Monday, February 18, 2013

Sneak Peek - Keeper of Secrets

 Chapter One

With each of Lugh’s long strides, the footsteps that trailed him drew closer. In the pre-dawn shadows of the city, little stirred, as if the night held its breath. The darkness about Lugh aroused the darkness within—that taint of black enchantment that blended and corrupted the light of his innate magic. Like a drop of ink into a crystal clear pool, twisting and dividing, finding its own pattern and flow as it poisoned the whole in an inevitable spread. Yet only a drop. Only a hint. A flavor. A whispered suggestion that fixated with the same hypnotic coil as the ink in water.

Far from the eclipse of the sun. A manageable urge that throbbed within, with cravings of its own. The shadow of the beast it could become. The beast he could become.

Even in the dark denim jacket and jeans, the street lamps found Lugh in the night, casting shifting shadows that moved about him as he passed through shafts of light. Timing his backward glance, Lugh caught his pursuers in the light pool. Two of them. Large males. Not vampires. These men moved like wolf-kin. Werewolves, as they called themselves now. Heads down, following by scent as much as by sight, shoulders hunched forward with aggression.

Across the street and not far ahead of Lugh, a man rose from a bench, his slow crossing of the street timed for an interception.

And ahead, two more emerged from the alcove about a doorway.

Lugh slowed, the werewolves encircling him.

The shadow within him rose with the sense of danger, summoned forth with bloodlust as if by the beating of war drums. In his mind’s eye, the corruption within transformed into the sleek, muscled beauty of a black panther. Its venomous green eyes a brilliant, illuminated emerald that glowed from within. Craving violence and carnage, the beast merged seamlessly with Lugh, blending with his soul in a dark possession.

One of the wolves growled, “Nothing smells like Sidhe.”

“Nothing tastes like Sidhe, either.” The dark-haired man who’d been on the bench moved closer, unchallenged by the others. The alpha.

Lugh angled himself so he faced the alpha. Two wolves penned him from either side. “Think you to sample my blood? To feast upon my flesh?” The darkness within Lugh twisted the amused hint of a smile that graced his Sidhe-handsome face. “Rather, I foresee your broken bodies sprawled at my feet. Shall we test conclusions?”

Warrior-trained and centuries of battle-honed reflexes reacted with the onrush of attack, fueled by the wicked violence surging within his beast. The wolf to the farthest right reached Lugh first. He backed out of the path of the charge. Bringing up his right arm, Lugh hooked the man from under the jaw with his fingers, digging into the soft flesh beneath his tongue. Catching the jawbone, he jerked back and down with force enough to lift the man from his feet and spin him as he fell, snapping his neck. The falling body continued by momentum into the wolf-kin to Lugh’s left, knocking them back.

Dropping down to a knee, Lugh struck upward at the second wolf on his right, with his fingers straight and stiff as a blade, driving his hand hard into a muscled abdomen, directing all the force into a nerve bundle just above the navel. The scream of excruciating pain proved the strike hit true on his target— no doubt killing the wolf’s appetite once he ceased doubling over and retching up bile.

While he was down, the alpha flung himself onto Lugh’s back. His arms grappled around Lugh’s shoulders. The weight of the alpha meant to drive Lugh to the ground.

Leaning back into the man, Lugh grabbed his trouser legs near the ankle and jerked upward, unbalancing the wolf-kin. With the shifting of his body, Lugh shrugged the man forward, flipping him over his head and onto the ground before him.

As Lugh rose, the two remaining henchmen each hooked their arms around one of Lugh’s. They yanked him up to his feet. Surely, they meant to lift him from the ground, but Lugh’s height defeated that hope. Lugh snarled, bearing his teeth as if he possessed the panther fangs of his beast. Jerking against their hold only made them grip him that much tighter.

Exactly as Lugh intended.

When the alpha regained his footing, Lugh kicked hard from the ground. With fey grace and feline aggression, he flipped backward, using the arms that held him as the fulcrum around which he spun. In the flip, Lugh’s foot caught the alpha in the face, knocking him back once more, with an explosively broken nose.

Lugh’s acrobatics sent him up and over the men that had detained him. Even as he landed behind them Lugh punched out hard, hitting one of the men in the kidney. The impact to such a vulnerable organ might have killed a human. The wolf-kin weren’t so fragile. Even still, the wolf went down with an anguished scream, not to get back up again.

The final man punched at Lugh. A blow that he deflected as if it had been a sword, using his own forearm to redirect the force by impacting with the wolf-kin’s wrist. The were’s forward motion carried him past Lugh, who used the opportunity to latch his arm around the man’s neck. The crook of his elbow looped under the man’s chin and braced his head, then Lugh kicked him in the back of his knee. As his opponent dropped, Lugh jerked upward with his arm, breaking his neck. He released the body to crumple lifelessly to the concrete.

Backing away, Lugh glared down at the four men he’d left dead or wounded at his feet. But only four. The alpha not among them.

Thus far, the wolf-kin had underestimated him. Within the city, they were less likely to risk exposure by shifting into their partial ‘werewolf’ or full wolf forms. Plus the shift took time, longer for the less experienced wolves. But swiftly for the alpha.

The growl of the alpha broke the silence of the night just as he tackled Lugh from behind. Twisting even as they fell, Lugh jerked away from the snap of the canine jaws. The beast within him growled back at the werewolf with animal fury.

The werewolf, a half-man/half-wolf amalgamation of horrifying intent, raked his two-inch claws down the back of Lugh’s denim jacket, hooking into the fabric.

Kicking away from him, Lugh shrugged out of his jacket and the shoulder pack of supplies he carried. If not for the Fade, he’d have teleported away before now, but the expenditure of magic would certainly exceed his reserves. Even the use of Glamour was a luxury that he could ill-afford. But when the werewolf lunged for him again, his longer arm-span extended wide, those deadly claws spread menacingly, and his canine snout curled up in a bestial snarl that revealed teeth meant for rending flesh, Lugh drew upon his personal aspect of magic.

Tapping into the power of the sun, he flared a light so intense as to blind unshielded eyes. It flicked so fast, returning the night to the depths of the darkness, no one’s vision, other than his own, could quickly recover.

The wolf’s pained yip proved the effectiveness of the strike against his senses. The animal drove forward, nonetheless, barreling toward where Lugh had been.

Lugh twisted away, leaving the alpha to bash headlong into the brick wall with force enough to send a spiderweb of fractures through the bricks where his face impacted.

The flaring of the light and dodging the attack had been Lugh. But the beast within him wasn’t satisfied. Possessed of it, Lugh grabbed the unconscious werewolf and shoved him forward again, battering his head into the wall, and this time leaving blood on the impact site. With the third blow, the beast crushed in the werewolf’s skull.

Backing away, he let the alpha fall. His werewolf’s shape slipped back to human without his conscious effort to make it otherwise.

The beast loomed over its victims, snarling a grin. The arousal of aggression still flooding through him, making Lugh’s body ache for more.

“Enough.” Lugh’s own voice sounded foreign to his ears. Deeper. Throatier.

The beast, its violent desires served, skulked back into the shadows of his mind. Appeased for now, but not vanquished. It grinned with wicked amusement at Lugh, knowing its advantages. They wrestled now, but the beast won ground each time they battled. And eventually, Lugh would forget himself in its animal haze.

It had happened to Lugh before. The eclipse, as the fey called it.

And if he lost himself into the dark lusts, then all he’d fought for since the Collapse was lost.

That… and that alone… strengthened Lugh to forestall the black passions of his beast.

Lugh snatched up his torn jacket and the shoulder pack and continued on his way, leaving the wounded to recover enough to make off with their dead or be discovered by the waking city in a few hours, as fortune would have it.

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