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  • Bashes and Betrayals

    Eris London

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    Eris' Compound

    Masquerade Evening

    Nearly 8pm




    She hadn’t moved, his scent still irritating her nostrils long after he’d gone. It clung to the air, reminding the viper of his unannounced and unwelcome presence. Arms crossed over her dove gray silk faille suitcoat, watching a mechanic run the post-flight check on her smaller helicopter that had been pulled into the hangar- to check for sabotage... but they didn't need to know that.


    Her skin burned in pure rage, her exterior as cool and calm as it always was. The twisted torrent of emotions when she watched Toby take off earlier to return her superior to his own travel arrangements west of the city hadn’t been doused when she saw him return. It was a power play, a goad, a test of her strength and self-control. After threatening her, he’d demanded Toby… her charge, ferry him without her. To get under her skin. Ahanu had been safely spirited away with Roderick to the debacle of Bakkhos’ ridiculous party bash, so the burden had fallen to her kin. It was unforgivable and she truly doubted the man understood the floodgate of ire he'd just sparked.


    Seeing Toby return unharmed had been a small sliver of relief at least.


    She’d called Adrian's bluff, and he now knew she wasn’t going gently into the good night. The Viceroy had stepped into a hornet’s nest with Gallo’s troubles, the depths to which were yet unseen. It was significant enough for Calloway to show up on her doorstep unannounced and piss in her Cheerios. Promise of retaliation toward her was made. A concrete threat for poking her nose into something so far reaching she could have never imaged it. So much was still unseen and she was now at odds with someone who would have her killed if she was wrong about her gut feeling.


    Galloway was a traitor, to what end was unclear.


    She’d dug in to impossible territory; territory that would have an executioner on her doorstep. The last hour with Galloway had been a confirmation of his treachery, the promise of revenge, and the absolute certainty he would twist it to make her the scapegoat… if he hadn’t already. She had to get to Glamis, but she had no proof. There was enough fodder with the troubles of Bakkhos, but beyond that… nothing. Anything about the alcohol shipments he would twist into her off-roading against his orders, it would put her leadership skills in doubt to the right people. Going after him for what she suspected was much more, would be seen as a treasonous coup. It had to be done, for the Nation. How she was going to investigate without her “brother” coming under orders to do his job and remove her permanently? She had no idea yet.


    Phone rang quietly and she reached to silence it, checking the time and glancing at the ID. 




    She thumbed it, the simple message odd.



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    “Tell Mr. Andersen that I wish to speak with him,” Tom spoke into the phone at the unfortunate receptionist who had to bear the brunt of Tom’s ire. Seems word had gotten out and people were avoiding his phone calls. “I want him to tell me when he is available by Monday morning, Cheryl. I trust that I have made myself clear that this is not an option.”


    The receptionist gulped an affirmative before Tom wordlessly disconnected the call. Word had gotten out. Good. Ever since the incident at the warehouse, Tom had been cleaning up his supply lines. Jerry was a tough nut to crack, however…like everyone…he had a breaking point. Eris still owed Tom. He had won the knuckle-bet. The trick was to convince the prisoner that they should fear you more than the other one they are afraid of. Strapped to a slab in one of Strollo’s ‘Conversation Rooms’ was a quick way to step in the right direction.




    Jerry was stubborn. Admirably so, but Eris and Tom both noticed the break at the same time. The weakness revealing itself. Jerry had stared defiantly at the both of them for nearly an hour. Finally, Jerry noticed the deep gouges in the stone. The slight cracks near the 12 ft. ceiling, the 2 inch claw marks in the stone…something big and dangerous had been trapped here, and didn’t escape. Jerry knew he wasn’t getting out.


    Tom locked eyes with Eris and grinned wickedly. They both knew what those were.


    “This is bull shi- -” Eris began before censoring herself. She knew she had lost the bet right then.


    Tom moved in Jerry’s eye-line and made sure he could see Tom inserting his fingers into the gouges left behind by the Beast’s claws. Tom tried to summon the memories from that night. He remembered entering, and waking up and leaving…nothing else. Every once in a while…faint glimpses…ghosts of memories flitted into his mind and away quickly. The thought of imprisonment and confinement raised his hackles instinctively and he rounded on Jerry.


    “This room is Hell, Jerry. I have only been in one place that I despise more than this room. That place no longer exists. I hate this room more than anything. Do you want to know why?”


    Jerry went from defiant, to wary, now to confused. Jerry didn’t respond. Tom continued.


    “The Beast that was contained here…you see right? The claws over there?” Tom grabbed the mage’s head forcefully and jerked it so that his eyes could see what Tom was indicating. “And there…” Tom repeated the process showing Jerry a new set of carnage inflicted on the masonry. “And up there!” Tom slammed Jerry’s head back onto the slab so he could see the damage above. Tom was seething. He had gotten frenzied more than he had anticipated. He noticed Eris subtly placing her hands on the silver-smelling pistol she had behind her hip. Smart.


    Closing his eyes, he took a very long…very slow…very deep breath. He could smell the fear coming from Jerry now. Whomever his bosses were that he was afraid of…it was clear he had never felt a primal, feral fear like this. Tom opened his eyes…brown portals of fury and hatred glaring at Jerry. In a gravelly, bone-chilling whisper, Tom delivered the knockout blow.


    “I couldn’t escape this room. You’ve seen the results of my futile efforts. There is no escape from here. If you desire to ever leave here, it will only be through cooperation.” Tom paused, some calm returning. The transformation of Tom from seething to calm was nearly as unsettling as from calm to seething. It was like stuffing a nightmare jack-in-the-box back inside. It was gone, but not far away. Jerry shuddered.


    “In three nights, I will try to escape from this room again. Unless you wish to be my guest on that evening, you had better start talking.”



    Glancing at his watch, it was around 7:00. He had just enough time to get ready and go pick up Eris. A grim smile spread across his face despite himself. He knew Ahanu was pulling a fast one on Eris. Roderick had been annoyingly independent lately too. Perhaps Eris was right…the two of them getting along as well as they were was creating a problem. Tom shook his head slightly. Tom knew that, someday, Roderick would wear a silver Capo-ring like his. As long as Roderick stayed within the acceptable boundaries, Tom would not stifle his spirit.


    Tom looked over a few things on his desk quickly before standing up to leave. Hanging on the door was a Brioni tuxedo…white satin coat and black pants with a pair of black Testoni leather shoes lying underneath. Tom smiled; Roderick really did think of everything these days. When he opened the letter, Tom’s brows raised in surprise.



    A gift for you, Caporegime. A worthy trophy for the Satyr Champion.





    Tom smiled. Gaspari would do things like this occasionally. Tonight was special. Gaspari had requested this event specifically. Tom was looking forward to it…even if he knew getting Eris to the venue would be a challenge. That challenge made it even more attractive in a way.


    After he did up the last of his buttons, he strode out to his car to head to the air strip. On the way, a thought had donned on him. He didn’t have a mask! How was he to attend a masquerade ball without a mask? As he opened the door, frantically thinking of where he could look for such a thing, a pair of masks were lying on the front passenger seat with yet another note.








    A wolf for you and a viper for your guest. I look forward to being introduced properly at the Masquerade.






    Subtle…almost. Tom laughed as he held the masks. Gaspari was being uncharacteristically jovial with this event. It was a refreshing change from his typical distant aloofness. Even Angelo Gaspari, Capo di tutti Capi, had a soft side.


    Tom drove on to the air strip and he caught a few feint…different scents. A lot of fuel exhaust from multiple aircraft. Things have been busy here. Before Toby could come out to greet Tom, his phone buzzed. A text from Roderick.


    Ahanu set this up against Eris’s wishes. Expect hostility.


    Tom grinned as Toby grew closer to the car. Toby had the look of someone who wanted an excuse to attack someone, but knew better than to go after Tom.


    Toby’s grim look at Tom’s face had the appropriate level of deference, yet Tom knew there was something unpleasant afoot that Toby was not about to share with Tom. Wordlessly, Toby led Tom to the hangar door where Eris’s scent was strongest.


    “She’s in there. She knows you’re here. Good luck.” Then, Toby stalked off to see to another duty of some sort.


    Tom let out a long breath before entering. Maybe her love of nice clothes would keep her from getting blood or grease on his new suit.

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    Toby was moving quietly through his responsibilities, no attempt to debrief his superior about what had happened on the flight. If she didn’t attempt to speak with him, she didn’t need… or want to. He worked closely with Mouse, checking through each of her bullet points as she instructed him to sweep the aircraft. Both, moved quietly and efficiently under the watchful eye of their Viceroy and keeper. Mouse glanced upward as she hopped down from the helicopter, shaking her head.




    At least that was something.


    Adrian hadn’t touched a thing in her office with the exception of the desk chair opposite hers. It was the first thing she’d asked Mouse to sweep. Nothing so far in her own apartments, that was also something. She suspected his appearance and threats were the point of his visit. He didn’t need to spy, because he had no interest in telling the truth or using anything she was actually doing because he would just make shit up anyway. A storm of unimaginable proportion was coming. She considered calling her brother in LA… but she was certain she was probably going to be face to face with him soon in the future anyway. Adrian’s anger over his “loss” with Bakkhos was not something that was going away, and retaliation would happen fairly quickly to knock her off her game.


    She looked at her phone again.




    What in the hell was in the closet, Ahanu had forgotten something? She was going to have to go without it, nobody was leaving the compound and she was of half a mind to send for her to ditch the ridiculous party and come back. Ahanu had no idea Adrian had just paid them a visit, she needed to fill her in.


    The Sheut nodded to the hangar for them to finish and retreated to her apartments. Chopper was clean, the building almost certainly would be as well. Small touch lamp lit up as she closed the door behind her, sliding her suitcoat off and lacing it over a mahogany hanger to hang up in her foyer closet. Nothing unusual in there.


    Eyes narrowed slightly, the same moment the intercom blipped. It was the gate, someone authorized was requesting access. Phone snapped open, the text was already coming in that Gallo was in the hangar.


    Oh for crying out loud!


    Lick of rage tingled her skin from head to toe, full canines tight against each other as her hand clutched the doorknob of the door to her hangar catwalk tightly. Walk down and send him on his way. That wouldn’t be the polite “Eris London” business thing to do. Uncharacteristic growl of frustration fierce, she let go. She’d talk to him in here, fine.


    She leaned her hip on her desk, arms crossed. Suitcoat wasn’t even sought, sleeveless emerald silk shirt beneath a rarity to see even with someone as familiar as Gallo. She just didn’t care at the moment; didn’t care to speak, to touch anything, to formalize herself, to even have a conversation. Send him on his way, then go retrieve Ahanu.


    Toby’s scent made her even more volatile. He’d been threatened, and Adrian knew where to hit her. She’d defied the Nation to keep him alive and under her protection, a pissant like Calloway wasn’t going to harm him. Gallo's scent was next, eyes meeting his when he entered.


    Okay… so the wolf in a tux was divine.


    Eyes cast to the floor.


    “There was a reason I declined the invitation,” she said quietly, dark eyes back on him. “Because I hate parties… and unfortunately now you’ve stepped into the aftermath of a rather caustic visit from my superior. I need Ahanu back here as soon as possible.”


    It was incredibly doubtful Calloway would pull anything in the next few days. It wasn’t his style. When he did, it would be severe and sweeping. Still, she wanted everyone here so she could keep an eye on all of them.


    “I told you there would be consequences,” her jaw was set, muscle in her cheek twitching as the vicious thoughts of payback for threatening her people were in full planning mode. “In all honesty I thought Calloway's tantrum would be sooner.”


    Words had become incredibly quiet. She pushed off her desk and put her fingertip on a piece of paper that had caught her attention, sliding it away from her before she finally approached him. She retrieved her suitcoat from the closet and slid it on. Heels brought him at least a bit closer to his height, but for the first time… ever… she honestly looked up at him.


    “You look fantastic,” quirked smile was quick. Canines were rare, and as a product of anger she really loathed that he would see them. Brow came down in a deathly concerned frown, “but I won’t leave them here alone. Not after we were threatened.”

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    As Tom entered, he noted a strange scent he caught hints of outside, but were slightly stronger inside. Someone Tom was unfamiliar with had been here. Based on Toby’s demeanor and Eris’s darker-than-normal glower, this visitor was most unwelcome. Not in the annoying way, like Tom was currently. This was different. Powerful.


    The mix of annoyance and defiance on Eris’s face was clouded by another emotion. Dread? Whoever this was, it was enough to shake Eris so that she didn’t even put her suitcoat on. She didn’t even meet his eyes for a moment. Were this anyone but Eris, nothing noteworthy had occurred. Since this was Eris, she was clearly a mess! Nevertheless, he caught himself studying her bare arms longer than intended before she spoke.


    “There was a reason I declined the invitation…Because I hate parties… and unfortunately now you’ve stepped into the aftermath of a rather caustic visit from my superior. I need Ahanu back here as soon as possible.”


    Tom nodded. That strange scent must have been Calloway. Things were escalating about exactly how Eris feared, it seemed.


    “I told you there would be consequences. In all honesty I thought Calloway's tantrum would be sooner.”


    Tom could smell the fury escaping through the cracks of what remained of her façade of composure. A battle was inevitable. The only question remained whether or not to defend or go on the offensive. A lot of logistics to work out either way.


    As those thoughts were nearly automatically playing out in his mind, he noticed something. He had lapsed in maintaining conscious guard over the Beast within. His eyes widened momentarily as he became aware of it, but something new had occurred.


    The Beast did not leap forth from its prison of Tom’s conscious will. In Tom’s mind’s-eye, the rage he felt was represented by a large, ferocious, insatiable wolf who craved violence. The two were in constant turmoil, battling each other for control. In his mind’s-eye, there was a box-like prison where the Beast was kept. The constant struggle to maintain control was represented by the Beast trying to escape the box relentlessly…endlessly and Tom consciously struggling to keep the door shut. To Tom’s surprise, his momentary lapse of control yielded a much different result than he was expecting.


    In Tom’s mind, he watched in awe as the Beast calmly stalked out of its prison and circled Tom. As it was doing this, the mental landscape changed and beside Tom stood Eris. Behind them their charges and loved ones. Ahanu, Roderick, Mouse, Matteo, Toby, Victor…and many others. In front of them stood the threats to them from the world. Nameless, faceless masses of those who would harm Tom or Eris or those they cared about. All except one was faceless.


    Calloway. Tom didn’t know what the man looked like, but his representation was clear as day in Tom’s mind. He was the most evident threat at present.


    The wolf then calmly strode in between Calloway and Tom. First it walked over to Eris and rubbed against her leg affectionately. Then it strode to stand beside Tom and nuzzled him much the same way. Then the Beast’s attention focused on the image of Calloway and snarled a feral, rage-filled, angry growl at Calloway’s direction that would have sent shivers down the spine of anyone who could hear it…all while the specter of Jacqueline floated above the scene, nodding approvingly. Tom’s path was clear.   


    As quickly as the vision came, it was gone. Fury burned behind his eyes. Jaw clenched tightly as he let out a slow, long, growling exhale. The mechanical planning was still occurring in Tom’s peripheral mind; however his conscious thoughts were dominated by anger…violence…love. Tom hadn’t even noticed that Eris had put on her coat until she was standing next to him. He was certain this vision with the wolf and their loved ones was just his mind’s way of creating a visual picture of what must occur. How things are…to make sense of it all. When Eris looked up at him, abandoning any attempt at hiding her vulnerability, Tom had to wonder if she didn’t see the same thing.


    “You look fantastic…”


    The quick smile elicited a matching one from Tom as well. Ever the warriors, they were able to smile in spite of the oncoming war. Her quick frown reminded him of what the price of losing that war would be.


    “…but I won’t leave them here alone. Not after we were threatened.”


    Tom’s smile faded as well. He nodded grimly and said, “Then they shall come with us.” He grasped Eris by both shoulders, gently, but firmly. Locking her dark eyes with his, in a near whisper said, “I shall protect them as my own.”


    And you too. He didn’t say that last part aloud, though. She knew, but would likely chafe at hearing the words. Tom had spent the entire post-Nevus years squashing small upstarts that would disrupt the order that Bakkhos was trying to recreate. Now, for the first time since, Tom had a singular enemy with which to engage. Now he finally understood, truly, for the first time, why Gaspari had insisted that Gallo enter Satyr Stadium. The Beast needed purpose to be controlled. No…not controlled. That was Tom’s greatest mistake. A shared purpose was needed to cooperate. Having a family…a pack to protect put the Beast and Tom’s passions in sync with one another in a way that even Satyr fights didn’t provide. This was deeper, more meaningful. Had Tom found a way to live in harmony with the Beast? Only time would tell.


    Tom reluctantly let go of Eris’s shoulders as he reached into his inside coat pocket. “I saw you had the helicopter out. I had the smallest of hopes that Ahanu accepting my invitation on your behalf was genuine, and I thought the chopper outside was evidence that I had been totally wrong.”


    He chuckled softly as he withdrew a mask from his pocket. The mask was green-scaled with orange fangs on either side of the nose. Tom knew without looking that it would fit her perfectly. Slowly, he fit the mask over her head and set it precisely on her face.


    “A gift from Angelo Gaspari. He looks forward to making your acquaintance.” An invitation, or summons…depended on the attitude of the requested.


    A playful grin spread across Tom’s face as he knew he had just gotten away with a number of personal space violations with Eris and spoke before she could protest.


    “Mouse and Toby could be our pilot and copilot. As I recall, you still owe me a flight.”

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    • 2 weeks later...

    Senses honed, watching the quiet swirl of thoughts that she wasn’t privy to moving across his expression. So many times it could churn in the mind of those that were no longer human. She understood, in part, watching whatever beasts tangling within him come to a staunch conclusion. Resolve seethed from him like iron, and then seemed to soften as she looked up at him. Brow cocked gently when his smile faded.


    “Then they shall come with us.”


    A muscle ticked once in her jaw when he placed his hands on her shoulders. First instinct was to stiffen when someone other than herself initiated contact. Hell, first instinct was to be aggressive. She didn’t like being touched unless she knew them well. He got a free pass, but the instinct was still there nonetheless. This whole thing wasn’t a good idea, going to the party, bringing everyone with them, being seen in public at a party with someone, everything. Calloway on her ass made it even more dangerous. It would bring a level of danger to Bakkhos that she wasn’t sure they could handle.


    With the asshole most likely still in the area, all of them being in the same place at once would be a target. The man was cunning though, if he wanted to infect Bakkhos quietly… blowing up a party where the heads of all the world might be hanging out together was not a good idea. The Nation thrived on secrecy and even Adrian wouldn’t risk it where he couldn’t control the public fallout. Then again, he had threatened her knowing she was a quiet favorite of Ausar, so something might be in his mind further reaching than she knew.


    Then there was this issue of being on someone’s arm. It bristled her hackles. Eris London didn't go on dates, and she'd never been in public with anyone but herself. This would start more rumors than what was already swirling.


    “I shall protect them as my own.”


    Eyes tightened for a split second, thoughts spinning out of control as she looked at him. Distrust was the first emotion that washed over her. Possessiveness. She didn't need help. Did she come across as needing help? Was she losing her edge? Her expression had settled on its default, business-like and skeptical. Slow breath was pulled in, there was something else behind his words. It relaxed her pessimistic countenance, if only for a moment. It was something she'd been ignoring for some time, because she couldn't bring herself to acknowledge it. Her isolation ran deep, dark, sullen. Letting light in was terrifying.


    “I saw you had the helicopter out. I had the smallest of hopes that Ahanu accepting my invitation on your behalf was genuine, and I thought the chopper outside was evidence that I had been totally wrong.”


    Flinch was minute, but there as he slid the mask over her features. Instincts in her were feral, hair-triggered. Even before the predator took over in her blood, reacting in the blink of an eye had become so habitual it took effort to turn it off. It was the reality of the career she’d chosen before the world ended. You reacted defensively, immediately, or you died in a hail of gunfire.


    “A gift from Angelo Gaspari. He looks forward to making your acquaintance.”


    Lips quirked in an uncharacteristic smile, reaching up to take it off and hold it in both hands. Thumbs slid over it as he spoke. Viper, the smirk almost became a soft laugh. Almost. It was her nickname as a pilot… in another world, and another life.


    “Mouse and Toby could be our pilot and copilot. As I recall, you still owe me a flight.”


    “Mouse hates flying…” she said in an uncharacteristic tone, one only her family trio had ever heard. It was quiet, and absently fond.


    She owed him a flight. She did. This wasn’t fair though, she didn’t owe him a night out to go with it. It would be a catalyst in a thought process that had already been churning. One she wasn’t ready to admit to yet.


    Unfortunately she was about to rain on his parade.


    “The helicopter is in the hangar being swept for sabotage.”


     She took a deep breath, hands falling slowly to her sides, demeanor snapping back to business.


    “Calloway was here," she looked up at him, then back to the mask. "In that chair, playing diplomat to congratulate me on helping Bakkhos clean up their problem. Then he ordered Toby to return him to his transportation point home,” it was time Gallo knew. “Toby is a Hesek, and he is under my protection. Calloway’s request was a dominant threat for ferreting out whatever his plan was with you.”


    Her skin buzzed with contempt that could be felt. It was an anger that couldn’t be quantified.


    “Thomas... he threatened my Toby,” pupils had dilated to almost engulf the already mahogany dark irises. Words were lethal, canines bared and sharp. It was an intense stare from an emotionless expression, suddenly baring the depth of bond she had with her people. “Calloway is going to die... because I’m going to kill him. I need to find proof of his treason to the Nation before that happens because when this night is over, I'm going after him.”


    Phone in her pocket buzzed softly, the frown deep as she pulled it from her pocket and answered it. Eyes stayed on him as she listened silently. Mouse.




    It clicked shut, and she lifted the mask to look at it again. The situation had escalated considerably. There wasn’t an airstrip in her territory the Viceroy didn’t know about and was monitoring, and Mouse divulged one had been active. There was no such thing as a coincidence. If she killed Calloway, her life was forfeit until she could convince Ausar otherwise. Her life was already forfeit it seemed. They were all in danger. Bakkhos would survive. Thomas would survive… Toby, Ahanu, and Mouse? Herself?


    “I need to see your phone,” she said quietly, taking it from him when he offered. She hadn’t expected the implicit trust… that was exactly why she didn’t want to go to this party. “My brother’s name is Gabriel. If something happens to any of us, call him,” she said softly as she loaded his name and number into it. “Explain to him what’s happened here, he will listen.”


    She gave it back to him.


    The situation had moved beyond keeping the identity of someone buffered through a scientist’s sister. It still wasn’t crossing the line, and she didn’t intend to. She was too smart for that. She knew ways around it. Either way, Gabriel would know the story.


    “I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes.”


    Best if they stayed together, all of them.


    Business expression gave way to a darkly amused half smirk, “Ahanu has good taste, and apparently it’s already in my closet.”


    More words stung the back of her throat, begging to be let out. ‘Promise me again you’ll take care of them…’ but she was silent. She would not spill the gravity of the situation; this was something she would weather alone. It was the way she’d always done it. She would kill Calloway herself.


    “Fifteen minutes, make yourself at home,” she nodded toward her elegant inset bar along the far wall. Not surprisingly, it was stocked with his wares.


    The long hallway took her to her personal rooms, the whites and grays splashed with pops of jewel toned fresh flowers. Eyes were already striking, but darkened for evening. Unsure of what was in store for her in the closet, she opened the door with her phone in hand again. Holy Hell.


    Toby picked up the call on one ring.


    “Mouse and you are coming with us. You’re flying. Turn it out, you have fifteen minutes.”


    She listened a moment, unhooking the gown and laying it out on her bed.


    “I’d prefer not to pilot in what I’m going to wear, you can hang out all night in the helicopter if you want to. I want everyone in one place. Mouse needs to be armed,” she was silent, listening to his silence. “Get it done.”


    Her voice left no room for argument, it never did.


    The mask portion of the evening would be unpleasant. Incredibly claustrophobic, it would be donned very briefly for the sake of the theme. Make-up would have to be exaggerated, she spent another moment brushing a bit of gold near her eyes, down the sides of her neck and across her shoulders, already moving to retrieve the peridot collar that would be perfect. Ahanu had already set it out on her dresser, Prada shoes on the floor in front. She’d been incredibly optimistic that the Viceroy would agree. Necklace on, no earrings, she finished the last of the necessities for a strapless gown and pulled up all her hair, sleek yet careless with its loose curls. A bit more gold dust at her temples and the nape of her neck and she pulled on the dress, the side zipper and immaculate tailoring to her size appreciated. Hemline dusted the floor, it was perfect. Checking herself in the mirror, she decided against the fur wrap. Her hangar was heated, the chopper was heated, and she could survive the fifty feet to the building from the helipad when they landed. An exquisite shoulder wrap had been hung next to the gown, it would do. Last stop was her mini-fridge disguised as a dresser. Bottle was removed, the cold liquid making her teeth hurt, but it was necessary. Finishing it off, she placed the aluminum bottle back into the fridge and closed the door. Skin flushed slightly from the feed, she gave herself one last look, picking up the mask that matched her gown. Of course it was planned, and they would get hell when this was over.


    Time to go.


    Door closed quietly behind her, and she made her way back to her business space, soft slide of embroidered silk smooth.


    “Shall we?” brow cocked slightly, nodding toward the door. Business. All business. "I assume Mr. Gaspari doesn't like to be kept waiting."







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    Tom noticed her jaw clench slightly when he initiated contact. She didn’t drop him on the floor where he stood…so she was still in control of herself. Unless that meant she wasn’t. It was impossible to tell. Regardless, she had become increasingly comfortable in his presence. So that was progress.


    He knew that, despite his motives, he was challenging Eris’s autonomy by offering to protect her charges like his own. Tom chose his words in spite of this. Eris had put herself in mortal danger in an effort to protect him. Were Tom a damsel in distress, that would be where the story died. Tom was not so helpless. He saw the world from a different angle than Eris did. He could notice things in her blind spots, like she had already noticed in his own. They were a team now. Tom didn’t care how uncomfortable that made Eris. Well, he did…but one concern was greater than the other, and so it won the day. Egos be damned.


    Vipers don’t naturally ‘pack’ well. That is something wolves do.


    Eris was clearly trapped in her own head, as she visibly flinched when he slid the mask over her face. He fully expected a backhand, or at least a pronounced recoil away from the mask. The killer remained, however. Tom could almost hear the muscles in her legs and arms tightening in preparation to attack. Her smile as she removed the mask brought a small feeling of relief to Tom. She was able to be distracted after all. Perhaps this Masquerade would be therapeutic.


    “Mouse hates flying…The helicopter is in the hangar being swept for sabotage.”


    That further explains the mood of the place. Seems Calloway was the type to make you distrust everything around you by virtue of his presence. When Eris’s demeanor slid back into defensive ‘business-mode’, Tom knew that fun would wait a bit.


    “Calloway was here. In that chair, playing diplomat to congratulate me on helping Bakkhos clean up their problem. Then he ordered Toby to return him to his transportation point home. Toby is a Hesek, and he is under my protection. Calloway’s request was a dominant threat for ferreting out whatever his plan was with you.”


    Tom felt his mood begin to mirror Eris’s. A long, seething exhale poured from his flared nostrils. Toby being a Hesek meant nothing to Tom personally. The Sheut’s methods of policing vampires was their business. As far as Tom knew, there wasn’t a secret society of weres trying to hide their presence from the world. Calloway was behaving like a mob boss. Knowingly speaking out of both sides of his mouth while calmly flexing his muscles to remind others of his power. Cavalli would have liked him…were he not making himself a deliberate enemy. Tom found himself thinking about where Calloway would fit in Bakkhos, were he a member of the Family. Calloway was cunning, but even the cleverest predator can be blinded by their hubris.


    “Thomas... he threatened my Toby.” There it was. The Beast. A large, black wolf reared back on its haunches, growling at a threat that must be destroyed. Tom felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise in mirrored fury. Seeing her canines bare, her pupils open…Tom felt he was staring into a mirror.


    “Calloway is going to die... because I’m going to kill him. I need to find proof of his treason to the Nation before that happens because when this night is over, I'm going after him.”


    We are going after him.  Tom thought silently. This was a trap. No. This was bait for the real trap. The way Calloway had been described by Eris made this clear to him. Calloway was provoking her. Goading her to attack. Alone. The gears were turning...blocks falling into place. Calloway seemed like the type to fancied himself playing chess while others played checkers. Tom preferred Go. The best chess players knew nearly every track a person could take and attempt to account for that when making their moves. Go was more…fluid. One had to plan, but not be married to that plan.


    He was about to caution Eris that it was a clear and obvious trap when her phone buzzed.


    “I need to see your phone. My brother’s name is Gabriel. If something happens to any of us, call him. Explain to him what’s happened here, he will listen.”


    As he received his phone back from her, he glanced at the contact information she had entered. Gabriel. This was the first he had heard of him. He bit back the urge to ask if it were a blood brother or a colloquial brother in arms of a sort. Tom nodded as he attempted to add the phone number to his memory. Just in case he lost the device.


    “I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes.”


    Tom wasn’t sure why, but this took him by surprise. He half expected her to jump in the chopper and fire-bomb wherever she thought he might be. He wouldn’t be all that surprised if she disappeared while he was waiting there for her to do just that. He smirked when she mentioned Ahanu’s taste. He nodded in agreement, thinking about the shine she had taken to Roderick.


    “Fifteen minutes, make yourself at home.”


    Tom smiled warmly. She would never let her guard down fully, but maybe tonight would be an opportunity for her to lift the bandage away and allow her wounds to air out for a bit.


    As she stalked off towards her rooms, Tom turned towards the elegant bar to which Eris had gestured. He smiled broadly as he recognized all of them. There were a couple he remembered handing to her personally. Mostly rums and wines, one bottle caught his eye. An unopened Macallan Sherry Oak bottle sat amongst the other high-end spirits.


    Tom quirked an eyebrow…she was not much of a scotch-drinker from what he could recall. Was this bottle for him? No. Get over yourself, he thought to himself. He picked it up and looked it over. This was certainly one of his favorites. Indeed…one of his absolute favorites. Maybe this was a subtle gift she had left for him. She was never particularly direct when it came to kindness. He smirked at that thought as he found a glass.


    As he cracked the seal, Tom nearly dropped the bottle. A flood of putrid, pungent, terrible scents poured from the crack in the seal. Had Tom opened the bottle fully, he would have surely dropped it…which would have been very bad. Venom…lots of it. Silver. Tom was thankful that Eris was not there to see him. Tom nearly dropped to a knee at the putrid potency of the contents of the bottle. Tightening the seal back on that bottle, Tom grabbed a different bottle, one of the various rums she had and poured himself a glass. This was clean at least, and he slammed it down quickly. Taking a deep breath, while wrinkling his nose as the remnants of the silver-Venom lingered in the air. This bottle was for him after all, it seemed.


    Tom held the bottle up to the overhead light and looked through the clear glass into the liquid. The color was nearly perfect. There were the faintest visible traces of particles in the liquid. This was the silver, no doubt. Eris knew he could smell this sort of thing, so she clearly didn’t intend for him to drink this.


    Calloway. Did he not know Tom could detect this by scent? He must know. This was a message. For Tom. Tom’s favorite drink, potently laced with the Venom that plagued his business these last several months…and silver. Tom supposed this was Calloway’s way of introducing himself. The man had done his homework. Tom had been diligently closing the holes in his distribution network. A half-dozen men had been found and ‘conversed with’ concerning their activities in aiding Calloway. This told Tom that there were more. Maybe Calloway liked Go as well. Tom certainly didn’t see this line of play. Time to adapt.


    One thing was certain. Eris had undersold how dangerous Calloway was. Tom mulled the possibility of seeing what Cassandra had been up to. She had been quiet lately and Tom wasn’t sure she was still looking into the Venom case any longer. Too many balls were in the air at the moment. He had to steady things and control one variable at a time. Tonight, was about the Masquerade. Tom was cognizant of the dangers of everyone being in the open. Sheltering in place was a powerful instinct to fight against when confronted with such danger. Tom knew that this instinct was wrong.


    Everything about Calloway’s visit was about ensuring things were going as he expected. If he did one thing, then he expected certain other things to follow. He postures with a veiled threat to Toby, knowing Eris would lick Calloway’s boot if that would keep Toby alive one minute longer. Sneaking a bottle of Gallo’s favorite booze amongst Eris’s collection knowing that Tom would find it and the silver and Venom being clear messages that this was far from over. Calloway had to know that Eris and company would be examining anything and everything after his visit. Keeping them home. Ahanu being elsewhere had to be something Calloway hadn’t considered. He likely suspected Eris would call her home right away. Vipers retreating back to their den to shelter in place. A hard instinct to resist. Tom wanted to leave right away back to Thyrsus to ensure the safety of the place. Tom knew that instinct was wrong.


    The Masquerade was a perfect curve ball to throw the bastard. Calloway knew that Eris was a solitary protector. A predator who shunned attention. Eris wasn’t the rattlesnake who made noise to warn others away. She was the asp who struck from the grass if you happened to come too close. Tom had another glass of rum poured as he sat on one of the stools brooding. Ideas forming. Tom knew all this about Eris, having only known her for a short while. How much more did Calloway know her? He had to know she would retreat to her sanctuary, and then launch a direct assault. Calloway was counting on this. He knew that a wolf sometimes prowled around the snake hole, but he never counted on Eris acting like that wolf.


    A slow smile spread across Tom’s face as he believed he had deduced Calloway’s play. Not a specific action, he didn’t have nearly enough Sheut-knowledge to get true motivations and actions sorted. But Tom knew what Calloway expected of them. It was time to circumvent expectations. He reached for his phone to send a message to Matteo, telling him that they would be on their way shortly when Eris reentered the room. Tom immediately forgot why he reached for his phone.


    The ballroom viper was stunning. She really leaned into the aesthetics of the mask with some choice makeup. Tom had nearly forgotten his previous satisfaction of thinking himself at least with some advantage over Calloway. He closed his eyes and took a slow deep breath, as was his custom when calming himself deliberately. This time, he was taking in her scent as much as he could. It was only slightly soured by the remnants of Venom and silver in the air. That was enough to pull him out of the clouds and back to disappointing reality.


    “Shall we? I assume Mr. Gaspari doesn't like to be kept waiting."


    Her pure business demeanor didn’t match…everything else. But it was likely to keep them from overlooking things. One of these days, the Law of Large Numbers would have its way and Tom and Eris would both be uncontrolled at the same time. That would go one of two very different ways, Tom was sure. Thankfully, at least one of them appeared to have full control at any given time. Tom’s face returned to its typical business-like hardness. Holding up the discovered bottle for Eris to see.


    “I presume that this isn’t one of yours?” Tom held the bottle for her to see, but did not offer it for her to take. “You know I love Macallan Sherry Oak…”


    Tom forced a playful smile. As on edge as she was, he didn’t want her to believe he was accusing her of poisoning him. Especially this sloppily.


    “…but it could do with less of the Venom and silver.” Despite himself, that last word had a hard edge to it. “Clearly, your dear friend was aware of my tastes.” Tom grasped the bottle tightly in his left hand while offering his right arm to Eris. She would have to fight him for that bottle if she wanted to keep it. Switching gears, Tom spoke in a matter-of-fact way, while keeping his voice light and warm. He still did, truly, have hopes for tonight to have some levity…despite Calloway’s efforts.


    “Calloway knows about me. Clearly a lot about me. Not as much as he knows about you, however.” He paused to see her reaction. It was a 50/50 shot she’d take that as some sort of accusation or accosting.


    “Eris, everyone who knows you, or even knows of you, sees you as a viper.” Tom spoke as they strode toward the hangar where the chopper was waiting. “You are. Cunning. Precise. Stealthy. The only way your enemies see your face is if they have you backed into a corner and you must face them head on.”


    Tom wasn’t, in all honesty, all that comfortable pseudo-psychoanalyzing Eris directly. She was as likely to bristle and run back to her rooms as drop him where he stood. He was counting on Eris’s knowledge of Tom to override that impulse. Tom was one of the few who could come at Eris directly like this. Best to use that while he still could.


    “Calloway is counting on the Viper being a viper. Shelter in place, ensure the den is safe, and then hunt. Alone. He knew I’d be around, thus his little message in a bottle.” He shook the bottle in his left hand. “Do you know what vipers never do? Saunter in the open. Warn others of their presence. Inform their prey that they are coming. When they are coming.” Tom looked down at Eris with a broad smile reaching his eyes. “Those are things that wolves do.”


    He chuckled as they stepped outside, the biting wind of the air piercing his tuxedo jacket. “He is counting on you being quiet, subtle, innocuous…and then launching an attack.” He paused a moment, as he was gauging how Eris might be receiving this. “It is time for you to subvert expectations.”


    Tom chuckled as the wind gusted across his face. The biting cold was a welcome sensation, sharpening his perceptions. The snow was still bright white, untarnished by the earthly grime. The mixed scents of burning fuel coming from the chopper, lubricating oil on a firearm Eris had tucked away somewhere, and Eris herself flooded his nostrils. He could make out faint chatter between Toby and Mouse as they were prepping the chopper. Before they got close enough to the helicopter for Toby and Mouse to overhear, Tom stopped walking and spun Eris to face him.


    “Eris London does not let the world see her before hunting. Eris London does not attend balls. Eris London does not boldly dare her enemies to attack her. Eris London does not rely on others. Eris London does not boldly rub elbows with Bakkhos elite in plain sight.” Tom stared deep into Eris’s eyes. “Coming with me to this event shines a bright light on you. The beautiful woman on the arms of the Satyr Champion…who arrived by helicopter no less.” A small grin played across Tom’s face. “For Calloway’s plans to work, everyone must be discreet, including him. What happens if you aren’t? That means he can’t be either.”


    He then resumed leading her to the awaiting chopper. A playful swagger in his step, he added "You need to quit doing what is expected. Who in their right mind would expect the EAA Viceroy of the Sheut Nation to attend a masquerade ball on the arm of a Caporegime and gladiatorial champion?" Tom's grin was obnoxious now.


    It was time Tom showed Eris how to be a wolf.

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    Leaving was an immediate expectation. She needed to get this fucking disaster over with so she could prep the Cessna and land her ass on Calloway’s doorstep. No surprises, no traps. She would rip him apart with her bare hands and end this pissing contest. Countenance was as graceful and fitting to the event at hand as was appropriate, but the vengeance under her skin still held in the darkness of her eyes. She was out for blood as soon as the night was over. Sooner rather than later.


    “I presume that this isn’t one of yours?”


    Eyes snapped to him, the bottle suspicious.


    “You know I love Macallan Sherry Oak…”


    Finely manicured brow cocked slightly, getting a first scent of the room with heightened senses.


    “…but it could do with less of the Venom and silver.”


    Lips pressed together, anger like a brewing storm. The compression of lightening in a bottle radiated beyond her. Lightening that was ready to strike down the world with every revelation of how deep this feud was ripping through her territory.


    “Clearly, your dear friend was aware of my tastes.”


    She said nothing. He was aware of much more. She took his arm wordlessly, the grace and agility she could move in the intricate ballgown down a flight of stairs from her personal apartments to the hangar floor was enviable.


    “Calloway knows about me. Clearly a lot about me. Not as much as he knows about you, however.”


    She stopped when he did, expression impersonal.


    “He knows more than you think,” the response was quick and concise. It was clear there was more to it, though unclear the depth it went. “Which is why he’s going after all of you.”


    “Eris, everyone who knows you, or even knows of you, sees you as a viper.”


    Eyes narrowed, she said nothing, able to keep up with his longer strides.


    “You are. Cunning. Precise. Stealthy. The only way your enemies see your face is if they have you backed into a corner and you must face them head on.”


    Nobody backed her into a corner, the glance cast his way wondering if he really knew her at all. The weight of her steps was minuscule, but the air around her held force as she moved. All her enemies knew it was her. Every time. When she sought retribution, it was fierce and head on.


    “Calloway is counting on the Viper being a viper. Shelter in place, ensure the den is safe, and then hunt. Alone. He knew I’d be around, thus his little message in a bottle. Do you know what vipers never do? Saunter in the open. Warn others of their presence. Inform their prey that they are coming. When they are coming. Those are things that wolves do.”


    Even the warmth of his chuckle couldn’t pierce the armor that she’d wrapped around herself. Even before tonight, the budding friction with Calloway had been a battle. Now, it was all out war. The wind tickled the wisps of curls that had escaped across the back of her neck as they made their way to the helicopter, snapping her thoughts back to their current state. They were undeniably striking as a pair.


    “He is counting on you being quiet, subtle, innocuous…and then launching an attack.”


    His pause this time brought an impatient wrinkle to her brow.


    “It is time for you to subvert expectations.”


    As he turned her, a snap in her throat reminiscent of a growl was almost audible. Dark eyes watched him as she listened to what he thought he knew. She hated that he was smiling at her, hated that she was in a dress, hated that she was going to a party instead of racing through the sky in her Cessna to rip Calloway to pieces.


    She didn’t want to go to a party, ever, but he was making it hard now to not want to go with him. She hated that she felt that way too.


    Eyes narrowed. She’d always crushed everyone’s expectations, fought when she was bullied, lived when everyone else died, survived when the world came to an end. He was just one more person telling her she wasn’t good enough. As bitter as her thoughts may have been, they were absolute at that moment. He was not the making of her. She had won that battle on her own.


    “Eris London doesn’t need to be on anyone’s arm,” it was clear and concise, devoid of absolutely any emotion before she continued to her aircraft and climbed in with little effort. Hands folded demurely in her lap, gaze cast out into the white as she drew an invisible wall around her. She didn't want to look at him, to acknowledge she actually might have wanted to dress to the nines and go somewhere with him. There was a battle to be won, and going to a party wouldn't make that happen.


    The two in front spoke to each other quietly, clicks and switches preparing the rather difficult lift. The crosswind was sharp, but she’d taught Toby everything he knew. He could handle it. Her compound also knew their orders. If Calloway returned, or any of his shenanigans ensued, they had details how to proceed.


    Thumb drew over the mask slightly as they rose up into the darkness, the texture of the scales keeping her focus on something else other than the present. Instead unfortunately, thoughts lingered on the past. She’d saved Calloway’s life once, along with other members of the Nation. Fearlessly, because they had been her pack when introduced to the world of vampire. She’d stood in solidarity with them because they welcomed her into their fold. Her strength. Her will to survive when it was so much easier to die. They’d praised her obstinacy, determination, and rewarded her for her unwavering loyalty. Now, Calloway was breaking that blood bond and was feeding her to the Nation like a dog.


    “They know the version of me I want them to know,” she said quietly. Through the noise of the aircraft, she knew he could still hear her. “My world before this was cruel, and merciless. I still prevailed. Faced with evil and insurmountable obstacles, I survived. Even when my body tried to kill me… filled my brain with cancer and made my bones feel like broken glass. I fought, and I’m here. Don’t ever doubt that I can be as brutal and unforgiving as you. Deep down, he knows it. He’s seen it, and he’s terrified of it. I saved his life when others were too afraid to go in to pull him out.”


    Eyes watched the lights below, she knew exactly where they were. Anger had cooled. Flight always did it. It was cathartic.


    “He’s checking to see if I’ll still bring a shotgun to a knife fight.”


    Toby was already descending from the quick flight.


    She looked over to him, the gold highlights on her skin catching the light. “He doesn’t realize I’m bringing the apocalypse instead.”


    The smirk was dark as she looked back out the window as the helicopter was touching down. Eyes narrowed a bit at all the pageantry, and lights… there were so many… people. Why the hell was she doing this again? Hand stopped absently caressing the mask and tightened her grip on it. She hated people, because people had hated her. She didn't touch people, because every touch she'd ever received with rare exception was to hurt her, or had hurt the sicker she became. Now seen as someone that everyone wanted to be with, she preferred to be alone. This... was hell.


    "I don't want to do this..." it was so quiet it was a toss up if he'd heard, the tone one he'd never uttered in his presence. If there was anything she was truly terrified of, it was this.


    When she stepped off the aircraft, her poise, bravado, grace and enviable decorum would be all a facade... Eris London's facade.


    That much was now clear.


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    • 2 weeks later...

    Eris’s reaction to the bottle was telling. Tom could almost detect the scent of a storm pouring from her eyes. When she took his arm, a small spark of static electricity passed between them in the dry air. Fitting.


    “He knows more than you think, which is why he’s going after all of you.”


    All of us. Bakkhos. A low growl escaped Tom’s mouth before he caught himself. Eris had seen multiple sides of Tom in the time they’ve known one another. The frustratingly patient, methodical thinker…and the impulsive rage-beast. Tom could still feel the axe in his hand from when he drove the blunt end of it against Trevor's skull that night in the warehouse. It brought conflicting feelings of satisfaction and disappointment. Eris had also seen shades of his paternal, protector-side after the Blood Moon. It was out in full force now.


    “Then it is fortunate that you are joining me this evening. Gaspari will be very interested in whatever insight you can provide.”


    After Tom spoke, he heard…or perhaps sensed a very familiar growl from Eris. Tom was rambling. He was painfully aware of the effect he had on others when he wasn’t deliberately tempering his rage. He would compensate with humor, where he felt his inherent anger wasn’t beneficial. He had forgotten, momentarily, that this wasn’t needed here. He didn’t need to worry about accidentally scaring her. She was a warrior, a peer. If anything, feigned levity would offend her more than comfort her. Although, if he was being honest…not all of the levity was feigned. He truly enjoyed her company.


    “They know the version of me I want them to know. My world before this was cruel, and merciless. I still prevailed. Faced with evil and insurmountable obstacles, I survived. Even when my body tried to kill me… filled my brain with cancer and made my bones feel like broken glass. I fought, and I’m here.”


    Tom nodded as she spoke. He knew some of her history, but she only revealed small bits at a time. Little by little, Eris was opening up to Tom. He knew how significant this was.


    “Don’t ever doubt that I can be as brutal and unforgiving as you…”


    Tom turned so Eris could see his face. He locked eyes with the other predator with a grim look. He knew the war that was coming. He had no doubt about her capability for brutality. That will be necessary in the coming days.


    “I am counting on that.”


    It was a truthful admission. He owed her a debt. They were square with the Thyrsus damages. That was ancient history. But he pulled her into this situation with the poison. She put herself, and those she cares about in grave danger because of it. Eris and her family have stepped up in major ways to assist The Family. It was time for The Family to repay the debt. Because of this, Eris was not getting out of attending the Masquerade unless she had laid him out herself. Tom insisted.


    “He’s checking to see if I’ll still bring a shotgun to a knife fight. He doesn’t realize I’m bringing the apocalypse instead.”


    Tom was relieved to see Eris’s countenance cool a bit during the flight. Tom was slightly apprehensive about this evening. He was taking a gamble. The Bosses clearly knew who she was and about the Sheut. Tom had already been told by Victor how he felt about the situation. Tom had yet to receive any feedback from the other three. Gaspari had invited her directly…through Tom. This was certainly going to be a feeling out and, with any luck, mutual agreement and understanding.


    Sensing the return of some levity, Tom raised an eyebrow and looked at her with a hint of a smile. “I’ve been called worse.”


    "I don't want to do this..."


    Without thought, he instinctively reached out and grabbed her hand in a comforting gesture. “I know.” He quickly released it before she had a chance to recoil. His concern was genuine. As the helicopter touched down, he looked over to her and offered a warm smile.


    “Don’t worry. We won’t be spending any time on the dance floor.” He offered a small, playful grin. “Unless you want to.” He knew she didn’t.


    While waiting for the blades to stop spinning, Tom pulled out his phone and sent a couple quick text messages. One to Roderick to let him know they had arrived, although, from the gaggle of people looking at the helicopter curiously to see who chartered a flight to the Masquerade likely gave it away.


    He sent another message to Matteo and Gaspari -- We’re here. Find Cavalli and Strollo if able. Much to discuss.


    He sent one more to Matteo directly -- We brought two others with us. Take care of them. 


    Once the blades stopped, Tom slid on the silver wolf-mask and stepped out to offer his hand to help Eris down. She needed as much help as a cat would, but this was a show now. Whether Eris liked it or not, they were performing now.


    As she descended from the chopper, Tom allowed himself a moment to take her in completely…sight, smell…wow. As she slid the viper mask over her face, it only seemed to exaggerate her eyes. They really were a striking pair.


    One doubt crept into his mind that he wasn’t ready to deal with yet…What if the bosses felt threatened? Tom had no megalomaniacal ambition for ‘climbing the ranks’ in the Family. His ascension had been rather organic, although marrying Jacqueline had certainly accelerated it, he had to admit. Tom’s loyalty to The Family had never been questioned by anyone more than once.


    Victor had warned Tom to expect a healthy level of skepticism from Strollo and Cavalli. That was fair, and frankly expected. Tom might very well be disappointed if the bosses didn’t offer at least one rebuttal to Tom’s plans and actions.


    But seeing the aura of power and presence coming from Eris as she descended from the helicopter, Tom couldn’t fathom anyone who didn’t feel at least slightly defensive. And that was before she gracefully took the arm of Thomas Gallo, caporegime of Thyrsus and reigning Satyr Stadium Champion. The crowd outside the club was gawking openly now.


    This whole plan was designed to subvert Calloway’s expectations. Tom suspected, from his short time by comparison, time with Eris…that if he had wronged her in the way that Calloway had…he’d expect a receipt in short order. Calloway was likely wondering right this moment why on earth she hadn’t attacked him yet. Eris’s presence with Tom, together, was intended to be a bold middle finger to Calloway and a loud statement for all of their combined enemies to fear. Tom was just hoping that this signal wasn’t also, unintentionally, sent to the other bosses. He’d have to step carefully around them for a time to ensure that they were cooperating with one another instead of scheming against each other.


    Tom paused a moment to allow Eris a moment to collect herself properly before strolling past the crowd outside the door to the club. Tom was reminded of crowds before the Nevus event that would wait outside stadiums when their favorite stars were exiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite star. Tom hated this just a bit less than Eris did. He had just become resigned to it since Satyr prevented him from being unnoticed. It became a new tool to leverage. And leverage it they shall.


    Three Soldiers walked out of the crowd. Tex was leading the group out. Good. Tom had grown to like Tex over the years. Tom and Tex exchanged nods and wordlessly, two of the soldiers flanked the helicopter as guards. Tex approached Toby and Mouse and was instructing them to follow him into the club. Toby and Mouse would have likely remembered Tex from the warehouse raid.


    Glancing down at Eris, he said, “If it helps, think of this as intel and supply acquisition for an upcoming battle instead of a Masquerade Ball. Both are true.”


    Adjusting his mask one last time, he stood up straighter, shoulders back, and allowed himself to scowl honestly finally. The mask would obscure part of it, and it seemed that crowds gave him a wider birth when he was visibly upset. As he took his first step, leading the pair of them to the door, he said in an even, business-like deadpan, “It’s showtime.”



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    • 1 month later...

    "Then it is fortunate that you are joining me this evening. Gaspari will be very interested in whatever insight you can provide.”


    Gaspari. She knew how to be a guest, what she didn’t like was being a guest expected to speak her thoughts without her initiating them. This was a social affair, at most. There was no business to be held there, not with everything that had just happened. Guarded smiles would be had and she would be a million miles away in her head plotting the entire time. It was almost a horrible collision of two things she hated. People, and traitors.


    She didn’t want to do this.


    “I know.”


    Blink was quick, almost bewildered. Christ, she’d said it out loud… eyes flicking to his hand at the comforting gesture, brow furling slightly when he pulled it away.


    “Don’t worry. We won’t be spending any time on the dance floor. Unless you want to.”


    “I can dance quite well, thank you.”


    And she could, ballroom dance that was. Any of the newfangled booty dance crap was so far beneath her it was in its own hell.


    "The ones that are worth the artistry anyway."


    As he stepped out, she nodded to the two. The gesture held the trust of years of discipline and procedure. If Mouse and Toby were threatened, they had her permission to use whatever force necessary to survive, and she would bear the weight of the consequences.


    The mask wouldn’t be perched on her face for very long, enough to acknowledge the theme and then it would become a handsome accessory for the rest of the evening. She was deathly claustrophobic, and could play it off as a fashion decision. She took his hand, knowing exactly what was required in this circumstance. She could be anybody, to anyone, in any situation. There was no smoothing of her attire, no adjusting or loss of momentum. The vampire was like a dancer with the stealth of a cat, knowing definitively that every inch of her ‘look’ was exactly where she wanted it to be. The gawking, she was used to. The mask, was itching at her patience.


    It was coming off as soon as they stepped inside.


    The barest quirk of her brow was cast up slightly as he paused.


    “Second thoughts?” she whispered upward in a sly smile, speaking obviously to only him. The one last comment before entering any event always seemed to draw a certain posture from an escort. The turn of the head needed to pay attention to her because of her height and quiet words, slight inclination downward as if what she’d said was the most secret thing in the world… or the most sultry. Onlookers always seemed to absolutely ache to know what she’d just uttered to a companion.


    A show. She knew how to put one on, but she hated it. Necessary in her position.


    “If it helps, think of this as intel and supply acquisition for an upcoming battle instead of a Masquerade Ball. Both are true. It’s showtime.”


    Her laugh was quiet, melodic and surprisingly relaxed… again stoking curiosity of onlookers. Her laugh was rare, and she knew exactly how it looked. In front of their people was one thing, in public? Tabloid material.


    “My show started five minutes ago,” she whispered, still amused. "Where have you been..."

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