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.
Part the Tenth

Chris entered the Dream of Gaia magick shop, his black "Will Write Code for Sex" t-shirt, black jeans, and trenchcoat setting him off from the rest of the store's clientele. He made brief eye contact with Nichole, who was at the counter helping a customer. Some New Age nut-job, he thought. Just like Nichole. Unconsciously, a smile crept over his face.

"Is this Lavender Oil synthetic, or essential? I need real essential oil, no synthetic," the customer was saying. Nichole just kept nodding, and making affirmations.

He wandered over to the book section and was simply amazed at how many books had the words "Celtic", "Atlantis", or "Pyramid" in the title. If I could write a book on the Celtic Pyramids of Atlantis, I'd make a fortune, Chris thought.

Finally the last customer left, somewhat satisfied. Nichole walked over to Chris and exhaled wearily, brushing her bangs back from her forehead. "Whew!" She exclaimed, "If I don't see another person who needs aromatherapy questions answered, it will be too soon."

Chris quirked an eyebrow at the woman. "Yeah, I guess I don't realize how lucky I am, being in the software business. Most of our customers are sane."

"Don't make fun," Nichole replied, poking Chris in the arm. "Besides, you're one to talk about their beliefs. You've seen spirits all over the place, and if someone called you a nut you'd be very offended."

"That's true," Chris admitted. "But the difference is, I know I'm right. I don't know that they're right." Nichole sighed in exasperation. "Speaking of spirits," Chris continued, "have you had any luck?"

Nichole nodded, somberly. "The best I could do was a general direction and distance. I don't know how much good it's going to do the girls, though."

Chris shrugged. "Impossible to say until they find out for themselves. Anyway, I held up my end. The manacles will be here by tomorrow morning, latest."

"I still can't believe we're doing this," Nichole said, shaking her head. "I mean, the Children of Gaia tribe is about as loving and as understanding as they come, but it never even occurred to us to try to reclaim a Black Spiral. It's just never been done."

"All the Garou tribes consider it a more efficient use of resources to kill a Black Spiral, rather than take the time and effort into trying to 'rehabilitate' them," Chris replied, matter-of-factly. "We are fighting a war, after all."

Nichole frowned. "Maybe that's the problem, maybe we've been going about it the wrong way."

"Well, if they can do it, they'll be legends. Their names will go down in the Silver Record. But to be honest..." He trailed off.

"You don't think they can."

Chris shook his head. "No, I don't."

Willow looked at the woman dozing next to her, hair spread out on the pillow like fine golden threads. She smiled; in sleep, Buffy was just as beautiful as when she was awake. Here, lying in one another's arms, they were completely at peace. All the worry lines faded, and their eyes, which reflected the remembered pain which came from years fighting on the Hellmouth, were untroubled. When Buffy was awake though, she lost the peacefulness, but gained a vitality, a strength of purpose about her which could not be ignored. It was that strength of purpose and courage in the face of vampire and teenage foes alike which drew Willow to the Slayer in the first place.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Buffy had asked, as they lay down together. Willow knew that the question grew out of a deep concern for the hacker's well-being; Buffy would lay down her own life before she'd do anything to hurt her friend.

She didn't reply, she just captured the Slayer's lips with her own. They were so gentle, so tentative at first; light touches left trails of fire across their skin, skin which was sensitive and ached to be touched. There was no rush, though; it had taken them four years to get to this point, and there was an unspoken decision to take their time and enjoy every detail, every moment they had together.

Knowing what awaited them lent a sense of immediacy to their act. This is what Buffy must feel like every day, Willow thought, knowing that within hours, maybe, they could be fighting for their lives. Willow had always been careful to try to stay out of harm's way before; she was the witch, the hacker, the person who helped behind-the-scenes. The fighting she left to her best friend. Not anymore.

"Mmmm..." Buffy murmured, shifting closer to Willow and draping an arm across the redhead's stomach. The redhead, in turn, began tenderly stroking the Slayer's hair. Buffy opened an eye experimentally. "So, it wasn't a dream. I really am in bed with the most beautiful woman on earth."

"I don't know about you," Willow replied, kissing the Slayer gently, "but I know I am." She looked over at the alarm clock. "I suppose we need to get up and get some practicing in today."

"I thought we already did," Buffy said, with a mischievous grin.

"Not that kind of practicing," Willow responded with a smile. "I think we need to get up, it's already mid-afternoon."

"Mid-afternoon? How long have I been asleep?" Buffy asked, puzzled.

"Ten minutes." Willow grinned. "We were just...ah...we were occupied for a long time."

Buffy sat up and looked at the clock. Her eyebrows shot up. "Apparently a three-hour long time."

"You don't hear me complaining."

Buffy stepped out of the shower and began toweling off. It was a good workout, she thought. Willow was a fast learner, smart and didn't flinch away from taking or giving a hit. The Slayer heard the phone ring faintly from the living room.

"I'll get it!" Willow yelled. She was already showered and dressed, so she ran to the phone to answer it. "Hello?"

"Hi Willow!" Willow immediately recognized Chris's cheerful voice from the other end. "Got a sec?"

"Sure," Willow replied, nodding to Buffy who had just entered the room, clad only in a couple of Giles' fluffy white towels. It's Chris, she mouthed to the Slayer, who nodded in reply.

"Nichole has a pretty good lead on where you guys can find a Gurahl, so she's going to map it out tonight and talk to you guys about it tomorrow. I made some phone calls, so those manacles for your ex should be arriving by FedEx, mid-morning tomorrow. Got it so far?"

Willow nodded. "Gurahl, manacles, gotcha."

"Great. Now, the only problem is that Oz will probably try to come after you tonight. Unless you make yourself scarce, you risk a deadly confrontation, and I'm sure you don't want it to come down to kill or be killed, right?" The tone in his voice sounded more like 'Please tell me I'm wrong,' but Willow ignored it.

"No, I don't want that."

"Ok then. You, Buffy, and Giles have to get out of that house. You're going to be staying at 431 Hemingstone Road. It's a motel. I've made arrangements for you under the names Ann Heston and Robert Young, got it? Now, you can't take a car straight there; don't forget, you'll be tracked by someone who has all the senses of a bloodhound, so you've got to confuse your trail. What you're going to do is take the 311 bus to Market Street. At Market Street, transfer to the 116. Take the 116 to Myers Road, at Myers Road get off the bus and walk three blocks north to the bus stop there, where you will pick up the 78. The 78 will let you off right out on Hemingstone Road. Got it?"

Willow furiously wrote all this down on a pad of paper. "Got it."

"Ok, read it back to me."

"All right, we're going to be staying at a hotel on Hemingway Street, and we're going to take the 911 bus to Market Street."

She paused, and heard nothing but silence on the other end.

Finally, Chris said, "I'll be right over."

Willow, Giles, and Buffy stepped off the number 78 bus. Giles took his first deep breath since they began their little trek almost an hour ago. "Ah, public transportation. I had forgotten the joy," he remarked mildly.

Buffy looked up at the sign. "Motel 6?" She remarked incredulously. "Chris is some big, rich, powerful Glass Walker, backed by some big, rich L.A. syndicate, and we're staying at a Motel 6? Oh he is so in trouble."

"He mentioned something about being low profile," Willow said with a shrug. "Anyway, Giles is registering under the name Robert Young, and for tonight I get to be Ann Heche." Willow frowned, and double checked the paper Chris gave her.

"You can say that again," Buffy mumbled, stifling a grin.

"Oh, Ann Heston. What was that, Buffy?" Willow asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Nothing!" Buffy flashed a winning smile at the redhead. "C'mon Ann, c'mon Robert. Let's go."

Willow turned up the TV. She was trying to concentrate on the show, but Buffy, who was chafing from being cooped up, was being distracting.

"I can't believe I can't even go out on patrol," she was saying, pacing back and forth rapidly.

"He doesn't want any of us to run into Oz," Willow replied, for what seemed like the tenth time.

"It would just be a little patrol. I miss the night air," Buffy said. She stopped walking, and leaned up against the room's only table. Idly, she tore a piece of paper off the notepad, and began folding it.

Willow looked at her sympathetically. "I know you don't like to hide like this, but it's only for one night. Once we get those manacles we'll go looking for Oz, and see if we can capture him." She frowned as a paper airplane bounced off her forehead. "Surely there's something else you could be doing."

"You're right," Buffy replied. She walked over to stand in front of Willow, who was sitting on the room's one queen size bed. Crouching down, she practically straddled Willow's knees as she took the TV remote from nerveless fingers. She clicked off the TV.

"Wha...did you have in mind?" Willow said, her breathing becoming increasingly rapid.

Buffy leaned forward, her mouth close to Willow's ear. "I thought I'd make love to the woman I love, my best friend," she whispered. A jolt of electricity went through Willow's body, causing her to gasp. "Unless you had a better idea?"

Willow shook her head slightly. "I was going to suggest a couple of diet sodas and a rerun of ER, but I like your idea better." Buffy flicked out a tongue, barely brushing Willow's earlobe. "I so like your idea better," Willow added.

A dark figure approached the house with trepidation. He couldn't smell anyone, but their scent lingered in the air as if an afterthought. He looked in the front window cautiously, and saw no one inside; the house was dark. His eyes narrowed.

Rough, calloused hands grasped the door handle and shoved; the door splintered and flew open. The figure entered the house, and looked around, often emitting a loud, sniffling noise.

They were gone. They left again. She left. She was hiding from him.

Oz left the house, and caught the scent she left on the breeze. East, the scent told him. He went East.

Buffy and Willow lay in each other's arms, drowsing sleepily. Happily too, I might add, Buffy thought. This whole thing with Oz, the werewolves, all of it would be so worth it even if the only thing to come out of it was their love for each other.

"I love you, Willow," Buffy said, somewhat impulsively. The words always gave her a warm feeling, but not quite as warm as when Willow said them back to her.

"Mmm, I love you too, Buffy," Willow replied, snuggling down closer to the Slayer. Moments later, her breathing became low and regular.

Buffy smiled, and allowed herself to follow Willow into sleep.

Oz stood, confused. The scent had told him East, and had led him to a bus stop. He couldn't tell, though, which bus had been taken, or where they had ended up. He growled through sheer frustration.

"Hey, buddy," Oz turned toward the source of the voice, a man dressed in a shabby peacoat. The man had his hand out, palm up. "You got any spare change for the bus?"

Oz grinned at the man, teeth bared. If the man didn't know better, he'd swear that the kid's teeth were pointed. Oz's black eyes were back-lit by a bright green flame.

The man immediately backed off. "Uh, I think I'll walk. Better yet, I think I'll ask Mr. Nice Policeman over there for some change." The man backed away, almost running toward the police car driving slowly down the street.

Oz's eyes narrowed as the police car approached, and he stepped back, losing himself in the shadows.

Part the Eleventh

The black Range Rover sped down the road, its occupants enjoying the comfort only afforded by a high-price SUV. Or, at least, they would be if they could be said to be enjoying themselves at all.

"For the last time, no, there is no way you're playing that Arlo Guthrie crap on my stereo," Chris growled, taking a right turn a bit too quickly.

Nichole grabbed onto the door handle to try to keep herself upright. "And you would rather listen to that...that..."

"Techno, yes, I would. My car, my stereo, my music," he replied, irritably. He glanced over at Nichole, his smile sardonic. "Get yourself a VW van with an 8-track and a tie-dye paint job, and you can play whatever music you want."

"You never had a problem with my music when we were in college," Nichole grumbled.

"Only because I always got stoned before I had to listen to it," Chris replied, pleasantly.

Nichole opened her mouth, prepared to deliver a blistering retort, when Chris pointed straight ahead. "Looks like the lovebirds are here already."

Buffy and Willow stood outside the Dream of Gaia, waiting patiently. Chris had called them that morning, and told them that he had received the manacles from Los Angeles. They arranged to meet at the Dream of Gaia so that they could discuss tactics.

Chris parked the car and he and Nichole jumped out, Nichole with a FedEx box under her arm.

"Morning!" The Child of Gaia said, cheerfully. "I see the two of you are looking well." She winked briefly at Willow before unlocking the door.

Willow blushed slightly, and replied, "Um, yeah."

"No thanks to Mr. Cheapskate's travel arrangements," Buffy replied sardonically, with a glance in Chris's direction.

Chris shrugged. "Take it up with Accounting," he replied with a small smile. "I'm a werewolf, not a sugar daddy. By the way, where's Giles?"

Buffy shook her head. "I don't even want to know why you made that connection," she said. "He went back to his house to check on things." The four friends entered the store, locking the door securely behind them.

Giles stepped over the ruins of his front door, grimacing at the mess left by some nightly visitor. There was little actual damage done to any of his belongings, but whoever searched the house last night wasn't tidy. The ex-watcher slowly righted a small table, stacking the cordless phone and the base unit on top.

"Where is she?"

The strained, gravelly voice startled Giles, and he turned slowly toward the source. Oz stood in the hallway leading to Willow's room, his already short frame hunched over, as if in pain. His eyes burned with unhealthy obsession.

"Where is she?"

His voice was louder now, and Giles noticed Oz's body beginning to shake. "N-now Oz," he said, in what he hoped was a soothing voice, "she-she's not here." He began inching his way slowly toward the open doorway.


Oz took a step forward now, his hands clenching and unclenching. His form began growing, slight limbs covering over with fur and knotted muscle.

Giles turned and started running.

"They look like handcuffs." Buffy looked at the manacles, turning them over in her hands. "Are you sure this will hold a werewolf?" The only things that seemingly distinguished the manacles from a regular pair of handcuffs were the etched runes that decorated the sides. That, and the fact that the manacles were made of pure silver.

Chris nodded. "They're what we call a fetish, an item that is fused together with a spirit to imbue it with power. Stick those puppies on a werewolf, even in Crinos form, and he'll instantly turn to Homid. They grow or shrink to match the form the werewolf wears, and they're stronger than they look."

"I hope so," Buffy replied. She looked over the manacles one last time, and then stuck them in her jacket pocket. "It's my guess that Oz will go right for Willow when he sees her, making her the bait in this trap. Sorry, Will," Buffy said, with an apologetic look at the redhead.

Willow shrugged with a resigned sigh. "It's got to be done, I mean, I'm the one who wants to help him," she replied quietly. Buffy placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, and Willow reached up and entwined Buffy's fingers with her own. She drew strength from the contact, strength she knew she would need before the day was out.

"Ok, when Oz goes after Willow, I use the distraction to get in there and slap the cuffs on him. Seems straightforward enough," Buffy finished.

"What do we do with him when we've got him?" Nichole said, uncertainly. "I mean, he's dangerous, even assuming we can keep him under control, it won't be easy."

Buffy tightened her grip on Willow's hand unconsciously. "We'll just have to find that Gurahl werebear and get back as quick as possible."

"So, it sounds like the only thing left to do is track down Oz," Chris said, looking around the room for agreement.

Giles had almost reached the open doorway when he felt a large, clawed hand with a grip of steel grab the back of his neck, wrenching him backward. How can something that big move that fast, he thought wildly before crashing into the recently-uprighted table. Giles looked up into the mad eyes of the Black Spiral Dancer.

"You tell me," the werewolf said slowly, wrapping his hand around Giles' throat, "where she is."

Giles felt himself hoisted aloft, dangling from the werewolf's massive paw. His hands clutched futilely at the Dancer's arm, trying to relieve some of the pressure on his throat. At this rate, he thought, he wouldn't be able to tell Oz even if he wanted to. The ex-watcher felt himself growing increasingly light-headed.

Some part of Oz's brain that was still rational must've realized that Giles could never talk if he were being choked. He dropped Giles to the floor, where the older man took in great gulps of air. "I-I don't know where she is," he gasped, "but I can get her to come here."

"Do it." Oz snarled.

"These Black Spiral Dancers seem to be a little more comfortable coming out at night, than during the day, right?" Buffy asked, looking to the more experienced Garou for confirmation. Nichole nodded back at her. "Ok, then, so maybe Willow and I should go on patrol tonight, as usual. If Oz shows up, we try to subdue him the best we can." Chris's cell phone rang, and she briefly glanced over at him as he walked over to the corner of the room to answer it.

"Do you think we'll be able to do this without hurting him?" Willow asked. Her voice begged for reassurance from the more experienced Slayer.

"Giles, what's going on?" The urgency in Chris's voice caused the room to fall into deathly silence.

"Tell Willow that she needs to come to my house. It's very important that she gets here as soon as possible. Pull her out of Dance class if you need to." The call cut off before Chris could ask Giles what he meant.

"What's wrong?" Buffy asked.

Chris frowned. "That was Giles. He needs Willow to go over to his house right away."

Willow glanced at Buffy, puzzled. "Think he found out something?"

Buffy shrugged. "Possible, though I didn't think he had any research planned."

Chris cocked his head to one side, favoring Willow with a quizzical look. "I didn't know you had a Dance class."

Willow stepped across the remains of Giles' front door, her eyes adjusting quickly to the lack of sunlight indoors. What she saw made her freeze.

Giles was sitting in a straight-backed chair, his arms rigidly at his sides. Behind him stood Oz, in full Crinos werewolf form, one hand wrapped securely around Giles' neck, the other hand resting on the top of the ex-watcher's head.

Willow swallowed nervously. "Oz, please don't do this..." She forced herself to take a small step forward.

"Are you alone?" Oz said, his growls and snarls understandable by Willow alone. "If you brought anyone with you, I might just have to snap his neck like a twig." He tightened the grip he held on Giles' head, and laughed shrilly.

Willow shook her head. "I came alone. I was looking for you."

"LIAR!" Oz roared, letting go of Giles and taking a step toward the redhead. "I came for you last night, and you were gone! You weren't here!"

Willow's eyes shifted nervously, his sudden movement startling her. "I-I was afraid, Oz. But I realized this morning that I needed to talk to you, to see you. That's why I'm here, that's why I came alone. I want to help you."

Oz took another, shuffling step toward her. He held out his hands to the young woman. "I don't need help, I only need you. Now that we're together, we can go back to the caern. There are a lot of people there who want to meet you." He grinned, his eyes lighting up with madness. "You'll enjoy serving the Wyrm."

Willow involuntarily took a half step backward. "Oz, you don't have to work for the Wyrm. I can help you--"

"No!" He growled, lurching forward and grabbing Willow's arms. "The Wyrm wants you--" He stopped, sniffing the air suddenly. He whipped his head around, looking toward where Giles sat. But Giles was no longer there; Buffy was.

"Sorry Oz-man," Buffy said. She stood next to the empty chair, and began walking slowly, circling the werewolf. "We couldn't let you do it."

"YOU LIED TO ME!" Oz roared, turning back to fix Willow with a hate-filled stare.

Willow immediately shifted into Crinos, breaking Oz's grip on her arms. "You're not the only werewolf here, Oz. And I'll never serve the Wyrm."

Oz backed up a step, trying to keep both Buffy and Willow in his view. Something about Buffy's scent puzzled him, though, something which smelled awfully like...

He froze suddenly and looked at Willow, his eyes practically glowing with green balefire. "You..." He spat out the word as if it were a curse. "You and she are...are mates."

Willow glanced over at a puzzled Buffy, who had been unable to understand the Garou language. "Oz..."

Oz fixed his gaze on the Slayer. "You took her from me," he said, his voice deadly quiet. "You stole her from me!" He roared, bursting into a frenzy of action. He leapt at the surprised Slayer who fell back and brought her feet up, tossing Oz off of her with a heave of her legs. She fumbled in her jacket pocket, and readied the manacles in her hand.

Oz twisted in midair, landing in a crouch. He immediately sprang again and this time landed a solid punch to Buffy's stomach, sending her flying back into the upended furniture. The manacles flew out of her hand, sliding across the hardwood floor.

He was on her in a second. "You...will...die...slowly..." he said, punctuating each word with heavy punches that Buffy was barely able to absorb. Dizzily, she dropped her arms, no longer able to lift them to protect herself.

Oz pulled back his fist, ready to drive it into Buffy's skull. Suddenly, he felt his wrist grabbed from behind. He pulled against the grip, only to find that it was like iron, slowly pulling his arm back. He roared, and looked up at his attacker.

Willow stood above him, grabbing his other wrist with her other hand, and began pulling that one back as well. She planted a knee with bone-jarring force into the small of his back, and began pulling his arms back until he screamed with the pain of tendons and joints pulled to their limit. His pain-filled eyes met Willow's rage-filled ones.

"You ever, ever touch her again, and I will rip your arms out and beat you to death," she said, her voice at once cold and furious. She felt a small, human hand on her shoulder, and she stiffened.

"Do you still want to capture him?" Chris asked, quietly. He held the manacles that Buffy had dropped, though he seemed reluctant to stop Willow from killing the young Black Spiral.

Willow took a deep breath, feeling the Rage drain out of her. Seeing Oz threaten Buffy like that had triggered something deep inside her, the Rage that Chris and Nichole had told her about. She wasn't fighting for the safety of mankind, or Gaia; she was fighting for Buffy, the woman she loved, and it touched something so primal that she didn't even know it existed.

She nodded sharply, and after a small hesitation, Chris snapped the manacle on Oz's wrist.

Immediately, his form shifted back to that of the young man Oz was, and maybe could be again. Chris took Oz's arms from Willow's grasp, and handcuffed them behind his back. His head drooped, overcome by the calming, weakening magick of the fetish. Chris dragged him over to the side of the room, rather ungently.

Willow dropped next to Buffy, shifting back to human form as she did so. "Buffy?" She asked, her voice shaking.

Buffy opened her eyes and smiled slightly. "Yep, that's me," she said, holding on to Willow's hand.

"I'm so sorry," Willow said, her eyes shedding bright tears. "I would have never...If I'd known you would get hurt...It's not worth it..."

Buffy smiled, and squeezed Willow's hand. "It's ok, Will. He just knocked the wind out of me." She felt her ribs, pressing them with tentative fingers. "Couple of cracked ribs maybe, some bruises. Nothing that won't heal in a few days."

Willow let out a breath she wasn't aware of holding. "Oh, God, Buffy, what if..." She began, tears running unchecked down her face.

"Shh," Buffy said, pushing herself up. She brushed her fingers gently across Willow's cheeks, wiping away her tears. "Shh, it's ok, Will. It's over, we got him, no real harm done. You can't think about what may have happened, ok, because there's no point. Everyone's fine, except for maybe Oz, who almost got his arms ripped out of their sockets. I didn't realize you would go all Terminator, Will." Buffy grinned at her friend.

Willow smiled in return. "I...I couldn't let him hurt you," she said simply.

"Just one of the many reasons why I love you," Buffy replied, raising Willow's hand to her lips. Willow blushed, and squeezed Buffy's hand a little tighter.

Nichole cleared her throat. "Everyone ok here?" she asked, Giles standing behind her.

"Everyone's just peachy keen here," Buffy responded, wincing as she tested sore muscles.

"I can probably do something to help those bruises," Nichole said, helping Buffy and Willow to stand. "If you'll let me, I can heal you much the same way I did Willow."

"I wouldn't say no," Buffy agreed. She glanced over to where Oz sat, watched over like a hawk by Chris. "So what now?"

"Chris is taking Oz to a 'safe house' that his 'syndicate' owns here in Sunnydale," Nichole replied, her distaste for the Glass Walker's methods evident. "Then we'll need to meet, and plan your trip."

"Yes, well," Giles said, cleaning his glasses with a handkerchief. "You don't suppose we could fit 'returning my home to a proper semblance of order' in there anywhere, could we?"

Part the Twelfth

Buffy collapsed on the couch, letting out an exhausted sigh. After Nichole healed her of her injuries, she felt like she could have easily slept for a week; but she would've felt guilty for sticking Willow with all the work of cleaning up Giles' house. Giles was out arranging for a new front door.

Willow collapsed on the couch next to her. "Well, that was a chore," she said, wiping sweat from her forehead.

"Yep." Buffy nodded. "Next time we invite homicidal werewolves over for lunch, I think we should move the party to the backyard."

"Speaking of which," Willow said, "well, not homicidal werewolves, but werewolves anyway, Nichole and Chris aren't back yet?"

"Doesn't appear so. He said they had a lot of stuff to pick up to help us with the trip." Buffy chewed on her lip, absently.

Willow rested her hand on Buffy's leg. "Worried?" She asked, thinking she knew why Buffy was nervous.

"Yeah," Buffy said, covering Willow's hand with her own. "It's just...I dunno, I'm not the outdoorsy type, you know? It's one thing to wander around a graveyard for a few hours, and then wander back home to sleep in your own bed. It's another thing to wander around the woods with no idea where you are or what you're looking for, exactly."

"You could...I mean, if you don't want..." Willow began.

Buffy shook her head. "No, I want to help you. I told you I'd go anywhere with you, right? I'm just a little concerned, I guess."

"There's no reason to be, sweetcheeks," Chris said, flippantly. He stepped through the doorway, a large cardboard box in his hands. "Nichole and I have thought of everything." He dropped his box on the kitchen counter, and helped Nichole set hers on the floor.

"So what do we get," Buffy said, rising stiffly from the couch. "Tents, sleeping bags..."

"Chemical toilets?" Willow finished, hopefully. Hey, it was better than the alternative.

Chris scoffed. "Please, you're a Glass Walker, none of that 'roughing it' stuff for you. Some tribes send their cubs out into the wilderness with just a swiss army knife; not us, though." He bent down, and pulled out an amulet. It hung on a leather thong, and was covered with runes which Buffy mistook at first for claw marks. Chris tossed it to Buffy.

"And what does this do?" Buffy said, looking at the amulet closely.

"Well, since it would take way too long to hike through the mountains to find this Gurahl--"

"Waitaminute," Buffy interrupted with surprise. "Mountains? How far away is this werebear, anyway?"

"Um," Nichole looked at her feet. "Well, they tend to be secretive, and there aren't many of them left..."

"Where?" Buffy urged.

Nichole mumbled something. Willow blinked in surprise. "The Cascade mountains?" She said, her eyebrows nearly disappearing into her hairline. "Aren't those in Washington?"

"Washington, Oregon, Northern California, parts of British Columbia..." Nichole corrected.

Buffy sat down with a thud. Luckily, there happened to be a chair nearby.

"But like I was saying," Chris interjected, "it would take way too long for you two to travel there, so you're going to be traveling through the Umbra."

"The what?" Willow asked.

"The spirit world. Our people use it a lot for travel, for communing with spirits, for fighting the spirit bane allies of the Wyrm, that sort of thing," Chris said. "Willow, you can travel there naturally, as part of your Garou heritage; we'll teach you how tomorrow, before you're ready to leave. But Buffy is going to have to use that amulet.

"While you're in the Umbra," he continued, "you won't get hungry or thirsty. All your body functions will be suspended. Once you get close to your destination, just come out into the physical realm." He dug through his box and began pulling out equipment.

"Where is our destination?" Buffy asked. "Besides a mountain range, I mean."

"I marked it on a map," Nichole said, handing a large wilderness map over to Willow. "I was able to narrow it down to a general location, no more than four square miles or so."

"That's comforting," Willow responded, faintly.

"Also, just in case, Chris and I picked you up some supplies. Backpacks, some powerbars, water..."

"...Cell phone, and Global Positioning System," Chris finished, with a grin. "Just in case you get lost."

"Um, won't we be somewhat outside cell phone radius?" Willow asked.

Chris held up the object in question. "It's a fetish, just like the manacles. It's powered by spirits, so you don't need to worry about range or batteries."

Buffy looked on, impressed. "You should really market those things."

"If I could figure out a way to mass-produce these, believe me I would," Chris replied, regretfully. "But since they require binding spirits, they have to be made one at a time."

"Looks like you guys have thought of everything," Willow said, playing with the GPS.

"Everything except how to actually find the Gurahl," Nichole said. "That's up to you."

Thraxuil paced the room, unable to believe his ears. This pup, this Lost Cub was still loose; he had lost two warriors to her already, and now he seemed to have lost a third. He turned to face the kneeling Garou. "What happened to him?"

"The spirit banes were vague," Kraxthus responded. "He's not dead; the banes were able to find him, but he is unable to respond to them, unable to change form, and unable to escape into the Umbra."

"I see." His calm voice belied the rage that leapt to his eyes. "I will not fail the Wyrm because of one little girl." You are a failure... That inner voice, silent for so long through his string of successes in leading this Hive of Black Spirals, began to surface once again. He shook his head wildly, trying to stop the voice. You've failed your Hive mates, you've failed the Wyrm, and you've failed yourself, it said. It's only a matter of time before they find out, and then you die... The fearsome werewolf known as Eater-of-Children doubled over in pain, clutching his head.

" lord?" Kraxthus asked, fearfully.

Thraxuil whirled around at the noise and knocked Kraxthus down to the ground, massive clawed hands wrapped around his throat. "STOP!" Thraxuil screamed, right into Kraxthus' face. "I won't fail the Wyrm! If we can't bring the cub here, then she will die!" With one last, bone-crunching squeeze, the werewolf rose to his feet, panting heavily. "A pack," he said, already thinking of his next plan. "I will send a whole pack after her. Kraxthus, tell the Hellfire Dancers pack that I wish to see them." When Kraxthus didn't answer, the werewolf turned, eyes finding the cooling body on the floor. Sightless eyes bulged out of their sockets, staring blankly at the rough-hewn ceiling.

Thraxuil backed up slowly, eyes searching the room. It certainly wasn't the first time that one of his minions had turned up dead in his throne room; he just wished that he could discover who the murderer was, before he was next. "Show yourself!" He yelled, and like the other times, there was no response.

Eater-of-Children growled, swallowing the paranoid fear he was feeling, and walked out of the throne room. He would find the Hellfire Dancers himself.

Willow looked around the back room at the Dream of Gaia, which was lit only by early morning sunlight streaming in from the small window. She shifted nervously, and felt Buffy's hand slip into hers, steadying her.

They were as ready as they'd ever be, she thought to herself. They had made sure to get a good night's sleep last night...eventually. They had all their gear -- hiking boots, durable clothing, parkas, and their backpacks which contained all the gear Nichole and Chris had brought them the day before. Giles assured them that he could handle patrols until they returned.

Nothing left to do, Willow thought with a stifled grin, except travel through the spirit realm to the Cascade mountains, find a werebear, and ask his advice. Oh, is that all.

Nichole brought out a large, dusty object which was covered with a cloth tarp. It looked like a picture frame. When she removed the cloth, Willow saw that it was actually a large, framed mirror.

"You will be traveling through the spirit realm," Nichole said, her normally light voice now serious. "A mirror reflects our physical realm, but distorts it. Similarly, the spirit realm is a reflection of our own physical realm, but it too is distorted. The only way for a Garou to step into the spirit realm is to step into, and through the mirror."

Willow stepped up to the mirror, letting her fingertips touch the cold, hard glass. "'s solid."

"You don't actually have to walk through the mirror," Chris said, glancing at Nichole. "That's hyperbole. You use the mirror to shift your perceptions so that your natural abilities as a Garou take over." He glanced over at Buffy. "You are going to have to do this too. That amulet will take the place of natural ability."

Willow stared at the mirror, seeing her own reflection and the reflection of the room behind her. Her eyes unfocused, turning the reflection into a barely distinguishable blur. Something pulled at her now; instead of a mirror in front of her, she felt like it was a doorway, beckoning her to step through.

Buffy saw Willow take a step forward, and vanish. Her eyes widened, and she looked at Chris in shock.

Chris merely nodded, as if he expected it. "Now, your turn."

Willow looked around the unfamiliar landscape; there was just too much to see, all at once. She felt lightheaded, like that strange detached feeling she sometimes got when she was on heavy cold medication.

The sky itself was dark, although she knew it was daytime. Was it still daytime? She wondered. But the landscape itself glowed, as if from an inner energy. She looked around her, and realized that the building that surrounded her was partly translucent. Everywhere, she saw creatures -- they could only be spirits -- some zipping around where telephone and electricity wires should be; some floating through the air; and some, in the shapes of spiders, weaving pattern webs around the buildings and any spirits slow or unlucky enough to get caught.

And, most shocking of all, she could see pollution. Everything that Chris told her about the Wyrm, and Gaia...nothing had prepared her for this.

She saw black, oily, dripping smog spirits drifting through the streets, coating everything and everyone they passed with taint. She looked down, through the translucent floor to where the city sewer system ran. Small, hideous spirits ran through the tunnels. They were covered in boils which periodically burst, dripping toxins onto the ground around their feet.

She took a step back, hand covering her mouth in horror. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she jumped.

"Whoa, everything ok?" Buffy asked, concern in her voice.

Willow grabbed on to Buffy, wrapping her arms around her waist and holding her in a close hug. She buried her face against Buffy's shoulder, tears filling her eyes. "God, don't you see them? They're everywhere, drowning everyone in poison..."

Buffy stroked Willow's hair gently. She looked around, her eyes seeing the spirits that Chris and Nichole always talked about. Some of them were quite beautiful, but others were disgusting and seemed bent on corruption. It made her ill to see the toxins that permeated the air she breathed, and probably the water she drank and food she ate as well.

"Now you know why we fight the Wyrm," Chris said quietly, appearing next to them. Nichole appeared a moment later. "If humans could see what we see, there'd never be another debate about pollution, or clean air." He sighed, looking at the spirit world around him.

Nichole fixed Willow with a sympathetic gaze. "This is the choice all Garou must make -- to fight for Gaia, or ignore Her suffering at the hands of the Wyrm. As you can see, for most of us it's not very much of a choice at all."

Willow raised her head, and pushed back from Buffy's shoulder. She cleared her throat, and scrubbed away the tears with the back of her hand. So this is what the Wyrm really is, she thought. Not just the mad violence of the Black Spirals, but the slow suffocation of the world, burned and choked and drowned in poison. How could she hope to fight it all? She thought with despair.

By fighting one Wyrm-creature at a time, she realized. By healing those she could, and destroying those she couldn't, so they wouldn't do any more harm. And she knew right where to start. There was suddenly more at stake here than Oz's life -- the real contest was over his soul.

"All right," she said, gritting her teeth. "Let's get started."

Forward to chapter 13
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