Waltz of Flesh

Interlude 3 - Becoming Fostern
One-Eyed-Joe challenges for rank.

Jason Spineripper, pack alpha, was leaving. After Shera’s rise in rank to Fostern, he needed to take some time to deal with Anja and her emotional and physical response to the death of Nathan Tanfield. Even though the immediate danger had passed, thanks to the fetish Antonine Teardrop had used to remove the Leech from Anja’s memory, he had left her in the care of his other Kinfolk, and felt overdue in checking up on her. After a shower and a shave, he was feeling more human, and left his apartment to his packmates so that they could heal and catch their breath. Joe informed Jason that he had decided to go challenge for Rank, but Jason decided that would either be done by the time he got back or could wait until his return. It was only going to be for a day, anyway.

Walking back from his meeting with Hundo Chunder, Joe swore silently. A guy would think that being in his home Sept, which is run by his own Tribe, he could catch a break. He had hoped that his challenge for rank would involve something actually suited for his Auspice, like mediating a dispute by pulling out some obscure piece of Litany or lore. What did he get? Fucking guard duty. For 72 hours in a row. A quick glance in a fountain pool that wasn’t quite frozen over showed him that no, no one had tattooed ‘Ahroun’ on his forehead. He just couldn’t understand it. Chalking it up as another bitter reminder that he would never quite overcome the sins of his parents, he choked down the Beast within, and went to report it to his packmates.
Understandably, since she was Ahroun, and occasionally dumber than bird shit, Shera didn’t quite grasp at first why he would be so upset about the whole thing.
“Guard duty?! Ye get to advance in rank so long as ye can stay awake! Sounds easy. What’s the problem, ye lucky bastard?”
“Because,” Joe replied in very measured tones, “that’s what YOU do, not what I do.”
“Weel then, I’d say yer damn lucky tae have me!” God damn if she wasn’t the most obstinate Scot ever made. “When does it start?”
“Er…probably now?”
“Right. I’ll be back with a coffee to prop yer upright.”
She returned to Jason’s apartment, and found a coffee maker, and some coffee…and her attempt to use them was pure comedy gold. She actually managed, after half an hour and a lot of snarling, to get a pot of coffee to brew, if by ‘coffee’, you mean a substance that looks and smells vaguely like tobacco spit. Shrugging, she poured it back into the reservoir and tried again, and it was at about this time that it began to emit a smell that was a cross between molten plastic, smoke, and spoor. Rushing to the back bedroom, she opened a window, then streaked to the window with the damned thing hissing and molding itself to her fingers, and chucked the contraption down toward the dumpster in the back alley.

With the last of the cash she’d taken from the hunters (and hadn’t spent on gas), she walked into the local Ahab’s coffeeshop (the one on the near corner rather than the far corner). As she strode in, half the regulars suddenly realized they had a Very Important meeting they’d been postponing, and the rest tried to convince themselves that it was just the espresso giving them heart palpitations. Oblivious to the ruckus that was rising around her, Shera snarled at the abstruseness of the menu. Honestly, what the fuck was it with these damned fancy places and their damned fancy names for coffee?!
“W-welcome to Ahab’s…uhm…w-what d-do you w-want?” The young man’s hand was trembling so hard that she was just going to get whatever kind of drink he happened to hit the button for.
“D’ye blighters just make plain damn coffee?”
“…yes.”
“The biggest one ye got.”
“Ok…J-just one m-moment, please.”
There was some frantic whispering between the workers, who huddled in the middle of their workspace, clad in their black aprons. Of course, they wouldn’t know that she had excellent hearing.
“Just make her a coffee and get her the hell out of here! I don’t want her hands that close to me!” the cashier whispered, sweat beading on his brow. Shera growled involuntarily, and at the sound, he yelped and fled the counter for the safety of the back room.
WIth surprising alacrity for slinging a white hot beverage, the woman who was left behind the counter filled a large cup with coffee and set it on the counter, quickly bustling about other business that turned her back to her leather-clad customer. A stupid move, Shera thought. What is it with people, they think if they can’t see you, you can’t see them?? Ultimately, she had in front of her the coffee she asked for, and what’s more, she got it free of charge, so she grabbed it and walked out of the shop.

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Interlude 2 - Becoming Fostern
Shera Breaks-the-Maze-Walls challenges for rank.

Fresh off of the pack’s defeat of Lonato, grandson of Cries-in-the-Wind, and the tragic end of Sora and Nina, Shera returned with her pack to the Catskill Protectorate, home of the Fianna in New York. She had achieved enough Renown to challenge for Fostern rank, and she was counting on her tribemates to play to her strengths. Riordan Cliffgrazer, Righ of the New York Fianna, intended to send her on a Hunt. “I’m hungry,” said Cliffgrazer, as he leaned over to Shera, eyebrows raised, and added in a significant tone"…and thirsty." Caught and being called out for an old sin, Shera could only shrug it off, though she did have the good sense to look bashful for a moment.
“Mother Larissa says ‘Thank you’?” she offered, hoping that he would let it go.

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Interlude 1 Three Can Keep a Secret - Part 2 of 2
By evening I bring mirth and laughter, bitter sorrow the morning after.

Joe’s belated arrival was nevertheless timely; it was he who examined the body of the second girl, and pronounced definitively that she had not killed herself; rather, she had been murdered. The truth of Shera’s whine was becoming clear: she was certain that Lonato had killed his mates, and was reasonably sure he was possessed, although it was less clear now how that could be, since Jason had just incapacitated what seemed to be the Windigo spirit the Wendigo had been chasing.

“What about Audrey and the Sept? They need tae be warned aboot Boozy McGee.” she demanded. “They deserve better than tae be nursing the snake that might bite them!”

“True.” Jason began to order the pack’s priorities. “Does anyone know what the Wendigo death rites are?” This was almost a rhetorical question; secretive and distrustful of outsiders as the Wendigo are, the odds of anyone knowing the Rites, let alone performing them properly, were slim to none. Shifting forms, Jason led the Pack in a brief Howl for the Fallen. “We need to get these bodies back to the Sept, tell them about the spirit that is sleeping here now, and try to get to the bottom of what happened here.” He turned to face Shera. “Go back there, quickly. Do what needs to be done. We’ll figure out how to transport these bodies back for proper burial.”
Still in Lupus, the Fianna darted off, racing for the Sept. The half day run would bring her there late indeed, but better late than never. Returning to homid form,

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Interlude 1 Three Can Keep a Secret - Part 1 of 2
A precious stone, clear as diamond, that slips through greedy, grasping, fingers.

Hundo wandered up to the Theurge cub who had found his way into the Sept of the Green, alone, a few days before. “Hey, man, I just wanted to tell you it looks like they found your pack up north.”
Lincho, the pup in question, stared at Hundo, uncomprehending. “My pack?”
“Yeah!” enthused Hundo. Catching the cub’s look, he backtracked. “Aren’t you Wendigo? Weren’t your packmates missing?”
“No, Uktena…”
“Oh. Sorry, man. But, how ’bout you go up there and find out what happened?”

Without much more ado, Lincho found himself ‘assigned’ to Androcles’ Pride, Hundo entrusting Spineripper with mentorship of Lincho while he went to the Sept of Gaia’s Hand to find out more about this Pack, the Black Hills Cousins, and what happened to them.

When the abbreviated Pack (minus Binds The Spider, who was still in the bosom of his tribe, Mooch, whose whereabouts were unknown, Feedback, who had had enough time “in Nature” to last him a while, and who was trying to locate Golden-Tail for Shera, and One-Eyed Joe, who had presumably been right behind them when they took the Moonbridge out) reached the Sept of Gaia’s Hand, home mostly to Children of Gaia and Black Furies, Jason howled their introduction. The Pack-plus-one were greeted by Audrey Gales, a homid Child of Gaia who was caring for a young man of no more than 20. Wild-eyed, wrapped in a woven blanket and cradling some kind of strong alcoholic beverage, he sat cross-legged on the ground and swayed to and fro, totally silent. Audrey explained that he was Lonato, one of the Black Hills Children Pack. He and his two packmates, Sora and Nina, were all cousins to one another and grandchildren of Cries-In-the-Wind, the Wendigo elder. The pack had come through the Sept on a hunt for a Windigo spirit that had turned to the Wyrm. A week or so later, a few members of the Sept had found Lonato wandering back toward the bawn, dazed, mute, and alone—Sora and Nina, the girls, were nowhere to be found. Audrey had been caring for him for the last few days, but was unable to get any information out of him.

At a loss for how to get information from someone who was all but catatonic, Jason turned around at the sound of laughter, and saw a Raven spirit that had lighted on the ground in the Bawn. Using his Gift, Jason addressed the Beast form that the Raven had taken.
“Brother Raven, what caused this? What do we need to understand?”
The Raven blinked, hopped, and cocked his head to one side. “Secret sins,” he cawed.
“Can you show us?” Jason asked, prepared to bargain with the bird spirit.
The Raven cawed once, loudly, and took off. The pack melted into running forms and dashed after the bird, Jason and Lincho in Lupus, Shera in Hispo.

The bird flew for nearly half a day, showing its supernatural speed and endurance, until it came to rest on a pine tree in a clearing. Catching up to it, the pack perceived a glowing rune on the ground, in the shape of a raven’s foot. At her Alpha’s command, Shera began to dig, but was in for a nasty surprise. At the smell of rotting human flesh, she all but soiled herself, overcoming the urge to flee by sheer willpower. The sight of an Ahroun whining (“He is not who he is!” would be the nearest translation to human speech), backpedaling, tail tucked firmly between her legs, ears plastered to her skull, was pitiful indeed. Investigating further, Jason found that the freshly turned earth housed the body of a girl, around the same age as Lonato, dressed in ritual Native garb, and bearing deadly wounds across her chest—claw marks that looked like they came from another Garou. Garou killing Garou was foul enough, and Shera knew in her bones that packmate had turned against packmate, and worse still, cousin against cousin. This struck too close to home. She would not go near the body again, trembling as she was, so the other two finished unearthing her.

Before Shera could account for herself, or explain her instinctual understanding of what had taken place, Raven cawed again and flew off, leading the party to another small clearing where the body of another young woman lay. She too was ritually dressed, but had died in a different way: a sizable piece of her once-beautiful face was missing, blown apart by a shotgun blast. Looking again for Raven, Jason thanked the Spirit, promising it some fresh carrion as chiminage for its help. Lincho picked up the shotgun that lay near, and presumably had killed, the second young woman while Jason investigated their surroundings further.

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Madness of the Heart, Epilogue Part 2
"And like those mutineers of [300] years ago, we too have a hard choice to make."

In the weeks following the Disaster at Sweet Rock, the pack traveled to The City as a group, except for Binds-the-Spider, who went back to his Tribal lands to commune with Uktena and to see what knowledge could be gained from all that had taken place. Rededicating themselves as a pack, Jason, Shera, Joe, Mooch, and Feedback retained Lion as their totem and chose the name Androcles’ Pride in homage to Lion (and as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the presence of so many Bone Gnawers in the pack).

After that, each of the pack members went their separate ways, agreeing to meet up in The City in 3 weeks, or less if a situation arose. Some had individual agendas to pursue, others needed to heal wounds sustained in the fighting, still others wounds of the spirit.

Joe returned immediately to the Sept on the Green to see if there was any mending fences with Nico.

Spineripper went first to check on Anja, and see that she was adapting ok to life without the Leech. He still needed to decide in what direction his life was going to go: could he give up his quest for revenge?

Feedback worked hard to improve his lines of communication with the spirit world, and spent the weeks preparing to take on a larger share of the spiritual duties of the pack, since it was unclear when or if Zippy would return.

Shera had a roadtrip ahead of her; she realized after Cole had left that she still had his arm, and, telling herself that he might need it, and that in any case, he needed to do something with it, being his, she persuaded herself to use her Questing Stone to find him. He wasn’t especially hard to find; he had taken up residence in a run-down farm out in Iowa, a place that was lonely and ill-kept, but bore many Garou glyphs, carved in grief, mourning one who “had died with Honor before she could win her Glory”, and a little, unmarked grave. He was still there, she could sense him, but at the last, her courage failed her, and she could not bring herself to meet him, nor to ask about her whom he mourned still. Of course, she was sure she knew…but then again…it just made things so confusing.
Rather than risk a confrontation, especially as she had arrived unannounced, Shera left, retaining the former Fetish that had taken her out there in the first place. At first, she thought that she would head out to California, try to find that old man that Cole had described to her. However, when she realized that she didn’t know his name, or even much about where he might be found, she abandoned that idea, and returned instead to upstate New York, and, parking her bike, announced herself, hoping that Teardrop was around and might be persuaded to help her.
He was, and he was, so they talked. Shera addressed him, “Honored Elder, I’m sure ye’ve seen stranger Fetishes in yer time, so…” and produced the arm. “I wanna destroy it, so I know that it can’t ever hurt him again. Will it harm him to do so?”
Typical of an Eastern sage, he answered a question with a question.

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Madness of the Heart, Epilogue Part 1
"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't." -Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2

13-14 October 2012 — Moon Phase: New to Waxing Crescent

The next day, there was a terribly long, uncomfortable Moot. Sylvan-Ivanovna-Sylvan informed the Garou that she was assuming control of the Caern. A look passed between Jason and Shera, and she looked at each of her packmates in turn, gathering what she believed was their agreement to quit the Sept of Sweet Rock as a pack as soon as the dead were buried. Heir-of-the-Sun, on the grounds of being a Glory hound and an unfit leader, was banished from the Caern of Sweet Rock, on pain of death. Jason huffed to himself, “As if you could get him to set foot on her Bawn again.” Shera added, “On pain of death.” It was a sick thing, seeing how she pushed out any who might rival her, regardless of what was best for the Caern. She announced that Seeks-the-Spirals would hold a position among her Council of Elders, as well as a host of other rubbishy pronouncements that no one in the Pack cared to hear.

When she had concluded, other Garou were recognized and allowed to speak if they would. No one dared, or they had nothing to say, except for Spineripper. He spoke with pride and defiance, a poem crafted from his own pure brain, a song of war honoring Heir-of-the-Sun as a titan among Garou. Thus given at least a reasonably good send-off, as he walked out of the gathering, spine erect, eye forward, Heir-of-the-Sun growled over his shoulder at Sylvan-Ivanovna-Sylvan, “Recognize your newest Fostern!” As it turns out, Elders have an easier time keeping their Rage in check, even for the most barbed, celebrated insults.

As much as Shera wanted to leave right away, and never look back, she knew that the Pack needed to plan their next move, so she suggested they go eat off the Bawn at a tiny local diner and discuss what came next. They agreed to resign the next morning, and leave directly after that. The decision made, Feedback put in his headphones and tucked into his pancakes, and Shera took the opportunity to ask the Pack, because she was probably the least politically astute member, a few questions about what had happened.
“Why would Steals-the-Kill bust up Gramps’ gang and then name him to the Council?” she asked, voice lowered to a conspiratorial tone despite her coded references. After all, they were in public, and she was afraid of breaking the Veil.
Jason answered first. “Divide and conquer. Classic tactic. Besides, she’d never win the challenge if she did it the other way around.”
Joe explained more in-depth. “She’s probably worried that Gramps might challenge her authority, and call his family to come help…and she got rid of his buddy that could probably take her in a straight fight.”
Of course, Shera knew that aid from the Sept of the Sentinel at Cole’s request (or on his behalf) was impossible in any case, but Jason and Joe didn’t seem to know that, and so Shera reasoned that Ivanovna might not know that either—and the fewer people that knew about that, the more advantage Cole might have, so for the time being, she didn’t mention what she knew, even to her Pack.
“Dirty, underhanded, bolloxed up business,” Shera growled, her face darkening. “She’s got a lot of blood on her hands.”
“But I don’t understand,” cut in Mooch, his voice a little too loud. I thought we were all one big happy family, working together. Why would she take the Caern?"
“Do NOT say that again in public.” Jason’s voice was a stern warning, and Mooch’s instinct heeded the command of his Alpha and his superior in rank.
“I’m sorry, it’s just—”
“Quiet!” Jason barked.
Mooch fell silent.
“Look around you. Can you say who here is on our side and who is an enemy spy?” Jason continued, his voice soft and low, his eyes flashing.
Mooch looked around openly, then cast his gaze at the table. “No, I guess not.”
“Then you will act, think, and speak like anyone who is not at this table is not on our side. Once you begin to learn who can and can’t be trusted, you will be able to speak more openly.”

Back at the Caern, Shera mused that she was gathering quite a collection of Fetishes…Teardrinker’s spine, the Rager, the Fang Dagger, Marcus’ Jagged Spear…and…Cole’s arm. At least she could give that back to him, however belated. It would also give her the chance to make sure that he knew she was leaving and wouldn’t be such a pain in his ass anymore—particularly as the danger of him choking himself had passed, and also because the Athro to whom she’d made the promise wouldn’t be there to punish her for not keeping it. Shera also figured she ought to apologize if she’d insulted him earlier by trying to help him up.

“Gramps? I thought you should know, the Pack’s leaving for good tomorrow, and—” He held up a hand to silence her. His larynx was still punctured, so he couldn’t talk over her, but more importantly, while she might have understood that unfriendly ears were everywhere, she did not seem to know that leaving a Sept for good, especially because you dislike the rule of its Elder, wasn’t something she should discuss openly.
“I have an open challenge to her,” he rasped.
“Oh.” Shera didn’t know how to reply to that, other than to cross her fingers.
“Good night,” he said firmly.
“Yeah, g’night,” she replied, bewildered. It wasn’t until she wandered over to her Pack to collapse and sleep that she realized she was still holding the arm. Walking over to her bike at the edge of the Bawn, she locked it in with the other Fetishes, and started back toward her packmates, but, thinking better of it, she shifted into Glabro and settled with her back against a tree, keys in hand, to sleep next to her bike.
As she had started to drift off, she saw someone approaching her; Feedback settled next to her. “It’s dangerous to go alone,” he said with a foolish grin. She had no idea what was so funny, but she just nodded and drifted off.

The next day, she awoke to Jason pacing around and looking generally like a caged wolf. “We can’t leave yet,” he spat, all aggravation.
“Why? Is there a Rite of the Ceremonial Bird or some shit?” Shera demanded, impatient to be gone.
“Your Old Man and Ivanovna are duking it out, and the new Guardians say no one can leave until they’re done.”

Shera raced across the Bawn, looking for the battle, and a few members of the Pack followed, but instead she found the battle’s aftermath. Seeks-the-Spirals had apparently lost, and bore on his face a network of deep gouges. In particular, there was a two-centimeter silver gash under his brow through eyes that could no longer see. Despite their apparent uselessness they flickered wildly, and he seemed to make his way by scent and will alone. Heart breaking, Shera pointed at Jason and Mooch. “Please come with me. I need something from you.”
Mooch replied, “Of course, I’ll help, what is it?”

Shera walked up to Seeks-the-Spirals, her voice as heavy as her heart. “Gramps? You ready?” The Rite of the Winter Wolf might be the hardest thing she would live through, since she’d fought his desire to perform it for a week or more, but…she couldn’t bear to see him reduced to this.

“No, no, it’s not my time yet.” Gravelly, his voice still swelled with a note of pride and purpose. “I have had a vision from Great Bee, and I will go now, but I’ll come back to marry you. At least, I think it’s you. To marry the one I’ve been training and preparing for her destiny.”

Stunned silence reigned. At length, Shera spoke. “Can we…damn it all, I need a drink. Come on.” She looked pleadingly at her Alpha. “Jason, I know I don’t…but…please…give us a couple hours tae get it sorted out. I’ve got my phone, but until we talk again, this conversation never happened, ok?” She then shot a glare that would have cut out Mooch’s tongue of its own accord, if it were possible, and if he’d had a tail in this form, he would have tucked it. She took Cole by the arm. “Bike’s over here.”

Their voices low, the Forseti and Ahroun had a short conversation of which little could be heard, until Seeks-the-Spirals began to walk away, and Shera asked, “Weel, would ye like a RIDE to the airport?!”
“I ought to hit you for that,” growled the Athro.
Shera strode up to him, and sassed him right back. “Weel then, why didn’t ye?”
He chuckled bitterly. “Wait until tomorrow morning, we’ll go then.”
“Right.” Shera knew she wouldn’t find him tomorrow, that he would slip off that night. She shook her head. “I’d be a sad excuse for a Garou if I couldn’t track a blighter like you,” she said to herself. With that, she set off to find a stone, and make it up like Zippy showed her.

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Stave 2 Madness of the Heart Part 4
This is how it ends.

Friday October 12, 2012 – Moon Phase: New

As the glimmering tear in the fabric of the universe’s sanity hurtled toward the Sept of Sweet Rock, the Sept’s members braced themselves, waiting for the end, but refusing to go down without a fight. Jason reached within for the Unbroken Cord fetish, dedicated to unity, that allowed him to share his abilities with another and gave Shera a Gift of Falcon: Lambent Flame. They both began to shed light, warring with the gathering darkness. As the Nexus Crawler drove relentlessly toward the Sept through the downpour, Seeks-the-Spiral‘s voice rang strong and true, howling to raise courage, spur bold action, and for the Garou to face death as true Warriors of Gaia, leaving Glory in their wake. Though there is no exact translation for Garou speech, it might be best summed up by the quote: “If this be our end, then let it be such an end as to be worthy of remembrance!” His final note rang out, held loudly and defiantly against the madness that electrified the air as the Crawler descended upon the Sept. All who joined in the righteous howl felt Cole’s previous deed-name Hearts-Ablaze flicker in their minds and their howls reverberated with his own: a cry from a Fang of Garm that all would defend Gaia’s sacred home. The screeching, scraping animus moved towards the Heart of the caern and pushed aged trees aside in great snapping sounds as it plodded as an elephant. Packs bolstered each other behind wet fur and dreadful whines.

Manifesting more solidly in its own created reality, the crackling, shimmering Crawler grew 10 appendages, triple-jointed, that ended in hands, and a hairless mass at their intersection sprouted yet more malformed human hands to hold stalks that ended in bloody orbs that writhed and eyeballed all directions. Its form called forth the reviled nightmares lurking in the farthest places of even Garou hearts. Jason and Joe managed to hold firm in the face of such unfathomable horror and grasped the Pack with alacrity. Shera, though shaken, responded to her fear with Rage (a close cousin to courage, but not quite one and the same). Too proud to fail, Jason bolstered Mooch to the point of refusal to flee in shame again despite the Rat’s ways, and both the Ahroun and Philodox allowed themselves to be directed toward the enemy, rather than quaking in their boots or disgracing their honor by running away.

Racing to meet the their enemy and carve out their bit of glory, the Pack surged and broke against the Crawler like a wave, hoping to push it back. Mooch struck first, but wasn’t immediately able to strike a true blow; with persistence and fortitude, he began to get a better claw hold and dig into muscular, boneless spirit matter. Calling on his power over Spirits, Feedback used a Spirit Snare, praying to Gaia that this just might give them a fighting chance, then opened fire. Joe used the weapons he’d been honing since the day he was born, tearing through surreality with gusto. Allowing her Rage to propel her, Shera lashed out with claws, and didn’t fare much better than Mooch, although she did manage to inflict some pain on the invader, and tore with fang and claw. Jason was more successful, overcoming the thing’s natural resistance to inflict solid blows.

As the other members of the Sept raced toward the fray, the rain that had been streaking down turned to antifreeze, burning flesh and soil, lacerating the trees in body and spirit. Naturae cried out as the poison seeped into root, soil, and stream. As a body, the host of Garou began their main assault with fang, claw, bullets and klaive trying to find purchase in the horrid form before them, and found their task a tricky one; their enemy suddenly split, buboes and pustules boiling up from within and dividing like a cancerous, mitotic cell. Each new division retained 5 uneven and unwieldy appendages. Heir-of-the-Sun, larger than life and wielding Pitch-Eater with the Gift: Might of Thor, lept on the further manifestation and sawed away, hacking apart limb from limb from his secured jaw lock on the creature’s Wyrmflesh in a most impressive display of prowess. His missing arm and scars aglow, Seeks-the-Spirals entered the fray, but his howl and his part in the battle were soon cut short. Off to the side, Pure-Tempest was gathering the spirits of the land, Glade Children, Zephyrs, and other birds and beasts that would heed her call, to stand and aid the Warriors of Gaia. The bird spirits responded to defend their nests, wheeling and diving, harrying the enemy as best they could. The Glade Children and Zephyrs gave of their power, energy flowing to the Garou who had the knowledge of how to use it.

Suddenly, the ground beneath them changed, and most of the stones, many of them placed specifically by the Elder Theurge, transformed into brainmatter and sprouted legs, dashing around the battlefield. The bizarre was followed by the terrible when Seeks-the-Spiral’s war songs stopped abruptly; hearing him suddenly cut off, Shera’s attention was diverted, and she looked on in horror as his flesh-and-blood arm gripped his throat, choking the life from him and his Gift-arm tried to wrest it loose. Resisting the insistent pull of both Rage and Honor, Shera redoubled her efforts to destroy what was before her, reasoning that Cole was surrounded by others who could save him from himself, and praying to Luna that she hadn’t just bolloxed up another promise. She then braced herself as the Crawler summoned forth a bolt of entropic energy, but by the grace of Gaia (or madness of the Beast), it failed to direct the bolt, disintegrating one of its own arms instead and letting the pulpy remains splash on the wet, poisoned rock below. The pack continued their assault, taking on their half of the Crawler alone; using her Falling Touch, Shera sent the now-imbalanced Nexus Crawler sprawling, and the pack immediately Dogpiled atop their foe, rending it apart as best they could.

The turn of the tide in favor of the Garou did not last long. A whine that Shera knew intimately reverberated across the battlefield, heralding the delicious and long-awaited demise of “Tyr’s Pale and Worthless Shadow”, and with that, the remaining members of the Adder’s Nest Pack burst into the fight: Tarnish-Heart, who carried in her teeth a desiccated, skeletal human arm, bound in leather straps and dripping with viscous fluid, and Silent Scream, who wore Hispo with a hammer tattoo and his innate, insane smiling muzzle. Before either Jason or Shera could leap on her and avenge themselves, she spread leathery Patagia and took to the air, circling like a bat while the Fetish, Icy Touch, threatened Seeks-the-Spiral’s life far out of reach.

Jason Spineripper directed Feedback with a commanding snarl and pointed, “Bring that bitch down!” Heeding his Alpha, Feedback opened fire, a submachine gun in one hand and a semi-automatic in the other sending sparks and lead at the Theurge’s wings (though any part would do, really), and tried to force her out of the sky. For his part, Jason continued to lead the assault on the Nexus Crawler, which chaotically enough reunited with its other half and rose back into the air. Joe and Mooch just kept slashing up limbs like bad furniture, tearing apart the crawler as fast as their Rage would allow. Shera snarled and leapt at Silent Scream, tackling him and pinning him to the top of the fallen Bane. He changed to War Form under her grip and clouted her across the jaw with his stolen Ironhammer fetish weapon, formerly dedicated into his fur as his tattoo and now with hands to swing it. Shera’s Rage welled up and flowed out of her control and the Thrall to the Wyrm washed her away in a red current.

Having gathered the aid of any Spirits who would answer in the mean time, Pure-Tempest shifted forms, and began to display the beautiful art for which her Tribe is known. Liquid grace was she, all but dancing between grasping, foul limbs as she shifted between Crinos, Hispo, her native Lupus form, and back to Crinos, ultimately to leap through the air to land atop the Nexus Crawler rent abdomen. “Return whence you came! I command you in the Names of the Four Winds of Paradise!” she cried. Alas, her command only enraged the Crawler, and her life ended with little Honor or fanfare as the thing split the top of its body open as a maw of human incisors and rotten fangs and snapped her in half. Redemption and Honor were forever beyond her living grasp, but maybe the Ancestors… Heir-of-the-Sun tossed aside an arm that he’d sawed off and continued to hack away at the damned thing, while Cole had fallen back, choking on his own blood as his claws pierced his throat.

Shera, unable to control the object or degree of her murderous impulses, headbutted Silent Scream, her skull cracking against his and completely dazing him. Sliding down, Spineripper picked up the arm that Heir-of-the-Sun had discarded, took aim, and hammer-hurled the limp appendage at the still-airborne Tarnish-Heart, who tumbled out of the air in surprise and landed in sight of Shera. Her plummeting snapped the brittle Fetish arm, whose Psychomachiae was released and floated ephemerally above the broken relic. Seeks-the-Spirals’ right arm still gripped his throat, and his claws were still buried in his own windpipe. He had lost consciousness and was lying on the ground, but his arm finally released its grip and his eyes rolled back into place after the Fetish snapped. He fell into his natural Homid form and his breaths were sparse, shallow, and wet.

With Antonia muzzle-deep in antifreeze and broken pride, Feedback wasted little time in lacing her left leg towards her head with lead before his weapon made faint clicks at her hipbone, as exhausted as any other mortal Gaian avenger present. Breaks-the-Maze-Walls rent apart the stunned Silent Scream from chest cavity to shoulder joints, but did not fulfill her role as Eater of Souls—she turned instead to Antonia, who was unfortunately (for her) the nearest focus for of her driving, frothing, impassioned hatred, and dove with a cry of bloodlust at her mortal enemy.

At the side of the defeated Black Spiral Dancer alpha, the terrified Glade Children parted, and Lion’s spirit form strode out of the trees, kingly and calm. Shera skidded to a halt as Lion stared her in the eyes, commanding her to leave the Thrall of the Wyrm and return to her station. Her control returned to her and the red left her vision. The King of Beasts then pounced on Tarnish-Heart and batted her around the Penumbral ground, staring at Shera all the while. Shera heard a purr in her heart and mind: “Play with your prey. It’s not quite time to put her out of her misery yet.” That it was not the message she’d hoped to hear is an understatement… but she wanted Lion’s favor too much to go against his edict. Steeling herself, she shifted to Homid form, and her hand went for the Wyrmish Fang Dagger she had secreted—while she wouldn’t kill the Spiral outright today, she could still avenge Cole. Taking a shaky breath, she walked up to Antonia and straddled the still-winded Theurge who spat curses between breaths, then gripped Antonia’s left wrist hard enough to break it with a twist. Brandishing the Fang Dagger, Shera willed its blood-thirsty inhabitant to bite deep and cut true, and ran a long slice all the way from Antonia’s wrist to her shoulder, and in a cool, quiet, deadly voice, whispered in her ear, “I’m glad you changed your name, you bitch.” Shera then rose, seized the arm fragments that were Cole’s, and walked off, shouting over her shoulder, “Know yer own shame!”

Forestalling her Alpha’s ‘what the actual fuck?’ look, she handed him the dagger, and said, “Go take yer piece.” This he did with a quickness, taking her right hand to avenge his injury by her Toxic Claws, and saying “You won’t need this.” They then left Tarnish-Heart to bleed, writhe, curse, and scream.

The Nexus Crawler shot a bolt of green-purple entropic energy at one of the two great stone cliffs at the heart of the caern, turning it to mud and burying the Sweet Rock Hive Caernstone in slag. While the rending, sawing, tearing and biting continued, Marcus Jagged-Spear joined in his attack. He drove his spear deep into it, and the spearhead snapped under his bearing. Though the Fetish spear that helped him earn his name had been broken, he flashed a wolfish grin at his Tribemate and prepared to dig the pieces back out. He was caught off-guard. Shera had time only to scream Marcus’ name when the damned thing bloated a hand to a man-sized mass and crushed him completely, scattering his insides all over his outsides and ending his tales. With a howl of rage, loss, and vengeance, the Sept grabbed flailing limbs and Wishboned the enemy. Shera’s tears peeked through her eye for just a moment from behind anger and anguish-twisted Crinos face.

As the Sept’s packs tore the Bane apart, a strange, crackling plexus of nerves and tissue exposed itself, cut itself free of the chest of the creature, and hovered over it like a cherry bomb covered in bloody syrup promising a violent, pulpy end to all present. The remaining two-thirds of the sept who had the bravery or stupidity to remain and fight the Bane strained for one last ounce of Luna’s strength through the midnight deluge. Thunder rumbled. Lightning struck. Lightning struck the thing. Several Garou were struck by the shockwave and crumpled under the blast or were knocked back. It was impossible to tell right away whether they had even survived…did the blast come from friend or foe?! Fylgyr the Stormcrow, a Jaggling spirit, and his murder dove from the skies, scattering lesser Gafflings before them and commanding rapid lightning strikes while the Bane writhed in its own delicious destruction. In the midst of all of this, no one noticed Tarnish-Heart fade out of the Material World…or they were consumed by the great task at hand.

A voice, strange to many of them, demanded attention. “This kill belongs to me.” Heir-of-the-Sun, bristling with fury, shot back “The hell it does!” Booming with thunderous command, intolerant of such bold rebuttals, it returned, “I am Shadow Lord Elder Sylvan-Ivanovna-Sylvan-Black-Daughter-of-Ivan-Ironclaw-the-Great, and you will recognize my superior claim!” Shera muttered to Jason in a whisper, fearful of being overheard but unable to keep her anger in her chest, “Nice of her to show up and ‘help’ once the kill is assured. What was her name again? Elder Steals-the-Kill?” Jason snorted in disdain and agreement. Having vented the peak of her Rage, Shera bit back on the rest of it. Marcus lay dead, Pure-Tempest was in pieces, Cole’s state was unknown, the Caern was in ruins, and this crazy bitch may well have killed several Garou in her Glory-whoring… but when Sylvan-Ivanovna-Sylvan appeared, leading two packs, it was only by clinging to her promise to Luna that Shera avoided making a suicide attack against the Shadow Lord Elder. Two packs! Two packs that could have been here, fighting alongside them—all the dead might have still lived, had they been willing to get their own paws muddy, the sodding bastards!

Shera went immediately to Seeks-the-Spirals to help him up. “Come on, Gramps. You look like Hell.” He brushed off her help, rose, and walked off. Digging through the refuse of remains, tears of Rage and grief coursing down her face, Shera collected the two pieces of Marcus’ Jagged Spear, determined to honor him by returning it to their Tribal homeland. From that moment, Shera’s hatred of the Shadow Lords as self-serving, arrogant opportunists was confirmed, and she would never work with or trust another, as long as she lived. That they would not scruple to sacrifice other Gaians to further their own ends was so antithetical to her new life (and so close to her old one) that it elicited a contempt and disgust that could not be articulated. The Sept saved, but lost…Elders and dear comrades lost…it begged the question: why fight at all, when your presumed cousins would bully you and take what you had worked so hard for? Maybe, just maybe, thought Shera, that was where Cole’s Harano came from: the recognition that, at least in their current state, Gaia’s Champions were a sorry lot indeed, who didn’t deserve to win.

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Stave 2 Madness of the Heart Part 2

Thursday October 11, 2012 – Moon Phase: Waning crescent

Over his shoulder, the Elder Philodox growled, “Half Moon! Go shepherd the Kin. Keep them out of danger.” With a thought, Joe shifted down into Hispo and grunted his acknowledgement as he ran toward the Kinfolk settlement near the other edge of the Bawn.

“Jason.” Shera finally found her voice, though it was unusually quiet and small. “The lives of a couple dozen family members, or the life of the one I’m sworn to protect. How would you weigh that balance?” The smallest rope would be a lifeline for her…hopefully, there wasn’t a noose on the end of it.
“Well,” the Alpha replied, after a moment’s thought, “it’s going to be a lot easier to keep the old man safe if he only has to face threats from one or two directions, and not all of them.”
Shera nodded. “Which way?”
The Alpha raised his head, listening to the howls. “The Adren can take care of himself. The Fostern might be a little more endangered.” Shifting into Crinos, the Silver Fang and Fianna charged toward the danger. Three Hispo loped along behind them—each help sent by Mother Larissa. Mooch was looking to redeem himself after his shameful display of cowardice; Binds-the-Spider, a Lupus Uktena semi-affectionately referred to as “Zippy the Wonder Theurge”, and Feedback, who might have found the stronger presence of Gaia refreshing, had he not been forced to come to the woods to find it.

The Crinos heard the trucks before they could see them, what with the smog filling the area. Jason broadsided one truck, sending it onto the driver’s side door, while Shera lept through the windshield of the other, sending shards of glass into the cab. Feedback fell back to his natural, naked form and lopped off a shot at another driver. Feedback’s bullet whizzed by the driver’s ear, but the Fomor still pulled his gun and got off a lucky shot, blowing Shera’s skull open and exposing her brain. Mooch put on his War Form, ignoring his limitations and the part of him that hated shifting and being a werewolf more than anything, and tried his best to embrace the Beast within, and Zippy landed on top of the overturned truck, preparing to enter the cab and finish off the driver. Amazingly unfazed by the grievous injury she’d just received, Shera continued her assault and tore the driver’s throat out, and Jason finished rolling his truck onto its roof. Two tons of metal and fossil fuels collapsed the cab onto its driver.

Toes outstretched, Zippy made the transition into his Homid self: a dirty, dreadlocked brown man with a backwards t-shirt and ripped pants too short, and tended to Shera’s wounds, patching her up and leaving her but a little bruise as evidence of what had just happened to her. Jason had a hunch that a pair of Fomori didn’t really seem capable of posing a threat to other Garou calling for help. He took the small vial of quicksilver around his neck as a gate through the Gauntlet. Noticing that Jason was disappearing, Shera ran over to one of the truck’s mirrors, stepping sideways with comparative ease (and what was, for her, great luck). What awaited them there was horrid indeed, and while Shera knew somewhere in her mind what these black, lurching, spiky and jagged-mawed monstrosities were, she could not bring it to the tip of her brain. Jason was at a total loss. Ultimately, though, the only important thing is that they were lurching toward the heart of the caern, and they needed to die. The towering, gothic Scrags marched towards the northeast while the smog choked black and brown leaves from the young spirits of the trees around them fell like volcanic ash to the forest floor. Dogpiling on the one nearest to them, the pair tried to tear it apart, but it was far stronger than they had anticipated, and it called upon its foul charms to amplify the Beast within Shera. She fell prey to her natural overflow of Rage and lust for battle, becoming the Thrall of the Wyrm.

Just then, Mooch appeared, shoved through the Gauntlet from behind by Zippy, and they took a moment to assess the situation. Shera, clearly out of her mind, was to be avoided. The Alpha was leaping away from her and toward the next Bane, so the two moved to assist him in his task, Zippy melting into Hispo and Mooch retaining his War Form. Alone in the material world, Feedback debated what to do—chilling in the Umbra wasn’t really his style, and he was feeling pretty out of place here. Bare as the day he was born and armed like the last day he would live, he decided that being alone was worse than being dead.

Jason growled his intentions to his still-sane comrades: put these fuckers in Shera’s face so that she has something to slake her Rage on, and hopefully she gets ahold of herself before we have to kick her ass. The plan was beautifully executed, with all three of them coordinating their attacks, and with Feedback, as he stumbled through the Gauntlet, binding the horrible Banes with Spirit Snares and weakening them considerably, but even Shera’s battle-hardened body could not withstand all that she was taking. She stubbornly refused to die, what tiny piece of herself as was left was screaming “This is not my Fate!” as she roared back from Death’s Door for the second time, acquiring a new Battle Scar as her midsection was ripped open over and over by these Banes that Zippy called “Scrags”. Although she did not commit the foulest of acts the Wyrm could tempt her to, she also could not shake off the Thrall, and so, wounded and close to Death as she was, Zippy charged her with a headbutt that would have broken the neck of any lesser being. Still, Shera clung to life—too much a born Scot to die, even if she should have done so 3 times over.

Slinging Shera’s Homid form over his shoulder, Jason returned and the group of Cliath walked to the middle of the Caern before stepping sideways, re-entering the Bawn. Grimacing at having to enter human skin once more, Zippy slowly shifted, prepared to once again give Shera the gift of life, but before he could, her eyes opened on their own. One of the battle-ragged Guardians rushed past them in a sweep to the edge of the territory. Slowly standing up, and more than a little wobbly, she grasped Jagged-Spear’s arm in a brotherly clasp as he gave her the news: the Caern totem, Great Bee, had fallen into slumber, and the Heart of the Caern had been violated. Shera panicked and tried to shift into Lupus so that she could run to someplace outside the Bawn and find a cell phone signal—Mother Larissa would have to be warned that they might use the Path Stone to cross the Moon Bridge to her caern! However, her body sharply and painfully reminded her of what it had just been through, and she was staying put, thank you very much. Just then, a mournful cry lamented the loss of all of the Kinfolk, whose corpses had been defiled and desecrated. Thoughts immediately turned to Joe, wondering for his safety, and praying to Gaia that he hadn’t also fallen into the Thrall of the Wyrm—as a Mule, slaking his unholy lusts on the fallen was his particular curse.

Looking haggard, Seeks-the-Spirals approached all the Garou, who had instinctively gathered by the Heart of the Caern. Everything was wrong…no bees could be seen. No honey flowed from the rock. “Great Bee has fallen into Slumber,” the Forseti, his voice hoarse and nearly husky, informed them. “Were it possible for ”/characters/long-mei-xiu-pure-tempest" class=“wiki-content-link”>Pure-Tempest to be beside herself, she would be. And here." With this, he approached Shera, and handed her a shed snakeskin. “I’m sure you’ll know what this means.” She clearly did, as she visibly suppressed her homicidal urges. Despite all they had done, and how hard they had fought, it seemed clear that they had been completely routed.

So much of this went beyond Mooch’s understanding, although he felt the outrage as clearly as anyone else. He lifted his voice to Seeks-the-Spirals, even though such a presumption, as a lowly Cliath and an outsider to boot, could have cost him very dearly—Mooch was likely unaware of the impropriety of his acts. “Venerable Elder, I don’t understand what it is that I am. I am trying to embrace it, but I don’t understand. I want to fight. What are we? What am I? What am I supposed to be doing? I would do anything for you, and for Gaia.” Heath admonished the Bone Gnawer, “Gaia needs all her warriors. You Bone Gnawers are the most numerous and you must stand and fight one day, instead of running like Rats.”
“Then I will fight!”

Ending the conversation with the Bone Gnawer, Cole turned his voice back to the entire gathering. “What’s more, when they violated the Heart of the Caern, they took the Pathstone.” Mooch immediately volunteered. “I’m good at stealing things, so I’m good at stealing them back. I’ll go get it. I swear to God…I swear to Gaia, I’ll get it back.”
“How would you even find it?” countered the Elder. “You don’t even know where to look.”
Zippy raised a paw hand. “Rock find rock. We find.” Weaving grasses together around a stone, Zippy called on the spirits, and they responded to his call, pointing the rock to the northeast. Zippy grinned at his very earthy approach to the Rite of the Questing Stone. “Rock find rock.” Mooch tried to press his case. “We’ll go get it, no matter what it takes.”

Cole growled, annoyed that he hadn’t thought to do that himself. There’s little an Elder dislikes more than being shown up by cubs. “Go ask the Warder. You don’t leave unless he says so.” The pack walked over to Heir-of-the-Sun, and before Jason or Shera could speak a word of introduction, Mooch made his case, asking for permission to steal back the Path Stone. The Warder pointedly ignored this brazen newcomer, and Shera dug him in the ribs, as gently as she knew how, and shushed him. “Heir-of-the-Sun, Honorable Elder, these are friends sent to us to aid in the defense of our Sept by Mother Larissa. I ask permission to present to you Mooch, Feedback, and Binds-the-Spider. They have been invaluable to us in our attempts to aid the Caern’s defense.” Jason’s innate dignity was the only thing that kept his jaw in its proper place—since when did she know how to be polite?
Heir-of-the-Sun actually snorted, but he deigned to address the Ahroun. “They are your Pack’s responsibility. Without the protection of your Pack, they will not go about the business of the Sept.”
“Understood.”
“You have until noon today, no longer. Seeks-the-Spirals is convinced that the final attack will come on the New Moon. How will you seek out the Pathstone? How will you find it?”
“The Questing Stone points to the northeast.”
“It is a fool’s errand; they left by Moon Bridge. But your Pack may go.”
“And myself, Honored Elder? May I be released from my sworn duty?”
“No. You will stay, and the Mule will stay. Claws-Like-Oak-Spears, you will take these…visitors…under your pack’s responsibility and seek this stone. You will return in triumph or in shame. Bring Honor to House Wyrmfoe and the Lodge of the Sun.”
“One could do no less.”
“Bring back our Caern’s Honor. Falcon watch you.”

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