Destroyer(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 5)(17) by Connie Suttle
"You think we can find that out? You think there's information out there?"
"I think Principal Wright might know a lot."
"You think he'll talk to us?"
* * *
"I didn't expect to get visitors this soon." Bear Wright smiled at Wynn and Dori. His empty lunch tray lay before him—he'd eaten at his desk in order to get paperwork done during the meal break.
"We just had a thought," Wynn began. "When we were at lunch, talking about how there's no first or second-graders this year."
"And we were wondering if this is a problem everywhere, and not just here, in Star Cove," Dori added. "And we thought it might be a good topic to research for the end of school essay."
"That's very insightful," Bear nodded. "And it's something that I've done research on, too."
"What did you find out?" Wynn asked breathlessly.
"I'm afraid numbers are dwindling," Bear sighed, leaning back in his chair. Unlike Principal Billings', Bear's office chair was more modern and cloth-covered. It didn't creak when he moved. "That's one of the topics I wanted to discuss with the shifters who are coming to visit this weekend. Just to see if they've noticed it, too, and have any ideas," the Principal sighed. "Do your research, girls. I'll accept a joint paper at the end of school if you work on it together."
"Really? You'll let us do that?" Wynn clapped her hands and bounced in her seat.
"Sure. It's a weighty topic and deserves as much work as you both can put into it."
"Thank you so much, Mr. Wright," Dori smiled. "This will be so awesome."
* * *
"Ashe? This is Wynn."
"Wynnie, I'd know your voice anywhere." Ashe left his cell on the island while he ate scrambled eggs and bacon. "What do you need?"
"We might need help doing research. Dori and me."
Ashe grinned and didn't correct Wynn's English. "What's the project?" he asked instead.
"We noticed that there aren't any first or second-graders, and thought it might be a good topic to research for our end-of-year essay. We asked Principal Wright about it, since he might know something. He said the numbers are dwindling, and he's willing to let Dori and me do a paper together."
"That's outstanding, Wynn. I warn you, though, if I give you information, a lot of it may not have concrete evidence to back it up."
"It won't be true?" Wynn sounded troubled.
"It'll be true, I just can't back it up with physical proof, that's all. Some people might question its veracity, because of that." Ashe wiped his hands on a napkin and lifted his second glass of milk to take a drink.
"Who uses words like veracity?" Wynn teased.
"Wynn, I haven't heard you tease in a while. It's kind of nice," Ashe grinned.
"Yeah. Ace likes it, too."
"I imagine he does. I also imagine he thinks he won the lottery—like every time he looks at you."
"Ashe, stop it." Ashe's grin widened—he knew Wynn was blushing.
"How's Sali?" Ashe asked, switching topics.
"He sits by himself in class. I'm not sure he talks to anybody. Larry and Jeff only talk with each other. Everybody misses Hayes."
"Hayes was an omega. He knew instinctively how to calm people and keep them happy."
"A brave omega."
"Yeah. Look, Wynn, keep an eye on Sal for me. Discreetly. If things look like they're not going so good, will you let me know?"
"Can I ask Dori to help?"
"If she can keep it to herself."
"I'll tell her that. I don't know what to do, Ashe. I know school just started and all, but it seems so different. Like we've set our feet on a path we can't change, and the destination may not be what anybody planned."
"You're a real unicorn, Wynnie."
"What does that mean?"
"It means you're special. In a very good way. You have insights that others don't, sometimes."
"Ashe, stop making me blush. It's embarrassing. I have to get back to class."
"I know. Have fun." Ashe ended the call with a sigh. Less than thirty seconds went by when he received mindspeech from Dori.
Sali only ate half his lunch.
That's a problem.
Yeah. He's moping, too. Like the world ended and he didn't participate.
Interesting concept, Dori.
Well, it's like something big happened, and he wasn't a part of it. Because he's too dumb.
Dori, Sali isn't dumb. He's smarter than people think. He just makes bad choices now and then.
Then he needs to stop playing dumb. And he needs to wise up.
That's redundant, Dori.
I guess it is, huh?
Yeah. Did you talk to Wynn already?
Yeah. Ever since Sali and I broke up and you stopped talking to him and Marcus grounded him and took his keys away, he won't talk to anybody. Now he's not eating. Sali always eats.
Agreed. Does he go home right after school?
He has to. His mom is waiting at the door to make sure the grounding is enforced.
Good to know. Don't you think you ought to pay attention in English, instead of sending mindspeech? Ashe added a mental chuckle to his words.
Fine, Dori's reply was falsely grumpy.
* * *
Sali walked past his mother, who stood at the front door of the DeLuca home, waiting for her youngest to arrive.
"Straight from school, as commanded," Sali muttered as he headed for the hallway leading to his bedroom.
"Want a snack?" Denise DeLuca called out. Sali didn't reply.
Sali cursed softly as he turned the knob to enter his bedroom. His stomach growled, but he wasn't going to let his mother know it was also tied in knots. Everything was wrong with his life. Everything. How many times had Marco gotten away with stuff Sali always got grounded for? How many times had Marco flouted Marcus' commands and driven away from Cloud Chief in a huff? It was always Marco this and Marco that. Marco now worked for Mr. Winkler, probably the most wealthy and successful werewolf in the U.S. Nobody thought much of Salidar DeLuca. He'd just be a minion in a Pack someday.
Sali walked into his bedroom with a sigh, shut it behind him and leaned against it, his eyes closed.
"Dude, want a burger?" Sali's eyes popped open in shock. Ashe sat on his rumpled bed, waving a sack full of Dandee Burgers' food at him. The scent of hamburgers and fries hit his sensitive nose like a blow.
* * *
"He's reading in his bedroom, I peeked," Trajan informed Winkler, who'd asked where Ashe was.
"Andy has something Ashe needs to look at when he comes down for dinner. Loren caught a discrepancy and we need the kid's help."
"He ought to be sleeping, in case the vamps have other business tonight."
"I know. We'll have to be careful, Traje. He gets tired. Needs sleep. Just like anybody else. We can't expect him to work day and night."
"Yeah. The Thompson's will be here first thing tomorrow, at least."
"Thank goodness. We can order pizza tonight. Get extra. We can always put leftovers in the fridge."
* * *
Sali wolfed down the first burger and was halfway into the second before taking a long pull on the large soda Ashe brought for him.
"Dude, I'm sorry. Really sorry. I messed up," Sali bit into his burger again and chewed while he watched Ashe's face.
"Yeah. We all do, sometimes." Ashe leaned against Sali's headboard. Sali ate at his desk beside the bed, leaving the bed for Ashe. His mother hated it if he dropped food on the comforter. Sali watched as Ashe raked fingers through his slightly curly, light-brown hair and closed his eyes. "Sal, I watched a vampire die last night. Six others, too. Those vamps don't mess around when they kill somebody."
"Dad said they were here." Sali took another bite of burger. "I really want to ask about the full moon incident, but I won't. I'm not giving Dad another thing. If he wants to know, he can ask you himself."
Ashe opened his eyes and turned toward Sali. "It's called releasing particles. Reducing something to its most basic level and letting the energy float away. Only a few can do it, Sal. None of the Elemaiya have ever been able to. Feel free to tell Marcus that, if he really wants to know."
"I heard something else, too. About your mom. And Buck."
"Don't bring that up. It's painful."
"Sali, what would you do if you found out your dad, well, that your dad was really depressed? Thinking about ending it all."
"My dad isn't depressed. He's just an unbending tyrant," Sali muttered before stuffing the last bite of burger in his mouth.
"I'm not talking about your dad."
"Oh. You're talking about yours, aren't you?" Sali blinked dark eyes at Ashe. Aedan, depressed? That wasn't good. It was ridiculously easy for a vampire to end it all. Took minutes, at the most, if what he'd heard was true.
"Do you have us shielded?" Sali finally thought to ask.
"Since I showed up. Your bedroom is soundproofed, dude. You could scream your lungs out and your mom still won't hear," Ashe grinned wryly.
"That's kind of amazing," Sali observed. "What are you gonna do about your dad? I'd probably ask Marco to help, and then go tell dad he couldn't do that crap. People need him."
"That's an interesting idea," Ashe said, leaning against the headboard again. "I was out late last night, and Mr. Winkler thinks I'm reading a book in my bedroom. I'm gonna leave, Sal. Maybe I can sleep for an hour before Mr. Winkler orders pizza."
"Dang. Pizza for dinner sounds good. Mom's probably fixing meat loaf or something."
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