"Hi ya, Harry, I'm fine." I laughed, given how Harry was just as deep in the tiger trap as I was. I felt compelled to add, "But now you're stuck down here in the dark with little old me. Looks like were both 'fine' and out of the race for the Fang," I continued softly while a rush of relief flooded me.
I hated when I couldn't stop talking, but I'd been more nervous than I'd even realized. Nothing like dumping a vampire unexpected down in the dark without any blood or obvious exits. I knew it didn't matter since Harry'd figure a way out. Just knowing he was near increased my odds of getting out of the cavern and getting to even up a few scores with Archer and his crew of misfit fur faces. It amused me to think of the vampires and werewolves fighting side by side. Kenyon really had his work cut out for him if he seriously thought he'd be running the werewolves alongside his vampires without any problems.
"Natasha, I didn't join you without a back up plan." I heard another set of thumps and Marcus cursed while Renee laughed. Looked like the whole team going to be part of the fun. Nothing like a little spelunking to increase team building! I wondered if that was part of Archer's game, let us run into traps and escape. I wouldn't put it past the werewolf. He didn't much care for non-werewolves, and the wall of weapons in his home weren't vampire friendly in the least.
"Your plan is get us all caught inside Archer's trap and then what?" I felt a bubble of joy bouncing around inside me, knowing his plan was going to be good. I didn't have long to wait.
Harry found where I was and touched me reassuringly. A rush of delight raced through me as Harry's hand stayed on my arm. The drumming of my body was distracting me from the problems at hand. I really was screwed having taken blood from him, but it was nevertheless reassuring to have him near me. I'd fix the blood calling me later, once I got back to Simon, my Master.
"We leave, pick up the four elements needed for Archer's little scavenger hunt and then go get the Solomon Fang from Costa when we win the 'reward'." I liked that he was quite positive of the outcome. He didn't even question our escaping much less winning the contest. The odds were slightly in our favor given we had three vampires and one werewolf while the rest were teams of werewolves. Archer's home team advantage was worrisome, but from Harry's tone, not something insurmountable.
"Just like that, huh?" Even in the darkness I could see his smile. There still wasn't any measurable light but I could feel the grin nevertheless.
Marcus physically stumbled into us with a growl. He was back in human form and decidedly underdressed. I was glad it was pitch black. Somehow seeing him naked while down in a damn tiger trap seemed a tad tempting. I wasn't interested in finding out which of my urges would take over first -- the urge to throttle him or jump him. The sexual tension from the earlier unseen werewolf had leaked into my thoughts. I thought about that alien werewolf and wondering if he'd been another trap set by Archer. Archer really didn't care for the mixing of vampires and werewolves and hadn't bothered to hide his distaste from Carlos or Harry. Both Carlos and Harry were higher up on the predator chain so it was a major mistake on Archer's part.
"Marcus, was there a spare werewolf in the running?" I asked. Marcus had moved abruptly away from my hands, which had found his chest when he stumbled into me, and he struck a rock outcrop. The swearing was colorful and I could smell the blood welling up in the cut wherever on his body it was.
"What do you mean?" He was decidedly pissed off at being in human form.
I think Harry had made him change back into human form to help us. I felt that Renee was within arm's length but she wasn't speaking. Her stillness was calming my base reactions. Harry still was touching me, which was playing with my instincts. His blood called to me. I needed to get back to my Master, Simon, really soon.
"I mean I felt someone watching me. He was chasing and trying to catch me before I fell down the damn hole." It had been odd. The dreamlike quality to it would have been fun had I known the creature perusing me. The foul scent of edgy anger had first caught my attention while running to meet up with my team.
The werewolf had been torn between desire and hunger. His appetites were untamed and overwhelming. The emotions had flooded into my brain and left me unexpectedly tainted ... and I'd never taken a drop of his blood. The sexual elements lingered and made me wonder about Carlos' lieutenant. I knew it wasn't how I usually thought of Marcus; I found him pretty damn scary and nasty as a rule, so it had to be the unknown werewolf's push of energy. A magic element danced in the air in Archer's territory, playing havoc with me. I hated being manipulated.
Marcus seemed to consider something. I felt his pulse pick up and wasn't surprised when he said, "Yeah, there was another werewolf that showed up in natural form right after we'd all changed. He wasn't from Archer's immediate pack and not one of Carlos' direct pack. I figured he'd been a neutral werewolf from another pack sent by Costa to monitor the contest. It wasn't like I could ask." His tone was sarcastic but he had a point that in 'natural form' it wasn't like he could ask easily. I knew they had some form of mental communication but I didn't think the werewolves wanted us vampires knowing about it. Plus, I figured he hadn't thought to ask who the mysterious werewolf was and wasn't going to admit it in front of Harry.
Harry growled softly and said, "Archer didn't mention including another werewolf in our little game. Natasha, when did you feel him first?"
"Right after we cleared the boulders and were separated by that small canyon cut out." I answered softly. The darkness gave me a feeling of safety now that they were all with me. Nothing like shared misery to make everything seem better.
"Once we're out you can lead me to him." Harry had a plan. I could hear it in his voice.
"Not a problem. Harry, I have to tell you that he's inside me somehow and I want to sever that link as soon as I can." I didn't like the magic dancing around but didn't see any way to avoid it if we wanted to get the Fang back. Harry made another noise of his displeasure that promised pain for someone soon. I smiled and felt better for having mentioned it. Vampires didn't usually work together but when we did we got results. We had the background of decades of living together in horrible conditions while being chased down by every cult and wing nut that thought we were evil and creatures of Satan. We didn't have anything to do with Satan, but it was tough to explain that to the torch and pitchfork crowd. Life wasn't as hard for vampires in this age and Hollywood had made us glamorous and sexy beyond measure. We didn't mind the press but weren't letting it go to our heads -- that was the direct path to quickly finding heads lopped off and spinning their way to certain death.
"Marcus, do your thing." Harry said and then I heard Marcus scrabble and make what I could only describe as a wet noise.
Having heard that sound before I knew that Harry was having Marcus change back into werewolf form. It had to be brutal for Marcus switching back and forth so many times in the past twenty-four hours but it wasn't my concern. Getting our asses out of the trap was the only thing on my agenda. Besides the leap down was probably best handled in human from but whatever Marcus had to do now required his werewolf side. I heard a slight chuffing noise and Harry began to lead us behind the werewolf. Renee held the back of my skirt and I held the back of Harry's shirt. I was surprised to find it slightly damp. I inhaled deeply and could smell a little coppery odor. Harry had been sweating! I had a flutter in my stomach realizing that Harry wasn't always as sure of himself as he pretended. It should have been a scary realization, but it just served to further make Harry more real in my eyes. He'd always been this supernatural with a deep dark mysterious past, which for a vampire was really saying something, and to find out he worried like the rest of us was pretty cool.
I kept my thoughts to myself figuring Harry was following Marcus by sound alone. We shuffled along slowly, blind in the dark. Occasionally Marcus would stop abruptly and we'd all stumble a bit into each other. The earthen cavern wasn't getting any more light as we twisted and turned in the tunnels underneath the werewolf territory. I felt more than a few small bones crunch beneath my boots.
Harry asked, "You both doing okay?"
I said, "Sure."
Renee paused and said dryly, "I've had better nights."
I grinned. She was definitely stronger than she looked. Her fighting in Dark Whispers had been impressive and that she'd willingly killed a fellow vampire to keep the peace between the werewolves and vampires showed she played politics better than Kenyon's crew. They'd gone for the fur faces like it was their job. Hell, given Kenyon's nature it probably had been their jobs up until he got the idea of teaming up with the werewolves in the territory. Carlos seemed okay, from the little I knew of him, but the werewolf was swimming in shark-infested waters making deals with Kenyon.
Harry laughed softly and said, "Haven't we all?"
I had to give him that one. I kept my mouth shut because I could feel a change in the air. We'd been gradually heading upwards with a few minor detours that had dropped down and then back up. The musty smell of death and fear still permeated the rough walls but now I could feel a soft breeze and there was a scent of water. The sounds of Marcus in werewolf form made me think of a hound dog following a freshly laid trail. I had seen the werewolves walk upright like their human forms with little trouble but I knew without seeing that Marcus was down on all fours tail in the air as he found the pathway to the surface.
An ornate gate was at the end of the final tunnel. There was a scattering of bones piled up on the inside of the doorway. A skull was turned towards us as we walked towards the locked exit. There wasn't a morsel of meat to be seen on any of the bones. And there was enough moonlight filtering in that my eyes took a minute to process the fact we actually had light. Harry thanked Marcus and pried the gate apart easily. The chain that had been wrapped around the metal popped off into links when Harry yanked the double-doored gate. A lock tumbled to the dirt unopened. Humans couldn't have budged the locked entrance but then that that extra strength was one of the many benefits of being a vampire.
Slowly we picked our way over the bones and into the grotto. The lushness of the entrance to the tiger pit was just that. There was a ceremonial marble slab with a waterfall behind set artfully into the wall. The werewolves were holding ceremonies. That was enough to give us all pause.
To be continued ...