Authors: Carol Wolf
Praise for Carol Wolf's
“What can a werewolf girl and a demon have in common? Only the need to save the earth from the Eater of Souls and the planet-shaking power of the World Snake. And where else to do it but Darkest Los Angeles? In
Carol Wolf gives us a story rich in mythic lore and as tightly woven as the mesh of fate itself.”
—Douglas Rees, author of
“Thank gods this isn’t actually a lyrical ‘paranormal romance’! It's a fast-moving adventure full of surprises and delights including several richly imagined women of power, yet not slighting the men (or the bears). Our heroine, Amber, is convincingly tough, confident, and resourceful, no bluster but plenty of heart, which makes her a pleasure to spend time with—or, rather, try to keep up with. The story moves, like its protagonist, boldly, unhampered by any emo blithering, to an unusual and satisfying conclusion. I hope there's more coming!”
—Suzy Charnas, Hugo, Nebula, and James Tiptree Jr. Award– winning author of
The Bronze King
The Ruby Tear
“Lone wolf Amber is a character any reader will enjoy discovering.”
—Linda Wisdom, national best-selling author of
A Demon Does It Better
is a fast-paced, colorful romp through a supernatural Los Angeles full of demons, witches, soul stealers, and plenty of supernatural hi-jinks to delight lovers of Urban Fantasy.”
—Matthew Kressel, World Fantasy Award nominee and founder of
Other Books by Carol Wolf
Summoning: Book One of the Moon Wolf Saga
(Night Shade Books)
with Eric Elliott
Playwriting: The Merciless Craft
Comprehensive Techniques of Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Playwriting
BOOK TWO OF THE MOON WOLF SAGA
NIGHT SHADE BOOKS
AN IMPRINT OF START PUBLISHING
Copyright © 2014 by Carol Wolf.
This edition of
© 2014 by Night Shade Books.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Start Publishing, 609 Greenwich Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10014.
Night Shade Books is an imprint of
Start Publishing LLC
New York, New York
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Jacket art by Tony Mauro
Interior layout and design by Amy Popovich
Printed in the United States of America
For lost friends:
Sir Stephen MacEanruig, KSCA
This candle burns for you
wolf caught in a trap has been known to gnaw her own leg off, rather than remain in captivity. I couldn’t get to my foot, but I could reach my upper arm, and that would do it. But the question that I had was, at what point does the balance tip between hope and death? How do you know when the moment has come to start chewing?
I saved the world. Well, not the whole world, just the greater Los Angeles area. But that's the whole world to some people. When the World Snake, devourer of Herakleitos (you never heard of Herakleitos, have you—that's why) and Atlantis, threatened Los Angeles, I’m the one who turned her. I’m the one who made sure that she would never devour a human city again. So you’d think after that, there would be celebrations and congratulations, feasts and toasts and speeches of thanksgiving, a victory lap and autographs. Instead, someone shot me.
I woke up in a cage. I was manacled by my right wrist to one corner, and by my left hind paw to the opposite corner. I reached up with my free hand to test the chain, and saw my left foreleg pawing uselessly at the handcuff. And as I tried to understand that I was in both forms at once, human and wolf, like in some bad dream, my thoughts blurred, and I was drawn down into unconsciousness like a puppy being drowned in a bucket.
I am a daughter of the wolf kind, who can change form at will. I ran away from home—for good reasons!—about eight months ago, and made a place for myself in Los Angeles. My driver's license says my name is Elizabeth Beaumont. It also says I’m 19. Ha. My cousin, who was also running away, bought an I.D. for me when she got one for herself. I answer to Amber, but that's not my true name either.
Pain brought me back awake, and I clung to it. My hip ached. It felt swollen and stiff. But that wasn’t all that had been done to me. I yanked on my chains and darn near let out a whimper. I wasn’t just bound. Something was jabbing deep into my manacled wrist and ankle. There were surgical bandages under the cuffs, hung with the smell of blood and pus, new and old, and something else, something metallic. I’d been there awhile, then. A day or two, at least. And it wasn’t just pain and stiffness clouding my brain. Something kept pulling me down into unconsciousness.
I lifted my lip in a frustrated snarl, and gathered myself to change, because of course my right wrist would slip the cuff when I was a wolf, and then I froze in surprise at the pain that flared out from whatever was stabbing into me under the cuff. I paused, and then tried again. Changing is easy. It has always been easy. You do it the first time without even realizing it. I tried harder, and convulsed as the pain rode upward, matching my efforts, heading off my attempt, flowering into agony. The world went black and I thought I would faint, but I still hadn’t changed. And it wasn’t the pain that was stopping me.
I tried to think. My mind was cloudy, sluggish. Maybe the cage was bespelled to keep me in this crippling dual form. I couldn’t sense any wards, any shaping of power into intention and will, coming from the bars or the latch. There was something… and I could study it much better from outside. With all my strength, I attacked the cage, trying to tear it apart, bend it open, break the corners, twist the bars. I gritted my teeth in a snarl as my wrist and ankle flared in renewed pain, and the wound in my hip throbbed. I’d been shot in the hip. I remembered the involuntary yelp and twist of my head to grab at the dart and stop the agonizing pain. My hip hurt as though I’d been stabbed by a spear, and now the wound was bleeding. I tried again.
The cage shook under my onslaught, but it held. Stretched out as I was, I didn’t have the leverage I needed to bend the metal bars. I could see the cage door. This was an animal cage, designed to hold a large live animal. There was just a latch holding it shut—not even a padlock! Someone sure thought I was helpless like this. The latch holding the door shut was outside the bars, of course. Fingers might reach it, but not a wolf's paw. I tried to change again, riding the increasing pain like a ladder, to where it would top out, and I could keep going and make myself whole again. This time I did black out.
When my senses returned, the room was lit by indirect sunlight. The cage lay between a big black iron stove and a dirty beige wall with cracks in the paint. I lay staring at the coils of thick smoke surging through the bars near my head. It took me a few minutes to understand that the stove wasn’t lit. The smoke was coming from underneath it. By tipping my head I could see a carved wooden box for burning incense, set on its side, with most of the little ornate holes blocked, except the ones aimed at me. The bottom of the stove held the smoke just at the level of my face, until it reached me before dissipating into the room. The smoke coming from it was thick and odorous, a tang of metal overlaid by something heavy, cloying, almost nauseating. It pressed its way into my throat and the back of my nose, and pulled my mind back into oblivion.
It was the smoke. I came awake again with that thought, and shifted in the cage as much as I could, welcoming the pain from my wrist and ankle, and my wounded hip, as it helped to keep me from sinking back into unconsciousness. I repositioned my head to try to avoid the smoke. There was an annoying sound coming from across the room, a repetitive squeaking that started and stopped at irregular intervals. Beyond the stove, on the other side of the room, a young man was silhouetted against a sliding glass door, where he was meticulously cleaning the glass. His too-short t-shirt rode up with the movements of his arm, and his cutoffs sagged.
He had his back to me. That pissed me off. I let out a long, low growl, almost below the threshold that a human can hear, but just audible enough to remind him that for a long time, humans were our prey. This is the sound of being alone in the room with a wolf.
He paused, his shoulder blades tensing, and I grinned to myself. Then, without turning, he began buffing the glass again. Huh! My growl got louder, but he paid no further attention. That was strange. He gave out no sense of being dangerous, or powerful, but he wasn’t enough afraid of me to turn around when I threatened him. My eyes should have turned gold just then, as I narrowed in on the need to teach this guy an important lesson. But I was having trouble holding on to my anger. I shifted my head and exhaled toward the smoke.
I was sure of one thing. I wasn’t trapped in this cage because someone thought I was easy to deal with. I was chained up, drugged, and imprisoned, because someone didn’t want me loose. Now, that was respect. And it wasn’t window-cleaner over there, who thought of me as furniture, who had done this to me.
Someone else lived in this house. I huffed into the smoke again, turned my head and opened my jaws, taking in the scents of the room. Ugh. Someone around here used a lot of cleaning chemicals.
I could feel a residue of energy in the room, here and there, like splashes of paint or spills from a broken jug, sudden and messy, but with no shape or pattern. The room didn’t have the feel of a place where a great power wielder lived. That kind tend to organize the energy around them. What I sensed was small, and slap-dash.
A woman lived here. Middle-aged, former cigarette smoker— that smell never goes away, no matter that you changed the curtains or painted the walls—not happy, some kind of problem with her teeth. I could feel a few small residues of energy, but she didn’t feel like a great power wielder to me.
So that meant whoever had done this to me had left me here. Why? For how long? And if not the woman who lived here, then who was my enemy?
I pulled at the manacles, just to see if it still hurt the way I remembered. It did. The blood and pus was caked on my bandages. Huh. No one had changed them while I was unconscious. I turned my head and blew at the smoke. I concentrated, as I’d never had to in my two-natured life, and tried to change. I threw myself at that place where my wolf form ducks under and my human form rises up, but now there was a barrier there, one that receded the harder I approached it. Agony flared out from my wrist and ankle the closer I tried to go. This was impossible. This was unheard of. No one could stop you from changing. Shaking with pain and rage, I pounded at that barrier, finally stopping just at the edge of the convulsion brought on by the pain. I lay shaking and panting, soaked with sweat, still trying to avoid the smoke. Squeaky window-washing man was listening to me, I could feel his attention, but he didn’t turn around. I wanted to kill him.
I had to get out of this trap. You can cut off a foot and still run away. A wolf can survive on three legs. But if I started gnawing, I was going to have begin with my right upper arm, which was all I could reach with my jaws, and then chew off my left hind paw. I wasn’t sure how viable I would be after that. Especially when I stood in my two-legged form. And I really wanted to meet whoever did this to me while I was still dangerous.
When I arrived in Southern California, all the local power raisers were in a frenzy to try stop the World Snake, destroyer of Thrace, devourer of Atlantis, who was on track to take out greater Los Angeles. They held meetings and tried to make plans to work together to avert the common threat. Power raisers working together is like organizing an all-cat marching band. You call the first meeting, and hope they still admit to playing an instrument, if they even show up on the right day. Then the auguries revealed—to folks who believed in them—that I was fated to be a prime mover in that fight. This seemed unlikely, even to those who thought they knew who and what I was. But it was true. And I won. With the assistance of a demon who’d taken service with me… okay. After circumstances—which I had a lot to do with—got my demon all his powers back, I ordered him to turn the World Snake, to keep her from destroying this, or any other city, and he’d done it at my command. Crisis passed, the good guys won, hooray. The trouble was, no one believed me.