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04 June 2006 @ 02:39 am
The Call  
(( Dialogue in square brackets is in Hindi. ))

"[Cut!]" yelled the director as the music ended. Lakshmi dropped from her dance pose into a more relaxed stance, exhausted and hoping that this would be the final take of this scene. No such luck. "[Vikram, you were off the beat again. Please try harder. One more time. First positions, everyone!]"

She suppressed a groan as they all moved back to their starting positions to shoot the dance scene yet another time. Leading men, she mused as they prepared to start again, may be hired more for their looks than their dance ability, but someone with no sense of rhythm should not be in a musical, no matter how pretty he might be.

This time, thankfully, the rhythmically impaired star managed it well enough to satisfy the director, and finally they were done. As she headed toward the dressing room, one of the production assistants stopped her. "[Lakshmi? Message for you. I didn't want to interrupt the shoot -- you know how he is! But they said it was a family emergency.]" She handed her a folded slip of paper.

Lakshmi rushed to the nearest phone and unfolded it, and was surprised to see not the name of either of her parents or brothers, but her uncle Gurdeep in Rajasthan. He didn't contact her often -- they'd only seen each other once or twice since the end of her First Year, but during that year, he'd been her constant companion, teacher and taskmaster. All things considered, she suspected the family it concerned wasn't her family in the normal sense of the word.

"Mama-ji?* [This is Lakshmi. I called as soon as I got your message. What is wrong?]"

"[You introduce yourself by your human name? Perhaps you have been away too long.]"

"[I'm sorry - I am on a film set right now.]" She hoped he'd get the message that she couldn't say anything too out of the ordinary without privacy. "[What is the emergency that your message spoke of?]"

He seemed somewhat mollified. "[Nothing is wrong, exactly. Potentially, something might be very right. But we are unsure. There is a matter we would like you to investigate. How soon can you be at my home?]"

"[I have finished my one scene, but there is another that will be starting in a few days, and one of the dancers for that one has fallen ill. I was hoping --]" She could almost hear the disapproval on the other end of the phone, though her mentor had not spoken a word. "[Never mind, uncle, I can leave tomorrow.]" Another silence. "[All right, I will be on the overnight train.]"

. . .

The next morning, her uncle's driver met her at the train station in Jaipur to take her to his country estate on the outskirts of Sariska National Park, one of the largest wilderness parks in India and a designated tiger and panther preserve. A little over an hour later, she was shown into the sitting room she remembered so well from her First Year. There were seven people present apart from her uncle and the servant who showed her in, and a sleek black panther lying in front of the hearth. One or two of the people she thought she recognized from past taghairms, but the rest were strange to her, though she could feel that faint resonance that told her they were of her kind. Most were not Indian, but appeared to come from many other parts of the globe. This must be an important matter indeed, to draw such an international collection of cat-folk in once place... Uncle Gurdeep rose to greet her, in English.

"Kalayana, behen**. We have been awaiting you. We may have an important task for you. Do you have any plans over the next few weeks... or months?"

Lakshmi began to say that she'd been in negotiations for a possible speaking part in an upcoming film, but stopped, in consideration of both her uncle's tone and her own growing curiosity. "Nothing I can't cancel, mama-ji. What is this task you have for me?"

"In America, on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, a lost caern has been rediscovered. This would not normally necessarily be of concern to us. But something quite unprecedented has happened there. The group that has formed around the caern is... unusual."

"Unusual how?" Lakshmi asked, curiosity growing. She was already mentally making a checklist of what she might need to pack for a trip to Hawaii.

One of her uncle's guests spoke up, a large, powerfully built African man, snorted. "'Unusual' in this instance means a doomed experiment carried out by a bunch of young idealists who will probably end up killing each other inside of a moon. We can only hope that such foolishness remains unusual."

A slender Middle Eastern-looking woman glanced derisively at him, and replied, in an Egyptian accent, "Not all of us consider it doomed. What our Simba friend means to say is that it is a group made up of many kinds of shapeshifters, from East and West both, and including Garou. Some of us find that notion... intriguing."

A tall Indian man she recognized as one of her uncle's friends, of the Khan tribe, muttered under his breath in Hindi "[Of course her kind would find it 'intriguing' -- the prospect of someone who'd actually want to associate with them must be refreshing. Maybe she should go -- the Garou would probably gut her on sight as a Wyrm-tainted traitor and we'd all be better off.]"

Gurdeep glanced sharply at him. "[Silence, Purujit! This meeting is a place of peace.] Kalayana, what Samirah has said is true - this caern has been claimed by a mixed group of many animal folk, Eastern and Western. They believe it can be the beginning of peace between our various kinds. Many are not so sure - they feel that such a strange alliance will fall apart and that the caern will be lost to the Unmaker. We need someone to go there and find out how they are faring, whether this unlikely group seems capable of doing what they have set out to, and of holding the caern successfully, or whether... intervention is necessary. I nominated you for this task because while young, you are widely travelled and have a talent for adapting to other cultures and dealing with people. As we are the Eyes of the Mother, we need you to be our eyes in this place. Do you have any questions?"

Lakshmi's heart raced. Not only a trip to a strange caern in a land she had never been to, but the opportunity to meet many kinds of shapeshifters, from all over the world! She smiled radiantly at her uncle and the assembled cat-kin. "Only two, mama-ji. Where is it, and when do I leave?"

. . .

* Mama = maternal uncle; mother's brother. -ji is an honourific suffix used when addressing elders.

** Behen = younger sister. Frequent term of address for a younger woman even if she is not literally the speaker's sister. Kalayana, a Sanskirt expression for a dancer or tumbler who dances on the edge of a sword, is Lakshmi's Bastet name.
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