“How are you doing?”
Julia breathed deeply. “I’m a bit nervous.”
Olga laughed, taking a deep drag on her cigarette. “Nervous? You? Pull the other one.”
Julia swallowed, trying hard not to inhale through her nose. Around them the scrap heap seemed to loom over her, great piles of abandoned appliances and garbage looming into the night under harsh white spotlights. It smelt of rust and decay. “There are a lot of people here, and this isn’t exactly a familiar setting for me. I didn’t realise I’d get such a turn out.”
Olga shrugged. “This is where we hold bigger moots. It has the space and it’s sufficiently out of the more ‘civilised’ parts of the city for us to be comfortable in wolf form.” She grinned. “Besides, it isn’t often that somebody from another tribe asks to meet with us, never mind on our turf and our terms. People are nosy. They want to be here to find out what was going on, and to see if you fuck up.”
“Oh. That’s comforting.”
“Eh, you’ll be fine.” She stubbed out the ashy remains of her cigarette on an abandoned fridge.
“When was the last time this happened?”
“A moot? We do them fairly regularly. We’re very democratic like that, unlike some. But a member of another tribe asking to be heard like this?” She paused. “Not in a long time. Not many others will respect our ways, and those that do tend not to be around long enough to need something like what you’re asking for.”
Julia raised an eyebrow slightly. “Not around long enough?”
“Yeah. Either they’re well-travelled enough to have an understanding of the world and how it works, in which case they move on to their next destination.” She fished another cigarette out of her pocket. “Or they’re sweet little idealists and they get messily killed by a big bad Wyrm beast.”
She paused, eyes narrowing as she stared at the older woman. “…Are you messing with me?”
“Maybe a little.” Olga shrugged. “They’ll call you when it’s your time. You say your piece and then you leave so we can deliberate – outsiders don’t get to stay. Be confident enough to be worth our time, but not so confident that people will think you’re arrogant. Get to the point, don’t have too much of a lead up or they’ll lose interest. Flowery language only goes so far here.” She paused. “Although you are a Silver Fang, so you might be able to pull off a bit of the flowery stuff if you don’t go too far.”
Julia nodded. “Anything else I should know?”
“Don’t screw up.” The faint orange glow of the cigarette seemed oddly ominous as the other woman took a deep drag. “This is our turf. If you screw up, they’ll eat you alive.”
Julia gave a sharp, humourless laugh. “I am well aware of that. Hopefully you don’t mean literally.”
The other woman gave a brief smile but didn’t answer, turning away. In seconds Julia was standing alone in the darkness, hidden in the shadow of a tower of metal and scraps. She could hear noise, the sound of people laughing and shouting and greeting each other. It seemed like it should echo and boom, but it was oddly muted as though the garbage swallowed the sounds. She breathed deeply, running her palms over her jeans. Was she overdressed? Or perhaps underdressed? What exactly did one wear to a formal moot held in a scrap yard? Did it matter? Why was she worrying about that at a time like this?
You’ll be fine.
Have confidence in yourself, in what you’re doing. This is a thing of good. They’ll understand. They’ll believe.
You believe. How could they not?
She waited, and waited. It seemed like they had decided to put her further down the list of speakers. She wasn’t sure if that was a pointed snub, or an attempt to build up anticipation. Eventually a head stuck around the side of the pile. It was a familiar one, a shock of brown hair with a blue streak – one of the other volunteers at the soup kitchen, Rona. The woman indicated with a sharp nod of her head.
Julia nodded, taking another deep breath. The other woman gave her a look of something approaching sympathy. “Good luck.”
“Thanks.” She tried to smile, didn’t quite succeed and headed forwards anyway.
She stood in the centre of the… amphitheatre, that seemed like the best description. A large area had been cleared, the scrapyard’s blinding white floodlights focused on it. The scrap was piled up into something approaching stands in a ring around the middle, and people were perched all over the twisted metal and abandoned appliances. There were a lot of them, even more than she thought she had first seen – although it was hard to make out over the lighting. She wouldn’t have been surprised if some of them had popcorn, or perhaps rotten fruit in case things went south.
She wasn’t sure who to look at, if there even was something approaching a leader present. The lights were too bright for her to properly see. Perhaps that was the point. It had been a long time she had felt this watched, this exposed. It had been a long time since she’d had to perform, to prove her worth in this way. It had been a long time since she’d felt like if she failed, she would have truly failed – not just herself, but those around her as well. Even the duel in Arcadia would only really have had a long-term impact on her and her pack, her loved ones. This could affect everyone.
Julia took a deep breath.
“I’ve come here today to ask for your help. I know that few tribes choose to interact with you, and when they do they demand, command, expect obedience for little in return. I know that you don’t expect much from us. But I am here to ask. I hope that will do me in good stead, that you’ll listen to what I have to say.”
There was a low murmur among the crowd and a few slightly bitter laughs. She couldn’t tell if that was a good thing. She ploughed on. Keep to the point, say your piece.
“We are losing this war. You know the truth. You’re on the front lines, the foot soldiers in the trenches. It’s easy to focus on big monsters, to bring down terrible foes in a blaze of glory and cry victory. Heaven knows, werewolves love an enemy they can beat the shit out of.” A ripple of dark amusement from the crowd briefly interrupted her, but she continued. “But that isn’t how the world works, how the Wyrm works. Whilst we try to plug the holes in the dam with our fists, the water rises around our feet. We’re on the defensive against a tide of slow, creeping despair and it isn’t something we can just punch. You know. You live among it.”
She breathed deeply again, trying to find a way to convey it best and direct herself as the words spilled forth. “I want to do something about it, to fight back against all the ways it fights instead of just one. To undo the slow creep, not just the ‘big bads’ that distract us. I want to help. And I… think I might have a way. But I can’t do it alone.”
She glanced into the crowd, as if she would be able to somehow pick out Olga from the masses, or perhaps someone else from the soup kitchen – somebody who could tell her how it was going, how they were taking what she said. There were murmurs of people talking to each other, but she couldn’t hear the tone or what they were saying. How was it going to go? She decided to just say it.
“I have found a way to extract and transport Wyld energy, and plant it in a new home.”
The murmurs stopped being murmurs, dropping to a few seconds of silence and then becoming loud voices. Noises of disbelief, of incredulity, of anger threatened to drown her out, but she ploughed on, staring fiercely into the blinding light.
“I have found a way to do this. I know it sounds impossible, but it can be done. It isn’t a Caern, although perhaps in time it could become the seed of one. If you don’t believe me, I can offer proof. There’s a community centre in central downtown, where the old Elmbank building used to be. That was where I started, where I first tried and succeeded. Tomorrow is the opening day. If you want to see for yourself, please come. Everyone is welcome.”
The noise quieted to hushed and almost frantic whispers. She could make out movement, as if people were leaving and her heart sank a little.
“I know it’s hard to believe. I… don’t expect many of you will, not without seeing it for yourselves. But it is there and it has done good. Just being near it makes you feel better, makes people seem to be kinder and more willing to help. Wyld energy has power, same as any other, and if it’s directed in the right way… It’s still small, small enough that I doubt anything powerful and dangerous would notice it and come looking to destroy. But in time, with enough care and nurture, it could grow into something bigger and better, and the community and people who live there will be better for it. Hell, it’s already growing, little by little. It works. And I want to do it again, in places that need it. And for that, I need your help.”
Silence. No more movement. Eyes all around, fixed on her and waiting.
“You are the people who live and breathe, who fight and understand the Wyrm in a way few other Garou could ever hope to. You see the dark places, the hopelessness that it brings, the slow destruction. You fight that every day.” She paused, trying to find the words. “I… I can’t ever know the city in the way you do. I’m just one person, and I feel like I’m swimming against a tide that’s trying so damn hard to pull me under. I can’t do this alone. But you know the places that have that darkness, that could benefit from something like this. You know the importance that even a tiny bit of light can bring, the tiniest scrap of hope that can grow into… something. You could help me find the places to bring this energy, help me by nurturing and protecting it. I’ve seen the compassion you have that others so often ignore, I’ve worked with you down on East and thirty-first”- there was another murmur at that- “and if you helped me I feel like we could make a difference. I don’t think any other tribe could do that, not really. I just-”
She shook her head as her voice cracked a little. Dammit, she was better than this! She knew how to give speeches, how to hold herself and control herself and do everything she could. Why was she cracking now, when it mattered? Her mother would be ashamed. She didn’t want them to see her as weak.
“I know this is a lot to ask. I know that it is a lot to take in, to believe. I know that you have good reason to be sceptical, not just of this but of other Garou looking to you for aid. You give aid and you get burned, hung out to dry and left, ignored. There must be some catch, some way she’s looking to screw us over. I don’t know how I could convince you otherwise than to show you, and even then I don’t know if it would be enough. I just-” She shook her head again in frustration. “What have we got to lose? If we fail here, it would make no real difference at all. But if we succeeded…”
Her voice became stronger. “I want to cover this city in wyld energy. Nothing big and powerful, nothing huge and noticeable. Just a blanket of it, spread out in dots and clusters where it’s needed. I want to make things better bit by bit, under the very nose of the headquarters of the Wyrm’s biggest corporation. I want it turn around one day and realise that it lost its grip without noticing and that there isn’t one big focal point of power it can just flood with monsters until things have been destroyed. I want it to realise that the energy, this change, this goodness and balance is everywhere it turns. I want it to realise that it was so busy throwing monsters against the ‘big dumb brutes’ that it didn’t realise we had snuck in and taken things back without it even noticing. I want it to realise that it lost.”
She took another huge breath, staring around. “And I can’t do that without you. I’m here to ask you to help me achieve that. Maybe it’s impossible. But if I don’t try, I’ll never know. And if the Apocalypse does come, I’d rather say I at least did something.”
There was silence from around her – no voices, just the faint rustle of wind and occasional shifting of movement.
“Please.” She bowed her head. “I am not too proud to beg, if that is what it takes. Please.”
Believe in me.