Tooth and Claw


These are the chronicles of our queen. I cannot claim a definitive account, but a collection of my own learning and recollection for the benefit of others to come. May I do them the justice they deserve.

Chapter One

In the aftermath of the fae attack, our world was left in turmoil. We had lost more caerns in that one attack than we could begin to truly comprehend, and our numbers were severely depleted through the traitors within our own ranks and deaths in battle. We would not be able to grow those numbers at any speed, given how rare Garou children already were and how few lupus kinfolk we had left. It seemed that even though we had defeated the foe that had attempted to destroy us, we would still be left crippled and helpless before any predators looking for blood.

Our young queen did not waste time. Within a few days of her victory, she was already on the move. First, she severed the ties with her own pack, for she could not be alpha to them and to our whole nation at the same time. Then she acquired a selection of elders and supporters from the various tribes to travel with her, to act as counsel. Each tribe was given an opportunity to present someone for the role, and a limited timeframe in which to do so. It was clear she did not intend to allow for extended deliberation and ‘negotiation’ within the tribes – she did not have time to waste whilst we fought amongst each other for the privilege. If the tribes could not provide fast enough, then they would not have a voice in those early days. They chose fast.

Her methods were direct. Many disagreed with them, but the Garou could not afford to be divided or stubborn. An alliance had been made with the mages, and one she intended to honour. Further alliances were to be made with the fae, building on the existing relationship she had with their royal family and the debt that they arguably now owed for the saving of their realm and lives. She made no bones about redressing the great damage that had been done in the war of rage, about extending the hand of friendship and contrition to those remaining fera. If the remaining caerns were to be protected, then we needed help. If we were to reclaim and rebuild what was lost, we would need help. And if there was truly to be a chance at restoring the balance of the Triat, it was time to look for help.

There were months of negotiations. The course of politics never did run smooth, not helped by power grabbing and posturing on all sides. There were many who opposed the alliance with the mages, even after they had worked with us in our time of need to help us guard our caerns. Some opposed working with the fae as well – after all, if they were weak enough to have needed our help, to have been unable to prevent this ancient creature from threatening our world, then could we trust them to be our allies? And few would accept an attempt to reach out to the fera, for admitting an ancient wrong was a step too far in their eyes. Nevertheless, she persisted.

She travelled throughout our world and others, attempting to broker deals and peace where she could, and to display strength where diplomacy did not present itself as an option. She refused to back down, negotiating fiercely and reminding of how often people had told her she could not do the things she needed to do before, and yet she had. She reminded the garou that the fae and mages had indeed stood beside us in our time of need, that without them we would surely have failed. As time passed she became increasingly heavily pregnant, a difficult time for any woman and more so for Garou with the rage that dwells within, never mind a queen attempting to save the worlds. Everywhere she went she was followed by her mate and by those who had seen the way that the wind blew early enough to carve a place at her side.

And again and again, she did things that people considered impossible, and the seeds of caerns were planted anew. We had always had rites to create them of course, and we used those rites where we could afford to under her watchful eye, augmented by the power she was able to carry within her. But the cost of such things is far greater than we can often afford to pay at the best of times, and these were not the best of times for werewolf numbers…

Chapter Three

The Great Moot was held in July of her first year as queen. She made her intentions clear early on after her victory against the archfae, sent the messengers out fast. She wanted to meet the leaders of each tribe face to face, to properly greet all of them and allow them to present themselves and their tribes to each other. Unofficially, it was a show of power, a test of obedience for those who so far had been distant enough to avoid anything more than lip service.

Originally the intent had been to hold it after the child was born, expecting its arrival to be in June and wishing to avoid being openly pregnant with a metis before the more traditional members of our nation. However, that was not to be the case. While it had always been intended that the leaders of our tribes from around the world would travel to her, now she was so heavily pregnant that going to them was clearly no longer an option, had any been reticent. Most attended, coming to what they believed would be the damaged Sept of the Green in America to offer their fealty. Only the leader of her own tribe refused; a notable absence for those who were aware, but the other Silver Fang authorities who were there easily covered it up. After all, why would he need to be present when she was a Silver Fang? Others could easily speak in his stead.

Those who did come swiftly discovered that the sept was no longer the ruined shell it had been. They found a sept that had been rebuilt, expanded using the magics of both mage and fae to provide a greater space to use as her chosen base of command – a potent reminder of the capabilities of those she worked with, and the value of alliances with them. In the centre was one of the most powerful caerns many had ever encountered. She had been promised a boon from the fae queens for services rendered before the battle, and used it to uproot and relocate the caern which she was spiritually linked to. It was a complicated process, especially since it required intensive involvement from her and was done when she was almost six months pregnant. Now one of our oldest American septs had been restored. It was a symbol of hope, and a clear display of power that brought some of the more belligerent visitors in line as they saw first-hand what she was capable of.

Her pregnancy was a point of concern for many. There were numerous reasons, the most obvious being its litany-breaking nature for both the first and second tenets. Metis had never been well regarded among our people, and the knowledge that it was the child of a Black Spiral made things even more fraught, regardless of his cleansing. However, by the time of the moot there were other concerns as well. On the eve of the moot she was midway into her seventh month of what should have been a five- to six-month pregnancy. Further, she had not Changed, an event that was normally forced onto Garou women in her situation somewhere in the fifth month, a few weeks before the birth. There were rumours that perhaps her mate was not the father after all and the child was Homid, although it was difficult to believe on seeing them together. There was considerable speculation among those present.

It was revealed upon questioning during the moot that the reason for the queen’s Homid form was because she was unable to shift and had been trapped in her breed form for two months. Ultimately the questions proved irrelevant, as it appeared that the child had the same sense of dramatic timing as the parents. Her waters broke during the Fianna delegation’s presentation to her, although she refused any aid until all thirteen tribes had been given time – likely an uncomfortable situation for her, given that she had insisted they present alphabetically to ensure no accusations of favouritism. In the end, she gave birth in front of everyone at the moot, surrounded by theurges from every tribe and watched by one of the largest gatherings of our people that had ever been held. There could thus be no doubt about the events that transpired and the unique nature of her child.

There are many theories about how it came to be that her daughter was what she was. Some posit that it was the location of the child’s conception, created atop a caern and born beneath its boughs. Some attribute it to the changes the queen had made to her body, to the fundamental restructuring of her very soul that made her far more wyld than any other Garou – when she was part fae, part fera and regularly interacting with raw wyld energy, how could it not affect the growing child in her womb? Some have suggested it was the father instead, that since both his children were similarly unconventional metises then clearly there was something in him. And some claim that it was part of her fate, and unavoidable.

Regardless, the child that was born that day in a great beam of light beneath the caern was not a Garou metis, but a child half-human, half-wyld in nature, made of mortal flesh and light…

Chapter Four

In the aftermath of the birth and the moot, there was still much to be done. The queen had little time to rest and experience the traditional trials of being a new mother.

First, she was forced to address the insubordination within her own tribe. She had sent her father as an envoy, to convey her invitation to the moot and attempt a reconciliation of sorts after Lord Albrecht had been less than welcoming of her arrival onto the Silver Fang political stage. The steward instead chose to hold the messenger captive, believing a betrayal in the ranks and that the queen was attempting to usurp his throne. There was increasing concern among the orders of the tribe as younger members and those who had already met the queen faced off against those who refused her rule in favour of the steward. Tensions had been rising to the point of duels and blood spilt, and when news of her father’s capture arrived it became clear that direct action was necessary.

Attempts were made to reach out and reason with Lord Albrecht, but to no avail. When this proved useless, she journeyed personally to the courts and found a man deep in the throes of tribal madness, unwilling to bend a knee. He claimed an ancient prophecy of his own that supposedly labelled him as the last king of the Silver Fangs, calling her the betrayer and pretender – in fact, it was a mistranslation by a theurge and misinterpretation of the spirits’ will on his part. He issued a formal challenge of a traditionally bladed Silver Fang duel, which she accepted reluctantly. Many expected this would end poorly for her – she was young and had only recently given birth, he had decades of experience and a reputation as a great warrior. The reputation proved to be somewhat outdated.

First she disarmed him, taking his ancestral glaive, and he refused to surrender. Then she drew first blood, and he refused to surrender. Finally, when it became clear that the madness gripped him and he would choose no other option but death, she slew him.

The duel was honourably fought and recognised in the records, and as such even those most loyal to Albrecht who were present could not dispute its outcome. After that, the dissenting factions faded and became little more than the odd discontented murmur behind closed doors. It was hard to face down such a singular presence as hers, especially given how involved she was. The Silver Fangs fell in line with the rest of the tribes, or as much as any werewolf truly can…

Chapter Seven

She inherited one of the largest corporations in the world from her moth at the age of thirty. It had been prepared for some time – the older woman was mortal, and although still sharp-minded and formidable, she had been experiencing ill health. The handover was gradual, allowing the queen time to learn how to balance bother her royal and business duties and ensuring a proper support system on both sides. By that point most of the more traditional werewolves had learned to keep their dissent behind closed doors. The youngest of our people were fiercely loyal and she had become virtually impossible to challenge.

In a way, it was more to our advantage than the Garou nation could ever have expected. Having a hold over such a significant part of the human world allowed an unprecedented level of access to halls of power we had only dreamed of before, and a chance to make a difference we had never been able to – even with the mages on our side, we had still been limited. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as all that, but these things rarely are. The more human tribes welcomed the opportunity, and even those more in tune with their wild nature such as the Red Talons were able to see the advantage of holding such power – albeit reluctantly, and with very different ideas on how to wield it.

In other ways, it made things much harder for her. She had already been a target before by forces of Wyrm and Weaver alike. Now that she held even more power in her hand, the threat against her and her loved ones was even greater, limiting her ability to move freely. Although she had become far more experienced and capable with age, and was prepared for this eventuality, it was clear at times that she chafed at the loss of freedoms she had been used to and the forcing of delegation of tasks that she had grown used to handling personally. She also had a greater challenge to protect her daughter, now that the human world was once again more focused on her. The eight-year old was still in the pre-change stage of her metis life and could not go out in public.

Nevertheless, the queen put her focus on balancing this stage of her life. By this point she slept perhaps once a week, having little requirement for it. There were several occasions in the first two years of this new stage when she became seriously ill due to overwork, but a well-mixed team of Garou and mages allowed her to regain control and help the business flourish again.

Pentex and its subsidiaries remained the main rival of her family company at this time. They had taken a severe blow at the time of the fae war as the wyrm and weaver balance had shifted, and the loss of one of their highest-ranking operatives had hit hard. The Garou had made good use of the information that the queen’s mate provided, using it to claim major victories in the early years of her reign as the Wyrm’s commercial face struggled to reclaim its global financial position. As such, whilst its reach remained long, eight years on left it still not in the position it had once been. This did not mean it could be disregarded as a formidable threat, however, as the information gained was only useful for a short time. The attention then became on finding new ways to bring it down, while still protecting her own company…

Chapter Twelve

Over time, it became clear that the things she did had left an indelible mark on her soul, and as a result she was becoming less and less mortal. Whilst she had known that her actions would have consequences, the regularity with which she’d had to use the abilities that the fae queens had granted her changed her further and faster than anyone had expected.

She was able to slip far more easily between realms as the ties that bind our mortal bodies and our spirit selves loosened further. She was able to communicate with caerns on a level that few others could understand, particularly those that she had helped rebuild and the seedlings she had planted the world over. Her aging slowed to a near crawl, such as to be virtually undetectable. All these things might seem positive, even desirable to some. Initially, she agreed. But eventually, that changed.

Over time, she was forced to stand by and watch as those she loved grew old and died, while she lingered on. First her parents: her mother of complications in surgery to help with heart issues, her father in a battle against a wyrm creature when he realised that the tribal madness left him unfit to stand at her side any longer. Then her mate, a rare werewolf that died of old age with her sitting beside him and holding him in his last breaths. Then her child, and her child’s children, until she could stand among her own great-great grandchildren and scarce look older than them as they welcomed their own families into the world.

She sought further information, of course, allowing theurges and mages to examine her and returning to the fae queens. All told her the same thing: the changes she had made were irreversible, and given her unique nature they could not accurately predict how it would continue to affect her. It appeared to have at least delayed the tribal madness of the Silver Fangs, an affliction which continued to claim their numbers.

After her mate passed, she withdrew from courtly life for a month. It sent a stir through our people, for she had never before abdicated her duty in such a way. When she returned, although she was still a wise and capable ruler, it was as if some light within had diminished. It returned only when she was with her daughter and her grandchildren; perhaps as the last pieces she had left of him…

Chapter Fourteen

She reigned for nearly two hundred years. As time wore on, she became increasingly distant. She was more wyld than mortal, and she spent more and more time alone in the Umbra, sometimes for up to a month.

Nobody knew where the excursions took her, why she went or what she was doing. The galliards love to make up fanciful tales, of course. Some said she was journeying into the deep umbra to fight or speak with beasts and spirits we could scarce comprehend. Some said that the Silver Fang madness was finally upon her and she sought a cure, or perhaps the quiet release of death that had been denied to her for so long. Some said she was looking for the Triat, or Gaia herself, to more directly redress the balance or ask some great boon from them. And some said she was searching for the ones she had lost so long ago: her first pack, her mate and her family, all taken from her by the ravages of time.

In the end, it mattered little. There were no answers and we have never found any. Our theurges and the mages could not track her magically on these journeys, and our hunters did not find a trace. The fae would not give answers, if they even had any, claiming it was not their place to tell. Spirits were similarly elusive. We had to learn to be content that she would return, that she was still our queen and had done right by us for longer than any other Garou had been alive. She had ruled us wisely and well, even as she became more distant, and we had prospered and flourished as the balance had been more evenly addressed than in centuries.

And one day, she simply didn’t come back. We searched, of course, once we realised she had been gone for almost two months. There was no note in her quarters or favoured places, and we still could not trace her. When the theurges thought to reach out and ask the great caern that she was connected to, the power in the heart of the Sept of the Green, it told us that she was gone. It did not tell us why, what had happened. She was simply no longer there. We still searched anyway, but in the end we accepted that we would have to once again find our own path.

It is possible that she finally found a creature too powerful, met her end alone in some far distant realm where we will never find her. Maybe the galliards are right and she faced death on her own terms, meeting it head on and embracing it like a true werewolf.

Some believe she is simply resting somewhere, having grown apart from the world that she felt no longer needed her and waiting for a time when we will again. After all, the Shadow Lords say that the crown has not returned to its place in their realm as they would expect if she had died, waiting for the next owner to claim it. There are some who hold onto that hope, still call her our queen.

Or perhaps she has finally found what she was looking for, and she no longer has need for us. Maybe she is finally reunited with her loved ones, at peace in whatever comes after this life. Maybe she can finally be free.

I admit, I hope it is the last.

A few minutes more

The blades swung in an arc up above her head as she leapt, throwing her full weight behind them. In one hand was a sword coated in blood and fire, in the other a sword of ice and night, raised high above her and ready to bring down upon her enemy. She knew this was going to hurt, knew this could do very bad things to her. But they were so close.

The creature glared up at her, its face twisted into a rictus of hatred. Its knotted fingers were still scraping and pushing against the edges of the bloodstained gate as it desperately held open the gap. The swirling vortex of energy pulsed and glowed behind the shadowed form of the Outsider, barely containing the creature that hung halfway between worlds as it frantically tried to open the gates and free its people. Julia reached inside herself, channelling all the rage and desperation she had left. It opened its mouth in a snarl of fury as she brought the blades down and plunged them into its eyes.

There was a blast of energy as the swords sank into its face, driving deep into the dark hollows of its skull. It gave a piercing scream of rage and pain, and then both blades shattered, throwing Julia several feet away. The Outsider reared back, face shredded by the explosion as its body seemed to sink further into the vortex, leaving only its fingers still visible in the suddenly rapidly closing gates. The terrible light became a sliver as the gates swung in, dark wood stained with blood.

Behind her she could hear Annie talking quietly to Sura, encouraging the little Crinos to keep doing what was needed to get this finished. Cal was beside them, focused on the spear as between them they worked to drive the gates closed. She groaned in pain, shrapnel from the broken swords buried in her arms and chest. The gap was so close, just the thinnest strip as fingers remained wedged and just about holding it open.

Julia staggered to her feet. Her hands were red raw and bleeding, but she couldn’t worry about that now. She reached to her belt, pulling the silver dagger that had started this all. It burnt her open wounds, but she paid no attention to it as she stumbled forward. Slowly, ignoring the screams of unfiltered rage and despair echoing through the gap, she leant against the bloodied gates and sawed the fingers off one by one.

The gates shut.

She stood in the fragmented remains of the umbral pocket, in the ruins of the doorway to the prison that Cal had helped the Outsider build. The tear into Arcadia behind her was slowly closing and she didn’t have that long left now. In the end, she had known it was probably a futile search. He had been at the heart of the explosion, one that had shaken through into the fae realm – and likely the deep umbra too, wherever the prison was based. They had seen the blast in the sky from the middle of the woods and she knew he couldn’t have survived this. Yet a part of her had hoped, prayed that she would find at least something, even if it was just a body. After all, if this pocket was still here, then that meant he could still be alive, the bargain still holding fast.

She had found ash, tiny slivers of wood amid dirt and dust. She’d scraped through the rubble as best she could with Nahuel’s help, whilst the others waited outside. But they found nothing of him, not even a trace of fur. It seemed his body had been utterly obliterated. From her experiences with close proximity to raw wyld energy, it wasn’t that surprising. A mortal form simply couldn’t withstand that.

The edges of the realm were beginning to fray and fade. She took a deep breath, looking around one last time. Behind her she heard the clatter of rubble as Nahuel leapt back through the gap. She half wanted to call out Cal’s name, as if he might answer.

Get it done. Finish this.

She didn’t call for him. It would be a disservice to the sacrifice he’d made. He was gone from the pack link, had died to fix his mistakes and stop their enemy. In the end, just once, he had listened to her. She knelt at the centre of the blast and buried the silver dagger’s blade down in the ground. If the pocket survived, it would be the closest thing to a grave marker she could offer. If not, it would be swallowed into the void with everything else, the last fragment of the creature that had haunted their steps for over a year finally gone.
She turned and left the realm, squeezing through the tear in reality back to Arcadia. It sealed behind her, as if it had never been.

The battlefield was soaked in blood, littered with corpses. It made her nauseous to see it. But they had won. The closing of the gate, the explosion in the Arcadian sky as Cal had severed the last link; it had turned the tide in their favour as the enemy had realised their leader had lost and their fight was in vain.

It would be up to the queens to deal with the traitors in their own ranks – and she supposed up to her to deal with those among the Garou. She had people on either side of the tear, checking those who came back through to ensure that nobody who bore the mark could slip away. But that would be something for another day. There were too many people here to easily round up, too many bodies to sort through. The fae queens had agreed to preserve the field as it was, so that they could return for their dead and bring justice to those who had helped to devastate the world.

You shall take no action that will cause a caern to be violated.

She stood with her people, smiling as best she could. There was an air of disbelief, and of jubilant victory as the adrenaline surged through the air once again. They had won. The world wasn’t ending… or at least, not yet. The Garou had fought in the glorious battle they had waited for, and come out the other side. She knew of course that it wasn’t that simple. In their weakened state, if the forces of the wyrm or weaver decide to make a move…

But for now, she wanted to savour the victory, as bittersweet as it was. She wanted to be there with her pack and her kin, those who had survived. She watched as her people filtered through; healing each other where possible, carrying those who needed help and the bodies of friends and packmates who had not been so fortunate. They nodded at her, jubilation turning briefly to appreciation and respect as she acknowledged them all. When it was done, when the last few had passed through and all that were left crossing were her own pack, she turned to the queens.

“You have our thanks for what aid you were able to provide, at the time when we needed it most. I know if you hadn’t been under siege, it would have been easier-”

Gwendolyn smiled wearily. “We’ve just won a war. The siege is broken, the enemy shackled. You don’t need to be so formal, my dear. Besides, in the end I think we did very little.” She sighed. “You have our eternal thanks… once again. I had never thought we would be looking to the Garou to defend our own lands. But it seems we have called on your help more often than you have needed anything from us.”

Lyandra nodded. “It is a sign of changing times, dearest. We must move forward too, lest we become irrelevant.”

Behind the women, Julia could see a fae soldier jigging a little from foot to foot. He was unbloodied, holding a pole-arm like it was a baseball bat. The helmet covered the face entirely, but she could easily guess who was beneath the ill-fitting armour. He waved slightly when he saw her gaze upon him, tilting the helmet up slightly to show his face behind the queens’ backs. Julia kept her face as straight as she could, relieved that another friend was confirmed alive.

“We will return for our dead, as soon as we can. In the meantime, I… uh…”

He was making bubbles.

Gwendolyn smiled. “Is our son being distracting?”

Lyandra turned with a frown. “Orion, you are supposed to be within the castle walls.”

“Moooom…” He shoved the helmet back, shuffling away as the bubbles petered out. Lyandra moved towards him firmly, one hand outstretched for the pole-arm.

“You can’t protect him forever,” Julia said quietly.

“We know dear,” Gwendolyn said, her smile becoming sad. “But perhaps just a little longer.”

Julia breathed deeply, inhaling the taste of blood and magic in the air. “Then I suppose I should return.”

“Indeed. Your people will want to celebrate the victory, no doubt, and bury their dead. You will need to send word to the rest of your world that the foe is vanquished.” She looked a little wistful. “You are so young, and your lives are so fast. Celebrate while you can. Age and experience will…”

Julia looked at her expectantly. The queen had trailed off, seeming to get lost in her thoughts. Behind, Swizzlesticks was apparently being berated by his mother, but it suddenly turned to laughter from them both. Lyandra ruffled her son’s hair and he let lose another stream of bubbles from his hands, sending them flying up into the sky over the battlefield.

Eventually Gwendolyn seemed to remember herself. “Ah, forgive me. I was… Go. Enjoy yourself.”

Julia nodded, bowing her head a little. “Your majesty.”

There was a knowing look in the fae queen’s eye as she bowed her head in return. “Your majesty.”

The crowds on the other side of the portal were large, an army gathered in the sept. As she stepped through, there was a cheer from the waiting Garou, and then they seemed to kneel as one. The rift sealed up behind her, leaving her standing in the centre of the sept, surrounded by her people. For the first time, she felt like she could truly call them her people, that she really was their queen in more than just name and a passing allowance by the elders. Even after everything else she had done in these few short months, it still hadn’t properly hit her the way it did now.

She looked around the sea of faces, searching for her mother, her friends, her pack. There were so many people, gathered here in the glade and more between the tents, standing and watching. She didn’t even know how much time had passed since they had left, although it was still night. Had it only been a few hours? Or perhaps days, weeks?

“What day is it?”

“Wednesday, my queen. It has been two days since you left.” A voice came from somewhere in the crowd. “We have held fast as your ordered, with the mages as our allies. Word has already been sent through the connections they have of your victory.”

“Yes.” She took a deep breath, a slow smile spreading across her face. “We are alive, and we still stand. Please, stand. Celebrate with me, at least for tonight.” She glanced around. “There must be something to drink around here.”

There was laughter, movement as people began to rise and talk amongst themselves. They quickly seemed to gather around her, like she had some sort of luck that might rub off if they were nearby. She glanced around again, looking for familiar faces. And then her eyes were drawn like a magnet towards movement by the tents, as her heart beat faster and she just knew.

He was held by the guards, an arm on each shoulder and weapons at his back as they pushed him forwards. She noted with surprise that he was unchained. People were moving out of the way, curiosity on many faces. Jake looked irritated, and perhaps a little panicked. She didn’t know why they had taken him out of the cell, who had decided and authorised this. Had they brought him out to do something to him? Or was he here to see her? It didn’t matter really. What mattered was that he was here, and her heart was singing.

He turned his head and their eyes met across the glade. Instantly the look on his face changed to one of relief and uncontained joy. She couldn’t stop a wide smile from spreading across her face. Faster than she could properly track, he shrugged the guards off his shoulders and broke free. They seemed to panic a little, lunging towards their apparently fleeing prisoner, but he was faster. He made a beeline for her across the clearing, followed closely behind by his armed entourage as people scrambled out of the way. And then he had scooped her up and spun her around and he was kissing her and she couldn’t care about anything else.

Eventually he put her down, pulling away as she slid back to the ground. She laughed a little breathlessly, resting her forehead against his. Behind him she could see the guards seemed to have pulled back and were keeping a wary distance. People were watching, but she didn’t care about that either.

“Fuck me, you’re alive.” He shook his head. “I was… thank god. Thank Gaia.”

“I told you I’d come back.” She laughed again as he cupped her face with one hand, the other holding tightly around her waist.

“I know… I…” He kissed her again. “I can’t believe how ridiculously fucking lucky I am. I can’t believe you keep coming back.” He leaned in again and she put her hand up to cover his mouth with her fingers.

“You know we’re in public, right?”

“I don’t care. I’m not letting you out of my sight again, not for tonight. They can’t make me go back in.” He kissed her fingers.

“I… OK,” she said softly. “I’ll keep you by my side then. I just stopped the apocalypse, I think they can give me that.” She glanced over at the guards, making pointed eye contact and receiving frowns and small nods in return. Then she paused. “Ah… my mom is here.”

He shrugged. “So? You think she’d going to stab me or something? She can join the queue.”

“No, but I should check if she’s doing OK. I don’t know how long they were there, what she went through-” she turned her head and then realised Silvered Tongue was standing behind them. The woman bowed a little, a faint smile on her face.

“My queen, your mother has been taken with the others you rescued to a quieter area. They are being attended to as we speak, and she will be well looked after.”

“Ah, thank you.” Julia stayed where she was, arms still wrapped around his neck. The sept was filled with people and noise as the Garou searched out friends and booze to begin celebrating. “I should go to her.”

“If you wish, your majesty. We will have the guards accompany you, from a discreet distance.” The woman’s voice was smooth and calm as she looked between them. “For both your safety, of course – at such a time as this, it would be an ideal moment for an enemy to strike.”

“You think I’d let anything get near her?” Jake’s voice was amused.

“For both your safety,” the woman repeated. She bowed again, meeting Julia’s gaze. “We have let him free this evening, under the assumption that he is as little threat as he claims. It was felt it would be likely our queen would appreciate having her mate by her side, and that few would be in a position to complain in the aftermath of these events. A goodwill gesture, if you like, to show trust. Nevertheless, I suggest you keep him close. It will make any complaints more… challenging, if he is clearly near your side.”

“I will.” Julia smiled in thanks, and led him away by the hand. She knew there had to be more to it than that, but right now she didn’t need to know.

Lucille was sitting in what Julia had come to think of as ‘the hospital tent’, being attended to by several others who moved away when their queen arrived. She was wrapped in a blanket, holding a mug of something steaming tightly in her hands. Vivian was asleep on a bed nearby, and Emma was slightly further away. Her mother’s face was a little blank, staring off into the distance.

“Mother…” Julia crouched down, resting her hands atop Lucille’s on the mug.

“Hello darling.” Lucille’s voice was quiet, subdued. She paused, the moment of silence hanging in the air between them. “…Tell me, is this a common occurrence in your life?”


Julia didn’t know what to say. ‘Sort of’ didn’t really seem like an adequate answer. After all, nobody had ever gone after her family like this before – but then, none of their enemies had been aware of who her family was. It hadn’t happened before simply because she had nobody that they knew to take. Now… it was a real possibility that her mother could be a target again in the future. She decided to be as truthful as she could under the circumstances. “This is the first time it’s happened to me, but not to others.”

“I see.” She sighed and shook her head. “It has been a long time since I have been in a position where anything supernatural dared to so openly… I had forgotten how terrifying these things can be when meddled with.”

Julia blinked. That had not been what she expected. Her mother frowned. “Don’t stare, Julia, it’s not polite.” She slid Julia’s hands off and took a sip from her mug, her face hard. “This last week has been… uniquely challenging. But a week in the woods with some demonic creature that invades dreams is hardly difficult for me to handle. It seemed to realise that quite fast. Perhaps not so easy for the poor girls with me and the little… wolf thing.” Lucille’s eyes flicked up to meet her daughter’s. Then, briefly, they glanced over Julia’s shoulder to a few metres away where Jake sat waiting. There was a flash of distaste and anger fleetingly on her face, and then it faded as she looked back down at her daughter’s stomach and the growing bump. It seemed like whatever she had been going to say faded.

“You were there for a week?” Julia’s heart sank as she looked across at the sleeping Vivian. The woman looked exhausted, dark circles below her eyes and tables in her hair. “It wasn’t even two days for us. I’m so sorry mother, I tried to-”

“I know. I will have to be more careful, more attentive.” Lucille frowned again. “I had already been a target before because of who I am, for those who sought to try their hand at a power grab. If I am now to be a target because of who you are as well… it will require extra precautions. But nothing unmanageable.”

Julia shook her head, her fists clenching a little. “It won’t happen again, I promi-”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Lucille interrupted, taking another sip. “I’m sure you can explain all of this to me later. For now, I would like to rest. I assume I will be safe here?”

“Of course. Are you sure you don’t want to go home though? It will probably be rather loud tonight.”

“I was taken from the apartment, and I do not wish to return yet. I have had enough bad dreams throughout, and I would like to be near people. Besides, if I could sleep through your father’s snoring then I can sleep through anything.” Lucille’s voice softened as she looked down at her daughter. “Thank you for coming for us, darling. But I need to rest now. Go and…” She glanced back over at Jake and sighed. “Is he going to be-?”


Lucille looked down at the bump again. “When are you due?”

“I think June. It’s a bit hard to tell with these things, but probably June.”

“Have you thought about names?”

“No.” Julia took a big breath. “It still doesn’t quite feel real, and I haven’t really had time.”

“Please don’t name it after anyone on your father’s side of the family.” Lucille’s voice was tired. “I think there are enough ‘Fanny’s in the world.”

“Your mother was called Hortense,” Julia said a little wryly.

“Don’t name it after my side of the family either.” Lucille waved a hand. “You have months yet. You have people to talk to, things to do. Go. I need to sleep.”

Julia smiled, leaning forward and kissing her mother’s forehead. The woman looked surprised for a moment, and then smiled wearily as she watched her daughter leave the tent.

Raven found her when she was talking to a small group of mages and werewolves, giving some instructions. They hadn’t found Sophie, and whilst Julia knew she wasn’t exactly in a position to go running off into the Umbra right now, that didn’t mean she was just going to abandon the woman.

“- as to the how, I’ll trust in those of you with more experience hunting in the Umbra. If you need to take the mages with you, great – she’s not had a good start in our world, and having a positive interaction with her own would be good. If that’s not possible, just work together however you can to find her and bring her back.”

“It’s possible that she is already dead, your majesty,” one of the Garou said quietly.

“I know. But I won’t leave anyone behind if I can help it. I’m trusting in you all to do this, to find her.” There was a slight collective straightening among the small group, pride at being given this responsibility. As she finished speaking, she saw a familiar red flash of hair bobbing slightly behind them. She smiled, reaching for Jake’s hand and leaving the little expeditionary force to work out its logistics.

“Hey,” Raven said, smiling a little awkwardly. Julia laughed and opened her arms, and then her friend was hugging her. Raven’s voice was muffled, buried in Julia’s shoulder. “Holy fuck, I can’t believe we did it.”

“Where’s Annie? I thought you two would be glued together.”

“She’s off putting Sura down to sleep and having a few cuddles. Little thing has had a few hard days, needs her mom.” Raven pulled away with a big smile. It seemed to harden as she saw Jake standing behind them, and then she looked back at Julia and her face softened again. Clearly that reaction was something Julia was going to have to get used to.

“Did everyone make it? Are you all OK?”

“Yeah, we’re intact, mostly. Jason got himself the scars he wanted, scared the absolute piss out of me. He’s going to be stiff and slow for a while, but I expect I’ll be hearing about it for years to come. We all got a few licks actually, my leg is still healing.” She hesitated. “I saw… you guys didn’t all come back through. Where’s Cal?”

Julia felt the lump in her throat again, the one that she had been fighting against ever since things had happened. Now wasn’t the time. “You remember the big light, towards the end?”

“Yeah, felt it too. It was like something explode-” A look of realisation dawned on her face. “Oh.”


“Oh Julia. I’m so sorry.” Raven shook her head, reaching forward to take Julia’s hands. “I really thought you would all…”

“I didn’t,” Julia said sadly. “I’d hoped we’d all make it back. But I knew there were good odds that at least one of us wouldn’t. It was…” Her voice cracked a little. “It was a good end, as much as one can be. It was his choice. And I suppose only losing one of our pack is better than many could have hoped for, given what we were up against.”

“You’ll have to fill me in later. But are you OK?” Raven asked. “Do you… it’s OK to cry, you know.”

Julia gave a wan little smile. “Maybe later. Right now I’m not just me, I’m ‘the queen’. I represent everyone and I need to be on my game, not crying in a corner. It’s a time to be celebrating.”

“I… sure, I guess you’ll know more about this stuff than me. Don’t push yourself too hard.” She turned to Jake, her gaze fierce. “Make sure she gets time to sleep and grieve later. You know she bottles this stuff. Look after her tonight.”

“Every night,” he said quietly.

“Good. Because if you don’t, you’ll have a whole lot of werewolves ready to rip your dick off.”

“And fae, and probably mages soon enough as well.” His voice was dry and amused. “They’ll have to join the queue. It seems to be building up fast.”

“You know I’m still here right? You’re literally holding my hands,” Julia remarked.

“I know, sorry.” Raven sighed. “I just feel like… if I let go, then I’m probably not going to get to see you again. Not like this, anyway.”


Raven gave her a slightly disbelieving look, eyes watering. “We both know you aren’t going to just sit around and do nothing. You’ll be going all over, getting stuck in and trying to fix things. I have a life and a pack here, but you’ve got a whole world to keep saving. What time will the queen have to hang out and talk shit with little old me?”

“I’ll make time. Maybe not immediately, you’re right. I’ve got things to do. But you know I’ll come back.”

“OK, I’ll hold you to that.” Raven let go of one hand to wipe at her eyes. “But this is a party, right? We’re celebrating that we’re alive. You’ll be needed to give speeches and stuff. You should go back into the fray.”

Julia laughed and started to turn, still holding the other hand. “Sure, come on.”

“What? No, I-”

“I can’t drink right now. So, you’ll have to get drunk and have a good time for me.”

Raven paused. “… I could do that.”

She stood near the centre of the sept, a cup in her hand and her head thrown back in laughter. It was getting very late, but few people seemed to have any appetite for stopping. Overhead the night sky was clear, the sliver of moon hanging high above. The sound of celebration trailed into the woods, laughing and shouting and drinking.

She had seen a few of Cal’s mother’s pack, although not Karen herself. It was possible the woman was elsewhere and grieving. Perhaps she was just avoiding Julia – an easy task amid the throngs of people that spilled out of the sept and into the surrounding forest. There had been others she hadn’t seen yet either, that she hoped were just busy somewhere instead of… After all, if they wanted to find her it wouldn’t be hard.

It felt like she had been at the centre of a constantly moving whirlpool of people, as the tides moved them in to greet her and then away again to be replaced. Everyone seemed to want to say something, or to hear words from her – to say that they were there and that they had spoken to the queen, been part of things. Even the handful of elders that always seemed to be nearby were rotating, each looking for a turn in the spotlight. The only constants were Jake, always near enough to touch, and the guards nearby.

Now she stood with Sees-All-Strands, Cheryl and Nicholas. The man had been relieved at her success and survival, although now he was clearly somewhat uncomfortable at Jake’s presence. She wondered in amusement if it was the ‘former spiral’ thing, or if it was the knowledge that this was the man who had impregnated his daughter and all the resulting discomfort that brought. But Cheryl was bright and happy, if a little bloodied. Her joy and relief were infectious, and Julia found it challenging not to get swept up, part of the atmosphere that imbued the whole sept.

As she looked up at the clear night sky, there was a little flash of light. She laughed in delight, lifting her hand to point at the small unexpected meteor shower. It was a calm and beautiful moment, as fragments of stars seemed to tumble and spark across the sky. She could feel the Nemeton, far away and peaceful on the other side of the forest, a low warm hum of contentment in the back of her mind. She reached behind, feeling Jake’s fingers twine with hers. It seemed like a sign of hope somehow, out here in the quiet clarity of nature.

“Isn’t it beautiful? Do you think this a sign of things to come?” she remarked, turning to look at the theurge elder. As she did so, heads seemed to turn across the sept to look at her. She realised she had not been alone in looking up at the sky, that quiet had fallen until she had broken the silence.

“What do you believe it to be, your majesty?” the elder said quietly.

Julia looked around. Everyone was watching expectantly, waiting for her to say something. She took a deep breath and raised her glass.

“To the fallen. To those who gave their lives so that we can stand here tonight, and make our future… whatever we want it to be.”

There was a collective clinking sound as drinks were raised across the sept, a low hum of approval rumbling through the air. She didn’t drink, looking around and continuing to speak.

“It’s going to be hard. We’ve lost so much, in such a short space of time. There are many who will want to use this as a chance to topple us, to strike while they see us as weak. And there are some who will say we should give up, that it was a losing battle before and we have no hope now.” She glared fiercely around the clearing, meeting gaze after gaze. “But I am not going to give up! We are not going to give up, because even when we are ‘weak’, we are still stronger than any of them. We can’t keep doing things the way we always have. It’s time to look to the future, the one we still have because we were able to work together with our own and with others in this world. Change is coming, and we will stand proudly and embrace it.”

People were listening attentively, drink all but forgotten. Her voice rang through the sept, out into the forest as she stood tall to prove that she was a Silver Fang, she was their queen, she was her mother’s daughter.

“I have no intention of sitting idle. We will rebuild those caerns we have lost, and find new ways to strengthen and protect them. We will retake ground we have lost to the wyrm and its allies. I can’t promise to always be ‘conventional’-” there was a ripple of amusement throughout her audience at that, “-but convention is not what we need right now. We will do better, because we have to. We walk a hard path, but I am proud to call myself your queen, proud to have you follow me. Let us not waste the future that has been bought for us with so much loss.” She held her glass a little higher. “Tomorrow, we take the first step in our new world. Tonight, we celebrate our victory, and our glorious dead!”

They cheered. It echoed through the sept, through the forest, a vibrant sound of fierce joy. She smiled, looking up to the stars and holding the feeling fast in her heart.

She lay beside Jake in the tent. She was exhausted, very aware that she hadn’t slept in two days. But she hadn’t been able to tonight – she’d stayed up with her people into the wee hours to keep celebrating, and then as soon as she’d felt like she could get away with it, she’d dragged Jake back to her tent and instructed the guards not to let anybody in without her permission.

His arms were warm and comforting, and she never wanted to leave. But the sun was going to be coming up in a few hours and her internal body clock had kicked in, trying to insist that it was time to wake up and go for a run. The baby was also very insistent that she should go to the bathroom, and was busy using her bladder as a beanbag.

She knew her pack were still here in the sept. Where else could they go right now? Their territory was ruined. Annie had Sura with her; taking the poor little Crinos back to see the remains of the nursery would be cruel and pointless when they could stay here and be safe. Nahuel wouldn’t want to be alone, after losing both his packmate and his brother within minutes of each other. It was comforting to know they were nearby, and bittersweet as well. She knew she would have to…

She stood up with a sigh, wrapping a sheet around herself to head to the small corner where her ‘bathroom’ was. Jake made a grumbling murmur as he slept, an arm reaching to where she had been and finding nothing. She smiled, leaning in to kiss his forehead, and then made a face as her body reminded her that the baby got to decide when she went to the toilet and it was deciding right now.

When she came back he had rolled over onto his back, lashes fluttering a little as he dreamed. He looked so peaceful that it made her heart hurt a little. She hoped they could always have this. Another wave of tiredness hit her as she sat down on a chair and just watched him. There were quiet noises outside, the morning wind rustling through the sept in accompaniment to the sounds of more sleeping breaths than she could count.

She wasn’t just tired from lack of sleep. She was… drained, physically, emotionally. She knew she should rest, but she couldn’t just yet. It was so hard to switch off, and finally it all just came swirling to the top as she sat awake and alone in the quiet early morning hours.

Nerzuul was dead. In the end, the brothers had fought, and Nahuel had killed Nerzuul. She felt perhaps that it had all been for nothing; that Nahuel simply hadn’t had the will to try and push back against the ‘fate’ he had been given. She understood why Nerzuul had fought – he had been in the control of a greater power, had given himself to it for a chance to save someone else. In a strange way, she was almost proud of him for it. But a part of her was also very disappointed in her packmate for not seeing that, for not trying to help. Hell, she knew Nahuel wasn’t stronger than his brother, that if it had been a true fight then he should be the one who was dead. To realise that Nerzuul had likely been holding back, that perhaps he had given in and let his brother kill him…

She wanted to rage at them both, for not listening to her when it had mattered most. But at the same time a part of her knew that Garou held fate in such high regard that even after a year she probably couldn’t have undone a lifetime of ‘learning’. And if he had decided that this was a good way to go, that this was worth dying for…

She could feel the lump in her throat that had been waiting all night for its moment, making it hard for her to breathe. In the end the Garou had lost fewer than she had thought, working well with the fae to surround their foes and effectively massacre the enemy. But still, there had been many lost. She’d seen plenty carrying bodies back through the portal. She’d had a lot of Garou come up to her in the aftermath, and many of them had mentioned packmates who had not made it. She knew that they didn’t blame her, that they were proud of their packs and the glorious deaths those who had gone had met. So many had felt this a cause worth dying for. But it was hard not to feel it now, to know how many packs were one or more members fewer.


Cal was dead.

She buried her head in her hands and cried.

Julia sat quietly in the back garden of their territory. It was Friday afternoon, a cool spring day. They had just said goodbye. She was no longer the alpha of the Stormbringers.
She leaned back, letting the sunshine warn her face for a moment. Behind her in the house she could hear movement as Nahuel padded through the remains of the kitchen. She knew there were guards waiting just beyond the wall of the garden for her to return. She knew there were so many things to do, that the world was waiting for her as well. After all, things didn’t stop happening just because they had won a battle. But just for a moment, she wanted to sit here.

They had talked. She had said her piece, told them the choice she’d had to make and the choice they would have to make as a result. She’d explained that she didn’t expect them to follow, that she understood. And they had agreed with her, agreed that the life they wanted simply wasn’t possible if their pack remained as it was. They had said sweet kind things that had made her so very happy and so very sad all at once. There had been hugs, a few tears, and a quiet moment together one last time. And just like that, she no longer had a pack.

It wasn’t truly goodbye. They would still be friends, still be kin, still always have that connection. How could you go through all the things they had been through together and not come out the other side with a special bond?

But at the same time, it was goodbye. She knew their paths had now forked, that it was unlikely they would get to spend much time together in the coming months… maybe even years. Neither of the others had much incentive to leave the city right now, if ever. Annie had her girlfriend, her child and her father all here. Nahuel had a job, his girlfriend, the remains of his pack – it had been clear that the two lupus intended to at least attempt to stay together, to join another pack or build a new one. She knew that any pack would be lucky to have them, that it would be likely that many would actively seek out the opportunity. It made her a little happier to know that they wouldn’t be alone.

She sighed, breathing in deeply and trying to hold as much of the moment as possible. Behind her she felt a sudden cold wet nose on her neck and she laughed, reaching to scratch Nahuel’s ears. He gave a gentle huffing sound, resting his head on her shoulder.

“You’ll do just fine without me,” she said softly. He huffed again, blowing oddly cold air into her ear. “I’ll send Annie a cheque to do up the house. And I’m sure I’ll find time to come and visit once things have settled down a bit.”

She could hear footsteps behind them, Annie standing in human form in the doorway. Her little packmate still seemed to favour that form, despite being lupus. Julia wasn’t sure if that was just how Annie was more comfortable now, or if she was just more aware of living in human-occupied area and the problems wandering around in her wolf form could cause. Nahuel had never quite seemed to get it – or perhaps he had never cared.

She laughed suddenly, a loud happy sound ringing through the air. The wolf head pulled away in surprise, Nahuel shuffling back a little as she turned. She smiled, a few tears in the corners of her eyes. “I’m going to miss you guys. Be good, OK? Cut back on the Chinese food, it makes your clothes smell funky.” He huffed indignantly and she gave him a knowing look. “You’ll get fat. You know you don’t get anything out of most of it anyway, if you can even call it meat at all.” She glanced up at Annie. “And look after each other. I’m sure without me and Cal around, things will be much more boring. But you know how bad things always did like to show up at the front door…”

Annie raised an eyebrow with a small smile, leaning against the doorframe. Julia ruffled Nahuel’s head, getting a sloppy lick for her trouble. “Just… be happy, OK? Do me proud.”
Then she stood up, smiled one last time at them both, and walked away.

“What happens now?”

“I’ve got a lot to do… I barely even know where to begin.”

“I heard you crying last night, Jules. Are you doing OK?”

“I am. Really. It’s a just… a lot of things ending at once, and I’m sad about that. But I’ve learned it’s OK to be sad, I need to feel it. Things have to end before the next big adventure can start, right?”

“That’s kind of cheesy.”


“Fair enough. Will you look for a new pack?”

“Not right now. Maybe one day. Right now I’ve got caerns to fix. I’ve got deals to make, alliances between tribes and species. I’ve got a lot of people waiting for me to do things, and probably just as many waiting for me to mess up. I’ve got to be alpha to the entire Garou nation, to protect the entire world. And I’ve got a baby to have as well, which scares me more than any of that. But I know I can do it. I just… know.”

“I love you. So much.”

“I know. That’s why I know I can do it. Do you think we should get married?”

“I don’t know. Which would be more likely to give your mother a heart attack: her only grandchild is a bastard hellspawn, or a shotgun wedding between you and the man she hates most in the world?”

“You don’t have to put it like that. It’s not funny, stop laughing. I don’t care what my mother thinks.”

“Clearly. But I think it might be pushing it a bit, given the situation we’re in right now as far as the Garou world is concerned. The elders have enough trouble with me as it is. Besides, I don’t need a ring and a piece of paper to tell everyone you’re mine and I’m yours.”

“Now who’s cheesy. You’re just… mmmm. Stop it. That’s very distracting.”

“I know. As much as I wish we weren’t having a little abomination, I have to say it has made your breasts amazing. Even more than they were before.”

“We should probably think of names.”

“I don’t want to. We can do that when it’s born. For now, let’s just…”

“Jake! I have things to do!”

“So? The world can wait a few hours before you get back to saving it.”

“… OK. We have time. What’s a few minutes more?”

Open the gates

If you hurt my family, then I will hurt yours…

The Outsider’s voice rang in her ears as the creature beyond the door let out a strange gurgling shriek and withdrew the ragged stumps of its fingers. The rage and hatred in those words seemed to burn into her back, filling her with fear. She turned, time seeming to become slow and sluggish, sword raised in her hand to parry against an attack that never came.

She saw him sink into the ground like a shadow. There was a rumbling beneath her feet moving away, moving too fast beneath the monstrous gate that towered into the night sky. She felt herself stumble slightly as the ground shook beneath them all, as the enemy headed towards the ritual and the hostages and the rest of her pack. Behind her, she heard Cal give a growl of irritation, moving away from her and closer to the gate as he tried to get the doors open. The entire glade hummed with power, the night filled with dangerous energy.

Shit! We need to get him back here! The door, once it opens the rest of the way, if he’s not-

There was a great blast of wind, surging with familiar power like electricity, lifting her hair from behind and blowing it in her face. There had been a sliver of strange light that cast across her and the glade as she had stood behind Cal, fending off the enemy as he widened the gap between the gates so they could shove this creature inside. Now there was suddenly a dazzling beam, several metres wide, and a feeling of power and chaos and fear so great it almost made her fall. Again she turned, slow and sluggish as the world seemed to spin around her, a roaring in her ears.

The gate was open. It loomed above them in the sky, filled with a terrible light. She was just in time to see Cal step into the swirling void.

She heard noises, as if coming from far away. Was it screaming? She didn’t know. The Outsider had moved away from her, and she didn’t know where he had gone. What the hell was Cal doing? How could he abandon them now? They had a plan, it had been going just fine, they were on top of things… Had he decided he wanted to do his own thing, like so many times before, throwing everything they were working towards away for his own arrogance and vanity? Or had he betrayed them, the mark that was supposedly done with not so dead after all?

She couldn’t believe that. Not now, when they were so close.

They needed to get the Outsider back here, needed to complete the ritual to weaken him and then throw him through these damned gates and seal them shut forever and ever. It was enough of a challenge with four of them, to protect the rite-casters and save the hostages. How could they do it with three, when the gates were open?

She called out to her pack, called to them to keep going. They needed to work together, to stay strong. If one of the others protected those doing the rite, the third could help the hostages. They just had to get their foe back here. This could still be won. She would hold the line, stand firm against whatever came through.

Julia stood before the open gates, covered in blood and tightly gripping a sword coated in fire. The void pulsed and swirled, promising an end to everything.

Do your worst. I will not give in.

A week in the woods

Vivian sat beneath the tree with the others. Her wrists were bound, a gag in her mouth. The skin on her lips was dry and cracked, her hands and wrists raw and chafed from the ropes that rubbed against her skin. Their kidnappers hadn’t bothered to tie her feet – why would they? Where was she going to run to, here in a different world where she knew no one and the forest around seemed to be watching their every move? The others were in a similar position, and none of them had tried to flee. They couldn’t talk to each other, couldn’t do anything but sit together and try to give each other a little warmth and comfort.

It had been a week. Nobody had come for them. She was beginning to lose hope.

She remembered being at home. It had seemed like a perfectly normal day. She’d been to work, she’d come home and was just about to start preparing dinner for when Cal came around, when suddenly there had been arms around her waist and a hand covering her mouth. It hadn’t been the arms she was expecting, and she’d struggled in panic and fear, swinging around to try and push whoever had broken into her home away. Then everything had gone black, and she had awoken here.

The creature that had taken them seemed to have little interest in its captives, save the little white Crinos child that would occasionally be taken away for an hour or so and then returned to them. It seemed to be expecting something to happen, and evidently the child was unable or unwilling. There had been another woman with them for a while too, but after a few days she had been taken away and not come back. Now it was just her, one of the newer kinfolk, the little Crinos child and an older woman that she didn’t know.

She wasn’t sure if they had been taken for a purpose, if they were meant as a lure or perhaps as a means of keeping their loved ones away so that the creature could do whatever it was doing in peace. Perhaps it was going to kill them, to do something to the great gates that stood in the middle of the clearing. They had been told nothing. They were guarded, fed occasionally and allowed into the woods to go to the bathroom. But beyond that, they were mostly just left to sit and shiver in the clearing, their clothes getting progressively filthier and the ropes chafing at their wrists. She had lost track of time quickly – the days seemed to pass oddly here, and her watch was running at a fraction of the speed that it should. What was going to happen?

Vivian was afraid. She had always known that there was a possibility something like this would happen to her. But somehow it never had, somehow she had been lucky. Even with everything that seemed to happen to Cal’s pack, she had never been targeted – or he had done such a good job of protecting her that nothing had ever come close. But this time something had happened, and she was so very, very afraid.

She still believed he would come for her. Even as the days went by, and there was no sign of anything other than smoke on the distant horizon, she kept on desperately hoping. She had to believe that he was alive, that they all were. She had to believe that even if the creature that filled her dreams with horror as it pawed into her mind – so much more interested in them all asleep – even if it had told him not to come for her… he would do it anyway. They all would. They’d find a way to stop this thing, to take her home where it was safe and he could hold her and she’d never have to worry again.

Still, the hope was wearing thin. Another night arrived, and she didn’t know what to do. The little Crinos gave a soft whimper as the creature came and dragged it away from them again, eyes huge and afraid. The remaining three of them huddled together for warmth, watching the guards.

And then she heard his voice, and her heart sang.

You came.

Within a mile of home

He sat near the edge of the cearn and watched his pups play. His mind had been occupied by little else over the past few days. The end of the world, the imminent threat of death, the loss of all sense of safety and security for the future. All of it could go hang. He was a father. Cal was a father. He had two perfect pups to take care of. The little silver furred male played with the others pups, his antlers just starting to peak through his fur. A blessing from the stag no doubt. The female was not far from her brother as she played. They were very close, with the male being very protective of his sister. It was sweet to watch them together. The female’s lack of sight did not seem to hinder her too much. She could identify others by scent and find her way around by touch. They were still nervous around Cal but the more time he spent around, the more they relaxed. Hopefully soon they would come to recognise him as their father.

What type of a future would they be left. In a world gone to shit they we’re the only thing left that brought him hope. His fiancée had been kidnapped. His first love had spurned him. He was surrounded by elders who, even though they’re days were numbered still insisted on pointless titles and positions of authority. The whole world was crashing down around them and, as had been demonstrated time and again, he was just a small cog in a great engine of Armageddon set to motion.

True fae, mages, elders, fae queens, a Garou queen, armies, generals, global warfare. The end of days really did have a way of being over dramatic. Allies, enemies, forces arrayed and arrayed. Strategies planned, tactics tutored. Shock, Back hand blow, defence in depth, elastic defence, encirclement, all planned to the smallest detail by leaders playing with their figures on a map. Gaols chosen carefully and prioritised.

Only one thing matter to Cal. The outsider had to be stopped, by ritual, by blood, by annihilation, whatever the cost.

The others plan was sound in principle but it never hurt to have a backup. Their problem was they spent their whole lives thinking there were rules. There aren’t. It’s a red tide this life of ours, even at the end.

There’s an old adage when it comes to those who hold power over you. “Give them what they want, then take what you want. Nobody is more vulnerable than in their moment of victory, and know that whatever you do they will never let you go while they live.”

I only want to hurt you and what I want I get.

He smiled to himself as he watched his children play. Soon this would all be over and finally, at long last, he could have a little peace.

Winter's Wolf

Can’t you see what you have wrought here?
A curse on you and all your kin
Bloody battles will be fought here
Await your doom at empire’s end
May the werewolves rush to bite you
May the earth swallow your hosts
May the winter’s wolves surround you
And rip the life from your throats

When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.

Calm before the Storm

The white wolf sits in the darkened room, alert and upright beside the pile of sleeping, shuffling fur that is her packmates. The windows are boarded up, the room bare of furniture and walls smeared with mess – as if the building has been ransacked and then abandoned, fit only for squatters. A small pile of shavings and a discarded fragment of a chair sit on the floor beside the group, evidence of someone’s attempt at distraction.

The soft silver-gold glow of light from her forehead illuminates the room around them, warm and comforting in the dead of night and casting a soft reflection off piercing blue eyes. The soft bulge of her stomach betrays the growing life inside her, and she shifts a little occasionally to try and get comfortable as she watches over her pack.

Beside her there is a whimper as the smallest wolf cycles paws, a bad dream taking hold of an already fitful sleep. The white slow moves, nudging against her packmate and sharing warmth. She stays there until the whimpering subsides, then goes back to her previous position. The others continue to lie in a pile, curled around each other in a carpet of red, brown and white furs. It will be a long night of fitful sleep, but at least it is shared.

The white wolf continues to keep watch.

Julia walked through the camp, smiling and greeting people. The fervour with which so many of the werewolves returned that greeting, the nearly palpable excitement that permeated the air… it was all a little terrifying. She wasn’t sure if it was genuine anticipation, a lust for battle that those who had grown up in this world had cultivated all their lives, or if it was just a way to cope with nerves. After all, this could genuinely be the end of the world as they knew it – not necessarily the destruction of the planet and all life on it in the style of the Wyrm, but potentially the devastation of their people and the conquering this plane by unfathomably alien and powerful creatures of the Wyld. If she was wrong, of even just too slow, too weak, this could be the end. It was a lot of weight for one person’s shoulders.

Still, everyone around her seemed elated. Werewolves did love a fight, and this was the biggest any of them had ever seen. She did her best to smile, to nod encouragingly and offer words of support when they spoke to her. People knelt as she arrived, murmured amongst themselves as she left. With any luck they were glad to see their queen among them before the battle, given hope by her presence here on the ground.

It was clearly not a secret that she wouldn’t be joining them in the main fight, that she would be going elsewhere to deal with some greater issue. It had been a mild concern to her for a moment, but she remembered that the enemy had issued a challenge and was expecting her to arrive anyway, wanted them to come and find him. Nobody seemed all that worried that she wouldn’t be on the battlefield with the troops – a few had even offered to accompany her to her destination, to help her out and get to see them succeed. She had graciously declined and they seemed content without any explanation as to why. It was strange to see how trusting they were, after she’d done so much fighting with the elders. Then again, she supposed the rest of the Garou hadn’t seen that, that as far as they were concerned this was her ‘destined purpose’.

She rounded a corner to find the twins for the Asphalt Hunters gathered with another group of people – she assumed fellow Get – laughing and painting themselves with some red substance that smelled foul. There was a collective turning of heads as they seemed to sense her presence. The smiles were genuine and friendly as she was waved over, bows and nods greeting her without wariness.

“Come to wish us luck, princess?” Jason asked with a grin. There were murmurs of amusement at his familiarity and someone gave him a shove. “Sorry, your majesty.” He bowed flamboyantly, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Can I be the one to cut his head off for insubordination?” Kyle asked, carefully painting a red stripe down his arm.

Julia laughed. She hadn’t seen either of them for a while, hadn’t been sure how they would react to her new status. It was nice to see some things didn’t change. “If we all survive this reasonably intact, I’ll think about it.”

“Pfff, when we win I’ll be a war hero. You can’t execute war heroes,” Jason snorted.

“Why would you be a hero?” his brother remarked. “We’re just foot soldiers. It’s not like you’re going to fight the big bad personally.” He dodged Jason’s swipe, looking up at Julia with a small smile. “I think that other people will probably be more likely to be making the history books than we are.”

“We’ll see.” She smiled back non-committally. “Are you guys ready?”

“Born ready!” one of the others said loudly, thumping his chest. There was a chorus of agreement that quickly seemed to devolve into a small enthusiastic scuffle before they remembered she was there and separated.

“Good. I know this probably isn’t the battle everyone has been expecting…”

“Doesn’t matter,” Kyle shrugged. “A good fight is a good fight, especially for our tribe. If you’re going to lead us to it, we’ll gladly follow.” The chorus of agreement picked up again, as did the scuffle as they turned inward to pump each other up. She watched in amusement and then realised Kyle wasn’t joining in. He stood up, motioning a little away. She hesitated with a brief frown, and then followed him.

He smiled at her, almost a little awkwardly, as they stood apart from his group. “So… haven’t seen you in a while. How’s things? You know, with the…” he gestured at her crown.

“It’s been a learning curve.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to be weird about it?”

“It’s kind of hard not to be. I mean, it grows out of your head.” Kyle shrugged, eyes drifting up to the crown again. “Didn’t think it would ever actually happen in my lifetime, you know? And I always figured it would be…” He shrugged again, as if trying to find a nice way to say it.

“Some big burly man in a loincloth with a huge sword and swooning ladies clinging to his legs? Sort of a ‘Conan the Barbarian’ kind of thing?” Julia supplied helpfully. He laughed in surprise and she grinned. “You aren’t the first person. Sorry to disappoint. I do have a sword, and I’m sure I’d look great in a loincloth though.”

“Probably, yeah.” Kyle shook his head. “I’m excited, but I’m also really hoping that we win. Are you doing OK?”

“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You bottle things up like you’re planning to open a brewery. You got arrested and exiled, you came back a queen and now you have an apocalypse that three different species are relying on you to prevent. Plus you’ve got some other things to worry about too.” He looked down pointedly at her bump. “That’s a lot to deal with individually, never mind all at once. I’d have been panicking and shitting my pants for the last two months.”

She laughed. “Who says I haven’t been?”

“Well, that’s gross.”

Julia shook her head in amusement. “Your words, not mine. I just… have to get on with it. What good will crying and wishing things were different do? I can’t make myself un-pregnant, I can’t take this crown off and I can’t make this battle not happen.” She sighed. “Maybe once this is done, they’ll take me more seriously going forward. Knowing my luck, they’ll say my part is done and I should just turn up and wave at special occasions like a good little queen.”

He smiled reassuringly and reached out to rest a hand on her arm. “I’m sure that’s not true. You’re doing great. I’ll follow you – I’d probably have followed you even without the crown. You do things differently, but that doesn’t make it bad. Sometimes we need to change and grow. Hell, we’d be doing this on our own without a clue what we were facing if you didn’t do things the way you do. Just be careful, OK? And don’t be afraid to use your rage. It could really make the difference between winning and losing.”

She smiled gratefully. “Thanks. Nice to know you have my back, even after everything.”

He hesitated. “Yeah. I… we heard about your… is he really-?”

“Is he really a Spiral?” Jason said bluntly from behind them.

She turned to meet his gaze. He stood with his arms folded, eyes narrowed. He looked strange, hair spiked with the same red paint that was daubed in whorls over his skin, as if the blood had come to the surface in some ritualistic pattern. If she didn’t know him, hadn’t been a werewolf as well, she’d probably have found him pretty terrifying.

“He was.”

“And did you know?”

“I did.” She met his eyes evenly.

“And has he changed? Is he really on our side now?” His nostrils flared a little. “They say dancing the spiral drives you mad, that there’s no coming back. Can you honestly say that he’s free?”


He stared at her for a long moment, and then nodded. “OK.”

Julia blinked. “That’s it?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” He tilted his head appraisingly. “I trust you, you’ve never lied to me. If you say he’s clean, then he’s clean.” He rolled his neck, cracking the joints. “If anyone wants to talk shit, we’ll keep them right with a few swift beatings.”

Julia smiled, feeling a lump in her throat. “I missed you guys.”

He grinned and leaned forward to ruffle her hair. “Of course you did. Come see us when this is done. We’ve got some catching up to do. We can show you all our cool scars, and you can tell us how boring it is being queen and how fat you’ve gotten now you’re knocked up. I’m sure your metis will be the -cutest little abomination.”

“It’ll have to be,” Kyle nodded. “With parents that look like that, it would be a crime if it turned out to be an uggo. We’d all start wondering if maybe he wasn’t the father.”

Julia couldn’t help but laugh. “Right, sure. Where are the rest of your pack?”

Jason shrugged. “Somewhere in here. Probably with the Fianna doing whatever they do before a battle. We’ll meet back before it begins.” He paused as if he was going to say something, then seemed to change his mind. “Probably near the caern somewhere? Telling each other battle poems or something lame like that, playing harps and shit.”

Kyle grinned. “I’ll tell Raven that before we leave. I’m sure our ‘lame’ alpha would love to show me how high pitched she can make you sing.”

Julia shook her head and left them to bicker.

She stood in the shadow of the wall around the caern. She could see a large gathering of Fianna sitting by its edge, talking and laughing and singing. She wondered what stories they were telling – some of it was in a language she didn’t understand, and some was just to indistinct amid all the other sounds of the sept. She could see the bright fiery shock of Raven’s hair amid them, many other redheads joining her. Her friend seemed to be laughing and smiling, that same manic energy permeating this crowd as much as the rest of the sept. It looked nice, and she briefly wished she could be a part of it.

“My queen,” a familiar voice said quietly from behind her. She almost choked a little, her heart jumping into her throat as she spun around.

Stalks-the-Ice was standing in the shadows of the walls a few feet from her – rather, he had been in the shadow, but the light from her crown dispersed the concealing darkness. He bowed slightly.

“Gaia, don’t do that.” She raised a hand to her chest, as if it could slow her heartbeat.

“If you can be walked up on that easily, perhaps you should bring guards with you,” he said, the faintest hint of a smile on his face. “Or did you forget the lessons you learnt from me?”

“Perhaps I just trust my people not to sneak up on me.” She shook her head. “Clearly a misplaced faith.”

“I’m a Ragabash. Stealth is our domain.”

Julia took a deep breath. “Right. Sure. OK.” She shook her head. “Were you looking for me?”

“No.” He tilted his head as if he was considering something. “I was coming back to join my tribe in our preparations, and I saw you watching. You don’t really blend in anymore. It’s been… a while since we spoke.” She nodded, not sure what to say. He smiled a little wanly. “You look well. As beautiful as ever. I like your crown.”

“Stalks…” she shook her head. “How are you?”

“I’m OK.” The smile became a little more genuine and warm. “I’ve had some time to grow and think, take a long hard look at myself. I see you’ve had some changes too.”

“I have.” She felt her hand drift self-consciously down to her stomach. His eyes followed her hand and the smile faded.

“Yeah. I heard.”

“Oh dear.” She could feel her eyes getting watery. “I should go.”

“What?” He frowned. “Why?”

“Because I thought maybe things would be better, but it’s still really awkward,” she mumbled, wiping at her face. “And this pregnancy thing has made me really weepy all the time, and I don’t want you to see me cry. There’s a big fight tomorrow and you should be with-”

“Julia. Stop.”

She looked up, caught off guard. He was staring at her, a complex mix of emotions on his face. “Don’t, OK? I just thought we could talk.” He smiled a little weakly. “It’s been nine months since we last spoke. There’s a good chance one of both of us could die tomorrow. Can we just talk?”

Julia hesitated. A part of her said that it wasn’t a good idea. Why bring up things now, when they were supposed to be buried and done? What would it do, expect perhaps open old wounds and serve as a distraction at a time when that was really not needed? But he didn’t seem angry or upset or any such emotion. If she said no, wasn’t she basically admitting that she had lied and didn’t think they could be friends again?

She nodded. “I… sure. We can go somewhere a bit more private.” Glancing around, she realised just how busy the sept was and how impossible it would be to get back to her yurt without being stopped multiple times. “Maybe…” She turned and headed towards the gates to the caern.

“Wait, I-” he started to speak and she turned back. “I can’t go in there.”

“Why? You’ll be with me.”

“Yeah, but that’s the…” he swallowed.

“If we talk here, people will be able to interrupt. I want to sit down. My back is getting sore.” She turned and headed to the gate. He paused for a moment, then followed her.

They sat together in the shade of the tree. There were pillows and blankets on the ground – she liked coming in here, so they’d put a few things down to make it more comfortable for her in the chill spring weather. She sighed comfortably, off her feet for the first time in hours. He was sitting stiffly across from her, like somebody was going to come in suddenly and drag him away for defiling the grove with his mere presence.

“It’s fine. They’re not going to kick you out.” She shifted amid the pile of cushions.

“Sorry, we can’t all be as comfortable around sources of ancient power that our species has revered and protected for millennia.” There was the faintest hint of sarcasm in his voice and she laughed.

“That’s fair. OK, let’s talk.”

“How are you?”

She smiled wryly. “That seems to be a common theme today. I’m fine. It’s been a long nine months.” Her voice was soft. “I missed you.”

“I heard you found a new teacher. I’m sure I can’t compare to Cleansing Flame,” he said, amused. “If you’re training with her, I expect you’ve progressed past anything I can teach you.”

“It isn’t the same. She’s less… fun. She’s a teacher, not a friend.” Julia sighed. “Remember when we were friends?”

“No,” Stalks said quietly. “We weren’t friends, not when I was infatuated with you.”

“I… right.” She paused. “And… do you think we could be?”

“I don’t know. Anything is possible, right?” He shrugged, glancing up at the tree. “Given how casually you do the supposed impossible, I imagine if you decide you want to be I won’t have much say in the matter.”

“Oh.” Julia swallowed, feeling her eyes water a little. “I see.”

He laughed, leaning back a little. “Relax, Julia. I imagine you’ll have far more pressing things to do in the aftermath of this than focus on hanging out with me again. You’ve got a world to save, right? Don’t force things, if it’s meant to happen it will.” He grinned. “Besides, I’ve been trying to move my way up in the world. So maybe if I can prove myself, I’ll be worthy of the queen’s court, and then you can see me anyway.”

She smiled in relief and nodded. “Maybe. I guess that would be something I’d need to think about too, huh?”

“Of course. It’s a big world. You can’t do everything yourself.”

They sat together for a moment in reasonably comfortable silence, before he spoke again. The words seemed to tumble out of his mouth in a rush. “How long did you know? About… him?”

She shifted a little in her seat with a sigh. “A few years. After I discovered I was a werewolf, and so was he. Not before then – the first few years of our relationship I was under the impression we were both human.”

“And even after you knew, you still stayed?”

“I love him,” she said simply. “It never meant much to me. I wasn’t raised in this world, I had no context for what it meant, and by the time I did it was far too late. I suppose perhaps that was a good thing, since it means I can more easily judge people individually without the biases the Garou teach.”

He frowned slightly. “And even now, knowing what he is and what he’s done…?”

“Yes,” Julia said softly. “He’s a monster. But he doesn’t want to be a monster anymore. And he’s never been one to me. I have to believe in something, I have to give people the chance to prove themselves, support them when they try. I have to be able to pick them up when they stumble, help when they fall. Who can do something like this alone?”

“Some people will call that weakness.” His voice was sombre.

“Everyone falls. Everyone has moments of weakness, when they give in to temptation. It’s those who look for help and redemption that need support the most – not for us to turn our backs and tell them they never could have succeeded, so why even try?” She looked at him earnestly. “A lot of people would call it weakness – a lot of werewolves definitely would. We’re so focussed on our claws and fangs, the idea of not ripping our way through any obstacle seems impossible. Killing is easy, but helping people is hard. Where has that got us though?” She gestured towards the gate. “Generations of raging monsters, terrible parents and broken families. Endless death and destruction, with precious little to show for it. The enemies grow all the time, with their own numbers and our defectors. When the idea of being able to give in and be a monster seems preferable to staying among Garou society, maybe we’re part of the problem.”

“You know, I didn’t ask for a speech…” He smiled as she hesitated uncertainly. “But it was a good one. You should hold onto it for a bigger audience.”

“Sorry. Force of habit.”

“I suppose it’s a good one for a queen to have.” He leaned forward, resting his hand on his chin. “Man, this is weird. With the crown, and the baby, and everything… I thought about going to speak to him, you know.”

“You did?” Julia stiffened a little, trying not to sound worried. “Oh. What stopped you?”

“Well, besides the fact I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t let me in…” he laughed at the look on her face. “I realised how sad and needy and not over you it would make me look, how bad it would seem if you found out and assumed. I just wanted to talk to him, ask him some things. But then I realised I didn’t really need to know that either, that it wasn’t my business and there are people better than me already asking those questions.”

“Ah… I suppose that would be understandable.”

He shrugged. “I did love you. How could I not? I mean, have you met you? You’re easy to fall in love with. You’re beautiful, even more so now you’ve got that whole ‘pregnancy glow’ thing going. You’re queen now, you’re out there saving the world and doing all this incredible stuff that nobody can help but be impressed by. You drop the inspiring speeches and pep talks like they’re going out of style, and everyone listens because how could they not? So yeah, I did love you, and it sucked. But I’m not in love with you anymore.” He smiled a little sadly. “It was a dream for me, a version of you on a pedestal that I knew I could never reach. It was a disservice to us both.”

“OK.” Her voice was barely audible. “So… now what?”

“Now I’m older and wiser. I’ve made some mistakes, but I like to think I’ve come out the other side. I’ve got a better idea of what I want in life, how I’d like to make a difference – I’ve been paying attention to at least some of your pep talks. I’m done with chasing women I can’t have, for a start.” Stalks smiled. “Don’t beat yourself up, OK?”

She smiled back, hands resting on her stomach. “You know, you’ve changed. Or perhaps this was always you, and I just didn’t really get to see it before.”

“No, I’ve done some growing up.” He shook his head. “Sometimes it takes having your heart broken for you to take a long hard look at yourself. I felt so awful when you were exiled, I wondered if it was my fault somehow. I think we all did. When you came back, when I saw what had happened, I told myself I could change, find a better way to do it than just blindly following a path and hoping.”

“Don’t change too much. I liked the old Stalks. He wasn’t as ‘Fianna ragabash’ as I’d expected, but I liked that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t seem to fit the mould.” He laughed at that, loud and unashamed. She couldn’t help but laugh with him, a wide smile on her face. “When this is done, promise me we’ll spar again?”

“You’ll probably be a little busy.” He smiled and glanced down. “Plus it seems a little unfair for me to fight a pregnant lady.”

“I’m not going to be pregnant forever.”

“No, but then you’ll be busy being queen, and being a mom. We’ll see.” His face grew serious and he started to climb to his feet. “We should probably go back. You have a whole sept to inspire. Thank you for letting me be this close to the caern. It was an honour.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “For being honest with me.”

He smiled and offered her his hand. “It’s the apocalypse. If we can’t be honest now, when can we be?” She let him help her to her feet, and then he stepped back and bowed. “My queen.”

“Oh man, don’t…”

“You’re queen, Julia. This comes with it, even among friends. You’ll have to get used to it, or at least hide your distaste better.” He raised an eyebrow in amusement. “Ragabashes tell you the truths you don’t want to hear.”

Julia walked into the tent where the Silver Fang elders had made their base within the sept. There had been the usual wave of murmurs and bows as she had reached her tribe’s ‘camp’ and she had paused to speak to them. There seemed to be a sense of pride among them, that the queen was of their tribe – but of course she was, where else could she possibly have belonged? It was a little funny to see how certain they were about it. But she could also pick up an undercurrent of confusion and uncertainty. After all, she wasn’t what they had expected. She was well aware that there was discord in distant Silver Fang halls because of her, that it would be something else she would have to sort out once this was done. For now though, she had other things to focus on. She was here to see one person in particular.
Nicholas was within the tent, discussing things with the other elders – she imagined a certain amount of relaying battle plans and troop movement. He had been in the main tent for those who had been planning earlier, but when she had gone back to look they had dispersed. It was getting into later afternoon, and she knew she was starting to run out of time.

He glanced up as she entered, all of the elders turning to look at her and then kneel. She gave a small strained smile, remembering what Stalks had said earlier.

“Your majesty? May we do something for you?” one of them asked. “Do you require aid or advice, perhaps?”

“No, I would like to speak with Nicholas.”

There were nods, shared looks between them that surely had meaning. She half-wished that she could read minds. In moments they had emptied the tent and she was standing alone with the man who called himself her father.

“My queen.” He bowed fluidly, a practiced move that he had clearly been doing all his life. “I am at your service.”

She wasn’t sure what to say now she was here. “Are you ready? Is it set?”

“As ready as one can ever be. Plans rarely survive the heat of battle. But we are more disciplined than we might appear to outsiders. The werewolf style of battle is directed chaos in many ways, but a good Ahroun knows how to manage that.” He looked at her with large serious eyes, so like her own. “Do you wish to know details?”

“Will you be on the front line?”

“No. I am not an Ahroun, I do not see it as my duty to lead the charge. I will leave it to those more qualified.” He continued to look at her seriously. “I will be present, of course. What Silver Fang could call himself a leader among our people and hide with his tail between his legs at the time when we are most needed by those people?”

“I suppose.” She glanced around the tent, all the words she had wanted to say dissolved into nothing.

“Did you have something in particular that you wanted to say?” His voice was unexpectedly gentle, and she looked back at him in surprise. “I know you won’t be involved in the battle itself, that you have no real need to know the details of our battle plan to free the fae.”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged helplessly. “I’ve just been… I felt like I should show my face, talk to people before the fight.”

“A wise move,” he nodded. “Troop morale is important. A good leader spends time with their people, to give them a face that they can put to why they fight.”

“I felt like I should come and talk to you. But now I’m here, and I don’t know what to say.” It was almost painful to admit that. “Maybe because right now you’re the closest thing I have to a parent to talk to?”

He stared at her, face unreadable. Then he sighed, shoulders slumping a little like the strings of formality that had been holding him were cut. “Yes, I suppose I am. Your mother, she was taken by the enemy. And… your other father died, just before you…”

She nodded, unable to say anything. He shook his head, concern and a little confusion on his face. “Gaia, I forget how young you still are, how much you’ve had thrust on you in such a short space of time. I confess, I have little experience with children. I know you are not one, but…”

“It’s fine.” She couldn’t stop the disappointment in her voice. She didn’t know what she had expected. He stepped forward suddenly, closing the gap between them.

“Forgive me,” he said quietly. “I have found myself deeply conflicted, and I am uncertain how to behave towards you. You are my daughter, but I do not know how to be a father to you – if you even want me to be. You are my queen, and I am having to learn how to reconcile that with everything I have ever been taught. There last two months have been fast and I have tried to be an advisor to you if needed, but I do not know if you want that from me either. I do not know if I should kneel, or hug you, or simply keep my distance.”

“… You can hug me if you want,” she said tentatively.

Having his arms around her was strange. It was like he didn’t quite know what he was doing, as if showing physical affection to her confused him and he was worried perhaps that she would push him away or break into pieces. Still, she leaned into his shoulder with a sigh. It was close enough.

“What will happen after?” she asked, her voice a little muffled.

“After?” He pulled away, stepping back slightly self-consciously.

“After this is done, after we win.”

He gave a small surprised laugh. “I am glad to see you so confident.”

“I have to be. Besides, I think we’ve got a good shot.” She gave him a little smile. “I can’t exactly plan for losing. But I can try and prepare a little for the aftermath of winning.”

He nodded, stepping back a little further as the formal veneer seemed to return. “Our numbers are already depleted. They will likely be further as a result of this. We will be in a greatly weakened position, even more ill-equipped to protect those caerns we have left. It would be the ideal time for any enemy to strike.”

“I know. Why do you think I’m trying so hard to make sure the mages and fae are on our side?” Julia frowned, pursing her lips a little. “I’m sure that given time, at least some of the destroyed caerns can be restored. It will take a lot of effort, but I’m not going to shy away from that. My main concern is getting everybody on board.”

He nodded again, face serious. “There are many of our people who are not here. Leaders in some of the other tribes who have remained in their halls of power, or those who guard the caerns that are left. I would like to say that most of those will fall in line with you, especially given everything you have already done and that in this instance, you will have stopped an apocalypse.”


“But I am not as naïve as that. Our people are traditional, and there will be those in every tribe who will chafe at your leadership and your methods. You are not what we expected, and your approach causes conflict among many – our own tribe included.” He paused, then apparently decided to be honest. “I have found it hard to put aside my own learnings and instincts, to put my trust in you, and I am here to see the incredible things you do for myself. I would not call myself as traditional as some either, and yet it is still a struggle at times. There is already division in the court about you, especially for those who are loyal to Albrecht and his line.” He sighed. “You know, it could be easily solved if you would marry Dmitri…”

“I’m sure that would be a very temporary fix that would make neither of us happy,” Julia said quietly.

“Indeed. But temporarily easier. I am not looking forward to returning to speak with them. You must understand, even with all the great things you have done, there are those who will disbelieve or find excuses. You are young, you are female, you are pregnant with a metis child whose father is a Black Spiral-” he held up a hand at her opening mouth, “he may be former now, but he was not at the time of conception. You court controversy, break the litany openly and it will be easy for them to find things to excuse their refusal to acknowledge you, especially when you are far away. True, there are many tribes who will follow you easily – the former Wendigo, the more modern tribes like Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers; the Black Furies since you are a woman and the Children of Gaia since you favour peace; perhaps even the Shadow Lords since you claimed the crown from their lands. But those who are used to wielding power are often reluctant to let go.”

She chose not to comment on his assumptions, frowning. “I don’t have the time to go and individually challenge every stubborn Garou to combat, or whatever it would take to appease them. What can I do to make them fall in line, besides step down and shut up?”

“I don’t know,” Nicholas said, his voice sombre. “It is a difficult situation. You are inexperienced in our politics, and the crown will only get you so far. It would probably be prudent to take advantage of the elders you do have on your side, especially since visiting the bases of tribal power across the world will be challenging for you in the months to come given that you will find it harder to travel as your pregnancy progresses.”

“Fine. Then I’ll get them to come to me,” she said. He raised an eyebrow, opening his mouth to speak, but she ploughed on. “It doesn’t matter too much just now. We have other things to worry about. But when this is done, I’ll have to start making arrangements for this too, on top of everything else. Some sort of grand moot, perhaps, where we can all be formally introduced and they can air any grievances they have in front of everyone.”

“I… we shall see. It wouldn’t be easy. But then, what do you ever seem to do that is easy?” His voice was tired, but a little amused. “You are right, there are other things to worry about. If I could go with you to fight this thing… Are you certain you are prepared, that the numbers you have are enough?”

“If we take too many, we’re liable to anger the forest and lose those we have before we reach our goal. I won’t throw anyone away needlessly.”

“And to fight this creature, to kill it… do you have enough people for that?”

“I can’t kill it,” she said simply. He paled slightly at that. “But I’m not trying to kill it. We just need to survive long enough to make it vulnerable, to contain it with the rest of its brethren in their eternal prison. If we can do that, we’ve won.”

He took a deep breath. “Are you certain? Can you hold it off for long enough?”

“I guess I’ll find out tonight.”

For a moment, Nicholas just stood there, like he wanted to say something really badly and was struggling to hold it in. She could see his hands trembling slightly. “It’s OK,” she said, trying to sound reassuring. “We know what we’re doing, better than most anyone else. If we can’t do it-”

He engulfed her in a hug. She made a soft sound of surprise, stiffening slightly, and then relaxed and let him embrace her. His voice was low, wobbling a little with emotion.

“I have never considered myself a selfish man. But you are the only family I have left. I know what we have is complicated, but… please. I lost your mother, and I could do nothing. As your father, I am asking you to be safe, and to survive this. For our people as a whole, and for myself.”

She nodded, and let him hug her for a little while longer.

They stand before the portal, the four of them watching the tear between worlds. On the other side, the last of the Garou forces head into the distance, smoke and fire on the horizon as the sun sets over Arcadia. Gwendolyn waits expectantly, the other mages and werewolves already stepping through onto fae soil.

Time to go.

A model secretary

Rosemary stared down at the box on her desk. There was hardly anything in personal it – she’d already moved most of her things. It hurt too much too keep them here after Christmas, after the last participants on the trial had stopped responding to the medication and her little boy had died.

She had known this was likely coming, ever since he’d first been diagnosed, but the trial had given her hope. She’d had to make herself believe, because how could she show up to the hospital every day, look her little boy in the eye and lie about his chances of getting better? But the participants had started to fail in November, and the first of them had succumbed in December a few weeks later. She’d had one last Christmas with Arthur, and then he was gone. He’d been seven.

Now she was alone.

The last two months had been… numb. She’d still come back to work, taking only a week off for the funeral. What else was she going to do? She had no other family. Her days had consisted of working, then going to the hospital to be with her son, then coming back to work the next day. She had no hobbies, no social life, nothing else that had driven her. She had worked here because they had helped her boy, because she’d been willing to look away on so many terrible things and put up with so much for the chance that maybe they could save him. Now she was cast adrift, purposeless. Now she had no reason to stay.

They had reassigned her, after Mr Cuorene had… ‘left’. She had come in after the New Year and been told that she was covering Mr Crane’s PA – he went through them like water, so she hadn’t thought much of it at the time. She’d just kept on looking after Mr Cuorene’s paperwork for when he came back, and doing the best she could with Mr Crane’s jobs as well. She didn’t like working for Mr Crane. He had bad vibes about him, much more openly so than many of the others in this department. Fortunately she was too old and ‘boring’ for him to flirt with her, mostly leaving her to work on autopilot.

But then a month had passed, and she hadn’t had any information about when she’d be going back to her real job. It had been unusual enough that she’d come out of her grief-stricken autopilot to try and find out what was going on. They’d told her she was being permanently reassigned, that Mr Cuorene wouldn’t be needing a PA anymore and she was far too valuable a company asset to be demoted. That had got her attention. Curiosity was a dangerous trait to have at Pentex. But then, what did she have to lose now?

So she’d made some enquiries, a little casual conversation with the other PAs. She didn’t know the exact details, but according to the rumours, he had murdered Ms Luther and then been kept in ‘solitary confinement’ for punishment. From her own experience in the kind of access the PAs up here had, it was probably more than a rumour. A part of her thought he couldn’t possibly be that stupid. Another part of her could completely believe it. Nobody had seen him since New Year’s, and then his office had been cleared out and his paperwork carted away. It was possible he was dead. It was possible he was being ‘reconditioned’ somewhere. Either way, she knew how unlikely it was that she’d ever see him again.

Rosemary liked Mr Cuorene. He was a terrible boss. He hardly ever seemed to turn up to work on time, he was capricious and fickle and childish. He was a monster, and she was well aware of the terrible, terrible things he had done. He terrified her at times, and she knew he could have killed her whenever he wanted, probably without losing much sleep. But he had been kind to her, when he didn’t have to be. He had asked after Arthur, remembered her birthday, flirted with her even though she was well aware he didn’t mean to follow through with it. He’d had a talent for making her feel special, to sometimes forget that he was a monster. Admittedly it was a low bar. But when you worked for Pentex, anything like that was unusual enough to take note of.

So she’d gone through his papers – because she always kept several copies of everything, due to his tendencies to throw things away without reading them, so even though they had cleared out his office she still had some things. She’d looked at the projects that had been coming up, before his… resignation. She’d joined a few dots, because she’d always been too good at that for her own liking; about the ongoing project with the youngest Garou pack, the photo he’d kept in his desk that was missing from the file, and the orders in the amber file that had appeared among his paperwork shortly before she had been reassigned, that she had held onto just in case. And then she’d made a decision, and some of the paperwork had started going home with her.

She’d had a few weeks. Even amid her haze of grief, she’d known there was a chance to do something good before she finished. They didn’t seem very suspicious, but she couldn’t trust that it wasn’t a ruse and it was only a matter of time before she was confronted. It wouldn’t be a surprise that they were simply biding their time, building a case against her. Every day leaving had been spent wondering if today would be the day they would do a thorough search, if today she would be caught and bundled into a van, never to be seen again.

Still, she’d got a fair amount of Mr Cuorene’s papers out, and some of Mr Crane’s too. It had taken a little while for her to decide what to do with them. At the very least, she thought that Richard’s daughter might want to know about Mr Cuorene and the project – if Rosemary’s hunch was correct, she’d definitely want to know. It felt like a favour repaid, to a man who had been very kind to a sick little boy.

She was going to hand in her resignation tomorrow. She knew the consequences of it, the likely outcome in the aftermath. They might give her a few days, up to a week if she was really as unimportant as she had often felt. More likely she’d never make it out of the building.

Rosemary took a deep breath, and picked up her box.

Not saying goodbye

Julia sat alone in the tent, fingers steepled as she leaned forward and stared off blankly at the far wall. It was late, past midnight now. She’d come back from meeting the mages over an hour ago, heading straight to the sept after to make sure that there would be appropriate arrangements for their guests. They would have emissaries from Arcadia and a mage delegation arriving by dawn, and it was important to be ready.

The Garou elders weren’t happy. But what choice did they have at this point? What would disagreeing with her now do; except disrupt things, losing them time and caerns, increasing the chances of the enemy’s victory. They hadn’t given her any realistic solutions, nothing that properly considered any knowledge of the enemy or that could be acted on quickly enough to matter. They had already agreed to her plans, even if it was more begrudging than she would have liked.

Things had gotten a bit hairy when she had told then she wanted to hold the meeting at the Nemeton. There had been shouting – a LOT of shouting, about how she pushed too far against tradition, how could she possibly know that the enemy would have spies among these ‘allies’, how could she risk something so powerful at a time when so many other caerns had been destroyed? She had calmly pointed out that the Outsider already knew the location of their caerns, so what was the point in hiding? If he had intended to do something to the Nemeton, it would have happened by now, and she would have felt it. They needed to show trust in their allies, they needed to demonstrate that they were able and willing to co-operate, and they needed to let the mages properly understand what they would be helping to protect instead of sending them in blind and hoping for the best. And if one of the guests was a spy, the location of the meeting was irrelevant next to the content. She’d pointed out that they had told her she was wrong before, that her choices had been wrong and what she wanted couldn’t be done. How had that worked out?

They had insisted on having the meeting at the sept, on their territory and terms. She hadn’t wanted that – it felt like an unnecessary display of power, throwing their weight around at a time when they needed aid. But she had conceded and it would be held in the pavilion here. The Nemeton had a feral heart and was unlikely to let many people get close without good reason – they had already had plenty of experience with its vengeful side. She couldn’t afford to keep pushing, had to give something at least; this small concession would show she was willing to listen, pacifying them and making things easier if they didn’t all come to the meeting with their hackles high. She was their queen, and now was not time she needed to spend fruitlessly negotiating with her own people when their entire world was in peril. They could save that for dawn.

She was aware that she had pushed them very far, very fast, and it was natural to resist change. So she had let them go and make the arrangements, trusting in their judgement. Now though, she didn’t know what to do. She supposed she should go home, rest and be with her pack. But she didn’t entirely want to.

Their territory had been ransacked, violated. It wasn’t clear why yet, if anything had been taken. They’d cleared up as best they could, but everything looked very bare now – the furniture had been shattered, walls and carpet smeared with food and dirt and other mysterious substances. They would have to start from scratch. The idea of that oddly seemed more daunting to her than the impending battle. She hadn’t been sure why at first, but it was becoming clearer and that was making her uncomfortable.

She stared blankly off into the distance. Outside she could hear the myriad sounds of people moving and preparing. This was the quiet before the storm, before the unavoidable fight to come. In a way, this was worse than the fight. She didn’t have the build-up of anticipation that others seemed to have. At least when they were in the middle of a battle she could focus on the moment, listen to her instincts and fight to win. Now was just… waiting for the inevitable, losing herself in her thoughts and an endless swirling ‘what if’. What if she had forgotten something crucial? What if it wasn’t enough, if they still lost? What if she was wrong?

What would happen if they won?

When she had stood in the ruins of their territory that evening before heading out, there had been a strange sense of finality to it. The knowledge of the time and cost it would take to rebuild everything from the ground up… the practical part of her said that she had the money for it, would happily give Annie whatever was needed. But another niggling voice said that wasn’t what she meant. It was about more than the ruins, it was about what they represented. She had the ability to pay the cost to fix the house. Did she have the ability to pay the cost to fix her pack? She wasn’t sure she did.

If they survived this, if they won and the Outsider was defeated and they had a world to come back to, it still wouldn’t really be finished. She’d have to spend months, years, rebuilding what had been lost. She’d have to work to forge alliances between tribes and between species. Countless caerns had been taken and destroyed, would need rebuilding and replacing. There wouldn’t be time to sit idle, especially after the staggering losses her side had already taken – and likely would further tomorrow. It would be the ideal time for the wyrm’s forces to strike, and she had to be ready for that too. And that meant that once more she would be turning away from her own pack, to look instead to her people as a whole. If she was to be the alpha for all Garou, she couldn’t also focus on being alpha for just a small few.

In a way, even if he lost, the Outsider had perhaps won at least on small victory against them. They had always been a tumultuous pack, barely holding together. Perhaps it was because they were so young; perhaps it was because they were so inexperienced; perhaps it was just because the mix of personalities were so very different. They had been through a lot together, good and bad and much of it their own doing. Stormbringers had been so much more accurate than they had ever intended. She’d fought as hard as she could every step of the way to hold them together, even when it seemed like doing so might well tear her apart. Now a part of her wondered if that had been a contributing factor in their fracturing – if by trying to make everyone happy, she had ended up making nobody happy. The idea of letting them go had felt like it would be a failure on her part, showing that she wasn’t a good enough alpha. But now that she looked back, she couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps that would have been a kinder thing. Perhaps Annie would have been happier in a quieter pack, one that let her have something closer to the ‘normal’ human life she seemed to want. Perhaps Nahuel would have been happier in a lupus pack, where he didn’t have to try and integrate into the human world and could run free in the wild. Perhaps Cal would have been happier… pretty much anywhere, with an alpha that could better handle and direct his rage impulses.

Would you have been happier without them?

Don’t ask that.

She was getting too introspective. She stood up, stretching out her stiff back and leaving the tent. There were so many people she wanted to talk to, wanted to say goodbye to. She hadn’t spoken to so many of her friends in so long. But the Garou would be, should be with their own packs in this quiet moment before it potentially all ended. Her mother was… was… And the rest of the world was asleep, as they should be at this time of night. Besides, saying goodbye would be admitting that she thought she was going to die, that they were going to fail. She couldn’t do that.

Julia wandered through the sept. Everywhere she went people were busy, although they would stop and bow or kneel when she passed. She’d learned to acknowledge it on autopilot, a quick nod and smile or a murmured word. She knew where her feet were taking her, even if she was deliberately going on a very roundabout route. Before long she was standing in from of the palisade surrounding the building where they kept him. The guards nodded, letting her pass.

Jake was pacing back and forth in his cell, staring at the doorway as if he expected her. The look on his face was agitated, and she wondered why. She knew that the elders of the sept had come in here to talk to him – mostly Leaf, asking questions and looking to get information. In a way it had been oddly comforting to hear that. It made it feel like at least some of the Garou elders believed in her, that this apocalypse could be prevented and so they needed to prepare and plan for the aftermath. She wasn’t sure how much they had told him of what was going on beyond these walls though, if anything.

As soon as she entered he stopped pacing, stepping up as close to the bars as he could. The scent of silver and protective wards hit her like it always did when she came here, a hint of bile rising in the back of her throat.

“Jules, what are you doing?”

She blinked, pausing uncertainly in the doorway. What did he mean? What was she doing here right now? What was going on out in the world? He reached out a hand unthinkingly towards her when she stopped, the faintest wrinkle of discomfort on his face as the wards activated and pushed him back a little, burning the skin that had gotten to close.

“Stop, don’t do that!” She hurried in, getting closer to the cell. “What are you doing?”

“What are you doing?” He repeated the question, withdrawing the raised hand as she came closer. There was a hint of relief on his face, but the overwhelming emotion was… fear? Anguish, pain more than just the injury he had inflicted on himself.

“I don’t understand, what do you-”

“Your elder told me,” he said, his voice fast and upset. “The shifty looking one, with the goatee, who thinks he’s really fucking clever. He was trying to get more information from me, answer for an answer. He told me what happened the other day, with the fighting. He told me about what you were going to…” he paused, taking a deep breath. “Jules, please don’t do this.”

“What?” She frowned. “What did he tell you?”

“He said you were going to fight that… arch-fey-whatever thing, the one that wanted to steal Annie’s kid and smashed up my apartment. He said this is you trying to prevent the apocalypse, providing the werewolves that big battle they’ve always dreamed of – but you aren’t going to go to that. I could live with that, maybe.” His fingers were clenched, his voice troubled as he clearly tried to hold himself back from pacing again. “You’re going to go through some death forest in Arcadia that nobody comes back from, to fight the fucker personally and… and… You can’t Jules, you can’t do this.”

Julia’s frown deepened. “Why did he tell you this?”

“I don’t know, to fuck with my head? To test my resolve and see how I react, what juicy secrets he could get me to spill?” He shook his head angrily. “Who cares? Please, don’t do this.”

She took a step back, folding her arms. “Why not? If I don’t, who will?”

“Fucking anyone!” He ran a hand through his hair, turning and giving in to the desire to pace. “Jules, you’re queen! You’re more than just a werewolf, you’re a symbol of hope, or victory, or whatever! If you’re on some big battlefield, there will be people around who can protect you, keep you far from harm, die for you if necessary. If you go alone into the woods… if you die, who will know? If you fail, if you-”

“Why do you think I’ll fail?” She didn’t bother to hide the hurt in her voice. “I won’t be alone, I’ll have my pack-”

He scoffed, waving a hand dismissively. “Four of you, against that? Even if you guys had more experience fighting in general, you don’t work together well enough to… you might be a great swordswoman, Jules, but against something as old and powerful as that…” He shook his head as if he couldn’t find the words. “He kicked our asses before, and that was right in the middle of the city in our world where he’s supposed to be at his weakest. Hell, there were five of us, two experienced fighters! If the kid hadn’t done whatever she did, you’d be… we’d never have got to you and you’d be-”

“It won’t be just us!” she snapped. “The fey are looking to find a ritual to bind him away properly, we’ll have mages and fey with us too. We can do this, we have to do this. He has my mother, he has Sura and Vivian and Emma! And if we don’t stop him, he’ll let out all the others just like him, and then nothing will matter because…” She took a deep breath. “Yes, nobody else has ever made it through the woods, nobody else has ever come back. But we have. If I don’t do it, how can I ask someone else to, knowing they might fail?”

“And then what?” His voice was frantic as he turned back to look at her. “What happens if you do fail? What happens to me?”

Julia took another step back. “_What_? We’re about to go and try to prevent the world from ending, I’m going into what is almost certainly a trap and you’re asking me what will happen to you?”

“Yes!” He leaned forward, wrapping his hands around the bars. The wards activated instantly, but he held firm as they burned his hands. She opened her mouth in horror, stepping forwards a little, but the look on his face was so intense that it scared her. “What happens to me if you fail? I walked away from my whole life, Jules! I have nothing but the clothes on my back! Did you think they’ve let me keep the job and the money and the apartment? I have nothing! And I’ll be on the shit-list of every wyrm creature from here to Malfeas for the rest of my goddamned life! But I didn’t even think twice, because none of that shit matters. I don’t care about any of it, because you…” his voice cracked and he slumped a little, letting go of the bars as he collapsed to his knees. His hands were red raw, blistered and charred from the silver. “If you die, what was it for? What was the point?”

“What was-!” Julia swallowed, then turned and walked back towards the door. He watched her go in silence, as if he was accepting some choice she was making. It was hard to keep herself steady as she reached the guards.

“I need you to let me open the door,” she said quietly.

“Are you sure, your majesty?”

“Yes.” She held her voice a calm as she could. “He’s no threat to me, and I trust you to keep anything hostile far from either of us. It won’t be for too long.” The man nodded and turned to one of the others. There was a brief conversation and then two of the theurges went away to lower the wards – not remove them completely, just halt their effects for a short time. She knew how to get into the cell herself.

She stepped back into the room to find Jake still where she’d left him, kneeling slumped on the floor. She could smell the burnt skin of his hands, resting limply on his lap. He looked up as she came back in, his eyes unbearably sad. She made herself hold firm, standing in front of him with her arms crossed.

“What was the point? How can you say that?” she asked quietly. “Are you that selfish?”

“Yes.” He looked up at her. “I am utterly selfish. I won’t even pretend that if it hadn’t been for you, I’d never be in the position I am now. My life was fucking great, and I wanted for nothing. I’d never have even considered giving it up."

She swallowed again, pushing down anger and hurt. “Not even to prevent the apocalypse? Not to save the world that you’re part of?”

He shrugged. “That was what my side was working for – at least in theory. Destruction of everything, remember? I liked the earthly pleasures stuff, sure, didn’t really want to lose it. But I knew what the end goal was. You know I did this for you, only for you.”

“And what happens if I fail? What happens if I die?”

Don’t.” He sounded agonised, staggering to his feet.

“What happens?” she pressed. “Do you stop co-operating? Do you go back to the wyrm, undo the ritual Annie did? Do you-”

DON’T!” he roared, slamming his hands against the bars again. “I don’t even want to think about losing you, do you hear me?! I can’t! I can’t lose you!” His eyes were wild, full of fear and rage. “If you’re gone, I have nothing that matters left. You think I give a shit about the rest of these guys? Even if you win, if the fey thing doesn’t come and turn us all into slaves or… whatever it wants to do, you think I’ll give a fuck about what they want from me if you’re dead? The only thing I care about is you, the only thing that’s keeping me safe and alive is you, the only thing that give me any reason to think that things could be fine and that I made the right choice is you! I love you, more than anything, more than I thought possible! Please don’t go out there, don’t walk into the trap. Don’t go out to die. I can’t lose you.

She stared at him, eyes wide and mouth trembling a little. He looked back, his eyes seeming to burn into her soul with the intensity of his gaze. Slowly, tentatively, she stepped forward, pushing past the lowered wards as she reached up her hand. He made a brief sound of concern, to warn her away from the cell and its protections, and then he seemed to realise that his hands weren’t being burned a fraction of a second before she leaned in and kissed him.

He tasted of sweat and dirt. She didn’t care. She pressed her mouth against his, faces meeting between the bars of his cell. He made a soft sound of surprise, leaning in instinctively to kiss her back. She pulled away after only a few seconds and he looked down at her in confusion. “What have you… the wards…?”

She didn’t answer, putting her thumb into her mouth and biting down until she drew blood with a wince. He watched curiously as she pressed it against the bars, moving her hand and murmuring softly below her breath. There was a creaking, straining noise, and then the bars shifted and moved aside.

Jake stared at her, no barrier between them. “What are you-?”

She stepped into the cell, wrapping her arms around him and kissing him again. In an instant, his arms twined around her waist, injured hands pulling her close. It had been three weeks since she’d last been able to hold him, since Annie had done the ritual and he had been put here. They hadn’t really been focused on letting him do things like regularly wash or shave, and the beard growth scratched at her face. She didn’t care. He was warm and safe and she’d missed him so much.

His voice was low and hoarse when she pulled away. “I didn’t know you could do that. Are you the only one who can get in?”

“No. But of course they gave me the key. I’d have abdicated or something if they hadn’t.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

“…Probably not. But I’d have been really, really cranky.” She lifted a hand and touched his face, running her fingers over his stubble. “You’ve gotten scruffy.”

He laughed softly and rested his hand on the curve of her stomach. “You’ve gotten fat.”

“Ugh, don’t. I’ve been having weird food cravings too. It hasn’t started kicking yet though.” She looked down, a quiet calm filling her heart as she saw his hand on her belly. She’d missed his touch.

“Jules…” He tilted her face back up towards him. “Please. Don’t do this. You’re queen, you’re pregnant, they’d understand. Get someone else to go. I can’t lose you again, not after New Year’s.”

“I have to. I have to make sure this is done right.” Her voice was firm. She leaned up, kissing his cheek as his eyes closed with a look of pain. “If the Outsider wins, I’ll be dead – because that’s the only way he’s winning, is over my corpse – and the world will be turned into whatever he wants it to be. If we win, but I… don’t make it… well, I guess it’s up to you what you want to do after that. I’d hope you would keep helping, if only because you know that’s what I’d want you to do. If I don’t come back, it will be especially important that people keep working together, to try and rebuild what we lost. It’s going to be hard enough as it is. But I can’t make you do anything.”

“Shit… just… shit.” His voice cracked and he held her close, as if somehow that might make her change her mind or that the moment would never end. “Why do you have to be so damned stubborn?”

“Am I wrong?” she asked, muffled by his shirt.

“Yes! I… I don’t…. probably not. Fuck, I hate that you always end up being right. It just gives you more reason to be stubborn. But you can’t be right forever. I don’t want to find out you were wrong b the sky splitting open and raining monsters, or the guards outside marching in and killing me.” His voice was pleading, but there was resignation creeping into it. “How will I know? I’ll just be stuck in here while you plan, while you go and fight and whatever happens, happens. How can you expect me to stay here and just wait for you, hoping this wasn’t the time you were wrong?”

“What do you want to me to do?” He opened his mouth to answer her, but she cut him off. “You can’t come with me. They’d never let you, and you have no gifts anymore to help us with. It’ll be hard enough to take care of myself and my pack, without worrying about you as well.”

“I can still fight,” he said reproachfully. “I’m probably a better fighter than half the people here, even giftless.”

“You think I can risk losing you either?” She lifted one of his hands, concentrating as she reached within for the gift and the skin began to heal. “I’m going to win, OK? And then I’m going to come back here, I’m going to fix the mess that fairy shithead made, and then we’re going to be parents.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me.”

She let go of his healed hand and gave him a filthy look. “I’m sorry? Are you being selfish again?”

“Yeah.” He hugged her. “I’m going to be a shitty father, Jules. Hell, I’m already a shitty father – I have nothing to do with Annie’s kid, and I don’t want to. But right now, I’d give pretty much anything to get the opportunity to find that out the hard way with you. I don’t care if it has horns, or no fur, or if it’s some kind of lizard. I need you to come back so we can find out together.”

“You really aren’t selling me on this whole ‘not being a single parent’ thing, you know.”

“I know. But you love me anyway, luckily.” He kissed her forehead.

She held him close, breathing in his scent. The room still made her uncomfortable, the tang of silver permeating the air and the wards making things feel thick and heavy. But just for a moment, she needed to be here with him. Hearing him voice his fears that she wouldn’t come back, that they’d never see each other again… it brought her own fears to the surface, that this would be their last embrace. She needed to burn it into her heart.

And hearing him made her realise that she owed it to some others to be there for them too; people who she lived, despite their differences, and who she should be there for tonight. She withdrew gently, kissing him and stepping away.

“Where are you going?”

“I should be with my pack. This could be our last night together, I should be there.”

“And I get to spend it alone?” He paused. “Wait, ‘last night’? What happened to the promise to come back to me?”

“They’re my pack,” she said quietly. “Cal and Nahuel have both lost the women they love to this thing. I’m not heartless enough to rub it in by spending tonight here with you. We need to be a cohesive unit tomorrow, so tonight we need to be together.”

“Last night…” he repeated, frowning and reaching towards her.

“I’m under no illusion that this thing on my head and the demands having it will make are not going to stay compatible with the lives they want to lead for much longer. Afterwards, those of us that have survived will have to make a choice – either they give up the lives they want in order to follow me, or I let go at last and go my own way. So yes, if we lose tomorrow then this would be our last night together as a pack. But it still might be, even if we win.”

He took a deep breath. “Right. Sure. I mean, obviously I’d rather you spend it here with me. But the werewolf pack instinct is… well, not my thing, but I get it. You should go. Right?”

She smiled gratefully and leaned in to kiss him. He crushed his mouth against hers, arms wrapped so tight that she found it hard to catch her breath. She responded enthusiastically. It wasn’t exactly romantic – her bump was awkwardly between, and the cold walls of the harshly lit cell and all is wards weren’t building an atmosphere. But it didn’t matter. She found herself still struggling to catch her breath as he pulled away, his taste still on her mouth.

“You know, you don’t have to go yet,” he murmured. “I mean, I know it isn’t exactly comfortable in here, but we could…”

“Really. On the floor, in a cell laced with silver, with guards directly outside waiting for me who could come in at any moment.”

“You’re going off to battle tomorrow without me. You might die. Do you really want our last time together to have been Christmas?” His voice was low, incredibly tempting as he held her close and his fingers traced the back of her neck. “Besides, it’s not like we can slip up and have another accident at this point. You won’t have to worry about protection, we can just-”

She laughed. “Are you listening to yourself? You’re lucky you’re so damned pretty. And it wasn’t Christmas, it was when we first saw each other after I came back, near the end of January. Are you conveniently ‘forgetting’ that one, or just trying to guilt me into staying? Do you really want to spend all my energy before I go away to fight?”

He sighed plaintively, tugging at one of her curls. “I miss you Jules. All of you, even the bump. I’ve been on my own here for weeks while you’re off saving the world, getting by with brief visits and the hope that if I’m ‘good’ eventually they’ll let me out so I can see you. I know why I’m in here, I know it’s for my own protection as much as theirs. But I’m a social creature, it’s driving me mad. I’d prefer something better, but if you’re up for it…” He sighed again, gazing down at her. “Fuck, we don’t even have to do anything. You could just stay here and let me hold you for a while.”

“I can’t…” she said softly, barely audible.

He leaned in and kissed her again. For a moment it felt like maybe he had the right idea, and she could feel her resolve wavering as his tongue swept her mouth. It would be so easy to stay – hell, she could probably persuade them to let her take him to her tent, it would be more comfortable there…

Then he pulled her away and gently shoved her outside the cell’s perimeter. The rite triggered and the bars slid back into place. She stared at him, eyes wide and bright with the hint of tears.

“Go, before I regret it,” he said hoarsely.

“I’ll be back,” she promised, mostly believing her words.

“I know.”

Wild magic

We sit and wait in the meeting room – or hall, I suppose it’s more of a hall. More people seem to filter in every few minutes, more presences filling the room. There are more people here than I had expected, especially given the short notice; many physically present, others who have projected here or sent a form of representation. Mages feel the ripples in the worlds, and the New Year was like a boulder dropped into the water. We’ve been watching the Garou ever since, listening to the leaders from our own tentative alliances. We want to see what she wants, what she has to offer.

It’s almost a little embarrassing, given how hard it usually is for us to pull together ourselves. We used to be so isolated, different factions always competing and at each other’s throats in much the same way their tribes are. But then things shifted, new thinkers and leaders stepped forward to try and unite the disparate groups as we realised that the world was changing. Either we keep up, or we bicker and destroy each other while the world moves on. It’s been a slow process, years in the making and still moving forward, with many of the old guard digging in their heels against the pull of the tide. But when the other choice is extinction, it’s not much of a choice. Apparently the werewolves are getting on board this particular bandwagon too now – although admittedly in a far more spectacular fashion, and possibly a little too late.

The werewolves are brutes – or at least, that’s what I have always been taught. They guard hubs of power jealously, sources that mages could make great use of, if we could only get near. They walk between the planes effortlessly, a secret built into their very flesh that we would kill for. They are quick to anger, and if you let one get close enough to attack then all your magic is worth nothing compared to a monster twice your height, with claws as long as your arm and an unholy lust for your innards. Fortunately, they have always seemed to spend more time fighting each other to be any true threat to most of us, and they hate bloodsuckers more than they hate mages when they do turn their gaze beyond their self-involved battles. Think smart and keep a distance, and they’re animals left behind in an increasingly human world.

They say this one is different. They say she is uniting her people. They say she does things that aren’t supposed to be possible, things that even a mage might have a hard time believing. They say she’s young, headstrong and idealistic and it’s only a matter of time before some enemy or another takes her down. They say she is going to change things for the Garou, drag them kicking and screaming into the modern world.

I hear so many different ‘they’s, from our own leaders, from my teachers and friends and even just the word on the street amongst what passes for a supernatural community. That’s why I’m here, why a lot of us are here. I want to see her for myself, get a measure of this new player in the game. I want to be present if this turns out to be a big thing, to say that even when I was young and inexperienced, I was there for the things that mattered. I want to find out what she knows about what happened, and see what she has to offer to change things, for better or worse. We all want that, and we’re hoping it’s for the better.

We all felt the change. It was subtle at first, but the balance of the worlds seemed to shift. For the first time in decades, that shift was in our favour. There was more magic in the world, more power and creative force than there has been in my memory, and the memories of those far longer than mine. It happened soon after her ‘coronation’ – another reason to keep watch, to observe what she did and see if there was a connection as the forces of decay seemed to lose their hold. But that was for those in authority to focus on. The rest of us, we revelled in it, not knowing why it was happening and not really caring. For two short months, the world seemed better. We barely even had time to take it for granted, to explore these new possibilities and find out what was causing the change.

And then yesterday it shifted again. If she was a boulder, this was an explosion. Suddenly all the power that had been growing died, extinguished in one violent and unexpected burst that took much of what we’d had before with it as well. It felt like someone raining blows down on my body, and I’ve never considered myself all that sensitive – I’m still too young to be as aware as some. I can only imagine what it was like to those who are more attuned to such things. It’s all happened so fast. We’ve been left reeling, unable to process what happened. And then not a day later, as we wait for those higher up to offer us an explanation and guidance, she calls upon them with an offer, and they call upon us to hear her out. So now I’m here, waiting.

The clock starts to strike ten. I’m feeling a little restless. When is she coming? We got here early, but I’d hoped she would have too. Everyone seems to have the same feeling, an almost palpable disappointment whenever any of the doors open and it turns out to just be more of our own. Some of us are having to stand, there aren’t seats left. Was this a joke? Or perhaps a trap – the Garou aren’t renowned for their subtlety or smarts by my people, but if they’ve decided we were the cause of this then this would be a good way to take out a lot of us at once. I start to feel nervous as the chimes finish.

And then she comes into the room.

I’m dimly aware that she isn’t alone, probably a few guards of some sort in a reasonable precaution. But it’s hard to pay attention to others. She’s… something else.

The first thing I notice is the crown. How could I not? It literally grows out of her head; tines of silver and golden light, shifting and moving between hair so white it’s almost unreal. It’s like a slap in the face, a statement of power and authority branded onto her. I can feel the magic of it, the old powers behind it that have likely been long lost. No wonder the werewolves have united, no wonder everyone felt it happen.

The second thing I notice is… well, her. She’s beautiful, even by supernatural standards. I can tell she’s a werewolf – they all have that same predatory feel that is impossible to ignore once you’re aware of what to look for. But as I stare at her I realise she’s more than just a werewolf. There’s something else in there, something wild and inhuman and powerful that isn’t Garou. Her cheekbones are a little too sharp, her ears a little to pointed, everything about her just a little too ethereal.

I find myself unthinkingly looking at her aura, almost out of habit. It sears at my eyes and I feel them water slightly. Werewolf auras are easy to see, because they’re so much closer to the spiritual realm than others. The mix of colour is something I’ve never seen before, and I realise that she has to be at least partially fae. It’s not like a changeling either; it’s the real fae creatures that the kith call distant kindred, creatures closer to raw creative magic than almost any other. I’ve never even met one, but I can feel it. And there’s something else within her too, something that I can’t describe. How is this possible? I’m not alone in my observations, can feel the shift in attention as people try to get a better look, a better understanding of what we have before us.

She looks around the room, the briefest flash of surprise on her face as she sees our numbers and the presence of our less human representatives. Apparently she wasn’t expecting this many either. But then her face lights up in a warm smile. I have to consciously stop myself from smiling back, can see I’m not alone in this. Damn, she’s good. Is it sheer force of personality, magic, or a potent combination of the two? I’m not attracted to women, but I still find myself drawn to her, like I want to speak to her and hear what she has to say. She seems to stand a little straighter, and then people are moving out the way to let her get to the front of the room, a parting of the waves as murmurs sweep the hall.

As she heads up to the front of the room, I find myself wondering how much she knows about us and our ‘community’. She looks so young. True, werewolves have to get experienced even faster than the rest of the supernatural world – they don’t tend to live particularly long, after all, short and fast is the order of the day. Probably only changelings have so little time to do anything, and their deaths are far less violent. Then again, that tends to be the wolves own fault. But she did manage to reach out to us, so many so quickly drawn here. She has to at least know people who know about us, to have the connections to pull us together. I imagine it might have been easier right now than any other time. When everything you know suddenly gets pulled out from beneath your feet, and somebody steps up to tell you they can help fix it, you at least give them an ear. Even if the person offering help is a young werewolf woman that I suddenly realise is pregnant. That is… unexpected.

She looks calm, standing at the front as her eyes sweep us. I check the aura again, to see if she really is calm – although it is hard to tell with werewolves, there’s always some level of rage there, like red veins running through the colour. But I can’t really pick up much of how she feels. The colours are so mixed and vibrant from the fae and werewolf natures, it masks most everything else. It’s intriguing. And then she speaks.

When she’s done, we sit in silence. I’m stunned, a little incredulous. This is madness.
She can’t seriously be offering us this. It has to come with strings, with a list of conditions longer than my arm. Werewolves are such hostile creatures, zealous and almost rabid in their protection of their wellsprings of power.

It’s an unprecedented offer.

It’s too good to be true.

And the way she says she does it… it isn’t possible.

The others are talking suddenly, lots of questions asked over each other in jumbles of loud words that can barely be heard. She can’t answer, even if she wanted to – we’re more talking to each other than to her at this point. I find myself staring at her, looking for some sort of tell, that a mask will slip and it will turn out she was joking or this was a trap after all. She’s watching, waiting quietly for some sort of order to return. Good luck with that. Some of the things she’s said are impossible, practically blasphemy in the eyes of some traditions. Magic can’t be contained in a person in its raw state, that’s not how it works. The energy is too wild and chaotic for a mortal form to hold it, never mind do the things she says she’s done, that she’s offering us access to if we help her.

She’s looks around the room, and for the briefest second her eyes seem to meet mine. I almost swear she smiles slightly. Then she lifts a hand, and the room goes silent. With a small frown on her face, she concentrates, and then we all seem to inhale simultaneously as the crown on her head grows brighter and raw magical energy dances between her fingers. She doesn’t call it that, uses some strange werewolf term instead. But that’s what it is.

I can feel it, like a warmth and sharpness inside me. I want to lift my hand and reach out to touch it. I want to shy away from it as well, know how dangerous it can be. Shit. Just… shit. How can this be possible? I almost feel stupid for not being able to believe, when I can call lightning from a bare sky and speak to people with my mind. But there are rules to that, things that I know and understand. This is something else. I want to know and understand so badly. What is the price though? Will it prove to be worth the cost, if we work with them?

The room remains silent as the power withdraws into her hand and she looks around again. Her face is sincere, earnest as she speaks. She needs our help, isn’t afraid or ashamed to ask. I can believe the things she says about what caused this situation, the creature that wants to destroy her world and ours too. That’s easy enough, almost rational for me in comparison. She might be able to do it without us, but she might not – and the cost to her people would be so much worse. We are part of this world too. She’s not even asking us to stand on the front lines. She just needs allies, to help her protect what little power is left while she and her people do the meat of the work. If she loses… well, we either end up slaves to these ancient fae creatures, or we get wiped out in the battles that follow. Isn’t this worth the cost, to avoid that fate? To build a future for all of us, to put aside old grudges and forge a new path together?

We’ve never considered working outside our own kind before. Why would we need to? We can barely work with our own. But when the end times come, to think that it is the werewolves that have come looking for help…

People around me begin to talk again. We don’t know what to do. How can we agree on something this monumental so quickly? Do we have time to waste debating? How can we be sure she is right? How can we trust what she’s saying? How can we be sure this is the right thing for us? There are too many questions ringing in my own mind, throughout the room. I can see her face begin to look tired, concerned. This seems to be slipping away from her, like trying to herd cats. Clearly she isn’t that experienced with mages after all.

And then I hear a voice, loud and clear in the room and within my head as well.

We turn almost collectively to listen. Many of the leaders who came and changed things are young, at least by mage standards; they had to be, to support things being so very different. But not all of them are. There are some among them who are old, powerful and wise. One of them speaks now, echoing in the minds of those of us here – and perhaps others beyond, I can’t be sure. I feel my teeth tingle, my eyes glaze slightly as the voice rings through my head with an authority I can only hope to have. The words ring as true as hers, reaching into my heart.

She believes.

She believes in her pack, in her world, in the inherent goodness of everyone around her. She believes in her strength, in her friends, that things can change for the better. She believes in giving a chance at redemption. Every time she is knocked down, every time her beliefs are tested and brought into question, she stands again and her faith remains strong. She hears the words of those who used to be young and idealistic like her, who have been embittered by time and experience. They tell her she shouldn’t believe, that she is foolish and naïve and she will just be hurt again and again by people like them. They tell her that she wants the impossible and it cannot happen. And then she continues to believe, and she achieves the ‘impossible’ again and again, flying in the face of everything they thought they knew. Still they tell her she is wrong, that surely this time she will fail. But she doesn’t. Even if she did, it wouldn’t stop her.

She believes with a conviction that is frightening. Faith like that can move mountains and shake the world.

That is what we need.

And so we agree to her bargain.


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