both of us if these deaths are linked, and cause as much trouble as possible. You can grab the throne," Rachel didn't see Paul's quizzical expression at that statement. "And I can get out of town. I have an idea..."

 

Rachel pulled the van she had stolen from a local storekeeper up around the back of one of the most enviable addresses in Lyons. The houses were small mansions, set apart from their neighbors on carefully tended lawns. Only the scarcity of land in the middle of the city prevented them from having the finely crafted gardens that the rich love to gaze upon. These were the city houses of merchants, not the country estates of the former nobility. Fortunately, even merchants needed to have groceries delivered, even if eight o'clock at night was an odd time for it. When you're rich enough, your neighbors will ignore your eccentricities, as you ignore theirs.

Rachel, wearing her working garb of black trousers, sweater and well equipped tool belt, heaved a heavy canvas sack from the back of the van and took it to the manor's kitchen entrance. No lights burned within the house, save one in an upper room. Rachel closed the back door behind her, and headed up towards that room.

It was an upstairs parlor, something a lady might use for receiving close friends in the evening. There was no lady in this house, and those gathered were anything but friends. Rachel saw Paul standing near a window, a staked body on the floor near his feet. Rachel dumped the sack she carried near that body, glancing downwards to verify that it was Renard.

"Here's Michelle." Rachel announced simply.

Paul nodded, glancing at the Prince on the floor. "Ventrue are so easily surprised by betrayal." He commented.

"I was thinking the same thing myself, the other day." Rachel admitted. So, you're probably not a Ventrue, as I had thought. What are you, Viersan? Rachel wondered.

"So, how were you going to set this up?" Paul sounded amused by the situation. What are you laughing at, Viersan? Rachel wondered. She hoped that it wasn't her.

"It's fairly simple." Rachel roughly pulled Michelle's staked body out of the canvas sack. "Oh, by the way, declare a blood hunt on Yves when you're able, he might be smart enough to figure this out, and I think he's the closest ally she had. And I assume you're going to dispose of that Nosferatu, Samuel, that you've been using."

Paul looked startled for a moment. "Sammy? Oh yes, that would follow. May I ask how you...?"

"Pulled his fingernails out." Rachel said shortly, hauling Michelle towards the door. Her eyes were open and, if any expression could be read into them, it was not pleasant.

"Well, if you don't want to tell me..." Paul's odd humor was surprising - and irritating. Maybe he's just needling me, Rachel thought, and then winced at her choice of words.

"I did." Rachel snapped. "Now shut up." Rachel looked around the room for a moment. "Did you make the letter?"

"Of course." Paul reached into his coat and handed Rachel an envelope. She didn't touch it. She didn't have to and she knew of its contents. It was a note typed onto heavy paper, signed by Renard. Rachel hoped Viersan had been telling the truth when he said he could forge the Prince's signature adequately. The letter to Michelle Lavec challenged her in ringing rhetoric to meet with him and discuss their rivalry, with hints of it being peacefully settled. Rachel indicated that Viersan should place the missive in Michelle's coat pocket, which he did.

Renard's body was moved next to a writing desk, and positioned to look as if he had fallen while rising from it. "Just one last thing." Rachel muttered. She took a large sealed jar from her canvas sack, cut the Prince's wrist with a knife from her belt and carefully forced blood from him until the jar was full. Paul withheld comment.

Gun in hand now, Rachel stepped into the room's doorway, created the quiet she needed and fired into Renard's body until the weapon's incendenary rounds had caused the Final Death.

"Pocket the stake." She told Paul.

Paul did so, looking at her oddly. "Your tutor taught you his discipline? I thought that was never let out of the clan."

Rachel knew he was being eaten by curiosity and wouldn't give him the satisfaction. "A good student is worth teaching well, don't you think?"

"What about her?" Viersan indicated Michelle.

"Easy." Rachel returned to the sack and removed a hand held crossbow. "An antique weapon for an old-fashioned Kindred." She tossed it upon the floor next to Renard's body. "Renard lured her here with a promise of negotiation and shot her with that. However, before she was taken, she, who was also planning treachery, took him by more modern means." Rachel placed the gun into Michelle's hand.

"But she still exists." Paul nodded at her body.

"Not after you, who had been told by Viersan to moderate this meeting - and you believed it to be innocent, of course - arrived late, heard the shots, and came upon this terrible scene." Rachel took her knife in hand again. However, she also bled this victim into a fresh jar, before continuing. "Full of righteous anger, believing your Prince to have been foully taken down while defending himself from treachery, you did what you believed to be the right thing." Rachel kneeled down and, after some few moments effort, decapitated and destroyed Michelle Lavec. "It's quite understandable, given what little you knew." Rachel finished. "There, both dead, and both traitors. Of course, Renard is going to look a little better, but I don't care about that, and it might make your transition easier. Not that I care about that either."

"How many Princes have you killed, Rachel DuNoir?" Paul asked, something like admiration in his voice.

"This is the first." She admitted. Why am I telling him this? Why do I need to boast to him? "I don't plan on making a habit out of it. Too risky."

"And why the blood? I'm finding it hard to believe that you are not working for the assassins."

"Believe what you like, but don't voice any of those dangerous theories." she warned. "I haven't made any long-term promises. Maybe I just like the stuff. Maybe I'm trying to ingratiate myself with the antediluvians and I'm giving it to them. Maybe I sell it to the assassins. Who knows? You certainly don't."

"Would you like some of mine?" Paul's expression was deadpan as he offered a wrist.

Rachel shrugged, taking his wrist in hand and biting into it. She had taken a goodly amount before Paul was able to free his wrist from her grasp. Reckless, but satisifying, she thought. She expected Paul to be startled by her action, but instead he was gazing at her quite calmly, appraising her against some standard she didn't know and couldn't understand.

"When I was leaving Paris, I swore I'd drink your blood. I just never thought it would happen like this." She even smiled.

Paul's expression progressed from calculation to amusement. Rachel was certain it was a very deliberate maneuver. "Well, don't say I never did anything for you."

Rachel gave him a long look, that pierced their banter and their situation to something deeper. It wasn't a moment that imparted comfort. "Oh, you've done a lot for me." She said quietly, looking away. She couldn't meet his eyes for more than a second. "I doubt you'll ever know how much."

The moment broke. Rachel turned away, began to leave. "Goodbye, Herr Viersan. I doubt we'll meet again."

Paul disagreed with that, but only indicated so by his parting. "A biéntot, DuNoir."

Rachel turned back to him, a contemplative expression upon her face. She reached some internal decision and nodded. "A biéntot, Viersan."

Rachel headed into the night, and left her old nightmare to pick up the pieces.