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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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His smirk amused her, she liked it. The woman was the epitome of a poker face, but when things went well and were tipped in her own favor the wicked little personality could be set forth. This is what her crew knew her for. So business-like, rigid and arrogant to the world… when in fact she enjoyed these moments the most. She despised the hunt, she loved the endgame.

 

She nodded once when he agreed, stepping back and speaking with Toby inaudibly.

 

“Yes. Please ensure that our guest is cared for.”

 

She couldn’t take her eyes off the rogue, but they could remove themselves to a room where the man couldn’t hear them. Toby could, but she wasn’t concerned. He knew this information already and seemed to enjoy it when she stepped out in this way.

 

Following the Were, she managed to not appear small next to him. It was an impossible task for most, for her it came naturally. Stepping through the doorway, she positioned herself so she could see the broken rogue. Toby was fine. Arms crossed, voice low, she wasted no time.

 

“It’s not an airfield, it’s an old heliport. I looked at it several years ago as a dock. It’s really only good for warehouse needs and small freight docking. The fuel tanks are sludge so it’s useless to me. For old trucks, it’s passable but it will destroy the engines… it’s their fuc…”

 

She stopped herself, eyes flicking up to him. Head cocked slightly as her eyes narrowed at the man almost accusatory. He didn’t like coarse language, it had just dawned on her. Well fuck… that was half her vocabulary.

 

“It’s their screw-up,” she finished without missing a beat. He was going to be a bad influence on her. “Could land a helicopter there, but I don’t know of any pilots that service there. Helicopters that accurate are not common either. I have an idea who could do it. I’ll make some calls.”

 

She took a deep breath, reaching down quickly to adjust the thigh holster with her thumb before crossing arms over her chest again. They were not made for short women, even when they were made for short women. Thoughts were wrestled with a moment. Perhaps the reason she bucked Calloway’s insistence on building a network is she would have to share bits of herself with people. Small circles meant secrets and weaknesses could remain clandestine. With Bakkhos, it was absolutely unlikely they didn’t know each other’s secrets. Maybe unconsciously that was why she approached Gallo and not the others. He was more refined of course, but he was also… a gentleman, and gentleman didn’t discuss the affairs of others without good cause.

 

She caught herself staring at him for several moments before she decided to move forward. If she was going to commit to this, this was a level of trust she extended to no one but her inner circle. When she shared, it was as powerful as her stoicism when she didn’t. It was a story and tragedy all in one to make sure he understood the magnitude of what she could do, and how important it was he kept it confidential.

 

“People die,” she said quietly, eyes shifting to Toby as her chest rose and fell in a small sigh. “Doesn’t matter how smart they are, how young, how powerful, how important, how loved. Mages… everyone dies. All the knowledge in the world couldn’t cure my cancer, all the power in the world the Event gave me couldn’t cure me either. I refused to die. Not because I was afraid of it, but because... I simply refused to be beaten.”

 

She let it rest there. It still perplexed her why she’d fought so hard against the vampire intent on killing her when she was going to die in that hospital anyway. That defiance was why the other that gave her the gift saved her. She fought for herself when no one else would, or could.

 

She’d shared too much, cheeks burning with a lick of anger. He made it easy to tell him things, she didn’t like it.

 

‘This virus was given to me because someone believed I could be more than just a single force of nature. I’ve lived three lives, as a human, a Sheut Ka, and a mage. When we’re infected, most change from one life to the next. Mage to vampire. Human to vampire. Some of us, very rarely, keep parts of our former selves. I am one of those. You are the only one outside my circle that knows this. It needs to stay that way.”

 

Narrowed eyes were definitely mischievous as they looked back at him. He didn’t need to know how adept she’d gotten at Matteo, not yet anyway.

 

“I can be Jerry,” she said quietly. “There are risks, so we need a definitive plan of action, but I can be Jerry. It would have to be now, once word of this night ripples through whoever we’re chasing, we might lose the chance. Introduce Jerry to the two outside. See where that takes us. Pull Ahanu, have Jerry cut them loose. Put one behind the wheel to escape…”

 

Brow cocked. it was a lot to take in.

 

“It's not glamour, it's an actual shapeshift. I will be recognized as not Jerry to anyone with a sense of smell acute enough to know it's not him. We’d have a little less than an hour, I can duck out once we’ve got substantial intel but... that would open up the risk of the real Jerry finding out someone is impersonating him. We could take care of them before they can tell anyone, but that will take coordination. I pull Mouse in, and she can scrape out any communications and assist with that.”

 

Gallo might actually finally get to meet the member of her team responsible for his place of business being partially destroyed.

 

"The fact I'm willing to wear someone else's shi... clothes means I like you," jaw set. He was SUCH a bad influence on her, however his needs and goals were hers as well. She couldn't wave their flag to the Nation without getting her hands dirty. She believed in his cause. "Remember that Gallo."

 

She didn’t need to go into further detail unless he asked. The shifting wiped her out, it always did. Toby and Ahanu knew what to do when that happened, it was not their first rodeo. The viceroy’s expression was expectant, waiting for his thoughts or questions. Had she impersonated anyone from Bakkhos? Yah... she was not answering that damn question...

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Something changed with Eris’s demeanor. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact tells, but she seemed…pleased? Amused? Whatever it was, her countenance had certainly changed. Some sort of wicked mirth betrayed itself. They would work well together…so long as their agendas were aligned.

 

“It’s not an airfield, it’s an old heliport. I looked at it several years ago as a dock. It’s really only good for warehouse needs and small freight docking. The fuel tanks are sludge so it’s useless to me. For old trucks, it’s passable but it will destroy the engines… it’s their fuc…It’s their screw-up. Could land a helicopter there, but I don’t know of any pilots that service there. Helicopters that accurate are not common either. I have an idea who could do it. I’ll make some calls.”

 

Tom had caught her hesitation in speech. He made no secret about his disdain for foul language. As to why it was so passionate to him...it was clear to those who knew him and his late wife.

 

Jacqueline was beloved by all in Bakkhos. Even before Gaspari joined the families together, Jacqueline was well-liked by all of the families. Her penchant for correcting crude language in her presence was seen as cute at first, but over time, it was clear that she was not kidding. Her ‘quiet strength’ commanded the respect…if not outright obedience of those in her presence. When she and Tom were married, they presented a powerful front. Jacqueline’s ‘preferences’ became Gallo’s law. Cursing in Thyrsus was near the top of the list of ‘things not to do in front of Gallo.’

 

Tom had enough sense not to enforce the Thyrsus rules outside of it. Others in Bakkhos respected Tom, and the memory of Jacqueline enough to censor themselves when he was around more times than not, but Tom respected other people’s boundaries…heseks poisoning his supplies notwithstanding. One thing that tickled at Tom’s mind was, how Eris picked up on it? He had been very disciplined about being polite and professional with her. She had earned his respect the moment she entered Thyrsus, through the front door. Either she did her homework, or she was very astute at picking up cues from people. From what he had seen of Eris…it was likely both. Tom knew that her censoring herself right then took considerable effort. Yes. She was worthy of his respect.

 

Tom smiled, warmly this time --- not amusedly, “Thank you.”

 

Tom could tell this was uncharacteristic of Eris. Either her façade was slipping…or she was deliberately letting her guard down. Trusting him. He had taken a chance in the helicopter, revealing how he became the way he was. It seemed like it was a worthy gambit. This was a relationship that would last. One worth having.

 

“Warehouses and small freight…seems to fit.” Tom mused. “Does the proximity to the water make up for the poor fuel quality? Seems short-sighted.”

 

Why would they set up an operation doomed to fail? Desperation? No. Whoever was behind this had more intelligent plans. This helipad setup was intended to be temporary. What’s a few trucks cost to destroy one of your powerful enemies? Whoever was responsible intended for this helipad setup not to last. It was an expendable asset. What Tom and Eris did next was going to be very important. Tom knew that, whatever they came up with, would be observed.

 

“This operation is intended to be disposable. A kamikaze attack.” Tom explained. “If what you say is true, then that tiny, barely useable helipad with terrible fuel can’t be expected to be a long-term setup. Either they are desperate, or they are testing us.” Tom’s eyes went vacant as he was in deep thought, words coming as he spared time to speak them. “We need to be careful how we proceed. I don’t enjoy being studied.” His eyes returned, hard, scowling.

 

Tom’s scowl faded from his face as he noticed Eris staring at him. The fury in his eyes died and was replaced with empathy. She was uncomfortable, nervous.

 

As she was sharing about nearly dying, Tom smiled warmly at her. This was as torturous to her as the machines in one of Strollo’s ‘Conversation Rooms’. He nearly reached to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but decided against it…she seemed averse to unnecessary touch. She had quite the story. The sudden switch to a mischievous look was unexpected. This woman was complex.

 

“I can be Jerry…” This proved to be an interesting revelation. As she explained her powers worked, Tom listened intently. Her plan was not without merit.

 

“Are you suggesting speaking to the two with Ahanu as Jerry?” Tom asked. That could work. 

 

Tom smirked, “You’d have to be angry, think you can handle that?” This could get them to take Eris…somewhere. She’d have to bluff, leaning on the memories of the drivers. He was sure she was capable of pulling that off.

 

They’d have to die though. Tom couldn’t risk real-Jerry knowing about fake-Jerry. Tom had an idea.

 

“While you do that, I’ll have a crew come in, clean up, and collect our new friend and escort him somewhere safe where he can be looked after.” Tom’s stone-face didn’t imply any double-meaning behind that last bit…but someone as astute as Eris got his meaning.

 

“We get the Hesek and the man out of here. Clean up the mess we made, and let Jerry find the warehouse. Without his crew. Without his cargo.” Tom smirked at Eris now, erasing whatever tension remained. Thoughtful, methodical planning seemed to soothe the beast. Because…in the planning stage, everything went smoothly, perfectly. He’d have to manage the beast when it inevitably went south and he had to adapt. Until then, Tom was as close to calm as he could get this close to the full moon.

 

Putting on the most exaggerated Italian accent he could, he waved his hands in front of his face, mocking Strollo in particular, “Then maybe Jerry meets a friend of his he didn’t know before.” Chuckling briefly, Tom continued.

 

“I’d like to welcome him to my new warehouse, personally” Tom said as he gestured. “It would be important to know what sort of mage he is first. Think our boy out there knows?”

 

 

 

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“Thank you.”

 

Eyes narrowed slightly in response, arms crossing and she nodded in concession.

 

“I worked in the DEA before the Event. In the field,” she said shortly. It explained her attire, and her penchant for coarse language when she was working in this half of her “duties”. It wasn’t an excuse, it was a reason. Behavior was learned, and being her size in the work she did was damning already. You adopted behavioral norms, or you were shoved out. On the outside though in public view? Dressed in a suit? Never. Smooth as glass with impeccable manners unless she was one on one, then all bets were off. "That means I can help you figure out your poison too."

 

“Warehouses and small freight…seems to fit. Does the proximity to the water make up for the poor fuel quality? Seems short-sighted.”

 

“Something able to avoid Bakkhos’ resources for this amount of time is extremely well planned. There’s a purpose here.”

 

“This operation is intended to be disposable. A kamikaze attack. If what you say is true, then that tiny, barely useable helipad with terrible fuel can’t be expected to be a long-term setup. Either they are desperate, or they are testing us.We need to be careful how we proceed. I don’t enjoy being studied.”

 

“Well there goes my night,” she quipped with deadpan humor. “You’re a good study.”

 

She thought a moment, watching the rogue on the floor.

 

“There is so much mechanical slag, junk out there. A lot of amenities were absorbed by other companies when their owners never returned or were killed a decade ago. Survivors didn’t take the junk, so now there are fleets of old vehicles nobody wants. Untraceable, nobody will miss them, nobody keeps track of them… disposable, anonymous.” 

 

Brow cocked as she looked up at him.

 

“Sludge fuel isn’t a worry. They just dump the vehicle and find something else. I’d bet in a few weeks, the trucks will be different. I have a few ideas where they may have come from. Equipment is rotting Gallo, harder and harder to keep planes in the air when nobody is making parts and they’re rusting on runways. Vehicles are the same way. They think they're being sneaky. To someone like me that regularly scouts for parts, it's like a fingerprint. I'll make some calls.”

 

Then, the bombshell. It was a sure fire way to get immediate answers and get several steps ahead, if only for a hot minute.

 

“Are you suggesting speaking to the two with Ahanu as Jerry?”

 

She nodded slowly.

 

“You’d have to be angry, think you can handle that?”

 

The glare was hard, “…did you seriously just ask me that?”

 

“While you do that, I’ll have a crew come in, clean up, and collect our new friend and escort him somewhere safe where he can be looked after. We get the Hesek and the man out of here. Clean up the mess we made, and let Jerry find the warehouse. Without his crew. Without his cargo.”

 

A corner of her lip curled up at his smirk.

 

“This relationship is a dangerous,” she quipped. “One of these days I might ask you to take over the world with me.”

 

Humor was evident, but clearly she was happy with her choice to work with him on many levels, though she would never admit it.

 

“I need Ahanu, that’s part of the risk. You’ll be on your own. Toby will stay to help with the rogue, then he’ll have to follow me when your people arrive. Ahanu will have to tail us from the start. When this is done, I'll need their help. Nobody is all powerful Thomas, not even me.”

 

It was the closest she would ever come to conceding she had limits.

 

“You’ll get your information.”

 

“Then maybe Jerry meets a friend of his he didn’t know before.”

 

Brow cocked, and she laughed quietly. Eris London did not laugh.

 

“I’d like to welcome him to my new warehouse, personally It would be important to know what sort of mage he is first. Think our boy out there knows?”

 

“Probably. If it was an unusual ability he may have seen it. Magus are so layered with power though that knowing what kind of magic he slings won’t necessarily give us any advantage other than to watch out for his hocus pocus.”

 

Long breath was pulled in and released.

 

“I’m trusting you not to hurt my people,” her voice was incredibly quiet, lethal. Eyes found his without hesitation. “I will not be able to protect them, from you, after I do this.”

 

Her expression held no question she could and would rain down hellfire if something happened to them. She knew he was aware she'd been watching him all evening. It was dangerous to be involved with her, but it also held incredible benefits.

 

“People that are my family, I will protect with my life,” that also included him, though she didn’t say it out loud. She would stand in front of him if Calloway raised a hand to the Capo. Her loyalty to the Nation was unshakable, but she would never betray those that had her back either. It had caused considerable tension between her and other leaders in the Nation. In the end, it seemed Ausar supported her for that very reason. Her loyalty to those who were trustworthy was unshakable. Gallo had split loyalties, and the fate of how the Nation treated his family rested squarely on his shoulders. The Nation wanted them as puppets. She wanted them as partners. A conversation they would have to have very soon.

 

She nodded once, phone pulled out to ring Ahanu and explain what was going to happen. She did the same for Toby even though he was in the other room, it was just quicker and cleaner. The goon on the table would have to be brought back to where she was… she needed his clothes. 

 

“When he brings in our first friend and I close this door, I won’t be able to talk to you again until this is over. When I’m good, I’ll call Ahanu to leave the two outside and come in. When you see her come in, I’m going to cut them loose outside for the 'getaway' and see where they take me,” she motioned for Toby to grab their deceased friend and bring him into the room. “Once I get all the info I think I’ll get, I’ll take care of the two friends outside. Let’s get this done.”

 

She held the door for him, ready to close it behind him… quirked brow indicating she had to do this in privacy.

 

“Only because I like you,” she grouched.

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“I worked in the DEA before the Event. In the field. That means I can help you figure out your poison too."

 

This was good. Tom would need outside help. Bakkhos, while quite robust, didn’t have a stranglehold in the apothecary business. He wondered if Cassandra made any headway on the mage-part of the poison. He’d have to give her a call soon. He needed to maintain a balance between duty to his clients, business, and Family…with keeping his agreement with ARMA intact. Tom understood that if Cassandra perceived Tom to be crossing lines, he’d be fighting a battle on two fronts. Additional chaos. That thought urged the beast to pound on the door Tom had it trapped in. Eris saved him with her quip.

 

“Well there goes my night. You’re a good study.”

 

Tom grunted a chuckle at that. Even though he wasn’t as blatantly clinical as Eris, he was keeping detailed mental notes of Eris as well. She was ruthless, brutal, and deadly. She also seemed to have a fierce protector-vibe to her that spoke of unbreakable loyalty and a disdain for manipulative subversion. She’d been betrayed. Victimized. She’d thrown a car through his walls to save one of her own during the Blood Moon. It was rare that this sort of loyalty came naturally. It was almost always a product of experienced loss. Tom knew that, if he earned her trust, it would be unbreakable. If he betrayed her, he’d likely die. He grinned slightly despite himself. He liked it.

 

As Eris described the junk-vehicle market, Tom nodded as she spoke. He knew a little of this. Even Bakkhos’ resources were constrained by the lack of supply on the market. He had to admit that they were partially responsible for that. When the world went to hell, Gaspari and the capos were smart enough to secure what Tom liked to call the ‘practical practices.’ Nearly all vehicles that have been serviced since the Event have had Bakkhos hands on them. He was far enough removed from the operations to know how strong of a hand they had in aviation. Maybe he’d be able to help Eris in that regard, if need be. He’d have to check.

 

A fortunate side-effect of the Bakkhos quasi-monopoly on transport was that the few people operating outside of their circle had their own signatures on their work. Tom would reach out to someone to make calls to the shops to check whether or not these vehicles had been serviced in their shops. Tom doubted it. Everyone was sloppy sometimes though. Maybe he’d get a lead.

 

“…did you seriously just ask me that?”

 

“I had little doubt.” A small smile came to Tom.

 

“This relationship is dangerous.  One of these days I might ask you to take over the world with me.”

 

Tom’s smile broadened. He could see the mirth in her eyes. The relief. Eris was alone.

 

Eris had Toby, Ahanu, and Mouse…but they were her charges. Not her subordinates, not only that anyway, but her family. Her children. They were not her peers. From what Tom could tell, she didn’t have any peers. Until now. When you are the one everyone seeks comfort from, who do you seek when you need it? Tom thought that Eris saw that in him. This wasn’t the time to say so. But she was right.

 

Tom nodded toward the battered and beaten Hesek whose breathing appeared to be leveling out. “When we work together against a common enemy…yes…dangerous is a good word.” He smiled, “But I’m afraid the world will have to wait,” he paused and with feigned ominousness, “…for now.”

 

“I need Ahanu, that’s part of the risk. You’ll be on your own. Toby will stay to help with the rogue, then he’ll have to follow me when your people arrive. Ahanu will have to tail us from the start. When this is done, I'll need their help. Nobody is all powerful Thomas, not even me.”

 

That left Trevor with Tom. He'd have to be a bit more specific about who came for cleanup and transport. Just in case. 

 

Eris’s laughter pulled his mind from its tunnel-vision focus. He smiled too, genuinely. Tom had worked side by side with plenty of men who would become his enemy the moment their common goal was achieved. It was refreshing to see that some genuine people still existed. Eris had a hard surface, yes. She was a ruthless enemy, yes. She was also as vulnerable and delicate as anyone else once that shell was penetrated. Her willingness to peel back the layers and expose this to Tom spoke volumes to her level of trust.

 

“I’m trusting you not to hurt my people. I will not be able to protect them, from you, after I do this.”

 

Tom nodded. He understood completely. Tom made that same leap when he summoned Roderick into the room earlier. He knew that if Eris and Toby decided that Tom and Roderick had to go…they’d probably be gone. Their families were one now. Whether Tom or Eris realized it or not…their fates had become intertwined.

 

“When he brings in our first friend and I close this door, I won’t be able to talk to you again until this is over. When I’m good, I’ll call Ahanu to leave the two outside and come in. When you see her come in, I’m going to cut them loose outside for the 'getaway' and see where they take me. Once I get all the info I think I’ll get, I’ll take care of the two friends outside. Let’s get this done.”

 

“I’ll make sure our cooperative friend isn’t anywhere to see ‘Jerry’ leave. I’ll plan to take Trevor to one of Strollo’s ‘Conversation Rooms.’ I’ve…stayed a few nights in one of them in a pinch. It will keep him there.”

 

The implication was clear. Tom was unable to get upstate one month, and he was…unexpectedly delayed getting to where he would normally wait out the change. Strollo had designed one of his rooms to hold stronger folks he desired to ‘converse’ with. It did the job of keeping the wolf contained, albeit with some minor damage. It would keep Trevor contained as long as needed.

 

“How long do you think he’ll stay unconscious? Do you think he needs another kick in the skull to keep him down for another hour or so?” Tom was all business, but was there a hint of eagerness in his voice?

 

“I’ll have our new friend call Jerry to get him out here. He and I will have a discussion about how we proceed from here.” Tom’s demeanor was still pleasant…leftover from the mirth a few moments ago. But his eyes. They betrayed his true intent. Tom’s chat with Jerry was not likely to be pleasant. In fact, Tom was already prepared for it to be disappointing and dangerous. It was time to toss the dice.

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Brow cocked gently as Tom grinned at her study quip, there was more going on under the controlled façade than he let on. So many layers. His thoughts seemed congruent to her proposed plan. When she’d put the tac gear on earlier in the evening to merely keep up her skills she never imagined this would be the closer to the festivities. Such was being a leader she supposed… she wasn’t sure if she liked this brand of crazy. It was incredibly lonely, the master villain kind of lonely.

 

“When we work together against a common enemy…yes…dangerous is a good word. But I’m afraid the world will have to wait…for now.”

 

“Promises, promises,” the response was in humor but delivered deadpan, almost disappointed they had to leave their devious mutual plotting behind and put it into motion. She enjoyed getting things done too, but it was rare she was able to plan with someone that she could see eye to eye with. Unfortunately, there were several more levels they had to pass before he knew the full range of this relationship. She truly hoped it would weather the stress of what was coming. Afterward, a formal meeting of sorts over dinner. They had much to talk about.

 

“I’ll make sure our cooperative friend isn’t anywhere to see ‘Jerry’ leave. I’ll plan to take Trevor to one of Strollo’s ‘Conversation Rooms.’ I’ve…stayed a few nights in one of them in a pinch. It will keep him there.”

 

She nodded.

 

“How long do you think he’ll stay unconscious? Do you think he needs another kick in the skull to keep him down for another hour or so?”

 

Smirk was cognizant of his eagerness. There was a point when even vampires could be mush after you hit them enough. Knife was pulled from its sheath and flipped to the tip in the blink of an eye. She held it out for him to take by the handle.

 

“Stake him, take all his… loose parts. Don’t wake him until you speak to me again, I’ll let you wake him up this time. It’s fun. Kind of like wrestling a Were.”

 

Lip smirked again. It felt almost like a predator teaching another how in a different fashion, passing on knowledge of the most brutal type. Maybe that’s what was happening here, a relationship the Capo couldn’t have with other heads of his family. She wondered silently how many of them truly understood the turmoil in this man’s blood. Probably none. She wasn’t a bad influence… not exactly anyway. Maybe more of an outlet.

 

“I’ll have our new friend call Jerry to get him out here. He and I will have a discussion about how we proceed from here.”

 

That portion of the game worried her. Jerry was a magus, and variables were something she didn’t like. Not at all. She thought a moment. Ahanu would stay here. Ahanu was one of the most powerful magus she’d ever met. The woman could rip an airplane in half in the sky at her peak. It didn’t sit well with her that she would leave here and they would have limited backup.

 

Phone was dialed again, what she requested was brief, almost in code with as few words as she used. What was evident was that some kind of team would be in place around the building, and Ahanu was remaining here. Once it was determined to be under control, Ahanu would relocate to her.

 

“I’m not leaving you here alone with Roderick and an unknown variable with Jerry,” she said shortly. “I have a small team that patrols my hangar at your disposal in five minutes. They will stay outside and monitor. You say shoot, they will without hesitation. Don’t get too attached to them. You can’t keep them, they’re my toys.”

 

She nodded to Toby, who brought their first friend into the room and laid him on a desk before leaving. The man in captivity out in the main room seemed quiet, almost resolved. Coming down from adrenaline perhaps. Maybe he felt like he might survive this.

 

“That man is loyal to you for life,” she commented quietly, looking up at the Were before dark eyes wandered back to the guy who’d been mentally stripped bare. “He would take a bullet for you, don’t let him regret that choice.”

 

For the first time ever, she seemed… small, human. The power and stature around her had peeled away for the moment in the privacy of the room they were plotting in. She breathed in and nodded to him, motioning for him to skedaddle.

 

Door closed. Alone with her deceased friend she began pulling articles of clothing off and prepping her new ones. She would have to stash hers somewhere, Toby would find them and bring them back. After she’d changed completely and sat in the desk chair in impossibly large clothing, the photo was brought up again. They were just waiting on her.

 

She could never explain what it felt like, there was no comparison. Floating possibly. That time between times when the heaviness of the sun was being crushed by the vastness of the dark sky. Dry sand being pummeled by a crushing wave. That limbo created tension, and the tension created something new. Those that had seen her do it, said it merely changed, like the photos that were scrambled until you focused and saw the picture. A refraction of light changing to a prism. Regardless, when it was done she felt like she was always punched in the gut. Moving, was also odd at first, sometimes even nauseating as muscles learned a new rhythm. Weapons secured, phone secured, she pushed the door open slightly. A viper with the face and stature of an enemy magus nodded to Toby and the Capo from the shadow before retreating calmly back into the darkness of the room to go out the back and cut loose the other two to "escape".

 

Several moments later, Ahanu took her place next to Toby and Toby departed.

 

Showtime.

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“Promises, promises…”

 

Tom knew it was in humor, but the levity was fading as the time for action was growing nearer. Tom’s demeanor evened out too. Even before the Event, Tom was often told that he ‘looked angry’ when he was deep in thought. Jacqueline called it his ‘resting war face.’ Now that Tom had a stowaway in his head at all times…his ‘war face’ was not ‘resting’ as much as it used to be.

 

“Stake him, take all his… loose parts. Don’t wake him until you speak to me again, I’ll let you wake him up this time. It’s fun. Kind of like wrestling a Were.”

 

Tom grunted. It was meant to be a chuckle…he appreciated the levity. But his mood wouldn’t allow it. The time for jokes would have to wait. He was focused. Planning. Plans, contingencies, additional contingencies… Plans A through Q were finding places in his mind, sorting themselves out in a likely if-then cascade.

 

He didn’t let it get out of hand though. He still had to factor in the variable of the mage. Tom had to deal with him in some form. Tonight. Eris had forced his hand in this matter. After she did what she did…Tom couldn’t risk Jerry finding out he was being counter-attacked. Not until Tom had eyes on the man. For the first time, it felt like Tom had some sort of initiative. Best not to mess this up.

 

“Strollo’s room has a slab we can strap him to. I was strapped to it once.”

 

Tom growled a bit in remembrance of that night. How much tranquilizer did they use on him to get him there? The full moon was that night. Tom, despite it being his idea, violently opposed being constrained. It took all the willpower he possessed to enter the room in the first place. It took…several shots from tranq-guns to put him down so they could bind him. It was a valiant attempt. Tom’s wolf stayed in the room the entire night…but Tom woke up the next morning with a portion of a table strapped to one of his arms.  Since then, Strollo had upgraded his room. What was once a table was now a stone slap in the middle of the room. Tom had refused to enter that room ever again since then. Tom was confident that Trevor would not be able to break the bindings that would hold him there.

 

“Strollo’s upgraded the room since my visit.” A hint of a satisfied smirk played on the corner of his mouth. “I’m sure it will hold him until we’re ready to speak with him.”

 

“I’m not leaving you here alone with Roderick and an unknown variable with Jerry. I have a small team that patrols my hangar at your disposal in five minutes. They will stay outside and monitor. You say shoot, they will without hesitation. Don’t get too attached to them. You can’t keep them, they’re my toys.”

 

Tom nodded. It made sense. If Roderick wasn’t totally exhausted, he had already sent for backup. The Magus was hard to account for…but Ahanu seemed to be the one to hedge against that. Good. Things, once again appeared to be trending in Tom’s favor. He opened up his phone and dialed. After one ring, the other line picked up without saying a word.

 

“Allies in play. Assume all friendly until I say otherwise.”

 

Tom hung up the phone and nodded his thanks to Eris. He knew what it meant for he to trust Ahanu in his care. A lot could go wrong and she couldn’t control it. A lot would be learned about one another this night.

 

“That man is loyal to you for life. He would take a bullet for you, don’t let him regret that choice.”

 

Tom regarded the man who was either accepting death, or believed he’d escaped it. Either way, relief was plain on his face. He would regard Tom as his savior after this was done. Tom might find a place for him somewhere. One thing was certain, however. Unless he died, he was effectively a prisoner until this situation was resolved. This man would remain under Bakkhos eyes every minute until this issue was finished. Tom couldn’t risk it.

 

Eris had dropped all pretense at a façade by this point. Seeing her vulnerabilities made Tom silently question his motives. He was prepared to be as brutal as required to ensure that this problem ceased to exist…as quickly as possible. Hearing Eris challenge Tom to reward this man’s semi-coerced cooperation pierced him to his heart. Silently he cursed Eris for that. Emotion complicated decision-making. He thanked her silently at the same time. ‘Why’ is as important as ‘how.’ It was good to remember that.

 

“Hope he doesn’t have to. He has more risks to take yet.” Tom was going to have to put him on the phone with Jerry. He wasn’t 100% confident how well the man would perform. It was a gambit that had to be taken. Tom had a plan.

 

Before Tom was shooed out, he placed a hand on Eris’s shoulder. Gripping it strongly, comfortingly, he didn’t care about her typical tactile-aversion. With this level of exposure to one another, niceties were irrelevant. If she was revealing her true side, so should he.

 

“I’ll take care of yours. Get in touch when you can.”

 

Stepping out of the room, Tom saw Roderick on the phone speaking quickly to whoever was on the other line while Tom’s new best friend was pointing to the boxes he was tasked with watching for the evening.

 

Soon, based on the number of crates being pointed out, a single truck would come. The back would be loaded with a dozen or so men and a forklift. The boxes would be loaded into the truck to be taken somewhere Tom knew was secure. The men would be cleaning up the mess they had made to make the scene as if no one had been there. Assuming they weren’t busy cleaning up a higher priority mess, the crew that was coming would be in and out in less than an hour. Other than the faint smell of cleaning chemicals, no one would ever know someone had been there.

 

By the time Tom had reached Roderick, the tell-tale beeping of a cargo truck could be heard backing up to the loading dock. Damn. Roderick gets it. Making eye contact with Roderick, Tom held up three fingers with a raised eyebrow. Roderick shook his head and held up four. Interesting. Either Roderick misjudged, not likely, or Matteo called an audible, sending an additional squad. Tom had been keeping Matteo apprised of the progress of tracking down the poisoner. Calling for squads would catch Matteo’s attention. Adding a fourth meant he suspected the need. Tom nodded at Roderick. He’d have to reach out to Matteo after this and update him. Tom was sure that a ‘bonus fight’ at Satyr was in his future.

 

Tom draped an arm around the man’s shoulder and started to lead him off to one of the side doors. As he did, he caught a glimpse of Eris/Jerry slipping out to begin her part of the plan. Tom motioned toward a table and chair, silently imploring him to sit. As the man sat down, the side door opened and a half-dozen Bakkhos men strode in. They were not as disciplined as trained soldiers, not this group anyway, but they were capable of following orders and making good decisions when given some autonomy.

 

“This is my friend. I’d like two of you to keep him company while I attend to some other matters. See to it that he remains safe and unharmed. Any wounds of his will be matched by one of yours.”

 

Tom growled out that last line. It wasn’t likely that they were going to rough the man up, but it occasionally happened…and Tom would have none of it. It was also important that he hear Tom say this. If Eris was right, then this would reinforce that perception. Tom then turned to his new friend and knelt down to be eye to eye with him.

 

“I know you’ve gone through a lot in a short amount of time. You have handled this well. You are strong.” Tom smiled warmly at the man, the way a father would to a son, or a coach to one of his team. “I’m going to need that strength soon. Take a moment and gather yourself.”

 

Tom then recognized one of the crew that he has seen come in and out of Thyrsus a few times. He clapped the man on the shoulder and stared the man in his eyes and held the gaze for a few moments. He then nodded, grimly, and was mirrored by the man. He was to be the bodyguard for Tom’s new friend. And executioner if need be. Tom hated it, but it was necessary.

 

Tom then walked away to supervise the cleanup operation. He took a moment to inspect the occasional crate being loaded into the truck to make sure that the tainted booze was within. To the man’s credit, every check yielded that same putrid stench. Eris was right. This man was proving to be quite loyal. He then approached Ahanu, who had found her way by Roderick. Tom should have expected as much.

 

“Ahanu. I’m loathe to admit it, but I’m leaning heavily on you when dealing with our new magus friend. Anything that you’d like to share with me before this begins that would be good to know would be appreciated.”

 

Tom didn’t know what to expect from her. He was hoping she’d share what she was capable of, or her limitations, or anything that could help Tom keep her alive. His request was more like an order than a plea…but Tom knew she was not his to command. So he’d have to make do.

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He had locked into the plan that was sliding in place. Months of frustration over this impending catastrophe seemed to suddenly have a direction, a bullseye, or at least the means to one. She could lie and say it wasn't self-serving. It was.

 

It was also her looking out for Bakkhos' best interest. Dealing with those that didn't exactly follow the rules in order to keep some semblance of social order had been what she did before the world came to an end. Bakkhos was a social entity. You didn't infiltrate and tell them what to do. You let them manage the community they knew better than you.

 

If Gallo pulled this off and smashed this poison sabotage disaster, she would have all the ammunition she needed to tell her "superiors" she was right. 

 

“Strollo’s room has a slab we can strap him to. I was strapped to it once.”

 

Brow cocked. It was such an odd thing to know given the gentleman he was. She had a room as well for urging people to talk. Seemed all the cool people had them.

 

“Strollo’s upgraded the room since my visit. I’m sure it will hold him until we’re ready to speak with him.”

 

His smirk was savored, truly wondering if it was possible to be cured he would ever go back. She would never. What she was, she was born for. Him, she wasn't so sure. He seemed to enjoy his darker side, though tortured by it. His family probably didn't know how to handle him other than lock him up. Perhaps he needed someone who could help him embrace that side.

 

Eris London, helping people. She was getting soft. After this she was going to excessively use the word fuck for about a week just to shake the puppy dogs and unicorns from her system. She might kill someone that deserved it too, just because. 

 

Setting her people into place to lock down the area was followed up with his own, slight smile as he called them into play. She liked playing with the Were. They needed more play dates. 

 

“Allies in play. Assume all friendly until I say otherwise.”

 

He seemed to not have picked up on the fact she was giving him her protection as well. An intense amount of trust was being placed on his shoulders not to screw this up. If Ahanu had to stay because this went south, and then her end went south, she would be a near coma Sheut Ka close to dawn with no backup. She would survive by any means necessary of course, but a risk was a risk. Her preference to protect him and his own at all costs was the price of being a leader, and why Ausar had given her the job. 

 

His response to her regard of the turncoat was a bit troubling, but not unexpected. There was an order to things, and death was a hammer not swung lightly. It was rare to see a human weather the storm like this one had. Help from Roderick perhaps, but impressive nonetheless. Deaths on her watch always served a purpose for the greater picture, something she wasn't sure Bakkhos grasped.

 

“Hope he doesn’t have to. He has more risks to take yet.”

 

"You'll make the right choice," she responded quietly, arms crossed in her stoic fashion as she watched the human recover from their barrage.

 

His hand on her shoulder eerily received no outward response. Internally, claws snapped out and teeth bared, not from anger. First instinct was to keep him away from her. There may come a time when she would be ordered to do the unthinkable to this man, and her justification for standing between him and the world that threatened him couldn't be personal, she liked him nonetheless.

 

Personal feelings though had no place when she fought for her own with the Nation.

 

He seemed to need to do it, so she allowed it.

 

“I’ll take care of yours. Get in touch when you can.”

 

Nod was light, her hand moving up to rest on his momentarily. Why, she didn't know. Eris London didn't do that. If anyone asked, it never happened.

 

He was left to his duties, and she began hers. A chameleon of the highest level, approach to the car was swift, presence heavy. Without a word, the door was pulled open and zip ties cut.

 

Time to go.

 

+++

 

“Ahanu. I’m loathe to admit it, but I’m leaning heavily on you when dealing with our new magus friend. Anything that you’d like to share with me before this begins that would be good to know would be appreciated.”

 

She was quiet a moment, watching the clean up.

 

*npc* "If he powers up I will strike, I won't wait for him to do damage to anyone. If that's necessary, do you want him alive or dead?"

 

Her words were ominous, but fairly straightforward. 

 

*npc* "I'm an air magus, I can tear the breath from his lungs if you give the word. Or, let him choke for a minute or two until he's compliant."

 

She was calmly watching the activity.

 

"Ms. London has given up her backup to make sure you're fully protected. You need to know that too," glance to him was serious before she watched Toby a moment and turned her attention back to the clean-up.

 

A lot was riding on his shoulders. 

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“You'll make the right choice.”

 

He hoped so. He didn’t like to throw lives away needlessly. He honestly felt for the man. However, he had one performance to complete before he left in the careful hands of some of Tom’s men.

 

When she placed his hand atop his, Tom smiled a small smile. He cared for her. In exactly which capacity…he wasn’t entirely sure. He just knew that he wanted her mission to go well. Go safely. Obviously he did, as his operation depended on that, but also…he wanted to see her again. When she nodded, he nodded once and left her to whatever she had to do to get into character.

 

Tom spotted Roderick supervising one of the crews loading the tainted goods with a sandwich in his hand. Where did he get that? Roderick was infinitely resourceful. He must have had one of the guys bring him one on the way in. Eating seemed to bring some vigor back to his step…some sharpness to his eyes. He was recovering from the mental strain of earlier. Roderick knew that Tom would need his help with their new friend. The phone call had to be convincing. Some people were good actors, others needed to truly feel the emotions they needed to express. That’s where Roderick came in.

 

Just as the last pallet was loaded and was being moved, Tom surveyed the warehouse. It was truly as if no one had been here. Even the axe had been replaced in a new break-away glass container. Tom was sad to see the axe go. That thought bothered him, but it was true. His idle, savage, thoughts were becoming more common. The beast within seemed to be mostly contained in the vault Tom shoved it into…but it was as if it had found a way to ooze through the cervices and seep into his being. It was like stepping out of the water on a humid day, and no matter what, you never felt dry. So too was the ferocity within Tom. It could no longer be contained…separated. Simply reduced…or indulged in order to be sated…for a time.

 

Tom wandered back to where the prisoner had been sitting with some of Tom’s men. He appeared to be more at ease. When he noticed Tom approach, his eye lit up with excitement, or was it relief? Hope. The man, as far as Tom could tell, had tossed the dice and put all his chips on siding with Tom. Quick glances to the man he left in charge, and the others with him seemed to indicate that none of them suspected anything nefarious to come from him. Good. Tom could even grow to like the man. But for now, he had a job to do.

 

Tom snapped his fingers loudly, drawing Roderick’s attention, to which he waved a hand to acknowledge Tom and turned to another near him, apparently leaving him with final instructions before joining Tom. Tom took a chair and sat across from the prisoner and leaned back slightly with a warm smile. Tom may very well be this man’s savior, but he still had to believe that Tom held his life in his hands.

 

 “How are you feeling? You look much better. Have you been fed?”

 

Tom could smell the remnants of ham and turkey coming from the lot of them. Roddy was always thinking ahead. He sometimes thought further out than Tom…he’d be loathe to admit that, but he has been having to admit his limitations a lot lately. His eyes hardened as Tom glowered briefly while those thoughts threatened to distract him. He smelled fear come from the man as he nodded his affirmation at Tom’s inquiry. Tom had to be careful.

 

“Sorry, it has been quite the day…” Tom suddenly realized he didn’t know the man’s name. He had been so focused on getting the names of those further up the chain that he had neglected to ask the man his own name. Tom growled at his sloppiness before catching himself and resuming his friendly demeanor.

 

“I apologize. I don’t believe I have even caught your name to this point. Please forgive my rudeness.”

 

Tom meant it. Those last sentences were genuine. Tom had always prided himself in his demeanor and politeness. He was always careful to not be perceived as ingenuine as well. Polite, when ingenuine, was worse than brash rudeness in his mind. Tom had ‘educated’ the occasional subordinate in the value of speaking their mind if they disagreed with Tom rather than blindly toeing the line. The other capos thought Tom was crazy, inviting mutiny with such free-speech. Tom’s methods proved to be effective, however. His operations ran smoothly. People were willing to live and die for him because they not only feared him, they respected him. They loved him. This poison in the well has been the only real hiccup in his operations that didn’t come as a result of some other sort of external disaster. It was a hell of a hiccup though.

 

Tom wanted desperately to believe that the ability of his shipments to be mixed with this tainted swill existed purely from the outside. He strongly believed that someone within the Family itself had to be helping, though. Only time spent following this lead would reveal that truth.

 

“Butch,” the man stammered briefly before recovering. Tom wasn’t sure if Roderick was helping or if Tom had outwardly regained control of the frustration just waiting to be released. It was like pinching the end of an inflated balloon. One slip…

 

“Sometimes they call me Spike, though.” The man nodded to a long, pointy knife lying on another table several feet away indicating that it was his. As the man spoke, his voice went from timid to eager. He was anxious to prove himself, perhaps with that dagger. Tom noticed that, as he was speaking…but more so when he wasn’t, the man constantly fidgeted with his fingers. He habitually, repeatedly, and deftly touched each fingertip to his thumb. When Tom didn’t respond right away, the drumming on his thumbs changed to quick tapping on the table. That ended abruptly as he shot a worried glance at one of the men Tom had tasked with guarding him. Apparently, this behavior had been discouraged. This elicited a soft smile from Tom. He was reading the men around him. He was learning to adapt to those around him. It was natural on an instinctive level, but there was that brief moment of realization before he stopped. The man whom he feared had not even reacted to this episode of finger-drumming, but Butch remembered. Based on their earlier conversation, Tom suspected Butch never forgot. Anything.

 

“Butch, I’ll call you Butch for now. We’ll see if the future holds an opportunity for me to call you Spike.” Tom’s smile was more impish this time. Implying a future was another genuine, but calculated wording to ease the man’s tension and earn more of his trust. He was going to ask him to do something potentially dangerous. Butch returned the smile, tentatively.

 

“Butch, I’m going to ask you to do something for me. But I need your candid feedback and input on this.” Tom was going to show him some of what it was like to work for Tom. Glancing at the man leading the group guarding Butch, Tom nodded to him. The man rolled up his sleeve above his elbow to show the surgical scars from a surgically-repaired elbow.

 

His name was Stanley Rodgers, although everyone in Bakkhos called him Tex, due to his accent. When Tex was new to the Family, Tom had laid out a plan with a tragically obvious flaw. Tex, due to his military and tactical background, should have seen this plainly. When Tom asked for feedback from the team, no one spoke up. He was willing to forgive the others, having been goons and shakedown fodder for the most part. But Tex remaining silent was a sin that had to be punished. Tom hyper-extended his elbow across the edge of the table until it broke. While Tex screamed in pain, he managed to yell out in between groans of pain what the flaw in Tom’s plan was. Tom had punished dishonesty in several different ways prior to and since then. The example he set with Tex was that Tom’s pride was not to be protected at the expense of the Family. Tom was a capo, but he wasn’t the entire Family. Family first. Was that still Tom’s motivation with this investigation? Of course, it was. Not petty vengeance. Protecting the Family. Definitely.

 

“Listen to ‘em kid,” Tex drawled to Butch. “Lyin’ is worse than failin’. I’ve failed a time or two for Mr. Gallo before. Never did I pay for that like I did lyin’ to ‘im.”

 

Butch’s eyes widened in horror briefly at the scars on the arm. Butch began to realize that the ball was entirely in his court now. He nodded without even thinking, still staring at the scars on Tex’s arm. Butch was likely remembering Tom’s casual brutality with Trevor earlier and blending that information with the story from Tex.

 

“A-a-anything, Mr. Gallo. What do you want me to do?” Tom spared a glance at Roderick who simply shook his head. He hadn’t done anything to alter the man’s mood as yet. Good. The less Roderick had to do, the more genuine it would sound.

 

Tom held out his hand toward Tex and said, “I need your phone.”

 

When Tex handed Tom the phone, Tom set it on the table between he and Butch. He tapped it a couple times and looked into Butch’s eyes, face set in determination.

 

“I need you to call Jerry. You are going to tell him, in whatever words you believe will be most convincing, that Trevor and the others are gone along with the containers you were supposed to be watching, and you have no idea where they went. You left briefly, and when you returned, everyone and everything were gone.” Tom paused to let this imaginary scenario settle in Butch’s mind. Allow him to come up with logical connections that make the known information of Jerry align with the created reality Tom created.

 

“Bottom line, I need you to get him here. As soon as possible.” Tom paused a second more to, once again, allow the information to settle in Butch’s mind. “Now, what I want from you, is feedback. Why won’t this work? What needs to be changed in order for it to work? What vital piece of information do you know that I don’t that will make or break this attempt?”

 

It did no good to hold back now. Butch was already in too deep. He was either going to prove useful, or die. That last part hurt Tom a bit. He derived no joy from killing or injuring. It was simply a means to an end. A disciplinary tool, nothing more. But this was different. He either served his purpose or would be discarded.

 

Butch thought for a few moments. Tom could smell his fear increase. Pheromones, detectable on an unconscious level, were like identifying flowers by smell to Tom by now. Tom looked at Roderick and nodded briefly. Just a gentle nudge, to pull him back from fear and back to calm, where analysis could occur more efficiently.

 

“Jerry will be suspicious from the start. Trevor is an ass, and Jerry knows this…but I don’t know that he’ll take my word for it that Trevor betrayed him. Me being confused about what happened will make me seem incompetent rather than deceptive…” Wow. Butch was dangerously shrewd. “…I don’t know that this will be enough to bring him here. He’ll immediately ring Trevor’s phone. When he doesn’t answer though…” It was clear that Butch was thinking out loud now. “…Jerry is a control-freak and will want to get eyes on it himself. And he won’t come alone.”

 

Butch looked as if he were about to continue speaking before Tom raised his hand to quiet him for a moment. Eris had had Trevor’s phone. Did she still or had she left it someplace? Tom silently cursed himself for not grabbing that. It was almost certainly in Bakkhos hands, if not Eris’s. Tom just wasn’t certain where.

 

“How much is he likely to say to you instead of Trevor? Does he view you as a mindless drone to do his bidding, or does he count on you thinking at all?”

 

Butch’s shake of his head was all Tom needed. Jerry was a control freak. Butch was just a body. Trevor only slightly more than that. The pieces were falling into place in Tom’s mind. He knew how to get Jerry here.

 

“Play the fool then. It is understandable to be scared of disappointing the boss.” Tom paused a second to emphasize the double-meaning of his statement. If being afraid of Tom helped Butch appear to be afraid of Jerry, all the better. “You are the good simpleton trying to figure out what to do next.”

 

Butch nodded along with Tom’s words. It appeared that he was forming a plan in his mind as Tom spoke. If Butch played his role well, then Jerry would be here soon enough.

 

“Is there anything else I’m missing?” Butch shook his head. Good. Now for the hard questions.

 

“Do you have family, friends, or loved ones of which Jerry is aware? Is he the type to seek to harm them to punish you?” Butch’s solemn nod and sad eyes was all Tom needed to see. “Then give Tex their names and addresses and phone numbers. We will look after them while all of this is happening.” Tom leaned forward and rested a powerful hand on Butch’s shoulder. “Believe me when I say that I want this to be the first of many more collaborations between you and I. We will keep you and yours safe while we deal with this.”

 

Butch smiled warmly and looked at Tom the way a puppy stares at their master. Butch was Tom’s. Totally and completely.

 

“He is a magus. Have you ever seen him use his powers?” Butch shook his head. Well, so much for that. That bit of information Tom was afraid he’d have to learn first-hand. Tom turned his chin up and to the side, cracking the vertebrae in his neck as he did so. “You ready?”

 

Butch nodded and reached for the phone. Tom and Roderick exchanged brief glances before Roddy shifted his focus to Butch. Only Tom and Ahanu, presumably, in the warehouse truly knew what Roderick could do. That secret was the closest thing to silver as a paramount weakness of Tom. If the wrong people knew how heavily he leaned on Roderick, Tom would have a much different problem to contend with.

 

Butch picked up the phone and deftly dialed a series of numbers. Tom memorized Jerry’s phone number but wanted to see if Butch knew it...and if he’d dial it. Another test, but one Tom already knew the answer to. The tell-tale tones of the numbers being pressed matched the numbers Tom had in mind. His preternatural hearing serving an unusually subtle purpose this time.

 

As the phone was ringing, Butch’s finger hovered over the speaker phone button as he looked at Tom. Tom shook his head. This would be seen as a sign of trust, but Tom would be able to hear the conversation as clearly as if he had the phone to his ear as well. Finally, someone picked up.

 

“J-j-jerry? S-something weird is going on here! Where is everyone?! D-d-id…” Butch gulped, barely able to get the words out. This was partially Roderick’s influence, but Butch did have a genuine fear of Jerry. “…did I miss something? T-t-revor and the others are gone! The boxes are too! I’m so sorry! Where am I supposed to be?!”

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Gallo’s smile stuck with her as she left the building and made her way to the car where her adventure waited. Sincerity. It irritated her. Hell, the whole world was irritating her at the moment. Eris London didn’t get involved. She didn’t make friends, and she sure as hell didn’t share private moments. That was the second damn time it had happened with the Were. Damn it. She gave orders, and her orders were followed or consequences were swift and unforgiving. To expand her circle meant trust, to trust meant building relationships. Building relationships meant letting people see things she didn’t want them to see. Break the illusion that she was impenetrable. Unshakable. Fuck Calloway. She couldn’t let loose on anyone else at the moment, so Calloway was the only person she could rightfully curse silently for making her expand her “collegial” relationships.

 

Hand smacked the side of the car door where the two were housed. Whether or not Jerry would have done such a thing was secondary, it satiated her irascibility for that moment and got their attention. They were excited as she jingled the keys and opened the door, slicing the zip ties with a box cutter that had conveniently –and logically- been in the rear pants pocket. She tossed the keys at one, who jumped into the driver’s seat, the other stayed in the back as she rode shot gun. Pulling Trevor’s phone out, she motioned for the driver to hurry up and figure out the unfamiliar car as she continued to look over her shoulder for “someone” to be following them. She’d pretty much resolved this one of her car fleet was either getting trashed or they’d have to retrieve it later.

 

*npc* “Holy shit…”

 

The one in the rear seat was babbling out loud, watching behind them as they drove to make sure they weren’t being followed. The driver was actually going somewhere with purpose. There was a contingency plan in place.

 

*npc* “…what the hell happened? They came from nowhere!”

 

She made a point to check all her weaponry, and could scowl really well, letting the two babble to each other about how horrible the whole ordeal was and even going so far as to verbally ogle Ahanu, their captor. Good grief. They were heading toward the upper east side. Interesting.

 

*npc* “We going back to central?”

 

That was a good question, were these guys grunts or planners? They knew the contingency plan but seemed to have no understanding that they could be followed or the car could be jacked. They were grunts, they were told what to do. Trevor, as much as she hated to admit it, was the brains?

 

She nodded and resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

 

They also seemed to not question “Jerry’s” presence. That could mean several things: they accepted Jerry got them out of trouble personally when things went sour and things went awry often, they expected it to go south, or they were green as hell and Trevor was put in place to make sure things went south. Was this a set up?  Were these guys not supposed to make it out?

 

Shit.

 

How long had Gallo been looking for these guys? They had to know Bakkhos wouldn’t just let this issue go and they would be actively and aggressively pursuing the problem. It had all the marks for a trap.

 

That took balls. Jesus, they were trying to rumble Bakkhos.

 

She was reaching into her pants pocket for her own phone when Trevor’s sprang to life. She answered it, the accusing string of profanity making her eyebrow quirk slightly. Jerry? Well then, he was a joy. She hung up.

 

“Stop the car,” she said quietly, menacing. All it took was hearing his voice once. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do. She was never great at voices, especially men. It didn’t matter at the moment. They pulled over in front of a shuttered store and she got out, closing the door and waiting for the call she knew was coming again as she watched the two in the car keep glancing nervously in the direction they had come from. Phone rang. Jerry again. Now, she had to be a baby asshole vampire. She could do that without changing her appearance, but it took effort.

 

*npc-Jerry* “Trevor what the HELL is going on? One of your grunts just called and said you left? Where’d the hell you go? That shit wasn’t supposed to be moved until morning!”

 

“That’s not what you told me,” she hissed. Playing the fool and picking a fight.

 

*npc-Jerry* “You were supposed to hold there until morning and bring it back in! Damn it Trevor! I’m at the east site, west and north are already set. I don’t have time to deal with this shit. Get your ass back there, I’ll be there in twenty to make sure you didn’t fuck anything else up. Get there and HOLD there. CALL me if there is any contact.”

 

“Got it,” she hung up. Contact? Interesting. Lifting and dialing the other phone, she rang Ahanu. “Incoming in twenty. They were supposed to hold the shipment there until morning, then pull it. They have three other sites in the city right now. I think they’re specifically bread-crumbing to see if Bakkhos is on to them. I think their endgame is Gallo... to kill him, provoke him, take him… I don’t know yet. Don’t let him out of your sight.”

 

*npc-Ahanu* “Got it.”

 

She got back in the car. They were reaching the point of no return. She could only hold this form for so long, and it would take a certain amount of time to make it back. The test was if she could hold up the charade to the end of the line to get enough information to be of use without leaving herself so weak she couldn’t defend herself if necessary.

 

The bigger question was if Jerry was ready at any point to encounter Bakkhos, what kind of magus was he, and what kind of muscle did he have behind him? It was no secret Gallo was a fighter. She knew that damn stadium could come back to bite them in the ass. What group would have the guts to do this to a Capo, let alone Bakkhos? They were flying in the face of the most powerful group on the east coast. It left very few options, and none of them she liked. He was an example. If they could take down the strongest fighter, how would that make Bakkhos look? This was meant to break their reputation and destabilize their hold. It wasn’t about killing people, it was about putting Bakkhos into chaos.

 

They rolled to a stop, turning and going underneath a high rise into a parking structure. This was no fringe operation in an empty warehouse. It was bankrolled. This was as far as she could go with these two, and Jerry would have to disappear as well. As the car parked in the quiet underground garage, her movements blurred. Behind her a broken neck, the driver was food. Sitting in the dim darkness and feeling sustenance soak into her veins like water on cracked earth; she didn’t have much time left, even with recharging. The mana was not bound to her vampire side. It would fade out, and leave her exposed. Dumping the driver into the back seat, she situated them neatly and slid over to drive. She would head back to the warehouse and drop the charade as soon as she was clear from this building. Seems she would be able to save the car too.

 

Heading toward the exit, she had to get past the gate guard.

 

Stopping, she expected it to just go up. It didn’t. Window slid down a crack, glaring up at the guy.

 

*npc* “Sorry, you just always do it yourself…”

 

She shrugged slightly with a Jerry smirk and rolled the window back up. The gate lifted and she was on her way into the snowy darkness. Phone was snapped open as she drove, allowing everything to slide away. It hurt like hell coming out of it, bones melding back into their memory, muscles knotting and finding their normal positions.

 

As soon as Ahanu picked up, the words were quick.

 

“I think Jerry is a goddamn telekinetic…” she said quickly. “I’m on my way back, get Mouse over there, NOW...”

 

Ahanu knew why. She HATED telekinetics. The wild card of the magus world. They were unquestionably up there with magus that could screw with somebody’s mind. Strength was a crapshoot with someone that could just as simply throw you across a room. Stop bullets. Choke you to death. Rip you in half. Impale you with shit you didn't see coming. They were sleepers. Dangerous and unpredictable. Mouse had skill that could circumvent him, if given the right set of circumstances, and she had the speed to knock him on his ass if necessary. Otherwise, it didn't matter how strong or skilled you were... he was minutes from them, and she was weakened and not going to be there in time.

 

This was the moment when she hoped his people were ready for this....

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Tom could clearly hear the string of profanity spewing from the phone after Butch performed. Tom smiled slightly as he listened. Butch did well. Roderick helped him along with some minute emotional tweaking, but he was confident that Jerry would have bought it regardless. Based on the stream of profanity coming over the phone, it appeared that he was emotional…irrational. Tom could use this. Tom was all too familiar with the war of emotions vs. reason; however Tom deliberately waged that war on behalf of reason against the emotional beast. Jerry, Tom suspected, did not.

 

Jerry hung up the phone before Butch could respond. He must be on his way then. It was time to go. Most of the crew that cleaned up had left by now. Tom kept about ten men or so back for when Jerry arrived with…whoever else may come.

 

Tom turned to Tex and said, “It’s time to get Butch out of here.”

 

Tex nodded and said, “Come on, kid. Let’s get you somewhere safe.” Wordlessly, Butch followed with a thankful nod towards Tom as he left. Tom was still a bit apprehensive…he couldn’t shake it…but maybe he was just being overly pessimistic. It was easy to do these days.

 

Ahanu suddenly had a phone in her ear saying, “Got it.” And hung up. Looking to Tom she was all business. “Jerry will be here in twenty. Shipments were supposed to be held until morning. There are three other sites. Eris suspects they are testing to see if you are on to them.” Ahanu hesitated slightly, perhaps in apprehension about how Tom would react to the next bit. “She thinks their endgame is you.”

 

Tom kept his face neutral. Inside, his head was roiling with conflicting emotions, feelings, thoughts. He suspected that this was a feeling out of some sort. It still wasn’t clear how ambitious the goal was. Did Bakkhos finally have a rival willing to contest them openly? If they could take down the Prize Fighter Figurehead…what next? Tom was trying to keep this problem isolated under his purview for the moment…but maybe he’d have to bring in the other Capos to demonstrate that Bakkhos, while compartmented, is not a union of separate enterprises. No. Bakkhos was a family…in every sense of the word. This was a unique challenge. His authority had been challenged before by would-be usurpers. Tom always came out on top. This felt different. This was different.

 

Tom sat silently for a minute, thinking. Planning. Then Ahanu answered her phone again. Tom tuned in to the words coming out of the phone this time. A telekinetic? He’d heard of them. Horror stories of beating beaten up by invisible hands. Action without the equal and opposite reaction. Tom growled again. Either Jerry was the top of this…or someone was able to employ telekinetic lieutenants. Absently spinning the ring on his finger, a plan began to form. It was a gamble, everything was lately, but it might just work. He had to know more first. Now.

 

After Ahanu had called Mouse to come to the warehouse, Tom asked, “You said you are an Air Magus. How much air can you move, and how quickly?”

 

 Tom started to stroll toward a small office off to one side and motioned the others to follow. It was a windowless room to the exterior. There was one big window facing the interior of the warehouse and one on the door. There was a fairly nondescript desk with a pair of generic chairs on one side and a higher-end office chair on the other side. This room should work, assuming Ahanu could do what he hoped.

 

“Could you turn that room into a vacuum? If two men entered, could you suck the air out of the room fast enough that they could pass out?”

 

Tom knew he couldn’t exchange blows with Jerry. Jerry would never let him get that close. That was the mistake the blaster made in Satyr Stadium a while back. He let the brute touch him. Jerry wouldn’t allow that to occur. If Tom was the target, specifically Tom and not Thyrsus, then Jerry was chosen specifically for that reason. Tom had to get Jerry to let his guard down. If Jerry was indeed subordinate to someone…then Jerry was likely kept on a short leash…especially where his powers were concerned. Killing Tom Gallo in some obscure warehouse was not the headline-grabbing shock to the system this cabal was after. It was Gallo’s reputation they were after, not necessarily his blood. Regardless, Jerry would protect himself from attack. So it was up to Tom to make sure Jerry believed he wouldn’t be attacked.

 

If he could lure Jerry into the room to chat, Tom could get him talking. Not with any hope of learning intel…that would come later. Instead, he just needed Jerry and himself in the room with the door closed. Ahanu would do the rest…sucking the air out of the room until both Tom and Jerry collapsed. It wasn’t a guarantee…and Tom was reasonably certain that Jerry wouldn’t even enter the room. Tom was banking on his reputation as a businessman and Capo to outweigh his reputation as a prize-fighter. It really was a toss-up.

 

Tom strolled into the room and nodded as he noticed that this office was nothing special. A small-time office with folders, paperwork, a file cabinet, and other sundry office items. It shouldn’t appear threatening to anyone. Especially since Tom would offer his back to the man by entering the room first. Tom was sure he could withstand an assault of some kind…but only for so long. This had to work.

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Very few things made her move like a bat out of hell.

 

Those she protected being in danger was at the top of that list. Holding herself together until she reached home base was the ultimate challenge. Crashing the party weak and half-cocked would benefit no one, but it would give an excuse for the violence she was about to unleash. Not that she needed one.

 

The weather didn't make for great “bat out of hell” driving. She knew she could move faster on foot as the crow flew, pulling into a dimly lit parking garage and backing into a space. Trunk was popped, another reason she wanted to stay with the car as long as possible. The floor of the trunk clicked open, a cornucopia of items she knew she needed in any situation readied for last ditch states of affairs. A scenario didn’t exist that she didn’t have a plan for. Discarding clothes that were too big and rightfully chaffing in everywhere they shouldn’t, she tossed them in a corner of the trunk one by one as they were replaced with slick tactical gear. Fashionable, of course. Much less stiff than what she’d been wearing earlier. Basic gear always was, this was formulated for her to be able to move between known and unknown and not be noticed either way. Ready for a fight, still suitable to walk through a crowd without alarm. Weapons snapped into place, a pair of breakaway Asps on her thighs just under the longer coat. Hair was slicked back into a tight ponytail, the entire change taking merely moments before the trunk slammed shut and she was on the move. She was going to burn that shit when they got back to her compound and scrub her skin raw in a shower.

 

The Were owed her one for that.

 

+++

 

“You said you are an Air Magus. How much air can you move, and how quickly?”

 

The arched brow was neutral, still not amused. This was a place Ahanu was pretty sure she didn’t want to go; definitely not because she was concerned with Gallo’s safety. Her primary concern was her boss, and the fact she’d been told to stay put when she knew London was off on her own doing something she should have back up for. The woman didn’t share much with the air magus lately, and she’d begun wondering just who this Were was and where he fell in the Viceroy’s bigger plans. Her quirked, deadpan expression may have betrayed her thoughts, she didn’t care about that either. His opinion of her wasn’t a worry she entertained.

 

She moved with him, watching the gears turn in his head. Answering was pointless until she knew what the parameters were.

 

“Could you turn that room into a vacuum? If two men entered, could you suck the air out of the room fast enough that they could pass out?”

 

*npc* “People don’t pass out right away,” she said quietly. “The room isn’t built for it… walls would implode before that happened.”

 

His idea did have merit though.

 

*npc* “Mana can sense mana too. If he’s true telekinetic, he’d push the walls out before I could do it.”

 

Realistically however, the air magus was as close to telekinetic as one who wasn’t got.

 

*npc* “But, I can move air so he can’t take a breath and objects so he couldn’t get hold of one. Think, small tornado,” she smiled lightly. “He might control an object, but I control the flow of air around it and could send it right back at him or rip it out of his control.”

 

Tug of war, in hopes he wasn’t as strong as she was.

 

*npc* “Get him in here to chat, and I could. Distract him while I do it, and it’s an even better chance. Shoot at him or something,” she said plainly. “Knocking you out isn’t an option.”

 

She smiled slightly.

 

Because the Viceroy would have her head.

 

*npc* “The bigger problem is none of Jerry’s goons were magus. He’s going to sniff me out in a second.”

 

Lights flickered a moment, the magus barely blinking. The lights were a silent signal of some kind. Mouse was in the house; the off the grid member of the petite Sheut’s team that had been the starting point for the partner-up with the Were some time ago. The woman had already no doubt slipped in undetected. She was like an eavesdropper from hell, able to hear and disrupt communication, and even tell electronics what to do. Mouse could potentially disrupt Jerry’s power, not destroy or negate it, just make it go haywire. They were going to find out soon.

 

*npc* “He’ll definitely know both of us are here. Mouse can potentially disrupt the man’s telekinetic signal. Can’t stop him, just can make it so he can’t control it.”

 

Every instinct told her they should go, Jerry would know they were there. Eris told them to stay, meaning they were there to protect Gallo and his holdings. The Sheut had some fucking explaining to do.

 

*npc* “I can take him down if Mouse can frag his signal. Hard part is getting him in here once he knows we’re here. Though, if he’s as much as a pompous jackhole as he seems, that might not be the problem.”

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Tom didn’t like asking questions that revealed his ignorance. When it came to mages…Tom was out of his depth. Ahanu’s quirked eyebrow and neutral expression reinforced this feeling in Tom. If the legend of Tom Gallo was to be shattered…Tom knew it would come at the hands of a mage, or at least in their presence. This made his inevitable rendezvous with Jerry even more unsettling. Tom was gambling in a realm where he didn’t have the answers. He recruited the right people to help with that…so that part was hedged at least. It didn’t mean he felt any better about it though.

 

Ahanu’s quick dismissal of his original idea reinforced his ignorance. This exhaled what amounted to a soft chuckle. Ahanu had spent considerable time with Eris…he could see her influence in Ahanu’s mannerisms.

 

*npc* “Mana can sense mana too. If he’s true telekinetic, he’d push the walls out before I could do it.”

 

Interesting. It made sense that mages could sense one another. Tom could pick out other weres based on scent a long time before he ever set eyes on them. Why not have a magicky way for mages to do the same?

 

*npc* “But, I can move air so he can’t take a breath and objects so he couldn’t get hold of one. Think, small tornado,” she smiled lightly. “He might control an object, but I control the flow of air around it and could send it right back at him or rip it out of his control. Get him in here to chat, and I could. Distract him while I do it, and it’s an even better chance. Shoot at him or something,” she said plainly. “Knocking you out isn’t an option.”

 

Tom rubbed his chin as he was thinking. So, she could move air specifically the same way that Jerry could move objects? Specialized, limited…but more potent maybe? He paused a moment when she mentioned that knocking Tom out wasn’t an option. A standing order perhaps? He and Eris needed to have a long talk once this night was over. Tom had a lot to do though…and less than a week to complete it before he had to go Upstate again. The moon was rarely convenient.

 

*npc* “The bigger problem is none of Jerry’s goons were magus. He’s going to sniff me out in a second.”

 

This seemed to agree with what she had said earlier. A lot hinged on how Jerry responded to surprise. Was he an arrogant blowhard who knew he was walking into a trap and simply believed it would never work against him? Was he the oblivious type who wouldn’t see it coming? Was he a flighty ghost of a person who fled at the first sign of trouble in order to preserve himself? This was a gamble. Tom only had one shot at making this work before it became much more messy.

 

*npc* “He’ll definitely know both of us are here. Mouse can potentially disrupt the man’s telekinetic signal. Can’t stop him, just can make it so he can’t control it.”

 

The light flickering cause him to glance up in the rafters to where the lights should be. Mouse. The reason this gathering of people was together today. Had she dived into any of the neighboring buildings during the night of the Blood Moon, Eris and Tom would have never met. Tom supposed he owed her something…not sure what yet. But something.

 

Based on what Ahanu was telling Tom, it seemed as if Jerry’s powers could be dealt with if they worked together. If he were busy contesting with mages, maybe he wouldn’t see the blunt end of an axe coming to meet the side of his head. Tom nodded thoughtfully as Mouse’s talents were brought to light.

 

*npc* “I can try to knead out his curiosity and confidence when he first gets here too.” Roderick offered. “If he’s half as dangerous as Ahanu claims, then keeping him from getting erratic would be recommended.” Roderick paused a moment, “You know that means…”

 

Tom nodded, cutting Roderick off. “…that I’m on my own.”

 

Roderick would not be able to influence the moods of Jerry and Tom at the same time. Controlling Jerry was more important than controlling Tom at this particular moment. It was another risk. If Jerry deliberately tried to provoke Tom…it was likely to work. The moon was rarely convenient.

 

A plan was forming in his mind. He couldn’t hide the mages, Ahanu made that clear. So they had to be advertised. Ahanu up front with the outer guards when Jerry rolls up. Tom wanted to set an ambush…but the more he thought about it, the more dangerous it seemed it would be…to his crew. If Jerry was powerful enough, a lot of people could die that didn’t need to. If, however, Jerry rolled up to a warehouse and a pair of guards were out front with Ahanu close by…she could protect them from any surprise assault…Mouse could be inside. Tom wasn’t sure he’d be able to convince her to operate out in the open. The thoughts and details were filling themselves in his mind even as he spoke.

 

“The perimeter guards and scouts can stay where they are. They will switch from sentries to containment once Jerry gets to the front door. At the front I want two guards plus Ahanu.” Tom looked Ahanu in the eyes and just as he could see the quiet determination behind her eyes, she too would see the steely resolve and furnace burning behind his.

 

“Ahanu, since I can’t hide you, we might as well present you. That will be the most shocking surprise that he is most likely to react violently to. Once the shock of his warehouse being compromised wears off, you can invite him, and whomever he wishes to bring with him into the warehouse. Allowing him to bring his goons will increase his confidence and sense of security…lowering his guard somewhat. Roderick, this is where you come in.”

 

Tom switched his gaze to Roderick. “He undoubtedly knows who you are. So, meeting you here will hardly seem surprising after he realizes his warehouse is mine now.” Tom paused. Thinking. Yes, this seemed like the best tactic. “Once you have eyes on him, you can assess if he needs soothed or not. Once you are satisfied, you can bring him to me here.”

 

Tom had waved toward the office he had been standing in earlier. Tom had entertained a few different paths forward with this introduction. Until now, Jerry and whomever he worked for believed they had the upper hand on Tom. Truth be told, they did. Tom had briefly considered letting Jerry believe that longer and use his ego to reveal truths that would otherwise be hidden.

 

Tom dismissed that idea quickly after he heard his voice come out the other end of the phone when Butch called him. No. Tom made a read of the man then. Tom was banking on that reading being correct. If Tom miscalculated, this could go very poorly. He had to be right.

 

“Jerry’s confidence comes from his perceived control. His hot-headed anger at the first hint of things not going to plan revealed that about him. He’s coming expecting a fight. We need to communicate to him, once inside, that he has already lost.”

 

Tom’s face softened slightly as he looked at Roderick. Roderick’s face sank noticeably. He knew what he had to do, and didn’t like it. He always felt a bit of the emotions he was trying to make others feel. This lead to good times when he was trying to sweeten a person’s mood…the opposite is true the other way as well. Tom was asking him to bring despair to Jerry. It would take a toll on Roderick.

 

Roderick looked down and took a deep, steadying breath. He looked up at Tom’s face with steely determination and nodded solemnly. He knew what had to be done and accepted it. Tom knew in his heart that he was the only person Roderick would do this for. He would never be able to repay him enough for this. Tom hated himself for it.

 

Growling slightly, he held up a hand to stop Roderick. He no doubt felt what Tom was feeling and instinctively moved to dampen it. He had to save his strength. Tom would be fine. This would have been much easier two weeks ago. The moon was rarely convenient.

 

“Mouse, wherever she is now, will need to reveal herself. I can’t have Jerry spooked because he counts one less mage than he can see. I would have her sit in the office with me, but will not force that upon her if she so chooses.” Tom paused and looked sternly at Ahanu. “But, as you said, she’ll be noticed. If she can’t be seen, then she can’t be present. I’ll leave that decision to you. Either she is here and visible, or she is out.”

 

Nothing about that last sentence was a question, suggestion, or anything other than a command. Tom knew Ahanu was not his to command, but if she was to remain, then she had to cooperate. This was the Tom Gallo that rumors spoke of. The reputation he had earned painted this picture of him. Authoritative strategist who was ruthless in operation. Tom expected Ahanu would have an objection, but his countenance communicated plainly that the objection was unwelcome. Only the decision of the choices offered by Tom. Anything else was unacceptable.

 

“Inside the office will be myself, Jerry, a single person he might choose to bring in with him, and either Mouse, Ahanu, or no one.” Tom continued. “He won’t step willingly into a trap where he doesn’t have at least the illusion of parity. Even if he knows he is likely done. His pride won’t allow it. So, either I operate at a deficit or at perceived equity.”

 

All of that setup was to paint the picture that Jerry’s operation was over. Tom sitting comfortably in an office that was believed to be Jerry’s less than an hour ago would deal a crushing blow to his confidence about the operation. If this was shut down so totally, what about the rest? This was the ambush he had to set. Worst case, only the small number of people in the office would get hurt before the rest of the troops outside contained the danger. If Tom was one of them, so be it.

 

“From here we will learn how smart Jerry is. If he has a head on his shoulders, he’ll realize he is done. Finished.” Unless there is something that Tom hadn’t planned for. This was possible…but he didn’t have time to think through all possibilities. “He’ll either submit in an attempt to save his own skin…or lash out in a desperate attempt to escape.” Tom glanced briefly at Roderick before continuing, “If we all do our jobs, that shouldn’t happen. Either way, Jerry doesn’t leave here on his own terms.”

 

That last sentence was delivered in a tone as cold as the grave. Not even the least-trusting person would suggest he was bluffing now. The most skilled manipulator would know that changing his mind was impossible now. This ended now.

 

 

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A sting had plagued the back of her spine for the last several blocks, creeping ever upward to settle in the base of her skull. The familiar sensation was a warning. She had to be careful. Pushing to the edge of her extraneous fun time was always a risk. Risks came with her current position. They had also been a staple in her life thus far. She’d never had qualms about putting her life on the line for others even when she professed to hate everyone. The viceroy had a small circle of loyalty, those within it she viciously defended. With the Sheut, she was loyal to a fault. She understood the chain of command. It was the individuals she took issue with. The small viper didn’t tolerate Sheut grandstanders that were self-indulgent, she saw every situation for what it was. Games were hard to play with those that knew they were cheating to win. This felt like a cheat-to-win. Someone was stacking the deck and treading on her territory.

 

Like hell she would be the loser.

 

+++

 

Ahanu was always the visage of a perfect body guard. Impressively well put together, stoic with a formidable presence even though she was silent most of the time. As Roderick confirmed the Were would be on his own to weather the incoming emotional storm, there was no outward response. Eris would not like this. She’d made it clear many times that if Weres were involved her people would take cues from her. This was uncharted territory now.

 

Eris wasn’t here, and decisions needed to be made. His glance up as Mouse made herself known was noted. Stevie wasn’t just messing around with the lights, she was talking to the building; what was electronic, what wasn’t, and what kind of data the alarm system may or may not have used and whether or not she could use it. She was a complicated creature.

 

“The perimeter guards and scouts can stay where they are. They will switch from sentries to containment once Jerry gets to the front door. At the front I want two guards plus Ahanu.”

 

She listened quietly to the Capo’s plan. He needed to know she would not protect his people; her instructions were to keep he and Roderick alive, as well and Mouse and Toby until she returned.

 

“Ahanu, since I can’t hide you, we might as well present you. That will be the most shocking surprise that he is most likely to react violently to. Once the shock of his warehouse being compromised wears off, you can invite him, and whomever he wishes to bring with him into the warehouse. Allowing him to bring his goons will increase his confidence and sense of security…lowering his guard somewhat. Roderick, this is where you come in.”

 

The air magus was being placed in the direct line of fire. Not something she would have strategically done, but it made sense. Being exposed wasn’t what worried her. Her boss didn’t like either of them in the open on the front, ever.

 

“He undoubtedly knows who you are. So, meeting you here will hardly seem surprising after he realizes his warehouse is mine now. Once you have eyes on him, you can assess if he needs soothed or not. Once you are satisfied, you can bring him to me here.”

 

Eyes moved to Roderick. Getting Jerry into the front door without killing the bastard was going to be a challenge. He would either bolt when he realized it was a ruse, or fight. He knew he was screwing with Bakkhos, and it would be a dumbass move to take them on. Jerry suspected nothing, or he was powerful enough not to care. Delivering him to the office without getting Roderick killed was also a challenge.

 

“Jerry’s confidence comes from his perceived control. His hot-headed anger at the first hint of things not going to plan revealed that about him. He’s coming expecting a fight. We need to communicate to him, once inside, that he has already lost.”

 

Jerry’s confidence came from being an asshole. Magus could be incredibly arrogant, but this arrogance… had to be a higher form of control he’d been given. Protection that gave him the confidence to know that whatever he did he’d be taken care of. She didn’t like the thought of it. Eris had to know it too. She needed to be here in case this thing went sideways.

 

Maybe that was always her plan.

 

Shit, she was going to try to run her end and intercept the asshole before he got here. Damn it. She was coming in hot, which would make her violent. That was exactly what she was doing. Damn it! Ahanu had to make a decision too, and divulging information to the Were was a task to be taken seriously. Eris would be furious, but Gallo needed to know.

 

*npc* “Ms. London has her suspicions that this is not just random, that one of our own is making a play for Bakkhos.”

 

‘Our’ was clearly not vampire, or Eris’ compound. The Nation.

 

*npc* “She is trying to protect you and yours. Be aware that it might not just be a magus that is coming. It may also be more Sheut Ka. This hesek may have been a rogue, but those who may be coming next most likely will not be, and killing them has a higher cost.”

 

Eris would be held responsible after she would mandated to punish her own; if they weren’t executed first.

 

*npc* “I know her, and she’s going to try to get here before Jerry. If Jerry is coming to fight and brings Nation and we kill them, we will be held responsible and the Viceroy would never allow that. She’ll take the lashes for us. Don’t let it happen.”

 

Ahanu took pride in being the calm stoic one, but her expression mirrored his. Why the fuck was she doing this knowing the price? They needed to have a long talk when this was over.

 

“Mouse, wherever she is now, will need to reveal herself. I can’t have Jerry spooked because he counts one less mage than he can see. I would have her sit in the office with me, but will not force that upon her if she so chooses. But, as you said, she’ll be noticed. If she can’t be seen, then she can’t be present. I’ll leave that decision to you. Either she is here and visible, or she is out.”

 

Ahanu nodded slightly toward a diminutive figure at the doorway that had slipped in so quietly she’d pretty much avoided all attention. Black faux hark, kohl dark eyes, some kind of eighties hair band t-shirt under a leather jacket layered over a frayed denim one. Knee high purple Doc Martins were well worn and did little to give her more height. Hands were in her pockets, shoulder leaning on the door frame. It was an odd little family the viceroy had collected.

 

“Inside the office will be myself, Jerry, a single person he might choose to bring in with him, and either Mouse, Ahanu, or no one. He won’t step willingly into a trap where he doesn’t have at least the illusion of parity. Even if he knows he is likely done. His pride won’t allow it. So, either I operate at a deficit or at perceived equity.”

 

Jaw was set. She knew the Bakkhos world was brutal, but it hovered on appearances. If Jerry was connected or employed by the Sheut, they were tangling with an entity that had its own executioner for transgressions. Jerry may sit to talk to Gallo, but he didn’t care about the mob show.

 

“From here we will learn how smart Jerry is. If he has a head on his shoulders, he’ll realize he is done. Finished. He’ll either submit in an attempt to save his own skin…or lash out in a desperate attempt to escape. If we all do our jobs, that shouldn’t happen. Either way, Jerry doesn’t leave here on his own terms.”

 

*npc* “If he is in the employ of a Nation superior, he won’t back down,” she didn’t elaborate, but it was clear now that Eris was locking horns with her own to keep Bakkhos... or for fuck’s sake, Gallo, safe. Ahanu was going to have to answer for divulging it to Gallo that her boss was grinding against the Nation’s orders. She had fuel to fire back however, putting them all in danger for a fucking mob boss. There would be fireworks in that dress down and she was actually looking forward to it. “Our punishments are worse than death. He’d rather us kill him in a fight than go back and face Nation consequences. She let you take the hesek, which alone she’ll have to answer for if they find out. You kill Jerry and he’s attached to the Nation? She’ll answer for that too. Don’t get my boss killed.”

 

Arms had crossed somewhere in the conversation, they went back down to her sides to check her gear. Nodding to Mouse, she moved to take her post and signaled Toby to stay with her. Her boss would not want her without her own protection. For all intents and purposes, the head of the Viceroy’s security didn’t see any of Gallo’s forces as assistance. She didn’t know them. As far as she was concerned, they were not something to be banked on until they proved useful.

 

Pushing into the cold, she noted her own people in position out in the dark. They wouldn’t come closer unless necessary. She stood at the entrance like a sentry, ready to be the welcoming committee, and really hoping for once this ship would get underway before her boss would get back.

 

+++

 

The petit Sheut had located Jerry’s truck. Nobody went this way, this late and in what was becoming a snowstorm. She was tailing it on the rooftops, an easier task with the terrible roads below slowing them down. As they got closer to the warehouse she began to close the gap. In a pick-up with extended cab, six people maybe. If those six people were magus or Sheut, they’d  have a mess on their hands. A few agile leaps and she was silently on the roof of the vehicle as it came to a stop in front of the entrance, with Ahanu in sight. Why the hell was she standing guard? The sting became a tickle, then a flush across her cheeks in anger. Occupants of the truck were human, and a telekinetic couldn't throw shit at someone he couldn't see. Hand punched through the roof of the truck, she yanked one out, his skin cut to ribbons by the shredded metal before she snapped his neck and slid down the driver’s side. Diversion and attack from behind. Window was smashed, dragging Jerry through it and laying him out with a strike between the eyes that ripped the consciousness from him in less than a second. The other two in the vehicle hadn’t even managed to get the door open before she pulled her firearm and shot them both. She didn’t care who saw. For all they knew, she was enhanced and she would leave it at that.

 

The silence was deafening.

 

Ahanu hadn’t even moved, arms still crossed.

 

The Viceroy picked him up by the back of his shirt, dragging him along as she past the silent sentry. Ahanu knew better than to say anything.

 

“What the fuck are you doing out here,” she hissed, really not concerned with who heard. Snow was beginning to stick to her features, diluting the blood splatter on her face into small rivulets. “You facing off a suspected telekinetic alone without me here?”

 

She didn't consider the two standing next to her as assistance. Not with a magus.

 

Her assistant said nothing as her boss passed, her question had been a dress down in itself, not expecting an answer. Even with her size, when she was in full bitch mode her steps could be ominous, dragging the unconscious Jerry along like a ragdoll to the office she could smell the Were in. Mouse. Toby. Dark eyes were almost completely engulfed in pupil as she threw the unconscious captive across the floor like a bowling ball to come to a stop in front of the desk.

 

“He’s not dead,” the spitfire quipped, canines on full display. The blood on her face was itching at her. “His escort of three are. No idea how long he’ll be out. If he’s a Meta or Empowered, we’ve got a real problem. A Magus, find his athames, bind his hands and tape his mouth shut so he can't cast.”

 

*npc* “Magus,” Ahanu confirmed. She’d followed her in. “He’s a magus.”

 

“Then lock his ass down already,” she hissed, the glare at Gallo dangerous before turning to Mouse. "Figure out if you can disrupt his power and search him, his dead friends, and his truck for communication."

 

Last words were resolute, one last glare to Gallo before leaving to clean up. Or, kill someone and have a snack. Or, just kill someone. Who knew with the unpredictable viper.

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 *npc* “Ms. London has her suspicions that this is not just random, that one of our own is making a play for Bakkhos.”

 

Of course. Simple enemies was too much to ask for. Why not have a clandestine faction point their guns at Bakkhos?

 

*npc* “She is trying to protect you and yours. Be aware that it might not just be a magus that is coming. It may also be more Sheut Ka. This hesek may have been a rogue, but those who may be coming next most likely will not be, and killing them has a higher cost.”

 

He felt bad for Ahanu and Eris. They were balancing conflicting loyalties at this point, potentially. He did not envy them this. Tom had loyalties that were sometimes at odds with one another. Hard decisions had to be made then. It wasn’t unique to them. Still…Tom didn’t have to like it. Tom was less concerned about the politics of fighting vampires. That Hesek was quick. If multiple came in at once…his concern was more mortal in nature.

 

*npc* “I know her, and she’s going to try to get here before Jerry. If Jerry is coming to fight and brings Nation and we kill them, we will be held responsible and the Viceroy would never allow that. She’ll take the lashes for us. Don’t let it happen.”

 

Of course, she was. Tom knew many people like Eris in this way. Unaware of their limitations and recklessly flirting with those boundaries. He was less concerned with the repercussions of killing Sheut and angrier with having to account for a weakened Eris coming back into an unpredictable battlefield.

 

“Our punishments are worse than death. He’d rather us kill him in a fight than go back and face Nation consequences. She let you take the hesek, which alone she’ll have to answer for if they find out. You kill Jerry and he’s attached to the Nation? She’ll answer for that too. Don’t get my boss killed.”

 

A low growl came from Tom before he realized it. How many ways can one accidentally get executed? Tom and Eris have needed to have a VERY long talk for some time now. Perhaps, once this was over, they could discuss this at length. Until then, he’d have to work with what he had and try to accommodate as best he could. Were it not for the fact that every time a word of profanity entered Tom’s mind, so too did his late wife’s face…he’d have unleashed a steady stream of them then.

 

Everyone began taking their places and Tom went over the logistics in his head again and again. He had accounted for everything he could conceive of. Removed as much chance from the equation as was feasible given the circumstance. He heard some shouting coming from the front.

 

Eris.

 

As she walked in he saw her dragging a body along with her. Based on the picture he had seen before, this must be Jerry. Well, Tom had accounted for nearly all outcomes. Eris showing up and delivering the enemy was not one of them. This changed things a bit.

 

“His escort of three are. No idea how long he’ll be out. If he’s a Meta or Empowered, we’ve got a real problem. A Magus, find his athames, bind his hands and tape his mouth shut so he can't cast. Then lock his ass down already. Figure out if you can disrupt his power and search him, his dead friends, and his truck for communication."

 

There was something different in her barking of orders to her subordinates. Just as curt and direct as ever. There was just…less substance behind it. Even the glare she spared for Tom was…lacking.

 

She was weak. Whatever she pulled off to take down Jerry must have been swift and brutal. Had she miscalculated; she’d likely be dead. Yes. They were going to have an unpleasant conversation in the future. He didn’t look forward to it.

 

Tom nodded to Roderick as the others went to see to Eris’s orders. Roderick would deploy others to follow Mouse and Ahanu as additional backup in case something went awry…and to gather their own intel on the vehicle and its contents. Roderick himself wound up following Ahanu himself after delegating tasks. He was to observe how Ahanu subdued a mage. This would be valuable information later. Tom trusted that Ahanu wouldn’t leave anything to chance with Jerry. With those things settled, he marched after Eris.

 

She was weak. Had endangered herself, in Tom’s opinion, unnecessarily. He couldn’t argue with the results though. It worked. This time.

 

“Eris. We need to talk.” Tom’s tone was not hostile, but it would be clear to Eris that he had no intention of being brushed off. Eris was about to learn how stubborn Tom Gallo could be…if she wasn’t intent on speaking at the moment.

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She hated being studied.

 

Judged.

 

At that moment she just, hated.

 

Clicks and snaps were sharp as she checked her equipment, Toby had broken off and was just rear of her left shoulder, following closely. The unspoken communication was unique to them. Thumb pressed several buttons on her cell, and Toby went ahead of her to intercept the delivery that was on its way from her compound.

 

“Eris. We need to talk.”

 

She knew he was following, she just needed to find a quiet corner to stand, observe and process the ramifications of the location she'd found Jerry to be based from... apparently she wasn't going to get it.

 

Damn it.

 

Last firearm was secured with a snap and she turned, hands at her sides to meet his eyes. The petite viper said nothing, no blink, no motion, nothing. Violence, anger and hate compressed tightly into an unmoving form with a neutral expression. Within moments, she would be fine. Her things would be here and she would be perfect. There was no way in hell she would eat in front of him though. 

 

She listened to the oiled machine that was their two teams prepping for Gallo's fun time. In a different world, and a different circumstance they could be unbeatable.

 

He just didn't know why she was fighting so fiercely for him yet and she had to keep reminding herself of that. Probably seen as reckless, control freak showboating, and this was not the time or place to explain it.

 

The Nation was trying to take over their organization. Infect it so they could puppet it from within. They didn't understand and appreciate Bakkhos like she did. They were vital to the rebirth of the world. Bakkhos was not stupid. They were not a family that would back down from a fight, or one that wouldn't catch on to what was going on. Their reach was long and as diverse as the Nation. It would be public, it would be bloody, but in the end the Nation would win.

 

...and the world would lose.

 

Eyes flicked to watch several of their employ pass near them, then back to him as they were alone again. Patience was teetering on the edge of her tolerance. If it had been anyone else but him in front of her she would have eviscerated the unconscious magus and been burning the place to the fucking ground already.

 

Somehow, she never seemed to look like she was looking up at the tall Were.

 

A long breath was pulled in, oozing out in calm control.

 

"You have a business to save," her voice was quiet. Eyes looked at the room he had set up in. She nodded toward it. "Go save your business Thomas."

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