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MATURE RPG


May, 2010... Fantasy became reality. Worlds overlay for the briefest moment. Outworlders became stranded on earth as more than half the human populace vanished. Our World, our universe, was transformed.

Fiction is now reality. Humans and those now bound to this world will either learn to coexist, or battle for supremecy.

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March 10th, 2022

7:00 p.m.


 

Tom was furious. He was still chasing down the leads on these poisonings with no luck so far. He had the smallest of leads that appeared to not be headed toward a dead end...but details were scarce. He had been led to a warehouse where he had allowed himself a fool's hope of finding a cache of tainted booze. Instead, he came across a poker game he was interrupting. 

 

Five men sat around the table. Tom made a lot of noise as he entered. He wanted the focus on him, so that Roderick would go unnoticed. He didn't roll up on unsuspecting people like Strollo or any others would with a goon-squad behind him. He abhorred unnecessary casualties. The plan was simple, Roderick would adjust the moods of the goons encountered in a way that made them compliant. Tom would get whatever information he could from them, and leave peacefully. Somehow he knew...this time would be different. The moon was near...within a week. This could go poorly.

 

The men, surprised, stood up and drew guns on Tom. The air nearly vibrated visibly around Tom, as his fury was unchecked. This was bad. He had been getting worse about this. His outlets haven't been doing their job anymore, and Roderick couldn't split his attention between helping Tom manage his moods and manipulating the others at the same time. Roderick, clever as ever, had dialed up the fear response in the others to exaggerate Tom's effect on them. Four of the men fled without ever looking back. Damn. One remained, however. 

 

"You have 5 seconds to speak, or you will lose the ability to."

 

This person was clearly immune, or at least resistant to Roderick's effects. The man, average in almost every measurable quality, stared Tom up and down as if he were disgusted...offended. Not scared. Not even shocked. Offended. This was puzzling to Tom. Then he caught the man's scent. Like Mythos, Toby, and...Eris. He had found a vampire. 

 

With a smirk of what can only be called arrogance, the vampire lunged at Tom with preternatural speed and punched Tom square in the face. Tom was lifted off of his feet and slid several feet across the floor. The vampire, now clearly pleased with his handy-work, placed hands on his hips and smirked at Tom lying on the ground. 

 

"Leave."

 

Tom wasn't talking to the man. He was talking to Roderick. Tom had was dropping all forms of control and civility. As much of the Beast that could come out without the full moon was being allowed to take the lead in this encounter. This blood-sucker had no idea what sort of mistake he had just made. He caught a whiff off Roderick's fading scent. He had gone. Good.

 

Tom stood slowly to his feet, eyeing the man with studious eyes. He had not actually squared up against a vampire in any real sense yet. He was looking for the proverbial hamstring. The sun had just set...so no chance on using that. The vampire's confidence wavered slightly. He had clearly expected Tom to stay on the ground. He knew a fight was coming and wasn't sure how he felt about it. Nevertheless, he lunged at Tom with that amazing quickness again, but this time Tom was ready. 

 

A fierce uppercut found its way into the chin of the lunging vampire, sending him flying about as far as Tom was sent by the vampire's sucker punch. The difference was, Tom was in pursuit while he was still in the air. Leaping on to the prone vampire, Tom rained down fist after fist...elbow after elbow, unrelenting for what seemed like minutes, but it had likely been mere seconds. The vampire was dead under Tom's weight...no, just unconscious. The shallow rise and fall of the man's chest revealed that the thing still lived. 

 

Good. The sudden outburst of violence and release had served to clear Tom's head a bit. He likely had answers but was in no condition to give them currently. Small cracks in the pavement underneath the man's head revealed the force with which Tom had rained down blows on the vampire. Tom still itched to fight...but the vampire may as well be a heavy bag hanging in the gym...it didn't do much as an outlet anymore. Satyr had been a godsend for him to let out the rage and frustration that was always begging to boil out. It had been too long since he had been in the arena. Gaspari had said that he was requesting to be in the arena too often. It was getting worse. His rage was not as easily sated these days. It was becoming an increasing problem. 

 

Suddenly, Tom's clarity had revealed a new problem. "Well, great." Tom allowed a mutter out loud under his breath. What if this creature he just pummeled was Sheut? Did he just violate some sort of protocol he was still feeling his way around? He needed to call Eris.

 

Keeping his eyes trained on the man on the floor, he dialed Eris's phone. When she picked it up, he simply said,

 

"Whatever you are doing, drop it. Come to the warehouse a few miles south of your hangar. I'll text you the address. We have a problem."

 

Before she could respond, he clicked the phone shut. He hoped she would take that as serious enough to not be offended at being given what sounded like an order. He didn't have time for formalities or feeling at this point. Things just got much worse. He swept his vision across his surroundings quickly to see if he could catch any smell or sight that posed further harm. There were no other people nearby that he could detect, but something did catch is eye. An emergency fire-axe. 

 

He didn't know how long the vampire would stay down. Eris had said that they don't heal as fast as he does...but how fast was it? He couldn't take any chances of him waking up and running away. He strode over and broke the glass with his fists to grab the axe. Tom barely noticed the blood dripping around his hand. Those cuts would heal before Eris even got there. The moon was next week. Everything 'wolfy' about him was heightened now. What a terrible time for someone to pick a fight with him. Better than next week, he supposed. 

 

Striding over to the unconscious man, he noted that some healing had begun. It was certainly not as fast, but some of the swelling and bruises were starting to fade. Tom punted the man's face one last time to ensure his unconsciousness. He wasn't in the mood to hear the screaming for this next part. He raised the axe high and with two quick strokes, lopped off both of the vampire's legs just below the knee. He could not risk this man running away, after all. 

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Shots erupted in a concussive burst inside the hangar's custom firing range, a fine crinkle marring perfectly manicured brows. It wasn't fast enough. The swift elegance at which she could pull the trigger did not compute with the mechanics of the firearm. It was the best, but reflexes were faster. In a life or death situation, that was a problem.

 

Toby gave her a side glance as she huffed through her nose and holstered the sidearm.

 

The petite woman was in rare form. It wasn't unusual for her to practice old skills, being infected opened up a whole new slate of problems most never realized. Big, bad and nearly indestructible came with responsibilities most missed. If for whatever reason you needed to resort to a weapon and the weapon didn't respond well enough, you were fucked twice. 

 

Motion was nearly impossible to see, drawing, reloading and firing an entire magazine off as the pace of her side steps were incredibly slow. Control was the lesson of the day. Being able to move quickly didn't erase the fact the target didn't and a firearm would react to whatever the marksman did or did not do. Retraining to move slower to meet the limitations of a weapon was fucking annoying.

 

Using a firearm while Sheut could be incredibly complicated.

 

Gloved hand holstered the weapon again.

 

"I'll work on it," Toby said. He had a fantastic way with the mechanics of weapons. It was probably impossible to get something to work as quickly as they could move. Trying would do no harm though. "You're still pulling left."

 

That brought a frown, looking back at her targets.  Being invincible didn't make that go away either.

 

Contrary to what most believed, she did 'dress down'; not above tactical gear for training purposes or high risk flying. It was the base of her skill knowledge, and she respected it with continuing practice. She was proud of the work she did before the Resonance, it just didnt fit with her public persona. If they ever made designer work boots, she'd be the first in line.

 

Black, always black though... from the sleeveless tank that revealed how petite she really was to the Bates tactical boots that gave her no height whatsoever. The khaki and fatigue green were something she could no longer stomach no matter what.

 

Phone vibrated softly in one of her pant pockets. Velcro crunched, pulling it out.

 

"London."

 

"Whatever you are doing, drop it. Come to the warehouse a few miles south of your hangar. I'll text you the address. We have a problem."

 

"Shit," she muttered under her breath after he'd hung up. "Had to have a rich man's problem when I'm working."

 

Outward words were callus and disinterested. Internally, there was a serious spark of concern. Gallo did not tell her to drop everything, he never let his fires get hot enough that he couldn't put them out before she got there. At least that she knew. It was close to the moon, which would explain the harshness. Roderick was fairly good at staving it, if he hadn't or wasn't, meant that for whatever reason he couldn't or wouldn't.

 

That was the cause for concern.

 

Steps quickened, snagging her black softshell jacket and snapping up the hood as she made her way to the door.

 

"Car?" Toby asked.

 

"No, you and Ahanu in the armored car. Have Mouse ping my phone and meet me there."

 

There was no location text from Gallo, which pushed her faster. A car roaring around searching for trouble would only cause more. Some things you just couldn't sense or smell from a car. She was going on foot, peering up at the nearly dark sky as she stuck close to the hangar and crossed the tarmac to the gate tower. Punching the code, she slipped through the gate into the darkness of the fields that surrounded them. 

 

Flat run, human, fifteen- she was short. Sheut, considerably less. Searching for scent and blood gave her direction. Scaling decrepit buildings by their fire escapes and jumping from roof to roof the scents finally hit her like a wall. She slid through a malfunctioning vent window, balancing on a steel girder overhead before landing silently near the table.

 

"How are we doing Thomas?" she inquired quietly, pushing her hood back and swiping loose bangs behind her ear. Less than perfect, she hated that, in public anyway.

 

He'd clearly come close to losing it.

 

She was looking at the discarded cards of the poker game, reaching with gloved fingers to turn over a hand as she slowly walked around the table. Eyes weren't on him, but honed attention was.

 

"These hands are useless. What the hell were they playing for..."

 

She'd already surveyed his work, allowing the fractured anger that she felt roll against her pass by without challenge. Her tone was quiet, gentle, inquisitive about what she saw.

 

"Are we playing poker, or are we hunting?"

 

Phone buzzed in her pocket, she lifted it to her ear and listened as she watched him. It would be a bad idea to take her eyes off him. The Were was going to be as big a problem as the nearly deceased vamp might be. Interesting night. 

 

"Round them up, four from the looks of it. Wait for instructions. Look for Roderick, make sure he's safe."

 

She took the assumption he was around somewhere most likely. Toby and Ahanu had encountered the four, snagged quietly outside and into the car.

 

She stopped next to the vampire, brow cocking up at the clearly pissed off Were.

 

"Tried to run I see?" smirk was light. She pulled a utility knife from her hip and knelt, turning the rogue's battered face toward her. "Not someone I know, Khered. Not a first, he's somebody's. Smells like the other Hesek I found last month. I need him to talk. When he wakes he's going to frenzy and I don't have the tools here to stave that, unless we feed him one of his friends."

 

She considered it. Not bringing this into her hangar was optimal, especially since she didn't know Gallo's status.

 

"Which we could. Today's lesson is staking. We don't die, just coma."

 

Movement was quick, impaling the vampire in the heart and standing up.

 

"There. No running. Now we have time to talk. Want to fill me in before I wake this idiot up?"

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"How are we doing Thomas?"

 

Tom's head snapped at the sudden noise. This was bad. He should have noticed her enter long ago. The torrent of rage inside his skull loud like waves crashing into a break wall. Her voice cut through that, and then his other senses began interacting with the world around him again. Ahanu and Toby were here too. Roderick was somewhere nearby. He hadn't left as ordered. This is probably for the best. He looked down at his victim, and began studying the man. 

 

The damage done to his face and surrounding stone was sobering. As if someone had poured ice-water over his head, his rage was back in its box. Clarity had returned. He knew what happened when the full-beast came out. That is why he went upstate each time the moon was full. While this was nowhere near the same level of carnage...it was too close for Tom's liking. This strength was dangerous. 

 

Then he saw the legs. It made sense at the time. Now he saw it through more human eyes. This was brutal. More than he would have intended in his right mind. It achieved the desired result...Eris's advice about stakes would be remembered. That was cleaner. Better. 

 

"I've been better," Tom grunted. He surveyed the destruction around him as he noticed Roderick reenter the area with Ahanu following closely. "I didn't mean to imply that a battle was still occurring. Didn't mean for you to bring the troops." He nodded his thanks to Ahanu. Toby was still outside for some reason. He caught a faint whiff of the others. That explained it. Good. 

 

"Now we have time to talk. Want to fill me in before I wake this idiot up?"

 

Tom had considered bringing Eris into the loop about the poison issue, but had thought not to bother her about it yet. He was making headway...albeit gradually. He had shaken someone down and found out about this warehouse. He had yet to investigate what was in the crates here. He'd get to that later. If he had found an inventory of the poisoned booze...then he'd have made his most significant progress in solving this problem to date. 

 

The guards were a predicted problem. The vampire was not. This added a new wrinkle. Tom having almost killed him made Eris's involvement unavoidable now. 

 

"The last several months, I have been getting reports of bottles of my booze being poisoned and killing folks. Nasty, fast acting stuff. Undetectable to humans."

 

Tom growled as the fire he had stuffed in the box tested the strength of the door trapping it there. Closing his eyes for a second, he continued, calmly.

 

"It is the nastiest, most offensive smell I've ever encountered. I am uncertain who or what else can detect it like that. I've only shown it to one other outside the Family and she couldn't tell one from the other."

 

He was referring to Cassandra when she came calling. He'd fully debrief Eris later, for now, he had to explain his presence. 

 

"I received some information that led me here. This," he gestured to the vampire on the ground, "was an unexpected surprise."

 

Tom took inventory of his own appearance and noticed that his clothing didn't heal the way his skin did. Cuts and blood stains ruined everything he was wearing. He looked at Eris with an eyebrow raised as he suddenly remembered her suggestions for the vampire when he wakes up. "Khered? Hesek? What else don't I know that I probably should?"

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Soft blink responded to his sudden realization she was there.

 

That wasn’t good.

 

Interesting. He was fascinating, having surmised by this point that Roderick had some sort of sway over the man when he got this close to the moon. That would have to be her secret for now until she could determine how much, Ausar wasn’t going to like it either way. Shit. That was another thing they had to talk about. She needed to introduce them. Joy.

 

"I've been better"

 

Clearly. Her nonchalant comment was a gauge of where his mind was, and it proved telling. The fight had obviously brought him injury and he’d healed. Damn, Weres were something else. She’d never really watched the process from this vantage point before. Usually she was actively trying to kill them when she had to worry about the healing. She was baffled though why he was here in the first place.

 

"I didn't mean to imply that a battle was still occurring. Didn't mean for you to bring the troops."

 

She turned the Sheut’s face again. No clue who this asshole was.

 

“Don’t think you’re special, I always bring my troops. I was in the neighborhood anyway.”

 

Playful smirk was lit over coarse words. It might be lost on him at the moment. For Roderick’s benefit then. She stood, slipping off her soft shell coat and hanging it on the back of one of the more savory chairs. This was going to get messy and the coat was new.

 

"The last several months, I have been getting reports of bottles of my booze being poisoned and killing folks. Nasty, fast acting stuff. Undetectable to humans."

 

Brow cocked. She was a little pissed that he hadn’t told her, just a little. Bare arms crossed as she listened, leaning on the table with her hip. They weren’t in public, so her dressing down wasn’t something he or Roderick had seen before. Not out of character, just deeper into the complexity of the Sheut’s world. Shooting gloves would probably be taken off soon as well.

 

Eyes narrowed slightly at the growl, the imperceptible glance to Ahanu giving her silent instructions. She shifted to lean on the table with her other hip, right hand nonchalantly to her thigh holster and unsnapping it before crossing her arms again. The man was stable, but fighting it.

 

"It is the nastiest, most offensive smell I've ever encountered. I am uncertain who or what else can detect it like that. I've only shown it to one other outside the Family and she couldn't tell one from the other."

 

Eyes narrowed.

 

"I received some information that led me here. This, was an unexpected surprise."

 

He finally seemed to become aware of his appearance.

 

"Khered? Hesek? What else don't I know that I probably should?"

 

Dark eyes looked calmly to Roderick, he really shouldn’t have been there but it was her call.

 

“I’m a Khered, it means someone made me with permission. I am not a first. A Hesek is a rogue. I know all Sheut that are made in my domain. If one is made without permission, they are a rogue and they die.”

 

She looked toward Ahanu and nodded.

 

“Ladies choice,” she said. “Relieve Toby, I need him here. Anti-viral for you and Roderick, now.”

 

The woman nodded in return and went to retrieve one of the poker players in Toby’s possession. She approached the rogue again, removing her gloves and putting them in her back pockets. This was going to get messy, and bloody. It was going to allow the Were and his assistant to see the other side of the small volcanic Sheut. She would have to feed one of the poker players to the downed vampire, just enough to keep him from losing his shit.

 

“I’ll let you question him first, then I get a crack at him. The donor will die, and he will die. I will have to consider killing his friends as well depending on what we’re told. They know Sheut Ka exist, that’s enough for me to forfeit their life. You can take any alcohol you find here that’s yours after we clean up and are gone.”

 

Dark gaze watched him, then moved to Toby who was dragging someone in kicking and screaming.

 

“Are we in agreement Mr. Gallo?”

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“Don’t think you’re special, I always bring my troops. I was in the neighborhood anyway.”

 

No…she responded in force with lightning quickness. Practiced efficiency evident to the capo. It was good to remember how dangerous she really was.

 

He saw her eyes narrow when mentioning someone else knew about the poisonings. He’d get to that. Wasn’t important in the immediate here and now. Seems Eris hated being in the dark as much as he did.

 

As Eris explained Khered and Hesek to him, he nodded in understanding. It was a simple enough concept. Tom imagined that if the weres in the world were organized in such a fashion, then they’d have a similar control setup. Tom rather liked that idea…although the impossibility of such an endeavor shoved that fantasy aside. Might as well try to control the tide as control were-behavior. You build dams, levies…you can never control the tides, they are inevitable…you can only mitigate the damage that is done as best you can.

 

“I’ll let you question him first, then I get a crack at him. The donor will die, and he will die. I will have to consider killing his friends as well depending on what we’re told. They know Sheut Ka exist, that’s enough for me to forfeit their life. You can take any alcohol you find here that’s yours after we clean up and are gone.”

 

Tom’s jaw tightened ever-so-slightly. This sounded a bit too much like permission than collaboration. Tom’s ego wasn’t so fragile as to balk at a good plan when it was presented…however he would have to be careful he didn’t accidentally find himself at the bottom of a one-sided power dynamic. That would certainly go poorly.

 

“I have a slightly different idea.” Tom’s senses had returned. His beast and he had come to some sort of rare agreement to direct the torrent of rage in a proper direction. “Instead of a ‘me then you’ type of interrogation…why don’t we do Bad Cop worse Cop?”

 

Tom’s words would have been assumed to come out of a sinister sneer, however his face could not have been more business-like. He wasn’t going to delight in the screams of the staked…Hesek was it? No. Just as you have to input the right combination of numbers to open a safe lock…you’d have to apply the correct combination of…stimuli to crack open a mind-lock.

 

Tom’s fiery furnace of rage was now being converted into nearly stoic, unwavering determination. Tom strode over to where one of the vampire's legs remained and Tom brought it, and one of the card table chairs to sit at where the Hesek's feet would have been. It seemed as if Eris and Tom were both going to learn a lot about the other this evening.

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He seemed to be coming around, keen eyes exceptionally attentive in their aloof fashion. More than anyone… she understood. Weres, Sheut Ka, they were made from the same fabric. Weres had no control, but knew it was coming. Sheut Ka had control until they didn’t. It was a crapshoot when you’d be weak enough for the bloodlust to take over. All the planning in the world couldn’t predict a catastrophe. Both had another side that should be fiercely respected. The moment one didn’t, was the moment it killed you and the others around you.

 

The more he struggled and compressed the beast, the more he intrigued her. She could withdraw from the world any time she wanted. He could not. No wonder he was beating the shit out of people in front of an audience in a giant arena. He needed to.

 

One brow ticked to a minuscule arch as his jaw seemed to set at her suggestions.

 

“I have a slightly different idea.”

 

Toby’s eyes slid to Eris, then back to Tom. His arm snapped sharply downward to stop the rabbit from struggling; the food seemed stunned for a moment.

 

Long breath was drawn in and she pushed off the table, arms still across her chest. She’d turned herself into a tiny wall, the formidable presence waiting for his idea with slightly narrowed eyes. Where rogues were concerned, she didn’t have to listen to shit. Him being able to have a crack at him was a courtesy, and her being ‘mindful’ of the Were’s feelings was a new thing for Toby to see. Toby hadn’t been knuckle to knuckle with a Were yet. A conversation was going to be had later, especially about Toby’s “tell” when he just questioned her for bending slightly to someone’s suggestions. The issue of her having complete jurisdiction on rogues would be discussed with Gallo after the moon. Right now she needed information and so did he.

 

“Instead of a ‘me then you’ type of interrogation…why don’t we do Bad Cop worse Cop?”

 

Blink was quick.

 

“Role play,” her arms relaxed to her sides without emotion. “Kinky.”

 

As he came closer to the table to retrieve a chair and other unsavory things, she moved to collect her bait from Toby, using the momentary distraction of the Were’s task to finish hers. Toby held the man by the back of the neck; grip so tight he could snap his spine. Her back to the Were, the Sheut’s charge towered over her. Head shook softly as she looked up at the bait, picking up his wrist, she wasn’t going to feed him alive to a frenzied Sheut Ka. She was neat, as neat as they could be, and not on display for the world to see. She would take as much as she needed to knock him out and embellish her own strength. The viceroy knew the rogue might rip him apart. Waking the rogue would be frenzy until she could stuff enough blood down his gullet for him to return to his senses. A flailing bait-boy would spray blood everywhere and risk agitating Gallo. A frenzied vampire, a pissed off Were and a frantically bleeding hysterical human was not a cluster fuck she wanted to deal with tonight.

 

Cheeks flushed as the man’s legs gave out and Toby released the unconscious weight to her. Lips parted from the man's wrist, tongue sliding over her front teeth neatly. He went up and over her shoulder, her thumb tight on the wrist wound to keep him from bleeding everywhere.

 

“I’ll pull the stake, you take the bait to the table and finish him off,” instructions to Toby were absolute.

 

She left the words ‘because I might need you’ unsaid. No need to alarm the Were. It was about to get ugly anyway.

 

“When they lose this much blood, they frenzy. Out of control, is almost as bad as a full moon Were,” she said quietly, the red stain still on her teeth. She specifically didn’t put this idiot vampire in a category with Toby and herself. The rules weren’t different; Gallo just didn’t need to know that right now either. Heel of her free hand pulled the unconscious rogue’s jaw open. Listless bait-boy was set on the ground, one of his arms extended toward Toby, the other above the rogue’s mouth as she took her thumb off. It streamed down his throat, dark eyes watching it to make sure it was actually sliding down.

 

“It's going to get ugly for a moment. Let me take care of this Thomas,” it was a tone most never heard, actually… concerned, and at the same time indifferent that her teeth were on full display as she spoke. No time but the present to cast aside some of the last of the façade formalities.

 

Nodding to Toby, the motion was almost too fast to see. The bait was gone, and the petite viceroy pulled the stake, hand immediately on his throat and the other in the center of his chest to hold him down. The flail was nearly instantaneous, fresh blood jump starting the engine, a cord in her neck flicking as he struggled against her. He grabbed her throat and she rolled, in two motions she had her legs around his waist and elbow under his chin in a choke hold. It wasn't often she used her human training... seemed to be the theme of the evening. It was pointless to restrain his arms. There was nothing that could hold them but the Sheut herself, and she was occupied keeping the crazy-ass vampire from launching at them.

 

Teeth gritted, fierce growl from between them as she held fast. A freshly fed Toby had drawn his weapon, and it was aimed center mass in the rogue’s chest. He was absolutely aware the viceroy would get hit as well by proxy; the ammunition he was firing would punch through both of them. The point was to put the rogue down and protect Gallo and anyone else that could be hurt by the domino effect.

 

It was suddenly apparent the depth of understanding she and her two assistants had, and how far the petite woman would go to protect people around her. If something happened to her, Ahanu was prepared to be the one to bring her back. They were an unbreakable circle.

 

She hissed sharply as nails dragged a vicious trail from left cheek to collarbone, ponytail whipping as she turned her head. The violent thrashing finally was starting to subside. A more controlled struggle was taking place, the snap of her arm tightening the choke hold and cocking the man’s head at an odd angle. She was indeed stronger, and he realized he wasn’t going anywhere.

 

“If you want to live, you will answer this man’s questions. I can and will tear your head off,” her grip didn’t falter, eyes flicking up to Gallo as she nodded once.

 

Grimy, bloody and injured, the viceroy held her ground for the Capo to start his good cop and such. She had no idea at the moment which one she was supposed to be...

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“Role play,” her arms relaxed to her sides without emotion. “Kinky.”

 

Tom smirked. Eris was every bit as dangerous as he was, yet there was still a person inside. They each battled their own monsters within. Tom couldn’t help but think that she wished to expose her vulnerability to someone. Tom knew all too well how lonely that was to be unable to do so.

 

Watching she and Toby prepare for waking Tom’s latest victim was enlightening. They moved with a practiced efficiency. This is not the first or even the fifth time they had done something similar. This was a regular occurrence for them. Interesting.

 

“When they lose this much blood, they frenzy. Out of control, is almost as bad as a full moon Were,”

 

That said a lot. Tom had to admit…he had never observed a full moon were directly. He had never had the opportunity. He had only seen the tapes of himself. That was terrifying. There was no way this could be as bad. Right?

 

Tom watched Toby and Eris grab the ‘snack’ for the unconscious vampire. Again…this has been done before. Seeing Eris fully for the first time with fangs out and blood on them, it was as if another piece of a puzzle had been placed. He couldn’t describe how, but he felt that the picture was nearly complete having seen this. He had always suspected that the two of them understood one another on an instinctive level. This just supported his belief.

 

“It's going to get ugly for a moment. Let me take care of this Thomas,”

 

Tom nodded. He called her here. This was her expertise. He’d let her handle this the way she knew how.

 

And what a show. The two of them moved with such practiced precision and efficiency…this rogue never stood a chance. His brows furrowed slightly as he considered the implication of Eris’s team being turned against him. Were the two of them to become enemies, it’d be bloody and mutually destructive…if Tom was lucky. As the awakened vampire frenzied against Eris, he took a half-step toward the two to lend a hand. She moved like a viper and had the flailing monster under control before Tom’s step forward touched the ground. Blood trickled down Eris’s face from where a stray claw had found purchase. She was a warrior. No matter where their paths went after this encounter, he respected Eris.

 

After the flailing beast calmed down, and Eris spoke her words, his eyes found Tom. Tom strode over to stand close, nearly straddling the pair tangled on the ground, towering over the pair. The rogue, remembering their earlier encounter, or more likely…seeing his leg being held in Tom’s hands like a baseball bat…began to struggle against Eris’s iron grip.

 

Tom’s countenance changed. Any sense of the primal chaos was gone. Tom looked as calm and cold as a corpse. Eris had not yet seen this from Tom. At this moment, he wasn’t the wolf about to pounce. He was the wolf who cornered wounded, helpless prey. If Doom had a face…

 

“Good. You remember me. This shouldn’t take long. What’s in the boxes? You have one chance to answer honestly.”

 

“Fuck you!” Well, he had spirit.

 

Tom couldn’t strike the man, as Eris was still holding on with an iron grip. The rogue didn’t know Tom’s disdain for profanity. Tom’s late wife’s face flashed in his mind. Tom nearly hit him. Instead, Tom ripped the foot from the severed leg in his hands and dropped to one knee in front of the rogue.

 

“I don’t like being made to be a liar. But I understand you have gone through a lot in the last few minutes and I’ll give you another chance after you’ve had a few minutes to think it over.”

 

Tom then grabbed the vampire under the chin, thumb and index finger on either jaw hinge. Tom squeezed until the vampire groaned in pain and opened his mouth ever so slightly. Then, the capo pulled his jaw open and jammed the man’s own severed foot into his mouth so deep that he either had to bite through it to spit it out, or someone would have to remove it for him. Either way, the rogue learned quickly that Tom struck with more than just his fists. Wounds weren't always physical.

 

Tom then found one of the crates and with almost painful slowness, dragged the box to be within sight of the rogue who literally had his foot in his mouth.

 

There was a small part of Tom that regretted showing this side of himself to Eris and the other. He wasn’t particularly proud of this. However, necessity dictated unsavory methods from time to time. Now was one of those times.

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His smirk was worth a million dollars. Even though she did like to get her hands dirty, she didn’t particularly like getting her hands dirty in front of people she wasn’t well acquainted with. Thomas may have been a constable, but for all intents and purposes they had a business relationship. Over time they would get to know each other better through Sheut dealings, however she was not expecting this amount of action this early. The smirk, made up for it… just a bit.

 

It intrigued her that he’d let her take the reins. His work on the rogue before she’d gotten there signaled his intent to rip this man apart. Perhaps restraint took over at the discovery of the vampire. It showed good judgment given he could have stepped in the hornet’s nest of politics that was the Sheut. That would win him a few points with Glamis.

 

The vampire’s struggle on his approach was met with a tighter snap on his neck, stretching it to the breaking point as she watched the Were towering over them. Toby had not moved an inch, aim still true. He wouldn’t until he was told to stand down.

 

“Good. You remember me. This shouldn’t take long. What’s in the boxes? You have one chance to answer honestly.”

 

“Fuck you!”

 

It was her turn to smirk, the smile a true one with elegant teeth on full display as she looked at the Were. She watched him carefully, the same control kept the rage in check. He would have torn this rogue to pieces. It made her wonder if he'd done this type of thing before... not on vampires.

 

“I don’t like being made to be a liar. But I understand you have gone through a lot in the last few minutes and I’ll give you another chance after you’ve had a few minutes to think it over.”

 

Dark smile faded when bones cracked and flesh tore. The rogue was starting to squirm again, pain, shock, frenzy and blood rush… it was all starting to take its toll. Still dangerous as hell, the psychological game was added to the mix, accelerated by Gallo’s persuasive insistence. It was as effective as the sun. Her kind didn’t particularly like to lose pieces or skin, made healing that much more difficult.

 

As he retrieved a crate, her words whispered into the rogue’s ear.

 

“Do you know who I am?”

 

Rigid shake was affirmative.

 

“Good. I’m going to allow you to take it out because you’re going to answer his questions. Answer his questions and you might actually have a chance to walk out of here, but that’s up to him. I was just going to kill you and get it over with. I think he has other plans.”

 

Another rigid shake confirmatory.

 

The chosen words were not a fluke. Grip was loosened slightly and the rogue was allowed to somewhat put himself right. Able to talk at least, slumping forward in a sitting position. She slid herself from beneath him, pistol pulled from her thigh holster as she backed away enough to mirror Toby’s stance on the vampire’s opposite side. Toby’s ammunition would shred the rogue’s chest, hers his head, only if he was able to move before the viceroy got to him and removed his head from his body.

 

“Cooperation will get you everywhere,” she holstered the sidearm, crossing her arms over her chest. "He's in charge... I would cooperate."

 

Toby remained on point.

 

Bullshit. They were going to kill him.

 

No matter what they did, he was healing. Gallo was going to need to work quickly. She would bet money the vampire was going to go out fighting and would wait for the right moment to lunge at any of them. He needed to get the information out before that happened.

 

This was a test.

 

She was going to let Gallo finish him off, if he chose to. The viceroy needed to see how long the Were's patience would last before he did.

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"He's in charge... I would cooperate."

 

Tom knew this wasn’t true with the vampire. If he wanted to do something with him that Eris didn’t agree with…it wasn’t going to happen. He knew this. Did the rogue? A malevolent grin spread across his face.  She was feeding the fear that Tom had wanted to see in the rogue. If Roderick couldn’t tweak his emotions, Eris was apt at influencing the direction they should go. The axe wounds were starting to close. There was no danger of him walking away anytime soon…without there being feet and all…but he didn’t want to take any unnecessary chances. Tom hadn’t …worked… with vampires in quite this way before.

 

Tom turned his head toward Eris. “Bring one of the others.”

 

Tom was referring to one of the other humans that were escorted away by Ahanu and Roderick earler. Tom was playing off of the pseudo-authority permitted by Eris in the moment. He still didn’t have his head quite wrapped around Sheut politics, but if one of the two vampires jumped when he said ‘frog’…what would that do the rogue? Tom had a brief thought that Eris would make him pay for this in some fashion…but if she was on the same page as Tom and cooperated, then it would be worth it.

 

“While they get your friend, let’s chat.” Tom crouched down just outside of reach of the vampire on the ground. Feral rage all but gone…replaced with doom…dread. Inevitability. Tom’s posture, demeanor, and glower made one thing certain. Tom was in control, and any decision the rogue made would simply be a calculation designed to maximize survival. He would not win; he could only hope to survive.

 

“Let’s get something straight right away. You know what I am. I know what you are. You are like my associates here.” He gestured towards Eris and Toby. He pointed a knowing finger at the vampire. A jackal-like grin spread across his face. “But you aren’t quite like them are you, Hesek?”

 

The rogue knew what Tom could do with his hands. It was time to batter and tear him apart in his mind. What emotions, fears, and questions would bounce around inside the skull of a man who saw a were barking out orders to other Khered? If Eris was paying attention at all, it was clear Tom was in full control of this.

 

The hesek’s eyes widened slightly while still trying to maintain some semblance of control. To his eyes, Tom was pulling back the curtain and revealing the Wizard…destroying all semblance of reality that the rogue knew. Of course, Tom was hanging his own curtain; obscuring the Wizard even more. The hesek nodded his head slightly at Tom’s question. Tom knew he wouldn’t get any straight answers just yet. He was going to let him stew in his own fear for a moment while one of the other humans was fetched. He kept a watchful eye on the hesek’s healing, prepared to re-aggravate wounds if need be to keep him grounded. He understood that Toby and Eris were under a time-constraint, but Tom had all day.  

 

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Rogue eyes were on her, the mention of Gallo being in charge not quite sitting well with him apparently. He was not expecting it. The Viceroy was usually predictable in the fact that her decisions were clear cut and absolute. Few that crossed the Sheut in her territory were allowed to survive. This was well known among anyone that decided to pass through the east coast. Whether from her hand or the Executioner’s, most preferred the Sheut Executioner by the time she was finished. Vampires were not a large population, and their existence was of the utmost importance to keep under the radar. Gallo was going to get his information, and then she was going to get hers. Who made this idiot, and why was this the second in as many weeks? The Were was exploring his own issue, she needed to find the vampire that was making more without permission. Watching him get answers was going to tell her volumes about who this vampire was.

 

“Bring one of the others.”

 

Nod toward Toby was imperceptible, and it played off like Gallo had given the order. Toby holstered his weapon and was off with oiled precision to retrieve another.

 

“While they get your friend, let’s chat.”

 

Calm was written all over the Viceroy’s visage. Arms crossed, dressed down, she seemed relaxed. In reality, the closer he got to the vampire the more alert she was becoming. Strength may be wane from the injuries, but Sheut Ka were fast. Thomas might be strong, but all it would take was the rogue lunging forward at his throat to put a massive wrinkle in his plans.

 

“Let’s get something straight right away. You know what I am. I know what you are. You are like my associates here.”

 

She blinked slowly, the only indication she was alive. Absolutely still, she looked like a statue.

 

“But you aren’t quite like them are you, Hesek?”

 

The rogue’s eyes flicked to Eris after nodding to Gallo, narrowing at her then glancing after Toby. She didn't outwardly respond in the slightest. Inside? She was ready to rip him to pieces. He knew. Gallo couldn’t have and she was content to leave it that way for the moment. The rogue knew about Toby, which was interesting. The one that made him definitely had his finger on the pulse of Sheut dealings, or her at the very least. This could be bigger than she imagined. Knowing these things about her and mucking up her constable’s business spoke volumes. Someone might be challenging her; it brought a train of other problems with it. After they left this place, it was evident to her Toby may be in danger. To threaten him, meant the fury of the volcanic tiny vampire was in full force.  He had no idea what he was up against.

 

Toby returned with the second, hands zip-tied. Ahanu had apparently been busy babysitting. Once he saw his friend neatly discarded along the wall where her second had leaned him in a sitting position, he started to frantically struggle. Toby had the back of his neck and forced him to his knees, the grip keeping him from struggling further.

 

Showtime.

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The rage never leaves. It is a constant, like the spinning of the earth or the rising of the sun. The only change is the thickness of the furnace door that Tom places on it. Tom’s will was strong, and with the right motivation, he could wall off that torrent of fury and death for a long time. However, venting it from time to time had its uses.

 

Tom observed the glances the Hesek made towards Eris and Toby. He clearly knew who they were. Tom filed that away for later use. There were still plenty of unanswered Sheut questions that Tom felt he should know by now, but it was not the time to ask those questions. He moved toward the crate he had dragged over and placed his hand on the lid. Venting a portion of the rage inside, he ripped the nailed-down lid of the crate with a roar. No doubt, anyone looking at Tom’s face saw the cool, calmness evaporate from his face for the slightest of moments. The destruction of the bonds holding the lid to the crate…splinters flying, metal scraping against wood…had a very satisfying feeling. For a moment. Tom looked inside and saw what he had feared.

 

Inside the crate were several boxes of what appears to be the booze that he would ship to clients. Tom had never been to this warehouse before today. He knew this was not in his distribution chain. He had finally caught a break. Now to be sure.

 

He removed one of the bottles. Macallan Fine Oak scotch. What a waste. He began to open the bottle, and just as the seal had been broken, the familiar stench of the poison he kept locked away in his safe flooded his nostrils. Immediately he sealed the bottle again before the stench overpowered him and he risked dropping it. He had a smoking gun. Now to find the shooter. It was clearly not this fool. However, he must know who.

 

“Do you know what happens when someone drinks this? Surely you must. It is gruesome. Painful. Slowly…fatal.”

 

Tom turned his back to the Hesek and walked close to Eris. He had to know if she could detect it same as him without blatantly asking in front of the other. He was in control in this illusion, and he needed to maintain it. He knelt in as if to whisper, holding the bottle close to his chest. He cracked the seal, and as soon as it hit his nostrils, he closed it again quickly…all while studying her face for the slightest hint that she could smell it. If she couldn’t, Tom had a particularly brutal course of action planned ahead. If she recoiled as much as Tom did, then he’d have to opt for Plan B. No one would want Plan B.

 

Tom focused his attention on the newly arrived human who Toby had brought back. Tom walked over to the shaking person…fear and dread had totally taken over this poor, misguided man. Tom knelt down to be face to face with Toby’s prisoner and offered a warm…if insincere smile and placed a hand on his cheek.

 

“Fear not, little one. I only ask for your help. I am going to ask your friend here,” he gestured toward the Hesek under Eris’s watchful aim, “some questions. If he lies, I want to you to say so. Help me, and I will take great care of you. Not simply survival. Prove yourself to me tonight, and I will make sure you and those you care for are taken care of properly. Fail me…” Tom’s grip tightened as his fingers began digging into the terrified man’s skull. Tom then visibly relaxed as a warm smile…tinged with malevolence returned to his face, “…just don’t fail me.”

 

Tom turned his attention back to the Hesek. Tom’s false warmth completely gone from his visage. It was all business now.

 

“Who asked you to guard this?”

 

Tom was holding up the bottle as he asked. It was a simple question. Not exactly profound, but it was a place to start. He suspected it would be a long night.

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She could stand forever at attention, unmoving as a demure statue, not alive. It was a misconception. She breathed, her heart beat, and she could eat to keep up the illusion. When it came down to it, she was still not human. That single fact was keeping everyone safe at the moment; safe from the rogue, his friends, and Gallo. This was new territory. Expanding her trust base beyond her tight circle required her to release absolute control. It was not a comfortable position to be in. Her crew was incredibly efficient, but they had not dealt with a Were this closely. Neither had said a word to her thus far about being worried.

 

Because they trusted her.

 

Her attention was split, not just on the rogue. Toby and Ahanu could handle the rogue now that he’d come to his senses. Eris was ready to swing the aim at Tom in an instant if necessary. His range, though contained, ticked at her temples. It kept her teeth on edge, and teased at the wicked streak she could unleash when needed. If anything, she was staunchly controlled. He flirted at the edge, she was curious how closely.

 

Ripping the lid from the crate was an interesting show, flooding her senses with broken wood, glass and even the scent of the scotch within. Lashes narrowed imperceptibly, something else hovered with it.

 

“Do you know what happens when someone drinks this? Surely you must. It is gruesome. Painful. Slowly…fatal.”

 

…and that was why she was willing to be here with a gun in her hand. Damage to Bakkhos meant damage to her east coast. Bakkhos’ survival was vital. Though brusque in some of its dealings, they were a driving force to support the return of civilization. They employed people, kept pushing forward with even the luxurious aspects of life. Normalcy. Poisoned stock was a blow they wouldn’t recover from immediately.

 

As he moved toward her, she was untangling the aromas. She’d smelled it before, her human life having an intricate knowledge of everything poison and drug related. Where had she smelled it before? He cracked the seal, and her eyes moved to his slowly, then back to the rogue. Affirmative. Something was there, and she’d come across it before, flipping through the figurative Rolodex in her memories to pinpoint it as he approached Toby’s ‘guest’.

 

“Fear not, little one. I only ask for your help. I am going to ask your friend here, some questions. If he lies, I want to you to say so. Help me, and I will take great care of you. Not simply survival. Prove yourself to me tonight, and I will make sure you and those you care for are taken care of properly. Fail me… …just don’t fail me.”

 

She fought the urge to smile. Eris. Smiling. Almost happened. What a concept.

 

“Who asked you to guard this?”

 

The rogue’s eyes shifted to her, he was appealing to her ‘mercy’. He did know who she was. Bully for him. She gave Tom the lead, returning her firearm to her thigh holster and crossing her arms.

 

*npc* “They’ll kill me if I snitch. If I talk, you gonna protect me too?”

 

The rogue’s face was serious. Her patience had limits. If this joker was in her hangar she’d have shot him in every major joint by now.

 

*npc* “Adopt me like your little Hesek stepchild over there?” grin was sarcastic.

 

Asshole still had fight, and he'd missed the mark on her 'mercy'. Someone hadn't told him the right information on her.

 

She understood Weres had rage, and up to now Tom had not seen hers. Her anger, stealth, strength, yes. Irritation, yes. Rage, no. A cheap shot at her people was met with death. A cheap shot at Toby, was unforgivable. Beneath the unbreakable façade, she was raging.

 

“Answer Mr. Gallo’s question,” she said quietly, taking every last cable of control not to leap forward and rip the vampire limb from limb and worse.

 

Toby’s eyes had moved to her with more than just a glance. She’d forgive him for that.

 

Gallo owed her.

 

The rogue’s face lost its last bravado.

 

*npc* “I don’t know,” he answered quickly. “I just watch the warehouses, my boss said just watch the warehouse and the crates.”

 

Warehouses? As in plural?

 

Toby's grip must have tightened as he watched his boss, anticipating the viper that was readying to strike. In any event, it had unexpected results.

 

*npc* "Jerry! His name's Jerry!" the human fish under Toby's care blurted out.

 

Jerry. Warehouses. Progress, if just a little.

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The glance up from Eris was all he needed. She sensed the poison too. Good. There was progress being made. Perhaps today would go in the ‘good’ column for once.

 

*npc* “They’ll kill me if I snitch. If I talk, you gonna protect me too? Adopt me like your little Hesek stepchild over there?”

 

Never mind. When was the last time Tom had a clean win? How long had it been since he set out to accomplish a task, and he was able to complete it with only the expected obstacles? The Hesek was trying to provoke Eris, it was clear. What did he mean by ‘Hesek stepchild’? Didn’t matter at the moment. This vampire knew he was going to die. Any information he could squeeze from them would be considered a bonus at this point. He knew Eris had a beast that was not unlike his beneath her calm façade. He didn’t want to have to stop her from killing him…he was afraid he might have to.

 

“Answer Mr. Gallo’s question.” Tom could hear the same dreadful inevitability in her voice. Tom knew that if he simply stepped aside and gestured toward the vampire, he’d be dead before Tom ever opened his mouth. He had to act fast. The sudden adjustment in the vampire’s countenance was a welcome change. He must know of Eris’s deadly reputation as well. Good. Sometimes, compliance required pushing more than just one button.

 

*npc* “I don’t know,” he answered quickly. “I just watch the warehouses, my boss said just watch the warehouse and the crates.”

 

Warehouses. More than one. This wasn’t a simple act of sabotage. This was a coordinated attack against Thyrsus and Bakkhos itself! This might warrant a conversation with Matteo. Although, his arrangement with Eris might complicate this. Additional complication did little to improve his temperament. A low growl began to escape his mouth before the shining nugget was found whilst panning through the filth of the day.

 

*npc* "Jerry! His name's Jerry!"

 

Jerry. Tom quickly thought of anyone he knew named Jerry that might be causing this much trouble. While he came up with a few that might have potential to be problematic…none of which tripped his radar as being above nuisance-level.

 

Tom turned his back to the prisoners and peered into the crate, looking at the bottles of death that were waiting to be dealt out to the city with the name ‘Bakkhos’ written on the death certificate. With Thyrsus’s name. With Tom’s. Tom began to seethe. The beast begging to be let out of its cage. Not yet. Soon. Tom wheeled back and locked eyes with the Hesek, and then the human.

 

“Tell me about Jerry. The one of you that pleases me the most with your answer gets to keep their feet.”

 

Tom then, very deliberately slid his eyes down to the stumps of the vampire’s legs where the feet once were. Tom reached for the axe, still stained from the Hesek’s blood from earlier. With a cold, cruel smirk, Tom held up his other hand to silence any reaction.

 

“Wait. My apologies. I had forgotten. Winner keeps their hands.”

 

Tom slowly walked past Toby and the human, slowly dragging the blunt end of the axe blade across the length of the human’s arm as he said those last words. The Hesek may have already resigned himself to death. The human though, Tom was not quite so certain of that.

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Her hands relaxed to her sides, one on the holster for her pistol, resting there. It was a visual cue to push the two to talk, but mostly because Gallo’s growl could be felt in her bones. Eyes never left the rogue, even as the other started blurting out information.

 

“Tell me about Jerry. The one of you that pleases me the most with your answer gets to keep their feet.”

 

Mob mentality came to mind. Not the mafia mob… though of course that had some similarities here for all intents and purposes. It felt like they were feeding off each other’s emotions until something broke loose. The Were’s restraint had pressed anger tightly into a box and she could feel it. Smell it even. She was no longer human, a beast in her own right. A lethal, calculating, predator and Gallo was needling at her buttons. Unaware of course. She’d never been this close to a functioning Were still within their senses. It was… intoxicating in its own way.

 

“Wait. My apologies. I had forgotten. Winner keeps their hands.”

 

Lashes lowered slightly, eyes shifting to Toby. The human’s heart was insanely fast, she was checking up on her protégée. Nervousness forced blood close to the surface, fear triggered their chase response. As elegant and romantic as people made them in popular culture, they were still animals. Primal could kick in at a moment’s notice. He nodded lightly to her unspoken question. He was fine.

 

As the human’s skin lit up with the perspiration of fear, a scent lingered. Breath moved in and out to “taste it”. She knew that smell. The stench from the bottle was still with her, mixed with something else. That something else was on the human’s skin. Or clothes. The cold had congealed it, but his warmth in panic was causing it to aerate.

 

*npc* “Wait, wait! I’ll tell Gallo everything for protection. Eris. London. I know who you are. Please. I’ll tell you everything. I’ll tell you who made him!”

 

He knew about the Nation? This was getting more interesting by the second. He was appealing to the wrong person.

 

*npc* “Shut up! Shut the fuck up!”

 

They’d turned on each other. Nice work Gallo. Apply pressure, be calm, and just let them stew until they start biting each other’s throats. The human was in the midst of a complete meltdown, close to sobbing. He was in the panic, hopeful phase.

 

She watched the human, for the first time an expression emerged from her features. Curiosity. She was still trying to place the scent.

 

*npc* “I’ll tell you what it is!”

 

*npc* “He’s lying, he doesn’t know!”

 

*npc* “I do! I do!”

 

“Venom,” she said quietly as the pieces clicked into place.

 

*npc* "Venom"

 

They’d said it at the same time.

 

She nodded to Gallo to confirm he was telling the truth.

 

It was the pure saturation that was throwing her off. She’d never smelled it this concentrated before. No wonder Gallo recoiled so sharply. Sometimes when the lords, or even local grunts, were sure someone was stealing or embezzling their product, they would taint it with different substances to see where the overdoses or symptoms popped up. They got inventive sometimes. What she’d seen in her short career before the Resonance was brutal, and evil. This might go further up the pipeline than Gallo realized. Where did he get his supplies from? Someone that was selling him his supplies may be purposefully sabotaging the man or were seeing whether or not they were supplying to the “mob”. Either way, it was targeted. Tom potentially couldn’t trust someone he was doing business with.

 

That led to another problem, were the crates poisoned here? It could potentially be on them, anywhere. The human, not likely. The vampire? Who would have fewer problems handling something like this? A vampire. They were either being made to handle this, or they were being made when a human was poisoned with it to keep them alive. Fuck it all… Crates were already here, made somewhere else most likely, so perhaps they’d dodged that bullet.

 

The vampire had slouched a bit more, sullen, eyes narrowed. Maybe things were finally catching up to him.

 

“On purpose?” she asked him quietly. Was he made on purpose?

 

He shook his head.

 

She nodded once. He was an accident then, made from someone being a careless ass. That was another level of transgression in her book. Didn’t mean this idiot was innocent in the very least, but it helped focus her anger on whoever was doing it. They needed to let the human and the vampire go. After whoever was responsible found out this cache was ruined, they would come looking for them. Bait. The two in the car were forfeit.

 

Of course, it was Gallo’s call. His business, his call.

 

*npc* "Jerry is in town," the Hesek finally mumbled.

 

Oh really?

 

 

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The back and forth between the human and the vampire was going as planned. Better than he anticipated. One quick sniff in the human’s direction helped him to understand. The adrenaline and out and out fear smell from him was almost as potent as the poison in the bottles. His heart was about to explode. Maybe it was time to slow it down…to keep this game going, lest it end unexpectedly.

 

Tom closed his eyes and took one long, slow, deep breath through his nose. To all observers, it appeared to be a therapeutic and calming breath. Anyone who knew Tom personally or by reputation would easily believe this was the case. This was partially true. The furious beast within the sealed furnace door of rage was pounding on the door endlessly. Relentlessly. Inevitably. But it served another purpose. Closing his eyes blocked out the visual sensory inputs. He had learned to instinctively block out sound distractions in his human days when focus was necessary. He was focused purely on smell.

 

Sifting through all the scents in the area took a second. What seemed like minutes in Tom’s mind only took seconds in reality. Sifting past that poison that still clogged his nostrils was like removing a curtain from a window and seeing the rest of the world. Human’s fear smell was the next obvious obstacle to ‘see’ past. The blood on the floor was another. Odd, any adrenaline-based fear scent was gone from the Hesek. He appeared resigned at this point. That would require pushing the ‘hope’ button for him to further comply. Removing the hands would serve no purpose there. He was then counting people. Toby, check. Eris, check. Two obvious prisoners, check. Then there was one hanging behind one of the crates in the room. Roderick.

 

Tom smiled slightly. He had anticipated this. Expected it really. It was good to have soldiers who followed orders. It was better to have those who knew when not to. Roderick always acted in what he thought was Tom’s best interest…even against Tom’s wishes. When he was wrong, he was reprimanded. When he was correct, he was praised. While not quite the family-level relationship Eris appeared to have with her crew, it was still closer than many capos had with their subordinates.

 

Tom’s eyes opened and he called out, “Come, Roderick.”

 

Roderick stepped out from behind one of the crates and had a glint in his eye, that quickly faded when putting his eyes on the carnage on the floor before him. He locked eyes with Tom for a moment and when Tom nodded, Roderick did the same. Looking at the Hesek he concentrated for a moment and shook his head. Something prohibited him from altering the mood of the vampire, and it bothered him. He quickly shifted his blue eyes toward the human and smiled warmly and crossed his hands in front of his waist.

 

The human prisoner’s heart rate slowed. His breathing returned to normal. The grip on his neck from Toby relaxed a bit. The prisoner’s whole countenance went from terror to nervousness. Good. This gave Tom the leeway to dial it back up again. Tom may have to give Roderick the keys to his car after this. Tom’s face looked grave as he nodded to Roderick. Time for round two.

 

Pointing the blade of the axe at the human, he said, “You gave me Venom.”

 

Shifting the blade to point at the Hesek, Tom said, “You gave me that Jerry was in town.”

 

Tom then buried the axe head deep into the wood of the crate, all but shattering the wood underneath.

 

“Round one is a draw. Everyone gets to keep their hands. Round two…”

 

Tom swung his gaze at the human. Fear would still work on this one. Roderick was there to make sure his heart didn’t give out or trigger Toby’s beast to pop off his head. The beasts within weres and vampires were more similar than Tom cared to admit. He’d have to be mindful of more than his tonight.

 

“Venom. Is this the name of the poison being used?” Based on Eris saying the same thing, he knew this to be true. He was easing the human in with an easy to answer question. “Work backwards. Tell me everything you know from the bottle to the production of the poison. Take your time, get your thoughts in order. I have all night.”

 

Before the prisoner could begin answering the question, Tom rounded on the vampire. He had to inspire hope in him somehow. This man was just defeated. He had nothing to lose. This was not going to inspire cooperation. He had to offer something. This Hesek was resigned to dying. Tom had to try a different track.

 

“You need to tell me all about Jerry. While you’re at it, I want to know every detail about the operation that lives within your memory. Who is Jerry? Where is Jerry? Who does he take orders from? How much of the logistics of this operation do you know? It is very important to you that you speak the truth.”

 

Tom came close. Dangerously close to the Hesek. The vampire could reach out and strike Tom if he so chose. Tom squatted down and placed a gentle, as gentle as a stone could be, hand on the vampire’s shoulder.

 

“I know others like you. There are some within my organization who have sought shelter from those who would wish them harm. Angelo Gaspari owes me a favor. If you can prove yourself to be valuable and trustworthy, I can find a way for him to forgive you of your transgressions against not just myself, but of Bakkhos itself.”

 

This was true to a point. Gaspari owed him nothing…that was a lie. Tom did believe, though, that he’d be willing to show some leniency toward someone who made repentant gestures. Tom’s gambit was that the hope of being shielded from the Sheut by the Bakkhos would be enough hope to inspire cooperation. He suspected Eris might bristle at the proposed promise. She was smart enough to assume it was a bluff. He wasn't lying about the presence of Bakkhos refugees. The Hesek appeared to know of the relationship between Eris and Toby. More than Tom even. He was unsure if he knew of Tom’s relationship with Eris. He’d find out with this bluff.

 

Tightening his grip on the Hesek’s shoulder, iron hands threatening to pop the vampire’s shoulder out of his socket, Tom said softly. “Take your time, get your thoughts in order. But don’t take too long. I have all day.” Tom stressed that last word to remind the Hesek that there was only one potential way out of this alive.  

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At one time, she had been a patient woman.

 

She was no longer.

 

The Viceroy could have answers spilling from their gullets in less than sixty seconds; brutal and efficient. No mercy flowed through her veins, especially after all the news of late. She was willing to be patient to learn what she was dealing with when working with Gallo. He’d done this before, which was absolutely clear. Despite the beast rattling its cage, his method seemed to be what kept everything orderly and under control.

 

Regardless, it itched at her.

 

“Come, Roderick.”

 

Interesting.

 

Russet watched the man come forward and try something with the vampire. She was about to learn where some of the boundaries may lie with his sway over the Capo, a wealth of knowledge in her book. Head cocked ever so slightly as it sounded like he was simply turning the volume down on the human’s heart. Nice trick. The rogue though, didn’t seem to respond at all. Not surprising, but noted.

 

“You gave me Venom.”

 

Brow cocked.

 

“You gave me that Jerry was in town.”

 

She could have lied and said the sudden snap of the axe into wood hadn’t prepped her to move. Another person was in play. Four in the room, three outside. She could do the impossible, but this chess game was getting crowded. If something happened, Toby was her first priority, then Roderick oddly enough. Gallo would heal if the vampire struck, or survive long enough for her to get to him. There were so many ways this could slide. It was almost like being back in a helicopter on duty when everyone was trying to kill each other.

 

“Round one is a draw. Everyone gets to keep their hands. Round two…”

 

His question about the venom urged her to say something. She stayed silent. It wasn’t a poison, it was actual venom. It would be interesting to see if the guy knew that.

 

“You need to tell me all about Jerry. While you’re at it, I want to know every detail about the operation that lives within your memory. Who is Jerry? Where is Jerry? Who does he take orders from? How much of the logistics of this operation do you know? It is very important to you that you speak the truth.”

 

That damn Were was going to give her a heart attack.

 

She hadn’t moved a muscle, but her poker face couldn’t hide the heaviness that rolled from her presence. Four in play, three outside and now Gallo was in the rogue’s face. He was either testing her capacity to keep an umbrella of control over the situation, or he was really getting reckless. Maybe both. Maybe neither. He might just have been fucking losing his mind.

 

“I know others like you. There are some within my organization who have sought shelter from those who would wish them harm. Angelo Gaspari owes me a favor. If you can prove yourself to be valuable and trustworthy, I can find a way for him to forgive you of your transgressions against not just myself, but of Bakkhos itself.”

 

For. Crying. Out. Loud.

 

She was going to kill this man. Bluffing or not, a good ear boxing in the very least was going to happen. This was exactly why she’d told Calloway to piss off. He said she needed to learn how to play well with others. She’d said he could kiss her ass. He said be social anyway. That conversation hadn’t ended well. Any conversation with Calloway hadn’t ended well.

 

And now he was too close to the rogue.

 

Don’t touch the rogue. Don’t touch the rogue. Do not trust a rogue.....

 

Aw hell…

 

“Take your time, get your thoughts in order. But don’t take too long. I have all day.”

 

The sharp snap of a hammer suddenly reminded the world how deadly a vampire could be. Before the sound reached the human’s ears, the Viceroy had moved. She’d seen the rogue’s twitch of muscle, and now her muzzle was on his temple in her two-handed grip. Toby had also moved, the human shoved forward with his muzzle at the base of the man’s skull.

 

“Don’t try that again,” she said quietly to the vampire “or any promise he makes won’t matter for either of you.”

 

He glared at her, then exhaled slowly and glowered at the floor. She took three steps backward, but kept on point. Toby relaxed and pulled his captive back up, who was faring much worse than the vampire. He was having a hard time pulling himself back together.

 

*npc* “You need to check your distribution centers...”

 

Words were sullen, but full of mirth as he looked back at her.

 

*npc* “Doesn't matter if Bakkhos forgives me, you'll hunt me down.”

 

She didn’t confirm or deny his observation but he was right, there was no way out of this; even if Bakkhos forgave him and protected him. He’d betrayed his own kind and that was a death sentence. The only way out was to get a pardon from her and he knew it. He knew the inner workings of the Sheut. She needed the name of his maker damn it. She had a pretty good idea, and this would just confirm all suspicions and send her in the right direction toward her traitor.

 

Gallo was running out of time. The clarity in the vampire’s eyes said to her he was healing. There was a very good chance he was going to go for the human that Toby was keeping, or even Roderick. Feet or not, a vampire was fast. He wouldn’t get very far, but he still could do a lot of damage before either of them could get out of the way. His movement had tested how quickly he could twitch before she was on him.

 

*npc* “I can’t tell you any more because I don’t know!”

 

Toby straightened him up, he was starting to support the man. It was taking its toll.

 

*npc* “But I can take you there… if you… protect me from him. Jerry… and Trevor.”

 

Hm. Now she had the vampire's name. She could do the impossible with just a name.

 

Getting somewhere, but the rogue wasn’t budging. He was fed enough that his pain tolerance was holding. He was healing. Stalemate unless she intervened she suspected.

 

*npc* “I'll tell you everything, but I want to speak with Calloway.”

 

Or an ultimatum. Shit.

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Wow. Vampires are fast. Tom knew that with their previous altercation…but this served as a reminder. This tactic wasn’t working. Tom was out of his element somewhat. He’d shaken down powerful people before, but they always had that same weakness of fear of death and losing of status. This…Trevor…had neither. Tom nodded slightly in recognition of this. He’d have to give some serious thought to this. This situation was, admittedly improvised…but he did not want to be as unprepared next time. Sadly, he knew there would be a next time.

 

“Don’t try that again, or any promise he makes won’t matter for either of you.”

 

Well…it was time to pivot. Whatever façade of command Tom initially tried to portray; Trevor clearly saw through it. This was turning into a Sheut-matter more and more as the conversation went on. Tom knew he was pushing the edge of Eris's patience. She was a sprinter, and Tom a marathoner. She was the type to plan special operations missions to get in and out quickly. Tom was the type to plan large-scale offensives and direct war machines. Complimentary skills...but with incompatible tactics. This was her domain. As the situation unfolded into a more macro-level, Tom's expertise would shine. For now...time to defer to the expert.

 

*npcVampire* “You need to check your distribution centers... Doesn't matter if Bakkhos forgives me, you'll hunt me down.”

 

Distribution centers. Tom knew this and he had been working his way there. Yes. He would have to be handled however Sheut handled things. He just had to trust that Eris would keep his interest in mind while she went after hers. Even if she didn’t, he suspected the answers he provided her would still be useful to him in some capacity. This encounter would either strengthen or destroy the…relationship? Partnership?...that Tom and Eris had.

 

*npcHuman* “I can’t tell you anymore because I don’t know! But I can take you there… if you… protect me from him. Jerry… and Trevor.”

 

Interesting. In Bakkhos operations, things were kept on a need to know basis. For situations much like this. However, even though goons rarely knew why they were going somewhere, the clever ones remembered where and were able to surmise enough to be dangerous. Perhaps this person was one of those. Trevor may have resigned himself to death, but this man hasn’t. Neither did his friends, he suspected.

 

*Trevor* “I'll tell you everything, but I want to speak with Calloway.”

 

Who was Calloway? Tom and Eris really did need to have a chat about what he should know. Well…Trevor was firmly in Eris’s hands now, as Tom sensed he would no longer be useful to him alone. Time to divide and conquer.

 

Tom focused his attention on Trevor and shook his head. The beast slamming at the furnace door begging to be unleashed on the hesek. Blood…it wanted blood.

 

“I tried to keep her from you as long as I could. You and Eris are going to have a…more private conversation.” Tom pulled the axe from the crate and let it rest over his shoulder. “I trust you’ll find that I was…much more kind than she will be. But I’m guessing you knew that. Good luck.”

 

Turning to the human, who was hyperventilating for a moment before Roderick calmed him down again, Tom knelt down to face the man.

 

“You and I are going to have our own conversation. Then I am going to speak to your friends. If I like what I hear, I think we can find something for you that you will find acceptable. If you and your friends tell me something that doesn’t ring true…then I’ll give you and your friends…and Trevor…some time together to get your stories straight.”

 

The threat was real. Tom knew that, given the chance, Trevor would destroy them in the blink of an eye. Tom didn’t smile. He didn’t glower. Not even a hint of a growl escaped from his lips. The words he spoke may as well have been written on a page for all the emotion behind them. It wasn’t an idle threat. It wasn’t a deception. Just as sure as the sun rises in the east, this man and his friends would be Trevor’s last meal if they didn’t deliver.

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Pistol returned to its holster, arms crossing over her chest again. She was determined to ride this out wherever the Were wanted it to go. The rogue was steadfast in trying to engage her. Regardless, the petite Viceroy’s expression remained aloof and deferred to the Capo. It was thrumming at her patience, however necessary. Toby was honed on his prisoner, waiting for any cue from her to act.

 

Calloway.

 

Only someone that thought they were on good terms with a powerful ‘friend’ would throw around their name as a threat. Threat, promise, it was definitely something. The only way a Hesek would know about the minister was if someone had told him. She had a traitor in her midst. Or, Calloway himself was the problem. Either scenario wasn’t in her favor, more accurately- their favor.

 

There was no outward reaction from her, feeling the air shiver around Gallo as he changed tactics.

   

“I tried to keep her from you as long as I could. You and Eris are going to have a…more private conversation. I trust you’ll find that I was…much more kind than she will be. But I’m guessing you knew that. Good luck.”

 

Brow cocked slightly at the Were. She wasn’t going to do anything to this rogue, this was where it was going to get interesting. The rogue stared at him, then her… expecting an answer to his demand to speak with her boss. No. She didn’t even bother with another glance, watching the Capo approach the other captive. She could play the long game too.

 

“You and I are going to have our own conversation. Then I am going to speak to your friends. If I like what I hear, I think we can find something for you that you will find acceptable. If you and your friends tell me something that doesn’t ring true…then I’ll give you and your friends…and Trevor…some time together to get your stories straight.”

 

The human was breathing steadily, almost calm. He seemed more than ready to play. With his cooperation and her silence, the rogue was bouncing in the other direction. He was getting desperate.

 

*npcTrevor* “Did you hear me?”

 

He hissed at her under his breath, an edge of concern finally to his voice instead of the smug unhelpful ‘immortal’ as he tried to get a rise out of her.

 

*npcTrevor* “I want to speak with Calloway.”

 

She didn’t respond.

 

*npcTrevor* “I’m talking to you, you stupid bitch.”

 

He’d gone from fear, to desperate anger. Dark eyes snapped to him. She'd torn people apart for less.

 

*npcTrevor* "You want information, I have it!"

 

NOW he wanted to deal. The humans were going to buckle thanks to Gallo's expertise. This rogue was either trying to ride their coattails, or pick a fight. Either way he was going to lose.

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*npcTrevor* “I’m talking to you, you stupid bitch.”

 

Roderick winced. This would not be good. He didn’t even attempt to dampen Tom. Certain triggers set Tom off beyond Roderick’s abilities. Unconsciously, he took a step back. Dry cleaning was expensive these days.

 

Tom stood suddenly from his crouching position in front of the seemingly compliant human. In Tom’s mind’s eye, he unlocked the furnace door. The beast came charging out. All the bottled up rage, aggression, and malice flooded into Tom’s psyche all at once. Tom had one last fleeting thought of lucidity before all was lost. ‘Why did he have to say that?!’ The human in front of Tom who had appeared to be calming tried his hardest to escape Toby’s vice-like grip in an attempt to flee from Tom. Tom was the new face of fear for this man. Roderick focused his attention on the man again, although even now it was an uphill battle. Trevor had made a mistake.

 

*npcTrevor* "You want information, I have it!"

 

Just as the last syllable left his mouth, the blunt end of the axe made contact with the back of Trevor’s head. Had he used the blade end; his head would have come clean off. As it was, Trevor fell over in a heap, unconscious…but Tom couldn’t be sure for how long.

 

Tom wasn’t done.

 

First the left elbow, then the right. Followed by the right knee, and then the left. Each joint had been shattered, rendered useless. He nearly severed them like Trevor’s feet before, however Tom had regained a modicum of control…just enough to prefer he feel pain than suffer blood loss. If Eris or anyone said anything to him while he worked, he didn’t hear a word of it. Images of his late wife flashing in his mind as the hesek uttered the profanity which would have made Mrs. Gallo very upset. Anything that upset her, upset Tom.

 

Tom was not pleased. He had essentially blacked out for a moment. Only regaining true coherence moments after smashing Trevor’s skull with a force that should have killed him, had he not been infected. This was unfortunate. Trevor was unconscious…not likely to answer questions. He wasn’t sure how long it would take him to regain lucidity after a head-shot like that. That momentary outburst had vented enough fury for Tom to regain his wits, however it was clear that the next provocation would send him back to the same place unless more time passed.

 

Closing his eyes, he took two, very long, deep breaths. Upon opening his eyes, he returned them to the human who looked as if he had just seen the face of death, and forgot how to be scared of it. It seemed that if Roderick forced the manipulation too long, it caused a confusion between triggers and physiological responses. This man looked like someone who knew they should be afraid, but didn’t know how to.

 

“I’m sorry you had to see that.” Tom growled…slowly regaining composure. “I would encourage you to be polite and helpful, yes?”

 

The man nodded his head in quiet agreement. Tom looked at Eris and at Trevor. She would know roughly how much time they’d have before Trevor became a problem again. Tom would have to speak to him last. Tom knew of a nice, narrow, east-facing window in one of the Bakkhos facilities. The forecast claimed it would be sunny in the morning…

 

“So, friend…as I’m sure you’ve gathered, my name is Tom Gallo.” Casting a glance at Eris, Tom looked back at the man. “You are right to be afraid of her. Why did you not think it wise to also fear me?”

 

Tom's look at the man was almost akin to the disappointment a parent would display when they caught their kid doing something they new better not to do. Tom had to assume that this man had at least heard of Satyr Stadium. He had to know of Tom’s notorious, and likely exaggerated, aggression and brutality. Perhaps this man and the people seeking to damage him thought him a rube who would be perplexed by complicated offenses against him. They clearly had no idea.

 

“You mentioned some things earlier when you were shouting over Trevor, here. Please elaborate.”

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Roderick’s facial expression caught her attention, as did his movement. Oh? She had the distinct feeling this would get even more interesting in a hot second. When Tom moved, she didn’t. Was she going to see what this man was truly capable of when he lost his cool? Roderick’s reaction revealed he’d seen this before. What was the trigger? The rogue hadn’t threatened her. Insulted her?

 

‘Why did he have to say that?!’

 

The corner of her lip turned up as the human began to squirm.

 

*npcTrevor* "You want information, I have it!"

 

Most would have probably recoiled at the brutality, she was intrigued. Her world was brutal under the guise of being civilized. No matter how those in power tried to spin it, this was what brought loyalty and obedience from an outer circle. One’s inner circle was family because they chose to be despite the consequences. That’s what made them family; they were fearless in the face of danger. Those were individuals you wanted at your back at the end.

 

She needed information about the man, now she had it.

 

Roderick seemed to have focused on the human, leaving the Were to his own devices though she couldn’t be sure. Were those standing orders? Also, unclear. Her own worked much the same way, with practiced precision on what to do in any situation even without speaking. If that was the case, there was a trigger concern with the man. She needed to find out what exactly triggered the response.

 

The vampire would heal, completely if given enough time. It was one of the horrendous realities of her kind. Injuries were never final, unless the blow was.

 

“I’m sorry you had to see that. I would encourage you to be polite and helpful, yes?”

 

The human captive nodded.

 

She caught his eyes as he looked in their direction, something in his gaze held mirth, as if he wasn’t done with the Hesek. This was getting more and more interesting.

 

“So, friend…as I’m sure you’ve gathered, my name is Tom Gallo. You are right to be afraid of her. Why did you not think it wise to also fear me?”

 

As his continued his psychological lean on the human, she knelt next to the idiot vampire, quietly lifting and checking his pockets.

 

“You mentioned some things earlier when you were shouting over Trevor, here. Please elaborate.”

 

*npc* “…ah… Jerry gives us points of drop off, they always change. We hold the stuff there until someone comes and picks it up.  I… I don’t know who, I… we just watch the crates and make sure they don’t get taken by accident. Trevor deals with whoever is driving the trucks.”

 

She could feel sorry for the guy, barely able to find his voice between panicked gulps of air. Glancing over at him, she continued the search through Trevor's coat.

 

*npc* “…trucks are.. uh..  dark gray with a white stripe on the side… Um, that’s all I know. Wait.. wait… the trucks bringing them to the dock are old. White, kinda box truck. No markings… we load them into the gray ones that come to get the stuff.”

 

Bingo. Crumpled paper. Cell phone. Paper clip… keys. She slid them out, melodic jingle like a pot of gold as she held them up to twinkle at Gallo.

 

*npc* “…look, I’m just a guard. Trevor tells us what to watch. Jerry tells Trevor where to stash the crates. Where they come from I don’t know…”

 

She was able to relax, a little. It would be a bit before the rogue would come to. He might need a little help, and the frenzy might be an issue again. C’est la vie… Straightening, she made her way to the table and placed her findings there, reaching with the back of her hand to wipe blood spatter from the side of her cheek.

 

“Dry cleaning… you owe me drycleaning,” she said under her breath before taking her gloves off and putting them in her back pocket. It was exceptionally rare she touched anything in public. Unfortunately, her skin was so cool that cell phones were a pain in the ass through gloves. She had to impatiently fiddle for it to even work, holding it out to Gallo for his inspection. Numbers. Jerry was one of them.

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As Tom was listening to the human blurt out words as fast as he could in a desperate attempt to save his life, Tom heard the jingle of keys Eris had lifted from Trevor’s pocket. Turning his head toward the sound, he saw Eris holding out the phone. Jerry’s contact information plastered on the screen. There were so many ways to play this…too many. He had to narrow his focus. However, that rampaging beast that Tom had just shoved back into the vault was stirring again…waiting for its next escape.

 

Tom met Eris’s eyes for a moment as she held out the phone. Studious. Even now, Tom was being scrutinized like this was a job interview. He supposed it was, to a point. However, the tenseness in her trigger arm, slight clench to her jaw…all this betrayed that this wasn’t simply the study of a potential Constable…but also the study of a dangerous monster that might need to be put down if his behavior violated the boundaries of what she considered safety. Tom knew he was dangerous. He had more control than most weres when it came to managing the fury. That was not the same as total control. Eris was right to be cautious.

 

Now was the tricky part. It was time to move up the chain. They needed to get to Jerry. This was difficult. One false move and Tom could spook the entire operation into hiding. The operation had to appear to operate as normal…this invasion notwithstanding. Too many unanswered questions. Too many ways for this to go wrong. Too many players. Too many people dying. He couldn’t mess this up. He couldn’t take too long. Tom’s gaze slid across all those present. The beast snarled from inside the vault. Did Tom snarl out loud? He couldn’t be sure.

 

He shot a quick glance at Roderick. Roderick shook his head slightly. He was nearly tapped out keeping the human at bay. Tom was on his own. He closed his eyes for a moment. Perhaps he could tackle this on a macro-level. Depending on the number of warehouses used, he could establish a pattern. Shared ownership? Perhaps the different drop-locations had a pattern when viewed from above…centered around a particular dock? Specific days of the week when these drops occur? Where do they go after this? Tom’s entire distribution system was compromised. Could he be so lucky as to have found the one lynch-pin? Or was this, most likely, a web of complexity that would take too long to unravel strand by strand? Maybe he could get a few more answers from this goon before preparing to question Trevor. He had plans for a long conversation with Trevor when he came to.

 

“You mentioned that you could take us there. Where were you offering to take us?”

 

Tom was assuming he could take them to the other warehouses or drop locations. Unlikely, but maybe he could take him to where Jerry or some others in the operation were stationed. Tom could use a break…but he knew better than to hope for that.

 

“Tell me about Jerry. I know Trevor takes his orders from him…but tell me what else you know about him. Is he like them?” Tom gestured toward Trevor, Toby, and Eris.

 

Tom knew he was getting to the end of this man’s usefulness. It was time to squeeze that last bit of information out of him. Tom pulled a couple chairs over to where Toby held the man. Setting them opposite one another, about 10 feet apart, Tom sat in one and gestured to the other one for the man to sit. Tom looked at Toby with a nod. He expected Toby to get his acceptance from Eris first, but didn’t expect there to be a problem.

 

Once the man was sitting, he was seen to visibly relax a bit…testing out the movement in his knees and shrugging his shoulders. Making a man comfortable before you put the fear of God in them often had powerful results.

 

Tom gave him a few moments to settle in, studying him as he did so. This man’s confidence was shattered. There didn’t appear to be even the hint of spirit left in him. Tom really wanted to use that axe again though. Perhaps in time…if his prisoners were stupid enough… Once settled, Tom locked eyes with him. In a voice colder than ice, harder than stone…Tom spoke what he was almost certain were going to be his last words to him.

 

“Please be as detailed as you can.” Tom gestured in Trevor’s direction as he lie on the floor…shallow breathing beginning to get deeper. Healing was occurring. “But don’t take too long. Once Trevor wakes up, we’re done here.”

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Most people she could read like a book, the ones she couldn’t she could care less who they were or what they thought. Tom was different. Every moment she thought he would go one way, he went the other. At times, he did exactly what she predicted. She would have to answer a lot of questions on her choice. Ausar wouldn’t have put her there, in the most volatile place on the continent at that point in time if he didn’t have confidence in her choices. It wasn’t Ausar she was worried about. She wasn’t sure how Adrian would deal with him. It was his reality warping and emotional control that concerned her… and if he didn’t like the Capo, he would definitely push his buttons. Roderick could influence Tom and that meant Adrian could most likely. Damn. He would find a way to undermine her choice in front of Ausar. She was pretty sure the Oracle would have her back on it. There was something about that woman that inspired confidence in the viper but it could go either way.

 

Regardless, they had to develop some kind of unspoken communication, like with her own crew and he with his. It would be the only way they could get past Adrian, and Ausar could be convinced Bakkhos was to be left to its own devices instead of the Nation’s influence. It was a serious conversation she and the Capo had to have, and it was unfair to leave it to Tom instead of Gaspari… but she knew none of the others would play the game as well as Gallo. It had to be him.

 

When he held her gaze for a moment, it seemed he could almost read it in her poker face. After this they would have to have a business conversation, he needed to know the finite details. Her immediate concern, was making sure Bakkhos, and more importantly him got through this debacle with his product.

 

Keen eyes were learning the cues.

 

“You mentioned that you could take us there. Where were you offering to take us?”

 

She was listening to the human, but watching the Were.

 

*npc* “I know where they gas up the trucks… I… I’ve seen Jerry there once or twice.”

 

Once or twice, she could pick out a scent. If it was recent. That would give her something to go on. She wasn’t sure if Tom worked that way or not.

 

“Tell me about Jerry. I know Trevor takes his orders from him…but tell me what else you know about him. Is he like them?”

 

*npc* “No… no, he’s a magus.”

 

That complicated things. She would rather they be vampire rogues. At least she could be judge and jury with her own. This brought in ARMA and the Order. If they were a rogue magus, even the Nation as a whole may have to be put on alert. Damn it all.

 

Toby released the man and took a step back, arms crossing as he waited patiently. The Viceroy watched the man settle in on his newfound comfort. It was tentative, but seemed trusting. He’d thrown in with Bakkhos, and had said he was willing to talk for protection. It was something that should be honored, word would get around about this and it might encourage more deserters. No matter how tight situations were controlled, people talked. Even if an event was wiped from the earth, there were still rumors. What might come out of this was that to switch hit meant protection. It depended how afraid people were of whoever was in charge of this whole poison conspiracy. If they were low level enough, they might not realize it so the results would be moot. There was also the chance they would get the one shred of information that could break it all wide open. Here’s to hoping this guy had it.

 

“Please be as detailed as you can. But don’t take too long. Once Trevor wakes up, we’re done here.”

 

*npc* “That’s all I know. I’m just a babysitter for the crates.”

 

He stared at the floor for a while, and she could tell he was wandering through his brain trying to find a shred of something that could be helpful. Even peons saw things, and he was trying to remember anything. Conversations he wasn’t privy too, sights, smells, any tidbit that wasn’t thought twice about in passing.

 

*npc* “He’s… a pilot? Maybe?”

 

The viper’s brow cocked visibly, that… was important. There weren’t many air fields in the area, and there were even less that had working aircraft. It also opened up a few points of reference to where these crates could be coming from. In New York, there were few airfields. Beyond New York, there were even less. She knew most if not all of them within a helicopter or a plane’s fuel limit and for stop points. It was necessary to know when transporting Sheut. Daylight was deadly.

 

*npc* “He mentioned landing somewhere… in a twin engine?”

 

He shook his head. He seemed done.

 

Even if he wasn't a pilot, flying anywhere was in her wheelhouse. Her eyes came to rest on Tom, that was a helluva lead.

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*npc* “I know where they gas up the trucks… I… I’ve seen Jerry there once or twice.”

 

This was useful. Sounded like this occurred in only one place. Bingo. Tom had found a choke point. Depending on how tight they kept the organization…it wouldn’t take more than a couple weeks to get some of his guys into those trucks. The prisoner was a good source of information so far…but his guys would be better. Knowing that there was a centralized fuel depot for this operation simplified things a bit. Tom twisted the capo-ring on his finger as he listened. Sitting down was a relief. This felt more like his office. Quiet, organized, and controlled. Some of the tension in his shoulders loosened as he leaned back in his chair. His eyes bored into the man’s as he continued speaking.

 

*npc* “No… no, he’s a magus.”

 

A low growl escaped Tom’s lips. Mages were hard to predict. Lycanthropes, despite their inherent chaos, had a limited purview of problems they could cause. The moon provided an order of its own for them. Mages were all over the place. Some were aggressive, others extremely passive. Some would attack you with fire, others with the earth itself…while others could defeat you without you ever knowing what happened. A mage actively working against Tom was a problem that must be dealt with with extreme prejudice. This could explain the ‘mana-component’ that Cassandra had shared with him before. She’d have to be roped into this in some fashion probably. Tom knew that she had to be keeping some kind of tabs on him. Tom ran a hand through his hair as the man got settled on the chair.

 

Tom listened to the man open up. He couldn’t be sure if Roderick was responsible any longer, or if the man had finally settled somewhat. This was good. The man was allowed to relax. Comfort lowered your guard. Gave your mind flexibility. Allowed you to think more freely. As the man rested, it was proving to be true.

 

*npc* “That’s all I know. I’m just a babysitter for the crates.”

 

It was time to nudge him to dig deeper. As the stress fades, memories return. Tom waited. He had more questions he was sure this man knew the answers to. But he was willing to wait a moment. See what fruit fell from the tree without needing to be picked.

 

*npc* “He’s… a pilot? Maybe? He mentioned landing somewhere… in a twin engine?”

 

Tom didn’t know much about aircraft…but Tom knew that a twin-engine plane pilots weren’t all that common. That would be an easy lead to track down. Although Tom felt like he got more important information already.

 

The gas depot. If every truck was deliberately fueled in a central location, then something more important went on behind the scenes at the gas station. Jerry being seen there on multiple occasions seemed to confirm this. Likely…this entire operation…or at least a segment of it was organized and led from that very location. It was beginning to look like this was to be Tom’s next target. He suspected plenty of answers were to be found there. A pleased smile slowly spread across Tom’s face. Things were finally seeming to go his way. Still…more questions to be answered.

 

“Where do the trucks get gassed up? Where else have you been ordered to watch crates?”

 

As brash and direct as Tom’s actions can be…Tom still knew how to use subtle word play to influence conversations. As long as he was in his right mind, that was. By using the word ‘ordered’ rather than ‘asked’ or ‘requested’ it communicated an entire paragraph of understanding of the man’s situation. Tom’s prisoner was not doing Jerry a favor by watching boxes. He had not been petitioned by someone who needed something from him. No. He was subservient. He took orders. Watching these crates was not his decision, but Jerry’s. It was Jerry’s fault that he was held captive between two vampires and a werewolf. It was Jerry’s fault that he was sitting in a steel folding chair in a cold warehouse in the middle of the night rather than being home with his family. Shifting the focus from being afraid of Tom to instead being angry with Jerry might motivate him to find some other lingering memories hidden behind fear.

 

“Have you ever been commanded to watch the same place more than once? How often are you made to do this sort of thing?” Again, Tom was subtly stressing the compulsory words in the sentences.

 

Tom was reasonably confident he had found their base of operations. Now it was time to get a feel for the size of the operation. Were they targeting more than just him? Was this an operation of 3 warehouses? Eight? Thirty? There were still many questions that need answered.

 

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His ring.

 

That was a tell.

 

Interesting. He liked finite control, order. They were all things she liked as well, but she’d earned her teeth in chaos and she was comfortable flipping back and forth on a whim. He liked order and comfort, his influence was strong in that arena. Good to know, this was great progress. She was also becoming used to the occasional growls from Gallo. They were interesting, as telling as the buckle of someone’s brow when they were displeased or the twitch of her lip over her canines when she was irritated. Each one had its own personality, like a canine’s expressive features. She realized she was smiling to herself as she listened to his conversation and started going through Trevor’s phone. The comparisons she was making in her head were amusing, if only to her. He would likely not appreciate… but it didn’t mean she couldn’t.

 

Jerry. A magus. Damn. It ticked at her that the phone wasn’t password protected, smirk disappearing after a few moments. Just an idiot, or a burner phone. Maybe a bit of both. She had an idea, and it wasn’t one that Tom was expecting. All she needed was a…

 

“Where do the trucks get gassed up? Where else have you been ordered to watch crates?”

 

*npc* “The old airfield, just… a bit from here.”

 

Her eyes slid up.

 

What. The. Hell. Was he talking about hers? That was not possible. Toby’s gaze hadn’t moved from the man but she could see his confusion as well, subtle. Tom just needed to play it cool, the man was either lying or there was a component here they were missing. Her mind flipped through all the places she knew. The old heliport. It was just a strip of concrete now, but all the amenities were still there. She’d checked it out when she’d built hers. It was a depot for shipments of varying sort. The fuel was sludge, so she never did business there, but it would run old trucks. There was storage, warehouse space, access from the water and old passageways. It was a quiet but thriving shipping spot. Inconspicuous.

 

*npc* “They gas up there, sometimes deliveries come in on a boat.”

 

Her airfield couldn’t take deliveries, the breakwalls were substantial. Tom would know that, she wondered if he knew about the old heliport. Attention went back to the phone, thumb pressing unusually hard to get it to work. Damn vampire temp. It clicked quietly. Did she just take a picture of the floor? Arg.

 

“Have you ever been commanded to watch the same place more than once? How often are you made to do this sort of thing?”

 

*npc* “Couple of times… ummm… there’s just two I know of.”

 

The man was thinking, he was more observant than he thought he was.

 

*npc* “I just get a call from Trevor and he tells me which one to go to… We never know where until they call. Been here a few times this month, another place on the upper west side most often. I only see Jerry here.”

 

Bingo.

 

She held up the phone to the man. Apparently Trevor had trouble with phones too, and in attempting to use the phone like her he had captured a slightly blurry photo. It was clear enough to see the face, at an odd angle and trailing lights behind him, but it was a face. The man nodded.

 

*npc* “Yah, that’s him.”

 

When she had a face, she could do the impossible. Smirk was slight at Toby, who returned the expression. She was well fed. She could do it tonight. They could get answers tonight. Trevor, she couldn’t, he would know it was her. The humans? Put them all in a room together, and she could get Tom answers tonight. She had to talk to him first, so he didn't end up using the damn axe on her. She knew she had a scent he recognized, but sometimes senses didn't trust what eyes could see.

 

She put her back to the man, standing at Gallo’s shoulder.

 

“Can we speak?” her voice was almost inaudible, the urgency of her expression hopefully was enough to gain an audience.

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*npc* “The old airfield, just… a bit from here.”

 

Tom smiled warmly at the man. He truly appeared to be trying to remember whatever he could earnestly. The stick had been implemented; the carrot offered…now the honey to encourage further compliance.

 

The only airfield he knew of nearby was Eris’s. That didn’t sound right. It was certainly likely that there was another one that was abandoned in this part of town. His knowledge of geography of the city suddenly being revealed to him as lacking pricked at his mind. He’d have some studying to do. Perhaps Eris had an answer for him.

 

She had better.

 

*npc* “They gas up there, sometimes deliveries come in on a boat.”

 

One thing Tom did know…no boats could dock near Eris’s space. There had to be another area. Still, he would be surprised…even disappointed if she didn’t know the space this man was referring to. Regardless, Tom was beginning to believe that this operation against him was growing larger and larger. Requiring water and air shipments? Either this was really big, or these were dead ends. He wouldn’t know until he sniffed them out.  

 

*npc* “Couple of times… ummm… there’s just two I know of. I just get a call from Trevor and he tells me which one to go to… We never know where until they call. Been here a few times this month, another place on the upper west side most often. I only see Jerry here.”

 

Jerry is only involved with shipments to this warehouse? So, there’s another Jerry to supervise the upper west side one then. If this were true, then there is at least one more layer of leadership to discover. If there is distribution taking place involving a port and old airfield…then there is likely more layers of this to discover. Tom suppressed a scowl. He was not looking forward to doing this.

 

*npc* “Yah, that’s him.”

 

Tom looked in the direction the man was and spotted the phone in Eris’s hand. He saw the picture and now had a face in mind of Jerry. Tom caught Eris’s smirk. She knew something. Tom was ready to be done here. He had too much to do. A thought occurred to him, and a slight smirk touched his face as he thought it. The wolf inside wanted to gather the pack and deploy them in different directions in order to corner their prey. Eris was not a wolf. She was a viper. She had found her prey and wanted to destroy them.

 

 “Can we speak?”

 

Read my mind, he thought. Could she do that? He doubted it. Who knew these days? Either way, it was time for a sidebar away from prying eyes.

 

“Yes.” Tom said thoughtfully. He then rose and strode over to Roderick. Tom placed a firm hand on Roderick’s shoulder and said, “Please ensure that our guest is cared for.”

 

Roderick and Tom had worked together for so long that his meaning was clear. The words were almost unnecessary. Roderick would converse with the man, get to know him. Find out personal details about him. If the man thought that Tom was good to him, Roderick would appear to be an angel. Toby being there in his malevolent silence only aided the illusion. Tom had likely gotten all the direct information he could hope to from the man, but Roderick was likely to get much more ancillary information. Later, Roderick would share with him what the two of them spoke of and see if any of it proved useful. It always did. Tom was sure that Eris would debrief Toby about what happened during their absence. If Eris wished to study how Tom worked, she’d be provided a clinic.

 

With a glance back at Eris…was she suppressing a smile? Tom motioned with his head toward one of the side doors and began walking in that direction.

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