Authors: Laura Hawks
Copyright © 2012 Laura Hawks
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Art by Kristy Charbonneau
Edited by Jacquelynn Gagne
I would like to take a moment to thank a couple of people for helping me get this book to all of you. Liam... I could not have written this or had the courage to submit this if not for you and the faith you have in me. You are a great friend and I love you, no matter where in the world you are.
I would also like to thank Anthony for being there for me and listening to me complain about anything and everything as well as for supporting me and unknowingly, letting me try some phrases that I was not entirely sure would work. Ant...you are a great accomplice, a dear friend and a wonderful partner in crime. Love you lots.
Dennis, thanks for helping and encouraging me in every way. I love all you do to help support my dream.
Last but by no means least, I would like to thank all my friends and family who said I could do this and it was worth the effort and who told me they were proud of me regardless of whether or not I succeeded. The encouragement you have shown has been the backbone to keep me going. I love you all.
Cloudy mists swirled around her as ethereal fingers caressed an adumbration she couldn’t yet comprehend. The opaque fog rolled along the ground. Its gossamer threads spinning and cresting as if a wave on an ocean. Nothing was tangible. It was hidden by the diaphanous strands that shimmered about her. Then the mists cleared. An image of the Gem of Power Dagger formed in her dream and her eyes snapped open. “Oh Gods, no!”
Clarissa ran to the dagger, unthinkingly grabbing it. Her powers of premonition kicked in immediately. She began to convulse and dropped to the floor. Her eyes were shaded white. She saw a large creature. He was nearing the cave where she had buried the other piece of the gem. He was going to find it and have access to the power the stone carried with it. Did he realize it was not whole? Did he realize the power could not fully be obtained unless it was? Did he know she as guardian, had the other piece?
Her vision flashed to the future. It showed a battle with a strikingly handsome man who stood by her side fighting the demon. They were together. She awoke, free from the perceptions the dagger showed her and gasped. She had a journey ahead of her. She had to get the piece of gem she had buried before he ever got near it.
The judge and executioner of rebel demons stared into the fire. He sipped his meal and reflected over the events of the day. He enjoyed the moment of peace, no matter how short lived it ended up being. As he lifted the goblet to his lips, a strong current ripped through his body. It was so intense the goblet dropped, spilling the liquid contents everywhere. He gripped the arms of his chair, managing to calm his mind enough to concentrate on the disruption in the cosmos.
“The Gem of Power!”
He sprang from his seat and began to frantically pace the hall.
“Why now, after all this time?”
He stopped pacing. As he cocked his head, he concentrated on the gem. He was still in awe that it might have resurfaced after so long. The perceptions were hazy but he saw a beautiful blonde woman as she hiked through mountains. He recognized them to be in South America. He realized she was a wolf shifter. As scenes paraded through his head, he instantly knew where to go find the woman. She seemed to be the key.
Clarissa heaved her backpack onto her shoulders after she teleported to the base of the Pakaraima Mountains of Guyana. There were located southwest in the South American country which shared its borders with Brazil and Venezuela. Due to the denseness of the forests, she had to hike the rest of the way to the tallest peak of the range, Mount Roraima. If not she risked teleporting into a tree or boulder. Slinging the backpack over her shoulder, Clarissa hoped she was not too late to prevent the demon from obtaining the portion of gem hidden there.
She moved through the trees and brush, wiping a sweaty hand across her brow. She took a sip of water from her supplies. She continued the trek, only stopping to test the air.
An unfamiliar scent wafted across the breeze to her. The smell indicated the creature was still a couple of miles up ahead. It was undeniably demon. Her eyes narrowed and her stomach dropped. Clarissa shifted quickly to wolf form in order to move through the brush faster. She stopped only a short distance from him before shifting back to human. The guardian called forth her sword and had it at the ready. She was unsure what good it would do considering the amount of power that surrounded this creature. Stepping out of the brush into the clearing she saw him, sitting, waiting. Instantly, Clarissa realized this was the man from her visions. This was the one who stood by her side to fight the demon intent on taking the stone.
Gods, the man before her was gorgeous. He had dark hair and haunting pale blue eyes. An aquiline nose set in the middle of a face with a strong, slightly whiskered jaw. His shoulders were wide. Even though he had on a crisp, white button down shirt, one could tell he was ripped underneath from the pull of material across his chest. The sleeves were rolled up and she was surprised that the shirt didn’t tear at the seams as tight as it was on him. He reeked of ancient wisdom and knowledge. Although he didn’t look any more than thirty five, she could sense he was infinitely older.
Azamel was so sure the gem had been lost over the centuries. Now it resurfaced its quintessence strong. He traced the woman’s presence to Guyana, South America and teleported to a spot slightly ahead of her. He made sure he had a clear view of her progress up the steep peak. He sat down on a fallen down tree stump and waited. The executioner smiled mysteriously as she walked closer. Azamel could sense the wolf’s discomfort, nervousness and suspicion. He knew she was the one he sought but decided not to play his hand just yet. Waiting for her to make the first move, Mel continued to watch her.
She moved with a beautiful grace. Her long, curly blond locks framed a small heart-shaped face. Almost almond shaped orbs with long lashes framed emerald eyes. She had an inner beauty that radiated through her very being. She was younger than he anticipated but then were-wolves had a tendency to always look more youthful then they were. Knowing that, she was probably closer to thirty.
Clarissa was not one for delicacy so blatantly asked him, “What do you want?”
Azamel noticed the dipping sun as he waved a hand and a campfire appeared in front of him. The flames licked at the wood, giving the surrounding area a pleasant feel. “You can put that away wolf. I am not here to hurt you. If I wanted to do that, you would have been dead before you even saw me. Now take a seat so we can talk.” He eyed the sword. “Or do I need to take that from you?”
The guardian bit her lower lip as she tried to decide what to do. He was most likely right. Had he wanted her dead, she would be. His strength of power was that impressive. Although a bit skittish, she was very aware of what was at stake. Clarissa never asked for this destiny she was burdened with. She was basically untrained for it but she did what she thought was right. Could she trust him? She lowered the sword, keeping it in her hand. She approached the far side of the fire and sat Indian style on the ground. Pulling her backpack off, she laid the sword across her lap.
“So talk. I will listen.”
He chuckled softly but decided to humor her for now. He would not play any games about what he wanted.
“I am intrigued little one. I know why I am here and I know why that demon Xon is here. What fascinates me is why you are so intent on finding the stone?” He peered at her face intently.
Her features darkened because he had knowledge of the gem. “And what do you know of the stone? You want it for yourself?”
“That is also something I can achieve without you, Clarissa.” At her shocked look, he added, “Yes I know who you are. However, you don’t know who I am. My name is Azamel but most call me Mel. I can be your best friend in this quest-” He gave her a charming smile before he let his eyes harden and flash red for an instant, “or your greatest enemy.”
Clarissa narrowed her eyes. “If you know who I am then you also know why I am after it. Or is your ignorance actually honest? I may be young, Mel, but I am not a fool. I will defend the stone or die trying to keep it away from you and any other creature foolish enough to search for it. Ally or enemy, I leave the choice to you.”
“Careful, love, you have no idea who you are dealing with. I am not here to threaten nor hurt you. I do, however know a lot more about demons than you do and I suggest we work together on this, since I would hate for you to lose that pretty little head. My interest is not so much in the gem but in the demon seeking it. I will not allow him to have it.”
“I am always careful, Mel. For when one lets their guard down, one can easily be killed. I may not know much but I do know this. Why should I trust you? You claim to want to help me, yet all you have proven is you are mysterious and knowledgeable about the stone. You appear to know about me and yet pretend you do not know what my role is.”
“I never asked for your trust and you may be wise to not trust me. I don’t need to explain myself or my reasons to you. The fact that you are still alive and not dead at my feet should give you some indication of my peaceful intent. Currently, we have a more pressing problem. The demon is much closer to that stone than you are.”
She remained silent, mulling over his words. Not knowing what he was about and telling her not to trust him was disconcerting at best. However, his blatant honesty had to be good for something and she was always taught to keep friends close and enemies closer. Since she really wasn’t sure what category he fell into, considering him an enemy was her best course.
“What I am up against with this demon?”
He smiled as he sensed some capitulation from her, a small victory at best but still a victory. “Xon is a minor demon, bottom of the barrel scum. He has very few powers and that makes him dangerous. The stone would give him abilities needed to free himself from his bondage. His cruel master makes Xipe Totec, the Aztec god of torture look like Cupid. A caged animal is more dangerous than a powerful one in the wild. Xon will kill, maim and slaughter anything or anyone in his path to get what he wants. He has no compassion as it was quelled eons ago. What he lacks in efficacy, he makes up for in brute strength.”
Clarissa watched as he sat back in a relaxed pose, while she debated, worried whether she could trust him. Oh well, she traipsed through it this far, might as well go one step further.
“Are you his master or his keeper?”
“I am neither, I am his judge and if necessary, his executioner.”
She frowned slightly. He certainly had the macho thing going for him and at least he was easy on the eyes, not all scaly and bubbly with puss. The wolf in her still didn’t trust him though. Of course by his own admission, he was one not to be trusted. The one thing Clarissa knew for sure was her vision of them seemingly fighting side by side. But what would happen after that? The stone was powerful and called to many. Could he resist it or would she, in the end, have to fight him too?
“Fine, you can travel with me for now but know this, I will protect the stone from you and anyone else who tries to take the powers it offers. I will do so even if it means my eventual death.”
He sat very still, listening to her fiery declaration, her determination to protect the Gem of Power. Memories of what he had read about the stone started to shift through his mind. The tales told of a guardian to the stone, one sworn to protect it and its powers at all costs. The responsibility had been given to one family and from that family, one member from each generation was chosen to be its keeper. They couldn’t use the powers for themselves but they had to ensure it did not get lost or stolen. He wondered because, her stance and fiery determination permeated of a protector. Azamel would have to be very careful how he treaded. Closing his emotions off to her as she was more perceptive than he had originally supposed, he addressed her again, “I propose a truce.” He held out his hand, palm up in a sign of trust. “We are both after a similar goal and a partnership would benefit us.” Looking her straight in the eyes. “I promise not to hurt you. the demon however, is another matter.”
Utilizing her wolf senses, she took a deep breath and inhaled his scent. Truth was there but with a hint of something else. Not an outright lie but not full disclosure. Clarissa glanced at his hand, listened to his offer before she looked him in the eye. “Truce then, until you prove untrustworthy. Then I will slit your throat.”
The guardian smiled sweetly and placed her hand in his. As their skin touched, she paled, her eyes glazed over, convulsing slightly she gripped his hand tighter, refusing to release him. Her premonition ability activated, she could see the demon getting close to the stone. She knew instinctively that he was ahead of them and he was not alone. He had sensed Azamel. He could tell the executioner was nearby and that made Xon call in some favors. Xon sent other demons toward the couple, to slow them down. Just in case, he had added a few additional surprises along the way. She could see each distraction the demon set in place, even the ones that were almost upon them. Gasping, she pushed his hand away and rolled to a defensive stance, shaking slightly from the strong vision.
“Hope you know how to fight, Mel, because it looks like we have company coming. Thanks to your friend.”
She had no sooner finished her sentence when the loud crunch of underbrush gave way to ten Wendigos. They were gaunt to the point of emaciation, their desiccated skin pulled tautly over their skeleton. With an ash gray complexion and their eyes pushed deep into their sockets, the Wendigo looked like it was recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody. Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.
“Well there goes any appetite I might have had! Phew, these guys stink! You take the five over there, I will get the rest.” She glanced his way. “If you can handle it that is.”
Dropping her backpack, she grabbed her sword tighter and moved towards those closest to her.
He got up flashing a staff with nine inch blades at each end into his hand. Mel twirled it around, grinning evilly. “Five? Oh that will not do, love.” He jumped up, somersaulted and landed between the attackers with a
‘fuck with me and die’
look. “Now now boys, do I really have to kill you?” He waved one hand in front of his nose. “I am not looking forward to getting your rank remains all over my shirt.” The executioner shrugged. “Ah well, I can always buy another shirt, I suppose.” Azamel twirled the staff faster, up over his head. With a battle cry, he slammed it down and decapitated two of the demons in one blow. Foul smelling goo flew everywhere. He turned to her with a grin. “Do try to keep up, love.” He dropped down as a demon swung at him and thrust the staff up into its throat. “Come at me when I turn? Die you rank bastard!” Mel laughed with glee as he attacked with a vengeance.
Clarissa watched his jumping somersault out of the corner of her eye, mildly impressed. As one Wendigo reached for her, she dropped, swung out her legs and took his limbs out from under him. She chopped his head off in one quick, clean motion. Cart-wheeling over the corpse, she stood and swirled, ducking once more to avoid the majority of slushy remains that splashed towards her. “Stop jabbering and boring them to death, just kill them with your weapon.” Clarissa saw three come towards her from all different directions. She did a split kick to push two of them back, while she simultaneously swung forward, splitting the other’s skull in two. “Gods, he is right. You guys do reek! Have you never heard of soap and water?” She turned her attention to the two she had kicked. While doing a jumping twirl, she took both of their heads with one arcing stroke.
Mel laughed at her. “Now who is doing the monologue?” He spotted a demon coming at her rear and blasted him in the back of the head. It sent remains flying all over her. “Fucking cowards, coming at a woman’s back.” He slammed the tip of the staff into the ground. He then kicked a demon in the chest sending it flying into another behind it. Mel jumped up and pressed the staff into the demons chest. He thrust his arms back, pushing the other side of the staff into a demon behind him. He flashed the staff away and a sword appeared in its place. Laughing like a kid in a toy store, Mel sliced through the demons as if they were not moving. Guts and ooze flew everywhere.
“Keeping up, love?”
“Just fine. How are your creaking bones managing, old man?” The guardian kicked back, pushing one away as she took the head of another. She then spun around quickly and removed the head of the one she just kicked. Noticing one about to go for Mel, she flipped to him and pushed him out of the way. She stabbed the Wendigo in the chest and pulled the sword up to be free again. “Glad to see you’re having fun but keep your mind in the game.” Dashing off, she attacked another. Jumping up, she flipped over its body and took its head with her in the move.