"Lead on." Renee tilted her head and indicated Marcus would take point and lead the way out of Archer's magically lit chamber. The werewolf's body heat and energy were the only reasons we had light on the path. As vampires, we weren't warm enough or the right species to illuminate the magically made devices Archer had put into the walls and ceiling of the cavern and tunnels underneath his property. Humans wouldn't expend enough body heat to light the way either, and that was part of the cruelty to the chamber and tunnels. There weren't as many twists and turns and I didn't see any dead ends like we'd found on the dark gated side where the humans had been chased and tormented before they were slain. I was happy to leave the bones and misery behind. The taint of magic ruined the human misery that normally would have been tempting to sip down. Fear and horror were treats to vampires that were best enjoyed when not overindulged. The earthen tunnels were brimming with despair and terror best left untouched. That was a pathway of its own making that had trapped many an arrogant vampire.
Renee held up the four Ziploc Baggies with the required quest items, reminding us time was critical. We were ready to take on the werewolves and see if Archer meant to voluntarily relinquish Solomon's Fang. The Fang was a vampire relic both Harry and I hadn't even realized was missing. There would be some repercussions from the theft by the werewolf. The vampire council must also have a traitor in their midst since only vampires could gain access to such treasures. I never had seen many of the relics vampires alluded to in whispers and fanciful stories. Near as I could figure most of them were in Europe, or only the very old vampires were allowed to see them. Hell, most of them were fiction, as far as I knew, but the Fang we'd seen in Archer's home was quite real and extremely powerful. For it to be held by werewolves was unnerving. Especially since Harry hadn't realized it was even missing. I wasn't always aware of what was going on in the vampire council but Harry seemed to have his fangs on the pulse as it were. So to see the Fang in Archer's possession was a nasty bit of news on top of finding out that all the werewolves living under Archer's umbrella had broken werewolf laws and some magical boundaries.
Marcus walked confidently to the only other path available leading out of the sacrificial room where he'd destroyed the altar just moments before in his disgust at Archer's little death room. The shards of blood-soaked marble were still in the cavern reminding us of the old world magic Archer had been using. It left a slick feeling of illness and death in the back of my throat that wasn't easily washed away. Now there was more darkness in the hallway than had been in the cavern, but I saw now small prisms of magic lighting up as we followed closely on Marcus' heels. I found it funny that Archer obviously didn't see the need to light the tunnels for his victims but didn't want his werewolves slowed down on their way out. I looked back and saw that the trail behind us was darkening, as Marcus' body heat was further away like it was automatically shutting off the magic light. Supernatural energy savings. That was creepy. I muttered to Harry, "Guess I'm glad we have Marcus on our team."
Marcus laughed and said darkly, "Like you had another choice?"
"Sure, we could have picked Lee."
Even I couldn't keep a straight face saying that idea and began laughing. Lee was such a young werewolf I wasn't even sure he'd make it to next moonrise. We all chuckled at the idea of Lee leading us anywhere as we continued to wind our way slowly up the path. Unlike the human trap behind the gate, behind us thankfully, there weren't really any other choices for us to pick. The twists and turns would have slowed down any humans had they escaped the murder chambers, but not been easy to travel in complete dark. There was no ambient light underground and even our vampire eyes hadn't been able to see until we'd come into the chamber with the werewolf. So we let Marcus continue in the lead and we trailed, keeping silent.
Our thoughts were scattered and I wanted to discuss the goddess with Harry when we had some privacy. Archer was truly devious. Watching out of the corner of my eye as Marcus' werewolf body heat triggered the magic prisms in the walls, lighting the way, I had to give the old wily werewolf his due. Archer's spelled lights were only for the convenience of the werewolves. We vampires didn't have true body heat much less burn warmer like werewolves. I could fang in and drink four pints from a mortal and I wouldn't reach his natural level of body warmth. They burned so much hotter. It was clever on Archer's part since total darkness would have been nasty. There weren't any human bones scattered on the exit pathway but I could still hear them in my mind from earlier when I had been crunching down the black path. The old magic Archer had released by his bloody sacrifices and human torments was ringing in the very walls that lined the cave.
"Any clue how we are going to handle this?" I finally asked Harry as we continued to walk behind Marcus.
"Natasha, just stand back when the Wind-filled Ziploc Baggie is opened. And under no circumstances look at it. That goes for all of you. Marcus, in fact, stay as far from the unveiling as possible. You didn't partake in any of the magic or ceremony in the cavern so there shouldn't be any backlash but I don't want you harmed." Harry was alluding to his chanting earlier as he filled the baggie for Archer's little game. The quest items were all ready and we needed to get back and claim the Fang. I wasn't sure what sort of spell for Wind he'd cast but given his warning I wasn't willing to risk a peek to see what happened.
We quickened our pace, and I could feel the air change. Inhaling deeply, I knew we were nearing the entrance to cave. Slowing down, Marcus growled softly. He whispered back, "There's someone guarding the exit."
We'd all come into the cave via a cleverly set tiger trap back a ways through the maze and dead ends that cumulated in the death cavern. I hadn't even thought about Archer manning the opening. But it made sense. He certainly didn't want us to find about his little offerings to an ancient goddess. Blood-lined hall of horror had been her choice of flavors, from everything I'd seen. The fears drenched into the earth and had been decades old if not more. The claims that Archer had possibly given the goddess her offerings in exchange for a child were suspicious unless he'd been trying for a long time. Werewolves were not immortals, but lived much longer than their human counterparts, so it could have been Archer had been trying to have a child for decades, but I somehow doubted it.
Dismissing the goddess bit from my thoughts for now, instead I focused on the front of the cave. It took me a second then I said, "That's the werewolf that was stalking me. I don't know that he's guarding the cave insomuch as simply looking for us." I was pretty sure this would be another weird encounter. It seemed that was all I had anymore.
"Renee, keep in back, we don't want any accidents with the scavenger hunt items." Harry said it with a heavy tone. Yeah, accidents with some magic that could harm us if mistakenly released probably was not the way to make a first impression. I was sure I hadn't met this werewolf before scenting him tracking me earlier. He was strong and feral.
Light from the waning moon backlit him. He wasn't hadn't smelled us since he was upwind and we weren't making noise. I think had we spoken any louder than near whispers he would have heard us, not only sensed us -- but we'd been careful. Marcus was in his human form while the werewolf blocking the exit was in his natural form. The were was huge. I wondered if his human counterpart was equally as formable. The raw, unleashed power was even stronger as we crept closer. Something wicked fluttered inside me. I wanted to render him into bite-sized morsels or pounce him filling different desires. That duality of cravings wasn't normal. This werewolf walked on the dark side of magic.
Harry put a hand on me and pushed through my shields and gently spoke into my mind. He told me to go slow and not give into the desire. He knew what this creature was triggering. That unnerved me even more. I let Marcus and Harry take the lead. Renee and I stood behind them with our fangs out and waited. It didn't take long.
The creature put his muzzle to the wind -- it was still blowing his scent towards us thankfully. He grumbled softly a meaningless sound yet I knew instinctively he was anxious and sensed that something was off in Archer's little compound of hidden delights. Marcus hadn't known there was another werewolf on the property when we headed out on our little adventure.
Marcus was still in his human form but walking softly towards the tan and black furred beast. Werewolves aren't smooth, soft creatures easily mistaken for the local lost puppy dog if seen by humans but supernatural predators nearly as dangerous as vampires. His ripped, taunt back was covered with dark fur streaked by tan and fawn colored fur that defined the werewolf's strong backside. I could see a latticework of healed claw and bite marks around the haunches and shoulders illustrating how the werewolf had fought his way through life. Marcus put both his hands together in a tight fist and clubbed the creature at the base of the spine.
The werewolf stumbled to his paws and snapped over his shoulder at Marcus.
Marcus cuffed the werewolf across the snout with a closed fist while kicking him in the ribs. The werewolf snapped at the abuse then shook hard. To my amazement he bowed his head and flipped over onto his backside giving Marcus his neck.
The submissive posture triggered a reaction from Marcus. That and a large blaze of red fur that was lit by what little moonlight was shining down from the evening sky. The clouds drifted back, cloaking the moon again, but it didn't matter because it'd served its purpose.
"Oh hell no! This is one of Carlos' uncle's pack members! He's at least five territories away from his home!" Marcus looked stunned.
"What's he doing here?' Harry's tone was bemused. Pack problems weren't our concerns as a rule, but Renee's engagement made us curious. The wedding was over a month off. From all the wedding horror stories I'd ever heard, casual family friends weren't supposed to drop in for a visit until the week of the wedding -- how long they stayed afterwards was usually the issue -- not a month before the event.
The stray werewolf was still on his back with his paws in the air waiting for something. Marcus let out a rough bark saying, "Get up." A flex of his wrist and Marcus had waved his hand in a flip motion. The nearly dismissive gesture reduced the werewolf to less than enemy but not yet friend. Pack politics again.
The creature acted like it was a normal affair to be clubbed and beaten and he slowly rose. Maybe it was in his pack for all I knew. His face was passive but I could feel his eyes running over me. I intentionally stumbled into Harry for the physical connection. He didn't shift away, but stepped back into me so my body touched his firmly. I appreciated the contact as I felt a wave of magic roll off the werewolf. He wasn't obvious, but it was nevertheless a probe from him. He was far more delicate than Archer and what he'd thrown at me earlier when he'd been stalking me but still a magic probe. I was tainted by the idea of this unknown werewolf under my skin.
I pushed it back gently, but with a bounce added from Harry's blood in my vein. The werewolf looked stunned. I wasn't that great at reading weres in their 'natural state' but the magic probe had stopped so I'd done something right.
Bowing he said, "Enough."
To be continued ...
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