During the past age driving up Highway 71 or 76 wouldn't have been much of a challenge. While civil order was restored in Cincinnati, Columbus was in ruins, and much of the rest of Ohio suffered egregious wounds. However, Régine Candelaria and her husband, Quentin didn't fear roadway pirates as much as most.
On the way to Akron, Ohio in her armored Audi Pullman Guard limo, the sports car driving ahead of it, and the other behind, Régine felt relaxed. The limo offered ample headroom for her thirteen-point antlers and Quentin's ten-point rack.
Quentin was reading a book, and the two tall and muscular Cernunnos Fae sitting in the back-facing chairs ahead of her remained silent but watchful. Empty armored suits animated by Personification rode in her escort cars.
Like Cincinnati, Akron's rebuilding was coming along, and so Régine saw no checkpoints entering the city. The heart of Akron wasn't her destination, rather a town on the north-eastern outskirts, which effectively gave her a tour of the city along the way.
More of the Pentacastes of Akron lived side by side with humans, except for one upscale gated community, where high castes of Fae lived. Cincinnati had grown more segregated, which Régine hoped would be a state-wide and national trend.
Then she saw the mansion. It stood like a projection of Bram Stoker's imagination. Its front courtyard was occupied by numerous luxury cars, and Régine saw many other Fae elders exiting their vehicles to head for the front entrance. Valets accepted keys and drove cars out toward a lot to clear the driveway for others coming in.
When came her entourage's turn, Régine stepped out of the limo along with her large escort, only to see that all the valet drivers were werewolves. "God! I can't believe Blakesley hired these people."
"Have you met Blakesley before?" Quentin asked, stepped out on the other side.
"No, but a growing number of people are doing business with him," Régine explained, "and he's become a power broker in Akron. He's earned an unfortunate biblical name on the streets."
"Mama Candelaria?" another werewolf staffer prompted. "Your keys?"
In her stead, the driver, another Cernunnos caste, passed the keys over with an advisory. "Don't leave any hair on the seat."
With an accommodating smile hinting of awareness at the slight, the valet accepted the keys and got into the car. Two other valets moved the sports cars to be parked together. Régine examined the more ruddy and less manicured grounds of the mansion.
The estate was less a garden and more of barely restrained woodland. Most trees stood tall and overshadowed all under their canopy. Less grass, which saw no mowing, and more ground cover plants greened the estate, and birds were everywhere despite the late autumn; ravens, crows, and other corvids notably counting high among their number.
Entering the mansion, Régine saw the interior as being equally dark. One chandelier hung down in the middle of the foyer. A rug in the middle of the floor was partly covered by a carpet running up the middle of the eighth-turn staircase with candelabras at the base. A fire in the hearth was going, which directed Régine's attention to the two stag heads mounted on the far right wall.
"Is that supposed to be some kind of statement?" another wealthy Fae elder asked, pointing them out to others in their party.
"Embarrassing," another spat at the decor.
Then wait-staff entered the room, offering to take coats and other possessions for safekeeping. Right away, their werewolf hair growth pattern stood out to Régine, both for sprouting from the back and sides of their necks and coming out more dense, rather like the manes of their therianthropic phase.
Once Régine and Quentin passed over their coats, one of the staffers called up. "Ma'am, they're here!"
Doors on the second level opened to the foyer, and transformed werewolves bolted out on their rear legs. They leapt over the railings to land on the floor around the Fae. On them, Régine saw body armor and a recent security invention predating Alter Idem.
The left armored glove, called The BodyGuard that the werewolves wore had taser prongs on the back of the wrist, as well as a laser pointer, camera, and flashlight. However, on the right gloves, the taser was replaced by a long wrist blade, which the snarling werewolves extended as though they were alien killers fresh out of the sci-fi action movie.
Régine smirked at their display, and raised her hand with the back toward one of the armed howlers. "Lupis Ignis."
A globe of orange fire manifested from one of her rings to fill her clutching hand, and Régine tossed it with a flip of her wrist. However, the burning bolt dissipated off a smartly deflecting backhand gesture from the werewolf. The taser itself was sparking and that somehow rendered the spell null.
Taking her cue, Régine's Fae and Personified guards also armed themselves. The Lifeless armored suits drew P-90 machine pistols, while the Cernunnos Fae also mustered up defensive magic.
Yet, the turned werewolves proved their higher reflexes by darting in and swatting aside Fae hands in mid-cast, thus breaking concentration. Régine saw the Personified guards simply crumble once hit with the high powered tasers. One of her Cernunnos guards attempted a headbutt on a werewolf, and got a deft thrust of a wrist blade into the eye for his trouble. The blade tip exited the back of her guard's hardened skull, and his entire body went mostly limp with some twitching.
"Good enough," called a woman's voice from upstairs.
Next, came the sickening sound of the wrist blade retracting from her Cernunnos guard's head, and his body was dropped onto the floor to bleed onto the central rug. The werewolf guards stood stood back in a circle around the Fae, growling lowly, but abiding by the order heard.
"I'm a Caplata," a visibly affronted Régine called out, "How dare you!"
Though, a woman ordered the werewolves to stop, it was a man who stepped out from one of the upper floor doors. "Yes, and I spoke with other Caplatas and Bokors before preparing this meeting."
"Harris Blakesley?" Régine surmised up at the rustic dark haired human-phase werewolf with hard facial features.
"Does it surprise you?" Harris asked her. "A werewolf garnering this much control of a city?"
"It's never 'a' werewolf," Régine seethed, "Is it?"
"That explains the hiring decisions," Quentin remarked.
"Ohh," Harris answered, and smiled. "They're not hired," then he shrugged, "They live her, just like myself and Mingan."
"I'll bet they stole this house and murdered the owners," another Fae elder hissed snidely under their breath.
"It wasn't murder," Harris replied, and held a finger to the back of his ear. "I see, you forgot about our hearing. Nor did we steal the house. We tried to end the violence through lawful means. If you'll all make your way to the dining hall I and Mingan will properly welcome you there."
To emphasize his point, the therianthropic werewolves displayed their right BodyGuard gloves and pulled back their lips to fully reveal their teeth. The Fae got the message, and retired to the dining hall as guided by both phases of howlers.
Dinner places were already set and, as the Fae all took seats, appetizers appropriate to a vegetarian or vegan menu were served. Harris and a rather striking athletic woman with shoulder-length dark blonde hair entered through the same door as their captive guests.
That fact in particular struck Régine. Were such an event held in her estate she would always make the point of entering through a separate door as just part of her demonstration of authority over her guests. She also would've ensured her attire outshone her visitors, in contrast to Harris dressing down to a twill work shirt, jeans, and basic outdoor shoes.
The blonde that Régine suspected was Mingan Blakesley wore an oversized blouse, denim shorts, and running shoes with zippers on the back of the heels for easy removal prior to changing. She sat at the head of the table, while Harris took a chair to her left. Other werewolves, including those turned and armed took seats in nearby tables where more predatory dishes were served.
"I do apologize about your man," Mingan started with, "But Harris and I knew you'd try something like that."
Régine addressed Harris Blakesley instead, "Whatever strings you pulled, do know that I won't forget this."
"That crossed my mind," Harris answered, and then waved to the blonde woman. "However, in this house my wife, Mingan is in charge. You say you're all about proper etiquette and respecting social position? You will demonstrate that by paying her due respect, just like we do."
"So," Régine heard from a Fae elder man, "You really do have den mothers."
"I was told this meeting was about establishing proper order throughout the rest of the state," a different elder stated, "Does that mean having you mongrels in charge?"
Harris smiled at the insult, and set his elbows on the table to claps his hands. "Sticks and stones and all that. Look, when I said I arranged with other Bokors and Caplatas about this, it's because I made my case to them after the legal route failed us. Human and Pentecaste judges disregarded the laws when ruling against us time and time again about hate crimes targeting werewolves."
"Are you accusing us of hate crimes now?" Quentin scoffed.
"Accuse?" Mingan said, "No. We've already established who wrote and distributed the spells and weapons used on us."
Régine felt a cold flash go through her. "Then what do you want?"
Harris seemed to deflect the question, when he pointed to Régine and asked, "You know how I earned the street name, right? Tell the others."
"They call him the Alpha and Omega," Régine revealed, "I just hadn't put together that they were both wolf titles."
"Well--," Harris interjected with a raised finger from his still clasped hands. "Title isn't the right word, here. You Fae and many other people seemed to always miss that. An alpha is someone who leads by example, and not having others do what they would not do by their sides. An omega isn't a low ranking wolf, either. They're diplomats.
"You see," Harris went on with his lesson of werewolves, "We don't do this tiered status thing you Fae especially are hung up on. That's part of why you sneer down your deer-like noses at us. You're all about letting nature be nature, but set about creating the same unnatural social classes as myopic medieval societies."
"And if that's how you want to continue being with your fellow Fae," Mingan took over speaking at that moment, "Okay. No one's even asking you to not be such bigots toward us or other Pentacastes. This is about the fact you act on that hate."
"Maybe if your street packs weren't stealing and killing...," Quentin instantly shot, and deliberately knocking over his glass with the back of his dismissive hand.
"There are no street packs in Akron," a suddenly cool and steel-faced Harris replied.
The way Harris' eyes pierced right through Régine unsettled her. She knew he was addressing her more than anyone else in the room.
"They're all over the place in Cincinnati," Quentin insisted.
"Yes, I know," Harris admitted, still firmly calm and steady, "And I don't like it anymore than you do. It gives my people a bad name. Eventually, I'd like to deal with that, but I have to work out more proximal problems. Besides, Cincinnati isn't my city to order around. Your citizens have to commit to ending the violence in a meaningful way. That is, to get to the root of where the street crimes come from."
"Also, we're aware of the antagonists in Cincinnati who have made things worse for werewolves there," Mingan added.
"What're you implying?" another Fae elder inquired with narrowed eyes of accusation.
Harris looked down. "We know about the experiments being done on animals formerly from Cincinnati's zoos. We're asking you, politely, to knock it off."
"I don't know what you're talking about," the elder said.
"She does," Harris replied, pointing right at Régine.
Other Fae looked to her, and Régine in turn shook her head in silent denial.
"You see through magical illusions," Mingan referred to the nature of the lens in Fae eyes, and added, "But we see right through when someone is bullshitting us. I've seen photos of what used to be gorillas."
"You want your street goons to have actual muscle backing them up," Harris explained from there. "For supposedly believing in the natural course of things, your handlers have wrought monstrously unnatural changes on those poor things."
"It's insulting to have you accuse me of mistreating animals," a disgusted Régine protested.
"I didn't say it was you," Harris clarified, "However, it's your magical research that made it possible. I've seen the lines of separation you've established to avoid criminal or civil culpability. Otherwise, we'd be having that legal court fight now."
"Then what?" the another elder Fae woman asked.
"I understand the consequences will echo from Silverton and other neighborhoods into Norwood for a long time," Harris prefaced his next words, "But, if we find you're still involved, through whatever veil of deniability you throw up, we 'will' come down out of Akron and solve this problem. Our way. A lot of us werewolves here are cops and military vets. We've made allies with humans and other Pentacastes. Don't make this get ugly."
Inside, Régine burned with hatred for Harris and the rest of his mongrels, but she knew he had the upper hand, and not just in this house. She couldn't even lie to his face, and so put on her best professional tone of concession, "It's agreed then."
The other Fae elders, all junior to her in the caste system, turned with surprise to Régine, and a few barely suppressed gasps accompanied the attention. The remainder of the evening went by with less tension, but Régine had already lost her appetite.
Despite the earlier violence, the werewolf staff remained courteous and professional in their service throughout the house and valeting the Fae luxury cars back to their guests. It was that discipline, not just in action, but pouring through every demeanor, from the werewolves that served as its own warning to the upper crust of Fae society.
The Fae of Ohio's various cities and towns might have well-structured social order, but the howlers were better organized. Akron was where they had gained the most political power and muscle, but from that, Régine knew it could become a spreading trend.