story

Night Menagerie II

d

       I opened my eyes some time later and I was at the foot of a mountain.  Instinctively I raised my hand to my shoulder and it was whole, like I had never been bit. Okay this was apparently the side effects of a little too high dose of drugs or failing that Leonardo Dicaprio was going to be walking out any moment.   Well whichever it was I was sure it was better then experiencing the pain I world be feeling when I woke up.   I took a long look around my surroundings, it reminded me of the pictures from mom and Dad’s honeymoon when he had taken her back to visit Nepal.  It wasn’t the most romantic place but the white capped peaks did have an undeniable beauty.   As I marveled at the view the silences was suddenly interrupted by a lone wolf howl, which was joined a moment later by several others.   I scanned the area and finally caught sight of a person running high up on the mountain far behind but closing the distances was a pack of wolves.   I ran closer to the mountain and the figure turned to look down at me. They were distant but I recognized her instantly, it was Kumani.  Christopher Nolan fantasy or not I would not let anything happen to my sister.  I sprinted up the mountain path but after only a few steps it changed from grass to rocky ground to a sheer cliff face, I leapt up and clung to the side of the cliff, my fingers digging into any small handholds I could find.  The rock was hard and jagged and after only climbing a few feet my clothes were ripped and my fingers were bleeding. I ignored the pain and moved upward; using every bit of strength and everything I had learned about finding my way when I free running to ascend towards my sister.  Finally I reached the plateau and dragged myself over the edge. I stood up shakily and let myself gaze I way I had just come, it was a big mistake. It has seemed like I was only climbing for a few minutes but when I looked down it was from a dizzying height and I knew if  I fell there would be no chance of surviving. 

     My sister had put her back to a wall and the wolves were advancing on her.  I willed my tired muscles to move and ran towards her.  As I ran I grabbed rocks from the ground and threw them at the wolves but the beasts continued to move in on my sister. As I got closer I spied a large branch and picked it up. Then I was upon them I swung the branch frantically this way and that the wolves backed off for a moment. I reached my sister’s side and she was lying on the ground with a large gash torn out of her leg, but she was alive. I spun around and held the stick high ready to bring to down atop any wolf that came close. The wolves growled and circled warily but none stepped forward.  A moment later a much larger wolf with jet black fur moved out of the pack.  The other wolves had seemed fierce but this one locked eyes with me and I could sense that it was not stalking us because of  hunger, it wanted to kill me and Kumani just for the thrill of tearing our throats out.  I shifted my feet preparing for the lunge I knew was coming.  When it happened it was almost too quick for me to follow, the black form shot towards me but before it could close the distance another form interjected itself, a white blur that impacted the alpha wolf.  The white shape was a snow leopard and as it hit the wolf its teeth sunk into its neck and drove it to the ground. I heard a large snap as the wolf’s neck broke under the impact. The snow leopard shook the wolf in its mouth to make sure it was dead and then dropped it.  The rest of the pack seemed suddenly uncertain and apprehensive.  The cat turned and hissed at the pack and they took a step back. The snow leopard took a few steps forward and walked back and forth in front of Kumani and I. The pack took the message and slowly melted away. The leopard turned and looked at me directly and as I gazed into its eyes I found myself drawn into the darkness till I was losing myself and then a moment later I was back, on the floor bleeding.     

     There room was filled with screams and I was surprised that I was not one of the people screaming.  It was probably due to being in shock from my injury and would come in time. I was still in Val’s parent house so the weird dream had not been from any anesthesia, just gross physical trauma. I used my one good arm to push myself into a sitting position.  There was a lot of blood on the floor but I was not sure how much of if it was mine.   Mr. Lawton had a cell phone to his ear and he was diverting his attention between it and trying to get his wife to stop shrieking. I don’t know why he was trying that seemed like an appropriate response  to what had occurred, but that was just  me.  

    Mr. Lawton leaned and in said something but I was having trouble following his voice.  I took a deep breath and focused my attention.     

 “Val wants to know if you think you can move, He says there might be more people coming and we should leave.”  

    Well that was easy for Val to say, I was having trouble just keeping myself in a sitting position but if there were more of those guys coming then I did not want to be here when they arrived. I nodded my head weakly, and then looked over at my arm. 

    “I need something to bandage it to slow down the bleeding.”

    Val’s dad nodded and pulled off his shirt. He leaned me forward and the wrapped the material around my arm several times.  Then he put his shoulder under my good arm and helped me to stand.   

    “Can you stand for a moment?”

    “Yeah, no problem.” He let me go and took two steps towards his wife and I felt the room spinning. I slumped backwards against the wall but kept my feet.  He started to turn around but I waved my good arm, directing him to his wife. 

    “Honey we have to go. Val is going to meet us at Aunt Brenda’s.” Val’s mom looked at his dad but did not seem to be getting what he was saying. I took a half step forward and reached for the gun on the floor.  Val’s mom’s eyes watched my every move. 

    “no no no ” Great of all the things going on, the gun was the thing still freaking her out. I looked at her and our eyes met.

    “We are leaving, now!” I am not sure where the strength in my voice came from but she took a step back and seemed to able to focus. 

    “You’re right, we have to go.”” She was halfway out the door before I could take another step. Val’s dad watched her go and then came back to help support my weight.  I was tempted to say I did not need the help but I really truly did so I kept my mouth shut.  He helped me hobble out into the car and we were on our way. 

    It turns out that Aunt Brenda lived way out in Troy, Missouri a rural town about 2 hours from Saint Louis. I spent most of the ride with my head lolling against the back seat window. I thought about suggesting a hospital but that had not worked out so well for my sister, so I tried to keep the pressure on my arm, hoping I was keeping the blood loss to a minimum but not cutting off the flow altogether. It had taken me most of my adult life to learn how to use both hands to type and I did not want to backslide now.  

    The trip went pretty quick or maybe I just passed out a lot.  We pulled onto a long drive way that led to a farmhouse.  As we reached the end I saw Val standing in front of his car.   As the car slowed to a stop he was at my door. He helped my out and leaned my against his parent’s car.

    “Are you still with me?”

    “Mostly.”  He nodded and left me leaning while he went back to his car, he grabbed a first aid kit and return before I could pitch to the ground. I appreciated that.     He took a hold of his Dad’s blood soaked shirt and then gently moved my head to the side. 

    “You probably don’t want to see this.” 

    I figured he was right and kept looking to the side. He unwrapped the rag, from around the wound, and then took a half step back. 

    “How bad is it?” I had been starting to get my bearings back but now I felt vertigo creeping back.

    “”I’ve seen worse.” He turned his body sideways blocking my view and took out some gauze to re-wrap the wound.  “That will hold it until we can get you in to see a doctor.”

    “That would be nice. I can make time for that.”  

    “Well’s hang tight, it’s not first on our list. Dad, Sara and I are hitting the road. You guys should not have any more trouble but I would I keep the shotgun handy. I will call you when things have cleared up.” 

Val’s mom raced over and grabbed him. “Mom we will be fine.” Val looked over at his dad who came over and gently pried her grip off. 

      I started to walk around his car and then stopped and headed back to his dad’s vehicle.

    “Where are you going?”

    “To get your gun I dropped it in the back seat on the way over here.’ 

    “Get in the car I will get it.”

    I moved slowly around and watched at he pulled the pistol out of the car; reflexively he ejected the clip and looked at the bullets, then turned to stare at me.

      “What, you going to charge me for the rounds I used.”

    “No, its. ..  Nothing, just get in the car.”  He flicked the safety on and slid behind the steering wheel. 

 I could go on and on about the car ride but it was pretty much like the trip to Troy, Val drove us out to a hunting cabin in the middle of nowhere. I stumbled in and found the bedroom and collapsed on the bed.  I woke up a couple of hours feeling a little depleted but better then I thought I would. I had never been bit by a wolf before so I was not sure what to compare the experience to.  It was the middle of the night but I was able to make my way into the front room with very little effort It was surprising how much light was coming from the moon through the window shades.   It was like I was back in the suburbs instead of out in the country.   I made out Val’s shape on the couch.   

    “psst, Val where is the bathroom?”

    “mmh mmh”

    “Val! Where is the bathroom?”

    “mmh – there isn’t one, there is an out house out back.”

    “What!”

    Val rolled off the couch and hit the floor with a thud. I saw one hand reaching under the cushions of the couch before he slowly turned and looked at me.  “I thought you were the rough and tumble army brat. Hell you just went through getting attacked and shooting someone like a pro.  What is the problem with an outhouse?”

    I held my hands up before me. “Outhouse’s are nasty and they have things that might climb up out of the hole and . . . you know . . . climb up.”     

    Val sighed deeply and got back on the couch. He turned his body away from me and began to snore loudly. 

    “I know you’re not asleep yet.” The snoring increased in tempo.  “Fine!”

    Once again I am going to spare you the details, some things a person should never share and their time in an outhouse is on the top of that list.   After my adventure I returned to bed and blissfully did not dream of anything for the rest of the night.   The morning came too early but I smelled the flavor of coffee and crawled out of bed.  I walked into the kitchen and Val was just opening the tin on the coffee.

    “Damn I thought I had smelled fresh brewed coffee.”

    “Nope I was just starting. How’s the arm.”

  I rotated my left shoulder and felt no pain, matter of fact I had not even thought about my injury since I crawled in bed.  I reached up and undid the gauze around my arm. The wound had closed up and was half the size I remembered. “What the f. . .”

    Val dropped the coffee pack and moved closer to me. “It was probably just a lot of shock and you were not hurt as bad as you thought. I bet most of the blood was from the wolf.”

    “No, I have hurt myself in enough different ways that I know when something is really bad and that was one worse then I ever experienced before.” 

    Val hunched his shoulders and went back to making coffee.  I gave him my best menacing glare but he seemed oblivious to it. 

    “So since there is no indoor toilet I suppose there is no shower.”

    “No there is.”

    I immediately forgave Val for all his issues.  “Where?”

    “About a half mile up river there is a water fall.”

    And then I tacked all the things I hated about him back on. “Cute, I guess it doesn’t matter I don’t have anything clean to put on.”

    “Actually you kind of do. After I dropped you off at my parents I went back to your sister’s car, she had a packed bag that escaped being trashed. I did not have time to turn it in to evidence.” 

    “Okay, then I am off.”   

    “Okay I will go with you.”

    “Yeah right you’re going to go watch me shower. I don’t think so.”

    “I wouldn’t watch.”

    “Okay now I am doubly offended.”

    “You can’t get upset at me for both.”

    “And yet I did.” I grabbed his keys off the counter and walked out the door before he had a chance to get in a rebuttal.   I was probably being too hard on him but giving him trouble kept my mind off the weird stuff that had been going on and the fact that I still did not know where my sister was.   I opened the trunk and found my sister’s suitcase. It was huge, my sister was a bit of a clothes horse and did not go anywhere without at least a couple of changes of clothes. I found some underwear, jeans, and a fancy blouse as well as her bag of toiletries.  They were not my first choice but since I had slept in my current outfit twice, I settled for whatever was clean.  The walk up the river was relaxing and it seemed like there was a mass of wildlife that was making noise and scurrying about.   The hunting cabin seemed to be light-years away from civilization and I was confident that there were no people around for miles.   As I came into view of the waterfall I dropped my sister’s outfit to the ground and stripped out of my clothes. I took a last look around the area to make sure that Val had not followed me and dived into the river.  I surfaced a moment and later and almost jumped back out. The water was freezing.  I steeled myself and ducked my head back under water.  After a moment I dragged myself back up on the bank and grabbed a bar of soap before returning to the river. I scrubbed myself clean, washing away the dirt and blood, finally starting to feel like a human being again.  Then suddenly I felt a pair of eyes on me. That being one of the phrases that I hate  when writers use  but for the first time I understood that was it was an actual sensation. I had no concrete reason to feel that way, but I knew something or someone was watching me. I slowly turned around figuring that Val’s curiosity had gotten the better of him but I could not see anything. Then there was a slight rustle to my left and I wheeled around and saw a big cat.  

      And when I indicate a big cat I don’t mean ‘ooh look at the big ole kitty, he’s so fat and adorable’ I mean ‘holy crap that thing looks it will hunt me down and eat me’ cat.  It was secreted back in the woods that were on the other side of the river and seemed to be part of the shadows coming from the trees but I could see its outline and its eyes. They were golden and focused squarely on me. I took a step backward and then another slowly taking my eyes off the feline only for a moment as I scampered up the riverbank. I know that in cases like this one has to maintain calm and never turn you back to an animal but I had just about reached my limit on crap happening to me so I scooped up the clothes and ran. 

    “VAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL!”  I think screaming is also probably on the list of things you don’t do in this situation but what can I say sometimes being  a woman is being a tough army brat and sometimes it means feeling like a little girls that needs to be rescued.  I took furtive looks behind me as I ran but did not see the beast loping after me, except in my head where I kept replaying that scene on the national geographic show where the lion pounces on the gazelle.   I slammed the door shut and turned to find a weapon but instead found Val   standing there. 

    “Aiiieh” “Then I noticed he was naked.”Where the hell are your clothes?” 

Then I remembered I was naked. “Aiiieh” I tried to stretch my bundle of clothes to cover all my girly parts. 

    “What the hell are you screaming about?”

    “There was a big Kitty at the river.”  As soon as I said it I felt even dumber and considering my recent track record  that was saying a lot.  

    “A big Kitty?”

    “I mean like a cougar, mountain lion or puma or something. It was big and dark and…”  I thought a minute and remembered the poster of the panther on Val’s room.  “No it was panther, I am sure of that.”

    “Impossible.”

    “You know what’s impossible, you standing here talking with no clothes on. Why are you naked?”

    “You’re naked too.”

    “I was being chased by a fierce predator, you were making coffee.”

    “I went the opposite direction down the river to get clean while you were at the waterfall. When you started screaming I dropped what I was doing and ran straight back.” 

    “Well then.”  I started to take slow steps toward the bedroom of the cabin and then just ran in and slammed the door. I put my back to the door closed my eyes and took several slow breaths.  I instantly thought of Val’s naked body that I had just seen and felt a warm tingle go through my body. Then my mind flashed to the dream I had after his back rub and the tingle grew exponentially.   If we were not on the run I think it might still be okay to be out in the middle of nowhere with Val.  I tried to push thoughts of Val and his perfect chest and other physical features out of my mind and set about getting dressed.   I was just pulling my shoes on when a knock came at the door.

    “Can I come in?”

    “Are you still naked?” It took me a minute to realize I did not know what I wanted the answer to that question to be.  

    “No.”  Damn. 

    “Sure.”

    “Are you okay?”

    “Yeah, sure, I am just ducky. I did see it you know. I saw this show on cable on how they changed the laws about exotic pets and some people just drove their big cats out into the middle of nowhere and let them go rather then pay the new license fees.” 

    Val looked at me like I was an idiot. “You probably just saw a mountain lion they still roam around here once in a while. If it shows up again just fired a couple rounds in the air and it will take off.” He pulled the gun from his house and started to hand it to me. Then pulled the clip out and put a new one in and handed it to me. He stashed the original clip in his back pocket.

    “What’s the deal?”

    “Nothing I just wanted you to have a fresh clip.”

    “If you’re worried about me having enough bullets then give me both.” I reached out my hand and he took a step back.  Now I was starting to get irked.  

    “What you got is just fine. These are armor piercing rounds, they are made to use against people wearing body armor, if a cougar shows up then your regular bullets will work just fine.” 

    Now I was getting more irked. I could tell he was lying, and I should know I was a writer I told lies for a living.  I let it go but a little of the heat of seeing him running around in his birthday suit went away.   “Whatever.  Do you know who those guys were that came after me and how did they know where you lived.”

    “That thug who accosted you at the game store is a member of a biker gang called the Hell Pack. What they have to do with your sister or how they found you I don’t know.”  

    He was speaking closer to the truth but there was more to this I could tell by the subtext.  “Well, what is out next move?”

    “We are going to hang out here for a few days and then I am going back to the city to continue the investigation.”

    “And I am doing what.”

    “Staying here.”

    “Um, hell and no.”  

     “Uh yes.  Things might get dangerous.. .”

    “Yeah because they have been so safe so far.” Val glared at me as I interrupted him and I noticed that his eyes were a light brown almost golden color.    “You know better then me that the longer the time after a person’s disappearance, the less chance of them being found. I am not going to sit around here in Bum Fricken Egypt while any chance we have of finding her goes away.”    The tough army brat was coming back and I was happy to see her.

     “We will talk about it.” 

    I could tell he did not mean that but we would cross that bridge when we go to it.  “I saw some more of my sister’s stuff in your trunk. I am going to check it out and see if I can find anything.”     

     I found a back pack full of dice in all shapes and sizes as well as several thick hardbound books.  I pulled them all out and spread them all over the bed.  

    “I don’t think that your sister’s gaming habits had anything to do with her disappearance.”  

I ignored Val and pulled out the first book called the Facade players guide.   I had never done any role-playing; (well not any that involved dice) no matter how hard my sister had tried to sell me on it. I think I spent so much time living in my own world when I was writing that when I wasn’t I wanted to be out in the real world.     But as I read the player’s guide I got an idea of why my sister liked it. The Facade had a very rich and developed mythology; there were a group of animal totem spirits that a person could model their character on, everything from wolves and bears to more exotic creatures like crocodiles and anaconda’s. It started out with you getting enhanced senses and agility and progressed all the way to where you could actually shift either partially or completely into the animal’s form.   The book indicated that these shape shifters, or the night Menagerie as they were called, had lived among humans in the shadows for thousands of years.   You became one of these creatures after surviving an attack by one of them, but you did not necessarily  follow the form of what creature infected you. The spirits decided who they wanted and presented a challenge to the candidate before they would bestow their power on them.  As you gained in power the totem spoke to you in dreams, marking you first outwardly and then inwardly, making a person manifest features and personality traits like their totems.  

    I leaned back from the book and saw a mirror across the room and stopped as I saw my reflection.  There were a series of small back dots and stripes on my forehead like war paint or . . . a. . . wild cat’s face pattern.   I leaped up from the bed and ran into the front room and tackled Val.

    “What the hell?”   

    As he hit the floor I ran my hand all over his back side until I got a hold of the clip in his back pocket and then I rolled off him. 

    “Are you crazy?” Val stopped talking as he saw the clip in my hand. I flipped the top bullet out of the clip and caught in my other hand. I held it up and it was not the dull black of armor piercing round it was shiny, like silver. 

    “You son of a bitch. You are part of all this.”

    “Take it easy Sara let me explain.” 

    I pulled his gun out from the back of my pants and in one smooth motion ejected the clip and loaded the one with silver rounds into it. “No wonder that guy looked so surprised when I shot him.  Its takes silver to bring one of you down.”

    “One of us Sara.”

    I chambered the first round. “Where is my sister?” 

    “I don’t know.”

    I pulled the hammer back. 

    “I don’t know!”

    “You know more then you have been telling me.” 

    “Yes. Your sister survived an attack, just like you did.”

    “So the game shit is real.”

    “Some of it.  The clan lords created it as a way we could come out into the open more but still stay hidden.  We hold tournaments and conventions and while the fans are dressing up in costumes and make up, even the most animistic of us can walk around in public view.  We are paving the way for us to come out to the world.”

    “What are you?”

    “I am a panther.”

    I hit him in the head with pistol. “You were spying on me.”

    Val took a step back “I was keeping an eye on you. You killed two of the Hell Pack and they are going to be coming for you.”

    “And it had nothing to do with me being naked.”

    “I think however I answer that question I will get hit, again.”

I raised the gun to strike and decided he was right.  “So . . . what  am I, what is my sister?”

    “Your sister is a wolf, she started to figure out there was more to the game then it appeared. The Hell Pack took it upon themselves to put a scare in her.  She fought back hard, ending up getting marked.   After she survived the challenge the Pack came to get her, Lycos, the leader of the pack claims dominion over all wolves in the Midwest.  That’s all I know.”

    “You didn’t answer my other question. What am I?”

    “I don’t know you have the markings of a cat but not one I have ever seen.  The cats are not like the wolves, we are mostly solitary.”

    “We are going back and we are going back now.”

    “I still don’t know how you convinced me to go back to the city.”

    “My charm and personality.”

    “The pistol helped some too.”  

    I smiled over at Val. I had put the pistol away as soon as we got in the car and I had a feeling if he had really wanted to push the issue I would have been flat on my back and he would have had the gun in the cabin.  I was reading the Facade game master’s guide to try and get a grip on the changes on my life. The book was detailed about some parts of the mythology and very vague in others.

    “So how does a person get more powerful in their totem?”

    “It varies wildly depending on the clan and sometime even among the individual species. It usually is something that resonates with the spirit. A wolf spirit gets more powerful the longer it spends with other members of its clan or there are cats that get more power by the things they kill, mostly its by becoming in sync with your inner beast.” 

    “So how many people have you killed?”

    “None, I shot this idiot who was running naked with a kilo of cocaine and a AK-47 once but he lived.  When I shifted from being a beat cop to a detective and started stalking criminals in the dark I got a small surge. I am okay with what abilities I have.  Now Lycos the leader of the Hell Pack is obsessed with getting more power both personally and with the council.”

    “Council??”

    “The Night Menagerie has a council of the major species who make decisions regarding things that affect all the clans.”

    “Can we go to them about my sister?”

    “No, this is considered an issue of the wolf clan, truth be told I am in trouble for sticking my nose into it. I was supposed to keep you out of the midst of all of it. I told Sidney I was handling things in the game store but I guess he did not believe me.”

    “Well the handcuffs and taser might have caused some trust issues between the two of you.” 

    “Could be.”

    “So can I go to the cat clan for help?”

    “I am not sure unlike the wolves we are a lot less organized, just the nature of the beast I guess.”

    I gave him a look and tried not to smile but it came out anyway.

    “Very funny.”

    There are exceptions, you don’t happen to have a lion inside there?”

    I hesitated. I wanted to trust Val, hell I was starting to want to do more then trust him but he had not been completely honest with me. I really had no choice though he was the only person remotely on my side “I think I am something a little more exotic.” I related my dream to him.

    “Wow snow leopard huh, I don’t think there is another one like you in North America.” 

    “So nobody is going to have my back, huh?”

    “I do.” He reached out and grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze. “And your totem does, try to listen to the feelings inside and it can guide you on the path.”

    I looked out the window and avoided Val’s eyes. I was not good on the whole follow your feelings. Robert had left me six months ago because after two years he said he had not known the real me. He said that sex and good times could only take you so far. How pathetic a woman did a person have to be for a guy to say something like that to them?  The only person I had ever had that kind of a bond with was my sister.  I kept looking out the window but I gave Val’s hand a squeeze in return.   I felt tugged in a hundred different directions but for reasons I could not verbalize I felt like Val was my anchor. 

When Val said we would be going back to the city I assumed it was downtown but we kept on the highway as we passed through the city and headed into East Saint Louis. For those of you who never saw National lampoons vacation, east St. Louis is a not good place to be, it was the home of most of the violence, crime and generally bad circumstances of the metropolitan area.  

    “I would have thought that wolves would be located out in. . .You know the woods.”

    “Lycos was a small time hood before he got accepted by his totem; he used his newfound gifts and pack connections to become a major player. He makes every new recruit contribute with money, information or violence to help expand his empire.” 

    “So he’s not cheap but he could be bought?”

    “Oh he would take you money but he would not release your sister. No one leaves his pack.” Val pulled into a seedy looking junk yard at the gate were two huge men, one bald and one with a long pony tail.  Val rolled down his window and flashed his badge. “I am here to see Lycos'” 

    “That badge is for the other side of the river, cat. It don’t mean much here.”  The bald one glared at Val.

    “It’s not about that it’s about clan business.”  The bald one bent over to look into the car and take a look at me and then stood up and pulled out a cell phone. He turned around and cupped his hand so we could not hear what was transpiring. 

    “He said go inside.” The pony tail guy unhinged the gate so we could dive into the yard.   We drove through a winding series of piles of destroyed cars and other spent materials and finally came to a small trailer. There were about a dozen bikes parked in front of it and we pulled closer the front door opened.  Now I had thought that Sidney was an imposing specimen of Neanderthal but he was nothing compared to Lycos. The guy looked like someone had combined a NBA power forward and a NFL line backer.  The scary thing was he did not walk a brute he walked with the poise of a skilled martial artist. He also seemed to radiate a palpable aura of don’t fuck with me. 

    “Is that?”

    “Yep.” He put his hand out and I gave him the gun.  I knew this guy was out of my league.  He leaned over and gave me a kiss on my cheek. “Stay here.” 

    Val slid the gun into his shoulder holster and slid out of the car. As he started to walk toward the trailer four more guys came out and stood behind Lycos.   Val put his hands out wide and started to walk slowly closer. As he closed the distance I looked around. There were men coming from all directions some surrounding Val and some taking places around the car.     I heard Val speak to Lycos in a language I did not understand and he responded by leaning to the side and looking at the car or more likely me. Lycos smiled and responded in the same language. Val turned and lifted his hand to waive at me and in that instant Lycos struck him from behind a moment later there were half a dozen people on him kick and beating him on the ground.   I whirled to hit the locks on the door but I was second too late and it swung open and I was dragged out.   The guy with the pony tail had a one handed grip on my arm and with the other one back handed me sending me bouncing off the car’s quarter panel before landing on the ground.   I tried to scamper forward on all fours but before I could get more then a few feet pony tail kicked me in the gut. I felt all the air pass from my diaphragm and what might have been a rib cracking.  The force of the kick also sent me several feet. I rolled over on my back clutching my side and looked around. There was a large group of people coming towards me and at their forefront was Kumani.  She rushed to me and for a moment I thought I had found an ally but she grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me up to my feet before smashing her clenched fist into my face, over and over.  The blows were powerful but I could not even raise my arms to protect myself due to my disbelief that she was the one abusing me. 

    “STOP!”  A loud voice called out and Kumani let of go of my shirt, without her support I collapsed on the ground. The Hell pack parted as Lycos walked through the crowd. “Throw them in pit while I decide what to do with them.   

        Somehow I expected “the pit” to be euphemism for something else. It wasn’t it was a deep dark hole on the far end of the lot.  The pack dropped us into it without ceremony. I was too disorientated to do anything but brace for the impact as I fell.  When I hit the ground I felt a new surge of pain and knew there was now no doubt about that rib now.   After I hit the ground a ladder was dropped into the hole and baldy and pony tail came down. They secured me and Val to manacles that were attached to the walls of the Pit. We were apparently not the first visitors to this hole.  Baldy took my face in his hands and looked it over. 

    “Too bad, you might have been fun; well at least I still have a chance with your sister.”

    I tried to summon the strength to spit in his face but even that effort brought a new surge of pain and I just glared at him through my swelling, bruised eye.  He slapped my cheek and climbed back up the ladder, pony tail followed a moment later.   

    “Val? . . . . Val you alive.” I heard a moan from the other side of the pit. I guess he was alive I know he had gotten a worse beating then I had.  The violence had been painful but my head was still spinning from the actions of my sister. What had happened to her that she attacked me like that?  It wasn’t like we had never fought before, we were sisters, there were of course things and men that came between us from time to time but she had attacked me with a ferocity I had never seen her display before.  It had to be the effect that Lycos was having on her. I had to find a way to get her out of here. Well I had to find a way to get myself out of here first.  Maybe Val was right maybe I am out of my depth. Hell I might have gotten us both killed. I slammed my head back against the wall of the pit.  A moment later there was a groan from the other side.

    “Did we win?”

    “We bruised their knuckles with our chins, does that count.”

    “I’ll take what I can get.”  I heard Val straining for a moment and then he let out a huge sigh. “Yeah those chains aren’t going anywhere.” 

    “I am sorry Val; this is all my fault… “

    “Hey, shut-up. I could have not brought us here. I just thought Lycos was going to more reasonable. He was the one who broke the rules by sending people to my house but now he is claiming blood price for the two men you killed.”

    “Two?”

    “Yeah some of us learn to completely shift into animal form but there is a danger to that. The longer you stay like that the less you want to return to being a human. It’s possible to become lost.  The wolf you killed used to be a person.”

    “Oh.” I did not know what to think. I had known I had killed one person who was trying to hurt me so was knowing that actually it had been two people going to make it different.  The way things had been going I had not even really had a moment to think about what I had done.    I hit my head against the back of the wall again. How had my life gotten so screwed up in just a couple days?    The next couple of hours passed mostly in silence, occasionally interrupted by the sound of my head banging against the wall or Val struggling against the chains.  The sun set and complete darkness filled the pit. It was obvious that no one was going to be bringing us any food. 

      “I really like boy bands from the nineties.”   Val announced to no one in particular. 

        “What?”

    “I also peel all the pepperoni off my pizza and eat it separately.”

    “Is this relevant.”

    “I am not sure we are going to make it. I think if we had more time something might have happened between the two of us. I just wanted to share some things that most people don’t know about me.”

    Silence descended on the pit once more.  I thought he was insane but unfortunately probably right.  

    “I steal my neighbor’s newspaper everyday.”  I said quietly.

    ”I watch white Christmas every year at Christmas and the monster squad every Halloween.”

    “Wolf-man’s got nards.” I quoted from the flick. 

    “Wow I have never met a woman who had seen that movie.  My panther tattoo has nothing to do with my totem it covers an old girl friend’s name.”   

    “I have really big wrists and very small. .. ” I stopped as what I was about to say hit me. I slid down and brought my feet up to the edge of the shackles.

    “Hey you don’t have to feel bad they are not that small and a lot of men prefer women with natural proportions” 

    I shoved hard on the shackles and slowly they moved scraping my skin until the reached my hands which are much smaller then my wrists and then they slid off leaving a trail of blood in their wake.  

“I am free…, and hey wait what are you talking about?”

           “umm nothing. Wait you’re free?”

    “Yes I have large wrists and small hands, it makes buying bracelets or watches a pain in the ass but apparently it has its uses.” I crawled over to where Val was chained to the wall.  He was sitting with his legs stretched out and I straddled him, reaching my arms up to feel his manacles and see if I could do something with them.  I shook and wrestled with the chain, intent on trying to find a way to circumvent them but oblivious to the position I had placed myself in. 

    Then suddenly I found my senses keying in on Val. I could smell him, hear the increase in his heart rate as I moved above him, feel his breath on my skin and my hands dropped from working on the manacles. I looked down into his eyes and I felt all conscious thought drift away.   I took his head in my hands and brought my faces close to his, I gently rubbed my skin against his and the feeling sent a shiver through me.  I leaned in closer and nuzzled his neck, taking little nips and bits as I felt my desire rising within me.  I pulled back so I could look at him and my hunger increased to a point that I could deny no longer. I kissed him fiercely as I ground myself down upon him. I felt him rising up against me through the barriers of our clothes and I know I had to have more. I moved backward and it seemed that I flowed down his body like I was made of liquid.  I fumbled at his belt for a moment and then it was loose and I was pulling his pants down.  I took him in my mouth and slid down, taking all of him that I could and his breath starting coming in gasps but even this was not enough for the fever that burned inside me now and I climbed atop him, gone were all thoughts of where we were or what might happened. I needed him and I needed him now.  He filled me with one upward thrust and my passion surged inside me.  My breasts were erect and I pulled off my shirt and offered them to Val as I rode him.  

    Our position meant I had all the control and I used it to drive the pace faster and faster, until he was coming, that feeling driving me over the edge to a place of pleasures I had never been before.    

    As I slowly came back to earth I felt  the  power of my totem blossom within me, my senses heightened even further and I felt new found strength and agility coursing  through me.  I grabbed the chains with new intensity and struggled once more but it was still to no avail. 

    “Go.”

    “What, I can’t not after we just. .”

    “It’s okay.  I had you once and that’s enough.  The pack has to give the cats three days to offer a blood price for my return in front of the council, so you have three days to run. You killed two of them so your life would be automatically forfeit”

    “I am not going to run.”

    “Yes, you are because you can not fight them and don’t blame your sister for her actions when the fury of the pack is on them the wolves can not control their own behavior.” 

    “Hey what’s going on down there?” 

    I grabbed his face in my hands and kissed him. “I will be back. I will save you and her.”   

    I looked up at the top of the pit and my muscles tensed and then I was leaping and catching hold of a spot on the wall with claws that had extended from my hands. Then I sprang again and was out of the pit, bowling over pony tail before he knew what was happening.    I looked around and first stared at  Lycos’ trailer but there was at least a dozen pack members between me and it.  I turned and sprung to the roof of nearby shack and then in a moment I was over the fence and running. 

    After six or seven blocks I stopped running. I could not hear any pursuit and there was no sense drawing more attention to a white girl with ripped up clothes walking through a bad neighborhood.    I had no idea what I was going to do, I could not take on the hell pack and apparently the council would not get involved unless it affected all of them.  I took a couple of steps. I had to get the council involved and then it hit me.  I pulled out Thomas’s card and  dialed the number on my cell phone.  

    “Hello.”

    “Thomas.”

    “Uh yeah. Who is this?”

    “I am Sara, Kumani’s sister and I need you help.”

    “What do you need me to do?”

    “I need you to drive out to East Saint Louis and pick me up.”

    “Yeah I know I said I would do what I could but that’s not happening.”

    “My clothes are shredded and I am half naked.”

    “I’ll be right there, give me the address.”

    It was nice to know some things were still predictable.  I gave him the address and found a quiet shadow to wait.   

About an hour later a lime green pinto showed up. He pulled into the liquor store parking lot across the street and almost immediately a group of men walked over to his car.  I sprinted across the street and was upon them just as he was dragged from his vehicle by a large guy with no shirt and a host of tattoos.  

    “Leave him alone.”

    The guy turned around and took a long slow up and down look at me. “No problem sweetness. I would rather look at you anyway. He took a step towards me but I was already moving. I batted his arm to the side and grabbed him by the throat. . A moment later I drove my right foot between his legs forcing him to the ground.. He landed hard on the concrete.   I sensed his friends coming close and extended my new claws just a little bit.  He got the message.

    “Hey everybody, back off the bitch. .” I tighten my grip a little bit. “This lady is crazy.” 

    Thomas got off the ground and scrambled back behind the driver’s seat.    

    “Now we are going to leave and you’re going to just let us go, right.” I cocked my head to the side and looked deep into his eyes, His eyes went wild like he was looking at an unchained pit bull and he just nodded his head.  I got up and looked around at the other guys and they all took a step back and let me get into the passenger side of the pinto.  Thomas looked at me like I had grown a third head.  He opened his mouth and it moved like it was trying to say six different things but what came out was 

    “Nice tats.”

    “You would not believe what I had to go through to get them.” I smiled but it did not seem to put him at ease. I ran my tongue over my teeth and they did seem a little more pointed then normal.   

    “Let’s go back to your place.”

    “Okay.” 

    Thomas’ apartment was better then I thought it was going to be. It was in an upscale neighborhood of the loop and was well furnished, except a for a few too many pictures of women in chain mail bikinis fighting dragons. 

    “Nice place.”

    “Thanks. You thought I lived with my mother didn’t you.”  

    I felt a little ashamed I had.     “Sorry, about that and almost getting you car jacked in east saint Louis.”

    “Its okay it will give me something interesting to put in my blog, though if it’s okay I will put that I saved your bacon.”

    “No problem.”   I looked at Thomas and he seemed distracted.    “What?” 

    “Umm nothing.”  

    I looked down and realized that I had been right when I described myself as half naked.  The fight and other activates had shredded my sister’s fancy blouse.   I looked at Thomas and he smiled sheepishly. 

    “Do you have a t-shirt I could borrow?” 

    “Um yeah,” He pointed to the bedroom. “Grab what ever you want.”

    I opened his closet and found it entirely full of black shirts with different gaming logos.  I pulled out one with two dice showing 20’s that said yes they are natural and switched it with the blouse.       “So you’re kind of an expert on this facade game, right?” I called out to the front room. 

    “Yeah, why? You don’t seem to be the gaming type.”

    I walked back into the den. “What type do I seem like?”

    “Well when I first met you seemed like one a hot librarian but now you seem more like Jill valentine.”

    “Who?”

    “Lara croft?”

    “Still drawing a blank?”

    “Wonder woman?”

    “Oh I think I prefer black widow, she wears more sensible shoes.”

    “You read the comics.”

    “Nope saw iron man 2” I grabbed Thomas by the shoulders and maneuvered him into a chair.  “Listen I would love to continue to about unreasonable male stereotypes of women in pop culture but my sister and that cop I was with are in trouble and I need some help.”

    Thomas looked up at me. “Sure, but if that cop couldn’t help you want can I do.”

    “Well in the world of the Facade, is there a place where the council keeps its secrets.”

    “Yeah, it’s not spelled out directly but the books give hints and a lot of people, me included, think it’s located in St Louis.”

    “Do tell.”   

It’s funny how a skill you develop years and years ago will suddenly come in handy again.  I mean I would never have guessed that the techniques I used to circumvent teachers and security from making me go to school assemblies would be helping me find an ancient history of a race of shape shifters. Then again I would not have thought they would have kept it in the Saint Louis public library.   It makes sense in the ‘hide things in plain sight’ kind of way but I would have made a different choice.   Well they had not asked me and if I was successful this evening they might revaluate their decision making paradigms. 

    I took a last look at my make up in the bathroom mirror and then softly opened the door. The hallways were dark, except for the occasional glimpse of a security guard’s flashlight.  It did not look like anyone was in my immediate area so I backed into the rest room and got into one of the stalls.   I popped up the ceiling tile next to the intercom speaker and grabbed the wires leading to it. I used a knife to strip the casing and attached a small device that I had gotten from a professional security expert, who had a former career, I would tell you but more I promised I would keep his name out of all this.    I pulled out my cell phone and clicked on my newest application and heard the speakers crackle to life, then quickly shut them off. Breaking and entering, turns out there is an app for that.  I replaced the ceiling tile and after checking the hallways again slid out.  I had always liked being sneaky back when I was a kid but now that I had a true talent for it, the stakes were too high to enjoy it.  I crept up a back stair well to the rare books section and took a quick look around. The hallway went in several directions but only one of them had a door with two very large security guards standing in front of it. I figured the hide in plain sight would only be taken so far.  I pulled my hair back in a pony tail, to make my face more visible then stepped out and walked straight forward. 

     “Hold it right there Wolf-clan.”  

    It was nice to know that I had been able to duplicate my sister’s clan markings.  There was not much point to this if I could not sill pass for her.    

    “My lord Lycos demands the book of tales and what ever he ask, Kumani of the wolf clan will do.”  Okay I know it sounded a little hokey but I was going for fanatical.  As I marched forward I slipped plugs into my ears so I missed the security guard exact impression of my acting ability.   But I saw him and his partner pull out a pair of nightsticks so I was fairly sure what it was.  I pulled my smart phone of out my pocket and keyed in that annoying ring tone that was too high pitched for people to hear but animals could – or people with animal like senses. I pushed the volume up to ten and the tone reverberated thru the over head speakers through out the building.  The two guards clutched their ears and I moved forward, pulling two spray canisters out, they were filled with a mixture of mace, ground up poison ivy and  bear deterrent and sprayed it directly into their faces.   They began to thrash back and forth, their hands scratching over all their head as they tried to combat both assaults on their senses at once.  I ducked and bobbed around them for a few moments before I was able to grab the keys from the first guard’s belt and rushed for the door. 

    It took trying several keys but the door opened. There in the center of the room was a large leather bound book and a wizened old man sitting next to hit with his hands over his ears.  I grabbed the book and threw it in my back pack and sprinted back the way I came.  As I reached the stairwell down two guards came out and looked at me.  They seemed to be unaffected by the sound so I assumed they were just run of mill rental cops.    I think they assumed I would turn and run the other way but I just dropped my shoulder and slammed into them sending the three of us through the stairway door. They took the brunt of the impact against the cold iron railing of the stairway and slumped to the ground. I grabbed the railing and flipped over it, taking the two story drop like it was a matter of feet.   I could certainly get use to this ‘cats always land on their feet’ thing.   I pulled my phone out and shut off the tone.  I pulled my ear plugs out and the blaring sound of the alarm system entered my hearing.  Well so much for the stealth approach.   I exited the stairway on the first floor and came out into the regular collection.    There were carts full of books waiting to be redistributed and I grabbed one of them pushing it in front of me as I ran.   I came around the corner to side entrance and there was one of the large guards, his face splotchy and looking very angry. I sped toward him with the cart in front of me and he rushed to close the distance. As we grew closer I tossed the cart on its side towards him. He reacted about the only way he could and leaped over it. I dropped onto my back and as he flew through the air I kicked out letting my legs add their force to his momentum and sending him down the hall. He crashed to the ground but he took no real damage. He recovered quickly and   we both regained our feet about the same time. But I had accomplished what I needed to; he was no longer between me and the exit. I sprang over the downed cart and turned my head as I impacted the glass door not waiting to try and open it.   The impact sent a shudder though my frame and I felt like I had picked up at least a couple of scrapes and cuts but I was out. Now the thing about Parkour is everybody always saying how amazing that people can do those jumps and flips but the point of all that is about speed.  I looked over the area and mind instantly traced out a route and I was off. I ran. then  leaped kicking off of a bench to propel me to the top of the  stature out front, then vaulted to a street light, from where I sprang to a nearby fire escape and after that I was off to the races.  

    I traveled a couple miles crisscrossing my trail before reaching my true destination, Jacqueline’s office.  Jacqueline if you don’t remember is my editor. (Its okay if you don’t there has been a lot going on).   She had given me a key so that I could turn in pages any time I wanted since when I was writing I usually kept unusual hours.  She has also shown me this real cool printer that had an attachment that could scan a whole book in like ten minutes.   

   The printer was as good as Jacqueline had promised it was and it only took me an hour to figure out how to use it. When it was done I had a paper copy of the book of tales as well as an electronic one. I shot out a quick email to Thomas and telling him here was the file we had talked about.  

    I took a quick second to wash off my make-up, threw on a hoodie I had stolen from Thomas’s closet and I walked out the office building. I hailed a cab to take me to East Saint Louis.   I rode the cab until I got about a couple of blocks from Lycos’s junk yard and then took to walking.   By the time I arrived at the hell pack’s head quarters it looked like there had been a change of ownership. There was a host of people covering all the ways in and out and not one of them looked like they were of the wolf clan.   I walked up to the front gate with my hands wide open.   A Samoan with tattoos covering most of his body stepped forward. 

    “We’re not open for business at the moment.”

    I pulled my sweat shirt’s hood back and looked him in the eyes. “I am here for council business. I know who took the book of tales.”

    “You do?”

    I dropped my back pack from shoulders and pulled out a flare, which I struck against the ground igniting it and then pulled out the book. I held the two items close, but not close enough to do any damage. 

“Yeah me?”  Instantly all the people that were within earshot snapped to attention.  

     The Samoan pulled out a handgun the size of a cannon and I moved the book a little closer the flame. 

    “This is a really old book I bet it would go up like a matchstick.”  

    The Samoan looked at the book and then at me and then at the flame.

    “Listen lets keep this easy, call your bosses and see if they want to talk to me.”  

    He seemed to be torn for a moment but then pulled out a cell phone with one hand while the other kept the gun on me.  After a few moments of conversation he motioned to the guys at the gate and they opened it.  

    “They said they would see you.”

    I gave a nod indicated he should go first and he walked into the junk yard. I sensed several bodies moving behind me and I did a quick turn and swept the flare close to the book. They took the hint and backed off.  I walked slowly through the yard and when I reached Lycos’ office there was a huge gathering of people.  Lycos was had a large amount of guns pointed at him.  A sight which gave me no small amount of joy. 

    “You” He hissed. I know he’s a wolf and there are no ss in that sentence but he hissed it. I blew a kiss towards him and surged forward only to be brought up short when everyone cocked their weapons.  He held his hands up and took a slow step backward. 

    The group parted and the old man who had been in the library stepped forward to meet me.  He only had eyes for the book.

    “You must not destroy that.”

    “I don’t intend to.”  

    He looked intently at me and after a moment said “I believe you but you want something.”

    “A few things actually.”

    “Don’t give her anything but a slow death.”  Lycos hissed again.  The old man looked him and he shut up.

    “I am Thoth. I am the voice of the council and the scribe of the book of tales.”

    “I am Sansara Williams,” That seemed to short so I added “of the clan of the snow leopard.”

    “Greetings Sansara Williams it has been a long time since a member of your clan has been seen in this region. If you put out that flame I promise that you will not be harmed while we are talking.”  

    “Actually I will do you one better.” I dropped the flare and took three quick steps and dropped to my knees and held out the book to him.”

     He took it from my hands reverently. “I thank you but now you have nothing to bargain with.”   Several of the guns were now pointing in my direction.  

    I took a step back shrugged off my back pack and reached in. Suddenly all of the guns were pointed toward me but Thoth waved his hand and they lowered them slightly.  I pulled out the printed copy I had made of the book of tales. “See I have my own copy.”

    Thoth’s eyes narrowed and for the first time he looked genuinely angry. “That is forbidden.”

    “I thought so. So I figured if I was going to do a little time I might as well break all the rules and publish it to the World Wide Web.”  

    Thoth said nothing but I could see his thinking, working all the angles to see if he could order me shot and that be the end of it.  I pushed all my stress and worry to the back and matched his gaze. 

    “What do you want?”

    “Well first off, I want Lycos to release what ever hold he has on my sister.”

    “A wolf needs a pack.”

    “I have read plenty of national geographic articles about lone wolves doing just fine in the wildeness, and even if what you’re saying is true I am sure there are other packs in the united states.” 

    Thoth seemed to be considering that so I moved on.  “Two Lycos is going to release Val Lawton of the panther clan from captivity, any issues he has are with me not him.”

    A small group of people in the crowd turned their guns on Lycos again.  I guess the cat clans were represented. 

    “I was not aware he was being held. He will be released immediately.”  

    This time Lycos had the good sense to cease hissing.

    “And lastly the council will negotiate a blood prices for the wolf clan members I was forced to kill, in self defense, which does not require me or anyone close to me facing harm.”

        “And what happens if we do no accede to your demands?”

    “Oh that is easy. I had a secure server located somewhere that requires me to enter a certain password every day, If I don’t then its gets emailed to everyone who signed up for my author news letter. That’s about thirty thousands address, I am not Stephen King but I do have fans.”

    “What if they just think it is one of your books, a book we will claim is a violation of the copy rights we have on The Facade game.”

    “You would not want to do that. I would say a good third of the people on my list believes in Chupacabras, aliens being entombed in area 51 and that the illuminati are secretly controlling the United States government and they would make it their life duty to poke into every part of your affairs. You would be exposed and not at a time and place of you’re choosing.”

    Thoth took a deep breath and nodded once.     “But this will not be our last discussion on this matter.”

The sun was slowly going down as I shut off my phone.  

    “That was Kumani; she is meeting with a pack in Montana. She seems to like the people up there so she might have found a new group.”

    “That’s good; you know I still can’t believe the council made that deal with you.” Val called out from the bedroom. 

    “Yeah I was even able to get them to throw in some souvenirs. I walked through the door twirling the manacles from the pit.  

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