Most healthy, young, able-bodied 19 year old women would be out at parties and gallivanting in sweet blissful ignorance of the future during a Friday evening. For Kate, however, this was a different story. From the beginning, she was never what one would call a 'normal' girl. Being a werewolf, a legendary and monstrous creature from the darkest of tales, certainly pushed her out of the norm even when people didn't know about her hunger and blood filled full moon nights. However, this did not mean Kathrine was too bored at home during the weekend.
Deer Ridge was a quaint little suburban town nestled in the forests and mountains of Northeastern Washington State. It was full of small family owned shops, friendly people, and warm swirls of fresh cinnamon during the late hours of the day. A comfortable and quiet place that not many knew about, almost the local's secret. Kate would often spend her Friday evenings in the local diner, Silver Dollar's. She would sometimes have a quick solitary dinner there, or decide to test her strength as well as the locals'.
Lycanthropy gifted her with pretty adequate prowess that she regularly savored, and tonight, Silver Dollar's was where she sat. A young, burly human of about 20 years stepped up to the girl in the booth, eyeing the money in her hand across the table.
And so a young greenhorn steps up to test the Beast of Deer Ridge, Kate smirked, proud of her self-proclaimed title. "Are you going to keep eyeing my greens," she glanced up at the man, "or are you going to earn them from me?"
"Earn them from you? How?" he grinned, sitting opposite of her in the both to go along with her little game.
"Well you seem like a strong, muscular young man," Kate observed. "Why don't we see how strong you are?" She extended her elbow. "20 bucks to whoever wins." The man laughed, amused, and regarded the young woman coolly.
"I don't like to take money away from little girls," he smiled, though it was a statement of humor and not true verbal attack. Most people in Deer Ridge were friendly, but Kate still took the human's words as a challenge and not a friendly jest.
"You're on," she declared in a toothy scowl. Her opponent took out 20 dollars from his pocket and slammed it down on the table, as did she. In a single muscle-clenching moment, their fists locked and the struggle began. For a few moments both of their arms did not move, until the man's arm began to gradually descend. Veins in his neck and arms bulged with the exertion. Finally, with a loud thump, his arm fell under the girl's. He was surprised; the shock on his face was evident and so satisfying to Kate.
"I win," she laughed, gathering up his money. "That was fun. I've had better, though. The name's Kate, by the way. Kate Icefurie." She extended her hand, this time in a polite greeting, and her opponent took it grudgingly.
"Derek Marshall," he answered shortly. "I want a rematch."
"A rematch?" the young werewolf tilted her head, slowly running her fingers through the crisp greens in her fingers. "I'm not sure, Mr. Marshall. Perhaps some other time." The young man huffed and stood, turning away from her and out of the diner. As the victor once more counted her money, another ring from the door caught her attention. Kate expected Derek to come through once more to challenge her, but was surprised to find it wasn't him.
Deer Ridge was, depending on how one sees it, a small town. A town not small enough where everyone knew each other, but it became close to that. This strange woman that sauntered in, deep-set emerald eyes surveying the environment like an eagle above the grass lands was a woman Kate had never seen before. Even the man she arm wrestled, she saw before, but she did not know his name. Gradually she noticed the new female's gaze fall upon her.
From across the diner, Kate spoke, "hello there. You're not from around here, are you?" She wondered why, of all people witting within this building, she would be seen first. It was a rare instance, as the young werewolf would prefer to merely fade in the background. But something about this stranger intrigued her, and the stranger seemed to think the same thing. The green-eyed brunette walked over to the other girl. She shook her head. "Where're you from?" Kate asked slowly, curious about the unique air that wafted around the other.
"Oregon," the other woman said.
"What brings you up here?" Kate asked. She extended your hand, "I'm Kate by the way."
"I'm Versa Novak, nice to meet you Kate," the one named Versa greeted in an almost clichéd politeness but not unkind manner, taking the extended hand. "I'm on my way to Canada and figured I would stop by for rest." She sat opposite to Kate in the booth.
"Well, if you want rest, we have an inn not too far from here. It's owned by the Krinas, a warm little family."
"Thank you," Versa replied, standing. Before she left, Kate noticed the broadness of the woman's arms, the strength of her walk. Curious, the young werewolf piped up, "of course I can show you around the town if you want. I can even welcome you to certain… common hobbies of the citizens of Deer Ridge." The darker brunette turned, questioning.
"Like what? Deer Ridge seems like a nice enough town. Where did you have in mind?"
"Not where," Kate smirked, watching as Versa crossed her arms, "what."
"Okay then, what?"
"I can help you out a little, with some money."
"I hope what's on your mind isn't illegal," Versa raised an eyebrow.
"No no not at all! What, did you think I was going to rob a bank? Nah here, I test people's strength. Just a friendly game, and I get a bit of money out of it," Kate explained quickly.
"Strength?" Curious, Versa eased herself back into the seat.
"Yep," the other grinned, pulling out her money. "Took most of this off a poor greenhorn wanting to beat a little girl in an arm-wrestling match." Versa's reaction understood and smug as she thought the offer over, then her lips pulled back in a toothy grin.
Almost a wolfish grin. Interesting…
"I'll give it a shot," the darker brunette confirmed. She extended her arm and put her elbow on the table with a soft thump. In her other hand, she placed down ten dollars. The confidence that radiated from her being seemed to intoxicate Kathrine as she, too, placed her bet and brandished her war weapon.
"All or nothing," Kate smirked. I may have to go a little easy on this one, though… she is human, after all.
Their fists locked, and the young werewolf was surprised to find that Versa was very, very strong, but also seemed to hold back for some reason. As her opponent's muscles tightened and increased their pressure, so did Kate's. It was a pleasant, if not exciting change to her as they both seemed to get more and more comfortable with letting an ascending current power flow through their competition. But no matter how much strength was put into their arms, their two fists stayed locked in an unbreakable vice. With both of the girl's iron grips, the exertion of their contest barely wavered their arms.
She's stronger than I thought… Kate through in surprise. I've never had to resort to my truth strength. She clenched her jaw for a moment and grunted, "enough." Both of their fingers released, joints cracking loudly. "You're better than I thought. Do you bench press rhinos or something?"
Versa grinned, straightening her fingers and letting her nails rest on the table. "You're not so weak yourself." For the first time Kate noticed the quick flash of the others' canine teeth as she spoke. There was certainly something odd about this Versa, but the question was not quite addressed.
"Well, I think it's time I kept my promise. Come on, I'm showing you around town." Kate stood and held out her hand to the darker brunette, who went up on her feet as well. Unfortunately they did not realize, at first, the height difference.
"What're you staring at me like that for?"
"Um, nothing," Kate cleared her throat. "It's just that I didn't expect you to…um… not be as tall as you are strong." Although the difference was small, 5'10 to 5'8 respectively, it was still surprising.
"I'm not short," Versa protested evenly.
"You're right." A pause. "Maybe you were once taller than me, then got crushed a little a while ago. I guess that explains the muscle." Kate expected to be yelled at or hit from the remark, as unfortunately her comments were often a reflex. Instead, after a few seconds of a face straight and hard as stone, the slightly shorter girl laughed.
"Hah!" Versa barked. "And you were probably stretched. You might've been shorter than me at one point."
"Perhaps." Kate smiled, relieved that her new friend's reaction was not one of displeasure.
"So are you going to give me the grand tour or are we just going to stand here bantering?"
"After you," Kate quickly stepped up to the door and held it open. They curtly nodded to one another and stepped out into the cooling night. "Well, down there is, like I said, the local inn." She pointed down the road. "Then you have all of the shopping centers down Main Street." Kate led the newcomer across a few blocks, pointing out places of interest, all the while keeping conversation with Versa and explaining each destination. Near the end of their trek they both came across a darker part of the city, more sinister compared to the rest of Deer Ridge. One of its alleys led straight out into the forest, like a dark path for monsters.
"What's down here?" Versa asked curiously, craning her neck down the alley. Her eyes glowed faintly in the dark. Beside her, the flashing of blue irises joined the green.
"That's where you never want to be lost in late at night," Kate explained, face twisting into a cold mask. She knew that this was where many supernatural beings made their way into the city, as well as crime. Deer Ridge, at first glance, was a kind and quaint little town. But very few people knew of its dark secrets. Not even most of the locals knew. Although Kate was the self-proclaimed Beast of Deer Ridge, she was also its protector, at least regarding werewolves and such. The city was tucked between hunting grounds of many werebeasts, and rogues loved to come inside the boundaries and prowl around for an easy meal from the citizens. She would only stop petty thievery and the like if no other action was around.
Many of the rogue Weres that stop by are from or heading to areas in Canada, where many of the hunting grounds are much better than in some places of the United States. Suddenly Kate remembered first meeting Versa, asking her why she was here. Her vague answer was not an alert at first, but after feeling her strength and seeing the almost bestial features of her visage and attitude, she couldn't help but think…
No. Versa couldn't be. Even if she were a Were of some sort, a rogue is highly unlikely; she seems calm and rather friendly.
"It doesn't seem too bad," Versa suddenly spoke, startling the werewolf. "Whatever comes through here shouldn't be a problem," she explained with confidence, one curled fist rested in her palm.
"Seeing how strong you are in a petty arm wrestling competition, I don't doubt that. Oh, and before I forget…" Kate reached into her leather jacket pocket and held out money to Versa. "I owe you this."
Versa gently pushed the hand full of cash down. "Nah, keep your money. That was fun, and you don't need to give me anything," she smiled, revealing her pointed teeth.
"Well…suit yourself." A few moments of silence passed, then, "hey Versa? I need to talk to you about something. Something really important," Kate explained, leaning against the empty brick wall.
"What about?" Versa asked, face becoming grave.
"How do I approach this…? Um, well, I've been noticing that you are quite different than most passerby here in Deer Ridge." The shorter brunette stopped, tilting her head to the side.
"In this case, it's much more serious. Look, Versa…" Kate sighed, leaning her head back against the wall. How could she ask without sounding like she was mentally unstable? "You wouldn't take me seriously if I asked you…"
The other girl crossed her broad arms, "try me, Kate. I can believe some freaky shit."
"Do you believe in…monsters?"
"…Monsters? What kind of monsters?" An eyebrow raised.
"Oh for the love of-! Look, are you a werewolf?" Kate cried out in exasperation, not appreciating all of the pauses she took. Hastily, she covered her mouth, afraid that she had offended or just sounded insane. Versa suddenly became very quiet, looking down at the ground as the wind gently stroked her hair.
"Are you?" Versa whispered.
A huge intake of breath meant that an answer was about to come. "Yes," Kate sighed after a few seconds of pondering. "I am."
"Show me," the other commanded, suddenly very defensive.
"Fine." The accused took a few steps back, thick black claws growing where her nails were. With a flash of glowing eyes, Kate looked to and fro, lunging up the wall and scaling the small building with only the brick to aid her. She was shocked at the sudden agreement; perhaps it was instinct? With a grunt, she jumped down back on the pavement in front of Versa gracefully. The other girl was silent, seeming to contemplate what she just saw.
"In that case," Versa said suddenly, "we're more alike than I thought." She cleared her throat, holding out one of her thick muscled hands. Only this time, deadly one inch claws protruded from her nail beds, just like Kate's. Her emerald eyes glowed as bright as the others' sapphire. "Let's introduce ourselves properly; I am Versa Novak, previously the 'world's only werewolf.'"
With a grin of new understanding, Kate clasped hands with her new friend. "And I am Kathrine Ardens," she spoke her birth name with pride, instead of 'Icefurie', "the Beast of Deer Ridge." Suddenly, in surprise, their hands separated as a breathless and excited young woman ran up to them.
"Kate! Oh, Kate! Thank god! I thought I was never going to find you- who's this?" the girl panted, stopping in front of the two werewolves.
"Versa," Kate laughed. "This is my sister, Jess." She turned to her sister, exasperated, "what is it? You're acting like there's a whole army of vampires waiting outside of the city."
"Tomorrow night is the annual Bake Sale," Jess explained, "and they chose me to practically host it! That means with all of the preparations I have to do, I have no time to actually do the baking which I normally do- ugh! Can you two help me, please?"
Versa slowly stepped up to the overexcited girl and mumbled, "okay, okay, calm down. We'll uh… help."
"Yeah," the other werewolf said slowly, rubbing the back of her head. "We'll try, at least."
"Oh good!" Jess squeaked in approval, suddenly unloading recipes, instructions, and other bunches of unrecognizable paper in her sister's arms. "I gotta go back to the pack, guys! Bye! Nice meeting you, Versa!" She sped off again down the street, heading east into the path to the woods.
"…Pack?" Versa tilted her head, ignoring her partner struggling with the papers. "You have a pack? As in, werewolf pack?"
Kate found a comfortable position to hold the papers and nodded. "Yup. Not all werewolves, though… We have a werejaguar, a vampire, and a weregryphon. Yes, weregryphons exist…probably a werelion/werebird mutation of some sort. We're about 10 strong, and I'm the Alphess." Versa was floored.
"Ten?! I had no idea so many werewolves existed in one city alone!" she cried in excitement. "I have to meet your pack."
"Oh I'd be happy to introduce you. We all go to that college over there," Kate gestured above the horizon to a bunch of glowing lights. "Though not too long ago we all built a simple little log cabin in the woods for secrecy reasons and if we couldn't stand to sleep in those horrible dormitory beds." Clearing her throat, she walked ahead with the recipes in her hands. "Well come on! This stuff isn't going to bake itself!"
The wooden door opened with a gentle creak as the two werewolves stepped inside. "Looks like most of them are out hunting, or something," Kate observed, putting down the papers and hanging up her coat. Versa followed, carefully smelling the air for the others. Suddenly young Norah walked up, brown eyes bright and dark hair bouncing.
"Oh hi Kate! I'm glad you're back. Where were you? I hope you weren't gambling again…Gambling is very bad for- hey who is this? Hello!" the cheery teen grinned, waving at the newcomer.
"Norah, this is Versa. She came here from Oregon to rest before she goes up to Canada." Kathrine suddenly cursed herself. I never asked her about her motives! I know she's a werewolf too, now, but still…Oh well, I'll keep an eye on her. Hopefully my horrid cooking skills will make her too sick to snack on the townsfolk.
"Nice to meet you, Norah," Versa shook hands with her.
"This is the weregryphon I told you about," Kate cut in, a little shaky.
"Interesting… I never knew weregryphons existed." Norah smiled, humbled, and walked off to some other part of the cabin.
"Nice to meet you, Versa!" she called as she left.
Kate led the newcomer through the room, gesturing to Kama sitting on the couch and reading a magazine. He glared into the pages. "That's Kama," she introduced, seeing he didn't quite notice them. Another male stood up, flashing a bright smile, sitting beside the one on the couch and asking what he was reading. "And that's Itaete. Ita's the werejaguar, and Kama's a werewolf." Versa nodded, waving to them silently. "Oh, and don't mind the aloofness from some of the pack. A newcomer hasn't been around in a while…"
"Personally I'm just excited there are other werewolves," Versa smiled. "I don't care for formal greetings, anyway."
"Good because, accept for me, this pack is a bunch of assho-" Kate's insult was interrupted by a tall black mass in the doorway to the kitchen, furious scrubbing above her. "Especially this asshole," she groaned, voice muffled. "This is Vane, our Alpha- wait, why are you brushing your teeth in the middle of the house?" Kate stared up at him dubiously, pulling her face free of his chest.
"Hi," he chimed, mouth full of toothpaste and brush. "Who's this?" His tone suddenly became darker, and a slow growl emanated from his throat. "Her scent is unfamiliar."
"Oh relax you big sack of meat. This is my friend, Versa. She's staying for the night before leaving to Canada. She's a werewolf, too," the Alphess addressed the Alpha.
"Nice to meet you, Vane," the newcomer said politely. Vane continued to growl, a bit of minty foam dripping from his teeth. He, comically, resembled a mad dog.
"He's a little territorial," Kate explained sheepishly. "Anyway, can we use the kitchen? Your big butt is blocking it."
"…Jess can't bake for the Bake Sale, right? Yeah yeah I know about that," he sighed. Vane glared down at Versa, brush coiled in his teeth menacingly. "You better not break anything. I'm watching you. If not I won't hesitate to run you out of this forest; are we clear?"
Versa touched index tip to thumb tip to show she understood. "Crystal," the she-wolf grinned, not the least bit intimidated. As the Alpha left, Kate chuckled and stepped into the kitchen.
"Who would take that meathead seriously while brushing his teeth? Idiot," the Alphess rolled her eyes. "anyway, I got the recipes, so let's get this thing going. … You do know how to bake, right?" She looked on worriedly as her partner went down on her hands and knees and rummaged through the cabinet.
"Yeah I know how to bake. Sort of," she grunted, pulling up a bowl.
"Versa come on, be careful with that. Vane said to be careful with his stuff and I don't want you to be left out in the street," Kate pointed out. "Now let's see… four cups of sugar and ¾ cups salt. That's a lot of salt."
"What're we making again?"
"Brownies, I think. Just mix the ingredients together." She walked up to the other she-wolf gathering the ingredients. Drawers were heavily jostled and pulled out as measuring spoons and cups were gathered, other utensils clanging noisily on the floor.
"Sshhh!" Kate hissed, gathering some of the fallen items. The paper that flew in the air, released, was caught by Versa's thick hand and placed beside her on the counter.
"Oh okay… here's the sugar. Now I just gotta pour some in," she murmured, opening the bag of powdery white sugar she found. The gust of sweet grains formed a cloud as the bag was torn, heading straight into Versa's face. "Oh shit! Kate help me clean this-" she coughed, only to have her command interrupted by a heavy sneeze. Unfortunately, the Alphess was still right behind her and bent over the mess of cutlery and bowls. The exertion from the standing werewolf forced her tumbling backward over the other, spilling the bag of sugar onto the floor in a torrent of white.
The girls laid there in a tangled heap, struggling to get back up.
"What the hell?! Okay new plan, we're both at opposite sides of the kitchen!" Kate groaned, pushing her way free of the other werewolf and grabbing what was left of the sugar.
"Why should you come up with the plan? You're the one up my ass making me fall over!" Versa protested, rubbing the powder off her jeans.
"Because I'm Alphess and you do what I say!"
"I'm not a part of your pack. You have no control over me," Versa huffed and crossed her broad arms.
"Okay fine. What's your plan?" Kate rolled her eyes.
"We both go on two opposite sides of the kitchen."
The Alphess blinked a few times, stared at her, then palm met forehead. "EXCELLENT plan, Versa. I never would have thought of that!"
"Guess I'm just a genius," the other smirked. She turned and suddenly the back of her head was met with a handful of sugar. "Gah! The crap was that for?" Versa angrily whirled around.
Kate looked around, eyes shifting. "Huh? Oh yeah I don't know…someone's throwing stuff." She turned to the bowl of ingredients and mixed some of the sugar in. Versa snarled and, thankfully, was now in the side of the kitchen with the refrigerator. She opened it and went through it, pulling out a smooth white egg.
"Hey Kate! Look!" she called. When the other turned, her face was the new destination of egg yolk. "Now the egg's on YOUR face!" Versa laughed at her own joke.
The Alphess growled, "okay. That does it." She grabbed the bowl full of sugar and flour, tossing it like a frisbee to Versa. "Catch!"
In a single, fluid motion, Versa side stepped the approaching disc of metal and grabbed it, only to have all of the ingredients spilled on the floor. Keeping the momentum, she continued to turn with the bowl and threw it back at Kate in a similar fashion.
Kate had only a few seconds to react as she ducked, wincing when the metal bowl crushed itself against the wall behind her.
"Check and Mate," Versa grinned with confidence. The Alphess growled and looked over, pulling a long loaf of French bread from its container right beside her.
"En garde', bitch."
Versa snarled and pulled a similar loaf from its own container not too far from the fridge. She held it up, as if it were a sword. Kate lifted her bread in a similar motion, and the struggle began. The Alphess first lunged, swinging her weapon down in a large arc. Versa stepped back, blocking the movement swiftly, stepping with much force on her opponent's shoe.
"Ow! That was my toe!" Kate snarled. "You're gonna pay for that!" She quickly brought her bread to the side, smacking Versa in the temple with it, who rolled to the side after the blow and leaped up on the counter. Pots, pans, food items, and miscellaneous objects all crashed to the floor in a mess. She stood up to her full height, arms outstretched and waving her weapon of risen grain and yeast menacingly.
"Come at me, bro!" the rogue werewolfess taunted.
The Alphess werewolf roared and leaped up onto the counter, slashing and swiping along with Versa as they both maneuvered around on the counter, occasionally grabbing whatever bit of food or metal they found and throwing it at the other in an attempt to win. Eventually, they were both stopped at the end of the long counter, and Kate was backed up against the wall. Versa grinned, victory making her eyes glow bright. She lifted her thick loaf of bread and brought it down in a similar fashion as her opponent's first strike, eager to end the battle.
Kate saw this coming and leapt up, not with her own weapon, but this time with her mouth. She caught the loaf in her teeth, tearing a thick piece from it and swallowing it down in a few mouthfuls.
"What the?! That's cheating!" Versa protested, staring quizzically at the stump of a 'sword' she now possessed.
"Nope. I won that fair and square," Kate smiled, pointing her loaf victoriously at her opponent. "I win." The rogue werewolfess growled and grabbed the others' edible sword and arm, raising Kate above her head in a fierce battlecry.
"Woah! Wait Versa, this isn't-GRAH!"
With a loud, clattering thump and echoing crashes, the Alphess's body hit the floor. She laid there, dazed, as Versa's smile grew ever wider. "Now I win."
"Oww…" Kate muffled voice came from within the depths of a metal pot over her head. "What?" Versa leaped down and, taking a spoon from the ground, banged it against the imprisoning metal. The resounding echo inside made Kate roar in agony.
"Hah! Okay, alright, that's enough." Versa laughed loudly and pulled the pot off over Kate's head with a loud pop.
"Oh I mean just the end of the banging. After all, we still need to get baking!"
"But how are we going to bake with EVERYTHING ON THE FLOOR?!" Kate cried. She saw Versa's wicked fanged grin and gulped. "Don't answer that…" The rogue werewolf shrugged and took what was left of her edible sword and held it up.
"I don't have to." With a grunt, the bread was shoved into the Alphess's mouth.
"The hell is going on in here?!" Fiona walked in, screaming at the top of her lungs. "Sounds like a hurricane when off….in….here…? Holy shit." She surveyed the chaos of the kitchen and noticed a newcomer trying to stuff their Alphess into the oven with little luck. Versa quickly turned and saw the short girl in the doorway.
"Oh hi!" Versa greeted.
"…Guys! Come quick!" Fiona screamed behind her. Some of the others rushed in, a few Versa recognized from before when Kate introduced everyone. Suddenly, Vane burst through the crowd, seeing the state of his kitchen.
"M-m-my…kitchen!" he wailed, going down on his hands and knees. "M-m-m…" Vane's eyes rolled back in his head and he fell back with a loud thump, completely unconscious. Norah instantly bent down at his side and tried to rouse him. Kate fell out of the oven when Versa stopped pushing her, groaning. She looked up and noticed Jess as one of the crowd, and blushed in embarrassment.
"Jess, I can explain," Kate assured, standing up and trying to rub away the filth and grime off of her. The human girl whimpered, looking down.
"So I guess you got no baking done, huh? That's alright. I know you're a crappy cook. I just thought with you and Versa…"
"Sorry Jess," Versa apologized, walking up. "I had a lot of fun, though! Your sister's…cool."
"If you succeeded in baking me instead of the brownies I would've been 'hot' instead of cool'," Kate grumbled. "Now I gotta go clean up…"
"Oh don't worry, minha senhora," Itaete cut in, "we will clean up the kitchen for you. You two must be tired from your fun, no?" Kama stood there, silent, and rolled his eyes.
"I'm not going to deal with this," the white-haired werewolf grumbled and walked away.
"Thanks Ita," Kate smiled. "You're a real friend."
"My pleasure," the werejaguar replied evenly. "It's about to rain, also. I smell the clouds; perhaps that's where you and your friend can wash yourselves? The lake is deeper when it's raining."
"Thank you," Versa smiled. She turned to the others that probably didn't catch her name. "By the way, sorry for the circumstances, but I'm Versa. Don't worry, I'll be gone in the morning." She pushed by the crowd in front of the doorway, heading out. Before she opened the front door, Norah ran up behind her.
"Hey Versa? Even if you kind of destroyed the kitchen along with Kate, you're always welcome here. You seem…sweet," the weregryphon smiled up at her.
"Sweet?" the she-wolf replied, sighing. "Well, perhaps I am." Versa clasped hands with Norah and nodded, promising everyone that she would be back as soon as she was cleaned up to help straighten out the kitchen. Kate ran up to the two girls.
"Hey wait up! I wanna get cleaned off, too, and Versa doesn't even know where the lake is!" the Alphess exclaimed, following her new friend out of the door.
Norah watched them silently run off into the rain, nipping at each other and bickering as they went. The bright weregryphon shrugged, and shut the door behind her as she turned back to the others.