Waltz of Flesh

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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Stave 2 Madness of the Heart Part 1
The past comes home to roost.

Thursday October 11, 2012 – Moon Phase: Waning crescent

Arriving at the Sept of the Green, Teardrop made himself known to Hundo and to Mother Larissa, and went with Jason to see Anja, and attempt to remove the hold that her former Leech Regnant still had on her. Joe went as well, intellectual curiosity burning. Anja was glad to see Jason again, and was pleased enough to meet “Kai”, but even her Kinfolk background gave way to alarm at seeing a bird’s wing, tied to a string, produced in front of her face. Nervous, she allowed the Stargazer to use the Partridge Wing Fetish on her, but drug Jason out for some coffee as quickly and forcefully as she could. As soon as he was able, Jason returned Anja to the Silver Fang Kinfolk of the City, and left them with special instructions, as before, to watch her closely and not let her be alone for too long.

Returning to the Sept of the Green, the Pack and Stargazer petitioned Mother Larissa to open the Moon Bridge, to allow them to return to the Sept of Sweet Rock and defend it as quickly as possible. Because the defense of every Sept’s caern is important, Mother Larissa refused to open the Bridge, knowing that it would act as a beacon to bring the Wyrm’s forces to her Sept as well. The three were forced to long run, but they did take with them a promise that Mother Larissa would send what aid she could. Winded, the group arrived and howled out their greeting just in time to catch a sound, a scent, a sight out of place and a dire threat to the caern: trucks, smog, and men.

The situation at Sweet Rock had continued to deteriorate, on a micro- as well as a macro level, as Shera waited impatiently for her Pack to come. Pure Tempest remained in seclusion, the Warder and his Guardians remained on high alert, and Seeks-the-Spirals did what he could to escape Shera’s constant vigil, using his Gifts to evade her watchful eye for a couple of hours. She was not in the least amused or sympathetic to his artificially slowing her running speed and increasing his own, and doggedly stayed on his trail anyway. Aggravated at his stubbornness, she aimed to demonstrate that she could be every bit as stubborn as he, elder or not. When she caught up to him, he was at the edge of the Bawn, grumpy as was his wont since she took up “babysitting duty” at Heir-of-the-Sun’s command. The edge of the Bawn, while rarely flush with wildlife, was eerily empty and quiet.

“Do ye really think I enjoy this?” she asked, so annoyed that she tiptoed on the edge of insult. ‘He ought to be a wee bit more grateful,’ she thought. ‘After all, even if he wants to die, he would have died like a chump had it not been for me. No Glory in having someone else sneak up and choke the life out o’ ye.’ She really couldn’t understand why he seemed to despise her. ‘His Rank be damned, anyway—he’s acting more like a child than an Elder,’ she grumbled inwardly, hoping that he didn’t have some kind of Gift to read her thoughts with. Fortunately for all concerned, he didn’t so much as dignify her with a glance, let alone an answer. They squared off more like angry housecats than Garou—both sore at the other—but didn’t do much other than eyeball each other and be grumpy. Cole, of course, did so more openly than Shera—but not by much. That was going to get her killed someday, her refusal to give Rank its proper respect.

Suddenly, both of them tensed, their senses straining. Shera recognized Jason’s voice on the wind—they were here, at last! With…others?! Her joy and confusion were cut short as other sensations followed: the sound of trucks (diesels, by their rumbling), the sight of dense, smoky smog, and the scent of death hurtled toward the caern. The Wyrm’s forces had come again. Forseti and Ahroun immediately erupted into War Form, and Seeks-the-Spirals gave a Snarl of Precedence, declaring his right to the kill. The two Crinos plunged toward the invaders. As they raced onto the scene, Shera’s pack was there, with two whom she did not know, and holy war broke loose. A shotgun blast grazed Seeks-the-Spiral’s ears, and he roared as golden light poured from his wounded body—his lost arm, the scars on his chest, his torn ear were all mended and replaced by glowing, golden light. Fortunately, these replacement parts hit quite a bit harder than sunlight, and the first kill was simple and bloody.

A mottled Hispo, new to the Sept, whom Jason had announced as “Mooch”, charged one of the trucks there and slammed against it, overturning it and spilling its riders. Joe followed suit, flipping another truck in an impressive display of brawn. Wailing her Foreboding, Breaks-the-Maze-Walls grabbed another truck by its front end, masking her pain with Rage as she tore her body to overturn it in a dead lift. More of the grey men—Fomori!, she realized, as the searing spear of Rage coursed through her—were crushed beneath it, and she leapt over the upset truck to finish off any that might remain. Jason continued to Howl for assistance, communicating as much as he could about the Wyrmish threat. As Shera landed, and tore one of the survivors in half, Seeks-the-Spirals took a shotgun to the chest at point-blank range, the silver bullets tearing his body and leaving great, gaping holes. Cole was her responsibility to protect, and she was failing, despite his strength in Gaia and the presence of her Pack. Her Rage took control, and Shera was shunted into a Berserk Frenzy. Mooch was hit by a lucky shot, and as the silver bullets burned his body, his courage deserted him, and he fled the fight. Jason channeled the pure silver light of Luna through his body and shone brightly, illuminating the field of war to combat the smog that had been put up as a diversion to stunt the Garou’s sight and smell, and blinding the few enemies that had not been pinned under a 2-ton truck.

The ways of the Metis are a mystery to many, but most of them seem to understand their fellow Garou better, perhaps, than those Garou understand themselves, and at least in the case of One-Eyed-Joe, he was developing a knack for knowing what his pack needed—and having it on hand (or the tip of his tongue, in some cases). Although she hadn’t explained much when she told them about “the incident”, other than a play-by-play, Shera had told her packmates that she had been tasked as Cole’s personal guardian. Seeing the light of the Berserker in her eyes, Joe knew that it was fear for Seeks-the-Spirals’ survival that was driving her—and that was something he could fix! Calling on the healing grace of Gaia to pass through his fingers, Joe laid hands on Seeks-the-Spirals, and the wounds that he had suffered in this fight were no more—even the limbs of light were made whole!

As Breaks-the-Maze-Walls finished off the last of the Fomori that were pinned beneath her truck, Seeks-the-Spirals lifted up the only one left alive by the throat and, using his connection to Fenris, channeled that being’s primal fearsomeness and glared at Breaks-the-Maze-Walls. Her Berserk was no match for the Wolf God, and she skidded to a halt, tail tucked and ears glued to her head. Choking the Fomor, the Get tried to interrogate him, but the human vessel died, unable to withstand the grip of Crinos. Joe walked up to Shera, and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, once again using his connection to Gaia, this time to heal and calm his packmate. Being in a Berserk Frenzy was the only thing that had kept her from fleeing the fight outright in the face of Fenris, so Shera was more than a little shaken. Perhaps as long as she was there to pry his hand from his own throat, she didn’t need to “protect” him quite so hard—the Athro seemed more than capable of defending himself…but still…

About that time, Mooch came back, limping and whimpering from his wounds, and wailing in confusion. “What the hell was that? What happened?! I just don’t understand, and this shit burns! Can someone tell me what the hell’s going on?” Cole averted his gaze, unwilling to recognize someone of such lowly Tribe, Rank, and not belonging to the Sept. Shera, mortified that her Pack had brought such a pup to the caern, and making a note of it to challenge Jason about such a strange decision later—what on earth good would such a whingy, grass-green pup be in a fight?!—glared at the newcomer in desperation and hissed “For God’s sake, be QUIET!”

During the fight in the physical world, Jason and Kai had traversed the Gauntlet into the near side of the Umbra. Strange smog elementals, hoglings, populated the area. Dense foggy bodies sat atop a long, scaled metal tentacle and carried muzzles like a loudspeakers belching out polluting fog. This was some kind of Spirit Charm similar to a Flood charm, filling the entire area of the Caern grounds. The quintet of Banes continued to spew poison, leaping up with their tentacle leg and lashing like metallic whips across the furry bodies that impeded their progress. Jason tore at the support of the banes with teeth to force them to the ground for easier targets. Kai displayed his long-honed Kailindo in his Glabro form and grasped the lashes meant deter him and turned them into his own weapons momentarily. The pair finished pummelling the sludgy bodies into pulp and returned to the material world in agreement, hoping they had stopped the defilement of the air.

Stepping sideways, Teardrop and Claws-Like-Oak-Spears emerged, holding the remains of a few Smog Banes in his hand. Recognizing Cole’s Rank, he bowed his head and asked, “Honorable Elder, why would Smog Banes be here, so far from the city? I do not understand.” Whatever answer Cole gave, it was drowned out by several Howls of distress—the entire caern must have been under assault, and the Guardians outmatched, to inspire such cries. Cole turned to Shera. “You and your pack will go and assist the defense of the caern. We will go track the source of these Banes.” Uncharacteristically quiet, Shera was still defiant. “You know I cannae,” she mumbled flatly. She knew it was wrong to tell him no—possibly even suicide—but by damn, Heir-of-the-Sun’s orders had come first, and those were the ones she was going to follow. Thus trapped between the orders of two elders, she deferred to the Warder. Blinding Rage suffused Cole’s face, and he grabbed Shera by the collar, hauling her an inch from his lengthening canines. Choking back his more homicidal impulses, his voice was still deadly: “You WILL take YOUR PACK and DEFEND the CAERN, or I will tear you apart so the Wyrm won’t have to!” He tossed her aside, and turned to leave, shifting to Crinos in order to lengthen his stride, and Teardrop followed, although he did not leave Glabro form. Despite his threats, Shera was still feeling the effects of Fenris’ Visage and Mother’s Touch, and so, out-of-touch with her Rage, she was disheartened and confused, and couldn’t muster the anger that should have been there to motivate her. She stood, motionless, wavering, and unable to bring herself to either follow Cole’s orders or defy them and follow him.

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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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Stave 1 Tyranny of the Bones Part 3
Taking out the trash with a smile.

Next Night – Moon Phase: Waning half

Once Anja was out of the immediate grasp of the Leeches, she was given to the care of other Silver Fang Kin. The Pack turned their attention back to the hospital lab, looking for a way in and to find out what the Ardus Wyrmmobile garbage truck was carting away, and where it was going. Joe’s explorations paid off, and the Pack had gotten to the loading dock at an absolutely inhuman hour in order to examine what had been set out for pickup. As they had expected, the containers held the green goo that was used in the holding tanks for the Flukemen. By the time the truck came sputtering along, spewing an almost comical amount of gas, oil, and pollution, about 5 minutes behind schedule, Shera was playing lookout on one end of the alley, Jason on the other, and Joe was the bum on the dock, hiding behind the bins that the poor bastards working for Ardus had to haul out.

As if his employer wasn’t bad enough, the first guy who stepped out of the truck was immediately marked by his hat—a fisherman’s hat, stocked with lures and hooks. Here was a man who, besides his crime of working for Ardus, tortured fish for fun. Lion’s wrath was immediate and evident. While Mr. Fisherman and his sidekick shouted at Joe to get off the dock and threatened to call security and the police, Jason and Shera sprang (well, Jason sprang, Shera accelerated) into action, and Mr. Fisherman got a 30-mile-an-hour clothesline courtesy of Shera’s motorcycle. Jason subdued the sidekick, and their unconscious bodies were piled in one corner.

The pack used the keycard on Mr. Fisherman’s person to open the extra storage bay, and were inundated with the scent of the Wyrm and biohazard signs everywhere. Clearly, dumping biohazard waste in a regular landfill was not a problem for Ardus, but this bore a little more exploration. Of particular interest were the crates in the back that held what looked like modified propane tanks; ever the subtle scientific type, Shera tossed one against the wall, where the pressurized ooze within promptly exploded, splattering her and Joe with acidic goo that the group recognized from their experience in the contrivance chamber that was the first lab. While she was able to keep her head, Shera had seen enough, and she immediately shifted to War Form, and began trashing everything there; security cameras, crates, biohazardous material—even the garbage truck did not escape her fury. Given that a garbage truck with huge claw marks through it was going to present the group with an unwelcome problem in terms of upholding the Litany, the group decided to burn the evidence. The exploding garbage truck quickly drew the attention of the authorities, but by then, the group were already inside the hospital and making their way down through a secret passageway into the hidden lab, dragging the unconscious bodies of “Mario” and “Luigi” with them.

Once down in the lab, the Pack found more tanks with nascent Flukemen in them, but quickly discovered that these were at a much earlier stage of incubation than the previous ones…for one thing, they still had bones in, and they still bled red—even if it was acid. Jason, Joe, and Shera made short work of them, but the situation once again nearly spun out of control when Joe found himself coated in acidic blood and vomit. It took Jason, acting his role as the Alpha, to help him steady on and not flee the battle in disgrace. Regrettably, evidence at the scene indicated that there were still more of these labs, numbering into the hundreds—Dr. Goode’s notes were full of excited scribblings about Lab 108, so the Pack certainly has their work cut out for them.

As for the Ardus men, no one is quite sure what happened to them. Shera was ready to kill them, especially Mr. FIsherman, but Joe argued that the Pack didn’t know for certain that he was a sport fisherman…so he was not necessarily breaking Lion’s ban. He could have been eating what he caught, Joe reasoned. With the authorities beginning to sweep the hospital, the Pack stepped sideways and fled, Shera saddling up to return to the Sept of Sweet Rock, and Joe and Jason returning to the Sept of the Green so that Joe could rest and heal the injuries he’d sustained.

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Stave 1 Tyranny of the Bones Part 2
Bribes. Blood Ties. Fiery, Liquor-Fueled Brawls. Enjoy your stay in New York.

One week later – Moon Phase: Waning half

A pack’s work is never done and the hunt is ever on. The core of the pack of Lion continues to seek purpose and scratch out their territory. Nose to the ground and ear to the wind.

Following up with some leads, Joe suspects Nico might have known more than he let on, and starts to wonder just where all of the gang-banger’s new assets might be coming from. Nico dismisses his friend’s inquiries with a cool business as usual feel that a Hun lieutenant might have used after taking a new village from some barbarian tribe. “More territory,” he went on, “means more recruits, who all bring in more tribute. And the more chicos that stick it out means more we got to make sure everyone sees the greatness of the Trinitarios.”

Once regrouped, the correspondences that One-Eye found at Lab 28 were reexamined, and then passed to Claws-Like-Oak-Spears. Appearing to indicate that some form of scheduled pickup by Ardus Enterprises had not occurred at Lab 28, and also at other locations such as Lab 23, causing backups and problems. The next pickup schedule indicated that in 3 more days on Monday Lab 23 was come due. The Moon Dancer Oak-Spears set his pack to consult with Mother Larissa yet again. While studied in the Mysteries, even she was not familiar with meaning of the strange language or the watermark in these documents. During their gathering, both Jason and Joe petitioned Mother Larrissa to assist them in learning new Gifts. Through short ceremony and Name the Spirit and Call the Spirit, a conference was called of Falcon’s brood. A veneration of Falcon to the Philodox granted him the Truth of Gaia. Further communion with the spirits of Kings long gone, channelled through the Silver Fang and called forth by the Pauper Queen granted the knowledge of City Running to Jason. Tasks yet before them all, Oak-Spears put his packmates to the task of rallying back at the Caern before Monday’s dawn.

Breaks-the-Maze-Walls remained preoccupied with rear-guard duties for the pack’s recent major outing. Covering her ass was something that was nearly second nature, but a whole new beast when covering for three people. Unfortunately for her, the task of masking such a Veil incursion was no mere beast, and monsters like this don’t sleep easily. With a Gift of Persuasion and attempting to act as the Voice of Reason, she coaxed out yet another bribe tribute from her Elder. A pair of Wyrm Scale talens were produced by Hundo Chunder before leaving the Caern’s bawn. In this way in the dead of the night, Shera secured the assistance of a Stuart Stalks-the-Truth, Fianna tribemate and local legend. With a few quips, a bartering of favors, and a warning about the twisted signs of Black Spiral Dancers, Shera left the Ragabash’s office with a sense of completion.

Claws-Like-Oak-Spears was not new to the concept of leadership or of family ties. The loss of his own mate and the tormenting disappearance his sister-in-law in recent days was burned solidly into his mind and eyes. The moon-dancer set about any contacts he could locate across the Sept to watching Kinfolk more closely. Anja’s death couldn’t be discounted from the realm of possibility. Damn the consequences, her captor would pay. The Glass Walker Galliard Feedback, visiting the Sept at the time, had been alerted and would be able to get out a search net on Anja and put some more digital eyes on local Kinfolk. However accustomed to taking charge as an Alpha, the urge to take on all the burden of the search-and-rescue only heated the already-boiling desire for vengeance. He took it upon himself to find the other site mentioned in the Doctor’s letters. He hadn’t expected that a boiling pot could be so quickly iced when he discovered that Lab 23 was a public hospital.

Entrusted by Claws-Like-Oak-Spears, the task of scouting and infiltration fell to the one most able to pass between the humans. Besides, Nico was always checking in on his subordinates at the ER there. He was pretty sure he could get what they needed. Stake-outs are easier when you’re used to not eating, so why couldn’t he be great at it, even if was a Trickster’s errand? Joe was even more surprised when his efforts bore fruit days more in advance than he could have hoped. The Wyrm Mobile Ardus Inc Disposal System truck came sputtering in early on Saturday morning after the dawn. A buzzing Truth Earring let Joe know that the humans here were just doing their damn jobs and giving a smoke and a lighter to a bum…packing away biohazard bags bound for whatever living hellhole landfills Ardus felt like tossing them in later. Though they didn’t seem to have picked up anything like what he saw back at Lab 28 in the Yonkers neighborhood, he wasn’t about to let the opportunity go to waste. Joe used the careless workers’ access point and mentally mapped the layout of storage, offices, and emergency access ports on the ground floor. Turns out, rent-a-cops overlook disfigured homeless men just as much as police and nurses do. When you already smell like puke and filth, it’s easy to move around unnoticed in the rest of it, even in the Weaver’s domain.

Feedback’s promise of a 2-hour response wasn’t able to be kept, but Saturday evening visited Jason’s phone with a Facebook post: Anja had been selfied and tagged in a local college bar. At Shakey’s, Nathan Tanfield sat over a book at the bar with Anja, going over the history of the 19th Century at a professorial level discussion, encircled by wild college frat boys, red plastic cups, fist bumps, Abercrumble & Fisch khakis, and backwards ball caps. A quick plan and Gnosis guiding the intents of the Alpha to the Pack, the trio entered the bar as if three individuals with separate intentions, yet tuned as a single living being. Joe’s scruffy anonymity and Scent of the True form, Jason’s silver tongue and aura of confidence, Shera’s stalking instinct and ready Rage: ingredients coordinated for an alley ambush. No mercy for the walking dead who corrupt Gaia’s own Kin. Her friend lured out to a midnight stroll for cool air after their drinks, Anja was left to stricken horror as her Nathan was shoved into an alley and made bloody war upon. While the preternatural speed of Nathan was at first tide-turning, Jason’s merciless pythons strangled what life was left from the fireball-toting corpse man. A grain-alcoholic, glass-filled spray of fire ruined Joe’s night, and made it the vampire’s last one. While late to the party, Shera’s hasty tear through the Gauntlet afforded her the ability to tear through manifested minor Banes.

Joe’s Metis-natured healing leaves him only Mauled after the fray, but is in no condition to continue the hunt for Lab 23’s Wyrm-servants so soon. Jason’s Rage and vengeance stand fulfilled with a new bloody trophy skull and fangs pulled from the tweed clothes. Shera stands on edge after missing the kill, but reveling in the Howl of the kill’s completion and kin’s safe return. Anja clings in place against the brick walls of the alley, white as the corpse they just slew and silent as the grave. Screams of a brawl, several bright explosions from an alleyway, a shattered liquor bottle, and the bellowing howl of Crinos in bloody glory.

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Stave 1 Tyranny of the Bones Part 1
Missing Kinfolk. Lightning spiders. Contrivance Chambers. Welcome to New York.

Prologue – The Furious Angels and the Prodigal Ahroun

After the death of Barb Tongue at her claws, Shera Breaks-the-Maze-Walls left her packmates to their grief and shock looking for Heath Cole Seeks-the-Spirals, elder Philodox and Truthcatcher for the Sept of Sweet Rock, to confess her crime and seek forgiveness, or perhaps redemption, in her own death. Moved by a seeming mixture of pity and outrage, the Philodox did not condemn her to death, as she expected, but rather to public censure, humiliation, and exile from the Sept as a non-entity for a full moon. One might call her lucky, and in some respect, that might be true, but really, if it weren’t for bad luck, Shera might be said not to have any at all—the Furious Angels, Fianna storytellers and performers, had been scheduled for some time to show up to the upcoming Moot. Now she could be sure that her Tribemates would spread word far and wide of her crime and lingering shame. It’s not that the fall from grace was unexpected or that it was unfair—true though it may have been that all of her pack members that had been present that day had some part of the burden of guilt to bear, try though she might to find someone else to blame for what had happened, it did not satisfy her conscience, and she would spend the following month drifting in and out of a black numbness, cold as winter.

As Shera began her time of banishment, Jason Claws-Like-Oak-Spears, fully recovered from the damage done to him by the pack’s last encounter with a Black Spiral Dancer, relieved One-Eye-Joe, pack Philodox and Bone Gnawer who had been Alpha since the challenge between Shera and Barb Tongue, of the position of Alpha and resumed his duties in that post. Joe was only too happy to relinquish the responsibility, and afterwards took leave of his pack to do work with the homeless and destitute in the City until needed, or until the next Moot. Marie Unweaves-the-Web, Glasswalker and pack Theurge, occupied herself with some super secret unspecified something, and was largely absent from the Caern, preferring to reside in the City proper with her Tribe.

As the next Full Moon drew near, the Caern prepared for the Moot. The Furious Angels had been in residence for the month, and were set to participate in the Moot as their farewell to the Sept. They oversaw Shera’s Rite of Contrition and re-integration into the Caern and wove tales of woe and glory to entertain and incite a Revelry that was no less sorely needed than it had been the month before. Afterwards, Shera took time away from the Sept to join her Tribe for further “re-education”, while Joe and Jason resumed their former activities.

One week later – Moon Phase: Waning half

A confluence of events set Joe and Jason on the same path. Joe’s ally in the Trinitarios gang, Nico, informed him that several gang members have gone missing in one area of town, and asked Joe to find out more about what was going on. Jason’s Kinfolk Anja was also missing, making this issue not only personal to him, but a potentially larger and more direct threat to Tribe and Nation. Was the same person or group behind all of these disappearances? If so, were they aware of Anja’s status as Kinfolk or what it meant? Could they have been targeting her because of her status as Kin? The Galliard and Philodox went to the City to get some answers, and Mother Larissa was good enough to open the Moonbridge so that they could collect Shera and return to the City to investigate further, so long as they “brought treats” when they returned. It is hard to say whether it was his Metis nature, or if perhaps there were some other reason for his forgetfulness, but Joe failed to relate this rather critical requirement to any of his packmates until they had returned across the Moonbridge and Shera had already parked her bike nearby. Fortunately for everyone involved (but for the fact that she would no longer have it, and possibly how her Tribal Elder might take it if he found out), Shera had managed to pilfer a draught of Oberon’s Brew from Riordan Cliffgrazer while she was with her Tribe. Having nothing better to offer (though that was no mean gift), the Ahroun grumpily handed it over to her Bone Gnawer packmate with a stiff warning NOT to drink it, as she “dinna have the antidote”. Mother Larissa, unsurprisingly, knew exactly what was in the flask without so much as unscrewing the lid, and took the chiminage approvingly. She also knew exactly where the pack needed to go to find the answers to the mystery of the missing gangbangers and Kinfolk (before you ask, Mother Larissa knows everything—I think she knew God when He was a boy).

After thanking Mother Larissa and leaving the Sept of the Green, the pack made their way down to the area of town that she had specified. It was run down and poor, and gangs warred over that turf regularly…until recently. When knocking on the door of the house in question produced no occupants, Jason took a peek across the Gauntlet while Joe went around back to take a closer look at the rest of the place. Joe found a backyard that was surprisingly high-tech and clean, and Jason saw a place that was solidified with the Weaver’s strands, little high-voltage spiders skittering around everywhere. It was clear that they needed to get inside, and so Shera, putting her formative years to good use, picked the lock on the door and they went in.

The house was what one might call ‘selectively dusty’ on the inside—that is, it had the impression of being long abandoned at first glance, but if one knew where to look, the signs that people were around frequently were very apparent. After a glimpse around the attic yielded only human waste and other charming odors, the pack attempted to open a locked door inside the house—only to discover that it was aluminum and locked with something a little more technically complex than Shera could handle. While she fumed about it, her Alpha did what Garou do best, and applied sheer muscle and mass to the door, which was not constructed to withstand such an application. (It had this in common with most doors, although given what was within, this was a dire and surprising oversight on the part of the builder.)

As soon as the group entered, Shera could feel the presence of the Wyrm pulsating from within the chamber, a Song whose strains she still knew by heart and, as a musician can identify his work on hearing even the faintest single note, she would always be able to hear. To say her packmates had no idea would be to do them an injustice, as Garou are wont to attribute most things to the Wyrm, but her abrupt shift to War Form left in no doubt what she did not say. Aware of her Rage and distress, her Alpha nonetheless was in complete command of the situation, taking pictures and evidence before she destroyed it in an effort to purge the evil they all felt nearby. As the destruction (and appropriation) reached a high point, the pack was ambushed by creatures that might have once been human, but bore little resemblance to that now. Fleshy rubber (or rubbery flesh?) ensnared Joe and Jason, blinding and choking them. Shera was able to get the better of her would-be captors, rending them to ribbons, but she lost control of herself to the flow of Rage, and although she did not fall into the Thrall of the Wyrm, her inability to do anything more than direct her violence against enemies rather than allies meant she had little success in helping her packmates escape their bondage. Their change into Crinos also did nothing to free them immediately, but liberal application of tooth and claw was decidedly effective. Their enemies routed, Shera collapsed, overcome with Rage. Jason and Joe collected the evidence they had found, including whole human bones, letters from a Dr. Goode to a Mr. Stopheles, and gold and silver nuggets.

The trio departed once Shera had recovered herself, shifting into the Umbra so that they could depart unseen—a trove of human bones and a pair of living, naked humans was just more than any of them cared to try to explain. They had enough to explain as it was, but Shera said she had a story in mind and was going to check in with a friend about pulling it off. Once back at her motorcycle, she was able to clothe herself with a spare set she always carried in the saddlebags (she learned early in her Garou life that being a ball of Rage meant that she lost more clothes than she cared to admit, and having an extra set was generally a good idea). Joe was somewhat less prepared in that regard, but the Sept of the Green was close, and Mother Larissa was sure to have something somewhere, anyway, even if only a blanket, and would certainly want to know what they had discovered.

Shera knew that the pack had probably been observed breaking in to the house, and they had not been seen leaving, so the possibility that someone was going to (or already did) call the police was good. There was also the gory mess to be explained. She decided to call on her Tribemate, Stuart Stalks-the-Truth, to help her fabricate a cover story that went something like “A group of young PETA activists had heard about such-and-such gang house where they were breeding and fighting dogs, and went to confront the breeders and (if possible) rescue the dogs. The rescue of the dogs proved too late, as the winners had been sold, the losers were left to die, and the breeders had somehow heard that they were coming or were just not there when the group arrived.” While willing to help, Stuart seemed less than able, given that he was dealing with other issues, both personally and professionally. He suggested that he could scratch her back if she scratched his, but warned her against involving PETA or their name in her cover story unless PETA stood to gain from it; Stuart described PETA as a good ally and didn’t want to strain their relationship with the Garou Nation. He suggested he might be able to help her more if she could provide him with a little extra power. She took his phone number, shook his hand, and walked out of his office wondering how the hell she was going to pull this one off.

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