Assassin’s Chronicles: Chapter 18
© 2011 by Lootah Akecheta
Warning! This story contains physical violence, strong language, and bloodshed. It is not intended for the faint of heart. Read at your own risk
Note: While this story will have lascivious moments in it, it is not intended to be an erotic tail. There will be no more of the graphically explicit sex sense as is found in chapter 4 of this story. I’ve chosen to do this because I wish to try and publish this story with a mainstream publishing company for a general audience when I complete it.
Disclaimer: This is a story of adult nonsexual content. If you are offended by this type of material then please do not read further. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), then read with parental permissions only. It is strictly intended for mature audiences who enjoy reading material of this content. This is a purely fictional story and any resemblance to any persons is strictly coincidental. It is not my intention in the writing of this material to shed an unsavory light on any person by the use of any names in this material. This material is copyrighted by me and may not be used in part or in whole for group entertainment or education, including class rooms, without first obtaining written permission from me. I would appreciate any constructive criticism, complements, or suggestions my readers may have to share with me, however I will flatly ignore flaming out at my material. You may write to me via: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the time we got back to the Dwarven Hall Martha was not doing well. She had a high fever and delirious to the point we had to carry her in. Tobin directed us to a room where we could lay her that was much closer to the common room and dining hall. I stood there watching helplessly as Mina and Michelle sat on either side wiping her brow with cold compresses. We’d already stripped her down and covered her body with cloths soaked in cold water in an attempt to lower her temperature. She kept mumbling unintelligible nonsense as she struggled with the sheets of wet cloth. “Martha, what in god’s name did Emu do to you?” Michelle asked as she stroked her forehead with a cold wet rag.
The wound Emu gave her was completely healed by the time we got her clothes off. I was only a few feet away when it happened so I watched the weremau sink her fangs deep into Martha’s shoulder and chew on it. Ligaments were cut through, muscles were torn and mangled, and there was no way it should have healed this quickly. Healed to the point there was no tender pink flesh, no scaring, no anything – it was as if she’d not been bitten at all. Even tigers don’t heal this fast. I sat down on the foot of her bed watching as our matrons did what they could to ease whatever pain she may be in. Because of her incoherence she could not tell us how much it hurt as she writhed on the bed like a giant snake coiled and flexed inside her. She gasped a few times, sucking air in hard, and then her whole body went ridged, every muscle extended taught as an overstretched rubber band. We tried holding her down but it was no use. She wasn’t going anywhere but became stiff and solid as a piece of granite. All of a sudden she relaxed and I heard the breath leave her. She did not take another one at all. Michelle wailed cradling her face while Mina ran fingers through Martha’s auburn hair. She looked at me with eyes wet with held back tears. Her expression said everything: ‘No matter what it takes, no matter what you have to do, bring Eva and Emu here, now!’ I rose, turned to go, and froze in my tracks. The Egyptian mau stood before me. In less time than it takes to blink I crossed the space separating us, grabbed her arm in a painful grip, and pulled her to the dead woman’s bed. She gave no resistance, did not struggle at all, or try to defend herself against me, but came willingly. “She not dead,” Emu said in a quiet voice. “It’s part of the change.” I looked hard into her eyes not believing anything this woman said. “I’m not lying to you Galin, she is not dead. Watch,” she nodded toward the bed.
I looked over my shoulder at the woman lying still as death under the wet cloths. Nothing had changed. She lay on the bed not breathing and looking for the entire world like anyone who has passed on to the other side. I was about to take the weremau’s head off when I heard a gasp as Martha took in a deep breath filling her lungs to capacity. She opened her eyes and it was my turn to gasp. During the short period of time when she appeared dead her body transformed from within. Her eyes changed to a light green with vertical slit pupils and I watched in awe as her hair turned a light gray with charcoal spots and stripes creating the tale, tale sign of an Egyptian Mau’s markings. For most of us our hair changes over time as it grows out. “See,” Emu asked. “It’s part of the transformation. I got here as fast as I could but it’s been so long since I’ve been in this hall I forgot how to open the door. After trying several incantations I finally stumbled on the right one.”
I slipped down beside the bed taking Martha’s hand in mine. She gazed at me with a keen intelligence she’d not possessed in her old life. It was an intelligence speaking through the ages of time as though she had access to the Akashic Record. It felt like time herself looked at me. I wondered what all had changed. “I’m alright Galin. This is what I want.”
“You were dead, I watched you die.” I mumbled though choked tears.
“I did but only for a moment. I saw such wonderfully incredible things.” She looked at Emu and smiled. “The Goddess Bastet thanks you.” Emu didn’t respond but the look in her eyes made me wonder exactly what Martha meant.
“I don’t understand.” I said. From the looks of it my statement echoed on everyone’s face. Clearly I was not the only one perplexed.
“I promise to explain everything but right now Martha needs to eat. It doesn’t have to be a fresh kill but she needs protean.” Emu said as she turned to the twins. “Do you have meats available for her?”
“Yes my lady. We’ve been raiding the jaguar’s pantries and ours is fully stocked as a result. We’ll be happy to prepare her a meal.” Torquil said bowing low to the woman before trotting off to do her bidding. Seeing the respect the dwarf showed Emu confused me further. Who in hell is this woman? I thought, not expecting an answer.
I don’t know who she is, or was, but apparently she means a great deal to Tobin and Torquil for them to show her this much deference. Rakish thought back to me.
Apparently, Pumar added.
“If we may retire to a more comfortable room for such a large number of people, I’ll explain everything.” Emu offered so we all filed out to reassemble in the dining hall.
Michelle’s agitation showed as she tapped long polished fingernails against the highly refined wooden table top while everyone settled into our seats. “Ms. Eshe, would you please tell me exactly what just happened?” There was no humor in Michelle’s voice and I had a feeling we hung on the edge of disaster.
“Lady Kuccv, I am a shapeshifter, a weremau, but I’m no lycanthrope.”
“You’re not a lycanthrope, then what the hell are you exactly?” Michelle asked.
“I am damned, cursed by the goddess Sekhmet.” Emu said. “During my mortal life, which was in the reign of Seti the First, I was a priestess for the Goddess Bastet. I loved my goddess more than anything and I defended her every chance I got. It was in my fifth year serving Bast when I overheard the priestess’ of Sekhmet boast about their goddess planning to cut Bast back down to her true station because she was getting too haughty. This infuriated me. I went to Sekhmet’s temple, pointed my finger right at the goddess, and what I said I will never repeat, but you can be sure it was not polite. I blasphemed Sekhmet in defense of my patron goddess saying that she had no right to speak of Bastet the way she had. All of a sudden I found I could not move. I stood frozen to the spot as Sekhmet’s statue came to life and terror filled me as the stone moved like living flesh. She spoke and apparently the other priestesses heard her too because they all fled except for a few of her most devoted servants. ‘Child of Bastet, how is it that you come into my house and blaspheme me so? For your insolence you will forever share your goddess’ form for all of eternity. You will live as a cat, and be treated as a wild beast. You will never die, never have lasting friends among humans, and never be accepted by human societies. When you are killed you will regenerate no matter how long it takes even unto the ends of the earth.’ The statue returned to its original position freezing back into solid rock.
“Looking around I was relieved that I could move again and with no apparent harm done. I started to laugh, but at that moment a strong wind swirled around me grabbing at my arms and legs, pulling my skin out of shape. I screamed, more out of fear than pain, while the goddess reshaped me from the human woman of twenty summers that I was to a large mau, much larger than the domesticated cats roaming the streets of Egypt. I fled back to Bastet’s temple only to find everyone feared me screaming in terror as they ran. All of my friends and sister priestesses avoided coming near me all day because they feared the fate that befell me would fall upon them as well. By evening the whole of Egypt knew of my doom and I heard the priestesses in the temple whispering, wondering what to do with me. I curled up at the feet of my goddess’s statue and fell into a deep sleep.
“Bastet visited my dreams during the night and laid her hands upon me trying to reverse Sekhmet’s curse but she could not remove it. The most she could do is mutating it so that I would be able to retain some of my dignity by giving my human body back to me. As with any lycanthrope, I can take the shapes of human, werecat, or full mau and transform at will. My body changed so that my human form reflects the mau within me. My eyes and hair are as you see them and that is why I cannot comingle with humans without taking measures to prevent them from seeing it.” She smiled and for the first time I saw tiny fangs that looked more like prominent incisors and I wondered if they were the result of the curse.
“Why didn’t you tell us this before you infected Martha?” Michelle asked not trying to hide her anger.
“At her age would Martha survive being changed into a lycanthrope of any kind?”
“It’s possible.” Michelle said.
“But not guaranteed.” Emu countered. “Would you have agreed to let her receive my gift had I told you how I came to be what I am?”
“No,” Michelle admitted.
“With my gift it does not matter what age she is, or what ailment she has suffered or is infected with. My gift does not kill. Eventually she will become timeless in her appearances and regain the beauty of her youth. She will never die, no matter what befalls her. She will always rejuvenate even should she be burned to ash. Not much unlike your friend Isaac.”
“Still, you should have told us.” Mina said.
“Maybe so, but I had to do what I could to protect the people I have come to love. I knew Eva would not permit Martha to leave alive unless she was one of us. To give her lycanthropy would most probably been a death sentence, which would be taken by you as a declaration of war. I could not risk it.”
“If you change as we change and have the hair and eyes like we have, why are you not a lycanthrope?” I asked.
“The moon does not hold sway over me as it does you. Also I was created by a curse that my patron goddess mutated to give me a life other than that of a wild beast. Sekhmet made me a mau but it was Bast who returned my humanity to me. The ability to transform as you do is a side effect from what the two goddesses did to me. Bast gave me the ability to transform others so I would not live this long life without companions. Correct me if I’m wrong Laas Lórien but lycanthropy originated from a spell gone awry.”
“This is true Lady Eshe, but how do you know this?” Isaac said with a bemused expression on his face. “And how do you know my true name?”
“I know a great many things including the quest you are on and what you seek in Dominica. After three and a half millenniums few things escape me.”
“Why me?” Martha asked. “Why did you choose me?” We all looked confused by her question so she went on to explain. “While I was out Bast came to me and welcomed me to her service. She told me you have only changed three since you were cursed, so why did you choose me?”
“I chose you because you are a kindred spirit. I’ve not met anyone like you in a very long time.” Emu said as though this explained everything and Martha seemed content with the answer because she said nothing more.
“What about Robby?” Michelle asked. “He cannot see Martha as she is without risking her fate. He’s far too young to give lycanthropy and I will not tolerate his death.”
“You need not worry about Robby or Iago seeing Martha. He’s already seen the jaguars in were form.” I said.
“What? Why haven’t you said this before now?” Mina asked.
“I didn’t want to risk Eva finding out because she would insist on his death but he saw the jaguars who kidnapped Iago’s parents. They were in were form. He told me this after I got him down here safe and sound.” I looked down at my fingers studying them intently. “I say the boys should be raised by one of our clans until they are old enough to decide for themselves. Most likely they will choose lycanthropy over death.”
“This has never been an option before. I do not see how we can bend this rule for anyone.” Mina said.
“Why not, we bent it for Martha by insisting the jaguar matron choose something other than death. I do not understand why we cannot raise these boys as one of us until they are old enough to take whatever strain of lycanthrope they wish.” Rakish added. I was very impressed because in times past he would have advocated for the boys deaths. “
“I will not let any of you harm Robby or Iago.” Martha said with such conviction I almost flinched. “Anyone who moves to harm either of them will have to go through me.”
“Martha please calm down. Nobody’s going to harm the boys. I forbid it.” Michelle said.
“Then we must keep his knowledge of us a secret from Eva at all cost. If she finds out all is lost for him.” I said looking at Martha. “But I have an idea. Isaac, you cast a spell on me to guard against Loretta’s mind control, can you cast a spell on the boys to bind their memory until we get out of here?”
“Altering a person’s memory is not easy Galin and their age makes it even more difficult, but I can curse them so they draw a blank when asked a direct question about a certain topic.” He answered. “It would only be temporary at best and it will not work if asked in a roundabout way.”
“If they were girl children instead of males, I could change them and they would grow normally until they reached twenty when their mau would come into its own.” Emu said. “But my gift only works on women.” She fell silent for a moment. “If I may make a suggestion, I would take what Laas Lórien can do for the boys. If it will keep them silent about what they saw it may save their lives. We also need to find out what happened to Iago’s parents. If Eva’s people kidnapped them in werejaguar form, then they had no intention of letting them live.”
“If they are still alive we may be able to extricate them from their captors.” Torquil said. “My brother and I can listen in on conversations until we hear news of their fate.”
“Please do it Torquil and we’ll try to come up with a plan to find out why Eva chose to take them in the only way that leaves no choice but to kill or turn them.” I said as I leaned in wrapping my arms over the table.
“I’ve met the boy Iago and he is a fine young man. I cannot stand the thought of killing him for our carelessness.” Orrin said.
“You what?” Michelle said looking incredulously at her mate. “I’ve known you to personally kill any, regardless of age, for seeing us in were-form.”
“I never took the chance to know them first.” He admitted. “The only reason I didn’t kill Martha was because you stopped me. After I got to know her, I liked her too much to kill.”
“How can we get to Eva? We need to discuss things with her.” I intended the question to bring it to the forefront of our matron’s minds but I also said it in case anyone else had ideas.
“I can help there too.” Torquil said. “I can get word to the jaguars that we need to speak with Eva and Philippe.”
“It will be more fruitful if I take her an invitation from you.” Emu said. “With me as emissary she is more likely to grant you an audience.”
Our matrons and their mates continued the conference with Emu and Torquil while the rest of us continued getting things ready to go. This is our last day here and we had tones of things to do before disembarking for Dominica. The good thing: we didn’t have much luggage, the bad: the Twilight Obsession was useless to us now since it still sat in dry dock and would not be ready for quite some time. Air travel was out of the question too as was passenger shipping lines because Angela and her operatives would watch any commercial rout from Cancun. Because of our telephone calls to the outside world, we couldn’t rule out the probability she had someone here already, but it couldn’t be helped. Getting out of Cancun without being noticed would be a royal pain in the ass without the Twilight Obsession, so I guessed we would have to rent or buy a boat large enough to transport us. I suppose could swim for it. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how I could quietly purchase a boat, or any other craft, large enough to transport eleven people across the Caribbean Sea? With Torquil and Tobin staying behind at Chichen Itza, our crew dropped by two.
Our matrons arraigned a meeting with Eva for that afternoon just after lunch so at one-thirty we made our way to the jaguar matron’s quarters where we found her and Philippe waiting for us. Only two jaguars stood guard inside the room and she excused them after formal greetings were exchanged. “Why have you requested an official meeting with us?” Eva asked as we sat down in the sitting room of her chambers.
Michelle answered her: “This meeting regards a local family, Francisco and Belicia Llamas.” Michelle paused to see what affect this statement had on Eva but either she was very good or she knew nothing about it. “Martha’s grandson Robby was at the Llamas’ house last night and the boys were off playing when they heard a woman scream. Iago is their son. He and Robby are safe in our care, but his parents have not been seen. Their home is tossed.”
“What do you mean by ‘their home is tossed’? I do not understand. I know what the word means, but I’m not familiar with the way you are using it.” Philippe asked.
“It means whoever did this, turned everything in the house upside down looking for something or someone.” I clarified. He nodded OK.
Mina leaned forward in her seat propping her elbows on her knees and clasped her hands together. “Our people arrived at their home looking for Robby shortly after it happened and jaguar scent permeated the place.”
“Do not presume to accuse me of this in my own home.” Eva’s temper looked as though it was about to boil over. “I know nothing of it.”
“We are not accusing you of anything but bringing it to your attention and asking for help. We need to find out what happened to them.” Mina said. “Understandably Iago is worried about his parents.”
Eva sat in thought and finally asked: “You say jaguars did this?”
“I was the one who entered the house Eva. The door stood ajar and their home was a total mess. The scent of jaguar was all over the place and on both levels. It was in every room. I would say there was five of them by the smell of it, all males.” I said studying Eva’s face.
“Would you be able to tell who they are if you smelled them again?” She asked.
“I believe so except we don’t have time for me to sniff all of your people.”
She sighed softly. “I see your point. I will see what I can find out between now and when you leave. What will become of the boy should we find his parents are dead?”
“We’ve already made the decision to take him with us and raise him as our own should that be the case, but if possible we’d like to rejoin him with his folks.” Orrin told her as he settled back into his settee.
“He is a citizen of Mexico Mr. Kuccv. This is not something where you can simply waltz in and take him to the United States with you. There are legalities to consider.” Philippe said.
“We are not simply waltzing in to carry him away. Under the circumstances he needs looking after by someone who will take care of him and be able to answer questions when they arise.” Michelle said. “You see, the boys saw the men who took Mr. and Mrs. Llamas away.” I looked at her as though she lost her mind.
“You mean the boys saw them as werejaguars.” Eva said and I hoped we were not going to have another altercation on our hands. Something shown in her eyes but I couldn’t read it.
“That is why we want to take him home and raise him as our own. When he comes of age we will transform him so he will be one of us for real. In accordance with your laws you cannot let him live if he stays here since he is too young to become a lycan.” Michelle said. “If his parents are still alive, they will go with us.”
“And if they refuse?” Eva asked.
“I don’t think they will once they know we’re taking their son. If they do, then we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” Orrin answered.
“I see,” she paused, “well, I will admit that I sent out word for Robby to be taken but I gave strict orders they were to leave the others alone. If they took Iago’s parents as you say then they are in serious trouble. If you promise to take the Llamas’ with you, then we will not pursue passing judgment upon them. The men I sent will be punished if they disobeyed orders and showed themselves to humans. “She said turning to Philippe. “Tell the guards to bring Roberto and the others here. Bring them now.” Philippe nodded and went to the door. “If you do not mind waiting we will get to the bottom of this.”
We didn’t have to wait long, maybe thirty minutes or so when the door opened and five men walked in. I recognized their scent immediately as the ones who ransacked the Llamas home. “Mi señora, you sent for us?” A tall young man asked.
“I did,” Eva looked the five over. “Last night when you went to find Martha’s grandson, did you take anyone other than Robby from Pisté?”
“The boy was not there.” The one I presumed to be Roberto said.
“I know he was not there. I mean did you take Iago’s parents from their home?” When Eva asked the questions the man’s pulse quickened a bit, but only slightly.
“No señora.” His pulse told me he lied.
“Do not lie to me Roberto.” She snapped. “What happened to Iago’s parents?”
He swallowed hard. “We neutralized them señora in accordance with the clan’s codex.” He hurried to defend himself. “They saw us in werejaguar form, so they had to be taken care of.”
“You mean you killed them.” He said nothing but the look in his eyes spoke for him. “You bastard!” She spat. “At the very least you should have brought them to me so I could hear their story after which they would have been given a choice. It was not up to you to take this into your own hands.”
“I’m sorry mi señora but I thought…”
“That has always been your problem Roberto, you thought. You were not instructed to think but to act. You were only supposed to do exactly as I said, nothing more. You always screw things up when you try and think.” She stormed past him taking a glass from a counter, filled it with two fingers of brandy, tumbled ice into it, and turned back to glare at the five men. “What of the rest of you? Why didn’t you stop him?” They looked at each other but stayed silent. “Answer me or you will all die.” Anger seethed under the surface and apparently the others knew Eva would do exactly as she said.
“Mi señora…” One spoke.
“Angelo…” Roberto warned out of the side of his mouth.
Eva stepped up to Roberto and slapped him so hard that blood well, oozing from the deep scratches her fingernails carved into his cheek. “I did not address you Roberto. You had your chance.” She looked at the other man. “Angelo?”
“Mi señora, Roberto told us you ordered him to take them the way we did. He said you did not want them to have any excuse to cling to when they came before the council.”
“Is that true Roberto?” The question was a formality because we all know Angelo told the truth just like we knew Roberto lied.
“I hated the way señora Tobler made you look.”
“Take him. Hold him secure until I call him before the council.” She said.
“Mi señora, please…” Roberto pleaded and worry creased his face.
Ignoring him she turned to the remaining four. “Where are Francisco and Belicia Llamas now?”
“Señora, they are dead.”
She sighed looking exasperated. “I know they are dead, where are their bodies?” She said slowly, dangerously.
“We put them in the caverns señora.” He said.
“What condition are they in?”
“They are intact.” He looked nervous. If Roberto’s fate is what I think it will be I can understand his concern.
“Bring them to me and we will figure out what to do then. Angelo, did any of you know Roberto acted without orders?”
“No señora, he assured us you commanded him to take them the way we did.” She nodded and the four men bowed before slipping out the door. I could have sworn they moved a little faster going out. Personally, if I did to Mina what they did here, I’d run like a mad dog to get as far away as possible and pray she didn’t send anyone after me.
“What will you do with the bodies?” I asked.
“I honestly do not know.” Eva looked tired. “I will deal with it though – I have no choice. What about Iago? Who is going to tell him?”
“We’ll take care of it but you must promise you will do nothing to interfere with our plans to take him to the United States.” Michelle said.
“We will not get in your way. In fact I may be able to help with that. It is the least I can do after what I tried to do to Ms. Tobler.”
“Thank you.” Michelle said. “Martha is doing well and she no longer poses a threat to you or your people. Robby will return with us and he will continue his life as usual but with one exception, now that he is fully aware of us we will take a more active role in his life. He’s known us for a long time, albeit not as shapeshifters until now.” Michelle said but didn’t go into further detail.
“She was never really a threat. I let my personal feelings interfere with clan business. I was wrong and I admit it. I’m just very glad Martha did not pay the ultimate price for my pride.” Clearly Eva regretted forcing us to turn Martha and Michelle nodded asking if she may have a shot of Eva’s brandy. “Of course, please forgive my lack of hospitality. Would anyone else like something to drink?” Most of us declined but Mina asked for a tumbler of brandy also.
We made pleasant conversation for a while longer before excusing ourselves to return to the Dwarven Hall. There was still a lot to do including finding transportation out of Mexico unimpeded. Before I stepped out the door Eva touched my arm catching my attention. “May I have a word with you?”
“Sure.” I said and held back letting the others leave.
“Galin, once again I find myself in your debt. If you had not stood up to me and insisted on bringing yours and the Kuccv clans into our council things would have ended much differently and I’m not sure we would have survived an all out war with either of your clans, much less their combined forces. I acted stupidly and I am sorry.”
“You acted like a jilted woman Eva, and I must apologize for being thick about it. I’m glad we resolved the issue, but next time – if there is a next time – let’s talk about it before we act on our emotions.”
She smiled. “Let us hope there is a next time. Not the jilted feelings part, but I do hope to see you again sometime. You saved us twice and I don’t know how to repay you.”
“I think I hear a ‘thank you’ in there somewhere.” I said smiling.
“You heard right.” She kissed my cheek. “Thank you Galin, for everything.”
“You are welcome my lady. Now if you will excuse me, I have transportation to arrange. We’ve got to find a surreptitious way to Dominica and it’s not going to be easy to organize.”
“Do not worry about your transport. I’ve already taken care of it.” I must have given her a puzzled look because she added: “Don’t worry about it. All will be made clear by this evening. I want it to be a surprise.” She winked conspiratorially. “If anyone asks tell them it’s all taken care of. Don’t tell them anything I just told you, OK?”
“As you wish my lady.” I said bowing over her hand kissing it lightly.
She pulled me into an embrace holding me tight for a moment. “Now go or the others will think I kidnapped or arrested you or something.” She laughed again as I backed away.
I looked at Philippe who stood only a few feet away. “I’m sorry for the trouble I caused you and Eva.” I said.
“It is all cleared up, so no
apologies are necessary. Besides, Eva and I are in an open relationship. Few
people know about it but either of us may sleep with whomever we choose
provided we tell the other.”
“You didn’t tell me this.” I said feeling a bit aggravated – after all, if I had known, all of this could have been avoided.
She shrugged. “I wanted to see if you would accept a pass from me thinking it would make Philippe want to kill you.” Shish, women! I thought. “You passed muster, but it still hurt when you refused my offer.”
“Then why did Philippe get so jealous over the offer to mate in the first place?” I asked.
“Because it was so public,” he answered. “I was not jealous over her wanting to mate with you but I do have issues with everyone knowing about it.” I guess I understand the way he felt – maybe.
I shook his hand and kissed Eva’s again. “Until later.” I said.
“Adios amigo.” She smiled as she said it. “Until this evening. About what time do you plan on leaving?”
“We want to leave around sunset so it will be good and dark when we depart from Cancun.”
“Good, I insist on escorting you to the city to see you off. I promise we’ll make it a small enough party to keep from attracting unwanted attention.” I guess she caught the part about discreetly departing from the coastal city.
I slipped through the door and within moments found my way to the river access tunnel where I dove in and let the currents carry me to the Dwarven Hall. Tobin waited on the landing to let me in. “Good god Tobin, don’t you have a dryer passage between these halls? It’s annoying having to change clothes every time I come here.”
He looked sheepish. “Well, of course we do…”
“But?” I asked.
“It’s really embarrassing.”
“We forgot how to open it.”
“You forgot how to open it? But you created it.” I fell over laughing.
“Dwarven magic is a tricky thing Galin. If you don’t know the right incantation you will never open one of our doors. Unfortunately even we are not exempt from that one simple rule. Torquil and I have forgotten the right words to open the main entrance to our hall from the Jaguar Compound.” He shrugged apologetically. “We started working on it when we got here but still cannot crack the code.”
“I swear, why not just use keys? Have you thought to ask Emu? Apparently she got in someplace and remained dry.”
“Hmmm, I have not thought about that, good point. But to answer your fist question, if we used keys the jaguars would have taken over our hall a long time ago. It is how we protect what is ours. Besides, you would not have such a soggy personality if we opened the front door.” He grinned mischievously. “I thought cat’s hated water?”
“Domesticated cats hate water. Wildcats will get wet when it suits our purpose.” I bent down slowly until my face was only inches from his and let my features transform into my tiger watching him swallow audibly as my fangs reached their full length. “Like when we chase our prey into a lake, or river.”
“Th-th-the, o-o-th-others are wa-a-ting for us.” He stammered.
I smiled and slipped back into myself as I stood up. “Yea pity, the others are waiting – lucky you. Think they’d like otter on a stick?”
“Oh funny, very funny.” I chuckled as he opened the door leading me into the hall.
“Have they told Iago about his parents yet?”
“How did it go?”
“How would you feel at twelve if someone told you your parents were murdered?”
“That good eh?”
“If it went any better we’d have to hold him down, sedate him, and count our blessings.”
“Where is he now?”
“In his room crying the last I saw.”
“Is Robby with him?”
“He will see no one.”
“Maybe I should talk with him.” I suggested.
“About what, what it’s like to have a predator kill your parents?”
“Well, it’s something we have in common.”
“I thought your parents died of old age.” He said looking at me.
“They did, but Rakish killed my brothers and my best friend on the same day he made me a lycan.”
“Oh, sorry, I forgot. Maybe you can talk with him.”
I found Iago in his room just as Tobin said but he wasn’t crying. Instead he sat on his bed looking down at a photo he held in his hands. “What you got there Iago?”
I sat beside him and looked at the photo. “Is that your parents?”
“Nice looking folks.” I said.
“I do not want to talk.” He said.
“Well, if it helps I know how you feel because I lost someone very special to me a long time ago. You met Rakish?”
“He killed my two brothers and my best friend.”
“Mostly over a misunderstanding on all of our parts, but I refused to forgive him for more than a hundred years.”
“No señor, you not that old.”
“You’ve seen a lot Iago, a lot of things that is not easy to believe or explain in such a short time so I don’t expect you to understand much of it. However over time you are going to see a lot more things you are not going to understand or want to believe. Anyway, I am exactly one hundred and fifteen years old. I am a lycanthrope.”
“What is lycan…” He stumbled over the word. “Ly…lyc”
“Lycanthrope, it means half man half beast, a shapeshifter. In my case I am half man and half tiger. I am what we call a weretiger. Do you know what a werewolf is? The French call them Rougarou.” I didn’t know the Spanish name.
Fear filled his eyes. “Please señor. I… please.” He said scooting away from me.
“Iago, I’m not going to hurt you in any way. This I promise you.” I reached for him but he screamed for me to get away from him.
“You kill mamá y papá.” He cried out.
“No, Iago no, I did not kill your mother and father. I killed the men who killed them.”
Fear etched his face as he huddled in the corner of the room. “How do I know this?”
“That I killed the men who took your family away?” I finished for him. He nodded his head. “Because I recognized their scent and I killed them.” I didn’t need to explain that I did this by telling Eva about it. “Iago, you need to know that the people here with you are not like the people who killed your parents. We are here to help and protect you. We will not harm you. Do you understand what I’m saying?” He nodded his head. “We are here to protect you.” I repeated. “Please try and trust us.”
He didn’t say anything for a long time but stayed in the corner of the room watching me like a hawk. A couple of hours passed at the very least before he spoke so I filled the silence by pulling a pocket knife from my pocket along with a piece of wood I’d been carrying around with me for quite some time and began witling. “What are you making?” He asked edging a little closer to see better.
“I don’t know really, just witling.”
“What happened to them?”
“What happened to whom?”
“Your brothers and amigo.”
“We were hunting tigers in India and a tiger attacked us, or at least we thought it was a tiger at the time. It killed every member in our party until it came to me.”
“Why did it not kill you?” He edged a little closer.
“Because one of our elephant chased it away, but not before it bit me. That bite is the only real reason I survived. The tiger was Rakish in his tiger form. He would have come back and finished me off but the other members of his clan found me first and nurtured me back to health. When I came too I was a weretiger, my eyes were different, and my hair was different.”
“How?” He asked edging closer looking at the wood I carved on.
“It’s part of being a weretiger, my eyes and hair changed to reflect the beast within me. Before the change my eyes were a very light blue like the sky at noon and my hair was blond.”
“Your hair does not look like a tiger.”
“That’s because the tiger that bit me, Rakish, is what’s known as a black tiger. We have stripes but they are very dark, so much so that it is difficult to see them in the light down here.”
“Why did those men who took mamma and papa not kill me too?” He edged a little closer still studying what I worked on.
“Because you were not at home when they struck and we found you before they could return to finish you off.” He seemed to understand what I said, or at least I hoped he did because he would soon be leaving to live with a whole clan of werepanthers. It is very important that he realize they will not harm him. “Iago, most of us are not like what the stories tell about us.” I looked at him forgetting my carving. “Most of us will not hunt humans. We try to live our lives in secret, away from the eyes of mainstream human society. Most of us are rather gentle in spite of what we are.”
He sat for a while looking at his feet but occasionally glanced up to look at me and at the forgotten piece of wood in my hands. “What will happen to me?” He asked in a small voice edging up next to me. He slowly reached for the figurine in my hand and I handed it to him. I’d carved a tiger, crouching on the hunt. “Wow.” He said looking at the piece of wood.
“You will go home with one of our clans to live. Most likely it will be the Kuccv Clan, at least that way you will be close to Robby and have someone your own age to talk about all of this with. In truth, I think the matrons plan on letting you decide which clan you live with. The most important thing to remember is to say nothing to anyone outside of the clans. Our existence must be kept a secret at all cost. Do you understand this?”
“Sí señor.” He said handing the wooden tiger back to me.
“You can keep it. I carved it for you so you’d remember me.” I said and got up to leave because I still had things to do before we left and it was drawing nearer to sunset.
“Yes,” I said. He ran over and wrapped his arms around me. I picked him up and held him tight.
“Gracias.” He said.
I smiled, “binate. What are you thinking me for?”
“You save me, I go with you.” I smiled and hugged him tighter before trying to let him down. Even with my strength it was difficult to hold a boy nearly my own size. He wasn’t heavy, just awkward. “No, please I go with you.”
“OK, OK, you go with me.” I laughed. “Come on. Let’s see what everyone else is up to.”
“Gracias for the tiger.”
* * *
Iago clung to me the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. I took him to the top of Kukulcan’s Temple, the tall central pyramid, to watch the sunset. “Now hold on tight Iago, I’ll be climbing much faster than you’d expect.” I told him as he clambered onto my back. “Can I show you a trick I’m able to do? I need to shift my hands so I can climb better.” I didn’t want to freak the boy out after his recent ordeal. After all, he just got to where he trusted me.
“Sí.” He wrapped his legs around my waist and arms around my neck.
“I’m going to shift my hands to allow them to cling to the rock better. You can watch if you like, but if you’d rather not then close your eyes.”
He watched as I shifted my fingers into long, sharp, talon like claws. “Pretty neat eh?”
“Sí senor,” he said with awed fascination. Why he didn’t seem frightened of me now I didn’t know, but I thanked the gods for it. I did notice he held the wooden tiger in his fist. Most boys would have pocketed it by now.
“Now hold on, here we go.” I stepped to the sheer rock face of the temple house on top of the pyramid and within seconds we were on top as I strode across the flat surface easing a slightly shaken Iago off my back. “That didn’t take long, did it?” I made small talk trying to distract him.
“How you do that?”
“It’s all part of being a shapeshifter. I’m a lot faster than humans, stronger too, I can scale trees and building like this with ease, and I can see and hear things normal humans can’t.”
“WOW.” I wasn’t sure if he wowed because of what I just said or because of the view from up here, which is spectacular. It was my first time up here and I wondered if he and his friends have ever come here before. He looked around his homeland in awe so I figured he hadn’t and I almost laughed when I saw his eyes grow as large as saucers. “Oh! La vista esta bien hermosa.” I didn’t know exactly what he said but I had a pretty good idea. It is beautiful. We sat hanging our legs over the edge and watched the sun sink below the horizon. As the golden orb slipped out of sight the feathery clouds fingering across the sky bled a deep red. He grew silent as the sky darkened and night sounds echoed up to us. “Who will take care of me?” He asked.
“Most likely you will live with the Kuccv’s as I told you earlier. There are a lot of them and they will all take care of you. You will never have to worry about anything.” He didn’t say anything for a bit as he sat in thought. “Do you have grandparents or aunts and uncles?” I asked.
“My momma’s sister lives that way in Peto.” He pointed southwest.
“Would you like to come back and visit her sometime?” I asked. He shrugged but didn’t say anything. “You will probably have to stay around your new home for a while, but eventually you can come back to visit or even to live one of these days if you like.” He shrugged again.
“Do you live with Orrin and Michelle?” He asked stumbling over the names.
“No, I live with the Mina and Rōk in Colorado.”
“Can I live with you?”
Oh fucking great! How do I get out of this? I thought. “Our matron’s may give you a choice, but more than likely you’ll have to live where they decide. It really is up to them.” I said thinking for a while. He didn’t say anything. “I can come visit you, if you like. Would you like for me to visit?” He vigorously nodded his head acting more like a six year old instead of twelve, but a lot’s happened to him and he’s gained plenty to digest in an extremely short time so I decided this may be a normal reaction. “Right now I have to go on a trip but I’ll be able to visit when I come back.”
“Can I go with you?”
“I’m afraid not. Where I’m going is dangerous Iago. Things will not be safe for you there.”
“I miss momma and papa.” He said quietly. “Momma like it here. She think it pretty.”
I wrapped an arm around him and held him tight. “For what it’s worth Iago, I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry you lost your parents. I’d give them back if I could.” I looked over and saw a tear slowly making its way down his cheek and I used my thumb to wipe it away. “But you know what? They will always live inside here.” I tapped his chest over his heart. “And they are up there someplace watching over you. You will never be alone so long as you remember them.” He leaned into me wrapping his arms around me and let me hold him for a while until at some point he smacked his leg with the flat of his hand. Only then did I realize mosquitoes buzzed us looking for a nice juicy meal. Because of my body temperature I don’t worry about the pesky bugs, they don’t like me, but I’d forgotten how humans are plagued by them. “You ready to go down?” He nodded and so by the light of a few stars peeking out from the darkening blue of the sky hanging over the dimming pastel reds, pinks, and yellows painting the western sky, I carried him in my arms and dropped down off the temple top landing on my feet only inches from the ledge of one of the giant steps. We climbed down to the ground far below and even as young and in shape as Iago is, the boy was out of breath by the time we reached the bottom.
Eva and Philippe waited for us as we made our way down and I guessed I was in trouble again. “Galin you have a very good knack for going places you’re not supposed to.” She smiled so I wasn’t too worried about breaking the rules this time. “This must be Iago.” She said looking the boy over. They spoke in Spanish and I lost track of the conversation after about the second word but Iago seemed to like what they talked about. “I’ve taken the liberty to speak with several of my contacts in Mexico City and they’ve agreed to help whichever clan chooses to take him to the United States gain custody. It is not an easy process since the Mexican Government prefers to find Latino homes for orphaned youths, but I explained the situation and they said they’d make it happen.”
“Thank you Eva.” I said. “Is everyone ready to go?”
She nodded, “Yes, and now that it’s dark we need to get on the way. It takes about two hours to drive to Cancun and I have several vehicles ready to transport us. All in all there are about twenty going.”
“Twenty, gee Eva why so many?”
“It’s necessary to make sure you have protection until you’re safely away.”
I nodded. “OK, we’re ready whenever everyone else is.”
“Is Iago going to see you off?”
“Yes, but we have to make sure he’s safe. I don’t want anything happening to him.”
“We won’t let anything happen – promise.” She smiled. “I’ve already given my word none of my people will harm him and I swear to you this evening that I’ll do everything in my power to keep him safe until he leaves for the United States and is no longer under my protection.”
“Thank you.” I said as we followed them to the waiting carpool. To my surprise there were three black Lincoln Navigators waiting for us when we arrived. Iago and Robby accompanied Martha, Emu, Mina, Rōk, and me in the first car. Emu and Mina continued a discussion they started before the trip began and because of this Orrin and Michelle decided to ride with Eva and Philippe. The boys argued about who would sit with me so I settled it by sitting in the back seat with them both. Rōk rode shotgun while the women rode in the middle. Iago refused to be separated from me and I worried about what we were going to do when it came time for me to leave. But I figured we’d cross that bridge when we got to it. I wasn’t sure exactly who rode were in the other cars.
Mina and Emu talked quietly just in front of me and I overheard most of their conversation but it was hard to do at times because the boys kept fighting with me stuck in between them. “After you became a weremau, did you meet any other wereanimals?” Mina asked.
“Oh yes, I never knew any of them existed until after the curse, but I met a pride of werelions and a pack of werehyenas. The lions lived in Thebes and the hyenas in Memphis. Since I was neither lion nor hyena, I was not accepted by either clan, but neither did they shun me so I guess that much is enough to be thankful about considering what the goddess Sekhmet intended for me.”
“Hay, give me that!” Robby called out as Iago snatched his PSP.
“I want to play.”
“But it’s mine.”
“Hay calm down, both of you.” I held Robby back and whispered in his ear. “Robby have a heart, he just lost his parents.” I didn’t demand he let Iago play with his Play Station Portable but the guilt trip my words laid on him did the trick. He sat back and pouted while Iago played the game.
“Were any of the Pharos or any of the ruling class shapeshifters?” Rōk asked.
“I know of one Pharaoh that was a lycan, Smenkhkare, the brother of Tutankhamun and son of Akhenaten, all Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty. A werelion attacked him during the first year of his reign. Smenkhkare’s reign was very short but he is still alive today. The mummy archeologist think is him is actually another brother Akhenkare.”
“Hay!” Iago cried out because Robby snatched his PSP back and a tussle ensued over my lap. I swear the boys acted half their age so I leaned back and let them have at it until Mina told them to hush, at which time I pulled them apart.
Because of the tussling I didn’t notice we were in Cancun until we arrived at the docks which are on the outskirts of town between the city and its airport. We all exited the cars grouping together in a huddle until Philippe announced we needed to board the aqua taxi to cross over to Isla Mujeres, the barrier reef island that forms Cancun Bay. “A friend of mine has a large boat docked on the island. It’s a small harbor and easy to hide things there.” Eva said. I guessed the transportation she’d arranged for us was her friend’s boat.
We boarded the aqua taxi and I sat near the back so I could keep an eye on Iago and Robby. I’ve never understood the fascination boys have with propeller churned water but they nearly always hang over the stern of a boat to watch the water boil. I glanced out over the bay watching moonlight reflect off the surface. The moon was not full but close to it making the water glistened with silver light resembling sparkling diamonds spread on black velvet. Once underway the boys’ attention was captivated by the churning water behind us because bio-phosphorescence twinkled like blue-green stars in the dark water leaving a trail of soft light for nearly a quarter of a mile in the boats wake.
Once on the island we walked down the main drag, Reude Medina, until we came to an open taco stand named Tacos Momos. The restaurant was nothing more than a small shack on the corner between two roads and there was no place to sit, just a counter shelf about chest high where you ordered and then either ate it standing there or carried it with you. Eva ordered us a soft shell taco treating us to one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten made from shredded beef, vegetables, and cheese wrapped in a thick flour tortilla wrap. It was huge and took both hands to hold. We ate while walking down the island until we came to a small path leading from the road, which emerged through a shrine of brush into the courtyard of a small marina where lights strung on a naked wire, lined the path. “Do not touch wire.” Iago nearly yelled when he saw Robby reaching for one of the bulbs.
“It shock you, kill you.” Iago tried to explain. Robby laughed but I pulled his arm away from the wire.
“He’s not lying to you Robby. That wire is charged with two hundred twenty volts and it will kill you if you touch it.” I said
“Sorry.” Robby sulked and looked relieved all at once. I wondered from which parent he got his moodiness. About that time we turned a bend in the path and Shea squealed so loud I thought we were under attack. She jumped up and down before flying off toward the docks so fast I had trouble watching her. Since we left the Twilight Obsession in dry dock Shea decided she’d stay with the boat until it was fixed and her clan could arrange a crew to fly down and sail her home. Much to our surprise Eva had taken care of it. “Thanks to Galin, Loretta was so busy she didn’t have full control over me like she normally would. I snuck off and paid for the repairs to your boat and brought her here to berth until you were ready for her. Sense no werecats live on Isla Mujeres, Loretta didn’t pay as much attention to the island so I decided it was the safest place to hide her.”
“Oh my god, thank you.” Shea said as we approached the boat. She jumped to the docks and gave Eva a hug which surprised them both. The craft meant the world to Shea and seeing her restored to good working order and ready to set sail brought tears to the panther’s eyes. In a single bound she landed back on the bow looking for the entire world like a weathered pirate captain who’d just spied the most beautiful jewel in the sea.
“After what we put you through we owe you a lot more.” Eva said as we reached the boat’s dockside.
“It was not you who put them through anything Eva, but Loretta. Place the blame where it belongs.” Isaac said. Eva smiled noncommittally but nodded her head.
Half of us got on the boat and the rest were handing supplies over when a jaguar approached rather timidly. Eva looked at her expectantly clearly wondering why she came. “Señora Eva, I’d like to go with them if I may.”
“Marqita, are you sure?” Her matron asked. The young woman nodded her head and Eva looked at Isaac and me. “May she join you?”
“I don’t see any reason why she shouldn’t, but it’s really up to Shea. She’s our captain and expedition leader until after we leave Dominica.” I said turning to the boat. “Shea, can you come here a moment?” I called.
After a short wait the panther leapt off the boat and strode up to our little group of people. “What’s up?” She acted like she had a new lease on life and I was glad to see it after the depression she suffered once released from Loretta’s control.
I nudged my chin towards Eva. “Marqita would like to join your crew.” She said. “She is Estefan’s mate.”
A look of suspicion filled the werepanther’s eyes and I can’t say I blame her. I wasn’t certain I wanted any more of them along either. “I don’t know…”
“Please,” Marqita fidgeted excitedly, “Estefan has told me so much of what you are doing and I want to help. Also,” she looked at her mate and smiled, “I cannot stand the thought of leaving mi compañero for such a long time not knowing if he will return.”
Shea looked at me for help. “Don’t look at me, you and Isaac have more control over who comes along or doesn’t so ask him.” She directed her attention to the elf standing beside me.
“I can think of worse people to come aboard and we are two crewmembers short. We may need them now that Tobin and Torquil are staying behind.”
Shea thought for a moment and then smiled. “Sure why not. Welcome aboard.” She added to the newest member of the crew who beamed at her.
“Gracias mi señora.” She slipped into Estefan’s arms and they walked to the boat.
A few moments later Martha and Emu approached us. “Galin, if it is alright with Shea and our matrons, I’d like to join your crew also.”
“Don’t you have to stay with Emu during your introduction period to your new life?” I asked and she nodded. “Then, I guess Emu also wants to accompany us?” She nodded again. “Wow, fifteen people onboard the Twilight Obsession, that’s going to be crowded but we can ask and see.
Since Shea stood there with us when Martha asked, we didn’t have to repeat anything. “Martha, I don’t know. Galin’s right, the Twilight’s passenger capacity is ten and we already have thirteen. If she can stay afloat with fifteen I have no problem with it if no one else does.”
We called Eva, Mina and Michelle over from a discussion of their own. They’d drifted off a few feet for a bit of privacy. “Martha and Emu want to go too. Do you have a problem loosing someone this important to our voyage?” I asked.
“Emu was going to the United States with Martha anyway, so if they would rather accompany you on your journey then they have my blessings.”
“Gracias mi señora.” Emu said bowing to her matron. Eva smiled at her but I thought I caught a hint of relief on her face and couldn’t help but wonder why. I’d have to ask Emu about it later.
“I’m not sure I like this Martha.” Michelle said. “We just got you out of trouble and now you’re asking to jump right back in. Also there is Robby to think about and your son.”
“Robby is twelve Michelle and my son is more than capable of taking care of himself and Robby. I really would like to go on this journey. The adventure sounds irresistible.” Martha argued her position. It wasn’t like she was a child asking permission of a parent or guardian but in our society the matrons have final say on anything that affects the clan and since Martha was a part of their clan she had to have Michelle’s permission. From what I heard Orrin say to her when they arrived, I had a feeling this was not the first time they had to rescue Martha from trouble.
“May I speak with you in private?” Michelle didn’t sound happy and she didn’t wait for Martha to comply but strode off a few dozen feet. I saw the look in Martha’s eyes before she followed. She’d already resigned herself to staying behind. Clearly Michelle is more of a force to be reckoned with than I thought. After a moment or two they came back and rejoined us. “Isaac, didn’t you say ya’ll are going to Dominica from here?” Michelle asked.
“Yes, that is where we are headed. It should take about a week to get there.”
“May Martha and Emu join you in Dominica? I mean, may they fly down there and join your expedition on the island?”
“Of course but you will need to make arraignments for the flight right away unless you have a smaller plane that can bring them. Dominica’s air field is far too small for your jet.”
“That’s not a problem,” Martha cut in. “I have my own Piper Seneca twin engine, Emu and I can fly down in a week if one of you will meet us at the airport.” Martha said looking at me. Could it be that I’m in trouble of a different kind? I thought because I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind that she wanted to go because of me. What if she decides a bisexual man is not for her? What if I decide a straight monogamist relationship is not for me? Questions, far too many of them revolved around the fledgling relationship budding between us. I nodded and smiled hesitantly but she didn’t seem to notice.
When it came time to leave the moment I feared most presented itself. “I go too.” Iago blurted out. He didn’t cling to me like he had earlier but he appeared on the verge of pouting or getting angry. He toyed with the wooden tiger in his hands.
“Iago, come here.” I held my arm out to him and he came over. Placing my hands upon his shoulders I looked into his eyes. “Please listen to me. I would love for you to go, but you are twelve…”
“I’m almost thirteen.” He added hopefully. “My birthday is next month.”
“Iago, if I could give you lycanthropy I’d let you go, but I cannot unless you want to stay twelve on the verge of thirteen forever. This trip is too dangerous for a human child, even for one as old as you.”
“I still want to go.” Tears welled in his eyes but I understood they were from frustration.
“Tell me something: what would have happened to you had you been home with your parents when the jaguars came looking for Robby?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you do.”
“They would have taken me.”
“Exactly and most likely you would have been killed along with them. The three of you were not critical to the jaguar’s plan and therefore you were expendable to Roberto and his henchmen.” Eva told me that of the five only Angelo survived and it would be a very long time before he would be able to do much of anything even with our ability to heal. “I don’t know what waits for us in Dominica, but I do know Angela well enough to know how dangerous she is. I do not wish to put you in a situation where she could use you against me or anyone else in our group. Or run the risk of her killing you. She kidnapped a werewolf’s sons in order to force him into her service and when they were no longer needed she killed them just because she could. If she’s not in Cancun now, she will be soon and then she’ll find her way to Dominica.”
“Please Galin, I want to go.” He pleaded but I shook my head no. “Will you call?” He asked. I thanked the gods he didn’t fight harder to go because I wasn’t sure how resolved I was about keeping him from accompanying us.
“I promise I’ll call as often as I can. I also promise I’ll come to visit as soon as this little adventure is over.”
“I want you to call every day.”
“I cannot promise that, but I will call as often as I can.” He nodded. “Michelle is a very good matron. I think you will like her.”
“I am not going with Michelle. They decided it would be better for Mina to take me.” This surprised me a great deal. Mina hadn’t mentioned it at all and I really didn’t think it would be an option. She is usually a lot more reluctant to take on something like this. At least the Kuccv’s have dealt with humans as members of their clan before. My clan has not.
“When did they decide this, and why?” I looked at Mina who shrugged happily.
“I do not know but I am happy about it. I like Mina and Rōk.”
I nodded letting my eyes smile at him as I gave him a hug. “You’ll be alright Iago. I’m glad to have you as my clan brother. Mina may I have a word please?” I asked and she gave me a knowing look.
“Sure.” When we were far away enough to keep Iago from overhearing she preempted my question. “You want to know why we chose to bring him to Colorado with us.” I nodded. “Because of the way he’s taken up with you. You mean a lot to him and he needs that right now. At least with him being a part of our clan, he’ll have a tie with you that he needs but would not have with the Kuccv Clan.”
“What about Robby, wouldn’t he like to be where they could remain friends?”
“They are only acquaintances Galin. They really don’t know each other that well and from what I’ve seen, they don’t especially get along either. He’s bonded with you for some reason. I’m not sure why unless it’s your shared experience. Tobin said you talked with him because Rakish killed your brothers offering you a way into his thoughts. Also I guess that maybe he sees you as a provider of protection. Combine those two ingredients and you have a very powerful recipe for bonding. In a way you’re a surrogate father figure for him.” She smiled. “How does it feel to be a daddy?” I gave her a frown and she laughed. “Come now, you may not be his real father, but he needs you right now. It’s really tearing him up to let go of you. If there was any way I could let him board that boat right now at this moment and keep a clear conscious, I’d insist you take him.”
“It’s too dangerous for a human Mina, and especially one as young as Iago.”
“I don’t know. I am keeping him with me but because he needs time to grieve and at this point I think the distraction of this trip would hinder rather than help that process. If the quest smoothes out and calms down a bit after you get to Dominica, I may send him to you. However until he gets used to his parents deaths and learns to deal with it, he will not be fit to go on such an adventure.”
“He’s too young to go on this expedition Mina.” I insisted.
“No he’s not Galin. You just don’t want to have to deal with the fact that he’s chosen you as a replacement for his parents.” She hugged me. “It will be alright son. He needs you and regardless of what you believe, you need him too. You will do the right thing by him, I know you will. Besides, by going with us first, he will have time to come to terms with the fact that he has to be a weretiger, or were-something, in order to live. Isaac has promised to let me know the moment he feels it is right to send him to you.”
“Why Isaac and not me?” I asked feeling a little offended she didn’t ask me first.
“Since you are not thinking clearly about it, you will refuse him regardless of how safe your journey becomes. Isaac has a better grasp of the situation than you do right now.” I was still aggravated but I knew better than to argue and who knows, she may be right.
To my surprise Angela did not show, nor were we accosted by operatives under her control. I had to wonder what was up with that but decided to count it as a good omen. Once everyone and everything was loaded we set sail out into Cancun Bay without too much of a glitch. Everybody not going watched from the dock as we slipped silently through the water. Just before we passed out of sight in the moonlight Iago screamed and took off at a dead run down the docks. “Galin, Galin, wait. I go with you.” He dove into the dark water swimming with all his might to catch the boat. I was about to dive in to rescue him when Rōk beat me too it. My Clan Father overtaking my new ‘son’ and wrestling him back to the dock and the last thing I saw before they were lost to the night in the distance was Mina and Rōk comforting him.
I fished my cell phone out of my pocket and dialed Mina’s number. She answered on the first ring. “He’s alright.” She said.
“He is?” I asked.
“May I speak with him?” She handed her phone to the boy and I heard soft sobs over the receiver. “Iago?” I asked. He grunted a sound to let me know he listened, but I had a feeling his tears choked his words off. “Are you alright?”
“I’ll only be a phone call away. Mina has Isaac’s number if you cannot reach my cell.”
“I want to go with you.”
“I know and I want you to, but please believe me, we need to see how dangerous it is before you come.” I took a deep breath. “If things are calm after we get there, I promise I’ll send for you.”
“Really, you promise?”
“Yes, I promise.”
“It’ll be alright Iago. Really it will. Are you alright?”
“Good, I’ll talk with you soon and hopefully you can join us before long. Promise me you’ll do what Mina and Rōk ask of you, OK?”
“That’s good, really good. May I speak with Mina again?”
He must have handed the phone back to her because the next voice I heard was my clan mother’s. “You there?”
“Yes, Mina, how long do you think it will be before you think he will be OK to join us?” I asked.
“Changing your mind already?” She asked with just a little amusement tinting her voice.
“Your argument makes sense.”
“Eva said it would take a week or two for her contacts to arrange the adoption. If I think he’s OK by then, I can bring him down there personally. But he cannot leave right now, not until the legalities have been taken care of.”
“I know it Mina. God I hate seeing him like this. I feel badly enough for what happened to his parents and then to see his reaction to me going away…”
“He’ll be alright Galin. We’ll take good care of him so don’t go worrying about him and lose focus of what’s important.”
“I know you and Rōk will take care of him, but…” I didn’t finish what I was about to say because it sounded too hokey after such a short time knowing the kid. “Call me if anything happens.” I said. “I should have a signal for about thirty minutes to an hour before we get out of range and you can call Isaac’s satellite phone after that.”
“I will son. Don’t worry about him. He’ll be alright.”
“OK. Oh Mina, do me a favor please: use your power of attorney I gave you to see what you can do about getting an iPhone for Pumar and Greg. You can bring the phones with you when you bring Iago. You may as well get one for him too. If he’s coming down here with us, I’ll want him to have one just in case. Make sure they have international calling on them.”
“I’ll take care of it son. You keep safe and I’ll see you as soon as things get straightened out here.”
“Love you Mina.”
“I do you too.” The line went dead.
“Ah cool, our very own phones… I feel the love.” Pumar jibed.
“Yea, just think about it bro: We can call Galin and bug the shit out of him all the time now.”
“Shut up you guys.” I said but smiled at my lunar-sons. “How do you feel about a new brother, human brother?”
“Hmmm, tasty.” Greg teased.
“Yea, they’re so delicious at that age.” Pumar laughed. “So tinder and juicy.”
I punched their arms. “Oh, you guys are really killing me. Greg, are you sure you want Scruffs as a name? You know people are going to tease you over it the rest of your existence and forever is a VERY long time.” I said to change the subject.
“I don’t know, I was think about that. “What do you think of Shamus?”
“Shamus? You’re not Irish are you?”
“On my mom’s side, yes. I had an Uncle Shamus, he’s mom’s brother but died about five years ago from cancer.
“How about Devin?” Pumar asked.
“Why Devin?” I looked at my first lunar-son.
“I don’t know, I just like it.”
“How about Austin?” Shea asked. I’ve always like that for a boy’s name.
“Austin’s cool, but I still don’t know. I’d like more time to think about it.”
“OK, we’ll discuss it more when you’re ready.” The three of us sat down on the bow hanging our legs over the side letting the ocean spray wash over us. It felt good to be out at sea again. During the time we spent sailing to Cancun, I’d become accustomed to having the deck heave under my feet and I enjoyed it.
We set our course slightly askew from Dominica because we had one more crew member to retrieve – Jacob. I tried convincing Isaac we’d be better off leaving him wherever he stowed the brute. “If it is good enough of a place for you to be comfortable leaving him for nearly two weeks, then why not for the rest of the pain-in-the-ass’s life?”
“I will have to admit that I would love to leave him but we cannot because we need him. This quest is useless without his cooperation.”
I gave him a sour look. “And what makes you think he’ll cooperate?”
“I don’t know if he will or not, but he has so far even if reluctantly.” The elf admitted.
“Maybe I ought to finish the job for Angela and turn the bastard myself.”
“Don’t even tease about that Galin. You cannot begin to understand the catastrophe that would cause.”
“Hay, it’s a thought.” I turned my attention back to the city disappearing behind us. The lights were beautiful but I couldn’t shake what Mina said about Iago and the more I thought about it the more I accepted her insights. I liked the boy – he’d grown on me in the short time we spent together and I missed him already. Would this quest that I found myself wrapped up in ever be safe, safe enough for a twelve – almost thirteen – year old boy? Was Mina right? Was Iago old enough to go with us on this journey? I still didn’t think so, but I trusted my matron’s judgment. If she thought he is old enough, then most likely he is. At any rate, I had to come to terms with the idea of being a father, surrogate or otherwise, to one so young. I sighed and looked at the stars twinkling overhead. One good thing about our departure, we have excellent weather for starting this new leg of the journey: clear skies, a manageable sea, and a good stiff crosswind. Who could ask for more? Well, that would be me, because I miss Iago.
* * *
This concludes Chapter Eighteen. Please feel free to write to me to share what you think about this story so far. I'm not sure how long I'll make it, but I will continue as people express interest in the story. Again constructive criticism, comments, complements, or even courteous complaints are welcome, but if you just want to flame the story, then I respectfully ask you to keep your opinions to yourself. I may be reached at: email@example.com.