Stepping Out

Timeline: February, 2009

Ann-Marie took the time to create an invitation by hand, crafting an elegant design and hand-calligraphing each letter precisly. It wouldn’t do to simply go knocking on the door of someone she only knew in passing. Once completed, she signed it and placed it in an envelope and mailed it across town to Ariya Honeywell. It read,

“Dear Ms. Honeywell,

For over a year I have lived in this town as the guest of my great uncle, Dr. John Beckett. While we have met in passing during times of crisis, we have never had an opportunity to get to know each other in more relaxed circumstances. This place, this town and the people in it have become important to me both as a place to live and as an inspiration for my art. I would like to rectify this lapse in getting to know more of the promenent people of Eldon Well by inviting you over for wine and cheese with light conversation at my home Thursday evening. Should you prefer, we can meet in a place and time of your choosing.
Sincerely,

Ann-Marie Morgan”

Ann-Marie included her phone number, e-mail, and home address and went on with her business that night: training, learning, and leading her followers in ritual. She returned home shortly after 2 a.m. and painted until dawn, wondering how or if Ariya would respond the following day.

When she rose the next evening, she found a message waiting for her on the phone. It was Ariya. She said that she would be by at eight thirty that evening, after she had supper with her daughter.

With only two hours to get ready, Ann-Marie made a few quick calls and arranged for cheese, bread and small snacks. Wine, she and John normally kept some good stuff (or so John said, to her it was all the same) in the wine cellar. She knew Jesse would be out the early part of the evening at the hospice until late, but she made sure she knew Ann-Marie was having a guest over. She was of course welcome to join them once she left the hospice should she wish.

She dressed in a slightly dressy retro Fifties eurostyle ensemble (with a modern slightly gothy twist) with a barrette in her hair.  This anachronistic, artsy look had been the direction she had been moving since the Book of Names incident, now over the last few months she had embraced it. If she was to play the part of an artist, which she was, and literally was from the fifties, she might as well run with it. She felt more comfortable this way anyway and that was the point.

She put out the food and readied the wine.

Ariya was as good as her word, arriving promptly at eight thirty. The young mage looked a little tired, but otherwise well. She had dressed in simple slacks and blouse, with a heavy winter coat to ward off the snowy chill outside.

Greeting her at the door, Ann-Marie said, “Ms. Honeywell, please come in. Let me take your coat.”

Ariya removed her coat and handed it to Ann-Marie.

She gestured to the living room. “Please have a seat wherever you wish. Can I get you something to drink?”

Ariya moved to a comfortable chair to sit. “Perhaps in a little while,” she said, “but thank you.”

Ann-Marie put her coat away and returned to the living room.  Taking a seat she said, “Well it is good to have you over.  It’s been too long in coming and with my brother and most of my friends out of town I thought it would be a great chance to get to know my neighbors a little better.  How was your dinner with your daughter tonight?”

“My daughter?” Ariya rolled her eyes. “Frustrating. She’d definitely Ramiel’s daughter. Head-strong, proud. She’s doing well in school. Maybe too well, because it leaves her with a bit too much time on her hands. I think she’s bored with the curriculum because it isn’t anything new to her. Plus she’s a teenager and I think she’s noticing boys.” Ariya sighed. “This parenting thing is very new anyway, and now I don’t have a baby — I have a teenager. I’m really not prepared for it very well.”

“I don’t know how much you know about me,” Ann-Marie responded, “but I’ve had some parenting experience of a sort. Probably wouldn’t help a lot in this situation, but I’d like to think that I’m a pretty good sounding board having had a myriad of younger and older siblings in my day. She simply needs a challenge. Is she interested in sports or extra-curricular activities?”

Ariyah looked interested. “We’ve been discussing that. Did you say you raised your siblings?”

Ann-Marie smiled, “I helped for certain. My parents certainly couldn’t do it alone. I am one of the oldest of a huge midwest farm family. I might not look it, but my background is much more humble than the airs I sometimes put on. May I ask, how much do you know about me, who I am. I’m sure your mother, sister or Ramiel have told you some things.”

“You’re a vampire, you’re several decades older than you appear, you aren’t really Dr. Beckett’s niece, and that my mother has asked you not to bring any other vampires here.”

Ann-Marie had hoped for this answer, “Yes, I am what is called, for better or worse, a vampire. Though the legends and reality are not quite the truth as you might expect. I’ve gone to great lengths to set up my identity as my own little brother’s great niece. But, I feel that with certain people in this town who share a mutual desire for discression I can be honest about that. I prefer to be called a ‘Kindred’ or simply Ann-Marie. In fact Johnny is my baby brother; hence why I first came here. You could say that I put him on the road to being a doctor in the first place.”

“Why here? Wouldn’t it be easier to hide your nature in a large city where newcomers are less scrutinized?”

“Easier in some ways perhaps, but this is where I’ve been guided. By fate or by some other will I can not say. I mean, what are the odds that my actual brother from so long ago would be here? In my life, through all my adventures, I never met a werewolf or a mage, not to mention several of each in such a small place. And anyway, in large cities newcomers are definitely scrutinized by other Kindred. Here, I’m more free to do what I wish; officially even. What about you, why do you stay?”

“This is where my family is,” Ariya replied simply.

Ann-Marie smiled at that, “True enough, and for me as well.” She paused, noting Ariyah’s calm manner and asked, “You don’t seem put off by the idea of a vampire. That’s refreshing. Some otherwise rational people have problems with it.”

“Put off? No,” Ariyah said. “I’m simply not afraid. I have the ability to protect myself from vampires. Most people do not. I don’t think it’s irrational, though, for people to have a problem when faced with your true nature. You do feed on people, after all. You must prey on them to survive. Of course they are going to be cautious and fearful around you. Even werewolves, scary as they are, do not generally count human beings among their prey. You, in all of Eldon Well, are unique in that you do feed on people to survive. And, you have abilities evolved to allow you to do so with great efficiency, powers that allow you to manipulate people. Even those people with knowledge of the supernatural, such as Honoré Lafitte and John Beckett are vulnerable to your powers. And, those same people are smart enough to realize just how easy it would be for you to manipulate them even without their knowledge. With all due respect, they are right to fear you.”

“Noted. I appreciate the respect and I understand the fear some have, and I didn’t mind it so much at first – I’m used to it. But I would think I’ve earned some measure of trust. And well,” said Ann-Marie with a shrug. “That is one of the reasons I wanted to get to know you and others in town. I want to live here and help where I can, when I can. Even with teenager issues,” she added with a smile.

“Uh, thanks but I get all the parenting advice I can stomach from my mother,” Ariya said with a roll of her eyes. Clearly, she’d had more than enough of that from the elder Honeywell lately.

“Well,” she continued, “I think you can rest assured that my mother at least has trusted you. If she didn’t she couldn’t have taken you at your word that you would not hurt the people of Eldon Well or that you would not bring others of your kind here. As for other locals, well I would suppose it depends on who you mean. Few, if any, have any idea what you really are. Those very few who do may have little idea of what you’ve done for Eldon Well or for them. Without that knowledge, it may be difficult for the hare to trust the bobcat, if you understand the analogy.”

“Completely. It’s a balance, telling who should know and minimizing or not telling those who shouldn’t. Trust is hard for me as well to extend, though I’m trying. Ramiel and I for instance always dance at the edge of trust, but neither of us seem able to truly bridge our differences. He tried, I tried, but neither it seems recognized the attempts for what they were or if we did, held suspicions. Not unlike what you mentioned earlier. But that’s another issue. I would love to get to know you Ariyah – may I call you Ariyah? – and as you say let the hares know this bobcat isn’t interested in harming them. Wine?”

She considered, knowing she could easily purge poisons and drugs like alcohol out of her system if she wanted to. But she was thinking of Serena, and it wasn’t being tipsy from a glass of wine she thought might be a problem, but rather alcohol on her breath. Ariyah sighed. “I better not. My daughter watches her parents like a little hawk and seems to think she can get away with doing whatever we do. So, no alcohol for me, but thank you.”

Ariyah paused to think a moment. “Ann, aren’t you good friends with that Mr. Claw and Ms. Clairborne?”

“Mr. Claw?” she said with a bit of a laugh, “Forgive me, but Mr. Claw sounds a bit like a villian James Bond might face. But, yes we are. I hope so at least. We dated for a while and have a mutual trust of each other. Lyla and I are fairly good friends as well. They see more in me than some others do. Why do you ask?”

“Well, it sounded as if you were feeling a bit disconnected from the part of the community that would have the best chance of understanding you. You see, to my knowledge the list of those endowed with supernatural power and true insight into some of the secrets that lurk in the shadows of this world in this town is actually very short and they consist only of you, the werewolves, my sister, and of course Ramiel, Michael and myself. That means that of the original natives of this town, only my sister and I would classify as being supernatural. While others have some occult knowledge, there are none like yourself and your friends that have only in the past two years come to this town.

“That’s not say there aren’t knowledgeable people here. For instance, the librarian, sheriff, my mother — all of the towns elders in fact — know things far beyond what a typical person might know. But that doesn’t mean they know anything like details about people like Ms. Clairborne, you, or even myself. I guess I wonder what precisely you are getting at with your concerns over trust and respect?”

“I guess I am a bit disconnected at times. Not all the time, but once everyone left it became obvious that I really didn’t know that many people in Eldon Well other than them and my friend Jesse. Michael, who stayed as well I really can’t call a friend and Ironclaw…well he is an ex. That’s part of the reason too that I want to step out and try to build new connections, a wider circle of friends. Another is that some of my frequent companions have hinted that if push came to shove, I’d abandon this place. So they don’t always trust me.”

“That’s interesting. Have you given reason for them to think that?”

“Yes. Of course I did. Some of this is my fault. It’s a culture clash of sorts. But what I have to tell you is a bit private, I’d ask you to please keep it close.”

Ariyah nodded.

“We are all here because of family. I wouldn’t abandon Johnny, nor would I abandon my friends. Ramiel won’t abandon Lyla nor would she (I think) abandon the Pack. Same goes for the others, except Michael. I don’t know what motivates him. But that’s another story for another time. But if Lyla wasn’t here, would he, Ramiel stay if things got really dangerous? He would go where Lyla goes. I understand and appreciate that. But I have said in the past, if things went south, I’d leave. It was taken out of contest, meaning I’d leave this place and if possible come back; but I wouldn’t fight and die for it. I hardly knew anyone. Ramiel for one seemed to expect from me within a short time some kind of mindless devotion to companions I hardly knew and a place I’d barely been in. When I wouldn’t give it, he saw that as untrustworthy. He didn’t deserve my loyalty so soon. Few would.”

“Now that I’ve been here awhile, my investment in this place has changed, but the stigma remains. I think there is more to it than that in Ramiel’s case; but it has affected the others and how they think of me to a lesser degree. Recently, I advocated ditching some mage hunters instead of confronting them and drawing more attention. Some saw that as me showing my desire to abandon them. I saw it as common sense. You don’t kill a hunter, you avoid them lest you draw in more. It’s a cultural thing.”

“So, you believe that Ramiel’s opinion of you has colored what others think of you,” Ariyah said. “Well, despite your perception of his loyalty to Lyla, I think you underestimate him. His daughter is here and so is his daughter’s mother. We aren’t going anywhere, and I’m not sure he would leave even if Lyla made him choose.”

Ariyah looked more intently at Ann-Marie. “But I would like to hear more about this killing of mage hunters. Who are they? And why are mages killing anyone?”

“Yeah, enough about Ramiel. He only seems to get me annoyed and this is supposed to be a pleasent evening.” she smiled. “Though part of me does like him. Anyway, I can’t get too much into the mission details because it would be treading on the privacy of my companions; but I can and since you are a mage perhaps I should tell you about these hunters.

“The only name for them that came up was Banishers. They seem to be hunters of mages who are actually mages themselves. They seemed to be on some kind of holy mission to wipe out their own kind and others such as werewolves and yours truly. Doesn’t make much sense to me. I mean, what will they do once they succeed, kill themselves?”

“If they believe they are on some kind of holy mission, then they might be fanatical enough to do just that, or at least that’s what they may tell themselves. They sound dangerous,” Ariyah said.

Ann-Marie concurred, “Yes, they are. But we, I mean Kindred, have found that unless you have no other choice you simply avoid these hunter-types. If they can’t find you, they may move on or simply quit – job done. Why stir up a hornets nest when you don’t have to?”

“Well, mages are fairly rare. There can’t be an unlimited number of them. By leaving them, were you avoiding complicating things, or were you really just leaving them to be someone else’s problem?”

“I did ask that of myself. In fact, we were all split on how to deal with it. I suggested that we inform the locals and leave. That would be the polite thing to do. I mean, if the local mages have problems with these hunters then perhaps we were doing them a favor or making things worse. We didn’t know. It was a moral dilema and we all had different opinions. In any case we know these hunters are out there, though they are fewer in number.”

“I can see how there might be debate,” Ariyah allowed. “So some of these banishers were killed. Sad, but probably the only way stop them, really. People like that tend to give you few other options when they attack you and won’t stop.”

“It is sad and I appreciate your understanding. The situation was quite morally complex. No one was absolutly right or wrong so much as confronted with various degrees of gray. May I ask you a personal question?”

She smiled. “You may ask.”

Ann-Marie returned her smile. I like this woman, she thought. “Your daughter, the whole strangeness of suddenly having a teenager. As you said, it would be a difficult situation to be thrust in to. How did this ever happen?” she asked.

“I really don’t know the answer to that,” Ariyah said. “All we really have are guesses. Certainly to my daughter, she lived her whole childhood, so it’s not as if magic were used to make her suddenly age sixteen years.”

“When Ramiel and I first encountered her, he seemed to think she was some kind of assassin or other kind of danger. It was a false alarm. He wouldn’t talk about it and was very evasive. I understand why now, but I wish he could have shared his suspicions a bit more. It would have saved a lot of anger and frustration for both of us. Anyway, if she lived those sixteen years and have memories of them,” she paused, “wait, how can that be?”

“To Ramiel and I, you have to understand that this is a very personal matter,” Ariyah said. “It’s enough to know that she’s important to us, and so she became important to our enemies. I don’t know how she lived sixteen years of life in only one year.”

“I understand now, but at the time I didn’t know if it was a potential threat, Ramiel going off the deep end, or something else. It’s good you have her back and I am happy for you both.”

“Thank you,” Ariyah said. “I feel like what they did was steal 16 years of time from me as a parent. I don’t know if you can really understand how that feels, but it’s really awful. I was going to have a baby and then something horrible happened to me. I can’t even remember much about it, except for what Ramiel and my family has told me. I know that whatever it was, it messed me up really bad for a while and I thought it only a passing dream. And so then only a couple months ago I discover it was all very real and bam! Here’s my daughter, now 16 years of age. It’s totally disorienting, bewildering, upsetting and frightening. But my daughter is here now and she needs her parents. So, the only thing you can do is just accept it and do what you have to do. I know the very same feelings apply to Ramiel.”

Ann-Marie nodded, “I can see that – in both of you.” She wanted to comment on how she found out about Serena in the first place but she let it go. Instead she commented, “You know, both of you do have an advantage raising a teenager that almost no one ever does. You have fresh experience. What I mean by that is that you both are in your twenties; not too disconnected from what teens like and have recent teenage memories.”

“And a disadvantage in that we can be seen more as older siblings rather than parents.”

“True enough. Many people who find out they are parents can’t handle it. You seem to be holding together alright. Is eveyone supportive? How do you explain it to outsiders who know nothing of what is supernatural? I have some experience in such thing, identity-wise and might be able to help.”

“Why would I explain it to outsiders?” Ariyah smiled. “It’s been handled.”

“Won’t the townsfolk get curious, her school friends?”

Ariyah shrugged. “Not really. I adopted her. That’s as far as anybody really ever cares to know.”

“Well done! Never thought of that.” Ann-Marie said with a smile, “I hope I’m not being a bore, but can I ask a little about Eldon Well?”

“Be my guest.”

“As you know, I practice a form of Goddess-worship, I noted that this town was founded by druids.  How did that come to be?”

“Like many who came to America back then, they were evading persecution, so they could find a place to practice their religion in peace.”

“But I thought druidism was wiped out by the Romans or assimilated into Christian traditions? My beliefs for instance predate even that, but the only reason they survived was immortal kindred passing them along. Was it similar for your ancestors?”

“Perhaps Vampires aren’t the only ones who keep secrets,” Ariyah smiled.

Ann-Marie returned Ariyah’s smile, “Touché! Well, I have certainly enjoyed this evening. Perhaps we could do so again?”

Ariyah nodded. “Perhaps.” She smiled and then bid Ann-Marie good night.

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