Chapter Twenty-Four: Tibo
“But Rolls, he’s a corroded walker.” Tibo hugged his own arms around his ribs, trying to stave off the adrenaline shakes. “He killed that guard. Took his skin. Had to have to turn into a human, right? Doesn’t it...aren’t they…”
He trailed off, miserable and confused when Rolly just kept giving him that look of his, the one that managed to be patient and exasperated all at once.
“Tibo Glent, you should be ashamed,” Rolly said softly, his fingers combing the mess of Tibo’s hair back from his forehead. “Of all the people to swallow racist shite about other Beings.”
“But there are corroded walkers!”
“There are, love. Just as there are goblin gangsters. Sounds to me that they’ve left the guard alive though, doesn’t it?” Rolly raised his head to address the merman with the walker. “Is the guard alive? With most of his skin still on him?”
“He might be a little cold since we took his clothes.” The merman frowned. “Nootau would never do what your goblin tornado accused him of.”
Rolly took Tibo by the shoulders and leaned their foreheads together, the warmth and tenderness in the gesture bringing an unexpected lump to Tibo’s throat. “Always the leaping, Glent. When will you be after looking first?”
A throat cleared behind him and Tibo turned to find Jaxx back on his feet, supported by the human woman from the other group. The wolf was plastered up against her leg, watching the room with a lowered head, a snarl still threatening.
“You guys done being all macho? Yes?” Jaxx put a hand to his head and heaved a deep breath. “Everybody just hold up, all right?”
The woman glared at Tibo when Rolly turned him around to face the room. She crossed her arms over her chest with an expression so like Tibo’s mom when she’d been about to go on a tirade that he actually took a step back against the solid protection of Rolly’s chest.
“What’s wrong with you, just going after someone without asking questions? Nootau did what he had to, but he would never kill someone to change!” she practically hissed at him.
“No. You just made assumptions because of things you’ve heard. Rumors you’ve heard. You should be ashamed of yourself, acting on racist stereotypes.”
Tibo hung his head, he wanted to defend himself but couldn’t in the face of such righteous indignation. “Yes, ma’am,” he got out in a spare murmur.
“And you’re not going to hurt poor Nootau anymore?”
He was afraid she was going to demand an apology and Tibo wasn’t sure he could manage that yet, not with everyone staring at him like he was some sort of thug. Jaxx saved him from that by speaking up next.
“So, from what I’m hearing, it sounds like we all broke into the labs looking for, possibly, answers to the same things. Or parts of the same things.”
“Sounds a bit iffy to me, mate,” the dragon ranger rumbled from where he was sitting on the floor near Ashe. “A bit too much coincidence for us to all end up here, isn't it?”
“I don’t think so. Ashe, you okay?”
The dragon ranger was helping Ashe up and, no, he didn’t look so great. Not to mention the fact that he’d burned off his clothes and was stark naked.
“He broke my wing,” Ashe glared at the ranger. There was a whole lot of glaring still going on. A regular glare fest.
“Well, brilliant,” Rolly said on a sigh. “Half of us need a hospital and the other half need anger management sessions.”
“Maybe not quite that dire, Rolly. I think we can manage. As far as coincidences, the way I see it, the people behind this conspiracy are getting desperate and sloppy. The catalyst for all of us being set on their trails was them killing someone,” Jaxx went on as he righted a chair and motioned for Ashe to sit down. “I’m willing to bet there are deaths all of you are investigating, too.”
There were nods from the other group, some of them puzzled, though the human woman’s eyes widened a fraction. She got it.
“So those deaths are recent enough that they set us all on the trail at the same time. It’s not such a coincidence that we all end up here at the same time when they’ve been sloppy in too many places.” Jaxx examined the broken wing carefully, motioning the woman over. “He can’t reabsorb his wing while it’s broken. Phoenix wings heal quickly, but not instantly. We have to set it for now. Ashe, this is Edwige. She’s a healer. Ms. Edwige, this is Ashe Heyoka, normally a unicorn wrangler and I swear he’s not usually such a hothead.”
Ashe grumbled something Tibo didn’t catch and Jaxx laughed. All right. If people could laugh, maybe things weren’t so dire.
* * * * *
Rolly patted Tibo on the shoulder and stepped out into the lab to help find something to splint the wing. The wolf growled at him, but he waved his hand. “Hush, pup. I’m not after hurting anyone. We’re past done with all that, I think.”
He rummaged in a cabinet and found some short pieces of steel tubing, probably pieces of a stand, while he addressed the room. “I’m Rolly McFarland, bassist for Tibo and the Flying Mantas. From that, some might guess that the little terror over there is our Tibo Glent—”
There was more than one gasp at this announcement, but Rolly wasn’t going to stop and acknowledge that. “Dr. Jaxx Kendrick over there with the horns. Ashe Heyoka with the broken wing for any that mightn’t have heard. We came following separate threads, as Jaxx says. Found each other at the university looking to talk to the same people.”
The woman, who introduced herself as Edwige, took the pieces from him with a soft thank you and rummaged in her bag for something to use as wrapping for the wing.
Rolly pulled out his best charming smile for her. “And I’ll be guessing the walker and the si— merman are yours. Which leave the ranger and his wolf, who, if he’s just a wolf, I’ll eat my socks. Hell, I’ll eat Tibo’s socks.”
“Eew!” That was from Tibo who subsided after another glare from Edwige.
“That’s Aegeus and Nootau,” Edwige nodded to the pair snuggled in the other chair. “Mal’s the one in dragon ranger leather. And my brave guardian—” She bent to ruffle the wolf's ears. “Is Kaden. Yes, this is his wolf form.”
Rolly dared a smile at the siren, who gave him a tentative one back, though his companion remained silent, dark eyes staring out hollow and suspicious from beneath his tousled hair.
Well, it was a start. And extra heads and hands had to make lighter work of things, right?