Timeline: February 8th, 2009
Rey gave the huge pot of venison stew a stir. She smiled, enjoying the aromas, and set the lid down just as the timer for the bread in the oven rang. She’d made it from scratch, trying out a new sourdough recipe. In fact, she’d made two loaves to make sure she’d have some for herself over the next few days.
The young witch looked upstairs when she heard a big thump, pleased Hamilton was enjoying his new catnip-infused toy. She always tried to do something special for him when more than one member of the pack were coming over, to soothe his fears.
Ironclaw and Grey arrived together, each shedding a winter coat and hanging it up near the door on the way in, after stomping off stray, wet snow. Grey approached the stew first, inhaling the yummy smells greedily.
“Yet again, I come in second place to food,” Rey teased. “Can I get you guys something hot to drink?” She put the kettle on the stove to boil some water for tea.
“I’m fine,” responded Ironclaw.
Grey was more interested, though. “Do you have hot chocolate?” He knew that chocolate wasn’t very good for a werewolf — their high metabolism was vulnerable to the extra boost and increased heart rate the caffeine in chocolate tended to provide. However, he couldn’t resist a small risk for the delicious taste.
Rey gave him a bemusedly disgusted look. “I’m a woman. What do you think? I even have some fancy drinking chocolate. But you don’t get any because it’s not good for you.” She knew, though, it wouldn’t take much effort on his part to get her to change her mind. Instead, she got the canister of Grey’s favorite herbal tea from the cupboard.
“Aw, pretty please?” Grey asked while nuzzling and kissing the back of her neck.
Ironclaw rolled his eyes and sighed as he waited.
Wordlessly, Rey got the jar of drinking chocolate down. “Milk’s in the fridge.”
Grey grinned at her back as she worked on the chocolate project. By the time she turned around the milk was ready and waiting.
As she measured the herbal tea into the teapot, she looked at Ironclaw. “There’s a steak in the fridge if you’d rather have that instead of the stew.” The food in the pot was a true carnivore’s feast – meat and broth, and a scant amount of anything plant-like.
He grunted noncommittally.
“And thanks for coming tonight. I want to get up to speed on what’s going on with the pack that, as Lupa, I need to know.”
“Nothing as Lupa,” Ironclaw said, “but something important for you as an individual member of the pack.”
“Well, I did run into Jesse today, on my way home from the store.”
“So. You probably already know, then,” Ironclaw stated.
“She told me what happened, from her point of view. And what she thinks you think about the situation. She also mentioned the offer she made.”
He didn’t like that she’d heard before he got a chance to tell her himself, and he was grouchy because of it. “And?” he said shortly.
“She extended the offer to me as well.”
“Yes, I know. She said she would. Have you reached a decision?”
Grey stayed out of the way and watched in silence.
“Did she tell you what she was going to offer?”
“She wasn’t specific. Everyone is to be offered something different.”
“Her offer was to call in a favor she was owed, and arrange a meeting for me with a Lune.”
Ironclaw grunted again. “Chancy.”
“Things can be done to minimize the risk. But what’s go your tail in a knot?”
“She should have spoken to me first. Instead she used Ann-Marie as a proxy, and now you. I’ll be visiting her personally tonight.”
“A proxy for what?” Rey suspected she knew, but didn’t want to make any assumptions.
“For speaking with me.”
“If that was the case,” Rey said calmly, “do you really blame her? She probably thinks you’re trying to find a way to get rid of her, without any concern for my friend. If I were you, I’d be trying to learn what Anu’s ban is. But I’m not, nor am I going to speak to you on her behalf.” At least not until I have evidence all three of us would believe about what Jesse told us, she thought to herself.
“I brought up seeing Jesse because I wanted to know if you were going to allow us to take her up on her offer, and to find out how long you were going to wait before telling me what happened,” she said with a weak smile. It wouldn’t have been the first time Ironclaw chose not to tell her about his plan to kill someone until it was over and done.
Ironclaw took three steps toward her and snarled. “First, no ifs. That is the case. Second, we are trying to find her ban, little one. What I do know right now is she is far weaker bound to that girl than she is as a spirit alone. Third, I don’t like your tone. How long was I going to wait? I just found out about this offer last night, so quit your needling. I’m in no mood.”
Rey ducked her head in a slight nod, but held her ground. She knew she’d stepped too far out of line, but she was not going to let her fear and own frustration rule her. “I apologize. I was under the impression the situation had not happened quite so recently. Nor am I ever presume to tell you what to do, Ulfric.” Her voice was calm, and she was trying to be reasonable. If she let her own anger get out of control – she did not want to think about what would happen.
“I was trying to say I knew you would be working on a way to be rid of her. Should you decide Jesse has to be killed and Anu’s ban used, it will of course be done.” And Rey meant it, no matter how much the thought wrenched at her heart and soul. “But I care for Jesse, she who was my friend, too much to completely give up hope that they told me the truth,” she said, her voice wavering despite her attempts to keep it even.
Ironclaw calmed a little as he watched her. “Then you should pray for whatever luck spirits you know and hope that this Anu keeps her word and released Jesse. If she does not, the pack stands ready to attack at the end of three months’ time, whether we have her ban or not.”
“I’m kind of confused about some of the things she told me,” Rey said, working to get herself and her body language even calmer. Her backing down seemed to help diffuse the situation, so she was going to try more. “She said she actually felt compelled to help us, the pack and the town. That sounds a lot like my Jesse, and not something a spirit of any kind, Anu or otherwise, would really care about. And she almost sounded angry and upset about it.”
Ironclaw seemed puzzled by that. He shot a look at Grey who just shrugged. Then Ironclaw said, “They probably weren’t fully integrated yet.”
“Perhaps,” Rey agreed. In fact, Jesse had told her the process wasn’t complete. “But Jesse told me that Anu had given her word; to teach Ann-Marie things her kind lost the ability to do a long time ago, and to separate from Jesse when she was finished teaching Ann-Marie.
“I asked Hamilton about the separation thing, and he said that while he’d never heard of any spirit willingly separating from a host, that’s not to say it can’t be done. He told me it’s difficult to do, a lot easier to just let the host die, but it might be possible.” She paused for a moment, the continued. “She also said that she doesn’t want Jesse to be killed by the pack, but if that does happen, Anu will just go find another host so she can finish teaching Ann-Marie. And that if the pack does kill Jesse, Anu will declare war on us.”
He nodded. “I would expect that.”
“Are we prepared for that?” Rey asked. “I mean, can we withstand a war with Anu and her ‘sisters’?”
“If we have to put her down, then we’d better be. Wait, what do you mean, her sisters?”
“She told me she’s part of a choir of warrior goddesses, and Hamilton says it might be the Choir of Fury, and includes the Morrigan and other incarnations and representations of Death. She also said her choir is tightly allied with the Lunes. If the other members of her choir show up, can we fight them all off? And worse, if an ally of the Lunes gets that pissed off with us and declares war, what will the Lunes do?”
Ironclaw rubbed his head in frustration. “She’s a lunar goddess then, or allied with them. Damn, that complicates things.” He looked at Grey. “If we don’t find her ban, then we will be screwed if it comes down to a fight.” He muttered under his breath, “We could really use Chaska right now.”
“I don’t know if it will help, but she told me what Anu has done with Jesse – Claiming her and then releasing her when her task was done – is something she’s done many times before. Maybe I’m being too charitable, but I see no reason why she would lie about any of this.” Rey looked over at Grey, then back to Ironclaw. “But there is another solution if you want to be rid of Anu, and do it without fighting her. Get Ann-Marie to leave Eldon Well until Anu’s teaching is done.”
Ironclaw considered. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“It would help us avoid any bloodshed. Just because she’s done something that’s against the rules doesn’t make her our enemy. It’s not like she’s hunting us or otherwise making trouble. And I’m sure that if Ann-Marie cares about her friends and allies, she’ll make the temporary move. After all, she’s the cause for this whole mess anyway; it’s the least she could do.”
“But that would also mean we wouldn’t be able to keep a watch on this Anu. I think I prefer to keep the enemy close, where I can see what she’s up to.”
“I don’t think she is an enemy, or has to be. Unless what she’s teaching Ann-Marie could be a problem.”
“That would be hard to determine,” Ironclaw stated.
“Has anyone asked Ann-Marie what Anu is teaching her?”
“No, but it is almost certainly about spirits and the spirit world. I think maybe you should go and find out as soon as you are able. Ask the spirit or ask her. Grey and I will soon be going to speak with my father’s pack to discuss an alliance against Anu firstly to discover her ban and, if that cannot be done, to combat her and drive her from this world.”
“I think I’ll ask them both,” Rey said. “Am I permitted to take Anu up on her offer of the boon?”
“I’ve left it up to the individual members of the pack to decide whether or not they will trust her offer. I don’t personally. But I think that there are a few who are going to accept her offer.”
Rey nodded, and slipped past Grey to the fridge. She took out a large steak, the exact cut that Ironclaw preferred, and put it on the counter. “Will you be staying to eat, or did I make you lose your appetite?”
“We’ll stay long enough to eat,” Ironclaw said.