Updated: Jun 28
Ron's hunch was apparently correct, as the way to the meeting chamber was much faster and easier than he remembered. The hallway even seemed to slope slightly downward. In no time, he found himself at the enormous oak tree-shaped door, its branches ending in carvings of the thirteen clan insignias.
The events of the last two days replayed in Ron's mind. Meeting the sisters, his fight in the park, running from that hooded woman. It almost seemed like it happened to someone else. Before this trip, the most magical thing that had happened to him was finding a double yoke while making scrambled eggs. Now, the world was filled with banshees, vampires, magical chalices, and B&B’s with jealous streaks. And though he knew he would be in big trouble for disappearing during such a critical time, it would be a relief to tell someone what had happened.
Ron took a deep breath and reached for the handle, but before turning it, the door suddenly opened, the speed betraying the opener's strength. Four men, each more than a head taller than Ron, with long braided beards and broad shoulders covered in ceremonial bearskins, stormed out and down the hallway. Ron barely avoided being trampled. One of the men scratched the wall as he walked, his nails extending into two-inch claws with a sickening pop.
Not a good idea, thought Ron. And, as if on cue, the man tripped and fell flat on his face, hard. Ron figured they'd probably chalk it up to the man's clumsiness or perhaps an unseen fold in the carpet. But he knew better.
The cavernous room looked and felt just as Ron remembered it, wrong. Once again, he knew he was inside the Scratch & Sniff Inn, but the thick grass beneath his feet, the sound of birds overhead and the thick swirling mist where walls should be were unsettling. Half his senses were lying to him; he just didn't know which half.
The scene before him was chaos. The room was filled with clan members from around the world. Ron had never seen so many werewolves in one place, except maybe at his own family bbq. But uncle Neil and his Hawaiian shirt or aunt Sally and her endless stories about ways to cook venison were nowhere in sight. Instead, Ron was surrounded by the strongest and most cunning members of the thirteen clans.
And they weren't happy.
Of course, Ron had heard the phrase "tension so thick you could cut it with a knife," but he never understood it until now. Everyone was on their feet; the Treeble had retracted its branches and absorbed them into its trunk. The floor was littered with thick glass beer steins which had failed to shatter on the thick, mossy grass. Fists were clenched, teeth were barred, muscled clenched, and Ron could see veins popping on more than a few necks.
Ron was about to turn and leave when his brother Gary suddenly appeared from a large group of Alphas that had been loudly arguing. Ron could now see there had been a fight. His uncle Brian struggled to hold back his cousin Kira, who, though tiny compared to those around her, looked like she would gladly take on everyone in the room at once.
Gary stood up on the trunk of the Treeble and addressed the room. His nose was broken, blood smearing his left cheek and staining his beard.
His brother seemed different somehow, Ron noticed. Stronger, his voice more commanding. Ron couldn't take his eyes off him, nor did he want to. This was the power of the Alpha, he realized. To command his pack's total respect and obedience with merely a glance. It was also something his brother didn't waste on game night and family barbecues.
"My family." He began, to the scoffs of many in attendance. "Yes, you are all my family. And we have many names. "My el lobizon brothers from Brazil, the mighty Volsunga of Norway, the proud Wendigo."
Gary leapt gracefully to the floor and walked around the room, clasping the shoulders of strangers who were ready to tear each other's throats out mere moments ago. He named each of them, by name and clan, in their own language without a hint of an accent. Ron could see it impressed many, who began uncrossing their arms and listening to what his brother had to say.
"The Conclave has kept us safe from mankind for centuries. But it has also divided us to the point where we don't even recognize ourselves as brothers.
Ron saw some heads nodding but just as many shaking. The room was still deeply divided.
"But we ARE brothers AND sisters," Gary continued, glancing at Kira, who solemnly placed her fist to her chest and bowed her head.
"We can only survive if we work together. There can be no more mistrust, no more rivalry, no more secrets!"
At that last word, Ron could see tensions rise again, and several hushed conversations broke out between clans. A man from the group Gary had just come from stepped forward. He was older, his hair having migrated to his chin years ago, but it seemed his body hadn't gotten the memo as muscles pressed against clothes. His right hand was stained with blood. Eyes like daggers, he slowly sucked the blood from his knuckles while staring directly at Gary. His voice was deep and scared when he spoke, with the strain of a hundred battle cries.
"Flagitium hominis. How dare you speak of secrets? It was your father and his secrets that caused all this!"
Ron was speechless, not just for the words spoken but for the man who spoke them. Standing there, not ten feet from him, was a living legend, Lycanon - the direct descendant of King Lycanon, the tyrant king of Acadia over two thousand years ago. Ron knew the myth well. The Greek god Zeus visited Lycanon's palace disguised as a mortal man. To test whether he was a man or an all-knowing god, the King tried to serve Zeus a meal of human flesh. Enraged by the King's treachery, Zeus turned the King and all his sons into werewolves.
Lycanon continued, "The Conclave agreed to let you lead this mission because you had knowledge they didn't. Knowledge you wouldn't fully reveal until after we were all here. Now we learn your father, the traitor, visited the sacred Source nearly twenty years ago and that his blasphemy has doomed us all!"
Gary stared calmly back at Lycanon and said nothing. This seems to enrage the living legend even more. Eyes bulging, he violently pushed through the crowd of shapeshifters to stand face-to-face with Gary. His teeth were bared, and spittle showered those closest to him as he spoke.
"The Veil is a sacred place. The Source is a holy vessel. To defile it is to seek the wrath of the Gods. We must make a pilgrimage, beg forgiveness, offer gifts and perform the ancient sacrifices. Not sneak in like rats."
Lycanon turned to the crowd, which now hung on his every word.
"Many of you know I lost my own beloved this winter. She was a powerful Shaman, but to me, she was simply Hedistē, my most delightful. She also studied this Dead Wolf Prophesy, and do you know what she discovered? That dead doesn't mean physical death; it means the death of the soul. It is the wolf whose spirit has been corrupted by the ideas of men that will bring about our doom."
"That's a lie!" Shouted someone Ron couldn't see. It sounded like uncle Brian.
Lycanon ignored the interruption and pointed at Gary, his finger rock-steady despite his agitated state. "Look human, act human." Those are the words this man, yes man, has lived by. The words of his blasphemous father. They are not the words of Lupinotuum. They are not our words. He has lived as a human so long he has forgotten how the grass feels beneath our paws, how a fresh kill tastes between our jaws. And how to live and die by werewolf laws."
Ron felt increasingly uncomfortable. He could feel support for his brother slipping away with each new attack from Lycanon. Any more of this, and he and his cousins would be lucky to leave the Inn alive.
Lycanon pointed to Ron's cousin Kira. "Do you want to follow a man who would bring a female on such a sacred mission?"
"NO!" Shouted many in the crowd.
Lycanon's finger scanned the crowd, which parted like the Red Sea before Ron.
"Do you want to follow a man who would trust a whimpering, cowardly, Shiftless loser with the fate of your families?
"YES?" Shouted Ron, though his words were drowned out by a chorus of "no's" around him.
Lycanon raised his arms, quieting the crowd for what was most likely the climax of a well-prepared speech, but his words were cut short by a slap to the face by Gary.
The slap wasn't particularly hard, but that made it even worse. It was a slap powered not by by anger, hatred or even fear but by contempt and pity.
"You are the coward Lycanon," Gary said. His voice was quiet, his words simple, yet somehow they conveyed even more authority than Lycanon's bombast.
"You're afraid of change. You and all the leaders of the Conclave. You're afraid of losing your grip on power, so you hide behind words like tradition, ceremony, custom, and ritual. Those words should be the spices that enrich our lives, not the nails that blind us to the inequities and injustices of the past."
Gary reached out and grabbed Kira's shoulder, who had moved between him and Lycanon. "Yes, this warrior is indeed female, but it's not for me to tell you she is worthy of your respect. Kira doesn't need my approval or yours. She proves it to herself every day with her actions. She's twice the Faoladh you'll ever be.
Lycanon spit on the ground at that. Ron could see he could barely contain himself as he spoke. "If it wasn't for the covenant we made with these sacred meeting grounds, I would kill you where you stand."
Gary laughed. "There he goes again. The coward. Hiding behind words. If you think you can kill me, coward, then kill me. Otherwise, your idle threats cut as deep as a cub's teeth on his mother's breast."
The world seemed to slow as Lycanon shifted in an explosion of white fur, bone and muscle. He was even bigger than Carl, which Ron didn't think possible. His jaw dislocated as four-inch fangs erupted from his mouth. His clothes were torn away, revealing runes and letters of the Greek alphabet tattooed across his chest.
Carl stepped in front of Gary, who still stood calmly, making no move to shift. "Don't dirty your hands with usurper brother. I'll kill him for you."
"No. I'll do it, "said Brian, moving in front of Carl."
"It would be my honour if you chose me." Countered Kira, stepping in front of Brian. "I'll make him eat his tongue for the foul words they spread."
Ron considered stepping in front of Kira, but she was all the way on the other side of the room.
Gary shook his head. "No, my friends. This is a battle I must fight. It is the Faoladh way. Words alone won't convince our brothers to follow me. They need to be written in the blood of victory."
He turned to Lycanon. "Kill me. If you can."