Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by neptune, Sep 18, 2015.

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    Estelle MoreauEstelle was born as a result of some U2 tickets. Renee Moreau, a very pretty, simple girl who, in her senior year of high school had unrealistic expectations of what life would bring her and an insatiable desire to get out of Louisiana and make something of herself. That she had no real talent, drive or plan didn’t matter to her. So when opportunity knocked she answered it. She was certain the promised tickets and the services rendered would result in a whirlwind tour of the world in the bed of the handsome Roadie who gave his name as Mitch. It never came to pass and nine months later Estelle “ruined” Renee Moreau’s life.

    Though not abusive per se, she viewed Estelle as an anchor and used the presence of her daughter to excuse her from trying and succeeding at much of anything. If she wasn’t a famous dancer, it wasn’t because she didn’t audition, it was because she was saddled with Estelle. If she never went to college and made something of herself, it wasn’t because she was unmotivated and not all that bright, it was because she had to work long shifts to feed and house her daughter.

    Once she was of school age Estelle spent the summer months with her Giga at her home deep in the Bayou which was about two hours from Lafayette. Her Grandmother, to put it plainly was a witch and spent her time talking to things that weren’t there and making poppets and moonshine for the locals. Estelle hated it there, the heat, the bugs and the people who could come calling late at night, knocking on the large, rusty tin-can her Giga kept hanging from the bottom of the porch steps. She hated the way her Giga’s house smelled, of spice and rot and alcohol. She hated the sounds of the swamps and the way her grandmother was always muttering or singing under her breath. Or the way her Giga watched her, her dark face a seamed mask as if she were looking to find something in Estelle. It was the summer of her thirteenth birthday when she had her Menarche that Gig found what she was looking for in Estelle. At the same time Estelle saw all the things living in the shadows and hidden places of the world. She understood then, who Giga had been speaking too all along.

    The lessons were necessary, the things saw her in the same way she saw them and it was only through practice and negotiation that one maintained control and power, or so Giga said. Estelle was bright where her mother was not and while she took to the lessons she did not excel. The reason for this was simple, Estelle hated who she was and what she’d come from. Her impulse to leave was no less than her mother’s had been, only her drive was greater. She would leave and she would leave everything behind and be something new. She’d play at being a witch while she was home, but not a moment longer.

    And when Estelle graduated from High school (a feat her mother never managed) she left, fleeing north and keeping only in infrequent contact with her mother and grandmother. But just as she’d inherited her grandmother’s gift and her mother’s drive to flee, she’d also inherited her mother’s attraction to roadies and musicians. That was how she met Shawn, a beautiful boy who attended Umass Boston where she was taking classes as she could afford them. He dazzled her with his smile and his music and his dreams of world tours soon became hers. Thinking she was in love, she put her life on hold to support him while he dropped out of school and played the local club circuit, trying to make it big. He was talented and stood as good a chance as anyone to be a success, only he was banking on it long before he had any right too. She suspected him of cheating and was certain of his growing indifference but had invested so much time, energy and love into the relationship that she struggled to convince herself to leave him. It was always on the verge of getting better, if only she could stick it out, she told herself.

    Bad things happen in threes, she knew this from her Giga and so when she came home after work and caught him in bed with some woman whose name he didn’t even know she started counting. The question was, was the backhand he laid on her number two or part of number one? Was the phone call from her mother that her grandmother had passed number two or number three? Time would tell, she told herself as she packed up her things and headed south, ostensibly to settle her grandmother’s affairs and give her and Shawn some space to consider if they had a future together.

    Mars Latier
    Despite being born into an unstable pack and to a single mother, Mars Latier had the most normal childhood that the Bayou could offer. The majority of his days were spent with outside with his friends, learning more practical, real-world lessons and ignoring the homework that was sent out in school. Having a formal education was never something that Mars valued, and he dropped out of high school as soon as possible to focus on better things. A certain stigma comes with not having a diploma and people outside of the pack tend to underestimate how quick-witted and smart he actually is, but Mars doesn't mind—he likes to prove people wrong.

    Due to never having a stable family, Mars values the pack like no other. Before he took over as Alpha at age thirty, one of the youngest leaders that anyone had ever seen, the men and women who lived together nearly tore one another apart on a daily basis. Mars credits his success to his ability to stay calm in most heated situations, but having so many people come to him for the most trivial things has started to wear on him. Now thirty-five, the last several years have been something of a struggle both in terms of politics and in his personal life.

    Marriage isn't all it's cracked up to be and Mars is the first person to warn anyone and everyone against it. For the last ten years, Delphine has been at his side for every minor and major decision that Mars has had to make. When they first met, there had been chemistry between like no other, but actually getting married only ruined their bond and they've been drifting apart ever since. Mars tries not to deal with the situation, while Delphine makes a point to tip-toe around him until he is forced to talk about whatever surface problems they're having.

    It's torture.

    On top of his marriage slowly falling apart, there are whispers of insubordination within the pack and Mars can't seem to stop one recurring dream in particular where his most trusted people murder him for the alpha position.

    #1 neptune, Sep 18, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
  2. It was that dream again.

    The kind that left him in a cold sweat, shoulders heaving with each labored breath after sitting straight up in bed. The thin sheets were clinging to his skin, but were soon replaced by a hand on his tattooed forearm; the touch caused him to jump. Beside him, Delphine wore a sleepy look of concern on her pretty face, a mixture of needing more rest and reluctant fear of what might happen. Husband and wife shared the same sentiment, and Mars took another minute or two to calm himself, shaken by the vivid images that felt all too real. If Gabriel and Jules didn't want him dead, why did he keep dreaming of it? Why couldn't he fathom the idea of the two alone together if they weren't conspiring against him?

    “You should go see that old hag in the swamp,” Delphine said, her skin warm against his as she leaned into him and brushed her fingers through his black hair. “She'll tell you if it's true.”

    Outside, the sun was just beginning to rise. Mars could see the faintest of rays trickling in through the sheer curtains covering the windows, the long fabric blowing in the gentle breeze. “You're right,” he finally said with a reluctant nod, his voice hoarse as he untangled himself from the sheets and tore about the room to find some clean clothes.

    Behind him, Delphine's eyes went wide. “I didn't mean now!” she shouted. Clamoring toward the edge of the bed on her knees, her delicate fingers gripped the heavy, wooden bed frame. “Mars!” she shouted again, as if persistence was going to stop him from the jeans he'd slipped into, or make him forget about the black t-shirt in his hand. “Are you crazy? Do you know what time it is?”

    “Do you want me to die?” he asked, whipping around to face her after pulling the shirt over his head. “Is that what you want? Because I'll get back in bed if you do.”

    “No, but--”

    “Then go back to sleep, Della!”

    Once Mars got an idea in his head, it was difficult for him to think of anything else. It didn't matter that it was the crack of dawn, or that the old woman may not be awake or happy to see him when he arrived on her doorstep. When his position as alpha was being threatened, when he no longer felt safe around people he'd grown up alongside, something needed to be done and Mars wanted immediate results. The reassurance that no one was out to kill him was sure to be enough, and if there was no conspiracy to get to the bottom of, he could finally rest easy again. The last few months had been terrible, hard on him and his marriage—harder than usual—and as he sped down the winding, narrow roads of the back country, he could finally see an end in sight.

    For years, people had talked both good and bad about the woman who lived on the outskirts of town, rumored to have cured every kind of disease imaginable and inflicted suffering on countless others for the right price. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Mars recalled his mother's warning, Eula always told him to stay away from magic, that they were cursed enough with the moon and didn't need any more bad luck. It was something that he tended to agree with, but not knowing if his days were numbered was slowly driving him insane.

    The humid smell of the bayou was a familiar one, and Mars stomped through patches of wet foliage, disturbing croaking frogs on his way across an old bridge that looked more rotted than stable. Falling into the swamp was the least of his worries, however, and Mars barely gave it a second thought before he reached the house. All around him, there were signs of life from the reptiles in the water to the birds beginning to chirp in the trees but there was silence from inside the shack. He knew that normal people were still sleeping and that his intrusion wasn't going to earn him any favors with the people inside, but his life was possibly hanging in the balance. Someone needed to care!

    Knocking, Mars banged the side of his fist against the door three times and waited for an answer. He expected to be greeted by an old woman, unaware that she had died some time ago.
    #2 neptune, Sep 22, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2015
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  3. It was astonishing how quickly she fell back into the lifestyle. Not even one day back and Estelle had begun seeing things in the corners of the dark, dank, three room home of her grandmother. She saw things, they saw her and even worse, they spoke to her. Hissing little trills and scratchy burrs she couldn’t seem to make out. That was a trick she’d lost, it seemed. But she’d spent several years doing her best to forget this part of her life and focus on her future. A future that had included Shawn. A future that was no longer certain.

    She’d arrived late at night, paid the cabbie an obscene amount of money to drive her into the middle of the swamp and then a little more when he’d realized where they were heading and balked. It had taken another chunk of her small wad of cash to get him to drop her off on the far side of the bridge with her luggage and no offer of money would convince him to play porter. Not that she had all that much. Most of her stuff was still back in the Allston apartment she shared with Shawn, an unspoken promise that she’d be back. A promise she sort of hated herself for.

    Exhausted, there was little help for it but to schlep her stuff over the bridge and around the bend to her Giga’s house. She was too tired to let the strange sadness she was feeling take much hold. This was a good thing in its own way. She had loved her grandmother, even if she’d resented the woman and been embarrassed by her. Her death was something that hadn’t really had a chance to sink in during the upheaval of Estelle’s whole world. It had been a strange, bittersweet sanctuary to come her, to the place she refused to call home and regroup. As she carried her last bag into the dark, musty house she’d wondered if Shawn would take her seriously now that she was out of the picture. Or if he’d just fill her bed with more nameless women he felt were his due? She hadn’t let herself dwell on that, and once she’d turned on the kerosene lamp over the dark, pitted table of so many childhood meals, the memories and the Things had flooded over her.

    She missed her Giga, well it seemed the Things did too.

    She fought them off, pushing them back with her will and fury. A feat that was made easier when she scrabbled to the junk drawer in the kitchen which was filled with odds and ends: utensils, matches, the tabs from bread bags, spare pipes and an oddment of bones, feathers and beads. She pulled out a long thighbone she’d never dared to ask the origin of and begun to shake it at the things. The rattling of the skull shaped beads which were interspersed with cheap glow in the dark pony beads tied onto the bone with rotting rawhide seemed to wake some lingering respect in the things and they had slunk off into the shadows to watch, glower and maybe grieve. She wasn’t certain but it was hella creepy.

    Her grandmother’s still was just where Estelle remembered and it was filled with spirits which were just as foul and just as potent as she recalled. She poured herself a tin mug full and swallowed it down so fast it left her gasping for a good thirty seconds before the resulting warmth rose from her felly and spread over her limbs like ease. She heard the Things shuffling in the shadows and poured herself another mug. This one she took easier, carrying it into the bedroom where she’d slept on a pallet that was stored under the bed where her Giga slept. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she could hear the ropes creak under the mattress. She took a swallow and checked her cell phone. No calls, no texts. She knew it wasn’t just the shit reception that was to be had in the swamp. Shawn was still mad, she was even madder. She turned off the phone and tossed it to the bed.

    “Fuck.” She said aloud, to herself, to the things, to Giga wherever she was. She was half tempted to stay with her mother while she took care of things, but her mother’s latest boyfriend creeped her out more than the spirits and things that clustered around her grandmother’s house did. No, she’d stay and do her work and hopefully by then, she’d figure something out. She stood, slipped out of her jeans and let them lie in a pool on the floor. Panties, bra and shirt next, she pulled a long ribbed white men’s tank over her head. It was Shawn’s and she sort of hated herself for wearing it. She gingerly touched the bruised spot on her left cheek, his parting gift. She did not take the shirt off but stood and moved to the still for a third and, so she told herself, final cup of the moonshine that would hopefully knock her the hell out.

    It must have worked because she woke in the morning with a pounding headache, the pain of which was penance for something, she was sure. Only the pounding stopped after three and then receded into a sickening pulsing. Knocks, she realized. Knocks at the door, and three of them. Three was a number of note, she knew, hating that she was falling back so easily into the life and the thinking that this place brought out.

    “Hold on!” she called and peered at the clock by the bed. It was way to fucking early for anyone to be up. Pissed and dragging just a little from too much hooch she stumbled from the bedroom, into the kitchen and towards the front door. Only barely registering that there was a large shadow cast onto the curtains of the window by the rising sun that filtered through the Cyprus branches that hung over the cabin. She was too bleary to really think about the wisdom of opening the door to a stranger. In Giga’s house, you answered when someone knocked.

    Running her fingers through her wild curls, half to tame them, half to see if her brain was leaking out, she pulled the door open with a curt “What?” while she peered bleary eyed up at a giant man who looked as dour as she felt.
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  4. Although the sun had just barely peeked over the tree line, it was already hot. The morning dew hung thickly in the air, like an extra blanket on a hot night or a fever that couldn't be sweat out. Running a hand over his bearded face and then back through his hair, Mars exhaled a deep breath and waited for any sings of life from beyond the door. So far, the only thing he could hear were a few mosquitoes buzzing around his ear, the high-pitched whine of their wings only adding to the unpleasant morning. Frowning, Mars swatted his hand through the air, missed the bugs entirely but didn't try again as a voice from inside caught his attention. He waited patiently, figuring that was the least he could do after showing up unannounced.

    The woman who answered the door was far from the hag that Delphine had described; not a wrinkle on her face or a grey hair on her head. She was pretty, if not a little worn and the bruise on her cheek partially explained her curt tone. “What,” Mars repeated, unamused with her lack of manners—never mind that it was too early for any of the bullshit that he was carrying around with him. Peering over top of her wild curls, Mars did his best to get a better look into the house but all he caught was shadow and if there was someone else inside, they were fast asleep.

    “Where's your grandmother?” he asked, dark eyes falling back to her blue stare. Having never met the woman before, Mars had to assume that this was her granddaughter or an apprentice of some kind, regulated to answering when strangers with problems called at every hour. “I need to talk to her,” Mars added, as if his own vagueness would help to impress the importance of the situation at hand. “And I can pay.” Another assumption, this one possibly a little more unfair but everything always had a price and Mars never went anywhere empty-handed.

    Asking for help had always been a bit surreal for Mars, and the feeling, or rather, his own reluctance to reach out to others had only gotten worse after becoming alpha. Leading the pack was one hell of a responsibility, especially when everyone was so close to the humans within the nearby towns. Staying concealed had always been priority number one but with Gabriel and Jules taking up so much space in his mind, and every argument with Delphine sending his nights askew, there was little time left to consider protection. Slippage was the real enemy, so much more dangerous than the paranoid thoughts that swam through his mind and who was and who wasn't out to get him.

    Simply standing there, though, Mars already felt a considerable weight lifted off of his shoulders. Although no one had agreed to help him yet, Mars could feel it coming and inwardly, he only thing he wanted was a clear head. Even if his friends were planning something, Mars would be able to handle it as long as he had the upper hand.
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  5. “In town.” She answered, which was sort of true. She was in the county morgue awaiting burial which was being considerably delayed because the old bag had wanted to be buried on her own property and there were rules and regulations about that. It might have been easier if Giga wanted to be cremated and tossed into the swamp, but no, she needed to be buried, bones and all. So Estelle would do what she could for the crackpot who had somewhat raised her and taught her so much of what she knew. Not the least of which was you never turned someone away who was willing to pay which made her earlier slip of partial truth somewhat inconvenient.

    “She’s in the hospital.” She amended, which again, was partial truth and would bridge her to the whole truth if this dude stuck around long enough to earn it. She shifted when he tried to peer past her, the long white tank top beginning to stick to her in the humid morning air. Mosquitos buzzed around her guest, one brave individual made a lazy loop towards her where she stood in the door. Before it could feast on her café au lait skin, it seemed to bounce off of something and then drop to the ground, silent right before the threshold. The small death went unnoticed.

    Estelle’s shorter stature had not really done a damn thing to obstruct his view into her grandmother’s home but she felt better for having tried. The house was an embarrassment to her, with its crooked porch and bowed roof and the mismatched shades of wood that demarked where repairs had been done. The interior was dingy and cluttered with the strangest of things as well as patched but serviceable mundane objects. Or at least it had been when she was there last. Having spent only a night here, and a poorly lit one, she hadn’t the faintest idea if it was worse than she remembered. Though given the man’s accent and manners she was certain he was local and if he was local he probably was not unfamiliar with the squalor of the area.

    “Does she know you?” she finally asked, getting annoyed at the volley of questions from the large, unnamed man. She wasn’t afraid of him, she knew some self-defense but more than that, there was a shotgun within reach of the door and she (saints help her hick soul) knew how to use it.

    “She never mentioned a Mr…” she thrust out her jaw and narrowed her blue eyes “Oh that’s right, you didn’t give your name when you came pounding on my door at the ass-crack of dawn. So let’s start with that then we’ll move onto talk of pay and services over the coffee I’ll invite you in for once I have a handle.”
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  6. Considering this woman had still been asleep when Mars had originally come knocking, he found it hard to believe that her grandmother was already up and about. Calling her a liar, however, was sure to get him nowhere—except for maybe back in his car after having the door slammed in his face. Holding back any comments, it was finally revealed that the woman was in the hospital but again, Mars didn't know if he believed that. “Sorry to hear,” he said instead, not all that sincere, but he still managed to retain some manners. That was the good thing about growing up in the south, he supposed, his mother never let him be rude for too long before giving him a slap.

    The annoyance in her tone remained, and Mars figured that he ought to cut to the chase before things turned sour. He couldn't have blamed her, of course, he would have been angry if someone had woken him up before the sunrise as well but after being plagued by relentless nightmares, his own needs trumped hers. “I'm Mars,” he answered, “Latier. She doesn't know me and I don't know her, but I've heard the stories and I need something.” All of her questions pointed to receiving help, but an educated guest said that it wasn't going to come from the old hag, as Delphine had described her.

    “You gonna invite me in for coffee then?” he asked, one eyebrow raised expectantly. After all, if they were going to make a deal, Mars didn't want it to be right there on the porch amongst all of the bugs that continued to buzz around him. Plus, a cup of coffee sounded damn good now that that sudden surge of adrenaline had worn off. There was only so long that he could stay anxious and angry about something, and finally being there in front of this woman, with her wild hair, deep eyes and bad attitude put him at ease—for some reason.

    Leaning against the door frame with his forearm, Mars looked down at her. “I never got your name, by the way,” he pointed out, his grin lazy. Had Delphine been there, she would have called the look unnecessarily flirtatious, but Mars just called it being friendly. Sometimes he was a people person, but only when people happened to be useful and pretty at the same time. He only needed her magic, though, just one thing, he told himself, and then he'd be out of her hair and on his way back home.
    • Love Love x 1
  7. Everyone always needed something, wasn’t that the way of things? No one ever came to this shit-hole of a cabin without a powerful motivation. For some it was to have their fortunes read. For others it was to have a curse lifted or laid. For others, people like a small, blue-eyed girl who wasn’t wanted at home, it was a place where she wasn’t the most awful thing around. So it didn’t surprise Estelle in the least that he wanted something. The question was, what did he want and could Estelle deliver?

    She knew some of her Giga’s arts, but not all. Her lessons had been received begrudgingly and only for as long as it took for her to protect herself against a world that was suddenly considerably more populated than she’d previously imagined. A world whose shadowy denizens were even more needful than the tall, broad man before her who stood in the spot so many other needful people had before him. How many nights has she woken to hear their frantic whispers and needs? How many times had she heard her Giga giving them what they wanted, which wasn’t (as Giga was fond of pointing out) necessarily what they needed. Half of Giga’s art had been sleight of hand, a sympathetic ear and a sense of showmanship that would make a stage magician weep in envy. The other half had been a powerful talent and deep connection to the spirit world. Estelle only had a fraction of what was needed. Her grandmother had insisted that if she would only apply herself she’d be a witch worth reckoning with. But Estelle had never wanted any of it. But as her Giga had always said, wants weren’t always the same as needs.

    What Estelle did have was some frightening debt brought on by the hospital care of her un-insured grandmother as well as various burial costs. What she wanted was to send this man on his way and recover from her hangover in peace. But what she needed was some money. If this man was going to pay, well then she’d best give him a show.

    After coffee.

    “Fine, fine.” She said curtly, turning away from him and gesturing him into the cabin. She sauntered into the dim cabin that smelled of moonshine, herbs, rot and something indefinably sweet. She paused mid-step when he asked her for her name.

    “Estelle.” She said, looking back over her shoulder at him. “Estelle Moreau. Have a seat. Excuse me for a moment, I’ll get that coffee started in just a sec.”

    She made her way to the bedroom which was closed off from the rest of the house by a door frame that had once held a door but now only sported a wispy bit of curtain. She slipped through it and called to him as she fumbled noisily in the dimness of the room for a pair of pants, “so, Mr. Latier, why don’t you get started on telling me what it is you need?”

    She found a pair of boxers she’d purloined from Shawn, a soft blue stripe that matched her eyes and sat comfortably low on her hips. She wibbled and wobbled as she pulled them on, her motor coordination suffering greatly from her self-medication the night before.

  8. Despite being born to a struggling single mother and growing up on the bayou where the only extra that went around was love and sorrow, Mars had never wanted for much. Money was less of an issue for him than it was for most people, and while his wallet may never have been flushed and stacked with bills, he still managed to get what he wanted. Being the alpha had its perks, many nice things just given to he and Delphine for no real reason other than someone trying to get into his good graces. Before Mars had become almost completely obsessed with the idea that his two closest friends were out to get him, his status within the pack was something that he enjoyed to the fullest extent, and now it was just a damn headache.

    For a moment or two, Mars thought that this woman wasn't going to let him in, but he breathed a sigh of relief when she grudgingly relented. He pushed himself away from the door frame and followed her inside, his senses assaulted by darkness in all forms and the sickeningly sweet smell of wood rot mixed with herbs. The cabin was a magnificent stereotype, looking like something out of a movie instead of real life and when the door closed behind him, Mars felt like he was in a different world. Briefly, a part of him thought to reconsider her help, but he beat back the urge to leave when Estelle offered him a seat.

    Everything about the cabin was small and the table was no exception. Mars was larger than the average man as it was, usually towering over people with his six-foot-four stature but sitting there, he felt positively cramped. His knees felt like they were nearly in his chest, and the only distraction from his own discomfort was Estelle's voice in the other room, prompting him to get on with his story before she put the coffee on. Where to begin was a tough question, difficult to pinpoint after so much thought had been put into how long Gabriel and Jules had been plotting against him—if they were even plotting at all. As someone who cared about their image, revealing his paranoid (delusions) to a stranger, even for help, was a tough pill to swallow.

    “I think some friends of mine are out to get me,” he decided instead of launching into a long story, listening as she noisily changed in the dark. “The last time the moon came up, they weren't acting right—I haven't trusted them for a while.” Which the two other men probably already knew, and the situation was sure to escalate because of it.

    Drumming his large fingers against the top of the table, Mars swiveled his head back around when Estelle finally reappeared, much more dressed than before. There was no denying that she was a pretty woman, and Delphine liked to tell anyone who might listen, Mars' eyes tended to wander. He was there on business, though, looking to get an actual problem solved and not caught any more tension between himself and his wife. The last thing he needed at home was more suspicion-induced arguments, questions that didn't need answers that only goaded him into lashing out. Sometimes, Delphine was too good at her own game.

    Placing his attention back on Estelle's face, Mars leaned back in his chair. “I'm alpha for the pack that sits on the other side of Cypress Hill,” he added, not ashamed of what some considered to be a blight on humanity. “My wife said I should come over here and see your grandmother, but...” he trailed off and looked around, “you know, I don't know how any of this works. I don't play with magic,” for good reason, “but if you can use your tea leaves or your smoke signals—whatever. I just want to know if I should start sleeping with a gun on my nightstand instead of a lamp.”
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  9. That he mentioned the moon should have been a clue, but at that point she’d been engaged in the delicate process of standing on one foot and sliding the other into the leg hole of her boxers so the significance of him mentioning it was lost on her. The talk of friends and betrayals registered because that wasn’t a new tale, not at all. She was in bad need of coffee and the question she’d asked to get him talking had been largely to keep him from getting bored while waiting as well as to keep him from asking her too many questions. Questions like, just how qualified are you? As Giga had always taught her was that the client liked to talk about themselves. Lord knows it was a lesson she’d used in the mundane world to some good effect.

    It was as she stepped out of the bedroom and into the main room, as dressed as she was going to bother with so early in the day, that he said the words that woke her up more than coffee would have.

    Alpha for the pack

    She blinked and let the significance of that sink it. It didn’t take long.


    Shit, shit, shit.

    Estelle knew that things other than herself and her grandmother went bump in the night. She knew also that the area around them, so rural so steeped in folklore and superstition, was well populated with things. But she’d never really encountered them outside the spirits and creatures that were part of her Giga’s trade. Her grandmother hadn’t had much truck with the others which to Estelle’s knowledge included werewolves and vampires and some other odds and ends that were more than human. The different species didn’t often cross paths. For the most part they kept to their own territories, aware but not interacting with the others. Or so she had always been told. So what had driven this man to seek her, or rather, her grandmother out?

    Betrayal or the fear of, could be a strong motivator. Estelle chewed her lip but nodded at him and then used the filling up and plugging in of her grandmother’s ancient percolator as a cover for her speculation. Could she even do this sort of shit any longer? It had been so long and she’d let her talents atrophy. If he wasn’t human, if he was one of the other-kinds, her intended bullshit wasn’t going to cut it.

    Up north in the heart of the city such things had seemed so far, so distant to her life there and it had been easy to slip into the fantasy that life was simple and people were normal. It was one of the reasons she’d loved it so. She had lived in a urban oasis of concrete and asphalt, seemingly free of the spirits she could even now feel pressing in at her, curious and starved for attention. Except she knew now that life wasn’t simple and people, even regular people were anything but normal. The burns to her heart hurt a great deal more than the bruise on her cheek and served as a reminder of those very lessons.

    The pot plugged was plugged in and noisily chugging away so out of reasons to stall she turned back to the table and regarded him. How she had missed his bulk and the strange almost palpable animal menace that surrounded him was a mystery to her. Though she was willing to own she’d not had coffee and might be reading more into his presence now that he was crammed next to the tiny table and she was aware of his nature. Those little details might well flavor things for her. Regardless of whether she’d a right to miss it before, she had and needed to catch up to the moment. Estelle sat across from him and laid her forearms across the pitted surface of the tiny table. Her hands reached for him, palm up, her fingers crooking beckoningly at him.

    “Gimme your hands.” She said, “I want to see your palms. Let’s start basic and see what needs doing.”

    And let’s stall as long as I can so I can figure out what the hell I should be doing here.

  10. There was all kinds of shit that lurked in and around the bayou, and species that had lived among humans for centuries. Most creatures knew to stick to their own kind, to stay where it was safe and not go advertising that something was off about them. For the most part, Mars stuck to that kind of thinking, hardly ever one to divulge his own secrets, but this was the exception. With matters as pressing as life or death, Mars didn't care if this woman knew that he was a werewolf, or that he was the alpha—that alone seemed like vital information or any person who was trying to solve a problem. Although he didn't know he, he trusted her to keep quiet about their impromptu meeting. If she didn't, she wasn't going to be in business for very long.

    Moments after Estelle returned to the room, Mars sensed a shift in her demeanor, a sudden apprehension that hadn't been there before when she had invited him inside. This wasn't the first time that someone had turned out to be afraid of him, or maybe she just hated him on principle—most people feared the unfamiliar and Mars knew the concept of being ruled by the moon was strange at best. If she told him to leave, his pride wouldn't allow him to seek help somewhere else and the problem within the pack was only going to get worse. While he could take both Gabriel and Jules in a fight, there was no way he would make it out if they turned the whole pack against him.

    Silence was a bit unsettling, but Mars didn't bother to break it. Instead, he sat quietly and watched as Estelle plugged in the coffee pot, an indicator that she probably wasn't going to ask him to leave. The noises from the ancient device soon filled up the room, drowning out the bubbling sound of the swamp outside but the tension still lingered. Mars wasn't the type of person to dance around a subject, and if he hadn't needed this woman's help, he would have been out of her house already and back on the road. What power she did have over him was already too much.

    Finally, however, Estelle spoke and Mars breathed a small sigh of relief. “Palm reading?” he asked skeptically, keeping his hands where they were. He had expected something more than having the lines on his hands looked over, and really, it seemed like a waste. “My hands aren't going to tell you whether or not someone's trying to kill me.” At least, he figured they wouldn't—he didn't actually have the first clue on how the divine worked and what was or wasn't pertinent to getting to the bottom of something.

    “How qualified are you to do this?” he asked, relenting as he bridged the gap between them and felt more than just the warmth of first contact. That spark set a quizzical expression on his face, but Mars didn't mention it and just waited for Estelle to work her magic. Since she had let him inside, Mars had to assume that she knew what she was doing, that some spell wasn't going to backfire and kill him before his friends could get the chance, but she could have just been blowing smoke. After all, his mother had always said that witches were charlatans, worse than doctors—Eula had been wrong before.
    #10 neptune, Oct 6, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2015
  11. Her jaw tense when he asked his question, partially from guilt, partially from pique. The expression suited her, turning her delicate features into something petulant and sweet in its ire. It was a very good question, a wise one and if it weren’t at cross purposes with her needs she would have thought well of him for thinking to ask such a question. She didn’t want to lie any more than she had too, for reasons of bookkeeping (trying to remember what story one told who about what was a real bitch) as well as not wanting to be that kind of person any more. She’d left here to avoid becoming that, she’d wanted so badly to be normal. Less than a day back and she was slipping back into the role so fast it was alarming. She didn’t want to be a liar, but she couldn’t tell him the whole truth. The whole truth would cost her this job and the potential funds that might be coming her way. Not to mention the fact that she was certain she could help him, mostly certain. Pretty certain.

    She opened her mouth to say something about transfer credit problems getting in the way of her attaining a degree in witchery when she touched him. Her hands spasmed around the bowls of his meaty paws as a jolt shot up her arms and in its wake spread out a tingling warmth. She hissed at the intensity and then felt color flooding her face at her amateur reaction. Giga wouldn’t have done that, or…

    If her grandmother had slipped she’d have made it work for her. “Powerful.” Estelle murmured silkily and then hated herself for it. She wasn’t here to flirt. Her throbbing cheek seemed to pick up its pace to remind her of that. A little ego stroking never hurt and in this case, was true. He practically vibrated with energy and power. She wasn’t certain if it was because of his wolf-nature or his alpha status or both. Regardless, he was a creature not to mess with.

    Running her thumbs over his palm, smoothing out the skin, feeling the ridges she would be reading in a moment she said airily, skipping over the qualification question to show rather than tell him her abilities, “You’d be amazed what hands can say about a person. As I said, we are going to start basic and work our way up, seeing what we can learn along the way that will inform the next step. It’s a honing in process. But if you like I can skip to the cauldron and the juju. I can get on my bone skirt, bikini and snake rattle and tell you something inscrutable with layers of truth we can’t discern because we have no good basis to build upon. Customer’s always right and all that. Just say the word and I’ll get things started.”

    The lines on his palms were moving, writhing like snakes, twining together to make characters in a language she could almost make out. It was disturbing and exhilarating. Her breathing picked up. Already this place was affecting her, pulling her into its world, dragging her into its mysteries and damn her if she didn’t want to go along despite all her good intentions to rise above this life. When she was away from here it was easy to believe she could do that, shrug it all off. But here in the heart of her Grandmother’s place of power, the land acted like an amplifier on her abilities, pulling them out of her as if she’d built up a surplus in her time away. A surplus that needed to be used lest it burn her up from the inside out. She looked up at him, to see if he wanted to proceed or not. Her blue eyes were changed, thin slivers of shimmering silver like a crescent moon around the black night of her widened pupils.

    “So,” she asked, “You want me to do my work or not?’


  12. For being a creature of the night himself, Mars certainly was skeptical of most things supernatural. He had been surrounded by wayward spirits, cursed wolves and angry vampires from the time that he was born, and had even traded urban legends with the local kids on particularly dark nights, but as an adult, he always needed to see something with his own eyes to believe it. Delphine's words about the witch in the swamp had been enough to pique his initial interest but if he was going to stay in this rundown shack for very much longer, Estelle was going to have to give him a reason outside of her unnatural beauty.

    The spark between them may have been just the reason he needed.

    It was unlike anything Mars had ever felt before, an electric heat that traveled from his fingers and up his arms to concentrate in his shoulders, enough to make him wince but not let go. For a moment or two, Mars just stared at her, watching as she smoothed her delicate hands over his own, palms alone dwarfing hers by comparison. As far as he could recall, he had never been left this speechless by anyone before, but Estelle was the new exception and she continued to surprise him—from her liquid silk voice to what was surely a killer wit, Mars already wanted to see more. If his wife could see him now, she'd surely do the dirty work for Gabriel and Jules.

    “Do I have to pay extra for the bone skirt?” he asked slowly, smirking, “or does it come as a bonus with the coffee?” He could smell it dripping into the pot already, keen senses much different than hers, but still useful. Truthfully, Mars didn't care how she had to dress up or what she had to shake as long as he walked back across the bridge with an answer, or some kind of plan for handling his (former) friends. Since sitting down, Mars hadn't had any intention to get back up until he was satisfied and joking aside, he was prepared for whatever unknown was to come.

    Before he could give her a straight answer, they shared a powerful look. Her eyes seemed to glow as he looked into them, sky-colored irises now wrapped with a glittering silver, alive on its own and offering even more proof that she was the real deal. While Estelle may not have had the same training as her grandmother, Mars now trusted that she wasn't just trying to scam him out of a few hundred bucks with some bullshit about the lines on his hands.

    Nodding his head, Mars flattened his palms for her again, the tips of his fingers brushing her soft skin in the process. “Do what you have to,” he said and maneuvered in the small space so that he was leaned against the table. Inwardly, he wondered just how much she was going to get from his hands, if they would reveal his life's story or just a small chunk of time, or if he would have to fill in the gaps for her. The thought of verbally opening up to a stranger was tough, but it wasn't going to be the first time that Mars has stood in his own way.

    Whatever she was seeing, Mars wasn't witnessing the same thing. His hands just looked like hands, the same ones that had been with him for the last three decades, scarred in places and rough in others. “Well?” he eventually asked.
    • Love Love x 1
  13. Reading palms wasn’t a sure thing, he was right to doubt. More often than not palm readers were charlatans. Her Giga had done it a time or two when what the client wanted was something simple and apparent but the client had paid for the mystique of a fortuneteller and not the practicality of a life coach. So she played the part. Other times playing the part meant wearing the damn bone skirt.

    Estelle grinned at the man, her mouth curving up at the corners in a wicked sort of way, her moon-taken eyes sparkling before she looked back to his palms. “No extra cost if it comes to that.”

    She took in a deep breath and let it out, focusing on the map of his palms.

    “Not that we’ve discussed a cost. Consider this a show of good faith.”

    Already the lines of his palms and the whorls of his skin were speaking to her. The shock that had raced up her arms and into the heart of her at their first contact seemed to have returned to him, coalescing just under his skin and with flashes and sparks began to tell her a story. For there was a story there, she could see it and feel it taking shape. The question was, would it tell her what he wanted to know? She pulled back a little, trying to be practical. This was a part of her she didn’t want and was only making use of because of circumstances. So she’d be damned if she raced ahead of herself and gave without getting.

    But it felt so damn good to do this she had to reluctantly admit to herself. To flex these muscles and use this skill of hers which had so long lay dormant. Was it this place affecting her? Or was it something more. She heard a scuttling sound from the shadows of her room, her gaze flicking there, surprised at the activity this time of day. The spirits and little things that lived in the between world did not like the sun.

    “Now hush.” She said to him and to the thing as she let her eyes widen and see the light, the lines and what fate had scratched upon his skin. Intellect and fate tangled, the intellect line creased and grew faint, confused almost and then seemed to vanish before it reached the success line. She wrinkled her nose and focused on the other palm, her finger tapping on the faint line that rested under the pad of his pinky finger, it was a short line though the heart line on this hand swept up towards it, it did not connect.

    Her eyes were drawn back to the tangled fate and intellect.

    She drew in another deep breath and then pulled her eyes away and let them close. She counted her heart beats, to calm herself and pull herself back into the moment, away from that vision and was surprised to find her heart racing within her chest.
    “I think I can help you.” She said. “I didn’t get much, but I did get a sense that there is something I can do for you. I just need to do something more precise than this.”

    She pulled her hands from his and stood, turning to the counter where the percolator stood to fetch him a cup. She used the time to collect herself and her thoughts. She was shaking, not in fear but with some intense reaction she couldn’t name. For the first time since she’d fled this place she missed her Grandmother. Giga would know what to do, she’d have been able to help this man or at least tell Estelle how to, or if she needed to send him packing.

    “I can do a few things for you, Mr. Latier. I could make you a poppet or an amulet of protection against your friends. I can do a deeper divination to get more clarity on the matter if all you are seeking is answers.”

    Picking up two mugs, only marginally less shaken she sauntered back to the table, putting one in front of him and the other in front of her.

    “Sorry I don’t have any cream.” She said apologetically as she gestured to the sugar bowl. “I only just got in last night.”

    A sip of the black brew tasted just like she remembered it, bitter like her Giga’s laugh. She never bothered with sugar.

    “So, let’s talk specifics.”

  14. While Estelle may have been lost in a world between this one and the next, Mars was left to sit there—a bystander in his own palm reading. Still, he was interested in the scene in front of him, squinting his forest-colored eyes at his hands, desperately trying to discover something new about them, but they remained the same. There was nothing exceptional about the lines of his palms or the way his fingers came together, nothing that confirmed his own resilience or brutishness and nothing that said he was going to be okay, that his friends weren't currently plotting his murder. It was all rather frustrating, resulting in an unconsciously furrowed brow by the time Estelle was done.

    Bone skirts and freebies aside, Mars was anxious to know what fate had in store for him and his attention remained on Estelle as the wild-haired woman regained her composure. In the back of his mind, he was already bracing himself for bad news, for the only solution in stopping his own demise was the death of two friends, two people he had grown up alongside, two men that he trusted more than his own wife every now and then. When push came to shove, though, Mars already knew that he would do what was in the best interest for the pack—and himself as well. They'd take him out over his dead body.

    “You can?” Mars asked, instantly perked up. His eyes stayed on her, wolf-like and attentive, as she crossed the small space and moved toward the coffee machine. He breathed a sigh of relief, a breath that he hadn't been aware of holding but already, his shoulders felt ten times lighter. If Estelle needed more information, whether it be more of his time, money or whatever, he was willing to give it. “That's...” he paused, not wanting to get ahead of himself as she went on about amulets, hardly interested in toys over answers.

    Her shaking hands didn't go unnoticed, and Mars was beginning to wonder what kind of toll deeper divination would take on her. Clearly, she wasn't as strong as her grandmother, maybe there was a chance that they could both be seriously hurt. “I can protect myself without a necklace,” he said, very much convinced of his own bravado and macho-bullshit. “I want answers,” he went on with an assured nod, “I just want to know what they're up to and I'll handle it from there.” Handling it, of course, meant death or exile—a fate that was one in the same.

    When she returned to the table, Mars thanked her for the coffee and took the mug by the handle. He held it in front of him, elbow rested on the table, but didn't drink yet as the steam wafted between them. He shook his head at the mention of cream, not wanting it in the first place, but much more interested in where she'd been. “I like it black anyway,” he remarked before taking his first sip—bitter and hot, just like he liked his women.

    Taking another swallow from the mug, Mars set the cup back down but continued to lean on his elbow, chin now occupying his hand instead. “Specifics of payment, or why I'm so worried that my friends are out to get me?” he asked. “Because one's more important than the other, and I'd like to have a heads up before the next moon.” It was just a few weeks away, after all, ready to rise and potentially bring a flood of disaster with it.

    “Hope you gave whoever did that,” he said and gestured with a finger toward the bruise on Estelle's cheek, “hell before you left.” He brought the mug to his lips again, one eyebrow cocked slightly higher than the other as he wondered how long it would be before she went back to wherever she'd come from. “How long you gonna be in town?” If she was going to help him, he wanted to know he could count on her to stay put a while.
  15. She pursed her lips to blow on the coffee and paused when he said he didn’t need an amulet, just answers. Perfect. She’d need time for that. It had been a long long time since she’d bothered with deeper divination. Likely she’d need to talk to the sprits and bargain with them and as she’d seen the night before, they were unruly. Whether that was from the death of her Giga or something more remained to be seen.

    She took a sip, taking some small comfort in the way it seared her throat. Some pain could be cleansing. She put the mug down and fiddled with the handle, her fingers still shaking but not nearly as much as before. She had lost so much in her time away and she was still uncertain if that coming back hadn’t been a huge fucking mistake. But she was here, she might as well do what she could. She wasn’t ready to head back to Boston and to Shawn. Not yet. Which of course made her look away before he could see the self-loathing that filled her eyes when Mr. Latier pointed out the gift Shawn had given her. She hadn’t given him hell. She’d been weak and wept and locked herself in her bedroom and left in the morning without a word. She’d even answered one of his phone calls and hated herself for it. So much for the strong, liberated woman she’d believed herself to be. She’d just spent… no. There was no excuse for her behavior, just like there was none for Shawn’s. She needed to figure something out, but dealing with her Giga’s problems and this stranger’s problems were going to be a mighty fine distraction keeping her from having to think about her next step for a little bit.

    She shrugged her slender shoulder when he asked how long she was going to be in town. She wasn’t sure but was certain that telling him so wasn’t going to be good for business nor would it instill confidence.

    “I’m in town for a bit, have some business for my Grandmother to straighten out.” Which was true though she felt a strange impulse to add an addendum, the sort of which she’d never have expected to come from her lips, ever.

    “I’m from here, I just haven’t been here for a bit.”

    Again, it was true, just there was a whole iceberg’s worth of unsaid floating beneath the surface of that bald statement. She tried to let some more of her roots color the formations of her words, the accent she’d tried so hard to obliterate over years slipped back on with very little effort.

    “So I don’t need to haul out the bone skirt but I do need to do some prep and night is best for the work that needs doing. So tonight at the earliest, tomorrow would be better. I didn’t see anything urgent in the reading but then palm reading is shitty for precision.”

    She made herself look back at him, thinking she’d look dishonest if she avoided eye contact. She tried to recall all the tips her Giga told her about making clients comfortable.

    “If you can get things to me that belong to the people you think are involved that would be helpful. I don’t need them per se, but it makes things easier and the effects more powerful. Also helpful is if you tell me why you think these two are going to betray you. I assume that you have a reason for this suspicion, even if it is just gut instinct.”

  16. The short silence and sudden avoidance said all that Mars needed to know. Mars couldn't blame her for not wanting to talk, and Lord knew that he'd watched his own mother take abuse from more than a handful of useless men over the years and the struggle of whether or not to return to domestic violence or love wasn't unfamiliar to him. Although he felt sorry for her, it was a thought that he planned on keeping to himself because he was almost certain that this woman didn't need or want his pity. Instead, he took another sip of coffee, mouth occupied so that nothing stupid came out of it as Estelle fielded his other question. It was the more important of the two and her answer gave him a little more hope.

    “Seems like you're from here,” he agreed, always believing that the swamp never left a person. He had never personally gotten to test that theory, unfortunately, having lived his entire life on the bayou and Mars wasn't in any type of hurry to relocate—even if his friends might have been trying to kill him. Regardless, he got the sense that Estelle wasn't thrilled to be back in her hometown, and that maybe continuing the work of her grandmother wasn't something she was all that happy about either. For whatever reason, though, she was willing to help and Mars was already eternally grateful beneath his cool exterior.

    There were more pressing matters than learning the ins and outs of Estelle's history, however, and Mars was fine to move on. He feigned disappointment as the bone skirt was temporarily put on the back burner, but relief washed over him once more as his palms went on to reveal nothing terribly urgent. Time to spare was a good thing, and he trusted that Estelle was going to do what she needed to over the next day or so. “Things like what?” he asked, curious as to whether or not he was going to have to do some breaking and entering.

    Back at his house, Mars had all kinds of odds and ends that belonged to Gabriel and Jules. The three of them had been friends since childhood and he was sure that his attic was packed with old toys or clothes that he could have handed over to Estelle without a second thought. Ignorant to magic as he was, and only working off the theatrics of Hollywood pictures, Mars wondered just how personal these items had to be. “I'll do my best,” he eventually decided, less wary of having to see the two men now that he knew they weren't going to try and kill him as soon as he thought.

    Coming to the ultimate question, however, Mars still didn't know where to start. He offered a shrug of his broad shoulders and cast a thoughtful glance down into the dark depths of his mug, now half-empty. “We been friends since we was kids and all,” he began, feeling that this story was going to take an unnecessarily sappy turn if he reflected on better times for too long. “We always talked about one of us being alpha and when it was me, they were happy.” Mars shrugged again, a familiar feeling of exaggeration creeping over him as he considered the possibility of being delusional. It ran in the family, instability, and Eula was proof of that. “Anyway, last few moons they been breaking rules, challenging me in front of the pack. I did what I had to.” And that was catching Jules by the neck later on.

    “They're always whispering to each other now,” he ended, “watching me.” Mars supposed that it didn't help that he was constantly watching them as well, but there was no trust between the three anymore. “I'm not going to lose my place for them.” Whether it was jealousy or disapproval that had soured their friendship, Mars just wanted it handled.
  17. “Things that are distinctly theirs.” She said as she sat back in the chair and drew her legs up so that her heels were on the front of the chair and her chin rested in her knees. It was a child-like pose and it should have made her feel small and vulnerable but instead she felt contained and controlled. The tickling edges of her awakening talents were less raw when she was so tightly held and she could focus better on the task at hand rather than being half distracted by the things happening on the periphery of her awareness. Those things were still happening, but for now she had just a touch more attention to the large man with his even larger presence who filled up her kitchen and made her very unsettled, not exactly unpleasantly. He was intriguing, this werewolf, the first she’d knowingly spent time with. Though she had to admit that she’d probably never dealt with one unknowingly, not if they all exuded such an aura as he.

    She looked down at her coffee mug as her arms wrapped around her shins and she tried to think of the things Giga would say were needed in answer to his question.

    “Hair is great, or nail clippings, but I doubt you keep that stuff of theirs around. Clothing worn by them would work too, especially if it was worn since you noticed their strangeness. But anything really. Pens, spoons, jewelry... stuff that is theirs that they touched in an intimate sort of way. I just need it to help… um…” how did she explain this part without sounding like a lunatic? She wrinkled up her nose as she struggled for the words and finding none.

    Then she looked back at him and reminded herself, he was a fucking werewolf. He had come to her as a witch, he wasn’t going to judge and think she was nuts.

    “I’m going to see what the spirits have to say on the matter. They will touch and maybe take your friends’ things. To get a trail or a taste and then tell me what they know and maybe what they find out. So the fresher the better,” she added, fiddling with her mug as she listened to his brief tale of childhood friends acting out of sorts. She felt an ache of empathy for him, to feel the blow of a lack of trust was a bitter thing. Her cheek throbbed in response to the thought and her mouth tasted of ash. That had to be an awful way to feel. She’d had her betrayal sprung on her, sort of. She hadn’t stewed for weeks, or had she? She swallowed against that taste, willing it to clear. She would help him for many reasons, empathy was now one.

    Now came the part she was even less sure of, the cost. He seemed desperate, he seemed like he’d pay, but how much was too much? She’d lost her sense of the currency of this kind of transaction, if she’d ever had it. He wasn’t wearing anything that screamed wealth to her, nor did she know what he did for work, or if he worked. That would have helped clue her in. But then he was Alpha and probably didn’t want for much. Still, it wouldn’t do to charge him too much.

    “Seven hundred.” She said out of the blue. It wasn’t enough but it was a start and she couldn’t bring herself to ask for more when she wasn’t sure how effective she’d even be. “It’s a tricky ritual.” She said which wasn’t exactly all of it. The spirits demanded pay and delighted in bartering. She was going into spiritual debt for this man and that was really hard to put into US dollars.


  18. Obtaining things that distinctly belonged to Jules and Gabriel was easier said than done. Mars now knew that he couldn't just go home and spend an afternoon clearing out his attic, he was going to have to see his two former friends, or worse, break into their houses and steal. While he wasn't against illegal activity, fooling a werewolf was close to impossible considering their enhanced senses and keen attention to detail. Jules alone was as organized as they came, always had his house in order and while Gabriel had always been the least focused between the three of them, he was bound to notice that someone different had been in his home. Somehow, he was going to have to get creative and a plan was already brewing in the back of his mind.

    Hair and nail clippings were not only disgusting, but also hard to come by. Mars suddenly realized that he didn't even know if either of his friends even used a brush and the last thing he wanted to do was rifle through their trash. “Spoons?” he repeated with a short chuckle, surprised by the options she was giving him. If it was cutlery the spirits wanted, he could easily bring Delphine along; the woman had sticky fingers, something that had started to become a bad habit several years ago. Obviously, however, there were unexpected perks to being married to a pretty, suspicious klepto with a bad temper.

    Nodding, Mars was quick to agree to Estelle's terms as he gave the mug in his hand a squeeze. Despite the rising heat of the coming day, the warmth felt good in his palm, soothing in such a dank and dark little shack. He listened as Estelle explained her end, though, unable to tell if it sounded right or wrong, minimal or extravagant. In the end, Mars could only hope that it would work and that the spirits would come back with some answers for him. Every day that the full moon drew closer filled him with a little more anxiety—it was one thing to worry about an outside attack but to think that his best friends were plotting his demise was too much to grasp if he dwelled on it for too long.

    Taking another sip from his mug, the bitter taste of coffee on his tongue helped to soften the blow of her price. “What? Seven hundred?” he asked, eyebrows raised as if he expected her to follow up with a just kidding, but instead there was justification. “A tricky ritual for who? I'm the one who has to steal from people who are trying to kill me.” It felt like extortion, but Mars had already agreed to pay her. He knew that he could have refused, just gotten up and been on his way with his free palm reading and no peace of mind, but that would have defeated the purpose of even coming out here at the crack of dawn. Wasted time was not something that Mars appreciated, and he never wanted to be on the inflicting end of things.

    “Fine,” he decided, not about to make a bigger fuss about it since she was the only witch around in his territory. If Mars were to seek other options, he would have had a lot more to worry about than his friends trying to kill him—crossing pack lines was as good as suicide most times and foolish men tended not to make it back. “But I can't get it all to you right away, you know that right?” Letting his mug rest on the table, still with a swig or two of coffee left in the bottom, Mars leaned and reached for his wallet in his back pocket.

    The leather billfold was beat up to all hell, softened over the years of being sat on and stuffed into pockets, bend and dropped and even stolen once or twice. If there was anything he owned that was distinctly his, it was this ancient wallet. “I have...” he paused, counting out a small stack of green bills, “two-twenty. Is that good enough until I come back with their things?” Delphine wasn't going to be happy about the price, but Mars wasn't above visiting the pawn shop if he had to.
  19. Estelle’s chin lifted and her mouth tightened into a tight bow at his outrage over the sum she’d requested. What did he know? He had no idea what he was asking of her. She had to make bargains with the sprits to get them to do anything for her. They weren’t going to listen to her without some serious convincing since she’d been gone so long, it was probably going to take blood, sweat and tears, literally. Any treaties and contracts she’d had with them had long since decayed. She was going to have to start from scratch with a task that was anything but beginner stuff. If it had been Giga asking them, the spirits would do it without blinking an eye and the cost to her soul would be lesser and as such, his cost would be lower. But it wasn’t Giga taking up the task for him, it was Estelle and she wasn’t sure she could even do what it was she was promising. And if the night before was any indication, the spirits were unruly and worked up. She wasn’t sure if that was just because the ties they had with Giga had been severed or if there was more going on. She could feel the cold cobwebby feeling of their attentions on her from the shadows that filled the house. It unsettled her and made her long to run her nails over her skin, leaving long red scores in their wake. She knew from experience that it didn’t help, she’d still feel the touch of their attention no matter what.

    “It is a tricky ritual for me.” She snapped in reply to his demeaning, offhanded comment. “You don’t know the cost of this shit.”

    She put her mug down on the table a little forcefully and glared at him. “Jesus, it isn’t that hard, you don’t have to steal from them. Meet them at a restaurant, buy them lunch, fucking pocket the spoons or grab the napkin they use.”

    But then he was acquiescing and reaching for his wallet while her mouth filled with a bitter taste that had nothing to do with coffee and refused to be washed down. She pushed it all back, trying to be the professional Giga taught her to be. Fighting with the client was never advisable. She wanted so badly to slip back into bed and start this day over again, preferably at a later hour. How about a do-over of the last few months? Could that be arranged? Her cheek throbbed.

    “Don’t worry about it now.” She said and gently pushed his hand holding the bills closer to his wallet, ignoring that little burst of energy she felt and was attributing to his otherness. “Just bring the cash when you come back tonight.”

    She blew back a bit of hair with a huffy puff of air, pushing out irritation as she stood.

    “Look, if it’s too much just get something from one of them. The one you suspect the most and we’ll try from there. I’ll knock the cost down a little since I’ll only be asking for one favor but the groundwork is the same regardless of how many I do. So it’s up to you.”

    She shrugged a golden shoulder, trying for nonchalance and failing. She looked at him from across the table, her hands resting lightly on the edge which only slightly softened the trembling in them. She forced herself to meet his eyes to show him she was tough and unafraid. However the darkness that glinted in the depths of her pale eyes revealed the lie of that gesture. She was afraid, but not fearful. Her stubborn chin spoke of her determination which offset some of the nerves. She would give him her all, it might even be enough.

    “We can decide tonight when you show up with whatever you manage to get.”

    She sighed. “Sundown we’ll start. It might take a while so don’t plan on anything for afterwards.”

  20. Beggars couldn't be choosers.

    Mars relented as quickly as he temper flared, leaving him to wonder what the hell she was so worked up about. It was true that he didn't know the toll that the ritual was going to take on her, and that it was impossible to put a monetary value on her time, but seven hundred dollars still seemed a little steep. There was no sense in trying to talk her down, haggle a little and see if there was any kind of wiggle room because the look in her eyes and the sharp tone in her voice said it all. For the first time that morning, Mars considered crossing into enemy lines and seeing what else, or who else was out there for him—or maybe all witches were just downright unpleasant and he was going to be fucked either way.

    The position that he held made it difficult for most people to even think about snapping at him, but Estelle didn't seem to care about any of that. At the moment, she had all the power because he had come to her, sought her out when his friends had (allegedly) turned against him and he was going to have to deal with her until the problem was solved. As much as he didn't want to, Mars remained quiet through her short tirade, chalking him up to completely stupid and void of any good plans for making good on her requests.

    Silent until her anger suddenly faded, Mars sucked his teeth and pocketed his wallet, letting Estelle continue as she tried to pull herself out from the hole she had been digging for herself. Soon enough, Mars stood from the small table and held her gaze. There was something there in her pale eyes, apprehension or maybe fear, but he didn't comment on it and he was sure that she didn't want him to. Giving a slow nod just to show that he was still in agreement to come back, Mars stepped toward the door. “Let's hope you get yourself straightened out before sundown.”

    Without waiting for her, Mars showed himself out. The sun was fully risen when he stepped back outside, back to bugs buzzing around his head as he walked back across the rickety bridge and toward his car parked underneath a large tree. Getting inside, the alpha knew that he should have gone home and been a good husband, filled in the gaps for Delphine and figured out where to go from there, but he didn't. Instead, he took off up the road he'd come from, still desolate, but long enough to make a quick phone call to Gabriel and Jules. Buying the two of them breakfast wasn't something that Mars had wanted to do, feeling that his former friends didn't deserve a penny from him, let alone a hot meal, but Estelle had been right—it was easier than breaking and entering, or involving Delphine.

    Considering the early hour, the drive into town went faster than usual and Mars was more than happy to beat the traffic as he found everyone's favorite diner and pulled into one of many free parking space. He didn't bother to wait for either man outside, but he did find a table near the window, wanting to see everyone who pulled up or even just passed by on the sidewalk. When he'd called Gabriel, the man had seemed apprehensive at first until Mars had lied, humored him a little about wanting to redraw their current territory—Gabriel had wanted a war since the three of them had been kids. Jules was easier to convince; that one had never turned down breakfast on another's dime.

    In addition to securing a booth by the window, Mars had also made a point to the face the door. He looked up as the bell chimed and his childhood friends stepped into the diner. Gabriel was first, living up to his name with his tall stature, lithe frame and blonde hair tied back. He looked suspicious just standing there and the smile that he wore on his face looked painted on, a costume that was meant to fool. Behind him, Jules ambled up to the table, almost as large as Mars himself, darker and a little heavier with close-cropped hair and dark eyes. If they were going to betray him, Mars already knew that Jules was just along for the ride.

    The three said their pleasantries, manners never escaping any of them and the three cups of coffee already on the table looked like much of the same. Mars drank from his mug, his second cup of the day as he left his own spoon on the napkin next to his hand. “Glad you could make it,” he said, looking from one man to the other across from him. He didn't let his gaze linger for too long, even as Jules poured a generous amount of sugar and cream into his cup and reached for his own spoon.

    “You wanted to talk territory?” Gabriel asked after doctoring his own drink. He tapped off the excess instead of licking it away, leaving the metal to stain parts of his paper napkin a light shade of brown.

    Mars raised his eyes, “something like that.”

    “You ain't got a plan?” Jules asked.

    “No one's gonna take you seriously if you go in there blind.”

    It was small comments like that, little digs that let Mars know where he stood with the others. Whether or not the whole pack shared that sentiment, or just the two men in front of him was still largely unknown but Mars hoped to handle things before his leadership was further challenged. “I got a plan,” he said, “fuck you think?”

    “Yeah?” Gabriel asked, sounding skeptical as he leaned in with his elbows against the table. “What is it then?”

    Despite his answer, Mars didn't have any intention of talking to the other alphas in the area, nor was he planning on organizing his own pack into a frenzy to take what wasn't theirs. If someone out there wanted a war, Mars wasn't going to be the one to spark it, but he didn't have any problems with puffing his chest and making Gabriel and Jules think otherwise. They seemed to be hungry for action, ready to devour the other packs in the area the same way they devoured the food on their plates. When it was all said and done, the two left looking full and satisfied. After, Mars waited for both cars to leave the parking lot before wrapping Jules' spoon in a napkin. Gabriel had been a little more cautious, making sure to give his plate and cutlery back to the waitress when she cleared the table, but he'd left his cup behind.

    Stealing from a diner was as simple as walking out; people tended not to argue with confidence.

    With a mug and the spoon sitting comfortably in the passenger seat, Mars drove back home. It was still early in the day, and he was intent on more sleep before sundown. He wasn't sure what the night was going to bring him, but he trusted Estelle when she said that it would be a long one and the last thing he wanted to do was fall asleep on her. Besides, Mars had never been all that good at waiting and sleeping through the afternoon sounded more appealing than driving himself crazy with all that could happen.

    When he arrived home, Delphine was in the kitchen washing dishes. “Took you long enough,” she said over her shoulder before setting an ancient-looking skillet on the rack to dry. She toweled off her delicate hands and turned to him, eyebrows raised and arms crossed. “Well? Is someone trying to kill you or not?”

    “Dunno,” Mars answered with a shrug. “She wants me to come back tonight for some kind of ritual.”

    “Can I come?”

    Call it intuition, but Mars knew that she was going to ask. “No,” he shook his head. “This is my problem, I have to deal with it on my own.” Truthfully, if Estelle had been an old swamp hag, Mars wouldn't have stopped Delphine from tagging along but he was already lying by omission, by not telling her right away that the old woman had passed and that her granddaughter had come to take her place. Delphine had enough qualms about him even looking at other women, and he didn't have the time or energy to assure her that this was strictly business.

    Never mind the electric touch he and Estelle had shared that morning.

    “I'm going back to bed,” Mars said before an argument could break out. He left the kitchen, left Delphine to huff and puff around the house for the rest of the afternoon and think the worst of him just because he didn't want to bring his wife to a voodoo ritual.

    Just before sundown, Mars set off. He said goodnight to Delphine before leaving, but the stubborn woman had cheeked him when he'd tried to go in for a kiss. It didn't matter, he supposed, there were more pressing matters to deal with. For the second time that day, it was back down that long, dirt road. It looked different in the dying light, a little more ominous as if his destination was to be final. Parking underneath the same tree as before, Mars grabbed the mug and spoon before getting out of the car and heading across the bridge. He caught a glance of an alligator in the murky water below, its gnarled back and part of its tail sticking out as a warning; he hoped the bridge continued to hold.

    After crossing, Mars knocked on the door and waited for Estelle to answer. Despite his hope that things would go smoothly between them, he didn't have a good feeling about the night, but he had brought some extra money with him.

    “You ready?” he asked when she answered, holding the items out to her with one hand.
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