He could hear it; feel her pulse thrum under his touch.
His home. His mate.
I’ve reached the point of the story where the characters are disregarding my carefully crafted outline and doing whatever the heck they want. Like, Alek did this thing and… well, you’ll find out.
Chapter Eleven – Aleksandar
Energy poured through the nexus, the thin veil that separated the planes nothing more than a suggestion of division. The wayward energy hummed through the air, searching for a vessel, to spend, change, mutate.
With his eyes half-closed, Luis spread his fingers wide, like he could feel the current of energy in the air.
Alek could sense it, but only because of the combination of the full moon and the proximity to the nexus. At any other time, any other place, it was noise in the background. If he focused, he could feel it. Barely. Luis’s gesticulation was a learning tool. As his skill grew, he’d lean less on the hand waving and stumbling with his eye closed.
Godwin required no crutch to track the flow of the nexus energies and, by extension, any mutated beasts. The energies wanted to flow to the beasts, like a river rushing downwards. The full moon was a deluge. Finding a trail in all the noise would be difficult, even for one as skilled as Godwin.
A useful mutation, Amalie had called it. Those who lived near nexus points had higher rates of mutation, mostly benign and unnoticeable. Tolerance for pollens that were not, strictly speaking, of this world. Natural pheromones that repealed insects. Very useful.
This phenomenon had particularly fascinated Amalie. In her crumbling, ancient texts she found mention of a disease caused by a parasite born through an insect bite. Populations with this endemic disease developed a mutation in the blood cell that granted resistance to the parasite. This same trait could also affect the body’s ability to deliver oxygen, often leaving the person fatigued, and the cells died early, leaving the person with a low blood count.
A useful mutation that had a price.
Luis crouched down, touching the earth, as if that grounding could amplify his senses. Perhaps it could.
Alek did not have to wonder what price Luis’s useful mutation took. The cost was a lifetime in servitude to guard against the monster that prowled the night. A long ago ancestor had shown an aptitude for the task, and it passed down through the generations.
As for what Alek sensed, it was a jumble of information. The nexus energy flitted about him, humming happily in his ears like bees in a summer field. He sensed nothing beyond his own nose.
He felt a tug, the thinnest of connections between him to Solenne. It whispered home and mate. His beast agreed.
Alek tugged at his ear in a futile attempt to dispel the high-pitched noise. Every part of him itched. The silver on his neck, the bands on his arms and the silver inked tattoo over his heart burned. He wanted…
He couldn’t form the instinct into words. To shift, to let the beast out in a burst of energy, but that would not only soothe his discomfort momentarily.
The connection back to Solenne anchored him, made the itching and the humming tolerable.
Godwin watched Alek with his one eye. “Anything?”
Alek scanned the ground, hoping to point to some trampled bit of grass or conveniently placed paw print in the mud.
Luis and Godwin gasped at the same moment. The cord connecting him to Solenne vibrated, the tone of it black and red and ringing inside his head like a bell.
Wasting no time, he ran in the direction of the house. The full moon cast a pale imitation of daylight over the ground. His boot heel skidded on the grass as he descended Boxon Hill.
“You’ll break your neck,” Godwin shouted.
“The house,” Luis said. “I can feel it.”
Alek wasted no time. The house was under attack. The nexus energy parted around him like an eddy, surging towards something furious and hungry. Solenne needed him. Her fear…
He did not understand the connection, but he welcomed it. If Solenne was afraid, then she was alive.
His feet pounded the ground, and his legs pumped. He ran until it felt as if his lungs would burst. Not fast enough. Not strong enough. He needed to be unfettered.
With a growl, he grabbed the silver chain at his neck. Pain burnt his fingers as he tore the chain away, but pain was momentary. The bracelet fell away. Unfettered, he could breathe. The wild vitality of the nexus poured into him, filling him to the point of bursting. He could not contain it.
The shift started in his toes, elongating and the nails piercing through the leather like daggers. His fingers burned and flexed, claws out. A shudder rippled down this back, forcing him to bend forward. Fabric tore at the seams of his coat.
Alek stumbled, falling to his knees. It was too much, like trying to fill a teacup from a gushing torrent. He wheezed, mouth opening and sucking in air, but nothing came. This curse had been smothering the life out of him for years and it was, quite literally, smothering him now.
He pressed the heel of his hand to the tattoo on his chest. It burned, but that pain was a slight point of light in the overwhelming darkness. This cursed promised power, but it felt him trembling and weak. He fought to contain it, to control it, but the constant fight left him even more vulnerable.
The best wanted out. It promised to strengthen him, faster. Fast enough to protect their mate and it tempted him. Teeth crowded his mouth, drawing blood. He couldn’t do it on his own, he couldn’t resist. He couldn’t even breathe. He was drowning, and the connection with Solenne screamed and—
A hand thumped him hard on his back.
Alek gasped, breathing in.
“Come on. We need you.” Luis held out a hand and hauled Alek up. The younger man gave him a curious look, then shoved him in the house’s direction. “I can sense two. One is close.”
The glass fell to the floor. All she could hear was the pounding of her heart.
The beast stood on two legs, looking far more human than she felt comfortable with.
Miles stirred on the divan, struggling to rise to his feet, but his legs seemed unable to support his weight.
The beast’s maw moved, and something like a croon came out. Was it trying to speak? She had never heard of such a thing. People under the curse were still, at least in theory, people, but they lost their minds from the pain of the transformation. She could not image how much it hurt to have bones snap and re-knit, for skin to stretch, tear and heal. Had this person come to her for help?
“It is an evening of unprecedented events,” she murmured. Carefully, she inched closer to the sideboard.
The beast tracked her movement.
“I believe I can help. I’m going for my kit,” she said. The beast snarled and snapped its jaws. She immediately paused. “Alright. What do you want then? You obviously came here for a reason.”
The man, obviously a male from the endowment nestled in a thick patch of hair between his legs, moved forward. She averted her eyes, looking towards the decanter and glasses on the sideboard.
He leaned in, muzzle against her hair. His hardened member pressed against her hip. She closed her eyes, willing herself to remain calm and not give in to fear, which clouded the mind.
Hot, foul breath wafted over her. He growled and snapped his jaws, making her jump with a strangled shout.
He huffed, as if amused.
Her fingers gripped the edge of the sideboard, more annoyed that the beast wanted to frighten her than actually feeling frightened.
A wet, slippery tongue licked the side of her face. Revulsion rolled through her body. The beast snarled and shook its head, one clawed hand scraping at its nose, as if trying to remove a foul taste.
How extraordinarily rude.
A shout came from outside the house. Luis and Alek.
The beast turned, one hand grabbing her arm roughly. Solenne reached back to the sideboard, knocking over the decanter and fragile glasses. She struggled in the beast’s grasp, his claws digging in, but she did not release the tray.
Alek filled the doorway, menace rolling off him in waves.
The beast yanked her forward, angling to use her as a shield. Her grip on the tray held, glass shattering on the floor. Swing with all her might, she brought the silver tray around and connected solidly with the side of the beast’s head.
Its grip faltered enough for her to scramble away, still clutching the tray.
Alek and Luis surged forward, knives out. The beast swiped with huge hands, each claw a dagger in its own right. Each blow only seemed to enrage it, to feed its fury.
“Here,” Miles said, pulling her back into a corner behind the divan.
Furniture creaked and groaned before smashing. So many things happened at once. Another man shouted—Travers, snagging Luis’s attention.
The beast lunged, jaws dripping with spit.
Mile’s grabbed her hand in a crushing squeeze.
Alek jumped on the beast’s back. His fingers dug into the furry backside and clinging on, despite how the beast twisted and thrashed. One large arm sideswiped Luis, knocking him to his back.
Miles scrambled forward, weaving dangerously like he was intoxicated, which he was. He wedged himself between Luis and the best, his arm raised to shield them. Dull gray material caught the light.
Massive jaws clamped around Mile’s arm. He cried out, in shock or pain, she could not tell. From behind, Luis jabbed at the beast’s face with a silver dagger. Alek clawed at the back.
The beast swatted at Alek, like a horse swishing a tail at annoying flies. Nothing seemed to make an impact. Immunity to silver was impossible, yet it had a tolerance. Almost a resistance.
Solenne clutched the tray to her chest, suddenly realizing that the beat had to be ancient to have such strength. A decade, perhaps more, of living with the curse. She had only read of such beings in the family’s journals. Each one came with a high price.
As if it could sense her thoughts, it turned a luminous violet eye to her. Blood matted its fur, like wet hair plastered to the scalp, making the disfiguring shift all the more apparent. Yet the eyes were familiar.
Its top lip curled back in a grin.
“Out,” she said.
She had to get it out. It was not an unthinking creature. It came to the house for a reason and she would not suffer to have it in her home one second more.
“Out!” She charged forward, swinging the tray and connecting solidly with that almost familiar face.
The beast squealed, stumbling back. Solenne labored under no illusions she turned the tide, but three against one was not good odds. Four, including Miles. Luis and Alek would wear the beast down and corner him. Eventually. Until then, it was a battle of small gains and larger losses. Clearly the beast could withstand Luis and Aleksansdar’s blades. One good bite and it would be over for either of them.
The beast released Mile’s arm, shoving the man back. One massive hands, disfigured with razor-like claws, swiped at Luis.
Her brother was not fast enough, catching the blow in the stomach. He stumbled back, dagger falling to the ground.
A roar—human and strangled with frustration—came from outside the window. Godwin levelled a crossbow at the beast and fired.
The shot went wide, catching Alek’s shoulder. The second bolt also missed, flying close enough to Solenne that she could feel the air move as it soared past. The beast howled, as if someone had hit it. Perhaps it realized it was outnumbered now by one injured hunter, an untrained hunter, a one-eyed hunter, a woman with a silver tray and a drugged blacksmith.
If she hadn’t been so terrified, she’d laugh at their pathetic squad.
The beast reared back, throwing Alek to the ground, who snarled and snapped his jaws. Finally, the best retreated through the window.
The tray clattered to the floor.
“What were you thinking,” Alek roared at her. He grabbed her roughly by the shoulders, nearly lifting her off her feet.
His fingers curled around her upper arms, the claws not quite receded and digging into the light fabric of her sleeves. She felt altogether too fragile in his grip, nothing more than breakable bones in soft packaging, and he had already seen once how easily her bones broke. He wanted to shake her for being so reckless or to lock her away where her rashness and foolhardy nature could never endanger herself again.
She was his. His to protect and his to punish. His and she stank of another male. He needed… He needed so many things. They wrestled for priority in his mind. Instinct said to cover her in his scent, to mark her so the other male would respect his claim. Reason said that he should unhand the hunter’s daughter, lest he become prey. Ego took pride in that she thought fast during the attack, despite her fear pounding away in her heart.
He could hear it; feel her pulse thrum under his touch.
His home. His mate.
Vaguely he was aware of others speaking, of movement in the room. It faded into background noise as Solenne stared up at him, her quicksilver eyes wide, as lost in the moment as him. He was so furious with her it was difficult to think with the beast howling inside, contained, but only because the beast allowed it.
“Alek, you’re bleeding—”
He kissed her, hard, with too much teeth. The sane part of his mind hoped that they were only teeth and not dagger-like fangs. She melted against him, opening herself to him, deepening the kiss.
She tasted of copper, herbs and fear. Delicious fear, sweet and forbidden, purloined right in front of her family. No one could stop him. No one dared. This pleased the beast who wrapped an arm around her, shielding her, hiding her.
Her fingers tangled in his hair, pulling with force. He gave a playful nip at her lower lip.
They stood there, lips almost touching. The violet left his vision as the beast receded and normal sight returned. His hold relaxed, knowing he could release her and take a step back. Such an action would allow them to blame their impropriety on mutual relief or the heat of the moment.
She stretched up on the tip of her toes, brushing her lips to his, the barest of contact that meant everything.
Solenne pulled away, her face flush. A splatter of violet blood decorated her cheek, from the invading beast or himself he could not say.
“My warrior, covered in the blood of her enemies,” he said, using his thumb to rub it in.
Someone behind them loudly cleared their throat.
Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings
OMG, what kind of ending is that?! Share your thoughts in the comments.