Lessons

Timeline: April 25th, 2008

Ann-Marie entered her temporary apartment, waiting on Jesse she poured a glass of wine and considered how to approach her young roommate with questions of a mystical nature.

She didn’t have long to wait. Jesse stepped in through the door, a handful of mail in her hands. The mail was addressed to a post office box, of course, which meant it was business mail — or rather that intended for Ann-Marie’s art sales. Jesse wore a smile on her face as she handed the mail to Ann-Marie.

“I think it’s good news!” she said. The letter was addressed to name Ann used in her painting life, and its return address was labeled Mr. and Mrs. Trebelkind. “Those people won the bid on the last ebay auction. It had closed at three thousand dollars!” Jesse said excitedly. “They’d have received the painting by now.”

And it was good news. In fact, the letter inside was a thank you and expression of their appreciation of the art, as well as a request that, should Ann-Marie take commissions, she might consider doing a painting for them. They’d lost a child to suicide a number of years ago, it seemed, and they would like to remember her in art. Included in the envelop was a photograph of a sad-looking, dark-haired girl with a pale face. In some ways, it reminded Ann-Marie of Jesse, or perhaps a little bit of herself.

Should she accept the commission, the Trebelkinds were willing to put up a total of ten thousand dollars for the piece. Included was an advance check for five grand and it would be assumed that Ann-Marie would accept the commission if she decided to deposit the check.

“This is wonderful news Jesse, I’m so very proud of you. Thank you. Please write a response to them that we’ll take the commission. I think I even have an approach in mind,” Ann-Marie responded thinking her sense of loss of the sun, fresh in her mind and the beauty and joy she felt could be applied most appropriately here. “Do you have a moment?”

“Of course,” Jesse replied.

“Have a seat on the couch. I have some questions for you. Now that our financial relationship is going well, I think it’s time we learned a little be more about each other, don’t you think? Other things you could do for me, and I for you.”

Jesse looked puzzled. “Okay. Shoot.”

“You are very pretty Jesse. I love your look and your style. I think you compliment me as my friend, agent and overall assistant, but I’d also like you to be more. We Kindred often are judged socially by the kind of persons we surround ourselves with. As I have explained to you and you have done so well in this, what we say and do is our secret. But someday soon I may introduce you to the larger world of Kindred-kind where keeping such secrets would be paramount to life and death. I would share these secrets with you, as I would hope you would consider sharing some of your secrets with me.”

Jesse was a little confused. She thought Ann-Marie was talking about becoming lovers at first, but she knew she was dating some really big werewolf. The rest of what Ann-Marie confused her. “I thought you were the only one around here,” Jesse said. “And you really needn’t feel obliged to tell me any secrets. I wouldn’t want to know things that could hurt you.”

“You are confused I suppose? I am the only one around here to my knowledge, but my kind lives in cities far and wide, some of which I visit occasionally. I could in some cases use your help during the daylight hours, as I cannot journey then.” Her statement, at once nonchalant and yet bitter echoed another situation. “You could help protect me as I slept. You have charms and spells that can do so, don’t you?”

Jesse knew there was no physical danger that could reach Ann-Marie during the day, which left only one concern. “I do know a ward against ghosts and spirits. Or are you talking about just needing a driver?”

Ann-Marie smiled, “No, your wards and perhaps other abilities are what concern me. You can, with your abilities, perhaps help me in many ways. Be my assistant, agent and ally. But first you are my friend, true?”

She blinked, surprised at being tested. “Yes…?”

Ann-Marie continued, “In any event, we have much to learn from each other. I would love to hear about your beliefs, learn about them. Perhaps some of the very spirits you invoke are similar or the same as what I do in my magic, for I am a witch as well as a vampire – I prefer priestess though. Tell me of your grandmother my friend.”

Jesse saw the trap she’d just fallen into. She had already confirmed being Ann’s friend. If she now tried to back out of the situation she might be seen as being unfriendly and Ann-Marie had made it clear what Kindred did in order to protect themselves from enemies who knew too much. She thought quickly in hopes of finding a way to salvage the situation.

“My grandmother, ma’am?” Jesse adopted servile tone. “I’m sorry but I never met my grandmother. She died before I was born. I’m sure you mean my Aunt Milli, though, if you speak of learning of some old family lore. I’m not sure what I can tell you of her. In truth she scares the hell out of me, although that wasn’t always the case.

“Also, I think their may be some misunderstanding between us, ma’am,” Jesse said, worried she was disappointing her undead patron. It was difficult to keep the stress out of her voice, but she did an exceptional job of masking her own nervousness, so much so she was certain Ann hadn’t noticed. “But I cannot perceive, summon, or interact with spirits specifically. It is the dead with which I have that particular… aptitude. I can see ghosts.” She stopped, hoping Ann-Marie wouldn’t ask for more. But she knew that hope was in vain. Ann-Marie rarely let go a mystery she saw laid in front of her.

“See ghosts? Tell me, what do you see when you look at me?” Ann-Marie said gentle and disarmingly, trying to alleviate her nervousness with genuine appreciation and curiosity.

“Well, nothing about ghosts,” Jesse said. “But my Aunt Milli also taught me to read auras. Or rather, she helped me develop the gift I already had. Yours is… well, it is…”

Jesse didn’t want to say it for fear of offense so she let her voice trail off and hoped that would hint enough at what she saw.

“Go ahead, I already can guess. Some of my kind can read auras as well, though I don’t have any experience with it. You won’t offend me.”, she said.

“Dead. Or as close to it as a person could be without actually dying.” Jesse tried to explain what it looked like to her. “If you take a flowering plant, full of life and blooming, that’s the baseline. That’s what an aura of a human looks like. Now take that plant and put it in the sun in summer and forget to water it for two days. It becomes if not quite dead, it is a … pale reflection of what it once was.

But every inhuman creature looks a bit different from the base line,” Jesse hurried to say. “Most of our mutual friends are obviously not human — or obviously not to me. My Aunt Milli taught me what the major differences were and what sorts of, uh, people it indicated. Also, there is a huge variety of variations within the major types that sort of comes across as representing moods. It’s not easy to figure all this out, though. I usually find it pretty exhausting to try to keep up reading auras for very long.”

“Should I ask you to, could you read auras for me and warn me of potential dangers? I wouldn’t want you doing so to my trusted allies of course, or those close to you (unless you suspect something). The biggest danger are ones like me. Knowing they are here, even just passing through is very useful to me.” Ann-Marie explained.

“To an extent I can,” Jesse cautioned. “It’s possible to fool my ability to interpret auras. At least, it’s happened before. And plus I tire fairly quickly. I tend to use it on people I want to see again, or know I will have some close interactions with so that I can tell if it’s going to be safe or something weird.” She’d also used it plenty of times (perhaps much more often) on people whom she thought attractive and wondered if they were feeling the same. She always felt vaguely guilty about that, though, since reading people’s emotions like that was not really far from reading minds.

“Well, I won’t ask it of you often. I hope to learn to do so myself someday.” she replied.

Jesse waited and wondered if she was off the hook over talking about Aunt Milli.

“So why did you fear her? Your Aunt that is?” asked Ann-Marie, preventing Jesse from getting away so easily.

“She… doesn’t like it when people talk about her. I didn’t know her well until she came to stay with me while they cleaned up the Katrina disaster,” Jesse stated. “She taught me a lot in the short time she stayed with me and I thought she was really cool. I didn’t really understand what evil was until after she left.”

Ann-Marie replied, “Yes, you once told me of that. We need not talk of her if you do not wish to. But her lessons, her teachings. Those I am interested in.”

Jesse paused and couldn’t help a worried look. “It’s vodoun,” she finally blurted out. “And it’s not the nice, healing kind. It’s the kind where you summon the gods and ancestor spirits and invite them to take over your body in order to bargain for power. It’s about power over others, taking their souls, and using the power of Death to animate their dead bodies. It’s not nice! And it’s very real.”

“Jesse. Come now, I wouldn’t wish you to do anything you are uncomfortable with. Are you afraid of your powers, your skills? I know what happened to…that guy. And you did what you had to do and you learned from it. There are other powers and skills you could learn from me, but it may cost you access to what you know. It requires knowledge of the blood.” Ann-Marie said.

“I’m still of the same mind about that,” she said. She hated to do this because she had a strong feeling that Ann-Marie would not be daunted by what she had to say about it. But she forged ahead anyway, knowing Ann wasn’t about to let this go. “As for being afraid of what I can do with voodoo, you bet I am! There’s a difference between knowing how to do a thing and thinking that’s pretty cool to be able to see ghosts, speak with them, even make deals with them. But I also know that a person’s soul can be stolen from them and their ghost bound to their body for the purpose of doing your bidding. I know that first hand and it’s not like in the movies at all. It’s horrifying. I’ve done it once and I live with the fact that part of me liked the power that it made me feel. I might do it again if I was just desperate enough and that scares the hell out of me.

“And it should scare you, too,” Jesse said to underline her point. “You’re already undead. How difficult do you think it would be to animate your body to someone else’s bidding when you are helpless during the day? You are already dead. The dead can be called from the earth,” Jesse pointed out. “I’ve seen my Aunt Milli do it and I know how it can be done. No one is safe from this kind of magic.”

She held her breath. This was the moment when she would discover if Ann-Marie would judge her too dangerous. This had been what she had hoped most to never have to discuss with the vampire.

Ann-Marie looked at her assistant, studying her briefly. Again her thoughts went back to the ‘helpless during the day’ comment and the cure for it that was just out of her reach. Finally she spoke, “For myself, if you have techniques to protect me from such a thing, I would be grateful. Perhaps such techniques could be adapted to my form of magic. It can be very..flexible, blood magic can. Which in its own way can be every bit as terrifying as Voudoun, or more so.” She declined to mention that due to her discipline of Protean that she became the earth or tree and couldn’t be called forth by anything short of the destruction of that object, nor found in the first place.

“We can help each other, Jesse. You must trust me,” said the vampire.

“There is no defense,” Jesse stated. “Why would you want to learn this stuff? It can only be used for evil!”

“Protection from ghosts? Sensing Auras? These are evil?” Ann-Marie asked.

“You know that’s not what we were just talking about,” Jesse said.

“Jesse,” she said in a soft tone, “I’m simply trying to get to know what you can and cannot do. To know you. I have no intention of doing evil, but knowing of what evils could happen.” She continued after a brief pause, “As I said, you could turn your back on these things, put these powers behind you if you wanted. But I won’t force you, so for now I would like to understand what you can do for our home, our haven, as of now. But to be fair, I’ve asked you a lot, and put you on the spot. Ask me any one question and I will answer it.”

Jesse didn’t hesitate to ask. “What would you do with the power to create zombies of the living and of the dead if you had it?”

“I have no need to use such abilities to control a mortal, as I have my own should I wish to use them. As far as the dead, to be honest I haven’t thought it through yet. Perhaps ultra loyal guardians for sacred places, perhaps persons to defend us in an emergency. I’m not sure. May I ask a question before I continue?” replied Ann-Marie

“You just did,” Jesse pointed out. She would have laughed at that, but seriousness of the topic and her situation forbade it.

Ann-Marie did smile. Jesse was getting a bit too bold for her tastes, and with one and that could end her. She liked this side of the girl though, to a degree, “Yes, I suppose I did. Then I’ll ask another. Besides caging a man’s soul and enslaving his body, have you ever used this ability yourself?”

Jesse looked confused. “I’m not sure what you mean. That’s the ability we’ve been talking about…”

“You said it can raise the dead as well, have you done this?” she asked politely.

Jesse looked ill. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

“Very well,” Ann-Marie answered, “if that is what you want. What would you like to talk about?”

There was something in the girl’s eyes, something wasn’t right. Ann had pressed and Jesse seemed to try to give her answers, but the girl was obviously badly rattled and stressed. It seemed likely her thoughts were no longer on the present.

“Oh anything, anything yes!! That would be good because it’s bad, you know to talk about when he came back. They always come back, because it’s not finished, right? And it isn’t finished, not really because it’s still trapped there. And it can never ever ever get out so he has to do it, you see!” Jesse stared at Ann-Marie with wild eyes. Then suddenly turned on her heel and tried to run from the room but the door was closed and she had to stop to flip the locks.

Ann-Marie quickly was up to her, her speed being far beyond that of a mortal. Her right hand placed upon Jesse’s hand at the locks, and her left upon her shoulder. “Shhhhhh.” she said in a reassuring tone. “Calm down, please my friend. Come sit.” Ann-Marie held her shoulder tight, trying to guide Jesse to the couch.

The odd behavior continued. Clearly she was deeply disturbed and something in there conversation triggered it. “I am calm!” she shouted. “Can’t you see I’m calm?” Jesse looked around as if only just realizing Ann-Marie had her shoulder. She jumped and squirmed. “The dead can’t forget and they never forgive, Ann-Marie!”

“Jesse, look at me.” Ann-Marie said with confidence, summoning up her will to calm her charge, “Look at me, I’m here for you my friend.”

Tears burst from her eyes in streams. “I don’t want to die.”

“You wont die if I can help it. I’ll protect you my friend,” she said cradling her in her arms and holding her close.

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