Kidnapped: Part 9 (The End)

Kidnapped 9

Five days later, after the full moon had come and gone, Thorne led the group back toward Refuge. Unlike Ash and Fern, Thorne stuck to his animal form. He’d said he preferred running to riding horses.

“They’re not going to take us back,” Ash said. He rode one of the horses they’d taken from the kidnappers. It had taken a few days for him to shift to his human form, but he’d finally done it. His horse, used to carrying werewolves, seemed fine with a werecat rider.

Fern sighed, her mind flashing back to the bloodlust she’d felt, first taking down the huge werewolf, and then hunting and eating a deer. I didn’t even feel guilty about killing that werewolf. If she shifted around humans, could she control the bloodlust? She looked at Ash, who rode next to her. He hadn’t killed her, even with the wolfsbane in his system. Surely, if he had some degree of control when he’d been drugged, she’d be able to keep control.

Thorne stopped, his tail upraised. “Someone’s coming.”

A man on a dun horse trotted toward them, a huge dog at his side.

“Robiel!” Fern urged the mare into a trot.

The horses met. Robiel examined Fern. “You shift?”

“Both of us,” Fern said. “Wasn’t your ankle broken?”

Robiel shrugged. “Werewolves heal fast when the moon is full.”

Thorne smiled. “I suspected it.”

“You’re a werewolf?” Ash stared, his eyes wide.

“Mom was pregnant with me when she got bit.” Robiel turned his horse toward Refuge. “Eva’s waiting for us at Refuge.”

Fern glanced at Thorne. “Did you smell wolf on him?”

“No, but humans generally don’t threaten to rip people’s throats out. Quite a few scouts have some werewolf in them. It makes them immune to vamps.”

“Is Refuge letting us back in?” Ash asked.

Robiel frowned. “No. They’re not friendly to shifters, which is the reason I’ve kept my condition under wraps. We’ll be headed for one of the southern packs. Zatari’s got a lot of halfbloods in her pack. She’d even take in Eva.”

“But Mom’s human. She’ll get bitten.” Fern shivered. Mom couldn’t live with werewolves. The second one lost control, she’d be dead.

“I’ll teach you two to control your instincts,” Robiel said. “I did some digging. That werewolf who killed Violet had just broke up with her, and from what I gather, he wasn’t a good human to begin with.” Robiel looked at Fern and Ash. “That’s not going to happen to you two.”

Hope blossomed in Fern’s chest. Maybe they wouldn’t be monsters.

Robiel turned to Ash. “What exactly did Roland want with you?”

“Experiments,” Ash hissed. “They want to use the werewolf powers to make soldiers and see what happened with half-breeds like me. Apparently, no one like us had ever been bitten by both species.” He shivered. “They were trying to train me, make it so I followed orders.”

Robiel stiffened. “We’ll need to warn the packs.” He gazed at Thorne. “I have to get these kids south. Will you be coming?”

Thorne sighed. “No. I’m going back to my pack and warn them.” He sat on the road.

Fern pulled her horse to a stop. “But they’ll kill you.”

Thorne gazed at the sky. “The blood moon’s coming. I’ll be able to challenge Frost then. The pack needs a new leader, especially with the fort so close.”

Robiel nodded to Thorne. “Good luck.”

Fern dismounted and wrapped her arms around Thorne. “I’ll miss you.”

Thorne placed one massive paw on her shoulder. “I’ll miss you too.” He stepped away and met her gaze. “You’re strong enough to control yourself. Remember that.”

“Thanks. I’ll be okay.”

Thorne loped through the forest. A few minutes later, his howl echoed through the trees.

Fern threw her head back and howled in answer.

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Kidnapped: 8

Kidnapped 8

The pair stalked around the edge of camp where the undergrowth hid them from the guard.

Moonlight shined off the silver-furred feline in front of Fern. He was smaller than Thorne, but still over a hundred pounds. He had a shorter tail, which made him look slightly wolflike.

Anger welled up in Fern at the sight of her brother’s form. She paused and took a few shaky breaths. Too much anger and she’d turn into a werewolf. She belly crawled next to Ash.

He sprang to his feet and hissed at her. A chain around his neck rattled. He had a slender build, cougar-like, and a spark of anger in his silvery eyes.

“Ash, it’s me, Fern.” She crawled closer and reached for the chain.

Ash growled, low and menacing. His ears lay flat against his head.

“What’s going on over there?” Nelgen shouted.

Part of Fern wanted to leap at him, to sink her teeth into his throat. That’d teach him for messing with her brother. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end, and her skin burned.

Ash turned toward Nelgen and roared.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Fern unclipped the chain around his neck.

He turned on her. His huge silver paw slammed into her side, sending her rolling.

“We’re under attack!” Nelgen shouted.

At Nelgen’s words, Ash leaped.

Nelgen lifted his rifle.

Ash bowled him over, and the pair went down in a flurry of claws and fur. They rolled over some packs, scattering bottles and syringes.

The four werewolves, who had been asleep before the fight, charged. 

Fern unslung her rifle and fired, striking one in the side, though the creature stayed on its feet to fight. Thorne sprang among the werewolves. His teeth slammed closed on the nearest halfblood.

The pureblood werewolf grabbed Ash by the scruff and threw him off Nelgen’s mauled form. The pureblood was the only wolf anywhere near Thorne’s size.

Ash crouched submissively, though he growled as he did so. Fern tried to aim for the pureblood, but Ash stood between them. With terror pulsing through her, Fern couldn’t hold the rifle steady enough to risk the shot.

“Kill the elf,” the pureblood ordered. “She doesn’t care about you, not like you are now.”

Ash stalked toward Fern, Nelgen’s blood covering his face and paws.

The rifle trembled in Fern’s hands. He’s a monster. “Make him stop, or I’ll shoot!” Fern yelled at the pureblood. She couldn’t hit him without hitting Ash.

Behind her, Thorne fought the trio of smaller werewolves. He’d be no help.

Ash circled closer, moving out of Fern’s line of fire.

The wolf within clawed at her chest, trying to rip free of its prison. She aimed the rifle at the pureblood but hesitated. If she fired, Ash might pounce.

The pureblood snarled. “Attack.”

Fern aimed the rifle back at Ash. “Ash, it’s me. Don’t listen to him. Please. This isn’t you.”

Ash growled and crept closer. What had they done to him?

Fern backed away. “Ash. Please stop.” Tears flowed down her cheeks. They’d made him into a monster. Where had her brother gone?

“Now!” the pureblood howled.

Ash leaped.

Fern fell under his weight. The rifle dropped from her hands.

Ash stared down at her, his eyes narrowed.

The wolf inside Fern pushed harder, telling her she had to fight, not lay still like a piece of prey. God, please help me, she silently prayed. “Ash, don’t do this. I’m your family. I love you. You’re not a monster. You can control yourself.” Please let Thorne be right.

Ash glanced at the pureblood.

“Kill her.” The pureblood stepped closer and licked his lips.

“No.” Ash took a few steps toward the much larger wolf. His ears were flat against his head.

Fern crawled toward the rifle. She had to keep focus, or she’d shift. Her instinct urged her to fight, to bite, not go for the rifle.

A halfblood werewolf charged her.

Fern spun. There was no time to reach the rifle. She released the wolf within. It exploded out of her, flowing over her and consuming her with blonde fur. 

The tan halfblood hesitated. Fern sprang to meet him. Her jaws clamped down on the surprised wolf’s throat. She tore at him, his blood in her mouth.

The halfblood ripped loose and ran, blood dripping from his throat.

Ash yowled in pain. The pureblood tore at his scruff.

Fern sprang on the pureblood. Her teeth sank into his shoulder. Blood spurted into her mouth. She pulled at the wolf, her instinct telling her to attack, not to back down.

He turned on her, his jaws snapping.

Fern tried to leap back, but the pureblood grabbed her by the throat and threw her down.

Ash sprang to his feet and tore into the wolf. His teeth pierced the pureblood’s back. The wolf spun and snapped at Ash.

Fern attacked. She grabbed the pureblood by the throat, stopping him from reaching Ash. 

The pureblood fell to the ground. Fern bit down with everything she had. His legs flailed, but the struggles weakened. Finally, he lay still.

Fern released the wolf and licked her lips. Satisfaction swelled within. She’d won.

Ash still held the wolf’s back, his jaws clenched. He growled at Fern.

She backed away from the kill.

One of the halfbloods ran. Fern shot after him, her muscles lending her more speed than she’d ever had. A thrill shot through her. She could run now. She could chase this enemy down and kill him.

Thorne bowled her over. “No chasing! Control yourself.”

Fern rose to her feet, her tail between her legs. Her instinct wanted her to chase, but it also warned her to submit to wolves who could easily kill her.

Thorne limped to Ash, his tail uplifted. “That is not your kill. Stop acting like an animal.”

Ash released the dead werewolf and backed away, his body low.

The two other halfbloods lay dead on the ground, and horses tugged at their halters. Ash stalked toward them.

Fern’s mouth watered. She could already imagine her teeth sinking into their tender flesh. They’d won the fight. The horses were theirs. 

Thorne leaped between the horses, Ash, and Fern. “Follow me. We’re going hunting. You two need to burn some of that bloodlust in a constructive way.”

Fern closed her eyes. I’m a person, not an animal. Still, the horses smelled good, and she hadn’t eaten much but dried meat. Getting fresh meat would be fun. They didn’t really need those horses anyway. It wouldn’t be wrong to eat one, would it?

“We’re going after deer,” Thorne said. “You’ll leave the horses alone.” Thorn moved for the edge of the camp. “In your states, you won’t be able to focus on much of anything. Best to get out of here before you eat something you shouldn’t.” He glanced at the horses. “Let’s go.”

Fern and Ash followed after Thorne, their noses lifted in search of fresh meat.

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Kidnapped: Part 7

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Fern slid off the mare while Thorne sniffed the leaves on the forest floor. They’d been churned up by something large, probably horses. 

“If we press on, we should catch up to them tonight,” Thorne said.

Fern examined the leaves, noting how damp dirt still clung to them. Thorne was right. They were close.

With the moon only a couple days from being full, Thorne’s size had increased until he’d be able to take on any black bear in the forest, making Fern glad he was on her side. 

The hot feeling, like her blood had been warmed, shot through Fern. She leaned against the horse and rubbed the old bite on her arm. The sensation had been going on all day and had gotten worse when the moon rose. Unlike the feeling she’d had when she fought the vamp, this one refused to be pushed down, even when she rested.

“Is something wrong?” Thorne asked.

“I think I’m about to shift.” Fern wrapped her arms around herself.

Thorne let out a low growl. “Maybe we should wait for the rescue until after the full moon. It’d be cutting it close, but I think we’d still be able to get Ash after the full moon.” Thorne glanced north. “If your adrenalin kicks in, you’ll shift. That might save you or get you killed depending on what happens.” 

Tears burned in Fern’s eyes. She’d be turning into a monster. “We need to get them tonight before I shift. I’m not letting that werewolf bite Ash.” Even if she couldn’t save herself, perhaps she could save her brother.

Thorne’s ears drooped. “He’s a werecat. I don’t know how they turned him without a werecat, but they did.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Fern snarled. How could he keep it a secret from her?

“It wouldn’t have done you any good to know,” Thorne said. “You had enough to deal with.”

“He’s my brother!” Her hair bristled. Fern froze. The tingling sensation turned into full-blown burning. She fell to her knees. “Thorne, I’m turning!”

“Look at me, Fern.” Thorne stood over her, his golden gaze boring into her.

Fern looked into his golden eyes. 

“Now, concentrate on your human form. Think about breathing, not anger or excitement. Do it.”

Fern focused on her human self. The burning eased. Finally, it went back to the tingling she’d felt before. She glanced at the moon. If the wolf fought this hard to get out, she wouldn’t stand a chance on the full moon. “I’m turning into a monster.”

Thorne growled. “You are not a monster. Neither is your brother.” He stepped closer. “You’re only a monster if you let your instincts control you. When you turn, you need to control your instincts. They’re no different from human instincts. Some say prayer helps. It has helped me avoid ripping out a few throats.”

Fern hugged herself. The hot anger had surged up so fast. How could she control that? “I saw someone who shifted,” Fern said. “He killed my best friend right in front of me.”

Thorne sighed. “I admit, I don’t know much about halfbloods like you, but I do know Christ can help you fight any urges you feel, even bloodlust.”

Fern nodded, but she still didn’t trust herself.

“Do you want to go after your brother or wait until after you’ve shifted?” Thorne asked.

Fern took a few deep breaths. “We can go now.” She climbed onto the mare. “I’m not taking a chance of them getting to Fort Roland first.” 

“Then let’s go.” Thorne trotted ahead.

Fern followed after him as they traveled. Now that they were close, Thorne paused to sniff more often, then listened. Fern focused on staying calm and tried not to think about the monster she would become. 

The moon hung high above them when Thorne stopped, his hackles on end. “Tie the horse here. From now on, we go on foot.”

Fern loaded the rifle with silver rounds and tied the mare to a tree. Hopefully, if things went bad and they didn’t make it back, the horse would rip loose and head back to Refuge. Fern doubted the vamps would get the mare. She had more experience with vamps than Fern did.

Fern followed Thorne through trampled leaves.

Wood smoke hung in the air. After a few more minutes of travel, Fern spotted firelight shining through the trees.

Fern and Thorne slunk into thicker brush and crept closer to the camp. Five horses stood picketed on the far side of the camp while five animalistic shadows slumbered around the fire. One was a short distance from the others, farther from the fire.

A man leaned against a tree, his head bowed. For a guard, he wasn’t doing a very good job; then again, what did they have to fear? 

Thorne sniffed the air. “I scent one pureblood werewolf, three halfbloods, a man, and Ash. The riders must have turned into halfblooded wolves. I can deal with halfbloods without trouble, but that pureblood’s a real threat.” Thorne sniffed the air again. He let out a low growl. “Thought so. They’ve got Ash drugged up on wolfsbane.”

Fern’s stomach turned to ice. “What does it do to him?”

“It makes us act like animals driven by instinct, and we’re trapped in that form until it wears off. They probably figured it was easier to confine him if he was trapped in a form with no thumbs.”

A growl rumbled in Fern’s chest. “What should we do?” They couldn’t leave Ash, not like this.

“He’s going to be chained or tied up. You’ll have to get him loose on your own. He doesn’t know me so he might panic. Be careful when you go to him. Wolfsbane makes shifters forget they’re people.”

“Okay.” Fern crawled forward, every muscle tense. Something wild welled up in her, telling her how to creep quietly. Her jaws itched to snap closed on her enemies. She shoved the terrifying instinct down.

“If you get in a bad situation and can’t shoot, let the wolf side loose,” Thorne whispered. “Once it’s loose, you’ll have trouble with control, but it’s stronger and faster.”

Fern clenched her jaw. God, please don’t let me shift.

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Kidnapped: Part 6

kidnapped6Thorne led Fern along a crumbling road. After nearly a week of travel, the kidnappers left the deer trails and took to the main roads used by travelers, most of which had been paved a century or so ago, back before the vamps showed up and forced humanity into walled cities.

Thorne’s size had grown with the moon phase. If Fern had been on the ground, his shoulders would have come past her waist. Fern glanced at the moon. Another week and it would be full. Would she turn into a werewolf then or turn into a werecat on the new moon?

Thorne lifted his nose and sniffed the air. His hackles stood on end. Ahead of them, the road narrowed so the trees stretched all the way over it, making a tunnel of dark foliage. 

“What is it?” Fern pulled the mare to a stop. She scanned the forest, but the moon did nothing to pierce the darkness under the trees.

Thorne sniffed again. “There’s a faint vamp scent.” He eyed the forest. “We’re in unclaimed territory here. No one hunts the vamps.”

“Maybe we should camp in a clearing until it’s daylight. That’s what scouts do, isn’t it?”

“If we want to catch Ash’s kidnappers before they reach the fort, we can’t stop.” Thorne walked into the darkness.

Fern urged the mare after him. Thorne didn’t have much to worry about. Though vamps would eat anything that moved, they tended to avoid other big predators and large groups. Humans and elves were something they’d go crazy for. After all, their main method of reproduction was to bite humans and elves. 

“Fern, is something wrong?” Thorne asked.

“If there’s a vamp around, it will come for me,” Fern said.

“You got bit by a werewolf and a werecat,” Thorne said. “There’s a good chance you’ll be immune to vamps, even if you still smell like prey.” He glanced at the moon. “If you’re going to turn into a werewolf, you should start feeling the wolf side soon, or at least that’s what I’ve heard.” Thorne resumed walking.

Fern urged the mare after him. “What would I feel?”

“I’m a pureblood, so I don’t know what it’s like to not be able to shift, but when I try to hold the wolf side in close to the full moon, I feel energy trying to escape and my skin starts to prickle. If something gets your adrenaline up, it’s more difficult to stay in human form.”

She looked at the moon shining through the dense foliage above. So far, that hadn’t happened, but she still had almost a week to go. God, please let the bites counteract each other, Fern prayed for what must have been the hundredth time.

Thorne trotted through the forest, his movements tense.

Fern tightened her grip on the mare’s reins. Thorne may not have said anything, but after traveling with him, she’d learned his body language well enough to know he expected something to go wrong.

Fern listened to the forest sounds. Crickets chirruped. In the distance, an owl screeched. She tried sniffing the air but caught no scents, other than the cool night smell the forest carried. 

The mare shied away from the trees surrounding them.

Thorne spun, his teeth bared. “Run forward. I’ll keep them off your back.” 

Fern kicked the mare. She sprang forward, going into a dead run without urging. Her ears flattened against her head.

A vamp, its body pale, sprang from a tree. It missed the mare and fell to the ground. The shape may have been human, but the thing moved more like an animal.

Another one sprang in front of the mare, its hands upraised. The mare charged the monster and ran over it. She lashed out with her hind feet, striking the already downed creature.

Fern glanced back. Thorne tore into one of the vamps.

Something slammed into Fern, throwing her off the mare. She hit the ground and rolled.

She sprang to her feet, only to come face to face with a vamp. The monster, clad only in a loincloth, had pale skin and red eyes. Its lips curled back, exposing long fangs and a mouth too wide for a human. Instead of nails on its fingers, it had claws. Maybe at one time, this thing had been human, but now, it was a predator, a cunning animal with a taste for blood.

Fern stepped backward. She tried to keep her eyes on the vamp while she looked for some sort of weapon.

The vamp sprang at her, faster than any human. Fern threw up her arms. As the creature shoved her against the ground, she grabbed it by the throat. Its too-wide jaws snapped closed inches from her face. It clawed at her, scratching her shoulder. She tried to shove it off, but the thing’s muscles seemed to be made of coiled steel. 

An energy burned within Fern. She twisted and struck at the vamp with her knee, knocking it off her. She sprang to her feet and snarled at the creature. They circled each other. Fern felt her hair bristling as she stood under the light of the moon. The vamp hesitated.

Fern snarled again. She’d rip out the monster’s throat and taste its blood. See how it liked that.

A shudder passed through her. This wasn’t her talking, it was the wolf. She shivered and tried to shove the wild instinct down.

The vamp, sensing her hesitation, leaped.

Thorne slammed into it. He grabbed it by the throat and shook it like a rat. He spat the mauled body out and turned to Fern. “Did it bite you?”

Fern examined her arms. She had no bite marks. “Just claws,” she said. 

Thorne shifted to human form, wiped the vamp blood from his mouth, and walked to her. He peered at her wounds. “Just wash them. You should be fine. They’re not deep enough to get infected.”

Fern shivered. “It almost killed me.” 

“You let your guard down at the last second,” Thorne said. “Why?”

“I thought I was shifting.” Fern ran her hands over her arms. Were they hairier than normal?

“In a case like that, you need to free the wolf,” Thorne growled. “You’re no fighter. The wolf instinct knows more about fighting than you do.”

Fern looked at the dead vamp, which lay in a heap with its head ripped halfway off. No way a human could survive a werewolf attack. If she turned into a werewolf near people, she’d slaughter them. “I should have stayed in the jail,” she whimpered. “I’m going to be a monster.”

Thorne’s lips peeled back, exposing teeth too sharp for a human mouth. “Do you think I’m a monster?”

“You were born that way. It’s different.” Thorne was a pureblood, not one like Mitch. Purebloods had some degree of control.

“That’s only an excuse,” Thorne said.

“And what about them?” Fern pointed at the dead vamp. “They’re not even human.”

“Those things don’t have souls,” Thorne said. “When a vamp bites a human or elf, they give them a parasite. It kills the human mind then takes over and uses the body. Whoever inhabited those creatures before the parasite took over has already died. Becoming a werewolf doesn’t change who you are. Your soul is still intact, no matter what form your body takes.” Thorne looked toward where the dun mare had stopped a short distance up the road. “You’d better get the horse. We should get moving before more vamps show up.”

Fern hurried to the horse, who seemed to be unconcerned about the fight. Fern grabbed a canteen and washed her wounds, a few of which were somewhat deep, but she left them exposed to the air. They’d stopped bleeding.

She climbed onto the horse and followed Thorne northward, toward Fort Roland. 

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Kidnapped: Part 5

Kidnapped 5 2
Ash came to as hands roughly dragged him off a horse. The last thing he remembered was being yanked onto the horse and a needle sinking into his arm, then nothing. He blinked and tried to find his feet as a second man grabbed him. 

The half-moon hung overhead. Night had come while he’d been unconscious. 

He thrashed, but dizziness overtook him and his legs tangled together. He almost fell, but the two men holding his arms kept him from going down. They dragged him to a tree, forced him to sit, then tied his hands behind the tree so tightly they nearly wrenched his shoulders. The tree’s bark dug into his arms. The two men who had tied him to the tree stepped back to admire their handiwork. Both of them were the right age to be guards, but Ash didn’t recognize either of them from Refuge. 

Two more men stood farther back, speaking to each other. Ash squinted, trying to see enough to identify them. One of them looked his way. The scant moonlight gave Ash enough illumination to see the face. 

“Nelgen!” Ash spat.

Nelgen strode toward Ash and squatted in front of him. “I see Sleeping Beauty finally awakened.” 

Ash glared. “Why are you doing this?” 

Nelgen ruffled Ash’s hair. “I got paid well. Shame we didn’t get your sister too. That would’ve been more fun.” 

Ash tensed at Nelgen’s touch. He itched to hit Nelgen. He’d never felt more helpless. At least they hadn’t caught Fern.

The fourth man, the one Nelgen had been talking to, approached, a small bag in his left hand.

“Coal, where are you?” 

A huge black werewolf trotted from the trees. “Scouting, like you asked,” he said, his voice a low growl.

Ash’s heart pounded. As much as he hated Nelgen’s touch, the sight of the werewolf stalking toward him sent a new wave of fear rushing him. He was a rabbit staked down waiting for the wolf to eat him. 

Ash closed his eyes and looked away. The sight of this werewolf brought back memories of Mitch’s bullet-ridden body and Violet’s torn flesh. 

The wolf’s warm breath blew against his face. “What do we do without the cat?” 

“I’ll inject the saliva into him,” the fourth man, probably the leader, said. “No biting. It needs to be an exact amount for this experiment.” 

The wolf stepped back. Ash opened his eyes. The leader of the group squatted in front of Ash. He reached out and felt Ash’s hair, then ran a hand along the tip of Ash’s ear. “You’re certainly the real deal,” he said, his voice low. “Not some skinny kid who gets treated as being part elf, but a real halfbreed.” He looked at the moon, then dug into his bag and extracted a pair of syringes. “Here I have werecat and werewolf saliva.” He held them in front of Ash’s face. “Elves only turn if they’re bitten by a werecat. Humans only turn if they’re bitten by a werewolf, so what do you think your kind would do if both species bit you?”

Ash stared at the syringes, his mind flashing back to what Thorne had said about Fort Roland. They were going to experiment on him.

The leader chuckled. “You’re a smart one, aren’t you?” He stood and walked behind the tree. 

Nelgen and the black werewolf watched Ash.

Ash heard the leader kneel behind him. Needles sank into both of Ash’s arms. 

Ash clenched his jaw. With his bindings so tight, he couldn’t pull away. 

Finally, the needles withdrew. The leader stepped around the tree and stared down at Ash. 

“How long before he turns?” Nelgen asked. 

“Most of the time, when someone’s bitten like I was, they’re not likely to turn until near the full moon,” the leader said. “However, if we wait for a full moon, this half-breed will likely turn werewolf. We want to see what happens if he turns now, at the half-moon.” He dug through his bag. “We’ll have to force the shift now.” 

Even though the night had a chill to it, sweat trickling down Ash’s back and stuck his shirt to the tree.

“How do we force him?” Nelgen asked. “Beat him up? I can do that.” Nelgen shook a fist at Ash.

The leader pulled another syringe from his bag. “That won’t be necessary, I’ve got wolfsbane.” He bent and injected it into Ash’s neck. 

The stuff burned. Ash gritted his teeth but couldn’t help but grunt as the fire spread through his body. He felt two ropes loop over his head and around his throat.

The leader cut him loose. Ash fell forward, his arms too numb to catch him. He lay on the leafy ground, the pain making his skin burn.

He tried to stand, but the pain overwhelmed him. His fingernails began to lengthen, growing into sharp claws, while silver fur sprouted across his body. His clothes ripped as his size increased. He closed his eyes and tried to stop the transformation, tried to control his body, but the bones kept shifting, his jaw lengthening, his ears moving. 

Something slipped over his face. Ash opened his eyes and lashed out at the leader, his claws missing the man by inches. He sprang at the man, only to be jerked back by the ropes around his throat.

He tried to bite at the ropes, but a muzzle kept his jaws firmly closed. Fear and rage, rawer than anything he’d experienced, lent him energy. He thrashed, clawing and twisting, the movements tightening the ropes around his throat. That only added to the raw terror and rage.

The black wolf slammed into him, grabbed him by the scuff, and pinned him to the ground. “That’s enough,” the werewolf snarled.

Ash snarled back and tried to roll over, but the wolf held him firm. “You’ll learn to obey me, cub.” 

“Can you train a cat?” a man asked. Ash glared at the man, feeling a pulse of rage. The man had done something to him, but his mind was a fog of rage and fear. Didn’t the man have a name? Ash had known him before the nightmare began.

“Remember who you are?” the wolf asked. 

“Ash,” Ash growled, the muzzle muffling his words. 

“Give him some more. If I’m going to train him, I can’t have his human side surfacing,” the wolf snarled.

Ash felt another needle prick and more burning, then the last bit of rationality fled him as the animal instinct consumed his mind.

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Kidnapped: Part 4

kidnapped 4

The office door swung open with only a slight creek. Robiel limped in on crutches with Mom at his side, one of her hands on his shoulder. She held a set of keys in her free hand.

Fern stood. “What’s going on?”

“Be quiet,” Robiel whispered. “We’re breaking you out.”

“It’s safer for everyone if I stay in here.” The jail was the only place that could hold a werewolf or werecat.

“You wouldn’t be staying in Refuge.” Robiel limped toward her cell.

A chill shot through Fern. After what happened in the fields, how could she survive in the forest?

Mom unlocked the door to her cell and opened it. Fern stepped into the cell’s doorway but hesitated.

Robiel grabbed her injured arm and peered at it. “He bit you?”

Fern nodded.

“Do you trust him?” Robiel eyed Thorne.

Fern glanced at Thorne. “He seems okay for a werewolf.”

“Have you practiced shooting much?”

 “We trained for guard duty. Ash made me practice extra.” What was Robiel planning?

“No one in town is willing to mount a search party to rescue Ash. By the time I heal enough to catch up, they’ll be in Roland.” Robiel tensed. “I want you to take my horse and Thorne. Eva and I will help you two get out of Refuge. Once I heal, I’ll come after you. If you’d rather hide or stay here, I won’t look down on you. It’s your choice.”

Fern hesitated. The prison cell was safe. The forest wasn’t. She’d need to take Thorne, and she barely knew the werewolf. Part of her wanted to go back in the cell and stay there, but Ash needed help. “I’ll do it.”

Mom unlatched Thorne’s cell door.

Thorne stepped out and rolled his shoulders. “Thanks.”

Robiel dropped a crutch and grabbed Thorne by the throat. He shoved the big man against the cell bars. “I’m letting you loose because we need you to find the boy. If anything happens to Fern, I will hunt you down and rip out your throat. That is a promise.” He released Thorne.

Thorne crouched, his head bowed. “I’ll do everything in my power to protect her.”

Robiel gazed down at him. “Shift into wolf form and curl your tail over your back. They’ll think you’re my dog.”

Thorne did as Robiel ordered.

Fern shivered. No cell bars stood between her and the gigantic predator. What was she getting into?

Robiel limped ahead with Thorne at his side, like Thorne was just a big dog. Fern and Mom waited a bit longer before sneaking past Barry, who slept in his chair.

“I’m surprised he didn’t wake up,” Fern whispered once they were out of the jail.

“I drugged his coffee,” Mom whispered. They crept down the path toward the gate.

 Ahead of them, Robiel hobbled along with Thorne. In the darkness, Thorne almost looked like Robiel’s diredog. They made it to the stables, where Fern saddled Robiel’s main horse.

Robiel shoved his rifle in the saddle scabbard. “There’s ammunition for it in the saddlebags, along with some food, a water purifier, and a few clothes. Load the rifle with silver rounds two days before the full moon. Normal lead works for the rest of the moon phase.” He paused. “You might want to wear leather, the tighter the better. If you shift, it shifts with you.”

Fern shivered. “I hoped two bites would mean I wouldn’t shift.”

Robiel frowned. “No one knows what two bites will do to someone like you. If you do shift, remember that God will help you control the wolf or cat instinct, just like He helps with human instinct. There isn’t much difference.”

Fern nodded her jaw tense. God, please don’t let me shift. Robiel was just trying to make her feel better. If she shifted, she’d be like Mitch, not Thorne.

Robiel peered out of the stables. “The guards are awake, but they’re all looking outside.”

The foursome crept to the gates. Mom lifted the beam that kept the gate closed.

“Mount up,” Robiel whispered. “When the gate opens, run for the trees.”

Fern climbed onto Robiel’s horse. “Are you two going to get in trouble?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mom whispered. “Be careful. I love you.” She reached up to Fern and squeezed her arm.

Robiel swung the gate open.

“Goodbye!” Fern dug her heels into Robiel’s horse.

The mare shot forward.

Shouting erupted on the wall.

“Don’t shoot!” Mom yelled. “It’s Fern.”

The horse ran faster, trampling potatoes and crashing through corn. Thorne kept pace beside her, his tail now low, all pretenses of being a dog gone. Once they made it to the trees, Fern pulled the horse up and looked back.

Refuge was barely visible, a bit of the tin on the walls glinting in the light of the half-moon. Ahead of them, the forest thickened, making a perfect place for vamps.

Thorne sniffed the ground. “I need to pick up the scent.”

Fern rode after Thorne as he loped along, his nose low to the ground. He made it to the area where Fern thought the riders had vanished. He stopped and sniffed deeply, then turned into the forest. “This way. They didn’t take the road.” He paused. “There are four riders and a pureblood werewolf male.”

“I only saw three riders,” Fern said, “and the werecat.”

“I think one of the humans is from Refuge. He’s got the city scent all over him. They must have had a spare horse for him, and another for Ash by the smell of it.”

“Nelgen,” Fern spat. “He snuck into the trees right before we were attacked.”

Thorne raced into the forest. “Follow me.”

Fern stared at the dark shadows that stretched ahead. “What about vamps?” she asked.

Thorne paused and sniffed the air. “If we stick together, the small clans will probably leave us alone. Come on.”

Fern followed after Thorne. As they traveled northward, she kept the rifle close and stayed near Thorne. The night wore on with no sign of vamps.

At dawn, Thorne stopped near a stream.

Fern yawned. “Why are we stopping?”

“Get the horse a drink and rest. You’re tired.”

“I can keep going.” Fern rubbed her eyes.

“I’m resting.” Thorne walked to the stream and took a drink.

Fern sighed. She couldn’t find Ash without Thorne’s nose. She slid off the horse, her muscles protesting to the movement.

Thorne lay down. “We can move on in a couple hours.”

Fern hobbled the mare and sat under one of the numerous trees. “Should one of us keep watch?”

“Vamps only come out at night. We’re off the human paths, so bandits won’t be an issue,” Thorne said. “I’ll keep my nose open. You get some sleep.”

Fern lay down. Thorne had a point. They needed to be fresh when they caught up to the enemy.

She watched him rest under the tree next to hers. Could she really trust him, or would he kill her in her sleep? Then again, if he wanted to kill her, he could do it any time, or he could just abandon her. Fern closed her eyes and prayed she’d live to open them.

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Kidnapped: Part 3

fern imprisoned

Fern clutched her bleeding hand and rocked. It couldn’t happen, not to her. She wasn’t some rabid animal.

Not yet. 

The guards, spotting the blood, backed away from her. Two or three pointed their rifles at her. A buzz ran through the crowd of gardeners around her.

“She’s going to turn.”

“Throw her out.”

“Poor thing.”

“She’s a half-breed. Do those turn?”

“Remember last time?”

Mom hugged her tight. “It’s going to be okay.”

Robiel crawled closer to her. “I’ve got an idea,” he whispered. He glanced farther into the town, toward the jail. “If the werewolf bites you, it might counteract the werecat’s saliva.”

The mayor, a tall man with a balding forehead, strode through the crowd. “What’s going on here?”

“They kidnapped the half-breed boy. The girl got bit by a werecat,” a guard said.

“Get her to the jail, now.” The mayor waved his arms.

“You heard him.” A young guard pointed his rifle at Fern. It shook in his hands.

They’re terrified.

“Take care of our uncle,” Fern whispered to Mom. She pried her mother’s hands from her shirt.

A half-dozen guards circled around her, too afraid to come close. Fern clutched her bleeding hand to her chest. Every option she had was awful.

“On your feet,” an older guard said.

Fern climbed to her feet, and the guards herded her to the jail. None of them came close enough to touch her.

When she stepped into the office, Barry scrambled to his feet and tried to look like he hadn’t been asleep again.

The older guard followed Fern through the doorway. The others hung back, afraid to be in a confined space with a potential werecat.

“She’s been bitten. You need to get her locked up,” the old guard said.

 Barry squinted. “Bitten by what? That monster dog of Robiel’s?”

“A werecat.”

Barry’s eyes shot wide. “I’ll put her in the cell.” He led them to the back of the jail and opened the cell next to Thorne’s.

Fern stumbled to a hard bench. She sat on it and hugged her knees.

Barry closed the door. “Sorry about this. I’ll get a blanket for you.” He left Fern alone in the shadowy cell.

Tears blurred her vision. She tried wiping them away but more took their place. Ash was gone, and she’d be turning into a monster with the next new moon. God, please help me, she prayed.

“You got bitten?” Thorne demanded.

Fern looked up.

Thorne peered through the bars of his cell, his golden eyes narrowed. “What bit you?”

Fern scooted away. “A werecat.” She held up her bloody hand. Robiel’s idea came back to her. “Robiel said maybe a werewolf bite could counteract it.”

Thorne lifted a hand and scratched his ear. “It’s a long shot.  It works on vamp bites but they turn into werewolves. No one knows what happens to a half-breed bitten by both shifter species.” He knelt by the bars. “Stick your hand through. I’ll be gentle as I can.” A shudder tore through Thorne. Fur flowed from his head to tail and grew over his leather vest. Soon, a gray wolf the size of Robiel’s dog stood in front of her.

Fern huddled against the bars on the other side of the cell, as far away from Thorne as she could get. Though Thorne’s fur was gray, not brown like Mitch’s, that bloody night came back to her.

Thorne stood still, completely in control, not a raging monster. “It’s okay.” Even though he’d shifted forms, Thorne’s words came out clearly. “Hold out your arm.”

Fern shook her head. “Maybe the cat bite won’t make me turn. It’s only a scratch.” 

“It will,” Thorne said. “The guy I bit only had two tooth marks, but he turned within hours.”

Tears blurred Fern’s vision. “What if I kill someone?” Thorne was a pureblood, a werewolf born that way. If Fern shifted, she’d be a halfblood like Mitch.

Thorne pressed his huge head against the bars. “If you turn, I’ll do everything I can to be there for you. You won’t be alone. I’ll help you through it. I won’t let you hurt anyone.”

God, please give me wisdom. What choice did she have? If there was any chance this would cure her, she had to take it. She scooted to the bars and put her arm through. She closed her eyes.

Thorne’s teeth sank into her flesh.

Fern cried out and pulled away. Four holes from his canine teeth had punctured her arm. Blood dripped from the holes and mingled with the drying blood on her hand.

Thorne shifted back to human form just as Barry burst through the door. “Is he hurting you?” He held a blanket in one hand and a pistol in the other.

Fern shook her head and clutched her bleeding arm to her chest. “I’m okay.”

Barry glared at Thorne as he approached. He shoved the blanket through the bars. “You don’t look okay.”

Fern took the blanket. “I’m fine.” She prayed Barry would leave.

Barry glared at Thorne. “You do anything to that little girl, and I’ll shoot you where you stand. This gun’s loaded with silver, you know.”

“I’m no animal,” Thorne growled.

Barry glared at Thorn for a couple minutes, then turned to Fern. “I’m really sorry about what happened,” he said, then turned and left the room.

“How did this happen?” Thorne asked.

Fern told Thorne about the riders taking Ash.

 “Fort Roland,” Thorne barked. “I didn’t realize they’d come this far south. They must have heard about you two.” He paced. Even in human form, he looked like a caged animal.

“Robiel will find a way to get you out.” What about her though? Thorne had it easy. Once he went free, he’d be able to survive. Werewolves could kill any vamp they encountered, but a half-breed girl? She’d be ripped to pieces the second she set foot in the forest, and if she did survive, she’d be the one ripping people apart. Fern shrank back against the cell wall. The best place for her was here, caged where she’d be unable to hurt anyone when she shifted. 

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Kidnapped: Part 2

Read Kidnapped: Part 1

fern fight

Ash cut off a grape shoot. “Why are you so against being a scout?” He tossed the shoot away and cut another one.

“I’d rather stay.” Fern trimmed her own vine. “It’s exciting out there, but we’d probably get eaten, or worse, bitten by some sort of monster.”

Ash snipped another shoot with his shears. “At least your hair’s blonde. I stick out like a sore thumb here.” He gazed toward the forest, where Nelgen stood guard. “Out there, no one would care about our parentage. Besides, I hear werewolves and werecats don’t normally bite people. I mean, Thorne got exiled for it.”

“One bit Mitch,” Fern snapped. Wasn’t that proof enough for Ash? Then again, he hadn’t been there when Mitch ripped Violet apart. Fern glanced at the dark forest. Being here in the gardens was as far from Refuge as Fern wanted to be. Out here, no wall stood between the humans and the forest.

“Thorne’s not like Mitch.” Ash eyed the forest. “He came here looking for help, and we locked him up. He has plenty of reason to want us dead, but he hasn’t attacked anyone.”

Fern glanced at Nelgen. He cradled a rifle and scanned the forest surrounding Refuge. Though the forest was technically part of Refuge’s territory, no civilians ever went farther than the edge. Bandits, werewolves, and even vamps hunted in the dark places.

Ash clipped off a few more tendrils. “Let’s hurry. Maybe Robiel’s still talking about Fort Roland.”

More than likely, Robiel had finished discussing the fort and moved on to talk of trading. The trading talk was always boring. Robiel would go on and on about how one random town had a shortage of corn, while another had too many sheep. The most exciting thing would be if Robiel found a stash of silver or something else that had been hoarded before the vamp apocalypse.

Fern went back to trimming grape vines as the sun rose to its peak.

“The humans hate us.” Ash shot a glare at Nelgen, who seemed more interested in the twins than the forest. Why couldn’t Nelgen have guarded the people planting potatoes in the other field? Had he just wanted to annoy Ash and Fern?

“Some people like us,” Fern said.

“Those loser boys want you because you’re different,” Ash snapped. “They’re not real friends. They just think you’d look pretty hanging on their arms.”

Nelgen stepped off the mound of dirt and walked to the nearest trees. Fern looked away. The last thing she wanted to see was a guard relieving himself. She went back to trimming the vines.

Something large, probably horses, crashed through the forest. Fern looked up.

A trio of horses charged past the edge of the fields and between the rows of grapes. They loped straight toward Fern and Ash.

“Run!” Ash shoved Fern toward the walls of Refuge.

A rider on a red horse cut them off.

“Help!” Fern shouted.

Ash charged the rider, his tiny sheers raised like a weapon.

A huge tawny werecat burst from the trees, leaped over a grape arbor, and pounced on Fern.

Fern punched the werecat in the nose.

It roared.

Fern punched it again, landing a blow on the werecat’s lips and teeth.

A gunshot rent the air. The werecat stumbled off Fern, then ran. Another bullet slammed into it, and the feline fell in a heap. 

One of the riders swung off his horse and fired in the direction of Refuge. The other two bolted. One of them had Ash slung over the saddle.

Fern leaped to her feet as the last rider, the one who had shot at the wall, climbed back onto his horse and raced after the other two.

The riders bolted into the forest and out of sight.

Guards raced through Refuge’s gates and into the open fields. More guards and gardeners ran from one of the other fields.

Where was Mom? Fern searched for the telltale blonde hair her mother sported. Finally, she spotted her mother stumbling through the field. One of the girls held her arm.

Fern raced to Mom. “They took Ash.”

“Are you okay?” Mom’s cloudy eyes gazed past Fern.

“Everyone inside,” a guard shouted. “Now!”

Fern grabbed her mother’s arm. “This way.”

The guards herded them through the gates and into Refuge.

Two guards dragged Robiel through the gates ahead of Fern.

Once they were through the gates, Fern shepherded her mother to Robiel. The guards had eased him to the ground. Blood stained one shirtsleeve.

“What happened?” Fern asked the nearest guard.

Robiel propped himself up on his good elbow. “Got shot in the arm and fell off the wall. My ankle’s in a bad way. The arm’s just grazed.”

“He was trying to get a good shot on that cat,” the guard said.

Fern knelt by Robiel. Her knees shook too much to keep standing. What was wrong with her? Robiel had never gotten this shaken up because of action.

“Are you okay? Did it bite you?” Robiel asked.

Blood dripped from Fern’s hand. She must have sliced her hand open on the werecat’s teeth.

Kidnapped: Part 3

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Kidnapped: Part 1

 

Thorne cagedFern peered over the ramshackle wall that surrounded the town of Refuge. A couple deteriorating buildings from before the apocalypse pierced the dense forest horizon.

“That must be Uncle Robiel.” Ash leaned over the wall, his hand shading his eyes.

Below the buildings, a rider and packhorse trotted down the road while a dog the size of a small bear ran beside them. This incoming scout had to be Robiel. Only he had a diredog, and the horses were both duns. Good thing they’d made it before sunset. Then again, Robiel didn’t fear the night or the dangers that came with it. He’d probably shot dozens of vamps and likely a few werewolves too. Contrary to old legend, lead bullets worked just fine.

Fern leaned over the wall and waved at Robiel. He waved back at the twins as he pulled his horse to a stop at the gate.

Below them, the gates swung open with a screech of metal. Robiel rode through, his monster of a dog at his side and the packhorse trotting behind.

Fern turned to go down the stairs and nearly bumped into one of the guards. “Watch where you’re going, elf.”

Ash bounded to her side, his silver eyes reflecting the fire of the setting sun. “Touch my sister, and I’ll feed you to the werewolf.” 

The guard backed off. “You’re only allowed on the wall during your shift. No spectators allowed.”

“We’re going,” Fern snapped. Fern and Ash ran down the stairs and to Robiel. 

He dismounted and hugged them both. “You’ve grown.” He released them from his embrace. “Still interested in becoming a scout?” he asked Ash. “You two are what now, fifteen?”

“Sixteen.” Ash smiled. “We had some excitement of our own.”

Robiel’s tan eyebrows shot up. “You’ll have to tell me about it.” He glanced at the people of Refuge, who streamed from their homes to surround Robiel. They’d want news, especially from Robiel, one of the rare scouts who met with the werewolf packs living outside Refuge’s walls.

Robiel led his horse toward the stables. “Talk as we walk.”

Fern hurried after the fast-moving scout. “A couple days ago, the guards caught a werewolf poking around when we were weeding the gardens.”

Robiel’s copper eyes widened. “Did he bite anyone?”

“Nope.” Ash ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up in silver spikes like werewolf fur. “He surrendered without a fight. He said he wanted to talk to a scout. It was nothing like the last time, but I think this one’s pureblood. He barely looks human.”

Robiel opened the door to the stable. “I’ll check it out after I get the horses unsaddled.”

His dog trotted toward the stables, her tail curled over her back.

The crowd gave the huge beast a wide berth. Fern couldn’t blame them. The thing was bigger than any wolf or normal dog.

“Is there any news?” a man in the crowd shouted.

“I heard an airplane last month.” Robiel walked into the stables and closed the doors, locking the twins and the crowd out.

“We should tell Barry that Robiel’s coming to look at the wolf,” Ash said. 

All Ash wanted was an excuse to get another look at the werewolf. “Do you think werewolf bites would turn us?” Fern asked. A vision of the gore-covered wolf from last year entered her mind.

Ash shrugged. “No idea. The way I see it, we have to avoid werewolves and werecats. There’s no telling which one would turn us into something.” Ash began jogging. “Keep up.”

Fern and Ash ran to the jail and stepped through the doorway.

Barry sat with his feet on his desk and an old hat pulled over his eyes. His lamp stood dark. The town only allowed electricity use at night.

Fern held her finger to her lips. She crept to Barry’s side and took a deep breath then threw back her head and howled, as loudly as she could.

Barry’s hands flailed, and his chair tipped. 

Ash grabbed Barry’s arm, saving him from a nasty fall.

Barry climbed to his feet and grabbed his hat. He jammed it over his balding head and brushed himself off. “What are you two kids doing here? The other kids hassling you again? You’re getting a bit old to hide here. Besides, I’m not letting you see the werewolf. He’s off limits unless you get arrested.”

Ash glanced toward a door in the back of the room that led to the cells. “Robiel’s going to check him out.”

“So Robiel’s finally here.” Barry rubbed his wrinkled face. “Only advantage of having that wolf around is that no one wants to get tossed in a cell next to it. We haven’t had any drunks since it showed up.”

Robiel stepped through the open door, his thick build blocking most of the light. “I came to see the wolf.”

“He’s in the back.” Barry grabbed the keys and paused. “Eva might not want her kids back there, ‘specially after the incident last year.”

“My sister can’t shelter them forever. This isn’t the place for half-breeds. They’ll have to leave someday.” Robiel glanced at Fern as he spoke. 

Fern flinched away. Maybe Nelgen and the others were a pain, but it was better than getting ripped apart in the forest. If the vamps didn’t get her, the werewolves would.

“The wild’s no place for kids,” Barry snapped, echoing her thoughts.

Robiel strode past Barry and into the back of the jail. “I was raised there. It’s not as bad as you’d think.”

Ash nodded in agreement.

Fern and Ash followed Robiel into the back room where the prisoners were kept. Fern stayed behind Ash.

Two cells stood against the back wall. A tiny barred window sat in the wall. In the right one, a prisoner sat on a bench. The darkness of the prison almost hid him from view.

He stood and stretched then walked to the bars, his leather moccasins silent on the hard floor. The light shining through the window hit the man’s face, exposing golden eyes. Two deep scars on both sides of his left eye ran down his face. Judging by the lack of wrinkles, he couldn’t have been any older than thirty, though the gray fur, which stuck up where human hair normally grew, made him appear older. With only a leather vest and pants, his muscular physique stood out. 

Fern’s heart pounded, though this werewolf looked nothing like Mitch. Mitch had been fully human before he turned into a rabid monster and ripped Violet apart.

Robiel strode to stand a foot from the prisoner, his own copper eyes betraying no fear. 

Ash hurried to Robiel’s side and stared at the werewolf. Fern stood behind Ash. Hopefully, the creature couldn’t spit on them. Would a drop of saliva on a scratch be enough to turn her into a raging monster? 

“What’s your name?” Robiel asked.

“Thorne of the Valley Pack, led by Frost,” the werewolf said.

Robiel nodded. “I know those are outcast scars.”

If this was an outcast, he could be even more dangerous than first assumed. The only thing worse than being marked an outcast was a death sentence, so this guy had to have done something bad. There was no telling what he could do if he escaped.

Thorne met Robiel’s gaze. “Last full moon, an airplane crashed. When I pulled the human out, my teeth broke his skin. He shifted. It saved his life. Officially, Frost exiled me for biting a human, but he really did it because I was a threat.” The werewolf’s words were soft but carried a slight accent. Thorne growled, making Fern flinch. “That’s not why I came here. After I left, I tried to go to the mountain pack, the one northeast of us. The adults had been shot. The pups were all gone, and human scent clung to the den area.”

Robiel stiffened. “Did you find any sign of them?”

Thorne shuddered. “I followed the scents to Fort Roland, the one with the stone walls that’s built like a castle. When the wind died down, I heard tortured howls. I couldn’t do anything, not when they’d taken a whole pack, but I stuck around for a couple days. I found a woman who’d been turned into a werewolf recently. She was enraged, drugged up on wolfsbane and pierced by silver. I tried to reason with her, but she attacked me. I was forced to kill her.” Thorne looked away, like killing a tortured monster bothered him. “I don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s evil.”

Fern shuddered, her mind flashing back to the gunshots, the silver bullets that cut through the killer that had been Mitch.

Robiel nodded. “I’ll talk to the mayor and see if I can get you released into my custody.”

Thorne’s fur stood on end. “If you can’t get me out, you need to warn Frost’s pack. My mate and pups are there.”

“I’ll head that way in a couple days. Refuge won’t interfere in werewolf issues, but I’m outside everyone’s jurisdiction.” Robiel left Thorne and walked out of the back room and into the office, Ash and Fern at his heels.

“What are you going to do about that thing?” Barry demanded.

“I think he’s safe. His story matches up with what I’d heard about a plane.” Robiel spoke like the situation was no big deal. “It’s the news he brought that worries me.”

“Can’t you do anything?” Ash demanded. “You’re a scout.”

“Refuge won’t go to war with Roland over a few dead werewolves,” Robiel said.

“What about Frost? All you’d have to do is shoot him.” Ash’s eyes blazed.

“I shoot him, and that pack’s territory will turn into a bloodbath as the remaining werewolves fight for dominance.” His words carried nearly as much of a growl as Thorne’s had. Robiel headed for the door. “I’ll give the mayor my report tomorrow morning, and I’ll mention Roland. You two probably have work.”

“Trimming grapes,” Ash grumbled. “I’d rather hear what you’ve got to say.”

Kidnapped: Part 2

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Cold Snowy Night

This was a little Christmas story I wrote a few years back. It’s set in Country in Chaos’s universe.

cabin-2972634_640

A golden glow shined through the blizzard.

Alexei paused. People, this far out in the Canadian wilderness? He squinted against the bite of the snow and cold. If they spotted him, they’d probably shoot him.

The wind bit through his worn pilot’s uniform.

Alexei shivered. Getting shot would be faster than watching his fingers turn black and fall off. He resumed wading through the snow, his head down.

Finally, a small log cabin loomed out of the blackness of the blizzard.

A dog barked. It bounded through the snow toward him.

Alexi touched the pistol at his belt.

The dog wagged its tail and sniffed Alexei’s legs. He relaxed. Just a pet, not a guard animal.

The cabin’s door swung open. Light streamed out, illuminating the blizzard. A man stood in the doorway, a shotgun in his hands.

Alexei lifted his hands. “I mean you no harm.” How strong was his Russian accent? Strong enough to cause trouble?

The man kept the shotgun aimed at the step. “What are you doing out here?” Judging by his voice and white beard, he had to be past fifty.

“Freezing,” Alexei said.

The man laughed and stepped out of the doorway. “Get in here, boy. My wife’s starting supper.”

Alexei climbed onto the step and brushed as much snow off his clothes as he could. He stepped through the door and into the blessed warmth of the cabin.

The dog darted past him and curled up near the fireplace, which gave most of the light in the little room. A few solar-powered lanterns hung from the rafters of the cabin.

The man’s wife, a plump woman with graying hair, pulled a pot from the fireplace. “Who is this?”

“I am Alexei.” He pulled his wet boots off, then his damp socks.

“I’m Joe and this is Mary,” the man said. “Make yourself comfortable. We’ve got stew on the fire.”

Alexei sat at the table. “Thanks.”

Joe leaned the shotgun against the table and sat. “How’d you get this far inland?”

Alexei squinted. “Inland? I got shot down over the United States. I’ve been walking for months.”

“You mean you’re not from Alaska? You’re one of the guys who got shot down when things went to heck?”

Hope flared in Alexei’s chest. “Are there Russians in Alaska?”

Joe laughed. “Kid, they’ve been there for months. Canada won’t do a thing about it, not after what you and your pals dropped on the States. The officials here just keep screaming their heads off, but they won’t poke a bear.”

“Why are you helping me?” Alexei examined the small cabin. A radio, the kind that could transmit signals as well as receive them, sat in the window.

“You’d freeze out there,” Joe said.

Alexei eyed the radio. If the family wanted, they could call the Canadians. His country didn’t even know he’d survived.

Joe leaned back. “Relax, kid. I’m not going to turn you in, not when you showed up Christmas Eve.”

“Thank you,” Alexei said. Nothing said, “Peace on Earth” like dozens of soldiers coming to drag him to some detention camp. “I had no idea it was Christmas. I apologize for not climbing down the chimney with presents.”

Joe laughed. “I like you, kid. Tell you what, when the weather lifts, I’ll get my plane and fly you to Alaska, or at least the border. It’ll be my Christmas gift to you.”

Alexei smiled. He was going home, home after he’d almost given up on survival. Lord, thank you.

 

Merry Christmas!

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