The flight was thankfully uneventful. Riley finally snapped out of his crappy mood, and took full advantage of the free drinks and food that Uncle Harry had arranged for us. I don't know what Uncle Harry told the airline, but there had to be something about his needing to be fed constantly due to some hormonal imbalance. And I don't mean those small little bags of pretzels, either -- he got at least three full protein-rich meals. Say what you want about airplane food and you'd be wrong when it comes to first class. I wasn't that hungry, but Riley devoured everything set before us on the half a dozen hours we were airborne.
During one resting point between feedings, Riley looked over to me and asked, "Spill, what exactly happened to the blade, Emma?"
I had already told him that I'd taken care of it, so I resented his asking; but then it dawned on me that he was barely keeping it together on the flight that was bursting to the legal limits with bodies. All of the humans in close proximity to the werewolf had to be pressing on his controls, with all the drama we'd been bouncing around in for the past few days.
Without trying to tease Riley I simply answered, "Put it in Uncle Harry's house."
Riley sighed, "And what if that had been one of the weak spots?"
Confused momentarily I asked, "Uncle Harry's? I go there all the time."
"No, the airport."
Laughing I said, "Then you'd be flying on your own, fur boy."
Lightly growling he said, "Yeah, right. Losing you twice in the same week would pretty much be a final move, if you know what I mean."
Riley was well aware that people actively eavesdropped on conversations, and even first class passengers weren't above it. I was also, but I wanted to know what he'd been arguing with the driver of the truck who'd dropped us off at the airport. Framing the question carefully I said, "So what were you bitching at the driver for when I was shopping?"
Nice and neutral question, I thought.
Riley shot me a dirty look and said, "Never mind. Nothing for you to worry about at this time." Oh goody, that meant I got worry about it later? He didn't look much interested in my asking any more questions, so I flipped through the real magazines provided and ignored his feeding schedule. He was much nicer to the stewardesses the more he ate. I think they noticed and fed him more than Uncle Harry had ordered. He started flirting with one of the younger attendants as we were getting closer to LAX.
Not one to let Riley have all the fun, I waited until she'd turned away to get another snack for him and asked in a very innocent voice, "Riley, she really does remind me of a younger looking Suzy! That's your baby sister's oldest girl's name, right?"
I watched her spine stiffen as she continued down the aisle and found it funny that we didn't see that flight attendant again. An older guy brought Riley the rest of his food and flirted with him. Riley's face had turned to stone and he shot me a glare saying, "Thanks for the help."
"No worries. I wouldn't want you to worry about anything at this time."
He sighed and we made it back to Uncle Harry's coastal house without any more mishaps.
I wish I could say that something exciting happened once we got back but other than waiting for Uncle Harry to get back it was our usual routine. Riley went out running a lot and came back pissed off more than once, grumbling about drivers aiming for runners. So that was normal. He told me that he was having the rental in Michigan boxed up and shipped back, but I wouldn't get anything for a month or so from what he'd said. I wasn't much interested in the place we'd abandoned because the salt mines hadn't held any answers for me about my missing family. All the mines had done was give me more questions than ever and a few concerns.
My takeaway from the trip was that I'd been really damned lucky all those years I'd been popping in and out, treasure hunting. There were spots in the world that linked to other worlds that could kill me. I wasn't scared, but more cautious when I got bored and began popping in and out of places. I figured I could always hit anywhere I'd been before without risking getting lost or dying on the other side of the unknown. And for a few months I was content.
I never was good at learning lessons I didn't much like. Uncle Harry didn't overly harp on the whole other worlds stuff, but he did make me promise to use recognized modes of travel until he could find out more on his end. After all, he had far more connections to the supernatural worlds than I did. He and I both knew that the only folks that would even acknowledge me as a supernatural creature wanted me dead. I wasn't stupid. My life would be over if I let humans know I existed, much less supernatural creatures. It was one of my greatest fears. At least I knew Uncle Harry had my back. Hell, that was something I did worry about when I was in bed trying to sleep, but ultimately I couldn't live in a world of fear. Fear could only drive me so far and then I was worn out and no longer able to focus. Thus I quite naturally buried the 'what-if' scenarios that I'd cooked up in my over-active imagination.
Which brought me back to my current mishap. Sighing, I looked slowly around my current hidey-hole that I'd thankfully found before I had been slain. My checklist hadn't changed while I'd been lost in my past trying to figure a way out undetected and back to Uncle Harry's without anything following me.
Dirt -- check
Small rodent droppings -- check
Shards of old pottery -- check
Dirt walls -- check, oh wait, sorta check. After all adobe was dirt and straw mixed with water and sun baked. Not exactly dirt walls but close enough. So -- check.
I could hear a thumping outside the cavern. The thumping wasn't from any rescuing operation; something had followed me from where I'd been ambushed by a dragon. I sincerely doubted that anyone would be able to dig deep enough to find me in time to save me. My little popping in and out of trouble wasn't working. Okay that's not completely true. The popping in happened, but for the first time in my life, I wasn't able to will myself out of the earth. There were odd sketches and burnt marks that hadn't been in this cave last time I'd visited, years before. The dirt was similar in coloration to coffee grounds I'd seen in the market places.
I couldn't make out any words from the creature trying to crash through the walls, and for that I was beyond thankful. But it was only a matter of time before something crashed through. I was pretty sure that what was on the other side was more than capable of taking me dead. Something finally had caught up with me that would be able to claim the reward for my corpse. I doubted I was going to make it out alive. I bit back a sob, not wanting to cry because I was pretty sure I'd never stop.
Before I'd popped into this spot I'd heard the creature's words damn me. They had rung true and hauntingly familiar to what I'd heard before, in the salt mines.
"It is so true, there are oh-so many seeking you. We both know that your choice of Harry as your protector is the only thing that's kept you alive so many long years. What had been etched into the walls in the salt was from something that was not you, but in a way owns your type. Unlike Nico -- a fraud to your sort -- the artist of words and faces not only wants you dead, but wants to suck your soul into its. There are so few of your kind remaining in any of the worlds. That is why the bounties keep showing up. I found that the creature not only fears you, but is overly confident that it will easily be able to suck you down. It is not a vampire but something similar." He'd paused and added, "There's no goodness in this creature. It is fueled by hate and revenge. But it pays well." The hunter -- my hunter -- had laughed. The laughter had triggered a deep fear and I wasn't able to stop myself and I'd popped out to the most remote cave I'd ever visited.
To my horror, once I'd arrived, the markings on the wall kept me stuck inside the dusty cavern. Then a few hours later I'd started hearing thumping in the distance. Whatever or whoever had done the magic to keep me here was working their way inside -- that was the only thing I could come up with as I fretted my way through my past. I wasn't ready to see if I could mentally reach for Uncle Harry, because what if it wasn't just a trap for me, but him also? He'd caused his fair share of damage through history with both vampires and werewolves. I wasn't even sure what time of day or night it was, so it was possible that Uncle Harry wasn't even fully awake. I chewed on my thumb before catching myself and stopping, before nibbling again shrugging. Like it would matter that I had resurrected my bad childhood habit if I was dead?
I hadn't any real need to go on my last trip. Everyone had been busy around Uncle Harry's because there was some political crap happening between the vampires that was screwing up the natural order of things. Uncle Harry naturally had to help, and had been out of the house pretty much all the time. His estate was huge and I'd been staying in a remote corner that was little more than a self-maintainable cottage, keeping out of the way. There was a small kitchenette and plenty of available nibbles so I didn't bother to go wandering the grounds, but kept to myself. Cable television was my downfall. I had been flipping between a boring movie to a series I'd seen before when I mistakenly hit the up button instead of the back button. It was then I'd seen a History Channel show about a remote region that seemed to have some abandoned caves.
Glued to the show, I had watched the camera roll over the various artifacts brought up from the small chamber that a local herder had chanced upon, when one of his charges had fallen into a hole. From there he'd unearthed the treasures. The narrator neglected to mention what happened with the herder, or if the guy even knew what he'd found, but went on to show a recreation of what the local historians and experts felt the civilization had been like and the approximate time frame when these unknown folks had been alive.
My itching senses let me know that I'd been near there before, and I must have missed some of the caves when I'd visited. I scrawled down the information and began to research the spot. It took me a mere hour to conclude that some of the chambers had been a part of the same group of caves from which I had snagged some nice jewelry a few years ago. There hadn't been a herder to screw up my visit then, and from what I was finding online there wasn't any activity now due to funding issues. The cable show had been trying to drum up interest in investors for some archaeologists to go down and play. I was transfixed.