Prologue - Becoming The Beast
Reality is a sweet and sour bitch, isn’t she? - Nicole Lyons
I swallowed with a wince at the taste of raw flesh in my mouth. Awareness came to me at its own leisure and I loathed the acute reality it delivered in blunt doses. I gritted my teeth and slashed my claws weakly down my chest. Perhaps I could tear the beating organ from behind my ribs and put an end to the abhorrent animal I had become. I released a pent up breath with a heavy shudder. It was no use. The infection had sunk too deep under my skin to ever get it out.
Nausea rolled through my stomach and I pulled my legs up to my bleeding torso, my back curved and head bowed in shame. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly to avoid the garish spread of crimson as I pushed to my hands and knees with quivering muscles and aching bones. Sticky with blood, my hands stuck to the leaf litter that covered the forest floor and not for the first time, I wished I could crawl beneath the soil and wither my way to hell.
The breath convulsed from my chest. Gruesome images bombarded my mind, fragmented shards that burned into my memory and only sliced deeper at my skin the harder I tried to push them away. They were vicious and vivid and they seemed to pull at the branches of the shadowed trees still devoid of birdsong.
A gust of frigid wind blew through the cloud layer and allowed a thin shaft of the moon’s light through. My lips curled back from my teeth to release a rumbling growl as my bones shifted like snakes beneath skin that bubbled with the disease that had taken over my body. I blinked my eyes to clear them from the blur of shutting them too tight. The moon hung low and full in the sky and illuminated the shredded remnants of my prey that had clearly been human. My head sunk low and I faltered to the ground, unable to coordinate my limbs that had taken with guilt and fever.
The wind howled like the beasts I could hear in the distance, as immune to the bitter cold as I had become after being bitten. My skin prickled. At first they were little more than the sound of predators in the night, but one by one their silhouettes emerged from the shadows and their monstrous forms became discernable. They were no ordinary predators with their snapping yellowed teeth and almost human eyes. They moved with purpose, synchronized and without mercy – circling round to strike as I had done to my prey before I bore down with teeth gnashing and tearing, crushing bone with every snap of my jaws.
I flinched at the thought and shook the memory from my head. The full moon had depraved me of my own free will, pulling and snapping my bones like the fraying strands of a cotton marionette. I never wanted to kill anyone, especially an innocent. For that very reason I had chained myself to my basement wall, but the beast had broken free, hungry and rampageous. I sucked in a tight breath and fought hard against the instinct that demanded my skin split and start sprouting long wiry hair.
“Who the hell are you?” I demanded with a rough and grating voice. My face sharpened and my jaw ached from biting down too hard.
Their leader’s form shuddered with the loud snap of bone and popping of joints, his dark scent tinctured with the rancid smell of their latest kill. I growled low in my throat. He was their Alpha, but that did not make him mine. The beast inside prowled at the thought. It would rather we claw out the male’s entrails and feed it to him than have us submit to his arrogance of dominion.
“Come now Draven, there’s no need for that.” His gaze darted a quick look around at the blood and carnage that surrounded me. “A human? You have been busy, haven’t you?” He gave a sadistic laugh, entertained by the madness I had suffered under the moon. “I like what you’ve done with the place, a regular abattoir.”
My inner beast stirred, flexing its claws and snapping its teeth. It had quickly become irritated by the male’s superfluous attempts to broaden his chest and radiate dominance to appear bigger than he was. Strength was better kept inside until a time came when one needed to defend and protect. The alleged Alpha reeked of pride and self-import and no amount of false posturing could disguise the weakness that eroded underneath, but we would not underestimate the wile of his person.
He knows us.
“What do you want with me?” My words were glacial and booming as he stared at me down his nose, swamping me in his stench of self-importance.
“We’ve come for our mongrel,” he leered. “Where have you been hiding, whelp?”
Canines fully elongated, I pulled my lips back to bare my teeth at him. My instinct coiled around my spine and my inner beast raised its hackles. I watched him warily and kept sight of his louts in my peripheral vision. That they would not stand for an attack against their Alpha was an undeniable fact, but nothing would stop us from ripping into his throat to ensure our own survival. I could practically taste the malice exuding from his pores and the wild in me wanted to spill his blood for assuming as he did.
The urge to sink our teeth into flesh was twisting and pulling my muscles tight around my bones. My beast wanted to drain the blood from his throat and watch him heave until his heart stopped thumping. We would not submit to his authority and be shackled to his pack of mutts merely because he was demanding respect he had not earned. Rage ran hot and thick through my veins. My instinct whispered that he was a male too puffed with pride and ego to recognize us as a true rival and therein laid our victory.
I held his gaze and slowly rose to my feet, assessing his every move. I refused to lower my gaze and show him my neck. He was a lesser male than his pompous posturing suggested and thought himself empowered by his goons at his back. The bite had not gifted me a timid beast. We would not simply roll over and show him our belly because he demanded it of us in his arrogance. We did not owe this male anything.
“We do not answer to you.” My voice was rumbling and thick with censure. The fact that he expected obedience as if I was a dog to be chained to his will set my teeth on edge.
I rolled my head and advanced on him with a snarl, my treads dominant. The tendons in my neck bulged with the rage and bitterness that boiled to the surface from under my skin. I clutched my fists as my new instincts consumed my senses with a harsh stretching of my limbs, violent and vengeful. My chest heaved with fury. They did this to me. Made me this monster.
Kill them. Feast on their flesh.
“I made you what you are. A lycan of my blood,” the male sneered and beat his fist hard against his chest. “You answer to me!”
Something shifted in the air and I stilled. My ears twitched as I listened, shoving the Alpha’s reiterated demands to the back of my mind to seek the threat I could sense approaching. Several heartbeats passed and I stumbled back with the force of something sharp hitting my chest. Fire exploded in my upper body and I looked down in shock at the arrow protruding from my flesh. Another went over my head and I ducked for cover to pull it out of my shoulder. I growled through my teeth when the shaft broke in my bloodied hand and the lodged arrow refused to move.
Fuck did it hurt.
“The battalion! Stop the-” The Alpha’s voice was replaced with garbles and coughs and I lifted my head from the blood that spilled from my wound. My eyes burned from trying to focus on the other male when I still bled through my fingers. I felt heavy and cold, but the patronizing fool had it worse. An arrow stuck from his neck and he clutched at his throat, gasping for air that he could no longer breathe.
I chuckled through the pain and fell back against the tree at my back when my sight flickered. I could hear boots scuffing in the dirt, but I did not take my eyes from my retribution until my vision became too dark to see. How the mighty fall.