Timeline: May 5th, 2008
Ann-Marie had returned to the hotel. The events of the night and the wounds suffered by her friends concerned her. This ‘wound’ she knew little about, though she wished to stand by Lyla and Chaska despite the risks. Michael’s games considering the situation seemed childish to her, she thought. More dangerously, his dabbling with death and a vampiric demeanor could have made her snap and kill him. He and Ramiel so underestimated her, and she to be honest, thought them arrogant. Despite that, there must be more to them both, something the Lyla and the others saw in them. She wanted to like them both. She had made progress she believed with Ramiel, but still he….’Damn it‘, she thought. ‘Too much going on, I need rest.‘
She entered the room, her eyes coursing with thoughts as she saw Jesse waiting. She looked up to her and said, “It’s been one hell of a night.”
Jesse nodded and rose silently. She put down what looked to be a hand-bound journal. “So I gather. It was a very … tiring day as well,” she said.
“What happened during the day?” Ann-Marie asked, putting her own thoughts behind her for now.
“The car broke down and we had to push it to the junk yard,” Jesse reminded her.
“Oh, yeah I was told that. Turns out that very junk yard is a source of spiritual trouble. Chaska and Lyla understand it fairly well, though the process of learning got a lot of the others knocked around a bit.” She paused, “But we are all alright for now, Johnny is taking care of the wounded. They think that young woman, Hope, slashed our tires, though I suspect that is another issue.”
“Every junkyard?” Jesse wondered. She was bewildered at the barrage of information. “And are you talking about the woman who made roses?”
“No, not every junkyard, and yes I suppose it may have been the woman with the roses.” she answered. “A lot is going on. But to be honest, I want to put it behind me to a few hours at least. How are you feeling tonight?”
“A little tired but I’m fine,” Jesse said.
“Good. I want to let you know, you’ve done well so far.” Ann-Marie answered, “That gun, the one Michael gave you. Do you have it still?”
Jesse nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Do you know how to use it, that an the knife I gave you? Do you?” she asked with a measure of concern. “We were in a hurry before when Michael gave it to you, I couldn’t gauge how you felt about them.”
“Well,” she said sheepishly, “I understand mechanically how to use it from what Michael told me. But to be honest, I really don’t know if I could hurt someone with it or the knife, even if they are trying to hurt me. I guess I won’t really know until I’m in the situation.”
“In the end, you can’t know until then. But I know something of knife fighting. I will teach you what I know. As far as that,” Ann-Marie pointed at the gun, “against my people it is next to useless. Others however still are susceptible. My particular group doesn’t use guns in general. I’ve never picked one up much less shot one, so I’ll have to arrange training for use, if you are interested.”
“That’s good to know,” Jesse said. “Honestly, I’m not at all comfortable having a gun around. I keep thinking that the best that could happen is that someone would just come up and take it from me and then shoot me with it. At worst, they’d shoot me with it and I’d die. So, I hid it in the dresser drawer over there and planned to give it back to Michael as soon as I saw him next.”
“That is wise. I believe Michael meant well by his lending the pistol and we should be polite and thank him of course, but you are right to think it could be used against you. I can teach you knife and swordplay. Are you interested that?” asked Ann-Marie.
“I was never good at athletics,” Jesse admitted. “And the thought of cutting people open makes me queasy. Will you be angry with me if I said no?”
“That’s a silly question Jesse. Would I be angry? As if you are testing the waters, hoping for the right answer.” She smiled at her then turned serious, “The life you’ve entered isn’t always one of ease. Right now, here in this place, at this very time we are under threat. Do you understand this? The right answer is to survive my little sister. Whether it be by knives, spells, or subterfuge. You must not be the scream queen, cowering in the corner waiting for death. You told me you don’t want to die. Then don’t. I will help you, but you have to want to overcome your obstacles, learn to rise up against suffering, be strong in the face of adversity. I don’t expect you to be a warrior, nor bodyguard. But in time you need to be able to hold off an enemy just long enough for help to arrive, or escape to warn others. Use what abilities you can to help us both. I care about you enough that I want to help you.”
She paused, realizing the enormity of what she had said. Looking at her charge she said, “Do you think I started like I am?”
“I’m not a fool,” Jesse answered in response to that question. “I know better than that. But Ann-Marie, survival at any cost isn’t survival to me. If I have to make a choice between hurting someone else or being hurt myself, well I just don’t know. It would probably depend on the situation. I would never, for instance murder or arrange for a murder of someone who threatened to reveal one of my own secrets.”
Jesse knew that remark would like sting Ann-Marie but it was the truth and she needed to know that. “I’m also aware that most times, you don’t need my protection at all because you aren’t vulnerable during the day — at least, not under normal conditions.”
She realized that if she was to come clean with Ann-Marie now was the time. They were away from home, true, and in dangerous circumstances but that also meant that they would not be more tightly bound together for mutual survival than any other time. Jesse took a deep breath and launched into her own admission.
“I think there has been a misunderstanding. When … when I said I didn’t want to die, what I was saying is that I didn’t want you to kill me.” Jesse hurried to continued, feeling she might not have the chance to explain again if she didn’t take it now. “I know that I have access to a power you desire, but I’m also well aware that once you learn it, you will have no need for me to remain as I am. Once you control and understand what this power can really do, you will need to bind me to you by addicting me to your blood and making me yours. Or, you must kill me and perhaps raise me as one of your own Kindred — though likely as one bound to you. In that way, you’ll have a willing and cooperative servant rather than unpredictable assistant given to…” she hesitated and dropped her face toward the floor in shame, “to ravings when I can’t take the pressure.
“And I know that from your perspective, if I can’t prove useful to you, then… then you will remove me as a threat. I’m not a fool, ma’am. I’ve had a lot of time to think — every day. I realize what fate is in store for me. And I realize I must either accept it, accept enslavement, or accept death.”
Ann-Marie stood, looking at this young woman for a brief moment, pausing before giving a reply. Gently she said, “I believe you may have over-thought this and grasped on the worst case. Jesse, it has never served my interests to threaten you or enslave you. I desire your loyalty, your service and your trust and respect. I chose you because you are special. You are different. You have so much potential. What you know is of use to me, but it isn’t why I brought you in. I don’t need a guardian either. I need a companion, a friend, and a confidant. Someone I can trust with my deepest secrets and most important tasks. A face to meet the world when I cannot.”
She paused. “If I wanted you as a slave, don’t you think you already would be one. Think about that. Also, you know nothing of the state of being Kindred…” Ann-Marie looked disappointed, like she had been accused of a crime she had not committed. “…and if you are afraid, perhaps you should not.”
Jesse absorbed Ann’s words. “So… you want me as I am?” The young woman sounded uncertain. “You mean you don’t expect me to choose the Blood or to choose immortality with you?”
“Have I ever said otherwise? I offer the Blood should you wish it, to give you immortal life and powers similar to mine, but I don’t require it. I have not offered to embrace you Jesse, not yet. You need to understand what it means and to truly earn it. It is a gift not lightly given. Whatever you think you know about it, whatever others may have told you, is likely wrong,” she answered.
“I want you as you are (and as you may become as you grow), but I will not have you here on your terms. It will be on my terms or not at all. You have to WANT to stand by me, be my assistant and valet, my friend and my confidant. You have to WANT the knowledge and friendship I offer you. Do you desire it or no?”
Jesse nodded. “I do. Sometimes being near you scares me when I think of all the power you have and what you can do, but I’ll try to get a handle on that. I need to do that.”
“What I am should scare you Jesse. Most of my kind do not have my charitable streak and should be treated with deference. Even I can be cruel at times when necessary. I think you understand better than many the dark side of human nature. Kindred are no different. Yet, I do get along with others not of my kind, they fascinate me; like I you.”
Ann-Marie sat down. “But understanding your fear, using it and overcoming it, that is part and parcel to being a follower of my line of Kindred. Change is good and creation is power. Do you see the truth of it?”
Jesse asked, “Are you saying that all change is good and that any kind of creation is power?”
“Change brings many things Jesse. It is how you look at it. Is it a burden, or is it a challenge to overcome? Of course not all change is desired, nor welcome; but the challenge is to see it in a different way. Through change, you grow. Through adversity you become something greater than through mere cooperation; though that too is important. Without change you become stagnant, docile, complacent; like most of humanity. Sheep. Do you want to be sheep, or would you prefer to be the shepherd or better yet…the wolf.”
She paused briefly, but before Jesse could answer, “Before you answer that, consider this also. Creation is power as through creation we become closest to the gods. With our mere hands, body and mind we can create such wonders if we put our selves into it. Is all creation good? No. But all creation is power. Power to create and to destroy. My route is though art and through the adoption of forms. And though other means of course.” She smiled at that, not knowing if Jesse would understand.
Jesse puzzled over that. “Is the world really that black and white? If there are really only wolves or sheep with nothing in between, how do we describe those who fit neither mold? For instance, take Ramiel. He is clearly not sheep, but I can tell you for certain he is also not wolf. He is both at once willing to take action but also to let things be as his whim takes him. The creation idea is … very intriguing though, I have to admit.”
“The world isn’t black and white for certain. I like living in shades of gray myself.” she smiled. “I’d rather not try to define my friends and companions by my beliefs; but Ramiel is certainly not complacent. He may not seem such as time, but he is hungry for knowledge and power, more so than his demeanor will let on. He has, through the chaos and challenges of his life, like Lyla, like Johnny, like many of my friends and companions, grown through adversity…through change. But you will learn that lesson in time. Let’s focus on creation. What do you find intriguing?”
“What kind of power do you feel as you create art?” Jesse asked.
She answered, “The power is subjective of course, but often I find myself drawn into a ecstasy of color and form. My mind and hands creating my will upon canvas, stone or what have you. If I wish, I can use my magic to enhance this, falling into a trace of intense work and creativity, drawing on my subconscious and the Goddess herself. The energy is intense and the results, well you’ve seen them. I look at them and I know it was nothing if not for me, just art supplies and canvas. I hope to take my art to the next level someday. The creation of life from flesh or from stone, and in the short run, the creation of a tool to protect us both. But that is for another time. To sum it up, creation exists for itself. What is your art Jesse?”
“I wouldn’t say I’m really an artist,” Jesse said. “Never really had any aptitude for art. I went to college for Anthropology and did okay, though I think I spent just as much time doing anthro at clubs and bars, to be really honest.”
“Everyone has a passion Jesse, you simply may not have found yours yet. Funny enough, I spent less time in classes in college myself. Usually spent my time chained up to administration buildings, protesting, getting high and listening to jazz and folk music. Do you play an instrument?”
“No. No art,” she re-confirmed. “But I didn’t say I wasn’t passionate about anything. I was, and still am, passionate about learning about other cultures. I suppose that’s what drew me to you in the first place. It’s the anthropologist in me.”
“Then you have much to learn, both terrifying and joyous. But what you learn from me is only for you, ever. It cannot be discussed with Ramiel, Lyla, Ironclaw or any of the others, even my own brother or. It is for you. No papers, no recordings, no notes, simply observation and understanding. There can be no compromise on this, and I know I sound like a broken record. Okay?”
Jesse nodded. “Okay.”
“Also, if anyone tries to get information out of you, please let me know. I respect their privacy, the least they can do is to respect mine.” added Ann-Marie.
“I’ve been using my best judgment. Business is business but personal stuff is something else. I’ve noticed thought, that if others have personal questions, it’s directed me which I can deal with. On the rare occasion something is asked about you, I just redirect the conversation and no one has ever pressured me about it.”
“Good. We will be doing a lot of work you and I. Remember what I told you when we went to Concorde?” she asked.
She nodded, not quite sure which Ann was referring to. “No one will handle you during the day but me,” Jesse confirmed.
“Not quite. Johnny has very specific instructions on what to do if I am hurt. I’ll inform you as well. He is the exception in most cases. I trust him more than anyone, he is my brother; but for his safety I haven’t informed him of a lot of things, though that may change. After our talk, before morning I need to go check up on him. Ironclaw and Lyla are close too. But that is off subject. What I was referring to was how I told you to behave around the other vampires. Do you remember that?”, said Ann-Marie.
“Yes. You mentioned it again just a few minutes ago,” Jesse said.
“Really? I suppose I did. To continue, as you know the two persons I spoke to were Kindred. In the future you may meet more. You said you can tell, yes?”
She nodded. “If I’m looking for it, I can usually tell.”
“Good. Besides treating them with deference, you remember that I asked everyone to avert their eyes from them, preferably wearing sunglasses or the like to hide your gaze. From eye contact, certain kindred (perhaps even myself) can command you. And you can’t do anything about it.” Ann-Marie said.
“So, it is both safer to avoid eye contact and act like a submissive towards me. Can you do this without feeling shame or self-consciousness?” she asked.
“Er… how submissive are we talking?” Jesse asked.
“It completely depends on the situation; I wouldn’t ask you to do anything without reason. And as we live far from most of my kind, it is a rarity.”
“I’ll do what I have to to maintain appearances,” Jesse promised. “But well, if you ask me to do something that would make me feel shame or self-consciousness I don’t see how I could not feel that way,” Jesse said. “But then if we are dealing with Kindred that expect you to treat me that way, I doubt they would care how I felt about it. If they did care, then maybe that’s just the sort of decent person we would like to hang out with, right?”
Ann-Marie looked at her, stroked her cheek and said, “At times things may be difficult, but you are entering a new world. How you deal with it states a lot about your character. And I will treat you in my way and won’t let them treat you in theirs if I can help it. To be honest Jesse, I don’t want to hang around most Kindred; but there will be times I must. We must be a team, I the dominant partner in this Danse Macabre and you the learner. Someday, should you desire it and earn it, you will be in my position. I have every confidence in your potential as you have decided to walk this road despite the dangers, of which you know. We will then begin in the next months to introduce you to some others. I will coach you on how to behave in each case.”
Jesse smiled gently. “I look forward to meeting your peers.”
But the girl had some things a bit more immediate on her mind, as well. “I’m not really sure what’s going on with the others. I haven’t seen anyone but you since they all came back from your… excursion tonight. Is everyone okay? You mentioned the junk yard was a bit of a problem. Will we be able to get Lyla’s car back and leave tomorrow as we planned?”
“Things are not quite okay I’m afraid, hence why I asked you about the weapons earlier. Johnny and Michael are hurt bad, Michael especially so. Ramiel is okay I believe. Lyla and Chaska are fine for now. They are discussing what to do tomorrow. I’ll stand by them as needed, though I doubt we will get the car back any time soon. Before I retire, I’ll need to check on them to find out if anything has changed and what the plan is,” answered Ann-Marie.
“Good, follow me and be silent unless spoken to please. There is much going on. Observe what you can always. Your sense are of value to both of us. In time I can teach you what to observe, what to look for. If you have a question or important information, tap me on the shoulder. Okay my friend?”
Jesse nodded again. “Got it!”
“Come then, we need to check on Johnny, and then Lyla and Chaska. The boys, well they can usually take care of themselves.”