Scions of Ingress

Chapter 23: The Art of Making Friends & Influencing Rats

As the pack flees into the woods, they can hear screams behind them in the village. Despite some worry about discovery, they are filled with the exhilaration of a successful hunt. Still in his corporeal form, Behm is able to carry some of the pack-members, although he is not quite strong enough to carry all of them. Terin sends Em and Scent-of-Luna’s-Silver with Behm, while she and Sibyl’s-Feather travel on their own.

Aware that she probably shouldn’t arrive to the Uktena village covered in gore, Terin stops at a small stream to clean herself off. Sibyl’s-Feather descends from her raven form and they have a brief conversation about what happened. Both wants to be sure the other is alright – Sibyl’s-Feather for having been so close to the danger, and Terin for having killed what looked like a helpless child.

Sibyl’s-Feather also mentions she thinks it is a good thing the pack must operate under Behm’s ban to talk to their enemies before falling to battle. She makes it clear that she believes understanding their opponents is the only way towards peace. Terin sounds far less sure. To her it is a simpler matter: if it’s Wyrm, kill it. But she does concede that she will follow the letter of the agreement they made. If they must speak to their enemies, so be it. As long as the City – and pack – is protected.

Meanwhile, Em, Scent-of-Silver, and Behm arrive at the Uktena village. The kinfolk are stunned at the vision of Behm in his true form. The medicine man prostrates himself in front of the great dragon and speaks in Ojibwa for a while. Confident in the fact that her pack alpha said they could reveal Behm to the kinfolk after dealing with the Wyrm-bane, Em introduces him to Chief Blackburn as the pack’s totem. More than a little taken aback, the chief warns Behm is “a dangerous totem”. Em counters “he is a powerful totem”.

Terin and Sibyl’s-Feather arrive shortly after. Although Terin is not thrilled Behm is visible, she doesn’t say anything to the others (not that she has the best poker face in the world). Chief Blackburn approaches to say he is honoured to witness the great spirit, and asks what the tribe can offer in return. Terin replies they can share their knowledge. Em also takes the chief’s son for a ride.

Sibyl’s-Feather spends the rest of the evening in her element, asking every question she can think of. She learns about other shifters. The chief mentions they know of others from stories, which speak of the raccoon, fox, wolf and coyote. Although they have not met any other shifters themselves, he is confident they are out there.

Sibyl’s-Feather goes on to ask about the village’s local pack, the Spirit Sky. The Chief repeats his request to stay until they return from their journey, which should only be a few days. Terin thanks him for the offered hospitality, but says they must return to their own territory as soon as possible.

Conversation continues into the wee hours of the morning, but eventually everyone falls asleep. Once dawn breaks, the pack wakes to find Behm has vanished, and no one in the village remembers them. They extricate themselves as quickly and peacefully as possible – made slightly more difficult for Em, who wakes next to the very insistent chief’s son – and flee into the woods.

After a brief detour to make sure their prey is still dead, the pack makes their way to the portal they arrived through and returns to the “normal” umbra. As soon as they do, Behm reappears next to them, once more a mere shadow of his full self. Even in the umbra, they are immediately assaulted by the harsh sounds and smells of the modern world. It is bewildering after the calm of the City’s memory, and they realize a little of what it must have been like for Blood-of-the-North-Sky when he first arrived to the City.

They run, fly, and ride back to the manor through the umbra. Once there they shift into the mundane to find dawn is breaking here as well. Checking their phones, they are relieved to find that only a single night has passed, so they shouldn’t have been missed too much. Terin suggests they get some rest before resuming their “usual” duties.

Before going to her room, Em pulls Sibyl’s-Feather aside to apologize for grabbing her by the neck while she was in raven form. She admits she sometimes has trouble forgetting Sibyl’s-Feather isn’t built for war, like the rest of them. Accepting her apology, Sibyl’s-Feather goes on to mention the conversation she had with Terin. She comments that it’s too easy for some of the pack to jump to fighting without thinking about it.

They talk about the garou litany for a while. The fact that there needs to be a law against eating humans is something of particular concern to Sibyl’s-Feather, since it suggests that was a major issue at some point. Em mentions that the litany was created long before human society was anything like its current form, and that some garou feel it should be updated. One example – the ban against garou mating with garou – is currently of great debate in England. While all are in agreement that garou should not breed with garou — lest a malformed Metis result – mating doesn’t necessarily mean breeding.

As the conversation winds down, Sibyl’s-Feather tries to extract a promise from Em. She warns “if something happens to me, you need to train yourself to ask questions. You need to understand why you are doing things. Terin is the alpha, and she’s a good alpha, but it’s up to you to look for answers and make sure the pack follows Behm’s ban”. Em agrees, although she counters that Sibyl’s-Feather needn’t worry about anything happening. The pack will keep her safe.

Later in the day, Sibyl’s-Feather asks Scent-of-Silver to talk. “How are you doing? I have questions.” “Of course.” Sibyl’s-Feather asks why the pack – and garou as a whole – fight the Wyrm. When Scent-of-Silver replies “because it’s evil”, Sibyl’s-Feather counters “that’s the easy answer”. She says that Terin needs to look to Scent-of-Silver as the pack’s moral compass, but so far it doesn’t sound like Scent-of-Silver is confident in her choices. Sibyl’s-Feather suggests she needs to be sure of the reasons behind the laws, so that she can apply them in real world settings.

Scent-of-Silver appears to agree. Her main concern centres around the fact that she’s mostly making things up as she goes, since she hasn’t really spoken to an elder philodox. She wonders if it would be possible to reach Clear-Eyes’ spirit in the umbra. Sibyl’s-Feather suggests she speak to Speaks-of-Gaia.

Later that day, Terin meets her appointment with Micha Destefano, her father’s case worker, at his office in the tower above the mall. She is careful to dress appropriately – hair down to hide her scars, long-sleeved blouse to hide her arms – and acts as politely as she knows how. They hold their meeting in a small conference room, and Micha is obviously nervous and sweaty the entire time. He explains what she can do to help with her father’s parole hearing: show up and speak to his character; let the board know he has a reason to reform (to connect with his daughter); and, if possible, demonstrate he’ll have a job and somewhere to live once he gets out. Terin thanks him for his time, and asks point blank if everything is alright. He lies about having a cold then escorts her out. He is clearly relieved when they step out of the conference room. Taking a moment to tie her shoe, Terin shifts briefly into galabro and realizes he reeks of fear.

Convinced that something is going on, Terin goes down to the food court and calls Sibyl’s-Feather for help. She wants the raven to follow Micha once he leaves work to figure out if someone is trying to get to her father through him. Sibyl’s-Feather agrees, and arrives at the food court an hour later with Em in tow.

Terin and Em shift into the umbra to try to peek into Micha’s office. They have a very difficult time finding his office in the first place, and eventually have to ask a map for directions. It points the way, Em thanks it for its time, and it says “please don’t break anything”. As they enter the hallway that appeared only after speaking to the map, Em realizes they were thinking too “mundane”, instead of just going where they wanted to go.

Upon their arrival, Em peeks across the gauntlet to find a very familiar figure speaking to Micha. Sibyl’s-Feather apparently got bored of waiting. Frustrated with her ragabash, Terin decides they’ll come back at night, with Scent-of-Silver to help them break in as necessary. They retreat to the bathroom, shift back into the mundane, and call Sibyl’s-Feather to make sure she’s okay. As she’s still in Micha’s office at the time she isn’t able to speak freely, but simply says her meeting is going well and she’ll tell them about it back home.

Meanwhile, Scent-of-Silver goes into the City to try to figure out if she can speak to the rats. She goes to a particular sewer grate in an alley near the Cathedral – where Blood-of-the-North-Sky once spoke to the rats – and spends the next 30 minutes trying to coax someone out to talk.

She eventually notices movement deeper in the alley. Some rats have appeared. She tries to speak to them, but they only reply in squeaks. They do, however, lead her further into the alley before disappearing into a sewer grate. Scent-of-Silver then hears a voice in English as “what do you want, wolf?” Scent-of-Silver replies “to know if I can speak to you. I guess I can. Thanks!” Turning her back to return to the street, she pulls out her phone to call Terin. At the edge of the alley, just as Terin picks up, Scent-of-Silver realizes there’s someone behind her. She ducks instinctively, just in time to avoid an aluminum bat swung at her head. Wielding the bat is a homeless man with buck teeth, pointy ears, and too-bright black eyes. She retreats to the sidewalk, assures Terin she’s okay, and demands to know what the homeless man thinks he’s doing.

He reacts with disappointment – “we were just starting to have some fun!” – before going on to arrange a meeting between Scent-of-Silver’s pack and his king. They plan to meet the next night. [NOT SURE THIS IS RIGHT. DID SCENT-OF-SILVER ARRANGE THE MEETING WITH BAT-GUY OR WITH THE GIRL AFTER HE LEFT?]

Once everyone is back at the manor that night, Scent-of-Silver tells the others that she found some rat shifters in the City. Sibyl’s-Feather is extremely excited to meet them. Terin seems fixated on the point that Scent-of-Silver ran away from a lone shifter carrying a bat. She does eventually agree it’s good that they have a meeting set, and promises Sibyl’s-Feather she can ask as many questions as she wants.

Shifting focus, Terin says they need to get moving if they’re going to break into Micha’s office. Sibyl’s-Feather interrupts her planning saying it’s not necessary. The only thing scaring Micah was Terin herself. Sibyl’s-Feather tries to explain it’s not that surprising. Despite Terin’s efforts to look “normal”, she’s still pretty terrifying. Surprised and more than a little hurt, Terin decides to go for a ride to clear her head.

She makes her way to the Old 78 to chat with the Silent Strider kinfolk. There she finds Eddie (the vice president of the motorcycle club), Sasha/Red-Light, and three of the new initiates (Suds, Bedhead and Barbie). She has a brief conversation with Eddie, which basically boils down to “of course he was scared of you. I’m a human and people are scared of me. You’re a badass garou warrior and you’re terrifying!” He also mentions that “civilians” take their laws too seriously. As far as the MC is concerned, as long as no one hurts anyone who doesn’t deserve it, live and let live.

Returning to the main room, Terin proceeds to play pool and get drunk with Barbie. She doesn’t return to the manor until the next morning. She passes Em in the kitchen as she’s getting breakfast with a pleasant greeting on her way to shower and change. Sibyl’s-Feather enters the kitchen to find Em looking a little startled. When she asks what’s happened, Em says Terin is acting weird. Sibyl’s-Feather asks “like ‘she killed someone’ weird?” “Like ‘calm’.” “Like ‘she killed someone’ calm?”

The next day, the pack goes about their usual business. At their request, Terin starts training Sibyl’s-Feather and Scent-of-Silver in self-defense. They both notice she’s more patient than usual. Terin also goes to visit her dad that afternoon, to let him know that she’s trying to help with the parole hearing.

That evening, the pack makes their way into the City for their meeting with the rat shifters. They end up waiting for 20 minutes in the alley before anyone shows up. Four people eventually show up, each of them apparently homeless and very heavily armed. The youngest looks to be about 12 years old, and introduces himself as the king.

The conversation proceeds in fits and starts. The rat shifters aren’t particularly sharing, and at first refuse to say anything unless “the big one” crows like a rooster. When it becomes obvious Terin has no intention of playing along, the conversation is taken over by the homeless man with a bat. He speaks of a coming war. He says civilization is coming to an end, and wants the wolves to join in that. When Sibyl’s-Feather asks just how many rat kings there are in the city, he says “there are no kings in anarchy”.

After the meeting is done, Scent-of-Silver decides to go looking for Ushenka. [I DON’T REMEMBER WHY, PLEASE UPDATE] She goes to the alley where they first met. There are several stray dogs gathered there, but no Ushenka. They are all very deferential. Shifting into lupus, Scent-of-Silver tries to find out if any of them know where Ushenka is. An older one indicates that he knows where she went, and offers to lead Scent-of-Silver there.

They proceed to go on a very long walking tour of the City, apparently following Ushenka’s scent. They end up near the highway on the City outskirts, where the dog indicates that Ushenka’s trail continues on into the woods. Scent-of-Silver realizes Ushenka is patrolling. This scent is at least a couple days old. While she could easily follow it into the woods, there’s no saying how long it will take her to find her friend. She thanks the dog for his time, and decides to catch up with Ushenka another time. She returns to the manor, with the dog – who she names Wuf – following behind her.

Terin says he’s welcome to stay, but he’s now Scent-of-Silver’s responsibility. Scent-of-Silver initially blows this off, but the next day one of the servants comes to inform her that Wuf has “done his business” in the yard, and will she please clean it up. Scent-of-Silver finds Terin (working out in the gym) and demands to know why she’s being punished. Terin explains that it’s not a punishment, but a lesson about taking care of the kinfolk. As garou they have a responsibility; they can’t just take their kinfolk for granted. Scent-of-Silver isn’t thrilled with this response, but does agree to take care of Wuf whenever she’s home to do so.

That weekend, on Saturday, the pack goes to have dinner with John, who has returned safely from a moot. They tell him about their experience in the umbra, visiting the City’s memory. He suggests they stay quiet about the details for now, since there are too many secrets hinted at in their story that involve more politics than they are ready to deal with.

He tells them the story of the Croatan, who had been mentioned by Chief Blackburn but none of the pack had heard of before. They learn it is an extinct tribe, who sacrificed themselves to “the eater of worlds”, one of the three heads of the Wyrm.

John also warns Sibyl’s-Feather of the danger of seeking truths she isn’t ready for. He tells her to focus on the pack’s territory; on deeds to be done in the here and now, rather than worrying about the future. Sibyl’s-Feather doesn’t look too happy with this instruction, but she doesn’t argue.

The pack also tells him about their meeting with the rat shifters. He is surprised by the story, saying he thought the rats had been chased out of the City. He warns they are not friends to the garou, although neither are they enemies. He says they are like grenades, in that they can be thrown into a situation to explode, but its best to stay out of the way.

When they ask about the coming war the rats spoke of, Speaks-of-Gaia reminds them of the garou legend about the end of the world. The three universal forces – Wyld, Weaver and Wyrm – were once in balance, but no longer. If things continue to tip too far in any one direction, the world as it currently exists will come to an end. The rats are hoping for the Wyld to take over, to end what they feel is currently an overabundance of Weaver in the modern world.

Finally, Scent-of-Silver asks about meeting another philodox. Speaks-of-Gaia suggests they bring one into the City (like they did with Pierces-the-Nexus to speak with Em) rather than go to a moot. If they go to a moot now, he warns, they may have to deal with more challenges than they are ready for. He mentions that several of the elder theurges doubt him when he tells the story of how Em created a spirit-sister out of whole cloth. For a garou to “prove” their actions is a fairly simple affair – fight and defeat anyone who would say otherwise – but he believes they’re not yet ready to handle that.

Thanking John for his time and his words of wisdom, the pack returns to the manor for the night. Waiting there is a package wrapped in black paper with silver ribbons, addressed to Terin.

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