If you saw the world through my delusions
Fooled yourself to what is real
Would it topple your institutions?
Force your knees to whom I kneel?
Kneel to the dark one!
Larissa wandered the streets of Bacau, Romania. Ancient buildings loomed over her. Statues of past royals stood like paranormal sentries. The last twenty-four hours had given her time to heal some of the wounds from her assault in the Moldovan mountains. The cuts on her leg and forearm refused to clot as fast as the others.
The setting sun cast distorted shadows across the city’s streets and down its alleyways. She passed its people and shops, understanding little. Some words sounded like they might be Russian, but then things blurred into a swirling pot of confusion. Larissa explored its sculpture gardens for the past couple of hours of daylight. After the grumbles in her gut refused denial, Larissa doubled back through the outdoor market. Her nimble fingers managed to lift some fruit and bread from a street vendor when she wasn’t looking. It wasn’t much, but it would hold her over for the moment.
Larissa finished her pear and wiped her mouth on the bottom of her heavy metal tee. Aria. At least Alex had decent taste. Her jeans stank and hadn’t been washed in at least a week.
“I’ve gotta find a place to lay low for a while.”
Larissa went back to an alley that looked promising earlier. She eyed the neon sign over the alley door as it flickered and buzzed to life. The Den. She strode to the door, her nose searching the air. A greasy grill. Malt booze. Pheromones galore. She went in and trotted down the flight of steps. Bass thumped from the DJ’s perch onstage. Her throng of dancers and fans moved to her mix. Larissa waited for the bouncer to divert his attention to another unruly patron, then ducked into the pulsing crowd. A group of people at the bar sized her up as she passed to a vacant table at the back of the party.
“Can I get you something to eat or drink?” A plump server pulled her pen from her blonde ponytail. Her brown eyes studied Larissa.
“I’ll have a sandwich and a drink.” Larissa found the server’s white nametag on her smock. Irina.
Irina had a doubtful expression.
Larissa scrounged in her pocket and slapped some bills on the table. Satisfied, Irina headed toward the kitchen. One of the women at the bar kept a close watch. Her smoky eyes danced between Larissa and the beer in front of her. Larissa gave fleeting glances. Black skirt. Sleeveless blue blouse. Arm tats.
“Here you go.” Irina sat a sandwich and a soda on the table with a copy of the bill.
Larissa passed the bill back with the cash. “Appreciate it.” Irina held up the money. “Keep the change.” She dug into the first decent meal she’d wrapped her hands around in days.
“Must be tasty.”
Larissa glanced up from her brazed beef and cheddar. The smoky-eyed woman.
The woman helped herself to a sliver of the meat. “I’m Simona.” She looked back at her cohorts at the bar. “I know you’re not like the others.” She licked her fingertips.
Larissa slurped her cola.
“We smelled you when you came through the door.” Simona bent in closer and sniffed. “You’re one of us.” Her gray eyes bore into Larissa’s soul from behind her dark curls. “Come. I’ll introduce you to your family.”
Larissa grabbed her plate and drink and followed the exotic woman to the bar. “Family?”
A brunette leaned in for a better look from the other side of a bald gent. “Bethany.” She sipped her tonic.
“Larissa.” She took another bite out of her sandwich.
Simona rubbed the arm of the muscular man beside her. “This is Trevor.” She leaned in and pecked him on the lips. “My man.”
Trevor’s blue gaze scanned her. “One of us, eh?”
Larissa nodded through her bite.
He drained the dregs from his pint. “You’re in luck, young lady. You’ve found us at an opportune time.”
“What he means,” Simona said, “is that we’re on our way back to the village later tonight.”
Bethany swirled the ice in her thin glass. “You’re welcome to come with us, if you want.”
Larissa sipped her drink. “Where would that be?”
Simona plunked onto her barstool. “Northern Hungarian Mountains.”
“Jesus!” Trevor slapped her ass. “You want half of the town to know?”
The bartender took his pint and replaced it with a full one. Trevor cursed the man with his eyes.
“Relax.” Simona rubbed his chiseled bicep. “In an hour, we won’t have any witnesses.”
The tender took Larissa’s empty plate. Her brows wrinkled. “What do you mean?”
Simona bobbed her head at the bouncer. “Don’t worry.” She stared Larissa down. “Are you coming with us or not?”
“Sure,” Larissa said. The bouncer had moved to block the sole means out of the subterranean lair. “Why not?”
Trevor took a big swill from his mug and rose from his seat. “I say we tear it up on the dance floor.”
Bethany hooted and spun out into the pulsing crowd. “I’m down.”
Simona finished her man’s beer and joined them. Larissa nursed her drink and watched. Lights fanned and spun around the room. Lasers pulsed from hidden perches. Strobes shot across the crowd. Faces and bodies frozen for an instant. Some vibrant and cheerful. Others caught in a seductive moment. Hips grinded. Hands caressed. Simona turned around and rubbed herself against her man. The bass grew louder, more primal. One moment, they swayed to the groove. The next, their faces stretched and contorted. Bethany came up behind Trevor and grabbed his diamond-studded belt buckle. Hair hung from her cheeks and neck. Incisors lengthened. Ears stretched. She unfastened the belt and his jeans dropped to the floor. Bethany’s claw dove into his boxers as her mouth formed into a muzzle. Simona flipped up her skirt and let her man penetrate her. Couples around them backed away, their horrified expressions caught in the strobes.
Bethany sauntered around next to Simona. When the black-haired beauty had taken off to mangle her first victim, Bethany ripped off her panties and backed into Trevor, taking her place. He tore his button-down shirt from his furry torso and howled. His nostrils flattened as fangs appeared. He grabbed Bethany’s hips and sped up until both had had their fill.
Larissa’s heart raced. Beads of sweat formed on her cheeks. Trevor’s gaze found hers. A burning sensation engulfed her. Hairs on her arms sprouted forth. Larissa stood. His blue eyes summoned her. Her body couldn’t resist. She slid off her pants and underwear and strode to meet her lover in the stirring crowd. Bethany grunted at her approach and ran off in search of a snack. Larissa stood before him, her teeth transformed. Trevor’s claws grabbed her tee and tore it from her body. She turned her back to him, lifting her ass for her mate. The alpha male of their clan mounted her and went to work. Larissa’s mind spun in a euphoric kaleidoscope of sensual ecstasy and the nightmarish bloodbath that surrounded them. He pushed harder and deeper. She arched her back into their orgasm, her maw of razors whispered his name. Both charged the horrified mass and tore them limb from limb.
On the run. The wind in her fur. Larissa galloped hard to hold pace with the rest of her new family. The first real family she had ever known. Trevor remained at the head of their pack where he had been for a day since their departure from the city. His coat of midnight fur rustled in his wake. The violet undulations of the Carpathians beckoned them. She ran with the pack up winding trail and over trickling stream until they stopped on a hilltop under a sorrowful moon.
Trevor’s black muzzle sniffed the earth and followed a scent into the heart of this abandoned village. Larissa’s ears perked at the flight of a bird from the charred hull of a home. She loped into its sad remains. A faint odor of their kind lingered still. Simona shook her brown fur and trotted into the home on the opposite side of the dirt path. Bethany’s coat of white disappeared with Trevor farther down the trail. Larissa’s snout followed the scent to its source. Scraps of singed clothing too small to fit an adult. Charred stuffed animals and books in ruin. Their scents unlocked hidden tales. An unspeakable, unforgiveable tragedy happened here. She trotted out to rejoin the others in the town square. Trevor sniffed at an arrangement of stones on the ground and whimpered. Simona and Bethany tapped the formation with their noses. Trevor shook his head and sprinted into the dark wood on the other side of the desolate town.
They found a cave and rested by day in the Hungarian lowlands. Having lost all their human clothes, the pack kept away from civilized eyes which suited them better. They swam, gathered fish for their fires, and fornicated. Once night’s cloak fell, they took back to the trails, following streams up into their sources in the northern highlands. By the time the brown of pre-dawn had emerged on the horizon, the pack had reached their village home in the Northern Hungarian Mountains.
Simona walked over to Larissa in the town’s street. “That cut on your arm.” Larissa’s gaze followed hers. “Where did you get it?”
“I was at a rock concert a while back.” Larissa cleared her throat. “A fight broke out there. Probably got it then.”
Simona rolled her forearm over. “Silver, wasn’t it?”
“Think so.” Larissa winced as Simona’s finger caressed the wound.
“They take much longer to heal.” A shroud of suspicion fell over Simona.