She’d spent a great deal of time passing for human, spending more time with them than her own tribe. Trying to blend. She no longer wanted to blend; she just wanted her powers back. A tear slid down her cheek.
“Oh, don’t cry. You won’t be pretty for the sacrifice. No one wants running mascara in a sacrifice. Least of all, me.”
“The gods won’t honor this.”
Simon laughed, less a villain laugh and more a that’s the funniest joke I’ve heard in ages laugh. “You’re adorably naive, Greta. There are no gods.”
“I want Dayne dead. I’ve been studying magic for ages. Your power will allow me to defeat him. Then I can run this town with no threat of challenge.”
“Except for the wolves.” They were notoriously hard to keep in line.
He waved a hand in dismissal, “The wolves will be dealt with.” A sick feeling lodged in her stomach. “I thought Dayne was involved with the ritual.”
Again Simon laughed. “I think he played that rep of his a little too well. You couldn’t even trust your own senses. I sent you the dreams. ”
She knew Simon and Jaden had tried to be subtle about their love affair while Greta was growing up. But they hadn’t been subtle enough. She’d grown up thinking of him as her step dad.
If Jaden had once slept with Dayne to lure him into a trap set by Simon and the tribe, she could see where he might never let that drop. Even if it had been his idea. She’d been born soon enough after; she’d become the new plan. She didn’t have to ask if Simon had killed her real mother.
“If you do this, it’ll make you insane. We can’t wield magic like they can. What’s the point of having power if you lose your mind?” Greta said.
“Maybe. Maybe I’m already there. Slowly draining the blood out of my daughter doesn’t sound like rational behavior to me, does it you?”
She looked stricken. “You can’t be my father.” An image of Darth Vader burst into her head. At any other time, it would have been funny.
“I’d submit to a DNA test, but I’m sure you can appreciate the time crunch I’m on. Jaden couldn’t reproduce and I wanted an heir.
I figured it was tit for tat as these things go anyway. I wanted a boy, but you more than made up for it.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“No? Then how would I know the circumstances of your birth?”
“I’ll tell the rest of the tribe what you’re doing. They won’t participate in this stupid vendetta against Dayne.” Simon sighed and shook his head in fatherly disapproval. “You should feel privileged to give your life to make the tribe strong.
Now be a good kitty, and open up.”
He reached through the bars to shove a gag into her mouth, snapping the leather straps closed behind her head. He stepped back to admire his handiwork.
“Now only we know our secret.” Simon held an index finger up to his lips and smiled.
“Mmhmmhhmpphr.” Greta’s scream was muffled behind the gag. She struggled against the ropes.
Simon picked up the handle attached to the base and rolled the cage to the door. The wheels squeaked under her. One was uneven, and she lost her equilibrium as Simon increased the pace. She knew he felt the moon rising.
Greta no longer could. Suddenly, losing the feel of the moon was all she could think about. The way her skin always felt warm when the moon rose, as if it were sunlight.
The fluorescent lights blinked on and off as the cage bumped down the nondescript hallways until finally they reached a door with a red exit sign over it. The sign flickered with a little electric buzz, and Greta realized it was Simon. Power already rolled off him, competing with the electricity for dominance.
Behind the warehouse was an open field surrounded by trees. In the middle of the clearing a large ritual circle had been formed with wooden logs. The small tribe stood reverently outside the circle, wearing identical long black cloaks. Beneath the cloaks, Greta knew they were all naked. This was what they wore when they shifted together.
The tribe was just twelve members strong now. In the glory days, it had been well over thirty. Jaden wasn’t among them.
A crude concrete slab stood in the center of the circle. It had been built for the occasion with large steel chains bolted into it.
Simon rolled the cage to just outside the circle and produced a key from his pocket.
Another therian appeared out of the darkness to help. As if Greta could fight one of them with only human strength. How could humans stand to be so weak?
She struggled against them as they half dragged, half carried her to the stone slab, so much like the one in her dream. Except, she’d dreamed of the wrong executioner. She tried screaming again. Simon was a lost cause, but maybe the other therian.
His name was Benjamin. She’d grown up with him; they’d played together. He wouldn’t do this to her. Surely, he had to see this was wrong. The gods didn’t deserve worship if they wanted this. Her eyes pleaded with Benjamin, but he looked away as he took a knife from his pocket and cut the ropes off her wrists.
They hauled her onto the stone slab, and the wind rushed out of her as the last possibility of escape was ripped away with the locking of the chains. It was so loud it was as if her preternatural senses had come flooding back in a rush of self-preservation. But then the sudden sense clarity faded back to the dull, drugged feeling, and another tear rolled down her cheek.
Benjamin stood stiffly to the side, still averting his eyes from her. If what was left of the tribe banded together, they could take Simon out. But none of them was brave enough to face down their bully. No one was stepping forward to save her.
Four therians came up around the outside edges of the circle, each holding a flaming torch to light the wood that formed the ritual space.
Greta’s world narrowed, alone inside the circle of flames with Simon. The members of the tribe shifted and horrifying howls, like cats in heat, lifted up into the night. She could see their glowing eyes through the flames as they prowled around the edges of the circle, keeping up those horrible half-growls, half-meows.
Simon stood at the foot of the slab, holding the golden ritual knife up to the sky. The knife had been used in full moon rituals her whole life. Consecrated, sacred, and blessed, about to be defamed by the unholy spilling of her blood for a power-crazed Were.
“Bless this sacrifice and increase my territory,” Simon said, with the knife raised in a mockery of sanctity.
He made long shallow cuts in her flesh. She wasn’t sure what had been in the syringe, but whatever it was numbed the pain.
How long would it take? How long before she felt her life slip away like in the dream? All at once, the howling stopped as one by one the therians worked to reclaim their human forms.
Naked men and women struggled and scuffled outside the circle of flames like grotesque shadow puppets. Greta watched the bodies drop, and then one solitary therian stood still in fur, golden cat eyes staring through the flames, before backing up and taking a running leap over the wall of fire. Her claws dug into Simon’s back as she growled.
It took a second for Greta to realize it was Jaden. Simon grabbed her and tossed her out of the circle. The next shape that came barreling through the fire was human.
HE two combatants rolled on the ground, grappling like high Tschool wrestlers. Either Greta was having hallucinations of what she wished would happen in her last moments, or Dayne had done something to enhance his strength. The two men rolled toward the flames, then away again. Simon caught fire, and they rolled together to dampen it.
Suddenly, Dayne flew back. Simon’s hand was held out in front of him, and green energy crackled from his fingertips. He wiped a bloody nose with his other hand.
Dayne’s lip was cut, but he chuckled. “Learned a few tricks since our last meeting?”
“Coming to save the girl, Dayne? You really are pathetic. You should trade up for some shiny armor. I could give you mine if you’d like. It’s just collecting rust at my house.”
“I’m here for my blood. That’s all.”
Simon shrugged. “Well there’s plenty of it.” He gestured toward Greta. She’d become listless, no longer struggling, as the blood flowed out of her into the moat around the altar. She was using all her energy and focus just to remain conscious and aware. The voices around her sounded like they were under water.
“Well? Aren’t you going to take it?” Simon asked.
“You know it doesn’t work that way. Another ritual is already in place.”
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave my circle,” Simon said.
“If you stay, you might get some of the power, and then I won’t have an unfair advantage later when I come to kill you.” Dayne threw a handful of herbs at Simon and raised his arms.
He shouted an incantation that caused a band of light to wrap around Simon, effectively binding him.
“You can’t save her,” Simon said. “She can’t shift forms to heal.
By the time the drugs are out of her system it’ll be too late.” Dayne raised his arms again and looked up, shouting an invocation. The sky opened, and rain poured down. Greta closed her eyes against the downpour and shivered, her teeth clattering.