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 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.