Chapter 1: Sacrifice
It was a rainy night in central Canada. The streets of the tiny town were completely empty. The only sound was that of the rain and the muffled steps of the young woman carrying the tiny bundle. She walked as quietly as possible, even though there was no one out to hear her.
She had never been to this town, or even this part of Alberta before. She had no known ties here, nothing that would cause anyone to look here. Most importantly, no one must ever know she had stopped here, no matter how briefly. Still, she was worried. This might not be far enough, or isolated enough, to keep her treasure safe. In the pit of her stomach she knew there might not be anywhere in the world safe enough, but this would have to do. She had run out of time.
She had waited until the last possible hour to come out of hiding and to start the trip. She had planned to be in the town and in the church when the baby arrived. Unfortunately, as so often happens, the baby had plans of his own. Less than an hour ago, she had given birth on a side-road, just a few miles outside of town.
This far north, this late in the year, the sky stayed dark from late afternoon until late in the morning. To make things worse, there would be a full moon tonight. It would not be up for several hours so she still had time. At least she hoped she did, the baby’s life depended on it.
Just an hour before, all alone, she had given birth in the back seat of her car. She had prepared herself and knew what had to be done. She watched videos and read emergency manuals. Unfortunately, none of that could fully prepare her for the actual experience. Somehow, both her and the baby had survived.
The baby boy was amazingly strong for a newborn. Moments after he was born, his eyes were wide open and staring at her. By the light of the stars far above them, she could see his dark pupils, wide open, taking in all of her. She didn’t think babies were supposed to be able to focus their eyes right after being born, but there was no doubt this one was doing just that.
There was so much she didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. She shouldn’t have been pregnant; the baby shouldn’t be alive. Her pregnancy had lasted only weeks, not months, but the baby was fully developed. None of this made any sense.
As a warlock, she had access to the oldest archives and all the research dealing with shifters, or werewolves, as some liked to call them. There were hundreds of years of information gathered from countries around the globe and all of them agreed, it wasn’t possible for anyone infected with the virus to get pregnant. The archives had been wrong!
Stazia had been ambushed, brutally attacked and left for dead. She had survived, but she had contracted the virus. It was weeks after the attack, while she was recovering, that she realized she had become a shifter. The virus was like that. Some who survived an attack never got the virus. Others might become infected within days, while others, like Stazia, might take weeks. There were a few lucky ones who died from the effects of the virus on their own immune systems, even if they survived the initial attack.
As far as she could tell, she had become the first female shifter to get pregnant. Her pregnancy had only lasted a few weeks and tonight she had given birth to a baby boy. But what was he? What would he become? He seemed like a normal baby. In fact, he seemed too normal.
Stazia was far from an expert on babies, but this one, only a few hours old, was stronger than he should be and more alert than any newborn she had ever heard of. He watched her every move, listened to her every sound. He seemed to be able to see her clearly even though there was barely any light in the car. He was breathing easily, yet he had not cried out or made any sound at all. It was as if he knew they had to be quiet. She had waited, cradling the newborn, gathering her strength for the task ahead.
With her little bundle cradled firmly in her arms, she walked on weak legs up the street toward the old Anglican Church. She could have driven right up to the building, but she couldn’t take a chance on anyone getting a description of the car, or the license plate. There had to be no chance of anyone ever tying the child to her. It was his only chance to live beyond the next full moon.
With luck, he might even be able to live a ‘normal’ life… somehow.
She almost laughed at the thought. What was normal about her world? She was, or at least used to be, a warlock. The top-secret government agency tasked with both controlling and protecting those infected with the shifter virus. It was a complicated, secretive world that few knew about. Even top government officials were rarely made aware of the extent of the number of people infected with the virus throughout the world.
She had spent her adult life dealing with a myriad of shifter issues, but now she was the shifter. Her understanding of the complexity of the lives of those infected with the virus had expanded three-fold in a matter of weeks. Even after years of studying the disease and those affected, she was embarrassed how little she had actually truly understood before becoming infected herself.
She had given up on trying to understand how this could have happened. Stazia was exceptionally bright and she knew the why or the how was now secondary to the question of what she should do. After days of crying, and worrying, she had begun planning. Now, the baby had been born and the moment was finally here. Could she actually do it? Did she have a choice? She had thought of dozens of things to do, but none of them seemed right. One by one, she had rejected them. There was only one idea left, the only one that seemed reasonable.
Here, at least, the child wouldn’t be punished for what she had become. She could accept anything fate had in store for herself, but not the child. The child she carried in her arms so firmly, yet gently, was innocent and shouldn’t have to pay for his mother’s failures.
The baby’s father would had given his life to save the two of them, but she couldn’t allow that. She had already lost her mother and she wouldn’t lose him too. Even after the attack, there had been waves of shifters still looking for her. Then, once she was fully recovered, she realized there was at least one other group, perhaps two, that was also looking for her. She rarely saw them, but she could sense them, and she knew they were getting closer every day.
Thanks to the baby’s father, Stazia had been well hidden during her recovery. None of the groups searching for her had been able to find her. But, who were they and why were they so intent on killing her? Why did her death mean so much to them?
She was sure they didn’t even know she was pregnant, but that wouldn’t have stopped them from killing her. They had their orders, she must never be allowed to talk. Her and her mother had managed to do something many would have thought impossible, but they did it. Of course, they had help. When all seemed lost, a giant, shadowy creature had crashed through a window and delivered the fatal blow. Whoever or whatever it was, had saved her.
The attack came at great cost. Her mother had died in her arms, and now they wanted her dead too. They must never discover she had a child for they would kill it just as quickly. They would eventually find her; their kind always did. She could accept that so long as the child was safe. In fact, that was part of the plan. She fully intended on turning the tables and killing all of them. It was a task she was well suited for. She would have done so already if it had not been for the pregnancy.
She had lost her mother, she had to abandon the baby’s father to help keep him safe, and now she was forced to give up her child so that he might live. She no longer cared about her own safety, her will to live was being driven by just one thing…revenge! She would find them, and she would make them pay, all of them.
But first, she must protect the baby. He must be given a chance to live no matter what the costs. That was precisely why she was in this desolate, isolated little town in the middle of nowhere. The baby must be saved!
With each step she took up the dark and lonely street, her teardrops were added to the rain streaking her face. No matter how much it hurt to leave him, she wanted to remember every second of it. Her life might be counted in minutes, hours or days. However long it lasted, she wanted to remember every second with her son, with their son.
Oh God, why had she looked at him? She told herself when the child was born she’d never look at him, but she had. Moments after he was born, she used a towel to clean him up and that’s when it happened. She’d tried not to look, but it was impossible. He was beautiful. His hair was thick and dark and he stared up at her. He had his father’s face and her eyes.
It brought her to tears, but it also put a smile on her lips to think of it. She would never know what kind of man he would become. Would he be more like his father, quiet, gentle and caring, or more like her, fiery, impulsive and temperamental?
Even though it was torture, she couldn’t help imagining what type of man he would become someday. He was long and going to be tall, just like his grandfather. He had her nose, deep blue eyes, and thick, double eyelashes. He was a perfect melding of both parents. He turned his head, trying to smell her, wanting to bond with her.
She didn’t want to hold him so close, but she couldn’t resist. If only for a few precious minutes he was hers and she would sacrifice everything to keep him safe. She fed him and held him close. Never had she felt so attached to any other human being. He was a part of her now. Still, she knew what she had to do, it was his only chance to survive. No matter how much it hurt, she was going to do it.
As soon as she felt like she could walk, she left the car and made her way through the rain, toward the church. She walked on through the dark night, each step making her sob a little deeper. Lightning flashed and through tear filled eyes she could see the church just ahead. The only light visible from the street was in a window at the rear of the building.
Good, that would give her time to leave the child and get away before being seen.
She took a deep breath and prepared herself. She stepped through the unlocked gate of the wrought-iron fence. After a moment’s hesitation, she staggered to the massive stone doorway and laid the bundle gently on the stoop, out of the rain. She pulled an envelope out of her pocket and placed it in the first fold of the blanket the child was wrapped in.
As soon as she laid the child down and stepped back, he cried. The sound shocked her, it was the first time he had made a sound since he was born. She stared at him. Somehow, the baby knew he would never see her again and he was letting her know that his heart was breaking too.
Turning away from the child, she reached out. Barely able to breath and with her hand shaking violently, she used the giant cherub door-knocker to knock three times. She waited several seconds and repeated the three knocks, this time with as much force as she could muster. Without waiting, she turned and headed out the gate. Her legs could barely support her as she walked to the giant oak just outside the yard and stood behind it.
She waited, shaking and quietly sobbing in the night.
After several minutes, she was afraid her knocks had gone unnoticed. She would never be able to go back to the doorway and walk away again. If she saw him again she’d never leave him, even though it would mean certain death for them both. She had almost given up hope, when she heard someone opening the massive wooden door. She saw a figure in a dark brown robe step onto the stoop and look out into the rain. She watched as the robed figure looked down and saw the child at his feet. He picked up the tiny bundle and rushed it inside, slamming the door behind him.
She turned and retraced her steps to the car. Even now they were looking for her. All of them were looking for her, and the only question was which side would find her first?
She could still hear the cries of her baby echoing in her head and now she didn’t really care who found her first. Once they did, she planned to make them pay dearly for their efforts. As both a warlock and a shifter, she was uniquely capable of inflicting great amounts of death and destruction, and for the first time in her life, she would be happy to do so.
As a shifter, the night was hers. As a warlock, few mortals could hope to defeat her in a fight. After all, she had been personally trained by the greatest warlock to ever live. Whether they found her at night or during the day, once they caught up to her, she would make as many of them pay with their lives as she could.
First though, she needed to be as far away from here as possible. Once she was away from this town and the little church, it wouldn’t matter if they caught her or not. So long as they never discovered the child, she could handle whatever else happened. She was already speeding north along highway 97.
After almost an hour of driving through the heavy rains, she could feel the moon rising. It would soon be at its apex. She couldn’t see it through the storm clouds, but she could feel it. She knew she wouldn’t be strong enough to resist it much longer. The birth of the child had taken much of her strength.
She was determined to fight the change as long as she could. If she could just get far enough away from this part of Canada, her son might be safe. Then she could go on the offensive. She had work left to do and many that needed to pay for what they had done. Just thinking about it made her grip the steering wheel tightly. She felt the metal under her hands start to bend and realized she had to calm down, she had to stay in control.
Finally, she could fight it no more. She pulled off the highway and parked under a huge stand of pine trees. She was shaking uncontrollably and sweat was mixed with the tears still falling down her face. She looked in the rearview mirror, shocked at the red glowing eyes staring back at her. She screamed!
Back at the church, the Anglican Monk had taken the baby up to his living quarters. He would have to notify the authorities in the morning. This order of churches had long been a sanctuary for mothers and their children. Over the years, many newborns had been left on the front steps of the churches in the order. It’d been a long time since one had been left on the steps of this church. It was in a small town and far off the beaten path.
The monk loosened the blanket to inspect the child closer. The child was healthy, but beyond that nothing made sense. His umbilical cord had been tied into a knot. The monk shivered, thinking of the poor mother who had delivered this child all alone. The condition of the cord meant the child was only a few hours old, but everything else about the newborn indicated he was at least several weeks old.
While he was inspecting the child, the note dropped to the ground. Picking it up, the monk read what was written on the small scrap of paper. He was suddenly shocked and frightened. He immediately abandoned his plans to notify the authorities. He would have to contact his superiors tonight. First, he needed to be prepared, the moon would soon be full.
As caretaker for Brother Michael, he had been thoroughly trained and had learned as much as possible about the shifter virus. He was far from an expert, but this wasn’t supposed to be possible. If what the note said was true, the repercussions would be felt far beyond this small town in central Canada. In fact, the whole world might come apart at the seams. If shifters could reproduce, the balance of power could be tilted in their favor.
Only the fact that the virus was stubborn and unpredictable had kept the shifters in check this long. Contamination occurred when humans had direct physical contact with shifters, but only when they were in their wolf form. Even so, not all contact resulted in the virus being passed on. Sometimes the virus killed the newly infected human even though they may only have minor injuries from the attack. Sometimes nothing happened even though the shifters had caused significant damage to their victims.
But if the note was to be believed…surely this could not be!
His superiors would contact the warlocks to decide the fate of the child. It would take them many hours to get here. Until then, he would have to show this to Brother Michael as soon as he was released from his cell in the morning. After all, even though he was infected, he was the expert for the church on such matters.
He wrapped the newborn tightly in a clean, soft blanket. He was large for a newborn and very alert and healthy looking. In fact, he was too alert. Trying not to think of what that could mean, the monk knew he would have to find a way to feed the child. He would call the church’s midwife tonight. She could see to his needs until a decision was made.
It suddenly dawned on him that whoever had left the baby at his doorstep, had to know about Brother Michael. How was that possible? Only a few members of the church, all of them at the highest level, knew about Michael and his condition. Of course, the warlocks knew, but only a few members of the government had access to the information. Who among those few would have given the information to this child’s mother?
Still, he couldn’t believe it was a coincidence. He was sure the child had been brought to this church on purpose, but how could anyone have known? Brother Michael had been given refuge here because it was so isolated. His condition required that he be kept far from other people. If what the note said was true, then this was part of a much bigger plan.