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Cursed by Furies: A Tale of Vikings, Elves and Gods: The Cursed Elves, #1

Cursed by Furies: A Tale of Vikings, Elves and Gods: The Cursed Elves, #1

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Cursed by Furies: A Tale of Vikings, Elves and Gods: The Cursed Elves, #1

Length:
649 pages
8 hours
Released:
Sep 3, 2019
ISBN:
9781393036074
Format:
Book

Description

1000 years ago, the Elves nearly destroyed their species... and the Furies punished them with a terrible curse.

 

Can a single Elf set them free?

 

Priscilla Forester is a 500-year-old Cursed Elf, who makes her home in Houston, Texas. Her abilities are far different from most, and she does everything she can to keep others from treating her like a monster because of it.

 

She knows there's some secret about her origins, but has given up thinking she'll ever discover the truth.

 

However, Fate was only waiting for the right moment to reveal its secrets.

 

As Priscilla and her lovers battle against warring Elf Houses, her true nature begins to emerge, and it is more than anyone had bargained for.

 

Endure the suspense, and live the romance in this modern day mythic fiction saga.

 

You'll love this fantasy series, because it combines real-world mythology and modern times. Start it today!

 

*Content warnings: Contains adult situations, violence, and cursing.*

Released:
Sep 3, 2019
ISBN:
9781393036074
Format:
Book

About the author

Diedra Drake is a life-long student of mythology and history, with an interest in the ways that different cultures tell the same stories using name variations. She is competent in classical Latin, and enjoys reading the classics — particularly Homer, Plutarch, and Shakespeare. For relaxation, Diedra loves to crack open a new historical romance novel or binge a new series on streaming. After a couple of decades being a business owner in the technology industry, she decided to explore her other interests through the creation of a mythic fantasy romance world. She lives in Central Texas with her family, which includes a small cat colony and a couple of dogs, and tries to ensure she gets a daily serving of ice cream for continual inspiration. Want to make sure you don’t miss the next new release? Just sign up for Diedra Drake’s Early Access Newsletter at DiedraDrake.com Through the newsletter, you can contact the author directly, and be the first to find out about new releases, exclusive beta reading opportunities, and everything else that happens.

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Cursed by Furies - Diedra Drake

Drake

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.

Copyright © 2019 by Diedra Drake

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher at the address below.

APACHE CREEK

PO BOX 18902

SAN ANTONIO, TX 78218

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

ISBN: 9781393036074

ASIN: B07WD29D3P

ApacheCreekPublishing.com

First eBook Edition

LICENSING & ORDERING

Quantity sales of digital or print copies: Special discounts are available on quantity purchases by bookstores, wholesalers, corporations, associations, and others. For details, contact the publisher at the address above.

For B.

You asked the question that started everything.

Content Warnings

THERE MAY BE OTHER warnings which have been missed. If after reading you feel one should be added, contact the author or publisher.

Addiction/Obsession: Description of a non-drug type addictive reaction, from both the perspective of the addicted and others around them. Extreme violence is attached to this topic.

Age Prejudice: Mild incident.

Cursing: Mild use of curse words, but does also include half a dozen F-bombs.

Invasion of Privacy: Multiple instances.

LGBTQIA+: Varying levels of intimate relationships between the female main character and multiple male characters, as well as one female character. There is a significant male/male relationship.

Murder: Multiple instances.

Non-consent (General): Multiple forced medical procedures, forced hospitalization, and unintentional addiction. 

Non-consent (Mind control): Is magically based and a significant theme.

Polyamory: The entire society of Elves is naturally polyamorous and bisexual. This is a prevalent theme.

Prejudice (Species): Moderate theme throughout series.

Religion: References are made to many different Gods.

Sex: Both inferred and on-page with mild description, mostly fade to black.

Shootings: There are multiple instances of people who are unexpected victims of shooters in this story. No deaths are caused by shooting.

Violence (Domestic): There is a toxic, emotionally abusive relationship, as well as a different relationship which involves physical assault.

Violence (Family): A relationship involving a parent who is physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive to their adult male child.

Violence (General): Multiple instances, including war, serious injury, and the graphic description of wounds and blood.

Chapter 1

1100 Years Ago, Near the Achelous River, Bulgaria

THE YEAR WAS NINE-HUNDRED and seventeen, and one of the bloodiest battles of the middle ages was over. As the fighting had waged on, they fought atop the dead, leaving piles of bodies littering the field of battle.

A cloying, metallic smell clung to the air like an unrelenting fog. Thick pools of red saturated the soil, soaked the clothes of the living, and seeped from the corpses of tens of thousands of Roman soldiers. The breeze from the nearby Black Sea pushed the scent deep into the nostrils of the victors as they staggered away from the dead and dying.

Here in this field, near the river Achelous, and less than one-hundred-and-fifty miles from the Greek city Orestias, Simeon the First of Bulgaria had just repelled the enemy and would now become the ruler of the entire Balkan Peninsula.

The Byzantine invaders from the East had been defeated brutally. Their general, Leo Phokas, had barely escaped out to sea after suffering one of the greatest disasters in the history of his army.

Aktis, a tall, brown-haired Elf, stood off to the side, silently surveying the results of the battle as Pavlos, approached to join him.

It’s done, Brother, Pavlos said when he reached Aktis’ side. They pursue Leo, and Simeon will assuredly take Constantinople. He looked around, then gestured toward a cluster of muscular, tattooed fighters in the distance. What drew the Berserkers to fight here?

Aktis shrugged and laughed. Do the Vikings ever need a reason? They were probably nearby and lacking entertainment.

Pavlos watched them clap each other on the back and laugh as they gathered their gear to depart. He nodded. Seems likely, but I cannot complain about their help. There were plenty of Elves fighting among the Easterners, and I’m glad to be rid of them.

They were coming too close to our homeland, and now they’re gone, Aktis agreed with a nod. Now it’s time to go home. Let’s leave this Priest, Simeon, to his victory.

Together, they began to turn from the field, when an invisible force seized control of their bodies. Frozen in place, a vision of four females forced itself into their minds. Three stood together, while another positioned herself away from the group. They appeared as clearly as if standing before them, yet while they were blind to the surrounding battlefield, the sounds of it still echoed dully in their ears.

One of the three spoke, My name is Alecto, and these are my sisters: Megaera and Tisiphone. You immortal Elves, direct descendants of our sisters, the Meliae, you have betrayed your own blood. You could have lived eternally, but instead, you were unable to resist the lure of the only way for you to die — at the hands of another immortal.

Megaera went next, her voice was slower and more thoughtful, You have fought against each other for millennia until you’ve nearly exterminated your own kind. A mere thousand of you remain after the events of today, and you would continue to destroy your kind if we do not intervene with our Fury.

Then Tisiphone spoke, her tone sharp and clipped, We are your ancestral elders, and you must pay the penalty as we have declared it. You will receive one curse from each of us three Furies. I shall begin. To always remind you of how much pure, ancient blood you have spilt, you will require a regular infusion of blood from a lowly creature in order to sustain your immortality. Your small Elf fangs will grow larger for this purpose.

Megaera spoke again, To make you value your heritage and bloodlines, your only means of procreation will be through a full blood transfusion of a half-breed, which will purify them of their weak blood and pass this curse onto them. Thus you must protect them and allow them to breed, before transforming them or you will never regain your numbers.

Alecto concluded, Finally, you are condemned to existence on the Earthly realm, the gates of this plane forever shut to you. However, you no longer may enjoy the Sun, which sets nature into bloom and causes warmth and joy to spread through the forest. We know the pleasure it brings you, and you must suffer its loss. Appreciate what you see now, for upon the next sunrise, your skin will burn under its light.

The last female stepped up and spoke to them in their minds, I am Aphrodite, and I am here because you are my kin as well. I feel great pity for you, and what is happening to you this day. While you have done many wrongs, you are not the only of our kind to do so. As you surely know, the Sisters, myself, and your Meliae ancestors were born through the spilling of blood. I will grant you a favor within my power, and that gift is that all your Human half-breeds inherit your Elvish beauty and will be desirable to those around them. Perhaps, that will help increase the numbers among your half-Elves. I hope this small contribution makes your suffering more tolerable.

Then the vision disappeared, and a thousand Elves around the world could suddenly move again.

Aktis heard one of the Elves on the battlefield begin to wail, and then he smelled it — the blood. Pavlos did too. They stared in horror at the large fangs which had emerged on each other, then the siblings reached up to touch their own.

The hunger started to hit them with immense intensity in the crimson-soaked field. They watched as several of the other Elves leapt on dying soldiers and began drinking their blood.

The brothers both tried to resist the pull and began backing away. The Norse Elves in the distance were affected too, for the Berserker Vikings they saw earlier hastily departed in the opposite direction of the battlefield. Aktis and Pavlos made it all the way back to Orestias before they could no longer resist and killed a deer on the outskirts of town, drinking its blood.

But in the end, it was a fate they couldn’t run from. The age of the Elves was gone. Now their immortality, beauty, magical abilities, Human mind control, speed, and great strength were combined with a lust for blood and a fear of the Sun.

Soon, the Humans stopped telling tales of beautiful forest Elves, and rumors began of a new creature of the night. They gave it a different name.

It would be a long time before the brothers could see the humor in the fact that the first town they stopped in was dedicated to Orestes — a man cursed by the Furies for slaying his own blood.

6:30PM CST, Diner, Houston, Texas

ARE YOU AWARE THAT YOUR mother was artificially inseminated? Priscilla asked, keeping her voice low. She wasn’t sure how he felt about his origins, if he knew them at all, but it seemed safest to assume he wouldn’t want it broadcast in the middle of his favorite diner.

Taking a sip of her iced tea, she observed the transformation from flirtatious eyes and a ready smile to a rapid-fire shifting of expressions on the path toward rage. Across the table, his dark brown eyes had gone wide with shock, jaw muscles thickening with tension at the joint, mouth and lips moving slightly as he attempted a composed response.

She gave a small nod. I can see that you already know, and you’re not happy that I do.

A flush of red crawled up Raymond’s neck, and his words uncoiled as an outraged hiss, Because it’s none of your business, lady. How’d you find out? Those medical records are supposed to be kept private.

Don’t worry, they were. But we have considerable means to locate the information we need. Your family, I should say your genetic father’s family, has a legacy they want you involved in.

His eyebrows lifted in surprise, and he went quiet before speaking in a voice laced with suspicion, Why would my father’s family want anything to do with me now? No one from that side has attempted to contact me in over forty years.

Her gaze softened, and she responded more gently, I realize it may seem that way, but we weren’t aware that you existed for a long time. James kept the sperm donation a secret, and with the confidentiality issues, it took a while to track all of you down. Not to mention the time frame. You were a part of one of the earliest waves of the practice in the country, and many of those records were never digitized. But when we found out, we never stopped looking.

James, he murmured the name to himself, feeling it out. "Wait, you said all. How many like me are there?"

Several, she replied, taking another drink of her tea. The donation company was a national one, so they don’t all live nearby. You have a brother close to your age in New Orleans, and a few of them are deceased.

He turned to gaze out the diner window. That’s strange to think about, a sibling gone before I knew they existed. I always wanted siblings.

She sighed. I’m sorry. I should’ve considered your situation before mentioning that. This must be a very difficult time since you just lost Carol, but...

How do you know about Carol? Raymond snapped.

The same way I learned about all five of your children, she answered calmly. When we found out about you, we looked into your life, wanting to know you. Maybe that’s odd, but our people are a bit peculiar. You’ve missed out on your heritage because James allowed others to raise you.

You’re calling them ‘our people.’ How are we related?

She shook her head. We’re not, certainly not by any normal measure. My connection comes from a completely different branch, as my people are from France and I was born there as well. Priscilla des Forais is my actual name, but for convenience, all the branches use Forester.

The muscles around his jaw rippled again, and he asked in a tight voice, What’s his... my... family name?

She noted the same tension in his face as when she’d asked the first question at the table. So this is the way he looks when he’s trying to control his anger. Good to know. Since it was uncomfortable for him, she tried to keep her response brief and informative, Your father’s name is James Förster, and your German ancestors traveled to the New World in the 1600s.

So, if we’re a million generations apart, or whatever, why’re you the one contacting me?

Convenience, she said, swiveling the long teaspoon around in her glass lazily. I live in Houston, so it was easier for me to reach out to you. James lives in New Orleans, and I thought it might be too much of a shock for him to approach you directly.

You know, I never exactly imagined him as real, he whispered, then gave a weak chuckle. "Certainly not living nearby. Or, sometimes, if I did think of him, I’d only see him as some distant figure, likely dead long ago. Raymond paused for a moment. What did you mean by the family being peculiar? Like, eccentric? Or..."

Both. Eccentric and more, she said with a smile, and was pleasantly surprised to see the tension around his eyes had eased and his gaze was flicking down to her lips again. Almost back to normal. That was quick. Definitely a good sign. We also tend to have some unique physical attributes. I could list off a few general things about the Foresters, if you like?

He smiled and invited her with a gesture. OK. Go for it.

She leaned forward on her elbows. All right. If I had to guess, I’d say you’ve always been more handsome than most, and able to talk your way into or out of anything. You’ve got a natural dexterity that serves you well in sports. Your senses are above average, eyesight’s perfect, and your night vision is better than most. Good with animals, a natural green-thumb, and you enjoy being outdoors. You’re never sick, and you heal quickly from injuries.

His playful smile had faded into a blank stare. Does that sound familiar? she prompted.

He met her blue-grey eyes and nodded. Yeah. It does.

For all your children as well, she said it as a statement, not a question.

His eyes flashed with understanding for a moment, before flicking left-to-right and glancing out the window as he shifted his weight. Are you saying that all Foresters are like this?

Yes. And it wouldn’t be uncommon at all to have felt a sort of disconnect from your peers. As if they were too different, or you didn’t quite fit.

Raymond slid to the edge of the bench and began to rise from the diner booth. Look, I think I need time to wrap my —

Her hand snaked out and grabbed his wrist. She let a stream of energy flow through her fingers, willing him to relax and listen, then sent an unspoken command directly to his mind, "Relax, Raymond. Don’t leave yet."

He stared down at her hand for a moment, then returned to his seat.

She released him and spoke softly as his eyes cleared from the minor enchantment, I get that this can be overwhelming, and I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel uncomfortable. I know it’s difficult to reevaluate everything all at once.

He raked a hand through his hair and said with a sigh, I wasn’t expecting to talk about any of this tonight. Maybe there’s no way to prepare for it. But I think I need some time to process it — on my own.

Priscilla nodded. I understand. I’ll contact you again next week, and we can talk more. But you’re welcome to call me if you’ve got questions before then. She slid a business card into his shirt pocket as she stood from the table, then rested her fingers on his shoulder. And Raymond...

He looked up at her, eyes clouded with uncertainty.

This isn’t bad news. The family perks are pretty nice. She gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, then walked out of the diner.

7:00PM CST, Diner, Houston, Texas

FOR A WHILE, RAYMOND HAD remained at the table, his mind busy rolling through history like an old reel, trying to see past situations from a fresh perspective.

James.

The name popped into his head for the twentieth time since she’d left. He’d never known his real father’s name. As his parents had explained it, total privacy for the donor was part of the deal. For forty-six years, he hadn’t known a thing about him — until today.

His thoughts drifted back to Priscilla again, and images of her smiling face and sandy blonde hair flipped through his mind. When she asked to meet with him about his estate, he’d assumed it had something to do with his wife’s death.

The moment she walked into the diner, he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

Dark blue jeans hugged ample thighs until they disappeared into tall black boots, and she wore a sleeveless black top that floated to a stop just below her waist. She’d walked right toward him, eyes smiling and locked on his face, and he was sure his looks had lured her the way they did most women.

The next thing he knew, she was introducing herself as the person he was waiting to meet. He was thrown off-kilter, because she didn’t look like the lawyer-type he was expecting. Then she joined him at the table and started talking about his father.

It was both strange and frustrating that she hadn’t reacted to his usual charm. Of all the times for it to fail him, why with this woman who nearly took his breath away? Women threw themselves at him constantly, whether he was interested or not, but he was definitely interested in this one.

She’d been right about that guess when she’d mentioned Forester attributes — he rarely had trouble attracting women. It was a blast when he was younger, but after a while, the lack of any real challenge became boring. Like brushing your teeth and eating breakfast, it had become routine to plan on bringing one home each night.

What he referred to fondly as his ‘man-whore years’ had created three of his beautiful children. Jennifer, Marcus, and Leonard — each from different mothers. Then he’d fathered Fiona and Gabriel with his wife, Carol. There was a big scare with her second pregnancy, so a couple of years shy of thirty he decided to get a vasectomy.

As he thought of Carol, he felt a twinge of pain. She’d made everything better for a while. It hadn’t been love, but he cared for her and tried to be a decent husband. Like most women, he could charm her into anything, but she’d figured him out and forced him to promise not to manipulate her that way. She used to call it ‘bewitching,’ like it was some kind of magic power, but apparently it was only one of those family eccentricities.

His mind called up a memory of Priscilla’s shirt lifting to reveal the soft flesh at her waist when she waved over the waitress. She wore no jewelry, although she did wear a watch — something he only noticed because his kids teased him about continuing to wear one when he had a perfectly good cell phone clock. And it seemed like she wore little makeup, though admittedly he couldn’t always tell for sure. Were her eyes blue or grey?

His cell phone jingled with a text message.

Gabe forgot the chips. Can you get ‘em?

He glanced at the time on his phone and his eyes bulged, the football game was set to start in less than an hour. How’d I lose so much time? he mumbled, annoyed with himself. He punched out a quick response.

Yep. See ya soon.

Not wanting to waste precious minutes hassling with the check, he strode over to his waitress, pulling a bill out of his wallet on the way. She was busy taking an order, but he cozied up into her space and leaned between her and the table. He flashed the guests a brief smile. S’cuse me, folks, sorry, he said before focusing his most charming smile on her. Anna, I’ve just gotten an emergency text, and I really have to run. Would you mind handling my check for me?

He tucked a folded twenty into her shirt pocket.

She returned his smile automatically and gave a little nod, but he was already hustling toward the door.

Over his shoulder, he acknowledged, Thanks, darlin’. I’ll be back around in a couple of days.

7:10PM CST, Downtown, Houston, Texas

SO HOW DID HE TAKE the news? Guy asked as he directed the car along the exit ramp into downtown Houston.

Priscilla shrugged. About as well as expected. He’ll come around. He just needs time to let it sink in that he’s always been different.

Poor fellow, he’s in for a rude awakening. He paused, then laughed. No pun intended.

She flashed a quick grin. Well, everything for the ritual is on standby as of this morning. But he’s also grieving the death of his wife, so it may be weeks before he’s mentally adjusted enough to welcome it.

He nodded as he maneuvered the car through the streets.

Did your family need you to do anything tonight?

Not a thing. I’m all yours. He winked at her with a playful grin.

Marvelous. Do you want to get a snack? Maybe at a place where I can do some dancing?

He chuckled softly. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you developed a mind-reading ability. Give me but another minute, we’re almost there. After a couple more turns, Guy guided the vehicle up against the curb of an industrial building.

Priscilla giggled at the word-play when she saw the sign for the club they’d pulled up to. In big, bold, red neon, the letters spelled DIE FACTORY, and under that, ‘German Punk Goth Club.’

You and your puns! This place looks wonderful, full of young, energetic creatures. You know just what I like. Her expression shifted, and she cast a skeptical glance his way. But you hate these kinds of places. What made you seek one out intentionally?

There was some optional valet parking, and when she hopped out of the car, she signaled the valet to come over. The door to the establishment was ajar, allowing potential visitors to easily see that the place was packed full. A light breeze swept through the air, making the smell of sweat, smoke, and naked flesh even more palatable from the curb.

Guy looked proud of himself as he popped the trunk, then opened his door, leaving the keys in the ignition. As he walked toward the open back, he divested himself of his blazer before removing his long-sleeved button-down and revealing a cooler black undershirt. Priscilla joined him at the rear of the car while the valet went around to the driver side.

He smiled and shrugged, dropping his jacket and shirt in the trunk. I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and you haven’t complained once. I thought I’d take you somewhere I know you’ll like to thank you.

She closed the distance, pressing herself against Guy’s chest and tipping her mouth up to brush her lips across his. You’re so sweet. But I know these places overstimulate your Elf senses more than they do mine. Are you sure you want to go inside?

His arms slid behind her back while she ran her fingers through his dark wavy hair. I’m sure.

Then we won’t stay too long, and let me know if your head starts to hurt.

He released her unhurriedly. Promise.

Priscilla shut the trunk with one hand and glanced back at the valet, saying, We won’t be too long.

Just so long as you try to enjoy yourself, I love watching you dance, he said as they approached the bouncer at the door.

Priscilla noted the look of approval from the bouncer as he scanned them both. It was expected, though a simple command could change his mind if he refused to let them in, but it was almost never a problem entering any place they wanted to go. Especially clubs that wanted to pack the building with attractive patrons, and Elves were unquestionably pleasing to the eye.

They passed through the entryway into the pulsating throng of a packed crowd bouncing to German industrial punk. Glistening bodies undulated in a wavelike rhythm as they bumped and pressed against each other, skin on display in every direction.

Despite the tall ceilings of the converted warehouse, the crowd made the room oppressively hot and many had shed their shirts, leaving them tied at the waist, or were barely dressed to start with. Lots of black clothing, spikes, chains, and dramatic makeup adorned the horde of revelers.

She breathed deep and focused entirely on the sensations. The musky tang of sweat, the vibrating energy of the lust, and the coiled thread of channeled violence. At first, it seemed like a solid immovable mass of bodies. Then she touched the shoulders of two people in front of her, let her energy flow outward into them, and they turned to stare at her with a glazed look on their faces.

Priscilla created a path for herself through the middle by letting her fingers walk across backs, rib cages, and arms. A ripple of curiosity swept through the crowd as they parted for her energy, but when she reached the center, she stopped and began to dance.

The pack closed around her again, and she became enveloped by bodies grinding against her own. She started to cycle the energy of the youthful dancers, drawing it into herself like a long drink, then channeled it back out into them.

She drank them in and gave a low purr of pleasure. It was what she loved about crowds, the energy high — and this was the kind of club she preferred. So much emotion in the room, a growly quality to the music, and the animalistic nature it sparked in the listeners.

A few songs passed this way, then the familiar thumping of Du Hast filled the room, and the crowd intensity kicked up automatically. On reflex, she glanced over to the DJ platform and noticed Guy standing nearby. They locked eyes for a moment, then he motioned off to the side and her gaze followed to see a small VIP alcove that would shield him a little more from the sensations in the room.

Priscilla nodded to him and danced her way toward that side of the room.

7:15PM CST, Diner Parking Lot, Houston, Texas

WHEN RAYMOND EXITED THE DINER, Mitchell logged the time on his tablet, then set it aside and started the car. He observed his charge reach his vehicle in a series of rapid strides — of course, he knew exactly where Raymond was going and why he was in a hurry.

The Dallas Cowboys were playing the New Orleans Saints that evening, and Raymond always visited his second oldest son’s house on game nights. His youngest son, Gabriel, would show up as well. Leonard’s home was on an acre lot with no close neighbors to complain about the noise, and it didn’t hurt that he had an enormous high definition television and a comfy couch.

Given that the surveillance set-up included full access to Raymond’s phone, he expected him to stop somewhere to buy chips. His charge pulled out of the parking space and headed toward the main road, Mitchell shadowing him from a discreet distance. Once they’d driven more than halfway to Leonard’s house, he knew Raymond would pick a place to stop soon.

It wasn’t much longer before the car in the distance pulled off the road and into a Quickie-Mart gas station. Mitchell slowed even more to add time in between their arrivals, then parked as far away as possible in the nearly empty lot, taking extra care to keep his face out of the immediate line of sight while Raymond filled up his tank. He watched him replace the pump nozzle and enter the store, then another car pulled up and that driver also went inside.

A few minutes passed.

Then two more.

Mitchell frowned at the time on his watch, then fiddled with the band while he stared at the glass windows covered with advertisements for cheap beer, cartons of cigarettes, and two-for-one hot dogs.

Raymond didn’t normally dawdle, and there weren’t so many cars around that there should be a big line. Maybe the clerk was having problems with his register.

Bang! Bang!

Mitchell’s heart sank at the distinct sound of gunshots, then fear surged through him and he nearly tore the door off exiting the car. It took only seconds for him to get inside the store and take stock of the situation. Raymond lay on the white tile floor bleeding from his side, a thick red pool spreading quickly. The clerk’s body hung slumped over the register counter, blood pouring out from his chest and running down the glass case.

The shooter stood in between both, eyes darting back and forth between the victims. His breathing was chaotic as the gun clattered to the ground, and his shaking palms rose to press against his temples. Overwhelmed with shock, the man didn’t even realize anyone else had come inside, but when he finally noticed Mitchell, it was only another moment before the shooter’s neck was broken and he collapsed beside his fallen gun.

Mitchell worried at the size of the blood pool beside Raymond. I need more time, I’ve got to stop the blood.

He dashed to the automotive aisle and returned with a pack of terry cloth rags and duct tape, then ripped open Raymond’s shirt, tore one of the cotton rags out of the bundle, and started mercilessly packing the wound. His injured charge screamed in agony for a few seconds, then his body fell limp as he lost consciousness.

Sorry Ray, it’s better this way, Mitchell mumbled.

He put his fingers underneath Raymond’s body and felt around looking for an exit wound, then let out a small sigh of relief when he found the second bullet hole. Using one hand, he shifted Raymond onto his side, then shoved another piece of clean rag into the exit wound. When he rolled him back over, he noticed the fabric on the front was completely saturated and blood was pouring out of the injury again.

Damn it. Something’s bleeding inside. He took a shaky breath. Shit!

He wiped off as much blood as he could to dry the skin, folded another piece of cloth into a thick bandage, and duct taped it over the front opening before repeating the process on the back.

The sound of a car rushing by on the road outside made Mitchell glance up, and he realized he needed to lock down the scene. Leaping to his feet, he flipped the sign on the front entrance to ‘Closed,’ then hit the nearby light switches so the interior went dark.

He returned to Raymond, lifted him effortlessly, and carefully carried him outside to where he’d left his vehicle in the parking lot. He managed to open the passenger door while still holding him, and settled him in the seat, then reclined it to keep his body at an angle. As he was about to close him in, he noted the seat belt. With a last-minute idea, Mitchell ripped it from the wall of the car and started sliding it under Raymond.

Raymond regained consciousness for a moment, took one look at him, and began yelling in terror while pulling away. Mitchell groaned, realizing his fangs had been out because of all the blood and stress. Another mistake. They’re gonna kill me. He tightened the belt over the wound like a tourniquet, and the sudden rush of pain made Raymond pass out again.

Mitchell shut the passenger door and scanned the scene. The outside sign was still on. With no time to search for the right switch, he dashed over to the metal pole it was mounted on and ripped out the wiring that ran up the side. The store logo flicked off immediately.

Good enough for now, he mumbled to himself, then climbed into the car, punched a button on the navigation, and watched as the system immediately brought up the closest company medical unit. As he tore out of the parking lot in the direction indicated on the map, he tapped the Bluetooth phone console and dialed a programmed number.

Identity? a male voice asked when the line opened.

Guardian Mitchell Cortez, Houston.

What assistance is needed?

I had to perform a critical evac. I need a cleanup crew at the last GPS stop on my assigned vehicle.

Is the scene isolated?

As much as I could. Please tell the closest emergency center I’m en route and require medical help to stabilize my charge. He was shot in the side.

I’ll contact them immediately. Has your superior been notified?

No. That’s my next call.

Good luck. The other party ended the call.

With grim resignation, Mitchell pressed another programmed number on the console.

7:55PM CST, Die Factory Club, Houston, Texas

HAVING MANEUVERED HER WAY TO the dark, VIP corner of the club, Priscilla settled in on the bench seat beside Guy and immediately picked up the beer she assumed was for her. The heat of the room had gotten her sweating along with the rest of the crowd, and she gulped half of it down all at once.

Giving a long, satisfied sigh, she leaned against Guy and said, I love this place. The energy is great here.

I’m glad you’re having fun. I discovered this little nook back here is actually pretty well insulated from the noise. And I have another surprise for you. This establishment fancies itself part club, part beer garden.

Her eyebrows lifted. So there’s food here? I smelled it, but I thought it was from someplace else nearby.

It’s out back, there’s a patio area and tables but they’ll bring it inside to us. I just ordered an assortment since dancing always works up your appetite.

Not that it takes much to do that, she said, grinning.

Guy gave a chuckle. True.

What’re you drinking? It looks like lemonade.

Close. It’s only half, the rest is a Bavarian beer. Do you want to try it?

Sure, I — she broke off when two staff members approached the VIP area with serving trays weighed down by an assortment of food. On second thought, food sounds better.

Ten minutes later she and Guy were both leaning against the back of the bench seat, having needed to take a break in their goal to try everything they’d ordered.

The beer brat nachos may be a new favorite, she murmured.

Mmm, only in Texas. I think I preferred those fritters with the apple sauce dip.

We may have to come back another time and only order half the menu.

Guy gave a short laugh. This is half the menu.

She relaxed against the back of the couch and listened to the rich German voices thundering through the club, then rolled her head sideways and met Guy’s gaze. Eyes locked, they tilted toward each other and kissed slowly, then she said, Thank you, this has been a really nice night.

I’m glad you think so too. I could definitely return, this little alcove is the perfect spot for me, and I can still watch you dance from here.

You’ve got yourself a date, she said with a grin.

He opened his mouth to speak again, but stopped when her phone rang. She retrieved it from her jeans pocket and brought it to her ear, saying, Priscilla.

This is Guardian Mitchell. I had to emergency evac Raymond. We’re en route for medical.

She leapt to her feet before Guy could exhale a knowing sigh, then barked into the phone, What the hell? I just left him. Explain.

He was shot, and he’s lost a lot of blood. I plugged the wounds, but I think he has internal bleeding too. I’m driving us to the closest medical unit right now.

She closed her eyes for a moment, then she blew out a breath to relax her jaw. Which one?

215. It’s on the East side of the city.

I’m downtown. I’ll be there as quickly as I can. She paused before speaking clearly and slowly, You do not leave his side. You do not let him die. Your life depends on it.

Yes, ma’am.

Priscilla ended the call and leaned down to give Guy a parting kiss. Thanks for tonight, love. I had a great time.

Good luck with your chaos, he said, smiling at her vanishing figure as she dashed out of the bar, having snatched a fresh pretzel off the table before leaving.

Out the door, she took off on foot, moving twice as fast as a Human while she wove her way between buildings on the most direct path. In less than five minutes, Priscilla had reached the downtown Forester headquarters building and darted into her office. She re-emerged holding a black duffle bag, then rode the elevator back down to the parking garage.

Priscilla’s car was already growling with speed when she punched in the destination on the GPS and headed toward the freeway entrance.

8:20PM CST, Medical Unit 215, Houston, Texas

THE EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE CENTER could be easily mistaken for an abandoned industrial warehouse. The property was overgrown with weeds, and the weathered exterior bore remnants of a faded logo mostly chipped away. A large metal door stood propped open, and Mitchell drove directly through it and into the loading bay.

Nursing staff awaited with a stretcher when he pulled in, and their practiced hands had Raymond out of the car and being wheeled inside in under a minute. He followed his charge as they rolled him through a pair of swinging doors and into a bright white hospital room. A doctor stood waiting for the others to set him up under the operating lights. She was gowned, masked, and immediately asked Mitchell, What’s the situation?

He’s shot in the side. It went through, but I think he might have internal bleeding. My superior’s on her way.

She gave a brief nod, then turned to where Raymond lay in front of her as soon as the nurses moved out of the way. She checked the tension on the tourniquet, examined the duct tape, and felt the padding through it. A nurse hooked him up to the monitors, and the doctor checked the output for his blood pressure and heartbeat.

This is outstanding work. Fast thinking, the doctor commented. How much blood did he lose before you got him sealed up?

A lot. There was a large pool on the floor, Mitchell said, his voice unsteady.

Show me with your hands. How big was the pool?

He spaced his hands about a foot and a half apart.

That’s not as bad as it may seem. The doctor checked his output numbers again. His pressure is falling slowly, but we expected worse considering the drive time. He probably would’ve died without what you did, particularly this. She tapped the seat belt. Most don’t think about using a tourniquet anywhere but on limbs, but the same concept applies. You must’ve had a lot of combat first aid training.

So he’s going to be OK?

She blew out a breath. He’s hanging on for the moment, but the problem is that the second we release the binding, if he does have internal bleeding, he may bleed out. Possibly faster than we can replace it without the assistance of an Elf healer.

Priscilla’s on her way, I can find out how soon she’ll be here, he offered.

Her eyes widened briefly. Your direct superior is the head of Houston HQ? Well, I’m doubly glad I didn’t rush to take off that belt. She became quiet for a minute, then instructed him, "Get your boss on the phone.

Chapter 2

8:28PM CST, Priscilla’s Car, Houston, Texas

PRISCILLA GLANCED AT THE CALLER ID on the console screen, pressed a button on the steering wheel, and immediately asked, Is he alive?

Yes, but his situation is dangerous. The doctor’s concerned that once they release the bandage I placed, he may bleed out faster than they can fix him, Mitchell explained.

Can she keep him alive for ten minutes?

She heard Mitchell check with the doctor over the line. Yes. She thinks he’ll be good until then.

Do that. Tell her I’m bringing the ritual kit and to prep for it. I want to guarantee he survives.

Mitchell gave no response.

Did you hear me?

Yes. Sorry, ma’am. I’ve just never expected to see...

His words drifted off, but Priscilla understood. Most Guardians never bore witness to the ritual, and those who did were sworn to secrecy.

I’ll be there in eight minutes, she said, then pressed the ‘End Call’ button. A quick glance at the speedometer had her pushing the gas harder, and shaking her head in frustration. At least the traffic was thinning as she approached the edge of the city.

Priscilla took the exit she needed and twisted through a few streets until she reached the 215 location, then left her car parked outside, carrying only the duffle bag. She gripped the industrial bay door and swung it shut behind her, leaving the wheels squealing loudly as they rolled along the concrete. When she burst through the swinging doors and strode to the patient’s bed, she ignored everyone but the doctor, asking straight away, You ready?

The doctor nodded.

Did you have to sedate him? Priscilla asked, noticing his lack of movement.

No, he passed out again.

I’ll take care of his pain, she said, then reached out and tapped his forehead, saying, Sleep.

There’s something about his condition you should be aware of. If his Guardian hadn’t bandaged him as well as he did, he wouldn’t have survived the car ride, the doctor explained to her.

Priscilla looked at her curiously. Most doctors she encountered, Human or otherwise, rarely volunteered praise in that manner. Nor did they often admit they would’ve been incapable of saving someone. Those two points caused her to decide that the compliment was particularly significant. For the first time, she turned to Mitchell and really looked at him. He didn’t seem affected by what the doctor said, instead his face was

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