The Lupa

Timeline: December 26th, 2008

“I said no,” Lyla said. The Young Father Bear pack Lupa stared hard at the tall blond standing in the frigid snow-dusted sidewalk. It was night but brightly lit by street lights. With the light snow, which still gently fell even as the two women confronted each other, there were few shadows anywhere in town, especially here near the parking lot of the Blood and Brew tavern. It was 2:30 am and that meant the customers were long gone. Rey had herself only just stepped outside to lock up the front door before going home when she heard Lyla’s firm statement.

It was cold, but not bitterly so. Even twenty degrees Fahrenheit didn’t seem so bad when the air was as still as it was tonight. Lyla stood dressed in a lined, black leather jacket that was more fashionable than warm, gloves and a nice knit hat. The woman confronting her was Gillian, a member of the werewolf pack in Eldon Well. Lyla was, ever since she’d defeated Rose a year and a half ago, the top female in the pack. That meant that if she chose to set rules down, then the other females were expected to follow them. However, it was also up to her to enforce those rules. It appeared that Gillian had a difference of opinion with Lyla over something tonight.

And that struck Rey as strange. Gillian had always behaved as a kind of lost puppy around Lyla. Gillian had followed Lyla home from a mission in Portland, Maine, nearly a year ago following events that had cost Lyla her baby. Gillian had been one of two werewolves that worked for Mr. Sterling, a mage guilty of mind-controlling other supernatural beings into slavery. It was during the battle with Gillian Red Eyes and Eric Ripper that Lyla had been hurt so bad her body was forced to change to Gauru form reflexively in order to survive. Although they were able to overcome Sterling’s servants ultimately, and then distracted him enough to allow Cay his chance at slaying the mortal who dared to attempt to enslave him as well, Lyla’s change had induced a forced abortion, causing the child within her to be miscarried immediately.

Perhaps it had been a sense of guilt, then, that had caused Gillian to follow Lyla all the way back to Eldon Well and risk the rebuke of the pack. She had eventually been begrudgingly allowed to join the pack, but she was never really made to feel a part of the group. Gillian, whether it was against her will or not, had been one of the instruments responsible for the death of Lyla and Ramiel’s child. To Rey’s knowledge, Lyla had never discussed that with Gillian. And Lyla was not one to forgive easily. Still, she’d never chased Gillian away or openly rebuked the wayward, lone, werewolf. Yet ever since then, Gillian had always been Lyla’s silent shadow. No one really ever spoke to Gill. And to Rey’s knowledge, Gillian was the only member of the pack Lyla completely left out of the rotation to work at the Blood and Brew.

Gillian stood now defiantly twenty feet in front of Lyla. She had only her worn, old jeans (compared to Lyla’s new, designer low-riders) and green, thick, winter coat. Gillian sported stains on her jacket that wouldn’t wash out anymore. Despite her poor clothes, she still wasn’t a bad looking young woman. Her hair and something in her face reminded Rey of Sarah Michelle Geller from the old Buffy TV series, although Gillian was a good deal taller than the actress. Gillian was clutching a piece of paper in one fist.

Lyla berated her. “Skulking about in my shadow for the past year doesn’t make you a hunter, Red Eyes. It makes you a coward. You don’t deserve any of that,” she said coldly. “You haven’t earned it.” Lyla took a step in Gillian’s direction designed to make her appear more threatening, despite still being a good seven strides away. “I don’t give handouts. Neither will the tribe. You have nothing, Gillian, and that’s exactly what you deserve. Don’t bother asking anyone else to sponsor you, either, because it’s not going to happen. Not so long as I’m lupa.”

The words were hard, even cruel and Rey could see Gillian flinch at the sting. Rey knew Lyla rarely spoke to Gillian at all, but she’d never seen Lyla behave this cruelly to Gillian.

“You might control what tribe I can join for now, Lyla,” Gillian said in a voice that shook a little. “But you don’t have the right to tell me who I’ll take as a mate.”

“Yes. I do.”

She seemed to gather her courage around her. “That’s not right! You don’t control him! Neither of them!”

“No,” Lyla said deliberately. “I control you.”

Gillian’s face paled, then began to redden. She let go of the paper she had, and the little crumpled piece fluttered lightly in the air and drifted slowly away, finally coming to rest near the Blood and Brew. She gritted her teeth and snarled at Lyla.

Rey edged towards the piece of paper intending to get it and see what it said. She hoped she wouldn’t be noticed by either of the two women. The young witch knew enough to stay out of the way. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t see a way to get to it without being noticed by the angry werewolves. That’s when Hamilton came to her aid. The familiar, like all familiars, simply was difficult to notice. He trotted through the shadows daintily stepping high so as to avoid as much moisture as possible on his paws, and snapped up the paper in his jaws as he passed so quick, it was almost as if the paper was never there.

He stopped at Rey’s feet and spat the paper into her hand. Ack! Ptui! Where did that woman find this paper? he grumbled. The garbage?

Looking at it, he was probably correct. But past the doodles, Rey made out a short list of things that Gillian had apparently put together reflecting things she wanted. The list said;

  • Ask Lyla if I can join the Hunters
  • Does she have an open relationship with Ramiel? Related – ask about the dating thing
  • Ask for a job

The puzzle was what had angered Lyla? Was she still harboring latent anger over what had happened almost a year ago? As she thought about it, Lyla did have a long memory. Did she really hold grudges? Rey guessed she did to a certain extent, though usually her grudges had been largely mitigated by Ramiel’s influence. Was Lyla’s life of crime making her more controlling, less tolerant? Or did she have some legitimate bone to pick with Gillian?

While Rey tried to put together what was going on, Lyla was concentrating on her foe. Gillian was the less experienced werewolf of the two in terms of the spirit world. But she had long been a very scary combatant. It was in battle with her, after all, that Lyla had been pushed to the edge and beyond. Gillian Red Eyes was a master of animalistic attacks of raw fury and cunning. Lyla had simply gotten lucky a few times, though she had been working hard to improve her combat skills of late. Lyla realized that if she was going to exert her authority over Gillian, it wasn’t going to be easy. A bead of cold sweat trickled down her temple as she realized that a loss to Gillian now would mean the end of her position as lupa and it was likely she’d be forced to disclose and perhaps turn over her operations and “extracurricular” activities to the new lupa.

Gillian sensed Lyla’s tension and fear. She didn’t have anything to lose now. Gillian’s brown eyes faded to red and a feral grin split her lips. “You control me for now. But let’s just see if you will after tonight.”

If Gillian wins, this could be very bad, Rey said to her familiar as she picked him up and cuddled him to her chest. Everything we’re trying to do to help those women could go up in smoke, and that FBI agent could come down hard on Lyla because she’s not doing it anymore. Rey also realized she didn’t know how much influence Lyla had over how the others treated her. She was pretty sure Ironclaw and Grey wouldn’t let Gillian do anything to her, but how much of a grudge would Gill have?

Fear made a lump grow in her throat, and she clutched the tiny cat tighter. If Gillian did win, what kind of lupa would she be? The insecure part of Rey believed the kindness Lyla showed Rey was due at least in part because of their shared history. Rey knew she’d proven herself to be an asset to the pack, but that didn’t mean Gill would treat her well.

If Gillian does win, I won’t tell her anything about Lyla’s operations, and the part I played in it, Rey said resolutely to Hamilton. I made those promises to my friend, not my lupa. Rey stood where she was, watching the scene unfold before her. She desperately wanted to get involved, to diffuse the situation, but it would be suicide if she did. She also knew it would go badly for Lyla if Lyla did lose.

Lyla wanted to be in control of her own destiny, and being lupa was a part of that. Having the Blood & Brew was too. If Lyla was forced to hand everything over to Gill, it would be a blow. Worse, Lyla would be subject to Gill’s control, and Rey was afraid to even think about what that might do to Lyla’s state of mind.

Lyla knew that there wasn’t a way out of this fight now, and realized too late she’d pushed Gillian too far. The girl, so quietly following in Lyla’s shadow yet despised by the one person she needed approval from most of all, had reached her breaking point.

Hedging her bets, Lyla growled menacingly at Gill, reminding her who was the lead female in the pack. Gillian seemed affected, taken slightly aback and growing more wary of what Lyla might do. Of the two of them, Lyla had a great deal more respect from spirits than Gillian, and access to far more of their gifts. Unfortunately, most of those gifts would not aid her in a fight for dominance.

Gillian ceased the initiative by executing a running leap at Lyla. She sailed through the air and her hands turned to wicked claws. As she came down she swiped viciously at Lyla’s face. Lyla pulled back just in time to avoid the worst of the damage, but Gill had drawn first blood. Lyla jumped back to win some space for a moment, and pulled out her asp. With a flick of her wrist, the baton extended to full length and snapped into position. Lyla’s wound was already healing, but Gillian didn’t give her time to recover. She slashed at Lyla again, and manage a minor injury to Lyla’s arm. Again, Lyla managed to slip out of the younger woman’s reach, but this time she return the blow with a swing of her asp. Somehow Gillian was simply lucky. Lyla’s swing missed narrowly and Gillian, realizing just in time how dangerous that asp could be in the lupa’s hands. She dove out of the way, rolled, and came up in a skidding crouch the bumped into Rey and knocked her off balance.

The young witch couldn’t keep from crying out and tried to keep the fear and concern from her voice. She tried to keep from falling as backed up as quickly as she could, her only concern to get out of harm’s way.

Gillian glanced at Rey but then sprang at Lyla again, knowing that if she let Lyla take the initiative, she might lose her chance at a quick victory. She ran back at Lyla, this time streaking by her with claws extended. She drew blood again with a minor wound across Lyla’s side as she passed.

Lyla didn’t dodge Gillian’s attack but merely shifted and turned as the young ghost wolf swept past. Rey could see the injury Gillian had done heal and disappear beneath the torn leather of her coat. Then Lyla landed a blow with the asp as Gillian tried to move out of reach. It seemed graceful and slow but it connected with the point of Gillian’s elbow that was followed by a wet snap as the force of the blow broke bone.

An asp was normally designed to subdue and didn’t usually leave permanent damage like that. That was Rey’s clue that Lyla had already tapped into Young Father Bear’s gift of Strength. This caused any unarmed blow delivered by his favored pack to carry lethal force beyond what strength alone could manage. Lyla’s technique never relied on strength, but instead it required precision to attack only the weakest points of her opponent’s body. Such finesse, employed by a skilled fighter, could cause a surprising amount of damage to the victim.

Gillian’s elbow was broken and the pain was excruciating. It dangled at an ugly, awkward angle and she howled even louder when she took the maimed arm in her other hand and forced it to bend the correct direction with a horrible grinding sound that Rey could hear even from her current position. But the point of it was plain — doing so allowed Gillian a chance to begin healing that damage and, with luck, get that arm back in use before the end of the fight. Gillian then grew larger, stretching her jeans to the breaking point and filling out her thick, winter coat. She couldn’t afford the cost to do so instantly, and to Rey’s experienced eye, Gillian’s transformation seemed both painful and slow.

Lyla didn’t let that opportunity pass her by. She closed and delivered a blow to Gillian’s throat — silencing her howl and replacing it with a strangled gurgle. Gillian flailed with her clawed hands in a weak attempt to fend Lyla off, but it did little but add another small scratch or two, which Lyla ignored and continued to deliver a brutal beating.

Gillian had lost the initiative now and was fighting a defensive battle, Rey could see with some relief. But she wasn’t done yet. She still had another trick to try. In a blink she’d transformed into her massive, red-eyed Urshul form. A cold wash of reflexive fear swept over Rey, though she held her ground. She knew this form and it was one of the most terrifying things a human could witness, but she did her pack proud and did not run or panic.

Rey’s mind barely had time to register what happened next. She saw Lyla standing before the huge, angry monster looking like a brave but very outmatched human trying to hold back the fury of a hurricane with nothing but a small stick.

The moment was gone in a whirlwind of furred motion at terrifying speed. Gillian using a vicious move Rey had never seen a werewolf use before, she feign, ducked and so threw off Lyla’s defense that the monstrous beast was able to chomp down hard on Lyla’s neck, bearing them both rolling to the ground. Blood sprayed and Rey could see only the top of Lyla’s head and face under the horrific mass of Urshul beast-wolf as they struggled together, beast versus human.

Rey fought back a scream. She had to stay out of it, but everything in her wanted to get involved and help Lyla. This was a dominance fight, and she’d been told to stay out, that they were almost never to the death, but Gillian had been so angry. Rey knew that if she stepped in, she’d not only get hurt but could weaken Lyla in the eyes of the pack. “Please,” Rey whispered, her eyes filling with tears as she shook with helplessness and fear for her friend. “Please don’t kill each other.”

Not for the first time, Rey wished she was more powerful, that she could do something that didn’t require minutes of rituals. If Lyla died, Rey didn’t know what she’d do. She was willing to face an angry werewolf’s wrath if it meant her friend wouldn’t die.

She gathered up very bit of power she had and willed it to Lyla, knowing it was a futile gesture. There was nothing else she could do but stand there helplessly and witness everything.

A moment later and the two combatants tumbled free of each other. Lyla lithely rolled to her feet while holding her off-hand to her neck. Blood still oozed between her fingers while Gillian, still in monstrous, devil-wolf form snarled and snapped paced around her. Lyla took her hand away from the wound, looked at her hand in disgust and then gave it one shake that sprayed the ground with blood. She turned her head this way and that gingerly, testing it.

Lyla had a glib remark on her lips and she sorely wanted to goad Gillian now, but the truth was she wasn’t in good shape after that attack to her throat. The amount of damage she’d taken from Gillian so far would have already killed a normal human. Good thing I’m not human, she thought to herself with a chuckle.

She danced into action again, whirling first left and then to the right as she opened a new offensive against Gillian. The bigger monster was forced to give ground but still received several snout-crushing blows from Lyla’s asp.

But it turned out Gillian’s retreat was only a feint. She dodged, whirled, and then sped past Lyla, leaving the lupa off-balance and vulnerable. The price was more pounding from Lyla on her way by and it was severe enough that Rey could hear ribs crack and the pain stagger the huge devil-wolf.

Knowing this could well be her last chance, Gillian whirled and, biting through the pain, attack the off-balance lupa with ever ounce of power she had. Claws slashed and jaws snapped down on Lyla, crunching her bones. Gillian flung her former lupa’s body into the wall of the bar where it impacted so hard it shattered brick and cracked mortar. Lyla slid to the ground right next to the horrified Rey. Rey could see shattered ribs protruding through Lyla’s skin and coat and knew there was something horribly wrong with her, something Lyla couldn’t heal.

Rey heard Lyla take a long, ragged breath after a frozen moment of no sound at all. The lupa’s eyes flew open and looked around warily, then focused on Rey. Despite the damage and what had to be nearly mind-shattering pain, Lyla dragged herself to her feet, using the wall for support.

“I… think…” Lyla managed to say hoarsely while Gillian approached them, “she… wants… to play… rough…”

Oh, kudos for Lyla! said Hamilton enthusiastically. Notice she didn’t rage? How wonderfully rare! And she never shifted from human form, not even just a little. But I wonder. Do you think she’ll die if she keeps fighting Gillian? I think she will unless she shifts. On the other hand, if she loses only because Gillian shifted and she did not, she might hold on to the mantle of lupa — barely. Or maybe not. I’m a little fuzzy on the rules, such as they are. In any case that might not be worth her life, I think. Then again, perhaps Lyla could not beat Gillian even if she did shift. That would be sad, would it not, Mistress?

Mistress?

Oh dear. Have I been callous? I’m sorry, Mistress, please don’t cry, he said earnestly. I forgot how attached you can sometimes be to them.

Rey couldn’t stay out of it anymore. “This is no time for jokes, Lyla. You are my friend and my lupa,” she said angrily in First Tongue, tears rolling down her face. “Show her what that means.”

She whirled to face Gillan and took a step towards her, the young witch’s temper, fueled by fear for her friend and the fact the fight was getting out of control. “And you! Look at her. She’s taken all the damage you’ve dished out, and she’s still standing. She didn’t shift, and she didn’t rage.” In the back of her mind, Rey realized how much danger she was putting herself into, but it was too late. “What kind of lupa do you think that makes her?”

She forced herself to stand her ground. There was no way she’d ever be a match for Gillian, even if the werewolf had been in human form, and Rey knew it. Still, every moment she could give Lyla to recover or come up with a plan was worth the danger. Rey couldn’t back down now; wouldn’t back down now, unless ordered to.

Rey hoped that Gillian realized that killing Lyla wasn’t the answer, and that backing down wouldn’t hurt Gillian’s pride. And she now realized that it was probably Lyla’s mention of controlling Gillian that set off this dominance fight. And even if Gillian did win, didn’t Ironclaw have to confirm her new role as lupa for it to actually happen?

The question had to go unanswered for the moment. While she spoke, both werewolves took a moment to recover, though neither had strength left to recover completely. Lyla pushed away from the wall with determination. She wasn’t going to be anybody’s number two girl, and that included leadership in this pack. The only one she was going to answer to was Ironclaw.

Gillian was distracted by Rey’s words, her head cocked quizzically as if she was having trouble understanding what Rey said. Then it clicked — Gillian didn’t understand the First Tongue! She’d never been a part of anything and never fully learned the language of the spirits as taught by the werewolf shamans.

The two combatants squared off again, Gillian as a gigantic dire wolf, and Lyla as just a human. They circled each other warily for a moment, looking for an opening. Then Lyla made her move, hoping endorphins and adrenalin would keep. She jumped high into the air and swung with all her might, landing a crushing blow to Gillian’s skull. As Gillian staggered, Lyla continued her assault, targeting joints and nerve clusters with ferocious and painful precision.

In an attempt to protect her head, Gillian swiped one last time as Lyla, hoping to drive the lupa away and end the fight. It caught Lyla low on her torso and ripped a ragged scream from the wounded, possibly dying, lupa.

Lyla staggered back and fell to her knees, head hanging loosely. A dazed Gillian, blood from the injuries to her head matting her fur, approached, sensing final triumph. She reared up, preparing to press Lyla to the ground and claim dominance from her and that’s when Lyla moved much faster that Gillian expected. Her arm flashed out and the asp connected with the devil-wolf’s temple. Gillian’s red eyes rolled and stared unseeing for a moment, then Lyla hammered her on the head with her left fist, driving the massive beast into the ground.

Gillian shifted immediately back into her human form. She lay there unmoving but breathing and out cold. Lyla looked at the young woman’s battered and broken body, now naked against the elements because her clothing could not survive the shift to Urshul form.

“Yeah,” Lyla whispered. “You stood up for yourself tonight, Red Eyes. But your still my bitch.” Lyla sank to her knees and dropped across Gillian’s inert form. She lay there a moment until she heard Rey approach, then she moved, dragged herself to her knees and looked up.

“She isn’t going to die,” Lyla said, “so long as we get her out of this cold. Open the bar and cover the windows, okay? I need a drink.”

Rey let out a sigh of relief, but her anger hadn’t faded completely. “You could try being nicer to her, you know,” she said as she pulled the keys out of her pocket and proceeded to unlock the door to the bar.

Lyla picked up Gillian’s foot and dragged her over to the door like an oversized sack of potatoes. “Like how do you mean?” she asked.

“She knows nothing about being part of a pack.” Rey stepped back and let Lyla go past her into the bar. “She doesn’t even know First Tongue.” She looked between Gillian and Lyla. “I know you’re holding a grudge against her. But you don’t know her. Don’t know what happened to her, what Sterling did to her. I doubt any of us do.” She straightened her back and took a deep breath. “What happened to her could very well have happened to you.” Rey knew she was taking a big chance, which is why she spoke in the most persuasive and convincing matter she could muster.

“She needs a teacher, not someone to give her shit and force her to continue to be an outcast. Gill’s been shadowing you for a year, and avoiding everyone. At first I thought it was her choice, not wanting to be near people, but now I’m not so sure.

“You showed her acceptance, and for someone who’s been on the outside that’s a powerful thing. I think she wants to be a bigger part of the pack, but doesn’t know how. You were probably the first person to treat her as anything other than a thing, but when she comes to you you treat her like a piece of shit. And then you push that last button and tell her that you control her.

“It took an incredible amount of courage to approach you, considering how she’s been treated over the past year. I’m not asking you to forgive her for what happened, but could you give her a chance? She wants a mate, so help her find someone you find acceptable. Give her a shift at the Blood & Brew. I’ll gladly give up one of my shifts to her. She needs an opportunity to give back to the pack. If you won’t sponsor her, then fine, but don’t prevent anyone else from doing so.”

Rey dropped her gaze to the floor for a moment, then looked Lyla back in the eyes again. “I don’t know what it is she asked you for that has gotten you so angry, but please, stop punishing her for things that may have been completely outside of her control.”

Lyla looked at Rey. “I don’t think you know the whole story. First of all, I don’t know that she was mind controlled by Sterling. She was a ghost wolf, alone until she hooked up with Erick. They then hired themselves out to Sterling. That’s how she remembers it, though there is no way to tell if that memory was implanted by Sterling or not. He was that good.

“Rey, she doesn’t want sponsorship in the pack. She already had that — me. She wanted sponsorship to join a tribe — specifically my tribe. But look Rey, skulking about for a year watching me doesn’t make you a hunter. It makes you at best a voyeur and at worst a coward. That’s not what the Hunters in Darkness do. She showed some initiative tonight and that’s great. It was a good fight.” Lyla sighed and rolled her eyes. “Now I’m even sounding like Ironclaw.” She shook her head.

Rey held back a smile.

Lyla asked Rey to get Gillian’s feet and together they lifted her onto the bar. Lyla got a folded towel to use as a pillow for the unconscious woman.

“And the last thing wasn’t that she wanted a mate. It was that she asked for my mate first. She thought we had an open relationship.” It was sort of true, despite Lyla’s wording, but clearly Lyla wasn’t of the opinion she should share Ramiel with women in her pack.

Lyla fixed herself a brandy and drank it all. Then she looked at Rey and said. “All right. You aren’t completely off base here. But I don’t think I’ve been all that unreasonable either. Yes I pushed her. But she needed pushing. And so when I finally got her to act, I had to beat her without shifting to show her she’s not in my league; not yet anyway. It was a damned close thing, but hopefully she’ll never know just how close. I might be nicer to her now, but I’ll have higher expectations, too. It’s no longer acceptable to just hang around. She has to pull her weight. She has to be more than just an extra tooth and fang for this pack.”

“I understand all that,” Rey replied with a nod. “Does she have to do it all on her own?”

Lyla poured herself another drink. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Are you going to shove her out in the cold again once she’s recovered, or can she have help to learn what she needs to in order to be an asset to the pack?”

“I take it that you’re suggesting I spend some time with her?” Lyla asked. “Maybe. She did show initiative tonight, so she’s not a total waste of flesh. I respect her for that. And for almost making me revise my position in the pack.”

“You gonna brush up on your fighting skills?” Rey asked. “Because I really don’t want to have to live through another episode like that again.” Her eyes filled with tears again, and she turned her face away from her friend. “I was so scared.”

She felt Lyla’s warm hands on her shoulders and then her arm as Lyla gave her a hug from behind. Lyla let her go and when she turned around, Lyla asked, “Hey can you find the first aid kit. I gotta get stitched up. It’s hard to breath. And in a few minutes Gillian will wake, we may need to tend her, too.”

“Hard to breathe? Lyla, I can see your fricking ribs!” Rey shook her head in disbelief. Hamilton, can you help Lyla with her injuries? she asked her familiar as she went to the back room to fetch the first aid kit. Which wasn’t so much a kit as a tool box Rey had filled with medical supplies, on John’s advice.

Hamilton hopped up on a nearby barstool. No one knew when he’d entered the bar, but that was his nature. I’m afraid I wouldn’t do much good at all, Miss. Her injuries are too severe for me to be of much use. That was new. Rey had rarely heard him say that. In my judgment, your lupa should not be on her feet, much less moving around. With all due respect to your friend’s regenerative abilities, I do believe she has exceeded what she is capable of healing, at least for now.

“So. Why aren’t you flat on your back like Gillian?” Rey asked as she opened up the kit. “You’re not doing more damage to yourself by not letting your body recover properly, are you?”

Lyla looked down at herself and wondered if she might be in shock, or if that was one of the things her werewolf metabolism could overcome. She honestly couldn’t tell right now, but she did now she hurt a lot and it wasn’t getting better. She began to struggle gingerly with her coat and shirt but it was useless to try to take it off by herself.

“I’m going to get blood all over the bar,” she muttered. She sat on a stool and said, “Maybe you can help me.” She lifted her right leg and pulled Leech, her dagger, from its boot sheath. She’d never drawn the weapon on Gillian, though she would have had the right to. That was probably a good thing for Gillian because Lyla was measurably more skilled with a knife in her hands than the asp and more, Leech drained essential power from its victims and invigorated its master with that same power. With Leech, Lyla might have ended the fight in less than half the time it took, and with much less damage. But that wasn’t Lyla’s style, not her idea of fair play.

Lyla offered the knife to Rey. “You’ll have to cut my coat and shirt off, I think.” She noticed a slight hesitation before Rey accepted the knife. “It’s okay,” she reassured Rey, “it isn’t active. You won’t hurt me with Leech.”

“And I can’t turn it on anyway.” Rey looked at the knife in her hand with respect, and a bit of envy. “Uratha and mages get all the coolest toys.” And with that, she started to carefully cut Lyla’s jacket and shirt off.

By the time she finished cutting away the last piece of leather and cloth, they noticed Gillian was awake and watching silently from her place lying atop the bar.

“Good to see you’re awake, Gillian,” Rey said with a genuine smile. “How are you feeling?”

The defeated werewolf returned with, “Like I was nearly beaten to death with a stick.”

Lyla cut in, “All right look. You stood up for yourself, that’s good. But never challenge me like that again or I won’t hold back next time.”

Gillian nodded sullenly.

“Also, even if I didn’t like the way you did it, you stood up for yourself,” Lyla continued. “And you fought well. But I stand by my words. You aren’t a hunter and I won’t sponsor you for membership into my tribe. That said, I’d like you to consider the Blood Talons tribe. You’re a good fighter and I have some friends who might be interested in what you have to offer. As far as your choice in mates,” Lyla took a breath and let it out, trying to approach the subject rationally. “Yes, technically Ramiel and I are… reasonably open. But whoever else visits his bed — or even my bed — doesn’t matter. We’re together and we’re mates. You want to go after Michael, then fine. Good luck with that. Your last question was about a job, I believe. Well, I don’t need you here at the Blood and Brew. There could be something else for you, though. For that, you’ll have to talk to Rey and work it out with her. The pay is better than waitressing anyway.”

Rey looked at Lyla in surprise for a moment. She hadn’t thought about getting Gill involved in that line of business, but it might be something she could do. “If my opinion’s worth anything, I think Lyla’s right. You’d do well with the Blood Talons.” And do better than Michael, she thought, but kept those words to herself.

“Once we get you cleaned up a bit and your injuries taken care of as best we can,” Rey continued, “there’s a red storage bin in the back room with clothes. Take what you need from there, and you can keep them. I’ll restock the bin next week.”

Gill looked between the two of them in mute surprise. A smile graced her lips and a spark of hope appeared in her eyes. She got up slowly of the table, paused to hold her head a moment, then said, “Thingk by dose is bwoken.” She got to her feet, then paused long enough to put her hands on either side of her nose, closed her eyes and then with a grinding pop she put whatever chip in there that had broken off roughly back in place. Tears streamed from eye from the pain and more blood dribbled out her nose but she said, “Better I think.” She then looked more deliberately from Rey to Lyla and said, “Thank you.”

Gillian turned and limped off toward the back room in search of something to cover herself.

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