Timeline: February, 2009
Ann-Marie spent days in thought. Between lessons, journeys to the Shadow, practice deals of blood and essence she grew in knowledge of the spirit and their ways. Anu was both her old friend and her teacher, respected for both. But for the others, her companions and friends especially, she seemed a threat.
She had faith that that part of Anu, that part that was Jesse, was still there. She also had faith that that part of Anu whom was spirit guided by the hand of the Morrigan was truly honorable and beautiful to behold. Yet, some worried; and for their sake she needed proof of the mighty spirit’s intensions.
One night, late after lessons, she brought her questions to her teacher and ally while they were alone at home. “Anu,” she asked, “Do you have a moment before you leave? I have something I should discuss with you.”
Jesse stood with her book in hand. She’d intended to leave and put in some hours down at the hospice later, perhaps after a drink at the bar. It had been a long time she’d done that and for Anu it had been far longer. Now she stopped and looked at Ann-Marie. “Yes?”
“You may want to sit.” she said, indicating toward the chair.
Anu looked at her and smiled. “What is wrong, Ann-Marie?” She suspected the answer to her question already, however.
“I’ve been spoken to by a number of persons, pack persons, who are concerned about you, me, and what we are doing here in their territory. They have been burned before by the spirit world and fear that you won’t hold to your agreement. It isn’t personal, they simply have no other experience that shows them a different way.”
“Of course they fear us,” Anu said. “They are hated by spirits for good reason. Why is this of particular concern to us tonight?”
“I don’t wish a conflict. I see no reason to provoke them or for us to be provoked by them. We have built a secure home here and I have learned a great deal and grown due to using this place as a base, building the sisterhood, and seeking out conflicts with my companions in order to be challenged. Based on what I’ve learned you have every reason to distrust the Uratha, hate them even. As they you. But, is it possible to build trust where there has never been before? I think it is.” She paused a bit. “As time goes on, you and I both grow and they become more apprehensive. You told me that after we were done, the two of you would seperate once again. You having lived the life of a spirit and a mortal will have grown. I will have learned mysteries unfathomable before meeting you. I have defended your word. I believe in you. They want to believe in me, the want to trust me and by extension, your word. But, they need more than my faith.”
“Grow? I’m not sure I’d call being melded into this flesh a growing experience,” replied Anu. “Rather, every time I Claim a human, they leave a piece of themselves with me. It has formed by spiritual body into that of a human concept, and impressed upon me female characteristics and even strange human habits. But we digress.
“What has occurred to bring this concern to the fore of your mind tonight, Ann-Marie?”
“It happened quite a few days ago. I’ve not let it bother me so much, but waited so I could ask what needs to be asked after some thought. I figured I should not wait much longer. You see, you are a true friend and ally; others don’t see that. You mentioned that perhaps you were my only friend here, the only one that would stand by me. I appreciated that, but also it bothered me. Not you so much, but the fact that others may not stand by me. I think it may be that they don’t think I’m invested in this place, but I am more than they think. Chaska, Ironclaw, my brother, Lyla – all I believe would stand up for me and defend me, but would I defend them? I think it would be a yes. I wished Chaska goodbye and he tried to be diplomatic and couch his words, but he couldn’t do it honestly and blurted out his fears. Fears that that part of you that is Jesse is gone forever, that you (and I by extension) would become an intolerable threat in time. I told him to give me time and be patient, and for our friendship he seemed sated by this. But it seems to be a fear that many of the Uratha share, a fear that they would likely pull in their allies to deal with should it become true. I told Ironclaw for instance that it would not be as they see it. They want to believe me, they want to give us time. They want to rise above their primal fears and duties, but unlike me or you cannot grasp the abstract of faith and devotion. They need proof. Not from me, but from you.”
“Proof? Or what? They’ll feel uncomfortable?” Anu smiled easily and laughed. “The proof is in my actions, my dear. I have aided them already and destroyed the shadowraiths when they could not. I have no harmed these villagers, either. They think it is part of some nefarious plot, I presume.
“Well it is part of my plan, of course. My plan is that you will learn the powers I am teaching you and that you will go on to use them. In so doing you will further my purpose, building a bridge between Death and Spirit. Is that nefarious? I don’t think so. It fulfills your dreams and mine.
“I think perhaps they are jealous of the power we shall have together,” Anu stated. “So let us appease them. Offer to them power for those werewolves who deem themselves worthy, granted by me, personally. This must be done within a week, one supplicant — or shall we say applicant? — per night. I shall not have the patience to wait on them longer. The price for my gifts will be small — they will accept this offer of power as proof of my benevolence.”
Ann-Marie smiled, “Well, I don’t think you are nefarious. You are you. You are wonderful. Not what I was expecting, but then again it is the spice that makes existence, not same-old, same old. I share your feelings about proof in action seeming to be not enough, believe me. I explained that your actions few spirits would ever take the time to do, it was enough for a breather, but not for definitive trust – of which there might not ever be.”
“I accept your power and revel in it. However, I don’t think jealousy is their motivation. They see me as an ally and the stronger I am, the stronger they can be should this town be attacked. I will build the bridge that we both seek (both myself and my followers), but I’m not so sure that they will accept the power you offer. Maybe they will welcome it and surprise me, accepting the modest price. All I can do is offer and let the chips fall where they may. Perhaps the offer itself will be enough even if none of them take it up.”
“We shall see,” said the spirit-claimed girl. “The gifts that I am capable of bestowing are too many to tally. Let those who wonder at my offer receive that which they deserve by the spirit-brands they bear — no more, no less.” It was a cryptic statement to Ann-Marie, but Anu knew that the werewolves would understand.
“Spirit bands?” asked the vampire.
“No,” corrected Anu. “Spirit brands. It is how they measure their renown and power.”
“It seems so odd that for beings who seems to be in conflict with spirits so much that they also measure themselves and gain power from the same,” Ann-Marie mused. “But, if that is the way it is, then so be it. I’ll bring your offer to Ironclaw. First thing tomorrow evening. Fair enough?”
Jesse smiled. “That’s fair. Goodnight, Ann-Marie.”
“Good night my friend.” she replied giving her friend and teacher a hug.
With the night turning to morning within a few hours, Ann-Marie went out and laid the groundwork for the meeting the following day. Most importantly, she went to the Blood and Brew where she left a message for Ironclaw to meet in the old clearing near Ramiel’s house.
The following day after sunset she went there.
She found him waiting for her by a small fire he’d built. He was sitting on a thick log whittling a piece of wood. As she approached, he stopped, looked at his work and then shrugged. He tossed the half-formed piece into the fire and then gestured for Ann-Marie to have a seat.
After a quick, internal struggle in which she had to remind herself that he might not be conscious of a vampire’s irrational fear of fire, she did.
“Evening my friend,” she said. “I didn’t know you carved. Anyway, I’ve spoken to Anu at length and I believe there may be a solution.”
“Oh? What would that be?”
“No promises or acts of faith on my part or hers can really assure you or the Pack in this. I understand this. And so does she. So, she has a concrete offer for you and those of the Pack you feel worthy by the spirit brands they bear. She will grant power to those who both apply for it and are by your own standards worthy of it for a small price. We hope that this act demonstrates her benevelence and by extension my own.”
Ironclaw thought about that. “Interesting tactic. She knows there is nothing she can do to show us she’ll keep her word. And we both know that she’ll keep it if it’s convenient for her to do so. As soon as it’s not, she’ll break it without a second thought. So now she’s trying to buy us off with a promise of power to try to smooth things over. Is that about right?”
“Well, tactic it may be, but the offer and the reason behind it is genuine. How exactly would it help her, if she had nefarious plans, to offer her most likely potential enemies power? It wouldn’t unless she had no plans to betray you in the first place. So it isn’t exactly buying you off so much as giving you a leg up and thanking you for your patience. True?” asked Ann-Marie.
“Anyone who is receiving a gift from a spirit is at their mercy at the time the gift is bestowed, Ann-Marie. But I’ll think about that,” he said. “If I decide this is good for the pack, then we’ll find her. Good enough?”
“Well, don’t wait too long. She would like an answer before the week is out. And she asks that only one applicant visit her each consecutive night once you decide to accept her offer, if you decide to do so. Otherwise, good enough for certain. I’ll let her know you’ll seek her out should you accept.”He nodded.
“I think our friendship and alliance can grow from this, Ironclaw, rather than suffer. I do have a question for you, on another topic of concern, if you have the time.”
“What’s on your mind?”
She replied, “Michael is. He seems to be walking a dangerous path.”
“So are you,” Ironclaw pointed out. “What is your concern with him?”
“Oh, I know I’m pushing the envelope. But I did obey the rules you set down and have tried to assure those who don’t understand that things are in control. And maybe he has everything under control as well. Just worried a bit, that’s all. His actions have been very, well Machiavellian of late.
“Ironclaw looked at her curiously. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, I don’t wish to accusatory as in a way I am grateful to him, but after he destroyed the Book of Names did he offer to help you clean up the mess he made? Did he consider what it might do to me or the others in the book? In Boston, he acted in a way tantamount to murder; even Ramiel couldn’t accept his single-minded actions. I couldn’t let him just murder in cold-blood one of the opponents, so I removed that person from the combat. Michael didn’t respect my decision and took a shot at him while I was carrying them, nearly hitting me in the process. Ramiel was disgusted by the entire thing and left. Earlier there was a big argument between the mages over a dead body, but I didn’t get the gist, but as Michael deals in death, I could only imagine what he wanted to try. His giving me my soul seemed more of an experiment than a desire to help me, but perhaps I’m wrong about that. Maybe I should leave it alone, but Chaska seemed worried as well; so I tell you. As I said maybe its nothing.”
“It’s insanity to prey upon your own kind. Against nature, against one’s own basic instincts. Are you saying that Michael hunts his own kind now?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think he cares a wit about me or what might happen to me by his actions; even though I have fought by his side for a long time now. At the same time, I don’t think he has any malice. He simply doesn’t seem to care at all. I don’t know anything for certain about how he feels about the others, but I think their feelings are secondary to his sense of power, or desire to acquire it. Look I don’t know if Lyla told you the whole story, but there were mages that were hunting us in Boston. We struck back. But we did so in a way that was over the top, enough so that I intervened and saved one of the very people we were fighting and Ramiel and I think Lyla refused to participate any further when it became basically an execution. Again, I could be completely wrong about Michael. He could be acting in some high-minded way that I don’t understand. This is just how I see it, and as I said, it could be nothing. He could be right and in the long run I am wrong. I don’t know, but it sure upset Ramiel.”
Ironclaw thought about it a while. Then he said, “If he loses his sanity and becomes the kind of monster his friends fight, I expect they will put him down.”
She nodded, “True enough. Hopefully it won’t come to that. In any case, I’ll take off now and let Anu know that you know her offer.”
“Take care of yourself, Ann-Marie,” he said.
“You too,” she replied, “be seeing you.”