The Tour: Al
On the way to the rooms, I decided enough was enough and began all but interrogating our way to friendly chaperone. “So why do you know this place so well if you’re not a Recruiter?”
He didn’t seem particularly bothered by the tone, simply shrugged and said “I grew up here. Left when I was eighteen to go to college, and most of the folks around here resent me for it, think I ‘switched sides’ or something. Sorry, I know I’ve been acting kind of suspicious, but I really did just want to help you guys out.”
Finally I admitted I might have been paranoid about him, he really did seem sincere anyway. So I pulled back the tone and more politely asked “Where are we headed?”
“The rooms” he responded as the long carpeted hallway finally began curving and I could make out a room over his shoulder. “Or dorms, or apartments, or whatever you want to call them. All you need to know is you can pick whichever one you want, that isn’t already occupied of course.”
When we got to the entryway he stepped to the side and made an almost grand gesture like ‘wala’ which felt pretty appropriate. There were doors of every shade and color carved up the walls, polished wooden staircases leading to everyone. On the ground floor alone were at least five doors, with yet another chamber leading farther off into this place. Ben waited an extra moment to smirk at our awestruck faces before saying “the High Alpha’s goal is to have enough housing for every Shifter in the world to make home here. We’ve got everything between one and four bedroom places scattered around here, and there’s more in another section if you don’t find anything you think will fit you.”
“Ah, how do we know which are empty?” Shara asked, and I noted she was trying her best to keep a note of intimidation out of her voice.
Ben walked over to the nearest door, a plum colored one, and pointed to the top right corner of it. Now that I was looking, I noted every door on this bottom floor all had little white plaques with names carved into them. “I’d be more than willing to explore with you” he offered when he saw us eyeing the staircase nervously “can point out a few I know are unoccupied, or I can just show you the rest of the place and you can come back and do that on your own.”
I mulled it over for a moment before telling him “it’s not like we have any stuff we need to drop off, I’m fine with coming back.” Shara nodded silently at my side, so shrugging Ben headed towards the continued hallway.
The rest of the place was just as grand. There was a kitchens area, though we were more encouraged to hunt on the stocked grounds where ‘there’s everything to your stomach’s content.’ I guessed it was mostly here for families and kids not old enough yet, which was what I really saw in there.
Maybe Ben noticed how that place made the pair of us uneasy, because he quickly moved on from there and pointed out a few more places.
One of the most overwhelming things I noticed was just how many Shifters really were here. Growing up in the city, it was an oddity to come across one a week, and we never acknowledged each other for fear of drawing attention to ourselves. Here was the exact opposite.
At every turn there were more of them, both wondering as there animal or person to their hearts content. I also was rather surprised to notice there was a general blend of all three types. There had been days where it felt like Shara and I were the only ones left, now we seemed to have stumbled into a sanctuary.
The tour continued, revealing pretty much there consisting society. There was a ‘nurses office’, more rooms, an entertainment lounge with all sorts of things laid out like a ping-pong table and a pool table and the like, and we hadn’t even seemed to get halfway through when he seemed to pick up in his speed and headed towards one door in particular.
Poking my head in after him curiously, I was amazed to find a garage. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles were scattered randomly in here, and Ben made his way quickly over to the red jeep he’d pulled up into our motel in. There was a bright, almost childish smile across his face as he opened up the drivers side door and reached in to find the keys under the sun visor.
“Why didn’t you just drive it here” Shara asked curiously, and I couldn’t deny I’d been wondering the same thing.
“Protocol” he rolled his eyes, putting his keys in his pocket carefully. “If you’re bringing newb’s in, you have to bring them in on their feet. That friend I called, to tell him we were coming, got him to send a friend out there and grab my jeep. Speak of the devil...” he trailed off, looking back over my shoulder with a smile in place.
I turned curiously and did a double take at what I saw. He was wearing hospital scrubs, which made his appearance seem at odds, with blonde bleached white hair with icy tipped blue spikes, and bright hazel eyes as he gave me a once over. Ben moved around me, already grinning as he began “Oh, hey! Guys, this is Dennis, he’s my-”
“So nice to meet you” he beamed, giving both of us appraising looks. “Really, I feel like I should get on bended knee and thank you. If it wasn’t for you guys, who knows how long it would have taken for Ben to get back here again.”
Ben both grimaced and then rolled his eyes at the same time. Dennis didn’t seem to notice as he continued in the same friendly tone, but there was an edge as he asked “Think you can find your way around for a little while?” Then Dennis turned back on Ben and I saw a stern look across his face as he said “we need to talk.”
We both assured them we’d get lost, moving quickly towards the door even as we said so. “I feel like he’s about to get his ass chewed out” Shara whispered as we glanced back over our shoulder.
I winced in sympathy, still wondering what exactly Ben did around here, or clearly hadn’t done, to get him into trouble.
Dennis most likely did hear that even as we reached the door, and so he called back to us “got that right.”