🧛♂️PROLOGUE - Eternally Cursed🧛♂️
***Unedited and subject to change. Copyright January Rayne 2022.***
Fifteen years old
The smell of smoke is everywhere, and the flesh of my loved ones are burning. I cover my ears as the screams pierce the air. Tears blur my vision, hot like molting lava as I dart my attention around the village.
What remains of what used to be my home.
I curl into myself, burying my face in my knees and wrap my arms around my legs. This will all be over soon. My pack will be okay. We will run under the stars tomorrow and all of this will have been a bad dream.
I’ll wake up any minute.
“Please,” I whimper to myself, a heated tear dripping from my face to the dry dirt floor. “Please, please, please.” The ground rubs against my butt as I rock back and forth, the pebbles tugging on the thin cloth of my pants.
Another bomb explodes, shaking the earth under me. The white noise of each grain of dirt slings against the body of the trees surrounding me.
I’m hiding between thick bushes and banana leaf canopies we made to camouflage our werewolf forms while we hunt. We don’t have to hide when we hunt. We’re the apex predator, but sometimes, we like to play with our food.
Not even our werewolf forms are strong enough to beat whatever force is at play here. Before mom shoved me in the bushes, I saw the firebombs sparking through the air before landing on someone or something.
The electricity is black, inky with long fingers waiting to grab whatever is in its way.
It makes my stomach feel funny like I’m going to be sick. A man controls it. Mom and dad told me stories when I was little about warlocks and how usually the ones who weave magic are good.
But then there’s one line of warlocks, the Halls, who want nothing more than to cause pain, destruction, and death wherever they go. They are powerful. Stories have said the warlock family got their name from walking the halls of Hell itself, making a deal with the devil to take and own as many souls as possible.
Halls is a plain, boring name but knowing how the warlock family was given it always reminds me there is always more to the unseen.
I don’t know how the warlock family walked Hell and I don’t want to know, but after seeing the darkness of the magic they wield firsthand, I believe it.
A howl rips through the air and my breath catches when I recognize the call. I fall to my knees as others answer my mom’s call.
The ache causes me to change into my werewolf form. My bones stretch, my skin morphs to grey, and I bolt for the tree line, dropping to all four paws to lengthen my stride, ready to attack. No restraints, no more hiding, no more control. I’m ready to fight for my family.
Ready to kill.
Ready for vengeance.
Ready to die.
“What the hell are you doing?” a harsh, exhausted voice sneers from my right. An arm stretches out and a hand folds over my snout, gripping it tight, forcing my jaws shut.
I narrow my eyes at Aziel, my brother, and he applies more pressure as he tightens his grip. I whine.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Aziel lets go of my snout and curls his fingers into my neck, clutching the baby skin I still have since I’m not full grown in this form and he picks me up like I’m a pup.
He looks around, blood and soot smeared on his cheek.
“Look around for more young wolves! I don’t give a fuck how long it takes. I want an army.”
Aziel’s eyes round, sweat dripping down his face as he tries to think of a plan. He sets his sights on the closest village cabin and runs into the woods, holding me in his arms as he does.
He is light on his feet, sidestepping every fallen branch and plant there is. When we get to the cabin, the backdoor is hanging from the hinges.
“Shift back,” he mouths, gently placing me on the dust covered floor.
I do as he says and shiver in fear as I look up at him through the shaggy ends of my hair.
“Aziel?” my voice cracks as I watch him creep through the house. He tosses a rug away from the floorboards and opens a trapped door by clutching an iron ring embedded in the door. “Aziel, what’s going on?” My chin wobbles as I try to fight my tears. I’m trying to be a strong werewolf, a fighter, but I’m failing. “I’m scared.”
He lifts his head when he hears those words admitted by me. In three big strides he is gripping my face with his hands. I look away ashamed and he brushes a tear off my cheek.
“Look at me.” He is so quiet with his words, no one else would be able to hear if they were in the room.
I drag my attention away from the floor and stare into his tired face.
“It’s okay to be scared,” he says, reassurance causing a slight bend to his brows as his face softens. “Being afraid doesn’t make you weak, Anwyll. It makes you strong because you want to survive. Being scared is the fine line between a coward and a man. It’s up to you to decide which side you want to take a step toward.”
I nod, taking a deep breath to calm my nerves.
“We don’t have much time. We’re going to hide under the house. I promised mom I’d do everything I could to protect you, but we are out of options.” He drags me to the trapped door, and I jump down into the hole.
The space is cold and damp, the ground hard yet wet at the same time. I sit down and cobwebs cling to my hair. Aziel quietly drops in next, barely a thump from his feet as he lands. He shuts the door with a soft click, the rug folding back down over the door, leaving us in near darkness, the only light sneaking between the cracks of the wood.
I gasp when I hear footsteps in the distance, my werewolf senses kicking in.
The enemy is closer.
My heartrate pounds, tackling my chest with every beat. It hurts.
Aziel sits behind me and silences my heavy breathing by holding his hand over my mouth.
“There’s a good chance they will find us. Whatever happens, I’m not ever going to leave you. Everything is going to be okay. I’ll protect you until my dying day, baby brother.” He leans his head against mine and I squeeze my eyes shut when the door to the cabin opens.
The only sound that follows is the slam of the door against the wall.
I grab Aziel’s free hand while his other becomes wet with tears.
“I smell werewolf.” The warlock begins to whistle, calling us like dogs. “Come out, come out wherever you are.”
“I have a bone for you to bury,” someone else tries to bait us. He laughs.
They walk above us, each step vibrating the dust and dirt loose. The debris falls on us, but even with the irritation in my eyes, I can’t look away from the shadows of the intruders crossing over the floorboards.
“I can give you all the bones, all the meat, everything you’ve ever wanted and desired. All you have to do is come out of hiding. Your friends, your family, what do you call them?” The warlock snaps his fingers. “Ah, yes, pack. Your pack is safe. They have agreed to my terms.”
I turn to look over my shoulder, needing confirmation from Aziel that this man is lying.
He gives a slow shake of his head, giving me all the answers I need.
“The terms are simple. You serve me until I get what I want. After that, you’re free to do what you want.”
Aziel holds my hand tighter, sweat slicking our palms as heat rises in the small space. It hits me then, as the temperature becomes so hot my lungs can’t fully take in a breath and my eyes begin to sting, I’m going to die here.
There’s no way we are getting out of this.
“I really only need you for additional strength. We have the same enemy, the vampires.”
Aziel’s body tenses from the word, his breath somehow even puffing against my neck, but I can feel how much weight each exhale carries. The pressure nearly has me suffocating.
“Come on. Imagine the strength I can give you, the power, the freedom!” he shouts, the heels of his shoe grinding against the floor as he spins above us.
The light fades between the cracks of the wood from the shadows of the warlock’s body.
“We can be the team that the vampires fear. I know how much you love tearing them limb from limb. I’ve witnessed it. Your need to kill outweighs anything and everything else.”
That’s not true.
For many years, at least that’s how the story goes, we have been trying to come to a truce with the vampires. Our kind, the werewolves, turn feral after too many years without our fated mates. Vampires mate for life and my kind are no different. When we don’t meet them, we become hungry to kill, for death, for the taste of blood.
We hunt anything and everything that gets in our way of finding our one true mate.
We hunt until it kills us or until we find our mate and kill them too.
They can’t be saved. Our minds are too far gone. Werewolves want their mates so bad at that point, we literally tear them apart because we want them so much.
I’ve heard from the stories passed down from my father and his father, that when a werewolf kills their mate in a fit of feral rage and want, the haze clears. A sadness overcomes the animal, regret, and pain.
It’s too much for us to take. With our sharp claws, we dig into our chests and rip out our own hearts since we tore our purpose for living to shreds.
Our feral kills are why the tension with vampires exists.
Werewolves have killed a lot of them and in return they have killed us. They think we are bitter about being anomalies, but we aren’t.
We’re mad with agony and our minds can’t take it.
It’s something my dad used to say.
“What if I told you, you could have the one thing your heart desires?” the warlock, Brenden baits. “What if I told you, I could snap my fingers and your werewolf would never pine again because they would have what their nature needed?”
Aziel’s body tenses again but I feel the slight turn of his head as if he wants to hear more. I shake my head desperately, needing him to realize having a mate isn’t as important as living. He’s older than me so the urge to find his mate is stronger. I don’t have a want for her yet. I have the ability to think clearly.
I squeeze his hand with all my strength and his body relaxes. Leaning his head against me, he nods, and doesn’t fall for the lies the warlock weaves.
The warlock sighs in annoyance. I imagine he has his hands on his hips, gazing around the room in confusion.
I slowly tilt my head up when his boots scuff against the floor and stop right above us. A cloud of muck bursts from the rotten groves, tickling my nose, threatening a sneeze. My eyes burn and water. My throat tingles.
Swallowing the need to sneeze, I fight my body's instincts so we can remain hidden. A hot tear breaks from the outer corner of my left eye, rolling slowly down my cheek.
I’m so scared.
I wait for the warlock to make a move, to do or say something, but the cabin becomes quiet. I don’t hear his boots kick against the floor or the impatient huffs of his breath.
It’s so quiet, my internal thoughts are whispering.
The wild thump of my heart slams against my chest, hoping our enemy can’t hear it.
The screaming dies down outside. The chaos coming to an end. Worms slither across my hand from the dirt. A black spider scurries along the wooden beam adding final touches to its web.
A strong stench of sweat fills the air, adding to the musk of dirt. My skin begins to itch.
I want my mom.
A loud crash comes from above us, glass breaking and the weak planks above us cracking. “You’ll fucking obey me or so help me, I’ll rip the skin off your bones, you damn dogs!” he yells, ripping the trap door open above us, blinding us with scattered light coming from holes in the roof.
He leans down, a wicked black storm crackling around him as a wicked grin scorns his face. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” he says in awe, staring down at us as if we are the answer to all of his problems. “Just beautiful.”
Aziel throws me to the side and shifts midair as he jumps through the trap door, attacking the warlock. A murderous snarl has the hair on my arms standing straight. I scurry to my hands and knees, squeezing the dirt between my fingers. Jumping, I grab the edge of the floor and pull myself up.
“Ah, ah, ah, remember who you’re fucking with.” The warlock shakes his finger left and right, tsking at Aziel.
He has Aziel suspended in the air, controlling his body with magic. The warlock smiles and cocks his head at Aziel, finding my brother’s attempt to save us humorous.
How is he able to control a grown werewolf without so much as a flick of a hand?
“Aziel!” I call out his name and his eyes cast to the side, his arms limp. I struggle to pull myself onto the floor, but I manage.
I’m forced to slide across the ground until I’m at the warlock’s feet. One hand wraps around my throat and his poisonous magic sinks through my skin. I feel sick, weak, and at his mercy.
“Look how cute. So protective of your puppy, aren’t you?” he hatefully asks Aziel and a low, weak grumble vibrates through my brother. “You have no options. I have either killed the people you love or have put them under my control. You will follow me, or I’ll kill this pup right in front of you.” His hand tightens around my throat, and I can do nothing but take it.
I want to fight him. I want to shift, but he has paralyzed me somehow. I can’t move.
Something so strong shouldn’t exist. To take over another person’s being, their animal inside them, it’s too much power for someone to have.
“I’ll snap his neck right in front of you. I’ll skin his hide and wear his fur as a coat while you serve me if you don’t agree.”
I’m able to lift my tired gaze to Aziel’s. One tear breaks free, darkening the grey fur on his face.
I hate when I see Aziel give in. He shifts into his human form and the warlock drops him from the spell that bound him in the air. Aziel lands on his knees, gasping for breath, hair damp from sweat, and he stretches his arms as soon as I’m free.
“I knew you’d see it my way. I’m Brenden Hall. I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”
Throwing myself in my brother’s arms, I hide my face in his shoulder, not wanting to see the fate waiting for us.
“We’ve heard of you,” Aziel’s tired voice gravels as he continues to catch his breath.
“Good. Introductions aren’t needed then.”
“How long do you want us for?”
“Until what I want is mine,” Brenden answers.
“My brother will be safe?” Aziel asks again.
“Everyone will be. You won’t have to worry about a thing. Do we have a deal?” His face reminds me of a boogeyman lurking in the darkness, wanting to make a deal for peace but really, he brings death.
We’ve always been warned not to make deals with dark warlocks. They thrive off their debts, the souls they collect, and the damage they cause. What’s worse, their lifespan gets longer with every life they take.
He’ll get to live forever.
Brenden grips the tops of our heads with his hands, a current blanketing my mind as I drift away from myself.
I see everything, but it’s not me in control.
“There’s some fine print you didn’t know about,” he bends down to whisper. “I control you.”
He wants us to kill.
We’re numbed. We’re paralyzed.
What’s worse, is I see everything I do.
And I’ll never forgive myself.