The Protectors
Author: Fox Wild

Chapter 20
Party Favors

 Chapter 20

 

Party Favors

 

 

The area Lord Frost’s former people cleared and cleaned worked perfect for the festival.  Areas where stalagmites of rock were left rising, the tops had been sawed off smooth and used for a practical purpose.  Several mirrored glitter balls dotted the mock sky above.  The domed roof quickly painted a dark navy blue then lined with lights to give the effect of stars. 

 

A large, very large, stage area was set up with a somewhat extravagant lighting layout.  Two large drum sets were erected back and left/right side stage.  In the center of the back stage larger kettle and steel drums were place in an arrangement that looked as though two people were to play them.  Microphone stands, instruments in stands, monitor and performance speakers, everything was there including the audience. 

 

The area in front of the stage and either side was already squirming with people.  ‘A grand bash’, that’s what everyone had been referring to this event as.  Bait had to admit, there sure was a lot of vigor put into this event.  He fully intended to attend, offset from the main activity, but near enough to be seen and a close walk to interact with.  People liked to talk at parties.

 

Worm waved to him as she passed with a food serving cart she was pushing along.  She would move to a table and set out what appeared to be place settings for snack food and glasses for the flourish of drink he was told would be served. 

 

The smÖ;;rgåsbord was to be grand he had also been told.  Worm wasn’t alone by any means.  There were quite a few people pushing dim-bi-tri carts and working fast.  Sea Mist had left them early for her ‘final rehearsal’ for tonight.  Now that certain members of clan Frost were here, she had her full band she had said.  Bait wondered if that was a good thing, or not.

 

A cannon fired near the stage announcing its report, filling the room with sound accompanied by a large shot of smoke that formed a perfect ring in the air above it.  He made his way to the front center of the stage where the command team and honored guests, such as Corn Stalk, were assembling. 

 

Once all were assembled, Squat quieted the crowd when he raised his hands from his sides, holding them palms out near his shoulders and motioning out from himself as though pushing against an invisible wall.  The ‘hushing’ movement ended, all eyes were to the stage and those assembled looking out elevated above the crowd before it.

 

Squat straightened his frame then bowed to the crowed.

 

“Good people of the low-lands, providence of our Irish and Hebrew mothers, bastions of the creation:” Squat unleashed the showman inside himself as his arms performed a ballet of grandiose choreography to tease and entice his audience who’s scents of bound up jubilation were fully aspirated into the air of the domed pseudo ballroom.  Hondigahl the Fork! Fallen has he!  He turned his attention and performance to Bait. 

 

This one… he has done this deed!  By his hand this noble human now a Lord in our house,” Squat turned his father’s direction, “accompanied by the fortitude of the hand of Trust himself!  He turned to the audience, urgency, they would not remain contained for much longer.  Squat’s voice became a rampant hushed, raspy loud whisper of suspense. 

 

He threw his hands above his head.  The Fork, he is no more!  His hands came from above his head, widened their distance between each other as they lowered until he held them out from himself as to take in the entirety of the crowd.  The moon is ours!  Make merry for the Light!  Show your honor for this victory of the Light!

 

There were no more words to be said, and had their been, they wouldn’t have been heard because the ballroom vibrated from the volume of the reply those in attendance gave. 

 

Seven and Silence hurried the hydraulic camera rigs that extended down from the ceiling around the crowd.  Though their broadcast of ‘Bash Command’, what their clan had been dubbed for the evening, would continue with the cameras moving around in a programmed but randomly arranged pattern, the effective broadcast was over. 

 

There would be too much merriment amongst the viewing audience for any attention to be paid to what was happening on a display.  After they made a few passes over the crowd Seven and Silence raised the rigs up to the ceiling, activated the automated pathing and descended to the floor on zip lines that ran along the curved ceiling until it met the floor near the back of the stage.  From here they would manage the lighting and sound equipment for the performances that would soon begin.

 

Bait made his way to his shelter.

 

-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-

 

A desk of mahogany and oak with a deep clear coating was set off to one side of the opening of the main stairs, the only actual stairs in the newest addition to the den… into a small alcove that would eventually be carved to make a balcony hallway that would circle the room.  This would be the top floor.  Tonight though, it would serve as Bait’s ‘visiting area’ and he had it decorated and equipped for just that, visiting.

 

Near the desk, a small table with a laptop open and on but turned so only he would be able to see the screen from the couch that was next to that and across from the stairs.  An antique electric lamp at the opposite end of the couch with another table for guests.  A small bar with a miniature refrigerator was placed similarly as the desk on the opposite side.

 

Snow was giving him a look while he showed her his setup after they escaped the stage.  She accused him of hiding out.  He pointed out he was hardly hiding considering the fact that he was elevated for clear viewing from almost any place in the room and he himself had a box seat view of the stage.  This is where you want to be if you want to be the center of attention at this bash lover.’ He had told her.

 

She eyeballed the room from the vantage point of where her mate would be sitting.  He would be the next focal point from the stage.  There was definitely no hiding for him here.  He had kept his word.  He was attending the party and making himself available to his people. 

 

“I guess we’ll take what we can get.”  She said flopping her arms at her sides with an ‘oh well’ expression. 

 

“Why don’t you sit up here with me, it’s a big couch.  People will come up to us, with the intent of dragging us down to the party and end up sitting down with us and spilling their stories.  Could learn a lot.”  Bait responded then pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her back and looking into her eyes.

 

She smiled.  “Tempting, I will for a little bit, I’ll come by and check on you once in a while, how’s that?”  Snow shook her head at him with a smirk.  “I couldn’t just sit up here, not tonight.  I’d be like a caged animal.  Honestly, seeing you sit here, not out getting wild, would drive me nuts.” 

 

He knew how she felt, humans were that way in their twenties… and despite her age, Snow was mentally like that, considering she was a werewolf.  It was in her blood.

 

“I know, go, cut loose party animal.  I’ll be fine, trust words, you don’t need to check in on me, I will have lots of company I assure you.”  Bait said as he released her then plopped onto the couch.

 

“Okay, but do come down from your perch and mingle once in a while?  Please?”  She pleaded.

 

He assured her again he would then she bounced from him and made her way to the stage where Sea Mist and many others were now onstage and running through some last minute audio checks and again debating their lineup.

 

-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 lights dimmed somewhat, the room wasn’t that brightly lit to begin with.  The stage went dark, Sea Mist took her position center stage, her bow-guitar in hand and dressed to entertain.

 

Lights up… Sea Mist now bathed in the blaze of light from the super troopers aimed at her stepped to her microphone. 

 

“Alright, to start things off, I’d like to dedicate this to my lover, Blade Dance, and our own beloved Bait who thinks I don’t know the words to this song and called me rock and roll’s step-child.  Step-child hell, I’m rock and roll’s ugly sister!”  She announced then stepped back from the mic and the band picked up a beat that brought a smile to Bait’s face.

 

Fats Domino’s intro to Blueberry Hill began.  To his amazement Sea Mist threw her voice pitch and did Fats’ voice so well if you closed your eyes you could see him singing.

 

I found my thrill… … … on Blueberry Hill… … …On Blueberry Hill…  … …when I found you… … …The moon stood still… … …on Blueberry Hill… … … and lingered until… … …my dream came true…  Sea belted out, her enjoyment of her performance blatant.

 

Bait looked over at Sam who was smiling and bobbing his head in time with the music as he sat on the couch with him.  Bait guffawed and shook his head then looked back to the stage.

 

“Gonna be an interesting night, isn’t it Bait.”  Sam said.

 

He could tell Sam was looking at him. 

 

“So what do you hope to accomplish tonight?”  Sam continued in his gravely wise voice.  “Just what are you going to do tonight Bait?”  He asked with a head nod.

 

Bait smiled and gave a light snort.  “Same thing we do every night Pinky,” he turned his head to Sam, “try and save the world.”  He ended again giving a light snort before looking back to the stage.

 

“…loves sweet melody…  Sea Mist sang.

 

Worm was making her way up the stairs, behind her Hovlek was passing through the crowd making his way to the stairs.  In her hands Worm was carrying a large basket which she unloaded some of the contents of into the small fridge at the bar.  Hovlek was about half way up the stairs when she came to Bait and handed him a bottle and an opener.

 

“Horny Goat Brew, Captain Rheineer told me to bring you one.”  She told him as she handed it to him.  Then she turned to Sam.  “Would you like anything Mr. Elliot sir?”  She chimed.

 

“No lil’ darlin, I’m good, thank you.”  He said with a smile patting her on the head.

 

Bait’s eyes snapped wide.  Worm turned leaving the basket next to Bait and started to walk away as Hovlek arrived with a grunt and a head nod.

 

“The child sees.  Bait will understand.  Hmm, Hovlek sees Bait find way to be at party but not be at party.  Bright boy.”  He said with an un-approving look.

 

Bait smiled at him.  “Worm, she…”  Hovlek cut him off.

 

“The child sees.  Yes.  Like Oracle, but not as dim.  Oracles, different.  Some of our kind… they see that which is hidden to most.  It is the wolf inside us that enables this sight.”  Hovlek grunted as he thought for a moment and sat on the couch to talk with Bait.

 

‘Our first catch of the night.’  Bait thought to himself with an inward smile.

 

“Most learn to stay silent.  Were-kind, especially on our side of the water, they make these of us to be freaks among us.  Call them insane.  Hmm, Hovlek keeps his mouth shut, so does little girl.  Except around those that little girl trusts.  Something to Bait this should mean.”  Hovlek looked at him.

 

She had seen Sam.  He was a figment of his imagination, she was seeing his thoughts?  Seeing what?  He shook his head.

 

“Hmm, Hovlek knows what you are thinking, hmm, yes.  You question this seeing Hovlek speaks of.  What is it those that see, see?  Hovlek will tell Bait, not all that you with your eyes see is all there is to be seen.  As so it is not all that Bait experiences is Bait’s experience alone.  Hmm, no, Bait, his life is woven into lives of others.  It is, yes.  Bait is becoming to understand, accept his position he has, though, Hovlek knows, Bait not fond of this.”  The compact mass of wise-guy said then gave a few moments for his words to settle.

 

“Bait, he touches other worlds.”  Hovlek pointed to Bait’s left arm.  “Bait knows this to be true.  Deny he cannot.  This man you see.  He represents good to you, yes.  Sam Elliot, his rolls, this is what you see, and why you see him.  In Roadhouse, You Know My Name, though from two different sides of lines, both men of honor, solid.  Both stand on ground for good.”  Hovlek explained.

 

Bait shook his head as he thought.  “Yeah, maybe.  When he was Marshak he was one of the bad guys.”

 

Hovlek grunted and gave a knowing grin.  “Was he now.  Hovlek ask Bait, how did Marshak end?”

 

Bait stared off considering the movie he had reference in an attempt to counter Hovlek’s logic.  He sighed long.  “On the right side of the line.  He paid his penance and helped the person working from that side the entire time, undermining the criminal he worked for.”  Bait answered.

 

Hovlek grunted.

 

He looked back to the stage, Sea Mist announced they were going to knock it up a few notches and worked into The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz.  He watched his sister-in-law as she truly enjoyed herself on stage.  She was at home there, so were those with her.  He considered werewolf-kind briefly as he thought.  Most would be at home on stage, but not Hovlek.  He was cut from different cloth.

 

Bait put his face in his hands.  Thoughts rolled around his head.  Voices from the past danced in and out of the churn of his mind.  “So tell me, how is it a bishop such as yourself Hovlek, becomes such a warrior known as the Hammer Fist?  What’s your tale?”  He directed.

 

Hovlek snorted hard.  “Hovlek… hmm, Hovlek just Hovlek.”  He said with an embarrassed expression.  “Not much to tell.”

 

The crowd was howling, dancing, playing, in all a mess of fun for all.  Spray from water cannons flew in the air.  Cream pie of some flavor connected with a face.  Beer and wine flowed, food devoured.  Bait had the feeling things would devolve at some point, most parties did. 

 

“Where is your mate at Hovlek?”  He asked.

 

Perspective.  It plays an important roll in the answers to the questions asked.  From one perspective you may get no answer or information that is useless.  However with a subtle change and relocation of the perspective asked from, you can reap a bountiful harvest of information.

 

The feeling of the ‘room’ around them changed. 

 

“A mate, Hovlek does not have.”  Hovlek said as his head sagged over his lap.

 

Bait looked over at his friend.  “Oh?  How is it that a mate, Hovlek does not have?”  He returned.

 

His chest rolled large as Hovlek inhaled deep to prepare for the story he was about to tell, and to brace for the emotions behind.

 

“Hovlek’s father, bishop.  Like father before he, alpha first born, and a bishop.  Hovlek also first born alpha and to be bishop of clan.  Hovlek wanted this, was Hovlek’s choice to follow father and good bishop be for clan he lead.”  Hovlek’s eyes became distant and his head raised as he spoke.

 

“It was time, across the water, Hovlek chosen by Sagiena, ah such a maiden she, fair of skin, a doves eyes, voice of song bird.  Much joy to Hovlek’s spirit Sagiena bring.  Hovlek good with plants, grow things, big plants and abundance.  Hovlek have gift of grow.  Hovlek’s father praise Hovlek on his talent.”  His face held a smile from times past as his mind traveled back.

 

His voice took on a proud tone.  “Good for clans Hovlek’s father say that Hovlek start own clan to be garden clan.  Food for clans we grow at clan Hovlek.  That was father’s intention for Hovlek, Hovlek, he like idea, work with father.  Father tell Hovlek that Hovlek build den for clan before mating of Sagiena who’s name means the fragrance of the sage in the field when it blooms.”  From his smile  Bait could tell he could see her face, hear her voice and the scent of sage in bloom filled his nostrils. 

 

“Sagiena.”  Hovlek said then the wistful look fell from his face.  He looked at Bait for a moment then continued.

 

“Hovlek was in Hovlek’s ninety-second year, to be mated following spring when Hovlek start building den.  We worked hard, build small living area Hovlek and friends could live and work from to build formal den, proper den for Hovlek’s mate.  Sagiena come from noble line, Hovlek, not so.  Good for Hovlek’s kin.”

 

Bait watched as Hovlek changed with his story, his face and movements conveying his emotions.

 

“Soon Sagiena move to small den start place to live with Hovlek and friends in rooms Hovlek build special for Sagiena.  This would be home together after mated.  Wall between Hovlek and Sagiena come down, make one big home for us.  Hovlek very happy.  Sagiena build gardens, growing beautifully.  Sagiena have gift like Hovlek when Hovlek teach Sagiena what Hovlek do that works.”

 

Hovlek’s voice changed, it held a chill now.

 

“Ground, not consecrated, not hallowed yet.  Not like humans, creation.  When they pray, power in their words there is, the Light listens.  With single word, hallowed ground human can make, not so for werepeople.  Months of incantation Hovlek must perform to be hallowed ground made.  Hovlek go out to corners of property in the mornings to do this.  It was fine day, Sagiena she comes with Hovlek this morning.  With Hovlek Sagiena goes so collect Sagiena can spores from mushrooms, very special mushroom so Sagiena could grow in tunnels for mushrooms, built Sagiena had, she could do this.”

 

Hovlek’s eyes brightened.  His cheeks pulled up as fond memories wafted through the depths of the man.

 

“These mushrooms, Morel’s, so good they are!  Cook them, their own gravy they make!  With Brussels sprouts in butter and onions cooked!”  Hovlek had become giddy as he spoke.  “Ah Sagiena would make such meals from Morel’s.  Good days for Hovlek then.”

 

Bait watched as the happy washed from Hovlek’s face, replaced by the dead look of loss in a moment.

 

“It was during this time, not fighters Hovlek’s people, farmers all, while away we were, vampires, they had discovered us, Hovlek thinks by accident when traveling to hole they hide from Light in.  Still hour before cracking of light in dawn.  Always start consecration facing morning sun on first rise.”  Hovlek sighed.

 

“The noise we heard far out where we were.  Running to the den we returned.  To late to be of aid, in time to watch what friends Hovlek have remaining die.  Too badly wounded, Hovlek try, save them.  Hovlek failed.  Hovlek failed friends, Hovlek failed intended.”

 

Tears fell from gallant face of this ambrosia of warrior.

 

“Sagiena retract offer of mating with Hovlek.  Tell Hovlek Sagiena not able to stand sight of Hovlek’s face.  Call Hovlek weak.  Say she needs to be with man who can keep Sagiena and family, den, safe.  Tell Hovlek she make offer to a man of battle.  A noble man.  Hovlek go back to Hovlek’s dead den.  Clean up, pack den away.”

 

Bait could feel the pain in the heart of Hovlek.  Inside he wilted.

 

“Find father’s shield father had given to Hovlek when ground breaking for Hovlek’s den was held.  Shield broken, split in two halves.  Hovlek also find forge that was gift from Hovlek’s uncle for start of den.  Though clan Hovlek not combat clan, Hovlek’s uncle insist every den needs a forge.  All that remained of Hovlek’s den, broken shield of father, and forge of uncle.”

 

He held for a while, composing himself and wrestling with his memories.  “Hovlek take and go into woods deep where no werewolf or human bother Hovlek in his shame.  Hovlek’s tears fuel forge while Hovlek take broken shield of father’s den gift and use uncle’s gift of forge to make Hovlek’s weapon.”  Hovlek stopped.

 

They sat quiet.  Minutes passed.

 

“Hovlek never stand as bishop again.  Atone for his failures Hovlek tries, never satisfied Hovlek’s daemons.”  He said as he leaned back sitting up in the couch. 

 

Again they sat several minutes quietly.

 

Bait looked over at Hovlek, a question evident on his lips.  “Hovlek.”

 

“Hm?”  He grunted from his fog of thought.

 

“If I may, I’d like your permission to read your personnel file.”  Bait asked.

 

Hovlek’s face moved through several expressions of consideration as he rolled over what was asked of him.  He began with his usual grunt.  “Bait has Hovlek’s file, if to read it Bait wants, then read it silly Bait.  Need of Hovlek’s permission, there is none.”  He chortled when he finished with a look at Bait.

 

A soft smile breezed onto Bait’s face as he looked back at his friend.  “When you’ve been training young ones as long as you have Hovlek, a certain amount of respect is earned.”  He said and nodded his head lightly.

 

Hovlek’s face broke with a smile that filled it.  “Ahh!  This that you say about Hovlek, this Hovlek’s heart makes feel large!”  He responded loudly and with a boisterous laugh.  “If to read of Hovlek Bait so desires, then Hovlek’s permission Bait have my Grace.  But, with Hovlek first Bait go.  To the party with Hovlek, see people, talk with them”

 

Bait smiled back at him and waved at him with a hand.  “No, no Hovlek, Bait will stay here, to Bait the party will come.  I assure you, with people I will most assuredly be speaking all night.”  He answered jocularly.

 

Hovlek reached over and lightly smacked Bait on the shoulder.  “So, this is big plan eh?  Bait sits up here, people come to Bait and talk?  And does Bait actually think this will work for him?  Eh?”  He posed as he shook Bait’s shoulder some.

 

A half smile curved onto Bait’s face and he chuckled.  “Yes Hovlek, Bait thinks this will work better than expected.  As a matter of fact… me chum, you’re my first catch of the day.”  He smiled smugly.

 

Hovlek snorted, his face was a display of challenge to Bait’s logic and the realization of being bested on that front.  “Eh, so Bait say, Bait expect it to work better than Bait expected, then, wouldn’t that make it what Bait expected, would not expecting better make… ah forget it.  Hovlek, he go bring you beer from sister’s den.  WeiBoing makes most excellent brew of wolf, Bait love.  Hovlek return.  Eventually.”  He belly laughed and stood.

 

Bait tittered as he watched the awkward antics of Hovlek as he attempted a graceful exit.

 

“Youngest sister, much younger than Hovlek.  Forty kegs of the stuff WeiBoing send to clan.”  Hovlek rambled as he made his way to the stairs and waved a hand back at Bait as he went.  “Hovlek wish Bait good luck in fishing hole here.”  He followed with as he clomped down the stairs and into the crowd.

 

“Now there goes … an interesting fellow.”  Sam commented.

 

-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-

 

Sea Mist was prancing around on stage getting the already riled up audience riled up more.  Confetti cannons fired filling the air with a confetti shower, fragmented.  Seven rigged them with BGB’s help.  It seems she ‘might ‘ave gotten a bit excited I mights ‘ave’ as she commented after the first volley that showered the audience, she however made no effort to adjust any of the other cannons before they fired. 

 

Bait tried to figure out the song Sea and the band of misfits was leading into, he knew he had heard it before.  Only, he knew the radio version and Sea Mist, naturally, knew the studio version which began with a line explaining Paper Lace’s The Night Chicago Died about a mother worried about a father in a riot who was a cop.

 

Sea was now singing words to a beat he recognized.  Small realizations always wanted to click in his mind.  Even the most obscure trivial ones.  His father had helped him focus his skills. 

 

He was thinking what a ham Sea Mist was on stage when a head started up the stairs to him.  Another visitor.  A man from clan Squat, his mate managed the den and he worked with Squat training on their techniques. 

 

Bait listened as he talked about how he and his wife, until Worm and her father hitched up with them that is, were the only mated members of the clan that were not both involved in missions with the teams in the field.  He assured Bait though that situation would soon be changing, because of the arrival of Frost’s artists.

 

Though he didn’t see any useful information revealed, he was willing to accept fruitful conversations with the ‘not so much’ ones.  He enjoyed his time with the man.  It was relaxing time, sitting here on this over stuffed, make you want to nap, sofa.

 

The man, who never did actually get to his introduction, they weren’t exactly being formal, never got the chance as into the room from the main tunnel in, Lord Floyd walked centered between Lord Mort and Lord snZm.  Each ahead of their respective Lord.  The room and performance ceased so abruptly Bait swore he felt the earth shudder. 

 

As they proceeded along a makeshift path through people towards where Bait sat, he became aware of a presence next to him.  Snow had magically appeared next to him, clearly a hurried werewolf run up to him from the look on her face as she looked towards the precession approaching them. 

 

They stopped about ten feet shy of the end of the stairs Bait was using as his ‘bash office’ as he called it.  His personal counter to ‘bash command’.  Lord Floyd stepped out from the others and Snow and Bait went to stand at the head of the stairs.

 

“I am Lord Floyd patriarch of House Trust your Graces, I present the governor of our clans, his Grace, Lord Leyland Clan of the Moors, Exalted Master of Clans.”  Lord Floyd announced then stepped to one side, turned around and stepped briskly to his lord, turn around again and stood beside his lord as he presented him.  Lord Leyland took a step forward.

 

Lord Mort stepped up next.  “I am Lord Mort your Graces, House Mort, I present to you my liege, Grand Inquisitor of all clans, Governor of the lineage of Clan of the Highland Citadel, Night Harvest the Judiciary.”  Mort said bold and loud then did as Lord Floyd had done.

 

Last up to bat was the ever invisible Lord snZm.  The man has a name with no vowels.  A name from deep in the history of his people, those being bishops.  He is the head of the houses for the Bishop’s clans, and seldom speaks or is seen outside of his castle-den.  snZm stepped forward. 

 

His voice echoed through the chamber though he spoke in a whisper.  “Your Graces,”  he bowed to them and clasped his hands over his heart.  “Lord snZm, House Hyden.”  He bowed again then stepped back to his Lord and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “I present, Hyden, governor Clan Hyden, The Great Teacher, Supreme Bishop of Clans.”  snZm smiled as his Lord took his step forward.

 

Snow quickly moved behind Bait to get on his left where she belonged.  She shot a quick nervous look at her mate, he read her fast.

 

“Welcome to Clan Squat of the Noble House of Trust, none of our kind shall ever be turned away.  Your Lordships, your Graces, join with us and dine, make with us merriment in this time of good.  You grace us with your company, please allow us to share with you our companionship.”  Bait had studied customs, because he wanted to, there was more to his knowledge than simply learning by coincidence.  He took a keen interest especially in greetings. 

 

Bait could feel his mate’s smile that she hid.

 

Lord Leyland stepped forward.  Looking at him, one could easily accept him as Hovlek’s younger brother.  The walk of the men, the rounded chests of muscle, bulging arms and gruff appearance, very similar.  Even their eyes seemed to hold a family resemblance.  The persona incarnate of a true warrior, with the heart of a preacher.

 

“Noble Lord Bait, you honor us, thank you.  Please forgive our unannounced intrusion of your festival bash.”  Lord Leyland said humbly, then bowed with an outstretched right arm, with his left across his waist. 

 

Bait smiled.  “Family can never intrude.”  He said then turned his smile to Snow.

 

Bait closed his eyes and sighed.  Snow froze in place as though time had suddenly stopped.  A stream of water was well over half arch in the air coming from somewhere among the nearly twenty thousand people filling the domed top of the new commons and housing addition with what looked would be, perfect aim.

 

Lord Leyland raised an eyebrow and cocked his head slightly as he looked at the faces at the top of the short run of stairs.  Clearly questioning the odd looks.  His other eyebrow raised.  His conclusion, accurate, timing, late. 

 

Water struck the Exalted Master of Clans at his right shoulder.  Now, a three foot stream of water was about half a gallon if fired at maximum capacity, this shot most certainly was.  Bait did some quick math based on the distance from the base of the stairs as point of origin, which was considerable, the arch would add distance… this wasn’t a Gallagher show, he had no plastic film.

 

Drenched, all six Lords at the base of the stairs were exactly that.  Those near them on the sides forming the path were also drenched.  He and Snow, they received a light mist and the toes of their shoes splashed, but the laptop, lamp and fridge were safe and the sofa dry. 

 

Snow and Bait looked at each other, first both with slack jaws and gaping mouths.  While the left side of Bait’s face pulled up in some manner of smile, Snow remained as she was as they looked back towards their wet guests.  Snow felt doom enter the room.

 

Lord Leyland was snapping his arms towards the ground in an attempt to escape some of the water in his clothes.  The others behind him were making similar efforts.  Twitch pushed out from the side of the pathway of people near the end of the stairs and waved up at them, primarily at Snow, with the smile of a twelve year old at a water park on a hundred degree day.

 

“Oh SHIT!”  Snow ejected harshly.

 

Bait started laughing.  “Gonna be a good day Tater!”  He rolled.

 

Snow almost looked at him after he said this, but she couldn’t break her eyes from what was transpiring thirty feet in front of her.

 

Lord Leyland was using his hands now to remove water running from his hair and beard while Twitch shadow-stepped directly in front of him, lemon meringue pie in hand.  She wanted to yell at him to try and stop him but she couldn’t.

 

Lord Leyland’s hands came down, his eyes caught Twitch, then flicked to what he held in his hand.  His eyes flashed, his face twisted with rage.

 

“Forgive me my Lord.”  Twitch said with a somewhat high pitched and meek voice for him.

 

After a facial and single handed gesture of shrugging, Twitch planted the pie firmly in the face of the Exalted Master of Clans.  The thwap-sploof sound of the pie was easily heard from where Bait and Snow stood.  Meringue flew at the others behind him, though they tried to turn from the flying bits of pie lofting towards them, most only were able to avert the pie spray to their backs. 

 

Twitch stepped back and the pie tin fell to the floor with a muffled ‘thup’ sound.  The bulky arms of Lord Leyland moved, his hand went to his face and he cleared pie from his glaring eyes.

 

Bait looked at Twitch.  Usually when one hits a person with a pie, they move.  Considering Twitch’s standing within clans, gone is what would have been expected he would be.  He was kneeling in front of Lord Leyland, straight backed.  He stood his ground, did not run, and was facing whatever would be directed at him, but then again, it wasn’t like a Calvary scout to be a coward.

 

Lord Leyland removed more pie flinging it at the ground as he did.  Then he looked at Twitch.  His head moved ever so slightly as his lips pulled in and out like he was talking with his mouth closed, but there was no sound Bait could pick up.  Then he thrust his arms high in the air, his head back with his mouth wide and roared, again bearing a resemblance to his weapons master.

 

He noticed two distinct differences in werewolf roars, now that he was hearing the second.  Hovlek’s, the first he had heard, was a charge to battle.  Lord Leyland had lived among were-kind longer than any here along with his comrades.  He was expecting something along this lines before he dressed this morning.  This roar was spirited and a cry of victory.

 

He turned from them and yelled towards the stage some fifty feet from Bait’s perch.  “You there, girl, girl?”  Sea Mist turned to face him better. 

 

“Ah yes you there girl… aye, ah do whatever it is you do.  Play something, make music.  You look like blonde ah… just play something!”  Lord Leyland bellowed flapping his hands around his head as he put together his thoughts. 

 

Night Harvest smiled tight lipped looking up at Bait.  He looked at his suit coat with a streak of lemon filling across it then back to Bait as he turned and walked into the crowd of people who were starting to return to ‘making merriment’, Hyden and the other Lords followed suit and dispersed into the crowd.

 

Bait looked at Snow.  “Lover, breathe.”  He said to her worried freaked out face, rather red as she was holding her breath.

 

“Oh shit!  Thank you so much.  I… I didn’t know what to say.”  She said fully flustered.

 

He went and sat on the sofa and reached a hand to her in a silent request she join him.  She pushed his hand aside with a smirk and plopped down beside him.  He did have a nice vantage of both stage and floor and was quite on display.

 

“Maybe you should hang out with me here, just for a little bit.  You know, both of us, together, casual, talking with our people.”  He looked at her for a moment.  Her face was still a mix of thoughts.  “You know, you are going to have to get used to one or two of them just dropping in.  Given our… I don’t know... jobs doesn’t sound right.  You need to make up your mind Snow, get off the fence.  You see what’s happening around you, you’ve been bred, trained for this your entire life.  Buck up and accept it; I had too.”  Bait said to her. 

 

His voice wasn’t harsh or unkind in anyway.  Just a blunt statement of fact as he viewed it.  She had no words to reply with.  Twice now he had schooled her in faith and werewolf responsibility.  Her eyes flashed at him and she stood fast.  She looked into the crowd and strode three steps at a time down the short loft and disappeared in the mess of people as Sea Mist began another song.

 

-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 watched the people.  Wet clothes were quickly discarded and exchanged for Bribis sandals, so named after their designer.  There wasn’t anything special about them by simple appearance.  Bait looked at his feet and the sandals. 

 

Bribis’s mate had picky feet, in short, most footwear she said was uncomfortable for her; she was with child.  With her help they built a soul and cushion that gave feet a happy home; sandals design for air to keep feet dry. 

 

They quickly made their way to other dens and into infamy as the chosen non-work footwear around dens world wide.  Werewolves had a way of meeting their needs from simple events.  The thought brought a smile to Bait’s face, not unlike many human inventions, like the band-aid.

 

“Thinkin’ again are we?”  Sam said from beside him.  “You can get in trouble doing that.”

 

Bait nodded as he watched the antics on the floor.  “I know what I need to know, I just need to put it together in the right order.  There’s a lot here thats hidden.  Hidden in plain sight.  I need to find the right… facet to look from.  Focus my direction right.”  He said distantly as he watched.

 

“Uh-huh.”  Came from Sam. 

 

Bait watched as Fairuza’s face emerged from the crowd and started up the stairs.  He smiled.  He did enjoy some figments of his imagination.  She smiled back, not showing any teeth.  Still a beautiful smile.  As she took her final step to him, she favored him with her brilliant rail of teeth. 

 

She sat on the arm of the couch next to him.  Fairuza locked her eyes with him, then turned her gaze slowly from him out to the floor.  Bait followed her attention, Snow was in a small break in people. 

 

She looked back to him, her face soft now.  “She doesn’t have freewill, you know this Bait.”  Fairuza said then blinked slow.  “Snippy comments don’t help… as much as demonstration.  Be blunt, just don’t be sharp old man.  Show her, then point it out.  Help her to make her choice.”  She ran a hand over his head starting at his hairline on his forehead. 

 

Standing Fairuza looked down at Bait and shot him a large smile again.  “You’re doing fine.  Just use what you have.”  She said then turned and walked back down the stairs.

 

Bait admired the view as she left, all the way down the stairs and into the crowd.

 

“Use what I have… what do I have?  A collection of misfits, nut jobs, and discarded souls that act like college kids on spring break.”  Bait said with a disgusted look as he watched the debauchery occurring. 

 

“Maybe your perspective is wrong.  Ever consider that?”  Sam asked.

 

Bait looked at Sam, his brow furrowed as he tried to fathom what use what he was witnessing was in the battles yet to come. 

 

Sam chuckled with a half cocked smile.  “Always go with your strong suits, your father used to say that.”  He said.

 

Bait looked across the mass of movement below him.  What was the strong suit among these people?  He was working on redirecting his perspective as Twitch made his way up the soapstone stairs.  Here was another odd shaped puzzle piece, Twitch. 

 

Once a man of notoriety, now a shell of what he used to be, a collection of disorientated thoughts and actions.  He didn’t know why he did the things he did, he just did what he felt he should.  He was a hype, Baby was too, but which way had it gone?  Had he been the one to take her with him?  Or was she the hype that was his downfall.  Bait looked over at the display of his laptop.

 

Hype:  A condition of insanity with no known cure.

Contagion:  Afflicts mate upon consummation. 

 

Condition of insanity manifests itself in one of two forms.  Complete immersion in career and work with complete lack of normal mood and personality changes.  Typically only useful in human services.  Classified as undesirable.

 

Second manifestation of condition is of opposite effect of previous resulting in same lack of mood and personality changes only resulting in lunacy.  Subjects will be rendered completely useless for any productive means.  Commitment to asylum recommended.

 

See:  Madness.

 

“What’s on your mind Twitch.”  Bait asked in a comical tone.

 

What was the common denominator here?  This nut job squirrel chaser.  This showman?  Madness.  Insanity.  Was there a common denominator there?  Blade Dance was a hype.  Sea, was unaffected.  Or apparently so.  Snow had warned of changes that were to happen, but she herself had not noticed any changes that would indicate insanity.  What changes had occurred, were growth.  Snow agreed fully with that.  Who else was squirrel bait?  Or would it be easier to count who wasn’t?

 

“Aye, not my mind, yours.  What’s on yours is the issue, right?  It’s just my turn.”  He said then reached over and smacked Sam on the arm somewhat abruptly.  “Scoot down mate, give some room eh.”  He said.

 

Sam scooted over and Twitch sat.

 

He looked out at the view Bait had from his roost.  He laughed and pointed at people, no one in particular, just whoever caught his attention at the moment.  There was no sense to his thoughts, no order in anything he did, he was chaos in every aspect. 

 

“That Sea Mist, there’s a nice piece of ass eh mate?”  Twitch blurbed.

 

Bait looked at him.  “Yes.”  He answered.

 

He watched Twitch while he undressed Sea Mist with his eyes.  After several moments Twitch twitched his attention at Bait and back to Sea Mist, then to Bait with a slightly longer hold of attention on him then back to Sea Mist.  After another moment he looked back to Bait, he jaw slacked and he gave a quick look to Sea Mist then returned to Bait and this time, maintained eye contact. 

 

“What?  You can’t tell me you wouldn’t bounce with that if’n you could?”  Twitch said in a voice with just a hint of a guilty edge.

 

Bait shook his head.  “No, I wouldn’t.” 

 

Twitch looked over the face of stone before him, the eyes of conviction.  He snorted.  “Easy for you mate.  Me… aye, I’m just a shit.”  Twitch said, looking away and at the crowd again when he paused.

 

“I was under the impression werewolves couldn’t cheat on their mates.”  Bait said as he watched the crowd with Twitch.  Time to find an avenue to get this legend to speak freely from his own rambled thoughts.  Insanity or madness.  It made a difference.

 

Twitch guffawed after a short moment.  “The females, they can’t.  Us men mate, we can run the fields of human women all the day long, all the night long.  But our ladies, they’re held to a higher standard.  Penalty of death for violation.  Harsh just for getting laid, but them's the rules.  Like em or not.  Aye, can’t say I really cheated on Baby.  Every time, her face, only one I see.”  He shot a look at Bait.  “They don’t know when I’m callin em baby, I’m callin’ them Baby.  Yeah know what I mean, don’t you?”  Twitch’s face was an honest and confused question.

 

Oddly enough, Bait did know what he meant, Duncan understood.  Not from personal experience directly, but from his interaction and relationships with people both with American agencies, and foreign.  Not always allies.  Looming uncertainties in his line of work affected people differently. 

 

“Wasn’t always like that you know.  Something happened.  Something did.”  Twitch said after he looked back to the crowd below.  He sighed, looked clear.  “Everything changed, and I don’t know why.”  He looked lost.

 

Bait cocked his head back, away from Twitch and looked him over, how he held his shoulders, the bend of his neck, even the movements of his breathing. 

 

“What happened?”  Bait asked directly.

 

Shaking his head lightly Twitch flapped his hands once.  “Don’t know chum, don’t… can’t.  Can’t remember.”  Making a clawed hand with his fingers he gestured rashly at the side of his head.  “It’s in here, someplace… I just can’t…”  He yelled in anger at his own mind, “It won’t let me see!”  Twitch scoffed.  His face twitched, a smile came to it, not of amusement, an oddly timed crazy smile. 

 

“Look at the tits on that one would you.  Now them's some goodies.  I’d give those a squirt, good pearl necklace.”  Twitch abruptly ejected with a point at one of the naked human forms on the floor which was a mix of clothed and nude people as well as many wolves playing and pouncing around the room. 

 

“Now I tell you chum,”  Twitch went on with a shoulder nudge into Bait, “if this was a vampire soiree there’d be a dick in her.” He laughed hard. “Shit, there’d be several!”  He nudged Bait hard again laughing like a lunatic.

 

They watched the people below for a few moments.  Twitch would laugh monotone to himself as Bait surveyed him with his peripheral vision. 

 

“A lot of similarities between us, humans too.”  He looked at Bait and read the question.  “Vampires, this would be entirely different, even if it looked the same from a distance.  Intention with perspective.  Here, pure fun, with the others, in the dark, fun, only a dark price, empty without fulfillment.  Desires dampened only to flair, never quenched.” 

 

Twitch had a moment of clarity.  Short lived though, he vibrated his body then the odd laugh returned.  “Aye, it’s better than an asylum here!”  He said then bounced on the couch to the music.

 

Bait reached over, closed the laptop and pulled two stiff pages from under it.  He dropped them face down in Twitch’s lap when he paused his movements.  His face froze as he looked over at Bait, then down to his lap.

 

With a loopy look of comprehension, he reached for the pages, turning them over and looking at them.  He laughed oddly somewhat.  He recognized the face, it was his, but it wasn’t.  The picture was wrong, even though accurate.  Why?

 

“Care to tell me about this?”  Bait asked coldly. 

 

Twitch’s head shook, his mouth hung open slightly as he looked at the picture. 

 

“Why were you there?”  Bait asked.

 

Twitch continued his lost look and shaking his head.  “I can’t.”  He said slowly.

 

Bait looked angry.  “I am not allowing silence, tell me.  It doesn’t matter who ordered you to keep quiet, I out rank them, and if you’re not satisfied with that, I have a full-house of Lords you won’t question.”  He chomped with authority.

 

Twitch’s head still shook, his face still lost.  “It’s not like that your Grace… I just can’t, I want too, I can’t because I can’t remember.  It’s there, I just can’t see it… it won’t let me grab on and remember.”

 

Madness.

 

Twitch’s voice carried with it, fear.  What would a werewolf fear?  What would cut them off from their rational mind?  See Madness.  Bait had read the entries on this as well.  if lifted from them and the burden removed, sanity may return. 

 

“All I know your Grace, that’s not me.”  Twitch said sincerely.

 

Werewolves can’t lie, not even mad ones.

 

They looked off at the crowd again.  Sea Mist had taken backstage to other performers who were doing lead vocals for their song selections.  With everyone carrying their water cannons on their person as ordered, there was ample water being used on the floor.  Carts with pies of a variety of flavors all in a cream or pudding type filling were paced in their delivery to the floor for use. 

 

Blade Dance had set up his trebuchet at the appropriate size for chucking watermelons at another across the room in werewolf form with an over sized bat.  He swung on the approaching melon, connected and sent a spray of fruit across the crowd nearest him. 

 

“Tell me about these asylums.  Werewolves have asylums?”  Bait asked then looked at Twitch.

 

Several moments passed before Twitch turned his attention from the bash and answered.  “Which ones?  The Clay’s or the other ones?”  He asked.

 

Bait made a facial shrug.  “I don’t know, what’s the difference?”  He dug.

 

Twitch scoffed and waved his hands.  “Plenty, oh bother, them Clay ones, surprises me they can ‘aves them on hallowed ground, like this place.  Can’t ‘ave it there.”  Twitch paused a moment and looked off.

 

A smile twitched onto his face as he mused.

 

“Now, the Westbridge’s, now their asylums’, good times there me mate, nice places.  You get good head rest there.  People who listen to you.  No arguing, nothing like human shrinkers, no.  Listener’s, that’s what be their job.  That’s what they do, listen to you.”  He looked happy now. 

 

“Good place to go… get your head right you know.  Now the Westbridge’s, theys gots like fifteen, maybe twenty of ‘em.  Largest one hold about fifty, smallest for good relax time is eleven.  Used to be ten, they let nurses handle more now.  No doctor on all the time so an office was made for another bed instead.  That’s where you go when you’re really messed up mate.  Aye, there it’s one to one.  Someone always with you, at your side.  Real caring folk there.  All.  Not like humans, they actually want to help ya and do.  But the Clay… the Clay.”  Twitch faded off.

 

Bait watched, and waited.  There was something off about the Clay’s.  He had found Alexander’s coven.  Found it too early.  Pieces fell into place as needed.  By importance.  He needed to move his focus and direction away from Alexander and his coven.  His proof would come when he answered other questions.  The problem he faced now was finding the questions.

 

He wasn’t sure what Twitch’s part was in this, but there was more here.  He had already raised many questions for the sleuth, but there was much more he felt.  Something pinnacle maybe?  Time would tell, Twitch moved again, time to listen.

 

“You know, you can’t have a prison on hallowed ground?”  He said absent mindedly.  “This place, not hallowed.”  He looked off again.  “Prisons are places of suffering.  Can’t have one on hallowed ground.  Can’t.”  He was distant again, memories?

 

Bait said nothing, remained motionless, his full attention on Twitch.

 

“Now, the Clays, they have these ‘rest dens’, they are for the ‘right blood’ only, not for just anyone.  These are places like the asylums of other dens and clans, but their dens for the ‘emotionally and mentally disturbed’, those...”

 

Twitch’s face became troubled, trepidation in his eyes.  He was still, the random jerks of his body stopped.   Don’t see how they can ‘ave those on any form of hallowed ground with what they do to people there.  Locked in a dark cell, deep in the ground, pain to either side and across from you up and down the row.”  He looked across the way to the tunnel that led in from the original den.  “Like that place, a tomb.”

 

A tomb.  Why a tomb?

 

X marks the spot.

 

Fairuza has my marbles.

 

“What made you mad, what took you from William Cody to Twitch?”  Bait asked bluntly as he looked at the legendary showman, Calvary scout… pony express rider.

 

The hammer connected with the proverbial nails head.  What remained to be seen was if this was a good thing or something Bait didn’t want.  Twitch’s face contorted in anguish.  His skin reddened as his lips twisted in fierce emotion.  His hands went to either side of his head and he screamed grabbing at his hair and pulling it from his scalp.

 

Twitch stood suddenly.  “I’d do it again!  I would!  I tell you I would!  They called me blasphemous, condemned me!  I wasn’t wrong, I wasn’t and I’d do it again!”  He raged.

 

Bait opened his mouth to try and consol him, but whatever he had tapped was under too much pressure and force.  Twitch slipped into the shadows and was gone. 

 

Bait caught sight of him as he appeared near the tunnel.  His face was racked with daemons as he looked back into the room then at the tunnel.  He didn’t want to go back into the prison.  He forced himself, into the shadows again and he was gone.

 

-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 party had started well ahead of sunset, night now had a solid grip on the world.  Tonight though, there seemed to be no effect on those around Bait, all were very much jocular party kids.  Even the oldest, Hovlek, was caught up in fun and frolic. 

 

Bait had no shortage of visitors.  Almost all tried to get him down from his perch into the main field of play at the bash, mingle and dance!  Drink!  ‘Merriment is afoot lad, come down and tip a few with us!’ one particularly inviting fellow insisted.  After several go-arounds with the man trying to convince him he was missing the best bash ever, the man finally relented.  He had come with a small group, another man and three women who were relatives of the two men that were visiting for the bash. 

 

The conversation was light and their duties never mentioned.  All had put the dark places of their world away for the night.  There wasn’t much of interest to Bait from the conversation from a gleaning useful information stand point.  Mostly discussion of family and fun times the people had spent together over the decades.

 

There was something he might delve into deeper, a small point of interest.  During conversation of traveling between dens for work, one of the women commented she was glad her nephew was working at a legitimate clan den instead of unrecognized dens as he had been for much too long.  There was little money in working for unofficial dens, and no recognition towards ones trade or profession. 

 

The bulk of Lord Leyland started up the stairs, the man’s face red from smiling and laughing.  His formal clothes now gone replaced by the robe-cloth of a toga.  Lord Mort would be pleased.  The conversation turn to ‘mwaa mwaa mwaa’ sounds in the back of his mind as he looked over the crowd. 

 

Ssebasteon was at a table engaged in some form of werewolf drinking game with Mud, Worm and three of Squat’s shadow-steppers.  Bait raised an eyebrow as the young girl raised a mug of beer to her lips.  Apparently the drinking age for werewolves was different also. 

 

Speaking of Lord Mort, he was also in a toga, and sprawled out on a Greek styled lounge with two girls fanning him with leaves of a palm plant relieved from one of the many that grew around the original den.  Werewolves did seem to keep a lot of plants around.  “We like the green.  Livens it up in here.”  Snow said with a shrug as she looked around when he commented on it once at a den they were at.  Another girl was popping grapes into his mouth when he turned towards her and opened it.  A boy was filling his wine goblet.  

 

Mort was in his glory. 

 

The young ones would do whatever they could to keep the man stationary and telling his stories.  The gathering of young ones around him was steadily growing, some fighting for a turn to attend the man so they could ask questions and hear more from him. 

 

snZm was with Lord Hyden off on their own.  Hyden was quite drunk now, and snZm looked like Bait felt, as though he’d rather be working than attending a party.  He said something to his Lord as Bait’s eyes scanned across the room pausing on them. 

 

Hyden appeared to dislike whatever was said and waved a drunken hand at him over the shoulder snZm was speaking from.  With a face of fruitless effort snZm moved back to a table, with a glum look he sat and looked around at the people.  That left Lord Leyland.

 

The others with Bait greeted the Lord upon his arrival at the top of the stairs.  Comments followed by laughter and slaps on shoulders and arms were exchanged between the small crowd standing in front of the sofa. 

 

“… and you your Grace, sitting up here in a lofty place.”  Lord Leyland continued saying directing his attention from the woman he was talking with to Bait as the focus of his statement abruptly changed. 

 

That seemed to be their cue to leave.  One said they needed to get back, others were waiting for them, and would surly miss them, the others quickly agreed.  Then, they were off down the stairs and soon lost in the mess on the main floor.  Two wolves bound up from the side of the rise of un-carved stone on one side of his perch.  They stopped and looked between Lord Leyland and Bait then clearly seeing they wanted to be alone, darted down the stairs barking and yipping as they went.

 

Lord Leyland snorted.  “The joy of youth.”  He said then took a step towards the couch and sat down. 

 

He chuckled mildly as he looked out across the crazy time everyone was having.  His eyes smiled as he watched.  Seeing him close up and in a casual setting Bait could see the age in the man’s eyes and face.  The years he wore in every line and crease.  Their leader was pleased to see his people enjoying themselves. 

 

“It is well that they have time for this merriment.  It is truly well for them, and for you.”  He said after several moments, continuing to watch.  “A spring that is kept tightly coiled, never allowed time to relax, to return to normal, becomes set in that way, loses force, becomes weak.  You, my good sir, you understand this.”

 

They watched the people for a few moments before Lord Leyland spoke again.

 

“That bastard Ssebasteon, he could use some time with his springs relaxed.  Hard lot his.  I just have to lead these people, he has to judge them.  I pity him for that… and you.  Not a kind place to be.  Having to look another person in the eyes and pass judgment on them.  Every time I’m a part of it, I hate it, but that is my lot.  The hand you dispense justice with, should always be your own.”

 

“…should always be your own.” Bait recited along.

 

The two men looked at each other. 

 

“My father always used to say that, he picked it up from his father.”  Bait explained.

 

Leyland smile.  “An old saying, many have spoken it over time.  Some as rulers, some as those under rulers in ridicule.  You will find my friend, these are an easy people to lead.  Our laws are simple, justice swift.  Speak the facts, the why.  If you understood a law incorrectly, you are corrected.  If a penance is required, you pay it.  There is no freewill, only choices when offered.”

 

“Isn’t that one in the same, freewill and choices?”  Bait asked.

 

Lord Leyland grunted and shook his head.  “Not hardly.  You can make a choice, only when one is available.  Freewill is like a permanent choice in every situation.” 

 

Leyland cocked his head to the side and mused.  “For example, you get caught between two men.  One has a briefcase full of money obtained from an illegal means.  The other has a gun and is robbing him.  You have options.  You can help the man with the gun, help the man with the money or kill them both and take the money for your own.  You could do nothing.  These are the human choices, freewill.  Now a werewolf wouldn’t have any of those options, only one.  Destroy the gun and destroy the money.  With the two temptations removed, the two men are left with the only reasonable option of walking away from each other.”

 

Bait sat thinking for a few moments, Lord Leyland didn’t interfere with this process.   “Then they attack you.”  Bait said blindly as he thought, not looking at Leyland yet.

 

A snort.  “You are a werewolf.  You take off, no problem outrunning humans.”  He retorted with a shrug.

 

“Then they attack each other, brass knuckles, knives, take your pick.”  Bait argued back.

 

“Turn around, yell, change into a werewolf, roar.  They run opposite directions from one another as they flee from you.  It was a dark alley, who would tell about seeing such a thing?  They would be treated like people who claim abduction by aliens from space-land.”  He chortled as he looked at the face of his debate adversary. 

 

“Checkmate friend.  You do only as you are allowed.  No freewill, no choices.  Protect.  End of story.  That is what any human who joins us must take on, they surrender freewill.  For these people among us I have great respect, theirs is the greatest sacrifice made to protect.”  Lord Leyland sighed.

 

His eyes walked over the heads and faces he could see.  Lord Mort having eaten his fill of grapes and tired of being hit with a palm frond had ordered the leaves removed and all to sit and pay attention.  His hands waved in front of him as he painted his images in their minds of potters clay awaiting shaping and molding.

 

At any gathering of any size, be he on land or in a pool, it always went the same.  Mort would sip wine and weave tales to the young ones, that’s what he did at his own parties, and anyone else’s.

 

“Lord Mort.  He is the third generation of alpha.  His great grandfather led the house before him.  Lord Floyd, he sits at the head of the high table of House Trust for me.  His father, like he, a first born alpha, but not a patriarch.  Nineteen other generations grew between patriarch Nellz of House Trust and patriarch Floyd of House Trust.  Very friendly his line is with their mates.”  Lord Leyland said with a gravely laugh and a snort.

 

There was a mood change in the Monarch of were-kind as he brought his face Bait’s direction.  His eyes were settled and heavy.

 

“When these men became the heads of our houses, we had many more people then, our numbers were growing.  But now, we have scant few of what we had then.  Vampires, they have grown by leaps and bounds.  They, Alexander primarily, don’t realize how outnumbered they have us.  Someone will, not Alexander, but one of those bastards will.”

 

“Then they will rally their forces, we won’t be able to leave hallowed ground, humans would be enslaved.  Then they could take their time to open the portal without our interference.  End of the creation.  We simply do not have the forces to counter them if that happened.  Cutting their numbers down is something that needs to be a focus; after Alexander is stopped.”

 

Numbers.  Bait had definitely been digging into many kinds of those.  He was quite aware of the numbers of losses.  They had been exponential over the last twenty years.  Even before then, werewolf numbers were on the decline.  Their growth had not kept up with loss for several hundred years.

 

He nodded in agreement but said nothing.

 

Leyland watched the crowd again.  Idle small talk was exchanged between the two of them for nearly ten minutes, then silence fell again and the two sat watching the antics of the bash attendees.

 

-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-

 

Snow caught sight of her mate on the sofa with Lord Leyland and started towards them. He just noticed her now as she came out from the crowd that kept a clear cul-de-sac area about ten foot in diameter at the bottom of the stairs.  She was up to them in a pounce and caught Lord Leyland by surprise.

 

Lord Leyland looked at her and paused for a moment.  He decided to continue.

 

Nodding his head at her then looking at Bait said, “Are you going to offer your partner a place to sit or are you going to be a rude little bitch?”  Then he slid down a touch on the couch to make room for her as he reached to his throat and touched the pickup stuck there.  His lips moved as he quietly asked someone to bring in the bag.

 

Then he turned back and looked between the two of them and went on.  “It’s good you’re here too Madelyn, I guess this concerns you the most.”  Implication lingered in his deep voice. 

 

She didn’t know what to think, bring the bag, a bag that ‘concerned her the most’ apparently.  She shuddered inside wondering what buried relic of her past was about to resurface.  What would she have to account for now?

 

Lord Leyland’s attention darted from them to a moving parting in the crowd, one of Lord Leyland’s Astute Guard clearly visible in the Royal Purple leather armor that was of the same design as Hovlek’s.  In his right hand he carried a large duffel bag. 

 

He looked to have no problem accessing his nighttime personality.  He strode evenly across the expanse of the room.  He didn’t run, but his walk was very fast as he covered the acres of distance.  It wasn’t too long, over a minute or so, and he was at the base of the stairs, two steps at a time up and he was before Lord Leyland with a bowed head.

 

“Your Grace.”  He said then extended his right arm and loosed his hold on the strap handles of the bag letting it drop to the ground before his liege. 

 

“Thank you Commodore, dismissed.  Attend the party, bring the rest, all of you, and by all I mean all, Hyden’s people and Ssebasteon’s as well.  There is wine to be drunk, a grand bash this is!  Get out of here, lose those duds and mingle!”  He gleefully gave his order.

 

The man nodded, snapped to attention and saluted.  Then a smile broke on his face as he bowed first to Snow then to Bait.  He turned and was down the stairs as fast as he had come up them then crossing the room.  Leyland was a man who practiced what he preached.

 

“Now, to this business.”  He said with a foot nudge at the bag, which wiggled.  “You, out of there.  Show yourself and the dishonor of your kind.  Show your face!”  He snarled at the end.

 

The bag wiggled more, a faint grunt came from it, Bait thought it sounded feminine.  The end of the zipper with the small handle jiggled then moved down an inch.  A finger popped out, looking very feminine, and hooked out over the operating part of the zipper and slid it down the length fully.  Hands emerged and parted the bag and a dark cloaked figure rose from the duffle.

 

Both looked in aghast faces as Shyhon looked at them with wide white eyes, her mouth sewn shut in tight stitches that allowed not even the slightest opening.

 

Leyland’s face was full of contempt for her when he spoke.  “The punishment for her failing.  Bishop law is what she is governed by.  It is the nature of her kind to lack discretion,”  He looked harshly at Shyhon, “They run their frelling mouths too much about things they should keep them shut about, things they see and hear.  Out of time she spoke!  Hyden did as the law commanded.  It was his place.”

 

Shyhon nodded fast in her agreement with her Lord.

 

Bait stood with a look back at Snow’s horrified face.  Both from what was done to Shyhon, and the fact she was here.  “Squat, front and center now, step up here.”  He called out quietly over the radio.  A second later Squat came from the shadows in front of them and bowed to Lord Leyland.

 

“Your Grace.”  He said with his bow  to Lord Leyland, then stood straight and looked at Colonel Bait.

 

“Sir.”  He said and waited.

 

Bait looked at Shyhon and pointed at her.  “Take this and throw it in the oubliette that Twitch was in.  Don’t be nice about it, do exactly as I said and pitch her ass in and lock the door.”  He said then sat down on the couch and looked away.

 

Squat went to Shyhon and grabbed her by an arm and began escorting her away.

 

Bait’s harsh voice came again.  “In the morning, fifteen minutes before the break of dawn, extract her from the oubliette and have her kneel in the front yard facing the rising sun as it breaks.”  He further ordered.

 

Squat looked back with an affirming nod then escorted her away.

 

-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-

 

Lord Leyland spoke with them for a few minutes, mostly wishing them well on further mission and how pleased the brass was with their successes.  No further mention of Shyhon was made.  Lord Leyland was in far to festive of a mood to linger on that subject or with them in the boring Bait loft.

 

Leyland made his ado’s and left the two of them together.  As he descended the stairs, he looked back at Snow with an empty expression, then finished the stairs and vanished in the crowd below.  She didn’t see this though, she had her head back on the sofa with her eyes closed for a moment.

 

“Three little fishies in and itty-bitty pool.”  Bait muttered as he looked around the floor show.

 

Snow chuckled softly.

 

“Well, since that sorta broke the ice, I do need a ‘business’ moment with you.”  She said a touch stand-offish and raising her head to face him. 

 

Bait’s cheek twitched as he contained a smile.  “Shoot lover, what’s on your mind.”  He opened.

 

Snow moaned as she started.  “Ah, well, you know, it’s not me, you were right about one thing, people do like to talk at parties.  And… several members of the kitchen staff talked to me about their fighting and doing kitchen duty… with the help of the field crews.” 

 

She put a hand on his leg.  “It’s not working out well, the people are very stressed and it seems having the field staff helping the kitchen staff, is more of a problem then anything.  And the food has sucked; you have to have noticed.”

 

Bait wriggled his nose.  His head started nodding. 

 

“There has been other complaints, support staff from every department.  They are already stretched thin in numbers, then having to do their regular jobs and combat duty, it’s not working out good lover.”  She said with concern in her voice.

 

Bait nodded.  He had noticed a general change in the attitudes around the den.  People snapping at each other and apologizing for it over simple issues that they never would have normally.

 

It was a game of numbers.  Pieces were falling into place.  “Tell me about these asylums werewolves have.”  He opened fire with.

 

Snow blinked hard, her eyebrows shot up and down fast once as the grasp of the sudden question that was from extremely far off her radar was asked.

 

“I… ah… well, just… where did you hear about those?”  She asked suspiciously.

 

“Twitch talked about them.  Westbridge verses Clay asylums.”  He pushed at her.

 

Snow fumbled with her hands in her lap and stared at them for a moment.  Taking a breath she let it out with a ‘ssshhh’ sound and looked up slightly but not at her mate.

 

“There is no comparison really.  Westbridge has real asylums.  What Clay clan has is… a manner of prison.  They really show the differences between the clans.  Westbridge isn’t embarrassed when one of their own needs help.  After the battle of Blood Night, it was insisted I spend a week at Hashmir.  They had a nine hole golf course there, I learned how to play… kind of.”  She said with a smile. 

 

Then her face fell.  “At a Westbridge asylum, you are sad when you have to leave.  No one ever leaves a Clay asylum.”

 

Bait waited a bit before his next question.

 

“What are these asylums?  Do you have hospital like buildings out in the country someplace?”  He asked calmingly.

 

Snow mused a second.  “No, well some are like that in a way.  They are like small dens, part of the main den only away from it, owned by the den that built it.  Most are fairly small.  Clan Strong Oak has over fifty such places around them.  All hold only four or five people with three staff.  One does all the cooking and cleaning; the other two see to the needs of their visitors.  Clan Westbridge has larger more formal places but still rather small.  Clay’s are all large and full.  No one is ever seen outside of the asylum.  No one walks the grounds except guards.  I have never seen the inside of one, nor want too.”

 

“So, who goes there?  You went because you were told to go.  What about the others?  Are they sent there too?”  He questioned further.

 

Snow smiled.  “Ah, you are such a bugger.  We don’t just lose it.  Some are sent out of concern.  Our life as protector can be very stressful.  We deal with shit on a daily basis that would freak anyone out.  Sometimes you need a break and someplace you can forget about things or let things out someplace… safe.” 

 

Bait nodded.  “Twitch mentioned the Clay’s have other places they send people, ‘rest dens’ he called them.”

 

Snow nodded.  “Club Clay, like Club Med but only for the elite of clan Clay.  That is where they send their upper crust when they need a vacation.  In most clans you get two weeks vacation, one paid, one unpaid that you escrow money for.  Clay’s don’t do that.  Westbridge for example, you go into an asylum and typically the prognosis is a week of vacation.”

 

“You and your mate get a week at a private resort owned at some point by werewolves.  Your clan pays for it, your mate and entire family go, you come back, and carry on.  Sometimes all you need is a few days at the asylum and your back to yourself.  Clay reserves that for their favored members not for everyone like other clans.”

 

Bait was starting to see a pattern here.

 

“Why is Worm allowed to drink?  I know I’m not hip on every werewolf custom, law or what have you, but letting a twelve year old drink?”  He punched out.

 

Snow chortled as she looked at him.  “She’s a werewolf remember sparky, she’s not of age yet, alcohol has zero effect on her.  Nothing, nadda none.  It goes in and several seconds later you will see her skin shimmer a little, you have to be quick, and it’s gone.  It’s like you have a permanent cleansing incantation going when you’re a young one.”

 

“Cleansing incantation?”  He queried back.

 

“Yes, whenever we want we can cast cleanse, and we are clean, sober, nothing in the blood but blood.”  She answered.

 

Bait nodded more.  “And, in answer to your question, I understand and agree.  Back the support staff off.” 

 

Snow looked at her mate.  “Lover, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I like it.”  She said as she read that familiar look on his face that said he was about to rattle some cages.

 

Sea Mist was finishing another song with her band mates.  Once completed she placed her guitar in its stand and took her shirt of and twisted it up pressing the sweat from it. 

 

She stepped to the microphone again.  “I’m taking a break, you’re a great crowd!  Creadon’s taking over for me here, with an old Drifters tune, under the boardwalk.”  Sea Mist said then escaped the stage from the side opposite where Bait roosted.  The man she introduced started playing his instrument.

 

“Well, that’s her first set, I’m going to run and find her.”  Snow said rising from the couch.

 

Bait nodded and leaned with her to meet for a quick kiss then she left him to his fishing hole.

 

-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-

 

“Now what?”  Bait said loudly but was lost much past his alcove of space as klaxons began blaring from the tunnel into the original den.  His memory told him a front door alert again, human on the property.

 

Bait grabbed his laptop and opened it.  Clicking through a few icons he brought up a list of monitors from the security hub and looked out to see the cause of the alarm.

 

Security was tracking a white female approximately five foot seven a hundred thirty pounds blonde hair just past her shoulders and large glasses, late twenties early thirties.  The first though from the image was a librarian.

 

She was walking around the yard looking in all directions and pushing up on her glasses constantly.  At her chest with both hands and her elbows tucked in she clutched a thick bound book.  She froze in place as a very intense light blazed onto her. 

 

First she shielded her eyes, a second later she started looking around, up.  Bait assumed someone was speaking to her via a public address system of some design.  He was looking at what the security main terminal was locked into.  He saw images off to the side, but couldn’t move the camera view.  He thought he picked up uniforms from werewolf troops. 

 

Bait reached to his neck and touched the pickup there.  “Squat, give me something here.”  He said over a private com to him.

 

He looked up and at the crowd.  There was a lull in the activity to about half throttle.  People were looking around, some had moved off to the original den.  Still others seemed to be thinking about it.

 

“Squat Colonel, I… I don’t know how to explain.”  He finally answered.

 

“Find a way.  You know this woman?”  Bait blasted back.

 

There was a long pause.

 

“Colonel, may I speak to you in person?”  He asked in a curious nervous voice.

 

Bait hesitated a moment.  He tapped at his radio.  “Snow.”  He waited.

 

“Snow here, over.”  Came her voice.

 

“My perch please.”  He responded.

 

“On it.”  She called back.

 

Brother and sister arrived nearly at the same time, Squat was a ways away and shadow-stepped in, Snow was already in the crowd, winning at drinking, but was clear now. 

 

“Blonde girl in the yard, Squat here knows her, said he wanted to talk in person.  Called you.”  Bait rattled off.  “Take it from there Commodore.”  He finished looking at Squat and flipping a hand at him.

 

He tittered nervously.  “Colonels… I don’t know where to begin, yes I know her.  Her name is Penelope Jordan.  She’s… a historian or something like that.  Works for a university, research grants fund her operations.”  He looked around and rubbed his face.

 

Squat’s eyes flicked to his sister and back to Bait.  “I first encountered her about ten twelve years ago.  She had found some writings someplace that she believed were scribing of a language of some breed of lycanthropes, werewolves specifically.  The last time was shortly before I started rebuilding this den and making it ready to be an actual den.”

 

Bait interjected a question.  “Did you do any consecration incantations on the property before you moved in?”

 

“No.”  Squat answered as a puzzled look filled his taunt face.  “Why would we?  They don’t wear off.  I don’t understand the question sir.”

 

Bait made a noise and waved a hand.  “Never mind, continue.”

 

“The last time I encountered her, this would have been the fifth time I had involvement with her, she came to me asking me to tell her about my life as a werewolf.  She was very direct, it was hard to evade her questions.  I got her to talk some, tell me what she thought she knew.”  He looked sheepishly at his commanders.

 

Clearing his throat he continued as both stared at him with driving looks, waiting.  “Right he muttered, took a deep breath and continued.

 

“She said she believed vampires were real, the result of what she translated as a cataclysmic rupture.  Which I guess would be a fair translation of the great fracture.  She said that these vampire bartered for human souls, and that a being put protectors in place to keep the harvesters of the night at bay and help humanity survive.  She said werewolves were these protectors, that they weren’t savage hunters of flesh.  She had a book, leather bound, she has it with her now.  It’s written in Toamin, an ancient forgotten language used by sages of old to record our history.”  He paused and looked around the floor while he pinched at his lips. 

 

Their eyes were still locked on him.  Squat threw his head back and exhaled hard then inhaled through his nose in one long draw.

 

“The book is by Mevrah the scholar.  It contains his vision analysis and interpretation exhaustive of the legend of the new foundation.  He only made one, the Council of High Elders that first viewed the book ordered it sealed and sent to the Order of Bishops.  They ordered the book destroyed, but before they could do so, it vanished.  It’s more than just his accounting, there is all his proof.  There are maps and premonitions.  A discerning person with a knowledge of languages and structure would be able to figure out how to read what is in that book, the frelling thing has a primer on how to read the writings.”  He looked embarrassed now.

 

He held his hands up near his waist for a moment, uttered a sound of exasperation then finished.  “I tried to buy the book from her, handed her a wad of cash, she refused and ran.  She is convinced that I am the leader of the werewolves.  She swore she would find our lair and join us to save humanity.  She made some strange squeaky noises as she ran.”  Squat sighed again and looked between his commanders.

 

Bait looked at the monitor of his laptop again.  Two guards were on either side of the woman, holding automatic weapons.  She looked terrified, and about as dangerous as a bunny.  Suddenly his eyes flashed.  Half of Snow’s face lifted in the start of a smile.

 

“Okay, before you do it, what is it?”  She asked.

 

He shot her a large smile as he turned his attention to Squat, Snow followed suit.

 

“What?!”  He ejected.

 

We need to start fixing these number problems.  Bait thought to Snow.

 

She raised a worried eyebrow as she watched Squat’s rampant face.

 

Bait’s face broke into a sudden smile.  “Squat, I want you to go out there and tell her everything she has figured out is accurate.  Then ask her if she wants proof you are a werewolf.  If she says yes, take her into the den house and prove it to her, change.  If she doesn’t die of a heart attack on the spot, recruit her.”  said he told him.

 

Squat blinked fast, his jaw slacked.  “W… w… say what?  Recruit her?  Are you serious mate?”  He stammered and asked with several quick looks at Snow.

 

Are you sure about this?  He received from Snow.

 

Nope, just going with my gut here.  She received back.

 

Snow nodded fast and added her support.  “Yes, he’s serious, so am I.  You have your orders Commodore, recruit that woman.  You said she wants to join our fight.  It’s her freewill.  Why are you still here Commodore?”

 

The klaxons quieted.  The crowd erupted into a cheer. 

 

Squat snapped a salute and with one turn-back before he left, went off to follow his orders.

 

They were watching the monitor, Squat had just become visible near the young woman when Night Harvest sauntered up the stairs.  He came to where they were watching on the laptop and looked at the monitor himself as the face of the woman ran a gambit of emotions as Squat talked to her. 

 

The ends of his mouth pulled down and he gave an approving nod as he took in what the small display showed him.  “Penelope, good call.  About time we got her off the streets.”  He said then turned and started to walk away.

 

“Ssebasteon…”  Bait called after him.

 

He stopped and turned at the waist and looked back at him.

 

“Nice suit.”  Bait said with a cocky smirk.

 

Night Harvest’s body rocked from the silent patronizing chuckle he gave, then he returned to face down the stairs and walked away from them. 

 

“Do you really have to goad the man like that?”  Sam asked from the far end of the couch.

 

Snow snapped her head towards the sound of the voice.  Her eyes went wide and her face tightened.  Her head snapped forward, eyes still wide, jaw line tight.  She saw her mate flinch slightly as he looked at her.  Impossible!

 

“You can see him can't you?  You do, you see him!”  Bait chirped.

 

Sam chuckled.

 

Snow was rigid.

 

Bait put the laptop back on the small stand near him then leaned into Snow and spoke in her ear as she gawked at Sam.  “Look me in the eyes and tell me you can't see him.”  He said with a smirk.

 

She exhaled in a rasp.  “NO!  I am not seeing Sam Elliot!  I am not seeing this!  You are not dragging me into your delusions!”  She said hard and fast in a raised volume and pitch while closing her eyes and turning away from Sam.

 

Sam reached over and tapped Snow on the shoulder.  As though it pained her to do so, she slowly rotated her neck and looked at him.  He waggled his mustache up and down with a movement of his lip at the sides causing it to rock back and forth on his face at her.  His eyes flared.

 

“Boo.”  He said in a gentle voice.

 

Snow looked forward again with the same expression she started with.

 

Bait chortled.  “It doesn’t do any good to fight it, you just have to go with the flow.  Welcome to my mind.  Please keep your hands inside the cart at all times.  Enjoy the show.”  He said taking on a game-show voice.

 

“Inconceivable!”  Snow ejected.

 

Bait raised a hand with a pointed finger aiming up as he opened his mouth to speak.

 

“Don’t you dare, how can I see your vision?”  She said turning fully to him and leveling her own pointed finger at him with a stern face.

 

“Not a clue lover, but if you’re feeling like you’ve lost your marbles, wait around until Fairuza shows up, she’s probably found them.”  He said with a flippant smirk at her.

 

Sam spoke drawing her attention again.  “That’s why they’re called visions, not dreams miss.  Dreams aren’t real, visions are.  Visions are links between worlds.  The danger lurks in how strong that link is.”  Sam made a small hand gesture at Bait. 

 

“Now your mate here, he’s fully accepted the choice he’s made.  He’s using what’s his to use.  You still haven’t made a choice yet.  Times a wasting.  Need to make up your mind.  Legend or fable.”  He said to Snow in a serious tone.

 

Sam stood up from the wooden bench the three of them sat on outside of the old west saloon.  Snow looked around.  It was an old cow town, she remembered seeing small towns that were similar when she was a small girl.  The humans had what they called a depression.  She looked back at Sam.

 

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check in at the sheriff’s office now that I’m in town.”  He said, now wearing clothes appropriate for the time and his roll as a federal marshal for some territory.

 

Snow turned to look at Bait with a face of wonderment.  The sounds of the bash returned to her ears, though she still had the taste of a dusty street in her mouth.

 

-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-

 

“You understand you will lose your freewill, you will be held to werewolf law.”  Squat was telling Penelope as she stood with Bait and Snow at his loft.  “You will not be able to act on your own, make decisions freely.  You will be directed from inside as to how you are to act.  You will spend the first ten years of your life with us studying our ways and adapting to our society before you are allowed to present yourself in the human world again.  You will have to leave your human life behind, your loved ones and friends.” 

 

Mud, Sea Mist and Worm were escorting a pleasantly smiling Hyden up the stairs.

 

she found a way to finagle her way in again  Bait told Snow’s mind.

 

did you honestly think she wouldn’t?  She asked rhetorically.

 

maybe if everyone else didn’t keep involving her…  He posed.

 

lover, they’re just following your lead  She responded.

 

He could feel her look mentally.  “Wonderful.”  He said aloud somewhat muffled but with a clear note of irony. 

 

Hyden smiled at them.  His escorts took places beside Snow and Bait where they could find room. 

 

“Lord Bait.”  Hyden said with a soothing voice.  He nodded with a half bow to him then he looked with a slightly larger smile at Snow then turned to the woman who was willing to join werewolf kind. 

 

He placed his open left palm on her forehead, a soft blue light came from where the two people’s skin met and both their heads went back with their eyes closed.  It lasted but a second and a half, then Hyden removed his hand from her and faced Bait again.

 

“Lord Bait, Inquisitor of the House of the Highland Citadel, this is your decision, I can tell you, her mind is clear, she understands and accepts what is to become of her.”  With that he turned and walked from them and back down to the crowd then merged into the mix.

 

Bait shrugged.  “I guess you’re in.”  He said not sure of what to do next.  He looked over at Snow hoping she would take over from there.

 

They all looked from one to the other, making their rounds in turn looking to the next.  Worm watched as they looked between themselves, ever smiling. 

 

Squat cleared his throat and put a pointed index finger against his lips, gave a couple taps with the finger then looked to the people near him.  “Who does the turning?  A female should do it.”

 

They started the looking around to each other again.

 

“Sea Mist, she should do it.”  Worm deduced from some rail of her logic track.  She smiled as the adults looked at each other and shrugged this time around.

 

“I’m good with it.”  Bait said.

 

Sea Mist’s face was a twist of questioning.  “Why me squirt?”  She said looking to Worm but not focusing on her.

 

Worm shrugged then held her palms out beside her face at her shoulders, “I don’t know, just felt right, like you should.”  She answered.

 

Snow nodded and made an approving face.  “Can’t argue with that logic, I’m good with it too.”  She added in support of her mate.

 

Mud: “Me too.”

 

Squat: “Sure, why not, they’re both blondes.”

 

Sea Mist made a face at her brother.  “What’s that got to do with anything?  She’s flat chested, have Snow do it.”  Sea Mist retorted at him with a sour face.

 

“Hey!  I’m right here!”  Penelope complained loudly.

 

Sea Mist looked over at her.  “Well, makes about as much sense as because we’re both blonde!”  She argued to her.  “I’m trying to defend you here, work with me okay?”

 

Penelope pushed her glasses up, raised an eyebrow at Sea Mist which caused her glasses to drop again and her to push them back up.  “Stop defending me!  I’m not flat chested.”  She responded in a distressed voice.

 

Sea Mist stuck her chest out and placed a hand under each of her breasts cradling them then rocked them alternately up and down while looking down at them.  “Oh yeah?  Check out these bad girls I’m packin’.  Both of yours wouldn’t make up one of mine…”

 

“Enough!”  Bait yelled.  The two women backed from each other having closed in some when they were conversing enthusiastically.

 

All eyes went to him.

 

He cleared his throat and looked around with a wry smile.  “Sea Mist, I am choosing you because you’re very cute and Worm felt you were the right choice.  No one objects so the honor is yours.  Now, if we can put your boobs behind us, please welcome this fine young woman into our family.”

 

She nodded meekly then her face pinched a bit as a thought hit her.

 

“Which family is she joining?  Yours or Squat’s?”  She posed.

 

Snow looked at her mate, sensing her attention he looked at her with a smile then returned to Sea Mist and took two steps towards her and put an outstretched hand near her crest.

 

“I would say my sweet sister, you turn into the clan you represent.”  He informed her with a kind smile and a voice of wisdom.

 

Sea Mist nodded slowly with a blank face at first, then her head speed picked up and she smiled loosely.  She turned to Penelope and went to stand immediately in front of her.  “This will sting a bit, never done this before, well just with my mate.  Welcome to House Trust.”  Sea Mist said then in a flash before Penelope could react, extended her fangs and lunged at the woman’s open shoulder near her neck.

 

Sea Mist’s fangs went fully into Penelope’s flesh, her mouth shot open along with her eyes. Bait watched as in the blink of an eye her eyes became the eyes of a wolf.  She inhaled suddenly and Sea Mist released her.  Her knees buckled and Penelope went down to the floor kneeling.  She started breathing fast, her respirations short and hard.  Her head shot back and up then she howled out.  When she stopped her cry, she slumped forward, her head and arms limp as she knelt.

 

Her arms twitched, a smile broke on her face as she raised her head and looked around the room.  She blinked, then again.  Images were blurry.  Her eyes burned, she blinked more, faster.  Reaching to her face she removed her glasses.  Her vision was clear.  She could smell the people around her.  Slowly she stood, Sea Mist extended a hand to her.

 

She looked around more at the people around her.  She felt good inside.  She had no one, now she felt that had been taken from her and replace with… family. 

 

Bait was smiling at her when her eyes moved to him.  “There’s a hell of a bash going on here.  Why don’t you let Sea Mist here and the others show you around and introduce you to some people.  You’ll love Hovlek.  He’s one silver tongued devil.  Charm your socks off.”  He told the woman who stood several inches shorter than she had before.

 

His visitors closed in around Penelope, all caught up in the excitement of a new member of the family.  They ushered her off and down to the frolic of the night.  Snow remained by his side.

 

“What?”  He asked as she stood motionless smiling at him.

 

She shook her head and looked to her feet for a moment before looking back and answering.  “You amaze me.  How you come up with these ideas and just… do it.  You really did a good thing here.  You made this party better.”  She smiled again then went to his side and stretched in, kissing him on the cheek.

 

Snow turned still smiling and glided to the stairs and down as Bait looked after her with his own smile and his eyes on her bottom.

 

-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-

 

Lord Leyland had said it, Bait had already been thinking it.  Why?  That was the obvious question, however the important one was what to do about it, how to fix the situation.  Again, Occam’s Razor fell into play, the simplest explanation is the most probable answer or solution.  Numbers were declining among werewolf den populations, mostly in the states but worldwide all dens were smaller.

 

This was partly due to the effective cessation of any recruiting of humans outside of the ones needed for mating.  In days of old a quarter to a third of growth of a clan was through recruitment.  There was a drastic reduction in the number of children werewolves were having, smaller batches he thought as the amount of multiple kids in a season of pregnancy had shrunk.  Three to five had been common, now less  pregnancies and with one pup, two if you were lucky.

 

He liked his setup with Snow.  It seemed their telepathy had no deterioration over distance.  They would test this a bit further at some point.

 

Behind the couch in the back rough recess of his alcove sat a large wooden box with a normal room door off center to one side.  Bait was emerging from it after another bout of puking.  Seven’s version of a portable restroom and hot tub.  The box was actually divided in half inside, the other side having the front wall drop open to give a view out from the hot tub inside.

 

He was adjusting himself on the sofa getting comfortable again as he thought about the portable shit & bath house as he did this, clearly not thinking about not thinking.

 

you have a hot tub up there, unused, and you have failed to mention this to me, why?  Snow questioned in his mind.

 

There was this here control issue he seemed to have.  Now he would have company, whether he wanted it or not.

 

the point was so you could mingle…’  Snow was answering his thought. 

 

Corn Stalk’s head was coming up the stairs, Worm at her side.  Both of his ladies smiled warmly as they arrived at Bait’s Bar and Grill.

 

“How’s the server Mister Seven put in the bar for you working Colonel Bait sir?”  Worm asked both excited and concerned about him.  She held a small parcel in her hands wrapped in a plain brown wrapper.

 

He smiled at her then looked over towards the bar and fridge which for the most part had been unused.  “I… ah,” he chuckled a bit guilty, “honestly, forgot about it.”  He said then looked back to Worm.

 

She was nodding.  “I thought you would.”

 

“She said she was coming up here to give you a gift, I asked if I could accompany her and she said yes.”  Corn Stalk explained as her reason for arriving with Worm.

 

Worm looked back and up at Corn Stalk.  The matriarch’s eyes were serious, in a pleased way.  They had talked on the way to him, Corn Stalk would have seen to it.  How else could she guide the young matriarch.  Bait could see thsi in the eyes and look exchanged between both women.  A soft thin smile came to Corn Stalk’s lips then Worm turned and faced him and looked into his eyes, her mentor followed suit.

 

“Your Grace; Lord Bait…”  Worm began as she extended the parcel she held towards him, “thank you for all that you have done for my people, and thank you for the home you have given my family here at clan Squat.”  She said holding her shoulders back and head high, holding her composure. 

 

Bait took the wrapped gift from her, he smiled down at her, she bowed.  He looked at the gift then to Corn Stalk.  Microscopic, that was the description of the movement of Corn Stalk’s head and eyes that told him to wait. 

 

“Thank you Worm, I hope you enjoy my birthday present.”  He said to the reddening beaming face.

 

“YES!”  She shrieked. 

 

He thought he felt his ears bleeding.  “Ouch.”  He said in a teasing manner.

 

Worm giggled.  “Sorry.”  She said mostly meekly with giggle-rhythm in her voice.

 

She closed on him quickly and wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a firm squeeze.  She backed removing her arms and the two touched foreheads in the were-custom. 

 

Worm’s bounce down the stairs made him laugh. Flubber came to mind, she seemed to bounce higher each time she bounced down a step. 

 

“I would take a moment soon, alone with your mate, open it together.  That would be my recommendation.”  Corn Stalk said with a face of reverence. 

 

Bait looked at the package and nodded, then he reached down with it and placed it beside the couch out of the way.  Corn Stalk went to the middle of the couch and sat.

 

Bait stood after giving her a smile and went to the bar and brought the server out of hiding in the bar and opened the front so the contents could be seen.  Though untouched for a few hours, the food was still fresh.  He filled a small tray he retrieved from behind the bar then went to the fridge.  He returned to Corn Stalk with two bottles of beer and an arrangement of food.

 

“Since she reminded me of it, I would be rude not to make use of her efforts.”  He said with a smile as he placed the food and drinks on the coffee table in front of the sofa.

 

Corn Stalk took time to eat some of what her host had served, to not do so would also be rude.  The beer was good.  An import naturally.

 

Bait crunched on the cracker with smoked fish and a wafer of cheese.  One thing the were-folk had a knack for was good food, and music.  The two seemed to work hand in hand, if one was not the best musician, their culinary skills were usually outstanding. 

 

Snow on the other hand, was a decent musician, but a horrid cook.  Her areas of expertise were in the area of gadgetry and hair-brained stunts in combat that usually worked to her advantage.  Her leadership skills had always been there, but she shrunk from them.  Bait knew she had the ability, she only lacked the intestinal fortitude to put forth the effort to command from her heart.  She still wanted to fall back on text book reasoning and strategy. 

 

Bait took a draw off his beer washing down the snack.  He looked over at Corn Stalk.  “The name Westbridge keeps popping up, in many places… in my life.”  He said in a voice not cold, but not warming either.

 

Several moments passed, Corn Stalk said nothing and ate something else from the tray. 

 

Bait cleared his throat and concentrated his focus on the matriarch.  He could read she was aware of his attention, but chose to ignore it.  After nearly a minute, she stopped moving and slowly turned her head down and partially towards him.  She waited a moment.  Her head raised more, waiting.

 

“Are you going to say anything?”  Bait said, his voice flexed. 

 

Corn Stalk shrugged and grabbed a carrot stick.  “What am I supposed to say in response to a statement of fact?”  She said stately.

 

His brow furrowed as he looked at her.  “You don’t deny any of this?”  He asked.

 

Again she shrugged.  “Why would I?  I went to extra effort to lay things out so you would see them for what they were, when you looked right.  We have been with your family since before your father was born.  Your grandfather was a human that knew of vampires and werewolves, as was your father.  Every now and again some usurp of a vampire ransacks the homes of humans that are close to werewolves, but unaware of what they are.  Sometimes they even ransack the homes of the werewolf.  Looking for something, they always start with the humans.  Just rip their places up.  We have to keep an eye on those families.  Yours is one such family.”

 

The news didn’t shock him in the least, the interest he took too was the laying out of things to be seen.

 

“Tell me about Exten, he worked for you.”  Bait cut to the meat.

 

Corn Stalk chortled then took a hefty pull from her beer, popped her lips from it, and sat it on the table.  A satisfied content smile showed on her face, not from the beer but from the thought in her mind.

 

“Worked for me, yes; he was my son you see, but you already know this.  What you are guessing, correctly and I will confirm this for you; Exten is my son as is Twitch… they are identical twins.  One was born and took his place in our house.  The other was hurried away to a secret den and raised by people we trusted.  The twins secretly knew of each other, arranged by myself and my mate Westbridge.”

 

“Together they would be our secret weapon to infiltrate the Clays and other bodies of interest.  We employed the service of a man who was wise in the arts of old, a bishop of ill repute.  A man of harsh temper and a boastful mouth.  This man trained our boys, they are the best.”  Corn Stalk’s eyes glowed with anger, her face was soft from the thoughts of her boys. 

 

Hovlek, that was who they employed, a misunderstood warrior from across the water. 

 

“We found the rumors of him to be untrue.  His nature different, but neither vain nor boastful was this man.”  Corn Stalk started to continue.

 

“Hovlek, yes.”  Bait said.

 

Corn Stalk smiled.

 

“I need to know about Exten, what was he working on…”  Bait produced the pictures he had shown to Twitch, who was still unaccounted for.  “… back when I was a street cop.”  Bait asked.

 

Corn Stalk’s frame hardened and her face tightened.  “That I do not know.  If I did, I assure you I would tell you.” 

 

Her face dropped towards her lap.  “He was drafted by the Enforcers.  It is an honor to be selected, means you are one of the best.  They deal with werewolf ‘problems’, those who have made bad choices when the opportunity was presented.  Ones that can not be ignored.  The organization is very secretive.  Not even myself or any of the leaders know much of anything about their operations.  Some rumors say Night Harvest runs the operation, some say Hyden.  There are a scant few that insist it is Lord Leyland himself.  Exten never spoke of his time with them.  Never will, if he still lives.”  She ended with true melancholy in her voice and face. 

 

Bait considered what was said.  He needed to figure out… how things were missed and why, or should he say WHO.  Who helped keep things under the radar.  Bait had been unable to get any recent reports from Exten, contact lost was filed by someone at one point.

 

“What happened with Exten and was he working for you at the time?”  Bait questioned brashly.

 

Her face was long.  “Twitch had worked for clan Clay, Exten was investigating ‘suspicious activity’ as he put it.  Never found out what.  Just over four years ago now, we lost contact with Exten.  He’d been sniffing around Alexander’s silver supplies.  Sniffing around a few select dens.  Then he vanished.” 

 

Bait’s face said the freight train was in high gear again.  The air lines had blown and they were on a steep downhill grade, and this smoker had no way of slowing down.

 

“What about Twitch, he was working for the Clay’s?  When Exten disappeared?”  He said from his distant mind.

 

“No, Twitch had lost himself by then.”  She answered misty.

 

“How long ago did Twitch loose his sanity?”  Bait pressed the painful question for the mother.

 

She cleared her throat and rubbed her face.  “Almost nine years ago now.”

 

“Interesting time frame.  Any idea where he might have ran too?”  He dug.

 

She shook her head slowly.  “Until he went mad, he would never run from anything, always seeking the most difficult task.  He took to human services because for someone like him, it would be a real challenge to fit in, he became a showman and fit in just fine.”

 

“Buffalo Bill Cody and his wild west show.”  Bait nodded his head.  “I know where Alexander is Connie.”  He said looking towards her with a face of stone.  “I haven’t quite proved it yet, but…”  He trailed off, his thoughts distracted him.

 

“Snow.”  Corn Stalk said.

 

“Snow.”  Bait said in agreement.  “It won’t matter how much proof I have if she won’t believe it.  Right now, she wouldn’t give the order, doesn’t believe she can.”  His face became glum now.

 

“It’s too soon to solve Alexander’s mystery.  There’s more isn’t there?”  She asked coyly.

 

He chuckled and nodded as he looked at her.  “Most certainly.  Plans within plans.  That was a message my vision gave me.  One that stuck out.  Alexander is just part of what’s on the surface.  Others have played their role in this, either knowingly or unknowingly, either way, there is a mystery afoot, and that I must figure out before I touch Alexander.”  Bait said affirming.

 

As he looked out to the floor, he dug deeper.  “Did Exten say anything, a note, message of any kind that might have been a hidden message?  I know you had secret communications and have been watching everything from afar.  Anything, the smallest detail.”  Bait looked at his friend with hope.

 

Corn Stalk looked down in thought.  Sheriff Hanks started up the stairs, looking to have tipped a few beers, and was carrying two mugs of the brew now.

 

She shook her head and gave him an ‘I’m sorry’ look.  “Nothing.  After we lost contact, we traced his steps.  He was hunting something, the only word he sent was ‘founding - C&D’ and that was about a month before he vanished.  Our people found a note that was in a waste can in an old one room school house near Pixley about fifty miles from here.”

 

Corn Stalk was distant now.  “It’s an old frontier town, not much there, the school we found the note in sits vacant most of the time and is used during elections and for the city meetings.  About a hundred and ninety people live in the area.  They meet once a month.”

 

Sheriff Hanks set one of the mugs down and listened.

 

“The woman who sits in the office in the front of the building said she remembered seeing Exten there.  He waited for the meeting to start and stayed until after they voted on various rezoning of land requests.  She remembered him leaving then because he seemed rather upset.  Thought he must have been against a zoning request because he was mad when he left and all the requests had been approved.  That’s where the trail goes cold.” 

 

“Exten?  Isn’t he the son you told me about, the twin that looks just like that Twitch fellow?”  The Sheriff asked bluntly. 

 

Bait’s eyes shot to him.  “Yes, you know him?”

 

The Sheriff’s face became serious as he nodded.  “Yes.”  He sighed and moved to the far end of the sofa, sat down and rubbed his face.

 

“There might be something here.”  He said in thought.  “Now, some years ago, before you left the CIA, there was this man who I caught up at your place when I was doing a drive through of the area.  I saw the car and ran the plates.  The registration came back… suspicious to say the least.  Some mental hospital or something.  Claimed he was here checking on the place for you.  Something about him made me think he wasn’t exactly telling the truth, the way he chose his words.”  Thomas Hanks inhaled deep and released his breath slow as he prepared for the rest of his tale.

 

Looking between Corn Stalk and Bait, he continued.  “It was a few months later I ran into who I thought was the same person only he looked like he had been lost in the woods for months.  He talked crazy.  Introduced himself as Twitch, said he wasn’t sure of a last name, everyone just called him Twitch.  When I asked if he was checking on your place again, he didn’t know what I was talking about, so he said.” 

 

“Then he says he’s actually on his way to your place, said he came from your wife’s condo in California.  I started questioning him about being up at your place a few months before, said the guy looked just like him.  He looked at me with his crazy eyes and said that the other guy stole his face and he wasn’t him, that they was different people.”  Sheriff Hanks sighed.  “And I believed him.  I ran into both several times over the next few years.  This Twitch called the other him ‘Exten’ once.  Tried running both their names though the alias system, nothing.”

 

Sheriff Hanks looked firmly at Bait now.  “He asked me something once, well both of them.  One right after the other when I saw them, a few weeks apart.” 

 

The two men were locked in their stares.  “They both asked me if you had a library.  Said I didn’t know.  Twitch commented the one time I saw him that they ripped apart your wife’s condo, especially the bookcase.  That’s when he had said he had come from her place, Exten wouldn’t have slipped like that, Twitch on the other hand, was thinking out loud.  When vampires were at your house, the night they attacked me, they were inside, they ripped apart your library.”  Sheriff Hanks finished.

 

Interesting.

 

Lord Leyland had gone to the stage calling for a lute, Sea Mist took the one being offered to him and replaced it with a twelve string acoustic guitar, knowing what he really wanted when he called for a lute.  It paid to keep ones ears open.

 

The trio watched and listened as Lord Leyland played an old romantic ballad from sometime past that soon turned into a drinking song of women and drinking in a pub in the country.  It was quite a comical limerick and the crowd laughed and sang along at times.  They watched, each lost in thought. 

 

“Could you tell if anything was taken?”  Bait asked as he watched Lord Leyland finish his song and the crowd applaud.

 

Sheriff Hanks shook his head.  “It was a mess already, they only made it worse.  Connie, Corn Stalk here, she had it sealed back up and all.  We left it the way it was incase you wanted to look it over.”

 

Another thought hit Bait’s mind.  It seemed irrelevant, but now was worth at least a question.  “Squat’s mother objected to him taking over this den for his own.  Why would she fund a den if she didn’t want it here?”  He asked as he watched, but still pointing the question directly at Corn Stalk.

 

A smug smile came to her tight lips.  She continued watching the crowd with the men.

 

“She didn’t.  He received a grant from anonymous den funding sources.  There is a group of people who will mysteriously fund a den.  That is how Squat was able to start.  After that, Beautiful Flower had to step up, if she didn’t provide the majority of his funding, she wouldn’t have the hold over him.  She insisted he refuse the grant money, that she would fund him.  She would not have her son living off of handouts for the impoverished.”

 

Bait tapped a finger to his lips as he watched.  “Interesting.”  He said.  “Let me guess, this group of do-gooders, they wouldn’t happen to be from or have strong connections with clan Westbridge, would they?”  He bluntly posed.

 

Corn Stalk looked at him with a reserved smile.  “Are you going to make me answer?”  She asked.

 

Bait considered her for a moment, then looked away and said nothing more on the matter.

 

 

 

Notify me when...

"This extract remains the exclusive property of the author who retains all copyright and other intellectual property rights in the work. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced or used by any person or entity for any purpose without the author's express permission and authority."

Please rate and comment on this work
The writer appreciates your feedback.

Book overall rating (No. of ratings: 
2
):
Would you consider buying this book?
Yes | No
Your rating:
Post a comment Share with a friend
Your first name:
Your email:
Recipient's first name:
Recipient's email:
Message:
 

Worthy of Publishing is against spam. All information submitted here will remain secure, and will not be sold to spammers.

No advertising or promotional content permitted.