Stepping Out 2

Timeline: February 16, 2009

Ann-Marie took some time away from her cult, her studies and her art to go and meet up with some of the others who lived in Eldon Well. Of particular interest on this day was Rose. She had fought by her side and knew of her, but so far they hadn’t gotten to know one another. She decided that could change if she tried.

She knew that Rose spent a lot of time working at the Blood and Brew, so she thought she’d start there. She went in one day when she knew Rose was working, a slow day in particular and sat up at the bar far to one side, sketchbook in hand. This was a bit unusual as she usually took a private booth.

Rose watched her as she polished the bar. Tuesdays were among the slowest nights, which meant there was just a scattering of regulars, die hards who wanted a drink every night after work. They were all familiar now, and she knew what everyone wanted. It was easy to keep their glasses filled. The only thing unusual tonight was the vampire sitting at the bar. And so, she watched and waited.

Ann-Marie was drawing and sipping her wine (not bad, almost has a taste other than ash) when she looked up and caught Rose’s eye. “Rose, do you have a moment please?”

Rose stepped over to stand across from her. “More wine?”

“Just top it off please.  Thank you.” she replied.  “Rose, may I ask you something?”

Rose poured her some more wine, then put the bottle away. “Sure.”

“What do you love about Eldon Well?  I mean what brought you here and keeps you here?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Just trying to break the ice a bit.  I mean I’ve known you for over a year now and we haven’t really talked.”

“I’m sure you already know why I’m here. I’m here because my friends are here. Why are you here, Ann-Marie?”

“I believe the same; that and family.” the vampire answered. “And the wilderness. I do love it out here.”

Rose nodded, then moved away to refill drinks for customers. When next she was unoccupied, she was washing glasses.

Ann-Marie continued sketching and sipping her wine slowly, letting some time pass by. After about 45 minutes she finished her wine. She signaled Rose and waited.

Rose approached with a wine bottle. “Ready for another?”

“Sure,” she said knowing the wine was pointless. “Rose, do you mind if we chat awhile?”

Rose looked up from the bar at Ann-Marie. “Sure. Lot’s of people like to talk to the bartender after a few drinks,” she said with a half-smile.

Ann-Marie smiled back, “Well, I suppose that is tradition.  In any case, earlier I mentioned friends.  You did too.  I find that I miss mine lately.”

“They made a deal to help Chaska and Michael as I understand it. They are missed, but they do what they have to.”

“Michael?  I knew about Chaska, but why didn’t Michael go then?” she said surprised.

She shrugged. “You’d have to ask him that question.”

“Point,” she said. “I might, but suppose it is his business.  It’s between him and those who made the deal.  Chaska, you are good friends with him, yes?”

Rose shrugged. “I’ve noticed that people of his type lack the sense of loyalty that people of my type have. And yes of course Chaska is my friend.”

“Surprisingly, I think the two of us may be becoming friends.  I admire his honesty; and to be honest with you I admire your kind in general.  You probably already know that. But when it comes to Michael, what do you mean, his type?”

Rose looked around at the other patrons and shrugged again.

“Yeah.  Understood.”  Ann-Marie was only thinking in generalities, but Rose could have been thinking in specifics, like Michael being a mage.  “Perhaps later on when we can speak a bit more freely.  Do you mind if I sketch you?  I’m looking for a model for some of my work.”

“You can if you give me a copy of the sketch.”

“Of course.  If you like it, I wouldn’t mind asking you to model for other projects.  I’d pay you of course.  It’ll be fun.”

“Me?” She seemed flattered, but not interested in the idea. “Thanks, but I really don’t have the time for that kind of thing.”

“No pressure. Tell you what, I’ll finish this sketch and you can have it.  No need for anything else.  Though you do have a great form and would be inspiring for art.  Just my opinion of course.  I have an eye for these things.”

Rose seemed to be off guard. She looked down at herself and then at Ann-Marie. “Uhm.” She leaned across the bar and spoke quietly so others would not overhear. “Maybe I’m picking up signals that aren’t there, but I think that it’s only fair for me to tell you that I’m not into women. Thanks, though.”

Ann-Marie smiled and whispered back, “No, I’m not talking about that.  Honestly it’s only about modelling for art.  That’s okay though; anyway you are seeing someone anyway, right?”

Seeing she was mistaken, Rose leaned back and resumed a normal tone. “More or less. Chaska and I are close, though the physical side hasn’t been … well it’s not entirely safe for us. I have some people I brought into town when I settled here that I use for casual sex.”

“Hmm. You know, everyone seems to think I’m up to something at all times. Seduction, manipulation, plans within plans. Hate to burst the conspiracy bubble, but I just want to enjoy myself and help my friends out of their troubles. Simple. But as far as relationships go, while I’m open minded, I prefer men. Strong ones.”

Rose nodded. “You’re seeing someone then?”

Ann-Marie looked a little disappointed, but quickly waved it away, “No.  I have no one, not anymore.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Rose said. “I knew that you are– were close to Jesse, and I had thought you two were intimate. That’s part of the reason I thought you liked girls. I know you used to date Ironclaw, too.”

Rose’s words resonated with Ann-Marie, “Thanks. To be honest, I do care for Jesse a great deal; but until recently I was her mentor and it didn’t feel right for either of us. Once my training is over with, maybe the two of us will be on equal enough footing in both our eyes. Once I was the teacher, now she is the teacher, and later perhaps we can be more for each other.” She paused, “Ironclaw was always purely sexual and ended because he needs what I cannot give. I respect that and we remain friends.”

“Then I hope Jesse survives all this.”

“I have faith that she will. You know, I offered myself first, but she stepped up to the challenge when others would be afraid. I admire her greatly. I simply couldn’t take on Anu, into myself. She did so of her own free will following her beliefs and careing for me. For that I will be forever grateful. And for me that means a long time.”

“She may not have known what she was getting into. Being Claimed by a spirit is not the same as being possessed by some ghost.”

Ann-Marie noticed an older man with short but white hair was staring at the two, listening to the conversation. His beer glass was empty; likely he meant to get the bartender’s attention, but had to wait for a break in the conversation.

“Looks like a customer wants your attention,” Ann-Marie noted, “and, maybe this isn’t the best place to discuss this come to think of it.”

Rose smiled wryly. “Perhaps not.” She moved to take care of him, leaving Ann-Marie some time to think of an alternative.

When Rose came back, Ann-Marie asked, “When do you get done here? Perhaps we can take a walk?”

“I’ll be done at two, then I’ll need to close out the bar. I’m usually done by around two-thirty. If you still want to talk, we could do it then.”

Ann-Marie left and took the time to meet with her growing following. Jesse/Anu had been a boost to her passion in that respect. While Jesse worked away for Ann-Marie’s education, Ann-marie had built her cult following somewhat. When the time was right, she returned as Rose was locking up.

“Hi Rose, hope I didn’t startle you.”

She turned and smiled. “No. I sensed your approach,” she assured the vampire.

“I figured.  Thought I’d be polite.  Should we take a stroll towards East woods?” replied Ann-Marie.

“After you,” said the werewolf.

The two of them began walking towards the eastern part of town.  As it was late, there was literally no one around.  Ann-Marie spoke up, “I want to let you know I agree with you.”

“About?” Rose prompted.

“That maybe neither myself nor Jesse really knew what we were getting into.  We thought we did, and I’ve learned that there is much I didn’t know and still don’t know.  It’s a bit humbling to admit, but there it is.  Yet, I have faith that everything will work out as it should.” replied an honest Ann-Marie.

“That’s the thing about faith. Reason doesn’t have any place in it,” Rose stated.

“People say that,” Ann-Marie acknowledged, “but I’d like to think that reason and faith are like shoes on your feet.  You can go further with both than you can with just one.  But even the best reasoning isn’t definitive proof, there are always doubts.  That’s where faith comes in.”

“At least that is what I believe,” she said with a smile.

Rose nodded, but she was not one for metaphor. “I’m not sure I buy the analogy. You can’t walk on shoes of reason and faith. It means you are hopping on one foot or the other depending on which foot you are tiring of. It means, you choose when you use reason and when you use faith.”

“I suppose in some ways you are right; I believe they can co-exist.  For right now, faith is my strongest ally.  Faith in my friends, faith in my choices, and faith in my Goddess. I’m a priestess, it is one of the qualifications,” she said with a smile.

“Why do you choose this faith in a spirit that you call goddess?”

“Are you speaking of Anu, or whom she is but an aspect of, the Morrigan?”

“Whichever it is you choose to worship.”

“I worship the mother goddess as she reveals herself as the Morrigan. Though I do hold Anu in high esteem and love. Morrigan herself is seen as a death goddess by many, but that doesn’t mean myself or her other followers wish to hasten that process. She is a goddess of transformation, of strength, of fertility, sexuality and womanhood and of perseverance. She has tested me many times, driving me past my limits. Her worship is not for the faint of heart. She is the old way, the ancient way, and I believed in her long before I became what I am.” she answered with sincerity. “Do not the Uratha worship and serve Luna? She too is a mother is she not?”

“Your comparison is not valid,” Rose said with a small laugh. “Luna literally created us. She is our mother. We venerate her — and fear her.

“Ann-Marie this may be hard for you to hear, but it’s the utter truth. I hope you can understand what I’m telling you. You have no spirit at all. This goddess you speak of, if she is spirit, can have no connection to your kind at all, except that she might derive power from your faith and the things you might do at her urging. She is not a woman. She cannot reproduce. She was never, ever human. And Ann-Marie, you are not human either. Therefore it makes no sense at all, in terms of faith or in reason, that you should follow this being. You need to believe me. I am a spirit and I know of what I speak. Do you understand?”

“I understand. Though I don’t believe the Morrigan herself is a spirit, not in the sense you speak. Or if she is, she is a most ancient and pwoerful one, worthy of respect. I do not know for certain, but I do know her power isn’t limited by the Gauntlet and has guided my people and mortals under many names, many faces through the eons. That is where faith comes in. In particular, for my faction of kindred, my bloodline in particular she is our true Mother. Most other kindred of course may disagree. I have never told anyone that before, and not Uratha has told me that they were a spirit before. Thank you.”

Rose nodded. “You are welcome. I didn’t want to attack your beliefs or your religion, but I have been concerned that your beliefs about what spirits really are could bring harm to you, or further harm to those who follow you, such as Jesse. It may be that you and your ancestors may simply have never known the truth about certain things. Ironclaw wouldn’t talk about them, but I don’t see any harm in it. In fact, I see there being harm only in the keeping of this secret.

“You see, we are all born human, or at least close enough to be mistaken for one. Then one day Luna triggers the spirit within us. Unique among all spirits, we have been given flesh so that we may take up Father Wolf’s duty to preserve the Shadow world and the human world from each other. It is our most important and vital task. To fail it is to fail Luna and she will ultimately judge us for it. Do you see now why it is so very upsetting to us to find we have failed? In Jesse’s case, we have literally failed to prevent a powerful spirit from invading this world. No matter the pretext, it is still a failure. We seek to remedy this ultimately by learning how to drive Anu away. But it will do us no good to attempt this only to fail and die. Luna will be no happier with us. Not until Anu is gone back to where she belongs.

“This world is not the domain of spirits. It is the domain of flesh and blood. We, the Uratha are both flesh and spirit and so we have this unique task as guardians. Humans are innocent. They are not beings of spirit, but of souls. Unlike the rocks and trees, animals, and things made of man, human beings have no spirit sleeping within them waiting to awaken. They have immortal souls that are claimed by another power. When a spirit Claims a human, then, it warps their soul. It is an abomination because it takes a beautiful thing, either the soul or the spirit or both, and warps it into something hideous. Something very Wrong. It becomes a vessel for the alien desires of the spirit, combined with the human frailties of vice but without the inhibition of morality. It means that they become monsters truly capable of any crime, any pleasure, any cruelty. Such monsters do what they do in order to satisfy their internal urges. As a spirit, it is all they know. As a human without morality, they have no reason not to indulge any desire they may have.

“I hope I have not upset you,” Rose said sympathetically. “I spoke up now because after hearing you speak tonight, I think you truly did not know these things. I think that the spirits you have spoken to have not told you what it is you have done, what they have used you to accomplish. I am so sorry, Ann-Marie.”

“You are not upsetting me, thank you in fact. I know you are trying to help, and I appreciate it.” replied Ann-Marie, “The thing is, Anu for one I believe has a sense of morality. Not much of one perhaps from a mortal point of view, but developed from Jesse and the others to whom she has known. She has told me much about the world of spirits. I honestly believe she will leave Jesse as promised. I know that sounds foolish. But I cannot help but believe the Morrigan let her contact me, that she is a tool of my goddess revealing to me things once believed lost. Are not spirits used by gods to accomplish their desires? Must they all be what in mortal eyes is evil?”

“Spirits are gods and gods are spirits. Any being of sufficient power might be considered a god by those of lesser power, and any spirit powerful enough can make lesser spirits work for them,” Rose stated. “I also have to point out that habit is not morality. The spirit that has Claimed Jesse seems very familiar with what she is doing and knows what actions will get her noticed and what actions will favorably influence those around her to leave her be. That’s not morality, though, that’s experience and practicality. I assure you that morality has absolutely no place in a spirit’s consideration. Nor can spirits really be considered good or evil. That would be applying a morality to them, and as I said, they have none.”

Rose continued, “Look, spirits are what they are. When people who worship them die, they don’t go to any kind of afterlife that includes the spirits they consider gods. They don’t go to Shadow. If you want to call them gods, that’s fine and in a sense some may be considered such. But your use of the term seems to imply these gods preside over realms other than those places in Shadow they dominate. This is not true. No human soul ever goes to such a place when they die. Not even the Claimed humans go there. So, what I’m saying is that Anu, as a spirit of death, does not preside over the human dead. She presides over the act of Death itself. Her basis of power is in the spiritual essence released when someone dies. Or when someone kills. You are the walking dead, and thus you may be a favored tool of hers, but trust me on this. She will gain nothing from your meeting unless in some way you spread death for her, or spread her worship so that through the actions of others, she will gain power. This may be a short term goal, or it may be so long term we cannot see how she will accomplish this yet. But make no mistake. Whatever her aims are, be they fathomable or not, it has nothing to do with human morality.”

“Not directly no. She wishes to help my kind – me in particular, and by extension herself as you say. I understand that. But right now, at this moment all I can do is have faith and do what I can to understand both sides. I cannot betray Anu without betraying my word, for she has not betrayed hers. In fact, moral or not she has been quite kind and understanding. Nor can I (with her help) seem to be able convince the Pack that she is of no direct threat to them. Sometimes I feel the only option left to me is to leave with Anu until such a time as we are done and Jesse and I return. I don’t want to, this place has become for me a home and people here, friends.”

Rose sighed. It felt like she spent all that time explaining things to her to have ended up exactly where they started. “Ann-Marie. You know why the pack feels the way it does. I just told you. How can you think this is a matter of convincing us that she is not a threat?”

Ann-Marie picked up Rose’s mood and replied, “Hope, I suppose. You have your faith and sacred duty and my faith and decisions basically stepped all over that. I am so sorry, for that was never my intent. I wish I had known more before doing what was done. I didn’t and now we are where we are, though I can’t say for certain what decision I would have made.”

She paused her walk and looked at Rose honestly with respect and a bit of regret, “If things don’t turn out well, I won’t blame you or any of the Pack for their decision. I may not survive it, but I won’t blame you. But I still pray things will work out. But know that should it work out, you will have a grateful ally and friend.”

“Hold up,” Rose cautioned. “I think you still have a misconception about us. This isn’t about faith for us. It’s a duty. I told you we venerate Luna, that’s not the same thing as faith or worship. It may be that some Uratha are religious, but that’s not how it is with my pack. We are not religious. We don’t require faith or worship of any being, nor does any one of us desire it. The rest you have right, though — your faith and decisions did run directly counter to the promise we made to Luna in order to have her forgiveness. This isn’t forgiveness in a religious sense, either. She grants us power directly when we change for the first time. And because we make our Oaths to her, she sees to it that silver does not burn us as badly, that the works of man do not scald our flesh, and sees to it that other parts of the werewolf curse that are unknown to your kind are lifted for us. And there are those of us who do not accept her forgiveness, who would rather suffer her wrath than to accept the duty I have described to you. They call themselves, ironically, the Pure. We Uratha are not those animals.

“So you see, when the results of her will is immediate and obvious for all of her Uratha to see, it takes no faith at all. It is not religion, but rather it is a law, like gravity or having to breathe air.”

Rose concluded, “So I hope what I have said to you tonight has helped you to understand us. I encourage you to remember what I have said and to consider it carefully not just with respect to Anu, but for all interactions with us in the future. Write it down, or record your voice. This may be the only time I can speak with you so frankly on this matter, as I may not be permitted to speak of these things again by my alpha. But for your sake and for ours, do not forget what I have told you.”

“Thank you. I won’t forget, I cannot forget.” replied Ann-Marie.

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