Timeline: January 23rd, 2008
“Come closer and see, see into the trees
find the girl, while you can
come closer and see. see into the dark
just follow your eyes, just follow your eyes”
-The Forest, by the Cure.
Victory had come to her newfound friends and herself. The Goddess must be thanked, she thought, so up into the depths of the forest she went. The cool night air was comforting, though the chill had little effect on her. She found a nice grove far from the ones that Aubrey had indicated were used by others. They might not accept the darker side of druidism, though it was comforting to know at least they were similar, if distant in their beliefs.
One by one she piled stones into a small makeshift alter, spending hours arranging the stones around the altar to form a specific pattern. Someday, she hoped she would become like her sire and summon spirits to do the Goddess’ bidding at such a place. But that was a long way off, for now only grateful sacrifice.
Around midnight she removed each of her amulets and jewelry and placed them on the alter. These symbols bore meaning to her and she was quite careful in the placing. She went to her pack and took out a robe lovingly cared for these many years. It was black with crimson lining, with an almost indiscernible feathered pattern embroidered upon it. She stripped down, removing all clothing and folding it. Her body was pale against the new fallen snow, merging with the floor of the forest save for her hair, eyes and tattoos. One, on her left arm, a Celtic knot representing the Triple Goddess, the other a stylized Raven on her lower back. Kneeling, she put on her robe, uttered a short prayer and transformed, taking to the air as a raven.
She returned shortly, transforming back with a bat in her hand. With her knife she carefully and ritually cut and sacrificed the bat to the Goddess, not feeding upon it and letting the blood drain across the stones into the earth herself. She kneeled and prayed.
A soft rustled disturbed her concentration. When she looked up, she saw a familiar wolf sitting at the edge of a shadow cast by an oak tree. Its skeletal branches seemed to rise above him like a bestial crown. The wolf’s yellow eyes reflected soft moonlight cast by the waning gibbous hanging far in the sky above the forest. He made no sound as she looked at him, but merely cocked his lupine head in question.
“Good evening” she said with a smile. Her ruby lips contrasting sharply, yet elegantly with her fair complexion. “I was thanking the Goddess and I did not notice you.” She gave a light wave beckoning him closer.
He rose suddenly and took the form of a man but he didn’t step closer. “Spirit of death flock all around you in the spirit world. By your action, you give them what they desire. It is fitting, I suppose, but also fortunate that few people come to this place. Why do you do this ritual?”
“I do not take things for granted Ironclaw,” she said with a light smile, “I may be an embodiment of death, but I cherish life as much as anyone. Perhaps more so in many ways as mine has been gone for so long I appreciate what others have been granted even if they do not. In sacrificing a life to thank the Goddess, I am honoring her preservation in victory the lives of my friends, my existence, and praying that those who stood against us heal and learn not to make such mistakes again. She gave us a challenge, we prevailed. It is that simple. I am not so vain to think the victory comes from training and will alone. So I thank her.”
He furrowed his brow. “You’re talking about the job Ramiel was hired to do. I understand Lyla and Chaska went with he and his friends, but it was a human woman that hired him, not a god.” He angled his head the same way as he did as a wolf. The gesture was strangely innocent and made his question seem all the more innocent. “Is this some kind of philosophy like the Christians have where they see their one god’s hand in all things?”
That he knew Ramiel and the others was a surprise, but not as strong of one after what she had witnessed that night. One or more of them must be werewolves she thought, but kept it to herself. “Yes, that mission. It is the way I do things, thanking the Goddess. She and her kin are in all things. We aren’t like the monotheists. I’m not praising her with empty words while turning my back on her precepts. I’m not trying to get her to directly intervene, or change the world for me. Simply thanking her. She may or may not have done anything, but I’m thanking her the same.”
“I see.” He consider that for a while as he looked at her. When he spoke again, it was another question. “What’s her name?”
“The Morrigan,” she answered, “I am her daughter.”
“Oh.” Ironclaw chewed on that. Religion and occult-ish things were not his area. “What does that mean? Is that like saying you’re the son of The Lord or you’re The Christ or your god is The God? “
“Nope,” she said with assuredness, “I’m simply an acolyte, a solitary priestess in the wilderness. This is certainly not the only god, and I do thank the others when appropriate, but she is the one I have dedicated my life to. Being her daughter is a title.” She looked at him quizzically, “I would think your kind would be very spiritual.”
“Being spiritual is not the same as being religious. If you were spiritual, you would have thought twice about that ritual you just did. Maybe our terms differ, but what you did appeared to be ceremonial, based on faith. Thus I see you are religious. To be truly spiritual, you must have some sort of rapport or communion with spirits, ergo the term being called ‘spiritual’, right? And why would you think I or ‘my kind’ would be spiritual?” he asked curiously.
“Oh, one can be both; and I think our terms differ as much as our backgrounds. I’m not ready yet to talk to spirits, except on certain times of the year, when I do commune with spirits, if I’m lucky.”
She began slowly picking up her jewelry, one piece at a time, “As far as your kind. You are the first I have ever encountered, despite my living in the wilderness for years at a time. I merely thought that you and yours would, by nature, be closer to the land and spirits within. Like aboriginals perhaps? If I’m wrong, I do apologize. I do not want to presume. Most of my kind wouldn’t be caught in the wild. I, on the other hand, love it.”
“Well I don’t speak for my kind, but as for myself, I am not religious.” He looked around the woods briefly with eyes that seemed to penetrate further than the physical, as if he looked through the trees and rocks and even Ann Marie, rather than at them. “I’m glad you came here to do your ritual, though. I don’t want the kind of spirits that are attracted to blood sacrifice in my territory or around Eldon Well. I’d dislike wasting my time chasing them off or killing them. But these here? They will not enter my territory.”
Her eyes, constantly burning with a cold blue fire, lit up a bit, “You can interact with the spirit world. Beautiful. I know many can be dangerous, and I doubt those that are around me will enter your territory. But just in case, that is why I came here. I don’t want to make enemies, only friends. Would you consider being my friend?” she said with a kindly glance. He was strong and smelled powerful to her. His scars were his true beauty and she found herself strangely attracted to such a powerful being. Dangerous thoughts crossed her mind, though she quickly stifled them, waiting for an answer to her simple question.
He raised an eyebrow. “I might consider it,” he said. “What would it mean to be your friend?” He exposed a sly smile.
She completed putting away her things, not always directly eyeing him, but allowing a glance or two to catch his gaze. “It could mean many things Ironclaw.” She looked up from her seated position, “at the very least, we could learn to,” she paused, “appreciate each other.” She paused again, “Haven’t you ever wondered about one such as me?”
“No,” he shook his head. “Your kind has never crossed my territory in a manner that would get my attention before. I’ve never even heard of your kind having anything to do with spirits and that placed your kind on a list of people that really just didn’t matter. But you take the form of the wolf and engage in activities that seem designed to gain the attention of spirits. I have no choice but to keep an eye on you.”
He smiled and looked around. “Fortunately, you don’t appear have the senses to turn your activities into a real problem for me, and you’ve chosen to do it in a place that will have a limited effect on my territory. I think that you have much to learn about the problems this kind of activity can generate. Or perhaps you don’t care — which is yet another reason I wouldn’t want this in my territory.”
She stood up, her robe flowing around her and stepped toward him, “I do care, I don’t wish to be a problem. My kind, my particular blood CAN eventually see and interact much with the spirit world. I see into the trees beyond and I know they are there, waiting. I have no guide for this for the most part and I must discover things on my own. If someone, yourself for instance, could keep an eye on me from time to time I wouldn’t mind.” She stopped short of him, dwarfed by his large frame, carefully placing a hand on his strong masculine chest, “No, I wouldn’t mind that at all.” She looked up at him. Her skin fair with a blush of life, ruby lips and eyes of pale incandescent blue looking at him with genuine interest. Not seduction, though it had crossed her mind, but a desire none the less for friendship, knowledge, and possibly more.
He watched her for a moment, but didn’t draw away. He also did not try to return her touch. “I don’t know about being a guide. I don’t think you can go where I would go — or even if you should. But I can instruct you in small things.
“Sacrifice of living creatures draws spirits of pain, fear, and death. The act of the ritualized sacrifice taints essence released by the dying spirits of those you kill and draws such things to the shadow of this place in the spirit world. Over time, continued sacrifice could create something called a locus — a self perpetuating font of essence tainted by the particular kind of essence you release here by your actions. A locus will draw more spirits, and causes the barrier between this world and the next to grow weak and allow these same spirits to slip into our world.
“This then is a problem. Sometimes those spirits can take root and hide within creatures without spirits — such as yourself and mortals and you have no way of ridding yourself of them. Few people do. They will remain and influence their hosts to carry out its ideal. In the case of death, it may be serial murder. In the case of pain, it may be sadistic or masochistic tendencies. In the case of fear, it might spawn a stalker, and so on. These things don’t always happen, but they can.
“Over time, such spirits can learn to fully claim their hosts, becoming one with their victims and warping their flesh into whatever tool or ideal suits the spirit best. At that point, the only solution is to kill the host — and even that merely releases the spirit to do the same to another.
“Some folks wouldn’t care if you do that. But folks in and around Eldon Well do. I personally don’t care — so long as you keep it far from the borders of my territory.”
“My line has dealt with spirits since antiquity. We see them as a part of the overall universe and do not fear them, but respect them.” She walked around and behind him sliding her hand off his chest and across his waist echoing her passing of him on their last encounter. “As I wish to respect you and your kind, I will endeavor to avoid making sacrifice or ceremonies too often in the same place and never in a row.” She come across from his back to his right side, looking up at him smiling, “I really don’t want to be killed. It would ruin my evening,” she said teasingly with a kindly smile.
He turned and caught her wrist, stopping her pacing around him. “Don’t step behind me,” he warned. He turned himself and her to look at each other straight on. “Anyway, I already told you.” He looked her steadily in the eye. “Do what you like outside my territory.
Kindred rage seethed in her, no one touches her without her say so! She controlled herself, not showing the beast within. He is strong, and physically motivated. Good qualities. She was calm and didn’t fight his grip.
“But frankly, I’m not convinced of what you say about dealing with spirits. You do not appear to have the knowledge that long affinity with them should grant you, and also you asked for a guide in these matters. That tells me you don’t have a full and accurate understanding of this.”
“We all have our points of view and our degrees of knowledge,” she whispered with a smile.
He grinned and released her arm, then folded his own arms across his chest. “Now, I gave you a sample of what I really do know and that you obviously could benefit from learning. If you really want a guide to the spirit world, you may have a certain opportunity here. Offer me something.” There was a challenge in his eyes mixed with elements of curiosity and amusement. “I have many interests. I’m certain you could find something to offer.”
“Perhaps,” she said, biting her lip lightly, “What would interest someone like yourself?” She found herself being a slight seductress. Amusing, she thought to herself, but don’t go there yet. You need allies and teachers more than lovers if you are to establish praxis. She continued in her sultry way, “There are many things I know and decades of experiences. You have views on the spirit world that differ from my elders. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Do you find me dangerous; if you heard my beliefs, you might? Or perhaps you may come to find we have much in common. Would you like some of my knowledge? Or is there something else you have in mind?”
He grunted. “Dangerous? More fascinating. Like watching a train wreck. Your point of view on the matter of spirits and the spirit world doesn’t interest me. Your view is religious, and while I know many who have a religious view of it, I’m not a religious man. I believe in what I can see and touch, what I can hunt and kill, what I can love … and what I can fuck.”
The primal energy coming off him caressed her Gangrel heart. This was a beast, a king of his domain, a primal being who, unlike herself could truly embrace his inner beast; though she knew her beast was far more dark than he could imagine. He was completely opposite than her in most ways, spirits were prey to him as humans were to her. He was more dangerous than any creature she had ever met. He only respected strength.
“So which is it then Ironclaw,” she said slowly in a defiant yet sultry tone, stepping back a little and looking slightly aggressive, “Do you want to hunt me? Do you want to kill me, hurt me? Love me or…fuck me.” She abandoned her presences and released her seductive allure (and her robe!) and let her beastial side slide to the surface. She was ready for a chase. “I bite.”
“So do I!“Ironclaw’s voice descended octaves in the very instant he took on the form of a mighty wolf-beast, the size of a great steed with massive teeth and disproportionate musculature.
Ann-Marie was taking flight at the same time, shifting into wolf form as she went, though her fluid change took more time than Ironclaw’s did. But the massive wolf held back, giving her some time to pick up speed, before setting off at a full run in pursuit.
In wolf form, the vampire was fast, Ironclaw gave her that. But he was equally fast. In his pack he was the biggest, had the longest stride and was therefore the fastest wolf in the pack, edging out even lightning-quick Lyla by a nose.
Ann-Marie sprinted long and hard, never slowing because her undead body could not tire. The dogged pursuit seemed always just behind her, but there were times when he seemed to disappear, but the moment she’d pause to look for him, he’d leap toward her from a new direction and the chase would continue.
Hours passed. Ann-Marie was covered in a myriad of scrapes and abrasions from dashing headlong through unfamiliar territory in the dark. Now she’d scrambled up what had appeared to be a pass into a wide valley where escape seemed likely. Unfortunately, she hadn’t seen the wall of rock that ended the pass prematurely. Water seeped from beneath the rocks and babbled its way across worn stones at her feet and filled her senses for a moment.
The dark shape blotted out the sky above her and land, riding her to the ground. She was unhurt but firmly caught within powerful jaws that held and did not close.
He seemed to be waiting for something.
Not able to move, and not able to turn and bite, she released her wolf form, slowly transforming back to her human form, trusting that he’d let his jaws loosen.
He was poised over her a moment, then suddenly he was human again. His arms were wrapped around her, pressing her body next to his and while he hadn’t had time to shed his clothes, she could feel his excitement through them.
“Now,” he said in a deep, husky voice, “I’d claim my reward.”
“You’ve worked for it,” she said as a claw extended from a finger, raising and slicing his clothes clean off leaving a mild scratch across his chest. “Now I hope you still have some energy…” she began kissing his chest…
He chuckled at that, then guided her to a face down, all-fours position. “This will do for starters,” he said in that same husky voice.
It was rough and painful at first, but then Ann-Marie realized that she needed to reach inside her power and activate her undead body again. Her ‘blush of life’, the technique that allowed a vampire’s body to take on some human functions had faded during the chase. But to her immediate pleasure, her body responded to her command once again.
Things went better after that. At first he took her as a warrior of old might have taken his prize from a conquered woman. But after that Ironclaw’s demeanor become more curious, filled with an almost innocent wonder as he explored her body and found new, exciting ways to bring reactions from both of them.
She’d said she bit, and he let her. To her amazement, she was nearly filled to capacity with but a taste of his blood — and she had been hungry. So swept away with the rush of power was she that she almost missed his own reaction. He seemed shocked by the seductive nature of the Kiss at first, but then gently pushed her away all too soon. The strength of will he must have to resist the power of the Kiss must surely have been formidable.
Testing the bounds of what he could experience with her, Ironclaw let himself shift to his Dalu form. This form allowed the greater sensory range of the werewolf while maintaining the general form of a man. Normally too rough for a human, he could go further with Ann-Marie and achieve a greater high than possible with a human.
Afterward, Ann-Marie couldn’t be sure if it was the taste of his blood that had unleashed a wild part of her, or if his untamed nature had unlocked something within her own beast. What she did know was that her body had reacted explosively to the pain and pleasure he’d given her simultaneously, needing no urging of her own will to react to his physical presence within her. Multiple orgasms had possessed her beyond her will and wracked her body with convulsions of pleasure she’d thought impossible for any vampire to achieve.
Then they were finished at last, and they lay together on hard, cool stone, sated and lethargic. She realized she was weak, that her body had reflexively stolen some of her own vitae, and that she needed still more to repair the damage they’d done during sex.
He seemed to know that, and offered up a the vein in his arm. Another taste, another surge of power swept through her and she was again able to recover nearly completely. And the powerful being beside her seemed barely affected by the minor blood loss.
After she’d fed again they lay quietly for a time, until she realized that dawn was drawing near. She rolled over across Ironclaw massive chest, teasingly playing with his hair and whispered, “I have to go soon. But I’m wondering. Is this a beginning, or simply two hunters passing each other like we did twice before?” She sat up, haloed by the moon which had become radiant and clear in the crisp winter night. Looking over him, “Or am I a fling?”
He lifted himself and propped up his head on an arm. “I don’t know. What do you want it to be?”
“Fun,” she smiled. “It needs to stay challenging and fun. I’d really love to see where this goes. I don’t think legends even speak of things like this.” she paused, “Unless of course, you are already seeing someone, then, in that case we can end it here should you wish. No harm done.”
Her words brought back thoughts of Lyla and her unspoken rejection still stung like an open wound. “I’m not seeing anyone,” he said gruffly. He shoved Lyla to the back of his mind and looked at Ann-Marie. He thought about the sex they’d just had and gloom disappeared like spider webs before a candle flame. A smile spread across his lips. “But maybe I will be,” he said with a hint of teasing.
She smiled devilishly, “Just don’t disappoint me, you know how complex women are. And I’m far more complex than you may ever know. But you are complex yourself, are you not? More that hunt, kill, love and…fuck.”
He grunted, “Hunh. And you are a very prideful woman.”
Good, she thought, “And I have every reason to be,” she said jokingly, “but I’m not greedy or selfish. I also have every reason to be proud of whom I call ‘friend’ or ‘lover’, should I choose someone.” She stood up, silhouetted by the moon, a hand extended to Ironclaw.
He chuckled to himself. “Do you know your way back?”
“Walk me back then, but we must be quick.” she said. Hearing his chuckle, she smiled a bit and asked, “what do you find amusing?”
He just grinned and shook his head. “We’re about two hours hike to get back,” he said, changing the subject. “Sunup in one. But I know a cave you can use, if you like, or we can shift and shave that time in half. It will be close, though, if we do that.”
“If that’s the case, don’t worry. I’d rather spend that hour with you, here. I can merge with the trees themselves until nightfall, though I’d appreciate if you kept that to yourself,” she smiled. “All I’d ask is that you retrieve my bag and robe. They are important to me.” Her grin grew wider, “as you might become, and more.”
He smiled. “I had worried that I was too… intense, given we’d just met. I see I needn’t have. I’ll make sure your things are preserved and waiting for you by dusk tonight.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that. But Ironclaw, it wasn’t too intense, in fact,” she grabs both his arms with a mix of re-assurance and lusty intensity, “you…were…perfect. ” Her eyes’ cold fire burned hot with lupine blood, looking directly into his. She wanted him again.
He chuckled and answered in a low, lusty voice. “If only the sun wouldn’t interrupt, I’d give you an encore performance.” His eyes shone with pleasure at her compliment. “Unless you’re in the mood for something quick… and very dirty.”
“Do I look like I’m stopping you.” She grabbed his hair hard enough to be painful, “Take me!”
Ironclaw’s eyes flashed and he emitted a deep-throated, lusty growl. There, in the darkest hour before sunrise, he took his pleasure of her again and howled his triumph to the stars.