Elena watches the werewolves drive off in their various cars, with the cat literally in the bag. She’s at a loss as to what to do, since she knows that her group can’t take on the whole Fort Wolf Posse without losing one, maybe more, of their own. She sees Jamie look at his pocket watch from the corner of her eye.
“Yeah,” Jamie says calmly, “we should probably get out of here before the cops show up.”
Elena looks over her shoulder. The house they just walked out of is in ruins, the windows all blown out, the front door in splinters, the door frame shattered. The lawn is pulled completely back like a thick, grassy blanket, covering the bodies of the lycanthropes that Jamie had so easily slammed against the house. They aren’t moving. The German Shepherd sized ants are slowly dissolving into ectoplasm, some already dissolved and evaporated, leaving behind only the huge hole from which they had erupted.
“Yeah, we need to go,” replies Elena quietly.
Elena hears a crackle from the police radio in Cody’s black Suburban. Cody walks over swiftly, grabbing the hand set and replying.
“This is Agent Lorance.” He grabs his ear piece and swiftly plugs it in and listens. After a few seconds, he leans out of his Suburban and looks over at the group. His voice is a mixture of frustration, anger and regret. “I gotta get this, yall. Sorry.”
Elena gives a single nod. She remembers those days.
Jamie raises a hand. “Nice seeing you, Ranger.”
Cody nods, and with a twist of his wrist, the Suburban springs to life, and he drives off.
Elena walks over to her car, Jamie, Erica and Conor trailing behind her. Jamie climbs in the front seat next to Elena, and Conor props Erica up in the back seat with him. Her movements are almost robotic, as her mind is clearly with her cat.
Elena evaluates where she thinks the werewolves will be taking the cat. She flips through her mental rolodex of the places she’d tracked Ramón and Carlos during those weeks after Belle’s party. Briefly she considers Carlos’ place, or even the redhead’s high class condo. Ultimately, though, Elena thinks they’ll take the cat back to the main house, the one that Ramón owned. Several of the pack’s guys actually live there with Ramón and his partner, and there was a lot of crash space such that the Fort Wolf Posse could stay there if need be, what with six bedrooms and several of those set up barracks style with multiple bunks.
Jamie breaks the silence. “I suggest that we regroup at my house?”
“My house,” protests Erica, her voice still sounding distracted and distant. “It’s closer.”
Elena’s mouth twists. “I was gonna take care of this now.”
“Can we go to my place?” Erica, voice low and extremely sad.
Jamie nods and responds, his voice reasonable, “We can go to Lewisville, but I suggest we all just…” He pauses, then continues, “They’re expecting us to chase them.”
“No, I’m aware of that,” murmurs Erica.
“And there are more of them than us,” continues Jamie, “so we have to be smarter than them. Which we are.”
“No, I know,” Erica replies. “My smart stuff is at home.”
“I doubt they’re going to kill your cat. They want to have fun with him,” adds Jamie thoughtlessly.
“So.” Jamie continues quickly, “Let’s go back to my house-”
Erica interrupts, “We need to swing by my place so I can grab some things.”
Elena isn’t sure what the pack is going to do, based on the whole group. She knows for a fact Carlos wants to kill it now, but she can’t read the group dynamic. What she got from them is that they’ll back Carlos in getting the cat, but it’s not such a big deal to the rest of them. When the pack arrived, she could sense that they had been expecting something else. They were keyed up for something entirely different than what they found when they got there. The whole Carlos/cat thing threw the group off, but he’s part of the pack and they rolled with it.
The car is silent the rest of the way to Lewisville. Elena pulls up into the drive way of Erica’s house. Erica, Conor and Jamie go inside, while Elena waits in the car. About thirty minutes later, they come back to the car and climb back in.
Elena pulls out and heads towards Jamie’s house.
“I think I’m going to challenge Carlos to a duel for the cat,” says Elena. “He’s Latino. One on one combat, a duel. That was my thought.”
“I agree.” Elena looks in the mirror as Erica continues, “I agree that’s exactly what needs to happen.”
Elena says confidently, “I can take him.”
“I need to do it,” replies Erica.
Elena’s eyes flick to the rear-view mirror and she immediately responds, “No.” Her voice is absolute.
Erica shakes her head, “It needs to be me.”
“Let’s everyone just slow down,” says Jamie calmly. “Besides the fact that the story you told me of blowing Carlos through a door, what have we really done to one another? You stole the cat, kind of. No judgment.”
“She didn’t steal the cat,” Elena retorts. “She gave it shelter.”
Jamie nods. “No judgment. They stole the cat. We steal the cat back.”
“That won’t end it.” Erica’s voice is still quiet. She’s looking down at her hands, now, Elena notes with a glance in the mirror. “They know where I live.”
“Well,” Jamie’s smile is tight. “We can cause them problems with where you live.”
“I’m… It’s… I thought about doing what we did with the KBZ and playing that angle, and that has merit.” Erica pauses as she gathers her thoughts. “We have to hit them in such a fashion so that they will never want to mess with us ever again.”
“Well, let me tell you this. We cannot take them as a pack.” Elena’s voice is flat. “They fight as a team.”
“No, we can’t,” Erica agrees. “We have to play it side-ways.”
“Agreed,” says Jamie. “We’re not going to fight them as a pack.”
“But if we challenge one to a duel, his honor will command that he accept it,” states Elena.
Erica is skeptical. “Well, maybe.”
Elena smiles. “I betcha I could get him to do it.”
“There’s really nothing to bind them to it,” adds Jamie. “They’re not Accord signors.”
“Right.” Elena gives a little shrug. “There’s nothin to bind us to it, either.”
“True,” Jamie nods. “But I don’t… I don’t know that I want to spill any unnecessary blood. We already have enough problems other than these guys.”
“Doesn’t have to be to the death,” replies Elena.
There’s a bit of a silence in the car as everyone thinks.
Erica says, “So, every year, on the anniversary that I’ve gotten Hobbes… It’s been like six… I’ve drawn up a blueprint on acoustic warfare versus werewolves.”
Jamie looks curious. “Ok?”
“Unfortunately, none of them involved Hobbes being inside the building at the time I was deploying the acoustic warfare,” Erica continues with a reluctant sigh. “So there’s kind of that big hole there in all my plans.”
There’s a short silence, then a snort from the back seat, and Elena hears Erica ask, “Why you laughing, Conor?”
Conor’s voice is choked with laughter. “Oh, it was just something I saw out the window. It’s all right.”
More silence, but the atmosphere has lightened, and Elena can tell everyone is feeling a little more cheerful, in spite of Erica’s companion cat critter being in jeopardy.
“So,” after a moment Erica continues. “There are a couple of ideas I’d like to run past you guys.”
Elena shrugs. “I already told yall my idea.”
“No, and I agree,” Erica nods. “That’s… I’d love to do that.”
Elena’s brows come down. “I’d rather do it than you.”
“I know, but…,” Erica is thinking out loud. “It needs to be me if it’s going to stick. I’m the one that had the cat.”
“Didn’t you already beat him to a bloody inch of his life?” Elena doesn’t get it. Erica had already beat the snot out of Carlos, in her own home.
“Yeah, that’s why it needs to be me,” Erica says. “If it’s you, he’s just going to target both of us.”
Elena snorts. As if that idiot stands a chance against her. Him or his redheaded crazy chica. Now, if he came with his pack, that’s a different story. However, if Elena even got word he was after her, she would take him out with a long range bullet and a scope. Elena doesn’t have the same scruples that Erica has. Or maybe it’s the ’can’t kill with magic’ thing, since all Erica’s abilities are pretty much tied up in magic. Either way, Elena doesn’t kill with magic, and has no problem putting a permanent solution to someone trying to come after her.
“But if I can…” Erica continues.
“This is what we don’t need,” interrupts Jamie. “We don’t need any more enemies than we already have. We’ve already got the White Court. And Montfort.”
Elena takes a quick look at Jamie. “Maybe we can negotiate for the cat?”
“Negotiation with werewolves. That’s funny,” Jamie scoffs.
Elena smiles. “I have a friend who is a werewolf. He’s very reasonable. But he’s not in a pack.”
Jamie still shakes his head. “I don’t think we can reason with these guys.”
“I think a duel is perfectly reasonable,” Elena says calmly.
“It’s an option,” agrees Jamie skeptically. “There’s nothing that would really hold them to it. I mean, Latino honor?”
“Well, the Latino’s machismo is more powerful than his honor.” Elena smiles again. This time with a knowing edge to her smile. “And I know exactly how to play that.”
“It’s more powerful than his common sense, I’d say,” Conor agrees.
Erica continues thoughtfully. “So there is the social aspect we could play, where there’s the challenge to a duel. We could challenge Carlos, or someone could challenge Ramon.”
Elena shakes her head. “We don’t want to take out their pack leader.”
Elena interrupts Erica. “Ramon’s not a bad guy.”
“He is the alpha. If you take out the alpha, you put yourself above what an alpha is,” Erica explains, “so which at that point, if the other wolves play along with the pack, then you get the pack. It’s the Storm versus Morlocks tactic.” No one responds, and Elena sees Erica tilt her head. “No one else? Just me?”
“Won’t the pack just break up into little packs?” Conor asks.
Erica shakes her head. “Not if you do it right. But it would have to be-”
“If you take on the pack leader, all the sudden it’s against the pack,” Jamie disagrees. “Right now, we’re just fooling around with one guy.”
“They’re only partially wolves, right? They’re still people,” says Conor.
“Right.” Elena nods. “I think your thought that they’ll follow the person that takes out their alpha… They’re people. They’re still gonna get pissed.”
“It would have to be after whoever beats him,” Erica explains. “They’d have to appeal to the pack, like this is in everyone’s best interests, me being in charge. Then show them what good they’ll get out of staying together as a pack. I’ve thought about this a lot, I’m sorry.”
Elena shrugs. “Well, I don’t have any interest in being in a pack. I’m not a big talker.”
Erica nods, pauses a second, then continues. “The other idea, and this is more physics stuff. I would put them in the hotbox.”
“Put who in the hotbox?” Jamie asks.
“The whole pack.”
Jamie turns slightly to look at Erica. “What’s ‘the hotbox’?”
“There’s this thing, in physics, that’s called thermo acoustics.”
Jamie nods. “Ok?”
“It’s kind of a microwave oven, but using sound. And I know how to do it,” explains Erica.
“So you want to microwave a pack of werewolves,” states Jamie.
Elena glances in the rearview mirror again. “And your malk?”
Erica’s face is tilted downward and her voice is sad. “Yeah. That’s the hole in the plan.” She’s quiet for a moment, and then continues, “But I was thinking that once the heat kicks on inside the building, they start exiting and then we pick them off.”
“This is making one more enemy that we don’t really need,” says Jamie. “My point is that so far, we’ve just played a game of ‘steal the cat’.”
Elena’s black eyes shift briefly to Jamie. “So what do you have?”
“Do we just keep playing steal the cat?” Erica asks quietly.
“Well, in the short term, we can get the cat. I mean, come on,” Jamie replies confidently. “They’re werewolves. We’re spell casters.”
Elena nods. “And we have someone that can do the Nevernever stepping.”
“Yeah,” agrees Jamie.
“They’re pretty observant, but we’ve got a full wizard, so…” Erica is hesitant.
“In their den, they can step into the Nevernever, too,” Conor says.
There’s a thoughtful pause, then Erica suggests, “That’s if they know how.”
Conor nods. “Very true.”
“I mean,” Erica adds, “that depends on who’s teaching them.”
Elena turns into Jamie’s well-disguised driveway.
They all drag themselves slowly inside. A quick look at her watch puts the time around 5 am. Ugh.
“Help yourselves. Get settled,” Elena hears Jamie say. “I’m going to go tell Alice we have visitors, and I’m going to make some breakfast. So, yall discuss.”
Elena sees Conor stretch out on one of the couches. Erica has pulled out a guitar and begins to quietly strum. With a shrug, Elena settles on the other couch for a quick nap. After way too short of a rest, Elena hears Jamie come back into the room, and she opens her eyes.
He stands in the doorway between the kitchen and the family room, his suit changed out for a pair of black slacks and a dark blue button up shirt that Elena assumes Jamie considers casual.
“So,” he says expectantly, “what did you guys come up with while I was gone?”
Elena raises her arms over her head and pushes out her legs and toes in one long reaching, thorough stretch. Then she sits up. “Why don’t we check ’em out on your picture?”
Jamie nods. “Sure. Be right back.”
Jamie steps down the hallway and she can hear as he goes into another room. There’s a soft, sliding sound, like wood brushing lightly against carpet, and a click, then nothing. A few seconds later, she hears the click and sliding sound, and shortly Jamie is back in the family room. In his hands is a simple manila filing folder.
Erica’s chin tilts up from her guitar strumming, and her face turns toward Jamie. “How strong is that threshold? The one at their house?”
“Which house?” asks Jamie.
Elena shrugs. “I never tried to go in.”
“It’s a house, but there’s not much. Decent, but beatable,” Jamie explains. “It’s more like a clubhouse than an actual home.”
“I’m just uh… Yeah.” Erica’s face tilts back down as she strums another chord. “I just wanted to tell you guys that I really appreciate helping me get my cat back.”
“We’ll get him back.” Elena is calm and confident on this point.
“It’s been two hours…” Conor reminds everyone.
Elena nods. “Let’s look at the picture. Bring out Carlos.” She looks over at Erica. “If the cat’s dead…”
“If the cat’s dead,” replies Erica tightly, “I’m gonna go into that building and blow everything up.”
“I’ll go with you,” Elena says.
Erica gives a terse nod. “Awesome.”
Jamie opens the file and there are several glossy eight and a half by eleven photos. He pulls out the image of Carlos and sets it on the floor in the center of the ornate circular rug. After a moment, Elena realizes this is gonna be one of his longer spells. She stretches back out on her couch and takes another cat-nap.
Elena hears Jamie stop his chanting, and she sits up slowly. Jamie is still holding the photo, but he’s now looking at Erica. “So, Carlos is asleep still. He’s with that redheaded woman. Hobbes is still alive, but he looked miserable.”
Erica’s face turns to him and she asks urgently, “So you saw him?”
“In an iron box,” Jamie replies.
Erica’s shoulders sag. Elena isn’t sure if it’s relief or disappointment. “OK.”
Conor winces. “Oh, that’ll be uncomfortable.”
“Steal the cat, go to war?” asks Jamie.
Conor wiggles his eyebrows. “So, what was the blonde doing?”
Elena can’t stop herself from rolling her eyes.
“What?” protests Conor. After a moment he adds, “Far be it from me to recommend tactics, but um, what say we just go knock on the front door?”
Elena’s smile is feral. “And say ‘we want our cat back’?”
“Don’t ask me what I think,” Conor shrugs. “I’m always gonna say go knock on the front door.”
For a moment, the atmosphere in the room is lightened as everyone laughs.
“That’s what I was gonna do!” Elena says. “I was gonna knock on the front door and say I wanna talk to Carlos.”
“So, I have a theory,” says Erica as she absentmindedly plucks out some tune on her guitar that Elena doesn’t recognize.
“This should be good.” Jamie is looking at Erica attentively.
“I don’t think that they’re all that keen on the spooky side of the street,” Erica explains. “Like, I think they know stuff well enough to hit a malk nest if they find one. But just from the stuff that I’ve heard from you guys, I don’t think that they have like a mentor, or someone that knows a lot of the stuff ‘in the know.’” She pauses for a second, then continues, “I’m not saying they’re not in the know, I just don’t think they know much.”
“Ok?” Jamie asks.
“The reason I bring this up, is because they may not know about the invitation of things,” Erica’s fingers have switched from plucking back to a rhythmic strum. “They may not know about the oath side of things. Make sense?”
Elena shakes her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know about oaths? About how they have power to them? You make an oath and you swear it and then don’t keep it?” Erica explains. “Then really bad things start to happen.”
“If someone ever asks you to swear by your power, be very, very careful,” Jamie agrees.
“Yeah. Don’t ever break a promise, especially to the fae,” adds Conor.
Elena thinks about it, then asks, “So does it only work with the fae?”
“The fae are really bound to it, but it works across the supernatural world,” Erica replies.
Erica nods. “The thing is, they would be bound by it, but they may not know about it. Yet. I mean, they have a territory, and everything in that territory they try to take out. I don’t see them trying to do a lot of diplomacy things. I don’t really see them talking a whole lot, at least, not about that.”
“You bring up an interesting point,” Jamie muses, “about them maybe not being maybe in the supernatural know.”
“So are you suggesting that I keep with the duel thing? Cuz that’s what I keep going back to,” replies Elena. “I challenge him to a duel and make him swear by his power that he will leave us in peace with the cat, then…?”
The smile on Erica’s face is small. “I think that it will stick, and if he breaks it, it will screw him over.”
“Like maybe his power will leave him?” Elena asks.
Erica nods tersely. “Yeah, like Nature will take away his power.”
“I like it,” Conor grins.
“Me, too,” agrees Jamie.
Conor looks around at Jamie, Elena and Erica expectantly. “So are we gonna go knock on the door now?”
“That’s my vote,” Elena laughs. “Any other ideas?”
“I think if we’re going to call anyone out on a duel, it’s going to have to be Ramon, replies Erica. “Because he’s the alpha. He’s the top dog. You have to take down the top dog to-”
“No, we just make him promise, too,” interrupts Elena.
Jamie agrees. “This is just between you and meathead.”
Erica pauses thoughtfully. “So I could pull personal grievance on Carlos, that would make sense to them.”
“And have Ramón say I agree to this duel,” adds Elena. “It’s settled between you two, whatever happens.”
“There wouldn’t be any way to make him do that,” replies Erica doubtfully.
Elena shrugs. “Just have him say he swears by his power that he agrees to it.”
“But then that only stops one person, not the whole pack,” says Erica. “If you take the alpha and have him swear, and put him in a position where everyone has to agree with him…”
Jamie is thoughtfully tapping the manila folder with the photos of the main movers and shakers of the Fort Wolf Posse. “Does anyone else in the pack care about this cat?”
Elena shakes her head. “No, when they took the cat, they were just backing up their pack mate. Everyone was pretty much surprised.”
“And this was six years ago,” adds Erica. “The only reason Carlos is so pissed is because that’s who he is.”
“And the only reason they rolled up on us tonight is because Montfort trapped us in their territory,” Jamie muses. “Obviously intentionally.”
Erica pauses in her strumming and looks over at Conor. “The other idea I had was pull Montfort in, but I don’t know how to get hold of him. So, I know we just beat him down, he’s going to be really not keen to talk to us.”
Conor nods. “Yeah, I’m thinkin he holds a grudge.”
But I also think he’s an opportunist," suggests Erica as she resumes strumming. “So, you guys said he got kicked out, right? He’s on the bad side.”
“That’s not gonna help you,” replies Conor with a shrug. “You’ve embarrassed him twice.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. He keeps getting embarrassed in front of the Duke, but he has control of the Invictae,” Erica explains. “He keeps getting punked by everything. Right?”
“Like we did tonight,” says Jamie.
“Right!” Erica replies excitedly. “A handful of people punked him completely. If we can get him to lend us the Invictae and we don’t mention the punking and have him side in with us as an ally to take down the werewolf territory, Montfort would get that territory, putting him in higher standing with the duke.”
“Um. Doesn’t Ramón do some good in that territory?” Elena asks.
“I don’t know, does he?” Erica’s face turns towards Elena. “I don’t watch him.”
“Yeah,” Elena replies. “He like beats up criminals and effectively keeps the streets pretty clean. Ramón’s not a bad guy.”
Conor intervenes, “The only way you’re gonna get control of Montfort is to direct him like a missile. I don’t think you’re gonna get him to listen to you. You’ve pricked his pride now. Twice.”
“Her idea is that we basically blackmail him,” explains Jamie. “I’m not sure if that’s the way to go, though.”
Erica nods. “I would hope that he sees the opportunity he would gain on it, over the vengeance. But I don’t know. Because I know he wants to get back into court.”
“No, we’ve embarrassed him publicly. And then you hit him with iron last night,” Conor’s head is shaking. “Neh. No, you and me both.”
“Not only that,” adds Elena, “but I wouldn’t want to consign a territory to any fae’s control voluntarily.”
Erica’s strumming has slowed, almost thoughtfully. “True.”
Conor’s piercing blue eyes slash over to Elena. He looks hurt, then shakes his head. “I can’t disagree.”
“The only other thing I can think of to do here would be gaslight them?” Jamie suggests.
Erica looks puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“You said they don’t know much about the supernatural. I tend to agree,” replies Jamie. “Illusions, entropy. Freak them out. But that’s a long game, and I don’t know how much time we have.”
“Not a lot,” says Elena.
“If we could roll up and just try to talk to them,” Erica says pensively. “Then if that doesn’t go down, have a contingency plan. Some massive ritual of some kind that puts them in a position that they never thought possible.” Her face turns towards Jamie. “I’m pretty sure that since you’re the most solid wizard in DFW, that they haven’t really had to deal with that level of powers before. So they’re not gonna be prepared for that.”
Jamie nods. “Well, yeah. The four of us cannot go knocking on the front door without a backup plan.”
“Right.” Elena nods.
“Oh, right.” Conor stands up. “I’m gonna go get some breakfast. You let me know when you have a backup plan.” He stretches, then goes to the kitchen. Soon, Elena hears a cupboard open and plates rattle.
Elena looks over at Erica. “Burn the house down. Throw your microwave.”
“I can throw a Tessla resonation… Um. Housebreaker,” adds Erica.
Jamie glances over at Erica thoughtfully. “You realize you may kill people doing that.”
“I know.” Erica’s face turns back down toward her guitar.
Elena shrugs. “I’m a one trick pony. Ok, two tricks. Guns or claws.”
Erica smiles. “They’re very good tricks.”
“Yeah, they are pretty good tricks,” agrees Jamie.
Erica’s face turns toward Elena. “I don’t suppose you can snipe them…”
“Oh, yeah,” laughs Elena. “I can snipe.”
“But that takes away one of your tricks,” Erica muses.
“Well, yeah. Up close.”
“Maybe…” says Erica, “I can’t think of anything that I can throw down on them that won’t break the First Law. I mean, I’m already having a problem with that, so… Not that I really have a problem, I’m just…”
Conor walks back into the room and breaks the silence. “Worse comes to worse, I rip a hole in the Nevernever and they can choose to follow us or not.”
“But we won’t have the cat,” replies Elena.
Conor sits down with the plate in one hand. He looks over at Elena. “No, that would pretty much mean we’d have failed in that.”
“Guess we could come back and microwave them,” suggests Elena.
“Doubt they’d still be around. I mean, they’d know we found their den. I think they’d be gone. No offense, but I think they’d be scared of you two,” he adds, looking over at Erica and Jamie.
Erica nods. “I’ve worked hard to become so.”
“Well, rather than have yall kill them with magic, I can just follow them…” suggests Elena, “if, if the initial plan fails and we have to retreat. I can just pick ’em off one at a time.”
Conor looks up from his plate. “I don’t think we’ve got much longer so while you guys are talking, I’m gonna go see if I can find a pathway there. But I need to know where to go. I can get us to Grapevine, in general, but…”
Elena walks over to Jamie’s ancient rotary phone, picks up the pad of paper and the pen lying beside it. She quickly scribbles down the address, then walks over and hands the slip of paper to Conor.
Conor looks at the paper, surprised. “Oh, ok.”
Elena’s head tilts quizzically. “Does that help?”
“You already know where they are?” asks Conor incredulously.
“I tailed them a while back-”
Conor interrupts her. “You know, I don’t need to know. ‘S alright. I don’t need to know. Scary.”
Elena shrugs. “I’m not as scary as yall. Two trick pony here. That’s me. Two tricks.”
Conor looks back down at the paper in his hand. He sets his plate down and carefully folds the slip of paper, putting it in his pocket. “Really, really deadly tricks.”
“Ok, I’m a little less afraid to kill people who deserve it,” agrees Elena.
Elena almost smiles at the mumbled agreement from Conor and Jamie.
“To be perfectly honest,” she adds, “I don’t like the idea of me following them around and killing them all.”
“Really?” asks Erica, surprised. “Cuz I really like that idea.”
Elena shrugs, and replies noncommittally, “I can do it.”
“No, no,” Erica’s head is shaking. “I hate to throw this into geek speak, but we have a ranger and two mages. We’re all kinda ranged.”
“And a tank,” Elena points at Conor. “And I’m a tank and a ranger.”
Erica thinks for a minute, then says, “Well, you’re the back-up tank.”
“The ranger/wizard bit I get.” Jamie is puzzled. “Is the tank a fighter?”
Erica nods. “Yes.”
Elena’s smile is feral. “Don’t underestimate my melee when I’m in my cat form.”
“No, no, I’m right there with you. But you’re back up tank,” explains Erica. “If ranged starts failing, that’s when you switch to melee. You prefer ranged.”
Elena nods. “True. Not my preference. But I am as good with my claws as I am with my guns.”
“Oh. Well.” Erica is silent for a moment, her fingers still on the strings of her guitar. “That is also scary. I’ll remember it, um, next time. Cuz I don’t think I’ve ever heard you miss. Um.” Erica is quiet again, then continues her strumming, “Ok, so the other idea I had was putting out a call to the relay. Because there’s four of us, versus thirteen or more of them.”
Jamie nods reluctantly. “That’s actually not a bad idea.”
“I know Belle doesn’t have a whole lot of power,” says Erica, “but she’s got decent range.”
Elena laughs. “Yeah, but how many of them will actually come if he’s coming along?” She shoots a significant glance at Jamie.
Jamie shrugs and says wryly, “That’s true.”
“Isn’t there like drama there?” Elena adds.
“I’m not saying they’d come but maybe they’d lend a hand,” says Erica. “I mean, Claret’s got some of the best potions I’ve ever seen-”
Elena interrupts her flatly. “I don’t wanna be on a team with Claret.”
“No? Why not? She’s fine. She’s good.” Erica is totally puzzled.
Elena raises an eyebrow and says emphatically, “She. Makes. Drugs.”
“Well, yeah, but-”
“I’m not gonna be on her team,” replies Elena flatly.
There’s a silence, and Elena thinks it might be awkward, but not to Elena. There is no way that Elena is going to deliberately ask for help from someone completely untrustworthy. And the way Claret bailed on Erica just last night is still fresh in Elena’s mind. She’d probably run at the first whiff of trouble. Some kind of crappy friend she is. The only redeemable thing about Claret is the fact that she at least had the presence of mind to go to Atwater’s and see if anyone was there to help.
“Maybe Barbara? Well, she’s got that…” Erica mumbles. “God, I wish Matthew were here. Wish Ren were here, too.”
Elena agrees, “Yeah, Matthew’s good at the strategy thing.”
“Ren’s got lots of useful tricks, too,” says Erica.
“He’s also the best talker,” Jamie adds.
“Matthew has a lot of power. A lot of power,” Erica agrees. “It’s hard to argue with God.”
Elena laughs. “Even if you ’don’t believe in Him.’ Oh, I don’t believe in God! Oh, yeah, watch this!”
“Yeah, God gave me hand lasers so you’re gonna believe something!” giggles Erica. “So another idea I had was a mass nauseator spell. Which is kinda what I hit Carlos with toward the end of our little skirmish back in the day.”
Jamie grins. “That’d be funny.”
“Yeah. And I can hit them with that,” Erica nods. “We’d be through the threshold, so it’d have to be a little stouter than that, but I could hit them hard enough and correctly enough to where if we suited up, you guys wouldn’t be affected.”
Elena looks at Erica quizzically. “Suited up?”
“I have some industrial grade earplugs that would be really good for canceling out that lower Herz range,” Erica explains. “Not subsonic, but the lower acoustic range. It works really well.”
Elena nods. “Okay. Cool. I definitely want some of that.”
“Or! I could do this thing with delta waves to induce sleep,” Erica says. She pauses, then says. “You know, that’s another idea I had. Get their true names. Ask them outright what their full names are. I don’t think they know enough to not say it. Like Carlos. And if he says it, then I own him.”
Erica’s face turns down toward her guitar. “So we go in, ask them. Try to work something out. If that doesn’t happen, then we leave-”
“Are you going to challenge him to a duel? IS that part of the ‘work something out’ phase of the plan?” asks Elena.
“Yeah. That’s part of the plan.”
“Ok,” responds Elena reluctantly.
“I still think we should challenge Ramon. But that’s just me,” says Erica. “From what I’ve read on wolves, that’s what makes sense.”
Elena shrugs. “We just need to make sure he abides by the promise.”
“But how will we do that?” asks Erica.
“Just ask him, do you swear by your power that you agree to the outcome of this duel?” suggests Elena.
There’s another silence, then Erica says, “I have another idea. What if we pinpoint one and pull him into the Nevernever and interrogate him?”
Jamie looks puzzled. “I thought we were just knocking on the door and challenging.”
Erica shrugs. “I’m just throwing ideas out there.”
Elena looks over at the big grandfather clock. “We better get moving cuz they’re gonna be waking up.”
“Yeah,” nods Erica.
“We’re gonna wake them up anyway,” says Jamie with a slight smile.
“They were prolly dead tired at three in the morning to worry about killin a cat,” Conor adds, “but it may not take them long.”
“Another idea is maybe we could bribe them. They don’t know a whole lot about what is going on…” Erica muses thoughtfully.
Jamie looks over at Elena. “Is Ramon a thug?”
Elena shakes her head. “No.” She pauses for a moment, remembering the weeks she tailed him. “He’s kinda like a cop. He keeps the streets in his neighborhood clean.”
Erica nods. “I mean, maybe we could just trade info with him. Provide arcane support of some kind.”
“So, let’s try that first, then the duel next,” replies Elena.
“It would up his power,” says Erica. “If my theory is correct, he doesn’t have an arcane backer. And if he is this much of a threat at this point, then what he could become once he has legit information.” Erica fingers start picking out another tune that Elena doesn’t recognize. “I got a couple of spare rings. I could tutor him without even being in the room with him. It would be completely at my own beck and call as to when I did that. I don’t have a problem with Ramon.”
“And you won’t have a problem with Carlos if he gives your cat back,” says Elena.
“Yeah, exactly,” Erica nods. “I don’t think he’ll do it, but if we go through Ramon, Ramon can make Carlos give the cat back.”
Elena smiles. “And then if that doesn’t work, then we can try the duel thing.”
Conor nods. “Ok, so we’re bribing with magical knowledge, and then beating the shite out of Carlos if the first one doesn’t work.” Nods. “Ok, so there’s the plan and the back-up. So now can we go knock on the door??”
Elena stands up and stretches again. Jamie and Erica are discussing who should do the talking, when finally Erica claims the responsibility, since it’s her cat. After they get that settled, Jamie stalks off down the hall to get his gear. Erica packs up her guitar and hoists her backpack, which possibly weighs as much as Erica herself, over a shoulder. Conor, Elena can tell, is distracted by the blonde chica. Big surprise there, she thinks with amusement.
A few minutes later, Jamie comes back in carrying a wand and wearing a light jacket.
“Where’s the staff?” asks Conor with a grin.
Jamie rolls his eyes. “Doesn’t come in staff size.”
Erica’s face turns toward Jamie. “What doesn’t come in staff size?”
“He’s got a magic wand,” Conor explains.
Erica perks up instantly, practically vibrating with fascination. “You got a wand!? Really?! Like Harry Potter?? Does it have a core of lightning-felled oak?”
There’s a brief pause, then Jamie replies drily, “It doesn’t work like that.”
Conor shakes his head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Erica’s face snaps over toward Conor. “Harry Potter?” She is incredulous. “Conor, have you not read Harry Potter?”
“Who’s Harry Potter?” Conor asks blankly.
Erica groans. “Just give me a second.” She pinches the bridge of her nose.
Jamie laughs. “Let it go.” He turns to Elena. “You driving?”
“Sure,” she replies, then remembers. “Wait, no way. Conor?”
Conor opens a Way, and they follow him carefully. Even the trees look ominous as they pad swiftly past it. Heck, Elena wouldn’t be surprised if a flower jumped out and attacked them, the luck they’ve had in the Nevernever. Erica is completely distracted and still seems baffled by the Harry Potter discussion from moments before.
“This is worse than Dune. This is worse than Dune,” she mutters. “Is this worse than Dune?”
Elena shrugs, eyes still scanning alertly for ambush. “I haven’t read them, but I saw the movie posters everywhere for the last ten years.”
Erica nods eagerly. “I have all the books.”
Conor opens another Way, and they step out. It always is a relief to be on the normal side. She glances around and immediately realizes they’ve stopped at the Shipley’s Donuts in Lewisville.
“Ramon is like a cop, maybe we should get one for him, too,” Conor grins.
Elena laughs. “I was thinkin the same thing. But I don’t know how well that would go over.”
“Maybe the one with the sprinkles?” he suggests.
Elena is skeptical. “Not sure how much of a sense of humor he has-”
Erica interrupts, “Have you seen the movies? There are movies.”
“Is that the one with the wizard kid?” Conor glances over at her.
“Yes! Yes! That’s Harry Potter!”
“Well,” Conor seems thoughtful. “I was there in the theater with my date, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the film at the time…”
Erica shakes her head. “Conor! You made out at a kids’ movie? Conor?”
Elena can’t stop the snort of laughter. Conor pays for the donuts and they walk back out.
“I don’t think there were any kids there,” he replies a little defensively. “It was like a midnight show.”
Erica pinches the bridge of her nose again. “Oh, sheesh.”
“If there were any kids there, they shouldn’t have been!”
Jamie rolls his eyes. “Which one of you guys is challenging Carlos?”
“I think it should be me,” Erica says quickly.
Elena shakes her head. “I think I have a better chance of beating him.”
“I don’t disagree. I may-”
They’ve gone behind some building, and no one is around. Conor opens another way and they all go through. The area looks remarkably like a spaghetti western, or West Texas – arid, barren and dry. There’s a sunset glow turning the dirt, rocks and few shrubs there are into shades of orange. After a few steps, suddenly the ground begins to rumble and shake.
Conor looks concerned. “It wasn’t doin this a minute ago. It wasn’t this way when I came through before-”
The ground erupts and TONS and TONS of giant ants come bursting through the ground. At the head of the ants is an… ant-centaur. Antaur?
It (she?) sees the group and shouts “There they are! For the Queen!”
Conor’s stance shifts easily and he’s lightly balanced on the balls of his feet. “Right. Remember what I said about Montfort?”
“Oh, balls,” Erica mutters.
“Remind me to talk to the Duke and tell him how we beat this guy EVERY TIME!” Jamie says, exasperated.
Elena shrugs, and replies matter of fact, “We’re going to have to find him and kill him.”
“If we find him and kill him, can we take his Invictae?” Erica wonders out loud as the ants start to swarm toward them. “Cuz that would be kind of cool.”
“No,” Elena replies, aiming her pistol at the antaur creature. “I hate fire ants.”
The antaur advances, its six legs moving swiftly across the desert ground. “For my Queen and Lord Montfort!” It lunges with a spear at Conor, who gets slashed across the chest. Silver light gleams from the wound.
Elena hears Jamie mutter some words behind her, and a huge tornado twists through the ants, sweeping them violently away. At the same time, Erica steps in closer to the group and suddenly there’s a vibrating wall between a huge section of the ants and the group.
Conor steps up to the antaur and punches it, cracking its carapace.
Ants climb on top of each other, climb over the barrier, and swarm. Jamie is completely surrounded as they lunch for him as a group. Elena sees some of the swarm move toward Erica, but Elena grabs Erica and shoves Erica behind her.
Elena shoots the antaur with a very solid hit in its cracked carapace and the creature slumps to the ground. Elena hears Jamie chanting again, and then it starts raining orange oil that drenches everything, including the ants, and the ants fall twitching to the ground.
The smell of orange oil is strong, and everyone is covered in it. The area is littered with ant corpses and parts. If those wolves don’t smell us coming, there’s something wrong with them, Elena thinks in wry amusement. At least it’s a nice smell.
Jamie looks at the corpse of the antaur. “So should we send the head of this thing to Montfort? And send him a message?”
“At this point, em, I’m a little pissed,” growls Conor. “So I say we just track him down after we’re done with the werewolves.”
Erica nods. “I agree.”
“Finish him off,” states Elena.
“That’s my thought,” agrees Conor.
Elena studies the carnage with detachment. She looks over at the antaur and points. “Take a piece of that big ant to track it back to the lair?”
Jamie nods. “Good call.”
Conor pops its head off and tucks its mandible in his belt. “I’ll carry it.”
Elena studies the remainder of the corpse carefully, checking to see if it had any medallion or memento that its queen may have given him, er, her, but no. No ornamentation or jewelry at all.
“Ok, well that was…” Erica’s voice is a little shaky, Elena notices, as Erica continues, “Anyway, we need to get going. Nevernever time is weird.”
The group continues to walk carefully through the Nevernever. Elena doesn’t relax her guard, knowing that Montfort might have found a way to track them and send more of his minions after them.
However, shortly Conor says in a low voice, “Ah. An’ here we are!” Then he does that hand-wavy thing, and the air splits like a curtain, and they all step through.
As she approaches the house, Elena can smell bacon, breakfast sausage, lots of cooked meat. Yeah. They’re awake.
Conor steps up and knocks firmly at the door. Then he steps to Erica’s side. Jamie is standing on the other side of Erica, and Elena hangs back a little, keeping an eye on their flanks.
Elena hears the deadbolt twist and then the door opens. The very attractive redheaded chica opens the door and stares out at the group with suspicious eyes.
Erica clears her throat. “May we come in?”
The woman looks at the group for a moment, then replies tersely, “No.” She pauses, face expressionless. “Wait right here.”
She closes the door with a decisive thud. Elena isn’t sure if the redhead understood the implications of the request to enter, she had that much control over her face.
As soon as the door closes, Elena hears her yell, “Ramón!!” About fifteen seconds later, the door reopens and Ramón stands there, flanked by Carlos and a dark haired woman exuding strength and confidence. Behind those three is the rest of the pack. Yeah. Elena can’t see them all, but at a glance, there are sixteen-ish people crammed in that foyer. Good thing we didn’t come to just lay waste, them all bunched up like that, she thinks.
Ramón studies them with cold, black eyes and acknowledges them with tilt of his chin. “Alright. I should have expected you to find the den. What can I do for you?”
Elena can feel Erica’s tension as Erica speaks, “May we come in and talk business?”
Ramón looks at each of them again, then nods. “Yeah.”
The pack parts as the group is forced to go through them single file, led by Ramón, then Erica, Conor, and Jamie. Elena brings up the rear and can feel the pack close in behind her. Every muscle in her body is tight and ready to go at the drop of a hat. How many can she take before they take her down? She never did play that one out in her head, since all her other plans involving herself and the whole pack consisted of her running as fast as her legs could carry her. Which is pretty fast. Ramón leads the way into a front sitting room.
Ramón gestures at a couch. “Sit there. Right next to your friend.” Erica sits, and Jamie sits next to her. Elena moves to the arm of the couch and leans against it. She notes Conor doing the same thing against the nearby arm chair.
Hobbes is in the iron cage, looking out with huge, pitiful green eyes. “Mraowr,” he says softly.
Erica’s face turns toward the kennel. “Hobbes?”
“Mrr. Yep,” says Hobbes, very quietly.
“Ok.” Erica sounds relieved. “Are you alright? Ish?”
Hobbes whimpers an affirmative.
Erica nods and says, “Ok.”
Ramón watches the exchange with detached interest. “So talk.”
Erica turns to Ramón. “So…” She pauses for a second, gathering her thoughts, then continues, “I apologize for interrupting your breakfast. Would you mind if we spoke alone? Or at least in a bit more privacy?”
Ramón shrugs. “Whatever you say, you can say in front of my pack.”
“Ok.” Erica pauses, “I would like my cat back. I’m willing-”
“Why,” asks Ramón, “would you want a malk back?”
“Because he’s my friend.”
“You’re friends with flesh-eating fae?” Ramón asks incredulously.
Erica nods. “Yeah.”
Ramón raises an eyebrow in disbelief. “So you’re alright with the two women and the kid that den murdered and ate, that your malk was part of?”
Elena’s eyes narrow and she stares at Ramón for a moment, then turns her cold gaze to the creature in the kennel as she examines it with new eyes. No longer is it merely the cute, amusing cat-critter she chatted with before. Now she assesses it as a predator. Alone, to an adult, not much of a threat, but one against a child or an adult against a den of who knows how many?
“No,” she hears reply Erica calmly. “But this malk doesn’t do that.”
“It’s a malk,” says Ramón. “It’s fae. It can’t change its nature.”
“I would still like it back. And I’m willing to trade for it.”
Ramón eyes the blind girl sitting on the couch. “I’m listening.”
Erica gathers her thoughts, then asks, “Are you familiar with the White Council?”
“Know the name. I mean, you hear stuff in Atwater’s.”
“Do you know who they are?”
Ramón nods. “Wizard cops.”
“Yeah, kind of,” Erica affirms.
Ramón shrugs. “Doesn’t really bother us, since we’re not wizards.”
“Did you happen to notice that house where you picked up Hobbes last night?” Erica asks him.
Ramón nods. “Yeah. I noticed the lycanthropes, too. What was the deal?”
“That was one wizard.”
Ramón shrugs again. “We’ve killed wizards before.” He looks over at Jamie. “No offense, Harper.”
“None taken.” Jamie’s voice is cool and professional.
“There are ways to deal with wizards that would mean you don’t have to lose members of your pack,” explains Erica.
Ramón still seems unimpressed. “Still waiting for you to say something interesting.”
“Ok,” Erica pauses.
“Cut to the brass tacks,” says Ramón. “You want the cat. What do I get out of it?”
Carlos lunges forward, yelling expletives. Elena barely controls her instinct to draw her gun as she sees Ramón swing a casual fist and backhands Carlos. Carlos thumps to the ground moaning.
Ramón cocks his head and looks back at Erica. “So. You have until the birds stop chirping,” he gestures at Carlos, “to make your case.”
“I offer knowledge,” says Erica quickly.
Elena is watching Carlos. He is lying on the ground groaning and cursing, and Elena wonders if he’ll try that lunge again, and if Ramón will stop him again. Elena is only very, very lightly leaning against the arm of the chair. Worse comes to worse she can grab Erica and go through the huge window just to Elena’s left.
“I offer knowledge. I am not shy about…” Erica says hurriedly. “Well, I am well trained in the art of arcane lore. I can teach you-”
Ramón tilts his head and he studies Erica with a hunter’s eye. “You’re the one that put him in the closet, aren’t you?”
Erica nods. “Yeah. Sixteen year old girl.”
Ramón looks over at the redhead, who gives a single nod and says “Yeah. That’s her.”
“With no prep,” adds Erica.
Jamie is almost, but not quite, contemptuous. “Blind, sixteen year old girl?”
Ramón snorts. “We’re werewolves. We see with our smell. Fact that she’s blind, never considered that a handicap. I mean, come on.”
“She’s not a werewolf, though,” retorts Jamie.
Ramón shrugs. “She’s a wizard. We kind of assumed that you can do things different.”
“I’m actually not,” Erica denies.
Erica protests, “It makes a difference in certain circles.” Elena wonders idly if Erica has had to deal with insults about being a lowly ’mancer instead of a full on wizard like Jamie, and if it bothers Erica.
Ramón is still not convinced. “Maybe with the white council. Not really here.”
Jamie’s voice is reasonable now, “What she is offering, though, is knowledge.”
“And I have a lot of it,” Erica nods. “You have a pretty good territory, but not to put too fine a point on it, and not to give away our cards, but you let us in your house. Do you understand what that means?”
Ramón isn’t pleased. “I imagine that has some kind of supernatural implication?”
Erica nods. “Yes.”
“Lemme guess. Lemme guess,” Ramón says, full of irony. “We’re probably gonna need a new den now because you guys can just come in whenever you want, like vampires.”
“No. Not at all,” Erica shakes her head. “You invited us in. There are ancient laws that govern the laws of hospitality within supernatural circles. Because you invited us, the threshold that is around this place, we can now completely use all our abilities.”
Ramón’s head tilts quizzically. “You mean, you couldn’t before?”
“Correct.” Erica nods. “If you had not invited us in, we would have been hampered. I have hundreds of nuggets like that one.”
“And this is what you’re offering in exchange for the cat?”
Elena tenses again as Carlos starts yelling curses. “No way, Ramón! That cat blahblahblah!!”
Ramón raises an eyebrow, glancing down at Carlos, then back at Erica. “That’s one vote no.”
Finally, Ramón shrugs. “I’m ok with your deal. But let me put my cards on the table. Alright? Cuz that den of malks ate, ate, leaving bones behind, a fourteen year old girl, a twenty-two year old mother of two, and a seventeen year old boy. Ate. Them. They’re dead now. And one malk got away. I have a problem with flesh eaters. You can understand that.”
“No, no. I understand,” replies Erica quietly.
“Had I been in the situation,” Erica adds, “I’d have done the same.”
Ramón is silent, then nods decisively. “So if I give you back the cat, this is gonna be under the assumption that the cat is as you describe. Not a flesh eater. That you are vouching that this fae is different than every other malk we’ve encountered.”
“The cat as it came to me was a baby,” Erica explains.
Ramón shrugs. “I understand. What I’m saying is this agreement will hold until that malk,” he points at Hobbes in the iron cage, “eats somebody.”
“Understood. I will agree to that.”
Elena speaks up, her path decided for her after she determined the nature of this particular fae. “Ramón. I will kill the cat personally if it eats an innocent person.”
Erica nods. “Yeah.”
“As far as I’m concerned…” Ramón pauses and glares over at the cage. “Hey, cat. Did you partake of that meat?”
Hobbes is notably silent.
Ramón nods knowingly. “Hm. No answer. Ok, cat. But maybe you should know more about your little supernatural friends.”
Erica is quiet, then murmurs, “I know. I know what malks are.”
Elena can tell that Ramón still has his doubts about the malk, but is willing to move on. “Alright. So when’s our first lesson, coach?”
Erica pulls a ring out of her pocket and holds it out to Ramón. It’s a Cracker Jack ring. He takes it and looks at it skeptically. “What is this? Other than a Cracker Jack ring?”
“This is a link,” Erica explains.
Ramón holds the ring out to the blond woman. “Marissa.” The attractive blonde takes it from him.
Marissa looks at it then shrugs. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
Ramón looks at her over his shoulder. “Listen.”
“Lesson one-” begins Erica.
Elena interrupts, “Now, wait. Has the deal been agreed to? Officially?”
Ramón shrugs and gestures at Hobbes. “You can open the cage if you want.”
“Yall won’t harass her at her home anymore,” states Elena.
“Ah,” Erica’s head bobs once, and she turns her face to Ramón. “I agree to abide by our agreement. Trade information for non-harassment over this malk issue, both for me and mine.”
Ramón nods. “I hear what you’re saying.”
“And I’ll have your word on it,” replies Erica calmly.
Ramón nods again. “You have my word on it.”
“By your Power?” Elena interjects.
Erica shakes her head. “His word is good.”
Elena agrees, but would prefer a guarantee. No her choice, though. She gives a slight shrug.
Ramón looks over at the muscular man on the ground. “Carlos, you heard that, right?”
Carlos is distinctly sullen. “Yeah.”
Ramón raises an eyebrow and asks again, forcefully, almost with a growl, “You heard that, right?”
“You’re gonna leave the girl and her cat alone, right?”
Ramón’s intense gaze turns back over at Erica. “Is that good enough?”
Erica nods. “That works.”
“And if one of them has a problem, I’ll deal with it.”
“Ok. So if one of them comes and harasses me-” asks Erica.
“You let me know,” Ramón interrupts, “I’ll take care of it.”
Erica nods, then says, “I have a question.”
“So you have a question? Go ahead and ask it.”
“I’d like to ask Carlos something.”
Ramón shrugs. “Ask it.”
“Carlos, what is your full name?”
“Kiss. My. *,” Carlos growls.
Erica sighs, then turns her face back to Ramón. “Alright.” She pauses. “Ok, Lesson One-”
Ramón tosses a look over his shoulder to the looming pack and says calmly, “Hey, yo. Yall go eat your breakfast.”
They file out, and slowly the tension leaves the room with them. Carlos gets up and stalks out of the room. Elena can hear him go upstairs, and shortly a door slams. Hm. Everyone leaves, except Marissa who leans up against the wall near Ramón.
Erica gestures toward Ramón. “So that ring is a link….”
Elena tilts her head, listening to the other sounds in the house. Erica and Ramón are talking still, but Elena has tuned them mostly out to listen. Most of the pack has really started digging in to their breakfast. Some are joking, others retorting. Someone has started some coffee percolating. The kitchen has an attached dining area, from the sound of chairs scraping on tile. There’s a shower going somewhere downstairs, and Elena can hear Luisa’s voice over some of the more raucous conversation, which quiets immediately down. If Elena had to guess, Luisa is listening in on the conversation going on in the living room. Upstairs she can hear Carlos pacing and the sound of a woman’s voice talking to him calmly. Probably that redhead chica. Elena can’t quite make out the words, though.
After a while, Elena can tell the conversation is winding down.
“Ok,” says Ramón. “You guys know where the den is. Is that gonna be an issue? Do I need to worry about you guys? Are we cool?”
Erica shrugs. “You know where I live.”
“It doesn’t look like we have a problem now,” replies Jamie, still coolly professional. “Do we have a problem?”
“Ramón, I respect what you do,” says Elena, “You won’t have a problem from me.”
Ramón looks over at Elena. She wonders briefly if he noticed her not paying attention, but doubts it. He had been pretty concentrated on the conversation with Erica. “From what I hear about you, lady, I don’t have a problem with what you do, either.” He looks at each of them. “I don’t have a problem with yall. Never did.”
Jamie nods, then asks, “One thing I’m curious about. When you rolled up on us last night, did you know we were going to be there, or was it just the disturbance?”
Ramón shakes his head. “Naw.”
Jamie mouth twists wryly. “Anyone tip you off?”
“Yeah. A little fairy told us,” replies Ramón. He pauses thoughtfully. “We got played. Do you know who it was?”
Jamie nods. “We do.”
“We’re gonna go after him. Wanna come?” Elena asks.
Ramón tilts his head. “Who is it?”
“The centaur,” Erica replies. “He was at Belle’s party.”
“Oh,” Ramón thinks for minute, then nods. “The short one. So what’s the story there? Give me the skinny. How bad is he?”
Jamie shrugs. “He put a group of white supremacists in your domain.”
“Lycanthropes, right?” asks Ramón. “Full moon night just crazy SOBs, right?”
“Then he summoned a bunch of fire ants that are bigger than German shepherds to wreak havoc,” Jamie continues.
Ramón sighs. “The world is about to get a lot weirder, I assume. Did you just say fire ants?”
“Jamie, show him the-” suggests Erica.
“Oh!” Jamie pulls out the ant-centaur’s head. Its mandibles have completely dissolved, and parts of its jaw was getting gooey. “I picked this up on the way here. He sent them after us for a second helping.”
Ramón looks at the head and a predatory gleam leaps to his eyes. “Alright, let’s go. Let’s go! I’ve never seen giant freaky fire ants before. I mean what else am I gonna do today? Let’s go kill some fire ants!”
“You might have noticed our ‘orange’ smell?” asks Elena.
Ramón laughs. “Uh, yeah. I wasn’t gonna say anything, but man. It’s strong.”
Elena can’t choke back her answering laugh. “Yeah, well it’s really effective against fire ants, ya know. Have you ever seen what orange oil does to fire ant mounds?”
Ramón scoffs. “I don’t do yards. I got people for that.”
Elena grins. “You gonna smell a lot more of that today.”
Ramón’s eyes are attentive as he examines Elena suddenly. “You and me,” he says in Spanish, his hand pointing at himself, then her. “We good?”
Elena tilts her chin up affirmatively and replies in Spanish. “Yeah. We’re really good.”
Ramón nods. “Alright then. So let’s go.”
Jamie thinks for a minute. Then changes his mind. “Ramon, do you have a phone number we can contact you? There’s some prep work we need to do first.”
Ramón looks over at the attractive blonde. “Hey, Marissa?”
“We can do it through the ring-” Erica starts to say.
Conor raises his hand quickly. “I’ll take care of that. You can bring that phone number right over to me, Marissa. We’ll, eh, trade numbers.”
Marissa smiles slowly. “I’m alright with that.”
Erica turns and opens the cage next to her. “Was it torture?” Hobbes carefully gets out and climbs into Erica’s arms.
Elena starts to head toward the door as Erica and her malk whisper quietly to each other. Erica then gathers the malk into her arms and stands up. Jamie is next to her and they move to follow Elena. Conor reluctantly leaves Marissa’s side and joins the group.
“So, do yall want some breakfast?” Ramón gestures toward the back of the house. “We got sausage, bacon…”
Elena turns with a nod. “I could eat.”
Conor quickly concurs, Elena notes with an internal laugh. Jamie nods, too. Erica seems briefly confused, but after a moment, she whispers something to Hobbes, who steps outside the door and quickly disappears.
After the very careful trek through the Nevernever to get back to Jamie’s property, they arrive at Jamie’s front door. As soon as her feet hit the front porch, Erica suddenly doubles over and throws up in the bushes, then crumples in a sobbing heap on the ground.
Elena looks over at her in surprise. Uh, what?
Conor, however, ever the big damn hero, and man with a clue, picks her up and carries her gently inside, where he carefully sets her on the couch. There, she curls up into a little ball and almost instantly falls asleep, with Hobbes curled up on her side purring quietly.
“So, are we going to kill Montfort?” asks Jamie. “Or just embarrass him so bad that-”
“No,” Elena interrupts him.
“We could just tie up his little horsey feet and like send him to the Duke and just make him look real bad,” suggests Jamie. Then he shrugs. “Or we kill him.”
Conor shakes his head. “He’s immortal. He never forgets. He never forgives.”
“We gotta kill him,” insists Elena.
Jamie nods. “Ok.”
“If we send him tied up, to the Duke, we’re not insulting Montfort. It’s more like a declaration of war,” explains Conor.
“Oh, ok.” Jamie nods, thinking for a moment. “So, I’m thinking orange rain from the sky on this one.”
“So who do you think the queen is?” Elena wonders. “‘For Montfort and the Queen’?”
Jamie shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“An ant-centaur like we saw?” she asks.
“There must be a queen for these fire ants,” suggests Jamie, “and he’s just kind of in charge of it?”
The silence seems actually more tired than thoughtful.
Jamie “Ok,” says Jamie decisively, “So we’re not on a time crunch anymore. Let’s get some rest and regroup.”
Elena lips curl into a slight smile as she glances over at Conor. “You might call Marissa and let her know it may take a day or so?”
Conor nods eagerly. “Oh, I can do that. I’ll send her a text.” He tucks his head down and the quiet tap-tap of his finger on the tiny display is the only sound for a minute.
Jamie nods. “Ok. Meet back here tonight. I gotta get some sleep. I have some spells I’ve got to cast.”
“Ok,” agrees Elena, “so regroup in eight hours?”
Erica’s muffled voice comes from the couch. “How about twelve hours?”
Jamie shrugs. “Ok, sure just come back around dark.”
Conor looks up from his phone. “So let her know it’ll be around dark, then?”
“Yeah,” replies Jamie. “That or a little after.”
“You know. I just want to give them a rough time frame,” says Conor as he heads toward the door. “So, em, I’ll see you guys later.”
“You have a date with someone.” Jamie sounds amused. Tired, but amused.
Elena looks over at the girl curled up on the couch. “Erica, do you need a ride home?”
Erica slowly unfolds, moving as if every bone in her body aches. She nods. “Please.”
Before her car even pulls out of Jamie’s driveway, Elena can tell by Erica’s even breathing that Erica has fallen into a deep sleep. At the end of the driveway, before she pulls into the road, Elena looks at the malk, who stares back at her with huge, unblinking green eyes.
“You have a good thing here, cat,” says Elena. “Don’t screw it up.”
Elena swings by Erica’s and picks her up. She notes that the young woman seems to be doing much, much better. Her color seems to have returned. Elena eyes her critically for a second. White girls are so pale, though. Maybe she has more color. However, Erica’s step is definitely more confident and determined as she shoulders her giant backpack and follows Elena to her car.
They regroup at Jamie’s house. Conor isn’t there yet, but after Elena and Erica are settled in the living room, Jamie looks them. “So what is the plan for Montfort here?”
“Kill him?” suggests Elena.
Jamie sighs. “A little more tactical?”
“I want poetic justice,” says Erica. “We find out whatever it is he has control over the queen and turn that against him, so that she eats him.”
Jamie looks at her quizzically. “Like?”
“If he has control over a whole bunch of monsters,” Erica explains, “the best way to kill him is to turn those monsters against him.”
“He probably has some sort of item,” muses Jamie.
They sit in silence for a moment, and then Conor strides in with a cheerful demeanor. “Top o the mornin to ya!”
Jamie glances at him, ironic. “Have a good afternoon?”
Conor grins. “Yeh.”
Jamie rolls his eyes and smiles. “So, Nevernever expert.”
“I do ok,” Conor nods. “What ya needin?”
“How do we…” Jamie starts.
Conor interrupts him. “You’re not gonna ask me my recommendation for strategy, I hope? You already know the answer.”
“Just go in the front door.” Elena isn’t sure how Jamie manages to not roll his eyes again, but Jamie has his work face on and is all business now.
Elena looks back at Conor. “We don’t know where the front door is.”
“Make one,” replies Conor.
“We theorized that Montfort probably has some kind of compel over the queen,” says Jamie, “maybe an item?”
Conor shrugs. “There is no tellin. There are as many ways of binding the fae to you as you can come up with in your own mind.”
“We could ask,” suggests Erica.
Jamie glances over at her. “Who could we ask?”
“Who do we know that would know? Who in the Summer court would know,” Erica asks, that we could ask?""
“Well, anyone in the Summer Court would know, right?” offers Conor. “Everyone I know in the Summer Court doesn’t particularly like him.”
Jamie nods in agreement. “All our encounters have been violent.”
“We could ask the little folk maybe,” suggests Erica. “Would they know?”
“Well, they’d know something,” Conor agrees, “but it would be the outsider’s point of view.”
“They might be able to find out?” asks Jamie.
“What about the satyr?” Conor looks around.
Elena shrugs. “Isn’t he kind of a merc?”
“He gave me the merc vibe,” nods Conor. “Did he give you the merc vibe?”
“Absolutely,” Jamie agrees.
Erica is completely puzzled. “The one at the diner?”
Elena shakes her head. “The one holding the lycanthropes in thrall with the music.”
“Oh!” Erica makes the connection. “Yes. The one that kidnapped me. Oh, yeah, totally a merc. It wasn’t personal at all. And he told me his name.”
“Oreamnos,” states Conor.
“The little people could probably find him,” suggests Jamie.
Conor laughs. “Oh. I know where he is. Yeah, follow me!”
“I don’t really want to go through the Nevernever again,” Jamie replies drily.
Conor smiles with a little shrug of agreement. “Well,” he says thoughtfully, “he’s usually at the head shop, over on Belt Line in Carrollton. He’s always there at the head shop.”
“If he’s a merc he’ll want equivalent payment,” says Erica.
“He’ll want favors,” Jamie agrees, “but we’ll deal with that later.”
“He’s a satyr,” says Conor dismissively. “Get him shagged and he’ll be fine.”
Erica pale skin flushes a bright red.. “I’m not shagging him!”
Conor looks surprised. “I wasn’t saying actually…” he protests. “I was just giving an example. I mean, satyrs are famous.” Conor explains, “He’s a druggie. I mean…”
Elena laughs and offers, “So his price isn’t very complicated?”
Conor nods. “He’s not a difficult sort. We get on grand. I’ve never had a problem with him until the previous evening.”
“And plus, Montfort almost got him killed, so…” Jamie adds.
“Well,” replies Conor, “the risk is part of the job, I think.”
“Ah, ok.” Jamie nods. “So, head shop in Carrollton?”
“Yeah,” agrees Conor. “Easy to get to.”
As Elena pulls into the small strip mall, she eyes each building. Some kind of nail parlor, a comic book shop, a donut shop, and at the far end, the head shop. She finds it slightly ironic that her friends are taking her to a head shop, considering this is her first visit to one since her last actual job. And that visit was way less… friendly.
“Hey Erica,” she hears Conor ask from behind her. “Do you like comic books?”
“They have comic books here?” Erica perks up immediately.
“Not at the head shop,” replies Elena over her shoulder. “There’s a comic book store just down the way.”
Jamie shrugs. “We’ll hit that after.”
“Comic books, action figures,” Conor explains, “dice of all shapes and varieties.”
Conor leads the way into the head shop, followed closely by Erica. Elena’s new sense of smell, Gracias Toho, allows her to easily distinguish the weed smell from the scented tobaccos, incense, and air freshener they used to try to mask the stench. She wonders idly where they keep their actual merchandise.
The clerk looks up from his magazine and drawls slowly, “Hey, man. What can I do for ya?”
“Um. Hey,” says Erica, “You’re Claret’s friend, right?”
The clerk’s eyes narrow thoughtfully as he looks at the petite girl wearing the mirror shades standing in front of him. “Yeah. Do I know you?”
“I’m one of her other friends,” Erica replies.
He studies her for a minute, then says, “You look pretty clean cut for one of Claret’s friends.”
“I’m a little bit more, uh,” explains Erica haltingly, “production than consumption.”
Elena’s head slowly turns from the random crazy bong to look at Erica, her black eyes narrowing slightly. Production. She can’t stop the flash of anger as it courses through her. Friends are one thing. This? Oh, no, this is totally different. Elena inhales slowly, then just as slowly exhales, completely missing the rest of the conversation between Erica and her new friend. Elena calmly moves the far side of the store and concentrates on not showing her reaction to what Erica just inadvertently revealed.
Elena finally refocuses on listening to the clerk when she hears him drawl, “So can I show you guys something? Something in a pipe or… tobacco or scented tobacco?” Elena pretends to look at a stack of t-shirts. Black, black, black, red. Black, black, gray. Marley, pirate, skull, peace sign. Zombie apocalypse, Marley, catchy phrase. Yeah. Expected.
“No,” replies Jamie calmly. “Good for now.”
Elena can almost hear the shrug in the clerk’s reply. “Cool.”
Erica calls the number and Elena listens in.
“Hello?” The voice on the other end is gruff, a smoker’s voice, and sexy.
Erica is hesitant. “OR?”
Erica lowers her voice. “Oreamnos?”
“Who is this?”
“We met, last night,” Erica explains. “Tied to a chair. Picked me up in a parking lot…”
“Ah.” The voice pauses, then continues, “I’m actually quite happy to know that you are ok.”
“I appreciate that,” replies Erica.
“No hard feelings, I hope?”
“No, no. I get it.” Erica pauses, momentarily unsure how to continue.
“How can I help?”
“Um. Well,” Erica replies, “The hard feelings aren’t with you. You were just doing what you do. Hard feelings, however, are with Montfort.”
“I can understand that.”
“So, I was wondering if I could possibly purchase service of some kind from you?” asks Erica.
“Where are you? We can discuss prices.”
“I am at the head shop on Belt Line in Carrollton.”
Elena hears the husky laugh. “I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”
“Excellent. Thank you.”
Eight minutes later, a very nice black Chevy Impala drives up. The paint job is glossy and perfect, with gleaming chrome accents and rims. Elena notes the license plate and is suddenly cheered up. KBRIT0. Really? Nice. I’ll deal with Claret later.
The man that gets out of the car is tall and fairly slender, although Elena can tell he has some decent muscle tone underneath all that black leather. His face is long and narrow, jaw covered in scruff, and chin sporting a brown goatee, of course. His brown hair is shoulder length and disheveled. He has a big black cigar in his mouth and he walks toward the head shop with a swagger. After studying him for a moment, Elena can tell the swagger isn’t just assumed, it’s him incorporating his actual satyr legs into his own glamoured human stride. Hide the truth with a different truth. Very fae, Elena is learning.
He walks into the shop and takes a quick look around. His gaze passes over Elena and then settles on Erica. “Let’s go into my office.”
Erica nods. “Ok.”
OR looks over at the clerk and nods. “It’s alright, man. We’re just gonna go back into my office and chill out a bit.”
“It’s all good,” the clerk drawls. “Which one do you wanna smoke today?”
OR scratches his chin distractedly. “Eh… Let’s talk about it later. I’m thinkin the Honduran stuff.”
“You alright, Elena?” asks Conor.
Elena glances at him and shrugs. “Yeah. I’ll be alright.”
Erica and Jamie follow Oreamnos into the back room, and Elena hears the curtain draw closed. It’s a sound buffering curtain, but Elena can hear through it, no problem. She sees Conor pull out his cell phone and look up. He holds it up and points at it sheepishly, then he steps quickly outside.
Elena is distracted from her eavesdropping by the clerk. “Hey,” she hears him say. She’s the only person left in the shop, so yeah. Idiot’s talking to her. She looks over at him, just in time to hear him ask suggestively, “Packin heat, baby? You a cop or something?”
Elena’s black eyes glare at him. “No. DEA.”
The guy jerks back as if she has reached over from across the room and slapped him, hard. “Whoah!! Oh, wow.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and groans. “Uh, I got a prescription. Yeah.”
She watches him, eyes narrowed, and he groans again.
“Oh, wow. My day is like, ruined. Oh, it is so not as cool as it was a minute ago.” He rummages around behind the counter. “Uh, this stuff is all tobacco. It’s the flavors that make it smell odd.”
He looks up at her, uncertain. “Can I show you something in tobacco?”
Elena stares at him, eyes hard. “Don’t talk.”
Production, she said.
Elena mostly ignores the clerk, who is sitting on the stool behind the counter flipping nervously through a magazine, occasionally casting a furtive glance her way. Ugh. Idiot made me miss the whole first part of the conversation.
She hears Jamie ask, “Do you like comic books?”
Oreamnos sounds bored. “Not particularly.”
“You’re a very attractive young lady,” Elena hears Oreamnos say in a gruff, seductive voice.
“Uh…” Erica clearly panics and stammers. “Oreamnos, you’re a very interesting person and, uh, I’m not saying that, uh…”
“A kiss,” Oreamnos interrupts, amused. “That’s it.”
“Oh.” There’s a quiet pause. “Uh, ok.”
Then there’s a long silence that Jamie finally interrupts. “Ok, that’s enough.” A moment later, Jamie adds, “You might just want to tell me.”
“Ah. Ok,” agrees Oreamnos amicably. “Well, the short of would be Montfort…” he pauses. “We’ll call it the… father of most of them.”
“Whoah! Whoah!” Erica is shocked.
“Not the only father,” Oreamnos explains. “There are other males involved. But he’s the only one that lives past the coupling.”
“That’s with the queen that everyone keeps talking about,” muses Jamie.
“So he’s…” still clearly processing, Erica sounds creeped out.
“She’s quite lovely,” there’s a smile in Oreamnos’ voice, “when you ignore the egg sack.”
“And he just commands them because he’s their father?” Erica asks.
“He’s their father,” Oreamnos explains. “The horse body, the ant body… They kinda work well together. I don’t really ask about the specifics.”
“Uh, yeah.” Yep. Erica is creeped out.
Oreamnos laughs. “Like I said, the queen is quite an attractive fae when you ignore the egg sack.”
“Is that payment met?” Oreamnos asks politely.
“Uh, yeah,” Erica stammers. “That is fantastic.”
Elena can hear the smile in Oreamnos’ voice again. “It was. It was quite lovely.”
Erica stammers again. “I’m gonna…”
“Go!” Jamie says coolly.
“Uh, go, now.”
“C’mon Erica.” Elena hears Jamie say to Oreamnos, “Nice doing business with you.”
“My pleasure,” Oreamnos replies. Then, suggestively, “See you around, Erica.”
“Yes, as much as I can… see… hear you… is what I was… I need to go.”
Jamie is escorting Erica gently but determinedly by the elbow out of the store. Elena follows. Once outside, Jamie asks irritably, “Can we skip the comic book shop?”
“Yeah. I’m not really thinking comic books… right now…”
They pile into the car, Conor in the front passenger seat this time, and Erica and Jamie in the back.
“So I guess there’s really no turning the ants against Montfort,” Jamie muses thoughtfully as Elena pulls out.
Conor looks over his shoulder at Jamie. “Wait. What’s goin on?”
“Oh,” replies Jamie, “Montfort is the, uh, father.”
“Of the ones coming after us, anyway,” adds Erica.
There’s a brief silence, then Conor shakes his head. “Oh. Arg. I’m gonna have to scrub my mind.”
Jamie’s response is quick and snarky. “I’m sure your new blonde friend can help you with that.”
“Wow. I didn’t even feel that one,” Erica mumbles. “Huh. That was a good kiss.”
Conor twists around and looks at Erica. “Wait, what? What happened in that back room?”
Erica shakes her head. “Nothin happened at all.”
There’s a brief, awkward silence, that Jamie breaks, “So, I guess if we’re gonna wipe out the mound-”
Conor tosses a quick glance at Jamie. “Jamie, good call going in the room with the virgin and satyr. Good call.”
“Yeah, thanks,” sighs Erica in wistful relief.
“You are like crack to him,” advises Conor.
“Yeah,” replies Erica dreamily. “Kinda works the other way around on that one, too.”
Jamie snorts. “So, while she’s getting over that, we’re really not going to be able to turn Montfort against the ants or vice versa. Looks like it’s just going to be a fire ant extermination.”
Elena nods. “Sure.”
“Yeah, I’ll go with that,” adds Erica. “But what would it take to get the queen to eat Montfort? Or for Montfort not to survive a coupling?”
Conor shudders. “I really do not want to hear this conversation.”
“We could just get rid of the fire ants all together,” Jamie shrugs, “and probably save a lot of people in this town some trouble.”
“Do you think the Duke would take offense if we just wiped out the Invictae?” Erica wonders.
“Yeah, of course,” Conor nods. “We’d be reducing his power. But, you know, it happens. Montfort started it, didn’t he?”
“Yeah,” replies Erica.
Jamie adds, “And the Duke doesn’t even like Montfort, does he?”
“Well, there’s not liking the fella,” says Conor reluctantly, “and acknowledging the resources he brings to bear.”
“Do we still have the head?” asks Erica.
“Oh sure,” Conor replies cheerfully. “It’s right here on the seat.”
“Oh. Ew.” Erica scoots closer to the car door. “Can we use it to trace it to the mother?”
Conor looks at it, then says, “Well, it’s been dissolving, so not sure how useful it’ll be.”
“I can pretty much wipe out the ants,” says Jamie. “Just get me in the middle with the queen and I can wipe them out.”
Erica sighs in disappointment. “If we could just get her to eat Montfort.”
Conor shudders. “I’m gonna go sit up here with Elena. You two can talk about the details.”
“How did I get stuck with the ant procreation detail?” Jamie replies plaintively.
“I just don’t want to piss off any more fae than we already have,” Erica muses. “If we want to go with the extermination, I’ll go with that, I just… I don’t want to piss off any more fae.”
Jamie looks at Elena and Conor. “What does everyone else think? Trick or do we just get rid of the ants. It’ll piss off the Summer Court a little.”
“But less,” adds Erica, “if we just take out Montfort.”
Jamie nods. “True. But then the fire ants are still running around.”
“Yeah, but maybe give them to someone who will be more responsible with them?” Erica suggest. “Or someone we can… Or someone who’s not mad at us? It’s still a win?”
Jamie looks at Conor again. “Conor, what do you think?”
“Personal preference?” he asks.
Jamie nods. “Sure.”
“Find a neutral, loosely affiliated member of the Summer Court worth a thing or two,” replies Conor, “tell him what the deal is and how to keep control of the ants, and transfer their allegiance, as it were.”
“So just off Montfort,” says Jamie.
“He’s a tosspot,” Conor agrees. “He’s never gonna let it go.”
“True,” Jamie acknowledges.
“So find some other Summer fae that we like and give him a promotion,” Conor suggests. “Then the Duke can’t complain about his fire ants being gone. Maybe we pick up a significant favor, in the process.”
“That’s much better, actually.” Jamie’s voice is almost cheerful.
Erica nods with satisfaction. “I like that.”
“Or we just wipe them out,” Conor shrugs. “They’re giant fire ants. It’s not like they’re nice or anything.”
“Well, it could be viewed as an assault on the Duke,” muses Jamie. “We have enough problems already. We don’t need to piss off the Duke if we don’t have to. And I kind of like the idea of having an ally down the road…”
“I like the idea of having someone owe us a favor,” says Elena.
Jamie studies Conor. “Do you know a guy?”
Conor pauses thoughtfully. “Hm. Has to be the worst idea ever…”
“What?” asks Jamie.
Erica chimes in, too, “What??”
“Well. We could hand em off to the Winter Court,” suggests Conor. “I’m not saying hand them off to the Marchioness, but it would sure go a ways to evening the playing field.”
Jamie shakes his head. “I think the Duke would rather have us light them up than hand them over to the Winter Court.”
“Well, yeah,” Conor agrees. “He would.”
“What about the Hammer?” asks Erica.
Conor looks at Erica over his shoulder. “Who?”
“The eating guy?” she replies.
Conor tilts his head. “Oh. That guy from the cafe?”
“He’s Summer Court,” she asks, "isn’t he?
“I guess. I don’t know,” Conor shrugs. “Is he gonna want to do the nasty with the ant queen?”
“Oh, that’s a good point.” Erica sighs in disappointment.
Conor taps his chin, thinking. “I mean, if we give it to a satyr like-”
“Wait,” Erica interrupts. “Wait.”
Conor smiles. “We could give it to a satyr. He’d do anything, really.”
The car is totally silent, then Erica adds, “He already finds her attractive.”
Jamie “Do we need to turn the car around?”
“Maybe…” replies Erica. “Ok. So go over it with me one more time? The politics involved, Conor?”
Conor nods. “Well, if your goal is to not piss off the Duke, then all the Duke needs is someone in the Summer Court to be in charge of the Invictae. As long as that resource is still accessible, he’s good. Now getting to Montfort, that’ll be the hard part, although we’ve killed about a hundred of his offspring already.”
Jamie shrugs. “We can deal with more.”
“And we’ve got the queen,” explains Conor. “She’ll need to be dealt with. She’ll still need her payment. I’m thinking anything male will do.”
Erica’s forehead wrinkles in puzzlement. “So how will we broach that to the satyr?”
Conor shrugs. “I have no idea how we’re going to bring this up.”
“Would you like to run the ants and screw the queen?” suggests Jamie.
“I imagine he’d have to come with us into the mound,” Conor muses. “Fae are pretty simple. Old pacts are consummated-”
“Consummated?” asks Erica.
Elena nods. “Consummated.”
“Oh, right,” Erica still doesn’t sound like she understands.
Conor says significantly, “Consummated.”
“Oh. Oh. Ew,” groans Erica. “Do we have to stay for the whole…?”
Conor shakes his head. “Probably not.”
“Turn the car around?” asks Jamie.
Elena nods and looks for the first opportunity to make a U-turn. “Yeah.”
Elena follows Jamie, Conor and Erica back into the head shop. She sees the clerk’s face fall into anxious lines when he realizes who has just come back in, and he quickly lowers his hand rolled ‘cigarette’ so that it’s behind the counter, out of view.
“Oh, hey. Uh, you’re back. Nothing’s changed, man.” He sounds very uncomfortable and his eyes dart to Oreamnos, who is lounging next to him smoking a very thick, pungent cigar. The clerk looks back at the group. His gaze slides past Elena and he focuses on the much more pleasant seeming Jamie. “Would you, uh, like some tobacco?”
Jamie ignores the clerk and looks at Oreamnos. “So, we have something we’d like to discuss with you. Shall we go back into your office?”
Oreamnos is staring at Erica. “She coming?” His voice is gruff and seductive. Erica flushes a very bright shade of pink and tucks her chin down.
Jamie shakes his head. “No.”
“Sure, I guess,” replies Oreamnos, sounding just ever so slightly disappointed.
Oreamnos stands and stretches leisurely, his dark eyes following Erica as she runs her hand across the glass counter murmuring to herself. After his stretch is complete, Oreamnos walks to the back room and pulls open the curtain with a flourish. Jamie follows him, while Conor, Erica and Elena wait in the store. Elena moves to the t-shirts again.
“So what do you need?” she hears Oreamnos ask. He pauses. “Gimme a minute, gimme a minute.” Then there’s another silence, and when he speaks, his voice is more clear and not quite so husky. “Alright. My head’s a little better. What can I do for you?”
“We were talking it over.” Jamie hesitates, then continues matter of fact, “Think you can get past the egg sack?”
“The queen’s egg sack?”
“Yeah. Do you think you could, ah… Well, you said she was attractive.”
Oreamnos’ voice is confident. "You will think she’s attractive in spite of the egg sack, too. Trust me.
“But can you get past the egg sack?” Jamie is insistent.
“Yeah,” Oreamnos drawls slowly. There is a distinct, alluring smile in his voice. “Why?”
“How would you like a nest?”
Oreamnos’ voice is quizzical. “What are you offering me?”
“We off Montfort, you take care of running the nest,” Jamie states calmly.
There is a moment of silence, then Oreamnos asks, “In exchange for?”
“A favor down the road?”
After a long pause, Oreamnos’ voice is low and thoughtful. “Yeah.”
“We’d like to have a friend in the Summer Court,” suggests Jamie.
“What about him? He’s a changeling,” asks Oreamnos curiously, “near fae himself.” Elena glances over at Conor, who is staring at his phone intently.
“I don’t think he’s interested,” Jamie replies.
Oreamnos laughs. “I don’t think he’s ever seen the queen either.”
“I think his destiny lies in a different direction.”
“This is because of Montfort and that whole ‘My Little Pony’ thing?”
“You know, he started it,” Jamie explains, “and then that whole incident you were involved in, and then he jumped us when we stepped into the Nevernever.”
Oreamnos’ voice is knowing. “So this is personal.”
“Yeah,” Jamie agrees. “He’s just gonna keep coming after us.”
“And in exchange for you handing me the queen and all its associated power,” Oreamnos asks, “I leave you alone? The ants won’t attack you anymore? You, your group.”
“And a favor down the road. This is a significant amount of power we’re turning over to you,” Jamie reminds him.
“What I can promise is, because I can’t promise I know what the Duke is going to use the Invictae for,” Oreamnos seems all business now, too, “but I can promise you that I will never order the Invictae to attack you, your friends directly. If I am ordered by my Duke to interfere with Dallas mortals and it affects your friends, you understand that puts me in a bind that I can’t get around.”
“Sure,” Jamie agrees.
“I can give you a warning, though,” Oreamnos offers.
“Ok, sounds good.
“Then yeah,” there’s a satisfied rumble in Oreamnos’ voice. “I think we can do business. When are you going? Because obviously I’ll need to go with.”
“Fairly soon,” replies Jamie.
“Fairly soon as in within the next hour?”
“You might want to get settled up,” Jamie says, “or not depending on how you roll.”
There is smile in Oreamnos’ voice again as he replies knowingly, “You just wait til you see her.”
A few seconds later, Jamie comes out, with Oreamnos following him. Oreamnos has a very thoughtful look on his face.
Jamie looks at them and nods. “K, let’s go.”
Erica tilts her head toward the clerk. “The bubblegum flavor has gone bad.”
“What?” The clerk looks up with a jerk, glances over at Elena, then back at Erica. “Oh. Thanks. I’ll, uh, get on that. Um. In the next few… Yeah.”
Elena’s lips curl, but for the most part she simply ignores him as she follows Jamie out the door. She hears the clerk call dubiously from behind her, “Thanks for comin’?”
As they all pile into her car, Elena sighs as she turns the key. “Man. I need to get a new car.”
((The assault on the mound is narrated. Everyone loses some stress, takes a minor and/or moderate. The wolves go with them, they’re messed up, too. It was a nasty, brutal, long fight. A massive tunnel fight/dungeon crawl of epic proportions against formians. Whee!))
((Elena does what she can to make sure the pack comes back, too.))
Elena is covered head to toe in orange scented ant goo, and some of it scrapes off her as she squeezes through the narrow neck of the hall into a wide open chamber. The room is barely illuminated by pulsing pale orbs that are attached to the wall with some more ant goo, Elena assumes by the look of it. The lights, though, cast eerie shadows across the chamber and frame an enormous egg sack. With a quick glance around the chamber, Elena can’t even make a good estimate of how many eggs there might be in this room. Several thousand??
Elena saw all that in the first quick glance, but like everyone else, her gaze is drawn to the center of the chamber, where, seated on a throne, is an absolutely beautiful white woman. Not Caucasian, but white and glistening, like mother of pearl. Her shining white hair is tumbled down her chest, barely hiding her nakedness, and a white blanket is draped across her lap. Her large gleaming white eyes turn toward the group that has burst into her chamber and a slight smile twists her pale lips.
Elena hears a good half of the posse growl in unison, and a quick lunge toward the ant queen from some of them. Then Elena hears Ramón’s loud, dominating growl, and the pack seems to quiet down slightly. A quick glance shows her that Conor, Jamie and even Matthew are staring at the queen with barely suppressed desire.
Elena sees Oreamnos look at the group quizzically. She shrugs. “It’s all you, man.”
Oreamnos laughs. “Oh, don’t throw me in the briar patch!”
Montfort bursts in with several of his giant ant-centaur daughters.
Conor bows at the queen. “With thy permission, Queen of Ants?”
The queen merely shrugs.
((Narrated fight, nasty brutal etc. The queen watches impassively. All said and done and Montfort and his kids are dead. Everyone takes a moderate to reflect the difficulty of the battle. Quick discussion to make sure players are ok with this; they are more than satisfied with the narration vs. rolling literally a hundred dice.))
((Most of the wolves’ moderate consequences are ‘Completely Ooged Out By Everything’))
The queen studies the victorious group expectantly as they stand in front of her throne dripping with ant goo. Montfort’s corpse is on the ground.
“Why?” Her voice is sultry, raspy and has a deep reverb through the whole chamber.
Jamie gestures at Oreamnos, who bows courteously. “My queen! I have displaced Montfort to take his place, with thy permission.”
“Knowest thou the terms of thy throne?” the queen asks.
Oreamnos nods and answers respectfully. “I would accept it willingly, in exchange for all the power that it brings.”
“It will be thine,” the queen’s voice is thrumming and the entire chamber vibrates slightly. “Come to me…”
“Uh,” stammers Erica, “let’s go!”
“Yeah,” Elena replies, grabbing Erica by the elbow.
Conor remembers his manners, though, “With thy permission, Queen of Ants?”
“Go in peace,” she responds, not even looking at them. Her pale, gleaming eyes are locked with Oreamnos’.
Jamie signals the werewolves and everyone scrambles for the hole. Some had already been slowly backing out, and in spite of the narrowness of the exit, they were able to leave pretty quickly.
They leave the Nevernever by way of Conor’s opening, and after everyone is safely out, Jamie glances over at Ramón.
“So, life getting a lot weirder for you?”
Ramón nods. “In a good way. We’ll see you around, Scoobies.”
Erica turns her face toward Ramón. “This is going to work out, right?”
“I think we’ll be friends,” Ramón replies.
“Right,” Erica nods.
The posse heads off, the group heads off, too.
“This has been the most surreal two days of my entire life,” says Conor, with a groan, as he stands on Jamie’s driveway next to Elena’s car. “So, uh, what’s next?”
“Uh, I have a paper due for my applied physics class. But that’s just me,” Erica replies.
Jamie shrugs. “I have a warlock to investigate in Oklahoma.” His suit is totally ruined, Elena notes.
“I’m gonna go take a shower,” Conor sighs.
“Oh, yeah,” agrees Erica. “That’s definitely first. Definitely, definitely first.”
There’s a brief moment of silence, and Elena’s eyes narrow. Yeah. Gonna deal with this now and get it all over with.
“So,” she says, turning to fully face Erica so that Erica will be able to tell that Elena is talking to her, “when you said you did production for Claret, what did that mean?”
“Dammit,” Erica mutters. “Um…”
Jamie sighs. “You’re having this conversation now?”
Elena ignores him and continues to stare at Erica. She sees Conor nod from the corner of her eye.
“We’ll see ye around,” Conor says cheerfully as he and Jamie quickly vanish into the house.
“So…” Erica heaves a huge sigh, then asks, “Do you know what sonochemistry means?”
“It means I use sound waves to speed up chemical reactions.” Erica pauses and sighs again. “So, she does potions, obviously, but she gets most of her money from designer recreational drugs…”
Elena’s lips curl and she responds drily, “Yeah.”
“So, um…” Erica pauses. “And I help her with certain reactions, speed up the batch, and, uh-”
“Drugs ruin peoples’ lives.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Erica sighs. “I don’t-”
“Think about that?”
Erica is hesitant. “Uh, no…”
Elena shakes her head in disbelief. “Do you think you should maybe give it some thought?”
“Yes,” Erica replies meekly.
Elena’s brows come down angrily. She’s not sure if Erica is just giving her the Yes-sir treatment or if she has really truly understood the gravity of what her participation means. "Have you seen anyone use drugs before? What it does to them, what it does to their families?
“Let me just back you up to the first part of that sentence there.” Erica says, suddenly sarcastic and defiant. “Have I seen?”
Elena raises an eyebrow. “Don’t be naive. Heard. Whatever.”
“There’s, uh. She doesn’t-” Erica blows out a quick burst of breath.
Elena shrugs. “Ok, tell me this. Picking flowers. Are you familiar with that term?”
Erica nods. “Yeah. Yeah.”
“Do you know what LSD does to people’s minds?”
Erica nods again. “Yeah.”
“Are you ok with that?” Elena is incredulous. “Are you ok with being part of under-aged kids and LSD?”
“She doesn’t sell to kids!” Erica protests.
Elena’s reply is sharp and sarcastic. “Oh, so you’re going to guarantee that they don’t get it.”
The silence is telling. Then Erica sighs again. “I can’t stop being her friend. That’s the thing.” She pauses and tilts her head. “Does that make sense?”
“Kinda like you made friends with a flesh-eating malk?”
“But,” replies Elena calmly, “does he eat people?”
Erica shakes her head. “No.”
“So I’m ok with that.”
“I can’t tell you who your friends are,” Elena says softly, all the fire gone and only quiet, steady determination left. “But if you participate in any more production of drugs that ruin people, you and I can’t be friends.”
“Ok. Ok. I’ll stop.”
Elena nods. “Ok.”