Timeline: Evening, April 7th 2008
The various members of the pack filed into the cave locus after the battle. Some had been very badly wounded, but Ariyah had generously seen to them. All were well now, if a bit tired from the exertion of wiping out a shapeshifter nest containing three times their own numbers.
Most returned naked or reduced to mere rags; a clear indication the fighting had been especially vicious. Many used a special rite that preserved clothes when they shifted, but that presumed the clothes were in working order before they shifted in the first place. For many of them, they’d been fighting in at least two and more commonly three of their forms, including Hishu, or human form.
The group of them filed in and took advantage of the spare clothes and food Rey had brought them and set up in the cave, quietly settling down after the fight. The sole exception was Lyla, who had murmured something softly to Ironclaw before padding away. She nodded a quiet, but tired greeting to Rey as she left, but clearly she was in a hurry.
Rey returned her greeting but let Lyla go. Instead, she sought out Grey. She ran over to him but pulled up short instead of flinging herself full force into his arms as she wanted to. “Hi.” She felt her cheeks become a little bit warm with embarrassment. Despite the fact he looked completely healed, she wanted to search his body for any injury, no matter how small. Her flush deepened when her thoughts strayed to other things, and the celebration of life – and victory – she’d been thinking about earlier.
Selene, having changed from the torn rags she had on into something intact, got something to eat and retreated to the edge of the circle around the center of the locus.
Grey laughed to see her. “Here I am barely alive thanks to Ariyah and you are thinking about sex!” He smiled as he stood and hugged Rey. “How will I ever keep up with you?”
Rey buried her now bright crimson face against his chest. “That’s not just what I was thinking about.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “I was so worried that the curse hadn’t helped, that you’d gotten hurt and that I’d never… When I saw you, I wanted to check you over, look for any wounds that hadn’t healed. To see if you’d earned any new scars. Then I thought about my new scars…” She lifted her face to look him with eyes filled with love and desire, but the relief she felt fled to be replaced by concern. “You are okay, right? Not just putting on an act for my benefit, so I won’t worry?”
Ironclaw stepped in. “Rey, we are all okay. Grey here got torn up pretty bad and Ariyah did heal him after the battle, but it was Selene who risked herself and her child to stand over his body and keep the rats from tearing to pieces.”
Rey’s eyes fell and she felt just awful at the reproach she heard in Ironclaw’s voice. She slipped out of the shelter of Grey’s arms and went over to Selene. Rey knelt beside her.
“I’m fine.” Selene snapped, her voice harsh, making Rey cringe. Selene watched the witch for a moment, then her expression softened. She looked between Grey and Rey, and for a moment, there was a flash of envy in her eyes. “Really, I’m fine.” She reached out and soothed Rey’s hair. “We’re both fine.”
Rey watched Selene’s face for a moment, then looked around at the rest of the pack. “Is there anything I can do now to help?”
“Yes,” Ironclaw said. “Keep an eye out on the other side of the gauntlet here. We’re all tired, exhausted. But some of the Queen’s lieutenants escaped, and while I think they probably withdrew, there’s a chance they could try to ambush us in revenge through the locus.”
“Will do,” Rey said immediately. She found a reasonably comfortable spot to sit. “Keep an eye on me, okay? My attention will be so focused on the other side that I won’t be aware of what’s going on here.”
“Not to worry. We will put you in an array of compromising positions and take pictures.” Grey grinned. He needed something to cheer him up.
Rose had kept quiet, and was lying down near Chaska.
Rey laughed, and her happy smile returned. “How long do you need me to keep watch?” she asked Ironclaw.
“Just a little while,” he assured her. “Long enough for the pack to get some rest and scout around a bit.”
“Hey, it’s no problem,” Rey replied. “I just needed to figure out if I should be sitting up or lying down. If it’s going to be more than half an hour, I tend to lie down before I go into the trance,” she explained. “That way I don’t have to worry about my legs falling asleep.”
Four hours later, Rey opened her eyes and rolled onto her back. She looked up at Grey with a smile. She arched her back slightly as she extended her hands above her head to stretch. “Hi.” The expression on her face was that of contentment and anticipation. “Everything’s quiet on the other side. The death spirits have returned to feed, so it looks like life is back to usual there.”
A small fire burned, flickering and spitting with quiet crackles nearby. Curled up on the blanket with a small rock for a pillow was Lyla. She hadn’t rested, but instead dealt with prisoners when they got back, and only just now had an opportunity to relax. She stared past the fire and quietly watched Rey and Grey with tired eyes.
Rey turned her head when she noticed the fire. “Hey, Lyla. You okay?”
She nodded and yawned. “Just tired. I had to get rid of the wererat prisoners before Ironclaw did it his way.” She pushed up from the ground and propped herself up with her cheek on the palm of one hand. “By the way, I owe Young Father Bear for that gift. I may have to leave for a short while on his behalf.”
“What gift?” Rey asked.
Grey looked at her and nodded. “I think that Ironclaw will understand in this case.”
Lyla’s eyes shown with pride at the gift the totem spirit had entrusted to her. “I asked Young Father Beat to teach me to make my strikes powerful. He empowered me by showing me how to rend my enemies with claws and fang unlike ever before. Armor is meaningless to those with this gift and even stone, steel and other obstructions fall away like tissue paper under my fangs and claws. I can inflict grievous wounds on living beings that cannot be healed. It is a horrible power to wield against other Uratha, of course, and I would never do that. But against our enemies? Young Father Bear has trusted that I can judge what enemy deserves such a terrible fate. I used it very effectively last night against the Witch Rats. And it was this same gift that Chaska used to take down their Queen. In exchange, he has demanded I offer a great boon to him for this and I the accepted deal.”
Rey nodded, a little bit in awe of what Lyla and Chaska could now do. “We can talk more later, after you’ve rested.” She looked up at Grey and put her hand on his chest over his heart. “Shall we go somewhere a bit more private, and let Lyla sleep in peace?” She smiled.
Grey laughed. “You have a one track mind.”
“Can you blame me?” Her face was awash with emotion: joy at his return, pride at the success of the pack in defending their territory, all mixed in with the love she felt for him.
He laughed louder. “Well for the sake of the pack…” He stood and picked Rey up, slinging her over his shoulder. “I must go make sure this one can no longer talk for her exhaustion.” With that he nodded to Lyla and headed to Rey’s.
“Have fun you two,” Lyla called after them.
“We’ll try,” Rey called back, stifling a giggle.