Shadowed(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 2)(4) by Connie Suttle
"Yes—they sound like brood parasites, don't they?" Winkler agreed.
"But the cuckoo chick pushes the eggs or the nestlings of the parent birds out so it can get more food," Ashe pointed out. "You haven't heard of that happening, have you?"
"No. But we don't know much at all about these families. If Bill will consent to answer questions, I suggest you ask him."
"Bill Jennings, the Director of the Joint NSA and Homeland Security Department? That Bill?"
"Yeah. That Bill." Winkler grinned at Ashe. In the dim interior of the van, Ashe barely saw it.
"Sounds like you know him pretty well."
"I do. We've been working together for twenty years."
"You really are connected to National Security, aren't you, Mr. Winkler?"
"Yep. But don't let that out. It's a secret."
"Got it." Ashe turned to look at the cut-rock sides of mountains through which they traveled. They shone in the nearly full Moon overhead. "News said it might rain tomorrow," Ashe added.
"I hope it doesn't rain on Sunday," Winkler chuckled. "Wet fur and mud isn't fun."
"I just stay inside and flap around the house," Ashe said. Winkler laughed.
* * *
"This is your house?" Ashe stared openmouthed at the three-story mansion.
"No, my house is next door," Winkler said, leading Ashe up the wide, multicolored brick walk to a mansion. "Mine is a little bigger. I bought this one for someone before she died," he added. "Never had the heart to sell it afterward. The families will be brought here initially, for the announcement. Trace and Jason are inside—they'll stay here with you."
"When are the families coming?"
"Tomorrow morning," Winkler replied. Ashe watched as Winkler unlocked the substantial front door and punched a code into the security alarm keypad just inside the house. A massive, gleaming wood staircase split and went up both sides of a gallery; the tiled, oval floor of the entryway was of polished marble and shone in the dim light. Winkler hit a switch, bathing the entire foyer with brightness.
"How's the bustling metropolis of Cloud Chief?" Trace walked in with a soda in his hand. He'd heard Winkler and Ashe enter the house and walked in from the kitchen to greet the new arrivals.
"There's nothing bustling about Cloud Chief or anything else within a hundred-mile radius," Ashe grinned at the nearly seven-foot werewolf. Jason followed Trace and hugged Ashe.
"How are you, son?" Jason smiled.
"I'm good, Mr. Landers," Ashe assured the older werewolf. Trace had told him the year before that Jason was more than a hundred fifty years old.
"We'll be coming to Oklahoma with you, to help out with those kids," Jason said. "And we'll be giving regular reports to Mr. Winkler and the Director."
"So I'd better behave, huh?"
"Yup. Hate to have to ground you," Trace ruffled Ashe's slightly curly, light-brown hair.
"Being grounded sucks," Ashe nodded.
"Come on, kid, you're on the second floor between Jason and me," Trace said. "Is your bag in the van?"
"Yeah. I can get it." Ashe turned toward the door.
"Nah, Trace will handle it. Come on, want something to drink?" Jason motioned for Ashe to follow him. Ashe trailed Jason and found the largest kitchen he'd ever seen at the back of the house.
"Mom should see this," Ashe breathed. The kitchen island was ten feet long and held a separate sink and dishwasher.
"Do we have transportation to Cloud Chief arranged?" Winkler spoke with Jason over Ashe's head.
"All done. Six vans plus drivers and security for each. Trace and I will take the kid, here, in a separate vehicle. Bill is providing an agent for each van."
"Real agents?" Ashe blinked at Jason, a surprised expression on his face.
"Real agents," Winkler chuckled and patted Ashe's shoulder. "You saw Radomir last year—kid, that vampire is better than any agent I've ever seen. And he's not the best I've ever known."
"Who was the best, Mr. Winkler?"
"That would be Lissa," Trace set Ashe's small bag in the kitchen floor. "She saved my brother's life once. I saw the recorded footage. You wouldn't have believed it."
"We'll talk about that some other time," Winkler growled. "Jason, show Ashe to his bedroom." Winkler stalked out of the kitchen.
"Boss gets a little touchy about her," Jason murmured. "This was her house. Come on, kid, there's a big TV in your room."
"So she's the one who's dead?"
Jason cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast the following morning before Bill Jennings arrived, followed closely by six families with seven children. One was completely human—a child of a previous marriage. Ashe studied all of them—the adults seemed tired and worried, their children (all teens and older than Ashe), curious and cautious at the same time.
"This is Ashe Evans. His mother went to the same clinic," Bill Jennings introduced Ashe to the newcomers. Ashe stared in mute surprise—two of the teens had pointed ears.
"Why do we have to move again?" one of the boys whined. He had blond hair and green eyes, but no pointed ears.
"Hush, Philip," his mother warned.
"It's time we were more open with the information available," Bill Jennings sighed into the silence that came after. "Ashe, here, will help explain things to you. Mr. Winkler, if you would?"
Winkler led everyone into a large media room with theater seating and a huge television screen mounted on the wall. "Take a seat and get comfortable," he instructed. Ashe sat between Trace and Jason at the back of the room. Winkler stood in front of the large screen to make his announcements.
"Now," Winkler began, "More than thirty years ago, all this began. I know some of you may have difficulty believing any of this at first, but I assure you, everything you hear will be the truth. I hope it doesn't change anything with you or your family; it just is. This is why they're after these children here, and why so many have died or been abducted." Winkler clicked a tiny remote and the television screen came to life behind him.
Ashe stared—he hadn't known they'd taken photographs of the two Dark Elemaiya from last year's attack. One looked human—except for the pointed ears. The other, a hybrid, had a very tall, mostly human body with the head of a doglike creature. It looked similar to pictures he'd seen of Anubis, the Egyptian god of mummification and the afterlife. The head certainly resembled a jackal's with tall, pointed ears. The feet, too, were long for a human and bore claws instead of toenails. Ashe had detected the hybrid a year before, using echolocation. He just hadn't known exactly what it was as it ran away from him.
"What is that thing?" Philip spoke loudly, his words blunt and irritating as he pointed at the Dark hybrid's image on the screen.
"That is a hybrid—his race manipulated his birth, I believe," Winkler replied dryly. "Now, you'll be happy to know that you're not related in any way to these two. You may be related, however, to some of these." Winkler clicked the remote again and another set of images appeared. Ashe drew in a breath. It was video this time—someone was walking through a field at twilight, but there were people—people with pointed ears—all around. The camera was attached to clothing somewhere—Ashe couldn't see anything of the wearer. The camera stopped before a woman who obviously thought herself beautiful. She had long brown hair and wore many jewels and a richly embroidered dress. A carved gold band circled her head and her green eyes flashed angrily. "I'm not sure how you knew to contact us," she informed the camera-wearer coldly. Ashe recognized the voice of the camera bearer, though, when he spoke.
"That doesn't matter," Winkler said to the Queen of the Bright Elemaiya. "What does matter is that your dark cousins have discovered your attempt to increase your numbers and they're picking them off, one at a time."
Ashe gaped at the images as he listened to the conversation between the Bright Queen and Winkler a year earlier. Winkler handed over a folder of information to the Queen's attendant. The Queen, obviously skeptical, hadn't believed Winkler at first. After Winkler's evidence had been presented, the Queen offered two guards to help eliminate the Dark Elemaiya terrorizing Cloud Chief with help from Paul Harris, the former English teacher. When the screen went blank again after the recorded confrontation, the room erupted.
"Calm down," Bill Jennings, who was aging and unused to dealing with teens, now stood before the crowd, all of whom wanted to talk or ask questions at once. Ashe sat quietly in his seat at the back, knowing that he'd react the same way if he were only now learning of his ancestry. The Bright Queen and her people, though—that had been a shock. He, like the others, was seeing them for the first time and it was frightening.
"Who were those people?" one of the fathers demanded.
"Bright Elemaiya," Bill replied. "The first images you saw—the dead ones? Those were Dark Elemaiya. The Dark Ones are at war with the Bright half of their race. The Bright Ones donated eggs to the clinic in St. Louis. They have also donated to fifty other clinics over a thirty-year period, with the clinic in St. Louis being the most recent. We had no idea what was going on with the child disappearances over the years until someone made the connection to the St. Louis facility." Bill sighed and shook his head.
"These six children were born as a result." Bill went on, sweeping out a hand to encompass the six teens. "And no, it is not romantic to be a child of an alien race. That's what they are—they are not native to this world." Ashe blinked at Director Jennings' words—there'd been other clinics and other kidnappings or killings. That had come as an unwelcome surprise.
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