Authors: Patricia D. Eddy
A blast of white hot flame arced across the metal grating of the fire escape and Peter screamed. Bill lost his footing on the stairs and tumbled head over heels to the pavement. His neck snapped with a sickening wet sound. Below them, two figures stood illuminated by the orange glow from the front of the building.
Anger boiled under Cade’s skin. Behind him, Ollie hefted an unconscious Peter onto his shoulder. Liam dropped down onto all fours, preparing to shift into his wolf, as did Livie. Cade was faster. His back snapped and popped, ribs breaking and reforming. His shoulders narrowed, his hips tilted, and his hands widened into massive paws. Black nails sprang forth, fur sprouted from his skin, and he shook himself free of his clothes with a snarl. When his snout lengthened and his teeth sharpened, he bounded down the three flights of stairs and headed directly for the two elementals below. Another blast of fire sent him flying back and he landed with a thud on his side.
Cade struggled to his feet. He lunged at the smaller figure, a woman with long black hair and glowing red-brown eyes. She grabbed him by the throat. The heat from her fingers paralyzed him. His blood boiled. A ball of fire settled in his belly. He howled. The man with her leveled a pistol at him and fired. He watched helplessly as a dart embedded into his flank.
Screams assaulted his ears. A crash of wood, brick, and glass came from behind him. He tried to turn, but his body wouldn’t obey.
His pack. He had to help his pack.
He couldn’t. He couldn’t even breathe.
The world went soft, then quiet, and black.
Cade struggled to breathe. The cold wracked his body with tremors. A fire burned deep inside of him, trying to force its way out through his chilled skin. His head throbbed. His eyes were dry, his tongue was thick, and a sour taste filled his mouth.
The vocalization came out as a low whimper, all his wolf could manage. The man existed as a part of the animal, each half of one whole being. He tried to stretch, but lacked the strength. Where was he? The world was gray. His paws were burned and blistered. The coppery scent of his blood filled his nose. He struggled to lift his head. He was prone on a concrete pad no more than fifteen feet long and five feet wide. Outside that pad a dozen feet of dirt in each direction was surrounded by a thick chain-link fence. A farmhouse sat on a short slope with a fire pit outside the door. High stone walls surrounded the entire property. Cade couldn’t see anything outside the walls but sky and a few tall trees. There were no cars driving by, no sounds of civilization, nothing but the chirps and twitters of birds and small animals scurrying about.
Dawn was breaking. A weak glow to the east provided his only orientation. Cade could smell the sea, the scorched earth, and a wood stove burning somewhere inside the house. Faint curls of smoke wafted from a chimney on the left side of the structure.
He scrambled to his feet, wavered, and fell over again after the first step. Drugs. They’d drugged him. He had to shift back. If he shifted back, his body’s natural regeneration process would cleanse the drugs from his system. Why hadn’t he shifted already? Most unconscious werewolves automatically shifted back into human form. He closed his eyes and reached for his humanity. All he had to do was calm his body and he could shift easily. A spasm slammed into him. The man inside slipped from his grasp.
What the hell is happening to me?
Shifting was instinctual, especially since he was a werewolf by birth. Two or three calm breaths, a single thought, and the shift would overtake him. It had never failed before.
He took a deep breath, but a ball of fire exploded within him. He howled in pain, writhing helplessly on the concrete. Panting, he tried again. At the first twinge in his bones, the fire took over. Time and time again he tried. But only his wolf remained. His head cleared, and though his body was spent, he managed to stand on all fours again. When his front paws touched the dirt, he howled and leapt back. The dirt was scorching. It felt like hard-packed lava. He pulled up his paw and licked the thick pads. They were blistered and raw from the single step. He gingerly tested the dirt all around the concrete. There was no respite from the burning earth. He tried again, leaping as far as he could this time. Eight feet from the pad the dirt was even hotter. He cried out in pain, his voice hoarse and weak as he stumbled back to the safety of the concrete. Blood oozed from his burned paws and the scent of charred flesh soured his stomach. The fall had seared patches of fur and skin from his belly.
Where was his pack
? He’d seen them trapped in the apartment fire. Had they perished? Were they somewhere as unforgiving and alone as he was? He howled loud and long, a cry that only his pack would recognize. If any of them were within earshot, they’d return the call.
There was only silence.
His pack was his life. He shook with anger and fear, their screams and the sickening snap of Bill’s neck pummeling his memories.
His family. Gone.
All because of one fire elemental who wanted revenge.
Cade slept off and on for more than a day, but the fire inside of him never faded. He was used to running hot. But the pulsing heat that consumed his entire being made his one hundred degree core temperature skyrocket. He needed water. The sun beat down on him, intensifying the pain and weakness in his limbs.
Was Katerina going to leave him here to die? Bill had been right. Katerina had tracked him down, but why had she brought him here? Why hadn’t she killed him immediately?
Cade knew a little about elemental charms. The four elemental components: earth, air, fire, and water, each had their own unique strengths. A fire elemental could reach down into the earth’s core and control the heat from the molten lava. Katerina could suck oxygen from the air, electrify everyday objects, and was immune to flame. Some fire elementals fought fires for a living, but they tried to keep their existence a secret. Men and women hailed as heroes for rescuing those trapped in a seemingly impossible conflagration were often fire elementals who could cool the heat of the flames enough to walk right through them.
A water elemental could harness moisture in the air and bodies of water. They often worked to ease droughts, calm flood waters, and purify drinking water in underdeveloped countries. Earth elementals were usually farmers. They needed to maintain contact with the rocks or soil to draw upon their power. They never flew in airplanes and most hated tall buildings. Their magic dampened and insulated, crushed and transformed. Air elementals commanded the wind. They cooled the earth. Many were small plane pilots or spies. Air elementals could hear whispered conversations for half a mile, send their own voices to those far away from them, and even move small objects.
If Katerina was behind this—and he couldn’t think of any other explanation—she must have charmed the ground to be as hot as lava and she’d managed to do something to his body to trap him as his wolf.
Will the charm fade? Will it kill me? Where did she take me?
Cade had no answers, only endless questions.
He drifted off to sleep again in the heat of the afternoon only to be woken by an icy blast of water that hit him square in the muzzle. He snarled and leapt to his blistered and bloodied feet. The water chilled his fur. He whined and backed away until he hit the edge of the concrete pad. One foot on the burning earth and he stopped his retreat. He was forced to take the relentless, watery assault. Blind, barely able to breathe through the spray, he prayed to whatever God or Goddess existed, asking to be spared. He wasn’t a religious man, but he wanted to live.
The blast slowed to a trickle and a voice rang out, high pitched and bracing. “Drink up,
. I hope you like the cage you’re in.”
Cade shook his head and body, dispelling as much of the water as he could. He growled at the woman standing outside of the steel. She wore jeans and a red sweater. A tight ponytail held her black hair high on her head. Her lips curved into an evil smile. She clutched the industrial fire hose, hooked up to a pipe next to the house. Cade slumped down onto the pad and growled. He had to conserve his strength in case he found a way to attack her.
“Not happy? I didn’t think so. You can’t talk or ask questions, so let me fill in a few things for you. You can’t shift. The charm I used keeps your core temperature well over one hundred twenty degrees. Your blood has expanded, your bones have hardened, and your pelt thickened. It won’t fade. I’ve made sure of that. The ground there is also charmed, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. It’s nearly five hundred degrees. Now that was fascinating work. I needed help from my precious Jeremy for that.”
Cade whined in a question. He needed to know why.
Katerina paced back and forth outside the cage. “We haven’t officially met. My name is Katerina Olmstead and your father killed my mother.”
Cade growled, but Katerina hefted the hose again, menacingly. “Don’t give me that,
. I was there. She was practicing her charms in the desert. A woman should be able to wield fire in the middle of the Mojave without worrying about repercussions. My father was turned into a goddammed werewolf by some bitch in Sacramento. He
. For the fucking
who turned him. All my mother wanted was to make him pay, but your precious Caldwell pushed my mother off a cliff.”
killed Kylie Olmstead—or at least he’d been there when she’d died. He’d confessed his secret to Cade after a night of drinking. Kylie had killed an old werewolf who’d long given up his humanity to live out his last years as a wolf. Caldwell had tried to stop her, but she’d tripped and fell down a cliff, breaking her neck.
Caldwell’s confession had come only days before he and Cade parted ways. Cade had only been twenty when Caldwell died. As the alpha of the Barstow pack, Caldwell had expected Cade to follow in his footsteps. Cade didn’t want to lead, and ran away to Seattle to go to college. The day he’d left, father and son had fought. A black eye and a busted lip later, Cade had boarded the train north and had never seen his father again. Cade didn’t believe in regrets, but the memory of that day haunted him.
You fucking bitch. I read the police report. Your mother killed a helpless old man,
Cade thought. But of course, she couldn’t hear him.
Katerina aimed another blast of water at him, but this one was short-lived. “I had to watch her die, you know. He tried to pretend he was sorry. Hell, he even set aside some money for me and my sister when we turned eighteen. I used my share to find someone who could teach me how to harness my fire. And then I used that fire to kill your father. Him and every member of his pathetic pack.” She smiled.
Cade bared his teeth. So his father had been killed.
“I lost track of
for a long time. I was originally going to kill you too. Burn you alive with the rest of your mongrels. But then I decided that it would be so much better to make you suffer like I did. I couldn’t kill your father when you were twelve. That’s the age I was, you know. That would have been the best plan. But since time travel doesn’t exist, I decided making you suffer was the next best thing. I’ll kill you eventually, but not until I’ve had my fun with you.”
Cade got up and limped to the edge of the concrete. His blue-gray eyes narrowed and he growled low in his throat. It was a deadly threat—the only one he could muster.
I will kill you if it is the last thing I do.
Katerina laughed. “I’m not sure how long I’ll keep you like this. I was thinking as long as I spent in my first foster home. A year? That place was a hell hole. Never enough food, no heat, beaten if I talked back. I wore rags to school. I worked for every scrap of food I got. Your father ripped me and my sister from our mother’s warm embrace and threw
into hell. My precious
got adopted by a rich family. She’s had a charmed life, apparently. Wants nothing to do with me. Werewolves took my entire fucking family from me. I want you dead, but not until you’ve suffered first. The Goddess has shown me your death at my hand. She loves me, even if my sister doesn’t. So much that she’s shown me such wonders—including the charm that now keeps you trapped.”