Fern peered over the ramshackle wall that surrounded the town of Refuge. A couple deteriorating buildings from before the apocalypse pierced the dense forest horizon.
“That must be Uncle Robiel.” Ash leaned over the wall, his hand shading his eyes.
Below the buildings, a rider and packhorse trotted down the road while a dog the size of a small bear ran beside them. This incoming scout had to be Robiel. Only he had a diredog, and the horses were both duns. Good thing they’d made it before sunset. Then again, Robiel didn’t fear the night or the dangers that came with it. He’d probably shot dozens of vamps and likely a few werewolves too. Contrary to old legend, lead bullets worked just fine.
Fern leaned over the wall and waved at Robiel. He waved back at the twins as he pulled his horse to a stop at the gate.
Below them, the gates swung open with a screech of metal. Robiel rode through, his monster of a dog at his side and the packhorse trotting behind.
Fern turned to go down the stairs and nearly bumped into one of the guards. “Watch where you’re going, elf.”
Ash bounded to her side, his silver eyes reflecting the fire of the setting sun. “Touch my sister, and I’ll feed you to the werewolf.”
The guard backed off. “You’re only allowed on the wall during your shift. No spectators allowed.”
“We’re going,” Fern snapped. Fern and Ash ran down the stairs and to Robiel.
He dismounted and hugged them both. “You’ve grown.” He released them from his embrace. “Still interested in becoming a scout?” he asked Ash. “You two are what now, fifteen?”
“Sixteen.” Ash smiled. “We had some excitement of our own.”
Robiel’s tan eyebrows shot up. “You’ll have to tell me about it.” He glanced at the people of Refuge, who streamed from their homes to surround Robiel. They’d want news, especially from Robiel, one of the rare scouts who met with the werewolf packs living outside Refuge’s walls.
Robiel led his horse toward the stables. “Talk as we walk.”
Fern hurried after the fast-moving scout. “A couple days ago, the guards caught a werewolf poking around when we were weeding the gardens.”
Robiel’s copper eyes widened. “Did he bite anyone?”
“Nope.” Ash ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up in silver spikes like werewolf fur. “He surrendered without a fight. He said he wanted to talk to a scout. It was nothing like the last time, but I think this one’s pureblood. He barely looks human.”
Robiel opened the door to the stable. “I’ll check it out after I get the horses unsaddled.”
His dog trotted toward the stables, her tail curled over her back.
The crowd gave the huge beast a wide berth. Fern couldn’t blame them. The thing was bigger than any wolf or normal dog.
“Is there any news?” a man in the crowd shouted.
“I heard an airplane last month.” Robiel walked into the stables and closed the doors, locking the twins and the crowd out.
“We should tell Barry that Robiel’s coming to look at the wolf,” Ash said.
All Ash wanted was an excuse to get another look at the werewolf. “Do you think werewolf bites would turn us?” Fern asked. A vision of the gore-covered wolf from last year entered her mind.
Ash shrugged. “No idea. The way I see it, we have to avoid werewolves and werecats. There’s no telling which one would turn us into something.” Ash began jogging. “Keep up.”
Fern and Ash ran to the jail and stepped through the doorway.
Barry sat with his feet on his desk and an old hat pulled over his eyes. His lamp stood dark. The town only allowed electricity use at night.
Fern held her finger to her lips. She crept to Barry’s side and took a deep breath then threw back her head and howled, as loudly as she could.
Barry’s hands flailed, and his chair tipped.
Ash grabbed Barry’s arm, saving him from a nasty fall.
Barry climbed to his feet and grabbed his hat. He jammed it over his balding head and brushed himself off. “What are you two kids doing here? The other kids hassling you again? You’re getting a bit old to hide here. Besides, I’m not letting you see the werewolf. He’s off limits unless you get arrested.”
Ash glanced toward a door in the back of the room that led to the cells. “Robiel’s going to check him out.”
“So Robiel’s finally here.” Barry rubbed his wrinkled face. “Only advantage of having that wolf around is that no one wants to get tossed in a cell next to it. We haven’t had any drunks since it showed up.”
Robiel stepped through the open door, his thick build blocking most of the light. “I came to see the wolf.”
“He’s in the back.” Barry grabbed the keys and paused. “Eva might not want her kids back there, ‘specially after the incident last year.”
“My sister can’t shelter them forever. This isn’t the place for half-breeds. They’ll have to leave someday.” Robiel glanced at Fern as he spoke.
Fern flinched away. Maybe Nelgen and the others were a pain, but it was better than getting ripped apart in the forest. If the vamps didn’t get her, the werewolves would.
“The wild’s no place for kids,” Barry snapped, echoing her thoughts.
Robiel strode past Barry and into the back of the jail. “I was raised there. It’s not as bad as you’d think.”
Ash nodded in agreement.
Fern and Ash followed Robiel into the back room where the prisoners were kept. Fern stayed behind Ash.
Two cells stood against the back wall. A tiny barred window sat in the wall. In the right one, a prisoner sat on a bench. The darkness of the prison almost hid him from view.
He stood and stretched then walked to the bars, his leather moccasins silent on the hard floor. The light shining through the window hit the man’s face, exposing golden eyes. Two deep scars on both sides of his left eye ran down his face. Judging by the lack of wrinkles, he couldn’t have been any older than thirty, though the gray fur, which stuck up where human hair normally grew, made him appear older. With only a leather vest and pants, his muscular physique stood out.
Fern’s heart pounded, though this werewolf looked nothing like Mitch. Mitch had been fully human before he turned into a rabid monster and ripped Violet apart.
Robiel strode to stand a foot from the prisoner, his own copper eyes betraying no fear.
Ash hurried to Robiel’s side and stared at the werewolf. Fern stood behind Ash. Hopefully, the creature couldn’t spit on them. Would a drop of saliva on a scratch be enough to turn her into a raging monster?
“What’s your name?” Robiel asked.
“Thorne of the Valley Pack, led by Frost,” the werewolf said.
Robiel nodded. “I know those are outcast scars.”
If this was an outcast, he could be even more dangerous than first assumed. The only thing worse than being marked an outcast was a death sentence, so this guy had to have done something bad. There was no telling what he could do if he escaped.
Thorne met Robiel’s gaze. “Last full moon, an airplane crashed. When I pulled the human out, my teeth broke his skin. He shifted. It saved his life. Officially, Frost exiled me for biting a human, but he really did it because I was a threat.” The werewolf’s words were soft but carried a slight accent. Thorne growled, making Fern flinch. “That’s not why I came here. After I left, I tried to go to the mountain pack, the one northeast of us. The adults had been shot. The pups were all gone, and human scent clung to the den area.”
Robiel stiffened. “Did you find any sign of them?”
Thorne shuddered. “I followed the scents to Fort Roland, the one with the stone walls that’s built like a castle. When the wind died down, I heard tortured howls. I couldn’t do anything, not when they’d taken a whole pack, but I stuck around for a couple days. I found a woman who’d been turned into a werewolf recently. She was enraged, drugged up on wolfsbane and pierced by silver. I tried to reason with her, but she attacked me. I was forced to kill her.” Thorne looked away, like killing a tortured monster bothered him. “I don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s evil.”
Fern shuddered, her mind flashing back to the gunshots, the silver bullets that cut through the killer that had been Mitch.
Robiel nodded. “I’ll talk to the mayor and see if I can get you released into my custody.”
Thorne’s fur stood on end. “If you can’t get me out, you need to warn Frost’s pack. My mate and pups are there.”
“I’ll head that way in a couple days. Refuge won’t interfere in werewolf issues, but I’m outside everyone’s jurisdiction.” Robiel left Thorne and walked out of the back room and into the office, Ash and Fern at his heels.
“What are you going to do about that thing?” Barry demanded.
“I think he’s safe. His story matches up with what I’d heard about a plane.” Robiel spoke like the situation was no big deal. “It’s the news he brought that worries me.”
“Can’t you do anything?” Ash demanded. “You’re a scout.”
“Refuge won’t go to war with Roland over a few dead werewolves,” Robiel said.
“What about Frost? All you’d have to do is shoot him.” Ash’s eyes blazed.
“I shoot him, and that pack’s territory will turn into a bloodbath as the remaining werewolves fight for dominance.” His words carried nearly as much of a growl as Thorne’s had. Robiel headed for the door. “I’ll give the mayor my report tomorrow morning, and I’ll mention Roland. You two probably have work.”
“Trimming grapes,” Ash grumbled. “I’d rather hear what you’ve got to say.”
Kidnapped: Part 2