A Serpent's Tooth

University of Portland 
#1
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 It wasn't ivy, but an institution with Catholic roots as deep as this maintained a degree of pretension. Sipping a liberally priced and conservatively poured scotch, Caddoc read through the cast list on the partition set against the lobby wall. It was a frightful long shot that he'd recognize anyone here, but while he was meandering around the city aimlessly, he could at least take in some theater.

 The University of Portland's spring production of King Lear. Twelve headshots stared next to snippet biographies - a list of accomplishments and accolades and nothing more. Caddoc lavished in the uncanny way academia simmered personal stories down to a summary of success. Everything else was wallpaper.

 He turned to the person on his left. It was early and the doors hadn't opened yet. "Do you know anyone in the production?"
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#2
 Lara had great respect for theatre actors—control while on stage was something to be admired. And they had to be completely different people for several hours at a time. When Miranda said she’d gotten one of the only traditionally female roles in the University’s production of King Lear, Lara reserved tickets right then and there. It didn’t matter how casual they were right now; she supported the arts. And artists, really, regardless of romantic entanglement.

 If the rocks margarita hadn't been thirteen dollars, maybe she’d be a bit happier to be standing around waiting for the theatre to open. She sipped from the plastic cup, discreetly licking salt from the rim, trying to taste tequila through the sour mix.

 There was a picture of Miranda. She looked different now. Several years old, black and white photography didn’t do justice to redheads. Pale and sickly-looking, she pouted at a camera. Lara tilted her head, and pink braids fell across her shoulders. Pulling out her phone, she took a quick picture, sending it to Miranda with the caption, Did you sue this fuck? You look dead.

 She didn’t get a response. Whatever. Her lover was getting into character. Still. She could’ve been a bitch in reply, that would be in-character for Goneril, at least.

 Someone spoke to her. A man. Handsome, older. Lara turned slightly to smile boldly at him, shifting her weight to thrust one hip out.

 “Yeah, actually. My friend is playing Goneril. Miranda,” she pointed to the picture. “Terrible shot of her, though. Yikes.”
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#3
 Caddoc assessed the pasty red-head, the smile on her face as congenial and fake as a politician's. "Headshots are notoriously stiff." But she was right, it was terrible and whether that was the photographer's fault or the face being pictured -- well, they’d find out soon enough.

 Sipping his drink, he lent his attention to this friend of Miranda. "Has your friend shared any details of the production with you? Is the director aiming to do something incredibly unique and offbeat that’s already been done on a thousand stages in a thousand universities?"
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#4
 Lara nodded slowly, lips pursed, clearly mourning the silly practice of headshots. Sure, the actor’s faces needed to be seen or whatever. But there had to be a better way than handing over a picture taken by a 16-year-old in your local J.C. Penny’s. She sipped from her margarita, feeling philosophical.

 His next question made her laugh aloud–too loud for the somber annex. Heads turned their way. Lara ignored everyone but him, still smiling, teeth on display.

 “You sound just like the bastard,” Lara told him, lowering her voice a bit. “She wanted it to be a surprise, but I think they’re going for a Pirates of the Caribbean style. No idea how they’re gonna make it work, but we had a marathon of the movies a few weeks ago, and she’s no lover of action flicks. Dead giveaway.” She finished the margarita with a quiet disgusted noise. Closing her hand around the cup, she willed the ice to melt. More tequila would help her get into the story.
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#5
 "That sounds dreadful." Enough that Caddoc reconsidered his plans for the evening. Pirates of the what? There was something to be said for an valiant attempt at originality, but not at the cost of the material. Sets and costumes and props -- all of these were tools to enhance the script, not upstage it.

 A series of double doors opened, and he caught a glimpse of sail and rope. "God. Well, I suppose I'll find you during intermission to debate whether the second half is worth watching."
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#6
Lara caught the switch of a ghostly tail on the far side of her new friend. She stared at it for a moment, wide-eyed, thinking her past was about to catch up to her, and immediately searched the area for manipulatable earth. Finding nothing but pebbles, she took another look. Oh. A lion. The great beast examined her calmly with dark green eye. She relaxed. Definitely not a hyena.

What had they been talking about? Ah. The theme. “If they just use it for the aesthetic, it might be good. I saw a Samurai-themed ‘Scottish Play’ a number of years ago. Really inventive. And it worked.” She shrugged. “And be sure I’ll find both of you when we’re allowed out. But, I need a second drink to prepare for any rendition of ‘A Pirates’ Life for Me.’” She smiled hugely at him and turned toward the bar.
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#7
 The single word made him straighten, his lips hovering over the lip of his clear plastic cup. Both. The comment made his beast stir as well, as if the act of being seen was as good as a tap on the metaphysical cage bars. He guessed witch, but in this crowd at this time of night, he couldn’t be sure. It certainly gave them another topic of conversation other than the play.

 Once the doors open, Caddoc found his seat and endured a heartily self-indulgent and ill-prepared lot have a go at the bard. A few of the actors, including the aforementioned Miranda, did their best to carry the play on their shoulders, but that was as good as Atlas trying to hoist up the world.

 At intermission he went to the lobby, sticking to the same spot, looking out for his supernatural acquaintance.
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#8
Lara sipped from a double margarita as the ‘curtain’ went up. She could enjoy Shakespeare if the acting were good. But gods bless Miranda, this was a travesty. Her lover put up a good fight—getting several laughs of understanding from the crowd in an otherwise sinister and cruel role. She looked good, too, with her hair in a tight braid, enough makeup on her face to see the sharp lines of her cheekbones and jaw.

They did try. And there was no singing. Thank the Bard for that. Lara practically jumped out of her seat during intermission to run to the bathroom. Still slightly tipsy, she danced in line with several older women who all looked at her with reproach. Lara didn’t even see them.

Back in the lobby, she found her leonine friend again. He looked a bit more like his beast now that she knew both sides. She approached from one side, not wanting to startle him.

“You strike me as a scholarly,” she said upon arrival, planting herself firmly beside him, looking out on the bars and the people milling about. “I hope you’re no talent scout, though.” Grimacing, she continued, “You’re only as good as your company, to hear Miranda tell it. But she’s made better role choices. This was charity.” Oh, so we were defending her honor now. Interesting.
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#9
 He chuckled, turning towards her and offering his full attention. She was vivid, as sharp and focused as a spotlight. Staring more pointedly, Caddoc noticed the slight rise and fall of her shoulders, the expansion of her chest - and of course the small puffs of air that left her when she was speaking. Alive, not dead. Though he couldn’t sense a witch, it was simple enough to wriggle someone’s identity free through the process of elimination.

 After coming to this conclusion, his beast turned to regard her as well, whiskers twitching. "Her time would be more valuable spent elsewhere. Attachment is attachment, no matter the generosity. She’ll go down with this ship if she’s anchored to it." He said, his neutral expression turning impish. "Just a bit of scholarly advice."

 "Perhaps you can work your magic and talk her into dropping the role." A press. A hint.
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#10
 His theory of her power didn’t cause a stumble, but it did raise the estimation of her new friend by several notches. Obviously, she wasn’t a shifter; obviously, she was alive—the assessment left no other options. Lara knew plenty of shifters and witches who couldn’t be bothered to identify friend from foe at the first meeting, let alone determine exactly what they were. She pressed on in earnest.

 “If she were the captaining-sort, I’d agree with you,” Lara said, mirroring his turn instinctually and smiling widely at his joke. “But she hasn’t got what it takes to lead this kind of thing—at least, not yet.” If she felt bad for bad-mouthing Miranda, Lara didn’t show it. The truth was the truth, no matter how you dressed it up. “But Lord, if she’s not trying. I won’t be telling her to jump.” She looked up at him, braids falling away to swing behind her, and considered a polite lie. That could be done. How many times had she done it before in bars, clubs, and trade shows? Enough that she had several stories lined up. “And even if I did, there’s not enough earth in this place to keep her from running right back.” She tactfully tucked a braid behind her ear.

 The stone set in a thin silver band on her ring finger was a lab-grown emerald—chemically identical to its mined counterpart, without the flaws found in those made by the earth. It glinted and flashed for a moment in the shadows between them, not requiring any light.
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