Just as she did every morning at eight o'clock, Irene Lucas unlocked the door to her small shop and stepped back to her counter, picking up the new shipment of tea and setting it down on a smaller table to unpack it more easily. She sometimes cursed her mother’s taller height. After inheriting the shop as it was, she eventually realized all the shelves, tables, and counter-tops were meant for someone nearly six feet tall. Irene, while blessed with her very tall father’s dark skin and lean build, was barely five-foot-three. She was fairly sure this was because of her mother’s side of the family - Greek and nearly all five foot flat. Her mother was an outlier and should never have been counted.
The bell jingled as the front door opened and closed. She didn’t look up immediately, using a letter opener to peel open the tape on the box carefully so she didn’t puncture the packaging inside. “Good morning! You’re early today, aren’t you?” she said, a warm smile in her voice. She knew her regulars and recognizing his car sitting in the lot made it a lot easier to be ready for his needs.
“I ran out of my favorite tea. Starting to think the kids are drinking it while I’m at work,” the man laughed, stepping past her to one of the many shelves crammed full of tiny drawers. The woman finished opening the box and turned to watch him. He was a clerk down at the little town hall, kind with a warm smile on his face every day.
“Marcus, please, you know I have bags set up for you in advance now.” Irene let out a little laugh of her own as she moved behind her shop counter, bending down to rummage in the many bins under it. “Here we are, six ounces should do, yes?” She packed up the small tin in a paper bag, taking the twenty he slid across the counter and ringing him out. “Here’s your change, and,” she tucked a small charm bracelet into the paper bag, handing the parcel to him with a smile, “that’s for your wife’s birthday tomorrow.”
His eyes widened. “Oh, not again. How do you always remember before I do?”
“It’s my business to know everyone in our tiny slice of heaven.” Irene just chuckled and shooed him toward the door. “Get to work before you’re late, silly man.” She watched him through the glass door as he got in his car and drove away before turning back to her wares. Her deft fingers easily sorted the different boxes of tea, setting them in order of the shelving they were going to before taking the larger box out the back door of her shop to the recycling bins.
By noon, everything was put away and tidied up, the dusting was done and Irene was standing behind the counter, twiddling her thumbs and trying not to stare at the clock over the door. Of course, she had her regular customers; but it was a Tuesday – she didn’t see much business on Tuesdays, had noticed it was enough of an issue that she had debated seriously about she even should stay open on Tuesdays anymore. At least close during the morning, she reasoned as she moved over to the small netbook to ready the next day’s orders. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept in. Even on the days her shop stayed closed, she was up before the sun. She paused her typing, sighing through her nose when she realized she hadn’t taken a vacation in recent memory, either, as her eyes glanced at the calendar for her order delivery. Maybe I’ll take Mom up on that offer after all, she thought, a hand rubbing the back of her neck as she leaned against the counter once she’d clicked to complete the order. She could watch the shop for a month or two while I take a break.
She closed her eyes with the barest of yawns, jaw tensing up as she resisted the ache in her muscles to just let the full yawn stretch her face. "Ah, why not? I deserve the rest." She locked the front door and switched the sign to closed, setting the little clock hands to two. After a moment of thought, she changed it to three. An extra hour wouldn't hurt on a lazy, warm spring day like this.
The young woman had just settled down at her desk in her office when the first howl broke the silence. She frowned, glancing out the cracked window. Wolves aren't native, are they? she thought, leaning back anyway and pulling her light jacket over herself a little tighter.
An hour later, the second howl startled her from her nap - much louder, this howl, almost angrier even. Her eyes stared out the window, searching through the trees desperately for anything that might just be a prank. Sometimes the others played pranks on each other, accidentally dragging unwilling parties into the mix. Witches were a little careless here, the covens having relaxed the rules more and more over the centuries with the town becoming more and more acclimated to their magic. But more worrying yet had been a rumor, a persisting whisper she heard from her regulars as they sat with their tea at their small tables.
Wolf attacks. Slaughters. Feral packs.
Even if the covens had struck a pact with a number of vampire clans in the neighboring regions, some of those ferals had slipped right in and caused mass hysteria. Mundanes could handle magic - just clever tricks, fancy ingredients in the tea, easy to explain. Giant, foaming-mouthed beasts towering over the average man? Even bears couldn't pass as an excuse for this.
Irene, for all her talent with magic, had never been a fighter. The very idea frightened her and froze her to her core. The woman grabbed her ruby-studded wand from under her desk, pushing her chair back and standing. As she wrapped her fingers around the doorknob, however, a third howl cracked her nerves further and she stared at the wooden door.
It was outside.
It was outside her own shop.
Irene gulped, trembling from head to toe as she let go of the knob. She could defend herself - all witches and other practitioners could. She just... preferred not to. She felt the rough-hewn rubies digging into her palm, scratching and scraping, and shivered at the notion of what she might have to do to protect what was hers.
All common sense died with the deafening sound of glass shattering as wood splintered, a heavy body crashing against the wood floor on the other side. God, the bastard had to weigh at least three hundred pounds at least to shatter that door, she'd reinforced it! Gritting her teeth, she shoved the door open and pointed her wand at the beast before her, the black stone extending so it was less a wand and more a staff. Rubies cracked and grew along it, the noise catching the werewolf's attention. Their ears perked as they lifted their head, staring at her with eyes not quite seeing. Lips peeled back from sharp canine teeth, spit dripping from their muzzle as they rose on all fours. Brilliant white-blond fur was stained with fresh and dry blood... theirs and otherwise.
Irene stared back, not backing down and not breaking the eye contact as she and the beast slowly circled each other. Glass crunched underfoot, the were leaving bloody tracks as the shards cut their paws. That's going to be a pain to clean up, Irene thought idly as she glanced down.
As her eyes came back up, the werewolf lunged at her with a roaring growl, and the witch cried out in fright and slammed the end of the staff up against their throat. The growl was cut off by a choked gasp for breath but the werewolf kept coming, pinning the witch to the ground just with body weight alone. "Shit-!" The witch grabbed a handful of fur with a hand now freely bleeding from cuts from the stones, pulling hard and tugging a yelp out of the werewolf over her in the process. "Get off of me!" Claws scratched down her arm, tearing her sleeves and leaving angry red marks in her flesh as she cried out in pain. "I said-" Blinding red light flashed in her palm, startling the werewolf as a jolt of energy pulsed into their body. "Get off of me!!!" Her voice vibrated with dark power, her eyes flashing the same red before the were began backing off. Irene scrambled back, staff in hand with a fistful of fur, as she got to her feet, panting hard. "Stay back!" The beast snarled at her but couldn't disobey her, not with the magic she held in her palm.
Irene took the moment of reprieve to examine the were from this distance. Nearly seven feet tall, white fur, eyes irrelevant - ferals never had consistent eye coloration. But the tinge of this one's eyes, she realized, was a familiar bright red... and it wasn't her magic at play there. "You will obey me.” The werewolf snarled, trying to reach forward and shrieking in actual pain as the act of defiance was met with agony. “By the power of my blood, the energy of my spirit, you are mine to command and so you shall remain!” She tossed the fur in her hand up, a spark of fire shooting from her staff and incinerating the hairs. With her own will enforcing the binding and fighting against a connection that felt stretched far too thin, she felt a tangible twang like a guitar string snapping as the connection between this sad beast and their master shattered.
The werewolf fell silent and surprisingly lax against the floor where they had been crouched, visibly shivering as they blinked. Their eyes came into focus on the witch, red-rimmed eyes clearing and becoming a distinct dark brown. Irene didn’t approach, keeping her distance as she glanced around the shop. In the short few moments after the werewolf had broken her door down, they had toppled over six shelves and completely destroyed one of her spinning racks. What was the point? she wondered, eyes falling across the werewolf again.
The beast had inched forward, moving up onto their hind legs to stand over her. She pushed the tip of her staff against their chest, a warning against further movement. But this admonishment fell on deaf ears, as the werewolf quite literally collapsed from exhaustion... right into her counter, which splintered under the creature’s weight.
Irene stared at this mess, at the destruction of her peaceful cafe... and groaned. “How am I supposed to explain this to the insurance reps?”
“Could have been worse.” The vampire, one Elias Brooks, slammed the dumpster shut, turning to look at Irene as she dragged a wrapped bundle of broken wood out of her store. “You could be dead.” He grinned toothily at her, fangs glinting in the soft moonlight. It wasn’t a full moon yet - hell, had barely hit the new moon, a thin clip of white still hovering in the sky. Her scratches would heal, and she would be fine.
“I could be dead. Yes.” The witch stared at him sourly after dropping the bundle. “I expect full recompense for your employees’ failure to contain this mess. I don’t care what you say about how I ruined your attempt at tracking their master, you shirked your duties.”
The bloodsucker sighed. “Whatever, Irene. You’re their master now. We’ve got other wolves to tinker with in the meantime.”
“This stops now. You will turn any captured weres over to the Covens, effective tomorrow.” Irene turned away from Elias to step back inside. He grabbed her arm, squeezing painfully.
“Just because your mother is a Magistrate doesn’t mean you can boss us around, little witch. Remember that.” He let go of her and shoved her lightly, walking back to the dumpster and lighting a match to burn the contents. She watched him with a grimace on her face: All of the Brooks vampires were like this. Violent, nasty, masterminds with a grudge - she knew it would do no good to piss one off. But she also knew that playing nice wouldn’t give her any favors, either.
She shut the door behind her as she assessed the damage done to her property. Some other witches had come to quickly repair the glass and door, replacing it seamlessly. Her stock, however, would take days to replenish. Misery flooded her as she sat down in one of the chairs, staring at the mess as she rested her chin in her hands. Oh, blast these vampires, and blast this damn werewolf! As of now, they were curled up in a warded corner of her office to keep the nosy bloodsuckers out. They were her responsibility now, whether she liked it or not.
After about half an hour of pitiable staring at her destroyed dream, she got to her feet and stepped into her office... and stared in surprise. It came as no actual surprise that the werewolf before her hadn’t been meant to be in full were state - it wasn’t full moon, after all. No, her surprise was that the werewolf before her was sitting up, naked, with a farmer’s tan and pale hair nearly the color of the moon... and the werewolf was also a woman with a devious but friendly grin as she tilted her head.
“Sorry I came after you. I smelled...” She searched for the word, scratching the back of her head. Irene felt her cheeks burn when she realized that the woman was incredibly muscular, even for someone who spent a week every month howling at the moon. “...I smelled chamomile and I just really, really wanted some and then I lost control again. I’ve been like that for almost two years now,” she said apologetically, though the smile never left her face.
“It- It’s fine,” Irene said quickly, “The vampires are going to pay me for the damages that are their fault. Do you need a coat?”
“Huh? No, I’m quite comfortable.” The woman paused. “Oh. Oh. You’re not though, oh. I’ll take one.” She grinned nervously. “Sorry, miss..?”
“Lucas, Irene Lucas.” She handed the woman the biggest coat she had, which wasn’t very big, but the woman used it like a blanket to cover her front at least.
“I wish I could remember my name! This doesn’t feel very fair to you. I know your name, I haven’t got one now.” The woman mulled over a thought briefly, eyes narrowing, before she perked up. “You could help me find one? I mean, if that’s fine.”
Irene nodded, blinking. “Of course. Until we crack the mystery of who did that to you, you’re sort of my responsibility.”
“I’ve been a were for sixteen years, miss. It isn’t anything new to me. The memory loss is.” The woman stood up, holding the coat over herself and leaning against the wall. She was easily six feet tall. Very tall. Too tall.
... tall enough to help her around the shop!