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July 04, 2022

Strange Bedfellows 23

By Lydia Manx

Looking at the Ziploc Baggies I smiled. "Marcus, fill one with the water from the waterfall."

Renee asked, "Why are we able to see better in this room than back in the gated part of the cave?"

Harry said, "Archer has it lit with a magic filter. If you look up there," he pointed to the ceiling, "you'll see prisms of light. They respond to Marcus' werewolf heat."

"If he left would we be back in the dark?" I asked while looking at Marcus.

"Yup." Harry grinned. That was reassuring in an odd way. Marcus just smiled and put his hand out to get the Ziploc from Renee. We refocused on the quest. The waterfall had bits of light bouncing off that now chilled me slightly knowing it was yet another sign of it being magically fueled. It didn't matter because it would work for the quest.

Knowing Marcus had washed off his chest and face in the water made me grin. The werewolves would see that for the insult it was intended to be. The transformation process from human to werewolf shape was a wet one. Archer's weres had used the hidden underground chambers to slaughter people. He and his followers would also recognize the water by scent. Two for one special as part of the 'game' Archer had proposed.

Renee handed him one and waited for the rest of my plan. It wasn't like I was over her in vampire hierarchy but more along lines of respect. She was destined to be a queen in vampiric lore with the marriage to Carlos. Historically unusual queens were first to lose their heads, I'd always found, but kept that thought to myself. There had been vampire and werewolf alliances, dalliances and assorted relationships between the different supernatural creatures in the past. The match Kenyon was pushing was stepping out in public as far as the much-lauded supernatural community was concerned. Humans wouldn't have a clue, but the word would travel far and wide about the ceremony. That is, if she survived the engagement and wedding. Definitely a new age for supernaturals would be upon us all. One I was pretty sure that many of the old time council members weren't in favor of in any way, shape or furry bound form.

Besides, if we ever got back to planning her wedding to Carlos I'd be taking orders from her. I tried not to shudder at the idea of that wedding. The groom's side werewolves and assorted furry folks, the bride's side fanged set with the associated minions to fill out the pews. Not that she would be getting married in a church but there was some sort of ceremony slated in which I was going to be the maid of honor wearing some horrific bridal party dress. Despite all the words and flowery invites flowing around the world declaring the union there was nothing romantic in the pairing, but alignments of battle parties. For all the intentions being given lip service and bandied about in the discussions of the various protocol and specific arrangements, making sure bloodshed was voluntary and contracted, their marriage was going to make more than just history. As my Master, Simon, and Harry had concluded there was a different agenda being sketched out. That would be the one where Kenyon really was looking to take over the entire West Coast set of vampires in a major power play and make all his enemies disappear. The werewolves had yet to object, so I didn't know if they realized they were going to be collateral damage at the least, possibly hostages down the line -- either way they'd be harmed. Kenyon rarely played fairly.

"What's next, Natasha?" Renee interrupted my musings.

Shaking my head to clear my dark thoughts, I looked around the cavern. The bones scattered around the edges weren't all ancient; some had ripped clothing next to the picked clean limbs. I went to the nearest pair of torn blue jeans and started rifling through the pockets. Four pairs of well-worn and blood coated jeans later I found a disposable lighter. I flicked the wheel and a spark yielded a steady flame. I was relieved that the lighter was still good. The victim had probably been under the delusion that he'd be able to light a bonfire and escape, after all, that happened in all the blockbuster movies and tense action thrillers. Given the thighbones were still inside the pants, I sort of doubted he'd made it out, and since there was plenty of fluid left I didn't think that idea was ever able to reach any sort of fruition. I tossed it to Renee, who slid it into another baggie, and I said, "That's two. Water and Fire."

Harry wasn't adding to the treasures for our scavenger hunt. He was distracted while still looking at the marble goddess icon. I could tell he was thinking. I knew he wasn't sharing some little tidbit that was ugly, but I didn't have the energy to pursue it. Hopefully that wouldn't come back to bite me in the ass. Too many things seemed to have sharp and nasty teeth lately. I wasn't ready to take anything for granted, but rather I was concentrating on getting out of at least one mess without having to get a new wardrobe. Not that the current outfit was one I'd be wearing ever again. My boots were the only things I planned on keeping, the rest was going into the nearest incinerator alongside the snotty housekeeper if I had my way.

Looking at the flooring an impulse came to me and I gave in with a grin, "I think I know just the Earth to give to Costa."

Taking the baggie from Renee I knelt down to the floor where Marcus had upended the altar and scooped the broken fragments of marble and dirt into the bag. "That ought to screw with them."

The scent of magic was intense around the altar and I knew that the ground underneath was heavy with some of the residual power along with the blood soaked bits of marble. There was no way Archer would be able to dismiss the items. And from Marcus' attitude it was just a matter of hours before Archer was going to be held accountable for the violation of werewolf law. Old magic, human offerings to a lost werewolf goddess along with torturing people ... yeah, I'd say that Archer's werewolves had crossed a few lines and broken some werewolf and human laws. From the punishment of Lee, the newly turned werewolf I'd recently met and somehow befriended, I knew that werewolves didn't lay in wait for decades to deliver punishment like vampires but were more likely to chop bad weres into little pieces and worry later about the consequences.

"What about Wind?" Renee looked around the cavern as if it held another secret niche with some new exotic spellbound icon. There wasn't much to see but walls and bones. The spot where we'd found the marble goddess stayed empty. She and I shrugged as we met each other's eyes. It was a good try.

I laughed, "That's the trick in the quest. Technically Wind is the one element that cannot be captured or actually seen. You can see the effects of Wind in the thunderclouds being chased across the sky, a whirlwind of sand in the desert and even the breath of a child blowing out a candle. And Wind could change the face of a fire creating a blazing inferno from a single spark, move and reshape the earth with hurricanes and tornadoes, and let's not forget create tsunamis with water."

I paused, waiting for them to catch up. I saw Marcus was actually listening to me for a change, but then I'd had lots of time to contemplate the reason for Archer's little game when I'd been separated from Harry. I had eventually concluded it was for Archer to discover our strengths and find out if we had any unknown weaknesses. I doubted Archer ever expected me to fall into his tiger trap much less have the rest of my team follow. We had escaped from the corpse-strewn maze and found the horrors Archer and his werewolves had been hiding beneath the compound. Looking around I could easily see how they slaughtered humans after tormenting them. They then offered the deaths up to an unnamed fertility goddess in Archer's werewolf-made grotto that reeked of untamed magic and death. I shook my head. This was definitely not something we of the fanged set were supposed to see on the visit. Yeah, it was fun playing with werewolves.

Harry cleared his throat. We all waited for him. He said, "I have an idea."

His smile was pure evil. A furrow of excitement ran down my spine and I grinned. He said something under his breath that even my vampiric hearing didn't pick up. It sounded ancient and sent another ripple of feeling through me. This tugged at my magic meter and I figured it was better I didn't hear his chant. Some mysteries are best left alone. He finished muttering and took put a hand out for the last baggie. Renee handed it over with an arched eyebrow. He just grinned back and peeled open the seal.

Harry blew into the Ziploc Baggie and sealed it up leaving it full like a small pillow. He handed it back to Renee and said, "When they open it make sure to look away."

"Didn't brush your teeth today?" I poked at him.

"Natasha, trust me. There's a plan." He carefully wrapped the icon up in one of the shirt pieces he'd picked up next to a random set of bones near his feet. Once he had folded the icon completely inside the dark shirt he tucked it away inside his jacket. He had something else up his sleeve that was for sure.

Grinning I said, "Isn't that what everyone says before a building explodes or a corpse falls from the backseat of the car?" Harry grinned back and nodded.

Renee looked at Harry and said, "Who do you two travel with?" She wasn't kidding. I guess we were an acquired taste. I knew she was trying to lighten the mood because there were some stories out there about her that made me think she was more like Harry and I than she pretended. Marcus sighed, "Vampires have a weird sense of humor." It wasn't a question but a statement.

We didn't say anything. It wasn't a lie. We patiently waited for Marcus to lead us out of the werewolf cave. I wondered if he'd flip back again to his furry side. Catching the quizzical look on my face Marcus smirked. He read my mind. I guess I hadn't tried to hide my thoughts very well. I shrugged and indicated towards the clothing box. He shook his head negatively.

Marcus stayed in human form and he gestured to the opening on the other side of the gated cave. He asked, "We ready to go or do you all need to gather up anything else?"

Looking around I didn't see a single thing I wanted to take with me. The dark thoughts and horror that befell the folks who'd died inside the hellhole pretty much saturated the very air. The raw bones and hopeless feeling from the magic-drenched grotto didn't need any commemoration in my book. Harry peered around with a frown between his eyes. They weren't happy eyes but angry and challenging. Archer was screwed every which way until dawn. Between Marcus and Harry there wouldn't be enough of him left to put in a thimble. They weren't going to let the cave go unpunished. Harry's justice was swift and firm from what I knew -- usually sanctioned by the vampire council but not always -- he was allowed to act alone if he thought the situation merited immediate attention. As far as I could see that was a big giant hell, yes. Marcus had resumed pacing angrily on the edges of the werewolf-created grotto. With his level of agitation he'd burn through the power bars he'd gobbled in no time. Considering I didn't see a doorway with a nicely marked exit sign right over our shoulders I went to the cardboard box and grabbed a few more of the energy bars out tossing them to Marcus without saying any a word. He nodded catching them with one hand and slowed his pace down. He shoved the four bars into the pockets of the gray sweats while ripping open one and gobbling it up. Once he was done he said, "Guess that means we are ready to go?"

To be continued ...

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-08-31
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