The Wolf Within
by Erin
Additional Disclaimer: Werewolf material contained in this story is copyright White Wolf Games, Inc. such as Garou, Children of Gaia, Black Spiral Dancers, Gurahl, Glass Walkers, etc.

These are the End Days.

The time at which the defenders fall, and the Wyrm rears up to breathe His corruption down upon the Earth.

Have we not already seen the signs? The Wyrm's minions, spreading out over the face of Gaia. She groans under the weight of their desecrations, and under the teeming throngs of Humanity. Already we have seen countless Leeches spawned, skulking through the night, passing their corruption on to Human hosts.

And we are too few.

Black death spreads out across Her oceans; cold machines tear at Her flesh. Dark asphalt suffocates Her, and cities rise like scabs on Her body.

These are the Days of Apocalypse.

The young woman sighed softly, and closed the book. Movement caught her eye, then, and she looked up to see her mentor entering the room. "Athro," she said, using the archaic term for 'teacher', "what can I do to aid you?"

The old man looked down at her proudly. "The time has come for you and I to part ways for awhile." At her shocked look, he continued quickly. "You have been a fine Adren, an excellent student. But I have been communicating with the spirit of Unicorn, and we have agreed that there is a task you must perform."

"Task, Athro?" She was saddened by the thought of leaving her teacher, but the idea of performing a task on behalf of Gaia thrilled her. "What task?"

He smiled at her enthusiasm. "There is a city to the south of here called Sunnydale. We believe there to be one or more Lost Cubs in the area. In addition, the place is a haven for Wyrm activity. I suspect you will not find it a boring place."

The woman only grinned in response.

Part the First

She could feel herself running, feet pounding hard against the forest floor. The woods were eerily silent; she could no longer hear any of the birds and small nocturnal animals that normally filled the forest with life. She ran through the deep wood as if she belonged; not one twig or branch was disturbed by her passing.

She ended up abruptly in a clearing, and skidded to a stop. In front of her two vampires grinned, moonlight reflecting in their eyes which were dark chips of cold flint. She was surprised when, instead of running from the vampires, she leapt toward them, her powerful legs propelling her across the clearing. She watched as, in mid leap, her hands transformed. She felt her entire body shifting, growing, and when she looked again her hands were great clawed things covered with a thick layer of red fur.

She hit the vampire hard, her weight bringing him down easily. She latched her muzzle -- muzzle? -- onto his neck, her sharp teeth easily sinking into the flesh of his throat. With one savage motion, she ripped the vampire's head from his shoulders, reducing the whole creature to dust.

She rose to her feet, and turned to see the other vampire. She towered over him now, easily eight or nine feet tall. She could feel her tail swishing back and forth in an agitated manner. The vampire paled, moreso, and began backing away in undisguised fear.

She leapt forward, faster than the vampire could react. One swipe of her razor-sharp talons later, and the vampire was left nothing more than dust in the breeze.

The werewolf looked up into the night sky, noticing the full moon shining down from far above. She let out a guttural howl, a challenge full of rage and victory...

"Willow? Willow, wake up," Buffy said, shaking her friend out of her fitful sleep.

"Wha...?" Willow sat up, brushing hair out of her eyes. She half expected to see her hands covered with fur, but when she looked they seemed the same as they ever were. "I'm sorry, Buffy, did I wake you up?"

Buffy smiled at her friend. "That's ok, it was about time for me to get up." She got up and went to her dresser, and started laying out clothes. "What's the matter, did you have a nightmare?"

Willow frowned, and tried to remember her dream. "It wasn't a nightmare, at least, I don't remember being scared. It was weird though, I thought..." She trailed off, and looked at her hands again. Nope, still normal.

"Thought what?"

"Well, I thought," Willow chuckled weakly, "I thought I was a werewolf."

Buffy raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Bad Oz dream?" She asked. For weeks after Oz left, Willow had had nightmares that Veruca had bit her, had cursed her with the same affliction that turned her and Oz into werewolves three nights a month.

Willow shook her head. "It wasn't like those other dreams," she replied. "I wasn't just a mindless killing machine. I was focused." She shrugged, confused. "I dunno, it was probably nothing..."

Buffy looked at her friend, concerned. "Will, tonight is the first night of the full moon... Maybe... Maybe we should just take some precautions?"

"I don't know..." Willow said. "I mean, I haven't been bitten or scratched, I don't know why I would become a werewolf now. It was probably nothing, just some weird dream."

Buffy nodded, satisfied by that. "Yeah, probably. Let me know if it happens again, though, ok?" Willow nodded. The Slayer grabbed her soap and shampoo, and headed off for the shower.

Willow ran a hand through her hair, and began getting her clothes together for that day's classes. She wasn't tired; truth be told, she was kind of energized. Ah well, she thought, pushing the dream from her mind, probably too many horror movies before bed.

She padded slowly through the dark forest, moonlight filtering down through the dense trees, lighting her path. She caught the scent of something, some foul corruption in the air. She turned in the direction of the scent, and began loping through the forest.

She made good time, travelling on all four paws as she did. She moved with ease, her red-furred body an indistinguishable blur. Her ears perked up, as she heard the sound of a scuffle coming from up ahead, where the forest bordered on one of the many graveyards in the area. The scent of death was almost overpowering now.

Padding to the edge of the forest, she looked out on a moonlit scene: a slight, young blonde woman was backing up, surrounded by four vampires who were advancing on her. The blonde stopped, and brought her hands up in a fighting stance.

The wolf let out a low growl, lips curled back in a snarl revealing sharp, white teeth. These corruptions, these abominations dared to threaten this beautiful, courageous young woman. She would not stand for it. Feeling the rage build inside her, she felt her form shifting, bones and muscles instantly reconfiguring themselves to accommodate her larger, biped state. She watched as paws became great, clawed hands; she stood and noted how she towered over her previous form, her powerful muscles bunching and unbunching in agitation.

She took two steps into the graveyard, and let out a fierce howl of challenge and outrage. Instantly all eyes were on her, vampire and human alike. The vampires smiled, believing her to be one of their corrupted demon allies, no doubt. The young woman's eyes shifted nervously from the powerful eight-foot tall form to the vampires, and back.

One swift movement later left no room for any doubt. The werewolf sprang forward, sunk its powerful claws into the body of one vampire, and tore its head off with one motion. The vampire dissolved into dust, striking the remaining vampires with panic.

The young blonde didn't waste any of the time that the distraction afforded her. With one smooth move, she kicked at one of the vampires, sweeping his legs out from under him and punched downward, driving her wooden stake into his chest.

One of the remaining two vampires pulled out a wicked knife, easily a foot long, double bladed, and razor sharp. While the werewolf was rising, recovering from her earlier kill, the vampire stepped forward and drove the blade deep into its right side. The werewolf roared in pain and back-handed the vampire, sending him flying head first into a gravestone. She ripped the knife from her side, spraying the area liberally with her blood. Pulling herself up to her full height, she growled a challenge to the vampire, who was struggling to his feet.

The werewolf stepped forward, and grabbed the vampire around his throat with one of her massive hands. Squeezing, she could hear the bones in the vampire's neck pop as they gave way beneath her crushing grip. The vampire struggled futilely in her grasp until finally she took pity on him and removed his head from his shoulders with her talons.

The blonde and the remaining vampire had been watching this exchange, stunned by the beast's power. As the werewolf turned slowly to look at the remaining vampire, the blonde took pity on him and quickly drove her stake through his heart, reducing him instantly to dust.

The wolf looked down at the blonde, and something tugged at the back of her mind. The woman seemed to be waiting for something, perhaps waiting to see what the wolf would decide to do. The werewolf dropped to all fours and willed herself to shift back to a wolf. The injury in her side still dripped blood, but she knew instinctively that it would soon heal of its own accord. No normal blade could threaten her life.

The red-furred wolf loped off into the darkness, leaving the blonde woman behind with her own thoughts.

Willow awoke with a start. Oh wow, she thought, bringing a shaking hand up to her forehead, these dreams are really getting way out of control. She looked over where Buffy was sleeping, and froze. Buffy's bed was empty, and obviously had not been slept in. Willow's throat went dry, and she immediately grabbed the phone and dialed Giles' number.

"Hello?" Willow heard Giles' impeccable British accent on the other end of the line.

"Hi Giles Buffy didn't come home last night and I'm worried about her and I think something might have happened," Willow got out in a rush.

"Ah, Willow, Buffy's fine," Giles answered calmly. "She came over late last night, and we've been researching a type of demon. Are you free to help?"

Willow sagged with relief. "Uh, yeah, Giles, no problem. I'll take a shower and be right over."

"Good, good, we'll see you soon then," Giles said.

Willow placed the phone back on the cradle. She got out of bed, and started gathering her things to take with her to the shower. Hearing that Buffy was safe had put her in an uncommonly good mood, and by the time she entered the communal bathroom and started the shower running, she was humming to herself.

She started to take off her pajamas -- and froze, as she noticed a long, pale scar running along her right side.

Willow reached Giles' house in something of a daze. Her mind kept running over the events of her "dream"; the sense of rage and power she had gotten by shifting into the werewolf form had been palpable, and intoxicating. For little Willow, regular kidnapee and hostage, the thought that she might be able to turn into an eight foot killing machine was mind-blowing.

All the same, she thought with a shudder, what if I can't control it? What if I turn into a vicious animal like Oz? The thought that she would have to be chained up or risk hurting her friends was almost too much to bear.

She entered Giles' home, and saw her two friends deeply engrossed in research. They looked up as she entered, Giles nodding his greetings and Buffy's eyes lighting up on seeing her friend.

"Will! Sorry I didn't check in last night," Buffy said, sheepishly. "I ran into something on patrol, and I wanted to tell Giles about it ASAP."

Willow looked at Buffy, alarmed that she might have gotten hurt. "Are you ok? What happened?"

"Well, it appears that Buffy ran into a demon last night, but one that I've never seen made mention of," Giles said, removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. It didn't appear that either he or Buffy had gotten much sleep the night before. "I asked you here in part because you were the one that spent the most time with Oz, and are the most experienced among us regarding werewolves."

Willow's heart sank. She absently rubbed her right side, not noticing Buffy's eyes following her movement. "Um, yeah, what did you want to know, Giles?"

"Well, whenever Oz...changed...did he ever change into anything other than his normal werewolf form?"

Willow shook her head, the sinking feeling still with her. "No, it was all pretty much the same. Typical werewolf, I guess." She gave a half-hearted smile.

"Hmm, I see," Giles answered, looking down at his book. "There are, of course, lots of references to werewolves in these books, but nothing like what Buffy saw last night."

Willow's eyes met Buffy's nervously. Feigning nonchalance, Willow asked, "What did you see, Buffy?"

Still watching Willow closely, Buffy replied, "Well, I'd almost believe it were a werewolf except for a couple of things." She started ticking points off on her fingers. "First, it could change shape at will; one minute it was a huge two-legged werewolf, and the next it turned into a more normal looking wolf. Second, it lit into a pack of vampires like a rat on a bag of cheetos, but when it had the chance to turn me into ground beef it took off. Third, neither of its shapes looked anything like Oz."

Giles nodded at her assessment. "I've found oblique references in one of my books to several tribes of werewolves, but the information is very sketchy. It appears that no one has really been able to gather any information on these strange creatures. All we've been able to determine is that they don't seem like the same werewolves of legend." He flipped some pages in one of his books, and said, "This passage leads me to believe there might be more information in a book called the Tome of Val'Garon."

Willow looked around at her friends. It felt to her like she was under intense scrutiny, that they were watching her every move. "Um, I'll tell you what," she said, "you guys take a nap, get some rest. I'll go to the magick shop in town, see if they have this Tome of Val'Garon. They're under new management since the previous owner got vamped, so maybe they have a better selection."

Giles nodded his agreement. "I think that's an excellent idea. Some sleep might do us good." Buffy nodded as well, still watching Willow with a concerned look.

"Ok, well, I'll see you guys..." It was all Willow could do not to run out of there.

Willow entered the magick shop, now called "Dream of Gaia", and heard a small door-chime announce her arrival. A rather striking young woman with long, raven black hair looked up at her and smiled. She was wearing a tie-die long sleeve shirt, and a multi-color, diaphanous skirt.

"Welcome to Dream of Gaia. My name is Nichole. If there's anything I can do to help you, please let me know." The woman had a pleasant voice, and it helped soothe Willow. Suddenly her fears didn't seem all that frightening.

Willow smiled back. Something about this young woman called to the redhead, and she felt an immediate rapport. "Thanks, my name is Willow."

"Willow?" The woman -- Nichole -- inquired. "That's a very pretty name." She blushed a bit, and quickly continued, "Sorry, I just like names that are nature-oriented. I'm kind of a tree-hugger."

Willow grinned in response. "That's fine, my parents were the hippie-type."

"So were you looking for anything specific?"

"Well..." Willow thought about the book that Giles mentioned at their last meeting. "Actually, do you have a copy of the Tome of Val'Garon?"

Nichole nodded, and went into a back room. Moments later she emerged, a small, slim hardback book in her hand.

"That's a tome? That's not a tome, that's more like a pamphlet," Willow remarked, incredulously. "I tell you, these dark powers are all talk."

Nichole grinned, and said, "Yeah, with them it's all 'My tome is bigger than your tome.'" She held out the book for Willow to look at.

As Willow took the book, their fingers brushed each other by just the tiniest bit; all the same, a shock of recognition went sweeping through her body, leaving her weak and confused. "Do I know you?" Willow stammered, puzzled.

Nichole looked at Willow closely, a piercing gaze that Willow found impossible to turn away from. "You dream of the Wolf," she said. It was not so much a question as a plain statement of fact.

"I...I don't know what you mean," Willow said, her eyes nervously looking about the room.

"Your dreams. You dream of the wolf inside you, merging with you until you are one." The young woman's intent stare, so different than the easy, friendly looks she was giving earlier, made Willow feel skittish.

"I had some dreams the last couple of nights," Willow swallowed nervously. "Dreams that I was chasing vampires...And when the time came to face them, I turned into a..." her voice dropped to a whisper. "A werewolf."

Nichole nodded confidently, as if she were expecting this. "That's not unusual," was her only reply.

Willow grew visibly agitated. "What's not unusual? How did you know what I was dreaming? And why am I dreaming this?" Her voice broke. "Am I only dreaming this?"

The woman lay a hand on Willow's arm in a calming gesture. "It's not unusual for a Lost Cub to have dreams like that. It is the Wolf inside...pushing for release."

"What do you mean?" Willow asked, fearfully. She looked down at her hands, expecting them to sprout claws at any moment. "What am I?"

"You are Garou," Nichole answered, as if that explained everything. "You are a werewolf."

Part the Second

Willow took a step back, unable to deal with what Nichole was telling her. "No..." she said, weakly. "No, I..."

"You know it's true," Nichole said, softly. "Let me see if I remember... You've been having dreams, dreams about travelling under the moonlit sky, maybe running through a forest? And then recently, something happened to make you suspect that it wasn't just a dream. Maybe you woke up in the woods, or maybe you found mud on your shoes that you couldn't explain."

She paused, but Willow remained silent. After a moment, Nichole continued.

"I went through the same thing as you, Willow," Nichole gave her a sympathetic look. "At first, I thought I was going insane. Luckily, I was found by a wandering Garou before my parents had me committed. He taught me what it meant to be a werewolf."

Willow shook her head. "But...I can't be a werewolf. My...ex-boyfriend was a werewolf, and it was horrible...It was a curse, he turned into such a mindless, savage animal..." She broke off, eyes filling with tears.

The look of pure sympathy and understanding that Nichole gave Willow almost broke her heart. The young woman went behind the counter and retrieved a couple of tissues, handing them across to Willow. "Being a werewolf is not a curse, although if the Cub does not receive training, it is possible for them to be unable to control their Change. It sounds as if your ex-boyfriend was never taught how to release the Wolf."

Willow seized on the word "control" as if it were a lifeline. "What do you mean? You mean I don't have to change? If I learn how to control it..." She didn't dare finish the sentence.

"The Wolf is pure Rage," Nichole began. "At times near the full moon, when inhibitions are lowered, the Rage comes to the surface and demands expression. It sounds like your boyfriend held in the Rage, and didn't allow himself to feel it. When the full moon came around..." She spread her hands, as if to say, What do you expect? "How did you feel after you had the dreams?"

Willow thought hard for a moment. "I felt...good. Energized, kinda."

Nichole smiled. "You allowed yourself the freedom to express the Wolf's Rage." She walked around the counter to the front door, where she placed the "Closed" sign in the window. Turning back to Willow, she said, "Are you interested in learning how to control the Change?"

Willow chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. She couldn't deny that what Nichole was saying struck a chord deep within her. As much as she'd like to deny the fact that she was having these dreams, there was just too much proof to the contrary. She decided that her best bet, at least for the moment, was to learn as much as she could about, Garou. And if it meant she could control herself... "Ok, let's do it."

Buffy awoke from her nap and looked at the clock on the wall. The two hours sleep she had gotten seemed to have done her some good. She sat up, and ran a hand quickly through her hair.

Geez, two hours? She thought with some alarm. I wonder what happened to Willow? She looked around Giles' home, but there was no sign that the redhead had ever returned.

Buffy had had some misgivings about letting Willow go alone to the magick shop. Not that she hadn't done it a hundred times before, but this time was different. She seemed so nervous and confused, Buffy thought. Something was bothering her, something I can't quite put my finger on... Buffy thought about it for a moment, but her mind was still a little fuzzy with sleep.

Writing a quick note for Giles, she took off in the direction of downtown, and the magick shop.

Nichole led Willow to a back room which seemed to triple as a work area, inventory room, and office. She cleared a space in the center of the room, and motioned for Willow to take a seat.

"What do you know of werewolves?" Nichole asked.

"Well," Willow replied, "I really only know what we found out about Oz... Apparently it was a curse, given to him when his cousin, who was a werewolf, bit him."

"Ok, Myth number one," Nichole smiled. "Being a Garou is not a curse, although I wouldn't call it a blessing either. It is not conveyed by bite, or else we wouldn't be having the problems we do now." Willow wondered what she meant, but Nichole continued. "The truth of it is, being a Garou is in the blood. It runs in families, which the Garou call Kinfolk. Since Oz's cousin was a werewolf, I'm not surprised that he showed the same trait. Being Kinfolk does not automatically mean you are Garou, but there is a chance."

Willow nodded. She was feeling more comfortable now that she was hearing about all this in lecture. She could almost imagine that it was Giles talking about some new kind of demon. Speaking of demons...

" are Garou evil?" Willow asked, somewhat apprehensively. "I mean, you don't seem evil, or like a demon or anything."

"No, I'm not evil," Nichole chuckled. "Werewolves are just like people; some are better than others. Most fight for good, some fight for evil, some fight only for themselves. What you do depends on who you are.

"But I promised to teach you how to control the change. History lessons can come later, I think; right now, I should help you control the Change so that you won't take any unbidden nightly excursions."

Nichole took a couple of steps back, and concentrated for a moment. Her form shimmered just the slightest bit, and before Willow knew it, the young woman was Changing. She dropped to all fours, and Willow watched as Nichole's hands reformed themselves into delicate paws; her legs shrank and changed shape into wolves' legs. It was so unlike the violent transformation that Oz used to go through under the full moon; this was almost beautiful, and in some animistic sense, deeply spiritual. Before she knew it, a black-furred wolf stood in front of her, tail swishing happily.

Willow was so astonished by the transformation that she didn't realize Nichole was talking to her at first. When she did realize it, she did a double-take.

"How...You're a wolf! How come you're speaking English?"

The wolf's tongue lolled out in a grin. "I'm not, silly. I'm speaking wolf. All Garou can understand each other, no matter what form they're in." The wolf sat, and raised her head to look at Willow. "Ok, now you try."

"Pfft, oh yeah, I'll just do that." Willow rolled her eyes. "How am I supposed to change into a wolf? And besides, the moon's not out."

Wolf-Nichole chuckled, a decidedly strange sound. "The whole point is to control the Wolf, not have the Wolf control you. You don't need the moon to change, but if you're not careful, the moon will Change you."

Willow looked at the woman dubiously. "Ok... Assuming I can change, how would I do it?"

"You work magick, right? Visualize. Visualize yourself as a wolf, how it would feel, how you would look. Concentrate."

Still doubtful, Willow got down on all fours. I feel silly, she thought. Ok, visualize... She cleared her mind, and thought about what Nichole told her. Her stomach gave a sickening jolt as she realized she could feel her bones and muscles moving around under her skin. She didn't lose the visual, though; the feeling was strange, but not painful. This must be what happens when you don't fight the Change, you invite it, she realized.

An overwhelming series of odors assaulted her senses. She could smell everything... The dust and cardboard of the boxes, the myriad types of incense on sale in the front room...even the oil and gasoline fumes from the street outside coated the inside of her nose and mouth like grease. She shook her head, trying to regain some control over her senses.

"I probably should have warned you," Nichole said. "Wolves have a much better sense of smell than humans. We call this form Lupus, because, well, duh."

Willow opened her eyes, and saw that she was now at eye-level with the black-furred wolf. She looked down at her own body, and saw the same red paws that she remembered from her dream. I'm really a wolf... The thought tried to penetrate her brain.

"Ok, now let's go back to human." Nichole lowered her head for a moment, and her form shimmered much like before. After a moment she was sitting on the ground, in human form, wearing the same clothes as before.

Willow found the transition from wolf to human to be much easier than the other way around. After all, she had spent nineteen years being human, she was pretty familiar with herself. It only took a moment for her to be sitting on the ground, in human form.

"I can't believe this..." She looked at her hands, and saw that no trace of the wolf remained. "I must be dreaming or something. I can't believe I can do this!" The redhead laughed, as much from relief as any real joy.

Nichole grinned. "I'm going to show you our other forms, some of which aren't nearly as interesting, just to give you a visual on what they're supposed to look like." After a moment of concentration, Nichole shifted into a form which was like her wolf form, but larger, almost like one of the Dire Wolves of Pleistocene America. Willow could see where this form was closest to what Oz became when he changed; only Oz, since he was not in control of the change, was much more "devolved".

Nichole shifted again, this time to something which was almost her human state, but not quite. Willow giggled. She looked a little like Buffy when she was in "Cave-Slayer" mode. There were definite Cro-Magnon tendencies there in Nichole's jutting brow and heavy bone structure. On the other hand, she looked like she could snap Willow in half like a twig, so the redhead thought it best not to comment on her looks.

After a minute, Nichole shifted again. All trace of humor in Willow's face vanished, as she looked on the beast that she must've been when she tore apart those vampires like so many rag dolls.

She was at least eight feet tall, and almost five feet wide at the shoulder; her body was covered by that same dense, black fur that accompanied her in wolf form. She stood easily on two legs, despite the fact that they weren't human legs, but some heavier adaptation of a wolf's hind legs. A large, bushy tail looked like it helped Nichole keep her balance.

She held out her hands, and Willow could see the huge, razor sharp talons which tipped each finger. Her face and head was that of a wolf, and when she smiled Willow caught a glimpse of the huge fangs, larger than those of any normal canine.

Nichole was, quite literally, an eight foot tall, five hundred pound killing machine of razor claws and densely packed muscle.

She grinned, showing off her prodigious fangs. "We call this form the Crinos."

Buffy approached the magick shop with some trepidation. She immediately noticed the "Closed" sign in the window, and her stomach clenched. She knew, at that moment, that something terrible had happened or was about to happen to Willow. She could never forgive herself if that occurred.

She leaned against the door, listening intently. She heard snarls and growls coming from the inside, from the back rooms. Instantly, Buffy was through the door, only noticing incidentally that it was unlocked. Grabbing a stake out of her pocket, she rushed into the back room.

The Slayer took in the scene instantly: Willow was on one side of the room, staring at the... creature...on the other side in wide eyed wonder. The creature itself was huge, and looked exactly like the one Buffy had seen the previous night. She didn't have time to wonder about this, however; she immediately ran over to stand in front of Willow. If this...beast...was going to try to get to Willow, it was going to have to tear through her to do it. Unfortunately, the Slayer couldn't make bets on how difficult she could make that.

Even though her wooden stake was tiny compared to even one of the great beast's claws, Buffy brandished it at the creature. "Stay back!" She yelled, motioning Willow back with her other hand. "Don't think I won't turn you into a rug if you try anything!"

The creature let out a series of snarls and growls which only Willow was able to understand. "You want to tell your friend that I wouldn't hurt either of you?"

The question propelled Willow out of her shock. "Buffy, no!" She said, tugging on her stake arm. "It's ok!"

Buffy looked at her friend like she had just grown another head. "Ok?" She said, incredulously. "Will, what the hell is going on here?" She looked back at the creature, and finally noticed its black fur. "Wait a minute...You're not the same one I met last night."

If Buffy didn't know better, she would have sworn the creature sighed.

Part the Third

The werewolf, Nichole, carefully moved her hands palms outward, in a gesture of calm. She looked past Buffy to Willow, and growled, "I'm going to try to shift back to Homid, but I don't want her to get the idea that I'm trying something. Can you distract her until I'm done?"

Buffy heard the growling, snarling noises that the beast was making, and was surprised when she saw Willow nodding in response. Willow tugged a little harder on Buffy's stake arm, and said, "Please, Buffy, look at me. I appreciate you defending me, but I'm not in any danger. I've been talking to Nichole, here--"

"Nichole?" Buffy looked at Willow skeptically. "Are you trying to tell me this...this thing...has a name?"

She was startled a moment later when she heard a voice from the other side of the room. "Yes, I have a name, and my name is Nichole. Nichole Thompson, actually, late of Humboldt County, California." Buffy whirled around to face the creature -- who was now not a creature at all, but a young, black-haired woman. Buffy involuntarily took a step back. Eight foot tall monsters she could deal with, she was used to that; but eight foot tall monsters who were actually polite, young women threw her for a loop.

The Slayer shook her head slightly, clearing it. She fixed Nichole and Willow with a cold, flat gaze; after her previous discomfiture, now she was all business. "I think you had better tell me what's going on," she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

Willow recognized her friend's reaction. When Buffy got thrown off balance, she tended to hide her weakness by overcompensating in what Willow called "Super Slayer Mode." Willow looked downcast. She hoped that her news wouldn't be too much for her friend to handle. She didn't know what would happen to her if Buffy chose to cut her out of her life.

Nichole took a step forward, and realized her mistake when she saw Buffy's eyes narrow. Holding up her hands in a peaceful gesture, she said, "Well, you probably already guessed this, but I'm a werewolf. Garou, actually, is our word for it. I'm actually a very peaceful person, and don't wish to do harm to either you or your friend."

Buffy gave Nichole a hard look. "Yeah, you looked real peaceful when I came in a minute ago." She spared a glance for Willow, who was standing a couple of feet away looking miserable. "Will? Did you know about this?"

Willow dropped her gaze, and said quietly, "I...I just found out." Her head drooped, and her hair covered her face.

Buffy looked at her friend. Sunlight was streaming in from a small, high window, and was highlighting Willow's hair a deep red. Deep red... Suddenly, a look of comprehension snapped across Buffy's face. Before anyone could react, she covered the distance between herself and Willow and lifted her shirt a few inches, revealing the pale scar on Willow's right side. It had faded even more than when Willow saw it this morning, but it was still plainly recognizable.

"It was you," Buffy said bitterly, dropping the shirt and taking a step back.

Willow winced at the betrayed look she was getting from her friend. "Buffy," she reached out toward the Slayer, only to watch brokenly as her friend took another step back. "Buffy, I didn't know..."

The Slayer whirled around, facing Nichole. "You did this to her! You turned her into a monster!" She jabbed the stake in Nichole's direction, punctuating each sentence.

Nichole gave the blonde a sympathetic look, and shook her head. "This isn't something that was done to her, this is who she is. She has been Garou since birth, but only now has it chosen to manifest itself. She has no choice; if she doesn't learn what it means, she will never be at peace with herself."

Buffy glanced back at Willow, and her broken-hearted expression touched something deep in the Slayer. She'd give up her right arm before she'd hurt Willow, but...she wasn't sure if she even knew Willow anymore.

Unshed tears filled Willow's eyes, and she swallowed harshly. "Buffy..." Her voice broke on the name. She tried again. "Buffy...I don't know what's going on. I don't know what to think anymore. I just know that I need your help." She dropped heavily to her knees, her legs no longer able to support her. She whispered, "I can't do this alone."

Seeing Willow drop to the ground, something snapped inside Buffy. Damn it! She thought savagely. This is still Willow, this is still my best friend. She ran over to where Willow knelt, and put her arms around her. Immediately, her friend dissolved into harsh sobs. "Shh, it's ok," Buffy said, stroking her friend's hair. "It'll be ok. You're not alone, I'm here." With some difficulty, she struggled to overcome her aversion to the black-haired young woman. Looking at Nichole, she said quietly, "You can help her?"

The woman nodded confidently, and stayed silent.

Buffy sat comforting Willow for several long moments; finally, the redhead stopped crying. Buffy pulled Willow to her feet, and helped support her friend. Willow felt much better now that she knew that Buffy wouldn't freeze her out. Buffy continued, never breaking eye contact with the black-haired werewolf. "Ok, then. On one condition. We take you to talk to our friend, Giles."

Nichole looked around at Willow and her friends with amusement. When she had agreed to talk to their friend Giles she figured that he must be some kind of mentor to the girl; she wasn't wrong, but she noted that Giles was almost childlike in his enthusiasm when he was presented with new information.

She had told them everything about Garou that she felt they could handle at the moment; about how the werewolves considered themselves to be the guardians of the Earth, the defenders of Gaia. About how the werewolves themselves mainly fought on the side of good; she tried to reassure them that just because Willow was a werewolf didn't mean that she would turn into a ravening monster. Giles, in particular, was fascinated by her admission that "werewolves", meaning the creatures of legend, did not exist.

"So, if this is correct," Giles said, pacing excitedly across the floor, "all the information that the Watcher's Council has gathered on werewolves is nothing but half-truths and wives' tales?"

Nichole smiled. "Basically." She sat forward, her expression sobering. "For Willow's sake, you can't pass this information on to them. They would want to hunt her, and study her, and discover all they could about the Garou. There are few enough of us already; if Humankind in general knew that we existed..." She trailed off, with a shudder. "We would easily be wiped out." The somber faces regarding her were proof enough that they took her words seriously.

"What do I do now?" The soft question interrupted their thoughts, and they turned to look at Willow, who had a very lost expression.

Buffy went to her friend and sat down next to her, wrapping her arm around Willow's shoulders. "What do you want to do? You know, Will, you know enough about how to control the changing thing. You don't need to go any further if you don't want to."

Willow looked at Nichole. Nichole nodded in agreement, and added, "What your friend says is very true. If you wish, I can teach you more about your heritage, but the choice is up to you."

"I want to learn."

Kraxthus strode through the dank sewer tunnels quickly. He shivered at the thought of having to bring his lord this news, but his duty overrode his fear. He entered a large, dank chamber lit by huge braziers emitting a noxious green flame. He immediately dropped to his knees, and waited to be recognized.

"Kraxthus." He heard the low, drawling voice of his lord speaking to him. He looked up at the huge, black werewolf sitting on a raised dais.

Thraxuil, also known by the name Eater-of-Children, was a vicious, imposing figure. Green light shone deep within his eyes, reflecting the insanity that dwelled within. His body was criss-crossed with hairless scars, which almost gave him a tattooed appearance. "Have you come to give me good news, Theurge?"

Kraxthus swallowed nervously, and replied, "My lord. I have spoken with the Spirit Banes. They have brought me news of a Garou who has undergone First Change."

Thraxuil smiled wickedly. Though he was widely known for his insanity and erratic behavior, he was a strong werewolf with a deep cunning. That was one of the things that made him dangerous, Kraxthus realized. The werewolf stepped down off the dais and stood in front of a kneeling Kraxthus. He smiled, and offered his huge hand to assist him in rising to his feet. Kraxthus took the proffered hand, knowing that he didn't dare refuse.

"And have we 'retrieved' this Garou?"

Kraxthus winced inwardly. "No, my lord. She is currently being protected by a Child of Gaia."

Still holding Kraxthus' hand, Thraxuil brought his other hand down upon the man's forearm, snapping it in half. Kraxthus stifled a scream, and once again dropped to his knees.

The green flame leapt in Thraxuil's eyes. "Then we will have to send someone to retrieve her." He dropped Kraxthus' hand, and turned to walk up the dais. "Since I have walked the Black Spiral, do you know how many times I have failed the Wyrm?"

Kraxthus choked out, "None, my lord."

"None!" Thraxuil roared. "It will not start now." Abruptly, he waved his hand dismissively. "Leave me."

Kraxthus rose and bowed, backing out of the chamber. Once he left, he shifted forms into the Crinos, hoping that it would help his arm heal more quickly. He was lucky to have left the chamber with such minor injuries, he thought, glancing back at the several large, fur pelts that decorated the chamber.

Buffy walked through the graveyard, feet crunching the dry leaves scattered across the thick grass. She looked at her friend walking next to her; Willow's face was a mixture of fear and apprehension.

"You don't have to do this, you know," Buffy said, laying a comforting hand on Willow's shoulder.

Willow swallowed nervously. "I know... But Nichole said that if I didn't get some of this worked out of my system I might just change anyway, like I did last night." She looked up at the full moon, a pale disc illuminating the ground below.

Buffy nodded. "Well, be careful--" She began, and froze as she noticed three vampires approaching them from the side.

"Well, look what we have here," the head vampire said, with a cocksure attitude. "Almost enough to go around." His companions laughed, a laughter which died on their undead lips when Buffy whipped out a wooden stake.

"Hi guys, maybe you know who I am? If not, you're going to find out," she said, readying herself for combat.

"It's the Slayer! Get her!" the lead vampire yelled, and his companions leapt at Buffy, trying to bring her down.

"'Get her'? How original," Buffy replied, leveling one vampire with a kick to the midsection. The other vampire got a hold of her, though, and dragged her down to the ground where they grappled for the wooden stake.

Willow felt her heart beating about a thousand times a minute. This is it, she thought; but she almost couldn't will herself to move. Concentrate, dammit! Buffy needs you! Willow closed her eyes, and visualized her eight foot Crinos form, complete down to every detail. She felt a lurch as her bones and muscles changed, adapting to the new, heavier form. When she opened her eyes again she looked down on the vampires like they were squabbling children.

The lead vampire's jaw dropped as he saw the young, slight redhead change into a monstrous beast that even he couldn't imagine in his wildest nightmares. The creature let out a howl that was pure rage, and to the vampire's horror, leapt straight at him! He held up his hands, shielding his face in a futile gesture.

The werewolf sank all the claws on her left hand deep into the vampire's chest. Raising her hand, she lifted the vampire right off of his feet. The vampire dropped his arms in shock, and Willow took that opportunity to wrap one powerful hand around his neck. Flexing her muscles, she literally tore the vampire's head from his shoulders, reducing him to dust.

Buffy had dispatched the other two with relative ease. She looked at the creature -- Willow, she reminded herself -- uneasily. Willow's form shimmered, and in just a moment she was standing there, looking pretty much the same as she always did.

Willow leapt up and down, excitedly. "I did it!" She yelled, and ran over, grabbing Buffy in a bearhug. "I really did it!"

Buffy smiled, Willow's enthusiasm not quite easing her mind. "Yeah, Will, you sure did." She made a conscious effort to sound as supportive and encouraging as possible. "You sure did."

Gregory Hartwell checked his Rolex. 12:37 a.m. Perfect. He rose, and straightened the blazer of his Armani suit. He spared a quick glance around the wood-paneled boardroom before speaking. "I call the monthly meeting of the Los Angeles Glass Walkers to order. Michelle, we'll dispense with the Roll Call, just mark down who is present. Do we have any Old Business?"

Michelle looked at the minutes. "I believe the only Old Business we have is that of the chemical waste dump in the Valley."

Hartwell nodded. "Pete, have you made any headway there?"

Peter Grisham stood, and opened a folder in front of him. "Thanks to some timely pressure from the EPA, Environ Oil has been forced to clean up the site completely, or face huge fines. Thanks to some falsified computer records," his face lit up in a fierce grin, "we had no problem convincing the EPA that Environ was responsible." He sat down again.

Hartwell smiled approvingly. "Good. Those bastards thought they had covered their tracks... No one messes with Gaia in my city. Shall we move on to new business?" The motion was seconded, and Hartwell called for new business.

Chris Maxwell, a young, ambitious Glass Walker signaled that he wished to speak. Though Chris was only 20 years old, he already had double Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science and Business. He was bright; bright enough to be made Vice President of Software Development in Hartwell's corporation. Even if he wasn't already Garou, Hartwell thought, he'd still make formidable Kinfolk. He signaled for the young man to stand.

"It has been brought to my attention that just recently a young Garou has undergone her First Change. I believe this Lost Cub is one of ours." Chris paused, and waited for the murmurs to die down. "Some of you probably still remember the Rosenberg Kinfolk..."

Hartwell nodded. "They moved to that suburb, Sunnydale, about twenty years ago. But if it was one of theirs, we should have been notified."

Chris shook his head. "The spirits that were watching them were eliminated, killed by agents of the Wyrm."

"Black Spirals," Hartwell said, his voice low and vicious.

"Yes, Black Spirals. Almost all of the spirits watching Kinfolk in Sunnydale have been eliminated, a long time ago. That place is a hotbed of Wyrm activity; there's a dark Caern, a sacred site there that they call the Hellmouth. It has been closed for years, but it calls to all sorts of corrupt creatures. There may be other Lost Cubs there, but I know for sure of one by the name of Willow Rosenberg."

Hartwell stood and walked to the window, looking out over the bright city below. "The Glass Walker tribe has flourished, even though our brethren in other tribes are faltering. Even so, every cub is precious to us." He turned, and faced the assembled Garou. "Chris, you must go to Sunnydale and find this Lost Cub. She is one of ours, she belongs with our tribe. And if Wyrm activity in the area is as heavy as you believe it is, the Black Spirals may already know of her existence. She needs protection."

Hartwell returned to his place at the head of the conference table. "Visit with Human Resources tomorrow, and sign the paperwork for your vacation. There will be extra stock options in your future if you succeed. Unless anyone has any more business, I'll declare this meeting adjourned."

Forward to chapter 4
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