Waltz of Flesh

Stave 1 Tyranny of the Bones Part 4

"Suicide cannot be chosen for another!" -Lancelot, "King Arthur"

Against difficult odds, the pack had triumphed over the most recent batch of Flukemen, destroying Lab 23 inside the hospital. One-Eyed Joe, who had suffered the worst battle wounds, returned with Jason Claws-Like-Oak-Spears to the Sept of the Green to recover, a prospect that would take at least 5 days, provided the pressure cooker that was The City didn’t explode first. Jason quickly found that Nathan’s hold over Anja hadn’t ended with Nathan’s death…if anything, it intensified. She began to sleepwalk, and could hear him “calling her” in her dreams. She also found herself pulled to places where the Leeches meet, leaving Jason with a moral conundrum that only he could resolve: with Anja drawn to Vampire enclaves, he could use her as a sort of radar, and continue his vengeance, but risk losing her, or he could withdraw and protect her by attempting to sever her link with Nightkind, losing his most potent weapon in avenging his mate. The ancestors encouraged Jason to take the latter route; Blood Hawk, an ancestor that Jason briefly contacted, sent his messenger in dreams. Appearing as a blood-drenched brown hawk, grasping in his talons a fanged skull, Blood Hawk initially circled and then descended near a snowy carcass, as if he were a vulture. Then, he changed course, and attempted to fly to his nest, nearly hidden within the tangled branches of the snowy taiga of the Motherland. The nest held a hawk chick and an egg, and Blood Hawk clearly intended to feed his young. However, the skull was too large and weighty, and Blood Hawk could not carry it through the branches, and couldn’t feed his chick.

Although she didn’t know about Jason’s dreams, Shera was moved by a degree of pity and by a fear that Anja might fall to the Wyrm. She contacted Golden-Tail MacFionn, to see if he’d made any progress with Nathan’s book, but there was nothing to report, so Shera left for the Sept of Sweet Rock to consult with Seeks-the-Spirals, and with Pure Tempest, if she could, to find a way to remove the memory of Nathan from Anja’s mind. When Shera arrived, she found the Sept in utter disarray, teetering on the edge of collapse. Her insides twisted when she set foot into the Bawn, her heart and stomach sinking into her boots, and her Rage attempting to vault into the driver’s seat. She could see the Guardians scattered around the Caern, could feel their vigilance. What had happened? Continued pressure from the Get to the northeast and the Wendigo from the northwest were taxing the community’s resources, something that the pack had been at least passingly aware of before they had left. Perhaps the Shadow Lords were using the death of Barb Tongue to its utmost, trying to get a stranglehold on the Sept, but that would be a more political struggle, and nothing that should involve the Warder and his Guardians outright. The other threats were nothing that the Sept’s defenses couldn’t handle. So why was everything so wrong?

One sniff told her the story of what had happened. She could smell the taint, the rush bordering on nausea that the clean addict experiences in the presence of her former master. THEY had been here. The Black Spiral Dancers had seized on the weakness of the Sept to attack, attempting to re-take and corrupt their Pit. It wasn’t just Wyrm that she sensed…no, this was a smell that drove her beyond the point of temptation into blind, searing hate. SHE had been here…her traitorous Beta, that bitch Tarnish-Heart, had the nerve to come HERE, to HER caern! She would pay, dearly, and revenge would be so sweet… The one advantage to the whole situation, her Rage purred, was that she didn’t need to go LOOKING for trouble—it was going to serve itself up to her on a silver platter.

Suddenly, the nausea returned, as she realized that she might be too late to seek Cole’s counsel—that he, maimed as he was, might not have survived…especially because Seeks-the-Spirals would not have been able to resist the call of battle, the chance to avenge his former protege. She raced to the nearest Guardian, desperate to know what had happened. The Guardian, a fellow Fianna named Marcus Jagged-Spear, told Shera about the battle, half lording it over her, but too ragged to crow about it too loudly. Pure Tempest had withdrawn from this world, communing with the spirits with a single-minded intensity that, in Jagged-Spears whispered opinion, bordered on insanity, and by implication, had allowed an incursion of Banes. In the midst of the fight with the Banes, a Dancer had shown up, and Seeks-the-Spirals had engaged her. They were lost in the fray as he chased her into the surrounding woods, alone. Shera’s fears were only mildly allayed by Jagged-Spear’s assurances that Seeks-the-Spirals had returned, alone and without a trophy. Shouting over her shoulder that she was at the Warder’s disposal once she talked to Cole, Shera tore off looking for him—and found him at the opposite edge of the Bawn, looking moodier than ever.

Gruff and curt to the point of rudeness, Cole tried to dismiss Shera and drive her away, saying that it was time for him to take the Long Walk, that he was a threat to the Sept and that he needed to leave so that he could not cause harm to his old packmates or to the caern. While as a Garou, she could not deny what he said or his argument that he needed to uphold the Litany, as a conflicted young woman who still lived simply because Cole had not condemned her to death for her killing of a packmate, Shera could not accept his argument that he had outlived his usefulness to the Garou. She tried to reason with him, reminding him that she still needed his guidance, and that the Sept could still benefit from his knowledge and wisdom. When that didn’t seem to sway him, she accused him of abandoning the Sept, robbing them of the knowledge of the enemy that only he could provide. That touched a nerve, and Seeks-the-Spirals would have lashed out at her, but his arm was suddenly gripped by a force that was not of his making, and his hand closed around his own throat, choking him. Recovering from her momentary astonishment, she saw that he was as shocked as she. Sending a silent prayer to Lion to grant her courage and strength to protect Cole from himself as a Queen protects Her people, she gripped his fingers with both her hands, pulling them one at a time away from his throat. Even with only one arm, and aged as Cole was, it took every ounce of strength that Shera possessed to restrain him, and between clenched teeth, she snarled at him that he wasn’t allowed to die yet—there was more that she needed to know, and he was GOING to teach it to her. As suddenly as it had clenched his throat, Cole’s arm went limp, and the strange event came to an end.

Just the same, it was a few moments before Shera was willing to let go of Cole’s hand, and she continued to declare that she was not going to let him die, not now, and not alone. Weary, Cole told her that Tarnish-Heart had “something on him”, though he pointedly refused to elaborate, and that he had no better idea than Shera what had caused him to lose control of his arm—but that made the point all the more strongly that he was a grave risk to the Sept, and needed to leave so that he could die Gloriously. She acknowledged his point, but made it clear that he was not at liberty to die. From that moment, she became Seeks-the-Spiral’s shadow, unwilling to leave the Elder alone for more than a few minutes, and only dozing for short spans while Cole slept. For his part, the Forseti was more than a little aggravated by her dogging his footsteps, feeling that he could barely take a piss without her over his shoulder, but was too close to Harano, and too absorbed in his contemplation of what was happening, to do much other than growl at her.

Even if the judge were generous, no one could call Shera “bright”. Cunning, perhaps, but not very smart. However, she had little but time on her hands, and she chewed on Cole’s words and the incident over the hours that followed. After a quick phone call to Jason, relaying news from Pure Tempest, that a powerful event would occur between dusk and dawn after 5 days, and demanding that he and Joe come back to the Sept immediately to aid its defense, she sat, smoked the occasional cigarette, and thought. Every conclusion or revelation she found opened up a Pandora’s Box of more and riskier questions and speculations. She could see, by the Gift she retained, that Cole was heavily tainted by the Wyrm, despite the fact that someone of his stature certainly knew the Rite of Cleansing. It was very clear to her that this attempt on Cole’s life was deeply personal, made by someone who wanted to destroy his reputation as well as take his life. Everything pointed back to his skirmish with Tarnish-Heart…but how could she do this? There was no Gift or Rite, even of the Wyrm, that would allow someone to assume bodily control of another. There was no Spirit that she could detect, although she was the first to admit that wasn’t her strong suit. Besides, if a Spirit had done this, it didn’t seem likely that it would have simply left or quit in that way. As she dozed that night, one eye always on Seeks-the-Spirals, Lion came to her, urging her on to Wise and Glorious deeds. She felt sure that meant she was on the right track, and that she could count on his support and gifts for aid, but she wasn’t sure which way to proceed.

Of course, it wasn’t enough to have the Sept on the edge of ruin and Kinfolk under threat…in The City, rolling blackouts dominated the news, and the word on the street was that they are only going to get worse. The general unease of the mortal population was stoked by rising uncertainty and the closure of several smaller businesses that fell prey to these disruptions of power. Everyone was nervous, fearing rioting and looting. Stretched thin, the NYPD progressively lost control of the situation, and as they often do, the mortal gangs took advantage of the fear and confusion to settle scores and make power grabs. By the end of the first day, the Trinitarios had fanned out across their territory, chasing out rivals and consolidating their power, and 4 police officers lay dead over 3 streets. Joe found himself standing on the shore of the Rubicon: Nico demanded his help in exterminating the 18th Street Gang in order to increase the power and territory of the Trinitarios. Joe made it clear that he was street-neutral, which enraged Nico. “What did you do for me when we needed you to take 32nd St?! Fuck you, homie, get out of here! I got no love for anyone that doesn’t love me,” Nico shouted, brandishing his machete and pistol, the Trinitarios’ weapons of choice. It remains to be seen whether Joe can mend the relationship between himself and Nico.

Moon Phase: Waning crescent

The next morning, Jason consulted Mother Larissa to see if there was a way to remove Nathan’s taint from Anja’s soul, and she suggested a Fetish known as a Partridge Feather, which could erase memories. The same morning, a Silent Strider Ragabash, Seth Across-the-River, arrived at the Sept with the news from Pure Tempest, a message that made more sense than Shera’s hurried jumble: “Leylines are shifting gradually out of their normal course, like metal sands pulled by an intangible lodestone. The star charts are aligning for a powerful event that will occur between dusk and dawn after 5 days (Friday Oct. 12, 2012 and a Crescent Moon).” Fortunately, Across-the-River also knew where Jason could find a Partridge Feather; as it turned out, Pure Tempest’s tribemate, the only other Stargazer in the state, possessed one. As for where the Stargazer could be found, the Silent Strider was less helpful, and Jason again requested Mother Larissa’s help in locating the Stargazer with alacrity, since they needed to, for all intents and purposes, be in 2 places at once. If he could aid Anja with the Partridge Feather, then Jason could leave to defend the Sept, and perhaps the Stargazer could lure his tribemate out of her vigil or help her to solve the puzzle that held her in sway.

Stepping into the Umbra, Mother Larissa bade Jason and Joe to think strange thoughts, contradictory or humorous, interesting thoughts, and she began to chant, wafting incense toward the heavens. Walking down the smoke as if it were a bridge, an ever-changing creature answered her call, and came to rest an arm’s length from the group. Mother Larissa asked the being where the group might find Antonine Teardrop, the Stargazer who held the Fetish Claws-Like-Oak-Spears required. Gazing at each member with one of its heads, the spirit told them to look “where the oaks meet, where the stones talk, and where the stars cross,” and climbed back up the trail of smoke. It’s not every day a Garou is visited by an Incarna of Chimera…so Claws-Like-Oak-Spears and One-Eye-Joe thanked Mother Larissa and Chimera, and set off for the territory formerly held by the Stargazers to find the place the Incarna had described.

At Sweet Rock, the Banes returned on the second day, trying to force their way into the heart of the caern and corrupt the source of its power. Though Breaks-the-Maze-Walls tried to encourage (or more accurately, goad) Seeks-the-Spirals into joining the fight, he stubbornly refused, barely acknowledging her presence. After the minor threat was dealt with, Shera took advantage of the opportunity to speak with the Warder, Alexandr Heir-of-the-Sun, who was the last “viable” elder in the Sept, since Pure Tempest was still communing with the spirits and Seeks-the-Spirals was suicidal. She relayed to him the full story that Cole had told her, including her observation that Cole was heavily Wyrm-tainted, and that Cole believed that Tarnish-Heart and the Spirals “had something on him”. She also openly acknowledged that Tarnish-Heart had been her Beta, and that she believed Tarnish-Heart was targeting the Caern because of her, as well as Cole. Given all this, she mused that it was possible that Tarnish-Heart had some kind of personal connection to Seeks-the-Spirals, and might even be his “lost” protege. Heir-of-the-Sun did not remark on that, but he did acknowledge Breaks-the-Maze-Walls as having saved Cole’s life, and said that she could be of best use to the caern and Sept by doing exactly what she did. She was to remain Cole’s shadow until the threat had passed. She did exactly that, sanctioned by her Elder, and bolstered by the idea that she carried his authority. Further, the Warder’s commands helped her to resist the urge for individual Glory and vengeance that she could grasp by hunting down and destroying Tarnish-Heart here and now…an urge backed by Lion’s encouragement. Shera promised Lion that she would hunt down Tarnish-Heart and destroy her…but could not abandon her Elder to possible death or destruction to fulfill her own personal desires.

Even as a pack of two, hunting proved fruitful in between a Long Run following Great Chimera’s clues. Jason kept his command over pack and wild beast and drew on the natural connection his Tribe holds to the predator birds. Speaking with a local hawk along New York’s Slide Mountain ridges, he learned of the place where two enormous and aged trees fuse together, Oak Meet, where the stars might cross. The stones would definitely talk along this ridge. The oaks had met, for sure. Where the stars crossed, neither the King or the Mule knew. Just as unsettling was the flickering of the New York City light pollution across the horizon. Searching for nearly a day on instincts alone, the scent of wolf musk, peanut butter, and earthy vegetables revealed the hidden cabin of the “Kai” for which they searched. In keeping with the Traditions, Joe urged Jason to proper etiquette and announcing the trespass into another’s territory. The only caveat was that he wasn’t actually there. A great howl returned the Galliard’s greeting, urging only friends to climb to the eastern peak, and that enemies would be known. A steep shale climb awaited the pair, and at the top was a worn-looking man past his 40th year with black hair, high cheekbones, hiking clothes, and a very intentionally neutral stance. Jason, even from the Tribe of Kings, recognized that he was ranked and deferred a formal bow to the Adren. “Kai” seemed to be expecting them for longer than just the climb. “So when do we move towards the city?” he asked expectantly. “As soon as you are able,” he returned.

Packing only minor supplies, the trio returned to the Weaver-strand of highway to their car left behind, and turned towards New York City once again. Jason relayed his unique dream of Blood Hawk to Kai, and was given some insight into the nature of his struggle. Anja was his ward, and he was going to have to choose between his attachments to his late mate or his attachment to the world of the living. Joe seemed impressed, but reserved, hoping that their ally could help Anja and return her mind to peace. The flock were weak and needed guidance, and he would be happy to be a wolf-shepard, for Gaia needed all her children and especially the ones who were Lost.

In a master stroke of doublespeak, the Mayor of New York and the Governor issued statements in the evening, condemning the President for his continued war in the Middle East and for his removal of troops from the Middle East. The failed war, they claimed, was responsible for rising energy prices, but his withdrawal of troops was premature, making the markets uneasy, bolstering terrorists and hostile states, and creating scarcity. With the NYPD overtaxed and mourning the deaths of several officers, the Governor placed the New York National Guard on alert. In the meantime, Stuart Stalks-the-Truth used the chaos both to help bury the news of the pack’s attacks on the Labs and to shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the natural gas and fracking companies, “whose rape of the natural beauty of the Adirondacks and upstate New York had been sold to us all by corrupt crony politicians with promises of an ‘energy-rich and independent future’, in which ‘all will benefit from the wealth of a natural gas boom’, promises which, in light of recent events, are clearly not worth the pages of the rag newspapers they were printed on.”

The third day was one of waiting. Shera was more than a little upset at her Pack for not being at the Sept sooner, and called Jason, impatient to know where the hell they were and when they would arrive. Jason was able to report that they had found Teardrop, who had an artifact that would help Anja, so they were returning to the city to work on her, and then would take the Moonbridge to the Sept of Sweet Rock. Although it occurred to Shera that taking the Moonbridge might be unadvisable, because it might leave the Sept of the Green exposed to incursion, she was not going to say anything that would force her Pack to arrive a second later than they possibly could.

Left at loose ends, Breaks-the-Maze-Walls decided to try to pry a little more information out of “Gramps”, as she’d taken to calling Seeks-the-Spirals (partly out of respect, but mostly because she was sure it would annoy the daylights out of him—and it’s hard to be depressed and annoyed at the same time). Wielding cigarettes and scotch, she offered him a light, lit up herself, and tried to get him to talk about what happened when he followed Tarnish-Heart into the forest. Instead, he wanted to know why she wouldn’t leave him alone. When she told him what Heir-of-the-Sun had ordered her to do, he had a few grumpy words to say about the state of his packmate’s backside, and told Shera that an elder was telling her to leave him alone—to which she shrugged and said simply, “He ranks you, Gramps.” Taking the proffered scotch with a disdainful scowl, he downed a draught, but didn’t answer her question, so she turned the subject to his arm, and what could have caused the incident. She relayed to him the substance of her musings, including the observation about the taint on his spirit, and finally just bashed away at it, asking Cole what could possibly give that kind of power over his person to someone. “Fetish,” was his grumbled conclusion, and they both sat, puffed, and absorbed the idea of a Fetish that could give someone bodily control over another. Shera went pale as he suggested the idea that his missing arm might be the focus for such a Fetish, although they would have to go to Nebraska to get it, and railed that it was yet another reason why he needed to leave the Sept. It was not the idea itself, horrible though it was, that caused her such distress. It was the connection that she made that, in order for someone to have his arm as a Fetish, it had to have been preserved, and would only have been sought out by someone who was close enough to Seeks-the-Spirals to know the story of how he had lost that arm and where it was. No matter how she turned the idea in her head, it all came back to Tarnish-Heart. She was absolutely convinced that Tarnish-Heart must have been Seeks-the-Spiral’s lost protege, and that the Dancer was not only wreaking her vengeance on Seeks-the-Spirals, but saw the opportunity unto the bargain to finish off her former Alpha, who had been left for dead. Never one to beat about the bush, she came right out and asked Cole, point-blank, whether he was absolutely certain that his protege was dead. This was not the right question to ask, or perhaps simply the wrong way of asking it; the Philodox clammed up, muttered at Shera to go away, and didn’t say another word. For her part, Shera turned her back, shifted to Lupus, and sat. Clearly, there was nothing more to discuss, for the moment.

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