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Authors: Dean Murray

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BOOK: Trapped
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That
one stumped me for a minute. I had to think for a minute or two about
what I knew and which pieces had pointed me in the direction of
believing Ash wasn't typical.

"Well,
if that had been the case then I would have expected you would have
had the training before you left, or at least had been able to get in
with the right kind of people quickly once you did leave."

"Not
bad. You're right, most wolves don't get any of that kind
of training."

"So,
if most wolves don't, why did you?"

Ash
shifted lanes to pass someone and then took a deep breath.

"I'm
maybe the weakest wolf currently alive. I'm faster and stronger
than most regular humans, but I'm practically a child next to
even a regular wolf, let alone a hybrid."

"A…hybrid?"

"Yeah.
Most wolves just have two shapes. Human and wolf. The strongest, most
powerful ones have a third shape, a kind of big wolf-man."

"So
you're not the strongest and fastest…I'm not
following why that matters so much, but I can tell that it's
somehow important."

Ash's
knuckles went white on the steering wheel. For a minute I thought
maybe he wasn't going to answer me.

"Being
a shape shifter is more than just being able to change shapes. We get
urges, almost compulsions that are hard not to act on. Some of us
actually believe that we have a separate…being inside of us.
They call it their beast and struggle not to be as savage as real
animals."

I
put my hand on his arm. It was a silly gesture, but it was the only
thing I could think of to do and it seemed to calm him down.

"Inside
of a pack everything is about who's strongest. The weakest
members of the pack have to cater to the whims of the strongest. You
either bend to what they want or you're beaten, or worse."

"So
you left."

"Yes.
I won't be anyone's slave, but I knew that I wasn't
strong enough to stand up to the alphas in my pack. If I hadn't
gotten out when I did they would have killed me. You either break or
die."

"What
about your parents? Surely they could have done something to help
protect you."

Ash
shook his head. "Once upon a time my family was powerful. Not
just money, they were some of the most dangerous hybrids around. Our
pack held a huge chunk of the southern border. We were part of the
key forces that were responsible for stopping southern scum like
Anton in the last war."

I
hadn't realized how much my questions were going to cost Ash to
answer, but I knew that leaving the rest of the story untold would be
wrong. I cared about what had happened to bring him to where he was
now and it was important that he understand how much I cared.

"What
happened?"

"Peace
happened. For centuries the northern wolves and the southern cats
were locked at each other's throats. The cats are usually
individually stronger, but the wolves have always been better at
working together."

Things
were starting to make sense to me. Anton had shaken off bullets,
stabbings, you name it, and come after us with hardly a pause. Ash
had healed quickly and I knew he was fast, but even with a gun he
seemed outclassed when he went up against Anton.

"We
lived for centuries with the barbarians always just outside the
gates, but mostly it would be a minor cat lord who tested our mettle.
Finally a single southerner mustered nearly all of his kind into a
single force and really pushed. The wolves had been more of a
confederation than anything up to that point. The system worked
because most of the strongest wolves had gone down to the border to
help resist cat incursions."

"Why?"

"Partly
civic duty. The areas of the south that were ruled directly by shape
shifters have always been the absolute worst cesspools. We knew that
we were the only thing keeping civilization from crumbling under the
onslaught. Partly though it was just to prove ourselves. The
strongest of us would go down to the border and cover themselves in
glory."

"Confederations
don't usually work that well against a large external threat."

Ash
nodded. "You're right. If we'd stayed as we were,
we wouldn't have survived. Dozens of small packs, each loosely
allied with larger packs. Instead one of the largest stepped forward
to lead in the face of the greatest threat we'd ever known, and
most of the rest of us flocked to them."

"Most?"

The
bitter laugh was back.

"Not
my family. We led one of the largest packs and we never really
trusted our new 'king.' We ultimately bowed to the
pressures brought to bear on us, but we never forgot that slightly
different events could have left us with the crown instead of them."

"What
happened after you threw the southerners back?"

"We
didn't just throw them back. We hounded them well into South
America, killing every one of them we could find. Packs of hybrids
assassinated the strongest of the cats, decimating the leadership
they'd spent nearly a century hammering into place. When we
finally turned back and headed for home we'd killed hundreds of
cats and the few who survived were left to fight amongst themselves."

"Then
what happened?"

Ash's
hands went so white that I half worried he was going to rip the
steering wheel from the column.

"Our
people aren't well suited to peace. We should have turned east
and started cleaning out the vampires, but at the time there weren't
that many people in the west, not enough really to support a large
population of vampires. The east was different. The vampires largely
didn't know of our existence. If we'd openly gone to war
against them that would have all changed."

"So
you turned on each other instead?"

It
was the logical course of events given everything he'd said so
far, but part of me winced a little when he nodded.

"Yes.
We turned on each other, but not in the way that anyone expected. The
king was focused on trying to keep whole packs from breaking away. He
never anticipated that some of the most powerful hybrids, individuals
from widely dispersed packs, would combine against him. The fighting
was long and bloody and my ancestors chose not to intervene. We were
jealous of the king's power and thought that his defeat would
restore the old order."

I'd
let my hand slide away from his arm, but as his voice caught again I
wished I'd left it there, that I had a way to comfort him.

"We
were fatally wrong. We watched while the rogue hybrids tore through
dozens of the king's people and when the dust settled, instead
of both sides being worn down in the conflict, the rogues, the
Coun'hij, had decimated the old order with relatively few
losses of their own."

"And
then they turned on your people?"

"In
a way. They didn't get their hands dirty. A number of other
influential packs had likewise decided to sit the conflict out and
the Coun'hij knew that they couldn't stand off our entire
race. Instead of coming out openly against us, they informed a group
of vampires of our existence. In a single night the bloodsucking
parasites killed every dominant member of the pack. There was no
proof, but as one pack after another was torn apart it became obvious
that the Coun'hij had to be behind it. Only by then it was too
late. Our pack was a shadow of what it had been, our race was ruled
by a corrupt group of sadists and there was nobody strong enough to
contest their will."

 

 

Chapter 9

 

I'd
wanted to continue talking, but I'd sensed that Ash was talked
out after relating the history of how his family had fallen from
power. I still had so many questions, but I'd bitten my tongue
and managed not to pester him.

Rather
than stopping for the night as it started to get dark, Ash had
indicated that we were close enough to our destination that a few
more hours of driving would see us there and offered to just keep
driving.

I
agreed readily. It wasn't that I wasn't looking forward
to a shower and a real bed rather than the SUV passenger seat, I'd
just realized that another night in a motel was probably going to be
torture. I was attracted to Ash, no question there. The more I got to
know him, the more powerful the attraction became. Hopefully when we
got to his place, our apparent destination, there would be a little
more space. I needed some room if I was going to avoid throwing
myself at him. I got the definite feeling that me coming on too
strong was likely to ruin everything, which was the last thing I
wanted.

Ash
apparently counted hours differently than the rest of the world. I
managed to make it until 3 a.m. before falling asleep, Ash never
yawned once. My last thought before I finally closed my eyes and let
sleep take me was that my next series of questions would revolve
around just exactly what benefits he got out of being a shape shifter
other than strength and speed.

I
must have been more exhausted than I'd realized because I don't
remember us arriving or him carrying me into the house. I woke up in
a twin bed in an honest-to-goodness log cabin.

Don't
get me wrong, it was a modern kind of house. The bedroom I was in had
electrical outlets and the kind of thick, deep carpet that just asks
for you to walk barefoot around the house. That being said, I could
see the horizontally-positioned logs that made up all of the walls
around me.

Other
than the almost sinfully rich carpet, the bedroom was fairly Spartan.
There was a bathroom off to my left, a side table with a lamp and a
simple chair next to what looked like a walk-in closet. No books, no
T.V., nothing that really said 'I live here, this is my stuff.'

Obviously
a guest bedroom. The only real oddity about the room was the thick,
blackout curtains that were obviously designed to stop any light from
getting out or in. It was the kind of thing you expected to see for
someone that worked nights and needed to sleep during the day, but it
somehow wasn't something I'd expected out of Ash.

Then
again I didn't really know what to expect when it came to Ash.
I finally slid out of bed and onto the carpet, which was every bit as
nice as I'd suspected it would be. I was dressed still in the
clothes I'd been wearing the night before and what I really wanted
was a shower, but it seemed prudent to go explore my new surroundings
first.

My
bedroom opened into a large living room type area. I guess I hadn't
ever realized that log cabins could come in two-story versions, but
this one certainly did. The living room was two stories tall and had
an incredible number of windows that faced some kind of large hill,
which wasn't exactly the view I would have picked, but was
still fairly picturesque.

The
living room opened right into the kitchen which was one of those
modern, stainless steel jobs which I wouldn't have expected to
work so well in a log cabin, but somehow everything went very well
together. It was almost…minimalist luxury. Ash hadn't
cluttered the house with anything that didn't serve a purpose,
but the things he did have were the kind of top-quality items that
the rich bought just to show off their money.

I
was still taking in the room when Ash quietly appeared, slipping into
the living room from another adjoining room.

"You
slept OK then?"

"Yes.
So this is your place?"

"One
of them. Really, this is the one I think of as home. I have a couple
of unobtrusive places in a couple of cities and a refuge of last
resort up in Alaska, but this is where I spend most of my time."

"Am
I allowed to ask where we are?"

"Of
course. You're not my captive. We're in Idaho, a stone's
throw from the border with Montana. The nearest town is more than an
hour that way, but unless you know the way out and have a fairly
sturdy vehicle you're probably better off just opting for a
two-day hike."

"So
we're even more in the middle of nowhere than I was at home.
How do you even get electricity out here?"

"There
is a wind farm ten miles from here. It was all funded through one of
the shell corporations that I own. The power lines from the wind farm
take an odd course to hook into the main grid and actually come
within a mile of here. I ran the cables between here and there
myself."

"What
do you do when it's not windy?"

"I've
got a very deep well and a very large water tank. The well is always
running, filling up the water tank. When the wind farm stops
producing power, the pumps stop pulling water up from the well.
Instead the water drives water turbines which power the house."

"I
guess it's hard to get much more 'off the grid'
than that."

"Yeah.
I've taken similar kinds of precautions around internet access.
I need to be able to monitor various projects and investments, but
I've done everything I could to make this house as untraceable
as possible."

It
was like something out of a spy movie, but I couldn't argue
with the need, not after running from Anton for so long. Ash was
scary good at what he did, but sometimes there was no option but to
run, and you could only run for so long before you needed some kind
of safe house.

"So
what happens next?"

Ash
shrugged. "Breakfast for you while I catch up on a couple of
things. After that? Well, we're as safe as we're going to
get here, so it's pretty much your call. You can watch internet
TV, read, whatever."

Books.
Wow, had I ever missed reading. That wasn't what I'd
meant though.

"That
all sounds nice, but I mean where do we…I go from here? I
can't really just go back to high school and my job at the
TacoHut."

Ash
went silent for a moment and then shook his head. "No, you
can't go back to any of that. Assuming that Anton doesn't
run into someone bigger and meaner than him, he'll have nothing
but time on his hands. I fully expect that he'll check back on
your hometown from time to time hoping that you've finally gone
back."

BOOK: Trapped
9.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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