BEFORE FEAR swept over me like a tide, some unexpected thoughts crossed my mind as I watched my stepfather’s four Tel-Urugh mercenaries closing in on Jack and me.
About how I’d always known that my quiet, ordinary life in Rosenthal, a small town in the back of beyond, was not more than a temporary illusion. After all, having a wizard mother and a werewolf father wasn’t an orthodox heritage. Now I had no choice but to say the final farewell to my alias, Dr. Rosalie Duplant, local surgeon, and once again become Astrid Vandermeer-Mohegan, half-asanni, half-bleithast, hunted by my dangerous, delusional stepfather who wanted me for his own sinister goals: to conquer and destroy.
About how it was my rotten luck that I ended up with an evil stepfather, and not, like in all happy-ending stories, with an evil stepmother.
About that evening two weeks ago when I learned that I was a rare, precious, powerful Ellida, a living embodiment of the ancient alliance between wizards and werewolves. “An Ellida is a mighty force of good, the most treasured member of the werewolf clan and its highest authority,” Jack had said to me. “She brings prosperity, happiness and peace to her people and never abuses her powers …”
About how much I loved Jack …
AND NOW the hiding was over, I thought as fear finally kicked in. Helpless, desperate, I was trapped in my wolf’s body, which didn’t know how to fight and was too weak to run.
Yet, oddly enough, underneath despair, there was another feeling. Relief. No more hiding. No more running.
“May Jack be safe … May Jack be safe …” I prayed silently because it seemed the only thing I could do at that moment.
“No time for prayers, wizard!” A different voice inside my head snapped, startling me. “We have to fight!!! Think of something!”
As if on command, I closed my eyes and breathed in and out several times.
My mind cleared. I knew what to do.
Sensing something, Jack swiftly turned to me, shock written all over his face as he took in my blue, wizard eyes instead of the amber of my wolf’s.
“The asanni has joined the team, it seems,” I said in a calm voice.
“No, Astrid! Do not try anything! Run toward the south! You must run!!!” Jack yelled, his voice thick with dread. Not for himself. For me. Jack was a great warrior, but I was his great weakness.
“Forget it, Jack. I’m not leaving you! Where is their weak point? Where should I aim?!”
“I’ll take the leader and that chubby one on the left. They are the strongest. This is your chance! Run! That’s an order, Astrid! Run now!!!”
“NO!!! Where are they weak?! Tell me!!!”
“Neck! Break the neck! Don’t let them bite you! Watch out for weapons!!!”
I murmured a spell in my old wizard tongue and found Jack’s eyes. “Jump and roll over me!”
Jack knocked me down. We rolled several times, moving away from our enemy.
When we separated, two identical werewolves stood in front of them.
“What!? What’s that!? I told you to grab him first!” the tall Tel-Urugh screeched. “She’s a witch! Look what she did! They both look like him! Which one is she!? Take them both! TAKE THEM BOTH!”
“The hell you will … Matri Agni nauh mehakhal khetar … Matri Agni nauh mehakhal khetar …”
Mother Fire, be my shield …
My wolf was right. It felt much better muttering spells than prayers. Those I’d do later. Now I needed our old gods and spirits. They always came in time of great peril, it was said, to protect their children … “Matri Agni nauh mehakhal khetar …”
“Astrid, no! NO!” Jack was shouting at the top of his lungs.
Bursting into flames, I charged toward the enemy with a speed and strength I hadn’t dreamt I possessed.
My first prey dropped on the ground, even before I reached him. I jumped over him and followed the other one, who pulled out a knife and bolted toward the woods, faster than a shadow.
Still not fast enough, though. A few long strides and I was in front of him. Our eyes met. His were filled with fear. Mine, I supposed, with anger.
“Drop the knife. I don’t want to kill you,” I said, but then remembered we couldn’t communicate telepathically. He was a Tel-Urugh, a warm-blooded vampire.
The knife flew low from his hand, catching a sunbeam on its curved edge, before its tip pierced my leg.
The world compressed into a single particle and I drowned in darkness.