The Protectors
Author: Fox Wild

Chapter 22
42 (Life, The Universe, Everything)

Announcement:

 

May 23, 2014 Novel has been edited, new chapter is chapter 25.

 

Chapter 22

 

42

(Life, The Universe, Everything)

 

 

 

Bait looked up and at Snow.

 

“You still think a human can’t understand significance such as this?”  He shook his head at her.

 

She looked down when she spoke, from her own memories.  “This was supposed to be presented at her coming of age party to her host family or den.  She would’ve presented it to a den, her being the first one from this den to receive a signet crest.  She would have been hosted by House Floyd or Clan Westbridge.  It’s a big deal, a lot bigger than I think you realize.”  Snow looked up at him, her face said she believed what she felt inside was beyond his ability to comprehend. 

 

Bait’s lips pulled tight, his eyes narrowed.  “Come with me.”  He said briskly.

 

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Bait led them back to the bash, which was reaching a new apex.  Only a few more hours and normality would return to their lives.  Snow was actually happy it was almost over.  Though she had been the one to try and drag Bait here, he seemed to have participated more from his loft than she had down on the floor.

 

He talked to several people via the radio as they walked along.  Snow listened, the ridge of her nose formed lines as she focused in on what was said.  He was asking people to meet him on his loft.

 

Getting through the attendees of the bash proved to be more of a challenge than should have been expected.  Mates would popup in front of them.  She would grab Bait and mash her lips against his while he would grab Snow and mash his lips against hers, then back from them and tap their index and second fingers to the top of their forehead’s with a smile and be off.

 

When the lady mate would break from Bait, they always were smiling gleefully.  The men mostly had expressions of question and or confusion.  Some men left the interaction with deep concern furrowing their face’s. 

 

“And the Bastions chosen were greeted at their festival with a tap of the head and a kiss of welcome from the mated among them.”  Bait said after one interaction with a mated pair.  “Wasn’t quite the interpretation I had from reading that, but whatever is?”  He said with a quirky smirk at Snow.

 

They were almost to the clearing in front of the stairs to Bait’s loft which maintained itself when another mated performed the ritual welcoming to them.  Again the woman left with giggles of happiness, while the man had a look of distress.

 

The two were walking away side by side when Snow heard the woman ask her mate what troubled him.

 

“She hasn’t chosen yet.”  He said in a hushed serious voice then giving a quick glance back at Snow.

 

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Safety at last!  They had made it to the clearing and up the stairs.  A few of the people Bait had called were already at the top and waiting, they were not delayed by mated greeting them.  Hovlek along with the others honored tonight would be the subject of this welcoming also.  It was being accepted as one of their own.

 

Introductions went out, Bait had assembled crafters and architects and was talking about carving a wall. 

 

In dens, the master wall was often carved with murals of werewolf history, typically focusing in on the main players.  Someone from their line was usual, unless someone had been exceptional in other ways.  Service to the clan carving the mural would suffice. 

 

Then there was Hovlek.  A man who had touched the lives of many, many werepeople.  Either by direct training, or through the people he trained.  None were more skilled in the arts of combat. 

 

Bait had chosen the longest continuous wall in the plan for the new den, which was the main wall naturally.  He was discussing his ideas while others arrived, including the patriarch and matriarch of the den he was making plans for.  They took to listening and looking at the drawing Bait was making on paper.

 

The wall itself started on the left side of the grand staircase that would exit near where the nobles sat and run along the walls of the halls to the guest and nobles living quarters, circling around and back down ending on the right side of the grand staircase. 

 

Bait’s idea was to start the wall on the first panel with Worm’s crest that she had given to Bait crafted by Hovlek inlaid into the wall, and tell the story of the day she did her deed and an engraved image of Worm.  She had spent a fair amount of time around Hovlek since his arrival at clan Squat, as she was usually working the weapons cache when he would stop by and check on things.  He naturally had an influence on the girl. 

 

From there, the wall would tell the life of Hovlek.  Squat was looking at the paper Bait scratched at with the pencil with a mildly bewildered look. 

 

“I take you aren’t in favor of this?”  Bait finally asked after he finished his thought he was sharing with the crafters.

 

Squat flubbed his lips with an exhaled burst of air and stammered a second as he looked to his commander.  “Well, only one, I don’t know if we have enough wall, total length is only four and a half miles.  Hovlek’s been around a long time and has been very busy.” 

 

Bait smiled.  “That’s a problem we can live with, unless you object.  If we run out of wall, we carry over to the next.  He’s not dead yet, I’m sure there will be more to add.”  He assured the young patriarch.

 

“I like it.”  Teagan said wiggling her nose with her hands on her hips and a glowing smile on her face as she looked to her mate, Bait and Snow.  “The original crest gifted to our first kin on her eve of age year.  Big year for any girl, Worm’s has gone from that of a common girl to that of a noble girl’s by default.  Then our home becoming a House.  Good way to start our history.”  She said pleasantly to them. 

 

She looked over at another paper Bait had tucked out of sight and pulled it into full view from the corner that showed.  Her eyes told of her questioning the rough draft on the page.  “What’s this?”

 

Bait took the paper from her hand and looked at it.  “Oh.”  He said.  The corner of his mouth pinched for a moment as he looked at it.  “Ah… was just a random thought, garbage can idea in the end, you can toss it.”  He said.

 

Teagan nodded.  “Okay, but that still doesn’t answer my question.  What is this?”  She said, not being rude or curt; like him, she was blunt and direct.

 

He snorted.  “Fair enough. I had this crazy idea about replacing the head high table with a rotating center that the den leaders would sit at, in the center of the room instead of an end.  The center stage would have the patriarch and matriarch and their officers facing one direction, a partition wall would cut the circle of the stage in half.  On the back side a bandstand type set up with a band that would play music.  I was thinking a real band with woodwinds, brass, like a small orchestra.  Not just three guitar musicians and a drummer.” 

 

He looked up at Teagan.  “I thought it would bring people closer in and the rotation would present them to everyone and music to eat by.  It was an idea from the part of my brain I store my insanity in.”

 

Teagan was nodding.  Squat was watching her waiting for her to say her piece. 

 

Teagan looked to Bait after a few moments of hmm-ing to herself and bobbing her head around in thought.  “I like it.  That would be excellent, what do you think lover?”  She said looking to her mate with a hopeful smile.

 

Squat snapped up and snapped a toothy smile on his face.  “Well, if that’s what you want, I’m all for it.”  He ended by nodding at her.

 

“Smart man, good answer.”  Bait said underhandedly at Squat with a wink and a light elbow nudge.  Squat cachinnated.

 

“The things you come up with when you doodle.  Not bad old man, I must say, I think this is one of your best idea’s yet.”  Snow said and made a face while sticking her tongue out at her mate.

 

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As all liked the ideas Bait had, it was decided these new plans would be incorporated into the build.  That would be the focus when work resumed, sometime in the near future.  Bait thanked everyone for allowing him the interruption of their bash time and ushered everyone to return to their merriment  making. 

 

He insisted they begin with a visit to his well stocked bar and refreshment dim-cart.  When he informed them Worm had loaded the cart herself the attitudes of their guests changed from indifference to murmurs of ‘oh’ and ‘well then…’ and various other ‘second thoughts’ and ‘reconsidering’ as they moved to the bar and cart. 

 

Bait manned the bar while Snow womanned the dim-cart server for their guests.

 

The numbers of people with them slowly dwindled down to just Snow and himself.  She was sitting with her elbows resting near her knees looking out to the crowd, her head bobbed somewhat as she scanned the happenings.  Her face said this was an awkward moment between them.  She didn’t want to start, and apparently neither did he.

 

Snow noticed people come to the edge of the clearing at the bottom of the stairs, look up to them, focus on her, then turn and go back into the crowd.  This added to the awkward feelings. 

 

Bait stared off into the crowd, she sat and watched with him, trying to figure out the thoughts she saw in his face.  Sea was on stage again, she was clearly the crowd favorite.  Squat was going hard on the drums with a full band accompaniment of what sounded like a twenties swing number. 

 

“He’s cheating.”  Bait commented at one point.

 

Snow looked to where he was but didn’t see what he was calling cheating.  “Who is?  How?”  She asked as her eyes darted around trying to figure out what he was seeing.

 

Bait pointed out towards the stage, which didn’t provide any help. 

 

“Squat, he’s got his tail out and is using it to beat a bass drum.”  He said with a smirk.

 

Snow looked over at her brother.  He was using his tail to keep rhythm on a drum.  Cheating?  Not in a werewolf band, tails most defiantly were allowed here.

 

“If humans had tails, they’d use ‘em for stuff too.”  Snow said in defense of her kind with a light hearted smile.

 

Bait nodded.  With a sigh, he agreed.  “That they would.”

 

They watched the bash for a few more minutes, Snow was taking in her mate more than watching the people.  What was on his mind?  He was thinking, plotting something.  He had obviously brewed up a plan that had been simmering all night, fed by what he saw and what people told him.

 

He had been deep into the lives that he shared this world with now, absorbing everything said, learning from every movement: how people spoke and even breathed.  His fertile mind had hatched some sort of scheme; she had hoped he would start on his own telling her his devious designs, but apparently, she had to ask.

 

Ask.  That’s all she had to do.  No bullshit, no double-speak, he would give it to her straight.  She trusted his human words, even before River Stone told her of the effects life among were-kind was having on her mate.  Ask.  He fully trusted her and shared anything she asked of him now, without hesitation.  Could she do the same?

 

“Sea sure puts on a show.”  Bait snorted and chuckled watching the stage show. 

 

Snow nodded slowly.  “Yup, so do you.”  She said as she watched Sea Mist.

 

His elbows were resting on his knees and he was leaned forward, hunched as he watched.  His face said he was waiting for her to follow up with what she wanted.  Good.

 

“You’ve had a productive night.  I can see this clearly in you lover.  I believe you’ve hatched some plan.  Well?  Am I right?”  She asked still watching the people party.  Her voice was smug, but not in a condescending manner, rather a content smug that her sleuth mate would be pleased with her deduction and forward attitude in asking poignantly, while stating her observations clearly. 

 

And so was the case.

 

Bait was clearly trying to contain a smile, and for the most part failing.  His face looked amusing as he tried to pull the grin from his twisting lips.  Snow was finding herself fighting laughter too as she watched the contortions of his face.  Finally he relented in the effort and turned a broadly smiling face to her.

 

“Yes, I have, and you aren’t going to like it one bit.  I need you to approve my plans without knowing them.  I can’t do what I am planning without your authorization.”  He said in a blunt steady voice that contradicted his smile.

 

Snow’s jaw dropped.  She gawked at him for a good ten seconds or so before she finally blinked, then again a few times before closing her mouth.  “I… you tell me…”  Snow exhaled fast rasping her throat as she did with a bewildered head shake and fumbling of her hands at her sides.  A quick glance out onto the floor while she collected her thoughts.

 

If anything, he was blunt, and she did ask.  “You start by telling me… I wouldn’t approve your plans if I knew them.  Then you ask me, without telling me anything about them whatsoever, to blindly give you blanket approval to lay whatever scheme you have concocted in that jumbled mess you call a brain, right after telling me I wouldn’t approve.”  She looked at him with her mouth slightly agape and a perplexed look just for him.

 

“Yup.”

 

She scoffed at him.  “Yup?  That’s all you have to say?  Yup?”  She said ending with an expectant look of further explanation.

 

“Yup.”

 

Snow held her expression unmoving and staring at him.

 

Alright, we’re taking a break.  We’re Sea Mist and the Den Band!  Her sister was saying now.

 

Sea Mist was leaving the stage.  She had been spending the time she wasn’t with Blade Dance, training, practicing music or working, with her sister. 

 

The two had become quite close, so Snow knew Sea Mist would meet up with Blade Dance now, see that he was involved in some sort of ‘deep’ conversation again and hunt her down, which wouldn’t be hard now as she was clearly visible from just about everywhere with her mate.  Then she would come up, no inhibitions in Sea Mist. 

 

There had been several times when Sea flopped down on the bed with them for a ‘rest”.  She may never sleep, but sprawling out on a bed with people you liked and going ‘total relaxed’ as Sea Mist had explained, sure felt good.

 

Snow knew Bait was thinking along the same lines, Sea Mist would be here soon, quite soon.  She needed to cut to the chase now.  “Tell me something, anything so I’m not totally in the… blind.”  She asked with a gentle plea in her question.

 

Target spotted, fifteen seconds out.

 

Bait snorted with a titter and nonchalant wag of his head.  “I’m going to use our strong suits and do something that has never been done by were-kind before.  Which is okay, I’m a human.”  He said and looked over to Snow who was just finishing her head turn to him.

 

“I’m going to start with calling Alexander out, piss that bastard off, big time, he’ll be so pissed he’ll be foaming at the mouth.  I know where he’s at, and I have all the proof I need.  Between now and when you are ready to accept my findings and give the order to attack, we have to figure out the rest of this shit.”  Bait’s eyes flicked off looking for Sea Mist. 

 

“Alexander didn’t do all of this by himself.  There were many other factors and players involved.  I want to call him out, find out who else is involved and what roll they played.  Then, I’m collapsing their house of cards.”  Bait caught Sea Mist at the bottom of the stairs, her left foot was raised and falling to the first step up.  “Is that enough?”

 

Sea Mist took this moment to lunge up the stairs with a half-assed shadow-step, she tripped as she arrived and used the couch as a safe landing spot and ‘thwapped’ into it between Snow and Bait.

 

“What’s shakin’ prairie dogs?”  Sea said cheerily with a glance between the two.  She went on in a suspenseful sounding voice.  “Ooooo, Sea Mist, she has interrupted serious talk of the commander and her human.  Dastardly Sea Mist!”

 

Then she looked forward, cocked an eyebrow with an odd expression, reached down while lifting a butt-cheek and helping it up with a pull of her hand and emitting a loud and long cheek-rattling expulsion of stored up flatulence.  “Oh, yeah, that felt good.”  She finished with a relieved face and a light open lipped smile.

 

Snow and Bait leaned back from Sea Mist with wriggled noses and aghast looks at her.

 

“Thanks for sharing.”  Bait shot out.

 

“You couldn’t of done that down there?”  Snow griped at her.

 

Sea Mist leaned back with her arms behind her head and looked off to nothing.  “Na, wouldn’t come out then, been building up, never fart on stage.  Was getting painful.”  She said in a relaxed manner.

 

“Consider this a stage.”  Bait said shaking his head.

 

Sea curled a lip at him and made a face with some head movements thrown in.  Soon, they started talking lightly, and eventually Sea Mist had them laughing.  She did have a way about her, sometimes aggravating, sometimes she helped you relax.

 

Then there was Worm.  She had finagled her way into being allowed to be fired from Blade Dance’s trebuchet towards a werewolf who was to catch her.  She had done it twice before other young ones wanted in on the action, but it was limited to ‘of age’ only.  Worm was granted this one exception for inventing the ‘ride’ as it were.  She had her way too.  Always getting it, complements of her beaming smile and glowing face.  Now she was a noble daughter.  Her world would change.

 

That’s what Bait was thinking about as the conversation ran on, mostly between the sisters who would occasionally pull him in for a laugh; the individual people and what tied them together.  There were several common threads. 

 

He was starting to look from a different perspective.  You have to find your strong suits and go with them.  The voice of his father said again in his head, it’d been doing that a lot lately.  Maybe now he was starting to see.

 

“… their scent always gives them away, can’t hide from that, well, unless you’re wearing neutralizer.”  Sea Mist was saying followed by a bout of laughter over what they were talking about.  “If you’re really angry over something, your scent will tell on you!”  She ended.

 

‘…your scent will tell on you.  The statement caught Bait’s attention.  He didn’t hear another word she said.  He already knew what he needed to know… however his life had changed drastically since his beginning with the werewolves and just as he knew things young Duncan didn’t when he looked back at the images of his past, he now knew things about werewolves he didn’t when he first started with them. 

 

Like werewolves, scents couldn’t lie.  They could be covered, and both werewolf and now vampire did cover their scents, because their scent told the truth about them.

 

All about a scent.

 

“Mel!”  Bait yelled out over his shoulder from the couch catching the girls off guard and causing them to jump.

 

The shocked looks they were giving him were nothing compared to the looks they gave Mel when he came walking up from behind them.

 

“Yes sir mister Bait sir, what-a-ya-need, what-a-ya-need?”  Mel asked enthusiastically. 

 

Snow let go a single higher pitched laugh.  “That’s Mel Brooks.”  She said in an unwillingly accepting voice.  “Sam Elliot, Mel Brooks, why not.”  She said exasperated.

 

Sea Mist was looking Mel over.  “I thought he’d be shorter in person.”

 

Mel snapped his head towards Sea Mist and pointed a finger at her.  “That’s enough out of you missy.”  He said then snapped his attention back to Bait with his character face of waiting.

 

Sea Mist tittered.  Snow gaped.

 

“Mel, I need to go back to a night, the night Robert was at my house when Snow and I called him out.  When I was trying to piss him off.”  Bait said distantly as he was thinking back.  “I want to concentrate on the smells, the scents in the room.  Can you do that Mel?”

 

Mel scoffed.  “ Can I do that the man asks, can I do that!”  Mel said with over animated hand movements as he talked.  “Are you kidding?  I’m the man who took Spring Time For Hitler, the worst play ever written, and made it a smash!”  Mel announced loudly with a finger to the sky then stormed off.

 

They were standing in Duncan’s kitchen.  He was drunk at the island bar.  The scene started.

 

“Bobby, you old horse thief you, come on over and have a drink, the bars open.”  Duncan said, his words slurred as he spoke.

 

Duncan was saying his lines as the scene played.  Bait was moving around the images as he had done in the hardware store.  Only this time he was paying attention to Robert very closely.

 

Robert quickly walked over to the end of the island.  There was a stool sitting at the end.  Robert looked at Duncan from the end of the island, he could smell the booze on him.   “You’re drunk.”  Robert said to him.

 

“No shit, and your black.”  Duncan slurred at him.  “A black werewolf CIA bitch.  What’s up with that?  A black man, being a werewolf.”  Duncan fumbled with his words as he spoke.

 

Robert heard the door close.  He looked back, Snow was at the door, locking it after she had closed it. “Over here, over here Bobby, I’m asking... asking you a quest... question.”  Duncan blabbered at him, the bottle still in his hand leaning on the island and waving the bottle around as he attempted speaking.  Robert looked back at Duncan.

 

“Are there a lot of black dudes becoming werewolves Bobby?  What’s up with that!”  Duncan went on, getting loud at the end and spraying his words.

 

Robert’s face was hard, he clenched his jaw as he looked at Duncan. “We aren’t racist if that’s what you mean, we have every race in our ranks across the clans.”

 

Bait sniffed, he motioned for the other to join him.  “Listen, smell that?”  He said as the scene played on.

 

Duncan spouted off again.

 

“Oh, oh, so you have Asian werewolves, Italian, German, what about Russian, got any commie werewolves Bob?”  Duncan rambled out with spittle running down his face as he tried to talk.

 

Robert looked confused, pissed, he could see talking to Duncan was pointless. “Yes, we have all those, including Russian.”  Robert answered, his disdain clear on his face.

 

“Mexican, you have Mexican werewolves?”  Duncan slurred leaning in.

 

“Yes, like I said, we have all races.  What of it?”  Robert said, he wanted to see of he could at least get some of Duncan’s thoughts from the other night, find out why he acted against orders, put himself in danger, maybe in his current state, Duncan might give him more honest information.  Robert would just have to weed it out of him.

 

The sniffing continued.  Sea Mist’s face said she was picking up on it, Snow’s said she had a while ago but was wondering how this connected with anything.

 

“Tell me Bobert, when a Mexican changes into a werewolf,”  Duncan asked motioning wildly around and snarling into the air when he said werewolf, “do they, like, become a great big Chihuahua?”  Duncan asked leaving the bottle on the island as he put his hands in the air making claw hands with them and making high pitched dog noises, his attempt to give the image of a Chihuahua as a werewolf.

 

When he lowered his hands he took the bottle again, and drank long from it.  Robert’s face was emotionless, but his eyes carried his anger for him.

 

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”  He asked as calmly as he could, motioning with a finger at the bottle.

 

“There!”  Bait ejected loudly.  “Stop!”  He looked around at his counterparts.  “That smell right there, coming from Robert.  I didn’t know what it was then, I do now, anger.”  He said like a professor teaching a class.

 

“Anger, he is pissed off at you big time sparky.”  Sea Mist said with a chortle. 

 

“Exactly”  Bait said bobbing a finger in the air.

 

Snow’s eyebrows were lowered in consideration as she looked at him.  “So… what does this mean?  He was mad, you wanted him mad and distracted.  That was the point.”  She said with ‘and this means what?’ written on her face.

 

“I wanted him angry and he was, the plan worked.”  He stated.  Looking to Snow he raised his hands at her and presented his thoughts to her.

 

“Let me ask you this, Robert was a turned werewolf, not turned for mating, turned to save his life so he could fight against evil.  He then goes on to mate to a Clay daughter.  Then he betrays werewolf and human kind by making a deal with Alexander, and is still pissed off like he is now by something as trite in comparison as racism.  How does that add up for you?”  Bait said in a tone with an edge.

 

Snow looked off as she worked what her mate had said to her, she didn’t see the relevance of Robert’s anger.  She honestly didn’t understand why he was angry in the first place, he had been a slave before he was turned but now he was a werewolf of well over a hundred and fifty years old and a different person.  Considering he was helping Alexander she couldn’t see him becoming angry over…

 

“Why would he have become angry over your race slams if he was a betrayer like he was put out to be?”  Snow said in a burst of realization.  “He would have betrayed all of humanity, if he would still be upset about racism, then he couldn’t have…”  Snow dropped off, a cold hollow filled her stomach.

 

“Exactly.”  Bait said.

 

Sea Mist rubbed at her nose with a sour face.  “Man, you used real scotch too, hate that smell, makes me think of burnt almonds.”  She commented.

 

Both sisters could tell that Sea Mist’s comment connected something, Bait was gone from them.  His mind was like a puppy chasing after butterflies in a field now. 

 

“Then there’s that.”  He finally uttered.  The scene of Bait’s mind began to fade from sight, the festivities around them returned to existence.

 

Bait snapped to his feet, took a step out from the couch then turned to face the ladies and started shuffling his feet in a manner of dance.

 

“Let me tell you the story about Minnie the Moocher, she was a low down hootchie coot-char…”   He sang then danced off down the steps as the girls watched, both with expressions that ranged between ‘what the hell just happened here?’ and ‘has he lost his marbles?’.

 

Bait pressed through the crowd, shooing everyone away from him then onto the stage interrupting the song that was being performed.  The crowd noise died down a bit as people watched their commander on stage awaiting whatever was about to happen.  He spoke with members of the band who smiled and nodded and said things of assurance. 

 

Mud came storming out from backstage someplace yelling at a saxophone player to ‘get that little shit out of here’ as she put a large instrument case on the four legs she flipped down from it then opened it and pulled a baritone saxophone from the case then putting it in the stand for the large brass horn Morning Dew came running up with for her.  He had really started doting on her.

 

Mud led the band off as they began playing with Bait at the front center stage walking around and hamming it up before he broke into the words of the song.

 

“Hey folks here’s a story about Minnie the Moocher.  She was a low down hootchie coot-char.  She was the roughest toughest frail… but Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.”

 

Snow smiled as she watched Bait sing the chorus and interact with the audience as they sang back to the old Blues Brothers song she knew well.  Mud filled in the break with her sax-appeal.

 

“She messed around with a bloke named Smokey…”  Bait followed when Mud’s waling sax faded down.

 

He really was putting on a good show for them, there was a showman in him as well.  Snow wasn’t quite the show person others were.  She liked music, mostly to listen to it.  Playing it was fun too, but to her, not as relaxing as slumping down and just listening.  Sea Mist would disagree.  Snow was happy to see her mate taking an active part in the bash before it wound down.  She sang along as Bait performed.

 

After he finished he conferred again with the band.  There was a sudden change, people started moving like ants, Snow listened the best she could to hear what was going on as the applause for Bait and the band died down.

 

“He’s going to crack Zevon!”  A voice cried out that Snow was able to hear.

 

Bait came running up to the loft.  “Come on Sea, need my guitarist, and someone for the eighty-eights.”  He said grabbing Sea Mist’s hand.

 

“Eighty-eights?”  Snow said puzzled.

 

“Yeah, you know, the box, the piano.”  Sea Mist piped in with.

 

Snow still didn't know why the name.  “Okay, but why the eighty-eights?  Why not just say piano?”  She questioned.

 

Sea Mist scoffed as she stood up to go with Bait.  “Because, they have eighty-eight keys on them, duh.”  She said then pounced off with Bait as they went to the stage. 

 

It appeared Kevashka was enlisted to play the eighty-eights.  She was very skilled as a pianist.  Everyone was in place and the familiar downbeat began, Bait center stage, the only human in the joint.  He danced around with a suit coat on through the intro bars, pausing a moment to openly laugh at Sea Mist who was playing with her tongue hanging down like a dogs.

 

“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand…”  Bait sang out in perfect Warren Zevon style as the roar of the crowd drown the band out.

 

Hovlek, on stage, had taken to a standup bass and was thumping on it hard and stomping a foot in rhythm to the music.  Anyone with an instrument in the audience was playing along.

 

As they moved into the instrumental break, Bait stepped back, grabbed an electric guitar and started playing as he walked towards Sea Mist who was moving towards him also, playing the same part.  They met up and rocked out facing each other then Bait moved back towards the microphone.

 

“He’s the hairy handed gent, who ran amok in Kent, lately he’s been overheard in Mayfair…”  Her lover sang when he was at center stage again.  The crowd loved it.

 

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

 

The solace and participation aspects of Bait’s loft had an appeal to Snow now that she had spent some time up here.  She was able to see more of what was actually happening and enjoyed the antics of her kin.  She returned frequently to watch Bait as he worked his goods for the audience, he was most assuredly feeding off of their enthusiasm as he performed. 

 

The performance paused as the next song was discussed on stage.

 

Do you think you can stroke the keys fast enough and do Jerry Lee justice?  Bait was saying looking back and turned partially towards Kevashka. 

 

Kevashka scoffed loudly, enough so that amplification from a microphone was not needed to be heard.  I can’t do Jerry Lee justice with your human ass standing up there!  She yelled over at him.

 

The audience let loose a wave of laughter.

 

Turning towards the back of the stage Kevashka yelled and moved her arm ending with a point at her piano.  Move this up front where Bait is and put a mic on it.  Come on you donkey kissing asphalt sniffing maggots, hurry up!  She snarled when they were within earshot of her.

 

Bait stepped back as the nervous men moved the grand piano to where he stood, their eyes kept shooting over to Kevashka who followed them with a mean look.  They moved the microphone stands away from the front center stage and off to one side.

 

Movement at the bottom of the stairs caught Snow’s attention.  An odd feeling that made her stomach flip came over her, Lisa was on her way up the stairs.  Snow looked back to the stage.

 

Ma’am, we have a headset for you, microphone is there, high quality.  Jiveiik is plugging in the pickup on the box now.  One of the people who moved the piano said to Kevashka. 

 

She nodded and he ran off to one side of the back of the stage and grabbed what Snow suspected would be the headset and returned.  He assisted her in putting it on while she slapped at him a few times.

 

She had to look at Lisa now, not to do so would be extremely rude.  Expressionless, she turned her head and focused on the woman standing in front of her.

 

Lisa.  Her face, her eyes, nothing showed any resemblance to the man she had called father her entire life.  Everything else about her, the way she walked and was holding herself now standing before the woman who had become her commander, breathing, set of her eyes, everything she expressed as herself was clearly from Duncan Galt. 

 

Lisa’s face held a faint smile, her wolf eyes calm and confidant.  She held her left arm up so her hand was in front of her mid-chest and bent at the wrist so the fingers pointed straight out from her center, fingers together and palm up.  She moved her right hand up and in the same manner placed it on top of her other hand with the palm down.  Closing her eyes she bowed her head to Snow. 

 

“Matriarch mother Snow of Trust, though I am not of blood of my father, nor blood of your kin, I am of my father, and my mother who is of my blood, is not my mother.  I ask your permission to call you mother.”   Lisa made her request then closed her eyes and bowed her head again.  As her head lifted and her eyes opened she gracefully lowered her hands to her sides again. 

 

Time, it felt like an eternity was passing as she stood their frozen and unable to respond or move in anyway.  Snow had even stopped breathing, this aided her concept of time currently, she hadn’t been holding it long enough to become uncomfortable yet, only noticeable. 

 

She felt a wetness, she shuffled her shoulders as a nervous sweat started to form on the tender skin beneath her arms in the crevasse formed by the build of her shoulders.  She felt beads running down the hairs of her armpits and could tell when they impacted on the fabric of her shirt. 

 

Her upper lip quivered, tiny beads had also begun forming midway between the beginning of her nose and the crest of the outer edge of her upper lip where it flared out ending her lip and beginning her facial skin.  If she twitched her lip in the slightest the beads would break from the velvet faint hairs and send a droplet of sweat down to her mouth. 

 

Her greeting, and request, formal and proper.  A request of family kind.  Adoption.  A request seldom uttered among their people, such situations where such a request would even be made were rare among the few orphaned werepeople being typically offered adoption into a family. 

 

Lisa was asking to be Snow’s daughter, and Snow had no warning this was coming.  She didn’t know until she heard the words come from the porcelain faced, dove woman in front of her.  She looked at her more, her face framed by the straight ebony hair that ran down her back and past her buttocks shimmering in the light.  Snow, be her mother?  Why?

 

Snow was becoming aware that enough time was passing that awkward was setting in.  “I…”  She stammered and made some other noises, a response wasn’t on the list of things she had been thinking of.  Slowly she stood, thinking that remaining sitting during her answer either way would be rude.

 

“Lisa, I… I’m flattered.”  Snow said trying to fill in the space and buy a few more seconds. 

 

They had barely spoken, now this.  Blind acceptance of her, asking for the same in kind.  “Yes, I would be honored.  Of what has been left to my mate and I, you are welcome to be a part of our family.”  Snow smiled and hugged Lisa, on the outside.  Inside she was broke and crying. 

 

Werewolf law was simple, the request was made and accepted.  Your word bound you.  For the next sixteen days, Snow had a daughter.

 

For the next sixteen days.

 

Stepping back Lisa said “Thanks” then humbly looked down and turn away and left.  Though biologically nothing of her mate was in his daughter, it was clearly evident which parent had raised her.  She had absorbed every bit of her father’s persona and turned out just like him.  Straight and to the point.  She had business she felt needed to be dealt with, she came, did it and was now leaving, just like her father.

 

There was no need for Lisa’s werewolf logic or following.  It was the right thing to do.  Accept her father’s mating to Snow, show the proper respect and accept Snow then act.  Without question.  Her father had passed his moral compass onto her.  This gave Snow a comforting feeling.

 

-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 looked towards Snow from the stage, he was wet with sweat from his stage-show workout.  He waved a hand towards Kevashka who must have been taunting him somehow.  Snow couldn’t hear over the crowd that was now having a recognizable chant run through it.

 

“Bait, Bait, Bait, Bait…”  The crowd was pounding out.  Sea Mist came running up towards him, handed her guitar off to one of the other musicians and closed on him, taking him by the hand and leading him back to the stage.  Snow envisioned Sea saying ‘your fans want more, show rules, you have to give them one more!’ as she drug him back into position.  If she wasn’t close, she was just a pussy hair off.

 

Snow laughed to herself as a memory of working with a human construction crew as the union required female employee when she was on a job for Westbridge sniffing out day walkers and their masters.  They built homes for people, the crew was a collection of personalities from different walks of life that managed to be a smooth running construction machine. 

 

She fit in well and would outwork the men.  As the ‘new kid’ she was expected to ‘bust her hump’ so she could ‘prove she was worth her spit’ as the older man who was the lead had said to her.  Their sayings for things on the job amused her.  It made her laugh when they were leveling or squaring something and the two men were talking as they worked.  Bring it in just a pussy hair.  One of the men would always say. 

 

When she had moved from grunt to nail bender she was helping level a counter.  Tap it in just a dick hair’ she said to the man putting a shim in place while she eyeballed a level.  The man stood and walked away from her as he broke into a laugh, looked back and pointed saying ‘that’s just wrong’ and waiting for the laughing to run its course through him. 

 

The time seemed so long ago.

 

Work then was so much simpler than it was now.  She was hired, did her job and moved on.  Now, she was thrust into leading an entire operation and being pressured to falsely accept being Trustee from a fable.  A fable she had been raised her entire life to believe she was the fulcrum of.  Her mate and the others were trying to make the fable or legend come true early.  She knew that was an unwise thing to try and do.

 

Lord Leyland emerged from the crowd into the open space at the base of the stairs.  Even the immortals seemed to be part of this craze now.  The Monarch of her line was coming to her now.  She suspected he would add his urging pressure to the mix of others pushing her to stand and shout ‘I am Trustee!  Now lick my boot’ like Bait was doing.

 

Snow stood as Lord Leyland crested the top of the stairs, she bowed to him.  “Your Grace, Lord Leyland, welcome.  I am…”

 

Shut it bitch!  Sit.  Hold your tongue!  Lord Leyland roared at her, his pleasant face gone in a flick and replaced by rage Snow had never seen the likes of.

 

She sat, her body felt cold, her head was light and she felt like when she first flew, the need to puke.

 

Lord Leyland’s eyes never left her with their loathsome stabbing.  His left arm shot back with an open palm.  A black wall formed, wrapping around the alcove sealing it from the floor and stairs.  His hand lowered and the wall steadied and solidified becoming a wall of clear crystals.

 

“Borrowed time, that’s what you are girl, borrowed time.”  He growled at Snow.  She recoiled from him.

 

Borrowed time, a term humans had picked up on to mean when someone was living past a near death event. 

 

In werewolf culture it meant someone who was alive past their time to die, such as a rogue or renegade who’s mate had passed.  Someone who was turned and had passed their human mortal time to die.  Her King was calling her borrowed time.  For a turned, it was a compliment or a thanks for their new life, for a born it was the deepest cutting insult.

 

“Ssebasteon, and his crony, Hyden.  It is because of them you’re still here.  Sea Mist, now she is a daughter of Trust, not this sniveling, whiney, spoiled frell before me!”  Leyland’s face held disgust for the sight of Snow.

 

He scoffed at her and looked as though he wanted to spit on her, he turned his body slightly sideways to her as he looked at her.  From the tips of her hairs to the heels of her boots he looked her over. 

 

He leaned forward slightly.  He sniffed.  He cleared his chest then sniffed deep and long from her direction.  Snow felt ill.  She realized what her mate meant now when he told her he had a freight train of thoughts on runaway in his brain, she was experiencing the same thing right now, she feared the foremost thought in her mind.

 

He snapped fully to face her, bent, grabbed her knees and thrust them apart and towards her shoulders as he knelt down and put his face inches from her twat, she froze, he took in her scent.  Releasing her knees he grabbed her arm, she was limp, he raised it for her.  Rising and bending he sniffed her armpit in the same manner then bent her head to the side and sniffed her neck just below her ear. 

 

Without any emotion he straightened and grabbed her by the hair and stood her up.  With one hand and amazing speed he spun her around and shoved her head down towards the back of the sofa, she threw her hands out and rested them on the back of the sofa as Lord Leyland pulled the back of her shirt up and brought the waist of her pants down just above the crack of her ass.  He sniffed the small of her back, she was abruptly spun around again and slammed into the sofa to a sitting position.

 

She was being checked for purity.  One wrong scent, she was dead.  Now.

 

“Open your mouth.”  He said looking at her with cold eyes.

 

He leaned into her face placing his nose in her mouth, he cheeks and mustache pressed against her lips.  He inhaled deep again, then backed from her and looked down at her with contempt. 

 

“Pure, bah.”  He said crassly with a wave of the back of his hand at her.

 

A sallow set in Snow’s heart, he clearly had hoped to find the slightest reason to execute her.

 

“Sea Mist, now there is a daughter of Trust.  This…” he gestured to her entirety, “this before me is an embarrassment to the name of Trust, this shrinks from a decision.  Pathetic.”  He said with a disheartened tone.

 

Adjusting his belt and moving his body as he looked at her he sighed.  “Sebastian, Hyden, they both felt they needed to support you and not follow what was to be.  They both felt there was a hidden path that only you could travel.  I say they are fools.  Your choice, Trustee.  You don’t even believe the legend is real let alone that the new foundation happens before the battle.”

 

Leyland scoffed at her hard.  “There is much you do not know and for good reasons.  Trust, he would never falter at a time of decision or battle.  I wanted Sea Mist, not you.  All your choices, you always take the hard way, anyway that dodges responsibility.  Cowardice!  This is nothing of Trust!”  Lord Leyland’s face hurt Snow.

 

“I am sorry you feel stuck with me as a last resort, I…”  Snow responded then was at a loss for words and gestured randomly with her hands.

 

Lord Leyland went on not allowing her time to find words.

 

“Stuck with you, you’re not important, Bait, he’s the important one.  You, shit, Lord Floyd has a house filled with virgins, I have twenty that traveled with my entourage staying within an hour of this den, everyone will fulfill the requirements of the legend.”  An ever so slight nodding of his head as he glared at her.

 

Lord Leyland looked out at the stage, a flick of a smile then a gravel face back to Snow.  “Sea Mist, that girl sees very well.  As soon as you named her your handmaiden, she made her offer to the closest male she liked.  Now she regrets that choice.  If she could be Bait’s damned mate, she would in the flick of an eye.  Your sister is faith.”  He looked her over quickly.  “You… you need to grow a vagina.”  He said mockingly.

 

She couldn’t help it, this struck her as an odd statement.  Grow a vagina?  Her Lord didn’t spend much time around humans.

 

“Your Grace…” Snow began with a fading puzzled look and a growing considerate one, “…I think you mean tits, humans say grow a pair of balls, grow a pair of tits would be the female equivalent, sorry to interrupt.  Forgive me your Grace.”  She finished with a meek face.

 

His eyes went to her chest then her crotch with his own puzzled look growing.  “That makes no sense, balls are were your vagina is, and there is nothing wrong with your… tits.  They’re nice.”  His face crunched with his own off thought.  “I always thought big ones would get in the way, and uncomfortable.”  He shook his head dismissing his random thought and returned to his glaring at the daughter of his line.

 

“Ssebasteon and Hyden, Ssebasteon, him I hurt for.  Both threw their lots in with you, but for him, his heart is with you, and it is this that pains me the most, to see you fail him so miserably.  My own broken belief in you is nothing to me.  For my Ssebasteon, for him whom has put so much from his heart in you, for him I am sad.”  Lord Leyland’s face became long, his beard seemed to wilt. 

 

The Monarch looked back to Snow’s eyes.

 

“Our position, you and I if you ever get off your ass and choose, is that of leadership, knowing when to step in and lead, when to stand back and let things be.  That is the most important part, letting things be and let people learn.”

 

Leyland bent in as he glared at Snow now.  “The one thing about leading that you must do is show up.  You haven’t.  Virgin, a woman you are not, a woman stands, she pushes forward.  You stagnate.”  Leyland turned enough to hold a hand out in the direction of the bash.  “Our final duty is to them.  I rule, Ssebasteon, their Night Harvest, Hyden, I have final say over their decisions.  I allowed this.” 

 

Snow’s heart couldn’t get any lower, she was to hurt to even cry.  Her eyes fell to his feet.  “What do you want me to do my Lord.”  Aside from everything else, he called her virgin blatantly in place of Princess, which is the implication of the title in noble standing, virgin is a commoners term.

 

“Step aside, take to a tower in the Clans Palace, remain in solitude.”  Leland said coldly to her.

 

Clans Palace, the place was only used when all three heads held some mutual function, event, whatever would be held by all three.  Which was very seldom.  It had never been used in her lifetime.  Her father told a story of when he was yet of age and his father took the family to a function held there. 

 

When not in use it sat mostly empty housing only families who maintained it and those in solitude that were never seen anyways.  Staff passed food and needs to those in solitude through a passage that allowed no visual or speaking interaction.  Written requests, now an email instead of paper, could be submitted through a panel of overseers that would approve or disapprove the request to be passed to the staff. 

 

Her quarters would be lavish, any material desire purchased from her monthly allotment as a noble of House Trust.  Only never for the rest of her days, never any real contact with another living person.

 

Lord Leyland turned abruptly and took two steps towards the stairs, removed the wall with a wave then half-turned towards her.

 

“Or frelling choose.  I allowed this.  I put my ass on the line with theirs, I trust Ssebasteon.  He is my friend, you will pass, piss, nothing more.  In five thousand years, your name will never be spoken.  Ssebasteon and I will be dining together.  Bait, he may be dining with us with his mate, I do not know, that is for only the Light to know, his fate.  True of you as well, the Light is the only one who truly knows your fate.”  Leyland faced the stairs again.

 

“You have three days to decide, then I am replacing you and you will take to that tower.”  He said then walked down the stairs leaving a broken hearted Snow behind.

 

-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 escaped the stage with Bait this time and retreated to the perch with Snow.  She put on a happy face and hid the pain inside.  This was something she had become very good at over the years, between life with her mother and life with humans.

 

Though there wasn’t anything he said or did that told her, there was a glint of something in her mate’s eyes that said he saw through the faÇ;ade front she was holding up for them to see when he looked deeply at her. 

 

“I’m going to go to the quad and lay down for a bit, I’ll be back before sunrise.”  Snow said and made a polite exit following with that her head was spinning and she needed time in a dark quiet room when her companions offered to come with.  They accepted what she told them and she left.

 

Her head was spinning. 

 

She flopped down on a water-chair.  It was a molded chair with a hard rounded back with a lounge seat style that had a covering like a very thick waterbed mattress with a warm jelly that filled the chair.  It was a werewolf invention from the nineteen-sixties, a take off of the waterbed. 

 

Though very comfortable and soothing, the loss of their popularity was due to sword cuts caused when people would place their sword on the chair when entering the room, then later sit on it, pushing the sword into the chair.  Werewolves can be absent minded.

 

This one was a leftover that was donated to Squat to begin his clan from the storage bins of clan Westbridge along with much of the furnishings in the den.  Clan Westbridge, they had been a blessing to both herself and Squat.  As she rested nude on the warmth of the chair she wondered if they had been slipping into Sea Mist’s life as well and guiding her also. 

 

The chair relaxed her to her core.  Every muscle, tendon and fiber of her mortal form was in a tranquil state.

 

Snow sensed a presence and snapped to her feet, she saw a face then pain, something connected with substantial force into her crotch.

 

“My twat!”  Snow barked out in anguish grabbing herself and bending over.

 

Fairuza was looking at her and hissing in through her teeth, her expression carried a sympathetic grimace of pain with her lips spread open wide and a wincing in her eyes.  “Sorry about that.”  She said then collected herself and resumed with a ‘whatever’ look.  “I was aiming for your shin, wasn’t planning on you jumping up like that.”

 

Snow returned an angry look while rubbing her sore spot.  “My shin and my twat aren’t even close to each other.”  She seethed  as she tried to massage the pain away.

 

Fairuza shrugged.  “I wanted to inflict pain, wasn’t quite how I wanted it to work out, but hey, still a success.” 

 

Snow’s scowl intensified.  “Why did you what me in pain anyways?  What have I ever done to you?  I’ve never even actually met you.”  She seethed again.

 

Fairuza rolled her eyes and sighed with her head back some.  “Because Ginger Snap, pain causes you to make a solid link between plains.  Makes you focus.”  Fairuza reached out a hand to her side and swung it at Snow’s face as she looked confused at the apparition before her.

 

A loud *CRACK* resounded as Fairuza’s open palm connected with her face.

 

“Ouch!  Hey what the frell, bitch!”  Snow howled at her as she used a hand to rub where she had been slapped. 

 

Fairuza stood with her hip cocked out to one side and a hand on the inward sloping hip looking at Snow, who was also looking her over. 

 

“You stood there and watched it coming.”  Her clothes were all black, she was in a wild west bar saloon floozy dress with frilly edges and a revealing plunge line at her breasts.  The fabric was laced tightly, her nipples were hard and easy to spot on the smooth surface of the corset that restrained her fun-puppies.  Black lipstick and eye accents. 

 

On her feet, boots to near her knee at the bottom with black corded hooks that laced them to her.  Her hair was up and held in place with a decretive comb that displayed a skull with snakes around it in the center of her head.

 

Snow liked the outfit.  “Where did you get that, was it on sale and do they have it in my size?”  She said pointing to the dress.

 

Fairuza shrugged at the question.  “Beats me sister, you saw it someplace and put it on me, but that doesn’t matter, this does.”  She said.

 

Snow noticed her surroundings had changed.  Looking around she saw they were in what looked like a sandy, possibly desert area, the occasional scrub-brush dotted the sandy place.  Nothing stood out making it significantly recognizable from thousands of such places on the planet.   

 

“A pale rider comes here, but he is not the one who needs to be here.”  She faced Snow in this windblown wasteland. 

 

Fairuza turned and took several steps forward, Snow’s vision seemed to ripple.  Fairuza stopped and turned around looking to Snow.  Taking the hint she stepped and followed Fairuza.  Her vision rippled again. 

 

They had been in a brightly lit desert like field, they still were, only the light didn’t feel… like sunlight.  The air had changed too, there were also three buildings off past the invisible line that had kept them from her view before.  They had crossed a threshold of some kind.  They were inside… something… a building or a room? 

 

“You know this.  Come on Snowflake.  Shit it out.”  Fairuza encouraged her tauntingly.

 

Vampire magic, it was an illusion spell.  Snow closed her eyes and softly spoke then opened her eyes again.  The view was the same.

 

“You’ll need something more powerful than that.  This isn’t a mild enchantment.  This is big-boy heavy shit.  Put your best into it.  Try something with pure sight.”  Fairuza said actually trying to be of help now.  “Speak a rhythm like you were the Trustee.”

 

Snow glared back at her.  She turned and faced towards the buildings and spoke loud and fast the first incantation rhythm that came to mind from her knowledge of history. 

 

They were in what looked like a large hanger.  The arched roof had panels that allowed restricted light in,  her werewolf sight told her the windows filtered the light rendering it safe for the masters of the day walkers working in the hanger.  Off on one end there was a set of stairs that seemed of interest to her in this dream.

 

“This ain’t no dream world sister.  This is shit you need to know.  This is going to happen, and only the Trustee can win here.  So take a look around, three days is all you have to make up your mind.”  Fairuza softly whispered to Snow from behind her as she looked around the room.

 

There were three small groups of day walkers, two of the groups had four men working while the last one was two men and a girl.  Snow walked around to the groups, looking at what they were doing.  They would work, and look around the hanger occasionally as if worried someone was coming that wasn’t welcome here. 

 

They were loading silver bullets into clips for various guns.  Snow went to the stairs that attracted her.  She followed them down where they just ended.  She moved around the hanger unnoticed by the men that were in her vision.  Looking at everything she tried to put together why this was her defining moment. 

 

Fairuza spoke from behind her.  “This is the moment you have to choose.  This is where, when the pale rider comes, only the Trustee will be able to save the lives here and take others.  Some will die, some will be saved, it will be your choice as to who dies and who lives.”

 

Confused Snow turned towards Fairuza’s voice, Sea Mist’s angry face greeted her.  Her mouth opened and she screeched like a vampire and lunged at Snow changing into a dark ugly creature as she closed on her.  Snow screamed.

 

-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-

 

“Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack!”  Snapped Snow back into the room.  She was sitting in the water-chair.  “Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack!”  Came again from the direction of the door, Snow stood fast, shook her head clear and stumbled towards the sound of the knocker. 

 

“Your Grace, Bishop Hyden!”  Snow said with surprise when she answered the door.

 

“Princess Snow of Trust, I wanted to speak with you Lady, I waited until you were alone and the others had had their time with you.”  He said greeting her.

 

Hyden seemed a lot more pleasant then Lord Leyland had been, no trace of anger or any sign that he was about to rage at her.  Snow motioned for him to enter and led the way to the settee room where the two sat, grabbing a robe along the way. 

 

Lord Hyden smoothed his robes after he sat then looked at her.  He may have been more pleasant, but he was just as serious as the others had been.  “Am I right to presume that Leyland was less then jovial with you?”  Hyden asked with his calm voice and light smile that seemed to perch on his lips most of the time.

 

Snow nodded and looked down.  “He told me Sea Mist is supposed to be here, not me.  He said you, your Lordship, and Lord Night Harvest convinced him to back me.  He regrets this decision now.”

 

“Ssebasteon, is the wisest of us all, and he has the intellect to go with.  Wisdom without intellect is useless.  Our friend Ssebasteon, with both the man is full, and I am glad he is.”  Hyden said in a ‘small talk’ manner.  “He has also given you your time?”  He asked.

 

Without looking to him, Snow nodded her answer.

 

“And?”  Hyden pressed.

 

“Three days.”  Snow said sadly.

 

Hyden nodded hearing this.  “I would have expected a bit more time be offered you.  I guess he isn’t taking any chances and letting things run down to the wire.”

 

They sat in silence for several minutes.  Hyden stared off into space while Snow stared at her feet.

 

“Why did you save me?  Why didn’t you let me be judged?”  Snow asked.

 

Hyden looked over to Snow with a companionate face.  “You were judged.  I just cast my lot along with Ssebasteon.  As to saving you, I’m in the saving people business.”  Hyden sighed. 

 

“Ssebasteon didn’t exactly have to twist Leyland’s arm to get his approval.  He said what he had to, told him he would rule against us if we found you innocent, unless he was told otherwise.  That’s his position as our King.  When the time came, he was offered his choice, and you stand here now because he chose you.  It was his own choice, therefore, there is no blame in or on you.  The true burden is on Leyland’s shoulders.  In the end, he will have to answer for all of us, as is his place.”   Hyden’s smile was thoughtful now.

 

“A very heavy responsibility is his.  He worries.  Though his worry does him no good, it is because of his concern that he worries.  You worry for Bait, Sea Mist and others, worrying does nothing for them, but you do it because it is the outward reflection of what’s inside you.  You care, therefore, you worry.  Leyland is no different, his worry shows itself in a different way.”  Hyden stopped abruptly.

 

He turned in his seat putting his legs more off to one side and pushed his chest out towards Snow.

 

“Leyland wants you to succeed.  He loves you… like his own daughter Madelyn Sadness Snow he loves you.  In your lot, you too will have to enact decisions you have made and don’t want to do, but you do them because you are loyal to your duty, and your duty is service to the Light.  Just like Lord Leyland.  This is also part of his anger along with the worry.  Things he wants to tell you but is ordered not to.”  Hyden smiled large at Snow now.

 

He leaned towards her, his lips closed but the big smile remained.  “The last person he yelled at like he yelled at you and called a bitch, was Trust himself.” 

 

Snow’s head raised on its own and brought her eyes to Hyden.  As soon as her eyes met his he looked down and dug in his robes.  Pushing his arm down into one of the pockets concealed in the folds he fished around with a bit of his tongue pressed between his incisors,  then with a ‘there it is’ expression, retracted his arm from the depths of his robes.

 

With a white box in his hand he stood, plopped the box in Snow’s lap, then stepped from the chair and turned back to Snow.  “A little gift for you.  Might help.  I’ll see myself out.”  Hyden said kindly and waited to give Snow a chance to say something if she wanted before he left.

 

She looked at the box with a mixture of puzzled and ‘awesome’ looking back to Hyden when he spoke again.

 

“Nothing much, just something I made for a friend eons ago, she has long since left us, from wherever she might be, I think it would please her knowing I kept it all this time to give to you.”  He said.

 

“Thank you Lord Hyden, you shouldn’t…”  Snow started.

 

“Cliché, save it, human sayings, very foolish when looked at rationally most of them.”  Hyden smiled then began to walk towards the door.

 

“What is it?”  Snow asked his back.

 

Hyden didn’t stop till he was at the exit door, he turned and looked back across the room into the settee room at Snow.  Speaking just loud enough for her to clearly hear him he answered her.  “It’s called a hair brush.  Do you think you can figure out how to use it on your own, or would you like me to email you directions and times to use it?”  He asked, it was more than just the words, it was the rhythm they were delivered, the tone and projected attitude. 

 

Snow’s face betrayed the smile she couldn’t contain.  “Thanks, I think I can figure it out.”  She said.  River Stone was who he made her think of just now.  “I see where River Stone gets his beside manner from.” 

 

A somewhat high pitched short ‘Hm’ came from Hyden, his eyes passed back and forth as they looked up, part of his mouth twitched up as he considered what she had said, or some other rampant thought.  He pulled himself tight, turned to the door latch and used it then swung the door open and left.  Snow barely heard the faint snap of the door when he closed it behind him.

 

Snow stared at the box.  Time passed as thoughts hopped through her mud puddle ridden brain.  She was dumbfounded, emotions came, turned, and went another direction. 

 

The Supreme Bishop of Clans, gave her a hairbrush.  It wasn’t an insult, though her hair was often a mess, she didn’t think he was trying to be sly about telling her to brush her hair.  Her body jerked as she broke herself from the world she had wandered off too.  She lifted the lid of the box and looked in.

 

Inside, a carved rosewood brush body greeted her eyes.  Had she not been sitting, she most likely would have dropped it.  The handle showed wear from years of use, the golden band that ran around the head of the brush that held the bristle part in place did too.  Though worn, the name Shoshanna was still very clearly engraved on the head of the brush.

 

Shoshanna. 

 

She was lost.  Her mate, because of this, destroyed the well.  Snow’s hand slowly moved to the brush.  She eased her fingers to the handle and felt the smooth worn surface, cool to the touch. 

 

Taking it in her left hand, she ran her fingers over the letters in old werewolf font of the name.  “Shoshanna” she uttered in the faintest whisper.  The brush had been the property of the woman of the last mated pair that destroyed the well ending the ability of the darkness to cross.  Now it was in the hands again of a woman who with her mate, would seek to stop the darkness from coming to their world. 

 

Snow turned the brush in her hand and lightly touched the bristles with her fingers as thoughts of the significance of the item coursed through her mind.

 

“Shoshanna.”  Snow whispered again as a cold thought crossed her mind.

 

Was she to share in the same fate as Shoshanna?

 

-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-

 

“It seems you rather like my little perch.”  Bait said with a smile when he arrived at the top of the stairs.  He was standing in front of Snow who was slowly drawing a brush through her hair as she sat watching out across the bash that was showing no signs of fading. 

 

She didn’t look at him or speak.  The brush ran out of hair, she raised it back up to the top of her head, lowered it gently, then drew it through the next section of hair.

 

Her hair was a bit longer now, brushed out he could tell how much it had grown since they first met.  “New brush?”  He asked watching her.  She seemed… distant?  To some degree, but there was more than just that.  She was clearly distracted, only partially paying any attention to her mate, if at all. 

 

He tried to read her face, which was difficult at this time, she wore no real expression.  The best way Bait could describe how he viewed her at this moment would be to compare it to walking into a forest and coming upon a pack of jaguars and realizing all the bad shit that’s about to happen and knowing that it is too late to do anything to prevent or change it. 

 

Snow nodded with a short slow movement of her head in answer to his question.  Then she moved it side to side in a no answer.  Bait’s eyebrows lowered and the bridge of his nose grew wrinkles when she answered as he looked at her.  He took a step or two forward, enough to sit on the sofa next to his mate.  He looked over at her and waited.

 

Snow finished the stoke she was giving her hair, raised the brush to the top of her head again and began another slow run through her hair.

 

“New to me, but very old, not new.”  She said as though she were speaking through a mental fog.

 

Bait knew something was up with his mate, what he wasn’t sure.  Some event had tripped something in her.  He didn’t know what question to ask to get Snow to talk to him, maybe it was too soon.  She was different now.  He couldn’t put his finger on what had changed.  She was still her mysterious self.  Only…

 

Bait dove to the floor and rolled out of the way as Sea Mist, being fired from the trebuchet and accurately, blew into and threw the couch, effectively destroying it.  Snow still sat on her portion of the remaining couch which had skidded a short distance, still brushing her hair not even noticing Sea Mist or what happened. 

 

“SHIT!”  Sea Mist exclaimed rising from the floor and wall she was piled against.  She dusted herself off and was muttering about how she had said it was to much fling.  Taking note of Snow, she walked up to her sister and leaned in crouched slightly eyeballing her.  Giving her a sniff she looked back at Bait.

 

“Did Boo-Boo check out or what?”  She asked with a confused look.

 

Bait was watching Sea Mist as she impacted and was still sitting with his legs in front of him on the floor still watching.  He shrugged from his sitting position.

 

“Sorry about the sofa.  Didn’t mean to come in that hard.”  She said with an apologetic face. 

 

Standing Bait looked over the mess.  Ripped fabric and stuffing blown around with wood fragments were all that remained of most of the couch.  The most intact part was where Snow sat, brushing and watching like she had been charmed.  Gesturing at the remains of his couch with his hands he looked to Sea Mist.

 

“Ah, shit, well, no biggie.  I’m going to head out to the yard anyways.  Sunrise is closing in, want a good seat for the show.  You coming Snow?”  He said ending with his eyes on his partner.

 

Sea Mist and Bait both were looking at Snow, who continued to brush her hair and watch the crowd.  Sea Mist’s head raised slightly and she looked to Bait.  “I’ll meet you in the yard… okay.”  She said with a voice that told of her discomfort in the current situation and her desire to make a hasty escape.  With a small hop then a jump Sea was gone down the stairs.

 

“Honey…”  Bait said to Snow.

 

She continued brushing her hair, starting over on her left side again.  Bait moved closer to her and leaned in.  His mouth opened, he was just about to speak.

 

“Snow doesn’t wish to go.  Snow will stay here.  Bait, go be with Sea Mist.  Snow is fine, do not worry about Snow, Bait.”  She said in a eerie voice.

 

He gawked at her a moment, tried to come up with some form of response.  Nothing.  Things he wanted to say, didn’t seem appropriate right now, his questions, would probably go unanswered.  Was there anything he could say or do that might help?  At least something he could say that would get a response that assured him she was okay? 

 

In the end, he was only able to shrug, kiss her on the cheek and tell her he loved her.

 

-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-

 

When Bait arrived out in the yard where he had been with Sea Mist earlier that night, she had put up and lit several Tiki torches around where they would be sitting with a small fire in front of the seats. 

 

“It was Kevashka and Mud’s idea.  Kevashka’s getting marshmallows and roasting forks, Mud went to get beer and a sprite coke for me.”  Sea Mist informed him when he arrived.

 

Looking at the set up and the small fire Bait smiled inside.

 

“They said they did it out at your place, told me I was missing out.”  Sea Mist flapped her arms once at her sides as she looked at him hoping for his approval.

 

He started smiling outside now.  “I was thinking about this the last time we were here actually.  I think the last time I sat around a fire drank beer and roasted marshmallows was with Kevashka at den Snow.”  He said then started moving towards one of the chairs.

 

Sea Mist’s head snapped towards him when she heard him reference ‘den Snow’.  Her eyes became soft, her facial features as well.  A light appreciative smile breezed onto her supple moist lips.  “Thank you.”  Whispered from her to Bait.

 

After he sat Bait looked with question at Sea Mist.

 

“For what?”  His failure to see what she was thanking him for carried clear in his voice.

 

Sea Mist tittered, bent over and picked up another piece of wood and placed it on the fire before taking to the lounge chair next to Bait.  She settled in and gave a sigh then rolled her head towards him.

 

“I know we have our differences, and usually fight, but she is my sister, and I am proud of her.  You honored her by keeping her name.  Den Snow.  Thank you for respecting my sister as you did.”  Sea answered in a sweet voice to him.

 

Bait joined her in silence and looking into the fire.  He figured they had been sitting there quietly for maybe five minutes when the sound of the side door of the house opening broke them from the fires hypnotizing dance.

 

Kevashka’s laugh caught his ears.  Grey was on her right at her hip, beside him Mud and Morning Dew carried a cooler between them, also talking and laughing.

 

Bait looked back to the approaching others with a quick head turn.  He had looked back to the fire for maybe a second after checking on who was coming out the door, but it didn’t close in the time frame it should have; it closed late. 

 

About the amount of time late if someone had caught the door just before it closed and reopened it and followed behind the others.  Though it was dark and the light from the fire and the torches had caused his eyes to adjust to their light leaving him nearly blind when looking into the dark, there was no mistaking the silhouette and body movements of the man walking towards them behind the others.

 

snZm had apparently decided to join them, maybe.  Bait considered the thought that perhaps his visit would be to deliver a message but quickly dismissed it based on the events of the evening and the surrounding details.  Any messages would either be delivered via a close aid or a young one would be sent to fetch the person.  The head of House Hyden was making a social call.

 

“Good morning, I wouldn’t be intruding if I joined, would I?”  He asked with a pleasant smile and voice, looking around while the others handed out roasting forks, marshmallows and dealt with the cooler.

 

“snZm, you are always welcome.  Grab a chair and haul your carcass up to the fire!  Someone hand this man a beer and a marshmallow on a stick please.”  Bait said with a festive jib to his voice. 

 

They settled in and once again Bait taught the fine art of marshmallow roasting over an open fire, this time Sea Mist and Grey were his students.  Jokes and laughter filled the night sky, Sea said she liked the ‘toasted puffs’ but they were very sweet.

 

The faint clicks and squeaks of the door tickled Bait’s ears again while they were socializing around the fire.  His eyes were still not much help to see the who after looking at the light of the fire, but also again, he could tell from what little he was able to see, Hovlek was on his way and Snow was at his side. 

 

Someone else followed but the two in front kept Bait from ascertaining which one of the rabble members was tagging along.  Hovlek appeared to be carrying something and Snow… was brushing her hair as she walked.

 

See Madness.’

 

“Sir Hovlek the bull, what is that Hovlek that Hovlek in Hovlek’s hand has?”  Bait chimed.

 

An excited look came to Sea Mist’s face and her head popped up.  “Oh-oh, me, can I, can I play too!?”  She spurted at an exuberant pace.

 

Bait held a hand out at Sea Mist.

 

Sitting up in her chair and looking over the back she took a moment to look over the scene, then began her play.  Sea Mist spoke simply and plain when she began, but as she went on took to her soliloquy with more and more feeling and vigor.

 

“Hovlek Sea Mist sees, in Hovlek’s hand Sea Mist can tell that Hovlek carries an item.  What Hovlek holds in Hovlek’s hand Sea Mist can tell has been taken from the perch of Bait by Hovlek.  Hovlek has brought to Bait and Sea Mist, Snow the obtuse and in Hovlek’s hand is the server from the perch of Bait.  Hovlek brings the cart so Bait, Snow, Sea Mist, Grey, Kevashka, Mud, Morning Dance and Dew Blade can dine!  Like children of the night!” 

 

By the time she finished she was standing on the webbed seat of the chair and gesturing her hands and arms around like an opera singer.  She concluded by looking at her sister and speaking, with a grunt, in her best Hovlek voice.  “Why Hovlek bring Snow… Sea Mist, lost on reason for this Sea Mist is.”

 

“Bright girl.  Sit.”  Hovlek said following his character grunt.  A mild and short burst of laughter followed.

 

As Hovlek placed the server cart that he had simply reached out and picked up with one hand and lifted out of the bar, Sea Mist bounced from her chair and ran to the small shed maybe thirty feet away and retrieved additional chairs, enough for Snow, Hovlek and Blade Dance who was the person following as well as two extra just in case others decided to show.

 

“Worm’s food, Hovlek not let it go to waste.  Soon, in this yard, many people watch, Hovlek know food go then.  Food no use to broken couch, eh?”  Hovlek said with a belly laugh.

 

He took the chair Sea Mist offered, moved it to set it up, then stopped and snapped back to Sea Mist.  He growled at her quietly, then returned to unfolding and placing his chair where he wanted it. 

 

Jokes and stories were told around the fire, Blade Dance finally had Sea Mist in his arms, she was smiling gently with her eyes closed.  It was a nice ending to the bash, gently quiet and just a few friends around.  However, Bait wrestled with his mind, his poke at Hovlek had been a Freudian slip caused by thoughts he was having about Snow and how she was acting. 

 

Was Hovlek a victim of madness just as Cody and Calamity had been?  Was this also afflicting Snow now and if so, what triggered it?  What was the cure?  A cold hollow pit formed in Bait’s heart as these thoughts chewed at his mind.  There was part of his questioning he didn’t want an answer to.  He feared he already knew what had caused it.

 

Something happened that pulled Bait from his thoughts, something very unexpected and surprising.  A drumming began, on the arms of his chair, Hovlek was creating a beat.

 

“My grandma and your grandma were sitting by the fire, my grandma told your grandma I’m going to set your flag on fire…”  Came from Hovlek.  He was singing Iko-Iko, after he finished his verse, the rest filled in with their part.  Everyone was into what Hovlek started, everyone, including Bait and mysteriously odd Snow, got up and danced and sang.  Snow, Sea Mist and Kevashka formed up and harmonized in with the song.  Others took to drumming along in time with pieces of wood, on their legs, whatever they made available.

 

Even while dancing around the campfire and singing Bait was taking in the people and the situation, running everything though his process and storing it.  Piece by piece something was forming, but the timing wasn’t fully there yet. 

 

This watermelon wasn’t ripe yet, but the leaves on the vine were large and sturdy.  This plant was strong and had weathered the storms thrown at it. 

 

He had all the pieces, had them neatly arranged in tidy piles and the border was assembled as well as most of the fill-in pieces.  He just about had all the picture parts of the puzzle arranged and ready to go into their appropriate places.  He only needed to examine a few pieces closer. 

 

Still a few more questions.  All the dots had been connected.  He knew the swine, vermin, and other loathsome things, who they had been talking to, which whores they had been spending their nights with as well as the home team players and their fans.  Some of the fans did get a bit rambunctious at times, some even had been led away from the path they felt they should’ve been on.  

 

But it was clear now, they had no choice in the matter.  If no choice is offered, none can be accepted.  This is a cold hard fact Bait had uncovered in werewolf culture that, when considering things both close and in a final view, played many different rolls in the direction events trailed to. 

 

Werepeople do not have freewill, choices when offered are their only allowed deviation in life.  Otherwise they will follow a programmed decision making process.  One question that remained for Bait on that particular front was to the degree of the choices offered.  Could a choice be offered that would be in direct conflict with werewolf law?

 

The down side of this puzzle was that the pieces had to be assembled in the correct order, else, the whole thing blows to smithereens.  Game over - Fatality.  The losers?  Earths living creations.

 

-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-

 

It was down to just himself, Sea Mist… and Snow.  The fire was almost completely burnt out now, a few glowing embers remained, but even with a hand held inches from the center of the pit, only a faint warming of the palm gave evidence to the fire recently burning. 

 

Snow was in a daze and mentally, not even with them.  Sea Mist had walked up to her when they were first alone and tried to talk to her, failing to get any form of response, with a shrug of ‘what the hell’, she slapped her.  She used a bit of umph behind it, to make sure she had done ‘all she could’ to get her sister back into the current world.

 

“Nada, Boo-Boo go bye-bye.”  Sea said looking at Snow who only started the stroke on the hair Sea had knocked her hand from over again.

 

Returning to where Bait sat and observed from, Sea Mist plopped down into the chair beside him.  The others had gone to make preparations for the two young women who would be facing the morning sun together as it first crests the horizon.  Were-kind refer to this as morning’s kiss.  River Stone would be there for the former human. 

 

Hyden had said he would stand beside Shyhon, however an odd turn came into play.  snZm, he asked to be there for her.  It was common knowledge his dislike of oracles in general.  The rumor mill of the night had put word in Bait’s ears that snZm’s feelings for the young oracle that would be kneeling beside a vampire this morn, were far from kind, but never hate.

 

Soon the two would be brought and knelt in the proper direction.  The yard would be full of werepeople who would form a wide ring around the observed.  The main curiosity was Shyhon, what would happen to her when she kissed the morning sun.  There was a touch of mild interest in the vampire, but that was again curiosity raised by popular wondering of what Bait was up to.  This was something new to their ways.  A vampire kneeling beside an oracle in the front yard of a werewolf den house.  Inconceivable!

 

Sea Mist dug down into a pocket of the pants that still remained on her.  She pulled another joint out and held it up looking at Bait.

 

“Werewolf Bloody Fang, third generation.”  She said with a smile.

 

Bait snorted and shook his head at her as she put it in her mouth and fired it up.  She puffed it a couple times without inhaling then passed it to Bait, giving him the first actual hit off of the joint.

 

He waved her off at first with a ‘na-na’ sound, Sea said they had time, that the others would screw the pooch for a while yet before they started migrating up.

 

“And I’ll teach you cleansing rhythm too.”  She added in.

 

Bait sighed with a soft laugh.  “What the hell.  Werewolves and vampires, piss test is the least of my worries.”  He ended with as he took the joint from Sea Mist and took a toke.

 

“So, have I got this straight, you don’t drink alcohol, but you toke Mary Jane?”  Bait asked as he held his breath a bit then pulled more from the joint then handing it off.

 

Nodding, she ‘hit it then quit it and passed it to her comandie, yo!’.  Bait had to laugh at her improvisational rendering.

 

“Yup.  I quaff a brew once in a while, I try to once ah… couple weeks.  Get my grains.  You know.  Not my bag baby-cakes.”  Sea tittered.

 

“What secrets does Sea Mist store in her closet?  What skeletons lurk in there?  Tell me about Sea Mist.”  Bait said being as direct, blunt and probing as he could muster.

 

She took the joint from him, looked at him without focusing in on him then handed the joint back to him, waiting till he had a hold of it she looked off with a scoffing sound.  She thrust herself from her sitting upright position against the backrest of the lounge.

 

“I don’t know what you’re diggin’ for, Scooby-Snack, but there ain’t nothing to find here, nothing to see, keep moving.”  She snorted.  “Just plain ol’ Sea Mist the dumb blonde.  Nothing special about me, no skeletons, no deep dark past, I’m just…”  She waved her hands over her body, “this.”  Sticking her tongue out she rasped it in a raspberry sound.  “I’m okay with a sword, decent with an axe, best with my bow.  I can fly, can’t drive for shit, stay off the sidewalks.”  She said as she turned towards him with raised eyebrows and a pointed finger of mock warming.

 

“If you want to know something, ask.  Nothing to see here, therefore, nothing to hide.  Stupid Sea Mist.  Humans say I have great tits and a fine ass.  My mate says I have a beautiful twat, when he bothers to give it, or me, any attention and affection.”  A hint of sad touched in her voice as she finished.

 

A twitch pinched lightly at Bait’s cheek.  Interesting.  “You two been fighting at all?”  He asked.

 

Sea shook her head.  “No, not at all.  Things were great, like I said earlier, he was riding me like a stallion constantly.  We’d look at each other and BAM!  We’d be at it again.  Now, he’ll kiss me, I might get a second of tongue… kiss over.  Boring!  I don’t know, maybe something’s wrong with me, us.  Maybe we’re sick?”  She said as puzzlement crossed her face as she thought.

 

‘I guess I got her sharing.’  Bait thought to himself.  “Don’t know, Snow and I, same-same I guess, you know we can't be together, but there used to be a lot of affection, which was enough… from her.  I was content with her.  Now, I don’t know how to describe what I feel when I look at her.”  Bait said looking distant.  “Twat?  You actually call it that?”  He said after his mind finally registered the entire conversation. 

 

Sea Mist chortled.  “Yeah, you, men, human men, call it pussy.”

 

“Hey, human woman call it that too sport.”  Bait cut in with correcting her.

 

Nodding she resumed.  “Fair enough, true they do.  But men started it, women didn’t openly call it that like they do now twenty years ago.  Shit, now it’s in songs on the radio.  And it is a cat reference, and I am a werewolf.  And twat sounds more fun, like tits.  Tits and twat, fun words.  Breasts and vagina.  Oh please, could you make them sound less fun.  That part of me is very fun, I want it to sound fun when I talk about it.  Twat sounds fun, don’t you think so?”

 

Bait waved a finger at her as she passed the joint to him.  “No, no, not a chance.  I am not letting you pull me into that one!  I am not about to say anything about your twat and being or sounding fun.”  He took the joint from her as she broke into gut rolling laughter capped with snorting in from laughing so hard.

 

five thousand.  A distant voice said.

 

Looking over in the direction of Snow, they watched as she looked at her brush with a smile as she held it in front of her face with the bristles towards her.  She turned the brush over and held it across her at mid chest level and ran her fingers over the back.  He lips moved but even Sea Mist couldn’t hear what she said and there wasn’t enough lip movement for either to read what she said.

 

Bringing the back of the brush to her lips she kissed it then carefully placed it in a small white bag and tucked it into a dim-pocket.  When she raised her face, she was smiling like the old Snow, mostly.  She was a good twenty feet away on the other side of the ring of the former fire. 

 

She stood, folded her chair and grabbed it at the top then with a gingerly step, came to where her mate and sister sat, placed and redeployed her lounge and rolled into it.  Sea and Bait looked at each other with questioning.  Sea Mist leaned forward and held the joint out in front of Bait while looking at Snow.  She leaned forward and returned her sisters look.

 

“Is it yours?”  Snow asked.

 

Sea Mist snorted, her face said ‘you ask me such a question?’ as her upper frame surged a small offended implication. “Of course.”  She answered.

 

“Cool.”  Snow said and reached to accept the smoke.

 

Bait’s eyebrows shot up.  “Now that is something I wouldn’t have expected.  Maybe when we were out at my old house, but not since you’ve become miss iron brassiere.”  He commented to Snow.

 

She was still smiling when she passed the joint back.  Snow looked at her mate, smiled showing her teeth then turned and exhaled. 

 

“Twat does sound more fun.  She’s right there.  It’s what we call it, original werewolf slang actually.  Humans have all kinds of words they use for it in every country.  Dick, cock, tits and twat, we keep it simple, I personally think cootchie sounds fun too.  If a human female sat down with a group of men she worked with and said ‘my twat hurts’ she’d probably get fired and legal shit.  But if a man sat down with male workers and said his balls hurt, they would be more apt to show concern, maybe suggest he see a doctor.  Humans are funny that way.  All the separations they put between themselves for… weird reasons.”  Snow cheerily spurted.

 

Bait looked at Snow and ran his eyes over her ending with her eyes.  “Your hair looks nice.”  He said.

 

“Thank you!”  She chirped back enthusiastically. 

 

“Yeah, like it.  Does look nice.”  Sea Mist joined in with.

 

“Thank you.”  Snow answered looking at her sister.

 

Bait looked from Snow, hiding the hurt look in his eyes.  Sea Mist caught the look in his eyes. 

 

“Race, religion, nationality, anything they can come up with humans use to separate themselves from one another.”  Snow stated continuing on with her thoughts.

 

Bait and Sea Mist nodded in agreement.

 

“Tools of the darkness.  Cause division and strife.  What feeds it?  Convincing others they are better because of some arbitrary factor.”  Sea Mist said thoughtfully looking at the dead fire pit while fishing out another joint.  “Protestants believe they are right and better than Baptists, and that they are better than Catholics.”

 

“Then there is racism.  Now that one… Snow has spent more time around humans then me, I don’t get it.  Basing your entire life opinion of a group of people based on skin color.  ‘You’re not like us therefore, you are bad!’  Some of our kind that work with humans, or were turned, they see it and have a better concept of the human side, but no one has ever been able to explain it, not even humans.  I don’t even think they realize what they are honoring by hating someone because of some trite difference.”

 

Sea bent an arm up and held out an upturned left palm.  “Like here in the states, now if a black man calls another black man a nigger, it’s cool.  But if a white man calls a black man a nigger,” Sea flipped up her other palm in the same manner, “ it’s an insult and a homicide will probably follow.  People have lost their jobs because of a word because they were the wrong color to use it.”

 

Dropping her hands she sighed.  “Double standards only breed division.  If it’s wrong for anyone to call a black man a nigger, then no one should be allowed to used it.  Rap artists, changed the word to ‘niggah’.  Refer to their band or group ‘these are my niggahs’ and its cool, if their black; but a white rapper couldn’t call his group his niggahs.  Double standard.”

 

Sea Mist skipped her turn with the smoke.  “The reverse, say if a black man on TV called a white man a cracker or a honky, no harm no foul.  A racial slam is a racial slam.  Why can’t rap, crunk whatever artist they are all be called niggahs regardless of race just like rock and rollers are called… um… rock and rollers.  Inclusion instead of exclusion.  Take something bad and redirect it.  Like Christians and pagan holidays.”  Sea Mist ended still staring off and thinking.

 

Bait and Snow both were watching her and listening close.  They considered what Sea Mist had said quietly as the morning dew was setting in on the grass.  The breeze was picking up, changing the still night into a light breezy morning.

 

Bait chuckled a couple times softly and looked to Sea Mist who broke from her thoughts and turned to him when he chuckled.

 

“Sea Mist, I must say, stupid you most certainly are not.”  He said to his sister.

 

Snow passed the joint to Sea Mist.

 

“Thank you.”  Sea said to him softly with a gentle voice.

 

Snow raised her face with a smile and shook her head making her hair dance.  “It has always bothered me when you call yourself stupid; I second Bait in that notion, stupid Sea Mist is not.”  She gave an affirming nod.

 

Looking at her sister, Sea Mist’s smile broadened.  “Yes.”

 

Bait smiled inside.

 

“That’s what Alexander calls Jibble, ‘that nigger’ like it was his name.  Which is kind compared to what he calls and does to women.”  Snow said from her own thoughts.  “If it wasn’t for Jibble, Alexander wouldn’t even be here.”  She shook her head at the loss of comprehension of racism. 

 

“I thought Hondigahl gave Alexander his home here.”  Bait said turning his attention to his mate.

 

Nodding Snow went on.  “He did, Jibble was already here when Hondigahl fled for his life.  It was Jibble who set him up in the states as a favor to Alexander.  Then when Alexander had to flee, and came to Hondigahl, it was Jibble who funded building a coven for Alexander, at Hondigahl’s request, and that’s the thanks he gets. Being shit on by the man he helped the most.”

 

Bait looked off to the dead fire pit himself now.  His two consultants had given him information that may help.  Alexander’s own tricks may work against him.  If he calls Jibble ‘that nigger’ then he is also creating division within his own ranks, and the commander of his Dragons is always a woman.  If he treats her as poorly as he treats Jibble, he could be played to undermine himself.

 

This also played into Robert of the Clay.  Robert was a black man, very dark skinned.  As both Sea Mist and Snow were aware of Alexander’s racist nature, so was Robert.

 

“Hi Sam.”  Sea Mist said abruptly.

 

Bait and Snow both turned to look.  Sam came walking up from behind them and stood between Bait and Snow, looking to Bait first.

 

“Ah, see you’ve been workin’ it out.”  Sam said with a smirk and tapping his head on the side.  “Here to tell you, you’re on the right track, getting warmer, real warm now.  Why would a black man get involved with someone who only sees him as a nigger?”  Sam stood straight and adjusted his belt and pants.  “Best be seeing to that fence that needs mending”  He said then reached to his side where work gloves were tucked into his belt line and started putting them on as he looked out over the field of cattle they now sat in.

 

“Them cows need a good border collie to keep ‘em heading the right direction.”  He said with a nod out towards where he was looking.  When he finished with his gloves, he looked to Snow.

 

“Moo!”  Sea Mist said then laughed looking at all the cows around them.

 

Sam bent over and leaned into Snow looking her right in the eyes.  “Wouldn’t happen to know one now would you?”  He said to her.

 

Snow blinked fast a few times but Sam didn’t wait for an answer, instead he started walking forward through the long grass the cows were grazing on towards a horse  He adjusted some of the tack on the animal then climbed into the saddle.

 

He looked back over his shoulder to them, focusing on Snow.  “You don’t get them cows in line, their apt to stampede on you.”  Sam nodded again, pitched his heels and spurs into the horse which turned its head to one side, snorted fire, then looked forward and charged off as Sam yell the cowboy ‘he-yaw’ and snapped the reigns. 

 

As Sam rode off on a horse snorting fire with its hooves striking brilliant bursts of orange light from the ground the scene they were in faded with him in the distance until they once again sat in the yard.

 

The breeze grew a little stronger and danced more, fresh morning air rose in the scent of the wind.  Another change in the weather announcing the breaking of day that the night world ached for, and the world of the night raged against.  The sound of the door broke the morning’s delicate sounds, Hovlek was escorting Shyhon and snZm was seeing their vampire.

 

They were positioned in the exact easterly direction the sun would break from.  Switching sides, now that the escort was fulfilled, snZm stood for Shyhon.  Hovlek leaned in touching his forehead to Shyhon’s then, raising his chin, he lightly kissed her where the two had touched heads.  “Be wise.”  He said to her then joined the rest standing off to the side watching. 

 

Sea Mist broke from their ranks at a quick pace that matched the ridged movements of her arms.  She went and took the same position snZm was taking for the Shyhon, behind the sister of the deputy.

 

Interesting.

 

River Stone was only there in-case she survived the cleansing, at the front row of the circle around.

 

More people started flowing from the house.  A slower flow also came from the back of the small shed.  The ring around the group filled in more.  Worm, naturally, popped from the gathering in the yard, inside the ring right up to snZm.  She handed him a blue bottle with a small stopper in its top sealing it, about a pint in size.  Then she retreated into the crowd, only to resurface between Snow and Bait, taking one of their hands in each of hers. 

 

Bait gave Worm a smile that he carried to Snow then looked to where the action would be.  It had been maybe ten seconds since he looked frontward that he felt a hand on his outside shoulder.  Turning, his smile returned and to a much larger degree.

 

“Lisa.  I was thinking about you.  How are you getting along being in a den?  Making friends I hope.”  He beamed.  Love pride and joy were all dancing in his eyes and on his face.

 

Lisa had a hand extended to Snow’s outside shoulder also as she stood behind Worm who was leaning her head all the way back so she could watch the interaction.  She had clearly reserved her spot.

 

Raising her eyebrows and giving a thin-lipped tight smile Lisa started nodding.  “It’s… very different from the last nine years of my life, underground and hiding in a cabin in the woods.”  She let her hands fall to her sides and bobbed her head a bit as she considered her next answer.

 

“As to friends, I… wow, um… I think everyone here is my friend.  Accepted by default.”  Lisa concluded and smiled.

 

Bait smiled back and looked to where Shyhon was knelt shoulder to shoulder with the vampire sister of the deputy.  He was standing across from his sister at the front of the crowd that formed the ring around them.  Bait had allowed him to remain.  What was he going to do?  Report in that his sister had been turned into a vampire and a band of werewolves saved her?  Not if he wanted a job and to walk freely outside of a nuthouse. 

 

“Cross their arms, have them hold hands.”  Bait called out.  Shyhon moved to comply without help from snZm.

 

It was less than a minute later morning broke.  Moments before it did, snZm uncorked the bottle handing it to Sea Mist.  The woman opened her mouth as she bent her head back and Sea pushed the bottle in and allowed the contents to drain quickly into her.  She screamed after, and between every swallow.  The empty bottle was pulled from her mouth, and her head bent down just as the morning kissed her bringing with it a most terrifying, pained scream.  

 

Shyhon screamed beside her, both wide-eyed, faces of horror with their mouths as wide as the bones would allow; the sound of them echoing from the house and field surrounding it. 

 

As the light of the morning sun cascaded over their faces, a brilliant burst of light came from the woman Shyhon was beside.  It engulfed them both for several seconds.  The light seemed to pour from inside the woman flowing into Shyhon then out.  Frozen to the ground their bodies convulsed and contorted, one from the actual experience of being washed of death, the other from experiencing it with her. 

 

The screaming subsided moderately quickly.  The woman passed out, several seconds later Shyhon fell victim to the same condition.  Sea Mist suddenly threw her arms in the air and loudly as she could, started singing.

 

“Morning has broken, like the first morning.  Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird!”  She swooned out.

 

As she went on, others started to join in the song she had selected for the moment. 

 

“Praise for the singing, praise for the morning…”  Sea Mist now sang with accompaniment.  There were no instruments present in the crowd, more joined in as they went on.

 

The entire crowd was singing when they reset back to the beginning, pausing as the words morning has broken were sang.  From the field, a black mass was moving towards them.  It grew closer and Bait looked off with worry.  This reminded him of a dream, a vision he had not too long ago.  The image was still fresh.

 

“Blackbird has spoken…”  The audience sang on.

 

The cawing of the birds reached his ears and his brain recognized with relief it was a very large murder of crows.  The singing stopped.

 

“Here they come!”  Worm shrieked then giggled.  She was very excited.  “I’ve always wanted to see this since I read about it.  Hasn’t happened in three hundred years.”  She proclaimed as she watched with anticipation.

 

The birds swarmed onto the woman and pecked at her, not actually touching her.  They grabbed at strands, black strands that were sticking out from her like hairs.  They pulled on these strands by beating their wings, cupping them to reverse their draw and pull them from the woman with the strand in their beaks. 

 

Her body twitched unnaturally, though she made no sound as they were extracted from her.  Bait was reminded of vampire claws being ripped from someone.  The murder moved off with the darkness that was killed in her in their beaks.  snZm knelt down and righted the woman’s limp form.

 

The air was still, the morning perfectly quiet as even the insects seemed to be listening.

 

“Serve with us, or pass.  Choose now.”  He said.

 

All attention was on her, the crowd was holding its breath now.  Her head rolled weakly as she inhaled enough to speak.

 

“Serve.”  Came the gravely course whisper answer.

 

snZm raised his head, his eyes moved towards where Bait stood with the others.  After giving a bow of his head, he turned and faced Sea Mist.

 

“Daughter of Trust, sister of Snow, this is for you to do.”  He said, then lowered his head and waited.

 

Sea Mist looked first to Bait, then to Snow.  She didn’t have time to think, the woman had to be turned or die.  In this situation, a controlled one, a mated female would be selected.

 

She took a hesitant step forward, stopped, and tried to reconsider with a look towards her commanders.  Seeing their faces, she hurried to the woman, knelt and tilted the woman’s head as her fangs extended, lunged forward and bit the former vampire on the shoulder.

 

The deputy stepped forward and hurried to his sister when Sea Mist backed from her bloody neck and shoulder.  She sat up on her own as he arrived at her side and reached to help her up.  Pushing his hand away she stood, strong and solid.  Her brother’s face changed when he looked at her, when he met her eyes.

 

He took in what he saw slowly at first and then moving into a fast track of thought as he connected his dots.  He looked at snZm.  He looked weak himself now, his face was slack.  “I want to join with her.  I can’t go on now like none of this happened.  I want to help, this can’t happen to others.”  The deputy said to him.

 

snZm looked at Bait and Snow.  Sea Mist did as well from her sitting position on the ground with her face smeared with blood that had dribbled down her front between her breasts.  The image of her struck Bait as erotic somehow, he shook his head clearing his mind.

 

Bait nodded his head.  “You know what to tell him about snZm, explain everything to him.  Deputy…”  The man looked at Bait.  “This isn't a decision to be made lightly.  You can take a day or so to think about it, matter of fact, I want you to.  Just to be safe, I’ll put a couple with you.” He responded.

 

snZm pushed through the crowd with the deputy following to a more private location, while the crowd started to dissipate and go back down to the den.  Bait walked over to Shyhon and held a hand to her and helped her stand as Snow did the same for Sea Mist, who really didn’t need the help, it was a sisterly kindness.

 

“Come on pop-tart, I ain’t finished with you yet.  Let’s go.”  Bait told Shyhon as he yanked her up.

 

“What do you have planned now?”  Snow asked as she and Sea joined Bait and Shyhon. 

 

Bait snickered.  “Well, first we have to end this bash, and I think I know just how.  Then, we are off to see a man named Faldo.”  He answered her.

 

“Faldo.”  She responded in a voice that questioned why they needed to see him.

 

Turning Bait led his small group towards the house, the crowd parted and allowed them to pass when people saw them.  Those ahead of them would call out or tap the ones ahead of them and alert them to their commanders attempt to enter the den. 

 

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“Would you care to play me?”  Lord Hyden said to River Stone as he sat alone with his chessboard playing against himself.  He was sober and clear now.

 

River Stone continued to look at the chess game he had going with himself.  “I thought you would be with the others.”  He said blankly.

 

Hyden smiled as his body shuddered from his restrained laughter.  “I was thinking the same of you.  Why aren’t you up there?  Surely must be more interesting than sitting here.”

 

“I’ve seen it before.  Nothing really different then cleaning out a day walker or anyone else.  Birds, big deal.  Since it was held at a den, they make a fuss.  I was only there incase she lived, didn’t even need me, birds.”  He answered, emotionless with a slighted face.

 

Hyden held his hands clasped in front of him while he listened.  His eyes walked over the physician, watched as he moved his hands and adjusted pieces on the board then turned the game so the other players side was now near him.  He stopped moving and stared at the board with a hand of curled fingers near his nose that his face now rested on.

 

“I trust you lost your game to madam Snow?”  Hyden said, still with the smile on his face, though his voice carried a much more serious thread.  After he spoke he moved to the empty side of the chessboard, while River Stone made his move.

 

Hyden moved a piece.  River Stone paused with his hand in mid-movement towards his own piece.  A Hyden twist.  He retracted his hand and stared intently at the board.  A solid minute passed before he reached again and moved his piece.  Hyden reached out without any hesitation and moved his choice.

 

“Hmm, not a good move, knight takes queen.”  River Stone said.

 

“Then take it.  Your move.”  Hyden said from his standing position.

 

River Stone’s left hand moved out, stopped then moved in and out a few more times, coming closer each time to the piece he would take Hyden’s queen with.  His face moved as he worked the plays in his mind.  What was Hyden trying this time?  His hand came decisively out, plucked the knight, moved it’s down direction, then it’s across slowly, tapped the queen on the top and picked it up with the other hand and placed his knight in its new place.

 

“Knight takes queen.”  River Stone announced, he tried to sound confidant as he looked up at Hyden.  “Yes, Snow won her game.”

 

Hyden reached again without any hesitation and made his move.  River Stone followed suit.

 

“Check.”  He informed Hyden.

 

His smile had dropped, now it returned.  He could tell by River Stone’s expression, that made him nervous.  “And once again a game you have lost, will never be talked about.  Convenient for your record legend.  And good for you, throwing a game isn’t lying.”  Hyden said then reached for two pieces.

 

“Castle and check.”  Hyden announced, made his move then slowly pulled his hands back.

 

Another draw.  Both men nodded to each other, reached forward and tipped their kings over.  “Draw.”  They said in unison.

 

“Good-day to you Doctor.”  Hyden said, tipped his head to him then turned and walked into the people moving about around where River Stone sat.

 

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“So what is your big plan to get everyone to leave the bash?  Smoke grenades?  Or are you just going to go in and start barking orders?”  Snow asked when they were in the quarters they currently had use of. 

 

“Actually, the barking orders is your bag baby, me, I’m just a worm.  Information gatherer and vision seer.  Idea hamster.  Come with me precious.  You’ll get a kick out of this.”  Bait said to her with a smirk that made her smile suspiciously. 

 

“Ok human, lets see what you’ve got.”  She retorted and trailed after him as he walked.

 

Her mate led them to the oversized shower in their quarters.  He held up a finger while looking at her, then reached to his side and removed his radio pack and started messing on the display. 

 

Snow watched as he moved through the menu then selected ‘Public Address Network’ and entered his code.  He returned the radio to its place then faced into the shower and leaned in as he reached to the handle for the hot water.  He keyed his mic, cleared his throat then flipped the handle and turned on the shower.

 

Snow held her hands over her mouth to prevent herself from laughing out loud.  Her face turning redder the longer she held it in.

 

Once he un-keyed his pick-up, Snow let some of the laughter out.  “That was ingenious!  We better get undressed and hit the shower now.  Every shower room in the den is going to be getting turned on now.”  She said to him as she tried to breath, the color slowly returning to normal from her now brilliantly red face. 

 

“Right.”  He answered as he walked with her to where they would undress.  “Sea Mist will naturally join us, and Blade Dance better have the sense to come with her.  Hovlek won’t be far behind either, and who knows how many people will be coming with him!”  Bait responded further as he emptied his pockets and tossed his pants towards the dirty clothes bin.

 

Snow did much the same, only placing her clothes in the hamper and picking up his.  “If we ever build our own den that is one thing our quarters will definitely have, one room nothing but showers, big enough for twenty or so people to shower with us.”  She said smiling to herself at the thought of them building their own den.

 

Werewolves and water, couldn’t keep the two apart.  If you started a shower and other werewolves heard it, they would want to shower too.  In werewolf society shower time was a social time.  Thus showers in quarters were always made larger then human styles as werewolves almost always would end up with company.  Shower rooms in the open den for all to use typically were designed to accommodate fifty couples per shower room.

 

The same held for the pools and hot tubs each den had.  One would never find a werewolf alone in a pool or tub for long.  And should you come into the tub room and find one person there, they aren’t alone, they’re just the first to arrive. 

 

“Hey!”  Sea Mist’s voice said as it carried to them in the shower.

 

Soon her face popped in along with Blade Dance’s.  “Come on, were all going to Kevashka’s and Grey’s to shower.  Grab your clothes, hurry up!”  She urged them as she bounced in place.

 

Doing as they were told, and it would be rude to refuse the invitation, they hopped out of their shower, grabbed fresh duds and left with Sea Mist and Blade Dance for Kevashka’s.

 

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They had finally returned to their own quarters with Hovlek, who himself looked in need of a rest.  Snow couldn’t ever remember seeing the man look so haggard and worn-out.  They had sat down and were tuned out mentally when Sea Mist burst into the room, snapping everyone from their stupors. 

 

“So what’s shakin’ cucumbers?  What’s on the agenda?”  Sea chirped as she smiled at the room.

 

Snow looked at her mate, his face carried to much tired to accurately read what he was thinking.  He looked back at her with a smile as he put his thoughts in order.  After several moments he looked at Sea Mist, then between the two sisters as he spoke.

 

“Well, for starters…”  he shot a look towards Hovlek, “I’m going to take my calf shit brown truck to town with my mate and Shyhon.  You can come along if you want, Blade Dance too.”  He ended speaking to Sea Mist.

 

Her head started shaking and her lips mashed together as she considered her thoughts.  “No, he wouldn’t want to.  I don’t know what’s up with him lately.  Always into his training and training and working on training.”  She flapped her arms at her sides and let go an aggravated exhale through her lips.  “I’m game, been spending to much time underground lately, I miss seeing the sun.”  Sea Mist said as she looked off momentarily in thought.

 

“Truck is sand color, not calf shit brown.”  Hovlek said with a gruff voice that carried his tired with it.

 

“You coming with Hovlek, or are you going to opt out?”  Snow asked him.

 

Hovlek waved a hand at her.  “No, Hovlek stay, ah, new member, she will need Hovlek’s help…”  He paused and scratched the side of his head.  “Hmm, two of them.  Both women will need Hovlek.  Best if Hovlek here when needed.” 

 

Snow stood as Bait said ‘okay then let’s get Shyhon and get rolling’ then clapped his hands and rubbed them once then started towards the door with a springy step.  She pondered what he was up to.  Clearly he had made his mind up on Shyhon, but there were other things cooking in his brain.

 

He did ask her to approve things blindly.  She had yet to throw her word in either way, but she couldn’t help him like she wanted too.  He was assuming to much.  Choose.  He wasn’t pushing on her like the others had, but he was just as expectant, and in a way that made his non-pushing, the hardest pushing she was receiving.  She had a lot of questions she wanted to ask him.

 

For starters, how was he able to hold a werewolf sword?  She had heard Hovlek say ‘she likes you’.  What did that mean exactly?  Bait had said there was plenty going on that was missed that he needed to figure out, things people had been hiding or keeping quiet about.  There was plenty going on right here as well.

 

Bait was doing things, werewolf things.  He was still human.  She couldn’t turn him.  If he were turned by someone else, he would still not be allowed to bite her.  He told her pieces were falling into place, he was sure he knew were Alexander’s home was now.  He asked her for orders she couldn’t give.  Orders Lord Leyland would have to give, and he wasn’t pleased with her either.

 

Three days.  Snow sighed.  Three days to be convinced a choice had been offered her.  She had no choice, none had been offered, and she had been listening.

 

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Worm stood by the drivers door smiling when Bait and the others arrived to where it was parked.

 

“I thought you and your family were invited to Hovlek’s for some hot tub time?”  He said to her.

 

Her head started nodding fast.  “Yes sir, they were, but I said I would rather go with you, and Lady Sea Mist did ask me before I found out Hovlek invited my family.”  Worm said with her smiling face aimed at him. 

 

He guessed cruising around with Snow and Sea Mist was a lot more fun from a kids point of view than sitting around listening to the adults talk.  Bait could tell she had read his answer in his face already, she had started to bubble.  “Fine, your parents did say it was alright?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“K, but I’m driving, you're in the back with Sea Mist, Kevashka and Shyhon.”  Bait said sternly, but he also could tell that Worm knew he was putting up a front.  Kevashka came around the side of the house with something unusual for her, a smile.

 

They all climbed into Bait’s truck.  As seat belts were fastened various comments and questions were tossed about as is normal when getting ready to go to town, when you haven’t been in a while… for recreation instead of business, or was this business?  Why was there a difference?  People always say to have fun at work, but what if your work is a real killer?

 

“It’s not too late Colonel Bait sir, I can drive for you your Grace, then you can pay more attention to Lady Snow!”  Worm interjected with electric enthusiasm, and cast an eye with a wink at Snow when she finished.

 

Scoffing, Bait shot a narrowed eyed look back to Worm.  “Fraid not young one, too many ponies under this hood for you to handle yet kiddo.”  He told her.

 

“It’s sixteen… ponies sir, if that’s the same as the horsies Hovlek was talking about when he put it in.  I watched.”  Worm told Bait who’s one eye twitched at hearing this.

 

He chuckled.  “I think you misunderstood something he said, There is no way this thing does over a hundred and eighty miles an hour on sixteen horse power.”  Shaking his head while he looked at her.  “Just ain’t possible sweetie, I’m sorry, he must have said sixteen hundred, and even that would be a lot.”

 

Worm shook her head fast disagreeing with him.

 

“I’ll drive.”  Sea Mist announced loudly.  “This is all wrong.  Kevashka, Worm, you, out.  This is backwards anyways.  You two, out of the front and into the back, let’s move people!”  She ordered and the back doors of the crew cab opened and Sea Mist and Kevashka started getting out and Worm moved to follow Sea Mist.

 

“Nope Bait, sorry, but we are supposed to be driving you.  Your Graces.”  Sea Mist announced.

 

“She is right Bait.  You’re the one that wanted code followed.  Get out sir.”  Kevashka smiled, now on the outside of the truck looking in the window at him from Snow’s side.

 

Sea Mist was already at the front of the truck when Bait started around the front.  The hood popped up as she nodded at Worm who released it from inside the cab.  Bait stopped as she raised the hood and looked in.

 

“Shit, there’s nothing there!”  He yelled as he looked into the opening under the hood of the truck.

 

Bait leaned in and looked at the small engine tucked in low in the mostly vacant cavity of his engine compartment.

 

Worm started to speak.

 

“Hovlek drive plant, seventeen point four.  Connecting you to the ground is the Hovlek hydraulic light combat drive frame, four point four.  Power for your electronic devices and lights are provided via the Malkah Advanced Power Delivery System twenty-nine point eight.  The engine is a sixteen horse power alcohol fired cowl induced aspiration chamber fed through two separate carburetors for pre-vaporization of the fuel before it is ram inducted into the dual injectors for each of the two cylinders, engine.  Which get their air supply from the Malkah-Hovlek Selective Air System which restricts the type of elements allowed to be mixed with the fuel.  This gives the whole mix a blend of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrous-oxide and helium.  Hovlek says the helium helps lubricate.” 

 

When Worm finished speaking Bait brought his head around the side of the hood, she had climbed out onto the running boards and had stuck her head between the door and the side frame of the truck.  He looked at her, ‘how in the hell did you know all that kid?’ ran though his mind as he looked at her.  She started giggling and went back into the truck.

 

Sea Mist slammed the hood shut.  Bait followed her orders and went to the back while the others took their places in the front.  He noticed Sea Mist had placed Worm behind the wheel.  No surprise there.

 

“Where to Colonel Bait?”  Worm asked once everyone was strapped in and ready. 

 

He gave a look to Snow, she had started brushing her hair again.  He raised his eyebrows then looked back to Worm.  “You don’t happen to know where Faldo’s shop is, do you?”  He asked.

 

Worm shook her head.  “No sir, I’ll just enter his name in the navigation system.”  She said then reached for the controls.  Bait was trying to tell her no, that wouldn’t work with his navigation system when his eyes fell on the screen as it powered up.

 

Three lines of text appeared, one above and bellow a larger font size line.

 

‘Network:’

‘Seventeen Systems’

‘Navigational Network’

 

An upgrade he had missed.  He hadn’t used the system since Hovlek worked on the truck. 

 

Worm typed in ‘Faldo’ and entered the request.  It took no time at all, the system returned three route solutions.  One was the shortest distance, one said it was the fastest based on traffic and construction, while the third was a tactical approach to the location.

 

“Is that the correct location Colonel Bait sir.”  She asked.

 

“Yes, you got it, but if you’re driving, then your co-pilot there should be handling the navigation.”  He answered giving Sea a snarky look.

 

Worm adjusted her seat and fired up the vehicle.  It churned to life with a roar.

 

“And sixteen ponies sounds like that.”  Bait muttered.

 

Worm’s head started nodding fast.  “Yes sir, and the effective torque applied where the rubberized emollient material contacts with the impervious aggregate material equates to thirty-eight hundred of your ponies.”  She said.

 

Bait’s eyebrow raised.  “Alright short-round, go!”  He said and pointed forward.

 

Worm put the truck in gear and pulled out, far better than Bait had done with his first experience with the Hovlek power drive mighty mouse go-go system point whatever.

 

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Worm pulled off to the side of the road and was slowing to stop after the emergency lights of the CHP SUV came on behind her.  The squad was passing her then dropped in behind her and pulled her over. 

 

While the officer was calling in the plate numbers on the vehicle, Worm dug into her pockets, she finally found what she was looking for and pulled it out.  Sea Mist did her part and went to the glove-box and procured the proof of insurance cards and title slip.  The officer rapped on the window with her night stick.  Worm pressed the button and began the window on its travel down then let the automatic take it the rest of the way.

 

“Here’s my license and registration officer.  What did I do incorrectly?”  Worm asked.

 

The stern looking middle aged woman gave the driver a quick once over then took the license from her.  She scrutinized the license visually, then scratched at the photo.  She looked up at Worm again.

 

“I’ll be right back, stay put.”  She said with a sternness that matched her appearance.  She went back to her squad.

 

Worm popped up from her seat and looked back at Snow first, then rested her eyes on Bait.  “Agent Rheineer gave it to me.  No worries.”  She said cheerily.  She turned back around and waited.  The officer came back to the window.

 

“You’re really nineteen?”  She asked, her face held doubt, but confusion flooded over that.

 

“I know I’m short for my age, but I can’t help that.  You don’t have anything against people with disabilities do you officer?”  Worm said, her voice took on a worried edge when she asked her question.

 

damn, that kid has some sand.  That was good.’  Bait thought out.

 

‘I smell a bit of you there.  I’d add to that, she learned from the best.’  Snow thought back.

 

thanks, but I think your kind taught her more than I could on answering without answering.’  He returned.

 

“No.”  The officer started quick.  “It’s not that, you just looked too young to be driving.”  She laughed nervously now.  “You don’t look nineteen.”  She ended and handed the license Steven Rheineer made for her, and the records back to her.

 

Worm smiled politely.  “That’s okay officer, you don’t look fifty-two at all.”

 

The woman made no effort to hide the shock she was experiencing.  Her eyes shot wide open, her jaw dropped slightly.  “You’re free to go, sorry about the mix up, have a nice day.”  She said in a distant voice, then turned and walked back to her squad. 

 

Worm signaled and pulled back into traffic.  “We should be at Faldo’s in twenty minutes, unless I get stopped again.”  She told her passengers.

 

-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-

 

Steve Rheineer, the name brought up another thought, he’d wanted to remember to talk to Steve.  He loosed his radio from his belt and pulled up Steve’s link.

 

“Hey Steve, first I wanted to thank you for taking care of Worm’s drivers license.  It’s getting to become a habit having you make them for me.”  Bait said to his friend when he answered.

 

The two men talked about other issues, Steve reported for a bit then Bait turned to the reason he called.

 

“Steve, I need you to get some files for me, I want everything there is that Robert ever filed that is in the archives in Ireland.  I also want everything there is on Kicks’ mate, Music, I especially want everything that was from around the time she died.”  Bait told his friend.

 

There was a momentary pause in Steve’s response.  “Got it.  Anything else while I’m on the get?”  Steve responded.

 

Bait thought for a second.  “Yeah, get me the number for the Sana Barbra Police Department.  I need to look at some old records there.”  He said distantly from the pool of thoughts in his mind.

 

“No problem.  Rheineer out.”

 

Bait put his radio away, he was trying to wrangle some memories and thoughts down when Snow broke his concentration.

 

“Music?  What does she have to do with this?”  She asked.

 

Bait looked to her.  His face was somber.  “Anyone heard anything about or from Kicks?”

 

Snow shook her head slowly and looked down.  Sadness touched her as she wondered what happened with her cousin.

 

“I don’t know.  She may have nothing to do with it at all, it’s… just… it’s a feeling that there is something there, the day she died.”  He flailed his hands in the air a few times.  “There has to be some reason Kicks came back, nothing has been shown to me without a reason.  I met Music, I saw her face, I could smell her.  I’m damn sure that didn’t happen for no reason.”  Bait looked forward when he finished his answer.

 

Snow looked off herself as she thought.  There was no arguing anything he had said.  Things were happening for reasons, often they wouldn’t know the reason until after the fact.  The important  part was that they kept moving forward.  And that was something her mate did very well, he kept them moving forward.

 

-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-

 

“Ah!  Duncan, who I hear is now Bait, and accepted his position.  What brings you out so early.”  Faldo amplified himself with hand gestures of various flavors thrown to whomever he was speaking at.  His voice matched his performance.  “Snow, so good to see you.  Ah, the delicate flower Sea Mist, greetings to you my dear, Kevashka, always a delight.”  Faldo coughed exaggeratedly. 

 

“The stitched shut mouth, you have to be Shyhon the Loose Lipped.”  He said to Shyhon with a less then pleasant and welcoming look.  His eyes went to Worm and his smile returned.  “And prey tell, who might this young miss be?  Starting training a bit young now aren’t we Snow?  Welcome young girl, I am Faldo.  This is my salon.  Now, what is it that you need today, Bait?”  His eyebrows raised.

 

With a light laugh and a shake of his head at Faldo Bait pointed to Shyhon.  “Let’s speak in private.”  He said to Faldo.

 

The others watched when Bait and Faldo returned.  They took Shyhon into a back room after Faldo locked the entrance door and changed his sign to read closed.  Faldo looked at the stitches in her lips.

 

“Kodlien stitches.  Need a special blade to cut those.”  Faldo stated as he looked her face over.

 

“And you happen to have such a tool, right?”  Bait asked.

 

Faldo stood up straight from Shyhon’s face.  “Naturally.  In my business, the need does arise.”  He said in a voice telling of the luck they had in coming to him. 

 

It may have been Faldo wasn’t supposed to have the tool needed, had procured it along his paths of life and kept mute about it.  However it fell into place, Bait knew when he left that morning, whatever they needed Faldo would have, something inside told him that.

 

Faldo began by snipping the first stitch with a slate gray colored scissors.  The sound of the tool cutting the string sounded odd, a sound that caused one to think the stitches were made from something not of this world, and they would have to be to keep a werewolf mouth shut.

 

He took a tweezers from a tray and pulled the stitch he snipped out.  Shyhon twitched a bit in a flinching manner, but made no sound.  He dropped the stitch onto the tray on one corner, set the tweezers down and reached for the special scissors again.  Another snip, the tweezers were used again, and the stitch dropped on top of the last one. 

 

Faldo tediously repeated this with all thirty-five stitches that were used to seal Shyhon’s mouth.  When the stitch was pulled out, a small droplet of blood would form where it had been.  When he finished with half of her mouth, he took a gauze pad and wiped the blood from her lips.  Her eyes stayed cast down the entire time. 

 

The last stitch pulled out and dropped, the blood removed, no trace of the stitches remained.  Then Faldo changed out his trays.  Snow recognized these tools.  Similar ones had been used on her when she had her lips pierced.  Shyhon didn’t wince at all as Faldo removed two small cores of skin and placed a medium sized lip ring that connected through her top and bottom lip about a half inch or so from the end of her mouth on the left side.  He did the same to the right, then one in the middle. 

 

She could open her mouth and feed herself.  She could speak if she wanted to.  When finished, Faldo put his tools away as the others watched Bait and Shyhon.

 

She looked at Bait with milkmaid eyes. 

 

Snow could see she was a different person then when they first met, and since she returned.  There was a different look in her eyes, an understanding.  She seemed more meek, hesitant, considerate.  Snow couldn’t help but wondering what she had experienced in the oubliette, or when she was in contact with a vampire who kissed the morning sun. 

 

She felt at peace with the woman in front of her now.  Why, was the question that plagued her. 

 

Bait snapped his fingers in front of Shyhon causing her to look to him.  “You were issued a penance to learn from, and to cleanse yourself of your ill ways.”  He started saying to her.  “Even if I could, I would not remove the penance you still face.  I choose to follow a different interpretation.”

 

Shyhon was thin and gaunt, she probably hadn’t eaten since she was taken from Snow’s den. 

 

“Starvation was not part of the penance.  For the rest of your days you shall wear these rings to remind you of your penance, to remind you of the power of your words and the dangers of speaking of things you see before their time.  Shyhon, have you learned discretion?”  Bait asked.

 

Shyhon stood from the chair Faldo had put her in for the work being done to her.  She bowed low to Bait.  When she faced him again she nodded her head.

 

“Answer me.”  Het said firmly.

 

“Yes, your Grace.”  She spoke faintly and gently.

 

“Then demonstrate it.”  Bait said.

 

Shyhon turned and stepped in front of Snow and repeated her bow to her.  “I have wronged you in more ways then you know Princess Snow.  I spoke of things I had knowledge of without seeking guidance.  I wronged you.  Please forgive me if you can find it in your heart Princess Snow.”  She bowed again, then continued down onto a knee.

 

Looking at her, something came over Snow.  She never would have thought herself able to do what she did, she was over the line herself now.

 

“Shyhon of Hyden.  You have been displaced from your home, sent out in exile, is this correct?”  Snow asked.

 

Shyhon nodded from her knee to Snow.

 

Snow could feel Bait’s intensity on her, he was interested in what she was doing.  His eyes sparkled at her encouragingly. 

 

“Your penance shall be this, from this day on you will reside at House Squat, your chosen mate has two days to present himself at your side.  You and your chosen mate will make your home in the oubliette that you spent the night in.  I will send two craftsmen to work with you to make it livable and comfortable.”  Snow blinked a few times, cocked her head then went on with the thought in her mind.

 

“You will never travel, unless ordered to do so by Lord Hyden himself.  You will spend your days in the yard at House Squat, at the front of the house to make yourself present for those who will visit you.  This is where you will spend your life, between your home in the oubliette, and the front yard.”  Snow looked to Bait for approval when she finished.

 

His eyes smiled back at her, his face said ‘well done’.  Snow felt a warmth inside her, it was short lived being drowned out by worry.  It was a nice moment though.

 

-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-

 

By the time they arrived back to the den, Steve had the information Bait had requested. 

 

“These are all the records from Music’s den and her family from where she was born.”  Steve handed a file folder and a flash drive to him. 

 

His face said something Bait wasn’t going to like came next.  “I pulled files from our network here, there’s some… problems with the records clan Clay has filed.  It seems they deleted many of Robert’s files when he was retired as a traitor.  Normally I would say that would be expected, now, I just think it’s too damn convenient.” 

 

“And let me guess…” Bait began, “They didn’t back their files up with the archives in Ireland.”

 

Steve’s face wore his answer.  “Since they view themselves as the head of the state clans, and because Robert was working on what they deemed ‘security sensitive operations’ they were allowed to exclude anything he did from any official archive requests.”

 

Bait nodded.  “Get Seven up here, we need his help I think.  He’s a slippery little bastard himself.”  Bait nodded slightly as he looked his old friend in the eyes with a face of suspicion.  “I think its time to put Mr. Seven of Teen on a mission.  A cloak and dagger one.”  The two men nodded at each other when Bait finished his thought.  Each understanding what the other was thinking.

 

Time to stop asking and start taking.

 

“Here’s the phone number you wanted, I’ll go shake up Seven for you.”  Steve said.  Bait gave him a nod.

 

“Thanks.”  Bait said taking the piece of paper he had the number on as Steve walked by to leave.

 

Steve left in search of the elusive Seven and Bait went to his desk.  He picked up the phone on the desk and accessed a landline, then slowly dialed the number as his mind wander off to a time, back in the day…

 

“Santa Barbara Police Department, Officer Wyler, how may I direct your call?”  The voice that answered said, a familiar voice?  Maybe through the years, it sounded like her.  She wouldn’t be answering phones though, would she?

 

“Tanya Wyler?”  Bait said with a question on his face as well as in his voice.

 

There was an uncomfortable pause before the woman answered.

 

“May I ask who is calling please?”  She asked.

 

There was something in her voice, a touch of fear, suspicion, and something else.

 

“Sorry Tanya, it’s Duncan Galt.  We used to be on the force together.”  He said, hoping it was her, having assumed it was by the pause.

 

Her voice was happier when she spoke, now she sounded like she was talking with an old friend.  “Duncan Galt, my, my, it’s been some time.  Last time I saw you was at your going away party we held for you when you joined the CIA.  Shit Duncan! … Man, how have you been?  Still with the agency?  Hey, if you’re looking for a job, stay out of Sana Barbara.”  Tanya said, her voice became cold at the end.

 

“Yeah, I’m in a special department now, but I’m still carrying CIA credentials.  Fighting to keep people safe.”  He said pleasantly, he would have to get to business soon.  “What’s with you answering phones?  Short handed down there?  You were bucking for detective when I left.”  He let his sentence hang.

 

Tanya sighed into the receiver of the phone.  Her voice depressed.  “Yeah, well, like I said, you wouldn’t want to work here now.  Long story, let me give you my home number and we can talk about that later.”  She said to him.

 

Bait copied down the number she gave him and thanked her, then he moved back on target.  “Tanya, I need some records from when I was on the force there, who’s handling records now?”  He asked.

 

Tanya didn’t respond right away, Bait could tell by the way her breathing changed in the receiver she had become indignant and angry.

 

“Bokham.  He’s runs records now.  Son of a bitch.  That bastard gets fired from here, goes up to some small town in Minnesota, gets a job there as chief of police then talked the dimwitted city council into giving him a college allotment so he can further his education.  As soon as he got it, he gets the job here.  Since he’s management now his record as an officer is of no interest to the powers that be.”  Tanya rattled off.

 

Randal Bokham.  Status:  asshole.

 

“I see.  Well, I’m sure I can persuade him to be cooperative.  CIA ID has a way of doing that.”  Bait said blankly as he thought.

 

“Good luck with that, that rat fink is greasy, anyway he can screw you, he will.  I’m sure you remember.  What records are you looking for?  Maybe I can flush them out for you.”  She asked.

 

Bait raised his eyebrows when she asked.  This is what he had called for, he didn’t know why he had an ominous feeling about asking for them, it was a long time ago now, no interest to anyone but him.

 

“Harper’s Hardware store, they day it blew up, I want all the records from that day, every arrest, traffic ticket and anything else that had a police report filed with it.”  Bait stated

 

Silence.  He thought the line had gone dead.

 

“Tanya?”  He said with question in his tone.

 

The pause continued for a few more moments before Tanya answered.  “Duncan, what the frell do you want with those files?  That’s what got me busted, stray dogs rank higher than me and why I’m stuck at this desk answering phones.”

 

“I’ll call you tonight Tanya.  Put me through to Bokham please.”  Bait responded as he chewed his lip taking in the new information.

 

 

 

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