Authors: Rachel Hawthorne
Shadow of the Moon
A Dark Guardian Novel
For Anna Claire W.
A very special fan. May you always be a reader at heart.
Fear sliced through me, jolting me awake. I was bathed…
“Here you go,” I said, smiling brightly as I handed…
“I—I wasn’t r-running,” I stammered, then swore beneath my breath…
“Are you totally insane?” I asked, forcing myself not to…
Plan B involved traveling light.
The next morning I woke up exhausted. Everything was unusually…
Later that afternoon a light snowstorm hit, and I blinked…
My last day at the resort was uneventful. Daniel was…
I didn’t sleep. Instead I just lay in my bed…
I awoke with a start. I lay still, listening to…
I found it strange, two days later, when we crossed…
“It was the most hideous thing I’d ever seen,” Seth…
After breakfast the next morning we all gathered in the…
“Oh. My. God. Daniel.” I knelt beside him.
I opened myself to allowing in others’ emotions. I was…
The elders were less than thrilled with the fact that…
We took our time walking back to the manor. It…
It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. To say…
My heart heavy, I trudged through the forest wearing snow…
The Dark Guardians closed their circle around me. The hounds bared…
We raced through the forest until we reached the cavern…
Returning to Wolford the next morning was not the joyous…
Fear sliced through me, jolting me awake. I was bathed in sweat, trembling. Drawing in a breath was difficult. My chest was constricted tightly, painfully. The blood rushing between my ears almost drowned out the howling wind.
It was happening again. Worse than anything I’d ever experienced.
I’d been born with empathic abilities. When I was near other Shifters, I was bombarded with whatever emotions they were experiencing. If one was afraid, I felt his fear. If another was in love, I experienced her yearning, her desires. Anger burned through me, but I wasn’t mad. Embarrassment caused my cheeks to flush, even though I wasn’t the one who was mortified. Assailed with so many Shifters’ emotions was like living inside a constantly turning kaleidoscope, only the various colors were emotions. It made it difficult to know which ones were truly mine.
But I was immune to humans, or as we referred to them, Statics.
The elders—the wise men of our kind—had become my guardians after my parents’ deaths. Recognizing my constant struggle with my
and the difficulty I’d experience being around other Shifters, they’d sent me to a boarding school where all the students were Statics. I’d been safe there, lived a somewhat normal life. While in residence there, the only emotions I’d felt were my own.
But the elders had insisted that each winter and summer I return to Wolford, our secret gathering place hidden deep in a national forest. The elders thought short periods of exposure to the emotions of other Shifters would acclimate me to the empathic experience, would give me an opportunity to learn to shield myself when I didn’t want to know what others were feeling or to embrace the sensations without letting them overpower me when that was to my advantage. Why I would ever welcome others’ emotions was beyond me. It was such an invasion of privacy—theirs and mine. I’d never been comfortable with it.
Two weeks ago I’d arrived at Wolford. Families had come for the winter solstice last week. It was a time for gathering, for celebrating our existence. So many heightened emotions were swirling around. And even though most of them were happy and filled with gaiety, it could still be overwhelming.
The families had left a couple of days ago, but many of the Dark Guardians—the elite protectors of our kind and our hidden haven—had remained. School was out for the semester. My presence was partly a test, a challenge, an attempt to determine if I was yet ready to live among my own kind.
Based upon what I was now experiencing, the answer was a resounding no.
Never before had the emotions slammed into me with such stark intensity. Never had I known anyone to be this terrified. What in the hell was happening?
The unnerving panic refused to relinquish its hold, wouldn’t let me clear my head enough to think rationally. Taking deep breaths, I tried to set up a shield between the emotions bombarding me and those that belonged solely to me. I brought forth pleasant images: butterflies and puppies and ice cream. A walk in the park during the spring—the image so vivid that I could almost smell the roses.
But nothing worked. I was caught in a cyclone of someone else’s dark fears. I couldn’t control any of them. All I could do was experience them. Nothing, no one, could spare me from the horror I was subjected to.
Light from a full moon spilled in through my window. I scrambled out of bed and dropped to my knees, my legs weakened by another’s terror. What was he—or she—afraid of? What was so frightening? I didn’t know who the emotions belonged to. I only knew they were there. I could get a general sense of where they were coming from. The person was outside.
I shoved myself to my feet, lurched over to the window, and pressed my forehead to the cold glass. The bright white moon cast a silver glow over the snow-covered landscape. Someone was experiencing his first full moon. Justin. I remembered feeling his excitement and anticipation during dinner. It made sense that he was the one I was sensing.
Tonight he would be added to the ranks of those with the ability to shift into wolf form. The first time was supposed to be painful and terrifying—could even result in death. Although it hadn’t, not for hundreds of years. In the past, a couple of times, I’d felt the emotions of someone going through his first shift.
But what Justin was experiencing was different. It wasn’t natural. Something was wrong.
Without thought to the harsh elements outside, without grabbing a coat, I rushed into the hallway and ran toward the stairs, yelling at the top of my lungs, “Justin’s in trouble! He needs help! Now!”
Doors banged open. I heard the pounding of footsteps. Several Dark Guardians overtook me, raced past me. Only half a dozen or so were here in the manor. The others were out patrolling, guarding our beloved lair. I was hit with a carousel of emotions from those surrounding me and edging past me: worry, concern, fear, eagerness for the hunt, willingness to do battle.
But above all the emotions, more intense than any of them, was Justin’s. Because I’d been connected to him before the others’ emotions joined his, I could still identify which sentiments were coming from him. I was homed in on him.
I barely remembered going through the manor. Suddenly I was outside, the cold snow biting into my bare feet. Snow flurries whipped around me. Clothes were scattered over the lawn, and I watched in amazement as the Dark Guardians, never breaking their running strides, shifted into wolf form—racing into the woods, the wind rustling their fur. All except for Brittany Reed. The only human among us. But she was in such great shape that she outdistanced me without effort.
Following in the wake of their tracks, I stumbled from the weight of Justin’s fear and face-planted in the snow. Terror again sliced through me, paralyzing me—
And then nothing. Nothing at all coming from Justin.
No, no, no!
I could sense the others’ growing fear, their anxiety. I knew they hadn’t reached Justin yet, because they weren’t feeling the deep grief that I was. I knew what we’d find when we met up with Justin. We were all too late.
I pushed myself to my feet and started running again. Emotions suddenly rioted through me: horror, disbelief, fury, anger, determination. Then I came upon the clearing. The moon, at its zenith, provided a perfect spotlight. I didn’t want to think about how Justin may have initially welcomed it, how he might have felt the moonlight caressing his skin.
Now, in wolf form, he lay unmoving upon the clumped snow. Just beyond him was the most hideous beast I’d ever seen. I knew what it was. I knew what it had done. A harvester. With long talons, sharp teeth. Standing on two legs, looking grotesquely human, it towered over everyone. The Dark Guardians attacked it, their growls turning into yelps as they fell away, their mouths blistering from its unholy heat where they’d tried to tear into it and their sides bleeding where it had caught them with its talons or teeth. It was an otherworldly creature. At that moment, it seemed invincible.
“Enough!” The deep, commanding shout echoed between the trees, shook snow from the branches. I glanced over and saw the three elders, all wearing long robes, standing there with Elder Wilde slightly in front. He’d been the one who’d given the order.
The wolves, their wounds healed, went low to the ground, ready to pounce again, teeth bared, low growls emitting from their throats. The creature ignored them as though they were merely stuffed toys. Then his gaze zeroed in on me and my heart galloped.
“Hayden Holland.” The harvester wasn’t human, but it still had the ability to speak, and its voice sounded as though it traveled through a wall of phlegm. It smelled of rotten eggs. “We will meet again during the next full moon.”
“What are you? A writer for bad horror movies?” I didn’t know where I’d found the bravado to speak. The snark was my need to demonstrate that it wouldn’t dim my spirit, that I wouldn’t go down easily, that like Justin, I would fight with every breath that remained in me.
It collapsed into a cloud of mist and slithered back through the trees, low to the ground, like a retreating snake. For that brief moment in time when it had been concentrating on me, I’d felt the fear and agony of a thousand souls: Shifters it had reaped and harvested.
In wolf form, all except for Brittany, the Dark Guardians circled Justin. I knew he was gone. That his soul was now one of those held by the harvester. Tears rolled down my cheeks, crystallized on my lashes. If only I’d recognized his fear sooner, could we have done more? Could we have saved him?
Brittany took a step back and when she was beside me, she whispered, “He died as a wolf. He should have reverted back to human form.”
I nodded. He should have. But not when the creature we’d just seen had his way.
When I visited Wolford and dealing with others’ emotions became too much, sometimes I’d sneak away to the treasures room, where the artifacts of our kind were kept and watched over by the elders. They indulged me. Had even allowed me to touch and read the ancient texts, had taught me how to decipher the ancient symbols. So I knew a little more about the harvester than she did apparently.
The harvester rose from the bowels of hell during a full moon to snatch the power and soul of a Shifter during the height of his transformation, leaving the body without the means to shift back into human form. It fed on fear and gathered strength from our abilities. There hadn’t been a sighting in centuries. Some had begun to think the harvester was nothing except myth and legend. Unfortunately, they’d been wrong.
The forest was so quiet that I could have heard a pine needle drop.
Elder Thomas moved forward and knelt beside Justin. He buried his hand in Justin’s fur. The elders were strong enough to shield their emotions from me, so I couldn’t feel what he was feeling, but I knew it all the same. The overwhelming grief was etched clearly on his face. In spite of the fact that he was nearing one hundred, he cradled Justin in his arms, stood, and carried him toward the manor. The others followed. All except Elder Wilde, who approached me, his eyes a well of sadness.
“We’ll ensure that you do not suffer the same fate,” he said quietly.
And exactly how are you going to do that?
I almost asked. But I’d been taught not to disrespect the elders.
As though knowing my thoughts, he dropped his hand heavily on my shoulder. Always I’d drawn comfort from his touch. Tonight I felt nothing.
“We’ll research the ancient texts. We’ll find a way to destroy it. It’ll be all right, Hayden,” Elder Wilde said to me as he guided me back toward the manor.
It wasn’t reassuring to learn that he, the wisest of the wise, didn’t know how to destroy the harvester. A month wasn’t very long to search through old books for the answer.
Wolford was our haven, our sanctuary, but we’d been unable to protect Justin, to save him. The harvester had come for him. Next full moon, it would come for me.
Not only for me but for my mate.
While guys went through their first transformation alone, legend had it that girls required a mate to guide them through it in order to survive. Sexist, but there it was, a tradition begun way before women demanded equality. My latest presence at Wolford was also supposed to serve as my opportunity to secure a mate before my full moon. So far that quest had been a total bust. What guy in his right mind wanted to hang around with a girl who sensed everything he was feeling, who experienced it exactly as he did?
But I was no longer convinced that not having a mate was a bad thing. He would transform at the precise moment that I did. A special deal for the harvester. Two for the price of one.
I couldn’t allow that to happen, couldn’t risk another’s life. Even if it meant sacrificing my own. I knew the elders and the Dark Guardians wouldn’t approve of my plan. But I couldn’t see that it was their decision to make.
I couldn’t stay at Wolford. I had to escape. Tonight. I’d run fast and hard. I’d hide. Until the next full moon—