Timeline: January 31st, 2009

Ann-Marie left her brother and sought out Chaska. She asked around until she finally found him coming into town…

“Chaska,” she said, “please wait up…”

Chaska had been thinking about his upcoming trip and was lost deep in thought when he heard Ann-Marie calling his name. He stopped and waited for her to catch up to him. “What’s up?”

She walked up to him. “I just wanted to see you and the others off. Say farewell, as the situation is likely to be dangerous. I wanted to give you my best wishes,” she said with earnestness. “May I join your as you walk?”

Chaska’s face looked weary as if he hadn’t slept in days. His shoulders slumped more than usual and when Ann-Marie first saw him she could have sworn he was talking to himself as he walked looking down at the ground. Whatever the reason, Chaska looked frayed at the edges but seemed to put on a good face to whatever it was that was eating at him.

“Well I’m afraid I won’t be much company but you are welcome to walk with me.” He turned to start walking only to pause long enough to see if Ann-Marie was following.

Staying at his side she said, “You are always good company. May I ask, is something bothering you?”

Chaska’s head lurched as he held back a cough that came from unexpected laughter. He smiled as he lowered his hand from his mouth. “Oh, the usual, death, mayhem and whether to have chicken or beef at lunch.” Chaska’s face changed to a serious expression again. “Honestly, there is just too much going on. This is a bad time to have to run off and deal with something that I could care less about. There is too much here to deal with as it is.”

“I know. That is one of the reasons I’m not going.” she said honestly with a touch of disappointment in her voice. But only a touch.

Chaska looked at Ann-Marie. “It is no secret why you stay, Ann-Marie. You have a new master now.” His tone wasn’t accusatory nor did it betray any of his thoughts. It was a statement that was meant to be a statement of knowledge. Chaska had spent several hours, which he knew would stretch out to days, reexamining his world around him and he had come up with some unavoidable truths. One of those truths was that Ann-Marie was taking a path that the others could not follow and in time may lead to either her destruction or the destruction of those dear to her. He didn’t know Ann-Marie like he knew Lyla and so was not blinded by his affection but neither did he know enough about Ann-Marie to understand her reasoning or desires. She was still largely a mystery but given the events of the last few weeks it was likely to stay that way.

He registered the look on Ann-Marie’s face. Was it shock? Was it disgust? He couldn’t tell. “I know I criticized you the other day when you ran off with the priest but I hope you can find that same courage to follow your heart when it comes time to cut yourself free of this being you now serve. I think you are going to have a harder time of it than you think.” Chaska continued walking at a casual pace.

“She’s my teacher, not my master,” she said with a bit of amusment. “It’s true she is quite powerful, but she neither commands nor demands anything of me. But semantics aside, she has made an agreement with me and so far has done nothing to warrant me to suspect she will renege. In fact, she volunteered herself to the Uratha community at-large to combat the threat of the shadow wraiths and the released book spirits. That wasn’t an easy decision. I know the Uratha have a certain view of spirits, but my kind have a different view. Both are valid for their situations and their world view. Just different.”

“I’m not going to New Mexico not because I need to complete what I’m doing here, though that is a factor. I don’t go because I could be a burden in an unknown situation for unknown people from whom I never contracted services or made a deal. But, if John, you, Lyla or even Ramiel asked it of me, I would go. I feel a little bad about not going, mostly for Johnny, but I think it is the right decision. Anyway, the people you are going to serve probably however wouldn’t like a vampire they didn’t contract for tagging along, don’t you think?” She added, keeping up pace with Chaska. Her voice remained calm and friendly with the touch of disappointment seemingly relieved a bit when she admitted why she didn’t want to go.

“One view of the spirits may be as valid as the next view but that doesn’t mean they can co-exist,” Chaska told Ann-Marie. “Jesse, or Anu, volunteered to help Iron Claw for reasons only she knows but I suspect it wasn’t out of selflessness. I am only telling you this because I have recently learned a hard lesson that has a similar theme. When you are too close to someone you lose perspective of the situation. Loving or cherishing someone doesn’t mean somehow that you are impervious to their charms and being bent to their will.”

Chaska looked over at Ann-Marie as she walked beside him. His face was stern. “I wonder how many servants in this world have convinced themselves that they have no master?” The question was rhetorical but was meant as something for Ann-Marie to ponder. Chaska was not in the business of making people do what he wanted them to do. He had always been about counseling those around him. Recently he had questioned his own ability to do that but it did not stop old habits.

Chaska looked forward again. “We all have a master.” Ann-Marie could see that Chaska was picturing whoever or whatever was his master in his mind. It seemed to sadden Chaska ever so slightly whatever it was that he saw in his mind at the moment. “Maybe a better way to put it is that we are all a slave to something or someone. Perhaps your independence and strong will have convinced you that you are your own master but there is no such thing. No one controls their own destiny. One can only hang on and enjoy the ride raising their hands in defiance to the shear terror at times.” Ann-Marie got the feeling that he wasn’t just talking about her and that some of it he was telling himself.

He seemed to snap out of his mood in a few moments. “As for this little jaunt into the unknown I don’t think it is necessary for anyone to go that didn’t make the bargain. It probably would be silly to involve yourself in a game where you have no stakes. But if I may so bold as to make one more observation.” He looked over at Ann-Marie. “You really shouldn’t worry about John so much. I think that John and I are very similar. We may have the appearance of weakness at times but it is only because we both have a tendency to over think situations and often our compassion and emotions lead us places where we didn’t intend to go. It is not a weakness. It can be a handicap at the wrong times but it isn’t a weakness.

“The other night when both Michael and John wanted to end our dispute in Boston by taking out the ‘soldiers’ they came to the same conclusion for very different reasons and required different amounts of fortitude and courage. Michael wields a power that I don’t understand but I know enough to realize that Michael can afford to be so bold because he is armed with a power that few can match. Was he brave to do what he did or was he simply thirsty to use his power? Now ask the same question of John and you will find yourself facing a different set of parameters. John does not have any more fighting ability than your average human. John can feel the closeness of death and its reality far more clearly than any of us can and yet he chose to enter into that church and end it. He risked everything whereas Michael risked very little. But John was judged by Ramiel, Lyla and yourself very harshly without regarding what he risks every time he takes a ride with us. He is essentially a mortal with no special fighting ability as a werewolf or a mage who faces the same dangers as we do and he does so with more bravery than the rest of us because he stands with his convictions rather than weapons.

“From a normal human’s point of view, going in and finishing the job probably makes every sense in the world since from his point of view if you left them alive then you run the risk of revisiting the confrontation. The rest of us could easily have made the assumption that if we left Boston that they would think twice about tangling with us but would John feel that way?” Chaska paused realizing he was on a soap box now. “Well my point is that your brother, John, is an amazing man. He shows a fortitude that I could only wish for and that isn’t just because he immediately made a bargain to save my life without regards to what it would cost him. So, as I started to say, you shouldn’t worry about John so much. He is stronger than all of us in his own way.”

She answered in the affirmative lending a supportive ear and voice to him, “I agree. He is very strong and I am quite proud of him. My only problem with John’s actions is that I didn’t think it was neccessary and to be honest, I’ve seen the beast within and I don’t want him, or for that matter any of you falling prey to it. Johnny both is sure that his action was right and regrets it at the same time. It makes him human, and I love him for it. I don’t agree the attack was neccessary. It crossed the line between self-defense and pre-emptive murder; and by doing so we likely will draw more attention to ourselves. But it is done, and we can’t do anything about it. No sense in condeming people at this point. All we can do it pray for the best and be prepared.”

She paused, “One thing. I’ve never thought either you or Johnny to be weak in any way. In fact, you seem to be the iceberg of calm compared to the other goings on. For my part, I am not the same person you once knew. Thanks to Michael, Johnny, and the goddess’ blessings I have a soul. A rare gift for kindred. Michael of course, like you say, may only have retrieved my soul to see if he could do it. To dabble with the mysteries of death. Or he may have acted in kindness, I can’t say. But I do suspect you are right in that he may be growing to love his power too much. I once thought the same of Ramiel, and perhaps I’m only being hopeful but when he declined to kill the hunters he showed a strength I admire. Despite everything he and I have disgreed, quarrelled and misunderstood about each other, I’ve always found something about him mysteriously admirable. Now I know what it is. I only hope that he and the others see that I am not simply a power-hungry vampire, but a friend.”

She paused, her tone becoming a bit annoyed, “Now, Michael’s lack restraint and uncaring if he hit me or the priest with his bullet (or his simply overconfidence, I don’t know) bothers me and to be honest makes me wary of him. This in addition to his love for power. But, I owe him a debt of sorts, so I’m in a bind.” Her annoyance went away a bit. “Believe it or not, all the group are important on some level to me. And with you and Johnny as exceptions, all worry me to some degree. Even Lyla, whom is a good friend, worries me with her ‘business’. But’s that’s her deal and not something that affects me, so I leave it to her. It’s her business. Eventually I’m sure she’ll have to share with the pack I guess, or not, I’m not sure how that works with your people. For my part, I do serve, in fact besides my goddess and mentors I’ve often sought one I can serve like my kind should, but my choices and situation have not really allowed it. But you, Chaska, you don’t like to whom you serve?” Her question was honest and open, her curiousity genuine. For a moment, he even sensed the flicker of humanity.

Chaska considered what Ann-Marie was saying. He knew that she understood something but didn’t have the capacity to understand the others. It took another werewolf to understand them and maybe that was what was tickling at the back of his mind about Rey that he was going to have to address later. But he could tell that Ann-Marie mistook his comment about masters to mean that he was somehow unhappy about a ‘master’ of his. That is, she seemed to assume that it was a ‘who’ and not a ‘what’. But something else about Ann-Marie was really bothering Chaska. She seemed to act as if there was nothing going on and that everything was normal when anyone should have been able to see that it was not. Ann-Marie was in danger from the pack. How could she not see it? What’s more, Chaska was pretty sure that Ann-Marie was in danger from Anu as well but he could understand how she could not see that danger.

Chaska made a decision. He was going to be upfront with Ann-Marie because he was tired of skirting around issues and playing some pseudo-political game with his pack and their allies. “Well I’m being very general about my comment that ‘everyone has a master’ but you could say that I am unhappy with some of the things that seem to run my life. Well maybe a better description is that much of my turmoil of the last few days comes from the fact that I thought I knew what was going on only to find out that I didn’t have a clue.” Chaska paused deciding how much he should let Ann-Marie know about what had happened to Lyla but he decided that it would be a bad idea to open up pack business to Ann-Marie especially since she was one of the main targets of interest for the pack. But he didn’t intend to hold back on other things.

The pause was finally broken. “Ann-Marie, I’ll cut to the chase. I’m not very good at veiling the truth since I’ve always preferred it naked and in plain sight myself. What I am trying to tell you is that you should focus less on others’ problems and focus more on your own. Anu may have helped the pack but that doesn’t mean that they trust her… far from it. I don’t trust her either but I won’t be here for the next three months to try and counsel the pack how to deal with her presence. Hell, I don’t know the answer to that myself. You must know that there is no separating you from Anu in this matter in the eyes of the pack. If I were you I would have a nice long talk with Iron Claw about your presence here in Eldon Well. I say this with as much generosity as I can afford because the naked truth is that I don’t think Anu being within 1000 miles of here is a good idea. It is counter to everything we, the pack, live for. There is no personal vendetta or some axe to grind here and I’m sorry but it is hard for me to explain this to you as a vampire because I believe vampires and werewolves are different in every imaginable way with regards to our beliefs and feelings. Anu is a threat to us and quite honestly it puzzles me sometimes how you don’t see the pack as a threat to you. Yes, there is no law stating that we must kill each other and it certainly pays to have allies in high places, as Iron Claw has pointed out to me. And if it had remained just you in this territory then likely the alliance would hold and be strong for it but you altered the dynamic and made it imminently more dangerous for us.”

“Your life is in danger, Ann-Marie and not because I say so. You know this is true because you are playing a dangerous game. I don’t expect you to not play this game. I think I’ve come to realize that this is how your kind work. It is an art I am no good at myself. Now you can ignore the matter and assume it will work itself out but I don’t believe that will happen. I believe in my heart that it will work itself out in a way that no body will like. So I’m being very serious when I say that you need to talk to Ironclaw. I wouldn’t go in there and start with ‘Chaska says the pack wants to kill me’ because well, that puts us both in the crosshairs but I would go to Iron Claw and have a heart to heart.”

Chaska looked suddenly exhausted and strained. It was clear to Ann-Marie that this subject was weighing heavily on him and was probably the reason for his somber mood. Chaska had always been a quiet sort and so it was surprising to have so much said by him that was meaningful in such a short span of time. It was also alarming that there was so much emotion below the surface. He was always the epitome of calm and collectiveness but it was gone today. She thought it ironic that the ‘beast’ that Chaska was seeming to have so much trouble containing was not the werewolf inside.

A pause followed. “I have not heard this before,” she answered waveringly and quietly after a pensive moment. “I was told there was some kind of agreement or understanding. At least until her time is done here and the agreement concluded. I will speak to Iron Claw, as you say.” She paused, continuing the wavering slipped away to a moment of clarity, “Chaska you care about me. That’s a comfort actually. You should know, I’m not like most of my kindred in many, many ways. None of my covenant are really. I serve my goddess, the Morrigan with all my heart; but despite what I have heard from some; I know whom my friends are.” Her voice was sincere. “All I ask for is time, patience, and trust. I’ll talk to Ironclaw while you are gone.”

“You too, Ann. We’ll see you when we get back if not before.” Chaska turned to walk away.

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