Merrick sat back in his soft leather chair and tried to let Aiden’s words filter through his brain.
“She’s gone, they all are. Karen, Sophia, Janice, Mary, Nita, Jess, Claire,” Merrick suppressed a groan as he listed five other names, all girls he was close to, had helped through their changes, helped survive. “And now Evelyn. Mer she’s nowhere.”
He’d helped them all survive for nothing, all his hard work and they were doomed. Without the younger generations of his race they were all going to die no matter what kind of snakes they shifted into; they were all going to be extinct. “Carmen, she wasn’t on your list, did you find her?” He asked gravely fearing the answer. The spunky, light fingered little girl had been like a daughter to him for almost a year. With the loss of so many pressing down on them he couldn’t afford to have her name added to the fray.
“I found her,” Aiden smiled his relieved face mirroring Merrick’s. “Apparently she’s in New York with the nest there. She got married, to Reece Evans, here in Vegas I’m told… and I believe they just had twins.”
“Little Reece?” He smirked knowing full well what type of untamable man Reece claimed to be and just how quickly his little viper would have whipped him into shape. “Guess the kid grew up then.”
“That kid’s older than me Mer. It isn’t just you that’s getting older.” Aiden shrugged nonchalantly stepping towards the huge window his eyes searching out. “At least it’s working out for some.”
“Just not enough.” Merrick sighed letting the seriousness of their situation sink back in.
Snake shifters were the rarest of all the shifting races. The cats thrived in the jungles and Asia, where as the wolves rampaged through Europe. The snakes, however, were dying. All of their ground has long since been reclaimed by humans. Humans who, by nature, feared them and hunt them. It was easy for a cat or a wolf to leap away or attack to defend themselves but most snakes were defenseless.
Those of their kind who’d carried the venom to defend themselves, like Carmen, were rare indeed and were feared by both sides of the coin. Now there was a new threat, something real stealing the females of his race, the unprotected ones. Most Ophidians lived in nests, their form of a pack or pride, and the nests were almost always run by the women. The women made the decisions in their society, the women passed on the bloodline. It was almost unheard of for a male to father an Ophidian child on his own with a human.
“Call everyone home, everyone that you can.” He opened his eyes, taking a deep breath before saying his next words. “We have to call a meeting, everyone must know.” He marveled at just how odd the words sounded. Meetings just weren’t called. The nest leaders didn’t just convene to discuss things. Most of the nests were at war over stupid insignificant territory disputes.
Aiden sputtered. “You’re kidding. We can’t call a meeting Mer we aren’t even a nest… not a proper one.”
It was true that the Vegas nest wasn’t a completely above board, sanctioned entity. Merrick had started it on his travels saving and picking up strays here and there. He gave them a home, and a relatively safe place to change and hunt. Staying wasn’t compulsory though and that’s why they had lost so many. His people had freedom to move wherever they wished. The official nests would call them all rogues. As nests go they probably had the most members and most of them owed their life to Merrick. Even Aiden. Merrick had rescued him and his sister Kira from a circus several years ago; they’d been his first and most loyal members.
“I’ve thought of that. We’ll declare ourselves. Most of them know we’ve started something in Vegas anyway.” He hoped they did anyway. He had let word leak out about their dealings in town, but nothing solid. It was all speculation, but it had kept them safe so far.
“They wont give us territory, especially not here. It’s prime land and it belongs to the King snakes…” He paused looking him over, “Plus Mer, you’re hardly the matriarch type.”
“I’ve thought of that as well. We don’t have to use me at the start. A woman claiming land would be seen as acceptable. We’ll use Kira as a front, she’s tough enough… with a little refining it will work.”
His friend let out a strangled moan somewhere between a yelp of surprise and groan of defeat. He’d been expecting this. “My sister can hardly…”
“Do you doubt me?” Merrick asked making his tone sharp. The other nests had cause to doubt him and his actions but if his own people doubted that he could lead them then it was already over.
For a moment he thought Aiden was going to argue but he shook his head. “No sir, I’m just worried about Kira Mer. Your making her call a meeting and declare land… it’s a bit much for her. Can’t you use…”
“Use who? They’re all gone…” Mer cut him off using simple facts. “Out of a possible fifty three we have twenty two that we can contact. They’re all gone, every one of them and I want to know where the hell they are. Think about it, if we’re losing people the other nests are bound to be too. We have to deal with this threat at all costs and if that means that you sister has to hold it together for five or so days then so be it. I’d love to use someone else, but there just isn’t anyone left that I trust.”
Aiden swallowed hard. “It’s gonna be a long con Mer. My sister ain’t the best puppet around but if anyone can pull it off its you.”
“Thanks for your vote of confidence. Now call the damn meeting.”
Merrick turned his back to Aiden hoping to God that the boy didn’t pick up on the fine tremble that had started to run through his body. The truth was Merrick was scared. Something or someone was taking his people and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it, not the way things were. They were all disjointed, no communication. He had the fleeting thought that they wouldn’t be in this predicament if they all just kept in touch. Things were about to get dangerous and not just from the unknown side of things. His presence was going to be a surprise to most of the nest leaders as the majority of them thought he was dead. A rumor he’d always done his best to cultivate. John Merrick wasn’t a name that most snake nests thought upon lightly and now here he was trying to solve a mystery and claim his own land. Even if it was through poor Kira. The shit was about to well and truly hit the fan, the trick now was to spread as much of it about as he could while hopefully, finding his missing girls and with any luck they’d even be alive. He smirked shaking his head, never let it be said that he didn’t have high expectations.
Elise Rizdon frowned down at the paper she held, completely confused. All the seals, stamps and watermarks were in place, yet the sender, Kira Whitbley, the woman claming to be the Archon of the Las Vegas nest, wasn’t known to her. In fact, the news that there was a Vegas nest completely escaped her attention till now. She leaned back and sighed, perplexed.
The King snakes held Vegas in their territory, as well as most of the western desert, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. That Olivia Copeland, the Archon of the king snake crèche, would allow such a thing was unheard of. Territory was coveted, and to just allow another nest to appear in the area they called theirs… the King Snakes were not the most peace loving of the nests and if Olivia didn’t know that a nest had sprang up right under her nose things were going to get messy.
Still, the officious nature of the correspondence she was holding lead her to believe that Kira was indeed an Archon in practice if not officially, and there was cause for this meeting. The way it was addressed, to the Archon’s of the five nests, said that the issues that needed to be addressed concerned them all. She sighed and turned towards her desk, and hit the little panel to the right of her computer, the buttons to the intercom system of the Knossos West compound.
“Myra? Could you come to my suite please?” She said in her light voice, her southern accent peeking out.
Myra stuck her head through her door a few seconds later out of breath at having ran up the stairs. "Elise?"
She smiled at the young woman and motioned her in. "Come in Darlin... we seem to have a situation."
"We do?" she asked coming into the room, he soft honey colored hair bouncing as she moved. "What's happened?"
She placed the parchment on the desk just as Myra reached it. "We have to go to Ohio. A meeting has been called."
"A meeting?" She frowned looking at the papers. "Why?"
"It doesn’t say, but if someone calls a meeting they have a damn good reason, or should. I’m sure its not to play tidily winks."
"I'd bet not..." She said lifting the papers and studying them. "Wow. Another nest? In Vegas? That’s not going to go down well at all."
"No its not, Olivia is not going to be happy, nor is Ramona. She’s still stewing about the last meeting when we voted her daughter's motion to start her own crèche in Maine down."
"It's going to be interesting that’s for sure. Who are you taking with you? It might get dangerous..."
Elise smiled. Who indeed. Usually she would be taking Remy or Reece with her for such an occasion, but as they were both recently mated and each had a clutch, children, of their own, that was out of the question. Phillip and Andy were both mated and neither of them had the presence to warrant bodyguard status. That left Myra and Henry, and Henry was away at the house in the Hampton’s. "Well... You’re the logical choice... and the only choice, though to be fair, if I had to choose between you and Henry, it would always be you. He’s far too soft."
"Yeah that I get picked over him always a good tell on that. I don’t know how much use I'll be though and you'll have to battle it out with Reece and Remy. They wont like it at all."
"Well they are both fathers now, and frankly I don’t give a shit. My word is gospel in this house. I’m worried though, this new nest on the scene and now a meeting. If this is about land disputes..." she trailed off and sighed. Usually the meetings were about land disputes, and border boundaries. Elise, as Archon of the New York nest, held New Hampshire to Maryland and west to Ohio as her Territory. Ramona, leader of the Midwest nest held everything west of the Mississippi to the Rockies and north to Canada, as well as south to Oklahoma. Geraldine, Elise's cousin, ran the southern territory while Olivia ran the pacific southwest, and Marcus, the only Male Archon, ran the Pacific northwest out of Portland. There were several free zone areas, such as Maine, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio and Montana, but they were neutral zones for the odd occasional meeting and gathering. This meeting would be held in Ohio, at the Orpheus Ranch, the only neutral holding in the east. That a newly appointed Archon was asking for the East didn’t speak well for her position in the West.
"Land disputes? If there really is a new nest forming then that'll be exactly what it's about. Things could get pretty rough..."
"True, like I said, Olivia isn’t going to give up Vegas. Strange though, Carmen, Chrissy Reece and Remy were there’s not a year ago and they never mentioned any snakes in the vicinity, aside from Marco, Olivia's Defteros. He had met them at the hotel to convey Olivia's joy at the pairings, remember? When she actually visited Andy to offer up the females of her compound? Olivia might be a hard ass, but she dose know when things are working in Ophidian’s favor." A Defteros was a snake in the nest that was equivalent to a pack’s Beta, only with the Ophidians, it meant that you were second only to the Archon, their bodyguard, and more often then not, their mate. Elise, still unattached, considered all of her live in nest Defteros, as she didn’t have a choice. As an unmated Archon she didn’t have many options in it, unless she mated, and that was something she wouldn’t do.
"True... so you don’t think there is a nest? It could be a front. Maybe somebody’s trying something... getting you all in one place?"
"Possibly, but these are official seals, and they knew the information about the Orpheus. Only elders and Archon's know where it actually is."
"So maybe its one of the others..."
"It might be, but what is the use of a ruse?"
"I don't know..." She admitted with a sigh shaking her head.
"It doesn’t matter, it says it’s of grave importance, and we will uphold the laws and appear, as will all the Archon's. Then we will get to the bottom of this. I would ask that you go armed in your usual fashion."
"Of course Archon... When do you want to leave?"
"Within the hour. I’ll speak with Remy and Reece, leave them as Diarkos incase something actually is up. I would rather them here protecting the family. Pack, see to transportation to Ohio, I believe Dustin is still at the airfield."
Myra nodded. "I'll call him and ask him to meet us there."
"Wonderful Darlin." she said and stood. She walked over to Myra and smiled. The woman was beautiful, sexy and a brilliant painter, but she was still an enforcer of their nest and she would fulfill that obligation in spades, as she always did. "Myra, don’t worry, whatever it is, we can handle it. You know I’m not some flouncy Archon like Ramona, that skeleton in a Jackie O hairdo. We will be Ok."
"Oh I know that," She grinned, "I just wish our lives weren’t interrupted over something stupid like land dispute."
"Agreed. But look on the bright side, we could be going to the Montana compound." she shuddered.
"Thank god..." She rolled her eyes.Elise smiled. "See? It could be worse. I’ll meet you downstairs in an hour." she turned and walked into her bedroom proper, the larger room just off her day office. She knew it was going to look odd, Myra being her Defteros, but she was the only unmarried Archon of the group, and where the others would have their mates by their side, Elise would not. It killed her, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. The love of her life wasn’t among the living, and being cheated out of her happy ending made it a sure bet she would never find another like him. So Myra would stand beside her, the spinster Archon, and she would hold her head high. She sighed, and turned into the closet to pack her clothes.
UGH i seriously hate the damn Blogger spacing problems... but you get the idea.... What do you think?