A Walk in the Park… Or Not

Timeline: November 8th, 2007

Lyla seemed to to sleep in after her first night home from the hospital. It had been very quiet up there in Ramiel’s room and even Ramiel had gotten up and was out and about somewhere about town and there was still not sign of Lyla. Rey knew this was a little unusual for werewolves. They seemed at best to catch only naps, even at night. She hadn’t heard of Uratha sleeping all night, although granted she’d only really known them for about a month and a half.

Rey was considering checking on her when Lyla showed up in the kitchen. She looked freshly showered, with hair mostly dry but still damp. She was in fresh, clean clothes — and happily so after three weeks in hospital gowns. Rey could tell Lyla was still moving just a little bit slowly. Most likely, she was weak from her long bed-stay. Exercise was something that could alleviate that, help her regain her former strength.

“About time you got out of bed, lazybones,” Rey said with a grin. To keep herself from running over and giving the newly recovered werewolf a hug, she took the pitcher of orange juice out of the fridge. “Want some?” She showed Lyla the pitcher.

“Yes! I’m famished!” Lyla had a faraway, dreamy look in her eyes.

Rey found the largest glass she could a filled it to a finger-width below the rim. “Here you go. I made the guys leave a steak for you in the fridge. Want it?”

She nodded and went to look for a pan to cook it.

“No. You sit, drink your juice. I’ll get your steak ready for you.” Rey retrieved the steak from the fridge. She unwrapped it and set it on plate. Not only had Rey forced the guys to leave one steak for Lyla, but made sure it was the very best one they had.

Lyla remained standing, but placed the pan on the stove and then leaned against the counter. “You really don’t have to wait on me. I’ve felt like such a helpless slug these past few weeks.”

“Am I going to have to arm wrestle you to get you to sit down and drink your juice?” Rey asked with a grin. “Lyla, just let me do this, okay? I’ve felt like a helpless slug for the past few weeks because there was nothing I could do to help.”

Rey left out howmany times she’d started the ritual to curse Ramiel, but held off until she had a chance to talk to Lyla.

Lyla raised her hands in supplication. “Okay, I know better than to argue with a witch,” she said with a little smile. She turned and sat her shapely ass down and took a long drink of the juice with obvious pleasure.

“I hope you remember that later,” Rey muttered. She pulled another pan out of the drawer and set it on the stove. She turned both burners on as high as they would go. “Up for a bit of spice in your breakfast?” she asked, pulling a plastic container out of the fridge and putting it next to the steak.

“Maybe just a little,” Lyla replied. She watched her friend curiously, though her mind kept wandering to her previous evening. A happy little smile returned again. She wanted to remember every detail in vivid clarity. Even the memory of how he’d treated her last night was pleasurable.

“Good. It’s not that hot. Lots of flavor, with just enough kick to make you notice it. You’ll be the first person here to ever taste it.” Rey seasoned the steak with barest sprinkle of salt and pepper, then slapped the steak into the hot pan with practiced ease. She then opened the contained and dumped its contents into the other pan. Lyla immediately smelled the seductive combination of onions, mushrooms, thyme, garlic, and other herbs and spices.

Lyla inhaled the aroma. “Mmmm. It smells nice. New recipe?”

“Not really,” Rey said with a smile. “Frank and JoJo, the guy who owned the diner where I worked, called it Rey’s Magic Mushrooms. Every other week, JoJo, Mary (his wife), and the staff would get together for dinner. I brought this in once. After dinner, there was a new rule for dinner – Rey must always bring her magic mushrooms.” She chuckled. “You need to make it ahead, cook it most of the way so that the flavors all mingle nice. Grey came sniffing around yesterday and asked for a taste. I threatened him with the rolling pin if he took any.”

She hadn’t really threatened him, but she was holding the rolling pin when she told him to shoo. She was making biscuits when he appeared in the kitchen.

Lyla chuckled. “Well, I can’t wait to try it.”

“Won’t be too long.” Rey flipped the steak. “The second cooking basically finishes it so it’s nice and hot when the steak’s finished. Once you’re finished, I’ll probably have to use the rolling pin on you every time I make some.” She smiled, thought for a moment, then decided to ask one of the things on her mind. “Does Grey spend a lot of time in town?”

Lyla shook her head. “No, he tends to the Loci most of the time. We can cross over into the shadow world there and he likes to tend them.”

“Oh.” Rey stirred the mushroom and onion mixture. “It’s just that for the past week it’s like every time I turn around he’s there.” She shrugged. “I’m probably just imagining things.” Rey poked the steak with a finger once or twice, then slid the steak out of the pan onto a clean plate, then smothered it with the seasoned mushrooms. “There ya go. Perfect medium rare.”

“Thank you,” Lyla said gratefully. She took a long moment to enjoy the aroma before she cut her first bite.

“You’re welcome. JoJo said that if he didn’t have Mary, and was thirty years younger, he’d marry me just to get the recipe.” Rey chuckled. “Of course, Mary hit him with *her* rolling pin as soon as he said that.”

Lyla laughed at that. She then chewed her steak, enjoying every morsel. After hospital food, this was a real treat. “They wouldn’t give me any steak at the hospital.”

“No, they wouldn’t.” Rey frowned. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you get better faster, or help with the pain. I made a talisman to try and help, and snuck it in, but I think one of the nurses must have thought it was a bit of junk and thrown it away.”

“Thanks for trying. James told me why he wouldn’t allow Grey or Chaska to heal me up,” Lyla said. “There was a lot of pain…”

Rey dropped the cast iron frying pan on the stove with a clatter. “You never should have been in the hospital in the first place.” She got a better grip on the handle and took it to the sink to wash it, keeping her back to Lyla so she couldn’t see the anger growing on her face.

“They say I would have died, if they hadn’t brought me there,” she said softly. She put down her knife and fork and looked at Rey with concern.

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

Lyla looked back down at her plate but didn’t pick up her silverware again. “I know. It won’t happen again. I… I just wanted him to … understand. He does now.”

“It should never have happened to begin with.” Rey’s motions were measured and very controlled. “And he thinks that you’re a monster. How could you let him touch you after what he did.” She tried not to slam the other pan into the sink.

Lyla winced. “He was afraid of me, of what I might do. He isn’t anymore. And I was able to prove to him what I knew to be true all along; he’s very strong. Stronger than me.”

She looked up into Rey’s face. “He beat me very badly. He knows that. He didn’t know that I was shifting because I was hurt too badly to heal otherwise. It all happened so fast. He just…” She shook her head. “He knows that he kept hitting me when he didn’t have to now. But he didn’t then. He… I made him so angry. Rey, it won’t happen again. He’s not like that. And I learned too. Next time, if he pushes me down, I stay down.”

“That’s not the point!” Rey felt like screaming. “You don’t hurt the people you love. EVER.” She threw the knife in her hand down before she stabbed herself with it. “He was so fucking busy feeling sorry for himself, wanting you to be the way you were before. It’s killing me inside to see what he’s doing to you, and what you’re doing to yourself to make him happy. NO man is worth that. Nobody is.”

Lyla paused for a long moment. Before she spoke this time, she had thought it out better. “I know, Rey. Look, I’m not so far gone from being human that I don’t realize if I was human, I’d be gone and never look back. Well, I’d look back. But I’d still leave him. And if for some reason I did stay with him, I’d hope someone would have the decency to make me call that woman’s abuse hotline thing.

“But I’m not human anymore. I know he beat me to a pulp way beyond what he needed to in order to prove his point. I know that. And he left me in the hospital.” She looked at Rey with those silvery eyes. They were new, both for Lyla and for Rey. The whole trip to Saratoga Springs had been very hard on Lyla and they seemed to underscore the point. “But he came back. Yes, he hurt me. But it proved to himself that he was very strong.” She had a faraway look in her eyes as she murmured, “So very strong. And he still wants me. He wants me so much. Once this might have enraged me. But now? I feel… I don’t know how to describe it. I feel like he can and will protect me. I feel like I am truly his. It’s not a shameful thing to me.”

Hearing Lyla say that disturbed Rey, but she knew that Lyla was a wolf now, and that’s the way they thought. “That’s not what I was talking about.”

“You think that he wants the old me back? That he doesn’t accept me for what I am?”

“I honestly don’t give a damn what he thinks or wants,” Rey said, and for a brief moment, she realized she’d used more profanity in the past five minutes than she’d used in the past five years. But then again, she’d never been this angry before, especially about someone she cared about. “You’ve been spending too much time in your human form, denying what you are. Trying to live up to some image of you that Ramiel has.” She tried not to make his name sound like a dirty word. “Do you know what will happen to you if you lose touch with your Wolf?”

Lyla considered. She hadn’t thought about it this morning, but it was there, in the back of her mind. She’d been too lost, reveling in her human form and ignoring the expanded sensations inherent in her other forms. “If I don’t follow my nature enough, I will … Break.”

“You’ll become some kind of horrific abomination,” Rey’s anger was turning to tears. “And then we, the pack, I’ll have to hunt you down and destroy you. I’ve lost my parents to one monster, Frank to another. I couldn’t bear to lose you too.”

Suddenly Lyla felt like crying, too. She stood up and caught Rey in a hug. “I’m sorry, Rey. Please don’t cry. I promise I won’t let that happen. I think he understands that, too, now.” She held Rey for a long moment, wanting to say more. Finally, she was able to put it to words. “Now I know he isn’t going to leave me, I really want this.”

“If he hurts you again, for any reason,” Rey sniffled, “I’ll curse his ass six weeks to Wednesday for the rest of my life and beyond.”

Lyla’s own tears were coming down her cheeks, too. “Oh Rey. You are such a good friend, to me. I promise I’ll always be here for you, too.”

“Good. Now finish your steak. The Magic Mushrooms taste best hot. And after that, we’ll go for a short hike. Once we’re in the woods, away from prying eyes, you can get furry and get some exercise by running circles around me as I explore my new home.”

Lyla grinned and sat down at her plate again to finish her meal. “It’s a deal!”

Rey and Lyla left for the nearby mountains. Rey had some clothes for Lyla in a small day pack as well as water and some granola in case they decided to hike for a good part of the day. Lyla reveled in being in wolf form again, virtually dancing and dashing, sniffing and yipping excitedly at every scent. It had been far too long since she’d been able to enjoy the freedom and acute perceptions of her wolf form.

They ventured into the mountains east and north of Eldon Well. Neither of them were really worried about getting lost. Lyla was likely able to sniff out the way home no matter where they went, and her sensitive nose would also detect the borders of the pack territory before they went too far from the safety of their home ground.

After many hours (but with several healthy breaks in the hike for both of them to rest), they came upon a still pool of water. Lyla scented only pure, clean water, and she demonstrated her trust of its safety by sampling it with a small drink. She cocked her head curiously at it.

“What is it, Lassie?” Rey asked with a giggle, unable to resist.

Using her snout, Lyla splashed a bit of water. Warm, lazy wisps of steam rose into the cool, November air. She yipped happily at the discovery of a rare hot spring.

The spring itself was not large. It was perhaps fifteen feet in diameter. The clear water reveal a deep, rock bottom with no visible silt present. It was surrounded by broad, flat stones, and dribbled some of its warm abundance in the course of a little stream that eased its way across the rock face, and then dropped away off a cliff.

“Is that what I think it is?” Rey carefully walked over to the edge of the pool and cautiously stuck a finger in.

Lyla sunk into the pool with an easy step and smoothly shifted into her human form. She reveled in the warmth as she leaned back. “Mmmmmm, nice,” she said with eyes half-closed. “Rey, you must try this.”

“I don’t know…” Rey hesitated. “I don’t have a bathing suit or anything with me.” She’d always wanted to try a hot tub, or a hot spring, but there was always one thing that had always held her back.

“Don’t let that stop you,” Lyla said.

Rey frowned, wondering what the heck she was thinking. Sure, Lyla’s attractive, but she wasn’t into girls. Was she? Still, a nice hot soak would make her feel better. Rey set her backpack down and slowly, shyly, took off her clothes, folding them neatly and putting them next to her gear. Once nude, she slid into the pool opposite Lyla, making sure her friend never saw her back.

Lyla was enjoying the heat from the spring. She was leaning against the edge, resting her head against warmed rocks. “That wasn’t so bad now, was it?” asked. Her eyes were closed, apparently in her own world.

“No, but…”

Lyla popped one eye open and looked at her. “But?”

“I’m not good at this whole.. nudity thing.” Rey scrunched back against the rocks. “And I’m feeling…. weird.”

Lyla looked at her with concern, then pushed off from the edge to get closer to Rey. “Are you coming down with something?”

Rey moved a bit further away from Lyla. She couldn’t help herself. “I don’t know. It’s just….” She felt herself starting to blush, but forced herself not to look away from her friend’s eyes. “One minute I’m looking at you like a friend, the next I want to…” Rey’s mouth was suddenly dry, and she swallowed. “But I’m not interested in women,” she blurted out. “They don’t turn me on. When I dream about it I dream of…” She bit her lip, shocked at the realization of whose name she was going to say.

Lyla looked surprised, but she smiled. She was no more a stranger to same-sex encounters than Ramiel was. Although, that part of Ramiel was knew to her. It was just one of the wonderful things she discovered with him late the previous night. It made her even warmer to think of it.

But she didn’t press Rey. She’d always known Rey to be shy when it came to sex. Now something had stirred inside Rey, and she wondered why. “It’s okay,” she said. “Feelings seem to have their own sort of reasoning. Maybe your feeling a bit … off because something has been nibbling at your subconscious? Can you talk about your dream?”

Rey blushed bright red. “It’s not a sex dream if that’s what you’re thinking.” She started to turn away to hide her face, but realized what she was doing and quickly turned back – but not before Lyla caught a glimpse of what was on her back.

Lyla reached and touched Rey. She’d seen the scars, but clearly they made Rey uncomfortable. For now she simply tried to reassure her. “You don’t have to be embarrassed,” Lyla said. She hadn’t meant to, but it came out in an almost purring tone.

“I’m not embarassed!” Rey protested, pulling away from Lyla’s hand. “Nothing kinky happens in the dream.”

Lyla smiled. “I didn’t say it did. But something obviously bothered you,” she said gently. “I’m here, and I want to help if you’ll let me.”

“I don’t know how you can,” Rey said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“I can’t unless you talk to me,” Lyla pointed out.

“Are you talking about the dream, or something else?”

“The dream. But if there is anything else… ?”

“You mean the scars on my back?” Rey snorted, but it came out more like a sob. “I don’t want anyone to see them. I don’t want people staring. I don’t want people’s pity. I don’t want people to know I was a victim.

“Do you know what the nurses said? They were horrified.

“Oh that poor girl. I don’t think anything will get rid of those scars.”

Lyla wanted to hug Rey, but she hesitated because she knew Rey might be uncomfortable with that right now. However, after a moment, her instincts overrode her hesitation. She slipped next to Rey and slid her arms around her. “Don’t be ashamed. You are a survivor, not a victim. It’s part of who you are.”

Rey felt herself become more aroused, and it made her panic. She struggled out of Lyla’s embrace and scooted to the other side of the pool. “I’m not a survivor, Lyla. I’m a victim that gets lucky once in a while.” Rey turned her back to Lyla, as if trying to use her scars as a shield.

It looked like someone had tried to carve Rey’s back into pieces, trying to deliberately destroy her. The worst of the scars were along and across her skin, as if her attacker had tried to lay it bare. In other places, it looked as if thin strips had been cut out, and the scar tissue had grown to fill in the gaps.

Lyla was quiet for a moment. Rey then felt a light touch on her back. She hadn’t felt it right off because Lyla’s fingers were tracing the scars and she had little feeling there. “It’s terrible that someone could do this to you, Rey. But it also shows how strong you are. You didn’t let it destroy you.”

“How do you know it didn’t? Maybe I didn’t have any lower to fall.”

“You didn’t die.”

“Only because Hamilton was there to save me.” Rey shook her head. “He told me my parents forced me to call him, to summon my familiar. When he saw what was going on, he hid, and my parents thought the ritual had failed. And that day in Charlotte. The Dark Man let me go because he couldn’t be bothered to finish what he’d started before. He was more interested in Paul. Like I said. Luck.”

Lyla laughed and finally let Rey have a little room. Rey was still acutely aware of how very close they were, however. “No such thing. You summoned your familiar so ultimately the responsibility for your survival was in your hands. And the Dark Man at Charlotte wasn’t interested in us. That’s not luck, that’s design. We don’t know what his plans are, but so far they haven’t consisted of killing us. At least, not directly. Hey, we just don’t know. What if the Dark Man has some kind of ban that prevents him from killing or directly harming certain kinds of people? We just don’t know, but again, that’s not luck. That’s by design.”

“Then who cut me up, Lyla? My parents may have been amoral pieces of pond scum, but they would never hurt their precious meal ticket enough to kill me. If I’d been crippled, I might as well have been dead, because I’d have been useless to them.”

“I honestly don’t know,” Lyla said. “But do you?”

Rey shook her head. Lyla’s proximity was making her edgy, and Rey’s thoughts fled back to the dream she’d been having. Those thoughts, or rather of the man in them, made her shiver.

Rey just wasn’t relaxing, so Lyla moved away and gave her more space. She dipped her head under water and came back up, letting the water run off her face. “Ah. And your dreams?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“Not if it would hurt your feelings.”

Rey shook her head. “It’s not that. It’s just… In my dream, I’m in the forest outside town. I’m running because I’m being hunted, but I’m not afraid of it, you know? I run, and I run, but he keeps gaining on me. And then he catches me.” She’s blushing bright pink. “And in the dream, I’m really happy that he did.”

“It sounds romantic,” Lyla smiled.

“I don’t know how romantic being chased through the woods by a werewolf is.” Rey blushed even brighter.

Lyla’s gaze suddenly aimed higher, toward someone behind Rey. “Oh my,” she said in a naughty voice, “you found us.”

Rey turned her head to look to see who Lyla was talking to. Standing almost above her, she saw him. Naked in all his male glory, she saw the man of those very dreams she had just been speaking of. And, she couldn’t help but notice, he was fully erect. Rey let out a strangled squawk and dropped low into the pool in a vain effort to hide herself. She couldn’t possibly blush any brighter, and she was both terribly nervous and terribly excited at the same time, and that scared her.

Even while Rey attempted to hide herself in the water (a futile gesture given its clarity), Lyla was rising from the spring. “My love, you must be freezing! Come into the water with us. I hope you brought towels with you.”

My love? Rey’s eyes widened and she managed to tear her eyes away from the man to look at Lyla. When did she…? She looked back at him, trying to force herself to look at his face. A thrill of desire chased down her spine, and at that moment, Rey realized she sensed only one werewolf nearby.

Surprised, her fear turned to annoyance, and concern for her and Lyla’s safety were gaining the edge over her desire to see if the kisses in her dreams would be as good in real life. Rey stood and frowned. “Stop right there, whoever – or whatever you are. Don’t come any closer.”

The naked creature frowned — and so did Lyla. She immediately shook her head and peered at him more closely. The moment she did, her face reddened and she stood straight up in the water. “Deceiving spirit! Reveal your true self immediately or I will crunch your face off!

He backed off immediately, with eyes so wide the two women in the spring could see whites. He paled and suddenly, Rey and Lyla were both seeing him as he truly was. While he had a head, two arms and two legs like a man, the similarities ended there. His hair was more of a mane gathered about his head she shoulders. his nake, human-like body was tinted a dark blue, and he had red eyes. Features that couldn’t be ignored (but the two young women sorely wished they could) was a huge cock. Not only that, he had a tail that seemed to move of its own accord that was split into to parts — both of those also ended in what resembled a penis. While he was muscular, and physically tall, his posture was not threatening. He looked from Lyla to Rey in fear — as if he was about to run but doubted his ability to escape.

“Me am so sorry!” he whined. “Me not cause harm to pretty, horny women. Me know you want sex, yes? Me help! Is all! Me just help!”

“Oh, this is just fucked up,” Lyla muttered.

Sex? Rey thought, then it clicked. “A lust spirit. You’ve been messing with our heads. Lyla, you know I’m not interested in girls, yet all of a sudden, I was interested in you.” She stood. “And when that didn’t work, he must have gone fishing in our heads for something that would work. Ramiel for you, and Grey for me.” She climbed out of the pool so that she wouldn’t be face to face with the spirit’s groin anymore. “That was your mistake. Lyla, what’s the penalty for naughty spirits?” Rey had no real talent for intimidation on her own, but she knew Lyla was, so she was willing to play set up for her friend.

“They get crunched and sent back to spirit — or worse if I was in a bad mood,” Lyla stated.

The lust spirit whimpered. “Prrease? Not to hurt poor little spirit-ling. Me no mean harm. See? Not to possess even for the urging, yes? Me make gifts if wolf and witch make nice!”

“First off, you stay right there!” Lyla demanded of the materialized spirit. “Go ahead and get some clothes on, Rey. You’ll get hypothermia if you stand around too long wet and naked this time of year. Me too, but I have some ways around that.”

Lyla watched the lust spirit like a hawk while Rey got dressed. She was damp, but it was better than nothing for now. When she finished, Lyla was slowly, impatiently circling the lust spirit — who apparently was incorrigibly hopeful that he might earn some essence despite Lyla and Rey’s withering stares. Lyla was now taller, stronger, and had long, deadly claws extending from the tips of her fingers. Her ears were slightly pointed and her eye teeth were a bit longer. It appeared to be what the werewolves spoke of as Dalu form, except that she had apparently enhanced it somehow. Normally, claws like that would not be present in the near-human form. She was definitely scarier and more threatening, but Rey knew this was hardly her most potent form.

“You know the rules. Spirits stay in the Shadow Realm in our territory,” Lyla told it.

“But no no, me am sorry, but this not true!” The monstrous creature wriggled a penis-tail toward Rey.

“Don’t do that,” Lyla said with annoyance. She switched to the First Tongue and made some kind of demand of it.

It didn’t say anything but instead pointed at Rey with a clawed finger. “She got have friend who is spirit. Him is here, too!” it managed to blurt in its broken English.

“Exceptions were made.” Lyla stepped toward him with a clawed hand raise to strike.

The lust demon threw up its hands to protect its face. “And one more? Prrrease? We make bargain, yes?”

Lyla paused and looked toward Rey with a raised eyebrow.

Rey snorted. “I can summon lust spirits whenever I want, as often as I like.” She shrugged “What makes you so special? What could you possibly have that we would want?”

“We can make friends!” the spirit suggested. “And me know great rituals little witch can use! Yes? And, me have powerful friends, yes? Me follow a Lusting — a… a… you call Jaggling!” He looked slyly at Lyla. “She know what you need.”

Lyla looked doubtful. “Yeah right. Why would the Lusting want to help you when you were so foolish as to be caught?”

“That, um… good question,” it admitted. “But she like you. Maybe she not like you so good if you rip me and crunch my head?”

Lyla had to admit to herself his offer was starting to sound interesting. But really, this wasn’t her catch. “Rey? Why don’t you decide this one. If you hadn’t been here, this little jerk might have gotten away with something, so really this is your catch.” The thought of getting pregnant by this monster was too horrible to contemplate, so Lyla left it unsaid. “There might be something to be gained here, but I wouldn’t believe anything he says unless we pay for that information somehow. Also, we still don’t know how he got here — there aren’t any loci anywhere near here and he’s too far away from one to just be wandering about without drying up for lack of essence.”

Rey thought for a moment. “Think about what he is, Lyla, and where there’s been a lot of sex going on, and who’s been involved.” She gave Lyla a little smile. “He simply could have followed us from the house, hoping to get a snack off us. If he stayed in Shadow, I’d not have seen him. And I was a bit distracted earlier, so I missed him when he crossed over.”

She looked at the spirit. “You are offering much, but what do you want out of the deal? Spirits can’t give anything for free, and I don’t think the ongoing threat of having your head crunched will cut it.”

“Pretty human girl is wise! But maybe too wise?” It tittered. “Nice girls could give poor me a home, they could!”

“After what you just tried to do, I’m not sure I want you here all the time,” Rey said. Hamilton, can you come to me please? I caught a lust spirit being very naughty, and he’s offered to teach me “great rituals” if we don’t punish him, and let him make his home here.

Oh I’m fine right here, miss! came the immediate reply. There was a movement and Rey thought she spotted him slinking around a rock.

“Me can grant you all kinds of things!” the blue spirit-demon said. “But me am so hungry! Me very tired. Need food soon.”

Lyla moved to stand next to Rey. She shifted back to mostly-human form but she kept her claws — just in case. It showed remarkable control over her shape shifting abilities. “Would you care for suggestions?”

“Sure,” Rey said, not taking her eyes off the demon.

“If you ask the spirit what it wants, it’s going to ask for absolutely everything it can. Don’t fall into that trap. I’d suggest that if you play your cards right you could get something for both of us out of this without too big of a sacrifice. Of course, what that spirit is going to be interested in could be things that you value too highly to trade. If that’s the case, I can send him home right now.” Lyla meant that to reassure Rey. She wasn’t going to let Rey fall into a situation that could be bad for her.

“To know what will really get you the furthest with least personal sacrifice to you, try to think like he does. Know what a lust spirit wants and you know how to get what you want from him.”

Rey nodded. She knew what spirits wanted: essence. He himself said he was very hungry. But they already had something else he wanted. She looked at the spirit. “I’m tempted just to let her crunch your face. What rituals will you teach me to keep her from doing that?”

“Not very much. Me like face, but body goes away soon anyway,” it stated.

Lyla growled, “I’ll follow you back to the spirit world and catch you again. Maybe I’ll finish you there.”

It frowned, uncertain for a moment. Then it grinned, revealing sharply pointed teeth. “But maybe horny wolf anger Lusting. Then she maybe take interest you not like so much?”

Rey could see Lyla was becoming frustrated, her interest in this spirit fading. Despite its poor grip on English (a rare skill for a spirit to have anyway), the spirit was smart — Rey could see that. It was maybe smarter than Lyla, maybe smarter than both of them. Negotiation with it was going to be tricky because it knew that it could survive the discorporation of its body.

“Me want better offer. Then me say of powerful magics me can share.”

Do you think he might be telling the truth? That he might know rituals that would be useful to me? Rey asked her familiar. I sure as hell don’t want any special gifts or powers granted to me, as those always end up bad for humans.

Little Hamilton considered. I can’t tell if it’s lying, he reported. And yes getting special powers would likely require it to possess you or work through you in some way. But you could ask it favors instead, or learn from it. It’s possible it could know rituals useful to you. I think the question remains, Miss; what are you willing to sacrifice to gain it? Sacrifice nothing and you gain nothing. Sacrifice a great deal and… well. You get the idea, Miss. The fact that your friend is here greatly tips the balance in your favor as she is a strong weapon to wield and has even put herself at your disposal in this matter. This is a rare opportunity for a human, as you might otherwise simply have to be satisfied with whatever deal you could wrangle with mere words. But your friend has Essence and power and — if she gains as well — I sense a willingness to pay well in deed for a worthy gift.

You’re right. I won’t get anywhere with just words. But the thought of having sex… Rey took a step closer to Lyla so she could speak softly to her. “I don’t think I have anything to offer him that he would consider worthwhile. You, though, have far more to offer than I. You’re a hell of a lot more powerful, and he knows your libido. Would you offer him Essence, or other things within your power, in exchange for a gift for you and knowledge for me?”

Lyla nodded. “Yes. Though I would quibble a little bit with you in that power category. I just happened to have the right kind of power for this situation. That’s all. I can share some of my essence with it, though I suggest we use that as icing on whatever offer we really make. I’ll speak up if something comes up that I don’t think I could deal with, no worries. Otherwise, I think it’s really good for you to handle the negotiation on this one because if we manage to get something out of this, it will enhance your reputation among other spirits and make future negotiations a bit easier. Plus, it would impress Grey.” Lyla winked at her.

Rey’s cheeks turned pale pink.
“There are two things that I know I would not be willing to do,” she continued. “First — it doesn’t get to possess you in any way. Or me. Second, it doesn’t get to engage in anything… sexual with either of us.” She eyed it with a disgusted look on her face. “I mean it’s just… ew.”

“No kidding.” Rey turned back to face the spirit, confident in her ability now to negotiate. “I offer you a permission to manifest in the Young Father Bear pack territory for one week, starting today. During that time, you are not permitted to deceive any member of the pack or impregnate any female, pack or otherwise, within that territory.”

It considered. The potential gather essence in that time was substantial. And even better, there was a promise that it would not be hunted. It could gain strength and return to shadow the better for it instead of beaten and weak. The bluish sex demon grinned. “Me offer the witch then a nice ritual, make her dreams come true. Me can show her how to Dream Travel.”

And?” Lyla pushed severely.

“My give to wolf-girl, too?” he asked Rey. “Maybe nice witch will offer for that, too, then?”

Would I be able to teach Lyla that ritual? Rey quickly asked Hamilton.

Hamilton responded quickly. No Miss. Only humans can use the magics you wield. Lyla lacks the belief structure you have in your magic.

“But are there not things that must be known, things one must be able to do before one can Dream Travel?” Rey asked the spirit she was negotiating with. “What of those?” She was concerned that he would teach her Dream Travel, and then she wouldn’t be able to use it because there were things she didn’t know.

The lust spirit showed that evil, toothy grin again. “My witch very smart. Witch must know how to at least peer into Spirit World. Then witch may also go into dreams.”

Rey returned his smile, though hers was not evil (nor was it angelic). She spoke softly to Lyla. “It is a thaumaturge ritual, something which you cannot use, so there is no reason to even consider making an offer on that.”

She turned her attention back to the spirit. “Will you offer us another gift for my pack-mate?” Rey asked, putting her hand on Lyla’s arm. “One worthy for a Wolf such as her?”

“For a wolf, she maybe not so bad,” it mused. “Me give great power!” It prattled on in the First Tongue. Lyla answered in the same speech, just as fluently and while Rey wasn’t sure what was said, she could see Lyla was pleased. In fact, she had a distinctly mischievous look in her eye.

“I know you, Lyla, and I don’t trust that look. What did you just negotiate for?” Rey asked.

“He said he could Gift me the very power he uses; to inspire feelings of lust in others. And I agreed,” she said with a grin.

“Oh geez, we’re in trouble now,” Rey said, trying hard not to smile and laugh, and shook her head. “What payment did you agree to?” She was half afraid of the answer.

“He said that, because he obviously would love to see the power used as much as possible, and that while it is the ultimate power for him but really just a little thing to me, he’d do it essentially for free. He just asked for some of my essence, which really isn’t a problem for me right now. I can replenish that later, more easily than he can.

“But…” Lyla hesitated. “This is the first time I’ve agreed to let a spirit muck about with my soul without Grey or Chaska to watch my back. I figure this will take around an hour or so to do, but he says his form will likely last long enough to do it so we won’t have to go to Shadow to do this. Would you be willing to spot for me? Werewolves are totally vulnerable when a spirit is rearranging our souls to grant a Gift. Most of them don’t like us very much either, so it’s hard to trust they won’t do something extra. Plus, it’s going to take a while for him to teach you that Dream sorcery-thing he offered, so I thought I could return the favor by watching over you as he teaches you that. You might need me anyway, since I’ll guess teaching something like that is going to take a lot longer. You may have to learn it in the spirit world. Could be weeks worth of learning, maybe.”

“I’ll watch over you, no problem,” Rey replied. “But I won’t have to go to Shadow to learn it. I know the Visionary Trance ritual. It allows me to stay safely here while I can view what’s going on in Shadow around me. Nor do I need to be near Loci to do it. All I need is a comfortable place to sit,” she explained with a smile. “Your company would be very welcome, though. I’ll explain why later.”

Lyla smiled. “Great!” She turned to the spirit. “Okay. Let’s do this.” She sat down in font of it and closed her eyes. The spirit smiled, stepped forward and held its hand out. When it touched her brow, Rey saw streams of spirit energy and light streaming from the contact.

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