Timeline: Late November, 2007
The massive hunter silently slipped through the brush and peered downhill at a distant shape. He’d sensed there was trouble, a member of his pack, Rose, was in pain and he knew that she was somewhere nearby. He didn’t see her, but he did see a man moving near the thick trunk of a old pine tree. He aimed down the barrel of his model 1898 Mauser from the brush and waited a few moments to get a good look. Moments later, he was able to make out who it was that was working near that tree. With a grunt and a heavy he climbed back to his feet and shouldered the rifle, then strode toward him.
“Ramiel,” he called as he drew near.
Ramiel completed the martial arts sequence he’d been practicing and stood up to his full height. One glance told him it was James Ironclaw. It was rare to run into a pack member out here — although Ramiel knew they were always patrolling their territory, they were rarely seen.
Ramiel waved James over as he drank from his water bottle, and wiped some of the sweat away with a towel. He had been practicing for hours. “Business or pleasure James?”
“Business, unfortunately. Listen, one of my people is in trouble. Rose is in some serious pain, and I haven’t been able to find her yet. Have you seen her out here? I think she has to be nearby.”
“No I haven’t.” Ramiel spoke as he put on his jacket. “But I will help you find her.” He concentrated on his suroundings, reaching out with his energy to search the area.
With a slight gesture to complete his spell, a map of the immediate area sprung up within Ramiel’s mind’s eye. It was a good thing, too, because he might otherwise have never noticed the mostly covered pit trap thirty meters west of him. Rose didn’t pop up in his mental imagery, so it was a good guess that if she was here, she’d be down the hole.
With a quick nod to James, Ramiel took off in the direction of the trap, making sure to aviod any others in the area. “Over here,” he called to James.
He leaned over the hole and looked in to see if Rose might be down there.
She might have been beautiful in another circumstance. But in this case, Ramiel saw woman with long blonde hair and an average build lying at the bottom of a pit with two of the six stakes rammed through her midriff and her chest. The sharpened wood had clearly punctured a lung. She could barely make a sound as her blue eyes fluttered upon. “Help,” she mouthed.
Ramiel noticed James at his side now looking down at her. “Rose!” he called. “Son of a bitch!” he muttered as he knelt dow to try to reach her. The hole, at about eight feet deep, put her far out of reach of either of them.
Ramiel recognized her then. The poor, bloodied woman was a member of Ironclaw and Lyla’s pack. He remembered her as one of the most… interesting of them.
“Shit.” Ramiel knew James would jump in after her, and he could not let that happen. “James, will she heal fast enough to keep her from bleeding out if we get her out of there? If so, I think I can get her.”
James shook his head; he didn’t know for sure because it depended on a lot of things he couldn’t predict. “She’ll have to. There’s no other way.”
With acknowledgment from James, Ramiel once again began speaking in a low voice. It was the same language he was speaking earlier.
Ramiel’s power reached out invisibly and enveloped her in its mystic embrace. Slowly, gently, her body was pulled up. The stakes, having broken, stayed in her. When she drew close enough to reach, Ironclaw pulled her to him as Ramiel dismissed the telekinetic spell. He cradled her with surprising tenderness for such a big, fearsome man.
“Hold on Rose,” he said softly. “I have to remove the stakes so you can heal.” Rose’s eyes were locked on his. She nodded weakly.
With the gentle, loving care of an older brother, Ironclaw pulled the stakes free, one after the other. To her credit, she didn’t call out or even whimper. The damage to her body was massive, but Ramiel could see she began to heal herself the moment the last stake was free. It took several long moments, but finally her chest and lungs were healed enough she could take a deep breath — which she did with a shuddering gasp.
The healing seemed to slow and then stop; she’d healed what she could for now. The rest would take time. It left a nasty looking wound in her gut, but she might be able to walk if she was careful and slow.
Ironclaw gave her time to rest, however. In a quiet voice, he muttered loud enough for Ramiel to hear, “What kind of sick fuck makes a pit trap in the middle of the woods along animal trails? This kind of trapping is worse than illegal; it’s inhumane and a danger to anyone in the area.”
Ramiel had watched Rose with concern but when he gave his response to James his expression was very different. The cold had crept back into his eyes. “I know how to find out.” He looked back at Rose. “But we should tend to her first, then we can come back and wait for whoever made this to come and check it.”
“I’ll be fine,” Rose said quietly. “I just feel like an idiot for falling for such stupid trap.” She sighed. “I got careless. We’ve never seen anything like this out here before and I let my guard down.”
Ironclaw replied, “Unless they faked their scent somehow, or unless they dug the hole before the last rainfall, I should be able to pick something up here. We’ll be back later to check it.”
Ramiel smiled,” Good.” With that he gave James his jacket to put on or around Rose. Then he helped move her slowly, back home.
By the time they made it back, Rose appeared to be moving freely again. Stating she was tired but healthy, she went to take a nap near the locus in the cavern.
Ramiel and Ironclaw ventured back out to the location of the pit trap and searched. To Ironclaw’s irritation, whoever had dug the pit had managed to obscure their own scent with deer musk. More worryingly, it meant that whoever had made the trap knew what they were doing.
They waited together for hours into the night, but there was no sign of anyone coming to check the trap. Ironclaw put forth that if they really knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t try hunting werewolves at night anyway; the Uratha had all the advantages in the dark compared to a human. So, they decided to pack it in.
“Well, I figure it’s about midnight,” James sighed. “What do you say we wander down to the pub for a few beers?”
“If I have to settle, yeah I’ll take a beer. I’ll get cleaned up. If you would like there are showers free.” Ramiel disappeared for about twenty minutes, and came back looking rather attractive in his tight black jeans and boots, and a tight fitting black t-style shirt. His hair was loose tonight.
“Let’s get our drunk on.” He followed James down to the pub, not saying much on the way.
Upon arrival, they noticed that business was pretty slow tonight. It was a weeknight, and of course the town folk tended not to be such late-night people as those from a city. Rey was working the bar tonight and there was one drunk, a familiar local figure, who was barely conscious as he nursed his final glass of booze for the night.
Ironclaw greeted Rey with some unusual shortness and ordered a Miller.
“Hey sexy.” Ramiel gave his best “naughty” smile. “Guiness for me.” He took a seat at the table near the back, away from the drunk. “So talk to me, what do you want to do about this?”
James considered. “I’ll be personally patrolling now, and all patrols will be done with pairs. No more lone scouts out there. We’ll be watching for odd comings and goings, especially if they aren’t locals.” He shrugged. “Just another thing, I guess. What about you?” He looked at Ramiel with cunning interest. “Something on your mind lately?”
“Anything you need help on count me in, especially if I get to kick some ass.” He drank about half the Guinness before taking a breath. Looking at James he knew the man would not let up on him if he didn’t answer his question. “Yeah, there has been stuff on my mind.”
“Partly, but then that is what women are; trouble. Oh they have ways of making us forget it, but it always comes back to being trouble.” He finished the beer and ordered another.
“You’ve been pretty understanding with your women,” Ironclaw recollected. “Most people would have dumped one or the other of them in order to prevent a fight. I don’t know Ariyah, but I know Lyla takes a special kind of patience, too. But then, she’s the sort of person you just have to accept, or you get nothing.”
“You assume that Ariyah is mine, and Lyla sometimes ignores what is in front of her. Truthfully I don’t understand either of them. I know Lyla, but I would never go so far as to say I understand her.”
“Ours isn’t to understand,” the big man quipped, “but merely to serve. And hope for the time when they give us a really good blow job.” Ironclaw grinned widely.
“I’ll drink to that!” Ramiel raised his glass to James and took a drink.
They both took long drinks. Then James remarked, “So, you mentioned that it was partly women trouble that had you in an off-mood. Something’s bugging you enough to make you want to take the deadliest mission you can find. Something must really be eating at you.”
Ramiel looked uncomfortable for a few moments, the kind of unease that men get when they need to say something but don’t want to. So he did what made him relax; drank more. After about half the beer was gone he finally spoke up. “Women, instinct, and an urge I have been fighting.” He shifted down in his chair. “The situation with Ariyah is annoying me more than it should. Lyla, well she is heading for something she does not want to deal with. I can see that she doesn’t. I guess I am okay with it. You are the only exception I would make. I won’t be around forever anyway.”
Another drink and he signaled Rey for another. “The missions I take, I ask for because I enjoy them. It gives me pleasure. I need out of here, get away from things, I know my purpose in life and it wasn’t to be a husband or a father or a caretaker. Those things are not comfortable to me, yet when I think about what that life might be like…” He shook the thought from his mind.
“Then there is Daniel.” His eyes hallowed of emotion as the beast within began to roll in.
“Who’s he?” James asked. His eyes narrowed. “Competition for Lyla?” The big guy’s protective instinct was kicking in.
Ramiel’s laughter filled the bar, he nearly spewed beer. “He probably wishes. You’ve met him, the lawyer. I think I can honestly say he is my least favorite person in the world. Of the people I have worked with, he is the one that I flat out refuse to get along with anymore. At one point it was jest, for me. He on the other hand has always held disdain for me.
“When we chose to stay here, which I did for Lyla, John and Micheal eventually decided ot move here too. Daniel on the other hand chose to stay in New York and isolate himself. Now he comes back and treats everyone like shit, taking his personal rage out on all of us and targeting me. I gave him more chances than anyone and on the last mission I reached my breaking point with him. I will work with him if I have to, but I want little else to do with him. “
Ramiel smiled. ” I know it seems childish but right now I have little words for it. I am sick of him using me as a punching bag. He apologized to Lyla for all the shit he did to her, and to everyone else for being such an ass. Fine. But that does not mean I forget what he has done, what he continues to do.”
“Apologized to… Lyla?” James frowned. No one had told him someone had insulted or otherwise wronged her. “I have a feeling it might be better if I don’t know what was said. Anyway, she probably handles that kind of thing her own way.
“Sounds like you’re under a lot of pressure, to me. You’ve got Ariyah and a kid on the way on the one hand. On the other you’ve got Lyla. I know you guys have worked things out, but there’s got to be some competition between those two women going on even if you don’t see it.” He reconsidered that. “Or maybe not.” He shook his head. “I never could figure women out anyway. “But adding to that you’ve got someone aggravating you.
“I guess there’s not much anyone can do about having a child on the way. Whether you wanted to be a father or not, it’s still coming. The only thing you can do is decide what kind of father you’ll be: one that’s there, or one that isn’t. Personally, speaking from experience, I would choose to not be there if it was me. The kid might grow up hating you, but that doesn’t matter as much as letting the kid have a life free of the kind of dangers we face every day.
“Problem number two is having to deal with two women at once. In most cases, I’d think I would want them to be as far apart from each other as possible. That might still be best in this case depending on how Ariyah feels about you really caring for Lyla more. Lyla herself has grown into a damn solid woman. She knows what she wants and she knows her place in life. I don’t think that anything you do with Airyah at this point is going to shake her world or piss her off. She’s got all kinds of self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Ironclaw chuckled. “But what do I know? I’ve been fooled by her more than once.”
“The funny thing is that Ariyah would not have pursued a relationship if Lyla had not pulled her little stunt at the beggining of summer. No fuck buddies would be as far as it went. But now, I don’t want a child, or to be a father. I don’t want to care, but I do. Not that it matters, Ariyah only sees Lyla as human, and what I did to her is unforgivable. Ariyah thinks I am a dnager to her and her child as she put it. I leave stuff for her and she gives me pictures but I have not really seen her in over a month. Only in studies, if that. It doesn’t matter if I stay away or not. Ariyah is the same as I am, so danger will find the child.
“Lyla and I know where we stand with each other. No one could ever take our place in each other’s hearts. But that does not mean there is not room for more than one. She just has not realized that for herself yet.
“I let myself fall in love with someone once, completely in love with her, to try and forget Lyla and what I was feeling for her. This was back before we became intimate. Well it ended badly to say the least. But Lyla has not encountered that, or had not.
“As far as Daniel, well I let him live and now I am having regrets. I don’t know exactly what he did to Lyla, but it was enough to truly piss her off.”
“Sounds like the guy had a death wish,” James stated. “You said he was angry before. I guess he can choose to leave that behind — or not.”
“Yeah, guess.” Ramiel leaned his head back for a few minutes, then straightened himself again. “Looks like you got me to carry on about my fucked up mess of a life, sorry about that.”
“What are friends for if you can’t let off a bit of steam and talk from time to time?” James smiled.
“So how has life been treating you?”
James pursed his lips and grimaced. “Fair enough. Life is never easy for an alpha. We’re starting to feel pressure from the west. Attempts to press our borders will be coming all too soon, I’m afraid.”
“We’ll have to do something about that then. I am sure Michael will help in any way he can as well. I know I am a little slow on this, but earlier, you said you knew from experience about leaving kids out of our world. Do you have, or did you have children?”
He shook his head. “No. But back when I was a pup running in my father’s pack, I had a friend who did. He wanted to be there, do the father thing despite the problems inherent with that, not even mentioning the dangers. Things didn’t turn out to well for him. His son was only 10 years old when a spirit possessed him. It warped the boy into a something… unspeakable and then used his son’s body to commit terrible crimes, including the senseless murder of his mother. My friend had to kill his own son. Of course, that doesn’t actually hurt the spirit who simply slipped away back to the spirit world.
“And you know why it happened?” James didn’t wait for Ramiel to ask. “Because it was a spirit of hate that wanted to teach the pack a ‘lesson’ on interfering with its activities. If he’d just have let his mother raise the kid alone, that spirit might never have bothered them. It likely would never have even know they existed.
“Kids can’t protect themselves, and even the strongest parents can’t always protect them from what’s out here. My father had always told his pack to handle it the way he did; give them up. Let normal humans raise them, let them blend in. Keep track of them only from a distance and if they are going to change, then get involved. But until they have some way of defending themselves, you’re only going to hurt the ones you care about.
“We’re werewolves but that doesn’t mean were wolf, nor man. We’re about as far from human or wolf as you can get but still look like it. As I see it, you mages are the same. You might look human on the outside but on the inside you are far more. You can face the wilds of the world and not go mad. You can even defend yourself. But the sleeping herd? They don’t have a chance and like it or not, that’s what all our kids are going to be — right up to the moment of their first change, awakening, what have you.”
“We are different, though I can not say what life will be like for my child, since both of us are Mages. I should not worry about it, the child will have a wonderful grandmother to raise it.
“Tell me something, do you see how Lyla feels?”
James nodded. “Sometimes.”
“I’m not sure what you are looking for,” Ironclaw said. “Do you mean about you? Ariyah? Or something else?”
“I should’ve had something stronger than beer. I feel like shit, not just because of all this stuff. The fact is I am fighting darker urges. Things that should not make me smile, do.”
“I guess I just wanted to know that you were aware of her feelings, as she is not. That and I wouldn’t mind a sparring partner.”
James furrowed his brow. “You mean her feelings toward me? Yeah, I’m aware. All too aware,” he sighed. “I guess my curse is that I will always want more than I can have, and more than she can give.”
“I don’t know how I would feel if it were anyone else she felt that about. Man I am getting hungry, let’s get some food.”
Ramiel pause. “Okay, I can see that I am being cryptic, and yes on purpose, so to be clear I am going to get a little close now.” He smiled widely and moved in close to James to whispered in his ear.
“I am saying that Lyla loves you at lest to some degree. I don’t know how deep it could go. I do know that she is not aware herslef yet, at least she does not act it. I know her and I know how she acts about things. I can see how she is with you and I think it is mutual and taboo. I wanted you to know that is what I think on the matter anyway and I am ok with it. That is why I brought up the time I fell fro someone other than her. I mean nothing can or will ever come between the way Lyla and I feel for each other, nothing. That is why it is okay for us to have feelings for others. ” He leaned back into his chair. “Whooo I need more beer for this kind of stuff. REY!”
While Ironclaw thought about that, Rey strolled over. “You bellowed?”
“Indeed I do my scrumptuos friend. Would you be so kind as to fill my glass once more?”
“Sure. Can I get you something else, Ironclaw?” Rey was, indeed, looking rather delicious tonight. Her work “uniform” was a bit different this time; black, low riding jeans, a deep green stretch tee that hugged her curves. A large green glass bead, almost the same color as the green in her hazel eyes, nestled just above the swell of her breasts in the deep vee neckline of her top. A matching bead was set in her belly button ring.
Ironclaw himself was looking a little depressed. But he hid his expression quickly as he looked up at her. “Naw, thanks. No more beer for me.”
“We do have soda, water, lemonade, milk, and Rey’s famous BC cocktail.” Rey paused for a moment and grinned. “That’s chocolate milk, but shaken, rather than stirred.”
Ramiel had been facinated with the jewel that decorated the almost irresistible curve of her abs. “Can I lick you?” His eyes were playful, already knowing the answer. “Just a little.”
“Sorry, Ramiel,” Rey said with a cheeky smile, “but I’m not on your menu.”
Ironclaw shook his head. “Sounds nice, but I don’t think that’s going satisfy me tonight.”
“Okay. One Guinness for Ramiel.” She picked up his empty glass, deliberately not offering Ironclaw anything harder than beer. “Ironclaw, would you mind walking me home tonight after I close up here? I’d like to talk to you about some stuff.”
He nodded. “Of course. In fact, starting tonight, I don’t want any of the pack walking around at night alone. Not after what Ramiel and I found today.”
“What happened?” Rey’s playfulness was gone, replaced by a serious demeanor Ramiel had never really seen from her before. There had been hints of it before, he remembered, back at the waterfall and in Charlotte. Now, she looked a lot more grown up, with a hard edge that hadn’t been before the fight with the Dark Man that lead to Rey being separated from the group.
“Aww.” Ramiel sounded sad but his eyes were far from. They were intent as he looked at Rey. He pushed a chair out with one foot. “Sit, we’ll tell you.”
“Want your beer now, or after?” Rey asked quickly, holding up the empty glass in her hand.
“Now would be nice. There might be a tip in it for you if you make it a pint. I’ll even make it a good tip, one you will like.”
“Tip or not, your beer is coming up.” As Rey walked away from the table, Ramiel saw part of Rey’s scars for the first time. It was the width of his pinky, and came down no more than a quarter inch below the hem of her shirt. In fact, if her shirt hadn’t ridden up slightly he probably never would have seen it. She returned a moment later with his requested pint.
“Someone is hunting us?” Rey asked Ironclaw in dismay.
“Apparently,” Ironclaw stated. “And when I find out who, there’s going to be blood. Rose could have been killed.”
Ramiel smiled at that. “Count me in when we find them.”
“How is she?” Rey looked at Ironclaw.
“She’ll live. Ramiel pulled her out of a spiked pit trap. She could have died there.”
Rey frowned. “What do you want me to do to help?”
“I just need everyone to understand they aren’t to wander around the territory alone until we figure this out. Pair up,” Ironclaw said.
Anger surged in Rey and she opened her mouth to protest, but then shut it again. “Okay.” She didn’t care if she couldn’t completely hide how she felt from her voice. She might be just a human and unable to patrol the pack’s territory like the others, but there’s no way in hell she was just going to sit around and do nothing.
Ramiel had been quite for a while. “No worries, you will get your chance.”
“I’m not worried,” Rey said with a smile. A plan was beginning to form in her head. It’d probably take the rest of the night to do, but it’d serve to help put her other master plan forward another step.