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"Ud-wra is going with us... outside? To the base camp?" Agent Roberts asked in astonishment.
"Well, he's going to follow in the shadows. It goes against his instincts to walk in the open with us." Agent Fastbeck explained.
"So he'll meet us there?"
"Yes. He wants to see the people who killed his family and understand how they were able to breach the barrier." Agent Fastbeck said as they followed their guide back across the village compound to the archway.
They walked in silence for a moment until Cain quietly asked, "They're not transformed, are they? Is this what they really are?"
"That's right. These are the Wudewas. This is what they are and how they live." Agent Fastbeck quietly explained.
"It's just like we're Brynns and those others are Bacchae and this young man traveling with us is a regular human, we all have our differences, but we also have things in common." Lowell quietly explained.
"Did you know about the Wudewas?" Agent Roberts asked Lowell curiously.
"I had heard stories, of course, but you never know how much of that is true and how much of it is from too much alcohol and too little companionship." Lowell finished with a chuckle.
Agent Roberts smiled and nodded since, not too long ago, he wouldn't have believed it either.
There was little opportunity for talk as they began the long climb upward, to the lip of the basin which contained The South Seid.
* * * * *
"Thanks for carrying my clothes, Shawn. I really appreciate it." Agent Fastbeck said as soon as they were outside the barrier.
"It was no problem. In fact, with everything we just saw, I kinda forgot that I was carrying them." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"We don't need to wait. Ud-wra will follow in his own way and reveal himself when he's ready." Agent Fastbeck said as he dressed.
"If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to scout ahead while Cain shows you the way." Lowell said cautiously.
"Do you think there's a problem?" Agent Fastbeck asked cautiously.
"I think it would be shortsighted of us to assume that there isn't." Lowell said frankly.
"Good point. We'll see you when we get there."
Agent Roberts watched in fascination as Lowell transformed from his werewolf form into that of a complete wolf.
"Right, then. We should be on our way, too." Agent Fastbeck said as he finished dressing.
"It's this way." Cain said as he started walking in the direction that Lowell had gone.
Agent Roberts was curious about the half-transformed boy. He was interested to know how it was for him growing up, knowing that he was something other than human.
By all appearances, Cain seemed to be not only perfectly happy with his lot in life, but he also seemed to be thriving, doing his best to be worthy of the trust the adults in his life had placed in him.
* * * * *
After making their way through a heavily forested area, Agent Fastbeck cautiously asked, "How much farther?"
"A little bit. We're going the longer way but it should be a lot easier on you." Cain said frankly.
"You're a really good guide. Thank you for taking such good care of us." Agent Roberts said to the boy, wanting it to be known that his diligence was appreciated.
"I've got to take good care of Agent Fastbeck so that someday he'll finally get around to asking my mom to marry him." Cain said simply.
The shocked look on Agent Fastbeck's face made Shawn break into laughter.
Cain stopped and rolled his eyes, then said, "Come on, you're always making excuses to be at her house and do things with her... I mean, it's okay. Deimos and I like you and Dad says that you and Mom are good for each other."
"Really? Ares said that?" Agent Fastbeck asked uncertainly.
"Yeah. We're all just waiting for you two to figure it out." Cain said simply, then started walking again.
Agent Roberts smiled at Agent Fastbeck's disbelieving expression.
* * * * *
"How's it going?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he arrived in the clearing where Olive, Jazz and Lowell were waiting.
"They're talking." Jazz said simply.
"...and talking and talking..." Olive moaned.
"It is their job to gather intelligence for us." Agent Fastbeck said quietly.
"I'm going to go and check on them." Agent Roberts said decisively.
"They don't want us distracting them." Jazz warned him.
"I'm pretty sure that I'll be less of a distraction to them than the rest of you. I've seen them at work before so I know how to approach them when they're concentrating."
"Go ahead. We'll wait here." Agent Fastbeck said decisively.
Agent Roberts gave a single nod, then thought to ask, "Where are they?"
"Over that way, you can't miss them." Olive said as she pointed.
Shawn gave another nod, then quietly slipped away.
* * * * *
"How's it going, guys?" Agent Roberts asked quietly when he caught sight of Lane and Duran.
"Hold on." Lane said in a tightly controlled voice as he quickly typed on his phone with his thumbs.
Agent Roberts was still and silent as he waited for Lane to tell him that it was okay to speak.
When Lane finally looked up, he said, "I think I've got everything here that you're going to need. But you'll probably want to look it over before we let them loose."
"So, you're done?" Agent Roberts asked with surprise.
"Probably not. But you and Agent Fastbeck will need to look over what we've done so far and see what else you need."
"What about them? Is it okay to leave them like that for a while?"
"Read this, then ask me." Lane said as he handed his phone to Agent Roberts.
"Okay. I'm going to take this back to Agent Fastbeck and I'll come back as soon as we've read it."
"We'll keep these guys quiet until you've decided what we're going to do." Lane said simply.
* * * * *
As much as Agent Roberts wanted to read what Lane had written, he felt that it was best for him to let Agent Fastbeck see it first, since whatever was going to happen next would be his ultimate decision.
Shawn was once again grateful that he had invested in hiking gear as he made his way through the trees and underbrush.
"How's it going?" Agent Fastbeck asked professionally.
"They've finished with their first interview, they wanted for me to give you this so you can decide what we're doing next." Agent Roberts said as he handed the phone to Agent Fastbeck.
"What are they doing?" Olive asked irritably.
"Right now they're just waiting for us." Agent Roberts said simply.
"I mean, what are they doing to them? How did they make them talk?"
"I don't know how it all works, but they have the ability to command and control people."
"That's creepy. I wonder if that would work on us."
"I have no idea."
"Did you read this?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he continued to read.
"No. I thought that since you're making the decisions, that you should read it first."
"These people are monsters."
"What do you want us to do with them?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Read this while I'm thinking about it." Agent Fastbeck said as he handed the phone back to Agent Roberts.
As Shawn started reading he was surprised by what was revealed. Dr. Mickel and his faithful assistants, Silkie and Corby had discovered ancient ruins in Peru and enslaved the indigenous population to unearth artifacts for them.
While it was happening, they lived like kings in luxury while their slave laborers were literally worked to death. Men, women and children were routinely beaten and killed to help 'motivate' the others to keep working.
When the last artifacts had been unearthed and nothing of value was left to steal, they gunned down the last of them, then set their village on fire. Dr. Mickel and his companions felt no remorse and would occasionally look back on it and laugh about 'the good old days'.
In regard to their current project, they didn't have any idea of who or what the Wudewas were. They thought that they had found yet another ancient site to loot and exploit. It was their plan to terrorize the indigenous population with the use of armed drones to locate and exterminate individuals from the air.
They had brought chainsaws and other equipment to help them breach the protective barrier so that they could move on to the next phase of their plan.
"Something's moving over there." Jazz said suddenly as he turned.
"That's probably Ud-wra." Agent Fastbeck told him, then turned to Agent Roberts and said, "Go back to the Shadesiders and prepare them. I'll explain what we've found and bring Ud-wra in a few minutes."
"Okay." Agent Roberts said distractedly as he finally tore his gaze away from the phone.
* * * * *
"What did he say?" Lane asked as Agent Roberts approached.
"He hasn't made a decision yet. He told me to come over here and prepare you. The leader of the Wudewas wants to see the people who attacked his village."
"So what you're really saying is that you don't want us to freak out when we see a Bigfoot, right?" Lane asked cautiously.
"Yes. Especially if that means that you'll lose your hold on our... archeologists." Agent Roberts said as he looked at the people with disgust.
"Yeah. Good call. We'll brace ourselves." Lane said seriously.
"Maybe we should just zonk them before he gets here." Duran quietly suggested.
"No. We need them awake in case someone wants to ask them a question." Lane said thoughtfully.
Agent Roberts nodded his agreement, then noticed that Lane and Duran turned in unison at a sound.
It took a few seconds before Agent Roberts could hear anyone approaching.
When Agent Fastbeck stepped into the clearing, he quietly said, "These two young men helped us collect the information. These five are the ones who attacked your people."
Ud-wra walked to the people who were sitting on the ground, staring vacantly.
After a long moment, Ud-wra let loose a low growl, then pointed at the two men seated farther back than the others.
"Are those two the hired help?" Agent Fastbeck asked Lane and Duran, who were staring dumbly at the Wudewas elder before them.
"Yeah." Lane finally said, then continued, "They're not blameless in all of this. They know enough about what Dr. Mickel is doing to know that it's wrong. But compared to the other three, they're mostly harmless. They're really just in it for a paycheck."
Agent Fastbeck turned to Ud-wra and said, "These men are followers, not leaders. The leader that they chose to follow is the one most responsible for hurting your people."
Ud-wra grunted, then motioned to the next two.
"These are others of his followers, but they knew exactly what they were doing. They were fully aware of the consequences of their actions and chose to continue so that they could reap the rewards."
There was a slow, lingering growl as Ud-wra focused on Dr. Mickel.
"Yes. Although each person here bears responsibility for their own actions, this is the man who made the plan, paid the money and gathered the people to come here to try to rob and enslave your people."
A snort of disgust was Ud-wra's reply to that and Agent Roberts decided that he agreed with the sentiment.
"Lane and Duran can make these people forget that they ever found your home. But I'm afraid that there's nothing we can do to give you justice or in any way undo what has been done."
Ud-wra quietly growled his response, then turned and walked away, virtually fading into the forest around them.
"What did he say?" Lane asked in a whisper.
"He asked that you do your best to see that they don't hurt anyone else." Agent Fastbeck said quietly.
"That's kind of a tall order. They don't believe that ordinary rules, laws and ethics apply to them. There is no right or wrong with them, all they see is what they want and how to get it." Lane said grimly.
"We can do a lot of amazing things, but we can't give a conscience to someone who doesn't have one to begin with." Duran added.
"From what I read, they've done more than enough things to get them arrested and sent away for the rest of their natural lives. Maybe rather than trying to make them feel guilty, we should just settle on fulfilling Ud-wra's wishes and do our best to keep them from hurting any more people." Agent Roberts suggested.
"Can you do that?" Agent Fastbeck asked Lane and Duran.
"Do what?" Duran asked cautiously.
"Can you make them forget everything about the Wudewas, destroy any collected evidence, and then confess about everything else that they've done?"
"Yeah. It might take a little detail work to be sure that they'll do what we expect, but we should be able to manage it."
"In your notes, you said that no one outside these five were aware of what they were doing. How sure are you about that?"
"I'm as sure as they are." Duran said simply.
Lane grinned in his direction, then explained, "It's impossible for them to lie to us while they're under the thrall. Everyone who knows anything about this expedition is present. They don't trust each other enough to allow anyone to stay behind who could sell them out."
"Good. What about the evidence? How sure are you that you've accounted for all of it."
"If they know about it, we know about it." Lane assured him.
"Yeah. And when you look at it, they really don't have much of anything. When Dr. Mickel spotted the secluded valley, he recognized it as being a good place for primitives to settle. When he couldn't find an easy way in on foot, he broke out the drones." Duran said frankly.
"As soon as they found signs that there were primitive people living there, the plan was hatched to relive 'the good old days' and strip this place of every natural and cultural resource before burning the whole thing down." Lane continued.
"Still, we need to be sure that every last bit of the evidence is destroyed... that should probably go for the equipment too... especially the drones."
"Already on it." Duran said simply.
Agent Fastbeck turned to Agent Roberts and quietly asked, "How can we really be sure that they're going to do everything that they're told to?"
"As far as I can tell, our only other choice would be to follow them home and keep them under constant surveillance."
Agent Fastbeck slowly nodded as he thought about what else they might be able to do.
"Just to recap, they're going to forget everything about finding this place and ever coming here, they'll destroy all the evidence, destroy their equipment, especially the drones, and then turn themselves in to the authorities and confess to every crime they've ever committed that's more serious than a parking violation. Did you want something more than that?" Lane asked seriously.
"Can you give them horrific nightmares about the things that they've done to haunt them for the rest of their lives?" Agent Roberts asked hopefully.
"Sorry, these guys feel no regret, guilt or shame for anything. Beauty, horror, it's all the same to them." Duran said simply.
"How about you guys? Do you need anything?" Agent Roberts asked Lane and Duran.
"Some peace and quiet might be nice." Lane cautiously ventured.
"You got it. Just let us know when you're done." Agent Roberts assured him.
"Give us about half an hour. I think we should be done with all the detail work by then." Lane said thoughtfully.
"Thanks guys." Agent Roberts said before walking away with Agent Fastbeck at his side.
* * * * *
After Agent Roberts finished relaying the events to the Brynns in the clearing, Olive quietly asked, "Is there any reason for us to stay here then?"
"Not a practical one, but I'd feel like we were being rude if we left before the job was finished." Agent Fastbeck said seriously.
"Take it from one who knows, you need to enjoy the quiet times when you can get them." Lowell said as he rested against a tree.
Cain was sitting against the same tree, exactly copying his great-grandfather's position.
"So, Agent Roberts, how did you get yourself tangled up with the Bacchae, anyway?" Lowell asked curiously.
"I can't really talk about that. But they turned out to be pretty good guys." Agent Roberts said carefully.
"From all that I've heard over the years, Bacchae should be avoided at all costs. It's been said that they have no dignity, honor or sympathy for others."
"I've heard that too. I guess the way it works is that when someone is bitten by them, if they aren't killed, they change. Sometimes they change to be like Lane and Duran, good guys. Other times they turn out to be like you said, murderous monsters who kill for the pleasure of it."
"Then I suppose it's best if we don't automatically assume that if someone is a Bacchae that they're going to be willing to work with us."
"Probably not. I really don't know a lot about how it all works. The only thing I can say for sure is that there are good vampires... or Shadesiders. The ones who turn out bad are called Darksiders."
"Do these Shadesiders keep themselves hidden away, like the Brynn do?" Lowell asked curiously.
"Yes, but not in the same way. Some have found ways to live among normal humans and hide their differences. But I get the feeling that most of them stay separate, living on the outskirts of the human communities."
"I suppose that we might be able to do that as well, if we were willing to go to all the bother. It just seems simpler to stay entirely to ourselves."
"I have a feeling that the Wudewas agree with you." Agent Roberts said with a smile.
"Speaking of that, we didn't get to see the woodwass or whatever when it was here. Are we going to get a chance to see one before we leave?" Olive asked hopefully.
"No. I'm afraid that won't be possible. Not only do the Wudewas want to remain secluded in their valley, but they're also grieving for the loss of some of their loved ones. There's no way I would want to take a group of tourists through their village, like we were visiting a zoo." Agent Fastbeck said frankly.
"It just seems a shame to come all this way for so little excitement."
"Excitement isn't all it's cracked up to be." Lowell said sagely, then continued, "We were asked to use our abilities to give aid when it was needed and we answered the call. We've kept the pact we made with the Wudewas centuries ago. Try to be content knowing that you behaved honorably and made your community proud."
"I was wondering, do you happen to know how the Wudewas and the Brynns ended up both settling here and making their pact?" Agent Fastbeck asked curiously.
"I don't think that there's a person alive today who knows the whole story. I've heard things over the years, but I don't know how true they are."
"What kinds of things?"
"Well, from what I made of it, I don't think that the Brynns and the Wudewas came here together so much as they were sent here, for their own protection. The pact that was made... I don't know if it was made by us. It's possible that once we were established and ready to stand on our own, that we were told to watch out for each other." Lowell said carefully.
"Who do you think did that?" Agent Fastbeck asked cautiously.
"I can think of a mutual acquaintance of ours who might be in a position to do such a thing, even today. I don't mean him, of course, but one of his predecessors might have made the arrangements for both communities." Lowell said carefully.
"You're talking in riddles." Agent Roberts interjected.
"There's no way of knowing how many other colonies might be out there, with how many different types of people." Agent Fastbeck said speculatively.
"Do you think the people who arranged all of this are the same people who got us assigned here?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"No. I think it's more likely that they pull the strings of the people who assigned us here."
"I'm not sure how I feel about that."
"I know. I don't want to believe that I'm being controlled, following someone else's plans for me, but look at where we are and what we're doing."
* * * * *
"We're done." Lane said as he and Duran walked into the clearing.
"Let's go." Olive said immediately.
"We smell bad to you, I get that." Duran said simply, then paused for a moment to reign in his frustration before continuing, "Your aura or energy or whatever is like a cheese grater on my last nerve. We're just as anxious to be done with this as you are."
"Kids! Play nice!" Lowell said with a mischievous grin.
Duran was able to hold himself back from responding disrespectfully, but instead turned to Agent Fastbeck and said, "We did what we came here to do. What now?"
"First, I'd like to thank you Duran. It's thanks to you and Lane that we didn't have to kill Dr. Mickel and his associates."
"Probably would have been a public service if we had." Duran muttered.
"Anyway. Now that our job is done, I just want for all of us to be perfectly clear about something. As far as the FBI will ever know, this incident did not happen. Agent Roberts and I are the only mundane humans present and we're sworn to secrecy. We're asking the rest of you to do the same. Just keep it quiet about what went on here and let the memory of it fade away naturally." Agent Fastbeck urged all those in attendance.
"Actually, if memories are a problem, Lane and I can do something about that." Duran said cautiously.
"No." Olive said firmly.
"Just sayin." Duran said as he held up his hands in a motion of surrender.
"I don't think there's any need for that, Duran, but thank you for the kind offer." Agent Fastbeck said politely, then more to the entire group he continued, "Just don't spread it around. Every person who knows about the Wudewas makes it that much more likely that they'll be discovered and probably wiped out."
"While we've got everyone here, I wanted to ask something." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"What was that?"
"Can anyone think of any way that we can improve the Wudewas defenses? I mean, Dr. Mickel was able to penetrate their defenses by using drones. Do we have anything that might be able to guard against that?"
"We don't have anything." Lane said simply.
"Yeah. If we could mind whammy drones, that might be something, but we don't really have anything that we could use to fight something like that." Duran confirmed.
"I can't think of anything we have, either." Jazz said honestly.
"What about the barrier that we used to protect Brynnhollow?" Lowell asked thoughtfully.
"They already have a barrier, don't they?" Agent Roberts asked slowly.
"Yes. But ours has been updated many times over the years. I really don't know who established the original Wudewas barrier or if they refresh it at certain intervals, but we might look into getting someone to take a look at it. Maybe it just needs a simple improvement." Lowell explained.
"It sounds like we might be getting in touch with our mutual acquaintance sooner rather than later." Agent Fastbeck said unenthusiastically.
"Is there anything that we still need to do before we go?" Lowell asked as he looked around.
"Not that I can think of. Anyone else?" Agent Fastbeck asked of the group.
After a long moment of silence, Agent Fastbeck continued, "Then I guess we can go. Thank you everyone for your help."
"Is there any reason that we should all hike out together?" Olive asked cautiously.
"No. In fact, it would probably be better if we all left separately, so there's less chance of anyone seeing us as a group." Agent Fastbeck said thoughtfully.
"Agent Roberts, I hope that Conrad will bring you to Brynnhollow to visit sometime soon. I know that everyone will enjoy meeting you. Conrad, be sure to stop by my place to visit next time you're in town. I'd like to be updated on how things are going."
"I'll be sure to do that, Lowell." Agent Fastbeck assured him.
"Make sure to stop and visit Mom, too. She's always happier when you visit." Cain added.
"I'll try to do that." Agent Fastbeck said shyly.
"Are we ready?" Olive asked hopefully.
"Yes. Let's go." Lowell said, then transformed fully into his wolf form.
As he did, Cain turned into the bizarre stripey dog-cat creature. Olive and Jazz turned into their fully canine forms.
Agents Fastbeck and Roberts looked toward Lane and Duran to see what they were going to do.
"We'll walk out with you, if you don't mind." Lane said simply.
"Besides, we left some stuff at your place, so we might as well stick with you." Duran added.
As a response, Agent Fastbeck started walking.
Agent Roberts, Lane and Duran automatically followed.
* * * * *
"Can you think of anything we need to know about what you did to Dr. Mickel and his associates?"
"Well, if you're some kind of insane control freak, then what we did isn't going to work for you. We're not puppet masters pulling their strings. We just embedded imperatives into their minds that they'll be forced to carry out. We'll have to wait and see how they end up following our instructions." Lane said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. There's no doubt that they'll do what we told them to do, but they might end up not doing everything exactly the way that we intended." Duran added.
"What are the chances that they're going to break your conditioning and remember everything?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"You don't have to worry about that. We're usually gentle about the way we implant imperatives, so that we won't cause damage to the overall psyche. We didn't have to worry about that so much with these guys. Everything we did is blunt and straightforward." Lane carefully explained.
"Yeah. That's basically because there's nothing to damage. They have no sympathy, empathy or even basic concern for others. When they want something, they just take it and damn everyone else's feelings. All we did is change what they wanted." Duran continued.
"I don't know. It still feels wrong to me." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"We did what needed to be done." Lane said simply.
Agent Roberts was surprised to find that he didn't have an argument for that.
* * * * *
After walking for a few more minutes, Lane moved to Agent Roberts' side and quietly asked, "So, Agent Roberts, how about it? Are you okay with what we did?"
"I'm not happy that you had to do it, but I'll admit that it's probably the best resolution that we could have come up with under the circumstances."
"You know, if all of this is too much for you to deal with, it's still possible for us to make you forget."
Oh dear, I see a pair of words that I really don't enjoy seeing.
I will content myself by thinking positively such that I will keep hoping a new adventure will turn up one day, hopefully soon.
Having said that, I know that stories or perhaps I should think of them as mini series show up in MultiMapper's head on occasion and they can do that at at the drop of a hint or a hat or a hamburger (from White Castle) Heaven Forbid. Grin!
As with all of MM's stories I find myself wanting to hear more about the people we meet during these adventures, and happily receive new ones with great joy. And it is nice to visit with our old friends, as well.
Thank You MultiMapper for another wonderful story and I'll be waiting not all that patiently for any new material you can deliver.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher