Flight from mayhem fly b.., p.27
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       Flight from Mayhem (Fly by Night #2), p.27

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “I know just the men you need.” Chase headed for the door. “I’ll be back with the cavalry shortly before sunset. We’ll be ready to roll. We cannot allow this creature to get away or it’s just going to move on to new fields. Damn it, we just don’t have enough of a national communications network when it comes to things like this. When we’re dealing with human victims, the FBI can reach out on a nationwide level to spread information throughout law enforcement agencies. And this is why I’m headed to Washington, D.C. Everything has to change, given there are so many Supes and Fae in the world today.”

  As he closed the door behind him, I turned back to the others. “Get everything ready, Ralph. Chai, I really should go home and make certain Glenda hasn’t struck again. It just sucks that I have to walk there because it will take me too long to find a ride.” I gave him a soft smile.

  “I can take you—” Ralph started to say, but Chai interrupted.

  “I get your meaning,” he said. “I’ll go home and make sure everything’s all right. I’ll be back before you can blink.” And with that, he was gone.

  I looked up at the clock. One more hour until Alex woke up. Realizing that I was hungry—my stomach was rumbling—I put in a call to the closest pizza place and ordered four pizzas. Between Ralph, Chai, Tonya, and me, we would finish them off in no time flat.

  * * *

  As hard as it was to sit and do nothing, we forced ourselves to rest and eat. I waited until the last minute to wake up Tonya. Ralph handed her a Flying Horse, and she was groggily starting in on the pizza when Alex walked through the door. He took one look at us and dropped his backpack into a chair.

  “What’s going on?” He looked wary.

  I glanced at Ralph. This was going to be one of the toughest things I’d ever had to tell Alex—probably one of the toughest things he had ever had to hear.

  “We have a situation. Sit down and we’ll tell you everything.”

  Without a word, he slid into a chair. “Talk.”

  “First, we have figured out we’re not dealing with a doppelgänger. Not exactly. As far as we can tell, we are dealing with a creature called a diatrofymata. It’s similar, but it’s a creature from the Elemental plane of Earth. It not only mimics its victims, but it can mimic others it has simply met. And it can manifest some of their abilities, although not perfectly. Gerta, the Golden Frog? That was the creature. We think that it has actually captured the real Gerta and is hiding her in its lair to force gold coins from her eyes. And now, it’s also captured Bette.”

  Alex let out a string of curses and jumped to his feet. “Do you know where the hell this creature is?”

  “We have a good idea. We were just waiting for you to get here. We’ve narrowed it down to an area on Stone Weaver’s property. Chase will be here shortly with reinforcements. This creature is strong, Alex. Strong in a sense that I don’t think we have the upper hand. It’s from the plane of Earth, and it’s going to have the strength of the earth behind it.”

  Ralph cleared his throat. “I stopped at Bette’s houseboat to drop off something and found it had been trashed. We found enough circumstantial evidence to tell us that the creature has captured her.”

  As we filled him in on the day, and Tonya showed him the passage in her bestiary, the look on Alex’s face grew more and more troubled. I had expected him to be angry, and I knew he was, but instead of lashing out and running amok, he seemed to withdraw. And when Ralph told him about what he had seen with Bette and the figure bathed in light, he seemed even more thoughtful.

  “If there’s any reason you can think of why it would be holding Bette hostage other than money, it would be good if you would tell us now. We know she has cash, but there’s something else about her. Am I right?”

  Alex stared at the table for a moment. “There’s a great deal I know about Bette that she doesn’t even know.” He glanced at me. “I seem to be the caretaker type. Not only am I your parole officer, but I was assigned to watch over Bette. You ask if there’s any reason why this creature might want her besides money? I can’t tell you why, because if I do it will cause a great deal of trouble. But yes, I do know of a reason. Bette is worth a great deal to the right person. She doesn’t know who they are, she doesn’t know anything about this . . . but we have to get her back alive and intact.”

  I had always known there was a special connection between Alex and Bette and it didn’t bother me in the slightest, but now I had the feeling that it went far deeper than anything any of us could imagine. “Did you know all of this about her when you first met her?”

  He shook his head. “No,” he said. “I only found out after she and I had been together for a while. As I said, I cannot tell you anything about this right now. And Bette must never know we’ve had this discussion. But we have to get her back safely.”

  At that point the soft chime of the bell announced a visitor to the office. Alex jumped up and headed out of the conference room, leaving the door open. I could hear Chase’s voice from the waiting room. Our reinforcements were here. Ralph and I locked gazes, but we said nothing. Whatever was going on, it was obvious we weren’t going to find out about it tonight.

  I stood up and stretched. “Tonya, I want you to stay here. You’re still tired, and it would help if we had someone here to watch over the phones just in case Bette manages to call.”

  “You’re just worried about me because I’m human. Trust me, I can take care of myself. I’m tired but another good jolt of caffeine will help. I want to go. I want to see this creature for myself, and I’d like to help if I can.” She folded her arms across her chest and I had the feeling she wasn’t going to budge.

  “If Alex says you can go, fine. I just want you to be careful.”

  “Trust me, I’m not going to risk my neck.” She yawned and Ralph silently handed her another can of Flying Horse. She chugged it down, blinking at the taste. “Oh man, give me a latte any day, but this will do for now.”

  We tripped out into the main waiting room. Chase was there and he had with him four brawny-looking men.

  Ralph let out a little growl. “Werewolves.”

  “That’s right,” one of them said. “I think we’ve met at Supe Community meetings before. I’m Frank Willows. I’m the leader of the Supe militia. These are a few of my buddies—José, George, and Thomas. We’re at your disposal this evening. Tell us what you need done, and we’ll do it.”

  “Unfortunately, I can’t come with you.” Chase looked rather uncomfortable. “I have yet another fire that needs putting out. I hesitate to send any of my men with you, at least on an official basis. There are certain aspects to this case that I’m not sure I want written into the books. Although, once we get the federal agency going, it would make a good case study for it.” He suddenly stopped, glancing at Frank, and I realized he had said more than he wanted to in front of the werewolf. But Frank just looked the other way, as if he sensed Chase had made a slip of the tongue. I had a feeling that Willows was good at keeping his mouth shut. None of the other werewolves seemed to have noticed.

  “I suppose we better get moving. We need to brief the four of you on what we’re dealing with, and make certain you understand the risks. Ralph, if you could go with the werewolves, I’ll take Shimmer, Tonya, and Chai.” Alex turned to the werewolves. “Do you have a large enough vehicle to handle the back roads? We’re not off-road per se, but I’d rather not have you take a sedan or town car out there.”

  Frank laughed. “I got the perfect vehicle. If Ralph can navigate, I’ll drive. I’m used to off-roading.”

  “Then let’s head out. Chase.” Alex turned to the detective. “We’ll let you know what happens. And . . . Thanks. I mean it.”

  As we all headed out the door, I prayed that we could find Bette while she was still alive. And I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell secrets Alex had on her.

  * * *

  I hadn’t yet told Alex that I had been through his drawers, and I decided the car, with three other sets
of ears, wasn’t exactly the place to do it. At least I had enough sense to recognize potentially volatile situations, and I didn’t want to make our friends uncomfortable if he decided to pick a fight over it. I did, however, fill him in on what Glenda had been up to.

  “One thing I forgot to tell you is that your ex-girlfriend trashed my house. And that includes killing a bunch of my fish.” I told him exactly what had happened. “I have no idea how much damage has been done. We had to drop everything because of the situation with Bette. I dread going home and dealing with a waterlogged living room.”

  Alex was silent for a moment. He switched on the turn signal, and, as we edged out onto the freeway, he gruffly said, “I’ll take care of it. I’ll take care of any damage done, and I’ll replace your fish and aquarium. Don’t even bother going through your house insurance. You don’t need them to raise your rates because of what Glenda did. And trust me,” he said in an icy voice, “I’ll take care of Glenda as well.”

  I was about to tell him not to worry but decided that, no, everything wasn’t all right. It was time he faced exactly what kind of person she was.

  “Thank you,” was all I said.

  “Not all succubi are like her. I hope you realize that. I’ve met some over the years who were absolute gems. Unfortunately, it looks like I ended up with the bad apple in the barrel.” He looked so unhappy that I realized he truly hadn’t believed she was dangerous. I had just shattered his illusions.

  After a moment, Tonya broke the awkward silence. “I’m glad that my bestiary could come in handy.” When we were in Port Townsend, she had told us the story about how she found it. It seemed more than fortuitous and made me wonder if destiny had forced her hand.

  “As soon as we take care of the matter with Bette and have her home safe, we’ll see what we can do about Jack Skelton. I don’t like the idea of you returning to Port Townsend while Jack is still up there. He’s far too dangerous. Shimmer, Ralph, and I will be worried sick about you if you go home while he’s still prowling around the town.” A pale smile flashed across Alex’s face, and I realized just how much he cared about all of us. Even vampires had to deal with stress.

  “I’d really appreciate that. To be honest, I’m scared to go home now. When I came down here, it was mostly to get away from Degoba’s wedding. But I think I was secretly hoping you guys would tell me I had nothing to worry about and that I was just imagining things. Instead, I’m going to be jumping at shadows until Jack stops bothering me.” Tonya leaned forward to stare over the front seat. “I sent Degoba a note this morning. I congratulated him, and told him I wished him and his wife all the happiness in the world.” Her voice was strained, but I could tell she meant every word of it. “I realized, I don’t want him to ever think that I’m doing anything like Jack is doing to me. I like Degoba, and I would miss his friendship so much if he felt he had to distance himself from me. I don’t want that to happen.”

  “Nobody could ever mistake you for a stalker,” I said. “And you just wait, you’ll find someone better suited to you. I know it.” I was starting to understand what it meant to reassure a friend, even if you weren’t sure of what you were saying. I didn’t know if she would find love, but she needed to hear that now.

  Chai shifted in the seat next to her. “Sometimes, the person you’re waiting for might be right next door.”

  I restrained a snicker. Oh yes, Chai had a crush on her. But Tonya was too absorbed in her worries to notice. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

  As the miles passed, the road grew darker and the traffic was almost nonexistent. Early April in the Seattle area was still chilly and overcast, with a lot of rainstorms and wind coming through. Spring in western Washington wasn’t like spring in the Dragon Reaches, where the sun shone cool but bright most of the days. Of course, the sun often was shining down on a pile of melting snow, but the days were brighter than here.

  As if reading my thoughts, Tonya asked, “Tell me what it’s like in the Dragon Reaches. I’d like to get my mind off Skelton and stalkers and monsters lurking in the dark.”

  I let out a short sigh. “Well, this time of year, snows are still melting over a vast area of the Dragon Reaches. You have to understand that we live at the top of the world, above the Northlands. Oh, the red and gold dragons tend to gather more in the southern areas where the temperatures are warmer and the winter is milder. And my kind—the blue dragons—almost always live next to the ocean. But for the most part, the Dragon Reaches are mountainous and craggy, and the snows flow thick and heavy throughout most of the winter. There aren’t vast forests there. There are in the Northlands, but the tree line grows thin up in the Dragon Reaches and most of the timber is scrub, short and stubby from the constant winds. It’s beautiful, but it’s difficult for humans to live up there, and even the Northmen have difficulty when they work their way up into the mountains of the Dragon Reaches. In fact, most of them are afraid to stray too far into our territory. They are afraid they’ll get eaten.”

  “Is there validity to that fear?” Alex asked.

  I shrugged. “Perhaps, although most dragons prefer to eat livestock. In fact, there are a number of Northmen who make their earnings by farming livestock for the Dragonkin. It’s a mutually advantageous situation.” I paused. We were finally near the road that led to Stone Weaver’s house. Ralph, riding with the werewolves, was right behind us.

  As we edged into the forested drive, once again the mood in the car fell into an uneasy silence. Would we find Bette, alive? And was the diatrofymata keeping Gerta hostage as well? Would we really be able to stop this creature before it vanished only to pop up in another place, seeking other victims? As the Range Rover bumped along the gravel drive, all these questions and more raced through my mind.

  CHAPTER 18

  Alex pulled to the side as we entered the drive in front of the house. Ralph knew the way, so he and the werewolves took the front and we followed the narrow dirt road behind them. From what I remembered of the map, we were headed through the woods along an access road that led toward the hill bordering Stone Weaver’s property. Chances were, the diatrofymata wouldn’t have chosen a lair that was too remote. After all, it needed to get its treasure that it stole back to the hoard without having to trudge miles through the forest.

  I wondered where the thing had come from—doppelgängers were Germanic in origin, but the diatrofymata seemed an odd variant. Elemental creatures tended to congregate in areas that reminded them of their plane of origin. Very few djinn would ever be found in the Arctic or Antarctica. By the same token, Elemental creatures from the plane of Air tended to stick near mountaintops, and creatures from the Elemental plane of Water weren’t found inland. It made perfect sense that a creature from the Elemental plane of Earth would make its home in a cavern or even a cabin deep in the woods.

  As we followed Frank’s massive SUV, Tonya suddenly asked, “So you think the creature is planning to hold Bette for ransom?”

  For a moment, I thought Alex wasn’t going to answer, but then he said, “I cannot tell you what I know about Bette and her past, but if the diatrofymata found out the truth about what she is, yes, I think that’s likely. But we’re not the ones it would approach for ransom.”

  Once again, a sense of foreboding swept over me. Alex’s reticence was contagious and I felt myself shying away from the discussion, although in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but ask, What is she? What’s her secret?

  After another pause, Alex continued. “The good news is that if the creature does know what she is, she’s probably safe for the moment. I’m clinging to that hope.”

  We were deep into the woods, and the access road had become a road in name only. The dirt was bumpy with deep ruts running through it, and the rain had created puddles that accumulated in the tire tracks, forming muddy ruts.

  The road wasn’t big enough for logging trucks, but something big and heavy enough to create the ruts had been through here recently, and it made m
e wonder what Stone Weaver had been up to. This was still his property, but what reason would such a strong environmentalist have to bring in heavy machinery? Especially machinery heavy enough to leave deep impressions in the dirt road?

  Frank’s SUV made a sudden jog to the left and then eased off the road into a turnout. They turned off their headlights. We followed suit. Quietly, we slipped out of the Range Rover and joined Ralph and the four werewolves.

  Around us, the sounds of raindrops echoed in a soft, steady cadence, dropping the branches to the ground below. Mist rose around us, and overhead the clouds had pulled back to let the pale sliver of moonlight shine through. The light was faint but reflected off the rising fog, casting an eerie glow, as all around us the forest crackled and snapped with the sounds of the night. Small animals rustled through the undergrowth, through the fern and bracken and brambles that covered the ground. In the forests around here, there was no such thing as flat open ground. Detritus and moss spread in a thick blanket, and it was easy to trip over hidden roots, or twist an ankle on a buried rock, or sink to your knees in the mulch that covered the woodland floor.

  We spoke in hushed whispers. Voices echoed all too easily through the mist, and the last thing we wanted to do was to give away our presence to the diatrofymata.

  “The cavern we’re looking for is about a quarter mile through the woods here. It’s not very far, but the going won’t be easy. If it were daylight, we could look for the trail that the creature has most likely blazed. But since it’s night, I don’t think we should waste time looking for its path. We could be out here all night searching. It’s easier to just follow my GPS to the cavern itself.” Ralph turned and pointed into the forest. “This way. Be cautious, and if you need, find a stick now to balance yourself with. Tonya, I suggest that you stay here, but if you insist on coming with us, let’s find you a walking stick.”

 
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