Deceit can be Deadly
Deceit is deadly to the well-being of a pack. It erodes the very foundation that unites members, creates distrust and breaks down the bonds that are essential to all. A pack must function as a unit, relying on the integrity of each other at all times. If the word of a pack mate cannot be trusted, doubt begins to fester. For this reason, one who practises deceit should be cast out to roam the world on their own. There is no place for such an individual person in the Lycan world.
Source: Book of the Law
October 28, 1566 – England
The flickering of a lantern broke the darkness, a mere speck of brightness like some whimsical fairy. It bobbed between the trees, paused and then continued, marking the passage of the person holding it. Occasionally, the light suddenly dipped as its carrier stumbled; brambles, sticks and tangled weeds wrapped around unsuspecting legs, as if trying to hold back the midnight traveller.
Eventually, the light from the lantern stopped moving and settled close to the ground in the middle of a small clearing. Laboured breathing and a suppressed sob were almost completely masked by the howl of the gale and the clatter of bare branches. It was late October, any memories of the green of summer or the gold of autumn killed by an early frost that had left the landscape brown and dead. Dead like the look on the girl’s face.
Wind whipped at her hair, tearing it free from its plait and lashing it against her tear-stained cheeks. Her face pale, her lips trembled as she dropped to her knees, physically and emotionally exhausted. The events leading up to this had taken their toll and, for a moment, she bowed her head and closed her eyes, the precious bundle she carried pressed to her chest.
Overhead, heavy clouds raced across the inky sky, pushed along by the strong gusts. They allowed mere glimpses of the stars that dotted the velvety dome and the shining orb of the moon that waited patiently for its moment of glory. A storm was brewing but it wouldn’t let loose its fury until the evening’s celestial event occurred.
A blood moon would grace the night sky, the particular alignment of sun, moon and planet releasing a powerful aura, one filled with magic and endless possibilities. Already those sensitive to such things were preparing. Some sought to shield themselves with locked doors and protective herbs while others embraced the moment, revelling in the power and harnessing it to do their bidding.
The girl took a deep breath and straightened her spine. She chose to be part of the latter group, reaching out to use the power of the night. Now was not the time to lose courage.
With extreme care, she unwrapped the bundle she had cradled to her body and laid it on the ground in front of her. The ancient leather cover was scarred and worn, the edges of the paper inside equally tattered and stained from generations of use. It contained the sum total of her lineage’s knowledge, a knowledge she was about to use.
Her hand hovered over the book, a last-minute doubt causing her to hesitate. Then a gust of wind blew the cover open and ruffled the pages until some unseen force caused them to still. A red ribbon marked the open page.
Red, the colour of blood.
The colour of love and lust.
The colour of anger and revenge.
It was anger that boiled within her. Anger and resolve to no longer be a pawn to the whims of the heart. Hesitation gone, the girl pressed her hand to the book, gathering strength from the faded ink before moving the lantern closer so it illuminated the page. She ran her finger over the words, ensuring she had the spell correct. There could be no mistake when using magic this powerful. Others might whisper she was a chit of a girl, a mere witchling, but she’d prove them wrong.
As she moved to flip the page, the howl of the elements grew even louder and a gust tried to tug it from her hand. She tightened her grip only to have the lower half tear off and slip from her fingers. It spiralled in a celebratory dance, twirling and twisting in the air, defying her efforts to snatch it back before it disappeared in the gloom.
An expletive escaped her before she pressed her lips together and shook her head. It didn’t matter. She knew the words scrawled by her ancestors, knew what they could do. Knew what she was about to do. Her tongue wet her lips and then she spoke in a quavering voice, a whisper that was carried away by the wind.
“By the light of the blood moon, the heart dies. Without love, time slows.”
Sharp metal pressed against chest, the knife she now held gleaming faintly in the light from the lantern. Her fingers tightened on the handle and she swallowed hard, the enormity of what she was about to do giving her pause.
Was she making the correct choice? Her grandmother’s words, spoken years ago, rang in her mind.
“Magic is powerful. You must always use it wisely.”
“I will.” She’d nodded, her hands already reaching for the book, eager to begin learning how to use the spells within.
“Will you?” Her grandmother had cocked her head, the look in her eyes growing distant as if she could see into the future. The shadow of a grimace had passed over her weathered face as she spoke. “There’s a wildness in you, child, a passion that does not always mix well with magic. The fire in your heart will be your downfall unless you learn to harness it.”
Passion! Her eyes flared at the memory the word evoked. Just as her grandmother had said, passion had been her downfall. She’d believed in love, allowed a man’s smooth words and crooked smile to cloud her judgement.
Bitterness twisted her mouth as she recalled how he’d cupped her cheek and pressed tender kisses to her willing lips, how he’d eased her back to the ground and lifted her clothing all the while whispering how much he cared. His words had filled her with warmth, painted a romantic picture of their future together. She’d given him her heart and her body and he’d used both for his pleasure only to wed another.
At first, she’d cried upon hearing the news and then raged with anger only to cry again. She’d been inconsolable, refusing to eat or leave her bed. Her grandmother, upon discovering the cause of her grief had cursed the fickle lover and his descendants so they’d only know sorrow from love but even that news brought no ease. She was but a shell of the girl she’d once been. Her heart was broken, her emotions dead. This step was all that was left for her.
Overhead, the clouds cleared allowing an uninhibited view of the moon. White and cold, it filled the clearing with its light. Closing her eyes, she turned her face upwards and said the words a second time.
“By the light of the blood moon, the heart dies. Without love, time slows. The curse alone shall survive.”
Opening her eyes, she stared at the sky, watching the creeping darkness cover the moon. Soon it would disappear from sight and then turn blood red. That was when she would act.
The knife handle slipped in her sweaty palms and she firmed her grip pushing the tendrils of doubt firmly away. There was no way she could live with the pain of betrayal, the shame she’d brought upon herself. This was the only action she could take. A blood spell by a blood moon. Simple, yet one of the most powerful spells in the ancient family grimoire.
She took a deep breath.
The moon was almost gone. Slowly, deliberately, she pressed the tip of the knife into her skin. The heart Tomas had broken would love no more. The power of three would make it so. Tears trickled down her cheeks. White hot pain spread through her as a crimson stain appeared on her pale flesh
At that moment, the moon turned red and she chanted the words a final time.
“By the light of the blood moon, the heart dies. Without love, time slows. The curse alone shall survive. Woe to those that remain alive.”
She pressed the knife deeper and, with a cry, fell to the ground.
Present day, somewhere in the southern United States…
Dante eased back the filthy curtains of his motel room and peered through the window. The glass probably hadn’t been washed in years but he was able to see the sky through the streaks of dirt.
It was a full moon.
That fact sent a chill through him and he cursed before letting the drapes fall back into place. Some perverse side of him had hoped the lunar cycle had miraculously changed. It hadn’t, of course, and his gut knotted knowing the evil it was about to unleash.
A full moon meant there’d be another death tonight. More than one if the first victim didn’t prove satisfactory. The fucking pattern of events had been repeated more times than he cared to remember and there still wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. At least, not yet. Maybe tonight luck would be with him and he’d finally obtain the information he needed.
He checked that his gun was loaded and safely stowed in its holster before bending to place a knife in his boot. He might be a Lycan but he was too fond of his own skin to depend solely on shifting form for protection. His inner wolf understood and took no exception to the weapons. It was a sensible creature.
Once he was properly armed, he slipped on his jacket and then left the seedy room. He’d been in the city for a week, following this lead. That was exactly one week too long to share a room with cockroaches. It was his own fault, though. Next job he’d choose a better alias, one with a pocketful of credit cards and some class.
It was a short walk to the agreed meeting spot but he wanted to be there early. Those stupid enough to arrive on time had no one to blame if they were ambushed. After years in the business he was anything but stupid.
The street was dark, most of the street-lamps having been vandalized, but the moon provided sufficient illumination. As an added bonus, an early evening shower had left the road surface glistening and it reflected the glow of neon signs posted over the store fronts.
Few people were out this time of night. A woman stood on the corner, her clothing too scant for the season even in this southerly climate. She eyed him as he approached then shifted her gaze to the street. A patrol car was turning the corner. She hesitated then looked at him again. He shook his head letting her know he had no interest in her services and she quickly disappeared into the shadows. The car drove by, slowing when it passed him before resuming its normal speed. Good, he didn’t want to waste time explaining to a curious cop that he was merely a guy out for a stroll.
He reached the corner and turned left, this street much the same as the previous one. His booted feet made minimal noise as he walked, the art of moving in near silence was second nature to him now. His kept his pace steady, hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders slightly hunched against the cool night air. When he reached his destination, he paused and took out a cigarette. He hated the death sticks but they suited his current persona and gave him a reason to stop, allowing him to surreptitiously check his surroundings while lighting the smoke. The street seemed deserted but he took the time to listen for footsteps and scent the air.
Reasonably sure it was safe, he stubbed out the cigarette and stepped closer to the nearby building. Now lost in the shadows, he slipped into the alley.
A thin sliver of light made its way into the narrow space between the buildings highlighting the graffiti-stained walls and piles of trash that spilled from over-full dumpsters. The damp night air ensured the stench of the garbage hung pungent and thick, adding to the misery of those who had the misfortune to venture into the god-forsaken space. Dante did his best to block out the surroundings as he skulked in the shadows, waiting, watching.
A rat ran over his foot and he eyed it with distaste, not daring to kick it away lest he reveal his hiding spot. Why people chose seedy alleys was beyond him. A crowded public space was always safer. Places like this were only good for creating atmosphere when filming a movie.
Time slowly ticked by. Eventually, he heard footsteps and straightened, pulling his hands from his pockets so he’d be ready for any unexpected surprises. A man was approaching, shuffling down the alley, his clothes ragged. He stopped, coughed twice and then gave an exaggerated sneeze. That was the code; stupid bastard watched too many cheap movies.
Dante stepped out of the shadows. “You have something for me?”
The man gave a jolt of surprise and turned quickly. “Hey! You surprised me.”
“Yeah, that’s me. You’re the dude I called, right?”
Ignoring the comment, Dante raised a brow. “The book?”
“Oh. Well,” Glen licked his lips. “I heard you were interested in magic spells.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“People.” The reply was accompanied with a shrug.
He nodded. In this line of business, it never paid to be too specific but he’d figured it was worth a try. “But you have a grimoire?”
“I want the money first.”
He gave a bark of laughter. “Fat chance. Show me the goods first.”
The man hesitated and then pulled a package out from under his coat. It was wrapped in a black garbage bag.
After fumbling with the plastic, Glen revealed a corner. The leather cover appeared old and a corner of a symbol, perhaps a rune, could be seen. “Now show me the money.”
Dante took a thick bundle of cash from his pocket and thumbed the end to show it was solid bills, no blank paper slipped in. When the man reached out his hand, Dante pulled back. “Unwrap the whole book first.”
The man glanced about, the corner of his eye twitching, his breathing erratic.
Something was wrong. Dante tensed his muscles a second too late. The book was shoved into his stomach.
“Oof!” He stumbled back.
Lunging forward, Glen made a grab for the bundle of bills and Dante jerked his hand back, dropping the money. His hand now free, he caught the man’s jacket, yanking him backwards.
Glen kicked his leg out, connecting with Dante’s knee. Cursing, he stumbled but managed to use his momentum to push the man into the far wall. Trash bins clanged and rattled as they were knocked down like bowling pins, the men grappling in the garbage.
A trash lid hit Dante in the face and he reeled backwards. Taking advantage of the moment, Glen scrambled to his feet and dived towards the packet of money but Dante was already back on his feet. He threw the man against the wall one more time and pinned him in place with a forearm pressed to his throat.
“You fucking piece of shit.” Dante panted, pausing to spit blood from his mouth. “You ever try to double cross me again and you’ll be dead.”
The man wheezed in reply, his eyes bulging.
“Are you alone or is there someone else here?” He applied a bit more pressure. “And don’t lie or I’ll slash your throat.” With his free hand, he pulled out his knife, holding it up so the moonlight glinted off the blade.
Sweat beaded on the man’s face as he flicked his gaze to the knife. He managed to squeak out an answer. “Me. Just me.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded and Dante removed his arm. Up close, it was easy to see the guy was an addict; dilated eyes, sunken cheeks, burns on his lips from a crack pipe. The man slid down the wall until he was seated on the ground.
Dante looked around and found the bundle of money. No point leaving it for the likes of Glen to spend on more poison. The book was nearby as well, partially covered in plastic. He picked it up and ripped the garbage bag off it and then flipped through the pages. “It’s fake. Nothing more than a Halloween prop. Do you think I’m an idiot?”
“I thought it was real.” Glen began to inch away.
“It says “Printed in China’ on the back cover.” Dante threw the book on the ground in disgust.
“I’m sorry. I—”
“Shut up.” Dante probed his lip with his tongue, wincing as he encountered a cut. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand noting only a trace of blood. It couldn’t be too bad, just hurt like hell. Turning his attention back to the man on the ground, he issued a warning. “You ever show your face around me again, I’ll kill you.” He allowed a hint of his wolf to show through, ending the statement with a growl.
Glen scrambled to his feet nodding. “Right. You’ll never see me again. I promise.” He backed away a few steps before turning and running.
When the man had disappeared from sight, Dante kicked the fake book and then started walking. The evening had been a fucking waste of time but he was too keyed up to go back to the shoebox of a room he was staying in. Might as well burn off some energy.
There was nothing inspiring about the atmosphere in that part of the city. No parks or waterfront, just small, tired businesses that faded into a warehouse district. No one was about in the middle of the night and it suited his purpose, giving him time to think. His barely audible steps and the sound of his own breathing were all that broke the silence. Not even a hint of breeze stirred the long weeds that grew up between the cracked pavement.
Tilting his head up, he studied the full moon that seemed to hang suspended in the velvety darkness. It shone beautifully cool and mysterious, exerting its pull on the animal inside him, demanding the freedom to celebrate the celestial event in the way his people had for centuries.
He conceded to the beast’s urgings; they had no pack to run with but a solitary sprint suited his mood. With practised ease, he gathered the energy of his body, drawing it inward towards his core, creating an exquisite tension that had him catching his breath and savouring the moment before releasing and melding into his wolf form with a satisfied sigh.
The wolf shook its fur and then stretched, first its hind legs and then its front. It was pleased to be free, the moonlit night holding a myriad of possibilities. Places to explore, scents to follow.
A train track passed through the area and the right of way easement provided a perfect place to release some pent-up energy. With a soft woof, it took off, long strides eating up the miles, ears back and eyes narrowed against the rush of air. Muscles bunched and stretched as the animal pushed itself to the brink before finally stopping, sides heaving. Satisfied, it turned and retraced its path back, pleasantly tired and planning a nap.
Barely a mile from where the run had started, those plans were interrupted. Something caught the wolf’s attention. It slowed, then stopped, raising its nose to test the air. The scent of blood and death drifted by causing its hackles to rise and a low growl to rumble from its throat. A fresh kill was nearby and it was human.
With a worried whine, the wolf looked for signs of movement that might indicate the killer was still present. When none were apparent, the animal began the gruesome search following the scent trail that lead to an abandoned warehouse a short distance from the train tracks.
The building loomed against the dark sky, the concrete walls seeming to cast a pale glow in the moonlight. Broken windows, graffiti, scorch-marked walls; the wolf eyed the building as it picked its way through the debris that surrounded it. A few doors still had chains and padlocks but most hung open, swinging on half-broken hinges. Pausing outside one of the entrances, the wolf shifted restlessly as instinct urged it to flee. An unmistakeable sense of evil permeated the place.
Dante once again took the lead, returning to human form as the wolf subsided into the background. He murmured reassuringly to the animal as he gingerly pushed the door open wider. It creaked on its hinges, the sound echoing through the empty space within.
He waited a minute, once again listening and scenting the air, watching for signs of movement. It could be a trap, doubtful but a few moments of caution cost him nothing. One minute passed, then another. Finally, he stepped into the building and scanned the area.
The interior was dark, but it wasn’t hard to locate the body. Moonlight filtered in through the broken windows highlighting the mutilated remains in a macabre manner.
Frozen, he took a deep breath to force back the bile that rose in his throat. Even at this distance he could see the horror before him. It wasn’t the first time he’d come across such a scene. Each was burned into his brain in excruciatingly grotesque detail.
Burn marks on the ground in the shape of a large circle surrounded the body. It was the woman he’d seen earlier on the street corner. Her eyes were wide open, a look of horror on her face as she lay in a pool of her own blood. And the most telling sign of all, a gaping cavity where her heart had been.
He’d hoped he was wrong but there was no denying the signs. Testing the air, he picked up the scent of the killer but knew it would be useless to track him. There’d be no trail. The malefic witch always seemed to disappear into thin air.
Firming his jaw, he approached the body and crouched beside it. Using a cloth to ensure he’d leave no finger prints, he checked her clutch purse for a cellphone. He might be a bastard who’d lived most of his life on the wrong side of the law but there was some decency left in him. An anonymous call to 911 would ensure her body wasn’t eaten by rats.
Less than six hours later he sat in his rental car drinking stale coffee and using a zoom lens to watch from a distance as the police cordoned off the area around the dead body. He carefully noted each individual in the crowd gathered round the barrier, hoping the killer might have returned to the scene of the crime. Not likely but it didn’t hurt to check. His gaze paused on one person and he searched his memory. Yeah, that one was a DC officer. Now why would a Lycan Link employee be at a human murder? He snapped a picture of the individual so he could do a search of his database later, see what cases the DC had worked on recently. Too cautious? Probably. But that was why he was alive after all these years. He took a few more pictures of the other people gathered there was well. Who knew what might pop up when he ran their pictures?
His phone rang and a quick glance revealed who the caller was. The director of Lycan Link. He cursed. Why was the SOB calling him now? He answered, his eyes once again trained on the crime scene. “What do you want, Higgins?”
There was a pause before the caller spoke. “Straight to business as always.”
“Time is money.”
“Then I’ll get right to the point. Lycan Link needs your services again.”
“Off the record?”
He gave a derisive laugh. Lycan Link would never want to admit they employed him to do their dirty work even though they’d cut a deal a few years back. “Tell me about the job and I’ll see if I’m interested.”
“Oh, you will be interested. It’s part of our contract.”
“Read the fine print. I said I’d make my services available to you, not that I’d accept every job.”
“You’ll accept this one unless you want me to reopen certain familial files.”
He didn’t reply, hating how the man had shut him down, how he was at Lycan Link’s beck and call with Higgins yanking the leash whenever he wanted. It hadn’t been so bad at first, but the man was getting too demanding.
Higgins continued. “There was a murder last night.”
“Not surprising; the world can be a dangerous place.”
“This one is of particular interest to us, even though it was a human who was killed. All indications point to a witch being responsible.”
“Really?” He kept his voice steady but the hand that had been reaching to grab the coffee froze. There was no way the 911 call he’d placed could have been picked up by Lycan Link’s web of spy technology and traced to him. He hadn’t used his own phone or given his name but the coincidence still had him on edge.
“Yeah. In one of the southern states. And it’s not the first time. We’ve had random reports from around the globe for some time now. Lycans, Fae, halves, some humans. In the past few years, the incidents have been increasing in frequency, though.”
“I’ve not heard anything about a string of deaths.” He had though. He probably knew as much, if not more, than Lycan Link.
“Why would you? We’ve had the DC Officers working to keep it under wraps with respect to Lycans and Others. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, rumours are starting to circulate.”
He made a noncommittal sound. It never paid to show too much interest in a potential job.
“You probably don’t care, but Lycan Link has put extensive time and energy into forming an interspecies alliance between shifters, witches and the Fae. Establishing a level of trust between all the groups has been difficult to say the least. If word gets out of a malefic witch—”
“A malefic witch?”
“One that’s operating outside the rules of their community. That’s the best assumption we can come up with. The murders have all the earmarks of black magic, a practice that the witching community has supposedly outlawed.”
“Tell the witches to deal with it then.”
“It’s not that simple. We can’t go in and start accusing them of a crime. Witches already feel they’re superior and—”
“Sounds like you have a problem.”
“Slightly more than a problem. This has the potential not only to damage negotiations, but the very image of Lycan Link. If word gets out we’ve been sitting on this, the fallout could be substantial.”
“Not to mention the fact that people are dying.”
“That goes without saying.”
It sounded more like the safety of individuals was a mere afterthought but he didn’t point it out. “I assume you want me to fix it?”
“Find out who is responsible, go in and eliminate him or her.”
“Any idea who the target is?”
“Our research indicates this is beyond the abilities of an ordinary witch. We’ve narrowed it down to a member of the Universal Coven.”
He snorted. “You want me to waltz into the governing council of all witches and take out one of its members?”
“It’s a fucking suicide mission.”
“We’re prepared to pay you a substantial sum given the risk factor.”
He hesitated before replying. “How substantial?”
Higgins mentioned a sum and he immediately tripled it. He took a swig of his coffee and made a face at the tepid brew while listening to Higgins sputter about budgets and fiscal responsibility. It didn’t make a rat’s ass difference to him. If he was going to risk his neck, he wanted to be paid well for it.
After some haggling, they reached an agreement.
“Do you know the motive?”
“No. It isn’t important.” Higgins dismissed the query.
Idiot, Dante thought to himself. A target’s actions were always impacted by their motive whether it be supporting an ideology, revenge or personal gain.
Thankfully, he already knew what he was up against. The witch in question was trying for immortality, siphoning life force energy from the victims so as to defy the passage of time.
Dante crushed his now empty paper cup. “It will take a while to set up. I’ll need a list of the Coven membership and any information you already have on them. There are thirteen members on the council, I need to narrow the field.”
“I have all the information you need. Your best bet is to start in Chicago, where they’re having their spring quarterly meeting in a few weeks. One of the members lives there as well, a woman named Gwyneth O’Donohue. Use her to get access to the rest of the Coven.”
He’d heard the name and searched his memory, frowning when he finally placed her. Hell. If she was his best bet, he was in trouble. “I’ll make my own connections.”
“Fine. Do whatever you want. As long as you take care of the problem and I don’t have to deal with the negative publicity this could cause.”
“Understood.” He ended the call and resumed watching the murder scene. Negative publicity. Yeah. That’s all Higgins cared about. Made you wonder who the real bastard was.