Shawn startled awake at the sound of his alarm. He couldn't be sure if it were due to the fact that he had house guests or if it were more about their impending excursion.
The previous night he had made the unfortunate mistake of asking how Devin was doing. After that he was told, in great detail, about every miniscule achievement that Devin had made, no matter how inane.
To sum it up, they had been able to 'paper train' Devin... mostly. And Devin had apparently discovered masturbation. The combination of those two factors seemed to have made caring for the young werewolf quite a bit easier. Clean-up was simplified and most of the time Devin would see to his own entertainment, therefore he didn't require their constant attention.
When Shawn walked into the kitchen, he was surprised to find Duran at the stove, preparing breakfast.
"I hope you don't mind." Duran said over his shoulder.
"Not at all. Thank you for cooking." Shawn said sincerely.
"Duran's a great cook." Lane said from the kitchen table.
"Actually, I suck. But Lane is absolutely helpless in the kitchen, so it works out."
"I can sympathize." Shawn said with a grin at Lane.
"I couldn't find any coffee. Did I just miss it?"
"No. I forgot to buy any. We can pick some up at the Waxell Diner on the way to the office. When I have some free time, I'll have to remember to buy some coffee... and a coffee maker... and cups..."
"It sounds like it'll be easier to just stop at the diner." Lane said frankly.
"Yeah. That's part of why I don't already own a coffee maker."
"Sit down. It's almost ready." Duran said from his place at the stove.
"Thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it."
"We should be thanking you for letting us stay in your house." Duran said as he carried plates to the table.
"Yeah. I doubt that we would have been able to relax in that boarding house place." Lane added.
"Speaking of relaxing, are you guys going to be able to handle being around Agent Fastbeck and his cursed friends?"
"Now that I'm expecting it, I should be fine. It was just getting slapped with it out of nowhere that threw me off."
"How about you, Duran?"
"What? Do you think that just because I'm younger that I won't be able to handle it? Is that your problem?"
"No. I was just asking you the exact same question for the exact same reason that I asked Lane, you overly sensitive little prick."
Duran looked at Shawn with surprise for a moment, then broke into a grin before saying, "I thought that if I pushed hard enough I'd get you to be real with me."
"Is this some kind of game to you?"
"No. But if I can get you to be real with me, then I'll know that I can be real with you."
"You're not going to start telling me stories about your fucked up childhood and expecting me to hold you while you cry about it and stuff like that, are you?"
"No. I just mean that now I've seen what's hiding out under the politeness and formality. When I pushed you, you didn't attack me personally... or physically. You just called me on my bullshit. I wanted to know what's cooking underneath before I go into a battle with you."
"So are you saying that you're not actually a bratty teenager?"
"Oh, I am. I wasn't play acting, I just wasn't bothering to hold myself back, either."
"Well, now that you've gotten whatever it was that you were looking for, I'd appreciate it if you would go ahead and put forth the effort. I don't have a lot of patience for the attitude."
"Okay. Yeah." Duran agreed, then thought to add, "And just so you know, my childhood wasn't fucked up. It was pretty good. And if I ever need a good cry, I've got Lane for that."
The three enjoyed a few quiet minutes as they ate and each pondered their own thoughts.
The silence was finally broken by Shawn asking, "Do you guys mind that I called for your help?"
"You do what you've got to do. We understand that. I'd much rather help you do something than know that you stood back and did nothing when you could have helped someone who needed it." Lane said honestly.
"From what I understand, you guys help people all the time. It's what you do." Shawn said simply.
"The same goes for you, doesn't it? I mean, that's what your job is all about." Duran asked in return.
"That, and reports. Lots and lots of reports."
* * * * *
After a stop at the Waxell diner for coffee, Agent Roberts pulled around to his customary parking place behind the office.
"Where are your friends?" Agent Fastbeck asked as Agent Roberts walked into the office.
"Out in the car waiting for us to be ready. Where are yours?"
"They're going to meet up with us on the way out of town. They don't like to stop in Waxell any more than necessary."
"Is there anything that we need to discuss before we leave?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"I've been thinking about it and as much as I want to protect everyone's secrets, you and I are the organizers of this entire event. I think for us to make well thought out decisions, we need to know as many of the facts as possible."
"Makes sense." Agent Roberts agreed.
"My friends... they're witches... cursed witches." Agent Fastbeck quietly admitted.
"Mine are vampires." Agent Roberts said simply.
Agent Fastbeck nodded for a moment, then said, "I guess that we'd better be going. We wouldn't want to keep our friends waiting."
"Yeah." Agent Roberts said as he picked up the laptop and a stack of maps from the desk.
* * * * *
Agent Fastbeck mentioned that it might be a good idea for Agent Roberts to get a CB radio installed in his car.
While both agents had walkie-talkies, Agent Fastbeck felt that it would be best if they rode together so that they could discuss their ideas and make plans for what was to come.
"Is there anything I need to know about your vampires before we find ourselves in a confrontation?"
"They call themselves Shadesiders. They're stronger, faster and more agile than regular people, so don't worry about them if they go up against someone who looks bigger and stronger than they are. I've seen them in a full-out fight. They can handle it."
"So they're not vulnerable to sunlight, crosses or any of the other things in the legends?"
"They're a little sensitive to sunlight, but I don't know everything about them. The only thing like that you really have to watch out for is not to get bitten by them. That part of the legend is true."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"What about the witches? Anything I should know?"
"The curse that they're under prevents the Brynns from using magical abilities, except for the animal transformations, and those are augmented to the point that they can't go for very long without transforming. That's also what prevents them from being around regular people."
"So, their curse isn't like the Shadesiders. I mean, they can't accidentally curse you, can they?"
"I'm still not entirely clear on how all of that works. As I understand it, the curse is typically passed from one spouse to the other and from the parents to the children."
"From the way Lane and Duran reacted to you, I doubt that intimate relationships is going to be a problem."
"You should also know that there are two people who are capable of bestowing different versions of the curse with little more than a touch."
"What are the chances that those two will be joining us today?"
"Pretty good, actually. I'm one of them." Agent Fastbeck reluctantly admitted.
"But you said that you're a human..."
"I am. It just so happens that the curse that was put on me allows me to bestow a curse. But I have to admit that I have no idea what my curse would do to a regular human. It was designed to work on witches."
"What do you think it would do to a Shadesider?"
"I didn't even know that they existed until today, so your guess is as good as mine."
"I'm thinking that it would probably be best if we didn't find out."
"I just wanted you to be aware in case it came up for some reason."
"Thanks for telling me." Agent Roberts said sincerely, then cautiously asked, "Am I in any danger from you?"
"No. The only way I can curse someone is if I decide that it's the right thing to do. I can't be compelled to curse someone against my will. It invalidates the curse."
"If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I mean, you transforming, there's no way I'd believe a word of it."
"I'm still coming to grips with living as a cursed being."
"You said that there were two of you who could bestow a curse. Will the other one be coming with us?"
"No. When I asked for volunteers, I asked that they include people who could track a scent. Andrea's transformed state is another swan, like mine."
"If that's the case, couldn't she have done the 'ancient spirit essence' thing like you did?"
"No. From my understanding of things, she might have been able to do a similar thing with the spiritual essence of Caer Ibormeith. But I was told that she couldn't possibly host the essence of Aengus MacOg."
"Whatever you say." Agent Roberts said slowly, then continued, "Did you have a chance to look over the files that I assembled?"
"Yes. That was some expert work. Any or all of them could potentially be involved."
"From what I've been able to gather about them, they're not very trusting of each other. It's unlikely that more than any two or three of them would work collectively. They're just too greedy to take the chance of having to split their loot too many ways."
"You're reading more into this than I am, but you're probably right. My money's on Dr. Mickel. Not only does he have a background in archaeology, but he's also known to be less than ethical in his business practices."
"He was at the top of my list, too. If I had time to go more in-depth on my research, his would be one of the first files that I would investigate."
"Hold that thought. This is them up ahead. This is the meeting place that we agreed on." Agent Fastbeck said as he pulled the car onto the shoulder.
"Why are we stopping?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"I want to be sure that your Shadesiders will be able to work with my Brynns. If either group can't handle it for some reason, we need to know now."
"I'll go get Lane and Duran." Agent Roberts said before opening his door.
* * * * *
Agent Roberts motioned for Lane and Duran to get out of their car and join him.
"What's going on? Why did we stop?"
"After your reaction to Agent Fastbeck last night, we just wanted to be sure that you'll be able to work with the Brynns before we start depending on you too much."
"That's kind of rude..."
"It makes sense." Lane interrupted.
Duran looked at him curiously.
"They need to know what to expect. It's smart to test it out before we drive all the way there." Lane explained.
Agent Roberts led the way to where Agent Fastbeck was talking to another group of people.
* * * * *
"Lowell, Olive, Jazz and Cain, may I present Agent Roberts, Lane and Duran."
"They don't smell right." Olive said cautiously and seemed to be readying herself for a fight.
"That's not quite the 'Pleased to meet you' that I was expecting." Duran said frankly.
"They smell like Bacchae." Lowell said cautiously.
"What we need to know right now is if you can work together. If you can't, we'll have to come up with a work-around or something." Agent Fastbeck said firmly, trying to get everyone back on topic.
"They feel like danger, like something bad about to happen." Duran said frankly.
"But can you work with them?" Agent Roberts pressed.
"Yeah. We can do it." Duran said mostly confidently.
"What about you, Lowell? Do you think that you'll be able to work with the Shadesiders?"
"It smells to me like their meat's been tainted. As long as it doesn't involve me having to bite one of them, there shouldn't be a problem." Lowell said carefully, not turning his gaze away from the two Shadesiders for an instant.
"Yeah. We'd really rather that you didn't bite us, if it's all the same to you." Duran said frankly.
Lane then quickly added, "And we don't feel like biting you either."
Olive chuckled at the very idea.
Duran was somewhat offended by her dismissive attitude and let his fangs drop and his other more vampiric features become more prominent as he snarled at her.
"You are Bacchae! I knew it!" Lowell said with satisfaction.
"If we're all agreed that we can work together, let's continue on. We're going to need all of your help if we're going to resolve this situation." Agent Fastbeck said firmly, drawing all attention back to him.
Agent Roberts was the first to move, but soon everyone returned to their vehicles.
As Agent Fastbeck pulled back onto the road to lead the way, Agent Roberts quietly said, "I think that went well."
* * * * *
The drive was mostly quiet as Agent Roberts studied the files of the potential perpetrators.
He focused the majority of his attention on Dr. Edward Mickel, Professor of Archaeology. According to the publicly available records and social media accounts, Dr. Mickel had taken a semester off to do research in the field, and the entire project was shrouded in secrecy.
Looking into Dr. Mickel's history unveiled an incident in Argentina that very nearly resulted in his incarceration. Undoubtedly, a large sum of money must have changed hands to get him out of that situation.
"The more I look at this, the more I think that Mickel is the only one who could pull this off. None of the rest have the financial resources to take on a project of this scale."
"I got that impression, too." Agent Fastbeck said thoughtfully, then added, "Although it wouldn't surprise me to find out that Sylvia Richter or Corbin Spieth were working with him. They both have the academic background to be of use to him and neither appear to be otherwise engaged in anything at the moment. There are also accounts of both of them working with him before."
"So, what's the actual plan when we get there?"
"Travel to the Wudewas compound, then set the Brynns on the scent of whoever attacked them. Once they've located their base camp, bring the Shadesiders in to gather intelligence."
"What if they're not there?"
"Then we'll gather as much information as we can and discuss options for a stakeout or an ambush."
"If this is going to drag out for days, we're going to need supplies."
"Let's just see how things go before we worry too much about that. If we have to make a run for supplies, we will."
"Why do I have the feeling that I'm going to be the one stuck with that duty?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I'm the only normal human. I don't have any special ability to contribute to the search."
"You have FBI training and background information about who we're likely to be facing. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you don't have a place in this operation. Without you, we wouldn't have any option but to eliminate the people who have been attacking the Wudewas."
"Speaking of that, how is the Wudewas that went for help? Is he going to be ready to return soon?"
"I checked on him last night. Although he's anxious to return to his people, I think it will be a few days before he's physically able. When he's ready, we'll see to it that he's transported the majority of the way so that he can return without driving himself to exhaustion again."
"I hesitate to mention this, but have you noticed that our companions are all predators?"
"I hadn't thought about it in those terms, but I suppose that you're right."
"Does that mean that we're prey?"
"No. We're part of their pack. On the other hand, we could conceivably end up having to protect Dr. Mickel and his companions."
"I suppose we'll do what we have to."
* * * * *
"Well, I guess we won't have to worry about setting up a stakeout." Agent Roberts said as he looked at the vans parked at the bend in the road.
"Get their plate numbers. I'm going to pull further down the road. Once we've stopped, you can use the sat phone to establish a hot spot and run those plates."
"I'm on it. If you'll get the others ready, I should have some answers for you by the time you're finished." Agent Roberts said as he quickly snapped pictures as they slowly drove by.
Once Agent Fastbeck was sure that Agent Roberts had all the pictures that he needed, he continued on down the road until he found a reasonable layby that could accommodate all their vehicles.
As soon as they were stopped, Agent Roberts went to work on establishing computer contact with the bureau. The connection was tenuous at best, but he was able to run the plates and confirm that the vehicles were, in fact, registered to a company owned by Dr. Edward Mickel.
It didn't take much investigation to prove that the company was a false front, created for tax purposes and as a buffer so that Dr. Mickel would be one step removed from liability in the event of unfortunate returns on his investments.
"Was it Mickel?" Agent Fastbeck asked as Agent Roberts approached.
"Yes. And I was able to confirm that Corby Spieth is also involved." Agent Roberts said slowly, noticing that all the 'Brynns' seemed to be undressing.
"Good. Our tracking team are going to investigate the vehicles and see if they can pick up the scent." Agent Fastbeck said seriously, then asked, "Are you ready?"
"Yeah. The laptop's locked in the trunk. Here are your keys." Agent Roberts said slowly as he handed them over without looking.
"It's usually best if they undress before they transform." Agent Fastbeck explained.
Before Shawn could respond, the entire group of them transformed from their human appearances into those of various types of canines.
He could detect a dog and a wolf in the mix, but the other two weren't immediately identifiable to him.
"Be careful. We need information, not casualties." Agent Fastbeck said firmly.
The wolf yipped once, then the 'pack' turned as one and hurried up the road, to where Dr. Mickel's vehicles were parked.
"You guys don't need us for anything, do you?" Duran asked anxiously as he watched the animals go.
"No. All we're doing now is waiting to see what the Brynns come up with." Agent Fastbeck said simply.
"They're not the only ones who can track a scent." Duran said simply.
"If there's no point to us staying here, we'd really like to go too." Lane said honestly.
"Just remember what our objectives are. No killing." Agent Fastbeck said firmly.
"God! You sound just like my dad!" Duran huffed.
Lane grinned at his reaction, then said to Agent Fastbeck, "We won't do anything but what we came here to do. I promise."
"Thank you." Agent Fastbeck said sincerely.
Taking that as his approval, Lane and Duran took off running at something beyond a normal 'human' pace.
"We should probably hurry." Agent Roberts said as he started to walk in that direction.
"No. I think it's better if we follow along at a deliberate pace and do a thorough investigation. Remember that what we bring to the table is our training and experience. Let's be sure to put it to good use."
Although Shawn wanted to hurry along behind the others to see whatever excitement there might be, he couldn't disagree with Agent Fastbeck's assessment of their situation and their contribution to the overall project.
* * * * *
After what seemed to be an unreasonable amount of time inspecting and taking pictures of parked vehicles, Agents Fastbeck and Roberts finally started their trek into the wilderness.
"So, our objective isn't to catch up to the others, but to reach the Southseid colony, right?" Agent Roberts finally asked.
"Only inasmuch as we don't have a clue about where our companions have gone. It seems reasonable to assume that Dr. Mickel would set up his base camp somewhere near the colony. If we're in close proximity, I think we'll have a better chance of someone from our group finding us."
"Given their abilities, I doubt that any of them will have a problem finding us if they want to." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"True enough." Agent Fastbeck easily agreed, then smiled as he said, "Lowell was telling me that he wanted to bring Cain along so that they could track and hunt together. It's a chance for him to share this part of his life with his great-grandson."
"I didn't understand why you agreed to bring a child with you when it might be dangerous, but now I see. Not only is it a rare opportunity for them, but the danger is what makes it real and important."
"I have no doubt that Lowell will keep a careful eye on Cain to be sure that he doesn't take on more than he can handle. But I think most of what he's hoping to do is share what he's learned over his life and provide an opportunity for one of his great-grandsons to make him proud."
"Just as long as they're careful. We already know that Dr. Mickel is armed."
"Yes. And we also know that he has some method of seeing through the Wudewas barrier. Depending on what he's using, it's possible that the same technology could be turned on us to track us down and shoot us."
"Are you still thinking it's infrared?"
"That or some other form of night vision, maybe."
Both men stopped in their tracks when an odd looking stripey dog ran up to them.
Before either man could react, the dog-like creature began to transform.
"We found them. Grandpa told me to come back and get you and show you where they are." Cain said in his half-human, half-canine form.
"Is everyone alright? Did the people at the camp see you?"
"Everyone's fine. They didn't see us at all. But those guys that you brought with you showed up right after we did and they said that they're going to do something. Grandpa told me to go and get you before they did whatever it was." Cain quickly explained.
"Lead the way." Agent Fastbeck said simply.
Cain transformed back to his fully animal form, then started back in the direction he had come from.
* * * * *
The hurried walk through the forest wasn't like it had been before. This time they had someone leading the way, so there wasn't the same sense that every step might lead them into some dire situation.
"Please, be quiet and stay here." A voice said from ahead of them, before Lowell stepped out into the clearing.
The only adequate term that might apply to his form was 'werewolf'.
"The boys that you brought with us asked for us to keep you away for a bit while they work." Lowell said slowly, obviously not happy with the request.
"Is the enemy neutralized?" Agent Fastbeck asked cautiously.
"Those boys didn't do anything at first but stand and stare. But after a few minutes they started to glow, then everyone in the camp started sleepwalking toward them... damndest thing I've ever seen."
"How far away are we from their camp?" Agent Fastbeck asked cautiously.
"'Bout a quarter of a mile, at most. Not far."
"I don't know how long it will take for Lane and Duran to do their work, but there's no point in us standing around waiting for them."
"What should we do instead?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Let's go let Ud-wra know that his people are safe."
"What about them?" Agent Roberts asked, glancing at the great-grandfather and great-grandson standing side-by-side, both half-transformed.
"The Wudewas know about the Cursed Ones and sent someone to ask them for help. I don't think they'll have a problem with actually getting to meet them in person." Agent Fastbeck said thoughtfully, then turned to Lowell and Cain and asked, "Is that okay with you guys?"
"I don't understand." Cain said honestly.
"It's something new for us to discover. We'll experience it together." Lowell assured him.
"It's over this way." Agent Fastbeck said as he started to lead the way.
Agent Roberts let Lowell and his great-grandson pass before taking up the rear and guarding their backs.
* * * * *
"Shawn, would you mind taking care of my clothes?" Agent Fastbeck asked as they stopped at the barrier of ivy and weeds.
"I don't mind, now that I know what you're asking me to do." Agent Roberts finished with a smile.
Agent Fastbeck began to undress, and as he did, he handed each article of clothing to Agent Roberts so that he could keep it all sorted for him.
"When we go in, just let me do all the talking. Ud-wra won't be able to understand what you're saying. I'm able to speak with him due to some magical thing that Ima did to me." Agent Fastbeck said toward Lowell and Cain.
"We'll just watch." Lowell assured Agent Fastbeck solemnly.
After taking off the last of his clothes, Agent Fastbeck began his transformation and became the black Oskmey.
"In the bond of blood, in the bond of pain, in the bond of shared grief, in the name of Cernunnos who oversees and protects, accept the guardians of light into your sanctuary."
As the vines and weeds seemed to part under Agent Fastbeck's touch, Agent Roberts motioned for Lowell and Cain to precede him through the barrier.
He noticed that the half-transformed great-grandfather and great-grandson joined clawed hands and walked into the unknown misty darkness together.
Agent Roberts followed as he made sure to keep careful hold of Agent Fastbeck's clothing for him.
* * * * *
Agent Fastbeck led their way through the misty darkness until an enormous form appeared before them.
"Please tell Ud-wra that we have found those who have caused your people harm." Agent Fastbeck said firmly.
The huge beastly figure growled once, then began to move away.
"He wants us to follow." Agent Fastbeck said quietly.
Agent Roberts was surprised. He had expected to be told to wait until Ud-wra was summoned.
The large creature seemed to disappear from before them, then Agent Roberts watched carefully as Agent Fastbeck turned to the left and stepped through a gap in the trees.
Lowell and Cain went through next as Agent Roberts followed closely behind.
* * * * *
It was difficult to walk down the gnarled roots and outcroppings of rock that served almost as stair steps or ladder rungs.
More than once, Agent Roberts nearly lost his balance, but thanks to the hiking gear that he had recently acquired, he was able to find reliable enough purchase to continue climbing down.
* * * * *
After descending a significant distance, they finally came to an archway of tangled ivy and branches that seemed to be filled with light.
Walking through the archway was like stepping into another world.
The mysterious gray furred creature took on new features in the bright light of day. He was still enormous and covered in fur, but his features now appeared to be decidedly more human.
Agent Roberts was finally able to tear his gaze away from their guide and look around the primitive village where they found themselves.
There were several Wudewas out and about, attending to their daily chores. All of them stopped whatever they were doing and stared disbelievingly as the Oskmey, Werewolf, Agdlak and one lone human followed their guide to the largest of the huts, in the center of the village.
* * * * *
The large Wudewas took one step into the doorway, then made an ominous growl, announcing his presence.
There was a growl from inside in response, then their guide motioned for his guests to proceed into the hut.
When Agent Roberts eyes adjusted to the dimmer light inside, he saw Ud-wra standing before them, staring back.
"Elder Ud-wra, I come with news. We have assembled a team of people to track down those who have hurt you. As we speak, my companions have your attackers in custody and are attempting to find out just how much they know about you."
Ud-wra snorted and growled a long response.
"We were told that they had been taken, but I haven't talked to them myself. As soon as I found out, I came to tell you that your people were no longer in danger."
Ud-wra growled again.
"If you would like, I can go now and return with that information."
There was another growl, and to Agent Roberts, it seemed to be a bit more impatient.
"As you wish. If you have nothing else that needs to be done first, we will go now."
Ud-wra growled once, then Agent Fastbeck turned to leave.
* * * * *
As soon as they were outside the hut, Agent Roberts quietly asked, "What's going on?"
"Ud-wra is going with us."
To Be Continued...
Ud-wra seems to be a hands on type of chief, and I like him. He may lack patience, but under the circumstances he's been dealing with, I can't blame him in the least.
I wonder what Raif would be able to learn from the Brynns, in particular, the canine variety. Maybe they could be helpful with their young werewolf.
I can hardly wait for more.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher