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 Thirteenth

"And it came to pass in those days that the Brothers and Sisters of Bear, called Gurahl, heard the pitiable cries of the new creature, Man; and in response to his pleas for help, they allowed Man to hunt the Bear, and take Bear's flesh for food, and his skin for clothing.

"And when Man slept, the Brothers and Sisters of Bear would steal into Man's cave and take back the clean bones of Bear. For the Great Mother had taught them the secret of Life and Death, and they knew they could make Bear live again for the next hunt.

"But while they were performing the Rite, the youngest of the Skin Changers, Garou, came upon them. And he hid, and he saw the miracle of Bear rising again from death. And he said to himself, 'The Great Mother has given Gurahl the secrets of Life and Death, and Gurahl has not shared them with us. Surely this is wrong.' And so Garou came to the Brothers and Sisters of Bear, and demanded this secret from them.

"The Gurahl looked at Garou sadly, and said, 'You are impulsive, and full of Rage, not Wisdom. You would not use the secret in a matter fitting of the Great Mother. If you have wounded, bring them to us to heal; if you have dead, bring them to us to raise. But we cannot give you the secret.' With that, Garou went back to his kind, and in a fit of Rage, told them, 'The Gurahl are conspiring with the Wyrm against us. The Great Mother has given them the secret of Life and Death, but they refuse to share it with us. Surely this goes against the Great Mother's wishes!' And so the Garou were driven into a great frenzy, and decided to make war upon the Brothers and Sisters of Bear." -- From the tales of Artur Mountainwind, Gurahl Tale-Spinner

Nichole removed some ash of some sort from a pouch at her waist. Sprinkling it to let it float on the breeze, she said, "I ask Your assistance, Luna, Celestine of the Moon, Sacred Guide. Light the way for these travelers, and know that they serve Your will, and that of Mother Gaia."

Willow's attention was drawn downward, to the ground at her feet. A long, silvery road stretching off to the north began appearing there; after a moment or two it solidified, a ribbon of silvery moonlight hugging the ground.

"Stay on the road," Nichole cautioned. "It will be safest. You'll travel fast with the spirits of Luna guiding you." She undid the pouch at her waist, and pressed it into Willow's hand. "When you are ready to return, do what I did, and the spirits will come to you. You have the gifts of a Theurge, one who communes with spirits, as I do. Born under the crescent moon, you pierce the darkness of inner and outer mystery. Gaia guide you on your journey." With that, she stepped back, and Chris stepped forward.

"I've taught you a lot over the past few days, but now you have to see some things for yourself. Good luck, Willow." He bent down to hug the redhead. Pulling back, he handed her a small mirror in the form of a compact. "For when you want to leave the Umbra and come back." He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand, eyes memorizing her features. "Gaia bless you," he said, and turned away. Stepping up to Buffy, he hugged her as well. "Good luck. Keep each other safe."

Buffy nodded, and looked at Willow. "Ready?" Willow nodded, and with one look back at the two Garou, she and Buffy stepped on the silver road, and began their journey.

Chris and Nichole emerged from the Umbra, back to the incense-laden storage room of the Dream of Gaia. Chris let out a long breath. "Well, I guess I'd better get back to laughing boy," he said, grabbing his jacket.

Nichole smiled. "I'll come over after I close the store and give you a hand. I bet he's not exactly the best company."

"You got that right." Chris rolled his eyes. Nichole chuckled, and he looked down at the Gaian fondly. Quickly, impulsively, he bent down and kissed her tenderly on the cheek. Blushing, he cleared his throat. "Well, I gotta go," he said, and practically sprinted out the door.

Nichole, hand touching her cheek, looked after him with a bemused expression.

Chris entered the house, throwing his keys and his jacket on a side table. He opened up a drawer in the same table, removing a Glock 17. He removed the clip, checked the silver 9mm rounds within, and pushed the clip back home. He stuck the gun in his jeans at the small of his back, and went to go check on his prisoner.

Oz lay on the floor of the converted bedroom listlessly, wrists handcuffed to a large ring set in the floor. His untouched, and now very cold, breakfast still lay within reach.

"What's the matter, aren't hungry?" Chris asked, picking up the plate and tossing the food in the garbage. "How about some TV then?" Chris walked over and collapsed in a leather recliner, grabbing the TV remote. "I think they might be showing 'Old Yeller'." He looked over at Oz, whose eyes were staring ahead, unfocused. "I hope you realize what that girl is doing for you. Otherwise, you'd be facing a death sentence." Receiving no response to this, Chris snorted disgustedly and turned up the TV.

Nichole walked up the street toward Chris's 'safe house', her coat wrapped tightly around her to ward off the chill. An ever-increasing sense of dread had settled around her ever since she watched Chris leave, until finally she closed the store early and hurried over to see him.

The bitter wind whipped around her, reminding her more of an autumn or winter wind than early spring. She shuddered, and walked faster.

Chris heard Oz move for the first time in hours, shifting, stretching, testing his handcuffs. "It won't do you any good," he replied to the restless Black Spiral. "You'll never break those things in your condition."

"I wouldn't bet on that," a deep, grumbling voice answered from behind Chris. In a split second, Chris was out of his chair, Glock pointed directly at a Black Spiral in full Crinos who had materialized out of the air behind him. Damn! Chris thought fiercely, he must've come out of the Umbra!

The Black Spiral, eyes flashing sickly green, regarded Chris with amusement. His eyes flicked over to where Oz lay, pulling on his handcuffs so hard that his wrists grew slick with blood. "Little Garou, did you think you could just hold one of ours without consequence?" The Spiral laughed, a guttural sound.

"Go to Hell," Chris said, raising the gun. Suddenly, he felt a hard blow to the back of his head, knocking him across the room, into the opposite wall. He fell to the ground with a moan, gun dropping from his hand.

"You first," an insane voice giggled. Chris raised his head, looking at the Black Spiral that had hit him. This one looked more jackal than wolf, his fur falling out in large patches to reveal sickly-white hide beneath. His form shifted into Homid, and he picked up the gun which was laying just outside Chris's reach.

Another Black Spiral who had just materialized from the Umbra walked over to Oz, and grabbed the handcuffs which bound him. The silver burned his Crinos hands, filling the room with the smell of singed fur and flesh, but the werewolf didn't even flinch. With quick, strong movements he broke the lock on each cuff and let go, allowing the handcuffs to fall to the floor. Oz rose slowly, free from his bondage.

"Now, I think our business is almost complete. Once we track down the little cub and strangle her with her own intestines, that is." The first Black Spiral laughed madly, pleased at his own joke.

Chris growled, pushing against the wall to raise himself to his feet. "Over my dead body, Wyrm-lover," he spat, glaring at the lead Spiral.

"That's the idea," Jackal giggled, and he raised the gun, pointing it at Chris's chest.

Nichole practically ran up the front walk, terror seizing her now. She tried the front door, which was locked, so she was about to bang on the door to get Chris's attention when she heard the gunshots from inside. Before she realized it, she had shifted into Crinos and knocked aside the strong front door like it was made of balsa.

She rushed into the back bedroom just in time to see three Black Spirals disappear into the Umbra, followed closely by Oz. A semi-automatic pistol lay on the ground, barrel still smoking from use. Her eyes went immediately to the collapsed heap of a man against the wall.

Heart frozen in fear, she ran over to Chris, feeling for a pulse. "Thank Gaia," she breathed, feeling his pulse strong under her fingers. Turning him over, she inspected his chest, looking for bullet wounds.

Chris sat up, coughing heavily. "Damn," he gasped. "That wasn't fun."

Nichole saw two bloodless bullet holes in his shirt, and she looked at him alarmingly. Chris followed her gaze to the wounds, and shrugged, wincing as he did so. "Damn Black Spirals ruined another shirt," he said, pulling his shirt off stiffly. Under his shirt he wore a thin, yet strong and flexible, bulletproof vest.

Nichole sat down with a thud. "Chris," she said quietly. "I don't want you to ever let me complain about your love of technology again."

Chris smiled slightly, wincing at the pain in his badly bruised chest. "Deal." He looked up at Nichole suddenly, fearfully. "They're... they're going after Willow and Buffy."

Nichole buried her face in her hands, holding back tears. "We can't interfere with a Passage quest, Chris." She swallowed around the lump that formed in her throat. "The best we can hope for is that the Spirals won't be able to track them."

Willow was still adjusting to Umbral travel; it was odd, walking on the road that Nichole had created for them. It acted like a moving sidewalk, assuming moving sidewalks moved at 60 miles per hour; they could walk on it, and the landscape appeared to be moving by much faster than it would normally.

She wasn't sure how long they had been walking, or even if time really mattered here.

Buffy seemed to find the Umbral landscape fascinating, her eyes capturing every detail. She was stunned by the sheer number of spirits that seemed to interact with the physical world, and in turn had the physical world interact with them.

Gradually, the cities and suburbs gave way to thin forests. Even here, in the midst of the 'wilderness', the pollution banes existed; smog banes latched on to tree spirits, who were unable to shake their poisoning influence. Toxic banes corrupted water spirits, who in turn corrupted animals who came to drink. Willow was sickened.

"Uh, Will," Buffy said, interrupting her dark thoughts. "You notice anything strange?"

"In this place?" Willow laughed, more harshly than she intended. "Wouldn't it be better to ask if I didn't see anything strange?"

"That's just it," Buffy said, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully. She hoisted her backpack a little higher on her back, and she said, "Where are all those weird little nature spirits? It's like they just up and disappeared."

Willow looked around, alarmed. They were traveling through a dark, rather spooky section of forest. Buffy was right; this place should have been teeming with life, but it was silent.

Just then, a mad, piercing howl broke the quiet and caused both girls to shudder.

"Um, I think we should get moving," Willow said, increasing her walk to a trot. Buffy followed suit, easily keeping up with the faster pace. She looked around, trying to spot the source of the howl.

In the brush off to the left of the silver road, Buffy spotted something keeping pace with them; whatever it was was big and it paid no heed to the dense underbrush which should have slowed it down. Crashing noises could now be heard off to their right as well, made by similar, shadowy figures.

"Willow..." The two girls heard a hauntingly familiar voice emerge from the darkness, cutting through it like razor claws. "Willow, I've come for you..."

"Oz!" Willow gasped, looking at Buffy wildly.

Buffy nodded, casting glances at the shadowy figures who still managed to keep up with them on either side of the road. "And he's brought friends. C'mon, Will, run!" The Slayer said, breaking into a full run, and checking to make sure Willow kept up beside her.

The two girls ran for all they were worth, landscape flashing by, barely discernable. A mad chorus of howls let loose then, and the chase was well and truly on.

Part the Fourteenth

"And so the Garou made war against the Gurahl, the Brothers and Sisters of Bear. In their anger they invaded our dens and slaughtered our Kinfolk, expecting them to have been corrupted by the Wyrm, who we call Pattern Breaker. The Gurahl fell in great numbers before the claws of the Garou; for they fought in packs, not alone as we did, and they fought with a ferocity that had been gifted them by the Great Mother to use against the Pattern Breaker.

"And so a Great Council was held of the few Gurahl who remained. It was decided that the Rage of the Brothers and Sisters of Wolf was too great, and that if the war continued it could only spell doom for our people.

"Many of the Gurahl, in sadness, decided to disappear to the furthest reaches of the world, and could only be found on the remotest mountain, the furthest glacier, or the most distant river. Most chose to cross the great Ice Bridge and dwell in the Pure Lands with their nomadic Kinfolk; some chose to secret themselves in far-off dens, and fall into centuries-long slumber. Still others gave up their physical form, choosing to allow their spirits to travel to the Summerland, to live with the Great Mother." -- From the tales of Artur Mountainwind, Gurahl Tale-Spinner

Willow ran, her blood pounding in her ears. Next to her, Buffy ran hard, looking from side to side to check on the progress of their shadowy pursuers. From the mad howls that erupted from time to time, the Spirals were not only keeping pace, they were enjoying the terror of their prey.

"How are they keeping up?" Willow gasped out. "The spirits..."

Buffy shook her head, tossing sweaty bangs from her face. "Maybe they've got spirits helping them too." They ran hard for a few minutes more before Buffy said, "We can't keep this up, Will. We've got to get out of the Umbra, try to lose them in the real world." The girls slowed, then stopped on the silver road, panting with exhaustion.

Buffy watched as their pursuers, four Black Spirals including Oz, emerged from the shadows. They moved slowly now, sensing certain victory over the two young women. They grinned and laughed, howled and giggled, and closed in tightening the trap.

"C'mon, Buffy," Willow said, shoving the mirror in front of her face. Buffy concentrated for a moment, and disappeared from the Umbral landscape. A moment later, Willow joined her in the moonlit forest of the physical world.

"How much you want to bet they brought mirrors too," Buffy said, still catching her breath. "We gotta get outta here, post haste." Willow nodded, and they picked a direction and started running through the woods. The air was colder here, and it felt good against Buffy's sweat-slicked skin as she ran. She winced as she realized they were leaving a trail a mile wide for the Spirals to follow.

"Buffy, look," Willow said, tugging on her arm to get her attention. "See that light? It's a campfire, I can smell it!"

"Great, Will," Buffy said, tiredly. "But what are we going to do, lead the Black Spirals right to a bunch of soon-to-be-unhappy campers?"

"Oh," Willow said, dejectedly. "I thought, maybe..."

"It's worth checking out, at least," Buffy said, giving Willow's hand a squeeze. "C'mon."

They slowed down, and crept to the edge of the firelight. A large, grizzled man sat in front of the fire, his back against a fallen log. He had no tent or camping gear that either one of the girls could see, but he had somehow managed to skin and spit a rabbit, which was at the moment roasting merrily over a crackling fire.

The friends looked at each other, trying to decide what to do, when the man called out in an Irish brogue, "Come on now, I know yer out there. May as well step forward in peace, or step forward an' get ready to fight. Either way, decide quickly, my rabbit's almost done."

Willow looked at Buffy and shrugged resignedly. She stepped forward, and said, "Um, sir? I'm sorry to bother you. My friend and I will be on our way, but there are some very dangerous... animals...around here, and we wanted to warn you about them."

"Dangerous animals, eh?" the Irishman asked. "I've handled a few of 'em in my day." He held out a large hand for Willow and Buffy to shake. "M'name's Finian, by the way."

Willow shook his hand, and gasped at the electric contact. "You... you're Garou," she said, incredulously.

Finian gave Willow an appraising look. "Aye, of the proud tribe of the Fianna. An' you are Garou as well, Glass Walker from the look of ye."

"How did you know?" Willow asked, looking at Buffy askance.

Finian chuckled. "No other Garou would come out here with such trappings of the Weaver," he said, pointing at their backpacks. "And who are ye, miss?" he asked, with a sideways glance at the Slayer.

"My name is Buffy," she said, "I'm not a werewolf, but I'm a friend of Willow's." Buffy liked the old man instantly. Well, not old, she thought, he was probably around Giles' age. Old enough.

"Well, my greetings to the both of ye," Finian said. "So, what are these dangerous animals ye were talkin' about?" As if to punctuate his words, the three heard the hair-raising sound of Black Spirals on the hunt. "Oh," the Irishman said, raising an eyebrow. "I see."

"It's a long story," Willow said, quickly. "But there are too many to fight, and we need to get away..."

"Ah, well lass, you're in luck," Finian said, smiling. "Y'see, it so happens that I have a gift for dealing with these kinds of things. See, back when I was a youngster, learning at me grandfather's knee in the great Sept Tri-Spiral at the Brugh na Boinne..." Another chorus of howls, closer this time, prompted Buffy to interrupt.

"I sense that it's a story for another time. Can you do anything about this, or are we going to have to run for our lives?"

"Impatient pups," Finian mumbled. "Of course I can. Come close to the fire." When Buffy and Willow had stepped forward, Finian began to sing.

"I've been a wild rover for many a year
And I spent all my money on whiskey and beer,
And now I'm returning with gold in great store
And I never will play the wild rover no more..."

The howls sounded again, still closer. Willow looked at the Irishman wildly, saying, "Are you sure that's the right song?"

Finian thought for a moment, and replied, "Probably not. Let me think." After a moment, a very long, tense moment, he began to sing again. This song was ancient, and the beauty of it heartwrenching. Though neither girl could understand the words, they could tell that it was a song filled with love, with loss, and bitter disappointment. The howls faded now, the Black Spirals sent off, scenting their prey in another direction. Buffy and Willow stared at the man in amazement, as his song ended.

"How..." they both began at once.

Finian chuckled, and replied, "'Tis a gift that the Mother has seen fit to pass on to me. I am, as I said before, a member of the Fianna tribe of Garou. We are one of the oldest tribes, and are one of the only tribes that bothers to sing the old songs and keep the histories." He shook his head sadly. "Too many of the younger tribes scorn the old ways. But as well as bein' a Fianna, I'm also a Galliard."

Willow looked at the man quizzically. "What's a Galliard?"

"What's a Galliard?" He repeated, aghast. "Have yer elders taught ye nothing? Is this what's come of Glass Walkers nowadays?"

Willow blushed, and dropped her head. Buffy fixed the man with a hard stare, and said, "She was a Lost Cub, she hasn't had a chance to learn everything."

"Aye, I suppose 'tis true," he said, nodding regretfully. "With the Apocalypse upon us, many pups get thrown into the world without the proper teachings. Very well then, sit ye down and ye can share my dinner."

The two girls sat gratefully, as Finian removed the rabbit and began tearing pieces off. "Now, ye know that all Garou consider Gaia to be our Mother, and She gifts us with many weapons and songs to fight the Wyrm. But She is not our only guide or protector.

"Y'see, long ago when Gaia created the Garou, she invited all the creatures of earth and spirit to come see us. Now some, like the Wyrm's minions, were furious that Gaia would create such strong, noble creatures, and they plotted our destruction. Some, like the other Shapeshifters, the Bastet, Gurahl, and such, were jealous, and they withheld their gifts and secrets from us because of envy.

"But the spirit Luna looked down upon us, and put Her special mark on us. She said, 'Just as I change shape, so do they,' and so She blessed us with special gifts depending 'pon which moon we were born under. She called this gift, Auspice.

"An' that is why one who is born under the crescent moon gains the gift of communin' with the spirits, and we call that Garou a Theurge. One, like me, who is born under the gibbous moon is called to be a Galliard. We are the lore-keepers, the ones who sing songs of great deeds and valiant ancestors. Whenever a warrior falters, or forgets why it is he fights, we sing our songs and put heart into him once more."

Willow listened closely to his story while she was eating. That was why Nichole had called her a Theurge, she thought. She was still mulling that over few minutes later, when Finian interrupted her train of thought. "So what are ye two girls doin' out here, so far from home?"

Willow and Buffy took turns telling the story. They didn't have Finian's gift of storytelling, but he listened closely all the same. When they were done, he let out a low whistle.

"Gaia's breath," he swore softly. "They must be makin' cubs out of sterner stuff if yer elders sent ye on such a quest."

"What do you mean?" Willow asked, curiously.

"What you are proposing to do has never been done before, girl. Not since the Black Spirals devoured the noble White Howler tribe has any of the Changing Folk discovered a way to change 'em back. An' to leave it to a Lost Cub -- and one without a proper pack, besides! -- Gaia, it boggles the mind, an' that's a fact." The old Fianna sat back against his log with an air of finality.

" think it can't be done?" Buffy asked quietly.

"Oh, there are a lot of things done every day that have never been done before, an' no mistake about that. But if ye two succeed, it could mean... Lord, it could mean the return of the White Howler tribe itself!" Seeing the curious looks of the girls, Finian sighed, and muttered again about the neglect of their elders. "Ye see, the White Howler tribe was a brother tribe to our own. While we claimed as Kinfolk the Celts of the British Isles, the White Howlers claimed the Picts. They held the Highlands of Scotland against Rome, when the Imperial Eagle set its sight on Britain. They were so fierce that the corrupt Romans ordered mighty walls built just to keep the Howlers an' their Pict Kinfolk out!

"Well, the Romans were corrupt, as I said, an' the Wyrm had rested comfortably inside their greedy, conquest-driven hearts. Many Wyrm beasts, unable to defeat the Howlers through honest battle, began opening Dark Caerns in the Highlands, hoping to give their allies access to the physical realm."

"Hellmouths," Buffy breathed.

"Aye, lass. An' so they opened great black pits, from which all manner of beasts emerged, twisting the countryside into a painful mockery of itself. Now, of course the Howlers, being the brave Garou that they were, decided that the best way to strike at the Wyrm was to strike at its heart. So they formed a mighty army, and entered one of these Dark Caerns, slaying any Wyrm-beast that was unlucky enough to cross their path.

"They made their way to the center of the Caern, some might say that they reached Hell itself; and there, they met a beast so terrifying that half of them were driven mad from the sight. They had gone so far into Hell that they came face to face with the Wyrm.

"Only one White Howler survived to tell the tale. He fought his way out of the inky darkness, only to see his former brothers emerge from the pit. Where once they stood tall and proud, now they were horrid, twisted by the power of the Wyrm. Their eyes glowed with the green balefire of damnation. They mocked him, and said that they were no longer White Howlers, but Black Spiral Dancers.

"He fled then, knowing that it was his duty to warn others of these twisted mockeries of Garou. He found one of our Septs, and passed along his story. That night, as he slept, the Black Spiral Dancers came for him, and when he was found in the morning, the only thing left were his bones."

Willow heard a rustle in the bushes, and she immediately leapt up into the air with a yell. Looking around frantically, she saw some small animal scamper off. "Ok, this whole thing has me seriously wigged," she said, looking around fearfully. Buffy rose, and wrapped Willow in a big hug.

"But ye see, lass, what stands to be gained if ye succeed," Finian said.

Willow nodded, taking comfort from Buffy's embrace.

"Sleep here tonight," Finian said. "Morning will be soon enough to continue your journey, and you two could use the rest, I think. You'll be safe in this clearing; the Spirals won't pick up your trail until you leave."

The girls accepted his offer gratefully, and they pulled some thin blankets out of their backpacks to use to keep warm. "Aren't you going to need a blanket or something?" Buffy asked, eyeing the Fianna and his lack of preparedness.

Finian chuckled. "Ye forget who yer talkin' to, lass," he said, and in an instant shifted into wolf form.

"Not a bad idea, actually," Willow said, with a thoughtful look at the Irish wolf. She gave her blanket to Buffy and then shifted into wolf form, curling up next to the Slayer to help keep them both warm. Buffy smiled and buried her face in warm red fur, falling asleep within seconds.

Part the Fifteenth

"And when She was done, Gaia looked down at the animals she had created. 'Something is missing,' she thought. 'There are none here whom I can trust to defend Me from the Wyrm.' And truly, it was so; the animals had not the intelligence to defend Her. Man, in his own blind way, barely understood who She was. And the other shapeshifters were too preoccupied with their own agendas, their own desires.

"And so Gaia took her fiercest, noblest creature, Wolf, and merged him with Man. And this new creation she called Garou.

"'Garou shall be My defender,' Gaia said to her other creations. 'His Rage will know no bounds, and he will protect Me from the Wyrm, and you will give him honor.' And the animals accepted this, and Man hid from it, as always. But the older Changing Breeds objected. Gurahl, who was the eldest and had long held favor in Gaia's eyes, said, 'Mother, it is not just that we who are the eldest and wisest must give honor to the young and impetuous, and teach them all our secrets.'

"Gaia looked down on her children sadly. 'It is My wish,' she told them, 'that the Garou be given every tool which may help them to fight the Wyrm.' And the other Changing Breeds slunk away, looking jealously on Garou, and vowing to fight against him." -- From the histories of Nikolai Speaks-The-Past, Galliard of the Silver Fang tribe

After a light breakfast of powerbars and leftover rabbit, Buffy and Willow said their goodbyes to the old Fianna.

"Now, remember," he was telling Willow, "you have the gift of communin' with the spirits, so don't be shy about askin' them for help. Gaia bless ye, and keep ye safe." With that, Finian smiled at the two girls, shifted into wolf form, and loped into the brush, leaving the two girls alone.

"So, Will," Buffy said, breaking the silence. "Where are we, and how do we get from here to there?"

Willow dug through her pack for the map and GPS. "According to this," she said, looking at the device, "we're about five miles south from the edge of the area Nichole marked off for us." She looked up at the blonde Slayer. "It looks like it will be a few hours walking, unless we travel in the Umbra."

Buffy frowned. "Yeah, but it looked like they tracked us down pretty easily there last time. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not risk it."

"Ok," Willow nodded her agreement. Flashing a smile and giving the Slayer a thorough kiss, she shouldered her backpack. "We'd better get going."

A dazed but happy Slayer followed her from the clearing.

Oz whimpered, the nightmare overtaking him once again. Every time he slept it was the same -- she would come, she would stand before him, and he would reach out to her. And then, a flash of silver; the blade would slide into his gut before he realized what happened. It burned with cold fire, leeching all warmth, all life from his limbs.

He stumbles back, the blade slithering out of him with a sickening hiss. As if a cork were removed from a bottle, blood starts pouring out of the wound, splattering on the ground.

"Why...?" he gasps, looking up at Willow for some explanation, some reason that makes sense. I thought you loved me, he thinks, but he no longer has the energy to speak.

She looks down at him, sadly. "I'm sorry. But I can't let you live any longer."

He collapses, his eyes trying to focus on the ground which is now an inch away from his face.

"I'm really sorry, Oz," he hears her say, as always. "But you have to die."

The young Black Spiral woke with a start, his heart pounding. He looked down quickly to see if he was bleeding, but the wound was not there. Not yet, he thought to himself.

Pushing himself upright, he looked around the small cave where his pack had sheltered. The others were all still asleep, whining with whatever nightmares tormented them, keeping them on the very edge of insanity. Now that Oz was awake, he was restless. He felt the urge to track Willow, to make her one of them. Then they could be together again. And the nightmares would go away.

He sat, and waited impatiently for the others to awaken.

"Christ, we've been wandering this area for hours," Buffy said, irritably. She brushed her sweat-soaked hair out of her face, wishing for the thousandth time that she had brought a headband, scarf, hair net, anything to keep her hair out of her face.

Even though the temperature was much cooler this far north, the two girls had been hiking through the woods for hours, trying to find any evidence that they were in the correct area. So far they had found nothing, leading both girls to wonder to themselves if Nichole had screwed up. Neither one wanted to voice that opinion out loud, though, afraid of what it would mean if it were true.

"Well, according to the GPS we should be in the area," Willow said defensively. "Although we've covered most of it without any luck," she was forced to add.

The tempers of both girls had been running short with the food, and their water situation wasn't looking very good, either. If there was one thing that Willow remembered from her disastrous sixth grade camping trip, it's that you never drink standing water. She had to coax Buffy away from a promising looking pond, asking the Slayer to trust her personal experience.

"We're going to get Blair Witched, I just know it," Buffy grumbled. The air was gradually getting cooler as the day wore on toward twilight. Both girls knew what could happen if they were stuck out in the middle of the woods, no food, no water, and no shelter.

"Maybe we should start looking for some place to hole up for the night," Willow suggested. "It's getting dark."

"Start looking for some place to die, you mean," Buffy's temper flared. "There's no way we can find someplace where we won't be tracked by Oz, either in or out of the Umbra."

"Well, do you have a better suggestion?" Willow snapped. "Because if you do Miss-Know-It- All-Slayer, I'd like to hear it."

Any tart rejoinder Buffy would have made at that moment was interrupted by a blood-curdling howl. Both girls looked at each other, knowing exactly what that howl meant.

"Run," Buffy urged, grabbing Willow's hand and leading her deeper into the forest.

The door to the Dream of Gaia magick shop chimed, and Nichole looked up to see Chris enter, black trenchcoat flapping around his legs. "Got cold out there all of a sudden," he mumbled, closing the door behind him.

Nichole nodded. "Ever since yesterday." She was sitting behind the counter, looking dully at a quartz crystal she held in her palm, idly turning it over.

"You hear anything?" Chris leaned against the counter, picking up the crystal to look at it.

Nichole shook her head. "Nothing. I can't get a spirit to track them, they're all too afraid."

"I'm sure they'll be ok, Nikki," Chris said, using a nickname he had for her from long ago. "Those two are very resourceful, they can take care of themselves--"

"They're young girls, Chris. Most other Garou are given years of training before their Rite of Passage."

"They're strong girls, Nikki. Willow's been dealing with vampires and such since she was fifteen. And Buffy, she's the Slayer." Chris held her hand, clasping it tightly in both of his.

Nichole chuckled softly, looking down at their hands. "What, you believe they can do it, now?" she asked, her eyes looking up to search his. Needing the closeness, the reassurance.

"I do."

Willow ran until she was sure her heart was going to burst, the mad howls of the Spirals pursuing them every step of the way. She was certain that they would have been caught by now, but it appeared that the Spirals enjoyed the chase, and the fear.

" stop," Willow panted, her legs slowing down seemingly of their own accord.

"No, Will, you've got to keep moving." Buffy pulled on her, but she was just as exhausted as the redhead.

"Buffy." Willow stopped, nearly collapsing in the process. She swallowed, and her throat felt raw and dry. Buffy skidded to a stop and turned, also exhausted and out of breath. "Buffy," Willow continued, "I want you to know that I love you." She reached out with a trembling hand, and briefly caressed Buffy's cheek. Turning away, Willow shifted into Crinos form, waiting for the Spirals to arrive.

Buffy looked at her lover, her reddish fur illuminated by the cold moonlight. A serenity had fallen over Willow's fierce features, and Buffy couldn't help but think that at that moment she was nobility itself. And the Slayer was damned if she'd let her love face death alone.

She slowly removed her backpack and tossed it aside, only retaining the slim silver blade that Giles had given her. She swung it once, experimentally, adjusting to its weight in her hand. Satisfied, she lowered the blade, and slipped her free hand into Willow's.

Both girls watched the treeline, hearing the howls of the approaching Spirals.

Oz smelled her now; they were close, very close. The Alpha had been holding the pack back from attacking, milking the fear of their prey for all it was worth. Oz growled with impatience; he needed this chase to be over, needed to be back with his Willow once more. He let loose a howl of desire, of longing, only to have it answered with a howl of challenge.

He and the pack burst forth into the clearing.

The howls woke him from a deep slumber, old instincts fighting to the surface. How long did I sleep this time? he wondered, looking about. His hidden cabin was still in the same shape in which he left it, so he assumed he wasn't asleep that long.

A second howl broke him from his reverie. Warm brown eyes narrowed in suspicion and he rose, cold joints creaking in protest.

Willow watched as the Spirals burst from the treeline into the clearing. There were clearly four of them, just as she had seen in the Umbra. The hackles on the back of her neck rose at the sight of the Wyrm-Garou. She growled, watching their Alpha step forward, manic grin plastered on his short-muzzled face.

She watched him as he moved, remembering the lessons that Buffy taught her about how to size up an opponent, judge their strengths and weaknesses. Her heart sank as she realized that he didn't seem to have any.

He charged her then, the rest of the pack howling out their support. He was fast, but she was just a little bit faster, dodging out of the way of his tackle, and raking her claws across his face, unfortunately missing his eyes. Blood welled from the deep cuts as he stopped and pivoted to face her, still grinning.

Buffy backed up from the fight, keeping a close eye on the other three Spirals. They seemed to be engrossed in their leader's fight with Willow, which was all to the good as far as Buffy was concerned. As long as we can face them one-on-one, Buffy thought, we might stand a chance. She kept her blade up, waiting for anyone to make the first move.

Oz watched as the Alpha charged Willow again. He knew that if the Alpha could take her down, she would be theirs; they could kill Buffy at their leisure, and take Willow by force to break her, make her serve the Wyrm. And then she would be his.

Willow stumbled and dropped under the Alpha's attack, and Oz only realized at the last second that it was a feint. The Alpha jumped on her, lips pulled back in anticipation of a throating. Willow brought her back legs up and caught him, managing one good rake with her claws across his chest before she kicked him off, sending him sprawling across the clearing.

The Alpha stood, his eyes blazing with fury. His grin was gone now, and he howled in rage. He pointed at Willow, his hand starting to glow with that same sickly green fire that was reflected in his eyes.

Buffy didn't know what the green stuff was, nor did she want Willow to be on the receiving end. The Slayer leapt forward, her silver blade cutting neatly through fur, muscle, bone. The Alpha's arm hit the ground, green fire snuffed out in an instant.

Time slowed. The Alpha stood there, jaw agape at his arm which now ended abruptly right below the elbow. Black blood poured from the wound, and the enraged Spiral aimed a killing blow for Buffy's head which the Slayer was just barely able to dodge. Buffy ducked under the blow, feeling her hair whipped by the force of its passing. She thrusted up with her blade, the foot and a half of cold silver sliding into the Alpha's chest like it was soft clay. In less than a second she whipped the blade out, blood spraying as she did so, and jumped back to avoid counterattack. The Spiral roared in pain, reaching out for the Slayer with his one remaining hand -- and dropped to the ground, dead.

The other three spirals let loose with howls of outrage, and came after the two girls. So much for reprieve, Buffy thought.

Willow met the first attacker, a small, jackal-headed Spiral, with a bone-crunching fist right to the muzzle which snapped his head back. Suddenly, she felt an iron grip grab her arm, and she turned to see a Spiral who had attacked her from the side. He grabbed her right arm, and Jackal leapt forward to grab her left, bearing her down to the ground.

Oz, upon seeing the Alpha fall, immediately went after Buffy, blind-siding her with a tackle. She quickly discovered that having five hundred pounds of snarling werewolf ram straight into you was not a terribly nice feeling. She elbowed Oz in the face, trying to make enough room to bring her blade up and into play.

Willow, unable to break the hold that the two Spirals had on her arms, immediately shifted into wolf form, her smaller lupine shape easily sliding out of the startled Spirals' grips. She darted around one Spiral, feeling his claws rake her side as he tried to make a grab for her. Noticing Buffy's struggle, she ran straight for Oz, only shifting into Crinos at the last minute to slam into him, carrying him off of the trapped Slayer.

Buffy jumped to her feet just in time to meet the attack of the third Spiral. She tried to dodge the blow, but not quite fast enough; his clawed hands ripped into her side, knocking her away like she was a rag doll. The Slayer could only watch as the third Spiral walked over to where Willow and Oz fought, grabbing the Glass Walker by the arms and pinning them behind her back as Oz tore at her stomach and chest with his claws.

Buffy tried to rise and felt the searing heat of bile in her throat. She was getting cold, and she noticed with some detachment that her entire side was covered in blood. Her blood. Her vision swam, and she blinked several times to try to clear it, all the while crawling, sword clutched in one blood-covered fist, to try to save Willow.

Suddenly, an ear-splitting roar erupted in the clearing; Buffy looked up, her eyes unable to focus. A huge shadow, one which dwarfed the smaller Garou, rose up behind the Spiral that was holding Willow. There was a sickening tearing sound, and the head of the Spiral flew across the clearing. The body dropped instantly, bearing Willow down with it.

The two remaining Spirals, Oz and Jackal, disappeared, and Buffy's last sight was of the huge shadow bending down to engulf her lover. Then, darkness.

Willow opened her eyes, the dim firelight illuminating what appeared to be a roughly made log cabin. A large, burly man bent over the fire, stirring what looked like a soup kettle; he was softly humming to himself.

The redhead could feel Buffy laying next to her, still in deep slumber. She snored softly in a way that she always did when her Slayer senses allowed her to fall into her deepest sleep. Willow always found it insufferably cute.

The man turned, and saw Willow watching him. He smiled, a smile which was nearly hidden by his full, salt-and-pepper beard. The man stepped forward, laying a warm, dry hand on her forehead. "Rest now, young Garou," he told her, his rumbling voice drawing her into sleep. "You are safe here."

Forward to chapter 16