For those who haven't had a chance to take a look at the Ashen Twilight series "Mortals" takes place right after the short story "Upon a Tide of Wintry Morn". Each story has it's own arc connected to the ongoing series arc so you shouldn't be too lost if you're just hopping in.
Grab a cup of your favorite drink and settle in!
More after the jump!
Within the Shadows of Mortals
Blurb: The war between immortal and mortal begins
For centuries, a group of Nightwalkers, Lycans and Shifter Elves have lived within the shadows of mortals to ensure their survival... until an old foe reemerged and brought the realm of the Fae into the mortal world.
After the fall of the enemy, a string of events unfolds. Ariya is now an Aziza faerie Queen settling with Jace Archane, a Regent in the House of Blood in the Aziza realm. The houses continue to move West after fighting for their survival against the elemental led by Liam Blakedon, a former guard in the Archane house.
A new beginning is on the horizon until blood is spilled on their lands once again...
Late on the highway leading to California, a massacre breaks out in the darkness of night ending in the death of a Lycan family. Word gets back to Ariya and Jace in the Aziza Fae realm and they return, seeing how much has changed since they took their retreat. Mortals have become aware that Nightwalkers, Lycans and Shifter Elves are alive and well in their city. Worse yet, Rich and his pregnant mate, Joanna, have disappeared on the trip from Arizona to California. As they race to find Rich, before it’s too late, a group of mysterious hunters begin picking off members of the houses, one by one.
Ariya knows that Jace is tired of running and hiding after centuries of living within the shadows of mortals. Now, she must choose a path that will force her to decide whether to help her immortal allies or rule the broken kingdom left behind after her parent's death. Soon, she finds that Jace's presence in the Aziza realm brings an ancient evil to life that only lived in fairytales... until now.
Jace Archane knows the depths humans will go to destroy the immortals. Tired of hiding and living hidden from mortals, he is ready to rise and fight against their hunters. However, as he gives in to his baser Nightwalker instincts, his relationship with Ariya tenses. Jace may end up losing more than his humanity as he gives into revenge against his mortal enemies.
England 1722 – Castleton, North Yorkshire
The smell of death permeated across the town, wrapping its mist around Richard William Hammond as he turned closer to the strongest area where his senses blared. There was a stillness in the air. Yet the green countryside held an undercurrent of something he couldn’t quite put a name to. He stepped forward, urging his keen senses of sight, sound and smell to their strongest. His heartbeat grew quicker, like the sound of drums serving as a constant soundtrack to the terror resting beneath his skin. None of the farm animals breathed a sound. They remained still as if they sensed the uneasiness and didn’t want to attract it anymore than necessary. The smell of the freshly dewed grass interjected with pungent decay. Human bodies? Or animal? He wasn’t quite sure. Normally the day would bring a clear blue sky, rich with the scent of fresh rain that usually graced the English countryside. But today something was wrong.
Rich looked around the small farm, half expecting his mother to step out of their quaint farmhouse and call him by his full name. A forceful hint that he wasn’t to dawdle while there were still chores to do. But ever since he returned home from trading the week’s supply of produce in the nearby market, there were no signs of his parents anywhere. The farmhouse was still in shape and it didn’t look like anyone had paid them a visit.
So where had they gone?
A loud gunshot suddenly went off followed by ear-piercing cries from the direction of the smell. Any neighboring townspeople in the area must not have heard it or else they’d be running out to see what all the commotion was about. At least that’s what he expected.
Rich felt the gooseflesh erupt on his pale arm as a shiver claimed him. Could their secret have gotten out? The townspeople had been speaking of large dog-like creatures in the area, sneaking around the area at night. Those rumors clashed with the ones connected to their dead relatives somehow awakening out of their grave to seek the blood of the living.
Hogwash, he always thought. He knew the true story and his kin would never attack people unwillingly much less come back from the dead. This had to be something else. Another explanation. Perhaps it was those creatures that walked the night after they had died, according to the legends. He heard of those bloodsuckers but never came upon them himself. He would be content to have never come upon them, if he could help it. But the large dog-like men that stood on two feet he was all too familiar with. He knew their true story and even refused to believe it at first. Until he felt it, saw it and experienced it within his own body.
What if the townspeople had come upon his family? Would they really cause some sort of harm toward them out of fear like his father had warned him?
The possibilities seemed all too real to Rich now as he picked up his pace and started down the open valley toward the screams. His parents would have it in for him once he returned home to see the animals wandering around the outside of their pen. As his heart thumped faster against his chest, the pounding was the last thing on his mind as fear coursed through his veins.
Indio – A City outside of California and Arizona - Present Day
Adric Lieber pulled up to the gas station and exhaled. It was nearing midnight as they stopped near Indio between Arizona and California. Gas prices were astronomical when he left Phoenix hours ago and he was beginning to think he fell into a vortex of ever rising gas prices the more he traveled. His long legs tingled as if tiny needle pricks ran under his skin. He definitely needed this break to get out and stretch his legs. He turned to his wife, Petra, fast asleep in the passenger side and smiled. Her expression was soft under the moonlight’s glow. Both of her hands wrapped protectively over her swollen stomach, cradling their child within. He placed his hand over her womb, feeling the slight kick underneath his palm. Soon they’d have another addition to their family. One they had been planning for months now. Adric couldn’t wait. He thought about all of the baby items passed over from friends and family throughout the years that he recently packed. Soon all of their histories would continue with the birth of their own child.
He leaned down to gently kiss her belly which made her shift slightly to find a new comfortable position. Her head turned and leaned toward him. Adric immediately moved into steal a gentle kiss.
Petra smiled before blinking a few times. Her dark grey eyes sparkled toward him and her pretty bronze complexion glowed, signaling the oncoming birth. He didn’t know if it was anymore possible for his heart to swell even more. His hand continued to gently rub her stomach as she watched him.
“Are we there already?” Her voice was husky and deep from sleep.
“Not yet. I’m going to get us some gas and then we’ll be back on the road in no time. You feel like stretching your legs?”
Petra shifted her body again and stretched her arms out. “No, not really. I’ll probably stay here and guard the car for you.” She chuckled softly, caressing her tummy once again.
“All right. I’ll try not to be long.” Adric kicked the door open and stepped out. “Can I get you anything while I’m inside?”
She pursed her lips and looked upward in thought. “Maybe some of those crunchy onion things and a pint of Cookies and Cream?”
“Yecch. Not together I hope!”
Petra leaned forward. “Hey, I only dipped one time!”
Adric leaned back in the car to give his wife another kiss. “Uh huh. If I can’t use that excuse, neither can you.” He bent down to kiss her tummy. “Lock the car doors, okay? I won’t be long.”
“I love you.”
“Love you back.” He winked at her then closed the door behind him.
The night air was mild for this time of year in the desert. He was thankful for it as he was already tiring of the harsh summers and winters of the desert. It was time to change up for some warmer climates and a new location to start fresh.
Adric cut through the row of gasoline pumps. He nodded politely toward a tall man in a plaid shirt, jeans and a cowboy hat before heading inside the pay center. Only a handful of people stood around the market grabbing drinks snacks and mostly waiting in line to pay for their gas and food. His eye caught the brightly colored bags of chips and he spotted the bright yellow bag his wife wanted. He grabbed a few for himself and for later on. Who knows what the road would be like and how long the rest of the journey would take. To his surprise, the line was thinning out pretty quickly by the time he got to the freezer for a pint. He shoved the bags onto his arm and balanced the pint in one hand while opened the side door, held it open with his foot and reached for a cold soda with his free hand.
“I tell you I never did see one until that day,” a male voice near the counter filtered throughout the store. “That eclipse was either a blessing or a curse of an invasion from outer space or something.”
Adric set his items on the counter, pushing them forward to block gravity’s stubborn pull. He looked up at the cashier, who was away speaking to the older customer across from him.
“Come on, that was just a crazy weather mix up thing,” the cashier said as he rung up the merchandise. “Some clouds or that global warming crap they’re trying to sell us.”
“No, no. The news reports said there was no clouds in the sky and no moon to block the sun. I tell you, something was wrong and I saw one of them dog things walking around that very same day.”
Adric felt his muscles tighten at the man’s sentence.
“Right, pops.” The chime of the cash register sounded throughout the front of the store. “Here, keep the change.”
“You just wait and see when they attack us all. Eating our flesh and drinking our blood. You’ll be sorry you didn’t prepare before then.”
The cashier smiled and waved. “You have a good one now.”
Adric chuckled, sliding his items further on the counter. The cashier, with the nameplate Chanson, scoffed and pointed his thumb toward the door. His thin dark eyebrows lifted as his eyes widened. “Can you believe some people?”
“Everyone’s been crazy since that eclipse,” Adric said with a shrug. He eyed the growing neon green numbers on the cash register. “I guess anything out of the ordinary will put people into a frenzy.”
Chanson’s hands worked at a quickened pace as he grabbed the items and scanned them in. “I believe in the paranormal. No doubt. But why get all kinds of crazy when it’s nothing you can control? Once a creature puts its hands on me, I’ll take care of it but until then…live and let live, man.”
Adric’s lips twisted upward in a smile. “I hear that.” He slipped his hands in his pocket to retrieve his wallet. He grabbed the stack of bills stuffed in the main pocket and waited for the final items to be counted.
“All right, will that be all for this evening?”
“Yep, that’ll do it. Plus I’ll take 40 on Pump 3.” Once he was given the final price, Adric pulled out the whole amount and handed the bills over. “Keep the change,” he said grabbing the large paper bag.
“Thanks, man. You take it easy out there.”
Once he stepped out into the night air, Adric’s senses blared to life as if ice was thrown on his bare skin. There were no cars in the pumps nor across parking lot except for his own car sitting at the far end. Darkness surrounded the gas station and there was no sign of any cars other than the highway a few miles down.
But something was wrong. He could smell it. Deep inside his body, a sense of urgency threatened to break free as he slowly approached the car. He sniffed the area, still pungent with the scent of those who were around before he entered the pay market. He knew it wasn’t safe in the bright spotlights to release the change clawing at his gut. Too many eyes watched even in the darkness. He quickened his pace toward the car when his senses went on full alert.
“Petra, open the…”
Then he saw it. A large hole shattered the passenger window near his wife’s head. Blood splattered across the window shield cracked with webs of the shattered glass. She laid still, her hand still cradling her stomach and her face turned away from him.
Adric’s body froze with a crippling emotion that nearly sent him to his knees. He lost all feeling in his arms as the bag fell out of his grip and crashed to the ground. He saw only red as a blood filled rage pulsated his body and threatened to release the beast that he carefully held within. Before he could take another step a shot rang out from the darkness, and then another followed by a flurry of others following. He felt each and every bullet piercing his skin like knives stabbing through rough tissue. His knees buckled and gave in under him.
Petra…He wanted to go to her. To hold her just one last time before it all slipped away. He wanted to run his hand over her stomach that held….no, that once held their child. Was it a boy or a girl? What kind of life would it had lead if…if…
He couldn’t bring himself to believe it. A child he had created with his lifemate had been taken from him. Its life stripped before it even started. What kind of monster would do such a thing?
Thin slivers of pain shot throughout his body like blades of poison seeping in his veins. He smelled his blood burning, his insides melting as if a substance like…silver. These were silver bullets!
The world turned sideways as Adric fell limp on the ground with a crash. The pint of ice cream rolled by. Cookies and cream. His wife’s favorite since he took her out on the pier on Fisherman’s Wharf years ago. It reminded her of home just like she had reminded him of home.
His breathing labored as he tried to hold on.
The sound of boots crunching behind him echoed in his ears. Dark black boots stepped into his view, but he couldn’t move to see the face. More shots rang out in his ear as he was hit more times at close range. He felt his body relax as the burning pain overtook him. Slowly, he closed his eyes and surrendered to the hands of death.
* * *
Cassius peaked up at the rearview mirror. The road was barely visible except for a few red lights ahead, a few white lights in his rearview mirror and the occasional landscape revealed by the streetlights. His thin shoulders tensed and he had to take a deep breathe and exhale to keep his hands steady on the steering wheel.
“What is it?” He nearly jumped through the roof hearing the female voice in the passenger seat next to him.
“Jeez, Vala,” he murmured. “Scare the crap out of me why don’t you?”
Vala turned to look over her shoulder, shaking her long dark mane away from her view. Her small eyes widened as she realized what he kept glancing at through the mirror. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been waiting for them to catch up for the past few minutes.” Cassius shook his head. “Something’s wrong.”
“Turn around up ahead and go back to the gas station.”
He pulled aside to gain enough momentum to turn around. The tires skidded over the crunching gravel below as he turned around and headed into the darkness toward the shiny beacon of light ahead. From here he could already tell Adric and Petra’s car hadn’t moved from their spot. His nerves jittered below his skin as he slowed the car a few feet away. A group of men in black shirts and pants filtered outside of the pay market carrying a large body of fur. Adric.
Vala gasped audibly beside him as she laid eyes on the site as well.
“Call Daoine,” Cassius said, turning off the ignition. “Let him know what’s going on. Wait a few minutes and if I’m not back…” He stopped as he felt her hand on his shoulder. Turning toward her, he saw the determined look in her dark mahogany eyes and leaned in to give her a deep kiss. He stepped out of his car already feeling the fire raging inside of him threatening to become an intense inferno as it boiled his blood. He could smell them from here. A pungent scent of decay, fear and death. Hate. These punks were definitely human and it was time they were taught not to mess with a member of the house because there will be more right there to back him up. He hoped nothing became of Adric…or worse Petra.
Cassius was there to celebrate when his friend announced Petra’s pregnancy. A new addition to the pack. Adric was already buying gifts for their new addition the moment he heard Petra was expecting. He doted over his wife and made sure to protect her wherever she went, careful to keep her from changing into her true form until the baby was born. Man, was he careful. If they had done something to Petra…
Cassius felt his eyes heat with a glow. His teeth elongated into fangs and his fingernails grew at his sides as he closed the distance between him and those killers. He released a hiss in the air, alerting them. They didn’t move as they looked up toward him. Good. They would cooperate and make this kill as quick and easy as possible.
Cassius opened his mouth to release a roar when a fiery arrow pierced the blackness heading straight for him. He dove out of the way and landed on his hands and knees, staring at the group ahead. He was on his feet in no time racing toward them when a flash of light covered him from all sides. His skin began to burn as if the sun itself had decided to kick the moon out of the sky and take its place at that very moment. Another arrow came at him from the side. The fire penetrated his skin, sliding into blood, bone and muscle with a force that shot him backward into a nearby tree, impaling him to the wood. He tried to move despite the fact that every movement shot pain throughout his body.
Pitch black darkness surrounded him and he couldn’t see the face of the shadowy silhouette that approached him. He tried to tap into his night vision but all he saw was dark silhouettes against a clearly defined background. The figure coming toward him held a fiery arrow within the grasp of a large crossbow. His attacker was tall, rather lanky and bald from the looks of his silhouette. Still Cassius didn’t back down as he hissed toward the darkness, hoping the adrenaline that pumped into him would keep the pain at bay.
“Looks like you missed the sunlight, blood sucker,” the figures voice was deep and raspy. “Why don’t I change that for you, huh?”
Something clicked and the figure raised a bright light into his face. Cassius screamed, a mixture of a hiss and a primal growl as he felt the pain of his skin crackling like burnt meat under the light. The figure chuckled wildly as he shined the light all over him. And then another light appeared next to him. And then another. Slowly, Cassius felt his life slipping away. But he wouldn’t go without a fight. Cassius opened his eyes to see a large bird in the sky behind them. Its wings flapping wildly through the air as it soared within the blackness.
“Behind you guys!” one of the men near the pumps yelled.
They turned just was Vala swooped down, her large beak reaching for them as she squawked loudly.
A large arrow with a rope attached to it sailed into the air and pierced her breast with a sickening thhppp sound. Vala’s body fell freely down toward the empty pavement. Cassius used all of all his strength to jump and kick away the three men in front of him. With his scarred hand, he reached to his middle and pulled out the fiery arrow with a loud cry. Gritting his teeth, he tossed it away and headed straight for them.
“Vala!” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her dragged on the floor toward the laughing group but he couldn’t see the figure holding her. He began to lunge toward her only to be topped by a large body with massive arms massive body grabbing onto him.
Sirens broke out in the distance as he moved behind his attacker in seconds. He dove down, his fangs ready to pierce the skin belonging to the man whose life he was ready to take to the grave and beyond. The warm, thick flesh beneath him tasted bitter but the realization of the feed made it that much sweeter as he relished the cry from the attacker’s throat. With a twist of his head, Cassius broke his neck, silencing the brute. Before the other two men around him could grab their weapons. Cassius was on his feet, with one slash across the second man’s face and throat. He turned to the third and slashed again.
Slowly his skin regenerated with their blood filling him as he stormed toward the pumps where Vala was dragged. The other group raised their weapons toward her and he felt his adrenaline shoot to beyond the skies. He raced toward them, his hands raised as he embedded his nails into the closest one’s back. He raised his arm, tearing through skin and bone with ease. The sirens grew louder and he hoped the rest of the caravan behind them had gotten out of dodge before the bloodbath began. Out of the darkness more men in black suits came all around him, their weapons raised and ready to fire.
“Freeze!” Behind him, an array of police cars stopped near the gas station entrance and drew their guns. “Hands up in the air! Every one of you!”
Cassius’s eyes fell to the blood splattered passenger window where Petra still remained. Her body was still and he could see the gunshot wound from here. His hands formed into fists. Not a few feet away Adric laid on the ground in full Lycan form. His body filled with smoking bullets piercing his thick skin. The mortal beasts won’t get away with this massacre. I promise you that, Adric.
“Everybody get down on the ground. Now!”
No one moved as they remained looking at Cassius, waiting…perhaps even hoping for him to move. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Not until the last moment.
He looked down at Vala’s still frame. Her dark mahogany eyes looked up at him with sadness emanating from her large dark body as her heart beat raced. Be strong, my love. We’re going to get out of here.
“On the ground! Don’t make me tell you again!”
She blinked, understanding his words transmitted from his mind to hers.
In an instant she disappeared. The arrow barely hit the ground before she changed from a hawk and to a large eagle within the blink of an eye.
Cassius moved fast. He would be like a blur to their eyes running to grab the fallen fiery arrows on the ground and yanking the dripping gas pump from its cradle. With a quick flick of his wrist, he poured the gas on Adric’s car and the fallen Lycan’s body before tossing the fiery arrow toward it.
“No!” Whoever had yelled was soon drowned out by the explosion of the car.
Vala swooped over head through the flames and Cassius jumped up to grab onto her open claws as she swerved up into the air. An array of bullets, arrows and firearms broke into the sky as they drowned with the pitch black darkness of the evening sky as the flames threatened to consume the entire gas station down below.