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Gauntlet Rite of Ascension

By Marcus Abshire Author All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Fantasy

Blurb

Eric is your typical American teenager. When his sister leaves without him, he is forced to walk to school, taking a short cut through the woods. What he encounters in the shadows of a pine tree changes his life forever. Bitten by a wolf, Eric’s Beast is unchained and the battle for his very soul begins. Eric must fight a powerful and ancient creature with nothing more than his will. Success means having to live with the power of the Beast and failure means a fate worse than death. After accepting the powers of the Beast, Abaddon, the Pack’s weapons master, begins teaching Eric how to use the deadly familial silver gauntlets his father made for him before his death, in order to defend himself against members of the Pack that are hell-bent on making sure he never becomes one himself.

Rite of Ascension

MARCUS ABSHIRE

GAUNTLET

Rite of Ascension

For my daughter.

You never give up, how can I do anything less?

I love you sweet pea.

Prologue

Somewhere in the cosmos, the Hunter stalks his prey. The place does not matter, the prey does not matter. All that matters is the struggle, life and death, one’s drive to bring about death only to ensure the other’s life, the cycle forever unchanging. The Hunter nears his target, ready for the kill. The prey eats, unaware of its imminent doom. The Hunter crouches low, anticipating the moment.

He stops; a call from the One comes to him. The One has not called on the Hunter for a long time. He began to believe the One no longer needed him. He turns his head as the One calls. The prey, now aware of his presence flees. No matter, the One needs him. He forgets the chase and the kill, there are more important matters to deal with. When the One calls the Hunter answers, it has always been such. It will always be such.

He leaves the orb of rock on which he had been stalking his prey. Far away from where he is called. The Hunter knows he has a very long way to go, but he also knows all the short cuts and every trail. With a force of will the Hunter leaves this plane and slips between realms where the distances are not so vast and time does not flow like a river.

The Hunter runs. It has been a long time since the he has run like this. The freedom from the mortal coil is rejuvenating. The many forms the Hunter has taken over the eons have all been effective. As the Hunter wills himself back into the physical plane he takes on a familiar shape, one that pleases him. He stands on a vast and open stretch of land covered in hundreds of feet of frozen water. Howls from nearby hunters can be heard as his presence is announced, as it should be.

The Hunter breaths deeply, the cold wind sharp to his sensitive nose. The depth of smells this form can discern always surprises the Hunter. He easily finds the scent that gives him his heading. Wide paws dig in the frozen ground as the Hunter races off. The destination is known, the hunt is on. His white fur blends in with the surroundings and he flies over the ground, a cloud of power and purpose, determined to answer the call of the One and to set in motion the next step.

Over the land the Hunter runs, which gradually warms as he moves south, closer to his target.

Finally, after days of endless running he reaches the end, the end of the journey, but the beginning of something else. The Hunter enters a well-worn path and quietly pads through a small wooded area. The animals all grow silent in respect to the Hunter. He wants his presence known and the animals understand the Hunter is not here for them.

He finds a spot under a small tree and circles the ground three times before laying down, knowing that soon the Hunter’s prey will come, the One has said so and so it shall be.

Chapter 1

The alarm clock kept buzzing, two notes alternately blaring, making it impossible for me to go back to sleep. I needed to get up anyway. The end of the school year was almost here and I couldn’t start slacking now. I’d worked too hard to get where I was to make a lazy mistake like sleeping in and missing a class.

The options for a kid like me were limited. When you don’t have a trust fund to pay for college or an arm of gold to ensure a free ride you had to rely on the one thing you did have, a brain.

My scholarship wasn’t guaranteed. Sure, I had a 4.0 G.P.A., was the valedictorian and had met all the requirements, but I still had to stay out of trouble before it went into effect.

The one thing that always made me laugh was the morality clause. A morality clause made sure the college could deny a candidate their scholarship if they went out and got a little wild at some party or if they, god forbid, acted like the teenager they were.

I was a science nut and my dream was to go to Georgetown. They had the programs I was looking for and if I had to act like a good Christian and abide by their morality and goodness guidelines for the summer I would.

Hell, it’s not like it would be all that hard. I wasn’t what you’d call popular. I wasn’t a pariah or anything, but spending endless hours studying while my classmates learned the best way to make a bong with a two-liter and a five-gallon bucket made sure my social life wasn’t bursting at the seams.

Whatever, I would have plenty of time to indulge in the good life when I was a Pulitzer Prize winning scientist.

“Get your ass up douchebag; I have to be in Algebra early today since you won’t help me,” Susan, my pain in the ass yet endearing sister said.

“I tried to help you, but you didn’t take it seriously,” I mumbled again for the twentieth time.

She was trying to balance her social life and her studies. She put more weight in having friends and being at the right parties than she did at getting good grades. She didn’t want to fail and was trying to make sure she graduated.

She had a free period in the morning and used it to take Algebra with another class, then again when her class came around. I tried to tell her it doesn’t do any good to go over the lesson twice if you don’t take it seriously. I think she was hoping the teacher would see her effort and give her a passing grade for trying.

Who knows, most teachers were more interested in getting the kids through so it looks good on their assessments instead of making sure their students know the stuff they have been taught.

I groggily dragged myself out of bed and quickly took a shower. I got dressed and made my way downstairs only to hear my sisters Volkswagen Beetle drive off, leaving me to walk to school. I stood there for a second. I couldn’t believe she just left me.

“Bitch,” I said.

“What?” my mom asked.

My mom was great. She had been working hard to keep our family together after my dad died in a car accident. It was a complete shock.

We had as close to the classic American family as anyone could. My dad worked a nine to five desk job as an insurance agent, my mom stayed at home intent on making sure there would always be someone present when my sister and I came home from school.

They were both good parents. They loved us and tried to show it without being overbearing. They were always there at our recitals or plays; they came to every football game. They even understood when my sights turned more to books than to the pigskin. My dad never showed disappointment or remorse that I didn’t want to follow him as a football player.

He was a quarterback and had gotten into college that way. He had N.F.L. recruiters looking at him until he injured his knee and never got back on the field.

I can’t really complain. He met my mom in the hospital. She was a nursing student and they met while he was recovering. I guess I should be thankful he was injured. I would never have been here if he hadn’t.

I think he saw it the same way and loved his family more than he ever did his old sports career. My mom had gotten a job after my dad’s death and was working at the local coffee shop trying to make ends meet with a crappy paying job.

Her schedule allowed her to be here when we left and to be here when we came home, so she was willing to put up with it until we went off to college, it was one of the things she wasn’t going to change after my dad’s passing.

“Oh, nothing. Susan left me again. I’ll have to walk to school,” I said, trying to hide what I said about my sister.

“Yeah, well I know she can be a pain, but you shouldn’t talk that way. Your sister is still your sister, no matter how she treats you. She still loves you,” she said, seeing right through me.

I looked at her smiling. She was dressed in a white button up shirt and brown pants, her uniform for the coffee shop. She had her blond hair up and two sticks stuck out of the bun on her head. Her eyes were soft and caring, hiding a pain that always showed itself when she looked at me. I think I reminded her of dad so much that she always saw him in me, and that inevitably made her sad.

“I guess a good walk will help wake me up. I don’t have a class for another hour anyway. I can take the time to get ready for my debate in speech,” I said.

“That’s the way. Take lemons and make lemonade,” she said.

I went over and hugged her, grabbed an apple from a bowl on the kitchen table then slung my backpack over my shoulder. I left and began the two mile walk to school, intent on getting there with enough time to spend a half hour in the library.

The summer hadn’t yet fully taken over. Living in Pennsylvania ensured our winters were deep and our summers were not. The humidity was unbearable at the height of summer and the heat could, at times, be overwhelming. Generally, though, our winters were harsher than summer. This year’s spring was lasting longer than usual and the morning had a crispness that was unusual for this time of year.

I walked down the sidewalk, passing under large trees that grew from the small plot of soil next to the street. The houses in this area were old, most of them well kept, but some were left to rot. They’d been built after the end of WWII. The returning soldiers needed homes to live in and a lot of neighborhoods were built after the war to house the homecoming men who were ready to start living and working for their American dream.

I walked down to the end of the street and instead of turning right I went straight, across the street, and entered the forested area that surrounded our neighborhood.

The trees were thick and the new growth was fastidiously taking over. I entered the wooded area by a well-worn trail which cut through the woods and provided a nice short cut to school.

Kids loved this area, they would come out here and play games or just explore. Teenagers also loved the feel the area provided, almost as if they could do things in here and not be seen. There were more than a few parties thrown in here on the weekends.

Most of the adults living around here didn’t mind. The trees provided a sound proofing that allowed the kids to get out of hand and not bother the adults sleeping. The woods always felt safe to me, a place that seemed inviting and at the same time full of quiet wonder.

I walked the path lost in my thoughts.

I had lab today, one of the last labs of the year. I loved lab, not because of the scientific exploration that took place there. I mean it was high school for god’s sake. The most interesting thing we ever did there was dissect a baby pig.

The one thing that made me love it wasn’t what we did but who I did it with.

Sara was my lab partner. She was smart, kind, funny and most of all she was gorgeous. She had long straight black hair with piercing blue eyes that always saw through my crap.

She always got my humor and respected my opinion. Every time she was near I had a hard time thinking straight. She muddled my thoughts better than a blender.

She had been dating Ricky Roberts, who played on the varsity football team. They had broken up last month after a big fight. I was determined to ask her out before I went off to college. I wasn’t going to let these last few months go by without trying. I couldn’t live with myself if I never even tried.

I heard movement in the bushes that startled me out of my thoughts. I stopped, curious.

It might be some kids messing around before school. Perhaps it was an animal that awoke as I walked by.

The end of the year was always a great time for kids like me to be the target of some jerks idea of a good time. I wasn’t too worried about that, however, I know I wasn’t the coolest kid in school but I was starting to fill out a little and the bullies liked to stick to the kids who couldn’t put up much of a fight. Still, you never knew.

I heard it again, something moving, disturbing the dead leaves that littered the ground. This time I distinctly heard a whimpering, almost like someone groaning.

I thought about walking away, going to class. For all I knew some homeless guy had passed out and was waking up to a massive hangover. It might also be someone that was hurt, or a hurt homeless guy who would lash out at anyone who came near.

If it was someone who needed help and I left them here how could I look at myself in the mirror? Just a quick check then, if it was someone in need, I’d go get help, if not I’d get my butt to class.

I stepped off the trail and went deeper into the bushes. I pressed aside small trees and bushes to make a path towards the sound. I heard it again and it was louder. I was getting closer.

I passed through a deep patch and entered a slight clearing. The bushes opened up enough to allow me to see a white form lying under an overhanging pine tree. The deep shadows hid the figure from me but I could see the form moving up and down, breathing. I was just about to walk away, figuring it was someone sleeping when the figure slowly started moving.

A large white wolf stood up and stared at me. The animal was magnificent. It had the long strong legs of a northern wolf, piercing light blue eyes that looked at me with cunning and a surprising depth of intelligence.

I was mesmerized. I stood transfixed as a wolf out of myth and ages past stood looking at me. It lowered its head slowly and sniffed, then it rose back up and stared with an intensity that was unnerving.

I didn’t know what to do. If I turned and ran that would only make me seem like prey and I was afraid the wolf would attack. If I stood there and did nothing that might make the wolf curious and it might come over to investigate and then attack.

I thought about jumping up and down and waving my arms while screaming, only for a second. The wolf took a few long steps towards me and before I knew what I was doing I saw my hand reach out. The wolf came to within a few feet and I kept my hand there, out in front of me level with the wolf’s nose. The wolf leaned in and sniffed my hand then dipped its snout under my palm and rose up indicating that I could pet it.

I cautiously stroked the wolf’s head twice before my senses came back and I started to realize what I was doing. I took my hand back as the moment passed. The wolf continued to keep eye contact with me and I was just about to start slowly walking backward away from the wolf when it lunged out and bite down on my forearm.

Pain erupted as the wolf’s powerful jaws clamped down and its teeth pierced my skin. The wolf’s grip was like a steel vise as I tried to pull my arm back. No matter what I tried the wolf would not let go.

My arm was screaming in pain as a dull throbbing began to radiate from the site of the bite. I was just about to take my backpack off and use it as a weapon when the wolf let go of my arm and turned away, disappearing into the shadows of the woods. I took a few steps back, thrown off balance.

I looked down and saw blood slowly welling up out of the puncture marks the wolf’s teeth left. As the pain increased, I felt another sensation following it. It was odd, but there seemed to be an almost physical sense of finality. It was as if a lock had been turned and a door that had been long closed opened.

I couldn’t explain it, only to say I felt as if something important was about to happen. The pain came back and erased any other feelings as the shock of what happened and the sight of so much blood overwhelmed me and I passed out.

Chapter 2

I slowly opened my eyes.

The bright sting of a ray of sunlight assaulted me as it shot through a break in the leaves overhead. I squinted and brought my arm up over my eyes to shield them. I sat up and my head swam as dizziness clouded my vision. I waited for it to pass and the deep throbbing of my temples to fade into the background.

What was I doing here? I thought.

Then I remembered the wolf and the encounter. I looked down at my right arm afraid of what I would find. There was dried blood on it where I remembered being bitten, but there were no open teeth puncture wounds. My skin was closed; showing small scar puckers in the spots where a wolf’s teeth should have left open bloody wounds.

Either I had been bitten by a wolf and the wounds had healed within minutes or the marks were from some kind of bug bite.

Was I going mad?

Had all the nights spent learning about thermodynamics or studying calculus made my head mush? Did I hallucinate being attacked by a wolf? What the hell had happened?

All these thoughts and a million more raced through my mind. I absently looked down at my watch. I had only ten minutes to get to school before I was late!

I got up and hurried out of the bushes. I tried to brush off the leaves and some of the dirt that was stuck to my pants.

Once I got back on the trail everything seemed to gain normalcy. This trail was familiar; the path to school was familiar. If I just got to school, the weirdness of the morning wouldn’t seem so real, I thought. Something explainable happened. I was sure. I just had to figure out what.

I started running, hoping to get to class in time. On the way, my mind began formulating a plausible scenario that seemed more and more agreeable all the time.

I heard a noise and went to see what it was. A rabbit startled me and I fell down bumping my nose and bleeding on my arm. A bug had bitten me and left those strange marks on my arm and the whole wolf thing was a result of my being unconscious.

Yeah, I could live with that.

I flew out of the woods and over the open expanse of grass that led up to the high school. It wasn’t a large school.

The main structure consisted of a one story rectangular building with two adjoining wings the same length but not as wide. There were satellite buildings that housed some electives, Art, Home Ec. that sort of thing. The gymnasium was in another building behind the main school.

I passed the large gymnasium that held our pep rallies and basketball games and hurried into the main building from a back entrance.

The hallways were full of students making their way to their lockers and getting their books needed for class. I stopped inside the building and checked my watch. I had three minutes until the first bell. Then another bell three minutes later that let you know you were late.

I had six minutes all together, plenty of time to get to my locker and then class.

I tried to calm down and act normal. I walked through the hall avoiding other kids and keeping my head down.

For some reason everything seemed to smell stronger. The scents permeating my school assaulted my nose and as I passed each student I could easily tell what they had for breakfast. One girl had cereal, another girl ate a donut, while still others only had coffee, and a few stunk from cigarettes and the occasional joint.

Everyone who passed me held a deeper profile than I was used to. Colors were sharper and the sounds of the crowded hallway began to overwhelm me.

I made it to my locker and stood there leaning my forehead on it taking deep breaths. I tried to get control of the sensory overload I was experiencing. Maybe I had hit my head harder than I thought.

“Hey, what the hell happened to you?” I heard my sister say as she walked up to me.

“What?” I said, startled at her approach. A strong scent of someone else came off her, a familiar, yet hard to define odor.

“What’s wrong with you? Did you get beat up or something? You’ve got blood on your arm and you’re dirty. Did someone jump you?” she asked with real concern.

“No, no. I just fell, it’s nothing. Thanks for leaving me, by the way. I had to take the short cut through the woods,” I said, trying to make her feel bad.

“No problem. Next time, be faster,” she said with a smile, unperturbed.

“Jerk,” I said.

“If you don’t like it you shouldn’t be such a tight wad and spend some of the money grandma left us. Get your own damn car,” she said as she walked off.

“Bye bro, have fun today,” she added over her shoulder.

Maybe she was right. Grandma had left us a large sum of money after her death. I took mine and put it in the bank, intent on using it to help with college. Susan took hers and bought some clothes and her car. The rest she put in the bank for a “vacation” she said she needed after school let out.

We were twins, not identical, paternal. We were both graduating this year and had different goals. She didn’t take her future as seriously as I did. We were best friends growing up, always together, playing, hanging out. We slowly grew apart at the beginning of high school.

I guess hanging out with your brother was bad for the rep. It was bound to happen I guess. I missed her though. Maybe things would change after school was over and the pressures of a social life less important.

“Eric! Eric! There you are. Where the hell have you been? You were supposed to meet me in the library, remember? You wanted to practice your debate prep,” I heard Max say as he walked over to me.

He was my best friend. We met during our freshmen year. I was on the football team and he was in the chess club. Some of my fellow teammates thought it would be funny to give him a “Texas wedgie”, I didn’t.

I stepped in and saved him. He hasn’t left me alone since. He is really a good guy. Smart and kind, he spends way too much time online and sees a conspiracy in everything. I loved his enthusiasm.

“I’m sorry, Susan left without me and I had to walk to school, took me longer than I planned,” I said.

He came up to me and noticed the blood and dirt. Concern crossed his face.

“You okay man?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just fell that’s all. I’m gonna go get cleaned up real quick, meet you at lunch,” I said.

“Yeah, okay, see you in a bit,” Max said as he continued to look at me with skepticism.

I hurried down the hall and into the bathroom. I went to the sink and assessed myself. It wasn’t all that bad. I had a smudge of dirt on my face and some small leaves in my hair, my arm looked worse than it was.

After washing the blood off it looked normal, except for the marks. I checked my clothes and quickly tried to swipe off any leftover dirt. I looked at myself and decided I was presentable.

The first bell rang. I had three minutes. I turned from the mirror and ran straight into Ricky Roberts. We collided as I was exiting and we both took a step backwards.

“What tha?” Ricky said.

Anger starting to show on his face as he saw it was me. Ricky was very athletic. He was tall, strong and had a tendency to be aggressive. He wasn’t a bully, but he didn’t have a problem getting physical when someone got in his way.

“Watch where the hell you’re going Awol.” Awol was a term some on the football team had given me after I left. Some of the players saw football as a club or an exclusive membership, a privilege. They resented the fact that I quit.

Especially, since I was good at football. Normally I never let the term bother me. I let it go by without a second thought. What did it matter anyway? These people lived their lives for high school and in five years they would be working some lame job reliving the “glory days”.

I stopped and stood up standing tall and straight. Ricky outweighed me by about fifty pounds, but I wasn’t a shrinking violet.

Anger welled up within me, a deep urge to strike out and make him understand he was beneath me overwhelmed me. I was filled with a need to make my dominance known. To have him understand where he stood on the natural order of things and that was under me.

I took a step towards him without even realizing it and a slow snarl began to gather deep in my throat. Ricky saw something in my eyes, because he took an involuntary step back.

I shook my head, getting myself under control. What was wrong with me?

“My bad, sorry,” I said as I turned to walk past him.

Ricky just looked at me, still confused, then he said, “Yeah, well, be more careful,” his previous bluster gone.

I walked away from him and made my way to class. Something about how he smelled clicked and I realized what the smell on my sister was.

I made it to class with a few seconds to spare and the day of learning started. My first period was calculus, it wasn’t too terribly hard, you just had to keep up so the material didn’t overwhelm you.

Next came U.S. History. I always loved the stories about battles and the founding of America, but somehow Mr. Fritter sucked all the fun out of it. I think history teachers are taught how to pull all the enjoyment out of the past. We learned more about dates and places than about the people and events that took place there.

Third period was Home Ec. I had all my credits full and needed an elective. I decided to take it in hopes of meeting a girl. I figured that’s where they’d all be. Sure, it was full of girls, but none of them were interested in me.

It was no loss; I learned how to fix buttons and how to bake a cake. I was currently working on making a poncho, it was almost done. All I had left was sewing on the hood.

After Home Ec. was lunch. The previous episodes of enhanced sensory perception had stopped and I wasn’t assaulted with overwhelming sights, sounds and smells.

I went to the lunch counter and got a tray, loaded it up with the mystery meat of the day and went to find a seat.

I turned and saw Max already sitting at our normal seat. Our lunchroom was one large area with long communal seats set up. Four rows of bench seating with a table in the middle. We always sat furthest away from the counter on the far left side of the room. I don’t know why, but we had staked out the territory years ago and no one bothered to sit there.

I walked up to him as he sat and ate with vigor.

“Sup,” I said as I sat down.

“Did you watch the video I sent you last night? The one about the Phoenix lights?” he asked.

“I wanted to, but I was just too busy doing other stuff,” I said.

This was a ritual with us. He constantly sent me conspiracy videos and I constantly ignored them.

“This one was ballshit crazy. The military is actually trying to say it was just an exercise, damn that’s old! There was like a thousand eye-witnesses, not to mention the fact military protocol wouldn’t allow them to engage in exercises so close to a populated area. They think we’re all brain dead idiots,” he said.

Sometimes I liked to needle him, just for shits and giggles.

“Why don’t you write your senator? Maybe send the video to channel three. I’m sure they would run it in between this weekend’s bake sale coverage and the hard hitting expose on ATM locations,” I said.

He looked at me for a second, before using his fork to point at me.

“I know you think I’m crazy, but I don’t give a damn. Those fuckers are controlling shit and one day you’ll see. One day something will happen and you will say, damn, Max was right all along. Mark my words,” he said.

“Send me the video again, I’ll take a look,” I said, trying to appease him.

Max could get real agitated at times, especially when someone thought he was crazy.

“No you won’t, dick. I’ll send it anyway; maybe you’ll come to your senses,” he said, appeased.

“So, have you asked Sara out yet?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

This time it was me who became the target of ridicule.

“No, I’m waiting until the right moment. I want to make sure she’s over Ricky, I don’t want to waste it too early,” I said.

“Yeah, you don’t want to blow your wad too soon. Hey maybe you can take the vagina out of your butt and grow a pair. Ask her out already, don’t be a chicken shit,” he said.

“That’s easy to say coming from you. How many girlfriends have you had? Online, long distance doesn’t count. You can’t claim to have a girlfriend in Paris who you never have seen and only talk to through Google translate,” I said, trying to turn it on him.

“Don’t disrespect Annette. She is a beautiful creature and will be here in six months. She has promised,” he said with an air of belief.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” I said.

“So, back to Sara, when are you gonna do it?” he persisted.

“I don’t know, I heard Fred is having a big blowout tomorrow, I was thinking about asking her to go,” I said.

“You’re going to ask her to go with you to a party she probably would have gone to anyway? Why not just ask her to go with you to school? I mean that’s totally romantic,” he chided.

“I know, I was thinking of taking her to dinner first, so we could have some time together. So she could get to see me outside of class and we could hangout before going to the party,” I answered.

“Hmm. That’s actually not a bad idea. That way, when she realizes you’re a total douche she can dump you at the party and claim innocence,” Max said, then mimicked what he claimed was an exact replica of how Sara talks.

“I don’t know what happened, I just got lost in this big ole party and had to get the hell away from you,” he finished.

“You done?” I asked.

“I guess,” he said.

“All I’m saying is school’s about to be out, the summer will be filled with people traveling and leaving. A girl like Sara is special and she won’t stay around here for long. You need to move on it if you want to tap that ass before she leaves,” he said.

“Thanks for your concern. Have you prepared for the debate?” I asked, trying to change subjects.

“Yeah, no thanks to you, where were you anyway? Don’t tell me you fell down, that’s bullshit.”

I decided to tell him, he was crazy, but he was my best friend. I didn’t keep secrets from him.

“I don’t know it was the weirdest thing. I was walking to class through the woods, you know, taking the short cut, when I heard a noise.”

“Wait, wait. You’re telling me you were walking in the woods then heard a noise? What did you do next genius; go investigate like a good horror movie victim?” he asked.

“Hey, I thought someone might have been in trouble or something, and, yes, I went to investigate. I stumbled on a curled up animal. I think it was a rabbit, it scared the shit out of me and I fell down, bumped my head and woke up with these bug bit on my arm,” I said, showing him.

He leaned over a little, examining my arm.

“What else aren’t you telling me?” he asked.

Damn, he knew me too well.

“I know it sounds silly, but I dreamt I saw a large wild wolf. It stood up and came over to me, I pet it and then it bite me, right on my arm. Then I passed out, but when I woke up there was only blood and these bug bites. Weird, huh?” I said.

“Holy fucking shit. Are you kidding me? You have been bitten by a werewolf. Oh my god you’re a damn monster now!” he said, making fun of me.

“Whatever, that’s what happened,” I said.

“Well, if you need some chamomile cream for your bug bites the nurse has some. I used some last week when I got a rash from poison oak,” he said.

“That’s not why you got that rash, quite lying,” I teased.

“Bite me,” he said.

I went to start eating, there wasn’t a lot of time left and I was real hungry. I took a look at the food on my plate and had no interest in the vegetables or bread, my mouth started watering in anticipation of the Salisbury steak, however.

It was weird. I never really liked their Salisbury steak. I would eat some of it though, just for the nutrients. This time I was ravenous. I started shoveling the meat down faster than I could swallow, shoving big chunks in my mouth. I chanced a look up and saw Max staring at me with disgust.

“I guess you’re taking this werewolf thing seriously. Or do you always eat like a lunatic?” He asked.

I paused and slowly started chewing, smiling slightly to hide the worry I was feeling, what if my fall had affected me more than I knew? This was weird. The bell rang and we got up to go to class.

Chapter 3

The walk down the hall helped clear my head.

I went to my locker and got the books needed for lab. I went to my next class and sat down at my table. I was the first one in, which was normal. My teacher came in a second later carrying some books and his lunch bag. He sat down and put the lunch away in a drawer in his desk. He looked up and saw me.

“Good afternoon Eric, how are you?” he asked.

“I’m fine, thanks,” I answered.

Mr. Mason was a good teacher, better than most. He was genuinely excited about teaching and it was evident. He was the type of teacher who challenged us, but did it in a way that made us want to be challenged. He was even good at getting the kids who had no interest in learning engaged.

He was middle aged, probably around thirty-five. He had a receding hairline and had no qualms about it. He didn’t try to act cool or be someone he wasn’t just to get the kids to like him in hopes they’d take it easy. Some of the students can be cruel to teachers who are weak.

“Excited about graduating, I imagine?” he asked.

“Yeah, I can’t wait. I’m going to Georgetown in a month to take a look around,” I said.

“Georgetown is a great college; you’ll be a good addition to their student body,” he said.

By this time other people had started making their way into class. The room soon filled up and I waited for Sara to come in.

I always waited for her.

She always came in right at the bell. It was a gift. Today was no different. Just as the bell started to ring, she came in through the door and looked over at me. I was momentarily stunned. She came over and sat down, looked at me and said, “Hey.”

“Afternoon,” I said.

I had been her lab partner all year and I still felt awkward. I was such a doofus.

“Did you finish the diagrams on the cell mitosis?” she asked, pulling out her books and material for today’s lesson.

“Yeah, I finished it, you?” I asked.

“Of course. I wouldn’t let a little cell division stand in my way,” she said, smiling.

I smiled back, I couldn’t help it, it was infectious.

“Okay people, today were going to finish our work on cell identification. We have a bunch of slides to look at and tissue samples to examine. I want everyone to turn on their microscopes and get some samples from the front of the class. Take out your lab folder and start completing the instructions in chapter ten, if you have any questions, just ask,” Mr. Mason said.

“I’ll go,” Sara said.

She got up and walked to the front of the class getting our samples. I barely turned my gaze as she turned back. I didn’t want her to catch me staring at her. I could have sworn I saw a slight smile on her face as she walked back.

“Here you go. I guess you can use the scope and I’ll draw, if you want?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s great,” I said.

We went about labeling, identifying and drawing different cell types. It was boring, but important. I already knew all of this, but it never hurt to go over it again. The class went by with ease.

I lost track of time. I looked up and saw there were only a few minutes left in the period. I was planning on asking her out today and figured this would be as good a time as any. As the moment of truth arrived I began to get very nervous, my heart sped up and was a physical presence in my ears. I could hear every beat. My hands got sweaty and I almost dropped a tissue sample as I took it back to the front.

I walked back wondering what to say when I looked up and saw Sara talking to Jake Spelling. Jake’s been in our class for the whole year and pretty much kept to himself. I really didn’t know him, but seeing him talking to Sara made me angry.

A strong feeling she was mine filled me. I forgot about my hands and my nervousness and went over to them. I stepped in front of Jake, cutting him off from Sara.

“Hey,” he said.

“Oh, sorry, my bad, I didn’t see you there,” I answered.

I turned and faced him, my back to Sara. I looked at him and the anger and feeling of him encroaching on my territory increased and seemed to flow out of me in an almost visible wave. Jake took another look at me and stepped back.

“Go ahead, I didn’t mean to stop you,” I said in a non-threatening voice, all the while I stood there emitting a dangerous vibe.

Jake turned to go saying, “It’s no big deal, man. I’ll talk to her later.”

I turned back to Sara who looked at me with a quizzical expression.

“What?” I asked.

“What’s going on?”

I was bursting with an extreme confidence and used it to fuel my next question.

“Would you like to go out with me tomorrow night? I was thinking dinner and then we could go to Fred’s party afterward,” I said, with no hint of bashfulness or trepidation.

Sara was shocked from my forwardness and was taken aback. She forgot about the thing with Jake as a large smile spread across her face.

“Well I’ll be damned. I didn’t think you had it in you,” she said.

“Neither did I. I guess seeing you with Jake just made me realize I didn’t like it,” I said, truthfully.

“Okay, Eric. Pick me up at six. We’ll eat and then, who knows?” she said with a hint of mystery.

I loved it.

“Six it is,” I said.

She picked up her bag and left, giving me a big smile. This time I watched her leave and when she looked back I kept watching. She smiled again and walked out the door.

I let out a breath and realized what I had just done! I had a date, with Sara!

Chapter 4

I was in a daze as I made my way to speech class.

I don’t remember much. I think there was talking and I gave a weak debate performance. All I could think about was her. I had a date. I had a date with Sara.

I went back to my seat and I noticed Max looking at me like I was crazy. I didn’t care.

“What’s the deal?” he asked, sitting next to me.

“I have a date with Sara,” I said.

“What, a real date? Not a fantasy date where she bites you?” he asked.

“I asked her at the end of lab and she said yes. We’re going out tomorrow,” I said.

“No shit?” he asked.

“No shit,” I answered.

“Good for you, now maybe you’ll stop obsessing over her so much.”

The rest of the class went by quickly and the bell rang. I got up and left. I had one more class, chemistry.

I loved chemistry. I found the interaction between the elements at the atomic level fascinating, the idea we could come up with different materials or compounds by combining different elements amazed me. I made it through the class and was able to follow most of the lesson. My mind kept wandering. When the bell rang I was the first one out. Hurrying home, I wanted to secure the rights to mom’s car as quickly as possible to make sure she didn’t make any plans.

Walking in the house I said in a loud voice, “Mom?”

“In here,” she said from the kitchen.

“I was just finishing this casserole before I went back to work. Janet asked me to cover her tonight; I thought we could use the money,” she said.

She took the casserole dish and put it in the fridge.

“Now remember, put it in for thirty minutes at four-fifty,” she said.

“I know, I know mom, listen. I wanted to ask you if I can use the car tomorrow night,” I said.

She stopped and looked at me. I wasn’t in the habit of borrowing the car on a Saturday night. I was usually studying or with Max, who has his own car.

“Why?” she asked.

I looked at her, unsure of how this was going to go. “I have a date,” I said.

“A date, I didn’t know you were interested in anyone, with a girl?” she asked cautiously.

“Yes! Why would you say that?” I asked.

“Well, you spend all your time with Max and you have never seemed real interested in chasing girls. You are so into your school work,” she said.

“Mom, I’m not gay. I just have been shy, that’s all,” I said embarrassed.

“It’s okay if you were, I’d love you anyway. You’ll always be my son,” she said, showing support.

“Mom, I’m not gay, I have a date with Sara Shindling. We are going out tomorrow, can I borrow the car?” I asked exasperated.

“Of course honey. Just be careful. Treat her with respect. I know I’m an old lady, but girls like to be treated with respect, don’t forget that,” she said as she came over and gave me a big hug.

“You grow up so fast. Dad would have loved to see you go off on your first date,” she said, holding back tears.

“I know, mom. I would have loved to have him here to see it too. Who knows maybe he is watching, somehow,” I said.

“Maybe,” she said, wiping her eyes with the palms of her hands.

“I’m such a mess, look at me. I’m gonna go get cleaned up then leave for work. Love you honey. See you later,” she said.

“Bye mom, thanks,” I said, ecstatic I was going to have the car for tomorrow.

I ran upstairs and sat on my bed. I thought about tomorrow night and all the things that could happen, never once thinking about what actually would happen.

I leaned back and put my hands behind my head. I closed my eyes intent on a small rest. I just wanted to get a quick nap. I fell asleep dreaming of the night to come.

My dreams were filled with strange images and animal desires. I saw myself running through a forest and chasing a deer. Taking the prey down and feasting on its viscera. Strength filled my limbs and strange smells came to me. Blood filled my mouth as I ate something else. Its heart still pumping as it died.

Disjointed images came and went.

Sounds of grunting and rutting came to me. Bestial feelings of need and desire swept over me. I had urges to do vile things. I felt as though I was an animal that had laid dormant for too long, loosened just long enough to make up for all the lost time.

I awoke sweating and panting. I sat up and looked over at the bedside clock. It said four thirty. I had only slept for twenty minutes. I felt as though I had been here all night.

I got up and slowly made my way downstairs. I saw a note on the table and went over to it. I picked it up and noticed the casserole dish in the sink, waiting to be washed. I looked down and read the note.

I came home last night and you were asleep. Didn’t want to wake you. I am doing another shift tonight. I had someone from work give me a ride. The keys are on the table and I left you some money. Show her a good time tonight and be safe.

Love you. Mom.

What? I slept all night and day? If that was true then it meant I only had an hour and a half before I had to meet Sara.

What the hell?

I have never slept like that. Maybe it was a good omen.

I went back upstairs and took a long hot shower, washing away all the weariness from a long sleep. I let the hot water erase all the weirdness of my dreams and stepped out ten minutes later.

I got dressed and went downstairs trying to kill some time. I stood in the kitchen looking into the living room.

The floor plan was open and you could easily see the fireplace mantle from the kitchen. I looked at the picture that had been on the fireplace for years. I walked over to it and picked it up. It was a picture of my mom and dad, taken before my sister and I were born. They both looked so young, my mom a head shorter than my dad. Her blond hair hung down and shone in the bright sun. My dad looked happy. He stood next to my mom and had his arm around her. They both looked like they had their whole lives ahead of them and their futures looked bright.

I noticed something I hadn’t ever before. It looked like there was a crease in the picture near my dad.

Curious, I took the picture down and pulled it out from the back of the frame. Sure enough, the picture had been folded and as I opened it up I saw another man standing next to my dad. He as taller than my dad and almost matched him in sheer physicality. The man wore a dark trench coat and held a dark hat in his hands. He had dark boots and wore black gloves.

Odd, my mom and dad were dressed as if it was summer. She wore a light dress and my dad wore shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

“What the hell?” I said to myself.

The man looked imposing. He had striking blond hair, eyes that seemed deep and mysterious. He had a small beard that couldn’t quite hide a large scar on his jawline. I was totally transfixed by him.

“I thought you had your big date tonight?” my sister said, scaring me half to death.

“Good lord Susan, don’t do that to me,” I said.

“Don’t be such a wuss. Why are you so jumpy?” she asked.

“Have you ever seen this? There is a guy standing here next to dad,” I said.

She came over and looked at the picture.

“I don’t know, maybe he was a friend dad had and didn’t have room for him in the frame? Who cares?” she asked.

“I don’t know, it just seems odd to me,” I said.

“Well, you can sit there all night or you can go on your date with lover girl,” she teased.

“Have fun alone tonight,” I teased back.

She smiled a sly, sneaky smile.

“I will,” she said.

“Whatever,” I said, leaving.

I went to the car and got in. I drove off in moms Cavalier, eagerly going to meet the girl of my dreams.

Chapter 5

I pulled up to Sara’s house and took a second to focus my thoughts.

I had to remind myself if she didn’t like me, she wouldn’t have said yes. That helped a little.

I steeled myself and went up to her front door. Her house was nice. It was on the other side of town from me. Which meant it wasn’t old. It was single story, but had a large layout. I stood at the entrance and knocked three times. The door opened and I was stunned.

Sara stood there smiling at me. She wore a tight white sweater cut in a V down the front, she wore jeans that hugged her curves marvelously, white flats covered her feet and wore a white ribbon that held her hair up in a controlled, but somehow easy bun.

I had never seen her hair up and the sight of her exposed neck made my heart do a double thump. I stood there in awe and she noticed.

“Wow. You look great,” I said.

“Thanks. Don’t look too bad yourself,” she said as she closed the door and we walked to the car.

I opened her door for her and helped her get in. I went to the driver’s side and got in myself.

“Where are we going to eat? I’m starving,” she said.

“Good, I was thinking of going to Linguini’s. They make the best lasagna,” I said.

“I love Italian food,” she said.

“I know, I remember,” I said.

“When did I tell you I liked Italian?” she asked looking at me, curious.

“Two months ago. You said you and your dad went to this great Italian place on a road trip, I think you went to visit your aunt,” I said, pulling out from the curb and heading into town.

“You remember something I said two months ago?” she asked, a look of thoughtful admiration on her face.

“Yeah, well. I have a good memory,” I said, trying to hide the fact I was totally in love with her and had been hanging on her every word since our first week together.

“Hmm. That’s good to know,” she said, turning back and looking out the window.

We drove for a few minutes in silence, neither of us feeling the need to fill it with talking. It was nice. Finally, she said, “You really surprised me yesterday. I thought you’d never ask me out.”

“I surprised myself. I had wanted to for a while but never felt the time was right. It was weird, but something came over me and I couldn’t wait any longer,” I said.

“Whatever the reason, I’m glad,” she said and reached over and took my hand.

We drove the rest of the way to the restaurant like that. I was in heaven.

It wasn’t far and soon I had parked and opened the door for Sara, she got out and we went inside to eat.

Linguini’s wasn’t a four star place, hell it wasn’t a three star place, but it was cozy and the food was amazing.

The owner was named Guido, I’m not kidding, and he was an immigrant who brought his family recipes with him.

The place was decorated with lots of red and white checkered table clothes and soccer memorabilia. The booths had tall backs that allowed each one to feel as though they were all by themselves. A lone pendant hung down over each table, giving every booth a coziness that was great for making the customer feel as though they were the only ones in the place. There was a bar with a few TVs on. A few people were sitting on stools and the restaurant was beginning to fill up as customers came in for a good meal on a Saturday night.

A hostess led us to our booth and gave us menus. We looked at them for a minute, but I already knew what I wanted. I set mine down and studied Sara as she thoughtfully scanned the menu, carefully taking each item in consideration, before rejecting it and moving on to the next one. It was adorable.

The waitress came over a few minutes later and took our orders. As she left Sara, with her chin in her hands, said, “Georgetown, that’s a pretty big deal.”

“I haven’t made it yet. I still have to get through this summer without violating their morality clause,” I said sarcastically.

“Morality clause? What’ll they take away your scholarship if you watch an R-rated movie or something?” she asked.

“Something like that. I have to uphold the standards of decency and morality,” I said, quoting from the requirements.

“Sounds pretty vague, what if you meet someone and have pre-marital sex, whatever shall you do?” she asked, smiling mischievously, obviously enjoying making me squirm.

A deep crimson rushed to my face.

“I doubt I’ll have to worry about that,” I said sheepishly.

“The night’s still young,” she said, teasing.

“What about you? You never really mention what you’ll be doing after graduation,” I said, trying to change the subject.

Her smile reduced to a small smirk. She knew she had made me back down and accepted the change of course.

“I don’t know. I was thinking of maybe going overseas for a while, visit Paris, Madrid, Rome, you know all the big art meccas. My dad’s been pushing me to go to Penn State in the fall. They have a pretty good art program, but my dream is to go New York. The in state tuition at Penn is a major magnet for my dad,” she said.

“Wow, New York huh? That’s big time. I didn’t know you were into art that much. I mean I’ve seen some of your drawings, and they are great, but I didn’t know you loved it so much,” I said, truly intrigued.

“Yeah well, it’s still kinda out of reach. I don’t know how I can pull it off without my dad’s help,” she said.

A look of thoughtfulness came over her.

“What?” I said.

“Nothing.”

“No, tell me. You were thinking something, what is it?” I asked.

I could tell she was trying to come to a decision. She looked at me and I could see she had made up her mind. A look of uncertain openness spread over her as she said with trepidation, “I’ve been thinking of maybe having an art auction. I know a bunch of people who have some really awesome pieces and have a hard time getting any show time. My dad just bought a small space he’s renovating to sell. I was thinking about seeing if I could borrow it for a week, work on it and see if I can sell some pieces. Maybe earn some money to help my case to go to New York.”

“It’s silly, I know. What do I know about selling art?” she said, having had this mental conversation dozens of times.

“Are you kidding me? That’s a great idea. You absolutely have to do it. I’d love to help. I can paint, or clean. Whatever you need, I’m in, if you want,” I said.

She smiled appreciatively and quickly leaned over the table and kissed me. A quick, but devastating kiss that left me stunned.

I shook my head to clear it. She saw me and laughed, it was wonderful. A smile spread on my face. I grinned like a fool.

“Thanks,” she said.

Our waitress came back over and had our food. She served me lasagna and Sara her calzone. We ate with the hunger of youth and it was the best meal I have ever had. It must have had something to do with the company.

We finished and decided to head to the party, I payed the bill and walked her out. As I opened the door for her I looked up and saw in the sky the biggest most beautiful full moon I have ever seen. A feeling of excitement and energy filled me as the scent of Sara’s perfume and natural odor hit me in a wave. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of desire as she walked to the car.

I helped her get in and went to the driver’s side. Trying to shake the need to feel her warm skin under my hand, the desire to push her down and take her right here right now hit me and almost dragged me under. I fought it and barely got control.

“Are you alright?” she asked, concern evident in her voice.

“Yeah, I’m good,” I said.

Chapter 9

I got dressed and began to warm up. I could see my breath in the night’s crisp air. I kept my distance from Abaddon. I didn’t trust him. Too much had happened tonight. I was still so confused about so much.

“Who are you?” I asked.

Shivering I hugged myself and rubbed my upper arms, trying to generate warmth.

“I already told you, my name is Abaddon. I was a friend of your father’s,” he said, facing me squarely.

A strong smell of leather came to me on a slight breeze. I could smell other things with it, sweat, blood; chemicals used in the tanning process, the depth of the scents were amazing.

Abaddon watched me closely, correctly judging what was happening.

“Your powers are vast. The Beast has bestowed upon you a great gift. You will have much to learn and I will teach you. Your father asked this of me,” he said.

“How do I know I can trust you? I have spent the night in my own mind watching as this Beast killed people I cared for, how do I know this isn’t a trick?” I asked.

Abaddon nodded in understanding,

“Concentrate; attune your senses to me, your hearing, smell and sight. Take a deep breath and let your instincts tell you if I am lying.”

I wasn’t sure if he was messing with me, but he had helped in my return to human form. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try.

I did as he suggested, I focused on him and tried to ignore everything else. The sounds of animals in the brush faded, the smells of the stream and the newly churned up mud disappeared.

His heartbeat came to me clearly. Thump-bump, thump-bump, his distinct scent filled my nose, his every feature grew clear and crisp as I watched him closely.

“Your father sent me to help you. I can help you manage the change, if you let me,” he said.

I detected no change in the rhythm of his heartbeat, his scent belied nothing of deceit and his features kept their calm demeanor. The overall impression the culmination of my senses gave me was truth. What he said rang with truth.

“Ok, what the hell is going on?” I asked.

“First things first, you have to go back home. The authorities will be looking for you. They have many questions about the girl you were with and the encounter with your family,” he said.

Walking up to me he gently guided me away from the stream and back toward the neighborhood.

“You have to convince them you don’t know what happened. I don’t think that is too far from the truth. Tell them you were attacked by a large animal and your girl ran off in the woods and you ran home in panic.”

“I know it’s not very heroic, but what we need now is you to be cleared of any charges. Tell them you ran home and hid,” he finished.

“What about my mom and sister, they know I wasn’t there?” I asked.

“I’ll deal with that,” he said.

We walked out of the woods and down the street. The night was darker than I remembered, the shadows full of more dangers and threats. We made it to the house and I walked in and almost had my head taken off by a baseball bat.

Abaddon reached out and grabbed the bat in mid-swing, stopping it from colliding with my head. My mom stood there holding the handle with wild, scared eyes. When she saw me she immediately dropped the bat and rushed me, hugging me fiercely.

“It’s okay, mom,” I said.

“I didn’t know what to do, some monster attacked us. I was so scared. Thank god you’re alright,” she said.

“I’m fine mom, really,”I said.

She took me at arm’s length, looking at me. She turned her head and for the first time noticed Abaddon. Her reaction was immediate.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she said, strength filling her voice.

“It’s nice to see you to, Susan,” Abaddon said with calm sincerity.

“What’s going on?” I heard my sister say.

She sat with Ricky’s head in her lap. A washcloth pressed to his chest. It was a deep red from absorbing the blood Ricky’s wound was bleeding.

“May I speak with you in private for a few seconds?” Abaddon asked my mom.

My mom looked back to me then to my sister, worry on her face.

“We’ll be fine, go. I’ll help Susan,” I said.

My mom nodded once then walked off with Abaddon. They went into the kitchen, away from us.

I went over to the closet near the entrance and pulled out a towel, taking it over to Susan I sat down. She looked at me with pale skin, worry and fear draining the blood from her face.

“How bad is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know, it just keeps bleeding, if he doesn’t get help soon I…” she couldn’t continue.

The trauma and shock of sitting in her living room trying to keep the boy she was making out with a little while ago from bleeding to death was too much and she broke down in gut-wrenching sobs.

I put my hand on her shoulder and gently told her, “Here, let me take over, I have a fresh bandage.”

She shook her head vigorously once.

“No, I’ll do it. I want to do it.”

I was proud of her resolve. It gave me a small spark of hope she would get through this okay. I gave her the fresh towel and as she removed the old one I could see the four deep gashes on Ricky’s chest where the Beast had hit him. They quickly filled up with fresh blood and my sister put the new towel down over them, applying pressure.

My mom and Abaddon were deep in a heated conversation as I heard my mom’s voice rise in agitation. I was just about to get up and make sure everything was okay when they both walked back in. My mom’s face was filled with worry and fear, but also determination.

Abaddon stood apart from us and drifted to the back door, he looked at me and nodded then walked out, leaving.

“The cops will be here in a few minutes. When they get here I want you to tell them Eric came in a few hours ago and went upstairs. Everything else stays the same,” my mom said, looking directly at Susan.

My sister looked at my mom, unsure of what to say.

“You want me to lie to the cops?” she asked.

“Yes, that is exactly what I want. Can you do that?” she asked.

My sister looked from me to my mom.

“Fine, but after this is over I want to know what happened, I want the truth,” she said.

My mom nodded once, her composure holding together by the slightest thread.

“Done,” my mom said.

“What’s going on mom?” I asked, truly surprised at her change. She was willing to lie to the police now? Have her daughter do the same? What the hell?

“Not now, do what you were told. Understand?” she asked, unnerving strength filled her voice.

“Okay, sure,”I said.

My mom nodded and went over to Susan; she knelt down and helped her apply pressure to the wound. I could already hear the distant sounds of an approaching ambulance, followed closely by a patrol car.

Chapter 10

The next few hours went by in a blur. Paramedics came in and took Ricky to the hospital. Susan wanted to go with him, but she had to stay to talk to the police. They came in and took each of our statements. They were especially interested in my account of things.

I repeated over and over what I was told to say. When one jerk cop told me about Sara’s death in a brash manner, hoping to get a reaction, I broke down. Seeing her smiling face in my mind was too much for me and I couldn’t stop crying. The emotions I showed were real, I was distraught at what had happened to her and I blamed myself.

If I only would have been faster or stronger, maybe I could have stopped the Beast.

The police took my reaction to Sara’s death as appropriate for someone who just found out. They still had me come to the police station and with my mom present they asked me again what happened.

We went over the incident over and over, the cops hoping to find some inconsistency or clue that would lead them to the killer or make me a suspect.

I think they believed I was guilty but had no real proof. My mom’s steady presence helped me keep my bearings and my story straight. She held my hand with a steel grip, willing this to be over.

I overheard some of the cops talking about an animal attack that had killed two of their own. Other law enforcement officials started showing up within a few hours. The death of two of their fellow men brought in the big guns.

Two men wearing smart suits came and questioned me again. The name badges on their chests read Kirby and Shultz. Somehow, with the support of my mom, I was able to tell them again and again what I had told the other cops.

Soon my mom grew agitated. She wanted to cooperate, but her protectiveness over me began to break.

“I think we’ve been over this enough. I have a daughter who watched her boyfriend attacked by a wild bear and I’d like to see to her, is my son free to go?” my mom asked.

The two suited men looked at each other then went to the corner of the room in a huddled conference. I concentrated slightly on what they were saying, trying to get a snippet of their conversation. In such a small space my budding senses allowed me to hear them as if they were standing in front of me.

“What do you think?” Kirby said.

“I don’t like it. My gut tells me he knows something he’s not telling us,” Shultz said.

“Forensics is saying there is corroborating evidence at all three scenes that for now show the same animal present,” Kirby said.

“Without any hard evidence we can’t keep him any longer. I just don’t like it, but we can’t hold him on a gut feeling. Let him go. Hopefully the C.S.I. guys will help us piece this together,” Shultz said.

They turned back to us and opened the door.

“You’re free to go. Thank you for your time, here’s my card. If you think of anything, anything else that might be useful give me a call. Even the smallest things can help,” Shultz said, handing me a small business card.

It was blank except for the name Detective Shultz and a phone number below it.

My mom reached out and took the card, putting her arm around me she guided me out and we found a police cruiser waiting to take us home.

Like that first night the next few weeks passed in a daze. So much happened, yet I was unable to engage in any of it.

My school allowed me to miss the rest of the year. There wasn’t much left anyway and my grades up to this point were stellar.

Georgetown sent a letter letting me know due to the recent tragedy in my life the scholarship was secure and they looked forward to my attendance in the fall.

The news of the event went national and for a week the town was full of major news outlets trying to talk to me and my sister, we managed to avoid them and when the official report was released that a bear was behind the attacks, they left in search of a juicier story.

Life went back to some semblance of normalcy. For the next month I kept to myself. My sister had seemingly forgotten about trying to find the truth. She spent most of her time with Ricky, helping him recover.

He was doing better. The wounds were deep and had damaged some muscle, but he was healthy and had the resiliency of youth.

My mom never talked about how she knew Abaddon and I never asked.

I could feel the power of the Beast within me. At times, it would grow like a wave cresting then it would ease.

The few times I tried to channel it, the power came to me easily. I was scared by my newfound abilities and tried to ignore it.

I absently kept track of the cycle of the moon, subconsciously understanding what happened to me, as far-fetched as it seemed, had something to do with werewolves. I studiously absorbed all the information I could about them. Using the internet I read everything.

Max called every day and wanted to come over and hang out. He was worried about me, but would never say as much. I told him I was fine and just needed more time. I did, however, ask him about what he knew about werewolves and he quickly turned his focus on something he was passionate about. He sent me article after article about animal attacks and missing person reports. He had a surprising amount of material on the subject.

A week before the full moon Abaddon showed up. I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling when I heard my name come from the open window.

“Eric,” Abaddon said.

I got up and tentatively looked out. He stood in the moon light, wearing the same dark coat as before and the same hat.

“It is time Eric, time to begin your training. We have wasted too much precious time. Come,” he said.

“What are you talking about? I’m not going anywhere with you,” I said.

He never faltered or looked away. His steady countenance was unnerving.

“Do you know what happens when the moon is full? That is but four nights away. Are you willing to risk losing control? I can teach you to control the Beast. Come with me and I can help you. Right now you are a threat to your family,” he said.

I had been afraid of that possibility ever since that fateful night. Afraid what I had gone through wasn’t some dream and this newfound gift was a nightmare that could turn on those I loved. Abaddon saw as my fear sweep over me, understanding.

“Come downstairs, we need to talk,” he said.

“Fine, I’ll be down in a minute,” I said, hoping he could help me.

I hurried downstairs; worried Abaddon would be seen, unsure how my mom would react. I came to the bottom of the stairs and found Abaddon standing in the kitchen talking to my mom. They both stopped and turned to look at me. My mom smiled and motioned me to come closer.

“Come here, we need to talk,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, apprehensively.

I walked over and sat down at the kitchen table. My mom sat next me and held both my hands in hers.

“I know you have many questions. Unfortunately I don’t have many answers. Abaddon does,” she said nodding to him.

“Your father had secrets he kept from me. I accepted this because I loved him and I believed him when he said it would be dangerous for me to know. I am beginning to piece some things together but I am not going to be able to help you. I want you to go with Abaddon,” she said.

“What?” I asked, stunned.

“I want you to go with him. Your father trusted him and so do I. You are going through something I am unable to help with. I love you son. I want what’s best for you,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say. I had planned on leaving for college anyway, but after the recent events I figured all that was far away.

“You want me to go with him? You need me here. I can’t go,” I said.

“Honey, I’m fine. I am stronger than you know. Don’t worry about me. Susan is here. She will stay with me for a while until she decides what she wants to do. This was what you wanted anyway. It’s ok. I want this,” she said.

Love shone from her face. She was worried about me but deep down she knew this was best. I was petrified of hurting my family and if Abaddon could help me and by extension help protect them, even from myself, then I had to at least try.

“Okay, alright mom. I’ll go,” I said, looking to Abaddon.

“When?”

“Right now, pack what you can fit into a small suitcase. Anything else you may need will be provided. Hurry, we leave in twenty minutes,” he said.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I had always wanted to go off to college, but not like this. This was surreal. I went to my room and packed some clothes, my toothbrush and deodorant. I put a picture of my family in with the other stuff. Carrying it downstairs I went to my mom and hugged her, fresh tears shone on her face.

“I’ll call you when I get a chance,” I said.

“I know, take care of yourself,”

Abaddon gave us a few minutes then stepped up. “We must be going.”

“Tell Susan I love her,” I said.

“She knows, but I will,” my mom said.

I walked out, following Abaddon. We went to a black car parked out front and I put my bag in the trunk while Abaddon got in the driver’s seat. I sat in the cab next to him.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

He looked at me, his eyes sparkling in the deep night. Without a change in his features whatsoever he said.

“To college.”

Chapter 11

Abaddon drove. I had hundreds of questions but didn’t know where to start. One thing was nagging at me more than the others and I thought it was as good a place to start as any.

“Am I a werewolf?” I asked, cutting right to the chase.

Abaddon looked at me sideways, a twitch on the side of his mouth the only indication of a smile.

“Yes and no. You are Ascended. Werewolves as you know them are what are called Descended. They are ones who were incapable of accepting their natures and thus fell to the Beast,” he answered.

“Ascended? So what would have happened if I had failed?” I asked.

“I think you already know. The Beast said as much I imagine. You would be under its control. You would change on a full moon and be at the Beast’s mercy, unable to stop the Beast and its killing,” he said.

“So by ascending I will not be overcome by the Beast?” I asked.

“Not necessarily, what you have done is the first step,” he paused, gathering his thoughts.

“Many thousands of years ago man was no more than an animal himself,” he began, reminding me of a History teacher, reciting past events. “He lived by instinct and was a formidable predator. Somewhere along the line mankind set aside his more animalistic nature and began to become “civilized”. Sure he was still capable of great atrocity and hostility, but his self awareness led him to deny part of his true nature.”

“Soon after he brought the wolf to his side, he domesticated it and a deep and lasting partnership was formed.”

“There is no doubt mankind has become one of the greatest of the world’s predators. As he began to take land and clear out many of the apex predators the natural balance of the world was thrown askew. To correct this imperfection a family of man was chosen. By what or whom I don’t know. All I know is somewhere the first werewolf was born. He underwent the same challenge you did, fighting for his life against the Beast. He prevailed, only after watching the Beast kill his fellow men, thus bringing into being the Ascended. Unbeknownst to him many of his fellow family members had the specific blood in them that allowed the Beast to be unlocked. Some prevailed over the Beast, most did not. The carnage was unbelievable.”

“A certain order was founded after the chaos. A Pack was formed. The Ascended hunted and killed the Descended. They also took in any who were bitten and many taught their own family members the ways of the pack and the Beast, making the ability for one who was bitten to ascend much greater than one such as yourself. One who is alone. Your father was Ascended and Pack leader. He got out and wanted to raise you and your sister apart from the Pack, give you a normal life. I told him he was crazy, but his love for your mother was greater than his fear of the Pack.”

“Wait, my dad was like me? He was Ascended?” I asked, furiously imagining my father going through this, having the powers of the Beast within him and spending his life as an insurance agent just to make my mother happy.

“Your father was not just Ascended, he was royalty among the Pack. He was Pack leader and ruled for many decades. He brought us much peace and prosperity. His rule was a time of great joy for the Pack,” Abaddon said looking off into the distance at memories only he could see.

“Decades? My dad was only forty two. That doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“The Ascended have very long life spans. Your father was two hundred years old,” Abaddon said, looking at me.

Two hundred years old? That’s impossible. Sure he was a little odd. I remember he wasn’t like most of the other dads. I just assumed it was because that was his nature. I guess growing up in the eighteen hundreds would give you a different perspective on things. My head was spinning with thoughts about my dad. I never knew, he was a great father, but I really didn’t know him at all.

“I know it’s a lot to take in at once. I’m sure you will have many questions and there are so many things to teach you. For now you need to realize you are in danger. Being a Pack leader’s whelp, when you are ready, you will have the ability to challenge the current Pack leader for control. This makes you a threat and for that you are in grave danger. I promised your dad if this was ever to happen, if you were ever bitten I was to train you and prepare you for what lies ahead,” he said.

I stared at him for a minute then asked.

“So you have been watching over me all this time?”

“Yes,”Abaddon said.

“Then you watched as the Beast killed Sara. You did nothing when it killed the cops,” I said.

“No, I wasn’t present at that time. I had other pressing matters I was attending to. The change only can occur when someone with the right blood is bitten by another who has undergone the change. Be it one who is Ascended or not. It doesn’t matter. Someone found you and bite you. I believe in hopes of having you succumb to the Beast, thereby justifying your death, by Pack law,” he said.

“When I came back into town you were at your house and I watched as you accepted the Beast. I was prepared to step in if you attacked your family,” he finished.

“If you were gone how did you know about the cops and Sara?” I asked.

“Once I came back into town and realized you had been bitten I began monitoring local law enforcement transmissions. It wasn’t hard to piece together what happened from their reports of an animal attack,” he answered.

“You said my father wanted you to train me, which would only be an option if I Ascended wouldn’t it?” I asked.

Abaddon nodded once.

“What if I Descended? What did my father ask you to do then?” I asked.

Abaddon turned his head and looked at me with grave sincerity.

“Kill you,” he said with finality. I had no doubt he would have done it either.

I had so much to think about. So many things were happening.

“Your second moon is rising soon. Being as young as you are, the Beast will rise. It is always strongest during a full moon. I wanted to get you away from your family and make sure you don’t hurt anyone,” he said.

“I have to fight that thing again?” I asked, unsure I could do it a second time.

“No, you have accepted it. The nature of the Beast is unchanging, however, and until you can manage the full moon you will still be dangerous. Your control is not strong enough yet. It usually takes months for a newly Ascended to be trusted during a full moon,” he said.

“What do I have to do?” I asked, fear beginning to rise.

“You need to calm yourself. Focus on who you are and fight the urges that grow within you. The essence of a truly powerful Ascended is the ability to channel the Beast and its wild nature into something you can control. Harness its power. This is where the true strength of the wolf comes from. Soon you will begin to feel the pull of the moon and the call of the hunt. Being in this car will help, but it is up to you,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll try,” I said.

“This part of the change is as important as the acceptance. The Beast will not rise to challenge you, but its nature will. You will have urges and desires. Fight them, your will must be strong,” he said.

It reminded me of the lessons my teachers told us, the ones they felt were important. The cadence and inflection was the same my instructors at school used.

We drove in silence, I was anticipating the full moon and fear was building within me. I had no idea what to expect.

A few hours later the worry about what was to come faded as weariness weighed on me and I nodded off, the lull of the road and quietness of the ride slowly began to drag me to sleep.

I drifted off to dreams of death and blood.

I was at home sitting on my bed. I sat there looking around, confused about why I was here. My sister walked in and said, “Wake up douchebag.”

I turned to her, hunger rose in me, hunger for flesh and meat. I leapt on her before I could stop myself; one quick bite later, I eagerly gulped her arterial blood. The warmth and richness of her life’s blood filled me with a golden warmth that brought sweet ecstasy. I lost myself in the feast, taking bite after bite of my sister’s corpse. Eating until my stomach felt as though it would explode.

My mom walked by and looked in on me feasting on my sister’s body; she walked over and patted my head.

“My boy was hungry wasn’t he? Honey c’mere and see this, it’s so adorable,” my mom said like she did when I was younger and brought home a good grade from school.

My dad walked in, his eyes a deep yellow. They were the eyes of the Beast, the eyes I looked through as I watched it devour Sara, desperate horror stabbed me as he smiled, his mouth was full of razor sharp teeth.

“They grow up so fast, don’t they dear?” He said as he put his arm around my mom.

She leaned into him and they both started laughing, it had a twisted edge to it, mocking and hate-filled.

I looked back down at my sister in horror and saw a black werewolf where my sister had been. Its coat black as it pulled in the light from all around like a black hole.

It lunged out and bit me, its powerful teeth clamped down on my soft stomach.

I tried to fight back but my mom and dad had grabbed my arms and I couldn’t free myself. I was forced to lay there while my sister began to eat my intestines. A strange feeling like someone was pulling on my belly button was all I could sense. I looked from my mom to my dad, trying to get them to help me.

“They grow up so fast,” they both kept saying over and over, nostalgia thick in their voices.

“They grow up so fast.”

I awoke with a start and realized I was panting and covered in sweat.

I looked out the window to clear my head and saw the large silver moon clear in the sky. A deep hunger began to eat at me. My mouth watered as I could easily smell a rabbit that passed by on the side of the road. I had to get out of this car, I had to hunt it down and take it.

Feed.

Eat.

I shook my head, clearing it, the urges of the Beast strong. They were mine, however, they originated from me. They were not thrust upon me by another and as such I had control over them. I exerted this control and barely managed to drive these feelings into a small corner.

Abaddon watched me closely, pulling over he turned off the car and got out. He went to the trunk, retrieving something. He came to the passenger door and opened it. I looked at him as the fresh air and smell of the night rushed in, offering thousands of scents, each one magnificent in its uniqueness, each one intriguing.

“Get out; your first lesson in control begins now,” he said.

I didn’t understand but I got out anyway. I walked with him over to the side of the highway. We had stopped in a small rest area, just big enough for a few cars. This late at night the traffic was almost non-existent.

“You feel the pull of the Beast. You can feel the energy coursing through you and want to run, hunt and kill.”

“This is natural, but you have to be in control, not let these urges control you. The Pack does not respect those who give in to their urges. Mankind has realized his greatest feats when he has exerted his will on the world. This is what we are going to achieve,” he said.

I stood in the open night. I could hear the animals in the area, my hearing acute enough to allow me to pinpoint each one. I wanted to run off into the night and find them.

The wind changed direction and the sweet musky odor of a deer came to me, its scent like a physical blow. I swayed, struck by the deep clarity of it. All thoughts left me. My only need became finding the deer and bringing it down, the drive so strong as to consume my entire being.

I turned rushing off into the woods in search of my prey. Pain, bright excruciating pain, exploded from my arm, instantly stopping me and causing me to turn to confront this threat.

I turned to see Abaddon standing in an easy posture, holding a sword down at his side.

“Where do you think you’re going? You pathetic undisciplined animal,” he taunted.

His strike wasn’t as bad as the one he inflicted at the stream. The purity of the sword less than his other one, its cut was still painful, but I knew it wasn’t deadly.

Anger grew in me; my vision became clouded in a red rage.

He mocks me!

The power of the Beast filled me, it flooded my limbs and my confidence grew. I wanted to hurt him; I wanted to show him I was the master, the dominant creature. I wanted to taste his life blood as I ripped out his throat.

I felt a release as my body began to change. Searing pain filled my limbs as the bones quickly elongated and my form grew to accommodate the power it held. My viewpoint changed as my height increased, my balance shifted when my bodies proportions changed into those of the Beast.

Hair sprouted from my skin and I could feel every slight variance of the air as it flowed over my sensitive body. My sight increased and I watched as an absent drop of sweat fell from Abaddons forehead, the detail exquisite.

I let out my pent up anger in a bestial howl to the sky and rushed Abaddon, determined to bring him down.

Abaddon stood with calm assurance that was maddening. I came in fast, faster than I have ever moved before.

Abaddon stood there and waited.

When I came to within a few feet his eyes flashed a deep yellow and he stepped towards me driving the sword into my chest and through my body all the way to the hilt. My momentum carried us down and he twisted, putting himself on top of me. Agony screamed from where his sword had skewered me. Every breath and movement brought more pain as the sword interfered with my muscles and lungs, slicing them as my body moved.

Abaddon drove me down and used the sword to pin me to the ground. He reached out and overpowered my arms preventing me from using my claws against him.

“You act like a rabid mongrel, unable to control yourself. You are a disgrace to your father,” he said, trying to get me to react.

It worked; hearing him use my dad’s memory infuriated me. I lunged out, trying to bite his face. He easily dodged my attack and quickly brought his head down and slammed it into my sensitive snout. The blow momentarily stunned me.

Abaddon stood up and pulled out his sword from my body. Another wave of pain flooded through me.

“You have to stop thinking like an animal, remember who you are and force yourself to react,” Abaddon said.

His words made sense. I knew this, but I couldn’t make myself do what he said.

I looked down and saw my wounds heal, the gaping hole in my chest closing. Ignoring his advice I came at him again. Only I didn’t rush in, I stalked in slowly.

Having learned my lessons, I wasn’t going to be caught off guard.

Abaddon waited patiently.

I got within arms reach and took a swipe at him only to be met by his sword. Pain lanced up my arm, again I tried to rake Abaddons body with my claws and again he easily parried me with his sword.

“Think, Eric. Remember who you are, remember what happens when the Beast is unleashed. Think of the consequences when you have no control,” he said in measured tones.

Somewhere inside his words sank home. I saw Sara’s face as she studied her menu, then again as she watched walking death come for her. I paused in my attack and stopped, my will a thread of the smallest strength, just enough to halt my advances.

I let her beauty fill my mind and the deep red rage began to subside. I felt the warm soothing presence of my father’s legacy.

“Breath, feel the power flowing through you. Use it to fuel your will. The power of the Beast is yours; channel it for your purposes,” he said in my mind.

My father’s voice cut through the rest of the anger and I began to do what he said. I reached into myself, into the well of energy the Beast, no I, possessed. I funneled it into willing myself to change. I wanted to see how much control I had.

A last wave of animal desires to run and hunt washed over me and I stood firm. My body once again felt the pain of the change and I soon stood facing Abaddon, my body shaking from the after effects of the transformation back into human form.

“Amazing, you truly are your father’s son. Never have I seen a young one show signs of his Beast so far away from the full moon. Never have I seen one as young as you control the Beast so well so quickly,” Abaddon stood looking at me, shaking his head.

“No wonder they are afraid, as well they should be,” he added.

I stood and just breathed. Trying to let the energy of the Beast become more wholly my own. It was a reservoir that could be tapped into at will. Right now, at the time of the full moon it was more pronounced, something that filled my limbs with abundance. I imagined this is what a junkie feels like after a hit. It was invigorating.

“Being able to manage the full moons effects are important to us. Everything has a cycle and for us the full moon is the peak. There are many ways to cope with the moons effects. One thing I find very satisfying is running, running through the woods and letting the energy drive you, it is very soothing. You should try it.”

“Go, head into the woods and let the night take you. When you are ready I will be waiting. You should have no problem finding me,” Abaddon said.

That sounded like the best idea I had ever heard. I turned and fled into the woods, immediately swallowed by the trees and deep night.

I ran, following a path only my heart knew. My legs felt like they were on fire as a deep energy fueled them. They never tired and the faster I pushed myself the faster I went. Smells and sounds came to me as I ran. I quickly left Abaddon far behind, flying through the woods I didn’t think, I didn’t wonder where I was going, I just went.

I ran for hours, letting the energy of the Beast fuel me. I noted the moon as its position in the sky shifted, denoting the passing of time.

Eventually I came to a stop. I stood at the shore of a small lake, whose waters lay still, mirror-like. The moon and stars reflected on its surface. I felt my heart beating, strong and steady. The overwhelming need to do something had reduced to a bearable level.

The breeze shifted and on it came an odor that was different than the natural scents of the animals and growth of the forest. It was pungent, yet feminine. It stirred me deep down in an involuntary manner.

It aroused me and also made me weary. I was reminded of Sara’s natural odor, the scent of a woman, sweet and yet strong, unique and mysterious.

There was more also. I detected a wildness to it, a strength came with it. It was very similar to mine, the scent I associate with the Beast.

I turned quickly, zeroing in on the aromas location, my senses easily guiding me in the right direction.

“Who’s there?” I asked loudly.

“Betrayed by the shifting winds of fate, it is fitting I suppose,” a strong feminine voice said.

A woman stepped out from behind a large tree. Her hair was deep black and fell in gentle waves below her shoulders. She was tall, almost as tall as me. She walked with a surety of foot, never bothered by the uneven terrain.

Her body covered in tight leather pants and a form fitting tee shirt that clearly showed a muscular frame that at the same time exuded strong feminine sexuality. She carried with her a slight curved sword at her hip. Hung low, it swept back and forth as her hips swayed in time with her stride.

She casually held one hand on its pommel, a Spanish style sword whose hand guard was large and decorative. She wore knee high leather boots that matched her dark clothes. Her jawline was strong and her nose was larger than average but it only added to her uniqueness and enhanced her beauty. Her eyes were deep brown and hinted at a mischievousness that was always near at hand.

“I almost lost you there a few times. You’re fast,” she said as she walked nearer.

Her English had an exotic shade to it, Spanish maybe.

She got to within ten feet and I circled her, not allowing her to get any closer.

“Wary too, for one so young and ignorant of our ways, that is good,” she said, amused at my trepidation.

“Who are you, what do you want?” I asked.

She was clearly beautiful, but I had no idea if she was dangerous. Abaddon had mentioned the Pack and its laws so that meant there were others like me. She wore a sword at her hip like a Spanish warrior. I had no idea what was going on, but my instincts told me to be cautious and I was beginning to trust them more and more.

“My name is Katrina, and I just want to talk. Abaddon is such a pain in the ass. He insists on no contact from other Pack members until you are ready, he claims it might endanger you,” she said.

“So it’s true, you’re like me? You’re a member of the Pack?” I asked.

“Yes, we are alike. Yes, I am a member of the Pack,” she said.

She had stopped circling and stood facing me, her posture was non-threatening, but looks can be deceiving.

“You are not, you are Ascended, true, but you have not been accepted into the Pack, you are a rogue,” she continued.

“Rogue?” I asked.

“When one has Ascended, they must then show true mastery of their Beast. They have to pass the Rite of Ascension to be full Pack members. Normally a pup is trained within the Pack by their family members in order to succeed in the Rite. When one such as yourself is found, a sponsor may train you for a set amount of time before you are required to submit to the test,” she explained.

“Has Abaddon told you none of this?” she asked.

“He doesn’t talk much; I really don’t know what to ask,” I answered. I took a deep breath of the night air, detecting something I had already suspected.

“I appreciate what you’ve told me. Now would you mind telling me why you’re really here?” I asked, her scent was enticing, but on it I detected a hint of deceit.

It is hard to describe, but I had a feeling she wasn’t telling me everything.

She took a more scrutinizing look at me, trying to see me more clearly.

“Very astute, and surprising, you are gifted, there is no doubt, but I guess that should be expected, given who your father was,” she said.

“You knew my dad?” I asked, surprised at this revelation.

“Very well in fact. He was a very strong Pack leader,” she answered.

“So it is true, you never knew of his past, interesting,” she said, judging by my question and expression that I was genuinely curious.

She turned her head quickly, as if she heard a sound far off in the distance. I turned to follow her gaze and sensed nothing, only the deep dark wood surrounding us.

I turned back only to find she was gone. I heard off in the distance as her exotic accent drifted to me, “Good night Eric. It was a pleasure meeting you.”

I was amazed at her ability to move so stealthily. She had snuck up on me almost unawares and had disappeared as effectively. If she was as adept at using her sword as she was at moving undetected she was deadly indeed.

Only after leaving the lake and following the path that led me back to the car did I realize she had never answered my question. She had easily maneuvered the conversation away from her and distracted me from my inquiry. Apparently, I had a lot to learn.

The way back was uneventful. I thought about what she had said and if I was going to tell Abaddon. I decided to keep the encounter to myself. If he was going to keep secrets, I was too. I don’t think the information about the Rite of Ascension was groundbreaking but it was mine.

When I arrived at the rest stop there was a fresh pile of clothes on the ground and some shoes. I had forgotten in all the excitement I was practically naked. Changing form from a human to a werewolf wrecked havoc on a wardrobe.

Abaddon sat in the driver’s seat and after I dressed I got in with him.

“Feel better?” He asked.

“Yeah, I do actually,” I answered.

“Good, try to get some rest we have a long drive ahead,” he said. He turned on the ignition and we drove away from the rest stop towards my new home.

Chapter 12

We drove all night and into the next day before we arrived. We were near the industrial district and Abaddon pulled into a garage door attached to a large building that looked like it used to be a factory of some sort.

I got out and we walked out of the small garage area and went up a flight of steps that led to a large metallic door.

Abaddon unlocked it and we went in. The area was huge.

It was an open space with large columns spaced throughout to support the roof. It had the feel of an abandoned workshop. The smell of metal and grease permeated everything. Most of the area was empty of anything but concrete floor and steel beams. I saw an area marked out in a square with paint that reminded me of a boxers ring.

Behind the squared off area was a large expansive weapons rack that housed everything from bows and arrows to katanas to large double bladed axes.

Opposite of the “battle area” was a small living space. It housed a worn out couch, a small T.V. and a desk with a lamp and a computer. Behind the living space a partition separated the sleeping areas and the bathroom from the rest of the loft.

To the right of the living area up against one wall was the kitchen. Stainless steel cabinets housed a refrigerator, a double oven and a cooktop. In between the cabinets and living area was a modest island made of metal. It had a sink and prep station.

I stood and took it all in, dropping my bag on the floor and sending echoes through the area.

Pointing towards the kitchen Abaddon began a rundown of the space, reiterating what I already gathered at first glance.

“That is the kitchen. You will make your own meals and earn money to buy food, which you will get for yourself. Over here is the living room. Next to it is your desk where you will further your studies and continue on with college,” he said, pointing to each area as he gave me the grand tour.

“Behind the living room is where you will be sleeping, there is also a bathroom on the far back wall. Over here is the training area. This is where I will teach you to control your beast and to defend yourself against those that wish to do you harm,” he said, finished.

“Home sweet home,” I said sarcastically.

“It is sufficient. Go put up your things, meet me in the training area in ten minutes. We will begin the selection of your weapon,” he said.

I really didn’t know what he was talking about but to be honest I didn’t know what the hell’s been going on ever since that fateful night.

I went to my bedroom and found a surprisingly comfortable mattress. There was a small night stand with an alarm clock next to my bed and a small dresser. At the foot of my bed was a bar suspended from two chains that attached to the support for the roof. Empty clothes hangers hung from the bar.

I didn’t bother with putting up my things. I just sat on the bed trying not to freak out. This was all so sudden. Two months ago all I could worry about was making sure I got my homework in on time and now I was minutes away from choosing my weapon? What the hell did that mean? I guess it was time to find out.

I went over to the training area and found Abaddon standing in the squared arena. He wore only his shirt and jeans. His frame was thick with muscle that his large coat had hidden. In his hand he carried the same sword he had used against me last night. Its sting would hurt, but it was not fatal, perfect for chopping me up during training without doing permanent damage, great.

I walked up and stood opposite him, like a boxer would.

“The Descended are very hard to kill, the most effective method is decapitation. Only the strongest among us are capable of that. When the first Pack was formed it was discovered that the gift of silver handed down from a family member was lethal to our kind. It is believed that the link between the bloodline of those who are capable of freeing the Beast is reflected in silver that has been passed down. The act of giving the silver is akin to the Beast being given by the blood and gives it its power.”

“Our duty as Ascended is to protect the Pack and to ensure that any Descended are dealt with swiftly and cleanly. Everyone has a responsibility in this so everyone must find his or her weapon. Each person is unique and their particular weapon is different. It has been my job as weapons master to help new members find their weapon and gain mastery of it. As in all groups or organizations rivalries and desires for dominance emerge. An astute weapon wielder will also benefit when dealing with political matters and inter social disputes,” he said.

“So we learn how to use a weapon that is infused with silver in order to kill any Descended, but also to protect ourselves from other Pack members?” I asked.

Abaddon smiled slightly, “Yes, that is the basic idea.”

“Great, not only do I have to deal with being a werewolf, I have to learn how to fight with a sword or whatever and deal with Pack politics. Oh, and get a degree from Georgetown in the process,” I complained.

“There is another option,” Abaddon said gravely.

“What? I have to learn how to ballroom dance?” I asked sarcastically.

“You can stay rogue, in which case the Pack will hunt you down and kill you,” he answered matter of factly.

“Wow, so many choices,” I answered.

“Are you done pouting? Many others paths were much harder than yours. You have a difficult road, sure. But I would expect your father’s son to have more backbone,” he chided me.

It stung to think that my father would disapprove of my behavior. I was thrust into this crazy situation without any warning. My entire life turned upside down and things were happening that I didn’t fully understand, yet knew if I screwed up there was a good chance it would kill me. I thought about my mom and how she would probably say something about lemonade and it made me smile.

Fine, if this was my life’s path then at least I was going to walk it with my head held high.

“Alright, what do you want me to do?” I asked, eager to get on with it.

Abaddon noticed the change in me and accepted it, he walked over to the weapons racks, “We need to find your weapon style. Some prefer a blade, while others prefer more blunt objects,” he said as he waved his hand at a large hammer.

“You have a tall frame and your body has yet to fill out. You will be strong and fast. A mid-size sword may fit you best. Here take this and meet me in the arena,” he said handing me a double-edged straight sword.

Its blade was almost four feet with a wide base that slowly tapered to a sharp point. The hand guard was a tee above the handle. There was a small metal ball attacked to the bottom of the handle to act as a counter balance.

I held it in one hand and followed Abaddon to the arena. He turned on me as I was testing the weight of the sword and came in hard and fast. I had no idea what to do and before I knew it pain radiated from my arm where Abaddon had sliced it.

I looked down and saw blood well up from a deep gash in my upper forearm. The wound quickly began to heal, leaving a small amount of blood behind.

“What the hell? Aren’t we supposed to use wooden swords or something?” I asked, anger rising after being cut.

“Those are for the weak who do not heal like us. You will be using your weapon in matters of life and death. The kiss of pain in failure only drives the lessons home. There is no time for half measures. You need to learn and fast. As long as we use normal weapons and not ones forged from familial silver you will heal,” he answered.

Well, shit. It looked like I was gonna get my ass cut up real good until I could find my weapon.

Again he came in, only this time I was ready. It mattered little.

I tried to swing the sword into position but Abaddons skill made me seem infantile, again I was cut and again it healed. This went on for about ten minutes.

Abaddon attacked from different angles and different positions and I tried to stop him from hurting me. It never worked. No matter what I tried, I was just too slow and too clumsy.

“This is not your weapon,” Abaddon said after slicing and dicing me.

“No shit,” I said, upset at my failure.

Abaddon saw my disappointment and said, “Do not feel bad, even when you do find your weapon you will not be able to stop me. I don’t expect you to become proficient overnight. I am looking for other signs in your balance and movements that tell me what your particular weapon will be.”

“Great, so even if I do find it, I’m still going to be Ginsued,” I said.

Abaddon smiled and handed me a smaller sword. A katana I think. It was one sided and had a slight curve that ended in and angled tip. The handle was wrapped in a tight cloth and a square hand guard protected them from attack.

The grip was long enough for both of my hands and I held it this way and faced Abaddon again. The result was no different than earlier.

We went through many different weapons. We tried many sword variations then moved on to heavier items like axes. I fared no better with these.

Finally, after three hours I stood in the arena sweating and panting.

“That is good for today. Tomorrow we will continue, eat and get some rest. We start bright and early in the morning,” Abaddon said.

I couldn’t wait.

Chapter 13

My alarm clock began bleating and I swiped at it, turning it off. I rolled over hoping my mom was going to make a big breakfast when I remembered where I was.

“Get up, we have work to do,” Abaddon growled as he walked past my bedroom.

“I guess he’s not a morning person,” I mumbled to myself.

I went into the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal while Abaddon went to the weapons racks looking them over. I finished my breakfast then met him in the arena. He handed me a long wooden pole that had a blade attached to the end of it. I took it and we began where we left off yesterday, him cutting me and me bleeding.

He quickly determined that the knife pole wasn’t my thing. The same went for the double headed axe, the mace, bow and arrow, small knives, scimitars, a weird chain thing with a metal claw on the end and many more, and that was all before lunch.

Well after noon Abaddon walked over to the kitchen and said, “We can stop for now. Take this money and go into town. Get some groceries; meet me back here in a few hours.”

The idea of a respite from all the ass kicking I was receiving was inviting. Even with all my enhanced senses, speed and strength Abaddon humbled me with his skill.

I went over and took the small bundle of cash he put on the counter. As I eagerly turned to go outside Abaddon said, “Be careful, you most likely are not in any danger from attack, but that doesn’t mean some might not try to goad you into fighting. If you swing first then the rules of protection are waived and you are fair game. Remember, having power over the Beast is not just in the physical, you have to be smart and know when to fight.”

I nodded, indicating I heard him and left, wondering what he meant by “most likely”.

I walked back down the steps and outside. I realized I had no idea where to go. I had never been here before and was totally lost.

On instinct, I drew in a deep breath and tried to see if I could determine where to go by scent. Again, I was amazed at the clarity of information I received when I used my enhanced senses.

I made out all number of smells, some good, others bad. One among the many struck me as having promise.

It reminded me of when my mom would bring home groceries and she’d have a sack full of fruits and vegetables. There was an earthiness to it, a sweet and yet ripe smell that reminded me of nature and fresh food. I decided to follow it and see where it took me.

I walked for about thirty minutes, leaving the industrial district I came upon an area that was clearly old. The buildings had an aged brick look that told you they were built decades ago, before steel and glass took over. The trees growing along the sidewalk were large and full, denoting age.

I came to an open area that housed a bunch of tents full of vendors selling different produce and fresh meats. I realized I had found a food market.

People were milling about, shopping for food for dinner while others moved with a dedicated purpose. They were clearly loading up on goods for local restaurants.

I walked around and marveled at the different odors I picked up. I could tell so much about someone just by the way they smelled.

I walked by one lady who tried to cover the smell of cigarettes with perfume. She emitted a slightly tart odor that for some reason reminded me of guilt. I also could make out a medicine like smell and noticed a small nicotine patch when she reached for a banana. She was trying to quit smoking and failing, in doing so she felt guilty.

Another man was still hung over from last night. The faintest trace of alcohol lingered on him. His jaw worked furiously, chewing gum. He had eaten a large breakfast consisting of pancakes, sausage and eggs. He reeked of grease, people and a variety of other spices and ingredients. If I had to guess, I would say he was a chef.

I walked around picking an item here and there, engulfed in the many aromas and sounds that I now could hear and smell. I spent almost an hour getting some things for dinner and figured I would have to get back soon.

A feeling swept over me. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but I had the sensation that someone was looking at me. It was weird.

I looked around trying to spot anyone. I couldn’t pick out any one person that seemed to be staring at me.

I shrugged it off and started on my way back. As I left the urban section of the city behind and entered the industrial area the feeling of being watched dissipated.

I chalked it up to misunderstanding my newfound abilities and hurried on my way. I went up the steps and unlocked the door to the loft. I carried the food over to the kitchen and put them away. I looked around and the emptiness of the space pressed in on me. It was unnerving.

“Abaddon?” I asked tentatively.

I waited for a response and none came. I guess he was still out. I thought about watching T.V. but just wasn’t all that interested in it.

I went to my bedroom and began to finish unpacking when I had to go to the bathroom. I got up and walked past Abaddons room.

I turned looking in and was stopped by a flash of light coming from a bag lying on the floor next to his bed.

I don’t know why, but I was drawn into his room. I slowly walked towards the flash of light that came and went like a ray of sunshine off a glossy surface.

I knew it was wrong to go into his room but I couldn’t help myself.

I went to his bag and looked down. I could see, hidden under a pile of clothes, a small metallic object. I reached down and grabbed it, holding a small bracelet about an inch thick that had a green gem inlaid in it. Next to it was another one; this one was similar in design only it had a red gem. I held one in each hand marveling at them.

Something about their design pulled at me. They looked like they were constructed by locking together small plates of metal that still allowed the piece to move. It reminded me of armor.

Without thinking I put them on and was surprised at how well they fit. They felt warm on contact, not like metal that usually needs to be warmed by your own body heat.

I glanced back down into the bag and saw the edge of a faded picture poking out from under a folded pair of pants.

I pulled it out and noticed how worn it was, the edges were frayed and there were creases in the middle and side from being folded.

Abaddon stood next to a teenager. The boy was a smaller, less dangerous looking version of Abaddon, he had the same blonde hair and the faint traces of a budding beard showed on the youth’s face.

Abaddon stood next to him, his face weird looking as I realized he was smiling, grinning from ear to ear.

Every boy knows the smile Abaddon had; it was the smile they all wished they would see beaming from their own father’s face, pride.

The boy held a smaller version of Abaddon’s sword and he looked like he had just worked out, his tee shirt showed dark areas of gathered sweat.

The boy was glancing up at Abaddon, who wasn’t much taller, admiration and love radiated from him as he looked at Abaddon.

The next thing I knew I was in the air.

The picture drifted from my fingers and settled in Abaddon’s bag. I landed hard and realized I was in the kitchen. Abaddon stomped out of the bedroom with anger in his eyes.

It was scary as hell.

I didn’t know what to do so I scrambled away from him inadvertently entering the arena.

“You have no respect for others. You have no right to enter my room and snoop around. I will teach you that respect,” he said, growling.

I didn’t know what to do. I knew he was right. I shouldn’t have been in his room but the bracelets seemed to call me. It was almost as if I had no choice.

I tried to explain, but I was too slow. Abaddon closed the distance and grabbed his sword from the rack. He came at me with anger and determination burning in his eyes; he meant to teach me a lesson. I knew he could inflict tons of damage and I would heal. All that meant was I could undergo massive amounts of pain and not die. Joy.

He came in and thrust the sword at me, intent on stabbing me with it.

I instinctively raised my hands in a defensive posture hoping to slow him down enough to allow me to explain when I was stunned to hear the sound of metal ringing on metal.

I opened my eyes to find a wide-eyed Abaddon looking at my arms. They were covered in silver gauntlets. Each one enclosed my hands and forearms in a layer of chitinous metallic armor.

I saw the two gems, one on each wrist. The green and red shone with brilliance.

I flexed my hands making fists and the metal flowed with them making the movement smooth. I looked at each fingertip and saw large sharp claws that looked deadly indeed.

When I made a fist, I noticed on top of my hand, where my middle knuckle was, a blade extended about three inches. Where I to punch someone, they’d receive a sharp little surprise.

I only had a second to marvel at them when Abaddon struck again.

This time I was able to intercept his sword with my gauntlets but Abaddon still bypassed my defense and sliced through my shoulder to the bone.

I was temporarily dazed as a wave of pain swept through me. I channeled that pain into determination.

I was not going to be cut again. I dug down deep and drew on the Beast to add speed and strength to me.

Abaddon came at me again, giving me no time to adjust. I saw his movements with more clarity and understood his intentions.

When we sparred earlier I had drawn on the Beast as well, trying to use my power to help in my defense, to no avail. Every weapon I used was just too slow or clumsy to stop Abaddons attack.

This time I felt a confidence and surety I hadn’t before.

I saw his attack and quickly moved my gauntlets to intercept.

Again, there was the ring of metal on metal as I stopped his blow. Abaddon wasted no time and instantly changed his attack. He came in with a side-sweeping cut that somehow changed direction in mid-arc.

I saw the attack coming but his skill was too much for my speed and my side flared up in pain as his sword cut into my muscles.

The pain overwhelmed me and Abaddon struck again, hitting my upper arm near my shoulder.

Pain lanced through me as Abaddon landed blow after blow with is sword. Agony from his cuts and thrusts reduced me to a curled ball.

After what seemed like an eternity he stopped.

I lay on the floor as the pain slowly reduced to a dull throb.

Abaddon stood over me, looking down.

“When you become a Pack member and violate another’s territory it is seen as a challenge. They then have the right to settle that challenge in a few ways. One is with monetary compensation; another is with allowing them into your territory and losing face. The third, used only in extreme cases, is a fight to the death. You need to understand many Pack laws have severe clauses that can be used by those that hate you, and make no mistake, you are hated.”

I didn’t know what to think. I was upset at such a brutal response, but on the other hand I had to realize Abaddon was only trying to help me. His methods were not for the weak at heart. My mom trusted him, my dad trusted him. I had to trust him.

I wanted to fight back and an urge to be petulant rose. I wanted to hide how much I was hurting, but I realized that was the child in me speaking, the spoiled kid that lived a life of ease. I had to let go of that and embrace my new life. My Beast called me to retaliate and attack, my heart and mind told me to listen.

“I’m sorry,” I said, letting the truth of my feelings fill my words.

“You are right. I acted without thinking and violated your space. Please accept my apology,”I added, slowly standing up facing him.

He stared at me for a minute, his intensity unnerving. After a while, he nodded once.

“Well, what’s done is done.”

“There is a silver lining to your actions; you have found your weapon,” he said indicating the bracelets that were now in their original non-gauntlet form.

I looked down and found they had morphed back into bracelet form.

“How is this possible?” I asked, stunned.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, those were made by your father. He spent weeks on end shaping and working the metal,” Abaddon said, coming closer and kneeling down next to me.

“But they grew and turned into whatever you call it,” I said.

“Gauntlets, they are called gauntlets. They are deadly when used by someone who is skilled. They are best for close in combat,” Abaddon commented.

“How did they grow? I mean when I put them on they were just bracelets, then you attacked and they grew. How is that possible?” I asked.

“Magic,” Abaddon said, smiling.

“What?” I asked, unbelieving.

“You are a werewolf Eric. Is it so hard to believe magic exists? Your father had complete mastery over his Beast. He was able to channel the same magic that fuels the Beast into creating these bracelets.”

“I have to admit, however, I wasn’t sure what they could do. I knew your father was making them, but he never told me what, or whom he made them for. I guess now we know,” he finished.

“My father made these for me?” I asked.

A wave of emotions washed over me. I felt gratitude for his gift, but also confusion about them. Did he know what would happen to me? Why didn’t he tell me?

Abaddon saw the emotions play out within me. He seemed to understand what I was going through.

“Your father never talked much about you or your sister. He never told me why he made those or whom they were for. He just asked me to care for them when we left the Pack and if you or your sister were to show signs of the Beast to help you.”

“I have my theories however. Your father was a dreamer. He believed in the best in man and hoped to create a world for you he never had, one devoid of the demands of the Pack.”

“He was also practical, and understood man’s flaws. He wished for the best, but prepared for the worst. I now believe he made those for you in the event this day would come. He wanted to keep you from having to go through this, but knew if you should have to then you would need a good weapon. It seems your father somehow knew what that would be before you were born,” Abaddon said, standing up and walking over to the kitchen.

He grabbed a couple of water bottles from the refrigerator and tossed me one. I caught it and drank the cold liquid.

So, my father knew or at least feared this day would come. He knew this journey I was traveling on was dangerous. He understood the punishment for failure and wanted to give me the tools to succeed.

“I remember something my father used to say. At the time, I really didn’t understand it. I mean, I knew what he was saying, but I didn’t really get it.”

“The tools a man has are only as strong as the man’s ability to use them,” I recited.

He had given me my tools, the gauntlets, his legacy, Abaddon’s knowledge and skill. If I was going to be the man my father wanted, the man who took lemons and made lemonade, I was going to have to master my tools. I was going to have to take his gifts and use them.

“I think I finally understand what he meant,” I said.

I stood up and walked over to where Abaddon was standing in the kitchen.

“Up until now I have been swept along on this crazy train. I haven’t understood what has been going on and haven’t known what my part is in all of it.”

“I have been more of a passenger, watching as the world passes me by. That ends now. My father knew this might happen and he gave me the tools I would need. One of them was you, your knowledge, your skill, your mere presence.”

“I trust in my father’s choice in you. I know there may be some things you haven’t told me until I am ready or I just don’t need to know, but I am not going to move along blindfolded,” I said.

Abaddon stood, waiting.

“What is the Rite of Ascension?” I asked.

Abaddon let out a breath through his nose.

“I see Katrina listened to me as much as she always does. I suppose it was inevitable.”

Abaddon began to slowly walk around the island and towards the arena, talking.

“The Rite of Ascension is as old as the Pack. It is a ritual created to weed out the weak. In the early days there were many Descended. They created death and destruction. Many of the ancient stories of folklore were born from this time.”

“The early leaders of the Pack worried not only about the Descended, but about those that were Ascended. They worried that they would be unable to control themselves, and that their human natures were unsuited to hold the Beast. So they derived a test. A choice, if you will. They took an animal, namely a large predator and enhanced it. They used sorcery to alter the animal, make it more of a threat to one of us. They then took someone the Ascended cared for and put them both in the same arena.”

“The idea was for the Ascended to be pushed by a battle with the animal. The effort needed to kill such a creature would make it harder to control the urges of the Beast. When you use the power of the Beast, its nature to become more feral becomes stronger and it is the ability for the Ascended to control this that gives us our strength.”

“They would then have to decide what to do with their trapped loved one. Kill them or free them. If the Ascended killed them they were themselves deemed unworthy and executed. If they controlled their Beast’s impulses they were admitted into the Pack and given full Pack rights.” Abaddon stopped for a moment.

“That’s horrible,” I said.

“It was a dark and barbaric age. Over the years the Rite of Ascension has changed depending on who the Pack leader was. Sometimes it was more brutal, other times it was less so.”

“Until recently the Ascension ritual was more humane. The idea has been to try and find those that have Pack blood and raise them with the knowledge of the Pack and the Beast, thereby allowing them a better chance at becoming Ascended. This has generally been easy due to many Pack members taking the responsibility to raise their children with the understanding of the Pack.”

“The real threat lies in the Descended. Their uncontrollable rampages leave many in their wake, hurt and bitten. Some of whom have the genetic makeup that allows the Beast to rise.”

“Under your fathers decree the Rite has become more of a show of mastery of the Beast. The one being tested has to undergo a series of feats that have been designed to show an ability to control the Beast without placing innocents in harm and using magic to create monsters for us to kill.”

“There are ancient clauses that still govern the Rite and the Pack leader can use them under certain circumstances. Your father did a great job at governing the Pack in a fair and kind manner. That doesn’t mean a new Pack leader doesn’t have the ability to call for more barbaric methods if they find the proper loophole,” he finished.

“That’s why there is such seriousness. You’re afraid I will have to undergo a much more brutal Rite?” I asked.

“The current Pack leader was no fan of your father. You have the right to challenge and he fears that, he fears you. Yes you are still young and seemingly not a threat, but how many times has the son of a deposed leader rose up to seize power from the one who took it in the first place?” He said.

“So what am I stuck in some Shakespearean drama?” I asked.

“In a sense, yes. You will have to out think and out maneuver your enemy. Being Ascended is not all about brute strength. There are many ways those that want you dead can achieve this even after you are a member of the Pack. It is ruthless and cutthroat. This was something your father was trying to change, and successfully, I might add. Now the Pack has fallen into the hands of someone who does not believe like your father, someone who is dangerous,”Abaddon said.

“That’s why I have to continue with school, so I’m not an idiot?” I asked.

“Yes, you need to be as lethal in mind as you are in body. A good education will help hone that. It is essential,” he answered.

So, not only did I have to learn to physically defend myself to save my life, my grades, literally, depended on it. I also had to learn the ins and outs of how to politically operate within the Pack. Things just kept getting better and better.

“When do I have to undergo the Rite of Ascension? How much time do I have?” I asked.

“Normally, when a person is raised within the Pack they undergo the Rite a year after Ascending. You are a rogue and have a sponsor. They allow more time for you,” he said.

I looked at him, impatience showing on my face.

“Two years, you have two years to prepare,” he said.

“That seems like a long time. Will I be able to see my family?” I asked.

“It would be best if you didn’t. Not until you are a member. In order to keep you from attacking anyone else with the Beast’s blood you are not allowed to see your family,” he answered.

Damn, two years. I wasn’t going to be able to see my sister or mom for two years. Abaddon watched me, understanding my concern.

“Do not worry. The time will go by very quickly. You will see. The training will be intense and there will be little time to fret over your family’s absence. Besides, it is for the best. You have to succeed if you want any chance at seeing them again anyway. If you fail you won’t have to worry about not getting home for the holidays. You’ll be dead.”

“I know it’s a lot to deal with, but I have a duty to prepare you. There will be time to absorb everything that is happening,” Abaddon said as he stood in the arena.

“For now all you need to focus on is learning to protect yourself. Now that you have your weapons we can really begin your training. I have to admit, I’m curious to see what those gauntlets can do.”

All of my life I have prepared for the future. I worked hard at school to make sure I would have a chance at getting into college. I saved my money to make my move possible. I stayed out of trouble to ensure nothing tripped me up. Planning for events that would come about years from now wasn’t something that was alien to me. Hell that’s all I had been doing. The thought of training and preparing for two years was actually welcome. I liked having the ability to ensure I was ready. I excelled at making sure when the time came for my life to take the next step I did everything I could to anticipate it.

“Let’s get started then,” I said, walking up to Abaddon.

I may have been thrust into this situation and literally thrown to the wolves, but by god when the time came to make an accounting of myself I wasn’t going to fail.

Chapter 14

Abaddon stood apart from me. We watched each other waiting for a clue, a signal, a small tic or movement that would initiate a sparring session. The last few months had indeed gone by very fast, just as Abaddon had said.

Almost on cue Abaddon’s hand flexed, slightly, hovering over the handle of his sword still in its scabbard on his hip. I moved in fast, taking the offensive.

I had been learning many different fighting styles and techniques. Abaddon’s knowledge of different weapons and fighting forms was amazing. He believed, in order for me to be able to truly fight a skilled opponent, I not only had to understand the weapon I used but I had to understand the weapon my opponent used. This innate knowledge of others fighting styles, weapons and tactics would allow me to anticipate their moves. If mastered this would give me an edge against any opponent.

It was hard as hell.

I had a tough enough time learning how to use my own gauntlets, much less every other weapon and differing style.

Thankfully, Abaddon was condensing his in depth training into a few groups in order to speed up his usual training schedule. All this meant was he sliced and diced me with five main weapons instead of fifteen.

At the moment, I was learning how to fight with the katana. Abaddon felt learning the basic single sword attacks were enough to encompass most sword users and had settled on the katana. It could be used single handed or two handed. It was fast and yet powerful. All in all it was a pretty dangerous blade. If only it were in the hands of someone who was skilled.

I called on the Beast to fuel my attack, I came in hard, veering towards Abaddon’s right only at the last second I twisted to his left and brought the sword in a low sweep that passed in front of my legs and came up to his shoulder. I hoped the quick change in direction would distract him and make his drawing of his sword slower and more awkward allowing me to land a hit on his unprotected shoulder.

He quickly parried my attack and with a quick twist of his wrists tried to unarm me. I was prepared for that and allowed the momentum of his swords rotation to flow through mine. I waited until his attempt to spin my blade from my hand was over and used the movement to bring my blade in a quick slash towards his exposed neck.

Again, Abaddon’s blade met mine and blocked my attack.

The first few weeks had been excruciating. Abaddon believed pain was a wonderful motivator and I had to admit it was. He never failed to find the weakness in my defense and the sloppiness in my attack. He rewarded these failures with painful lessons of steel cutting flesh.

Yes, I healed almost instantly from non silver metal, but it still hurt like hell.

I quickly fell back as Abaddon began to press the attack. He came at me with a numerous series of thrusts and slashes. I barely managed to keep his attacks from landing.

Over the countless hours of training and failing had I slowly began to show some promise. It had taken along time and a lot of blood and pain, but I was finally beginning to not be defeated almost instantly.

Abaddons attack overwhelmed me and in a desperate attempt to break it and turn the tide of his offense I put more effort than necessary in deflecting his blade in hopes of making him go wide and giving me an opening.

As I hoped his deflected blade was pushed off further than normal and I eagerly moved in to take advantage.

As I thrust my sword towards Abaddons ribs, over extending myself in eagerness, Abaddon side stepped my attack and swept his blade up, throwing my arms above my head.

Pain exploded from my abdomen as Abaddon sliced open my stomach with a vicious cut. I felt a weird sensation as the open wound Abaddon gave me allowed my intestines to start to fall out of my body cavity.

Abaddon quickly came in and with his hand stopped them from escaping. The pain was overwhelming. Abaddons face was a few inches from mine when he said as he pushed my guts back into my body while the wounds began to close, “You attack like an over eager child, too impatient to wait for an opening, too hungry for the kill. You have to stalk your opponent and wait for them to make the mistake. Take them down when they think they have almost won.”

His words sank home as my body healed itself. He let go of me and I fell to the ground as the shock took its toll. I lay there panting, being eviscerated was a new one.

“You do not anticipate my actions, you react. Many of the Ascended have been using their weapons for decades and are experts. You cannot defeat them with quick reflexes. You have to get to a place where your Beast helps you instinctively understand your opponent’s intentions and you effectively combat that,” he said, handing me a water bottle.

“How? I have been trying. I know all the moves, countermoves, parries and thrusts. Learning the information has never been a problem,” I said.

“Knowing the technical aspects to fighting is important, but it is but one part of the whole. It takes time,” he said, sitting in front of me, crossing his legs.

“Come sit down,” he said.

I took a big pull of the water then set it down. I gathered myself and sat in front of him, crossing my legs as well.

“Your will is a weapon as dangerous as any sword. It too needs to be honed and strengthened. Gather your will and begin,” he said.

I slowed down my breathing and forced my thoughts away from my failure in the arena.

I drew in my will and focused it. This was something I was pretty good at.

I concentrated on my right hand and willed it to change. There was a sharp piercing pain as the bones of my hand elongated and reformed, hair sprouted from the top of my hand and my nails grew and curved into wicked looking claws. The hurt subsided and I marveled at the results. No matter how many times I did this it still amazed me.

“Good, that was faster. Your control is getting better, now the other hand,” he said.

Again I concentrated and again my other hand underwent the same change.

“Now back,” he said.

This time I reversed the process and soon I saw both hands in human form.

The ability to alter my bodies form was an important one. The Beast lived within me but it found oneness with the form of the animal. I possessed heightened abilities but they were only at their greatest when in Beast form. Manipulating my form in all stages of the change was essential to my ability to control the Beast. The more control I had the more strength I could use.

We continued this for hours. I shifted parts of my body and then shifted them back. Near the end, my focus was frayed and I had a hard time concentrating. Abaddon noticed my decrease in control and called for a stop.

“That is good for now. You are progressing nicely, but I think we need to push you further. Your control of the Beast can help overcome your lack of experience with the blade. This is a good thing you are so adept at applying your will,” he said.

“God, my hands feel like jello,”I said, turning my hands over and flexing them.

“That is normal. Shifting is difficult and takes a toll on the body even with our healing abilities. It is getting late and you begin school tomorrow. Get some rest,” he finished, standing up and leaving me alone in the arena.

I was glad to start classes in the morning. The last few months had been filled with combat training, usually consisting of being cut to hell, lessons in control and Pack law.

I looked forward to getting out of this place and onto a college campus. Don’t get me wrong spending hours on end having my ass kicked was appealing, but I welcomed the change in pace.

I got up and went to my room, checking to make sure I had everything I needed for class. The first few days were usually tame; most schools spent this time letting the students get comfortable with class locations and the campus layout. I lay down, eagerly anticipating the morning. Sleep took its time, but eventually it came and plunged me into the depths of my own imaginings.

I woke up and looked at the clock. In my eagerness to start school I had woken up thirty minutes early. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep so I went into the kitchen and made breakfast.

I sat at the table eating an omelet. After breakfast I decided to go to school early and just check out the sights.

I got dressed and made sure my bracelets were on. I pulled on my backpack and quietly left the loft, making my way downstairs and outside.

The walk to school was invigorating. The early hour meant the crispness of the night was still present. The day would soon turn hot as the summer weather clung on with grim determination. Soon, the seasons would change and fall would marshal its forces and lead a charge across the land that would end in deep winter. For now, I could look forward to a stifling hot afternoon that would cling to the day and well into the night.

I was bursting with energy from the excitement of a new school year. I always looked forward to the challenges of furthering my education. I strapped my backpack on a little tighter and began to jog towards school, gaining speed, I started sprinting and found the exercise liberating and rejuvenating.

Five miles later, I slowed my pace. I checked my watch and was astounded to see only fifteen minutes had passed. I barely felt winded.

I took the opportunity to walk around campus and see where my classes were. By the time I needed to be in my first class I knew where every class was and the best way to get to them.

I had three classes on Mondays and each one was uneventful. We went over the syllabus and class requirements. At the end of the day I was reluctant to leave.

I found being on a campus was energizing. It was a place that represented new ideas and exploring old ones, a place where opinions and radical thinking was protected. It was where students were expected to challenge themselves and their ideas, hopefully to either strengthen solid ones or reject weak flawed ones. Most of all it was a place of learning and growth, both things vital to a healthy state of being.

On the return trip back I didn’t sprint. I wasn’t all that eager to be filleted by Abaddon.

I was deep in my own thoughts when a scent hit me, triggering my instincts.

My heightened senses picked out four distinct odors, each one definitely a male. They had the deep musky odor that was strong and unique to men. That in and of itself wasn’t what triggered my defenses. There was something else intertwined with them, the same thing I detected in Katrina’s scent. It was the wild and powerful odor of the Beast.

I looked around, realizing I had walked into a manufacturing area of the city. I was surrounded on all sides by large industrial buildings and had blindly walked down an alley with only two avenues of escape.

Four men with the power of the Beast were near and for some reason I didn’t think they wanted to see how my day went.

I tossed my backpack to the side and settled into an easy stance Abaddon had taught me. I heard the sound of a bottle sliding off the pavement behind me and I turned around tracking the sound. My instincts screamed at me and acting on reflexes honed by Abaddons beatings I quickly dove to the side rolling away from where I stood.

It was a good thing I did.

I heard the sound of metal scraping concrete as I turned back to find a man standing ten feet from where I was. He held in his hand a small metal chain that gleamed with a silver sheen. It was long and extended nearly twenty feet and ended in a small silver mace.

His posture reminded me of a circus performer who uses a whip to pop balloons from his assistant’s mouth. He was leaning forward with his body weight on one foot and his arm extended after sending the mace towards the spot I had occupied a few seconds ago.

He quickly stood back up and with a quick snap brought the chain and mace back towards him. He twisted his wrist in another quick motion and the chain began to wrap itself around his forearm leaving it covered in metal with the mace dangling from his hand.

I quickly took stock of my situation. The man with the mace and chain was slightly shorter than me but was more solidly built. He wore a black sweatshirt with a hood that covered his head and hid his face in dark shadow. I could see a hint of his chin and it was covered in black stubble in need of a shave. Over the sweatshirt he wore a black leather coat and blue jeans.

Three other men were with him. One stood off to the mace man’s side and slightly behind him. The other two stood about twenty feet behind me. The one standing next the attacker was even shorter, his head also covered in a deep hood, a long red beard that ended near his chest bristled from his hidden face. From the quick look I got from the other two they both were equally imposing.

“How was your first day at school honey?” The one with the mace said, acid dripped from each word.

“Who are you?” I asked.

Abaddon had been teaching me Pack law, but there was still so much to learn. Hopefully this guy could tell me something I could use to stop their attacks.

“Who am I? You mean Abaddon hasn’t told you about me? I’m shocked!” He said with over exaggerated motions, clearly mocking me.

“I am your executioner, dear boy. I am the last person you will ever see, die knowing nothing,” he said, all the while slowly stalking closer.

His eyes flashed a deep yellow from the darkness of his hood.

I backed up keeping the space between us consistent. He was pushing me back, closer to the other two men.

“You are not allowed to attack me. I have protection until after the Rite. This is Pack law,” I tried.

“Don’t quote Pack law to me you bastard whelp. I have lived under Pack law for decades. You are but a shit that will be wiped off my boot.”

“Besides, who is here to ensure the law is upheld? How will anyone know what happened here?” He said.

I was about to try reasoning with him some more but he swung his arm in a whipping motion and the mace came flying at my face.

I only had a fraction of a second to react. In the instant it took for his mace to cover the distance between us I brought my gauntlets up in a defensive posture and felt the impact of his mace on my forearms.

The blow pushed me back a step but I never faltered. The clear tone of metal ringing off metal echoed throughout the alley.

“Those are neat little gloves. They will make a nice addition to my collection,” he said in a sneer.

With a quick snap of his arm he brought the mace up and around in a wide swing that went over his head and behind him, he rolled his shoulder and again the mace came flying at me, only this time the angle was different and as it came he again flicked his wrist and the mace changed directions.

I knew I was outmatched. Maybe I could have taken him on by himself if I was in a more open area. This closed space made it hard for me to maneuver and dodge his attacks.

His friends made retreat impossible. They had set a nice trap and I had walked right into it. My best option would be to run and try to get as far away as fast as possible.

As the mace came in I remembered Abaddon’s words, “The best way to beat someone with more range than you is to get inside that range. Eliminate the advantage that range gives them.”

I brought my left arm up and again blocked the incoming mace. My arm went numb from the force of the impact but I never slowed down. He again brought the mace back towards him and it quickly wrapped around his arm leaving a small length of chain that allowed the mace to dangle near his hand.

He smiled slightly and I began to doubt if my plan was the right one.

No matter, I was committed now.

I got to within a few feet and drew on the Beasts power. I planted my left foot and leapt sideways.

I covered the ten feet towards the side of a building and planted my right foot springing off it over and behind the mace wielder.

I landed easily and kept running, a spark of hope kindled in my belly that I was going to get away when a deep, bone-chilling pain in my leg extinguished it.

I fell and landed in a jumble of arms and legs. The pain radiating from my leg was mind numbing. I had a hard time thinking and even moving.

I looked down and saw the mace embedded in my calf. My attacker slowly walked towards me like a man who knows his prey is down and can do nothing to stop him.

If I could just get this thing out of me, I could try to get up and fight. I reached down and tried to pry the mace out of my leg only to be overwhelmed again with a fresh wave of agony. The pain was unbelievable and my vision started to get dark around the edges. I had to do something! I wasn’t going to die like this.

I turned over and tried to crawl away only to hear deep and hate fueled laughter.

There was a loud bang and I felt a concussion move the air as if someone had set off a large firecracker.

A stinging foul odor assaulted my senses. My vision blurred as my eyes filled with tears. Disorientation made me panic as a yellow smoke filled the air and destroyed my sense of smell and vision. My lungs burnt from the noxious gas and my sinuses tried to eject all the fluid from them instantly. My body itched and with my heightened senses, the culmination of the gases effects was devastating.

I heard a loud police siren coming from the opening of the alley and relief washed over me as I realized someone had called the cops.

“C’mon man we have to get out of here. If we get caught he will skin us alive,” I heard one of the men say.

“The whelp is hurt; I only need a few seconds.”

“No time, the cops are at the alley.”

“His word is meaningless until after the Rite. There will be time for another attempt.”

A few seconds passed and another wave of pain flooded from my leg before it vanished.

I lay there as my disorientation from the gas made it hard for me to even get up. I didn’t care. Let the cops come. Hopefully they will have water.

I heard footsteps and saw a dark silhouette as someone approached. Their head seemed distorted as I realized they were wearing a gas mask.

As they got closer, the sounds of the police siren got louder as I noticed the person was holding a large megaphone emitting the blaring noise.

He looked around for a few moments before the wind finally started to blow the gas away. As the air cleared, the man turned off the megaphone and the silence was deafening. He took off his mask and reached down to help me up.

I was unable to do anything but stare as Max offered me his hand, a wide smile spread across his face. He looked a little older, but mischief still shone in his eyes.

“Are you just going to sit there like a douche or are you gonna get your lame us up?” He asked.

Chapter 15

“Max?” I asked.

“In the flesh,” he answered as he helped me get to my feet.

I stood up, shocked at his appearance. He looked pretty much the same as he did months ago. He had grown a few inches and put some weight on his bones. He stood there smiling at me.

“Surprised to see me?” He asked.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked.

“Saving your ass, apparently,” he said.

I gave him a look. I was not amused.

“Okay, okay. You think I was just gonna sit around on my thumbs while my best friend turned into a werewolf?” He asked, daring me to argue.

“What are you…” I tried to say.

“Don’t give me any bullshit. I had my doubts, sure, but after watching you jump over that guy like you were hopping over a puddle I was pretty much sold,” he said.

We started walking out of the alley.

“C’mon, we need to get out of here, somewhere we can talk,” I said.

We hurried out of the ambush site and soon made our way towards the loft.

“I don’t know what you think you know or what you think is going on, but you have to get out of here. It’s real good seeing you, but it’s not safe,” I said, trying to convince him to leave.

“What I think I know?” He asked accusingly.

“Let’s just see how much I know. One, you were bitten by a wolf and at the full moon turned into a werewolf, killing Sara and a couple cops. Two, you managed to somehow control yourself and didn’t kill your family. Three, you ran away.”

“This is where things get interesting. You haven’t ran off into the woods to live a life of cyclic changes, turning into a werewolf and wondering the land. Not only that, but you have started going to school. That means you have found a way to stabilize your affliction. I don’t think you were able to do that on your own. I think you are part of some kind of pack or group of werewolves,” he said, challenging me.

“How the hell do you know about that?” I asked, amazed.

“Dude, I have spent my life obsessed about conspiracies of every kind, from alien abductions to government experiments to make super soldiers. You think I haven’t explored the “werewolves are among us” angle?”

I didn’t know what to say. I feared he had learned too much and was worried he would get himself into trouble. I hated lying to him and decided to see how much he actually knew.

“Here’s what my research has shown so far. There is a pack of werewolves. The foremost theories from people who claim to have seen them and associated with them say it is made up of people who can control it. They have a secret society made up of werewolves and they have tentacles in many aspects of civilizations power structures.”

“Am I close?” He asked.

“How the hell do you know all this?” I asked.

“The internet, you just have to know how to sift through the crap and find the truth.”

“It’s really your fault, when you called me asking about information on werewolves it set off all kinds of bells. It set me on the path.”

“But to be honest all I had were theories and assumptions. I was running off of three or four scenarios until I saw those guys jump you,” he said.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

“It wasn’t hard really. I talked to your mom and sister and they said you went off to college. You are a scholarship winner. It wasn’t hard to get your class schedule. I just told admissions I was writing an article on you and needed your first class to meet you. When I spotted you I followed. With so many people around and you all wonderstruck by all the learning it was easy,” he said.

I just looked at him. I was truly amazed. He had changed. You could tell that. Sure, he had grown some, put on some more muscle, but his demeanor and attitude was different. He had always been so timid. Now he possessed a confidence that fit him well.

“It’s just too dangerous. I know you want to help, but this is more than some conspiracy or alien abduction claim by some inbred farmer. This is deadly,” I said, facing him, hoping to convince him to leave.

“I know I don’t know everything, but I can help,” he said.

“Help? Do you have any idea what these guys are capable of? What I am capable of? No, you have to go,” I said.

“You need me; I’m not scared of you Eric. You didn’t kill your family, you won’t hurt me,” he said, standing firm.

I desperately wanted to say yes, I missed him, I missed my old life, it would be great having him around, but it was too dangerous. If he got hurt, it would kill me.

“No, I appreciate the offer, but no,” I said.

“So that’s it? You make the decision? You get to decide? Isn’t there some pack leader or something I can ask?” He asked.

“That’s not how it works,” I said.

“Then how does it work? Tell me. I know you don’t want me to get hurt Eric, but I’m not a child and I don’t really give a god damn what you say,” he said, angry.

“Why? Why do you want to help?” I asked.

“Besides the fact that you’re my friend? Okay, I’ll tell you. You remember that day you stopped those guys from torturing me? The day I never left you alone?” He said.

“Yeah, what about it?” I asked.

“I had a cousin; he lived in Paceridge, across the river. He was like me, skinny, weird, awkward. Like me he was targeted, the cool kids took aim and gave him hell. For months they messed with him, they did mean vile things to him.”

“I never knew but it really bothered him, he fell into a deep depression, no one helped, no one seemed to notice. One night he posted a long letter explaining everything then he hanged himself.”

“You helped me Eric. You stepped in and saved me from the same fate. You probably saved my life, at least saved it from years of teasing and bullying. I think you literally saved my life. I have always been a little unstable and you helped give me hope there were good people out there. I want, no, I need to help. You helped me, now it’s my turn to help you. Besides, if it wasn’t for me you’d be a pulp of muscle and bone. That guy with the mace was totally gonna kick your ass,” he said, mischievously.

He stood there with a small smirk. The same one he used when he gave me shit for something he himself would never have been able to do.

He knew I was stronger, faster and smarter, but that never stopped him from making fun of me. He also knew I wasn’t the type to make fun of him for being weaker or slower.

I didn’t know what to do, he had a point, but I didn’t know the rules about this sort of thing. I wanted to let him help but didn’t want him in harm’s way. I decided to take it to Abaddon. He was my pack leader now; he would know what to do.

“Okay, fuckface. You win, we’ll go ask Abaddon, see what he says,” I said, a huge grin spreading on my face.

“What the hells an Abaddon? Are you like his bitch?” He said as we fell into an easy stride.

“No, I think your mistaking me for your mom,” I said.

“Hey, my mom’s not a bitch, she’s a vacuous bimbo, get it straight,” he answered.

We both turned to each other and smiled.

Chapter 16

“What the hell was that anyway?” I asked.

We had left the ambush area and started walking towards the loft at a quick pace. My senses did not detect anyone else near, but they didn’t tell me Katrina was close until she was in hearing range either.

My leg slowly stopped bleeding and the pain had reduced to a dull throb. After a while, I could feel as the skin and tissue started to knit itself back together.

I guess wounds made by silver weapons took longer to heal, if I was stabbed in the heart I would have died, even my healing abilities can’t work when your heart stops.

“Just your average batch of lachrymatory,” max said. He looked over at me and smiled, clearly enjoying this.

“Lachrymatory?” I asked, confused.

“Tear gas, in layman’s terms. I thought a fellow science nerd like me could have figured that one,” he answered.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize my studies included the chemical name for tear gas,” I said.

“Seriously though, how did you know that was gonna work?” I asked, curious.

“I didn’t, not really. All of my research led me to a few core ideas. There are varying theories on the nature of werewolves’ abilities. Some think you guys only shift forms during a full moon; others say you have the ability to do it at will. I’ve even read about werewolves that don’t change human form at all, but are filled with the spirit of the Beast that gives them superhuman abilities,” he said, looking at me hoping for an answer.

In for a penny in for a pound.

“It’s a combination of all three really,” I said.

I could tell he was dying to ask me more questions but I stopped him with a look.

“There will be time to answer all your questions once Abaddon gives me the okay. Right now just answer mine,” I said.

“Okay, okay. Man, you’ve really became an old lady. So, the one thing I found that was a consistent thread in all the werewolf myths was their heightened senses. I figured if tear gas was so devastating to normal humans it must be balls nasty to werewolves,” he answered.

“That’s actually pretty smart,” I said with real admiration.

I never really thought of Max as more than a great friend who had a very eccentric side. Maybe that was an asset.

“Thank you,” he said, clearly pleased.

We walked in silence for a few minutes and the tension between us grew heavy. Something had been gnawing at me and I think Max knew it.

“Did you go to her funeral?” I asked, afraid to talk about Sara’s death but unable not to.

“Don’t do this Eric. I know you. You are not responsible for her death. Whatever happened was beyond your control. It’s not your fault she died,” he said, knowing what was driving my question.

“How do you know that, what if there was something I could have done, what if I was faster, stronger? I might have been able to save her,” I said.

Max stopped and grabbed my arm, turning me towards him.

“What would you have done differently? I don’t know exactly what happened, but I know you. You’re not a murderer and you’re not the kind of person to turn away from someone who needs help. I know this from personal experience. Sara’s death was beyond your control. You have to accept that,” he said.

Maybe he was right. I just kept seeing her screaming a wordless protest as the Beast stalked her while I hid, afraid for my own sanity. Of course I blamed myself; it drove me to excel in training.

I had to control the thing inside of me to make sure another innocent wasn’t killed because of my cowardice.

“Well, accepting it doesn’t bring Sara back, or the two officers. Anyway, were almost here,” I said, ending the conversation.

A look of concern washed over Max’s face, followed by a quick nod.

“Let’s go meet this Abaddon. I’m interested in seeing who your pimp is,” max said, teasing.

“After you,” I said letting him take the lead up the stairs.

I turned the key in the door and entered the loft. We walked in and saw Abaddon in the arena, sitting on the floor cleaning a sword whose blade shone with a silver radiance. Its twin sat next to him, within easy reach.

“Who is this young man and why do you smell of rotten eggs and your own blood?” Abaddon said without standing up or even taking his eyes off his sword.

“This is Max. He is my best friend. I was attacked by some members of the Pack; Max stepped in and saved my life,” I said.

Abaddon turned to face me when I mentioned the attackers.

He took in my appearance and my jeans whose pant leg was shredded from the attack. He looked Max up and down, assessing him in one quick glance.

“I see Jameson’s mace is still quite devastating.”

“You know who attacked me?” I asked.

“Of course, he is the right hand of Vicktor, the current Pack leader. Your wound stinks of him,” he answered.

“So, we can go to them and have Jameson punished? Attacking me is in violation of Pack law,” I pleaded.

Abaddon stood up and looked at me, then looked at Max.

“How much have you told him?” He asked.

“What? Nothing, he knows some things from the internet, but I haven’t told him anything,” I answered, annoyed at the change in the conversation.

“It is not wise to bring people into our affairs,” he said.

“I didn’t bring him in; he stepped in and saved me from having my head crushed by Jameson’s mace,” I said.

“He saved your life?” He asked.

“Yes, I already said that,” I answered.

Abaddon ignored my tone and walked over towards Max. He stood in front of him and glared at him. This time he took more time in giving him the once over.

I have to say I was proud of Max. He didn’t wilt under Abaddons stare. I was standing next to it and only saw it from the side, but I was unnerved by it.

“How? How did he save you?” Abaddon asked, without turning from Max.

I was about to tell what happened when Max surprised me by telling Abaddon himself.

“I used tear gas to befuddle their heightened senses, then used a recording of a patrol cars siren to make them think the police were coming. They ran like little girls. It was almost too easy,” he said.

I winced, thinking he had over stepped his bounds.

I waited for the sound of impact and Max moaning and was astonished to hear a deep rumbling instead. I looked over at Abaddon and saw his body moving up and down in what I assumed was laughter.

“Smart, very smart. It seems Eric is in your debt. Although Eric is not a recognized member of the Pack it is customary to allow you to have a request fulfilled by the person you saved,” Abaddon said.

“I want to stay here with Eric and be a part of all of this,” he said waving his arm around in a small movement.

“Why? Do you wish to become like us? Do you think we will bite you and you will turn, because if that’s the case you can leave right now, it will not happen,” Abaddon stared at Max with hard scrutiny, judging his answer.

Max started to speak then stopped and took a second before saying, “The idea of becoming like you had crossed my mind I admit. I have followed conspiracies on the internet my whole life, now I have the opportunity to live one while helping Eric. If I never become a werewolf that’s fine with me, so long as I am involved, I can live with that.”

Abaddon took a second before responding, weighing Max’s words.

“Done,” he said.

“Wait, don’t I have a say in this?” I asked.

Both Abaddon and Max said at the exact same time.

“No.”

“It is not uncommon for people to be a part of our lives. We are natural creatures, unlike vampires; we live and exist in the world of the living. It is normal for us to have relationships with people and to even bring them into the Pack,” he said.

“Wait, did you just say vampires?” Eric asked.

“That is not important right now. What is important is Max saved your life. That is a big deal even in regular human society. We in the Pack hold that particular act in high regard, even more so when it is done by a human. Max is an adult and he has chosen. I would expect you to respect that,” Abaddon said.

I just didn’t see Max as more than the kid who I saved from a Texas wedgie. It was hard to imagine him as an adult. My life was crazy enough as it is, much less adding him to it.

On the other hand, Abaddon had a point. He did save my life. He was legally an adult and could make his own decisions. I just didn’t want to see him get hurt. I had enough blood on my hands.

“Fine, on one condition,” I said to Max.

“Name it,” he said, smiling broadly.

“You train with me. You learn from Abaddon how to defend yourself to the best of your ability. If you’re gonna hang out with a werewolf I want you to at least not be a pussy,” I said.

“That’s not what your mom said,” he answered.

Chapter 17

“Now that that’s settled, you can tell me more about this attack,” Abaddon said.

“There’s not much to tell really. One second I was standing alone in the alley, the next four guys appeared and this Jameson tried to kill me,” I answered.

Abaddons face turned thoughtful.

“Did they say anything to you?” He asked.

“I don’t know, they were worried about being seen. They said something about me not having any say until after the Rite. They mentioned being able to take another shot at me,” I said, trying to remember their conversation. It was hard, everything happened so fast.

Abaddon stayed silent, thinking.

“Cant we go to the Pack leader and tell him his right hand man tried to kill me?” I asked.

“Think, remember what I told you about accusations of violence against Pack members,” Abaddon said.

“Pack members have the right to petition the Pack leader for arbitration in matters of violent assaults. The Pack leader can adjudicate the case if both parties agree or they can work their problems out in self regulated debates,” I recited.

“That’s right, we can have the guys boss, who probably ordered the attack to begin with, be the judge, or you can try and reason with Jameson yourself. I don’t see him as the type to want to reach a mutual understanding. All of which is meaningless,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Think, Eric, you’re not a Pack member. You do not have protection under Pack law. It is my fault really. Your sponsor is charged with your protection in these matters.”

“I refuse to baby you and follow you around everyday, but there is something I might be able to do. I have influence in the Pack and can get word around you have been attacked. This will let the leadership know I’m on to them and they should leave you alone,” he said.

“Spreading some rumors will cause them to leave me alone?” I asked.

“Not forever, but it will buy us the needed time to get you ready. Don’t forget Eric, I am the weapons master for the Pack, I have a lot of influence,” he said.

“Okay, if you say so,” I answered.

I wasn’t sure if all this political crap was too much for me.

All this time Max just stood there watching, soaking everything in.

“Hey, what about me? Won’t they come after me?” He asked.

Abaddon turned to him as if he had forgotten he was there.

“You are a human; you have protection under Pack law. Unless you attempt to use silver against a Pack member or alert the population to our existence you basically have immunity,” he said.

“Sweet,” max said as he sat down on the couch and turned on the T.V.

Abaddon went over, reached down and unplugged the T.V. Max started to say something in protest when Abaddon raised his hand, silencing him.

“If you are going to live here as per your request, then you have to follow some rules. One, your move must be immediate; you have to get all your things and bring them here, tonight. Two, you are going to be trained by me in conjunction with Eric, three, if you are not going to school, you will get a job.”

Max just sat looking at Abaddon as if he were crazy.

“Oh my god, you’re worse than my father. If he hadn’t left when I was a baby and was actually a maniacal drill sergeant,” he said.

Abaddon just smiled and kept looking at Max. Eventually Max began to squirm under the weight of his stare and got up and headed for the door.

“I don’t have a bunch of stuff, I’ll be back in a few,” max said, sheepishly.

Chapter 18

A month after Max had moved in I stood facing Abaddon in the arena. We had all settled into a hard but steady routine.

I watched Abaddon from across the space. Max sat in the far corner of the living area at the computer working on a paper for his Humanities class.

I wore replicas of my gauntlets. True silver weapons were too dangerous to spar with but I needed to perfect my own weapons so Abaddon had these crafted for me. They were very close in heft and weight to my gauntlets, but always felt like bulky fakes compared to the master craftsmanship of my weapons.

After the attack in the alley, Abaddon added the small mace to my weapons list. I had been using it for weeks, trying to get the feel of it. Now Abaddon casually swung one above his head, it made slow lazy circles in a five-foot length.

“You have gotten a feel for the mace, now I want you to try and reach a place where you can anticipate my moves based on your knowledge of the weapon I’m using. Eventually, when you are skilled enough, you will be able to see what someone is going to do before they do it. This requires a level of control that has only been achieved by a few in the Pack,” he said.

I only had a second to absorb his words when he shortened the back swing of the maces rotation and with a snap of his wrist sent the five-pound ball of steel at my face.

I had already been using the power of the Beast to help heighten my senses and focus. I watched as the ball came at me and easily brought my hand up, blocking his attack. With a quick jerk Abaddon brought the mace back in a straight line then whipped it at me in a blur. Again, I was able to block his attack.

Over and over he sent the mace at me, slowly getting closer. I was always on the defensive, never able to do more than react to his attack. I heard my dad’s voice in my head, “Relax and quit fighting your instincts. Allow the Beast to enhance your natural ability.”

His voice was a balm to the turbulence in my head as I fought.

I was a thinker, I always have been. My mind never stopped going and my first move when fighting was to think about everything that was happening, try to analyze it and think my way through.

He wanted me to stop all that and let the more primal aspect of the animal within to take over. I guess that made sense. If I was going to build a house, I used my brain, but if I was going to survive a fight to the death I should use my instincts. I needed the fundamental understanding of Abaddon’s weapons training to give me the baseline of how to fight, but I also had to have the instincts of the Beast in-sync with my own to take that understanding and use it to effectively stalk and take down my prey.

The mace came at me again, only this time I saw the slight shift in Abaddon’s weight and knew what his next move was going to be.

A split second before the mace reached its full length Abaddon twisted his wrist sending the chain to spinning down its length and ending at the steel ball. Normally the mace would have returned, but this time Abaddon made it do a small rotation that would have bypassed my normal block and smashed my face in, if I was still there.

My instincts screamed at me, easily signaling Abaddons next move and I listened. I moved inside the attack and twisted towards him. I reached out with my right arm and wrapped the chain up around my hand and in a rotation of my wrist sent the mace up over my head and straight for Abaddon.

Shocked surprise split Abaddons face for a second before the mace smashed into his chest. I heard bone break and in the few seconds I took to stand in awe of my success Abaddon recovered and stepped forward.

He landed a devastating punch to my face and I felt my nose break and blood drip down onto my chest. I fell flat on my ass more out of shock than pain. The punch was small compared to the punishment Abaddon normally gave me.

I had actually landed a hit on him! I sat in amazement as that set in and my nose healed. Abaddon recognized my halt in the fight and allowed me the small victory.

The last few weeks had been filled with a stringent schedule. Wake up in the morning and eat, spar with Abaddon for an hour before leaving for school. Spend the day at school, learning and growing.

Then I’d come home only to go another round with Abaddon in the arena. After came lessons in control and then an hour talking and discussing Pack law.

When that was over I had a few hours left to do any schoolwork and catch up on the required reading necessary for my classes. Then I’d pass out only to do it all again.

Max didn’t fare much better. He woke up early, like me, and instead of sparring with Abaddon he was required to exercise. Abaddon had him on a strict routine.

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays he ran. Each week he added a mile and soon he was running ten miles every other day.

Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were weight lifting or aerobics days. Sundays were a day of rest. Abaddon loved American football and we spent those days sitting and watching games.

Max enrolled into the local community college and would spend his days, like me, at school. His schedule was so close to mine we met up everyday and walked home together. When he got back to the loft he did his reading and school work while I got my ass kicked by Abaddon.

Abaddon had begun teaching Max some routines similar to Tai Chi and Max practiced them while Abaddon and I practiced my control and Pack law. Max would go to sleep soon after, having been thoroughly exhausted. My stamina and strength was much greater than his and allowed me to push myself much more.

“Very well done Eric, very well done,” he said.

”I did not expect that move from you. You let your instincts guide you,” he said, more of a question than a statement.

“Yeah, I didn’t really even think about it. I let my body react to the information your movements gave it. I felt a oneness with my Beast,” I said.

“Good, you have found the place. Now we just need to hone it,” he said with a hint of hidden pride.

“We will break for dinner. Max should have it ready,” he added.

He came over and helped me up. We went to the kitchen and the smell of cooking food made my stomach growl in eager anticipation. Max was making his specialty tonight.

His quesadillas were to die for. He took chicken and marinated it overnight then grilled it before cutting it into small strips. With fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and cilantro his quesadillas always hit the spot.

I got out the plates and forks and Max brought each of us a serving. I was just about to dig in when the door opened and in walked Katrina.

To say she walked in was an understatement. A more accurate description would be to say she sauntered in.

The first thing I noticed was her hair. It flowed in gentle waves reaching past her shoulders, bouncing with each step. She looked directly at me with piercing blue eyes and I was stunned as her features radiated strength and sensuality. She wore a small amount of eye shadow giving her an exotic aspect which only exaggerated her natural beauty. Her athletic frame was on full display as she took off her leather jacket and her healthy skin glowed with golden radiance in her skimpy clothes.

She wore a black tank top cut above her waist allowing her smooth, well-defined stomach to show. She had a navel ring that drew my eyes toward her midsection. Her long strong legs moved in confidence as her hips swayed in tune with her steps. She wore tight leather pants showing off her curves and knee-high boots rang off the concrete floor.

She walked over to me and sat on my lap. Her scent was maddening; it was a mix between the clean crisp autumn weather and a deep earthy womanliness that stirred my awareness of how intimately close we were.

She sat on me and where her body touched mine a strong feeling of connection came to me and I wanted to increase that connection, hopefully with no clothes on.

“Good evening gentlemen. I see I have disturbed you during dinner,” she said in a seductive voice showing she didn’t care one bit about our meal.

“Katrina,” Abaddon said, nodding to her.

Katrina nodded once to Abaddon and then dismissed him. She turned to Max and with a dazzling smile said.

“My, I didn’t know there were two strong young men living here, I will have to come over more often.”

“H-h-hi. I’m Max,” Max stammered, his face a deep crimson.

“Nice to meet you Max, I’m Katrina. We have already met,” she said, turning in my lap to look at me from only inches away.

The slight shift of her body on my lap made my pulse race even faster. She absently picked at the food on my plate as I sat in awe of her.

“I bet you are wondering why I am here,” she said to me.

“Okay,” I managed to say.

She smiled knowingly at the reaction she caused and enjoying it.

“Dear Abaddon has told me you needed a more in-depth and challenging lesson in the workings of Pack politics. I am your new teacher,” she said.

“I will be moving in, this place needs a woman’s touch,” she looked around with disapproval. “I will help you learn how to protect yourself from the different tactics those in the Pack will use against you. Some will be outright offensive, while others will use much more subtle ways.”

She took another piece of my food and brought it to her mouth, casually parting her lips and slipping a small piece of food into her mouth. I couldn’t help it. I stared like a fool.

“I will also be tutoring Max on becoming proficient in using a firearm, we Ascended cannot be killed by a bullet, but they hurt like hell and can be a good persuader.”

She reached over and ate some more of my food as she stared at Max, he sat there like a deer in headlights, his mouth hung open and I had an urge to throw something in there to see if he would notice. I was betting he wouldn’t, not as long as Katrina was here.

“Let this be my first lesson, Eric. Do not let the allures of something you can never have distract you from your endeavors, be it having your will known in the Pack or even eating a delicious dinner,” she brought another handful of food to her mouth and ate it, all the while staring directly at me.

She finished and licked her lips, shifting her weight in an excruciatingly pleasurable way she rose and walked to the door, grabbing her coat she left, leaving Max and myself staring at the closed door.

I shook my head, clearing it only to see Abaddon almost done with his food. Apparently, Katrina’s appearance didn’t have any effect on him.

Max smiled at me and started to eat. I decided to ask Abaddon more about her after dinner and went to start eating myself only to find Katrina had eaten the whole thing. There was nothing left; she had even eaten the guacamole and other fixings.

My stomach growled as I looked over at the oven hoping there was more.

“There is no more food. Max you are not to give Eric any of yours either. Let the pangs of hunger drive home the lesson Katrina has taught you this night. Max, you are to meet me in the arena tonight. It is time we took the forms I taught you and see if you can use them,” Abaddon said.

Dawning understanding of what just happened flooded over me. She had tricked me! She had come in here as a distraction and ate all my food. I had been so stupefied by her allure I had watched as she ate my dinner right in front of me.

I had no doubt later tonight when my hunger doubled I would be pissed at what she had done, but for now I hid a smile that threatened to split my face. She had taken my meal and left me hungry. My body still ached from the effect her actions caused and for now I felt the trade-off was totally worth it.

Chapter 19

The year moved on and the winter took control of the weather. I wasn’t as affected by the differing temperatures the change in seasons brought. My newfound abilities allowed me to handle the more extreme weather easily.

As the year progressed so did my fighting ability. Max also became more adept at defending himself as Abaddon began beating on each of us equally. Although when Max and Abaddon fought they used bamboo weapons so Max wasn’t killed. His fights left him covered in bruises and I was at least slightly joyed at knowing someone else was sharing in my pain.

Katrina moved in like she said. She usually kept to herself and only came around when it was time for her lessons or to take Max to the range.

Her lessons were always confusing and enjoyable. She would wear revealing clothes or use kindness to cause me to drop my guard so she could prove some point or take things from me I would miss. Sometimes it was my music collection, other times it was my food money. Other times she would act aggressively and intimidate me. Each encounter came with a lesson in different manipulation techniques I fell for every time.

Max always seemed frightened when she was near, as if he was scared to say or do anything that would make her notice him. His infatuation may have been kind of cute if it wasn’t so painfully obvious.

Max constantly badgered Abaddon about the Pack and being a werewolf, he also kept asking him about vampires and wanted to know everything. Abaddon answered most of Max’s questions but refused to talk about vampires, saying the less he knew the better.

My college classes were not to terribly challenging after the grueling punishment I had been getting from Abaddon and his swords.

I enjoyed my time in class, but found myself longing for the few times we would go to the woods.

Abaddon would take us camping every few weeks. He would have us make camp and practice different skills needed to survive in the wild. It was unnecessary, I felt, seeing as how I was a werewolf and could take care of myself. Abaddon thought it was necessary and so we did it.

It was during these times Abaddon encouraged me to shift into Beast form. He and I would leave and go hunting together or just run freely through the woods, letting go of the restraints of the city. It was liberating and cleansing to feel the power of the Beast. At times we would also spar while in Beast form, but Abaddon feared for my control and didn’t allow it to go to far, afraid I would get too aggressive.

Max and Katrina would stay behind where they would practice shooting. Sometimes with pistols or rifles, other times with bow and arrow.

At first Max would hardly say a word, but over time his curiosity got the better of him and before long he and Katrina would have long conversations about everything from gas prices to the current theories on the origins of man.

It was early spring. The nights were cold, but the days began seeing warmer weather. The trees and bushes were showing the first signs of budding as they sensed the change in the sun’s position and prepared for summer.

“No more wood on the fire,” Abaddon said again.

Max loved making a fire and whenever we camped he always tried to load it up with wood, Abaddon always chided him.

Max sat back down and poked at the flames with a stick he had. Katrina stayed home this time; she said she needed some time away from all of the testosterone, whatever that meant.

I looked up and saw the moons fullness. I could feel the Beasts energy building as the moon reached its apex. I looked over to Abaddon and could see a slight gleam in his eyes. They flashed yellow for a second before resuming their normal shade.

“Come Eric, it is time,” Abaddon said as he stood up, he took off his shirt and pants, I did the same. It’s cheaper than buying new clothes all the time.

Max looked from me to Abaddon and pleaded,

“C’mon, let me go with you guys just this once. I want to watch you guys spare in Beast form.”

“One day, perhaps,” Abaddon said.

“Fine, but I’m going to burn all the wood while you’re gone,” max said.

“What else is new?” I said.

“Whatever, you get to run around as an awesome werewolf while sit here and poke at the fire,” he complained.

“Look it’s not my fault, there’s union rules against someone as nerdy as you becoming a werewolf. We have an image to protect,” I said.

“I hope you choke on a hairball, shitbag,” he answered.

Abaddon turned and entered the tree line, I gave Max a big smile and he threw a stick at me as I turned and followed.

I followed Abaddon as he sped off into the woods. I reached into myself and willed my body to change. Sweet pain swept through me as my limbs and torso grew and elongated. I assumed the form of the Beast and my senses expanded in conjunction with my power.

I saw Abaddon in front of me as he too underwent the shift. His form grew and his body became covered in lighter fur, not white, but more of a blonde shade.

His speed increased as his new shape allowed him greater agility. I raced to keep up.

I always loved this part. Abaddon would fly through the woods and I would take chase. At first, he would easily outpace me, but lately I had grown more and more confident in my skin and I could now keep up.

Abaddon made quick changes of direction, trying to shake me but this night I was having none of it. I pushed myself faster, willed my Beast to provide the needed power. As I dipped into the well of energy the Beast provided my thinking became more and more primal and less and less complex.

Run.

Turn.

Jump.

Faster, faster I went. Abaddons form slowly got larger as I gradually closed the distance between us.

I saw ahead of him and spotted a tree that had fallen into his path. My instincts screamed at me and I listened. Ten feet from the tree, I used the power of the Beast and leapt. My jump took me twenty feet into the air in a long and straight line. Abaddon took a second to prepare for the tree and it was this slight hesitation I had anticipated. My leap brought me down onto Abaddon as he passed over the tree and we fell together in a tumble of limbs, teeth and claws.

He reached out as we rolled and brought his claws across my chest, leaving four deep stinging gouges. I drew my feet up and brought them between us and with a powerful kick, sent Abaddon into a nearby tree. The impact shook the leaves and pine needles fell around him as his body slid to the ground.

Abaddon wanted to teach me the more brutal and devastating hand to hand fighting. He was afraid of doing it around Max and used these times in the woods to train.

As he landed he came up in a crouch keeping me in front of him. I wasn’t there.

After kicking him, I immediately used the distraction my blow caused to allow me to circle around Abaddon. I came up behind him, not ten feet away. I forced my movements to be quiet, willing myself to move with the stealth of the ultimate predator.

Abaddon continued to stand at the ready, using his senses to find me. I came at him with the breeze at my face, making sure he wouldn’t smell me until I was too close.

I closed the distance to five feet and in my eagerness I tensed for another leap. In doing so, I pushed down too hard and a twig snapped under my foot. Knowing I would be heard I sprang. Abaddon was faster.

He twisted as I came for him and grabbed onto my outstretched arm, using my own momentum to throw me thirty feet into the base of a tree. The impact was not near as hurtful as the realization I had revealed myself.

I quickly sprang upright, bending at the knees I leaned forward, placing both long powerful claws on the ground I prepared to use all four limbs to hurl myself at Abaddon like a cannon.

Abaddon had seemingly forgotten about me.

He stood with his head cocked to the side, listening. The change in posture made me immediately weary and I too focused my senses outward. Seeking with the tools of the Beast for what had gotten Abaddon’s attention.

Once I willed my awareness out and into the surrounding woods, I instantly heard what Abaddon was listening to.

I didn’t have the long years of experience my teacher did, but even I could tell something big was coming at us and it was fast, not only that but it seemed uninterested in trying to go undetected.

It barreled through the woods and crushed anything in its path. If my sensitive hearing was accurate it sounded like more than one was heading our way. It sounded like a lot of them were coming and coming fast.

“Prepare yourself Eric, I know not what heads our way, but it is not of nature,” Abaddon said through his muzzle.

He faced the oncoming threat and waited patiently.

I wore my bracelets. I always wore them. They easily clasped to my wrists and adjusted their fit even when I shifted into Beast form. I thought about activating them, but didn’t want to risk using silver on something silver might be fatal to until I was sure it was dangerous.

Abaddon had left his weapons at the camp, he was not worried about leaving them behind, his skill at fighting was unmatched and his claws and teeth were as deadly as any sharpened blade.

I nervously anticipated what was coming. I wasn’t as statuesque in my waiting as Abaddon. I bounced from foot to foot and tried to focus my hearing and smell to see if I could discern anything else.

I used the Beasts power to push my senses to a higher level when I felt something radiate out from me. It wasn’t an increase in my sight, smell or hearing. It was more of a combination of all three. I sent an almost invisible probe out into the night to investigate without really understanding how or what I was doing.

My awareness expanded and I was conscience of my surroundings at a piercing level. I heard the cricket as it jumped from one leaf to the next. I felt the slight breeze as it glided through the trees. I saw the dew as it collected on the newly formed buds. As my awareness grew, I also understood I was unable to react to my immediate surroundings. It was a trade-off. Either I could be in the here and now with my body, or I could tap into a Zen-like state that allowed me to be almost one with my environment.

I felt what came for us as the creatures passed into my area of heightened sentience. They were massive, larger than horses and ran on all fours. Their front limbs longer than their back ones. They had large canine heads and their mouths were full of deadly looking teeth.

I had never seen anything like them before in any book or documentary on large predators. Because make no mistake they were predators.

If I had to hazard a guess I’d say they were bears on steroids. They had the same general shape, but their proportions were all wrong, their muscles too large, their eyes too red. They had claws that were easily a foot in length and their speed was scary.

Knowing there were five overgrown grizzlies coming for us was bad enough. As they swept deeper into my range of understanding something else came with them.

The bears were monstrosities, sure, but they were essentially animals, creatures of nature. Even though they had been twisted by some foul magic they were still living beings.

What followed the bears’ rampage was the exact opposite. Where the bears exuded the energy of life this thing radiated death. Where the bears moved with rampant abandon this thing moved with the stillness of the unliving.

I instinctively pulled myself back from this new presence. Its very aura struck at me in such a fundamental way I lost focus and rocketed back into the here and now. I tried to understand what I had felt when I heard what sounded like Abaddon yelling my name. It came to me from a far-away place, as if muffled.

I shook my head forcing myself to focus only to realize Abaddon had been yelling at me. In my heightened state I had blocked him out. Now, however I heard him loud and clear.

“Eric! Eric!” Abaddon screamed.

“I’m here!” I answered.

Abaddon nodded, the fear I had frozen in this time of true need left his face and relief washed over him.

“Here they come!” He yelled a second before three of the five ten-foot tall bears came bursting from the darkness.

Their eyes glowed with a strange red luminescence. Two of them went straight for Abaddon as one veered off for me.

I wanted this moment to be something I could look back on with pride. I wanted to say something that conveyed my sense of courage up against such a mighty foe. I had planned on what I would say at a time like this, but it all left me as two tons of bloodthirsty grizzly came hurling towards me.

I tried anyway, hoping for something.

“Oh shit,” I said proudly.

Chapter 20

The thing coming at me was huge, yet its speed was amazing. Its muscles rippled under its deep thick coat and I watched as its red eyes never left its target. Me.

My instincts screamed at me that this thing was dangerous, but I didn’t need them to tell me that.

The bears face was a twisted mask of pain and anguish. I felt sorry for it. I didn’t understand much about the sorcery needed to alter a creature like this but what I did know told me that not only were these creatures bodies twisted into devastating killing machines, so were their minds.

It wasn’t their fault they were like this. Someone had done this to them, someone had corrupted their spirits.

I hesitated, unsure if I would be able to hurt or even kill something like this, something that had been used as a tool.

My hesitation almost killed me.

The bear wasn’t worried about the moral justifications of its actions, it wasn’t worried if killing me was right or wrong, it was driven with a single-minded purpose and it was hell bent on fulfilling it.

The bear closed the distance between us in three long strides and swept its clawed hand out, trying to take my head from my shoulders in one fell swoop.

I managed to table my internal debate and decided all of my problems wouldn’t matter if I was dead. I jumped to the side just as its foot long claws passed through the air where my neck had been.

I managed to dodge the bear’s first attack but its broad shoulder clipped my leg as I dove to the side. I felt my leg break under the sheer force of so much mass traveling so fast. I was flung a few feet away as the bear slid to a halt. It dug the earth out in big divots as its long claws sought for traction. Turning such a massive frame took a few seconds and I felt my leg itching as the bones knitted themselves back together.

I stood up and faced the thing squarely, my back to a tree. I began to worry, I knew there were two more out there as well as whatever had radiated that death vibe. I couldn’t spend all day dancing with this thing but I really didn’t want to hurt it. Its existence had been turned into one of hurt and fear. Maybe ending that would be the kindest thing I could do.

The bear came at me again. This time I was ready. As it got to within a few feet I jumped straight up. The bear ran under me and I landed on its back, using my clawed feet to spring off it again, raking my claws down its thick hide in the process.

The bear bellowed in pain and I landed behind it, curious to see how tough this thing was. The wounds did not heal; they just oozed blood, turning its thick fur into a soggy mess of blood and hair.

The bear kept going, unable to change directions as quickly as I. It slammed into the tree face first and I heard bone break as the sheer mass of its body drove it face into the hardened wood.

The bear rose up and shook its head. It then turned again and slowly stalked closer. I was hoping this thing was a mindless monster, but this change in tactics told me it was at least aware enough to recognize its weakness. That made hurting it even harder, but I put that aside. I had no idea how Abaddon faired and I worried about Max. It was time to quit messing around and get down to business. Abaddon taught me many things, but the most powerful thing I learned from his lessons was the business, the business of killing.

With a mental push, my bracelets grew into gauntlets. My hands and forearms quickly became covered in metallic silver armor, the two gems shined brightly in the darkness as the bear came in.

It got to within a few feet then rushed at me, swiping low. I quit thinking and let my instincts take over, my body moved with the quickness and surety of the predator. I watched in almost slow motion as the bears claw swung at me. I ducked low, the bear’s claws missing me by inches.

Its swing was fast and powerful, but clumsy. It overextended and I raked out with my gauntleted claws and with one powerful swipe took the bears forearm off at the elbow.

The bear roared in pain again and I moved in closer, without thinking I brought both arms in front of me in a wide sweeping motion. I crossed my hands in front, like an umpire motioning the runner safe, and felt as the normally short blades on my gauntlets, now almost two feet long, crossed each other and cut the bears head off.

I was almost as stunned at the long blades coming from the knuckles of my gauntlets as I was at my success in using them. I had no time to worry about that as I looked over at Abaddon.

He stood in between two immobile large bear forms. All three of them covered in blood and gore. Abaddon looked from one to the other, making sure they stayed down. He looked over at me, nodding in approval, seeing I had taken care of my bear.

He started to say something as the other two bears shot from the darkness of the woods and took Abaddon down. I started to run to his aide when I could clearly hear his voice as he struggled with the two new threats.

“I will be fine, Eric. Go after Max, I fear he is in danger!”

I took a step towards the fighting forms, torn between helping Abaddon and going to check on Max.

“GO!” Abaddon yelled.

I galvanized my will and turned from Abaddon, trusting he would be okay. I sped through the trees, pushing my body into motion. Fear began to grow in my belly. Abaddon was worried, that was clear. That in and of itself was dire, Abaddon was never worried. Everything had happened fast, but I could still count. All five bears had been accounted for. There was still whatever had emitted the whole pit of inky blackness aura out there.

I feared the worst as I came closer to our camp.

I didn’t want to rush into something that in my haste would make matters worse so I slowed as I got nearer. I also didn’t want to scare Max by coming into camp in my Beast form.

I focused my breathing and willed myself to return to my human shape. Pain swept through me and I lost some of my heightened senses as the Beast retreated a little. I stepped into the opening where we had set up our camp and tried to keep my movements as hidden as possible, unsure of what awaited me.

I saw Max standing in the fire light and my anxiety left as relief washed over me.

My caution immediately grew as I realized he stood staring at something, he seemed transfixed. It reminded me of what I think of how someone who is hypnotized might look, vacant eyes and a slack face.

I traced his gaze and my heart fell when I saw what he was staring at. I knew without a shadow of a doubt this was the darkness I sensed.

It looked human, it was beautiful, the same way a wax mannequin is beautiful. Its features were clean and strong. This thing was in the form of a woman, but that’s where its similarity to humanity ended.

It stood deathly still. All living creatures move slightly, they swayed as their bodies kept balanced, they blinked and twitched as elements in their environment changed, not this thing. It stood there like a rock.

I felt it would still be standing there thousands of years from now as other rocks had been worn away by the ravages of time. This thing was not a part of time, it was timeless, it was the opposite of life, it was death. Living beings exuded a spark of energy, given to them to use during their lifetimes; this thing ate at that spark, drawing the energy of the living into itself, like a black hole.

I knew what it was; it has been a part of cultures across the planet forever. It was the succubus of Roman lore, the temptress of Greek mythology, the living corpse of Eastern Europe.

This was a vampire, a creature whose very existence was fueled by taking from the living, their blood, their life, and their dreams. This thing was a bane of existence and an anathema to the living.

Its stark white skin showed no wrinkles, no blemishes or marks. It was the ever-unchanging essence of death. It glided over the ground towards Max, as mesmerized by Max’s humanity as Max was by its inhumanity.

Its movements even rejected the clumsiness of normalcy as it walked with unnatural perfectness. If I didn’t do something fast it would soon be on him. I didn’t want to see what it had in mind for Max.

Worry and fear drove me as I rushed to Max’s aid. The vampire was a few feet from Max when I slammed into it. I plunged both blades into its chest as the force of my attack sent us both off to the side, away from Max. I landed on top of the vampire and its gaze never left Max. I began to feel left out when it finally drew its eyes towards me. I looked into their depths and it tried to draw me into them, the same way it had Max. I felt myself locked into its gaze, my body unable to move. My Beast rose from deep within and its power drove the things paralyzing effects out. Allowing me to gain control and blink.

A look of confusion came over the things face. It was odd seeing as how its skin never wrinkled or showed any change. It then drove itself back up onto its feet and reached out with both hands it grabbed my gauntlets and with unimaginable strength removed my blades from its body. I fought back and tried to keep it pinned, but its power was too much. It pushed out and threw me thirty feet away from it. I landed on my back and quickly rolled over to my feet.

I looked over and saw Max starting to come to his senses. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

“Eric?” He said in confusion.

I turned back to the vampire to see it coming at me with unnerving stillness.

Like the oncoming night, relentless and unstoppable. It hit me like a freight train and pushed me back into a tree. I felt the wood behind me start to give as a few of my ribs broke under its power. I was unable to do anything against this things strength. If I did nothing it soon would reach out and rip my head off like taking the cap off a bottle.

I had to act and act fast. I reached deep into myself and drew on the Beast. I let the power the Beast provided fill my limbs and felt as my bones once again broke and grow into the form of the werewolf. As I completed my change, I drove the vampire back, channeling the Beast’s power to counteract the strength of the vampire. If the vampire’s power was from the inevitability of death, mine was from the will to fight it.

I willed the Beast to provide me the needed power to fight this thing and it answered. A red haze filled my peripheral vision as I focused solely on the threat at hand. I finally managed to get some leverage and used it to swing the vampire around off the ground and into the tree it had been pushing me into. The impact was devastating but the vampires grip never faltered.

So I did it again, and again. The vampire finally let go after the third bashing, I didn’t. I swung again and slammed its back into the tree, feeling with satisfaction as the things back broke. I let go and watched with amazement as the vampire came at me again. Its back almost twisted in a ninety-degree angle. It still flowed over the ground relentlessly.

It rushed at me and brought its arm up, attempting to club me with it. I waited until the last moment and dodged the vampire’s swing. With my gauntleted claws I swiped at its unprotected shoulder. My silver claws dug into the vampire’s inhuman flesh, ripping its arm almost completely off at the shoulder. It hung there, but the smallest of tendons.

The vampire stopped its attack. It seemed to take stock of its situation and realized it was losing this battle. It took one more longing look at Max, like someone who is starving looks at a steak before they have to leave without getting to eat, and it turned and fled into the woods disappearing into the inky blackness of the night.

I stood watching where it had disappeared, extending my senses out, trying to track its movements. The night and darkness around us lost the deathly feel and resumed the normal mystery it always had. I took this as a sign the vampire had truly left and went to Max.

Abaddon rushed towards us, his blonde coat covered in blood, assessing the situation in a glance. I reached Max and he looked at me in surprise.

“Holy shit you guys are fucking ugly up close,” he said.

I took this as a good sign.

Realizing what I looked like I once again brought my will to bear and shifted form again. The cold crisp night air was harsh against my sweating skin. I relished the feeling knowing only something truly alive could take pleasure in the extremes of being alive.

I shivered at the memory of the vampire’s aura. I felt dirty somehow, as if its very presence was against the natural order of things.

Abaddon looked at us and stood still, his eyes lost focus as he sent his awareness outwards into the night. A few seconds later he came back into focus and turned to me. A look of newfound respect came over him as he too shifted forms and came towards us.

“That was a vampire, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes, the abomination is what you understand as a vampire,” Abaddon answered.

“And those fur balls of fun, what they hell were they?” I asked.

“They were the Altered. Animals twisted by sorcery, made into what you saw,” Abaddon said.

He moved off to a nearby stream to wash some of the blood from his body before getting dressed.

I went to my clothes and put them on. I was less affected by the cold, but that didn’t mean I was immune to it. I put my shirt and pants on, looking at Max the whole time. I had been mesmerized by the vampire for just a few moments, but Max spent much longer under the things gaze.

“You alright, man?” I asked Max.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good, I just feel kinda violated. That thing had me, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think. If it wanted to it could have slowly walked up to me and pushed a finger into my eye and I would have just stood there like a dumbass,” he shivered from the memory.

He was clearly upset, being powerless to stop something even though your whole body is telling you to is hard to deal with.

“Sometimes winning in those kinds of situations only entails if you survived or not. I’d say today, you won,” I said.

Max didn’t say anything; he just nodded and went over to his camping gear. He pulled out a 9mm Glock and checked to make sure it was loaded, and then sat down with his back to a tree. He watched the fire with his elbows resting on his knees, holding the pistol.

Abaddon came back into camp; he had put on his clothes. His hair was still wet, but all the blood was gone.

“I’m sure you have questions and I will answer them, but for now we need to get Max to safety. That thing might have left, but it may come back,” Abaddon said, reaching into his backpack for a cell phone.

“I need you to come get Max,” he said into it after dialing a number.

“I’m not a child, I can get myself home,” max complained.

I could easily hear Katrina’s voice on the other end.

“What happened? Did he have a nightmare?” She said teasingly.

“Five Altered were sent after us, along with a vampire. I’m going to take this opportunity to see if Eric can track it,” Abaddon responded.

“You’ve kept him in the dark too long, tell him,” Katrina said.

Abaddon looked over at me, knowing I was listening.

“Yes, perhaps you are right,” he said.

I don’t know why, but a small shiver went up my spine.

“I’ll be there in twenty,” Katrina said, then hung up.

Max didn’t say much while we waited; he sat pensive, holding his gun and watching the fire. I think he was more affected by the encounter with the vampire than he wanted to admit.

I tried to talk to him a couple of times and got nothing but sullen one-word answers. So far he hadn’t really seen what being a werewolf was about. Yeah he had watched me train and heard all the discussions I had with Abaddon and Katrina about the Pack but all that had been done while I was in human form. At the most it could be considered more like boot camp than anything weird, which was one of the reasons Abaddon insisted on he and I coming out here to train in Beast form. It was traumatic seeing me in full animal mode. I was his best friend, someone he could trust, but that didn’t make my appearance any less frightening.

Tonight, Max had not only seen Abaddon and myself up close and personal, but he had been enthralled by something of infinite darkness, something whose presence grated at my understanding of the natural world. It had been in Max’s head, holding him prisoner. I could understand that part, but even with the Beast there was something alive about it, something possessed of energy and vitality. The vampire had none of that. It existed in a world of darkness and despair.

I worried about what the touch of something like that would do to Max.

Abaddon and I stood apart from Max, giving him solitude, waiting for Katrina to arrive.

“I have kept information from you because I felt you were not ready, information about your father and his absence,” Abaddon began.

“You mean his death,” I intoned.

“We will get to that.”

“You see your father left the Pack, well, as much as anyone can leave. He led us for years and did so in a just and honorable manner. When he decided to leave he was able to choose his replacement.”

“His replacements name was Sebastian. He was a good man who respected your father and saw the wisdom of ruling the Pack with the modern understanding of decency and liberty. He and your father helped weed out the medieval and vile practices of certain Pack traditions.”

“But like with everything else, there are some who abhor change. You have to understand the Pack is not just a few Ascended who get together occasionally for cookies and tea. The Pack is a multi-national organization with members spanning every nation and many different eras in time. It is responsible for managing the financial obligations needed to find, hunt and kill Descended.”

“Think of it like a country club, where the members come to mingle, but also conduct business before leaving. From time to time there are insurrections, if you will, Ascended members whose ambitions are far greater than their good sense.”

“Just like with natural predators, fights over territory, wealth and resources occur. The Pack is basically an overseer of disputes among members and a governing body to help keep our presence a secret from normal humans.”

“It’s kind of like the U.N.?” I asked.

“That is a close enough comparison. As you can imagine the head of such an organization has vast resources and influence in the world. Keep in mind most of the Pack members interact with the normal world and have their hands in all kinds of power structures the world over.”

“By and large, the relative peace that has been established around the world is in large part due to the Pack’s leadership, especially under your father. Most of the current problems are from small rogue groups that are hard to manipulate because of their rigid fanaticism.”

“Leaving the Pack like your father did was a huge decision. I’m not saying he was wrong, just that it had ramifications. It created a power vacuum, if you will.”

“I thought you said he named a replacement?” I interjected.

Abaddon smirked quickly.

“Sebastian was weak, yes he had the right ideals and motives, but he was ultimately weak. In the Pack strength is paramount, without it you will be pushed aside. It is a hard truth, but a truth none the same.”

“Vicktor had been drooling for leadership for years, but dared not challenge your father. He knew your father was stronger than him and he would lose. So he began working a different tactic.”

“Vicktor began spreading lies about your father, that he was a poor leader and the success of the Pack was a lie. That we had given our power up and that your father’s modern ideas of humanity and a more humane Pack was a poison. He slowly gathered those who felt like him. Those who wanted to have more power themselves and saw their chance through Vicktor.”

“When your father left, it was the opening Vicktor needed. It took years to undermine Sebastian. When your father first left Sebastian managed the pack and its affairs as well as your father. Over time, however, things began to fall apart. Rival factions began fighting with each other and tensions about the Pack’s cohesion grew. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to know Vicktor and his band of followers had been sowing the seeds of disruption. He wanted to not just take over, but destroy everything your father worked so hard to accomplish, so when he took over, no one would question his choices.”

“Then he took power, one night he challenged Sebastian and in the ensuing battle, killed him. Everything changed.”

“Vicktor quickly imposed his own will on the Pack and began running things his way, ruthless and without remorse. He began reducing the independence of the other pack members throughout the world, taking more direct control, centralizing it. That’s when I began to really see the danger in him.”

“Those small groups or individuals who refused to allow Vicktor to dictate his will upon them started disappearing.”

“It was small at first, one or two here, a small family there. It was not unheard of to have Ascended disappear for weeks on end while they fled civilization and spend copious amounts of time alone in the woods.”

“But over the next ten years, more and more vocal critics of Vicktor simply vanished.”

“Their disappearances sent warning flags up and I decided to investigate. It was the same in every case. I found houses that showed evidence of a battle, but no trace of anyone other than the missing having been there. You know how powerful our tracking senses are. We can pick up the smallest trail, but whatever was taking our people left nothing.”

“That’s when it hit me, I knew of only one instance where I encountered something that had no scent. Your father and I, years ago, were in Romania tracking two Descended who were making their way east. One of the local villagers told us about a wraith that occasionally visited the town and took one of their people, once every few months or so, enough to keep under the radar. In the small villages like these, young people frequently ran off to the big cities and were never heard from. Missing one or two people spread out in the surrounding villages went unnoticed.”

“The man sat in the local tavern, his eyes glazed from more drink than needed. He slumped over his mug, protectively; using his body to shield any would be thieves.”

“We went to the bar tender and started asking a few routine questions, wondering if any strangers, besides us, had passed through and what they looked like. The bar tender told us he hadn’t seen anyone recently and we were about to leave when the man on the barstool turned to us with a slurred accent,

‘I saw something strange.’

I was ready to dismiss him when your father asked him to explain.

‘I was in the fields working the last of the year’s potatoes, hoping to get a good yield before the ground froze up and I’d need a miracle from the Almighty to get them out.’

‘The night was dark as I packed up my tools and got ready to head home. That’s when I saw it.’

“His eyes went unfocused as he looked off into the distance, remembering.”

‘It moved like nothing I’ve ever seen, Floated almost over the ground, yet its legs moved like normal. It looked like a man but it wasn’t no man. Just seeing it made me feel dirty, like a poison in the air that sticks to your skin or the feeling you get when the fever’s upon you, when you know someone nearby is dying and you can feel it, somehow, deep inside. It carried a body on its shoulder. The weight made no difference at all to the things movements, might as well have been carrying a sack of feathers. It moved through the edge of the potato field, about fifty feet and disappeared in the trees,’ he shuddered.

“That’s it?” Your father asked him.

“I pray to God that’s all there ever will be,” he answered.

“We left the tavern and went out into the cold night air. Your father asked me what I thought and I told him it was the ramblings of a drunk. He thought there might be more to the story. He said it was common for people to mistake Ascended for all manner of creatures. He was intent on investigating this new lead. We went to the place the farmer described and found nothing out of the ordinary. We did find a perfectly human scent that followed the path the farmer described, but nothing else.”

“Your father looked around for a minute then started off into the woods, following the scent.”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“What do you see, Don?” He countered.

“Nothing, I see nothing here. There is just the scent of a man passing recently, nothing else,” I said.

“Exactly,” he answered.

“Your father was an expert at getting under my skin, I have never met anyone as skilled at that than him, not even you.”

“What do you mean, exactly?” I asked.

“Don, think, you have spent too long using that snout for all your information and forgot about your other senses. When a person walks by leaving a scent trail, what else to they leave?” He looked at me with quiet patience, like a teacher explaining basic math to a five year old. It was maddening.”

“I looked around and realized what he meant; there were no foot tracks, nothing at all. That was not normal. Something had carried someone through here and left no trail. Without another word, we both began tracking the scent trail left behind.”

“We followed it for miles as it wound its way further into the mountains. The path was treacherous, but with our enhanced abilities we were able to stay on it. Eventually, we came to a large crack in the mountain, a dark deep fissure split the rock wall and allowed access to its inner mysteries. We were still young, about thirty years old, and felt invincible with our Beast’s power. We never imagined there was anything in the world scarier than us. We were wrong.”

“I carried my dual swords as I do now and your father had a single blade, its length longer than average. Normally that design would make his offense powerful, but slow. Your father was able to wield his blade with precision, power and speed. He was lethal indeed.”

“We strode into the black heart of the mountain without a worry, sure of our own superiority. The going got tight at times and the path narrowed to small gaps in the mountain’s hard rock interior, but soon we entered a large opening the size of a modest living room, maybe thirty by thirty. In this area we saw the victim who we had been tracking and bent over him, leeching the blood from his body was the vampire.”

“A wave of rotten corruption hit us like a hammer blow. I felt a deep and powerful wrongness radiating from the thing in the chamber and it sent the hairs on my neck straight up. We watched in horror as it drained the man of his body’s liquids, his skin shriveled up as this thing somehow pulled every bit of moisture from the man’s body, creating a mummified corpse in the span of a few seconds.”

“That wasn’t all; as we looked around we saw dozens of similar bodies lying around the space. Dried out husks, each one a person who would never see their husbands, never see their wives, never get to grow up and make love for the first time, never delight in the wonder and fear of having a child and the ecstasy of creating that child.”

“The thing turned from its meal and looked towards us, drawing us into its gaze, trying to paralyze us. My Beast arose within me and fought it off, allowing me to break its stare. It seemed unsure of what happened. A strange look came over it, like a person walking into a dark room and reaching out for a light switch they have used hundreds of times only to find it not there anymore.”

“Your father rushed it first, seeming to have recovered from its gaze quickest. He had his sword out in front of him and in one lunge impaled the thing right in the chest. It neither registered pain nor fear. It took a step towards your father, impaling itself even greater and punched through your father. It did not send him into the wall with its punch; it literally punched a hole in your father’s chest that exited his back. Its hand covered in your father’s blood and tissue.”

“Your father let out a gurgled moan of pain and anguish before I could get there to help. I reached them and used my swords on it. It was fast, faster than anything I had fought before. It didn’t know what to make of my blades, but it knew they would hurt it. It easily dodged my attacks and even landed a devastating blow to my head that sent me sailing through the air into the wall where I felt bones break under the strength of its power.”

“That’s when I started getting worried. This thing had easily beaten back two of the finest fighters the Pack has ever known in the span of a few seconds. I heard a growl and saw your fathers form shift and I willed myself to follow suit. It came at your father first, and he brought his sword down in a quick and decisive stroke, severing its arm from its shoulder. The severed limb hit the floor and its hand flexed, the muscle and tendons showing stark in the pale flesh. The vampire never slowed and again struck your father in the chest, only this time it sent him flying into the wall with a large dent in his chest where the vampire had crushed his ribs and sternum.

I don’t know why, but one thing that kept nagging at me was the lack of blood, not from your father or me, we bled like usual, but from the arm lying on the ground and the things shoulder no blood at all fell. As if it wasn’t able to flow out or perhaps it didn’t have any in its body.”

“The one armed monster followed your dad’s trajectory and if I hadn’t been there it would have been able to attack him while he was defenseless. The blow it gave him knocked him momentarily unconscious and the vampire was closing quickly.”

“I wasn’t going to let your father die at the hands of such a creature. I again rushed in, only this time I treated it with more respect and caution. I slashed its back and saw my blade open up a deep gash that never drew blood. It turned to face this new threat and I focused myself and drew on my Beast to add speed and control to my blades. It didn’t let me down, I came at it and with a series of quick slashes, severed its other arm and one powerful slice took its head from its shoulders.”

“The thing dropped to the ground but stayed animated, as if all I had to do was bring its parts close enough and they would reform. To my amazement and horror I finally saw its blood. A deep black ichor oozed out of its neck and slowly flowed towards its body. I knew if it reached its torso the thing would be back in the fight so I kicked its head away into the corner to buy some more time.”

“Your father had recovered and stood next to me staring down at it with disgust. The thing still emitted the strong aura of discord I associated with funerals. The unease of death and the certainty everyone at a funeral feels, knowing death is close and eventually it will happen to you. It was the aura of morose nothingness I felt, the power of the unstoppable abyss.”

“Your father reached into the small pack he kept with him and took out the flint and small knife he always kept on hand, He reached out to a mummified corpse and tore a small strip from the bodies dried clothes. He then set it down and quickly struck the flint and almost instantly set the strip of cloth on fire, it seemed to be hungry for the flame, as if its burning purity could cleanse it of its sins.”

“The small fire blazed into life and the light made us squint as our eyes had grown accustomed to the dim light. The vampire’s reaction was immediate. It hissed and the flow if its ichor sped up hopping to escape the threat the flames presented.”

“I watched as your father dropped the burning cloth onto the vampire’s body and we both stepped back as it flared to life in a hot and quick flame. The fire ate at the vampire quickly almost relishing in doing its job of burning this poison from the earth. I reached out and took another strip and set it aflame. I went over and set the things head on fire, again watching as the flames hungrily consumed the combustible flesh. We made sure the severed arm met the same fate.”

“When the body, arm and head were all ash the vampire emitted a moan of release. It washed over us and almost brought me to my knees. After, the feeling of perversion this thing exuded was gone. It vanished with the vampire’s death.”

“How did my dad know to use fire?” I stood staring at Abaddon.

He had given me a small glimpse at my dad before I knew him and I wanted to know more.

“He said later it was on instinct. He had a moment of clarity and it just came to him.”

“Your father realized how dangerous these things were and set about finding a way to track them. He always had a gift for the finer aspects of control and soon worked out how to do it. He tried to teach me, but I never could quite grasp it.”

“Why are you telling me this now?” I asked.

Katrina pulled up in a dark sedan. She and Abaddon had a short conversation and she looked over at Max with worry. She went over to him and they quickly got into the car and left. Abaddon watched them leave for a few seconds then came over to me.

“I should have told you about them sooner, prepared you for an encounter. I never believed you would have to deal with them until later. I made a mistake. I should have told you and prepared you better.”

I didn’t know what to say, Abaddon was never very talkative and this apology was totally unexpected. Before the silence became completely unbearable Abaddon continued.

“Those things pick a target then basically tag it, psychically. They then find the one they tagged and feed from them, from the mind at first, then the spirit and lastly the body, leaving their victim an empty shell. It has targeted Max and will not stop coming for him until one of them is dead. We don’t have much time before it gets too far away. If you can track it, maybe we can get to it before it goes to ground, sunrise is coming soon but it was hurt and will need to feed, which will slow it down,” he said.

“Those things have the ability to remove any trace of themselves, giving us nothing to follow. Your father was the only one I have ever known that could track them. If you want to save your friend we need to find this thing and kill it. I want you to try and track it, see if you can find its trail,” he finished.

“What? My father had centuries of experience. I haven’t even passed the Rite of Ascension and you want me to try something no one else can do?” I asked.

“Yes,” Abaddon said.

My first instinct was to lash out at him, he was infuriating, but that wouldn’t help anything, especially Max. I had absolutely no idea how to do what he asked of me, but I knew I had to try.

I reached out with my enhanced senses, using my sense of smell to try and find the things trail. I picked out hundreds of different scents, all normal, all of this earth. I listened for what, I don’t know, but only heard what I should have. I decided to reach inside and see if I could tap into the same state I had earlier, when I sent my awareness out. Nothing happened.

“This form is limited in its ability,” I heard my father’s legacy say.

I understood what he meant, and almost slapped myself on my forehead for not thinking about it myself.

I once again willed myself to change forms, taking the form of the Beast. My hearing, eyesight and sense of smell all increased. My limbs filled with more pent up energy and a desire to quit thinking about all the complexities of life came over me, urging me to hunt and feed. I pushed them away as I once again used my senses to find any trail the vampire may have left behind, nothing.

I tried to send out my awareness again like I did last time and was somewhat successful. I could feel everything within ten feet, but it didn’t help. I still sensed nothing. I started getting frustrated. It was unfair, asking me to do this. I wasn’t ready. Hell, I wasn’t sure if I even had the ability.

“You have to search without searching,” my father’s legacy said inside my head.

“Search without searching? Are you sure you’re from my father? He would never be so vague,” I thought back.

“You have to find the way yourself, it is not something that can be taught like swinging a sword, it is a feeling, not an act,” he added.

“Search without searching,” I thought sarcastically.

I took a deep breath, allowing my inner turmoil to calm. My thoughts a jumbled mess as the pressure of what was asked of me built. I took another deep breath and another, using the calming techniques Abaddon taught me. Slowly, I started to gain a serene focus to my mind. Tranquility settled over my thoughts and stilled my troubled imaginings. I began to search inward for some answer to the question, some thread of thought that would help me find the way. Slowly a memory began to grow; it started vague, like something seen in your peripheral vision. It came into focus and I was drawn to it as water is inevitably pulled down the drain when the plug is removed.

The memory was of a time when I got a book full of those 3-d pictures made by computers.

It was a rainy day and I had just watched a show on magic and illusion. I went to the library looking for something new to read, something different.

I saw a book with a strange picture on the front. It was clearly a computer-generated image, but it drew me in. The book had instructions in the inside cover telling me how to see the images. You had to look without focusing and wait for the image to appear. It was weird, staring at a bunch of shapes until my eyes lost focus and I started to see the statue of Liberty from the page. Once I found that spot and my eyes had adjusted I could easily see the picture and even look around the page at all the cool details.

On instinct, I drew from this memory and tried to apply the same principle.

I cleared my mind, pushing all the doubts and worries out of it. I didn’t focus on any of my heightened senses; rather, I focused on all of them and at the same time. It was hard, I constantly wanted to single out one, concentrating on my sight or sound, but I fought it. I willed myself to allow all my senses to merge into one. Then I opened myself up and sent my awareness out, letting my focus of the surrounding environment come into greater clarity.

Immediately I felt a wrongness, a faint, but distinct disturbance. It came near the same area where the vampire had fled. I brought my extended awareness back into myself and turned towards the place I had sensed the vampires trail. There at the edges of my senses I saw, felt, heard and smelled the trace leftovers from the vampire’s passing.

I was in that zone of focusing without focusing and was afraid any analysis of what was happening would disrupt the spell, so I followed it, without a second thought. On instinct, I raced into the woods following the trail of the most vile and evil thing I had ever come across.

Chapter 21

Abaddon easily kept pace. We ran through the woods, me leading, him following close behind. I followed the unnatural trail for hours, traversing miles of forested land. Deep into the night the trail led us to a gas station on the edge of a highway. Behind the pump area, just inside the tree line I stopped. In my current state it took me a while to figure out what I was looking at.

The body was a shriveled husk. Its bipedal frame was one of the only things that told me it was human. I slowly refocused myself into normal and was horrified at what lay before me. The person’s skin was wrinkled and clung to its skeleton. Its eyes were gone, leaving only black pits of emptiness. The corpse was drained of all fluids, as I touched it with my toe the whole thing moved together as if it was one solid mummified piece.

“It has fed,” Abaddon said.

It was all he needed to say. My determination redoubled. I wanted to find this thing now and stop it from doing this to anyone else. I started to draw myself into the focused/unfocused state again when Abaddon reached out and grabbed my forearm.

“That will not be necessary. I have its scent now,” he said.

“I thought no one else could track these things?” I asked, confused.

“It has fed; I can track the scent from this body that has been left on the creature. It is faint, but this was done very recently, the trail is still here,” he answered.

“Alright,” I said, relieved I didn’t have to follow the putrescence of the vampire’s trail.

Abaddon turned and headed off in the same direction we had been heading, deeper into the forest, deeper into the dark recesses of the empty night.

I took a second to lock onto the scent the vampire had left from feeding. There, faint, but there. This was much different than what I had been following. The scent was from a man, that was clear. There was an almost sweetness to it that tugged at my Beast. I turned my snout around zeroing in on the trail and wasn’t surprised to find it leading me after Abaddon. I knew it was going to be there, but I wanted to get a lock on the scent for myself.

I raced after Abaddon, leaving the shriveled corpse behind, hoping he had no loved ones that would morn his passing.

This time he led and I followed. Just as the sky started showing the barest glimpse of brightening, we came upon the entrance to the vampire’s refuge.

Abaddon abruptly stopped, standing at the top of a small hill. The trees all around the opening were thick with growth and bushes filled in most of the open area. If a fire broke out here during a dry summer this area would go up quickly.

The opening was hard to see and if it wasn’t for the trail the vampire had left behind, we probably would never have found it even with our heightened senses.

We both stood looking into a small hole in the ground. It was almost entirely covered in growth and if left alone would be in a few years.

“What is it, a sinkhole?” I asked.

“I think it’s a vent to a mine shaft. There are old abandoned coal mines all throughout this area,” he answered.

Made sense, the coal industry was vibrant in these areas for years. After a series of cave-ins, the coal companies abandoned this area to concentrate on safer, more prosperous land in Ohio and other regions.

“Now what?” I asked.

“I’m thinking,” Abaddon said.

After a moment, Abaddon turned to me saying, “Going into a vampire’s lair is dangerous. Most vampires are loners. They find an area and hunt when necessary and generally keep to the deep darkness of their holes. Sometimes a Lord rises. One who gathers others to its will. The last one I remember doing this was Count Vlad Drakul,” he said.

“Dracula? He was real?” I asked.

“Is it so hard to believe? You are a werewolf are you not?” He asked with a smirk.

“Touché,” I said.

“I don’t know what is waiting for us down there, but the objective is clear. Find the bastard that got to Max and kill it, quickly,” Abaddon said.

“Got it,” I said.

I didn’t know much about vampire lords or hell vampires for that matter, but I did know one thing. One of them had targeted my friend and it was going to die.

We looked at each other for a moment, letting the seriousness of the situation settle in. I took a step forward and dropped down into the hole. Roots and vegetation scratched and clawed at me on the way down, it was a small thing. With my preternatural senses I easily saw the bottom rush up at me and landed with quiet stealth. Abaddon dropped next to me and following the faint traces of the vampire’s victims lingering scent, we went deeper into the darkness.

The path before us was pitch black, but our sharp eyes easily saw the way. I followed Abaddon as we went further along the old tunnel and put more distance between us and the way out. The shaft I dropped down was part of a larger system. A dark tunnel ran off in front of me and behind. There was an old and rusted cart rail in the center of the tunnels. The walls were roughly carved earth with large wooden support beams positioned every ten feet or so. The darkness was slighter here at the bottom of the air vent. The moonlight came in from the opening and gave a small amount of illumination. As I looked off into the inky blackness of the tunnel, my heightened eyesight kicked in and shapes that were vague or hidden by the shadows came into focus.

I called on the Beast to add caution to my movements, willing myself to follow the trail in absolute silence. It was odd, moving without making any noise at all. It almost seemed like I was floating, gliding on a cloud as I traversed the dark tunnel with the predators skill.

The tunnel I followed went in a straight line; every once in a while another, smaller tunnel would bypass the one we were in, going off into the darkness of the underground maze.

Like two shadows amidst the darkness of the night, we made our way closer to the target. The tunnel made a slow and gradual turn ending in a small chamber. The area housed some old, leftover mining equipment. The tools and old carts sat in the darkness like a ghost town long forgotten. The nostalgia of their history lay thick around them like a shroud that embraces their lonely isolation.

The walls consisted of rough stone. Every ten feet or so I saw a set of old iron manacles attached to the rock by a large nail driven deep into the hard surface. Most of the shackles were empty except for a few mummified remains of the vampire’s previous victims.

I started to move towards one of the dried husks when Abaddon reached out and stopped me. Annoyed, I turned to him only to find his gazed locked onto something else. I looked up, searching for what he was seeing only to be hit by the same psychic inkiness I felt when I had encountered the vampire earlier. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it until now. The aura from the vampire filled the dark space and I instantly felt dirty and repulsed by its essence. It stood still against the wall across from one of the bodies. It stood there facing the hanging corpse, staring. Its perfect stillness allowed it to almost completely blend in with the wall behind it. If I hadn’t been able to sense its death aura I probably would have missed it myself.

The sheer unnatural presence of the thing grated on me and a low and primal rumble began to grow from the pit of my belly. It grew and flowed out of me in a wave of emotion and energy. I leaned forward towards the vampire and unleashed my fury in a bestial howl of challenge, daring this thing to answer.

It was startled out of its trance and turned to me, its gaze instantly trying to lock me into paralysis. My Beast countered its attempts and once again it turned its head slightly as if it had been confronted with a question it didn’t know the answer to. Without a second thought I rushed towards it. I absently noticed my bracelets had once again grown into gauntlets and the small blade on the top of my hand had elongated again and extended out almost three feet.

I flew at it in a fury and swiped at its neck intent on beheading it quickly and efficiently. I had caught the thing unawares and was fueled by the power of my anger adding speed and strength to my movements. The vampire moved almost faster than I could follow and slid sideways avoiding most of my attack. I felt the tip of my gauntlets blade bite into the vampire’s neck and was pleased to see a large, deep gash open up on its throat.

The vampire never expressed pain or showed any lessening in movement as it bared its teeth, its mouth opening larger than normal and its mandible distending like a snake that unhinges its jaw to swallow something bigger than its mouth. It let out an inhuman and unnatural screech that assaulted my mind and senses. It came at me in a blur, its hands out in front of it; their pale smooth skin belied none of the strength the vampire possessed.

I knew if the vampire was able to get its hands around my neck it would take no time in removing my head. I don’t know how much experience this thing had in hand to hand combat or if when it was alive if it ever did any sword fighting. It probably never had to deal with anything that didn’t wilt under its gaze and sure as hell didn’t have two gauntlets with three foot swords extending from them. I don’t think it expected its prey to fight back and to be able to do any damage to it so I think it came as a surprise when I called on the power of the Beast and used my own inhuman speed and strength to step out of its oncoming charge and sweep my blades at its stomach.

Vampires were powerful creatures of legend and nightmare. Yes they had ungodly powers, strength enough to pick up a car, speed enough to move unseen, ability to heal from even the most damaging attack and a freaky paralyzing stare used to drain the life energy from its victims, not to mention its fundamental oneness with death. Given all that it was still essentially made from flesh and it was susceptible to physical assault.

My blade cut into its stomach and the power of my strike drove the metal through its backbone, cutting the vampire in half. The vampire’s body fell in two pieces, never spilling a drop of blood. Its legs kept standing as its upper body scrambled towards me. The vampire’s arms scuttling its torso along at a frightening speed.

My shock at watching the vampire’s upper half advance towards me gave it just enough time for it to reach my legs. As it grabbed onto my ankle excruciating pain erupted as its powerful grip easily crushed the sensitive and multiple bones in my foot and ankle.

The vampire’s powerful attack caught me completely off guard. It climbed my body and everywhere it grabbed onto it crushed the bones and muscle as it used the handholds to scale me. The pain kept me from thinking, even Abaddons extensive ass kicking I had received wasn’t enough to prepare me for the pain this thing leveled onto me.

It was all I could do to get my bearings enough to stop it from reaching out and grabbing my neck. I managed to block the vampires grasping hands and held onto its wrists for dear life.

Knowing it was gravely injured added strength to the vampire as it slowly closed the few inches from its hands to my throat. The things hands got half an inch from my neck when Abaddon appeared behind it and forcibly snatched the vampire off of me and slung it into the opposite wall, ten feet away.

It hit the wall with a solid smack and faster than imagined started scuttling towards me, intent on ending my life.

Abaddon reached down and pinned the thing to the ground, its strength negated by its inability to use its legs. I watched with dismay as black ichor flowed from the things body towards its lower half and its lower half reached out the same way. I knew we didn’t have much time until it reformed and no matter how much hacking and slashing I did would keep it down for long. I needed to kill it and didn’t have any wooden stakes handy. Hell, I didn’t even know if that would kill it.

A second vampire appeared out of the darkness and slammed into Abaddon, sending them both into the far wall and the power of the impact caused the rock wall to collapse and they disappeared into another chamber.

I began to get worried, no matter how much we sliced these guys it only seemed to slow them down. The only thing I knew that could kill them was fire and I had no way of starting one. For a split second I considered trying to will some into existence and to my utter amazement both swords on my gauntlets began to emit a dull light. The gems in my gauntlets each glowed in the deep darkness and a golden radiance covered the length of the blades extending from the gauntlets. It took me a second to realize the gauntlets swords were both sheathed in fire.

The vampire had crossed the space between us and as it once again reached out to my feet I swiped at it with the fire encrusted blade. The reaction was immediate.

Where the blade cut into the vampire the flames spread. Apparently, vampires are highly flammable.

For the first time the vampire registered something on its face that resembled pain as it immediately turned away from me in an attempt at escape. I was no longer stunned at its appearance and I quickly caught it and with a powerful stab impaled the vampire’s upper body to the ground.

The fire from my blade quickly spread over the vampire’s body and the small chamber became filled with the light from the flames. The vampire frantically thrashed and flailed trying to dislodge itself from my blade.

Within a few seconds the fire grew extremely hot and I began to smell burnt hair as the flames reached out and scorched the unprotected part of my arm. Pain made me flinch away and I inadvertently pulled the blade from the vampire, freeing it.

It wasn’t going anywhere.

The vampire lay still as the fire quickly finished burning the undead flesh. A high-pitched moan rose from the vampire and echoed throughout the tunnels as it relinquished its existence to the cleansing power of the flames.

I stood over it for a second, mesmerized by the flames when a sound drew my attention towards its still standing legs. I turned to them and reached out, igniting the vampires lower body and watched as they too burned in a quick conflagration.

Stunned, I looked down at my gauntlets blades. Twice now, the three inch long blades had grown into three foot swords, allowing me to add reach to my attacks and a lethality blades provided.

“A little help here,” Abaddon said.

I hurried over to him and watched as he held one of his long swords in each hand. He kept kicking the vampire’s severed head away from its body.

I quickly went over to it and plunged the flaming sword into its chest, once again watching as the fire burned. I did the same to its head and was again subjected to its pitiful death moan.

The flames on the blades slowly receded and once again we were left in the pitch black darkness of the underground tunnels. The vampires’ bodies and legs had stopped burning and all that was left were four heaps of charred ash.

The blades slowly retracted back into normal lengths and the gauntlets once again took on the form of bracelets as the danger passed.

I looked around the chamber Abaddon had opened up and noticed it was smaller than the one we had been in. An opening could be seen on one wall. In the middle of the space were much larger and sturdier chains and manacles than the ones attached to the walls. On further inspection, I noticed they were huge. Thick chains an inch in diameter were secured to the floor ending in manacles that looked like they could hold a mutant elephant. I couldn’t fathom what these kinds of restraints were meant for when a sudden burst of insight hit me. They were meant for something stronger than an elephant and something far more dangerous, an Ascended.

I walked over to one set and picked it up. My heart and mind started to both alternate between stopping and freaking out as I detected the strong scent of an Ascended that seemed all too familiar. I knew my father’s smell. He raised me from a baby and I spent hours on his lap, watching T.V. and being fed. He would tuck me in at night and lay next to me reading stories. He hugged me when I got hurt, and when he just wanted to. The way your parents smell is something engrained into your D.N.A.

There was no mistaking it. My father had been chained up here, he had been held hostage and forced to undergo whatever sick torture these things conjured up.

I looked to Abaddon who held the other set of restraints with the same look of understanding on his face. I started to ask him what the hell was going on when I felt more than heard the rest of the vampires that occupied this dark and destitute place answer the death call of the other two.

I felt the almost physical wave of the vampires twisted auras as dozens of them came towards us out of whatever deep abyss they had been in.

I looked at Abaddon and a powerful urge to ignite my swords and force the answers out of the bastards threatened to cloud my vision.

Abaddon saw it and calmly tried to get me to see reason.

“You saw how hard it was to kill two of them, and that was one on one. Imagine if we were outnumbered ten to one. Think, we have to get out of here, live to fight another day.”

I knew he was right, I just didn’t care. Everything in me told me to fight, told me to cut, slice, rip and tear until the answers came.

“Abaddon’s right, you have to leave now before she comes,” I heard the voice of my father’s legacy say.

Hearing the familiar sound of my dad’s voice broke the spell and I shook my head, clearing it of the irrational anger. I nodded at him and we hurried out the same way we came in.

We ran along the darkened tunnels, unafraid to keep our movements silent. They knew we were here and they were coming for us. I felt them as they closed the distance, their essence a dirty stain on existence. Among them, deep in their midst I felt something else. A presence that was deeper, darker and far more ancient than any of the others in the tunnels. Its power overshadowed all the rest and I knew this was something other than just a normal vampire.

We soon came to the spot we dropped down into. A bright ray of the early morning sun beamed down from the opening like a beacon showing us the path back to the world of the living.

Just as I stepped into the light I heard a woman’s voice speak one word.

“Waaaaaiiiiit.” It came on the air like a powerful, yet corrupted cancer, full of dark mystery and deadly focus. The sound filled the darkness but never seemed to penetrate the sun’s light.

I turned and faced back towards the tunnel’s darkness. I saw dozens of eyes that glowed red in the inky void. They all looked at us with insatiable hunger. I saw one pair above the others, this one was of a far deeper red and as its owner made its way through the others I saw as they gave way like the parting of the sea.

She stepped into the meager light and a pain filled her features. Her face never showed a wrinkle or imperfection but the fact that even the smallest amount of sunlight hurt gave me some satisfaction.

She was almost seven feet tall; her hair fell to her waist. It was perfectly straight and its blonde hue emitted an almost slight phosphorescent shimmer, like a deep-sea fish that dangles a small glowing lure in front of it, confusing its prey before it eats them whole.

She would have been an absolutely beautiful woman if she wasn’t marred by the fact that she was a living corpse.

She reached back and tossed something to us underhanded. I instinctively brought my gauntlets up as I saw a brown shoe hit the ground in front of us. I knew that shoe, it belonged to my father, it was actually a present my sister got him for his birthday. I bought him a complete suit with the money I had earned mowing lawns; the shoes were given to complete the outfit.

A longing to see my father pulled at me. I knew what this thing was doing. It was tempting me, giving me a lure, trying to get me to leave the protection of the sunlight. I came close to going, close to rushing into the mass of vampires to either force them to talk or enact my revenge.

I thought of my dad and all the wisdom and love he gave me during my life and knew he would be disappointed with me if I did something so foolish.

Instead, I did something else. I thought of fire and envisioned my blades to once again be covered in flames. I willed my wants to become reality and used the memory of my father to fuel it.

My gauntlets answered with a bright flare up as the blades elongated and glowed with golden flames.

I quickly reached out and stabbed the shoe, bringing it back to me. In the instant I did a vampire lunged out and grabbed my flaming blade. It was instantly sorry as its hand and then body quickly became engulfed. The light hit the rest of the bastards like a physical blow as they shrunk away from their burning comrade.

The sun glinted off the silvery surface of my gauntlet and hit one of the vamps in the face. To my amazement I was stunned to see its head literally explode from the contact with the sun’s rays.

Realizing the power I had I turned the beam and aimed it at the closest creature only to find they all had quickly scattered, seeing the damage I could do.

We turned and quickly started climbing up the mineshaft. I felt more than heard as the vampire’s body burned to a cinder. It let out a similar moan of release as once again today the fire from my blades sent a vampire into the great unknown.

I saw Abaddon shudder as the sound washed over him, but for me the sound was sweet in its meaning. I relished the echo of the vampire’s death as it signaled something I had every intention of hearing more of, and often.

Chapter 22

The Hunter watched from his hiding place among the shadows. He saw as the spawns of darkness dragged the false Leader and the true Leader down into the deep.

The Hunter followed them, knowing in these underground tunnels the Enemy lived.

The Vessel would soon come and he settled down to wait.

Just as the One said, the Vessel arrived with the Teacher, the Hunter followed them as they confronted the spawn, he tracked them as they fled from the Enemy, he hoped the Vessel would be ready, that the time would be right and he could begin the true Hunt.

But this was not to be the time, soon the Hunter knew the Vessel would be prepared, soon he would be able to finish the Hunt started over a year ago.

Time was meaningless to him. He had stalked prey for decades if need be. The Hunter was patient and ruthlessly tenacious. The moment will come, the Hunter knew.

The One has said so and so it shall be.

Chapter 23

Exiting the dark mine shaft and entering the pure sunlight of the dawning morning almost felt like I had moved from one realm of existence, down in the deep darkness, for another, one filled with hope and life.

I stood at the rim of the shaft and held out the shoe to Abaddon.

“What the hell was my father’s shoe doing down there?” I asked him, as though he had all the answers.

“I don’t know, but I fear the worst,” he responded.

I hadn’t really expected an answer and what he said startled me.

“What do you mean?” I asked, stopping him and forcing him to face me.

“What do you know about your father’s death?” He asked instead.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Just answer me,” he said.

“He was in a car accident, a drunk driver hit him head-on. His car caught fire and he was unable to get out,” I said, remembering the pain of his passing and the funeral.

It was a closed casket because of all the damage done in the wreck. I remembered the guy at the morgue talking to the coroner about how the fire had burnt him to the bones. There was a lot of people at the service, more people than I ever suspected he knew. I remember being almost paralyzed with grief, having for the first time come face to face with the realities of life and death.

“Why? Is there something I should know about it? Are you not telling me something?” I asked, a spark of hope that maybe he hadn’t died; maybe he was still alive, kindled in my chest.

Abaddon stepped away from me and started walking down the hill, away from the hole. I hurried to keep up.

“I don’t know much more than you. Your father kept strong relationships with many Pack members throughout the world. As Vicktor started gaining more and more power people came to him seeking council.”

“Your father was deeply disturbed about the odd disappearances of some Pack members who voiced their displeasure of Vicktor’s rule.”

“He went on a couple of trips to investigate; he said he was repaying some outstanding favors. He never came back.”

“Yeah he did, he got into the car wreck when he got home from his business trip. Or at least he said it was a business trip,” I mused, remembering the week long trip he took, for work he said.

“I came to the cemetery after the funeral services. They lowered the casket then had everyone throw some dirt in the grave. Everyone left and before they got the backhoe out to finish filling in the hole I checked inside the casket. I had to be sure,” he said almost asking for forgiveness for his sacrilege.

“I saw a burnt body, mostly bones. The smell of burnt flesh was strong, but I knew your father very well and I couldn’t detect his scent in there. The person being buried wasn’t your dad,” he finished.

“What are you saying? My dad’s alive?” I asked, the possibility of seeing my dad seemed more and more plausible.

“I don’t know, I don’t want to get your hopes up,” he said, trying to keep me from jumping to conclusions.

“You’re telling me someone buried a body and it wasn’t my dads. He was the former Pack leader and Ascended, I know we can take a lot of punishment, I just assumed being burned down to the bones was enough to kill him, now your saying my dad wasn’t the one we buried and you’re telling me not to get my hopes up?” I asked.

“Yes because you don’t know everything,” Abaddon said with calm assurance.

“Well?” I asked, exasperated.

“When you and your sister were born your father asked me to be your godfather. An honor I hold dear. He tasked me with your training in the event he should die or be unable to if you should ever have to face your Beast.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked.

“I want you to know I care about you and your father and I want to believe he is still alive to, but I fear our hopes may still be in vain,” he said, we had started back on the trail that would take us to our camp.

“Why?” I asked.

“There were two sets of shackles in the chamber that held your father. There were two people being held in the vampire’s lair with chains even an Ascended couldn’t break. One held your father, you know this because you recognized his scent as well as I. The other you wouldn’t know because you have never met him,” Abaddon explained.

I started getting impatient with him; his failure to get to the point began to grate at me.

“Well? Who was the other person?” I pleaded with him.

Abaddon stopped and I did the same, he turned to me and looked me square in the eye.

“Vicktor, Vicktor was down there with him. The same man who now is in control of the Pack, the same man who has been trying to kill you before you finish the Rite and become a member, able to challenge him for control,” he answered.

My mind started racing at the implications. I knew someone from the Pack had to be providing the vampires with Altered. I assumed it was probably Vicktor but it was more of a hunch than anything. Now we knew Vicktor had contact with the blood suckers. We also know he was kept in chains like a slave. Vicktor was still alive, however, hell he was Pack leader. If the vamps had him maybe he escaped? No, the evidence of their partnership was evident after the night’s adventure.

Add to that the reports of members being attacked with no traceable proof of who did it and a picture began to form. Vicktor was working with the vampires, why I didn’t know. Abaddon said the manacles had Vicktor’s scent, meaning he had been a prisoner like my father, only now he was the Pack leader and my father was missing.

Abaddon saw the dawning realization of what this might mean written on my face.

He nodded as he knew I understood what this information portended.

“Now we know for sure Vicktor is in league with the vampires,” I said, hoping he might have some insight I lacked.

“Agreed, but that still doesn’t tell us to what end, or if your father is still alive,” he said.

“No, but it means there is hope. Until I know for sure I’m going to assume he might still be alive and I know just the person to ask for answers,” I said.

“Indeed,” Abaddon said gravely.

I watched him shift and I did the same. We ran in silence and after a few hours of retracing our steps we found our campsite. I reverted back to human form and got dressed in the clothes we had left last night. Slipping on my boots, I heard Abaddon on the phone.

“No, we’re fine; we’ll be there in a few hours. I need you to be there, we have some things to discuss,” he said.

He hung up and went over to the fire, making sure the hot embers wouldn’t start any fires. I packed up our things and loaded it in our vehicle. We got in and drove in silence towards home.

An hour later as we started to enter more populated areas I finally was ready to ask him some questions.

“My gauntlets have swords,” I said.

“Yes, it would appear so. It seems your father’s workings on your weapons were more extensive than I imagined,” Abaddon said, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Do you know how they were able to ignite?” I asked.

“When your father made them he infused them with some of his own magic, or the power of his Beast. You can only do that if you are extremely skilled and have total mastery. It allows your weapon to be enhanced with a particular attribute. Apparently your father thought you might need fire, should the need arise,” he finished.

“But how was I able to make them alight?” I asked.

“I think you already know the answer to that, it’s the key to all your power,” he said.

“I willed my Beast to do it,” I answered, remembering how I made them flame on.

“Correct,” Abaddon said.

So, my father had made my gauntlets with the particular ability to wield fire, the biggest weapon against vampires. Seems like an awful convenient coincidence.

“Are weapons like mine common among the Ascended? Does everyone have magical swords and stuff?” I asked.

Abaddon turned to look at me with intensity.

“Most of what I know about them comes from the study your father did before making those,” he said pointing to my bracelets.

“We talked about many theories and practiced those theories for months until he made them. I had no idea what he was making until they were done and he never told me what they actually did, even though I suspected they were powerful,” he said.

“You never answered me,” I said.

“I only know of one other who has any magically enhanced weapon, Vicktor,” he said.

Great, the one guy who stood in my way of getting the needed help to go after the Lord. The guy who took control of the Pack after my father left and was in bed with a vampire and had years of experience fighting and using his weapon. Not to mention having sorcerers who were willing to create Altered he could send to kill me on his side.

Well, no one ever said anything worth doing was easy.

“What is his weapon?” I asked.

“A large double bladed axe, but before you ask, no I have not seen what it can do,” Abaddon said.

We had reached the loft and pulled into the garage. Katrina’s small coupe sat in the space next to our SUV. We got out and made our way upstairs. I hurried into the loft, worried about Max.

I walked in and was surprised to see him sitting at the couch watching T.V. Katrina was in the kitchen standing behind the island slowly sipping a cup of coffee.

Max heard us come in and he turned, nodded and said, “What’s up guys?”

“How you doing, man?” I asked, curious.

He seemed upbeat, all the previous emotional weight from the vampire encounter gone.

“I’m good, just watching a little boob tube. Where have you guys been?” He asked.

“Um, you don’t remember?” I asked.

“Remember what? We went camping, then Katrina brought me home when you guys went out running through the woods,” he said.

I turned to Katrina and Abaddon, both stood together in the kitchen, with a questioning look.

“He was remote most of the way back, then he let out a deep moan and fell asleep, when he woke up he has been acting like this,” she said, waving her hand at him.

“Right about the time he killed the vampire,” Abaddon speculated.

Katrina looked to him, understanding.

“That would make sense. It left a residual psychic shockwave,” she said.

“Hello, anyone care to fill me in?” I asked, aggravated.

Abaddon turned to me, smiling slightly.

“We have sometimes seen this sort of thing happen with some of the Descended. When the mind is attacked, either from a vampiric tag or the Beast, it can shutdown or block out the incident,” she said.

“That happens all the time with normal people. There is case study after case study where people consciously block out traumatic experiences so they can function,” I said.

Max got up from the couch and walked over to us.

“I’m gonna make me something to eat, anybody else want anything?” He said.

“No, I’m good, thanks,” I said.

“Alright, suite yourself,” he said.

He went to the fridge and started getting things out to make a sandwich.

We all moved over towards the T.V. area, letting him have the kitchen to make his food.

“Is he going to be like this forever? Will telling him about the vampire make him have a breakdown?” I asked, concerned.

Katrina looked over at him.

“I don’t know, these things usually work themselves out. Other times the person goes their whole lives in denial. It depends on the individual. I say for now, we wait and see. Give him a chance to work it out himself,” she said.

I watched Max tentatively, worried about him.

Katrina looked at him with open concern before she hid it under a mask of neutrality.

“What happened out there?” She asked.

Abaddon and I recounted the night’s events. I told what I saw from my perspective and he filled in any blanks.

“So you think he may be alive?” Katrina asked.

“We don’t know if he is,” Abaddon said.

“We don’t know if he isn’t, either,” I added.

“That changes things,” she said.

“Yes and no,” I countered.

They both turned to me, waiting for an explanation. I noticed for the first time they looked at me as more of an equal than of an ignorant student. They wanted to know my opinion. They were beginning to value it.

“Well, yes things have changed, from the perspective that my dad might still be alive. If he is that puts a whole new angle on being able to rally the troops to our cause, my dad has already established relationships with the members of the Pack we need on our side.”

“No, things haven’t changed in how we continue to prepare for the Rite. If my dad is alive, great, but we have to at least assume he may not be, in which case we still need to be ready to make sure I succeed in my Rite. We can’t let them know we know. That would only make us a target. Right now, the only people who know what’s going on is Vicktor, us and the vampire. If we go into the Pack screaming about an invasion, especially from a non-member, Vicktor will send everything at us,” I said.

“He probably knows now, given his failed attempt to kill us with the Altered last night,” Abaddon said.

“Probably, but that doesn’t change the fact I’m going to kill the vampire bitch. I need help to do that. That means getting support from other Pack members. In order for that to happen I have to prove myself and prevail in the Rite. I also have to convince them to help me, to put their faith in me,” I said.

“I told you he was worthy,” Abaddon said to Katrina, approvingly.

I looked from Abaddon to Katrina, dawning realization hitting me.

“You knew, didn’t you? That’s why you have been training me and why Katrina has been teaching me how to operate within the Pack. You knew it would be necessary for me to be ready for this?” I challenged them both.

Abaddon looked at me squarely, while Katrina openly smiled at me.

“Of course, boy. We never lied to you. We knew something was happening, but not what exactly. You needed to be prepared, you still need much more training, but at least your mind is sharp. You had to come to this path yourself. You had to make the decision on your own, that is what gives it power. We are just the tools,” he said.

I knew the truth behind what they said. I was a little angry at myself for being so blind, but not at them. They never lied to me; they just let me keep my illusions until I was ready to remove them.

“I just wish we knew what Vicktor and that death whore were up to,” Katrina pondered.

“You know,” max said from where he was sitting at the kitchen bar. His sandwich almost eaten sat on his plate.

“I was making this sandwich and I noticed I had gotten everything out of the fridge I could to make a huge party sub, three meats, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, bread, onions, olives etc…”

“I stopped for a second and wondered why? Why did I get so much out, I just wanted a simple sandwich? Then answer came to me, hunger. I was hungry. With that one thought I remembered something I had forgotten. I remembered being frozen under the gaze of a monster. I remembered feeling what it felt. The unfathomable depths of its hunger almost drove me insane. All it felt as it had me was hunger, hunger for life, my life and my essence,” he said.

He had his head down this whole time and when he looked up I saw tears in his eyes and his cheeks were wet where they had already ran down. His eyes were clear, however. Maybe slightly haunted, but clear and focused.

“Hunger, that’s what these things are. Humans can only handle one feeding, I imagine, maybe a couple. Either way we are snacks. You guys are fucking buffets. Maybe it’s nothing more complicated than mere hunger,” he said.

Then he got up and put his plate in the sink and without looking at us said, “I’m taking a nap, wake me for dinner.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Abaddon said quietly.

Katrina watched Max go to his bed, smiling slightly.

“So,” Abaddon said. “What now?”

“Now, we finish my training,” I said.

Chapter 24

I felt like we had been doing this forever. This time, however, my opponent was much easier on the eyes.

Katrina stood ten feet away, facing me in our new arena. We left the loft and moved far outside the city limits. Abaddon had a large cabin out here and we made this our new home. It was still smaller than our previous place, but the openness off the wild was welcome.

I took a deep breath, smelling the purity of the pines and clean crisp air of the forest. The trees filtered the air and it always had a cleanliness that was refreshing. I knew there was a squirrel fifteen feet away foraging for nuts, a bird’s nest high above nestled in the forks of two branches housed three chicks who kept quite while their mom gathered worms for breakfast. I also knew there was a snake that kept constant vigil below the tree hoping one of the chicks would foolishly try to leave the nest before it was ready.

Unlike Abaddon, Katrina liked to talk while sparring, she figured you should be able to fight and come up with witty dialogue at the same time.

“Are you going to stand there all day marveling at the wonders of the forest, or are you gonna come get me?” She said with a mischievous smile.

I narrowed my focus on her. It wasn’t a hardship. She stood in an easy stance, her hand resting on the pommel of her Spanish style sword. She wore a tight black tee shirt cut low in front, showing just enough cleavage to draw the eye. Her shirt was short enough to expose her lower abdomen and her pants were low on her hips letting that space just above the belt but below the navel show. Her legs were on display in her tight jeans and as she shifted her weight it did marvelous things to her shape and the contours of her stomach.

It was all a distraction, an attempt at drawing me towards her sexual appeal and causing me to lose focus on the task at hand. A month ago I wouldn’t have been able to take my eyes off of her, but now things had changed. I wasn’t as easily distracted and I smiled right back at her, making her think her ploy had worked as I made a point at looking at all of her glorious womanliness.

In the second I took my eyes off her in a serious way and started looking at her like she was a piece of meat, she attacked.

I was not unprepared; in fact, it was exactly what I wanted her to do. If she could try to use her feminine appeal to weaken my focus, I could use them to make her think she had succeeded.

She was fast, faster than Abaddon, but he was far more powerful and could anticipate most moves, making her speed less of a factor.

As she came in, I acted surprised. Her smile deepened as she thought I was caught flat-footed. At the last second before she reached me, I dropped and kicked out, connecting with her knee. I heard it buckle and she let out a satisfying grunt of pain as her charge faltered and she fell.

I heard a deep growl come from her as her knee realigned and healed.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think you’re gorgeous, but I’m not some kid to be dazzled by a pair of boobs, no matter how nice they are,” I said.

“Well, let’s see how mature you really are. Shall we?” She said.

When she fell after I kicked her knee she landed on all fours. She never got up while her knee healed and it was from this position that she came at me again. This time there was no distraction, no attempt at subterfuge. The ferocity of her assault took me by surprise, but I defended against her blade with my gauntlets. She came at me with a series of strikes, each one powerful and fast. I was forced back as she pressed me with her sword.

Normally I would have started panicking. My brain would be furiously working out what I had to do next or where I could go. It would have actually gotten in the way of my body and I would have stumbled somehow and Katrina would find my weakness and exploit it.

That didn’t happen this time. I let her attacks come, but didn’t really analyze it so much as let my body do the thinking. She was extremely skilled and her attacks were disciplined and efficient. She wasn’t sloppy and it took all I had to counter her sword. I waited, like a wolf who stalks a deer. The deer may be fast and strong, but during the hunt all it takes is one misstep to gain the upper hand. Ideally, you want your prey to be weak or sick, but when your prey is strong and dangerous you have to pick your attack carefully.

I let her move me around the area, she never relinquished and I went with her, letting her think she had me on the defensive. We moved around the space and every once in a while I would block and then try an offensive maneuver, to keep her from suspecting my tactic.

She was so good and skilled it took a long time for my opportunity to arise. Even though we are werewolves and had enhanced abilities, it all revolved around the strength of our will. We were only as strong as our minds.

She swung a powerful backhand slash at my neck and I stumbled on a root that poked out of the hardened earth. I saw a gleam in her eyes as her eagerness to finish our fight pushed her to make her one and only mistake.

I twisted my ankle and found purchase where it appeared I had stumbled. Katrina made a quick and sloppy stab for my chest, but I had already started moving in. I took one powerful step inside her thrust and while she was lunged out in an attempt to skewer me, I came inside her range and with the power of the Beast punched her one time in her chest and sent her flying out of the arena into a small bush.

I heard a deep snarl and a few seconds later the bush exploded as Katrina in her Beast form flew from the foliage with murder in her eyes.

This time I was taken off guard and she closed the distance between us and hit me hard.

We went down together and she raked my chest and arms with her claws. Her impact threw me onto my back and as I rolled over I kicked Katrina off of me. She landed on her feet and crouched on all fours, preparing for another charge.

She left her sword somewhere in the bushes which meant this had turned from a weapons lesson into a test of skill with tooth and claws, fine by me.

She launched at me again and I willed my body to change. She hit me before I could finish and again was able to bring her claws to bear and stinging pain screamed from where she used them.

Our sparring session quickly became a down and dirty struggle for survival, she bit and scraped, I hit and clawed. We wrestled and fought on the forest floor. It was nasty and not the least bit civilized.

I was able to get on top of her and pin her arms down, using the power of my Beast I forced her attacks to stop and when she lunged forward with her mouth attempting to bite me I head butted her. I had to do it several times before the lesson set in and she realized I had beaten her.

I had used more of the Beast than I had intentioned to get her under my control and it rose in me, driving me to lean down and clamp on her neck. It pushed me to end her struggles like was the wont of prey. I saw myself do it, I saw my jaw close on her neck, cutting off her air and severing her artery. I imagined the warm salty sweetness of her life’s blood as it filled my mouth and I caught myself an inch from her exposed neck.

I inhaled deeply, relishing her scent and realized I had come a hairsbreadth from killing her.

“ENOUGH!” Abaddon commanded from a few feet away.

The power of authority filled his voice and I was startled out of my thoughts and back into the situation at hand.

Katrina lay perfectly still, unable to break my grasp and presenting a form that was void of fight, hoping to still the Beast’s urges within me.

Understanding how close it had been, I quickly got up and put distance between her and myself.

She reverted back into human form and got up walking into the bushes to retrieve the clothes she had left there. I had a hard time averting my eyes as the sight of her bare flesh sent a wave of pleasure through me.

Abaddon stared at me without flinching, accusation in his eyes.

“I wasn’t going to hurt her,” I said, knowing what he was thinking.

“You were thinking about it,” he said.

“Yeah, I was, but I didn’t,” I answered.

“The Beast is close isn’t it? You feel its power now more than you have in a long time, don’t you?” He asked.

I didn’t trust myself to speak so I just nodded my head up and down.

“Good. Prepare yourself,” he said.

“Wha?” I sputtered as he strode towards me with two very sharp and very silver swords.

He came in with purpose and full of offense. I began parrying his attacks and we fell into an almost easy rhythm. As we sparred he began asking me questions.

“We left the loft and moved out here to try and investigate what has been happening, what is the status?” He said, while trying to get an opening in my defense.

“Max has been able to sift through the false internet stories and narrow his focus on actual attacks that meet the vampire’s particular effects,” I said.

“And?” He asked.

“And we have determined they are operating in a wide expansive area. Their victims have been found in a very spread out pattern that has given us no clues as to what they may be doing other than feeding,” I said.

“So we are no closer to figuring out what Vicktor and the Lord are doing?” He asked.

His thrusts and swipes had slowly started increasing in speed and strength, making it harder for me to concentrate while giving him the answers to his questions.

“We know the vampires have been taking people from all walks of life and ethnic variations. We know they have been very careful in their killings in order to keep them spread out. We know they are varying their method of death so they don’t leave all their corpses a dried out husk. We just don’t know what they are planning or doing,” I said.

“So what do we need?” Abaddon asked.

He began concentrating on lower attacks and I had to adjust my tactics in order to keep my legs from being cut off.

“We need more information. We are at a standstill and need a way to get a better understanding at what they are doing,” I said.

“How?” Abaddon asked.

Again, he increased his speed and ferocity of his assault.

I struggled to keep up, but managed.

“We need someone on the inside or some help from members of the Pack that may have the Intel we need,” I said.

“But?” Abaddon asked.

“But we can’t just stroll in and start asking questions without tipping our hand; we need a reason to go there, something that will keep them from suspecting why we are really there,” I said.

“How?” Abaddon asked.

Before I could answer he again made his offense more aggressive. I had to focus completely on his attack to keep his silver blades from connecting. I had no doubt he would if given a chance.

I needed more room to keep his blades at bay. With a push of will I extended my own blades and with the added reach was able to keep a small amount of space in between us.

I hoped this change in dynamic would give me a break from his attack so I could maneuver myself into a better position, but Abaddon had other ideas.

I watched in dismay as he shifted forms and I had to fight him as he possessed greater speed, agility and strength.

I knew my only hope was to concentrate entirely on the fight and I willed my Beast to give me the strength, speed and instinct needed to keep up with Abaddon’s swords.

Our fighting quickly became a blur as his swords came at me faster and faster. In order to keep myself from being struck I tapped deeper and deeper into the Beast and pulled from its energy more and more.

Soon I was nothing but pure instinct, operating on a level I never had before. I hadn’t even realized it, but the Beast was almost solely at the helm. I had the knowledge of how to fight, but it had the instincts.

I fought with Abaddon for what seemed like hours, our weapons flying at each other faster than could be followed. Sparks would occasionally erupt from the metal of our blades as our fight intensified.

I knew Abaddon wasn’t going to give me an easy opening. I had been fighting him long enough to know he hardly, ever made a mistake. If I was going to successfully win this hunt it was going to take patience and willpower.

I willed myself to keep patient as our battle went on and on, neither of us showing any decline in our strength or lessening in our aggression.

I lost track of time and at some point understood that if something didn’t change, we would be fighting like this for days.

My fighting skills had increased enormously since the first day Abaddon kicked my ass. He still always beat me but it had begun taking longer and longer. He had me start sparring with Katrina so I wouldn’t get too comfortable with fighting just him, but I soon advanced past her skills.

I had never lasted this long against Abaddon and I knew he wasn’t holding anything back. I had fought with him too much and could tell when he did. Today he sure as hell didn’t.

I also had never willed myself into pushing the Beast to aid me as hard as I did today. My vision began to get red around the edges and it narrowed in its focus so all I could see was Abaddon and his swords. I knew what was around me from the input of my other senses, but it wasn’t something I consciously focused on, it was just an innate knowledge my heightened awareness gave me.

I felt and heard more than saw when Abaddon over extended a thrust and gave me the opening I had been waiting on.

He leaned forward just a little too eagerly and I instantly and without thought moved in to take advantage.

I stepped inside his attack and with a quick series of slashes and stabs had him back peddling away from my offense. I didn’t rush it or over reach. A deep and powerful feeling of success began to build within me as I saw how this would end.

The sound of metal ringing off metal almost sounded like one continuous sound as our swords clashed.

Fighting with one sword is about positioning and accuracy. Fighting with two swords is about both of those as well, only twice as hard.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what I did to get the opening I needed or the precise swing that did it, but my Beast rose within me when I realized I had out parried him, forcing his blades both out and away from his body, leaving his neck exposed for the kill.

As I moved in time seemed to slow. The energy my Beast provided me made my movements seem sluggish, but in reality I was moving so fast my mind had a hard time keeping up. I knew I had beaten him. I knew with one swipe of my blades his head would come free from his neck and my Beast screamed at me to finish it.

My animal instincts were so close to dominance I felt like it was all there was to me as I began swinging both my blades at Abaddons throat.

This bastard had hurt me and cut me more times than I could count. He had taken me from my home and thrust me into this crazy life. He had kept secrets from me and played with my emotions. All of these things were reasons to end his life.

The biggest one that came to my mind was the simplest and most powerful. He was prey and had let his guard down, earning him the greatest mercy I could bestow, a quick death.

This flooded my mind as my blades descended.

I don’t know how I did it, but an inch from ending Abaddon’s life, I stopped. My blades halted in mid-swing as I willed myself to halt.

“No,” I said, and with that the Beast retreated a bit and my more complicated and human thoughts flooded back.

We stood facing each other, both of us were panting. The light was gone as the fight took us well into the evening.

I stood with both arms out, my blades on either side of Abaddon’s neck, his swords down to his sides. I slowly removed the silver metal from his throat and again said, “No. I am in control, not the other way around.”

“How?” I head Abaddon say.

I looked up at him, ready to answer his question. I thought he wanted to know how I had beaten him, but as I met his gaze what I saw there frightened me.

He wasn’t asking me how I had beaten him; he knew the answer to that. I was better than him today. Today I came with more will and determination to win than he did. That scared me.

Realizing he wasn’t asking me how I beat him, my mind raced to figure out what he really was asking when it dawned on me.

He was asking me the same question he had before our fight really got going.

How? How did we get into the Pack without them thinking we were up to something? I knew the answer had to do with what just happened when I made the connection.

Abaddon hadn’t just randomly started a fight with me today, he hadn’t just on the fly made it so intense I had to either step up or be killed. No, he always had a purpose for his actions and I knew what he had meant to do here today.

He knew there was one way to get us in to the Pack, one way that had already been there, the Rite of Ascension.

I wasn’t supposed to undergo that for another six months. I was supposed to be training to be ready for the Rite, knowing Vicktor would make it hard for me to succeed.

Abaddon wouldn’t just send me to the Pack to attempt the Rite only to have me fail. He knew I had to be ready. Today he had shown me I was. I had been pushed to the brink of my limits of control and had prevailed.

I looked at him, both of us unflinching.

“The Rite of Ascension,” I answered.

My fear at beating Abaddon slowly evaporated only to be replaced by pride at seeing a large smile grow on his face.

“Exactly,” he said.

Chapter 25

I stood in front of the large map of Maryland Max had hung on the wall. It had many multiple colored tacks on it. The pattern was a well spread out circle around a central area of deep woods.

“Staring at it won’t give you any answers,” Max said as he scanned through websites, hoping to find a snippet or story that had a semblance of fact.

When he found one he’d investigate further and if it had some of the variables needed to show it might be an actual vampire attack he’d put a tack on the map.

“I know, I just wish I knew what Vicktor was doing with that vampire bitch,” I said.

“The answers have to be found, sometimes,” Abaddon said.

He came into the large living area of the cabin carrying a duffel bag. It was the last thing he needed to put in the S.U.V. before we left for the Pack.

“I can’t say I’m very upset about not going with you,” max said.

“I thought you were all gung ho about being in the action?” I asked, looking at him.

“Yeah, well, sometimes you need to know where your limits are and where you’ll be most needed,” he answered.

“Don’t kid yourself, Max. Your job is very important,” Abaddon added.

“I know, you guys would be up shit creek without me,” he said with a smirk.

I smiled to myself. It was good to hear him get cocky again. I had been worried about him since the vampire encounter. Seeing him engage in casual banter was a very good sign.

“It’s good to see we have a proportionate sense of our self-worth,” I said to Max.

“You guys just hold up your end and I’ll get what we need,” he said.

Abaddon came up to Max and me. He stood staring at the map.

“Let’s go over the plan one more time,” he said.

I knew getting upset about having to run through the plan again was useless. Abaddon was intent on making sure every player knew their role and since most of the plan was my idea, I really couldn’t get mad at him for wanting to make sure it was understood. Besides, he wouldn’t care one bit if it was annoying, he was Abaddon.

“When we arrive at the Den, you are to declare my status as an Ascended who wishes to undergo the Rite of Ascension. We then are required to stay on the Den’s premises until the full moon. While we are at the Den, until the Rite, I am given guest status, which essentially means I am a comfortable prisoner.”

“I’ll be free to move about and talk to other Pack members, but any physical violence is prohibited by myself or others against me.”

“Hopefully, my arrival months ahead of schedule will fluster Vicktor and force him to do something stupid, where we can find out what he’s up to.”

“Exactly, this whole plan is going to be tricky,” Abaddon said.

“We have to try and use the time until the Rite to gather supporters, try and convince your father’s allies you are trustworthy, while at the same time not alerting Vicktor to our plans,” he added.

“All in a day’s work,” I said.

“Let’s get going. We have a long drive ahead of us,” Abaddon said.

Max turned from his computer and looked at me without any of the previous bluster.

“Be careful. I’d hate to have to find a new werewolf best friend, you guys are hard to come by.”

I looked at him for a moment, and nodded. I left and went to the S.U.V. Abaddon started it up and we drove off, heading north.

The drive was relatively quite. Abaddon wasn’t a big talker and I really didn’t have anything to say either. We drove for hours and eventually pulled over to get some gas and food. Abaddon pulled out his wallet to pay and I saw him look at the same crumpled picture I first saw when I found my gauntlets.

A look of loss and regret swept over him before he quickly closed it shut.

We got back on the road and after a few minutes of silence I said, “What’s his name?”

Abaddon turned from the road, looking at me, “What?”

“The picture in your wallet, I accidentally saw it when I found my gauntlets, he’s a good looking kid, looks a lot like you,” I tried.

Abaddon turned back, his face hardened into its normal impenetrable shield, showing no emotion. After a few minutes of silence I gave up, figuring he wasn’t going to say anything.

“Don. His name was Don,” Abaddon said, quietly.

His voice surprised me; I didn’t think I was going to get anything from him. This was one of the only times he and I had been able talk about something other than the Pack or my training. Abaddon was a good man, but I wanted to know more about him, since he was practically family.

“Don? Is that short for something?” I asked.

“Abaddon, like his father,” he said, deep emotions filled his words, love and pride mixed with loss and guilt.

“He’s your son?” I was stunned, I had no idea Abaddon had any kids.

“Was, he was my son. He’s dead.”

“I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” I said.

“Of course not, how would you?” He started talking, urgency filled his voice, like a dam had been broken and he had to let the words come or else they threatened to break down the wall.

“He died twenty-five years ago, seems like only yesterday I was sparing with him in his diapers. He used to hit me in the knees with his bamboo sword.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“He was my life, you know. Ascended do not have very many children; we do not have large litters like wolves. We have very long lifespans and tend to have many partners over that time. Sometimes human, other times Ascended. No matter how many mates we have, there only seems to be one who can produce young and then only one or two at the most. I guess the Powers don’t want us overpopulating the earth.”

“That child is precious, and a gift to be nurtured and protected. You can see why your father left the Pack. Having twins was almost unheard of and he saw it as a sign to try and give you the best, safest childhoods.”

“When he was born it was the happiest day of my life, from that moment on I spent every day with him, changing diapers and feeding him at first, then as he got older I began to prepare him for his Ascension. We trained and he was a master swordsman, by the time he was old enough to be tested by the Beast he could beat me. I was so proud.”

“I don’t know what happened, maybe I was too soft on him, maybe I took it easy because he was my son, but I failed him. The first full moon after being bitten brought about his challenge with his Beast. He succumbed to its power, unable to accept his true nature, he Descended.”

I looked on in horror, knowing what had to be done next, not wanting to listen but unable to stop.

“His mom and I had taken him out into the woods; we wanted the moment to be ours to savor. When he turned we were unprepared for his failure, never believing it possible, not from Don, not my boy.”

“He took his own mother down before I could stop him and ripped her throat out. She was human and died instantly,” he paused, his eyes glazed over as he focused on the road, afraid to look anywhere else.

“So I killed him. I had no choice; I could not let him harm anyone else. I buried him next to his mother and left a part of me in the ground as well,” he finished and a lone tear broke free and raced down his jaw.

He said no more about it and I left it alone. I think I knew why he was so hard on me, why he took my training so serious. I could hardly blame him.

We soon reached the border between Canada and America. We went through customs and after a brief delay continued our journey.

I wasn’t sure how Abaddon hid his weapons, but mine looked like silver bracelets. Pretty handy for a world that wouldn’t let you bring a box cutter onto an airplane.

We drove deeper into Canada and soon left the well-traveled highways for back roads. We went deeper and deeper into the Canadian mountains. The temperature dropped the further north we went. Slowly, we made our way closer towards our destination. The view as we got closer to the Den was amazing. The deep woods and forests rolled up and down with the mountainous terrain. This was wild country, unclaimed forests inhabited by nature and bereft of man’s advances.

Abaddon stopped on a small stretch of road. We had left any traffic far behind and hadn’t seen any other travelers for hours. He got out of the car and walked up to the edge of the pavement, looking off into the trees.

I felt a difference in the forest. It was hard to describe, but there was a feeling of power, almost like the slight energy you can feel when standing under power lines. There was a slight humming in the air. I got out and stood next to him, gazing into the wilderness as well.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“I’m not looking, I’m feeling,” he answered.

I took a few deep breaths and forced my thoughts to focus. I closed my eyes and shut out the sounds of the environment, a bird in the tree, a small mouse hiding in the leaves, Abaddon’s breathing and heartbeat. I shut out the smells around me, the strong aroma of sap that oozed from the trees, the fresh perfume of pine from the leaves, the faint traces of car exhaust that still lingered on the slight breeze.

I tapped into the Beast and channeled it to help radiate my awareness outward, focusing it on the source of the power that thrummed in the air.

I felt my senses zero in on the source and it drew me towards a non-descript part of the forest off to the side of the road. As I concentrated on it, it began to change. The thrumming took on a slightly different feel and became more concentrated and fast paced, and then it rolled off into the surrounding area in waves. Like the ripples in the water after dropping a rock into it. When the waves moved away, all that was left was still calm, the same as the rest of the forest.

I opened my eyes and was stunned to find a turnoff from the main road into the forest. Laid out before me was a stone path, wide enough for a car and framed on each side by large trees laid out evenly along the road.

I smiled broadly and turned to look at Abaddon. He kept his gaze forward, looking at the road before us.

“The entrance to the Den,” he said with an air of ceremony.

We got back in and drove along the paved road. The path continued straight and rose with the land. We made our way up to the top of the hill and my mouth fell open as I saw what awaited me.

Reaching the summit allowed for an open view of what lay before me. The hill dropped and smoothed out into a large open valley. A wide river flowed through the middle of the valley and the Den was situated, not next to the river, but over the river. The Den was a massive stone structure. Built from the surrounding granite of the mountains its deep dark color blended in with the forest. My first impression was that it was a castle, but calling it just a castle didn’t do it justice. A more apt definition would be to call it a fortress.

It was square in its shape, having four tall towers at each corner. The Den was three levels, one on top of the other and each higher level consisted of a smaller structure than the one below it, giving it a shape that best resembled the large stepped Mayan pyramids.

On the top most level sat a small arena. It reminded me of a smaller version of the coliseum found in Greece. Bench seats surrounded the open area at the center of the space. They rose one row above the next in the same design as modern football stadiums. There was no mistaking what this place was. It was the gladiatorial arena.

A deep fog lay at the bottom of the valley, covering the forest floor in a white ethereal covering, slowly shifting and moving with the slight breeze. Our S.U.V. easily parted the white blanket as we drove down towards my destiny.

Our arrival was met with little fanfare. In fact, it was met with absolutely no fanfare.

Abaddon pulled up to the side of the structure where a young man in a nice suit met us. Abaddon gave him the keys and received a slip of paper, just like a concierge. We got out and watched as he drove off and turned back towards the building, entering by a large bay door, disappearing.

I turned to Abaddon, but he already knew my concern.

“He is taking it to the Den garage where it will be inspected for anything threatening, like a bomb or other device. Our things will be fine,” he said.

“Paranoid much?” I asked.

“Remember, most of the Pack grew up in times and places rife with war and they have developed a healthy understanding of precaution,” he answered.

“Your definition and my definition of healthy precaution must not see eye to eye,” I mumbled.

I realized I was rambling because I was nervous, more so than I thought I would be.

Abaddon looked at me and let the barest of smiles show on his face, knowing what I was going through.

“C’mon, we have to announce your arrival,” he said.

“I feel like the princess come to dance at the royal ball,” I joked.

“That is a more accurate assessment than you may know,” Abaddon said.

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything.

We entered the Den and I quickly realized this place was old. Not because it had cobwebs in the corners or dust an inch thick on the furniture. If anything, everything was too clean, too immaculate. The sense of age came from the rocks themselves. This place had been hand built by werewolves over hundreds of years and it held the aura of ancient strength.

We walked down a large hallway that had a very deep and lush carpet. Every step felt like I was sinking into the floor. The walls were decorated with beautiful paintings and pieces of armor. The collection was an eclectic mix of old, outdated pieces to modern protection. On one wall I saw a medieval suit of armor, on the other a Japanese Samurai suit. The paintings and artwork also crossed the spectrum. I passed a framed section of animal hide that had ancient depictions of animals in the hunt, similar to drawings found in Australia on cave walls. Across from it hung a modern pop art piece that depicted an iconoclastic image repeated over and over only each one having slightly different colors and shading.

We rarely passed anyone, but the few people I did see all held the same strong, wild aura associated with the Ascended. Most nodded to Abaddon in passing, showing him respect, while ignoring me. We wound our way through the Den, keeping to the hallways; we stopped at a large wooden door.

“I don’t know who will be waiting for you to announce yourself. This is ceremonial and the Pack leader need not be in attendance. Word has already spread upon your arrival, so don’t be surprised if the hall is filled with some people interested in seeing you. Keep in mind, most don’t live here, they just visit to catch up with old friends or to gather and share information on Descended,” he said.

I took a deep breath, steadying my nerves.

“I’m ready,” I said.

“Remember, I am your sponsor and I will do the talking unless I indicate otherwise,” he added.

I nodded and he opened the door and strode up a wide set of stone steps, each one had a symbol inscribed on it in a different language. As I reached the top, I finally saw the one inscribed in English and wasn’t surprised at what it said. In swirling beautiful script the word “WILL” was carved into the hard rock step.

I entered the second level behind Abaddon and saw him tense upon seeing what lay before him. I stepped up beside him and looked around. Almost the entire second level was an open hall. Placed at symmetrical intervals were large square stone pillars. Four wall sconces decorated the pillars, one for each side. The sconces lit up the hall enough to give it a dark, but cozy feel.

My heightened senses picked out bundles on the floor here and there that moved with lazy abandon. Upon closer scrutiny I saw they were people engaged in different acts of intimacy covered in blankets. Some were just laying, holding each other in post coital bliss, while another group moaned in the throws of sweet sexual release.

There were areas of large bench seating where food was laid out on the tables. Some if it looked as though it had already been torn into while other areas looked untouched. The smell of food and sex were strong. Abaddon growled deep in his throat at the state of the Hall. As we walked towards the center of the area we had to go around a group of writhing bodies. A woman looked at me as I passed, her body covered in a sheen of sweat that accentuated her curves. She smiled at me and I saw the look in her eyes of drugged detachment, her pupils dilated by her sexual arousal, the tips of her breasts stood out in clear detail as she arched her back in ecstasy. The intimacy of the acts they were committing gone, replaced by pure animal need and satisfaction.

I turned my head, seeing nothing more from her than a desire to feel pleasure. It made me feel tainted, somehow.

I had to step over a large form who lay on the floor, snoring loudly, an empty bottle lay near his hand. The scent of alcohol permeated the air around him.

There was a small group of people sitting at one of the tables, away from the others. It was a differing assortment of men and women. They sat in the Hall and kept their eyes averted from those on the floor. I could feel strong disdain coming from them at what they saw around them. One of them, a large red haired man, looked directly at me and nodded once.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, so I gave him a quick nod back and we soon passed them. Abaddon led me to the center of the large Hall where an expansive area of the floor rose above the rest. It was maybe two feet higher than the surrounding surface and covered a circle fifty feet in diameter. A large throne occupied the center of the dais. It had a wide stone back with armrests that were also carved from stone. The design of the throne was simple, but strong.

The throne itself wasn’t as interesting as who sat in it. I knew without being told it was Vicktor. He looked at Abaddon, never once turning to me.

Even sitting down, I could tell he was big. His frame was easily as large as Abaddon’s and his forearms showed the thickness of wielding something heavy and often. His hair was dark black and cut short in a modern style. He wore a dark suit that looked more appropriate in a courtroom or a board meeting than in this setting. His jacket was hanging on one side of the throne while on the other rested a large double-bladed axe. His sleeves were rolled up and his tie was loosened. Deep green eyes stared at Abaddon with intelligence and at the same time boredom.

On his right, slightly behind the throne, stood Jameson, his right arm wrapped in the silver chain that ended in his mace. He looked at me and smiled. It was all I could do to not rush the platform and wipe the smile off his face.

He was flanked on the other side by a dark figure. The man stood a foot taller than me, but his frame showed a thinness that bordered on skeletal. He wore a dark brown robe whose hood covered his face. The only thing I could see from the shadowy depths were the occasional reflection of the light off his yellow eyes. He possessed neither the physical power of Vicktor, nor the wildness of Jameson. Instead, he radiated a different kind of power, one that was hard to pinpoint, but had the same tint of what I felt at the entrance and from the Altered. This man was a sorcerer and his talents lay in the arcane, not in the physical. I noted him as very dangerous and made a mental note to keep an eye out for him. He was the kind to go unnoticed until his knife plunges into your heart.

Sitting in front of Vicktor, at his feet, were two women, each beautiful and barely clothed. They sat there in adoration of Vicktor, clearly as a statement of his control and meant to show dominance.

Anger welled up in me. Not just because of seeing Jameson, or at the man who sent the bears after us, but at the way Vicktor ruled the Pack. It was clear this Hall was a place for indulgence, a place where the animal nature of the Beast was allowed to be unleashed and encouraged. That was against everything the Pack stood for. The whole purpose of a strong Ascended was his mastery over the base emotions the Beast urged on us, it was in the control of those desires that gave us true strength.

I had been here only a few minutes and I knew the corruption Vicktor allowed. My anger doubled along with my caution. Vicktor was dangerous and I needed to be on guard. This whole thing was not only meant to show how far he had defiled the Pack’s ways, but it was also an effort to distract me, keep me from being ready for when he made his move.

Abaddon stopped in front of the raised platform and put an arm on my shoulder. He gripped it tightly, almost to the point of pain and tugged on it as he went down on one knee and bowed his head slightly. I took his cue and followed suite.

“Greetings, Pack leader, I bring before you Eric Brightenham, son of Thomas Brightenham, former Pack leader, seeking entrance into the Pack by Rite of Ascension,” Abaddon said, while kneeling.

“So, Thomas’ boy has come to us wanting to gain member status,” Vicktor said.

Abaddon raised his head and stood up, allowing me to do the same.

“It is a shame, is it not, that his father isn’t here to witness his son’s growth,” Vicktor said, keeping his eyes on Abaddon.

I knew he was talking to me and his words fueled the anger that was already building within me.

“A father should be at his son’s side in times like this, when he goes from a boy to a man. Don’t you think?” Vicktor added, looking up at Jameson.

“He is ready, is he not? You don’t have a perfect track record when it comes to preparing young men for their Rites,” Vicktor said, staring hard at Abaddon.

“He is prepared, my lord, he will succeed,” Abaddon said.

I could hear the hate in his voice at having to show Vicktor even the smallest amount of respect.

“That is all we can hope for, really. Be careful where you put your clothes, I hear there are shoe thieves around,” Vicktor said.

He turned to me for the first time and with a small knowing smile, winked at me.

My blood boiled and my anger reached the breaking point. I knew he was taunting me. I didn’t care. I was an instant from lashing out at him when Abaddon’s hand clamped down on my shoulder and the pain cut through my rage and I was able to control myself.

Vicktor watched us with gleeful intensity. He seemed disappointed when it was apparent I wasn’t going to attack and dismissed us after we didn’t react in the manner he wanted.

“His trial begins in ten days, at the height of the full moon. Your petition for his Rite is accepted,” Vicktor said offhandedly.

Abaddon bowed once again and turned away from Vicktor. We strode with purpose out of the chamber, passing a very curious group of onlookers on our way out.

Chapter 26

I followed Abaddon down the steps and through the same door we came in. I closed the door behind me and then Abaddon slammed me into the wall. His face was an inch from mine.

“Do you think this is a game? Do you think you will get a second chance if you screw up?” He said, anger blazing in his eyes.

“I did as you asked, I said nothing,” I argued back.

He pushed me harder against the wall.

“You came an inch from attacking him. He wanted you to! This is not training anymore; if you make a mistake it will kill you.”

He let go and turned, storming off.

“Where are you going? “ I asked.

“Away. You are safe here, assuming you can behave like an adult. I have some things to do, as do you,” he said, never looking back.

I stood there, stinging from his rebuke, deserving every bit of it. He was completely right and I knew it. I had to get my head out of my ass. I just didn’t expect Vicktor’s taunting to be so effective.

I shook it off and started wondering around the Den. I soon lost myself to the maze of the lower level’s halls. The winding corridors occasionally opened up to larger gathering areas where plush sofas and shelves of books lined the walls. I passed many closed doors that I dared not enter, for fear of crossing into someone’s territory.

The familiar sound of metal ringing off metal drew my attention and I followed it for a few minutes, letting the sound guide me.

I followed it to a set of large double wooden doors. Inlaid on them was a depiction of two men in Beast form engaged in battle, each wielding a sword.

I opened the doors and walked into a large, expansive room. On the left side of the room I saw an archery range, outfitted with multiple targets, some for throwing knives, others for axes, still more for a variety of projectile based weaponry.

In the center of the room stood a large boxing ring occupied by two men, fighting. One swung a large curved sword, while the other, taller man had a two-handed hammer. The ringing sounds came from their attacks and subsequent blocks.

To the right of the room sat the largest weapons rack I have ever seen. It housed everything anyone has ever picked up and used in hand to hand combat. Standing in front of the massive display of lethal weaponry was a woman. She stood with one hand under her chin, her head at a slight angle, her other hand under the arm holding her chin and her weight was shifted to one leg. She clearly was thinking. Her hair was a rich red that fell to her waist in thick waves. She wore a leather jacket cut high to reveal her well-formed backside and muscular legs whose definition was clear in her tight jeans.

I knew there were a lot of people in this place that wanted me dead, but I figured I wasn’t going to make any friends until I put myself out there and tried, the fact she was clearly attractive and alone had nothing to do with my decision to talk to her, honestly.

I walked up next to her and said, “You know they’re all basically the same, you just grab one and bash your opponent with it until they either give up or are dead.”

She looked at me as I kept my gaze on the weapons.

Tilting her head slightly she said with a strong Irish accent, “Is that what the Neanderthals are teaching the cavemen nowadays?”

“I kinda liked the days when all you had to do was club a woman on the head and drag her back to your cave, saved tons on flowers,” I said, turning to her and smiling.

She gave me a quick return smile and nodded towards the rack.

“Tell ye what. Ye pick a club, I’ll pick a club and we can go see who bashes whose head.”

“Let’s make it interesting, a contest to see who can pin whom first. I win and you have to eat dinner with me, alone,” I offered.

“And when I win ye have to perform a service for me,” she countered.

“Done,” I said.

She turned back towards the weapons and picked out a short sword. Its width was the same as the handle and it only lessened near the middle then widened back out until it made a point at its tip. I recognized it as a Celtic short sword.

“Coming, captain?” She asked, walking off towards the ring.

“I guess that makes you Brenda, the teen angel?” I asked back.

She laughed a hearty, joyful sound, making me realize I wanted to make her do it again and often.

I scanned the rack, looking for something to use. I grinned and grabbed a long bladed katana. It was an excellent blade, its balance superb.

I walked over to the ring and slipped through the ropes the same way I had seen wrestlers do a thousand times.

The red-haired woman took off her jacket and tossed it out of the ring. She wore a dark green tank top that had a deep cut in the back showing a large Celtic style tattoo covering her muscular shoulders and back.

I stood in a relaxed pose, watching her. As she turned to me I said, “I think it’s only fitting that before you eat dinner with me, I know your name.”

She nodded once and performed a formal curtsy.

“Eavan,” she said.

I bowed slightly at the waist and mimicked her formal greeting.

“Eric, at your service,” I said.

She waited until I was bent over to rush in, attempting to catch me by surprise and end our contest quickly.

I had anticipated a move like that and met her short sword with my own. The sound of our weapons clashing rang clearly in the air.

She backed off and put some space in between us, slightly disappointed her trick didn’t work. We circled each other, waiting for one of us to blink.

I changed my grip on my sword and Eavan wasted no time as she launched a complicated series of thrusts and slashes at me.

I recognized her tactic. It was the same thing Abaddon did when we began a sparring session. She was testing my skill; her attack was designed to find the chink in my armor. Abaddon opened up every session with it and used the results to attack my weaknesses, forcing me to strengthen them.

She finished up and again retreated a few feet, getting some space between us. We circled each other again a few times.

“Not too shabby for a caveman, huh?” I asked.

“Yer skill is not totally deficient,” she said back.

“Your turn,” I said as I came in and performed my own complicated routine of attacks, gauging where her skill level was.

She countered everything I threw at her efficiently and effectively. I was impressed, her technique was sound and it would take more effort than I thought to beat her.

We paused again and separated, I smiled at her slightly and she winked back, then rushed in and resumed her assault, this time she held nothing back and I struggled to keep up.

She started adding kicks and elbows into her pattern and it was then that I saw my opening. Her skill with the blade was strong, but she tended to add more flourish than necessary to her kicks and punches. It reminded me of a dancer who adds extra style. Her movements were slightly more showy than needed, something Abaddon cured me of rather quickly.

I continued to parry her attacks and block her kicks, waiting for my opportunity. She followed up a powerful backhanded slash with a wide arcing kick intended to bash my face in.

She over extended slightly and with a push of will I planted my right foot, forcing it to shift and allowing the powerful claws of the Beast to rip through my shoe and dig into the ring, giving me more speed on my reaction than she had grown accustomed to.

I dropped under her leg and rushed her, tackling her to the mat and pinning her arms to her sides and wrapping her legs with my own, stopping her from moving.

She squirmed and struggled, which I thoroughly enjoyed when I heard a powerful voice bellow, “EAVAN!”

The depth of the sound startled me for just a second as I was fully engaged in the contest.

Eavan was able to break my grasp on her arm and twisted around landing a solid elbow to my face, her Beast adding strength to the attack as her eyes shone a deep yellow.

The distraction allowed her to continue her momentum and I found myself on my back with her on top of me. She smiled triumphantly.

“I win,” she beamed.

I looked over to the source of the interruption and saw the same very large fellow with the big red beard from the Hall, standing next to Abaddon, both of them with unapproving glares.

“Okay, okay, you win,” I said reluctantly, holding both hands up palms open.

She shifted her weight and got up, holding out her hand I took it and she helped me up.

“I’ll be calling on ye soon,” she said in her strong Irish accent.

The words rolled off her tongue with a lilting cadence I absolutely loved.

She turned from me and went over to Abaddon and the other man.

“What are ye doing? Ye know it is forbidden to fight with anyone until after the Rite!” He fumed, his thick accent almost making his words unintelligible.

“Papa, we were not fighting, we were exercising. There is nothing in Pack law that says candidates for the Rite cannot engage in exercise. Is there?” She asked sweetly.

She looked to me for help. Abaddon stepped in.

“Exercise, is that right? If one of you thinks it was a fight, then it’s a fight, but if you both agree it was exercise, then who can argue that?” He asked, looking to me to clarify.

I knew what he was doing, there were probably eyes on us and he wanted to make clear we both thought we were exercising so no one could claim we had violated the rules.

“Of course we were just working out. I needed a partner to help me work up a sweat, the drive here was long and I needed the exercise,” I said.

“Well, nothing wrong with getting the blood flowing. Young people need to work off their excess energy once in a while,” Eavan’s father said, calming down.

Abaddon stepped up to me and said, “Oengus, this is Eric, my charge. Eric this is Oengus, leader of the clan O’Sullivan of Ireland and father to Eavan.”

I held out my hand in greeting.

“Nice to meet you sir, I didn’t realize there was a pack in Ireland,” I said.

He gripped my forearm and I did the same. His strength was evident as he came an inch from breaking my arm. I never waivered or winced, instead I returned the favor.

He eyed me the whole time, judging my reaction, after a few seconds he released me and said, “Ha! Well met son of Thomas. It is good to finally place the face to all the rumors, and the forming of a Pack in Ireland is recent news, actually,” he said, glaring at Abaddon.

“If we are going to show the failures of this Pack leader, we need to make people aware that some are willing to secede,” Abaddon said to Oengus, they seemed to be having a debate that had been ongoing for a long time.

“You well know I am not ready to declare a separation. Not until I am sure of the direction the Pack will take,” he said, looking pointedly at me.

I had a distinct feeling my actions could very well be the “direction” he was talking about.

“Ah, but I am being rude! Eavan, say hello to Abaddon, ye haven’t seen each other since ye were knee high to a leprechaun,” he said, changing subjects.

“Eavan, you have only grown more lovely with time,” he said taking her hand.

“I know what’s behind yer sweet words Abaddon, once we’re in the ring yer kindness takes a backseat to those stinging swords of yers, It’s good to see ye again,” she said, teasing.

Abaddon smiled and kissed the back of her hand, releasing it.

“I see you two have met already,” he said to Eavan and myself.

“Aye, and yer charge there owes of me a debt, of which I’ll be calling on soon,” Eavan said with a sparkle in her eye as she watched me.

Abaddons eyebrows rose, looking at me.

“I’m looking forward to it,” I answered.

Eavan smiled back and turned from us, walking away she said, “We’ll see. Good to see ye again Abaddon, I’ll be in my room Papa.”

She went over and picked up her jacket then put the sword back, as she left I couldn’t help admire how fit she was.

Abaddon coughed once and I looked up to see Oengus looking at me with concealed hostility. I turned away, embarrassed.

“Well, it’s good to see young people getting along. If you will excuse us, I need to show Eric to his chambers and make sure he’s settled in,” Abaddon said.

“Very nice to meet you sir,” I said, following Abaddon out.

“Aye, lad. Take care of yerself. There are many who have an eye on ye,” he said.

“We’ll talk later,” Abaddon said to Oengus.

“I know Abaddon, ye just won’t quit,” he said.

We walked out of the training area and followed the extensive hallways. Abaddon was silent and I followed his lead. He hadn’t started beating on me, so I took that as a good sign.

Eventually we came to our room. Abaddon used a large ornate key to unlock it and we went inside. The space was larger than I expected but held all the comfort and eclectic style the rest of the Den showed. Abaddon walked over to his bag and opened it up. He pulled out a black electronic device. It was about the size of a V.C.R. and it had an antenna on it that was about seven inches. He flipped a switch on it and my sensitive ears picked up a slight buzz in the air.

“Now we can talk without worrying about being overheard,” he said.

“You think they bugged the place?” I asked, going to the small refrigerator and pulling out a cold bottle of water. I motioned to Abaddon and he nodded. I tossed him one and he deftly caught it.

“You never can be too cautious. I don’t know what Vicktor is capable of; I’m not going to put anything past him,” he answered.

“Can’t say I disagree with you,” I said.

“So what can you tell me about him, now that you’ve met,” Abaddon studied my intently.

I took a deep breath, focusing my thoughts. I brought up the meeting and what I saw, heard and smelled from the Hall.

“He’s powerful, for one. He sits with the air of absolute authority, yet keeps his axe very close. Telling me his rule is not without challenge. He wears the clothes of a civilized man, but is uncomfortable in them, as if they don’t fit well, like putting a tuxedo on a monkey. The Hall is reflective of his leadership style, undisciplined and indulgent. He is afraid of being stabbed in the back and so keeps himself flanked by his two flunkies. He’s smart and devious. All in all I’d say he’s extremely dangerous and not to be taken lightly.”

Abaddon listened to all I said with the critical eye of an instructor as I continued.

“But, he’s sloppy. He allows the members to indulge too much in their Beast nature without the control needed to give one true strength. He has blind spots but makes up for it by using others to cover them. His willingness to indulge in the more primal desires of his Beast may make him stronger than most but a true Ascended who has complete mastery of his Beast and can harness even the strongest base emotions is more powerful. He can be beaten,” I finished.

Abaddon nodded with a small shadow of approval on his countenance that came and went. Had I not been studying his reaction I would have missed it.

“Good, but remember Vicktor did not gain power through rash actions, he waited for his moment and then acted. He is a formidable foe and is patient and cunning. He will try and test you, try and send obstacles your way, hoping you will slip up, be on guard,” he said, adding to my assessment.

“Now, onto other matters. The man you met in the training arena, the father of Eavan,”

“Oengus?”

“Yes, as I’m sure you remember from Katrina’s lessons, is our greatest ally. He has a very large pack and supported your father. We need to get him to trust you. As is the custom of the O’Sullivan clan he will be throwing a festival in a few days in anticipation of Eavan’s Rite. It is here that I expect you to try and get on his good side. Beating up his daughter in front of him certainly didn’t endear you to him.”

“I didn’t beat her up, if you noticed, she won,” I said defensively.

“Only because Oengus startled you,” he said, holding up a hand, stopping my argument.

“It matters not, what’s done is done. However the gathering will give you an opportunity to approach Oengus in public and hopefully show your mettle.”

“What am I going to have to do? Don’t tell me I have to compete in a food challenge that involves haggis,” I said.

“Not to worry, there will be plenty of other things to do,” Abaddon said.

“As the next ten days go by, there will be more and more members arriving. People from all over the world will want to come and see how you perform. Many will want to meet you as they were friends of your father as well as test you as they were not friends of your father. Just remember to follow the rules and to be careful about what you say. Many may seem nice and friendly only to be the ones holding the knife ready to plunge into your exposed back,” Abaddon walked over to the large bag we carried with us upon entering.

He opened it and pulled out another smaller briefcase. It was metallic and looked like it could take quite a pounding. He laid it on the table and unclasped the latches, opening it to reveal ten small devices that sat in custom grooves cut out from the foam padding that filled the briefcase.

“Once again, where are you to place these?” Abaddon asked.

We had gone over this part of the plan extensively, but it was Abaddon.

“One on each corner of the Den and the last one goes on the tower array at the highest level,” I answered.

“Remember, if you get caught Vicktor can claim we are acting against the Pack and can punish us, severely. So be careful,” he said.

“Will do boss,” I said as I went over and placed the five devices into the pockets of my jacket.

They were small, no bigger than a cell phone. They easily fit in my jackets pockets.

Abaddon nodded, thinking of anything else to tell me.

“Do you have any questions?” He asked.

“Actually, yeah, you said earlier something about Oengus establishing his own pack, what were you talking about?” I reached down and grabbed the last device from the foam liner, putting it in my jacket.

“As you know there are many sub-packs, if you will, around the world all answering to Vicktor. Oengus has been toying with the idea of establishing his own pack and severing all ties to this main pack,” he answered.

“Won’t that piss Vicktor off?” I asked, intrigued.

“What do you think? Of course, something like this has never been done. Even the most hard-minded Pack leaders have kept the understanding of control over the Beast. Vicktor makes a mockery of it.”

“There are others who feel the same way, aren’t there? That’s why this is such a big deal, my Rite, I mean. Many see me as a chance to correct the mistake that is Vicktor,” I reasoned.

“Why hasn’t someone challenged Vicktor before this?”

“They have, or at least wanted to. You have to have a legitimate reason to challenge a Pack leader. Remember, we are not a group of undisciplined animals, we have rules. It keeps us from constant fighting and killing for control,” Abaddon walked over to his bags and removed his two long swords.

“Sure, if a pack member wants to challenge the pack leader for control it can be done a few different ways. Basically the challenger must prove the Pack leader is purposefully abandoning the principles of the Pack, the challenger must prove the leader has been appointed without proper authority or gained control illegitimately, or the Pack leader dies, leaving an opening,” I recited from Katrina’s lessons.

“Of course there are many amendments to these that encompass small variations of these principles, but in general these are the three ways,” I clarified.

“Correct, remember it took Vicktor years before he made his move to ensure the Pack would see his rule as legitimate. Oengus does not fear Vicktor in the arena, but he wants to ensure any challenge does not seem like retaliation for the loss of your father. He wants to make sure the challenge is seen as legitimate.”

“Vicktor is obviously making a mockery of the control needed to be strong by allowing members to indulge in their wanton desires,” I argued.

“Remember Pack leadership is nothing without the consent of the governed,” Abaddon added.

“I get it; Vicktor’s new relaxed vision is popular among many in the Pack. He does have a large number of support making the tactic of challenging him on the merits of controlling the Beast’s urges less powerful,” I said.

“Exactly, this leaves us with two options,” Abaddon started.

“Right, either prove beyond a shadow of a doubt he is undermining the Pack or prove he has taken control illegitimately,” I finished for him.

“Then why do you need me? All we need to do is prove Vicktor is hurting the pack and Oengus can challenge,” I asked.

“The Pack is thousands of years old; most of the members are hundreds of years old. They come from lands that are ruled through a monarchy or where the bloodline is held sacred. The Pack is rife with the societal importance of a “royal bloodline”. The core of what makes us who we are is the ability to pass on the Beast potential in the genes. Your lineage will give you legitimacy when challenging and help pull many of Vicktor’s supporters onto your side when you win,” Abaddon responded.

“I guess my old fashioned American ideals make me cringe at the idea someone is automatically raised to a higher standard just because of who their father was and not who they themselves are.”

“Well, you cannot begin to change something, until you are in the proper place to initiate that change.” Abaddon sat down and began sharpening his swords, he used a small stone and slowly but methodically ran it down one side of the blades sharpened edge, the sound of the rock against the metal was soothing and had a certain disciplined comfort.

I took Abaddon’s silence as my cue to get back to work and continue with the plan. I walked over and flipped the switch on the scrambling device off. The buzzing sound had faded into the background and its sudden absence made the quiet seem loud. Only the sounds of Abaddon’s stone against his sword’s blades could be heard as I silently let myself out of our room and into the Den’s hallway.

My earlier wondering had not been without reason. I used it to help familiarize myself with the layout of the Den. It wasn’t perfect, I didn’t know where every corridor went or where all the hallways led to, but it was enough to help me keep my general heading true.

I made my way towards the northeastern corner of the Den, passing a large garage filled with dozens of different vehicles. The smell of gasoline and metal filled the garage along with the faint lingering of exhaust fumes. The Den’s property extended for many acres around the building, allowing me to go outside without leaving the compound and getting into trouble.

I left the Den and entered the dark openness of the night. The fragrant air from the surrounding forest was a refreshing change from the aromas clinging to the cars and trucks parked in the garage. There was a large paved path following the outside wall of the Den. Dotted every few hundred feet were benches facing out towards the trees. My keen vision picked out openings in the forest’s dense vegetation that indicated a trail winding off into the woods, away from the Den.

My Beast sensed the nearness of the full moon and a deep and powerful urge to follow the path into the wild and hunt down whatever scent crossed my way tugged at me. I took a deep breath and focused my Beast to give me stealth and speed as I turned from the trees and followed the wall towards the corner of the Den at a silent sprint, cutting the night like a surgeon’s sharpened blade through the pink flesh of a patient’s skin

The Den was large and a deep and wide river ran through the middle of it. Luckily, I didn’t need to cross the river to get to my destination. I soon came to the corner of the Den and saw a large carving of a wolf standing at the ready on the top of the first level. The wolf was huge, maybe ten feet long and five feet to its shoulder. It stood carved from the same deep purple stone of the Den itself, looking out into the darkness, forever keeping silent watch over the ever changing land.

The wall itself rose twelve feet and I calmed my breathing and concentrated on my senses, focusing on the environment surrounding me. I felt my awareness expand and let it extend outwards, searching for anyone that might be watching. I felt the ants that ate at an old dying tree, I felt the slight breeze as it swept through the trunks of the forest, I sensed an owl sitting on a branch watching and waiting for its opportunity. I sensed no one else around, I hadn’t been followed.

I had to climb up the wall to place one of the objects from my jacket in the space between the wolf’s feet. I removed the protective wax paper from the adhesive on the devices back and it stuck to the smooth rock securely. I made sure it faced straight out and flipped a small switch on the back of it. I heard the small buzz of electronics powering up as the camera began to transmit. I hopped back down and looked up seeing if it could easily be spotted. The device sat at the very edge of the wall and only a discerning eye could spot anything wrong. One would almost have to be purposefully looking for it to see its edge.

Confident in its concealment, I moved on to the next corner and placed another one there. The last two were on the other side of the Den and required I crossed the river to get to them.

An entrance to the Den broke the smooth wall as I neared the edge of the river, allowing me to get back inside and make my way to the other side of the river. This part of the Den had very high ceilings allowing for a large indoor bridge to span the gap. It arched gracefully over the water and stood there like an ancient overpass, resisting the pull of time and the strength of the raging water. The chamber I was in had high, curved ceilings. The arched rock followed the flow of the river like a tunnel that has been cut by the eroding power of the water. It gave the room a feel of being in a large half filled drainage system.

I knew it served a purpose, the doors entering this are were made differently than others in the Den. They reminded me of a hatch on a ship; they had handles mounted in the center and on both sides of the door. Their purpose was obvious. When the door was closed, the handles were used to make them water tight in case the river over flowed.

This engineering attribute got me thinking, if this place was built to withstand a flood that meant there had to be extensive foundation work to make sure the whole thing didn’t float off down the river like a paper boat on a rushing stream. I’d have to ask Abaddon about it later. It seemed to me having a large expansive underground engineering structure might be worth investigating.

I walked over the indoor bridge and marveled at the clarity of the water under me. I could see large salmon and trout swimming in the depths of the river, my acute eyesight picking out the fish as they went about their lives, unaware of my presence. The rich smell of the river permeated the air and it gave the whole chamber a moisture and thickness that was not at all unpleasant.

It was soothing, knowing fresh water was so close at hand. Deep down in the primal part of my brain I associated water with life, having this here, in all its natural beauty gave me a feeling of security I never had with normal plumbing. Sure, we had water available in an instant at home. All you had to do was turn a knob and water flowed from the sinks, bathroom, washer, dishwasher and refrigerator. The impersonal nature of modern plumbing actually took the awe out of it. I took it for granted, never once realizing how essential it is to modern living.

I reached the other side and brought myself out of my thoughts, exiting through a door quite similar to the one I entered. Once outside, I again went to each corner of the Den and placed the devices between the wolf’s feet. I only encountered one person and that was from a distance.

Before I planted the third camera I sent my awareness out, like I did the previous times, and felt someone up on the second level. I felt their power as I sensed the Beast within them. As I encountered them I kept my touch as light as possible, afraid they might be able to feel my questing probe. They stayed outside for a few minutes, then went back inside, seemingly just getting some fresh air.

Finishing with the fourth camera, I went back inside the Den and started making my way up, towards the arena. I stayed as far from the Hall as possible, wanting to keep my movements hidden from anyone loyal to Vicktor. I knew the Hall took up most of the second level, but there was a series of rooms and passages that circled the Hall, allowing for someone to move from the first level up to the third without entering the Hall. I followed this route, occasionally passing someone in the corridors. Most treated me with indifference, probably because I hadn’t passed the Rite and was considered beneath them. The older types could be rigid in their traditions. Just before entering a stairway that would take me to the third level and the arena I heard a voice come from around the corner that stopped me in my tracks.

“C’mon, we have to get moving, we don’t have a lot of time before our guest arrives. We need to make sure the cargo is ready. You heard Vicktor, we can’t screw this up, she’ll kill us,” Jameson said in a hushed voice.

“What about you, too good to get your hands dirty?” a voice I didn’t recognize said.

“Don’t worry about me you mongrel. My hands drip with the blood of my labors. You should mind your tongue lest I cut it off and use it in my endeavors,” said another, his voice oozed contempt and unveiled threat. This must be the hooded figure standing behind Vicktor, the sorcerer.

I heard movement followed by the sound of impact and then a grunt of pain.

“You should teach your men more respect, if Vicktor didn’t need things to go smoothly, I’d kill you right now. Do you understand?” the sorcerer said.

Another grunt of pain, then, “Y-Yes, I understand,” the other said, clearly hating every second.

“Good, now go. There isn’t much time,” the sorcerer ordered.

I heard Jameson as he walked off with the other guy, laughing, the sounds of their footfalls fading as they got further away. I waited for the sorcerer to leave, listening. After a moment I began to get worried. I knew my proximity to them could easily give me away. All they had to do was detect my scent and investigate, but I was counting on their preoccupation to keep them from noticing me. I also hadn’t been through the hallway they were in. I came from a different path so they would not have passed through my trail. I knew the longer I stayed here the further my presence drifted out, making my mark bigger and bigger, eventually reaching them and allowing them to detect me. I was gambling on the stillness of the Den to keep my scent from traveling down the hallway. I was sure they never knew I was there, but if the sorcerer hadn’t moved that gave me pause. Maybe I miscalculated and he had noticed my scent, maybe he was waiting for me to leave so he could track me. If I went up and placed the last device on the antennae array he could follow me and catch me.

I decided to walk right past him as though I owned the place, I had the right to be here and would act as though I didn’t know he was here, that way we both would know I knew he was there and he knew I was there. Hopefully, he would think nothing of it and go about his business, allowing me to go about mine.

I walked down the hall and came to the corner, purposefully making no attempt at hiding the sounds of my passing. I was shocked to see he had vanished. He wasn’t there, I could detect the faint traces of his scent, but he seemingly had left without making a single sound. I focused on my senses, seeing if maybe he had used magic to hide himself. I even sent my awareness out tentatively, not wanting to slam into him and give myself away, nothing.

I toyed with the idea of abandoning placing the receiver/transmitter on the array. If they were up to something, which I thought they were, I had to find out. It sounded like they were getting ready to do something tonight and if I didn’t finish I’d have no way of catching them. I was afraid of getting caught and still didn’t know if the sorcerer had left or was somehow hiding from me, waiting for me to make a mistake.

I had a choice to make, take the safe road and go back to my room, possibly missing the opportunity to get the evidence needed, or take a chance and place the device not knowing if the sorcerer would be watching.

My life had long ago ceased to be without risk and my senses and instincts told me I was alone. Making my decision, I turned and went back the way I came, taking extra care to keep my movements silent. I went up the stairs and exited the Den, walking out into the night and the arena.

I stood and looked around, getting my bearings. The layout of the arena was very similar to modern stadiums. I was in a large area under the seating where people gathered before going up to their seats. In stadiums and arenas around the world this is where the vendors would place themselves, selling food, beer and souvenirs hoping to get people to hand over their money for overpriced merchandise to commemorate the show or game they went to see. Now the place was deserted and the stillness of the area I always remembered as having a bustling atmosphere seemed eerily daunting.

I walked through the vendor level and went out a large opening, entering the arena seating. I looked around, easily spotting the large antennae array that shot up from the far end of the arena’s highest level. It was out of place, the arena had the feel and design of ageless strength, while the antennae was a modern scar that appeared weak and fragile compared to the thick power of the architecture surrounding it.

I quietly and quickly made my way through the seating levels. Going up towards the base of the array I stopped before climbing it. Taking a deep breath and calming my jagged nerves I concentrated and once again sent my awareness out, searching, looking for anyone who may have followed me, anyone who might catch me. I was eased to find no one else near and brought my probe back with a large sigh of relief.

I easily climbed the metal structure and placed the last piece to my surveillance system on the highest point on the antennae, flipping a switch I activated the transmitter/receiver and climbed back down.

I was feeling elated, knowing we now had an advantage on our enemies. Strength was important, speed was valuable, but intelligence turned the tide of war. I had just given us a chance at shifting the odds in our favor when a sharp object pressed against my back. My elation quickly turned to dread as I realized in my eagerness to fulfill my task I had let my guard down and allowed someone to sneak up on me and catch me in the act. The dread that threatened to drag me down into the deepest crevice of the earth saw a faint glimmer of hope as I heard a voice that flowed with the melodic tenor of a strong Irish accent say,

“What the hell were ye doing up there?”

Chapter 27

The wind shifted and a recent, but wonderful scent came to me.

“Eavan?” I asked tentatively, relief filled my voice.

She must have been just out of my range when I searched and stayed upwind. She was also Ascended and had the ability to hide her movements if she chose, as long as she placed herself in a position to stay concealed.

“Ye didn’t answer me,” the tip of her sword pressed painfully into my back.

“Easy, easy,” I pleaded as I raised both hands in the air, showing I held no weapon. I slowly turned around facing her.

I looked at her and was again struck by her beauty. Her pale skin shone in the deep moonlight as her fiery red hair framed her face. She wore a look of determination and weary mistrust. It hurt to see her look at me like that. I suddenly had an urge to tell her everything so she would stop looking at me with concealed hostility.

“I said what were ye doing up there?” She brought the sword up to my neck just below my chin, giving me no room for movement.

“I tell you what, I’ll answer your question if you answer one of mine,” I said.

“Yer in no position to barter, in case ye haven’t noticed,” she said back, the mistrust faded slightly, replaced by a small trace of amusement.

“I know you got me by the short hairs. Just humor me, you can always run me through in a second,” I answered, keeping my posture non-threatening.

She looked at me for a few seconds, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. I could almost see her thoughts as she tried to figure out if I was trying to trick her.

“Alright, ask me yer question,” she said finally.

Keeping perfectly still to make sure she didn’t stab me in the throat I asked, “What do you think of Vicktor?”

“What kind of bone headed question is that?” She answered.

I kept looking at her openly, trying to show I was completely serious.

Again she studied me, trying to find a hint of deceit.

“He’s a pain in the arse. Dangerous aye, he lets the Pack wallow in their Beast’s primal urges, allowing them to engage in hedonistic acts that only fuel the wild nature of their animals. He’s no friend to the O’Sullivan clan, I ken tell ye. If ye try and repeat that to anyone, I’ll cut yer tongue out and feed it to me piggy’s,” she answered.

It was the last part that convinced me. Anyone can talk about how bad Vicktor is, but only someone who understands how dangerous going against him can be would be worried about making sure he didn’t know. It also showed that maybe there was a chance she was involved in more than just talking against him; maybe she was prepared to move against him.

During her answer I pushed the Beast to focus on her words, her breathing and her person as a whole. I looked for anything that would tell me she was deceiving me. My instincts were hit with the powerful and clear understanding that not only did she feel this way; she had deeper emotions that were in line with her words that she kept repressed.

“I was up there placing a transmitter/receiver on the highest point.” I answered.

“Why?” She asked, never letting the sword tip waver.

Her scrutiny intensified as I saw her forehead wrinkle between her eyes in concentration. It was cute.

“I am monitoring the comings and goings of the Den’s perimeter, seeing if anything untoward is happening,” I said, letting the truth of my answer fill my words.

“Why?” she asked again.

Now it came to it, up until this point, I could probably still have kept myself out of serious trouble if it was known I had placed monitoring equipment on the Den. All that showed was paranoia. Nothing against that, but this next part is where the real threat lay. Once you start accusing the Pack leader of collusion with vampires you really have nowhere to hide.

I took a deep breath, worried that she might be tricking me somehow, waiting until I reveal my thoughts only to haul me away to Vicktor.

Only I didn’t think she would, her countenance was one of hostility, but not manipulation. She wasn’t going to turn me in, I don’t know how I knew this I just did. I had a hard time trusting someone just based on a feeling, but trusting your intuition was as big a part of embracing the Beast as being able to shape-shift.

“Abaddon and I have reason to believe Vicktor is working with vampires, we don’t know why, but hope we can find evidence of what he’s up to with surveillance cameras,” I said, waiting for the hammer to fall.

She stared at me for a few more seconds before she sheathed her sword and shifted her weight to one leg, placing a hand on her hip; a small mischievous smile grew on her red lips.

“No shit Sherlock,” she said, smiling broadly.

My mouth dropped open before I closed it in an audible clack of teeth.

“You knew?” I asked, stunned.

“Aye, my papa and Abaddon have been in contact about it. My father tells me everything. Why do ye think we are here so early?” She said.

“Then why did you treat me like that? Like I was hostile?” I asked.

“A girl’s gotta have some fun, dontcha think?” Her smile turned from something beautiful to radiant, it lit up her face and momentarily stunned me.

“Well, shit,” I said, realizing I was the last to know.

“My father and Abaddon have been arguing about O’Sullivan leaving the Pack to form its own fer hours now, he sent me off to fetch ye,” she told me.

“Also, if I were ye I’d keep my mouth shut about you know what. The walls tend to have ears around here,” she added.

“No shit Sherlock,” I said and smiled.

She met my smile with one of her own, tinged with a glint in her eye that made my face flush.

“Lead on,” I said to her, sweeping my hand out in front of me.

“Yer not still stinging from that walloping I gave ye, I imagine?” She asked, walking past me.

“As I recall, if it wasn’t for your dad you would be having dinner with me tonight.”

“If yer lucky enough to be Irish, yer lucky enough,” she said with the air of reciting a poem.

“What does that even mean?” I asked, teasingly.

“It means ye will be at my room, tomorrow night at seven sharp to do as I please,” she took the lead as we went back down the steps, entering the Den.

“As ye wish m’lady,” I said mimicking her accent.

She turned to me with a look that said she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

“It is often that a person’s mouth broke their nose,” she said and winked at me.

I laughed for the first in months, feeling some of the pent up tension in me evaporate. We settled into an easy silence and I let her lead me through the Den’s winding corridors to where her father and Abaddon were waiting for us.

“So, are you nervous about the Rite?” I asked her as we walked.

She walked for a few moments in silence. I began to think she wasn’t going to answer.

“Sure, but I have prepared myself.”

“I didn’t really mean that. I know you are skilled with the blade. I was talking more about what you will be facing. I don’t think we’re going to be competing in a hammer throw contest,” I said.

“I can handle any overgrown puppies they throw my way,” she said with a smirk.

I could tell through the bluster that there was a small thread of worry. Her body language exuded calm confidence, but I detected a slight scent of fear of what she might face. She knew Vicktor was crazy and dealing with vampires, that kind of person was capable of anything.

I hadn’t really thought about it, but she was a big target as well. Her dad was the leader of a large clan that had been rumored to be thinking of leaving the Pack and making Vicktor look bad. Vicktor might very well be planning on making her an example just as I’m sure he wanted to do with me.

Eavan knew this; she was smart enough to have put this together a long time ago. We were almost in the same situation; she was as worried as I was; only she hid it much better.

“C’mon, were here,” she said as we came to her father’s room.

We went inside and saw Abaddon and Oengus sitting at a table talking loudly, both arguing heatedly.

They each had their hands on large mugs that they would periodically drink from. Oengus sat back, keeping one hand on his drink while Abaddon was leaning forward, obviously pushing the conversation.

“You know the time is now, Vicktor is corrupt and dangerous. The fact that he has central power is too much for one man to have. We see how easily it can be abused. The answer lies in spread out packs that each can decide what’s best for themselves, leaving the main Pack weakened and less influential,” Abaddon said.

“I already said I agree with ye, the question is more about timing. There still is a chance the Pack can be salvaged,” Oengus answered.

They both stopped seeing us come in. Abaddon sat back in his chair, admitting a stop in the argument.

“Aye, so I see ye found the lad,” Oengus said.

“I found him climbing the antennae array like a chimpanzee,” Eavan said teasingly.

“So you placed the cameras successfully?” Abaddon asked me.

“Yes, they should be sending the signal to Max as we speak. Hopefully by tomorrow we can get something.” I walked into the room and sat down at the table, Eavan did the same.

“So that’s the plan? Use some wee little cameras to take down Vicktor?” Oengus said skeptically.

I looked around and saw the same device we had in our room. It gave off a slight buzzing sound also. We were free to talk openly here.

Abaddon began to speak when I answered instead.

“That’s part of it. We need to make sure Vicktor is shown to be working against the Pack or else run the risk of just dividing the Pack further.”

“And ye think some cameras will do that?” Oengus continued, showing contempt for the whole idea.

“I think they’ll help. I know some of you older guys hate technology, but you got to get with the times,” I said.

I don’t know why but his attitude struck me wrong and I felt my blood pressure rising.

Eavan leaned back like she was expecting a large explosion. Abaddon had gone completely still.

“Say ye get yer precious video evidence. What then, are ye gonna have a trial? Are ye gonna play lawyer and convict Vicktor to community service?” Oengus asked, his voice had slowly risen to where he was almost yelling.

“Yes, I’ll show the Pack what he’s been doing,” I answered back. I was struggling to control my anger. I knew the plan was solid, but Oengus seemed too thick to understand.

“As ye know, we older types don’t understand technology as well as ye young pups. Say Vicktor claims the video is a hoax; say he convinces us old farts that you made it all up. What then!” Oengus had risen off his seat and had both hands planted on the table leaning towards me.

“Then I’ll challenge him to back up his claim, as Pack law states, if he feels I am lying then he can prove it. If he accepts I’ll show I’m trustworthy by ripping his heart out, if he refuses then I’ll show how weak he is and not worthy of leadership by ripping his FUCKING HEART OUT!”

By this point I had also planted both hands on the table and was leaning forward both of us facing each other, neither of us backing off.

I saw a deep yellow infuse Oengus’ eyes and I swore his face rippled as he began to undergo the change.

The room was deathly silent. Eavan had pushed herself back and instinctively placed a hand on her sword. Abaddon still was an unmoving statue, watching, waiting.

Oengus bowed his head and I saw his body rise up and down. At first I feared he had started to shift and would attack. A second later I heard the deep rumbling of laughter coming from his barrel chest.

Oengus raised his head and I saw a large grin splitting his face.

“I just think ye might lad, ye just might,” he said.

“Sit down boy, have a drink, we have much to discuss,” Oengus said.

I sat down and looked at Abaddon, he nodded once and Eavan stood up to get us all a drink.

Chapter 28

We sat around the same table, but by now we were all slightly bleary eyed and our speech was beginning to slur. The Beast did wonders for our health, it healed our wounds and gave us enhanced senses and speed, it made us almost immortal.

One weakness it had was alcohol.

I don’t know if it was because consuming alcohol was a decision we willingly made and therefore was part of the whole control factor or if alcohol was just one thing our bodies couldn’t burn off fast enough.

Whatever the reason, we were all pretty drunk.

The only exception was Eavan. She sat across from me with a sly grin, like she was in on a joke only she knew about.

We soon had explained the plan and had discussed the different aspects of it. Oengus seemed to like most of it, but he did have a few suggestions that were good and offered his assistance which we accepted over a large drink and a few Irish toasts. Oengus had a toast for everything.

After that we got into the status on other clans and small packs, discussing who we could count on and who we should be wary of. Most of it was the same stuff I learned from Katrina, but Oengus always seemed to know just a bit more than I had been taught.

The conversation then drifted into different topics, each more varied as the ale kept flowing. We eventually started talking about different governments and leaders, debating the pros and cons of societies around the world and through history. Even though Abaddon and Oengus had lived through what I was taught in history classes and knew things I never would, they never ignored me or dismissed my opinion. They would show me where I was wrong or how I learned something different than what happened, but I felt I was a part of the discussion and even was being led to give more about my opinions and ideas than they did.

“Ye can’t have an Empire without a strong determined leader, someone who is willing to make the hard decisions,” Oengus said.

He and I had almost fallen into a conversation between us; Abaddon sat mostly quiet and added things occasionally.

“An Empire is only as good as its people. Without the consent of the governed the Empire fades and crumbles to the greed of the governing,” I argued.

“Bah! That kind of system is slow and cumbersome, never having the ability to quickly adapt to the changing world.”

“Good! We have seen all too often what happens when governments can be fundamentally changed by the whims of the people. It leads to mob rule and that leads to bloody revolutions,” I said.

“France was no place to be in 1789,” Abaddon added.

“Above all else a leader must be strong. Without strength he will fall to the ambition of those seeking power for themselves,” Oengus said.

“I disagree, yes a leader must be strong, but he must also be wise and humble. When a leader is nothing but strength he falls prey to his own power. When he feels his might is right, he allows the government to violate the rights and freedoms of its citizens for the greater good. It is always for the greater good that the greatest atrocities are committed.”

“When we focus on ensuring each individual is treated fairly, regardless of rank, or class, we then begin to see the true power of a society. We begin to see a flowering of freedom that grows into the tree of liberty. It is under this delicate and fragile tree that we must live with proud determination, never allowing our strength to override our decency for the collective. It is when we disregard the individual for the collective that the beginning of the end starts. Above all else a leader must understand he is but a servant of the people and it is not his will, but the will of the people that he wields,” I finished.

I had never said anything like this before. I had never really thought about it until tonight. I had been learning throughout high school and college about the facts of history, but never about the in-depth philosophy of that history and what it teaches us.

I obviously had a strong affinity for the American system, but had learned about other types of governments, but felt with my whole being that I was right.

I took a deep pull from my mug, my little speech left me dry.

Oengus looked to Abaddon and they exchanged a meaningful glance. I couldn’t quite understand it, seeing as how by this point I was seeing double, but I was able to discern something of pride in Abaddon and agreement.

“It’s getting late and we have a lot to do tomorrow. We should be taking our leave,” Abaddon said.

Oengus nodded once and raised his mug in another toast. My head swam and I wasn’t sure how many more toasts I could handle. Somehow, my mug had refilled itself and I looked over at Eavan only to see her watching me with open amusement.

I was never a big drinker, in fact I don’t think up until tonight I had ever drank anything other than a beer Max stole from his dad. It was warm and tasted like ass.

“Here’s to a long life and a merry one, a quick death and an easy one, a pretty girl and an honest one, a cold pint, and another one!” He said and turned his mug up.

I didn’t want to be outdone so I brought up my drink and gulped it down; its cold wetness filled me with a warm radiance.

I slammed my mug down at the same time as Oengus and Abaddon and we all laughed drunkenly. I looked across the table and was struck again at how beautiful Eavan was with her fiery red hair and deep emerald eyes. Without a care in the world I opened my mouth and said, “Your eyes are the most beautiful I have ever seen.”

At least that’s what I thought I said, what came out was, “Yur eysh ur da mushbeutifl I haser scheen.”

The table came rushing up at me as I passed out and slammed my head on the table, snoring almost instantly.

I awoke to a terrible headache. The light streaming in from the window shot lances of red hot fire into my eyes as I squinted. I sat up and felt my heartbeat throbbing in my head, pounding a rhythm of painful waves.

“Unnngh,” I said, holding my forehead in my hand.

“Hurts don’t it?” Abaddon asked.

His voice seemed very loud to my sensitive ears.

“Why do I feel so bad? Shouldn’t my Beast have healed me by now?” I asked, hoping there was some trick to get rid of this hangover.

“It seems the power of the Beast ends at healing hangovers. Don’t know why really, although I have my theories.”

“Such as?” I took the glass of cold water Abaddon handed me and drank it all down.

“The Beast is all about mastering our inner urges, taming our wild side, if you will. Consuming alcohol is a conscience choice to lower your inhibitions, to embrace a simpler mindset. I think the nature of the Beast only rewards those that willfully fight those urges, it’s almost a punishment for forgetting,” he went to the small kitchenette and rummaged in the fridge.

“You think the Beast is punishing me for drinking too much?” I asked, disbelieving.

“Either that or it was the eighty proof ale Oengus brews himself,” Abaddon said, laughing.

The smell of fried eggs hit me and my stomach turned over.

I forced myself to eat some and finally started to feel halfway normal.

“So are you clear on what to do next?” Abaddon asked over a large plate of eggs, bacon, sausage and toast.

“Yeah, we have the cameras up, now we wait and watch. Tonight I try and contact Max and see if he saw anything.”

“Tell me again why I can’t just monitor the camera signal myself,” I asked Abaddon.

“We don’t know what kind of technology Vicktor has. We can’t take a chance that he might hack into our computer so the best and most secure way is to have Max hide the signal with the others coming and going from the antennae, then store it on a memory card that we can then download once were in our room, secure,” he explained.

“The kind of tech you’re talking about only exists in the movies, or in the science magazines about future advancements,” I argued.

“Stuff like that is commonly held by governments and intelligence groups in secret. It’s a great way of keeping ahead of the game, let everyone think it’s years away while using it against your enemies. The Pack has access to stuff that most governments don’t,” Abaddon said.

“We don’t secretly have access to blasters do we?”

“What’s a blaster?” Abaddon asked, puzzled.

“Not a movie fan, huh?” I asked.

“I fail to see what movie watching has to do with blasters,” Abaddon said.

“It’s not important. Forget it,” I said, suppressing a smile.

I finished breakfast and left our room, making my way outside. The closed confines of the Den had started grating on my nerves and I needed the openness of the outdoors.

The Den’s territory consisted of hundreds of acres of surrounding forest. This land was considered within the length of my “leash” and I eagerly went outside into the morning light, my headache fading into a dull throb as the fresh air washed away some of the cobwebs Oengus’ ale has spun.

I walked across the perfectly manicured grass and entered the deep forest. I went over to a large tree and took off my clothes, folding them in a neat pile at its base.

I took a deep breath and willed my body to shift forms. There was a sweet pain as I quickly changed from my human form to that of the Beast.

My senses all came into a deeper focus and the thick fabric of the surrounding environment snapped into a clearer reality, the greens greener and the scents full of more complexity.

The moon’s cycle was getting closer and closer to being full and I felt the nature of the Beast growing in conjunction with that cycle. I wanted to rush off, finding the joy in the run and the chase, hoping to calm some of the unbridled energy the coming full moon provided.

I stood up to my full height and took a deep and long draw of the air, searching for something to chase or hunt. A wild energy filled my belly and a strong sexual desire swept through me as I detected the strong musky scent of a female Ascended in the forest. My vision began to focus on the trail left behind as I stealthily and quickly began to track the most intriguing and exciting scent I had ever encountered.

As I traversed the rough uneven terrain I realized that I recognized who I was following. Her odor in Beast form was different than when in human form. The Beast added a frantic energy to her that was only hinted at in her more civilized shape. I could almost see her deep green eyes and her fiery red hair as I let my senses direct me, bringing me closer to my target.

The deep fragrance of her scent permeated the air as I got closer. I knew I was almost on her and slowed down and willed myself to move in utter silence. I slowly and meticulously inched closer, knowing she was nearby.

I came to a slight dip in the forest floor and saw her poised to attack. She faced away from me; her entire focus was on the deer that stood twenty feet way, grazing on the grass that grew in a small open area. The light from the sun shone in rays through the small breaks in the trees and the deer was fully visible.

Eavan crouched with perfect stillness; her posture was wholly one of rapt attention to her prey. Her fur was a deep red, almost crimson. I was struck by the sheer physical beauty she possessed in her Beast form. I felt a pang of sadness as Sara’s face swam in front of my eyes, a memory of feelings threatened to consume me as the deep pain of regret and loss flooded over me.

I stayed there, waiting for the memories and hurt to fade. Eavan’s sudden movement drew my attention and as she leapt for the deer my hurt vanished as it was replaced with the excitement of the hunt, even if it wasn’t my hunt.

But it just could be.

Eavan closed the distance between herself and the deer in a second and hit her prey with astounding force. I was completely surprised when she rolled over with the deer and then got her footing and let the deer go, watching it race off into the woods, unharmed.

So, she liked to play games with her prey. I had already seen first hand how she liked to toy with them, having been fooled once.

A small devilish smile grew on my muzzle as I once again used the power of the Beast to stalk closer. Eavan had her back turned to me, watching as the deer lopped off into the trees.

Without a sound I leapt for her. Perhaps her instincts warned her, or I lost focus and let out the smallest whisper as I sailed through the air, because at the last second she turned her head in my direction and saw me coming for her.

She tried to react, but I was already on her. I grabbed her and like she did with the deer, I rolled us over and let her go. The look on her face was one of surprise as she realized I had treated her just like she had treated her prey. Her eyes narrowed as her blood rose.

My heart sped up as the excitement of going claw to teeth with Eavan began to build. We circled each other while never losing eye contact. I was mesmerized by how her deep green eyes showed strong traces of yellow.

Her scent came to me in almost visible waves; its enticing aroma told me more about her state of mind than any conversation could have.

It hinted at her initial fear of being attacked followed by the shock at my success of sneaking up on her. Within it I sensed a deep and growing excitement at the challenge of a fight as well the unmistakable and disorientating scent of her sexual arousal. Surrounding it was the positive energy she had towards me, the feelings that I shared towards her that I knew she sensed as well. This form lacked some of the finer aspects of human interaction, but made up for it with the no nonsense truth of the animal world.

I leapt for her a split second after she launched for me. We slammed into each other with enough force to drive the air from my lungs. She was a sleek and powerful Beast, her speed and strength were evident. I, however, was those things as well and I had an extra fifty pounds on her. By the sheer force of my physical advantage I pushed her back after our initial engagement. She swiped and bit at me, but there was none of the sheer aggression Abaddon showed when we sparred.

I easily dodged her attacks and we kept rolling together through the lush foliage of the forest floor. After a while she had maneuvered us to where she was on top and tried to pin me to the earth. Her dad wasn’t around this time and I was able to get my feet under her and kick, sending her fifteen feet straight up.

A look of pure surprise and helplessness crossed her face as she furiously moved her arms and legs, trying to control her flight.

I watched as she landed and immediately sprinted off into the trees. I wasted no time as I pursued, the thrill of the hunt began anew.

She was fast, almost faster than me. Her agility was a marvel as she quickly turned and moved through the overcrowded forest. I willed my Beast to keep pace and it answered. I slowly started catching up to her when I saw something that made my grin look absolutely wolfish. Up ahead was a fallen log, just like in my pursuit of Abaddon, I waited for the right moment in anticipation of her having to take a split second to leap over the tree. My instincts once again drove me and I heeded their call. Jumping at the last second I watched as Eavan gathered herself for her own leap and slowed the tiniest bit, allowing me to gain on her and once again slam into her as she was at the height of her jump.

We again tumbled into a tangle of claws and teeth, only this time when we landed I was on top and I kept her pinned. She tried to struggle free, but I could tell it was more for show than for effect. Finally, she settled down and lay under me, unmoving. I could feel the heat of her body as I lay on top of it. Her chest rose and fell with her heavy breathing and her body shimmered as she shifted forms and I once again was completely stunned at the beauty of her. I too shifted and our naked bodies lay in the deep leaves of the forest floor, sweat shining off of them, highlighting her curves as the smell of her drove me almost mad.

Deep pain and loss again assailed me as I remembered Sara and saw her face as it screamed a wordless shriek, never to finish, never to be heard.

I was an inch from Eavan’s face when I bowed my head at the pain of the memory.

A sound off in the distance instantly drew my attention as I noticed Eavan looking up towards the same direction. I turned to Eavan and we exchanged a look that said “this would have to wait.”

I quietly got up off her and a deep red flush rose to my face as I saw her nakedness in its full glory and at my body’s natural reaction. She looked at me, then down at me and her smile became more lustful and made my shyness evaporate slightly.

We both slowly made our way towards the sound, curious as to who or what would be out here, so far away from the Den.

I watched with dismay as Eavan again shifted form and I followed suit. If we were going to sneak up on someone we needed to have all our abilities, the Beast form provided this even though it was a shame to see Eavan’s pale skin replaced by her deep red coat.

In absolute silence we crept closer to the sound. When I concentrated it came into much clearer focus and it took me only a second to realize it was the sound of a large diesel engine idling. I heard the sound of a door shutting and then muffled voices. I willed the Beast to aid in my hearing and the recognizable sound of Vicktor’s right hand man, Jameson, came to me clearly.

“No, you’ll have to take them in through the tunnel, we cannot risk them coming in the front.”

“That’s three miles from here, I’m hungry,” I heard someone complain.

“I don’t give a shit if you die of starvation; this takes priority over your god damned stomach. Unless you want to tell her yourself that delivery was delayed because you wanted a sandwich,” Jameson said.

I heard a low mumbling, and then Jameson said, “What? What did you say?”

“I said I’ll take them right now, no need to tell her anything.”

“That’s what I thought. Now get your ass over there,” Jameson said as he turned away.

By now we had reached the edge of the tree line that opened up to a well paved road. There was a large fence, about ten feet tall, which ran alongside the road, showing the ending of the Den’s property line.

I saw a large blue van whose windows were blacked out. Jameson was walking away from them as the van backed up and turned around. It rumbled off in a fog of exhaust fumes that stung at my sensitive nose.

Eavan was standing inches from me as we watched with rapt attention. Jameson walked up to a pearl white corvette when he stopped and reached into his jacket, taking out a cell phone. He tapped a few numbers then spoke into it.

“It’s on the way.”

I could tell he was answering questions posed by the other caller.

“Yes, uh huh.”

“About ten minutes.”

“Okay.”

He hung up and began to get into the corvette when the wind shifted and I felt the hairs on my back pushed up by the breeze that carried our scents straight to him.

He stopped as he was getting in and looked up in our direction. He raised his head sniffing the air and turned his focus more clearly towards where we were crouched.

Eavan and I slowly backed away and down the slight hill we were on, using the ground to shield our presence. I stopped and concentrated, calling on the Beast to send my awareness out into the environment.

I felt a weird disorientation as my senses expanded. I felt the wind as it again shifted, no longer sending our trail to him. I saw Jameson as he stepped out of his car and walked over to the fence. He looked with attention into the woods, right at where we had been hiding. He reached up with both hands and placed them on the fence. I was certain he was about to start climbing them when his phone rang and broke his concentration.

He reached into his jacket and answered it.

“Hello?” He said quickly.

A few seconds later he said, “Are you fucking kidding me? If you weren’t my cousin I’d kill you myself. No, don’t go anywhere, Ill be there in a few minutes.”

He took one more look into the forest and then turned back to his car, its powerful engine purring in the air, his tires squealed as he peeled out and left us alone.

I felt the slight disorientation as I brought my awareness back and I blinked, looking around. I saw Eavan still crouched next to me with a questioning stare.

“He’s gone, he almost caught our scent and came after us, but he was interrupted and had to leave,” I said, thinking she was looking at me like that because she wanted to know what happened.

“Where were ye?” She asked.

“What do you mean? I was right here,” I answered.

“I don’t mean yer body. Ye left for a few minutes, yer eyes got all unfocused and then ye left, or just expanded. It was weird,” Eavan and I had slowly started back towards the Den.

“I sent my awareness out,” I answered; shocked that she seemed unaware of such a feat.

“That’s impossible, my da is almost three hundred years old and he has just recently mastered that ability,” she said, doubting my answer.

“I guess I’m just a natural,” I said, shrugging.

She stared at me as we walked. Her canine snout hung open in disbelief. For once it was nice to see her speechless. Without waiting for her to say anything back I took off in a fast-loping stride. I heard Eavan as she kept pace behind me.

My thoughts wondered as I ran. Jameson was in charge of some sort of trafficking operation. Who or what he was trafficking I didn’t know, but I was determined to find out. My excitement grew as I thought we might be getting closer to what Vicktor and the vampire were up to.

My instincts screamed at me to jump and I reacted instantly. I leapt up into the air as a large sledgehammer with a flat head on one end and a large spike on the other whistled past where my head had been.

Distracted by my wondering thoughts, I never noticed the ambush until it almost killed me. As I landed I saw out of the corner of my eye as Eavan screeched to a halt and began backpedaling as one of Jameson’s thugs stalked towards her with a large Persian blade in his hands. I recognized these two from the alley where Jameson had first tried to kill me.

“You’re in direct violation of Pack law; we have immunity until the Rite,” I pleaded. I wasn’t afraid of them; I just wanted to buy us some time to recover from the initial shock and maybe get one of them to give away some information.

The guy coming at me was bald and his dark tattoos gave him a very menacing appearance but he didn’t look very intelligent. This was confirmed by what he said next.

“Vicktor doesn’t care about the Law. It was his idea to have you killed,” Baldy said in a sneer.

His partner, who was taller and slightly heavier in build, wore his hair in a tight pony tail that accentuated his dark skin and deep black of his heavy beard that was in need of a shave.

“Shut your damn mouth and kill them already,” he snarled.

A deep spike of worry shot through me as I realized Eavan was unarmed. She had left her weapon with the rest of her clothes thinking she was safe while on the Den’s property. A mistake she wouldn’t make twice, if she made it out of this alive.

Baldy’s eyes flashed a deep yellow as he swung the big hammer at my head, hoping to crush my skull and any fight with the first blow. He wasn’t very smart, but made up for it with sheer aggression and strength. His hammer came at me with a speed and force that I hadn’t expected. I just barely managed to bring my gauntlets, which had grown to cover my forearms and hands, up in an x shape in front of my face.

I felt the powerful force of his swing as the clear and distinct sound of his hammer and my armored gauntlets rang loudly as I blocked his attack.

I kept my form rigid and felt my feet slide on the ground as the force of the impact pushed me back a few feet. I dug my claws into the ground and leapt at him; taking advantage in the time, it took for him to readjust his hammer for another swing. He surprised me by using the hammer handle to quickly adjust to my attack and counter my clawed gauntlet.

They were out for blood, but the part of me that analyzed everything and tried to work out problems logically told me that I couldn’t kill him. Eavan couldn’t kill her opponent either. Vicktor sent these guys after us knowing full well that if we killed them he’d win and if they killed us he’d still win. Were I to kill Baldy I knew, somehow, that Vicktor could claim that I had killed him without provocation, that I had allowed my Beast to control me and without a Pack member to act as a witness it would be his claim against Eavan’s and mine. If they killed us they could claim we had attacked them and were forced to kill us in self defense. Like I said either way Vicktor won.

“We can’t kill them!” I yelled to Eavan, hoping she heard me.

“What do ye want me to do, smother them with kindness!” She yelled back.

I smiled, she was being attacked by someone larger, older and more experienced than her without her silver laced sword and she still had the ability to be a smartass. I liked this woman.

“I’ll think of something!” I answered.

“Ye better be quick!” She said as the big Persian sword swung at her in a multitude of quick, powerful strokes, she ducked and dodged his attack, keeping his blade at bay.

I kept my attack up and looked for a flaw in his defense. His hammer was large and very devastating, but it was slow, he effectively used the long handle in defense but his transition to offense was clumsy. I continued to press him and faked a stumble, giving him the opportunity to come at me.

In the time it took for him to bring his hammer to bear I stepped inside his swing and was clipped by just a portion of the hammers force. Pain erupted and I spun from the blow. I kept my wits about me and used the spin to give my backhand force as it connected with his face. We both staggered away from each other, him clutching is bleeding face, me, my broken arm.

Normally, my Beast would heal me in a few seconds but when the damage is done by a weapon made from generational silver the wounds take longer to heal, and if severe enough can kill.

Baldy screamed in anger as blood seeped through his fingers. His body started to change and I knew he would be even more dangerous if he finished. I rushed him and in the moment his form finished its change into a large werewolf with black fur I punched him in the stomach and he doubled over in pain. I followed that up with an uppercut that sent him flying and watched as he landed unconscious on the ground.

I looked over at Eavan to see how she was doing and I had to admit I was impressed. She kept out of his weapon’s range but still found a way to strike at him when he gave her an opening. I ran over to and joined Eavan; he took a step back as we stood facing him. My gauntlets shone with a silver radiance and Eavan’s claws dripped with his blood.

He took a long look at both of us and then turned and glanced at his companion. A look of uncertainty crossed his face and I could see how his mind started turning, deciding if the tables had just turned against him.

“Run while you still can,” I said through clenched teeth.

He took my advice and turned and fled, never looking twice at the man he came with. What a swell guy.

I looked at Eavan and searched her for any wounds. She saw my concern and sighed in exasperation.

“I’m fine ye big dolt. We need to get out of here before anyone catches us and we get into big trouble.”

I nodded in agreement and we hurried away, leaving Baldy in an unresponsive heap. I prayed he wasn’t dead, not because I cared about him, but because it would have repercussions that I wasn’t ready to deal with, not yet.

We got closer to the Den and Eavan left to gather her own clothes. I felt regret that I couldn’t watch her change and get dressed.

I found my own clothes and shifted back into human form. My arm screamed in pain as I put on my shirt. Eavan came up to me as I struggled to get my jacket on.

“Here, let me help ye.”

I quit fighting and let her gently get my broken arm into my jacket. It was a small gesture, but the care she took showed a depth of compassion that I took note of.

We headed into the Den and made our way up to Abaddon and my room, intent on telling him about the encounter. As we walked, my bones started itching as they finally began knitting themselves back together.

I got to the door and unlocked it. I swung the door open and my heart fell to the floor as I saw Vicktor sitting at the table in an easy posture. He turned to us and took everything in with a glance.

Abaddon stood apart from Vicktor at the end of the table with his arms crossed.

“Here they are, I was just asking about you, come in, come in, something has come to my attention,” Vicktor said with a large grin.

Chapter 29

My mind raced at the realization that we had been caught. A foreboding dread fell into place as I thought our adventure in the woods had been discovered and Vicktor had come to personally enact punishment.

A look of disappointment flashed over Vicktor as he stood up and walked over to us. I swallowed all my fear and worry.

“To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?” I asked, trying to sound as civil and calm as possible.

I could feel my heart as it beat wildly.

“Well, I wanted to come personally and wish you the best of luck in successfully passing your Rites. I intended on extending my sentiments to both of you and having you both here at the same time makes this much easier,” he said as he rose to stand in front of us.

He was even more imposing than he seemed in the Hall. He was slightly taller than me and his muscled torso was evident even under his suit.

“I am also throwing a party the night before the Rite and would like to invite both of you to attend and be the guests of honor,” he said as he held out two ornate cards with silver inlaid embroidery.

I looked over at Abaddon, unsure of how to proceed. He nodded at the cards Vicktor held out, motioning for me to take them.

I reached out and took one while Eavan took the other. It was a formal written invitation that flowed with flowery lettering.

“Thank you,” Eavan and I both said.

“I look forward to seeing you both, now I can see you are quite anxious to talk to Abaddon so I will take my leave. Goodbye,” he said, shutting the door behind him.

We stood in silence after Vicktor left. Abaddon walked over to a small dresser and took out the scrambling device. He set it on the table then switched it on.

“I thought he had come to get us,” I said, exhaling in relief.

“Aye,” Eavan agreed.

Abaddon looked like he was about to say something then stopped himself. He narrowed his eyes and looked from Eavan to me, analyzing.

“What has happened?” He asked.

Eavan and I told him about meeting in the woods outside the Den and about how we heard Jameson outside the property line. We left out the more intimate details of our story and just focused on the relevant facts. I told him about what we overheard and how we were almost caught, then the encounter with Jameson’s thugs ending with entering the room and finding Vicktor.

Abaddon stood listening with attention; he didn’t interrupt which meant I was giving all the details that he would have been looking for. When I was silent he looked back and forth between us again and the ghost of a smile drifted across his face before it vanished.

“Ah, Vicktor’s appearance makes more sense then,” he said.

“I don’t understand,” Eavan said.

“I think I do,” I offered.

Eavan turned to me and gave me a look that said I better tell her what I was talking about before she beat me senseless.

“I think we were spotted, or at least found. When Jameson turned he knew someone was out there and might have even been able to identify who by our scent. He had to go off and take care of something and so called Vicktor who dispatched twiddle dee and twiddle dum to kill us. His coming here would give him an alibi by the one person who had enough credibility to make charges against him taken seriously. He probably also hoped, if we survived, that we would come in here and either attack him or make some mistake that he then could turn against us, pretty smart actually,” I finished.

Eavan stared at me, shocked.

“Ye ain’t just a pretty face are ye?” She asked.

I smiled at her and turned to Abaddon, waiting to see what he thought about my assessment.

“No he isn’t,” Abaddon answered.

“I think you are correct in your summation. His bringing invitations to his party in person was unnecessary. I think he figured if you were killed then he would be here away from any wrongdoing and if you weren’t he could devise another scenario where he had more control and use it to try to set you two up,” Abaddon added.

“Damn sneaky of him,” Eavan grumbled.

We all stood for a few seconds before Abaddon turned to me.

“So Jameson was trying to hide something from being seen going to the Den,” he said.

“He kept referring to “her” and “she”. What do you bet he was talking about the vampire lord?” I asked.

“Aye, sounds like they were smuggling something, but what?” Eavan asked.

“It seems like the most obvious choice would be people. I can’t think of anything else a vampire would be interested in other than feeding,” Abaddon said.

“There are a lot of Pack members arriving now, some have already gotten here. They may be trafficking something or someone on their behalf,” I added.

“I don’t think we can take anything off the table. Not until we review the video, hopefully it will give us something to go on. In the meantime you two need to do a better job of staying out of trouble,” Abaddon scolded us.

I began to argue when he held up a hand stopping me.

“I can’t babysit you; I have too much to do. I’ve got to wine and dine members to convince them about Vicktor,” he paused for a second, looking at us with scrutiny.

“I have talked to Oengus and we think it would be a good idea if you two stuck together, watched each others backs so to speak,” he waited for our answer.

I looked at Eavan and she looked back at me with a sideways glance. I saw a hint of agreement in her features.

“Aye, I guess that’s a good idea. Yer boy ain’t too bad in a fight. I suppose we can do as ye suggest, as long as Eric is up to it,” she said.

“I think we can make that work,” I answered, trying not to sound too eager.

“Good, now I have a lot to do today so you two try and stay out of trouble.” Abaddon walked over to the scrambler and turned it off. He then went to the door, giving us one more look, and left. The silence of the empty room seemed very loud.

I turned to Eavan and remembered the feel of her soft body under me and how her deep green eyes shone with desire. I coughed in embarrassment as those thoughts made me feel uncomfortable now that the moment had passed.

Eavan watched me with a half-smile, seeming to be able to read my mind.

“About earlier, I wanted to apologize,” I started.

“Apologize fer what?” She asked, knowing what I was talking about, she beamed at seeing me squirm.

“I uh, you know, well…” I stammered.

Eavan let out a quick hearty laugh.

“Did ye think I had no say in the matter?” She asked.

“No, that’s not what I meant,” I was totally flustered.

“Mayhap yer apologizing because ye regret yer actions, that I’m not attractive to ye?” She asked.

“No, no, you’re very attractive. That’s not what I meant either,” I said.

“Then what, prey tell, are ye apologizing for?” Eavan was enjoying herself immensely.

I thought about it for a second this time before answering. What was I apologizing for? I was absolutely attracted to her; she was beautiful, smart and full of energy and life. I thought back and realized she wasn’t fighting, she shifted back first. All my instincts told me that she was as drawn to me as I was to her. What was I apologizing for?

“Nothing,” I said finally.

A smile grew on her face and it lit up the room.

“Good,” she said.

“Now, what do ye say we get some fresh air?” She added.

“I think that’s a great idea,” I was relieved at the change of subjects.

We left my room and started walking down the hallway.

“I have to stop by my room and get something, are ye hungry?” Eavan asked.

All of the excitement had left me famished and at the mention of food my stomach answered with a large growl.

“I guess that answers my question,” Eavan laughed.

We entered her room and she went to the kitchen and moved with the ease of someone who is perfectly comfortable cooking, she pan seared some thin steak, onions and bell peppers. She then toasted two sub loafs and piled the meat and veggies onto the buns, finishing off the sandwich with some melted cheese.

I felt like I should be helping her but she shooed me off when I tried and so I sat at the table, waiting with a rumbling stomach and watering mouth.

She brought the food over and we sat and ate together. It was probably better that I didn’t help her because I might have screwed up and ruined her delicious sandwiches. I ate with a ravenous appetite and when I finished I looked over at her. She was almost done eating and a memory flashed before me. It was of the last time I sat and ate with a beautiful girl. The pain of that memory shot through me like a bullet as it rips through skin and tissue.

Eavan looked up at me and I turned away from her as the hurt from the memory of seeing Sara eating before I tore her head off became too much. I stood up and took my dishes to the sink, washing them to try and clear my mind. Eavan came over after a minute with her dishes and I washed them too. She went to her room and came out with a large bag.

“I was thinking we should go up to the arena and check to see if yer friend found anything on the cameras worth knowing,” she said.

“Ok, but I don’t have my laptop. How are we going to see what the cameras recorded?” I asked.

“C’mon, I’ll show ye,” she answered, leading the way out.

We went through the Den and encountered little traffic. Going up and outside into the early afternoon air helped clear the leftover feelings of guilt and loss that the memory of Sara always created.

Eavan looked at her watch then went over to the edge of the arena and sat down.

“We have a few hours to kill before yer friend is supposed to transmit the video footage. I thought this may be a good time for ye to pay off yer debt to me,” she said.

I went over and sat next to her, looking out at the valley before us. The sun was low on the horizon, slowly sinking towards the mountain peaks that angrily shot from the surrounding forest like jagged teeth waiting to devour the flaming orb. The sky was filled with the pure blue of a cloudless sky, but as the sun got closer to setting, deep purples and blues could be seen in the horizon. The green of the forest’s pines a stark contrast to the cold skies, making the view a battle between the living landscape and the barren but beautiful heavens.

Eavan reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of boots. They were made of leather and stained a dark blue. They had low heels but looked like they would go almost to her knees. Every inch of them was covered in dried mud. The caked on dirt had cracked with the leather and they looked as though someone had dipped them in mud and left them to dry. She set them next to her and pulled out a couple of rags and some soft bristled brushes along with a large bottle of water and a bowl. She poured the water into the bowl and started the slow, meticulous process of cleaning one of her boots.

“Not what I had in mind when I pictured how I was to repay you,” I said as I sat down and picked up my own brush and boot.

Without looking at me, I could still tell she smiled as she said, “Not dirty enough for ye?”

“Your idea and my idea of dirty are worlds apart,” I answered.

She laughed and I smiled back.

We went about scraping the dirt off the boots; it wasn’t hard so much as tedious. The dirt had gotten into every wrinkle and fold. I became engrossed in the task, letting the simple work consume my attention. It came as a surprise when Eavan spoke.

“What was her name?” She asked.

“Huh?” I answered, startled by her question.

“The girl, the one who haunts you, what was her name?”

My stomach twisted at the topic of conversation.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

I felt responsible for what happened to Sara and was scared to death that Eavan would see the same thing if she knew the truth.

“My family has always known about the Beast. Ever since I was a child my father told me stories about our family’s lineage. He educated me on what to expect and how to embrace it, making the chances for me becoming Acsended much greater. When I turned eighteen I was offered the choice to be bitten, thereby opening the door for the transition. I accepted and awaited my trial,” she stopped for a minute, looking off into the horizon.

“I was in love. His name was Patrick and he had no idea about who or what I really was. I don’t know why I didn’t tell him; maybe some part of me was afraid of how he’d react, that he would reject me.”

“He came over the day before the full moon. The pull of the Beast pushed my urges above normal and we ran off into the woods together. We found a private little slice of heaven and made love for the first time, and then for the second and third time,” she smiled at the memory before her eyes become haunted.

“I lay there in the warmth of the summer night and his embrace looking at the sky. Ignoring all the warnings from my father and the lessons I had learned to keep to other Ascended during the first change. My feelings for Patrick made me foolish.”

“The full moon rose in the dark sky and I felt the Beast rise. I began my own inner struggle to control it and Patrick watched as I changed forms. It seemed fitting that he witness it, seeing as how he was my first love. The Beast saw him and attacked. I was able to challenge it before it killed him but Patrick had been forever scarred. He ran off into the night, naked, scared and bleeding. I kept the Beast at bay and for the next few hours battled it for control. Finally, I understood and accepted the power, taking full control. My dad came bursting through the woods and found me standing in the clearing, Patrick’s blood on the ground. He confronted me and I showed mastery of my Beast and pride swelled within him as he knew I had Ascended. He helped me change back and we went home. I went to Patrick the next day and he wanted nothing to do with me. He was at home, with his arm in bandages, the Beast had torn it up with one slash. He feared me, he kept saying I was possessed and of the devil. I could see the hate and fear in his eyes and realized I had lost him forever.”

“I don’t know what ye went through, but I know ye were never raised to understand what was happening to ye. I knew what to expect and still almost killed Patrick,” she finished, looking at me openly, hoping I would open up back.

I sat with my head hung. I knew it hurt for her to tell me that. All I could see was Sara’s face right before I watched as the Beast killed her. What was going through her mind? Did she think it was me killing her or did she know I wasn’t there, that a monster had taken my place? The thought that she knew it was me and that I was the monster brought another wave of pain as the idea came of its own freewill, my mind unable to stop the thoughts from rushing over me.

Eavan sat patiently, without pushing. She turned back and sighed, beginning to continue cleaning her boot.

“Sara,” I said in a low voice.

Saying her name out loud gave it less power to overwhelm me.

“Her name was Sara,” I said again, this time a little louder.

Eavan turned to me with still calm, seeming willing to wait all night for me to continue if I needed to.

“We had lab together,” I said tentatively, looking into Eavan’s eyes, seeing only understanding and compassion within their depths.

“I wasn’t very popular in school, she was. We became lab partners after she came to class late and I was the only one left without one. She never seemed to mind. She was kind and smart. She treated me like an equal, never making me feel left out. I fell in love on that first day.”

“She had a boyfriend and so I waited, buying my time. In retrospect I was actually a coward, afraid of rejection. Near the end of the school year she broke up with him and I kept telling myself I was going to ask her out, but deep down I knew she’d say no. Then one day I was bitten by a wolf. I had a newfound sense of confidence and I asked her out. To my amazement she said yes.”

“We had a great time; she was wonderful, as smart as she was beautiful. It was the perfect night until the Beast rose. I had no idea what was happening and I hid within myself. I cowered like a child in the dark recess of my mind, hoping this thing wouldn’t find me. I watched as it went after her and ripped her head from her body,” I stopped and took a deep breath, willing myself to continue.

“I did nothing as it took her life and then the lives of two others. By the time I fought back and won it was too late for them, they were dead. Sara was dead because I was a coward; I was too weak to fight. I will never be too weak again,” I finished.

She didn’t try to tell me I was wrong or that I shouldn’t feel as I did. Instead she just looked out into the distance with me. She reached over and took my hand; we sat like that for I don’t know how long.

“My dad used to say that the power of the Beast is immense. He said it could almost be unlimited if wielded by the right person fer the right reasons. Sometimes the lessons of how important it is to have control over the Beast are in direct correlation to the person’s potential,” she said after a while.

I thought about what she said. She wasn’t telling me how I should feel or that I wasn’t a coward, instead she was telling me to embrace these facts and use them to fuel my will, in the same way I accepted the Beast and used my will to give me power over it. She was telling me I could gain control over what happened and use it instead of letting it use me.

I squeezed her hand and turned toward her, we were only a foot apart and her red full lips drew me like the call of a deer draws in the wolf. I leaned in and kissed her and she never backed off, slowly at first then growing with more passion. It stretched on and we finally parted, both of us breathing heavy, our bodies screaming to continue. I realized her words had sunken in and pierced through the pain of Sara’s death. I hadn’t forgotten about Sara and what happened, but it also didn’t stop me from enjoying the moment with Eavan. It seemed to have dissolved into my being and added a core of strength to me, the depth of which as yet unknown.

Eavan smiled and raised her eyebrows in a quick movement.

“Ready to see what’s on the video?” She asked.

I had almost forgotten about that as we both got up and went over to the antennae array. I climbed up while she kept watch. I came back down with the small receiver and placed it into Eavan’s outstretched hand. She took it and then pulled out a phone from her pocket. She uncoiled a small cord and attached the receiver to her phone. After a few seconds the download was complete and I took the receiver back to the top of the array. Hoping back down I met Eavan at the edge and we sat back down. We looked at the phone’s screen and waited for the video to start.

Max came into focus as he sat at the computer in the cabin. Katrina stood behind him and her hand was casually placed on his shoulder.

“I don’t know exactly what you were expecting to see, but I’m afraid you might be disappointed. The only interesting thing that happened was around three a.m. Here it is.”

The video shifted to one of the cameras as it recorded the outside wall of the Den. There was nothing on it but the wall, a small area of grass and the hint of a tree line. After about ten seconds of tranquility, movement drew my attention to the far corner of the screen. A rabbit bounced into view and hopped parallel to the trees; it then took one tentative look around before moving out of the screen and out of view.

Max popped back onto the screen, he had a wide grin stretched across his face.

“Maybe more luck tomorrow?” He asked.

The video blinked off as the sound of someone closing the door leading up to the arena broke the silence of the disappointment the video had left behind.

Eavan and I both looked at each other realizing we had nowhere to go.

Chapter 30

“We have every right to be here, don’t act guilty,” I said to Eavan.

She nodded and put her phone away.

“Ah, the arena, it has been years since I have been up here,” A woman’s voice laced with a strong Germanic accent drifted to me.

“It seems like we aren’t the only ones up here,” I heard the sorcerer say. The woman’s words were full of a ripe sensuality that gave her speech a magnetic quality, whereas the others dripped with badly concealed scorn.

Eavan and I turned to face the newcomers. I was unsure of how to proceed but Eavan stood up and motioned for me to follow her lead.

“The view is beautiful from up here,” she said as the two came closer.

I stood next to Eavan and my mouth threatened to fall to the floor seeing who the hooded sorcerer was with.

The woman stood almost seven feet tall. She had a strong athletic frame that glowed with a healthy tan. Her movements were confident and aware of its effects on men. She had golden hair that fell in soft waves, ending just below her shoulders. She wore a pair of white leather pants that accentuated her long legs. White high heels gave her even more height while a light blue sweater cut low in the front kept the slight chill at bay.

She turned her clear blue eyes to me and a smile lit up her face showing flawless white teeth.

“What a treat. It appears we have run into both of the candidates for the Rite. I am Veronica, this is Hilliard,” she said, nodding slightly.

Hilliard, the sorcerer, still wore his hooded robe. His face was hard to discern as it was covered in shadow. I saw him nod by the barest of movements in greeting.

“Very nice to meet ye, my name is Eavan and this is Eric. We were actually just leaving so it appears ye will get the space all to yerselves,” Eavan said with more calm and grace than I expected.

“Ah, well. I don’t want to keep you. Of course. I look forward to seeing you both again at Vicktor’s party,” Veronica said.

“Aye,” Eavan said.

When I didn’t say anything she elbowed me in the ribs.

“Oh, yes, we’ll see you at the party,” I offered awkwardly.

We gathered our things and left them alone in the arena, walking back towards Abaddon and my room.

“She was pretty,” Eavan said looking at me sideways.

I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw the smallest hint of jealousy.

“Huh? Oh, well if you like the whole tall, supermodel blonde hair bombshell sort of thing,” I said.

“Really? Yer not into supermodel bombshells?” She asked.

“Nah, they are too fragile. I like my women with more fire. I’d rather have someone I don’t have to worry about breaking but who still makes me nervous every time she looks at me.” We had come to my door and she stopped before entering, turning to me.

“Oh really?” She said tilting her head and placing a hand on her hip.

“Absolutely,” I hid nothing from her. I honestly liked Eavan. Yes, she was beautiful, but the energy and vitality she possessed was more appealing to me than a nice pair of boobs.

She studied me for a minute before smiling, then she reached up and kissed me again. The smell of her skin after being outside in the fresh air was enough to stop any thoughts I may have had.

She broke the embrace then entered my room. Abaddon sat at the table with Oengus. Both of them seemed to be waiting for us.

“There you are, now we can see what the cameras recorded,” Abaddon said.

“I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. Eavan and I already watched it and they didn’t record anything,” I said.

Abaddon still wanted to see for himself so we loaded the footage onto his laptop and he and Oengus watched the rabbit as he searched for something to eat.

I thought he would be mad, but he kept his calm posture.

“If Vicktor is smuggling something or someone either they haven’t brought them in yet or they have found another way,” Abaddon surmised.

“My father was Pack leader for years; did you guys discover any hidden passages or secret rooms?” I asked.

“Not that I know of. There is only one area that would even remotely be considered a place that might have secret passages,” he said looking up at me.

His eyes clouded over as he realized he had just given himself the answer. At the same time, I remembered what I discovered while I was setting up the cameras that could hold the answer.

“The foundation,” I said.

Abaddon nodded in agreement.

“What are ye two talking about?” Oengus asked.

“The Den is sitting on a river. It has extensive below ground foundation engineering to keep it anchored in case of a flood,” Abaddon offered.

“Aye, I spent some time as a young member working to help fortify some of it after a heavy rain season,” Oengus told us.

“Thomas and I would routinely inspect the lower levels to make sure they were in good repair, we never found any hidden tunnels or anything,” Abaddon said.

“That was what, eighteen years ago? It’s possible nothing existed then. It may now,” I speculated.

“Eric and I can check it out,” Eavan offered.

“No, you two need to stay here. I don’t want you to be seen down there. There is no plausible reason for it. Oengus and I will check it out,” Abaddon said.

“We can help,” Eavan argued.

“Ye need to keep yer noses clean. Leave it up to us Eve,” Oengus told her.

“Alright, but I don’t like it,” she said.

“Good, now we have a lot to do before the rest of our clansmen arrive,” Oengus stood up, nodding as he left our room.

Eavan stood up and went with him. She stopped just before leaving and turned to me.

“Don’t do anything foolish,” she said. “At least not without me.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I answered.

The door shut as they left.

I spent the rest of that day in my room, Abaddon and Oengus went to search the lower levels and he came back later without finding anything. The next few days passed without incident. I checked the footage every evening and found nothing on them except the normal traffic you’d expect.

My thoughts kept wandering back to my father. I couldn’t stop myself from worrying that he might be in danger or hurt. I was sure the vampire Lord knew something and I wanted to leave in search of her. I wanted to find her and force her to tell me what she knew but understood that would be foolish. Vicktor knew something as well and it was with him that I had to start looking.

The Den slowly became more crowded as people started arriving in anticipation of the full moon and the Rite.

I saw Eavan briefly as she and her father went about the task of getting all her contentious family situated and organizing the festival. Eavan came to my room four days before the Rite to personally invite Abaddon and myself to her clan’s celebration. Oengus and Abaddon had kept searching for any evidence of a hidden passage but kept coming up with nothing.

She came into my room after knocking, handing me an envelope with the invitation in it.

“As emissary of the O’Sullivan clan I formally invite ye to our festival of the Rite,” she said with the air of practiced ceremony.

“I would be honored,” I said, taking the envelope.

I noticed she looked distracted; she had a cloud of distress that followed her, subduing her normal liveliness.

“What’s wrong? Don’t tell me nothing, because I know better,” I asked her as she started to leave.

I reached out and took her hand as she turned back to me. She squeezed back and we stood there like that.

“I’m beginning to think we may never find out what Vicktor is doing. Abaddon and my dad have been looking every night and haven’t found anything,” she said.

“You don’t strike me as the type to sit around and wait for answers. Got any ideas?” I asked.

“Yeah, we go down there ourselves. See what we can find,” she looked at me with undisguised hope.

I started to tell her that it was a bad idea, that if Abaddon and Oengus couldn’t find anything we sure as hell wouldn’t, then it hit me. They were looking for any sign of people being smuggled instead of the real threat. I remembered the story Abaddon told me about how my dad found the trail of the vampire’s victim even though there was no visible trail. Maybe the reason they couldn’t find anything was because they were looking for the wrong thing. I might actually be able to succeed where they had failed.

“Okay, I’m in.”

Eavan smiled fiercely and crushed me in a hug, her soft breasts pressed into my chest and I hugged her back, enjoying how her body fit mine like two puzzle pieces snapping into place.

She pulled back and I saw the same heat rise in her.

“I have to finish handing out invitations,” she told me as if to explain why she couldn’t see if the heat could be kindled into a raging inferno.

“Of course, meet me at the bridge under the Den at midnight,” I said as she regretfully drew away.

“I’ll be there.”

The door clicked shut and I went about gathering a few things for tonight’s adventure.

Chapter 31

I met her under the Den at midnight. Abaddon was fully engaged in his pursuits to notice my absence.

She wore a black outfit that consisted mostly of form fitting spandex, explaining that it would rip easily if she had to shift forms. Her hair was held back by a ponytail and she presented quite as striking figure as she stood there watching me admire how well her outfit snugged her curves.

I carried my backpack filled with a few items I thought might come in handy. I had a disposable camera, some garlic paste and a couple of flares. Like Eavan, I was worried about having to shift forms and knew anything I carried in my clothes would be hard to keep track of once they were torn to shreds.

Her countenance turned serious and I shelved all my wandering thoughts. We found the door that led into the lower levels and were surprised to find it unlocked.

We went in and found a sparse hallway bereft of any of the conveniences of the upper Den. It was a maintenance area and all around us were concrete walls and metal walkways. The structural support for the Den’s foundation burrowed into the earth and we looked for the passageways that led us deeper. After a few staircases and two dead ends I stopped. Eavan began to ask me what I was doing when I raised my hand, keeping her silent. I undressed and placed my clothes in a neat pile, then I willed my body to shift and the pain of changing forms rushed through me as my senses increased. Eavan took the backpack and I steadied my breathing, drawing on the Beast to help me find the state of focused/unfocused that would allow me to sense any vampiric trails.

There was a moment of vertigo as I slipped into the Zen-like state. I turned in a circle and found a small almost invisible residue in the psychic ether that felt diseased and corrupted. I went over to a non-descript wall and searched around it, using all my senses I tried to find something that would show me what I was looking for.

I almost gave up as the wall presented nothing other than a plain smooth surface. I ran my hand over the spot that I felt had the strongest concentration of death and pushed gently. To my utter surprised the entire wall slid back about six inches. No wonder they couldn’t find a door, the wall was the door.

I brought myself out of my trance and felt a slight disorientation as my consciousness settled back into place. Eavan gave me an approving nod and we slipped into the dark crevice that almost seemed to invite us in with concealed disdain. As I went in I took the garlic paste and smeared a little on the door, making sure it could be found even if it wasn’t me who was looking for it.

Eavan and I made our way down a narrow tunnel that barely allowed us to walk side by side. It was carved from the soft earth and had obviously been made recently.

We walked for what seemed like thirty minutes when we started to hear sounds ahead of us. The strong scent of other Ascended assaulted us, making me think there was a small army under here waiting.

The tunnel turned and one side of it opened up to a large chamber that was about thirty feet tall and a hundred feet in diameter. It housed control panels on one wall and a door cut through the concrete that had the words DAM AUTHORITY printed on it.

Eavan and I crouched down and leaned over looking into the area.

Below us were large cages, filled with people. Almost fifty men, women and teenagers were cramped into the small enclosures. Some stood holding the bars while others sat with their heads down in muted defeat.

“Let me out of here! The full moon’s coming! I won’t be responsible for what happens!” One disheveled man screamed as he tried to pry the bars loose.

“Shut up! Or I’ll beat you again!” Jameson’s cousin answered as he sat at a chair in front of a table, playing solitaire.

“I’m not kidding, I’m dangerous!” He pleaded.

Jameson’s cousin got up and went over to the bars, he leaned in to where he was inches from him and said, “Or what? You’ll turn into a beast?” His eyes flashed deep yellow and his face twisted as it started to shift forms.

The man in the cage fell back and tripped over someone. The other prisoner started cursing and pushed the guy off of him.

“Oh my god! You’re like me?” He shrieked.

“I’m not like you; you’re a dog, a Descended mongrel only worthy of my blade. But, she’ll know what to do with you. Your Beast may keep you alive for months, but eventually you will be drained and then, only then will you have peace. If the rest of you who can control the Beast know what’s good for you, you’ll keep this one from bothering me again,” he told the prisoners.

Some of them shuddered; perhaps they knew what he was talking about.

“You’re mad!” The prisoner said.

“Not mad enough to get in the way of her and her hunger,” Jameson’s cousin said as he walked back to the desk.

“Now just keep quite, only a few days left and she will come to take you from me, so stop being a pain in my ass,” he finished, going back to his cards.

I pulled back with Eavan; she looked at me with dawning horror as she realized what was happening. I nodded to her to retreat and we started back down the tunnel, going until we couldn’t hear any noises. We went even further just to make sure we wouldn’t be overheard.

“My god, they have a bunch of Descended down there!” She said in disbelief.

“Did you hear what he said about the others who have control? He has both Ascended and Descended in there,” I added.

“Why don’t they break out?” Eavan asked.

“I don’t know, maybe Vicktor has found a way to weaken them. It doesn’t really matter; we have to tell Abaddon and Oengus,” I said, hurrying over to my clothes, I shifted back and got dressed.

“Right,” she agreed.

We left through the hidden opening. I pushed the wall back into place and we made our way up and out of the foundational levels. Entering the night brought the realization of what the implications of what we saw were. My heart filled with anguish knowing the vampire lord and Vicktor were working together to provide her and her undead children with the life sustenance the Beast provided.

Eavan and I said nothing as we got back to my room, the weight of the situation hung heavy on our shoulders.

Abaddon was surprised as we both came in with the clear distress of what we had seen plastered across our faces.

“What is it?” He asked, standing up.

“We know what Victor’s up to,” I said.

We told him about what we had done and witnessed. I thought he was going to kick my ass when he learned we had disobeyed him, but I think the revelation and our success stayed his hand.

He didn’t say anything for a little while after I told him. He was deep in thought.

“I guess Max had it right after all,” he said finally. “I knew Vicktor was a bastard, but I never thought he was capable of turning over his own people to feed the vampire’s hunger.”

“But why? There has to be some reason for it,” Eavan asked.

“All the strange disappearances of those that openly oppose Vicktor were done with no evidence of the perpetrator. Now we know why, they were vampire’s doing his dirty work,” I said.

“All Vicktor had to do was pay them in blood, literally,” Abaddon added.

“But a vampire’s hunger is insatiable; doesn’t he know that eventually, after they have run out of all their captives, they will come after him?” Eavan started pacing, her mind spinning with the implications of what was happening.

“Maybe he has less say in it than we think; remember his trace was on the manacles as well, he had been locked up. Maybe the vampire got to him somehow and now he’s doing her bidding, not the other way around,” Abaddon speculated.

“None of that really matters does it? The fact is that Vicktor and his foot soldiers have been colluding with the vampires to round up those with the power of the Beast to use as a gourmet buffet. He’s without a doubt working against the best interest of the Pack. We now have an angle that I can go after him with,” I said.

“What about all the people we saw? We can’t just leave them to be devoured,” Eavan argued.

“Of course we won’t allow that. You said the guard mentioned the vampires were coming the same night as the Rite. That gives us a timeline with which to operate. We will just have to modify our plan to include helping them,” Abaddon said.

“I need you to set up the laptop. I want to record a message to send to Max. Eavan you need to go let Oengus know what is happening,” he added.

“Aye, but he will be pissed to know I too disobeyed his orders,” she quipped.

“Tell him to worry about punishing you after the Rite,” Abaddon offered.

“Why?” She asked.

“Because there is a good chance you won’t have to worry about being punished then,” he said.

She looked at him, puzzled.

“We’ll probably be dead,” Abaddon answered her unspoken question.

I got the laptop set up and Abaddon recorded his message to Max, briefing him on what has been happening and how it affected the plan. When he finished I took the zip drive out of the laptop and went to the arena and uploaded it into the transmitter that was still on the antennae array.

After all the excitement, I had a hard time falling asleep. I kept hearing the prisoner pleading for his life, knowing that for some, even if we saved them from the vampires, there would be no saving them from the silver fangs of the Pack.

I spent the next day with Abaddon. He kept me by his side the whole time, worried about letting me out of his sight. We went around the Den, greeting the members of the Pack Abaddon felt were important. I didn’t say much, just sat or stood with him, keeping quiet. I answered direct questions, but let Abaddon do most of the talking.

I was surprised at the vast array of diversity of the members of the Pack. There were people from every inch of the globe here to witness Eavan’s and my Rite. By the time I got back to my room that night I was exhausted. I hadn’t swung a sword or lifted a fist all day but I was beat all the same.

I woke the next morning and for the first time since being here, looked forward to the new day. Today was the festival for Eavan. I eagerly anticipated spending the day with her, playing games and having fun instead of the constant discussions and debates.

I ate breakfast and took a long shower. I stepped out of the bathroom and walked past the mirror only to stop and look at myself.

For a second I swore a stranger was looking back at me. I had grown another few inches, my shoulders and chest had filled out as well as my arms and forearms. Swinging a sword all day appeared to be great for getting well-defined muscles. My face was in need of a shave and my eyes no longer had the innocent quality of youth. Instead, they were deeper and harder, full of the truth and pain of reality. My hair was a little shaggy and I needed a haircut. The fullness of youth had left me and I saw a starkness to my features that gave them a hard edge, like a beautiful sword full of sharp lines and deadly intent.

I shaved my stubble and combed my hair. I got dressed, and found Abaddon had also cleaned himself up.

His beard was trimmed close and his hair was slicked back. He wore his dark trench coat over a nice dress shirt and dark pants.

“Don’t we make a fine looking pair?” I asked.

He smiled and we left our room, making our way outside to the large open grass area on the backside of the Den. I could hear traditional Irish music already playing along with the occasional bout of good natured laughter.

We walked outside and I was amazed at the layout. There were large tents set up at one end; people were milling about, most of them carrying a large pint of ale. I saw an area set up for tests of strength and skill where a few younger looking men were already trying to best each other at the hammer toss. On the other side of the space was a stage where a band was playing very enjoyable music.

There were perhaps fifty red-haired members of the O’Sullivan clan here, all seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Abaddon and I walked over to the tents and were greeted by Eavan and Oengus.

Eavan sauntered over to me in a tight green dress that hugged her frame well, it had a deep vee in the front the allowed for the emerald necklace she wore to sparkle in the morning air. Her hair was done in a tight pony tail that fell down to her lower back.

She smiled at me and performed a curtsy. I didn’t know what to do so I bent over in what I thought was a proper bow. Eavan laughed and after greeting Abaddon we walked off together.

“You look amazing,” I said as we walked together.

“Thank ye. Ye clean up well,” she answered.

She took me around the festival and introduced me to every single member of her family. It was the longest and shortest day of my life. I had a wonderful time arguing with her cousins about football vs. soccer. I competed in dozens of competitions and even won some of them. Eavan stayed with me all day and I ate until I thought I was going to burst.

As the day began to darken I spotted Oengus at a large table filled with older looking men who were engaged in a boisterous game of arm wrestling. He waved me over and I left Eavan, who was talking to one of her cousins, catching up after not seeing her for a few years.

“Come, sit down. Carrick here has already beaten all of our men. It’s time to see how Abaddon’s newest student can fare,” Oengus bellowed, his voice rose in conjunction with the amount of ale he had consumed.

I looked over to Carrick and knew he was going to give me run for my money. He wasn’t as tall as me, but his shoulders were wide and very deep. His sleeves were rolled up and I saw dark Celtic style tattoos all over his forearms which rippled with muscle. He had long red hair pulled into a loose ponytail and the beginnings of a deep beard showed the residue of foam from his pint of ale.

He took a big pull from it and set it on the table, “Aye, let us see if Eavan has picked herself a bull or a cow!” He said, loudly.

The men around the table all laughed and I felt myself smiling as well. These guys gave each other crap all day long and loved every minute of it. If they were extending that to me that meant I was considered one of them.

“I don’t know how beating you at arm wrestling will prove my mettle, but if it will shut you up then I’ll be glad to accommodate you,” I teased back.

Everyone laughed again and this time they added a few insults here or there at Carrick who took it all in stride.

I sat down across from him and we reached out and grasped hands. His grip was strong and his forearm was a few inches longer than mine, giving him a slight advantage before we even started.

Oengus reached out and grabbed our hands, acting as referee.

“I’ll count down from three then ye go, whoever gets the others hand down first wins, if yer elbow raises off the table ye lose, other than that, there are no rules.”

“Three, two, one GO!” Oengus said and released our hands.

Carrick twisted his shoulders and put all his force into the first initial push, hoping to end it quickly. He almost succeeded.

I barely managed to halt his strength with a few inches to spare. His strength was enormous and it took everything I had just to keep him from pinning my hand.

We stayed like that for about twenty seconds, everyone around us cheering. Some for Carrick while others, mostly those he already had beaten, for me. With the power of the Beast I slowly started to gain some ground.

I brought our arms back to the middle starting position as I felt another surge of strength from Carrick. His eyes flashed a deep yellow as he dipped into the power of his Beast. Not to be outdone, I too drew on more strength and we sat in a stalemate, each of us struggling, neither gaining ground.

I felt the wood under our elbows creek as we began to actually press into the hard surface. I wasn’t sure if Carrick had more to give so I willed more strength from my Beast and started to slowly turn the tide. Cheers erupted anew as I began to push Carrick’s hand down to the table.

I got him down to a few inches when he locked his arm up and my advance halted. I wasn’t sure how he did it, but it felt like I was fighting against a steel beam, he was not moving. My Beast screamed at me to push harder and I started to. I felt as his arm slowly started to bend and realized I was actually bending his bones. I knew if I continued I could beat him, but only if I snapped his forearm.

I looked up and saw a large crowd had gathered, most of the O’Sullivan clan was around and they were cheering me on. I spotted Eavan and saw a look of worried interest. She saw the situation and knew what I had to do to win. I looked at Carrick and saw him struggling to keep me from winning; his face had broken out in a sweat and pain showed as he felt his bone starting to give.

I could have beaten him, but knew this wasn’t the way. I wasn’t going to break a man’s arm just to win a silly contest. I smiled slightly to myself and prepared for the reactions when I let up and allowed Carrick to push up and pin my hand on the other side of the table, beating me.

The crowd erupted and Carrick stood up victorious. He turned with both hands in the air and yelled. I nodded once and got up from the table as the crowd applauded his win.

I stepped away from the group and Oengus grabbed my arm, pulling me close to him and a group of curious elders.

“Ye had him boy! Why did ye let him win?” He asked.

“He locked up his arm, the only way to victory was to break it, and I’m not going to break his bones just to win at arm wrestling,” I said.

“But we heal quickly; ye would have done little damage,” he argued.

“True, but it’s the principle of the thing, it matters to me,” I answered.

Oengus looked at me closely then his face stretched into a huge grin, he looked over at his peers and said loudly, “Aye, it does matter, well done me boy, well done.”

The rest of them looked at me with open agreement. It was a little thing, for sure, but I thought at that moment I won them over better than any argument I could have made.

I found Eavan and she had a pleasant smile waiting for me.

“I guess Carrick is still the undisputed champion?”

“He didn’t win the most important thing,” I said to her.

She looked at me with curiosity, I surprised her by grabbing her pulling her close. I kissed her, showing that she was the true prize, not some dumb arm wrestling competition.

When the sun set Eavan dragged me out to dance and she tried to teach me some traditional Irish moves. I was horrible, but she never complained, hell I think she enjoyed watching me make a fool of myself. All in all, it was one of the best days of my life.

Eventually, the night began to wind down and some of her family members were completely drunk. The band started playing slower songs and everyone had a toast they had to give, followed by more drinking. I never thought it was going to end when Eavan gently pulled me away from the festivities and we walked together into the woods.

‘You have an amazing family,” I told her as we entered a small clearing.

The moonlight shone through the opening in the trees and highlighted a soft patch of earth covered in deep green grass.

“Aye, they are a handful. What about ye? Haven’t ye got a family?” She asked.

I realized I hadn’t told her anything about me really. She knew who my dad was, but that was really all.

“I have a sister named Susan. She’s a real pain in the ass but she means well. We are twins, but not identical. We were, as you could imagine, real close growing up, but we kind of drifted apart when we became teenagers. I miss her,” I said.

I hadn’t really thought about her in a while. All the excitement of my life kept me busy, but thinking about her made me realize just how much I missed her.

“After my dad disappeared my mom really stepped in for him not being there. She’s great; I think she would really like you,” I added.

As I was talking, Eavan had stopped and turned towards me, we stood facing each other, only a few inches separated us. Without thinking, I drew her to me; the movement seemed as natural as walking.

“What’s not to like?” She said.

Her eyes shone with desire as the closeness of the full moon pushed her urges stronger.

My body responded to hers and she smiled as her soft warm belly pressed against me. I leaned down and kissed her. My head swam with the need to take her, to push her down and take her right here, right now.

I fought them and pushed away from Eavan.

“What is it?” She asked, her breathing heavy, her voice husky with sexual energy.

“I’m afraid of losing control, I don’t want it to be the Beast that is with you, I want it to be me that is in control,” I said, the perfume of her this close was overwhelming.

She put her hands on my head and drew me back to her.

“Then make sure it is ye who I am with tonight,” she kissed me again.

Once again the unbridled aggression of the Beast arose but this time I concentrated on it and forced it back. I pushed it to take a back seat and willed myself to take control. The animal drive was replaced by the more complicated human sexual desire and I drew Eavan in closer,

I found the small zipper at the back of her dress and slowly pulled it down, running my hands down her bare back as she let out a soft moan. The next few hours we spent in the moonlight together making love, each of us rising and falling over and over again as we found sweet release in each others arms.

Chapter 32

Sometime in the night we dozed off. I awoke as the sun’s rays began to lighten the morning sky. I rolled over and found Eavan had gone, a soft impression of where she lay next to me and the lingering perfume of her showed the evidence of her presence.

A small piece of paper was tucked under a rock next to my clothes. I picked it up and read it.

Eric,

I’m sorry I had to leave you but I have duties to attend to this morning. The O’Sullivan clan tends to need some tender love and care after a good night of drinking. I look forward to seeing you tonight. I thought it might be a good idea to go to Vicktor’s party together. Pick me up at eight.

Eavan.

I relaxed a little. I don’t know why, but I had started to worry that maybe I did something wrong and she left because she didn’t want to face me. I had forgotten about Vicktor’s party and a small stone of dread fell in my stomach as I realized his party would be a lot more dangerous than Eavan’s.

I got dressed and went back to my room. Abaddon was already up and waiting for me.

“Sit,” he said as I closed the door.

I sat across from him.

He scrutinized me as I waited. He took note of my tousled hair, the grass stains on my skin, the faint scent of Eavan that wafted off me.

“Tomorrow is the most important day of your life. Tonight is going to be very tedious and perhaps dangerous,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

“Do you? Are you sure? I like Eavan, I think she is a wonderful girl and a good fit for you, but right now you need to get your head out of the clouds and focus on what’s important. She cannot become a distraction, do you understand?” Abaddons tone had shifted to the one I remember during all his lessons in pain and punishment.

I started to say something rash, then stopped myself. I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts.

“Eavan is wonderful and yes she is a distraction, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As Ascended we spend our lives dedicated to mastery over our Beast. I think it would be a shame if we overlooked our human natures. I understand your concerns, but caring for another as I do Eavan doesn’t make me weaker, it makes me stronger. It gives me something to fight for, not just against. Fighting for something is much more powerful than just fighting against something,” I answered.

Abaddon studied me for a few seconds then nodded his head, acquiescing.

“Alright, let’s talk about the party tonight. I will not be in attendance as your guardian, but as the Pack’s weapons master. This means you will basically be on your own. Knowing Vicktor, he will have me talking to people to keep me away from you, so he can isolate you and then make a move,” he said.

“You think he’ll try something during the party? Won’t there be a bunch of Pack members there?” I asked.

“Most will be in support of him and they tend to turn a blind eye when something untoward happens to those that disagree with him. It might be a good idea to have someone you can trust at your side, just in case.”

I smiled, understanding who he meant.

“I think I can arrange something,” I said.

“Good, now I have to go and ready the weapons cache, Vicktor wants it presentable so he can show it off and keep me busy. Remember, watch your back,” he stood up and left.

I went to the bed and laid down, intent on taking a short nap.

I awoke as the shadows in the room had stretched and shifted, giving the room a dark and empty feel. I checked the clock and saw it said one p.m. I got up and ate lunch, then went over to an open space in the room and started a slow routine that woke me up and helped reinforce the martial arts training Abaddon had taught me.

Soon it was time to go. I got dressed again and left to meet Eavan. I made it to her room and knocked; she answered and slipped out the door. She was wearing a blue dress that had a slit up both legs allowing for greater movement. She gave me a kiss and held her arm out, I took it and we left, going to Vicktor’s party.

We went to the Hall and found it full of people standing in groups, drinking champagne, scotch, beer, you name it. The space wasn’t much different from when we first came in; the light from the sconces gave the Hall a dark, cozy feel. Everyone was dressed in formal clothes and most of them huddled around a large table full of appetizers and hor’dourves. Vicktor sat at the throne with Jameson and the sorcerer Hilliard standing behind and on either side of him. His axe rested against the thrones armrest.

As we entered someone standing by the door announced our arrival and everyone turned to look. I felt like an art exhibit as eighty eyes turned to us, most of them with unveiled contempt. Eavan squeezed my hand, showing she was feeling it too.

We walked in and stood awkwardly by ourselves. A few minutes later Veronica came over and welcomed us. She was very polite and seemed genuinely glad we were there. She took us around and acted as our guide, introducing us to everyone and helping us disentangle ourselves from a group when the conversation dried up. After a while, Eavan and I settled into an easy routine. Veronica kept us moving and we both began to relax a little as her easy manner and friendly attitude made the whole thing seem less intimidating.

The vibe here was different from Eavan’s family party. Here everyone was guarded and most of them seemed to hold disdain for everyone else. They seemed to be here mainly to judge each other and to size up their adversaries. The atmosphere began to weigh on me even with Veronica’s enjoyable stewardship.

Finally, after a few hours of mingling Vicktor stood up and the Hall went silent.

“Friends, fellow Pack members, we are here to meet and celebrate the next two candidates to undergo the Rite of Ascension. This is an ancient tradition and we hold its significance in high regard. I would like to honor Eric and Eavan, our guests of honor with sitting with me while we eat in joyous anticipation of their successful trials and their entrance into the Pack as full members,” he bowed slightly and nodded to us.

Everyone started to move towards a large table that was long enough to accommodate forty guests. Vicktor sat at the head of the table and Veronica steered us over to sit by him. Servants started filling the table with roasted duck, rack of lamb, spit fired chicken and all kinds of different meats. They also brought out vegetables sautéed in butter, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob. Soon the table was full of food. The smell was wonderful, but my apprehension kicked in. I wasn’t sure I could trust it. It looked too good to be true.

Vicktor seemed to understand my reticence and he reached out and ripped a leg off the duck and started eating with abandon. Everyone else took this as their cue and the rest of the guests tore into the food as well. I looked at Eavan and she shrugged, taking some food and putting it on to her plate. I did as well.

Soon everyone was full and sitting around talking and raving about how good it all was. A bell chimed and I saw another servant carrying a large silver platter over towards us. On it was two cupcakes, simply decorated with vanilla frosting.

He set the cupcakes down in front of Eavan and myself.

“In honor of our two newest candidates, Veronica herself baked these cupcakes as a token of our wishes for your trials tomorrow,” he finished.

I looked around at all the guests watching us with rapt attention. The only thing that had been given to us tonight that no one else had touched were sitting in front of us in the form of two benign cupcakes. My instincts screamed at me to beware as I looked to Eavan only to find the same apprehension on her face.

So this was Vicktor’s ploy, he wasn’t attacking us with his axe or some crazy five hundred pound Altered lion, he was trying to kill us with pastry.

The silence in the Hall was deafening, everyone sat waiting for us to eat the cupcakes while I tried to figure out a way not to. I reached out towards the cupcakes and knocked over a full glass of champagne onto the platter and all over the dessert.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said as I tried to swipe the champagne off of the cupcakes only to crush and smear them into a wet, soggy mess.

The people in the Hall gasped at the destruction of the cupcakes and I kept saying over and over that I was sorry, how clumsy of me.

“Just leave it!” Vicktor snarled.

I sat with cake all over my hands and put them down into my pockets, embarrassed.

Vicktor stood up in anger and stormed off, leaving the Hall. His flunkies followed him, giving me death stares the whole way.

Veronica came over and tried to smooth things over.

I kept apologizing to her as I got up and excused myself, taking Eavan with me.

We hurried out of the Hall and went back to my room. As we got inside, I reached into my pockets and pulled out the wad of mushed cupcake I had stuffed in them. I went over to the sink and started to sift through it, looking for what my instincts warned me about. Eavan came over and together we slowly found four almost microscopic balls. They felt almost like grains of sand. I carefully washed them off and set them on the counter.

“What is it?” Eavan asked.

“I don’t know, they look like extremely small pills, but what could be in them that could hurt us?” I wondered aloud.

I went over to the small kitchenette and got a knife. I took it back and used the flat of the blade to crush the pills. I saw the light glint off the faint but shiny silver dust that had been inside.

“Dear god, Veronica tried to poison us with silver!” She exclaimed.

“No, it was Vicktor, through Veronica. I guess this answers how they have kept the Ascended from breaking free. This probably hurts and weakens us, perfect for handicapping us before the Rite,” I said.

“I didn’t know what to do, thanks to yer quick thinking ye saved us from eating those,” Eavan said, pointing to the small pills.

“You would have figured out something,” I said.

“What now?”

“I’m going to wait here for Abaddon, while you get to Oengus and tell him what happened. Then we hunker down and stay safe in our rooms until tomorrow. That’s when the real fun begins,” I smiled, knowing that soon I would be able to really strike back at Vicktor and hopefully learn more about what really happened to my father.

Chapter 33

My Rite of Ascension had arrived.

I woke up with a calmness that permeated my entire outlook. All the worry and fears about this day evaporated as it was now here. I went through my morning ritual with detached attention. Abaddon was unusually quiet, more so than normal, which I appreciated. There was nothing more to talk about, either I was ready or not.

The Rite didn’t take place until the full moon shone in the night sky so I had all day to kill. I spent it trying to keep my mind busy. I cleaned my gauntlets about ten times; I cleaned the room meticulously and tried to read a little. I even sprawled on the couch and tried to rest, but the apprehension grew as the day slowly turned to night.

Finally Abaddon said, “It’s time.”

We left and he guided me to a room on the edge of the arena where I was to wait until I was called out for my trials. I sat alone in the windowless room, waiting. I heard the sounds of the crowd as the seating began to fill up. After about an hour there was a knock at the door and Abaddon stepped in. He came up to me and reached out holding me at arm’s length.

“No matter what happens, I want you to know that I enjoyed the time we spent together. You remind me so much of your father and I know he would be proud of you,” he squeezed once and turned to stand outside the door before I could say anything.

I took the cue and he walked with me down a hall that opened up to the fighting floor of the arena. I looked to him and he nodded forward. I walked out of the dark hall and into the bright noise of the cheering crowd. I looked across and saw Eavan exit from a door at the opposite side.

I looked up and saw Vicktor sitting at a private box seating area. He stood and motioned with his arms to quiet the loud masses.

“This night of the full moon we recognize the petition for Pack membership by Eavan O’Sullivan and Eric Brightenham,” the crowd erupted in applause and loud cheers.

I don’t think they were as excited about who we were as much as the thrill of what was to come.

“We are entering a time in our long glorious history that is full of threats. Our responsibility to ensure that the newest generation of Pack members are worthy of the threats and dangers of an ever changing world dictate that I not be relaxed in my choosing of what these applicants must complete to be accepted. In that vein I call on the ancient ways to be applied. Each will have to defeat their adversary and save a loved one, in so doing they will show a mastery over their Beast and gain member status.”

Half of the crowd cheered at the returning to the old ways while the other half sat stunned. They had grown accustomed to my father’s ways and had begun to agree that the savage trials of the past were just that, savage.

A door close to Eavan opened and a young man was pushed out. He was shackled at the wrists and looked around, obviously unsure of where he was.

“Patrick!” Eavan gasped. “Vicktor, you bastard!”

Vicktor just smiled at her and then turned to me, watching.

A door near me opened and I waited to see who they had brought. I figured it was going to be Max, seeing as how he was so close to me, but I never really dwelled on it since it could have been anybody and I had no control over who they picked.

I saw a figure slowly make her way out of the darkness and my heart sank. Her hair was dirty and hung in clumps. She was taller than I remembered and her body had changed, her curves more noticeable as she had grown into a woman. She looked up at me and I didn’t think my despair could grow anymore until I saw her look up at the full moon. The deep yellow of the Beast rose in my sister’s eyes as she broke free of her bonds and for the first time shifted forms, becoming the animal unchained. She leaned forward and opened her bestial mouth as she issued a large and deep roar of challenge.

At the same time, another door opened and three Altered cougars leapt from the dark tunnels and barreled towards Eavan. They were massive, deadly monsters. Three times larger than normal cougars, they had grotesque muscles that rippled as they moved, their long claws dug into the hard dirt as they raced across it.

Vicktor stood and laughed loudly.

“Let the games, begin!” He shouted to the roar of the crowd as their bloodlust erupted.

So this was my challenge. I had to save my sister from her own Beast. If I killed the Beast it would kill her and I’d fail and if I didn’t fight back against the Beast it would kill me and I would fail.

I knew that right now my sister was struggling to make sense of what was happening to her. Deep in her mind Susan was waging a battle of her own, with no understanding of how to beat her Beast. My only hope was that she was putting up a good fight, otherwise it was too late and she had Descended. If that happened I would have no choice but to kill my sister and once again fail. I had to help her succeed in embracing her Beast. I just had to figure out how to pull that off while keeping her feral, unrestrained Beast from killing me and hoping Eavan wasn’t killed by the three monster cougars intent on bringing about her death.

Susan flew at me a split second after her initial battle roar. I dove to the side but she clipped me and sent me spinning off into the rough wall. I felt my arm snap as it slammed the wall at an odd angle. I tried to get my feet under me as Susan’s Beast turned almost instantly and rushed after me.

I didn’t expect such speed and strength but I guess it made sense. The Beast was a primal force, bereft of fear or remorse it was a relentless hunter, its sole purpose was to take down its prey quickly and efficiently. I knew I would have a hard time evading it so I decided to try and make it weary of me.

I felt my arm heal as I willed my gauntlets to grow and my forearms and hands became covered in shiny chitinous armor. I kept the swords retracted and as Susan’s Beast swiped at me I brought them up, deflecting its powerful claws. It instantly countered my block with another swipe and I was soon backing up under the constant assault the Beast threw at me. Its power and speed was astounding and I was unable to keep up. My shoulder screamed as the Beast broke through my defense and I again flew through the air only to land on the hard packed dirt floor. My blood flowed from the savage wound before it knitted back up.

I chanced a glance at Eavan and saw her surrounded by the three cougars who had circled her and were slowly stalking closer. Her shirt was in tatters and she swung her sword each time one of them stepped closer, keeping them at bay.

My instincts screamed and I rolled to the side, as Susan’s Beast landed where my head had been. My mind worked furiously, trying to figure out how I could help Susan and stop her assault.

I to had been untrained and ignorant of the Beast, yet with the help of my father’s legacy I was able to prevail and accept the inevitable. I didn’t know if Susan had the same presence, but even with my father’s help, my success was a close thing. I couldn’t just keep dodging and ducking as I felt the growing Beast within me. The full moon and exertion kept tugging at it, pushing it to provide me more strength and speed, making its impulses stronger.

I had to do something; I couldn’t keep this up all night. Susan’s Beast caught me as I tried to roll and I grabbed its wrists to keep its sharp claws from ripping my throat out. Its strength was more than I could handle as I dodged its snapping jaws. I felt the sweet pain as I underwent the change, needing to be in Beast form myself to counter its sheer ferocity.

As I shifted a lot of factors came into sharper focus.

One, everyone in the crowd was on their feet, some with bloodlust at hoping to see me killed, others with the worry and desire to see me prevail, but watching me losing.

Two, Eavan had killed one cougar and had herself shifted to allow her to keep up with the threat the remaining two still posed.

Three, I could feel Susan deep in her own mind, she hid like I had. She was holed up in her place of solitude. Somewhere that always held memories of laughter and love.

I don’t know how I sensed this, perhaps it was our closeness, not just physically, but we are twins and grew up together. We always had a hard to define ability to know what each other were thinking, that is until we hit puberty. Perhaps the Beast gave me a newfound ability that I had not yet tapped into and this situation forced it to come to fruition.

Whatever the reason I didn’t question it, I just accepted it. I embraced the feeling and on a whim let go of its claws and grabbed it by both sides of its head. I brought our foreheads together and drew on the power of my Beast to make my will reality.

I called on the memories of all the times I spent with Susan, playing games on a rainy day and running through the puddles afterwards. The times we argued and the times we shared secret jokes that only children could find magical, I gathered the feelings I had for her as my sister and pushed my awareness out of myself and willed it into hers.

A feeling of movement overwhelmed me as I suddenly found myself traveling down a tunnel. My body lay under the Beast as my awareness was pulled into Susan’s mind. I landed at the kitchen table in our home, Susan stood at the countertop calmly pouring her mixed cake batter into a cupcake pan. My mom and Susan spent many weekends making breakfasts and dinners together. They always loved to cook together; sometimes they even made something that was edible. Most of the times they just made the house full of laughter and joy.

“Oh, hi Eric, what are you doing here?” She said as she put a cupcake pan into the oven.

Chapter 34

“Susan?” I asked, confused at her seeming ignorance of what was happening.

“Yes?” She answered.

I heard a deep growl that seemed to come from far away. It possessed a deep wildness to it that I knew came from the Beast as it stalked Susan’s mind in search of its prey. Susan looked up, a look of worry and fear rushed over her face before it was replaced by serenity.

“Do you know why I am here?” I asked.

I heard my father’s legacy come clear to my mind, “It is no use, she has retreated into a far corner of her mind, somewhere she feels is safe from the Beast. She is unwilling to face her fears.”

“Then we’re going to have to help her, aren’t we?”

I went over to Susan and grabbed her wrist, turning her to face me.

“What are you doing? I have to start peeling the potatoes,” she said, annoyed at my actions.

“What is the last thing you remember?” I asked.

“What?” she answered.

“What is the last thing you remember, before you started cooking?”

“I don’t…” She began, but stopped as her mind drifted to find the answer to my question.

“I was…” She started again only to be stopped by a wave of fear and anguish.

“It’s okay Susan, I’m here with you. It’s okay,” I said, keeping a hold of her hands.

“I think I was dreaming, having a nightmare,” she thought back.

“I was at home, I had a date with Ricky, we were supposed to go see some new romance movie. He wanted to see some movie about a comic book, but I convinced him to see my movie.”

“I went outside to drive to his house when I was attacked; someone grabbed me and put a bag over my head. I smelled a strong odor then I passed out. Later, I woke up in a comfortable room with no windows. The door was locked so I sat, hoping for some explanation. I thought for a minute it was Ricky’s doing, maybe he swept me away on a romantic weekend vacation.”

“Then the door opened and a monster walked in, it came to me. I tried to fight it, but it was useless, the thing pinned me and bit my shoulder. After that everything was a blur again.”

“I felt something beginning to stir within me, something wild and terrifying. Then I woke up in the dark corridor. I walked out and saw you standing there. I looked up to the moon and then everything went red,” she shuddered at this last bit, hugging herself.

She started to cry, deep powerful sobs that made my heart ache.

“It was so horrible. But now you’re here, it was all a dream,” she started to get control of herself, slowly.

There was another, louder growl that seemed to come from much closer.

A look of panic swept over her and I thought she was going to run.

“I want you to listen to me Susan. What you saw wasn’t a dream, it was real. The thing you encountered was real, what you know as a werewolf. It bit you and you now have the same powers, only you must confront your Beast and accept it as a part of you,” I explained.

She started to pull away from me as denial spread on her face; she shook her head back and forth.

“No, no, no, no,” she repeated.

“Yes, Susan, yes. If you don’t do this it will find you and you will fall to its power, you will become its to command instead of the other way around,” I pleaded with her.

“What are you talking about? That’s madness!” She sobbed.

“It’s true,” the voice of my father came to us. I felt a strong feeling of love and compassion as he spoke.

“Dad?” She asked, looking around.

“I’m here, honey,” he said. “I’m with you even though you cannot see me, listen to Eric he speaks the truth, Sugarlips,” the last was a nickname he had given her after she got into a batch of powdered donuts and had the white sugar all over her mouth.

She looked stricken with fear, guilt, denial and paranoia. Yet behind it all I saw a spark of hope, a spark of strength.

“Look at me, really look at me. Try to block everything from your mind and concentrate on me, listen, smell and see. Feel with your entire being if I am telling the truth. See if your heart doesn’t tell you what is real,” I said to her.

Susan shook her head once, then tentatively met my gaze. I let the love and the trust we shared as only siblings could, flow from me, hoping she would respond to it.

A loud roar split the air as the Beast was almost upon us. She turned, terror marred her beautiful face.

“No, you can do this. I love you, Susan, you can do this,” I said.

Something in my voice got through as she focused on me, I could see the fog of her denial fade as she opened herself for the first time to the power that had been in her ever since she had been bitten. I could see her slowly grow in strength as the power filled her and she aimed it at me, doing as I asked.

“I am your brother, I love you and have myself defeated the Beast. You have to do the same, but it’s up to you, once you begin I cannot help. You can prevail only if you believe in yourself,” I told her.

I could see as she sensed the truth of my words. The fear didn’t lessen, but it became something different, something that rode along with her instead of driving her.

“Eric,” she rushed towards me, hugging me fiercely.

The sky erupted as the deep yellow eyes of the Beast rose above us, its primal voice hurt my ears at its sheer volume and I instinctively covered them with my hands, Susan did the same even though the voice was not physical, but within us.

“There you are. You are a sly bitch, but the chase is over, rather quickly I might add,” It growled as I felt it lunge for Susan.

I was knocked out of the way by the unseen force of my father’s legacy. The Beast stopped abruptly, having hit the power of what was left of my father. I saw a golden radiance as the form of my dad was visible for an instant. He stood holding the Beast back.

“I can only hold him back for a short time Eric,” I heard him say.

“Susan, this last part is crucial, you cannot fight the Beast, you have to embrace it. The power is a birthright handed down from our father. It is a part of you and you have to accept that or else the Beast will consume you,” I told her.

“What?” She said, shocked at the very idea.

I felt the loss of my father as his legacy was destroyed by the sheer psychic power of the Beast. Pain hit me as I felt a part of me I had grown accustomed to evaporate, leaving a sense of loss behind.

The Beast rushed for Susan and its ferocity pushed me out. I could feel myself being forced from my sister’s mind as the Beast turned its full attention towards my sister. I was launched away from them and watched in horror as the Beast towered over Susan, creeping in for the kill. My sister was huddled in a ball, trying to hide.

“I loooooove youuuuu!” I screamed as I was pushed out, hoping she would hear me and at least have some small measure of respite before the Beast destroyed her.

The stark realities of the real world flooded through me as I settled back into my body. I looked into the deep yellow eyes of the Beast and was momentarily dazed by the transition. It lunged out and I felt sharp pain as it clamped down with furious strength on my neck.

I heard the crowd respond to the attack in more noise, whether in joy or fear I wasn’t sure.

My head was pushed aside and I saw Eavan as she continued her own battle. She had succeeded in killing two cougars but the third was on top of her while she fought it off bare handed. Her sword lay a few feet away, such a short distance, but still a million miles away. The cougar’s claws pierced her shoulders as it pinned her down and kept her from using her strength to push it away. She still managed to keep a hold if its head and fought to stop its advancing teeth.

Pain erupted as the Beast’s pressure increased, warm blood ran down my neck as the Beast’s teeth began to rip my throat out.

It was over, I had failed, the Beast had taken my sister and I would die at her hands.

The final bite didn’t come. The final snap if its jaws needed to end my life never happened. I took the opportunity from the pause in its killing stroke to grab the Beast’s jaws with both hands and began to pry its mouth open. To my amazement they left my neck of their own accord. For the first time I saw something other than pure animal aggression in its eyes. Behind the deep yellow of the Beast I saw the pale hint of Susan’s blue eyes.

She backed off of me and stood looking around. I could only guess at what was going through her mind, the power of the Beast surging through her with all the animal drives it provided.

I stood up and felt as my blood stopped flowing from the deep gashes at my throat.

“Stay right here,” I said to her.

She nodded once in acknowledgement and I turned to the cougar that was pressing down on Eavan, inches away from severing her head and her life.

I leaped in a fifty-foot arch, on the way, I willed my blades to extend and as I got closer to my target, I let them lead the way. I landed and stabbed the cougar with both blades, each one at a different angle exiting on either side of Eavan’s shoulders.

The cougar let out a quick squall of pain and then went limp. I moved to the side and Eavan kicked out, sending it over the arena and off into the night.

“Thank ye,” she said as I helped her up.

“Aye,” I answered, winking.

She rolled her eyes and went over to where Patrick was chained to the wall. She shifted forms as she went, his screaming could be heard in the night air.

“Stay away! Leave me alone! Don’t come any closer demon!” He yelled.

I went back to Susan who stood staring at me, her Beast form magnificent in the moonlight. She stood slightly shorter than me, her coat was the same color as mine, but her body was slightly smaller, her frame built more for speed and stealth, whereas mine was about strength and power.

I willed my body to change and I felt the crisp wind as it blew across my flesh. I walked up to her, talking the whole way, keeping my movements slow and non-threatening.

“Breath, relax, try to imagine your body, how you look in the mirror and push your mind to force your body to change, embrace your humanity.”

She looked at the moon and I thought she was going to bolt, racing off into the night to see where the glowing orb would lead her. Instead she looked back at me and I saw her focusing on me and my words, her form began to grow smaller and she soon stood panting, naked but for the sheen of sweat that covered her.

I knelt down and picked up the torn shirt I had worn and used it to cover her nakedness. I hugged her and kissed her forehead as she shivered from the shock of recent events.

“I was worried about you for a minute there,” I said quietly.

“So was I, but you saved me. Thank you Eric,” she answered with another tight hug.

The crowd had quieted and I could hear the slow clapping of one person.

“Well, well, well. It seems as though you have succeeded in surviving your Rites and saving your loved ones. I suppose this means you are both full members of the Pack now,” Vicktor said as he stood in his seat.

I turned to him and placed Susan behind me. Eavan had walked over to us and she stood by my side, both of us glaring up at him.

“My name is Eric Brightenham, son of Thomas rightful leader of the Pack, as the child, and newest Pack member, of a father who was never defeated, I challenge you Vicktor. I challenge you to a fight to the death for leadership. You who have cavorted with vampires and are kidnapping Ascended and Descended to feed their never ending hunger. You are a disgrace to the Beast and I will kill you to prove my claims, if you are man enough to accept!” My voice boomed throughout the area as I infused it with my Beast’s power.

A large group of people in the stands cheered loudly, most of them consisted of the O’Sullivan clan, but there were many others who joined them as well as a lot who just smiled.

Vicktor’s smile never faltered, he knew I was going to challenge him and he was unfazed.

“Very strong accusations from someone who is so new to the Pack. Tell me, Eric, do you have any facts to back up your wild claims or are we all supposed to just take your word for it?” He said loudly.

Many in the crowd laughed and snickered at Vicktor’s answer.

I looked around, listening for something.

“You do understand Pack law don’t you? Baseless accusations can result in many forms of punishment. I’m willing to overlook this outburst, seeing as how you are so young and have undergone so much, if only you apologize, here in front of everyone. Showing you understand your mistake,” he said.

A smile began to spread across my face. Vicktor looked at me; uncertainty crossed his visage at seeing me smile when he seemed to have all the advantages.

As if on cue, I heard the faint telltale sound of a two bladed helicopter as it came over the treetops and hovered directly above us, Katrina bringing it under her expert control. One rope dropped from the chopper as four figures descended. Three of them simply jumped and one repelled with a rope.

Abaddon, Oengus and someone I didn’t recognize landed next to us. All three were in human form. Abaddon carried a long curved sword in each hand and Oengus held a large mace. The mace was the size of a bowling ball and covered with silver spikes. A foot of chain attached it to a long handle. The third person looked dirty, his clothes disheveled and his face unshaven. Max followed a few seconds later and disentangled himself from the rope. He was covered in ballistics armor, as well as riot gear. He had a helmet with a large visor on and carried a backpack carrying two small tanks on his back. He held a flamethrower and with one flick of a finger the pilot light ignited with a soft subtle sound.

The words “I WEREWOLVES” were painted in bright white letters on his helmet.

Susan looked at him and said with the air of disbelief, “Max?”

“In the flesh baby,” he answered.

Vicktor’s smile faded as he began to understand what was happening.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Pack, I do bring harsh and serious accusations, accusations that need undeniable evidence. Vicktor has been working with vampires and taking our people as well as any Descended he can find. He is providing them to the vampires so they can feed from us as our power allows them much more to eat than a human would. I have with me someone who can collaborate my claims,” I said, sweeping my hand towards the newcomer.

“My name is David Cerellious, Ascended member of the Pack. My family had been talking against Vicktor and his rule, for that we were attacked by vampires and I had to watch as Vicktor’s men, Jameson and others poisoned us with silver and then kept us locked up like animals to wait to be delivered to the vampires like cattle,” he finished.

The crowd noise rose as people reacted to my witness’s claims. Some loudly proclaimed me a liar while others called Vicktor a traitor and a disgrace. The latter gaining more support.

Hoping to capitalize on the growing momentum I continued before Vicktor could respond.

“In accordance with Pack law, when someone is accused of betrayal and feels the charges are false, they have the right to refute those claims by presenting evidence to the contrary. However, in times like these, as we are entering a time in our long glorious history that is full of threats, our responsibility to ensure that our system of honor is not marred by long drawn out proceedings makes it incumbent on me to call for a return to the ancient ways to settle our differences through combat.”

“I am willing to forgive you your misdeeds if you but apologize to me, now, in front of everyone and step down as Pack leader, showing that you understand your mistakes.”

Those in the crowd that supported me cheered loudly at my use of Vicktor’s own words against him. I heard some yelling for him to kill me, while all around us a chant began building, low at first then gaining more strength.

“combat! Combat! COMBAT!”

Victor looked around, then he turned to me and narrowed his eyes.

“I would normally never lower myself to be sullied with the challenge of one of such small stature, but you have accused me of the most atrocious acts and that cannot go unanswered,” he stood and picked up his large double bladed axe, its blades gleamed silver as it reflected the full moons light.

He bent down and with one powerful jump, leapt from his place in the crowd to land fifteen feet away from us in a crouch. He lifted his head first and stared at me with fury; having been forced into this confrontation after all his attempts at stopping me had failed.

“I will make you scream like I did your father,” he whispered so low that only I could hear.

He stood up to his full height as red rage threatened to consume me and send me at him, just like he wanted.

“Come get some, bitch,” I taunted him back.

A deep rumble came to me as he stood up to his full height and stalked closer, holding his large deadly axe.

Chapter 35

Eavan knew this fight was mine and mine alone. If I was going to have a legitimate claim as leader I had to defeat Vicktor by myself, with no outside help.

“C’mon Susan, let’s get ye out of here,” Eavan said, leading my sister away.

Everyone else cleared out as well, giving us room.

Vicktor stopped ten feet away from me and started stalking me in a circle. He kept his body facing mine with his axe held out to the side in a ready position.

I kept the distance between us constant and waited for him to make the first move. It didn’t take long.

He smiled at me with a devilish gleam and brought his axe up above his head in a wood splitting motion. I didn’t know what he was going to do, at first I thought he was going to throw it, but he had to know I could easily dodge the large weapon and that would leave him powerless.

The large axe blades let off a slight blue glow as it descended. I realized what was happening at the last second and dove to the side.

Vicktor had a magically enhanced weapon as well. I wasn’t sure what it did, but I knew I was going to find out.

As he brought the axe down, I felt an invisible force race across the space that separated us and I was hit with but a fraction of it. Pain screamed from my foot as it was clipped and most of the bones broke instantly from the sheer power of his attack.

A large section of the wall behind me cracked and crumbled as if someone had driven a car into it.

I was temporarily hobbled as it took a few seconds for my foot to heal. Vicktor rushed in hoping to monopolize on his opening salvo. I was able to get my good foot under me and as his axe came at me I lifted my gauntleted arm to deflect the blow. I didn’t want to try and stop a full swing so I angled it so that the blade would sheer off the side of my armor and angle it away from me. The ringing of the metal was loud.

Vicktor hauled the axe back up and with a speed I was unprepared for swept it back, connecting the flat surface to my head.

I stumbled back, the blow staggering me. I felt a warm wetness flow from the gash on my eyebrow. I wiped the blood out of my eye and scurried away from him, trying to put some distance between us.

“Ha! Look at you, bleeding so soon, such a weakling!” Vicktor bellowed.

I heard some of Vicktor’s followers chuckling at his taunts.

Blood kept flowing from the wound and I knew it would not heal for another few minutes, far too long in a contest like this. I needed to stop the bleeding and figured a heavy coat of fur might help sponge some of it up.

I willed myself to shift and felt the Beast answer. A newfound confidence filled me as the power of the Beast provided me with a surge of strength.

Vicktor yelled as he charged me, once again hoping to catch me off guard while I changed. This time I was ready. His movements seemed slower as I realized the Beast had improved my speed and sight.

I pretended I was still distracted as he brought his axe across his body in a side sweep, hoping to cut me in half. At the last second, I hopped out of reach then lunged forward, stabbing him in the shoulder as his swing carried it to the other side of his body.

He screamed out in pain and used his momentum to spin away from me. He faced me quickly taking a defensive posture, afraid I would press the attack.

I saw blood slowly drip off his elbow and narrowed my eyes at him.

“Bleeding so soon?” I asked sarcastically.

Anger marred his features as he too shifted forms, intent on matching my increased abilities. His body changed and a huge powerful werewolf with raven hair and long claws came at me with a newfound ferocity and aggression.

He came in and with deft speed launched a long series of swipes and lunges, hoping to hit me with his silver weapon. Abaddon’s training really began paying off as I quickly recognized most of Vicktor’s style. I managed to keep him from hitting me, but found that I had to keep retreating under his strong attacks. Vicktor’s technique was good, his strength was unparalleled, but he moved with a sloppiness that he tried to hide with over eager aggression. Like the way he ran the Pack, he tried to overcompensate for his lack of skill with a disregard for the control needed be a true weapon’s master.

I saw the flaw in his attack and allowed myself to drift off into the unthinking instinctual mindset needed to take him down. My vision focused solely on Vicktor as I continued to parry his axe. He started throwing elbows and kicks, but I blocked those as well. I could see his anger increasing as his control began to slip. His Beast gained in dominance and his axe fell with more strength with each swing.

I knew I had to make my move soon or risk one of his hits doing serious damage. He thrust at me with a double handed lunge and I hit the axe on the top making it swing down towards his feet. Just as I hoped, Vicktor used the block to bring the axe up overhead, just like with his first attack. I saw the blades again start to glow blue and before he could unleash the powerful magic I used the power of the Beast, and faster than the eye could see, I spun away from where I was and stood slightly behind and to the side of Vicktor before his axe unleashed its magical attack.

His expression showed surprise as he could do nothing but watch as I lunged out and stabbed him on one of his hands, once to the ribs and another one on the meat of his leg.

His hand opened from the reflex of the silver metal and the pain it caused. The axe released its magic and it went spinning away from Vicktor, as he was unable to keep a grip on it with just one hand.

The released energy impacted the arena wall and Vicktor stumbled and fell to one knee, holding his injured hand with his good one. I stepped up to him and held the tip of my blade at his neck.

“Now, tell me what has happened to my father or you will die,” I said to him through clenched teeth.

“Go ahead, I fear her more than I would ever fear you!” He screamed.

“We’ll see.” I willed the blade of my gauntlet to ignite and the strong scent of burnt hair hit me as Vicktor’s fur curled away from the tip of my sword.

“Now, tell me where my father is and I will just leave you burnt instead of dead,” I ordered.

Vicktor hissed as the heat began burning the skin on the back of his neck.

He started laughing and it was then that I sensed the hint of insanity about him.

“It doesn’t matter, don’t you see?! She will find us all and kill us, the only protection we have is to help her. We are all doomed! It is too late, too late for all of us!” He moaned.

I began to question him further when I felt the first wave of corruption flow over me. Fear grew like a weed in my stomach as I felt the vampires’ death auras grow as their proximity increased. I looked around and saw Vicktor starting to scramble away. I noticed the rest of the Pack all looking around uncertainly having sensed the oncoming vampires’ essences as well.

I started to pin Vicktor down again when the still unearthly form of one of the undead landed in front of me as if it had been dropped from above like a spike of death to the fertile earth.

Its eyes locked on to me and I found my Beast rise to counter the things stare. It flowed towards me, ignoring Vicktor when I stabbed it in the forehead with my blazing sword. Its head burst into flames and it shrieked, the sound grated at my ears.

I saw Vicktor rush through one of the doors in the arenas walls and I hurried after him.

“Eric!” Eavan’s voice stopped me.

I looked around and saw the arena was filled with almost one hundred vampires, all standing still on the arena floor, evenly spaced around the wall, with ghostly perfection. They faced outward towards the stands and the Pack. Eavan ran over to me with Susan in tow.

Susan looked at me with respect and awe, having seen me fighting Vicktor. Eavan had her sword drawn and stood at the ready in case the vampires attacked. Susan looked fragile without a weapon and without thinking; I took off one of my gauntlets and placed it on her wrist.

I felt something click within my own gauntlet and both of the gems blazed with an inner light. Both gauntlets’ armor grew and I watched as they quickly covered our arms to the shoulder and flowed across our chests, just under our necks covering our other arm, ending in a medium sized oval shield situated on our forearms, leaving both hands free.

“Cool,” susan said as she admired her new weapon.

“What tha?” Eavan said.

Abaddon smiled slightly, impressed at my father’s abilities.

Susan and I glanced at each other and we knew without talking that this was the way it was meant to be. Our dad hadn’t made me two gauntlets; he had made us each a gauntlet that we were both supposed to wear.

I didn’t have time to marvel at this discovery when the vampires attacked. I saw out of the corner of my eye as Susan’s gauntlet blazed into life and mine followed suit. We kept in a tight group as the entire place erupted with chaos. The vampires flowed into the stands and started killing anything that stood in their way. I saw most of the O’Sullivan clan had tightened into a large defensive formation and were pretty successful at limiting their casualties. The vampires that got near them were soon reduced to body parts that slowly started to reform only to attack again.

Others were not so lucky. Many of the Pack had never encountered a vampire and the shock at their appearance caused them to stall, which cost them their lives. Vampires ripped arms from shoulders and heads from necks, within a short span of time the arena floor flowed with the blood of werewolves and the moving black ichor of the vampires.

Any foolish enough to attack us soon found themselves face to face with Susan’s and my flaming swords, Eavan’s devastating blade, Abaddons death dealing swords, Oengus’ destructive mace or Max’s flamethrower.

I was proud of my sister. She was clearly untrained, but her ability to adapt to this situation so quickly made my heart swell with admiration.

“Let’s cook us some vamps!” Max screamed.

Seven vampires came rushing at us and the night brightened as a steady stream of fire from Max’s flamethrower burnt two vamps to a crisp in an instant. Oengus stepped forward and with a powerful swing sent two vampires over the edge of the arena and out of sight. Abaddon’s blades moved faster than I could follow and the last three were quickly cut into pieces that Max turned to embers with his flames.

A fierce grin split his face as he looked at me and I matched it with one of my own. He wore his visor down and it covered his eyes with a mirror finish, keeping the paralyzing effect of the vampire’s stare at bay.

“How’d the rescue operation go?” I asked Abaddon over the chaos.

“It was a mess. The Descended turned under the full moon and by the time we got there the Ascended had overpowered and killed them. It took most of them to do it. They had been poisoned by silver. We got them out and airlifted them to safety.”

“Where’s Vicktor?” Abaddon asked me.

He, Oengus and Max had quickly turned our triangle into a hexagon. David had left us before my fight with Vicktor in search of his own family and friends.

“He ran off that way, when the vamps showed up,” I said, pointing to the open door.

Abaddon looked at where I pointed and then back to me.

“We can handle this; you better go make sure he doesn’t get away,” he said.

A deep fierce pride filled me knowing that Abaddon had faith in me to fulfill this task.

“Aye, ye better make sure he doesn’t screw it up,” Oengus said to Eavan.

She smiled at him and kissed his cheek. We both turned and rushed off after Vicktor, intent on making sure he found his just rewards.

Chapter 36

Eavan and I hurried through the doorway and easily followed Vicktor’s trail. We made a quick series of turns and went down a flight of steps. We soon entered the Hall.

We slowed our approach, fearing Vicktor may have some trap set up. Passing through the columns we had a straight line of sight to the throne. Vicktor sat on it, a small silver knife pressed against my father’s throat as he was chained to the floor. His face was a mask of pain and sickness. He looked dirty and weak. His face had a sallow look to it, like someone who hasn’t had anything to eat in far too long. I knew why he looked that way and realizing Vicktor had forced silver into my father made my rage build.

“Dad!” Emotions flooded through me.

Anger was the strongest as I saw my father being held captive like a slave. Guilt at not having figured out Vicktor’s role sooner and being able to free him, and lastly came the hurt at seeing him in pain and weakened. These emotions and many more slowly started to coalesce into a ball of white-hot fury.

He looked up at me and saw me in my Beast form; he noticed my gauntlet and fierce joy shone from him as he realized what had to have happened to unleash the gauntlet’s true makeup. Concern followed quickly and I knew what he was thinking.

“Don’t worry, Susan’s safe. She is Ascended and with Abaddon,” I said as he visibly relaxed.

“Don’t talk to the food!” Vicktor said and jerked on the chains, blood welled up from the small wound his knife inflicted on my dad’s neck.

“Son, be careful, it’s a trap,” he croaked, his voice sounded raspy and dry.

Vicktor yanked again and my dad went silent.

“Let him go Vicktor, it’s over,” I said. “You have nowhere to run.”

“Run? Who said anything about running?”

Jameson, the sorcerer and the two guys from the alley stepped out from behind the throne. I felt Eavan tense as the odds for our survival went down.

“Kill them!” Vicktor ordered.

Jameson swept his arm out and the small silver mace came flying at my face, the sorcerer held a long metallic spear that had a silver tip on it and he ran towards me with it, hoping to skewer me. The bald guy brought out his wide bladed sword and rushed Eavan from one side while the ponytailed guy came at her other side with his large hammer.

I spun away from Jameson’s incoming mace and swept my sword at it, disrupting its arc, making Jameson waste a few seconds getting it moving again. An instant later, I deflected the sorcerer’s spear as he thrust it at me. It swung wide and as he brought it back into the fray I stepped in front of him, using his body to block Jameson’s attacks.

I could tell the sorcerer was skilled but that made sense. He had mastery over his Beast that allowed him to alter animals; this required a lot of control, which would aid him when fighting.

His spear was great for long-range advantages. He could sit back and repeatedly stab at an opponent until he got a strike, weakening his adversary. Normally this would have been effective with me, but I now had a shield on my left forearm and brought it to use deflecting his attacks while I tried to get within the sorcerer’s defensive area.

He kept his distance and continued to harass me, trying to distract me from Jameson’s mace. I had to constantly block the sorcerer’s spear while at the same time make sure Jameson didn’t crush my skull. I managed to keep both attackers from scoring a hit, but knew that eventually one of them would get through and land a strike that would allow the other to kill me.

Hilliard’s spear sliced through the air and flashed towards my face. I ducked to the side and swept my swords up into an X, catching the spears shaft before he could pull it back. Twisting my body, I barely dodged Jameson’s mace as it flew past us. Before either Jameson or Hilliard could react, I swung his spear into the mace’s chain and managed to tangle them up.

Hilliard started to panic and changed his grip on the spear trying to pull it away from the chain. I never let him get the chance.

I took two quick steps towards him and as he awkwardly backpedaled, I smashed his face with my shield and followed it with a quick thrust, stabbing him in the heart. With an effort of will, I ignited the sword and saw in satisfaction as the sorcerer’s hood fell off and his ugly visage twisted in agony as his heart burned inside his body.

I snapped my blade back and ducked as Jameson sent his mace at me the second the sorcerer fell out of the way. He launched the mace at me over and over, never letting me get out of my defense. I watched his movements and realized I had seen them before. I silently thanked Abaddon for all his beatings he had given me and waited for the right moment.

As Abaddon had done before, I saw Jameson shift his weight as he sent the mace towards me, he twisted his wrist and the movement followed the length of the chain, sending the end spinning. It would have bypassed my normal defense and smashed my face, if I was still there.

I moved inside the attack and, like with Abaddon, I reached out and wrapped my hand around the chain. With a twist of my wrist, I sent Jameson’s mace flying back towards him.

Shocked awareness came over him as the mace raced at him and crushed his skull.

He dropped dead.

I looked over to see Eavan deftly dodge a sloppy attack from the hammer and spin her body. Her sword lashed out and her enemies head toppled from its body which fell to the floor. The body of the large sword wielding bald guy lay not far from his partner.

I turned to face Vicktor.

“Next,” I said.

I watched as Vicktor furiously considered his next move. He turned to the far door, looking for an avenue of escape and then an evil smile split his face into something hideous.

He took the knife and quickly plunged it into my father’s chest. Agony flooded through my dad as Vicktor’s knife sunk in to the hilt. He turned and fled, trying to make me choose between him and my dad.

Eavan rushed to my dad’s side and turned to me.

“Get the son of a bitch, I’ll see to yer dad,” she knelt by him.

My rage was red hot as I turned to Vicktor. I called on my Beast; I dug down deep and used a massive amount of energy to fuel me as I rushed to intercept him. Everything was a blur as I moved faster than I thought possible. Vicktor’s movements slowed down as I gained on him, my perceptions super charged with the aid of my Beast. As I ran past Vicktor ten feet before he reached the doorway I held my arm out and felt a slight push of resistance as my sword flowed through the meat and bone of his neck.

I stopped and watched as Vicktor’s body kept running through the door and slammed into the wall, without its head.

I hurried back to my father and fought the Beast down as its desires to continue to hunt and kill swept through me.

I shifted back to human form and knelt down next to him. Eavan had placed a strip of cloth at the wound and pulled it back, showing the blade buried deep in his chest.

“Hold still dad, I’m going to pull it out,” I said, reaching for the handle.

He stayed my hand and I looked at him.

“Son, it’s too late. The blade has hit my heart and severed my artery. I can feel my blood seeping into my body as we speak, if you pull it out it will flow freely and I’d lose what little time I have with you,” his face twisted in pain from speaking.

“There’s got to be something we can do, I won’t let you die,” I pleaded.

“The hardest lesson to learn is that sometimes all your power is never enough. Eventually we all have to go; this is a good way, with my son.”

My vision blurred as tears threatened to break free.

“I’ve missed you so much. Where have you been?” I asked.

Sadness swept over him and he took a deep breath, as if he was preparing himself for something.

He reached out and grabbed my wrist, the gem on my gauntlet flared to life and I began seeing a series of images flash before me, each accompanied by an innate understanding of what I saw.

My dad investigating the house of one of the missing Ascended, the place a total wreck with no evidence of the assailant. The realization of what this meant.

My dad standing at the end of my neighborhood, looking at our house, knowing that he had to destroy the vampire before risking coming home and inadvertently leading it there.

My dad searching for weeks, investigating every oddity reported to the police.

Finally finding the trail of a bloodsucker and following it to its dark hole.

Blood red eyes in the deep black. A realization that he made a mistake as the power of the lord and her spawns overwhelmed him and he was chained.

Lonely isolation interrupted by feedings, the vampire leeching energy only to leave behind a weakened shell.

Watching as I battled my Beast, helping as best as he can, giving advice when needed, his weakened state only allowing for minimal contact.

Amazement as Vicktor was chained up as well, the vampire feeding from him and reinforcing her will on him. Making him understand she was in charge. Wails of his surrender.

Vicktor’s pleas for her to give him one thing, my dad. Allow him to use my dad to get at a rising threat. Agreement.

Movement as he was transported from the dark tunnels to this place. Eating poisoned food, causing pain and weakness.

The images stopped and I came to in a rush. I stumbled off balance as if someone had pushed me. Tears streamed down my face.

“What was that?” I asked, breathless.

“The best I can do with so little time,” he said, waving my questions away with his hand.

“Let me look at you,” he said. “You have grown into a fine man. I can see your strength, but more importantly, your compassion,” he started coughing; it was a deep wet sound.

“Don’t talk, dad,” I tried.

He ignored me.

“Susan is okay? I see she has the other bracelet,” he said nodding toward mine.

“Yeah, she’s fine. Abaddon and Oengus are with her, and Max.”

“Max? Your friend from school?”

“Yeah, he’s a real badass now,” I said.

“Will wonders never cease,” he replied.

Another coughing fit hit him and I waited for it to pass.

“Take care of each other; I won’t be there to save you anymore,” he said.

I could see he was fading, fast.

He looked at me and smiled.

“Remember the football…” He said.

I watched as his face paled and his eyes glazed over, after a minute, he lay unmoving, dead.

He had been there, all this time I had no idea but my father had been with me. It wasn’t my father’s legacy that had helped me when I needed it, it was my father himself. This realization brought joy, knowing he hadn’t abandoned me. He had done everything he could to help. Grief slammed me like a freight train and I fell back as if I had been hit. A cloud of emotions engulfed me as I sat there holding my father’s body.

A potent feeling cut through my anguish as vile corruption washed over me. I was staggered by the sheer power of the vampire’s aura. It was an almost physical thing that seeped into my pores and threatened to poison me with its unnatural energy.

I turned from my dad and was unsurprised to see the vampire lord standing at the far end of the Hall. She was terrifyingly beautiful. Ruthlessly deadly, and she was facing me.

It’s tooo baaaad. He was a fount of energy. Now the son will replace the father,” she said with unconcealed venom.

She was the reason for all of this. This monstrosity took my dad and held him captive, she was the one who set Vicktor loose and she was the one who had been kidnapping werewolves to abate her hunger.

My rage swelled within me as I watched her. All my thoughts flowed out of me in a rush as my attention became singularly focused. I became an empty husk filled with a white hot rod of will. My only goal was to kill this bitch.

I absently reached over and took off my bracelet, placing it on my father’s lap. I didn’t understand what I was doing, only that I knew it was necessary. I rose and stalked towards the vampire lord, her aura a barrier that I waded into with only one purpose, her death.

Chapter 37

The Hunter watched with rapt attention as he kept his presence hidden. This hunt had been longer than most, shorter than some.

He knew that eventually his Prey would show itself. The One said so and so it shall be.

The Hunter watched as the Vessel slowly became more and more ready.

He watched as the Vessel fought his Beast and won.

He watched as the Vessel trained and grew as a hunter.

He watched as the Vessel fought his own sister and helped her win.

The Hunter watched from the shadows as the Vessel battled the false Leader and won, only to be denied the rightful end of the hunt by the Enemies spawns.

He watched as the hunt continued and he defeated the false Leader’s soldiers, ending in the false Leader’s death.

The hunter sensed as the Vessel emptied himself of all doubt and filled his core with undeniable will having come face to face with the Enemy.

Finally, he thought, it is time. The vessel is prepared and the final hunt is on.

Chapter 38

The Lord finally turned her stare towards me and I felt the pull of its fathomless eyes as it tried to drag me into them. A detached part of me knew my body wasn’t going anywhere, but I still felt as though I was being sucked into the dark abyss. My Beast rose up and tried to fight it, but I might as well have tried to stop an aircraft carrier with one tug boat.

I stopped trying to force myself from being pulled down but instead reached within myself and grabbed the white hot rod of fury that was burning at the core of my being. I took it in my hands and thrust it at the darkness. I felt satisfaction as it sank home and a feeling of pain and anguish hit me as I realized I was once again standing in the Hall facing the vampire.

She recoiled from my psychic answer to her assault and I watched as she narrowed her eyes at me and peeled her lips back from her teeth. Her mouth dropped lower than possible, reminding me of a snake unhinging its jaw in preparation of a much larger meal.

She hissed at me and the sound grated on me on multiple levels. I began to see the true nature of the Lord, the source of her strength. Surrounding her was a dark black cloud of wrongness. Icy cold radiated off it and I knew it was not of this existence.

At the same time, I felt the Hunter flow into me. A power filled my limbs that was the opposite of the Lords. This was the spirit of the Hunt, the pure exercise of life’s struggle for survival, while the Other was the inevitable surrender to death. Its presence settled into the empty areas I had created to allow my will to dominate my actions. As it filled me I gained a clarity I never knew existed.

The Hall snapped into unbelievable detail and I saw it as it was, as it is and as it would be. The lord was still there, but surrounding it and permeating its entire body like a shroud was a darkness that was absolute in its purity. I knew without realizing how that this was not normal for vampires. What infused this lord was what gave it the ability to control other vampires and how it became a lord in the first place.

It was an ancient evil, something that existed in the farthest reaches of the dark expanses of the universe. It sought out vessels that were prepared for it and tried to spread its essence through pain and anguish.

I also knew that what had filled me was this thing’s most hated enemy. I was consumed with the power of the Beast at such a pure level that I ceased to think of myself as myself.

I was the Beast unleashed, the Hunter unchained. It was time to once again make this thing afraid.

With no warning it rushed me. Without hesitation I answered its advance with my own. I joined in a battle that had been ongoing throughout the eons. My part as crucial in the outcome of this clash of titans as the power I had to use.

We slammed into each other and I felt the bones in my chest and ribs break only to instantly heal. The lord’s power was unimaginable as it landed blow after blow on me. I countered its attack and every hit shattered my arms only to have them reknit in a fraction of a second.

I was pushed back and without thinking, I planted my clawed foot and allowed the lord to land a devastating blow to my back as I dipped low and slammed into its stomach with my shoulder. Before it could react I bent down and jumped. The power I used slammed the vampire into the ceiling and a part of me was amazed as we ripped through the roof and up through the floor of the arena.

We flew apart as the devastating destruction of our trip through one level of the Den forced us to separate. I landed in a heap of dirt, wood and stone. I stood up and watched the lord rise from her pile of rubble. She had a two by four sticking out of her shoulder and she absently pulled it out, black ichor flowed to the site and her skin took on the perfect unwrinkled appearance again.

I knew there was still a battle raging around us but I ignored it, knowing where the real threat lay.

She flowed towards me and I had to grab her wrists as she tried to clamp them over my throat. Even with the power of the Hunter I had a hard time keeping her away and she slowly started to gain ground.

I kicked out and flipped over, bringing my feet up to her stomach, I pushed her off of me and she went sailing through the air and into the arena’s rock wall. For the third time that night a section of it crumbled. The rock exploded as she flew from the falling debris right at me.

She once again started pummeling me with her fists and I struggled to keep up. Her blows came faster and stronger and I had to let my conscious thinking fade away as I let the instincts of the Beast guide me. I trusted in the Hunter and quit trying to react, instead I just reacted.

Her attack became a blur of movement as I somehow knew that many had stopped to watch us, even the vampires. Her dark energy began to lick and pull at me, its vast frozen power tried to pull the power from me like some cosmic leech, intent on absorbing the sun’s fury, only to move on to the next one.

I felt something deep inside click as a memory flowed to me.

I was outside throwing the football with my dad, Susan was with us and we were running patterns, pretending we were in the Superbowl. I felt the warmth of the day and the smell of the clean autumn air. My mom brought us lunch and we sat on the grass and ate sandwiches, contentment and love filled me as I looked at my family, the memory as powerful now as on that long ago day.

The memory flowed through me and I took that love and added it to the Hunter, without knowing why, I channeled that love into a white-hot ball and felt it settle in my claws. I absently watched as a light began to glow from my hands and my claws ignited into flames. I noted the pain as my hands burnt, but it was faint, on the edge of my awareness.

Everything slowed down and I noticed the pattern the lord was using in her attack, her speed so great as to hide the predictable flow of her movements. I anticipated her next blow and dipped around it, swiping my claws down her shoulder and separating her arm from her body. I then followed that up with a strike that plunged my hands into her chest and deep into her heart. I pushed the love I had down my arm and I saw pain register for the first time on her face. Her body started to radiate a slight glow as I burned her heart from the inside.

She let out another inhuman wail and I felt blood trickle down my ears as something ruptured.

A split second later she exploded in a mass of burning vampire bits.

I felt a deep satisfaction from the Hunter as its hunt ended with success. It transferred to me a fleeting sense of thanks as it flowed out of me. I felt my awareness weaken as I came back into myself. My hands were on fire as I looked down and saw them a mass of burnt tissue, my fingers looked like charred sausages. They started to itch as my Beast healed them and I turned them over flexing.

A cacophony of inhuman wails split the night as the vampires reacted to their master’s death. They started drifting off into the night, now that they were no longer under her control.

Many took chase and continued to fight them, hoping to take advantage now that their Lord was gone.

I felt the trauma of what I had just gone through and my vision blurred as I almost fainted. Strong hands caught me as I looked up into the smiling face of my sister.

“Easy, bro, don’t make me carry you home,” she teased.

“More like leave me to walk on my own,” I answered.

I stood on my own power and brought her into a long embrace. Eavan arrived, carrying a bundle of clothes.

“I see ye got into trouble as soon as my back was turned,” she said as I got dressed.

“A guy’s gotta have some fun.”

I took Susan by the hand and led her to the Hall where she saw dad. She started crying and sat next to him for a while, holding him.

I searched the bodies and found a set of keys in the sorcerer’s pocket. I took them over and unclasped the manacles from my dad’s wrists.

I gently picked him up and carried him through the Den and outside. I placed him on a wooden picnic table left over from the festival.

I walked off into the trees to gather wood.

I saw as the remaining members of the O’Sullivan clan (which was most of them) had followed me outside and went into the forest to help me. There were many others as well, those who supported my dad and who now owed their allegiance to me.

With so many helping, I soon stood looking at the big funeral pyre we had built. I stood with Susan on one side and Eavan on the other.

We looked at my dad’s body and each of us took a long moment of silence as we remembered him and all that he did for us.

I took Susan’s right hand with my left and willed my gauntlet to grow. It flowed over my hand and forearm as its sword grew to its full length. I turned to Susan.

“Your turn,” I said solemnly.

She looked at her left hand and I saw her forehead wrinkle in concentration. I was just about to give up on her when she let out a sigh of achievement and her own gauntlet matched mine. I noted that her sword was a foot longer and narrower.

I then caused mine to ignite and the surrounding area lit up from the light of its flame.

Once again, I waited for Susan and after some time, she too ignited her sword.

We leaned forward and each of us brought the flames to the dried wood, watching as it quickly caught fire and soon the pyre was fully alight, sending flames twenty feet into the air.

Everyone stood and watched, deep in their own memories, mourning my dad, or their own loved ones they had lost.

Hours later the fire had died to a pile of glowing embers. I sat with Susan and we had been talking about things we remembered about dad, something we didn’t do after we buried him the first time. Eavan sat leaning on me, listening to us, content to just be at my side. Katrina and Max sat together nearby; his helmet lay at his feet, bringing a smile to my face whenever I saw it. After some time, I felt the presence of Abaddon and Oengus behind me.

I knew what they wanted, kissed my sister on the cheek before getting up and squeezed Eavan’s hand before facing them.

“You know I hate to bring this to you right now, but we need to talk,” Abaddon said. “You are now Pack leader. You have many duties and responsibilities that need attending to, especially after what has transpired.”

“I am the Pack leader, you are bound to obey my will, so long as it doesn’t break Pack law, isn’t that right?” I asked.

“Yes, I just said that,” he answered a little impatiently.

I raised my voice so that everyone could hear me.

“As the rightful leader of the Pack, my first order of business is to step down and appoint you, Abaddon, leader in my stead.”

Oengus smile almost split his face and he laughed heartily, slapping Abaddon on the back.

“He’s got ye now!”

Abaddon grabbed my arm and pulled me aside.

“What are you doing? You are the Pack leader,” he said.

“Don’t be ridiculous Abaddon. I am not ready to be Pack leader. I’m not even twenty years old for god sake,” I said. “The problem with the last appointee was that he was unable to standup to a real challenge and Vicktor took advantage of that. You’re the best fighter there is. Your skill with the blade is unmatched. You may be a little rough around the edges, but the Pack needs a strong leader right now, one who is also wise. That is you.”

“I don’t know what to say,” he said, flabbergasted.

“Say yes,” I answered.

His face shifted from one of uncertain apprehension to acceptance. He realized I was right, I wasn’t ready. One day I might be, but not now.

“I guess you should have this,” Abaddon said as he held his hand out.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Your father’s estate and all its holdings,” I looked down and saw he held a credit card.

“I have already transferred his account to you, per his request. Once your sister has gained member status, she too will inherit her share,” he explained.

I took the card off-handedly, amazed at the information.

“Your father left you a sizable sum of money and assets. You are now responsible for them,” he added.

“How much?” I asked, still in shock.

“Let’s just say you won’t have to worry about money again, ever,” he answered.

I smiled at him and turned to tell my sister the good news.

“What are you going to do?” He asked.

I looked over at my sister and Eavan; they were deep in a conversation, both already settling into an easy friendship. I saw Max sitting nearby with Katrina at his side, I’d have to ask him how the hell that happened, and I grinned lazily.

“I think I might just start my own Pack,” I said as I walked away from him.

I sat down with my friends and watched as the sun began to slowly rise, brightening the sky. A new day had begun and hopefully, with the help of my new Pack, a new life.

End.

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