"Un-huh, I know vamp's
that've got that trick too,” Tommie said. "They can take almost anythin'
out of your head, and put somethin' else back in there. Guess you're
more like us than you want to think, what with politics and double-dealin'.
Boo didn't talk too much about this, she just smiled all sad-like and said
"Let it go" when I asked her why her tribe didn't want too much to do with
her. I knew I coulda pushed for the answer, but I always thought
she'd eventually come around to tellin' me. Then she ran off, took
the boys, an' it was too late. By the time I found 'em again - well,
actually, they found me - she was already dead and gone." He shook
his head and poured himself another shot. "Damn shame. Just
wish I coulda told her ... just one more time ... how much I...how much
I, uh, I....." He gulped down the shot.
"Just goes to show, even when you think you have all the time in the world," he pointed to his chest, "an' I don't just think, I know, but it still wasn't enough. I'd give a thousand years o'my life expectance for her to be back again. Even if she didn't love me no more."
Sappho, who had no insight into the intricacies of the kindred heart, reached out to him and gently stroked his hair back away from his eyes.
"She loved you, Mr. Gunn. She loved you from the day she first saw you to the end of her life, and even beyond if Mr. Grimm's right. She loved you so much we were able to use you to find her, and she knew it. And she feared for you, and for the boys, and so she ran. That's my fault. I'll own up to that. And if you want to rip out my heart now, I kinda wouldn't blame you if you did."
Tommie sat back, out of the reach of her hand, as if he'd suddenly realized it was Sappho and not Boudiccea who sat before him.
"Well, I reckon I should hear the rest of the story before I go an' kill the storyteller now, shouldn't I?" He said, leaning forward the better to hear her words.
And so she made
her way back to the city, now living in the place the apes called Miami,
in the shadows of skyscrapers where millions changed hands for the deadly
white powder that kept so many humans - female humans - in slavery.
And Sappho fought those who dealt in the powder, and those who dealt in
the misery that went with the powder. Her pack opened a shelter for
women, to get them away from their bondage to the drug, and the pimps who
gave it to them. Sappho had little patience or skills for bureaucracy
and paperwork, but soon found she excelled in more hands on "community
service". The area around the shelter, in one of Miami's worst neighborhoods,
became an oasis of tranquility.
And then Sappho found out a crucial truth - that the warrior's truest enemy, the one thing that wears her down more than constant fighting, is peace.
Sappho fretted, paced, and even went out looking for trouble on more than one occasion. Sometimes she found it, or let it find her, but more often she found nothing but quiet moonlit streets. She was limited by her pack, and her duties at the shelter, on how far she could go and what she could do. She began to feel strangled, hemmed in on all sides by the bigger, violent city.
After six months, her chance came. The alpha, pleased with her efforts to clean up the area, released her from duty for a moon. Sappho was free to do as she pleased for a month, and obligated to return with the next full of the moon.
She jumped at the chance, and headed to the scene of her sister's biggest triumph - Chicago.
Disembarking from the plane, she stopped at the big windows that let out over the loop, and then further, all of Chicago, glittering like a big rotten diamond. She breathed in the Wyrm-taint deeply, nose twitching and alive again.
This, she thought, is where I make my rank, for real.
By the end of the first week, she'd killed two vampires, about ten ghouls, run roughshod over the local Bone Gnawers, and pretty much lived life like an ahroun should. She was in paradise.
Then, she noticed a stranger in her wonderland.
He was tall, handsome, ruggedly built, with dark hair and auburn in his beard. His eyes, glancing at her in a crowded bar or packed subway train, were the green of a deep ocean. And so sad. So incurably sad.
She could also smell that he was kinfolk, at least. Probably Garou, but it was hard to tell amongst all the other city smells, the unwashed human flesh and tobacco smoke that surrounded her all the time.
She saw him four times, her second week. Always in a crowd, always going somewhere else.
And she became intrigued.
Why are you so sad, Mr. Eyes? she would think, then snap at herself for thinking about him. But the next time she saw him, movement in a crowd, she would think the very same thing again.
Finally, as her third week drew to a close, she decided to confront him. The next time she saw him, she told herself, she would speak. Even if he answered with a snarl of contempt, she would have shown herself to be strong. For he was stalking her, she was convinced of it now. She had seen no other being in the city more than once, unless she had specifically sought them out. But she had somehow been on the same street as he had, at least six times.
And she knew the best way to deal with a stalker was to confront him. None of the namby-pamby running about for her, she would jump into his face and see who would back away first.
She had a good idea it would not be her.
And as soon as she realized she was looking forward to the thought, she pushed it to the back of her mind.
For three days, she saw neither hide nor hair of him. She began to doubt herself, second-guessing as to whether she had been sure it was him, or if her eyesight was going.
Then, an impulse trip to the Chicago Museum of Natural History cured her doubts forever.
She had passed the building, a square gray stone sitting firmly on the shore of Lake Michigan, about twenty times, always on the way to somewhere else. As she walked in Soldier Park, she found herself staring at the banners flapping in the brisk breeze. They featured the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, and some writing beneath them. She could make out the Museum word, and the phrase "The Wolf Throughout History". There was more, but Sappho had never been good at reading, and the wolf word was enough to get her attention. She started off at a brisk trot to the arched entryway of the museum.
Once inside, it was warm, and smelled of old humans and sawdust, and something else that Sappho didn't like. She couldn't put a finger on it, but it smelled like dirt and decay. Her first thought was vampires, but surely they would not be up and about during the daytime.
Then she turned a corner, and came face-to-face with her admirer. They had run into each other. He smiled quickly, then turned to walk the other way.
Her hand was on his shoulder before she could stop it.
"Wait! Please," the word came easier to her in those days. "I mean, uh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to run you over."
Great. She had finally gotten within speaking distance, and now she couldn't speak.
He turned then, green eyes sadly studying her face. He was very handsome in a careworn sort of way. Long brown hair, most of it pulled back into a ponytail, some of it fell softly across his face.
The moment seemed frozen. He smiled.
"That's ok. No harm done."
The moment he spoke, she realized what had caught her attention. He was Garou. She inwardly relaxed, knowing she wasn't acting like a stupid ape. The attraction had been an acknowledgement, predator to predator.
"I'm ... Sappho," she said, extending her hand. She had almost howled her tribe name, and realized it would have echoed throughout the museum.
"Will," he said, taking her hand and firmly bringing it to his lips.
A shock went through her, not unlike lightening.
"I'm fairly new here," he said. "Just passing through, actually. I've seen you around town, but every time I managed to make my way through the crowds, you had already left."
"I've only been here a month myself. I'm on vacation."
An awkward silence sprung up. She smiled, he smiled.
"Hey, would you like to drive out to the suburbs later tonight? I know of a Fianna revel going on at midnight." He offered.
Sappho stood, counted silently one, two, three heartbeats, then smiled.
"I'd love to," she smiled.
Sappho buried her
face in her arms at the table, and wept as if her heart would break.
Tommie had never understood the female aptitude for tears - goddam it,
they cry when they're happy, when they're sad, when they're bored, what's
this one crying about now?? - but he knew a little patient encouragement
would set her back on the track of the story again. He couldn't see
where this tied in with Boudiccea, himself, or anything else. But
there was a half-empty whiskey bottle on the table, and he figured that
had something to do with it. So he patted her on the back.
She sat up quickly, as if she'd forgotten there was anyone else in the
world right now, and ran her fingers down her tear-stained face.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Gunn. It's just ... hard... to think about ... what might have been."
And Tommie, who knew that the saddest words in the human language were "if only I had done something differently", nodded in agreement and handed the woman a handkerchief to dry her eyes with, before she continued.
"So I was in Chicago..." she began anew.
Sappho knew it was
wrong, wrong on the elemental level, wrong to the very core of her being.
And what was worse was that she didn't care. She knew the litany,
knew it by heart, but she didn't care. Waking up next to this man
- this Garou - was like waking up in heaven. Walking through the
park, running in the woods, rolling about in bed, all these things seemed
so right, so good, that she turned her back on the litany.
And, deep down inside, she knew these things to be wrong.
The day before her vacation ended, she called her pack leader, to ask if there were any shelters she could work at in the Chicago area. To try to transfer, if she might. Her alpha was less than thrilled to hear that one of her best lieutenants was thinking of staying in the North, but she took it with stoic acceptance. She told Sappho she would get back to her within two hours.
Ten minutes later, the local Bone Gnawer leader called her. She'd been a snot to them, but had also helped in several fights against the leech infestation on the south side.
He was panting, out of breath, obviously calling from a payphone.
"Sappho, can you get down here?" He rattled off an address. She made mental note of it.
"It's Cabrini Green," he continued, "The taxi's won't come in here. You'll have to walk about five blocks. Meet me at Enzio's Pizza. We've got trouble."
He was gone before she could ask more.
She left a note for Will, signed with a heart, on the door, and headed out to catch a cab. The wind was coming off the lake, dropping the temperature about twenty degrees. She could smell fall in the air. Her nerves were calm, even though she knew there would be battle tonight. She was young, and still thought herself immortal.
That would soon change.
Orvis, the Bone Gnawer, had been right about the cab. No amount of money would convince the driver to take her to Enzio's. He looked at her as if she were mad when she left the cab. From the corner of her eye, she noticed him make the sign of the cross in her direction, a strange blessing from a swarthy foul-mouthed cabdriver, and then she was alone, watching the taillights disappear into the traffic.
She changed to the more muscular glabro form, knowing that urban predators attacked the weak and helpless, and she was neither. She didn't want to be waylaid, however, and the shift had been a good choice. She walked through a group of teenage boys gathered at the door of the pizzeria, noticing with satisfaction they parted to let her pass. She heard their hushed whispers as she passed them.
Then she was inside, and the smells of cooking meat assaulted her senses.
Orvis and several others waved her over to a table, where a plate of bones testified to the appetite of 'Gnawers. Some of them had been broken open and sucked dry of their marrow. She stood, too large to slide into the booth.
Briefly, using the chicken bones and condiments for props, they explained what several of them had found last night at the Natural History Museum. One of the cases in the Egyptian exhibit did not contain a mummy, rather it held a leech. An old, Egyptian leech. None of them had enough sense or knowledge to know what old Egyptian leeches were all about, and they had treated it much as they would have a neonate vampire. Sappho rolled her eyes.
Orvis explained they had lost several of their number, and more still were missing outright. All who had entered had not left.
Then he said the thing that chilled her bones.
"An' den, dat new guy, he say he know how to deal wit' deese tings. He call dem Setites. An' he go down dere, an' we not seen him again, neither."
Slowly, as if her mouth were filled with ashes, Sappho asked,
"Yeah, nize enough, his name's Will. I tink he Fianna. If he ennytin', anymore. He go down dere tis mornin', an' he say he be back. But it gettin' on ta dark now, an' he not back."
Sappho pictured him, leaving her room that morning, turning back to her as she stretched sleepily, with a smile.
"I have a few things to take care of this morning, love. I'll be back as soon as I can be." He held up the I-love-you hand sign and was gone.
Orvis' eyes grew wide as she snatched him out of the booth and dragged him to the door, growling.
"Come on! It's not quite dark yet! You don't leave your team members behind, you ignorant piece of shit excuse for a Garou!"
And his band followed out behind them.
"Setites,” Tommie nodded sagely. "I've run into a few."
This is going to end badly, he thought, and for a moment realized he didn't know which story he was thinking of -- the one that had ended in Chicago, or the one she was living in here and now. And then he thought, probably both.
"There were some that came to see what happened to their friends. The ones you and Boudiccea killed,” she said flatly, not accusing.
"We should have stayed, killed them all then," Tommie said.
"No. It would have made no difference. Something else would have happened then."