Authors: T.K. Burckhardt
Copyright © 2014 T.K. Burckhardt
All rights reserved.
I dedicate this book to my husband,
forever my soul-mate and biggest fan.
I would like to
thank my ever-supportive family and friends who believed this book was possible long before I did myself. Much love and many thanks.
Valie stared at the Council members as they gazed down their long noses at her. She believed that they intended to frighten her as they glared with their silvery eyes and murmured amongst themselves—whispering about her, about her fate. Either Valie would be allowed to live under the protection of the Lycanthrope Elders, or she would, well, be killed.
She glanced behind her to make sure the surrounding crowd of werewolves were keeping their paws off of her friends—not that there was much she could have done about it if they had. Jack and Shane could take care of themselves, though—hopefully.
Valie couldn’t even imagine what an all-out, Lycanthrope battle royale would be like, but she was sure if there was ever going to be one, it would be here, in this old echoing church in which they stood surrounded by the Council’s guardians and Lycan escorts. The space had been altered to appear less decayed with the flowing blue drapes covering the walls and decorative lanterns eerily lighting the room. There was no seating provided excepting the tall podiums in the center of the room on which the Council members sat, positioned directly opposite the platform Valie had mounted only minutes earlier. She did not have to wonder why the Elders placed themselves on such an elevated stage—they displayed the power and dominance of the Council at every opportunity. It was why the Guardsmen—hand-selected warriors whose sole purpose was the protection of the Elders—that were not needed to restrain the prisoners lined the walls in a ready stance that intimidated even the most proficient of fighters in the room.
Jack caught Valie’s eye before she turned back to face her accusers.
“Are you okay?” he mouthed, his pensive brow furrowed with concern. He knew the situation was bad—and definitely worse than Valie understood, but she needed to keep her head.
The teenager nodded and tried to smile, but the gesture was tight, forced.
Jack frowned and Valie turned away to avoid those mesmerizing too-caring, blue eyes. If she were going to remain calm through this, she couldn’t worry about Jack or her friends. It was she the Council wanted. Here, at the meeting of the new moon, she was the main attraction.
A night creature howled outside the confines of the church. Valie trembled. She wasn’t able to see hardly anything in the lantern-lit room. With their night vision, the others in attendance could see every detail of the scene around them. Valie felt blind. The thought of an unknown assailant sneaking up behind her and ending the whole predicament right then and there almost overcame the girl as she stood surrounded by these werewolves who wanted her dead.
They could simply kill her. And, if they acted strictly as the beasts they were created to be, they
But their desire to be more than a breed of monsters, to be civil—in as much sense of the word as possible—held them to a higher standard, not quite that of a human nationalistic legal system, but fair enough to give Valie some chance of getting out of the hall alive. Though, by the drawn and solemn faces of the five Elders, the latter possibility was far from likely.
Valie gasped as Mortimus, the Elder seated in the middle of their group on the dais, set a small lamp alight. He handed it to a sentry who dutifully hung it nearby and, following suit, made the rounds, lighting a few other lamps centered in the room.
At least Valie would now be able to see her executioners.
Mortimus spoke: “We, the Interlunar Council of the Lycanthrope race, have not, nor will not, apparently, reach a
consensus concerning the half-blood’s fate.” Mortimus’ words were guttural and wheezy. He sounded tired and aggravated.
The gallery behind Valie began to murmur, suddenly disquieted.
Valie’s ears picked up Shane’s voice as the girl asked Jack, “What do they mean ‘no consensus’?”
“It means they can’t decide what to do with her.”
“Well, I know
,” Shane replied haughtily. The familiar sound almost made Valie smile. Almost.
“What will that mean though? What will happen?”
Valie was growing tired of all these questions herself--the would’s, should’s and maybe’s. She felt like a person on death row with the needle in her arm, waiting for the doctors to plunge the silencing liquid into her veins. There was nothing left to do but wait and wish everything was over and done with, whatever the results.
Jack spoke very low and almost seemed to hold his breath, “It means we might get out of here.
All of us. If there is no consensus, then there will be no execution. They can’t sentence death of an outsider without all five being in agreement.”
The condemned girl could feel Jack’s eyes upon her, but she didn’t dare turn to look at him.
“That’s a good thing, right? Everything will be okay?”
There was a pause, a lull in the whisperings as if the entire room were listening to Jack’s answer.
“Not really,” Jack whispered, but then hesitated, “there are some things worse than death.”
Valie felt her heart accelerate and gulped down her growing fear. What did he mean? Jack had never mentioned any alternatives to her execution. She’d assumed it was the worst case scenario.
Mortimus cleared his throat, finally ready to speak.
“As it happens, the Council wishes, at the nonce, to hear from the offender as to how she came to be.”
The words hung in the air like heavy rain. Valie knew the man—whose expression suggested that there were corpses warmer than he—was addressing her. She knew she was supposed to respond, but she had no clue what to say. She couldn’t break through the tide of emotion, which seemed to ebb and flow as the circumstances she found herself in were constantly shifting before her eyes.
In the back of her thoughts, she was still asking herself:
Why? Why me?
Trying to clear her mind, she murmured, “Umm,” her mouth slightly agape. “What?”
The white-bearded werewolf beside Mortimus, with kinder eyes behind his old-fashioned spectacles leaned forward to address her.
“Please tell us all you know of yourself, your beginnings, how you came to know of us, of your cabalistic origins.”
“Oh. Uh,” Valie stuttered, “I didn’t know of any of . . . well . . .
this . . .
until a few weeks ago.”
Again, there were murmurings in both the gallery and among the Council members.
according to the Blind?” White-beard asked, incredulous.
Valie nodded, shrinking back.
Rapid footsteps approached from behind. Valie turned to find Jack striding toward her podium—until some of the guards hastily left their positions by the walls and subdued him, just short of his goal.
“Wait!” Valie called, “Don’t!” She moved to dismount the platform, but two more guards blocked her exit. She watched helplessly as the three werewolves wrestled Jack to the ground. Valie turned on the Council. “Let him go,” she demanded with more authority in her voice than she felt.
Mortimus appeared entertained by the circumstance, but White-beard seemed disturbed.
“What, young cub, do you intend to do?” the kindly werewolf asked Jack, who was grunting under the hundreds of pounds of pressure keeping him pinned to the ground. The guards let up somewhat and gave him a chance to respond.
With an amount of determination in his voice that Valie could do nothing but admire, the young Lycan declared, “I intend to stand with the offender and aid in her defense . . . and in the recounting of the recent events that have brought her to this point,” Jack continued. “I am as much a part of it all as she is, if not more, having prior knowledge of Isaac Quinn and our pack and the importance of these events . . . which the girl cannot possibly fully comprehend, even when her fate hangs so fragilely in the balance.”
The Elders glanced from one to another questioningly, and then deliberated amongst themselves in more murmurs and whispers. It was a difficult decision. Valie doubted the truth in his words mattered at all to them. However, Jack’s comportment despite his weak position eventually seemed to win them over.
Finally, Mortimus voiced the Council’s consent. “Very well,” he declared grudgingly. “Let him stand. But we warn you, your decision places you in an already uncertain position of shared responsibility--one wrong move and you risk sharing in the half-blood’s fate.”
During this solemn address,
Jack, never looked toward the Council, his eyes were only for Valie, but he nodded assent. The guards unhanded him as he rose to take his place by Valie’s side on the platform of decision. The girl glanced back at Shane’s worried face. Good. At least someone still had their sanity.
Valie met Jack’s triumphant expression with a fiery glare.
“You’re an idiot,” she murmured, angrily.
fault if you end up getting yourself killed.”
“You’re right. It’s not. It is, however, my own, if
Valie tried to look away from the stormy, cobalt eyes she loved so dearly, but she couldn’t find the strength.
Jack took her hand and squeezed as tears started to form in her eyes.
Then Mortimus, in his grave tone, declared, “You may
The young, auburn-haired girl waved goodbye to her two best friends at the corner of Bradstreet and Sixth as she headed south toward her own home on the older side of town.
The werewolf pushed off of the wall he’d been casually leaning against and started after her, unnoticed.
It had been a wretched day for Jack. Watching the girl was not even supposed to be his job; it wasn’t his shift to do Mark-watch. Sure, it was Terrence and Eliza’s 50
anniversary. But their pack leader, Isaac (who was not known for his sentimentality) had inexplicably shifted this assignment to Jack, so he’d been stuck all day tailing this nondescript teenager through her dull day. From home, to school, back to a friend’s house—interminable hours of waiting and watching—
. And Terrence had reported the same thing.
Jack glanced at the low afternoon sun in the autumn sky. Okay, she was on the move again
, he thought
, go home
. Later he could report the exciting events of the day to Isaac and perhaps salvage something of his own evening. But he sighed, sensing instead, a long night ahead.
Though bored, the young werewolf knew his job and watched the girl’s every movement. The girl walked self-consciously. Her slender, pale shoulders were hunched, marring what looked to be a beautiful neckline. Her hair was tied into a prim knot at the nape, but she couldn’t seem to stop brushing some nonexistent fly-aways behind her ear with her willowy
Frankly, Jack didn’t get it. It was his leader’s decision to add a new member to the pack. But, as yet, Jack failed to understand why this awkward wisp of a girl was Isaac’s choice. True, transformation would alter her and enhance any natural abilities she possessed. But what were they? Jack had been a favorite of Isaac’s in his early years as a Lycan and had, on various occasions, aided Isaac in changing new Lycans. Selecting a new member was serious business, in terms of pack dynamics. What could this girl bring to the pack? Surely they could find someone with some inkling of usefulness—a cerebral gift?