Errol 2

Snow still sat on the grounds commonly protected with shade from the few trees and bushes that could survive the high altitude, but the birds sang loudly of spring’s return. Luckily, it arrived early this year.

Errol finished prepping Squall for the journey, much to her annoyance. She’d be leaving the warm paddocks for the first time in months and preferred to remain, eating to her fill. Taking one last stock of his weaponry and other supplies, Errol lead Squall out into the warming sun.

“Heading out early, Errol?” a voice called from ahead.

Errol shielded his eyes from the sun and spotted a second horse prepared for a trip. The man holding his reins brushed the horse’s black mane caringly.

“I am. And I’m guessing from what I can see so are you, Undrell,” Errol said, climbing into Squall’s saddle. He nudged her forward and she reluctantly walked forward at a slow pace.

Climbing onto his own horse, Undrell shrugged his shoulders. “You seem to get better luck the earlier you leave, I figured I’d give a shot, too. Mind the company?”

Knowing his answer was irrelevant, Errol only continued past him. Undrell smiled and followed. The path down the mountain would take two days. It could be done in one, but with the snow still present in patches it was safer to take the journey slow. One false move and both rider and horse would spend a good distance rolling downwards with nothing to stop them but rocks and thick tree trunks.

The two horses easily navigated the twists and turns of the path, having walked them many times. White snow hares rushed across the path when the two approached. Birds sang louder as the sun rose higher in the sky, melting any snow unfortunate enough to be in its line of sight.

The two men passed the first hour in silence. Though it was rare for two Majisters to travel together, when it happened not much talking ever truly occurred. The company was only welcomed because it usually meant larger jobs and higher pay. Today, however, Errol knew there was no coincidence to why Undrell had a horse ready so early.

“I don’t understand why you’re following me, Undrell,” Errol finally said, annoyed. He glared at the smaller man riding next to him. “And don’t say you aren’t planning, too. There’s no other reason for you to leave at the exact same hour as me otherwise.”

Undrell smiled, eyeing Errol with a look that generally caused more trouble than it was worth. “We’ve all heard the rumors. None would dare approach you with their questions and many wouldn’t believe any answer you’d give even if you gave one. Therefore, I decided to end the speculation it was time for someone to discover your secret.”

“I have no secrets. If I did,” he reached for the hilt of his dagger at his side, “I wouldn’t let those who knew live.”

Holding up a gloved hand with one finger missing, Undrell rolled his eyes. “Threats mean nothing to me. Let me see what you’ve been hiding so I might satiate our brethren before one of the more dangerous ones decide to find out in a more, shall we say, typical brutish way.”

Errol returned his hand to Squall’s reins. His eyes narrowed as he studied Undrell’s snake-like smile. He didn’t dislike the man. In fact, compared the rest of their brethren, Undrell was the closest to a true brother. He could trust him more than any of the others. And he had a point about the more dangerous ones. They enjoyed the more forceful ways of finding out secrets.

“Fine. But I would appreciate it if you watched your tongue. If you don’t I’ll cut it out.”

“I can make no promises. It’s a long trek to Augon Hall.”

“What business do you have in Augon Hall?”

Shrugging, Undrell waved his hand. “Something to do with a dragon or a potential uprising, I can’t remember. The summons was smudged with blood by the time it reached us and when Treya could actually make anything out, the meaning was lost. Basically she told me to just go and figure it out once I got there.”

“Isn’t that Berton’s territory? Why isn’t he travelling there?”

“He’s been requested to oversee the graduation of the new trainees.”

Errol laughed. “He must be thrilled. Has it really been twenty years already?”

“Ah, you remember,” Undrell leaned close as though Breton were nearby to overhear, “The older ones were a little iffy about allowing him to oversee it, but Treya of all people encouraged them to agree. She even got Berton to start preparations early.”

“Was that because she truly wanted him to be overseer or because you wanted the Augon Hall job?”

“I would never cheat a fellow of his work.” Undrell’s eyes avoided Errol’s and he bit the corner of his lip. “But there’s no other work down south along your trail. Truthfully, Treya wanted to speak up for Berton, but naturally I had to give her a little extra push.”

“So not out of the goodness of your heart, but out of the need to satiate the curiosity driving you mad about my business.” Sighing, Errol glanced briefly back up the mountain. “Three months to ask me and you all chicken out because of some strange thought I wouldn’t be forthright with you? Is that what you all truly think of me?”

The smile faded from Undrell’s face and his eyes narrowed. “I can never tell when you’re being sarcastic or not. It doesn’t suit you.”

“Shut up. If you want to follow me, it’s fine. You’ll soon learn it was for nothing.”

“We shall see.”

They rode the rest of the day in silence, quickly reaching a campsite used many times in the past. Cooking a small meal of rabbit on the fire, Errol stared across the flames at Undrell.

“If you’re heading to Augon Hall, who will be keeping an eye on the Teivar Isles? Surely you haven’t cleaned them out permanently?”

Leaning against the rock wall, Undrell watched the flames dance. “Mer Gair will be handling them.”

Surprise filled Errol’s face. It was rare for the Sleiyer to venture out into the world for anything other than war related issues.

“You all want to learn my secret that badly?” Errol wondered aloud.

Raising his eyes to Errol, Undrell’s smile seemed even more serpentine with the shadows deforming his face. “Don’t read too much into it. Apparently a water god has appeared and they specifically asked for him. He’ll be taking Colom along.”

“Leaving you free to spy on me,” Errol said. “This will be Colom’s first large job, won’t it?”

Undrell nodded and poked at the cooking rabbit with a metal prong. “It may end up being nothing. I may have planted the seed in the minds of the people a year ago. They wouldn’t leave me be about the sudden increase in storms off their eastern shores. They’ve been losing a lot of trade ships lately and I may have mentioned that used to be the ancient signs of a water god on a rampage.”

“Mer Gair will beat you if he finds that out.”

“He can try, but once he learns what’s really causing the storms, he’ll thank me for the high pay for such an easy job. We need the gold to prepare the next class of trainees for their first ventures.”

Errol grabbed a cooked rabbit from the fire and ate it slowly, savoring the meat. He wanted to question Undrell further, but he could tell from the man’s posture he was finished talking. They ate quietly, until Errol noticed Undrell staring at him with a serious expression.

“Have you spoken to Mer Gair about accepting the Trial?” Undrell asked.

Rage filled Errol and he threw his finished rabbit carcass at him. “We only speak of such things within the walls of Culina. Mer Gair would slice another finger off if he knew you asked me such a thing.”

“There are more whispers among the brethren outside of the walls than within. All pertain to you and all pertain to you becoming a Sleiyer. We know it wouldn’t be for another few decades, but fears of another taking it before you are growing.”

“I shall not break our laws by justifying your questions with a response. It is between me and Mer Gair.”

Undrell’s eyes lit up. “So you have spoken to him about it.”

“I didn’t say that and you will stop asking.”

Reluctantly raising a hand in surrender, Undrell finished his meal. Errol prepared for sleep. He placed a sword by his hand and watched the flames until his eyes fell heavy with sleep.

  *       *      *

The house was small, only two rooms, but for the three who lived inside, it was perfect. A small garden to the left of the house was full of vegetables and herbs. The smell of cooking meat filled the air and movement could be seen through the open windows.

Undrell stared at the house, confused. “This is your secret? A tiny house between Fintler and Darenworth?”

Climbing off Squall, Errol laughed. “Were you expecting something far larger?”

“I was expecting a brothel.” He climbed off his horse, Timber, and stared at the small garden. “Everyone thought for sure you’d bed a prostitute and given her more than a fun night.”

Before Errol could dispute the disturbing claim, the door opened and a small girl ran towards him.

“Arrow!” She leaped at him, barely giving Errol time to open his arms for the hug.

He lifted the giggling child high into the air. “Little Mal! You’re growing too fast for this man’s heart!” As he smiled, Errol could almost clearly see the unexpected shock on Undrell’s face. When he turned to him, he was greeted to a gaping jaw and bulging eyes.

Recovering his usual calm demeanor, Undrell cleared his throat. “Perhaps I spoke too soon.”

“She’s not my blood, Undrell,” Errol growled.

Malhia noticed the second man suddenly and her bright smile vanished. She wrapped her arms around Errol’s neck, clinging tightly to him.

“Malhia! What have I told you about running outside alone?” Shayla called from the doorway. When she saw Errol a smile broke on her face, but faltered when she spotted Undrell. “Errol, you’re back early this year. Who is this?”

Lowering a reluctant Malhia to the ground, Errol slapped Undrell’s shoulder hard, sending a warning through the man. “This is one of my comrades, Undrell of the Teivar Isles. He’s business further south and chose to accompany me.”

Undrell bowed his head. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Shayla, and that is my daughter, Malhia. Derrick is asleep inside. He was out all night with the watchers,” Shayla said, easily returning her attention to Errol.

Malhia clung to Errol’s leg as she glanced up at Undrell. Easily walking with the child in tow, Errol raised a curious brow. “Watchers? Why are there watchers? Are the wolf packs becoming more aggressive?”

“You’ll have to wait for Derrick to wake and ask him. He refuses to tell me a thing. Malhia, leave Errol’s leg alone. He needs it to walk.”

“Arrow, you stay for food?” Malhia asked, her wide eyes pleading as she craned her neck to look at him.

“Of course, Little Mal. I always stay for food, don’t I?”

The answer brought the bright smile back and Malhia rushed inside to prepare the table. Errol hugged Shayla as he reached the doorway. “Another year, another surprise,” he said as they pulled apart.

Shayla put her hand on her hip and turned to glance into the house. “She’s been waiting for you for three days straight, staring out the window. I don’t know how she knows, but she claims she can hear Squall’s footsteps the second you’re a week out. But I think she’s just starting to understand when the flowers bloom you usually come around.”

Errol smiled. “Five is about the time most children begin to sustain permanent memories.”

Shayla caught sight of Undrell still standing by the two horses, the shock not fully gone. She waved to the Majister. “You can come in if you like. We always have plenty of food for guests. Master Undrell, was it?”

Snapping out of his stupor, Undrell lead the horses to a small water trough. “Master Undrell if there must be titles, otherwise Undrell is fine.”

Shayla nodded her head and disappeared into the house to prepare another seat. Joining Errol at the door, Undrell peered inside. Two beds could be seen through a small doorway, one occupied. The table took up most of the room in the main room with the wall to the left dedicated to the kitchen with the oven and shelves of jarred foods. To the right sat a chest and on top a collection of sewing material lay. An almost finished dress of magenta cloth hung from a makeshift clothesline.

“I’m going to need an explanation for this, Errol,” Undrell said, turning to him. “I don’t quite understand what’s going on.”

“Five years ago I saved Derrick and Shayla. She was pregnant with Malhia and I assisted in the birth. Every year I visit for lunch before heading south to Darenworth and on to the desert cities. Then on her birthday I visit for dinner and spend the night before returning to the Feilor Mountains.” Errol winked at Undrell. “My big secret is now revealed. I’m a godfather.”

“I think I’d have preferred a brothel.”

The two men walked inside, shutting the door behind them. Errol sat at the table while Undrell surveyed the house again. His eyes continuously glanced in at the sleeping figure on the bed.

Malhia climbed into Errol’s lap and played with the string of his cloak. “Mommy is making me a new dress for me to wear when we visit the town. I got to pick my favorite color and she’s almost finished, but she says I can’t wear it until after the next harvest moon comes. I don’t know what that means but she said it’ll be soon but I really want to wear it now even though it’s not finished. She says I can wear it for you when you come back but daddy thinks I should have another new dress by then cause I keep growing and I may not fit the dress before you come back. I also learned a new word. Madenta, it’s what mommy calls my favorite color but I always just called it Arrow’s eyes cause it’s the same color as your eyes. Is that the right word? Are your eyes madenta like my dress?”

Undrell stifled a laugh at the small girl’s long winded speech, having a harder time keeping it quiet when she tried to turn on Errol’s lap only to nearly fall off. He sat across from Errol, seeing how the tiny seat next to him was meant for a smaller owner, and watched with enthusiasm.

“I think the word you mean to say is magenta, little Mal.” Errol poked a finger at her nose making Malhia squeal with delight. “And yes, that is the correct word. I hope your father’s wrong though. I’d love to see your new dress. I can tell from here the stitches were done with great care. You’ll have to be very careful when you wear it not to dirty it.”

“That’s why I’ll only wear it when we go to town or when you come back.”

Shayla brought food to the table and smiled at Malhia. “Honey, go wake your father. He shouldn’t miss another meal, not when we have guests.”

Errol helped the now squirming Malhia to the floor. She ran into the other room and jumped onto the bed, issuing a loud cry from its occupant. Sounds of a small struggle drifted from the second room, followed by a yell of surrender. Malhia sprinted back out followed by a slower, untidy Derrick. The beginnings of a beard grew on his chin and his hair stuck up in places. His eyes spotted Errol and he nodded his head once in recognition. When he spotted Undrell he hesitated, but Undrell waved a friendly greeting, encouraging Derrick to sit at the table.

“Errol, didn’t expect to see you so early in the spring…and with company,” Derrick said.

“The snows thawed quickly this year. I figured the sooner I left the sooner I could enjoy Shayla’s food. This roguish fiend is—”

“Master Undrell of the Skeivar Isles,” Undrell interrupted. “I apologize for the additional mouth to feed, but Errol’s brethren and I have been far too curious about what he does here in the south when he leaves so early. Curious rumors were swirling and I thought it about time to find out who stole our brother’s heart.”

“He also has business in Augon Hall and didn’t want to travel there on his own,” Errol added, kicking Undrell under the table. To Undrell’s credit, he hid the pain well though a responding kick soon followed.

Derrick yawned suddenly, covering his mouth quickly. “Apologies. I haven’t been sleeping well the past few nights.”

“Shayla mentioned watchers. Have you been having trouble with the wolf packs again?”

“Unfortunately, no. Some of the local townsfolk have been hearing strange sounds outside their homes around midnight. When they investigate, there’s nothing to be seen, but in the morning blood is left on their doorsteps as though someone bled out. A couple of chickens and cattle have disappeared as well, but as far as we can tell the blood isn’t theirs. Watchers have been gathering at the center of town every night to see if we can learn of the culprit, but so far we’ve come up empty.”

“Malhia, help me with the rest of the food,” Shayla said, taking her daughter by the hand. Malhia’s eyes widened and she looked quickly at Errol before nodding. The two walked out of earshot, Derrick watching them with knowing eyes.

Shifting his eyes down to the table, Derrick lowered his voice to be sure Malhia couldn’t hear. “Two nights ago, a child went missing. Her ma and da put her to bed no problem, but come morning she was gone. Not a trace of a struggle or even any footprints to track.” He swallowed. “But as with the others, blood was found on their doorstep, too much to belong to a child. And last night while we were keeping watch, we heard a child’s laugh in the night. We all knew the girl, we all recognized it as her, but we couldn’t see a soul.”

Undrell crossed his arms over his chest and eyed Errol, but remained silent. Errol leaned on the table to ensure his voice wouldn’t be overheard. “Has this happened before? Blood appearing on doorsteps?”

“If it has no one remembers it. We’re going to have another watch tonight, but they’re pointless. None of us are willing to actually venture into the forest to find out what’s making the strange sounds.”

“That may be a good thing. Wouldn’t want any of you folk getting killed,” Undrell said.

Lifting his eyes to Undrell, Errol hoped the warning in his glare would keep the other man’s mouth shut. “Tell those participating in the watch tonight to stay home. Undrell and I will take their place and stop whatever’s causing this.”

Unknown Age

“You! Wake up!” a guard yelled, banging on the bars of the prison cell. “Need to check to see if you’re still alive.”

The man inside lifted his head and glared at the guard with eerie blue eyes. Even in the dark of night they seemed to glow.

The guard laughed and waved his finger at the man. “Don’t give me that look. You don’t want me to come in there, do you?”

The man smiled and stood. He walked to the bars and leaned against the cool metal. The guard took a careful step back, but the man raised his hand and waved his hand at the guard to move closer. The guard hesitated before moving closer to the bars. The man’s smile grew. He grabbed the guard and slammed his head into the bars then kicked him in the stomach. The guard gasped and stumbled back holding his head in one hand and his stomach in the other.

The guard took a moment to catch his breath and stormed up to the cell. “You bastard! I’ll kill you!” he yelled.

The man walked back to his spot on the floor and sat down, leaning his back against the wall. He closed his eyes, knowing the guard would soon be joining him and not having the energy to fight back. He knew the guard wouldn’t kill him. He was too important to kill, but the guard would beat him to near death.

The guard opened the cell door and walked in, grabbing a broken metal bar from the floor. He walked up to the man and raised the bar above his head. He brought it down on the man, but the man moved out of the way at the last second. He looked up at the guard and smiled. The guard’s face turned red from rage and he kicked the man in the side. The man fell to the floor and braced for the impact he knew would be coming.

The prison shook. The guard stumbled, but managed to keep his footing. He looked out the tiny window. “What the hell was that?”

The man lifted his head up quickly. He had heard it. Mixed into the sound of he earth shaking had been a terrifying roar. The man knew the creature’s voice well. It was roaming the streets of the city again, searching for food.

A sharp pain in the man’s side shocked him. The guard had returned to his quarrel. He brought the metal bar down on the man’s side again and again. The sound of bones breaking made the guard stop. The man was clutching his side where his ribs had been shattered.

The man coughed. It hurt and caused him to clutch his side harder. He looked up at the guard and a weak laugh escaped his lips. “Finished already?”

The guard sneered.

The man looked towards the window. A large shadow slowly moved across, casting a shadow on the floor. The man slowly began to crawl across the floor. He wanted to be as far from the window as he could. The guard, thinking the man was simply trying to escape him for fear of another beating, laughed and moved closer to the window. He couldn’t see the dark shadow outside the window.

“What’s wrong? Are you out of sarcastic words? Or are you simply ready for more?”

The shadow filled the window, blocking light from the moon. A small black hand slowly reached through the bars of the window. The attached arm stretched unnaturally, allowing the hand to enter the cell and move freely. It grasped at anything loose, but then continued its search. The man watched as a second hand gripped the bars of the window before moving into the cell. The hands searched the cell, the fingers being sure to touch everything.

“If you beg for mercy, maybe I’ll leave you conscious,” the guard said. He couldn’t see the hands feeling along the floor.

A third hand appeared at the window, feeling the bars of the window curiously.

The man watched the terror happening behind the guard, aware that the guard could not and would never see the thing at the other end. But that didn’t mean he was immune from its touch.

The guard raised the bar above his head. The man winced as he prepared his body for what would come next.

The bar came down, but missed the man. He had pushed himself to his feet and grabbed the guard by the neck. The guard dropped the bar in his hands in surprise. The man leaned close to his ear. “You never should have come in here.”

He threw the man at the window. The hands, sensing someone approaching grabbed for the guard. One grabbed his leg, another his chest, and the last wrapped across his face.

“What the hell is this?” the guard screamed. He could feel the hands on him, but there was nothing to be seen. He tried to wipe the unseen captor with his hands, but the hands were wrapping around him, covering his body in black. His wide eyes searched for the man and pleaded for help.

The man turned away, knowing what came next.

From the window something else snaked its way through the bars. It wasn’t black like the hands. It was dark red and clear liquid dripped to the floor as it stretched into the cell. It lowered around the guard and his screams became muffled.

The man squeezed his eyes tighter, fighting his curiosity to see the guard’s fate. A sickening sound echoed in the cell. It sounded as though something had been squeezed through an opening far too small. The silence that followed filled even the inside of the man.

He slowly opened his eyes and turned to the window. Red stained the bars and the stone. It would be gone by morning. The creature never left anything behind. Even as he watched the hands were back, cleaning the red away.

He lowered to the ground and pulled his knees to his chest, watching the hands clean what remained of the guard away. He wondered if when the creature was finished with him he would endure the same fate of many guards who had dared to attack him late at night.

 

 

 

“Hello, everyone. I am Professor Horvath and welcome to the first day of class. As some of you may be aware, this class deals with literature that some may view as controversial. But I hope throughout this course we are able to have open minded discussions about what makes them controversial and the relations of today’s society to the societies when and where these books were written. I have handed out the syllabus for the course and I would like to go over it with you.”

The class collectively sighed and looked at the small packet of papers on their desks.

Every class was the same. The first day was simply going over what was expected of them and how they were to be graded. For many it was what determined whether they would continue with the course or drop it. It was easy to determine how much work was involved in the class based on the syllabus and how the professor described the course.

Professor Horvath was a well-known ball-buster when it came to grades. He graded hard, but those who had taken his class, even those who failed, had only good words about the course and professor. He was well liked by students, but had trouble with other faculty and administration.

He was stubborn when it came to how he taught his classes and recently had gotten into a quarrel with the English department about his subject matter when he added a highly controversial book to his reading list. The school refused to provide the books so Professor Horvath went out and spent his own money to buy the books for his class. It was a brash move, especially for a professor who didn’t have tenure.

He was a campus hero for standing up to the school board. Faculty that didn’t despise him highly respected him and made efforts to speak with him about his work. He was young, only in his early thirties, but already he had published several books in regard to book bans, adaptation and interpretation of language, and telling of history based on place, time, and authorship.

However, he was a private man. He was unmarried and as far as anyone knew was not in a relationship. He rarely attended department meetings and when he did he would end up leaving early. He occasionally would be spotted sitting on the quad reading. Once a student even bumped into him at a restaurant. Outside of class he was a phantom. Even his office hours seemed to suggest he rarely spent time on campus when he wasn’t teaching.

All of these facts about the professor were only parts of the overall reason Leslie Witt had signed up for the class. The main reason was for the reading material. Leslie found controversial books intriguing. Namely those that were considered not politically correct and were banned from schools. She remembered getting into a heated argument with her high school English teachers about why she needed her parents’ permission to study books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or To Kill A Mockingbird.

There had been a rumor going around that one of the books Professor Horvath was assigning for the class was a fiction novel that some believed to have actually happened. It was a controversial book written centuries ago, but only recently discovered and published. It would be the first time the book would be used in a college course and many students had signed up just for that.

As she scanned the syllabus with her golden brown eyes, she began to feel overwhelmed. She hadn’t fully grasped how much reading they would be required to do in the course. It was almost a book a week and after buying the required texts the previous day, she knew that most of the books were almost five hundred pages of small text. But her curiosity about the new addition to the syllabus outweighed her fear of late night readings and spark noting.

“As you are all aware, there is an addition to the syllabus from previous years. You are also all probably aware that the book was not available in the student bookstore. That is due to the school’s desire to keep students who are not taking this course from purchasing the highly controversial text. Therefore, I have copies for you and will hand them out when it is time to study it,” Professor Horvath said, finishing his coverage of the syllabus. “Are there any questions?”

He searched the room with his hazel eyes and then ran his hand through his blonde hair. “If there are no questions then class is dismissed and I highly suggest that you all begin reading the first text. It is one of the longer ones and will take some time to get through. Thank you.”

Chairs scraped on the floor and laptops were closed. Groups of students gathered and exited the room, speaking excitedly about the class. Professor Horvath packed the extra copies of the syllabi into his briefcase and placed the arm sling on his shoulder. His eyes locked onto Leslie who was still sitting in her seat.

“Class is dismissed and there are no more classes in this room for the rest of the day. Therefore I can only assume you are still seated because you wish to speak with me.”

Leslie stood quickly, her black hair bouncing on her head. “Ah, yes, professor. I hope I don’t come off as pretentious, but I was wondering, with all of the controversial texts out there, why are you deciding to include one that is clearly a fictional story blown out of proportion by a select group of, for lack of a better word, fanatics? Surely there are other books that would be far better discussion topics.”

Professor Horvath stared at Leslie in silence, his face showing no sign of any emotion. He slowly put his briefcase back on his desk and then crossed in front of it. He sat on the edge and crossed his arms across his chest.

“I can see you are one of the few who did not take my class solely due to the fact I was including this fictional story. I respect that you have come to me outspoken about this, but it will not change the fact that we will be reading it.”

“I just don’t understand where the controversy comes from. It’s a fictional story that has been accepted by a small group of non-influential people, who have no power or authority, as historical fact.”

“The controversy comes from the period it was written. Why do you believe it took centuries for a copy to be found and republished? All other original copies were destroyed and by studying the content of the story and discussing the words of those who believe it to be true we can discover why. But to clearly answer your question, the controversy comes directly from those who believe it to be historical fact. We will discuss this in detail in a few weeks when we begin our study of the book.”

Leslie rolled the syllabus in her hand into a tube and patted her leg with it. “That’s not a good enough answer for me, professor.”

Professor Horvath studied Leslie’s face. Then he sighed and squeezed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “What is your name?”

Leslie swallowed. “Leslie Witt.”

“Miss Witt, I’m having trouble understanding why you are so against the inclusion of this book.”

“You’ve read it.”

“Yes, have you?”

“No, but I have read articles and reviews about it.”

“And?”

“No doubt you realize there are geological irregularities as well as irregularities of religious figures, societal hierarchy, even objects and machines that were not to be invented for centuries?”

Professor Horvath stood and grabbed his briefcase, slinging it onto his shoulder again. “Miss Witt, all of these things you are mentioning will be discussed in detail when we begin reading the book. However, I know this response is not what you are looking for and I can already tell that you will most likely have more to say about this particular novel in comparison to the others we are scheduled to study. Therefore, I am going to allow something that goes against all of my principles.”

Leslie’s eyes widened in surprise. She hadn’t expected him to say that. Hell, she’d expected him to kick her out after her first question.

Professor Horvath walked up to Leslie and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I want you to come to my office tomorrow at noon. I will tell you what I mean then.” He smiled and then walked out of the room.

Leslie took a quick breath. She hadn’t meant to trouble Professor Horvath. Now she only hoped he wasn’t going to give her more work than the other students. But she couldn’t have just stayed quiet and waited until they had started reading the book. She had to tell Professor Horvath how she felt on the first day.

She grabbed her bag and left the lecture hall. She joined the traffic flow of students walking through the hall and out the door. The sun blinded her for a moment before she put her sunglasses on.

The campus was crowded. The first couple of weeks of school would be crowded. After that, students would understand how their classes worked and the beginning of skipping classes would begin. Most of the professors didn’t care if students showed up to every class. They just cared that papers were turned in on time and tests were taken. Every now and then there would be a professor that demanded attendance at every class, especially if the classes were mainly lectures.

Leslie looked at her printed out schedule. She only had one other class. It was a class she was only taking for the extra credits. She put her schedule away and began walking towards her next class, but her mind was filled with thoughts of what Professor Horvath wanted to tell her the next day.

The rest of the day was uneventful and Leslie nearly forgot about her meeting with Professor Horvath the next day. She managed to find his office exactly at noon. The door stood open and she cautiously leaned her head in.

“Miss Witt, come on in.”

Leslie walked into the nearly empty room. The only thing inside was a desk, a single filing cabinet, and a bookcase. The walls were barren and a layer of dust covered everything.

“Wow. You basically live here, right?” Leslie joked.

Professor Horvath smiled and looked around the room. “I prefer working from home, myself.” He held his hand out to an empty chair.

Leslie shut the door behind her and sat down, beginning to feel uncomfortable. The empty room was unsettling and cold.

Professor Horvath threw a book onto his desk and stared at her. Leslie slowly looked down and read the title. End of an Unknown Age by B. N. Smith. Her heart pounded in her chest.

“This is what you wanted. The real reason you spoke to me yesterday wasn’t because you were against us reading this book. You wanted to read it as soon as possible. Correct?”

Leslie looked at him.

He motioned towards the book. “Go on. Take it.”

She slowly reached for the book sitting alone on the barren desk. As her hand touched the cool cover, Professor Horvath grabbed it. He leaned close to her.

“I trust it will live up to your expectations, Miss Witt.” He released her and she pulled the book quickly to her.

She looked at the cover. The outline of an unknown city was behind the silhouette of two men facing each other. She smiled and stood. “Thank you, Professor.”

She turned to leave.

“Don’t be afraid of what you think,” he said as she opened the door.

Hidden Danger

The silence of the cold night seemed alien. Trees appeared lifeless, barren of their leaves for the winter. Though even if there were leaves there would be no movement. No wind dared to blow on this silent night. Even the darkened house seemed to respect the night, settling softly.

A single owl broke the silence, its hooting echoing sadly through the cold night air. It signaled the beginning of the nocturnal world’s creatures venturing out for food. It doubled as a warning to those who live in the daylight to stay in hiding until the safety of the sun’s rays returned.

Missy’s eyes opened slowly. As they focused they wandered to her lone window. Sitting on a branch of the tree outside her window was the solitary owl. Its piercing yellow eyes met Missy’s bright blue eyes. The owl’s stillness emphasized the stillness of the night. With one sudden move the owl spread his wings wide and flew into the night air. With no other sounds to fill the night Missy could hear the beating of the owl’s wings until he was far in the distance. He was off searching for any small creature brave enough to wander out in the open. There would be no hooting or sound of beating wings when the owl chose to become invisible.

Missy slowly sat up and looked up at the full moon. Its light shone through the trees casting strange shadows onto the snow-covered earth. Though it looked barren there was an ethereal beauty to the land that brought a sense of calm to any who looked at it.

It was nights like this Missy treasured.

There weren’t many chances to view these kinds of nights in Southern California, namely because it didn’t snow there. At least, not where she lived. It also rarely became the kind of cold that made even the plant life become still. It was the kind of cold that could be felt at every intake of breath, as though the air was laced with ice crystals. Only in the coldest of winters could these nights be found.

Missy loved to tell those she knew in SoCal the reason she moved there was to escape the cold, but it was a lie. She missed the real winters. She missed the stillness it brought.

She stretched her arms over her head and arched her back, moving strands of her dark brown hair from her face. She looked over at her bed stand and was greeted by the glowing, red numbers of her alarm clock. 2 o’clock in the morning. She sighed loudly and fell back on her pillow, pulling her comforter close around her to keep as much warmth as possible. Her eyes looked over her moonlit filled room, lazily.

The vaulted ceiling shaped the room unlike most bedrooms. It was actually a second attic to the house. The previous owners wanted to change the attic into a room and renovated the walls and floors. When Missy’s family bought the house and they chose what rooms would be what Missy automatically gravitated to the attic room. The only tricky part about making it her bedroom was the ladder leading up to the room.

Though the previous owners had redone the room and even hooked up wiring for electrical outlets, they hadn’t changed the ladder. It had been very cheap wood, strong enough only to hold one person at a time. If Missy wanted a bedroom they needed to fix the ladder. With a little bit of work and money raising, Missy was able to convince her parents into buying a metal ladder with actual steps that were strong enough for two movers to carry furniture up.

Her room was still the same as when she left it. Her queen size bed took up most of the space. Next to the window was a tall chest of drawers.

On top of the chest were small sculptures. Some were made from clay, wood, or even metal. Missy made them all. They were characters from stories her grandmother used to tell her. The stories had been of a fantastic place with amazing people and creatures. The sculptures she made were of the founders of the main groups. She long forgot the names since her grandmother passed away, but she kept the sculptures as reminders of the stories she loved as a child.

A desk with a lamp held her computer and printer. The drawers were filled with miscellaneous writing utensils, office supplies, notebooks, and other items. A chair and a second table with a mirror was where Missy kept jewelry and other valuables. Sitting next to the table were Missy’s bags. She had two large suitcases and one backpack she had brought with her from SoCal.

She hadn’t expected her father’s phone call two weeks ago. It wasn’t unusual for her father to call, but he called at 4 in the morning. He apologized about the early morning call and promised it wasn’t due to any emergency. Missy had been comforted only a little and tried to ask as nicely as she could why he called her so early. She hadn’t expected even more her father would tell her he was calling on behalf of Bixby Deshler.

Bixby Deshler.

It was a name Missy never expected to hear again after she moved. She didn’t need her father to say anything more. She told him she’d find a flight home as soon as she could. It took her a week to get time off from her job at the bank and book a flight back home. She didn’t need her father to give her any information about what Bixby Deshler wanted.

She already knew.

 

 

 

Missy sat up from her warm bed and searched the floor for her slippers. She put them on and walked to her chest of drawers. She quickly pulled out some clothes and changed out of her pajamas. She put on thick leggings and a white long-sleeved undershirt. She pulled on a gray skirt and a second long-sleeved button up shirt. Then she put on a black puffy vest and a scarf. She grabbed a hat, gloves, and her favorite coat. She walked over to her table of jewelry and opened a small, decorative wooden box.

Inside was a single necklace. A beautiful green gem on a long piece of silver reflected the moonlight. The gem was twisted as though it were blown glass, but the natural cracks and discolorations only showed it to have been naturally shaped.

The necklace belonged to her grandmother and she gave it to Missy when she turned nine after her mother’s death. She told Missy the necklace had been passed down in her family generation after generation. Now it was Missy’s to keep and, eventually, give to her own daughter.

Missy placed the small wooden box in her pocket, keeping the necklace safe inside. Then she grabbed her backpack and, after putting her computer and power chord in it, placed it on her back. She searched the floor for her boots. When she found them she carefully and quietly opened the door to her room. It was easy to be quiet opening the door since it was separate from the ladder steps, but she didn’t have to worry about lowering the ladder. Since it was only she and her father, she was able to keep the ladder down all night. This meant she only had to be careful to not fall down the ladder in the dark.

She made it softly down the ladder and she quickly walked down the flight of stairs to the ground floor. She opened the front door and put on her boots. She took off her backpack so she could put her coat on. Then she put her backpack back on and grabbed her purse by the door. She went outside, carefully closing the door behind her.

The cold air made her breath catch in her throat, but after taking a moment to adjust to the thinner air, Missy walked out to the end of her driveway. She looked back at her house surrounded by tall trees. It was dark and still, like the night. Memories of her childhood rushed through her mind. It was nice to be home. Even if it was for a reason other than to visit family or relax.

Missy sighed, her breath coming out as a white cloud. She turned and walked down the sidewalk away from her house. She passed other homes, each as dark and silent as the next.

The neighborhood had stayed the same. Most of the families had lived in the same house for generations. It wasn’t easy to leave, not for these people. If they did finally decide to move it was only to another part of the neighborhood.

It wasn’t a bad place to live. Just boring and monotonous. Some of the teenagers thought of themselves as renegades and caused occasional trouble. Mostly they drove on lawns, knocked over mailboxes, stole lawn decorations, and so on.

Missy stopped at an intersection and stared down at a cul-de-sac. She looked around until she spotted a sign. Plain Run Circle. She began walking down to the end of the cul-de-sac. At the end was a path leading further down. Missy followed this path down to the docks.

A man-made lake was in the middle of the many connecting neighborhoods. When Missy’s family bought their house it had come with a boat slip. It was to this slip she walked. She put her backpack and purse down and walked to the end of the dock. She had to be careful with the fresh snow on the wood not to slip. She made it to the edge and stared out across the ice-covered water.

There was no ice where the dock touched the water. It had been broken when Missy walked onto the dock. She kneeled down and took off her glove. She placed the tips of her fingers into the freezing water. When she had been younger she would never put her fingers or her feet in the water.

One day during a hot summer she and a friend had been playing in a nearby creek that led to the docks. When they reached the docks they noticed a fishing line tied to one of the dock’s poles. There was only one person who ever fished off of the docks. He was an older man who lived in one of the houses along the shoreline of the lake. He was always fishing off the docks. He had a small Yorkshire Terrier that wore a pink bow on her head.

Missy’s friend  noticed something was caught on the fishing line and dared her to pull it up. Missy, not wanting her friend to think she was scared, quickly pulled on the line. A giant, giant to two small girls at least, snapping turtle appeared out of the murky water, snapping and thrashing. Both girls ran away screaming. Since then she never swam in the lake again.

Missy laughed to herself at the memory and pulled her hand from the water. She put her glove back on and stood. She looked up at the night sky. Clouds were moving in, blocking the moonlight. Flying across the sky, Missy could see an owl. She guessed it was probably the same owl from the tree outside her window and turned to leave.

She stopped when she saw the lone figure standing in the middle of the ice further out in the lake. She was surprised to see anyone else awake, but even more surprised to see someone standing on the ice. It may have been thick enough to stand on in some places, but it was still dangerous to stand on in the middle of the night and alone.

Missy debated yelling out to the figure, but he walked away before she could decide. She watched him for a while longer then turned back to her bags.

Wolfheart

Magic feels different.

Even those who don’t have a lick of it in their bodies can sense it. They don’t understand what it is, but their instincts tell them something is wrong and strong feeling of fear fills them. Most run away. The rare few who manage to stay, not understanding the intense feeling of dread and uncomfortable shaking, usually pass out…or they’re the targets.

The man behind me shivered and stood abruptly. “Dæmon.” His voice trembled and he kissed the necklace around his throat. His eyes locked onto mine and I wondered if he was speaking it to me as a warning…or labeling me.

I turned my head to watch the others in the café, the bandage over my right eye blocking a small portion of my view.

Everyone was leaving. Not a single person, even the workers who knew magic, stayed. I saw Tomas put the glass goblet he was drying down and crack his neck. Then he peered across the café at me, a piteous smirk on his face.

I recognized that look. I’d been getting it a lot lately. Sorry, mate. You understand. Can’t fight magic.

Seeing the look on Tomas’s face in his own café brought an amused smile to my face. If it was strong enough magic to kick an Erlkönig from his home, I had no fucking chance. And since I didn’t feel the intense urge to flee that meant only one thing.

The target of this particular magic was none other than me.

∗          ∗         ∗

Bad luck. That was all it had been. Pure, stupid, dumb bad luck.

I knew all the rules. I understood all the lessons they taught us growing up and how to recognize the dangers. None of that mattered.

Bad luck is bad luck and it only takes a little to completely change, or for some destroy, their lives. I wouldn’t say my life was destroyed. But I wouldn’t lightly say it was changed. It was unluckily forced to readjust to my stupid situation.

I remembered someone telling me once; victims never remember the actual attack. They don’t remember the pain. They don’t remember what happened. They just wake up in a hospital bed terrified and confused.

I had bad luck with that, too. I remembered everything, every tiny detail. I remember every speck of pain that coursed through not only body, but my mind as well.

The first injury was a scratch to my back that tore not only my clothes, but also the flesh from my bones. I could hear the flesh tear and feel the blood waterfall down my already hot skin. The next attack came from below. Long, sharp teeth burying into my thigh. The massive head shook ferociously, trying to free some more flesh from my body. I was tossed around like a rag doll, unable to do anything but scream and flail helplessly at the large head.

But my attacker ultimately won the struggle. I heard a loud pop and more tearing. I fell to the ground blinded by the intense pain that followed. It took me seconds to figure out my entire left leg had been torn from my body, but it felt like an eternity. Most people would have passed out by this point, or more likely died.

More bad luck for me.

I remained conscious, the edges of my vision darkening as the beast returned to feast on more of me while I still lived. I felt him dig into my stomach, but I was beyond pain at that point. I only felt pressure and my body involuntarily twitch as it pulled meat from me.

The final attack soon loomed over mend I finally got a good look at my death before the jaws closed around my throat.

And here comes the worst of the bad luck. Instead of piercing my carotid artery and bleeding me dry or snapping my neck with one powerful twist, the jaws released me and my attacker stepped back.

The only strength left in my body was used to roll my eyes to stare into the icy blue eyes of the werewolf that attacked me.

∗          ∗         ∗

I wish I could say that was when I finally passed out into the sweet bliss of unconsciousness. But like I said…bad luck.

The werewolf licked the blood from his jowls, his long tongue emerging from his dark lips like a snake. I remember thinking how beautiful his fur was. Black everywhere except for his belly and lower jaw.

Like an upside down skunk. The thought brought a smile to my lips and a laugh to my throat. Unfortunately the laughter only sent me into a coughing fit that brought blood to my lips.

The werewolf leaned hid head to the side and sat down on his immense haunches. He leaned forward and nudged my head with his nose, smearing the fresh blood onto his fur. His long tongue reached out and cleaned the line rolling down the side of my face.

The almost comforting action brought another fit of laughter-coughing.

And that was when the worst of it came. My head exploded into thousands of pieces, sending electricity shooting through the remains of my body. Voices screamed through my thoughts. Centuries of life filled me and I could feel everything expanding and converging all together and in one spot. Me.

Flashes of millions of lives filled my vision. Stars exploded into life and died before me. I knew everything and yet could never know anything. I existed, but would never exist again.

Then the howling began. It started soft, like a hum at the edge of my perception. It grew surrounding me in a protective bubble against the infinite wisdom and life circling me. It carried me back through time and locations so remote and yet so familiar. The howling surrounded me and soon filled me, erupting from my throat and sending a strange, intoxicating surge of power through me.

And then I woke up in the hospital.

∗          ∗         ∗

The room was so normal I thought I was dreaming. The sudden shock of being alive and in a room painted achingly plain sent a wave of panic through me. my breathing grew ragged and my heart pounded loudly in my chest, making the heart monitor next to my bed beep loudly.

“You’re all right,” a deep voice said from the chair next to my hospital bed.

I looked over at the owner of the voice and was startled to see a large man glaring at me with his arms cross over his chest. The hair on his chin was dark, matching the mop of black on his head. His chocolate brown eyes were locked on my face. His thick body was pure muscle and I could tell even seated he had to be at least six feet tall.

I swallowed, feeling the dryness of my throat. “What?” I wanted to ask what happened, but I didn’t need to be told. I knew what happened. Plus, the scratchy voice that came from my mouth cut off my question.

“Don’t talk.”

That was when I felt it. I felt what this man was and I felt his power. My first experience with an Alpha werewolf and I could barely move. I’d spoken to werewolf before, but this was something completely new. I couldn’t tear my eyes from him, but I knew not to look him in the eye (some of the lessons sticking even in my moment of weakness).

I knew this man could kill me any second if he chose and I knew he’d killed men before. I knew with one word he could make anyone shudder with fear. But most importantly, I knew he was the one who nearly killed me.

“Rest.” His voice was comforting in its roughness and I felt him release power. My eyes grew heavy and as I fell asleep, a new fear filled me because even with the power of an Alpha, he couldn’t control humans with his voice.

Which meant I was no longer human.

∗          ∗         ∗

The café was empty now. I sat alone at my table, drinking the last of the liquid in my glass. My head was pounding. not from the magic, but from the pain medication wearing off.

My leg twitched involuntarily and I hissed in a sharp breath as my mending ribs groaned against the sudden movement.

I debated acknowledging the magic caster’s presence, but thought it too cliché. Instead I reached into my pocket and pulled out the small bag with my new best friends, painkillers. And these were the good shit, as people say. Strong enough to work on a werewolf, so you knew it was legit.

I popped three pills into my mouth and used the last of my spit to swallow. The caster still didn’t show him or herself. So I leaned back in my chair and looked up at the ceiling, closing my eyes and waiting for the medication to kick in.

“Do you choose to ignore me out of some show of bravado or are you, plainly put, simple-minded?” The voice hinted an older language, certain vowels emphasized in unusual patterns. The light footsteps, hard even for my ears to detect, hinted an older race.

“Plainly put, in large amounts of pain.” I opened my eyes and stared at the being standing before me. I laughed when I saw what he was wearing. “I’m underdressed. Is there a war happening I don’t know about?”

The being wore armor made of the finest metals any dwarf would be jealous of. But of course, this being’s race and dwarves weren’t currently on speaking terms. Not since the death of Oi’lian, the royal mother to the High Light Elves. Her sons believed her death to have been caused by the carelessness of dwarves.

And that was who stood before me, one of the sons of the royal mother. Not just any son either, but the one who inherited the throne and became the Royal Father of the High Light Elves. Luthwain.

∗          ∗         ∗

I don’t know how long I rested, but when I woke up I realized there were multiple people in my room. Most I didn’t recognize, but there was one tiny figure seated next to me, holding my hand that sent a such a wave of relief through me, tears fell from my eyes.

“Mom,” I whispered.

My mom’s lips curved up into a smile and her eyes glistened with mirroring tears. But I could still see the fear causing the hand holding mine to shake. “Hey, baby. How’re you feeling?”

Glancing behind her at the Alpha werewolf sitting in the same spot I’d last seen him I squeezed her hand tightly. “Fine. Are you okay?”

She nodded her head and brushed a loose strand of hair from my face. “Would you like anything? A glass of water or something to eat?”

“Water and anything else you can find.”

She leaned forward and kissed me on my forehead before leaving me alone with the pack of werewolves standing around me. I didn’t want her in there with them any longer than she had to be.

The Alpha werewolf stood from hissed and walked to the side of my bed. The other wolves formed a protective semi circle around him and my bed. My eyes moved from face to face, sensing annoyance from some, anger from others, and odd curiosity from the last.

“Meyer Fredric,” the Alpha’s voice immediately snapped my attention back to him. “What do you remember?”

“Everything,” I said without hesitation.

“Why were you in my territory?”

“I wasn’t. I was at the pre-approved government sanctioned camping area three miles north of your territory. Then I fell.”

“What, you fell three miles south?” a raspy voice said at the foot of my bed. Several of the others laughed.

If these were humans I would’ve risked a look at whoever spoke, but since they weren’t, I kept my gaze firmly on the Alpha. His chocolate brown eyes flashed at the speaker, silencing him and any who laughed.

“Tell me everything,” he said, returning his eyes to me.

“We, my friends and I, had been hiking one of the trails up into the hills. We took a break and I ventured off to handle some personal business. On my way back I heard something behind me. When I turned a gust of wind slammed into me, knocking me off my feet. When I stood up I was in a different forest and the sun had gone down. I tried to find a clearing where I could get my bearings. Then I felt a large thing run past me and when I turned I saw it had been a deer. Then you attacked me.” I winced slightly at the glare that greeted me. “I guess I scared your dinner away. Sorry.”

“It wasn’t my dinner,” the Alpha growled at me. “I was teaching the younger wolves how to hunt. It took almost all of my strength to keep them back and as such, I didn’t even realize you weren’t the deer until I almost snapped your neck.”

I hesitated before asking my next question…because I already knew the answer. “What happens now?”

The Alpha smiled, but it wasn’t a kind smile. “Now, you belong to me.”

∗          ∗         ∗

The fresh blood dripping from my cut lip stained my shirt and the café floor. Tomas was going to be pissed at me…not the five high elf guards who’d been beating the shit out of me for the past five minutes.

Luthwain watched with a bored expression. Seeing him made me laugh. He could pretend all he wanted, but he enjoyed the show. Werewolves weren’t a favorite species among High Elves. Frankly, we weren’t a favorite among most races.

But that wasn’t the reason I was getting the shit beaten out of me. Like sharks, High Elves tended to only attack the wounded or ill. And boy was I wounded.

A powerful punch to my face tore my lip open further and I watched my blood fly to the floor. A second punch broke my already tender nose and a new waterfall of blood poured down my face.

I didn’t fight the men grasping my arms, but they weren’t exactly holding me. I stood still, allowing the guards to do what they needed. But I kept my eyes on Luthwain. He was my height making our eyes meet easily.

After another powerful punch across my left cheek, Luthwain stepped forward, raising a hand. The guards stepped away from me, releasing my arms. I rolled my shoulders as though to roll off the touch of the elves.

“We can continue this, or you can answer my question.” Luthwain’s bright green eyes darkened as he traced the lines of blood rolling down my chin.

I licked the blood with my tongue and spat it on the floor in front of him, a small drop landing on the metal of his boot. “I thought I did answer your question.”

“I believe the answer you gave me was to give your, in your words, ass a big wet one.” Luthwain’s face twisted in disgust. “I’d hoped my guards would be able to loosen your tongue.”

“Maybe if you ask again, nicely,” I said, smirking. The pain medications were definitely working. I wouldn’t have been as snarky if they weren’t.

“I humbly ask, as Royal Father to the High Light Elves of this realm, where is the girl?”

I wiped the remaining blood from my chin before taking a dangerous step closer to Luthwain. At the movement, his guards immediately surrounded me with weapons drawn, stopping me from proceeding any closer to their king.

I leaned forward, the guards’ weapons digging into my chest as I pushed my way closer to their king. Luthwain’s eyes widened as he witnessed his guards having trouble keeping megrim him. I took two steps forward, nearly dragging the men with me.

When my face was merely inches from Luthwain’s face, I smiled widely. “Go fuck yourself.”

∗          ∗         ∗

I was now a member of the Umbra Pack, the head pack of my hometown, Granfeld.

Our Alpha, Liam Tipton, was not only our leader, but also in charge of all packs in the mountainous region.

Like I said, bad luck.

I was at the bottom of the pack, not only because I was a new wolf…but apparently because I shouldn’t have even been allowed into the pack. The rest of the pack at every opportunity beat that fact into me. The first month was terrifying.

Picture it, an entire pack ready to find an excuse to kill you. The only one who could protect you is yourself. Liam would stop anything bordering murder, but otherwise I was on my own.

You see, there are strict rules werewolf packs have to follow. It may change from pack to pack depending on location, numbers, or bottom line power their Alphas. For Umbra pack, the rule is no new wolves are to be created without years of planning and interviewing of willing men and women.

but the wolves in charge of the Alphas declared me a unique case and approved my admittance into Umbra. All of that, by the way, happened while I was unconscious in the hospital for two months. It took that long for my leg to grow back and all the wounds to heal. For new werewolves the magical healing takes longer since the human body wasn’t fully transitioned into its new make-up.

Another reason the rest of the pack hated me. Liam used most of his Alpha magic to keep me from turning while I was in the hospital. In doing so, the pack was weakened and privy to attacks from other packs and beings.

Even when I was finally allowed to leave the hospital, and forced to say goodbye to my mother for lord knew how long, I wouldn’t be having my first turn for at least another week. That meant everyone else could turn into a wolf at will, but I was trapped in my human form.

And that meant I was weak. When you’re weak, you’re prey.

∗          ∗         ∗

The night of my first turn came quickly, thank god. I had moved into Liam’s mansion, a common practice for new werewolves. Until I could control my wolf I would stay with Liam. Once he felt I was safe to release into society he’d move me into the homes the rest of the pack stayed in .

Which meant I’d be living with one of them, too. My initial thought was feeling sorry for whoever that was, but then realized it meant I’d have a better idea who would be the first to attempt to kill me in my sleep.

Liam took me out into the forest, close to where he attacked me. He only brought one other wolf with him, his second in command, Arnold. We stood in the clearing waiting.

“How long does this usually take? The first time?” I asked, shaking with the cold.

“The first transformation can take any where from five minutes to half an hour,” Liam said. A smirk, one I’d come to know as Liam’s smirk, appeared on his face. “The longest I’ve ever seen was two hours.”

My lips shook and I wrapped my arms around myself. A sharp pain in my stomach made me wince. “God, it’s cold.”

Arnold and Liam eyed each other. Liam made the slightest motion with his head and Arnold stepped back.

I clenched my fists together, but couldn’t feel my fingers. My legs gave out beneath me and I fell to the ground.

“What’s going on?”

I couldn’t stop shaking. the pain in my stomach sharpened. I coughed and felt something warm on my lips. I touched it with my hand and saw blood stain my fingers red.

Liam appeared in front of me, grabbing my shoulders. His brown eyes flashed icy blue and he bared his teeth as my body convulsed violently. He shoved me onto the ground and placed a hand over my eyes, blocking my view.

“Don’t move,” Liam’s voice rumbled with a deep growl.

I immediately became still, but my body continued shivering and the cold filled my body. The pain extended from my stomach to my chest and back. I’d heard of first transformations. Everyone said it was intensely painful and hot, like the body was on fire.

“Wh-what’s ha-ha-happening?” I struggled to get the words out.

“Your wolf is trying to kill you.”

∗          ∗         ∗

There’s always been speculation among those who studied werewolves whether the human and the wolf were one in the same or two separate beings sharing a body. I personally leaned more to the one in the same, but after hearing Liam say my wolf was killing me…yeah, I went full team two beings in one body.

My vision darkened, but I could still hear Liam’s grunts as he held me down. “Meyer. I can’t do anything for you. Your wolf will kill you unless you—”

That’s when I blacked out. Perfect timing, right?

I hoped blacking out would relieve me from the pain and cold. I guess, if I was still human it would’ve, but having a wolf trying to tear me from the inside out wouldn’t let me have a moment of reprieve.

“I won’t be trapped in the body of a weakling,” a deep voice growled behind me.

I turned in the darkness and saw amber eyes watching me. Light filled the darkness and a wolf appeared in front of me. I released a breath, seeing the small cloud it formed. I still shook from the cold.

The wolf leaped at me, slicing long, sharp claws across my stomach. I yelled and grabbed at the torn flesh.

The wolf rammed into my back, his fangs burying in my shoulder. I collapsed to my knees and felt his claws digging into my back as he shook his head. I kicked with one leg and rolled onto my back, pinning the wolf to the ground. He released my shoulder and used his legs to kick me off.

I quickly climbed to my feet and faced him. “Why are you trying to kill me?”

“Because you’re weak,” the wolf’s voice echoed through the darkness. He bared his fangs, the skin around his nose wrinkling. “You’re prey, not a hunter.”

“But if you kill me, you die, too.”

“Better to die than live in a weakling.”

He leapt for me, slamming into my chest and knocking me onto my back. I grabbed his jaws with my hands, his fangs cutting into my skin. He clawed my chest and tried to push his jaws lower, but I kept him back.

Everything was wrong. I wasn’t supposed to be in the forest where Liam was hunting. I wasn’t supposed to be alive after the attack. I wasn’t supposed to be turned. I wasn’t supposed to be allowed in the pack. My first transformation shouldn’t have been like this! Everything was wrong!

I felt strength surge through me and I threw the wolf away from me. I rolled onto all fours and glared at the shocked wolf. “I AM NOT WEAK!”

I released a ferocious yell that morphed into a howl. I felt my voice fill me and skin burned. Fire filled my veins and my flesh tore. The pain was intense and my vision flashed with stars and light.

I lunged for the wolf, tearing at him with my own claws, my fangs burying into his throat. He howled in pain, but I only clawed and bit harder. I could smell his blood and wanted to taste it. I felt my fangs slice through muscled and arteries. Blood erupted into my mouth and it was intoxicating.

The wolf whimpered and collapsed to the ground. I stood over him, baring my long, white fangs. I raised my head and howled, filling the darkness with sound. An answering howl from beyond the darkness answered.

“You are a true Alpha,” the wolf said before releasing his final breath.

∗          ∗         ∗

I woke to see Liam in wolf form, howling to the moon. Arnold paced behind him, a large grey wolf with light brown eyes. Liam lowered his icy blue eyes to me and nudged me with his snout.

I slowly stood and stumbled when I realized I now had four legs. My legs shook at first, but my muscles easily showed me what to do. I opened my mouth, testing out the new muscles and licking the sharp fangs with my tongue. I shook, feeling every hair stand on end. My tail twitched on its onward it felt strange to move it myself. I wagged it back and forth, turning my head on the long neck to watch it move.

A huff brought my attention back to the black wolf in front of me. He snarled at me and I immediately lowered myself back to the ground to keep my head below him. His snarl vanished and his ears perked up. He made a quick motion and Arnold cautiously moved forward.

I looked into Arnold’s brown eyes. His lips pulled back for a moment, before returning to normal. He whined and lowered to the ground, trying to place his head below mine.

I’m not sure what a confused expression on a wolf looks like, but I’m sure I had one. Liam raised his head and released a full chested howl. I felt his power as an Alpha force Arnold up and he joined his Alpha. I slowly stood, watching them. I could feel Liam’s power, but it didn’t have as strong of a pull on me as it had before.

I heard the answering howls from the other wolves of the pack and felt left out. I raised my head and released a full-throated howl that seemed to overpower all the others. Even Liam’s howl faded before mine and I felt his power surround me. I lowered my howl to just below his.

That was when I knew…I knew I wasn’t going to be allowed to stay in the Umbra Pack.

∗          ∗         ∗

A hard slap to my face Brought me back to consciousness. My eyes took in the angry face of Tomas and I smiled.

“Guten morgen, herr Erlkönig,” I said in my best German accent.

By the frown, Tomas didn’t find it as amusing as I did. “You’re paying for the damages.”

I sat up, rubbing my freshly mended ribs. “There aren’t any damages. Only blood stains.”

“And you’re paying for them.”

“I think I paid for them while I was causing them,” I wiped a fresh trickle of blood from my nose. “I’m fine, by the way.”

Tomas grabbed me and lifted me easily to my feet. “I know you’re fine. Luthwain didn’t want you dead. He wanted youth feel every ache and pain.”

“And I will for the next few days.” I removed the bandage over my eye and tested it out. It was still light sensitive, but I could make out most shapes and colors. I replaced the bandage and sat in a chair. “So where did His Highness run off to?”

Tomas’s eyes narrowed. “You know I can’t tell you that.”

I laughed. “Can you at least tell me if he went back to his realm or after my pack?”

“His realm. He has no interest in your pack.”

“Good.”

Hesitating, Tomas disappeared behind his bar and returned with a pint of a strangely colored liquid. “Here, this will help.”

I leaned forward and sniffed the liquid. It smelled sweet, but also very alcoholic. The perks of frequenting an Elf King’s café: he knew how to get non-humans the same buzz they couldn’t otherwise get with normal alcohol.

I took the offered drink and held it up to him. “Thanks.”

As I drank a large gulp, Tomas sat down and crossed his thick arms over his chest. His weight made the chair creak and he leaned back, eyeing me curiously. “The girl Luthwain was asking about…she have anything to do with that incident at the dam?”

I placed the glass on the table and stared at a drop rolling down the side. I smiled and when I looked at Tomas I knew it was with my wolf’s amber eyes.

Soul Gazer

Blood. Not a good sign.

Underwater. Also not a good sign.

Kaila Linna realized two other not good signs. She couldn’t lift her arms without a sharp pain nearly making her inhale water and her legs were tangled in something heavy, dragging her deeper.

This is how I die. In a swimming pool, half naked.

The thought almost amused her, but the growing pain in her lungs reminded her drowning was one of her greatest fears. The realization intensified the pain.

She tried reaching for what held her legs together, but agony shot through her left shoulder and more blood rose towards the surface. In desperation she tried kicking, but the movement only tangled her more.

Her eyes burned with the chlorine, one becoming blurry as her contacts lens fell out. Her body slowed and soon she couldn’t find the strength to even lift her head.

Hitting the bottom of the pool, she stared at the distorted blue sky. Shadows appeared at the edge of her vision and her lungs burned for oxygen. She couldn’t hold it any longer. She exhaled the last of her air in a stream of bubbles.

Inhaling, the pain shocked her only for a few seconds before she lost consciousness.

∗          ∗         ∗

“Everyone will be doing the workout today. Go to your lanes and get started. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me or Rachel,” Coach Pam Green yelled across the pool area.

The fourteen shivering students reluctantly sprang to action, simultaneously regretting signing up for an outdoor swimming class in winter. California winters though not as cold as other states, still weren’t comfortable.

Kaila pulled her towel tighter around her, wishing she were back in her bed instead of standing half naked in the chilly air. The only true motivation to getting in the water: heated pool. But it didn’t make the transition any easier.

Wincing as she crossed the cold concrete, Kaila hurried to her assigned lane. She hated the moody California mornings, cloudy and cold before the sun burned the overcast away to reveal seventy-five or eighty degree temperature.

It’s winter, either be cold or be warm, not both, she thought. She couldn’t really be mad at the weather. She chose to take the winter swimming class in January. She thought it would be relaxing. She always found swimming relaxing, but after the first day of climbing out of the warm water into the cold air, she regretted it.

But she wouldn’t quit. A credit was a credit.

Reaching her assigned lane, she placed her warm towel on top of the starting platform marking her lane. She pulled her dark brown hair back into a tight ponytail, shivering as her skin not covered by bathing suit lay bare to the cold.

With her hair secured, she leaned down and placed her goggles in the warm water. Goose bumps ran up her arms from the difference in temperature as she watched her goggles drift up and down, side-to-side depending on the water current.

Seeing the chaotically beautiful way the plastic moved in the water, she couldn’t help feeling she were staring at a strange representation of her life. She’d been floating through this year, almost like a dream, taking the small disturbances in her life as easily as her goggles of the current.

Does everyone feel this way about their senior year of college? she wondered, though a twinge of doubt answered for her.

Everyone around her, it seemed, had their next steps planned out. Graduate school for some, moving to new cities for those who could, and jobs already lined up for the rest. She was stuck in life purgatory. A shadow loomed over her future because she couldn’t see what it held for her yet.

A splash snapped her from her daze. To save himself the slow adjustment to the pool water, the boy in the lane to the left had jumped in. Pulling her goggles from the water, she stood and stepped back.

Perfect time to have doubts about life after college, she scolded herself, staring at the water. Those already in made the surface ripple, distorting the bottom. The once welcoming pool now seemed like a stranger to her.

“Could you help me put this on?”

Jumping, she turned to the girl assigned to the lane to the right of her with a confused expression. The girl held a swim cap in her hands, her eyes hopeful as they now cautiously watched Kaila.

“What?”

“Could you help me put this on?” The tone of the question changed to cautious, the girl unsure how Kaila hadn’t heard her the first time.

“Sorry, yeah.” Placing her goggles on top of her towel, Kaila walked up to the girl.

Leaning over, the girl placed the front of the swim cap on her forehead. Kaila grabbed the back and pulled it over the girl’s blonde hair. Why bother with a cap? You’re still going to shower after anyways. Why waste the effort? Kaila thought.

Finished, the girl stood straight and smiled awkwardly at her. “Thanks.” She grabbed her nose and jumped in.

Water splashed on Kaila’s legs, reminding her of the cold air versus the warm water. Grabbing her goggles, she sat down on the edge of the pool, letting her legs hand. Kicking her legs in front of her, she enjoyed the feeling of the water against her skin.

“Enough thinking. Just swim,” she whispered to herself. Closing her eyes, she pushed off the edge into the warm water.

∗          ∗         ∗

“Which one is it?”

The two men sitting in the spectator seats above the pool watched the class below with partial interest. One man lounged with his feet up on the row in front of him, one arm propped on the back of the seat next to him. The other sat in the row behind, his arms crossed over his chest.

“I knew you weren’t listening earlier.”

Darren Frei leaned his head back so he could see Crewe. “When I’m not allowed to talk, I don’t listen.”

Refusing to look him in the eyes, Crewe watched the group below. “Maybe if you knew how to behave, you’d be allowed to talk.”

Returning his attention to the pool, Darren winced. “Ouch, you’re a bit snippy in the morning.”

“Whose fault is that?” Crewe grumbled, glaring at the back of Darren’s head. “You’re the one who’s done nothing but complain since we left.” Leaning forward, he lowered his voice as though anyone could hear them. “And I’m talking about since we left the hotel and home.”

Darren snorted, trying unsuccessfully to stifle his laughter.

“What?”

“The way you said that, you make it sound like we’re a married couple.”

Anger flushed Crewe’s face. “You’re truly unbearable sometimes.”

“Thank you. Now, honey, please, which one is it?” Darren barely dodged Crewe’s hand.
“No violence now. Not in front of the children.”

The next swing hit him on the side of the head. Darren laughed as Crewe stood and stormed down to the bottom of the seating area. He fumed as he leaned don the guardrail, his eyes searching the lanes below for their target.

“Crewe, I’m sorry.” Darren groaned and stood. He leisurely walked down the steps towards his partner. “Seriously, which one is it?”

Turning his head to watch Darren, Crewe took a deep, calming breath. “He should be in lane nine.”

Both counted the lanes, realizing the last few were reserved for those involved in aquatic sports. It explained why the boy in lane nine swam much faster than the other students.

“Are we starting a swim league or something?” Darren asked, his eyes lazily following the target.

“I’m guessing he doesn’t impress you. Should we even bother going down and talking to him?”

“Not unless you want a chance to catch something I didn’t.”

Pulling out his phone, Crewe shook his head already scrolling through his contact list. “I appreciate the attempt at flattery. But if you don’t see anything, I doubt I’ll find something worth reporting.”

“Oh, your compliments…they’re what I live for.” Darren pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

Crewe grabbed the pack before he even had a chance to open it. “Not in front of the students.”

“Why? I’m sure half of them smoke anyways. This is a college, not a high school.”

“This is also a no smoking seating area,” Crewe said, pointing to a pillar with the familiar red and white sign. “Last thing we need it to be kicked out…again.”

“Last thing I need if for you to have something else to blame me for.” Darren’s eyes stopped on the third lane. His eyes narrowed and a smile formed on his lips.

“I’m making the call.” Before Crewe could hit send, Darren grabbed his arm. He winced at the strong grip, but when he saw his partner’s face he understood.

Turning to view the pool again, Crewe’s eyes returned to lane nine. “You spot something?”

Without answering, Darren grabbed his pack of cigarettes and put it in his pocket. Sitting, he leaned forward and watched with an intensity he hadn’t felt in a long time.

She’s the one we came for, Darren thought to himself.