Riley's rage was definitely building. All I was doing was smiling -- admittedly I knew it was my smug little smart ass grin, but it was the best one I had, given what was happening. He was radiating his anger and it seemed actually heating up the room with his body temperature. I'd known that werewolves ran hot but this was the first time I had seen it up close and personal. And it was all directed laser sharp at little ole me. Go figure.
"Stop grinning, Esmeralda! You really don't know what you are playing with down there." He thundered. The blizzard hammered the window panes rattling them as if punctuating his words. It was totally creepy.
The chill from the broken furnace was diminishing with each passing moment, and I wondered how the hell werewolf packs handled a sharp rise in temperature when they all got hot and bothered. I mused about that a minute while trying to see how I could reason with a totally enraged werewolf in such close proximity. I wasn't willing to pop out of the house, and since Uncle Harry had sent Riley, if I fled, that could prove to be a sticky point with the vampire. He was usually really cool with me and my obsessions but he expected obedience to no small degree. Even not being one of his vampires or minions, I knew it without being told. Uncle Harry had more than fangs in his bite; he had decades of power if not centuries. I never did get his exact age but older than me for sure.
Rubbing my arms not because I was cold, but more to give me a minute to frame an appropriate reply, I searched for words that wouldn't send Riley rocketing to the stratosphere with anger.
"Fine, I'll give you that. I don't know what I am dealing with down in those mines. That's why you are here -- to help me navigate the space and get out alive," I finally said through my tightly-clenched jaw. My grin had disappeared as he wasn't showing any signs of calming down. I wasn't in the mood to stoke the fire quite yet, but knew my best path was one of manipulation. After all, he had been sent to help me; we both knew that, and if I had a slightly different interpretation of the methods of help that wasn't like wrong.
He literally growled as he spun towards me taking a quick step, closing the distance between us without seeming to move. Damn he was fast. I did a good job of not jumping back, just because I knew he wasn't going to harm me, but wasn't used to anyone questioning him. Not my problem, right? From the heat wafting off his body I gathered it was quickly becoming my problem.
"Emma, I am deadly serious. This is not a good idea."
Riley's use of my nickname further reinforced that I had really knocked him for a loop with my reasoning. I was fairly sure that Uncle Harry was still out for the count, since it wasn't true night yet in Michigan -- so definitely the afternoon on the West Coast. Not that it kept Uncle Harry from communicating, but I knew it did restrict him at times. I had been shocked when I found out that vampires could go out in the sun. They didn't much care for it, but I'd not seen one go up in a burst of flames much less sparkle like glittery CGI movies. Another topic not discussed around the family room -- what exactly could harm vampires and werewolves. Over the years I had picked up a few tips and concerns, but it wasn't because one of them sat me down and listed out the problems. I sorta didn't blame them. Hell, most of Uncle Harry's companions didn't have a clue who or what I was either.
"Riley, come on. You have what, twenty-four or forty-eight hours before your werewolf buddies show up here, right? So, give me a few hours and try to convince me why it would be so bad for me to pop down into the mines. I get that you don't want to go there. Naturally. But I mean I have been in far crazier places, I am pretty sure you know from Uncle Harry. Why else would he have sent you?" Being good, I didn't say that I knew why he didn't want to go into the mines: he was more than a bit claustrophobic, and the only way for him to get down was in an elevator that would make its way down a thousand feet before touching soil again.
Also I didn't bother to bat my eyelashes, since he pretty much had no interest in humans, and I think he considered me like a bratty kid to be mostly ignored. I didn't do much to diminish his judgment since it wouldn't do any good. Werewolves lived long lives and they aged really slowly. He might look in his mid-thirties, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he was well into his sixties. He totally acted like a grumpy old man some days. To him I probably seemed like a complete infant not worthy of his time. Sucked to be him, because I had at least a few hours to kill before I would leap one way or another.
He was growling again and he said, "You can't even begin to understand what was kept down there away from humans. The notes, from what I read, meant that those supernaturals were being discovered by humans. Normal folks who shouldn't have a clue at the dark underworld creatures that exist side by side humans -- you know what can go thump in the night while they don't, and we like it that way. That also means whoever remained as the crypt keeper had to be more than a human. Add in that they were failing rather spectacularly at their job of keeping the known and the unknown apart. Those mines were closed for more reasons than just the lack of miners willing to go deep into the pit of salt hell or a monetary loss by the corporation running the site. Something probably escaped and slaughtered the humans and the human authorities manufactured a cover story to explain the closing of the mines rather than explain the deaths."
"I didn't find any news stories about a slew of Michigan miners dying. I know because I really looked," I sputtered, knowing that he probably knew much more than he was revealing.
My sputtering actually seemed to amuse him and I felt him literally cool down. Part of me wanted to poke at him a bit more and finish heating the entire house, but I wasn't sure that I could handle a pissed-off werewolf. Okay, that wasn't true. I knew I could handle him, but didn't want to yet. I needed more information and quickly, before he tried to make me give up my plans. I wasn't so sure he wouldn't call Uncle Harry just to spite me.
Riley huffed out a breath of air and I was a tad disappointed to see the frosty fog catch the edge of his mouth. He wasn't roasting hot anymore and the blizzard was making its way back inside with a vengeance. Goose bumps rose on my skin, giving me chills up and down my spine ? and I knew they weren't just from the cold. Nah, I was getting spooked.
"There was no way anybody would put into words what they saw -- not in the press. Even if the humans could figure out there was something foul at play, they didn't need the attention, the possible fines and lawsuits. If you go back to your precious human records, you'll see I'm right and there was a mass exodus around the time of the closing of the mines. I doubt many of the families remained here either. Trust me on this." Again he sighed and seemed to make a decision.
"Emma, werewolves are pack animals. They crave each other's company and touch. When we are forced to travel, we meet with the other territory's pack not just out of respect but to silence the ache in our souls. We can go insane if separated too long from a pack -- even one not of our blood. Do you understand what I am telling you?" His gaze wasn't comfortable but compelling. He was trying to explain something to me that meant more than a casual comment. I did understand and kept my smart comments inside.
"Yes, that's why they came looking for you. They sense you." I had figured that much out.
"There is that, but also we exchange stories when we meet. It's a part of the rituals we have. And as weres travel, those tales travel with them. We aren't big on writing down our thoughts like humans. Instead we tend to sit around a fire and pass on our news in an oral tradition." Something he said reminded me of a childhood lesson.
"Like the old Native Americans?" I put the information on context for me.
He coughed out a rough laugh, "Well, they learned from us. And not all Native Americans are humans." He had a wide grin on his face. I wanted to rub his head but kept that idea firmly sealed in my thoughts. I doubted he would appreciate a scratch behind the ears much either.
"Okay, so there is like an oral tradition? Fireside story hours that happen all over, got it." And I sort of did.
Shaking his head he said, "Well, more than just that. We also keep our history that way. Unlike humans we don't embellish on the stories with each retelling. Decades later a werewolf can hear verbatim a story they heard as a child. It means nothing is lost or mistakenly told. We cherish this custom and it keeps us strong."
"Okay," I was still waiting for him to make his point. I hadn't ever thought of Riley as chatty, but color me surprised, he did have a way of telling a story. He nodded and stopped to gather his thoughts before continuing.
"The West Coast is light years from Michigan on many levels. The werewolves around here have more freedoms in the pack. They travel between the United States and the vast outdoors of Canada with nobody the wiser. Because of that the stories that come from here are welcome and promising. The pack is wilder because they run with real wolves and dance between the snow falls. Something most of us civilized werewolves envy. But they pay the price. They have more supernaturals hiding in their territory than anyone suspects." He looked directly at me and asked, "Are you hearing me?"
Nodding, I waited to see where he was going with this. I got it that the werewolves were more like real wolves and had the area to run and hunt. Okay, the bit about more supernaturals churned my tummy a bit, but I had long given in to the notion I wasn't the only odd creature on the face of the earth. Uncle Harry alone showed me that.
"One of the last crypt keepers was associated with the local werewolves; it has been spoken. Not exactly how the association worked, but that there was a connection that ran between the weres and the keeper. That was part of why Harry sent me, in case I needed to tap that resource. But from reading those notes and what is unspoken between the words, I find myself wondering how closely linked. And if they are still werewolves or if they have mutated to another supernatural creature." I know my eyes grew huge at that idea. I had never considered that. Trust Riley to complicate what was already a tough decision for me. I hadn't even thought that there was anything down there but possible answers. Now he was insinuating that I might have more to worry about than my exit strategy.