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The book's prologue.

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Hillary



Joined: 13 Apr 2004
Posts: 1767
The book's prologue.  Reply with quote  

I think I posted it before? Yeah, I did. It's an horror/urban fantasy thing about werewolves, witches, vamps, the things that go bump in the night, and . . . uh, Kassandra.

Lauren hasn't seen it yet, so it hasn't necessarily been edited, but it's the best I can give you for an intro. Also, cut and pasted. Tried to insert italics and spacing where needed, but it might be a little screwy.

Rip it apart with comments.

Here goes:

*****

PROLOGUE

July 1976 – Plympton, MA

A winded, terrified Allison Wilkes managed to ring the Thornton’s doorbell before collapsing on their front steps. The skies were nightmare black, and he was near . . . looking for her, scenting her. He must be close; she’d barely escaped after kicking him in the crotch, and considering her condition, running wasn’t all that easy.

She clutched her throat with one hand, applying as much pressure as possible to her wound. Her free arm pounded on the lower panels the door, so hard the wood nearly buckled. It was late – Elsie and Mac were most likely asleep. She prayed she was disruptive enough to wake someone; if not, things were going to deteriorate for her very, very soon, and quite frankly, she didn’t want to die this way.

With a grunt and a one-handed grasp at the railing, she attempted to stand, but an unexpected wave of dizziness sent her spiraling forward. She stumbled onto the concrete, her hip and shoulder erupting in a white flash of pain as they struck the sun beaten surface.

At least the child was unharmed.

Allison whimpered, frustration forcing tears to well in the corners of her eyes. She returned her hand to her neck, blood running thick from the gash. It spilled over her fingers and coursed down her arms in tiny rivers of red black. I have to get up, she thought, willing her swollen, battered body into motion. I have to – for the baby. She tried propelling into a sitting position, but the baby’s girth and her light-headedness made it difficult. It was like swimming against a strong tide; she’d get so far before the pressure would sweep her back. After a third failed attempt, she groaned in defeat, pounding her fist against the pavement. Goddess, please don’t let my baby die because of a rotten vampire. She gingerly craning her neck to peer into the woods. He was out there somewhere, tromping through the woods, and she knew he was coming for her. If she was fated to die this night, she wanted to see him coming, she wanted him to see that she didn’t fear death. By the rule of three, he would suffer for this; somehow, someway, he would suffer for robbing her of so much life.

Minutes crept by as she waited for an inevitable demise, but then hope came in the form of the Thornton’s front light. Seeing the bulb blaze to life, she was ecstatic, and she turned just in time to see her foster-father peek through the curtains of the window. When he saw her sprawled helplessly across the walkway, her legs akimbo, blood staining her clothing and hair, he nearly ripped the door from the hinges, screaming his wife’s name in his wake.

“Elsie! Get down here. What the . . . CHRIST Allison!” He knelt in the crimson mess, putting his hand over hers, applying more pressure to her injury. He attempted to slip his free arm beneath her neck but she stopped him with a faint groan.

“No. Into the house. A bad vamp nearby”.

“Can you stand?”

“Worth a try.” She launched herself forward, Mac supporting her weight on his shoulders. He staggered a few times, trying to juggle her, but by the time Elsie came running through the front door, Allison was sagging into his side.

“Dear Goddess what happened?” Elsie’s eyes widened at the sight of the bloody young woman before her. She moved to help her husband with his burden, but he waved her off.

”In the house. Rogue vamp.” He guided the pregnant woman up the steps, struggling to keep his balance. Behind him, the woods creaked like an old woman’s joints. Leaves and brush rustled as something – or someone – traipsed through, destroying the flora in its path. Twigs and branches snapped beneath heavy footfalls. For the first time in his life, Mac had the unpleasant feeling that he was being stalked. He suddenly knew how the deer felt under the watchful eye of the hunter.

He moved faster – for his sake as well as Allison’s.

Mac guided her to the couch in the living room while El locked the latches on the front door. He laid her upon the dark leather, his hand braced beneath her neck. Elsie shouldered past him, nearly tossing him against the wall. She removed Allison’s hands, gasping as a torrent of new blood flooded forth, oozing over Allison’s neck and shoulders. A warm, sticky pool began to form on the couch - far too quickly for Elsie’s liking. Not good. There were twin gashes marring the skin, like the vamp who’d bitten her had latched onto the throat and dragged down with his fangs.

“Call Athea and John. Find him. Now,” she ordered her husband, wiggling out of her robe. She used the garment as a towel to mop up the overflow. Mac whisked into the kitchen, watching her dab at Allison’s wounds over his shoulder.

Elsie knew that she had to attempt a healing spell. It was far too late for regular medicine, but magic . . . magic might be able to do it. She slid a pillow under Allison’s neck, being careful to disrupt the girl as little as possible. “Can you tell me what happened?” She placed one of Allison’s own hands over the wound.

“The baby was restless so I went for a walk. He jumped me in front of the cornfield. I was closer to your house than mine.” Allison lived three or four houses up the street, but in this part of Plympton, the residences were far spaced. There was almost a mile between their homes.

“Your father and uncle will find him. Don’t you worry.” Elsie noticed that Allison’s breathing had become ragged; time was now her greatest enemy. “I need you to slow your breathing. But don’t fall asleep, do you understand?” Allison murmured a nonsensical reply before swinging her eyes to the ceiling, her chest rising and falling slowly, rhythmically. Elsie grabbed Allison’s blood smeared fingers within her own. Her free hand went to cover the girl’s heart. She dipped her head, her brown eyes closing as she began to mutter to herself in a deep, steady monotone.

Words of healing, words of power.

Allison immediately relaxed; this was a potent flesh spell she herself had used many times before. Only the best priestesses could control the energy generated by the incantation, but she had no fear. Elsie was her mentor, her teacher, her mother. She had trained many of the healing priestesses Allison knew, and if anyone could fix her damaged neck, it was the woman beside her.

Comforted, she gripped Elsie’s hand harder, waiting to feel the warm glow of the healing magic, waiting for that sweet lull of power to take her pain away.
Long minutes passed, both women suspended in the ripening magic. Elsie’s brow furrowed as she tried forcing the injury closed, Allison’s breath grew shallower at her mentor’s instruction. Together they willed on the healing, their energies combining to form a dull white light that swirled around them like a cloud of dancing fireflies. Soon, tendrils of crisp magic appeared in the glow, moving in time with Elsie’s chants. They responded to her words like dancers lulled by a melody. Elsie grasped the brightest flames, directing them towards the injuries. At first they responded beautifully, closing in on the marks as any healing magic would, preparing to enter the wounds to take the carnage away. But then something went awry. As Elsie tried to order the power to slip inside, the tendrils stagnated. They froze, suspended uselessly in mid-air, waiting for an alternative command. Elsie snared the light again, guiding them to the rips, but the healing would have none of it. It rejected Allison, repelled by something wrong in the younger woman’s wounds. Two, three more times Elsie tried, but every attempt resulted in the same damning effects. The spell would not cooperate. The seventh lassoing of magic was her last. Exhaustion forced her to failure, and through half-mast eyes she watched the glow dissipate, her healing magic whirling away in the heavy summer air.

“Damn.” She closed her eyes to try and regain equilibrium. When she opened them, Allison was peering at her, a faint smile on her tired-looking face.

“Don’t worry. It’s not you.” she whispered, her voice fainter than before.

“I know that. He must have bled on you, tainted the wound, and I don’t have any holy water for a cleansing. I’m sorry,” she muttered, rolling her head around on her shoulders. Think, Elsie, Think! There had to be something she could do . . . something she was missing. There was a church up on Oak Street, and a drug store down in Halifax that would carry holy water. How quickly could Mac get there?

Allison turned her gaze to the ceiling, blinking rapidly as heavy tears formed beneath her eyelids. She knew holy water would fix the vampire infection, but she also knew it wouldn’t help with the healing. She should have said something before Elsie began the ritual, but she had hoped . . . well, she’d hoped for a miracle. Now she had no choice but to confess; if Elsie got her hands on holy water and still couldn’t purge the taint, she’d figure it out the hard way. The least Allison could do was be honest. If she didn’t make it through this ordeal, she wanted her baby born - no matter what – and if Elsie was to keep the child alive, she must know everything.

“I . . . “ she paused, drawing a breath for courage. “I think you’re partially right about the vampire blood – he was a bleeder and I hurt him - but I don’t think it’s just that. I think it’s probably the baby preventing the magic from working.”

Elsie reached up to wipe Allison’s tears away. They glittered on her fingertips like warm diamonds. “Oh stop. What about an innocent baby could prevent a healing from working?”

Allison averted her gaze, unable to bear Elsie’s face when she confessed her sin. “A lot when the baby’s father is a werewolf.”

El’s hand flew to her mouth, stifling a gasp. She was stunned, simply stunned – so much so that she didn’t realize she’d smeared Allison’s blood all over her lower face. “But I thought . . . Oh no. You never said who . . . when you didn’t say who the father was, I’d assumed the baby was conceived during a fertility rite. I’d hoped . . . ”

”I never took part in any of those rites. I’ve never been comfortable with them.“

Elsie should have known, should have realized . . . Allison was always scarce during sex rites. But when she’d found out her girl was pregnant, she’d hoped for it, or something like it. Maybe Allison had met a nice boy, maybe one of the witches had caught her eye. Maybe . . . well, she supposed the maybes didn’t matter at this juncture, not when the truth was flashing in her face. ”I should have known it was Garrett’s. I thought pack law demanded he take a werewolf mate within a month of assuming leadership. I assumed he had a wife now, and that you two were done. That’s all.”

“He does have a wife, but he doesn’t love her. I know he doesn’t. He loves me.” Allison paused, sniffling miserably, her shoulders trembling like she was frigidly cold. “Please believe that we tried to stay apart. Honestly we did, but we couldn’t. We’d been together too long. It hurt too much to lose it.”

Elsie’s hand dropped to her lap. Though the thought of Garret’s infidelity sat like a stone in her stomach, she could almost understand it. She wouldn’t condemn them. Allison and Garrett had been together for years, and his advancement in the pack had been very sudden. The two young people hadn’t had any time to grieve for their forced parting. They were tragic star-crossed lovers in the most traditional sense. “I’m not judging you. I’m just concerned. If the pack learns about this, there’ll be hell to pay. Pack law demands fidelity under the penalty of abolishment.“

”I know. Don’t you think I’ve thought of that? I know. That’s why I never told him I was pregnant.”

“Good Goddess. You mean to tell me . . . ah hell.” Elsie dragged a blood smeared hand through her hair. A rust colored streak now stained the light brown strands from temple to tip.

“What happened? What’s going on? Did the healing work?” Mac demanded as he reentered the room. His questions were rapid-fire succession, one blurring into the next.

“Calm yourself, Marcellus. I can’t heal her because she’s got taint in her bloodstream. Not only did the vamp bleed on her, but the baby is Garrett’s and the healing won’t accept cursed blood.”

”What? Garrett’s?!” Mac’s voice was an octave too high, like he’d just been kicked in the groin. Elsie scowled at his volume, and he had the decency to mutter an apology. He adjusted his glasses, his frown threatening to sag past his chin. His eyes flicked from his wife to his daughter. The veritable lake of blood now covering them, the couch, and the floor sent a shiver up his spine. “What now, then? What can we do?”

Elsie’s shoulders sagged as she returned her hand to Allison’s neck. “I don’t know,” she admitted, her head throbbing. “The only thing I can think of is to get our hands on holy water to destroy the vampire taint. After that, maybe a shaman can summon away the spirit of the wolf in the baby. It’s a long shot, but maybe . . .“

“No!” Allison’s voice was strong for the first time since she lay on their sofa. “I won’t risk the baby. Exorcisms on adult lycanthropes almost never work, and on an infant, it’s a death sentence.”

Elsie shook her head. ”I know how you must feel, sweetie, but this is a matter of life or death. You can have other children. I know that sounds cold, but . . .“

”I said no!” Allison was horrified. Her tears erupted into gut wrenching sobs that set her entire body trembling. “Save this baby. She’s the only thing left that’s Garrett’s and mine. I won’t let anyone destroy that. I won’t.” Allison’s weeping made the wounds on her neck bleed more profusely, and Elsie grabbed onto her shoulders, pinning her to the couch.

“Listen to me. If the baby has lycanthropy and a vampire has infected you, it’s going to die anyway. I don’t see how, medically or magically, it could survive. We have one chance to save you. Please let me try.” Allison reached up to clutch at Elsie’s hands, her face mottled red from her tears. The women stared at one another, both expressions full of love and pain. Frustrated, Elsie shook her head. “I can’t, I won’t . . . I must save you. “ She refused to put the unborn infant before the mother.

Allison’s eyes were pleading, her lashes fluttering like butterfly wings. “Please, do this for me,” she whispered, drawing in another deep, lung filling breath. “Please, Mom.”

Elsie held her peace, sparing her the sharper side of her tongue. She couldn’t think of anything comforting to say, and berating a woman with a grievous injury seemed wrong. A short while later, Allison fell asleep. A body traumatized from excessive blood loss would do that. El allowed her to go under, unsure of what to do. Perhaps the holy water and the exorcism of the beast spirit would have worked if they’d been applied immediately following the attack - but now they’d wasted too much time. The blood loss was too extreme.

The truth became blazingly clear as Elsie watched Allison’s chest rise and fall; Allison Wilkes was going to die, and Elsie Thornton could do nothing to stop it. No. No! She balled both of her fists to press them hard against her eyes. It was unfair; with all of the magic she and Allison could conjure, with all of the background in medicine and health, in the end it was worthless. Elsie was going to fail the only child she would ever claim.

The thought made her weep - tortured silent sobs that stemmed from her gut and made her body rock back and forth.

Mac crouched beside her to slide an arm across her shoulders, dragging her to him. “Do as she says,” he whispered into her ear, his own voice ragged. “If roles were reversed, you would have done the same thing.”
His presence calmed her, grounded her, and she drew away from him to tenderly brush a lock of Allison’s blond hair off of her forehead. “How can I lose her? She took the place of the children we couldn’t have. How can I lose her?”

“I don’t know.” He knelt beside his wife, his knees getting wet in the viscous blackness that now stained their hardwood floor. “I love her too, but she wants to save this child. As her parents – as her friends – we need to respect that. We need to try and save it.”

Elsie examined Allison’s face. She admired her strength . . . her determination. Allison had endured the attack not to save herself, but to save her baby. As hard as it was to admit, the right thing to do was to respect the young mother’s wishes.

Finally she nodded, running blood slick hands down her nightgown. Tracks of rust marred the garment, the hem drenched in a sludge that felt cold against her skin. “I’ll do what I can, though I’m not sure how this baby can live. Fetch my kit.”

Mac embraced her again. His wife – the woman he’d always attributed with ferocious strength and unconquerable resolve - went as limp as a dead fish under the weight of his arms. He’d never seen her so defeated, so full of sorrow, and he knew there was nothing he could to do help her. He kissed her cheek before going to retrieve her supplies from the study. He slipped them under her hand, looping his arms around her neck in an awkward hug. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

An abrupt knock on the door dragged his attention to the foyer. Athea and John Thornton - his brother and sister-in-law - had arrived. He went to let them in, leaving his wife to begin preliminary measures on Allison.

Elsie studied her patient before waking the girl with good old-fashioned smelling salts. Allison’s eyes fluttered open, the usually brilliant blue glazed over and unfocussed. “Allison, I’m going to help deliver your baby,” she said, digging her nails into her palm to keep herself from crying. Allison moaned but didn’t reply. She didn’t even register recognition when Mac brought John and Athea into the living room.

”Holy Mother of God,” John swore, seeing the blood that had seeped from Allison’s neck onto the couch, the floor, Elsie, and everything else. “Mac – Elsie . . . I’m so sorry. How the hell did she survive the initial attack? There’s so much blood . . . ” His usually big voice sounded strangled.

Elsie’s shoulders stiffened as she repositioned Allison for the procedure. “The witch power has helped her. It’s kept her alive longer than a normal human. She keeps producing blood.”

Athea was very nearly in tears, watching her sister in law – and best friend – work on her daughter. She could tell El’s control was precarious at best. She’d known the woman for more than ten years, and the tension in her face made her look aged and brittle.

Athea separated herself from her husband’s side, removing her jacket. She rolled up the sleeves of her sweatshirt. True, she was a prophet-priestess who knew little in the ways of healing, but she must be able to do something to make this easier. “John, Mac . . . why don’t you make your peace. Then go out and find the son of a bitch responsible for this.”

John muttered agreement, carefully approaching the sofa. Elsie turned away, not letting him see her face as he reached down to squeeze one of Allison’s hands. His touch helped the wounded woman refocus, and the glaze slipped away from her eyes, revealing depths of pain and fatigue he had never seen before.

“Hi John,” she whispered, her voice no more than a hush.

“Hey Alley-cat. How are you?”

“I’ve been better.” She lightly squeezed his fingers, and he squeezed back, careful to be gentle. His big brown eyes found hers, and he couldn’t hide the sadness in them. Allison favored him with a wan smile. “Don’t look so sad. I’m going to have a baby in a little while, and everything will be okay.”

John loosed her hand. He stepped around the kneeling Elsie so he could kiss his niece on her forehead. “You do that, Cat,” he said before backing away. Athea’s heart nearly broke as she watched her 6’3” husband try to maintain his composure while he looked at the broken young woman. “Okay, my girl. I have to go now. Gotta go find that vamp with your dad. I’ll see . . . “ he paused, refusing to finish the sentence. Athea knew John wouldn’t make a promise he couldn’t keep, and by the looks of things, that was what he had been about to do. “I’ve gotta go,” he repeated, walking stiffly from the room.

Mac watched his brother leave, and after a few moments of steeling his will, he stepped forward to say his good-bye. He couldn’t be as strong as John. A rain of tears poured from behind his glasses as he moved to the left of his still-silent wife. “Elsie’s going to help you through this. She’ll be here for you through the whole thing, but I have to go with John to find the bad guy. I’m sorry.” Mac’s smile was watery. Allison slowly turned her head, her gaze boring into his like shards of ice. There was no doubt in that moment that she’d regained complete control of her faculties.

“Find that man for me, Mac. Find him and kill him.”

Mac nodded, tentatively reaching a hand up to cup Allison’s chin, setting her face to memory for the years to come. ”You can do this, Al. I know you can. I love you,” he said, leaning forward to kiss her on the cheek.

“I love you back,” she managed, though her voice broke in the middle. He smiled, and with one more kiss to the cheek, he turned to leave. Allison watched him grab a high-powered rifle off of the wall before joining John in the foyer. The front door slammed as the men went to track their prey.

Athea came to join Elsie on the floor, sinking into the cold, messy fluid. She smiled at Allison before looking to her sister-in-law for direction. ”What can I do to help?”

Elsie sighed, shaking her head in frustration. ”I don’t even know. There’s no reference on how to birth a vampire-infected lycanthrope, but I guess we’ll figure it out.” Athea nodded, her face intent as she stared at Allison’s prominent stomach.

“I have an idea, just follow my lead,” Allison said quietly, her smile replaced by a look of sheer determination. Her gaze returned to the ceiling, her ravaged neck spilling fresh blood across her shoulders. ”I love you guys. It will be fine, okay?” Athea grabbed Elsie’s hand, squeezing it tightly, lending support and strength.

Allison closed her eyes, her brow creasing in concentration. Athea and Elsie dipped their heads, allowing her to summon her powers. The young mother gently called forth the magic of the healing, beckoning it to respond to her, to come to her. Before long, the white light appeared, swirling around her in a humming silvery glow. The magic responded beautifully, amassing into a gigantic cloud of witch power. She continued to chant, continued to summon energy, compounding it into a noxious spell. Soon, the sheer pressure of it caused Athea and Elsie to gasp; they were overwhelmed by the presence surrounding them. It was thick like a blanket, a near tangible layer of magic that coated their skin in a heavy, ethereal glow. To be encased within such concentrated power was an ecstatic feeling, but it was also dangerous. Nobody could direct this volume of energy without irreparable consequences to themselves. Elsie’s mind cramped at that thought. Allison shouldn’t take on this much power or . . .

A startling vision of what Allison intended flashed in her head, and she knew it meant suicide. She opened her mouth to shout ‘stop chanting’ but Athea grabbed her arm, shaking her head fiercely. Elsie bit her lower lip hard enough to draw blood, but she nodded to her sister-in-law, allowing the ritual to continue. She thought the silence would kill her.

The room soon blazed with Allison’s light, the spell swirling rapidly, nearly out of control, above their heads. Elsie could see that the magic needed a release, the energy needed a place to go, but Allison held it at bay, firm within her grasp. Tears of pain welled in her crystal eyes. The stress of controlling such intense power caused unbelievable mental anguish, but Allison took it all without complaint.

Athea and Elsie drew in deep breaths, waiting for their sign to do something - anything - to alleviate the pressure drowning their bodies. They didn’t have to wait long.

Though Allison’s brow was beaded with sweat, though her hands were clenched and her eyes squinted, she managed to smile at them, all the while keeping the spell in her grasp.

“Mom . . . “ she paused, panting slightly with effort “when this dissipates, you should be able to carry out a normal birth. There’s no guarantees but do what you can.” She closed her eyes, the emotional and physical strain forcing sweat to run down her face in streams. “Thank you, and please name my daughter Kassandra. With a K. I love you both.”

“Allison, NO!” Elsie screamed, just in time for her daughter to do exactly what she feared. The young priestess released her hold on the magic, causing it to swirl out of control until - after mere seconds - she summoned it back, sucking the light directly into her body. The energy crashed through her skin, her eyes, her mouth . . . it entered every pore except where the vampire had bitten her and the infant itself - the two areas of strongest taint. Her back arched off of the couch as the power thrust inward. A high-pitched whistling escaped from her lips, creating a sound reminiscent of a boiling teakettle.

And then it was over. The light faded and a crystalline silence hung upon the room. Allison’s body collapsed into the couch, still and seemingly spent. Magic illuminated her skin, a silvery white gleam playing just beneath the surface of her flesh. Eerily, it showed every vein, organ, and artery as it pulsed with Allison’s life and power.

Elsie knew Allison had permanently damaged herself; she would be in a vegetative state until her death. Taking in that much magic would destroy anyone’s mind, and her daughter had known it and was willing to risk it for her baby. Though Elsie had anticipated something similar to this, she was still horrified by it. It had been so fast . . . it had been too damned fast.
Her girl was gone.

She wheezed, nearly hyperventilating in her grief. Athea grabbed her shoulders, pulling her close and crooning, words of comfort, love and friendship. It wasn’t enough to make it all better, but it was something. Wrenching sobs shook Elsie’s body as she cleaved to her sister-in-law.
“Elsie, baby, come on,” Athea said, stroking her friend’s hair. “We have to do this. For Allison. We’ve got to hold it together. The power’s strong now . . . let’s birth this baby. Ssshhhh.” They rocked back and forth, Elsie pouring her grief all over Athea’s shoulder. Her nose was red, her face was puffed up, and her brown eyes were unseeing as the sobs tore through her. “Come on, baby. Come on.” Athea murmured over and over again, trying to bring a measure of peace to the heartbroken priestess. Though she too was broken up over it, though Allison’s loss was destroying her insides, she needed to be strong for Elsie. She could do her own grieving later.

It seemed like days that they clung that way, Athea holding Elsie, Allison’s body glowing near lifeless on the couch. Eventually Elsie calmed, disentangling herself from her friend’s arms. She wiped the tears off of her face and sat - staring at Allison’s glowing body, the large belly ready to burst. The magic showed the baby’s form inside of her mother, and the infant moved with scrambled fury at the powers used to secure its life. Elsie sighed. She looked at her friend and nodded, letting Athea know the storm had cleared.

Athea squeezed her shoulder. “It’s going to be okay.”

Elsie’s face was grim as she watched the baby squirm inside of its mother. “I hope so, ‘Thea,” Elsie said, reaching up to position Allison’s still body for the ordeal ahead. “Let’s get this child out.”

#

John and Mac returned just after the little girl was born.

Kassandra Allison Wilkes joined the world at 11:59 p.m., and though she was an entire month premature, she weighed in just above six and a half pounds and measured eighteen inches from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. For a baby infected with lycanthropy, she was surprisingly devoid of excess body hair – even on her head. Her skin was smooth and white. Her cheeks were pudgy, her eyes a brilliant shade of blue that could change, Elsie knew, at any point during the next few months.

To the unobservant eye, Kassandra appeared to be a typical newborn baby with nothing extraordinary about her. But that was only to the unobservant eye. The child had an interesting idiosyncrasy – one Elsie had never encountered before in her long history with pregnancies, births and babies. Kassandra had an ebony colored circular mark on her back that traveled from the middle of her shoulder blades down to the base of her spine. Certain parts within the mark had maintained their flesh color, making the imperfection look like a picture or a symbol. It was unfortunate that none of them could decipher it; the baby’s back was newborn wrinkly.

“Maybe it’s just a coincidence,” Thea offered, eying the baby’s back. El quirked a single brow at her sister-in-law, and Athea shrugged, brushing a hand across her forehead to wipe the sweat away. “Okay, so maybe not.”

Elsie’s eyes wandered over to her husband. He stiffly removed his jacket, tossing it on the hat rack before slipping his rifle back to the wall brackets.
He must have felt her gaze, because he started speaking before he even turned around. “We couldn’t find him. He must have taken off after we brought her in the house. John’s bet is that he’s gone mad – drank too long from some poor sap and it sent him over the edge.” Mac tossed his hat onto the coffee table before sinking into one of the armchairs, allowing his eyes to fall shut.

Elsie stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate and provide less vague details. It was obvious he wasn’t going to cooperate.

“Drank too long?” she finally said, trying to stifle the wave of aggravation swelling in her stomach.

“I don’t know. I’m the teacher, remember? John, help me out here.” John had already come into the room and was now wrapping his arms around his wife’s tiny frame. He placed a quick kiss on the top of her head, and Elsie allowed a small at his carefree indiscretion. John was not what you would expect in a military man, with his shaggy blond hair, lopsided smile, and peculiar sense of humor, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t good at what he did. He was a veritable library on vamps, shape shifters, and all the other things that went bump in the night because he had to be. He ran the newly formed Underground group in the FBI, and they dealt with the ‘nasties’; when the supernatural got out of hand, John’s people dealt with them.
His chocolate colored eyes fell upon his sister-in-law. “If a vampire drinks from a person after the body dies, something happens. They snap. The human’s memories flood their brain, and the vamp can’t handle it . . . two minds in the same head. This guy was probably just too stupid to realize that he’d gone too far. My guess is he was stark raving mad when he bit Allison.” The big man stroked Athea’s hair as she leaned into him, fitting her head underneath his chin. His gaze strayed to the couch, where the still, glowing body of Allison remained, tucked in with a blanket. “Is she gone?” he asked, his voice somber.

“Not yet, but she won’t last too long. She called too much power, and it will shut her system down.” Elsie’s panic had abated; the birthing had siphoned her energy, leaving her insides cold.

“Is the little one going to live?” Mac asked, refusing to look at his daughter’s body. Instead he concentrated on the infant nestled within his wife’s arms.

“We can only hope.” The baby wriggled, making a pigeon-like coo as she tried to cram a pudgy fist into her mouth. Her movements forced the blanket down, exposing the lines of her back. As the black mark came into view, Athea licked her lips, curiosity getting the better of her. She stepped from John’s arms to approach the tiny child. “I wonder if I should take a peek,” she said, kneeling in front of Elsie so she was eye level with the mark. “What do you think?”

Elsie shrugged. “Can’t hurt, but aren’t you tired?”

“Not that tired. Besides, maybe we can decipher this symbol thing is if I try to see”. ‘See’ was Athea’s way of describing her precognition, and John ‘tsked’ from behind her, shaking his shaggy head.

“Can’t leave it alone, can you?” He crossed his broad arms over his chest. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Athea using her abilities - he was fine with it, and had taken advantage of it many times in his line of work - but he couldn’t help goading her. Athea hated anyone accusing her of being nosy, but her precog enabled her to be more than just nosy. She was worse – she was knowing.

“Oh Shoosh. I think we all want to know. Besides, we might as well find out if the poor thing is going to live.”

John rolled his eyes, crossing the room to sit in the rocker near the door – safely out of his wife’s way. Athea waggled her fingers, trying to get the blood flowing before she touched the mark. It took a minute, but when she felt ready, she slid her hand under the blanket and laid her warm palm across the newborn’s back. She then began to hum. It was Athea’s method of focusing her magic, the singing and humming, and it helped her breathe in time to a rhythm set by the melody. Eventually, her mind would open up and she would be able to catch glimpses of the future . . . glimpses of things that nobody should be able to see yet. And that was why they called her the Prophetess; an apt title for the woman with the rarest of the priestess abilities. Athea’s foretelling had prevented many bad things from happening to people, and now, maybe her insight would help them understand what the child’s mark meant . . . the destiny of the little afflicted baby. Maybe it could tell them whether or not Allison’s sacrifice was worthy.

Athea continued her humming, a tune that sounded suspiciously like “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin, but nobody dared to comment. They wouldn’t get the chance to, either, because the foreseeing suddenly took her. Her large green eyes widened in her face and her mouth dropped open as the world she had been in merely seconds ago shattered inside of her brain, leaving instead the black abyss of the probable tomorrow. It was dark in here. Very dark, but there was light too, that Athea wanted to touch – to embrace, but she couldn’t. Because she was there, in the corner of Athea’s eye, and the prophetess had to see her, needed to know. Who are you? she commanded, whirling her gaze to the left.

The stranger had her back to her, but certain things were distinguishable, maybe even familiar, from Athea’s vantage. For one thing, the girl was tall – maybe 5’9” or more. She had straight black hair she wore in a ponytail on top of her head, and - even with it being tied back - it hung low enough that it nearly touched the top of her black, baggy pants. Her feet were encased in lace-up boots that stopped about mid-calf; they looked heavy, and were really more suited for functionality than fashion. The same went for the woman’s tank top – it didn’t necessarily look pretty, but it certainly was easy enough to work in. On her right hip, the girl had some kind of a sheath attached to a belt. It must house a sword, as it was long, and slightly arched. Thea cocked an eyebrow at that. Swordsmen were uncommon these days, but the woman must have missed that message. She wore the weapon like it was part of her body; an extension of herself.

Athea opened her mouth to speak, to communicate with the girl in the dream phase, but the words didn’t come in time. The vision began to splinter, and Athea reached forward, to try and touch the woman once before everything evaporated. The stranger must have sensed her presence then, because she turned around to look at her, and in doing so, revealed two rather startling things to the Prophetess. The first was the mark. As the girl had whirled around, her ponytail whipped over her shoulder revealing her back, which was unhindered by the material of her tank top. The black shape was there, and it was considerably more pronounced on the adult person than on the infant. Athea did her best to burn it to memory . . . maybe Mac would be able to do something with it.

The second thing the priestess noticed was that the girl startlingly resembled her mother, from her silver blue eyes to her elegant nose, high cheekbones and pointed chin. Kassandra Wilkes looked like a taller, more exotic black haired version of Allison Wilkes.

The vision finally collapsed. Athea tried again to grab onto the reality, to force herself back into the dream realm she had fabricated, but it was no use. It was gone. She was coldly slammed back into her body and into Elsie’s living room. Surrounded by her husband, her friends, the infant, and Allison’s limp, useless body, she regained her senses, huffing and puffing like she had just run a long race in a short amount of time.

“Well, anything?” John asked from the rocking chair.

Athea nodded, sending her wavy blond hair bobbing wildly around her shoulders. “She’ll live. I can tell you that. Saw her as an adult.” Thea’s voice was strained, but other than that, she seemed to have recovered from her out of body shock.

“What did she look like?” Elsie asked, peering down at the infant lying in her arms.

“Like Allison. Taller, more angular features, but she had black hair. Like Garrett.” Thea cringed after she let the Garrett comment slip, and she did her best to downplay it. “Either way, she was a beautiful girl. She looked like she was military. Had a sword, ass kickin’ boots. The whole deal.”

“Like her Uncle John.” John grinned, flashing two rows of gleaming white teeth.

”Speaking of Garrett,” Mac said, running his fingers through his dark brown hair. “What are we going to do about him? Are we going to say anything? He is the father, after all.” Athea crossed the room to sit Indian style in front of her husband. She began chewing on the sides of her tongue; she always did that when she was nervous.

Elsie peeked at Allison, noting that the light from inside her body was dimming as time passed. She groaned, turning her attention away from the couch to once again stare at baby Kassandra. It was better not to think about that, and much easier to think about what Allison would want of them. “I’d say let it be. We know she didn’t tell him. If he comes looking for the baby, it’s obvious he found out. She had her reasons for holding her peace.”

Mac nodded. “True,” he said, pulling his glasses down so he could observe the baby over the lenses. “What a strange little duck she is.”

Athea grinned at him. “Nah. She’ll be fine.” The prophetess paused, following Mac’s gaze. The infant squirmed and the black spot was again visible from behind the baby blanket. She nearly smacked herself on the forehead for forgetting to tell him about the symbol. ”I’m so dumb sometimes. I saw the symbol, Mac. On her back. She whirled around to face me, and I got a clear look. Give me something to write with.”

Mac wasted little time dragging his lean body out of the chair and grabbing a pencil and a piece of paper. He handed the items to her, and Athea dipped her head, making a few simple lines inside of an oval. Mac watched her all the while. When she was done, she handed it to him, and his brow creased as he studied her creation. Inside of the sphere, the symbol looked like a fork with three prongs pointing up.

“It’s Algiz,” he said, retracing the lines with his fingertips.

“It’s what?”

“Algiz, or Algir it can be called. It’s a Norse symbol . . . one you’d find on a Rune.”

”Okay, that explains nothing . . . ” Athea said, her mouth falling into a frown.

Mac looked up from the drawing in his hand, his blue gaze sliding to the baby nestled in his wife’s arms. He shook his head, but found his first real smile of the evening. ”Well, from everything I’ve read, Algiz means Guardian, Protector. Allison gave a rune pendant like this to Garrett a few years ago. He wears it inside his shirt.”

Athea stared at him blankly, no expression on her pretty face. “Yeah. So? ”

“So . . . What?”

”What does the symbol have to do with the price of potatoes?”

Mac shrugged, balling the paper up and tossing it into the trash basket across the room. “You want an honest answer?”

Athea’s expression turned mutinous. “No, I want you to lie. Of course I want an honest answer.” She waited for her scholarly brother-in-law to impart his wisdom and experience.

Instead he smiled like an idiot. ”I haven’t the faintest clue.”

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