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.
“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-”
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.