Pack Business

Timeline: November 30, 2007

It had been a few days since Michael had asked to speak with Ironclaw about whatever was hunting the Uratha of Eldon Well. Ironclaw had proven difficult to find and even scrying wasn’t much of a help — it was good for finding things only in the material world. That meant, of course that Ironclaw was elsewhere, likely the Shadow Realm which, until Ramiel possessed a degree of learning of the Spirit Arcana, he could not look there.

Therefore, when they found Ironclaw it was by accident. Michael and Ramiel were leaving the Blood and Brew where they had stopped by to see if anyone might know where Ironclaw was. They were heading back up to the house when Ramiel happened to look down the trail. The pub was located on the outskirts of town, just off the trail that led to the hub. There on the trail, perhaps forty yards away were Lyla and Ironclaw. They paused in mid-conversation.

“Hey guys,” said Lyla. “Out for a beer?”

Ramiel felt a tinge in his stomach. He had hinted at Lyla having deeper feelings for James. Now he was beggining to wonder if he was mistaken. He felt bad that he had brought it up, because of what James had said. Oh boy you dig them deep don’t you. ugh.

“No.” Ramiel replied and headed toward James and Lyla.

Michael headed toward James and Lyla as well, and said, “Actually we were looking for you Jamrph,,,,,,,”

Ramiel heard the name James coming out of Michaels’ mouth and knew it would be trouble. Ramiel put his hand across Michaels’ mouth and finished his sentence. “Ironclaw. We are looking for you Ironclaw.”

The huge man folded his arms across his massive chest. “Oh really.”

Lyla paid no mind to Ironclaw’s rigid stance, though. She looked at Michael curiously. “What are you guys up to?”

Anger flashed in Michael’s eyes, reaching up he grabbed Ramiel’s hand in a crushing grip. With his anger flaring, Michael could feel his power growing. As he pulled Ramiel’s hand away, he turned toward Ramiel.

Once Michael was looking at Ramiel, Ramiel saw that Michael’s eyes had become completely pitch black, and was glowing an eerie pale white around the edges. The area also became colder, and one could also smell the faint order of death.

Michael spoke in a harsh whisper between clenched teeth, “DON’T EVER FUCKING DO THAT AGAIN, PRETTY BOY. Cause the next time, you’ll be singing saprano permanatly.”

Michael then turned toward Ironclaw and Lyla, and said, “I’m sorry, but we will have to have this conversation at another time.” Michael then did a slight nod of the head, did an about face, and walked away.

Ramiel looked at Lyla and Ironclaw. “If I knew my touch would cause that… Geez” He watched Michael walking away. “Shame really. Hey want that beer now?”

He then yelled after Michael. “When you calm down we are at the pub!”

Lyla and Ironclaw shared a bemused look, then shrugged. “Sure,” they said in unison.

As Michael walked away and was out of sight, he took a couple of deep breathes and calmed himself. He was not angry with Ramiel touching him, it was the way that Ramiel interrupted him.

After he walked around for about fifteen minutes, Michael was calm again, and decided to go and meet up with the others at the pub. So standing tall, he made his way to the ‘Blood and Brew’.

Michael stepped into the Blood and Brew, and let his eyes adjust to the dim lighting.

Ramiel had been waiting for Michael to show up, and was prepared to stay all night. He was looking around the bar when Michael walked in. Ramiel smiled and held up a glass to Michael, sat it down at an empty chair at the table and filled it with beer.

Michael spotted Ramiel, walked over to the table, and sat down. After taking a drink, he said, “Well shall we start over?”

Ironclaw was enjoying his own beer while Lyla sat between he and Ramiel nursing her own pale beer.

“You boys gonna have a fight?” Ironclaw asked.

Lyla jabbed him in the ribs, which of course the big man barely felt. “Don’t encourage them.” She turned and looked at Ramiel and Michael. “No brawling in my bar, guys!”

Ramiel held his hands up in surrender. “Hey my bad, I can admit that. I’m sorry that I upset you Michael.” He looked at Ironclaw and Lyla then back to Michael. “Though you gotta admit that was pretty fucking cool!”

Michael held his hand up in the Boy Scout salute, “I give my word of honor, not to fight in your bar, Lyla.”

Ramiel sank back into his chair. Since Michael had chosen not to acknowledge his apology he figured it wasn’t accepted. Well I guess that is why I don’t give them out much.

“So what’s up, officer,” asked Ironclaw.

“You can call me Michael, I’m not on duty right now. The reason we were looking for you, is that during a conversation with Ramiel, he told me about the trap that you found. I was wanting to offer my assistance in helping to find out who may have left it.” Michael then sat back and had big drink of his beer, keeping eye contact with Ironclaw.

Lyla hid her expression by taking a drink of her beer.

“No thanks,” Ironclaw replied.

“Fine, if you don’t want me help, that’s OK. But I figured a different set of eyes might see things differently.” Michael looked to Ramiel, “I heard your apology, just don’t do that again. I don’t care to be grabbed that way.”

Ramiel drowned the smart ass comment with beer. He leaned in and whispered. “I was trying to help honestly. I will try not to repeat those actions.”

He looked at Ironclaw. “I know you were just humoring me with letting me help out. Michael has a legit reason to want to help. That and it would be better for everyone that way. I know you may not think it but when it comes to pack, it effects us as well. At least the two of us here.”

“That’s your choice,” Ironclaw stated. “But the pack doesn’t have that choice. This isn’t something you should be involving yourself in, Michael. Forget whatever Ramiel told you about it and walk away.”

Lyla watched Ironclaw and she saw the set line of his jaw. “Michael,” she said in a tone far softer than Ironclaw’s, “what do you really expect to do here? This isn’t a monster hunt. We’re the monsters. The odds are, we’re dealing with some scared, simple joe. If you get involved, what are you going to do? Shoot somebody’s daddy? Someone’s little girl? Maybe someone’s mother or brother or sister? I’m sorry, but you have to see a teensy conflict of interest here. The less you’re involved the better it’s going to be for us and for you.”

Ramiel kept his mouth shut and let Michael answer the question. Though it was obvious that he did not like what had been said.

Michael’s eyes narrowed, as he scoffed at the questions. Michael’s tone of voice was cold as he said. “Actually Lyla, this is a monster hunt. To think that you guys believe that you are the only monsters in the world. Trust me when I say this, normal humans can be just as monsterous.

“I get were you are coming from, and I can respect that. But I care deeply for someone who is a member of your pack. And I don’t want to see any harm come to her, like this trap.” Michael’s jaw clenched as he finished speaking, trying to keep his calm.

Ironclaw looked Michael straight in the eye. “Noted. Lyla spoke out of turn, but you already have my answer.”

Ramiel drained his beer. “This will never change will it? Why won’t you just let us help those we care about? You know that it will effect everyone, it is not just pack business. It could have just as easily been me or a child from town that fell into that trap.” Ramiel managed to keep his voice calm and collected as he spoke. He knew James to some degree and was trying very hard to respect his position. They had been becoming friends, and Ramiel did not want to ruin that.

“Despite what you both may be thinking right now,” Ironclaw stated, “this isn’t about pride or self-reliance. Lyla had some of it right — the two of you are good at what you do, good in your fields, but you are not predators. And you are not monsters. You can’t keep killing your own kind and remain right in the head. That’s not a criticism,” Ironclaw said, “it’s a statement of fact and it’s a good thing the two of you haven’t degenerated into mere killers.”

Ironclaw sat back. “I’ve already got Ramiel into this mess and he’s stuck with us. I’m not dragging you into it, too.”

Ramiel’s eyes grew cold as Ironclaw spoke. He has no idea what kind of monster I am. Or he wouldn’t say that about me. Maybe I am not right in the head as he says. Huh, not that I care.

Michael went quiet, and just seemed to look thru Ironclaw, as flashes of his past went through his mind. It took a brief moment, but it seemed to Michael that hours had past. “Before I even discuss the ‘mere killers’ part you said. Can I ask what kind of trap it was that Rose fell into?”

“Pit trap made along an animal trail,” Ironclaw said.

“Is there anything else about the trap that you would be willing to tell me?,” Michael asked.

Ironclaw was losing patience quickly. “You’re pushing it Michael.” He looked at Ramiel. “Ready to go? We have some things to talk about.”

Ramiel finished his new glass and leaned over to kiss Lyla in the cheek and noticed Lyla was staring rather intently at Michael. He went to pat Michael on the shoulder and tehn withdrew giving him a wink instead. “Yeah, I’m ready.” Ramiel stood and followed Iron-Claws lead.

Lyla didn’t get up to leave. “I’ll catch up with you guys later.”

Michael looked to Ramiel, and said, “I’ll see ya at the house later then.”

Sitting back to finish his beer. He looked at Ironclaw getting ready to leave, then to Lyla to see if she was leaving as well.

She appeared to be staying put. She reached across the table to take Michael’s hand. “Wait. We should talk,” Lyla said.

Michael looked at Lyla’s hand with a raised eyebrow. “I suppose I could stay. What is it that you want to talk about?”

Lyla remained quiet while Ironclaw and Ramiel left. Once they’d exited the building, Lyla looked at Michael seriously for a long moment, then took her hand back. “Listen, I want to talk about a few things with you. Mostly just to let you know that you don’t have to be alone.”

She nibbled her lip. “I understood what you meant about wanting to help. Honestly, I don’t know what James has planned. I love the big guy like a brother but his mind just works… differently than ours. Whatever is going on he doesn’t tell anyone about it until he’s ready and I know him well enough to realize he probably has a plan.

“That’s not really the point I wanted to make though,” she continued. Lyla shook her head and sighed. “The point is that sometimes we do things that… haunt us. They fill our nightmares at night or haunt us with flashbacks. When it stops hurting us, then we know a little piece of our souls have just died. A little bit of us has become more like the monsters we seek to destroy than human or… well whatever we are supposed to be.

“I know that feeling. It’s… horrible. And it’s all the more horrifying if you can’t even see what it makes you become because you know that others will.” Lyla took a long sip of her beer before she continued. “It scares me to death. I’ve been watching Ramiel. I love him. I see things in him nobody else sees, but that also means I see the razor’s edge he walks. Ramiel has… Ramiel has gone through some things. I mean, a lot of us have. I definitely have gone through some things I wish I had never done. And I know you have, too. But I’m scared for Ramiel. “

Lyla shook her head and sighed. “Sorry. I’m dancing around the issue. I’ll tell you what is scaring the hell out of me right now, and why I think I need your help. Whatever James has in mind for dealing with this problem, it’s not going to be a good thing. Not for the hunter. For the pack, yes. But… we’re not human anymore. Things that bothered me when I was human just don’t bother me anymore. Don’t ever forget — for your sake, for Selene’s sake — that none of us are human. Not even close. So, when we fight for our territory, whether that means running off intruding spirits or humans, we don’t hold back. They only thing we try not to do is to drink human blood and eat their flesh. Other than that, the thing that matters to us most is defense of our territory.

“But there is one way we do resemble humans. We don’t kill our own kind. We are Uratha. Just as you are a cop and human, you don’t kill your own kind. Obviously there are exceptions. But when it does happen, it can weigh on your soul. It’s a part of natural law, as well as the super-natural law of the Uratha to preserve one’s species, not end it or violate the natural code for one’s own species.

“The soul and spirit is something I have a special understanding of, Michael. Human soul, Uratha spirit, both are like books to be read for me. When I look at a person, really look, I see what it is that shapes them, makes them human or Uratha, or whatever they happen to be. My gift and my curse, even when I was human, was to know these things and that has never changed.”

“What I’m saying is… well what I’m saying first is don’t be angry with James. He doesn’t mean to alienate you or reject you. Whatever his reasons, whatever he’s got planned he always thinks of the Pack first. In a roundabout way, that means you, too. You just have to trust that. But the thing I want you to know, between the two of us, is that I understand pain. I understand your pain, what weighs on your soul. And if you’re in the mood to talk over beers or whatever, I want to listen. I’m on your side.”

Michael just sat and stared at Lyla well after she was done talking. He was trying to absorb what she said, and come up with something to say in return.

It took a couple of tries, but Michael finally said, “I’m not angry with Ironclaw, maybe frustrated, but not angry. Whatever this hunter problem is, he may think that it only involves the pack. But you have to look at who is going to miss this hunter, and what they will do about it.

“But enough about that, if he doesn’t want my help, so be it. On to other things.” Michael paused to take a drink of his beer, then asked, “What pain do you think weighs on my soul?”

“It’s plain to me,” Lyla said gently. “I can see the nightmares spawned from things that you did and saw over seas. Places of sand, wind, other places of desert mountains. But these things are yours. It’s not right for me to talk about them unless you are willing. It’s just… I see how it tormented you and how you eventually just… steeled yourself from it. Grew a psychological callous. It might have stopped the nightmares and the guilt, but in the end it harms your soul. Your choice is to leave it alone — or you can talk about it with someone who will not judge you for it.”

Michael closed his eyes for a moment, the images of his past flashing behind his eyelids. Michael thought, How is it that she knows? When Michael opened his eyes, they were cold and hard, as he looked at Lyla.

His eyes softened a bit as he spoke, “There are only a few people who know what I did, and some of them are dead, or still overseas. It’s true that I’m not proud about what I did, but I don’t completely regret doing it. If you want to know the details, I can tell you. You may not like what I have to say, but I am not sure this is the right place to talk about it.”

Michael looked around to see if anyone was close, then leaned in to whisper. “Some of what I have to say, if overheard, could land my ass in jail. And I don’t want that.”

Lyla nodded. “It’s okay. Come on, we can use the back room.” She stood, beer in hand, and wen to the bar to have a pitcher poured for them, then took the pitcher and led him to the back room.”

Once they were seated, Lyla filled his mug, topped hers off, and settled back to listen.

Before Michael started, he drained his mug of beer, and then had Lyla refill it.

“Well where should I begin.” Michael paused, “I guess that my turn to the dark side happened during Operation Enduring Freedom, when I was in Afghanistan. The squad that I was with was on a covert direct action mission, to capture some leaders of Al Qaeda. As we were moving stealthily through a valley, when this shepherd boy came over the creast of a hill, and spotted us. Now this boy couldn’t have been no older than 12 to 14 years old. This kid got spooked and turned to run away, to either alert or hide, but my instant reaction was to bring my weapon to bear, and I shot him in the back, killing him.

“We ended up cleaning up the scene, and buring the body in a shallow grave. And continued on the mission. Now as a squad we agreed to keep what happened as a secret. You might think, ‘how could I kill this kid’, well it was simple. It was either him or jepordize the mission. So I killed him, I felt nothing about it, I was… I guess I felt cold inside. Or I felt nothing inside. Take your pick.

“Now what I would like to know is, how on earth you know about what I did?”

“It’s just as I said,” Lyla replied. “You’ve got a soul, and that usually tends to be an open book to me. There are reasons for that, but I guess it’s kind of pointless to explain. That would only get me into trouble and leave you more confused and with more questions that couldn’t be answered. Call it a special ability. I don’t know how you and Ramiel can do stuff just by enforcing your will. Well, this is kind of like that, only I had to earn the right to have the power by wresting it from another being. But now that I have it, these powers and abilities are scribed onto my own soul and can never be taken away or shut down.”

“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to ask the same question again. What I was wanting to ask is, why? Why did you even bother looking? Or, why look in the first place?”

Michael shifted in the chair he was sitting in, then continued with the talk. “If what you are trying to do is help me get over what I have done. I have lived with what I have done for quite awhile, and I feel I have gotten over it. Then maybe I like the fact that MY soul is stained with the blood of those I have killed. I’m a cold hearted prick that doesn’t care what others think of me, only caring for myself and a few others.”

Michael then leaned forward, with resting his head in his hands as his elbows were on his knees. With his eyes closed his took a couple of deep breaths, just sitting there. With his eyes still closed, Michael quietly said more to himself than to Lyla, “Why do I keep doing what I do?”

Lyla didn’t answer his question. Instead, she said quietly, “The thing that separates us from our enemies is the fact that we are not the monsters. Once we do fall and become no better than the cultists, the killers, the callous… then it is our turn to be hunted and destroyed by those who have gone to the precipice but were strong enough not to fall.

“You and I, and Ramiel, walk a fine line. A razor’s edge sometimes. But we can’t afford to fall or how do we know that we haven’t become the tools of the Dark Man himself? At what point does something in our hearts and minds see the evil that follows the Dark Man and think… ‘maybe he’s not so bad?’ Ask yourself this, how do you separate yourself from the ones that would destroy our world when you have so steeled yourself from the truth, the horror of your own actions, that you can’t see a difference between us and them?”

Lyla shook her head. The question was meant to be rhetorical, something for him to turn over in his mind. “Sometimes I’m not sure, myself. I’ve allowed myself to look into a place in my heart that wasn’t meant to be unleashed. I suffer for it. I can see that you’ve been there, too, and whether you know it or not, you suffer for it, too. The very best thing we can do is to try to lend each other the strength to resist the temptation not to care anymore. That’s what I’m trying to do here.”

Michael took a deep breath, held it for the count of five, then let it out slowly. Michael pulled a card out of his shirt pocket, and looked at it for a few moments, the way he held it, Lyla couldn’t make out what was on it.

Michael then sat up and looked at Lyla. “They say that war is hell, and when you are in the middle of it, you are. Sometimes the past still haunts you when you think you have left it behind. I have forgotten oaths that I once made, and I did some terrible things. I am at the edge of the abyss, just waiting for it to claim me. I am willing to except your hand to keep me from being claimed by the dark things that I have done.”

Michael looked down the card in his hands again, then said, “What do we do now?”

“What feels right to do,” Lyla said with a smile. “When you are ready to talk about it, I’ll be here.”

Michael smiled, “I know what would feel good to do now, but first I would need to find Selene. There are a couple of things I am not ready to talk about yet, but when the time is right, I will seek you out.”

Michael paused for a moment, looking at the card on last time, he then handed it to Lyla. The card was the size of a playing card, the side Lyla saw first had what looked like a coat of arms on it. Before Lyla flipped it over, Michael grabbed the top edge then said, “This card I have kept with me since I entered the military. Lately it has helped me to refocus my thoughts so that I don’t drift to the dark places in my mind; where I revisit the things that I have done in the past. I am giving this to you, because I feel it needs to be passed on. Whether you believe in the ideals that this encompasses or not, is up to you. All I ask is that you read it and keep it with you, or pass it onto someone you think is worthy.”

With that said, Michael then let go of the card.

Lyla looked from him to the card, then paused a moment as she read it. She looked back up at him thoughtfully. “There’s power here. I’ll find a home for this,” she said. She reached over and squeezed his hand, then let him go.

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