Falco, Casey, and Cerberus returned to dog form all ventured downstairs to the garage where a number of cars awaited.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Falco said, “But I believe I will drive tonight.”
Casey laughed at that in spite of — or maybe because of — her growing nervousness. “I think my old truck’s about had it. Probably best if you do the driving from now on.”
The Immortal glanced over to Cerberus, “The Roadster, I think.”
The dog groaned.
The three stepped over to a sleek, silver 1969 Jaguar XKE Roadster SII, convertible with black leather interior.
“Nice,” Casey smiled, opening the passenger side door and sliding in.
Falco climbed in behind the steering wheel. Cerberus squeezed in between them, backside resting on the trunk.
“Watch the claws,” Falco warned. “Just had it waxed.”
Casey rested her arm companionably on the mastiff’s back to make a bit more room.
Before pulling out of the garage, Falco closed his eyes. Casey felt a buzz of mental energy sweep away from him. She’d seen this before, last night when he’d searched for the presence of vampires near the Longhorn. Experimentally she closed her own eyes and tried to sense what might be on the other side of the garage door. Her mind moved forward, her awareness extending from her in a cone… through the overhead door and out into the street… a mind! She found the mind of a young man passing by… on a bicycle.
Touching his mind, she found that he was excited by his plans for the evening. He had a six pack of beer in his backpack and copy of HOT AND SAUCEY PIZZA GIRLS, Volume 4.
She stifled an amused snort. If there were any vampires in the vicinity, her senses weren’t yet honed enough to ‘see’ them.
Falco’s eyes opened, “Clear.”
The garage door opened and they motored out into the evening streets with the top down. Casey looked around, unconsciously wide-eyed, half expecting to see a city teeming with mythical creatures now that Falco had gifted her with the ability to see such things.
They cruised a few miles, heading into a business park. As the car round the corner, Casey noted a long haired dog watching them pass. She did a double-take as they passed the dog. Her newly-tuned senses told her plainly that this was a Dog Person.
Another turn, she saw two small dogs sitting and watching on the sidewalk. More of them! She started to comment on it to Falco and Cerberus, but the dire secrecy of the knowledge made her hesitant to speak aloud about it out here. **They’re Dog People,** she sent in a bemused tone to Falco. **All the dogs are like Cerberus!**
:: Yes. All of *these* dogs are. ::
They parked the car and Cerberus immediately bolted for the parking lot.
“Ready?” Falco asked as he indicated the twenty-story glass building before them.
She ran a hand lightly over the hilt of her new weapon, concealed beneath her lightweight jacket. “Ready,” she replied with more cheer than she really felt, and fell into step beside him.
They entered the building and took the elevator up. Two Pit Bulls were sitting watch in the hallway as they exited. They cruised down the hall and entered through a set of double doors.
It was a large auditorium full of Dog People all in biped form.
Casey looked around the room with equal parts amazement, shyness and curiosity. She wondered how this many dogs managed to enter the building without drawing attention.
:: No one notices a dog here, a dog there… :: Falco smiled, hearing her curiosity. :: The People are a great ally… They can travel anywhere and no one thinks twice about speaking in their presence, making love with them in the room, stealing in their sight, killing before them. ::
She considered that, acknowledged the truth of it. No one ever cared what a dog might witness or overhear. **Can the…the vampires and werewolves and whatnot see them? Recognize them I mean, in dog form?**
:: Can they see them for what they are? ::
He shook his head. :: No. I have taught them how to pass seen, but not seen. Such a gift was necessary for their survival. The Wolves… they sought to eliminate the People. Down to the last pup. For them to continue, they had to… disappear. ::
**You mentioned before that the Wolves were enemies of the People. Werewolves, you mean? Or the regular kind?**
:: Yes… Werewolves. They call themselves Garou. Many years ago, they sought to eliminate the other changing breeds.::
Casey frowned. **Not very nice of them. So the…the Garou,** the word felt rough and feral in her mind, **are naturally violent, then? Just like in the movies?**
:: They are predisposed to violence, yes. But they have much changed their ways since then. Still violent. They do think more now. ::
So much to learn. She filed “Garou are inclined to be violent” in her growing store of new information. **Is there anything I should know if I meet one? How do they feel about humans?**
:: Most do not eat humans anymore. :: There was no humor in his tone.
Guess that answered that question. Under Garou in her internal notes she added, “Avoid.”
She frowned, suddenly wondering…**Why can you and I see the People for what they are? Or, well, why can I see them?** Falco had given them the gift of not being perceived; naturally he’d be immune to its effects.
:: I’ve revealed to you — opened your mind — to what can be seen. ::
She pondered that for a thoughtful minute or two. Then, **Everything? Did you give me your…your ability to see true reality even when it’s been distorted or hidden?”
:: Yes. It is a skill you’ll need to live to a ripe, old age. ::
“I’m all for that,” she chuckled aloud, but inwardly she was marveling at the value of the gift. She’d begun to understand that this new, secret world Falco had shown her practically revolved around illusion and subterfuge. To be able to perceive the truth of things through all the smoke and mirrors was an enormous advantage just for daily life, and more so during a war.
Casey observed that Cerberus had adopted the serious, quiet menace of a body guard. He seemed very professional. She wondered if she and Falco should just take seats, or if they’d be expected to say something, or what. She glanced up at her mentor, looking for a lead to follow.
“Lord Falco!” A dog-man walked up. He was short, about five-four. His head was most definitely a tri-color Beagle in origin. He was wearing pleated khaki Dockers, loafers, and a light blue buttoned down shirt with a tweed jacket. He was not at all neatly pressed. He wore the rumpled comfort of a tenured, university English professor.
Casey took in his appearance with unselfconscious interest, then remembered her manners and brought her gaze politely back up to his eyes. Then she remembered that dogs didn’t like that, so she settled for looking at the bridge of his muzzle and wondered how many social errors she was about to make tonight. Normally she was good with dogs, and with people, but the rules of etiquette were so different for both…
“Sh’lock,” Falco smiled. “Good to see you.”
“And you, sir.”
“Sh’Lock, allow me to introduce Casey Gavin to you.”
Sh’lock sniffed in her direction, smiled. “Good evening, Ms. Gavin.” His voice was a lovely baritone. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“The pleasure’s mine, Mr. Sh’lock.” Casey pronounced the unfamiliar name carefully. “I’m honored to be here.”
“Oh, Just Sh’lock — or Sherlock.” He smiled again, “No need for formality where I’m concerned.”
She returned the smile, feeling a little more at ease.
He turned to Falco, “Alpha’s ready for you, sir.”
Falco hooked an eyebrow Casey’s direction and moved down to the podium. Casey followed, the butterflies swooping back into her stomach. She tried not to look as nervous as she felt as she walked with Falco to the podium.
Cerberus fell in behind them.
They moved down to the podium where they found a nicely dressed dog man. He stood at about five seven and was a bit portly. His hair was a dark coal grey — not too much lighter than his suit coat and trousers. His vest was a red tartan. He wore spectacles.
Scottish Terrier, Casey realized.
“Alastair,” Falco greeted him. “This Casey Gavin, my protege.”
“Och,” He said, “Yuir a fine lass. Pleased to meetcha.”
“Thank you, Mi–Alastair. I’m very pleased to be here.”
“He is Alpha,” Cerberus whispered behind her.
Casey blinked, then blushed, wishing she’d called him Mr. Alastair. Somehow she’d thought that the Alpha Dogperson would be more physically imposing, a German Shepherd or a Wolfhound or something like that. “It’s an honor to meet you, Sir,” she added respectfully.
“Och!” He waved off her respectful manner, “Lovely lassies like yuirself don’t need to call me sir. They just need t’call me!”
That got a startled smile from Casey. Alastair laughed.
“Watch out for this one,” Falco warned. “Many a young lady has had a reputation ruined by this one.”
“I’ll remember that,” Casey laughed, suddenly feeling more at ease in this company of friendly, informal People. This wasn’t so different from the Longhorn, really.
Casey grinned at Alastair’s indignant protest, liking the blustery Terrier already. If all the People were as personable as he and Sh’lock and Cerberus, maybe being assigned a guard wouldn’t be as awkward as she’d feared.
The Terrier’s eyes sparkled at Casey. Then in a serious voice, he said to Falco: “Ramses is dead.”
Casey’s smile faded. She stepped back a bit to let Falco and Alastair discuss their war.
Falco scowled, “How?”
“The River Hag,” Alastair answered. “He was with the Bastet and his war party. None of our people were on site other than Ramses. We just know that he didn’t make it.”
“She’s taking it as well as can be expected.”
“Blast,” Falco growled.
Casey could feel a deep sense of loss boil from him, and more, a tremendous wave of… guilt? Without thinking she laid a concerned hand on his arm. **I’m so sorry, Mr. Falco. Were you close to him?**
She sensed a soothing splash of comfort wash over him just a bit. :: No… But he was loyal. And I assigned him the task that got him killed. :: His fist balled, shakes ever so slightly.
Ouch. Not knowing what to say to that, she sent him a wordless pulse of sympathy.
“Ramses was a guid soldier,” Alastair said.
“Yes, he was.” Falco nodded solemnly.
“He’s not the first t’fall.”
“And he won’t be the last!” Falco snapped at Alpha, “I know… I know…”
Alastair’s eyes were warm, understanding. “It’s a war we fight, sir.”
Falco hung his head a moment. Nodding once, he gathered himself and stepped to the podium.
“He feels each loss deeply,” Alastair quietly remarked to Casey.
In truth, she was surprised by that. She supposed that the losses *should* be deeply felt, but this was the first time she’d seen anything disrupt Falco’s ageless, infinite calm. She’d begun to think that he’d seen so much of life in his two millennia on earth nothing could rattle him anymore. Still, in a way it was comforting to know that he could witness 2100 years’ worth of death and still grieve for a fallen soldier who’d given his life for a worthy cause. She turned her attention to the podium to hear what Falco was going to say.
The room fell to silence at once when Falco looked up from the podium. Everyone sat. Casey found the nearest empty chair and settled into it.
“My friends,” Falco said softly — his voice carrying clearly across the room. “My friends, this evening is bittersweet for me. I come here this evening to present my apprentice to you.” He gestured for Casey to stand.
A startled blush rose to her cheeks as all eyes turned toward her, but she rose obediently to her feet and tried to look suitably apprenticelike.
“This is Casey Gavin. I am pleased to inform you that she has pledged her considerable skills to our efforts. Casey strengthens our cause, bringing the day of our success that much closer!”