Attack of the Aeternae

best fantasy books and short storiesAadita woke to the sound of screams and insistent hands shaking her.

“Aadita, wake up! The Aeternae are attacking the village!” It was her mother, Dhanya. Her voice trembled with fear that seemed infectious. Aadita felt that fear, reasoning and attentiveness infused her every fiber, chasing away sleep faster than Aadita had ever known.

Aadita needed no further prodding. Just the thought of those naked wraiths with the giant, serrated bones protruding from their heads was enough to send Aadita flying from under her covers. She pulled a pack from under the bed, trying to think of what to pack. She stood, looking around her room, confused where to start.

“There’s no time for that!” Dhanya insisted. Her aged hands gripped her daughter’s shoulders. “The Aeternae are cutting through the town as we speak. We need to go!”

“We have to go to Tanveer!” Aadita insisted.

“You’re better off without that boy,” her mother insisted, pushing her daughter toward the stairs. “He’s no good for you.”

“But father—,”

“Your father’s dead, his decision doesn’t matter now!”

Her father…dead?

“How?” Aadita wondered, racing down the stairs on bare feet, her mother in hot pursuit.

“The Aeternae,” Dhanya told her. “Get your shoes on, we need to go out the back.”

Aadita could hear the terrified, dying screams of neighbors and friends. A fierce noise somewhere between a growl and a scream drifted on the cold air—the Aeternae. She shivered, tugging on her shoes and followed her mother through the narrow hallway to the kitchen. As they entered the kitchen, a bang sounded at their door.

“Go!” Dhanya insisted, pushing Aadita toward the back door. “I will stall them.”

“No!” Aadita insisted, tugging her mother away from the kitchen. “We leave together or I’m not going!”

Her mother growled, and reluctantly gave ground to her daughter’s insisting hand.

It was a cold night. There wasn’t a cloud in sight allowing the light of the moon to illuminate the forest that shrugged up behind their home. It felt strange, leaving home, Aadita knew she’d never come back to this place. Once the Aeternae claimed a place, they haunted it forever.

She’d seen one of the villages they’d inhabited before. She hadn’t gone in, but she had crouched in the woods longer than was smart, studying the human skulls on pikes along the village edge. The buildings were in disrepair and gray smoke like mist filled every street. She’d caught the sight of a couple Aeternae inside—shadows slipping through the fog.

She shivered thinking what would become of her home now and her life.

Her father was gone, Tanveer gone and with him the prospect of marriage to an abusive man. She was relieved, more than anything, that her father was dead. He was no good for them, whoring his wife out for money and marrying his daughter to a rich and powerful man with a known reputation for abuse.

Aadita shivered, wishing she’d grabbed her jacket, but there was no going back now. She heard the front door splinter as it was battered in, and the fear it fueled in her sped Aadita and Dhanya into the darkness of the forest.

There, under the canopy of trees the light of the crescent moon refused to touch. It was an eerie place at night, especially when she considered what was hunting them.

Will they let us go? Aadita wondered, stopping short when she heard a twig snap to her right. She refused to breathe for several long moments, until a figure of a deer darted away from the humans. She exhaled a long breath and pulled her mother with her.

The forest was another world by night. She’d been here many times in the day to escape home, Tanveer, and the snooty people of the town who were always checking on what she was doing, or wondering why she hadn’t married yet.

They passed her favorite tree to read under, and a twinge of loss resonated in Aadita. She would never sit beneath the tree again and fantasize about some faraway land she’d never visit.

Rustling to her left brought Aadita out of her sorrow and the flash of white streaked by them. She was sure it was a deer this time, a flicker of white as it fled the humans, announcing to other deer that danger was close at hand.

“Stop,” her mother breathed.

“What?” Aadita whispered over her shoulder.

Her mother wasn’t looking at her, however, her dark eyes were wide and stared at a spot just over Aadita’s shoulder. She was terrified to turn around and see what her mother saw. Every nerve in her body shivered and tears bloomed to her eyes. She knew what her mother saw, she knew what was behind her.

The Aeternae had found them.

Woodenly, Aadita turned around. She was so full of fear that she could barely register her train of thought over the insistent scream in her head to run.

There, behind her, crouched a naked human. Its skin was sallow and he was so thin it appeared to be stretched over his bones. His eyes were black; his lips cracked, and his nails chipped and green. Protruding from the top of his head was a long, serrated bone like the cruelest sword Aadita had ever seen.

She stepped back, closer to her mother, but she wasn’t fast enough. The Aeternae was on her in a flash, his serrated bone slashing out and taking her through the throat.

Aadita barely felt her neck gash open. Sudden warmth washed over her body and the strong smell of iron filled her nose. Darkness crept in on her sight, and in moments she was dead.best fantasy books and short stories

 

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Blood Rite of the Adlet

Amaranth fled through the frozen forest, frost nipping at her toes a wintery wind tugging at her hair. The adlet were behind her, she could sense them more than hear them. She’d heard stories—stories of blood and terror. A mix of dog and human, insatiable in their appetite, and cunning in the hunt. There was no chance that she could escape them, but Amaranth hoped…

She could hear their calls shiver through the forest, shatter the solitude and peace of the surrounding trees. Her heart raced; her feet cold and tired. She wished she hadn’t left her bed that night, she wished she’d listened to her mother and stayed inside. Her mother was sure the adlet were hunting, and she told her daughters to never go out at night when the moon was red.

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But Amaranth just wanted to see their blood rite. Though the blood rite scared most of the villagers, Amaranth was fascinated by it. Another race of beings that lived in the deep parts of the forest. She’d hoped to catch site of the adlet many times before, and she’d brought her sister with her on numerous hunts during the day, but had found nothing.

adlet 1When her mother told her to stay in that night because the blood moon called the adlet out, Amaranth had been too curious to stay put.

Stupid, she scolded herself. There was no way she was going to get out of this. The thought chilled her more than the frozen air of late autumn. Thought of defeat drained the fight from her body. She slowed to a stop, a frightened sob escaping her lips.

The adlet chortled behind her, their wicked giggles echoed around her. She was surrounded. Fear shivered through her body. She shook with little control over her muscles.

“What do you want?” She called out.

Silence fell. In the distance she heard the moan of an ancient tree in a breeze.

She gasped for air, her breath ragged and huffing out of her lungs in a cold vapor. She rubbed her arms, though her shivering had little to do with the cold. She flexed feeling back into her toes and waited for any kind of sound.

A twig cracked to her right; her head snapped toward the sound. Was that a shape she saw in the shadows? A glint of moonlight on an eye?

She couldn’t play this off as a phantom thought, a fantastical musing. The adlet were real, and she was their blood rite. Amaranth wasn’t ready for death. She never thought her life would end so soon. She didn’t want to cry, but tears spilled hot and free down her cheeks, steaming in the cold.

A yip to her left made her jump. One yip, followed by several others. Yipping and barking surrounded her and Amaranth sobbed, unable to hold the tears back.

“Stop…stop,” she moaned. There was nowhere to run now.

“But you’ve wanted to see us,” a grating voice said before her.

Howls sounded through the trees around her, loud and haunting, as if she were in the middle of a raging storm. The howls dissolved into high-pitched giggling that made her moan in defeat.

“You’ve come looking for the adlet,” the voice said. A naked woman stepped from the shadows, but she was unlike any woman Amaranth had ever seen. She was pale as snow, her hair black as coal. Her eyes were fathomless pits of shadows, as if there weren’t eyes there at all, but gaping holes that peered into the darkness of the underworld.

Ivory hands were clasped before her waist, her fingernails so black they seemed to drink in the shimmer of frost which clung to the trees around them. As Amaranth had been told, the adlet didn’t have human legs, but the legs of a dog. The adlet stepped forward.

“Why so curious?” she wondered, her hand going to Amaranth’s soft blond curls. “Most mortals don’t wonder so much about us.”

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Amaranth tried to speak, but her fear left her mute.

“Is it fear you crave? Blood?” The adlet’s hand was cold against her cheek. “Brotherhood?”

More giggling around her. Amaranth shivered.

“Brotherhood?” The adlet asked again. “Do you crave to be a half breed, driven by the moon?”

adlet 2“Yes!” Amaranth said before she realized she was speaking. It was a truth she didn’t realize she harbored until she said it. “Yes, I want to be adlet!”

Her shivering stopped. A warmth seemed to infuse her, chasing away the shiver of fear.

The adlet smiled at her. “And why should we accept you into our pack?”

Amaranth looked to her feet. She had no answer.

“As good a response as any,” the adlet said.

Powerful hands grabbed her from behind, jerking her arms behind her back and holding her fast. Amaranth gasped and looked up. Sharp teeth flicked down from the roof of the adlet’s mouth and she struck faster than any snake.

Pain shot through Amaranth and blood flowed. The adlet crushed Amaranth to her frozen chest and she drank deep of her blood. She weakened, her legs going slack, but the arms behind her held her fast, the adlet before her bore her weight with ease.

Amaranth sagged against the might of the adlet, and the rite of blood chased her down into oblivion.

 

Posted in Fantasy Short Stories

Vampires are coming!

It’s starting soon! The release of my vampire hunter series. I wanted to give you all the opportunity to read the first chapter today and offer you a free gift in celebration. See details below the post for the free offer.

COVER REVEAL

The Dead of Sanguine Night is a free short story tie-in for Under a Sanguine Moon. Check out these great covers.

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Chapter One

It was foolish to be out at night, Amaranth knew this; there were dangers both rumored and unknown. She quailed at the memory of the reports of vampires and ghouls. The ghosts didn’t bother her much. She’d been told there wasn’t a lot that ghosts could do to a person. Still, the thought of seeing a disembodied spirit was enough to send shivers up her spine. The vampires and the ghouls, along with werewolves and other terrors that lurked in the darkness was enough to keep everyone in Danthea locked behind their blessed doors, their windows locked with silver inlaid shutters.

No one went out at night, unless they were foolish, or a hunter…if those even existed. If she’d been smarter, she would have spent the night with her boyfriend, Jeremy.

Amaranth turned back, looking the way she’d come, wondering if maybe it was best to head back to her boyfriend’s home and sleep the night there. The problem was, she didn’t recognize any of the buildings or the roads in the darkness. It had to be the fact that she’d never been out at night that she didn’t recognize her surroundings.

Amaranth had to press on; keep going and she would find her way out of this haze of doubt and terror and she would make it home in one piece.

Far in the distance, she heard the bay of a wolf and stopped in her tracks. This was no ordinary wolf. Not in Danthea. In Danthea that was the call of a werewolf that had gotten separated from its pack. To her right, startlingly close by, she heard the answering call of the pack locating one another for a hunt.

Her heart hammered hard enough that it deafened her to nearly all other noises. She fled down the cobbled walk until she was sure she’d made her way far enough from the hunting wolves that they wouldn’t find her.

But they can find my scent, she told herself.

Amaranth pressed herself into the shadowy depths of a stone doorway, hoping that if the wolves came her way, they would not see her, or by some miracle of the Goddess, they wouldn’t smell her either.

She peered out around her. The full moon shone silvery red on the empty streets. On the corner across the way, a lamppost stood, casting its flickering flame into the night as if the paltry fire might offer some hope of protection. She knew there was no hope though, not on sanguine night; not when the blood moon rose high and those damnable beasts that haunted the streets by night gained power from the crimson rays of the moon.

Amaranth closed her eyes and tried not to think about what might be coming for her. Again, she wondered if it was too late to turn back, to go to Jeremy’s and whether the night.

She knew it was useless. At this point she was likely closer to home than to Jeremy’s, even if none of the surroundings looked familiar to her. She considered knocking on the door where she hid, hoping that someone inside might not confuse her for a ghoul or a hag, and let her in to stay the night. She shook her head to clear the thought. No one would ever be foolish enough to open their home to a stranger at night. Even her family might not open the door for her…who knew what could be taking her appearance to gain entry to their house?

Amaranth peered around her, wondering where the werewolves were. It was dead silent once more, the only noise she could hear was the distant whisper of the ocean, far off in West Shore.

In the ghetto of City Center, she thought. That was another danger. In the ghetto there had been a string of deaths. They hadn’t been confirmed as murders yet, and Amaranth wasn’t sure they could ever be confirmed either. People had gone missing from their homes, reportedly gone out into the night only to be found devoured by ghouls in some abandoned house.

At the memory of the reports, Amaranth crept away from the doorway she hid in. What if this was an abandoned home? What if she accidentally pressed too hard against the doorway and fell inside, only to be devoured by ghouls?

A side street, that’s what she needed…a side street.

A couple paces down the road, Amaranth found what she was looking for.

Boulva Street was just the shadowed side street she needed. There were few lights, and plenty of places to hide. She tried not to think that some of the beasts in the night could see better in the dark than in the light. Instead, she made her way down the street, avoiding puddles of light from the few lampposts that were actually lit. She hoped there was a corner of an overgrown yard she could hide in until the sun ruled Danthea.

The cobbles of Boulva Street were cracked with the occasional stone missing here and there, making walking dangerous if she wasn’t paying attention to where she placed her feet. The houses slanted toward one another on rotting foundations, like drunken neighbors seeking support. The yards were small and overgrown. For that she was thankful.

In the ghetto, she thought, where people go missing and wind up

“Are you lost?” a voice asked behind her.

Amaranth jumped, barely keeping the scream behind her teeth from bursting out and shattering the stillness of the night.

Amaranth spun around to see the woman behind her. She was a short woman, clad in a long white dressing gown as if she’d been readying herself for bed. Her hair was blond and shined in the light of the blood moon. She was a pretty woman with a small nose and full lips the color of blood. Her eyes were ghostly blue.

“Are you lost?” the woman asked again, and smiled.

Amaranth nodded her head fervently. “Yes,” she whispered.

“Come with me,” the woman said, holding out her hand. “You can stay the night with me.”

“How do I know you’re not a ghoul or some other night terror?” Amaranth asked.

“How do I know you’re not the same?” the woman asked.

Amaranth didn’t have a good answer.

“My name is Lauren,” the woman told her. “What’s yours’?”

“Amaranth,” she said, slipping her hand into Lauren’s delicate grasp. Her hand was warm and welcoming. Amaranth was at once at ease.

“Well, Amaranth, come and sup with my family and I. We were just getting ready to eat,” Lauren said, turning back to the main street.

“It’s awful late to eat,” Amaranth said, at peace and emboldened to talk now that she was with Lauren. If this woman ventured out at night to save her, she must not fear the evil of Danthea. If she didn’t fear the evil, she must have some kind of control over it, or at least some way to ward it off.

“What can I say? We eat late,” Lauren said. She led Amaranth back down Boulva Street and around the corner to the house where Amaranth had hidden only moments before.

Lauren opened the door onto an inviting living room. Candles illuminated the inside. She rushed Amaranth inside. She took her cloak and hung it on a peg beside the door. A fireplace snapped and popped cheerily from the other side of the living space, and the security and safety it offered filled her with happiness.

A couch sat against the same wall as the door, and chairs filled the side walls. To the right of the fireplace was a doorway that led deeper into the well-lit house. To the left of the fireplace stairs ascended to the second floor.

“I would have knocked,” Amaranth said, turning to Lauren. “But I didn’t think anyone would have let a stranger in at night.”

“Most wouldn’t have, but my mother has the sense to know when a person is evil and when they aren’t. She saw terror in you, and sent me after you.”

“You’re brave to face the night alone,” Amaranth said.

Lauren smiled. “Follow me,” she said, motioning to the doorway to the right of the fireplace. “We’re just about to eat, and you are welcome to join us.”

Amaranth followed Lauren deeper into the house. The doorway opened up onto a small kitchen with tile counters on the left and right walls. Over the table hung a silver chandelier lit with multiple white candles. The rectangular table took up half the kitchen and sat close to the wall with just enough room for two people to sit behind it.

Around the table were various adults in the late stages of life. A grandfather, Amaranth suspected by his balding white hair and withered face, sat at the head of the table. A portly woman and a thin man sat close to the wall. They looked of the age to be Lauren’s parents.

“The rest of the family will be down shortly,” Lauren said.

As if in response to her words, thumping sounded from upstairs.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked Amaranth.

“Yes, please,” Amaranth said, sitting down across from Lauren’s mother. “Thank you for sending your daughter after me.”

The woman’s eyes were milky and didn’t seem to register that Amaranth was even there. Maybe she was in the grips of another vision or something. Amaranth couldn’t be sure. She’d never been around seers before.

“It’s very kind of you to accept me into your home,” Amaranth said to the grandfather at the head of the table. His eyes were dull, not quite as milky as the mother’s, but she bet his eyesight was failing. He stared straight ahead as well, taking no notice of what was happening around the table.

In fact, the entire family seemed to be vacant from their own bodies, poised around the table as if Lauren was a little girl who’d set out her favorite dolls for tea.

A moment of panic seized Amaranth. “Is there something wrong with your family?”

Lauren smiled and sat a cup of steaming water before her. The smell of jasmine filled Amaranth’s nostrils, and she took a tiny sip of the hot liquid. It soothed her throat and washed away the growing panic. She imagined there wasn’t anything so strange about the family after all. The grandfather might have lost his sight in old age, and the mother was likely still in a trance, trying to sort out if Amaranth was evil or not. Who knew what seers looked like when they were in a trance?

“Did your mother study her art at the Apothecarium?” Amaranth asked Lauren, who was busy at work behind her. Amaranth wasn’t sure that seers trained there, but with all the kinds of mancy they taught at the Apothecarium, she figured psychic forces would be among them.

“No,” Lauren said. “We don’t…agree with the Apothecarium.”

“Why’s that?”

“Just personal issues with the headmaster,” Lauren said in a tone that said she didn’t want to talk more on the subject.

“This is a very nice home you have here,” Amaranth said to the father, hoping that she might engage him in some kind of conversation. But, like the mother and the grandfather, stared straight ahead. Amaranth had the chilling thought that there might not be anything there behind his eyes: no soul, no thoughts…nothing.

Amaranth shivered and looked away. “How long until sunrise?” she asked, suddenly wondering if she would rather be out on the street than inside this house with these vacant people.

“Long enough for a good meal and a nice, long sleep,” Lauren said. Again, there was something behind her voice that said more than her words did. Whatever it was she was trying to say eluded Amaranth.

A shadow passed over the mother’s eyes, but then was gone. Amaranth leaned forward, intent on her aged face, but the shadow didn’t return. Had she really seen anything?”

“Here you go,” Lauren said, setting a plate piled high with beef and potatoes before Amaranth.

Amaranth dug into the meat. Pink juices sluiced out of the beef, adding to the pool of gravy that dominated the plate. The smell was intoxicating: onions and garlic mingling with the aroma of butter potatoes and rich gravy. Her stomach growled. She bit into the meat and wondered if she’d ever tasted anything so amazing in all of her life.

The light flickered. Amaranth looked up, and for a moment there wasn’t a silver chandelier above her illuminated with numerous candles but a tarnished chandelier that hung lopsided from the ceiling. One of the two chains that had once secured it to the ceiling dangled down to the table and cobwebs linked the old, dirty candles.

Amaranth blinked, but the image changed. It was just her imagination. The chandelier was clean and bright enough to light the room with ease. She turned back to her meal, putting the thought from her mind. It was likely that she was distraught from being caught out in the night and rescued by a kind woman with a strange family.

“Is it good?” Lauren asked.

“Delicious,” Amaranth said, looking to Lauren. The woman was at the other end of the table from the grandfather. Her hands were folded before her, but she didn’t eat, she only stared at her mother and father.

Amaranth glanced at the mother. There was something at the edge of her nostril, wriggling around, trying to creep out of the depths of her skull. Before Amaranth could think of what it could be, or why it didn’t seem to bother the woman, a maggot plopped out of her nose and onto the table.

Amaranth gasped, but when she looked at the table where the maggot had fallen, there was nothing there. She glanced back at the mother, but she just sat there as if nothing had happened.

Maybe it hadn’t, Amaranth thought. She was growing more and more certain that she’d rather be outside, facing the terror of the night than in here with this strange family.

She trained her eyes on the plate, but the light flickered again and in the moment of darkness that blinked through the kitchen, Amaranth no longer saw juicy beef and buttery potatoes on her plate. Instead, before her sat a pile of moldy bread.

The light flared back to life and the beef and potatoes was back.

“Is everything to your liking?” Lauren asked, still not looking at Amaranth. “Do the potatoes need more butter?”

“No, it’s all very delightful,” Amaranth said.

The light failed again, and her cup of tea vanished in the darkness, replaced with a cloudy, unwashed glass filled with brackish water.

She jumped to her feet, the chair tipping backwards. In the gloom of the room, Amaranth saw the family truthfully for the first time.

Dead. They were all dead. Graying, molding, yellow blotches of skin stood out along their arms like bruises of rot. The mother’s blond hair was white and shriveled against her skull, her skin stretched to near cracking over her bones, like paper over a skeleton.

“I…I need to go,” Amaranth said. She sped from the kitchen before Lauren could react. As she did, the light flared once more, and the house was as it always had been: posh, polished, well lit, and welcoming. A comforting air suddenly surrounded her and she felt rather drowsy.

“Do you really need to go?” Lauren asked from the kitchen doorway.

The light faltered again, and Amaranth looked around her. The chairs and the couch sat half on the floor, their legs broken, their cushions dusty and moth eaten. The fireplace was cracked and cold. No fire burned from within. The room was gray, the paper peeling from the walls. The house was so ransacked that Amaranth wasn’t sure how she’d ever seen it as a welcoming home instead of a disaster with debris scattered along the floor and rat skeletons gathered in the corners.

At the base of the stairs stood three figures, all more rotten than the family in the kitchen. Whatever clothing they might have worn in death had long since faded away to dust. They were so far gone to decay that their skin was nothing more than blackened leather stretched over their bodies.

Amaranth was frozen in fear. She couldn’t move an inch. Somehow—she wasn’t sure how—breath still filled her body. She tried to will her legs to move, but they wouldn’t obey her.

“I don’t think you really need to leave,” Lauren said, leaning in the doorway of the darkened kitchen. “We haven’t eaten yet.”

Amaranth waited for the lights to come back, for the candles and the fireplace to flare to life and chase away the nightmare that she’d stumbled into, but it never came.

And then, jerkily, woodenly, the family from the kitchen joined Lauren in the doorway. Now their eyes did see Amaranth, and she wished they didn’t. Now their dead eyes stared directly at her and saw nothing else. The blackened figures at the base of the stairs seemed to come to life then. Slouching to the ground they crawled over the rotten floorboards toward Amaranth on all fours, like animals more than humans. The popping of their bones as they ground together and the crackling of their dry skin filled the room, and Amaranth screamed in terror, unable to do anything else.

She tried to move once more, but another power held her in place and wouldn’t let go. It wasn’t until the first of the dead fingers were tearing into her flesh, carrying away parts of her body to feed rotten mouths that Amaranth finally moved. She fell to the floor beneath the press of dead bodies.

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Madness of Apophis

One night Apophis will come, and I won’t survive the battle. The thought had stayed with Ra from the first time he slipped below the horizon. It was the only thought occupying his mind as the dazzling bark he traveled on lost its luster. The golden light that was too much for humans to look upon faded…ebbed away until nothing remained of its splendor. The bark grew dark and in his soul, Ra felt that darkness. Within the flow of darkness, the madness of Apophis began to root.

The bark drifted through the currents of the underworld. The dark waters surrounding the curved boat like darkened glass. Nothing stirred, and Ra was certain if he gazed behind him, there would be no ripples in his wake.

ApophisBut he didn’t want to look. He’d looked once before and it gave him the sense of timelessness, as if he were forever trapped in the underworld where untold horrors lurked beneath the surface of the glassy water. If he looked now, he knew he would see faces beneath the surface. He would see the tortured dead, the damned in life, the demons of the underworld, waiting to feed on godly flesh.

He was weak in the underworld. He no longer shown with godly power. He was as near mortal as a god could be.

Seth sensed his unease, and the canine god paced closer to him. Ra let his hand fall to the head of the god. Seth nuzzled in closer, his fur like silk under Ra’s withered hand. He felt the pang of old age in his bones…it wasn’t a sensation he felt while in the living world, but the underworld aged him, drew him closer to rebirth. When this short eternity in the underworld was over, Ra would be a boy once more.

Ra took comfort with Seth. The dog-god urged him back to his covered bed, where Ra could rest his weary bones. He tried to ignore the uncomfortable silence of the underworld, but it was as loud as anything. The ring of silence resounded in his ears. A powerful wind drifted over Ra, but it didn’t stir his robes, didn’t ripple the canopy that draped his bed. The silent wind chilled him to the bone.

Apophis came in a stir of haunted echoes in his mind.

Seth must have felt Apophis as well. Electricity, bright blue against the gathered darkness, sizzled over his fur. He was calling the power of his storms. They weren’t as powerful in the underworld—nothing ever seemed to be. However, they were always enough.

The glassy water around the bark bubbled. Even in the motion, the surface seemed somehow fake, as if the bubbles weren’t real. The bubbling echoed in his mind as well, churning the haunting voices, the torturous screams…distorting them until the babble was undiscernible and sounded foreign, empty, a perversion of the godly langue Ra was used to.

Dark thoughts consumed his mind.

The flat disc of the world rested beneath him. The sun bark floated through the heavens shining life and light upon the earth. In the distance a storm brewed. Dark clouds roiled toward Ra and within their midst he could see lightning as black as anything from the underworld. There was madness in the storm. The earth below trembled as the storm approached. A streak of black lightning flashed out of the clouds, hitting the edge of the disc. There was no sound to the lightning, only a thrum of power. The power rippled through the heavens, and Ra felt the strength of the earth tremble as well.

Tearing his eyes away from the storm, he watched darkness spread out from the stroke of lightning. Darkness, like ink in water, streamed through the green forests and the crystal blue waters. Darkness in the form of beasts boiled from the water; tore from the earth; crashed through the forests.

ApophisA chorus of screams carried up to the sun bark, and as the screams grew in volume, the light of the sun weakened. The storm slipped over the edge of the golden boat, and the light flickered, and then went dark.

The earth ran with rivers of blood as Apophis corrupted the land.

A time will come, godling, when your sun fails. When it does, the madness of Apophis will be there to take your place.

Blue lightning flared from the boat. With the disturbance in the energy, Ra slammed back into his body with a force that rocked the bark…the water didn’t stir. As always, the tangled figure of Apophis lay around the boat, already dead. His scales glimmered red with blood, or deathly power, Ra couldn’t be sure which.

Seth sat calmly at the front of the boat, his fur ruffled by the lightning he’d smote the god of death with.

Darkness might come to the earth at some point, but it wouldn’t be this night. Ra gazed down at the serpent Apophis. The dark waters of the underworld burbled around the snake, welcoming him back into its embrace. Ra knew he would sink to the bottom, his wounds would heal, and he would be reborn to fight the next night.

Ra looked to his own, withered skin. Already he could see the lines of age smoothing out, the lax muscles strengthening, the vitality in his spirit bolstering. He stood from his bed and went to Seth. In the distance he could see the darkness receding to gray. Beneath his feet the bark began to glow as they approached the horizon.

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Storm Front

Dresden Files 1I just finished reading Storm Front by Jim Butcher. If you haven’t read it yet and you like paranormal investigation novels, this is a goodie. There are a few reasons it took some warming up to on my end. The main reason is that I’m used to reading books where the lead character is female.

Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire. He is a police consultant on paranormal cases, has his hands full with his own personal life, and has the odd side job that drags him into investigating other strange cases for random people. Storm Front follows him along the hunt for a rogue dark wizard who’s ritualistically tearing hearts out of his victims, and Harry has to find the perp before he’s next!

I found the book predictable to be honest, but I still read it and loved it. It was strange for me to get used to the different creatures and portrayals of old favorite types included in the story. It was also strange for me to see the story through the eyes of a man. As I said, I’m used to female leads.

At any rate I loved the story and can’t wait to get my hands on book two. This is definitely a series I hope doesn’t devolve into gratuitous sex and transparent plot-lines as some others have.

 

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Posted in Book Reviews

The Undying Unicorn

Ellen felt the weight of years in her bones. The winter wind howled through the trees around her, chilling her to her ancient bones. She’d come to this forest on the day of her birth 740 years ago. For 740 years, she’d drank the blood of the innocent. It kept her fresh; it kept her young. No matter where she was in life, Ellen had always made it back here.

Gretchen, the witch she’d trained under when she was younger, had told her in order to keep her youth she must drink yearly from the time she wished to be frozen in age until the time she wished to die. Ellen made a point of coming back here, to the forest of her youth where she’d first tasted the unicorn’s blood. She knew the beasts roamed here, and she wouldn’t take the risk that she could find others in random places through her travels.

It must be fresh was another warning Gretchen had given her. It would be simpler to bottle it, but it simply wouldn’t work unless it was fresh. The act of killing was part of the magic of everlasting youth.

And so she came to this forest where she knew she could find them.

evil unicornFollow the fairy trail, Ellen told herself. It was a sign of the unicorn that she’d been taught. Unicorns left magic in their droppings; that magic sprouted toadstools that could be used by fairies to come and go from this world to the next. All it took was a simple shift of her mind to see the magic glowing in myriad of colors from the mushrooms. It wasn’t a glow that others could see . . . not without magic.

She followed the trail deeper into the darkness of the forest. Normal human eyes wouldn’t have been able to find their way in the snow-covered, inky blackness of the underbrush. A witch with the power to see auras of magic could. Power surrounded everything, and by using the sight, she was able to navigate the forest as if it were daylight.

Even given her dark machinations, she always stood in awe when she first glimpsed the unicorns. Where most animals or plants had one color of energy, the unicorns had multiple. The three unicorns before her shown with rainbow light, their energy filling her with happiness like she stood in the embrace of a lover. The memory of her first love filled her—the quiet summer night, the heat of the day ebbing away to a night pregnant with possibilities. She sighed, and the beasts must have heard her, because just then they turned in her direction.

And like mist they vanished. Ellen cursed herself for getting so wrapped up in their power that she didn’t strike when she had the chance.

And then he came like a thunderstorm of magic energy. His power filled Ellen to the brim. She staggered back, leaning against a powerful oak for support. She couldn’t hold the power he brought with him. He was magnificent and terrible. His electric blue energy filled the forest like a blinding sun and Ellen had to switch perspectives out of fear that her magical sight would be burned out of her if she used it to look at him much longer.

He was a magnificent beast. His height was easily twice that of the normal unicorn. His coat was black and shined blue in the darkness of the forest. His sapphire eyes blazed with power. Every inch of him rippled with muscle.

She was drawn to him like she’d never been drawn to a unicorn before. She felt her feet slipping through the snow before she realized that she was moving. Ellen stepped into the clearing and the dark unicorn stared at her. He didn’t vanish. In fact, she felt from his power that he knew precisely what she was and why she was there in the clearing with him.

Ellen tentatively reached out a hand to him, and the dark unicorn stepped closer. His horn spiraled from his head like ebony. It seemed to shine with an inner, dark fire. He let her fingertips touch his coat, and when she came in contact with the beast she saw.

Unicorns surrounded a fallen youth, his throat slit. Fear and sadness rippled through the gathering. Ellen could feel it, she felt the energy, felt the emotion and it felt to her like she’d lost her own child. Every unicorn in the clearing felt the pain as if this one youth had been their very own child.

Again, the following year another youth lay out before them, and it became clear to her that the only unicorns daft enough to get trapped by the power of a witch were those too young to know the dangers that lurked on the earth; those who’d not experienced the evil the world held in store for them.

evil unicornWitch, the thought was clear in the air. They knew what beast had done this. They’d seen her slipping through their forest once every year, and the next year they would be prepared.

An impact through her chest drove her from the vision. She gasped. Pain shivered through her, and a sense of not understanding what was happening, only that something was seriously wrong. She felt coldness spread through her chest, ripple through her limbs and extend well past her physical form and into her spectral form.

The weight of her years crashed in on her and as it did, her vision cleared. She tried to step away from the black beasts, but she couldn’t. A power held her fast. She looked down where a presence tugged at her chest. There, rooted deep within her was the ebony horn of the unicorn.

And it fed. Rivulets of blood cascaded down the horn and to the unicorn’s coat. But it wasn’t just her blood she felt the beast feeding off, it was her magic, her energy . . . her soul. Just as surely as she’d fed off the innocent unicorns, this one fed off her.

Ellen was being unmade, she was being consumed—body, mind, and spirit.

Darkness encroached on her vision, swimming in and blinding out her sight, and she felt the darkness pull her down, tugging her deeper into the horn until she resided within the beast, resided in the hell that had conjured the dark unicorn. It was a being made of pain and fear—the pain and fear she had created in the unicorns over the last several hundred years. It was a creature she’d made just as surely as the unicorns had.

It was her doom; it was her hell.

It was her everlasting life.

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Posted in Fantasy Short Stories

Possessed by Abigor

“Abigor, come to me,” Geffrey called. Just the name of the demon caused discomfort. A chill crept up his spine, his dark hair seemed to stand on end. He clutched the ancient spell book in his pale hands and called to the cold night once more. “Abigor, come to me!”

The pines around him stirred, the bonfire before him flickered. He waited for some sign that the Hugh Duke of Hell had heard him. He peered off into the darkened woods and waited, imagining that the shadows would stir and Abigor would come to him.

Abigor 2Behind him the sound of battle raged. He fought the urge to look down the hill where he stood and see if his army was prevailing yet, or if they were still in retreat. He couldn’t fail this time. To fail would be to lose his kingdom.

He squinted his eyes, wondering if there was something he was missing.

Geffrey, you can’t call the forces of hell without fire in your voice, the spirit of his grandmother said beside him. Geffrey always felt her there with him, but he knew if he were to look, he would find nothing. She resided, instead, in his mind.

He closed his eyes and steeled himself for what he tried to do.

“Abigor, come to me, I command you!”

A scream rose up in the distance. Birds thundered from the trees, their wings louder than the wind that crested through the pines like a raging ocean. Fallen leaves and pine needles swirled around Geffrey, slicing into his flesh, raising blood to the surface of his skin. He clutched the book tighter. The fire roared high, spiraling up into the sky above the clearing. Trails of black and green fire mingled with the orange and yellow flames.

Yes, he comes! The memory of his grandmother called. Her voice held power, it shivered down Geffrey’s spine. It held promise, it held lust. His grandmother’s thoughts were laid bare to him, and they weren’t thoughts he wanted to share with her. His heart thrummed in his throat and his saliva thickened. It was more than fear that sped his heart. It was a force close to unbridled lust for the power and the High Duke of Hell that came to him.

When Abigor appeared, it was within the flames.

A giant stead appeared within the flames. Bat wings spread from its back, opening within the heat of the fire. Its eyes glowed with green flames and Geffrey dared not stare too long into his eyes for he feared he would lose his very soul.

Upon the horses back sat a knight clad in black armor that appeared to be made of scales. Geffrey thought it was armor, but he couldn’t be sure. The pleasure coursing through him that belonged to his grandmother suggested that the scales were in fact the flesh of the demon Abigor. The shape of muscles and veins weren’t design of the forge, but in fact belonged to Abigor.

He was a striking figure, and that feeling of adoration didn’t come from his grandmother.

His hair was long and dark, his fingers tipped with cruel claws. His eyes glowed green as the horses’ did. In one hand he held a lance, in the other he held the reigns of the horse which weren’t reins at all, but a long, sinuous snake that ran down the throat of the horse, looped through its nose, and met at Abigor’s grasp where it appeared to eat its own tail.

“Who calls me.” Abigor’s voice was deep, nearly a growl. As he spoke, the flames of the fire abated to that of a normal fire, but Abigor didn’t move.

“Geffrey Truent,” Geffrey said.

“And why do you call Abigor?” the demon asked. “For riches? For the heart of a princess? Maybe a prince?”

Who would call the High Duke of Hell for love? Geffrey wondered.

“For victory in war,” Geffrey answered.

The night was silent. Geffrey hadn’t realized how silent the night had become until a long pause stretched between the demon and himself. He couldn’t even hear the crackle and pop of the fire before him. All that existed was the huffing breath of the horse, the pregnant pause of Abigor’s speech, and the hushed hissing of the snake.

“A lofty request,” the demon said. “What do you offer me for such a boon?”

He knew what his grandmother had told him to offer—his soul. Did it really require his soul?

The greater the request, the greater the sacrifice, his grandmother chimed in his head. A lifetime of victory laid out before you. No one shall ever defeat you.

But an eternity in hell, at the bidding of Abigor, Geffrey thought.

His grandmother’s thoughts ran dark. What she wouldn’t give for a lifetime of servitude to Abigor, to the dark prince of hell that sat before them. Geffrey tried to push the thoughts away. He didn’t want to share those intimate details with his grandmother, but they intruded on his mind anyway. A bed of bone, his body laid out beside countless others, waiting for the High Duke of Hell to come to him, to claim him, to ride his mortal vessel until it burned up and was no more, only to be reborn from the ashes of his body to await Abigor’s desires again.

Abigor 1“My soul,” Geffrey said.

No sooner had he said it than Abigor vanished into the darkness. All that remained was one glowing green eye. Faster than he could see, the eye slammed into Geffrey. As it melded with his flesh it flared red. Power rushed through him. His head fell back in the rush of hellish energy that merged with his body, that flashed through his veins and remade his mind in the fashion of Abigor. The book grew hot in his hand, so hot that Geffrey could no longer hold it. It tumbled to the ground, pages falling away as it slammed to the ground. The pages swirled in a wind that didn’t touch the trees. They swirled around, the paper vanishing until only inky words remained on the air, and then those too branded themselves to Geffrey’s flesh and then vanished into his blood.

All the power of the Book of Hell raged through him, and when the wind faded, Geffrey lay naked on the ground, his black hair tangled with leaves and bones. He pushed to his feet, no longer feeling the cold, no longer feeling the heat of the fire.

He turned away from the scene and gazed down at the field of battle beneath his hilltop clearing, and the ground ran red with blood. His enemies fell, their blood coursing over the parched land like rivulets of lava.

All lands lay before you, his grandmother whispered in his mind. I’m proud of you, Geffrey.

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Posted in Fantasy Short Stories Tagged with: , , ,

The Plague of Abaddon

“Lucy, don’t meet him tonight,” Sissy begged, clasping her sister’s hand and pulling her away from the door. Lucy looked at her younger sister. Sissy was only younger by a year, but it looked more like it was five years. Her sleeping cap hid her dark curls, but even the dim candlelight couldn’t hide the worry in her eyes. “I don’t like him . . . he scares me. He’s destruction. I think he’s Abaddon.”

“Oh, Sissy, don’t be silly,” Lucy said, patting her sister gently on the shoulder. She pried Sissy’s worried fingers from her wrist and turned toward the door.

abaddon“I’m not being silly!” Sissy insisted, her whisper shrill. Though she didn’t want Lucy to go, she also didn’t want to wake her parents.

Lucy threw the cloak around her shoulders and sighed. “You are being silly. There’s nothing to worry about Luke.”

“There’s everything to worry about Luke. I’ve had visions,” Sissy confessed. The pleading in her eyes was too much for Lucy to bear. She closed her eyes so she didn’t have to see her sister begging.

Here we go with her visions again, Lucy thought. “Sissy,” she said, opening her eyes once more. “I know you believe what you see when you go into fits, but I don’t. And don’t talk about them so openly. You know what the townsfolk would do if they heard you.”

“But you wouldn’t do that,” Sissy confided. “If you’re not going to believe me, at least take this.” Sissy pulled a silver dagger from the pocket of her dressing robe.

“Where on earth did you get that?” Lucy wondered, staring down at the ornate silver blade. The hilt was made of bone, and while Lucy wanted to believe it was part of a deer antler, she couldn’t convince herself. The hilt had a nice smooth handle, but the end of the hilt looked more like tangled roots than actual bone . . . it hadn’t been carved that way.

“It’s Father’s,” Sissy said.

“This is ridiculous. I can’t take this. I won’t be long, Luke just wants to show me something,” Lucy said.

“In the graveyard!” Sissy argued.

“Yes, that’s where we meet . . . it’s the only place people won’t see us if they look out their windows. Besides, he’s not a werewolf, silver won’t work on him.” Lucy tried to hand the dagger back to her sister.

“Silver works on a lot of things,” Sissy said, pushing Lucy’s hand away. “I’m not taking no for an answer. Either you take the dagger, or I wake mom and dad.”

“Fine!” Lucy said. She slipped the dagger into the pocket of her cloak. She patted Sissy on the shoulder once more because the look of worry in her sister’s dark eyes bothered Lucy. She didn’t believe her sister’s visions, but she couldn’t help feeling worried by the look on her sister’s face.

What if she’s right? Lucy wondered. It was a silly thought, and she pushed it from her mind as she silently closed the door behind her.

It was a chilly night for late Summer. Lucy could see her breath in the air, but at least the muddy ground was mostly solid, and walking the dark streets of the little town of Ander was easy. She crossed the road and trudged along a side street that took her out behind the tavern and to the churchyard. It was late enough that people were no longer out and about, but not so late that the occasional flickering light of houses didn’t illuminate the night.

The graveyard sat behind the stone church. The waxing moon was high, but the covering of trees that grew along the perimeter of the graveyard cast the church and surrounding lands in shadow. She could just barely make out the figure of Luke standing near the back of the graveyard. His back was to her, and he was staring out into the forest that bordered the town.

“Be careful,” Luke cautioned. “There are open graves.

Why are there open graves? Lucy wondered, but she was at such a heightened state of excitement that she could barely speak. Her body quivered uncontrollably as cold spread through her. She was anxious to be near Luke, to feel his energy, to feel the way her body yearned toward his like two lodestones pulling one to another. But at the same time her body quivered in fear. Fear of what her sister had warned of, fear of the graveyard and fear as to why there were open graves.

She picked her way across the soft grass. Despite the chill that hardened the muddy streets in Ander, the chill seemed to do little for the mossy ground of the graveyard. Lucy always worried that she would step wrong and be sucked down into a grave to rest with the bones of a long dead villager.

abaddon

image from BoxHeadStudio

As Lucy neared Luke, she heard rustling in the depths of the open graves. She took a moment to observe the graves. There were five of them, the five nearest Luke. Peering down into the closest one, Lucy didn’t see a bottom. She shivered.

Just a trick of the night, she thought. Still, the rustling and whispering clatter came from deep within the grave, she was sure of that.

“Have you heard of Abaddon?” Luke asked. The name chilled her to the bone. The same name Sissy had spoken of . . . the name she’d claimed belonged to Luke.

“Are you Abaddon?” Lucy asked. She phrased it like a joke, but part of her wasn’t joking at all.

“And if I were?” Luke asked.

Not the answer she was looking for. She fought the urge to back away from him, to run home and hide in her bed. She didn’t know the name well, only what she’d heard in church. She thought it meant destroyer. Why were there five graves though? If he was a destroyer, wouldn’t he have more than five graves to fill.

“The graves aren’t to fill,” Luke said, as if he could read her mind.

The warnings of her mother came to mind then.

“Don’t get mixed up with that one,” her mother had said. “No one knows where he comes from. He’s not from Ander.”

At the time Lucy had thought her mother was being silly. She was afraid of things that were new, things that were different. Luke was all of those. He never seemed to have any reason to fear, but now that name, Abaddon.

“What are the graves for then?” Lucy asked. She wanted to go to him, to lock her arm in his and stare out into the forest, but she couldn’t make herself move. She couldn’t go to him.

She felt the weight of the silver dagger in her cloak, and she fought the urge to think of the weapon. If she thought of it, then would he know? Had he read her mind before, or was it a lucky guess?

Luke turned to her. His hood was up, his face shadowed, but she could see his eyes. They glowed green in the darkness of his trappings.

“My plague,” he said.

Lucy tried to laugh, but nothing came out. A cold hand gripped her throat, only allowing the slightest breath through.

The rustling sounded louder. Something landed on Lucy’s face and she brushed it away. Before she could look to see what was on her hand, the rustling grew louder . . . loud enough to drown out all other noises and all thought from her mind. It was like dead reeds slapping and rubbing together in a gale. The sound was deafening. A cloud swarmed around her and she stumbled back, crying out, her arms over her face.

“My name is Abaddon,” Luke said. He was close to her now, his breath on her face. “And my time has come. The harvest . . . death and sickness. Locust.”

“No!” Lucy said, trying to step away from Abaddon, but he held her by the neck, not allowing her to move. His hand tightened around her throat, and she felt the weight of the silver dagger in her cloak.

She reached for it, dug her hand deep into the pocket until her hand clasped the smooth bone of the hilt. She felt the tangle of bone at the end of the hilt, the weight of the silver. It seemed to embolden her.

“My plague will feast, and your crops will wither,” he breathed into her ear.

Lucy looked into his eyes, wondering if she would see anything of Luke there . . . but they were empty, void of all humanity and filled with only power.

“All of your work, gone.” Abaddon sneered. “A plague of sickness and hunger on your town, and it will spread.”

Lucy took a wheezing breath and steadied herself. She gripped the dagger harder, and in one fluid motion she drove it up through his stomach. Abaddon dropped her and cried out. Smoke oozed from the wound, but Lucy wouldn’t rest with just a stomach wound. Before he could get his bearings, she drove the dagger straight through a glowing green eye.

Abaddon burst into darkness, smoke billowed up into the air with a scream that tore the night. A sudden burst of air drifted through the graveyard, scattering the smoke cloud that was Abaddon out into the forest.

Lucy turned, afraid of what the locust would do to their crops, but as she turned she saw them falling from the sky, raining down around the town. On shaky legs, she headed home, afraid that Luke or Abaddon, or whoever he was, would come for her from out of the darkness, but he didn’t come.

For the first time Lucy believed Sissy. She believed that the visions her sister gained when she went into fits were real. Lucy may have been the one who’d driven Abaddon from the town, but Sissy had been the one who’d saved them all.

Lucy walked home through the locust, dead on the ground.

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Posted in Fantasy Short Stories Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Hunting the Loup-Garou

A hunting horn moaned through the snowy night. Fat flakes of snow drifted lazily from the heavens, lending an air of whimsy to the night. The loup-garou was on the loose, and the townsfolk were hunting. They were hunting for Mathis. Audric had to get to him first.

Mathis had only just turned, and the first one hundred days for a loup-garou were the hardest. Audric remembered it well, the time when he’d learned to master the wolf inside of him, learned to work with the beast, and eventually control it. Right now, Mathis would have minimal control. It wasn’t his fault that he’d killed off some of the farm animals around the town. Audric knew many people who’d fared much worse when they first became a loup-garou.

loup garouAudric went to one knee, studying the large wolf track in the snow. Around him the snow drifted, making him look like a vision from a dream, white hair, ghostly blue eyes, and pale flesh that was bare from the waist up in the cold of the night. He didn’t need the warmth of clothes, his wolf side provided all the warmth that he needed.

His fingers trailed around the edge of the print; Mathis had left the town. The villagers were scouting the streets, hoping to find the wolf and put it down. They knew what they were facing, but they didn’t know it was the orphan, Mathis. It had to be obvious by now that he was gone, but maybe to them he was just another victim of the loup-garou.

He will never come back, Audric spared a thought for the town. It’s my fault. I should have known he would have gone out with those hunters . . .

He pushed the thought away. It would do him no good to reminisce now, not when he had to save Mathis. The tracks led him away from the town. Either Mathis was learning more control or the wolf had realized the threat of the hunting horns and had taken flight.

Audric took advantage of his washed out façade to meld into the flurry of the winter storm. His main focus had to be getting Mathis to safety. Once he was with the others, then he’d be safe.

As Audric trudged through the snow, he couldn’t help but see the look on Mathis’ face when he’d found out.

A swipe of Mathis’ sword and blood spilled from Audric. He’d crumbled to the ground, the wolf form rippling and shifting until he lay there on the snowy forest floor, clutching his arm to his naked chest.

“You?” Mathis had cried out. He took a step back, the light of the crescent moon glinting in his blue eyes. They were watering, tearing up. His black hair caught in the shifting breeze. “You’re the loup-garou?”

“I’m sorry,” Audric had said. Mathis had fled from him then. “Mathis, come back!” he cried out, reaching for Mathis. But he couldn’t reason with his boyfriend. Mathis had taken off into the night, headed back to the village. He didn’t fully understand the curse that gripped Audric. Now that Mathis knew the truth, knew Audric’s secret, he was cursed to a hundred days in the form of the wolf: the loup garou.

If only Audric had been mindful. If only he’d realized his lover would be out that night with the rest of the hunters despite his desperate plea that Mathis stay indoors, then maybe he could have protected Mathis from what he’d seen. Maybe then he would have urged the pack farther away from their normal hunting grounds. But it had been a hard winter, and the lure of the prey in the nearby village had been too strong; he’d been too hungry and his wolf side overrode the better judgement of his human side.

He followed Mathis’ tracks to the forest. Even in wolf form his boyfriend wasn’t the most elegant creature. A large trail had been broken through branches and tore its way through the underbrush. Audric followed with ease, taking strides higher up the hill toward the peak where he figured Mathis was going. Along the way, Audric scuffed out the trail of the loup-garou so that the hunters wouldn’t have anything to follow. He couldn’t imagine the hunters being so brave tonight to climb into the woods. They knew what lurked in the deep parts of the forest, and they were hesitant to tangle with the loup-garou on unfamiliar ground.

loup garouAudric made it to the top of the hill and found Mathis right where he thought he’d be. He was a great, black wolf, shaped like a human with powerful forearms and hind legs. The loup-garou, while not precisely wolves, could still run on all fours, or take to their hind legs like humans. But that’s where the similarities typically ended. Their head was that of a wolf, their bodies covered with fur, their hands and feet ending in claws. Their eyes, however, were a different story. Mathis turned toward Audric, his blue eyes taking in the height of his boyfriend.

“You’ve done this to me,” Mathis said. His voice was deep, almost more growl than words. Who knew if the loup-garou was actually speaking a human tongue, or if one wolf could understand words in the snarls and snips typical of dogs? Whatever the case, Audric could understand what Mathis was saying.

“I told you not to go hunting,” Audric said. He neared Mathis, reaching out for him tentatively. When Mathis didn’t flinch away, Audric rested his hand on Mathis’ back. He turned to look down the logging trail to the glow of firelight in the town below. Puffs of white smoke drifted listlessly on the night air. Beneath them, there was a culture they would never be part of again.

“But how did you do this to me?” Mathis asked. “You didn’t scratch me, or bite me. How am I a werewolf?”

“You’re not,” Audric told him. “Loup-garou are different. The moment you saw my secret, saw me turn from wolf into a man, that’s when you changed.”

“And I’m like this . . . forever?” Mathis asked.

“No,” Audric said, shaking his head. “For a hundred days you will remain under the curse, after that, when you’ve mastered the wolf, you can change at will.”

“But I can never go back,” Mathis said. His eyes were trained on the village, and Audric knew what he felt. He’d remembered several hundred years before, staring down at his own village after the curse took him; seeing what he was leaving behind, what he’d never be part of again.

“No,” Audric told him. “At the end of your hundred days it would raise too many questions if you returned. They’d likely know what you were.”

“And then they’d all turn,” Mathis said, turning to Audric.

Audric shook his head. “Only if they’d seen you change, or you told them specifically.”

“Why did you never tell me?” Mathis asked.

“Because this would have happened to you,” Audric said. “I didn’t want to take that choice from you.”

“But it’s been taken from me,” Mathis said. There was no accusation in his words, and he didn’t pull away from Audric’s hand.

“Yes.”

“And we live forever?” Mathis asked. “I have no fear of death and old age like I did when I was human.”

“We live for a very long time . . . I don’t know if it’s forever.”

“If we can’t go back, where will we go now?” Mathis asked. “Another town where they don’t know us?”

In the distance, there was a questioning howl. Mathis and Audric turned toward the howl that crept through the deeper parts of the forest.

“We go to the others,” Audric said. “To my clan . . . my pack.”

“And I will be one of you?” Mathis asked.

“Always,” Audric said. “You are family now.”

“Family,” Mathis said. He turned back to the town below. Mathis couldn’t remember his family. They’d left him as an orphan on the steps of the church. “I would like that.”

“Then come, meet them,” Audric said. He reached for Mathis’ paw and as he did his own pale hand transformed into a paw covered with soft white fur. Mathis took his offered paw, and together the white and black loup-garous rushed into the depths of the forest, answering the alpha’s call.

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Cheating the Undine

undineWhenever Tashaun saw water, he couldn’t help but think of Abella. His mind drifted along the shore of the lake by his home and he dreamt of watery palaces below, where the undine must rule. The same palaces Abella retreated to, crying and broken, after she’d seen his deceit.

“Father warned me of humans!” She’d cried. He had gripped her wrist, turning her away from the watery depths that waited just off the end of the dock. “You’re all the same!” She had said, pulling away from his embrace.

The moonlight had caught her blond hair making it appear almost silver. Standing in the light of the full moon, the serene lake behind her, Tashaun couldn’t help feeling like he was being caught up in a fairy tale he might have heard when he was a child.

A fairy tale he’d ruined. He’d thought they’d last forever. He was certain Abella was the one. From the first moment he’d seen her emerge from the water that midsummer day, he’d known for certain she’d stolen his heart. He’d come to realize that he’d stolen hers just as certainly.

He’d heard people talk of undines, but he’d never truly believed the tales until he saw her. Webbed hands had melted into long fingers; her plump fin eased into long, slender legs, her seagrass hair turned blond in the morning light. Maybe she’d been a figment of his imagination, brought on from a long night of celebration, but the longer he spent with her that day and the soberer he became, Tashaun realized that she was real.

If he’d remembered the lore of the undines when he saw Abella, he might have steered clear of her. They were believed to be ruled by passion and the deepest emotions of the heart as only a being of water could truly be. He’d learned more of his own heart when he was with her than he had in all of his ventures and all of his travels.

Until he’d met Giselle and had fallen to her snares. She wasn’t nearly as lovely as the undine. Where Abella was light and pure heart, Giselle had been dark and pure lust. He’d fallen hard for her and after the night of fire fueled passion, Giselle had left him feeling empty and broken for his trespass against Abella’s heart.

To this day he would swear that Giselle had cast some kind of spell on him. Why else would he have done what he’d done?

Behind him, the sounds of wedding preparations intruded on his thoughts. He turned to see his mother and stately father instructing florists where to put arrangements and caterers where to put the food until the reception.

It was his wedding to a woman named Genevieve, but it might as well be a prison sentence. Wedding Genevieve was smart for his family. The daughter of a local spice merchant, it made fiscal sense even if there was no love between them. He hoped, in time, that a kind of love might grow between their hearts. She was lovely, if a little dull. But that wasn’t her fault. No one could compare to the bright light that was the memory of Abella in his heart.

He wanted the wedding less than he’d wanted to break Abella’s heart.

He cast a mournful gaze back to the lake. Whenever he saw the water, the thought of the first passionate embrace with the undine ebbed through his heart like the moon powered tide. She may have left him months ago, but she still held his heart as if in a fisherman’s net.

It could be worse with Genevieve. In fact, if he didn’t marry her, it would be worse. His family would be destitute. Tashaun turned away from the lake and the memory of his love from the watery realms. Now he had to face reality.

He’d cheated the undine, and while most people thought that was a stupid thing to do, he’d come away from the encounter alive, but broken.

How he wished he’d died.

“Tashaun?” a familiar voice called from the end of the dock.

Tashaun spun, staring in disbelief as his watery maiden stirred from the murky depths of the lake.

“I’ve seen you here many times,” Abella told him, her arms folding over the sun-warmed wood of the dock; her seagrass hair streaming around her face and over her supple breasts.

“But why?” Tashaun asked, closing the distance between them and coming to a knee before the undine. “Why did you never come to me before now?” Why had she waited? Why did she come now, when he was to be wed? If she’d only come a week earlier, a day sooner, he could have taken her for his own, and they would have run off together.

Maybe if she could take to land, the same magic that allowed her to walk the earth could allow him to swim the depths of the lake.

undine“You ask me such questions when it was you who drove me back to the deep?” Abella asked. There was a fire in her silvery eyes, one that warned him that, though she came to him, Taushan still tread on dangerous ground.

“You still haven’t forgiven me?” Tashaun asked, sitting back on his heels. If she hadn’t forgiven him, why was she here? “After what I’ve told you? You of all beings should understand the power of magic.”

“You mean how Giselle bewitched you?” Abella asked. It sounded more like she was mocking him.

Tashaun nodded anyway.

“Where I’m from, we are told that no magic can sway a true heart. A heart that is resolute with its feelings can never be turned away from where it wants to be.”

“You doubt my love for you?” Tashaun flinched.

“I did,” Abella said.

He reached for her, but the undine listed away from the dock, her hands treading water, the shadow of her tail beneath the surface keeping her afloat.

“But . . . now?” Tashaun asked. He should never have come down to the lake today. He should never have looked for her once she’d left; however, Tashaun’s heart had seemed to heal in the months since he’d seen Abella last. But no matter how much he thought it had healed, seeing her once more tore open all of those old wounds leaving his heart shattered and his soul lost if he couldn’t have her one last time. He should have tried harder to convince himself that she wasn’t real; that undines were only fables. The kind of love he’d felt for her could only end in ruin. It wasn’t real. Love like what he felt for her could never last. Like a kindling flame, his passion for the undine would destroy him.

Abella eased toward the dock once more. “I’ve come to heal my heart. I can finally lay eyes upon you without my heart feeling as if it’s being pulled from my chest. I can look upon your face and know that whatever you’d done that night had nothing to do with me and everything to do with you.

She reached up for his face, and Tashaun let her webbed fingers cup his cheek. With that one touch, her soft skin, the cool damp of the lake that seemed to ebb from deep within her, chased away all of his worry, all of his fear.

“We can still be together,” he told her. “It’s not too late. Let’s run away together . . . now!” Weave your magic over me. Take me to the depths and teach me to breathe the water of your home.”

“There’s no magic to teach you to breathe water, Tashaun,” Abella said. “None.”

Tears slipped down Tashaun’s face. “Are we not meant for one another.”

It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true.

“You saw to that the night you lay with Giselle. You think I’d have you after that?”

What?” Tashaun asked. He shook his head as if what he’d heard her say was somehow false; somehow a conjuring in his mind.

“There’s no faith in your heart.”

“How can you know the depths of my heart? You don’t know how I’ve longed for you all these days. You don’t know how I’ve sat here, staring out into the water, hoping for death to just stop the pain of losing you.”

“Death?” Abella asked. Her hand gripped his cheek tighter. Fire flashed in her eyes once again. “Death is what you wish for?”

Tashaun swallowed heavily. “Don’t you love me?” he asked, changing the subject.

“I did,” Abella told him. “But that love died the night you lay with Giselle and threw it all away.”

He should have listened to the legends. Undine are not to be crossed, but Tashaun had always learned from his mistakes and in this he would learn the hard way. The poisonous vengeance of her kiss paralyzed Tashaun long before Abella pulled him down into his watery grave.

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