Timeline: January 8th, 2008. The New Moon.
The fire of the grill had long gone cold and the chill of the morning air enveloped them. The others had gone to their separate rooms, leaving only John and Ann-Marie, known to John as Grace awake.
Grace stood on the balcony as John approached, “You are disappointed in me aren’t you Johnny?” she said looking over her shoulder.
John stared at her for what seemed like a long time. Maybe it was a long time. Then he stared at his hands and began to speak, “Grace, you’re my sister and I love you. I will always be there for you. I can see some of the Grace I love in you but I can see a lot of someone I don’t know, too. I feel hurt and betrayed that you didn’t trust us … trust me enough to know that. I know you said you tried to contact us and that you have been looking at us from afar but it doesn’t wash anymore. You just up and left the place you were staying, not a word to anyone and it seems to me that if you could do that then you could have contacted us: a phone call, a letter, something, would it have been too much to ask Grace? Hey, I’m alive and OK.”
Tears started to stream down John’s face. I feel like I have been kicked in the gut. I feel like I have found you and lost you all over again. Part of me wants to do cartwheels and part of me is getting the shakes.”
John got up suddenly and walked to his backpack. “I need something to calm my nerves.” John fumbled around in his backpack for a minute then inserted a CD into the room’s stereo system. The sounds of an amateur bluegrass band comes on and then John turned the volume down so it was audible but not distracting. After listening for a minute and getting himself back under control John sat back down and said “Talk to me Grace Ann or Anne Marie whoever you are…”
“Johnny,” Grace spoke up, the voice echoing her demeanor of so many years ago, “I’m sorry. Nothing was done to harm you. I wanted to contact family early on to tell you I was okay, but it was forbidden. I know that isn’t much of an explanation, and you deserve a better one, so I’ll tell you what almost no mortal knows. By doing so, I put you in greater danger than you can possibly imagine, but as long as you never tell anyone. Anyone. Ever. You may come to understand the situation I was in,” she was dead serious toward her brother, though a hit of emotion showed on her face. Fear. Fear of what they would do if her brother told the wrong people.
“The police killed me Johnny. The beat me and the other protesters supporting civil rights. Their batons drove a rib through my lung and ruptured my spleen. I was dying. Only then had I learned that one of the friends I had made in those days, a mentor of sorts, was actually a vampire. We don’t like that term so much, we prefer to be called the Kindred. In any case, she spirited my body out of the hospital where I lay dying and saved me, in a sense. I am dead Johnny in a biological sense in many ways, yet I am more alive than you can possibly imagine. She taught me these things but gave me three warnings, the first is appropriate for what we speak of today. Uphold the Masquerade. It is paramount to Kindred survival. We must remain a legend, a bedtime story, no more. Kindred fight to maintain this wall of secrecy and I’m no different. I’ve bent it now and again, but the penalty for breaking it is final death, and as often as not, death or worse for those who witness the vampire. There are exceptions, but family isn’t one of them. And I didn’t want my family to suffer or worse. It has only been in the last decade that I have been truly free of personal obligations and could roam again. But that doesn’t change things. What if I had told mom? Do you really thing she would have accepted that her daughter is now a creature of the night? To her faith and that of our sisters I am an undead abomination. I’ve faced Christian and non-Christian hunters before and it isn’t a picnic. You say that they would have understood. Perhaps. But I couldn’t take that chance. You have been through a lot. I’ve followed your exploits Johnny. I’m proud of you. You can grasp things beyond your experience. Others cannot. Even back there, in that hotel room, though Lyla vouches for me the others (perhaps not Ramiel) do not trust me. And for good reason.”
“Grace if you told Dad what you had become what do you think the odds are that Mom already knows, they never kept any secrets from each other, and I can’t imagine him keeping this one. Even if Dad just told her that you were alive, don’t you think it is eating her heart out not knowing why you don’t call? Mom is a lot stronger than you are giving her credit for. When they lost the farm, she didn’t cry, but when you and Tom were lost she cried for months. When Dad died I thought she would loose it but she stayed strong for us even if she did cry her eyes out in her bed at night for half a year.
“Call. Tell her you are alive and happy and that you love her. Tell her you are staying with me or if she needs you to call me and I can get a hold of you. I don’t see how it would compromise your security.”
Grace seemed content listening to the music. “I may be able to do something in the near future. Not yet Johnny, its been decades. And you said it yourself, everyone thought Dad imagined seeing me or would be seeing me. Is this us playing? I remember it well. I remember everything in fine detail. I always have, every note, every nuance. The melodies are like yesterday.”
She turned toward John, “Johnny, I’ll tell mom soon. But we can’t tell her the truth, that I am Kindred. Even Dad didn’t know that, and I wish you and the others didn’t either. But I’ll have to trust them, because you seem to trust them. And that’s good enough for me. As far as Mom goes, how do I explain that I can’t meet her for morning brunch? How to I refuse her turkey dinner when to me it is ashes? Where does it end? Do I tell Mom, then our sisters, our cousins, and so on? If it gets out, I die, you die, everyone would die or their memory would be wiped out. Any Kindred, anywhere would have to act to preserve the secrecy built up over millennia, else face a real extinction by those who don’t understand.”
“Don’t you think I’ve been tempted to do exactly what you are asking? But knowing my family is alive and well has been a strength for me, keeping the beast within leashed and my humanity stronger than most of my kind. Your deaths would send me into a place I don’t want to go. I’ll tell mom, and soon, but in my own way and in my own time. I’m not ready yet.”
“Grace you don’t have to tell Mom. I think you should but I am not your keeper or your conscience. Do it when you are ready, and if you are never ready well, that’s your call not mine. Tell her you have a strange medical condition, I could help you cover that one. You are hyper photo-tropic and have a special diet. Of course there is the whole age thing. Since you look like your own daughter or grand-daughter. I can see your problem. I guess you could have been captured by white-slavers and be calling from Afghanistan. OK so thats stupid too, so if you tell her you would eventually have to tell her everything or tell her nothing. It just feels wrong Grace but the more I think about it the more I can see problems.
“As far as the group of friends I travel with, your secret is safe with them. It’s like Lyla said we all have secrets. If the government knew what I could do they would either probe me or wire me up. While John Beckett super spy has a nice ring to it, John Beckett prisoner for life doesn’t. I don’t think any of them have any real grief against Kindred kind, well except Daniel that whole addiction thing seems to have soured him. I’ll talk with him. I think it will be fine.”
“There IS a way I can age myself to match, for better or worse what I may have looked like if these last 45 years hadn’t been so kind. I don’t know how to yet, but I’m not far from understanding. You could tell mom that I had been injured and nearly killed by the police, a Jane Doe of sorts, lost in another life built without memory of my past. As far as the other thing, you could say I have severe lupis-induced sunlight allergy. Great Aunt Ester had a mild version of the same thing, so it could work. Say you found me quite accidentally living in the same village you moved to, helped me with my memory and perhaps we could arrange a meeting. I can’t face her with the truth. She won’t accept it. This way she is happy, you are happy, and everyone lives. The truth is exceedingly dangerous. I can’t even believe I told you this much,” she smiled at him, “you better not get yourself killed on my account little brother!”
She continued, “But don’t tell mom yet. Not quite yet. Not even a hint. I need to be established first, know certain ceremonies and rituals, and to be honest I have to convince myself this is the right thing to do. It goes against everything I’ve been told and could be VERY bad, as I have already explained.”
“Grace you don’t have to do anything yet and don’t do anything drastic or irreversable. If you are going to live forever then you might as well look good doing it and you do look good for your age, sis. I won’t tell Mom anything until you say its okay. We don’t have to decide anything tonight. How about if we say you were beaten and raped and a friend took you in and that you tried contact Mom and Dad but couldn’t go through with it because you felt that what had been done to you couldn’t be forgiven. Then you and I ran into each other in a Wal-Mart in Concord and we talked and you got the courage to call home? It’s short and sweet and mostly the truth. I can say what had been done to you made you sensitive to light like Aunt Ester. If we don’t name it they can’t research it. You can tell her that you work for a big corporation that causes you to work strange hours. Or you could tell her you are a vampire and I could tell her you’re nuts but in such a fragile state that she should humor you and not push too much. All that being said, don’t worry about making other people happy, not even your family. Do what you believe is right, Grace, and I will support you. I don’t plan on dying anytime soon. The Viet-Cong tried it and so have things that go bump in the night, but I am still here sis and I don’t plan on laying down for a dirt nap anytime soon. Speaking of Dirt Naps do you need anything like that?”
“No, it wouldn’t be irreversible. And should we decide to tell her, we should go with something a bit more plausible. I’ll think on it for now. As far as my accommodations, I’ll only need a room for now and private access to a cellar or anywhere else with a dirt floor. If you do that, I’ll be fine. I have a storage shed full of stuff in Concorde I’d like to get. Artwork, clothes, etc. We’ll deal with that in due time. Anyway Johnny, how do you find yourself here?” Grace asked.
“Well normally, I look around and say where’s that Johnny hiding, then I jump up and say here I am. Seriously, Grace how much do you know or want to know?”
“Be as forward as you wish, but be honest. Don’t hide from me anything that could harm me, I implore you dear brother. I’m trusting you and going into an unknown place, with people I don’t know. Well, other than Lyla and to a degree Ramiel. In any case, She would not have brought us together if it wasn’t for a good reason. Think of the odds Johnny!”
“Never tell me the odds kid,” John said with a wry smile. “OK Grace, I can read minds, pretty much any mind if I work at it. Some are better protected than others, I can get surface thoughts and sometimes unconscious desires. It’s not an always on kind of thing I have to focus and work at it. It wears me out if I do it too much. Normal people are easier to read than … special people. I don’t use it as much as I once did because someone likened it to rape. I was violating people’s right to privacy, now I only use it on people I think are my enemies or if someone’s life is in danger. I have personally met mages and hedge witches and werewolves and vampires and I have developed a working relationship with all of them. I am not saying I will ever be their best buddy but the lines of communication are open. I have battled spirits and mostly gotten my ass kicked but the spirits aren’t there anymore. I am currently hunting a spirit we call the “dark man” that seems to range the Appalachian Trail. It seems to corrupt people and then move on, guessing from what I have learned about spirits, it grants some sort of power in exchange for something it wants. We don’t know what it wants or where it will strike. Every now and then one of us will get a hint or have a dream and we battle whatever little plot it has cooked up. We are trying but we can’t seem to get proactive it’s all reactive. We fought it once and thought it was defeated and something happened that erased all our memory. We have all tried different ways to remember and it doesn’t work.
“I am a licensed physician in Eldon Well.
“I bought the farm when it failed. Sam still lives on it but I have someone else running it. It grows herbs and flowers. Sam was against being a flower farmer and has never forgiven me for being right. After we defeated Hengis, I had this dead body that I didn’t know what to do with so I contacted a mage friend that put me in contact with Sterling. Sterling offered me 50,000 to take the dead body off my hands. Now I thought he was dead. He had a stake through his heart, that’s supposed to kill vampires, and it sounded like a good deal to me so I took the offer. He told me that if I came across any more that he would give me 50,000 more.
“Later his friend Cay came looking for us with some friends of his normal people as far as I could tell. We defeated the friends and then a werewolf ally came up and we beat him too. Then Cay came and we were so weak he kicked our asses and Ramiel made a deal with him. So I called Sterling and said that Cay was looking for his friend. What should we tell him? He said arrange a meeting and that Mark would be there. I thought it was going to be some sort of trap but lo and behold Mark shows up or something looking like Mark and acting enough like Mark that Cay agrees to go off with him. So either stakes don’t kill vampire or something very good at being something it’s not is now involved. Anyway a few days later I get another 50,000. Now, I probably would have sold Hengis alive to Sterling because I was so pissed at what he tried to do to Lyla but I did think he was dead at the time. I almost wish that he could see how it feels to be someone else’s play toy but from the way he talked to Kay he seems to like what he is doing. I sort of admire Cay for being a good friend. As far as I know that’s the end of it and the only thing that’s out there that touches the world you live in.
“Now what’s with the dear brother thing, if Ma heard you she would say you are puttin’ on airs and who is she?”
“We all grow up. I’ve spent two decades being very polite and very aloof, or seeming so. I’m a priestess to many across the country. Slowly, my followers will make their way here. They believe in me. I know many things Johnny, things you cannot imagine. I suppose you’ll learn about them soon enough. I appreciate you being honest with me. I know you know far more about your friend’s abilities than you let on, and I appreciate you candor toward them. We all have secrets brother.”
“My sister the cult leader, I take it all back, don’t tell Mom she’ll flip.” John Laughed,
“Well you will have to teach me, I would hate for my big sister to know more than me.
“As for my friends’ abilities, they’re not mine to tell. You saw that little trick Michael performed; that’s a sample. In civilian life he’s a cop, he used to work on demolitions then he came to Eldon well. He’s an interesting fellow. Daniel is a lawyer. Lyla owns a bar called the Blood and Brew. And Ramiel is planning to open a shop soon, some sort of ‘Ye old thyme magic shopie”, sort of tourist place.
“In ‘civilian life, I’m a writer and painter. I go under the name Gillian Morgan. It’s a living. Poets and artists don’t make much in their lifetime, but recently I’ve learned ways to increase the worth of my works, but that’s a tangent we can discuss another time.”
Her face turned a bit worrisome, “Johnny, what you did, to the other two vampires. That was… wrong. But you didn’t really understand what you were doing. You should have killed them for wronging you and Lyla. No one would have blamed you. That Sterling no doubt knew what he is doing, and that makes him very dangerous, more so now that he had two kindred at his command… or worse. I hate to think about it, but I highly doubt Cay went off with this Sterling of his own volition. In fact, it is almost an impossibility a Kindred would do so. I go with you because you are family. I’ll help the others because they helped me and may help me. But if it wasn’t for you, I’d likely flee and try to disappear for a decade or two until even rumor of my passing was long forgotten. It is our way. Cay is obviously out of his mind. The other kindred need to be warned to avoid him and Hengis. By the goddess, this is bad.”
“Why does everyone keep harping on me about that? I thought the guy was dead, re-dead, whatever. He was doing things to Lyla without her consent. His little doggies had just gotten done chewing up Micheal and were going to start on me when the werewolves showed up. Drove Cay off and finished his mutts. I can’t say with all that was going on I was too happy to have to deal with a dead body in my trunk, a dead woman in the basement, and trying to keep Micheal from dying on me while Lyla and Rammiel go galavanting off to wherever. I was left in a mess Grace, and I cleaned it up as best as I could. It seemed like a nice solution, someone takes the body off my hands and deals with it while I try and find out where Lyla, Ramiel, Chaska, and Daniel are and keep Micheal from dying on me.
“And for the record I didn’t do anything to Cay except bleed all over his sword blade. He came hunting us because we had killed his friend, so don’t tell me there would have been no repercussions from killing them both. The last I saw of him he seemed fine to me, he went willingly with the friend he had been searching for. As for Sterling, we think he is some sort of mage but thats an after the fact guess on our part. If it would be safer for you to leave Grace don’t slow down for me, given what I do in my free time, I have been living on borrowed time for a while now.”
“Of course he searched for his friend. I’m talking about greater and more significant repercussions. A mage now has two powerful vampire servants. This is a serious breech of our secrets if they didn’t go voluntarily. Even if they did, they would be walking the same razor’s edge I am. But I doubt they did. They may have seemed so, but you Johnny can read minds. How far is that for a mage to control them? Especially if he gets the key one unconscious and unable to resist. This is come back to haunt you and your friends someday, I’m sorry to say. I can help you though Johnny. You are my brother after all.”
“He wasn’t searching for his friend he was searching for revenge. He thought his friend was dead. For that matter and for the record I state again that I thought his friend was dead and the best we could do was recover the body. Imagine my surprise when Mr. Hengis walked up and convinced his friend to go with him.
“I don’t know how to transmit or control. I am just an active reciever. I only learned how to do it about 6 months ago before that I was just a healer. I would think that Sterling, whatever he is, would have a tiger by the tail unless Hangish and Cay are there willingly. Its already come back to haunt us once.
“But you wanted to know about things that might bite you in the ass and thats the only one that deals with vampires that I know of. If you want safty sis, don’t hang around me. I am guessing that sooner or later the thing we are hunting is going to send something our way. About eight months ago there was an incident in a town called Jay, in Maine. An entire town had been turned to Zombies and it was spreading, I told you about the Azlu things, thats the sort of situations my friends and I deal with. We protect people like Mom and Nancy from things that go bump in the night, we don’t get paid and we don’t get recognition. All we get is the fact that if we do it right, normal people can go on leading normal lives.
“Brother, I’m up for a change and for a fight, though I might need help to get to know the territory. Challenges make you who you are. You stand against them and prevail, growing stronger in the meantime. It is one of the central beliefs my mentor taught me, and I teach it to my friends and followers.
“I’ll eventually need to get a place of my own. I’m hoping to make a bit of money with my art and writing. Legitimate money. I’ve made some over the decades that have built up into a nice trust for myself, but if I’m going to be establishing myself, I’ll need resources.”
“Alright Gillian Grace Ann I will talk to Ramiel in the morning. I can help a little bit with money or labor.” John got up and went to the CD player, ejected the CD and put it back in its case. Then he gave it to Grace. “Here Grace Merry Chirstmas, welcome home. Lets get you settled for the day. I have to get a few hours sleep too. I’ll see about renting a U-haul for your stuff tomorrow.”
Grace smiled, “Thanks, and Johnny…”
John looked at grace inquiringly and said,”Hmmm?”
“It is good to see you. Call me Grace.”
“Okay Grace, you can call me … whenever you need me.” John smiled a tired smile. “I don’t mind calling you something different in public, if you want me too. The mages I know say that names have power, if you have the right mojo. They all have public and private names.”
“Call me Ann-Marie in public. And, I think, In public I should be you niece or some such. You okay with that?”
“Probably, Nancy then it would be to easy to check on Mary. Have you run away from home or did you just drop out of college?”
“Recently graduated, thank you! And why would a 21 year old run away from school? Little brother, you make me laugh sometimes. I like that.”
“As long as I have the story straight, you can be taking a break from your would tour as a concert violinist or belly dancer. But I like to keep things simple, if anyone asks you are a recent college grad from some Californian college?, staying with relations until your art career takes off or you are forced to look for work thats all my sister told me and I am happy you are here to visit you old Uncle John. Your name is Ann-Marie. You are 21. If they want to know more just ask you.
“Say good-night Gracie, I am off to dream land.”