Today we bring you a fan service snippet. Hopefully it will give you a break from current events for a few minutes. This isn’t part of any ongoing work. It’s just a fun scene, written because so many of you wanted to see the old favorites.
Atlanta was a bitch of a city.
You’d think that after I’d been gone for eight years, the place would cut this prodigal daughter some slack, just for the old times’ sake. You would be wrong.
I stopped my horse in the middle of the deserted street. On the left, a ruined heap of a building crouched, steeped in the night shadows, a remnant of the time before the Shift. On the right, a wall rose, new construction, solid, thick, and topped with razor wire. Ahead the street ended, as if sheared with a giant’s knife. A chasm gaped, dropping full fifty feet down below, about a third of a mile across. It wasn’t there when I had left.
This was a new development, unexpected but not surprising. Our world suffered from the unpredictable tide of magic waves. With each one, a little more of our technological civilization crumbled, worn down by the magic’s teeth. Chasms, surprise rivers, and labyrinths of glass sprung up overnight. But humans were a resilient breed. We dealt with it the best way we could. Atlanta had dealt with the chasm, as was evidenced by a single lane wooden bridge spanning it. The bridge wasn’t the issue. The three shapeshifters blocking it were.
I had done everything right. I rode in quietly, I stayed away from Pack territory, and I picked the best time, just before 5:00 am, when the night was thinking about flirting with sunrise. Shapeshifters preferred to be nocturnal when they could help it. Morning chased them back to the Keep, their massive fortress just outside the city, so they could meditate with the first rays of the sun, then turn in for their nap.
There was absolutely no reason for a Pack patrol to be here at this hour. Yet here they were. My homecoming present.
The three shapeshifters waited. All three were male and young, and since they showed no intention of moving out of my way, very bored. I was the entertainment. So happy to be of service.
Had the Pack boundary moved while I was gone? It was possible, although neither Grandfather nor my brother had said anything about it. But then I didn’t ask.
When I left, Atlanta had been reeling from a battle to the death with a common enemy. All of the different factions of the city had come together to face it, with my adoptive mother in the center of it all, like a shining star. In the absence of a great enemy, the city had fragmented again, with the Pack controlling a chunk of the metropolis to the north-west. All shapeshifters within Atlanta belonged to the Pack, its various clans working together under the leadership of a Beast Lord. The Pack had strict rules, and the last I knew, hassling normal people who traveled through the city wasn’t encouraged.
“Hi there!” I called. “I need to get on this bridge.”
The middle of the shapeshifters, about twenty, tan, with longish dark hair, smiled at me. “Password?”
Eat dirt and die. “Why do I need a password? Is this bridge in the Pack’s territory?”
“That’s not important,” the leader said. “What’s important is that there are three of us and one of you.”
Well, look who learned to count.
“If you want to cross the bridge, you have to give us the password,” the shapeshifter said. “If you don’t know it, you’ll have to pay the fine.”
The smaller shapeshifter on his right grinned and let out an eerie cackle. Boudas. Of course. Because my life was a gentle ride down a lazy river, and I needed some rapids along the way.
Boudas, the were-hyenas, belonged to one of the smaller Pack clans. There weren’t many of them, but they were dangerous and utterly nuts. Wolves, jackals, rats, all of them could be reasoned with. Boudas did things like climb into a captive polar bear’s cage and tickle it with their claws to see what would happen.
I could go through them, but then someone higher up the Pack’s chain of command would find me and want to have words. They wouldn’t recognize me – my face looked different, my body was different, and even my scent had changed since I left – but why tempt fate? Besides, I didn’t need that much attention. I came to the city for a reason and jumping into the spotlight would make things so much harder. No thanks.
I tensed my right leg a fraction. Tulip turned, more anticipating command rather than obeying it, the sound of her hooves clopping on the pavement too loud in the night. Two more shapeshifters stepped out of the shadows, blocking my exit. Right.
A normal Pack patrol had two people, three on the border with the People, because necromancers made a dangerous enemy. Five shapeshifters was overkill. Either they had been partying in the city, or they were coming back from some mission and it was my bad luck to run into them. Either way, they were in the market for some fun and they thought I was it.
I guided Tulip into continuing the turn until I faced the bridge again. Five boudas would be a tough fight, and the moment they realized that I wasn’t playing, it would escalate into real violence. I really didn’t want to kill anyone. This would be much easier if the magic was up, but the magic wave had ebbed two hours ago and having more than one wave in twenty-four hour was rare.
“Still waiting for that password,” the leader of the boudas said.
“May 15th,” I said.
“What’s that?” the shapeshifter on the left asked.
“Andrea Medrano’s birthday,” I said. “Good enough?”
The boudas paused. It was a funny thing to watch: one moment, they were oozing arrogance, the next they simultaneously lost their steam as if someone popped them on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. To them Andrea Medrano was Boss, Judge, and Executioner. They called her Alpha. To me she was Aunt Andrea, my mother’s best friend.
A tall shadow stepped out of the ruins, as if congealing from the darkness, and glided forward with easy grace. Broad shoulders, long legs, a large guy. He took another step and I saw his face. There were no words to describe that face. A man that handsome shouldn’t have existed, but there he was in the flesh.
His eyes caught the moonlight. A blood-red sheen rolled over his brown irises.
Well, stab me and leave me to die.
“Now, that’s an interesting development,” Ascanio Ferrara said. “Please, tell me more.”