Chapter Thirty Three

Janah's on the phone, then she finds me on our mental VPN, "I can't rouse anyone in Canada, no reply to the phone messages, no e-mail, no texts. I tried everyone's phone, Francois' goes to voicemail, Su Lin, Jan and Charles nothing. It's been two days, we have to go up."
"Who?"

Janah, "You and I, maybe the twins. I don't want everyone to drop things until we know what the problem is. I have the passwords to their internet, it's on, hasn't been used for four days. They have reservation requests unanswered, fortunately the season doesn't start for a few weeks, no guests would be there now. Call Blue Sky, we leave in the morning."
I call a family conference, relate what we know, which is zip.
Nikko, "We can go."
Janah, "I want to see what the trouble is. Handle business here, just be prepared to leave on short notice. We all fly up there and find out it's some kind of glitch, we tie up everyone's time for no reason. If you need to, you can get there in a day. Daria, take a drone, one with everything. Dasha, help her pack up. I hope it's a tech screw-up, but the website is up and they have internet access. I'm not feeling good about it."
“Amaya, will you drive us to the airport?"
Amaya, "Of course, and Nikko and I will be following through you."
We have a quiet dinner, this is completely unlike our people, Shaolin who took over the fishing guide business from Marlene and Ned when they retired and we bought the place from them. Over the years, we made substantial improvements to our cabin, added space to the guesthouse for the guide business, bought additional houseboats. The monks look after our property across the lake, board it up in the winter, make sure the gas, electricity and water all work in the spring and summer. We own five hundred acres of Canadian wilderness surrounding the cabin, plus the fishing business, a house for our guides and the guesthouse. It's an hour trip by houseboat across the lake to our place. Nothing around us for miles. It's our annual retreat, usually a month in the hot New York summer, end of July and most of August. Last year we were up, nothing amiss, business excellent, our place pristine.
Amaya drops us at Teterboro airport in New Jersey. It's six a.m.
We're at the guesthouse for eleven, silent as a tomb.
"Dasha, Janah and Daria can go through the guesthouse, we'll walk down to the residence and see what's what."
Janah and Daria check out the pier, small store for fishing supplies and the guesthouse.
Janah, "Nothing here, but the place has been used. It isn't the season, they wouldn't be fully supplied, but there's almost nothing. At least it hasn't been ransacked, the guesthouse has been used recently, beds are unmade, someone's been living here, from the looks of it, several someone's. Nobody's around now, but they've been here recently. There are clothes in the closets, toiletries in the bathrooms. Looks like four people, there's liquor we don't stock, food in the refrigerator, dishes in the sink."
"The residence quarters are trashed, furniture busted, tables turned over, the kitchen is a mess. We're still sifting through things. Check the boats, there should be four, but they keep them sheltered in the winter, they should all be in the boathouse."

Dasha and I rummage through the mess, she finds a shirt with what appears to be bloodstains, then crimson-black drops in the bathroom. The basement is more revealing. Rope, more blood, not good.
"Janah, there are signs of violence, looks like people were tied in the basement, but no one is here now. Tracks outside are from an SUV. Appears to have been parked for a while, the snow underneath isn't as high as the snow around, then driven off towards the guesthouse. It isn't there now, maybe they left."
"There's a boat missing."
"Geez, it's a huge lake, it could be anywhere. Ask Daria to fly the drone over our place and see if it's open or occupied. Then fly the lake to see if the houseboat is around. Whoever they are, they're living at the guesthouse, they will likely return.
Dasha and I are going down the road to Clark's, I'm going to rent something faster than a houseboat."

Clark's is a more recreational boat rental business. Canoes, kayaks, fishing boats, houseboats, but they keep a couple of sport boats. I rent a Stingray, nineteen footer with a 220hp V6 engine, it will fly if I need it to. Mr. Clark takes me out for an operating run, Dasha takes a shot as well. It's basic stuff, press the button, engine fires up, press the throttle, it starts moving. There's trim control with an indicator to guide adjustment. We pull into our dock an hour later.
Janah, "Daria checked the cabin, flew the drone around, hasn't been touched, still boarded up tight. She's flying the lake now to look for the houseboat."
"I don't see any reason just yet to open the cabin, the monks residence needs to be straightened up and it's operational. We can stay there for now, hopefully the people responsible show up."
Janah, "Put the boat in the boathouse. If they return, we don't need them to see it at the dock. Take our car around the back of the residence, it can’t be seen from the guesthouse."
Dasha parks the boat, bow out in case we need to leave in a hurry, we tie off the lines, shut the boathouse door. We're going to see them coming, they won't have a chance to spot the Stingray inside.
Daria brings in the drone for a recharge, she waits in the guesthouse to watch while we go to clean up the residence. It occurs to me to use the simplest resource to find the houseboat, I go outside in search of an eagle.
A big female lands on the deck behind the residence, I'd met her last summer, "Thank you for coming."
The bird blinks at me, "Early this year."
"There is trouble, do you know anything of it?"
"Four men came six suns ago. Three took the water machine with the humans that nest here, one left in the rolling machine."
"Will you find them for us, the people who left by water?"
"I know already."
"What of the one in the rolling machine, the car?"
"That one left the fourth sun."
"When did they take the others?"
"One sun."
"We have the flying machine. If you let it follow you, it will tell us the exact location."
"The three, they are evil, you call them Shadows."

Crap.

Chapter Thirty Four

"Daria, is the drone recharged?"
"Da."
"Have it follow the eagle, she knows where the houseboat is."

I see the drone lift up, the eagle circles, flies west, the drone behind it. It's gone an hour, then I see it in the distance, we have the coordinates, even a shot of the houseboat, the eagle settles on the dock.
"Do you know where they took our people?"
"Cave in the direction of the morning sun, up the mountain, you will see smoke from a fire."
"Thank you. I don't want any animals hurt, but can an owl, perhaps a falcon, yourself if you will, be in the area? Shadows are dangerous, we might need assistance."

The eagle blinks again, "We let your kind kill each other, good riddance. These are different, and your people are not the same as most humans. We will watch,"
"We are grateful."

She goes aloft, back towards the mountain.
Janah, "Hired some help I see."
"Yes, and when we get there, you need to find a few on the ground predators."
Dasha, "Ees time for kill Shadowy peerson now."
"Yes, yes it is."
We're in the Stingray, scooting across the lake. I'm staying on our side, get past the houseboat and circle back in from the other direction. It's not a super strategy, but if they hear us, it will be from a different direction than the guesthouse.
Daria loads the drone with six darts while we cruise along, I spot the houseboat across the lake, about five hundred yards. A half mile further on, I cut an arc to the far side and ease the Stingray down the shoreline until we're a couple hundred yards away. There's a small inlet, ease in, it will hide the boat from the shore at least. We tie off and climb out.
"Daria, wait until we're in sight of the cave before you fly the drone. Fly it up the mountain and approach from behind. It's three, we have a couple hours of good light left, we need to get busy."
The forest is alive, birds on branches, a black bear rumbles alongside us, then a squirrel natters, sprints up the slope, turns and natters again, then further up.
Janah, "He wants us to follow him."
And we do. Once he sees we've caught the message, he goes silent. The forest is eerily silent. Usually the birds call, the occasional bobcat growl, a moose will huff, but not now. Thirty minutes of slope later, I see smoke curling up.
"Stop here, I'm going to sneak up and see what's what. Daria, take the drone up."
The machine lifts off, up fifty feet, shoots off to the side angling away from the cave.
"Give me a visual of the cave."
I look at the screen, picture is fuzzy, she adjusts the focus and it clears up like I'm ten feet away. There's a man outside with a rifle. We can make out movement inside, the fire near the mouth, I can only see a few feet beyond the orange glow. I shift to ultraviolet, a visual capability given to me by an eagle years ago. It cuts out extraneous color, images sharpen. There are two men standing, two bodies sitting, leaning against the cave wall. If the others are in there, they're on the side I can't see. I go infrared, ah, heat from the left, two more.
I creep in closer, protected by the trees and brush, now I'm twenty feet from him.

Chapter Thirty Five

He starts walking in my direction, sticks the rifle under his arm and is reaching for his zipper. Great, he needs to pee, now what?
"Daria, take him out."
He gets four or five more steps, he's looking around as he comes towards me, guess he doesn't want to expose himself to any dangerous animal. He's three trees away, off to my left, I hear the splash, then a short 'uuuhh' then he falls forward, his head bangs a small boulder, squish, then nothing. I move forward, inching along to the side of the entrance.
Janah, "Far enough. Maybe one of them will come out looking for him, let Daria know what you want, if one appears, we don't need you on attack and Daria shooting deadly darts."
"Daria, if another one appears, don't shoot until I tell you, Dasha, come up here."
Two minutes and Dasha is alongside.
"We're going in, the two targets are standing, take the first one you get to, I'll do the other, you're armed?"
She pulls out one of my knives, the six inch serrated edge gleams in the light. I unsheathe my K-Bar Zombie Famine, seven and half inch blade, angled point, all kinds of death potential.
I hand her my knife, take hers, "Use this one."
We climb up the side, then across until we're on top of the cave, "On three, jump and go."
"One...two...three,"
we drop simultaneously, twisting in the air to face the entrance when we land, charge in.
Shadow One is facing Francois, at the sound, he turns, snarls and reaches for a rifle leaning against the cave wall. Dasha is on him as he takes the first step, her blade in his abdomen, then his neck, blood spurts from his severed carotid, for good measure she plunges the knife under his chin straight through his brain.
Shadow Two is farther back in the cave, he reaches for Jan, looking for a hostage. I sail my body between him and her, he pushes his hand towards me, I'm bashed to the dirt hard. Geez, he's pretty good.
Dasha is in the air, a flying sidekick as good as I've seen, Shadow Two rocks back against the cave wall, she keeps going.
He shoots a hard qi shot to her gut, she folds over, raises her head, he growls, "Out of your league girl, run, while you can."
He raises his hand again, Dasha back flips, the energy strikes the wall behind us. Rock shatters. Before he can gear up again, she's got her foot hard in his groin, her fist cracks his jaw.
Shadow Two smirks, "Dear girl, you have no idea what you are dealing with, ignorance is deadly."
His hand comes up again, his fingers flick out straight, energy in visible waves from his fingers to Dasha. Then sparks, like the force hits an invisible wall. Dasha steps forward, one finger to his heart, it's like he's touched a fallen power line. His hair stands on end, then burning, she's fried his heart. A gag, blood pours from his mouth as his chest collapses.
Turns out he was almost right, somebody had no idea what they were dealing with.
Janah and Daria appear, our monks are in bad shape. First order of business is to get them untied, delicate work, they’re cut and badly bruised, Francois has a broken arm, Jan is having trouble breathing, busted ribs. Su Lin, two broken fingers, Charles is unconscious, appears uninjured until I check his foot, severely burned on the sole.
We didn't bring a bunch of ice, but there is snow, which Dasha and I gather, wrap up in undershirts and apply as best we can. Janah adjusts the tranquilizer dosages and injects each of them with a mild sedative. Good thing Daria thought to bring all the vials, not just Oblivion.
"Janah, we need transportation down, think you can round up something big enough to help?"
She goes outside, it isn't hard, the animals have gathered. Three moose and a bear transport our monks down to the houseboat, we get them situated, Dasha and Janah take the houseboat, Daria and I return to the Stingray.
The eagle lands on the bow, "Your people did well."
"With your help and the help of our forest friends, please thank them for us. And tell the predators, wait for a day if they want the bodies for food, the one outside has a poison in him. It will disappear by morning."
"They will not want the spirits of that kind, the bodies will rot where they lay."
"Ask the bears to drag them deeper into the wilderness. Where humans will not find them. We took their possessions, they will be hard to identify, better not to be found at all."

The eagle screeches, one stoke of her wide wings and she's off. It's good to have friends in the forest.

Chapter Thirty Six

After triage, then getting the four settled around the fireplace in the guesthouse, I have tea prepared, there isn't much left to eat. They don't stock the guesthouse in the winter and the Shadows had gone through much of what they had at the residence. We can, however, fish. That's what they do here.
While Janah and Daria qi wounds, set broken bones, apply antibiotics and dressing, Dasha and I fish. Four trout and a string of crappie, not bad for an hour. We pan fry the fillets, eat around the fireplace.
Jan, "They appeared one afternoon, Francois and Charles were making minor repairs and painting in the guesthouse. They asked to see the place since it was open, said they wanted to book a trip in the summer. It's not unusual for people to stop by after the roads clear. We don't keep any significant amount of money, there's nothing worth stealing, maybe the houseboats, but that's a lot of trouble."
Francois, "I didn't pay much attention, like Jan said, people drop in from time to time. Charles took them around. When they came back down from upstairs, two went outside, Su Lin walked up from the residence. Then the rifles came out, once Su Lin was a hostage, Charles and I had no choice but to go along."
Charles, "Two of them stood guard, the others went to the residence. Jan resisted, cracked one in the jaw, but then a rifle to her head put an end to that."
Janah, "The fourth, he went to get treatment?"
Su Lin, "Yes, he could control his pain, but he needed a dentist. He broke Jan's fingers before he left. Once they discovered we were monks, they decided to kill us. They discussed it, decided it would be better to do it someplace else. The houseboat made it easy to get us away from here."
Janah, "Being Shadows, they also thought it would be more fun to torture you first."
Jan, "They laughed, joked, the one Dasha killed, the second one, talked of other monks he'd murdered."
"What brought them here?"
Francois, "Looking for a stretch of solitude, to recharge. They spent the winter in Montreal, doing what they do, taking minds, getting money, someone gave them the SUV. Laughed about how the owner just handed them the key in a parking lot, after he'd gone to an ATM and withdrawn all the cash he could get off his cards. At any rate, they had a busy winter and wanted to get out of town, someplace quiet, stumbled on us."
Janah, "Okay, you guys have been though too much, time for sleep. Tomorrow we'll get the Clarks to take you to the clinic. It doesn't appear the injuries require a hospital. Up here people are always getting injuries, it's a manual labor life, the clinic does a fair amount of repair. Four of you injured will require an explanation. All you can say is men came along, tried to get money, you don't have much. They tried physical coercion and gave up when it didn't do any good. You don't know them, they left, you don't know where they went."
"We're going to stay here to welcome back Shadow Four. Should have already come back, but with Shadows, behavior is unpredictable. Maybe his jaw was worse than he thought, or maybe he found some easy money and hung around town for a while."
Charles, "We were done for if you hadn't shown up. They'd decided to kill us at dusk, leave our bodies for the animals and have enough light to get back here. They figured the fourth would be back by now."
"I hear a car, Daria out the back, get the drone in the air, loaded. Dasha, you and Janah stay here, I'm going to make a new enemy."
I wait until the car stops and he gets out. It's nighttime, but the exterior lights are on and I can see him clearly. He's not carrying a rifle, has a couple of bags in his hands from a grocery.
I walk out the door, "Nice of you to pick up supplies, we're getting low."
His eyes narrow, "And who might you be?"
He's got a swollen cheek, "How's the jaw?"
"I'll live."
I pull my sleeves up, palms open, "Not for long."
"Fuckin' Shaolin," he sets the bags on the hood, "this'll be fun."
I see him gearing up, hear the drone rise over the roof and hover behind him, I point to it, "Never seen that kind of bird up here this time of year."
He turns, Daria's death toy is staring him down, "What the fu...," thwip, smack, he turns back to me, dart pokes out from one eye, a screaming bellow of pain, his hands flail, staggers forward, falls to one knee, thwip, smack, dart in the back of his neck. Face-plant, dead. The drone eases up, back over the roof, it's quiet, a small wave laps the dock.

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