With the new pack of werewolves inside the salt mines, it was definitely a tad overcrowded. I was happy in the safety of Uncle Harry's embrace, but missed Sapphire and Parrot almost immediately. I knew that they were on my side, but looking around the tight quarters I could easily see that the odds were heavily in the werewolves' favor, so I needed all the help I could get. Add in that I was the only 'normal' one around as far as I could see. I still could pop out and be in Sapphire's cavern with a simple thought, but I wasn't sure that would make Uncle Harry happy. My vampire guardian had certain ideas of how I should conduct myself when around other supernaturals, for my own protection. There was a couple million dollars bounty on my head, and any creature could easily be tempted to snatch me and collect the 'dead or alive' reward with an emphasis on the dead as the first choice.
Uncle Harry caught my gaze and whispered softly, "You'll be fine, Emma. Give me credit for knowing how to save you properly!"
I smiled weakly and pondered how I was suddenly safe. My eyes swept the room while I held the Gatekeeper's staff in one hand and my sword from Sapphire's treasures in the other. I still didn't think I could take on all the creatures in the area, but I'd go out with a bang at least.
My eyes found the Alpha whose neck was torn open, and it sure didn't look like Uncle Harry's buddies were going to be able to save Kirk from bleeding out. Stefan, the Gatekeeper, had done some serious damage when he'd literally torn into the now-dying Alpha. Riley was disgustedly shaking his head after he'd been released from the grip of huge werewolf -- whose arms, the size of tree trunks, had held Riley firm after snatching him from Stefan's legs. Once Riley had torn into Stefan's legs trying to free Kirk, everything had run quickly out of control. As if he caught my stray thoughts, Riley looked straight at me. He arched an eyebrow while dipping his head slightly towards Uncle Harry; he wasn't quite next to us but slowly approaching us while keeping his face half turned towards the others. I noticed that the sounds of heavy breathing were the only noises in the chamber. It was so not good given the werewolves were all furred out and Stefan was still alive.
Riley had clawed the hell out of Stefan's thighs before he'd been grabbed, and none of the visiting werewolves were doing anything in the least to stop that blood flow. I probably could have slowed the bleeding since I still held the staff of the Gatekeeper, but I didn't feel in the least charitable towards Stefan. All the Alpha Kirk had tried to do was help Stefan up from the ground, and for his kindness, he was now dying. I felt my heart thumping heavily in my chest and tried to slow my breathing. I certainly had no desire to appear weak or anything like prey to these vicious unknown predators. Uncle Harry soothed me with a soft touch along my cheek. His hand was cool but not icy cold, so somebody had donated a pint or seven to the vampire. I looked at him and quietly said, "What do we do now?"
Uncle Harry nodded his head up towards the top of the salt cavern and said, "Get out of here before dawn and let the werewolves tend to their dead and dying."
I liked that idea but felt a flutter of panic in my stomach. Uncle Harry had noticed Kirk breathe out his final moment while I was still plotting and planning in my thoughts. I hadn't really got the answers I was seeking, but from what Uncle Harry said it didn't sound like I'd be getting much of a choice on leaving.
Without a word, Uncle Harry started to bundle me and my ever-ready backpack out of the room, and Riley put his hand out for the staff. I reluctantly handed it to him and he wasted no time in tossing it directly into Gordon's waiting hands. Gordon nodded and waved us all off. The blur of fur was still thick around the now-dead Kirk and the quickly dying Stefan. I chanced a look at the Gatekeeper and was met with a scream of rage. The red-eyed creature that had corrupted Stefan was looking at me and screaming incoherently. I couldn't understand anything he was yelling, but the huge werewolf that had first grabbed Riley pulled back a fist and clocked him directly in the face. The shark teeth snapped shut with a crackling sound and Gordon waved at us to hurry. Uncle Harry pulled me out of the room. To my relief, Riley followed us, I'd been concerned that as a werewolf he'd be obligated to stay and play with the dead and dying. Riley's shoulders were still rigid so I doubted he was out of the dog house for bringing me down here. Gordon had given us permission, along with Kirk, but that didn't mean there wasn't something still brewing.
If vampires played the long game with their plans and plots, the werewolves tended towards the brutal and abusive over-reaction to any slight -- real or imagined. And Riley had been vouched for by Gordon but he hadn't exactly toed the party line when it came to werewolves. Some of my fears leaked out and Uncle Harry laughed saying, "Emma, I already gave generously to the pack. Riley doesn't have to hang around to scrape and bow to the new leader unless he's more masochistic than I realized."
Riley coughed out a swear word or two before saying, "Thanks, Harry."
Unsaid was that it was Uncle Harry's command that had Riley in hot water. Had to love the long game, I thought to myself, since both men were now chuckling softly at something. I didn't have the foggiest idea about what it was, since neither had said anything aloud. Uncle Harry and Riley had a long history, and I was only just beginning to gather that it was more than just sitting around sipping lattes at the local espresso shop. Automatically, I headed back towards the entrance we'd taken earlier. The spray paint still glowed, but as we came to one of the forks in the tunnels Uncle Harry reached out and touched my shoulder. I stopped.
"My dear, we need to head this way."
Arching an eyebrow, I didn't disagree but waved him forward. The eerie lights that glowed as if on timers stopped when Uncle Harry was in front of me. They seemed to glow for me, not the vampire. Upon thinking about it, that made sense: vampires have wickedly good eyesight as well as werewolves. I was probably the only creature in need of light. I had better vision than the average human, but still needed some help. Uncle Harry slowed his pace, realizing I was running on fumes and not sure of our path.
Riley said, "Ah, that's our mess up ahead."
I couldn't see what Riley was talking about, but Uncle Harry laughed, "The werewolves already figured that out. They wanted to know if you were interested in a job with their pack."
Laughing with Uncle Harry Riley said, "Not a chance. I wasn't alone in causing this chaos. Gordon and Kirk weren't too shabby, but whatever Emma sent to rescue us did most of the carnage."
The illumination finally caught up with the scene they both had seen from a good hundred yards back. The tunnel was large. It was easily twenty feet across, and now as we approached I could see what Riley termed carnage. I didn't need to mind-tap Parrot because it was obviously the work of that creature more than the werewolves. At least a dozen large lumps seemed to be shredded and gnawed into indescribable horrors that would make a Dali painting look normal by comparison. Melting and flowing body parts surrounded by odd shapes of limbs and partial limbs. There was another hunk of orange skin about a foot across with two purple scales around some knots of bones and muscles that looked to be similar to the creature that had followed Riley back to the cave. This one had been larger than the one Parrot had sucked down like a giant Slurpee before my eyes back in the Nico's cave, but as I looked reluctantly closer I could see claw marks and bites that seemed more in keeping with werewolves attacking than Parrot. Either way my skin was crawling and my heart was beginning to pick up its tempo, and I wanted to be far away from the shapes that were playing peek-a-boo with my fears. I didn't need to be tempting anything to try to attack us. Granted both Riley and Uncle Harry were formable supernaturals, yet I didn't like the numbers of unknown prisoners obviously running free. That Stefan had allowed the three werewolves to go 'play' with a dozen of them meant he knew perfectly well how many were running around causing harm. As far as I could see Stefan had lost all control over the prisoners and it showed with the growing number of dead in the mines. And they all appeared to be final deaths not temporarily incapacitated supernaturals with more lives than a cat.
Too bad nobody had kept very good track of the utter failure of the Gatekeeper. That Uncle Harry was able to gather so many warrior werewolves so quickly spelt out some concerns about the creature's lack of control, but given how Kirk had died, not enough. It meant we were going to have to be very careful as we left. I didn't want to see Uncle Harry or Riley hurt. I swung my eyes away from another corpse when a glint of something near the ceiling caught my eye. Sure enough, Parrot was up near the top of the wall watching us. Neither Uncle Harry nor Riley seemed to be in the least aware of it.
Riley kicked a hunk of meat out of the way with a grunt. He was human again, but I could see the werewolf barely leashed inside his gaze. He really wasn't happy and I didn't blame him, since now Uncle Harry owned another piece of him by taking care of whatever debt had been incurred by being in the mines. I kept my mouth shut and watched Parrot hop and skip along the mine, keeping up with us easily and silently. Soon the dead were a stench behind us and the tunnel seemed to start twisting more, I didn't see how they would mine in such a wandering pattern.
Hearing my musings Uncle Harry said aloud, "Emma, this is not part of the salt mines. This was the prison, that's why it doesn't appear to be easily mined."
Riley said, "How far are we from the actual mines that were active?"
Uncle Harry laughed and said, "Miles and yet not; this is more supernatural than logical. We are going in and out of constructs that restrict humans from entering."
I certainly wouldn't have casually wandered around the dry salt mines. The lighting alone scored an easy ten on the creepy factor and that wasn't even going into the doors that appeared along the way. This part of the area seemed to be abandoned, but I still wasn't trusting my feelings since both Riley and Uncle Harry didn't see Parrot. Parrot tipped its head at me and seemed to shimmer a bit brighter -- my two companions didn't even blink. Who knew what I was missing?