Timeline: January 31, 2009

Ramiel left the room with some urgency and the others began to leave soon after. Iron Claw waited in customary fashion to be the last one to leave the room as the leader but he noticed that Chaska didn’t get up from his seat and that he stared at the table in front of him. He was concerned about Chaska. He knew that Chaska would sacrifice his very life for the pack but other than his loyalty he knew very little else about him and that loyalty was sorely tested and it wasn’t completely clear if he had passed the test or not.

He walked over to Chaska and put his hand on his shoulder to reassure him. “Do you need some time alone, my friend?”

Chaska was waging a war and it was with himself and what was more, he was losing it. ‘This is what it must be like to be France’, he grinned inwardly at his not so clever metaphor. He had come into the meeting with a preconceived notion of what was going on and now he found himself rethinking things that had occurred for the last several months, reanalyzing the events looking for the clues and signs that he knew were there but wished they weren’t. He wanted them to be wrong about Lyla but they weren’t and he knew it and Ramiel had arrogantly thought he could control her. ‘Everyone knows who wears the pants in that relationship. Who does he think he’s kidding?’, Chaska wondered.

Before the meeting he had also questioned the very leadership of Iron Claw if only to himself. And now he had to question himself for that little bit of disloyalty. He needed to talk to Iron Claw and work out what he was thinking and let him know that he was there for the pack. He needed to apologize to Iron Claw for not trusting him. He wasn’t sure how he was going to do that.

He looked up at Iron Claw with sadness. “No, there will be plenty of time to meditate on the matter. What I would like is to speak with you alone if I may.”

He nodded and looked at Grey, who then left them. They were alone now. “Of course, Chaska.” Ironclaw poured another mug of hot beef broth and then offered some for Chaska. “A bit of beef to satisfy the beast? Keeps my nerves from overreacting,” he said with a smile.

Chaska took the mug and sipped at it and then cupped it between his two hands on the table as if trying to warm his hands. He started to speak but then stopped and tried again with even less success but finally he found some words.

“I need to say something to you, Ulfric.” He paused and then sipped on the broth finding some courage. “I’m sorry.” He had said that looking at his cup but having said it once gave him a little more courage and he turned to look at Iron Claw. “I’m sorry,” he said again but this time with more conviction and courage.

Before Iron Claw could respond he continued. “I came to this meeting questioning your leadership and I questioned your motives but I was wrong and for that I am truly sorry.” Chaska turned away from Iron Claw again and stared at some imaginary distant place as tears welled up in his eyes. They dropped softly on the table and were audible over the silence in the room but Chaska didn’t attempt to wipe them away or stop them. He didn’t cry or make a sound and his face was hard but sad. Only the tears that crawled down his face gave away the turmoil inside.

Ironclaw leaned forward and clapped a strong hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Chaska. This whole thing is a mess. I can’t tell you how much we are going to miss you and Lyla over the next few months. I just want us all to get through this intact, but I’m worried as hell for Lyla. Ramiel, too, but the funny thing is I have a hunch that man has more luck than she does.”

Chaska took a napkin and wiped his face. “It’s more than that.” He looked at Iron Claw. “I mean, it’s more than just Lyla. It’s all out of control. Nothing makes sense to me anymore.” He took a sip from the mug. “The other night in Boston was a disaster. I almost died because my mind was clouded. The mage that was in front of me was killing me with some spell that I couldn’t comprehend and it was killing me every time I took a step but I killed her because I was angry at my lack of understanding. I wasn’t going to be defeated by her even though it was already a foregone conclusion and so I continued to run at her even though I felt it would be my own end. I told myself afterwards that I did it to help the others and that by taking out a mage permanently that that was one less mage to worry about but I didn’t do it for those reasons. I did it because I was full of rage but it was controlled rage. I knew what I was doing. So why was I willing to sacrifice myself for rage? And it was worse when Ramiel told me that it wasn’t even that girl who had cast the spell.”

Chaska was getting worked up but Iron Claw didn’t interrupt. He could feel that Chaska was saying things that he hadn’t told anyone. Chaska continued. “Now, her death didn’t bother me. She forfeit her life as soon as she joined up with that band of rogue mages and decided to attack us but that isn’t the point. It took me awhile to figure out what happened and I think I have been able to put it into perspective.”

Chaska looked Iron Claw in the eyes. “I killed that girl out of rage because i’m lost and I think that I am a casualty of something larger. I believe we as a pack are lost.” There was nothing accusing in Chaska’s eyes there was only sadness and a firmness of conviction. “Don’t you see? We have surrounded ourselves in a shroud of evil and death. It is as if we find those things that are not of Father Bear and we embrace them. We keep a vampire among us who has brought a demigod of death to our lands, we call mages who deal in the unnatural art of undeath our friends. Why do we embrace them? It is not our way. It is no wonder that Lyla has fallen to the call of her demon blood. We have put her in an environment where she gets the best reception.”

Chaska ran his hands through his hair clearly frustrated. “I’m supposed to know better. I’m supposed to provide counsel to you and I have failed in that miserably. All of a sudden my eyes are opened and I didn’t even realize I had been blind.”

“Chaska,” Ironclaw said, “I know it seems odd, but that is because of where we live. Out here, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of our brothers and sisters must live in cities because the Pure control much of the countryside. We have our secure island in the mountains, but our brethren live every day in places with many other beings. Most times, their paths might not cross. But not always. We have but one vampire to deal with and only two mages, all of which are allied to us. I’d say we are lucky, not plagued. Of course, we can’t count on every one of them to stand and fight for what we all share — Eldon Well.

“The possessed girl does present a problem, though. She helped us kill off the shadowraiths, though, and to trap them to keep them from killing the townsfolk and taking more bodies, we needed her. I’ve granted her a stay for now. We need time to figure out her ban. Otherwise we might only kill her body, releasing a far more powerful and troublesome spirit.

“We can handle that. I think the problem with Lyla has me worried the most.”

Chaska looked up at Iron Claw. “I agree that this situation with Lyla is dire but I have to admit that I still have no idea the extent of the problem. I only know what I see in her in hindsight and what she has said and it is enough to know that what Grey says is true and it will either kill us or her if left unchecked. I don’t think Ramiel is up to the task though. Not alone. He is too close and he won’t be able to make the choices that need to be made and choices he does make are likely to be rash.” Chaska took a breath and relaxed a little. “I don’t question Ramiel’s love for Lyla but that love could blind him. I, myself, may be in danger of the very same thing and so I cannot fault him. But I will do as you ask and watch her very closely and try to do what is best for the pack first.”

Chaska shifted his bodyweight in the chair. “But on the other matter I will have to respectfully disagree. Other packs don’t embrace their neighborhood vampires and mages. Perhaps they form alliances and other non-aggression pacts but they don’t draw them into their very den. I understand the notion of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer but we run the risk of having our own judgment clouded. Maybe it is just me. Maybe it is only me who feels threatened by their influence on our way of life and if that is the case then I will have to deal with it but I am feeling stretched thin.”

“I’m sorry if it feels like I’m questioning you. I’m not. I don’t see a way out of it myself but it is my opinion and advice that we evaluate carefully what we are doing. Anu grows stronger every day and her influence over Ann-Marie also grows with that power. We will not be able to separate the two if/when it comes time to deal with it. Michael’s dabbling in death magic should also be very troubling to all of us, including Ramiel and Ann-Marie. I have nothing against Michael, in fact he seems a bit more even tempered than the rest but I cannot help but notice that he practices an art amongst us that we normally seek out and destroy.”

“Yes, they are our allies. But for how long? As a frog thrown into warm water will we be able to tell when the water is getting too hot?” “I will support you in all of your decisions and will be behind you 100% and so I will let the matter drop but I will always continue to watch and evaluate. Something that I haven’t done well enough lately. I will start with Lyla.”

Ironclaw could tell that Chaska had gotten a few things off of his chest and clearly felt better for having done so. He could also tell that he was finished talking.

Ironclaw listened carefully to what Chaska said — more importantly, he listened to the feelings Chaska was having behind the words. “You are right in that we may have allowed the vampire and the mages to know more than we should have. We did strike alliances with them, and that is unusual for a werewolf pack,” he agreed. “Not unheard of, but unusual.

“Your mention of Michael using death magic is news to me,” Ironclaw said. “No wonder you’re concerned.” Ironclaw sighed and rubbed his head. “That will only attract more death spirits,” he said grimly, “and that’s caused us all a lot of problems recently. I’ll watch him personally. If I see him meddling, the pack will take steps to eliminate it before it attracts the wrong sort of spirits. Unfortunately, you are our best, foremost expert on the dead, ghosts, and such. Rey has some skill in this area, but most of us might not be able to do anything at all to a ghost, so if this happens, I may need to wait for you to get back before we act. Dammit,” Ironclaw swore. “This is exactly why we required Ann-Marie to do her meddling in death rituals well outside our territory. Michael needs to do the same.

“As for Jesse, she is a huge problem. I’m not denying that. However, as long as she is integrated into that mortal body her power is drastically weakened. Normally we need to destroy her body and force her back into Shadow where we can hunt it down or chase it out of our territory. But Anu is extremely powerful, Chaska. We need time to find her Ban, or we will fail. I choose to let her stay for now — but only until we learn of a way to destroy her once and for all. In the mean time, she can do much less damage being tied to Jesse.

“And I know your concern, but there is no way to separate her from Jesse. I’ve never heard of a spirit releasing a human and simply leaving. They have no motivation to do so. So, Jesse is already gone. If she was your friend, then I am sorry. She died the day Ann-Marie made a pact with that devil.”

Chaska remained silent for a moment thinking hard and then turned to Iron Claw. “Well, I might be able to help with the ban. I have to meet with a spirit soon who has taken an interest in Jesse and knows more than he says. I have struck a bargain with this spirit and it is a mutually beneficial one so I will let you know what I come up with.” Chaska then got up and stood looking at Iron Claw. “But that will have to wait for now. I think it is time that I start spending more time keeping my eyes on Lyla. Let’s hope that between Grey and Ramiel that they can find a solution. I will offer my services to Grey in the matter.”

Ironclaw rose to his feet as well. “Thank you, Chaska. Have you already arranged for someone to take care of your daughter while you are gone?”

“I will be sending her back to her village. She was just visiting me here anyway for an extended period. So she will be taken care of.”

Ironclaw nodded. “Travel safe,” he said as Chaska left.

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