Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(9) by Connie Suttle
"We're back to the scents, then. Even Old Harold couldn't erase his scent. I don't think it's possible." Marcus paced in agitation.
"Well, James didn't just drop from the sky," Greta pointed out. "We don't have any bird shifters large enough to carry the body." The four werewolves went quiet as others approached. Ashe heard them too—Marco shuffled dejectedly behind Mr. Dodd, the history teacher. More werewolves came, including the Hoffs and Pat Roberts.
Pat was an aging male werewolf, with wrinkles lining his face and gray in his hair. Ashe figured Pat had to be two hundred years old or more—werewolves didn't turn gray until they were quite old. None of the gathering werewolves carried lights; their night vision was nearly as sharp as his vampire father’s. Ashe could see well enough in the moonlight; colors weren't visible to him, but he knew the barest tips of green grass were showing through the dead foliage on the ground and tiny, new leaves were out on the oak in which he sat.
Ashe was as still and quiet as he could be once all the werewolves were assembled. Marcus raised the question of what action the Pack should take regarding Randy Smith. Only a small amount of discussion was devoted to Terry Smith's death, and by a nearly unanimous vote, it was determined that Randy Smith should be executed for breaking Pack Law.
Marcus would submit the decision to the Grand Master, and the Grand Master's trackers would be dispatched to take Randy into custody and bring him before the Cloud Chief Pack during the next full moon. Ashe swallowed nervously at the verdict. Randy Smith had a month to live, and true to the note in his computer, Principal Billings offered to take the execution when Marcus asked for a volunteer.
"Now, you all know the Grand Master is sending an investigator on Thursday," Marcus went on. "So we won't officially discuss James's death tonight. We can hold a special meeting after the investigator gets here and sniffs around. I don’t want anyone speculating and spreading rumors while we gather information. Is that clear?" Marcus paused and Ashe imagined that Sali's father was staring the Pack down. "The Vampire Council is also sending an Enforcer, so we'll have two working the case."
"Like any vampire will tell the truth if it involves one of theirs," Pat Roberts spat. Ashe recognized the old werewolf's voice easily.
"Pat, did you hear what I said?" Marcus growled. Ashe looked up—the Moon was riding high overhead and he knew what that meant. The werewolves were restless and about to turn. Tempers were flaring and becoming volatile.
"I heard. Don't have to agree," Pat growled back.
"Keep your mouth shut. That's an order," Marcus growled louder. Engrossed in the conversation and ignoring his growing discomfort, Ashe's foot slipped against the tree trunk where he'd braced it, sending a cascade of bark tumbling down. Ashe froze.
"What was that?" Micah hissed.
"Came from this direction," Marcus walked swiftly toward Ashe's tree. Right then, Ashe wanted to be invisible. Desperately. Fervently. He was going to get caught, his parents would be notified and he'd be punished at the very least. It was an unspoken rule in Cloud Chief; you didn't interfere with Pack business. And if the werewolves gathering below were angry enough and moon-touched enough, Ashe might not make it home at all.
"It came from right around here. Smell anything?" Principal Billings asked. Several male werewolves milled about the oak where Ashe sat. Ashe had never been so terrified in his life.
"I don't smell anything except the usual," Frank Dodd replied. "Kids have been running through here again."
"No, it came from this tree." Principal Billings was staring up at Ashe's tree. Staring right at him.
"There's nothing up there." Marcus pulled out a flashlight and shone it right at Ashe. "See?" Ashe stared down at Marcus and the others, who were all peering up at his branch. How could they miss him? Ashe was thin, but he wasn't small.
"Could have been an owl," Micah said, turning away. Ashe would have been puzzled if he weren't so frightened. They'd all stared right at him. The other werewolves were following Micah as he walked away from the tree. Ashe was ready to breathe a sigh of relief when he realized he wasn't breathing. Looking downward, Ashe couldn't see his feet. As werewolves began turning for the hunt, a terrified Ashe floated away.
* * *
Ashe had no idea how he'd managed to float home but he'd done it. Astonishingly, once he'd focused on where he wanted to go, he'd sped off in that direction. But what to do now? Ashe was still floating as he hovered before the keypad on the garage door. Need to be solid. Need to be solid, Ashe chanted silently. Miraculously, Ashe became corporeal, dropping onto the gravel drive with a thump.
"Still here? Shoes, clothes?" Ashe whispered to himself as he patted his chest with hands that shook. How had this happened? He'd wished to be invisible and that's exactly what he'd been. Thirty-seven adult werewolves had stared straight at him and none of them had seen a thing. And then, to make it more wondrous, Ashe had floated home, much swifter than he'd made the trip on foot, even running. Trembling slightly, it took several seconds for Ashe to recall the code that would get him inside the garage. Closing the heavy steel door afterward, Ashe punched the second code to get through the door into the kitchen, nearly falling as he lurched through the entryway once the code released the lock.
"Now what?" Ashe wanted to tug his hair out by the roots. He wanted to tell Sali. And then not tell Sali. If everybody found out he could become invisible, then it wouldn't take much to add two and two and come up with his spying on Pack business. Telling everybody would have to wait, Ashe decided, still quivering from his accidental discovery. Just to be sure, Ashe raced downstairs to the bathroom and concentrated on becoming invisible again. In less than a second, Ashe stared at nothing in the large mirror. How was he doing this? He'd never heard of anything like this before. Concentrating again, Ashe watched as his body reappeared in a blink.
"Wow," Ashe whispered to his image, watching as his lips formed the word.
* * *
"Ashe, honey, are you asleep?" Ashe's mother slipped inside his bedroom later.
"Mom?" Ashe had been asleep but was glad his mother came in to check on him.
"It's just us, hon. We're back." Adele Evans sat down on the edge of Ashe's bed and brushed hair away from his forehead. "Go back to sleep." She patted his shoulder and got up to leave.
* * *
"Sali, they're gonna execute Randy Smith." Ashe waited until they were in a corner booth at the Burger Hut on Wednesday to whisper the news.
"They'll do it at the next full moon then." Sali dipped a French fry in a puddle of ketchup and stuffed it into his mouth.
"Sali, that's almost an entire family wiped out in the space of a month." Ashe stared at the young werewolf. How could he eat while discussing someone's death so casually?
"Pack Law," Sali mumbled around a mouthful of food.
"Sounds a little callous, don't you think?"
Sali chewed thoughtfully and swallowed before answering. "Dude, look at it this way. We have to stay hidden. People will kill you and your mom and dad if they find out what you are. Oh, some humans will think it’s cool, but there are others who'd hate us and they'll get all of us. They think we're evil or something."
"Anybody has the capacity for that," Ashe shoved half his burger in Sali's direction. "Not every human is good. Not every vampire or shifter is good either."
"You're not gonna turn into a philosophizer, are ya?" Sali grinned and bit into Ashe's burger.
"Sali, I may have to alter my impression of you," Ashe said. "You just used a five-syllable word."
"I'll try not to let it happen again," Sali laughed.
Picking dead leaves off caladium plants was their job for the afternoon. Brown or yellowing leaves were dumped in an old cardboard box as Ashe and Sali made their way through potted plants lined up in neat rows at the back of the greenhouse. While they worked, several customers came in to select plants. Ashe dutifully hauled out cut-off boxes filled with seedlings and loaded purchases into waiting cars or trucks. The weather was definitely warming up and people wanted to plant.
Ashe and Sali walked to the Dumpster behind the store to empty the box of dead leaves before Adele closed up for the evening. "Dude, do you smell anything?" Sali asked after pounding the bottom of the box to get the last of the plant detritus out of it. The box would be reused—Adele didn't like throwing anything away if it could be recycled or repurposed.
"Smell what?" Ashe's nose wasn't as sharp as Sali's, even when Sali was in human form.
"Weird. Like ozone or something." Sali was still sniffing and following after whatever he'd smelled.
"What?" Ashe trailed behind Sali, mystified.
"You know, sort of like after a spring rain or something?"
"Dude, I can't smell anything," Ashe grumbled, but didn't doubt Sali's ability to detect the scent. It hadn't been raining, either, although a spring storm was predicted for the following day.
"Boys?" Adele's worried voice reached them from the back door of the greenhouse. They'd wandered behind the Dumpster, walking toward the wooden stockade fence at the edge of the property.
"Here, Mom." Ashe grabbed Sali's arm, halting his best friend's search for a source of the mysterious scent.
"Thank goodness." Ashe's mother muttered the words so softly that most people wouldn't have heard. Ashe heard.
"Come on," Ashe hauled Sali toward the greenhouse and his mother. "Sali thought he smelled ozone," Ashe poked Sali in the ribs.
"Ozone?" Adele lifted an eyebrow in Sali's direction.
"Yeah." Sali ducked his head, suddenly unsure of his own abilities.
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