Timeline: February 6, 2009
Rey walked out of the grocery store with a backpack full of groceries when she saw Jesse on the other side of the street.
“Hey Jesse!” she called out, and quickly crossed the road to join her friend.
Jesse paused. “Hello, Rey,” she said. Rey oddly felt like Jesse was a taller than she remembered.
“I haven’t seen you around much. What have you been up to?”
As Rey stopped next to her friend, she realized she was lookup up quite a bit to look Jesse in the eye. Rey checked her shoes, but Jesse wasn’t wearing high heels. She was, in fact, wearing an entirely new set of clothes. Or at least, it was a set she hadn’t seen before. “Oh, I’ve been keeping busy,” Jesse replied. There was a quiet stillness to her voice that made one think of libraries or waiting rooms or graveyards. “I quit my job with Tara Honeywell, you know, and started working at the hospice. It keeps me busy. What’s new with you?”
Rey shrugged. “I’ve gotten a lot busier. I own the bar now. Why’d you quit working for Tara?” She was puzzled at the changes in Jesse. Hamilton, can you take a peek at Jesse and tell me if you see anything different about her from the last time we had lunch together? She’s changed.
Changed, Mistress? The cat hurried across the street and then sat on Rey’s foot. I don’t see any changes…
“I think the hospice suits me better,” Jesse replied. “But you said you own the bar? I thought that belonged to Lyla.”
“The bar belongs to the pack’s Lupa, and she’s not Lupa anymore,” Rey said simply. “We still on for Thursday?” The last time she and Jesse had spoken, they’d made a “date” for a girl’s night in – dinner and discussion and sharing of their occult knowledge at Rey’s place, a safe place to talk away from Ann-Marie.
“Thursday?” Jesse looked blank. “I’m sorry, Rey. With all the excitement due to the shadowraith attacks this week, I seem to have forgotten completely. What was it we had planned again?”
“Our usual girl’s night in,” Rey said with a frown. “Are you okay? You seem a bit off.”
Jesse seemed to take a sudden right turn in the conversation. “Have you spoken with Ironclaw today?”
“Not yet, but I was hoping to have dinner with him and Grey tonight. Why?”
Jesse smiled. “I think that he will want to tell you some things about me. I’d rather tell you myself, though. Do you have time now?”
“Sure, if you don’t mind walking,” Rey said. “I’ve got milk and stuff in my backpack and I need to get it home.”
Jesse hesitated. “No, I’m sorry but I don’t think that’s a good idea, not with your company due to arrive tonight. I was hoping for someplace less likely to be disturbed?”
“I dunno. The office at the bar?”
Jesse smiled. “That will do. The lupa’s office.”
“The bar it is, then,” Rey said.
Later, Rey had stowed what needed to stay cold in the fridge and then they retreated to the office where Jesse sat comfortably after hanging up her wool winter coat on the stand.
“So,” Jesse started. “There isn’t any reason to keep you in the dark about this since your alpha will certainly tell you very soon anyway. When I was simply Jesse, I attended a a cult meeting. Nothing out of the ordinary, just something that Ann-Marie does. But this time a powerful goddess appeared in the bonfire. As Anu, I had showed Ann-Marie I was coming in her dreams. So, when I arrived in person and told her that I would teach her in arts lost to her kind long ago, she was interested. But in order to teach her in this world, something that would take considerable time, I needed a mortal host.”
“What?” Rey’s blood ran cold.
“Jesse was used to dealing with spirits possessing her — well ghosts anyway. She was trained to be susceptible to it by her Aunt. I’m sure she mentioned her to you. The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans?” Jesse smiled. Only now Rey knew it wasn’t exactly Jesse now. “She knew she was the best, most logical choice. If it would be anyone — and it was going to be someone — she wanted it to be her.
“She was right, of course. So she volunteered for it. Anu took her that night, but it was not possession. Anu claimed her, merged with her. Now there is effectively no Jesse or Anu, but just me. I am both your friend, if you allow it, and Ann-Marie’s teacher.”
“I… I don’t know. Jesse was my friend. I know nothing about Anu.” Rey shook her head. “I need some time to think about this.”
“She will be again. Although your pack doesn’t trust my word, I’ve given it. When I’ve given Ann-Marie the knowledge she has earned, the spirit of Anu will release Jesse and your friend will return to you.” She paused and looked at Rey significantly. “Unless your pack attacks me and kills Jesse. They might have the strength to kill this body, but it will only release my spirit. Your friend, if things are left as they are, will die and Anu will simply go on to find another host. I have tried to offer gifts to Ironclaw to try to convince him of my intention. I also offer it to you, even though you are not a werewolf. There are still gifts a goddess can provide you.”
Hamilton, is what she said true? A human who has been claimed by a spirit can be released and returned to normal?
Honestly, the spirit cat said, I don’t know. I’ve never heard of such a thing done. I wouldn’t think it’s easy. Certainly not as easy as just letting the host die.
“Your offer seems more like a bribe than a gift. I have never heard of any spirit willingly giving up a mortal host, let alone leaving them alive and still themselves.”
“I’ve done this many times,” said Jesse. “Each time leaves me with a little trace of humanity, so I understand what you are saying. I also understand the werewolves’ position. However, I would point out that it was I who destroyed the shadowraiths that were killing people in this town. I led your pack to the hosts they’d forced themselves upon. I trapped them in Shadow and destroyed them where the pack could not on its own. To your alpha, it seems that’s as far as our alliance went. But you are human even where your packmates are not. Does saving the lives of possible scores of townfolk mean as little to you as it does to them?” Jesse watched Rey very closely, curious to see if this person had retained her humanity despite her pack affiliation.
“Of course it’s important to me,” Rey replied with a flash of anger. “I am grateful that you chose to help, but that still doesn’t mean I don’t question your motives, or the circumstances that resulted in your current existence. If you have access to any of Jesse’s memories, then you’ll know why.”
“No, I don’t know why,” Jesse insisted. “I’m no vampire. Nor do I know of any encounters that you’ve related to me that had to do with spirits to cause you to distrust us. You are loyal to your sponsor spirit are you not? He has treated you well and taught you things? He has helped the pack and granted them powers?” Jesse rolled her eyes. “Honestly. None of you make any sense at all. It’s as if you can’t trust that which you cannot defeat. And that is a very uncivilized, barbaric attitude to have because I’m here to tell you that the lot of you are very small fish in a very big pond. You have a spirit in your presence who means you no harm and actually feels compelled to be nice to you — and I do mean that — and you practically spit in my face at every turn.”
Compelled? Put in Hamilton. She said compelled, didn’t she? Well that’s surely good news, isn’t it, Mistress! That means that this Jesse/Anu person really is made of both of those beings. It means that Jesse wants her to help. Hamilton paused to consider. And that, I think, leads us to all sorts of new conclusions, doesn’t it Mistress.
Yes, it does, Rey replied to her familiar. We need to talk about this, but later.
“The Uratha are what they are,” Rey continued aloud with a shrug, her anger dissipating. “And while I may be Pack, I am not Uratha and do not carry their prejudices nor harbor their beliefs. To be honest, I distrust any one I don’t know, spirit or otherwise, who says to me “here, I’ll give you all manner of wonderful things” with no mention of what their cost to me will be.
“Nor is there a need to remind me how small of a fish I am. I’m a hedge witch, and I have no great ambitions for power. If I had, I would have asked Jesse to teach me more than just the theories of voudon.”
“Interesting that you say you don’t carry their prejudices, when it is so obvious you do. You are more like them than you know. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you could with just the smallest little nudge, be just like them.” Jesse shrugged. “I thought the price was obvious,” Jesse said. “Spirits cannot give anything for free, and what I’ve asked for is to be let alone, unmolested by the werewolves here so that I can continue my teaching in peace. Your alpha has been informed of the offer. Whether he’s seen fit to tell you that or not is your own affair. Still, the offer stands.”
“Understood, but I’m curious as to what prejudices I so obviously have.”
“Against spirits,” she pointed out. “Your tone and immediate reaction showed it.”
Rey shook her head. “No, you misunderstand.” She let out a little sigh. “I have no problem with spirits. In fact, there’s one little spirit for whom I have great affection. My reaction to hearing what happened to Jesse, the creation of you,” Rey said, gesturing slightly at Jesse, “well, was aimed for the most part at Ann-Marie.
“I find it difficult to accept that Jesse would completely and freely agree to being claimed by a spirit. She was scared of Ann-Marie, worried about her safety if she ever said no to one of Ann-Marie’s requests.
“And I’m afraid for Jesse’s safety. Everything I have learned about spirits, even before I came to Eldon Well, is that someone claimed by a spirit is gone. Their personalities replaced by the spirit, and I’ve never heard of any Claimed surviving the spirit releasing them. If you say that you can and will release her and she won’t be unduly harmed when you have finished teaching Ann-Marie, then I will accept your word on it,” Rey said, meaning every word she said.
“I see. The problem is that you have a misconception about what happens when a spirit Claims a host. First, you should know that it is extremely difficult for a spirit to Claim someone, even if they are willing. If they aren’t willing, it’s often impossible even for the most powerful spirits around. So, when a spirit Claims a subject, they usually Claim someone who is predisposed to accept the spirit. Spirits are almost never attracted to incompatible hosts. I just doesn’t work.
“That said, it is possible to manipulate people to some extent into becoming more favorable to Claiming. That takes a great deal of time and effort on the part of the spirit, though to some it may be worth it. This is not the case for me, however. Jesse was both willing and particularly adept at allowing spirits and ghost enter her. It is part of her Vodoun tradition and she was well taught by her Aunt.
“Now I should explain the most crucial point, the point that is really the basis for your concern. When a person is Claimed by a spirit, the personality of the host is not replaced. It’s merged. This is why it’s so important to a spirit to find a compatible and willing host. Can you imagine the insanity that would result if, for instance, a murder spirit attempted to merge with a care-giver such as a nurse or fireman? These people save lives, not take it. Such a spirit could never find a real balance with the human side of them.
“I’m both Jesse and Anu. I’m essentially a new person made up of both these entities. The personality of Anu is stronger than Jesse’s, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t present. I am Jesse — and more. When I have completed teaching Ann-Marie what I have promised, then I will become two people again. Jesse will be left intact and Anu, the spirit. Anu, however, will carry with her forever an impression of Jesse. Spirits are malleable, changeable. In a sense, Jesse will be immortalized in Anu the spirit because the human soul, even if temporarily joined with a spirit, is immutable.”
“The problem I face currently is that werewolves wish to enforce the ancient rules that forbid spirits from crossing over from the Shadow World. Yet, they themselves do so regularly and even make exceptions to their own rules on a regular basis. In order for me to reach out and teach a being Anu considers to be one of her children, she must step through the Guantlet, because the child vampire cannot. Not yet. If your pack attempts to enforce its rules upon me, then most likely this body will die. Anu will return to spirit form, where she is strongest, and will likely seek revenge. But the first and biggest looser in such a conflict would be Jesse. Jesse alone, the un-Claimed girl, is an innocent. I am both her and Anu, a goddess of Death in Battle. In no way would her death, or the senseless slaughter of any innocent please me or Anu.
“Your alpha can’t trust a spirit of my power. I know that this is simple caution and wisdom on his part. But if you can believe my words and you can impress upon your alpha the truth of them, then we can save the life of your friend. My life. For if he murders me, murders Jesse, Anu will war with this pack. Whatever else you choose to believe, please believe that. The gifts I offer you and your pack are peace offerings, not bribes. In exchange, I wish only to be left to my task. I don’t not wish war. That is the domain of my sisters.”
Rey sat there quietly, thinking about what Jesse said. “I’ll do what I can.” She didn’t know how much Ironclaw would listen to her, but perhaps if she talked to Grey about it, she might be able to learn more, and perhaps gain a supporter for moderation. “Why did you get taller?” she asked suddenly.
“When a person is claimed, the spirit that has melded to their soul also changes their body to something more familiar to the spirit. You end up with someone who looks a bit like both the host and the spirit, but many times you get something that looks unique. In my case, Anu was a spirit who’d Claimed many people over the years. However, in keeping with the original concept that created her, she always chose dark-haired women. In time, she acquired many of their physical attributes as a spirit, but with the status and size of a goddess. So, as time goes on and Anu’s spirit is fully integrated, I will change to look more like a cross between Jesse and Anu. Anu is, very, very tall, a titan. Jesse is not, so I will become something in between.”
“When your time is done, and you separate into Jesse and Anu again, will Jesse return to the way she was?”
She nodded. “Yes. Jesse will be exactly as she was the night she gave herself to Anu. She will remember everything, but will retain none of the powers I have.”
“Will Jesse benefit from what’s happened in any way?”
“Not in a material sense,” she said.
“I’m not sure what you mean by material. I understand that she won’t be gaining any powers. I’m just wondering if she’ll come ahead in some way, or if Ann-Marie will be the only one who gets something out of this.”
“Jesse will not gain in that way. But Ann-Marie is not the only one who stands to gain something from me.”
Rey nodded and smiled. “I remember what you said. Is there a time limit on your offer?”
“Yes,” Jesse replied. “The offer will stand for one week.”
“Okay.” Rey paused for a moment. “And thank you.” She really didn’t know what else to say. So many things were whirling around in her head that needed to be sorted through before she made any decisions.
Jesse looked expectantly at Rey for a moment, but when Rey didn’t say anything, she asked, “Don’t you want to know what I was offering you? Or have you already figured that out?”
“Sorry,” Rey said with a sheepish smile. “This is a lot for me to digest. Yes, I’d like to know what you’re offering.”
“Would you like to have more in common with the Uratha that comprise your pack?”
“In what way? I don’t want to be Uratha, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Jesse blinked. “Why not? You’re attitude, your position, these things keys to the mindset Uratha share. You also possess devotion to their ideals and history, respect for spirits but also a sense of duty to what the Uratha do. Most importantly of all, you’ve already been touched by the supernatural. I cannot make you Uratha, of course. Not personally. But it intrigues me that you wouldn’t wish to become one of them. You realize that by being a mortal in the midst of the Uratha, you weaken them, don’t you? That by having to even have a concern for your safety you distract them from the very real dangers they face daily? If you love them, how could you not wish to be everything you can be to help and protect them as much as they do you?”
Rey gave a half-hearted laugh. “I became Lupa purely by chance, and my so-called devotion to their ideals only goes so far. Even if Jesse hadn’t been my friend, I would never consider killing you simply because Anu merged with her. Nor would I condone the cold blooded murder of someone who was a potential threat to the pack.
“But I know the weakness I present, especially in a fight.” She fought back the lump rising in her throat. Jesse had voiced the concerns she herself had been battling with since the day she’d been bound to the pack. “Physical strength is not the only thing needed in a fight. A gun can do more damage than a rampaging Uratha.
“I’ve witnessed and personally experienced the damage an out of control Uratha can do, to themselves and the ones they care about most. I won’t deny I haven’t felt a touch of envy at the Gifts they can earn from spirits, and I know that is also part of their strength, their power. I’d like to think I have my own strengths and abilities for which they value me, but if I became Uratha, I would lose what I am, my humanity. I would lose Hamilton, and I would most likely lose Grey as well.
“If there was some way for me to gain even a measure of power to help the pack, then I would consider it, but I know I can’t have my cake and eat it too.” Rey felt a tear start to roll down her cheek, but she refused to reach up and brush it away.
Jesse smiled to try to encourage Rey. “I think you are making it sound worse than it is,” Jesse said gently. “Why would you lose Hamilton? Why would you lose Grey? And don’t you think that the worries of the losses you suggest are the very same ones they had when their heritage happened upon them? At least you have a choice in what happens to you.”
“Maybe,” Rey said. “Back to the topic at hand. You asked if I wanted to have more in common with the other members of my pack. You said you can’t make me one of the Uratha, so what did you mean?”
Jesse smiled again. “I don’t know the mysteries of the Uratha, why the Children of the Moon are the way they are. But I do know they are in fact Luna’s children with Father Wolf. Her direct servants, the Lunes, represent her will and are the greatest spirit allies of those you call, the Forsaken. My own choir, made of powerful warrior goddesses, is tightly allied with the gods of the moon — the Lunes. It so happens that I could call one for a favor. A powerful one. I do not know that it could make you Uratha. Nor can I truly predict what a Lune will really do. But, if you wish to become more kin to the Uratha you serve with, it is with a Lune you should commune to find this common ground. This meeting between you and a Lune would be my gift to you.”
“Okay,” Rey said thoughtfully. “I need some time to think about this. I’ll let you know in a couple days.”
“Do consider your time carefully,” Jesse advised. “I promised a boon to each of your pack, one per night for a period of one week. Only one gift per night will be granted. The first to arrive that night will receive my gift and the next will simply have to wait for another night.”
Rey nodded. “Where would be the best place for me to look for you, should I decide to take you up on your offer?”
Jesse gave her the address to the small place in town she was staying for the moment.
“Thank you.” Rey tucked the piece of paper she wrote it down on into her pocket.