Following a skiing accident in Alaska Devin is rescued by a mysterious race of people whom are like no other except one - his brother Vincent
Feeling like an eavesdropper Devin decided to wait outside of the shed housing the Carousel while Vincent and his family got to know one another, besides doing so afforded him the opportunity to keep watch on the goings on around them. He’d been telling the truth when he’d told Vincent that he and thirty odd people dressed in furs had managed to outwit the public eye and get to the Carousel unseen. No mean feat true, even with the safety of the short tunnel but they’d managed it, though only just, and Devin could clearly see people wandering around the park, looking this way and that for sight or sound of the group.
*** *** ***
He waited some thirty-five minutes before entering the shed and announcing, “I think it might be an idea if you mismatched your clothing with Vincent’s, make him blend in with your group more.” Laughter came from the centre of the group and Vincent appeared dressed from head to toe in furs. “Like this you mean, Devin? Seems my father already thought of that.” The term crunched on Devin’s already fraught nerves, ‘his father’ he seethed, he already has a father, how could he forget so soon?
However, he made no mention of it, instead telling the group, “We’d best go, we do have a rendezvous to keep with the city’s head’s of state and its almost time. We shouldn’t keep them waiting.” Everyone agreed, and checking everything was in order the group made their way from the Carousel and followed Devin out across the park, amid a hundred shouts, of “There they are!”
Immediately, people gathered around, some speechless others taunting, Vincent felt his hackles rise, it was all he could do not to lash out at those that called them names especially when some of these ones started throwing stones at the group. Prowling Cat positioned his wife into the centre of the group protecting her from the flying stones, and Vincent began to wonder if they were doing right, after all they were a small number in a large city and the meeting place with the city heads was way out across the park. Devin stuck close to Vincent, his protective shield, not that his strength was more powerful but rather being his elder brother and used to protecting Vincent at all costs, old habits died hard. His eyes were alert to everything around them and at best he led the group to where they were to meet with those that might help or, if they were like the people they had so far met with, perhaps hinder them.
“You lived in a hostile world, my son.” Prowling Cat told Vincent.” Your survival is to be commended.”
“It is thanks to my father, and the family I knew that I am alive today.” Vincent told him, and Devin was pleased to hear that he hadn’t dismissed Jacob Wells as his father after all, but had seemed quite happily to accept that he had two fathers now. Prowling Cat on the other hand appeared peeved and said so. “I am your father.” He reminded Vincent. “From now on you should refer to that other by his name.”
“On the contrary,” Vincent explained, “Every one refers to him as Father. I would do no wrong to follow suit.”
Prowling Cat nodded his understanding, but Devin felt sure he was not well pleased. However, there were other more important issues at hand, and Prowling Cat let it go as they crossed the bridge over the lake and made their way to the final destination where already a large crowd had gathered in expectation of their arrival and as they emerged from the shadow of the trees, cries of astonishment went up and people began running toward them with cameras held against their faces as helicopters whirled overhead.
“You’ll say nothing, my son if questioned.” Prowling Cat told Vincent. “Act as though you do not speak their language. Many of the clan do not, and it is something that will benefit you rarely once you are home with us.” He then turned to the rest of the group and announced hurriedly, “If anyone asks of your brother, we do not know the one they speak of, is that correct? That one is not one of us. If we want to be accepted we must not let them know that my son is the one that helped rid this city of its scum.” Prowling Cat eyed his fellow men and sent a scathing look toward the people that had pelted them with stones before telling Vincent, “If you want the truth, my son you didn’t do a good enough job of it. Those people are the real beasts.”
“I’ve always felt regret at what I’ve done.” Vincent began, to which his father snapped, “Enough now! Did you not hear me?” Vincent fell silent and cast a look in Devin’s direction noticing his brother’s look seemed to say, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing, bro?”
Across the grass the group made their way, and Vincent was appalled to see that the military were there, now circling the group, coming at them from both sides and behind. Any would be trouble maker was therefore deterred from doing anything malicious, but the guns held at the ready by the soldiers worried Vincent and Devin immensely.
“We come in peace.” It was not Prowling Cat that spoke, but rather another member of the clan that Vincent had been introduced to as The Tongue of the Bear and he seemed to hold much authority over the others. Vincent had been led to believe that all in the clan were equal save for the elders that were appointed as leaders, but all of those were in Washington with the President and Vincent was quick to notice that there was a certain animosity between his father and The Tongue of the Bear, and that even with his mother friction appeared between the two.
“That may as be.” One of the appointed men of the city replied. “However, you’ll let us be the judge of that. Do you carry weapons?”
Each member of the clan that understood the question shook his head, the others including Vincent who had almost shaken his head but remembered at the last moment that he wasn’t supposed to know the language, remained motionless.
“What about the others?” The question was hurtled past the shoulders of The Tongue of the Bear and clearly toward those that had abstained from replying.
“They do not understand your language, I will translate, but I am sure none carry any weapons. We are a peaceable people.” He spoke in a series of fluty tones, clicks and grunts surprising the crowd around them. Some laughed, some shouted abuse, others smiled indulgently. These really were simple-minded people, how easily they could be exploited.
“You!” Devin was pushed away from the group with the butt of a gun. “Move over here. Why are you among them?”
“They have helpers. I am one of them.” Devin replied and moved aside not wishing to antagonise a crowd of people that were already uneasy.
“And you understand their lingo?”
“No, I haven’t known them long enough for that.”
“So you can be of no help to us? Is that what you’re saying?” Devin nodded then said yes aloud as confirmation for those that could not see him from the back.
“Then go, you have no place in this.”
“Oh, but he has.” Prowling Cat started protesting and to his dismay a gun was aimed in his direction.
It was going wrong, awfully wrong, Devin watched in horror, his father’s worst nightmare was unfolding. “Look,” he stepped in, “They aren’t here to cause trouble, they want only to introduce themselves and return home.”
“Return home you say, and where would that be?” The words were spoken derisively, and Vincent felt like cowering away sure all eyes were upon him, though he looked no different now from the others, he felt different, and he had an inkling that trouble was looming, terrible, terrible trouble.
“To the mountains of Alaska.” The Tongue of the Bear informed them.
“Not round here then? But one of you do, surely, or if not one of you, then more perhaps? Have you taken it in turns to slay people of this city? That one or those ones must be called to trial, murders have been committed in the most appalling manner, so you can save us a lot of time by bringing those ones forward, or do we have to question you all one by one in order to find them?”
On the verge of saying it was he they sought, Devin’s quick flash of ‘no!’ with his eyes towards his brother, stopped Vincent in his tracks, instead he allowed The Tongue of the Bear to calmly reply, “None of us live in this city. This is the first time we have been here. We have families back in Alaska, that can be proven if need be. I promise you we do not know of the ones that you speak of, nor have any of our members ever left us for city life.”
“That’s not strictly true though is it?” A voice was heard from the back. “I have it on good terms that one of you had a child stolen over thirty years ago, a child that ended up living here in New York, and no doubt is responsible for the deaths in this city. So your story does not hold up, neither here, nor would it in court.”
The Tongue of the Bear looked toward his group for answers, none were forth coming, and he had just as much to lose for his daughter’s sake as Prowling Cat’s family by identifying the culprit that the city sought. “Again, “he told them, “There is no other from among us that was lost, whatever you have been led to believe is not so. As I stated we are a peaceable people, wanting only to introduce ourselves and…”
“Yeah, yeah, we got all that before…don’t believe a word of it. We’ve seen them victims slashed to pieces, always happened when a certain lady lawyer was around, always in this city, often in this very park, so pardon me if I happen to disbelieve you, and until we get to the bottom of it all of you are under arrest.”
From those that understood, huge gasps were issued, this could not be happening, they had expected a certain animosity but never this, still none would betray Vincent, though but for his brother he might well have disclosed who he was. More was at stake here than what appeared, the tunnels, those living in them, the clan’s survival, everything…not to mention Catherine. Vincent sighed and did nothing as members of the clan also did nothing while they were handcuffed and led to a waiting van, except for Devin who was asked, “And you? Do you still insist on coming with them?” Devin shook his head. It wasn’t cowardice he just knew that he would be better able to help them if he were free.
And so he watched the doors of the large black van close behind the last fur clad man and drive off through the park gates towards the city jail, not knowing what would happen from now on to them but as for him, he ran, faster, faster, faster toward Catherine’s apartment in the hope that together they could find a way to salvage something positive out of the mess, before something more terrible happened.
“In jail!” Father wailed and paced the apartment much like his son had done of old, but slower as his cranky hip let him down on the turn about. “I knew it, I knew it, but would he listen? Oh no, no of course he wouldn’t. Oh, why oh, why did you bring this news to us, Devin?”
*** *** ***
“Its my fault again?” Devin seethed. “I ought to have known it would come back on me!” Angrily, he headed for the door, but Catherine caught his arm and stopped his exit. “Wait, we can’t all three be at loggerheads we’ve got to think of something. We all know how much Vincent hated the killings, we all know how noble he can be, in all likelihood he will give himself up, and I don’t for one moment think he will say anything about the tunnels, may deliberately thwart any contact with them so that they aren’t searched, but nonetheless his loyalty to his parents plight will no doubt be the deciding factor in all of this. He’s going to tell. I just know he is.” Catherine wailed.
“I agree. He almost did that when I was with him. I sent him a look that told him not to and fortunately he understood what I was asking and kept silent, but his mother is pregnant, and his loyalty will be with her.”
“But not to me!” Catherine found herself shouting immediately feeling remorseful, and apologised. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Oh, yes you should and you’re right. How can Vincent act loyally to a woman he’s known five minutes, even if she did give birth to him and not to you, my dear. Ever since this happened Vincent has been a changed person, unpredictable in many ways, and anything could happen here, especially if he fears that his mother will be harmed.” Father consoled her.
“Lord, you don’t think they will deliberately detain her do you?” Devin thought out loud. “God, war could break out if they tried, but using their authority they could still get away with it. If Paracelsus could steal a child so could these people.”
Catherine shook her head. “Its possible yes, but doubtful. Look, I have to go into the city and ask Joe to help. It’s the only way. He knows Vincent but under pressure can we be sure that he will say nothing?”
“No, Catherine, you have to keep out of it, they know about you, they’d make the connection if you became involved, for what possible reason otherwise should you care? I have another idea. If we can contact the President I’m sure he will help. From what I’ve heard he has welcomed the elders of the clan at his end, and they are negotiating deals, some of them not all good, you know people they always want something out of it, but in the main I think the members of the clan in Washington are being treated fairly, as are those in the other countries. Catherine do you have enough authority to speak directly with the President?”
Catherine laughed. “Lord no, and you wouldn’t get through either, besides I expect he’s busy right now, any calls we make are likely not to go straight to his ears. However, I know a few people that might be able to pull enough strings to get a message through, and besides, Vincent and his family won’t be held for more than twenty-four hours without being charged, and if Vincent can stay mute long enough they’ll be released this time tomorrow. The main problem is convincing the President that no member of the clan is the beast they seek. So any ideas?” They tossed a few around none of which made enough impact to use, until Catherine mused, “When you came over the border, Devin, did they do a head count?”
Devin laughed. “Yes, and before you say it, don’t. Prowling Cat thought of that ahead of time. He made arrangements for thirty of us to cross the border and for one of us to be smuggled back through in the truck of a helper. So we were one short after the border until Vincent made up the number.”
“That’s great!” Catherine told him joyfully, so thirty of you came into the country, and they have what twenty nine without Vincent?”
“Yes, and I can see where you’re going with this, Cathy, great idea. That’s all we need do, contact the President and also contact the jail. They only need check with the border to find that all of them came over from Alaska and not one from New York has joined them since. They’ll have to free them after hearing that.”
Catherine clapped her hands and reached for the telephone. “I’ll call Joe, he can call the jail, like you said, Father, I shouldn’t be involved in this and then I’ll make some enquiries and find someone able to contact the President direct.” Catherine sighed deeply. “Thank goodness we’ve thought of this, it’s going to be their only way out I know it is, and then Vincent will be safe again.”
One by one, the members of the clan in the New York City jail were being taken into various rooms and questioned. Vincent was in the middle of the queue, and about five to go till his turn when all those that had been taken from the cells were returned and with only four words the rest were told, “you’re free to go” as their doors were unlocked and the hand cuffs removed. Vincent stared at the speaker dumbfounded, but as no explanations came forward he simply followed the members of his family through the jail as they were escorted outside again just six hours after being admitted. However, since a crowd of people had congregated outside and these hurled insults and stones at the clan they were ushered back inside again and shown to another exit where a van awaited them. “Climb in.” One of the officers told them “I was afraid that might happen. I’m sorry to say that your visit to New York has not been a pleasant one, and the least we can do is drive you back to the border. You should go straight home, I understand that the President is making good progress with your fellow men and in your own safety you should go straight home and await their return.”
Vincent balked at the idea, at the very least he hoped to say goodbye to his family, and if there was so much animosity toward the clan thanks to him in New York City then how was he to return again? He wished Devin were with them and said so, whispering into his father’s ear so that the officer did not hear him. Prowling Cat did not reply, just sent his son a furious glare making Vincent feel like a child being reprimanded, and as they were driven away there was little he could see through the darkened windows of the van to the city they were leaving behind, and Vincent’s heart hammered madly through fear of the unknown. For like it or not, these people that were family to him, were also alien to him and already he was homesick for those that he loved. Yet there was little he could do but sit and await the outcome taking comfort in the thought that no doubt the release of the clan from jail had likely been down to Devin or Catherine, or both. And if that were true then his future now lay in their hands, for without them he hadn’t a hope in hell of returning home, where too late, he knew he truly belonged.
Beyond actually being with his real family and standing on the mountain Vincent simply had not thought, but now seven weeks after his arrival on Mount Denali, Vincent had to admit gravely that the dream had been far better than the reality. For nothing was how he’d imagined it to be. From the onset arriving in Alaska had been one bitter struggle after another, even his father said so, and for his family, the idea of showing themselves to the world had quickly became a bad one.
*** *** ***
“I never knew it would be like this.” Vincent complained one afternoon to his mother. “I thought, well I’m not sure what I thought, but I had imagined being free here. Being able to stand upon the mountain and have the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, but its nothing at all like that.”
“It was, my dear.” His mother told him. “Before you arrived we were free, but I am sorry to say the idea of showing the world we existed was a grave mistake for now we can no longer walk and be safe upon the mountainside. Your father believes that the interest in us will lessen in time, but until then we simply cannot go above. We are safe down here, as long as we keep moving.” And that was another thing, the constant moving, and not just any old how, but in order to go deeper and deeper inside the mountain Vincent had to help his father and brothers knock through solid rock in order to make new tunnels for them to move through. This of course was nothing new to him but the pace that had been set was. For the first time in his life Vincent missed Mouse’s chatter and his inventions to make work lighter. Here there was nothing but the slog, slog slogging of hard labour day in and day out.
“It won’t last forever, dear.” Indigo Sky told her son. “Just be thankful that your presence is appreciated, another pair of hands is very welcome.” Vincent reflected on her words, she was right and when from time to time they did break through into a chamber their task was lessened somewhat as it saved them several yards of digging through rock, the problem was when they started again on the other side of the chamber the work seemed never ending.
“How far do we need go?” Vincent asked his mother as she prepared a meal for her family.
“How long is a piece of hide, my dear?” she replied. “As long as people follow us into the mountain we need to keep moving. And that could last for however long it takes our helpers to assist us. Your father believes that in time we will be protected just like the President of the United States said we would be, but these things take time.”
Vincent had heard all about this. That was one good thing about being male within the clan, he was told things, whereas his mother and sisters only heard bits, snippets of conversation that almost always were only part of the real story and Vincent knew that ever since the clan had exposed themselves to the world trouble had loomed. True, The President was doing all in his power to protect them, but until that law was passed, the clan were tracked and hunted like any other wild beast, with hunters flocking in their thousands to Alaska to capture a ‘little one’ or to kill an older one. And so the clan had had no choice but to dig deeper and deeper into the mountainsides of wherever they resided in order to keep their families safe. Or so Vincent was led to believe and to that end he was afraid for his mother. She was heavily pregnant and knowing full well, that he was living proof of someone kidnapping a babe, her unborn child was at risk and what had made it worse was that the hunters knew she was pregnant and to where she had returned.
If Vincent had felt like an animal before he never felt it as much as he did at that moment. They were being hunted like animals, to be captured and tortured and killed like animals. Underground was safe but there was no food to be found, and select members of the clan went above frequently to snare game for their families survival. Plus the tunnels were freezing and the hide boots and fur clothing soon wore thin with the long trek and hard labour of the last few weeks. They were up against a corner with no way out.
How he wished for Devin, how he wished he were safely back home, or could send word to Catherine for help, but he could not risk going above nor did he wish to leave his mother right now. His father pushed her too hard Vincent decided, although perhaps it was necessary for he knew that his father was worried about the situation that faced them.
By evening of that same day, his father returned to share a meal with his family and enquired of his son. “How have you been today? I trust you are rested enough to exchange places with your brother tomorrow?” The schedule was that one of them stayed with their mother and sisters while the others forged ahead channelling through the rock. Other members, other families within the clan sought other routes through the mountain, so as to confuse their pursuers.
“I will be with you tomorrow, father,” Vincent told his parent and sighed heavily causing Prowling Cat to raise an eyebrow. Indigo Sky spoke up when Vincent said nothing. “Our son wonders how much longer we must dig for.” She meant it lightly and informative but Prowling Cat snapped, “Oh does he now! Doesn’t want to get his city claws broken does he?”
“No!” Vincent cried. “Its not that, I have never been afraid of doing my share, but it all seems so fruitless, going deeper and deeper into the mountain with never a thought where we might end up. Why do you not fight these people? We could ambush them, no one would ever know. They follow us down here, expect to capture us…we are intelligent humans beings…we could…”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Prowling Cat roared. “Get this straight, my son, we are not and never will be human beings…not like them, never like them and we should not sink ourselves to their level. We are peaceable people.”
“A contradiction, I am sure.” Vincent told him. “We are not human beings yet we are people?”
“You know what I mean, and you are missing the point.” Prowling Cat looked down to where Vincent was sitting near his mother and from that vantage point he clearly felt like a parent speaking to a young child. Recognising this, Vincent got to his feet, he towered over his father and seethed. “I am not missing the point. Even animals stand their ground. What do we do? Nothing? Just run away? Why should we? Answer me that, why should we continue to run and hide when we can fight and scare them away?”
“Doesn’t work like that, my son.” Prowling Cat informed him, and it looked as though he might say more but refrained from doing so.
“What? What is it you aren’t telling me?” Vincent wanted to know.
Vincent watched Prowling Cat look to his wife saw her shake her head, saw the anxiety in her eyes and knew when his father had made the decision not to enlighten him. There was something they were keeping from him but what? He had thought for days now that something was wrong and he was the cause, but had not known how to bring it up, well no more! “It has something to do with me?” He asked gazing at each parent in turn. “Tell me?”
Prowling Cat sighed heavily. “We didn’t want to tell you…”
“Cat No!” Indigo Sky cried.
“He’ll have to know soon enough, my dear.” Prowling Cat told his wife. “Might as well be now, since he’s asking.”
There were several minutes silence broken only by the hissing of water bubbling from the pot onto the campfire at which stage Prowling Cat told Vincent, “Sit down, son…” he looked to his family. “All of you, sit down.” When they all did as told, from Indigo Sky to her daughters and sons and husband, to Vincent, Prowling Cat began. “We chose your name well, you are to us The Best of Everything, my son, but misfortune took you from us and brought you to a life where your differences were put to detrimental uses. Here we fight no one, we turn aside from disturbances, preferring to walk away than seek out a conflict of opinions. Among ourselves true, there are arguments, but never as many as recently when we discussed the probability of exposure to the world. However it’s not that which applies here. My son, you bring with you worldly ways, and this is highlighted by your desire to face and fight those that pursue us, only to do so, especially now, would only maximise the problems we face. You see, my son, what we have kept from you is the fact that the President of the United States has been true to his word, the clan will be acceptable members of society and he has promised to put a stop to illegal hunters of our food supply and protect our habitat and probably that would be that, we would have the recognition we expected and could go about our lives as before mingling into society whenever needed and not be molested or harmed, apart from one thing…”
“Me?” Vincent asked flatly. “Its because of me isn’t it? It’s because in New York I was known as the city beast the one that rent a man in two? They deserved it you know and you said yourself that I hadn’t made a good enough job of ridding the city of its scum.”
“I did, that is true, but they were only riled because of you and what you had done in the past. Had you of been peaceable like the rest of us, they would have no cause for complaint, we could have gone in there and been accepted just like our brothers were in Washington, Germany, Austria, Italy, Canada, Alaska the Scottish Highlands and other places too numerous to mention. It was only in New York where the people had already had us hung and quartered due to the fact that they had seen the likes of us before.”
“And had not liked what they’d seen.” Vincent bowed his head sorrowfully. “I did what I did to protect those I loved.” He told his family, still shamefully admitting only to himself that often those times were for Catherine’s benefit and she had put herself in situations knowing he would come to her rescue, and had unwittingly exploited him for her own ends. Still what was done was done, whatever the reasons they couldn’t undo the past. Prowling Cat placed an arm around Vincent’s shoulders. “Even so, there were other ways. I hate to say it, but in the eyes of the law what you did, my son was to murder those people. Self defence as maybe, but only a court of law would be able to pass a verdict on your actions.”
“And that’s why they follow us, isn’t it? It’s because of me that they continue to come here, but how do they know where to find me? The plan you had with my brother was good, the head count tallied, thirty people came over the border including my brother, twenty-nine returned without him. Why should they come here? How do they know I am here with you now?”
“There is a woman.” Prowling Cat began, “A helper turned journalist, she had a story to impart and money to be made, happens all the time with humans, I’m afraid they are corrupt through and through, which is one good thing in your favour that you are apart from them now, and we aim to see that no one insists you go back…even by going deeper and deeper into the mountain so as to keep you safely with us…but as I was saying…the woman apparently knew that you had returned with us, that you were new among us. She knows us well you see.” Vincent didn’t see and said so and his father continued. “Apparently she met your brother, Devin?” Vincent nodded and Prowling Cat went on, “Your brother told her of you…”
“Sarah?” Vincent whispered.
Surprised, Prowling Cat asked, “You know this woman?”
“No, Devin mentioned her. He was angry that she wanted to make money out of our story, the return of the kidnapped son, and he cut all ties with her after finding out her intention.”
“Yes, that is correct, and he told other helpers about her so that she could be struck off our helper database as one not to be trusted. Well it would seem that the day we were arrested and taken into jail, you remember they took each of our photographs in turn along with our fingerprints? Well she knows all of us well, and after seeing the photographs was able to clarify that you were new among us by which time we had been sent back here to Alaska. That is why within days of our arrival here I received word that the bounty hunters were coming for you and the decision was made by the clan to come deeper into the mountain until the hunters give up the chase.”
“Except they do not.” Vincent reminded his father. “And they won’t give up until I either face them and go back for trial or I wait in ambush for them.” Prowling Cat shook his head. “That would be the last straw, my son, and something I could never condone.”
“You wouldn’t have to. It’s me they’re after, me they want, I must go to them, otherwise they will keep following us, and there is no way out. If they are determined they will use dynamite to blow their way in.”
Prowling Cat laughed. “In the city perhaps, not here in the mountains. Rest assured my son they would not do that no matter how much they want to capture you. Dynamite would cause an avalanche that would ruin thousands of lives down in the valleys, would maim and kill innocent people. Believe me, my son they will not use explosives but I fear you are correct that they will stop at nothing until they find you. But what can we do? There is no way we will allow them to take you from us, no way at all.”
One look toward his mother confirmed his father’s words, come what may they would protect their son without using violence of any sort. Unfortunately Vincent knew that the hunters would not take peace into consideration, and they would likely kill members of his family to get to him and even go to the point of capturing his mother in order to steal her unborn child. Vincent knew these people, knew what lengths they would go to and there was really only one way to stop them.
“How many are there, do you know?”
“Ten maybe twelve, why do you ask? I forbid you to do anything to them, not one of my family will ever kill a human.”
“Too late. I have killed many already, a few more will not lessen the loathing I feel to have done it, but doing so might stop the threat to the clan on this mountain and it is my way, much as I detest it you need this protection, father.”
Prowling Cat shook his head, his great shaggy mane cascading over his fur clad shoulders. “It is not our way.” He reiterated, but Vincent was adamant, “It is mine.” And before anyone could stop him he rose and began to run back down the tunnel where he knew the pursuers to be following. His father called to him but Vincent ignored his pleas and continued to run, determined that his way was the only way to protect his new found family.
It took weeks to by pass the red tape, weeks lost before Devin was able to discover what had happened to the small group of clan members that had been arrested that day in the park, and that time set him back from pursuing them sooner, following them back to Alaska, in order to trace his brother’s whereabouts. “Should have known.” Devin panted as he climbed the west side slope of Denali. “Should have known all along they’d come back here. What a stupid idiot I was!”
He’d left Catherine and Father frantic with worry, as news bulletins had relayed the city’s hopes of capturing their beast that had killed ‘innocent’ men. How their stories had changed! When those particular deaths had been covered the news had borne a far different story, that whomsoever had killed them should receive a medal since in so doing he had protected innocent lives. Years on however, had rendered people forgetful, and now the city beast was a madman that savaged innocent bystanders to death and needed to be found, captured and put to death.
The main perpetrator being one Devin had heard of, Sarah, the nurse from the hospital who out to grab herself a fistful of dollars stirred up the crowds in an attempt to slay the dragon and she knew just where to find him.
“I wish I had known where to find him!” Devin seethed as he climbed the mountain breathlessly. “Why didn’t I make the connection, instead of wasting useless weeks shoving through miles of red tape. Of course they’d come back here! I just thought she couldn’t reach them ‘cos they were in jail, idiot!” Chiding kept Devin onward as adrenaline surged through his veins and made him forge ahead. The way was long, and he had not come with a guide, remembering the way Travis had taken him not certain he would be willing to take him again, besides that would mean explaining why he had to find Prowling Cat and his family a second time and that he was returning to escort his brother back home. Devin had a feeling that would not be met with approval by clan or helper for if there was one thing he had come to realise it was that the clan wanted its members altogether in one place and not scattered about. However, this he gave little consideration to, Vincent did not belong among them and it had been long enough already that he had been away, by now surely he would be ready to come home.
Climbing to the area where Devin had first encountered the clan, he paused. Something was different. Ahead bright signs had been erected with words printed thereon in bold black. ‘Restricted Area, Keep Out!’ On closer inspection Devin found the small lettering beneath those words to say, ‘Permit holders only.’ Being Devin, he dismissed the warning at once, they were only human beings doing what human beings did best he decided, preventing anyone from going about their usual way for one reason or another as if they had suddenly acquired the rights to stop them. Still…not one to counter trouble if he could help it, Devin scouted around the side of the mountain searching for another way to the ‘village’ where Travis had taken him. That too when he reached it bore similar signs, but also fruition. He saw a small group of men lounging around a campfire, their rucksacks piled willy-nilly behind them as pillows, and some left unguarded by men who were obviously elsewhere. If he could only get his hands on one maybe he would find a permit inside. As he was contemplating the probability of this however, he felt something hard against the back of his head. “Don’t move!” Devin froze and allowed whomsoever was behind him to check his person for weapons and that done he was hauled to his feet by the scruff of his neck and turned to face his captor. “Travis!” Devin exclaimed with relief. “Its you!”
Travis did not seem pleased to see him. “What on earth are you doing skulking up the mountain all by yourself?”
“I wanted to find Prowling Cat.”
“No reason, just visiting.”
“Why not come to me then? I could have brought you.” Mistrust shone in Travis’s eyes.
“Didn’t want to trouble you. Besides I wanted to know if I could do it by myself. Did you follow me up here?”
Still unsure, Travis kept the gun aimed at Devin while he answered. “Nope. Was up here already. You’ll not find Prowling Cat or his family they’ve gone deep into Denali. I’m here trying to protect them from the scum of New York City, which I’m not too sure you aren’t a part of now.”
“Me? What scum?” He sounded genuine, but Travis didn’t trust him. “As if you didn’t know.” He told Devin.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Travis.” Devin sighed wearily wondering how much he should disclose. He’d said enough with Sarah and look where that had gone, the woman had turned traitor. Devin decided to keep the real reason for his return a secret in the face of that.
Something in his eyes had Travis believe him. “Then you’re not with the city scum?”
“Like I said I don’t know what you are talking about. What scum, and whose posted those signs?”
“We have. Trying to stop more city scum coming up here. And if what you say is true that you don’t know who I’m talking about, then allow me to enlighten you.” Travis removed the gun from where he had it aimed at Devin’s chest and put the safety back on. “Come, let’s go get a coffee, I could do with warming myself up.”
“Me too. I brought a flask, but it’s not as hot as it was when I left the valley.” Devin told him grateful that Travis appeared to believe him at last.
As they reached the campfire the men lounging there looked up warily relaxing only when Travis made the introductions. “Another helper” he began by saying, “Devin Wells, I’d like you to meet fellow helpers of the clan, Rod Bowen, Darren Clark, Jim Howard, Dale Cooper, Frank Irish I’m sure you can all while away the next few hours exchanging stories but that’s not what we are here for, time enough for that another day. We have to fill Mr Wells in on the reason we are here. Take a pew, Devin, I’ll get you that coffee.”
It took less than a few hours actually only minutes to enlighten Devin of their purpose and unbeknown to them their tale frightened him with every word they spoke. It would seem that half the bounty hunters of New York were on the mountain and not only that but they were there to slay a member of the clan that they believed had become detached from the group at some stage, by kidnapping, being a great possibility (Sarah’s story had become warped as it had been spread) and was the city’s beast that had taken lives. “Not sure we believe it, but…” Travis shrugged, “I think you might be able to verify that, Dev. After all there had to be a reason for my smuggling one of the clan back here so that the numbers matched on the return trip over the border, and that tells me they did pick someone up? What I’d like to know is whether the scum out to get him are justified or not?”
Devin had never felt so uncomfortable, now he truly was on the spot and a vulnerable one at that, still he reasoned he could feign ignorance, when all was said and done it was the only option open. He had told one person already about Vincent, he’d not tell another. “An interesting story.” He drawled. “But it has no bearing on my reason for coming to see Prowling Cat in the beginning, I only found out about their idea to smuggle someone in while I was with them. I don’t think I was meant to be with them at such a time, but it just happened.”
“So they did bring someone back with them then?”
“Sounds like it.” Devin shrugged, “don’t know the reason why, so I can’t help you there.”
“Or you won’t help us.” Frank Irish told him. “That’s okay, don’t look so beat up over it, we all have had our secrets to keep as far as the clan are concerned. Just tell us, was the kidnapping story true? I heard Prowling Cat had a babe stolen, was it he that was returned to them?” Devin nodded. “Believe so, and it seems the city has got their teeth into something that has absolutely no baring on that one at all, and he’s an innocent bystander in all of this.”
“I don’t know, Dev, sounds to me like you’re digging an even bigger hole for yourself, just by covering up.” Travis told him. “There’s the girl, Sarah for example. You warned me about her, so you do know her and she apparently started this whole damn ball rolling. You must have said something that connected the two. Guess you have definite reasons why you can’t trust anyone with it, but we’re not your enemy here, Dev, and if you can’t trust us, who can you trust?”
“It’s not that.” Devin told them, “Some secrets are not mine to impart, and I said too much to Sarah believing I was doing right and look where that got me. More to the point look where it got the clan. They’re in danger now because of me, because of something I trusted Sarah with. I’m sorry, as much as I’d like to tell you, and believe me your help would be invaluable, I can’t. I simply can’t.”
“Well you have it anyway, our help that is. When it comes to the clan we stand united, we help them whichever way we can. They saved our skin and we owe them, and we’ll continue owing them all our lives. They’re good people and they don’t deserve to be hunted like dogs.”
“Nor cats come to that.” Darren Clarke laughed at his own wit. No one else did and Devin told himself that the fellow should be watched carefully because one thing was for sure that the helpers of the clan thought the people honourable and any reference to their non human side was not taken lightly and Darren Clarke had just overstepped the mark as inconsequential as he may have intended his quip to be.
“So, you need help? But you won’t tell us what for. You need to see Prowling Cat, so it’s something to do with him or a member of his family?” Travis’s eyebrows rose in question but no answers from Devin were forthcoming he just kept his gaze fixed on Travis’s face giving nothing away.
“Okay, Dev. Your not telling, that’s fine. How can we help?”
“At this stage, not sure. But we have to stop the city scum as you call them from finding Prowling Cat’s family and at the same time I have to find them.”
“Supposedly to speak to the person they brought back from the city?” Jim Howard asked, but again Devin said nothing.
“That’s not going to be easy.” Travis remarked. “The scum are between us and Prowling Cat’s family and there ain’t no other way in. The best we can do is fabricate some story to throw them off the scent. But what, and can we make it sound good enough to be believed when we do come up with an idea?”
Devin was nodding it did seem their only option. “Do they know you are here?”
“No, they had entered the mountain already when we arrived. What you thinking of?”
“Then there’s nothing to say that we weren’t sent in to give them news that the one they seek is still in the city?”
“None at all, but that’s not your answer, Dev.” Travis shook his head. “Look, want my advice?” Devin noticed the ‘look’ of distrust Travis sent Darren’s way and wasn’t surprised when he asked, “Daz how about going to water the ponies. It’s your turn and they must be pretty thirsty by now.” Seeing nothing amiss by the remark Darren rose to his feet. “I’ll do it now. Take my place just got it nice and warm, I’ll have it back when I’m done.”
“You don’t trust him, do you?” Devin asked when Darren was out of earshot. “Don’t worry, not sure I do either.” Devin’s remark wasn’t replied to, but he could see that it made the men uncomfortable.
“Not sure whom we can trust, Dev we are all newcomers to this game, but in general we are united. Quips such as Darren uttered give rise for concern that’s all, but then he’s new among us, and we haven’t entirely grasped his secret yet. The story that is of how we each met the clan, he won’t tell how it was for him, and that’s another strange thing. We all want to share that experience usually. But that doesn’t mean he intends the clan any harm, it could be that he’s fallen in love with one of the women of the clan, that’s happened before, and the clan do not support outside intervention in that way. They like to remain pure bred you see? Anyway, enough of Darren, for he will soon return and there’s something I wanted to say in his absence. You mentioned that we could tell the bounty hunters that the beast is still in the city, but that would do your friend no good. Surely it would be better if we could make them believe that he is elsewhere, so that when you do return him back there, and yes don’t look at me like that, Dev, for I’ve guessed part of your secret, it all makes sense, then he will be able to move about freely and not be seen as the one that killed all those people. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t but if he did, he likely had his reasons and if there’s one thing I do know, the clan are peaceable people and will fight with no man.”
Devin wasn’t sure what to say, or what to deny, taking comfort in the fact that at least Travis didn’t know that Vincent was his brother.
“Not sure what to say, huh? No matter, I think that’s the way we should go with it, now any of you good at forgeries?”
Devin smiled at this one. “As it happens I am…but why?”
“We need to write out a report and sign it by one of the heads of the city, fabricate a name if need be. These bounty hunters aren’t anyone in particular. They aren’t law abiding people, at best they are family members of those that were slain by your friend, they could believe anything if it looked genuine enough.”
Devin nodded he was beginning to like the sound of Travis’s idea and said so, just in time too as both saw Darren making his way back. “All done?” Travis asked relieving Darren’s place where he had kept it warm for him. Darren nodded. “I fed them too.”
“What! No!” Travis jumped to his feet and dashed madly to where the ponies were seen eating and drinking one after the other and shoving the animals aside, Travis snatched the meal bucket away from them.
“What did I do wrong?” Darren cried as he reached Travis’s side.
“Horses shouldn’t be fed and watered at the same time, gives them colic, belly ache, and can kill the silly things, especially after the long trek we made up here today.”
“Gee, I’m sorry.” Darren told Travis. “I didn’t know.”
“There’s a lot you have to learn, Darren, and I’m not certain now’s the time to teach you. Perhaps you’d be better returning to the village?” It was the chance he’d hoped for, and thankfully Darren took it. “Perhaps you’re right, I do feel like a spare prick at a wedding here actually.”
Travis set his lips firm, he did not like crude remarks, and he had welcomed Darren when the boy had showed up shortly after he and his group had arrived several hours earlier, not long before Devin’s arrival actually. Strange how they had all turned up together, though Travis and his party had come every day for the last few weeks, only returning to the village as their duties awaited them. “Sorry about that.” Travis told him. “Tell you what when this business is sorted I’ll send word to you that you can come up here again, how about that?” To his surprise Darren shook his head. “Nah, don’t matter, I’ll come back again in a couple of weeks, check for myself.” Unease washed over Travis, but since he knew little about Darren Clarke he refused to judge and watched the young man return to the campfire for his belongings, bid the others farewell and make his descent down the mountainside, leaving Travis with the uncanny feeling it wouldn’t be the last they saw of him.
“How’d you get him to go?” Devin asked as Travis returned to the fire a moment later. Travis explained and none could deny they were happy to see him go. “Didn’t trust him.” Jim Howard told the group. “Shifty eyes and all that.” The group laughed but even so each gave the other a sly look, after all they were there for the clan but none of them could guess what each of them were thinking, and as Devin Wells had his own secrets to keep, why not all of them?
“Mistrust is a fine thing, but its not going to help us.” Travis told the group. “If we are unsure of one another. However, since we have no option this is what I have suggested to Dev that we do.” And briefly Travis highlighted the plan amid nodding heads of approval.
“Now all that remains is for Dev to forge the papers and for the rest of us to make the long journey into the tunnel and try to intercept the bounty hunters before they locate Prowling Cat and his family. Its dark in there, can send a man mad, its cold and its damp so any of you unwilling to come with us speak now, for its unlikely you will be home again before the week is out.”
Jim Howard and Frank Irish declined, they had families to return to, but promised to make up a rescue team should Travis, Devin, Rod and Dale not be seen within the next five days. That done the group separated and Frank and Jim gathered up the ponies to take them back with them and the last either saw of the other was Travis and his small group entering the mountain cave where Prowling Cat had once resided, and Frank and Jim making their way down the mountain. What neither of them noticed was Darren Clarke, having backtracked along the mountainside he was now making his way to a neighbouring cave of Prowling Cat’s hollowed out in the side of Denali.
Crisscrossing his way back through the miles of tunnels and chambers Vincent met no one. The way the clan had designed their escape route had been commendable. Each family had entered the mountain from a different cave where once they may have resided either permanently or just for the winter months, and each had tunnelled through the back of their cave and entered others along the way. By this, the tunnels ran into and through one another so that it was difficult for a stranger to know which path any one family might have taken.
*** *** ***
Vincent’s escape however, was not one purely to find and destroy those that meant him harm, but also to outrun a nagging doubt he’d had for some time. It was wonderful coming to know his own flesh and blood, but when they spoke of the life he had led before, it was always in the past tense. For example, they would say, ‘the place where you used to live’ or ‘the man that used to look after you’ or ‘the people that you used to know’ and Vincent had begun to realise that when his mother and father unwittingly said those things it made him wonder even more if their intention was for him to remain with them for the rest of his life.
There were other things too. He had come to know his brothers and sisters fairly well, but there were times when one or more of them would speak out of turn, seemingly going to mention something when they would clam up and change the subject or another family member’s sudden subtle cough, would stop them in their tracks. Vincent wondered about those times, and what they were trying to keep from him. The closest he had got to knowing was the day one of his younger sisters was talking about The Tongue of the Bear and his family, among them someone known as Radiance who would be returning at the end of the year for some kind of celebration that he was to be a part of.
That was probably what had frightened Vincent the most, knowing his family’s expectation was for him to still be with them a whole year on, and it didn’t sound as though they expected him to be visiting them again at that time, but rather that he would not have left at all. And it wasn’t as though Vincent had given them any cause to believe this, for as often as they placed his family back in the city in the past tense, Vincent was always quick to point out that those ones were very much a part of his present and future, something he noted seemed to aggravate his father very much and send sideward glances from his mother to her husband.
So, this headlong rush out from the mountain served twofold, to find the men that pursued them and to find his own merit of freedom away from the ties that were beginning to bind too tightly for his liking.
He’d gone about three miles, maybe a little over that, when just as he had sensed Devin’s plight weeks before, he sensed his presence now and he stilled in his pace to listen. ‘Devin?’ he enquired of the rocks around him, knowing they would not reply, neither did they echo, but just to hear the name borne aloud for his own satisfaction was enough to gladden his heart.
He quickened his pace now, sure of his perception that his brother was near and his heart hammered with both excitement and anxiety, because he was also aware that somewhere between Devin and himself were men seeking his hide. Such a terrible dilemma being so near yet so far to one who could help him, for Vincent hadn’t thought past reaching the surface, or what he might do when he arrived there in order to get back to the city where Catherine awaited his return. And Devin, he was aware, was equally anxious, selecting his journey with careful precision, unsure of the way ahead and frightened of whom he may encounter.
Then Vincent heard a noise. He stopped, looked around sought a hiding place and ducked down behind some stalagmites while he waited and watched the direction from where the sound had travelled. His heart pounded and he sought around the floor for something to take hold of, happy to grasp a firm chalky rock, one that would not crumble too soon if launched at someone, or when pounded against the back of somebody’s head.
Time passed, and Vincent peering into the gloom could faintly make out the approach of light. It grew larger and was preceded by shadows that leapt up the walls and made the recipients appear huge and menacing. Slowly, they came one by one, and Vincent, heart in mouth waited, wondering how best to surprise them, or whether to hope that they may wander on by.
Minutes ticked slowly on, slower than normal so that one minute appeared as long as fifteen and Vincent with his eyes glued to the approaching flashlights settled himself into a more comfortable position while he had the time to move and the sound of his doing so did not highlight his presence to those that approached him.
He counted them, though they merged one to the other forming a mass, he guessed that there were ten carrying large packs or fifteen men if the loads were smaller. It was difficult to tell, but their shadows were not fuzzy depicting furs, so he could tell that they were not part of the clan, and neither were they with Devin, for sense of his brother was not yet that close. They were the ones that pursued him of that he was certain, and he looked around planning how he might conquer them.
Where he crouched, Vincent was in a part of the tunnel that swelled to encompass an area of about twelve feet wide. Most of the tunnels that had been chiselled out were three maybe four feet wide, but this he remembered had been a natural area formed within the mountain by rain coming in from above. Huge stalactites hung suspended from the ceiling like immense daggers just waiting to fall and impale him, and around where he secreted himself massive stalagmites rose up from the chalky floor to meet them, so that they resembled the inside of some huge monster mouth with gnashing teeth. Apart from these there was nothing. No ledges to launch himself from no high hide to wait and observe and hope that the people would pass by beneath him. The best he could do was dodge from one huge stalagmite to the next and hope that his boots did not sound too loud upon the chalky gritty floor.
The torches were almost upon him now. Vincent swiftly sought his surroundings again wishing that one of the crisscross tunnels had occurred near by but remembering that such would not occur again until he was another half mile at least further on. Briefly he wondered why the men had chosen this particular route, whether they had a tracker with them that could no matter how deep the clan went, continue to follow just as if they had set a painted trial to be followed.
Now he could hear their voices, and could make out odd words with the dreaded one amongst them, ‘rest’ and Vincent’s heart plummeted faster than a rock thrown into the abyss. So they had noticed the way ahead widened, had they? Room enough to make camp, rest awhile, relieve themselves, nap, eat, whatever they had in mind and he would have to hope in all that time they did not discover that he was there, close by, the one whom they sought.
In his mind’s eye, he was reminded of The Outsiders, Paracelsus, Mitch Denton, people that had entered Father’s tunnels and threatened their world’s existence, and Vincent prepared himself to do whatever he deemed necessary to protect himself now.
One by one the men entered the larger part of the tunnel and shifted the weight of their packs from shoulder to elbow to wrist and finally to the floor, flopping themselves down wearily afterward. That was one thing in his favour, Vincent supposed, he had at least rested while he had awaited their arrival. They were tired he was not, and they did not expect to find him there, thus the element of surprise was on his side. However, he could not outrun a bullet even if they were foolish enough to use a gun that might bring down the mountain, so he was cautious, thinking fast, trying to assess the situation to his overall benefit.
Of course he could bluff his way out, he didn’t have to be the one that they sought, and he had picked up enough of the clan’s fluty language to get by, but he would use that as a last resort. Staying where he was, he was safe for several minutes and he had started to think he might get away with it when one of the men broke off from the others and announced he had something to rid himself of and it would be better for the rest of them if he went as far away as he could get to do so. The rest laughed and told him to run back up to the surface for that, and he chuckled and looked about him searching for the best possible place. Unfortunately for Vincent his stalagmite was the best option. Vincent shifted, moved his body as carefully as he could judging the fellow’s footsteps with every movement he made, so that any sound could be taken for their colleague’s as he picked his way across the tunnel to the place he had his eye on. Closely, Vincent watched him advance, his mind reeling, knowing that if he was not seen, he had the fellow at a disadvantage. Vincent moved and settled himself down again, sure he remained out of sight, and it was to his advantage that the fellow had not brought a flashlight with him, therefore from where he pulled down his pants and squatted he had the light’s of his colleague’s before him and the shadows where Vincent crouched behind.
Vincent waited while the man relieved himself, trying not to notice the stench that wafted his way, and then just before the fellow straightened Vincent grabbed him from behind. There was a thud, a soft oath and the smell rose higher as Vincent dragged the man back through it and positioned his unconscious form against the furthest wall, well hidden from the others and then he waited.
“Lord, Gary whatever have you been eating?”
There was no reply.
“Where’s he gone now?”
“Dunno. But he has the right idea. What a stench! Come on, are you ready, he’s probably gone on ahead and left us to fend for ourselves, lets catch him up, can’t stay around here too long. Gonna be gassed.” A few chuckles followed, a few groans, a couple of oaths, but one by one, Vincent watched as the group rose and filed out through the balloon shaped tunnel and continued on their way. They’d be back, he knew that, and quickly he moved their unconscious colleague back to the area where he had relieved himself, so that he might assume on waking that a piece of stalactite had fallen from above and knocked him out, and to that end Vincent placed a large chunk beside his head. That done, Vincent hurried dodging in and out of the stalagmites until he entered the part of tunnel from where the group had come, just in time to dodge and blend with the rocks there as the lights reappeared for having not found their friend the men had returned and Vincent hoped that they would be fooled by his plan.
“Gary?” Various voices called. “You there?”
One of them made the active command to search, and holding their noses they approached the area where they had last seen their friend go near. “He’s here! Out cold! GARY…GARY…wake up mate!”
“Must’ve been hit by that rock there, poor bugger!”
“Pity it hadn’t happened before he’d had a shyte, though. What a pong!”
Vincent left them to it, they were absorbed and wouldn’t hear him over the sound of their bantering, they were laughing hysterically and Vincent grinned, Devin would love this one, Father too and he supposed it was funny in a way. Hadn’t felt like it at the time though but on reflection he couldn’t have hoped for anything better.
Now the long tunnel stretching ahead of Vincent seemed full of promise. Somewhere ahead he would find his brother and joy seared his heart. Vincent picked up the pace eager to see Devin and soon he had covered quite a distance between the hunters and his freedom. He was going home, Devin would know a way, and for the first time in many an anguished week, Vincent felt his spirits lift and soar like an eagle flying over the mountains.
Darren Clarke was happy to be by himself and as he’d been to the area many times before, he knew the way like the back of his hand, but these new chiselled out tunnels were a worry to him. Still he couldn’t quite believe his luck when Travis King had told him to return home, for he had sat there among the group talking and eating and seemingly helping while all the time he had been thinking rapidly of an escape plan, whereby he could continue the journey he’d set for himself. For he had a rendezvous to keep and he was running late.
The crisscrossing tunnels dumbfounded him, disorientated his way and even with a flashlight, Darren began to panic as he contemplated the way ahead knowing he was lost. The worst was some of the clan were down there and they knew him and if they should see he was there his whole plan would perish. Darren didn’t think he could live with that. He’d tried before but it had been impossible and only acceptable in the belief that he had this one last chance to look forward to.
Caution rose in his heart as approaching footsteps signalled the need to hide, but there was nowhere, not here, not yet where the stalagmites did not form or where there was little ahead of him but a long winding tunnel that blended into newer tunnels to the left and to the right with one in the centre confusing his way ahead. Darren was unsure which tunnel to take, and the sound of footsteps could be coming from any one of the three gaping holes ahead. He was doomed, he may as well stand and fight or run back the way he had come and try again later when the coast was clear. Undecided he hesitated that little bit too long, taking little comfort in the fact that whomsoever approached him did so without the aid of a flashlight. If one thing he did know, the eyesight of the clan was remarkable, as like cat’s they could see better in the dark than in the light.
“Who’s that?” Darren called unsure of his welcome. He heard footsteps slow and stop and could almost feel the indecision of whomsoever approached him.
Vincent knew it wasn’t Devin, or any of those he travelled with, for sense of him was yet far ahead, but he did not recognise the voice of being one of the clan, it was too human, too Americanised.
He said nothing, approaching cautiously trying to keep out of the shaft of light held by the person in front of him. His heart hammering Vincent made plans and dismissed them, made others, dismissed them, tried to decide furiously what approach he should make on this new unexpected problem.
“Tell me your name?” Darren called softly, his heart hammering ninety to the dozen. Again Vincent said nothing. To certain American’s he wasn’t meant to know English, yet he could not for the life of him pronounce the name the clan had given him in their own tongue, not that he had ever accepted it, much to his father’s further annoyance. Neither did he know how to say ‘Vincent’ in their native tongue, so he refrained from replying or moving another step closer.
“Darren?” Suddenly a soft lilting female voice surprised them both, and Darren turned with joy surging in his heart at the sound to his left. “Swallow Tail? Is that really you?”
Vincent heard the joy in the fellow’s tone, saw him swing round to seek from the tunnel to his left a young woman, one of the clan, not a part of Prowling Cat’s family, but one that Vincent recognised, and only then because she always appeared sad and downhearted. Well no more, her joyous cries amazed him as he watched her run forward and throw herself into the young man’s waiting arms. “Oh, I’ve missed you, I’ve missed you so much!” She cried burying her face in his shoulder only to back up a little and watch his face curiously. “Darren, don’t you want me?”
“It’s not that, sweetheart, we have company.” The young woman turned and noticed for the first time someone in the centre tunnel from where she had alighted from the tunnel alongside, “Oh? Who is it?” Her heart hammered painfully, was her happiness so soon to be snatched away?
This time Vincent spoke. “Its me.” He stepped a little closer. “Don’t worry I’ve not been following you.”
“Oh.” There was a wealth of relief in the one word, Vincent noticed and boldly he came forward to hear her whisper, “Oh you’re the new one. Prowling Cat’s missing son?”
“Yes.” Vincent told them, he could see her clearly now, and knew to whom she belonged. “And you are Merry Wolf’s daughter, but who is this?”
“A friend,” Swallow Tail answered cautiously and Darren continued for her, “I won’t let you take her back. She’s coming home with me.” Surprised Vincent told him, “I don’t intend to take her back, but you speak as though you are afraid that someone might stop you?”
Swallow Tail stared at Vincent. “They haven’t told you have they?”
“Told me what?” His heart hammered painfully as he guessed something ominous was about to be revealed.
“About our ways. That is the clan’s ways and laws. We aren’t to have relations with anyone outside of our own world. We have to marry a member of the clan. All of us have husbands and wives chosen for us by our parents and often before we are born. Love doesn’t come into it.”
“We’re in love, you see.” Darren put in for her. “We want to be married, and now that they’ve had The International Year of the Beast, we can move freely and be accepted among mankind, and I want to take her home and make her my wife.” Vincent smiled tenderly. “Well, I won’t try to stop you. I understand perfectly.”
“You do! That’s marvellous! Thing is we need a way out of here. These people, they have helpers and there are some behind me somewhere. I ran as fast as I could to get ahead of them, but if we should go back the same way we will encounter them and they will act accordingly to clan laws and take Swallow Tail away from me.”
“Will you help us get away?” Swallow Tail looked appealingly up at Vincent. “Please?”
“I’ll do whatever I can, but we have to go this way. Behind us are the hunters that are looking for me.”
“For you?” Darren sounded surprised. “Then you are also the one that those up ahead are searching for. There is a man among them, another helper who arrived a little after they did on the mountain this morning, seems to know you.”
Vincent nodded. “Yes I am aware that he is searching for me. But you say he is with those who would try to prevent our escape?”
“Most certainly. They like to help the clan as much as possible and believe wholeheartedly in keeping them together at all costs. If we are to outwit them we cannot hope to confront them just for the fact that your friend is among them, or they will take you and Swallow Tail back to your families.”
“Then we must find another way.” It grieved Vincent to suggest this, because his sense of Devin was now so close, but since he could not hope to separate his brother from the group that were with him he had to find a way to go around them and miss Devin entirely.
“Swallow Tail, the tunnel you came from, does it lead to the surface?”
“Yes, and I would have gone that way. Darren and I had arranged to meet through there, but I sensed him here, you must have taken a wrong turn, my love?”
“Possibly, with all these tunnels crisscrossing I began to get disorientated, missed our meeting place. Do you mean you can find the way back up to the top?” Bright eyed, Swallow Tail nodded. “I know these tunnels like the back of my hand.” She told him proudly. “So come, there’s not a moment to lose. Are you coming too?” She spoke directly to Vincent. He hesitated, unsure and hoping there would be some other way for him to locate his brother, besides he had been thinking of something important before stumbling upon Darren of how he ought to go back anyway. For in his haste to escape the hunters, he had forgotten the threat they still held to his family. He should have killed them while he had the chance to do so.
“So are you coming?” Swallow Tail asked again eager to be gone. Vincent made his decision. “Yes, I will see you safely to the top and then I will return for my friend.”
“But you will not tell them? We can count on you?” Swallow Tail asked breathlessly. Vincent nodded and promised her faithfully. “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.” Thankful, Swallow Tail hugged him, and then the three filed into the tunnel she had come from and moments later when Devin and his party emerged before the trio of tunnels, Vincent and his two companions were well out of sight.
To be continued in Chapter Thirteen.