Shadowed(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 2)(29) by Connie Suttle
Shuffling notecards on the podium, Cori cleared her throat as Mr. Dodd adjusted the microphone for her. "I'm not giving the speech I originally planned to give," she announced as soon as Cloud Chief's History teacher stepped away. "Instead, I'm giving a speech about being unselfish." Ashe blinked in surprise at Cori's revelation.
"I told a friend that I wanted to win the essay contest, because I wanted to fix up my dorm room at college," Cori gazed around the crowd. "And when that friend won the contest instead, well, he gave the money to me. I didn't deserve it. I hadn't done anything to get it. But it was handed to me anyway. At first, I made all sorts of plans. I was going to buy a matching comforter and window curtains. Or a mini fridge. So many things went through my mind as I mentally spent that money. But I felt bad that I was getting what I wanted and my friend wasn't. Then I started thinking what I might do with the money instead. Thinking about better things. Unselfish things. Today, I donated all that money to a charity that helps find missing children. Ashe, I hope that's okay with you." Cori wiped her cheeks as every person inside the school cafeteria rose and cheered.
Ashe, his mouth open and the camcorder pointed at his feet, nodded wordlessly at Cori. She offered him a trembling smile and accepted her diploma from Principal Billings.
* * *
"We're going to Clinton. Do you think your parents will let you come?" Cori stood in front of Ashe later, Marco right behind her. It was tradition that the graduating seniors went out for dinner in nearby Clinton after the ceremony, and then to a bowling alley to celebrate following that.
"Doubt it," Ashe muttered, lowering his eyes. Sali stood at Ashe's shoulder, a hopeful gleam in his eyes. It was a coup for anyone below senior level to be invited along.
"Marco, can I have your promise that he'll be safely guarded?" Aedan had come up silently behind Ashe.
"Absolutely," Marco nodded solemnly.
"We will, Mr. Evans," Cori was promising, too.
"I'm buying," Winkler handed a wad of cash to Marco. "Get what you want and bowl as long as they keep the doors open," the older werewolf grinned.
"I can go?" Ashe stared at his father in shock.
"Go have a good time, son. Just stay out of trouble." Aedan patted Ashe's shoulder.
"Come on, tapeworm," Marco crooked an elbow around Sali's neck. "I know you're hungry." Sali whooped as they walked through the corridor of Cloud Chief Combined.
* * *
Chad and Jeremy had to wait until nearly ten, but Diane and Neil Booth finally went to bed. They'd agreed to allow the boys to stay up and watch a late movie on television. As soon as their bedroom door was closed, Chad was on the stolen walkie-talkie, contacting Philip Raymond.
* * *
"What the?" Nathan had just relieved Roger and Toby, two of William Winkler's Pack, in order to help Aedan guard the community. Nathan stared at the night sky as the first bottle rocket went up and exploded nearly a quarter of a mile away.
"Let's go," Aedan muttered grimly and both vampires swept away, faster than a human eye might follow.
* * *
"That's our cue," Jeremy snickered as he and Chad stood in the front yard, watching as fountains of fireworks burst in the night sky. Both ran for Diane Booth's small import. Jeremy slid into the driver's seat and started the car quickly. When Chad was buckled in on the passenger side, Jeremy pulled away, driving toward the entrance to Cloud Chief as quickly and silently as he could. Less than two minutes later, Neil Booth and his wife were in the front yard, discovering that Diane's car was missing (along with both boys) and that someone was setting off fireworks in Cloud Chief.
"That's over the O'Neill's pasture," Neil muttered grimly. "Probably kids, but the grass may be dry enough for it to catch. Get in my truck, Diane. We'll help the O'Neills first and worry about those boys later. They're probably heading toward Clinton right now."
"Halfway there is more like it," Diane said. "Let's go. If that pasture catches on fire, we'll have to get the lambs out."
* * *
Philip had carefully planned the raid. His backpack fit well enough even after he changed to mountain lion, and it was simple enough to sneak out of the house and race away as an animal, until he arrived at the designated pasture. Macy and Luanne had gone on and on about the lambs and calves in the O'Neill's pastures, and had visited with Dori and Wynn several times. Well, if he were lucky, he'd take some of those stupid animals out with the fireworks and draw everyone's attention away from what he intended to do.
Kneeling beneath the window of Chad and Jeremy's shared bedroom, Philip cut the screen with a pocketknife and then pulled the small bottle of gasoline from his backpack. He'd siphoned away a small amount of fuel from a resident's car they'd left parked outside their garage. Uncapping the bottle, Philip stuffed a piece of cloth inside it and then pulled out the book of matches he'd found in his mother's things. She'd quit smoking but still had a few things left over, including matchbooks from restaurants they'd visited before their lives were turned upside down. The gasoline-soaked cloth caught fire quickly. Stuffing the bottle inside the screen, Philip pulled his backpack on again, turned back to mountain lion and ran.
* * *
"I'm just thankful it didn't start a fire," Marcus stated flatly. Aedan and Nathan were examining the ground where the fireworks originated, hoping to find tracks.
"Do you smell that, Aedan?" Nathan looked up at Cloud Chief's other vampire.
"Smells animal," Aedan agreed. "Marcus, can you tell us what this scent is?"
Marcus walked over to the two vampires and drew in a breath. "Mountain lion," he declared right away. "And it's fresh."
"You think it might have been after the lambs or calves and was scared away by the fireworks?" Aedan offered Marcus a puzzled glance.
"I've heard of mountain lions in Oklahoma, but usually they're reported elsewhere. Jonas!" Marcus called. "We may have a real predator here. Have you had any livestock come up missing?"
Jonas O'Neill, followed by his wife Sharon, was walking the field, just to make sure no sparks lay in the grass to start a fire. The sheep and lambs were cowering in a far corner of the field, still frightened from the loud noise of the unexpected fireworks display. Jonas immediately joined Marcus.
"What did you find?" Jonas asked.
"Mountain lion," Marcus replied. "Have you lost anything?"
"No, everything's accounted for."
"Then we may have a hunt if more tracks show up. I don't want anything threatening the livestock," Marcus said.
"What did you find?" Amos Thompson joined the others. He'd come to help with the animals if needed.
"Mountain lion scent," Jonas sighed. "You should keep an eye on your poultry, Amos."
"I will. They're all locked inside the chicken house right now, but we'll watch." Amos nodded at Jonas.
"Aedan, I smell smoke," Nathan said.
"Yes. I smell it too," Aedan turned toward the scent. "Look. Isn't that smoke near the Booth home?" An orange explosion lit the night sky, with a loud boom following close behind.
"Neil!" Diane Booth shouted. She'd been talking with Adele Evans and Denise DeLuca in a corner of the field, only now realizing that her home was ablaze.
"Get the pumper truck!" Marcus shouted. Aedan and Nathan had already disappeared; running toward the Booth home faster than the others could imagine getting there.
This looks intriguing, Ren sent to Ashe. He'd shown up at the bowling alley and seemed content to watch Sali, Ashe, Cori and Marco bowl.
You should try it, it's fun, Ashe returned.
You know I cannot reveal myself. That could become interference. Aside, of course, from frightening your friends.
Too bad you can't disguise yourself as me. I could turn to mist and watch you bowl, Ashe ducked his head to hide a grin.
I can do that, Ren said. That will work quite fine.
You're kidding? Really? How can we do this?
Follow me. Tell the others you are going to get a drink of water, Ren rose from an empty seat. Again, no other had taken it, choosing other seats instead. Ashe found himself wishing for that trick more and more.
"I need a drink of water," Ashe tapped Sali on the shoulder. Sali nodded before turning back to watch Marco toss a ball down the lane. Ashe followed Ren, who was making his way toward the water fountain located just outside the restrooms.
"Turn to mist, I have us shielded," Ren said, once they reached the tiny hall outside the restrooms. Ashe blinked at the tall, blue youth before going to mist. He watched in astonishment as Ren altered his appearance, becoming Ashe's identical twin. "Now, I bowl," Ren chuckled mischievously before turning and walking toward Sali and the others.
"I have achieved my objective," Ren laughed and clapped after throwing a strike on his third attempt. Ashe, hovering above Ren's head, sent mindspeech.
Dude, you have to talk like me, too, Ashe reminded the Larentii boy.
"Dude, that was awesome," Ren (as Ashe) said as he grinned at Sali, who rose to bowl next. Ren went one further and high-fived Sali. If Ashe had been solid, he would have laughed aloud at Ren's antics. Not only did the Larentii sound like him, he was now acting like him. Ren didn't hear Marco's cell phone ringing, but Ashe did.
"It's Mr. Winkler," Marco pulled the cell from his pocket. "Mr. Winkler?" A note of surprise was in Marco's voice, since it was only a few minutes past midnight. They weren't late. Ashe maneuvered his mist until he hovered over Marco's head so he could hear both sides of the conversation.
"Marco, have you seen Chad and Jeremy?" Winkler asked.
"No, sir. Aren't they supposed to be at home? I thought they were under house arrest."
"They are. But they managed to sneak away and take Mrs. Booth's car. After they left, the Booth home burned to the ground."
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