Endangered (pt 2)
There was a party going on at Moreno's. How interesting. What did they have to even celebrate there? Deforestation? The decline of society? Men getting away with murder? Surely nothing good was the focus of the night.
Mira climbed high into the canopy for a better view. Even in human form she was agile and a great climber. The trees offered her more protection in this form anyway, as her white and grey coloring tended to alert people more of her presence than deter. With her long, flowing black hair, black tank top, black jeans and black boots, she all but blended completely into the shadows.
It was almost comical to refer to their greatest enemy by his first name instead of as "Father," but circumstance led them to that point, not choice. Moreno had been mated to Mira's mother, Clara. Their clans had united and ruled all of the rainforest. Together, they were a force to be reckoned with.
When Clara became pregnant, no one was the wiser for the first two months. Moreno and Clara were elated that they would have offspring to pass down their monarchy and to support in their rule. On the third month, Clara began losing her appetite, was restless and would want to clean everything. She separated herself from Moreno so that her hormones could not get the best of her and ruin what they had together. As leopards, a bonded pair will often become volatile during the last month of pregnancy. As shifters, everything is enhanced and the pregnancy was no different.
Moreno started to feel angry and rejected. He would stay out on hunts long into the night and be distant with his people when he would return. On the night before Clara was to give birth, Moreno stayed away completely. He didn't come back to the clan until a full week after the girls were born. He came in, sniffed his litter and walked away. He immediately announced to the clan that he was exiling them from his home and that the babies were not his; he was renouncing their connection to his kingdom.
His people were outraged. Clara had been nothing but the perfect wife and mate, best friend and companion, in all things. Many chose to leave with Clara to help her take care of the babies and support their queen. Those that left to support Clara were banished as well.
Storytellers spread the word that, while Moreno was off licking his wounds from his wife's perceived rejection during her pregnancy, he met an enchanting woman who bewitched him and ultimately stole his powers. He was no longer able to shift into leopard form and had lost much of his power. She had a vendetta against unfaithful men and was known for turning their lives upside-down.
In this case, however, the theft of his power only led him to believe that his queen was the stronger of the two of them and more capable of ruling not at his side, but as the only ruler. The witch made Moreno believe that his queen would eventually take over and banish him from his own kingdom for his wrongs and uselessness, the ultimate price to pay for the leopard king. He couldn’t take the chance of appearing even weaker or losing his kingdom. Instead of waiting for what was to come, he did the only thing he thought he could do, he banished her and his children. By laying blame on them, he hoped to command respect.
At the time, his power play worked. The clan ousted Clara and her children. They exalted Moreno for his insight and strength. He convinced them all that she was an adulteress and was only with him for his place in the world. He had his people believe that the babies were not his rightful heirs and therefore, of no use to the kingdom.
Soon afterward, Moreno took Celeste as his new wife. They never had any children, but maintained rule of the kingdom. Marrying the mistress that stole his entire life? Priceless.
Mira's eyes quickly adjusted to the scene before her. Moreno's entire clan, well, what was left of it after all of these years, was having a celebration. They had all of the makings of a great party, but no one seemed to truly be enjoying themselves.
Searching the crowd, Mira saw someone she recognized; her cousin, Severa. The very out of place girl stood taller than nearly everyone at the party. Her blond hair and blue eyes made her seem like the girl next door, when she was anything but that. It was rumored that she had come from a broken home and Moreno had taken her in just weeks before her babies were born. Sev had been playing both sides of the fence for years. She would come play with Mira and her sisters, spend time with Clara and enjoy her family, then go back to Moreno and report everything she had seen there, including security on the house, what daughter had what extra power and more.
Eventually, Clara stopped allowing Sev to visit, stating that the safety of her children was more important than connecting with family. Sev became outraged, went home to tell Moreno that Clara had threatened her and returned the next day with an army to take Clara and the girls out. Moreno's army was not fully prepared for what they would encounter upon attack, but quickly found out that the girls were not named for the five senses for no reason.
Due to their Latin roots and Clara's prediction about her girls upon their birth, she named them according to the gift she felt they were born with. Mira, meaning see or look, had the best eyesight of anyone in any clan. She could not only physically see things better, but she could sense meaning in actions and things better than anyone. She had eidetic memory, more commonly referred to as photographic memory. She could see a map, photo, scene, or anything one time and be able to recall each painstaking detail even years later. It was a gift and a curse.
Clara named her other daughters Audire, Saber, Rozar, and Nidor; their names meaning hear, taste, touch, and smell respectively. Together, she had all of the five senses as daughters. Each daughter had strength that went with her name and each with the power to wield their gift like a weapon if necessary. Clara made sure the girls knew how to handle themselves in a fight and in any other situation. She taught them how to guard their gifts and protect themselves against the onslaught of stimuli that would come at them when their gifts were not needed. She made sure that each woman had confidence in her abilities enough to use them without fear or shame. They could each dress beautifully and attend a meeting as normal, everyday women, or they could dress like a rebel army and take down a small country; whatever the situation called for at the time.
Sev began to move through the crowd toward Moreno. It would be so easy for Mira to jump down, break Sev's neck, and return to her post without anyone being the wiser, but she was here on a mission to bring her mate back in one piece. Making all hell break loose wouldn't help her cause.
She focused her attention back on the group. Sev, that rouge bitch, made her hackles rise. She couldn't get a read on her at all and was becoming more annoyed by the moment. She knew her mission and would do her job, but something was off. A feeling. Something in the air. She decided to wait it out. Patience is a virtue, after all.
Then, the worst thing that could happen at that moment happened. No, a school bus didn't explode and her favorite ice cream shop didn't close down, but she saw him. Her mate. Her lifelong love. The one she would die for, or kill for, whichever came first. The problem was, he wasn't alone. He stalked up to the traitor, grabbed her by the back of the neck, pulled her to him as he smiled and kissed her. Whoa! Super familiar with the cousin that sold them out, much?
Her mother had sent him here on a mission to speak to Moreno and get something they needed. They certainly didn't need Vander's tongue down Sev's throat. She watched as the bane of her existence pressed her disgustingly perfect body against her man in a full out lovers embrace and something snapped inside of her.
Resolve, gone. Someone needed to kill this bitch.
Just as she moved to climb down from the tree, Vander's eyes flew directly to Mira's. Through the lower canopy, trees, branches, and leaves, he still looked directly at her. As her mate, he knew when she was close, what she was thinking, if she was okay, and if he should be alarmed. His body must have been going insane with the wave of emotions she was throwing off at the moment. Good.
He shook his head almost imperceptibly to her and blinked twice.
Mira stopped moving and paused for a moment to figure out what that meant. Her unwavering memory flashed to when they were just kids. Mira and Vander had grown up together and been playmates even as small children. One day, while playing, Vander asked Mira what would happen if they couldn't speak to each other. He mentioned how it would be so awesome if they were mates and could speak telepathically, but if they weren't then they would need a secret language. Mira quickly agreed and they came up, first, with things for yes and no, chocolate or vanilla, and love and hate; you know, all of the important things in life.
With their first kiss they discovered they were mates at the age of 16, their secret language was no longer necessary and hadn't been used in years. Two blinks and a shake meant danger. Was she in danger or was he? It didn't matter. As a team, they were both in danger if one was. Even though seeing him kiss Sev left a hollow place in her gut, she had to find out what the hell was going on, do the job her mother sent her to do, and get out of there safely. The "what the hell" moments could be filled in later.
Taking in everything her mother ever taught her about kicking major ass, she formulated a plan quickly, and started to put it in motion almost immediately. If the plan didn't take, she would just get Vander out of there, light some dynamite, and wipe those useless bastards off the face of the planet once and for all. Either way, victory was hers to be had.
The night crept on. Minutes felt like hours. Hours felt like centuries. She knew she was exaggerating but in her mind, it was torture to watch her mate laugh and drink with her enemies. Those people had abandoned her and her family then tried to kill them more than once. He was there, so calm and seemingly happy. He laughed with and talked to dozens of people. It seemed as if he belonged there with them. She just wanted to stab herself in the eyes so she didn't have to see it anymore.
This was her least favorite mission to date and she couldn't imagine having to suffer anything this awful again. It looked as if the party was about to clear out though, so there was that. She had been in the tree for hours and hadn't seen the witch once. Maybe she wasn't there and all of this was for nothing.
As the sun began to rise and the party cleanup started going on, Vander headed toward Moreno. They shook hands and patted each other on the back. Old friends, how quaint.
"We pulled an all-nighter. Good thing we do our best work at night, huh? That was a great party, Papa," Vander said lovingly. He calls him "Father!? What the hell? Her rampage of thoughts on and feeling for that one sentence and actions would plague her mind for a long time, she estimated.
"Thank you, Vander. It is so nice of you to join us. I fear my wife has taken ill, hence she has been in the house for most of the party. Would you like to go see her? You are her favorite son. Those are her words, not mine, of course!" Moreno said jokingly, as he started to lead Vander toward the house.
Mira's incredulous thoughts brought on an assault of emotions. Just when you think something cannot get any stranger!
She watched in rapt fascination as they entered the house and closed the door solidly behind them. They chuckled together in some fancy private joke made just for them. She made a snap decision to get a closer look at the house. Making quick work of the canopy, she traversed the pathway between the trees using branches and her impressive skills. She landed softly near the house, out of sight from everyone still buzzing around cleaning up the party damage.
She crept over to the glass double-doors and carefully peered inside. Vander and Moreno were both there with one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen, which was saying a lot since her sisters were all breathtakingly beautiful.
The red-haired, green-eyed tiny woman sat on the chaise lounge looking as if the life had been completely sucked out of her. Her smile, while weak, captivated Mira immediately. No wonder he chose her to cheat with, Mira thought with a slight smile. At least her father had excellent taste in women, even if he was a rat-bastard that couldn't keep it in his pants.
Wishing Audire was with her, Mira strained to hear and understand the conversation taking place on the other side of the glass.
"I have nothing solid, but my word, to you and your new family that I hold no ill will to any of you and have lifted the curse. You do not need to get married or immediately have children. Your family is safe from harm from me and anyone in our kingdom." The witch spoke weakly, but with purpose.
"Mama Cortez requests some form of proof that this has happened, Celeste. Mira and I are to be married soon and, though we love each other, we do not want to be forced to marry and mate so early in our lives. Mira has no problems with it, as she will do what is right, but I wish to protect her and our family, as she is my mate. I will support her decisions, but you know that their father's faults are not theirs. They should have never been made to suffer for his mistakes. I'm sure you know that at this point," Vander explained, between Moreno and Celeste. His voice and eyes were sincere to match his words.
"Take Sev," Celeste offered, softly.
"Pardon? What will Sev do as proof? Definitely lost me there." Vander said, looking awe-struck.
"Sev is my daughter and the key that ties all of us together. She is the bearer of the curse now. Her life is what was binding the curse to the Cortez family and you to us. I used her life at the time because she was the youngest one around me and I knew she would outlive the others to hold the curse in place for the longest time. Plus, her father was a low-life, scumbag gypsy. She was a mistake and I don't need her anymore," she said simply. "Having such anger and hatred for so long has made me ill. I have no more strength, Moreno hasn't had power in years, and we are just trying to make things right for the rest of you so we can live out the rest of our days in peace. You all can do what you like to Sev. When she dies, the curse dies with her."
"How can you be so calm about the life and death of your own daughter? You cursed her when you cursed other innocent people and now you want the Cortez family to do your dirty work, and rid you of your own mistakes? That seems very lackadaisical to me. Do you truly have no heart?" Vander demanded.
"Aww, such big words you use after all of this time, dear. I like it that you think you have a place in someone's life. The truth is, you are trash. You were picked up and used as a way to control the family also. We trained you when you were just a pup. That's why you didn't know them your whole life. You were different and no one wanted you, so we took you in, made you into something they would accept. Then we sent you out to join them. You are a puppet also, or didn't you notice?"
The stricken look on his face made him take a step back, "I'm what? No. I don't believe that. It doesn't matter anyway, Mira is my mate."
"Seriously? All of you people can't be this stupid. This is why Moreno and I were made to rule this kingdom. You are all just insipid wastes of space and time," Celeste chewed her mouthful of venomous rantings and spit them at Vander. "I am being very generous by offering my vessel to you. She is of no use to me anymore. Take it or leave it, but the curse has been removed. You, your precious mate and her family are no longer our concern. Gather your belongings and leave at once." Belongings, meaning her daughter.
The finality of her statement was accentuated by Moreno and Celeste linking hands and leaving the room through a door opposite the glass ones that Vander and Moreno had entered.
Vander stood in stunned silence for more than a full minute in the center of the empty room, before walking through the glass doors back into the spacious yard. Chairs and tables were still set up, but the guests and pieces of trash were cleared; sometimes the line of those two was blurred.
Mira watched as Sev came from behind the house and silently padded to where Vander stood and asked if Vander was ready to go.
"You knew about this?" he asked incredulously.
"Of course, why do you think I've always been so affectionate to you? She might be your mate, but I am the vessel. I know you care for me. If I sharpen my skills, maybe I can find a way to release the curse back to her family and we can be together."
"You have to be joking." His expression was flat, completely lifeless.
"This is not a joke at all," she stepped toward him and placed her palms flat on his chest, leaning into him, and raising her head toward his, as if preparing to kiss him. She was nearly eye-level with Vander.
His palm landed lightly on her face as he pushed her a foot away from him. "I am in love with Mira. She is not only my mate, but my family, my life, my love. You can’t think for a moment that you have power enough to break that bond."
Taking an extra step back, she retorted, "I know well what power I possess within me. I can rule this kingdom, you, your bitch, and anyone else I wish. What do you even see in that nasty, tattooed, piece of trash anyway?"
"Seriously, that's all you have to say about her? You're pathetic. She's beautiful and her tattoos show her journey through life, making her even more beautiful."
"Yawn! Such puppy love."
"Why Sev? Why hold such hatred for people that were cursed, just as you are now? You know the Cortez family would take you in as one of their own, especially now that you are bearing such a sacrifice for them. Pasts can be forgiven and new bonds can be formed."
"Don't you get it, Vander? I don’t want new bonds. I don't want to be forgiven. I did nothing wrong! I was born to a woman that used me as bait for her conquests and then as an on-the-go container for her evil-doings! My whole life has been one big charade and I'm tired of being the sheep. I'm over being treated poorly and kept around for amusement or someone's needs. It's my time to rise and claim what is rightfully mine!"
"Mira's family, my family, is not like that, Sev. They once loved you like family and you stabbed them in the back. Let's go to them and tell them what's happened. You can start over and have a better life. You are not this bad person! I know you and have known you for years!"
"Yes and all of those years, you had me thinking that I was going to be yours and you would fight at my side, not against me."
"I was overly nice to you to stay close to this family until I could find a way to break the curse that plagues my beloved."
"Your honesty is refreshing, but I will not stop until I've killed everyone she's ever loved in front of her and hold her beating heart in my hand. If I have to suffer, Mira must suffer, too."
"Awww, how sweet. You threaten me when I'm not even here to defend myself," Mira cooed, as she strolled across the yard and took her rightful place beside Vander. He smiled down at her and dropped a tender kiss to her forehead.
"Came to rescue your little boy toy? Who the hell let the likes of you in here anyway?" Sev paused for answers, looking bored. When Mira simply crooked her eyebrow up as if she were waiting for more, Sev went on, "Your father never wanted you. Your boyfriend has been seeing me behind your back for years. Your mother is all washed up and has always been useless. That’s why your father cheated on her in the first place. Your powers will never be anything close to mine and you aren't even as pretty as I am." Sev tossed her words at Mira like verbal grenades. Each missed the mark as Mira just chuckled and stood her ground.
"What a sad creature you are, Sev. You were once loved by my family. You choose to say nasty things to me in hopes of breaking me, but even your words have no use to me. You are merely a vessel, as you said; something to hold shit, like a discarded purse at a thrift store. How sad for you."
"You are the one that is sad!" Sev shot back in a lame attempt at arguing against Mira. "Just ask Vander. We've been dating for years!"
"I have been visiting here for years, love," Vander interjected. "I had solidified an ally inside of this compound in case I ever needed to use one to get what we needed. As you can see, that worked out well,"
Anger boiled through Sev as she spit venomous words and phrases at them both that became nearly imperceptible within seconds.
Sick of the antics and situation as it stood, Mira interrupted, "Look, I could bash you and try to break you with words, but why do that? You've already broken yourself. I don't need to remind you of the situation, you know it all too well. However, you need to remember that my mother has fought her entire life to train and protect me. I don't care what you do when you leave this place, but leaving my family alone is your best bet. Forever. That is a warning."
"You're going to let me go?" Sev asked, sounding deflated.
"Mira, love, your mom asked for me to return with proof. Sev is the only proof we have," Vander implored.
"No, baby, she is not. Listen. Remember when we first mated? It seemed like there was a ticking clock counting down to when we would expire. The closer it got to my birthday and our wedding, the louder it got for me. I don't hear it anymore, do you?"
"Actually, you're right, I don't hear it. What was that?"
"Biological clock ticking already, Mira? You can't be that old, can you?" Sev asked with a droll as she shifted uncomfortably where she stood.
"Do you want me to hurt you, bitch? No. It wasn't my biological clock. It was something inside, something that is only between mates that you will never understand."
"That whole mating thing is just a hoax anyway. You marry who you want and do what you want in life. You don't have to wait for 'the one' to come along. You people are pathetic."
"Aww, Sev. I would be jealous if I were you, also. No, we don't have to wait for the one, but we are blessed when they do come along. Our kind's survival depends on us having patience and doing what is right for our family and supporting one another. That is something you just can’t understand and will never have."
"Are we done here?" Sev asked, seeming to be bored again.
"Oh yes, so very done. Buh-bye, Sev."
"Oh, you will see me again. Soon, very soon. I'm not finished with you."
A soft rustling behind them made the triad turn.
"I’m sorry, mija. I simply can't allow for Sev to leave just like that," Clara said, stepping from the shadows of the forest with two leopards flanking each side of her. The rising sun illuminated her beautiful face and bounced off of her skin as if she were a part of the sun itself.
"Mama, what are you doing here?" Mira released Vander's hand and stepped toward her mother. "All is well, Mama. She is not a threat to us, truly. We are solid and the curse has been lifted from us."
"Audire heard the entire conversation, mija. I know what is going on. Your sisters and I are here to end this. You are too forgiving and kind to do what must be done, but we are not."
"Mama, she was innocent as well. I am not being weak with this, I am being right," Mira said, looking pained but steadfast. "She is dark right now, but has been mistreated her entire life. We can help her if she wants that. I see her, Mama. She is good inside; she just can't feel it yet. Please, give her a chance."
"You see this?"
"Yes, Mama. I do. It's why I didn't fight more for her to come with us. Her petty words and empty threats are just threats and anger for how she's been treated. She will heal in time."
"Okay, mija. As you say," Clara said, putting her hand down to have her daughters relax a bit. She stepped toward Sev. "My daughter has saved your life today. She was born with a gift, like all of my daughters and sees the good in you. I don't believe in good or nice anymore. I was taught the hard way that people will do whatever you let them get away with. Because she implores me to spare you, I will make my daughters," she gestured to the vicious looking leopards whose eyes were burning a hole in her chest, "leave you, but know that this is the only time we will give you such a chance. If you cross us, harm anyone I love, or even breathe in our direction with hate on your breath, I will make you wish you were never born. Do you understand me, little girl?"
"Yes ma'am, I do understand," Sev said as she took tentative steps backward, away from them.
Rozar growled low and took a step forward.
"No," Clara said to her daughter. "She is to be given a chance according to Mira. We honor that."
Rozar joined her sisters, but kept her head low. Her purr was sounding much more threatening than comforting.
"Go now before they defy me and rip you apart. Go on, now. Best of luck to you, Severa. We will say a prayer for you."
Before anyone could blink, Sev vanished.
"We will see you at home, mija. Nice work, Vander. Thank you," Clara said giving him a slight head nod and fading back into the forest.
The walk back home was pleasant and surprisingly quiet for the most part. Mira was humming a song taking the night in with tiny steps as she touched flowers, tree trunks, and anything else she could along the path.
"This is all I wanted all day; all week really. A peaceful time to just appreciate being outside. Crazy what I had to do to get that." Mira's voice barely registered due to her completely peaceful demeanor.
As they approached the walkway up to the house, Vander stopped suddenly, grabbed Mira's hand and pulled her to him.
"I was not in a relationship with Sev. I swear that to you." The sincerity in his eyes took her breath away for a moment and then she chuckled.
"I know that, baby. I believe in you. Always have and always will."
"I felt your anger when you saw me with her. I could hear your thoughts and had no way to respond without alerting everyone around that you were there. I was playing a part and doing what I had to in order to make sure our family was protected."
"I realize that now. At the time, I was feeling a little violent, but when I realized what was going on, I bided my time. I'm nothing if not patient."
"A little violent, she says! You wanted to skin her and make jerky out of her, admit it."
"Gross! As if someone wants to eat putrid meat!" she faux-gagged and then laughed loudly.
Their jokes and laughter continued as they began walking again toward the house. Vander stopped her again, moments later.
"Hey you, let's get married."
"Such a sweet proposal, really! We are already engaged to be married, weirdo. You heard Celeste we don't need to do that anymore. My family is safe, all is well, and we have our whole lives together to get married. I'm in no rush," Mira answered honestly.
"Yes, well, this whole thing has me really wanting to make sure I claim you as my own sooner than later, so we don't run into this problem again," he jeered.
"Ha! You are worried someone will try to steal me? Aww, how sweet. Never gonna happen! How about this? We are still gross from our hunt hours ago and now we have Moreno's trash on us as well. How about we finally take that shower?"
"Last one in scrubs the other?"
"You know it! Ready? GO!"