Timeline: August 28, 2007
The bus had barely given her time to step clear before it drove away, leaving the strawberry blonde standing at a lonely bus stop in what appeared to be only the distant outskirts of a small town. The sun hung low in the skin but shone brightly into the enclosed glass waiting area for the bus stop, revealing a set of tourist pamphlets standing on a hanging rack. One had a little map of the area and a description of local attractions. It only took one look for Rey to realize this out-of-the-way little town was something of a remote getaway, a place hikers and nature lovers retreated to in order find a little peace.
The last of her money was spent on a bus ticket that would take her as far as possible from New York. She’d thought she might make it Canada. No such luck.
A glance at the little map in the pamphlet showed her that this place was just a shopping area and place to get gas and other immediate needs. There was a motel here, too, for motorists. But the town itself was nestled further away, in the cradling arms of the Appalachian Mountains. At the far side of town were cabins (as if she could afford to stay in them). More importantly, there seemed to be camping areas, too. With luck, perhaps a lot of luck, she might find some kind of employment and a rent a room somewhere.
There really was nothing to do but to start walking, so after shouldering her pack, she did exactly that.
Rey figured she’d made it almost a quarter mile when she saw something out of the corner of her eye.
When she looked, she saw a wolf. A cold feeling immediately shivered its way down her spine at seeing this large lupine simply sitting there silently watching her. It coloring was unique, she noticed, with reddish brown down her back and a grey pelt. “Her” seemed the appropriate pronoun, though of course Rey couldn’t be certain without a close look. The animal was sitting with serene calm at the side of the road watching her with eyes that looked frighteningly cunning for a mere animal.
Any fan of nature shows could have known that wolves in the wild were extremely shy creatures. To see one so calmly sitting by the road like that was unnerving.
The wolf licked her chops and cocked her head curiously.
Maybe the wolf would eat her. That was an almost comforting thought. It would certainly end the pain she was carrying around deep inside. But instinct won over, and Rey concentrated for a moment on the ritual that would allow her to see spirits, and then Looked at the wolf.
Her sight, in the matter of finding spirits, had always been extremely reliable. The fact that she hadn’t noticed it the moment she looked at the wolf showed her shock and surprise at seeing it here. However, now that she had calmed her mind and senses somewhat, she detected the next shock. The wolf was clearly as much flesh as it was spirit. This was no ordinary animal at all.
In fact, it reminded her Hamilton.
Rey just stared at the she-wolf for a moment as she swallowed down the lump of pain that had stuck in her throat. “Hello,” she said, feeling a bit more in control of her emotions. If the wolf had planned to harm her, she wouldn’t be just sitting there. Unless it was playing with her. “Did you want to talk to me about something?”
The wolf trotted over to her with an excited yip and then proceeded to jump on Rey!
Rey hit the ground with the wolf right on top of her. For a scary moment, she might have thought the wolf would have bitten her face off, but instead, it was simply smothered by a big, wet tongue.
She continued to lay there, trying not to flinch. “Listen, are you someone’s familiar? Because your spirit aura looks a lot like my cat Ham…” Rey scrunched her eyes shut and fought back a sob, but was unable to keep the tears from streaming down her face. She turned her face away, not caring that it exposed her throat to the wolf.
Rey felt the weight shift as the wolf got off of her.
Rey opened her eyes again and looked to see what was going on. The wolf was trotting away into the woods to the north northeast. As she watched it quickly moved through the brush and was lost from sight. The grieved witched sat there a moment, sniffling for a bit, then she got up, dusted herself off, and continued into town.
It wasn’t terribly far, but further than she might have expected. From the main highway itself, the heart and real community of Eldon Well was a good five miles away. Still, after an otherwise peaceful walk in perfect weather, Rey was entering what appeared to be housing areas. From her perspective, the town’s layout seemed to be made up of a number of winding streets that at times followed the contour of the hilly land and at other times cut right through it. It provided the illusion of many old-style homes huddled together like a family around a winter fireplace. The aged homes were well kept and their brick and stone construction (it varied from building to building) certainly withstood the test of time.
Trees and other plant life were abundant. The way to town had the feel of a national park or other special place in which its original character had been preserved. As Rey crossed into the town itself, it had a very well-kept and cared for feel to it. Large trees stood in many yards, indicating that they had been well managed for generations.
Soon Rey was treated to cobblestone sidewalks that traced their way along either side of the street. Posted signs indicated directions and street names for important buildings such as a post office, city hall, a museum, and rental cabins. These were hidden further into town. The first actual non-residence building Rey saw looked like an old shop that was currently closed. But someone had placed an old-fashioned rocking chair just in front of it as well as a wooden bench.
A woman was relaxing in the rocking chair. At first, she Rey didn’t recognize her. She wore a simple ragged-looking tee that was tied in front and revealed a flat, well-toned belly. She also wore jean cutoffs that had unraveled far enough that they probably should be replaced. She wore not boot or shoe, but was barefoot. And, given the bronzy tan of her skin, she’d spent a good deal of time outdoors this long, hot summer.
The woman raised her face toward Rey as she approached and then recognition immediately followed. It was Lyla Clairborne! Her hair was shorter now, barely reaching her shoulders in an almost tom-boyish look, and Rey couldn’t remember a time when Lyla had ever managed a decent tan — she had always been careful to protect her normally pale skin from the sun. Nor had she known her old friend to ever go barefoot.
But then Rey noticed something else that made her think this was not her friend at all. Someone who looked like Lyla perhaps, but she knew this was impossible! The woman in that chair, who was even now beginning to give her a strange smile, was as much spirit as she was flesh and blood! This woman, whatever she was, was no more human than… than Cherise was! The woman’s eyes settled on Honoré and the traveling witch felt a strange chill come over her.
“Rey.” She spoke softly, yet there was a strangeness to that tranquility. It was like the stillness before a storm or an earthquake. There was energy there, power that Rey could detect as a spiritual energy, something that existed just beyond the physical world.
“Rey.” The woman repeated. The sound focused the witch’s attention again. “It’s good to see you again, Rey.”
Rey shook her head, and tears started to roll down her face. “No, you can’t be Lyla. You wear her face, but…” She started to shake, and she felt like she was starting to lose her grip on everything. The horror of what she had witnessed back in New York finally overwhelming her. “Lyla died. She had to have, after the fight with the Dark Man.” Her words were nearly incomprehensible now through the sobs. “She’d have found me afterwards, if she were alive. She and Ramiel would never have abandoned me. Never left me alone. They’re dead. Everyone I’ve loved is dead, or worse. They’re dead. Hamilton’s dead, died protecting me from Frank, and he’s worse than dead.”
She fell to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably.
Lyla stood up, moving carefully and slowly as if attempting not to startle Rey. “We thought you were dead, Rey. I don’t know what happened to you in New York, but I do know the whole team split up after that. We thought it was over. We thought the Dark Man was dead. We were wrong. We were very wrong. He’s back and a lot has changed. But not everything.”
Lyla had walked carefully toward Rey as she spoke. Feet toughened over the summer didn’t flinch when they touched the warm, but sharp-edged cobblestone as she approached Rey. When Rey managed to get hold of herself and look up, she saw Lyla was kneeling next to her, arms out as if to embrace her. But Lyla seemed unsure if Rey would panic should she try to give her a hug. Lyla cocked her head questioningly in an oddly familiar gesture.
Rey hesitated for only a moment before flinging herself into Lyla’s embrace. She started to cry again, but this time, it was relief and happiness. Her arms wrapped around Lyla tightly, as if afraid that if she let go, Lyla would disappear from her life again. “I missed you so much.”
Lyla held her quietly, giving Rey time to work out the shock. “It has to be fate,” Lyla said quietly. “That you found us here of all the places in the world, it has to be fate.”
When Rey had calmed, Lyla released her. She smiled. “Ramiel is going to be thrilled to see you’re alive and that you’ve found us again. Come on.” Lyla lifted herself to her feet, and gave Rey a hand up, too. “He’s at a friend’s house right now, but it’s getting close to time for supper so it’s a good time to catch him.”
She looped an arm around one of Rey’s and led her on into the town.
Rey sniffled. “I don’t know if it was fate, but Eldon Well was the furthest away from New York as I could afford. I’m completely broke.” She gave a weak smile. “Worse off than when I found you guys the first time.” She looked around at the town to check out her new surroundings.
The hedge witch felt strange. Scared of Lyla, yet safe in her presence like before. Emotionally exhausted. Maybe that’s why she felt like there were hundreds of eyes watching her, just out of sight. There was something about this town that was… No, she was just imagining things.
As they walked, Lyla slowed. “You know? On second thought maybe that’s not such a good idea. Ramiel and I… we’ve had some rough times. Things are better now but it might be a good idea just to wait for him at the house. That would give me a chance to put on something more presentable, too.” She stopped and looked cautiously at Rey. “Except that the house is a little on the haunted side. And a lot of it is still having work done on it. Is that okay? ‘Cuz if you’d be more comfortable, I can get you a cabin, instead. Ghost-free.”
“The ghosts there won’t try to possess me, and make my head spin 360 and spew pea soup, will they?” Rey asked, her smile getting a bit stronger. “Or peeping toms? Because it’d be really nice to be able to get cleaned up, even if it’s a quick wash with a face cloth. I’ve been in the same clothes for a couple of days.” Her smile faded slightly. “To be honest, the condition of the house doesn’t really matter to me, as long as it’s got four walls and I won’t get rained on. I just want to be near friends again. And a couple of ghosts are nothing compared to what I’ve been through in the past week.”
“You’ll have to tell us what happened as soon as Ramiel gets back. And the ghosts really are no trouble unless you’re trying to sleep and she wants to play,” Lyla said. “There is a door that leads to a cave, though. It’s very… well bad things happened there. The pack has been trying to make sure no bad spirits have taken to hiding down there, but if you’d rather be safe than sorry, you might want to steer clear of that place.”
When they arrived at Ramiel’s “house”, Rey could see that word was rather inadequate for the decrepit resort. It was certainly old, and there was a lot of work that had been done on it, and much more was still going on, but it was huge. Lyla led her right inside and showed her the few serviceable rooms. That included the entryway, kitchen, several bedrooms (she didn’t show Rey those, except for her own) and a couple baths that had been completely remodeled.
“Ramiel’s been working with that — ” Lyla cut herself off. “I don’t really know what you call her. Lots of books, I would guess, but I don’t really know. Anyway, Ramiel is with her all day, every day so John, my friends, and I have done a lot of the remodeling work ourselves. Well, a whole lot more them than me because I’ve been very busy most days, too. Ramiel lets them stay here if they feel like it and also gives them access to the cavern. Er, which I wouldn’t recommend you spend much time around just yet. We’re still working on making it safe, though there has been some debate as to whether it should be made safe or not.”
As Rey opened her mouth to ask a question, they heard the heavy front door open and close.
“Would that be Ramiel, or one of your…” Rey’s eyes widened as what Lyla had just told her clicked in her head. “Was that you who nearly licked me to death on the road outside of town?”
Lyla wore a half-smile. “Why, do you enjoy a good licking?”
Ramiel followed the sounds of voices to Lyla’s room where he could see her standing next to someone familiar. He hurried into the room and picked Rey up, spun her around and set her back down. “It’s good to see you Rey.”
As soon as Rey was on the ground, she half stumbled backwards towards the door, momentary panic covering her face. When she saw it was Ramiel, she visibly relaxed. “It’s good to see you too, Ramiel.”
Ramiel had filled out some on the muscle department, and his skin had bronzed as well. His hair was still as long as ever, though his hair had managed to get even paler in the summer sun. The most noticable difference in him was the jewelry that he wore. Two bracers, one on each wrist, of woven leather and an ornament in them. One was a gold key, the other a pentacle made of steele. His ears were now pearced, with a clip on the upper part of each ear, they too were fastened through the ear. One was black stone, onyx with a strange pattern made of Amethyst. The other was made of silver with what appeared to be a tiny watch battery in it. His right hand was adorned by a silver ring, with deep blue stone embedded into it in a strange pattern as well, if looked at closer it resembles an equation of some sort made uo of unidentifiable symbols.
“We thought you were dead. How have you been. Oh!” he said suddenly taking in the full veiw of her. “I am being rude. You look like you are tired, and maybe even hungry? Would you like some time to get cleaned up while I make dinner?”
Rey took in everything about Ramiel, but didn’t know quite what to make of it. She decided to worry about it later. “I’m not that hungry,” she admitted, “but I’d love a nice hot shower. Alone.” A little smile curved her lips, expecting Ramiel to make an offer. It felt good to be back with her friends.
Ramiel returned her smile, but did not offer the advance she was no doubt expecting. He motioned toward the door. “Follow me. The shower in my room is the largest in the house. You will have complete privacy there. Trust me, it is why I chose that room, that and it is one of the largest.” He led her down the hall from Lyla’s room to the next closest one. There is unlocked his door and led her to the bathroom. he went to the large open bathroom closet and retrieved a fresh towel and wash cloth, as well as a tray of soaps. He placed the tray of soaps inside the large walk in shower, and hung the towel outside on a hook.” I think Lyla will have some clothes for you when you are ready. If you like the door does have a lock on it. I will be preparing dinner, so when you are done come on down to the dinning area.
“Thanks, Ramiel,” Rey said with a smile. “I may be broke, but I did remember to bring clothes with me when I ran this time.”
“They can be cleaned if needed, and you’re welcome. I will wait for you in the kitchen then.” He excused himself, glancing at Lyla on the way out so she knew he acknowledged her presence.
Rey arrived in the kitchen about half an hour later looking much better than she had when she arrived at Ramiel’s house. It was immediately apparent to Ramiel and Lyla that in their time apart from Rey, she’d become more self-confident, especially about her appearance. Her still slightly damp hair from her shower fell around her face and neck in a simple yet stylish cut. She now wore small gold hoops in her ears, and the faintest hint of eyeliner on her lids intensified the green of her hazel eyes. Around her neck on a red silk cord was a glass bead the size of a quarter and about twice as thick that looked like a stylized eye.
Ramiel and Lyla could also see she’d put on some weight, but it was all where it was supposed to go on a young woman who’s finally filling out. And her clothes showed it off to perfection. Rey wore a tight, white vee-necked stretch t-shirt with a logo for JoJo’s Diner just above her left breast. Her jeans rode low and hugged her hips closely, and between them was a narrow strip of taught, flat belly, adorned with a belly button ring whose tiny crystals sparkled with the light hit them just right. On her feet were a pair of good quality, if worn shoes.
Ramiel took the sight of her in, and smiled. “You look better.” He placed plates of meat, cheese and all the sandwich fixings on the bar. “Just in case you have changed you mind about food. And if this is too much there is veggies in the fridge. “Though he did not voice it, his eyes let her know how pleasing her change of appearance was to him.”
“Thanks,” Rey answered, meeting his eyes and smiling. “A couple months of eating properly and sleeping in a real bed can do that for a girl.” It was probably at that moment Ramiel realized that Rey’s ever present ritual bag was nowhere to be seen.
“Many things have changed for you, within in perhaps as well. Where has my little one gone I wonder? Tell me what has happened with you over the last year?” He poured a couple glasses of wine and handed one to Rey, keeping the other for himself.
With the other activity in the house, both corporeal and incorporeal, they didn’t notice of the sound of the front door opening and closing again. But the soft footsteps coming down the hall made the three of them look up to see who it was.
Chaska’s dark shape filled the door to the hallway only briefly. He was immediately recognizeable. His long, dark, straight hair fell over his dark colored shoulders. What he was wearing was simplicity itself. His leather vest looked like it was made by Chaska himself and that with his old blue jeans gave him a very odd indian-cowboy look. If it were not for his somber demeanor one would easily mistake him for a roughneck.
Lyla, of course, could recognize his scent and found comfort in it. Rey and Ramiel found no comfort in Chaska’s presence. It was the same uneasiness they got with Lyla but at least Lyla threw them off of that feeling by interacting with them. Chaska was quiet and kept to himself which made the uneasy feeling the others got when around him even worse.
But the feeling was fleeting as Chaska glanced into the room but did not break stride. His piercing black eyes took in what he needed to know and registered it somewhere in his own quiet mind. Even though he hadn’t seen Rey in quite some time he flashed a hint of recognition just before his figure dissappeared past the door frame. He was headed to the cave.
“I wasn’t that little,” Rey said. She took a tiny sip of the wine, and set it on the bar in front of her. She sat on one of the stools and started to put together a sandwich.
“After that fight with the Dark Man, I woke up, half buried beneath a dumpster. There were blood stains all over the place, and I ran. I went back to where we’d said we’d meet, but you didn’t show. I waited there for three weeks, and when you still didn’t show up… Well, I moved on out east. I eventually ended up back near New York, in a little town about an hour’s drive away. I managed to convince the owner of a diner to give me a job for a couple days when I heard one of their waitresses was off because she twisted her knee. A couple weeks later, when she came back, JoJo, the owner of the diner, kept me on. Said business had picked up shortly after I arrived, and being the superstitious guy he was, didn’t want to mess with a good thing.
“About two weeks later, I met Frank. He was really nice, a freshman at NYU. We started hanging out, and one thing led to another and we were dating. He was so patient with me, you know?” Rey smiled slightly at the memory. “We didn’t even kiss properly until we’d been going out for three months. Shortly after that, I realized I loved him and thought he might be the one. But then he started to change. He’d brush off our usual Thursday night bad movie marathon. He grew distant, and stopped returning my calls.”
Rey went on to describe the changes in Frank, and the horror of that final betrayal, her voice cold and distant. “He’d been taken by a vampire named Cherise. Turned into a ghoul. I don’t know how, but she found out I was a hedge witch, and told Frank to bring me to her.” She described what Cherise had done to her in that underground room. “But Hamilton managed to find me.” Her face was pale, and her eyes filled with tears. “And then he sacrificed himself so I could escape.” She hugged herself tightly, the sandwich and wine in front of her forgotten. “That was two days ago. I don’t know how I got back to my apartment, but I grabbed my backpack and ritual bag and ran.”
Lyla gave Rey a curious look, then stared at point in space that seemed to have no correlation to any point in the room. When she returned her attention to Rey, she said, “Hamilton is not far, Rey. He’s not gone.” She looked absently away to the place Chaska had gone.
Rey sensed the presence of someone else like Lyla walk by, but Lyla’s comments about Hamilton were of greater importance to her right now. “What do you mean, he’s not gone?” The faintest traces of hope started to fill her.
Lyla looked at Rey with eyes that seemed unfocused, or perhaps looked through Rey. “I see him. He is resting, though he is not in this world, but rather the next. He’s near your shadow in the otherworld, because you sustain him.”
She then looked more sharply and focused on Rey. “You know, if he didn’t have to chase you across New England, he would recover a little faster. I also know a place that’s very good for spirits like him to recover so he didn’t have to shadow you everywhere. If you like I could arrange it for him.”
Ramiel busied himself cleaning up, listening and watching in silence.
“He didn’t tell me any of that, about what would happen if he was killed.” Rey frowned and felt pangs of guilt. “Probably because I didn’t ask.” She looked at Lyla. “Would you help him, please? If it won’t get you in trouble.” She paused for a moment. “My knowing what you are won’t be a problem, will it? I can’t help but see it.”
“I don’t know,” Lyla said. “I’ll have to ask and see.” As she headed out, she said, “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Lyla looked for Chaska in his favorite place for quiet meditation. She knew he’d sense her arrival, but she announced herself anyway. “Chaska? We have a bit of a problem.”
She sat down like he was seated; cross-legged on the floor of the cavern. Light was provided by candles now that the sun had set at last. “You remember Honoré, don’t you? She seems to be able to detect what we are. I remember that she can see spirits, so she probably sees our own werewolf spirit side to some degree. I’m not sure how Ironclaw wants to handle it, but she knows about us now. I know it’s against the Oath to let any of the Herd know about us, but since she found out for herself I think that merits consideration.” Lyla left out the fact that she purposely made it obvious for Honoré to figure it out. The pack already knew she tended to stretch the rules of the Oath of the Moon rather far.
“Anyway, what I wanted to ask was if you’d like to help me catch a little cat spirit. It’s Rey’s familiar, Hamilton. He got his materialized form whacked protecting her from a vampire, but I spotted him resting in Shadow. I thought that he might recover faster if we were able to show him it was safe to rest at the Cavern Locus. He’ll recover faster and I know Rey misses him. I wanted to do something nice for her.”
Chaska had known who it was before she started to speak. There was a time when he would have killed to hear her voice but things had changed now and even though he knew Lyla was also aware of the change between them he would not be the one to voice it. Even so, he still liked the sound of her voice and was yet comforted from time to time to think of her as a pack mate.
He listened to Lyla’s request and knew that she wasn’t actually asking him because he knew that she knew he would help her. That was a little frustrating. But still he knew that this posed some threat. No, maybe that wasn’t the right description. Ironclaw had reinforced time and time again how important it was to keep their identities as werewolves a secret even to those that hunted the Dark Man. He knew this was an impossibility in the long run. Ramiel had apparently been let in on the secret even before Lyla’s first turning. He wasn’t sure how they could expect both he and Lyla to keep it from the others when their bond was almost as strong in some ways as the bond between Lyla and Chaska and their new pack. The problem was, he knew, that this was just another push towards the inevitable being in such close proximity to the others. Had Lyla taken Ironclaw’s warning seriously then this conversation wouldn’t even have started.
Chaska resigned himself to helping Lyla but kept enough back to think of his pack. “Ironclaw may not see it the way you see it, Lyla. He has been very adament about keeping our other lives a secret. If Honoré figured it out on her own then there isn’t much we can do about that but I’m not sure that using our powers to then turn around and help Honoré is what the pack had in mind.”
Chaska paused as if thinking on something. “But… Well I suppose you and I have both given it some thought. I’m not sure how we can keep it hidden when we have our pack and our friends all under the same roof. If Ramiel were to request this assistance from Ironclaw we may be able to accomplish the task without stepping on anyone’s sensibilities.”
“Honestly, I think of our immediate friends as almost-pack,” Lyla said. “They are weaker than we, and need protection sometimes, too. On the other hand, we can’t allow them to let slip that we exist to anyone else. I don’t think Ramiel would and I don’t think that Rey would, either. Not willingly. Still, I’m prepared to take permanent action if the pack is threatened by any one of our allies betraying our trust. The pack comes first. But to avoid this needless violence, I think we are going to have explain to them why it is so important to keep our real natures secret if they don’t already understand. We have to do it even if it violates the Oath, because to not do it will ultimately violate even more important Oaths.”
She reached out and took his hand. “Come on. Let’s round up Rey’s wayward little familiar. Then maybe you can help me speak to her about what she’s discovered and what it means. Also, I think you’ll find that she could be a powerful and useful asset to the pack if we treat her right. I think she has abilities even James will find impressive.” Ever since Lyla had won dominance over Rose (just a few weeks ago), she’d taken to using Ironclaw’s first name. Ironclaw had let her, and she seemed to have taken it as a special privilege won as part of her new position.
Chaska thought for a moment. He knew that they would talk to Ironclaw afterwards and he knew that Lyla would be the one to convince him that they had to “extend” the pack under these circumstances. “Very well, Lyla. Let us retrieve this spirit but we need to talk to Ironclaw and soon about all of this. Just give me a few moments to prepare.”
Chaska and Lyla went to the place within the cavern in which the sacrifices occurred so long ago. The stone itself was infused with highly charged emotional essence and it was there the Gauntlet wore thin enough for the werewolves step into the Shadow Realm, home of all spirits.
There, Lyla and Chaska were always shown to be exactly as they were; Uratha! Silver brands marked them as powerful werewolves worthy of respect and even fear, and identified them as watchers of the borders, guardians of the fleshly world against spirit interlopers. This part of Shadow mirrored the pack’s territory and had been well patrolled, groomed of unwanted or destructive spirits. Under Grey Spiritwalker’s and James Ironclaw’s leadership, the pack had slowly been shaping their territory in Shadow to an image more to the pack’s liking. And as Shadow and the physical world were connected, so too would their shaping influence their territory in reality.
Finding the injured, diminutive spirit of Hamilton was not difficult. Chaska and Lyla were able to quickly hunt him down. The little fellow’s initial fear was soon enough overcome when they took their human forms, and he nervously accepted their invitation to stay near the locus, after being reassured that Rey was not far away. After that, Hamilton happily feasted upon the free essence available there, after discovering the resonance of the essence there not so difficult to palate. It nourished him and allowed the healing process to truly being in earnest.
Then Lyla and Chaska returned from their short, otherworldly trip and headed back upstairs to tell Rey it was done.
When the two werewolves arrived, they found that Ramiel and Rey had been joined by John who had recently returned from his work with the local physician.
Lyla smiled a greeting toward John. For Rey, she said, “It’s done. Hamilton is resting comfortably.”
Ramiel looked up from what he was doing long enough to acknowledge the presence of the two, giving them a nod and a smile. Then returned to his cleaning.
Rey smiled in relief. “Thank you.” She even extended her smile to Chaska, and gave no indication that she could see his connection to shadow. “Hello, Chaska. Good to see you again.”
“It is good to see you again as well, Honoré. I am glad we could be of some help to you.”
The sound of the front door opening, followed by a loud voice saying. “Ramiel, I’m home. Mrs. Honeywell sent over more cookies and there is some sort of Dance at the school this weekend. I got stopped three times on the way home by the town ladies wanting to make sure that we knew we are invit… oh I didn’t know we had compan–“
In a voice suddenly as soft as a whisper John said, “Honoré?!!! We thought you were dead my Lord how did you get here?” Pulling himself together, and with a big smile spreading across his face, as quick as a mountain stream John said “Welcome, welcome and three times welcome, it’s good to see you again.” A look of panic quickly replaced his grin and he said, “I stink I will be back soon!” And with that John quickly left nodding at Chaska and Lyla as he went.
Lyla looked as surprised by John as the rest. She smiled widely as she explained, “John works with the town doctor and stays here, too.”
Ramiel seemed to be lost in his thoughts as he stared out the window.
“How many people are living here?” Rey asked.
“Let’s see. Four on a regular basis,” Lyla said, “with a half dozen more off and on, but you may never see them.”
John quickly showered. He never really felt clean after leaving the hospital; he always felt like there was blood still on him, some spot of blood he missed washing and the smell of chemicals and sweat but a hot shower always put him right. John had missed talking herbs with Honoré. She was good people. Quickly changing clothes John went back to look for the others, he had so many questions burning in his brain.
John heard the murmur of voices and strode into the room and said “So the lost have been found, are we going to slaughter a fat calf or does everyone want to go out to eat? Should we call Micheal and Daniel with the good new? How long are you staying? You look tired. Have you been getting right? I should shut up now and let you answer shouldn’t I?”
Rey couldn’t help but smile at the flurry of questions. “I have a sandwich,” she said, pointing at her plate. Her sandwich had a single bite taken out of it. “I don’t know how long I’m staying. Yes, I am tired, and I’ve been eating properly for the past six months.”
“I can tell you have been taking care of yourself by the luscious way you have filled out.” Ramiel smiled a great big cheshire cat grin.
“Ramiel let her catch her breath before you start teasing,” John put in. “You have bagged your limit… I don’t think the catch and release rules apply. I am glad you found us. Welcome Home. So what have you been up to?”
As the group had migrated to the kitchen, Lyla decided it was time to get busy with some food. She went to the fridge and pulled out some meat wrapped in white paper, some onions (diced, left over from the night before), and a large can of mushrooms. Then she grabbed a pan off the wall, turned up the flame on the gas stove and started tossing together a quick but satisfying meal.
“Steak anyone?” she asked. Unlike most of the other members of the pack more in tune with their “inner wolf”, Lyla still preferred her steak the way she’d always had it — medium rare. And, although Rey had never seen it before, she had taken to cooking for herself and anyone else who happened to be around this summer. She seemed to be frequently hungry, hitting about four meals a day instead of a more average three. John, who had been around the house during the day more often than Ramiel, had noticed that both Lyla and Chaska did seem to eat a lot and frequently, yet never gained a pound.
“No thanks,” Rey replied, unsure if she’d even be able to finish her sandwich. She turned her attention back to John. “I’m glad to have found you guys again. After we… parted ways, I wandered for a couple of months, then ended up in a small town just outside New York City. A couple weeks work turned into a full time job for six months. I met a guy.” Her smile was tinged with pain and sadness. “I sat helplessly by, watching him become a ghoul, and then he served me up to his vampire master. Hamilton found me and helped me escape, but got killed doing it.”
Rey’s smile grew stronger. “That naughty little kitty didn’t tell me that if his body was killed, he’d retreat to Shadow until he was healed and then return to me. Anyway, after I escaped from the vampire, I grabbed what I could carry and ran. I used the last of my cash to buy a bus ticket to get me as far from NYC as possible, which was Eldon Well.”
Ramiel said, “Lyla knows all about being turned into a ghoul, well at least being served up as one. She was taken by a Vampire too, and it nearly got some of us killed. Guess it made some of us wealthy too in the end. I’m sorry to hear about it though Rey, and I won’t push about it either.
“All I want to say on the matter is that whatever this guy did once he was taken by the vampire, well from what I can calculate on it, it was not so much him anymore. They do something to them that makes them a slave for all purposes.” Seeing the look he was getting from everyone, the same glazed look they had been getting when he started talking of calculating and bigger pictures he restated everthing. “I hope you have found, or can find, peace over things. If you need anything let me know, okay?”
John frowned a little and said, “Hey I keep telling you and telling you guys. I haven’t touched a dime of that money. I had Daniel put it in trust for all of us as a nest egg in case we ever needed it. It would have only given up about ten thousand each anyway but soon it should be giving us dividends, enough to live on if every thing goes sour. But seriously, Vampires are no fun at all. If I never see one again it will be too soon. It’s funny though how none of us ever really heard of one and now all of a sudden we all have our own encounter miles apart. Its like fate is keeping us together or something, weird huh. I am surprised that you don’t hear more about them. Its like there is some conspiracy or something, keeping stuff about them out of the news. Any way its like Ramiel said, you need something you let us know.
“I’ll have that steak now, Lyla.”
Lyla laughed at John’s apprehension but there was anger behind the sound of her voice. “You are sure sensitive about it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; I don’t give a damn what happens to those two jerks. Vampires or not, they deserve what they get.”
She turned her attention to the steaks. Hers was done enough, but she was cooking John’s to medium so it was taking longer. She added some seasonings to his absently.
Ramiel eyes were trained on Lyla. “You need to come to terms love, with whatever your issue with them is. John is defensive because he perhaps doubts his actions now. Or maybe he is resolute in his actions and is simply tired of me bringing it up.
“While I can understand the circumstances for all the events that happned, even to you love, I do not see the fault. Time for the wake up call, life is not the simpleistic picture we once thought it to be, it goes far beyond a canvas, far beyond anything imaginable. Even the monsters are not merely monsters anymore. Being a vampire does not make them evil, no more than those humans who prey on children.
“You are angry at being taken, and being forced into servitude, at least the attempt of such. So was I, but they did not succeed, we did not let them. Michael and I both were attacked, so to speak. The blonde vampire drank from us, it was pleasurable and he did not kill us. He could have, however that was not his intent. Perhaps it would have been nicer if he would have asked, but really who would simply say yes to such a request. ‘Excuse me may I drink your blood? I am willing to pay for it, what is the going price these days?’ Not only that but he helped us in the end, when we talked things over.
“They acted no differently then we have.” He glanced around the room. “It is actions that make one a monster, nothing more nothing else. We have dealt with the vampire and his friend for what they tried to do with Lyla, we stopped them. They did not hurt her, well physically at least. He turned his focus back to Lyla, awaiting the temper, or tears. He never knew what he would cause, but lately it leaned toward temper.
Lyla gritted her teeth, but managed to maintain her calm by taking the iron skillet off the range — bare handed. Flesh scalded with an angry hiss but Lyla didn’t drop it. The pain felt good — it was something she could focus on, something other than rage. She put John’s steak on a plate and added the salad to a bowl. She put both on the table in front of John.
“I don’t give a damn if they are monsters or not.” She looked at her scalded hand; a little curl of smoke was still rising from the reddened, cracked and blistered flesh. It hurt like hell. She continued with gritted teeth. “I’m not angry because of what they tried to do; I’m angry because of what they did do!”
She thrust her hand out, as if showing him exactly what she was talking about. The flesh seemed to move and suddenly the burn was gone, without a mark or scar. Then she clenched her fist closed and headed toward the door. She air seemed to be closing in on her, and her temperature was rising. She felt like had to get out of there.
Rey sat there quietly. She didn’t know what to say, and suspected that anything she might say could set Lyla off. And that if that happened, it would be a very bad thing.
Ramiel looked at her outstretched hand, then at John. With a quick nod he apologized to him for the interuption he was about to give him.
“Don’t even try to blame your change on them. Yes the blood triggered it, but no they did not cause it. It is what you are Lyla, what you have always been. It was just waiting to surface, if not the vampires blood, then something else would have been the trigger, it was just a matter of time. Just as I have always been as I am, and it was the very same event that made me wake. No one did this to either of us, it is just who we are.” He was not yelling as he spoke, however his voice was stern.
“That’s not true!” Lyla insisted. “There was every chance that I might never have Changed!”
“Lyla,” Rey said, her voice soft, barely above a whisper, “with the life we were leading, all the stress we were under, all the danger we faced, it might only have been a matter of time.” She tried to swallow the lump in her throat. “Life is rarely fair. At least you had people who cared about you with you when it happened.”
Rey slid off her stool, intent on leaving the kitchen and heading outdoors for some solitude. She felt it, a deep seated rage at everything that had happened to her, starting to rise and she needed to get away. Get somewhere alone so she could regain her calm.
John spoke quietly looking at the steak on his plate with hungry eyes and then sighing, “Lyla has a point Ramiel, with all the weird shit we’ve been through there is no telling whether or not she would ever have changed if that vampire guy hadn’t tried to make her into something she wasn’t. That vampire guy was basically raping her with his blood and not giving her a choice about what she was going to with her life.
“But Lyla, Ramiel has a point, too. You are what you are and the vampire didn’t put anything into you that wasn’t already there. Granted he tried but we stopped him. I am sorry that you don’t like or can’t make peace with the real you. I can teach you some meditation techniques and stuff like that but it won’t do you any good until you accept what you have become and stop trying to be what you were. I can honestly tell you that Ramiel loves you and wants to accept you for who you are… I love you too but not like he does. If you need us were are here for you just like were are here for Rey. We may not be blood kin but I think of all of you as my family.
“Now this steak looks good and I am hungry. If you need to go for a walk to cool down and think, well have at it but don’t expect your steak to be here when you get back all hungry like… “, John grinned and then started to cut his steak up and eat.
Lyla sighed and visibly calmed. “Well it’s a moot point anyway. The one that kidnapped me, Mark Hengis, was defeated; we left his body with John. Daniel said there was money exchanged for him before Daniel left for New York. Whatever. It’s in the past.
“It’s just not easy, that’s all. I liked who I was. I know I’ve changed. I know my human soul is probably gone along with it, replaced by a spirit. Devoured? Changed? I don’t know. No one does. But it has been hard and it continues to be hard. I’ve had to carve out a whole new way of living this summer. Do you really blame me for not liking it John? Do you Ramiel?”
Ramiel took advantage of John’s mouth being full for the moment. “Souls are everlasting love. They can be altered, chained, enslaved, depleted and weakened, but not destroyed. If your soul is–” he cut himself short.
“I am sorry for a great many things, but that is not one of them. You are what you are, accept it and move on, or keep whining about it and digress.” He poured his wine as he spoke, keeping his eyes from coming in contact with her. When he went to offer wine to Rey he noticed she was sneaking out of the kitchen. He moved to intercept her.
John looked up from his meal at Lyla’s last words and said, “I didn’t say you had to like it and Lord knows it hasn’t been easy for you. I have been worried about you. You haven’t been bathing as often as you should have and you don’t really seem to care about your clothes or your looks like you used to, I was really hoping it was a phase, you just trying to adjust and not be picked as the next victim. That you were withdrawing from the world and materialism. A lot of guys that came back from Nam were that way. When I came back from Nam, it was hard to get my head screwed back on straight. The only people who really understood me, were the people that came back with me, the ones that had been where I had been.
“You and your new friends don’t seem to want to talk about it and I didn’t want to intrude, maybe that was a mistake. I thought you were getting the help you needed to adjust to what had happened to you. What I am trying to say is you don’t have to go through it alone.
“If you want or need to talk about anything, I am here for you and I am pretty sure Ramiel is there for you too.
“If you want to get all Meta-physical and shit well, I would say you still have a soul because you still care, you still love. Some religions say that the soul is immutable and immortal. Others say that each life you live changes your soul for the better or worse and your next life depends on what you do in this one. For myself, I believe in something more than me. I believe that I should be the best me I can be… and for what its worth I believe in you, Lyla. Now if you want to go for a walk, I am ready willing and able to walk with you and I imagine that Ramiel would be equally willing. If you want to be alone I can respect that too. Just don’t shut us out, Okay? Like Red Green says. ‘We are all in this together, and remember I am pulling for you.’
“Speaking of being there for one another… Rey? Do you need any necessities?” With that John took another bite of steak and reached for his glass of milk.
“Hey, I bathe every day, I’ll have you know. I just also get dirty more often,” Lyla grumbled. “And I don’t want anybody’s help.”
Rey ignored John’s question, and focused her attention on Ramiel. “Get out of my way, Ramiel.” Her voice as low, and she spoke through gritted teeth.
“Hell even I don’t believe that and I am the gullible one. So did you mean you don’t want help bathing or help in general or .. .Hey if there is going to be a group hug I want in man.” John looked up expectantly trying to figure out what was going on. He knew he wasn’t very good at reading people and that was because normally he didn’t try, but these were people he cared about and he didn’t want to see anyone hurt.
Lyla just shook her head and sighed. “I don’t think there is going to be much hugging going on right now.”
Meanwhile, Ramiel was trying to get through to Rey. “Don’t tell me I have upset you as well? I can only handle so many women upset with me at once, what have I done? Or is it just that this conversation has brought back some troubling memories?
“I would have been there for you if I could have, you know that right? It doesn’t change anything now I know. All that time — never mind, I said I would not pry. ” He sighed. “Things are not as they once were, this summer has not been, well I am afraid we might not be the happy little group we once were. At least not all the time. I want to help you, can I?”
He leaned in to whisper, “I have been shut out of a lot of things, but I thought I would offer.”
“Talk later. Just get the hell out of my way!” Rey forced her way past Ramiel, shouldering him aside as she escaped the kitchen and fled outside.
She headed for the treeline, to get out of sight of the ho use. There, she thought, she could regain her calm. Ramiel let her push him aside and watched her leave. The look inhis eyes was not all together friendly as he downed the glass of wine in his hands, and sat in on the counter. “Well I think I will leave this to you guys then.”
Lyla shook her head. “You can’t fix what happened to her with a couple choice words and definitely not by being a bastard,” she told him. “Now if you excuse me, I’m going out so you don’t have to hear my ‘whining’.” As she passed John, she patted him on the shoulder. “See ya around later, John.”
Ramiel went to the sink, and put away his glass. He looked at John, a sickly smile spreading on his face. ” But at least it is quiet now. How’s your steak?” Ramiel took foil out of the cuboard and wrapped Lyla’s food.
“Well the the bite I had was good but I don’t think I am hungry anymore. I think I am going to start a fire and stare at it for a while, maybe make some hot chocolate.” John looked at Ramiel a little forlornly and said, “Ramiel what the hell just happened?”
Ramiel laughed. “Women just happened.” He took out the kettle and began to heat water for John’s hot chocolate. “Truth be told there is too much tension these days. Lyla and I have not been the same since the changes, and it seems our little Rey has plenty of baggage with her too. You know me, I always find the right keys to punch to trigger stuff.”