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    "Hello."  she smiled, and, having unbuttoned the top two buttons of her shirt, she slid it off her shoulder.  He stared at the mark, it's tracery of white scar in the shape of a pair of balancing scales.  
    "I am the Avatar Andromeda Pendragon. May I speak with Coranus, the Father of the Hunt?"
    "Please?"  She added, with what she hoped was her most charming smile.  It was hard to tell, both because he showed no reaction, and because she couldn't show her teeth.  That would be a sign of aggression.
    He stepped aside and she entered.  He locked the door behind her with great care.  "Someone is going to go find him."  His voice rumbled like distant thunder.  "We will wait here."
    "That's fine."  She said pleasantly.
    He leaned back against the door.
    "What's your name?" She asked.
    "Varrick." He said it with a slight growl so she kept quiet.  Her position as an Avatar for Balance bound him to answer her questions, but he didn't have to like it.
    So she studied him, out of the corner of her eye.  The signs of his true race were there, but well hidden.  His eyes were a little larger than normal for a human face, the amber irises huge, allowing almost no white to show.  His nails were long, and hard looking.  In wolf form, he would be a large, black furred beast, thick chested and long haunched.
    A young woman appeared.  She looked like the proper private school girl, save for her loud lime and orange hair.  The dye covered up what her fur would be in wolf form, but she would be lean, swift and soundless as shadow.
    "He'll see you.  Please come this way."
    She led them down a thickly carpeted hall.  Numberless pictures hung on the wood paneling.  Her glance at the stair case walls showed them similarly attired. At the end of the hall there were double doors.  Hanging from one of the glass door knobs was a wood country style goose in a blue bonnet standing on the words "welcome".
    The friendly feeling ended when the doors were opened and she stepped inside.  
    "I'll be right outside."  Varrick warned, and she was left alone with the Father of the Hunt.
    She crossed the patterned wood floor slowly, avoiding the low burning fire in the center of the floor.  Skulls and trophies lined the stone walls of the room, including one that looked startlingly human save for the two long, pointed canine fangs.
    She stopped a few feet from the room's only chair. It was large and wide, a throne of bone and wood and twisted vine. The male who sat upon it was the most powerful and wise of all his pack. The four long scars that carved their way down his cheek and disappeared under his flannel shirt proved the reign had not been easy.  His hair was black, salted with gray, his face broad and fierce, his eyes calm.  He sat quietly, assessing her bit by bit.
    "Andromeda Pendragon?"
    "Yes, honored one."
    He nodded. "I have heard of you. Sit."  There was a large green cushion on the floor near by.  She sat on it, and smelled the muskiness of wolf.
    Above her the chart of stars marked out the courses of the moon in white and deep blue across the ceiling.
    "Would you like a drink?"
    "Though it would honor me to share a drink with you, perhaps it should wait, for I bear uncomfortable news."
    "Since when do your kind not?"
    "True. The other night there was a murder not far from here.  The marks on the woman's body point toward the pack kind. Do you know of any resentments or arguments that would force any of the pack to kill a human?"
    He thought for a long time, which wasn't revealing.  It was considered polite to pause, as if thinking deeply about the subject.
    "We are the only pack in this area, and we would never break the peace agreement, never harm a human."  His lips thinned.  "Although, perhaps they have harmed us.  One of my children is missing."
    Children was a term he would use for any of his pack.  "How long?"
    "Since Monday of last week.  He was young, just taken to wandering the woods.  He has nothing against humans."
    "Did he talk to humans at all?"
    "He was involved with a young female, but after visiting with her we realized she would not adapt to pack life.  He broke up with her."
    She thought it was strange that the Father of the Hunt would allow dating between his children and humans.
    "May I ask how long he is past first change?"
    He sat for a moment, translating wolf years to human.  "Three, nearly four years.  Not very powerful, yet, but very quick and dexterous."
    Eighteen, then, maybe nineteen years old.
    "Did he go out into The World much?"
    "He was going to college. That's where he met the human female."
    "When did you start looking for him?"
    "Thursday evening.  He was due home for a council meeting."
    "What color would his pelt be?"
    "He has black hair and blue eyes.  I will have Mina get you a photograph."  The Elder sighed.  "When I said he was my child, I did not mean in the pack sense.  He is my youngest son."
    Andromeda bowed her head, her right hand over her heart, fingers pointing to the mark on her shoulder. "Honorable one, I promise I will do my best to find him."
    "You surprise me.  Most of your kind barge in, barking orders and making demands.  You actually act as if you remember that your office is to serve all races.  You may eat with us, if you like."
    "I would be very grateful to."  She said, although she really wanted was to go home.  
    Varrick took her to the dining room, a large place crammed with tables and metal chairs.  The number of wolves actually sitting down to eat was much smaller than the available spaces to sit, so she knew that many of the pack were out in the world.  She gathered with them around the sideboard, taking some salad and au gratin potatoes, a tiny sliver of the beef they wasted little time cooking, and some cake.  She followed Mina, the pack mother and the Father of the Hunt's oldest daughter, to a place on the edge of the mayhem.  She studied them as she ate, and they made a noisy, mismatched family.  Tia with her orange and lime hair was talking passionately about something to a woman with strictly pulled back hair and a business suit.  She reached out a hand and gently touched the young girl's cheek, shook her head no.  "But..." Andromeda heard her say, "But..." her reply was drowned out by a group of young males who looked like nothing more than a bunch of frat boys.  Near them a man with long gold hair in a single braid took a drink of his wine.  She noticed it, because most of the other diners, Coranus included, were drinking pop.  
    The blonde stared at her, then leaned over to speak with Varrick.  Varrick replied, his lips forming her name.
    He turned at her and smiled, a male in his prime with large dark eyes in a classically handsome face.  He toasted her.  She tilted her head and smiled coolly, but did not raise her own glass. He was too smooth, too certain, and the shivers he made her feel were not pleasurable.
    She excused herself early so that they could gather and talk in private.  Coranus respected her manners, and told her, much to her surprise, to visit again when she had time to talk.  She promised to come and call as soon as she heard word of his son.  
    As she drove, she felt her pocket to make sure the picture of the missing boy was there.  His pack name was Chearza, but he called himself Charlie in The World. She had been struck by the absolute sweetness of his face, the high cheek bones, the wide spaced, laughing eyes.
    As she turned the bend she saw three men standing in the middle of the road. She slammed on her brakes, cursing.  She stopped short of them, and sat, not unlocking her doors or rolling down her windows. Their skin glowed in the headlights, and she had a funny feeling they were waiting for her.
    "Let me pass," She said, not raising her voice, for she knew they could hear her. "or I will run you over."
    For a second, seeing a flash of gold hair, she thought it was the Werewolf from the house, but this one's hair was more coppery brown than yellow, his flesh too pale, his frame too thin.  He reached out with one long, slender hand, and touched the hood of her car.
    "Why does Balance open negotiations with the Werewolf kind?"
    Ah. Just as she thought, Vampires.  "This is not a negotiating matter.  I went to the Werewolf house to discuss a matter that involves only them."
    He tilted his head so she could see the choker about his neck. In its gold band, three emeralds glittered. She recognized their significance.
    "I know who you are, Prince Sevrin.  But if you do not let me pass, I will still run you over. If you contact me through Balance, I will be more than happy to speak with you."
    One of his friends moved forward, but a flash of Sevrin's hand stayed him. That same hand then formed a fist, and came down hard on the hood, denting it.  "Do you dare cower in fear while my people suffer?"
    She leaned on the steering wheel.  "If they are suffering, I'll be glad to help if you go through channels.  Look at it my way.  I'm a lone female in the middle of nowhere, facing three disgruntled Vampires. If you were in my shoes, would you get out to chat?
    He smiled at that, a little, and one of his fang teeth peeked out.  "Probably not."
    "So, why don't we meet and talk things over?  Do you know a good place to get a drink?"  
    "We don't drink." The shorter one said, stating the obvious.  She rolled her eyes, but I do, she thought, needing
a stiff one.
    "Where else?"
    "How about Wal-Mart?" Prince Sevrin suggested.
    "Alright.  But only you in the store, ok?"
    He nodded and stepped aside. She drove off, heading towards the highway.  When she could see the sign from the road, she took the next exit and worked her way there.  In the parking lot, she could see the Vampires getting out of their black Camry, so she drove further, getting as close to the store front as possible.
     He waited for her at the end of the row.  She smiled politely.  "I'm Andromeda Pendragon."
    "I know.  Shall we?" He gestured toward the crosswalk. In the light she saw his badge of office, still glimmering around his neck.  
    "Wait." she said, pointing at her neck. She blushed, realizing that wasn't the smartest thing to do.  He gave her a confused look, obviously wondering why she was hitting on him.
    "Your, um, badge of office."
    "Oh."  His face cleared.  "Thanks."  He turned from the light to work the catch. It was snagged in his hair and she had to put her hands in her pockets to keep from helping him untangle it.
    The gold collar safe in his pocket, they crossed the street.  She was surprised when he took one of the offered blue baskets, bestowing a dazzling smile on the old lady who handed it to him.
    "I do have some shopping, if you don't mind." He explained, blinking in the bright light.  She could see he was wearing contacts, but couldn't tell if his eyes were naturally that violet.  They had to be tinted, at least, to protect his vision.
     "Of course not.  Where are we going?"
     "Stationary."  he slowed down so they could match strides. "Now why were you at the house?"
    "They're missing a child."  She saw a row of envelopes and gestured.  "Why are you spying on them?"
    "Oh, Excellent!"  He held up a pack of pens from a sale rack.  "These are really the best pens. Want to try one?"
    "No thanks."
    He shrugged and threw them in his basket. "We weren't really spying, but every time an A..." At her glance, he cleared his throat.  "One of you come into the area, the head of the houses are warned."
    "Can I help you?"
    She was the typical clean faced teenager, the name tag on her blue smock read Donna.  She was obviously enamored by his long hair and gorgeous aquiline features.
    "Construction paper and crayons please?"
    She took them to the place, lingering after they both thanked her.
    Seeing Andromeda's look, he said, "My daughter turns five tomorrow.  I bought her all sorts of toys, but she really wants art supplies."
    Andromeda smiled at the stock girl, but she was pretending to rearrange folders.
    "Look!"  Andromeda pointed out. "Glitter crayons!  Where were those things when we were kids?"
    He slanted a look at her. "You're spoiled.  At least you had crayons when you were little. I had to make do with charcoal, and was grateful."
    She laughed, then said, "You know, if you buy a whole ream of copier paper, it's cheaper and it'll last longer than drawing paper."
    "Excuse me." he said to Donna, reaching around her for the suggested paper.
    "And safety scissors." Andromeda said, getting into the spirit of things.  "So she won't cut herself on the sharp points."  She grinned.
    "Bloody punster.  Hand me the green pair."
    They looked both directions. They were alone again.
    "Your admirer tire of you?"
    He sighed. "I thought my mention of the baby would put her off.  You humans make it so hard to behave."
    "Spill it."
    "Very well. The reason I was so...distressed about your visit is because there has been a land dispute between my house and theirs."
    He scooted some pencil cases over to make room on the white metal shelf.
    "This," He said, putting a box of tape down.  "Is my house." He took a small pencil sharpener and placed it opposite.  "The pack house."  He looked around, spied a abandoned box of pens. He stood it up between the two.  "All around here are woods.  We agreed, perhaps two hundred and fifty years ago, that each owned exactly half the woods here,"  he pointed at the box, "to the woods across the road."  He drew a line in the air straight from the box to a point above the aisle.  "and several acres up." He pointed to the back of the shelf.  "Fifty-fifty, no arguments.  We're only allowed to cross the boundary to retrieve injured game.  Unfortunately, every so many years, the pack expands, and the rights come into argument.  One of my predecessors did a really stupid thing a hundred years ago."  He picked up the box and moved it closer to his house.
    "He gave them more land?"
    Sevrin nodded.  "He reasoned that we need to hunt less.  We buy much of our blood wholesale, especially since we need to drink a mixture of human and animal blood."
    "Did the gift help?"
    "Yes, because they were able to start ranching to supplement their game.  It's important for both of our cultures to hunt, to taste fresh kill."
    "It sounds like it worked."
    "At the time, yes, it was a solution that helped us all.  We had less land, but there were more wild things on it, because the wolves killed less of them."  He looked at the tape as if deciding whether he needed some, shrugged and dropped it in his basket.  "But it set a precedent.  Now they're asking for us to let them have total access to the pasture across the road."
    "Do you use it?" She asked, curious.
    "Not often." He answered, a little affronted. "But it's nice to have it.  It has a little pond, and it's a really nice place to sit and have picnics at."
    "Sounds like you use it to me."  She paused.  "I can see why your worried.  As far as I'm concerned, and I'm sure my superiors would agree, the land's yours.  We have no right to take it from you."
    He switched the basket to the other hand.  "But if they declare war on us, I can say goodbye to my favorite picnic spot."
    She was silent, because it wouldn't be the first time land was transferred for the sake of peace.
    In the end, all that was left for her to do was promise she would protect the right of his house the best she could.
    He seemed content with that.  He pulled out an employee id when they reached the register.  "Darren works here." He whispered to her.  The woman took it without comment and ran the card through, giving Prince Sevrin the employee discount.
    At the door, she asked "Do you want me to make a report?"
    He shook his head.  "Not yet. Do you have a direct number?"  She handed him a card. He took out a new pen and wrote his phone number on the back of the sales slip, and handed both to her.
    "Keep the pen.  They really are great.  Better than quill pens, trust me."  He walked away, and the second he got a few feet away from her, one of the fledglings (for they were all fledglings, to him, as all of Coranus's pack were his children) rushed out and grabbed his bag.  She made her way back to her car, slowing down when she saw that the hood was up.
    Vampires, she thought, were really good at opening locked things. A closer look revealed the dent had been carefully pushed out of the hood.
    She closed it, smiled with relief, and got in.
    She was even more relived when she got home with out any of the parts falling off, or the brakes ceasing to work.
Andromeda Pendragon:  Balancing Act
by Cindy Lynn Speer
    If you've read this far, you get my sincere gratitude....I hope you enjoyed what you've read.  I also hope you get to read the rest of it someday.  ;D  Yeah, I'm silly...but sincere.  Thanks.

            All materials on these pages, all characters belong to Cindy Lynn Speer.                              Please do not copy these materials in any other way.  Thank you.  :D