This story is for mature audiences only
There was a slight tingle of bells as Magliore’s closed behind the group of werewolves. Ken was visibly relieved, he thought that Troy was going to drive them into a fight they might not be able to win. “Who the hell is that?” Ken tensed up again as he looked to answer Cain’s question.
Sitting underneath an arcane lamppost was what appeared to be a middle-aged man. He seemed normal enough, practically downright regular. As he sat at an iron wrought bench, he was looking at his golden pocketwatch. For all the world, he could be some husband waiting for his wife to finish her appointment at the hair salon. But he was no human, there was never anything normal in the Shadow Realm. This was evidenced by the bench melding back into the ground as he stood. He beckoned to the Uratha, “Come on over here. We need to have a chat.”
Troy began to walk forward, making sure that he went no more than half the distance to the man-thing. He was willing to talk, but be damned if he was going to be called to heel by some spirit. He was wolf, not dog. The ‘man’ in the seemingly plain off-the-rack suit spoke in the ancient language of the Realm, the First Tongue, “Let me speak with your totem.”
The others, having little experience with the ancestral language of the Uratha, looked to Ken. “That’s actually first on our list.”
The spirit sighed. It was the sound of an adult having to be serious with a pimple-faced teenager. “Very well, bring your Alpha forward.”
Ken through a glance back towards the others. Hesitantly, he answered, “That’s second on the list.” He really hoped that the spirit had a sense of humor, or at least wasn’t tough enough to take down a pack of werewolves.
The spirit paused, this was something new to it. Werewolves, without an alpha? He had never known it to be possible. Was there something wrong with them? He spoke slowly, considering his words carefully, perhaps they were rabid, “Then would you speak for your pack?”
The others, with their smattering of knowledge about the First Tongue, understood a little of what the spirit was talking about. They knew the words for ‘alpha’ and ‘totem.’ They did not know everything. It seemed to many of them that the spirit had called them Ken’s pack. The werewolves said nothing, but it weighed on each of their tongues, especially when Ken answered with a “Yes.”
“Where are the Serpent’s Creed?” Surely the pack it had dealt with lately would want to know about these vagabonds. While he did not care for the Uratha people, that pack at least knew what it meant to be from here.
Ken lowered his head slightly. Yes, the shells of that pack had shot him with cursed silver and beat him and Cain within inches of living, but the living memory of the pack was worthy of honor. “They have gone,” he stated simply.
Ah, the spirit thought, that must be the reason for all the restlessness outside of town. He decided to get down to the matter at hand, “Why did you damage me?”
It then dawned upon Ken just what kind of spirit he was speaking with. This must be the manifestation of the town itself. He was talking with Wellsboro itself. He looked towards Cain. Part of him wanted to step aside, ‘it was him,’ he wanted to blame. “What is it?” Cain questioned the glance.
“It’s the town’s spirit. It want’s to know why you hurt it.” Ken explained, already his mind was racing to figure out what to say next.
“It was my mistake. What do I have to do to fix it?” Cain didn’t really feel guilty about it. The light had forced him and Anthony back into their human form. That couldn’t have been a good thing. Best to destroy it before it could harm you, right?
Ken asked for Cain. The spirit thought for a moment, the destruction of a lamp pane was no trivial matter, but it was also nothing that could not be easily fixed. Perhaps it could get the werewolves in its debt. “You must do something for me and mine in payment.” Ken was unsure about the openness of the spirit’s desire.
It’s conversation moved on, hoping to avoid a definite price, “Now, what business do you have with my errant son?” Wellsboro tossed a glance towards Magliore’s. Ken told them of the fishbone that had harmed Stephanie Moore. The town spirit was visibly shaken when Val stated that Moore was a citizen of the town. “That is what you must do for me. Find the culprit and punish whoever dares to attack my people!” Ken quickly agreed to the term, it was what the group was planning anyway.
After leaving the spirit of Wellsboro, the werewolves returned to the Creed House. They were greeted with the sound of screaming rats. Four large rat spirits had their tails nailed to one of the porch steps. A glance around only revealed Drowns-in-Lace cheerfully sitting on a swing by her pond. At the approach of the werewolves, the rats cowered: “Hungry,” one explained, “Help,” another pleaded, “Mercy,” one begged.
“You were warned,” there was no way he could tell if these were the same rat spirits that had inveaded their home. He had let those survive only on strict instructions that they inform their fellows that this watering hole was closed. He nodded towards Val and Cain. Still in the large wolf form, the two descended upon the trapped rats. Powerful jaws tore the life out of them, the spirits exploded in fur and blood. Drowns-In-Lace drank in the fear the rats experienced in their last moments before discorporation.
The group then returned across the Gauntlet. Cain invited the group to talk upstairs in the living room, “I’d like to talk to the rest of you about two things. First, I think we need to get ourselves a totem.”
The group then began to kick around ideas about what kind of spirit would be the right one for them. Ken suggested an eagle. He had actually thought about suggesting this conversation some time ago. The eagle had represented bravery and courage. It’s wisdom of the Shadow Realm was shown with it often being the emissary of divinity.
“What about a wolf spirit?” Troy suggested.
“That’s redundant, don’t you think?” Jake chided.
“What?” Troy spat, tired of Jake.
“No real chance of finding a Hippopotamus spirit, is there? Those bastards are killers.” Val interjected humorously, cooling the tension between Troy and Jake.
Ken had been thinking, perhaps an eagle wouldn’t be the best choice. “How about an owl spirit? They’re night hunters, stealthy and insightful with wisdom.” He turned to Cain, who nodded his assent.
“Works for me,” Troy added.
Jake shrugged, looking in Troy’s direction, “I’m not really sure.” An Owl totem actually sounded okay to him, but he didn’t want to be agreeable towards Troy. The others agreed it was a good idea.
“I don’t really know how to go about getting a spirit to agree to be our totem,” Cain remarked, “but I guess we can look into that. Now, about the other thing, I wanted to talk about how we’re going to handle authority here.”
The others tensed up reflexively. They had known this moment was coming, who was going to be in charge. Jake took his hat off, talks like this almost never ended in hugging and singing “Kum-Ba-Yah.” Alpha. It was a powerful word. “I think that we should all play to our strengths,” Cain suggested. “We can be a pack of alphas.”
“I’ve never heard anything like it. There’s only one alpha,” Val said flatly. This was crazy talk. The pack that she was in, as well as every pack she had ever heard of, only had one person in charge. When the shit hit the fan, there could only be one voice to direct. Anything else would call forth defeat, a weakness.
Cain shifted in his seat. He had not expected such resistance and so quickly. He continued, hoping to explain his point, “Each would be in charge when different situations arise, like with Ken in the Shadow tonight.”
“Or, like sitting around the house with no job like Troy,” Jake added, mocking his fellow werewolf.
“I have a job!” Troy exclaimed, he had sensed things were coming to a head with Jake, this was going to be the boiling point.
“No, Val’s got a job, Ken’s got a job, Cain’s got a job, Anthony’s not around a lot, so he must have a job, and I have a job. You don’t do shit.” Jake stood in his anger.
“Mopping floors?” It was Troy’s turn to mock, “That’s what you do to fit among the Herd. It’s not your job. You don’t do a damn thing to protect our territory. What do you think I do all night, every night?”
“Protect?” Jake laughed mirthlessly, “All I’ve seen you do is lay out some traps and get shot up by deer.”
“Yeah, I almost died for this pack, this territory. I’d like to see you do what I do.” Troy clenched his fists, waiting for that small shift, that scent in the air, the implicit acknowledgement for attack.
“Oh, I can do what you do,” Jake mocked.
“Sure, like how you tramped through the woods.” Troy was raising his arms, his body animated in his anger. “How about this, for one week I’ll mop floors and you run all night long and keep watch over our territory.”
“Yeah, no problem.” To Jake, Troy did nothing. It wasn’t like he didn’t know that Troy went out every night. Jake felt that the other werewolf was wasting time. He wasn’t doing anything effective. In fact, the only result they saw was the house getting jumped by an undead pack of Uratha and Troy getting plugged by some rogue deer. Hell, anyone could get shot up.
This was going nowhere, Cain thought. “This,” he pulled at his shirt, “this is a disguise. Clocking in and clocking out, it’s not important!”
“Not important,” it was Val’s turn to get angry. She worked all night, now all day, she thought bitterly. He thought it was unimportant? “This costs,” she raised her arms, pointing out the Creed House. “Food costs money, clothes cost money, electricity costs. How do you think we have all this unless we all pitch in?”
Troy was surprised at Val’s anger, “It’s not like we need any of it. We can hunt our food and we don’t need clothes, or this house. We aren’t humans. We don’t need to act like them.”
Val gritted her teeth, she was reaching her limit. She didn’t see Troy spending all his time in wolf form, sleeping out in the woods, never taking advantage of the house, never eating the food bought with the others’ hard-earned cash. And who the fuck was he, to think that the rest of them didn’t do their part, just because they didn’t run with him at night, when he decided to play lone wolf and go off on his own all the fucking time?
Cain saw the pressure rising in his fellow Rahu. He wanted to end this, “Val, I didn’t mean to say that your work was unimportant.” He ran a weary hand through his hair, “Look, all I’m saying is that he’s too much on the human side,” pointing to Jake, “and he’s too much…”
“A bitch,” Jake interjected.
The interruption was too much for Cain, he turned on Jake, the other werewolf wasn’t going to let him finish, “Do you want to go? ‘Cause we can go right now.”
“Yeah, let’s go.” Jake readied himself for a fight as Cain lunged at him.
Ken thought about suggesting the two take it outside, concerned about the negative impact to the locus as much as he was about the living room furniture.
Troy shifted, looking towards the stairs. His gun was upstairs. A couple rounds in each had ended a lot of these fights quickly back in Philly. Val stared him in the eye, as if to say, ‘Where the fuck do you think you’re going?’ Troy stopped, thinking that partially changing his hands into claws might be enough if Jake decided to take on him as well.
The first few blows were glancing at best. It seemed the two were well matched despite Jake’s clearly superior training. ‘Enough of this,’ Jake thought as a small bruise began to heal as quickly as it formed, ‘we’ll be at this all night.’ He called upon the Gift of Crushing Blow. An Ox spirit had taught him the way to make his fists cause more damage. He laid a heavy blow to Cain’s kidneys.
Sensing the lethal damage, Cain also called upon his Gift of Crushing Blow. A Machine spirit had shown him how to give his fists piston-like strength. He returned the blow he had received. A driving thrust of his fist broke Jake’s nose.
Blood splattered across the couch and droplets streaked Val’s shirt. Jake was not ignorant of this kind of pain. His time in the ring had taught him to keep his head even in the face of cutting pain. He saw a chance to throw off his opponent’s balance. He delivered a quick blow to Cain’s left ear. A small rivulet of blood ran forth.
The battle, now taken to a higher level, ended quickly. After tentative strikes to the shoulder and ribs, Cain had seen a weakness in Jake’s defense. At the right moment, he struck forward with all his strength. Jake felt parts of his ribs shatter, puncturing his lungs. He dropped to his knees. A hand braced on the couch kept him from falling over. “Enough,” he coughed up some blood, “okay, I’ve had enough. Finish your fucking statement.”
“What,” Cain said in between breaths, “what was I saying?” He wiped at his own bloated and bloody ear, “Yeah, he’s too wolf and you’re too human.”
“Fuck, all this for that?” Jake wiped blood from his face, “You broke my nose for that? Val, can you help me out?”
Val walked over and reset Jake’s nose before it healed at an odd angle, “I’m going up.” She wanted to sleep, but her blood was still hot. ‘Unimportant, my ass, I’ll show them.’ She spent a few hours digging through the paperwork she had been given by Alex “Heart-Drinker” of the Mountain Laurel Legion. By the time she finished, Val was able to rest.
The next morning, just as she was about to walk out the front door, Val pinned all the costs to the inside of the front door. There were property taxes, oil bills, propane bills, power bills, food bills, all kinds of bills. Fuck it wasn’t important to have income, it was a goddamn necessity.