Authors: Anne Bishop
Tags: #Fantasy, #Vampires, #Adult, #Young Adult
My thanks to Blair Boone for continuing to be my first reader and for all the information about animals and other things that I absorbed and transformed to suit the Others’ world, to Debra Dixon for being second reader, to Doranna Durgin for maintaining the Web site, to Adrienne Roehrich for running the official fan page on Facebook, to Catherine Garcia for telling me about fresh-baked dog cookies, to Charles de Lint for the inspiration of music at World Fantasy (Toronto 2012), to Nadine Fallacaro for information about things medical, to Douglas Burke for answering questions about police (and for not asking what I would do with the information), to Anne Sowards and Jennifer Jackson for all their feedback about the story as well as their enthusiasm for the series, and to Pat Feidner for always being supportive and encouraging.
A special thanks to the following people who loaned their names to characters, knowing that the name would be the only connection between reality and fiction: Bobbie Barber, Elizabeth Bennefeld, Blair Boone, Douglas Burke, Starr Corcoran, Jennifer Crow, Lorna MacDonald Czarnota, Julie Czerneda, Roger Czerneda, Merri Lee Debany, Michael Debany, Skip Denby, Mary Claire Eamer, Sarah Jane Elliott, Chris Fallacaro, Dan Fallacaro, Mike Fallacaro, Nadine Fallacaro, James Alan Gardner, Mantovani “Monty” Gay, Julie Green, Lois Gresh, Ann Hergott, Lara Herrera, Robert Herrera, Danielle Hilborn, Heather Houghton, Lorne Kates, Allison King, Jana Paniccia, Jennifer Margaret Seely, Ruth Stuart, and John Wulf.
Cel-Romano/Cel-Romano Alliance of Nations
—Superior, Tala, Honon, Etu, and Tahki
—Feather Lakes/Finger Lakes
Cities or villages
—Ferryman’s Landing, Hubb NE (aka Hubbney), Jerzy, Lakeside, Podunk, Sparkletown, Talulah Falls, Toland, Walnut Grove, Wheatfield
DAYS OF THE WEEK
ong ago, Namid gave birth to all kinds of life, including the beings known as humans. She gave the humans fertile pieces of herself, and she gave them good water. Understanding their nature and the nature of her other offspring, she also gave them enough isolation that they would have a chance to survive and grow. And they did.
They learned to build fires and shelters. They learned to farm and build cities. They built boats and fished in the Mediterran and Black seas. They bred and spread throughout their pieces of the world until they pushed into the wild places. That’s when they discovered that Namid’s other offspring already claimed the rest of the world.
The Others looked at humans and did not see conquerors. They saw a new kind of meat.
Wars were fought to possess the wild places. Sometimes the humans won and spread their seed a little farther. More often, pieces of civilization disappeared, and fearful survivors tried not to shiver when a howl went up in the night or a man, wandering too far from the safety of stout doors and light, was found the next morning drained of blood.
Centuries passed, and the humans built larger ships and sailed across the Atlantik Ocean. When they found virgin land, they built a settlement near the shore. Then they discovered that this land was also claimed by the
the earth natives. The Others.
who ruled the continent called Thaisia became angry when the humans cut down trees and put a plow to land that was not theirs. So the Others ate the settlers and learned the shape of this particular meat, just as they had done many times in the past.
The second wave of explorers and settlers found the abandoned settlement and, once more, tried to claim the land as their own.
The Others ate them too.
The third wave of settlers had a leader who was smarter than his predecessors. He offered the Others warm blankets and lengths of cloth for clothes and interesting bits of shiny in exchange for being allowed to live in the settlement and have enough land to grow crops. The Others thought this was a fair exchange and walked off the boundaries of the land that the humans could use. More gifts were exchanged for hunting and fishing privileges. This arrangement satisfied both sides, even if one side regarded its new neighbors with snarling tolerance and the other side swallowed fear and made sure its people were safely inside the settlement’s walls before nightfall.
Years passed and more settlers arrived. Many died, but enough humans prospered. Settlements grew into villages, which grew into towns, which grew into cities. Little by little, humans moved across Thaisia, spreading out as much as they could on the land they were allowed to use.
Centuries passed. Humans were smart. So were the Others. Humans invented electricity and plumbing. The Others controlled all the rivers that could power the generators and all the lakes that supplied fresh drinking water. Humans invented steam engines and central heating. The Others controlled all the fuel needed to run the engines and heat the buildings. Humans invented and manufactured products. The Others controlled all the natural resources, thereby deciding what would and wouldn’t be made in their part of the world.
There were collisions, of course, and some places became dark memorials for the dead. Those memorials finally made it clear to human government that the
ruled Thaisia, and nothing short of the end of the world would change that.
So it comes to this current age. Small human villages exist within vast tracts of land that belong to the Others. And in larger human cities, there are fenced parks called Courtyards that are inhabited by the Others who have the task of keeping watch over the city’s residents and enforcing the agreements the humans made with the
There is still sharp-toothed tolerance on one side and fear of what walks in the dark on the other. But if they are careful, the humans survive.
Most of the time, they survive.
udged awake by his bedmate’s restless movements, Simon Wolfgard yawned, rolled over on his belly, and studied Meg Corbyn. She’d kicked off most of the covers, which wasn’t good for her since she didn’t have fur and could end up catching a chill. To a
Wolf, catching something meant you wanted it, and he couldn’t think of a single reason a human would want a chill, but apparently humans did and could catch one in cold weather. And even in the last days of Febros, the Northeast Region of Thaisia was plenty cold. Then again, if she started feeling chilly, she’d cuddle up closer to him, which was sensible since he had a good winter coat and, being a Wolf, liked the closeness.
If someone had told him a few weeks ago that he would befriend a human and care enough to watch over her at night, he would have laughed his tail off. But here he was, in Meg’s apartment in the Green Complex, while his nephew Sam stayed with his sire Elliot at the Wolfgard Complex. Before the attack on the Lakeside Courtyard earlier in the month, he and Sam had cuddled up with Meg to nap or even sleep through the night. But things had happened that night when men had come to abduct Meg and Sam. For one thing, Meg had almost died while saving Sam from those men. For another, something had happened to
on the way to the hospital, causing him to feel out-of-control anger. He had suspicions about what had happened, which was why Sam, who was still a puppy and lacked self-control, no longer slept with him when he curled up with Meg.
Meg told people her height was sixty-three inches because, she said, that sounded taller than being five feet something. She was twenty-four years old, had weird orange hair that was growing out to its natural black, clear gray eyes like some of the Wolves, and fair skin. Strange and fragile skin that scarred so easily.
She was a
, a blood prophet—a female who saw visions and spoke prophecy whenever her skin was cut. Whether it was a formal cut with her special razor or a gash caused by a sharp rock, she saw visions of what could happen in the future.
The Sanguinati referred to females like Meg as sweet blood because, even when they were adults, these women retained the sweetness of a child’s heart. And that sweetness, combined with blood swimming with visions, made them not prey. Made them Namid’s creation, both wondrous and terrible. Maybe made them something more terrible than the
He would deal with the terrible if and when he had to. For now, Meg was Meg, the Courtyard’s Human Liaison and his friend.
She began making noises and pumping her legs as if she were running.
speech, but he tried anyway since he didn’t think this was a good chase-a-deer dream. Especially when he was suddenly getting a whiff of fear off of her.
Intending to nudge her awake, he pressed his nose under her ear.
In the dream, Meg heard the monster coming closer and closer. A familiar sound, made terrible by the destruction she knew would follow in its wake. She tried to shout a warning, tried to yell for help, tried to run away from the images that filled her mind.
When something poked her under the ear, she flailed and screamed and kicked as hard as she could. Her foot connected with something. Terrified, she kicked again.
Those kicks were followed by a loud yelp and a thump that had her scrambling to turn on the lamp.
Breathing hard, feeling her pulse pounding in her ears, she first noticed that the bedside table matched the image she had of it just before she went to sleep, except the small clock beside the lamp said three o’clock. Comforted by the familiar, she looked around.
She was not in a sterile cell in a compound controlled by a man who cut her skin for profit. She was in her own bedroom, in her own apartment at the Lakeside Courtyard. And she was alone.
But she hadn’t been alone when she turned off the light a few hours ago. When she’d gone to sleep, there had been a big furry Wolf stretched out beside her.
Grabbing as much of the covers as she could, she lay down and pulled them up to her chin before whispering, “Simon?”
A grunt that sounded like it came from the floor on the other side of the bed. Then a human head came in sight, and Simon Wolfgard stared at her with amber eyes that held flickers of red—a sure sign he was pissed off.
“You awake now?” he growled.
“Yes,” she replied meekly.
She had a glimpse of lean muscle and
skin before he scrambled under the covers. She turned away from him, her heart pounding with a different kind of fear.
slept with her in his human form. What did it mean that he was human now? Did he want …
? She wasn’t … She didn’t … She wasn’t even sure she could with … But what if he expected …?
“S-Simon?” A tremble in her voice.
“Meg?” Still plenty of growl in
“You’re not a Wolf.”
“I’m always a Wolf.”
“But you’re not a
“No, I’m not. And you’re hogging the covers.” That said, he grabbed the covers she was clinging to and yanked.
She tumbled into him. Before she could decide what to do, the covers were around both of them, and he had her pinned between his body and the bed.
“Stop squirming,” he snapped. “If you bruise more than the hip you kicked, I will bite you.”
She stopped squirming, but not because he had threatened to bite her. Prophecies and visions swam in her blood, released when her skin was cut. Simon knew that, so he wouldn’t tear her flesh. But in the past couple of weeks, he’d figured out how to nip her through her clothes hard enough to hurt without damaging skin—Wolf discipline adjusted to dealing with her kind of human.
She’d stumbled into the Lakeside Courtyard seven weeks ago, half-frozen and looking for a job. Simon had threatened to eat her on a regular basis those first few days, which wasn’t his typical way of dealing with employees since most of them would have responded by writing their resignation as they ran for the door. But when the Others discovered she was a blood prophet on the run from the man who had owned her, they had chosen to treat her as one of their own. And protect her as one of their own, especially after she fell through the ice and almost drowned while leading an enemy away from Simon’s nephew Sam. Which was why, since her return from the hospital, she went to sleep every night with Simon curled up beside her, on guard.
She’d be less happy about the lack of nighttime privacy if that furry body didn’t make such a difference in keeping her warm.
Was that why her apartment was always chilly, so she wouldn’t make a fuss about Simon sleeping with her? It hadn’t occurred to her to make a fuss about it because he was a Wolf. Except now he wasn’t a wolfy-looking Wolf, and Simon as a human in bed with her felt … different. Confusing. Threatening in a way she didn’t want to explain.
But furry or not, he was still warm and he wasn’t
anything, and it was still too early to think about getting up, so this was something … to ponder … tomorrow.
She started to drift back to sleep when Simon gave her a little shake and said, “What scared you?”
She should have known he wouldn’t let it go. And maybe he was right not to let it go. Her abilities as a prophet had changed since she’d escaped from the compound and ended up living with the Others. She was more sensitive now, to the point where she didn’t always need to cut her skin to see visions—especially if they concerned her in some way.
The images were fading. She knew there were already things she’d seen in the dream that she couldn’t recall. Would she remember anything by morning? And yet, even the thought of recalling the dream made her shudder.
“It was nothing,” she said, wanting to believe it. “Just a dream.” Even blood prophets had ordinary dreams. Didn’t they?
“It scared you enough that you kicked me off the bed. That’s not nothing, Meg.” Simon’s arm tightened around her. “And just so you know? You may be small, but you kick like a moose. Which is something I’m telling the rest of the Wolves.”
Great. Just what she needed.
Yep, that’s our Liaison. Meg Moosekicker.
But the dominant Wolf and leader of the Courtyard was waiting for an answer.
“I heard a sound,” she said quietly. “I should know what it is, but I can’t identify it.”
“A sound from your lessons?” he asked just as quietly, referring to the training she’d received in the compound in order to recognize what she saw or heard in prophecies.
“From the lessons,” she agreed, “but from here too. And it’s not a single sound, but many things that, combined, have a single meaning.”
A moment of thoughtful silence. “All right. What else?”
She shivered. He curled around her in response, and she felt warmer. Safe.
“Blood,” she whispered. “It’s winter. There’s snow on the ground, and that snow is splashed with blood. And I saw feathers.” She turned her head to look at him. “That’s why I was trying to scream, trying to get someone to listen. I saw broken black feathers stuck in the bloody snow.”
Simon studied her. “You could see them? It’s not dark out?”
She thought for a moment, then shook her head. “Daylight. Not bright sun, but daylight.”
“Did you recognize the place?”
“No. I don’t remember anything in the dream that indicated where, except there was snow.”
Simon reached across her and turned off the light. “In that case, go back to sleep, Meg. We’ll chase this prey in the morning.”
He stretched out beside her and fell asleep almost immediately, just like he did when he was in Wolf form. Except he wasn’t in Wolf form, and she didn’t know how to tell him that having him sleeping beside her, looking and feeling like a human male, had changed something between them.