The Other Half Ch. 06byMazuri©
Huge thanks to Mokkelke for her mad editing skillz and putting up with my crazy spelling when I forget to do even the most cursory of spell checks before sending it to her. You rock!
As always, thanks so much for those who read, review, and vote. I'm glad you liked the last chapter even if I wasn't thrilled with it. I did like this one ok, though, so hope you agree! – Maz
The two wolf pups slowly woke to the feel of cold metal beneath their furred bodies and a pounding in their heads like they had eaten ice cream too fast. Basic survival instincts, even for those so young, kept them quiet and immobile with only their faintly glowing yellow eyes moving around the room. They were definitely no longer with their Auntie Jenna or on pack lands.
Water dripped rhythmically from the ceiling of the cold, dark room. The air was musty and damp and faintly smelled of sulfur, stale sweat, and decay. The only light was a faint reddish glow that came from just outside the room but it was enough to allow their keen eyes to see the rough-hewn walls of a large cavern, the metal floor upon which they lay, and the bars that surrounded them. They were in a cage. The female whimpered softly, her ears laying back along her head as she curled closer to the male.
"Ah, good. You're awake, you little freaks." The owner of the harsh voice stood in the carved opening that lead from the room into what appeared to be a hall.
With the faint light behind him, neither wolf could see his face but his scent wafted in on a breeze. The male's eyes narrowed and a low growl rumbled from his young chest. Their auntie's blood was on the human.
"No need for the growls, freak, it'll all be over soon enough. Your parents are gonna be told we got ya but don't get your furry little hopes up. This ain't no ransom demand; you won't be walking outta here."
The certainty in the man's voice made even the male wolf pup whimper slightly. He was cold, hungry, and scared. His Auntie Jenna had been hurt by the bad human. He wanted his parents and his pack and sent a mental call to them but got...nothing. His ears sank lower back along his head as he realized they were too far out of pack range for him to contact his family.
Feeling his sister shivering, he scooted as close as he could and tried to wrap around her like he'd seen his dad do for his mom when she was cold. He was too young to understand what was going on but knew they needed to conserve their strength if they were ever going to see their parents again.
Taking comfort and warmth in each other, the pups drifted off to sleep only to wake some time later due to the flickering of a propane lantern. Barely raising his head from his sister, the young male watched as two men hung the swaying lantern onto a hook embedded into the rock wall.
They disappeared from the small room only to return with another cage attached to a large appliance hand truck. The shrill scraping of metal on stone hurt the wolves' sensitive ears and the female whimpered once more and buried further into her brother's fur. The men were human and neither bore the scent of the one who'd spoken earlier nor did they carry the scent of his auntie's blood.
As they left the room, however, a new scent drifted along the stale air: Shifter. Waiting for his night vision to return once the glare from the harsh lantern was gone, the male wolf could just barely make out a single tiger cub, perhaps a little younger than even he and his sister, in the other cage. He couldn't understand how the cat had slept through the jostling of the cage or the noise of it being set into place but at least it didn't smell sick or injured.
Over the next few hours, several more cages were brought into the small cavern while some were chained to the walls and floors by hooks and shackles. The shackles wrapped around the ankles, wrists, and necks along a single chain that attached to metal hooks embedded into the wall. When the last couple were brought in, there were a total of nine children including the pups and the tiger cub.
The male pup was overwhelmed by their scents, their anger, their fear, their crying and, from the single adult – a "newborn" vampire – the scent of blood. In order to keep him from breaking free, they'd wounded him greatly so he'd be weak from blood loss. The wolf pup sniffed the air to see if any of the others were injured but couldn't detect anything beyond that strange, deep sleep.
He wondered if the humans were trying to open a circus of some sort, for there were never more than two of any race. In the cages, there was he and his sister, the weretiger, one he believe smelled like a werefox cub, and two very young female elven children who'd been handcuffed opposite each other with their arms through the bars.
It appeared that their captors understood their magical nature and knew better than to allow them to touch and perhaps combine their energies. Scattered around the room with the heavy manacles were a young centaur who'd been hobbled and locked onto an iron ring in the floor, the severely wounded vampire, and, surprisingly, an older teen human female who was restrained with only a pair of zip ties around her wrists and ankles.
While the others slept, the male pup rose and paced the cage looking for a way out. It was scared and cold and hungry and angry at being caged. Butting against the bars, he knew that even were he to change back to his human half they'd be too narrow for escape. Their captors had planned things well. Dejected, he returned to his sister and curled up against her and tried to call for his parents once more. The empty silence scared him more than even the bars and, wrapping his tail around until it covered his eyes and nose, he whimpered softly and tried to sleep.
Shae and Kris arrived at the hotel and parked in the VIP spot reserved for Michael who, after much debate, decided to wait for Urúvion at the apartment. Walter Andrews met them at their car and escorted them to the elevator and up to the djinni's suite. During the time they'd been at the apartment, the luxury suite had been transformed into a security headquarters.
The sofa and coffee table were pushed against the wall and replaced with a conference-style table and rolling office chairs. On the table was a map of the city, a pair of laptops, and several telephones. Against the wall were several security monitors that were trained on the parking lots where the protestors were located. Kris simply stared. How had Michael had time to set this up?
"Latimer! Close your mouth; you're gonna catch flies." Andrews' voice gruffly interrupted her amazed state and brought her focus back onto him just as he turned to Shae. "Madame Alpha, Mr. Zakhara called earlier and told me the situation. I've already given the Ambassadors an update as well as spoken to the Leroux Pack and given them this number. King Urúvion is joining Mr. Zakhara at Kris' apartment to try to get a reading and Ambassador Mickelson is contacting the District Attorney to allow them access to the evidence.
"Currently, Alpha Leroux is still performing his perimeter search and hasn't checked in with us. Brian Leroux has promised us half-hourly updates and so far there's been no word from either Jenna Leroux or the pups. We haven't heard anything from those who broke into Kris' apartment nor the alleged abductors. The screamin' mimis – oh, excuse me, protestors – haven't done or said anything out of the ordinary and the Colonel's been with his bunch the entire time."
"Has any of his group arrived and then left? Oh...and I need to go talk to Ricardo. He might have heard something." Kris searched her purse for some money. While she didn't think she could eat so soon after lunch and with her stomach in knots, there was nothing unusual about her buying her meal from the street vendor.
"There's been little movement in any of the groups though a detail is assigned to follow if the need arises. Tell me who this Ricardo is and I'll have him brought in. I'm under strict orders not to allow you out of the hotel."
"Ricardo's the street vendor that's been selling at the hotel for far longer than I've been working here." Kris pushed the bills into her pocket and made for the door. "As for bringing him in, that's the last thing you can do. He sells sandwiches and drinks from a push cart, Mr. A, so folks talk around him. They talk about things they probably shouldn't because to them he's practically invisible. If you bring him in, that resource is gone. If it'll make you feel better then Shae can come with me. We're just going to buy a sandwich and come right back; you'll be able to see everything from the lobby and all these monitors."
"I will not disobey..."
"Then tell him I knocked you out or something. He'd believe that. Or you come with me if it'll make you feel better, but if Ricardo knows anything we need to know what it is."
Andrews tried to stare her down but she was the most stubborn human he knew, and he knew a lot. Rubbing his hand over his balding head, he muttered something under his breath which caused Shae to chuckle softly in sympathy. Telling them if they so much as looked towards the protestors he was going to have Kris' head on a platter, he told them to go and be super quick about it. They left immediately in case he changed his mind.
"So...that's your boss?"
"Yeah. He's a good guy. Hard as nails but fair. Had no idea he had anything to do with the Others though but Michael says their families go way back."
The elevator doors opened and they made their way through the crowded lobby and out the front doors. Kris told her sister about the crazy-good sandwiches Ricardo made and how his Philly Cheese Steak was to die for as they crossed over to the small cart. Since they were in that sweet spot between the lunch and dinner rushes, they were able to talk to the elderly vendor without prying ears. They exchanged their usual pleasantries and Kris ordered the turkey and roast beef melt, all the while watching for spying ears.
"The Colonel's made a lot of phone calls today, Kris my girl. He's up to no good, ain't he?"
"Fraid so, Ricardo. Any word of what he's been talking about or to who?" Kris picked out a bag of chips while the meat and cheese sizzled on the small grill though her eyes were on the HPL.
"Nothing that made sense. Something about giving certain folks a hint of what he's suffered."
"Oh god...thanks Ricardo. Be careful, though. If they find out you're telling us anything..."
"I just push a sandwich cart, Kris. The only things I talk about is my sandwiches and how much money you're giving me." Ricardo delivered the sandwich with a wink.
Thanking the elderly man again, the two ladies made their way back into the hotel. As they passed one of the scouts, they shared only the briefest of eye contact before maneuvering around him like they would any stranger in their way. It wasn't until they were back in the elevator that they realized how tense they were and they slumped against the walls.
Though Shae wondered just why Ricardo's words had upset her sister, she knew better than to discuss it before they were back in the safety of the suite. When the elevator doors opened at the penthouse level, Kris really really wished they'd close quickly. Leaning against the wall in a tailored suit just outside the door to the suite was an extremely angry Michael Zakhara.
"Where, exactly, did you go, Kristiana?"
"Just who I wanted to see." She knew he was going to read her the riot act later for leaving the hotel but if her suspicions were correct, she'd happily take the ass-chewing. Grabbing his hand, she pulled him into the suite and over to the conference table where Andrews and an unknown slender male elf awaited. "Mr. A, can you pull up a list of all non-human attendees who have mates?"
"Yeah, why?" The balding man sat and began typing while glancing up at his employee. Once he found the right listing, he projected it onto the thick, white drapes that covered the bay windows.
"I know this is a stretch but does that tell which of the mates started life as humans?"
"No. What's up, Kris?"
"Dammit! We need to have a meeting with them; all of the non-humans with mates." Kris turned to fully face Michael and held his large hands in both hers. "The Leroux pack's pups weren't taken for personal spite, Michael. There'll be more and we need to know who so we can get the searches started as soon as possible. Hopefully, sooner than the abductors are expecting. If you can call an emergency meeting in the Conference Room 5, it should be large enough to hold everyone, we can get answers more quickly than trying to explain then ask each individually."
"Ask them what, Ms. Latimer?" The melodic voice of the elf intruded and momentarily mesmerized her with its sheer beauty before she shook it off.
"We need to ask everyone with children, especially if their mates began their lives as human, to call and ensure they are safe and where they need to be. If they are, extra security needs to be put on them. If not, we need to trace how long ago they were taken."
The phone rang and Kris grabbed a pad of paper while Andrews spoke to whoever was on the line. She was furiously taking notes when Shae gave a small cry; her wolven ears could hear the conversation and the news wasn't good. Andrews switched the call to the speaker so everyone could hear the report from the Leroux Alpha.
"We were checking the eastern perimeter when Jenna's car was found. From the skid marks, it looks like she stopped in the middle of the road for some reason and then pulled away quickly. The car was forced off the road less than 100 yards from that spot. She's been shot and it appears to be a silver encased round but she's being taken to the pack hospital..."
"No!" Everyone turned to look at Kris in surprise. "I'm sorry, yes, she needs treatment but can you get the pack healers to meet you here? Oh...and don't clean her up except for the wound."
"What are you thinking, mea vita?" Michael's voice rumbled in confusion.
"We already have two of the best Leroux trackers on site and they know the scents of the ones that broke into my apartment. Once Jenna is here, they can see if the scents match. Until she wakes, that'll help pinpoint when they were taken so we can get to work on tracking the intruders' movements. The scouts can then return to crowds to see if they can detect any of those scents on any of the protesters. We might get lucky enough that, if we don't find the ones responsible, we might find someone close to them that can be questioned."
"Very well, I'm rerouting Jenna to the hotel. The healers should arrive before us so get them a room ready to use as a clinic."
"Thanks, Keith. It'll be ready."
When the Alpha disconnected from the line, Kris returned to her note pad to write more things on the "to-do" list. It took only a few minutes for her to realize that the room was silent. Looking up quickly, she realized they were all staring at her. She squirmed a bit under their steady gaze, glancing at her notes and then back around the room.
"We merely await your orders, Ms. Latimer." The beautiful elf smiled, half in amusement, half in blossoming respect. This human would suit his friend perfectly.
"Orders?" Kris blushed and chewed her lip. "I'm sorry. Mr. A...Michael, I didn't mean to..."
"Stow it, Latimer," Walter Andrews cut her off gruffly. "You've obviously got a head for planning and a firmer understanding of what we're up against. Don't apologize, just tell us what we need to do."
"Well..." Glancing up at Michael, she saw nothing but pride and affection in his eyes. Kris took a deep, calming breath and checked her scribbled notes once more. "If it's ok...We need either a guest room or, maybe, Conference Room 9 for the healers to treat Jenna. Shae...if you can get the scouts into the building without them drawing suspicion from the protesters, that'd be great. I don't know if they have someone watching the entrances but...wait! If we can get one of the Shifter Ambassadors to leave for a while, even just for half an hour, the scouts can shift into full wolf form and escort him back into the hotel."
Shae nodded and pulled out her cell phone to make a call.
"Mr. Andrews, if you could get security to round up all the mated non-human attendees, we could start on that angle. If you're wondering, Ricardo notified me earlier that the Colonel had made a comment along the lines of the Others 'getting a taste of what he's suffered.' He blames the Others for taking everything he cared about: he thought his son was dead for a year before discovering he'd mated a vampire, his career was halted by the ceasefire, and his wife was about to leave him for a Shifter. That, plus the letter he left at my apartment, leads me to believe he's going after the children. Specifically, the children of mixed raced matings."
Andrews nodded and stepped away from the table to get on his radio.
"Ms. Latimer, my people are at your disposal. What can the Council of Kings do to aid you in retrieving the young ones?"
Kris paled slightly at the slender man's words. Council of Kings? Dammit, she knew she should have found out who he was before she started yelling at everyone. If he's one of the Kings, he could demand her head for her lack of respect.
"M...my apologies, sir...I failed to recognize..."
"Kristiana, you don't mind if I call you that do you? The mark of a good ruler is to know when to step aside for one who has the skills needed for the job. You show a fine grasp of strategy for this unique situation. Do not let titles get in the way of that. As the mate of my dearest friend, you need only call me Urúvion."
Kris gulped audibly. Urúvion was the Arbiter and High King of the Elven Council of Kings, the eldest of his kind and ruler of the largest elven nation on the planet. If the fact that her niece and nephew were abducted didn't give her an ulcer, that probably cinched it.
"As...as you wish, Your Highness...I mean, Urúvion." Rubbing her head as she remembered what she knew of the elves, she wondered how to take advantage of his generous offer. "Sir? I fear I'm not up to speed on the abilities of your race but is it true you can read residual life energies as well as commune with the flora and fauna of an area?"
"To some degree. What is important to a blade of grass may not be important to an elf; the reverse is also true. As for energies...again, it depends on the individual but I'm well trained in the practice."
"What he means, mea vita, is he's the best of his kind. Don't attempt modesty now, muindor nîn." Michael inserted with faint amusement.
"Good. Then once we have the location of Jenna's car, perhaps you could go there and see if there's anything useful we can learn."
"It shall be so, Kristiana."
"Kris, the meeting is set up in Con 5 in 20 minutes." Andrews closed his phone with a snap. "The security detail for that will be tripled. I've pulled in all shifts as well as solicited some of the warriors of the Ambassadors in order to lock the hotel down as tight as possible and still function."
"Alpha Moreau will escort our Scouts into the building, sis, and Keith is close enough for me to communicate with. Is there anything you need from him before he arrives?"
"Yeah, Shae. See if he can project the car's location to you. There's a map and a highlighter somewhere around here. That way, His Hi...er, Urúvion and his team can get a head start."
With everyone moving, Kris marked off a few items from her list and began writing new ones when warm, strong arms wrapped around her and pulled her back against a firm chest. Sighing softly, she relaxed against her mate and wondered just how she ended up "in charge", as it were, and why Michael or Urúvion hadn't taken control. The notepad was gently removed from her hands and she was turned to face the handsome being who leaned down to capture her lips in a tender, but searing kiss.