Timeline: January 28, 2009
Ironclaw stood with his hands on his hips and a snarl on his face. “Now tell me again. You did what?”
Lyla frowned and hesitated. After she’d told Ironclaw that she and Chaska needed to go to Mythic City to fulfill an obligation for a deal they’d made, Ironclaw cut her off and called for a meeting of the entire pack. Now they were here at the Blood and Brew. Ironclaw stood at the the center of the pack, which was arrayed to his left and to his right. Rose and Selene had cleared tables and chairs in the widest part of the bar to make room for this meeting, and Lyla had a sinking feeling about this.
To his left stood Rose, Selene, Gillian and Rey. To his right was Grey. Both Lyla and Chaska stood before the pack. It felt like a trial and maybe in some way that’s what it was.
Lyla took a breath. This was going to be tricky, she thought. But maybe I can still spin things so it doesn’t look so bad. “We went to Boston to track down the part of who was responsible for sending the shadowraiths to our town and killing all those people. We needed to stop the one sending the mercenaries to capture Ramiel’s daughter. In that, we were successful.”
He nodded impatiently. “Yes, go on.”
“When we tried to leave our group was tracked and stopped by a bunch of monster hunters who thought that by killing us they’d be saving –“
“Yes, yes. Get to it,” Ironclaw said with increasing impatience.
Lyla gritted her teeth. This interrogation was beginning to piss her off. “Well, we had some trouble dealing with them. Help was offered and we took it in order to save the lives of friends that were in jeopardy as well as to track down and put an end to the threat these monster hunters posed. Chaska and I made a deal to get some extra help in handling the monster hunters. So I need to inform the pack that I’ll be called away for one season, 89 days, to work off the help we were given.”
Lyla looked around at the other pack members. Grey wouldn’t meet her eyes. He was troubled and kept his eyes to the floor. Rose returned Lyla’s look and shook her head almost imperceptibly; it was a warning that things were not good. Selene and Gillian were both looking hard at Chaska and herself.
“Eighty-nine days,” repeated Ironclaw. “You made a deal to help yourselves at the cost of the pack for eighty nine days.”
Lyla blinked. She hadn’t really thought of it that way. Now she understood why Ironclaw was angry.
“You are the alpha female of this pack,” Ironclaw said in harsh tone. “Of the two of you, you, should have known better, Lyla.” Ironclaw stared at Lyla and then at Chaska. Chaska could tell he didn’t want to be angry with his own pack members, but his pride had been hurt. He was trying to find some middle ground in this.
He sighed, seeming to release some of his anger in the breath. “Look. The two of you are important to me. You’re important to this pack. Since you two joined, the pack has never been stronger. We’ve had some disagreements in the past, and we’ve worked through them. But you went too far. You’ve essentially bargained away the pack’s strongest female warrior and the pack’s strongest ritualist.” He looked from Lyla to Chaska, hoping they could understand his perspective. “More than a third of this pack’s total strength will be gone for a quarter of the year. Even that we could maybe work something out.
“But you’ve taken us for granted. You didn’t bother to consult anyone other than yourselves. Lyla already admitted that you had time to consider your bargains. But you didn’t consider us, your own pack.”
He looked from one to the other. “I’m sorry. I have to do this for your own good and for the good of the pack. Please understand I love you both as if you were my own brother and sister. But I forbid you to go. I order you to break your promise to these changeling creatures. Your first duty is to this pack. Not to yourselves. And surely not to some self-styled queen of misfits in a faraway city. Break your pledge to these foreign creatures, and the matter is settled. No further consequence.”
Ironclaw’s eyes settled on Chaska. “Do you renounce your pledge to these changeling creatures as I have asked?”
What were you two thinking? Rey thought as she looked at Lyla and Chaska, then turned her gaze to Ironclaw so she could watch his face. And what will you do if they say no? The young witch knew that clearing a big space in the room wasn’t a good idea. Are you going to fight her like you did before, when she challenged you?
Chaska summoned up all his courage to face Iron Claw. He wasn’t used to being in this position. He had always worked with the pack to make the pack stronger and had always felt the tug of the pack when he was away and looked to return as soon as possible every time. This wasn’t fair of Iron Claw but Chaska knew that fair had nothing to do with it. He was being asked to make a choice that would have far reaching consequences… either way. It angered Chaska in a way he didn’t think possible. His leader was making a terrible display of them and questioned the sacrifices that both he and Lyla had made for the pack.
Chaska met Iron Claw’s eyes with resolve. “Before I answer I would like to inform you that without the bargain you would have lost me permanently. They saved my life. I made the bargain as a debt that I owed them and to John who made the bargain himself with the sole purpose of saving me.” Chaska paused momentarily and looked at the other pack mates. “You are my family, my pack, my mates but given that particular situation again I would have felt just as compelled to make the bargain. John is not one of us but he made a sacrifice for me that should be honored. But…”. Chaska emphasized the last word while looking at Iron Claw. “… I will renounce the bargain. I do it for this pack even though it will have severe consequences for me.”
Chaska looked over at Lyla then back at Iron Claw. “But I will say that if Lyla is to choose to honor her bargain then I will not be part of her punishment. We did what we had to do to resolve a situation that not only affected us directly but affected this pack. We didn’t make our decisions lightly but yet you call into question our judgment and our loyalty. If my acquiescence will satiate your desire for loyalty then so be it but I won’t question hers.” Chaska had said what he wanted to say and remained still.
That doesn’t surprise me, Rey thought. With his daughter here, he doesn’t want to be away from her. But you, Lyla, I bet you’re going to defy Iron Claw. You just can’t let anyone control you, and you’re not going to talk him out of whatever punishment he has planned.
Iron Claw talked about loyalty to the pack, but where, exactly do your loyalties lie? If you have to choose between the pack and Ramiel, would you abandon the pack? Sometimes I think you would.
Ironclaw looked at Chaska thoughtfully, then nodded. “It would seem that the pack,” he said, stressing the word pack, “owes John Beckett a debt of gratitude for saving the life of an important member. Your debts are our debts, too. And we will willingly pay them.”
He turned to Lyla. “And will you renounce your bargain, Shadow-claw?”
Lyla looked back at him. She’d made her bargain and she’d keep her promise. She had never backed down to anyone and she wasn’t going to start now. More importantly, this was about supporting the one person she loved more than anyone in this life; Ramiel. She’s hated him, she’s feared him, but she’s also always loved him. She would never let him do this without her. Lyla gave Ironclaw a feral snarl. “Make me.”
Grey’s eyes snapped up at Lyla. He’d expected this; she was going to try to goad Ironclaw into fighting her in single combat again. The trouble was that he knew what she’d done to Gillian — without even spending the effort to shift. And he remembered that she’d run down and slaughtered Finn Fleshripper, the Pure leader of the now-destroyed pack to the west that had taken down Ironclaw in battle. There was a real possibility that this could get real messy for the whole pack.
But then it was Ironclaw that surprised him next. “I’m not going to make you, Shadow-claw. You’ve made your decision. Now I’ll make mine.”
Ironclaw looked to Rose, Selene, Gillian and Rey. “Girls, that woman is no longer the female alpha. She is not the pack beta, because the beta will always support her alpha.”
Lyla looked from Ironclaw to the others, trying to figure out what he was trying to do.
Oh shit, Lyla, Rey thought. You’re going to lose everything you’ve worked so hard for.
“One of you will be. I want you to punish Shadow-claw. All of you. The one who takes her down will be the new female alpha second only to me. Oh, and ladies? Make sure she you teach her what it means to disobey an order from her Ulfric.”
Lyla looked back at the women she’d formerly been in charge of protecting. Her eyes narrowed and with a flick of her wrist her asp extended and locked to full length. If her girls turned on her, Ironclaw will have shown her status and influence existed only because Ironclaw said it did. The trouble is that she’d beaten the tar out of both Rose and Gillian in the past. They might not feel so bad ganging up on her now. There was no way she could win this fight either. But she’d definitely hurt someone, she swore to herself. If she had to later claw her way back up from the bottom of the pack again, well so be it.
Ironclaw pulled a pistol from the waistband of the back of his pants and tossed it to Rey. It had a heavy extension on it — a silencer, possibly some of Michael’s work. “Do your part. And make sure she doesn’t run.”
Rey blinked in surprise, and her eyes flew to Iron Claw’s face. “What’s it loaded with?”
Rey looked at Lyla. “I’m sorry, Lyla.” And she was. She didn’t want to do it, but she was part of the pack, and had to do what her Ulfric ordered, even if she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to end up being punished herself. The young witch got a good grip on the pistol, took a deep breath and flipped the pistol off safety.
Lyla immediately settled into a fighting crouch and swept her fetish knife, Leech, from he boot in a fluid motion of her left hand. Now armed with two weapons, Lyla chose instead to gesture toward Rey. Rey sensed a surge of spirit power as she did something to the gun. She grinned back at Rey. “It’s okay. Stay over there and I won’t have to beat you down like I’m going to do with the rest of the girls.” It was only a temporary effect; her technology ward would last only moments, at most, and then the gun would operate for Rey again. Still, it gave her some time to get into the fight and use some of the others as shields before Rey got her first shot out.
The fight was on now and Rose, Gillian and Selene approached Lyla. Rose closed warily and used her power to shift deadly werewolf claws while retaining her human form. Ironclaw wanted this to be a punishment. Besides, she intended to let the others weaken Lyla. She’d take her out with the final blow and reclaim her place as alpha female the easy way.
Gillian Red-Eyes was cautious, having only recently been beaten badly in a dominance skirmish with Lyla not long ago. She still favored her side where the bones had not yet mended from the beating she took last time. That was with Lyla’s asp. Now she had the vicious little dagger out. Gillian settled for a sudden shift into Dalu form and a testing swipe at Lyla’s face. She caught Lyla with a backhand. Lyla looked surprised she landed a blow.
Selene was encouraged. She leapt at Lyla, taking Urshul form and hoping to pin her to the ground, but Lyla easily spun out of the way.
Rey’s gun refused to work for her.
Lyla suddenly lurched to her Dalu form, gaining a feral demeanor and stronger physique. The small bruise she received from Gillian disappeared. With unnatural grace, she preserved the momentum of her spin, then grabbed Gillian Red-Eyes by the scruff of her neck and drove Leeth deep into her bellow. Gillian screamed and twisted in pain as blood rained upon the oak wood floor of the bar. Lyla twisted the knife out for maximum pain.
“Don’t just stand there,” Rose yelled to Rey. “Shoot her!!” She dove at Lyla knowing she would try to use Gillian as cover now from Rey’s gun. She called upon the power of Young Father Bear as she swung a fist with deadly power. She managed only a minor, glancing blow as Lyla twisted away from her.
Selene dove after Lyla, attempting again to pin her down with the powerful, drooling jaws of her beast form. This time she bit deeply into Lyla’s shoulder and they went down in a pile. Lyla screamed in pain.
Gillian withdrew slightly, unable to get a blow in between Selene and Rose. She held her belly wound and concentrated on healing it slightly.
Rey fired her gun into the melee, but had to be careful not to hit anyone but Lyla. It wasn’t an easy shot and they were moving so fast, she wasn’t sure if she hit Lyla. There was a lot of blood.
With a popping of bone and a slippery twist, Lyla was free of Selene’s jaws. Another gut-wrenching pop sounded as joints, temporarily dislocated snapped back into place. She slipped one direction and then another between Rose and Selene as she jockeyed for position, and tried to buy time to heal.
Rose tried to kick her but Lyla was too quick. Then Selene tried to bite Lyla again, but her jaws caught nothing but air. Gillian, too, leaped back into the fray, but was unable to target the elusive ex-lupa. Rey, suddenly getting a clear shot, concentrated and then snapped off another round, but it too went wide. Surely no one could get this lucky for this long? Luck or sheer speed, Lyla was using her opponents as defensive cover very effectively.
Lyla then slammed full-forced into Gillian. She knifed the shocked girl multiple times. Gillian screamed and fell to the floor, her guts spilling out in a steaming pile. She kicked, here eyes rolling in horrendous pain as she convulsed. She shrunk back into human form and lay unmoving and bleeding.
Things were quickly spiraling out of control, Rose realized. With Gillian out of the fight, the odds were beginning to even up and that was one thing they couldn’t afford to let happen. Rose slashed at Lyla again and scored a bloody hit, but not enough to slow her down. Selene, however, did. She bit down on Lyla’s leg and tore a bloody gash in it. Rey fired again, but only drilled holes in the wood near Lyla.
Lyla shifted back into a defensive stance, again hoping to buy time to build up for another deadly flurry. She deftly avoided both Selene and Rose, but at last Rey popped a cap into her body. Lyla’s eyes locked onto Rey. With a sudden move, Lyla was on top of Rey, practically bending the human witch backward over a table. Blood was slowly raining down from Lyla’s tortured body. She raised her asp and slammed it down.
When Rey opened her eyes, Lyla was already gone. Her hand throbbed and she realized that instead of beating her, Lyla had merely slammed the gun out of her hand. It had to be on the floor somewhere.
Rose charged Lyla from behind and raked down her back. Selened joined her in the attack and ripped more skin off her back.
Lyla collapsed to her knees. She’d been an engine of destruction thus far and now was on the verge of defeat. She looked up at Ironclaw, saw the look on his face and understood he didn’t want to see this fight go on any further. She knew she could fall now. Her honor, such as it was, preserved. She didn’t have to take any more punishment. She closed her eyes and smiled to herself.
She wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easy. He wanted this, and by God she was going to make sure he took his medicine. Lyla suddenly burst into Urshal form, a far more dangerous attack form for her and roared her defiance. With a burst of red-furred speed, she was suddenly everywhere among Rose, Selene, and Rey.
Again, Lyla’s defense was impenetrable to Rose and Selene, but Rey finally found where her gun was lying and dove for it. Lyla was everywhere and nowhere, giving Rose and Selene no chance at all to get in a solid strike. At last, Rey had recovered her gun and tried to take aim at Lyla. She squeezed the trigger as Ironclaw had taught her — and struck Lyla again. Rey yelled, “Dammit Lya. Go down before someone get’s killed.”
Lyla didn’t seem to listen. Instead, Lyla realized two things. First, she realized that she was fast enough that she could toy with Rose and Selene, heal up and then take them down at her leisure. But that wasn’t going to happen so long as Rey was drilling her full of holes with that infernal pistol. She had to take her human friend down — without killing her. She suddenly turned and used the wall to leap back toward Rey. She was there in an instant, traveling with supernatural speed and force. She slammed into Rey so hard, the girl flew back and smashed through a table.
Selene piled into Lyla, but was unable to gain advantage on her ex-lupa. Rose did better, again slicing up Lyla’s back and throwing her into tables next to Rey.
Rey realized she had one last chance before Lyla turned her lights out for sure. She fired with both hands directly into the great, red-furred beast that was Lyla, aiming for her gut, hoping this most painful wound would convince her to stop fighting. Lyla’s body jerked and spasmed then she lost consciousness and reverted to her human form, where she lay naked and bloody and very much beaten. The battle was over.
Grey went immediately to Gillian to check her. He looked to Ironclaw and nodded. Lyla hadn’t killed the girl, only wounded her. Odds were Gillian wouldn’t dare fight Lyla again for any reason. The gutting she had was fast and very final, unlike the mere beating Lyla gave her with the asp the other night. It meant that Lyla wasn’t going to play around with her anymore and the odds were that Gillian knew it now.
Selene and Rose were simply… shocked. They stared at Rey — the new lupa.
But the most surprising thing was Ironclaw’s reaction. He knelt down and picked Lyla’s unconscious form and looked at he wounds. She’d taken repeated slashes, bites, and three serious gunshot wounds. In truth, he had to be proud of her. She’d figured out how to beat three werewolves at once. It was only the girl with the gun that could finally stop her. At the same time he was very sad he had needed to put her through this.
“I only wanted to know you’d still put the pack first,” Ironclaw said to her, although she couldn’t hear him. “I would have let you go. You damned, stubborn woman. What the hell are we going to do with you now?”
Hamilton, I know you’re scared, but could you come in here and heal Lyla a bit? She’s not doing too good. Rey looked at Selene and Rose. “What, why are you staring at me like that? I did what I had to to stop….” Rey paled as she suddenly remembered what happened to the winner of the fight. “Oh, heck.”
Uh-uh, no way! replied the cat. He’d never said no to her before and that was a good measure of how afraid he was of the werewolves right now. I’m sure she’ll be fine. She’s very tough, mistress.
“Selene, Rose,” Rey said, “why don’t you get yourselves cleaned up a bit. Everything you need’s in the back room.” She forced herself to relax her hand on her pistol as she waited to see what they’d do. The young witch now had first hand experience in how changes of succession happened, and she wasn’t sure if they’d try to take advantage of it and challenge her immediately. She really hoped they wouldn’t.
Chaska quietly walked over to Ironclaw and gently took Lyla from him. He looked at Iron Claw and said, “I’ll take care of her.” He then walked out of the room with her. Ironclaw simply nodded and watched him leave.
Meanwhile, Selene and Rose looked at each other then back at Rey.
Ironclaw stated, “There will be no more challenges until summer. This season’s internal dominance struggles has weakened us enough.” He looked at Rey with a mixture of sympathy and warning. He had given her until June, a little under five months, to establish herself.
Selene and Rose left to do as Rey had told them. Grey looked up at Ironclaw and received a nod. He gathered up Gillian and followed Chaska out of the bar, looking to heal the other fallen werewolf female.
“Lyla ruled through strength and sometimes fear,” Ironclaw said quietly. “Though she also cared for all of you under her authority. You don’t have her strength or her power. If you wish to retain your new position, you will have to find a way to rule through cunning. Or you can simply roll over when June comes and you are challenged. Show submission when a dominance challenge comes up and they won’t hurt you.” He glanced toward the back room, what used to be Lyla’s office, but what was now Rey’s properety, if she wanted it. “I don’t think Rose and Selene will give you trouble. They don’t like change. They’d gotten used to Lyla being lupa. Keep them happy and they’re likely to leave things alone.
“Gillian, I think, is done. I’ll be very surprised if she challenges anyone for dominance ever again. I just hope Lyla hasn’t broken her will. The thing is, Lyla did very well today. I think that individually, they’re all still afraid of her power. Hell, I’m afraid of that woman’s power. She’s the one you’ll have to watch out for. I’m sorry for that; I know you’ve been friends with her for a long time. But now she’s the bottom of the pack and because I’ve declared no more challenges until summer, she’s going to have to take what she gets. It’s the price she must pay for disobeying me.
“Let her go with Ramiel, by the way. She’s paid for her right to do so.
“Come summer, watch out for her. I’ll bet you a pound of flesh she’ll be coming for you. You need to figure out how to get control of her, or she’s going to run you, and then take you down.
“That is, unless she and Chaska leave the pack.”
“I am so in over my head.” Rey’s words were more breath than sound. When she continued, her voice was just a shade stronger, and hopefully just loud enough for Iron Claw to hear. “Did Lyla tell you about that first fight she had with Gillian?”
“No. Although Gillian told me.”
“Gillian had her down. One more hit and Gillian would have been lupa. But I was too afraid of what would happen to me and Lyla if Gillian won, so I urged Lyla to keep fighting.” She looked up at him. “I’m not as good at seducing people, I’m good at what I can do.
“If someone had told me ten minutes ago I’d be the pack beta, I’d have laughed in their face. But I am, so I’m going to do the best job I can.”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.” He folded his large arms and smiled. “So do you have any idea how to do this?”
“I don’t suppose there’s a Lupas for Dummies,” Rey asked with a wry smile of her own. “I’m pretty sure I know what I’m supposed to do. It’s my job to be your right hand. I back your plans, give you advice, and look after things when you’re off doing Ulfric stuff. It’s also my job to look after the other females in the pack. A combination of Marine drill sergeant and den mother. If they want to do something, like a new mate, they have to get my permission. It’s also my job to make sure things run smoothly, making sure everyone’s got what they need if they can’t do it for themselves. And I always expect them to do it for themselves.” She paused. “I’m sure there’s lots of stuff I missed or have gotten wrong, but this is what I’ve been able to figure out from the books, and from watching what Lyla has done.
“As for how, I can’t be lupa and be Lyla’s employee, so I’ll be taking over the bar,” she continued, and all her other business ventures. “Then I have to make sure I do stuff that’ll make them respect me and believe I’m the best one for the job. Not so sure how to do that quite yet, but I’m certain getting Lyla under control will be a big step towards that.”
He nodded, very impressed with her grasp of the situation. “I think you’ve got the basics, and understand the challenge you’re facing. I’d also suggest you get things figured out with Lyla very soon. Before she and Chaska leave for Mythic City.”
“That’s my plan. There’s a lot to do between now and then.” She shook her head. “I really don’t want to stomp on her, but I have to establish myself now, while she’s weak and has a very vivid memory of what happened. If I leave it until she’s recovered, then it’ll be too late.”
“Thanks for the pistol, by the way.” She gave a soft, bemused snort. “Did you think in your wildest dreams I’d have been the one to end the fight?”
He shrugged. “I didn’t know. I just knew that giving you the gun would level the odds and give everyone an equal chance at this. I was going to take Lyla’s authority away and I didn’t relish the thought of you four at each other’s throats while you figure out which one was the top bitch of the pack.” Although the word ‘bitch’ was not generally socially acceptable, his tone and the context made it a simple description, not any kind of put-down. “We’re already down two injured females tonight. It could have been four or even five. Suspending any right for domination challenges for five months means everyone has a chance to cool down and see how they like the new order.”
“Which is a very good thing. It’s easy to get really carried away when emotions are high.” She ran her hand her hair. “Things are going to be really interesting for the next couple of months. How the heck do I discipline someone who could bench press a car if they wanted to? Tell them they were naughty and make them sit in the corner?” She laughed weakly. She knew her comment about the car was for the most part an exaggeration, but it made her point.
Ironclaw said, “Power is about control. If you want to have power and not just the position, then you have to control what’s important to them.
“Here’s the thing that’s really hardest for humans to understand about us. To a human, controlling another person is not a good thing. But for a werewolf, it means something else. Power is a two-way street. And it exists only if all parties perceive it exists.
“When I saw it’s a two-way street, I mean that controlling what’s important to your wolves is only part of your job. The other part is protecting what they feel is important. Protect them and their interests. To a werewolf, that’s what’s important. That’s friendship. To a human, it would lead to resentment and anger. But a well cared-for pack will give their lives for a leader who protects them, even if they have to step in and enforce some rules.
“Complexity is added because werewolves are part human, too. And sometimes that means ambition can get in the way of pack harmony. It happens in wolf packs, too, though not as often as you might think. Dominance battles among wolves are dangerous and can lead to mortal injury. But our human side is, ironically often more violent than our beast side.
“Ultimately, there is no hard and fast rule. We of the Young Father Bear pack have attempted to find a balance by living our lives by the Books. It may not always be a perfect fit, but it at least gives us something to live by.
“Thanks for sharing that with me,’ Rey said with a smile. “We’re still on for our next shooting lesson, right?” It was just minor, but she hoped to have at least one thing be the same after tonight.
He nodded and smiled. “Of course. Good night, Lupa.”