The smell of blood, it always starts with the smell of blood. None of the other officers can smell it, but they can't taste the air like I can. Lt. Lee looked at me, he knows I can tell things before they can. "Yeah, blood," I say. "Maybe lots of it." I try to make my voice tremble a little bit, so that I seem a bit more like a scared girl a little out of her element. Its important to keep up those appearances. I remember what it felt like to be afraid. It's been a long time since I could feel fear.
A Girl Named Holoke
Holoke Carter was born to Michael Carter and Cynthia Fertile Deer. She is half Navajo, half New York German-Irish and grew up on a reservation in New Mexico where she was given a piecemeil education that was a bad mixture of Navajo spiritualism and history and standardized education from third hand text books that had seen better days as table levelers. She was eventually taken from the reservation by CPS when it was discovered that her mother was having her daughter tend a marijuana patch behind the house and had barely taught the girl anything beyond how to roll cigarettes and cook. Holoke was sent to a special school in Nevada where she was reeducated and received her first introduction to the world beyond the reservation. Holoke took to the new envirnoment like a fish to water. She was actually quite smart and absorbed books and lectures and was taken in by an upper income family in Oregon. Away from the heat and Indian stereotypes that abounded where she once lived, she was able to flourish.
But there was something that always bothered her. Holoke never felt like any of the other kids, the white kids or the Indian kids. She pushed herself, thinking that the feeling came from her background, the abuse from her alcoholic mother, abandonment issues around her missing father, her upbringing in a heat rotted camper trailer.
It was like there was always something cold inside me. The other girls were falling all over themselves with hormones and boys and screaming at spiders and snakes and about anything would send them into hysterics, or tears. I hated them. They hated me, and I think I was okay with that. I made it through high school like a Cold War with the other girls. There were more of them but they were afraid of me. The boys were fascinated by me, I wasn't meek or scared. The Indian boys thought I was a reborn Indian warrior while the white boys say something different and it made them hard. College was easier, I left them all behind and buried myself in a heavy school load, pre-med. I felt at home, relaxed, calm, when I was in a lab or dissecting something. The Cold feeling would go away. I went on the med school, and was a few months away from graduating when the cold came back harder than it ever had. I knew how to deal with it, I would stop eating for a few days, rest. I found that tanning beds made the cold slither away.
Then I changed. In theory I should have been afraid. I could barely hear a thing, and everything was much larger than it had been. It would seem that somewhere in my mother's blood there was a long dormant gene, something that the elders talked about. Skinchangers, shadowwalkers, and medicine men who would wear the shapes of animals. I had long ignored them, with their whiskey breath and cigarette stained teeth. I was a skinchanger. I slid out of my bed and onto the floor. I could taste the air, and I knew where I was. There were familiar scents, the scent of my human form, of the people who came and went through the dorms, the food they ate and the hints of things that go on in dorms. I was a snake. My roommate Beth came stumbling into the room and almost stepped on me. I coiled up, a reflexive defensive action and instinctively I started shaking the tip of my tail. I smelled fear, and Beth and her boyfriend de jour were trying to get away from me. I knew what I was, I was a rattlesnake.
Holoke Carter comes from a nearly extinct line of medicine men of the Navajo tribe. She was a late bloomer and didn't go through the first change until sometime near hear early to mid twenties, which would correspond with her late entry to puberty due to persistent malnutrition and hunger. The Cold was her latent shapeshifting ability slowly pushing its way to the surface. She has since changed significantly.
Holoke is cold not only to the touch but also emotionally. The attractive young woman is partially cold blooded, meanign she typically keeps her home 10 degrees warmer than most people consider comfortable and rather than wearing skimpy outfits, she favors turtlenecks and form fitting warm clothing. She also has since moved from the rainy cool Pacific Northwest to southern California. Cold weather leaves her lethargic but she can function by forcing herself to eat and 'kickstart' her metabolism into a higher gear. She eats a fraction of what most people do, and she favors protein and nutritionally dense foods and despizes sweets and starchy foods. She does have cold hands which causes people to make vampire jokes. Emotionally she is muted, the cold spirit of the reptile isn't moved by such a variety of emotions as a hot blooded hominid. She knows fear in an abstract concept, while anger and hatred are cold calculation. She has studied acting to overcome the difficulty in dealing with overly emotional humans, but sometimes she slips and there are awkward moments when she finds something sentimental or sad, or horrifying hilarious.
I am a walking chemistry lab. I am no ordinary snake.I learned that with concentration and will I can shape the venom to serve my own desires and ends. I can make a sleeping venom that causes a deep sleep that lasts for several days. I learned to make my bite intoxicating like alcohol, or a powerful hallucinogen. It's all chemistry and I was quite good in chemistry.
Charles was a vicious senior, a thug from an affluent family and he decided that he was going to have me. I put up a token resistence. I could have killed him with a bite. But he took me, and gave me his seed. He was so angry and strong, it would do for my first time. I left school after that, and returned to the reservation. I lived as a snake for until it was time, I birthed a clutch of baby rattlesnakes that vanished days after I brought them into the world. I returned to school and Charles was horrified when I told him he was a daddy. I had learned how to wear rattlesnake as a god-form not just the common form of snake. I reared in front of him, letting the scales out and shedding my soft human exterior. I wrapped hisbody in my coils and I held more closely than any lover would. He wept incoherently, then he would rage and fight until he was exhausted. So much energy, so much fury, so quickly expended. It wasn't as easy as shooting him full of venom, but it was more satisfying the squeeze him until his death was in his eyes.
Holoke left the medical field, did a few more courses of social studies and entered the social services field. While the spirit of the reptile was cold, she had heard her calling, she was in her heart, a healer. The studies were challenging, dealing with the squishy emotional turbidity that was humanity, but she had never been one to shrink back from a challenge. She learned, she passed the tests and the exams and gained a position in the California Social Services. Initially Holoke was offered a position working with Native American children, under the superficial auspice of sharing a race. She declined and instead took a position in urban social services in Los Angeles.
She quickly gained a reputation as being not only fearless, but being a very effective officer. The Cold left her near impossible to emotionally intimidate, and the fact that she could turn into a 18 foot long snake human hybrid rendered any sort of physical intimidation pointless. When she investigated a house or situation, she did so as a snake. Many homes were filthy, cluttered with debris or were in structurally questionable condition. It was a simple matter for even a six foot rattlesnake to go unnoticed. Her gathered evidence was immaculate, and in a rare few instances she decided to act. More than one murderously abusive parent felt the fire of a rattlesnake bite, and in a few isolated incidents she manifested her hybrid form to ensure the demise of her target. She was the scalpel, and the people she killed were the spiritually sick and corrupted.
Fighting Fire with Fire
There were other things in the darkness, not just rattlesnakes in the walls. The dead prowl the night, while their blood servants stalk and tend during the day. There were others who could skinwalk, wear the forms of animals. The wolves howled in the wilds. In Grandfather's eyes the wolves were the cullers of the herd, keeping the population healthy by eliminating those who were sick, weak, or crippled by age or injury. Man had grown far beyond his healthy bounds and now sickness and disease was rampant through the greatest herd. The sickness was so great that even the other skinwalkers were afflicted with the diseases.
It is a common theme that when one sort of shape shifter is present, there are many others, ranging from rare to common, those based in mythology and history, and those based out of nightmares. In a setting that is more Cryptid that Werewolf the Apocalypse, Holoke can be one of the mysterious monsters and the entire Fighting Fire with Fire section can be ignored. She is largely unique, and things like wereserpents are oddities and each encountered is unique, and there is a major chance that most have never met one another. In the World of Darkness with it's 31 flavors of shapeshifter and supernatural beings, the serpents are minor players, largely exterminated by the raging werewolves.
The Nagah are the weresnakes from the World of Darkness and I rather dislike the treatment they receive in the book. Despite the snake's association with magic and healing, medicine and alchemy, the Nagah are assassins and judges of the other changing breeds. They are all focused in the Indian subcontinent, and are based on cobras. I found this rather annoying, there are all sorts of snakes, and as mentioned before, the serpent is a healing spirit. It also ignored all other snakes, and other peoples with strong associations with serpents. The artwork was also the annoying sort, a giant half snake half human hold machine guns, the stuff that was super popular in the mid to late 90s.
The Familiar Taste of Poison: A number of unpleasant people have all turned up either very sick or dead from rattlesnake bites. While this has largely gone unnoticed by cryptid hunters and others, things take a change for the worse when several prominent members of the community turn up bloated and dead, rattlesnake victims. The normal reaction is that there is a rogue giant snake (SyFy movie of the week option A for Anaconda Clone) while the more supernaturally canny will recognize the work of a 'nagah'. Has the Nagah gone rogue, or are the victims not quite as innocent as they appear. Holoke isn't a wanton killer, but when she finds someone unforgivable, or someone likely to escape the system and continue their abuses, that is when she strikes.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy: Holoke is a physically attractive woman, and it is easy for deadbeat dads, and other unsavory men to try and hit on her, or attempt stronger tactics. But all to often, they suddenly get sleepy and pass out, with no recollection of what happened. Sometimes people who have court dates to appear at don't appear, waking up drunkenly at home still dressed for court. When she really doesn't want someone to show up, she can put them to sleep with her bite. Things are fine and the PCs wouldn't care about such a thing, until they show up for a meeting with an employer or client who doesn't show. Or one of their own doesn't show up for a mission.
Stop and Smell the Roses: Holoke frequently works with the police departments and private investigators, especially those looking for missing people. While this can be a mundane hook, if the PCs are working a case that has delved into the supernatural, the attractive Holoke can bring not only the resources/legitimacy of social services, she has knowledge of supernatural activity, and having someone who can turn into a giant monster is good to have in a fight. Holoke is an excellent tracker, but a reluctant fighter. She would rather solve problems either through social negotiation or through a dose of her adaptable venom.