Excerpt of The Chosen: Valkyrie Rising

 

perf6.000x9.000.indd

THE CHOSEN: VALKYRIE RISING

CHAPTER ONE

AURIEL GRAFTFIELD

New York City, NY 2014

Shades of death encircled my world. Tawny feathers floated from the sky. A gasp pinched my chest. Fire flashed on the horizon, bathing over the city, and then progressively swallowed the Nine Realms of the Myst. My eyes flew open, closed, then reopened, and I drew my dream journal from the nightstand drawer.

“How can I stop myself from burning the world into cindered ash if I don’t understand this darkness tearing my light away?”

Each line and page was filled with my prophetic visions. More than one existed and like those journals, this one reflected the darkness of my secret. Every night another nightmare assaulted me as the light inched from of my soul; they grew bolder, and the death toll rose. White cleansing fire coated the world as if it were air. I blinked the weariness away.

The visions always came true, no matter how hard I tried to change the fate of those I loved. Auburn hair brushed the page and deft fingers swept it aside. Dry and wet golden splatters marred the white surface. I prayed for answers, guidance, and a ceasefire without the universe blowing up in my face.

“Gods, what have I done to anger you?” Why did I destroy when all I wanted was love?

As usual, the Gods offered no response. I sniffled and wiped my face. Blank lines taunted, daring me to write the mysterious secrets of my worlds. This journal would be different. I would alter the future or die trying.

Pages as bare as the future I ran away from four years ago awaited my thoughts. Downstairs bacon was frying; Momma whistled a tune. Where did I go wrong? My hand trembled, scribbling the words I didn’t want to admit. Twenty-one years was a piss in the ocean, yet little ol’ me managed to destroy the world. Daddy knocked on my bedroom door, and it creaked open.

“Mornin’ Aurie,” he said, stepping over the threshold carrying a mug of coffee. Timeless features chiseled his chin, elven ears pointed upward, and two blue eyes smiled as he set the cup on my nightstand. I forced my lips upward, returning the smile, and thanked him.

Not one to loiter, Daddy  closed the door behind him. I waited as his footsteps pattered across the hardwood floor downstairs before I continued.

If someone asked me who would end the world, I would’ve said the humans. Before I ran, my job was protecting magic. All high mages enforced the Laws of the Myst. I was a Phoenix and master of elemental fire. At least I used to be before my family ventured into hiding.

The supernaturals I worked for turned on me. I tossed the pen down and refrained from chucking it across the bedroom. Knuckles cracked and my neck followed as I released the tension within my bones. The Council of the Nine despised my kind: hybrid. Hunted us down like rabid animals, all because we refused to live under their tyrannical control. I rolled from my bed, shuddering at the thought of living under the oppression of the Nine, and slipped into my favorite bunny slippers.

Hiding and fleeing were two things I learned at a young age, and it was possible that I didn’t understand what normal meant, but I wanted it right alongside love. The doorbell chimed, and I glanced toward the bedroom door. Supernaturals were not normal. Shoulders slumped, I sipped my coffee and listened to the soft voices fluttering below. For one day, all I wanted was normality.

Truth settled in and chilled my bones. The warmth of the coffee penetrated my soul as I stared up at the white washed walls in our brownstone. Empty shelves lined my personal prison. Anything of importance fit into my duffel bag. Hot coffee, human television, and countless e-books filled my doldrum days. We rented the furniture and used delivery services for groceries. If I couldn’t order it and have it delivered, I did not need it. The pages of my journal flipped closed as the chilly breeze swept through an open window.

My talisman warmed against my skin. I reached for my pillow and the muffled cries died as the stone swung away from my skin. The Algiz, runic symbol for protection, glowed as the amulet increased in strength, and the stone flared with life.

Ribs and heart ticked like a bomb waiting to explode. Eyes whipped around, searching for anything or anyone to explain the sharp sear over my skin. I dropped my jaw, but nothing came out.

Shouts sounded in the distance, but the foreign words sounded muffled by the bustle of the Upper West Side. Voices rose from below as I tiptoed toward my closet and dragged my emergency bag from the shelf.

The Nine came for me; they had found me. Pain and thinking didn’t mix. I paused, heart pounding within my ears, as the stairs creaked. My eyes flickered between the window and the door. Three sets of footsteps echoed their cadence.

The bag slung over my back, I wiggled my fat ass out the window, and I crept down the rickety fire escape adhered to my bedroom window. My stomach flipped with each sway or groan from the metal as my sweaty palms glided over the railing. Did I stick to our plan, or fetch my parents first? This marked the first time in four years that I’d had to move; the first time I’d ran as an adult.

The pendant scorched my skin as I descended the ladder that dropped into the alleyway. I winced and gnawed on the inside of my cheek as the tears built in my eyes. No supernatural was immune to pain.

Feet landed with a slight scuffle. The thumping of my heart vibrated through me, and my breath came in shortened gasps. Again, I gathered the talisman away from my skin. My gaze swept over the trash in the alleyway for signs of Momma or Daddy. Another shout drew my attention, and I struggled again to hear over the city noise. As the decibel grew stronger, I recognized the voice of my momma.

“We don’t know where she is.” Momma’s tone borderlined on hysterical, shrieking as if she were a sidhe.

Another voice matching hers resonated inside my head. “Run Auriel,” the voice commanded, but I froze.

My legs weighed a million pounds, and my knees turned to jelly. They crashed to the glass littered ground, the shards rooting deep into my flesh and slicing through my skin. Tears flooded my vision, and my mouth opened to cry, but the sound refused to come. More shouts followed, as I fought to breathe and clutched at my chest.

Tears burned my eyes, and I choked on the piss and vinegar smells permeating through the alleyway. Pookas left an odor in their wake when they marked their territory. My back leaned against the brick wall, an ache spreading from my heart, but the hurt affecting me wasn’t my own. I was an empath.

External wounds recovered as white Myst enveloped my body. Gashes mended, turning from red to pink to a faint white before they disappeared. A shriek ripped through the alley, and my eyes widened. Momma’s emotions strengthened, and they ripped right through my shields. I fell under attack; my heart and soul struggled as the tears splashed, melding with my spilled blood on the ground.

Deep breaths recharged my nerves, and I asked the Myst to aid me. My hands grew warmer, and I envisioned the fiery white glow surrounding my body. It helped, but I still sensed her suffering.

“Aurie get out of here. Go, go now,” Momma whimpered and pled with me. Her heart tore into shreds. My daddy remained silent, and I reckoned he shielded himself from me as he typically had before. Momma didn’t have that luxury to offer.

“This is your last chance, Daniel. Where’s Fainauriel?”

A deep breath filled my lungs, and my nose crinkled. Two-natured by her urine scent, but her green Myst read as a Guardian. At least she wasn’t a Warden. Few knew me as Fainauriel; I often went by Aurie or Auriel. Wardens were like two-natured mages on steroids. Enforcers of the Nine and they had but one enemy.

Sure as heck wasn’t little ol’ me.

My parents said nothing. My lips lifted toward the sky and whispered a silent prayer to Freya and Freyr. The woman counted.

One … I crouched low and crawled toward the kitchen window. Two … Curiosity grabbed a hold of me, tangling its thick vines around me; my heart hammered and breathing burned my lungs. Three … My hand flew to my mouth as my leg slipped to the ground.

A shard of broken glass protruded from my left knee causing blood to ooze into my torn yoga pants. I reached down and grimaced; my stomach heaved at the crimson gash. Slippery fingers grasped the glass and yanked it free; my teeth clenched in hopes it softened the noise. Precious seconds passed, and the counting ended as I hobbled toward the brick wall.

Bang, Bang.

Gunpowder burned my nose as my eyes widened. I blinked; the view obscured by Momma’s lacy curtains revealed nothing. Two shots fired. My breathing deepened.

Tears came, and they were my own. All senses, all feelings from my mother ceased. Lips quivered, blubbering in the air. Curses sounded from inside the townhouse. Teeth pressed into my lip, and I tore myself away from the window. Each step grew heavier, but not from the healed gash. A gaping hole existed inside my heart.

Momma and Daddy died; they were murdered because of my dang secrets. My head slammed against the brick wall, and I winced. Pain splintered my head, but it failed to distract my heart and soul. If there were an award for the worst daughter ever, I’d win.

The killer remained inside, but she’d find me if I stayed. Move, I moved. My teeth clenched against the sorrow building in my chest, and I ran. Thighs and lungs burned, screaming at my brain to stop. Faster than ever before, I ran as tears streamed down my face, blinding my vision. Ran, sniffled, ran, I turned and sniffled some more. My legs moved without real direction, as I weaved in and out of the Upper West Side.

“Stop, eun beag.” A voice entered my mind. What the heck? He spoke partially in Scottish Gaelic, the magical language of mages. I tried to stop, heeding his advice pulsing through my head. The sidewalk had stayed wet throughout the morning, covered in spring dew, and I skidded into a lamppost. My rear hit the ground, and for once, I was thankful for the ample padding of my butt.

“Who is there?” I asked, staring down my legs at the fuzzy pink slippers. No wonder I slid. Thank goodness for the pole, or I would’ve ended up in the street.

The road crawled with humans. Their snickers reached my ears, but it allowed me some safety; the Nine wouldn’t dare expose magic. Even as I talked to myself, no one paid me any attention. It was New York after all. I could have walked around naked, and no one would’ve cared. Maybe that was stretching the truth, but they sure didn’t shock easily.

Supernaturals had lived everywhere on Earth amongst the unsuspecting humans. Scanning the length of the street, I didn’t sense the familiar buzz of Myst, the life force and magic of all supernaturals. Just brownstones, shops, people, and the usual hustle and bustle of New York City revolved around me. Laughter escaped my lips, and a woman shot me a disapproving look. If she’d only known the reality of her little world, and that the truth was stranger than the imaginative fiction that paranormal lovers gobbled up. My eyes rolled as she passed without sparing a second glance.

Sometimes I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and light up the sky. How many stern looks would that have garnered? I tossed the thought from my mind and concentrated on the voice from the street corner.

The inner voice was not my own, that much I believed. What I didn’t understand was how or why it had spoken to me. Who could do this without my knowledge or a spell, let alone without my permission? Anything was possible.

I thought my momma did the same, and she was human. But the woman didn’t use magic to dispatch my parents. My eyes widened, recalling the crime in the human world. Guns, knives, and bombs killed people. The supernatural world tended to enjoy barbaric methods. Decapitation, draining of blood or the Myst, and a silver knife through the heart were a few ways I knew would kill supernaturals. So why had she used a gun to murder my parents?

“You’re just stressed,” I sniffled, willing myself to stand. Each step became excruciating, with my heart breaking. Without my parents, I was lost. This was why they made me aware of the escape plan. Starting with my duffel bag and ending with a getaway vehicle.

They kept me sheltered for my own good. I was not human, and neither was Daddy. Walking shoulder to shoulder, packed against the morning commuters, I realized the importance of avoiding people. Each touch or brush threatened my shield, and without protection, I became a sitting duck.

With each street crossed, my head remained down. An occasional glance over my shoulder had revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Commuters chatted or texted. Cabs and cars honked. Every perfume or cologne ever created blended and the scents turned my stomach. But the humans and their side of our shared world could not bother my mind.

One thought repeated in my mind: I should’ve stopped her. My fist clenched, but the realization struck a chord. Could I have stopped a bullet?

“Please help me. Freya …” I begged my patron Goddess through my sea of tears. Thunder rumbled in the distance as the rain started and assailed me from the sky. Umbrellas popped open but I didn’t have one. Little notions like rain protection hadn’t occurred to me.

The shield I’d constructed was heavy on my skin. My emotions flowed out of control as I jogged to the paid parking lot. As the morning progressed, more and more people joined the sidewalks, and the roads littered with exhaust spewing cabs. Too difficult to see if anyone followed me, everyone blended with everyone else.

One final glance over my shoulder and I ducked into the garage my parents used.

“Are you all right Miss? You look like …” I stopped myself from glaring. The garage attendant, whose nametag read Jethro, showed genuine concern in his brown eyes. By the time I reached his booth, my chest heaved and burned for breath. I must’ve looked terrible if he’d left the confines of his plastic prison, but I doubted that was even his name. Who named their kid Jethro? I forced a smile and shook my head. Humans, ugh, they’re too nosy. I passed him my ticket and identification. He studied it before repeating himself. My talisman no longer burned, but I remained cautious.

“Just trying to get out of the rain.” His eyebrow rose, questioning my torn and bloodied yoga pants, slippers, and tank top I looked like something the tide had dragged in. And that was just my clothes. Knotted, rain soaked hair and make-up free face wasn’t my usual look, and that probably didn’t help matters either.

Cold outside this time of year, but the fire coursing through my veins allowed me to venture without heavy parkas, mittens, and those funny ear covers. Jethro’s eyes narrowed, and he glanced over my shoulder. I followed his gaze as he said, “All right, I’ll have this for you in a moment Miss Graftfield.”

Heck … maybe I’d lost my mind. What if all this were some crazy dream? Nah, I wasn’t that lucky, but I did wonder about my sanity. He reached in his booth and keys jingled. I shivered and rubbed my arms as he strolled from my view. A clock ticked over the sound of my heart. No, I’m not a huge rush or anything, so take your time. I kept those thoughts to myself. The thundering roar had settled into a gentle thump, but there was a long road ahead of me. I should’ve taken that time to develop a plan, but my mind refused to concentrate. This relentless, maddening idea of someone in my head bothered me. The fact that he knew danger stalked me … had he realized that I stayed forever in harm’s way too? My existence mandated fleeing.

I leaned against the booth; even though I wasn’t cold, the warmth of the plexiglass box had invited me in like a cozy blanket. This was all my fault. The running, no life, and now my parents’ deaths too. Bloodied hands and they were mine.

If they hadn’t had me, they would still be alive. I yearned for my journal, because I’d write the whole truth this time. The Norse Gods blessed me with powers beyond those of my peers, reaching beyond the Phoenix. I hadn’t asked for them, and I didn’t want them. They made me a threat in the eyes of the Nine who had tried to eradicate me more than once. The first time anyone saw, I was a day old. Another tear slid down my cheek. That was why we ran and  why Momma and Daddy left the Nine before my birth. Somehow, they knew I’d be different.

“Miss Graftfield,” said the valet, pulling up in a brand new truck. The leather interior wafted to where I stood. It was a welcome sight because the old Bronco was a good for nothing piece of junk.

“Just sign here and you can be on your way.” A quick scribble and he handed me the keys. I mumbled thanks and climbed into the cab. My knees jammed into the steering wheel as a light curse left my lips. “Everything all right?” he asked.

The seat sat too close for my longer than average legs. “Yeah, how do I push the seat back? I can’t find a lever.”

He laughed as my hand fumbled underneath the seat.

“They ain’t had them down yonder in years. O’ere on the side,” Jethro said, pointing to the tiny levers. My cheeks heated as he pushed the lever up and down.

“This one here does lumbar support.” He grinned, and my eyes widened at his protruding fangs. Draugr, I didn’t care for them at all, but I wasn’t afraid of them even though I hadn’t met many before. Hollywood blew them out of proportion all of the time. According to my studies, they were relatively harmless, and there was a treaty keeping them in line. Granted, I guessed to a human, they were frightening.

“Thanks again,” I muttered and wished to the Gods that there was a user manual. Situated and comfortable, I sat behind the wheel of the Ram truck, and realized I didn’t have anywhere to go. Jethro eyed me, but said nothing more as my hands gripped the steering wheel. The truck was a beast, and I wasn’t certain I could maneuver it. Well heck, I couldn’t even figure out how to move the seat back for my five-foot-ten frame. Daddy usually drove even though I had a license.

My breath released in a steady stream, and I pulled onto the street. Here went nothing. A driver laid on his horn, and I slammed on the brakes. Hands white-knuckled the wheel. His fist shook at me, and his mouth moved releasing a string of curses. Look before you pull out, I chided and glanced around before easing onto the road.

“Now what?”

“Head south, eun beag … home.” I leapt clear out of my skin. My head pounded against the roof as my foot gunned the gas pedal. By the grace of the Gods, I slammed the brakes again, barely missing a parked car.

What happened to me? Think, Auriel, think … South, what on the Gods’ green earth laid south? The Nine wanted me, dead or alive.

A storm brewed, and I stood at the center. The eye of the tempest whipped around me. It pushed and pulled against me like a maelstrom. Tears blinded my vision, and the ache shredded my tender heart. Home was South Carolina, but the Nine laid in wait there too.

“South,” I whispered and wiped my eyes dry. I’d do this; I was stronger than this.

Checking my mirrors and tossing my blinker on, I waited for an opening. I couldn’t just sit there and wallow. If the Nine caught me then my parents died for nothing. They sacrificed more than their lives for me. I must use their memory to press on and find their killer. Justice; I would take it come hell or high water.

Smoke poured from my palms at the thought of vengeance. Melted plastic surrounded my grip on the steering wheel, but it didn’t burn me. Fire never burned my skin, but the same wasn’t true for the remaining elements I wielded.

Silence within the truck took a toll on me. I used to love it— losing myself in a sort of serenity— but now it reminded me that I was alone.

At first, I tried to find something on the radio, but it led to one sad song after another. The news hadn’t been much better, except to alert me of the gridlock I’d face until I crossed into New Jersey. Until I drove south of Washington DC, it wouldn’t get any better.

“Why?” I asked myself, but I already knew the answer revolved around little ol’ me. The gifts the Gods had bestowed upon me were a burden to anyone who dared to help. They’d done nothing but ruin my life. In order to stop hurting everyone I had once loved, I had to forget them.

The only memories that remained were the last four years on the run and of the small town of Six and Twenty in South Carolina from when I was just a little girl. Momma said I’d gone and done it to myself, but when I asked her why, she kept silent. Daddy just changed the subject. There was only one thing to do now—I had to press forward and stop dwelling in the past.

***

In Delaware, I stopped to rest my burning eyes. The headlights and passing cars were beginning to blend together. I watched the families and travelers with interest.

How‘d they react if I kindled a fireball?

Sitting on the stone bench, I giggled at the idea and drew their stares. One law the majority of magical folk agreed with was to keep the secret.

After the Myst created humans, the Nine decreed they were not to wield our powers. The Gods blessed a few, but for the majority of humanity, they knew nothing of our world.

The Nine Council said humans were far too weak and corruptible to wield the Myst. I begged to differ. Supernaturals were just as guilty and corruptible. Were my dreams not proof enough?

Darkness dragged me down, wild lycans tore at my tender flesh, and Midgard burned and scorched in my cleansing fire. It was enough to scare anyone, and that included me. Dreams and visions cursed us all as they threatened Ragnarok.

I blew out my breath and sighed as a group of friends walked by. Their laughter and smiles warmed my soul even if I was the source of their amusement. None of it mattered now, I trusted no one, and friends didn’t come easy to me. All I had left were my journals and an annoying voice inside my head. One of the girls giggled and pointed in my direction.

“At least I’m not six pounds of sugar in a five pound bag,” I mumbled and lifted my chin higher. I was more than my dishelved appearance and fuzzy slippers.

Empathy just didn’t mix with any society. I’d love to find others like me. No fear of exposing my divine side by some freak, hand-shaking, future seeing tragedy. There’s one place … Six and Twenty.

***

“Go south the voice said,” I mocked. My eyes rolled, and I wondered if I was going mad. Maybe everything took its toll, and insanity pulled ahead. Who the heck listened to the voices in their heads anyhow?

Oh right, I did.

I’d called it quits again in Virginia. Beyond exhausted, my body had nearly tuckered itself out. Even with the magic coursing through my veins, I couldn’t keep going without rest and at least a few hours of sleep.

The vacancy sign flashed in a steady rhythm, and I pulled into the motel. A dive, but I couldn’t leave a paper trail either. Places like Value Sleep accepted cash, and they didn’t ask too many questions. The Nine knew all about human technology and magic allowed them to avoid security barriers. They’d find me in a heartbeat if I swiped a credit card now.

The door jingled its beautiful song as it swung open. With haste, I paid for my room, ignoring the greasy man behind the desk as much as possible, and pushed my remaining Myst into another shield. The creepazoid’s interest faded quickly, but I wouldn’t let my guard down.

As I opened the hotel room door, the musty stench of skanky filth singed my nostrils. Eyes scanned over each object –there wasn’t much –a chair and table, and the bed and nightstand. If the moaning from next door stood as any indication then the bed had touched tons of naked bodies … skin gross … doing who knew what … Their fluids mixing and sinking in, clinging to the mattress and sheets … I cringed at the mere thoughts and images flipping through my mind as the wall rattled.

I flicked on the light setting on the nightstand. My eyes blinked, adjusting to the brightness, when I saw a peculiar stain on the wall. It glistened as if still wet.

“No way,” I said, leaning closer. My mouth dropped open, staring at the dark rusty stain. “Blood … well ain’t that just peachy. What next, a dang body under the bed?”

I tossed my items on the tabletop, praying no one used it, and sat in the chair. Supernatural beings weren’t naïve. I knew about sex and hormones, but my secrets kept me from both worlds. They didn’t leave time for boyfriends or relationships.

My head fell into my hands, and I stared at the curtains. “So much has happened,” I whispered to myself, half hoping the voice spoke again. My lips curled up, and I snorted when nothing happened. Maybe he’d direct me to a more sanitary hotel or the nut house. Funny how things worked like that; I wondered how many people found solace in their insanity. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

I tried sleeping, but sleep refused to come. Still sitting in the chair –I refused to touch the bed – my mind raced about in circles. My parents weren’t ever far from my thoughts. Was it any worse than thinking about the nastiness crawling on my skin? No, not really, but I stood at an impasse.

What’d they think during those last moments? Did they feel any pain? Were they proud of me or did they regret having me?

This would get me nowhere. My breath hissed through my teeth, and I shook my head. All terrible thoughts aside, I concentrated on my parents’ stories.

Generations were both American, but like most supernaturals, our ancestry hailed from Europe. The blood coursing through my veins consisted of Scottish, Viking, and English from the human side, and part frost giant and Unseelie elf from the supernatural tree.

The Nine separated everyone by blood and then again by their ability. They tiered off again depending upon secondary abilities. According to their laws, I was too powerful, and a cell waited with my name on it in Charlestown, South Carolina.

But I knew the truth. My great aunt tried to sacrifice me to Odin, and she sat of the Council of the Nine Realms. A tear fell, and I swiped it away. That was why we ran. Was the memory of a world that wanted me dead or locked away any better? Some parts of life were expendable, but not my parents.

Myst wouldn’t bring them back, but I refused to let them go. Finally giving up on sleep, I decided to go through my bag. Idle hands and all that devilish crap. Besides, changing into some real clothes might cheer me up some. A shower too, but they couldn’t pay me to get into the one here.

I dumped my black duffel bag; clothes, toiletries, a change of shoes–thank goodness–and a large, ordinary manila envelope poured out. Before then, I hadn’t recalled seeing it. Cash, clothes, and sometimes new identities, but Daddy conjured those. My lip pulsed as I bit into my flesh. The weight grew heavy in my hand, and I tried to place it aside, but I couldn’t.

Was it important? Why else would Momma or Dad put it in my bag? I tore into it. Two silver-scrolled envelopes were inside of it. But I wasn’t ready to read the one addressed to me. The second was for a Paulo Skyland of Six and Twenty, South Carolina.

“That’s where I was born,” I whispered, clutching the letter to my chest.

***

I dozed off around three am. The nightmares returned, consuming my thoughts, as I lost the heavy-lidded battle.

“It is done, my lady,” an unfamiliar voice said to me, but I couldn’t reply or act. I remained nothing more than a bystander, as usual.

My head turned scanning the battle scene unfolding around me. Bodies scattered the earth, flocks of ravens flew over the corpses, and the only light shining came from the world set ablaze. My gaze dropped to my hands. Fingers gripped a silver metal shield and a jeweled sword, bloodied with the life force of others. Around my waist was a black leather belt with a rough sheath hanging from its rung. I dressed in dark brown leather that did little for the imagination.

“The secret will remain safe now.” The words left my mouth. How I stayed composed was beyond me. Inside, the real me quivered as I sheathed my weapon. No. This bitter woman couldn’t become the future me.

“They asked for it and were given fair warning. The Nine is pleased with our progress,” I hissed at the dark-haired man whose mouth dripped with blood. Draugr … gross. On the inside, I cringed.

He grasped my free hand and brought it to his heart. As our lips touched, the blood mingled in my hungry mouth. Hatred coursed through me at the idea. I wouldn’t make such a stupid decision. Draugr weren’t the worst of supernaturals, but the idea of slavery to blood disgusted me.

“Come, my love. Let us move on. We haven’t much more time.” The word love echoed in my mind. We parted; I noted the slight sheen of flame licking at his pale skin. The draugr held the Myst.

My nightmare flashed forward to a small town hall.

I stood before at least fifty shaking, wide-eyed people. The tall podium hid my body, but I wore more clothing this time. My shield rested upon my back, forcing my broad shoulders wider, the weighty sword dangling beneath my long, wine-colored cloak.

“You were warned time and again to follow the rules. How many warnings did you think we’d give before we took action?” I bellowed to the townsfolk, who murmured amongst themselves in the large hall. When they looked back upon me, their eyes—hollowed, endless, and nightmarish globes— judged me. I saw my startled expression within the blackened pools reflecting back to me. What were they? I’d never laid my eyes upon creatures such as these.

A tall young man entered the room; thick expansive shoulders sat atop his muscular body. He was different with his unkempt reddish hair, and he gazed at me as if searching for something. When he glanced away, the glowing green eyes appeared defeated, broken, and there were tears threatening to fall. A Guardian, but who was he charged with protecting?

My soul pulled toward him in both dream form and reality. His grief beckoned me. For some reason that I couldn’t explain, the need to rush into his arms and hold him washed over me. Instead, my dream figure summoned white fire, the wall built and halted at my feet, and the ravens returned. The gut wrenching screams of people filled the air and mixed with the screeches; the smoke rose from the burning victims.

They didn’t fight back.

“You must pay the price for your defiance,” I said, sickened by my actions in both states. There remained a tiny amount of solace; I didn’t enjoy the carnage I created. The stranger held his ground, as the flames licked at his body, but his eyes did not leave mine. A whisper reached my ears. The draugr beckoned me to kill him. I couldn’t do it. Green, smoky Myst swirled around my visitor, and in a flash, he disappeared.

***

I woke up with a start, shooting up off the grime-covered bed. Eww, how did I get over here? Drenched in sticky sweat, my shirt was plastered to my body. My heart pounded, resonating and rattling in my head. I attempted to shake away the haziness, maneuvering through my strange surroundings, seeking my journal. Once I found it, I scrambled to write my new and unsettling dream down. The wickedness I’d done sent involuntary shivers running down my spine. How could I have slaughtered innocent people, people just trying to survive?

The book dropped to the floor and opened to the previous entry. Stapled to the page was his photograph. No, I’d remember a gorgeous man with glowing green eyes and rusty sunset hair. Yet as I flipped the pages, he reappeared in my writing as both human and lycan.

I stared at the photograph. He appeared younger, a teenager maybe, but it was the man from my dreams. New purpose burned within me. I must find him and the meaning behind his existence within my visions. Six and Twenty came first. I redressed, slipping out of the sweat-drenched tank top and into clothing from my bag. I swam in the larger clothing, but it was better than smelling as if I hadn’t showered. After gathering up my meager belongings, I closed the door and dropped off the key in the night box.

My eyes scanned the parking lot as a prickle rolled over my skin. That wasn’t unusual when another mage was nearby. Parked next to my truck sat a dark sedan. I blinked, noticing the hum vibrating from inside. Glass crashed and drew my attention away. “Go eun beag,” he said.

I’d do whatever it took to stop these dreams and the voices. My head nodded, and a lump formed in my throat. A lycans walked around the hotel dumpster. Something about his blue eyes spoke to me. He nodded, as if reading my thoughts, and my heart rate increased.

My hand hit the unlock button on the key fob, and I walked toward the truck. Our eyes didn’t falter as we assessed each other. Like a stray dog, it was foolish to approach a shifted lycans. My eyebrow rose, and the massive beast lowered his head. His eyes darted to the dark sedan and then back to me. Was he protecting me? The lycans nodded again, and my eyes widened.

“You are in my head …”

“Aye, south eun beag, and no more stopping.”

“No rest for the wicked,” I muttered, and I shut the truck door. One simple churning motion and the engine roared to life. I headed home.

Available for purchase on Amazon