“You know, when most people think of werewolves, I’m pretty sure five-star hotels and casinos in Las Vegas are not the kind of thing that immediately pops into their heads,” Roxa informed Mateo as the two of them (accompanied by Gidget) walked through the noisy, gaudy, incredibly lavish subject of her observation.
The man himself chuckled. “What can I say? Wonderland insisted on compensating us for the work, and I didn’t want to insult them. Besides,” he added, “our people deserve the vacation.”
Apparently that Gabriel Prosser guy had promised to send them anywhere they wanted to go when they left the camp, and the answer from most of the pack had been to rest and recuperate in Vegas. So that’s where they had gone, while she and Mateo finished up with what they needed to do with Prosser’s people and Flick.
The rest of the pack still didn’t know that Roxa had decided to stay with them, rather than returning to Crossroads with the choker. She’d asked Mateo to wait until she could be there, and the man had agreed.
“Plus,” she added slyly then with a look toward the older man, “I bet it wasn’t exactly hard to convince your boyfriend to come stay in a place like this for awhile.” She’d heard that Sean’s uncle would be joining them before long, though he was taking an actual plane to so.
That time, Mateo outright laughed at her words, attracting the brief attention of a couple dead-eyed slots players. Their eyes lingered on Gidget, but Roxa wasn’t worried. The cyberform cougar was projecting her usual massive dog holographic disguise at the moment, and they had added a vest that would make her look like one of those service animals.
Getting his laughter under control, Mateo replied, “The day that Sebastian Gerardo actually lets people pamper him like they’re supposed to in a place like this is the day I check him for being possessed by those Seosten malparidos.”
They continued on then, reaching the elevator. While they were waiting for it to descend, Roxa reached down to rub Gidget’s head before looking to the man beside her. “I’m confused about something though,” she started slowly.
“By all means,” Mateo replied, gesturing for her to continue.
After trying to think of how to phrase it properly, she finally settled on a simple, “How are we here? I mean… how are we here without being attacked? It’s the middle of Vegas in a big casino, shouldn’t the Heretics be watching everything around here like hawks? I’m–how can we walk more than three feet without a dozen of them jumping us?”
The ornate, glass elevator had arrived by that point, and the two of them stepped onto it, turning to watch the casino floor below while it rose after Mateo hit the button. The man smiled a little once they were underway. “Well, there’s several reasons, actually. First of all, it’s almost as dangerous for Heretics to stake out a specific location and stay out in the open as it would be for people like us.” He glanced toward her while continuing. “After all, we can recognize them too. Heretics are powerful, sure. But if they set up camp and start being too predictable, Alters can hit them with massive numbers. We all know they’re not unkillable. Hell, while there are some unbelievably powerful ones, the majority, the rank and file, are still vulnerable. Especially if they get ambushed.”
Roxa nodded slowly, absorbing that. “Right, plus, Crossroads and Eden’s Garden can only make so many Heretics per year. They’ve got a limited supply.”
“Yup.” Mateo looked out over the by-then far distant casino floor while continuing. “But werewolves? We can turn as many as we want, technically. No telling how many survive the process, but you get the point. Most Alter species drastically outnumber Heretics. They’ve got to be careful about where they position themselves. If we couldn’t recognize what they were, then it might be different. But as it is, we know as soon as we see them, just like they know when they see us.
“But that’s just in general,” he went on while stepping off the elevator as it came to a stop on their floor. “In Vegas, the three families rule, and they don’t allow Heretics to set up shop.”
Roxa blinked over at the man as she followed him. “What three families?” Looking back into the elevator, she called, “C’mon, Gidget!”
The cougar reluctantly turned away from the stunning view, trotting over to catch up with them before nuzzling against Roxa’s leg briefly.
Mateo explained, “One family of vampires, one family of sorcerers and witches, and a third family of Oni.”
“Oni like the Japanese demons?” Roxa asked, eyes widening a little.
“It’s more complicated than that, but yes,” the man confirmed. “The way the story goes, the vampires and the sorcerers were mortal enemies. I think the mages were called Vestage or… Vestil, that’s it. The vampires and the Vestil were mortal enemies until the Oni showed up. Then they established a truce to fight the Oni. That lasted long enough that one of the vampire leaders’ sons fell in love with a Vestil princess. Now it’s all complicated, but there’s basically a really tense ceasefire between all of them. They break it a lot for individual spats, but mostly they’re all in their own corners of the city, with the strip being neutral ground.”
“What does this have to do with the Heretics?” Roxa asked, amazed by everything Crossroads either didn’t know about or didn’t teach.
Mateo smirked a little bit. “The three families may not really like each other all that much. But they hate Heretics even more. If they find out there’s Heretics trying to push in on their territory, they’ll join together to get rid of them. Vampires, Vestil, and Oni all working together? The Heretics don’t wanna commit that kind of manpower to the situation.”
By that point, the two of them had reached the doors leading into the suite that had been rented. Mateo swiped the keycard for the room, pushing the door open before gesturing for Roxa to precede him. She did so, with Gidget at her side.
The room that they walked into was enormous. It was more like a living room than something in a hotel. The ceiling was two floors up, while straight ahead there were two couches surrounding a giant television. In the back left of the room was a kitchenette next to a door that led into the bathroom. Two more doors across the room, opposite the entrance led into full sized bedrooms. A set of stairs led to the second floor of the suite where there was a wraparound balcony overlooking the living area, and more bedrooms. Finally, to the right from the entrance there was a sliding door leading to an outside patio.
The rest of the pack was in that living room. The massive Fezzik was in the kitchenette, filling several cups of coffee. Lesedi was standing just in the open sliding door that led out to the patio. Meanwhile, Corson and Hasty, who had both been heavily injured, were each lying on one of the couches, watching the television.
When Roxa, Mateo, and Gidget entered, all eyes turned to them. Lesedi stepped back fully into the room, raising an eyebrow. “What’s the matter?” she demanded. “I thought that choker thing worked.”
“It better fucking work,” Hasty put in from her place on the couch. “I took three goddamn silver knives into my fucking stomach. If it doesn’t work, I swear to God–”
“It works,” Roxa quickly put in. “But I don’t care. I’m not using it. Call me crazy, but I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life only surviving because I’m wearing some magic piece of jewelry that makes it so that the people who are supposed to be my friends don’t murder me.”
Beside her, Gidget rose from her haunches and trotted over to Fezzik. She loved the giant, since he was always feeding her scraps of metal that he collected. Sure enough, as the cougar approached, the big guy dug into his pocket and came out with what looked like an iron plate that had been torn off of something. Gidget took the treat eagerly, crouching down to gnaw at it with the somewhat muffled sound of tearing metal.
“You sure you’re not just gonna change your mind again?” Lesedi asked, a challenge in her voice. “Spend another couple weeks and then decide you like the Heretics better after all?”
“Lesedi,” Mateo reprimanded, “take it easy.”
“It’s alright,” Roxa insisted, shaking her head. “I get it. You guys just–” She stopped, taking a breath. “No. I’m not going back there. Not to stay, anyway. You guys knew what I was and you took me in anyway. You went out of your way to help me, and they would’ve just killed me. You…” She paused, biting her lip. “If you guys don’t want me to stay, I won’t. But I won’t go back there. I’ve been on my own before, I can do that again.”
Hasty tried to push herself up before groaning in pain and slumped back down again. “You, by yourself? You’d be dead in a week, puppy.”
Fezzik nodded in agreement. “You don’t know where to go, who to trust, who could kill you for being Heretic and who could kill you for being werewolf.”
“They’re right,” Lesedi confirmed. The black woman had stepped over in front of Roxa by that point, raising an eyebrow. “You out there by yourself, you wouldn’t last. You need a pack.”
Lifting her chin, Roxa asked quietly. “Do I have one?”
Lesedi smirked a little at that. “Sure thing. But only cuz we don’t wanna give up Gidget over there.” She nodded toward the robotic cougar. “Seems like you two come as a package deal.”
Despite herself, Roxa smiled at the teasing. “Guess I’m lucky she’s so useful.”
Mateo cleared his throat. “Alright, if that’s settled, then let’s enjoy this vacation. Because we’ve got work to do when it’s over.”
“Work?” Roxa echoed, blinking over her shoulder at the man.
He nodded. “I’ve already told the others. But there’s a group of Hunahpu and Xbalanque.”
She stared, clueless. “What and what?”
The man chuckled at that, repeating himself. “Hunahpu and Xbalanque. They’re a bunch of Heretics with Mayan origins. Not like Crossroads or Eden’s Garden. They’re… different. One of their tribes is making trouble back down in Colombia, and one of the other packs down there asked for some help. So we’ll spend a week here, resting up and recuperating. Then we’ll get busy.”
Corson spoke up from his couch. “Sure you’ll be okay with doing that, Roxa?” The pain in his voice faded a little as he shifted himself. “After all, it doesn’t really concern you like this last trip did.”
“You guys are never gonna let me live that down, are you?” Roxa asked, getting a collective head shake from all of them. Snorting, she shrugged. “Besides, you’re wrong. It does concern me. Because it concerns you guys, and you’re my pack. What concerns you, concerns me, right?”
“Right,” Mateo agreed. “Now let’s have an actual vacation. Everyone who can still stand, let’s go have some fun.”
“Heeeey, what about us?” Hasty demanded. “Don’t we deserve some fun? We were injured in the line of duty. And I say, if we can’t all enjoy Vegas, then none of us should. We should all stay here, one and all. We’re a pack, right? When one or two of us are out and suffering, we’re all suffering. Right, guys?”
At least the injured wolf-girl’s reflexes were still working, because she easily dodged the TV guide that was thrown at her just before the door closed behind Roxa and the rest of the still-standing pack on their way out.