The Protectors
Author: Fox Wild

Chapter 24
Freewill

Chapter 24

 

Freewill

 

 

Bait had ordered their old quad stripped of everything right down to the walls then cork board put over that.  No new office space after all.  He was printing and pinning information to the walls, arranging then rearranging, adding information, subtracting it then adding it again with other information. 

 

“Interesting choice of wallpaper brother.”  Sea Mist said as she wandered in with Worm at her hip. 

 

He looked back at them then stuck another pin on some piece of information.  “It’s a mess, what I’ve figured out, not the walls, those are the clarity.  Shit’s deep.”  Bait said as he looked at the walls.

 

“Need any help?  I was just going to go shopping with squirt here and her mama.  Payday today, squirt here wants an I-something, music box thing...”  Sea Mist waved her hand dismissively.  “We can hold off if you need us.” 

 

Bait was still looking at his walls. 

 

His hand went to his chin, another thought train rolled by.  “Payday... yeah, no I’m good.”  He looked to the girls.  “Just need to put all these puzzle pieces in order, then the picture will focus.  I have the pieces, now I just need to get the picture in clear sight.”  His eyes finished on Sea Mist.

 

She was staring back distantly.  “What do you see in this picture?”  She asked.

 

“Plans within plans.  That’s what Bait sees.”  Sea Mist nodded when he said this.

 

“Need anything from town?”  She asked.

 

He blinked, ran a hand over his face and removed the creepy aura he had developed.  “No, no I don’t need anything.  You two go on, have fun.  Say hi to your mother for me.”  He ended with a smile at Worm.

 

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He had more tables brought in, along with more piles to put on them and maps to spread out.  Almost every wall had something on it now, even the bathroom and shower.  He wanted to go over information with Penelope and see if he could dig anything out of her that might be useful. 

 

Snow was with him, engaged in her own hunt which seemed to involve a good portion of information he had already collected.  She had enlisted the help of Kevashka and Grey along with Mud and Morning Dew.  They were sorting files for her and helping locate information.

 

“This is interesting Snow, you were right.  The Westbridge numbers are no where’s near the others.”  Kevashka said causing Snow to move to where she was at.

 

Snow was looking over the papers Kevashka had held.  She switched between files and the two women talked quietly as they read and compared information.  “Same with the few Westbridge clans that exist over here.  Odd in itself.”  Snow said.

 

Bait looked over at her.  “What numbers?  Westbridge?  Speak to me.”  He said remaining where he was.

 

“Attrition, numbers of den members that have left.  Dropped off the map.”  Snow said with a conclusive voice.

 

“People who have off and joined unregistered dens more than likely.”  Bait concluded for her.

 

They stood and looked at each other for a few moments. 

 

“What was it about the door, what Worm saw at our broken door?”  Snow asked with a hard tone.

 

Bait stood straight from the table he was bent over and sighed.  He looked haggard.  Snow could tell the few hours of sleep he was granted, wasn’t nearly enough. 

 

“The doors in the living area, when Squat took the den over one of the things they had to do was change the locks around on the quarters doors.  When Seven broke our door, the remains of the part with the lockset in it still had the plugs in the top holes of where the lockset had been.  The bottom ones were gone.  The plugs fit either side of the door, when they swapped sides, the plugs were moved from one side to the other as the screws for the lockset filled the other side.”  Bait explained, Snow was putting pieces together.

 

“The screws left different marks in the wood than the plugs, and the marks were in both sets of holes.  The wood had been bored recently on the outside, the pugs aren’t as old as the door.  The locks had been swapped from their original position and the pugs added before Squat’s people moved them.  By recently I mean in the last twenty to fifty years or so.”  Bait gave Snow a moment to absorb this information.

 

The door was broken, that was what tripped Bait’s switch.  She saw it now, in the original prison the locks were on the inside which begged the question why would the locks need to be changed?  Why would they need to be set to lock someone in?  That was pointless to a werewolf…

 

“They had humans in here.”  Snow announced with a frigid voice.

 

The room became dead silent.

 

Bait started nodding.  “That’s what I’ve been thinking, nothing we can do about that.  What I need to understand is the why, and that’s why I am building this timeline and all the random pieces.  There’s more than one player in this game.  Plans within plans, one of my visions told me that.”  All eyes were on him as Penelope walked into the room. 

 

“I’m sorry, did I interrupt something.”  She asked meekly, looking around at the people with her. 

 

“Yes, you did.”  Bait said focusing his attention on her.  “And it needed interrupting.”  He ended giving her a reassuring smile.

 

“Oh.”  She said and looked around with uncertainty. 

 

Bait had the book she had and the map that had been hidden laid out on a table waiting for her arrival.  Around the map he had pertinent data from the time the map was drawn to present day.

 

“I need your help figuring things out here, I want to you look at this stuff and see if it jars anything loose in your memory.  Anyone you may have met, talked to about… werewolves and vampires.  Comments, things you may have seen that were out of the ordinary.  Any trivial detail may help me in my digging.  I don’t care if you think it’s silly, I want to know.”  Bait told her then motioned with a finger for her to come to him.

 

Mud made her way to near where Bait was, she was looking for a folder Snow wanted.  Penelope started towards Bait.  “I really don’t know much, I’ve told you everything I can think of.  I’m not holding anything back, really.”  She stopped in front of Bait looking calmly to his eyes.  She wished she could be more help.

 

He held his smile to her.  He had been through this drill many times, he amazed people at what he helped them remember, it was usually a mater of perspective.

 

“I know you have, I want to help you remember things you may not have noticed at the time, or things you may have forgotten.  Let’s start with the map, give it a good look and remember events that have happened to you because of it, things mentioned by anyone.”  His voice had a calming effect on her.

 

Making a doubtful noise, she looked to her feet.  “Not really anyone I talked to knew anything.  Most of what I know I discovered on my own.  People thought I was crazy, so I stopped talking to them.  The only person who ever gave me any credit was John Smith, a human werewolf and vampire hunter.  He works at a special agency, government I think.”  Her head was hanging down now.

 

Bait looked off in thought.  “John Smith, you’ve got to be kidding me… you don’t mean… was he an X-files guy, FBI, big guy, built like a front line man for a pro football team?”

 

“Yes!”  Penelope ejected with enthusiasm, her head rising with her spirits  “That’s him!  You know him?”  Her eyes were bright with hope, someone Bait might actually know, proof she wasn’t crazy.

 

“Yeah, I’ve met him …”  He began.

 

“My map!  What have you done to my map?!”  Penelope screamed out when her eyes drifted over to the table the map that had been folded in her book was laid out on.  “Why would you do that?  Drawing all over it!”  Her face was distraught.

 

Her shriek drew the attention of Mud and the others, Mud being the closest was the first to look at what Penelope was upset about, but to her eyes, there was nothing new on the map.  Snow and the others moved up behind her.

 

“The map is the same as it was before, nobody has done anything to it Penelope… it’s the same map.”  Mud said trying to calm her.

 

“No, it’s not!”  She insisted.  “There weren’t any arrows, and this writing, DOG see, DOG read, that wasn’t there before, and the circles around some of the writing, those weren’t there before either.  These marks aren’t old like the writing on the map.  Why would you write on it!”  She was near tears thinking her artifact had been defiled.

 

“Penelope, those were always there, they were when we first saw it, I’m sure of it.”  Kevashka said looking to the map then back to the upset woman.

 

“No…”  She started to retort.

 

“Hold on!”  Bait said ending the debate.  He looked at Kevashka to Mud then to Penelope.  “Dog… where do you see the word dog?”  He asked.  His brow was furrowed, his eyes narrowed as he looked at her.

 

Penelope pointed to the top left corner of the map.  Bait looked, he saw no writing, only the yellowed aged parchment the map was made of, no marks whatsoever. 

 

“It’s probably an insult from a vampire or day walker Bait.”  Snow said.

 

He shook his head.  “How would they get a hold of the map and why would they write on it and not destroy it, no, dog means something.”

 

He turned his attention back to Penelope.  “The last time she saw the map, she still had human sight, her eyes hadn’t fully adjusted yet.   Now she sees with different eyes, and you guys are saying nothing has changed.” 

 

Snow nodded.  “True, like you and the picture, but what is significant about dog?  Dog see, dog read, it doesn’t make sense to me.” 

 

Bait’s head started shaking, he looked from Penelope to the map and started digging in pockets.  “I need my werewolf eyes, not dog the animal, initials, D. O. G., their all caps right?”  He asked as he pulled out his contact case.

 

“Yes.”  Penelope and Snow answered in unison.  Snow’s voice held hope that her mate had made another connection.

 

“DOG, Duncan Oscar Galt.”  Bait said then turned his back to them as he put his contacts in.

 

Grabbing his radio pack he activated the contacts and looked at the map.  There it was, the writing everyone else had seen and not thought anything of.  The arrows pointed to the boxes of text that were a mishap of sentence structure and jumbled words.  He was running a finger along the text and reading out loud, shaking his head as he went.

 

“How are we supposed to make that useful?  Can't even understand it, like it was poorly translated from some other language.”  Kevashka stated.

 

“Yeah.”  Bait said looking to her.  Then he looked back down with a smile.  “Exactly, another language.  Sounds just like a book I read once… my uncle gave…”  Bait looked at Snow with his Rick Decker Blade Runner face.  “Son of a bitch, I’ve had it this entire time.”  His face was a daze as reality crept in.  “My father didn’t have any full brothers, only a half brother.”

 

“Lover, what are you talking about?”  Snow asked.  “The book from the picture?”

 

“No, not that book, the werewolf law book.”  He said as his mind raced.

 

Snow’s face was confused.  “You have tons of books and computer files with our laws in and on them, what’s special about this one?” 

 

He started rummaging though papers.  “No, not like this one, this is the actual law, the original law from when werewolves first were… began, created.  The pure version of the laws, because the immortals, they don’t do anything unless there is cause, they can’t.  Those are the rules they live by, have to.  Werewolves have adapted new practices for whatever reasons over the centuries, to the point, a lot of the rules we follow, aren’t any real law, custom more than anything.” 

 

Kevashka scoffed.  “If something was against our law, the immortals would have never allowed it.”

 

Bait shot her a quick smile.  “Exactly, and if what a leader decided to impose as a rule didn’t violate any law, they wouldn’t stop it, then over time, it becomes accepted as law.  The original reason for the rule no longer exists, but the law is common practice.  In the end, it works out to we’ve pigeon holed ourselves with our own rules that we don’t need to follow, and there are some that are using these perceived laws in not so nice and honorable ways.”  Bait looked at Snow.

 

“We’re going for a ride aren’t we?”  She asked with a knowing smirk.

 

Bait smiled back at her, he needed to tell her before they left.  No, maybe when they got back, or during the flight.  Should he talk to Hyden?  That was another issue.  Hyden, all the others, the immortals and their staff had left.  Even snZm was long gone back to the home den.  Hyden was still poking and lurking about, why?

 

“Time to fire Phillip up.  Unless you want to try to fly the box fan.”  Bait said as he organized some files, his eyes kept returning to the map.

 

“No, I am not flying Hush.  Helicopters only for this girl.”  She said with a smile then started for the door.  “Meet you on deck, in about fifteen, k?”  She said looking back over her shoulder.

 

“Fifteen, be there.”  He called back focusing on something in front of him.

 

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Sheriff Hanks listened, James wasn’t holding back, he was speeding away as fast as the squad would go.  Good.  Thomas looked to the direction of the old Galt place.  He sniffed the breeze, it was going the wrong direction to be of much help, no sour smell coming towards the place, that was something.  He took his shoes off, they were the only part of his new uniform that wouldn’t stretch to his new larger size.  With a sigh he tucked the shoes into a dimensional pocket, changed and made his way to the house, from the other side.

 

He caught the man near the front entrance to Bait’s old house, the man was surprised when Sheriff Hanks came around the side of the house.

 

“Mind telling me what you’re doing here.”  The Sheriff said startling the man and getting his attention.  Several others that were nearby snapped their heads in his direction.

 

The man spoke nervously at first, then gained resolve.  “Sheriff, I didn’t hear you pull up.”  He started, he was trying to pick up on the Sheriff’s scent, as were the others with suspicious looks.  “I know this may not look good, but we are with a government organization, the owner of this house is a former CIA member and we are here to investigate a crime that happened here.  I’m afraid this is out of local law enforcement hands.”  The man ended with a smile.

 

The Sheriff snorted with his hands on his hips, he had an amused look on his face.  “Government agency, funny you should mention that.”  Thomas said reaching to his pants pocket. 

 

A couple of the other men behind this man were clearly twitchy, they had their hands near weapons, ready to act.  He pulled out a black soft leather cover, it was fairly thin, it was folded in half with a flap that covered what was underneath like an oversized badge cover. 

 

Lifting the flap he exposed what was under to the man.  “Recognize this.”  Thomas said locking eyes with the man.

 

His eyes went to the badge.  His face went limp.  “Yes sir.”  He answered cautiously.

 

“I thought you might.  Now then, start explaining why you’re here, invading Inquisitor Bait’s house Captain.”  Sheriff Hanks said with an ‘authorities’ tone.

 

The Sheriff had to admit, he liked the shoe being on the other foot.

 

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When Sheriff Hanks made his way back to the station, James was near the back door as he entered.

 

“Sheriff,” he started with a look around, “How did you get back so fast?”  James asked with a deeply questioning look.

 

Sheriff Hanks thought fast.  “Well, you know the state patrol comes by our way.”  He said then walked past his deputy to his office.  James didn’t press any further on that topic.

 

He followed the Sheriff to his office and entered with him.  “So, what was it Sheriff?  At the old Galt place, what’d you find?”  There was concern in his voice.  He knew something, but what?

 

Sighing Thomas moved behind his desk and looked at James.  “Questions, that’s what I found there, nothing but questions.”  He said then looked at papers that were on top of his desk. 

 

James had a suspicious look about him.  “Questions?  What kind of questions?”  He asked.

 

Thomas rubbed his face.  “I don’t know James, that’s what I’m going to work on now, so if you would please, I could use some privacy.”  He said to James with a stolid face.

 

Nodding James backed from the desk.  “Ok Sheriff, let me know if I can help.”  He said then turned and walked from the office.

 

Sitting at his desk, now that he was alone, Sheriff Hanks pulled his radio pack from his hip and opened the contact list.  He slid names onto his call list and stared at them.  Hyden, Bait, Corn Stalk or Sebastian.  Which one to call? 

 

He thought about conference calling all of them, just to cover his bases.  He set the radio pack down, pulled his werewolf version of a badge from his pants pocket, opened the face, and laid it next to the radio pack before he looked at it. 

 

He sighed as he considered his options.  Chain of command said Corn Stalk was the first in line, but there were other considerations.  The immortals might prefer to know first and direct him. 

 

He picked the radio pack up and looked at the names again.  Snow, he could call her.  He knew she wasn’t a New York girl.  She was operations commander.  Thomas wasn’t fully sure of the ramifications of what he had learned.  Perhaps a bit more looking into things before he called. 

 

Digging into a hidden pocket on his belt, he dug out the network access USB card he had been provided with to access the werewolf internet.  He placed the card in the USB slot on his computer and opened the application on it.  He’d gotten the names of everyone at Bait’s old house, there was no resistance.

 

Opening the Were-Net browser he selected personnel files and typed in the first name and hit enter.

 

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James walked from the Sheriff’s office, closing the door behind him.  He walked towards the duty area and gave a look back to where the Sheriff was.  He clearly was bothered by something.  A piece that didn’t fit. 

 

He walked up to another deputy.  “Curt, the state highway patrol, do they come through Greenland all the way up on one-twelve?”  He asked the man.

 

The deputy thought for a second making a face then looked up.  “No James, they come down from the north, pick it up at the thirty-three one-twelve junction, why?” 

 

James spoke quietly, mostly to himself.  “That’s about fourteen miles away.”  He looked to the deputy’s face.  “Thanks Curt.”  He said then turned and left the man with a questioning look on his face.

 

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Closing the browser then removing the access card Sheriff Hanks looked at his radio pack again.  This time he picked it up and without hesitation selected a name.

 

“Good Sheriff, why is it you have called me?”  Hyden asked when he answered the call.

 

Sheriff Hanks sighed.  “I have something to report your Grace.”  He started.

 

“Something to report?  Surely your not calling me just to report in?  I do hope giving you contact access to higher levels wasn’t an error in judgment.  I’m far to busy to take hourly reports Sheriff.”  Hyden was being difficult, trying to make sure the Sheriff knew how important his time was.

 

Thomas made a sour face.  He didn’t have time for games either.  “Look, your Grace, I could call Clan Westbridge and report this, but I think they already know.  I really don’t have time to play protocol games.  Now if you don’t want me reporting to you, then take your damn crest back.  Considering it’s your crest, I guess you’re the one I should be reporting to when I have to use it.”  His voice became more agitated as he went on.

 

He could hear Hyden’s voice in the background muttering.  “Fine good Sheriff, your report.  Keep it short please.”  Hyden said sounding uninterested.

 

Sheriff Hanks sighed and flipped the cover over the crest still on his desk.  “I met some people tonight, at Bait’s old house, werewolf people.  They were looking around, flashed my werewolf badge that you gave me to them, they were cooperative after that.”  He opened with.

 

Hyden’s chastising voice was gone, Thomas had his undivided attention now.  “You wouldn’t have happened to have gotten which den they hale from?”  He asked.

 

“That I did, and names too.  Clan Westbridge, but there’s more.”  Thomas started.

 

“Westbridge, not surprising actually, they have been keeping and eye on things, keeping low key.  What else good Sheriff?” 

 

He looked over at the notes he had taken when he did his digging.  “I wasn’t sure what all I had found, so I did some digging, like you said, Clan Westbridge looking into things isn’t out of the ordinary, but I ran the names of the people there.  There’s another common link between all of them, not just Clan Westbridge.” 

 

The Sheriff cleared his throat and rubbed the side of his face as he went on.  “Every single one of them used to belong to Clan Kim.  They seemed to have vanished from all record, that is until about five years ago when they suddenly all showed up on Westbridge’s payroll.”

 

Hyden said nothing, the line sounded like it had gone dead.  A minute passed, Thomas was about to check and see if Hyden was still there when he finally spoke.

 

“You’ve done well Thomas.  Sorry I busted your balls so hard, new recruit and all.”  Hyden said.

 

“Save it, I’m no spring chicken when it comes to chain of command and making field decisions.  I know what the hell I’m doing, now I need to know what you want me to do with this information.”  Sheriff Hanks said with a slightly cross tone.

 

A smile doesn’t make it’s way through radio waves.  Hyden was smiling though. 

 

Hyden gave his instructions to the Sheriff.  For now, he was to do nothing with the information, Hyden himself would deal with that. 

 

Putting the phone away, he grabbed the werewolf badge, lifting the cover and looking at it.  He held it in his hand for a moment more, then with a sigh, stood and turned to face the shelves behind him with piles of files on them and other office type items. 

 

He stuffed the leather case between some files in a pile then went back to his desk.  He was looking at some papers, thinking when James knocked on his door.

 

“Yes, come in.”  He called out.

 

He caught something in his face and eyes when he entered the office.  There was something about his scent that was off too.

 

“Midnight Sheriff, you staying or heading out?”  James asked him.

 

Thomas looked over to the clock on the wall, ten minutes past midnight, technically his shift was over, so was James’s.  “Yeah, I won’t be long James, just shutting things down here.  Go on, I’ll see you in the morning.”  He told his deputy.

 

James nodded and left the office, closing the door after him.  His door would be staying closed a lot more than it used to now.

 

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“Hey Olivia, bring your sweet face over here doll, with some of that chocolate silk pie with the dark cherry syrup I like.  Then I gotta head in and check on the chickens at the coup.”  Olivia topped off the Sheriff’s coffee.  “James is probably rattling everyone’s cage this morning.”  He sipped from his cup, sat it down and worked on finishing the last of his hash browns. 

 

“Sure thing Sheriff, you want a squirt of cream on top this time or not?”  Olivia called out looking back over her shoulder as she set the glass pot back on the warmer.

 

Thomas hesitated with his mouth set ready to take a bite of the best breakfast this side of the Mississippi with a cock of his head in thought for a scant moment.  “What the hell, live it up, give me a good helping this time.  I just got a better health insurance plan.”  He ended with a chuckle and cleared his fork.

 

He was the only other person in the diner with Olivia.  She was returning with his pie, his plate was ready to hit the dishwasher.  “Isn’t that James right there?”  Olivia said as she placed his pie, heavy with cream, in front of him.

 

Sheriff Hanks cranked around on the stool he sat on at the counter and looked in the direction of Olivia’s eyes and nod.  James had just gotten out of his beefed up sports car and was heading into the café.

 

‘ding, ding, tink.’  Went the small bell the door tapped as it opened to announce another customer of Olivia’s, the only food in town.  “Hey James, don’t see you in here this time of day to often.  Coffee?”  Olivia said with her waitress smile as she put a paper placemat in front of him and a set of napkin wrapped silverware.  “Menu?”

 

“Morning Oy, yeah, you know, work.  Yeah, coffee, and I’ll have the morning medley hot scramble.”  He was nodding as he spoke.  Olivia was about to speak again, James held up a finger.  “English muffin, raspberry, and not that jam, I want the marmalade.  The stuff you make that you aren’t supposed to use here, you know.”  He gave her a goofy grin.

 

Olivia shook a finger at him with her own cantankerous look. 

 

“You two really need to go out on a date, end this… sexual tension between the two of you.  Get it over with already.”  Sheriff Hanks said abruptly as he used his fork to slice into the pie.

 

James sat up straight, Olivia scoffed and blushed.  She stammered something about getting the order going and walked off.

 

The two men sat side by side, the Sheriff eating his pie, James fidgeted.

 

“That was rather blunt.  Not like you Sheriff.”  James finally said.

 

Olivia came out from the kitchen with a glass of juice and set it down in front of James. 

 

“Yeah, well, sometimes you have to be.  Some things are just too important not to say something.  Finding the right mate is a hard thing, I think you two belong together.”  Sheriff Hanks said facing his pie as he at the last bite.  “You’re not in uniform.”

 

Olivia made herself busy and turned around leaving the men to their conversation.

 

“Nope, put in for a personal day last night, had Curt sign it.  Copy is on your desk, thought a day of fishing sounded good.”  James answered with a cold hint to his voice.

 

Sheriff Hanks took in the scent of his deputy and started nodding.  He decided to leave James alone.  Talking right now clearly wasn’t something he was interested in.  Something was up in his world, Thomas would find out soon enough.  It might be best to let things run their course, and with James gone today, he would be free to work on his new duties.

 

James was hiding something, he needed time to work out what was in his head, the man was no dummy.  Sheriff Hanks was well aware of how smart James really was.  He kept this country bumpkin air about him for perception reasons.  It put some people at ease in a bad situation, and caused some to trust him and talk more.

 

He couldn’t stop the nagging feeling though that what James was doing today was not fishing and involved something unnatural, but he needed more than just a feeling and James clearly suspected the Sheriff was involved in something big. 

 

‘ding, ding, tink.’  “Morning Olivia.  Looks like a big crowd this morning.”  Frank Myers said as he walked in.

 

Frank was a large man, Thomas knew he had been in the Navy as a cook after he left some special outfit.  Claimed he had to leave because of an injury which took him off of combat duty.  He put in twenty five years, retired and now cooked for Olivia at the diner.  He was easily six foot five and was a lean two fifty.  He was the classic image of a gentle giant.

 

“Frank, my number one man in the morning.  I surrender to you your kitchen.”  Olivia gestured flamboyantly in the direction of the kitchen door. 

 

She turned and looked at her two customers with a faint smile.  “Yeah, two paying customers that ordered more than coffee before five.  Amazing. Isn’t it.”  She chortled when she finished and went to the coffee maker and took the pot up and drained it into Sheriff Hanks’ cup.

 

“Thanks Olivia.  Make a fresh pot of decaf and I’ll get my thermos.”  Thomas said as he dug for his wallet, pulled out a twenty and dropped it on the counter.  “Keep the change.”  He said with a smile then got up and walked to the door.

 

Frank had been digging through the paper that he brought in with him, taking a section he made his way to the kitchen as he read the sports page, mumbling as he walked.

 

Olivia finished starting the coffee and stood in front of James with a hand on her hip.  “So, what are you up to today, and don’t tell me fishing, There ain’t no water around here you’d be caught dead on.  What gives?” 

 

James looked at the napkin wrap of silverware, picked it up and undid the paper strap that held it together before unrolling the napkin and arranging his utensils.  “Just some things I have to check out.  Someone I have to talk to from college, an old friend you might say.”  He finished with his silverware and picked up his glass and took a sip.

 

Olivia placed a hand on the counter in front of him, her head started nodding with question.  “Uh-huh, sounds serious.”  She said with an urging tone.

 

“Order up, hot scramble, extra salsa.”  Frank yelled out of the pass-through window of the kitchen.  His food sat on the stainless steel counter under the warming lamps that were currently off. 

 

Olivia turned from James and retrieved his order.  She placed it in front of him then returned her hand to the counter and looked at him with an expectant stare. 

 

James smelled the food as the steam rose from the plate, and a soft smile came to his lips.  Picking up his fork he slid it under the egg mix, hoisted up a mouth full and ate it.  Chewing and swallowing he finally gave into Olivia’s silent urging.

 

“Why is it you’re here Oy?  We’re both from Lafayette, my dad left Lafayette and moved here and won the election then after I graduated college, he got me a job here. Then, you show up and buy Maggie’s old café.  Why Oy?”  He was returning her stare now, eye to eye. 

 

Olivia wasn’t expecting his directness on this topic, the Sheriff’s words had clearly had an effect on him.  Oddly the two had seemed to have less friction, considering James’s father had announced he would be running for sheriff again. 

 

She started to shrug and stammered a bit.  “I… I, just found the place, saw the add for it in a business reality book, it was coincidence James, nothing more.”  She smiled innocently back at him.

 

James snorted and shook his head.  “Oy, you always were a horrible liar.  Prom, Tracy Baldwin dumped me the day of the prom, you just happened to show up stag.  Then after I started college, you couldn’t afford it, but you showed up working at a coffee shop just off campus that I just happen to frequent every morning.  Now you’re here.  Once is circumstance, twice is happenstance, three times…”  James ended letting his sentence hang as Sheriff Hanks walked back in, the bell announcing him.

 

The conversation halted.

 

Sheriff Hanks could smell he had interrupted their conversation.  Frank had his opera on and wouldn’t hear a word they said.  He set the thermos down and took the cup top off without a word and let Olivia take the thermos and fill it.  While she filled it James ate quickly and quietly without giving his boss a glance.  Olivia returned with the full thermos.

 

“There you go Sheriff.”  She said setting the thermos down next to the cup top he had set on the counter. 

 

“Thanks Olivia, and it is decaf right?”  He asked.

 

“Sure is Sheriff, since when do you drink that anyways, you’ve always wanted rocket fuel?”  She questioned.

 

“Since my… since I was injured, have to watch the caffeine now.”  He answered with a smile, picked up his thermos, put the cap on and turned for the door and left.

 

James had a question on his face.  “What?”  Olivia said looking at him.

 

James shook his head clearing his thoughts.  “Oh, nothing, doesn’t make sense, doctors limit caffeine for heart patients…”  James went back to eating and didn’t finish his thought.

 

Olivia shrugged and turned to work at the back counter again. 

 

“Tuesday, I’ll pick you up at five thirty, when you let yourself off.  Don’t try and stay late, five thirty you and me are going out on a date.”  James announced.

 

Olivia turned around fast and looked at him.  Her eyes were smiling.

 

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Walking into the station Sheriff Hanks took note of who was there and what they were doing without letting anyone see he was looking around as he made a beeline for his office.  James was on his mind, he was up to something and Thomas wanted to know what before it became and issue. 

 

“Morning Sheriff.”  Debra Miller said as he passed through the station. 

 

His head shot her direction and he gave her a smile and nod.  Her eyes followed him as he went, even though he wasn’t looking at her anymore.  She suspected something was different about him, but he couldn’t pick up anything else. 

 

Once inside his office he closed the binds and applied more scent neutralizer.  It was while he was doing this he noticed his badge wasn’t exactly where he left it.  He went to where he had stashed it.  James scent was on it when he pulled it from hiding. 

 

“Son of a bitch!”  Thomas said coarsely.  He had slipped up leaving the crest in his office.

 

He went and locked his door then went to his computer and put his access USB in and open a security program.  He accessed the recorded video from the cameras he had placed in his office.  He checked the footage and finally found what happened.

 

James had entered his office and started snooping around and had apparently not found anything of interest on the computer or in his desk.  It appeared James was about to leave as he stood, then looked around.  He caught the small gap the crest had made in the folders and took it out.  After he looked at it he placed it on the desk and took pictures of it with his phone.

 

“Great, just what I don’t need.”  Sheriff Hanks said under his breath.

 

He closed out of his computer and went to the door, pausing a moment as he thought. He unlocked the door and walked out of his office.  He had papers in his hands he had picked up from a desk as he passed and was shuffling through them as he came up to an officer James hung out with.

 

“Where was it James was going fishing at?”  He asked casually not looking up from the papers.

 

The man looked back at the Sheriff and laughed lightly.  “Don’t know about fishing, said he had to take a trip to Montana, see his old professor, something about ancient history.”  The man said then went back to what he was doing.

 

Sheriff Hanks walked away a few steps, just what he didn’t need, James poking around in ancient history.

 

“Was there something else Sheriff?”  The man asked looking back at Thomas.  He had been staring off into space as he thought and rapping the files against his other hand.  He broke from his thoughts and looked at the man.

 

“No, no, was just thinking about something else.  Busy day.”  He said then went back to his office.

 

James had changed majors partway through college.  He made the switch from archeology to law enforcement, special training as a tactical officer and in special weapons.  He went ROTC and excelled in the military, airborne then special forces.  “That’s a hell of a change James.  Why the sudden urge to follow in daddy’s footsteps?”  He said out loud as he thought.

 

“Son of a bitch!”  Thomas said and smacked the top of the desk then sat down and pulled his radio pack out and set it on the desk.

 

James was digging, ancient history.  He logged into the normal police network and pulled up James’s personnel file.  He had to do some digging and ended up calling James old college. 

 

“Look, I don’t have time for judges and subpoenas, I need to know who the professor was that taught that class that year.  That isn’t classified information.  A man’s life is at risk here, either tell me the name or transfer me to someone who can.”  Thomas was saying into the office phone.

 

The other end of the call was silent for a few moments, the person was thinking.  “Reginald Fendergrass was his name, he’s not here anymore.  He up and quit about five years ago.”  The woman on the other end finally told Sheriff Hanks.

 

“Thank you.  You wouldn’t happen to know if he moved to Montana would you?”  He asked.

 

“No, it was really odd, he quit, everything was gone from his office and classroom before he came into the Dean’s office and announced he was quitting.  We had been friends, I stopped by his apartment after work that day, I mean he gave no notice just quit.  Anyways, the apartment was unlocked, door open and cleaned out.  He never collected his last paycheck, no forwarding address.  There was a rumor that he was involved in some covert government thing, but that was just talk I think.”  The woman sounded a bit sad with a distant concern. 

 

“Thank you again, you’ve been most helpful.”  Sheriff Hanks said.

 

“I hope your deputy is alright.”  She said back.

 

“I’m sure he will be, he’s a smart man, he just needs some help right now.”  Thomas said with a voice of assurance.

 

“James… yeah, he was a smart one, never made sense with him either.  Had a great career ahead of him, then went and changed to be a cop… oh, sorry, no offense Sheriff.” 

 

Sheriff Hanks smiled at the phone.  “No problem, thanks again.”  He said then hung up the phone before she could ask another question.

 

He looked at his radio pack again.  Corn Stalk’s name was on his call list.  Hyden had said he would handle the information he had relayed last night.  This was new information, Thomas had a bad feeling about what he had found out. 

 

He entered the name of James’s old professor into the human network.  He read his police record, which was clean, only one parking ticket listed, which was dismissed in the end.  There was too little information on Mr. Fendergrass.

 

“Reginald Fendergrass… Fendergrass, your name has a certain howl to it.”  Sheriff Hanks said commenting to himself.  He pulled out his USB card again and stuck it in place.  Opening the Were-Net again he typed in Fendergrass.

 

“Well I’ll be dammed.  Grand Historian, sounds like an impressive title.  Why would you become a professor at a human college.”  The Sheriff said to himself.  “Then you disappear, but James seems to know where you are.”

 

Sheriff Hanks picked up his radio pack and placed his call.  Corn Stalk answered.  “Reginald Fendergrass.”  Thomas said bluntly after she answered.  “My deputy James is on his way to see him right now.”  He included.

 

Aside from her breathing there was only silence for several moments.  “Fendergrass.  Clan Clay.  There was some turbulence when he left their service, he ended up being ostracized because of the Clay’s.”  Corn Stalk informed Sheriff Hanks.

 

There was nothing about the events she spoke of in the files.  After they talked he went back to researching on his computer.

 

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“James!  What an unexpected surprise, I do wish you had called first.  I’m afraid I really don’t have much time to visit today.”  Fendergrass said to James when he answered the door that he had pounded on urgently after he failed to answer the bell.

 

“If I had, you would have delayed our meeting, indefinitely.  I need you to look at something.”  James shot back.  He could tell his former teacher was unsettled by his sudden appearance at his home.  He seemed nervous about something else too.

 

Fendergrass nodded slowly considering James.  “Seems my lessons have come back to haunt me in this man before me now of the child I once taught.”  He hesitated a moment, his mouth slightly agape as he thought fast.  “Come in James, tell me what’s on your mind, what do you need me to see?”  His interest was up.

 

“Nice place Professor.”  James commented as he was led through the house.  He noticed the house was lined mostly with bookshelves which all seemed to be filled to capacity.  “You sure have a lot of books Reggie.  You read all of them?”  He asked as he looked around at the full bookshelves.

 

Fendergrass turned his head back with a smile.  “Every single one my boy, every single one... and most of them several times.” 

 

Reggie led them out onto a veranda at the back of the house that looked out from the mountain over a field with a river and lake in the view.  They sat down at a table with overstuffed chairs.

 

“What is it? I am in a hurry, so please get straight to the point.”  Fendergrass asked in a rushed voice.

 

What are you running from Reggie?  This isn’t like you.  You aren’t in a hurry, you’re scared of something, what would scare you?  James thought to himself as he read his old teacher.

 

James pulled a photo from his briefcase and laid it on the table so Fendergrass could see it easily without picking it up.

 

“Hyden.”  He whispered then caught himself and cleared his throat.  “Interesting, what is it?  Why bring this to me?”  He said with a feigned lost look followed by an inappropriate laugh.

 

“I don’t know.  I was hoping you would.  Sheriff Hanks, my boss had it hidden in his office after he came back from checking out an abandoned house.  A lot of strange things have been happening lately.”  James said with a heavy voice.

 

Reggie became even more nervous, he was starting to sweat.  “I… I have no idea my boy.  I don’t know what that is, never seen anything like it.”  He answered then started to laugh uncontrollably. 

 

“Bullshit!”  James yelled and slammed a fist against the table.  “Talk to me Reggie, cut the bullshit.  You know something, tell me what this is and what the hell is going on.  I need to know.”  He said hard.

 

Fendergass started shaking his head, his laughter was gone now.  His face joined James’s in hardness and severity. 

 

“Stay out of it James, this isn’t for you.  You don’t belong in this mess, keep out and stay out!”  Fendergrass snapped causing James to recoil from him a bit.

 

“Not a chance Reggie, you know me better than that, taught me better than that.  I need to know what kind of shit is going down in my county.  Sheriff Hanks was almost killed because of… whatever’s going on.”

 

Reggie’s face snapped to James’s.  “Almost you say?”  He looked off, his voice was distant.  “This house, is it abandoned, or just empty?”  He asked remotely. 

 

James thought for a second before responding.  “Empty I guess, after the attack there, the owner left and hasn’t been back, well once I guess.” 

 

Fendergrass was still distant.  “And this man, what is his name?”

 

“How’d you know it was a man?”

 

“His NAME!”  Fendergrass yelled turning to James, spit flying from his mouth as he yelled.

 

“Duncan Galt.”  He answered, suspicion and wondering on his face.

 

“Bait.”  Reggie mumbled looking down. 

 

“Bait?”  James said with a confused questioning voice.

 

“Nothing, never mind.  I can tell you nothing.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t.”  Fendergrass’s face became serious and filled with trepidation.  “James, go home, do NOT get involved in this, it’s far more dangerous than you realize, especially for you.  Go home, forget about this, stay away from it.”  He was pleading with him.

 

James sat silently for a moment as his eyes moved over his old professor.  Whatever James had shown him had clearly rattled his cage.   What was so dangerous?  James thought back to when he was fifteen, the images in his mind, the fear he felt.  The danger he saw.  James wondered if the danger he experienced as a boy was the same type Reggie was warning him about now.

 

“When you saw this picture, you said Hyden, it sounded like a name.  The way you said Bait made it sound like a name too.”  James said with a pressing accusing tone.

 

Fendergrass stood fast.  “You need to go now James.  You need to get out of here and so do I, now that you’ve came, neither of us are safe here.  Get out James, now!”  Reggie reached out and jerked James to his feet and started moving him to the door.

 

James regained himself and started walking on his own.  “Fine, I’m going.”  He said with a touch of anger.

 

“Forget everything you heard here, mention it to no one, if you want to live that is, forget everything.”  Reggie sounded beyond paranoid. 

 

As he was escorted through the house on his way out, James noticed the bookshelves again.  He saw no one else around, but now most of the books from the many shelves were gone.  It would have taken quite a few people to move that many books so fast. 

 

Books, Galt’s library.  His house had been broken into again and the library had been ransacked, books ripped apart.  Whoever had been there was interested in a book. 

 

James broke into a run along the route he had been led through back out to his car and jumped in fast and fired it up.  Fendergrass was now chasing after him calling his name.  He didn’t stop, he put his vehicle in gear and spun out and away.

 

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It was late in the afternoon when James pulled into the station at a fast approach.  His tires screeched as he stopped half on the sidewalk in front of the station.  He used his access card on the front door and stormed in, straight to the Sheriff’s office.

 

“James, why don’t you calm down a bit, you’re clearly riled up.  Sit down and tell me what’s on your mind.”  Sheriff Hanks said calmly to his deputy who was breathing fast and hard and red in the face after he stormed into his office.

 

“I want to know what’s going on Sheriff, stop cutting me out.  I know things, I’ve seen things, now I see them happening here.  I ain’t runnin' this time Sheriff.  I saw that thing you found up at the old Galt place, I showed a picture of it to someone, he said the name Hyden.  That mean anything to you?”  James charged fast and hard.

 

Sheriff Hanks inhaled deeply and rolled his shoulders back with his hands on his hips.  His eyes moved past James and focused behind him.  James was about to turn when he heard a soothing voice.

 

“And just whom may it be that spoke the name Hyden to you?”  James snapped around to face the owner of the voice as the office door swung shut.  Hyden took two steps closer to James from behind the door, he was hidden from view when he entered by the door James had opened and passed right by him.

 

“And just who the hell are you?”  James said harshly to Hyden.

 

Hyden smiled calmly and emitted a soft chuckle.  “I am not used to being spoken to in such a manner, respect is what I am used to.” 

 

Hyden came closer and moved beside James at the desk and turned to face him, his eyes changing from their soft pleasant appearance to a far more commanding look.  “And I will caution you now to never speak to me in such a way ever again, human.”  Hyden looked to Thomas.

 

“Answer him James, he’s in charge around here, over either of us.”  Thomas advised his deputy with a heavy tone.

 

James was reading the situation and not liking what he was deducing.  He was right about the Sheriff being involved in something bigger than he was letting on, now James was questioning whether getting involved was such a good idea after all.  His bad feelings just got worse.

 

“Reggie Fendergrass, Reginald.  Used to be a professor of mine, he also mentioned Bait, sounded like a name when he said it.”  James had pulled himself together and was acting professional. 

 

“Bait.”  Hyden said and started nodding.  “Good, good my young human.  It is good that Fendergrass knows of Bait.  And you are correct in your deductions, Bait is a name.  Forgive me, I am Hyden, Supreme Bishop of Clans, Clan of York.”  Hyden said and extended his hand to James.

 

James looked from the man’s hand to his boss. 

 

Sheriff Hanks’ face hung low and slack, he seemed bothered and depressed about something he just came to know.  “Shake the man’s hand James, stop being rude.  You wanted in, well, like it or not, now you are, and you probably aren’t going to like what comes next.”  Sheriff Hanks said to his deputy somewhat mad and somewhat worried.

 

Hyden moved fast, retrieved a chair and placed it behind James before he could shake his hand, then brought a chair up for himself and motioned for James to sit.  Hyden sat with James as he complied.

 

“Now tell me lad, just what is it you have seen, tell me all that you know.  Are you familiar with quid pro quo?”  Hyden asked sounding sly.

 

James looked at Hyden and started nodding in short motions.  “Yeah, something for something, Hannibal Lector said that in Silence of the Lambs.”  James said cautiously. 

 

Hyden looked off at James’s last comment with his eyes.  “Movie, wouldn’t know it.”  His eyes returned to James.  “But something for something, yes, you understand, then we have our quid pro quo James?”

 

“Yes.”  He answered bluntly.

 

Hyden locked eyes with James.  He cleared his throat and began.

 

“I was fifteen, Louisiana, we were at a beach.  My parents had taken us on a family vacation to this beach, me and my sisters.  Something happened on our second night there, on the beach.”  James was distant as he recanted what happened.

 

“What happened on the beach?”  Hyden asked calmly and with his soothing voice.

 

“Murder.  At least that’s what the locals were calling it.  It was a slaughter.  Some kids had been partying on the beach.  I had tried to sneak off and join them.  They were seniors in high school, thought it would be cool to hang out with them.  You know, party with the older kids.”

 

“But you didn’t get there.  Something stopped you before you made it to the beach party, you heard screaming.  So you watched from someplace, at a safe distance.”  Hyden added in sounding sure of his assumptions.

 

James’s head nodded again.  “Right.  Bat creatures were… ripping the kids apart, eating them it looked like, I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing.” 

 

“And what do you believe, inside that you tell no one, what is it that you were seeing?”  Hyden’s silky voice asked.

 

“I don’t know what I was seeing, it wasn’t possible.”

 

“That’s what you tell the world, that is what you hide behind to ease your mind.  Tell me now young human, what is it you know what you saw to be from inside your hidden mind?  Tell me now!”  Hyden became charged at the end of his urging.

 

“Vampires.”  James whispered.  He stared off at the floor.  It was the first time he had said his thought out loud.  First time he fully acknowledged the idea in his conscious mind. 

 

“And right you are lad.  Vampires they were and vampires are what we are dealing with.   We, lad, are werewolves.”  Hyden paused as James’s head made it’s way to look at him, he waited a moment for some settling in the human’s brain.

 

“You have seen other things.  You will tell us of those as well but first, Sheriff.”  Hyden looked at Thomas.  “His safety requires he have use of our abilities.  That is why I have taught you about half-turns, humans that help were-kind.”  Hyden stood.  “Please notify me when you have completed this task.  Explain everything to him well.”  Hyden smoothed his robes and looked at James.

 

“Freewill has it’s downsides, obligations of having it.  It is your freewill that has brought you into this situation.  A situation where you have no choices left, your freewill has brought you to a corner that you have only one way out of now, if you choose to live.”  Hyden turned from James and moved to the door, opened it and locked it, then closed it behind him.

 

James watched him leave then looked back to Sheriff Hanks.  His eyes, they were different.  They looked like a wolf’s eyes.

 

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“Lord Hyden, your Grace.”  Bait said as he answered the call on his way to meet Snow who was waiting for him in Phillip. 

 

“Inquisitor Bait, I’m afraid there has been some activity at your house.  It seems some members of the former Clan Kim have taken an interest in your library.”  Hyden responded.

 

Bait stopped in his tracks.  Several seconds passed before he spoke.  “Sheriff Hanks reported this?”  Bait asked.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Thank you.”  Bait said and ended the call cold.

 

He pulled up Snow’s number and called her.  “Been a change of plans, we’ll be taking Hush after all, I’m flying so relax.  Meet me at the lift in five.” 

 

Snow confirmed with a concerned voice but didn’t question him.

 

He readied the aircraft and they climbed in the cockpit.  Up into the air then the forward momentum whisked them off, high and untraced by human radar. 

 

Once on course, Bait started filling Snow in on what was afoot currently.  After he had filled her in and answered her questions, silence fell between them.  Bait could tell Snow suspected he was withholding something from her.  She had taken to waiting him out.  Now was as good a time as any he figured.

 

“You have freewill.  The choice you have isn’t whether or not to be Trustee, but if you keep your freewill.”  Bait said bluntly without looking at Snow.

 

She laughed at him.  “Right, I’m a werewolf genius, I can’t have freewill.”  Snow looked out the side of the cockpit dome.

 

Bait said nothing more, he would wait her out this time.  He had put the thought in her head, now she would start working in her own way to place her puzzle pieces.  That was his hope at least.

 

What he said did work its way around in her mind.  Though she tried to push it away, it kept returning and chipping at her.  It wouldn’t let her not think about it now that he had said it.  She had felt different lately, not sure of what to do.  Everything seemed cloudy, she had uncertainty in her decisions.  Some of the things she had done hadn’t seemed right, but nothing stopped her.  She was a werewolf though, freewill was not an option.

 

But... her mate had said it.  He was also human and was the one with freewill.  He had accepted their law… River Stone, what he had said.  Snow’s head snapped to look at Bait as he handled the odd craft, looking out the front.  He didn’t laugh.  He couldn’t lie, it wasn’t just because he agreed to abide by their laws, he was bound to them, just like any werewolf was.

 

“Inconceivable!”  Snow shot out.

 

Everyone took his word as truth, every werewolf.  In the human world he was well respected and called an honest man.  If he can’t lie, how could she have freewill?  The choice being offered, that is what he said.  It wasn’t about being Trustee.  Why did he say that?  He couldn’t lie.  Because she would have no choice, as a werewolf, she would automatically choose to be what she was called to be, that left the only option to give her a choice… freewill.

 

She looked back to Bait.

 

“Tell me you’re in love with Kevashka.”  Snow said abruptly to him.

 

His brow furrowed as he looked over at her.  The automatic pilot had control of the craft.  “What?”

 

“Just say it, say ‘I’m in love with Kevashka’, just like that.”  She told him with a smug look.

 

Bait glanced forward and back to Snow, shrugged and said 'I’m in love with Kevashk…'”  He broke into laughter before finishing her name.  He really couldn’t lie, but she already knew this.

 

He looked out the front for a short moment then returned to Snow.  “Now that you’ve accepted the possibility, you tell me this now.  'I think we should make peace with the vampires and that they’re really just misunderstood.  I like vampires.'”  Bait told her.

 

Snow raised an eyebrow at him.  There was no way she would be able to finish the first part, but to please him, she’d play along.  Clearing her throat, she recited what he asked.  She stared at him straight faced.  Bait looked to the front again and watched as the aircraft flew.

 

“What do I do?”  Snow said, her heart felt heavy, her burden realized and now felt.  Freewill was heavy, and scary.  She could lie.

 

Bait shook his head while he looked out the front of the craft.  “That I cannot say anything on, you have to make that choice without my involvement.  Them’s the rules.”

 

‘Them’s the rules.’  A common werewolf saying, her lover spoke just like her people now.  You wouldn’t know he was human, he keeps his scent covered, acts and talks like one of her own.

 

She could feel her face was pale.  Freewill, the reality of it was fogging her mind.  How would she know if her decisions were in compliance with law?  Would her gut still tell her?  Would freewill mean she could choose to follow her gut or… not and do the wrong thing?  What if her gut was silent now? 

 

Humans often spoke of gut feelings, was this the same thing?  Would urges cause her to act rashly?  So much to consider.  Should she resign from command?  No, Bait wouldn’t let her, if he thought that he would have said so when he informed her of her condition. 

 

Her condition, that’s what she thought of it as, like she were ill.  Afflicted by something without a cure.  Welcome to freewill.  Yippee.

 

“Where are we going?  I thought we were going to Providence?”  Snow asked noticing the course change. 

 

“Change of plans, remember, clan Kim members last night.  Going to have a look around the old homestead.  Thomas is going to meet us there.”  Bait answered.

 

“Oh, didn’t realize we were actually going there, since the book is in Providence.”  Snow stated bluntly.

 

Bait throttled back on the craft, they began a steep decent then went into a hover.  The house was still a ways away, only a few minutes by air.  He was looking over the ground, his face wrinkled in interest and concentration.

 

“What do you see?”  Snow asked leaning forward and into him, trying to see from his vantage.

 

He grunted a few times lightly before looking at her for a second then back out the windscreen.  “Not sure, nothing probably.  Pattern, it’s nothing.”  He said then put the craft in forward motion again, staying low until he landed at his destroyed house and garage.

 

Sheriff Hanks’ squad car was parked by the garage, the deputy James was with him.  Thomas hadn’t mentioned that fact, did Bait really need to explain to the Sheriff that humans weren’t included in this call even if they were the law?”

 

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The two men on the ground stood and waited until Bait and Snow were clear of the cockpit.  Once it began its upward travel to close again, Sheriff Hanks and the deputy walked up to them, Bait’s eyes flicked between the two men. 

 

“Not my idea Bait, talk to Hyden.  He’s a half turned now, working for us but still human with some benefits to keep his sorry ass alive.”  Thomas stopped in front of Bait and put his hands on his hips and cocked a knee.

 

The sight seemed very familiar.  Bait almost chuckled at it.  Hyden, he was still flitting around and showing up in all kinds of places.  He was a very busy immortal. 

 

“Hyden, figures.” Bait shook his head as he looked at James before looking back to Thomas.  “Hyden, nuff said.”  He smiled.  He fully understood the Sheriff’s position.  Bait had been in it himself not too long ago on one rainy night.

 

“This is James, my Chief Deputy, we’re stuck with his sorry ass now.  Might as well put him to use.”  Thomas said casually.

 

“Can’t argue there Thomas.”  Bait gave James one last look, no more freewill.  Not gone per se, more like contained, but still human, just like him.  “Clan Kim, talk to me.  What did our secret society have to say?”

 

Thomas sighed.  “They were here to protect a book, that’s what they told me.  After Clan Kim closed they ended up taking residence with unregistered clans, dropping off the map.  A few years ago they showed back up, on Westbridge’s payroll.”

 

“Let me guess, they resurfaced about four to five years ago?”  Bait said with a suspicious assuming tone.

 

Thomas’s head started nodding and he changed the weight on his feet.  “Yeah, bout five years ago.  Mean something to you?”  He asked in his own assuming tone.

 

Bait nodded now.  “Yes, it does.  Tell Clan Kim to lay back and keep off the grass.  Eyes only and watch, report anyone showing up.  Especially with no scent or human, clear?”

 

“Yes your Grace.”  Thomas answered with a nod.

 

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They had to stash Hush clear of the major city which, in Rhode Island, was difficult.  They took a staff truck from the hanger and drove the distance to where Bait’s parents home had been, he never sold the place when they died.  He wouldn’t talk about what happened either.  Snow was feeling the gravity of entering his childhood home, now empty, inside of her mate. 

 

The building, though aged and looking like it hadn’t been maintained, was beautiful.  Bait dug for a key, unlocked the door, and let it glide open.  He took a deep breath before walking in.  He led them fast to the library of his father in the den.

 

Snow looked around as the coldest of cold feelings drenched her.  The stains on the rug and floor of the library were obviously blood.  It has soaked into the floor and what was on the surface was cracked and hard with age.  It had never been cleaned up.  His parents had been murdered here, the bodies removed and the house sealed.  Why?

 

“Because, I felt it was wrong to remove the evidence until I knew what I was doing.  Couldn’t explain the feeling then, but I understand it now.”  He answered her thoughts with.  Snow nodded.

 

His father had been gunned down in his library, he had stood and dodged the first blast of the shotgun, pulled his sidearm and gotten at least two shots off before the second blast ended the fight.

 

Upstairs was where another member of the break in slashed up his mother.  The walls of her office were covered with blood, as were the ceiling and floor.  It had been horrific, and Bait preserved it, now seeing what he couldn’t then.  Now that he had access to werewolf vision.

 

After he finished his inspection of the rooms, he went back into the library.  “The only other person besides my father that knew how to open his secret library, that it even existed, was me.”  Bait started actuating the hidden trips in the room, there were three in all.  He told his story as he went.

 

“My father caught me in the library once, he knew I was getting in and tricked me so he could catch me in the act.  So, he made me his confidant.  He rationalized that one day I would need to know about it anyways and would come looking for it.  So he filled me in.”  Bait tripped the last part of the security of the hidden room then pushed a bookcase back and swung it out of the way.  There was a short stairway to another door.  Inside a collection of old books.

 

Inside was untouched by age, even dust hadn’t settled in the room.  The bookcases were nothing like the ones in the library.  There was nothing fancy about these, plain and practical with a clear finish over natural wood.  The books also were nothing like the ones upstairs.  The ones held on the simple shelves were far more rare and old, clearly archeological finds that had been hidden.  Snow’s jaw hung slack as she looked around.

 

“These… these are all unknown tomes, human and werewolf both, vampire too.”  She said faintly as she looked around. 

 

Bait nodded at her comment.  He had always considered his father’s finest collection rather odd, now though it held a completely different appearance in his newly educated mind.

 

“He hid it down here.  I dismissed why.  It was the worst book ever written and my ‘uncle’ as my father introduced him to me as, had claimed it was his and that he wanted me to keep it safe for him.  Dad stuck it here so I wouldn’t lose it in a move.”  Bait filled in as he looked around. 

 

With slow hesitant movements he went to the end of the small room where some newer books were piled.  Sliding them out of the way he dug a fairly bright blue covered book from behind in one of the shelves.  He looked at the cover for a moment then turned it towards Snow.  Her brow furrowed as she read the nonsensical title.

 

“You’re sure?  That’s it?”

 

Bait smiled confidently back.  “Yup, let’s roll.”

 

He handed the book to her while he flew them back home.  She started looking it over and flipping through the pages.

 

“You’re sure?  This is the worst book ever written, nothing in it makes sense.”  She commented as she recited part of what was written on a page which sounded like nothing but random words at most times and loosely connected thoughts.

 

Bait chuckled.  “That’s because you’re trying to read it in the wrong language, that my lover is an English translation into full werewolf.” 

 

Snow hadn’t studied the old language, most werewolves hadn’t.  Most actually didn’t even know it existed.  As they flew on Bait began giving Snow the basics of reading werewolf written in English and how to make and understand the facial movements and vocal influxes that went with and gave new meaning to plainly written words. 

 

“This changes so much… it’s…”  She was saying as Bait brought Hush into position over the hanger elevator.

 

Bait gave her a look and a sigh then lowered the craft into it’s holder.

 

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Snow walked into the small bedroom of their quarters above the command deck.  Hovlek was resting on the pullout bed in the living area and only raised an arm from his four point flop-out on the bed as she passed.

 

Bait was off to study his book then consort with his collection of misfits that would find his discoveries interesting.  She currently could give a rat’s ass less about the law and troubles with it.  What she had read shocked her at some points, but now she was feeling rather disinterested in what she had learned.  It should bother her more than it did, what was with how she was feeling lately?  Was this part of freewill?  Being able to just not care? 

 

She was glad Hovlek was tired and didn’t get up when she came in.  Personally she would have rather stuck him with the others, Bait included, so she could just have the space to herself.  It had been a long time since she had space just to herself. 

 

In the human world she always lived alone in her rented human dwellings.  Humans were all to willing to leave each other alone.  In the human world you weren’t being rude if you wanted to shower alone.  Showering alone was normal in the human world.  Freewill, hers would be to not have to bathe with a crew every time she took a shower.  Even Bait’s presence was bothering her lately, it never used to.

 

Snow pulled the covers back off of the bed to allow herself the pleasure of its embrace.  As she disrobed she thought of what she would do if she truly had freewill.  Questions about what she could do.  What she would want to do, freewill could be fun.

 

Naked, she flopped herself face up on the bed, landing with her head on the pillow, mostly positioned in the center of the bed.  She highly doubted bright boy Bait would be taking a pause now that he had his book, and if he did want to lay down he could share a bed with Hovlek, this time was all for her.  Freewill had it’s upside.

 

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Snow

 

Freewill.  Interesting concept.  What if she really did have freewill?  If she did, then what was stopping her from getting up out of this bed, picking a car she liked, and leaving.  For good.  Others had.  She had recently read the reports, many werewolves had up and quit the battle.  Did they have freewill too?  Or was she the only one? 

 

She’d never wanted this command in the first place.  The head of her line had threatened her, he made it plain he would rather Sea Mist were in her place.  Leyland had a zenana of ‘babes’ waiting that Bait could choose from.  With his clock ticking down, so was hers.  What was keeping her here?  She wasn’t ready to die yet, choosing freewill meant she could live out her years after he died.  Why shouldn’t she leave?  Pack up and live her own life, her own human life and not be stuck in a tower.

 

“Yeah bitch, you can be selfish and get up and leave.  Wouldn’t surprise me one bit if you did.”  A somewhat recently familiar voice called out to her from behind her closed eyes.

 

“Fairuza.”  Snow muttered and sat up opening her eyes and looking for the apparition.  “You’re supposed to be Bait’s playmate.  Go away.”  She ordered coldly looking to the face of her nemesis.

 

Fairuza snorted and dismissed Snow with a wave of her hand as she looked away before returning her gaze and speaking.  “Please bitch, you think we’re that easily gotten rid of?  This isn’t Labyrinth and you can’t simply declare I have no power over you, and walk away the valiant heroin.  Honestly, if I could choose who I was stuck with, it wouldn’t be you by a long shot.”  She maintained a disinterested look at Snow.

 

Snow shot a dirty look at Fairuza.  “And you’re supposed to help me decide to stay?”  She snorted and shook her head.  “Or are you trying to get me to leave?”  Looking away she swung her legs over the side of the bed and looked down in thought.

 

“I’m here to tell you, freewill has it’s downside, and the others that left, had a choice to do so.  They were offered that choice because what they were expected to do, was against what was inside them and so was disobeying an order.  You can still understand that dilemma can’t you?”  Fairuza had moved in front of Snow. 

 

She put a gentle hand under Snow’s chin and raised it to look at her.  “Times short hot stuff.  Now that you know what your choice is, you need to make it.  Been too long already.”

 

Fairuza removed her fingers from Snow’s chin.  “Course you’ve actually known inside for some time now, just didn’t want to admit it.  Tomorrow your mate is being taken to choose your replacement.  Sea Mist is still on the menu.”  Snow’s face shot to Fairuza with a shocked look. 

 

“Oh, didn’t know that bit did you.  Hyden, among his other reasons for hanging around, he can break her mating.  Very reserved power, but he can do it.  He never has in his existence done such a thing, but he’s warming up to it.  Might want to correct his earlier mistake in allowing you your shot at greatness.”  Turning Fairuza walked away from Snow talking back over her shoulder. 

 

“Night Harvest has already given his approval, for Hyden to do his deed.  He thinks Bait will choose Sea Mist over one of the others.  If they weren’t blinded from werewolf transgressions, none of this would have happened.  You’re freewill, your choice.  You’re on your own from here on out.”  Fairuza ended then walked from the room and vanished before Snow could say another word.

 

Snow looked after where Fairuza had vanished at.  Great, just what I need, Bait’s delusions becoming mine.’ She thought to herself hoisting her legs up and laying out on the bed again.

 

She started talking to herself as she laid on the bed.  “Everyone’s telling me I’m a mistake and that they don’t want me.”  She rubbed her face.  “Why the hell am I staying?” 

 

She hung on that thought for a moment.  “And since I’m so easily replaced…”  Snow stood from the bed and went to the office and her computer.  She logged into her bank account and checked the balance.  Then she logged into Bait’s account.  “He won’t have the need for all of that.”  She said as she looked over his balances.  “And he did give me access, must mean he wants me to use it if I want to.”  Snow transferred a sizeable portion of funds into her account and looked at the screen with a smile.  “Freewill, I like it.”  She said then stood and went to a small closet.

 

She dug out her duffle bag and started filling it.  Then she went to community storage and took some luggage pieces and brought them to her quad and started filling those with the rest of her belongings, excluding anything werewolf and with a crest. 

 

No one paid her much mind as she took her bags and loaded them into her car.  Maybe they were happy she was leaving and figured it was about time she got the message.  She loved her McLaren, time to take it on the road.  Even though one of the SUV’s has more space, the McLaren was hers.

 

No one said a word to her as she pulled the McLaren out of the underground garage into the drive.  There were some questioning looks, maybe a look of hope, from the few people that saw her leave, but no one bothered to ask her what was up.  Showed how much they really cared. 

 

She would be in San Diego in a few hours.  She would get a hotel room for the week and work on finding a place she liked to rent. 

 

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She was feeling no remorse over her leaving her family and friends.  What friends?  Everyone had taken to speaking harshly towards her.  She stopped at a high bridge over a river along the way, she was almost to her destination. 

 

She pulled out her radio pack and looked at it.  No one had even tried to contact her, surely they must know she wasn’t at the den by now.  She sighed, gave the radio one last look, almost calling Sea Mist to say goodbye but didn’t.  Holding the radio over the edge of the bridge she dropped the radio into the gorge and river below.  She watched till it was out of her sight then slowly walked back to the car.

 

Now she was unpacking and stowing her belongings in the hotel suite she had rented.  Night was almost here.  She would deck herself out and take in the night life her own way this time.  She had always been too loyal to her job to party hard with the humans she hung out with, protecting them.  Now she didn’t have any responsibilities in that regards.  Tonight, she would let her hair down.

 

By the time she finished her shower the sky out her window was dark.  Snow looked out at the night sky.  She hadn’t sensed the exact moment of sunset… the first time she hadn’t.  She had a brief moment of concern that she hadn’t known, but pushed the thoughts out of her mind.  It felt good not to have to think about sunset.  She felt free for the first time in her life.  Freewill seemed to agree with her.

 

She had been out of circulation for a while and wasn’t sure if her style would fit in the culture she would be becoming involved in.  “Whatever, goth is it’s own style.”  She said to the image of herself in the bathroom dressing area’s full length mirror.  She had no makeup, black fingernail polish would have been a plus also.  Things she would pick up tomorrow. 

 

Tomorrow, that had been Lord Leyland’s deadline for her to choose.  “Guess we won’t be seeing each other tomorrow Leyland, hope you like my choice.  If not, screw ya.”  She said to the mirror with a laugh. 

 

Her concerns from her past no longer held any interest to her.  She freely laughed at the life she came from and pitied those still bound to it.  She thought about trying to find an unregistered clan to hang with but scoffed that idea off.  She just got away from werewolves, why would she want to join them again.  Even unregistered clans had some form of werewolf structure to them, and she had had her fill of that structure.

 

She walked to the window and pulled the drapes closed, then went to her duffel bag near the bed and fished around in it until she found the high topped boots she wanted for tonight.  She would have her own bash that would rival anything the werewolves had put together. 

 

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Snow was back on the street again after leaving the first club she visited.  She had listened to people talk about an exclusive club that was hard to get into.  Should be no problem for her she thought to herself with a smile as she pulled out her newest drivers license and looked at it as she walked. 

 

Lori Albertson was her latest human identity.  She shook her head at the name, she had had nothing to do with selecting the latest name.  Who thought she looked like a Lori?  It wasn’t like she could ask for a new identity with a name of her choosing, because she was leaving.  It would have to do and one human name was as good as any other. 

 

There was a line of people waiting to get into the club.  Others bypassed the line and talked to the man at the door and were let in.  Snow took the initiative and walked past the line and walked up to the man at the door and looked at him.

 

Looking at her up and down he said “This isn’t a place for you” then looked towards the line.

 

She snorted at him.  “I think this is the perfect place for me.”  She said then started to move past him.

 

When he grabbed her to stop her she grabbed his arm and shoved back on it.  He pushed her back without any effort.  She was a bit shocked that he was able to shove her back but her training took over and a fist connected with his face.  After her fist hit him he backhanded her in the face knocking her back and onto the ground.

 

“Try that again bitch and I’ll put you in the hospital!”  He yelled at her then turned and grabbed a young man who tried to take advantage if his momentary distraction and slip into the club, taking him out of line and telling him to beat it.  His chance for the night was done.

 

Snow looked up at the bouncer from the ground with a angry look.  He had a smug smile and laughed at her.  Snow felt wetness on her face and wiped at it with her hand.  Her eyes widened as she looked at her hand.  Blood.  She was bleeding from the blow the human had given her. 

 

“Welcome to the human side.  You’re not getting into any clubs that way.”  Fairuza’s voice said. 

 

Snow looked to the feet behind her and followed the shapely legs up to the face.  Fairuza held a hand down to her.  Snow took it and Fairuza helped her up. 

 

“You’re going to have to use some of that money you stole to fund your lifestyle.  You can’t force yourself in like you used to and intimidate humans when you need to.  You’re just a human now.  Get used to it and adapt, else you’ll never make it.”  Fairuza told her as the two faced each other in the backstreet. 

 

Snow gave a look back at the bouncer, his eyes went to her for a moment and he laughed again.  The evil she was thinking about doing to him would have bothered her a few hours ago.  Now she was reveling in vengeful thoughts.  Her face still stung and she could feel more blood running down her face, she wasn’t regenerating anymore.  She was human.

 

“Yeah, just figured that out did you.  You didn’t actually think you could choose freewill and keep your werewolf things?  Told you, freewill has it’s draw backs.”  Fairuza said to her when Snow looked back at her.  “And he’s right, this isn’t a place for you.  Look at the people in line, the humans, like you.  Do you think you would fit in with that crowd dressed like you are?” 

 

Snow looked at the line of clean well dressed college aged kids.  Preppy, that’s the description that came to mind when she looked at them.  Fitting in with the humans she was with hadn’t been an issue before.  It hadn’t mattered before, she was with them for work, now she needed to be accepted. 

 

“Come on, I’ll show you a place you will fit in, and how to get into places.”  Fairuza offered and jerked her head away from the place they were at.

 

Snow took one last look at the bouncer and the people in line then moved to follow Fairuza.  She hailed a taxi and opened the door for Snow.  The driver looked at Fairuza and asked where too.  He could see her and talk with her.  Snow had the feeling the bouncer couldn’t see her.  Was her apparition able to choose who saw her?  When they arrived at where she had told the driver to go, Fairuza got out of the cab and told Snow to pay the man.  She did then joined her escort on the curb. 

 

Fairuza led them across the street to where another line was formed in front of a club that wrapped around the side and down the sidewalk.  Snow pondered why humans were so willing to stand in line all night at a place they may not get into.  Fairuza went to the door with the bouncer at it, same setup as Snow’s failed entry attempt. 

 

Smiling as she walked up Fairuza held out her hand to the man and said ‘party of two’ with a head motion towards Snow.  The man took her hand, and the folded hundred dollar bills concealed under, smiled and nodded while he removed the rope that blocked the door letting them in.  He looked Snow up and down as she passed him and held his smile while he raised his eyebrows at her.

 

Inside the club was dark and the music was loud.  Snow was thinking Sea Mist would like the music, it was modern punk. 

 

Fairuza leaned towards her ear.  “Pay attention to the people in here, these are your new friends.  You should learn to do makeup like them, since these are the people you’ll be associating with.”  She told her once they were inside the door.  Snow looked at her.  “You’ll want to learn how to budget too, probably should invest that money you have.  Supporting this lifestyle, isn’t going to be cheap and you’re not going to be getting your monthly payments for being a noble daughter anymore.  Since you’re human now, there’s no obligation to support you.”

 

This thought tumbled into Snow’s mind as she looked away from Fairuza and into the crowd of people.  She had been in this scene many times before, only this time she was in it as a human.  Everything she knew had changed, all the rules were different now. 

 

She looked back to Fairuza, only to find herself standing alone.  She looked around, she hadn’t left via the door they came in and wasn’t in sight in any direction.  Again her apparition had vanished.  Snow turned back to the main part of the club and started walking into the crowd and to the bar.  She ordered a beer and two men came up and started talking to her.  This time instead of blowing them off, she flirted back.

 

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Snow groaned awake in the bed of her hotel.  Opening her eyes she looked at the two men in bed with her.  As she moved to try and get out from between them she winced from the pain of small hairs being pulled between her legs.  Semen had run out of her and dried, gluing her legs together somewhat.  She moved in a quick motion to get the pulling over and done with then climbed out of bed.

 

There were about a dozen other people, a mix of men and woman, passed out around her hotel room.  She had invited her new admirers up to her room when the club started closing, and they had invited their friends.  She vaguely remembered joining in the screams of ‘after party’ as she got caught up in the fever of the group. 

 

The after party in her room quickly had become a sex party.  Being human she didn’t have to wait for her lady to be open, her twat was ready for action now and she had taken advantage of the situation.  Her asshole hurt along with her twat, both had taken extended poundings during the wee hours of the morning from several of the men in attendance. 

 

Her head was pounding and once she was in the bathroom, she had to puke.  She had apparently not been the only one that had had to do that, the marks of such were around the toilet on the floor and vanity side.  She looked at her face in the mirror, she looked rough.  The night had been fun all in all though. 

 

She passed bubbly gas which pushed some of the remains of the nights activities from her.  Horror hit her as she thought about what caused her to fart like she did.  She’d had sex, vaginal and anal, and unprotected.  Humans could transfer diseases between each other through sex.  How many of the men had she been with last night?  She hadn’t counted.

 

The mirror and the powder the others had snorted was still on the vanity, most of the powder had been snorted but there were still a couple lines left.  She was tired, the humans had become more energetic after they used the powder, Snow had watched how they did it and decided to try some.

 

It didn’t take long for the effect to hit her.  “Damn, that shits great!”  She said with a smile as she looked into the mirror like the humans, her friends, had done after they used the powder to make sure none showed on their noses.  She was full of energy now and was ready to go. 

 

She walked out into the main room and looked around for her clothes and was able to recover most of them, her panties were ripped up.  She collected fresh ones and headed to the shower after spending time on the toilet again experiencing the after effects of all night partying on the human body.  It was nearly noon.

 

She was just about done dressing after her shower when someone knocked on the bathroom door.

 

“Hey, Lori, some old guy’s at the door, says he needs to talk to you.  Your dad checking up on you?”  The mans voice informed her and asked.

 

“Shit!”  Snow said aloud and quickly finished dressing.  How did Bait find her?  She didn’t care what he said to her, this was her life now and she was never going back to the werewolf life.  She was a human and he could suck it.

 

She stormed out of the bathroom, the man was standing inside the closed door.  “L… Leyland.”  Snow said in a disappointed tone. 

 

He clearly caught her leaving out the Lord part of his name.  Lord Leyland looked her up and down with a pissed off face and disappointed eyes. 

 

“What do you want?”  She said to him with a cold voice.

 

He looked around the room and sniffed.  Leyland’s face was disgust when he looked back to Snow.  “And using cocaine too.”  He said hard then stepped closer to her, stopping a few feet away.  “I’ve come for you, your choice.”  He said with heavy eyes as he looked at her.

 

Snow scoffed.  “I’d say I’ve made it dumb ass.  You’re in my world now.  I have nothing to do with my old life, and I’m human now so you can’t do anything to me, you’re not allowed.”  She said with a snide tone and smirk at the end.  She felt cocky now.

 

Lord Leyland inhaled deep and straightened himself as he looked at her.  “I need you to say it.  You still remember our law, you haven’t made your choice in my sight yet.  I need to hear you say your choice.”  He said then stood stiff and looked at her.

 

Snow paused for a while before responding.  “This is what I choose, being human, freewill, living the way I want to and not in some preprogrammed life.  Get out!”  She told him and pointed to the door.

 

“I pity your mate.”  Leyland said with a face of stone, then turned and walked to the door, opened it and let himself out closing the door behind him.

 

One of the men Snow had woken up with in the bed came up to her, the rest were still asleep.

 

“Who was that, your old man?”  He asked with a dismissive face regarding their visitor.

 

“No, someone who wanted me to live life by his rules.”  Snow answered with her gaze towards the door.  She looked to the man.  “I live by my own rules now, him and everyone that’s a part of his world are behind me now, I have freewill and am as human as you are.” 

 

He smiled at her and ran his hand over her head.  “You look a little rough this morning after your first night of freedom.”

 

Snow nodded.  “I felt it too, that cocaine in the bathroom helped though.  I could use some more of that!”  She answered with a smile.

 

He chuckled and stepped away.  “If you liked that, then you are going to love this.”  He said and started digging in the small backpack he had brought with him and pulled out a spoon, syringe and a small wrapped up ball.

 

Snow had a puzzled look on her face when she questioned what he had.  “What’s that?”

 

“Heroin.”  He answered as he started preparing the drug for use.  “You in?”

 

Snow looked at the black ball he was working with and thought for a second.  “Sure, why not.  New life, new fun.”

 

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“I told you we should have gotten out the first chance we had”  Mud said to Kevashka as they walked along the alley filled with garbage and dumpsters.

 

“How was I supposed to know we’d have no way out of this country?  How was anyone supposed to know what would happen.”  Kevashka answered with a long face.

 

“They were our last hope for getting passports that would let us travel back to Ireland, with no formal clans anymore except for Clay, any of the unregistered don’t want anything to do with us and feel no obligation to help us.”  Grey commented as he and Morning Dew followed after the two woman.

 

The two pair of mated werewolves walked on quietly for a few yards.

 

“I can tell you one thing, I hate tending bar.  I can’t believe that’s the best job I could get.”  Morning Dew stated.

 

“You think that’s bad, try being a janitor by night and working fast food in the day.  I can’t see how humans can eat that shit.”  Grey followed him with.

 

Kevashka scoffed.  “Can’t be as bad as being a hotel maid, cleaning up after humans.  Bleah, disgusting.”  She looked over at Mud.  “At least you were able to get something kinda in your field before we were wiped out.”

 

Mud flapped her arms at her sides.  “Teaching boxing to humans, very hard when they don’t have the speed or durability of our kind.”  Her voice held no emotion.  “And everyone’s more interested in mixed marshal arts anyways.”

 

The conversation died.  They walked on in silence towards the downtown apartment the four shared.  It was late, or early depending on how you looked at it.  The bars and clubs were closed and they were walking back from meeting up with Morning Dew and Grey after their shift at a local hot club. 

 

Suddenly Kevashka stopped in place, the others froze with her.  “That smell?”  She asked looking down the alley.

 

“I smell it too.”  Morning Dew said while Grey and Mud nodded acknowledging the scent they were talking about.

 

“There!”  Kevashka said pointing to a pile of garbage covered in newspapers. 

 

The group moved to the pile and started clearing it from over the body it covered.

 

“Human, hurt pretty bad, looks like they were left here for dead, roll him over, see if he’s still breathing.”  Grey ordered.  Mud and Kevashka reached down to try and help the mostly dead human they had found.

 

“Oh frell!”  Kevashka said with a gasp.  The others stared dumbfounded. 

 

“That’s Snow, or it used to be...”  Mud trailed off, looking at her former leaders beaten and broken form..

 

“What’s left of her.”  Morning Dew added with a glum voice.

 

Kevashka checked her neck.  “Faint, but she still has a pulse.”

 

“What happened to her?  Was she robbed?”  Grey asked, in shock.

 

Kevashka started shaking her head.  “No, not robbed.  More like she was taught a lesson.”  She lifted up one of Snow’s arms and pushed what remained of her sleeve up revealing the track marks from drug use.  “Hard living leads to hard debt.  She owed someone a lot of money, she couldn’t pay so, this is how they collected on their debt.”

 

Grey pulled out a small cell phone and made a 911 call, giving their location to the dispatcher.  Half an hour later the ambiance showed up and took Snow to the hospital.

 

-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-

 

“We’re all related to her, just at different levels.  We’re the only family she has here in the states.”  Kevashka was explaining to the woman behind the counter at the emergency room they were at.

 

The woman shook her head.  “The identification she had on her says her name is Lori Albertson, not Snow Wolf.”  The woman responded.

 

“Look dumb ass, she changed her name, okay?  We’re the only family left.  Who else are you going to ask about her and have make decisions on her care?  The government?”  Mud put in.

 

The woman looked off to the side then back to the four people in front of her.  Her eyes said she didn’t like the idea of letting law decide in place of even distant relatives.

 

With a sigh she relented.  “She’s in bad shape.  I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do for her at this point.  The drugs have taken their toll as well as the beating and stabbing.  There’s too much damage and no strength to recover.  I’m sorry, but your cousin doesn’t have much longer.”  The sad face of the nurse told them.  “She’s awake, if you’d like to say goodbye.”  The woman looked down for a moment with clasped hands then back to the group.

 

“Please.”  Mud said calmly. 

 

The nurse led them along the hall to the room labeled Lori A. and into the door.  She held out a hand towards the bed with the remains of what had been Snow in it.  She clasped her hands in front of her again and looked down then turned quietly and left them alone with the dying human.

 

The feeling of complete defeat that was heavy in the room was made real in the faces that looked at Snow as she opened her eyes with difficulty. 

 

“Grey, Kevashka… Mud… what… why are you guys here?”  She said in a faint weak voice that she was barely able to emit.

 

The four looked between themselves while Snow looked on confused.  Morning Dew finally answered Snow.  “We found you in an alley when the ladies were walking Grey and I back from work.  You’d been left for dead.  If we hadn’t found you, you would be just that, dead.”  He told her.

 

Her face worked into a deeper question with pain evident.  “Work?”  She sighed and relaxed letting her head rest fully on the pillow again.  “Wish you wouldn’t have taken the effort.”  She said and drifted for a moment.  “I’m not coming back, you can fight your own fights, tell Bait that too.  I’m done, don’t want to play anymore.”

 

Her guests resumed looking at each other again with looks that said they weren’t sure about what to say next.

 

Morning Dew’s voice held contempt that went well with the anger in his eyes.  “Well, you should be happy to know you’re going to get your request, you’ll be joining the others, you’ll be dead soon, you’ve done yourself in.”  He said coldly.

 

Grey placed a hand on Morning Dew’s shoulder and stepped forward.  “Snow, it’s been three months.”  He told her. 

 

“Three months…”  Snow followed his words as she struggled to focus, sitting up some and coughing blood out of her mouth and nose.  “Then why are you here… still working?  Bait’s chosen his new mate, Sea Mist I’m sure, Alexander’s gone, you’ve won the war, why are you messing with me?”

 

All eyes were on Grey, he had taken position to speak for the group, and they were all to happy to let him.

 

Grey was like stone when he spoke, betraying no emotion.  “The war is over, we lost and have been scattered to the winds.  We are working because we need jobs to survive in the human world we’re left with.  He doesn’t go by Bait anymore, he uses his human middle name now, Oscar.  Alexander may be gone, but that’s only because he escaped, we were able to destroy his portal before he activated it but that only caused his retaliation to effectively eradicate us from the surface of the earth.  Here in the states there are less then a hundred of us left, only about a thousand worldwide.  As far as Bait and his choosing, he did choose, but not Sea Mist, he chose Shyhon as his mate and she was allowed to bite him

 

Grey took a deep breath before he went on as he looked to his friends, hoping someone else would take over.  They all held their eyes on Snow, no one was willing.

 

“Sea Mist and Blade Dance are both dead, as is Hovlek, Max and Meadow, your father and Squat, your entire family including your mother have been executed.  Corn Stalk and Clan Westbridge are gone, only Clan Clay has any structure left, and very little at that.  They make up about half of what we have left, even the unregistered clans have been mostly wiped out.  Oscar and Shyhon were taken to Ireland with help from Twitch’s friends in the IRA, he died getting them to safety.”

 

Snow stared back slack jawed.  She fell back against the bed again and started coughing.  The coughing intensified and chunks came from her mouth.  She started choking and aspirating  into her lungs.  Kevashka and Mud went to her sides as the monitor on her heart went to a steady long tone announcing her life had ended.

 

-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-

 

“We can’t raise her on the radio, can’t find her anyplace, no one has seen her.”  Max reported back to Bait over the radio.

 

“Son of a bitch!”  Bait said to the empty rooms of the office quad he had his work papering the walls of.  He dropped the book of werewolf law on the desktop.  Where was Snow?  She was commander, she needed to know about the attack.  “Contact Lord Leyland and tell him our commander is MIA and I’m taking charge until we find her, unless he has someone else to put in command.”  Bait barked into the pickup of his radio.

 

Hovlek came into the room, a somber faced Seven was at his side, nearly in tears.  “Thuobfen is about to pass.”  Hovlek stated stolidly. 

 

Noniena had been shot practically point blank in the chest with a multi-barreled shotgun loaded with silver slugs that split and injected powdered silver into the victim.  Sea Mist and Worm were with her, their status was unknown, assumed dead or soon to be.  Blade Dance had been detained for observation and to ensure he did nothing rash.  Now no one could find Snow. 

 

He wanted to make his way to the command deck, but his duty made him go to the side of Thuobfen for his last moments.  On his way he thought hard to Snow, he was pushing his mind into a void.  At Thuobfen’s side he stood with the family and the bishop as his life left him, his last words, thank you, as he looked at Bait.

 

Anger, that’s all he felt as he left the medical level and took a shortcut through the new construction area.  It was in the middle as he looked over to where he’d had his perch at for the bash a rash of thoughts stampeded into his conscious thought.  Max stopped near him as he looked around the room that was being built.

 

“What is it boss man?”  Max asked in his light but confused and wondering voice.

 

“Four archways.  North east, south east, south west and north west, always four.”  Bait said in a distant voice.

 

Max looked around at the four archways.  His head nodded, there were four of them, and they did face the half points of the compass, based from true north, not magnetic north.  His statement was true enough, always was the four archways, he didn’t see how that was relevant to anything, especially considering the recent murder of a werewolf in broad daylight on a busy city street and unknown what had happened to the two other werewolves with her. 

 

“Tunnels and farms.”  Bait said then started walking fast again on his way to the command deck.  Max followed slowing his gate to match his commander’s.

 

When they entered the command deck, Bait automatically looked to where Worm would be stationed, Max did the same.  The empty seat and dark computer screens left both with an empty feeling inside.  Both telling themselves she and Sea were still alive silently in their own minds.  This was not a time to assume the worst.

 

“Any word on my elusive mate?  Someone locate her ass NOW!”  Bait yelled as he moved past Worm’s station.

 

“Nothing on Commander Snow your Grace, and we just got worse news.”  One of Squat’s lieutenants reported.

 

Bait’s stomach flipped and a lump caught in his throat, Worm and Sea Mist…

 

“Vampires have attacked werewolf property, dens and buildings.  It seems the ones we operated from on our first missions were hit first, Clan Stormhold’s building was dropped, around three hundred human casualties.  The attacks seem to be coordinated with the attack on Noniena, we think her and Worm were just collateral damage in the grab for Sea Mist, she was the real target.”  Darby continued.

 

A daylight attack, they had to use day walkers for that.  Dropping a building and attacking dens, Bait thought back to the day they attacked his house.  They had military weapons, he had considered how much they had then, now he was wondering that again and how big the weapons they had were. 

 

Bait looked at Darby, his face said he wanted the rest.

 

Darby nodded once and resumed.  “So far, there have been only human casualties, mostly from the collapse of the Stormhold building, all twenty-eight stories fell into another building taking it with and damaging other property around it.  The strike was a rocket attack and hit nothing strategic outside of toppling the building Stormhold had as a den.  At every other den, the attacks were mostly benign, buildings were destroyed, not a single garage was hit, so our operations haven't been hampered in anyway, and no werewolf casualties whatsoever.  It’s almost as if they tried not to kill us.”  Darby finished.

 

Bait stared off at the floor.  Pieces started to fall into place. 

 

Werewolves had become consolidated over the years.  He had been looking at the plans for building dens that had come from clan Clay, original designs.  Plans that had been designed to accommodate a different lifestyle, when werewolves had farms and houses that were connected via tunnels that linked to one of the main four tunnels that led into the den where they ate the evening meal and prepared for the nights work. 

 

“Tell everyone to scatter from their dens, they are only to go there for two hours at a time, an hour before and after sunset and the same for sunrise.  They’ll need to find housing and food among the humans until I tell them to return, understood?”  Bait looked to Darby and Squat.

 

Both men nodded their answer and followed with ‘Yes your Grace’.


 

 

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