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After getting himself mostly presentable, Agent Roberts came to the conclusion that his suit was probably a total loss. He'd give the dry cleaner a chance, but didn't hold out much hope.
While he was certain that there wouldn't be a replacement available anywhere in Waxell, it was at least possible that there would be a clothier of some sort in Gooseneck. He would ask Agent Fastbeck if he knew of any before he set off on his quest.
With the weekend approaching, he resolved himself to a road trip, not only to resupply his dwindling wardrobe, but also for some other various and sundry items that weren't available in Waxell. While attending to his other duties, Agent Roberts went about the task of composing a shopping list in his head.
As he walked back into the office, looking somewhat presentable, Agent Fastbeck said, "Shawn, this is Ethyl Turner, she's our local mail carrier."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ma'am. My name is Shawn Roberts."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Agent Roberts. Nancy told me that you're renting the Spencers' homestead. I'll start delivering your mail to the box at the bottom of your drive on Monday. Your mailing address will be Route 2."
"Will you leave me a change of address form in my box so I can fill it out?"
"I will if you like, but all I'm going to do is file it away and forget about it."
"What will I need to do to get my phone turned on?"
"I'll restore the connection as soon as I get back to the office. Your number will be 'Waxell 1132' and your ring will be two long and one short if I remember correctly. If it's anything else, I'll let you know."
"I don't know... what does that even mean?"
"Agent Roberts is going to need a dedicated 'private' line... for business."
"There's no way I can do that with the lines we have in place. The party line is his only option for the time being."
"It's a phone line that's shared by a group of people. If an emergency call comes through for someone else while you're using it, you'll be asked to yield the line. Otherwise, you just work out your time usage with your neighbors." Agent Fastbeck explained.
"I guess that I'll have to make due with it until I get my sat phone."
"Yes. And if you decide to get satellite internet for your computer, you might consider a VOIP service. I'm not exactly sure how that works with the satellite lag. It may not be practical. Either way, the tech guys from Louisville should be able to answer any questions you have and explain your options during the installation." Agent Fastbeck said thoughtfully.
"I need to get back to the office now. I don't like to leave Nana on her own for too long. If you have any questions or need any help, just pick up a phone." Ethyl said before hurrying out of the room.
"She's the operator too?"
"Welcome to Waxell."
* * * * *
As Agent Roberts was diligently working on his update to the Matthew Farmer report, a movement caught his attention and he saw a young man standing in the doorway, staring at him wide-eyed.
"Can I help you?" Agent Roberts asked uncertainly.
There was a long pause, but the young man finally asked, "Is Conrad here?"
"He's in his office. Did you have some business to discuss with him?" Agent Roberts asked curiously. Something about the young man's reaction seemed to be off.
"I need to see him right now. It's an emergency."
Agent Roberts stood and motioned for the young man to follow him as he walked to Agent Fastbeck's doorway.
After a brief knock to announce his presence, Agent Roberts quietly said, "Agent Fastbeck, there's someone here to see you. He says that it's important."
"Rocky? What are you doing here?" Agent Fastbeck asked with a smile, then stood from behind his desk and hurried to the man to give him a hug.
Agent Roberts was surprised, to say the least, at Agent Fastbeck's enthusiastic greeting.
But in the few moments that the men were hugging, Agent Roberts easily came to the conclusion that the hug was one of affection, not passion. Agent Fastbeck was pleasantly surprised by the young man's visit.
"You've got to come with me right now!"
"What's wrong? Is Andrea alright?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he pulled out of the hug and looked at Rocky with concern.
"She's fine. Everyone's fine. But Andrea told me to tell you that Ima needs your help right away. It's an emergency."
"I have a job. I can't just drop everything and leave on a whim. I need to know what's going on."
"We need you. There's no one else." The young man said firmly.
Agent Fastbeck seemed to consider for a moment, then thought to say, "Rocky, this is Agent Roberts, he started working with me today."
"It's nice to meet you." Rocky said as he spared Agent Roberts a glance, then looked back to Agent Fastbeck and said, "You know how things are with us. If it could wait for your next visit, we would wait. But Ima said that you're needed now. Andrea told me to come into town and get you. You know that she wouldn't do that if it wasn't really important."
"Okay." Agent Fastbeck reluctantly agreed, then looked to Agent Roberts and said, "It's close enough to closing time that I doubt anyone will care. Why don't you get your things together and we'll close up shop."
"Is it something I can help with?" Agent Roberts asked with concern.
"Actually, I have no idea. I'm going to have to find out what's going on."
"If there's anything I can do, will you let me know?" Agent Roberts asked seriously.
"Yes. I will." Agent Fastbeck promised, then said, "Let's get everything closed up."
* * * * *
Since Agent Roberts had been mostly finished with his update to the Matthew Farmer report, it only took him a matter of minutes to close it out and put things away.
He was, of course, intrigued about what might be going on with Agent Fastbeck, but knew better than to intrude on what might turn out to be a personal matter. Just because someone said that something was an emergency didn't mean that it was his, or the FBI's business.
"Are you done? I need to lock up." Agent Fasbeck asked as he walked out of his office with Rocky following closely behind.
"Yeah. Will you be here tomorrow?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"I plan to be, but if something comes up, I'll stop by your place and let you know." Agent Fastbeck promised.
"I hope everything goes alright for you. Remember to let me know if there's anything I can do."
"I will." Agent Fastbeck said as he ushered Agent Roberts and Rocky out the door.
"It was nice to meet you Agent Roberts. I'm really sorry about having to do this." Rocky said repentantly.
Agent Roberts could tell that the young man did, indeed, feel bad for interrupting their work day and bringing it to an early end.
"It's okay. I missed having lunch today, so I'll just count this as my lunch hour." Agent Roberts said simply.
Rocky looked at him uncertainly for a moment, then seemed to accept his response.
* * * * *
Since he was out of work early, Agent Roberts decided to do a little shopping for his new house. Considering that he hadn't eaten the food that he had purchased the night before, he didn't feel the need to go to the market, but the feed store was another matter. There were a variety of things that had caught his attention while he had been buying cookware, and he appeared to have the time to be able to browse.
His stop at the Waxell Diner was strangely quiet and uneventful. Tracy was waitressing and provided exemplary service, but Agent Roberts missed Harry's unbridled enthusiasm and upbeat attitude. He couldn't be sure if it were his hunger from having missed lunch or if the food really was that good, but he could say without reservation that it was the best hamburger that he had ever tasted.
Although the bulk of the unpacking had been done the previous night, there was still quite a bit to do when he arrived back at his house.
By the time he had things placed where he wanted them, it was already past his intended bedtime.
* * * * *
Agent Roberts took a long slow drink of the coffee he had just gotten at the Waxell Diner. He was still puzzling over his conversation with Harry as he was filling his travel mug.
Somehow, and he wasn't quite sure how, he had promised to get a travel mug like his for Harry.
As he pulled into the lot behind the FBI office, Agent Roberts was relieved to see that Agent Fastbeck's car was present. Despite Agent Fastbeck's assurance, he had half expected for him not to show up at all.
As he walked into the office, Agent Fastbeck met him just inside the door. "I'm sorry to do this to you Shawn, but something's come up. I have something that I'm going to have to investigate on my own."
"Does this have something to do with Rocky and what he was telling you about yesterday?"
"Rocky was right. It was an emergency."
"An FBI type emergency?" Agent Roberts persisted.
"While I'm sure the bureau would be interested in this, I think this actually falls more into the category of something that they don't 'officially' need to be aware of." Agent Fastbeck said uneasily.
"Let me go with you."
"No. This could potentially come back to haunt you later on in your career."
"I've already made that choice... And I've paid that price." Agent Roberts said simply, then explained, "The report that got me sent here was about something that they 'officially' didn't need to know about."
"There's going to be quite a bit of hiking..."
"Just a minute." Agent Roberts said before hurrying out the door.
Agent Fastbeck went back to work, gathering selected maps as he wondered what Agent Roberts was up to.
* * * * *
"Considering that both of my last two field assignments involved hiking... and ruined my suits in the process, I decided that keeping a 'bug-out' bag of hiking gear with me might be a good idea." Agent Roberts said as he returned with a large backpack.
"It looks like you're better prepared for this than I am."
"So I can go with you?"
"If you go, it's going to have to be with the understanding that I won't be able to tell you everything."
"Yes. I understand that." Agent Roberts assured him, then asked, "What can you tell me?"
"There is a community hidden in the mountains. They've remained isolated from the outside world since they settled it... centuries ago."
"Something like Waxell?"
"No. I mean complete isolation. They haven't had contact of any kind with anyone or anything from the outside world in all that time."
"Without the influence of other cultures, I can't even imagine how a society would develop in a situation like that."
"Well, if you really want to know, get changed into your hiking clothes so that we can go. Last night I spoke to one of their people, who travelled here to ask for our help."
"If they've been so isolated, how would they know to come to you?"
After a long moment of consideration, Agent Fastbeck carefully said, "A leads to B which leads to C. I can't talk about B."
"Fair enough." Agent Roberts said simply.
"Go change. We need to leave right away."
* * * * *
"These directions you have make no sense." Agent Roberts said as he looked back to the map again.
"Imagine this. Two hundred years ago two colonies were established. While they were aware of each other's existence, they were at the same time completely independent from each other."
"Okay. I can imagine that." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"Skip ahead to now. You have to give directions to the colony that you haven't visited or had contact with in two hundred years."
"So there weren't any roads, or if there were, they might not exist anymore. Even rivers might have significantly changed their course over that period of time."
"Now, if you'll look at those directions again, you'll see that they refer to the most enduring geographical landmarks. Using those to orient us and the compass headings that they provided to keep us on course, we should be able to find the way to where the colony is supposed to be."
"The second colony, is that where Rocky's from?" Agent Roberts asked carefully.
"Change the subject."
"Okay. If someone from the colony went to get you, why isn't he coming back with us to show us the way?"
"He can't. He's in no condition. The trip nearly killed him."
"What happened to him?"
"He ran the entire way."
"Wait. He ran? On foot? That's over a hundred miles."
"Yes. I very nearly left early this morning after talking to him, but then I decided that it would be better if I got at least some sleep and started this trip during the daylight hours. I'm not so much of a woodsman that I want to start a mountain climbing adventure in the dark."
"If I'm deciphering this right with the topographical map, it looks like we're going to end up in the middle of some pretty treacherous mountains. I don't know if, between us, we have the skill necessary for this type of a hike."
"If you could have seen him, you'd know that we have to try."
"Okay. Why don't you tell me what's so dire that this person from a reclusive society would seek out help?"
"They've been discovered."
"Seriously? You're going to get all grammar nazi with me now?"
"They don't exactly know who is attacking them. They've never actually seen them. You see, the defense that they've always used to protect themselves is a double edged sword. It makes an impenetrable barrier surrounding their colony which also blocks anyone from seeing in."
"But at the same time, they can't see out." Agent Roberts guessed.
"Yes. At least, that's the way I understood it. It's possible that I might have misinterpreted some of what he told me. Their language is sort of... challenging." Agent Fastbeck finished slowly, obviously not entirely happy with his choice of words.
"What language is it?"
"I don't think there's actually a word for it."
"Do you always number your questions?"
"No. Not always. Question one: This impenetrable place we're going to, do we have a way to get in?"
"Care to explain?"
"Is that question two?"
"No, it's a follow up to question one."
"What was the question again?"
"How are we going to get into the impenetrable colony?"
"I was given a password. In theory, it should allow us to enter."
Agent Fastbeck shrugged helplessly.
"Okay. I'll let that slide. Question two: Assuming that we do get in, then we're going to... do what? These people speak a language that we don't even have a word for. Are we going to play charades with them until we figure out what they expect us to do?"
"I can understand their language... sort of."
"Question two, part a: Is you telling me what the hell you're talking about going to put you, Rocky or me in danger?"
"Then why won't you tell me?"
"Is this two b?"
"This is the follow up to two a."
"I won't tell you because you wouldn't believe it and I don't want you to think I'm crazy and freak out when you realize that you're trapped in a car with a complete lunatic."
"That was a more complete answer than I was expecting."
"I didn't have to stop and think about that one."
"Fair enough. But since I'm going with you, I'm going to witness whatever it is that you're not wanting to tell me, right? I mean, I'm still going to find out at some point. So wouldn't it be better to tell me now so that I have time to get used to... whatever it is?"
"Is this two b?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Um. Okay. What do you believe about things like ghosts, spirits, souls, gods, reincarnation and magic?"
Agent Roberts had to think about that for a moment to assess his feelings and give an accurate evaluation of them.
"If you had asked me before I entered the field, I probably would have told you that I didn't believe in any of that stuff. I believed that observable reality and science explained everything to a degree that there wasn't room for anything else."
"May I assume that you encountered something to change your mind about that?"
"I learned that my assumptions about reality were based on easy answers. If I didn't bother to look too closely, it all made perfect sense. Now... I'm open to at least considering alternative explanations."
"Good. I can work with that."
"What does this have to do with ghosts and all the rest of it?"
"Something happened since yesterday which allows me to understand their language. If I explain further, it will only divert us from more important topics."
"Okay. Question two, part c: Is whatever happened last night to teach you their language the reason that you, specifically, were asked to do this?"
"That's a surprisingly astute observation. To answer, I can only say that it was one of the reasons I was chosen. There may be others that I'm not aware of. But as far as I know, I'm the only one who could have received the ability to understand their language."
"Okay. Then it makes sense why they would send someone to come and get you, if you're the only one who could... wait. If you're the only one who can talk to them, does that mean that the person who ran all the way to Waxell couldn't tell them what was wrong when he finally got here?"
"Yes. That's correct."
"Then that explains the 'emergency' part."
"Is that all the questions?"
"No. Question three. The person who ran all the way to Waxell, is he human?"
"I'll take that as a 'no'."
"Despite their appearance, they're not a danger to us."
"Can you just tell me what they are?"
"There isn't an accurate word in our language for them."
"Don't play games with me. What are we talking about? If all goes well, I'm going to be seeing them for myself in a few hours anyway."
"In the ancient tongue, they were called Wudewas."
"Okay. You got me on that one. I thought a name would at least give me a clue of what we're going to be facing."
"Physically, they're bigger than we are. But as people, they're innocent. They live in harmony with nature and with each other. They have no desire to have anything to do with us or our society. They just want to be left alone in peace."
"So they're... giants?" Agent Roberts guessed.
"Compared to us, I suppose they are. But I wouldn't label them as such."
"Turn left up here, there should be a dirt road." Agent Roberts said as he looked back at the map to confirm it.
"How long before we have to go on foot?"
"This road will take us up into the mountains, then will turn left to run parallel with the ridge. We'll need to get out and walk once we reach that turn. Depending on how this dirt road slows us down... half an hour, maybe."
"Shawn, it's very important that whatever you see in the next few hours, you not tell anyone. Some people who are very important to me could be hurt badly if the wrong person were to find out about them."
"I think that I've had enough questions for a while."
"This one isn't like the others. There's just something that I want to confirm before we take off on foot."
"Why did you give in and let me go with you? Is all of this some kind of a 'prophecy' or 'chosen one' thing or anything like that?"
"Not that I know of. A thing happened, another thing needed to happen to offset it. I'm the other thing. As far as your part... I never even considered bringing you along when I was planning all of this. But when you asked, I could see myself in a similar situation and I understood what you were feeling. I treated you like I would want for someone to treat me."
"Thanks. After landing in this backwoods time warp with the creepy happy people and ass raping aliens, the last thing I'd want is to find out that I have some grand destiny tied up in all of this."
"If you need a reason for being here, how about that it would be stupid for me to hike into the mountains in the middle of nowhere completely alone?"
"Besides, you're good company. This would have been one horribly long boring drive all on my own."
"Yeah. It probably would have been a dull day for me back at the office, too."
* * * * *
There wasn't much of an opportunity for conversation as they hiked into the mountains.
They stopped a few times to take out their maps and share Shawn's canteen as they made their way deeper and deeper into heavily forested mountains.
Just after noon, Agent Fastbeck spotted the rock formation that they had been looking for. The jagged peak was just as described and they proceeded with renewed dedication.
Once they reached the peak, they surveyed the expansive valley below and after some searching, they were finally able to find the misty hollow, hidden amongst the trees.
Relieved to have their destination in sight, the agents did their best to keep their wits about them as they forged a path to the sunken valley.
* * * * *
While it was possible to spot the location of the valley from the peak, it was impossible to determine how close they were to it on the ground.
Agent Roberts was becoming frustrated by the tangled vines, thorns and small trees that seemed to have grown in such a way as to create a barrier which would prevent them from getting any nearer to their destination.
"I think this is it." Agent Fastbeck said as he rested one hand on the tangle of weeds and vines.
"This is what? We can't even see the valley from here."
"That's just how it's supposed to be."
"I don't understand."
"I know. From here on out, I'm asking that you trust me."
"To do what?"
"In the bond of blood, in the bond of pain, in the bond of shared grief, in the name of Cernunnos who oversees and protects, accept the guardians of light into your sanctuary."
As his last words were spoken, the formerly impervious wall seemed to give way to Agent Fastbeck's slightest touch.
"Did you just cast a spell?" Agent Roberts asked as he followed, surprised by the much dimmer light inside the barrier.
"That was the password."
"It sounded like a spell to me."
"How many actual spells have you heard?"
"Okay. You got me on that one..." Shawn trailed off as they emerged from the dark tangle of vines and weeds into more of a clearing. Very little of the early afternoon sunlight found its way to their location in the forest.
A low mist surrounded them, making it impossible to see the ground that they were walking on.
"Tell me again, why are we here?" Shawn asked quietly.
"Because we're needed."
"I don't know. Okay? I'm hoping that being here will provide me some answers so I can figure that out. What I do know is that I can't explain what I don't understand. I'm going where I was told that I was needed."
A large person... or animal, well over seven feet tall appeared in the mist before them.
A deep bass growl sounded which literally sent a chill up Shawn's spine.
"Your elder expects us. Lead the way and we will follow."
The animal snarled, which trailed off into a slow rumbling growl.
"Your brother is well. He completed his mission last night and is recovering his energy after his long and arduous journey."
There was another growl, then Conrad motioned for Shawn to walk with him toward the enormous beast that was shrouded in fog and shadow.
"What is it?" Shawn whispered and wasn't able to keep the fear out of his voice.
"They were once known as 'the Wudewas'."
"But what are they?"
"Something else. Something not human. I don't know much more than that. Maybe they're what we used to be. Or maybe at some pivotal point in the evolutionary process, their ancestors turned left when ours turned right."
There was a snort, followed by a brief growl as the shadowy beast stopped in front of them.
"We're to wait here. Their leader is being summoned to meet with me."
"I'm guessing that it's not in your capacity as an FBI agent."
"No. That's a little harder to explain. Let's just say for now that I live on the edge of two worlds. That gives me a certain... perspective."
Shawn thought about that for a moment and likened it to his own situation. Knowing about Shadesiders gave him a unique perspective. He felt better qualified than most to make certain judgements and decisions since he was aware of a greater picture.
"I'm going to have to do something now, it's necessary to prove that we're here to help... try not to panic."
"Okay." Shawn said slowly.
"And, if you wouldn't mind too much, would you take care of my clothes?"
"Do what?" Shawn asked, then was astonished to see Agent Fastbeck shrink and disappear into the fog at their feet. Something was stirring in the fog, then Shawn took a step back as he saw a large black bird steadily growing and assuming a somewhat human form.
As Shawn was about to ask what was going on, he heard a movement and turned to see another enormous gray fur covered beast, shrouded in fog.
"At the founding, the cursed and the exiled swore to come to each others aid in times of dire need. I am here carrying the essence of Aengus MacOg to honor that oath." The bird-like creature said with Conrad's voice.
The beast snorted once, then released a slow growl that seemed to fill the entire clearing.
"I greet you, Wudewas elder. Your child delivered your message and I have come."
The growl that the creature emitted was not only deeper but impossibly louder than the one before. Shawn could feel the bass voice reverberate through him and could almost feel the vibration in his own breaths.
"Your child is well. He is recovering from his long journey. Once he has regained his strength, he will return to you."
The growling response was impossibly lower pitched and Shawn was ready to swear that he'd never heard a sound that deep before.
"Why have we been brought here? Your son only spoke of its importance, but not of what it was."
The large animal... creature... being, before them let out an unexpected hiss before turning to look away.
"I'm so sorry for your loss." Conrad said sincerely, then quietly continued, "But what can I do to help you?"
The beast snorted, then remarkably stood even taller, approaching ten feet in height as he chattered and hissed his response.
"You don't understand how things work on the outside. There really isn't any way I can stop these people. If I were to try to stop them by legal means, it would endanger your entire colony. And if I were to try and stop them by 'other' means... it would raise questions. It would draw interest."
"What's going on?"
"It sounds to me like a group of hunters must have found this place. It seems that even though the Wudewas can mask themselves from being seen, the hunters have technology to be able to target them with... I don't know, infra red, sonar, or something and use high power rifles to target them through the protective barrier. With the way this place is shaped like a basin, it is like shooting fish in a barrel. This is Ud-wra. Several of his people have been killed, including his wife and two of his children. Fortunately, the hunters haven't been able to gain entry to the valley and recover their trophies, otherwise there would be no hope of ever containing this."
"So these hunters don't know what they're hunting, do they?" Shawn asked cautiously.
"From the size and shape of their prey, they probably have an idea, but they have no proof."
"Have you heard any reports?"
"No. Nothing's reached me about it. They must be keeping it hush-hush until they can gather solid evidence."
"Then we need to make sure that they don't get any."
"It's not that easy. Conspiracy theories can spring out of nothing. Even if they only have blurry thermal scans, some people will believe them. If we make any move to try and stop them, they'll raise such hell that we'll never hear the end of it. If they were to meet with an unfortunate 'accident', I'm sure that they have some sort of contingency plan in place to spread their evidence far and wide before we can contain it... we can't take the chance that they don't."
"We can't let them keep on killing these people."
"No. Of course not. I'm just not sure what we can do."
Agent Roberts' look became distant as he thought about possibilities.
"Have you thought of something?"
"Yes. But if we end up doing this, you're going to have to keep a few secrets to protect people that I care about."
Ud-wra made an abrupt grunt, drawing both men's attention.
"He wants to know what we're going to do."
Shawn took a moment to be certain within himself that he was doing the right thing before committing himself to an action. Finally, he quietly said, "If everything goes right, we're going to find the hunters and make them forget that they ever found the Wudewas."
To Be Continued...
Gee, I wonder if Agent Roberts is going to call upon his friends who are allergic to bright sunlight, but also have some other handy abilities. Some of which involve memories or lack thereof.