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Author's note: Like many others, I've always found werewolves to be the most fascinating of movie monsters. They've been depicted in so many ways, that it's difficult to dip into their world, but I hope to achieve success with genuine emotion and startling plot twists.
Wind whipped around the young woman like a merciless beast, clawing and grabbing at the cloth of her simple, white dress. Her fleeing form seemed to flicker from that of a seventeen-year old girl and that of a she-wolf with a coat of silver flecked with smoky grey in the dim light of the fat, harvest moon. The densely clustered trees provided extra cover as she bounded over treacherous roots and fallen logs as gracefully as a doe. A hoarse croak sounded through the still, cool night air; an omen of what was to come. Startled, the girl paused and listened. Her name was Heather and as she halted her brisk flight, her frantic mind replayed the horrific events that had happened since…
Little hope was left for her family now, for a crisp, autumn breeze brought the smell of smoke, burning wood, and even traces of delectable pies. Just then, a raven appeared, a forbidding shadow crafted from the dark. It perched on a spindly branch above Heather; its beady eyes gazing cruelly at her, mocking her choices and the disastrous consequences that befell because of them. This particular bird was responsible for most of Heather’s problems, marked by a strange crown of silver-white feathers on its head… it was more than an ordinary raven, Heather knew. Abruptly weary and heavy with guilt, she leaned against a nearby birch tree, feeling the rough, flaky bark peel off at her fingertips. At last, the already-present tears began to fall.
Lost in the past, Heather remembered better times with her family, the Vantres. Everyone in town had once thoroughly respected her father, Gabriel Vantre, with his sharp, scientific mind. Yet, he had been ridiculed for his attempts to mix physics with magic. What no one will ever know is…. that it worked, thought Heather bitterly. Angry cries could be heard in the distance now, along with the wail of sirens and the guttural snarls of police dogs. Heather glanced up quickly from behind her veil of dark hair; she knew they were out for blood. Impossibly fast, she ran to the edge of the clearing. Before leaving, the teenage girl shot one, last piercing, hate-filled glare at the raven.
“Toli,” she vowed, “I’ll get you someday. So, you better watch your cowardly back.” With that, she sprinted off and was no more. In her place was the beautiful, silvery she-wolf.
Like an arrow, she fled through the forest. But before she could escape her own tragic memories, the she-wolf stumbled across a body. Mixed with the pine scent was the smell of freshly spilled blood. Heather recognized the marred face.
Arin… my dear cousin, Arin…. It can’t be, were her paralyzed thoughts. She buried her muzzle in his still-warm neck, the sweet, salty taste of blood on her tongue. With no purpose but to mourn, the she-wolf raised her blood-covered muzzle to the stars and howled. A cry so anguished you could almost hear the choked sobs of a young girl… When the hunting party heard it, they stopped fearfully. Soon after they found the body, though and their outraged shouts pierced the silence, but their dogs could no longer catch Heather’s scent. For the wolf prints led into the distance, then faded into oblivion.
“And so, he conquered the largest land our people have ever gained. This was the beginning of…. Blah, blah, blah.”
For the fifth time that day, the history professor’s droning, monotonous voice caused Heather to nearly fall asleep, again. A high-pitched squeak jolted her out of a daze and she looked around wildly for the source of the noise.
Crouched underneath a priceless antique desk, was a small, emerald and violet dragon, the tail of a white mouse disappearing down his gullet.
Heather glanced at her teacher, hoping he hadn’t heard. No, he had started pacing back and forth. A good sign, because it meant he was eager to leave and class was nearly over.
“Eshi!” she hissed, careful not to rise above a whisper.
The creature blinked up at her with wide, blue eyes, seeming to consider the values of obeying. Finally, he made up his mind and scampered up to Heather quietly, not making a sound on the plush carpet.
She winced slightly as his curved claws made their way up her arm and Eshi nestled himself in the curve of her left shoulder. No need to be so harsh! His voice muttered in her mind.
Deciding to ignore the annoying dragon for now, she sat up straight on her comfy cushion and surveyed her surroundings impatiently. It was no ordinary classroom. More like a rich ambassador’s abode, in fact.
Furnished with beautiful, wooden furniture like the desk under which Eshi had consumed the unfortunate mouse, burgundy walls decorated with awards and paintings, and expensive pillows and cushions, like the one Heather sat upon, littered the floor, it was one of the most habitable places in the whole underground complex her family called home.
There were only two disadvantages to the room: one, there were absolutely no windows, which she had continually petitioned for to no avail, and two, there were only several other students in the room besides Heather.
Why, you ask?
Because Heather was the daughter of one of the most influential men in the whole Vantre clan, and so, it had been arranged for her to be taught by some of the greatest minds of her people, along with a few other lucky aristocrats. Also, classes were arranged by age. Heather was 17 and considered fortunate to be alive.
Hardly any of their kind had made it to adulthood in the past two centuries. Many of the youths would go stir crazy from being kept in hiding, unable to go outside on a daily basis. They would usually get themselves killed.
Heather on the other hand was smarter than that. Oh, she wanted to be free of rules and the confines of this fancy cell more than any one. But she knew there was a better way to obtain what she desired. Waiting had worked until now and it would suffice a little longer.
Ring! Ring! Ring! The bell jumped up and down gleefully on Professor Olay’s desk, signaling the end of classes for the day.
Relieved sighs escaped from tired students and Heather followed the rest in the rush to escape the stuffy chamber. Her usual haste to get out was increased by her anticipation to meet one of her old friends.
Hey. Hey! Eshi complained, digging in his claws so he wouldn’t be dislodged from her shoulder. It had happened once, on accident, when a bustling crowd caused him to nearly get trampled. No matter how much Heather had apologized, he still held a grudge for that.
What are you hurrying for? You don’t have to report to your father until three more hours.
“I have an appointment with someone else,” Heather replied shortly. She ducked and weaved and agilely between the people until she started descending down a winding stairway. Her pace became less rushed, to Eshi’s great relief.
Ooooohhh! He teased. Going to meet your new boyfriend, are we?
“No!” she retorted.
Talon… Though she would never admit it to Eshi of all people, Heather did have a soft spot for him. They’d known each other since they were kids and had yet to have their first full shifting. After all those years of friendship, she couldn’t help her feelings for him changing and becoming more potent.
It wasn’t easy to have friends in the Circle anymore. Once the only safe place for werewolves in Europe during the dark ages, more kept on leaving for new homes and fresh starts and the huge building was quickly becoming emptier.
As it became harder and harder to fight the hold of loneliness, Heather had found she needed Talon’s friendly smile and sure confidence more than ever. Even her ingenious father could not cure all emotions, whether they referred to their people or humans.
They had now reached the bottom level of the tower she had entered. The stairs ended at a tall, wooden door with a complicated lock on it. Behind it lay the training and weapons room and across from that, in the opposite tower, were the torture chamber. Heather had never visited that room, but had heard terrible rumors and learned to stay clear.
Taking deep, calming breaths to dispel any dismal thoughts that might intrude on her precious time with Talon, she approached the door. It had been left carelessly ajar, so thankfully there was no need for her to utilize her inhuman strength.
Heather slipped in between the crack swiftly, with Eshi right behind. With her hands easing it shut, she was about to turn around and relax at the carefree smile that awaited her when a sudden whistle of air warned her a projectile was headed her way.
Thunk! A wickedly curved dagger embedded itself in the oak of the door a mere inch from her head.
Heather stared, wide-eyed at the dagger that had come so close to ending her short life, werewolf or not. When Eshi noticed, he began growling and words I cannot repeat were issuing from his mind.
Another curse, this one not so colorful came from a boy in front of her. He had been crouched in an attack position, one that Heather recognized from her own training, and was now coming out of it. His glare softened when he noticed her, still gasping from her brush with danger.
“Sorry about that,” he apologized.
Heather pivoted on her feet and swiftly yanking the weapon out of the wood, threw it with precise ease right back at the boy.
His hand came up and caught it by the leather hilt. Thank the goddess for quick reflexes.
“Talon,” Heather referred to him, trying hard to keep a smile from spreading across her lips.
His lopsided grin was contagious.
“At your service.”
All six feet of him bowed at her in a ridiculous manner. Her attempt to keep from giggling became fruitless.
Talon was seventeen and tall for his age, like her. He had a mop of dark brown hair that was always kept in casual disarray. His build was lithe, but muscular. What was most amazing about him though were his eyes, a vibrant green color that got a glint of amber in them in the right lighting.
Her eyes roved appreciatively over his body. Like usual, he was clad in a loose graphic tee and loose jeans. When her light blue ones rose to meet his again, she noticed he was silently shaking with mirth.
“What?” Heather demanded.
“Nothing. You’re just so funny!”
Before she could even think to be offended, Talon sauntered forward and pulled her into a warm embrace. She stiffened automatically, before surrendering and returning it gladly.
This was what she wanted. To be close to someone who truly understood her and would see past her haughty exterior and her desperate loneliness. Heather knew this was true. Many a moonlit night had she spent with Talon. Their hands and fates entwined seemingly forever…
Then the connection was severed. He put his hand behind his head and messed up his hair in that nervous way guys do. It was unbelievably hot.
“I am really sorry about that throwing knife thing,” he murmured sheepishly.
She shrugged and wandered over to a table where polished weapons covered it in a bristling array. There were maces, swords, daggers of all shapes and sizes, shurikans, axes, spears, bow and arrows and many other killing devices that Heather didn’t recognize.
If she didn’t know better, she would have thought Talon lived down here. He had even arranged a scruffy couch and a mini-fridge in a corner, along with a great sound system. It was truly amazing the quality of sound they got all the way underground, in the bowels of the Italian mansion that served as their cover.
He twirled one of the lighter axes expertly. There was an odd look on his face as he stared at her and she fidgeted uncomfortably. Under scrutiny, she had never been able to keep a poker face. Her emotions tended to just show themselves plainly.
Are you just going to stand there giving him moony eyes all day? Or are you going to accomplish what you came here to do? Eshi’s voice prodded her for answers dryly.
Heather scowled at him darkly. He had already claimed the most comfortable spot on the couch and flicked his tongue at her lazily, and immaturely, if she might add.
There was a problem with forging a bond with a dragon, unfortunately. It was only possible because both werewolves and dragons had magic flowing through their veins. During the Dark Ages, each species had realized their plight and had become allies so their survival could be more possible. Who knew where they might have been if they hadn’t reached a compromise?
The link gave Eshi access to some of Heather’s better-kept secrets and to most of her inner thoughts as well. For these reasons, not many of her people had dragon companions at the present. In a society hidden from the most widespread sentient beings on the planet, secrets were key to each individual and the whole.
She realized that Talon had been talking to her and she gave him a bewildered glance.
He sighed dramatically.
“Would you like a Coke?”
Was that all? She frowned. These days she was getting distracted way too easily. Eyes on the prize from now on…
“Sure,” she replied and flopped down on the abused couch.
Heather went through her plan of action once more, but failed to see the point of it. After all, her father had even kept her in the dark. His only daughter and heir to the family name!
Visiting Talon was a bonus, with both of them together they had devised a way to sneak out of the Circle undetected and roam among the humans as they pleased. I mean, really! What was the point of only letting them out on the full moon or during festivals? The Dark Ages were indeed over, it was time to let the next generation do the talking and make the decisions.
The couch groaned and Heather felt the weight shift next to her. Talon handed her a chilled Coke.
His eyes were glinting impishly like they always did when he knew she was plotting something.
“So, you’ve been practicing too?
Heather snuggled closer to him. “Uh huh, you know how good I am at the bow, but I’ve been working with a dagger lately.”
He smiled and took a swig of his Coke.
It was true that she was excellent with the bow. Her marksmanship was close to perfect and she’d been at the top of her class. It may have seemed irresponsible to let minors learn how to kill with lethal efficiency, but it was all part of life and how to survive in that big, bad world.
“He’s still hiding his project from me,” Heather informed Talon, resting her head on his strong shoulder. Such a casual motion, but it also felt special and intimate.
A light chuckle came from his chest. “Yeah, but he’s keeping it from the Elders and everyone else, too. Those old geezers are starting to get pissed.”
An image of the ancient men and women ruling their government fuming and throwing tantrums flashed through her mind. She had to put down her soda before taking a sip so she wouldn’t spew it all over.
How it was so hilarious, Heather had no idea. But, hey, it was her imagination. No control existed there at all. Which was sad when it reverted to creating steamy scenes between Talon and her.
“You okay?” the unknowing guy wondered.
“What did you come here for?”
His abrupt and to the point question threw her off balance. Oh yeah, this was supposed to be more than a pleasure visit.
Eshi appeared to agree with her line of reasoning. At least some one is getting to where we want to be.
Shut up! She ordered him in her mind, not wishing to insult Talon.
Talon had continued past his original question, “I mean, I love having you here, but… you know when I have my training sessions and you wouldn’t have risked your neck unless you really needed to talk.”
Heather was hurt. She thought he had enjoyed having her visit. Despite his assurance that he did, in fact, like her here. Well, she guessed it was time to stop stalling.
“Father wants to have a talk with me today,” she intoned stiffly.
Talon, unfortunately, actually did choke on his drink. He thumped his chest hard to clear his airways before being able to speak again.
His eyebrows knitted forward in that adorable way of his. Goddess! She had to get a new hobby! Another one.
“Do you know why he wants to ‘talk’?”
“Nope. But I hope he’ll tell me something useful, instead of chewing me out for ditching class like he did last time.”
He chuckled at the memory. Oddly, Heather hadn’t found that ordeal as amusing. For weeks, he’d posted two burly guards at her side to make sure she didn’t sneak out.
Even her accusations at the sentries proposed ‘stalking’ would not relieve them. Back to the present, Talon was waiting to mention something when Heather was off in la-la land.
“Dr. Gabriel told the Elders he was working on a substance that could bring humans and werewolves together, right?”
She nodded, it sounded okay. “Yeah. Supposedly, its mostly fear that we are superior that has caused them to hunt us before. Of course, that’s rightly justified. We are stronger, faster and more clever.”
They exchanged a mutual grin. Neither had ever been close to a human, so they weren’t really one to decide. Only occasional nightly jaunts ever brought them across the scent of a vigorous hiker and maybe a dog or two.
Talon snorted. It caused Eshi to start from his nap and he growled in annoyance. Heather tried to refrain from telling him that they were due to meet her father soon anyway.
“That wouldn’t work!” Talon laughed. He’d heard the rumor, but had put it off as a tall tale until now. “There’s no way in hell that we could put behind all of our people they’ve killed in the past and work with them like good, obedient, little servants. Because that’s what we’d be, humans are never content with being equal. Some one has to be on the top and you can be sure it won’t be us!”
At the end of his rant, Talon’s carefree expression had grown dark. Heather sat meekly beside him, not daring to voice her opinion until he had calmed down. Many werewolves felt the same way as him and she agreed with them… to a certain degree.
If they couldn’t learn to coexist, then they would never be free. She would live her whole life in this safe cage, fine-tuning her natural skills for no purpose. Unless, she moved to a different shelter, but, would the rules be any different there? Not likely.
Hope allowed Heather to remain determined to fight for some sort of understanding. They didn’t have to love each other and everything, for the Goddess’ sake! Just live in the same place.
None of this did she tell Talon, though. It was traitorous to think that her people’s well-being could be sacrificed for fresh air daily. But, then, her father wanted this too, didn’t he? Maybe his way to go about it would be safer; making the finicky Elders actually consider the possibility.
Talon was lounging against her, all his muscles relaxed now. Heather could hear his soft snoring and she smiled slightly. Staying here would be bliss, yet the doctor awaited her.
Carefully, she slipped out from underneath his arm that was wrapped around her shoulders. Giving him one last fond, lingering glance she tiptoed stealthily out of the room.
On her way out, she checked to see that Eshi had followed and let him leap onto her shoulder again. It was time to enter the lair of rebellious new notions and possibly, just barely, the chance for all of them to regain their rightful position of power in the outside world.
Climbing up the highest tower in the Circle, Heather took her own sweet time. By no means was she eager to talk to her dad, or “Father” as he insisted she call him. Ever since her mom had died- actually she’d been murdered, but of course they didn’t tell you that half of the story- Dr. Gabriel had devoted his entire life to his work.
And, yes, you guessed it, that meant he had hardly any time left for own flesh and blood- such a jerk.
Only one thing kept Heather from turning right back around and continue snuggling with Talon, and the prospect of a nice hunt outside of the complex. She could just imagine the cool, night air against her fur and the soft grass underneath her paws. The Elders may have outlawed it, but it didn’t mean a few rebels didn’t sneak out here and there.
They couldn’t wait to test their new method of escaping undetected. The last plan had ended in them nearly getting caught by the sentinels aboveground. Not a very good idea if you wanted to keep your head attached to your shoulders.
So, hopefully, this one would work out better. Others before them had already figured out various ways. It couldn’t be too hard, could it?
Heather halted outside the door. Eshi jumped to the windowsill and gazed at her with that what-are-you-waiting-for expression. There were only windows on the few upper levels of the circle, which included the East Tower where her father had the best view of the tiny Italian city where they lived, but never ventured outside.
Her hand was raised; about to knock politely like parents always told you to, when she heard angry voices inside; really angry voices.
Now, the right thing she should have done would be to just come back later when the good doctor was alone. But, Heather would willingly disobey the highest ruling body of her kind, so she had no scruples about a little eavesdropping.
When she crouched down, cupped her right ear and pressed it against the thick wooden door to hear more clearly, Eshi began to get suspicious. Of course, he had every right to, but it was still annoying.
What are you doing now Heather? He hissed in her mind and for real, too.
Shush! Heather scolded him and put her finger to her lips. She didn’t bother to inform him of her motives directly. If he wanted to pull the thoughts out of her head, he could try, but it would hurt.
“This is crazy Gabriel! You could get the whole clan wiped out! Maybe even our entire species!” a deep male voice fumed on the other side.
It sounded familiar to the young woman. A relative or close family friend, perhaps?
“Calm yourself, Bedon. If all goes accordingly no such tragedy will happen.” That was her father’s cool and always unperturbed monotone. Hearing that voice when you longed for feeling and comfort used to be an icy shock for Heather when she was a sobbing little girl.
A few moments of silence passed, with Heather’s heart hammering in her chest. Had she let out an involuntary gasp? Did they know she was eavesdropping?
The sound of a chair being scraped backwards jolted her out of her terrified reverie. There was a sigh, presumably from whoever sat down.
“What exactly is the purpose of your magic concoction? It seems foolhardy and impossible to me,” Bedon muttered quietly.
Heather could imagine her father pacing back and forth, yet again trying to explain something scientific to those not quite so brilliant as he.
“Humans are afraid of us and hunt us why, Bedon? What have we ever done to make them hate us so?”
More silence, while the doctor’s friend pondered the question.
“Because they fear that we are superior to them. Strength, intelligence, speed and the possession of what they don’t have.”
Was it Heather’s imagination or was there a smug tone to his voice? It was disturbing that so many werewolves felt the need to reign over humans. That was their problem, in fact…
“And what do we have they do not?” Dr. Gabriel asked impatiently.
Bedon’s replies were coming quicker now, “Magic.”
Heather exchanged a dumbfounded look with Eshi. She knew their transformations were based on magic, but what did that have to do with anything? It was in their genetic code, humans just didn’t have the gene.
“Yes!” the doctor verified triumphantly. “But they do have physics. So, what would happen if we mixed the two together?”
Bedon sounded furious again, “Chaos, disaster, an early apocalypse. No such thing should happen.”
She leaned into the door more; the conversation was getting more and more unsettling.
Dr. Gabriel sighed, the sigh of an old and crazy genius whose discoveries are ignored in favor of sanity. “No, my misguided friend. It won’t, because I’ve already done it.”
Another pregnant pause, this time with Heather actually beginning to understand what her “father” was really saying and Eshi was hissing obscenities in her head without restraint.
“You’re… you’re kidding… right?” Bedon sputtered, seeming even more shocked than the two uninvited listeners to the truth of the affair.
“Not at all. Come here. I will show you how far I’ve gotten so far.”
They waited outside with bated breath, while there was a clatter and the shuffling of feet as the doctor showed his colleague whatever his secret project was. Heather steamed with frustration about not being able to see it, but she wasn’t willing to leave now that the secrets were being unveiled.
“Impressive,” Bedon murmured reluctantly.
She could imagine Dr. Gabriel’s affronted expression, then the pleased smirk.
“Impressive doesn’t even begin to cover it. This little elixir will grant the solution to the differences between the two species. It will restore magic to the human gene pool and will grant werewolves their full potential once again, of which we were stripped during the Clan Wars. Of course, the human government need not know about the later. As long as they believe they have the strength to control or even conquer us, they will sign the treaty. After all, only a few even know of our existence.”
The young girl shifted uneasily on her side of the wall, while her mind screamed defiance at the impossibility of the doctor’s ill-fated dream. This wasn’t the way to go about making peace! Their headquarters, the upper portion only, belonged to the pitiful humans. Even the strongest of their kind would quail in the face of so much power within their reach and… the massacre would resume where they had left off. Just so they could get what they wanted…
All this Heather communicated to Eshi, her despair echoed in his sapphire eyes. Her rebel nature simmered to the surface and her heart urged her to find a better way and convince her father to stop this madness. But, these brave notions were vanquished as swiftly as they had come at Bedon’s; she swore she knew that name from somewhere, next inquiry.
Dr. Gabriel had launched into a long and complicated explanation of how his elixir worked and how he had managed to mix both magic and physics together. Now, with only one unclear part.
“What if it doesn’t work, Gabriel? You realize this could backfire just as quickly as you could say Cham’s little toe?”
Eshi chuckled at Bedon’s comment and Heather had to prevent a small giggle from escaping by covering her mouth. Cham was a hero in their legends, but a rather stupid one at that.
His rival to the throne challenged him to several tasks, including causing bodily harm to himself. Of course, this logic only extended so far, but there was his honor at stake, not to mention, a pretty maiden. So, Cham proved his ‘bravery’ by cutting off his little toe. Typical.
Just another one of those legends Heather was forced to listen to when she was younger. While she laughed at the story’s absurdity, all the other kids her age- though there were very few- would gasp and ‘aww!’ about every little part.
This was a small distraction to keep her mind away from the dire conversation. It almost gave her away, if not for scolding Eshi, which made her feel much better.
There had been a pause in between the two speakers in Dr. Gabriel’s office. Finally, he spoke again, nearly in a whisper, but his tone was so deadly serious that Heather wanted to cover her ears so she wouldn’t hear his reply echoing inside her head.
“If my project fails, then there will be what our Elders have been fearing for too long. War.”
Her heart, already beating like a rabbit’s, caught in her throat. Heather gasped aloud, there was no way they couldn’t have heard her. But, war! Her father had been a pacifist, but was he really willing to go so far as igniting the sparks between humans and werewolves?
A rough, scaly tail wrapped around her mouth and pulled her back from the huge door.
Run! Eshi ordered. Go Heather! They will be coming out!
What? Her sluggish brain responded.
Then, there were more scrapes from inside and silence before Eshi’s intuition was confirmed.
Bedon’s voice was surly and irritated, “I think someone is listening in to our discussion.”
“Yes,” her father agreed slowly. “They will have to be punished…”
Heavy, purposeful footsteps heading her way, Heather whipped her attention away and exchanged a panicked glance with Eshi.
Go! To your study! Talon is waiting!
Talon? Why would he be there? Heather shook herself; there was no time to clarify. She leaped to her feet swiftly and darted down the corridor to the right. Praying that an entity would mask the sound of her escape, she descended, into the maw of the Circle, away from the real world and deeper inside the hopelessness and fury rising within her…
* * *
By the time she had reached her study, which was really her room, Heather was gasping in quick, ragged breaths. Not from physical exertion, it took more than a quick sprint to wear her out, but from a relentless combination of terror and wrath that pounded inside her abused head.
She didn’t even notice when, after she had flown into the room as if the Devil’s minions were after her, Talon swept her up into his strong, warm arms and cradled her against his well-muscled chest. Small sobs betrayed her attempt at remaining indifferent and a comforting hand stroked her dark, ruffled hair.
When Heather’s tears no longer came and her fear was replaced by her trademark determination, she looked up into Talon’s gorgeous face, made irresistibly cute by his expression of concern with furrowed brow and pouting lips. Sadly, the perfect view was interrupted by Eshi’s not-so-welcome presence.
Houston, we have a problem, he informed her dubiously. Like, she didn’t already know that!
Heather was about to scold the persistent dragon, when Talon spoke slowly and carefully.
“What happened? I heard Eshi, and detected a disturbance in your mind, but…”
Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that little part. All werewolves were related by blood, there hadn’t been a mixing outside the clan for centuries. With this, came a handy trick, they could all discern the overall mental state of one of their own, also known as, being able to tell whether someone was sad, angry, happy etc.
Unless you wanted to hide how you were feeling, it was mostly useful. Mostly… at least they couldn’t hear anyone’s thoughts.
Tumbling over her words and trying to spill out the conversation between Dr. Gabriel and Bedon as swiftly as possible, Heather told Talon everything. Her despair and misery was obvious as she gazed into his face, trying to communicate how badly she wanted to change her father’s plan.
Sighing, Talon adjusted her on his lap and stared at her long and hard. “You want to find an alternate solution.”
When he spoke, it wasn’t a question. Damn! He knew her too well.
She nodded and bit her lip anxiously. The wheels in her brain were already turning. Heather wasn’t so much for thinking calmly and logically during times of panic, but she could have her moments, if it involved plotting and scheming.
“How about we work this out later?” Talon suggested, oblivious to the extent of Heather’s inner turmoil.
A merry jingle to the right made her swing her attention back to her friend. He was holding a set of odd, ancient keys by his left thumb and forefinger, dangling it in front of her teasingly.
Her mouth opened in a silent “no way!” Talon’s cocky grin said it all and he took her by the elbow to drag her up with him. Not willing to be left behind, Eshi latched onto her shoulder again, like the obnoxious little parasite she knew and loved.
As they moved rapidly down the winding maze of pathways, Heather grew less and less self-conscious. Talon continued to drag her along, now holding her by the hand and he would give her a secretive smile every now and then. It was like they were little kids again, sneaking out of bed to explore when they had been specifically told not to.
After a while, they started talking about frivolous things; music, movies, the night’s plans, anything to steer the topic away from the glaring problem facing them. Heather’s laughter bounced joyfully off the damp, stonewalls and the sound surprised her. When had she become such a killjoy and stopped having fun? Being serious was for adults and she didn’t want to be compared to the old geezers on the High Council, did she?
They reached the final stretch of ancient stone, with the waxing moon glowing through the pathetic, side window that had been inserted into the upper corridor almost as an afterthought. Every fiber of every cell inside Heather basked in its light, drawn to the moon by that lunar attraction that werewolves were always so well known for.
Her eyes had closed in pleasure, when she heard a sharp, slick sound and the scent of blood hit the roof of her mouth like a freight train. She felt a sudden tug from her hand that Talon was holding and glanced at him wildly.
Heather’s thoughts were veering in the worst possible direction when an exasperated thought probed her mind, Calm down and look at where he inserted the skeleton key, O Paranoid One.
Why was it that Eshi almost always had the unexplainable need to treat her like a total idiot? She resolved to save her scathing comeback for another, more appropriate time and peered at the hand Talon wasn’t using to hold hers.
Yes, the blasted dragon had been right. Heather hadn’t taken this special passage to the outside for a while and she’d forgotten the requirements that the door demanded to allow them to pass. Talon had used his pocketknife to slice the fleshy skin of his palm and allow several crimson drops to spill onto the twisted, silver key.
He sent her a reassuring smile as if he had sensed her distress, and, in this case, he probably had, and watched the blood disarm the door’s magical defenses.
There weren’t as many magic-based capabilities left in the werewolves’ immense arsenal of physical advantages, but they still retained some basic spells and such. Of course, Heather had forgotten that this particular key, not just the lock, longed for living crimson to open anything. Ah, it was the way of not remembering one of the only useful subjects in class.
Talon dropped the key into his dark jacket’s pocket and beckoned her forward.
Heather resisted the urge to roll her eyes; of course she was!
“Yeah,” she responded simply and leaned into his shoulder, yearning for more than just their hands to touch.
His grin was infectious. “All right then!”
Eagerly, they pushed against the submissive, carved in stone door. With hardly a protesting rumble, it slid before the welcome onslaught.
Heather hadn’t realized how long it had been since she’s greeted the pure night with its comforting chorus of sounds and rejuvenating breezes. From here, the nearly full moon was even more magnificent and regal. If her lupine genes had been buzzing before, they were raging now, so keen to make the change.
She could tell that Talon felt the same. His warm grip on her slender hand tightened and his face was cast into a light filled with utter longing and delight. With a zealous prick, Heather was reminded of how dearly she wanted him to look that way, but when he was gazing at her.
They took a few, tentative steps away from the entrance, unsure which way to go. Had they gone this way before? Heather certainly did not recall any venture here. But, maybe Talon did.
“Are we meeting anyone tonight?”
She tangled her face upwards to see his more clearly. There were a few moments of absolute silence before Talon’s gaze gravitated back to her.
His trademark smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, but it didn’t seem as joking and carefree as it had only minutes ago.
“No,” he peeked over Heather’s black head, she blended into the shadows so well it was hard to discern where shadows ended and her profile began, as if he were searching for something.
Abruptly, his large hand grabbed Heather roughly by the arm and swung her body behind his for protection. She let out a short yelp of surprise.
The momentary air of disappointment that appeared when he could not find what he was looking for vanished. Now, Talon was poised like a feral animal, ready to attack whatever threat was lying in wait under the cover of the dark.
When he took note of Heather’s confused and furious demand he placed his finger on her rosy lips to silence any more protests. She obeyed him reluctantly, but failed to see a flaw in his logic. There was no need to alert their enemy to their location.
A little late, she noticed that Eshi wasn’t with them anymore. Go figure, just when they could use the attributes of dragon’s breath the conniving reptile disappeared.
Ten arduous minutes later, Heather was ready to relax and appreciate the night for a while, when a sudden twitch in the nearby bushes snapped her senses right up to alarm again. There was a flash of someone leaping through the air-a large someone.
Inhumanly swift, Talon whipped into the fray before the creature could reach its target, Heather. He tackled the shadow before she even had time to blink once in utter surprise.
Angry growls pierced the previously peaceful scene around them and Heather winced in pain. She had unsheathed her hunting dagger on instinct and had clutched the blade so tight that it cut into her hand.
But, that hardly mattered. The skirmish in front of her had developed to furious punches and kicks, delivered at a deadly and efficient speed. If it was possible, Heather thought Talon could actually be beaten. She glimpsed his chestnut hair twice with her superior night vision and nobody appeared to be getting the upper hand. Her body, coiled to pounce, ached with the urge to join in, but she knew it would only end in her getting scolded for being so reckless, and Heather hated to make Talon angry with her.
At last, the fierce fight ended, though it had only taken up a span of maybe 30 seconds. Talon dodged a lightning fast blow and snuck his hand between his opponent’s defenses to grab him by the throat.
Bang! Heather gasped and the outer wall of the Circle shuddered manically from the powerful force. A couple loose stones plummeted to the ground and she had to move quickly to avoid getting clipped by one. She was a bit off with her timing, though, and a small, but sharp stone grazed her cheek.
Putting her fingers to the scrape to staunch the flow of blood, Heather turned towards Talon and the mystery person. As they had exchanged blows, the conflict had gravitated from the edge of the forest back to the stone façade of the building and blank wall where the entrance had once been.
Talon had the struggling guy pinned by the hand on his throat, constricting his airways, and by both arms, held by his other sure hand by the thin wrists. Whoever it was that her friend had flung into the rough stone exterior so hard, they were tough. Not only had they barely twitched with pain when slammed against it, but also now they were still fighting to get free.
In response, Talon took their wrists and pulled them high above their head in the painful position usually reserved for prisoners. The stranger grunted with discomfort and turned his face away from them. Heather couldn’t see the boy’s features well enough even with her great vision to recognize him.
Talon glanced at her sideways and she saw the conflict in his beautiful, green eyes. What should they do? Then, the faithful moon solved their problem.
Everything and everyone was placed in a pale, shifting light as for a short second the waxing moon was glimpsed between two drifting, murky clouds. Talon must have seen something she hadn’t, because the boy was still refusing to look at her, but for his captor he really had no choice.
A low growl filtered through the air to Heather, where she stood uncertainly several paces away from the boys.
Roughly, Talon grabbed the boy and pushed him against the opposite wall. However, it was gentler than the first.
Heather crept closer to see what was happening. Was it someone they knew?
“Damn it Arin!” Talon snarled. “Don’t you know better than to sneak up on us like that?”
She froze right behind Talon’s tense back, as alert as if she had just had an energy drink, ten of them. Arin? Her cousin?
“Arin?” Heather repeated aloud uncomprehendingly. Her sharp eyes examined the boy across from her, who was brushing off his black jeans and shooting glares at Talon at the same time. She had to admit that she would be pretty damn pissed if someone almost killed her, too.
Shaggy, pale blond hair, an anomaly shade for their kind, sleek and agile physique and flashing blue eyes that matched her own. It was Arin all right, Heather’s cousin on her father’s side and her closest friend after Talon and Eshi.
She flew across the distance that separated them and gave him a bear hug worthy of Talon.
“Arin!” she exclaimed happily.
He tried to push her away for a while, but then gave up. He returned her embrace unwillingly. “Ugh, Heather,” he complained. “Can’t you be a little less enthusiastic?”
With a muttered “sorry” she didn’t mean, Heather released him and he relaxed a tiny bit. Talon chuckled and gave him a friendly punch on the arm.
“Didn’t you know,” he joked. “Heather only does things two ways; she likes you or she incapacitates you. Be glad you didn’t receive the later.”
Arin smiled dryly. “Hahaha, very funny.”
Above their heads, the moon showed her face again and Heather was reminded of her need to change… and ask Arin what he was doing here.
“I thought you were visiting another clan, cousin,” she reminded the still disgruntled boy pointedly.
Talon fixed his gaze on him, too. That was an answer that they were both dying to get. With practiced ease, Arin let the unwanted attention slide off him and shrugged.
“I did, and now I’m back.”
Heather and Talon exchanged skeptical looks. He was hiding something from them, like usual.
“Uh huh,” Talon mumbled sarcastically. “You just had a lively old time there and didn’t find out anything useful. Not even a new trick to show us.”
She elbowed him in the side, hard. If you wanted Arin to cooperate you had to be more tactful. He should have known that by now.
“What he means,” Heather said carefully. “Nothing new to share?”
Arin hesitated, and then a grin crept across his features. A grin that would make most people shudder at the hidden meaning behind it, which normally caused trouble and lots of it.
“Well… an acquaintance of mine did inform me of an awesome club around here. Called the Black Wolf.”
“Oh really?” Talon sounded interested now, and not just by the coincidental name.
Heather performed an imaginary face palm. Just peachy, here they were, just barely out of trouble, and ready to go into a club. A club packed with humans, mortals, pieces of meat and bone that could be harmed in the blink of an eye. Did the excitement never end?
“Yup!” Arin confirmed confidently. “And I have a pass.”
There was a shiny glint of a red and black metal card in the passing moonlight and Heather felt an involuntary thrill go through her. It had been so long since they had attended a crazy party, and the adrenaline rush that came with it. Quite different from the heart stopping action of the hunt.
“Yeah!” Talon whooped and held up his hand for a high five.
Her cousin had to jump up to slap it.
She took her hand away from the cut above her eye. It was sewn shut now and the only sign left of the mishap was the dried blood. That could easily be washed off in the picturesque creek in the forest.
Both Talon and Arin were beginning to retreat into the depths of the shadowy trees to transform. She quickly caught up to them and Talon gifted her with a sweet smile.
“You good with this, Heather baby?”
Pleasure lit her thumping heart and she gave him a bright and exhilarated grin. “With you, I’m great for anything.”
He ducked his head suddenly and their lips met in a soft and swift kiss. Heather was glad for the darkness that hid her uncharacteristic embarrassment. Talon’s hand entwined with hers and they blended into the utter wild of the woods behind Arin’s retreating back.
The first time is always the worst… Never was saying that more true than describing the transformation from human to wolf, or even something in between.
For Heather, who had shifted so many times already, the slight pain ushered in a rush of pure pleasure and excitement.
As she stepped into the small clearing obscured by the dense woodland, she tilted her chin towards the moon overhead. A small smile played on her lips and she glanced at the two boys.
Talon was already well into the change, dark brown and grey fur covered his body along with even more muscles. His limbs were lengthening and the bones shifting and Heather heard a moan become a guttural growl.
She didn’t watch Arin long; after all, he was just her cousin. But, his transformation had still started and his face was already very wolfish. Each time, the method of change would differ. Maybe the fur would come first, or the bulking up or rearranging, werewolf science had proven that it could never be predicted accurately without supernatural aid.
With a casual ease, Heather began to strip off all her clothes. First her sheer shirt and shorts, then her bra and underwear last. Being nude in the forest for a minute or two was worth not shredding her trendy outfit. Until she stood, her glorious body bathed in shining moonlight, and welcomed her inner wolf forward.
Her nails lengthened and grew into sharp, curved claws and she could feel rough black pads forming on her hands as they transformed into paws. Heather’s teeth also became pointed and she had to be careful not to impale her tongue on the fangs.
A familiar tingle started on her torso and spread swiftly across her entire form. Soon, a thick, ivory pelt of fur covered her and she shivered happily as the pace of the change accelerated.
The spine elongated and a tail burst into existence at the end, where fur and muscles quickly coated it. She grew taller impossibly fast and her arms and legs shifted slightly to accommodate the addition of tough paws and added height. Eventually the growth stopped when she would tower over most humans at 7’2.
Last, her beautiful face transformed. Her sense of hearing became keener as her ears gravitated to the top of her head and the tingling became itchy as white fur sprouted lightly across her features. Heather’s fang-filled mouth became more comfortable as a muzzle pulled outwards.
She could not see it, but her ordinarily sapphire eyes had a glint of gold added to them. What felt like an hour to Heather occurred only in twenty or so seconds.
Overwhelmed by the exhilaration of the transformation, even after so much practice, Heather lifted her snowy muzzle to the pale orb in the sky and howled deep and long. She skillfully infused her cry with human emotions of satisfaction and animation.
This was what she and all werewolves lived for, the promise of the freedom of another, more resistant form and the enlightenment that came with it.
Awhile later, when Heather had once again gained control of herself, she strode over to where Arin and Talon were arguing.
To an outsider, it would have appeared to be a meaningless exchange of feral growls and snarls, but werewolves could always understand the wolven language.
“What is it now?” Heather demanded harshly.
They were the ones who wanted to go to the club, so if they had a problem now, then too bad! They’d have to deal with it. Why was it that she, the undisputed youngest by several months, had to fix everything and be the eternal peacemaker?
Talon turned to look at her, his scowl spreading to a toothy grin as he saw her transformation was complete. “Oh, it’s nothing,” he replied smoothly.
“Uh huh,” she wasn’t convinced, but she was in too good a mood to probe for more. Her wolf was tingling with excitement merely by being in her in between form.
However, Arin appeared less than content with the taller boy’s answer. He was coated in tawny fur, almost as blonde as his hair and just as unusual. Werewolf colors had a broader range of color than regular wolves, but he still stood out like a sore thumb.
“Don’t listen to that idiot,” Arin growled. “He was chickening out. Saying he was getting a “bad feeling” about going.” His voice rose higher to mimic Talon.
Who in turn didn’t appreciate the comparison, “Hey! I’m just being careful! If we get caught they’ll comb the Circle and find all our secret routes.” Talon was shaking, though Heather didn’t know if it was from frustration or fear.
She ruled out fear. She simply couldn’t imagine him afraid.
“Talon,” Heather moved to his side and nudged him gently in the direction Arin had pointed out earlier. “As long as we get back before the sun rises, we’ll be fine right?” He didn’t say anything. “Right?”
“Yeah. Right,” Talon allowed grudgingly.
Arin raised a clawed paw to acknowledge his presence. “You two done with the comforting? Yes? No?” He looked at each of their faces, but didn’t wait for their replies. “Good. Let’s get outta here.”
He shifted to his fully wolf form and bounded forward on all fours. In an instant, his light fur had vanished from their sight.
Heather sighed. This was going to be a long night.
“Don’t be such a jerk, Arin,” she muttered under her breath.
“Whatever, he’s not worth it.”
Then she turned to her friend and he paled, if possible with his fur coat, at her fierce gaze. “You’re one to talk. Now get going, you lazy oaf!”
She shoved him forward and avoided a half-hearted swipe in return by changing into a wolf herself.
“Stick up your ass…” Talon muttered, hurrying to catch up.
The she-wolf smirked in her mind. “Says the slacker.”
* * *
“That’s the place you were talking about?” Heather asked, wrinkling her nose as she appraised their destination with a hand on her hip. She was back in her human form, as were Arin and Talon.
Their clothes didn’t magically reappear when they transformed between wolf and human, so they had to fold them into a satchel or tie them around their neck so they could be carried in wolf form. When the friends traveled together, however, they took turns holding the clothes, which had fallen on Talon this time.
He grunted in agreement, “It looks like a dump.”
Arin shrugged into his denim jacket, decidedly distressed from use and his gray eyes flicked to what they were all staring uncertainly at.
“Heh, yup,” he turned and gave his companions a wide smirk. “You’re not going to chicken out now are you?”
“After going this far out of my way? Not at all,” Heather scoffed.
Talon shook his head and sighed, and Arin took it for consent.
They leapt from the boulders they were perched upon hanging at the edge of the forest above the dimly lit building and continued down the rocky slope until they reached the entrance.
If the instigator of this impromptu jaunt, far enough from the Circle to be unallowable even on a full moon night, was right about one thing it was that this was indeed the club he’d mentioned.
As it proclaimed, The Black Wolf, in blood red letters with a comical wolf head underneath on a wooden sign that hung crookedly before the doorway. They pushed the door open and strode inside where a frightened-looking waitress immediately escaped from her previous rowdy customers and escorted them to a booth beneath a grimy window.
They started with three waters and only began to relax when they were somewhat alone again. Talon had only needed a glance at the bar crowded with young adults drinking out of half-washed glasses, tables that looked like they’d gone through a wood-chipper and been patched together again, and the club’s single asset, a pool table missing a good chunk of the green felt.
“This place is a dump,” he reiterated, sounding both disappointed and pleased with his correct guess.
Tapping the table, Arin wagged his finger. “You kidding me? That’s what makes it such a great place to go! Look around!” He gestured around them at the few scattered tables, booths and bar stools, many filled with teenagers and vagrants. Heather and Talon’s gazes followed and they silently agreed. No one would look for them here.
That’s when Heather caught the attention of a cluster of four men huddled in the far corner of the room. Their eyes seemed to flash in the lights from behind the bar, the silver or gold colors that she recognized so well. Yet, as soon as they saw her stare back they quickly averted their eyes and turned back into their own conversation, only one otherwise acknowledged her with a brief nod.
“Arin,” Heather brought her cousin’s attention back around. “There’re more of us here. You neglected to mention that The Black Wolf is so popular, huh?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Us?” Understanding passed across his face. “Yeah, but look closely, coz.” Arin pointed to the strange group of people, strange even among the motley collection already existing inside. She took in their clothes, colors and designs that she’d never seen. They were brighter and bolder and their skin was also lighter.
“Foreigners,” Talon noted, summing up her suspicions neatly. “They need to blend in better.”
“No doubt,” Arin nodded and took a sip of water. “We usually avoid drawing attention to ourselves whenever necessary. I’m guessing they’re from France, maybe traveling after breaking off from their clan. That one might be an American.” He tilted his chin at one dressed in more muted clothes and speaking loud enough they could detect an accent different from the others.
The waitress appeared again, this time bearing food and Talon dug into his burger with happy gusto. Both Heather and Arin had passed on a late night snack, though the other boy ordered a Coke.
Heather was thinking about having werewolves as customers might contribute to the club’s isolated position and the long night hours, when she remembered what she’d wanted to talk to Arin about.
“Speaking of traveling,” Heather began. “How was your extended trip, Arin?”
Talon perked up and swallowed a bit of his burger. “Oh yeah. Didn’t you go to… um… Algeria was it?”
“Austria,” he corrected with a hint of a smile. “You’re still awful at geography, Talon.”
His friend huffed and looked like he wanted to retort back when Heather cut in.
“Well, it must’ve been very interesting for you to be gone for so long.”
She prompted him enough that he couldn’t avoid her question. “Uh, yeah I guess… It was a… refreshing change. Nothing like that mountain air!”
He grinned, but Heather knew what lay underneath.
“I’m glad,” she offered a smile of comfort and reached out to take his hand in her own.
Arin’s grin disappeared and he grew serious. “Not that face, Heather. Anything, but that, please, it’s been what? Seven months, six? I’m fine, you don’t need to worry about me.”
She sighed and withdrew her hand to her lap. No matter how hard she tried to be for Arin after his mother’s, and her aunt’s, sudden death, he kept on pushing her away. Heather knew how grief worked, had seen her fair share of it, and tried to approach it in the least painful way possible. But, it gave her an ache in her heart to see how her cousin persisted as though it had never happened. Like he had never even had a mother.
“What about that friend of yours?” Talon interceded, uncomfortable in such tense situations. “The one that told you about here-“
“Never mind that,” Arin cut him off. He glared down at the Coke can in his hand and crushed it slowly. “Since we’re updating each other on news… how’s old Gabriel?”
Heather had filched his glass of Coke and drank some of the icy soda to relieve her growing headache. It was to be expected that he would be brought up, but she hated it all the same. “You always refused to call him Uncle.”
“And you always refused to call him dad,” Arin countered.
It was Heather’s father that was the brother of Arin’s mother, his sister, Ariadne. Whoever thought it was poetic to name her after the Greek heroine who suffered from heartache despite helping her love hadn’t taken into account her frailty and her eerily similar demise.
A silence in which Heather obstinately declined to elaborate went on until Arin spoke up, “Fine, don’t tell me. I know you’re not on good terms with your old man.” He raised his hands in surrender and Talon snorted.
“Understatement of the year.”
“But… I did hear about his little project.” Heather’s breath caught in her throat. “And about how he plans to make werewolves out of the government humans.”
In a matter of seconds, her face drained of color. “What are you talking about? No!!”
She meant to shut Arin up, to keep him from talking about her father and his sick, twisted experiments, it was bad enough that her own fears kept her awake every night, but her voice was much louder than she intended.
Several heads in the building turned and Heather struggled to keep her anger under control. She leaned forward across the table, the glow from the candle in the glass holder casting her furiously shining eyes and face into a threatening look as she leveled a death glare at her cousin.
“No!” she hissed with the same conviction, albeit in a whisper.
Talon and Arin had stared at her in disbelief, when Arin blinked away the sudden shock.
“Ahahahahaha! Wow! Quiet it down there, don’t want to bust a nerve! Ahahaha!”
His outburst of boisterous laughter, brought more curious, and several irritated, gazes trained on them. Heather didn’t know what to think, looking at him blankly, until her frustration returned. “What are you laughing at? This is far from funny!”
An empty plate was slid across the table, as Talon unfolded his arms.
“Hey, Arin. You might want to take her seriously,” he cautioned and his eyes flicked to the club’s other occupants. “People are staring.”
The boy raised a finger. “Hehe… Okay. Haha! One moment.” As he said, Arin finally quieted enough to hold a somewhat somber expression. “He. Sorry about that, Heather.”
He glanced at the girl who was looking anywhere but him and realized it was too soon to ask for forgiveness.
Sighing, he rubbed his forehead, “Dr. Gabe has sure made a mess of things, hasn’t he?”
“The Elders and upper echelon are torn between praising Dr. Gabriel as a liberal genius, bringing a chance of salvation with his new ideas, and calling him an insult to his bloodline, as blasphemous as if he insulted the Heavens itself,” Talon recited.
Arin raised an eyebrow, clearly impressed with the description. His words were enough to make Heather turn her body towards the others again. Talon usually made up for his incompetency with schoolbook information by his keen awareness of the surroundings. Not many in the Circle knew about this besides Heather, but the green-eyed boy had an uncanny knack for being able to retain entire conversations nearly unconsciously. And not just snippets either, if Talon was sent out to eavesdrop on some of the older adults to find out when the next representative was going to be sent to the leading man of the city he’d come back with times, names and other specifics.
Without a doubt, he would make an excellent and indispensable spy, which was one of the many reasons why she’d promised Talon she would never breathe a word of it, even if the far-fetched idea was made in joking.
“Heather,” Arin suddenly turned to her. “Has he told you anything, let’s see… out of place? Strange?”
She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Um… no. Not that I can think of, why?”
The question was seemingly random and her desire to find out her cousin’s motives must’ve shown through because he withdrew into himself.
“No reason. Just a suspicion…”
“Hmph, that’s what you always say,” Talon complained, rolling his eyes.
Arin smirked, “Really? Then I need to find some new lines.” He flicked the Coke can at Talon, knocking the water glass out of hand and spilling the liquid into his lap.
Laughing softly, Heather inched away from her wet friend.
While Talon went to work mopping up the water with a handful of napkins, the timid waitress collected their dishes and left the check. She bustled away like before, as though someone or something was going to jump out and grab her at any time.
“What is it?” Heather craned her head to see what Arin was looking at.
He flourished the check angrily. “I don’t have enough money.” She took in the small printed numbers, squiggly from afar.
“Why don’t you check?”
Still grumbling under his breath, Arin began rummaging through his pockets. Crumpled bills and coins were tossed onto the table now and then, which Heather counted quickly.
They remained short of paying the required amount and Arin continued to search, pulling off his jacket and looking there as well when someone brushed by.
Clink! Clink! Clink! Clink!
A handful of coins, authentic Euros, were dropped onto their table before the long fingers returned to their owner. All three teenagers looked up to see a tall man, a complete stranger they’d never seen before, dressed in a long coat and hat. His hand disappeared into his pocket and he continued past them as if nothing had happened.
The only two things Heather was able to take in before he vanished with a final swish of his coat were an unusual shock of silver hair when his hat slipped and a glimpse of a white smile. It left her feeling curiously cold and she hugged her arms close.
But she didn’t have much time to think about the oddity as Arin let out a cry of joy.
“We have the best of luck! I swear…” he counted each of the coins in his palm. “1… 3… 5… Look at this!” Talon and Heather glanced at the gold and silver pile. “7. 02 Euros exactly! He gave us the amount we needed to the last coin!”
Talon yawned, but his smile betrayed his relief. He would’ve have been the next choice to get money from. “Amazing.”
“Okay, if we can pay then-“ Heather zipped up her jacket and looked out the window. The moon was in the sky, lower than before but there… good, as soon as the sun began to reclaim its position their absence would be noticed.
She jolted, as did Talon when Arin abruptly slammed his fist down on the table. Several of the coins jumped and scattered on the table, while the rest stayed in his hand. He stood up quickly and seemed to look around until his sharp gaze landed on the foreigner they’d assumed to be an American on the outskirts of the werewolf group.
“Stay here. I’ll be right back,” he ordered brusquely and before they could say a single word he shoved off and stalked towards the back.
The last they saw of him was as he bumped purposefully against the American, eliciting a glare before he was swept up in a crowd of visitors that flooded into the club.
Heather merely stared at the side of the booth Arin had occupied and the Euros that lay where they had fallen. Her body moved as soon as her mind reached a decision and she rose, clambering over Talon in her hurry to leave.
“Wait! Heather!” he protested and squirmed out behind her. He caught her wrist as she began to race to the door. “Wait for me-“
Her eyes met his, blue and green and an understanding passed between them. She smiled, “As long as you don’t get left behind.” He nodded silently and they raced into the night, steeling themselves against whatever was waiting for them.
It might’ve been the hoarse cry that warned Heather of what was to come. Or the guttural growls as someone tore into that throat, preventing the cry from rising to a prolonged scream. Either way, the young people in the bar were temporarily unaffected by the scuffle occurring just outside.
No matter how fast they ran, faster than any normal human even in such a form, Talon and Heather stumbled upon a scene out of a horror movie.
Red splashed across her vision and she fell to her knees with a weak groan of pain, covering her face protectively. Talon rushed to help her up and when she dared to open her eyes…
Arin, standing hunched over a motionless body, in the feral position of an animal guarding its kill, his mouth smeared with blood. The man, not the American they’d seen inside, but some unnamed human, throat torn to bloody ribbons and eyes glazed over. Those unseeing eyes would haunt Heather for weeks afterward.
The entire scene was awash in crimson, only feet from the back entrance and exit of The Black Wolf so blood had splattered onto the brick wall.
Talon’s furious shout stunned her following the silence of revelation and her ears rung because of it. Arin, if she could call that beast in her cousin’s body by that name, turned to face them, his head whipping around while he bared teeth stained red, sharp canines in a human mouth. He snarled and his eyes flashed silver, Heather saw none of the boy she knew in them or any sense of reason beyond that of a hungry creature.
She couldn’t deny it frightened, no, terrified her and she clung close to Talon.
“What the hell have you done?” he demanded, more out of rage than expecting an answer.
The wolf inside could not understand beyond its primal instincts; its need to feed.
But, surprisingly, the wild light flickered and went out in Arin’s eyes and he straightened out of his crouch. He gazed around blearily as if he’d woken from a dream, confused and disoriented, that is, until he saw his companions’ faces. Only a moment from smelling Heather’s fear and witnessing Talon’s wariness did Arin make the connection. He glanced down at his hands, drenched with fresh blood and horror crossed his face, so stark and plain Heather’s breathe caught in her throat.
When he finally saw the brutally mauled body of the man that had surely had a life of his own, unsuspecting that a night at a club would end with his demise, Arin was shaking uncontrollably.
His mouth opened and closed, but he said nothing. Then, he looked straight at them and his face seemed to ask mournfully, what have I done?
If only Heather had the answer, if only any of them did, yet all she could do was reach out her hand in a gesture of kinship. She wanted to race to his side, to cradle his head and clean his blood with the tears rolling down her cheeks, but Talon was holding her back as was the alarm sounding throughout her mind and body.
He lifted his own crimson-covered hand and they reached for the other. “It’ll be okay, Arin,” Heather softly reassured herself as much as him. “Wait for me and I’ll get you out. You’ll be okay…”
Their fingers brushed before Heather dropped her arm while Arin’s was still outstretched, hoping, pleading for forgiveness or comfort.
It was then that the police sirens began to blare, though they’d been there all along, missed among their inner turmoil. Harsh reality shined its blinding lights on the scene and Arin raised his hands, dyed in his guilt, to protect his eyes.
From the truth or the light, Heather hardly knew the difference anymore. Talon bustled her into the front doorway with the rest of the uncomprehending clubbers as she watched her friend be enveloped and consumed.
She leaned into Talon and let the tears flow.
* * *
Beginning of Calamity
The squeal of tires as police squad cars came to a sudden stop on the gravel road, spraying pebbles everywhere, the sirens that blared and never seemed to stop, the shadowed, unshaven faces of human officers on a night shift, yet it all paled to the sight as the headlights, flashlights, and now a hanging lamp outside the Black Wolf that had appeared broken, merged to focus on the blood, body, and… Arin.
Within moments, the authorities had taken charge.
They surrounded Arin, ushered the club patrons out of harm’s way from where they previously had hung around the exits- speechless, and trained their guns on the bloody scene. Heather didn’t want to watch from the shadows, past the police line, but with a clear view; even beside Talon she only wanted to tear her gaze away.
But, she couldn’t. She could do nothing but watch as they approached her cousin, not lowering their weapons for an instant. Heather registered the bark ordering him to raise his hands and not to move.
Arin did as told without a fight. He lifted his hands, allowing the officers to surge forward, roughly force his arms behind his back and cuff him without even a protest.
It terrified her and Heather fought back a sob as she saw her once hard-headed, violent cousin surrender so easily. Yet, what could he protest? That he didn’t do it?
As much as Heather hated to admit it, even to herself the evidence was strewn on the ground, the wall and his body. There was no way out of this one.
A platoon of six officers guarded Arin on all four sides and as they led their prisoner towards the flashing lights of the police cars she cringed into Talon.
“Heather…” if she had spared him a glance she would’ve seen the pain she was feeling mirrored in his face, and how at a loss he was of what to say. But, Heather didn’t and remained as alone as if she was stranded on a frozen plain.
Sounds, of the sirens, bystanders’ frightened mutters, orders thrown about by the police, sights, of red, blue, white, blurred shapes in infiltrated darkness rushing around underneath lights, moonlight and artificial, smells, of rubber from screeching tires, stank fear rising from the civilians, and most of all… the rustic, sweet stench of blood. They all became muddled to Heather’s senses.
Her eyes were still trained on Arin’s form as an officer with a shiny badge took hold of his shoulder and seemed to talk to him in indistinguishable tones through the chaos, and then continue leading him from the bloodied corpse. The lights flashed just right so she got of glimpse of Arin’s face. Horror and disbelief, underlain by growing fear, were stark white on his crimson-stained features.
More than ever she wanted, no, needed, to leave this place- so tainted with death and despair. Heather’s body may have been frozen, but her mind was beginning to come out of its shock, which may or may not have been a good thing, and she might have succeeded in her ambitions.
If her name hadn’t been called again.
“Heather.” It wasn’t Talon’s voice and she blinked in surprise.
“Heather!” A big hand landed on her shoulder and turned her around effortlessly. For the first time in what felt like ages, she wasn’t staring at Arin’s fate.
Instead, Heather gazed blankly at an official-looking man in a black suit and tie, with slicked back hair and piercing eyes… who also knew her name.
“Come on, Heather,” a voice behind her urged gently, firmly- Talon this time.
She managed to focus on the man before them again. He coughed into his hand and pulled something out of his jacket pocket. “Here. You’re probably wondering who I am.”
He held out some type of business card and no sooner had she taken it, then Talon reached over her head and snatched it out of her slack hand.
“Let me,” he sighed and looked at the card for several moments. A frown on his lips brought Heather’s anxiety up another notch until he read aloud, “Matthew B. Conan of the AHC. Investigator of Resources.”
The man nodded as Talon returned his card, “Yes. So now that we’re acquainted it’s about time we moved on. Follow me.” He turned briskly on his heel and began walking until he realized both of them remained standing by the side of the Black Wolf.
“What’s wrong? Surely you don’t want to stay here-“
Talon interrupted him angrily, “What the hell? You appear out of nowhere, somehow knowing us, claiming you’re working with the freaking High Council at a damn crime scene, and then expect us to do what you say?” His voice rose so loud that Heather winced. “What the hell?!” he repeated.
Matthew B. Conan’s eyes narrowed first at them, then switched to a pair of uniformed officers cordoning off the site and that happened to be looking suspiciously in their direction. He turned his back to them, blocking their exchange and faced Talon and Heather again.
“Listen carefully,” he intoned in a deadly serious voice, all traces of detached business gone. “This is a severe situation regarding a breach in the laws of your kind. I know that you must be quite shaken up by everything, especially considering you are… on friendly terms with the boy-“
Both Talon and the investigator looked at Heather as though she was a mute who had suddenly learned to speak. It wasn’t too far off as she had been incapable of rational thought, much less speech, until recently. But this warranted a correction.
“Arin,” she spoke slowly and carefully, her heart clenching painfully as images flashed in her mind. “His name is Arin.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Heather saw a half-smile appear and disappear on Talon’s face in an instant.
“Fine. Arin then,” Investigator Conan agreed. “Either way, you two were here when this unfortunate incident occurred and before long someone’s going to recognize you were accompanying Arin and make the connection. Now, you can fight me if you want, but I have the clearance to use force if need be to keep you out of the human authorities’ reach. We all on the same page?” His dark, emotionless eyes appraised their faces for a reaction. All they could do was stare back with tight lips. Heather wasn’t sure she was capable of feeling more than she already had that day.
Conan brought his hand to his forehead, but seemed satisfied. “Good. My car’s this way.”
Then he was off, weaving skillfully away from the police and their accusing lights and endless questions. Within moments, he had merged into the crowd kept at bay by officers and caution tape, not even bothering to see they were following.
Heather looked to Talon for guidance and he seemed to do the same. They were in this together, however lost or terrified.
“We have no choice, Heather,” he admitted, hanging his head. “There’s nothing we can do right now.”
There’s nothing we can do right now… His words echoed eerily in her head and the truth battered her once more. Heather leaned into him, her strength abruptly vanishing and he wrapped his arm around her.
He began guiding her from the worst of the blood, officers and memories. Heather hadn’t said anything, but even in silence he knew her answer.
But, she looked to her right as they walked by the last of the patrol cars and her heart nearly stopped.
There was Arin. Standing… waiting, outside one of the vehicles, the deputy with the badge simultaneously talking to his subordinate and insuring Arin was handcuffed properly. Another held him to the hood of the car, effectively rendering him immobile.
Yet, he seemed to sense someone watching him with something other than disgusted eyes and he raised his head if just a little. Their gazes met and an understanding passed through the brief second they were reunited although they were so far apart. He was a marked man, and though the reality of this title hadn’t yet set his features into an impenetrable mask his face held a fading vitality.
Heather was the only one to see the hope die in his eyes.
Then, Talon urged her past and Arin was turned around and brusquely shoved into the car. The connection broke; snapped like a single thread, but when that car door slammed shut and locked, the sound pierced through her bone.
* * *
The Association of the High Council; back when Heather was a little girl Dr. Gabriel had explained its basic workings as patiently as he could to a child with so many questions.
More or less, it was a small collection of outsiders that worked beneath the Elders for the benefit of the Circle… but mostly the High Council. The Association was formed to insure the remaining werewolves in the vicinity retained connections with the human government, and, ideally, human society. Any werewolves that belonged to the family ruling the Circle at the time, or were deemed trustworthy if they were nomads, would go through an Association member, making contact with them before actually entering the underground stronghold. Of course any approved passage came from at least two of the Elders, even indirectly.
But, their other duty in their loyal service to the High Council was to make sure that nothing happened to reveal the continued existence of werewolves to the world. Or, if that failed, do whatever required to cover it up. Indeed, there had already been one, great, war between werewolves and humans that devastated both races, although unbeknownst to most, and neither were particularly eager for another.
At least, that was the way with the majority of those who knew.
However, there was a catch to the Association. Every single member, each derived from several bloodlines uninterrupted for generations, was a human. A human that not only knew werewolves lived hidden from the world or in the midst of other humans, but was privy to the very secrets that kept it that way- hidden, a secret that would result in catastrophe if it slipped through watchful ranks.
Yet, despite the consequences if the High Council’s loyal servants, often called the Council’s watch dogs by scornful tongues, betrayed them; they remained. Untouched, untainted, and ever present… just as the Elders wished it.
That in itself caused the hairs on the back of Heather’s neck to rise; that if their highest ruling body wanted something it would almost surely come true. Which was one of the many reasons why she was presently throwing distrustful glances at the back of the shiny black head in front of her or the image in the rearview window.
She was alone in the back seat of the man from the Association’s black Fiat, sitting awkwardly in the middle. Her instincts urged her to stay close to a side door so she could bolt if need be, but her need to see Talon clearly won over.
Speaking of, Heather glared at him a little too and his occasional twitch communicated he was aware of how irritated she really was.
Before they got into Investigator Conan’s shiny car with heavily tinted windows and what Heather strongly suspected was a windshield with bulletproof glass, she practically begged Talon to sit in the backseat with her. Arin’s arrest and the inordinate amount of blood-not that she was ever squeamish about such things- combined, had her needing someone she could trust nearby. But, Talon eventually won that argument, insisting someone had to keep an eye on their dubious chaperone and climbing into the front passenger seat before she could counter.
Which all resulted in a very tense, very uncomfortable car ride.
Conan made little to no effort to relieve their tension, driving down the winding road with an unapproachable silence. It wasn’t until Heather felt the car begin to slow that he uttered a word.
“A guard will be checking in with me. Don’t speak unless spoken to.” He left no room for argument as someone knocked on the glass and he rolled down his window.
Curious, Heather tried to look out the window to see who it was, but the night still cloaked everything.
Following a quick, hushed conversation even she couldn’t hear, Conan turned toward Talon and her, “I’ll be right back. Stay here.”
With that, he got out of the car and left. Neither Heather nor Talon missed the sound of the doors being locked. She glanced at her friend questioningly, but he averted his gaze without explanation.
His stare before had been conflicted, as if he was warring on the inside, and if he thought she wouldn’t see past his silence he was about to be disappointed.
He lifted his head and glanced at her over his shoulder. “Hm?”
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” he looked away again.
“Don’t give me that crap.”
The frustration leaking from Heather’s voice had Talon looking behind him in surprise. “What do you mean-?”
She grit her teeth, “You know what I mean! What are we going to do now?”
Talon looked her straight in the eyes before admitting, “I don’t know.” He followed Heather’s plain disbelief. “It’s true. What are we supposed to do but wait? If we do anything else we’ll only cause more trouble for Arin, us, everyone…”
Heather opened her mouth to argue that they couldn’t just wait, stay, sit, like good, little pets; like this Association guy had told them along with so many others in the past, present and future. But, she didn’t have the chance.
“Huh? What the-“ Heather glanced up from her shaking fists to see Talon staring, not at her, but his hand in his jacket pocket.
She leaned forward, into the front seat to see what held his interest. “What is it? Talon?”
It seemed as though he would answer her honestly this time, when the doors were unlocked and Investigator Conan opened the driver’s side. They ceased speaking, even moving. They couldn’t risk having someone underneath the High Council hearing anything that could be cause for suspicion. Yet, when he turned his back for a second, bidding farewell to the outline of a guard, Talon turned in his seat.
“I’ll tell you later,” he whispered and twisted around as Conan started the engine.
All Heather could do was calm her thoughts, still her tongue, and hope there was no reason to worry about Talon’s discovery.
* * *
Being free of the confines of the Fiat wasn’t true freedom, of course, but Heather had been hoping it would last longer than a few minutes.
No sooner had they closed the car doors behind them and they had watched Conan zoom out of sight, then a trio of men in black approached.
“Heather Vantre and Talon Sadli,” one spoke in indescribably, flat tones. “We have orders to escort you to the North Wing.”
The North Wing? She could feel Talon tense beside her and she didn’t blame him. The North Wing was among those places in the Circle where you couldn’t enter unless under the most tenuous of circumstances. This time must be one of those special exceptions.
It would be better to steer clear of it as politely as they could.
“We’re perfectly capable of getting there ourselves, thank you-“
Iron hands closed around her arms and a deep voice rumbled in her ears, “This doesn’t concern your capabilities. Come.”
With a glance, Heather confirmed that Talon was being similarly led by one of the men as the third went first and they were marched like convicts towards the North Wing.
The winding corridors, already underground, began to slope downwards and the stone that pervaded all else took on an appearance of weathered dampness. As Heather tried to guess where this passage led however, they were turned sharply to the left after the first guard and the ancient, lonely corridor she’d glimpsed disappeared from sight.
Monotonous stone eventually gave way to several wooden doors set into the sides, a handful with steel substituted for the traditional wood. The doors were shut, but voices leaked from underneath and Heather’s dread was racked up another notch.
As they shuffled past increasingly frequent doors, it became apparent the recent incident involving Arin had spread like wildfire. It was to be expected, as the Circle was a small, tightly knit community, but it filled her with despair all the same. People rushed past them in obvious haste, shouting orders to others or conversing in rapid, hushed tones. Those that glanced in passing at Heather, Talon and their escorts quickly looked away, avoiding eye contact as one might avoid the horrors they would see there.
They don’t want to believe it. Heather realized. Over the years, her kind had grown used to secrecy; hiding, cowering within their stone fortress and the rumor that it might’ve been breached- their existence revealed- terrified them. A flush of anger rose to her cheeks because she knew they knew it wasn’t a rumor. All the werewolves going about in a flurry of uncertain motions were in the North Wing for a reason and would be the first to know.
The real question was: how far had the news spread?
And not just within the Circle and among its occupants. There were those, primarily from the Association, living in the grand mansion above as well, and humans throughout the city. Though the building they dwelled beneath wasn’t occupied often, allowing the Elders or other influential members of their society to arrange meetings with the mayor and such in its spacious front hall.
How much had the human authorities seen? Heather couldn’t say she didn’t fear the consequences.
Heather started in her nervous thoughts when an impeccably dressed man brushed past briskly and she caught a whiff of his distinct human scent. The Association was on the move and Investigator Conan wasn’t the only suit stepping forward to handle what Heather was beginning to refer to as ‘the incident.’ Even thinking of it as murder of a human by a werewolf was taboo; equaling Arin to a man waiting to be hanged.
Even if- She shook her head to dispel such thoughts and just at that moment their little group came to an abrupt halt.
At a glance, Heather saw that it was Talon who was holding them up, much to the guards’ displeasure. But, despite their prodding, he remained stiff and still as if he had heard the faint sounds of prey and was straining to locate the slight movement. His broad shoulders were tense and bunched.
It didn’t take Heather long to see what had made him stop like that.
In fact, she heard them approach minutes before they strode by.
Two Association members and in between them- hands cuffed behind him, was the American from the Black Wolf- the man who Arin had almost purposefully bumped into on his way out.
His howls echoed through the halls.
“I keep on telling you! The guy pushed by me and I just followed him out back to give him a piece of my mind!”
One of the men prodded him along, rolling his eyes at his partner.
“Hey! Watch it! I have rights! And I am sure as hell not going to put up with this when I didn’t even punch the guy! There was something wrong with him, all right?”
“Yeah, yeah, we know,” the Association member said patronizingly.
“Next thing I know I wake up with a sore head,” the American’s voice suddenly grew quieter. “There was something wrong with him…” he repeated. “Like he was someone possessed and he didn’t give a damn…”
His voice cracked until he was shoved forward again.
All Heather and Talon could do was watch, dumbstruck, as his renewed shouts drifted out of earshot.
They allowed themselves to be herded until they came to the end of the corridor and faced an ominous steel door. Heather could feel her confidence drop even further
Their escorts stepped forward only to have the door swing outward with a riotous clang. None other than Dr. Gabriel stepped out into the corridor.
“I’ll have a test sample by the morn! And before long the mayor himself will approve the project! This is a mercurial subject, gentlemen, and it cannot be rushed!” he hollered into the room.
He turned around, muttering to himself, “Government bureaucrats, they’re even worse than those superstitious old oafs.”
The doctor raised his head and spotted Heather and Talon at last.
His steely gaze held enough surprise to fill a thimble.
Heather wished she could melt into the floor.
“Heather! What on earth are you doing here? I did not see you as expected last night.”
“Father…” Heather practically choked out the word. “You should know that-“
A man dressed like an assistant pushed forth from the open door.
“Dr. Gabriel Vantre, your nephew Arin is being held on account of murder of a human on public property. It is of the utmost importance that we interrogate-ahem- question, his friends who were with him at the time.”
He waited expectantly as if Heather’s father would have anything but an atypical reaction. Her father’s quick eyes flicked to each person in turn, before he clamped his jaw tight and he turned to say, “That’s all very well, but I doubt you need to question both of them if they saw the same thing.”
His face and voice held no inkling of compassion for Arin’s plight and Heather hated him all the more for it.
The assistant’s mouth stretched into a firm line.
“I’m sorry sir, but there is no guarantee-“
“I said that only one would be needed.” His words left no room for argument and the man nodded bleakly.
He consulted his notebook and glanced at Heather, “Ah, Ms. Vantre. You may go.”
Heather froze and looked to Talon, who nodded.
But as he took a step towards the room, she grabbed his arm.
“You don’t need to do this Talon. He’s my cousin, I should be the one-“
“I can’t let you.”
She looked up in surprise. “But-“
“It’s okay. I’ll be back before you know it.” Talon rubbed her head affectionately, smiled and then vanished behind the cold steel door.
Dr. Gabriel was already gone, heedless of the situation, and Heather had no choice but to make the winding and lonely journey back to the South Tower and a hopefully dreamless sleep.
Heather had lain, half-awake, on her bed for who knew how long when there was a knock on her door. Eshi, who had been curled by her side, raised his head with a growl. She flipped into a sitting position and reached for her bow, when the door cracked open.
She paused and then allowed herself to be swept up in Talon’s sure embrace. She clung to him as if her life depended on his being there and her shoulders shook with silent sobs.
Arin had already been taken from her, but if Talon was also wrenched away… who would she have to turn to? The Circle had become a cage rather than a shelter.
“Shush… shush,” Talon whispered and kissed the top of her head. “Didn’t I tell you I’d be back?”
“It wasn’t soon enough,” Heather mumbled into his shoulder.
Talon chuckled, before sighing.
“It’s not looking good, Heather. There’s no one who saw him attack that man, but even we could see that he was caught on the scene.”
Heather cringed away. “But, it wasn’t Arin who did it! He…” She found herself having difficulty explaining just what she had seen in his feral eyes or the strange feeling that he was not the boy she knew. “He didn’t want to kill that human! I can feel it!”
She glared at Talon, daring him to object.
Instead he smiled ruefully and shook his head. “I know as well as you how true that is. Maybe if it hadn’t involved humans everyone would be less eager to point fingers, but the peace with the mayor of this city is already reaching its breaking point…”
“You’re giving up.”
Talon physically reeled from the blatant accusation.
But Heather could not let this offense go, even if she had been clinging to him just moments before.
“No, Heather I-“
“You’re what? You’re left with no choice? Because that’s not you Talon, I know it’s not.”
Suddenly, something glinted in the dim light and Heather glanced down at a Euro in Talon’s hand.
“I told you I would tell you about this when no one was listening, right?”
Heather hesitated, while Eshi eyed the simple coin with vivid interest.
She nodded mutely.
Talon smiled and explained,” After the police led Arin away from the body, something fell, and I think Arin had it. That thing was this Euro.” He held it up between his thumb and forefinger.
“Arin had this?” Heather asked and Talon dropped the coin in her hand.
Eshi immediately clambered up her arm and sniffed the object. Heather and Talon watched curiously as he circled around it, before sinking his fangs into the metal.
He reared back with a hiss both audible and mental. It’s swollen with magic!
Heather glanced at him sharply. Are you sure?
Of the bitterest kind! Eshi’s tongue flicked out and his tail twitched madly.
She repeated Eshi’s observation and Talon’s expression quickly transformed from confusion to understanding.
“Well, that would kind of make sense. That American did say something about him being possessed,” he mused.
“So, he was being compelled?” Heather couldn’t keep her excitement out of her voice. Here was a way to get Arin pardoned!
Talon must have read her intentions, because he frowned.
“But, that isn’t enough to free your cousin.”
“Then what is?”
“We’d need to talk to him first and show him this Euro… If he can remember anything at all…”
Heather grinned as if Talon had said all she wanted him to.
His eyes widened with horror and even Eshi’s hackles rose.
“You don’t intend to-“
“Oh, yes I do.”
“The prison is filled with traps and Association members who have a love for torturing people whether they’re innocent or not!” he protested. “And that’s without even considering how heavily guarded Arin’s cell is bound to be!”
His sound argument did not sway her in the least.
“Which is why we’re going to use a bit of my father’s… influence…”
Talon could say nothing, but the Euro staring up at them, deceivingly innocent, provided the answer.
* * *