Timeline: 4 am, April 6th 2008 — New Moon.
Rey sighed in relief when she neared the Cave locus. She was exhausted, and her shoulder and back ached. If John saw her now, he’d probably be lecturing her about taking things easy, but she couldn’t. Not until the wererats were defeated and driven out.
She didn’t bother trying to be stealthy. Anyone in the cave would be downwind and they’d be able to smell her coming; her scent, the blood from her shoulder if the bite had started bleeding again, and probably the meat she carried in her backpack. She grabbed as much of it as she could carry from the bar when she closed it down. If anyone had been injured, the food she’d put there probably wouldn’t have been enough.
A great beast rose in from a deep shadow in the darkness. It’s eyes reflected the dim, yellow-white light of Rey’s flashlight and teeth shiny with saliva glittered in the night. But the monstrous creature seemed to melt away in an instant, leaving a more familiar female form to bath in Rey’s light.
“Rey,” Rose said. “We’ve been expecting you.” She smiled and waited for Rey to close, then walked with her into the cavernous opening that led to the cave locus.
The locus always caused a chilly shiver in those who approached it. The death and sacrifice that had happened here centuries ago had caused the emotional spike that caused the locus to form. Now the death-resonance continued, nursed by the deadly werewolves drawn to it and it continued to produce an unsettled feeling in all those who came to this place. Grey, Chaska and Ironclaw lounged near the circle in the center, the place of the ancient sacrifice.
Rey relaxed a bit when she saw the others and smiled, feeling some of her exhaustion disappear. Her eyes lingered on Grey, then moved to Ironclaw as she slipped her backpack off and let it slide to the ground. “I brought food,” she said. “All the meat I could carry. It’ll need to be cooked, though, unless you shift so you can eat it raw.” She frowned. “Some of it may still be frozen, though.”
She bit her lip. “I tried to come when you called, but I kind of lost my temper when the EMT’s tried to stop me.” She blushed slightly. “I’m going to have to apologize to the guy I bit before they sedated me to take me to the hospital.”
Grey stood and moved to Rey. He circled her, his eyes intense as he inspected her. His Dalu form leaned in and inhaled her scent. After a few minutes he shifted down to human form and took her in his arms. “I knew you would pull through this.”
She tried not to wince when his arm brushed her wounded shoulder. “Thanks.” Rey was painfully aware of how bedraggled she looked. Bloodstained and torn jeans and a borrowed shirt. She’d gone straight to the bar after the hospital and never did get home to check on the condition of her cabin. The only reason she was even partly clean was what the hospital had done to treat her shoulder.
Ironclaw paced over and retrieved the food. “Thanks,” he said quietly. There had been a lot of fighting and, subsequently, healing. It drove the Uratha’s hunger. “I’ll get them thawed. The others are at the house watching the injured and the prisoners.”
“Who was hurt that it couldn’t be healed?” Rey asked in surprise. It couldn’t have been one of the pack, because if they were, they’d be here at the locus with Grey and Chaska. Ariyah had been called in before to heal someone. Had she not been able to come?
“Ramiel and Michael were working with Ann-Marie, Julie, Dark Sun and Wang Chi to provide a distraction while our main force attacked the Witch Rat nest,” Ironclaw said quietly. “Ariyah couldn’t heal them. Lyla told me that Ariyah berated her former students very angrily for drawing upon something called the Abyss. Lyla had the impression is was like drawing upon the powers of ‘hell’. Doing so infused their souls with darkness and the evil has poisoned their wounds such that no magic can heal them. Not spiritual. Not arcane.”
Ironclaw looked at her and she could see the pain and worry for his friend in Ironclaw’s eyes. “I fear our allies have fallen, succumbed to something seductive, powerful, and wholly evil. We must be wary of them now. Watch them. Lyla is overseeing the matter for now, but I’m not sure I can trust her to take the proper action should Ramiel raise his fist against us.”
Rey leaned into Grey and closed her eyes against Ironclaw’s news. The thought of what happened, losing Ramiel to something like that, made her gut twist. She took a deep breath and looked at her Ulfric again. “If we cannot rely upon them, then I am going to have to take a more active role in the next attack.” Seeing the expression on Ironclaw’s face harden, she continued quickly. “No, not fight. I can hold my own, more or less, with normal people. But there is something I can do. Something I am normally loathe to do, but we need whatever edge we can get.
“I know the name of the Witch Rat Queen, or at least the name her people call her. The one that bit me, she was giving orders in the First Tongue, telling the other rats to take me and the other people they’d attacked to the queen.” Rey took a deep breath. “Knowing that name means I can curse her. My curses cannot directly harm,” she tried to explain, “but hinder. I am powerful enough to make a stunt car driver drive like a teenager who just got their level one license, but only for a limited time. I can make it harder for her to flee, or cause her to fumble an attack, or any other specific action you choose. If I manage to perform the ritual properly.” Her smile had a slight predatory edge to it. “And it is very, very difficult for the target of the curse to even realize they have been cursed, let alone trace it back to who’s behind it.”
Ironclaw traded a glance with Rose and looked thoughtful. “How long will the curse last?”
“It will be active for 24 hours once the ritual was complete, and it will affect…” Rey paused to think for a moment, “three attempts at a particular action. So three attacks, for example, unless I manage to perform the ritual exceptionally well. In that case, it will last for the full 24 hours.”
Grey did not hide his concern as he looked From Rey, to his ulfric, and back again. “Can others detect it? Ramiel was going on about a mage with them. There was a cloaked figure with the queen when we attacked that took no action. They still have a possible ace up their sleeve on this.”
“I think so,” Rey said. “I don’t remember exactly what Hamilton told me, it’s a very specific thing a mage needs to do.” She looked up at Grey. “There was a mage I was considering cursing, so I asked. I don’t think it’s possible for a mage to break the curse, though, once it sticks.”
“What Rey does and what Ramiel does,” Ironclaw pointed out, “are very different. I should think that a foreign mage would not be well prepared for Rey’s curse. The trouble is that we are not ready to strike again so soon. Several members of the pack have little essence left to them, and this locus will not refresh until morning. And I don’t want to split the pack further by sending out people to replenish essence at the other loci. They could be followed and our resources discovered.
“How much time do you need to enact the curse?” he asked.
“A minimum of ten minutes, but it could take hours to ensure I succeeded, and I won’t give up until I do. Performing the ritual here will help improve my chances of success. Having something that belongs to the wererat queen would greatly enhance them.”
Grey smiled at Ironclaw. “I don’t suppose you managed to rip some of her hair out when you faught her?” He asked.
Ironclaw raised his hands to examine them. He grunted. “Forgot to wash my hands. I still have her blood on them.”
“And I believe Ann-Marie drew a picture of the rat queen,” Rose pointed out.
Rey smiled. “Perfect.” This was the first time she was actually looking forward to laying a curse on someone, and to be doing it for a non-selfish reason. “I need as much of that blood as I can get off your hands, in as pure a form as possible. Wash it off with as little water as possible, and catch some in a bowl and the rest can be on a clean cloth.” A grimace twisted her mouth. “And I’m going to need some help replacing the dressing on my shoulder. Carrying that backpack here was not on the list of things the doctor said I should do.”
Ironclaw smiled. “Excellent.” And Rey got to work.