The Protectors
Author: Fox Wild

Chapter 19
Trial And Error

Chapter 19

 

Trial and Error


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Bait

 

Her partner was still strapped to the bed, others had come with her to his room when the light had poured from the door nearly blinding all nearby.  Snow arrived first.  Standing at the foot of the bed…

 

“Kicks…”  She said in a stunned whisper.

 

He held his hands in front of himself and looked at his palms… his arms… his body.  He wore his own stunned look on his open mouthed face.  He looked at Bait.

 

“What have you done?!”  Kicks looked around, his face was scared now.  “What have you done?”  He repeated softer.  He looked at Snow.  “You can see me.”  He was clearly distressed.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’m not supposed to be here, I’m not supposed to be alive.  I was with Music… I was home.”  He was looking off in front of himself into nothingness.  “They were all there, it was…”  He looked back at Snow with vacant eyes.  “There was…”  His eyes darted.  I… we… it’s… it’s gone.  It’s all gone, I can’t remember anymore.”  He looked lost.

 

Kicks looked around the room in a daze then walked to the side of Bait’s bed and started undoing the restraints.  Snow watched, unable to move as he worked.  Once he finished he walked from the room just as Doctor River Stone came to the door.  River Stone’s face was frozen in its own shock now as he watched as Kicks passed him by and left.

 

Bait sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.  This drew attention to him. 

 

River Stone started to object. “Duncan, Bait, how did, you need to stay here, for another few hours at least.”  He implored his commander.

 

Bait’s eyes shot to the man, his eyes serious and hard.  He rose from the bed then started towards the door.  River Stone tried to stop him.  Bait shoved him aside with both hands.

 

“Hands off the merchandise!”  He said harshly to River Stone, the others in the hall parted to allow him to pass.  Everyone was in a state of shock after seeing Kicks pass, and the onlookers turned their attention to Bait as he passed them in his open backed hospital gown.

 

“What happened to his arm?”  Sea Mist asked from behind her sister.

 

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Clothes, and a gun.  That’s what he wanted now.  Storming up from the excuse for a medical level Bait made his way to their quarters.  His feet were filthy from the walk through the mess of construction he traversed on his way.  He cleaned his feet in the shower then went to dress and pack an overnight bag.  He needed a day or so away from this place, werewolves in general.  Time away from Snow.  She clouded his thoughts.

 

But was there anyplace safe from dreams that tried to kill him?

 

His bag was packed, his truck was parked behind the house.  Hovlek had brought it.  He was just putting on his pants when Snow broke into the room and threw her convicting stare on him.  He ripped his eyes from her quickly, grabbing his shirt he looked for a pair of his shoes.  Hiking boots would do, he grabbed those.

 

“I wouldn’t bother putting your shirt on, River Stone will just be removing it, he’s on his way.”  Snow said as she stood in front of the door.

 

He didn’t care about River Stone, nor any of them right now.  He needed to get away.  “Good for him.”  Bait snarled. 

 

Not bothering to tie his boots he grabbed his bag with his shirt on top and started for the door.  When he tried to move to the side of her, Snow stepped in his way.  He put his right hand on her to push her to the side.  Her hands came to the center of his chest, she shoved him back into the air and off his feet.  He failed his attempt to remain standing and fell on his bottom.

 

“Jesus frelling shit, I’m leaving.  Get your funky ass out of my way or I swear…”  Bait said in a slivered voice of contempt.

 

Snow drew her sword, fanning it in front of her  taking a stance of readiness.  “No, you aren’t.  Like I said, Physician River Stone is coming.  You will wait for him.  If you wish to engage me, then I have sorrow for your loss… and mine.” 

 

Bait took in her eyes.  Hard and set.  She was prepared to strike him down, why?  Was he now her slave, a werewolf pet?

 

Bait growled at her, he started looking around.  Where was his bandolier?  She had taken it from him.  He didn’t have his slayer when he needed it the most.  His eyes returned to his opponent.

 

Bait charged her as hard as he could, trying to escape the room.  He was no match for the speed, strength and training of the bitch trying to stop him.  Snow manhandled him putting both his arms behind his back, turning him back into the room and forcing him to kneel on the ground.

 

Then he heard River Stones voice.

 

“He’s getting a bit nasty, I could hear him in the hall.  Let him go Madelyn.”  His voice of authority ordered. 

 

Bait’s arms were released, he knelt on the floor still.  He hated her, as soon as he could get his hands on a slayer she would pay for what she did to him.  What the…?  He didn’t understand the feelings he was having.  Hurt Snow?!  A slayer for her?  This wasn’t thoughts from his mind.  He looked up then stood and turned to face the doorway again.  He threw up.  “Snow!”  He uttered in a scared voice, his mind wheeled.

 

River Stone had not come alone.  Four heavily armed werepeople were with him.  All carried Remington twelve gauge shotguns, chopped for close quarters action.  These shotguns were currently aimed at him.  Even River Stone carried one.

 

Bait chortled.  “Isn’t that kidney buster you’re holding on me going against the Hippocratic oath?”  He said to him with a snide tone and smirk.

 

River Stone was reticent.  The shotgun steady on its target, Bait’s chest.  “If I must, with regret your Grace, I will cut you down to protect humanity and my people.”  The Physician stated firmly.

 

Bait’s face contorted.  Was this another dream?  His arm burned.  When did he become an enemy that his lover and friend would take arms against him?  They betrayed him, he would have to find a way to see that they met their end for this betrayal!  Wait…that wasn’t right.  Why this loathing for them?

 

He wanted the dark.

 

“Grab him, hold him down!  We have to act fast before we lose him!”  River Stone ordered.

 

Bait tried to evade capture.  They were far to fast and his human strength was unable to fend off their restraint of him.  They had him on the floor, his left arm held straight out to his side with one person holding his hand flat down on the floor while another held his shoulder.  The other two held his legs and body down.  River Stone walked up to him.  His arm burst into searing pain. 

 

Bait cried out.

 

“You think that hurts your Grace, what’s going to happen next, will be the worst pain you will live through, for that, I am sorry.”  River Stone said.

 

He reached to the small pouch on his waist and from it, pulled a very large meat cleaver.  River Stone was going to take his arm.  The burning intensified.  Steaming hate flared inside him, for River Stone and that woman who brought him into this frelling mess.

 

You bastard!  I’ll kill you!”  Bait screamed.  His eyes rolled frantically, sweat broke on his face and started running down.  “Do it!  River Stone!  Hurry!  I swear I will rip your heart out and eat it!  Bait’s mouth was foaming now like a rabid animal.

 

River Stone knelt beside Bait, centered the blade of the cleaver over his arm where he intended to cut and raised the blade from his arm by bending his elbow.  He started speaking in another language, an incantation rhythm.  The blade of the cleaver glowed a gentle blue hued light that intensified as the cleaver was swung down on his arm.

 

“Clang!”  Rang from the blade as it impacted on the igneous stone floor.  Bait screamed.  He hadn’t felt the blade pass through his arm.

 

The pain was from his arm as River Stone pulled it from him is arm.  It was severed just above the elbow, higher up then the slashes on his lower arm.  Two of the werepeople holding him down flew off of him as he fought them off.  River Stone pulled more on the arm.  The pain!  He screamed more as River Stone pulled his arm, from his arm!

 

River Stone stood, Bait felt calm, peaceful. 

 

River Stone was holding a shadowy image of his arm, he started speaking again while he moved his left hand over the arm he held in his right.  A black fog raged into the room.  Prith.  From another dimension he looked right at Bait.

 

You have no power over me!  Bait screamed in a voice that transcended dimensions at the minion of darkness.

 

River Stone yelled something, there was a brilliant flash from his hands… the arm was gone.  Prith reached for him.  Then the room was clear. 

 

Bait opened his eyes, no one was holding him.  He looked at his arm.  The skin on it looked like burn scars, mangled.  His skin started to turn black.  Soon, from where River Stone had cut down, his skin was black as coal.

 

Bait sat up, no one tried to stop him when he stood.  Doctor River Stone helped him steady himself.

 

“You wouldn’t have understood until after, Prith was inside you.  Another few minutes your Grace, and I’m afraid I would have simply shot you.”  River Stone’s metered calm voice said factually.  “I’m afraid…”  he pointed at Bait’s black arm, “that is a mark you will bare the rest of your days.” 

 

Snow came to his side, her face was wet.  He understood now.  The feelings that were inside him, the hate, the darkness.  The poison of the dark.  He embraced Snow from the side.

 

“Forgive me.”  He said softly to her as he held her close.

 

“There’s nothing to forgive my lover.  Nothing at all.”  She said and put a hand on his head and cradled it to her.

 

River Stone cleared his throat.  “You’re walking in dangerous fields my friend.”  He said looking to Bait.  “Those aren’t dreams you’re having, not completely.  You ventured into another realm.  There are things of this world that are not seen by human eyes.  You have seen into their world now.  Use this knowledge wisely.  And be more careful?”

 

“I don’t know what I did, how it happened.  What the hell happened Doctor?”  Bait asked looking to River Stone.

 

His face tightened, his eyes moved to the ground as he considered his response.  “You’re a threat to the darkness, and all that serve it.  A threat that if turned to serve the darkness, would be a valuable asset.  The darkness fears you.  That is why it expelled so much energy to bring Prith to you, to stop you.  To either turn you or kill you, your Grace.”  River Stone said with a solemn voice.

 

Bait nodded.  Somehow he was walking between worlds in his visions.  Journeying in the wisps of nether-land where the dark servants of the darkness were trapped between the world of the darkness and theirs. 

 

“Doctor, what exactly did you do to him?”  Snow asked.

 

River Stone’s eyes shot to her.  “Everyone out!”  He yelled at the men that had come with him that were standing and watching now.  “Doctor patient time now, leave!” 

 

Hovlek stomped into the room as the men left, he walked to River Stone whose face reported his displeasure in the warrior bishop’s arrival.  He stopped and faced the physician, completely in his grill, with his face not even an inch from River Stone’s.  His nostrils were wide and the strong exhales of Hovlek blasted into the doctor’s face.  Hovlek’s face was a mask of anger.

 

He stood facing River Stone who only looked blankly back at Hovlek for near a minute then turned and went to Bait.  Hovlek looked into Bait’s eyes then to his arm.  Placing a hand on his arm he again looked to Bait’s eyes.

 

“Hovlek knows.  Hovlek knows.”  Came from him in a depressed and considerate tone, his face full of compassion.  He bent in and touched his forehead to Bait’s, then left him and turned to face River Stone again as Snow iterated her question.

 

“Doctor River Stone, what you did, it was obviously something… drastic, tell me, no bullshit, just straight talk.  What did you do to my mate?”  Snow asked, her voice demanding, her stance rigid. 

 

River Stone shook his head.  “I can’t, what I did… I’m sorry your Grace, I cannot tell you.”

 

Hovlek moved to River Stone again, standing very close to him, again exhaling hard on him.

 

River Stone shook his head not looking at anyone in the room, then looked to Hovlek.  “You can’t intimidate me Hovlek, you know my duties and why.”  His attention went to Snow.  “Before you, The Grand Inquisitor and The Exalted Master of Clans, I now choose and shall choose, silence.”  He stated soundly.

 

Hovlek snorted directly into the man’s face.  River Stone took a step back, Hovlek stepped with him.

 

River Stone looked exasperated.  “Knock it of Hovlek, you can not intimidate me into speaking, I have chosen silence, you must respect that!”  His nervous voice told the ball of fight before him.

 

Bait guffawed.  “And I thought werewolves couldn’t lie.  You are clearly intimidated by Hovlek, and if you say you aren’t, then you are lying.”

 

“I will not let him intimidate me, nor will I talk about what was done.”  River Stone said trying to sound controlled. 

 

Hovlek snorted in his face again.  “If River Stone no tell, Hovlek tell.  Hovlek suggest River Stone loose his tongue.  Talk.  Tell Snow.  Or, Hovlek will.”  The man was stone as he spoke, every word true.

 

Hovlek knows.

 

“Kube, time for silence there is, but this time, no.  Hovlek tell Kube, disrespect Hovlek, and worse, Kube disrespect Lady Snow.”  Hovlek shook his head, ‘mmm’ he enunciated.  “No, Hovlek teach Kube better.  There are rules, yes.  Then there is honor.  Is Kube Nathan River Stone a man without honor?” 

 

River Stone looked from Hovlek, he looked off to nothing as his mind worked.  His face limp as the words of Hovlek mulled in his mind.  Slowly his head shook.

 

“That has been a long time ago.  Kube.  Long time since I’ve heard that name, or been referred to by it.”  River Stone said as he continued to stare off.

 

Exhaling hard River Stone stepped away from Hovlek and looked to Bait then Snow.  He moved to a nearby table with two chairs by it, picked up a chair and moved it near where Bait and Snow stood.  Placing the chair he sat, his face a calm, but distressed look.  After he sat he looked to Hovlek again.

 

“You would tell, that much I know.”  He said to the man who responded with a nod.

 

He looked between the two commanders again, then to the floor in front of him as he began to speak.

 

“What I did is forbidden.  It used to be a common… procedure, but due to abuse and negative uses, the procedure was limited to only a physician that was of the third order.  Until recently, there has been only one.  But now, there are two, which has been allowed for.  Two physicians of the third order, one across the water, and one here.  I was installed as the second Physician of the Third Order when… Sebastian was here.”  River Stone looked to the people he was talking to, focusing on Hovlek.

 

Hovlek nodded.  “Sebastian.”  He said bluntly.  “Night Harvest.”

 

River Stone nodded back to him when he stated the truth.

 

“There are reasons that the unmated are not allowed in combat.  The same reason is why what I did is not allowed, except by a decision from a Physician of the Third Order, we are expected to use Light judgment in this decision.  The blood of the unmated can be used, and vampires figured this out, to create a were-creature similar to our werewolf selves.”

 

River Stone’s eyes closed.  “A vile creature that on the full lunar cycle, changes from human to a werewolf like beast that will ravage any living thing it finds.  This is where the human legends of werewolves as violent killers comes from.  From this creation of the Dark Breed.”

 

Opening his eyes he focused on Snow.  “What I did, the method I used to save your mate Princess Snow, can be used the same way.”  River Stone paused and looked between the people with him as his thoughts swirled in his head. 

 

He took a deep breath and went on.  “There is a membrane… it’s like an element, it surrounds our red blood cells.  It is bound to us from the Light.  It’s what gives us the ability to regenerate.  It was this element, the membrane from my blood cells that I separated from my blood, and put into you.”  He told Bait.

 

“This is how I was able to counter the poison in your blood.  Normally even we cannot regenerate through this poison, guaranteed death.  But, you are human, different rules for you.  This was how I saved you, healed you.  Regenerated you.  But it can never be done again.”  River Stone finished, stood  and turned from them, moving towards the door.

 

The room was quiet for a few moments.

 

“Live a long life, Bait, and a life of prosperity.”  River Stone said, then moved the rest of the way to the door and left without another word.  No one said anything to him as he left.

 

Hovlek sighed loudly.  “Hmm, what River Stone not tell you my friend, Hovlek tell you.”  He said as he stepped to stand facing Bait.  “More there is to this then just blood.  Life.  That too is a cost of this.  Kube, River Stone, sacrifice part of himself for you Duncan Galt, Bait.  For you, River Stone lose at least ten years of life, and the ability to regenerate.  Year, maybe two.  Hovlek not sure.  River Stone, he take on human weakness to give you werewolf strength.  Not turned, no, only fixed.”

 

Snow’s face lit up.

 

Hovlek saw the hope inside her, sadly he had to quash it.  “Hmm, no, afraid not.  Only Bait’s wound and the poison.  What was with Bait before, still is.  Dying, Bait still is.  That not something River Stone can fix.  That is another matter.”  Hovlek said with a glum face that was soon matched from Snow as he spoke the truth.

 

“I need some time alone.”  Bait announced bluntly.

 

“You need to talk to old man on mountain.”  Hovlek stated.

 

Grabbing his bag and shirt that had fallen to the floor when Snow had pinned him he left Hovlek and Snow to stare at each other.

 

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Bait made his way to behind the house where his truck was supposed to be parked.  It was there, only now a different color.  “Great.”  He said as he approached it digging his keys from his pants.  His truck had been painted a sand color.  He unlocked it with the remote and opened the back driver’s side door and tossed the bag into the back and put on his shirt.  He was bending to tie his boots when Snow came up from behind. 

 

“Hovlek has been working on your truck, it’s been Hovleked, more power, and whatever you do, don’t fill up at a gas station, it runs on alcohol now.”  She informed him as she walked up.

 

“Great, people just do whatever they feel like with my shit.  I want my truck red again.  This color looks like shit.”  He said as he climbed into the cab and put the key in the ignition.

 

Snow came to the door, he hadn’t closed it yet.  “You can’t just leave…”

 

“I can and I am, I never asked to be in this mess, I resign my commission and I don’t have time to discuss this with the committee.”  He said coldly as he started the truck.  His truck struggled to fire, and when it did sounded as though it was barely able to stay running. 

 

“I am not a committee!”  Snow shouted back at her mate.

 

Bait shook his head with a mildly amused look then slammed the door shut and stomped the accelerator.  The back wheels spun and dug into the ground, the truck stayed in one spot.  Bait let off the gas and tried to move the truck again, only to have it stuck in the holes the back wheels had dug.  He pushed the 4x4 button on the dash and eased the truck out of the holes then continued on while Snow pounded on the door. 

 

Once out of the yard and on the road he put the truck back in two wheel drive and canned the gas, the truck leapt to speed.  He noticed two speedometers in the dash now, custom installed, looked good actually.  One went up to one hundred and twenty mph, the other started at one hundred mph.  It was hard to control the acceleration due to the abundance of power the truck now had, which had been beefed-up already.  Now, its balls were dragging on the ground behind it.

 

He had been driving back country roads away from Clan Squat for about half an hour when a Sea Stallion helicopter passed over him heading the opposite direction.  He was looking up to see if it was Sea Mist’s and barely looked down in time to see Snow standing in the middle of his lane with her arms crossed.  Bait jammed the brakes.  He couldn’t see her when the vehicle came to a full stop, had he hit her?  No worries, werewolf, she’d regenerate.  Then he saw her head on the passenger side of the hood, moving to the passenger door. 

 

She tried the handle as she looked in at him, the door was locked.  Bait canned the gas again, this time not enough to dig holes, Snow latched on to the side of the truck and stood on the running board.  Her fist came through the window and she unlocked the door and climbed in, he had tried somewhat to swerve the truck and pitch her off, but it figured, her were-grip was substantial enough to hold on. 

 

Bait dynamited the brakes and the truck slid to a sideways stop in the road.  He looked to Snow who already had her eyes locked on him.

 

“Get out!”  He said to her.

 

“Go frell yourself.”  She responded.

 

They sat and stared at each other for a few moments, anger at the other burning in their respective eyes.

 

“I quit, told you that.  I’ve had enough, frelling Freddy Kruger dreams with shit that can kill me in my dreams, enough.  I’m out.”  He huffed at her.

 

“Oh, so you are just going to walk away like none of this ever happened?  And do what?  You think Alexander and whoever else wants you are going to stop hunting you?”  Snow charged at him.

 

“I had a life, a damn good one too.  That is until vampires then werewolves decided to come into my life.  I never asked for this, never wanted it.  I had a career, which I left because of what I knew, then I build a business, a successful business that now I don’t even know what’s happening at.  I tell you I need some time alone, and you won’t even honor that request.  What am I supposed… … to… …”  Bait had been looking around while he ranted on Snow.  His attention was out the front of the truck which was facing out across a field. 

 

Snow sat without a word.  She noticed a change in his scent. 

 

Suddenly Bait pressed the four wheel drive button and drove off the road and into the field.  The truck accelerated and the ride was rough.  Any unsecured items flew around the cab, and Snow looked off trying to see what caught his attention.  They were approaching a white square building.

 

“You know, this road goes around.  You could’ve just driven on the road there.”  Snow informed him, though he didn’t give any indication that he heard her, didn’t really matter now anyways.  They were over halfway there.

 

They stopped in front of an old one room schoolhouse.  It was weathered with age and the sign above the door that was black with white letters was faded and chipped.

 

“Harper School.”  Bait said, that’s what was painted on the sign that hung from the gable overhang of the door.  He opened his door and got out, walking to the gable and looking at the sign.

 

Snow watched him get out, then followed as he arrived at the building and looked up.

 

“Get on my shoulders,” he said turning to her, “I want to see what’s on the other side of that sign.”

 

The sign was hung on old hooks from the eyes screwed into the top of it.  Snow worked with Bait and got on his shoulders and he stood lifting her up so she could reach the sign.  She lifted the bottom edge the best she could and looked under.

 

“Lutheran Church.”  Snow read.

 

Bait turned, lost in thought and started back to the truck, he was about halfway there when he was reminded of something.

 

“Hey, can I get down now?”  Snow asked from his shoulders.

 

“Oh, sorry.”  He answered and squatted to let her off of him.

 

They proceeded on to the truck.  “I expect that window fixed.”  Bait told her as they entered.

 

“I’ll get it taken care of.  Hovlek can probably fix it if I buy the parts.”  She said.

 

Bait turned to her as he fired the truck up.  “Can’t Hovlek pick the window up himself?”  He asked as he turned the truck, this time towards the road out, stopping at the end.

 

“Yes, but I still have to pay him for it, I don’t expect him to pay for it too.  He’s already spent enough of his money on this truck, for you.”  She answered.

 

Bait had a confused look on his face.  “What do you mean, his money, your money?”  He asked.

 

Snow looked at him, herself confused now.  “You don’t expect clan Squat, or operations command to pay for it?  I broke it, I’m responsible.  If I submitted a reimbursement, there is no way it would be approved.  I know, because I approve them.”  She answered.

 

“You talk like we actually get paid.”  Bait said with a shallow voice.

 

Snow snorted.  “We do get paid, you think we don’t?”

 

“Well, it seems the clans pay for everything, you’ve got your own little Marxist little commune thing going here.”  He answered bluntly.

 

“Like hell!  The clan only provides for those in it, food, shelter and a uniform.  Beyond that, you want anything else, you have to buy it yourself.  We get paid based on our rank, job and performance.  This ain’t no free ride.  Socialists we are not!”  Snow informed her mate.

 

Bait guffawed at her.  “Well, you may get paid, I sure as hell haven’t.”  He stated.

 

“Duncan… Bait, when was the last time you checked your account?  You should’ve been getting paid.”  She informed him.

 

“Account?  I only have the credit cards and accounts I came here with, don’t even know if those bills are getting paid.  They still work so Connie must be taking care of things, I turned everything over to her.”

 

Shaking her head Snow tittered.  “Ah, love, when you hooked up with us an account was made for you.  That’s what the credit card given to you was for, that comes out of your account.  It’s a debit card.  You didn’t know?”  She asked.

 

“No, no one told me shit when I started, remember, the bait was supposed to shut up and be the bait, nothing more.”  He responded to her claim.

 

Snow shrugged.  “When we get back to the den, I’ll show you how to log into your account at Wolf International Financial Services and you can check your balance.”

 

“I’m not going back.  Where do you want me to drop you off at?  And don’t say the den.  I’ll drop you off at the next town, you can find your way home from there.”  He said then drove off onto the main road and away from where the den was.

 

Snow’s head dropped.  This was just a momentary thing, she hoped.  She needed to turn him around.  Whether or not he realized it, he was in danger.  Alone, away from the protection of the protectors, he was as good as dead.  Even if he quit and their enemies knew he had, they would still want revenge.

 

Snow looked back out the windshield as Bait drove on.  “There’s going to be a party, large one, might even call it a festival.  You’re one of the two guests of honor.”

 

The truck started slowing, Bait was looking off while coasting.  “Party?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”  He said in a distracted voice.  “Well, you can go and be the guest of honor for both of us.”  He said as he started braking to a stop.

 

“I’m not the other guest of honor.”  She answered, still looking forward.  “Worm is, it’s her twelfth birthday today.  She’s very excited that her celebration will be at the same time we celebrate both the victory over Hondigahl and your surviving.  Would be a great loss if you weren’t there.”

 

“I have no interest in a party, nor should we be having one.”  He said as he opened the door to the truck and stuck it in park.

 

Bait climbed out and was looking at buildings.  Snow sat inside and watched with interest.  Worm’s birthday hadn’t hit his mind yet, that was her ace in the hole.  There was something else, something in his face.  He was not leaving.  He had…

 

Bait climbed back in the truck and slammed it into gear, canned the gas and spun the truck around, as they took to their new direction, back towards the den.  The truck roared and the second speedometer’s needle started climbing.

 

“Worm’s birthday you say?”  Bait said distantly.

 

“Yes, you wouldn’t want to disappoint her, now would you.  Plus, there is this other reason why you won’t leave now.”  Snow said with a smirk and an excited voice.

 

Bait took a quick glance at her, keeping his eyes on the road they were quite literally racing down.

 

“I am leaving, and what other reason?”  He said.

 

“You wouldn’t not attend Worm’s birthday, that I know  Also, you’ve figured out where Alexander’s coven that he’s building the portal at is.”  Snow said in a finite tone.

 

Bait said nothing in response, they drove on in silence for several minutes.

 

“So, where is it?”  She asked finally, unable to keep herself from asking.

 

Bait’s jaw tightened.  “Ag, back there, the Ag District Center, Ag road garage, but the school and the church, they’re not Ag anything.  Ag church, doesn’t fit, even the school house there is the Kreck school house.  It’s the church, just like I have suspected all along.”  Bait informed her.

 

Snow looked down at her feet for a few moments before responding.  Bait may not understand what he was suggesting, apparently he hadn’t figured out where the coven was, he only thought he had.  Unfortunate, but did she want to leave him to this false assumption just to get him to come back to the den?  That would be a dishonesty.  She didn’t have freewill in the matter, and there were no choices offered.

 

“That’s impossible, I hate to break it to you, but there is no possible way Alexander could have his coven in a historic church or on the property one existed on.  It’s hallowed ground… Bait.”   Her disappointment clear in her voice as she informed him of his miscalculation. 

 

“It’s the church, once we get there, you’ll see.”  He answered.

 

“No, no we won’t go and see.  We can’t.  This is a touchy, forbidden action.  If one person of real faith ever prayed at that church, the ground is hallowed.  Humans have power, power they don’t know about or understand because they are the creation.  Bait, we can’t just go into a church and start looking around.  We need permission, and to get that, we will need solid proof.  And that you don’t have.  I’m sorry, but this time, you missed the mark.”  Snow said with a sad voice, she’d hoped he had figured it out.  But the church was not an option for Alexander, he wouldn’t be able to set foot on it.

 

“Maybe for you, but I’m not a werewolf, I’ll check it myself.”  He stated.

 

“Bait, if you do that, then I will have to ask you to leave.  You agreed to our laws, if you do this on your own, you will be on your own.  We took your word.  I don’t have freewill, I have to obey.”  Snow ended and looked off out the broken side window.

 

They drove on in silence until they reached the den of Lord Squat.

 

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When they pulled into the drive of the den house, Hovlek was sitting on the front stoop, waiting.  Bait pulled the truck around back and parked again.  He and Snow walked together to the front door without a word said between them.  When they came to the front step, Hovlek stood with a grunt.

 

“Madelyn, inside.  Hovlek need word with Bait, alone.”  He said in a gruff voice.  His eyes deep.

 

Snow looked at her partner, her face empty of emotion.  Sidestepping Hovlek, she went into the den house.

 

After they were alone Bait looked at Hovlek.  “You order your commander into the house and she goes.  Interesting.”  He said a bit snippy.

 

“Shut it.”  Hovlek said.  “Hovlek no order Madelyn, Hovlek asked.  Respect of her mentor, that is what you saw.  When for over seven hundred years you teach young ones, respect you earn.  Bait knows this.  Bait need to get head out of ass, stop nonsense.  Run away.  Bait coward.  Hovlek not think so.  Hovlek think Bait see real danger, Bait get scared, try and run.  Even when scared, Bait stay and fight.  Bait need to listen to Duncan.  Duncan tell Bait truth.  No bullshit from Duncan to Bait.” 

 

He stared at the man.  “Is there a point to this?  Or can I go now?”

 

“Shut it!”  Hovlek said hard.  “Get head out from ass Bait.  Little girl, you no disappoint her, no?  Hovlek not think so.  Bait, he make mistake.  Werepeople, they forgive.  Bait need to talk to old man on mountain, Hovlek say so.”

 

Hovlek leaned in and tapped a finger to his chest.  “Bait not be Hovlek’s second greatest disappointment.  Freewill, Bait has this, Hovlek not.  Tell Hovlek, how Bait use freewill?  Bait let humans down?  Let his freewill let others die?  Either Bait stand on side of Light, or on side of Dark, no middle ground.  Bait already made Bait’s mind, Bait is standing here.  Bait need to do what Bait came to do.  Hovlek knows.”  The bulk of man said, then he started removing his shirt.

 

Bait watched with a questioning look as Hovlek pulled off his shirt.  The middle of his chest was black, like his arm and hand.  Hovlek’s face was sad and knowing.

 

“Hovlek know, share scar of battle with Bait, bite of Prith.”  He said, then returned his shirt.

 

Bait looked away for a few moments, his weapons master did understand, and had experienced the same pain as he.  Part of him wanted to walk away.  They had lasted this long without him, why was he needed?

 

“Bait is seeing, throughout life of his, werepeople around Bait, protecting.  Bait, have purpose.  Bait knows this.  Now, is Bait going to go and ready make for party?  Little girl, she receive her crest today, crest she would not receive if not for Bait.”

 

Hovlek gave a grunt and a grin.  “Party for Bait too.  Again, a party not held if not for Bait, and what Bait brought to werepeople.  This is new foundation.  Bait needs to tend to the mortar, seal cracks, keep foundation strong.  Now, Bait come along, see little girl, happy birthday wish her, attend party for him, or does Hovlek need to bring Bait kicking and screaming to party?”  Hovlek inhaled deep and released his breath slowly as he stared at Bait.

 

“No, Bait not go to party, Bait says no party, the last thing we should be doing right now is throwing a party, we are at war here, we haven’t won anything yet.  Save the party till after we beat Alexander.”  He said angrily.

 

Hovlek snorted.  “That is where Bait is wrong, party well over due, first time in over three thousand year we take out a minion of darkness.  Vampires, coven leaders, viceroy and Dragons, all child’s play to minion.  You gave us a minion.  Your people need this your Grace.  Bait knows, look inside, listen to Duncan.  Bait spend time with people in good times, learn them, understand those he shall be Inquisitor of.  Hmm, yes, big responsibility, Bait needs to get head out of ass, then speak to old man on mountain.  So... party with the animals?”  Hovlek ended with a smile.

 

Bait shook his head.  Hovlek knew he couldn’t run, even though he wanted to.  Even before Snow stopped him, in his mind, he was already on his way back.  Another ten minutes and he would have turned around on his own.  But then he wouldn’t have seen what he had, the buildings and names that connected his dots and placed his puzzle pieces. 

 

“Yes, see.  Bait sleuthing again.  Yes, know Hovlek speak truth.  Yes, come, to party we go, Bait learn things.  Hovlek seen so.”  The kindly beast of a man said as he placed his arm around Bait’s shoulders and led him into the door of the den house as dawn fully broke.

 

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He and Hovlek walked across the main assembly area of the original den.  Preparations for the festivities that were apparently soon to begin were underway as the commons area was filled with werepeople assembling, crafting and decorating party favors that would be placed around the den. 

 

“Yeah, pull that end tight, good, yeah.  Here, hold this part and I’ll tie off this part.”  A man was saying to the woman he was working with on a stringer banner that had panels with letters.  Bait assumed it would say something regarding Worm’s birthday or his survival.

 

“Naw, don’t know.  If they can use that part, would be a better place to set up the bandstand.  Don’t see why not, alls needs doin’ is some clean-en ups.  It’d be just dandy I think.”  Darby was saying to another one of Squat’s shadow-steppers. 

 

Across the way he saw Julia with Mud and Kevashka.  They were linking the plugs of wires together in a color coded connection pattern with what appeared to be either lighting or sound equipment, maybe both.

 

Just down from them were Twitch and BGB.  He was sitting on a table, basically looked like he was doing nothing but watch the others work.  Plates and other breakables were next to him.  BGB was talking to him, then put her hand on the edge of the table and hopped up to sit next to her mate with the pile on the table between them.

 

She made it up fine, but moved her hand at the wrong time and knocked a stack of plates to the ground in a shattering clash heard around the hall.  Baby fell with as she tried to grab them.  Comments flew, ‘air borne’ one voice yelled, ‘just put those anywhere Baby!’ another said.

 

Her mate was laughing as he helped her up with a hand.  “Little miss calamity, I swear girl, if you were to sit on a split-rail fence, it would rear up and pitch you right off!”  He guffawed. 

 

“Aw Twitch love, that’s what you always say.”  BGB said back with an adoring expression cast at her mate and a romantic edge in her voice.

 

Bait froze in his tracks.

 

He set his stance facing across the room focusing on Twitch.  He took in his face, concentrated on his hair, the area between his upper lip and nose.

 

“Heh, thinking again are we?”  Sam’s voice said.

 

Bait looked over at Sam Elliot.  Was this real?  He reached out and touched Sam.  He felt real.  He probably would if this were another vision too.

 

“Don’t think too much.”  Sam said cocking his mouth.

 

“I’ve heard that before… I know them.”  Bait said slowly trying to come up with the answer as he spoke.

 

“Pardon us (grunt), party Duncan Bait, talk later.  Snow, she is waiting for you.  Come, we go.”  Hovlek said pulling him from his vision.

 

They moved through the room, some started to greet him and give their tidings, Hovlek though would have none of that and waved them off, often with only a look and grunt.

 

When they passed Seven, concerned confusion scrunched his face.  He was standing and limply pointing at Bait and only made ‘ah’ and ‘um’ sounds.  Then his eyes fell on the black arm.  The shock on his face was only seen for a moment as he turned and ran from the room, up a staircase, then was gone from sight.  Hovlek grunted his questioning inside as he followed his hasty exit.

 

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“Commander Lady Snow, Hovlek bring to Lady Snow, Snow’s mate.  Bait objects to the party.  Hmm, Hovlek think Snow should educate Bait better.  Hmm?”  Hovlek said when he entered the room after opening the door for Bait, and making sure he went in.

 

Snow looked hard at him, her eyes cutting into him.  “Fine, you don’t want us to allow this party, so be it.  Call it off.”  She said to him from behind crossed arms.

 

Bait looked at her suspiciously. 

 

“WORM!”  Snow yelled over her shoulder.

 

‘You bitch!’ Bait thought to her.

 

‘What you think about Snow, this is true.’  She thought back to him.

 

“Yes Commander Snow?”  Worm said as she walked in from the back room of their quarters in the old part of the den.

 

“Worm, Commander Bait here doesn’t want us…”  Snow started abruptly cut off by her mate.

 

“Hold on!”  He charged.  “Snow, I think you might have misunderstood… I mean, let’s not get in a hurry, okay?”  Bait’s face felt hot.

 

He looked at Worm, smiling up at him.  Snow was devious, and she learned it from his escort to their quarters, and Lord Frost.  They pinned him in the position.  ‘Go on, break a little girls heart.’ Snow thought to him.  This was by no means ‘playing fair’ by any definition of the word. 

 

“Have your party.”  He said looking back to Snow.  Worm screeched and became all exited.  “So, can I do something else till then,” he motioned towards Hovlek, “or are you going to have the brute squad here keep me in this room?” 

 

“Hovlek, the brute squad.”  Hovlek said letting go a slow deep laugh.

 

“Do what you want, but you are coming to the party, right Worm?”  Snow said to him, ending with her eyes on the bouncy blonde girl.

 

“Yes ma’am!  It just wouldn’t be a fun party if you weren’t there too Colonel Bait sir!”  Worm chirped.

 

“Right.”  Bait said then walked off towards where their computers were.

 

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Snow saw Hovlek and Worm out, he would take Worm back to her home in the family quarters part of the den.  She was excited to show him her families new digs, now that they were clan-folk. 

 

Bait had gone to his computer and was working, again.  She walked up behind him, she could tell he knew she was there, ever aware and expecting her to confront him. 

 

“Would you like something to eat?”  She asked.

 

Bait froze.  He sat motionless for an uncomfortably long time.  Then he leaned back in his chair.  “Ham sandwich on rye bread.”  He finally said.

 

Snow smiled politely.  “Okay, I’ll be back in about forty minutes, I’ll have to run to a town, we don’t have ham in a den.  Would you like anything on it?  I’ll have to have it made at a deli, if I can find one open this early.” She laughed easily.  “Would cause a ruckus in the kitchen if I brought ham in.  Would you like a coke too while I’m on the get?”  She asked politely.

 

Now he felt like an ass.  She’d do it to.  He knew what that would mean to her, to the werepeople around him.  It would be an insult.  Pork: Forbidden.  That was werewolf law on the subject.  No freewill, that’s what the rule was, nuff said. 

 

Most of their laws contained very few words, but it was against his nature to cause disrespect in anger, especially since he didn’t know what he was angry about.  He had to drop his ruse.

 

But he had nearly died.  Nearly not made it back from dead would be more accurate.  Was that what this was all about?  This feeling inside him of wanting to separate himself from this new family that adopted him.

 

There was a knock on the door.

 

“I’ll get it lover.”  Snow said softly then turned and went to answer the door.

 

Doctor River Stone was on the other side, alone this time.  “May I come in?”  He asked.  He had papers in his hands clasped at his waist, the backs faced out.

 

Snow held out an arm into the room inviting the doctor in.  He looked at her with raised eyebrows, she pointed to their office.  River Stone headed off where she directed as she followed close behind.

 

Bait was looking back when River Stone entered the room.  “River Stone, is everything okay?”  He asked, looking at his hands and the papers in them.  More bad news?

 

The doctor pressed his lips together hard and nodded at Bait, then held the papers out to him.  “You left these in your bed, they were mixed in the sheets.”  He said as Bait took the papers from him.

 

They were the pictures he had had Rick Deckard make hard copies of for him.  Snow looked at them as Bait paged between the two pictures.

 

“That’s Twitch, and that’s an IRA insignia.”  Her face crunched.  “I don’t get it?”  She slowly said as she ran her eyes over the images.

 

Amazement spilled from Bait’s face as he held the prints.  They were real, here, while he was awake in his hands, as real as Prith was.  That’s what was bothering him, was he safe to sleep?  Could Prith get him in a werewolf den?  He was in the hospital ward of the den when Prith attacked him, on hallowed ground. 

 

“These were pictures… I had, in the vision… I had Mel Brooks running a Blade Runner scene for me, to help me remember what happened when I was a cop.  I pulled an image from one of the security mirrors in a hardware store.  These were the two pictures I had him print, in my dream!

 

He looked at River Stone, Snow’s gaze went with his.  The good doctor was being awfully quiet, and still.  “What else?”  Bait asked him.

 

River Stone looked over at Snow and mused a moment then returned to Bait.  “Seventeen days.  That’s what you have left.  I was able to resolve an absolute date now.  Seventeen days, Bait.”  He said with a glum face.

 

Bait’s eyes went to Snow.  His face and his features became hard.  “And you want to have a party, good idea!  We can have my wake at the same time, that way I can attend!”  He steamed at her. 

 

“Word of advice,” River Stone broke in with, “go to the party, doctor’s orders.”  He said then turned around and gingerly walked from the room. 

 

A few moments later, the sound of the front door closing behind River Stone confirmed they were left with each other again.

 

“Okay, I… guess I’ll be off.  See you soon.”  Snow said then started out of the room.

 

“Snow…” Bait started.

 

She stopped in her tracks.  He said nothing when she stopped, so she waited.

 

“Snow, turn around please.”  He asked, and she did.  “I don’t want you running after a ham sandwich for me, I… I’m sorry about that.”  Bait hung his head.  “Seventeen days isn’t a lot of time, and I have to somehow prove the church is Alexander’s hiding spot.  Kind of a major snag, I know where his coven is, I just can’t do anything about it.  Like I said, this is no time for a festivity.”  Bait turned around when he finished with a low face.

 

“Lover, it isn’t just our clan, it’s every clan.  Stateside especially, but world wide, you have given us a reason to celebrate.  Please, my lover, one night; with only seventeen left, please, come enjoy one night with me where we aren’t fighting or in a pickle of some kind.”  Bait could hear she started crying while she spoke.

 

He turned again to face her, her face was cast down.  He could see the tears dripping from her face to the floor.  Seventeen days, not much time.  Seventeen days to prove he was right about the church, then to take out their adversary.

 

Bait began with a sigh.  “Snow, I’ll go to the party, but I want to go to that church. At least do a drive by, observe from a distance.  Have Sea fly over, take a few pictures.  That wouldn’t be in violation, would it?  Trying  to make sure?”

 

Snow raised her face to him, the tears began rolling down her face now.  She shook her head lightly.  “No, I don’t think it would.  I’ll go talk to Sea.”  She stepped to him and leaned in to hug him.  “Thank you.”

 

She just broke her embrace when a klaxon started sounded from out in the hallway.  Both sprang towards the doorway and to the main door of their quarters.  A single blast, followed by red lights flashing twice, then the blast from the klaxons again.

 

“Someone is on the property, not one of ours.”  Snow informed Bait.  “Commodore Squat, status report, NOW!”  Snow belted out keying the pickup on her throat.

 

Several seconds passed before Squat answered.  “Delivery driver, local florist.  Confirmed one hundred percent human, no weapons, not charmed.  Teagan is going to answer it now.”  He reported.

 

“Delivery driver?”  Bait questioned as they stood in the hallway.

 

“Yes, not uncommon actually, or the mailman coming to the door.  Our people order a lot of stuff via the internet now, but normally we know when stuff is ordered and are expecting deliveries.  Florist, not a typical delivery.” She explained.

 

Bait pulled on her shoulder lightly, coaxing her back into their quarters.

 

“Whatever it is, Teagan and Squat will handle it.  Get Sea Mist and the Sea Stallion, let’s go get some proof.”  Bait said with a smile.  “Then I promise I will go to the party.”

 

“Teagan to Colonel Snow, over.”  Came from the radio.

 

“Colonel Snow, go.”  She answered.

 

The klaxons silenced.

 

“All is good, standard floral delivery, for Bait, a get well soon bouquet.  Permission to bring it to your quarters?”  Teagan asked.

 

“Flowers?  For me?”  He questioned looking confused at Snow.

 

“Apparently.”  She answered then keyed her pickup again.  “Granted, bring them in Teagan.” 

 

Snow faced Bait, her face long and her eyes heavy.  “Like I said, you have brought something to us we have not seen in any of our lifetimes, and most of our people have been at this a long time.  Hovlek, he’s seven hundred and two.  Long time for a werewolf, very long time.  Even what I did, I stopped Prith from crossing over, I didn’t kill him at the battle of Blood Night.”

 

Her head went down, her eyes with looking to the floor.  Inhaling deep she released her breath slowly and raised her hands to her face, rubbed them over it then into her hair and mussed it and scratched a bit.  She let her hands drop then shook her head returning her eyes to Bait, looking less morbid and more neutral. 

 

This time Bait looked off for several moments, thoughts, remembering, friends long since either moved on or dead.  Steve Rheineer, always at his side.  Still following his lead, he joined the were-forces. 

 

Snow interrupted his thoughts.  “Lover, if not a party now, when?  After we beat Alexander?  Or do we wait until after the next daemon in line for the throne is defeated?  Or the one after that?  This never ends for us, there is always another battle to be fought.  It’s like we’re always maintaining a balance of some kind.”  She stared at him as he continued on his walk through his thoughts.

 

He’d read their history books, many of them.  What Snow said was true, when one battle, engagement, whatever it was called by the author, of vampires ended, they were always engaging another usurp.  They had to take their down time when they could. 

 

This was a world wide event, the immortals saw no reason to interfere.  If he did object and ordered his no, what would that really accomplish?  Would it stop the party here?  He suspected not, Snow outranked him.  She would approve it.  Probably already had.  These had been her people longer than his.  She would expect him to accept, learn and understand.  What really chapped his ass, was the thought that if he were in her position, he would probably do the same thing.

 

Bait sighed.  “I do not in anyway think this is the time, but I also realize, I’m the noob here.  I won’t interfere, I’ll be at the party.  Though don’t expect me to be enthusiastic about it and the life of the party.

 

“Knock, knock.”  From the entrance door to their quarters.

 

“I’ll take what I can get, I accept your coerced offer.”  Snow accepted with a single stiff nod then snapped herself in the direction of the door and started towards it.  “Let’s see which clan is wishing your grace good tidings.”  She said as she walked her first steps.

 

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“Oh, that is a lovely arrangement.”  Snow said to Teagan who was smiling while holding the ceramic glazed neo-art painted oblong vase that held flowers arranged in a spray of baby’s breath and wispy light fronds of some type of fern.  Yellow’s pinks, reds and oranges speckled the captivating display of natural beauty in the vase. 

 

A Millar balloon bobbled up from near the center on a white ribbon with party favors pictured on it in festive colors and ‘Get Well Soon!’ printed in the center of the balloon.  A small clear plastic stand held a small business card sized envelope with ‘Bait’ hand written on the front side, clearly a woman’s hand penned this.

 

Teagan agreed with Snow’s comment and passed the arrangement to her.  Snow was smiling at the floral display and took a moment to sniff it before motioning for Teagan to come with, then she led the way to where Bait was to present him with the gift sent to him.

 

Bait had returned to his desk, but he was unable to return to his work, the curiosity of who sent the flowers gnawed from inside himself.  Even his human wife had never sent him flowers when he was in the hospital.  She came in person and spent time with him.  At least she had when he was in the hospital a few years after they were first married.

 

His eyes wandered over the vase and well wishing posies in it as Snow came to him with them, placed them next to him and urged his looking at the card so he could tell her who had sent them.  He wondered during the last years of their marriage if his wife would have even bothered to send flowers had he actually been in the hospital then.  He had his doubts.

 

Snow would never send flowers.  She’d claw her way from the bowels of hell to sit beside him.  That sentiment he understood.

 

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Teagan was a lovely Irish looking girl.  Her face beamed a radiant smile and her head bobbed in accompaniment with his mates urges to read the card.  Very much like human females would in the same situation.  Dames, such an interesting breed, best part of being a man, dames.’ Bait thought to himself, glad they were here.

 

He plucked the card from the little stanchion that held it, then looked between his mate and sister-in-law.  Purposefully moving slow and taking time to eyeball them with a smile that told of his intent of building their anticipation.  He looked to his desk and picked up a letter opener on it and slit the top of the small envelope, returned the tool to the desk then looked at his women again and slipped the card from the envelope then cleared his throat.

 

“Congratulations on your victory at Hondigahl’s.  Hurry up and heal, I’m waiting to kill you myself.  Love, Ruth.”  Bait read from the card.

 

His hands snatched the vase from where Snow had placed it, her face locked in an expression of shock and disbelief.  The smashing sound of the vase colliding with the wall across from him snapped both Snow and Teagan from their silent states.

 

“Ruth?  That must be who Alexander’s new Dragon general is, if she knows we’re here, he does too.”  Snow said blankly. 

 

Bait growled.  Teagan went and started picking up the broken pottery. 

 

Klaxons began sounding again, different ones.  These sounded urgent.  This time even in their quarters they sounded, red lights flashed and a loud horn blasted.  Teagan stood up with fragments of the vase in her hands.

 

“Oh no!”  She ejected abruptly in a stressed voice, dropped what was in her hands and sprang from the room towards the exit, Snow was on her heels.

 

“Invasion alarm!”  Snow yelled back at him as he took to following the two women to the door out. 

 

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They ran to the command deck, inside Squat was pulling up views from hidden cameras out in the yard that gave a full staggered view to the edges of the property.  By the drive into the yard, vehicles were pulling into the yard.  Some looked like standard werewolf staff vehicles while others were civilian taxis and busses.  There were also many people on foot, all heading towards the den house.  There were hundreds of people.

 

Worm cut in.  “Clan Frost, they all have the crest of clan Frost!”  She announced as she helped Commodore Squat put the cameras onto the display that now covered the observation windows with their projections. 

 

Max and Meadow came onto the deck, Worm moved to them and gave a quick complete run down of the situation to them.

 

“It’s a mutiny.”  Max said in a ghostly voice of amazement. 

 

“Running IDs and confirming.”  One of Squat’s lieutenant’s reported.

 

Lord Frost made his way onto the deck.  Squat and the others looked at him with reserved faces. 

 

Squat started for the door out.  “To the elevator, Lord Frost, you’ll want to come with.”  His son told him as he looked towards Worm.  “Worm, grab your audio-note recorder, you’re coming too.”  He ordered.  She was on his heels as he left the deck.

 

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Captain of the Guard

 

Teagan slipped into place next to Squat as their small precession moved to the front yard where a ring of people had formed a line back from the entrance about twenty feet.  Squat and Teagan were at the center of their line up facing the members of Clan Frost.  Two men, a Sergeant Major and a First Sergeant approached them.  Worm stepped forward from her place to the right of Squat and a pace behind to stand ahead of and centered between Lord Squat and Lady Teagan. 

 

Worm stood straight and spoke clear.  “Salutations, you are on the homestead of my liege Lord and Lady, Patriarch Squat and Matriarch Teagan, Clan of Squat in the lineage of Clan Frost of House Trust of His Grace Lord Leyland Clan of the Moore.  Present your order and command.”  She said with pride and conviction.

 

She represented her clan and position perfectly.

 

The First Sergeant stepped forward first and began to speak to Lord Squat after his eyes trailed to Lord Frost on their way to him.  “My Lord Squat, I am First Sergeant Melvin.  We are mutinied my Lord, we have left clan Frost.” his decorum dropped, “We won’t go back, we’ll scatter before that!”  The man practically yelled.

 

The Sergeant Major, command, stepped forward.  He was a leader of troops, not an office jockey.  Years of experience adorned his face.

 

“Sergeant Melvin, stand down.”  He said as he came to stand before them.  “Command Sergeant Major Plank my Lord,” he bowed to Squat then turned to Teagan, “my Lady, we are mutinied from Clan Frost under articles of abandonment.  General McMasters is our Captain of the Guard.  I speak in his stead.  We, my Lord, the refugees of the fallen clan of Frost,”  he looked towards Lord Frost, “seek…”

 

“Sergeant Major!”  An officer coming from the crowd yelled.

 

His crest said he was the commanding general over all of Clan Frost’s people under his lord, Lord Frost’s Captain of the Guard.  He walked to Lord Frost first, looking the man in the eyes then nodding and moving onto Lord Squat. 

 

“Lord Squat, Lady Teagan, I am General McMasters, I have mutinied against Clan Frost under articles of abandonment by our lord, Lord Frost of House Trust.  I do so and accept the responsibilities for my actions.  Those with me have followed with their own choice made plain.  We will not stay in service of a fallen clan in the hands of the abomination that is left to govern the clan.  We seek refuge among Clan Squat.”  The general said with his head high.

 

Squat’s face was wide.  His voice faint when he spoke.  “We haven’t any room for you.  How many?”  He stammered.

 

“The household of Clan Frost is eleven hundred and eighty two.”  Lord Frost stated.

 

His general continued without looking at the lord of his former clan.  “We are eleven hundred and eighty one.”  He said.  “Only her lady’s attendant remained behind, out of her feelings of duty.”  Adding the last to honor the woman who remained and clearing her of responsibility.  Like all werewolves, they could have a choice, but not freewill.

 

General McMasters’ attention turned to Lord Frost while he stood before Lord Squat.  “I cleaned house my Lord, we took everything.”  He said coldly.

 

Squat’s head shook, he looked around at all the people filling the yard and the road to the house.  Eleven hundred and eighty one people, they were already over-full.  They couldn’t house them even if he wanted to, and he did.

 

“Pardon me, Lord Squat.”  Bait interupted as he stepped forward, Snow followed along.  After Squat looked at him, he turned to Lord Frost.  “Clan Frost’s staff, outside of kitchen and other standard personnel that a clan would have, is primarily crafters, correct?”  He asked.

 

Lord Frost nodded.  “Yes commander Bait, my… mate insisted on our clan having the finest sculptures and craftsmen.”  He answered.

 

“And…”  he turned towards Squat, “you have a large scale construction project going on here, right?”  Bait added.

 

Squat nodded in understanding.  “Yeah, right, I get where you’re going.  They can take up in the new part, help build it.  With them helping…” 

 

Squat turned and looked back to General McMasters, “General, I, we…” he looked to Teagan who nodded fast, “grant your request.  Your people will have to sleep on the floor and accommodations won’t be available until they finish building them.  If you’re good with that, welcome to Clan Squat General.”

 

McMasters nodded.  “Accepted, my Lord.”  He looked to Lord Frost.  “Like I said, we took everything, my Lord.”  He reached into a pocket on his chest and pulled a small object from it.  “All funds transferred to off shores accounts, numbered accounts only.  Everything is on this flash drive.”  He said while looking at Lord Frost who was motionless. 

 

He looked to Lord Squat and extended his hand with the flash drive to him.  “My Lord,”  his eyes flicked over to Lord Frost and back, “as you are giving my people refuge, I turn this over to you, to do with as you see fit.  We also have all the hard assets, gold, platinum, diamonds, sapphires, stock notes, bonds, all of it.  I officially turn all this over to you.”

 

Nodding Squat took the flash drive from him.  “Thank you General McMasters.”  He said then turned to his father.  “Lord Frost, I return to you, that which is yours.”  Squat followed as he handed the flash drive to Lord Frost. 

 

After his father accepted the flash drive he returned to the Captain of the Guard.  “General, bring the hard assets to the den, I’ll have one of my lieutenants show you where the vault is, they can stay there until Lord Frost has need of them.”

 

Bait looked at Snow, her face confirmed what he suspected had happened and why. 

 

With Lord Frost absent from his clan in the manner he left, the clan was technically abandon.  The patriarch had bailed.  The matriarch of the clan was a vile woman who scoffed at werewolf law and code.  The only thing that remained at Clan Frost was dishonor.  The general of the den had access to all financial accounts, records and hard assets, SOP. 

 

When he mutinied, and for the reasons stated, leaving the funds and support with a clan of dishonor would have been, unwise, disloyal to his lord.  As Clan Squat had granted them refuge in their clan, unless General McMasters intended on stealing the assets he took from clan Frost, would default to the clan offering refuge.  Turning the property over to Lord Frost, even though the rightful owner of said property, would have been an insult to Clan Squat. 

 

McMasters’ intention was to return the property to its rightful owner with tact.  Squat would have never held onto his father’s property.  Father and son exchanged looks that communicated a silent respect and thanks between them.

 

General McMasters turned and moved in front of Lord Frost and took a knee.  “My Lord, forgive me.”  He raised his head to look his Lord in the eyes, “What remained after you left, was not Clan Frost.  I will not serve that vile woman my Lord.  Please, sir, understand, I have never left your service my Lord, any clan you head, I will serve in.”

 

Sergeant Major Plank stepped forward and took position next to his general, also taking a knee.  “Aye General, I along with my Lord.”  Plank stated looking up at his Lord.

 

Lord Frost smiled.  Bait could read this smile well.  Snow’s father had left this open as a contingency.  His clan had followed him, he left a means for them to act as they did, he had trusted his general and sergeant major would do what they had done.  It was clean.  There was no other way he could effectively shut his clan and den down. 

 

“Thank you my friend.”  He said as he motioned for the two before him to stand.  “But I am a Lord without a clan now.  My son, he has need of your people General.”  Lord Frost nodded to his men and clapped a hand on each at the shoulder.  “Build him a grand den.”

 

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Sea Mist had insisted on Worm coming with when they flew to investigate the Ag center and buildings, including a casual drive-by of the church. 

 

“How can I teach her to fly the real thing if I can’t get her in it?”  Sea Mist said to Snow.

 

“What if we crash?  She’s not of age yet.”  Snow argued back.

 

“What about Bait?  He would die in a crash too.  And how is she going to beat a fear of heights if she is always on the ground?”  Sea shot back.

 

In the end, Bait sided with Sea Mist, Snow grumbled but let the issue drop.  Sea and Worm took the front of the chopper while he and Snow sat in the back, it was a better arrangement anyways Bait thought.  This way they could talk about plans and ideas.

 

They were driving a SUV provided to them by the clan in the area.  They made a drive by the church.  People came out when they drove up, scents covered, and appeared to be working on planting fresh plants around the building and grounds. 

 

Most of the grass around the church was dead and had been filled in with landscape rock.  There were other dead and dying plants around that they looked to be replacing with the new ones.  They drove on to the Ag Industrial building where the museum was.

 

Sea Mist had Worm driving the vehicle.  Werepeople were very intelligent and most had a high capacity for learning.  Worm herself had just finished her finals for calculus, to a doctoral level Bait had found out.  This would be her final year of preparatory schooling.  After she was of age, she would begin on her career path schooling, her specialty.  Sea Mist seemed all to eager to mentor the young girl.  This spurred conversation between Bait and Snow as they drove on.

 

On the way to the center of the historical area they were passing by the old school and Bait decided to have them stop now instead of coming back.  Inside there were pictures and paintings from local artists and an old man who was overseeing the place.

 

Sea wandered around looking while Bait and her sister talked to the man.  After she had made her rounds of the displays she walked up to where they were and listened in on what the old man was saying..

 

“Well, I’m not to sure on that, the Harper Mining Company bought that from the Winslow’s when they thought they’d run the mine out of gold.  It was Harper that took over the shaft and struck silver.  If you want to talk to someone who would know everything about the area, you should talk to E up at the main building.”  The old man was saying to Bait and Snow.

 

“E?” Bait questioned.

 

The old man chuckled.  “Yeah, Enid Johnson, she is the force behind this operation.  Her family settled this area, planted the first almond trees here.  Everyone just calls her E.”

 

“Excuse me?”  Sea Mist interrupted.

 

“Yes?”  The old man answered her.

 

“I heard you had a Slash gallery here?  I didn’t see anything by him.  Where ‘s that section at?”  She innocently asked.

 

This time it was Bait who broke into laughing.  He’d been angry with her because he though she was being curt when she first commented on the art museum slash gallery.  Now he realized she actually thought the museum had art pertaining to the musician known as Slash. 

 

Bait ushered the ladies back to their ride where Worm was waiting like a good driver.  Sea Mist was actually a very good teacher.  Bait, with Snow’s hesitant agreement suggested Sea begin teaching her some combat driving that would be safe for her to practice.  Also he made clear his desire for the flying lessons to continue.  Discussion of this topic continued while they drove on to meet miss E. Johnson.

 

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‘E. Johnson’ was exactly what was printed on the name plate on the desk the old gray haired woman sat behind as they walked in.  This time Worm came with and was following Sea Mist as they looked around the museum. 

 

Bait talked with the woman some while Snow listened beside him.  They talked for about five minutes then the woman went off up some stairs to dig in the attic.  Bait had been asking questions and she offered to educate him on history of the area.  He eagerly accepted her offer.

 

Bait wandered around the museum while he waited, looking at old pictures and maps displayed on the walls and in display cases with artifacts of the area from its founding days.  “Hmm, here’s the mine, over here the school.”  He muttered as he viewed one of the maps.  “Eighteen twenty-nine.”

 

He moved on, looking and mumbling to himself, Snow pacing with as he moved.  The woman returned and came to Bait with a stack of old books spewing dust as she walked.  She led him to a table off near a wall that had enough room to set the books she had onto.  Sea Mist and Worm came over to where they were, both wanting to eavesdrop on what was going on.

 

“This is the oldest map of the area, hand drawn.  You can see where several different people added buildings and roads to the map with the dates built as they developed the region.”  E was explaining about a very old and yellowed, brittle with age parchment. 

 

They flipped through the maps slowly, talking about the area.  Sea Mist was looking at one of the maps set aside.  There were lines that formed X’s from dots drawn on the map. 

 

“X marks the spot.”  She muttered herself.  “What’s with this map anyways?”  She asked looking up at E. 

 

“Oh, now this is an interesting piece.  An original prospector’s map.”  E began taking the map from her and laying it in front of all on top of the other maps.

 

“This map is how the original prospectors in the area marked the location of their plots.  They didn’t have fancy ways of marking location like we do today.  Back then, a sextant, compass and landmarks were what you used to mark a location.”  The old woman explained.  “Now what they would do is find a landmark and stand on it.”

 

E placed a finger from each and by the top and bottom lines of one of the X’s and motioned inward.  “They would use a spyglass to locate another landmark along an east and west running line, facing south if they were marking the north line, facing north if they were marking the south.” 

 

E tapped a finger at each end of the two lines.  “Two points for each reference line.  Then the opposing points cross to indicate the area of the dig they wanted where the cross of the X is formed.  X marks the spot.”

 

E looked up at everyone with a gentle chuckle.  “Then from that point, a matter of counting steps and direction.  This type of mapping was usually accurate within a few feet.  All that was needed was four landmarks that would stand through time.”  She finished.

 

Bait’s mind was racing.  “So, when was the church built?  Ag church?”  He asked.

 

E became indignant, almost insulted.  “Church.”  She scoffed.  “That place isn’t like any church I’ve ever seen.  And the hours they keep?  Claim they have such late hours to reach out to the youth that live during the night hours.”  She shook her head, Snow and Bait both keenly interested.

 

“Oh?  What can you tell us about this… church.”  Bait pressed.  “Isn’t it part of the historical buildings?”


“Oh heavens NO!  E shot out.  “We tried to buy that land, used to be owned by Snyderson Nut Farms.  This Fyodor Von Lexington out bid us.  When our representative made our final bid that we could put out, this man doubled it.  Then they built that church.”

 

E scoffed and shook her head with a downward glance.  “We tried to get them not to name it the Ag Church, but there was nothing we could do to stop them.  They said they wanted to fit into the area, that Ag stood for silver and that they were the silver church.  Rubbish, that’s all that is.  Always planting there, they can’t keep their plants alive.  Always looks like hell around that place.”  She rambled out as she finished on that subject.

 

Bait’s attention was hard on the woman now.  “You don’t say.  Interesting.  So that church is not a historical church at all.”  He commented.

 

“Most certainly not!  There is nothing historical about that building, despite the construction to make it look like one of the original buildings, it was built twenty years ago next month.”

 

“Interesting.”  He said then looked back to the map Sea Mist had taken an interest in.

 

Four points pointing the way to the fifth actual spot.  Two points were connected indicating the north run, two on the bottom connected to show the southern alignment.  The two opposing corners with lines drawn from each forming an X.  On the map they looked like Roman numerals for the number ten… these Xs.  Exten.  The mark on the blade was not Exten’s mark. 

 

“The church is built over the old mine.”  Bait said distantly from the fog of thought in his mind.

 

“Yes.  That mine was sealed after the accident.  That building would be right over where the original mineshaft was, but that was poured full with cement.”  E informed them.

 

“Accident?  I didn’t hear anything about that.”  Bait inquired.

 

E was all to happy to share her historical knowledge.

 

She cleared her throat and began her recant of history.  “Claude Harper bought the mine when it was thought to be dry.  He believed there was more in the mine, and after he purchased it for twelve dollars and a buckboard of furs, he struck the largest silver find in the state.”

 

 “When this ran out after several years, he ordered the mine closed.  His foreman wanted to blast once more, he was sure there was more silver in the mine and that they were just short of it.  So as they moved out of the mine he had explosives placed at the end of the shaft.  The crew doing the digging for the blasting came back to a safe distance from the blast site and they blasted for the last time.”

 

E’s face went somber.  “What they didn’t know was that there was a vast chasm open under them that they had tunneled over in a shale layer of rock.  They were above a three hundred foot drop.  This final blast fractured the shale top of the chasm they were over sending thirty eight men to their death as the ceiling of the huge open area below caved in.  It had once been what would have been an artesian well, had it been drilled into, but earthquakes had caused a crack that let the water drain off leaving behind the large empty chasm.”

 

E continued.  “The mine was closed and the entrance boarded up until the late fifties when it was finally poured shut after some people were lost exploring the old mine.  And yes, that church sits right on top of where the entrance once was.”  The curator of the museum explained.

 

Bait’s face was excited.  “Thank you very, very much.”  He said and pulled out his wallet.

 

He handed the woman two hundred dollar bills.  “This is for you, have a nice meal on me.  You have been extremely helpful.”  He told the old woman and before she could object, darted for the door.

 

“Come on ladies, mount up, we need to roll!”  Bait told them as he vacated the building and took to the SUV.

 

Worm took the wheel.  “Where to Colonel Bait?”  She chirped.

 

“Home.  Party for you, work for me.”  He answered.  Snow rolled her eyes with a disappointed look.

 

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Chaos.  The den was full of it with preparations for their party and the influx of clan Frost members.  Twitch was milling around the commons area of the den watching the mayhem around him with amused delight.  Humans knew nothing of throwing a bash in comparison to the uproarious festivity a werewolf clan put on.

 

This would be a grand soiree for sure.  Tittering as he watched people doing what they were doing in a hectic rush, Twitch was enjoying himself.  Then he saw Lord Squat coming through the barrage of people, apparently towards him with his lieutenants and a few guards.  He sighed.

 

He looked off while keeping them in the corner of his eye.  He laughed loud and pointed at someone whom had amused him, or so it appeared.  He interacted momentarily with the person who replied with a humorous retort.  Yup, they came straight to him.  Joy.

 

“Twitch, as much as I appreciate your help, back to your cell I’m afraid.  Now, you going to be nice about this, or will I need my men to help?”  Lord Squat asked.

 

He raised his face to Squat, he made no effort to hide his feelings.  Why did he feel hurt?  Had he really expected different?  Expect, no, hope for, yes.  This Duncan, this Bait as he called himself now, this human; an interesting personality was he. 

 

Inside himself someplace there was this thing, he knew what it was, he just hadn’t seen it in a while.  Though, what to call it?  He never had been sure, but it had spoke to him many times in his life, until it silenced itself.  Odd the way life cuts you sometimes.  He still was who he was, and Squat would treat him as such. 

 

Twitch stood, pulling in his long face some and trying to feign a smile.

 

“Not in the mood to fight I’m afraid.  Hovlek wouldn’t approve, neither would he that is called Bait, and to him, my word I did give.  So shackle me, bind me, do as you will.  In my heart and in the fields of my mind, free I shall roam, not in the least encumbered by what it is that you doest to me.”  Twitch held out his wrists close together in front of him.

 

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“…and you are clear for landing Marshal Sea Mist.  Crew dispatched to secure your chopper.”  Came from the radio of the Sea Stallion as Sea Mist hovered over her landing pad.

 

“Roger control, touch down in ninety seconds.  Sea Mist out.”  His sister-in-law replied into her microphone and her head danced around as she watched the ground as they finished their approach. 

 

She put Worm at the controls for part of the flight while she taught from the right hand seat.  Sea Mist was a natural teacher, and Worm was handling the Sea Stallion fairly well given her size and actual age.  Werewolf intellect and dexterity played a defining factor in her ability to learn and pilot the craft, she was doing very well for her third time flying. 

 

Bait had found out after her episode with Seven in the gyrocopter that Sea had taken her with on one of her short ‘jockey’ flights as she called it.  A service run, either a passenger or package either being picked up or dropped off.  Bait was in favor of this, Snow on the other hand…

 

Now Sea Mist was at the helm and they were touching down.  In five minutes they would be back in the den.  Back where he could put his proof together.  Hopefully Night Harvest would accept what he had as enough to authorize further investigation of the church at close range. 

 

Snow went on about his expected attendance and his promise to attend.  She did not want him to walk in, shake a few hands and leave, which was his intention.  She promised wherever he went, she would see to it the party followed. 

 

“I gave my word I would attend, and I will keep my word.  Right now, I need Worm and the tactical room for about an hour, then I am yours.  Okay?”  Bait offered to her in the living room elevator ride down.

 

Snow flapped her lips with a harsh exhale.  There was no not getting around the fact that he would not give until allowed to hunt more dots.  An hour.  The party was still a ways away from starting, now with her father’s people here, that would either speed up or delay the official kick of to ‘festival of the downfall of Hondigahl the fork’.

 

“One hour, no more.”  She said stonily.

 

“Not counting travel and set-up time.”  Bait added then darted from her side while radioing out to Worm his instructions.

 

“Travel and set-up time does not equate to another hour, fifteen minutes tops!”  She hollered after him as he tried to make his escape.

 

He waved a hand back at her and kept talking and moving.

 

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Twitch snapped his right hand out at waste height, palm down and brought his left to instruct the violins to fade.  He turned his palm over and slowly raised it; the notes of the woodwinds coming in at the perfect time to fill the forming musical void.  A waving hand movement, then up.  The music built - flick of the wrist and stop.  His left hand instructed the girl on the flute to play her part… perfect, ah yes.

 

To the saxophone.  The warbling tones harmonized with the flute.  Now the rest of the brass, begin kettle drums and now for the full mix and!  Yes!  Twitch waved his arms around as he conducted the orchestra.  Bringing his arms straight up from his sides above his head he led them into the final bars for a grand finish.  Perfection! 

 

He turned with the tails of his tuxedo rippling behind, back straight and… bow.  Applause filled the hall.  Up, and bow again.  People began to stand.  Up and straight, turn to the orchestra and bow… up.  To the audience, the wonderful audience and the standing ovation they were giving him.  Straight and bow.  Up.  Yes.  A truly magnificent performance led by him. 

 

Twitch flung himself into a corner where the floor and wall met in the round bottom of the oubliette.  The vision of the opera hall fading from his sight he looked to the cold stone of his surroundings.  The silver lined hatch atop in the ceiling.

 

Oh bother. 

 

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“…remove everything else except the dots indicating Alexander stationary.”  Bait was saying to Worm when Sea Mist entered the tactical room.

 

Worm was running the projection displays that filled the room with maps while Bait worked out his thoughts.  She would tap at the keyboard and various displays would change to her desire directed by the sleuth her sister was in love with.  He was a cool cat and most defiantly on the beam.  She found herself having to remind herself that he was human and not a were-person. 

 

“Sea, good.  I’m going through Alexander sightings, only ones that repeat and he is stationary at.  Which, seem to be one in the same.”  Bait informed her.

 

She turned and looked at the displays on the silver-screen walls.  Though these projection mats had no silver in them to provide reflectivity. 

 

The image was confusing at best. 

 

“If anything makes you think of…” Bait’s arms waved at his sides, “anything, just spit it out, don’t worry about how it sounds or if you think it’s stupid or nothing or, whatever.  Say it, okay?”  He said in an imploring tone.

 

Sea Mist nodded and returned her attention to the images.

 

Bait worked Worm hard with his requests.  She only fumbled once and had to ask tech support (Seven) for help.  Image setup after image setup flashed around the screens as Bait worked.  She didn’t have much to add to help their sleuth, but she tried.  It helped to understand her place in his process.  Again, she was glad her sister had told her.  She hated cliques. 

 

They were going around viewing things from different angles when Snow walked into the room, looking like a den mother over young ones.

 

“That is your hour sir.  Disembark from this room of dots and work and fall out for party duty, that means your noble helpers as well.  No mouth no argument no nothing.  Assholes and elbows as you would say Colonel.  Let’s roll.”  She said firmly yet politely then turned back to the door, opened it and held it then pointed out with her other hand.

 

Bait sighed while Worm and Sea Mist looked at him.  He shook his head lightly.  “You heard Commander Fancy-Pants, party’s over.”  He said and gestured for the two girls to head out.  He followed as well, glaring humorously at his mate.  He stuck his tongue out at her as he passed.

 

“Well, that’s a start.”  She retorted.

 

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Squat reported to his sister, the commanding one, and Lord Bait.  Frost’s former clan members were working wonders it seemed.  A lead engineer literally grabbed Baby-Go-Boom and hauled her off to where he wanted her to blast and stuck her in the hole.  He’d worked with her before and was a man of few words.  She did always tell him ‘Just stick me’s where yah needs me, Baby will take it from there she will’ and he did just as she requested. 

 

In the few hours Bait and Snow had been gone they had tripled the open area of the new addition.  They set to work first opening the rest of the ceiling a good eighty feet from top to bottom.  Tunnels for blasting had already been dug some nine hundred feet into the bedrock, Frost’s people took it from there.  To them, this was simply large scale sculpting.

 

Now they were cleaning the debris away by loading boulders with end loaders into oversized dump trucks that exited via a construction tunnel some seventeen miles long into a wide open field far away from anything and everything.  After construction was finished, the last load hauled out and the tunnel gone, the rocks and sand would be sold.

 

“They’re telling me that they’ll have the entire upper quarter portion of the new addition cleaned and ready for concert and festival activities in two hours.  Broom and room vacuum crews are assembling now and forming up behind the end loaders.  The tractors with the rotary brooms will move the larger stuff to the corners to be loaded then the vacuums will drive in patterns covering the entire room.  Seven says he has no problem with temporary power runs, and says his people have already made cord packs on reels ready to be rolled out.”  Squat said in part of his verbal report. 

 

Bait nodded.  Despite the fact this was a frivolous party, his people were efficient.  On the upside, the top part of the new addition was cleared.  An extra hundred and eighty feet out, but that was quite good in the end, more space.  The crew already decided to double the blast area, based on the anticipated and current occupancy. 

 

“The floor will be a bit rough.  Well, uneven, but no worse than being out in a field for a bash.”  Squat concluded and waited for his commanders to give their response.

 

Where’s the party?  Everybody I know say they expect to see me, at the party… where’s the party?” careened through Bait’s mind.  Another Jimmy Buffett song... and the point?

 

It had been the words of this Calypso poet that drew his attention to the security mirrors in his dream, vision?  Trans-dimensional stroll?  Whatever the hell it was, something in his mind seemed to make a connection with him via movies and music, leaving him to jump through hoops to try and figure out what he was trying to tell himself, or make himself remember.

 

The words of Steve Rheineer wafted through is mind.  “You know Duncan, I am going to miss those days working with the team at your house out there in the sticks.  Best damn office I have ever been to!”  He remembered Steve saying to him on his last day with the company.

 

He had made work tolerable, almost pleasant for his men, back in the day.  Pouring over the data and materials for a mission while grilling steaks, drinking beer and talking about women, with Andrea talking about her men.  In his office, laughter was a frequently heard thing, unlike the DC offices.  Laughter was frowned upon there.

 

Steve’s voice returned to Bait’s mind again.  “You know, I think we did some of our best work sitting out on your deck drinking beer and watching the deer bounce through the fields.”

 

He allowed his team to be relaxed, to be themselves instead of the faÇ;ade they put forward in their professional day.  They did work better in the middle of nowhere without the distractions of the ordinary day, and when they executed their mission, they performed better as well. 

 

He had been told by about everyone that worked with him that the time out at the ranch had helped them loosen up and work the plan through clearer.  Made them feel more ready for what they were about to do.  Bait rationalized this was because they worked relaxed and were separated from stress.  His people had time to learn who the people with them were.

 

Hovlek and River Stone both had recommended he partake in the bash. 

 

“Fine, make it so.”  He said to Squat then waved him off and returned to his work.

 

“Best wrap up whatever you’re on lover.  Need to get you ready for the formal part of this bash.”  Snow told him as she leaned over his back and kissed his neck.

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

Squat saluted then turned to leave.

 

“Bait to Twitch, over.”  He heard Colonel Bait call out over the radio.

 

He stopped fast.  He did not turn around.

 

Seconds passed.

 

“Colonel Bait to Twitch, over!”  He called out again, his voice becoming a touch agitated at the lack of response.  “If anyone has eyes on Twitch…”  He stopped cold. 

 

His head moved slowly, until he was facing fully towards Squat’s back.  He turned his body in a metered movement so he was squarely facing the man. 

 

Squat turned around.  His face foretold unwanted news.  “Colonel Bait, sir… um, Twitch doesn’t have a radio… where he’s at.”  Squat said,  sounding a bit nervous.

 

Bait’s eyebrows twitched, one raised.  “Oh?  And just where might Twitch be at…”

 

Baby’s voice cut in on the radio.  “Lord Bait sir’s, naw Twitch, ‘e can’t answer ya mate, not in that oubliette ‘e can’t.  They done pitched ‘im back down there.”  Baby said sounding slighted. 

 

Just like Bait’s face.

 

His voice was of gravel, course, gritty, angered.  Bait keyed his pickup.  “Baby, meet me at his oubliette.  Out.”  He ground out.  Bait strode past Squat, his movements stiff.  Squat followed after. 

 

As they walked towards where the oubliettes were, Bait called out to others over the radio.  Sea Mist, even Worm, Kevashka, Mud.  The entire command team, Teagan… Lord Frost.  With each he talked to, he made it clear they were to get to the oubliette now!

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

Twitch looked the boy in the eyes.  “You know, we don’t have to do this like this son.  Now, you can just put that iron down and you and I can walk into town and you can tell your story to the judge.  He’s a fair man and he’ll listen to you.  If what you say is true, then we’ll be able to rustle up the ones responsible.”  He said to the young boy in front of him with the six shooter aimed at him.

 

Twitch flexed his hand near the butt of his revolver.  Colt Peacemaker, none finer.  Even though this kid had the drop on him, he could still out-gun him.  Wasn’t even a challenge, the boy was green.  He knew the kid didn’t shoot those people.  Hell, Judge McCoy even said as much as the same.  But facts was facts, the law was the law, and it was his job to enforce it.

 

“Now, you know who I am, and you know I know how to use this.”  Twitch patted the Colt slung low on his hip.  “You gotta choose son, the judge or the ground.  One way or the other, you’re going to one of them.  Your choice.”

 

He heard the sound of the tendons tightening in the boy’s hand, his thumb started to move.  The first click of the hammer of his pistol as he pulled it back.  Twitch’s hand stayed firm.  He locked eyes with the boy.  Fear welled up in the boy’s eyes and in his scent. 

 

“CLICK”  The second click of the hammer coming back.  Twitch sniffed the air.  His hand moved.  The boy lay dead on the ground.  Twitch came forward and removed the pistol from the boy’s hand.  Opening the cylinder he shook the six cartridges from it into his gloved hand.  Six silver bullets.

 

That last click, it was a clunk not a click.  That was the sound of a lock being undone.  Hinges!  The squeak of hinges.

 

“By what right do you imprison a member of House Trust?”  He could hear Bait’s voice saying.  He looked at his chest.  The crest on the uniform was of House Trust in service of Trust Operations One.  Special Agent Twitch.

 

“Sir, I… he’s a prisoner.  The uniform, I didn’t… the crest was just on the uniform.  There was nothing… I didn’t think it was official.”  Squat stammered. 

 

“And since when, Commodore, has a clan crest not been official?”  He heard that hot little commander mate of Bait say.  Ah she did look the wild one this tasty treat.  Lucky human.

 

The sound of his ladder being lowered.

 

“Twitch, quit gold-bricking down there, get your ass up here.  If I have to go to this party don’t think you’re getting out of it by hiding away down here!”  Bait yelled down at him.

 

Springing from his crouched position, he popped up and out of the door in the ceiling.  A smile firmly planted on his face.  “Aye mate, bout time you showed up.  Was feeling a bit unwanted around here, getting ready to leave.”  Twitch said comically.

 

Squat snorted, Bait looked over. 

 

“He couldn’t have really gotten out.  He’s just talking.”  Squat retorted with a mildly convicted look.

 

Bait snorted with a head shake at Squat.  “Right.”  He said then slapped Twitch on the back.

 

Twitch with Snow on his left and Bait on his right left the holding area of the den and made for brighter rooms.

 

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Sea Mist was sitting in a chair in a corner of their living room playing her guitar-bow while Snow fussed over Bait in his evening attire in their quarters.

 

“A tuxedo.”  He said looking down his front then raising an arm to look towards his back by his waste.  “With tails.  For this party?” 

 

“Yes.”  Snow replied while she adjusted his tie some and worked on his shirt.  “This isn’t a college kegger, this is a proper bash.  Formal dress is expected.”  She turned him around and started adjusting his collar.

 

Sea Mist started plucking rips from an AC/DC song he recognized.  Her with her bow in guitar form had become common place around the den.  She always seemed to be either practicing her music, or her fighting. 

 

“But I’m envisioning how this will look covered in banana cream pie or some other flavor of cream pie.  They aren’t serving cream pies of any kind are they?”  Bait chided.

 

Snow chortled.  “Honestly lover, I hope so.  I have no idea what is on the menu, but I sure wouldn’t mind giving you one right in the kisser.”

 

Sea Mist tittered and changed tunes.  “Let’s get this party started!”  She sang out.

 

“You’re help is not needed missy.”  Bait shot out at her with a glance.

 

Snow turned him towards her so she could work on his front more and pin a corsage to him.  “Oh lighten up, don’t be gruff with her because she’s thrilled to go to this party.”  She said while she worked.

 

Sea Mist changed tunes again.  “I got my thrills… (50’s rock rhythm) on Blueberry Hill…”

 

Bait looked over at the young girl playing the early rock song and attempting the lyrics and shook his head.  “You’re killing me Smalls, hear me?  Killing me here!”  He yelled over at his sister-in-law who only laughed quaintly at him and continued on.

 

“Yeah old man, you need to kick some of that dust of your dancing shoes and cut loose with some real party animals.  We’ll show you how to cut a rug.  We’ll get you to shout out…”  Sea Mist said acting sexy and perky as she stood and walked over to Bait and took to part of another song… “I got the hippy hippy shake…” then started playing her bow-guitar, which resembled a Stratocaster with a whammy bar, strung upside-down for the left handed musician.  She danced around in a small circle while playing the song.

 

Bait stuck out his hand at the performance Sea Mist was giving with a ‘see what I mean’ expression at Snow.  She shrugged and chortled again then put a hand to her face covering her mouth.  “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”  She said meekly.

 

A slow loud thumping started at the door.  The two women looked at each other and in unison announced “Hovlek!”

 

The door lumbered open from the meaty hand of Hovlek and he strode into the room.

 

He grunted a couple times then chuckled.  “How is it you two always know it Hovlek when it is Hovlek?  Uh?”  His deep voice questioned as he looked between the two girls.

 

“They’re psychotic, they know things.”  Bait interjected.

 

Hovlek chuckled again.

 

“I think you mean psychic Bait.”  Sea Mist corrected. 

 

Hovlek snorted a laugh.  “No, Bait say what Bait meant, Hovlek gets what Bait means.”  He laughed more at Sea Mist’s expression.

 

He also was dressed in tails.  One would say he cleaned up nicely, the tux actually looked good on him.  Bait on the other hand, despised the wardrobe currently on his person.  He never was one for formal events. 

 

“I see the fashion police gotten to you too Hovlek.”  Bait indicated the two girls with a thumb movement between them.  “This one pokes me while the other one prods.”  He added with mock disdain.

 

A grunt came from Hovlek.  “Hmm, it… ah, not so bad.  Better than a sharp stick in eye, eh?”  Hovlek laughed and walked to a chair to sit.

 

Sea Mist returned to her seat as well and plucked aimlessly while watching the events around her unfold with a blank gaze.

 

“Lord Bait, ah, Lord Squat, he ah… want Hovlek to ask you about Twitch, ah, where to put him, for housing.  He is embarrassed, ask Hovlek to ask you.”  The weapons master lumbered out.

 

Bait shot a confused look at him.  “Why can’t he stay with his mate?”  He asked.

 

Hovlek along with the ladies shook their heads.

 

“Can’t put male and female together in communal living arrangements.”  Sea Mist put out.

 

“Yes, what she said is right, it’s like this.”  Snow said taking over.  “When mated pairs are traveling for work together, they are housed together, but Baby came here solo.  She is in a billets with other women, and Twitch would normally be in with the men, however there isn’t room.” 

 

Hovlek grunted again.  “Looks like back to oubliette is only option.  Unless Twitch sleeps with Frost’s people, aye though, not good idea.  No.”  Hovlek finished shaking his head.

 

To most other werewolves, Twitch was despised, not a likeable fellow nor anyone you want to keep the company of.  Despite their unabashed manner of walking around nude, sleeping arrangements were another matter.

 

Bait looked to Snow, they exchanged thoughts.  A decision was reached.

 

“They can have our quarters.  We’ll move in with Sea and Blade.”  Snow said with a firm and positive tone.

 

A sour note came from the guitar.  “Say what?”  Sea Mist chimed.

 

Bait looked at her.  “Twitch and Baby get our quarters, we’re shacking up with you and Blade Dance, problems?” 

 

Sea Mist looked perplexed.  “Ah, well, I am trying to get pregnant here!”  She said ending by gesturing at her belly area.  Her face crunched in regret as soon as she said what she had.

 

“Don’t worry, it’s only for seventeen days.”  Bait said coldly and turning from her.

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t… I was wrong okay, just took me off guard.  I…”  Sea Mist tried to defend herself.

 

“It’s okay, I get it.”  Bait said realizing his own errors in action.  “Let’s just let it drop.”

 

“Do you really think it’s a good idea leaving him to roam free?”  Snow started.

 

Bait’s face relayed his thoughts on her doubt of his judgment.

 

“Hmm, as opposed to what Lady Snow?  Hmm?  What good keeping Twitch locked in oubliette?”  Hovlek interjected.  “Twitch gave his word.  Good enough for Bait, good enough for Hovlek.  Why Snow, not good enough his word is?”

 

Bait snorted.  “And why do Snow think that oubliette actually keeps Twitch here?”  He shook his head.  “He wasn’t kidding when he said he could leave that cell anytime he wanted.  He stayed here because he chose too.  Not because he’s been made too.”

 

Hovlek grunted in agreement and bobbed his head.  “This that Bait says, this is true.”

 

“She just doesn’t like him because he’s a hype, like Baby.”  Sea Mist stated.  Bait turned to look at her, Snow tried not too.  “Like Blade Dance… like me.”  She ended casting her distant eyes at her sister.

 

“A hype?  What’s that?”  Bait asked.  Hovlek sighed.

 

Snow answered.  “They don’t sleep, ever.  It usually happens when a werewolf becomes of age, they stop sleeping, they become hypes.  They eventually go insane, and when they mate, their mate goes with them.”  Her voice was empty and cold.  She kept her eyes from her sister.

 

“She didn’t know when we were mated that Blade was a hype.  And not all hypes are that way, some are born never sleeping.  Like me.”  Sea Mist said factually.

 

Snow’s head raised fast, her eyes snapping to her sister.

 

“Not once Madelyn, ever.  I have never slept, I’m not insane, nor am I going to be.  Blade Dance is as insane as he will ever be.  Not everyone becomes a lunatic like… um, anyways, he went the other way, became too serious.  He’s my lover for life, he just doesn’t laugh anymore.”  Sea’s face was sad.

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

The kickoff to the party was a ceremony to present Worm with her crest.  Being not of a noble line, a girl of her status would not normally receive such a crest as she would be given tonight.  Clan Squat was officially scribed into the legacy tomes kept by the bishops, their approval inducted the clan into the lineage of Lord Leyland. 

 

Worm, now a member of this clan, would be the first girl to celebrate her twelfth year in the formal clan.  And as was werewolf tradition, she would receive the clan’s first crest that she would in turn gift to the clan that hosted her coming of age party the following year.

 

Worm was expecting a ceramic ornate glazed family crest from her father’s heritage without a clan designation.  When her father accepted Squat’s offer, her hopes changed to that of the same design only in the crest of clan Squat.  She was beyond containment when she found out that in the three official months of existence, clan Squat had not had a single member that celebrated a twelfth at all, let alone a female that would receive the first clan crest.  That honor fell upon her.  A far turn from their families glum arrival two month ago.

 

Of all the crafters currently in clan Squat, none were accomplished in the smith arts with fine metals.  Hovlek took the duty of crafting the crest of exceptional quality and design for the ceremony.  He had truly created a work of art, a crest unlike any before.  His knowledge of metal craft was with the forge of living metal, and it was this he used to craft his opus of metal.  It glowed a faint blue and looked to hold mercury as silver metal flowed and danced within and on the form of the crest.

 

“It is platinum, that is precious metal Hovlek used.  Not just any platinum, this, this is special.  This taken from Hondigahl, night Bait defeat him.  For little girl, night she become warrior for light.  This, this is sacred metal now.”  Hovlek said of the crest when he presented it to Squat before the ceremony began.

 

Squat looked the crest over.  It was amazing what his mentor had created.  No one could craft from the forge like Hovlek.  He couldn’t explain it, everything that came from Hovlek’s forge seemed more… alive.  His forge was no different than any other of its kind, they all had the same origin.

 

“It’s magnificent Hovlek, incredible.  Thank you sir.”  Squat said in an appreciative voice as he looked the crest over.

 

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Now, Bait was standing with Snow at the head of the new main hall, which would later be blasted to open the rest of the area for the den.  Everyone was dressed to the hilt for the event.  He felt afterwards the formality of the night would degrade abruptly as werewolf mentality took over.

 

Squat talked some on the clan and how pleased he was with the growth and development the clan was experiencing.  Then he switched over and talked about Worm and her father, welcomed them once again in front of the entire clan this time with mother, father and all the siblings present.  A bit of pomp and circumstance and the crest was presented to Worm and the festivities for the clan, their first crest and victory over Hondigahl, were declared a go.

 

After the chamber music started a formal milling around and talking followed with light snacks served from a buffet table.  This lasted about an hour, then Snow thankfully informed him he could escape from his tuxedo.

 

They slipped away to their quarters, which now ended up being with Hovlek.  He had offered his abode to share with them.  “Hovlek does not have need of that much room.  Be Hovlek’s guests, much better arrangement than with sister, yes?”  He had said to Snow, who agreed along with him.

 

“That feels much better, blue jeans and a polo.  I can’t tell you how much I hate a tux.”  Bait said after they changed clothes again.

 

“Agreed.”  Snow said while she looked in the mirror and adjusted herself in the more comfortable threads.  “But this doesn’t mean ‘Bait can now slip off and work and ignore everyone around him’ time.  You will be at the party and you will talk to people.  More than just the command team and such.  You’re the one that wanted to involve everyone, maybe it might be a good idea to meet the everyone you have been talking about.”

 

Bait sighed with an audible grumble.  “Again with this?  Really?  Please, I already said I would go.  Oh, you still haven’t shown me how I am getting paid.”  He said.

 

Snow looked over at him.  He had his laptop set up and was looking at it.  It would be coming with, she could read that in him. 

 

“Here.”  She said coming next to him and sitting down then moving the laptop to her lap.

 

Snow opened a browser and typed in the address.  “You can only access our internet from a computer that has the right security hardware in it.  If you don’t have the hardware, you’ll never know it exists.”  Clicking on several buttons, she opened a secured link.

 

Being Bait had never actually logged into his account, a few setup steps were necessary, and a call to the bank for access and confirmation.  This became a bit tricky, especially at this hour, but with help from a few friends at the den, they were able to get his access configured and fully registered.

 

Bait typed in his password and opened his accounts.  He found he had five of them with the werewolf bank.  Snow gawked next to him as they stared at the balances for the accounts.

 

“That’s more money than I had after my human wife died.  That’s a shit load of money.”  He said in a stupor.  Snow nodded next to him in the same state.

 

She reached over and expanded one of the accounts, read some of what was listed, then moved to another.  “Lover, some of these accounts, their investment accounts.”  She said slowly.

 

He nodded.  “Yeah, I can see that.”

 

“No, you don’t get it, these are werewolf stocks and investment portfolios.  You’re invested in clans, and doing very well.  Some of these stock bundles, you can’t just invest in these.  You have to be recommended and accepted.  Whoever did your investing, is very well connected.”  Snow explained.

 

Bait paged through some of the files on his investments, stopping on one that shocked him.

 

“Galt Alliance Industries.”  He read aloud.  Snow moved her head in and read what he was.

 

“You’re company is on our private investment list.  Human owned, werewolf supported.  I didn’t know you sold any private stock in Galt Industries.”  She said as she continued reading.

 

“I didn’t.  I think I need to talk to Connie, now!”  He said snapping the laptop shut as he stood.

 

“Hold on partner, there is a party you said you would attend and I am keeping you to your word.  This can wait till morning I am sure Connie is partaking in her own festivities.  Don’t you?”  She answered him.

 

“Command to Colonels Snow and Bait, I say again, command to Colonels Snow and Bait, priority message over.”  Erupted from the radio.  The voice urgent. 

 

“Sounds like work may just overshadow your party after all, and I’m suddenly not happy about work.”  Bait said looking longingly at his partner.  What he really wanted was some down time with just the two of them, no party.

 

He should say so.

 

“Colonel Snow, go ahead.”  She answered the call.

 

“We need you on the command deck, ASAP!”  The voice on the other end said.  Worm could be heard in the background now, she was talking with someone on another line.  Her high pitched voice carried well.  The words ‘in custody’ came through clear.

 

“On our way!”  Bait cut in and the two of them darted for the door and ran to the command deck.  Snow didn’t slow down for her partner, he slipped her mind in the rush.

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

Worm charged to them when they entered the command deck.  Stopping fast she snapped a salute.  “Colonels!”  She ejected crisply.  Snow returned the salute for them.  Worm executed her duties.

 

“A message was received in coded format on a secure channel.  Security authorization code required.  I tried mine and it worked!  I have everything set up for you right here.  If the Colonels would follow me please.”  Worm informed them.

 

With a hand movement and a nod Snow sent Worm to motion and she took them to two laptops set up at a table, one with the report, the other just incase Bait wanted another one.  She read him well.  Time to see how well she followed through on her training.

 

“Good corporal, thank you.  Have you gone over the message?  Can you report on it?”  Snow asked looking from the displays to her.  Bait followed suit.

 

Worm looked a touch nervous now.  “Yes ma’am, I did read the message.  I can report on it, but if I can, please ma’am, I’d really rather not.”  Worm’s voice was cracking. 

 

Snow looked intently at Worm, taking in every trivial detail.  The message clearly bothered her.  Bad news.

 

“They think we’re a prison.  That’s what it sounds like.  They are bringing a prisoner here.  They said she broke the law.  They’re sending her here, to be punished!”  Worm screeched. 

 

Her body started to shake.  It’s those bastard Clay’s, I know it’s them!  Spittle flew from Worm’s mouth as she spoke with fury.

 

Bait and Snow looked at each other with concern and urgency then focused on the message.

 

“Inconceivable!”  Snow ejected  with a sound of horror.

 

Bait was slack-faced next to her.  His head nodded slowly.  “And the order for transfer was signed by Night Harvest.  This kettle of fish is starting to smell really bad.  I agree.  Inconceivable.”  He said remotely s he read.

 

Clan Clay.

 

‘Official charges filed by:  Clan Clay Captain of the Guard, General Lemon.  (By order of Lord Clay.)’

 

“He’s dodging responsibility openly.”  Bait said after reading that bit of information from the attached report.  “It’s those bastard Clay’s.  Damn straight Skippy.  Worm, put on your head-cam and come with us.”  He said handing the item to her.

 

She turned it on and quickly attached it to herself.

 

Snow snorted in objection.  “You’re not going to bring her along for this!  There is no reason.”

 

Bait turned back towards her quickly.  “The best way for her to learn the lessons in life are for her to witness them.  No book or tale told to her will ever replace that.”  Bait looked at Worm.  “When you dispense justice, always do so with your own hand, never use someone else’s.”  He said thoughtfully then started for the door.

 

“Oh, so you’re dispensing justice now are you?”  Snow said loudly after him, Worm on his heals.

 

He didn’t stop nor did he slow any.  “I’m fixin’ too.”  He said, his hand on the handle of the door.

 

Opening it he continued through.  Worm paused and looked back at Snow with her hand on the door as to close it behind her.  She took her hand from the door after a moment when she saw Snow wasn’t coming and followed after Bait.

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

Bait barked into his microphone as he ran.  “I want the entire command assembled, that means all officers and every sergeant and above, in the assembly area now!”

 

Snow caught up to her mate and his liaison when they arrived at the head of the assembly area.  She had been running hard and was on the radio with someone via a private link.  “That was Night Harvest, he says the decisions are yours alone.  Bait, what the hell is going on?”  She asked him after she ended her call.

 

He looked at her with an empty face.  “I’m not quite sure.  All I know is things have a way of falling into place. and Sebastian has his reasons.”

 

“And you to do the right thing.”  She added.

 

People were pouring into the assembly area of the original den.  They took their places with officers up front and command grade enlisted behind.  The room was beyond capacity, fortunately all the party favors had been moved to the new area.  This would be used for staging food, beverages and entertainment acts.  They really were planning quite a shindig. 

 

Bait stood and announced to the people why they were there.  A prisoner was being transferred to them, indicating Lord Squat as the warden of the prison.  This prisoner was charged with a forced turning of a human.  If found guilty the governing inquisitor could order retirement as a maximum penalty. 

 

Snow was still in the blind of her own choice as to what was going on with her life and her mates.  Accepting her position was still not in her grasp.  Bait on the other hand, he accepted it with disdain.  It was this reality that he had tried to run from.  Hovlek was right though.  Duncan wouldn’t let Bait run.

 

The prisoner was charged by the patriarch of the Clay clan himself.  The prisoner who would be arriving shortly had turned a human without their permission.  The turned and the violator were to be transported to the nearest prison, which according to registry, the facilities at now Clan Squat, still were. 

 

“Why did he do this?”  Snow questioned Bait while they sat at the quickly set-up bench that she and Bait sat behind overlooking their people.

 

Bait was wondering the same thing, he had thoughts, but nothing conclusive.  He didn’t know how to explain what he felt.  So he tried again to push his concepts into Snow’s mind, only this time with a heads-up.  The two stared at each other as they communicated silently. 

 

She understood how he felt.  Night Harvest was trying to tell him something with his actions, that he knew how Bait would handle the situation.  He was being made a focal point as well.  Whatever his reasons, Bait assumed he would put the pieces together when needed, and not a moment before. 

 

That’s part of what bothered him about solving the Alexander mystery.  He figured the location out too early in his mind.  There was more to this battle than Alexander’s coven and the portal it housed. 

 

Snow’s shoulders felt heavy feeling what was plaguing her mate.  She in turn told him she was about to share her feelings.  Only hers were regarding their party and why it was important.  They had lost so many, their numbers barely a third to a quarter of what they were only a hundred years ago, so many lost recently. 

 

“What about Kicks?”  He asked bluntly.

 

Snow shook her head.  “Not a word.  No one has seen him since he left the den.” 

 

A man escorting two people entered the outside edge of the commons.  They made their way to come down the isle to face the bench Snow and Bait sat behind.  Snow reached out and squeezed Bait’s hand as he stood.

 

“Forward!  Keep walking, prisoner.”  The guard said gruffly as he brought them before the bench.

 

Bait’s eyes flashed.  “Remove the shackles from her immediately!”  Bait roared at the man.  His eyes moved to the man beside Corn Stalk, then back to his Connie.

 

The guard remained stationary and failed to respond to the order given.

 

“I said, remove the shackles from Lady Corn Stalk immediately!”  Bait repeated his order louder and with vexation in his voice.

 

The guard sneered at Bait.  “My orders are to keep her shackled.  And I don’t take orders from humans.”

 

Snow growled and stood.  Bait placed a hand on her arm and looked to her.  ‘I’ve got this, thanks.’  He thought to her.  She stood down and sat again.  A murmur ran through the crowd.

 

“What exactly are your orders?  You can answer a question from a human?”  Bait posed.

 

The sergeant’s face looked as if he just bit into something sour.  “Yes, I can answer your question.  My orders are to shackle the prisoner and to deliver her to this prison.”  The man stated coldly to Bait.

 

Sea Mist was standing by Squat and their father.  All three looked ready to jump the guard.

 

Bait questioned the guard further.  “And is there anything in your orders that says you are to keep her shackled after arrival?  Any instructions or orders pertaining to what you are to do after you have delivered the… prisoner?”  He asked with a molten voice.

 

The man snarled, his dislike of a human questioning him clear.  “No.  I was also never ordered to take your orders, human.”  He responded with loathing.

 

Bait moved to the side of the bench and stepped down, walking to face the guard.  He stuck his chest out the best he could at the man.  “By who’s orders do you disrespect an officer of House Trust?”

 

The guards arms flexed, Bait could tell he wanted to strike out at him.  He could tell by his scent.

 

“I serve the highest clan in the states, I serve clan Clay.”  He responded.  “That crest you wear means nothing, your just a human with no real authority.” 

 

A growl rumbled through the room.  Hovlek, he could not be mistaken.

 

Bait’s eyes narrowed.  “Clan Clay is not above the Grand Inquisitor, nor is it part of the monarchy either stateside or across the water.  I have read your orders, signed by Night Harvest himself.  They clearly state that you are to deliver the prisoner to me personally.  That would imply that upon arrival, you are to follow my orders.  If not, you will be disobeying the Grand Inquisitor as well as myself.  You may not follow orders of a human, but small fry, you are surrounded by loyal soldiers that will.”  Bait looked around the room at the faces affirming his statement.

 

He returned his attention to the guard and spoke to him again.  “This is the last time I will give this order.  If you refuse, you will find out the authority I do have.  Sergeant, I, Lord Bait of House Trust, order you to remove the shackles from Lady Corn Stalk.” 

 

Worm sprang from her stenographer’s position at the side of the bench and ran toward Colonel Bait.  “Your Grace, your Grace, it must be done proper!”  She chimed as she came next to him and looked up at him.  “Colonel Bait sir, he has to be advised properly.”  She said to him.

 

Bait nodded looking at the girls eyes.  She knew her place and was advising well.  Like he, she too had a tendency to read old books.

 

“Can you do it Worm?”  He asked.

 

She beamed back at him.  “Yes sir Colonel Bait sir.  Permission to proceed sir?”  She chirped.

 

Bait nodded.

 

Worm looked at his crest and read it.  “Base Sergeant Basset, you are to be judge for insubordination by operations second commander Lieutenant Colonel Bait of House Trust under the authority of Lord Floyd in the service of The Master of Clans Lord Leyland.  You are to undergo inquisition for said charges.  This is the choice you face, to either accept the authority placed above you or to dishonor yourself and be judged.”  She turned and faced Bait.  “Inquisitor, the subject has been advised.”  She ended and saluted.

 

Bait returned the salute and Worm returned to her station.  Then he looked towards Squat.  “Commodore, promote that girl, make her rank permanent.”  He ordered.

 

“Yes sir, consider it done!”  Came his prompt proud reply. 

 

Bait’s attention returned to the guard.  “You’re causing a delay in our festival, and you’re pissing me off.  Remove the shackles now.”  He said coldly.

 

“From anyone else but you.”  He answered.

 

“What’s the worst job in any den?”  Bait asked the room.

 

Light murmurs came from the crowd with several answers, then Worm piped up loudly over the murmurs.  “Pumping the septic tanks and cesspools.”  Was her answer.

 

Bait smiled.  The rest of the room soon agreed with Worm.  He turned majestically to the sergeant.

 

“Then so it shall be, from this time forward, your job shall be pumping sewage for dens that still have septic systems that require pumping.  You shall only be allowed at dens that need someone to man the pumps.  Enjoy.  Squat, if you will please.  Thank you.”  Bait said then returned to the bench with Snow who smiled her approval.

 

“You haven’t got the authority…”  The sergeant started.

 

“Oh, I think you will find this order will stand.  Goodbye.”  Snow said as Squat and his lieutenants grabbed the guard and removed him.

 

Hovlek stepped from the crowd and strode loudly towards Corn Stalk and Sheriff Hanks who was brought with her, the forcibly turned. 

 

Reaching behind Corn Stalk he grasped the link of the silver shackles binding her.  Bait could hear the flesh of the man object to touching the metal.  He broke the link, then with a finger under one and two on top, pressed down causing the metal to break and he freed her from it.  He repeated this, growling louder as his flesh burned from the unholy touch.  The second shackle fell to the floor.  Corn Stalk stepped forward, then Hovlek reached down and picked up the shackles and flung them with all his might towards the back door of the room.  They imbedded into the teak wood door they struck.

 

“Your Grace…”  Worm said softly.

 

Bait held up a hand to her, quieting her.  “Not yet Worm.”

 

Bait stood from behind the bench, he looked down on Corn Stock, matriarch of clan Westbridge.

 

“Old friends, always welcome.  New ones, evermore.

Made of dignity and honor, this house stands.

Protectors we are.”

 

The room was still after Bait spoke.  He’d studied a lot of werewolf history.  And to learn their history, one would learn their customs and what held meaning to them.  Night Harvest was a bastard for doing this, but it had to be.  This was his method of teaching.  He was pushing his student, and trusting him at the same time.

 

It was often the little things that carried the greatest meaning to where-kind.  The simplest gesture of kindness, the smallest token of respect.  Like reciting the aphorism engraved above a noble clans door, when their matriarch is standing before you awaiting your judgment.  A symbol of honesty and trust.

 

“Now Worm.”  Bait said as Snow watched in silence.

 

Worm stood and moved in front of the bench, centered on it with Bait and Snow above her.

 

“Grand Lady Corn Stalk, matriarch of Clan Westbridge in the lineage of Clan of the Highland Citadel…”  She paused, there were no objections, “You have been sent to us by the Grand Inquisitor his Grace Lord Night Harvest, Clan of the Highland Citadel to be judged by Inquisitor Lord Bait of the House of Trust under the authority of the Grand Inquisitor Night Harvest of the Clan of the Highland Citadel to be judged for violation of werewolf law: forced turning.”

 

Worm took a sidestep towards where her station was then turned sideways to the bench, facing in towards the area below Snow and Bait and waited.

 

Bait smiled, covertly.  “Grand Lady Corn Stalk.  You have heard the charges, by our law I demand your answer.  Are these charges valid?”

 

“Bait…”  Snow whispered urgently.

 

He ignored her.

 

She looked out over the room, trying to gauge the reaction of her people.  Hovlek’s steel gaze grabbed her.  She rested back in her chair.  He was out of control, and her people were too willing to believe a fable and follow him.  Even Hovlek was on his side now.

 

“Yes your Grace, with contestation.”  Corn Stalk said crisp and clear with her head held firm, no wavering in her voice. 

 

Worm returned to her station.  The recording was automatic, she would type the verbatim transcripts later, at high speed.

 

Bait sat.  “Begin.”

 

Corn Stalk started by clearing her throat. 

 

“Ah, Duncan… I don’t know how to do this right, but, I think maybe I should start.”  Sheriff Hanks said.  Bait felt he didn’t look right without his uniform.

 

He nodded looking at the Sheriff.  “Alright, and Sheriff Hanks, I go by Bait now.  I’m a colonel here.”

 

The Sheriff nodded back.  “Yeah, so I’ve heard.”  He said glancing off in thought for a second then rubbing his hands together he stepped forward.

 

“This all started about two weeks ago now.  I was coming back from your town when I decided to make a drive by your old house.  I saw lights in that direction from the highway.”  The Sheriff paused a moment, his head cocked to one side as the memories ran through his mind.

 

His face was grave as he continued.  “I had no idea what I was going into.  When I saw several vehicles parked there, I radioed for backup.  Then like some damn rookie fool, I decided to move in for a closer look.  That’s when those bastards attacked me.”  Sheriff Hanks said ending his part of the story as he looked to Corn Stalk.  “I’d-a been a gonner if it wasn’t for her.”

 

A brief and faint smile crossed Corn Stalk’s lips.  “We had been keeping an eye on your place, I could say it was standard procedure, but it wasn’t.  You were gone, nothing left for the cruor combibo, no reason for them to return.  But, I thought they might.  I felt it.”

 

Corn Stalk looked down at her hands she held clasped in front of her.  She took a deep breath and looked back up at her judge.

 

“We had word that members of a coven were spotted at your house.  Not sure which one though.  We were observing them ourselves, why did they return?  I felt we needed to know.  That’s when the Sheriff’s headlights pulled down the road and stopped near your driveway.  That’s when things went sour fast.  A fight broke out, during which, I smelt fresh human.  I went to investigate, to protect as is my place.”  Corn Stalk dropped her head again.

 

“He was mortally wounded, still alive, ripped through the stomach.  Intestines on the ground, stomach and liver, beside.  He had only seconds to…”  Her face raised.  “He said to me, ‘help me’.  I have not freewill your Grace, no choice.  As I read our law, I am guilty as the day is long, but only of obeying our law, our way, not for violating it.  By design of Light, I am a protector.  The only way I could fulfill his dying request and my duty as protector was to turn him.”  She stood straight.  Arms at her sides.

 

“I have nothing more to say your Grace.  My judgment is yours.”  Corn Stalk concluded.

 

Bait moved his eyes to Sheriff Hanks.

 

“I ask you, Sheriff Hanks, did Lady Corn Stalk hear you correctly?”  He asked.

 

The Sheriff nodded.  “Yes sir, she did.”

 

“And do you find any fault with her for her act?”  Bait questioned.

 

“No sir, I do not.”  Sheriff Hanks answered.

 

Bait looked around the room.  “And her accusers?  Do they have anything to say on this matter?”  He announced to the room.

 

He waited a moment.  “Is there anyone here that will speak on behalf of the Clan of Clay on this matter?”

 

The room remained silent.

 

Bait stood and looked down on Corn Stalk.  “I have heard the facts.  I agree with your reading of our law.  Grand Lady Corn Stalk, matriarch of Clan Westbridge, I have weighed your information with that of Sheriff Thomas Hanks… of clan?”  He raised an eyebrow while looking between the two.

 

“I, ah, of clan Westbridge?”  The Sheriff said with a questioning look at Corn Stalk.

 

She smiled.  “Correct, of clan Westbridge.”

 

Bait nodded once.  “Good.  Sheriff Thomas Hanks of clan Westbridge, and find your act as justified and within our law.  Thank you and have a nice day.”  He ended and charged from the bench to where Corn Stalk was and pulled her into him,  hugging her good.

 

Werewolf justice was rather simple in one aspect.  Werewolves can’t lie.  Thomas Hanks didn’t care what help he received, at that moment of his life, he only wanted life.  And asked for it.

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

“Bait, can you stop for just a second?”  Snow asked as he darted around the quarters they now shared with Hovlek.

 

He hesitated a moment to look back at her.  “Nope, got a party to go to remember?”

 

Snow scoffed.  “Oh, now you have a party to go to.  I need to talk to you!”

 

Bait stopped and turned to her.  “Okay, shoot.”

 

She shook her head slightly.  “Lover, you can’t be passing judgment, what you did with Corn Stalk, you’re not the Inquisitor.  Just because you used a bedtime story to our advantage, doesn’t make it real.  You’re really stepping over the line here.”

 

He snorted.  “I didn’t step over any line, I was thrown, at ten minutes before sundown when some little rat of a werewolf, soaking wet, plopped herself on my doorstep.  As far as the legend goes, maybe you need to take a close look at what is going on around you, scratch up some of that faith all werewolves are stuffed with, and start acting your place, Trustee.”  Bait said with conviction then strode fast from Snow and left the room while she stammered objections.

 

“He did not just do that!”  She said to the empty room.  She stomped her feet and growled and snarled.  She did not just get schooled on faith by a human!

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

 

 

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