Tasia Armstrong is a very special Chosen. Forced to conceal her powers from her brethren, she makes a fateful decision one night to assist an injured Shape-shifter. Suddenly, Tasia finds herself forced out of the shadows, an unwitting pawn in the ongoing skirmish between the mysterious mercenaries wreaking havoc in San Francisco and the local Shape-shifter Pack led by a formidable and dangerous Alpha Protector. Thrown into the deep end, Tasia is forced to ally with the volatile and aggressive Shifters while grappling to deal with the enigmatic Alpha who holds his fractious Pack together with a ruthless hand on the reins.
When the Pack is asked to investigate a twenty-five year old mystery, Tasia’s special brand of magic proves essential to cracking the riddle. As an unlikely coalition of Chosen dig deeper into the past, they begin to realize that grave danger threatens their world. Tasia is slowly drawn deeper into the investigation as a powerful wizard uses an old prophecy to divide the Chosen. As danger closes in on her, Tasia must decide who to trust with the deadly secrets she guards.
Surprising, unique, entertaining, The Prophecy is a humorous and modern take on werewolves, magic, and vampires. Petra Landon breaks stereotypes of these themes, creating layered characters that are flawed and real … Landon leaves an impression through the characters. A must-read for any urban fantasy lover!
— Reader’s Favorite
The Prophecy is a fast paced and at times action intense story. Its packed with strong characters and backed by a highly engaging plot … Landon does a marvelous job at world building and creating a place you can let our imagination go.
— Tome Tender
… what a stunningly enjoyable and exciting read it is … It appears that this is Landon’s first novel and as such is worthy of considerable praise as a debut novel. It is fast-paced, always exciting and draws the reader into a world that possibly exists all around us, without us knowing it. I think Landon is a bright new talent in the urban-fantasy world and I, for one, will be waiting with baited breath for the next offering from this uber-talented, debut author.
A great job and kudos to the author. A five-star winner from this reviewer.
— Author Grant Leishman
The Prophecy by Petra Landon is an urban fantasy readers don’t want to miss … Her characters dragged me out of this world and straight into theirs … Deadly secrets and a fantasy that will keep readers entertained. I couldn’t stop reading it.
— Urban Book Reviews
Great world building and amazing characters. I truly enjoyed this book … Can’t wait for the second part to get me some answers.
— Esther Dauvillier of BiteIntoBooks
Excerpt follows below.
An interview with Nadaness In Motion.
The Prophecy is on AmReading’s 5 debut indie author’s list.
An interview with Eclectic Moods.
Featured Title at OnMyKindle.
An interview about the book.
Tasia lives dangerously
Tasia sighed wearily as she maneuvered her borrowed ramshackle Civic carefully into the parking space beside the imposing Hummer. It had been a long day. Rather, it had been a long week. Nope, scratch that, it had been a long three months! Choosing San Francisco to lie low in had been an easy decision for Tasia. Her childhood years had been spent up north, hankering for the sunny climes of California when harsh winters rendered everything a frozen wasteland around her. She had rightly guessed that the anonymity of a big metropolis would help shield her from drawing unwelcome attention. So when such an exigency had arisen, Tasia had only considered two viable alternatives. In the end, the city by the bay had won out over Los Angeles.
Tasia had realized early on that her inexperience had led her to make a rookie mistake. While a metro cloaked her in its vast and impersonal anonymity, it also demanded an expensive standard of living. The obvious way to earn a livelihood was to utilize her considerable abilities. Since that was not an option for Tasia, she’d had to work two jobs just to make ends meet. Home was a two room apartment in a seedy part of the city the locals colorfully referred to as The Tenderloin. Her current abode, a dingy studio in a neighborhood populated by junkies and a motley crew of homeless people, had been brightened up with flowers and colorful knickknacks to make it feel like home. She had registered herself as a Level Two at the local Wizard Registry since the Registry rarely scrutinized credentials for Magic Levels Three and lower. That had resulted in a few jobs like the one here tonight. As well as some very welcome extra cash.
Unfortunately for Tasia, L2 wizards had barely any magic in them. Commercial demand for L2 magic was restricted to Mfector work. Mfector was short for Magick Disinfector. Mfectors cleansed sites where the blood of a Magick, a creature with magic, had been spilled. Humans had very strong intuitions, even though most were unaware of how to interpret these feelings of presentiment. They’d been known to see ghosts and feel dark forebodings when encountering a site where a Magick’s spilt blood had not been cleansed by a qualified wizard. Chosen rarely agreed with one another. Yet Chosen of all stripes were in absolute agreement over one thing – that humans be kept in ignorance of their existence. This was the Supreme Edict for all Chosen. Every Magick adhered to this edict, one strictly enforced under threat of death or worse. Fortunately for Tasia, since most Chosen were aggressive if not outright violent, a lot of Magick blood tended to be spilt. This provided steady albeit dull employment for a wizard whose only qualification was to work as an Mfector.
Tasia cast a wary glance around the dilapidated neighborhood as she walked up the pathway towards the dimly lit house. It was typical of the usual accommodations preferred by Chosen, as the Magicks referred to themselves. Magicks believed that they had been chosen by a higher power to be bestowed the gift of magic that flowed through their veins, thus making them superior to the puny and powerless humans that lived unaware amongst them. Chosen tended to isolate themselves from humans and amongst their own kind by hiding out in the open. Those with means congregated in lavish estates that allowed them the luxury of distance from their human neighbors. The others picked accommodations with few neighbors and in dubious parts of town where an attack, injury or even death could be explained away among the many unexplained statistics every year.
The man at the door was quite possibly one of largest men Tasia had ever seen. And definitely the hairiest! The t-shirt he wore revealed the hair on his arms and even the back of his palms. She knew he was Chosen but Tasia could not sense his particular brand of magic.
“I’m the Mfector” she announced.
“You the witch?” he grunted in surprise, his deep voice spitting the words out in a surly growl.
At his response, Tasia ruthlessly stomped down an insane desire to laugh. She wanted to ask him who else he’d been expecting. But it had been a long day and her feet were killing her. Plus, the big dude before her didn’t seem the kind to appreciate a sense of humor. So she nodded silently and at his gesture, followed him into the house.
The giant lumbered into the house, his gait sure with a curious rolling motion. Beast man, she realized in a flash. He was a Shifter! The first one she’d encountered in her life. It could’ve been worse, she told herself philosophically. He might have been a Blutsauger even though they rarely called in the wizard cavalry for assistance of any sort. The vampires had their own people to do their cleansing. That was what had convinced Tasia to put her name down at Wizard Registry for the occasional Mfector side-gig. No way would she risk proximity to any of the vampire clan voluntarily. They’d rip her heart out alive if they even got a whiff of what she was!
Not that a beast man as client was not strange. She had assumed that a Pack as wealthy as the one that controlled this city would have its own wizards on call for such work. Yet this Shifter had randomly picked her name off the Mfector list that the Wizard Registry made available. Oh well, at least it would bring in some welcome cash, she reminded herself.
The man led her towards the back of the house through the kitchen and into a narrow alley that divided the house from a row of what looked like abandoned warehouses with their windows boarded up. The alley was barely lit and Tasia cursed inwardly as she checked instinctively for the little locket she wore around her neck. The nasal voice of the Wizard Registry’s administrative assistant echoed in her head. She’d had to go in last week to renew her license and had received a warning lecture from the motherly assistant to the Registrar. There had been reports of female wizards being mugged in the city, some while out on jobs. The Registry was handing out warnings to all the lower level wizards. The unspoken undertone being that no wizard with sufficient magic would ever allow himself to be mugged.
The man leading her stopped so abruptly that Tasia almost smacked into him. He opened a door to lead her into a large room before switching on the light. The insufficiently lit interior had what looked like rusty car parts stacked by the walls while crushed coke cans and empty water bottles lay strewn around on the floor.
“How much time to cleanse this room?” the man grunted in his peculiar growly voice.
“What happened here?” she asked.
“A fight” he replied laconically.
Wonderful. Great. Uh huh, I gathered as much.
“Where exactly?” she asked patiently.
He shrugged disinterestedly. “We need the entire room done.”
Absolutely wonderful. Save me from paranoid Shifters. Now I’ll need to map out every inch of this room.
“I’ll need forty-five minutes.”
She could do it in half that time but she was pretending to be an L2 and that meant taking her time. It wouldn’t do to raise the suspicions of this Shifter.
“I’ll be smoking outside. Holler when you’re done.”
He walked out through the door, closing it shut behind him.
Tasia glanced around with a sigh. This would be a simple task if she could use her true abilities but it was dull, dreary and time-consuming work for an L2. She called forth the barest minimum of her magic. And remembered to chant under her breath in the old language for the benefit of any interested spectators. It never hurt to be careful with the small details. L2s were not expected to mind chant.
She began by mapping out the room before starting to cleanse at the edges, moving gradually towards the center. Ten minutes later, Tasia knew that she had a problem on her hands. This room had witnessed far more than a simple fight. Judging by the amount of blood spilt here, a Chosen had died and another had been injured very badly. The injured one was very special, even for a Chosen. The room fairly throbbed with the magic of his spilt blood. This was definitely not your run-of-the-mill simple cleanse job. And she had a bad feeling about this. Very few wizards, even one exponentially more powerful than an L2, possessed the ability to detect what she had gleaned by simply being at the scene in the warehouse. That is what the Shifter had counted on, she realized. But Tasia was no ordinary wizard.
A sense of urgency unraveled in her. It was imperative that she cleanse this room and get the hell away from whatever was brewing here. No way could she afford to get mixed up in any of this. Tasia forced herself to wait out the full forty-five minutes, chanting under her breath the whole time, before she knocked on the door. The Shifter lumbered in immediately to glance around the room.
“You all done?” he growled.
She nodded silently. He switched off the light to usher her out. They made their silent way back the way they’d come. A second man awaited them in the foyer this time. This one was leaner and not as big but something about the way he moved screamed Shifter to Tasia. The two Shifters conferred with each other in a low voice before the leaner one came forward to hand Tasia an envelope.
“There’s a little extra for coming out so late.”
Tasia hurried out of the house as fast as she could without making it obvious that she was making a run for it.
Moonlight streamed into the room to cast its glow on the man who slept with unfettered abandon on the enormous bed. He lay sleeping with his face turned towards the moonlight and the covers kicked off him, his even breaths the only sound in the otherwise silent room. Until abruptly interrupted by the strident ringing of the phone. The man opened his eyes with a suddenness that would be very suspicious if he were human. He glanced at the clock by the bed – a little after two. Next, he glanced at the caller id on the instrument as the phone continued its appeal for attention.
“This better be f–king good” he barked into the phone, pissed at having his sleep interrupted.
“Hawk is missing” the voice on the other end informed him precisely in an upper crust English accent.
“Talk to me.”
“Sara came to me. He hasn’t been home and is not answering his cell. He also has voicemail indicating that he never made his dinner date this evening. She says that she’s had a bad feeling about him since this afternoon.”
“Where’s Sara now?”
“She’s at the Lair with me.”
“Who else knows about this?”
“Just us. The wolves don’t know yet.”
“I see” he said evenly.
They both knew what Duncan had left unsaid. Once the wolves found out, they would need the Alpha Protector to control them.
“Sit tight. I’m headed your way.”
In a different and not-so-nice part of town, Tasia lay sleepless, wracked by indecision. Her mind kept flashing back to the scene in the warehouse. The smell of death and blood magic had been too powerful not to have happened in the last day. A Chosen had died there recently and another had been badly wounded. She could sense that the wounded creature was very special. Perhaps even like her! Tasia had discovered her unique ability to sense the blood magic inherent in other creatures very early on. In the history of their people, there had been the occasional Chosen born with the ability to gauge magic in the air or even in people when their magic was active. Tasia’s ability was different – she could sense the latent magic in creatures. Sometimes even when the creature itself was unaware of it. Most Chosen were powered by the magic that flowed through their blood and this is what she had the ability to sense. Her father had helped her hone this talent, warning her to hide it from other Chosen. It had been added to her ever-growing kitty of secrets to keep hidden from the world of Magicks.
Tasia found herself conflicted, lying sleepless in bed for hours while she pondered her options. One option was to leave an anonymous message at the Wizard Registry but Tasia doubted any action would be taken since she had no factual information to provide, not even a name for the injured Chosen. Therein also lay the risk of exposure for her by inviting uncomfortable questions if the Registry did manage to trace the call. Finally at about three in the morning, Tasia gave up any further attempts to sleep, determined to be a bystander no more. She had fled here to a strange city to protect herself. The cloak of anonymity it provided her while she assumed the façade of an unremarkable wizard with little magic had worked well so far. But she’d be damned if she would abandon another to be slaughtered simply because she was too afraid to blow her cover. She could always move on to another city tomorrow and start over again if she aroused any suspicions. It’s not like she’d amassed anything of value in the three months she had spent here. Well, she amended, except for one good friend and a decent employer that she’d definitely miss. Mind finally made up, she dressed quickly in dark clothes to trudge the short distance to the car that she’d left parked on the street. People in the city tended to use public transportation since owning a car in San Francisco was an expensive proposition. Unfortunately, Tasia needed a car to get to her wizard gigs. They were always at ungodly hours and usually on the outskirts of the city or in shady neighborhoods where waiting for public transportation was fraught with its own problems. She was lucky that her neighbor allowed her to borrow his ancient car on the nights she needed it in exchange for gas money plus a little extra.
It took her thirty minutes this late in the night to find the place and park a few streets over from it. All seemed quiet on the street and within the house. The lights were off with no outward signs of life in the house although the Hummer still sat parked out in the front. She called forth her special magic to test gingerly for the presence of any Magicks in the house. One – a tad faint as if injured. No one else. The house was empty except for the injured Chosen. Thank God for that piece of luck. She had been concerned about the two Shifters. It would’ve taken some powerful magic to walk in there without alerting them. Shifters had phenomenal hearing – it came from the beast part of them. And she wasn’t sure that she could handle two Shifters while attempting to check on an injured Chosen.
An old gnarled tree grew unchecked to one side of the house with its myriad branches creeping upwards as if in supplication to the Divine. The tree looked as neglected as the rest of the neighborhood, which put her in luck. Its untrimmed branches pressed against a window on the second floor of the house. This she could do. She’d had a lot of practice climbing trees. It took her ten minutes to climb up to the window sill. The moon provided enough light through the open window to show her the way without resorting to the flashlight she’d had the foresight to bring with her. A few seconds of using her other senses let her know that the wounded Chosen lay somewhere on this floor. Tasia breathed a sigh of relief.
The room led onto a small open area with a staircase and a narrow corridor that opened into other rooms. All except one room towards the end of the corridor had their doors ajar. Tasia made a beeline for the room at the end. She opened the door slowly to peer cautiously into the room. It was bare except for a huge metal cage with something big and hulking inside it. Tasia slipped into the room to span the cage slowly with her flashlight. Two glowing feral eyes stared back at her malevolently. Tasia almost dropped the flashlight in fright.
Damn! Is this the wounded Chosen I’ve risked sleep and limb to rescue? It’s a Shifter and with my usual luck, probably deserves to be imprisoned like this anyway.
Taking a deep breath and a firmer grasp of the flashlight, she played it slowly over the animal in the cage once more, all the while trying to keep the light away from its eyes. A huge dark grey wolf lay still in the cage. She could discern no obvious signs of injury on him though his breathing seemed labored from what she could tell. Not that she was an expert on animals or Shifters by any means. Tasia approached the cage cautiously. The wolf made no move to get up. Instead, he watched her cautious approach carefully. She played the light softly towards his eyes. This time the eyes seemed to reflect more pain than ferocity. The eyes were an unusual bluish green in color with an almost human intelligence to them. It was strange to see such human eyes peeping out from a wolf’s face.
“I’m here to help you” she whispered, watching his eyes carefully for any sign of comprehension.
The wolf watched her steadily without making a move. Tasia flashed her light over the cage bars. It was bolted from the outside. Hoping that she wasn’t making a mistake she’d regret, she unbolted the cage slowly. She glanced once more at the wolf before moving away from the cage to wait discreetly by the door. Her father’s voice sang in her head.
Shape-shifters are some of the most dangerous of the Chosen – human and beast engaged in a constant struggle to keep the other in check. Shifters unable to keep their beast under control go feral and are killed by their Pack or other Shifters to keep from breaking the Supreme Edict that all Chosen follow – always protect the secret of your existence from the humans. Be very wary of a wounded Shifter – he is at his most vulnerable then for that is when the human is not in complete control of the beast.
Tasia had known that this whole venture tonight was risky. Yet her gut told her that the Shifter would not harm her. As for what had compelled her to come here tonight, Tasia didn’t need to ponder too deeply at her motivation. She knew only too well why she’d felt impelled to assist an injured Chosen who she sensed was special like her.
The wolf watched her move away from the cage to a safe distance before he made a move. He stood up in one fluid move to stalk out of the cage although Tasia noticed a slight limp in one hind leg. He came to a standstill a foot away from her to stare into her eyes. There was an expression in those eyes that made Tasia a tad uneasy. She could swear that there was a hint of amusement lurking in those remarkable eyes. She put her finger to her lips in the universal sign for silence and the wolf cocked his head at her in response.
Tasia moved into the corridor followed by her silent lupine shadow. The two trod silently to the open window that she’d used to enter the house. That was when it struck Tasia that exiting through the window might prove difficult. Not for her, but for the wolf. As she stared at the window pondering their predicament, the wolf’s big frame seemed to stretch for an infinitesimal second. Tasia stared in consternation as the wolf underwent a transformation before her astonished gaze. Skin and bones shrank and tightened in horrific fashion to spit out a big grey hawk in place of the wolf that had stood there a moment ago. The hawk stared back at her with the unmistakable bluish green eyes of the wolf. This time though, the eyes showed the strain of the recent transformation. The sheer speed of it shocked Tasia. She’d always understood that a transformation was a painful and slow process for a Shifter – something that needed minutes and not mere seconds to accomplish. And then there was the issue of a Shifter having two animal forms. She’d never heard of such a thing! Before she could ponder the mystery though, the hawk rose in a flutter of wings to perch on the window sill.
She would unravel the mystery later, Tasia decided. It was critical to make their getaway before the missing wolf was discovered and the alarm raised. Tasia hopped onto the sill to grab the branch she’d wedged against the ledge and swung herself expertly onto the tree. The hawk hopped off the sill in an awkward dive to glide down the rest of the way to the ground where it waited for Tasia. Fifteen minutes later, Tasia sped home as fast as she could coax from the decrepit engine of the ancient Civic. The hawk sat majestically on the passenger seat beside her with its claws digging onto the seat for purchase.
Streaks of light from the breaking dawn had just appeared in the sky when the young man dashed up the stairs to the fourth floor at inhuman speed to burst precipitously into the Pack Room. He glanced around the room to zero in on a tall man who stood in conversation with an older white-haired gentleman whose noble features denoted his native American ancestry.
“Hawk’s downstairs, Alpha” he announced, the quiet words successfully bringing all discussion in the room to an abrupt halt.
A young girl with dark hair sitting forlornly in a chair to the side, perked up at the announcement. Hope blossomed in her beautiful face, successfully banishing the tiredness and anxiety that made her appear older than her age.
The Alpha Protector directed his oddly cold eyes at the young man by the door, his eyebrow arched in inquiry.
“He’s on his way up. Needed a few minutes to get decent” the young Shifter added with a grin.
At the Shifter’s words, the Alpha glanced at Duncan. The big Shifter, whose habitual impassiveness usually rivalled the Alpha’s, met his gaze with an expression of unmistakable relief.
“I’ll take my leave now, Alpha” Atsá said softly, drawing his Alpha’s attention back to him. “I am happy that Hawk has returned to us” he added, his wise gaze meeting the Alpha’s unusual eyes, the color of old gold.
The Alpha nodded respectfully to the older white-haired Shifter. When he had made the decision to sound the alarm for Hawk and rouse his Shifters to go hunting for their Pack mate, he’d made it a point to personally inform Atsá. He knew how much emphasis the powerful Were-Alpha placed on tradition and he’d thought it only right to inform him personally of Hawk’s disappearance. Plus, there had been no keeping the information from the wolves. So it’d been imperative that Atsá hear the news from his Alpha before he learnt it from any of the others.
As the older Shifter moved towards the door, Hawk came barreling though it. He stopped abruptly as he caught sight of Atsá, directing a short nod at the Were-Alpha after an infinitesimal pause. Atsá inclined his head in dignified acknowledgement before making his way out of the room.
Hawk glanced at the Alpha Protector.
“Alph, you’ll never guess what happened to me” he announced impetuously as the young girl rushed forward to throw her arms around him.
“Hawk” she whispered, her voice indicating a mixture of fear and relief. “I was so worried.”
An affectionate smile lit up Hawk’s attractive face as he returned her hug. “I’m indestructible, Sara mia” he stated with cocky self-confidence. “You shouldn’t worry about me.”
“Beware, little stripling! That kind of cockiness has been known to bring better men than you onto their knees” drawled a gorgeous green-eyed woman, her voice rife with amusement.
“I’m no mere man, Elisabetta” Hawk countered lightly. “I’m a Shifter.”
One of the male Shifters in the room laughed aloud with genuine mirth.
Hawk responded with a grin before extricating himself gently from the young girl. As she walked away from him back to the seat she’d vacated, Hawk turned his attention back to his Alpha.
“Alph” he began.
“Close the door, Hawk” the Alpha directed imperiously.
Reminded of protocol, Hawk hurried to close the heavy door to the Pack Room. The room was now shielded from the rest of the Lair.
“What happened to you, Hawk?” Duncan inquired.
“Alph had me chasing down some reports of non-Pack Shifters in the city. I caught up with them this afternoon in an abandoned warehouse in Oakland. There were three of them. They ambushed me and we fought. I killed one and the others locked me up in a cage.”
“Hawk, my man, don’t tell me that you couldn’t break though one tiny cage” queried a red-haired man with the hint of an Irish brogue in his voice.
“The bars were reinforced with silver” Hawk’s response was blunt. “They burnt my skin when I touched them.”
A charged silence descended on the room full of Shifters. Silver was like kryptonite to Shape-shifters. It sapped their power and strength and was even known to kill on prolonged contact.
“How’d you get free?” the Alpha’s voice was sober.
“A young girl helped free me.”
“Human?” Duncan inquired, his voice sharp.
“No” Hawk shook his head. “She’s Chosen. I was in my wolf form in the cage and she knew what I was.”
“She was frightened of me and of being discovered in the house” Hawk continued. “Yet she helped me get out of there. I spent the remainder of the night at her place, conserving my strength to fly back before dawn. I did snoop around a bit before I left – wanted to find out who she was. There was correspondence addressed to her from an address I recognized.” He paused dramatically. “The Registry!”
“A wizard came to your aid” Duncan exclaimed while the Alpha remained stonily silent.
“Yes. And she might be in trouble because of it. Alph, when those Shifters discover that I’m missing, they might guess who helped me escape. Her being there tonight was not a coincidence. For all we know, that might lead them directly to her” Hawk said urgently to his Alpha.
“It might be a trap, Hawk” Duncan pointed out mildly. “She could be working with those Shifters.”
“But what if she isn’t?” Hawk encountered impassionedly. “She could be in danger.”
The Alpha gazed at Hawk, his expression grim. He knew very well what Hawk was asking for – some kind of protection for the girl. She’d come to the aid of one of his Shifters, helping to extricate Hawk from a sticky situation. The girl deserved to be safeguarded from any consequences that might arise from her singular kindness to a stranger.
“I want to meet her. Bring her to me and I’ll see what I can do” he stated noncommittally.
An invitation to meet the Alpha Protector
Tasia awoke with a start the next morning, woken by a persistent ringing that echoed through her small studio. By force of habit, she glanced at her clock to switch off the alarm only to realize that it was her cell making the racket. She groaned, forcing herself off the bed to reach for the phone. The caller id indicated Caroline.
“I won’t be able to make lunch today, Tas” Caro announced regretfully.
The two girls had a standing date for lunch on Tuesday every other week. Caro was one of the first friends Tasia had made when she arrived in San Francisco. They’d met at the Wizard Registry where Tasia had gone to register herself on her arrival to the city. Caroline Hamilton was a Level Eight wizard and surprisingly down-to-earth with it. Scion of a powerful local wizard family, Caroline worked at the family firm which specialized in providing wizard consulting services.
“Don’t worry about it, Caro” Tasia responded. “Shall we try again next week if you’re available?”
“I should be able to swing that, Tas. Hey, I was planning to talk to you at lunch today but, well. There’s something really weird going on with some of the female wizards. They’re being mugged at alarmingly high rates. I know that you do a lot of night time gigs, so be careful, hmm.”
“I will. Mabel had a chat with me yesterday.”
“Oh good! The Registry is warning wizards then. Wasn’t sure if they were – they’re usually such a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s a constant source of wonder to me that the place actually manages to function. Okay, well … talk more next week. Gotta go, my next client is here and clamoring for my attention. The price of being popular!”
“Bye” Tasia said with a smile in her voice. Interactions with Caroline were usually akin to being swept away by a benevolent force of nature. Exhausted after her late night, the conversation with Caro had rejuvenated her, readying her to face another long day. It was a stroke of luck that she worked the afternoon shift at the restaurant. After her exertions the night before, Tasia wasn’t sure that she’d have made it to the restaurant any earlier.
Late night exertions. Beast man able to take multiple shapes. The hawk sitting on her ratty couch to gaze at her with pain-filled human eyes.
Oh my God!
Tasia rushed out to check the couch. The hawk she’d left resting on it last night was gone. A grey feather lay hidden under a pillow to one side of her couch, the only sign of his presence. If you discounted that one piece of evidence, it was almost as if she’d dreamt up the whole adventure from the night before. They had driven back to her apartment without incident. The hawk had followed her up to her studio. He’d hopped onto her couch and given her a surprisingly human look of gratitude before settling himself to rest with his head buried in his feathers. She’d heard that Shifters preferred to be in their animal form when injured because it speeded up their process of healing. She also knew that they expanded a lot of energy when healing. Since Tasia had been unsure of what kind of sustenance to offer a hawk, she’d settled for leaving a bowl of water by the couch.
The bowl still lay where she’d placed it last night, emptied of its contents. Hopefully, her hawk was fine. Tasia hoped that she’d see it again someday. She’d been warned to stay away from other Chosen while in hiding. Despite the warning, she really hoped to see the hawk again.
It was almost midnight when Tasia trudged home from the bus stop. It had been a busy day after two back-to-back gigs. Her afternoon gig was at a Middle Eastern fast food place that mostly offered take-outs. In the evening, she was a waitress at an upscale Italian restaurant in North Beach. Both restaurants provided free meals for the staff. That usually took care of her meals but the hours were long and hard on her feet most days. Today, she had found her mind wandering to the wolf-and-hawk man whenever she’d had a few moments to spare. The Shifter could easily be a woman but something she’d glimpsed in those uncannily human eyes made her almost sure that he was male.
Lost in her thoughts, it took Tasia a few minutes to realize that she wasn’t alone in the alley that divided her apartment building from the one beside it. The alley had a narrow sidewalk to one side that had cars parked tightly on it. The other side was dotted with dumpsters. That left a narrow pathway for cars and the occasional pedestrian to navigate between the parked cars, dumpsters and the dirty brick walls ingrained with decades of dirt and graffiti. Tasia was caught half way between both entrances to the alley with nowhere to run. In an act born of instinctive self-preservation, she opened her magic senses. The two Shifters from the cleanse job last night were in the alley with her. They’d probably been following her from the bus stop, she realized. She allowed her magic to cast a slightly wider net to check for the presence of other Chosen in the vicinity. To her relief, she could only sense the two in the alley.
The Chosen following her didn’t possess much magical power. But Shifters had other abilities that made them very dangerous – preternaturally fast, supernaturally strong and possessed of the cunning and instincts of a predator. She’d have to handle these two without using any of her considerable powers. Or using it in a way that left them unaware of the use of magic against them. Protecting her secret from the other Chosen was paramount. Tasia knew that the best way to do so was to avoid any direct confrontation. What she needed was a distraction to help her escape the alley before they caught up with her. They probably already knew where she lived if they were lying in wait for her here. But they’d never try anything if she made it into the building – too many potential human witnesses. Once she reached the safety of her apartment, she could figure out her next move.
Tasia took a calming breath, to focus her power on sensing their approach. Timing would be everything! Tracking their approach was a difficult feat since they were inhumanly silent in their hunt. The only noise she could hear clearly was the thudding of her own heart. Once they were close enough, Tasia called out with a quaver in her voice.
The quaver wasn’t assumed – the pounding of her heart had only intensified. Although a powerful wizard with a host of special powers unavailable to most Chosen, Tasia understood the difference between using her magic under the guidance of a powerful teacher in a controlled environment and deploying it against a couple of Shifters out for her blood. She’d had plenty of experience at the former and absolutely none at the latter.
The Shifters inched towards her silently in the semi-darkness of the alley. If they were surprised by her turning around in the dark alley instead of making a run for it, they didn’t bother to indicate it. Tasia concentrated on setting the stage for the first part of her plan. A slow mist rose to swirl around the men, very thin and wispy at first. Tasia expelled some more magic and was rewarded with the mist getting heavier.
The big hairy Shifter was the first to notice the mist.
“What the hell!” he muttered in surprise. “Grab the witch before we lose her.”
The other Shifter reached for her in a move that was so quick that Tasia had no time to even gasp at the suddenness of his action, let alone evade it. He grasped her by her shoulder to fling her towards the wall with a casual flick of his hand. She flew a few feet though the air to hit the wall at some height with a jarring thud of her shoulder. As she slid down the wall, Tasia attempted frantically to break her fall, landing in a heap on one out-flung hand on the dirty ground. Her left palm stung on contact with the rough ground. A trickle of something that she suspected was blood seeped into the ground. The sudden sting of the cut snapped her out of her petrified stupor. She glanced towards the Shifters. The mist was now an amorphous white cloud that enveloped the two Shifters, managing to block out everything. The drops of her spilt blood had enhanced her magic to buy her a few extra seconds.
Tasia pondered her options frantically. The original plan had been to make a run for it while the men flailed about in the mist. She was in no position to do that now. She wasn’t sure how hurt she was and the thick magical mist she had conjured up demanded her proximity to it. Before being flung against the wall, she might have made it safely out of the alley, even with just a thin mist to confound the Shifters. Now, she couldn’t chance it. Dimly, she heard the Shifter’s voices through the mist.
“We should’ve killed her last night like I told you, Mick.”
“No, dammit! We don’t want to draw any unnecessary attention. After Hal’s colossal stupidity in getting himself killed, we don’t want any more unexplained deaths on our hands. Trust me, this is not a client I want to explain any of this to. Better to make it look like the other ones we did.”
“Except this witch managed to get herself killed during a mugging gone bad.”
“Now you’re getting the idea!”
Tasia stored the conversation away for later. There was something in there, some bit, that her instincts screamed might be very important. For now, she knew just what she needed to do – create an illusion that would allow her to hide in plain sight. An extension of the brick wall to hide her where she half lay against it would do the trick. She focused her magic, bolstered by the drops of blood from her cuts, to carefully erect a wall before her, brick by brick. It had to be good enough to withstand scrutiny at close quarters. When it was finished, Tasia looked at it critically to add a few more smudges of dirt. It would have to do, she decided. It was a good illusion but still an illusion. If one of the Shifters were to touch the wall, they would go through and find her instead. She forced herself to allow the mist to drain away slowly as the Shifters emerged into the night air. Tasia focused on keeping herself absolutely still as she tried to quiet her pounding heart.
“Where is she? Where’d she go?”
“It’s the damn mist. I can’t see anything.”
The Shifter lifted his face towards the sky, his nostrils flared.
“I can still smell her. Go look in the dumpsters and I’ll check behind the cars. “
The Shifters mounted a thorough search for Tasia for the next five minutes while she concentrated on maintaining the illusion. She silently thanked the Divine for the few drops of her spilt blood that allowed her spell its potency and lasting effect.
“She’s not here, Mick” concluded one of the Shifters eventually.
So the leaner and shorter Shifter is called Mick.
“Yeah, she’s a crafty one. She managed to sneak away.”
“What do we do now?”
“Time to withdraw” Mick said decisively. “We know where she lives. We’ll get her next time.”
“What if she reports this to the Wizard Registry, Mick?”
“What if she does? Some administrative assistant will make a report and nothing will come of it. No one was harmed here, were they?”
“No” the hairy Shifter agreed.
“Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Tasia watched the men hastily head back the way they’d come as she struggled to hold onto the illusion for a few minutes more, just to be sure. Eventually, she leant against the wall in exhaustion, as the illusion she’d built up so carefully crumbled around her. This kind of magic, as she well knew, was as powerful as it was draining. It would be better to get back to her studio before the magic took its toll on her. She attempted to stand up, checking to make sure that all extremities were in working order. It was a miracle that nothing was broken. Her right shoulder hurt like the devil and her left arm and palm were scraped pretty badly. Apart from some colorful bruises as they healed, she’d managed to escape relatively unscathed. This time, she reminded herself grimly. She might not be this lucky next time. And yet, how was she to avoid a next time, she mused shakily. This was no random mugging attempt. These men had been lying in wait for her and she had the uneasy feeling that they were unlikely to give up that easily. She limped slowly out of the alley into the relative safety of the building that housed her studio, making sure to keep her magic sense alert for the two Shifters. For the second time that night, Tasia sensed a Chosen as she approached her apartment.
God, this is turning out to be one long very very bad day in three months of some spectacularly bad days!
A man leant casually by the door to her apartment.
“You keep late hours, Tasia Armstrong” he called out.
Tasia stopped to stare warily at him in the dim light of the hallway. A couple of years older than her – mid-twenties, she estimated. He had a deep bronze tint to his skin and a very attractive face with a cleft in his chin and wavy dark hair worn just a tad bit long. He was dressed casually in black pants and a fitted dark turtleneck that accentuated his tall lean body. And he looked like he took very good care of himself. She noted the muscles of his upper arms flex as he slowly straightened away from the door. The bluish-green eyes from last night’s wolf and hawk stared back at her from his face.
“Wolf-man” she whispered under her breath.
“At your service.”
“You weren’t here when I woke up this morning” she said mildly but with an underlying hint of admonishment.
“I apologize for that. I … what happened to you? Who did this to you?”
In a flash, the attractive young man standing indolently by the door was transformed into a dangerous predator. More of her fathers’ wise words on Shifters reverberated in Tasia’s head as she studied the young man.
Shifters tend to be volatile and aggressive. They inherit certain abilities from their beasts – super human strength and agility, the ability to smell emotions, acute hearing and the cunning of a predator when hunting down its prey. These qualities combined with the near impossibility of killing one or even seriously hurting one make them very dangerous. No matter how much control a Shifter has over his beast, it stays just under his skin ready to erupt at the slightest provocation.
She limped forward to place her key into the lock, all the while very aware of her companion’s seething emotions.
“You’d better come in” she invited. “This is a discussion better conducted in private.”
He stalked in after her to shut the door with a decisive snap.
“Did those Shifters from last night come after you?” he demanded without preamble.
Tasia nodded tiredly as she trudged towards the sink in her tiny kitchenette.
He watched her broodingly with seemingly gritted teeth for a few minutes before pulling himself together with a little effort. Taking a deep calming breath, he strode towards her.
“Here, let me help you with that. Do you have a first aid kit somewhere?”
Tasia pointed him towards the bathroom, watching him transform yet again to solicitous acquaintance from dangerous predator. She washed the dirt and blood off her arms and hands in the sink before examining them. She could feel an ugly bruise on one shoulder and she noted a couple of nasty cuts on the left arm and scratches on both her palms – one of which still held a tiny drop of clotted blood. Tasia pondered grimly whether to just leave that tiny droplet of blood in her palm instead of washing it down the sink. The way her evening was shaping up, a few drops of her blood might actually come handy to protect herself. Her locket still hung around her neck. When the Shifters had emerged from the misty cloud she’d engulfed them with, she’d had half a mind to break her locket open to use the stored blood. But the cut on her hand had been too fortuitous to pass up.
The wolf-man emerged from the bathroom with her inadequate first aid supplies and proceeded to dress her cuts efficiently, in a manner that indicated a lot of practice with dressing various cuts and minor bruises.
“How does a Shifter whose body has the capacity to heal from practically any injury be so good with first aid?” she asked curiously, aiming for a light tone.
He looked up from cleaning her palms with disinfecting wipes to give her a singularly attractive grin.
“I’ve plenty of human relatives and some of the younger ones have quite a self-destructive streak on them.”
It sounded like he was fond of his human cousins and enjoyed spending time with them. That indicated phenomenal control of his beast. Most Shifters tended to keep their interaction with humans to a minimum. To them, humans were fragile. A little push could send them flying or hurt them badly. Their bodies didn’t heal like that of a Shifter. You had to be on guard all the time because even a careless move from you could kill them or worse. And worst of all, forming any kind of relationship with one was always doomed – humans were mortal while Shifters could potentially live forever. If only her father was around to appreciate how many of his words of wisdom she could recall with perfect clarity, Tasia mused with grim wistfulness.
The Shifter finished up with some salve on her badly scraped palms.
“Keep this clean, use the salve every six hours and you should be fine. The shoulder is going to be stiff and hurt like hell before it gets better though” he warned.
“Yeah well, it hurts pretty bad already but thanks.”
She watched him as he cleaned up neatly after himself.
“Why’d you do the Cinderella act this morning?” she asked curiously.
“Nah, Cinderella’s not my thing. I’m more like the Prince Charming guy.”
He flashed her another one of his attractive grins before sobering up.
“I had to leave early this morning for very practical reasons. I couldn’t talk in my beast form and didn’t want to transform as I didn’t have any clothes on me. So I flew home at dawn before anyone in the city was awake enough to look up and observe a big hawk over the city sky. The plan was to come back tonight and thank you in person.”
His expression hardened imperceptibly as he recalled her limping towards him in the hallway while he waited outside her apartment.
“I didn’t take into account that those bastards would get to you before I did.”
Tasia shook her head. There was a lot to process from tonight’s frightening encounter but there was one thing that she was absolutely sure of.
“You’ve nothing to blame yourself for. They didn’t come after me because I helped you. I doubt they even suspect me for last night. They came after me because they hired me to cleanse the fight that you had in the warehouse.” She paused. “I think they wanted to finish off the only person who knows about the warehouse.”
“They hired you to Mfector the warehouse” he exclaimed in surprise.
Tasia noted that he didn’t evince much surprise at the revelation of her being a wizard. So he’d done some digging on her, had he!
“I’m on the Registry list of Mfectors. They probably picked my name off it.”
“That explains a few things. I’ve been wondering all day how you knew that I was in there.”
“I overheard the two Shifters talking outside while I was Mfectoring the warehouse” she explained lightly. She’d had time to think that one up.
At her words, he directed a sudden and thoughtful glance at her.
“I lay awake most of the night thinking of what I’d overheard” Tasia continued. “Eventually I had to make sure that no one lay dying in that house.”
“Well, I wasn’t anywhere close to dying although the situation was definitely a little, shall we say, difficult. I owe you, Tasia Armstrong. Thank you for helping me.”
“You’re welcome, wolf-man. I’m glad that you’re safe.”
“Hawk Manotti. Though wolf-man will do in a pinch” he grinned.
“Hawk” Tasia acknowledged. She, of course, knew exactly how he got his name!
“I’m also here with an invitation for you, Tasia. The Alpha Protector would like to meet you.”
Damn, damn, damn. The Alpha Protector of the local Shifter Pack. What does he want with me? So much for keeping a low profile!
“When would he like to meet me?” she asked him, playing for time.
“I work late.”
“I can pick you up when you’re done and take you to meet him. I don’t think we can afford to wait now that those Shifters know where you live, Tasia.”
Tasia pondered wildly for an excuse as Hawk awaited her response to the invitation expectantly. For a lowly wizard of rather weak magic, an invitation to meet any Alpha Protector or even a Were-Alpha was unheard of. One to meet the Alpha Protector of the Northern California Pack was almost impossible to come by. Not only was the Pack one of the largest in the country but the Alpha Protector was known to be antisocial outside Pack and Shifter circles. Tasia had made it her business to be well informed about the main Chosen players in this city when she had first come to San Francisco. She was very conscious of the honor that the invitation bestowed upon her. It made it tricky to refuse the invitation without offending the Shifters and, more importantly, arousing their suspicions.
“That’s quite an honor” she stated softly.
At her lingering hesitation, Hawk shot her a sober look.
“I can protect you from those two Shifters, Tasia, but the Alpha has nearly five hundred Shifters at his command. One word from him and his Shifters will wreak havoc on your behalf. Trust me, having the Alpha Protector and the Pack backing you up in this town can save you from a world of harm.”
“So the Shifters from Oakland are not your Pack?” she inquired, her astonishment clear. Shifter Packs did not encourage strangers on their turf. They were especially vigilant of other Shifters. And if what she had been told about the Alpha Protector was true, he wasn’t the type to let trespassing like this slide. Tasia had assumed some kind of rivalry between Pack mates but Hawk’s words made that seem unlikely.
“No” Hawk’s response was blunt and brief. It was clear that he wasn’t going to elaborate on his answer.
Tasia sighed silently. Life was getting way more complicated than she’d bargained for or wanted. Though things could be a lot worse! If she was absolutely forced to entangle with any of the Chosen, her best bet was the Shifters. Their magic was too different to detect or suspect hers.
“Thank you, Hawk” she accepted gracefully. “I look forward to it. Now, wolf-man, tell me what you were doing in the warehouse fighting those Shifters.”
“That is a long story” he replied with a grin. “And I will definitely need some sustenance if I’m to tell you the exciting story of my life.”
Tasia laughed as she gestured at Hawk to follow her to the tiny fridge to investigate what leftovers she had on offer for her guest.
A night with the vampires
Raoul cocked his head, listening intently as he stared down the long corridor. Assorted doors that presumably led to rooms marked both sides of the snaking passageway. The entire floor lay silent and still in the night. In marked contrast to the brawl in progress downstairs! The leeches had never believed in any kind of technology and refused to use electricity in their nesting places. As a result, the only light in the sparsely lit corridor was a thin strain of moonlight. Not that the darkness deterred him – his beast eyes could see perfectly well in the dark. The advantage certainly lay with Hawk and him. He gave his extraordinary senses free rein, probing for any sign that a young witch lay captive behind one of the myriad doors before them. The scent of leech from downstairs was strong – perhaps more had joined their brethren. So strong that the essence of vampire drowned out everything else for his Shifter senses.
He’d been with Duncan when Hawk had burst into the Pack Room with the news that leeches had abducted Tasia Armstrong, the young wizard who’d come to his aid. Hawk had been scheduled to escort her to the Lair tonight. In the meantime, Ian, one of Hawk’s were-pack mates, had been tasked with keeping an unobtrusive eye on her. Hawk had warned Ian to keep an eye out for two Shifters with express orders not to engage. No rogue Shifters had attempted to approach the girl. Instead, to Ian’s complete surprise, a bunch of leeches had turned up at the restaurant she worked at to abduct the girl. The young Shifter had kept his cool to follow the leeches to their nest before reporting it to Hawk.
Even without Hawk’s distraught expression to encourage him, Raoul had not hesitated. He’d put together a small contingent of Shifters from those already at the Lair to head out to the leech nest. Shifters could be an unsavory lot but they always paid their debts. They also prized both loyalty and courage very highly. In his opinion, the affair of the female wizard coming to Hawk’s aid had elements of both. Backstabbing and malicious games were better left to the leeches. Raoul had not waited to put together a larger raiding party for he was confident that once the leeches saw the Pack come to her aid, they’d let her go without putting up much of a fight. The vampires loved playing elaborate games with each other and the other Chosen but they were never eager for a fight unless left with absolutely no other alternative. They especially made sure to keep their distance from the kind of vicious, down and dirty and to-the-death type of fighting the Shifters loved to engage in.
The leech nest had turned out to be a two storied house in a nice neighborhood. The leeches loved the good life though they usually couldn’t afford it. Raoul with Hawk in tow had made his way to the second floor of the darkened house while the rest of his Shifters had engaged the dozen or so leeches milling around the first floor.
A high-pitched feminine scream cut through the silence of the night. It was the sign they’d been looking for. Raoul ran full tilt towards the room, covering the distance with inhuman speed to crash through the sturdy locked door. Hawk followed closely behind. As the two Shifters paused amidst the wreckage of the door, a high keening cry filled the room. Moonlight, streaming in through a bay window, fell on the two figures in the room. A slight female form huddled on the bed – her entire posture screamed terror. Shoulder length dark hair covered her face as she cradled her hurt wrist in her other hand. Something viscous and sticky oozed from the injured wrist as she rocked back and forth gently. A leech with his fangs extended and still dripping sluggish blood lay awkwardly on his back on the floor between the girl on the bed and the bay window. He continued to gasp out the soft keening noise that had followed the girl’s scream of terror.
Raoul took in the scene with a comprehensive glance. Beside him, he heard Hawk gasp softly at the tableau in the moonlight. Raoul directed Hawk to the leech with a wordless gesture as he approached the girl. She shrank back from him as he sat on his haunches on the floor before her. Raoul attempted his best to look non-threatening.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you now” he said softly, his touch gentle on her as he tried to ascertain her wounds.
She flinched away from him with a small sob and cradled her mangled wrist protectively to her chest as if to ward him off.
Thrown in at the deep end, Raoul attempted to calm the terrified girl huddled before him. More at ease in the rough and tumble world of Pack politics where sheer strength, unabashed power and a ruthless streak stood him in good stead, he had no experience with anything like this. Raoul took a deep breath. It was imperative he determine the extent of her injuries. A vampire’s bite could have many unpleasant consequences.
He crooned softly to the traumatized girl, trying to comfort her.
“Shh … you’re safe now. It’s okay. I have you … shh. Let me see what the lee … vampire did to you.”
“It’s okay. I won’t let anything happen to you. Shh … I’ve got you.”
She relaxed gradually, as the soothing litany of words washed over her. Eventually she used her uninjured hand to swipe the curtain of hair off her face and gaze directly at him. Something had managed to penetrate her haze of terror – his words or perhaps the soft crooning of his voice.
Enormous grey eyes, shimmering with unshed tears gazed straight at him. An involuntary and watery hiccup followed as the grey eyes stared at him in awe. She saw a golden-skinned tawny-haired giant with heavy-lidded glittering gold eyes full of concern. He saw a petite girl with olive-toned skin, a piquant face dominated by enormous grey eyes and wavy dark brown hair that hung to below her shoulders. The eyes brimmed with unshed tears and one fat droplet splashed down over her left cheek. He raised a callused thumb to wipe away the single tear, his palm cradling her face while the gold eyes held her grey ones. She nestled her cheek in the large palm – the gesture one of implicit trust. Raoul felt something squeeze deep in his chest. He used his other hand to gently tuck her hair behind her ear.
“You good, Big Eyes?” he inquired softly. “Where does it hurt?”
She offered her injured wrist to him like a child. It was covered in blood. Raoul swore silently as he probed gently with his fingers to find the bite. There was an inch-long ridged scar at her wrist.
“I’m going to try and clean the wound, okay? It won’t hurt too much” he reassured her.
He waited patiently for her assent before standing up to pull off his t-shirt and tear a couple of strips off it. The torn up t-shirt was used to carefully wipe away her blood until he’d exposed the single ridged wound that still bled sluggishly. The wound didn’t resemble any leech bite he’d ever seen – there were no puncture marks. He bound the wound with the clean strips from his t-shirt, hoping to stop the bleeding. They needed to get her back to the Lair as soon as possible to have the doctor examine her. The girl’s body shivered suddenly, either from reaction or cold. He put his arms around her slight body to cradle her to him, attempting to impart the warmth of his body to her. Slight shudders continued to rack her occasionally though she stayed silent and lay passively against him.
“What the f–k” Hawk exclaimed from behind him.
Raoul turned around to face Hawk, making sure to keep the girl’s face turned away from the leech on the ground that Hawk was bent over.
“It’s dead, Alph! The leech – it’s dead” Hawk exclaimed under his breath, unable to believe his own words.
Raoul, gifted with acute hearing, quirked an inquiring eyebrow in response.
“How dead can the Undead be?” he inquired dryly.
“He’s gone. Like, I don’t think he can resurrect. He might as well be ash” Hawk responded, puzzled by the vampire’s unusual death.
What the hell, Raoul pondered. How was that even possible? As far as they knew, the only way to make sure a leech could not resurrect was the old wood stake through the heart maneuver.
“Let’s make very sure, Hawk” the Alpha warned.
There were more urgent matters to take care of before they could afford the luxury of contemplating the puzzle of one very dead leech. Hawk gestured at the girl Raoul held within the circle of his arms, silently asking his Alpha how she fared.
“She’s fine” he responded softly. “Need to get her to Doc.”
Hawk nodded, comprehending the urgency of the situation. He glanced at the dead vampire one last time before casting his eyes around the room. His gaze came to rest on the only furniture in the room – the bed. He gestured mutely to his Alpha, pointing at the bed the girl sat on. Raoul murmured soothingly to her as he clasped her more securely to him, before swiftly arising to his feet. He strode out into the corridor with his fragile burden, making sure to keep her face angled away from the room. There was a sound of splintering wood as Hawk smashed up the bed and then, a few seconds later, the sound of wood crunching through bone. The girl’s only response was to wind her arms tightly around him and bury her face in the nook of his neck.
“It’s done, Alph” Hawk called out softly from behind him.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.”
With Hawk leading the way, the two Shifters strode down the long corridor to the stairs they’d ascended in search of the girl. Noise from the fierce fighting downstairs met them as they neared the staircase. Sara came flying up the stairs to ram into Hawk before he could get out of her way. He steadied her with his arm as she peeped around him to catch the attention of her Alpha.
“It’s bad, Alpha” she said urgently. “They’re not giving up. There’s at least fifty of them downstairs and more are streaming in.”
“Shit” Hawk swore softly. They had eleven Shifters including Sara, the Alpha and him.
“Sara, call Duncan and ask for reinforcements ASAP” Raoul directed. “Hawk and I will join the fight downstairs. I’m going to teach the leeches a lesson they won’t forget in a hurry” he stated softly, an underlying menace in the cold tones.
Nestled in the strong arms, Tasia could only marvel dazedly at this whiplash of cold menace from the same man who’d shown her so much gentleness just minutes before.
The two men raced downstairs to be greeted by a nightmarish tableau of fighting Shifters and flying vampires. The fight raged on in the cavernous main hall that covered most of the first floor. The hall, like the floor upstairs, was not powered by electricity. Instead, it was illuminated by the candlelight generated by six sets of candelabra – three on each side of the room, set high up towards the ceiling. Most Shifters retained their human forms though a few of the smaller beasts had shifted into their animal forms to wade into the crowd of vampires coming at them from all angles. Torn and bleeding body parts lay strewn around in a gruesome scene.
Raoul noted that the long hall had another doorway to the other end, away from their access through the staircase. The leeches seemed congregated near that end of the hall as increasing numbers of them came crawling in through the open doorway. On this side behind him was a small foyer that opened out towards the main entry to the house. They’d need to hold this end of the hall to ensure that their reinforcements could get through to help them. Raoul estimated that they had maybe ten minutes before they were completely overrun by the sheer numbers of leeches streaming in. He needed to buy a little time for the Shifter reinforcements to get here.
He set the girl down carefully against the wall by the hall entryway. She seemed listless and passive, drained by her daunting experience and the blood loss she’d suffered.
“I’m going to get you out of here” he promised, the gold eyes meeting her pain-filled gaze with confidence. “Hold on, Big Eyes, and stay close to Hawk.”
He turned his attention to Hawk next.
“Watch over her, Hawk. No matter what happens, do not leave her side” he commanded. “The leeches want her badly enough to fight for her. And I want to know why. Leave the fighting to me and signal me when the reinforcements arrive.”
“Got it, Alph. They won’t have her.”
The Alpha directed a final glance at the girl huddled on the floor and then he was gone, disappearing in a flash into the dark mass of fighting bodies.
Hawk bent down to crouch before her.
“Hang on, Tasia” he said urgently. “The Pack is here and we won’t let anything happen to you” he attempted to reassure her.
End of Excerpt