“Regan, wake up.”
Regan peeled her eyes open, blinking furiously against the bright light that assaulted her eyes. An assortment of gold, blue, and red lights blurred her vision, and she growled at the inability to see. Caíl chuckled beside her, and she shot him a glare.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll grow used to it. The longer you’re a Mejhan, the quicker your body adjusts.”
“This sucks,” she groaned. “Nothing was this sensitive when I was human.”
“But you were weaker as a human,” he said. “Now, you’re much stronger, and faster. Your senses are sharper, and you can live longer.”
“I know,” she sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. She sunk lower in her seat, turning her head to gaze out the window. The bus had made a turn into a parking lot, and she could feel the transmission underneath shifting as they slowed down. Snow still covered the city, and it was snowing. Fat, white flakes floated down from the night sky, landing softly atop the buildings and bridges. The bus came to a complete stop, and passengers stood, reaching for the overhead compartments. Regan and Caíl stayed seated, their eyes watching every movement around them as the mortals departed from the bus. After everyone else had gone ahead of them, the wolves slipped out into the aisle and followed the crowd off the bus.
Regan groaned as she stepped off the bus. She stretched, her muscles cramped after sitting on the bus for so long. It had been two days since they departed from the bus station in Spokane, and other than stopping a few times for a fifteen to thirty-minute break, they had been on the bus the entirety of the ride. Regan now wanted to run, to stretch her limbs as far as they could go, but as a wolf and human.
Caíl tapped her shoulder, jerking his head towards the street. A line of restaurants lined the street before them, and as if in response, her stomach growled. Caíl grinned, and then headed towards the restaurants, throwing the pack across his shoulders as he went. Regan shouldered her sword in its case across her back, following close behind.
After a heated discussion on what to eat, they finally agreed upon pizza. They sat in the small restaurant, ordered their food, and waited for the waitress to return with their pizza. As the waitress took their orders, Regan noticed how she acted around Caíl. She laughed too often, and she spoke in a high pitched, flirtatious voice that teenage girls reserved for men that caught their attention. She even laughed loudly at something he had said once, putting her hand delicately on his arm. She said something, but Regan had no clue as to what her words were. All she knew was that she didn’t like the way the waitress stared at Caíl as if he were a piece of meat. Beside her, Regan’s wolf snarled, and it took everything she had to not growl in agreement.
The waitress left, and Caíl gave her a half confused, half amused look. He smirked and said, “You jealous there, MacEntyre?”
She scoffed. “Hardly,” she snapped. “Let’s just get our food, eat it, and move on. By the way, where are we going from here?”
“I have connections with the Underground here in Chicago,” Caíl answered. “I lost my weapons when the hunter started chasing us, and all we’ve got is claws, teeth, and your sword. I want us to be better prepared for when we arrive in New York.”
Regan nodded, a frown pulling at the corner of her mouth. “What’s the Underground? I haven’t heard that term.”
“You wouldn’t,” he said. “Undergrounds are only in cities. It’s easier for rogue Mejhan, lone mages, and Kuren to gather together in cities. There are more people surrounding them in the city, making it harder for hunters to locate the revenants, and for member’s of the Mage’s Court to find their members.”
Regan frowned. “I thought mages and revenants were loners, for the most part.”
“Yes, they are,” Caíl assured her. “But for a Kuren and Mejhan to interact with each other, or mages and Kuren, it’s considered treason. No matter how much change we can make within ourselves, our past defines us. In the eyes of the Council, I will always be considered evil.”
Caíl’s fists clenched, his jaw tightening in anger. Regan’s heart sank. He may at times give off the impression that he didn’t care what the world thought of him, but she knew he did. Caíl hated and regretted what he had done in the past, whatever it may be. She knew guilt ate him up on the inside, and she had the sense that he’d spend the rest of eternity atoning for what he had done.
Before she knew it, Regan had stretched out across the table, resting her hand atop his. Caíl’s emerald eyes flew up to meet her gold ones, and they sat like that for a long while. She sent all of her support to him, all of her appreciation so that he’d know she was grateful. He must have felt it, but he turned his eyes downcast once again, as if in guilt. The waitress returned with their pizza a short time later. She left, and the two wolves ate in silence. Regan frowned. He was keeping something from her, and no matter what, she’d find out eventually what his secret was. Even if it killed her… again.
An hour later, they had finished eating and made their way across the city to the most dangerous part of town. Had Regan still been human, she would have never gone near North Lawndale. Now, anytime any of the residents stared at her and Caíl with cold, calculating looks, all she had to do was stare back at them. They’d duck their heads and hurry along after seeing her harsh, gold eyes. They may only be human, but some deep, inner instinct of their told them that she was dangerous and that it’d be best to leave well enough alone.
They came to a stop outside of an old, red-brick apartment building. Caíl and Regan climbed up the steps leading to the front door, where two lines of buzzer buttons decorated the wall to the right. Caíl pressed a finger against one of them, and a moment later a gruff, annoyed voice grunted, “Who the hell is it?”
Caíl smiled. “An old friend,” he simply said.
“McAlister? Is that you? Get your tail in here, you old dog!”
There was a loud buzzing above Regan’s head, and then the door unlatched. Caíl pushed it open and then led Regan up the stairs to the very top floor. He turned left down a hallway, stopping before the door at the end. He raised his hand to knock, paused. He turned to Regan and said, “No matter what, don’t stare. Don’t ask any questions. And don’t make it seem like you’re avoiding looking at him. That’ll just make things worse.”
Regan blinked. “What do you—?”
Caíl pounded his fist on the door three times. On the third knock, the door swung open, and it took Regan every ounce of willpower she had to not react.
The man standing before them was huge. He was at least seven feet tall, with shoulders resting at three feet. He had dark skin with a very faint gray pallor, and his hands were the size of a basketball. On his head, curving away from his skull, were two large, circular horns, very much like a goat’s. His long black hair was braided away from his face, falling well past his waist. He wore only a pair of brown trousers, and when he moved corded muscles rippled beneath his skin. Regan had thought Basil was buff and then realized that the hunter had been ripped. This man before her took the definition of jacked to a whole new level.
His eyes glowed a deep, burnt orange, like the embers of a fire. He fixed Regan with his gaze, and within them, she saw all of the pain, sorrow, and anguish in the world. They held misery, anger, jealousy, lust, despair… every dark feeling there could possibly ever be, as well as some she may have never experienced before. Only Caíl’s previous warning to not stare gave her the strength to jerk her gaze away.
The man—was it a man?—slid his eyes over her, and he grinned as he turned his attention to Caíl. As he smiled, Regan almost recoiled at the sight of his teeth. They were pearly white, and he had a set of thick, round fangs that could easily tear out a bear’s throat.
“McAlister!” he boomed in a deep, joyful voice. “It’s so good to see you again!”
Caíl laughed. “You as well, old friend,” he said. He glanced over his shoulder nervously and said, “Can we come in?”
“Of course, of course!” the man boomed. He stepped to the side, holding his arm out at an enter gesture. “Welcome to the home of Greghon!”
Greghon, Regan learned as Caíl made introductions, was a cambion, the offspring of an incubus and a human. He owned the apartment building, and rented out apartments to Dark Realmers, including but not limited to mages, revenants, witches, vampires, and werewolves. Three of the permanent residents, Caíl had explained, were mages, and had set wards and spells around the apartments to protect them from detection of any kind.
Regan sat on the edge of the huge, threadbare couch. Everything in the apartment was larger than average, even the height of the ceiling. Regan was torn between staring at the floor, or keeping her eyes riveted on the cambion. Instead, she let her eyes travel around the room, taking in the sight of the weapons around her. There were maces, swords of all sizes, clubs, and spears decorating the walls. Suits of armor were scattered through the apartment, all types of armor made from every material imaginable. Steel, iron, leather… it was all there. Caíl had told her he was a blacksmith, and she could see the cambion had perfected his craft over centuries.
“So,” Greghon drawled as he lowered himself into a gigantic armchair. He pressed his fingertips together, his eyes flicking back and forth between the two wolves. “What brings you to my home, McAlister? It’s been, what, fifty years since I saw you last?”
“We need your help,” Caíl answered, shifting nervously in his seat beside Regan. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He was afraid, she realized. Until that point, she had never seen him truly frightened.
“Of course you do,” Greghon said in a low, dangerous voice. “Pray tell, what do you need my help with?”
“We need weapons,” Caíl said. “We’re hunting someone.”
Greghon lifted a dark eyebrow. “You’re hunting someone? Who is it that you are hunting?”
Caíl and Regan shared a look. After several moments of silent conversing, he nodded, and Regan turned to the cambion. “Duncan Carter,” she said with confidence.
Greghon blinked once, slowly, as if surprised at what she had said. Then he threw his head back and let out a loud, booming roar of laughter. Caíl fidgeted on the chair, but Regan narrowed her eyes in anger.
Once Greghon had regained his composure, he wiped a tear from his eye and said, “Duncan Carter? Are you seriously going after the most powerful of the Kuren? What possibly for? I know he hurt you in the past, McAlister, but you don’t have enough drive, not enough ambition to go after him.”
“Maybe he doesn’t,” Regan snapped. “But I do.”
Greghon turned his attention to her. A part of her, the small part that was still human, that was still weak, wanted to recoil into a ball and disappear forever to escape his gaze. But the rest of her, and the wolf within, refused to back down. She would stand her ground, even if it meant her death.
The annoyance in his eyes turned to small admiration. “Why you, little girl?” he demanded. “What sets you apart from Caíl McAlister, from anyone else in this forsaken world that has beef with Duncan Carter? What makes you so special?”
“He killed my parents,” Regan snapped, bristling when he called her little girl. “He killed me, almost killed my sister. I have more drive and ambition than anyone.”
Greghon pursed his lips, interest sparking in his orange irises. “I suppose that does set you apart,” he said. He turned his attention back to Caíl and said, “Very well. I’ll help you.”
Caíl nodded. “Good. Oh, and one more thing.” He gestured to the case with Regan’s sword that she had set on the couch beside her. “We need you to look over her sword. I want to be sure that it will survive the battles to come.”
Greghon nodded. “All right,” he said. “But remember, my services do not come for free, not even for you.”
Caíl sighed. “Fine,” he growled. “Name your price.”
But the cambion was shaking his head before Caíl had even finished speaking. “Not from you,” he said. He smiled at Regan and said, “From her.”
Regan’s eyes widened. “But I don’t have any money,” she protested.
Greghon chuckled. “I don’t want money from you,” he said. “I want a debt. There will come a time when I will require your assistance. I will call upon you for aid, and you must answer. Do we have an agreement?”
The wolves exchanged a look once again. Regan searched for any answer from Caíl, but his eyes simply said, The decision is yours. So, letting out a breath, she turned to Greghon and said, “Deal.”
He held out an arm. After a moment, she stretched her hand out. He gripped her forearm, and against her will, her hand gripped his wrist. A fiery rope appeared, wrapping itself around their linked arms. Greghon closed his eyes and chanted in a strange, guttural language for a moment. After he finished speaking, the fire faded away.
He nodded. “The deed is done,” he said. He held out a hand and said, “Your sword, my lady.”
Regan hesitated for just a moment. Then, she unzipped the case, pulling her sword and its sheath from the case. At Greghon’s insistence, she drew the katana from its sheath. The air sang as the metal was released from its wooden confines, and Regan felt a burst of energy from just holding her beloved sword.
She surrendered the sword, her narrowed eyes watching Greghon closely as he inspected the blade. After several moments, he finally nodded and said, “The blade is ready.”
“How?” Caíl asked.
“It was forged by a child of Hephaestus,” Greghon answered. “No skill can match that of the blacksmith god, except for my own.”
“Wait a minute,” Regan said as her sword was returned to her. She sheathed it and said, “The Greek gods are real?”
Caíl nodded. “Yes, for the most part. They’re not as omnipotent as you may think. They’re immortal, but they’re not really gods. They’re actually very, very powerful mages. In the beginning, the mortals could only describe them as gods, because of the power they possessed.”
Greghon nodded, and then stood. “Well,” he said, “I better go get your weapons, so that you can be on your way and leave me to my peace. Try not to let me see you for another half century please, McAlister.” And with that, he turned and disappeared from the room.