The Calm Before the Storm
Regan gasped and jerked upright, her heart hammering against her rib cage. She pressed a hand to her chest and whimpered, doubling over as she hyperventilated. She closed her eyes, fighting to destroy the memories that haunted her dreams when she slept.
She was back at the place where she had died, on a back road highway somewhere in Montana. Regan, Grace, and their parents were returning home from vacation back east when all of a sudden, as if it had materialized out of thin air, a four door sedan hit them at an intersection. Regan’s father lost control of the steering wheel. Then spun around on the road several times, the scent of burning rubber burning her throat.
When the car finally stopped, everyone was dazed. After that, Regan’s memory of her death seemed to elude her. She remembered seeing light coming at them, and realizing too late that it was a semi truck rushing at them at eighty miles an hour. Regan remembered shoving her sister out of the car, and then time seemed to slow when the semi made impact.
After that, she remembered seeing her parent’s dead bodies, felt the fear of being unable to move. Then the dream faded, and she’d wake up.
This time, though, things were different. As if the memory had been cut in half before, it now came into focus, and Regan remembered so much more.
A shadow moved against the light of the semi truck. She heard footsteps, and then voices. It took several moments, but she was able to focus her mind long enough to listen to what they were saying.
“Did you get them? Are they dead?”
“What the hell do you think, Conwell? I hit them head on. Of course they’re dead.”
Regan heard someone groan, and then the first voice muttered, “Damn. Keith’s still alive.”
“Then get him out and finish him.”
Metal groaned, and she heard someone grunt. “Stuck.”
The first voice swore and said, “Then burn the damn car. Carter wants them all finished off.”
Regan heard liquid splashing, and then a match being struck. She heard a roar, and then flames crackling. Her father screamed, and Regan whimpered as she listened to him die.
A moment later, someone was standing over her. It was too dark to see his face, and the edges of her vision was growing dim. She saw teeth flash in a smile, and then darkness claimed her.
Regan opened her eyes now, welcoming the rage that filled her to her core. They would all pay. The men that killed her and her parents, and Duncan Carter for orchestrating the crash. If it killed her, she would end them all.
During the following week, Regan trained harder, ran faster. She’d awaken early in the morning, and before she started her day, she’d log in to her computer and perform Google searches of Duncan Carter. She had never though to see who had taken over her parents company, because when she came to Dominic, he had told her to forget her old life. Now, all she could do was gaze back into her past.
Duncan had taken over, just as she thought he did. He had set up, signed, and was maintaining contracts with the U.S. military, and was making billions selling her parents weapons.
The Mejhan at the House noticed something different with Regan. When Cece, a nice girl with a tabby spirit, asked what happened, Regan snarled at her and stormed away. Everyone stayed away from her, and when Dominic tried to pry answers from her head, she stayed silent.
If any of them found out she was considering working with a Kuren, she was sure to be punished. Dominic would have no choice but to send her to the High Council, where she’d be put on trial, and then very likely executed. Kuren were evil, and sought to destroy any good in the world. A Mejhan’s sole purpose was to protect mortals from the Kuren, or die trying. And Regan was about to join forces with the devil.
A week later, Regan was back on the mountain, where Caíl had said to meet her. She paced back and forth, her fists clenching and unclenching at her sides or in her coat pockets. It was dark out, the sun having set some time ago.
She heard snow crunching behind her, and she turned to face the wolf that had come up.
Caíl’s body shimmered, and then he was a man. He smirked, his green eyes glowing in the darkness, as he leaned against a tree. “You came,” was all he said.
Regan shrugged. “I didn’t have much of a choice,” she said.
“Of course you do,” Caíl replied. “Everyone has a choice.”
“And you chose to stop being evil?” she asked.
He dipped his head. “Precisely.”
Regan frowned. He was grinning, and he seemed nice enough. Only when she looked at his aura, and saw the red haze surrounding his body, did she realize just how much trouble she was getting herself into. Kuren were born from evil. There was no way to change. Was there?
Caíl, as if he was reading her mind, sighed and said, “Look, I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I hate myself for them, actually. As a human, I wasn’t a good person. As a Kuren, I’ve been wicked. I realized my mistakes too late, and now I’m trying to do all the good I can before my time comes to an end.”
Regan frowned. “You’re a Kuren,” she stated. “You can’t just turn the bad on and off whenever you want.”
He laughed, though it was without humor. “Actually, basically, yes you can. And I have. Being bad, or being good, is a choice. Though we may be Mejhan, or Kuren, we were still human once. And like humans, we can make our own choices. And I chose to do my best to rid the world of bad people, like Duncan Carter. And speaking of…”
Caíl pushed off from the tree, gliding across the snow towards Regan. She didn’t move, but her body tensed up. He was gazing at her intently, and within her she could sense her wolf struggling to stay defiant. Caíl was much older than she, and he was a wolf. He was trying to ascertain his role as alpha wolf, but Regan wouldn’t let him. This was her territory, her home.
After a moment, Caíl grinned. “You’re strong,” he said. “Good. You need to be to make it through this life.”
“Before I agree to anything,” Regan began, “before you and I start working together, I want you to do something for me.”
He raised a brow, the glow in his eyes growing brighter. “Interesting,” he said softly. “And what, pray tell, is it you want me to do for you?”
I am so going to regret this, she thought. She said, “There’s a demon in Wolf Valley. It already killed a boy, and it’s not going to stop. I want you to deal with it. Get that demon out of my town, and send it straight back to Hell.”
Now both of his eyebrows shot up. “Very interesting indeed,” he said. “And why can’t you or your fellow House members get rid of it?”
“You know why,” Regan whispered. Mejhan may act as demon hunters, but they had no control over them. Kuren, however, had abilities that gave them an advantage. Like mages, they were able to summon demons from Hell, and command it to do their bidding. Mages, however, couldn’t perform the summoning ritual with a snap of their fingers. There were preparations they needed to make, and afterwards, their magic was drained temporarily. Kuren, however, could summon demons with a blink of an eye, and unlike mages, they could keep control of the demon before they set it free.
Caíl nodded. He spread his arms and said, “I would love to, but the wards prevent me from coming into the valley. This is as far as I can go. Now, if you let me in, well…”
He trailed off, a mischievous grin lighting his face. Regan c ursed. If she allowed him into the valley, then any Kuren could enter as well. She could weaken the wards, but only a mage could raise them again. And Malcolm, Dominic, and all of the other Mejhan couldn’t know what she was doing.
But the demon needed to be dealt with. With a heavy weight on her heart, Regan took a deep breath and said, “I, Regan MacEntyre, give permission for the Kuren named Caíl to enter the valley, in order to destroy the demon terrorizing the civilians.”
The ground shook, pitching Regan forward. She grunted as she collided with Caíl’s chest. He gripped her arms, keeping her upright until the earth was still once again. She stepped away, and he said, “Thank you, Regan. I look forward to us working together.”
“Grace, are you okay? You look terrible.”
Grace looked up to see Beck standing over her. He was holding onto the strap of his backpack, a worried expression on his face. “Class is over,” he said. “Are you okay? You spaced out again.”
“Oh. Um, yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” Grace gathered her notebook and pencil, shoving them into her messenger bag. He gave her a disbelieving look, but he didn’t press the matter. Together, they walked out of Calculus and into the hallways of Wolf Valley High.
For the past week, all Grace could think about was meeting up with Basil. She didn’t have to think about whether or not she wanted to know what was going on. She had to know, even if it meant her life being put in danger. When she thought back to the two men at the Hideout, she knew it was a very good possibility.
Beck was suddenly gone from her side, and then the deafening sound of banging lockers filled her ears. Grace spun around, and she immediately put herself between Beck and another senior, one of the football players.
“Stop it!” she yelled, shoving at him. The jock backed off, a lazy grin on his face. After sending Beck a death glare, he turned and stalked away.
Grace turned, putting her hand out to her best friend. He gratefully took it, and she helped him to his feet.
“Are you okay?” she asked him.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. He glared in the direction the jock had gone and said, “Once graduation is over, I’ll never see this town again.”
Grace smiled and wrapped an arm around his waist. “We’ll never see this town again,” she corrected him.
For the most part, Grace loved living in a small town. It was quiet, and most of the time, it was peaceful. She loved being able to go hiking on warm summer days, especially since she lived next to a trailhead.
And then there were instances like this. A small town had a community that could be very small minded, and very set in their ways. Over half of the population of Wolf Valley was riligious, mostly in the Catholic faith. Beck was gay, and the jocks at the school made a point to make his life a living hell.
“Do you want to come with me and some of the drama kids to get some hot cocoa?” Beck asked.
She shook her head. “I can’t,” she said. “I got a lot of homework to do.” Her stomach twisted with guilt and she averted her eyes as she bit her lip. She hated lying to him, but she had a gut feeling that she shouldn’t involve him.
He nodded. “Okay,” he said. He gave her a brief hug and said, “I’ll see you later, then.”
Outside, heavy flakes of snow was drifting lazily to the ground. Grace sighed and closed her eyes, tipping her face to the sky. For just a moment, the world was silent. The valley seemed to be holding its breath, and to Grace it felt like the calm before the storm.
After several moments, Grace sighed and stepped forward, leaving the school campus. She adjusted her scarf and buried her gloved hands in her pockets as a cold wind picked up. She had gone no more than two blocks away from the school when she felt eyes on her.
Grace looked over her shoulder, then frowned when she saw two figures behind her. She faced forward again and picked up her pace, hurrying along main street towards the Hideout. Maybe they’ll go away, she thought.
She was a hundred feet away from the Hideout when a third stranger appeared before her. He had stepped out from around the side of a building, and began walking towards her. To her right, across the street, a fourth was hurrying towards them.
Grace turned left, down an alley. There was a left turn up ahead, and then she cursed when she found herself trapped by two brick walls, a chain-link fence, and four strangers.
They rounded the corner, and Grace dropped her messenger bag. She bounced lightly on the balls of her feet, her muscles tense as she prepared to fight.
Two of the men were familiar. Clark and Ivan were in the center, while they’re two buddies guarded the edge of the alley. Clark smiled as he stepped forward, saying, “Well, well. Miss Grace MacEntyre. I thought that was you with my dear Basil the other day.”
“What do you want with me?” she snapped.
He chuckled. “I don’t want you,” he said. “But my boss does. See, you’re supposed to be dead, and he’s very annoyed. So, you’re going to come with us, and you’re going to come quietly. Or your weird, geeky friend is going to get it.”
Beck. Grace opened her mouth to say something, but before she could a roar shook the stillness. Clark’s eyes widened, and he looked behind him just as a huge grizzly bear crashed into the alley.
Grace’s heart raced in her chest, and she couldn’t find the breath to scream. Clark and his companions, however, didn’t seem to be surprised. More annoyed than anything, really.
“Really, Basil?” Clark said as the grizzly stalked towards them. “Her fate is not up to you, Mejhan. She is one of us.”
The bear roared again, and Clark shrugged. “Very well.” He turned to Ivan and said, “Grab the girl. We’ll meet up at the rendezvous.”
Ivan nodded, and made his way towards Grace. After that, many things happened all at once. Grace screamed, Clark and his two companions pulled out long, wicked looking knives, the bear roared, and Ivan grabbed a hold of Grace’s wrists.
As soon as he touched her, Grace felt a strange heat in her belly. It traveled up, towards her chest, and then it flowed down her arms, to her hands. Her gloves caught on fire, and so did Ivan’s coat. Green-blue flames danced along the cloth, and within seconds Ivan was encircled in a fiery inferno.
He screamed, clawing at his clothes. He fell to his knees, and within moments he lay still and silent as the flames died away, leaving a charred body in their wake.
Grace cried out and pulled the gloves off her hands. As soon as she dropped them, the flames died. She gazed at her hands in amazement. There were no burn marks, and she felt no pain. But she was overcome with a sense of exhaustion, and she fell to a knee.
Before her, Clark and his companions were engaged in combat with the bear. The beast swiped a huge paw at one of the men, while the other tried to sneak in to his right flank. The bear swung his head around and roared in the man’s face. Clark, seeing his opportunity, raised his knife and charged.
Without thinking, Grace sucked in a breath and yelled, “Watch out!” But it was too late. Clark buried the knife to the hilt in the bear’s left shoulder. The bear roared, and then lunged forward, taking Clark’s head in its jaws. It clamped down, and Grace heard a sickening crunch fill the alley.
The two men, seeing Clark and Ivan dead, turned and raced out of the alley. Grace staggered to her feet, leaning against the brick wall behind her as she looked at the bodies before her. Ivan was a black, charred husk, and Clark’s head was unrecognizable as blood poured out onto the snow around him.
Grace jumped at Basil’s voice. She turned her head, and saw Basil leaning against the wall as well. He looked pale and sweaty. The bear was gone, but Basil was there, with a knife stuck in his side, below his ribs.
“Oh my God!” Grace cried out. She stumbled over to him, doing her best to ignore the fact that just moments ago he had been a bear.
Basil grunted and said, “Grace, I need your help. I’m going to die if I don’t get help.”
She nodded. “Okay, uh… I’ll call for an ambulance, and then—”
“No!” Basil gasped. “No, no ambulance, no hospitals. They won’t be able to help anyway.”
“Then what do I do?” she asked.
“The mansion,” he grunted, sliding to the ground. “The one we were at for the party… the owner’s name is Malcolm. He’ll be able to help…”
Grace nodded, and then bent to grab his arm. She draped over her shoulders, grunting as she tried to stand. She shot him a look and said, “I need your help with this, at least.”
He slowly bobbed his head, and with shaky legs, he braced himself against the wall and pushed himself up. Together, they began making their way towards the mouth of the alley.
“What if someone sees us?” she asked.
“They won’t,” he said. “There’s supposed to be a blizzard right now, so everyone’s indoors.”
It was slow, but Grace and Basil managed to make their way across town. As they hobbled, the wind grew, and the snow became thicker. Grace ducked her head, bracing herself against the wind as if it was trying to force her away, to turn back. But she refused to let it win. Basil was dying, and as they went on, he became more pale, his skin taking on a gray pallor.
When they finally arrived at the mansion, Grace’s legs gave out. She cried out as she collapsed, and Basil fell into the snow beside her. Ahead of her, she saw the front door open, and then a shape was running towards them. The Japanese man from before—Malcolm—pressed a soft, gentle hand to her head, and then she fell into a dark, deep sleep.