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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: Coven Saga S6

SCENE SIX

Ky stumbled out of the attic. His hands shook as he quickly took the creaking steps down to the third floor. He didn’t know where he was going. He had to move, had to breathe. He couldn’t handle the combined stares of Lovely and Feral. Was it pity or something even worse?

He was half relic.

No. That would suggest some sort of union, right? A compatibility. He was a science experiment gone wrong. The only experiment that worked out of all of the ones inflicted on his family. He was a tool created by Anselm to help the fucked up sorcerer gain immortality.

Anselm was long dead and Ky was only now discovering just how demented his grandfather truly was.

Ky wandered down the stairs to the main floor in a daze. He needed to find his mother. Lovely said the first time it happened, he was still in his mother’s womb. He might have never been human. He might have never been more than whatever the fuck it was Anselm did to him.

Did it even work? If Anselm was alive, would he be able to make him immortal? How? How the hell…?

Ky clutched the banister as a wave of nausea hit him hard. He knew how sorcerers bonded with relics. Probably that. Had Anselm made him to be bonded to? Had he been so fucking sick and demented, he tried to make first his own children and then his grand children into tools to be bonded with?

Ky got downstairs only to find his parents weren’t home. He wandered the corridors aimlessly, just to be sure they were truly gone as he tried to find some sort of semblance in his mind. He wasn’t sure when it happened but he found himself in front of the basement door.

Had Magnificent Night known? Lovely said it was his blood. Had he known what he’d become? What Anselm intended for him? Was that why he was so familiar?

Ky pushed the door open stiffly and made his way down the stairs. He hesitated when he saw the shroud of darkness where Magnificent was trapped. It was the first time he’d hidden himself away since he revealed himself and Ky wasn’t sure what it meant.

As if a dream, Ky vaguely remembered the last time he was down there and the things he said. He compared the relic to Anselm like they were one and the same. Like to be chained up seeking a way to be free was the same as chaining others permanently.

It seemed foolish now. God, every time he opened his mouth it was always the wrong thing. Magnificent never would have helped Anselm capture other relics, otherwise he wouldn’t have been chained all the time. His power was held back by those chains. It was very unlikely he could do much of anything while trapped and that included being able to control a person.

Ky hovered at the edge of darkness, his thoughts a dark swirl. His eyes swept the basement idly and fell on the broken bolt cutters. It sparked an idea and he immediately headed back for the stairs.

He returned after stopping in at the shed in the backyard where his father kept the yard tools. He held the sledgehammer in his hands this time with a new determination. He wasn’t going to fail. In this one damn thing he was going to get it right.

“You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to.” Ky stopped at the edge of darkness. “I was an asshole. Maybe I’m still being an asshole; I don’t know. Nothing makes sense right now.” Ky sighed and wiped at his bangs with his wrist. “But I’m going to keep my promise and get you out of those chains. And then, well… Then you can decide what you want to do. I don’t care. You can go hunt down sorcerers for all I care. It’s none of my business.”

It really wasn’t and he was an asshole for thinking it was to begin with. He was an idiot for thinking the relics wouldn’t use him to their bitter ends. He was an idiot for assuming bonding didn’t go both ways and that he wasn’t going to have consequences to his entire life.

Damn, he was just an idiot who never used his fucking brain.

“Come on, Magnificent.” Ky paused and raised his gaze from the floor. “Seriphous. I’ll call you whatever you want. I should probably do that too, right? You should be allowed to have your own fucking name.”

The boundary of dark flickered and dispersed in a swirl of black smoke. Ky stared, silent when Magnificent finally came into view. He hadn’t known what to expect; the beautiful requiem bleeding and covered in marks wasn’t it. His hair was a mess with clumps pulled free along with twisted feathers on the ground.

Ky’s eyes raked over him and he bit his lip to keep from crying out. He almost asked who did this to him, but he could tell from the distinct pattern on his skin from where Magnificent’s tail slashed at his flesh. He’d done it to himself.

Did he think he was never coming back? That he’d leave him down here forever to starve or just barely survive on rats while going mad? Or was it what he said? Had the accusations hurt so much? Ky had no idea, but his heart was breaking and he had no idea what to say to fix it all.

Ky didn’t speak, afraid of all the wrong things he might say as he pulled a chair over and stepped onto it. He realized too late he needed a ladder to reach the ceiling, the chair far too short. He went to get down and seek one out when Magnificent’s tail wrapped tight around his waist.

“I just need a ladder.” Magnificent’s eyes were haunted, his face covered in the slashes and Ky hated himself for knowing he’d somehow done this to him.

Magnificent’s tail wrapped tighter around him and he lifted Ky. He hefted him to his shoulders where Ky’s sneakered feet gripped awkwardly. Wide eyed, Ky clutched at the chains to keep his balance, then looked down as Magnificent used his tail to hand him the sledgehammer. If his tail was any longer, he probably would have been able to free himself, but the ceiling seemed deliberately out of reach.

From this angle, Ky was able to get a better view of how Anselm had kept Magnificent trapped there for so long. There was a large eye bolt in the ceiling of the same material made from the chains. Ky knew that bolt wasn’t about to break, but the cement it was encased in wasn’t magical, nor was the drywall of the ceiling. If he broke what the bolt was connected to, Ky knew he could at least get Magnificent mobile.

“Close your eyes. This is going to get messy,” Ky warned. He lifted the sledgehammer up. It was too light to be normal; nothing felt normal anymore since he bonded with all those demons. He stilled when fingers wrapped around his ankles. It was strange to feel Magnificent’s hands. When was the last time he touched something more than chains?

Ky breathed out unsteadily and pushed the thought from his mind. He hefted the sledgehammer and took a heavy swing at the ceiling. Drywall and dust showered down around him and he gasped and bent forward until it stopped. He glanced up once he dared, only to gape at the pitch black, fist sized hole now in the ceiling. “Crap.” Ky peered closer with squinted eyes, grateful it didn’t seem to go through to the floor above.

Through the hole he could see the beam the eye hook was drilled into. The thick wood showed wear from being pulled at repeatedly. There was a glint of metal on the other side of the beam, and Ky growled when he saw it was connected to the eye hook as well.

Ky really hoped it wasn’t an important beam seeing as there was no way the enchanted metal was going to break. He gritted his teeth and aimed for the side where the eye hook pierced the beam and swung as hard as he could. Magnificent braced him as he jerked from the impact. Ky barely took a breath, and swung again at the same spot. He intended to pulverize the pressurized wood to a pulp.

“Fucking… bastard… beam… break!” Ky roared with his final swing. He caught himself to keep from falling forward when the wood made a loud crack and gave. “Shit!” He yelped and dropped the sledgehammer when the chains clamored and sharp metal thumped onto his back. “Damn it,” he groaned. He twisted blindly, his eyes shut against the grit floating in the air as he pulled the chain from his back and the eye hook and metal contraption it was still connected to.

“Are you okay? Did it hit you?” he asked down at Magnificent. The sledgehammer was thankfully not near his feet. Ky crouched and swiped carefully at his horns to get the layer of dust off. “You can move your arms now.”

Magnificent hesitated, like he didn’t fully believe him. Ky felt his hands slowly slide from his grip on his ankle to catch him around the waist then he carefully lowered Ky down to the ground.

Ky looked up at him, watching as Magnificent stared at his chained hands. He rolled his shoulders and his wings flexed as he took a few experimental steps. He stepped on the bottom of the chain and pulled hard, hissing as he tried to pull his arms free to no avail. When he caught Ky watching him, Magnificent stopped and stepped toward him.

Ky held himself still, unsure of what to expect. Pain, probably. Anger. There were so many reasons Magnificent should be angry at him, not to mentions sorcerers in general.

Magnificent’s fingertips brushed his face. They trembled like he was touching delicate glass about to shatter and Ky couldn’t help but shake with them. The tension drained from him as he melted into the sensation of Magnificent’s hair teasing his flesh as he towered over him with his breath warm on his forehead.

“We’re alike, then,” Ky whispered as he pressed against M’s hand. He couldn’t look him in the eye, couldn’t look at the marks all over his flesh that never should have been there. “You a requiem, and me some freak made from your stolen blood.”

Magnificent rumbled a low note, the sound vibrating through him. Ky glanced up and wondered if it made him angry. Anselm tortured Magnificent to create him. There was something painful in Magnificent Night’s blue depths and Ky’s breath caught. Magnificent pulled him close, his arms folding around him in a clink of chains. Tears prickled and spilled down Ky’s cheeks and he quickly buried his face against his broad chest.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those things. You’re not like that—not like them. I know that. I don’t know how, I just know it.” Ky’s tears kept falling and turned Magnificent’s flesh wet beneath his lips. Still, Ky couldn’t seem to stop. He felt so unhinged, unanchored to anything real. All he had was his instincts and he didn’t even understand them.

He wasn’t human. He might have never been human. How could he trust anything he said or did when he didn’t even know this about himself?

Ky wanted Magnificent to say something but at the same time, he was afraid what it might be. He spoke once to him. Ky couldn’t understand a word of it but when they first met he remembered the requiem spoke to him. For some reason he refused now and Ky wondered if it was the same craziness that drove him to harm himself while alone in the dark.

Magnificent’s arms moved down his body. His hands were hot as he pushed Ky’s shirt up and stroked up his back. Ky sighed and his breath stuttered when Magnificent reached lower and palmed down the small of his waist to his ass. He cupped him through his jeans and rubbed and caressed his cheeks.

Ky blinked up at him, a question in his eyes answered when Magnificent ducked down and lapped at his tears. His lips brushed against Ky’s tentatively, then harder with clear demand. Ky moaned when Magnificent plunged his tongue into his mouth, his kiss claiming as his hands stroked every inch of Ky he could reach like he was trying to memorize him with his touch.

Ky felt a fire flare to life inside of him. He clutched at Magnificent’s back, his fingers biting into his flesh as he pulled him tight to his body and kissed him back with everything he had. It was like waking up, like he was real for the first time in ages. He felt alive and all he wanted was Magnificent and nothing else.

It was the welt on his side that broke Ky from the wild haze of the kiss and back to reality. He pulled away with a groan, his palms flat on Magnificent’s chest as they both heaved for air. “Stop. You don’t have to do this. I didn’t let you go so you’d do this.”

Magnificent wasn’t some demon whore who needed to screw whatever sorcerer was around to stay alive. Ky fought a fresh wave of tears and wiped at his face with his arm. “Fuck. Magnificent, you’re not a prize to be won or owned. You’re not, and I seriously need to stop fucking every demon I meet. What the hell is wrong with me?” The last was directed at himself and Ky growled into his palm.

Even now, even after all the ways he knew fucking the relics led to huge problems, one kiss from Magnificent had him forgetting everything. He was a chained prisoner for longer than most people lived. Ky knew how wrong it was but still, his dick always seemed to win.

Ky started when Magnificent’s hand wrapped around his and pulled it from his face. He glanced up, only to swallow hard when Magnificent pulled his hand to his body and guided it down to press against his hot flesh. Ky stared as he touched the bruises slashed across Magnificent’s flesh, over his piercings and hard muscle. The feel of him beneath his palm was electric and Ky couldn’t look away as need flooded through him.

Magnificent captured Ky’s other hand and led it to his chest and one of his nipples. He threw his head back and his chest heaved when Ky rubbed his thumb over the pebbled bud. Light pulsed through the dark bumps on the requiem’s arms and legs as they glowed familiar blue light for a moment.

“Why are you doing this? Making me want you.” Ky licked his lips but couldn’t seem to actually stop from tormenting the little bud beneath his fingertips. He wanted to lick it, feel it on his tongue, twist it hard until Magnificent cried out and begged him to cum. “You don’t have to do this,” Ky whispered shakily. “I’ll be as good as I can to you. You don’t need to convince me to treat you like a person; you don’t need to do any of this. I’ll feed you blood when you’re hungry.” Ky exhaled heavily and made his fingers still. “I’ll give you anything you want. You don’t need to pretend you want me. It’s okay.”

Ky wasn’t expecting the growl Magnificent released at his words. He glanced up, only to stumble back when Magnificent surged forward and kissed him with bruising force. “Oh, fuck,” Ky gasped, his head tilting back when Magnificent mouthed roughly down his throat. His chained hands pushed his shirt up so he could rub his face against Ky’s chest and lick his nearest nipple.

Ky’s hands shook as he threaded fingers into Magnificent’s hair. The need to be with him hit him in an overwhelming wave. He wanted to have him and be his all at once. Together. Owned and protected. Magnificent Night would take care of him. He knew it as much as he knew to breathe. Magnificent would always take care of him. He was the closest thing to a son he had.

Ky whimpered and he broke from Magnificent’s hold. He was half afraid there would be nothing left of him if he let the demon have him when he was like this.

“I, uh, I can’t.” Ky stared at Magnificent with wide eyes as he tried to catch his breath and get himself into some sort of order. He was hard and all he wanted was to go back and touch him. Be his. Ky groaned and took a step back. That Magnificent’s eyes weren’t glowing was only more damning since Ky’s were dazzling blue at the moment.

“Sorry,” Ky whispered and covered his eyes with his hand. “I just need to be alone.” He needed to not be whatever the hell it was he was becoming. He needed to be normal, human, and not have glowing eyes. He needed to not want to fuck this man so desperately, he’d do just about anything to get his way like shine his fucked up eyes at him.

Ky backed up and made sure not to look into Magnificent’s eyes. He couldn’t bare to see what he thought of him. He couldn’t handle the pain. It seemed everything he did hurt someone, especially those bonded to him.

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

It was a really tall gate. Huge, black, imposing. It was made of a metal with thick bars so close together that he would not be able to slip through even though his shifted form was smaller in mass than his human body. Raider was certain because not only did it look sturdy, but the gate smelled like death. He wasn’t a hundred percent certain what magic smelled like; it seemed a mix of ozone and absolute terror. Still, whatever the gate was they were driving through, he knew it was protected by sorcery.

Not only was he banished from his home but now he was being put into a cage. A magic cage. Fuck. Why the fuck had he agreed to this? No escape. No escape in a magic cage.

The truck felt like it was closing in. It took all of Raider’s courage to squash the impulse to throw the door open and bolt. His breathing was strained but he fought valiantly to make it seem even. He spent the majority of his life pretending he wasn’t freaking the fuck out. It was second nature. Except, lately, it was harder to pretend. Since the curse.

Raider grabbed the seat cushion to keep from reaching for the door handle. His tanned fingers quickly turned white from his death grip. He promised to try—It was a trick, they were locking him in—but he promised. For Joseph. For Vicky.

The tall gates to the Academy shut behind their grit coated pickup truck and Raider huddled deeper into the passenger seat. Small tremors shook his body that had nothing to do with the freezing temperatures outside. For his first real fuck up, the consequences were greater than he anticipated. Not that it mattered; he was pretty sure nothing actually mattered at this point. He was leaving his home of the last five years and he didn’t know if he was ever going back.

It wasn’t an option. This wasn’t his choice. He wasn’t welcome back. Not after what he did. Not unless he fixed it. Right now, he couldn’t think of that. All he could fixate on was how to escape the place he just arrived at.

The Academy.

It could have been jail. Maybe it should have been. Maybe being left to be killed by that smarmy Mr. Helu would’ve been better than the overwhelming embarrassment and shame that kept threatening to drown him whenever he let his guard down.

He screwed up. Bad. That his uncle could bear to be in the same space as him was a wonder because he could barely deal with being with himself. Fuck—Joseph tranqed him. The authorities called him and Joseph hunted him down and tranqed him because if he hadn’t, the cops would have shot him.

Raider hadn’t hurt anyone. He didn’t have fucking fangs like the predator shifters but the cops would have killed him on sight. And now… now this. Whatever this was. This lie of help.

The air was significantly colder the longer he sat in the steadily moving truck with his uncle Joseph. They had only just entered the forest after miles of open, hilly land. A canopy of snow dusted pine trees now darkened their journey. With the air cold, damp, and prickling at the fine hairs on his body, it was Raider Valdez’s first time seeing winter and he didn’t like it at all.

“Do not embarrass me, Angel. Not with these people.” Joseph insisted on using Raider’s birth name no matter how annoying he found it. “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 Joseph’s gruff tone that Raider couldn’t ignore even though he was stubbornly trying to.

“I’ll be a perfect gentlemen.” Raider kept his gaze trained on the wall of trees. It was impossible to meet his uncle’s gaze. Guilt weighed heavily on him. Shame for what he did and now guilt for what he was planning on doing. He couldn’t stay. There was no fucking way he could see this through.

A magic cage. Fuck. He was going to die here. No shifter ended up in a magic cage and didn’t end up dead.

The gate they drove through was beyond intimidating with coils of barbed wire lining the top. He couldn’t get the image of the spiraling metal out of his mind. The sparkle was so bright among the shade of the conifers that rose up like stoic giants. It would cut him up but a part of him didn’t care. Raider’s mind was currently judging the climb needed, scaling the fence, and reaching his goal with an underlying buzz of animal thoughts he barely noticed anymore.

Wire cutters, maybe, if he could find any. What the fuck he would do with a coil of barbed wire, he had no fucking idea but right now his raccoon was insisting he needed it. Desperately.

“You know there will be others like you. Shifters. Just, I didn’t tell you everything.”

Raider’s stomach clenched from the hesitant tone in Joseph’s voice. He shot a wary glance over to find his uncle gripping the wheel too tightly as he drove them down the winding road between the trees. Joseph was older than Raider’s father, his once rich, black hair now a dull, multi toned gray. He kept his smooth locks in a ponytail at his nape that flowed down the back of his jean jacket. Joseph had taken Raider in five years back and never really got into the flow of raising a fucked up teenage boy. His wife, Victoria, only faired somewhat better. She was the one to push for this place. The Academy.

God, he needed to get the fuck out.

“There are shifters, plenty of them. I guess they even have a pack,” Joseph continued carefully. He drew his words out so slowly, Raider felt anxious just to listen to him. His uncle could be so damn slow at times. “Nothing formal; it’s just how they get along. We’re good in groups. Protect each other. Support each other.”

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

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

Raider rolled his eyes even though his stomach gave another anxious clench. “Whatever.”

“I’m not saying they’re going to go after you,” Joseph said quickly. “But if it comes down to it and one of them loses their head, I don’t want to see you hurt. I can only assume they’re here for aggression issues. Just keep an eye out, okay? I see how you dress, and with all those tattoos and piercings, sometimes even I forget that you’re not a thug. Some of these guys 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 his uncle would just stop talking before he got sick. He wasn’t his real uncle, not by blood. Joseph and Raider’s dad were friends growing up. When Lucus finally drank himself into a jail cell for the long term, Joseph stepped in to make sure his son didn’t follow in his footsteps. As a raccoon shifter raised among coyotes, Raider knew just how dangerous a predator could be if he was feeling mean enough. Now he was being caged inside an institution with the craziest carnivores around.

A cage with barbed wire. Sparkling, coiling, entrancing…

“I also might have intentionally left out another thing.”

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

Joseph coughed awkwardly and glanced sideways. Raider’s scowl was full of anxiety. “I wanted to make sure we were on the grounds so if you went to run for it, I wouldn’t have to chase you down.”

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

Joseph understood why. Living as a scavenger among predators forced Angel to put up a front to keep the other shifters from giving him trouble. He’d gotten a lot of flack for his dad being in prison, and no matter how quiet Angel would get, trouble still found him. He lifted weights to exhaustion and covered as much of his skin as 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, lanky kid who ended up on his doorstep with nowhere else to go. And damn if he was going to fail him now after five years of keeping him on the right path.

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

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

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

“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 looked unseeing out the window. Could his raccoon survive barbed wire? Fuck, did it matter when he’d be up against fucking predators and sorcerers? Why the fuck did the cage have to have fucking barbed wire at the top?

Vicky said it was an institution for shifter fuck-ups. A place where out of control shifters got better. That the therapists used magic to help sometimes. Not this. Lied. They fucking lied.

Raider exhaled slowly. If they hadn’t lied, would he have come? If they hadn’t lied, would the cops have found him instead? It wouldn’t have been the cops. It would be the fucking shifter patrol to save all the poor, defenseless humans from the crazy animal people. In Arizona, you were lucky they didn’t give people a metal for shooting a shifter—it didn’t have to be a rogue shifter, either. They acted like shifters were hunting people, coming to kill them when it was the humans that were 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. His reached over to clasp Raider’s stiff shoulder. “I respect these people. The masters at the Academy don’t care where you’re from, 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 that they don’t allow any behavior from the patients or staff that would make a shifter feel uncomfortable. Certainly, they would never put you in danger.”

Raider didn’t say anything for long minutes. He could feel his life coming to an end more clearly than ever before. This was it. This was where he was going to die. Twenty years old and he was going to die in a magic cage surrounded by fuck-ups worse than him.

His eyes were drawn ahead to the clearing where a large white building could be seen. It looked more like a mansion than anything else, and he couldn’t help but sneer at the thought. Sorcerers. Rich, self important sorcerers. They probably let shifters into their stupid magical institution to either steal their organs for their dark spells or try to make up for the fucked up shit they did in the past like some furry charity case.

“I know this is hard on you, Angel, but you need to trust me and the masters. They can help you.”

“Uncle Joe, what if I promise, I mean really promise, to never do it again?” Raider asked quietly. His hands clenched tightly into fists in his lap where the tattoos on his fingers were hidden by the thick silver rings he always wore. The words wanted to stick in his throat. Admitting he didn’t want to be there seemed a betrayal to the animal trembling inside him. But he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t just stay and die.

Joseph sighed and glanced his way again. “Son, if I thought you could do it on your own, we wouldn’t be here. But you can’t. I know it, and I know that you know it. You have a problem that’s bigger than you and you need help from people that understand that.” He met Raider’s tentative gaze. Neither of them spoke of Lucus although they were both thinking of him. Raider swore he’d never end fucked up like his dad and addicted to the bottle. He stayed out of trouble to the best of his ability. 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.”

Joseph shook his head and sighed again. “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. Every person in that building is either going through something similar to you, or has been through it in the past. This is just people helping people. Not sorcerers, not shifters. Just people.”

Liar. That he could fucking lie to him with a straight face, like he wasn’t locking him up to his death hurt more than anything else.

Raider was used to adults lying to him but he never expected his uncle and aunt to among them. They were different. But then, they were good people. Good people lied instead of kicking someone out of the house. They pretended everything was okay as they locked you away because they didn’t want to have to put up with a fuck-up anymore. Raider tried—he tried so fucking hard to be good just like Joseph and Vicky—but he always knew what the end result would be.

He was too much like his dad, too much like Lucas. A fuck-up until the very end.

His vision filled with the view of the large, white building. Snow dusted the grounds and the well manicured lawn stretched out white-gold in all directions. Joseph’s blue pickup truck looked shabby and tired next to the immaculate Academy. It made Raider look down at his own clothes, the faded jeans and t shirt he’d been wearing the last two days, and notice for the first time the hole forming on the knee of his pants. He couldn’t help but resent the Academy for already making him feel less just by being there to compare to.

Joseph was out of the truck before Raider thought to move. Raider felt more than saw his uncle walk around to his side and open the door. The cold air blew in full of new, strange scents. “Grab your bags. I’m going to go and give a knock on the door.”

Could he hide in the truck? Could he shift, tear open the seats, and burrow into the foam and padding to hide? Maybe underneath; the ninja movies made it look really easy to hold onto the bottom of a truck. He wouldn’t even have to get far, just out to the other side of the gate. No one knew him up here. No one would look for him.

As if reading his mind, Joseph reached up and grasped his shoulder. Raider met his uncle’s eyes. His body felt brittle like he was going to shatter from the light touch. “We’ll go in together, Angel. These are good people and I’m going to stick around so you can see. You don’t need to be afraid.”

Tears stung his eyes and Raider quickly pushed past Joseph before he could see. Fuck him. Fuck him for throwing him away and acting like he gave a fuck.

Joseph sighed heavily. He shook his head as he walked to the back of the truck and heaved one of Raider’s bags out of the bed.

He’d never been up North before and Raider already hated the cold temperature and mountain terrain. He was used to land reaching out forever. It was all flat and dusty back home. Rough scrub dotted the horizon as the only landmarks, and the blistering heat was a constant companion. It was nothing like this bone chilling cold or the strange white flurries in the air. Maybe if he was there for a different reason, the snow would be interesting. Maybe even fun. Right now he was pretty sure he hated it like everything else that was connected to the Academy. There were no brambles or cacti to protect him from his hunters. There were trees, but they were bare and would leave him exposed to any predator eye.

Raider first smelled them on the air when he grabbed his other bag. His raccoon immediately curled tight within. Sorcerers and flesh eaters. Damn, he was so fucked. He looked back the way they came; the forest was dark and hid the gate he needed to cross. It hadn’t been that tall. He didn’t know where he’d go but it wouldn’t be here, and that was something.

“You alright?” Joseph stepped up beside him on the wide steps. He pressed the back of his hand to Raider’s forehead before he could flinch away, and frowned when he found it to be hot. “I think you better see the nurse once you’re checked in. You might have caught the shifter flu that’s been 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.

“Damn it, Uncle Joe. Seriously?” He was going to die 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 at the older man, a grim frown set in place. “Why are you telling the Alvarezes that I’m being sent to some institution for idiot shifters that can’t control themselves? I thought you didn’t want me embarrassing you with all this.”

“Hey, you are not an embarrassment.” Joseph’s his brown eyes were sharp as he met Raider’s glare. “You coming here is a good thing, Angel. Something that 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 that 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 opened.

Raider’s fears rushed to the forefront of his mind and his body tensed. His senses flipped to hyper alert with the scent that flowed through the gap. Magic. He could smell magic. Sure enough, when the door opened a little further it revealed a sorcerer standing on the other side. Raider barely saw the man as his raccoon reared up inside in terror.

Run, his raccoon pleaded shakily. Now. Run and survive.

Raider bristled but his legs were frozen in place. His raccoon mind and his promise to his uncle fought for control over his actions. He said he’d give it a shot. He’d try… But Joseph lied about so much! Flesh eaters. Sorcerers. It was a fucking 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 reached out to shake the sorcerer’s hand with only the slightest of hesitation.

“Please, call me Michael. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Joseph,” Michael said with a welcoming smile. 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 now 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.”

It wasn’t worth dying over. It wasn’t. Joseph and Vicky shipped him there to get rid of him, to throw him away. They lied about the Academy. They could have lied about everything. What if this wasn’t to get better? What if they sold him to a fucking Academy full of murderous sorcerers? It wouldn’t be hard. His dad was in jail and his mom left years ago; no one would give a fuck if he disappeared.

There could already be a report he was dead. Raccoon murdered by the anti-shifter badges to save all those poor, defenseless humans from the scary animal. What if they lied and this was where he was going to be dissected for parts for dark sorcery? Uncle Joe lied—he fucking lied—and now he was going to die in this place.

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

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

The hand clasped firmly around Raider’s made no move to release him. Moments later he was pulled abruptly out of his terrified raccoon mind and left blinking at the world. He was aware of the chill air on his flushed skin, the cement hard and solid beneath his sneakers, and the scent of the stranger in front of him. It really was much more intense than the faint scent of magic. Cinnamon. Slow roasted coffee. Old books next to a fireplace. Calming cedar.

“Angel, I’m Michael Whiteheart.”

Raider slowly looked up and met Michael’s intense, blue eyes. He could see. This man could see him. The jolt of connection twisted something in his chest, painful and damning, and his vision blurred. Mortified, Raider wrenched his hand away. He quickly used the back of his wrist to wipe away his confusing tears.

Holy shit. What the fuck was wrong with him?

“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? A spell? 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 that couldn’t be seen. 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 he’d 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 set every nerve Raider had on high alert.

Most people didn’t look like gods. Most people that 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 him like he was prey. Michael’s eyes didn’t have the familiar death glare that set his raccoon off. On the contrary, something about him made Raider’s inner animal calm in a way nothing had before.

Still, Whiteheart was a sorcerer. If that wasn’t damning enough, even if his stare seemed 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 sound of his voice, Raider met his eyes only to quickly look away. “I have a few different jobs I end up doing around here, but the big one is being available to talk. Now Theodore deals with the shifters; as one himself, he can offer a much needed insight that I can’t always provide. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come to me if you have any questions or concerns. Your uncle has informed me about your lack of exposure to positive sorcerers in your life. It’s my hope that I can help you see that we’re not all bad.”

Raider nodded dumbly and immediately started twisting one of the rings on his fingers. “Did you, um… Did you just cast a spell on me?” His gaze was again drawn to Michael’s hand. Warmth still radiated where the sorcerer touched his skin. Raider’s raccoon was unnaturally quiet and was looking around with curiosity instead of fear.

A surprised grin flashed across Michael’s tanned 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 that’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.

Wire cutters. Maybe a thick blanket. He just needed to find something along those lines to get over the gate and he could escape the moment night fell. Just one day and he’d get the fuck out. One day to survive.

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. Fucking 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 one 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.

He didn’t have an option. He didn’t have a home to go back to. The realization felt like a heavy stone in his gut. There was no going home. Raider hesitantly stepped through the Academy doors for the first time, and silently wondered if he’d live long enough to be able to leave.