Juno and the King of Cats

March 06, 2017:

During her search for the King of Cats, Juno is discovered by T'Challa.

A very fancy hotel.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Grymalkin

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It is past midnight at the hotel.

Aside from the offices and lobbies staffed by night attendants, many of the palacial grounds and dining rooms have been emptied out, the lights dimmed in some rooms and off in others. It was long past the hour for grandiose meals and long suffering speeches by movie stars and musicians and othersuch important men and women. The hotel was one the Wakandan delegation had selected to hold meter at while they were local, at least until a proper embassy was negotiated and established. The art of statecraft was not lost on Wakanda, and an embassy meant equal trade, which needed to be thought over by council as much as it did by the king.

In the meantime, the hotel had all but been bought out by the wealthy country. Many famous people came and went, but it was purely at the king's grace, as far as anyone had been concerned. Of course.

However, there were some failures of benefits. Main of which being the security being much more lax than at an official embassy. And though he had appeared perfectly comfortable to keep patronizing the hotel, T'Challa's dinners and meetings had become more abbreviated over the past few days. There has been the vaguest hint of a scent in the air surrounding the hotel — one only he could truthfully detect. Old blood on a child's skin. Though it would be expected of those in his native country — those whom are accustomed to waking early with the sun — knowledge of the world at large has taught him that children accustomed to the hunt are few and far between.

More importantly, that he had never successfully found the source of the scent in less official means.

The rain thunders outside in thick sheets, but the moon still lights the earth, flooding in through the rows of sliding glass doors flanking the huge dining room. It is the only lighting provided, and it shines off of carefully arranged silver set aside on the central banquet table ceremonially. Now the investigation has gone to the grass, and it is not a young man that searches for the source of that scent. It may not even be a king.

An impossibly dark shape stalks among the tables.
It is a panther that now seeks the spy in his midst.


It's been days since a LYING CAT THAT WAS ALSO A LIAR spooked Juno Hart so badly that she ran away to regroup. She's never run from anything! It's not specifically a matter of pride that she find and neutralize it, but… it kind of is. And also it's not okay for some spooky cat thing to run around scaring people!!

But Juno is good at what she was taught to do. It took a bit of sleuthing (and a little dumb luck) but she is pretty certain she's found the cat again - or maybe even the King of Cats, because Wakandan royalty is staying in the hotel and there's also a black-cat-man prowling around lately, where to her knowledge there hadn't been one before.

It makes sense that cats would have a king, Juno thinks. She does not know that cats do not have a monarchy and also do not respect any external authority. She was pretty much raised in a box in Siberia.

All she has to do is find a way to meet up with the Cat King in private, because his group of friends and bodyguards seem very competent and she isn't afraid of them but she would also like to not have to bother about them too much.

So. She may have been stalking T'Challa's alter-ego just a wee bit.

It's not a boring place to investigate, at least, and there are occasionally nice things to snack on - the servants will no doubt have discovered the occasional missing sweet or pastry with no clear culprit behind the theft - and she's enjoying a cheese danish at the moment, pilfered from the kitchen's enormous walk-in cooler. It was meant to be offered at tomorrow's breakfast, but there were so many of them and Juno gets hungry because (she hopes) she is still growing a bit.

Because it's Juno, and she is sneaky, she's having her snack in the safety and darkness of a side cabinet, chafing dishes carefully pushed to one side so there's just enough room for her to relax. The dining room may be empty, but she doesn't feel safe just hiding under a table. Juno holds the remaining half of her dinner between her teeth and shifts just enough to tug her cell phone free from a pocket. Almost 3AM… tucking it away again, her elbow bumps into a serving platter which 'whangs' softly. She stifles it immediately with a hand and goes stock-still, listening.


To the panther, the scent of things are powerful.

In his suit there was a chemical filter to prevent from being poisoned, but for a being blessed enough to scent the soul itself, such filters are woefully underpowered. The panther can smell everything, from the harsh and acrid cleaners used to wash the dishes to the wet dew scent of the morning clippings from the lawn bagged in a shed tucked out of the way outside, likely from the groundskeepers shirking their duties for the third day in a row.

In that vein, the icing and filling from a freshly baked danish in an otherwise cleaned room is like fireworks in the night sky.

The panther leaps atop the table, vaulting and landing perfectly, tendons absorbing the shock of his landing. Noticeably, though he lands in the midst of place settings, not a fork is jostled by it, not a petal of the floral arrangements set out of place, not a sound from his landing. So wordless and soundless, he moves through and across the table as if it were empty, his passage not disturbing one place setting. The platter stops him. He cranes his head ever slightly as he passes rows of cabinetry.

Hands flex like claws, shimmering metal tips hissing as they slip through woven sheathes at his fingertips and bare to the open air. The soft, barely perceptible song of those blades is the only sound he makes, the only sound that carries as Juno even stops breathing.
The platter stopped him, but it isn't what draws him.

A breath later, they pierce through the cabinet door, five deadly blades cutting through oak like little more than paper, the audible crunch of fingertips hitting wood joined by the snapping springs in the self closers on the cabinet hinges, and the pop of expensive brass screws, shearing well before the oak gives. The hinges snap loose at the screws and pins, and the entire left handed door is pulled off of the cabinet Juno is hiding in.

The door is shredded into splinters before it even hits the ground, thrown away and behind the panther.


Juno's ears and sight are good. She has the sense of smell of someone who has never smoked. But she isn't incredibly gifted in hearing, has no abilities to suss out the substance of the soul or discern a man's presence by the molecules in the air. She smells of blood and gun oil, of brass shell casings and steel, of strawberry shampoo and cotton clothing, of nylon and gunsmoke. In contrast, all she can smell in the enclosed space of the cabinet is 'pastry'.

It seems to be fine. She doesn't hear anything, though of course she's still as a rabbit for long moments. All she needs is a single footstep to know if someone heard her…

She doesn't get that. She gets a loud CRUNCH as the solid oak cabinet door is wrenched away, spitting splinters that spray through her as she ghosts reflexively.

There is a teenage girl sitting in his hotel's cabinet with a half-eaten cheese danish hanging out of her mouth.

Juno's teeth close with a softened schnap through baked dough, the rest of her meal falling toward her lap. She'll miss you, danish… you were delicious. But instead of needing to find the King of Cats alone, he has come to her. It's not quite what she'd been hoping for, but it should do just fine!

Juno unfolds like she's on a spring, vaulting through the cat's legs and tumbling three times to land on her feet. She spins around without missing a beat, knees bent, hands on the carpet… mouth full of sweetened cheese. "Mmf?"


The panther knew who it was he was engaging before she even burst from the cabinet. He would not begrudge someone the theft of food — it is common in America, he understands — but the scent he pursues is not from a common thief seizing an opportunity to take a scrap from a lavish plate. This person he seeks, the small girl who bursts through his legs and flops about on the carpet briefly, is no hungry rogue.

"You have been chasing someone here," the panther growls, the dark gravel of his voice dripping from his mask like blood from some great sword of judgment. After she makes her passage, his whole body drops to the ground, his stance going lower. He holds position there, in a low crouch that is clearly meant to box his stance and keep him low to the ground. Eerie pupilless eyes glow in the dark, focusing on Juno over his shoulder as if he were pouncing already in his mind. Claws flex slowly as she gathers herself nimbly.

Then, slowly, he turns, one step and a smooth rotation carrying him into facing the teenager. The hauntingly damning glare of those soulless eyes track the crumbs she leaves in her wake, the remnant of the danish now behind him. The snack does not go unnoticed, but the ink-dipped creature shows no patience for her meal.

It is easy to consider that the panther king anticipates a meal of his own.

The next word from the black-swathed predator does not brook any objection, and stabs the air like a thrown spear. In the silence of the night, a question such as this carries like a cannon blast. "Why," he demands forcefully, his claws lowering to his sides in readiness.


It is very common in America. Juno has only known hunger a very few times in her young life - punishment, once, when she was very young and did not yet understand that her life was not her own anymore. A few times when her limits were being tested, when it was time to find out just how long she could expect to operate satisfactorily under the harshest conditions. Her best record is four days before performance suffers.

The rogue stares at him, wide-eyed and guileless, mouth still full. She finishes chewing while he considers her, nodding only when he correctly surmises her recent activities. She /has/ been chasing someone. Him! "Mm," she hums, swallowing the last she'll get to enjoy of that danish, and remembers to be thankful for the food even though there's nobody appropriate present to thank. Her expression turns from curious to pleased and proud, like a kitten who's just stumbled headfirst into a bowl of cream and has no concept of the mess she's creating.

She stays there on the ground, nearly a mirror of his own posture, body showing no hints of discomfort from holding the awkward-looking position. "I've been hunting a certain cat," she explains, voice carrying the faintest trace of an Eastern European accent. Something Slavic, maybe. "He's doing bad things, so I need to kill him." Because when the only solution you have is a knife, every problem begins to look like a throat.


The emotionless, soulless mask does not betray an ounce of feeling to the teenage killer, a demonlike countenance ostensibly molded perfectly to terrify enemies. But past a certain echelon, the theatre of things loses its meaning. That much tells him what he needs to know. The child — just barely of age, he surmises — he faces has the scent of old blood on her, blood and powder weapons, and she regards the claws of the panther god with no more concern than one might a spoiled glass of milk on the counter. If she is not an alien construct of some type, it is enough to know that she has killed, and that fear was stripped away long ago.

After ages of war with the other African states, it takes very little for a Wakandan to understand the concept of a child soldier.

"You have spent a long time away from civilization, child," the stalking predator says. Slowly, he begins to circle, one leg shifting underneath his weight and transferring to the other. He is displeased by her answer, judging from the rumble in his voice, carrying the same force as the distant thunder.

"There will be no killing on these grounds, I do not sanction it, and even beyond the laws of this country, such acts will irrevocably fall under my authority entirely."

Though her irregularrather, familiarstance makes it hard to determine if she favors one side or another to indicate the presence of a weapon, he is not concerned. The kind of weapons she smells of make sound. And sound will attract attention. If she had wanted that sort of attention, she would have made her move in the light. His head lowers, dangerously. She may notice that even though he moved sideways, every motion allows the panther to creep closer to her, and his eyes do not leave her.

"Leave, or I will break you and send you back to your commander in pieces."


Some people fear masks. Some people find a human face a difficult thing to fire upon, the widening eyes, the begging lips. The distinction was burned out of Juno long ago. She can fire on anything, and feel nothing.

In the dim light of the dining room, her pupils contract slowly, adjusting from the pitch-black of the cabinet with ease. She sees the way his muscles bunch underneath his clothing, notes the manner in which he begins to move. He will creep closer and closer to her, using a circle to trick her eyes into ignoring his increasing proximity. She only watches him, a gentle curve to her mouth that displays her ease in even this environment. "Maybe. I do love this city, though. Do you know about Pokemon?" she asks him earnestly, perking up a little bit. He may be the King of Cats, but there are cat Pokemon!

She frowns a little bit when he decrees that there will be no killing. But then how is she supposed to stop the Liar Cat from tricking more people and scaring them??

Well… if he is the King of Cats…

"Then I want to ask you to control your subject. His name is Grymalkin, and he's a black cat with one yellow eye and one blue eye."

Is… is she fucking with him?

Juno makes no move to draw a weapon. "He climbed into my lap when I was people-watching and let me pet him for a while, and then he turned into a man and was still in my lap!!" The clear offense on her face tells the story - she absolutely believes what she is saying to be true.


The boneless, serpentine motions associated with the premeditated stalking of the panther king seem if only for a moment nigh inexorable. There is a studied dispassion even in the way he gives his order. The roar of a great cat; all force and law with a decisive lack of compassion. One would think a battle at this point inevitable—the barest twitch, and he would move on her. His stare is even, holding her at a predator's court with the keen focus he pays her.

So when he halts his advance, it comes as something of a disservice to the rhythm of things, the heartbeat of life itself. The improbability of her words does not reach him; her earnest questions are met just as earnestly.
"Yes, I do. You are wasting my time."

Given the time and the place, there is no patience in the king for rousing discussions of Japanese video games filled with colorful animal fighters. None at all. But he is not a tyrant, and though surely the idea would have had its proponents amongst his delegation, he will not break her arm to get her attention. Instead, she gets to the rest of her thought in time. Slowly, an idea begins to curl at the foot of the panther's jungle. It is a thought that, for the moment, T'Challa decides to keep to himself.

"I have no such subject, child," the king responds plainly, connecting the threads of her absent chatter with as little disbelief as he has patience. "But for that reason, you would do well to avoid antagonizing every cat you see… the god of panthers sees everything, and she will not hear of your struggle with any great mercy." In this, he speaks quietly, his words wandering the knife's edge. As long as she doesn't move too suddenly, he doesn't seem to be intent on harming her. The earnestness of her words earns his discretion. But for that ticket the price is charged every fleeting moment. He will not break her arm..

"Ill reasoning has consumed you, but if you have been molested in some way by such a man, you may stay here under our law until I see fit. If you use this invitation to continue your hunt, I will harm you immeasurably."

..yet.


Is she really wasting his time? Of course, kings are probably very busy, even a King of Cats. "Oh. Sorry." She sounds, at least, a tiny bit apologetic. "If you're bored you can leave," Juno helpfully points out. She doesn't believe that he's forgotten, but sometimes people want to be polite to company even though Juno is no such thing at all.

To break her arm, he would have to catch hold of her. It isn't impossible… just difficult. But it's been done before.

Still, he takes her seriously (somewhat) and answers plainly. It doesn't bring a smile back to her face, but Juno looks interested and listens to what he's saying. But… there's a god of panthers?! Her eyes widen again in a wonderment that's almost childlike. "Oh, I see! I'm sorry." How do you address the King of Cats? She isn't terribly sure what labels go with what nobles, because Juno is not a Black Widow - she could never, can never slip into a role designed to get her within killing distance.

That's what the phasing is for.

She parses his words carefully. He's fancier than she's used to - even Miss Elena takes care to use words that Juno will understand immediately, because she wants Juno to succeed. Already Juno really and truly loves her owner, as much as someone like Juno can love anyone. "If I stay I have to give up my search," she interprets, gazing at the featureless mask as if she could divine some approval there. "Does hunting him count if I don't harm him, but bring him to you for justice, Your Majesty?" She's not nitpicking. She truly wishes to know.


The truth is that the panther had assembled some reasoned idea of what he was dealing with shortly after this had gone to ground. If it were her intention to get close enough to kill him, they would have sent a more able infiltrator. She believes most of what she says, she makes it clear.

The panther straightens slowly, lean figure gathering from the pool of black hugging the ground. A man forms from the beast. His claws still trail from his fingertips, threatening grave ends to a sudden assault. He doesn't know what abilities she has, or even if she has any, but she had been nearby for some time now, underneath the notice of his guard. That wasn't an inconsequential fact, even though she apologizes, more than once, to temper her behavior.

Children will be, no matter what else they are taught.

She repeats the words carefully, and to it, the panther king does nothing, says nothing for a time. He merely watches as she weighs the options. She offers no clues, at least not superficially, as to whether she balks at the yoke that is imposed on her wanton violence. To that, his hand is forced, the king given to consider what she asks, and what the realities are.

She has killed before. That much is enough.

"Give up your pursuit," the black panther offers, "and enjoy a seat at man's table, for your current path will offer you nothing but a miserable end." He dispenses this judgment with gravity, with weight. But he says so matter of factly, a notable restraint in his force, absent any hint of anger. It is the one time she will find him patient with her. "I am committed to protecting the laws of this country where they do not disagree with my culture. If the unjust comes before me, they will submit to the claws of the panther god. But to assume that justice yourself is taking liberties with authorities that aren't yours. You may have been just a baby once, but now you are old enough to make that determination for yourself. That … I will leave up to you."

Stepping over the wreckage of the cabinet door, the panther slips away. A door remains just slightly ajar in the darkened room, a door with no light shining on it. It is enough.

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