One Long Night Underneath the City

     Sappho's nerves were already stretched so tight she thought she would break at a moment's notice.  She swung her leg over the chair and plopped down at the table.   Tommie sat with a shot glass in front of him, the bottle of Jack she'd brought the other night sitting open on the table between them.  Sappho pointed to the glass.
     "Y'got a spare one of those?" she asked.
     With a grunt of welcome, he slid another one across the table.  Sappho fired down two shots while he sipped his first.  She watched him with interest while he drank; supposedly leeches couldn't drink or eat normal food....or do other human things, she reminded herself, but this one could.  Either that, or the information she was going on was faulty.  Ten years ago, she would have rejected this thought out of hand, but now....
     As she poured a third shot, his soft voice broke into her black mood.
     "What's eating you, Sappho?"
     She glanced up, about to say something smart and flip, but found her eyes locked with his.
     Leech magic, he's doing something, don't look in his eyes....
     But she knew he wasn't doing any kind of magic, at least, if he was, it was subtle, not threatening.   The look in his eyes was one of concern, mostly, combined with wariness and near exhaustion.  Well, no wonder he was tired, they were all tired, running on empty for the past three days almost, hiding in this hole in the ground...
     That isn't anything new to his kind, she reminded herself, then rethought that as well.  She'd seen the main hall of his friend's den, the music room had lulled her to sleep the night before.  Whatever these .. things .. were, they were civilized.  Perhaps more civilized than she was.
     And then the weight of it all hit her, as it did almost every day at some point, and she tore her eyes away from him, and slammed down another shot before lighting a cigarette
     an addiction of the Wyrm, sister.....
     and inhaling slowly, calmly, trying to organize her thoughts.
     "Mr. Gunn," she finally said, "It is .. Garou .. business that worries me," Ah, yeah, a great way to say fuck off without saying fuck off, she thought.
     "Well, " he paused, and she had the feeling he was weighing his words carefully, much more so than his country boy demeanor would lead one to believe he could, " you've been irritated, snappy and jumpy since we left the circus, an' I was just wondering if there wasn't somethin' I could do to help you out."
     He spread his big hands on the table, pushing himself back a bit, and again caught her stare.
     "I spoke with the boys, an' I don't think they'll be givin' you much more grief.  It's been hard on them this past year or so, an' I don't want to come down on 'em like a ton of bricks if I can avoid it..." He smiled to let her know that he was quite capable of doing just that, if needed.  "An' I do want you to start teachin' Bruce some of that Garou fighting style... from what's been said, I think he's gonna need it."
     She nodded and made a grim face.  This man actually had a clue that something serious was yet to happen, not like most of the others, who thought the circus and it's inhabitants were the only wyrmlings on the planet, and the fight was over now....
 For Gaia's sake, Sappho, step back before you start batting your eyes and acting like some stupid ape for this man.... 
     To cover this unpleasant thought, she poured herself another shot, and mentally checked her sobriety level.  The boys wouldn't be back all night, most likely, and to hell with them anyway, if they couldn't stand to see a person unwind with a drink after going through hell like the last three days...
     Maybe if their mother hadn't drunk so much....
     But that was your fault, wasn't it Sappho?  How does it feel to loose everything?  How does it feel, what does it do to one's soul?
     She shook her head.  Tommie knew she was having some kind of inner conflict, so he pressed his offer.
     "Look, I know what it's like.  I was a warrior, a soldier in 'Nam.  When we got back, the very same ones that sent us there spit on us....I KNOW what it's like, to be condemned for following orders.  Now, far as I can understand, they gave you orders, an' you followed 'em.  That's what a soldier does.  It ain't nothing to be ashamed of..."
     "Look, Mr. Gunn.." she said slowly, emphasizing the mister part, "you went, you fought a human war, against human enemies.  The whole fate of the world wasn't in your hands every time you pulled the trigger.  Now, I know it might've felt that way, but it wasn't..."
     She didn't know where she was going with her present train of thought, but Tommie interrupted it for her anyway. Moving with a speed she'd only heard of, never seen, he flung the shot glass across the room, to the opposite wall.  It shattered noisily, the dregs of the whiskey forming a pattern not unlike the open maw of a wolf on the while tile.
     The other one, the woman Julia, peered around the corner, saw the two of them frozen, and decided it would be in her better interests to not hear the impact.  She pulled back, around the wall.  Tommie's eyes were fixed on Sappho.  She had no doubt that he'd seen Julia, just that he was more focused on her right now.
     "Look," he finally drawled, in a conversational tone, "I ain't agonna sit here and listen to you tell me what I felt and didn't feel.  I know what it was like, how bad it was, and just how useless I was to it all.  Hell, I knew I wasn't there to save the world, or even win the damned war fer that matter.  I was there to do a job,  goddammit, and I did it.  And that has nothing to do with this, either."  He swept his hand in the direction of the glass sparkling on the floor.  She knew he didn't mean the shot glass.  He meant more of it, all of it.
     He stood up, pulled his chair as close to hers as he could, and sat down with his face inches from hers.
     "Now," he said, looking in her eyes, "You're gonna start at the beginning.  And you're gonna tell me everything you know.  'Cause it might just save my boys' lives.  An' it'll definitely save yers, cause if you don't tell somebody, you're gonna end up on a tall building with your toes on the ledge.  An' there won't be nobody there to catch you, neither."
     And, looking into his eyes, she suddenly knew what it was that she had given up, that her sister had grasped with both hands and clung to for dear life, all those years ago.
     She knew it was called trust, and that it was as precious as diamonds, and rarer besides.
     And, knowing this, she took a deep breath, blinked back tears
     where the hell did those come from?  and who are they for?
     and began her tale.

     Two wolf pups, playing in the hot sun of an August afternoon.  Nose-biter rolled playfully with her littermate Whitestreak.  They heard the rumbling far off, thought it was just thunder.  But it was a strange kind of thunder, and Whitestreak's anxiousness translated to her sister as "Let's go home to mom."  So they ran back, falling down mossy embankments and into cold running creeks, scaring cradads and crickets alike and rejoicing in running and playing in the shade the big trees gave.
     Reaching the clearing where their den was, the two sensed something not right, something bad and wrong and...human.  Whitestreak smelled it first, the scent of heat and anger and laying-down-and-not-rising that her mother had taught her was the scent of man.  Nose-biter didn't seem to notice, but yelped their mother's cry quite plainly.  No answering bark came to them, though, so they started to climb up the ridge where the big tree grew.  Halfway up, they heard the thundering boom of humanspeak, and not so very far away either.  Whitestreak crawled her way up the rest of the hill and peered over.  There were creatures, strange hairless things that balanced precariously on two hind legs, and they were standing and flashing lights at something that hung, swinging from the tree.  Whitestreak couldn't see what it was, so she crawled closer still, and then saw.  Nose-biter heard her pained yip, saw her come falling down the hill, then was hard pressed to catch up with her as she sprinted into the trees.
     "Where are we going?" she yelped after her sister.
     "Trouble is here.  We have to go get help.  The alpha will know what to do,"  Whitestreak panted back.
     They ran a long way, to where the big rocks bordered the streams, and then they stopped.  One of the pack males advanced on them, and, knowing they were cubs, stopped them.
     "Why are you here?" he asked.
     "There is trouble.  The walking ones have come and captured our mother,"  said Whitestreak.  "The Alpha must help her."
     The sentinel bowed his head, and issued a low, whining cry.  Whitestreak began to bark at him in anger.  Nose-biter was perplexed.  She didn't understand wolf-speak as well as Whitestreak did.  She looked at her sister.
     "What is it?  What does he say?"  she asked.
     "Mother has gone - she will hunt with the great wolf now, and we will see her no more,"  said Whitestreak, and the mournful tone of her howl made Nose-biter feel very small and alone.
     And Nose-biter, reluctantly, joined in the dirge, the funeral song for Yellow-eyes-in-the-darkness.

     Tommie sat very quietly.  Finally he poured himself another shot, and got another glass for Sappho as well.  He came back to the table and sat down.  She stared blankly ahead.
     "Y'know, Boo never told me that her mother - your mother - was killed by hunters.  I imagine she knew it'd make me feel kinda, well, funny, to be hunting in front of her."  He shook his head, looked down at the glass in front of him.
     Sappho pushed hers away.  She had a tale to tell before morning, and it would do no good to try to tell it on a thick tongue.

     Quite late in the fall, of about their third year, Whitestreak awakened her sister by pacing in the den.  They'd wandered down the coast, through the big trees and around the human places, and were now almost in the sandy place.  The nights were cold, and they huddled together for warmth and comfort.  Things had not gone well with the pack, and they'd left it more than a year before.  Now they were rogues, and that was not good.
     The cave they took shelter in this night was in a rock wall, tucked under an overhanging rock.  There were pictures on the wall at the back of the cave, and Whitestreak was fascinated by these.  They showed a hairless thing - human, they had learned they were called - dancing beneath the moon.  But then the hairless thing changed, became more, well, like a wolf.  Nose-biter was less than impressed with the drawings, had even seen others she liked more, near the big streams where metal things floated downstream.  But Whitestreak was fascinated by them, and spent much time staring at them.
     About the middle of the night, Nose-biter awoke, to find the cave glowing with some kind of light.  She jumped up, fur bristling, but there was no one there but herself.  She looked out the entrance, and got the shock of her life.
     Her sister stood there, along with an old hairless one.  She could tell it was old, because it smelled old.  It also smelled wise, and gentle, and Nose-biter was not so afraid.  Then, as Nose-biter watched, her sister and the other began to sing to each other, in their own languages.  nose-biter thought this was strange, but felt as if she shouldn't interrupt.  A voice in her head said "This is your sister's time, yours will come soon enough."
     Then, she watched as her sister began to stretch and bend in the moonlight.  And as she bent and stretched, she began to change, somehow, into something else.  She lost her thick black fur, and her front legs lengthened and twisted until her sister stood upright, blinking and shaking in the night air.
     Nose-biter ran back inside then, afraid what else she might see, and in the thin light of dawn sleep finally overtook her.  when she woke, her sister was back, and nothing was said.  But she knew, and her sister knew, and things were never quite the same again.


     "Yeah, Boo told me about the old Indian woman that found her for her first change,"  Tommie said slowly.  "She said she knew she was different, but she never said exactly how.  Never mentioned you, though."
     Sappho shrugged.
     "You said she never mentioned she had a sister.  That's because she didn't have one for too long after she met you."
     She saw confusion play across his face, then raised a hand.
     "I'll tell the story.  If you want to ask questions, I'll answer them when I'm done."
     He shrugged then, and she ran her fingers through her hair.  More composed, she began again.

     Nose-biter had felt strange for days.  Not the strange that happens before heat, that was not strange anyway, after the first time.  More like the strange she had felt before, when she had been running on the tall rocks in the wind, when she had looked up at the sky in time to see a blue-white trace of light erupt from the clouds and crackle to the earth near where she stood.  Yes, it was that kind of strange, the something is coming and it will be scary feeling.
     She woke one night to find the old woman, the same one who had befriended her sister, four months ago, standing over her as she slept.  Nose-biter bared her teeth, but she felt funny, almost naked, in front of the woman.  The stranger smiled at her, and she backed away.
     Then she felt it come to her.  It felt like a wave, like a curtain of air, like a lot of things but not alike them, and she felt the change come across her, and through her, and it swept her away, until she stood, upright, staring down at the old woman from an improbable height.
     Nose-biter looked down at herself with shock, with dismay.  A kind of horror welled up inside her, and she wanted to rip this strange skin from her, to see the wolfskin that must lie beneath.  But the old woman said some words in a language that was unfamiliar to her, and she felt the calming energy she was sending to the confused garou.
     Nose-biter became aware of many things that night, her place in the weavers pattern was only one of those things.
     The old woman's name was Walks-with-the-horses, and she was a Wendingo.  Those were Gaia's other children, nose-biter knew that, and they protected the sacred lands from the encroachment of the Wyrm.  The old woman told Nose-biter many things, stories and legends from her mother, and her mother's mother.
     Nose-biter learned what a lost cub was, and that she was one of a great tribe.  She had been lost by her pack, and now she, and her sister, would travel to where they gathered, in some place called Michigan, and be reunited with their pack-mates.  She learned her sister had refused to go without her.
     And she learned a new concept: destiny.
     That which the weaver had patterned for her.  That was her destiny.
     Walks-with-the-horses told her that the road would be long, and hard, for both she and her sister, and that there would be pain and heartbreak along the way.  And she also spoke of the joy, the satisfaction, of protecting the Wyld, and serving the Weaver.
     Nose-biter came back to the cave she shared with her sister, and she was changed.  She stood in human form, and watched her sister sleep in the shape of the wolf, and she knew things were never going to be they way they had thought, when they were so young, back in the wood.

     "So it isn't really common, for litter-mates to be Garou, then?" asked Tommie when she stopped to sip one of TJ's sodas.
     She shook her head.
     "From what I've seen, it is very uncommon.  A once in a million chance.  But Boudiccea always knew somehow that I would become.  That is why she refused to leave without me."
     Tommie fell silent for a moment.  Then he quietly said,
     "That's the first time I think I've heard you call her by name.  You pronounce it differently.  Is that something 'Garou'?"
     She smiled ruefully.
     "I pronounce it in the old way.  It is different because I am thinking her real name, and it translates differently."
     "Her real name?  You mean Whitestreak?"
     "No, Mr. Gunn.  That was her name until she entered the Black Fury Tribe.  Her real name within the Furies was..." she glanced about.  There were no secrets to be kept from this man.  Boudiccea had probably told him, but had never emphasized what the difference was.  Or maybe she'd forgotten.
     "Her name within the calyx is She-who-tears-at-the-heart-of-the-wyrm.  It was an honor to be awarded such a name.  After her rite of ostracism, she was called by ... other names.  Not such honor."
     Sappho stared at the floor.  She hoped he would not ask what those other names were.  Mercifully, he didn't.  Instead, he asked,
     "So what happened to turn them against her?"
     She looked up at him, and smiled sardonically.
     "You happened to her, Mr. Gunn."


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And then what happened...?