Authors: Bella Forrest
OF VAMPIRE SERIES
Series 1: Derek & Sofia’s story
Series 2: Rose & Caleb’s story
Series 3: Ben & River’s story
Series 4: A Clan of Novaks
A SHADE OF DRAGON TRILOGY
A SHADE OF KIEV TRILOGY
BEAUTIFUL MONSTER DUOLOGY
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© 2016 by Bella Forrest
Cover design inspired by Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations LLC
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n arriving at Murther Island
, it took a while to figure out exactly how I should approach the Mortclaws, and how I would get them to do my bidding in a way that would leave me alive to tell the tale.
After a long spell of contemplation, inspiration struck me. The perfect idea formed in my head. Clutching the heavy key in my hands, I headed cautiously to the Mortclaws’ cave, whose fiery gated entrance was situated among clusters of giant boulders. The depths of the prison were dark which made the Mortclaws hard to spot, given that their coats were also pitch black.
Then I caught sight of gleaming eyes through the bars of the gate. None of them glowed red. . . yet.
I still had no idea how much power they retained after the demise of the black witches. But since it was daytime, and they were all in their wolf forms, they obviously still possessed some extraordinary abilities.
As soon as I had captured their attention, they lunged forward. I immediately averted my vision to the ground for fear that their eyes would turn red and bore holes into mine.
The giant black wolves growled and spat at me, remembering, of course, exactly who I was. They demanded to know why I had come, but most of all they—Sendira, Bastien’s mother, especially— were anxious to know what had happened to Bastien. Where he was now, how he was doing, what powers he possessed, and if he was even still alive. They hadn’t seen him since he was a cub, after all.
I assured them that Bastien was alive and well. I explained that he displayed symptoms that indicated the black witches had messed with him somewhat as a cub— such as his ability to shift at will— but not nearly as many as the Mortclaw adults. I proceeded to reveal what had happened to his adoptive parents; how they had recently been killed in an unfortunate incident.
Then I told them the reason for my visit. I informed them that I had come to strike a deal — a deal that they would be utterly foolish to refuse. I held up the key to their cave, dangling it painfully close to them, and told them that I would free them, and they could see their long lost cub again…
they would first do me two small favors:
First, they would hunt down the human girl who was the main obstacle between my daughter and Bastien’s marriage. This condition they were quick to agree on, as none of them liked the idea of their fine boy ending up with such a frail, mortal creature.
Second, they must agree with Bastien marrying my daughter, and Sendira and Vertus would demand he marry her if there was still any reluctance on his part, even after the human girl’s death.
My second condition was vital in more ways than one. It would serve not only to secure Rona’s marriage to Bastien, but also my tribe’s safety after the fact. Once my daughter was married to their son, the Mortclaws and the Northstones would be family. As low as the Mortclaws had stooped in the past, family was one thing I knew for certain that they still considered highly valuable. They would never sink so low as to murder one of their own. Other, non-related wolves? Perhaps. They might embark on a killing spree again if they returned to The Woodlands. I might be responsible for numerous deaths in the near future. The Mortclaws’ cannibalistic appetite would be a problem I’d have to solve when the time came. In the meantime, I had to focus on making sure that my conditions were accomplished and the knot between Bastien and my daughter was tied as soon as possible.
Sendira and Vertus growled at my second condition. They made it amply clear that the last thing they wanted was for their son to end up with the daughter of the woman who had been responsible for their imprisonment on Murther Island. I couldn’t blame them for their reluctance, but I knew they couldn’t refuse. And they didn’t. They were far too desperate. If they did not agree to both of my terms, then I would simply leave, and they would be trapped here for the rest of their miserable lives.
Of course… I was not stupid. I was well aware that the Mortclaws’ agreement to carry out my requests was a whole different matter than actually executing them. Once I had opened up the charmed gate, and they all rushed out, there would be nothing to stop them from simply attacking me. Eating me alive.
The only way I could think to counteract this problem was to bluff. Bluff with confidence I did not possess. I told them sternly that I was in allegiance with a powerful circle of white witches. The same witches who were responsible for locking them up in the first place. I informed the Mortclaws that the white witches were aware of my coming to see them, and would assume the wolves had harmed me if I did not report back to The Sanctuary in two days’ time confirming that I was still alive and safe. If this happened, they would once again hunt down the Mortclaws and imprison them for an eternity.
This was a stretch of the imagination, certainly, but would these wolves really run the risk of getting holed up again in this cave? After all the decades of misery they had spent in this darkness? I didn’t think so. I didn’t think that anyone, no matter how much they doubted the veracity of my statements, would risk that.
Whatever the case, I was definitely not keen on the idea of letting them all out at once. I proposed to the Mortclaws that I would first let out only one of them— they could decide amongst themselves whom that would be. That lone wolf must fulfill my conditions before I freed the rest of the pack.
The Mortclaws discussed my proposal amongst themselves for a while. Eventually, it was decided that Sendira would be the wolf to complete the necessary tasks.
I was trembling like an animal as the moment arrived for me to finally push the key into the lock and turn it. Before doing so, I instructed all of them to line up at the back of the cave, except Sendira, in case they got any scheming ideas about forcing their way out all at once. I also instructed Sendira to transform into her humanoid form. She acquiesced.
Gulping, I turned the key. I drew open the gate only wide enough for her to slip out, before slamming it shut again, locking it, and stowing the key firmly within my bosom.
I was hardly breathing as I stared at Sendira standing opposite me. Even though, as a humanoid, she was not oversized like she was while in her wolf form, she was still a much taller woman than me. I dared raise my eyes to meet hers directly. She held a definite look of disdain, but also, undeniable resolution. From her expression alone, I sensed that she was not about to take any risks that I could be lying about my “circle” of witch guardians. As fierce as she had looked in her anger when I’d first arrived outside the cave, there was also a weariness to her countenance.
Understandably, she wanted to begin the tasks immediately. I informed her of my suspicion that Bastien was staying with Victoria in the human realm — specifically, in The Shade. She was already aware of the island’s existence, but she did not know its precise location.
I knew that the Mortclaws’ sense of smell was unparalleled, stronger than a dozen normal wolves’ combined, especially after the black witches’ spells. So I told her about the portal on one of the ogres’ beaches, through which I was sure Bastien had traveled. Even though days had passed since he must have left the supernatural dimension, I held strong hope that Sendira would still be able to track him down. He was her son, after all. A wolf mother had a way of finding her child against all odds; it was almost mystical. We possessed a bond with our cubs that could never be severed…
Not by a thousand miles.
around the old loft I had woken up in at the top of a dilapidated skyscraper. I was in the middle of a ravaged Chicago, in the epicenter of Bloodless territory.
I didn’t know who had brought me here, and I sure as heck didn’t know what I was supposed to do now. I had hoped that whoever my savior had been would have shown up already. I had been cooped up here for several hours, and I wasn’t sure how much longer my nerves could take waiting.
It was the not knowing that was the worst. Not knowing whom I owed my life to, why they had bothered to save me from that river, and what, if anything, they planned to do with me next.
I had spent as much time as I dared gazing out of the ceiling window, taking in the grim view of the city. But I was afraid to watch for too long in case one of the Bloodless either scented or spotted me. Unlike other inhabitants of The Shade, I had virtually no experience with these creatures. I didn’t know exactly how strong their sense of smell was, and even though my blood was half fae, it was half human too. Which meant I was at risk. So I thought it wise to spend most of my time sitting close to the burning, bitter-scented coil.
I couldn’t keep track of the time, because, although there was a clock on the wall, its hands had not budged from four o’clock since I’d woken up.
But after what felt like many hours, I couldn’t stand waiting any longer. Drawing my knees up against my chest, I rubbed my temples.
Think, Grace. Think.
I needed to contact The Shade and tell them where I was. There were several phones on the island that allowed incoming calls from the outside—phones that Fowler used to have access to, so that he could contact us to call the League out on missions… in the days when we were still an authorized, official agency. Before joining the League, it was mandatory for all aspiring members to memorize those numbers, so I knew each of them by heart.
Will any phone in this building work?
I wasn’t even sure if there was still electricity running through this part of the city. I glanced around the loft for a light switch, hoping to test my speculation, but spotted none.
I waited for what felt like another hour and still nobody showed up. I decided it was time to risk stepping outside. The coil was starting to look dangerously close to burning out. I didn’t want to imagine what might happen after that. I was running out of time.
Moving over to the coil, I carefully scooped it up into my hands and then picked up a box of matches I’d spied earlier, nestled beneath the gas lantern. I gazed around the rest of the odd assortment of items stashed in the loft, but figured that the coil and the matches were the only two things that would be of real use to me while venturing downstairs.
So, moving to a trapdoor in the far corner of the loft—the exit that I had spent some time hovering around earlier as I pondered whether I ought to leave—I gripped the cool, metal handle and heaved it open. Thankfully, it wasn’t too noisy.
I gazed down to see a corridor beneath me. Its floor was covered in a grimy dusty blue carpet, and its walls were grayish—though I imagined they had once been white. There was no ladder or other means of climbing down in sight, which meant I would have to jump. I estimated the leap was over twelve feet, but I had been forced to jump from higher distances before.
It was hard to leap from this kind of height without any noise. I was just lucky that there was carpet beneath me. I landed with a dull thud, and was mindful not to damage the coil. Rising slowly to my feet, I held the burning object in front of me. My breathing came hard and fast as I gazed up and down the corridor, half expecting a Bloodless to come charging toward me. But it was empty.
My first instinct now was to look around for a light switch, to test if there really was any electricity in this building. I found one further down the hallway and pushed it. Nothing happened.
Perhaps this isn’t actually a light switch and it’s for… something else
, I thought hopefully, even as I doubted this was the case.
I turned my thoughts back to my main problem.
I needed to find a working phone. Unsure of which way to turn next, I took a right and began to make my way slowly down the corridor. I stopped at the first door on my left, which was ajar. I peeked through the crack first. The room was some kind of spacious office, lined with dozens of damaged tables, chairs and smashed-up computers.
On spotting no signs of life, I mustered the confidence to push the door open enough to slip inside. The cracked windows let in a chilly breeze. I shivered.
There were phones on each desk. Some of their wires had been snapped, but others appeared to be intact. I moved to the nearest undamaged handset and picked up the receiver. The line was dead. I moved to a second phone and picked it up. Also dead. I wished that I could say I was surprised.
I moved to a lamp perched on one of the desks and tried to turn it on. Nothing happened. I checked that it was plugged into the socket—and indeed it was. I could hardly argue that I hadn’t turned on the right switch this time. I supposed that the fact that I had spotted a kettle in the loft hideout had given me hope that there was some source of electricity in this building, but perhaps he or she—or they—had just used it as a container.
Electricity was out. Phone lines were dead. I had no way of communicating with the outside world. At least, not in this building.
I glanced down at the coil in my hands. Still smoking, but for how much longer?
I moved toward the exit of the office, since this breeze was doing nothing for the longevity of the coil. As I approached the door, I caught sight of my reflection in a cracked ornamental mirror hanging on the wall near the doorway. I hardly recognized myself.
My eyes were bloodshot, and my face, neck and chest were covered in a bright red rash. I examined myself beneath my clothes to see the rash had also spread down to my stomach, thighs, and the upper half of my arms.
It must’ve been the toxic river water’s effect on my body. I prayed that I wouldn’t come down with some kind of horrible illness. I hated to think how much of that water I had swallowed when I had been in the grips of its current.
Tearing my eyes away from the mirror, I moved back out into the corridor, looking left and right. Still empty.
Perhaps going back up to the loft would’ve been the safest option, but I couldn’t bring myself to wait any longer. The silence and solitude had been driving me insane.
Perhaps there would be a working phone in a different building.
Is that really so impossible?
But searching for another phone would mean braving the streets, which I had already witnessed were stalked by gangs of Bloodless.
I knew for sure where working phones did exist, of course. Back in the IBSI’s headquarters, on the other side of the river. And behind their HQ, I was sure that there were also regular human residences. But I would be an absolute fool to head back that way. The hunters might be on the lookout for me even now—I had no idea where they were, or what they thought had happened to me.
Hopefully they thought I had drowned. That would certainly be the logical conclusion, after falling into rapids that strong with handcuffs restraining me.
So if I don’t head back toward the other side of the river, toward human civilization, where else?
As I stood in the dim, dank corridor, I drew in a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves and think straight. I could not give in to despair and hopelessness.
A moment of clarity came upon me.
I have to find whoever saved me. That’s what I’ve got to do.
Whoever it was, I supposed they did not wish me harm if they had gone to the trouble of fishing me out of the river and bringing me all this way to shelter—how they’d done that amidst the Bloodless roaming the roads, I didn’t know. I shuddered just at the thought.
Would my savior, or saviors, have gone far? What if they were even hanging around in this building somewhere? I needed to explore these floors. Perhaps they had deliberately left me alone so that I could sleep, recover from my ordeal. I comforted myself with these hopeful thoughts as I began moving slowly and cautiously down the corridor.
I wished that I could call out to see if anyone was nearby. But of course, I couldn’t. I might as well be calling for my death.
I reached the end of the corridor and arrived at a set of elevators—broken, defunct elevators. Next to them was a staircase, however. I didn’t want to think about how many steps I would have to climb down to get to the bottom. This building was so high—I guessed over twenty floors, though my estimation could have been wildly off.
I set the coil down and opened the box of matches, which thankfully were not damp. Sparking a flame and brewing it in my right hand, I replaced the matches in my pocket, picked up the coil in my left hand and started down the staircase. It was frighteningly dark. I was already imagining myself halfway down the first flight of stairs and coming face to face with one of those pale, nightmarish creatures. I’d never been more grateful for my ability to wield fire than I was then. The flames were comforting, though the shadows they sent dancing on the walls on either side of me gave me shivers. I tried to keep my eyes firmly on the stairs in front of me and quell my overstimulated imagination.
I realized how much I was sweating as I arrived on the next floor down. I exited the staircase and stepped out into another corridor. As I scanned left and right, something caught my eye by one of the doorways. I could’ve sworn that I spotted a moving shadow. My throat grew tight and I froze, staring at where I thought I’d seen it.
I moved toward the door slower than ever, and peered through the doorway. Another office room. An apparently empty office room.
I’m just getting spooked.
I explored this floor a bit more before returning to the staircase and making my way down to the next floor—moving noticeably faster this time. I stopped on each floor and explored as much as I dared, but each time found nothing of importance. No signs of whoever it was that had saved me. By the time I reached the ground floor, even my half-supernatural muscles were beginning to feel the workout.
I gazed at a metal plaque fixed to the wall outside the staircase. It had an arrow pointing right. “Reception,” it read. And then beneath that was another word with another arrow, pointing down the corridor in the opposite direction. “Parking,” it said.
A reception area didn’t sound like somewhere I wanted to go—it made me think of some grand lobby with lots of glass windows—probably all smashed, and leading directly into the dangerous road outside. But a parking garage didn’t sound much better. Though if it was in the basement, underground, as parking usually was in buildings such as these, maybe…
Given that I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with options right now, I headed in the direction of the parking garage. Indeed, the arrow led me toward a pair of elevators and another stairwell. I reached the bottom of the stairs and arrived outside a thick metal door with a round handle. Gripping it with one hand, I pushed it open to create the smallest crack. I peered through into a pitch-black basement, filled with vehicles. I couldn’t see enough through this small gap, however, so I was forced to push it open wider. I stepped inside, holding out my fire and making it flare higher to cast its halo further around me.
Surprisingly, the vehicles were intact. At least, none of them appeared to have any visible damage to them. And indeed this room in general seemed to be quite untouched—which was odd, considering that the door had been unlocked.
I weaved in and out of the vehicles and moved down the center of the parking lot. Reaching the other end, I stopped and pressed my back against the wall to scan the room from this angle. To my right was a slope leading to what appeared to be the basement’s exit—a wide, corrugated iron gate. Likely electronic, and I guessed now defunct.
Disappointment swelled within me. I had traveled down the entire building and still not found anyone. Granted, I hadn’t felt safe enough to spend much time in each room in order to do a completely thorough search, but if someone was here they should have heard me.
They could have left a note or something for me, even the slightest explanation would have helped—the vaguest indication of when they might return, or even
they would return.
My frustrated thoughts evaporated as a scatter of debris fell from the ceiling.
When I glanced up, my heart stopped.
I hadn’t yet checked the ceiling.