Werecat Collectors 3
"Actually," Mira said, "I've never been here before. I'll find a robe or something," she promised.
"Very good," said Less. He tidied up his own clothing (for the hundredth time) and strengthened his Mask while he waited. He had to watch his step while in a vampire's lair.
Mira found a silken, white robe hanging in the closet adjacent to the bathrobe and put it on. "We should find Rey -- and our host. Kiera is around here somewhere, I hope, also."
A little adventure led them to a hired manservant of Remy's who announcement the master of the house had arrived and would attend to his guests shortly. In the meanwhile, he'd arrange for something from the kitchen for them if they cared to wait in the dining room.
There, Less and Mira were able to reunite with Rey.
Kiera was there already. Her outfit was the same, though cleaned and in poor shape, with long runs in her cheap stockings and tears in her miniskirt. She wasn't wearing her shoes, but that was probably understandable. They'd been cheap, too, and likely not made to be worn for four or five days straight. Mira was comfortably dressed only in the silk robe she'd found.
Rey wore the same clothes as she had on the night before, which had also been cleaned by the unseen staff of the mansion. Her hair was damp and pulled back into a ponytail. Before she fell asleep last night, she'd looked through the journal and realized the only way she'd make sense of it all was to have Mira interpret them. She was extremely interested in hearing it all, and she was prepared to apologize to Mira if her friend was correct about the werejaguars following them back to Mythic in order to gather a harem, including Mira and herself.
Mira smiled a greeting to Rey and Kiera. "Good evening, I guess."
Kiera watched Mira and then asked, "Feeling better?"
"Much," confirmed the nymph. "Kiera I'm sorry for what I put you through --"
"It's in the past. But as soon as I can, I'm moving out. I'm sorry Mira, but I can't deal with your life."
Mira was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I've decided to get in touch with Stormfront."
"But... is that the kind of life you want?"
Kiera nodded. "Yes. Over the past few days, I've had a lot of time to think it over. Yes. I want to be who I am, not hide from it anymore. Running had got me to places that aren't good for me. That includes being near you. If I stay, I'm not going to survive, Mira. I need to go."
Mira accepted that with a nod.
"Do you have a number or something?" Kiera asked.
Mira shook her head. "I avoid werewolves as much as possible."
"I can help you with that," Rey replied. "I'm on good terms with them."
In truth Kiera had been hoping she might. She didn't want to have to ask Chase because she knew he thought that was a bad idea. But this was her life and for once, she wanted to decide her own course. "I'd really appreciate it. If you could tell me some place to go or even just a phone number, that would be great."
"I'll make a call when we're done here," Rey said. "See who I can get a hold of."
That was settled about the time food arrived. Despite the hour, the cook had decided breakfast was nonetheless called for. There were pancakes, sausages, eggs, and bacon for most. Mira received salad and a few fruits. It wasn't bounty from the Fae Realms, of course, but someone clearly had been told of her tastes. Juice, coffee, tea, milk and water were all available. From the volume of food that was prepared and how quickly it arrived, someone must have alerted the cook the moment the guests had begun to stir. They had time to sit, relax, and eat their fill. Kiera and Mira, who'd practically starved the last few days, ate voraciously.
When they'd slowed down, the table was cleared and they were all left in peace by the staff. But before real discussion of recent of events could take place, Remy arrived.
Mira stood up right away to greet their host. "'Evening, Remy," she said with a deferential, slight bow toward him that stopped short of a curtsy. It was a sign of respect, one she rarely showed anyone these days. Once, more powerful fae would have made her bow to them, but her station had risen. Now she bowed only to her duke and once to be respectful and show peaceful intentions toward the Countess of the Golden Mesa. Even then, she did it because the Duke required it and had the power to make her do so. But here she offered deference willingly.
"Good evening, Mira," Remy replied to her with a gracious nod.
Rey stayed seated, but nodded to him in greeting as well.
"Your helicopter lift was well timed," said Less after swallowing a bite of marmalade on toast. In fae culture that was as close to 'thank you' as you could get.
"Miss Lafitte was responsible for that," Remy replied. "I believe we made an effective team in the search and rescue of Mira and her friend."
"Well done, all of you," Mira said.
"Yeah, thanks man," Kiera told Remy. "Cool digs. Hey, I hate to eat and run, 'cause I really appreciate you letting me crash here and all, but I'd really like to get to Mira's apartment and get into fresh clothes. Could I bum a ride? I got no more cash for a cab."
"Cars will be ready to take you where you wish in half an hour," Remy replied. He knew that she probably wanted to leave immediately, but he wanted her there when Mira interpreted her visions.
"Cool," she responded.
"So," Mira said, "everyone's probably interested in getting the scoop on what's going on, right? Me too. Kiera, it's probably for the best if you don't want to hear any of this anyway."
"Heard it once. No offense to y'all, but I'm really not interested," Kiera said. "I think I saw a TV through there. I'll just hang out there. Call if you need me."
After she left, Rey gave Mira the journal and started again. "Let me check something real quick... yeah. Okay. I think I have stuff here that affects everyone in this room." She flipped through some pages, glancing at some scribblings here and there. "You'll want to talk about some of the details with me later," she told Remy. "Rey, you aren't going to be able to avoid what's coming, but at least I can tell you about it a little. And Less, looks to me like... okay. If you walk away right now, you'll be more or less safe from what's coming. But if you want to hear this stuff, it's going to draw you in and put you at risk. Are you still in?"
"What, because I'm not a woman so jaguar-men will ignore me?" sputtered Less. "If it involves the two of you, then it involves me. And if these jaguars are also fae, then I am honour-bound to involve myself."
Mira said, "Okay." She smiled, then began reading some of the journal entries. She very rapidly took on a distant expression. "I'll do this in parts. Ask what questions you can as I go, because going back and forth will be kind of hard. The first part reads 'Connected by blood, intentions are read.'" She looked up at them. "When I went to visit Harley, I found out she had been pregnant, conceived at the time she was missing in the jungle. But, she lost the baby about a month ago. She was really sensitive about the topic, and when I pressed for descriptions of the father, she freaked out on me. Went furry and turned into this half-human, half-jaguar thing. She was tough, fierce, and strong but no fighter. I put her down but not before she wrecked the hotel room. Before I left, though, I drew some of her blood with the idea I could use whatever had made her into a jaguar as a connection to it. I was already planning on using my oracle powers. One the bus home, I started work on reading the future using a taste of that blood. I don't recommend that, by the way. But it was the only way."
Rey stared at Mira for a moment, speechless. "Ferals are incredibly infectious. Do you know if..." She couldn't bring herself to say it.
Less waited with apprehension. It seemed likely that no mortal woman would be able to carry a supernatural baby to term, but now that she was a shape-shifter then reproduction might then be possible.
"I'm fine," Mira said affirmatively. "I won't be... one of them. Not from that anyway. And not necessarily in the future, either. Here's the tricky part about the future, though. It changes. It's all really just possible futures. However, I'm pretty good at picking out the futures that seem extremely likely unless drastic action is taken. Turns out, I can read the past, too. That's a real blessing because without the background, absolutely none of this makes any sense at all."
She picked up the journal again and re-read some things. "Oh. Ew. That's just... horrible."
Remy cleared his throat. She looked up and apologized. "Sorry. It's just this is really visual for me. Okay, let me flip forward so I can start at the beginning." She flipped through the journal until she got toward the end of the writing. She took a breath, then began again. "I can't put an exact date on this stuff, but imagine a time -- a very long time -- before the Spanish showed up in Mexico. There are some pretty big cities around, given everyone was shoving stuff around without wheels, and making giant buildings out of stone just to spite physics. There is this big valley of people and they are pretty much doing their own thing after conquering their neighbors and then settling down. Zoom in on a nighttime setting where there are thousands of people just partying it up in front of the big pyramid thing. Not really Mayan, I don't think, but not like Aztec either. There are big bonfires all over the city where they are dancing. Up on top of the temple is kind of the focus of the activity though, with thirteen men and women, all tough-looking people with these wood swords edged with that razor-sharp obsidian. They are all prostrate before this woman. I'm thinking some kind of priest-queen here. She says stuff, makes like a blessing and they all drink what I think is blood.
"Flip forward a few days. These thirteen warriors lead the queen's troops and they just carve right through all these enemies. They win battles they should have been totally overwhelmed. They take tens of thousands of warriors prisoner. They all get sacrificed in the name of their queen. After this these other people, who seem like they might actually Aztec, lay off. For a long, long time this kingdom, darkened by the blood of those sacrificed, is left alone. Peace reigned, in spite of the rise of powerful neighbors."
Less made a few notes in his book as she talked. Blood sacrifice. Priest-queen. 13 warriors. Unstoppable.
"Was the battle taking place during the day or at night?" Rey asked.
"Day. Like a bunch of battles across several days," Mira clarified.
"All good things born of blood and sacrifice come to an end, it seems," she continued. "I don't get specifics here. Just that there were warriors with iron and disease that decimated them. I'm going to go out on a limb and blame the Spanish. The queen -- yep same one, still -- manages to escape, but her 13 blessed warriors, all with skins of jaguars, get cut down so she has time to flee. Save for one single Jaguar Lord, their leader and the one that was the closest to the queen. Cut off and alone, he has no idea where his queen fled. He just knows that his entire people are essentially gone or enslaved and he's alone in the jungle. Many decades pass. He's still out there, hidden, but moves around. He starts to experiment with the blood magic his people were known and feared for. And then maybe he gets lonely. I don't know, I did see that he began to take women. Kidnap them. Get children off them. Every time he is angered to find that the child is only mortal, not something like him. Every single time. One day, he's so frustrated and alone he fling curses at them. And they become... afflicted. Something a little bit like him, but not truly what he is. When he discovers this, he gets really clever. Using blood he afflicts these people. They are dangerous, wild, but pretty much under control of this Jaguar Lord. He's like some kind of super-alpha or something. They become his servants and soldiers. He doesn't keep too many of them around, just what he needs at this time."
To Rey, the Jaguar Lord sounded like a Primal therianthrope, and he was able to create his own Feral jaguars. Blood magic was never, ever, good. She also wonders if Harley was a victim of that guy - and if he was the one she, Less and Mira had encountered in the jungle. She did not want to interrupt yet, wanting to hear everything before she started asking questions.
Less: Queen lost. Immortal. Jaguar Lord makes babies.
"That's not all he has, though," Mira said. "I also saw him doing this rituals, drawing upon magic of his own down upon certain ones. These were even more powerful servants but also more tightly controlled. I think he can force them to shift whenever he wants them to, but they have no control over it themselves. Those are basically his slaves, yet they are the most dangerous of all his people. They are like... knights I suppose. Jaguar-shifting knights utterly loyal to him because he controls their very shape.
"When I next looked into the past as it related to Harley's bloodline, her new bloodline I should say, I focused on the near now." Mira flipped toward the front of the journal and began reading again. After a few minutes, she said. "Oh yeah. Okay, now this is interesting. Here I saw how this Jaguar Lord started having dreams, like in the past hundred years or so. He saw all this stuff that was totally strange and foreign to him. Stuff we take for granted, he'd never seen, you know? He also dreams of his queen, the one that he and his people saved. But after all this time, he feels totally abandoned. So all he feels toward her now is anger. I feel it like a desire for revenge for centuries of being left alone, cursed to wander the jungle. A man with no one really like him. He knows she's still alive, somewhere, and has these visions but he can't put it together.
"And then? A gift lands right in his lap. Two women from America appear. He simply does what he usually does. He takes them and makes them his, only one of them fights back a lot harder than he was used to. He lets her go to see what will happen. Maybe he'll just pick them up again in the jungle. Let them think they escaped. When they disappear, he's surprised, but then he discovers one of them had left her phone behind. On that phone are pictures. He recognizes those pictures."
She pushed the journal back.
"What pictures?" Rey can't help but ask.
"Well, since I know the Jaguar Lord got my phone, then I suspect the pictures are mine," Mira said. Her tone was considerably more subdued at this admission. "I had some shots of some of the nicer places Drake and I went together. Not many. Just maybe half a dozen pictures of places around Mythic City."
"Did any of those pictures involve Less and I," Rey asked. "And where we live?"
"Um..." Mira shrugged. "Maybe?"
"This Jaguar Lord seems more like a werewolf than fae," said Less after he had read through his own notes. "Have we misclassified them as fae because of the Shadowgate we found there?" He didn't want to say it just then, but the story of the priest-queen disappearing struck a chord with him. Not just any chord, but one thread through his entire being. Where the Jaguar Lord turned to anger and revenge when his queen deserted him, Less had turned to despair. She could have been a Fae Lord, and the jaguar-people a therianthrope/fae hybrid.
Rey looked at Less. "I never thought the jaguar-man was anything other than a shifter," she said, wondering what Less was talking about. "I don't remember finding any evidence of him using the gate, unless you did and forgot to tell me."
Mira said, "Actually, I think he's something close to both. The lines blur. He's a shifter, based on what I saw of that big bloody battle from centuries ago. But he has a lot of magic. Maybe fae magic, but I don't really know. Honestly? I think he's a creature of that mystery queen. Something... really unusual."
Remy, who had been quiet all this time, remained so. The entire time Mira had been talking, his sense of Something Bad Is Coming had been getting stronger and stronger. He had his own questions he wanted to ask, but would not ask them in front of the others.
Less addressed Rey's comment. "No, just an assumption. Is there anything regarding jaguar-people that you have forgotten to tell me?"
Rey couldn't tell if he was accusing her of not sharing everything she knew, or if he was simply curious. Knowing his obsession with information, sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. She chose to think he was just curious, and phrased her reply that way. "No," Rey replied with a shake of her head.
Less nodded and jotted a note down in his book.
Rey turned her attention back to Mira. "Do you know if the Jaguar Lord is actually interested in you and me, or is he focused solely on revenge against his queen?"
"Well, I don't read minds. But my guess is yes, he's very interested. Solely focused on revenge? No. From my research and speaking with Harley, I think he's been very busy getting himself updated," she said. "Look, this guy is what? Maybe eight centuries old? I don't care how powerful you are, you don't live that long by having tunnel vision or being dumb. Which means that queen of his is at least that old." She glanced at Remy briefly.
Remy's face remained calm and impassive, as he knew exactly who Mira was talking about. How this information might be used, or might harm his goals, he did not know, and wouldn't until he had a chance to speak with Mira in private.
Why would he be interested in us, Rey thought silently. Does he think we'd be useful in some way?
"What is your stake in all of this, Remy?" asked Less. There must be a reason he was present for the decoding of the journal.
"No idea," Remy replied. "I'm sure I'll find out when I've had a chance to speak to Mira later."
"Okay. So to my prediction." Mira flipped through pages of notes, lips pursed. It was obvious she was skipping some things she felt were irrelevant at this time. "There's a lot here. Let me sum up. I think this queen of his knows or will know soon the Jaguar Lord is here. I believe they are going to meet up in a conflict. One will be victorious and add all the strength of the whoever bows in defeat to their own. Either way, we can imagine a city dominated by a Jaguar Lord who may or may not answer to this queen."
"Or a city dominated by a mysterious queen, if the Jaguar Lord is defeated?" offered Less. "Could you explain why Remy gets a private reading? It seems we are all tied up in this situation together."
Mira thought about it, but shook her head. "I cannot without permission." She looked toward Remy and it was clear whose permission she needed.
Remy shook his head. "You do not need to know why," he said to Less politely. "Other than whoever wins will likely have domination over both Mythic and Santa Fe, and my power base is centered here in Santa Fe."
Mira said to Less, "If this confrontation happens, it's not good for anyone no matter how it turns out because one faction will end up merging with another faction to make it even stronger."
Less rolled his eyes but said nothing further on the subject.
There were a lot of eyes but Mira understood his frustration. "I'm sorry, Less. Our own business with the Barony will have to wait until we figure out what to do or where things will settle out."
Rey wondered if there was a way to prevent the conflict from happening at all, but she wasn't about to discuss that with Remy present. She looked between Mira and the vampire, knowing of the promise Mira had made not to discuss Remy's business, and couldn't help but worry how much fae business - Golden Mesa, Barony or Duchy - she'd disclosed to him.
Remy noticed the conversation had wound down with the various parties becoming cautious about what they discuss in front of each other. Therefore, he invited Rey and Less to use the limo he procured. It would drop Kiera off at Mira's apartment and then take them wherever they would like after that. Mira stated she would like to meet Rey and Less at Less's apartment at 1 AM tonight to discuss their next moves.
Remy and Mira have a private discussion in Jaguar Queen.
Rey had time to call Zeke of the Stormfront pack about Kiera. He said he'd swing by Mira's apartment complex to pick her up so she didn't have to worry about lugging her stuff all over the city. Rey was left with the unsettling impression that Zeke was calling the shots now in the pack, but she didn't want to get into that discussion at this time.
The late hour of Mira's meeting time meant both Rey and Less had plenty of time to attend to their own affairs at their own homes. Both were even more concerned about their security. Rey saw to putting her pixies on alert while Less sent tremors through his information network to focus on external supernatural threats. (please amend this with your own ideas, players. ;) I'm just filling time until Mira is available.)
Mira arrived at precisely 1 am. Rey had arrived ahead of her and Less had already prepared for the meeting with a suitable supply of tea, biscuits, and what information he could gather.
Only an hour ago Claire had reported his network detected increased supernatural activity in recent weeks. This had not been a focus as they were gearing to support operations against the Brimstone Barony, but when Less had put out word in the early hours of the evening, they immediately sifted through reports with an eye toward new activity whether it affects fae or not. The data indicated new presence of animal species that had not been seen in this area in over a century -- specifically signs of jaguar activity. The information had included an Instagram that Worm had forwarded to him several days previously. It was dark and blurry but the man was unquestionably feline. The real question was the identity of the two shadowy female figures nearby. The last word was that Claire was going out to bring in their "outside" contact on the matter and invite her to come and speak with Less personally. Given the late hour and the nature of the contact, Claire would do so first thing in the morning.
That contact, incidentally, was Imogen Hubbard. Claire wisely chose morning instead of evening because it was inadvisable to drop in on the witch unannounced.
When Less allowed Mira in, he noted she was dressed rather well. The little dark blue dress was held up by a strap over one shoulder. It looked to be made of silk, and therefore rather expensive. It enhanced her natural beauty all by itself, though the smooth, dark stockings she wore almost invited one to touch just to see if she were real.
"New outfit?" questioned Less politely as he provided her with a chair.
Mira nodded as she sat down. "Do you like it?"
"Of course," he said. "You wear it well." He provided everyone with refreshments. "I have arranged a meeting with Imogen tomorrow morning. She has quite a lot of knowledge about shape-shifters that could add to Rey's knowledge."
Mira perked up at that. "That's really good news! I think collaborating with her could help a lot." She looked thoughtful, then turned to Rey. "We are going to need some protection against this Jaguar Lord's power or we will be worse than useless if we come face to face with him." To both of them she said, "I'm going to need some things to help me put together something to help us. Things from the Fae Realm. Also, we need to figure out where the Jaguar Lord's people are congregating. If they are outside the city, then maybe Imogen might know something. Or, Rey, would your allies be willing to look around for us?"
Rey shook her head. "It's not so much as being willing as it is logistics. They don't go much beyond their own territory," she said. "And wandering around in other shifters' territory is asking for trouble. Kind of like someone an Unseelie found spying in Golden Mesa territory, but far less civilized. I could ask Chase, though. He goes all over the city for work. There's a slim chance he may have heard or see something."
"But they would know quickly if any new shape-shifter was crowding their territory," suggested Less. "That's something, at least."
"If they did," Rey replied. "I don't know if they'd tell me. That's pack business, and as close as I am to them, I'm not pack."
"Okay, Imogen might know something, then. What sort of things do you need from the Realms, Mira?"
"Dead blossoms of the Bleeding Heart plant, Limpweed, Bachelor's Bane and vaginal blood." She stopped. "Um, I don't need the last part from the Fae Realm. Then I need some pieces of bleeding blackthorn wood from which to fashion talismans." She looked at her friends, noticing it was late for them. "If you both need a little more rest before we see Imogen, now is a good time."
The list of ingredients made a part of Less that was somewhere below his stomach cringe. "Alright, I'll phone everyone and let you know when the meeting is."
"Okay," Mira said. "I'll get to work collecting ingredients and come back here a little after dawn." She intended to use the gate to the Hollow to get to the Fae Realm and would return the same way. Since the park was reasonably close to Less's apartment, it made sense to her to return to his place.
"Wait!" exclaimed Less. "You're going collecting now!? Alone!?"
She nodded. "Yes. I'm hoping that will also give me time to try to think of some way we can either defeat the Jaguar Lord or prevent he and his queen from reuniting. Time isn't on our side; they already sent people to hunt me down and I had to spend too much time and effort trying to avoid them. He seems to be able to command or control feral jaguars and from what I understand, that type can spread like a disease. If he gets, for example, just 50 people out of the millions that live here, do you think we have any chance at all of stopping him?" She shook her head. "We must be strong and so rest is important. But we must also be ready. I don't need rest right now, so I must gather what I need to try to fight back."
"I've got to make some calls," Rey said. "Talk to some people. See what I can find out, then I'll grab some shut eye." Sleeping at the pack's place again would probably be the safest, but the pack's dynamics might be in flux, so it might not be the safest - or best - time to be there.