I don't know why, but I was expecting Star to drive towards the main entrance of the defunct salt mines. Like next to where they used to let the kids off for the tours and where the elevator shaft was. Stupid, I know but I'd been expecting to go in that direction. Instead she was driving out of the city and took a small road off the highway that was nearly impassable for even the huge SUV she drove.
Gordon and Riley had stopped talking once we left the highway and began to look around the snow filled wasteland with keen interest. It dawned on me that they knew roughly where they were heading. Maybe from one of those meetings they had while I hid from Star in the bedroom. She gave me the creeps the longer we were around each other. Again she seemed to know I was thinking of her, and she made a point of turning around and giving me another one of those damn odd winks. The car veered slightly into a snow bank and she quickly turned back to wrestle the vehicle back into the somewhat-defined ruts. It didn't seem that a plow went over that part of the road much and there really wasn't a road in the opposite direction. I wondered what happened when we reached a point of no return.
"Don't you worry your little head, Esmeralda, we will be fine." Star said in a soft scary voice. She really wanted me to react to her. Instead I concentrated on trying to see where exactly in Blizzard Jimmy we were. The traces of civilization were quickly fading into the gray-white storm. I saw trees heavily laden with wet snow bending nearly in half from the weight of the snow and the relentless winds. Both Riley and Gordon spun to see how I was reacting to Star's obvious interest in me and what I was thinking. It was a combination of fear along with some extreme anger issues -- not that I let them know. Fey creatures had their own rules and played by them regardless of repercussions at times. The werewolves both held their breath at my feigned boredom.
Riley couldn't resist a slight jab, "What, Emma, cat got your tongue?"
Laughing I said, "I thought you said her name is Star?"
I was the only one laughing as they looked at me with shocked eyes. Then a rumble and Star was actually laughing.
"You are definitely nothing like what I expected," Star said once she settled down a bit. She cranked the heater higher and I could smell the scent of burnt fur and wet clothing.
Avoiding any more interaction, I simply smiled and concentrated on trying to see if there was anything out in the snow other than trees and more trees with a few bushes thrown in for good measure. We were definitely off the beaten path. Since we left the nearly empty highway I hadn't seen another living soul, much less a car. That was troubling.
Just when I was about to say something, I noticed a flash of something out of the corner of my eye. I whipped my head back in time to see a loping motion and dark fur against the snowy backdrop. It was just a brief glimpse but I knew then what I'd just seen had been a werewolf in their fur form. Both Gordon and Riley seemed slightly puffed up and more alert. So they knew there was at least one werewolf outside the SUV. Given the nature of werewolves I sincerely doubted it was just the one. Once I'd seen the first werewolf, my eyes then quickly picked out a few more furry creatures moving along in the snow-filled scenery with ease. They had four paws to propel themselves with little effort and with their thick fur it didn't seem that the blizzard was bothering them in the least.
Star then slowed the car and turned left, driving across the road slowly and then off the shoulder into a foot of snow. I could see dark shapes in front of the grill and then motion of a gate being pulled back. One of the werewolves I'd seen earlier sat to the left of the opened gate in almost a regal manner. The human -- or at least something that appeared human standing on two legs, wearing clothes and a hat -- who'd opened the gate, then closed the gate behind us as Star slowly plowed through the gap.
We bumped and skidded past the human and now a half dozen werewolves standing sentry along the ill-defined road. The trees were brushing the car and the werewolves fell behind us as we passed through the thicket. The road hadn't seen much activity in a long time and I would never have even guessed that there was anything beyond that initial gate but trees. Many Michigan folks had plots of land where they grew trees for lumber or had hunting grounds. This seemed like a hunting ground to me. And with the growing pack behind us I didn't even have to ask whose hunting ground. I wasn't going to be meeting Riley's Michigan pack on my own terms, but theirs.
Some of my thoughts must have broadcast loudly because both Riley and Gordon tried to quickly fill the silence at the same time.
"I didn't know!" Riley spit out while Gordon offered, "It's going to be fine."
Neither statement did much for me. I noticed then that Star was flickering in and out of sight. That wasn't quite accurate. More like Star's glamor was flipping back and forth with the energy filling the car. And even I could feel the pulsing vibrations of something pushing at me, and I wasn't fey much less werewolf. We were the focus of every creature in sight and from a throbbing pulse beneath my skin some creatures out of sight. It was all I could do to stay in the car much less the state! I found the impulse to flee pushing harder at me than my interest in what type of information the mines might hold for me.
"This is so tasty," Star purred while stopping by a large gray rock. We'd run out of road and hadn't gone more than a half mile. A small stream was to the right of the car, nearly frozen completely over. It had to be pretty deep for it to survive the freezing temperature. I ignored Star's humming and she bopped out of the car like we'd just arrived at a fancy restaurant. Thinking about how Riley and Gordon reacted to her, maybe it was a feast for her. Disturbed on many levels, I slowly got out of the vehicle to see Star surrounded tightly by the large werewolves. They were as small as a hundred pounds and one looked almost three hundred pounds with varying sizes in between. All in all they pressed closely to Star and seemed to welcome her fingers playing over their ears and muzzles.
I could've sworn that her strawberry blonde hair shimmered and flipped between ebony-nearly-impossibly-black as she caressed and touched the werewolves. Her face was tilted down denying me the opportunity to see if her features were changing also. I cringed as she seemed to feel my focus and lifted her face to meet mine. Her eyes glowed green and yellow. Not gold, but yellow like a predatory cat with the irises expanding deeply black. Star's soul-sucking gaze seemed to light up as my eyes met hers. There was a shine to her that seemed to pull everything good in my heart towards her. She was trying to feed off me, and I started to get really pissed off. Naturally I slammed down the mental gate I had around my soul, and sparked back with a nasty little memory from a nightmare in my past. Not a dream nightmare but a waking, actually crappy thing that had happened years ago. She fell to her knees as she sucked down on that little shop of horrors. I'd seen more than the average person in my life and from the keening sound sputtering out from her mouth I gathered she usually supped on lesser feelings.
The werewolves jumped back literally a foot from Star's slumped figure and spun around looking for the cause of her pain. I kept a nice neutral look on my face and glanced around as if I didn't already know the source of her distress. Both Gordon and Riley looked quickly at me, then away, not saying a word. I felt my shoulders relax a bit as it dawned on me they might have guessed I'd caused Star's fall, but didn't toss me out to become werewolf chow. They did have my back -- for now.
Some of the werewolves bounded off towards the trees to investigate. Others nudged each other with their sturdy bodies trying to give comfort and warmth. They all appeared shocked by Star's reaction, but not a one of them went closer to investigate what was wrong with the fey creature. The werewolves in human forms also remained where they were, and didn't go to the slumped body.
Finally figuring out that nobody was going to approach and help, Star shakily stood up on legs that wobbled slightly and then emphatically shook out her hair, which was back to the strawberry blonde locks, as if righting her hairstyle would make a difference. Her crazy hat stayed in place giving her an odd appearance of a creature out of time. In a way I think she truly was at that moment. She knew perfectly well who'd caused her pain and avoided meeting my glance. Instead she flicked off the snow on her coat and seemed diminished just a tad. It wasn't like I was going to go over to her and help. She'd overstepped, and it wasn't my fault precisely. At least that was what I kept assuring myself as I watched the werewolves all slowly wander off and disappear into the forest leaving only us five remaining humanish types: Star, Gordon, Riley and me with the addition of the man who'd opened the gate. Part of me wondered if this was an outside Gatekeeper -- perhaps kin to the one that had been sealed inside with whatever lived beneath in the salt mines.
The werewolf, he smelled as wet-doggy as both Gordon and Riley, with none of the fire scent they still had on them. It was apparent that the building fire had definitely dug deeply into their skin and possibly beneath. Just taking a shower hadn't completely erased the smell. I figured they probably would have to fur out and back in order to lose the odor. But this new man was of the werewolf persuasion. I hadn't even bothered to ask anyone. He held himself tall. His face was almost completely covered with his beard and mustache not to mention he was wearing a heavy winter jacket that filled out his shape. Despite that, I could see he was as muscular as Riley and Gordon and much older. The lines around his eyes and the salt and pepper hair put his human years around his mid-seventies. That was probably way off by fifty or sixty years; I was pretty sure that werewolves weren't immortal, but they definitely lived much longer than the average human.
His eyes were centered with coal black and there was a hint of blue around the irises. I looked away quickly as I felt him try to probe into my thoughts. I was really getting sick of feeling that invasiveness from everyone I'd been meeting. He grunted and said, "Gordon, you're right. She's damn stubborn."
Wisely I kept my mouth shut and waited. Star was still licking her wounds mentally, and thankfully, wasn't trying to retaliate, at least not yet. It was going to be an interesting journey, with or without her help. I rubbed my hands over my arms and shrugged. The man sighed and said, "Okay then."
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