Current Act Wordcount: 8,663
Blurb: With the Southside Dump pack still reeling over the loss of their old alpha, Meg must find a way to salvage the mess before the Council decides their pack is better off disbanded. Forced to rely on help from the Northern Pack that wants them to fail, she’s learning the hard way what being a child of the Baron really means… (aka Urban Fantasy gets a Day Job)
Welcome to this year’s National Novel Wiriting Month rough draft!
Read at your own risk/amusement: There will most likely be spelling and grammatical errors afoot as well as flat out bad writing, info dumps, plot holes, contradictions/retcons, uneven characterization and pacing.
The Writer looked out over the wasteland of blank pages and sighed.
“Ah the dreaded ‘middle’,” said Anane as the fictive settled in across the table from the frustrated writer. “It’s only the eighteenth, you’ve plenty of time left to fail at finishing.”
“Have I mentioned lately that you’re an ass?” snapped the frustrated Writer.
“My purpose in life is fulfilled!” the elder Werewolf grinned over his latte.
“Just because you’re the villain doesn’t mean you have to be annoying.” She looked over the empty spaces in the plot and tried to get her Muses into gear.
“I’m not technically the villain,” he objected. “And you’re almost ten days behind now, so just give it up already.”
The Writer muttered something unrepeatable and started writing.
When Meg woke up later that night she had a hell of a headache, an inexpertly done head bandage, and a dead certainty that she wasn’t a werewolf anymore.
Quite how that had happened, she wasn’t sure, but there was a very stark difference between being cursed and not– even if the headache hadn’t been enough to give it away.
She’d forgotten what it was like to have a headache, but someone had left a bottle of aspirin by the bed and she gulped two down. For a moment she wondered if she should check the expiration date on the bottle, but placebo effects are still effects so she didn’t bother.
The curse had been pretty mild as far down the family tree as she was– had been, but the whisper of magic that always muttered in the back of her thoughts was gone. The feeling of being connected to the rest of her pack was missing and she hadn’t even really gotten used to that yet.
She sighed and closed her eyes again. She’d spent so much time over the years wondering if she shouldn’t renounce, take her chances that her previously terminal disease was gone for good, and go back to being a normal person.
But the Council had strict laws for those who renounced. They weren’t killed, which was good, but they had to agree to close monitoring. Although the public could care less if werewolves existed– they’d just chalk things up to Photoshop– there were plenty of Hunters out there who’d give their eyeteeth for up to date Intel.
So the monitoring was a good things both ways, but Meg had never been willing to let the Council quite that far into her private life. Besides, as much as she hated it sometimes, being a werewolf was a lot of fun sometimes too. Fast healing and the ability to run around on four paws didn’t come in as useful as might be expected, but it was still a nice bonus.
But now it was gone. With a sigh she opened her eyes again and got up.
Which made her head hurt more, but hey, that was the way her life was going at this point.
She got dressed and made her way downstairs where the a large portion of the pack had gathered.
Thankfully there were leftovers from dinner, so she threw some in the microwave and then settled into the couch to join in on the conversation.
“So you’re really in charge?” demanded Will who from the look of things had been asking the same question since he’d arrived.
“Yes,” snapped Yusuf, who had apparently long since lost patience.
“And when do we get to vote on who replaces you?” Will snarled.
“Until we figure out what’s going on, I’d say we hold off on the vote.” said Meg mildly.
“You don’t get a say anymore,” snapped Will.
There was a dead silence in which the rest of the pack either glared at him or pretended they were not hearing anything thank you very much… and Will let it drop, since he was a paranoid jerk, but not a complete idiot.
“Let’s settle this the easy way then,” said Meg. “Quick show of hands, who is NOT willing to let Yusuf be in charge until the Council tells us what the hell is going on?”
There was some muttering, but no one raised their hands.
“Fine, then for the next few days, or hours if we’re lucky Yusuf is in charge. Then once we know what’s going on we can vote.”
“There is no ‘we’,” muttered Will, but didn’t push the issue.
“What do you mean by vote?” asked Lily quietly. The Ash Pack was grouped by itself on the one side of the sofa, with Weed and Keeper standing a sort of protective guard with Theo.
“We vote, just like anything else, two-thirds majority rules. Whoever we pick has to have the backing of most of the pack, then we transfer ownership.”
“And the old alpha just does that?” asked Weed, skeptically.
“The old alpha doesn’t want the job anymore.” Said Meg.
“Or he’s dead.” said Theo.
“But in this case Yusuf doesn’t want to be in charge.” Meg said.
“But he’s the strongest,” objected Weed. “The strongest leads.”
“Not here,” said Meg firmly. “We’re people, not wolves.”
“I don’t like this.” said Weed finally. “How do we know whoever is going to take over is going to be any good? What if whatever happened to the Clearfield pack happens to us?”
“If they’re bad, we vote them out again.” said Theo.
“But what if they won’t vote out?” asked Weed, frustrated and snappy. “People don’t just give up power because you tell them to.”
“No, but if they don’t–” Susan moved over into the circle of conversation and grinned menacingly. “Everyone has a breaking point.”
“That’s horrible.” said Lily, taken aback.
“That’s life.” said Susan. “I’ve got no problem using what I’ve been given to make other people behave.”
“You’re no better than the Baron,” snapped one of the other Ash Pack members.
“Really.” Susan turned her predatory grin on the younger wolf. “Have you heard the same tales I have? Have you ever met one of the sons? Even your worst nightmares can’t hold a candle to them. There’s a reason this curse lasted so long, and it wasn’t because the witch used extra sugar and spice.”
“We come from blood, doesn’t mean we have to stay bloody.” snapped Bryony.
“We don’t,” said Meg, giving Susan a look. “And we aren’t going to start it up again.”
“Not unless we have to,” said Susan, refusing to concede the point.
Meg ignored her for the moment. “But you’ll get a vote,” she said to the Ash Pack members. “They’ll be some talking, some stump speeches, but it tends to be decided in a day or so. Only if we can’t get a two thirds majority does it come back to haggling.”
“Why can’t you just take the oath again?” asked one of the younger wolves.
Meg blinked. “We’re dump pack wolves,” she said, “we weren’t ever meant to be wolves most of us– we’re leftovers, accidents, there’s no one who would want us.”
“And if she took an oath from someone here, she couldn’t ever overrule them.” said Theo. “Even if they didn’t mind her being in charge the magic wouldn’t let her pick up that oath.”
“Oh,” said the Ash pack member.
“Can’t you just as Christopher?” asked Weed, somewhat grumpily since he didn’t like Christopher much.
“Then the Council would have even more immediate control over us– let’s go with ‘no’.” said Susan.
“Plus it’s considered rude to asked for an oath,” said Meg kindly. “I can wait and see if someone offers one, but going around and asking is pretty much considered a sign of weakness and guarantees that they aren’t going to be interested in me.”
“So what are you going to do?” asked Weed after a moment.
“I have no idea,” said Meg.
And she didn’t.
The Writer dashes in, scribbles some world building and then dashes out again before any of the fictives can cuss her out for ruining the flow. Again.
The curse dilutes as it passes down the family tree and doesn’t get stronger as the wolves get older, nor with how many offspring they have. (The Baron could, conceivably, disinherit everyone if he felt like it, and there’s some indication that one of the son’s lines was completely wiped out at one point.)
Each generation is 10% less powerful that the one above it, although once you get down around the twenty-fives there’s so little there it doesn’t really matter (10% or less of the original magic remains).
Aging is 100 human years for every 1 werewolf year at the 2nd generation level (Baron’s grandchildren). At level 42 it’s down to 2 to 1.
Single digit wolves can make other lower level wolves do things, double-digit wolves can make them not do things, triple digit wolves can’t do squat (mostly because there aren’t any). How strong the commands are depends on the power difference between the wolves and if there are pack bonds in play.
Pack bonds increase control by two generations, but that rarely helps below level 17 (<20% remains of original curse).
Another Log on the Fire
Christopher called back the next day with news about the Clearfield Pack.
No one knew who had done the disinheriting, although there were suspicions it might have been the Baron himself.
The reason they had been deleted from the Black family tree was that they had been systematically killing of werewolves. It wouldn’t have been a problem, since the family as a whole was not known for being particularly nice to each other, but it turned out they had been acting as assassins not of rather wolves or for their own gain, but in concert with Hunters.
The deaths had never been traced back to them because of a cunning bureaucracy that used the Hunters and the Hunter Medallions to muddy the trails.
They had also been hunting their own family members, trimming off the branches above and around them to remove whatever wolves might have know who they were related to. Turns out the whole family was a single branch, but through careful management over the years no one actually knew that.
It had been assumed they were a pack like the others, where not all of the members were from the same tree or same strata. But in Clearfield all of the wolves were descended from the alpha who had been in power for hundreds of years.
But that also mean that when they struck them off the record it didn’t take anyone with it that wasn’t in the pack– save for Meg.
Actually Christopher seemed rather confused why the pack hadn’t killed Meg off already which didn’t make her any happier. She’d always assumed it was because she was so far off the radar that they simply stopped caring about her.
Christopher seemed to agree, but was concerned that she might be caught in the backlash against the pack even though she wasn’t really part of it. For the moment only her immediate pack knew that she had been disinherited and the Council wanted to keep it that way.
She passed that message on to Yusuf who passed it onto the rest of the pack. She didn’t think anyone had any Northern loyalties, but the fact that the order came from the Council should care some weight. At least in theory.
If she had had a number for her father she would have called him, but the last time they talked was decades ago and he was in the habit of staying out of touch. She wondered what he was doing now and what he was thinking about the genetic time bomb that they shared.
She’d heard from other wolves that the curse could cure everything, if you gave it long enough. She could only hope that they’d both been under the effects foe enough time to wipe out the disease.
She might not know him well, but she did remember her father as an honorable man, at least when he stood up to his pack and refused to renounce her. It had been the only thing that gave her a fighting chance then and she knew he’d paid for it as much as she had in the end.
And now they both had to start over.
She wondered idly if this meant she didn’t have to change her identity again. After all she was still visually in the right age range and the curse’s longevity effects weren’t the sort of magically reverse overnight. She’d just start aging from where she was, which was a perfectly healthy early-thirties.
It was odd to have a timeline on her life again, everything she’d planned had been for decades or centuries out– when she planned anything. Now she’d have to get back to years and heck, even months now that she wouldn’t have the Council’s paycheck to keep her afloat while she job hunted.
She wondered if they’d let her keep being a roommate or if they’d have her sell or rent the house to the pack.
Dreams of Ash
“This novel has an awful lot of talking in it,” pointed out Weed as he watched the Writer settle in for some evening word count. “And not a lot of doing anything.”
“It’s NaNo,” said the Writer as she tried to sort out her notes, “there’s a lot of padding of word counts and whatnot.”
“Even so,” said the fictive, “don’t you think there should be more actual doing? Once you get back from picking up the Ash Pack it’s basically just talk talk talk until Meg has to go rescue Theo.” He eyed the notes. “And even then– it’s mostly talking.”
“Well, um, that’s what you get for not having the world end?” The Writer said as she realized he had a very good point.
“I think it’s just a lack of a plot.”
“Well I can’t just have people start shooting,” the Writer objected, “or dragons crawling out of the woodwork.”
“True,” said Weed. “It would be a little hard to have Buffy-style battles in a true Suburbia.”
“Plus the cops parked out front.”
“Oh yeah, forgot about them.”
“I think we’re more of a red herring than anything else.” said Officer Chase, who waved high to the Writer and grabbed a chair in the now-crowded living room. “We asked a few questions in the parking lot and then basically just sat outside. You know a real police department wouldn’t pay us to do that.”
“Couldn’t you just be very dedicated?” asked the Writer hopefully.
“Not on my paycheck,” said Chase and pulled a beer bottle out of thin air.
Chase pulled another bottle out and handed it to him.
Weed stared some more, but finally decided the magical beer was safe to drink.
“Can you please not disturb the fabric of the universe?” complained the Writer.
“I wasn’t,” objected Chase, “I was just nabbing a few quantum beers– they’re only there if you look at them just right.”
The Writer sigh and rolled her eyes. “Great, another fictive with aspirations of screen time. You do realize you were just a filler, right?”
“All the best ones are,” he agreed mildly and grinned over at Weed, who was still not sure interdimentional beers were a good idea.
“So fine, you want more screen time? Then tell me how to make the time between the Ash Pack arriving and Theo getting picked up by the pound more interesting.”
[more goes here]
“What are you going to do if you aren’t a werewolf anymore?” asked Weed.
They were both out on the porch again, this time she’d convinced Weed to have beer with her. Which he was doing slightly less grudgingly than normal.
“I’m going to stay here.” said Meg.
“You can do that?” asked Weed skeptically.
“Not sure,” said Meg, “but that’s hardly stopped us before. It’s not like I’m going to cause problems being here.”
“Someone could use you as blackmail,” suggested Weed.
“They could do that no matter where I went,” said Meg.
“Or they could just kill you,” he pointed out. “Nico hates your guts.”
“And the chances of that are a lot lower if I stay where everyone else can protect me.”
“I don’t think Nico is going to care if they are here or not,” said Weed. “As long as he doesn’t kill us, the Council is not really going to care– right?”
“I don’t think the Council would mind even if there were,” she said with a a sigh. “I could always move across country, but I’m tried of uprooting every thirty years. I want to stay put if I can– it might not be the best place but it’s my place, you know?”
“Well I hope you can stay,” Weed said finally. “We’d miss you.”
There was a commotion from the inside the house and then someone flung open then sliding door.
“Theo’s been kidnapped!” said the Ash Pack member who I will totally name later, “They came with ropes on metal poles and there ewes yelling– I ran before they could see me but I couldn’t get back to her in time. They were so loud and I was scared and I couldn’t change back–”
“It’s okay,” said Meg/ “It happens sometimes when we get scared. Don’t’ worry about it.”
“But she’s been kidnapped!”
“No, she’s just been picked up by Animal Control. Again.” Meg sighed. Thankfully it hadn’t been this justifications Animal Control so they wouldn’t have her on records– at least hopefully. If they did the fine would be a lot larger this time and there was always a chance that they’d confiscate her. And then things would get complicated.
“Come on, ” Meg handed her a phone. “You helped get her in trouble, you’re going to help me get her out again.”
Meg to the Rescue
As soon as they knew Theo had been picked up they started calling the local pounds. None of the werewolves was chipped or tagged, for obvious reasons so they tended to get in trouble when they were ‘arrested.’
Plus when you go to euthanize a dog that won’t stay dead people tend to ask questions.
Lily was the one who found the right pound and she passed over the phone as soon as she confirmed that they had picked up Theo.
“Hello?” said Meg.
“You’re the one with the wolf?” asked the voice on the other end, skeptically.
“She’s not a wolf,” said Meg with a sigh. “She’s a sled dog mix– if there was wolf there it’s several generation back. She just looks bad.”
“Well, we have to go off what she looks like unless you have a pedigree,” said the pound worker. “You know the rules for hybrids, we can’t adopt them out so unless you come and pick her up she’s going to have to be put down.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” said Meg. “What time do you close?”
“We’ll be open for another,” there was a pause, “45 minutes. If you can make it down tonight that would be good– but there’s a 48 hour window from pickup so you can come by and get her tomorrow as well.” The voice sounded annoyed but not upset.
“She’s a really good dog,” said Meg. “I’ll get down as soon as I can.”
“Yeah, she’s been very well behaved.” said the worker. “You’re lucky, if she’d been at all aggressive there’s a new no tolerance policy in place since the last town meeting. Which sucks since dogs tend to be defensive when we pick them up– but she passed with flying colors. She looks sad though, just sitting in the cage staring at the door.”
“Yeah, she loves to run that’s why we have such problems keeping her in the yard.”
“Well you need a better fence.” the worker said. “And bail is set at $150 plus we’ll need to see proof of dog license or it’s another $75 fine.”
“Great,” sighed Meg. “Thanks, see you soon.”
There was an unimpressed noise from the other end of the phone and then the pound worker hung up.
“Well at least we know where she is,” said Meg, trying to salvage something out of the whole mess.
“And we’ve got 48 hours to get her back,” pointed out Yusuf mildly.
“Or things get interesting.” Meg agreed, “Quick, to the wolf mobile!”
“You really have to stop calling it that,” Yusuf said with a painted look. “You’re going to give the poor thing a complex.”
Meg grinned, happy that at least something was going right and headed out the door, Susan in tow.
“Where are we getting bail money from?” asked Susan as they got in the car, which still had the last hints of new car scent even under all the wet dog.
“The Council will forgive a slight misappropriation of funds,” said Meg. “Or at least they will until I have to turn in the expense report.’
“Ah credit cards,” said Susan, “how did anyone ever live without them?”
“They were– shit.” Meg turned the key again but there was still no reaction from the car. “It can’t be broken we just bought the damned thing!”
“Did you leave the lights on again?” asked Susan suspiciously.
“No!” Meg popped the hood and got out of the car. “This one beeps at me, it’s a lot harder to forget.”
“We should have just gotten one that turns them off for you.” said Susan, propping up the hood and then pausing to curse a rather impressively long and creative string of hatred towards whoever had merrily chopping through every single shippable thing under the hood. “They cut the windshield wiper fluid even, who the hell does that?!?!” She fumed.
Meg finished taking in the sight of a totally destroyed engine (or at least as much as could be easily destroyed) and stormed across the street to the undercover cop car and the two cops who had just noticed the commotion and were starting to get out of the car.
“WHAT. THE. HELL?!?!” Meg snapped. “How could you just let someone do that to our car?”
“Do what?” asked Chase, who looked honestly confused.
“We didn’t see anyone touch the car.” said Hunter, unimpressed by Meg’s ire. “It’s been sitting there ever since they brought it back this morning, no one’s touched it.” He frowned. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Someone cut– everything!” Meg finally finished, unable to find a word other than ‘tube-y things’ to end the sentence with.
“That’s not possible.” Said Hunter.
“Come look for yourself!” snapped Meg and led the two befuddled cops back over to the car.
There was a long moment where they two of them stared at was what was left of the engine and tried not to turn various shades of embarrassed at Susan’s unnerving ability to curse like someone many times her visible age.
“You’re here,” said Meg finally, “so take a police report. There’s no way the insurance is going to believe this.”
Other wolves had come out of the house when the cops came over, and when they could her Susan ranting, and thankfully they were already photographing the scene.
Hunter shrugged and went back to the car to get the appropriate paperwork.
“We really didn’t see anyone,” said Chase and he did sound apologetic so Meg sighed.
“I don’t know how this happened, but I’ve got to get my dog out of the pound. Can you give us a lift over there?”
“Sorry,” said Chase, “but we’re not allowed to let civilians in the car unless we’re arresting them.”
“So do they still count as civilians at that point?” asked Meg curiously.
“Uh, huh, no I guess they count as suspects.” Chase blinked. “But either way once you get in the car the only place you’re getting out again is at the precinct.”
“No thanks,” said Meg with a sigh and headed over to help Hunter with the paperwork.
Susan was deep in the midst of cataloging the damage and the parts she’d need to start fixing things so it was Yusuf that called the pound to let them know they wouldn’t be by until tomorrow.
Meg was in the middle of the last section of paperwork with Hunter when Yusuf walked over. She looked up.
“They said it was okay, someone had already stopped by to pick her up?” He said, confused.
“Who?” asked Meg. As far as she knew she was still the only one with a car. But maybe one of the other wolves had grabbed a taxi? It didn’t make sense, but she couldn’t think of any other option.
“They said Theo seemed to recognize him and that he signed as Gordon Black?”
Meg blinked, “That’s Dad, but why would he– oh shit.”
Yusuf nodded as Meg looked at him and he headed back into the house to call the Christopher.
Hunter raised an eyebrow and Meg muttered something unrepeatable about family drama. He nodded slightly, apparently he was used to seeing squabbles like this and then finished off the paperwork
‘We’ll call this in– there’s really no way of catching anyone since this is too low priority to warrant fingerprints or anything like that. Basically you just file with your insurance and chalk it up to bad luck.”
Meg sighed and shrugged. ‘Yeah, sort of figured that”
“We’ll try watching the house a little closer,” he said finally. “It may be that Nico is getting tired of this game.”
“He’s not the only one,” said Meg, but without any heat.
“You could just come help us, it would save everyone a lot of time.” Hunter offered.
“No thanks, I’m not buying any more trouble than I have already.”
“We’ll be here if you need us.” He tipped his hat and Hunter and Chase walked back to the cop car.
“There are some days when I wish we didn’t have to hide.” muttered Meg and went back inside the house, dreams of chasing the cops away with a wolf pace dancing in her daydreams.
Yusuf was still on the phone when she got inside and Weed was looking worried in the background next to him. Apparently he’d overhear enough of the conversation to get a gist of what was going on.
“What do they want with Theo?” he asked, once she was in range.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I don’t know how they knew she’d even been picked up. The pack doesn’t live anywhere near here. Unless Dad was trying to find kinship oaths out here I have no idea wee he’d come. He has to know that I was disowned as well.”
“Maybe it’s Theo he’s after.” said Yusuf hanging up the phone. “They might be trying to blackmail her family into giving him and oath.”
“But he’s just a human,” said Meg, “he can’t possible expect to hold her once she realizes that he’s not bringing her home.’
“Actually, I think he can.” said Yusuf. “Christopher was pretty sure the way they got into the car without the cops seeing was by using a medallion.”
“Wait, so there’s more than just him? And how did they get their hands on a medallion?”
“Christopher found out that one of the reasons they were probably disowned was with they were working with the local Hunters in ruder to assassinate other werewolves for pay. That means not onyx would they have access to medallions, but probably people who know how to use them as well.”
“But that’s crazy, why on earth would Dad think that Theo’s family would be willing to gee home baths at this point?”
“The Council thinks it’s Ricky and not your dad who’s after the oath.” said Yusuf. “Once Ricky is back then he can give the oaths to his whole pack again. It’ll take them out of commission for a while, but if they do it in shifts they can make sure there’s someone there to protect them. And if they keep Theo they’ll have a good way to make sure they don’t lose the oath once they have it.”
“What, they’re hoping that whole ever trimmed the tree last time would balk at trimming hers?” Meg aced, skeptically.
“Theo has a very powerful family,” said Yusuf. “there’s a good possibility they’re right.”
“Wow,” said Meg, who hadn’t thought much about Theo’s family other than the occasional amusement value at thinking of them trying to raise her without her taking the house down around their ears.
“But right now we have to find a way to track them down so we can get her back.” Yusuf sighed. “The Council has officially forbidden us from getting involved, so that means we won’t have any backup n this.”
“I don’t know what we can do,” said Meg, “If they’re right it’s not just the Clearfield Pack we have to watch for, it’s all the Hunters who are working with them as well.”
“We have to do something,” said Weed, frustrated at the lacto of obvious choices. “We can’t just sit here and wait for them to turn her loose again.”
“Right.” said Meg, and pulled out her phone and started dialing.
“Wait, what are you doing?”
“I’m calling Dad.”
“Hello?” She hadn’t heard from him in years, but she still recognized him. He sounded nervous and slightly jumpy.
“It’s Meg, what did you do with Theo?” Because she really didn’t have time to pretend she didn’t know what was going on.
“She’s safe,” said her Dad, relaxing when he realized it was her. “Sorry for dragging you into all this.”
“No you’re not.” It was an old argument and she wasn’t sure if she was even really mad at him more. At least not for that. “Now give her back.”
“No until we get what we need.” He said apologetically. “If you want her back, talk to her parents. Get them to give us what we want.”
“You already talked to them?” Meg’s stomach sank.
“We’re not taking no for an answer, no worries.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about.” Meg said. She’d always known Theo’s pack thought she was a bit of a black sheep but she never thought they’d leave her at the mercy of hunters.
Then again, with one family tree already trimmed they may be working off the ‘good of the many’ assumption that giving and oath would mean all of them came under the knife next time. She wasn’t sure if she could blame them rationally, but emotionally she was furious that they weren’t trying to save her.
“Why did you take her anyway?” Meg asked bitterly. “Why couldn’t you go bother someone else’s pack?”
“Because yours was the easiest.” said Gordon finally. “You’re already a dump pack– a dump pack without an alpha was pretty easy pickings.”
“So if Theo hadn’t been picked up the pound you would have just kidnapped someone?”
“Pretty much.” He had the good graces to sound a little repentant, but not much “Just stay out of the line of fire kiddo, it’ll all be over soon.”
There was a click and the line went dead as her Dad hung up. Meg stared at the phone for a moment and then snapped it shut with a sigh.
“Any clue where they are?” asked Yusuf. “Or how many?”
“There was a lot of chatter in the background, so I’m assuming most of the pack is here. It’s someplace large enough and secluded enough they didn’t mind talking pack business loud enough that I could overhear them in the background. Warehouse maybe? I doubt they’d be talking outside.”
“That doesn’t really narrow it down at all,” he said with a sigh. “If they’ve got the medallions it would be easy enough to get into occupied warehouses as well as empty ones– the storage locations don’t get a lot of foot traffic and with their line of work they’re probably pretty good at disabling alarm systems.”
“I wish we could use the pack magic to track her down,” Weed said “It would be a lot easier with her family here to help.”
“Meg might have been able to pull that off, but I’m just not close enough to her.” said Yusuf regretfully. “And if her own family is planning a rescue we’d be the last people they’d invite in on the job.”
“From what Dad said, it sounds like her family isn’t interested in ransom or rescue.” Meg said bitterly. “So we’ve got to try harder.”
“You said Meg might have been able to find her,” said Susan after a moment. “Were you being serious?”
Yusuf nodded, “you might be able to as well, but without Christopher here we can’t pass the official Alpha status to you without a lot more time and ritual than we can afford.”
“But if Meg was a werewolf again, it would default back to her, right?” Susan looked over at Meg. “Since he only gave you temporary guardianship as it were.”
“I think so,” said Yusuf thoughtfully.
To be honest with herself, Meg had only just gotten used to the idea of not being a werewolf– so changing gears was a bit of an abrupt shock. She had never really wanted to be a werewolf, but the thought of her terminal disease had been enough to keep her going. Now that that scare factor was gone, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go back.
Immortality was nice, but there was an awfully steep downside to leading a double-life.
But if it could save Theo…
“You want me to take the oath on the off chance that it will give me a strong enough link to Theo to find her?” she asked skeptically.
“You can always renounce if you want,” said Susan evasively.
“But who would I even ask?” said Meg. “I can’t ask anyone in the pack– the magic’s always a little wonky when you try and promote children over parents. Plus the whole ‘do as I say’ aspect of that relationship.–”
“That only works for single digit generations,” said Yusuf mildly. “we’re way down in the twenties here, but you have a point. Did you know anyone outside the pack that you could ask?”
“Not Christopher,” said Meg immediately, “I don’t want the Council to have that much control over us, even if it’s slightly indirectly.”
“Don’t look at me, I don’t even know anyone outside this pack.” said Weed.
“Actually I was thinking of my grandfather,” said Susan.
Susan had never really spoken about her family, but what little she’d said hadn’t been bad so Meg wasn’t sure what to make of the offer. If her family was willing to leave her in a dump pack Meg couldn’t see why they’d care enough to help them out now.
Meg thought for a long moment and then sighed. She really didn’t see much of a choice. It was either grasp at straws or do nothing. “Give him a call.”
This Calls For A Plan
Tracking down Susan’s grandfather wasn’t and instantaneous thing, so while Susan played phone tag with her various family members Meg and the others started drawing up battle plans.
“So what do we know about the medallions?” asked Meg.
“They are undetectable, impervious, and there are very very few of them.” said Yusuf. “We can count on Clearfield having one, maybe two of them– but I seriously doubt the Hunters would give them any more than that. These things work on humans just as well as wolves and they are HIGHLY guarded.”
“We know they’ve been up at the house once,” said Weed, “but since they have what they came for it’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t be back unless something else goes wrong.”
“Hunter and Chase, as annoying as they are, do count as a semi-decent early warning system.” noted Meg. “If there are any cars they don’t recognize, they’ll jump on that. Since the medallions only work on the humans and not the cars, that may be something they forget to cover.”
“If they know how to work the medallions they’ll also allow the users to force a werewolf into wolf form.” noted Yusuf, “but that takes training that I’m not sure they’ll have.”
“How does turning us into wolves help?” asked Weed skeptically. “Wouldn’t that make us more dangerous?”
“It does take distance weaponry out of the equation,” said Meg. “And anything that requires thumbs.”
“But they can only target one wolf at a time with that,” said Yusuf. “It’s not meant as crowd control– all of this is targeted at picking off wolves one at a time. Even the invisibility stops working if you step on them, so our best bet may simply be to blanket the area with projectiles until we hit something.”
“Nice concept,” said Meg, “but I own a handgun not a Tommy gun and unless things have changed I think I’m one of the few folks who bothered to do even that much.”
“Plus you’re sort of squishy right now,” said Weed. “We need you out of the line of fire until you get that fixed.”
“Being human is not the same as being broken,” Meg snapped.
Weed opened his mouth so say something and then shut it again.
“We need to steal some tear gas from the cops,” mused Yusuf. “It’s harder to hide in clouds, messes with the magic when it’s already hard to see.”
“Well that’s counterintuitive,” said Meg.
“Magic isn’t always logical,” said Yusuf sagely.
“Do remember we’re fighting humans,” said Weed. “Tear gas is tear gas– we don’t have to see them if all they’re doing is coughing and trying to flee the building.”
“Oh. Right.” Yusuf blinked.
“We’ve got one, maybe two plain old everyday squishy humans that can hide well and forty-eight other possible squishy humans WITHOUT magic.” said Weed. “Even if they’ve got buckets of silver bullets the chances that they can immobilize and then incinerate us is pretty much nil. Five, maybe seven werewolves tops and you’ve got plenty of firepower on our side to bury them.”
“Point taken.” said Meg, who was looking at a hopeless situation from a completely different angle.
“You just need to change how you looked at the world,” Weed said with a grin.
“Got him!” crowed Susan from the other room. “He’s about an hour out, grab your jacket and we can meet him over by the park.”
“This should be interesting,” said Yusuf.
“Ah, no,” said Susan. “Just me and Meg, themes the rules.”
“Wait, why?” asked Meg, suspiciously.
“Because he wants to talk to you and he wants me there to vouch for you.” Susan said. “Anyone else would just get in the way.”
Meg trusted Susan about as much as she trusted anyone in the world, but it was a little creepy still. But this was Susan, and she’d never lead her into danger. So Meg squashed down the spike of panic and nodded. “I’ll be fine Yusuf, I’ll give you a call as soon as we get a chance to talk things over.”
Yusuf didn’t look enthralled with the idea, but he nodded. Weed looked very much not enthralled with the idea, but it really wasn’t his place to stop her so he just looked worried.
Evil is as Evil Does
Meg knew there was something wrong as soon as the man stepped out of the car.
He was short, which wasn’t too unusual among older wolves, but he was crisp and clean in a suit that bespoke too much money and not enough care on where he spent it. It was tailored perfectly and looked more like a suit of armor than fabric.
He was everything a movie villain should have been all without looking the part.
He had short black hair, just long enough to look artistically unkempt. A short black beard and piercing grey eyes.
He looked wrong, but without actually looking out of place. He was like a black hole where all attention drew to him but for no easily apparent reason.
She wasn’t a werewolf anymore, but there was a hint of the old magic in her still fading away as the days passed. And the hint that was left tugged at her pulling her towards him with a hunger that was terrifying.
“You must be Meg,” he said with a heavy accent that sounded Russian or something close to Russian. Like an old movie villain from back when the cold war was still as deep as winter.
Meg could feel Susan beside her, almost shaking with the power of the curse as it sent her pulsing hopping. She was whining ever so softly, like a dog who was that insane level of happy of seeing someone they loved after a long time apart.
There was pure joy there and happiness of a sort Meg hadn’t seen in Susan before.
It was wrong, somehow, that level of devotion and she was wary and didn’t step forward to take the hand that was offered to her.
“Ah, so you are smarter than you look.” the man laughed, and insult and a compliment interwove in such a habitual manner that she wondered if he was ever serious when he said nice things.
Which wasn’t nice to assume since she’d just met him, but the guy screamed that something was wrong and she couldn’t tell why.
“You want to be a wolf again?” He asked with a predatory smile.
Meg looked over at Susan, who was trying very hard not to show how happy she was. “Yes.”
“Then you are in the right place, I think.” He said and gave her a deep look that measured her, weighted her, then he nodded. “Susan was right.”
“Right about what?” she didn’t mean to snap, she should be taking what he offered with thanks instead of being totally creped out about this whole mess.
He laughed, “Right to call me. Right about you and that you will make a good wolf.”
“I already did,” she objected.
“No,” he looked at her solemn for a moment. “No, that wasn’t a wolf. That was what was left of a wolf. A pitiful deluded thing, dogs and ghosts of dogs, that’s all.”
There was a pause. “Who are you?” asked Meg finally. But she was pretty sure she didn’t want to know.
“Anane,” he said.
“That’s not an answer.”
“Ah, it is actually, but you know the answer I think without that.” He grinned, and waited and when she didn’t answer he laughed. “If your pack was not in danger your wouldn’t be here, would you little dog that dreams of being a wolf.”
“I don’t need your handouts,” she snapped.
“Yes, you do.” He said, “More than you can imagine.”
“Meg,” said Susan finally, frustrated.
“Who is he?” She asked, “what trick is this?”
“Who I am is what I am,” he grinned.
“You aren’t Susan’s grandfather,” Meg snapped.
“Ah, no,” he dipped his head in agreement. “That I am not. Many times great grandfather, but close enough to know my own.”
“Then why would you want me?” she asked. “Why not have Susan’s real grandfather offer me the oaths?”
“Because I look for wolves that should be,” he said with a sharp gaze. “I look past this,” he waved a hand at the both of them. “I look for the wolves that should be. Not just the ones that want to be or need to be or stumble into it.”
“I don’t get it,” she said finally.
“You don’t have to,” said Anane, “you just have to accept it.”
“No, tell me who you are. Enough fortune cookie phrases, just tell me who you are and what I’m really getting into.”
“I am what I am,” he said with a grin and laughed as he started to object. “Peace, peace– Anane means ‘fourth son’ little wolf.”
She had a feeling that he was old, that he was further down the tree than anyone she’d met before, but she hadn’t realized quite so far. “Oh.”
Susan laughed, a happy joyous sound and Meg realized that was the secret she’d been keeping muffled this whole time.
“This isn’t funny!” She snapped, but half-heartily, of all the things she’d thought would come out of this being offered family oaths by one of the seven sons hadn’t even entered the same dimension of possibility. “Are you serious?” she turned back to Anane.
“Sometimes I am not,” he said seriously, “but this time I am.”
“I don’t know what to say.” Meg said, faintly.
“Thank you works,” he pointed out mildly.
“There’s a big difference between ‘thank you for helping us’ and ‘thank you for asking if I would like to be superman’.” said Meg.
“Ah no,” he said, “not superman, not even this close to the heart of the curse. That punishment is left for us alone.” He looked sad when he said it and Meg wondered what it was like to never be able lay down the curse.
“But it’s very very close to superman,” said Susan her eyes still bright with glee.
“Wait,” said Meg, “why are you here?”
“That’s what you’re asking?” He asked, amused.
“This has got to be the least possible thing that has ever happened to me, werewolf curse aside.” said Meg. “The Baron’s sons are living ledges, but they don’t live here and they certainly don’t show up in daylight like a normal persons.”
“I’ve worked very hard to be a normal person,” Anane said with slight annoyance. “It’s not easy.’
“But why are you here, why did Susan know to call you?” she asked.
“Ah,” he said after a moment. “That’s not what you’re asking.” HE cocked his head a little and grinned. “You want to know if I’m the one that disowned the Clearfield Pack thus starting this whole avalanche of bad luck.”
Meg blinked, confused.
“No, I didn’t disown them. I don’t know who did, although I have my suspicions.” He shrugged. “I was in the area because I was visiting one of my actual grandchildren who lives in [local town]. As much as this seems like an impossible coincidence, that’s all it was.’
“How did Susan know to call you? How does she even have your number?” Meg asked, confused.
“She doesn’t,” he said. “But unlike your family tree heir’s still talks to each other. She called her father, who called his, and so on until they found someone who could get hold of me.” He grinned at Susan who preened like a star struck teenager. “I have a very specific set of wolves I look for and they are supposed to contact me when they find them.”
“What sort of wolves?” she asked suspiciously.
“Why do people want to be werewolves?” He asked, quietly.
“Power,” said Meg, bitterly.
“Immortality?” offered Susan.
“It also used to be the reputation that the family name game them, but alas as the world has gotten exponentially larger the terror invoked by the Black Baron has dwindled.” Anane sniffed. “And why do you want to be a wolf?”
“Power.” said Meg.
“But you don’t,” said Anane. “You don’t want power. The last thing you want is to have to be the one in charge, to force people to do what you want. If you really wanted power you’d have been clawing your way up without it. You want a very specific kind of power for a very specific purpose. And that,” he said, “is why I want you.”
“I don’t get it, Meg said finally. “The curse was meant to punish people for being evil, you’re deliberately looking for people who weren’t ever meant to be werewolves.”
“I find the irony soothing,” he said with a grin. Then after a pause, “When you have been alive long enough, you get bored. We are all the people we were when she cursed us, never forgot that,” and for a brief moment he was terrifying again, and then it was gone. “We’ve just had our way so long that it’s not fun anymore.”
“Killing people was fun?” said Meg, before she could think better.
“Ah, no,” said Anane, “killing people wasn’t fun– once they’re dead whets the point? Watching people suffer is fun, watching them suffer willingly because there is something they value more than pain is beyond fun. And knowing that they could be suffering for nothing, that I have the power to give or take the reward they suffer for–” for a moment his whole face lit up with a reverence that gave no doubt the psychopath he used to be was still very alive and kicking. “That’s what I used to live for, that kind of power.” He paused, then sighed and looked at her, a level of faint hopelessness settling over him again. “But you chase that high for years, decades, and then after a while you just can’t in it anymore. I killed people, but out of frustration. And then I got bored with even that.”
“So now you’re trying to be break the curse.” said Meg and Anane started.
“Wait what?” said Susan.
“Think about it, he can’t die, the curse won’t let him. The one thing he loved to do is out of his reach, but he can still remember it, can see the echoes of it in the world around him.” Meg didn’t look away from Anane and he gave her a measuring look. “So he’s trying to bend the rules of the curse far enough so that they break.”
“Can’t you just renounce?” said Susan quietly.
Anane was quiet or another moment then sighed sharply and shook his head. “One of us tried, centuries ago, stood up to the Baron himself and told him to go to hell. Nothing happened, well other than my father locking him away in the tower and disowning all of his children.”
“Why didn’t he just kill you?”
“He can’t, we can’t die, the eight of us.” Anane looked back to Meg. “They’ve tried over the years, when they catch us. We’ve tried it on each other, once or twice. But no matter what we do nothing works.”
“Fire kills us,” said Susan, confused.
“Ah child,” Anane said with a sigh. He pulled out a knife with one fluid motion and drew it across his other hand. The knife swept through the flesh like water, although it bumped over the bones because he wasn’t doing more than drawing it across the palm.
There was no blood, no cut, as the wound healed the same instant it was created.
“Wow.” said Meg, after a moment.
“It’s fun for a while,” said Anane. “The only downside is when it heals around something, but you can tug anything free with just a little force– makes for an imposing view when you’re covered in arrows and still running at them.” He grinned, “It doesn’t even hurt unless the damage is consistent over time, so breaking the curse sis the only way out. And besides, it gives you what you need doesn’t it?”
“If the curse does break what happens to everyone?” asked Meg softly.
“We all go back to being human,” said Anane, “some of us for shorter lives than others– all things considered.”
“Then let’s do this.” said Meg.