He wasn’t sure what had drawn him out here, into the woods in the dead of night. His parents were asleep inside the house, but something in his chest had just called to him, over and over until it became hard to resist. The urge was overwhelming, like everything around him was pressing in closer and closer, the very strands of the universe rubbing over his skin and drawing tight around his throat. A sensation maybe familiar already, but never this intense, never with such a clear vision of how to make it go away.
Go into the woods, go into the night. Let the moon and stars shine down on you, Jace Beleren.
So he went.
And it was dark. It wasn’t cold, at least, the summer night pressing in all around him, the sound of nightbirds and chirping insects all around. He hadn’t spent much time out here, admittedly, in the small but dense lakeside forest not far from the house they’d moved to a few years ago. He spent most of his time inside, getting himself ready for his online college courses and maybe talking to friends, but more often than not just… alone.
The trees cradled around him as he wandered through like the pillars of a wooden cathedral, their spreading tops the painted ceiling, in greens and the occasional flash of orange or red, preparing for the coming autumn. He could feel ferns brush his ankles, gentle and light but sending awareness up his nerves like fire. Normally, being touched like that by strange things in the dark would be a sensory overload, but… right now, it was alright. Calming, even. Something about tonight felt different, like there was a stirring deep in his chest he didn’t have a name for.
So he walked toward the lake, sandals crunching on the rocky shore as he drew closer to the water. The lake wasn’t that good for swimming, but its pebbly beach and many marshy outcroppings were good to sit and look at the water from, which was much better in his opinion. Tonight, the sky was clear and the moon a thin sliver, allowing the light of the stars to be more visible than usual. The dark trees around the water formed a wall of leaves and shadow around the glassy surface, only broken up by the other houses that sat on the waterfront in a loose ring. A mountain rose up in the distance on the far side of the water, a dark shadow like a sleeping bear.
A trail of smoke plumed upwards from the mountainside now that he looked, though. That was weird… nobody lived up there, as far as he knew. It was a pretty small mountain, but almost all trees and animal preserves, or something like that. Was someone living up there? Or something more sinister, maybe? The stirring in his chest got more insistent, more hot and bubbling the more he thought about it.
Despoilers of nature.
The thought flicked through his head so fast it was almost like someone else put it there, making him tremble and sending goosebumps rocketing up his bare arms. Strange voices, thoughts that weren’t his own, he was sure of it. Things that had happened on and off since he was old enough to remember, but not coming to a head. A flurry of words and emotions, all coming together now as he stared up at the grey plume that snaked its way upward from some hidden fire.
It was becoming too much to resist, too much to shunt off into some other part of his mind to cope with. The goosebumps were spreading over his whole body, itching so badly he thought he might burst and sending a spreading heat over his skin. His clothes felt too tight, too restrictive. He wanted to rip them off to be bare to the summer air, but he was having trouble moving from where he stood rooted. The bubbling heat in his chest was becoming too much, too hot. A seething Rage he had never before felt.
Rage. His mind put the emotion and the word for it together at the last moment he was fully aware, right before thick brown fur erupted over his body, muscles bulging and jaws exploding into teeth. Rage.
Rage . Rage ragerage ragera--
“Are you sure this is the right place?”
<The kin-fetch took us here, so must be. They’re dumb, but not that dumb.>
A shifting patch of black and silver fur crept through the undergrowth, trailed by a young woman in steel-toed boots and a red plaid button-up. The crescent moon overhead was giving very little light to work with, but it was enough for the wolf to find his way by, used to working in nearly pitch black conditions. His homid-form packmate was having a bit more trouble, but she was close enough to touch his tail if she needed guidance.
<This would be a lot easier if you’d just go Feline, you know.>
“Look, there’s like… plausible deniability or whatever Gids called it to find a weird dog wandering around the woods, not so much a tiger, okay?”
<I mean, I guess . You’d be able to actually see, though.>
“That’s what you’re for, though. Seeing eye dog. Heh.”
Working around the houses around the lake had been sort of annoying, but they’d managed. Running through backyards in the dead of night was always a little nerve-wracking; you never knew who had motion-activated lights, or a dog, or both. But they were getting close now, the ethereal being leading them darting back and forth through the trees.
Kin-fetches… They weren’t very smart, for spirits, but useful enough. Bound to potential young Garou, or sometimes beholden to entire bloodlines, to bring word to the rest of the Nation when the time for their change came, if it came at all. This one had been watching over the paternal line of this cub for several generations now, the Sept elder had told him. This was the first Garou born to them in three generations, and the kinfolk of the line had slipped into ignorance, but been watched over all the same.
Not like the specifics mattered too much, really. He was here to find and bring back the cub with minimal casualties, and the fact that this one was from Stargazer blood made that easier on him. Less prone to insane violence and bloody rages than most Tribes. But that also made it basically mindless grunt-work, which ticked him off quite a bit. Of course he was the one sent off to do this. Of course the metis was the babysitter and cub-snatcher. He’d busted his ass for this Sept for years, but respect was too much to ask, apparently.
He glanced back over his shoulder at the homid following him, her fiery red hair pretty visible even in Lupus form and in the dark. She was young, inexperienced. Most of his new pack was, so it fell on him a lot of the time to be acting Alpha, purely because none of them knew any damn better. Constantly given responsibilities, and no reward for them. It raised his hackles, made him feel like the metaphorical lightning for his Tribe’s patron was crackling over his fur in the form of annoyance.
He was roused out of his own head as they drew closer, though, and his fur stood on end as a cool wind filtered through the trees, one that didn’t come from the real world, one that sung to the spirit half of his being with the music of the Umbra, the sideways-world that was home to spirit-kind.
“You feel that?” his packmate chimed somewhere above and behind him. He only growled softly in reply.
The spirit world was coming to see the new cub, just like they were. That was potentially problematic; it could attract banes, and that would help nobody. No more room for subtlety, time to throw caution to the wind and bring down the thunder.
<Shift, and get ready to fight! I’m your goddamn Alpha, so listen to me!>
Luckily, she was the packmate closest in temperament to his own, so he didn’t need to tell her again. Not a moment later, a flash or orange and black stripes and white underbelly was making pace at his side. She was bigger than him in Feline form compared to his Lupus, but that just meant more firepower. He channeled the Rage in his heart to change his form, stumbling just slightly as his centre of balance shifted with the growth of muscles and fangs, bringing him up to the more formidable might of Hispo, the Dire Wolf form.
When they broke free from the undergrowth and onto the rocky beach, it was easy to see their target; the newly changed cub was on the ground, his muscles taut and body trembling as the Rage coursed through his veins, conscious mind struggling to keep in check. It was impressive he had restrained it this long, but such were the ways of the Stargazers.
But, he wasn’t a Stargazer; he was a Shadow Lord, and the Rage roiled through him in a different way; pragmatism was practically written in his spiritual DNA, and there was an opportunity here. The newly-changed were often capable of feats of incredible violence, unrestrained by the rationality of those with more control over themselves. He could just kite the cub around the beach, use that to let him tear the banes that were trying to force their way through the Gauntlet to shreds.
He barked out to the cub, who whipped up his head and snarled. This one was a lot smaller than himself, but even the most flimsy Garou was stronger than any human. It’d be enough. The cool spirit wind howled, dark things finally starting to bubble out between the strands of the web that separated the spiritual and the physical; their grotesque forms pooled like sludge and belched smoke, corrupted elementals from the depths of the darkest Umbral realms.
He ran right toward one, putting it between himself and the cub.
<Storm Caller!> he heard his packmate yell, her tiger-speak a bit strange to his wolf ears, but the spirit tongue made it understandable.
<I know what I’m doing!> he barked in reply, kiting the bane along as it bubbled and vented choking smoke.
The cub snarled and snapped, charging at Storm Caller and ending up slashing his way through the bane on the way, which splattered on the pebbles around them in stinking droplets. There were more of them around, just had to manage avoiding their dripping pseudopods and leading the cub around in a deadly chicken game, slicing the banes to pieces while tiring out his frenzy.
Luckily, he was more physically imposing than the cub, and it kept him out of danger; a few swipes of those fresh claws sung through the air pretty close to his pelt and muzzle here and there, but he managed to channel the storms of his namesake into rapid movements and fluid dodges, ducking under a swing and then weaving between the cub and a bane, coming out the other side and bringing his own claws down on the corrupted spirit to splatter it on the stones.
He didn’t have time to check on her like this, but sometimes he’d catch flashes of Chandra circling the beach, cutting down anything that dared try and get too close and ready to jump in should the cub actually set on him. Khan were extremely strong, so she’d no doubt be able to pull them apart if it came down to that.
Another bane met its end under the cub’s claws, and the icy wind died down; the brood was gone, and the Rage was starting to peter out. Storm Caller was thankful for that; his legs were starting to burn from moving so much, and there were bleeding gashes on his flanks and back from where the banes had got him once or twice. He stepped back as the cub slumped and fell to the ground, his shape shrinking down and fur receding back into moon-pale skin. Right, no clothes. Good thing he had the Magpie’s Swag with him, always kept a spare set in there.
He walked around the now-human-shaped cub in a circle a few times, head lowered as he sniffed the air, making sure everything was over before approaching. Can never be too sure with this sort of thing, frenzies were unpredictable, and he’d been bitten more than once by a packmate locked in one. It’d give him a moment to take stock of the new Garou, anyway.
He was pretty small, slender and pale, with fluffy brown hair and an almost feminine figure. Had to be in his late teens, maybe early twenties at the most; typical age for a first change. Lots of freckles, a few scars on his arms, and a couple on his chest. Strange. No time to think about that, though, as he was waking up.
Storm Caller watched the cub’s eyes (blue, dark lashes) open slowly, and the pair locked gazes for a just a second, before the homid yelped and scrambled into a sitting position, crossing his arms over his chest and pressing his legs together tightly to cover himself. Storm Caller snorted in surprise, jumping back and lifting his head, fur puffing out and tail fluffed up.
“What the hell!” the homid yelped, eyes wide with surprise at the sight of a giant wolf standing in front of him.
Storm Caller barked, peering around to the other side of the beach, where Chandra had taken her human form again. He jerked his head in a sort of ‘come here’ motion, then sat on his haunches to try and look a bit less intimidating.
“Hey, kid,” Chandra said casually as she rounded to stand next to Storm Caller. The cub boggled at her.
“What’s going on?” he demanded, pointing in an almost accusatory way at the enormous wolf sitting next to the redhead. “What’s that? I mean, it’s a wolf I guess, but-- but why is it here? ”
“That’s Storm Caller. He’s my pack Alpha, and we’re here to pick you up.”
“...Pick me up…? Pack? I...”
Storm Caller rolled his eyes, before taking a moment to shift into his own homid shape; he was tall, visibly much older than Chandra and with a sharp, hawkish look to him and dark salt-and-pepper hair. He was dressed in a bomber style coat and jeans, with a raw leather bag slung across his chest, a few raven feathers hanging from the fringe. He reached into the bag and drew out a pair of sweatpants and a white t-shirt; just simple spare clothes in case of an emergency. All of his pack already had clothes of their own dedicated to their form, meaning they’d shift with them; no such luck for the cub. He tossed them toward the youth, who hastily tugged the things on, making sure neither of the shifters got too good a look at him.
“I’ll keep things simple until we get you back to the Sept. You’re one of us now, a Garou, a werewolf. You’ve been drafted into a shadow war, and your people are calling you home. Sounds fancy, right?” Storm Caller said, stuffing his hands in his coat pockets. “We’ll have to walk, but it’s not that far.”
“What’s your name?” Chandra chimed in.
It took the cub a few moments to answer, wide-eyed as he finally stumbled to his feet. At least his sandals seemed to have come out of this unscathed, and he collected them off the beach and slipped them back on.
“...Jace,” he said softly, sounding just a little overwhelmed.
“I’m Chandra. I’ve introduced you to Storm Caller, but it’s easier to just call him Ral around normal people. You picked a weird name, you know, man.”
Jace looked like he was going to answer them, but he paused before he would speak, mouth open slightly. Strange voices whispered to him, words he could only half hear and only half understand. He looked beyond the two strange people who had found him and at the glassy lake, the crescent moon reflected, silver and delicate, on the water’s black mirror.
Stargazer, child of the Great Spirit Chimera, born under the Theurge’s Moon. We have many gifts for you, many boons for the Unraveler of Secrets. We have licked your ears clean, so you may hear our voices. We will show you how to channel your Rage, the gift of Luna, into purpose. We will help show others that your words are truth, even when they are not. We love you, Child of Chimera, for you are both of Spirit and of Flesh.
The words were spoken as if right into his mind, whispered voices offering him boons and love. Some unfamiliar emotion rose up in his chest, making him want to cry, want to curl up and let the wonders of the world wash over him. A deep longing for something he couldn’t comprehend, the urge to reach out and touch the untouchable.
He was shaken from his reverie when a large, rough hand was placed on his shoulder, Storm Caller giving him a gentle shake. He looked a bit concerned, once Jace looked up at his face, eyebrows pinching in toward one another as he looked him over.
“...You okay, cub?”
“...I… heard voices, speaking to me. They… called me ‘Child of Chimera’, what does that… mean?”
Storm Caller glanced back at Chandra, who just shrugged her shoulders; an action entirely unhelpful to Jace. He then gave the cub’s shoulder a squeeze, and pointed off into the woods.
“I’ll tell you on the way. The Sept is waiting for you.”
They were a good way into the woods by the time Storm Caller actually started speaking, leading the three of them down a disused trail into the trees. Jace was having a little bit of trouble with the whole thing, finding sandals not too great for hiking, but Chandra kept stopping to help him, which he was grateful for.
“...So, Chimera is the spirit patron of the Tribe you were born into, the Stargazers. They’re like… well, they’re tribes, split up by heritage, skills, and philosophy. Your fellows are known as mystics and masters of their Rage, and make great oracles. We’ll see how well you do on that.”
“...What uh, what… Tribes, are you guys, then…?” Jace offered, still struggling to really understand all this. It was… a lot.
“I’m a Shadow Lord. Our totem is Grandfather Thunder, a primal spirit of storms and darkness. He’s kind of a hardass, but a good boss, I guess. Chandra doesn’t have a tribe, though, since she’s not a Garou.”
“What… is she, then?”
“She’s a Khan. A tiger shifter, in other words. They’re pretty rare outside of like, India and stuff, but her family moved out here before her change, so the Sept took her in. It’s kinda unorthodox, but you take what you can get in this fight.”
“And… What’s a Sept?”
“Where you’re gonna be spending a lot of time. It’s like a little community, built up around a Caern. That’s a powerful spiritual site, which also has its own Totem. Ours is out a ways in the woods, centred on a little ravine. It’s called Sept of the Dragon’s Eye, and the Totem is the Spirit Dragon.”
Jace didn’t know what to say to that, just filing all this information away for later. He kept turning over the words he’d heard in his mind over and over, trying to piece together what he could. The concept of Tribes was easy enough, and totem spirits showed up in many cultures around the world. He’d done some reading about that sort of thing when he was still in high school. Werewolves, too, were a concept ingrained in him from pop culture, but he got the feeling it wasn’t quite accurate to the movies.
A bit more walking, and his legs were starting to ache. He was never great at hiking, but he didn’t have a lot of choice in this, did he? He still couldn’t believe he was just… going along with this, but he saw that guy turn into a wolf (well, turn into a human from being a wolf) with his own eyes, didn’t he? He had so many questions, and the fact he kept hearing snippets of whispered speech from… somewhere, every so often wasn’t helping matters. It was extremely distracting.
“...okay, and what’s a theurge?” he finally piped up, remembering that word from what he had heard before.
Storm Caller huffed a little, but it sounded like it was from surprise at the silence being broken than being annoyed with his questions. He lifted a hand and gestured up to where the treetops parted to show the sky, the sliver of moon shining in the sky.
“That’s called your auspice, the face of Luna - the moon - you were born under. Theurges were born to the crescent moon, and they’re mystics and spirit callers. That’s your role to play in Garou society, the place that Gaia and Luna have chosen for you. There are five auspices, each reflecting one of Luna’s faces. I’m a ragabash, the new moon, the one to whom Luna doesn’t show her face at all. Figures.”
He sounded bitter, and Jace didn’t pry. Best move on, he figured.
“...Is there anything else I should know?”
“Maybe tell him about breeds,” Chandra offered, and Jace saw Storm Caller’s shoulders bunch up toward his ears. There was a very tense minute as they kept walking, before the Alpha spoke again.
“...There are three breeds, depending on your parents. You’re a homid, which means your parents are humans. If they were wolves, you’d be a lupus. One of our other pack members is one of those, you’ll meet her soon enough. And, if both your parents are Garou… well, you’re a metis. Good fucking luck if you are, too. We’re basically the bottom rung of the Nation, sterile and deformed. Disposable.”
“Storm Caller is a metis,” Chandra whispered at Jace, stating the obvious in his opinion, given the ‘we’.
“...That doesn’t sound very nice,” Jace said softly toward the other Garou, who grunted.
“Making one of us is against the Litany, so we’re basically guilty by association. The Litany is the big list of rules all of us have to live by, and you’ll be expected to learn it as soon as you can, though that’s not really my bag, for understandable reasons, hmph.”
“Gids is really good at the Litany, since he’s a philodox. That’s the half-moon auspice, they’re like… Judges and mediators and stuff like that. Like a lawyer, but also a werewolf,” Chandra added.
“I’m sick of talking about how fucked I am, okay? New subject. The Sept is just up ahead, I can see the fences.”
Sure enough, a chain link fence was stretched across the path, a gate square in the middle. A cluster of ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Property’ signs littered the length of it that Jace could see, and barbed wire stretched along the top point of the fence. A padlock held the gate fast, but Storm Caller extracted a small key on a leather strap from the bag at his hip and used it to open the lock.
“Welcome to the Sept of the Dragon’s Eye, cub. You’re one of us now.”