“I have questions, for every single one of you. You can answer them here, or sweat them out back at The Dovecote, it’s your choice.”
Confidence makes the difference. Dante Ansara heard that his entire life, the mantra his sister lived by. It turned out Alexis Dardandus possessed it in spades as well. It drenched the words she spoke, delivered with an undercurrent of casual annoyance. It carried to her scowl and focused glare, and the way her long tail slapped forcefully against the ground. Confidence even carried into her fighting stance, which shouted that neither retreat nor surrender would be options. That sheer force of will could overcome almost any circumstances.
The click of a gun’s hammer refocused his attention on the vast array of weapons pointed at them, hand guns and blades and even just hands glowing with strange energy. They cared little about Alexis’s confidence, and would happily do their job in spite of it.
Their opponents ran a strange gamut, with some in well tailored suited and well coiffed hair and fur, others in clothes that might just fall apart if they dared to wash them. All Emejre, they were of different species, genders and builds, the only common denominator among them a band on their right arm emblazoned with the silhouette of an eight pronged sailing wheel.
Well, unless you counted their desire to see Dante and his new friend dead.
“I don’t think they’re listening,” Dante said.
“Don’t worry,” the wallaby hybrid leaned in closer and whispered. “The ones without weapons, they won’t use their Gifts. Too easy to be traced back to them.”
In his current line of sight, Dante counted two guns and a nasty, curved knife whose dirty blade and dull edge suggested either its owner didn’t care for it properly, or else liked how much more that would hurt.
“I’m not sure it helps, but I appreciate the effort.”
The polar bear closed his eyes and pressed his ears down tight against his head, trying to tune out his other senses. As the sights, sounds and smelled faded, the warehouse revealed itself as a patchwork of moisture. Not nearly enough, however. The room felt dry when they first entered, putting him on edge well before the killers appeared. A few drops of liquid lingered in discarded cups, a little condensation from the air conditioner, a half empty water cooler in the corner. He’d tucked a few small bottles away in his robes as well, but it wouldn’t be enough.
All the same, he concentrated and started to draw the liquid to his hand. Not enough to make a shield, at least not one large enough to protect them from all sides. Were there only a few of them, he could just freeze the weapons themselves, but with so many opponents it would be a waste of energy. They needed a plan, but Alexis’s confidence made her more likely to rush in with blades swinging. If she listened to plans, they wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. And then another voice cut through the silence, as well as his concentration.
“Well well well, ain’t this a surprise?” His attempt to sound tough came off like a cartoon character, even before it cracked on the last word. The lanky figure that strode across the room wore an ill fitting suited that fell out of fashion days before it hit the rack, and time hadn’t done it any favors since. He’d been born a mixture of human and lion DNA, but any self respecting pride would have disavowed the lineage. His scrawny frame befitted a malnourished alley cat than the King of the Jungle, and his attempts at a mane had produced only a thin wisp of fur set against a weak jaw.
“Fitzroy.” Alexis spat the name.
Even with a whole contingent of Dunkirkers between them, her tone and posture name the lion jump. He tried to play it own with a nervous chuckle while adjusting his tie, but he still paced around them with nervous energy. It reminded Dante of a spooked animal, in the instant before he chose fight or flight.
“Yeah, I know you two. Saw you at the big shindig at the Dovecote. Pretty good show both your people put on.” Really, his slang right out of an old Hollywood gangster movie would have made Dante laugh, if he didn’t have the backup with him.
“It wasn’t a show, and now I’m here to see what you know bout the murder of Lord Sabine and his guard.”
“That so? Did the Dovies send you here, or you making this call on your own dime?” He added a mean laugh, conveniently while he stood behind two of his larger men. “Oh, what to do, what to do! The boss says chaos can be good for business, makes people panic. They get sloppy. This here?” He gestured to them. “This would cause chaos in two Castes, doncha think? Just gotta be careful they don’t pin it on us.”
“Or you can tell me what you know, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
“I don’t know nothing about it, except all of us think it’s good for business.” He smirked. “Put it this way, ain’t none of us upset about the changing of the guard that’s going on right now. The old security chief made life hard for us. Damn good thing he’s gone, I say.”
Alexis’s grip on the tonfas tightened, and for a second Dante thought she was going to leap over the pack and attack him, consequences be damned. Instead, she met his look and took in a deep breath. “Fitzroy, you don’t want this kind of heat. Even if you did, I know the Almirante would be furious.”
“The Almirante ain’t here, is he? I’m the one who decides if you walk away in one piece or full of holes.”
Dante finally spoke. “At this point, Fitzroy, you have been making blatant threats to officials of both the Dove and Red Dragon Castes. You should consider your next move carefully.”
Fitzroy stopped in his tracks, his eyes wide in panic. “Then I’m in trouble either way. But…” His fear dissolved into a warped grin. “But that means there ain’t no benefit to letting you live. And since you’re both high up mucky mucks, if we make it look like you killed each other, then the boss gets his chaos!”
“Dante,” Alexis growled, “If we survive this, I’m going to kill you myself.”
He wanted to reply, but the reports of the guns firing would have drowned it out anyway. Either way, it didn’t look like she’d get the chance.
–> Chapter Two