In Dreemlyn, that place somewhere between reality and oblivion, there is a valley about the size of one of those inland seas known as the Great Lakes. Here, the WereFolk make their home. These Children of Diana were blessed with the ability to shift their animal forms for human. These are their stories, their legends, their myths…
Venturing outside their native valley, some WereFolk have chosen to mingle their lives with those of the others. This is one of those stories…
Suspicions, Part II
The Dragon slowly began uncoiling, his lithe yet incredibly powerful body extending to an outrageous length, thus showing he was likely a grandfather many times over For with age, a Dragon’s tail length grew. And if I knew anything, I knew of the devotion to family in the Dragon Clan– it was legend among the WereFolk. This was not going to be easy, but then what is SilverFur transformed into her half form, claws extended, fire in her eyes; behind me, FlintSkin also transformed, his hunched form ready for the leap. I only could think of one thing to do.
All WereFolk can transform at will, morphing particular parts of their bodies or all if they wish. We tend to prefer human form for communication and for day to day living it works best in the city. Full animal form works well for traveling from place to place, hunting, living in the wild and sometimes sleeping. But HalfForm is the most deadly, the one that garners attention the fastest– the most emotional, the form which allows us to use the best and the worst of both forms. This is the gift that Diana bestowed on the WereFolk in ancient times.
I transformed into my half form and leapt into the air, crying aloud “I know of the Emerald Dragon’s nest.” I must say I almost never use my half form. I think it makes me look ridiculous and it’s just not particularly practical in my line of work, but it always grabs attention… and when I need to leap high in the air, and still be pretty visible, it’s ideal.
The Dragon stopped at my words and gave me a puzzled look. They were words that designated me as an official ally of the Yakuza, and I gathered that that was an honor rarely bestowed. How I learned them is another story indeed, but it worked in this case.
The Dragon began folding himself back into his nest, and said quietly. “Speak quickly, spawn of darkness.”
I landed, transformed back into human and bowed, motioning FlintSkin and SilverFur to transform into more peaceful forms. I noted with interest that SilverFur went fully to tiger form, pacing back and forth, obviously expending nervous energy while keeping watch. FlintSkin decided on his human form (understandable of course). With great respect I said, “I am sorry to have disturbed your rest, O great one; however, we were informed that weaponry was sold from this address. Perhaps this information was incorrect?”
“Yes, it was, bird. The Dragon is visiting his children, and makes his nest here. Whoever sent you must have wished you dead.” The Dragon considered a moment, eyeing SilverFur. “I understand a tiger killed one of my sons. Is that the tiger?”
I bowed even deeper. The Yakuza were relentlessly polite, and would normally allow me plenty of time to finish my investigations, but the Dragons were an older lot, and impatient. “She is accused of such a crime; however, she strikes me as innocent. I believe that someone wants to fool the Dragon.”
The Dragon rose up and bellowed, “The Dragon cannot be fooled, fool. If she is guilty, we will punish her.”
I frowned, but continued. “O Dragon, the ascertaining of guilt or innocence is beneath such a mighty one as yourself. Allow me to continue my investigations, and then you may execute the guilty party.”
He appeared to shrug. “You have been taught well, crow. You speak the soft words appropriately. You may continue your investigation, but remember the Dragon is impatient. Do not seek to protect the guilty even if they are beautiful.” He turned away; this was the signal for us to depart.
Outside, SilverFur’s eyes burned a hole in my neck. She growled softly, and transformed back into her human form. “What was that, Crow? Why did you bring us?”
FlintSkin said quietly, “You do not know this city, Tiger. Sometimes things are not as they seem here.”
SilverFur growled again, almost transforming into her more dangerous half form. “So we find our enemies and take care of them. That should be simple in any system.”
I looked away. “This city is a house of cards, young tigress, and nobody wants to see it fall. You start messing with the system, and people defend it. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to see that I give you to the Yak, and it just might happen. Because everybody is afraid all the time.” I spat on the sidewalk. “The city, she is a woman, and like all women she demands sacrifice from time to time.” I walked away not caring if the others followed me. Actually I knew FlintSkin would repeat what I said in more polite terms, and would understand. As for SilverFur, it was looking a lot like I wouldn’t know her all that much longer.
I returned to the hotel and fell into bed. I woke at about 10– nothing much happens between 2 and 10, so it’s the ideal time to sleep. I dressed and walked to my office. Luke was waiting for me.
“What happened last night?” He said quietly.
“Nothing of great importance. Why?” I replied as I swung around into my desk.
“We got three calls from the mayor’s office. One demanding that you act immediately in the matter… well, what other matter do we have? You then got one apologizing for misinformation, and one inviting you to visit the mayor at your earliest convenience.” He paused and looked at me for a moment. “Very odd, it seems to me.” That was Luke’s way of shaking me and begging me to tell him what was going on.
“Someone passed some info to the mayor that he passed to me. I think he was acting in good faith, odd as that is. The information, on the other hand, was designed to get me killed. Presumably, whoever is running this thing thinks that if I die that would assure the death of SilverFur and GentlePaws.” I looked at Luke and smiled. “Of course that just makes them bigger fools. At any rate, I found out why the Yaks are moving fast. As suspected, visiting relatives.”
Luke frowned. “Any clues on who is behind this.”
I returned his frown. “Not as yet.” I sighed. Something was nagging me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. “At any rate I better go to the Free City today. Are SilverFur and GentlePaws in the building?”
He shrugged, and said, “I assume so. We put them under house arrest.”
I nodded. Luke was good because he knew what I wanted before I did. “Good. I’ll take them with me. The Tripsters may reveal something if confronted with them. Assuming they’re involved.”
Luke frowned. “You don’t think they are, do you?”
I shrugged again. “No, not really. This plan is too political, too complex for them. I doubt they have any political interest in this city.”
He nodded. “I thought that myself. But, hey, while you’re out there could you pick up some of those Obsession candles?”
I smiled. “Sure. I take it Linda is in a good mood?”
He smiled shyly. “Not yet, but those candles perform magic on her.” And then he turned away. I’d worked with Luke three years before he told me he was married. An odd man but damned efficient.
A few moments later I found myself in the room with the two lovely young tigresses. I couldn’t help but wonder why these two had been chosen for this frame. Probably just convenient fodder, but there might be more to this mystery It could be that someone wanted to solve two problems at once and these two just were at the crux somehow GentlePaws sat quietly in one corner, serenely looking out the window, while SilverFur paced the floor. As I came in, her head snapped up to give me a look of disdain, she said quickly, “How long do you intend to keep us imprisoned here?”
GentlePaws’ quiet voice came from the window, but she didn’t turn her head. “I’m sure the detective is doing all he can, Silver.”
She replied. “Then why aren’t we free? Who murdered that man?”
I said quietly, “That is what I am trying to find out. Today I need to take a trip out to an… interesting part of the city. You two are invited to join me.”
SilverFur growled. “More protection, Crow?”
I smiled softly. “No, your protection will not be necessary in this case. Come.” I turned away. The two girls followed me down. When we hit the pavement, I turned and said quietly. “Follow.” At that I transformed and flew up into the air. SilverFur and GentlePaws transformed themselves, and began padding through the city. I took a moment to observe the differences. GentlePaws’ tiger form was lithe and sleek, almost delicate. SilverFur, on the other hand, was built powerfully. She would be a warrior, I guessed, possibly a spear. One never knows.
After a few minutes we came to the edge of the free city. I knew how to look so I could see the circus tents and bright colors of this magic place. However, to the untrained eye it was just an arch in an empty field, I landed, changed and stood before it. Behind me SilverFur and GentlePaws transformed. GentlePaws looked at the arch reading the words printed on it. “The Trip Without a Ticket. What does that mean?”
I smiled and said quietly. “All are permitted to enter the free city. One is expected to behave within, but the boundaries of tolerable behavior are pretty wide. Just don’t purposely cause harm to another. This part of the city is under the control of . . . well call them mages, it’s close enough. They are called the Tripsters, and all who live in the city are called Tripsters as well.” At that I turned and walked through the arch. As I disappeared I just knew that curiosity if nothing else would lead the sisters through to find out what was on the other side of the arch that appeared to lead nowhere
The Free city is very different. There are a couple of town houses, an old motel, a number of bars, The Fillmore, The Family Dog, but they are scattered around randomly. There are no streets in the free city, no fences. People are just as likely to live in an old VW bus, a tent, an authentic (so I’ve been assured) Sioux Teepee as they are in one of the houses. As we entered we saw a few of the houses, a riot of tents, stalls, balloons, psychedelic clowns, musicians, bubbles. They run things on the barter system, but I have pretty good credit, and I always bring a few things from China Town to trade herbs, spices, that kind of thing.
I had been here before so the bright colors and haphazard housing was not new to me but it still made me shake my head sometimes. I turned to see how SilverFur and GentlePaws would react to the sights. GentlePaws’ face was illuminated with a shy smile, and even SilverFur seemed to lose a little bit of her anger as she took it all in. “Come, I’m going to go see Ruby. She might have some info for us.”
I walked to a VW bus painted in various shades of green. As I approached it, one of the guys sitting around it stood up and said, “what are you doing here, narc?”
I looked at him. Young and a trifle too focused to be a Tripster. “I am just visiting friends. I am not a narc, kid.”
His stance got more belligerent. “Oh? Word is you put the Racoon down.”
I frowned. Some stories can’t be told so that they can be understood. “Kid, you don’t understand. Galaxy Sam himself approved what I did afterwards. Only thing to do, really.”
He tensed even further. “So who are you going to put down next? I’m watching you, pig.”
I smiled, and replied. “I watch everybody, young one.”
From the bus a voice rang out. “That’s enough Crow, Nicholas. Go get plastered or something, Nicholas, leave understanding to those that can.” Ruby, wearing a long red dress, walked toward us. “Go. I have business with this pig.” Nicholas scowled, and left.
I turned, with mock indignation. “Pig. Really?”
She smiled. “Well, that way he knows I’m not being fooled by you, and can rest easy. Now tell me what’s up?” She looked at my company. “Tigers, eh? Haven’t seen one of them in a while.”
SilverFur growled. “How do you know us?”
She bowed. “I am of the WereFolk myself. But came to live here after I got out of the army.”
Ruby frowned slightly. “I left that behind when I came here. I elected to always stay in human form, I no longer change into that.”
At that SilverFur bristled slightly. “It is customary to give tribes. You know who we are. We should know who you are.”
She bowed slightly. “Perhaps you are correct. I was scorpion. They used to call me RubyFangs.”
GentlePaws gasped slightly. I suppose it’s hard for one not born to the WereFolk to understand the reaction. The Scorpions are valued as warriors, but all fear them. They are so hideous in their half forms. They are bloody and powerful and deadly, and they all hate themselves. It leads them to be very violent. Ruby had left that behind. She was very peaceful (and made the best curry in the city, even if it was vegetarian) and she is greatly respected as well.
SilverFur frowned slightly. “You served under WhiteTalon, no?”
She bowed slightly. “I had that honor. He was a great leader. You know of him?”
SilverFur bowed herself, as did GentlePaws. “He is our father. He spoke highly of you to us once. How did you come to be here?”
Ruby smiled. “After your father faced those… difficulties, and his unit was disbanded, I was sent here to serve as a guard for the ambassador. I wandered around the city, and came here. I liked it. Found a reason to like myself. So I stayed.”
At this I interrupted, “Ruby, have you heard anything about two tigers in the city? Or a murder that happened at the Regency?”
She looked baffled. “No to both. Most of the Free City is gearing up for the Free Festival. Word is that Galaxy is going to call up Hendrix and Dylan to play.”
I feigned comprehension. “Well, that should be something to see. You sure you haven’t heard anything?”
“No, nothing. And I was talking to Chet the other day, and he would have mentioned anything doing with the Regency or with the WereFolk.” She smiled softly and continued, “Sorry not to know more.”
I smiled back. “Not a problem. I didn’t expect much, at any rate. Can you watch over the ladies here? I have to run some errands, and I’ll be back in a bit.”
She smiled and said “Of course. Have fun.” She thought a moment. “Jimmy’s taking the day off, but Lolita should have the candles you need. She’s over by the Fillmore.”
I finished my shopping and returned to Ruby’s tent. She and SilverFur were playing Chess, a favorite game of the Tiger. GentlePaws was watching and smiled as I approached. “Hello Inspector.”
I smiled back. “Hello ladies. I am afraid I have to get back to the Regency now. And if I don’t bring you with me, there will be trouble.”
SilverFur looked up. “Ruby has told us that this area is apart from city politics. Perhaps we should stay here.”
I frowned. “Well, it’s true that the Yak would probably not come after you here, but it is also true you could never leave. It is also likely that FieryClaws would ask you to visit her. She apparently feels that if you must be sacrificed to keep the peace then she would order it done. If you refused to go, she would declare you outcast. So you would be trapped here forever, an outcast from the Children. Are you willing to go through that?”
Ruby looked up chagrined. “I always forget about the combine in here.” She looked over at the girls. “You’d better go with Jake. He’ll take care of you, he is good Folks.” I smiled at the compliment as SilverFur shrugged and stood. GentlePaws reached out to Ruby and after a moment gave her a brief hug. We then left.
Luke was waiting for me when we got back. He said quickly and quietly. “I think you better go see the mayor.”
I frowned. “What’s going on? Did he call again?”
Luke shook his head. “We do have some information though. That assistant of your ambassador’s, the hawk? He left to see the mayor shortly after you did.”
I frowned. “Hmmm. You’re right, that’s too odd to be a coincidence. I’ll check it out.” I turned around to GentlePaws and SilverFur. “Luke will show you back to your room. I should know more shortly.”
I went to the street and took off immediately. The mayor’s house was quite nice, of course. I could have flown in and landed on his desk, but I thought I’d be polite for a change. I landed at the gate and buzzed.
After a moment a deep voice answered “Hello. Who is it?”
“Jake. From the Regency.”
A long pause and then, “Oh yes. His honor is expecting you. One moment.”
The Gate slowly opened, and I walked in. He has nice green grounds, must pay his gardener a fortune. After a moment I was in his office. He smiled as I entered. “Hello Jake, looks like we are in one messed up situation.”
I smiled. “It’s nice to be included in your “we”. But what is your interest in this situation?”
He shrugged. “I don’t like being played. I think this might be a situation where somebody might be seeking to lessen my power over my beloved city. As you can guess, I’m not really in favor of that.”
I smiled. “What do you mean? As near as I can tell, nobody stands to gain by this.”
“I would have thought so too. But yesterday, I was given information, in good faith, which I then passed on to you. You acted on this information and came in contact with a… relative of the Yak, I am given to understand.”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s right.”
He frowned. “Well, it looks like I was planning on feeding you to the Yak. And since your investigation has turned up little evidence that those girls murdered that gentleman, it looks like they’ve been framed. To the Yak I would seem someone trying to play them.”
I frowned. “What of it? They already don’t like you that much.”
He frowned himself. “The Yak are generally content to let me run things as pleases me. I’m sure you’ve noticed that. This situation could change that balance.”
I grimaced. “The Yak aren’t going to kill one of their own, for a pretext to take steps against you.”
He smiled. “You are right of course. I don’t think the Yak is behind this. And the Tongs they are in a period of enjoying their riches. No, somebody stands to gain from this, and I think we both know who it is. Someone generally seen as being apart from our struggles, but who nonetheless wields a certain amount of power.”
I frowned as it came to me. “I’d better hurry.”
He smiled. “Yes, you’d better. Have a nice day, Jake.” I turned and changed, flying back to the Regency at top speed.
I finally put it together see. Sometimes you have to see the patterns. Do you see? It’s hard, sometimes with the number of players on the board. Particularly with three major players– the Yak, the Tongs, and the Mafia. You tend to think one of them has to be doing everything. You forget the little guys. The little guys who want to be big guys.
Ambassador FieryClaws was damned powerful in her own way. Besides the Ambassadorial staff, there were around three dozen other WereFolk around. There was a Lion working for the Yak, as a matter of fact. A family of Elephant dock workers. Three Pig brothers ran a restaurant in Chinatown. A battle between the Yak and the Mayor could only strengthen the WereFolk’s influence.
There were only three winged folk in San Zisco. FieryClaws, her Hawk aide-de-camp, and me. That WereHawk, I seem to recall being introduced, whose name was something like ArrowFlash. He was new, just came in. I guessed I’d better get to know him better. I didn’t think it was FieryClaws. She was tough, but she would never sacrifice her people for this sort of goal.
I landed on a ledge outside SilverFur and GentlePaws room, and tapped on the glass with my beak. GentlePaws came to the window and opened it, and I hopped in.
I changed and said quickly, “We need to go. This crime was committed by a WereFolk and I’ll need your help.” They transformed and followed me.
We hit the pavement running, and reached the ambassador’s home in minutes. I flew up to the ambassador’s bedroom, well aware that she might be in danger. Her window was open.
The Hawk was standing over her apparently unconscious form, a short sword in his hands. He grimaced. “You are sharper than I thought you would be, Crow. Why couldn’t you just accept the obvious conclusion? It would have been so much cleaner that way.”
I bowed. “I have an irritating habit of thinking on occasion. Besides, I never do things the easy way.”
The hawk had trussed up FieryClaws in the WereFolk way. No matter what form she took, she would not be able to free herself when she awakened. There were two glasses on a tray on the desk; he had obviously slipped her something. She must have questioned some of his actions. I didn’t have time to figure out why he hadn’t just killed her.
I stood in front of the window and the hawk was much too far from the door to easily escape. He grabbed FieryClaws and pulled her unconscious form in front of him, he began to ease his way toward the door, his sword at her throat.
“If you were going to kill her you would have done it by now,” I said quietly as I moved toward him, hoping that by now the tigers must be in place on the other side of the door.
ArrowFlash spoke with nervous anger. “I might not kill her, but I could hurt her a lot. Something tells me you wouldn’t like that much either.”
Just as he touched the doorknob the door flew open and SilverFur leapt into the room changing into her half form in mid air. What a terrific sight she was, this human-tiger form, young woman and lovely striped well-muscled tiger. Apparently the hawk thought so as well. He quickly dropped his sword and his hold on FieryClaws was lost as well she slumped to the floor.
The hawk looked frantically from the ferocious beauty now blocking the door back to me as I blocked the window With a screech he transformed into his half form and for the second time in as many days I did as well ArrowFlash flew towards me, I blocked him quickly. He realized that there was no way he was going to escape.
I quickly checked the room. SilverFur stood in her half form guarding the door watching for a signal from me. I knew she would tear the hawk apart if allowed, but we needed the hawk alive. GentlePaws was untying the ambassador and seeing to her well being.
The hawk slowly transformed into his human form and proceeded to just sit in the middle of the floor hands folded in his lap. He looked up at me in an almost triumphant way. I knew then that he would rather die than admit he had been used. I wanted to try to wring the information from him, but he was the Ambassador’s aide, she had first right to his neck.
The Ambassador, who had now fully regained her senses and her elegant nature, walked over to stand over the compromised hawk. Disdain in her eyes, she said, “Hawk, you are a worthless bird. Someone must have discovered your youthful ambitions, discovered how you just couldn’t wait for the natural course of time. Perhaps I should give you to this young tiger.” ArrowFlash had the good sense to at least look contrite as his boss reprimanded him.
But it was obvious to all that FieryClaws had no choice but to turn her young aide over to the Yak or there would be no peace in San Zisco. I knew she was just as curious as I, though, about whom was behind this plot, but the hawk was not going to share what he knew. He realized he was dead anyway. The was no point in trying to win his freedom by making explanations that would gain him nothing.
FieryClaws bowed to me and said, “Jake, I would appreciate if you would carry out the transaction. This young fool should be turned over to the Yak immediately.”
She turned to the young tigresses and with all the elegance she had at her command she bowed to them and said, “You are of a good tribe and I know of your honorable father. Someone obviously means you harm. If we find evidence of who is behind this plot you will be advised.” She then turned and left the room.
SilverFur turned to me. “So is that it, a dismissal? Not even an apology for planning on giving us to some Dragon for firewood.” GentlePaws stood beside her sister, looking very tired.
“Would it make you feel any better if I let you take the hawk to the Dragon?” I asked her wondering which answer would surprise me more.
“Look, my young friends, politics get in the way sometimes, that is the way of the city. Don’t let it discourage you from visiting though. You just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time for someone.” I looked into SilverFur’s eyes as I said this and realized there was more to the hurt there than this one incident.
“In any case, we need to get this hawk turned over to the Yak and then perhaps we can have a nice dinner somewhere together. You can tell me what your future plans are. Come on, what do you think of that idea?” I found myself hoping they would agree.
GentlePaws whispered something in her older sister’s ear, a plea I imagine. SilverFur smiled and put her hand out to me. “We would like that Jake, pick us up about 8. I leave the hawk in your able hands.”
Later as I sat in my office alone, I thought to myself that even with the Yak breathing fire at that dumb hawk no answer was forthcoming about whom was trying to harm those girls. I could not shake the sound of the hawk’s final scream in my ear as I walked away from that nest I would probably have nightmares about the roar of the fire mixing with that screech. But for right now I put it out of my mind as I glanced over at Luke, who was smiling as he sniffed his candle
Ah, 7:45 the lovely tiger sisters await time tomorrow to think on the newest plots in my city.