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    astone2292
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Rising in the Shadows - 21. Chapter 21: Phony People

Vincent’s breath caught. “The Seven?” He stared at the grayscale monk in nervousness.

“Do not play dumb with me, Vincent,” Yakob’s voice was cold and stern. “I’ve had time to reflect on your statement in Alpha Scott’s apartment. You were visited by Terik, the Goddess of Mischief.”

The younger mage nodded.

“Then before that, when I saw you in your hybrid form, you had a discolored band of fur on your right leg. I can only assume you were visited by another?”

“Band?” Vincent was lost. “What do you mean band of fur?”

Yakob lifted an open palm, “Transform and look.”

In a rush, the alpha stretched out the accused limb and thought of his hybrid’s form. The leg grew in size as the speckled fur erupted. Vincent gasped at the sight. Moving the limb, he noticed two circular rings of whiter fur encompassing his ankle. “Ya-Yakob! What the hell is this?”

“Now there are two, so my suspicions are correct.” The monk furrowed his brows and traced the marking. “You’ve been kissed by two of the Seven, one being Terik. Who was the other?”

Vincent shook and stammered, “Bol.”

The name caused Yakob’s gaze to harden. “Something serious must have happened for the God of Order to immerse himself in our world. Forgive me, this is the first I’ve seen of a celestial possession.” Standing straight, the monk instructed his student to revert the limb. “Do you know why they involved themselves in your life?”

“I do, but it’s not pretty.”

Yakob stared at Vincent, but sighed, “I won’t ask you to reveal it, but is it as serious as I imagine?”

After a moment, Vincent nodded.

“Does it involve Stefan?”

He nodded again.

“I won’t ask any further questions about it. I understand your need to learn about magic, and I will devote all of my spare time to assist.” Yakob’s face remained serious, but he laid a hand on Vincent’s shoulder, “He will be stopped. For now, focus on your land issues. Once those are done, all of your spare time will belong to me or Mrs. Wilson. Understand?”

Vincent rose to his feet. “Yes. Yakob, how did you know about the gods?”

The monk smirked, “Best not to overload your mind. There is much to learn about your magic, then we can talk celestial. I need to return to the monastery to meditate. I suggest you do the same, until other duties beckon.”

He watched as Yakob waved and flew off to the northeast. So, the gods possessing me changed my hybrid? Emerging from the shadows, he reverted his pink, fleshy leg and saw nothing abnormal. I don’t get it. If there’s markings on my hybrid, why not my human form?

Walking toward the house, he diverted his path. Stepping in the shade of the tree between the forest and house, Vincent sat at the base and closed his eyes. Breathing deeply, he took in magical energy.

***

A few hours passed and Mason stopped to pick up Vincent. They agreed to meet Stuerm at the rest area bordering the two territories. Honestly, it’s for the best. Either we step on his lands and deal with his rules, or he may be antsy in ours. They picked up Caleb and got on the road. Mason silently cursed knowing Dave couldn’t take off work, I think I need to talk to him about Greenthumb.

On the drive there, Mason started to give Vincent and Caleb the rundown on Stuerm’s behavior, but after a few sentences, the mage held up his hand. “I get it, Mace. He’s homophobic. It’s not my first time around someone like that. I’m going to keep everything focused on business.”

Impressed with Vincent’s attitude and answer, he clapped his free hand on the smaller man’s knee. “Alright, but if he starts something, I’ll—”

“Sit still and try to hold your growl? I haven’t met the guy, even if he hates gays, it’s important to me to be neighborly. I want him to know he can come to me, just like he can come to you should he need it.”

Mason huffed, “Since when did you become the level-headed alpha?”

His mate smirked, “I’ve been mentally preparing for this meeting for a while. I don’t think it will go as smoothly as Bartlett’s, but I want the best possible outcome.”

The lion snorted, “Mace, give Little B some credit here. Not to be a backseat alpha, but I think you should be the thinker in Dave’s place.”

Still driving, Mason glanced at Caleb through the rearview mirror, “Come again?”

“I suggest it since Vin is the deed holder. He’s been studying the EC laws, and I haven’t had much time to go over them. One of you two should act as a beta in this conversation, and you know more about pack dynamics than Vincent.”

Thinking about the topic with pursed lips, Mason agreed, “One of us needs to, but I don’t know who. My concern is still with Stuerm, I got a feeling he will want to keep talking to me.”

Vincent pressed his index knuckle against his lips, “I don’t think I can play the beta role, big guy. I was floored by Trenton’s money offer and I had no frame of reference for the financial records, so the bylaws and policies are more my bag.”

Mason grinned, “I can handle the finances if you got the rules. We can split the beta and alpha roles.” Vincent and Caleb nodded their heads.

Arriving at the parking lot, Mason pointed at a group of three seated at a picnic table. “That’s them. Stuerm’s in the middle, their beta next to him, and delta standing.”

Caleb leaned forward, inserting his face between the couple. “What do you know about them, Mace?”

“The enforcer is a pushover, but keep an eye on the beta. Fenn’s got the earth affinity, but I haven’t seen him use it.”

Vincent sat straight in his seat. “I’ve heard of it but I’m in the same boat. From the books I’ve read, it’s one of the hardest affinities to control. The user can push and pull on various dirts and stones, but can’t maintain the exploitation for long. It requires precise energy manipulation to do almost anything.”

Mason was floored at his mate’s knowledge, “Seriously? Damn, I almost feel for him.”

“Well, I’m not saying he’s useless. They can open up a hole in the earth and drop someone in, only to close it up.”

Caleb’s eyes widened, “Damn!”

Mason took the conversation back, “Other than that, nothing else to worry about. Ready, pup?” He saw Vincent’s nod and all three men exited the truck. On the way to the tables, Mason saw the enforcer whisper to Stuerm, who turned to face the Owensville Pack. The aging alpha stood and ensured his polo was tucked in. “Alpha Stuerm, pleasure to see you.”

Stuerm’s one-sided smile was aimed at him, “Likewise, Alpha Wilson. It’s been a couple months, I hope everything’s going well? I see you’ve found your mate! You should’ve said something, I would have gotten you a bottle of wine!” Stuerm turned to Vincent, “And from what I hear, he’s a very capable alpha. May I ask your name?”

Vincent genuinely smiled, “I’m Mated Alpha Vincent Bolton. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Alpha Stuerm.” He stretched out his hand, which was quickly met.

“A gentleman as well! Since you’re a turnling, let me give you a piece of advice. You are both an alpha and a mated alpha. In a formal scenario, you’ll want to introduce yourself as alpha first since that title takes precedence.”

Mason put hands on his hips. I wasn’t expecting him to play nice today. He’s completely dived right into conversation with Vinnie.

Vincent’s smile widened, “I really appreciate the tip, sir. If you don’t mind, I’m a little unfamiliar with your council.”

“Of course, my beta, Fenn Andrews and my delta, Dalton Shoemaker.” As Stuerm said his councils’ names, each man bared their necks to the alpha couple. “I believe Owensville has a new delta as well?”

“Yes, this is Caleb Gage, our new enforcer.” Caleb offered his neck to Stuerm.

The older wolf walked up to Caleb. “A lion in Kentucky. I think I’ve seen it all!” Stuerm sniffed and smiled, “Impressive, Enforcer Gage, I see a bright future ahead.”

Glancing between Mason and Vincent, Stuerm asked in a firm tone, “Shall we talk business?”

***

Loosening his tie, Kaplan slowly stepped down the courthouse stairs; his shoes plopping on the concrete with little energy. I swear, if that session went on any longer, I would have called for a recess. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled the mashed cigarette pack, only to find none left. The lycan groaned.

A familiar scent wafted into his nose, but before Kaplan could turn around, the owner’s voice whispered from a distance, “There’s my little pup!”

When he laid eyes on Cyrus, Kaplan’s scowl transformed into a smile. Gaining a boost of energy, he sped towards the panda and landed in the massive arms. “What are you doing here, Cy?”

“Can’t I surprise my boyfriend every once in a while?” The bear stepped away and flourished a platinum case. With a snap, the box opened and Cyrus offered the wolf a cigarette. “Looking for one of these?”

Kaplan sighed in relief and gratefully took the offering. As he fumbled for the lighter in his pants pocket, Cyrus closed the gap between them and whispered, "Allow me."

The bear took two fingers and pinched the edge of the stick. A small crackle could be heard before he took the hand away, revealing the lit end. Kaplan puffed and immediately noticed the distinct flavor. "This isn't tobacco!"

"No, it isn't. I have these imported from a particular farm in China. It's a blend of bamboo, several different peppers, licorice, and mustard seed. They’re a little sweeter than tobacco." Cyrus pulled a stick of his own and ignited the end with covered digits. "My bear loves the taste for obvious reasons."

Inhaling the strange dart, Kaplan did his best to critique. "I think I like them. It's definitely lighter than tobacco and I can taste the licorice." He smiled, "Yeah, I could smoke these!"

Cyrus grinned and started walking, forcing Kaplan to follow. "I'll place an order for more cartons. They also make a blend with mint, if you'd like that."

The wolf shook his head. "I couldn't get used to menthol, so I'm not sure I'd like it."

"Fair enough. Are you hungry, Kaplan?"

He nodded. I'm practically starving!

"Then how about an early dinner? The financial meeting got out early and I've been peckish since."

The two continued down the block and picked out a small deli. When the couple entered, the employees behind the counter looked up and bared their necks. Cyrus' face lit up when he found the pack members, "Good afternoon!"

The taller of the three workers nodded and whispered, "Af-afternoon! Are you Alpha Vonder?"

"I am. I take it the newsletter got around?"

"Y-yes, sir. I'm blessed to have you in my shop!"

The alpha's grin grew wider. "You own this delicatessen? It's well-kept, and please, I prefer to be called Cyrus." The two walked to the counter as the sheepish lycan smiled with apparent pride. "What is your finest sandwich?"

"That'd be the Muenster Monster. It's got shredded cajun chicken, two thin slices of Muenster in between, and a helping of chipotle sauce."

The bear looked at Kaplan, "Does that sound good to you, my beta?"

The use of title sounded like a term of endearment from his boyfriend's tone. "Yep!"

"Then we'll have a few of those."

The owner nodded, handed the couple cups, and began prepping the food. With drinks filled, Cyrus and Kaplan took a table. Moments later, their food was laid before them. "Here you go, gentlemen."

Kaplan admired the steaming panini. It's so thick! He wasted no time and took a bite. Sauce oozed from the sandwich as he set it down. The spice was flavorful but mild to the lycan. "This is really good!"

Cyrus' opinion was no different. He turned in his seat and captured the attention of the staff. "Compliments to the chef! This is the finest sandwich in New York!"

The three workers grinned and thanked the alpha before returning to their duties.

Kaplan was halfway into his meal, but had to stop when he noticed a dribble of chipotle on Cyrus’ lip. The lawyer motioned with a finger to give a signal. The bear took a napkin and dotted the wrong side, causing the wolf to giggle. “Other side,” he whispered. He watched as Cyrus smiled and dabbed the sauce away.

"Thank you. So, tell me about your day."

"Nothing much to say. The defense has been prolonging the case, causing fatigue for the jury to either make an impromptu decision or forget some details of the statements. It's a sad tactic but it sees success sometimes. How about you? Did the finance meeting go well?"

Cyrus cleared his throat and set his food down. "It was enlightening. I'll be making some amendments when I take office, including a pay cut to my position. I make enough from my business ventures to suit my needs, so I'd rather see those funds go back to the pack."

“That’s pretty noble.” Before continuing his meal, Kaplan leaned forward. “How was the other finance meeting?”

The bear’s voice was a barely audible whisper, “We’ve only started. Beta Kress is sorting through any major and minor spending records that may interest Snyder’s business. Tierney has the hacker working as well, it will take time.”

Kaplan nodded and returned to the food.

Moments passed before Cyrus spoke again, “Are you okay, Kaplan? You seem a little off.”

“I’m fine, really.”

The bear’s head dipped and eyelids drooped. “We’ve dated for a few weeks, but I already know when you’re pushing yourself. Your cute, little smile seems a little forced, causing two wrinkles on each side of your mouth.”

Kaplan trembled and sighed. “I’m fine, Cy. Really, I am. I think I’ve just been getting bogged down with cases.”

The alpha’s brow furrowed. “How many are you handling right now?"

Blowing air through closed lips, they vibrated noisily. "I have about twenty minor ones, like speeding tickets and then I have four major cases that's been going on for months."

Cyrus straightened up. "That's too much, on top of your pack duties. Can't your other firm associates take more responsibility?"

"I wish. They're swimming in cases too! More and more people keep coming in with issues."

"Maybe the firm should hire more lawyers, perhaps recent graduates?"

Kaplan leaned back. "I'll suggest that to the partners. Maybe we can look at an intern program."

"Or I could lighten your work within the pack."

"What do you mean?"

Cyrus picked up his sandwich. "You hold several positions as Head Beta. Even finding someone to take the scribe duties could assist you. I've been thinking about having Vogel take your political secretary tasks."

Kaplan sat and thought. Vogel's pretty charismatic. From the conversations I've had with him, he's calculating when he speaks. "I think he'd be the best option, but I'm still able to do my work."

"I don't doubt that, but if delegating roles to others means you can be less stressed, then what's the harm?”

“I guess you’re right. Have you talked to Vogel about this?”

A sly smirk appeared on Cyrus’ face. “No, but I’ve talked to Tierney. He thinks it’s a wise move, but I wanted your opinion. There won’t be any distribution of your roles without your say-so.”

The wolf felt conflicted. On one hand, he didn’t want to give up his obligations to the pack or seem like he was stepping down. But it would give me some more free time, and even the chance to help out Cyrus with other odd jobs. With a sigh, he nodded, “I think he'll be a good political secretary.”

“If you’re certain, I’ll let you arrange the time for Vogel’s training, but give me notice. I’d like to be there for a couple of the meetings.”

“Yes, Alpha.”

Cyrus scowled, “Again with title?”

Kaplan prepared to finish his sandwich, but set it down when he received the bear’s distasteful tone. “We’re working. Isn’t that the rule?”

“Well, I suppose so. I think I might need to amend my personal rulebook.”

“You have other rules?”

The panda grinned, “Yes, but there are very few. In due time, I’ll share them and their backstories with you."

The two finished their meals and gave the crew a nod of appreciation as they left. They walked hand-in-hand to the nearby parking garage. "Am I driving us back to your condo?"

"Yes, if you don't mind. Would you like to stop and change into something more comfortable?"

"That'd be great." Kaplan started his Prius and drove away. As he turned the corner, he chuckled as Cyrus moved the seat back. "Sorry, my car's small."

"No worries. I've been meaning to go shopping for my own vehicle since I moved here, but I've been a bit busy."

Kaplan parked his car and they got out. Going up the stairs, the wolf felt self-conscious about his living arrangement. He warned Cyrus that his apartment wasn't the biggest or the cleanest, but the bear paid no attention. Opening the door, Kaplan flung his satchel on the futon and undid his tie. "Do you mind if I take a quick shower?"

"Go right ahead." Cyrus stood in the living room and looked over the decor. "I don't know what you were talking about; this place is nearly spotless!"

"Thanks." Removing his shirt, he looked behind him to find the afterglow of Cyrus' emerald eyes. Smiling, he went into the bedroom and purposefully left the door open. He started the shower to get the water warm and undressed completely.

Cleaning himself in record time, he unfurled the curtain and grabbed the towel. Once dried, he wrapped it around his waist and went to grab some clothes. Stepping out of the cramped bathroom, he noticed Cyrus sitting on the twin bed. How did he get there? I didn't hear a step!

Cyrus looked up and flashed his irises. He curled a finger, signaling for the wolf to come closer. Kaplan obeyed. Stepping closer, the bear growled.

In a blur of movement, Kaplan's towel was snatched and tossed aside. The panda stood and closed the gap. He whispered, "Oops. Hope you didn't need that."

Kaplan moaned and clutched Cyrus by the hips. Their lips connected. They spun and Kaplan's hindquarters hit the mattress. Before he could get a sentence out, a pressure grew on his neck. He gasped for air as the bear freshened the mark. The blood flowed towards the warmth from Cyrus’ mouth.

The heat dissipated and the wolf inhaled. As he filled his lungs, Kaplan fixated his gaze on the emerald eyes. “Cy.”

A finger was pressed against his lips. Cyrus stepped away and scanned Kaplan’s body. “You’re gorgeous, Kaplan.”

“You’re the sexiest man I’ve ever seen.”

Cyrus grinned and a short giggle escaped his lips. “Surely you’re joking?”

Kaplan shook his head.

The bear held the wolf’s face gently. “Thank you, my little pup. That… Well, that means a lot to me.” Cyrus pecked Kaplan’s cheek. “Let’s get you dressed. I have a few things to go over with you at the condo.”

***

Fenn handed Vincent several folders at the start of the meeting. “Those are our previous year’s statements for finances, evaluations, and pack surveys from the last five years.”

Vincent sorted through the information and handed the finances to Mason. He started with the pack surveys. Thumbing through them, he saw mostly positive reviews. “These surveys, are they mandatory or voluntary?”

“We consider it voluntary, but it’s only offered during the month of January. For those who fill it out, the next three months’ pack dues are cut twenty-five percent.”

“That’s a good way to get feedback without costing the pack too much money. Have you seen many influential comments?”

Fenn nodded. “Because of the surveys, we’ve increased overall outings to increase morale.”

Vincent smiled and dove back into the comments. The longer he read, the more off they seemed. There’s a lot of varying lengths; some short and some long. He read a few of the shorter ones on the front page and flipped to the last few. Something didn’t feel right. All of these have correct punctuation and grammar. He studied the wording closer. The mage slowed his pace. These don’t seem right. I’ll keep this a secret for now, at least until Mason and I can talk quietly. “I like this a lot!”

Stuerm smiled and tapped his fingers together. “Glad you think so. You seem pretty interested in them. Thinking about implementing a similar system?”

Vincent hummed in thought. I think I need to look at something else. He closed the folder and set it aside, only to pick up a different one. “It’s possible, but I’m still learning different aspects about how a pack is run.”

As the couple looked over the files, Caleb and Dalton scanned the area. The lion’s nose twitched and darted his eyes to the parking lot. Stuerm noticed the movement. “See something, Delta Gage?”

Caleb kept scanning the area. “Something felt off, but I’m not seeing anything.”

“Probably just some human watching.”

Vincent saw Caleb’s stern face. He closed his eyes and focused on the shadows in the lion’s line of sight. After several seconds of evaluating the idle vehicles, he looked up, “From the parking lot, there’s a few adult-sized shadows inside the cars. Out of the four with bodies, three have kids inside. I doubt we’re in any danger, G-man.”

Stuerm, Fenn, and Dalton all stared at Vincent. The alpha chuckled and crossed his arms. “I don’t know why, but my wolf says to trust you, Alpha Bolton. I’m assuming this is your shadow magic at work?”

“Yes, sir. I can feel the shadows around me. The bigger the shadow, the heavier it is.”

“Very impressive. Fenn, do you know much about the shadow affinity?”

The beta shook his head. “No, I don’t. I wouldn’t mind learning, if Alpha Bolton had some spare time?”

Vincent smiled and opened another folder. “I’d be happy to show you. We can plan that in the near future."

The couple spent more time looking through the information and asked several questions. Fenn answered most of them with subtle commentary from Stuerm. Mason brought up the final inquiry. "We want to ask for a price, but first we need to explain our reasoning. You know we're financially stable enough to where we don't need the extra funds. We're asking to pay what is fair. There's no set price for the deed since we're more concerned for the wellbeing of the shifter community in Mesker Park."

Stuerm shifted in his seat. "That's… strange, but I see your premise. Nevertheless, our offer is six and a half million."

Vincent sat still. That's a big difference from Bartlett's offer! I expected a higher number, but I wasn't ready for something like this.

Mason nodded and jotted down the response on the financial folder. "Alright then. We have other interviews but we'll have a decision made by the end of the week, possibly next week."

The alpha grinned and stood. "Very well. If there's any further thoughts, make sure to reach out to my beta, and don't be strangers. Alpha Bolton, it was a pleasure meeting you!"

The mage shook the extended hand. "Likewise! If you or your pack ever need my help with anything, I'll be happy to assist."

"I'm sure that magic of yours will be of use at some point. Wilson, we should get together more often. Being neighbors, we can look at having interpack functions.”

Mason nodded and accepted Stuerm’s gesture. “It can be arranged.”

“Excellent! Unfortunately, I have business that needs to be tended to. Y’all have a good day, alright?”

The Owensville council waved and watched Stuerm’s head for the parking lot. Mason leaned in and whispered under his breath, “I’ve never seen him like that.”

“He’s full of it.” Vincent’s deduction was firm and solid.

Caleb’s head turned on a dime towards the shorter alpha. “How can you be so sure?”

“Two things tipped me off. Those surveys are fake. Dave and I go over Greenthumb’s, and Stuerm’s look way too perfect. Unless every single one was completed on a laptop or desktop, I’m not buying it.”

Mason wrapped his arm around Vincent and grabbed the survey folder. The mage immediately rose and collected the others. When he snatched Mason’s, he handed them to Caleb to hold. “Mace, you need to be more subtle.”

A scowl crossed his mate’s face. “What are you talking about?”

“Trust me, big guy. Let’s head to the truck.” Vincent shot a short burst of love through his bond, it was immediately reciprocated as the three ventured to the truck. While he was walking, Vincent kept his attention on the shadows around him.

Reaching the Tundra, Mason waved once more to Stuerm before hopping in the driver seat. “Didn’t you say there were two things that bothered you.”

Vincent kept his eyes low. “I wasn’t sure of the second until just now.”

“What’s wrong, Vinnie?”

He sighed. “Remember when I mentioned the four vehicles? Two of them left half an hour ago, and the third’s family got out and took the picnic table at the other end of the area.” Pausing, he brushed a hand through his hair. “Stuerm’s council got into the fourth. There was another person in that vehicle.”

Caleb leaned back and crossed his arms. “So they had someone watching our meeting. I knew I felt eyes on us!”

“I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it was a pretty big shadow that was hiding. It’s not as big as Ashford’s, but a little bigger than Caleb’s.”

“Another delta? Is that possible?”

Vincent furrowed his brow. “Someone can be built like a delta without being given the title, right?”

Mason nodded.

The mage thought for a moment. I don’t like this. If I remember right, a pack of Stuerm’s size is limited to one delta, like ours. He might be paying for one under the table. We’ll need to look at the finances folder again.

No like! Stuerm had other watch meeting. Sneaky. Very under… under-hand-dead!

Tabling his wolf’s conversation, Vincent took half a bead of energy from his bracelet. “Can we head home? I want to get Dave’s input on these reports, especially the surveys.”

“Sure thing, hot stuff. You think we should give the EC a call?”

He pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned. “I’m not sure. I don’t want to jump the gun and say he’s guilty. Let’s give it some time, okay? Making an enemy out of him isn’t the right move for now, maybe Cyrus has some connections.”

***

Cyrus and Kaplan sat together on the loveseat with laptops in their proper place. Both were clicking their keyboards with the wolf being the speedier of the two. Going over preliminary amendments and council changes for Cyrus’ role as leader was their topic for the evening.

A vibration from the panda’s phone went ignored on the coffee table. When Kaplan’s went off a minute later, they retrieved their devices. “A message from Vincent?”

“Yeah, got the same one you did. They have questions about EC procedure?”

Cyrus didn’t waste a moment and called. Not even a ring later, and the line was picked up.

“Cyrus?”

“Yes, Vincent. Sorry I didn’t respond immediately. Kaplan and I are working on some pack business.”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I can call back later.” The younger alpha’s voice was stressed.

Cyrus chuckled, “That’s not necessary, we could use a break. What can I help you with?”

“I’m not sure what we’ve found, but it involves Stuerm.” The bear sat up straight and put the phone on speaker. “”I don’t think it’s against any of the bylaws, but there’s something weird going on in his pack.”

“Give it to me straight.”

“His council performs a yearly survey to be done by pack members. Almost all of them are positive, but what caught my eye was the punctuation.”

The issue confused Kaplan, “Punctuation? I don’t get it.”

“Oh! Hey, Kap! I’m comparing them to my work’s survey responses and unless everyone in Stuerm’s pack is a stingy English professor—”

“They’re fraudulent.” Cyrus put the pieces together quickly. Strange thing to fake, though. What would be the purpose? Better relation with the EC evaluations? Pack integration material? That’s a red flag.

“We haven’t found anything suspicious in the finances folder he gave us during his interview, but I’m not the best at looking at numbers. Mace and Dave said there’s no alarms going off there.”

Kaplan leaned toward the phone, “What does finances have to do with the surveys?”

“Stuerm offers a cut on dues for the first few months if the pack members complete the surveys.”

As his wolf nodded, Cyrus’ mind was pumping through possible scenarios. One stuck out, but he needed clearer evidence. This is a problem. I’m already swamped with organizing this pack information. I don’t have time to handle an EC investigation. “Vincent, get me every single file you were given. I can send them off to Bylus and they can get a start. And don’t email those to me! I’d prefer snail-mail. I would rather not risk dealing with a hacker who can track your online movements.”

“I could make a quick trip to New York.”

Cyrus grinned widely. How can I forget about his magic? I’m almost jealous. “I’ll send you my address. Just let me get the condo cleaned up a bit.”

A giggle came from the speaker, “Are you sure I’m not interrupting anything?”

His own trumped Vincent’s. “I assure you. Come on over.” The bear hung up, texted his address, and placed his laptop on the floor. “If I remember correctly, Vincent loves his coffee, right?”

“Yeah, but you aren’t going to take on an investigation right now, are you?”

“No, my pup. I’m too bogged down with other responsibilities. The EC will have to conduct their own. Being a pack alpha is my job now.” Going into the kitchen, he pressed a button on his new coffee-maker and crouched down to the wine cabinet. Palming the false left wall, he removed the painted wood and retrieved a black satchel. Opening it, he grabbed a dated flip-phone. “I’ll get the EC started. I need to arrange for a drop and pick-up.”

“A drop? Why can’t you just send an email?”

The question earned one of Cyrus’ signature giggles. “My dear, Kaplan. Do you get the usual automated message every time you contact the EC?”

The beta nodded.

“Working with the council is very different from working for them. Between their direct employees, it is nothing short of cloak and dagger. I just need to wait for Vincent to arrive.” Pocketing the phone, Cyrus sat back on the loveseat. The bulge from the aged device bore a weight on his mind. I didn’t expect to bring it out so early into my time being here. Sighing, he gave the pressure reason to exist. It’s for my friends.

The couple waited until Cyrus felt a twitch in his mind. “Come on out, Vincent. Allow me to give you a proper tour.”

Kaplan looked at him, but quickly darted his head towards the puff of black smog. “Vincent!”

The mage smiled at his fellow wolf but directed his attention towards Cyrus. “You could feel me?”

“Yes. You still have a ways to go with energy manipulation.”

Vincent ruffled his hair, “I haven’t had much time to learn about it. Anyway, here’s the folders.” He knelt down and unstrapped his backpack. Handing the documents over to Cyrus, he started to put the bag back over his shoulder but was dismissed by the bear.

“Please, stay as long as you want. I’d hate to see your magic stores depleted. I’m not the best at magical transference.”

The phrase clearly troubled the young alpha. “What do you mean by that?”

“Transference? In the hands of a master mage, one can give and take energy from another being of magic.”

Vincent’s jaw dropped. “So that’s how Elaine healed me!”

“Pardon?”

The shadow mage poked both of his temples, “The night of my Mage’s Dance, I exhausted all of my energy, and Elaine’s fingers glowed when she touched me here.”

Cyrus smiled, “Yes, that’s transference. It’s a very difficult ability to learn, even more than manipulation itself. I wouldn’t worry about learning it anytime soon. You have other skills that must be mastered first.” Changing the subject, the bear rose from his seat, “Care for some coffee, whiskey, or wine?”

“No, thank you. I haven’t tried inebriated shadow running yet.”

The mental image of Vincent traversing the country drunkenly sent Cyrus into a fit of laughter. “As funny as that may seem, I think you forget about being a shifter now. Alcohol does nothing to you.”

Vincent palmed his forehead. “Right, right. I keep forgetting about some of the changes. I’ve been focused on more annoying stuff.”

“Annoying?”

“Yeah! This chest hair is the worst! It just keeps itching.”

Kaplan snickered. “I hear you. That’s why I shave daily. It’s part of my morning routine. Just make sure you hydrate your skin with lotion or something, or else it gets bumpy.”

Taking the heeded advice, Vincent looked down his gray t-shirt. “I’ll grab some shaving stuff on my way home. I appreciate the offer, Cyrus, but I need to get home. My bond’s aching.”

“I completely understand. Maybe another trip with Mason is in order?”

“I’m sure we can arrange something in a few months. We’d like to help Mesker Park get on its feet first.”

The bear admired the alpha’s ambition. “Sounds like a plan. Make sure you schedule ahead a few weeks so I can get my work lined up properly. I don’t want to be perceived as taking a vacation so early into my role.”

“I understand. I’m heading out, make sure to keep in touch!”

“The same goes to you, Vincent. And be careful around Stuerm, he’s not one to toy with.”

The statement seemed to amuse the shadow mage, but he nodded nevertheless. With a wave goodbye, Vincent disappeared and the couple was left alone.

Seeing Kaplan mesmerized by their friend’s magic amused the panda. He offered his hand, “Come, let’s cook some dinner.” With the wolf’s hand grasped in his, he led Kaplan into the kitchen.

Copyright © 2021 astone2292; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

7 minutes ago, centexhairysub said:

Hope we get a better explanation as to why or how Yakob knew that Vincent had two visitations???

Wasn't the telltale banding on Vincent's shifted form enough?

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Interesting chapter, streum is a big manipulating bully ,he thinks he can buy his way into anything, but Vinnie saw through the charade, Interesting developments ahead Kaplan will make it happen

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5 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

Wasn't the telltale banding on Vincent's shifted form enough?

No, he had one band when Yakob saw him and now he has two.  What do the bands represent?  That he was possessed by the Gods?  Touched by them?  Why the bands on the lower leg?  There is just way too many questions that have not been answered.  

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7 minutes ago, centexhairysub said:

Hope we get a better explanation as to why or how Yakob knew that Vincent had two visitations???

Let me grab a few quotes...

From Rising in the Shadows Chapter 7, when Vincent exercised his hybrid in front of Elaine, Mason, Lei, and Yakob:

Quote

Interesting. Yakob observed the frail condition of his student and began debating if the form was beneficial. It’s a much stronger physical form and can produce more powerful results in magic, but it takes such a toll on his body. Combine that with a magical energy deficiency, and he would be in dire straits. I suppose the form would be useful against other larger shifters when his shadows wouldn’t be strong enough to hold them down.

But combining his hybrid and magical energy...he’s a force to be reckoned with. The monk closed his eyes and recalled the hulking wolf’s body. He furrowed his brow. There is so much to this boy. Such power, such mystery involved! He opened his eyelids and let one more thought cross his mind before rejoining the group.

I wonder which one visited him.

From Chapter 10, when Vincent, Yakob, Tierney, and Mason were preparing to leave Ty's apartment:

Quote

The smaller shifter doubled over in laughter. “I figured with Terik coming last night, you deserved a pinch of your own.”

Yakob stood in silence as he tried to understand his student’s statement. His nerves were solid and cold to his mind. What did he mean by that? Was he visited again? I must approach this carefully, and I must do it with him alone. Silently, the monk exhaled from his nose. Just who are you, Vincent Bolton?

 

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8 minutes ago, mikedup said:

Interesting chapter, streum is a big manipulating bully ,he thinks he can buy his way into anything, but Vinnie saw through the charade, Interesting developments ahead Kaplan will make it happen

With a name like Stuerm, how can we not hate him?

7 minutes ago, centexhairysub said:

No, he had one band when Yakob saw him and now he has two.  What do the bands represent?  That he was possessed by the Gods?  Touched by them?  Why the bands on the lower leg?  There is just way too many questions that have not been answered.  

Lots of fantastic questions! I'm sure once Vincent gets his magic under lockdown, we'll get some answers from our favorite monk. Thanks so much for bringing these up, centex!!

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7 minutes ago, astone2292 said:

With a name like Stuerm, how can we not hate him?

As I said before, it sounds like a distressed noise you'd make while hugging a toilet.

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2 hours ago, astone2292 said:

Don't be fooled by the charming gentleman, for he will bury you once you are deemed useless.

Poor Vincent. Bartlett/Ashford's offer of a quarter-mil baffled him, and now he hears six and a half mil. Even with a lycan's health, he'll probably have a heart attack. 

This is exactly what I meant.  He was too good to be true, especially considering his reputation and history of homophobia.  Why is he so determined to get ahold of these lands?  What is hidden there that we, and especially Vincent and Mason, don’t know about? Maybe Cyrus or Kaplan can do a little research to find out about the history of the property.

Steurm assumes that because he is greedy and money-grubbing that everyone is.  Therefore, if he presents a big offer, Vincent will only see the dollar signs and not realize that he is being cheated in some other, more valuable way.

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Despise fake people... and Stuerm is definitely fake!  Sneaky, underhanded, manipulative, jerk...those are the nice things I can say about him!  But the bright spot is Kaplan and Cyrus!!!  Made my day!!!  🐼💞🐺  Another packed chapter!!!  So much going on and that was just my first read!!!!  Brilliantly captivating chapter!!!! 💖

Lightning GIFs | Tenor

Still waiting for some lightning fried bad guys!  Hahahaha!!!  Just kidding!!  As always, you are an AMAZING author!!! 👑:joe::worship::heart:

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8 hours ago, Clancy59 said:

This is exactly what I meant.  He was too good to be true, especially considering his reputation and history of homophobia.  Why is he so determined to get ahold of these lands?  What is hidden there that we, and especially Vincent and Mason, don’t know about? Maybe Cyrus or Kaplan can do a little research to find out about the history of the property.

Steurm assumes that because he is greedy and money-grubbing that everyone is.  Therefore, if he presents a big offer, Vincent will only see the dollar signs and not realize that he is being cheated in some other, more valuable way.

Me thinks Stuerm just wants land, and a metropolitan sized plot would be riddled with ways to make money (dues, business ventures). 

6 hours ago, Patch1 said:

Despise fake people... and Stuerm is definitely fake!  Sneaky, underhanded, manipulative, jerk...those are the nice things I can say about him!  But the bright spot is Kaplan and Cyrus!!!  Made my day!!!  🐼💞🐺  Another packed chapter!!!  So much going on and that was just my first read!!!!  Brilliantly captivating chapter!!!! 💖

Lightning GIFs | Tenor

Still waiting for some lightning fried bad guys!  Hahahaha!!!  Just kidding!!  As always, you are an AMAZING author!!! 👑:joe::worship::heart:

Lightning fried? Don't give KFC any ideas...

Always happy to see your comments, Patch! I can't wait to get the next chapter finished. 

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7 hours ago, astone2292 said:

Me thinks Stuerm just wants land, and a metropolitan sized plot would be riddled with ways to make money (dues, business ventures). 

I don’t know.  I still think there’s something there that he wants that we don’t know about.

Of course, YOU are the author!  You are the one with all the inside info! 😉

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There’s nothing better to interrupt a pleasant stroll than meeting a Munster Monster, though I’d be a willing Matador to skewer a raging Pastrami Munster.

But even the menu takes a pass as Yakob gets confirmation of Devine interest with his student; his own efforts to undo contributions empowering the ills of Stefan finds him hopefully allies with an unlikely pairing of Gods, order and mischief? 🤔 

Stuerm Is cunning and arrogant, his passive aggressive schooling of the turnling emphasizes that you are a child young Alpha Bolton, while elevating the Alpha Mate Bolton to a True Alpha in compliment but yet reminding him that he is to be schooled by the much wiser and superior Alpha Stuerm. This all in front of the Pack Alpha and Mate Mace, another arrogant slap to his hosts. His arrogance to speak down and insulting to these alphas while presenting his lies and deceit drips of his own shadow operations. He has studied his subjects well; the shadow mage, the second generation pack alpha, the lion enforcer, but he fails to understand the synergy, the bonds, and the alliances surrounding this pairing. Bravo for Vincent that he knows grammar, punctuation, and his ABCs; or his ABDs, meaning Alpha, Beta, and Delta...not Deltas, and certainly not in hiding while tendering resumes and offers. Bravo again that Vincent calls on friends and trusted allies when calling his Panda in the know.

The Electric Panda seeks his simpler life but has a driving motivation to correct abuse, and more specifically the perpetrating abuser. His distancing from the EC seems to have reversed course as abuse leads once again to his open case interest in Stuerm; the Panda is charging up Stuerm.

But ironically, it could be the turnling that schools Stuerm; will the unassuming and naive young Alpha be awarded another Pack territory? Young Alpha Vinsy may well have to take down a challenger in Stuerm, as Stuerm sees himself superior and Vinsy unworthy. When Vinsy learns of the full extent of Stuerm‘s ills, the naivety and reserve be damned as the travesty will not stand even as lives may be forfeited.

Stuerm doesn’t even realize the weight of his invited troubles with the young Shadow Mage Alpha, Mate and Allies; he may wish the EC gets there in time to save him from himself or at least before his plans backfire.

@astone2292, another grand addition to the twists and turns of a Shadow Mage kissed by the Gods!

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20 hours ago, centexhairysub said:

Love how Kaplan goes from being the in charge beta that organizes everything to being both the love sick mate to Cyrus and the amazed spectator to Vincent's mage ability.

I think they need to find out about Stuerm, he is just way to underhanded.  Having a second Delta would be a big no no.  I wonder what else he is hiding?

Hope we get a better explanation as to why or how Yakob knew that Vincent had two visitations???

 

20 hours ago, drpaladin said:

Wasn't the telltale banding on Vincent's shifted form enough?

As I look into the mirror at my human form, unshifted, yet gifted or touched by the gods themselves as I too witness rings around my ankles. Not just one ankle but both, and with multiple rings shading each ankle more distinctly than previously ever noticed. Realizing this blessing in witness of possessions by the Gods, though not remembered, is non-the-less significant as there on my ankles is this testimonial of godly kisses.

But wait a minute, I now realize the extensive time on the tractor, in southern boy fashioned shorts and ankle socks of various manufacture, has given me the various sun kissed farmers tan rings about the ankles; damn, back to work out riding the tractor and imagining having mystical powers.

 Have a great day!

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33 minutes ago, Philippe said:

There’s nothing better to interrupt a pleasant stroll than meeting a Munster Monster, though I’d be a willing Matador to skewer a raging Pastrami Munster.

But even the menu takes a pass as Yakob gets confirmation of Devine interest with his student; his own efforts to undo contributions empowering the ills of Stefan finds him hopefully allies with an unlikely pairing of Gods, order and mischief? 🤔 

Stuerm Is cunning and arrogant, his passive aggressive schooling of the turnling emphasizes that you are a child young Alpha Bolton, while elevating the Alpha Mate Bolton to a True Alpha in compliment but yet reminding him that he is to be schooled by the much wiser and superior Alpha Stuerm. This all in front of the Pack Alpha and Mate Mace, another arrogant slap to his hosts. His arrogance to speak down and insulting to these alphas while presenting his lies and deceit drips of his own shadow operations. He has studied his subjects well; the shadow mage, the second generation pack alpha, the lion enforcer, but he fails to understand the synergy, the bonds, and the alliances surrounding this pairing. Bravo for Vincent that he knows grammar, punctuation, and his ABCs; or his ABDs, meaning Alpha, Beta, and Delta...not Deltas, and certainly not in hiding while tendering resumes and offers. Bravo again that Vincent calls on friends and trusted allies when calling his Panda in the know.

The Electric Panda seeks his simpler life but has a driving motivation to correct abuse, and more specifically the perpetrating abuser. His distancing from the EC seems to have reversed course as abuse leads once again to his open case interest in Stuerm; the Panda is charging up Stuerm.

But ironically, it could be the turnling that schools Stuerm; will the unassuming and naive young Alpha be awarded another Pack territory? Young Alpha Vinsy may well have to take down a challenger in Stuerm, as Stuerm sees himself superior and Vinsy unworthy. When Vinsy learns of the full extent of Stuerm‘s ills, the naivety and reserve be damned as the travesty will not stand even as lives may be forfeited.

Stuerm doesn’t even realize the weight of his invited troubles with the young Shadow Mage Alpha, Mate and Allies; he may wish the EC gets there in time to save him from himself or at least before his plans backfire.

@astone2292, another grand addition to the twists and turns of a Shadow Mage kissed by the Gods!

Another beautiful comment, Philippe! Stuerm's mask is no match for your mighty eye. I'm unsure if our heroes see as well as you do, but hopefully they will.

23 minutes ago, Philippe said:

 

As I look into the mirror at my human form, unshifted, yet gifted or touched by the gods themselves as I too witness rings around my ankles. Not just one ankle but both, and with multiple rings shading each ankle more distinctly than previously ever noticed. Realizing this blessing in witness of possessions by the Gods, though not remembered, is non-the-less significant as there on my ankles is this testimonial of godly kisses.

But wait a minute, I now realize the extensive time on the tractor, in southern boy fashioned shorts and ankle socks of various manufacture, has given me the various sun kissed farmers tan rings about the ankles; damn, back to work out riding the tractor and imagining having mystical powers.

 Have a great day!

I laughed so hard at this! I hope you get those mystical powers!

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