By Cathy Clamp, C. T. Adams, Anna Genoese
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2006 Cathy L. Clamp & C.T. Adams
All rights reserved.
The sweet stench of rotting flesh on the breeze assaulted Antoine's nose, even before the buzzing of flies reached his ears.
"We are nearly at the site, Herr Monier. We are fortunate that it was cold last night. The carcasses have apparently been here for several days. The smell isn't nearly as bad as it could be."
Antoine stepped over a log hidden under the melting slush and stopped just short of a clearing. He could see uniformed officers and even a few members of ... the harbor patrol?— taking photographs and measurements under the towering beech trees outside of Stuttgart, Germany. The sun was about to crest the top of the nearest peak, but the shadow of the full moon still lingered on the opposite horizon. The gentle, sultry pull reached for the animal under his skin. His senses were still intensified by the invisible magic that played over his body. At any other time, the forest scents would be too intense for him to remain near prey long. But the death smell of fellow predators that permeated the valley stilled his natural urges.
The uniformed officer behind, with the weighty tang of his blood sausage and porridge breakfast still hovering on his breath, couldn't smell the log under the snow as Antoine had. He tripped and dropped hands first against a tree.
Antoine stopped, his nose sorting out the history of what had happened here. He caught Simon's scent and knew he was dead. The two-year-old tiger had been one of Antoine's favorites. A stab of pain and sadness rushed through him. And I failed him. What sort of Rex can't protect one of his own cats?
Kommissar Reiner turned and raised one bushy brow, which disappeared under the brim of his cap. "Herr Monier? Are you well? We do not have to continue if you do not wish." The man's English was heavily accented but far better than his French.
Antoine squared his shoulders and tucked a few loose strands of long blond hair behind one ear. If Simon could endure his fate, then I can stand witness. "I'm fine, Kommissar. Please show me the animals."
He entered the clearing and could only stare in shock and rage at the carnage. Big cats of every description lay in bloody, decaying heaps around the edges of a makeshift slaughterhouse. Bits of flesh, black with slow-moving flies, were splattered haphazardly over the ground.
Officers wearing masks and gloves photographed the area. Crows peered down from the branches overhead. Their raucous caws, combined with the constant buzzing, set Antoine's nerves on a knife edge. Thankfully, the scent of fear and pain from the animals' final moments had dissipated. He wasn't sure how he would have responded to that.
"We believe the poachers were trafficking in tiger organs for the Far East black market. But we are not sure about the other great cats. Perhaps they could not find enough tigers to meet the demand."
Perhaps. But there's more here than meets the eye. A Sazi was here. I can definitely smell an injured female were-tiger. While Antoine's nose wasn't nearly as sensitive as his twin's, the female shapeshifter who had been in this clearing had left her mark. Sandalwood and tiger musk, with a hint of patchouli. A quick sniff. No, she's not among the dead. She was taken from here, very much alive.
He'd identified as much as he could with his nose. Now his eyes began to take in details. Fiona and the rest of the council would want to know everything he saw, heard, and smelled. If necessary, one of the Sazi seers could touch his mind and describe it at the meeting.
"Were you able to apprehend any of the poachers, Kommissar? How did you come to find this place?"
One of the police officers, looking a bit green around the gills, approached Reiner as they carefully skirted the bloody, makeshift tables. He removed red-stained latex gloves before saluting.
Antoine could tell that the Kommissar was going to ignore Hermann in favor of him, their annoying, high-profile visitor, but one look at the officer's face dissuaded him. He made a small motion of his hand. "One moment, Herr Monier." Antoine nodded politely and wandered a short distance away.
Was ist los, Hermann? Reiner lowered his voice and turned his back on the visitor; he couldn't know that it didn't matter. Antoine's supernatural senses would have been able to hear a conversation back inside the squad car.
Ich habe gerade Nachricht erhalten von Dietrich und Shapland, Kommissar. Sie sind ein wenig nervös wegen des Tigers auf dem Revier. Sie haben Zweifel, ob der Käfig hält. Sollen sie das Tier betaeuben?
Antoine stiffened while struggling to appear not to understand: "I have just received a report from Dietrich and Shapland, Inspector. They are nervous about the tiger at the station. They are worried that the cage will not hold it. Should they tranquilize the animal?" It was so much easier to eavesdrop when the police believed he didn't speak German. Playing the part of the haughty Frenchman had been a useful idea. But the inspector's words dropped with the weight of lead. They had a tiger at the station? Could it be the female Sazi? If they tranquilize her and the moon sets ... Merde!
Das waere ratsam! Wir müssen den Antrag stellen, um das Tier zu entsorgen. Bitte bring meine Nachricht zu Dietrich. Er hat die Lizenz für die Tranquelizer!
Antoine deliberately wandered around the far edge of the scene, careful to take in every word with his supernatural hearing. "Yes, that would be wise. We'll have to file the proper paperwork to dispose of the animal. Please relay my instruction to Dietrich. He is qualified with the tranquilizers."
Putain! What to do now? This could easily become a diplomatic incident. He began tapping his fingers on the front of his designer slacks. Who should he call? He wasn't qualified to handle this. But he knew of no were-tigers to contact in Germany, or any other species of were-cats, for that matter. No, I need proof that the cat is Sazi —
The Kommissar's voice, louder now, startled him. "Herr Monier, I am sorry for the interruption. What was your question?"
It was hardly a plan — reckless and bold. The council would never approve. Antoine took a deep breath and spoke quickly so he wouldn't lose his nerve. "I was asking about the cats. These all appear to be male. There are no female cats here. Where have you put those bodies?"
The Kommissar frowned and his eyebrows knitted into a single, formidable line across his forehead. "Female? But no — you distinctly said you lost a male cat. It is in my report."
Antoine rose to his full six-feet-plus height and crossed his arms over his chest. He pushed the tiniest bit of his magic toward the other man. The Kommissar visibly shuddered. It was a risk, and it could go badly. Humans seldom reacted well to powerful Sazi, and those in positions of authority sometimes treated them as a threat. He would hate to wind up behind bars himself.
"Non! I most certainly did not say it was a male. My lost tiger is female — mother to a pair of cubs who will die without her. Why on earth else would I get up at such an ungodly hour to follow you through a forest to see ... this?" He swept his arm out wide, and set his face in tight, angry lines.
Without a word, the inspector stepped over to one of the men and grabbed a clipboard. He stalked back to his former position and turned the clipboard so that Antoine could see it. The powerful scent of his anger filled the air. It does smell a bit like burning coffee. How very strange I've never noticed before. He fought not to sneeze.
"You see, Herr Monier? It distinctly says male in my report —"
Antoine waved his hand airily in the general direction of the clipboard without bothering to look. He knew full well what it said, but that didn't matter. "Your report doesn't interest me, Kommissar Reiner. Whoever took the details was mistaken. I am missing a female. Do you have a female tiger for me to view or not?"
Reiner looked at his report again and frowned deeply. Antoine sent out tendrils of magic to eavesdrop on Reiner's thoughts: The report says male. But I am to "cooperate." Diplomatic courtesy, they told me. He says a female was lost. There is a female, and she has been especially difficult to handle. An oddly amusing thought crept into Kommissar Reiner's mind. There would be less paperwork to fill out if the Frenchman took the cat. Wilhelma Zoo has not yet opened. Perhaps the tiger and our guest deserve each other.
"Very well, Herr Monier, if you would like to see a female tiger, we were able to rescue one. It is at our station house, awaiting transport to Wilhelma Zoo. If you can identify this cat as yours, you are free to take it."
Antoine frowned. "Identify it? What would you consider identification? I certainly don't brand or tattoo my cats."
Reiner shrugged. "You said it was nursing. That should be obvious, at the very least. But any particular feature you remember — a missing claw or damaged ear. A distinguishing feature that we can verify before you see the cat."
The words were very clear and seemingly innocent. But Antoine understood the inspector perfectly. Now he would just have to decide how to make good on his puffery. How in the world would he be able to positively identify a cat he'd never seen?
Well, Fiona always said I was the creative one in the family ...
Antoine turned on his heel and started back to his van, shaking the snow from his designer slacks after each step. Over his shoulder he shouted, "As you wish, Kommissar. I will meet you there and we will collect my cat."
Tahira woke to heat burning her skin. She tried to lift her front leg, but the drug still coursing through her made it difficult. Again she pushed against the door of the wire cage. It was weakening, bending outward, but she struggled against unconsciousness with each attempt. At least she'd been able to remove the dart quickly and had only pretended to be unconscious until the men left. But she'd never tried to hold her form beyond dawn, and it was already long past. Sunlight was slowly crawling up the wall, throwing shadows of herself, and her prison, across the floor.
I can't pass out. I must hold my animal form or they'll kill me. Well, they or her family. It hardly mattered which. She drew in a painful breath, snarled lightly, and searched ever more desperately for the waning moon magic. Every muscle was in agony, and she could feel her bones straining to break and re-form to a human.
The heat was unbearable and she looked longingly at the bowl of water just a few feet away. But I don't dare move. If I concentrate on anything but holding this form, I'll lose control. I've endangered us all with my recklessness. Rabi wouldn't have wanted this, no matter what his fate.
She scanned the room again for the hundredth time since she'd been brought here. There must be something she could use to free herself. If only the cage wasn't wire mesh. With bars, she could turn human and slide between them to free herself. If she was at full strength, she could easily break open the door; but the drugs from the policemen, combined with whatever her original captors had given her made that impossible. She could barely open her mouth enough to pant to cool herself.
Why had she planned this so stealthily that nobody knew where she was? If she had just told Grandmother or Uncle Umar, they would have supported her. It was only stubbornness that had caused Grandfather to refuse to send a rescue party for Rabi in the first place. Apparently she had inherited that stubbornness.
She readjusted her paw and winced. The light tingling under her fur was turning into prickling — stinging pinpoints as though thousands of tiny ants were crawling and biting every inch of her body.
The heat was increasing, too. The constant whir of the exhaust fan buzzed in her ears. An abrupt crunching, grating noise sounded directly overhead. She jumped when two sharp metallic slams echoed through the room. She recognized the noises. She must be in a basement, and the parking lot was directly above her. Voices now, in that harsh language that she didn't recognize. She wouldn't be able to hold out much longer. What was she going to do?
Hallo, Tiger. Was ist Ihr Name?
Tahira looked up and around. Nobody was in the room. She glanced at the barred window, but the sunshine was blinding to her sensitive eyes. The language was the same as she was hearing outside the door, but she didn't understand where it was coming from. Was there a microphone in the room?
Parlez-vous le français, le Tigre de Madame?
Was that French? Tahira shook her massive head. If she was starting to talk to herself in delirium, shouldn't she at least be able to understand the language? She growled again, and a startled yip followed when her jaw snapped. It was starting. She couldn't hold it off anymore. She was going to change right here in front of witnesses, and her family would be hunted like rabbits and slaughtered.
Do you speak English, Tiger? We're running out of time!
For heaven's sake! The voice was in her head! There was a distinct American accent to his words, and relief flowed through her. She tried to think of what to say. Well, not quite say. She thought the words in her mind: Uhm, yes — I speak English. Where are you? Who are you?
Merde! At last! My name is Antoine and I'm in the outer room. Listen to me carefully. You are Sazi, correct?
Her head raised in unconscious reaction and she roared loud and long. I am not Sazi! I am Tahira Kuric of Hayalet Kabile!
* * *
The guards in the outer room with Antoine jumped with the tiger's roar ... Hayalet Kabile. Where had he heard that phrase before? Hayal ... Oh for the love of — How could he forget? It was just mentioned at the last council meeting. The Hayalet Kabile were known as the "Ghost Tribe." The were-tigers that lived along the Turkish/Iranian borderlands had declined to attend the great meeting of shapeshifters all those centuries ago.
They were mentioned at the Sazi council meeting because Ahmad had brought along a clipping from the Discovery Channel Web site that said there had been a sighting of a supposedly "extinct" species of tiger, the Caspian, just last fall. The annoying were-cobra, representative for the snakes, had asked what Antoine intended to do about it, since the Caspians were well known to be shifters, and he was the representative for the cats.
But the Hayalet Sahip, the head of the tribe, had refused an invitation to talk. Now there was one in the next room. Based on the roar of pain, she wouldn't be able to hold her form much longer. She was about to break the primary rule of both the Sazi and the Hayalet cultures. What a diplomatic nightmare!
"Merde!" he whispered harshly.
"Did you say something, Herr Monier?" Kommissar Reiner said, his mouth curled slightly in disdain. "Are you ready to make your identification of your cat?"
Antoine drummed his fingers on the table sharply. If he could only talk to the tiger, make her understand what was at stake ... Yes, perhaps. He turned fast and reached for the doorknob, startling the inspector. "One moment, Kommissar. I've forgotten ... my ... uh, I'll be right back!"
He raced outside and pressed outward quickly with his waning magic. The tiger was directly under him.
Tahira, please listen to me. We don't have much time.
No response. But he could smell her fear just behind the bars of the window.
Tahira of the Hayalet Kabile. I am Antoine Monier of the Sazi. Will you please speak to me? You are in great danger.
Another roar, powerful and haughty. You need not worry about me, Sazi. I will end my own life before the humans see me in my day form.
This doesn't have to happen, Tahira. I can help you. I've convinced the police that you're one of my tigers. But I need your cooperation. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Captive Moon by Cathy Clamp, C. T. Adams, Anna Genoese. Copyright © 2006 Cathy L. Clamp & C.T. Adams. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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