“Can I show you something?”
“Depends what it is.” Olga leaned back at her desk, taking a drag on her cigarette. “We haven’t seen as much of you lately. Been busy?”
“I… yes, actually.” Julia shifted in her seat.
The other woman grinned. “Fighting terrible beasts and monsters from the deep umbra again? Or is that just the rest of your pack?”
“Not this week. It’s blessedly quiet.” Julia didn’t bother to hide the relief on her face. “We’re doing OK, except for…”
“Your dying packmate?” Olga blew out a cloud of smoke, her face serious. “Word spreads fast when Sam hears about something. Heard you guys took down Watson though. She was a big fish. Other hunters within the area will think twice, for at least a while now.”
“Does that make it worth it?” Julia’s voice was grim. The other woman shrugged.
“Depends. A lot of good Garou have been lost over the years trying to take her down. Hell, she killed an entire pack just before you guys got to her. Some would say one more death is worth the cost to kill her and two dozen other hunters to boot-”
“He’s not dead,” Julia interrupted sharply. “And… two Silver Fangs died as well.”
“Sure. As I was going to say, before you interrupted me,” Olga raised a disapproving eyebrow. “_Some_ might think that. But you don’t seem the type. Save everyone, huh? No one left behind.”
“A little too idealistic for a Bone Gnawer, but I can certainly appreciate the sentiment.” She took another drag. “World could do with a few more idealists.”
Julia sat awkwardly. There was a soup stain on her shirt and she really wanted to go change, but she’d come in here for a reason. It had been a week since they had beaten Watson and the building of the community centre was finally done. Now she had to get it decorated and up and running. Now she needed to get the next part of things up and running as well. For that, human help wasn’t enough. She needed supernatural involvement as well.
Olga stubbed out the ashy remains of the cigarette and sighed. “Enough about injured packmates. You want to show me something? What is it?”
“I wanted to actually _show_…”
“I’m a busy woman. How long will it take?”
“I’m not sure. I guess it depends on you.” She paused. “Perhaps after hours? I could give you the address.”
Olga leaned forwards. “Well, now I’m intrigued. What are you up to?”
“It’s like you said. I’ve been busy. I thought it might be an idea to show somebody.”
She stood on the corner of the street across from the community centre, waiting. It was almost seven and the sun was heading down toward the horizon increasingly fast. There was nobody else here now – work was done for the day and she didn’t seem to get too many loiterers after hours now. Presumably doing work during the day made a young man too hungry and tired to hang out on street corners. Technically the soup kitchen would still be working right now on the evening shift. But there were enough staff to cover, so Olga had agreed to meet her as long as it was quick. Julia went to chew her thumb and then stopped herself. She hoped this would go well.
The building work was complete. They were still doing plumbing and wiring inside, but the outside was just a bare stone building with no more scaffolding or other such builders’ tools. She’d have to get it decorated, inside and out, but she had ideas about that. Then a day to officially open doors, sign people up to things and just hit the ground running. It couldn’t be any harder than half the things werewolf life had thrown at her so far.
“Nice night.” The familiar, slightly raspy voice came from behind her.
“It is,” Julia agreed, turning to greet her… boss, she supposed the other woman was sort of her boss. “Thanks for coming.”
“Make it worth me skipping the evening shift.” Olga glanced around. “Huh. See someone’s doing up the old Elmbank community centre. They building a store or something?”
Julia frowned. She did remember it being called that on the lease, but she hadn’t been impressed and had resolved to change it. “You know this place?”
‘Sure. Got burned down a few years back, nobody ever bothered to do anything about it. Pretty sure it was insurance fraud after the city stopped funding ‘local community outreach projects’.” There was a clear bitterness in her voice. “This has never been a good neighbourhood anyway, but at least they had something for a while. In the end, money and politics gets us all.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a cigarette packet.
“No smoking on site,” Julia said automatically.
“Hmmm?” Olga looked up, cigarette dangling from her mouth and lighter in her hand. “You telling me what to do now?” There was a trace of amusement in her voice.
Julia breathed deeply. “I respect your rules on your turf. So… please respect my rules on mine.” She walked forward, crossing the road and pulling out her keys to unlock the padlock on the gate.
“… I see. Well, since you said please.”
The other woman followed her onto the lot. Julia strode forward confidently, forcing herself not to look back and see the reaction. She could wait. Besides, the building wasn’t the main thing she wanted to show. She headed up to the door and opened it.
It was dark inside, bare and dusty as the interior equipment cast long shadows with the setting sun. She pushed aside a sheet, hearing the rustle as she was joined by her follower. Olga gave a low noise of appreciation.
“You have been busy. How did you pull this off?”
“I bought it.”
“I live in this area, sort of.” She breathed deeply and then coughed a little at the dust.
“Yeah, in the big tower block down the road. Found this place when we were clearing out some fomori once. I thought maybe if things were better, there wouldn’t be so much opportunity for that kind of thing to happen again. So…”
“So you bought it,” Olga said wryly, ducking past a ladder. “Must be nice to be able to do that, especially on a waitressing salary. But maybe you aren’t just a waitress, huh, Miss Silver Fang?”
“Not anymore.” Julia sighed. “Between your place and here and my own life, something had to give. This seemed more important.”
“Mmmhmm. I think you and I are going to need to have a chat about this at a later date.”
“Join the queue.” Julia heard the other woman give an amused snort as she pulled out the keys again, jingling them a little in her hands nervously as she reached for the lock. This was the big part.
“Well, I like the idea. But it takes more than just money to run a community centre, especially in this part of town – although the money is a big help. This neighbourhood has a bad rep for a reason, there’s a lot of low level Wyrm taint in this entire area. You’ll find it damn hard to get people to sign up to run the place and keep it going. I’m impressed you’ve got this far, but it’d take a miracle to make it-”
“What counts as a miracle?” Julia interrupted, unlocking the door.
“Probably a spontaneous manifestation of the Wyld at this point.” The bitterness was still there. “Which doesn’t happen, especially in the city, and especially not-”
Julia opened the door.
The courtyard was somehow lit with the setting sun, even though it shouldn’t really have been possible. It was by far the most complete area at the moment – she’d made sure to devote plenty of time here, and to ensure that lots of people got to spend time in this area helping her. There were seats, small garden areas with planters and flowerbeds. There were even plants growing out of the wall – she’d packed in a little dirt into the cracks just to make it look less odd, although people were very good at rationalising things away. And in the middle of it all was the tree.
It was growing strong and well in the last month – somewhat faster than a normal tree if anyone was actually keeping track, but that was unlikely. This was the reason she’d brought Olga here, why she wanted people to spend time in the garden. There was just something about it that made the entire area seem better, comforting and special, both calming and somehow invigorating all at once. To a normal person, it would probably just the ‘positive effects of nature’ in an overwhelming city, a little oasis of green. But if you were supernatural, it would be clear that it was so much more. This was what she’d wanted to show.
The other woman stepped forward, a little frown on her face as she stared at the tree. The frown slowly deepened as she got closer and then her eyes widened and she took a step back.
“Well, bend me over and fuck me with a-” the woman stopped herself. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting… Holy shit.” She stepped forwards, reaching her hand up towards the tree.
Julia swallowed, her mouth dry. “Do you think… this would be enough?”
“What?” Olga turned. “How the hell did you… what is this?” She reached out to touch the bark, still staring at Julia. “This isn’t a Caern, you could never have done that on your own and it’s nowhere near powerful enough. It’s… something else. Where did you find this tree?”
“Gardens Is We.”
“What?” Olga stepped forwards. “Alright, I’ll bite. Explain. How did you do this?”
“I’ve been around for a long time Julia. I’ve seen some weird shit and I’ve done my fair share too. But not this. This tree has wyld energy in it, possibly a fledgling spirit if I was guessing. That just doesn’t happen anymore, not on its own and not in a place like this. Uncomplicate it for me.”
Julia sat on the wall, carefully avoiding the plants. “You’re right. This place has wyrm taint, it’s a bad neighbourhood and I can’t do this on my own. I needed help – I’ll still need help. But I thought if I could find a way to make it easier, try and restore some balance… not enough to be big and obvious and draw the attention of bad things, just enough to improve things. Something that can grow slowly over time with a bit of help. Something like this.” She gestured to the tree.
“And how did you do this?”
“I… took the energy from somewhere else and put it in the tree.” She held up a hand as the other woman opened her mouth. “I can’t say where, I’m sorry. I promised higher authorities I wouldn’t. But it’s from something that will regain that energy quickly by itself.”
“Right.” Olga took a deep breath. “I… see. Well, not really. But you and I are definitely going to have a talk now. The mechanics of something like this are… for someone as young and inexperienced as yourself, you should never have been able to do something like this.”
“Well, normally I’d have said it wasn’t possible, but apparently that isn’t true. But this would be complicated and dangerous even for a high level Theurge. You’re not…” she lifted a hand almost helplessly and then laughed. “You’re not really one for playing by the ‘rules’ like that, are you? Are any of your pack? Three lupus packmates when there are hardly any left, all of you willingly helping Bone Gnawers when others won’t even consider it, and now apparently doing rituals that should be impossible. What next?”
“I don’t know,” Julia admitted. “But I’ve done this once and I want to do it again, anywhere I can. And for that I need help. I need to know where it can do the most good, where it’s needed. And I need people who can properly nurture and protect it. That’s why I wanted to reach out to you. You’re important among your tribe, right? I thought you could get me an audience or something, to say my piece.”
Olga blinked. “I… don’t remember ever being quite as surprised as I am tonight. Let me be clear. You think that Bone Gnawers would be the best people to guard this and you want… an audience?”
“I… yes? Isn’t that how you guys do this?”
“Yes, but…” she laughed again. “I’m very used to the other tribes just demanding on the rare occasions that they think we’re worth their time. It’s refreshing, as always.” She turned back to the tree. “Gaia, I want to know how you did this.”