There's No Place Like Home (invite only)
Mara sat outside the back of a strange building on the property that belonged to Aidan Xephier and, presumably, his pack of werewolves. It was disconcerting to be here. She had been growing more and more nervous as they approached the area her abilities told her Amir had gone. She tucked her tail around her paws and lowered her head to the little window at ground level. Reaching out a small white paw she pressed against it. Nothing.
A little over a month had passed since Amir had left with his cryptic instructions to find him after this period had passed. Mara had filled the void with many things, most of them involving Jin, some of them involving some simple work for Shades. She and Jin had purchased their new house and had begun moving in together although there was much still to do. The house was very large and neither of them had enough furniture to fill it. Yet the process of shuffling things had consumed plenty of time, which she was grateful for.
It had helped, some, but the minute a month had gone by Mara had gone to Amir's apartment and found something to track him with. Jin, of course, had come with her, as had Bao, who waited down the road out of sight in the car, having no way to come into this place unremarked.
Mara couldn't speak, obviously, as a cat. So she couldn't voice her fears and concerns to Jin. She hadn't expected Amir to be so close. She definitely hadn't expected him to be in werewolf territory. She mewed at the little window, her cry one of fear.
The back of the building was thick with shrubs. She found some that were high enough for concealment and shifted back, knowing Jin was with her. Murmuring softly she huddled against the side of the building, wrapping her arms around herself protectively, nervous about being here.
"He's down there, Jin," she said, anxiety coloring her tones. "He's in this building, underground. "He hates being underground."
She craned her neck and stared but the window was dirty and the room inside was very dark. She waited to hear Jin's voice, knowing he could get into that room. He could find Amir, and they could figure out how to get him to come back with them.
When Amir was safely back at the Manor to give it to him over a nice pot of tea.
Until then he had tried to be a calm efficient member of the Night working on finding the whereabouts of one of the Clan and be supportive of Mara who was surely extremely worried for her Creator. They came to what looked like a castle, Jin following his companion as a much larger though more see through feline. He heard Mara's mew of fear and wondered what she sensed and knew of the building.
He followed his companion to the shrubs, shifting forms but staying blended. Jin leaned close and wrapped his arms around Mara, speaking quietly next to her ear, barely a whisper.
"I will find him. We'll get him out, Mara."
Jin kissed on the cheek, squeezing a final time before turning to leave. "I will be right back."
He passed through the building. It led to a small rectangular room and a heavy reinforced wooden door with one small window. Peering through it Jin could see a body on the floor.
If their kind didn't turn to a pile of ash when they died then Jin would have believed that the supine form before him was dead, and had been for days. It was corpse white, the eyes slitted open, dry and staring blankly. He went to Amir, gently touching his shoulder. Jin could see the cameras on the wall so he didn't speak or become visible. The door was thick and having come through the other side he knew that the only way to unlock it was with a key and, unlike in the movies, it was not hanging on a ring conveniently in the outer room. That it could hold up to a vampire's strength was evident. Scratches, bloody smudges and dents testified to Amir's attempts to pound his way through it. Obviously repeatedly.
Jin touched the back of his fingers gently to one sunken cheek, doubting Amir even knew he was here. It shook him to his friend like this, still and cold; Amir was normally a vital commanding presence in a room. A look over the Huntsman's body showed him whole lines of bite marks the more recent ones not healing at all. One hand appeared to have most of the fingers broken. If it weren't for the self inflicted wounds and the bloody door, Jin would have thought he had been tortured. The shredded clothes were evidence of old injuries long ago healed back when Amir still had blood enough to do so.
Looking around the small dark space, he could see a light radiant blanket tangled at Amir's feet, a watch near one hand and a bag of blood further away. Jin's heightened senses, especially to blood, told him it was canine. Disgusting. The mere thought of drinking it made his gorge rise. He knew from working with Amir on missions in the past that the man needed more blood than most of their kind. Even without injuries he would have been starved to the point of a coma.
Jin made a silent promise to his friend. They would get him out even if they had to take this castle apart brick by brick.
Reluctantly, he returned to Mara to explain the situation.
"He's alive...but unmoving." Jin didn't want to explain in detail but he was sure she would know what that meant. The truth was far worse and she would see it soon enough. "He needs blood. Soon."
Waiting was nearly intolerable. She shifted forms again so if anyone happened to come upon her she could act the part of the wandering feline. It seemed to take forever until Jin returned. His news was not good. Amir was... unmoving? And needed blood? That Jin would deliver this news in such a somber tone of voice meant it was every bit as bad as it sounded. There was no way Amir wouldn't move.
As Mara took it in, she stared into the distance. Comprehension dawned as she thought about it and tears sprang to her eyes. "Oh Amir," she whispered. "You idiot. We'd have found another way."
He had gambled. Like she'd suspected he'd done something foolish, setting up some kind of crazy scheme with small chances of success. It was the exact sort of risky, impulsive, totally Amir plan that had gotten him through two thousand plus years of life.
She looked at Jin. "He's dodging Commands," she said. She knew Subira renewed her Commands on Amir on a regular basis. Without reinforcing them Amir's will was too strong for them to stay in place. "His Creator has been influencing him... forever. He was trying to free himself."
She stared at the dirtied window into the building, wide-eyed, still in shock. "I have to see Xephier," she said decisively. She looked over to Jin. "I have to see him. I can get him to give Amir back. Maybe."
Why was Amir even still alive? Why would Xephier hold him? Mara knew what had gone on between Amir and Xephier's Pack and she couldn't imagine Amir remaining alive unless he'd managed to strike some sort of deal. She explained this briefly to Jin.
"If I talk to him he might let me go. You need to stay here with him. Please," Mara begged. "If something happens someone has to go back home and tell them what happened."
It seemed like a stupid desperate gamble. It might have been necessary but it obviously also very nearly killed him and that seemed to be with people willing not murder him on sight but not overly concerned if he happened to die. That was a rare combination and he wondered how Amir knew to count on such a thing.
"Who is Xephier?" Jin frowned at Mara. She seemed to know the place.
"Whoever these people are they obviously don't much like Amir and you want me to let you go in alone?" He crossed his arms over his chest and looked stubborn. Jin remembered the alley attack all to clearly. He didn't ever want to see it repeated.
She wasn't sure Jin knew that Amir's job over the years had been helping to control and Command the werewolves away from the human-populated cities. The fact was not widely acknowledged and Jin had not been here in Nachton, or in any of the other places Amir generally worked. Amir was one among a number of vampires using Command on weres.
"Amir has been keeping tabs on Xephier and his family for many generations," she said. "That's why Xephier doesn't like him. I'm not sure why he didn't kill him."
At Jin's reaction she decided she maybe shouldn't tell him that she herself was not exactly in the Alpha's good graces. "Then come with me Jin, but stay hidden. I don't think they'll hurt me. I suspect Xephier wants Amir gone."
Mara had spent a very long time helping Amir in his job and that included studying the werewolves and, in particular, their leader. Xephier had been playing it safe since coming to the city and not gone out of his way to cause trouble. Not really. She moved restlessly. "I have to try Jin. How else will we get him out?"
Mara's further information did explain that Amir had been involved in keeping track of the pack and its people. She too seemed to wonder why the shifters wouldn't have just killed the Huntsman. Some sort of warrior honor or something? He did come alone.
"You might be right." Jin acknowledged reluctantly. "I will stay blended... to a point." He understood that they might not be kind and that he might have to restrain his more protective impulses. So long as they did not try to do lasting harm to Mara then he would have to let it go. They both were of the Night and used to taking certain risks and playing certain parts in the line of duty. If they tried to kill her; though then he'd die before he just stood by and let it happen. There would be a few wolves going down with him.
The shifters hadn't killed Amir and it was possible they didn't want the blood of an ancient on their hands. That said, why did they keep him? Information. Now he was useless for that and they needed to get him gone before a war with Anantya broke out because of his death.
He could say they could come back with more people but that might start a war and it didn't guarantee that Amir got out safely. "All right. Be careful."
Jin faded from view once more.
"I know," she said, grateful to have him there and feeling more confident knowing he would be nearby even if he wasn't in sight. She was well aware that Jin wouldn't tolerate her to be mishandled in any way and she felt her heart swell with that simple knowledge. As Jin acceded to her plan Mara leaned forward and kissed him gently as he blended.
She shifted forms and sneaked away from the compound, going around the long way and coming into the front again, this time on two feet. She held her head high, strode confidently right up to the gatehouse that marked the only entrance into the Stafford Academy, as it was formally called, and wondered briefly how long it would take them to recognize her.
Even as she stood there the two guards in the small building were moving out toward her. A huge man and a tall but not enormous woman walked confidently forward. The woman had an unfocused look on her face as it she were listening to a voice coming from her earpiece, which Mara recognized might very well be the case.
"I need to speak to Aidan Xephier," she said.
The man nodded at her, a frown crossing his features. "Stay right there a moment." Then he added, "Please," as if it were an afterthought.
The woman came forward. "Dr. Xephier is unavailable," she said. "If you would care to schedule an appointment I'm sure we could arrange a meeting at a more convenient time."
Mara blinked at them both. "I need to see him immediately," she said softly. "It is a matter of great importance. I assure you, he'll want to know I'm here."
So that last was a gamble, but Mara was definitely working on the assumption that the Alpha would want to keep Amir here any longer than necessary.
"I'm going to have to ask you to come back another time," the woman insisted.
"In that case, allow us to escort you from the premises."
Both guards reached forward at the same time. Mara moved suddenly, backpedaling out of reach and then darting forward, sliding around the side of the man. He whirled, fast for one so big, and grabbed her arm. Mara twisted and brought her hand down on the man's elbow; he didn't budge. Using brute force Mara pulled away.
"Stop!" The woman had pulled out a gun and held it trained upon Mara with very steady hands.
The man took her again, yanking her wrist, twisting her arm up behind her back, and pulling her close to deny her any leverage. Mara struggled briefly.
"Just tell him I'm here," she insisted.
The voice of the Kadzait Alpha commanded attention. Everyone stopped moving and turned their eyes to the very tall man with the mismatched eyes who approached the gate house. Mara noted with mild amusement even from her hold that he wore no shoes.
"Let her go."
"Walk with me."
He waved at his two guards out front. Aaron nodded and jerked his head at Sera, who scowled but lowered her weapon. The two of them did not follow as Xeph turned and walked away.
He headed toward the castle, the small vampire trotting beside him to keep up with him; Xeph didn't slow down. Let her run to keep up.
"He showed up here over a month ago," he explained. "We held him because he needed to be held. He isn't well."
He wasn't going to make excuses. Xephier had not been obligated to keep Amir the jackal in style and comfort. He had done what he could for him but he hadn't been about to give him the blood of innocent humans, nor even bagged blood that innocent humans needed.
He stopped outside of the Castle and turned to the small vampire. "I will give him back to you as a show of good faith. But you will give me information I want first."
He waited and watched. She would agree to this; there were Pipers everywhere right now. They might not be able to see them, but he suspected she knew she was not unwatched. One wrong move and this den of lions would attack.
He silently moved in front of the gun pointed in Mara's direction. If they were just going to threaten her then there was no reason to reveal himself but if they started shooting then he would like Mara to have the chance to get away. Jin could always blend and run if necessary.
A giant of a man came out and told the others to let her go. Jin hoped this was their Alpha and not another person to go through. He was intrigued by the way the man worded the situation with Amir. It just didn't add up with them keeping him for information. He needed to be held? Not they needed to hold him. Strange.
Jin walked along beside them waiting to hear what knowledge would be the price for Amir's return.
When they stopped outside the building that was holding Amir Mara looked up at Xephier with some trepidation, not bothering to hide her suspicion.
"What sort of information do you want?"
She wasn't sure what she could give. Part of her said anything. Anything was worth having Amir back. But another part of her said that if Xephier asked her for something sensitive, they knew where Amir was... they could bring reinforcements.
But if she refused, would Xephier leave Amir alive long enough for them to bring back help?
"When your jackal came here, he was chained." Xeph wasn't about to explain how he knew such a thing. "Because I had mercy on him, because I did not allow my Pack to kill him, he is no longer."
He bent close to the small dark woman. "This man has visited great pain upon my Pack and upon my immediate family. I should have let him die." His lips curled up in a snarl.
"I want to know who chained him," he said softly. "I want to know who I should be taking my revenge from. And then I want you to take your jackal and get the hell out of my territory."
He straightened. He didn't think he was asking for too much.
He then listened to the werewolf, trying to make sense of what he was talking about. Mara's recent words about why Amir was here sprang to mind. He was trying to free himself from his Creator's commands. How did the wolf know? Jin supposed it didn't matter; the point was that the man -did- know and it had possibly saved the Huntsman's life.
Listening to the shifter's words, if what he said was true, and Jin had reason to believe that it was, then he did have plenty of reason to kill Amir. His next words made plenty of sense; having a chance to find the real person responsible was worth letting the soldier live, even one as powerful and dangerous as Amir. How much more lethal was the one who could control such a man?
Jin waited along the Xephier to see what Mara would say. Surely she would tell him. It was not a clan secret. It would get Amir back with minimal harm. It might even help. It would be good to keep the woman occupied. Jin did not know much about Amir's creator but she had commanded her own child to the point that his only recourse was to throw himself on the mercy of werewolves. She deserved their ire and then some.
She felt a sense of relief inside when Xephier made his request but she didn't let it show. If only he knew; Mara was only too happy to sic a pack of wolves on Subira. The two women had hated each other almost from the moment of Mara's turning. She didn't want him to think he could demand more from her.
She stared hard at the building they had stopped in front of. Looking pensive, she chewed on her lip with the delicate tip of a fang. Finally she lowered her eyes and then peeked back up at Xeph. Giving a long sigh she said, in low defeated tones, "All right."
Mara suspected this exchange would have to happen on her end first. She didn't see Xephier extending that much trust to her. But she was all right with that; it would serve Xephier no good to keep Amir. He would be telling the truth when he said he wanted Amir gone. Now that Mara knew where Amir was, Xeph's Pack was certainly in danger if they held him.
"Her name is Subira Atieno. She lives in Africa. In South Africa to be exact."
She nodded her chin toward the building. "Now give back what belongs to me. That was the deal."
She wanted Xephier to think she somehow had some sway over Amir herself. To take some of the focus off of him. The more she could distract him the safer Amir would be. But Xephier didn't move. Mara figured out why pretty quickly.
"I have no reason to lie," she hissed softly. "It pains me to give you any name at all but you want him gone and I want him back. I don't see what choice you have but to believe me, and I have no choice but to believe that you will, indeed, bring Amir to me so that we may leave here unharmed and never return."
That hadn't been part of Xephier's bargain but Mara was happy to throw it in.
His focus did not diminish when she agreed to his one simple demand. "Subira," he repeated flatly.
Would she have lied to him? What would be the purpose in it? If she lied, she must surely know there would be war. Was she unconcerned with that eventuality, or did it really matter to her?
He looked at her again, wishing his intuition could help him determine more accurately between lies and truths. It did help, but sometimes in so vague a way as to be nonexistent. He saw in this tiny vampire a need to reach out and collect something to her. The jackal. She did need him. She was unhappy without him; there was a tie between them.
And in the jackal, instead of chains, now there were hands reaching toward him. Several pairs, not just one. Xeph processed the information. Knowing what would help someone was one thing. Giving it to them was another altogether.
He procrastinated a moment too long and the vampire burst out speaking again, her pale eyes sparkling fervently in the moonlight. Xeph raised his brows at her.
"It goes without saying neither you nor any of your... friends... will return to this place." Xeph shook his head. "If any of you so much as come within proximity of my walls, I will chase. And I will not stop until I have ashes."
He glared at her further. "I will also find this Subira. And if I discover you've lied to me, I hope you're prepared. I hope your friends are prepared."
His threats were only good so far; Xeph truly, truly wanted this entire ordeal to be over with. His heart pounded forcefully at the idea of finally knowing who had ultimately killed his father... his step father. At the idea of finally being free from the jackal's mental presence.
Before the woman could respond Xeph said, "Wait here. Don't move. If you do, I won't stop them."
He let her ponder 'them' while he turned on his heel and walked off into the Castle to retrieve his guest.
The threats from the werewolf weren't necessary, nor were they particularly frightening. Jin didn't want to see another war but their kind won the first time and he was confident that they would again if it came to that. Still they were standing on the wolf's turf and he felt the need growl a warning or two. If it got Amir back without bloodshed then he could talk all he wanted. Jin would just rather it be at someone other than Mara. It was still a better outcome than what they had expected from the encounter. Now he was impatient to get Amir home and well. Blood Comas were scary things; there was a chance that Amir may never be the same again. Jin didn't think that would be the case this time. Amir had not been in this state for very long but that was all the more reason to get him out of it as quickly as possible.
When the Alpha left, Jin reached out placed his hands on Mara's shoulders, coming close so she could feel his presence behind her.
"I'm afraid for him Jin," she whispered, her lips barely moving. Not just now. But for the future. No matter what happened now, Amir would be changed. "He'll never be the same again."
What sort of Creator would she have after this? Would she even have one? Amir was many things to her. Creator, mentor, best friend, and yes, if she were to continue to be honest with herself as she had been with Jin, love. She wanted him back and she would work to make him whole again. She was lucky to have Jin with her, and she didn't forget for a moment that he had supported her even at the risk of his own heart.
Xephier was not long. When he returned Mara felt her heart jump into her throat. He carried Amir over one massive shoulder. Mara could see even from where she was that he looked like skin and bones. She could nearly see his backbone! Her breath hitched but she steadied herself as Xephier approached.
"Take him. And leave. Don't return."
In spite of his rough words, Xephier did not mishandle Amir as he bent and handed him over to Mara's waiting arms. There was no softness in his eyes. Or his manner... but he handed him gently over.
Mara let Amir slide into her arms, sucking in a breath at the feel of his too-bony frame. She looked down at his face. It was frightening. It took all she had to look back up to Xephier and say, "Thank you."
Escorted by the Alpha and knowing that Jin was right next to her, Mara turned and walked toward the gatehouse again, concerned only with getting Amir back to the Manor.
((ooc: all out))