I looked at Darian Lord sitting across the table from me. I bit my lip not sure that I should be doing this, but there was no going back, not if I was to get Simon back safely.
I finally asked, “Darian, I know you're a Gypsy. You and your people have lived through many troubles in your history. If you had to go to someone with a life or death problem who would you choose?”
He looked at me seriously with his dark eyes, eyes that seemed to be able to look into my soul and finally he nodded to himself. Then he smiled wryly, “You may not believe this Maria, but in a situation of that type I would go to Robby Hansen.”
I gasped, “To a child, Darian?”
He explained gravely, “Robby Hansen is a child, yes, but he is also far, far more. I won't go into the details. If he decides you can be trusted, he will tell you. If you need help, go to him. I will make sure he is informed that you are coming. I have a feeling that you must decide quickly.”
I thought back on the two occasions that I had seen Robby Hansen. I nodded my head, telling him, “Tell him, I'll be flying out of LA to Prescott this afternoon. I've been told to go there, though I haven't been told anything else.” I felt puzzled, “Now, why do I remember that where he lives is near Prescott?”
“Because even then, subconsciously you knew that you would need his help.” Darian said.
We were about ten miles outside of Prescott, just waiting. Darian had informed the Elder at his hotel who was also the chef. The chef had gotten in touch with Smith Jones, who had passed on the information that Darian was sending Maria Escalante to me. We had also arranged for Smith to take photos of Maria at the airport and we had slipped her a note to head west toward Cormier.
I perked up and brought up the binoculars and aimed them at the red convertible that was coming in our direction. Though she hadn't asked for a convertible we had arranged for her to get one, so we would be more easily able to spot her. I said, “That's Maria, Tal and that's the same car that followed her out of the rental lot, according to Edward's watcher. Pull onto the highway and get close enough so that I can see what her followers are thinking.”
Tal did so and I began to reach out right away even before we got in normal range. I felt a couple of minds which I should not have done at well over a half a mile, not with humans. I told him, “Don't move any closer yet, Tal.”
I gathered Blue into my arms and I concentrated on those mind voices that I shouldn't have been able to hear. Normally Blue couldn't help me with human minds, but I had brought him, just in case. I approached very cautiously and then I was there. I quickly realized that it was only the surface of their minds and it revealed nothing about them as it should. They were shielded. I had finally met the mind readers that the Elven Council had warned me about.
I probed carefully. They weren't very powerful, not compared to the Elven Portal Keeper for instance. The shields would go down very quickly if I threw a major probe at them but that would reveal things about me I didn't want them to learn yet. I wondered if I could do it by approaching it from the opposite direction, so to speak, as I had done on other occasions. It worked, I was able to get under their shields that way. Gauging the minds behind those shields, I would say they were about as powerful as most Elders.
I told him, “We have a problem Tal. The Elven Council, when they gave me the gift that allowed me to read human minds, said that there were humans, who were able to do so as well. They predicted that eventually I would come across them. Well we have. The two in the car are two of a group of telepaths.”
“Are you annoyed with her, for bringing them to you?” he asked.
I shook my head, saying, “No. It would have happened sooner or later, Tal. I've simply been too active in the last two years to keep avoiding them forever.” I told him with complete sincerity. It was true. I'd been expecting it since the Elves warned me. At least we were on our turf.
I grinned, telling him, “I wasn't particularly impressed by their screens. They're one piece. Put a hole in it and you destroy it, or put enough pressure on it and it will fall to pieces. It also doesn't cover the primal layer, where we're most vulnerable. We can't count on that being the case with others of their group. The shields I put on your minds when we went to the Elven world are much better. Nobody that I've met can even see them. However I may have to strengthen them since I don't know exactly how strong they are.”
I hadn't wanted to take a bright red convertible when the rental agent suggested it. I wanted to be inconspicuous. But just the way she had told me about the car had convinced me. I remembered with a grin and hoped I had read her correctly, “Oh be DARING, girl, LORD knows we don't get a chance to drive convertibles all that often.”
The emphasis on the daring and lord could have been an accident, but the way she had winked at me, I didn't think it was. A red mini-van passed me and pulled in ahead of me. The voice in my mind didn't startle me either, I was used to it, *Maria, follow the mini-van into the picnic area about a mile ahead of us.*
I was startled when I recognized Robby Hansen, it was so much like his real voice, not always the case with telepaths. And strong, I couldn't ever remember, receiving such a strong mental voice before, not even from Rafael Mondar.
I followed the mini-van into the picnic area and parked next to it. Where we were parked was hidden from the highway by a screen of trees. Robby got out of the car, carrying Blue. His hair had darkened considerably since I had last seen him. There was no longer any blond left in it. It was a deep red. He gave me a grin as I got out of the car and then looked behind me. A man came around the front of the van and asked Robby, “Will they obey your order, Robby?”
He said, softly, but there was a sour note in his voice, “Oh, yes, they're conditioned to obey. Not something I like to see, but for the moment we'll use it for our benefit.”
I looked behind me and I saw a blue Camaro pull into the picnic area and park beside my rental car. With a sinking heart, I realized that I had seen it several times since I had left Prescott.
Two men got out of the car, moving almost like puppets. I didn't recognize them, I only knew a few of Mondar's men. There was a pickup truck with an extended cab about a hundred feet from us and a couple of small blond haired kids had been playing cowboys with toy guns. At least I thought they were toys. They trotted in our direction.
Robby said softly when they reached us. “Put them to sleep.” Each of the boys pointed their gun at one of the men and pulled the trigger. The guns gave a hiss and after a few seconds, the men started to fall forward. Indifferent to them, Robby turned to me, saying, “Teddy and Angelo just used tranquilizer guns. They'll sleep for twelve to eighteen hours.”
The pickup truck, started up and moved over behind the mini-van. A dark haired man with streaks of gray in his hair got out of the drivers seat and suddenly what seemed like a swarm of kids were surrounding us. Robby said, “Strip the van.”
The kids yelled with enthusiasm and as I watched, the mini-van was changed from a bright red, to navy blue. All of the red was made up of panels and they were simply pulled off and put into the bed of the pickup truck, then covered with a tarpaulin. The last thing they did was pull a piece off of the license plate.
Robby grinned at me, saying, “The body isn't made of metal, but there are enough metal anchor points to attach the panels to. The license is completely legitimate and if you got a description of the van it came from, it would be a red mini-van. Tal originally wanted red but we ended up deciding it was too conspicuous.”
“Tal, is the car bugged?” Robby asked.
“It is. They work quick, they only had a couple of minutes to get the bugs in place.” Tal said, holding an instrument in his hand.
“Ishmael would you help Tal put them back in their car and they can sleep it off, after that check their car as well, Tal.” Robby said. After the dark haired man and Tal got them back in the car, Tal went over the other car.
“Nothing.” he reported.
Robby nodded, emphatically, saying, “Good!!” He set Blue down on the ground and looked around at the kids and I realized that there were only eight of them. He said, “Teddy you and Angelo, Lyle and Cary and Barry go back with Ishmael, the rest get in the van. I'll see you at home.”
The dark man without ever having said a word, waved and got into the drivers seat, the designated kids piled in with him and he headed for the highway. Robby put a couple of fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. He said, a twinkle in his big green eyes, “Pedro's not a coward, he just doesn't like to take unnecessary chances.” looking behind me. I turned and saw myself, well not really, especially since Robby had called him Pedro. He was wearing just about the same things that I was wearing and his hair was in a pageboy cut just like mine and he was holding a small carryall.
Robby asked, “Tal, would you put Maria's bags in the van, I noticed she left her keys in the car.” Pedro had reached us by now. Robby explained to me, “We had someone at LA airport take photos of you when you were leaving, they sent them to us and we got as close as we could for Pedro. Pedro is part of an all male acting troupe, called Center Stage, based in Prescott, he specializes in doing female parts and he's Puerto Rican not black. He started as a makeup artist and the skin color you see right now is makeup. Most of the troupe is gay, but Pedro isn't.”
Robby took the keys from Tal and dropped them into Pedro's hand. “How far do you want me to go, Robby?” Pedro asked, in what I would have sworn was a woman's voice if I hadn't known the difference.”
Robby pulled out his wallet and got out a wad of bills. He counted out five one hundred dollar bills and put the rest back into his wallet. He said, “How about Atlanta? Pedro, go catch a couple of hockey games in person.”
His dark eyes twinkling, Pedro said, “Why not. The last two jobs have paid me more than my acting job. It's just as well that the troupe is on that month's hiatus right now.” He got into the convertible and backing up he headed for the highway heading the opposite way from the truck.
Robby said to me, “I'm afraid your credit card is going to take a big hit for mileage, we'll compensate you for that.”
We joined Ishmael on the highway, though by now we were probably ten miles behind him. Maria sat up front with Tal. I said, “Let's see, introductions first, I think. Tal Peters took over from Len Peters and Jeannie Reynolds who you met in Los Angeles very briefly. They're married now and semi-retired. He's a distant cousin. Beside me is Jenna Ross and despite her size, she's only eleven and a half.” I grinned and ducked away from her mock blow. I said, “The two boys in the back are Gary Wilson, with the dark hair, his uncle is my step-father and the dark boy is Wil Wilkins and the driver of the pickup truck is Ishmael Wilkins, Wil's uncle. The dark girl is Cary, Wil's sister. The blond kids who went with Ishmael, one was my little brother Teddy and the almost white blond haired boy is Angelo Ross and he's Jenna's little brother. The carrot top who went with them is Lyle Swanson, a distant cousin of both Tal and I. The small dark-haired boy is Barry and he's my little brother, he's adopted, but he's also distantly related.”
I asked questioningly, “I assume since the two in the car were telepaths that you're also a telepath and that's what this is about?” and Maria nodded.
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed a number, “Airport Rentals.” she said.
“Madge, are you alone there.” I asked.
“No, Robby. Actually my replacement came in early and I was thinking of taking off.” Madge told me.
I ordered, “Do so and call Liam today or tomorrow and say you'll be taking a week's vacation time and go stay with your mother in Benson. Tell him for me that this is in addition to your regular vacation time. Don't go home first. We're not dealing with weres, but human telepaths and I don't want you where they can read your mind. Come over to my place tonight, I'm going to hold a screen party.”
“Is there any danger?” she asked with curiosity, but no fear.
“Could be.” I answered.
She sighed with satisfaction, “Oh good, I've been a werewolf all my life and never had any adventure, it's about time. Thanks, Robby.”
“You're welcome, Madge,” I told her, chuckling as I hung up.
I looked at Maria consideringly. I decided to be blunt. I said, “For a bunch of telepaths, both you and the guys we left in the car back in the picnic area have lousy shields.”
She sighed and shrugged, admitting it, “True, we don't seem to be very innovative when it comes to our ability. It almost seems like a built in flaw.”
I told her, “Well I'm going to build a shield for everyone here except for Tal, though I intend to strengthen his shields. It's just as easy to do it for six as for three. It's going to be different from anything you've seen before, whether it'll be stronger only time will tell.”
She looked thoughtful and then nodded, “Go ahead. Let's see what you can come up with.”
I gathered Blue closer and I entered their minds one after the other.
This was the same type of shield that I had put on those who had gone to the Elven world with me. It would be invisible and it was going to be much stronger than those were, which meant that I would have to increase the shielding on my family as well.
I explained when I was finished, “Those two goons back in the picnic area and Maria have the same type of shield. One layer, of one piece. That means if you put a hole though it, you destroy it and put enough pressure on it and it would just fall to pieces. The shields you now have shouldn't even be detectable to anyone. That doesn't mean they can't be breached by a powerful enough mind reader, but I've given you the strongest shielding I can provide.”
There was a construction zone and a flagman directing traffic. When we got to him, Robby rolled down his window, saying, “Lon, wait for a half hour to make sure that we aren't being followed, then put everything back the way it was and pack up. We took them out at the picnic area.”
“Okay, Robby.” he said, then taking a whistle from around his neck and blew it. When he had everybody's attention, he yelled, “A half hour and then we wrap up.”
Robby looked at me and grinned as we began moving again, telling me, “Our backup plan. In case there was more danger than I anticipated we would have bypassed the picnic area and taken out your followers here.”
I was more and more impressed, both with the planning and the resources that Robby must have at his disposal. They must be enormous. There must have been twenty men on that construction site, with all the equipment needed to make it look legitimate.
“Now do you want the truth about us, or do you want me to lie?” Robby asked and he was semi-serious, a bit of humor in his voice.
I admitted, “You already know my people and I are telepaths. From what you've been saying you're something else and I'm curious.”
Robby explained, “We're shapeshifters, all except for Wil's family who are Gypsys. In our other forms all of us, even Angelo, use mind-speech, though Angelo is the only one who has the ability to talk in his other form.” Robby handed Blue to Jenna and then unbuckled his seatbelt. I might have imagined it but his big green eyes seemed to glow and suddenly sitting on his haunches was a large dog and I realized that his fur was lighter than his hair, still the reddish blond color his hair used to be.
He told me in mind-speech, *Gary and I are werewolves, not a really accurate term, we're actually closer to dogs than wolves. Our eyes glow when we change, its the only indication of the magic that is flowing through us as we change, that everyone can see.” He grinned, saying, “That is aside from the change itself. Tal is only half werewolf and he can't change shape.* Robby told me, his eyes still the bright green that I had normally seen looking out of a small boy's face.
He pointed a paw at the girl sitting beside him, *Jenna, Steve and Carrie are Sasquatch.* and I watched her change and she was covered with a dense thicket of curly brown fur which covered her whole body, including her face, which was more apelike than human and her black eyes were enormous. Her teeth were only a very little larger than they had been when human, she had barely enlarged canines. She sported a stiff crest, about two inches tall, which was muted, just showing a few red highlights among the brown.
Robby told me, *Steve and Carrie look much different from Jenna, their fur is a black and their crests are a deep rose for Carrie to a scarlet for Steve. Her canine teeth will enlarge as she gets older, though since she is female they won't be as evident as a males. Since she's sitting it's hard to see that her legs are elongated, a child's legs are about two inches longer when they're pre-teens, to four inches after puberty which is the same as an adult. Jenna's fur will darken as she gets older and her crest will change color and lengthen about two inches, to the four inches of an adult female.*
Robby changed back into human form as did Jenna and refastened his seatbelt. He told me, “All together we know of six were types. Werewolves, who are very numerous, we are about one per cent of the total population. Sasquatch and jaguar weres and Yeti are all much less common. Sasquatch as far as we know only inhabit North America and there's only about two hundred and fifty thousand in total. Jaguar weres occupy parts of North America, Central and South America and we simply have no idea of their number and no way to estimate it. The Yeti or Abominable Snowman occupy the Himalayas and we figure there's only a few thousand of them. They share a common background with the Sasquatch, though very far in the past. Selkie's can change into seals and we don't know how many there are, but they're mostly around the British Isles.”
He paused for a second, before saying, “The last type of were that we have contact with is Angelo and he's Merfolk, think of mermaids and a boy with a mermaid's tail and you have a pretty good idea of what he looks like.
He told me, “The Science Fiction and Fantasy writer's are right about parallel world. Angelo’s people once lived on this world, but they all live on another world, in a different universe. His parents were exiled because of a dispute about who was going to be Chief Elder. His uncle won and had them exiled here. Though in fact his Chief Councilor was poisoning his mind and had been doing so since he was a child and was really responsible for the exile. His uncle and his family have been meeting him here for the last couple of months. At first Angelo was pretty cool to his Uncle but he liked his Aunt and his cousins. They've had a couple of meetings since and Angelo seems to be softening somewhat toward his uncle.”
Robby explained seriously, “Weres have lawgivers and law enforcers and they are called Elders. Except for the Yeti, we also have a ruling Council, who decide, overall policy. When an Elder makes or interprets a law, it is based on guidelines provided by the Council, though the Council also makes laws. I am an Elder and also a Healer. Healing and the ability to read human minds were both gifts. I am the only were who can read and affect human minds and combined with the Healing ability I seem to be able to do it even more effectively than your people, though I don't seem to have the range that your people have.”
He told me, “That means that I am the only one who can possibly protect you if ...” and I supplied the name, “Rafael Mondar.”, “and his people find you, before we're ready for them. Therefore, you have to be close, so in other words, you'll need to be a houseguest.”
Aaron and Uni were with a boy who had stopped changing at the full moon at the normal time but hadn't been able to change by himself, so they had been working with him for the last three days and they were over at Seamus Riley's.
I showed Maria to a room, carrying her bag for her. She asked me a question, “Why didn't you know that I was a telepath Robby?”
I told her, seriously, “I wasn't looking for it and with humans I have to look. With weres I read their minds automatically. As an Elder it's my responsibility to do so.”
I had a thought and I giggled and she looked at me suspiciously. I explained, “I'm sorry Maria, nothing to do with reading minds. Just you happen to be right across from our room. Aaron, Teddy, Barry and me. Both Barry and Aaron sleep naked, I wear underpants and Teddy wears a pair of short pajama bottoms. I just wanted to warn you. None of us have any physical modesty, the fact that Teddy and I actually wear something to bed is only because we like it that way, not because we object to sleeping nude. I'll probably remember that you're here and make allowances the others probably won't even think of it. You're liable to see naked boys anytime day or night, so I thought I'd better warn you.”
Her black eyes danced with humor, as she said, “You don't need to worry about it either, Robby. I've got five brothers and three of them are still preteens and they all sleep naked as well. I've seen plenty of naked boys and it doesn't bother me a bit.”
I relaxed a little, not that I had been that worried, she had come to me after all, but I was glad it wouldn't bother her.
Robby said, “I'd like to see what Rafael Mondar looks like. I like to ask when I want to peek into a mind that isn't were.”
I nodded and I wondered if I would feel him. My people's touch couldn't be hidden, but I suspected his could and I was right. I didn't feel a thing, but suddenly the pupils of his large green eyes were enormous obscuring the green and taken with the whiteness his face showed an incredible rage. He took several deep breaths and he was obviously fighting his anger down. I knew the anger wasn't directed at me and I was just as glad. I suspected that this little boy could be very dangerous.
Finally his pupils were back to normal and he had obviously regained his composure. Robby took out a cell phone and flipping it open he dialed a number. When it was answered he said, in the softest coldest voice I had ever heard, “Pedro, get off the highway at the nearest town. Ditch the car and the disguise and take a taxi back to Prescott. It'll be expensive but I'll reimburse you. Go to Edward's and stay there.”
He yelled then in a penetrating voice, “Tal, computer room please!!” I had been hearing the buzz of children's voices downstairs and they suddenly stopped. I knew that for him to yell must be an extraordinary rarity to affect the entire household like it did.
Robby stalked away and I realized that he was still incredibly angry. His normal graceful stride was gone.
A voice said then, *I think we'd better follow him. I think he's a bit peeved.* I looked down at Blue and I knew that he was the one that had spoken. His tail was swishing back and forth and I realized in spite of his calm mind-voice that he was a agitated as Robby. He continued, *Robby didn't exclude me from the introductions. He just intended to delay it for a time. Normally I can only talk to weres but since you're a telepath I can speak to you. Come.*
We met Tal coming up the stairs and he asked, “What happened? I've never heard Robby yell when he was acting as an Elder before. Only when he was being a kid and playing a game.”
As we neared the computer room, I heard Robby say in that soft cold voice, “I don't care that they're in a closed session. I want to talk to them and I want to talk to them now!” as we entered what he had called the computer room.
He ignored us, aside from waving us to chairs. Tal said seriously, “I'd do it if I were you Terry. Right now Robby's madder than I've ever seen him.”
Through the speaker phone we heard him say, “Very well, Tal. I was inclined to do it anyway, I was just arguing out of habit. Robby scares me more than the Council does.” and I realized that he was completely serious.
In a few seconds a new voice asked, “Roy Conway here. What can we do for you Robby?”
Robby said intently, “Something incredibly important has come up. This is going to be a conference call. I wanted to make sure that you were on first. Comp One contact the rest of the people.
After about thirty seconds the computer began to report out loud.
<Jeannie Reynolds on line.>
<Smith Jones on line>
<Edward Franco on line>
<Barney Ross on line>
Robby asked, “Jeannie is Len there with you?”
“Yes Robby, he is.” she said.
Robby said, “Are you comfortable on taking the chopper into Prescott on your own?”
“I've been there three times since I soloed, Robby. Completely comfortable.” she told him.
Robby said tersely, “Okay, Len you stay on the line. Jeannie I want you to take the helicopter into Prescott and take the Lear and collect Smith and Mattie in LA and then swing north and pick up Barney Ross in Seattle. That's contingent on his agreeing to help us. If not I'll contact you and it'll just be LA and back.”
“I'm on my way, Robby.” she said.
Robby explained to us, “I have one more person I want to get on the line, he's not were. He's human and he's a high ranking member of the Catholic Church. Please refer to him as Monsignor, when he gets on the line.” Robby said. “Comp One connect the Monsignor.”
It took about thirty seconds and then the computer said, <Monsignor on line>
Robby said to him, “Hello Monsignor, this is Robby Hansen, if you're wondering why I sound so different, all voices are being filtered through a computer and replaced by computer representations.”
“Yes, Robby Hansen, I assume it is important or you wouldn't have called, but I am curious. How did you get the number?” the voice of the Monsignor asked.
Robby grinned and when he answered his voice was almost back to normal. “Your priest punched in the number on a cell phone, Monsignor. I knew the make and model of the phone, therefore the exact location of the numbers on the keypad, it was easy to translate his finger movements to the actual number.”
Tal shook his head and grinned and the Monsignor echoed his sentiment, “It might be easy for you Robby, but I have the feeling that it would be difficult for most people.”
Robby’s voice became grim, “As you said Monsignor this is very important, so this is going to be a completely frank and open discussion that will include what you learned from those secret texts. You wouldn't have a secretary you couldn't trust completely. If you wish him to hear even your side of the conversation that's fine with me, but if not you should dismiss him.”
“Hmmmm. No I don't think so, not yet at any rate.” He spoke a few words in Italian. “Okay I've asked him to leave until this conversation is over.”
Robby explained, “As I said Monsignor this is going to be completely frank and open. There are a total of twelve people listening. You know from the secret texts that werewolves exist and nine of the twelve are werewolves, five of whom comprise the Werewolf Council and they are in effect our ruling body. While they do make laws, their primary responsibility is to provide overall guidelines by which Elders make laws or interpret existing laws.”
He said, “Werewolves aren't the only type of were and we have one on the line, Barney is one of those other weres, we also have one human telepath and one human, who works with werewolves.”
“Now the discussion which I'll start off with a question. I know you hunt them, but how much do you know about Vampires, Monsignor?” Robby asked. Tal jerked and I could hear gasps of obvious anger coming over the line.
The Monsignor said, “Not very much Robby, but I suspect I'm about to learn a great deal more. May I record this conversation?” he asked.
Robby said, “I have no objection, Monsignor and while the Council might I'm in control of this conversation not them. So shut up Roy. But please make a transcript of the recording leaving out any mention of weres and telepaths and then destroy the tape. I would ask you to do it yourself, please. I know as a Cardinal you probably don't do it very often but those texts that you've seen were done that way.”
I heard a chuckle over the line, then Robby said, “All right to get to the conversation. There are two types of Vampires. Master Vampires and what they sometimes refer to as their children, though the term slave is equally valid, especially for the first few years. Sometime in the ninth century about eight forty to eight eighty, some evil genius discovered a ritual. We believe this occurred somewhere in northern France and Vampires have nothing to do with Transylvania, though there are indications that Dracula does indeed exist. This ritual allowed him to find potential Elders and Healers in our population and it begins to show up in most of our people at about seven or eight.”
Robby explained, “Now that wouldn't have mattered if he had gone no further, but he was horribly afraid of dying and he devised a ritual to extend his life. It called on the devil and he sacrificed two of our children to do it. It's not an instant process. It takes months and it slowly leaches out all magic from those children, killing them very painfully, a fraction of an inch at a time. Eventually all their magic is gone and even humans on our world need some magic to stay alive, so they eventually die. That's why my people hate Vampires so much.”
Robby said somberly, “But the sacrifice doesn't end there. To complete the ritual they need a prepubescent human child. The sex doesn't matter, but they have to be old enough to know what is coming and fear it. Usually they're between six and ten and they're tortured to death. The only good thing about this part of the ritual is that it must be completed in a minimum of twelve hours and a maximum of twenty-four, so the death of your children while horrible is much briefer than ours. Not that we consider that any better, even if our children weren't used we would hate Vampires almost as much because we have a soft spot in our heart for all children.”
Robby said angerly, “From this ritual the Master Vampire gains an extension of his lifespan. They are not immortal, it only lasts about seven or eight hundred years. They also get the ability to fly, their uncanny strength and speed. At the same time they begin to develop telepathy which gives them the ability to control others. Over one to three hundred years they gain the ability to change, ironically the first type of change they acquire is the ability to change into a wolf. Depending on the power of the vampire it takes one to two centuries to acquire this skill, the other is the ability to change into a bat.”
Robby informed us, “At that time they begin to create children or Slave Vampires. Unlike the movies it doesn't happen overnight. It takes two or three years. Usually they create between three and six children. These children aren't necessarily evil, at least at the start, because the Master is controlling them, but once they become full Vampires, they begin to gather power. In about ten or twenty years the Master Vampire must release them or they will turn on him and destroy him. Once they are released, their feeding on humans gradually makes them evil whether they want it to or not.”
Robby told us, “Slave Vampires never become as powerful as Master Vampires. They can create children of their own but they are limited to one or two at a time. Master Vampires acquire slave humans, usually between fifteen and twenty-five of them. Like cattle they feed on them and it can be for a lifetime. That's the main difference between Master Vampires and Slave Vampires. Slave Vampires are never telepathically as strong and they can't gather slave humans, so they must prey on the general population.”
Robby stated emphatically, “Therefore they bring attention to themselves and eventually they are hunted down and killed!! Monsignor, your people have never come up against a Master Vampire but werewolves have!! Four times!! First in sixteen seventy-eight, then in seventeen forty-six and in nineteen eleven, the last time was in two thousand and two. On the first three occasions there were over thirty werewolves and on all three occasions while we were successful, more than twenty werewolves died. On the last occasion the Master Vampire was close to death and could no longer control any of his children and was comparatively harmless.”
Robby looked at me, saying, “The telepath I mentioned came to me for help, I don't know why yet. When I looked into her mind I recognized her enemy Rafael Mondar as a Master Vampire.” My heart was suddenly in my throat, as he continued, “There are several indications, the eyes, the face in general and the hands and the ability to move in bright sunlight and the telepathic power that he has. From the indications that I saw through her mind, he is about four or five hundred years old and in his prime. I would say he's the most powerful Master Vampire we have ever faced, so I wish to form a coalition to destroy him and his children and free his slaves.”
Robby said gravely, “People are going to die Monsignor, but I want to minimize the deaths as much as I can. I would like to get from you the priest who you consider the most devout. I mentioned to your priests in Cairo that I didn't know whether I believed in God or not, but your people do and that belief can produce people of incredible power. They can invest the things they bless with all of their belief and that make them incredibly dangerous to Vampires. Is that possible?”
There was quiet for about thirty seconds and then the Monsignor, (Cardinal) whatever he was, answered. “Yes, Robby, that is possible, in fact it is something we desire. To participate in the death of a Master Vampire of which you speak, would be incredibly gratifying for my people and I. If God requires the death of the priest I send you, believe me that we are as happy to die to rid the world of Vampires as you are.”
“Thank you, Monsignor.” Robby said simply. “I can tell you that the main problem when we attacked a Master Vampire and his children in the past was that they were able to control our minds to an extent. Though it wasn't enough to stop us from destroying them, it meant the death toll was very high. I believe I can provide shields which will protect all of us. That still leaves their strength and their speed and the fact that they can take much more physical punishment than we can. Also we have to be careful about their human slaves, we don't wish to kill any of them if we can avoid it. While they are only human and vulnerable as any human, they still will fight to the death because they are controlled by the Master Vampire. I will get back to you in a moment Monsignor.”
“Edward,” he said.
“Yes Robby?” he responded.
Robby explained, “Those five werewolves that were involved in the last hunt, contact them and a dozen additional ones of the same type. Make sure they know that this time, it won't be a Master Vampire who is almost dead, but one in his prime and there will be deaths and injuries. I'm splitting off you and the Monsignor and you can arrange the details of the priest's trip between you. Edward, Mondar shouldn't be hard to find, but if you have problems the two men that we left unconscious should still be there, so you can put a tail on them. Goodbye, Edward. Goodbye, Monsignor. Oh by the way, do you plan to change your phone number?”
The Monsignor said with obvious amusement, “No Robby, we don't care who knows our phone number. If someone we are hunting gets it and comes looking for us, well that means we don't have to hunt for them. Besides to get the number changed would probably take decades as fast as we move at times.”
Robby giggled, as he hit a couple of keys on the keyboard, then he said, “Barney, even your people in Sasquatch form can't match the strength of a Master Vampire, but your Elders can match the strength and possibly even the speed of a Slave Vampire. I didn't go through your Council because this is unofficial. I simply ask for volunteers.”
Barney said sincerely, “I assume that any were child with Elder potential could be used in the ritual? We've never had the chance to fight a vampire before, I'll be there, I should think I can get four or five more volunteers without any trouble and that will fill the Lear to capacity.”
“Yes, Barney, you're right.” Robby said. “and remember this is dangerous. We'll be armed primarily with tranquilizer guns to take out the humans and I get the impression of between twenty-five and thirty and they'll fight fanatically. They'll be so filled with adrenaline that it'll take four or five tranquilizer darts to take one down, where normally one dart does the job. The Vampires won't even notice tranquilizer darts.”
“I'll see you later today, Barney. Goodbye.” he said.
“Bye Robby.” Robby hit a key on the computer to hang up.
He said, “Roy, we'll want half a dozen Elders, big ones. As I told Barney. Even his people can't match the speed or strength of a Master Vampire, but Elders of his people can match Slave Vampires and so can our Elders if they're large enough. I would contact the jaguar weres as well, but they simply don't have the Elders to spare.”
Conway said intently, “Agreed, Robby, the session we had been holding deals with this event. Elders have been getting indications of Vampires somewhere around Prescott. The events were so widespread we were somewhat puzzled. Having a Master Vampire and his children around explains everything. I assume Mondar doesn't know how many werewolves that Benson and the areas surrounding it, including Prescott, comprise or you wouldn't have gotten him within a thousand miles of us. We don't need to place you in charge since you have already taken charge and you are the best one to handle it. Contact us if you need any additional resources.”
Robby said, “I do have two things I want. I want a van, a small transport or straight truck, fitted out as a command center and I want it's walls and roof and the cab strengthened, it will protect some very important people. Also I need a couple of doctors, because there are going to be deaths and injuries as I mentioned. Bye Roy.”
He said solemnly, “Bye Robby. I wish you good luck.” and Robby severed the contact with him.
Robby said somberly, “Len, I told you once that Elder's will risk even the youngest if necessary. It doesn't usually include going against Vampires but we're going to need Blue and Sandy. They're the only beings we have that will be ignored by both the Vampires and the slave humans. They can plant flash bang and smoke grenades, to be used as distractions. To get Sandy I'll need Aaron as well. I'll want you and Jeannie and Mattie, to protect him and Maria and the doctors the Council will supply. I'll have further instructions later. Bye Len.”
Len said tersely, “You've got to make some tough decisions, Robby. I'm glad I'm not in your position. Bye.” and Robby disconnected.
Robby looked at me and his eyes were calm. He told me, “I know from your mind about your boyfriend and the fact that Mondar wants you. You don't know why, but I do. There is a ritual that Vampires can perform, but as far as we know it has never been used. It requires a baby of enormous potential power and where do you find such a baby? You watch and listen and over the centuries you're led to human telepaths because every few generations two people are born and they are completely different from the rest of their people. They are only complete when they are bonded and the baby that is born will have the power of both the father and the mother.”
Robby pointed at me, saying gravely, “Now you have the sacrifice that is needed to complete the ritual that will make you the primary Master Vampire and the most powerful vampire of all time. I know that you are a couple of months pregnant, Maria and your baby is that baby. The baby doesn't have to be born to be used in the ritual. I won't let your baby be captured and that ritual be completed. Those watching you will have orders to kill you if you are in any danger of being captured.”
I put my hand on his and told him, “Thank you, Robby. As you told us about the ritual and the sacrifices of the children, I realized why Mondar wanted me. To sacrifice my child for some reason and now that I know the reason, I'm glad that Darian sent me to you. My people, even if they had known why, wouldn't have had the insight and the ruthlessness needed to do it.”
Robby nodded solemnly, saying, “I can ease your mind in at least one respect. There is an afterlife. As a Healer, I have reached into the Inner Realms on three occasions and brought back a spirit, so I know it exists.”
SEVEN-Tuesday-March 23, 2004
I had shielded everyone who would be even peripherally involved in this attack and they were the strongest shields I had ever created. Now it was time for the attack itself. We had been lucky in that the estate next to Mondar's was for lease. While it had taken some serious money we had managed to lease it for two months and we had gathered there. Our instruments indicated that while the next estate had a security system it was inactive. Not surprising Vampires, especially Master Vampires, tended to be behind the times. If it was good enough for my father etc...
Not that it had ever hurt them before. Mainly of course since they were telepaths they could hear their attackers minds before they were close enough to be detected by the ears, or by a security system. This time it was going to be different, or at least I hoped it would be. I wasn't one hundred percent sure. I had tried probing for their minds and I found them all right. Thy were so different from anything I had ever seen before that I couldn't get anywhere with them. I knew there were nine of them and they were all in the house, but I couldn't even read surface thoughts, though I could feel emotions.
Blue had complained as usual about having to do some work, but Sandy told him to shut up. That it was a privilege being able to help destroy a Vampire and he hadn't said anything more. Not that he was afraid of her, it's just that as on the Elven World familiars tended to be matriarchal and he respected her as his leader. They had been working like troopers since the sun came up slipping through the poles of the metal fence and planting flash bang and smoke grenades, all around the estate. They were seen a couple of times by the Vampires human slaves but had been ignored as I had figured they would be.
If it had been dogs even small ones, they would have informed the Vampires and it would have made things much harder. But werewolf Healers hadn't existed for over eighty years and they wouldn't even have considered the fact that they might have returned. Therefore cats were animals and were ignored.
Together Blue and Sandy managed to plant a hundred of the flash bang grenades and another fifty smoke grenades. In the control van we had a map of the estate up and there was a red color for each of the flash bangs and a blue for the smoke grenades and they could be set off remotely. The smoke grenades were all connected to the same circuit so they would all go off at the same time.
I looked at my watch when the two familiars had planted the last of the grenades and it was just after nine. I looked at Len and he said, “The film crew is in position, we've got werewolf cops directing traffic around the site and we're ready to go.”
“Okay let's wake up the neighborhood.” I told him.
I had been asleep for several hours when I was awakened by an nasty racket. I was somewhat confused at first, but quickly regained my senses. Bringing my shield up I went over to the window and I could see what seemed like an attack on the estate next door. Then I saw several camera crews and I realized that somebody was filming a movie next door.
I was outraged and I yelled, “Simon, in here now!!”
He showed up in about twenty seconds and I could see the hate in his dark eyes. I had his mind on a light hold, yet he still couldn't escape, as somehow the two who had been after his distant cousin Maria Escalante had managed to do. Before I said anything, he told me, “We have checked the records, Master. The permits for the filming were issued two months ago and the filming was scheduled to start this morning. They will be shooting an attack scene on the estate for the next two or three days. Then it will be peaceful for the next month and then they have a second noisy session which will last almost a week.”
He shrugged, saying, “Possibly the owners of this estate were aware of what was going to happen and that's why you were able to rent the estate, however we should be gone by the time of the second session.”
I reached out with my mind and skimmed the surface thoughts of half a dozen of them and got the same information that Simon had just given me. To get deeply into any mind except for my slaves was very difficult and would have taken fifteen or twenty minutes for each one. I shrugged, I had slept through periods in the nineteen-thirty-six Civil War in Spain, so no doubt I could sleep through this, as annoying as it might be.
I said to Len, “I'll give you the signal to start the main sequence of the film shoot and two minutes into it, start blowing the grenades farthest away from the fence. After thirty seconds blow the fence and the smoke grenades. Then start blowing the flash bang grenades at random.” I looked up at the map one more time, saying, “The way we've got it set up if everybody goes where they're supposed to nobody should be caught by any of the flash bangs. Of course somebody's going to screw up but we can't help that.”
I put my hand on Len's shoulder, right now he was too busy for anything more, but I got a hug from Jeannie, Mattie and Maria and an extra hard hug from Aaron. He whispered in my ear, “Try not to get hurt.”
I whispered back, “I'll try not to, but there are never any guarantees Aaron. Life is dangerous. All we can do is live it to the full, so that when it's our time to go we don't have any regrets and I have none. Okay?”
He nodded, though there was still a tear in his eye. He said, “Good luck.”
“Thank you little brother.” I said, rubbing the top of his head.
I got up and Len hit the switch to open the door and I went out to be met by my personal bodyguard. Well not really, there were five of them and they were there to take care of me and carry out my plan. There was Barney Ross and his son Adam and Smith Jones and Tal and Father Miles O'Hanlon. Father O'Hanlon was about fifty, but in great shape and despite the name there wasn't any Irish in him. He was black with one of the darkest skins I had ever seen.
He was about six feet tall, with pure white beard and mustache and a shiny bald head, but his hands looked like they belonged to a much larger man since they were very big and the fingers were long. He just radiated goodness. Not the pompous holier than thou goodness, but the real thing.
He knew people had their faults and he was an understanding man who could forgive other peoples transgressions and he was a man of tolerance. He would never have become a missionary, since he accepted that people should not be forced to give up their beliefs. He believed that just because they didn't believe in the same God that he did, didn't make them bad people.
We were all dressed like ninjas, though that was partly to make us look like the stunt men who were attacking the villa, however it was for a practical purpose as well. Underneath the costume we were all wearing lightweight body armor and the helmet which Tal helped me put on covered the face neck and the back of the head and was buckled securely by two buckles at the back. The outfit had been developed specifically to fight Vampires and the helmet had eyepieces to protect the eyes. They just happened to have one in my size. Yeah right and if you believe that like the song says, I've got some beachfront property in Arizona I'll sell you dirt cheap.
One of the most dangerous weapons that a vampire had was the razor sharp fingernails, they could destroy the eyes or rip out the throat with ease and some of the deaths in the past had been due to blows to those vulnerable areas. The helmets were cooled by circulating water and right now they had holy water blessed by Father O'Hanlon, with a little garlic oil mixed in. Vampires were still too strong for the body armor to prevent broken bones and sometimes the neck would be one of them.
I spoke into the mic, “Can you read me, Len?”
“I read you loud and clear, Robby.” Len said.
I thought about the orders I had given, then played a hunch. I told him, “Len, reverse the order of the flash bangs. Hit the ones on the west, closest to us first. No other changes.”
I had found it almost enjoyable, the explosions, I just had to imagine that people were caught in them and I was almost asleep when I heard a series of explosions much louder than I had been hearing. I knew even before Simon rushed into my room that those explosions had been on our side of the fence. I ordered him, “That's a distraction, concentrate our forces on the east side of the estate.”
He rushed to do as he was told and I stood there in the window furious. How had we been discovered? Nobody with any sense would take on a Master Vampire and his children, therefore it had to be werewolves. I stood there at the window, stupefied as men poured through the fence on the west side, partially covered by smoke and I realized that I had been out-thought. I snarled with rage, my fangs popping out.
Fortunately, Simon had caught onto the ruse and the men were heading back to the west fence, firing their weapons and the intruders were going down but I snarled even more as they were getting back up again. They must be wearing body armor and I saw my people going down. With despair I realized that I had become complacent and hadn't replaced my human slaves as often as I should have. They could no longer think and none of them, except for Simon, even tried to take cover. I could still feel them, so they were still alive, which meant the werewolves were using their damned tranquilizer guns.
I would need to abandon my children and start all over again. It would take years. I yearned for revenge.
I came out of my trance and I opened my eyes. I said quietly, “Everyone get in position.” and Barney, Adam and Smith faded into the trees.
I gathered a blow and struck at Mondar's shield. I hurt him, but as I said his mind was so different that I couldn't cause a lot of damage, but I captured his attention and I could read the rage building, just when he needed calm.
His rage had shattered his survival instincts and I could feel him coming toward us. There was a little wooded area at the end of the estate and we were under trees so he couldn't come at us directly from above, but there was a small clearing ten yards from us and that's where he landed, his face a picture of rage.
This was the most important moment and the moment Robby had been working for. Now he just needed a distraction and Barney and Adam and Smith attacked. Barney and Adam were both Sasquatch Elders and they both weighed around three hundred and fifty pounds and Smith, though he weighed a hundred pounds less, was a werewolf/jaguar cross and though he wasn't as strong as the other two, he was even faster.
Of course, there was no possibility of them holding him. Even their combined strength couldn't equal a Master Vampire's strength, but by the time he got rid of them, Robby attacked. As he had done the day I had first met him he had gone into a trance and summoned the speed and strength that being an Elder and a Healer could give him. The trance had lasted for a minute, so for about a minute, he would be as strong and fast as Mondar and he attacked. That was about the longest he could stretch it. The speed and strength put too much stress on his immature body for any longer period of time.
I didn't see him move, but suddenly he drove a stake into Mondar's heart. Father O'Hanlon and I immediately began drenching them with holy water from the squirt guns we had been provided with. The sudden pain as the wooden stake pierced his heart caused Mondar to panic and the holy water, which would be burning like acid to him, didn't help matters.
If he had been a warrior he probably would have survived, but he was a Vampire and it's unlikely he had ever been on a battlefield. He should have gone for Robby from the beginning, but aside from a few flailing blows, one of which broke Robby's left arm he ignored him. He paid more attention to the holy water than the more immediate danger of the stake.
Finally he realized his danger and he grabbed the stake and tried to pull it out, but he had waited too long. His strength was draining out of him and he couldn't overcome Robby's strength and after about forty seconds he suddenly turned to dust.
Robby yelled “Get in the house now!! His children will be disorientated for about five to ten minutes!! This is the time to avoid casualties!! They're in the basement and you've all gone over the plans. Go!!”
We lost six dead in the attack on the house, two of whom were Elders and two more had been killed by Mondar's human slaves. Three more were seriously injured but according to Dr. Matt Conners they would all survive.
I didn't regret any of the deaths but though I hadn't known them that well, I would mourn them. Through Len, Edward had been informed to update the filming permit that we had and it now included both estates.
The dead and injured were all gone. We had moved them out as soon as we could. They were headed to The Clinic, the wounded for needed medical attention. The dead to be quietly disposed of according to their relatives wishes, which normally with werewolves was cremation. Matt had immobilized my arm for the time being. It was in a sling and Blue had stimulated my endorphins to produce pain medications, so it didn't hurt.
We were doing one last sweep of the house to make sure that we had gotten all of the Vampires. While I could feel nothing, I wasn't going to take any chances. I heard from Len. “Robby, all rooms of the house have been checked. We have a green for all of them. The test circuits indicate all of the grenades went off properly. We had a hundred of the flash bangs and the computer is reporting that they all went off and it's reporting that all fifty of the smoke grenades went off as well.”
I relaxed, telling him, “Okay, Len tell the men to start moving the humans into the house. We'll find Simon Escalante and wake him up. You can unbutton the command vehicle. You, Mattie and Jeannie watch Aaron and Maria and bring them over. Have Lon take the truck to headquarters and they can start disassembling it. Bring my clothes over too, will you?”
Tal said, “We've found Simon Escalante and he's fine. He was hit by two tranquilizer darts but Matt's having a look at him now and giving him the antidote.”
I had the beautiful sight of Maria to greet me when I woke up and the most beautiful feeling in my mind. For the first time in three months Mondar was no longer there. I reached with my mind and for a moment I couldn't feel anything but then suddenly her mind was wide open. Taking absent notice that her shield was completely different from what it had been, we were in each other's minds and we were one, as we should be.
I was aware of things going on around me, but we ignored it for the moment, until we were brought back to the real world by a light cough, obviously intended to get our attention. I looked over at a little boy sitting in a chair with a cat in his lap. He was wearing just a pair of shorts and sandals and his arm was in a sling.
He said in a soft voice, which I was to find was his natural way of speaking. “I hate to interrupt true love, but we've got things to do. We got Mondar and eight of his children. I just want to make sure that we got all of them.”
A burst of joy went through me at the thought of those evil beings being dead, as Maria helped me to a seated position. I said, “Just eight. He had contacts in Prescott but they were just people who were making a little money on the side. They didn't know who they were working for.”
He nodded, saying, “That's good. Now the estate rent is paid up till the end of the month. People will start coming in the morning to put it to rights. Gardeners to make sure that any damage caused by the grenades is patched up and we'll be replacing the entire fence. It's easier than just trying to patch up the sections that we destroyed to get through it.”
He waved his hand around and I realized that my fellow slave humans were lying on the floor, with cushions under their heads. He told me, “We used an antidote to wake you up and you'll feel a little dozy because of it for a while. The others we'll just let wake up naturally at a nursing home that we run. The last time we took out a Master Vampire and his brood was in nineteen-eleven. They didn't remember anything and eventually with our help they resumed their former lives. There were some problems in the fact that some of them had been declared legally dead, but fortunately money can smooth out a lot of things.”
There was suddenly humor in his eyes, as he said, “I've been peeking and I can see that you know the numbers of Mondar's Swiss bank accounts.” I looked at Maria and she grinned at me.
She told me, “Don't expect to be able to feel Robby like you do our people, Sim. His mind probes are completely undetectable. He told me that he wants to use the money to help your fellow slaves readjust to their lives and as a reserve for fighting Vampires in the future.”
Robby said, “However, that's up to you. Mondar won't have any relatives, so you're the closest thing to an heir that he had. If you wish to keep the money that's fine with us.”
I shook my head, telling him seriously, “No I don't want it! He loved to gloat about how he got it, usually from information gained from an important financier's mind just before he killed him. It's fitting that the money helps the people he hurt to reclaim their lives and to fight his kind in the future.”
“You know why Mondar wanted Maria's baby?” Robby asked me and I could see her shiver and there was sympathy on the boy's small face.
I nodded, saying, “He called it the Ritual of Primacy. That it would give him power over all Vampires. Was he crazy, or was he right?”
Robby shrugged, wincing a little. He admitted, “We don't know. The ritual has never been performed, but we believe it would work, at least in part and that means that the baby is still in danger and will be until he reaches the age when he starts to control his abilities. Maria said that's usually around four or five. The ritual calls for a baby or child with potential power, once that power is even partially controlled the child is no longer of use in the ritual. If any of Mondar's still living children know about the ritual and the existence of a baby who could be used, he could go to another Master Vampire and be welcomed with open arms.”
Robby's large green eyes went cold, as he told me, “We won't let that ritual be completed. Maria has already agreed to move to Benson, which is the heart of the werewolf world and accept our protection. We know that you are in a sense one, but still she couldn't accept our protection on your behalf. That decision is yours. Move to Benson and be with her and the baby when it's born or go your own way.”
Maria looked at me calmly, knowing what my answer would be but still respecting me enough to allow me to make my own decision. I said firmly, “I've seen Mondar's mind and the evil it contained. I willingly put myself under your protection as long as my family needs it.”
“I've been reading some very interesting things about Benson. WEREWOLF CAPITAL OF THE WORLD says one headline. THEY'VE BEEN IN OUR MIDST FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS and BENSON IS THEIR HOME reads another one. I know people are going to get a chuckle out of these headlines, but I was just wondering why.” said the Monsignor.
I told him, “You might notice the byline on most of those articles. Many are copy cats but when it's ours whatever language it's in, wolf is always included in the name somewhere and there's a tiny logo following the name. If you used a magnifying glass, Monsignor you'll find that it is a wolf's head. Most people will ignore these articles and they'll laugh. However, we are telling Vampires just what Benson is and the wolf's head logo is the one we leave behind when we kill Vampires. We're telling them, no matter what reason, come here if you dare, we'll be waiting.”
I said gravely, “Miles told you about the Ritual of Primacy, Monsignor. We believe it will work. Therefore, we will never let that Ritual be performed, whatever the cost. We want them to know that even to get the baby to complete the Ritual of Primacy first you've got to face a town full of werewolves, who will be waiting for them. Possibly these stories are unneeded, Monsignor. Maybe no other vampire knows about Maria's child. There's an old saying among werewolves. If an Elder needs something and it can be gotten then we get it, because we don't like to say in hindsight. 'If only we had gotten that.' I always operate on the premise that something will go wrong, Monsignor. Maybe they don't know about the baby, but maybe they do and now they also know that it will be guarded by werewolves.”
I explained, “I stole Miles from you Monsignor, because Maria and the unborn baby and then the baby will be guarded twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Simon and Maria are strong but they need a person of conviction who can keep them strong. A person who they can lean on, because they know that as a last resort they might need the courage to press the button which will kill them.”
His voice was serene as he said, “I give all of you my blessing, Robby. May God always be with you and give you the strength you need whatever the test.”