Shadowed(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 2)(3) by Connie Suttle
"But they're all humans," someone else spoke up. "Except for their half-human kids." Ashe recognized the derision in Chad's voice. Jeremy's mother, Diane, frowned at her son from a seat near the door.
"Don't tell me this isn't Ashe Evans' fault," Jeremy chimed in.
"What did you just say?" Winkler was now examining Jeremy Booth with guarded interest. Jeremy, a shapeshifter, wouldn't fall under as much scrutiny as Chad, his adopted werewolf brother and best friend.
"Nothing." Jeremy knew when to keep his mouth shut around older, stronger adults. His animal was a wildcat, but a younger werewolf could take him down easily.
"Are the humans aware that they'll be among those who aren't human? Do they even know we exist?" Greta Rocklin, the Transformational Arts teacher asked. Also a werewolf, she was married to Micah Rocklin, Second to Marcus DeLuca, Cloud Chief's werewolf Packmaster.
"I am joining Bill Jennings, Director for the Joint NSA and Homeland Security Department in Dallas tomorrow morning. The families will be informed at that time," Winkler replied. "Many of you know already that werewolves and vampires work in a special division of Mr. Jennings' department. He, the Grand Master and the Head of the Vampire Council all wish for us to protect these children inside Cloud Chief's hidden boundary. These families have not been informed as to what their children truly are and why they are hunted. The Director and I will attempt to explain things tomorrow, and I'll be taking one of you with me to meet these families so they can see a werewolf and shapeshifter for themselves."
"No self-respecting werewolf will agree to that," Principal Billings almost exploded, causing Winkler's head to turn swiftly in the Principal's direction.
"I was going to do it," Winkler said, "so they can see a wolf. I'm taking Ashe Evans with me because he has something in common with those children. Shall I report your reaction to the Grand Master?"
"No." Principal Billings hung his head immediately. Ashe knew the Principal wasn't sorry for what he'd said, just as Chad and Jeremy weren't. He raised his hand.
"What is it, Ashe?" Winkler lifted an eyebrow in Ashe's direction.
"Where will you put the temporary housing? Will they really be protected by the witch's boundary?"
"That's our hope. The Elemaiya haven't found their way back here after your father placed compulsion on the two that came last year. And the housing will be in the field behind your home, I think. Water and electrical lines were laid there in case Cloud Chief ever increased in size. The location will also make it easier for your father and Nathan Anderson to guard them at night."
"Have you talked to my parents? About me going to Dallas?"
"Ashe," Winkler smiled, "I spoke with your father last night. I have your parents' permission."
"Okay, just wanted to check," Ashe huddled into his seat, feeling slightly embarrassed.
"How many will be coming?" Mr. Dawkins, the Math teacher, asked.
"Seventeen will be coming to Cloud Chief," Winkler answered. "Ten parents, six half-Elemaiyan children and one human child. Trace and Jason will be back to help guard the community and run errands—the families won't be leaving Cloud Chief once they arrive. They have to stay hidden. I warn you to treat them as any other member of the community, at the Grand Master's command. Their names and whereabouts are to be kept confidential. You understand why, I hope."
"Those lives depend on it," Miss Campbell nodded. She was the only shapeshifting teacher in Cloud Chief, becoming an exotic leopard at the full Moon. Larry Garnett, the newly hired werewolf English teacher, was content to stand beside Principal Billings without saying a word.
* * *
"Gonna teach human kids to be empties?" Chad sneered at Ashe on the way out the door. Most of the adults had either left the school or gone into Principal Billings' office with Mr. Winkler to voice private concerns, leaving Ashe at the mercy of Chad and Jeremy.
"Want to say that to my dad?" Sali shoved his way through a knot of students, causing Wynn and Dori to smack him on the shoulder for being rude.
"Your dad wouldn't care if the empty disappeared," Jeremy snickered.
"That's not true," Sali growled, his eyes going feral. The threat of Sali's werewolf forced Jeremy to back up.
"That's enough, boys. Chad, Jeremy, air your concerns with the Principal or with the Packmaster," Greta Rocklin appeared and pointed the older boys toward the door. Ashe hunched his shoulders. If his parents would only allow him to mist, he could avoid those two bullies easily. Instead, Chump and Wormy always accosted him in public but generally away from adult eyes, and Ashe was prevented from doing anything to protect himself.
Not wishing for the Second's wife to report any infractions, Chad and Jeremy raced toward Jeremy's new car. Sali and Ashe watched them leave, feeling a bit of envy as the two boys drove away. "I'm gonna have a car when I turn sixteen," Sali muttered, his eyes returning to normal. Stuffing hands in his pockets, Sali walked toward the gravel road that led to Ashe's house.
* * *
"Here," Ashe set a plate of nachos in front of Sali before picking up the phone and calling his mother. "Mom, we're home. I'm feeding the tapeworm now," Ashe announced when his mother said hello.
"Honey, did Mr. Winkler talk to you today?" Adele sounded worried.
"Mom, he talked to all of us."
"No, I mean about the trip to Dallas."
"He announced it to the entire assembly," Sali said, stuffing another cheese-laden tortilla chip in his mouth.
"He didn't," Adele heard Sali's comment and became concerned immediately.
"After stupid Jeremy said it was my fault that the humans were coming," Ashe grumbled.
"I'm calling Marcus when I get home," Adele fumed.
"Mom, it'll just make it worse—they don't bother me unless there's nobody around to stop them," Ashe pointed out. "Besides, they'll go off to college in the fall. End of problem."
"Ashe, the Dallas trip is supposed to be fun for you—to meet others who might be like you in some way. You'll stay the night with Mr. Winkler and talk with those children when they're brought in. Mr. Winkler wants you to show them the bat."
"But not the mist, huh?"
"That's dangerous and you know it. If word of that got out," Adele didn't finish.
"Yeah, I know," Ashe said glumly. If anyone, particularly the Vampire Council, learned of that specific talent, Ashe might become a desirable target for more than just the Elemaiya. "Mom, I gotta go before Sali eats the last two nachos."
"All right. We'll talk more when your dad wakes."
Ashe hung up the cordless with a sigh. Sali handed over the plate with the designated two nachos on it. "Dude, you really are a tapeworm," Ashe said.
* * *
"I heard him, Marcus. He said this was Ashe Evans' fault. Everybody inside the school cafeteria heard it," Denise DeLuca said. Marcus had just walked through the door of their Cloud Chief home after a busy day at DeLuca's Locksmith Services in Cordell.
"Denise, we've known for a while that those two bully some of the younger ones. If it were only Chad, I could have a talk with him. But Jeremy is a shapeshifter. We don't have that much control over them."
"You don't think Chad put him up to it?"
"The boy lost both his parents. I expect Chad to be rebellious."
"That's no excuse to be cruel," Denise went to pull dinner from the oven. "Sali's on his way home. Mr. Winkler will come by before he leaves with Ashe tonight."
"I'm glad it's the weekend," Marcus said. "Have we heard from Marco?"
"Mr. Winkler says he'll come home for a week before going back to Dallas and working for him the rest of the summer."
"I'm worried that our oldest will become a member of the Dallas Pack."
"There are worse things to be," Denise said softly. "Being a member of the Dallas Pack holds a certain amount of prestige."
"Oh, and being a member of the Cloud Chief Pack isn't important?"
"You know that's not what I meant."
"Sorry, it's just too near the full Moon." The full Moon was in two days, on Sunday, May third. Everybody in Cloud Chief felt it. Marcus wondered how Winkler was going to handle getting humans to their hidden community around that event. Shrugging off the thought, Marcus went to wash his hands. The back door clicked shut as Sali walked into the kitchen; Denise told him to wash up, too, while she put dinner on the table.
* * *
"We have to get this out of the way fast; full Moon is Sunday," Winkler said, driving down I-35 toward Dallas three hours later. Ashe, buckled into the passenger seat of a Winkler Security van, listened while the Dallas Packmaster spoke.
"Mr. Winkler, do you know anything about those kids?" Ashe asked quietly, his blue eyes focused on the Dallas Packmaster's face in curiosity.
"I don't think those kids know much about themselves. How can we know anything? I'm not sure Bill gave them any kind of explanation when they relocated their families; just that someone was hunting them." Winkler turned dark eyes briefly on Ashe before directing his attention to the highway again.
"I assume they know about the deaths and disappearances of the others? How many of the disappearances do you think are actual deaths and how many are kidnappings by the Bright Elemaiya?"
"Kid, you worry me at times, knowing more than you should," Winkler tapped the steering wheel absently as he drove through the Arbuckle mountains in south central Oklahoma.
"I know the Bright Elemaiya went to that clinic for a reason. What reason, other than getting children, could there be? And if they wanted children, then they wanted them, instead of letting humans keep them. Doesn't that make sense? It's like the cuckoo, laying its eggs in another bird's nest."
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