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A Wayward Dragon In Little Whinging 7

SCENE 7

“Shit, what is it? What’s wrong?”

I fight the cold terror clawing up my chest as I watch Voldemort torture the remaining life out of what is no longer anything recognizable as human. The terror unfortunately claws back. I grab the offender, hissing when my wrist is twisted and pinned to the floor.

“Potter, snap the fuck out of it!”

“Shit—What the fuck?” I yelp, very much awake, my shoulder stinging from where Malfoy smacked me.

“You were screaming. I thought you were being murdered.” He releases my wrist to cover his face with his hands. He’s crouched on the floor, feet just brushing my right hip as he sits back and slumps against the side of the bed. “Fuck, you scared the fucking life out of me. Fuck.”

Blinking at his dim features in the warm glow of the night light, I relax back to the floor, letting the fear slowly drain from my body as I try to collect my wits. “Sorry. I don’t sleep much. He… he likes to pump visions into my brain when my guard is down.”

Pushing his bangs back from his face and gripping his hair, Draco sighs another weary sigh. “What the fuck does that even mean?”

“Snakeface. He uses my scar to feed shit into my head.” Once the words are out of my mouth, I immediately wish I could take them back. Malfoy’s spent a lifetime finding out anything he can about me and twisting it to sound the worst among our peers. I really shouldn’t be handing him information where it’s clear I’m fucking crazy.

“You’re telling me You-Know-Who tortures you in your sleep? Every night?”

Fuck, he sounds scared. “Yes. But It’s not me. It’s other people he’s hurting.”

“Real people? Did you see… Did he show you stuff he’s doing this very night?”

God, I’m like the biggest ass. “I don’t know. I didn’t see your mom, if that’s what you’re wondering. Or your dad.”

It is, and he gives another heavy sigh, rubbing his temples, his hair a perfect mess. His legs seem extra long from this angle, his calves strong, thighs muscular.

“Sorry I woke you. I’m used to having silencing spells for when I’m in the dorm.”

“Shit, don’t your relatives say anything?” He fans his fingers out over his face, eyes meeting mine through the opening. “How are they not knocking down the door right now to make sure you’re okay?”

Yeah, he’s more than a little naïve. “They don’t care, Malfoy. They all wear earplugs so they don’t have to hear me. They’re probably hoping one day they’re going to wake up and I’ll really be dead. Go to bed and stop asking so many damn questions.”

“Damn, you’re a surly bastard. Are you going to be pissed off at me the whole time?”

Probably. He’s hot as fuck, in my personal space, and I can’t touch him. Yeah, I’m going to be fucking grumpy as hell. “Go to bed.”

“It’s lumpy.”

Petulant prat. “What, you want to sleep on the floor?”

“Maybe.”

I open my eyes, finding him biting his lip while studying my face. “You freaked?”

He nods, another sigh escaping him. “Will you just… just talk to me for a bit? My heart is racing and the night just feels alive with terrible things right now and I keep wondering about my parents and if they’re…”

I hold up my hand, my arm feeling heavy with sleep. “I get it. But let’s talk about something that’s going to calm you down, not freak you out more.”

“Kay… What do you want to talk about?”

“Nothing, I want to go back to sleep,” I say bluntly. “You pick.”

“Oh. Alright.” He tilts his head back on the side of the bed, closing his eyes, arms resting on his knees. I close my eyes, hoping he’ll talk himself to sleep without needing me to answer. I don’t get much sleep, pretty much ever, and my body fights for it when it’s available.

“Tell me about your boyfriend.”

I snort sleepily. Fucking prat just won’t let it die. “Paul’s not my boyfriend. I don’t think we’ve ever had a full conversation.”

“Oh… So do you do that with a lot of guys? Just, what, casually…”

“If you’re asking if I’m a slut, no. I’m very selective in who I let touch me.”

“Can’t really tell… Unless you like ruffians covered in tats and piercings. You probably do. You have terrible taste in lots of other things as well.”

Probably. Compared to him, I’m always a mess. “Fine. You tell me what kind of guy I should like.”

“Hmm… That’s a good one. Well, for starters, someone you want to actually talk to. A wizard, naturally.”

“Nope.”

“No? You have to date a wizard, Potter, you can’t just date some clueless muggle. What the hell are they going to say when you start sparking in the middle of the night, screaming about all the blood?”

That makes me open my eyes. “I was sparking?”

He nods, blinking at me sleepily. “Green. Scared the shit out of me. You can’t do that to a muggle. It’s plain cruel.”

It’s really difficult to look away from his face. When he’s tired, his guard is down. Nearly sweet looking. “I’ll sleep in a different room. Wouldn’t be right to put anyone through that.”

“That’s dumb. You’d have to walk all the way to the other room just to be cuddled. Or you’d make him have to walk all the way to you through the dark to check up on you.”

Like I want to be cuddled? “Not if I put up a silencing spell. He’ll never know I’m—”

“You’re messed up. Why the hell wouldn’t you want your boyfriend to wake you up and hold you after dreaming fucking terrible things in your sleep? Why the hell do you always want to be alone all the time? I’m always alone when I come home for the summer, and I hate it. People make things better. Alive.”

The sound of his voice is lulling me to sleep, but it’s a question I really can’t ignore. “Life is pain… The less pain at this point, the better.”

He’s quiet. I think I may have fallen asleep because when he does speak, it seems far away. “How long have you been having those nightmares?”

“Long… Three years… Four.”

“That’s fucked up, Potter.”

It sucks, that’s for sure.

My silent reply is completely ignored. “You need to date someone that won’t let you be alone.”

I like being alone.

“Someone that can challenge you. Not just feel you up in some crowded room. You can totally do better,” he mutters.

I don’t want to do better.

“Someone that can appreciate just how much you sacrifice… Really, you give too much. All the time… and you won’t ever accept anything in return… I mean, the world is waiting for you to either win or die at his hands, and you sleep on a lumpy mattress. Tonight the floor, for someone you can’t stand.”

I can stand him… I really can.

“You let me rip on your shitty boyfriend and your stuff and your hair… and pretty much anything that pops in my head at the time cus I just have to fucking talk so I don’t think about shit. And you still sleep on the fucking floor even though you get terrible nightmares and probably can’t sleep even more… You even got me that light that probably keeps you up… Hell, me talking probably keeps you up… You’re fucking amazing. Seriously.”

I’m pretty sure I’m asleep. His hand on my cheek feels cool, fingers brushing lightly over my features. A thumb presses into my scar, running up the length of it and then slowly down, repeating in slow swipes.

“Sweet dreams, Harry.”

Yeah, I’m definitely dreaming.

Demon Bonded: Episode 11: S6

DEMON BONDED

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EPISODE 11: SCENE 6

Ky and Mag return to the bedroom to find Lov and Feral have only grown more crazed with lust from their energy in the bathroom. Mag wants to go to them but holds himself back. Ky tries to be a bridge, but is afraid he’s making things worse. He fucks everything up.

Ky is becoming drawn in, wanting, needing, but is jolted back to reality when Lovely reaches for Mag, his eyes glowing. No! Quickly steps between the two, angry at Mag. He’s not a toy. Tell me you know that they aren’t fucking playthings.

Mag is confused, hurt by Ky’s reaction. He can’t explain himself. Feral is the voice of reason as he gently touches Ky’s arm. You don’t know what you’re asking of him, whelp. It’s his very nature. It is our nature. He feeds us. He is designed to feed a village the same way an overseer can birth just as many. His kind keep us alive when there is nothing else to feed from. They’re treasures in a harsh world. You are a treasure.

Ky, who is lost in his change, starving, confused, is on the verge of breaking down. He keeps fucking it up. He doesn’t understand anything.

Why would you? Why would you know any of this? Feral is blunt. Do you even understand how long we have lived far from our realm? We barely remember who we used to be. Why should you know it as well? You have only know what you were.

I don’t know… I don’t know what I’m becoming. I don’t know why I feel like this, why I’m breaking at every fucking turn. I’m hungry. I’m so fucking hungry but I don’t want food. The last thing I ate was Tobias and I can’t ever eat again. Tomorrow—I’m going to fuck it up. I’m already falling apart and I can’t do it. I can’t protect you.

Mag is the one who grabs Ky’s shoulder and pulls him toward him. You ‘ate’ him?

Ky nods, his expression growing grim. He owned the other wand. He was going to kill Brave. I… I let them kill him. They fed me pieces of him and… he trails off, watching as Mag, with a serious expression, reaches up and carefully pulls one of the dark piercings from his ear.

Feral speaks to Ky while watching as well. You have killed in defense of your clan. You have protected your bonded and taken a life. You have eaten the flesh of the dead to honor the life you took and the ones you saved. You have earned your mark—find a better word.

Ky is confused, feeling the weight of the three. They seemed so serious, like it was a ritual. For murder? For cannibalism?

Lovely steps up, a claw outstretched. He pierces the outer edge of Ky’s ear, quick to slip the dark metal in place before he can heal. We are all energy. Everything we feed from, we give back. We consume those who die so they live on with us, immortal in our bodies.

It was almost a relief to realize nothing he did was ever going to be right. He goes to Lovely, who is currently dazed and loopy, and pulls him up. Asks him if he likes it, being so hot, so turned on. Lov does, he always does. Even through the worst, pleasure has been a reminder that nothing can break him.

The coven is tomorrow but Lovely, Feral, even Mag need Ky to learn something first. If he’s strong enough. He needs his markings. He’s had his first kill, and it must be honored.

Piercing ritual.

Ky goes to bed with all three in bed, Mag sitting, Feral fucked out, and Lov purring and content. Ky worries, wondering in how many ways he’ll fail them all by the time he’s done.

Sorcerer Slayer S57

SCENE FIFTY-SEVEN

“Justin!” Fox screamed when he felt his friend’s energy disappear. He quickly scrambled over the massive ox who was trying to beat the fuck out of him with his hooves. Fox made sure to slash his claws deep into the animal’s back before he pushed off. He snarled when his tail was caught and wrenched so hard, he saw flashes of light behind his eyes.

His glamors had dropped minutes into the fight and the condescending laughter evoked from seeing him with fluffy ears and tail turned out to be a perfect distraction. These fuckers were used to intimidating and getting everything they wanted without a fight. Shifters at the Academy knew better. It didn’t matter if it was a crazy-ass alpha lion or a sorcerer with impossible power; respect was earned, not given. No one was just going to give away their life.

Fox snarled as he turned back and sank teeth into the ox’s muscular neck while avoiding his deadly horns. He clamped down and tore as best he could with a jaw too weak in his human form even if his teeth were razor sharp. The shifter roared from the pain and bucked his entire massive body. It was like being thrown from the top of a van. Fox tumbled and rolled on the pavement. He recovered as pain stung his palms and hips, and twisted to land as gracefully as possible given the momentum.

Fox’s head pounded from a blow he couldn’t fully remember beyond the blood dripping into his eye. He whined when he found Justin a few feet away, crumpled on the ground in the slush. His jacket was still smoking black fumes from where the spell hit him square in the chest. Justin’s face was impossibly pale and as Fox peered closer, he was consumed with a terrible fear he was dead even though he could hear him breathing.

“Oh, is he done playing? The dumb puppy couldn’t even figure out how to fetch.”

Fox pulled his gaze from Justin’s face to glare. It was the stupid gray fucker.

Malek met his gaze and smirked unapologetically. He crooked his finger tipped with a glowing claw and beckoned him closer. “Come on, little fox. I’ve got things I need to do today.”

Fox held back and his mind raced as he tried to think of his options. There were few. He lifted Justin up under his armpits and straightened. He kept his eyes tight on Malek while he listened to the sounds of Leo fighting the other two. Fox had managed to slash Seth’s eyes before the ox charged at him and none of them seemed to have the ability to heal. If they could pick these freaks off one by one, they might just fucking survive.

Justin was dead weight in his arms and they were too far away from the entrance of the alley to get him to a place free of fighting. Fox knew he couldn’t leave him; these freaks would either finish Justin off like they promised, or steal him away to do shit he didn’t even want to think about. “Justin, I really need you to wake the fuck up,” he growled hoarsely. He tried to keep the anxiety out of his voice as Malek raised an eyebrow at him. Freaking the fuck out wasn’t going to do shit right now. Even if that crazy fucker was staring him down like he was thinking about skinning him and wearing him like a coat.

There was something fucking deranged about Malek and it only made everything feel so much more dire. This guy was going to kill them. Kill them, steal Forest and Raider, and once he got bored with them, come back and hunt down everyone who was at the Academy. No, there was no running from this. If they failed now, they would be failing everyone.

Malek combed a long lock of hair back from where it was wrapped around his shoulder. It was silvery blue-gray streaked with black and white patterns reminiscent of a tabby cat. His glamors had started to fall after a few blows, but only the ones on his hair. It was a sign of his power. Even in the middle of a brawl, he could still keep up his facade of human. “Should I come to you?” he asked when Fox continued to stare at him warily. “Are you out of silly tricks already?”

Fox bared his teeth and clutched Justin closer to his chest. “What’s the matter, kitty kitty? Did your shifter pack kick you out for being an asshole?”

Malek inhaled sharply the same moment a strange pulse of red light lit around him for a moment. “I believe we have established my superiority to you lowly animal hybrids. But if you insist, you can drop your little werewolf shield and fight me like the beast you are.”

There was no way Fox was going to leave Justin undefended. “I think you’re full of shit. You’re a shifter just like us and you’re too pussy to admit it. Literally, he said with a smirk that didn’t reach his eyes. “You’re a cat. A cute little kitty cat who’s too afraid to show it.” Fox narrowed his eyes as red light again flashed for a moment on Malek’s skin. “Only a cat shifter would get sucked into Forest’s heat. You’re just like that stupid ox; a traitor to your kind. Is that why you want to see us dead? So you won’t have to face all the shifters like you whose lives you’ve fucked up?”

“We are nothing alike!” The light pulsed again, and Malek’s expression twisted into something that could only be described as tormented. He twitched violently and hunched forward as a vicious hiss fell from his lips. His clawed hands suddenly reached for his chest and tore at his flesh like he was trying to rip something free.

Fox licked one of his fangs and grinned savagely at the display. He knew this game; he played a tame version of it with Vince all the time. It didn’t matter how strong, how powerful, how fucking untouchable someone seemed. If you could find their weakness, you could break them from the inside out. Grown men became powerless children who could only rage and scream in frustration. You didn’t have to bust through a spell when you could just annoy the fuck out of a sorcerer until he couldn’t focus enough to cast.

Fox shifted Justin in his arms and touched his palms together. For a moment he was back in Master Howld’s class with Theodore’s ever watching glare observing as he raised his power up. He battled with his focus all the damn time. The sky could collapse around him and it wouldn’t be able to shake him. Well, just so long as Vincent wasn’t there to distract the fuck out of him.

Vincent might just be his personal weakness.

Before Malek could regain his composure, Fox focused his power and shot it at the hissing man. It exploded feet away when Fox’s power hit an unseen barrier. “Fuck!” Fox ducked and turned so his body would shield Justin as debris rained down in a shower of sparks and broken wooden pallets.

Fox peeked over his shoulder and groaned in dismay when he found Malek still pulsing with weird red and blue light and completely unaffected by the blast. They were so fucked. He turned back to Justin and his breath hitched when he watched a bruise on the werewolf’s cheek suddenly heal before his eyes. It would have filled him with hope if Justin was also conscious. Fox had no idea what the spell did to him and Justin’s healing abilities might not be quick enough.

Malek gave a final angry hiss. Blood streamed down his chest, not from Fox’s explosion but from the wounds he inflicted on himself. There was something broken in the man, best seen by the way his face kept twitching like he was battling something no one else could see.

“I can make this quick for you. Nearly painless.” Malek fixed his eyes on Fox, which were now a wild looking violet with narrow, sharp pupils. “I’ll slice that delicate neck of yours with my claws and you won’t have to wonder just what will happen to your pretty little kitten.”

Fox growled warningly. When he stood, he left Justin on the ground so he could have his hands free. “You’re fucking sick, man. What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Wrong? Only the weak get angry at the strong.” Malek tilted his head, his grin wide and full of vicious teeth. With a wave of his hand, his glamors unwound from his body. Fox felt the animal inside him bristle at the sight of the gray man unmasked. No, a shifter Malek was not.

He was humanoid, towered tall, and was covered from head to toe in a fine, soft down of gray fur. Horns sprouted from his head and twisted back elegantly. They were the same blue-gray of his fur, as were his feathery gray wings patterned with white striations. His hair draped like a waterfall down his back to tickle at his ankles. His tail was furry and long with rings of black to pattern the end. When Fox followed down, he found his shoes were just as fake. Malek was barefoot, his fur covered feet shaped strangely. His heel held some sort of extra claw and his arch was exaggerated. On the soles of his feet and hands were dark pads, and where his fingernails should be were glowing blades of power.

He was still as gray as before but now instead of one tone, it was clear he was many shades. His only color came from the crazed derangement of his periwinkle eyes and the blue glow on his skin. Silver flashed from the sparkles of piercings hidden in his fur that dotted his eyebrow, lower lip and the edges of his long, elf-like ears. Black patterned Malek’s fur in tabby stripes on his arms, back and face while something else glowed in jagged rune symbols on his skin. They were the source of the light pulses and they were flickering even now as they turned from blue to red to blue again.

Fox swallowed hard when he realized the marks were cut into Malek’s flesh. His fur was burned away to reveal the glow and the flesh scarred to keep from growing back. On his chest was the largest rune, this one currently dripping in blood from the man’s claws.

It was then, as Fox stared at the mutilation of this demon’s body in precise, ritualistic fashion he remembered Malek’s promise. He would only show him his true form right before he killed him.

Fox was not immune to fear, he was discovering. There was something primal in the dark recesses of his brain where his fox dwelt that recognized this Malek, recognized a predator of predators.

The want to flee was nearly as strong as the need to protect his pack. Fox ignored the shaking in his knees and held his ground. At his feet, Justin was laid out like some pale sacrifice. His wounds were slowly disappearing with each minute but he still showed no signs of waking. There was no way he would abandon him.

“You can’t expect to win against me.” Malek crouched forward. He was elegant, jagged angles with his wings outstretched and hair draped around him. He might have been some cat god with his crown of horns and beautiful face. His body was lithe, strong, and full of anticipation of the kill. When he spoke, his voice was smoky, seduction and death combined. “You’re just some weak, human halfbreed with enough magic to turn into your dumb, fuzzy form. I’m from a realm of pure magic. I bleed it. I sweat it. I can drain it from you with one little kiss if my master asks it of me. Run before you die, little fox.”

There was a blur of gold. “Leo, no!” Fox cried out when the lion leaped on top of Malek and knocked him to the ground in a spray of gray feathers. For a wild moment, Fox had the hope Leo might win. The giant lion had more weight, more size and pure bulk compared to the slender demon. The thought evaporated when the snarling battle on the ground suddenly exploded outward in a glow of magic and Leo was thrown head over paws. He hit the wall with a sickening thump of breaking bones and dull flesh.

Fuck. Fox’s pulse raced as Malek shook himself off. The demon smeared the copious blood flowing from his torn throat down his chest and stained his fur crimson. Fox could only hope Raider had gotten Forest the fuck away. Dying would be better than whatever these sick freaks wanted with his friends. He was certain.

Malek straightened and licked his blood coated claws. His tail whipped about his legs in agitation as he hissed at where Leo was still breathing. Fox wasn’t sure how long that would last; he had glimpsed raw bone where claws raked deep into Leo’s tawny fur. Malek’s eyes started to glow an unnatural light as he built his power up. The ox shifter, back in human form, rose to his feet like a puppet along with the sorcerer. They were both wounded and bleeding heavily, but the message was clear. Malek was strong enough for all of them. He might not be able to heal but he could just as nearly raise the dead. It was three against Fox and there were no null-collars or masters to keep someone from dealing a killing blow.

Fox always knew he’d die by a sorcerer’s hand just like his grandfather. He just kind of assumed it would be Vince’s.

He immediately began to focus his own power. It would never be enough, not against this fucked up cat demon, but he had to try. He stepped over Justin and angled himself so Leo was behind him as well. Fox was starting to feel his head wound; it was a nauseas rocking in his stomach that moved in a disturbing wave of heat through every inch of him. As his sight blurred for an instant, a thought struck him.

Vincent had taught him a trick, hadn’t he? Elemental magic. The alley was dim, the sunlight obstructed by clouds. There had to be moonshadow all around him. If he could focus enough on the stronger elemental power, he might be able to collapse the wall and slow these fuckers down.

Malek’s eyes glowed pure malevolence as Fox focused and pulled at the shadows in the alley. Fox reached out to Justin and Leo and twisted and flattened the moonshadow to cover their fallen forms. The element wrapped around them like a mirror. First it reflected the surroundings of the alley and grime, and then erased them from the space entirely. When Fox opened his eyes he found a spark of something new in the demon’s eyes.

“You might be worth keeping after all.” Malek tilted his head and flared his nostrils but Justin and Leo’s scent was gone from the area. “An interesting trick, fox. You might be of worth after all.”

Fox tried not to flinch at the thought of being in Forest’s place. “Thanks, but I’d rather be dead than part of whatever the fuck it is you’re doing. Shifters are big fans of being free.”

Malek’s gaze snapped back to his, and his runes pulsed with red power. The forms of Seth and Lawrence trembled and swayed as the demon’s face again spasmed. Fox had no idea what the fuck was wrong with the guy, but he had not problem using whatever advantage he could steal. While Malek hissed to himself, Fox twisted shadows into the bricks behind the three. As he did, he whispered under his breath. The words made it way easier to focus his intent and keep his power from exploding out.

There was a clattering of shoes on pavement from the direction of the alley behind him. “Cease!”

Fox didn’t dare move as Vincent’s voice rang out like thunder. The moonshadow crackled around him as it hid Justin and Leo, and he continued to weave all three of the enemies’ shadows into the bricks behind them. He kept his eyes fixed on Malek and tried not to feel the terror bubbling inside him at the thought of losing Vincent in this battle too.

Malek flicked a disinterested glance toward the mouth of the alley. His runes still glowed red but it didn’t stop him from raising his hand and his power with it. Fox felt the pulse as the air parted to the blow. He didn’t bother to shield himself, too focused on finishing his spell. He was thrown back by the force of Malek’s power even as the wall collapsed in a thundering waterfall of brick and mortar.

Fox had a disorienting moment of weightlessness and vertigo and then suddenly he stopped. He glanced down to find his feet hovering off the ground.

Dorian stepped up and pulled him down to the pavement. “What the hell is going on?”

It was hard to hear. Fox realized blearily his ears were shredded and blood was pooling into the openings. “They want to steal Forest,” he gritted out as pain began to register throughout his body. It was like every inch of him was flayed skin and bruised muscle. He did his best to ignore the burning throb and his heart raced as he turned back to the carnage. Justin and Leo were still on the ground, the two exposed and vulnerable with the moonshadow stripped. Fox’s camouflage had failed when Malek’s spell hit him.

Dorian’s gaze followed to where Fox was looking. With a flick of his finger Justin slid across the pavement to end up at their feet. Leo’s large, broken lion form swiftly followed in a streak of sickening blood. Dorian crouched and quickly checked for a pulse. He sighed in relief when Leo rumbled in weak protest.

Fox was too busy staring at Malek to feel any relief for the current condition of his pack. The demon was covered in dust from the fallen wall but had otherwise avoided it. The other two were buried in the heavy rubble. Fox had no idea if Dorian and Vincent could possible even the odds against such a monster and he was afraid of the consequences if they couldn’t.

“We ran by Forest and Raider when we got here. They’re fine.” Dorian’s eyes were also fixed on Malek, his expression void of emotion. “We felt you all the way in Orphic District.”

Fox was having a really hard time focusing. “You need to run. All of you. These fuckers are planning to kill us to get Forest. They want dragons,” he spat out as the rage hit him at the very idea. “They’re slavers.”

Vincent cursed so softly, Fox was certain he imagined it. He jumped when the bricks suddenly gave a shudder. Fox looked to Malek, certain he was going to throw the wall at them and uncover his friends at the same time. But Malek was pushed back along with the unconscious bodies of Seth and Lawrence. The brick wall raised back up in a wave of rubble and slammed with perfect precision around them. In an instant it molded and cuffed to their every wrist and ankle.

Vincent stepped forward to inspect the strength of the bonds. Malek hissed and the brick crumbled in a pulse of blue light around him. He slashed through the magic pushing him back and leaped forward to rake his glowing claws down Vincent’s face and upper torso.

Malek didn’t even get close. Vincent’s mouth moved impossibly fast as he spoke flashes of Latin. Spikes appeared out of the air and surrounded him in a shield. Malek tried to maneuver around them and twisted to avoid the points to reach Vincent’s flesh. The demon’s shoulder was caught on a spike and crimson blood billowed in the air.

Malek didn’t flinch. He surged forward to reach through Vincent’s guard to claw his eyes. Stone faced, Vincent spoke three clipped words and the spikes grew into thick spears and drove forward into the tall demon. Malek countered by throwing his hands up and pushing back with pure will. He screamed as one of the spears got past his defense and drove into the flesh of his side in a spray of blood.

“He’s going to kill him,” Fox whispered the same moment the realization struck. He watched as Vincent moved forward a step, and then another and Malek was pushed back by his power. The demon continued to desperately guard against the razor sharp spears intent on slashing him to bloody shreds of flesh.

“Vincent.” Dorian called. His gaze moved around the area and he threw extra bonds on the two men stuck on the brick wall as he approached. Vincent ignored him. His lips moved in a perfect, precise rhythm to cast another complicated spell. Behind Malek the concrete wall and boarded up windows shimmered and morphed. Jagged, vicious spikes grew and hardened until they looked as smooth and sharp as diamond.

“Damn it—Vincent!” Dorian yelled and shot a spark of magic at Vincent from the side, only to have one of the floating spears block it with ease. “Fuck. Get it the fuck together, Frost! You can’t go killing people on the damn fucking street!”

Malek struggled uselessly. He hissed and panted for breath while he fought against Vincent’s power. He dug his clawed feet into the pavement as he tried to prevent being pushed into the deadly spikes behind him. “Damn you, I will not die like this! Not to a human!”

“Die, sorcerer’s puppet.” Vincent’s voice was rough and alien as he raised his arms and pushed another force of power to uproot the demon and slam him back. With a growl, Dorian surged forward and slugged Vincent across the face.

Vincent fell silent, his head turned from the blow. His hands and spell remained steady. Malek was trapped less than an inch from the spikes. Each gasping breath the demon took was a threat to his life as it brought his body close to the points.

Vincent turned his glare slowly to Dorian as blood trickled down his lip. Dorian tried not to flinch under the pure malevolence in his eyes. This was his first time seeing Vincent fight and it was creepy as fuck.

“You can’t just fucking kill them, Frost.” Dorian tried again even though he wasn’t sure Vincent was reachable like this. “Bind the fucker. Let’s find out who the fuck they work for. If they’ve done this to other shifters and if we can rescue them.”

Vincent’s nostril’s flared as he looked back to the struggling Malek. “The only good thing to do with these kinds of monsters is kill them. You of all people should know that.”

“Should I?” Anger sparked in Dorian’s eyes. “Would you kill Christopher? Dante?”

Vincent blinked and confusion crossed his features. “Why would I…?”

“Because they’re demons!” Dorian threw up his hands in frustration. “I’m part demon, you fucktard. Are you going to kill me because you think I’m a monster just because of my blood?”

Vincent’s brows furrowed for a moment. He looked away from Dorian with a huff and his eyes fell on the streak of red on Malek’s ear. It was bleeding from where a spike caught the flesh. “It’s not demons I aim to kill. This one just happens to be a demon.”

“What? Damn it, don’t fucking kill him! You can see the markings!” Dorian’s gaze jumped from Malek to Vincent and without another word, he pushed his hands forward. Sparks jumped from his fingers as he built a pressure of magic to push Vincent away.

“Stop interfering!” Vincent snarled as he fought the new force. “His power feeds his master. I will kill him and strike the sorcerer controlling him.”

Dorian’s power might come from an unlimited source but he wasn’t able to safely let it out without fear of obliterating everyone. It was far too dangerous in such a highly populated city and Vincent had no problem exploiting this knowledge. He growled when Dorian tried to muscle him back. At Dorian’s gasp, Vincent stole the life force from his breath and turned it against him.

In a flash, Dorian was propelled away. He stumbled back and nearly tripped as he regained his balance. Before him a solid wall of frozen blades rose up and surrounded him as Vincent rattled off a dozen words of power. Dorian immediately blasted at the containing wall, but all it did was smooth where he struck, the material still inches thick.

“Fucker! That’s not reason enough to take a fucking life!” Dorian shouted as he slammed his fists down on the wall. “He’s bound to a master, Vincent! You know how these creatures are; they can’t take a fucking piss without being ordered. He’s covered in the binding runes that make him a slave!”

Sorcerer Slayer S54

SCENE FIFTY-FOUR

Raider came back to the world with his hand wrapped tightly around his glittering prize. He blearily took his surroundings. He was in the back of an alley surrounded by concrete, broken pallets of wood and smashed in windows. The sky was a cloudy gray above the tall sides of the buildings and did little to reveal how much time might have passed with him trapped by his raccoon. Slush was a wet puddle between the brick of the pavement. Raider stared at his knees where he was kneeling, his jeans soaked and skin scraped. He had no idea what happened, where he was or why his raccoon retreated.

Someone moved and Raider jerked his head up. There were two men, strangers, one gigantic and the other stern-faced but beautiful. They were dressed richly, like they just came from some high class dinner party in long sleek jackets and expensive slacks. Raider’s stared unblinking while his nostril’s scented for danger, only to gasp when his arm yanked sideways. He gaped and stared at the hand that held his and whimpered when he was dragged to his unsteady feet.

“Just what do we have here?”

Raider hissed without warning. It was an echo of his raccoon’s fear, brought to light now face to face with the man he stole his shiny prize from.

A man but not human. Some sort of paranormal. It was hard to tell just what he was because his face refused to stay still. He was definitely male, mid thirties… maybe. Raider blinked, his eyes focusing on the man’s clothing instead which was thankfully still. He was dressed nicely enough, if not for a completely different climate. The cold didn’t seem to touch him even though he was shirtless except for a gray vest. He was dressed in tailored charcoal slacks, an elaborately detailed belt and matching polished black boots. Heat burned from his flesh and Raider couldn’t help but stare. His skin was wrong. His hair and eyes…

“You’re gray,” Raider blurted. He wasn’t a normal gray, if that made sense. He was more an absence of color from his skin to hair to eyes. The longer Raider stared, the more he was sure this strange man was actually completely different than what he could see, like he was wrapped head to toe in a glamor. It was Raider’s first time seeing so much magic coat a person in such a way. Even the oddness of Will and Christopher seemed natural compared to the twisting of warped reality on every inch of this gray man.

“You see magic.” The stranger raised a sharply manicured eyebrow. “That could be interesting.”

He might have been Asian or maybe Native American. He might have had piercings through his eyebrows and lip, or maybe that was just cracks in his magic. His face shifted whenever Raider peered too close, the gray overlapping in strange moments of clear rainbow film. It wasn’t just his color; one moment he was impossibly tall, the other he was his height. And his hair; Raider wasn’t sure if it wrapped around him like a cloak or was trimmed tight to his scalp, if it was one color or strips of many shades like a long waterfall. Just looking at him made him dizzy, but at the same time it was impossible to look away.

Cat… Were his pupils like those of a cat?

Raider gasped when the gray man leaned close and peered right into his face. He smelled strange. Not human. Not anything. What the fuck was he?

“You’re not a dragon but you do have a shiny problem.” The stranger looked up and studied the top of Raider’s head. “And you’re glamored. Now why would you be glamored, little shifter?” Raider flinched back, unable to move away when he ducked down and sniffed at where his raccoon ears were hidden. “Mammal.”

His raccoon was terrified, wrapped in a trembling ball inside. He might not know what the gray man was but he was certain he was going to kill him. He was soaked in magic and smelled, well, kind of like a shifter but not. Kind of like magic but not normal magic. There was nothing about the gray man he could pinpoint and it left him even more unsettled and afraid. Nothing about him was completely real except the impossibly strong grip on his wrist. All Raider wanted to do was step away and run but even now, with the raccoon hiding, his hand refused to release its hold on the glittery object that snared him in the first place.

“What are you?” The words barely made it out of Raider’s throat as he tugged uselessly at his hand.

“That, my shifter child, is what I’m trying to determine in terms of you.” The man raised his hand up and Raider’s arm followed, the gem stuck in his grasp. Taller—he was definitely taller than how he appeared. “This particular charm is designed to attract dragons. You are not a dragon.”

He wasn’t a dragon shifter. Raider stilled so completely, he felt his pulse skip a beat. Horror crept up from his chest to his neck and face in a hot wave of sick. He wasn’t a dragon shifter but this stranger was trying to capture one. Had captured him.

“Let me go,” Raider whispered shakily. He was too frightened to even think of pushing, of trying to run even though his brain screamed at him to do just that. Run.

“Why? We’ve only just met.” The gray man held Raider tight, ducked down and scented him again. “Mammal… and something else.” He pulled back to stare into Raider’s frightened, dark eyes. Without another word he released his hand and grabbed Raider around the neck.

Raider’s heart pounded in his chest as he clawed singled handed at the fingers clutching his throat. He gasped to pull the air in he could around the hold. The stranger wouldn’t look away. There was something cruel and calculating in his inhuman, colorless eyes.

Raider’s fear took over until he could hear his raccoon’s desperate whimpers in his ears. Heat flooded his body and his eyelids grew heavy and muscles loosened. His knees gave out and he went lax in the hold. The world fuzzed out around him and he wasn’t sure if it was from the lack of air or the fact his raccoon was submitting to stay alive.

“You’re a prey shifter. A bitch. Very interesting.” The gray man’s eyes slid down his body. His grip remained steady, just at the edge of stealing Raider’s air away permanently. “Valuable.”

“Get the fuck away from him.”

At the sound of Fox’s voice, a tremor started in Raider’s prone form that quickly grew into uncontrollable shakes. The grip tightened around his throat and his breath was fully lost. Tears spilled over as he fought to breathe and couldn’t.

“Did you come with friends? How considerate.” The stranger turned to grin, a crazed glint in his eyes. “Seth, Lawrence, do you see what I see?”

“Shifter pack,” the taller of the other two men grunted as he pushed away from the wall.

“Shifter pack,” the gray man repeated. His grip tightened even more and nails bit into Raider’s flesh. Red and white spots burst before his eyes. Just as abruptly, the gray man released him. Raider fell to the pavement in a crumple, his chest heaving as he pulled in air.

“I smell a dragon. This pathetic little pack has a dragon somewhere.”

Sorcerer Slayer S3

SCENE THREE

Raider couldn’t turn his eyes away from the gate. It was tall, imposing, and dread twisted like a knife in his stomach when he saw the coil of barbed-wire glinting at the top. Shit, he was so fucking dumb. He never should have trusted Joseph. All that bullshit about getting him help was clearly that, bullshit. He knew a trap when he saw one.

“Is this really…?” The question died in Raider’s throat when the gate suddenly shuddered and opened on mechanical tracks. He looked for cameras he couldn’t find while his mind raced.

Didn’t Joseph see it was a trap? He dared a glance at his uncle’s profile. Joseph’s jaw was set and shadowed with two days worth of stubble from their drive. His multi-toned gray hair was in a ponytail at his nape and flowed down the back of his worn jean jacket. His eyes were fixed ahead as he waited for the way to clear, and Raider had the distinct impression he was trying really hard to act like none of this was as terrifying as it was.

Raider stared back at the black metal gate with his lips pursed in an anxious frown. What if this was Joseph and Vicky’s plan all along? Were they leaving him there to die? Raider wished he could text Fox again, but he knew it would do no good. There would be no escape from this cage.

The thick metal bars were so close together Raider knew he wouldn’t be able to slip through in his smaller raccoon form. The gate looked sturdy, impenetrable, but the smell was what set him on edge the most. It smelled like death. Raider couldn’t say exactly what magic smelled like. It was sort of like a mix of ozone and absolute terror. The gate slowly opening in front of Joseph’s pickup truck reeked of sorcery, and magic was death for a shifter.

Raider clutched his seatbelt hard enough for his tanned fingers to turn white. Not only was Joseph kicking him out, but he was putting him in a magic cage. Why the fuck did he agree to this? No escape. There was no escape from a magic cage.

The beige, worn interior of the truck felt like it was closing in on him. Raider’s fingers twitched as he fought the impulse to throw the door open and bolt. His breath came out in desperate gasps he valiantly tried to keep under control. Raider spent the majority of his life pretending he wasn’t freaking out. Most days it was the only way to make it through. This time it was really hard. This time he was pretty sure he was being sent to his death.

Raider grabbed the seat cushion to keep from reaching for the door handle. His fingers bit sharply into the cracked vinyl and he gripped hard to hide the tremor of his limbs. He promised to try—it was a trick. They were locking him in—but he promised. For Joseph. For Vicky. He promised. He fucked up and he wanted to make it right.

Raider huddled in the passenger seat of the grit-coated pickup truck as the tall gates shut behind them and trapped them inside. Small tremors shook his body that had nothing to do with the freezing temperatures outside. Joseph was oblivious as he maneuvered around snow ladened pine trees and fallen branches that littered the rarely used road. It was darker in the forest, and Raider felt it like an oppressive weight on his chest.

It was his first real fuck up, and he wasn’t prepared for the consequences. Not that it mattered. Raider was pretty sure nothing fucking mattered at this point. He was leaving his only home of the last five years and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be back.

It wasn’t actually an option. None of this was his choice. Raider wasn’t welcome back at Joseph and Vicky’s after what he did. Not unless he fixed it. Impossible. There was no way to fix a fucking curse!

Raider felt the familiar sting of tears, and he forced his gaze to the window. This whole thing was such fucking bullshit. He didn’t do anything. That asshole sorcerer cursed him and now his life was over. The Academy. Raider scowled at his reflection, which was blurred by the view of snow-heavy branches through the cold window. It could have been jail. Maybe it should have been. Maybe he should have just let smarmy Mr. Helu murder him like he wanted; then Uncle Joe would see how things really happened.

His thoughts did nothing to stop the wave of shame that hit Raider even now, weeks later as he remembered the incident. Curse or not, he fucked up bad. Shit, Joseph tranqed him. His uncle had to hunt him down before the authorities found him to make sure he wasn’t shot by the cops. It didn’t matter Raider hadn’t hurt anyone. He couldn’t; he didn’t have fangs, claws, or a killing instinct like the predator shifters. The cops would have killed him on sight just because he was a shifter. He wasn’t sure how Joseph could be in the same space as him because Raider could barely deal with being with himself.

Raider focused on keeping his breathing even, each puff adding another later of fog to blur the view outside his window. Everything was white, nondescript, and blinding. The air was cold and prickled the fine hairs on his body. Raider was quickly discovering he didn’t like winter at all.

“Do not embarrass me, Angel. Not with these people.” It was Joseph’s first words to him since the rest stop, and Raider scowled at the use of his real name. “These people understand us. They understand why you’re like this. Don’t make them regret the help they give.”

There was a hint of pleading in his uncle’s gruff tone Raider couldn’t ignore, even though he stubbornly tried. “I’ll be a perfect gentleman,” Raider said flatly. He kept his gaze trained on the blurry wall of white trees. It was impossible to meet Joseph’s eyes. He was full of guilt for what he was planning. He couldn’t stay here. There was no fucking way he could see this thing through.

The barbed wire flashed in his mind’s eye, and Raider quickly grasped his hand and spun the silver ring on his forefinger. He was going to die here. No shifter ended up in a magic cage and lived. The wire would cut him up, but his raccoon didn’t care. He was already judging the climb and how he was going to scale the gate to reach his goal. It was a buzz of animal thoughts Raider could barely distinguish from his own some days.

“You know there will be others like you. Shifters.” Joseph turned his head Raider’s way a moment, then turned back to the road. “Just, I didn’t tell you everything.”

Raider’s stomach clenched, and he shot a wary glance over to find his uncle holding the wheel too tightly. The road wound around lots of trees but there was no ice to warrant the death grip Joseph had on the wheel.

“There are shifters, plenty of them. I guess they even have a pack,” Joseph continued carefully. He drew the words out so slowly, Raider was anxious just listening to him. His uncle could be so damn slow at times. “It’s not a formal pack. I guess it’s how they get along. We’re good in groups. It lets us protect each other. Support. We all need support.”

Raider nodded and waited impatiently for his uncle to get to the damn point.

“The things is… they’re all flesh eaters,” Joseph disclosed with a sigh.

Raider rolled his eyes even as his stomach clenched in terror. “Whatever.”

“I’m not saying they’re going to hurt you,” Joseph added quickly. “But if it comes down to it and one of them loses his temper, I don’t want to see you hurt. I can only assume they’re here for aggression issues. You know how the predator types can get. Just keep an eye out.” Joseph glanced his way and nodded at Raider’s throat covered in tattoos. “With all those tattoos and piercings, sometimes even I forget you’re not a thug. Some of the guys in here might see you as a threat. It’ll be hard on you when you don’t have the nature to back up your appearance.”

“You’re worrying over nothing.” Raider really wished Joseph would stop talking before he got sick. He was about to be caged inside an institution with the craziest carnivores around. Fuck, he needed to get out.

“I might have also intentionally left out another thing,” Joseph added after the silence had a chance to stretch again.

“Uncle Joe,” Raider growled in exasperation. “We’ve been driving for over forty hours, and this is when you’re dropping all this shit on me?”

Joseph coughed awkwardly and glanced to where Raider was scowling. “I wanted to make sure we were on the grounds so if you made a run for it, I wouldn’t have to chase you again.”

Deep, fathomless black eyes glared his way. Joseph saw the spark of fear right before Raider turned back to the window. He might have just turned twenty, but with Raider’s tattooed neck and arms, his pierced eyebrow, and the row of silver dotting up one ear, the kid looked damn intimidating.

Joseph understood. Living as a scavenger among predators forced Raider to put up a front to keep the other shifters from giving him trouble. He got a lot of flack for his dad being in prison, and no matter how quiet he would get, trouble still found him. Raider lifted weights to exhaustion and covered as much of his skin he could afford in ink to help him look a certain way so people would back off and let him be. Under the muscle and dour expression, Joseph still saw the same anxious, lost kid who ended up on his doorstep with nowhere else to go. And damned if he was going to fail that boy now after five years of keeping Raider on the right path.

Raider pushed himself up in his seat. His expression grew more alert as his eyes darted across the winter scenery. “I’m not going to run.”

Joseph huffed to himself, and slowed the truck as they came to a tight bend. “The thing is, son, most of the staff at the Academy are sorcerers.”

Raider ran a hand through his black hair and ruffled the short spikes in silence.

It took even longer for Joseph to finally add, “And although they aren’t in the majority, there are also a few young sorcerers attending to learn to gain control of their powers.”

“Shit.” Raider stared with blind eyes out the window. Wire cutters. He needed to find wire cutters. Could his raccoon survive barbed wire? Fuck, did it matter when he’d be up against flesh eating predators and sorcerers? Why the fuck did the cage have to have fucking barbed wire at the top?

Aunt Vicky said it was an institution for shifter’s in need. It was supposed to be a place where out of control shifters could get better with therapists and stuff. Not this.

They lied. His aunt and uncle fucking lied to him.

Raider forced himself to exhale slowly and unclench his trembling fists. If they hadn’t lied, would he have come? What if it happened again? It wouldn’t be the cops hunting him down the second time; it would be the shifter patrol. They were the government sanctioned vigilantes who were always ready to save the poor defenseless humans from the crazy animal people. In Arizona, you were lucky they didn’t give people medals for shooting shifters. Not even rogue shifters who hurt people, no, just shifters in general who went out and worked their jobs and went to school and didn’t bother anyone over anything. Everyone acted like shifters were hunting down people when it was the humans doing all the killing.

“You know I wouldn’t send you somewhere that wasn’t safe. Angel, you know that,” Joseph said in a measured tone. He reached over and clasped Raider’s stiff shoulder. “I respect these people. The masters at the Academy don’t care where you’re from, or what kind of shifter you are, or if you can do magic. They’re here to help you get better, and I’ve been assured they don’t allow any behavior from patients or staff that would make a shifter feel uncomfortable. They would certainly never put you in any danger.”

Raider could feel his life coming to an end. This was it. This was when he was going to die. He was twenty years old and he was going to die in a magic cage surrounded by psycho fuck ups.

Raiders eyes were drawn ahead to the large clearing where a pristine white building was centered among snow covered fields. The Academy looked like a plantation styled mansion more than any kind of rehabilitation clinic. Raider sneered silently. It was run by sorcerers, rich, self-important sorcerers. He bet they only let shifters into their stupid institution to steal their organs for their dark spells, or maybe to try to make up for the fucked up shit they did in the past like some furry charity case.

Joseph parked the truck and turned the engine off. He waited to speak, and his words felt weighted once he did. “I know this is hard on you, Angel, but you need to trust me and the masters. They can help you.”

Raider fought the threat of tears. “Uncle Joe, what if I promise? I mean really promise to never do it again?” The words wanted to stick in Raider’s throat but he choked them out. Admiting just how much he didn’t want to be there felt like an betrayal to the raccoon trembling in terror inside him. Raider clenched his fists in his lap, his tattooed fingers hidden by the thick silver rings he always wore. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t just stay and die.

Joseph sighed and stared at Raider’s bowed head. “Son, if I thought you could do it on your own, we wouldn’t be here. But you can’t. I know it, and you know it. You have a problem bigger than you, and you need help from people who understand that.”

Raider looked up and met Joseph’s gaze tentatively. Neither of them mentioned Lucus although they were both thinking of him. Raider swore he’d never end up messed up like his dad and addicted to the bottle. He stayed out of trouble the best he could. Just… just some things weren’t always in a person’s control.

“It’s your nature, Angel.”

“Which makes this entire thing pointless,” Raider whispered bitterly. “You should have just let them shoot me. I can’t stop what I am.” He was always going to be his father’s son. A fuck up to the very end.

Joseph shook his head. “This place is going to prove you wrong. I know you’re scared, but the masters here aren’t like the sorcerers back home. I promise you.” Joseph nodded at the windshield and the view of the tall Academy. “Every person in that building is going through something similar to you. This is just people helping people. There aren’t sorcerers or shifters in there, just people like us.”

Liar. Raider glared and kept his gaze determinedly on his clenched fingers. Joseph was lying to him with a straight face and it somehow hurt more than knowing he was locking him up and leaving him here to die.

The truck shifted and icy air swept in as Joseph opened the driver side door and stepped out. Raider continued to stare stonily at his hands. He felt more than saw his uncle walk around to his side and open up the door. The air that blew in was full of new, strange scents.

“Grab your bags. I’m going to go up and give a knock on the door.” Joseph left the door open, but Raider refused to move. His uncle sighed and stepped away.

Could he hide in the truck? Raider’s eyes darted around the enclosed space. He could shift, tear open the seats, and burrow into the foam and padding to hide. His raccoon was big, though. Maybe underneath. The ninja movies always made it look easy to hold onto the bottom of a car. Raider didn’t have to get far, just to the other side of the gate. No one knew him here. No one would even look for him…

A hand fell on his shoulder, and Raider jumped. His eyes flew up to find Joseph holding his duffel bag. Raider felt brittle, like he was going to shatter from the grounding touch.

“We’ll go in together, Angel,” Joseph said reassuringly. “These are good people, and I’m going to stick around so you can see. You don’t need to be afraid.”

Tears stung at his eyes, and Raider quickly pushed past Joseph before he could see. Fuck him. Fuck him for throwing him away and then pretending to give a fuck.

Raider stared down at his sneakers as he tried to get ahold of himself. He wrapped his arms around his torso as the cold bit at him. His jeans had a hole on the knee, and the freezing temperature seeped in and sent goosebumps all over his skin. Joseph sighed heavily and went and heaved the last of Raider’s bags out of the truck bed. Raider grabbed the strap of his duffel and shouldered it while glancing around the area suspiciously.

He’d never been up North before, and Raider already hated the bone chilling cold and strange white flurries in the air. There was no brambles or cacti here to protect him from hunters, and the snow made everything visible to sharp predator eyes. His sneakers were already filling with water, and his toes felt frozen. The snow might have been interesting, even fun at a different time in his life. Right now Raider was pretty sure he hated everything connected to the Academy, including the weather.

Raider reluctantly dragged his bag up the front stairs of the Academy. He was half way up the steps when he smelled them, and he stopped cold as his raccoon curled up tight within. He could smell shifters—predators—and something else. Magic. He was going to be rooming with sorcerers and flesh eaters. Raider resisted the urge to crouch down and huddle in a ball on the cold concrete. Damn, he was so fucked.

Raider looked back the way they drove in. The forest seemed darker from his current vantage, and the trees blocked all signs of the gate he needed to cross. It hadn’t been that tall. He wasn’t sure where he’d end up running but it had to be better than here.

“Are you feeling okay?” Joseph stepped up beside him and pressed the back of his hand to his forehead before Raider could duck away. Joseph frowned and met his dark eyes. “You better see the nurse once you’re checked in. I think you caught the shifter flu going around.”

Raider groaned and his shoulders slumped. Could the day get any worse?

“Oh, there was one more thing I forgot to mention.” Joseph shot him a nervous side glance as he pressed the buzzer next to the door.

“Damn it, Uncle Joe. Seriously?” He was as good as dead and Joseph just kept piling shit on top of it all.

Joseph grinned sheepishly and gripped the back of his neck. “This one isn’t that bad. Actually, I think you’re going to be pleased. I happened to have a chat with the Alvarezes before we headed out. They were surprised to hear just where you were going.”

Raider narrowed his eyes. “Why are you telling the Alvarezes I’m being sent to an institution for idiot shifters who can’t control themselves? I thought you didn’t want me embarrassing you with all this.”

“Hey, you are not an embarrassment.” Joseph’s brown eyes were full of compassion when he met Raider’s glare. “You coming here is a good thing, Angel. It’s something Vicky and I are really proud of you for. As long as you give it your all and do right by yourself, I know you’re going to be just fine.”

Raider huffed and turned back to the door. He didn’t care if his uncle was proud of him or not, he just didn’t want word getting out to his best friend that he turned into some sort of fuck up while he was away. A fuck up who was going to end up dead in moments.

“As I was saying, about the Alvarezes…” Joseph trailed off when one of the double doors to the entrance clicked and swung open.

Raider’s senses flipped to hyper alert as a scent flowed through the gap. Magic. He could smell magic. The door opened wider to reveal a sorcerer standing on the other side. Raider barely saw the man as his raccoon reared up inside in terror.

Run. Now. Run and survive.

Raider bristled, but his legs were frozen in place. He said he’d give it a shot. He’d try—but Joseph lied about so much! Flesh eaters. Sorcerers. It was an actual building of death! He was going to be all alone in a cage full of killer monsters with nowhere to hide, no way to protect himself…

“Master Whiteheart?” Joseph hesitated only a moment, then reached out to shake the sorcerer’s hand.

“Please, call me Michael. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” Michael’s smile was welcoming. His tanned face took to the expression easily, his teeth perfectly white and blue eyes sparkling. “After so many phone calls, I feel like we’re old friends.”

Michael turned his friendly grin to Raider, who stared with dark, wide eyes at the hand reaching toward him. “And you must be Angel. I was just getting your room all set up. You’ll be able to put your bags in there and meet the other guys once their class gets out.”

They lied. Joseph and Vicky shipped him there to get rid of him, to throw him away. They could have lied about everything. What if they sold him to a bunch of murderous sorcerers? His dad was in jail, and his mom left years ago; no one would give a fuck if he disappeared. There might already be a report he was dead. Raccoon shifter murdered by the anti-shifter badges. What if they lied, and this was where he was going to be dissected for parts?

Uncle Joe lied—he fucking lied—and now he was going to die in this place.

Raider’s breath caught, and each inhale was quicker and sharper than the last. His legs, once so frozen they couldn’t move, began to quake. He took a faltering step away. Run. He needed to run. Run and survive and get the fuck out of the magic cage of death.

Michael’s hand suddenly engulfed his. It was burning hot, large, and had calluses not first seen. Michael grasped Raider’s trembling fingers and everything jolted to a stop. From far away Raider heard his breath draw out in a slow expulsion of sound.

The hand clasped firmly around his pulled Raider right out of his terrified raccoon mind, and he was left blinking at the startling white world. Raider was suddenly aware of the chilled air on his flushed skin, the cement hard and solid beneath his sneakers, and the scent of the stranger in front of him. The magic really was subtle compared to the other scents of the man: cinnamon, slow roasted coffee, old books next to a fireplace, brisk cedar.

“Angel, I’m Michael Whiteheart.”

It felt unreal when Raider looked up and met Michael’s intense blue eyes for the first time. He could see him; this man could see him. The jolt of connection twisted something in Raider’s chest too painful and damning to bear, and his vision blurred.

Raider wrenched his hand free, completely mortified. He quickly wiped his confusing tears away with the back of his wrist. Holy shit, what the fuck was wrong with him?

Michael tilted his head in concern. “Are you…?”

“It’s, uh, Raider, sir. Only my family calls me Angel,” Raider muttered as he tried to cover his fluster. He glared down at Michael’s hand and stepped back so it couldn’t reach him. What the fuck did he do to him? Was it a spell?

Whatever it was, Raider felt absolutely off balance. It was like the world around him changed colors, but in a way he couldn’t see. He pursed his lips and cautiously moved his gaze up Michael Whiteheart’s arm. He took in pieces of the sorcerer as he tried to come to terms with just what the hell happened.

Michael was weird looking. His short, shining golden hair had a soft curl to it that teased at his forehead in contrast to his piercing blue eyes. He had the most perfect white teeth Raider had ever seen. Ever. He was tall, muscular, and nearly glowed with magic; Michael was a demigod with a fantastic model smile. He was breathtaking, and it set every nerve Raider had on high alert.

Most people didn’t look like gods. Most people who weren’t sorcerers, anyways. Raider grew up knowing to be wary of unnatural beauty, the same way to be wary of eyes that spoke of death. All shifters looked at Raider like he was prey. Michael’s eyes didn’t have the familiar death glare that set his raccoon off. On the contrary, something about the strange man made Raider’s inner animal calm in a way nothing had before.

Whiteheart was a sorcerer. Even if his stare appeared normal, Raider still felt like prey when he looked at him.

“Raider, I’m the human reintegration specialist for the Academy,” Michael informed him calmly. At the use of his nickname, Raider met his gaze and then quickly looked away. Michael didn’t seem phased at Raider’s erratic behavior and continued with a smile. “I have a few different jobs around here, but the big one is being available to talk. Now Theodore is in charge of the shifters; as a shifter himself, he can offer a much needed insight I can’t always provide. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come to me if you have any questions or concerns.”

Michael nodded to Joseph, who was watching Raider intently. “Your uncle informed me about your lack of exposure to positive sorcerers in your life. It’s my hope I can help you see we’re not all bad.”

Fuck, this guy was totally going to kill him. No one could look so perfect and act so fucking nice and not be about to stab a knife in his back.

Warmth still radiated where Michael touched his bare skin. Raider’s raccoon was unnaturally quiet and was looking around with curiosity instead of overwhelming fear. Raider fumbled and quickly twisted one of the rings on his fingers. “Did you, um…? Did you just cast a spell on me?”

A surprised grin flashed across Michael’s handsome features. “Nope, that’s just a handshake. I don’t actually cast much magic unless it’s a necessity. We teach the guys here to use their best judgment when it comes to casting spells. You’re not the only one who’s wary around sorcerers or magic, and we all try to make an effort to set everyone at ease.” Michael opened the door fully and stepped aside to reveal the large entrance behind him. “Shall we?”

Raider peered into the echoing hall of smooth tile and was hit full force with the scent of predators. His raccoon cringed and the overwhelming urge to run the other way heated through him again.

Wire cutters or maybe a thick blanket. It wouldn’t take much to get over the gate and he could escape at night fall. It was just one day, then he’d get the fuck out. He just needed to survive one day.

Michael’s hand brushed his shoulder and lingered lightly. Raider jolted at the touch. His eyes opened wide and then squeezed shut. Beneath his human terror, he felt his raccoon calm. The creature went so far as to purr in contentment. The part of Raider that wanted to pull away, to snarl and tell the sorcerer to not fucking touch him could not compete with the loud, internal vibration of peace.

Death, he reminded his raccoon desperately. There were flesh eaters, and sorcerers, and death. It was no use. The animal’s purr grew louder, and Raider knew he was alone, trapped once again because of the raccoon’s overwhelming will.

Joseph cleared his throat. He was the first to actually step forward into the building. He flashed a reassuring glance at his nephew, but Raider could read the trepidation in his eyes. Even a coyote shifter like Joseph was afraid. There was good reason to be afraid.

It didn’t matter; Raider didn’t have a home to go back to. The realization felt like a heavy stone in his gut. There was no going home ever again. Raider hesitantly stepped through the Academy doors and wondered if he’d live long enough to be able to leave.