"Letters from the Front"
I just got your last letter and I'm glad to hear your Dad's business is going well. Getting the contract for two new subdivisions in such a nice neighborhood is huge for him. I'm very happy for him. Nobody deserves the success more than he does.
Things here are pretty much business as usual. I can't go into it but will have to sit down for dinner with your family when I get back and give you the family edited version of what's happened. For some reason I keep remembering tonight is the night your mom makes Italian, her lasagna has filled my dreams for days.
I hate to cut this short but I've got a couple of things that need my immediate attention.
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I had taken the time to gather up several 'good to have' items and stashed them in my back pack along with the usual things, first aid kit, water, energy bars (that I'd hidden from the camp when Molly's last care package came in) along with rope and other essentials for surviving in the jungle.
I headed to Shipas tent, if I was going to find her I needed a little piece of her tell me where the rest of her was.
"Warden Dresden? What can I do for you?" The young redheaded warden asked, standing in the flap of her tent. She was wearing her fatigue pants and a t-shirt with the ever flattering combat boots. Her warden issued clothes seemed to fit her well. This woman was 5'8" about 125 pounds give or take a few pounds and although she wasn't masculine in appearance, I'd guess she could handle herself in a fight. From what I could see her body was lean and toned with an athletic build and slightly more than a modest bosom, that would look great in a black slinky dress, but it was more the sharp clear green eyes and how she sized me up glancing behind and around me. It told me she tended to think three moves ahead with an exit strategy and fight plan forming in her head as she finally gave me a faint smile. Then again in this environment, it wasn't paranoia that made one think like that, it was a matter of survival and she looked at first glance to be a survivor.
"Hi, Bonnie, I was wondering if I could have a look through Shilpa's things." I told glancing into the tent behind her.
"I thought you might be stopping by." She said with a look of satisfaction. "I think I have what you're looking for right here." She told me turning slightly to grab a small plastic bag. As she handed it to me I saw what must have been four or five long dark hairs, neatly coiled and placed in a zip top baggy. "Tracking lost women is your specialty…" She said with a mischievous grin.
"Tracking in general, the sex doesn't matter to me." I told her, thinking I should have thought about that sentence before I spoke as her cheeks turned a light shade of pink.
"That's not what the girls are saying." She said teasing me. The bag in her fingers swung slightly as she leaned against the tent pole raising one dark eyebrow.
"I meant it doesn't matter what sex the person I'm tracking is. Hell half the things I track aren't even human." I told her, not used to the innuendo and wondering how much 'the girls' knew about my sex life and why it was a topic of conversation. Hearing this, her brows raised making me think she was still getting the wrong idea.
Her face turning serious, Bonnie looked up at me, pushing the bag towards me. "Harry, Shilpa is my friend and the closest thing to an innocent we have in this place. I know you'll find her, please bring her back safely."
The last bit made me wonder what other stories had been floating around the camp and made me grimace as I took the bag from her hand. "She's my friend too and my partner. I'll get her back. I'm taking back up this time." I said patting Mouse's melon sized head.
"Somehow I believe you." Bonnie said her face softening as she crossed her pale arms across her chest. "If it were Carlos or anyone else I'd have a bit of doubt, but I know somehow you will make it happen."
"I'll have her back in time for breakfast." I told her evenly, then glancing back into the messy tent with dirty clothes, weights and other exercise gear strewn about the room. "You might want to tidy up. She strikes me as a bit of a clean freak." I told her half to show off and half to give her something to do besides worry for the next few hours.
"Whatever you say Warden Dresden." She said with that mischievous smile again. She stood up straight and somehow I got the impression that this particular smile was not only fitting for her but one of her favorite expressions.
"Thank you Bonnie." I told her as I put the bag into my pocket. "You two don't leave this sort of thing laying around do you?" I asked glancing into the messy tent again. For a normal person leaving hair in a brush is no big deal, but for a wizard it's an invitation for trouble. Disposing of such things is taught in Warden training 101, so I was curious how she got the hair from her bunk mate.
"No, shilpa is usually very good about cleaning these things up, we both are. When the attack happened she had just come off shift and then she just ran to where the fight was. She didn't stop to clean up like she normally would have." Bonnie told me, her smile disappearing as her brows furrowed, remember how her friend left the tent and disappeared. "Then when I found those I thought someone may have a use for them." She said giving me a meaningful look. "You were busy with the Captain and Listens to Wind so I didn't have a chance to get these to you."
"You could have given it to Carlos or Henderson."
"I didn't want to see Carlos or Henderson taking off half cocked and getting hurt." She said honestly. "You on the other hand do this sort of thing for sport or that's what the rumors suggest anyway."
"Yeah well don't believe everything you hear."
"I don't, just the good stuff." She said playfully stepping back into her tent to start picking up.
"Thanks again." I just smirked and turned away, Mouse close behind as we made our way back to my tent.
Once inside I quickly swept the hard clay floor and used salt to make a circle. Sitting in the circle I took off the pentacle necklace my Mother had given me and then sorted through the hairs to find one that had the root intact. I focused on Shilpa using her hair to tie my spell to the person as I carefully wrapped and tied the hair onto the pendant.
I drew in energy as I held the pendant in my hand binding the hair to the person and making a magical connection between the two, an affinity making them drawn to each other. As I focused my will and intention I pushed the energy into the pendant and hair, imagining the spell as a transparent bubble of energy over the pendant with a silvery string extending from the spell to Shilpa. Once everything was in place and I had the image and function of the spell clear and defined in my mind I pumped energy into it and then kicked with my foot to break the circle, letting the silvery string find and link to its target. As I opened my eyes I saw the pendant dangling from its chain tugging towards the back of the tent, confirming that it was working.
I was relieved feeling the familiar pull of the tracking spell. It's not that I hadn't expected the spell to work. It was more that I had been concerned that the Red Court vampires may have tried to conceal her from magic detection. After all they did start a ruckus in a camp full of wizards who were expecting to be in battle. Maybe they were too concerned with other things or maybe this guy didn't know that much about wizards. Maybe it was a trap. Either way I didn't have much of a choice.
Mouse and I headed into the jungle. It was late afternoon and the shadows were growing long and deep in the thick undergrowth of the forest. Moving through the thick vegetation was difficult enough but the heat and humidity made even the air feel heavy and thick. I sliced my way through the vines and branches mechanically, following the tugging of the pendant knowing there was a young woman who was waiting for me at the other end of the spell.
I moved as quickly as I could through the jungle. Taking a minor detour as I came around the edge of the lost city, I stayed in sight of the city but also well inside the tree line. Glancing now and then to see if there were any obvious signs of vampires or other predators, I saw the sun a few hours from setting over the tops of the jungle canopy to the west. Mouse followed on my heels, his ears up and his eyes and nose checking the local environment for any potential problems as we progressed.
After about an hour I felt the tug on the pendant start to grow progressively stronger, indicating I was getting near its target, my partner. We slowed our pace and moved more stealthily as we neared what must have been a village, long since abandoned. If what the Chullachaqui had said earlier was true, then this village may well have come to a quick terrifying end thanks to those who were holding my partner. The thought of the mass slaughter in what I could easily imagine to have been a peaceful village as well as the larger lost city only served to fuel my anger and strengthen my resolve.
Mouse let out a low growl as we were passing the ruins of a small building. We stopped and I crouched down beside the low wall and pushed out my senses. In the growing shadows before sunset I could feel the vibrant jungle and the creepy crawlies that called it their home and then off to my right and again to my left I could sense a coldness that sent shivers up my spine.
"They're close." I whispered to mouse, he nudged my arm in agreement and then sniffed the air again and looked ahead of us and a little to the left. There was a building that was larger than the others and was probably some sort of meeting place for the village originally. Now as I pushed my senses farther I could feel more cold spots, a lot more. Their numbers and proximity to each other gave off a strong nasty aura that made my skin crawl and even Mouse seemed to be bothered by it. What made matters worse was that for every two vampires there was a Patasola, who felt just as sick as the vampires but somehow more dangerous. Maybe it's because they were new to me and I had only messed with one, but they bothered me.
They were in and around the building and I could feel one strong presence in particular, warm and defiant like a beacon of the summer's warmth in the winter courts throne room. I could make out another single powerful presence of seething cold sickness that made my flesh crawl and my stomach want to turn. That had to be their leader.
I couldn't sense any magic I the area, not even the subtle magic of wards or charms. I sighed relieved that they didn't have the benefit of a wizard on their side or this could have made things much harder. I suppose when you can live forever, play god with the lives and cultures of your prey and are faster, stronger and meaner than they are, you could tend to get a little complacent. That and from what I've seen Red Court Vampires have fairly high opinions of themselves and don't get out much. Usually it would irritate me but right now it was working in my favor.
"First we take care of the guards then we move in." I whispered to mouse. He let out a low soft growl, his deep voice making the leaves tremble under him as he looked to the right where I had sensed the first sentry.
We moved slowly and quietly, knowing that one broken branch or one sniff of our scent could send up the alarm. I stopped about fifty feet away from her. She was sitting next to the remains of an old building, leaning back lazily under a tarp that protected her from direct sun light, even under the canopy of the dense jungle trees.
"Let's see if I can do this quietly." I whispered to mouse. I pulled my staff from my pack and pushed my anger and anxiousness into it like water into a fire hose. I mentally condensed and constricted the power as I continued to feed it into the staff causing the runes to glow an orange color as I leveled the staff, aiming down its straight shaft as a hunter would sight down the barrel of a rifle. "Feugo" I said quietly sending short burst of superheated, compressed heat and anger about half the size of a basketball streaking at her jaw.
She turned her head having caught the motion of the orange ball from the corner of her eye. She had enough time to let her eyes go wide and open her mouth and begin to inhale for a scream as it impacted against her head. Her mouth, neck and face were engulfed and quickly incinerated as the magical flames quickly filled her lungs and engulfed her body, sending a cloud of greasy black acrid smoke into the jungle. She writhed and tried to scream for a few moments, her lungs filled with the fire which quickly spread inside her body. Her body simply bloated and then her flesh mask and oily black skin both split, and oozed burning fluids and entrails. She collapsed quietly on the moss covered stone as Mouse and I moved towards the second sentry.
The second sentry was sniffing the air and scanning the area. I don't think he knew quite what he smelled yet. The wind was blowing the other direction, carrying the putrid scent of his burning partner away from him but he caught a whiff of something that bothered him. Mouse gave me a serious look then back at the sentry as if to tell me that time wasn't on my side.
I leveled my staff again, aiming it like a laws rocket, resting my cheek against the shaft, one end over my shoulder the other sticking out if front of me. I poured more power into the staff this time mixing it with a little soul fire as I gripped the staff in both hands. When the runes glowed a brilliant silver and the wood felt like it was about to burst, I whispered. "Forzare"
An invisible shaft of energy shot from my staff, I had imagined it with a sharp pointy tip like a lance. It struck the second sentry at the base of the skull angled slightly upward. His body shot up off the ground a few inches as his head was suddenly ventilated. Gore and black sticky blood spayed in front of him as a three inch hole was blasted on opposite sides of his skull, pulverizing and evacuating all matter between them in an instant. He collapsed onto the hard ground with a dull thud. Although stealth wasn't my favorite style in a fight, they should have known better then to mess with a group of wardens. Wizards can be tricky and unpredictable…
"Now it's your turn buddy." I whispered to Mouse. "I need a diversion to draw them away from Shilpa and if it will slow them down as we leave, all the better. " Mouse just gave me a doggy smile and licked my hand, then turned and disappeared into the jungle. It amazed me how a creature about as big and strong as a car can move so fast and quietly in the thick underbrush. Then again I keep getting reminded that Mouse isn't an ordinary dog.
I sat and waited about three or four minutes before I heard a loud howl that shook the ground coming from the far side of the vampire's encampment. There was a force to it, an energy that seemed to vibrate in my head, and then the forest went silent. I don't mean the howling just stopped but the whole area went graveyard silent. Nothing moved, even the gentle breeze stopped. Then there was a low rumble. I could sense the vampires moving in the direction of the sound and felt something else. Like a million little pin pricks of hot angry energy moving from all directions towards the encampment.
"That's my signal." I said to myself as I rushed to the closest building. Peeking around the corner at the stone entry way into the temple filled with vampires, I could hear a commotion from inside as the vampires and Patasola were moving towards the exits to investigate the sound. The majority of them were streaming out the far exit towards Mouse but there were others coming towards me.
I gripped my staff and started to push fire and rage into it as the adrenaline started to kick in. I was about to spin around the corner and blast the first few vampires I saw but a wave of angry brown fur washed past me just as I was ready. There was a dull roar of hundreds of little feet as and shrill screeching of spider and howler monkeys as they flew past me and covered the four unfortunate Red Court Vampires that were just exiting the building. The wave of fur and fangs washed into and around the building ripping and biting at the Patasola and vampires. They weren't killing them outright but given time they would make a nice dent in the bloodsucking community gathered here tonight. I heard a loud bark, that rattled the stone of the building and sent birds flying from the canopy as shrieks and howls of monkeys and vampires erupted in earnest at the far side of the building.
I rushed into the temple to see the well dressed vampire who had taken Shilpa weaving through the onslaught dancing with amazing speed and accuracy, his sword only a deadly silver blur in the lamp light of the temple. Monkey parts were flying from in front of him sending blood and fur along with howls of pain and rage into the enclosed place. There was the chainsaw sound of automatic weapon fire and the loud barking of a shotgun in the front of the building. The scene was as macabre as it was surreal.
Against the wall nearest to me, just past the dapper swordsman I saw my partner. Shilpa lay on the ground tied and gagged. She had a few bruises and a swollen cheek and lip that were new since I had last seen her but otherwise looked no worse for wear.
I had thought about simply trying to sneak past in the confusion and escape unnoticed. Then again, why leave the party early? I drew a long knife from my hip and threw it just in front of Shilpa. She jumped slightly as the heavy knife thudded and skidded to a stop next to her. She was surprised as she was taking in the carnage and spectacle of the attack of the killer monkeys and hadn't noticed me slip in the back with the wave of fur and fangs. She grabbed the knife and quickly freed her feet.
Evidently she wasn't the only one who noticed the knife as the dapper swordsman turned to face me. He didn't miss a beat swinging the deadly blade as his attention turned to me. He gave me a toothy smile and in a blur of motion closed the twenty feet to me and impacted hard against my barely formed shield. His hands were stretched over his head and blue rings were dancing over the surface of my shield as my bracelet became very warm from the blow. He looked like a mime doing, "Ran into a brick wall" and was very convincing.
Normally my rings charge pretty slowly, but hacking through the jungle works like a quick charge for them. Holding my staff firmly I thrust my fist towards him and released all the kinetic force I'd stored in my rings over the last few days. The force of the three rings hit him dead center in his chest, lifting him from his feet and throwing him to land on his back right about where he had started from. He landed in a dazed heap and somehow managed to keep from impaling himself with his polished English long sword.
"Now works for me Shilpa!" I shouted over the din to my newly freed partner as I leveled my staff
"I'm ready Harry!" She shouted and quickly ran in my direction as a group started moving in on her. They turned towards me, picking up speed as they came. I leveled my staff again and pumped energy into it adding a touch more soul fire, thinking I'd need the extra oomph for these four as I dropped my shield letting Shilpa slip behind me.
I shouted "Forzare" and let a plane of energy erupt from the tip of my staff. It grew wider as it extended out, hitting all four just above the knee caps. There was a sick crunching sound mixed with shrill screams as their legs snapped back the wrong direction, forcing them to the ground.
Shilpa lifted her hands above her head and yelled "Pavana" and I felt a rush of magic blow past me as a wall of wind swirled around her and started to push outward. The wind picked up the dust and debris that had built up on the stone floor for centuries creating a swirling cloud of fast moving dirt, sticks and twigs. Monkeys and vampires alike howled and covered their eyes as small tornados tore through the room.
I grabbed Shilpas hand and raised my shield again. We ran out the back of the building into a small group of vampires and Patasola frantically trying to fight the nimble and ferocious monkeys. One had managed to work himself free. His flesh mask and clothes were completely gone and his black skin glistened with sweat and dark sticky blood in the waning light. When he saw Shilpa and I come out of the old stone building being pushed by hundred mile an hour winds, he simply turned and ran. He got about fifty feet before four new monkeys pounced on him, driving him face and fangs first into the hard, sun baked clay ground.
I put my fingers to my mouth and was about to whistle when I saw a mountain of gray and brown fur come around the corner of the building at a leisurely trot. His tail wagging and a doggy smile on his face Mouse joined us, glancing back at a loud scream of outrage and pain. It was their leader coming to his senses, seeing his prey had disappeared.
I lifted my staff and poured magic and soulfire into it and pointed to the canopy of the jungle. "Feugo"
I moved my staff like a flame thrower, moving the thin beam of fire and heat along the top branches of the trees to the west. Soon there was a gaping hole in the canopy that was growing bigger by the second. As Shilpa, Mouse and I stood there, we were bathed in sunlight as was most of the building behind us as the sun came into plain view. Birds took to the air with chirps, squawks and other indignant sounds as the fire raged in the tree tops, dropping burning debris to the jungle below.
"That should buy us a little time." I told Shilpa and Mouse. Mouse sneezed and Shilpa beamed up at me, her dark eyes wide under her long dark bangs.
"After you…" She said sweetly.
"Not a chance. I'm not letting you out of my sight again."
"Harry…" She said sounding almost a little offended, or maybe a little flattered. With some women you just can't tell the difference.
"If we're late for dinner Carlos won't forgive us." I told her with a smirk.
With that we headed into the forest. Dodging snakes, bugs and other creepy crawlies as the shadows went from translucent wisps to opaque things, growing larger and darker as the sun made its way over the mountains to the West. We skipped the mandatory breaks as adrenaline and need pressed us towards the safety of numbers, knowing that very soon there would be a large number of very annoyed vampires heading our direction.
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Also in answer to your question, yes, if I find a t-shirt or leather shop, I'll get you a souvenir. Just know there aren't a lot of vendors where I'm at, but I'll try.
Don't forget to feed Mister and tell your Mom and Dad I said Hi. Hopefully I'll be back soon and can tell you all about it.