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Fated To The Wolf: Chapter One

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Fated is an M/M instalove novella scheduled to release August 15th in the anthology Marked By The Wolf. If wolf shifters are your jam, this anthology is for you! This novella will serialize for free on the blog wed/thurs leading up to the release, but future chapters will be behind a password only available on my newsletter. Sign up and get a free copy of The Dragon Heir’s Omega, an M/M/M instalove novella with dragon shifters.

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In the world of the Shade, in the deep shadows of the blood forest, Amari Rose stood silently. He held his breath. He slowed his heartbeat until there were spaces between the sound. He listened with the instincts of a hunter.

His black leather jacket fit snug against his shoulders and chest. The fabric whispered, its creases comfortable. His belt held two empty sheaths, the knives at the ready in his hands. There was no glint on the metal, for there was no light in the Shade.

The blood forest did not move. There was no breeze and there were few creatures who made this place home. But Amari had grown up in the Shade, and he knew every inch of the forest by the feel of its darkness. He had hunted what lived here for years.

There wasn’t a sound, so much as a feeling. Anticipation growing until it was physical. Amari ducked left a breath before shadow-black claws sliced through his neck. He lunged not where the vampire was, but where he would be. His grip on his knives tightened, braced for impact. A poor replacement for natural claws, and yet effective none the less. His first strike missed by a breath. His second caught the vampire glancing across the shoulder.

Then it was gone.

Amari had no supernatural power, speed, strength, or senses at all. He had no leverage over a creature like the vampire. He had trained for years among them, his teacher a vampire herself, but that didn’t make up for his deficiencies. By comparison he was blind, deaf, nose-blind, and easily distracted by the biological systems of life. He was, in short, human.

The only reason he would win this hunt, and claim his trophy, was because vampires were arrogant bastards. Every one of them. Even in its weakened state, the vampire didn’t think he could lose.

Which meant Amari would shortly collect another fang for his collection.

He ducked again. This time to the right. Followed with a slash of his knife to push the vampire in front. The second blade already rising into the place where the creature would be. The vampire appeared. Amari’s knife glanced against rib and sunk deep. The sound of it a dull thunk, like a cleaver into dead flesh. There was no warm blood left in the creature’s body to gush. No living meat to quiver with pain. Only the cold of undeath.

Amari threw himself backward, tearing the knife with him. Claws black as the Shade sliced through the air in front of his nose. The vampire staggered, but Amari’s wasn’t a killing blow. With a flicker, the creature was gone again.

Amari blew a deep breath. He had one single advantage over the vampire. It had been severed from its Sire minutes ago, and the longer this fight went on, the weaker it would get. The connection between Sire and lesser vampire was half of an equation that gave them unlife. The other half was human blood, of which the vampire had been starved for at least a week before being released to hunt Amari. Long enough for the blood frenzy to reach its critical point—where the vampire could think of nothing but satisfying its hunger.

Blood that Amari intended to keep inside his body, thank you.

Amari held an odd position among the vampire court. He was human, but not a blood slave. He had no metaphysical power, and yet he ranked higher than most in the court. It was an insult to the vampire that his fate was to be hunted by Amari. To be killed by a human. Pathetic.

The vampire could flee if it wanted. Nothing kept it here in the blood forest, or even in the Shade itself. It could travel the dimensional distance to the mortal plane and run.

It might even catch a human in time to satisfy its blood hunger.

But without the connection to its Sire, the vampire would waste away regardless, and eventually die of starvation. Not from blood, but starvation from power. A dehydration of the very essence of life.

It wasn’t a pretty way to go.

But no vampire thought Amari was truly a threat. None of them ever took their sentencing as a warning. With the blood frenzy riding them, most higher cognition had succumbed to the need and they saw nothing but their next meal, standing there in the forest. Waiting. Vulnerable.

What kind of vampire could be killed by a human with no power, even if that human had years of martial training?

No vampire worth living.

So they never ran. And they always died.

And Amari collected their teeth.

The blood forest’s shadows made navigating by sight impossible. The Shade itself was a realm of permanent darkness. No sun, no stars, no lights but the purple flame of the voidlights that lit the keep the Court called its home.

The grass below his boots crackled like it was dry. It was, in fact, stiff, the edge bladed like a razor. The trees around him were heavily thorned, their branches hooked and reaching. Everything about the blood forest was meant to pierce and cut. Without a sun, the plants found other ways to feed themselves.

Amari would not be food today. Not for the vampire, and not for the trees.

The vampire lunged for him inelegantly. It might have stumbled in weakness, the broken connection to its Sire sapping the supernatural strength it relied on. Amari spun to the side, blocking a strike of claws with one blade, and driving the other up and into the vampire’s fall. His knife bit into the cold, dead flesh of its neck, sliced with ease through the empty artery on the side, caught and scraped free of the spine.

The vampire collapsed in a spasm of pain.

Amari straightened, looking down on the creature with a scowl crawling up his lip. It twitched at his feet, rolling over in its thrashing so that Amari could see it’s red eyes, wide. Afraid.

Amari smiled and it wasn’t friendly. Finally, the creature understood in its final moments that Amari wasn’t the prey in this forest. He was the hunter.

The open, pale flesh of Amari’s final strike flapped like a second mouth on the vampire’s neck. It wasn’t a killing blow to a healthy vampire, but this one was far from healthy. It jerked again, uncontrollably, as the lack of power fed from its Sire began to eat away at its own muscles and bones. It had no energy left to put into healing.

Even blood wouldn’t save it now.

Amari watched the creature’s death throes with immense satisfaction. As the twitching began to fade, Amari drew one knife against the heel of his palm, only enough to draw a few drops of blood. He held them over the dying creature and saw its eyes sharpen, its slit of a nose stretch wide at the scent of fresh food. Amari let his blood drip onto the monster’s face and eyes. Taunted it by avoiding its mouth. The vampire panted with obvious desperation. Its chest began to sink in on itself. It’s limbs tightened together like a dead spider, curling inward and making its spine bend back. Its mouth gaped, four fangs—two up, and two down—exposed to Amari’s sight.

He would take his prize now, at the edge of the vampire’s life, while it still had enough thought in its head to realize the full extent of its humiliation.

Amari crouched over the creature. He used one knife to pry into the jaw and the gums, cutting away what was unnecessary. With the other, he pinned the lower jaw open.

And he enjoyed the final rush of panic in the vampire’s eyes as it sensed the final death upon it.

Amari wrenched his newest tooth free, the root still clinging to gray, undead flesh. The body of the vampire lay still and stiff. Cold and hard like a rock. The left side of its mouth mangled by Amari’s knife in its final moments.

He walked away from the remains without care, using the tip of one knife to pick out the bits still stuck in the root end of the tooth. It was on the smaller end of his collection, but had an interesting hook at the end.

Amari left the vampire’s body behind him in the deep shadows of the blood forest. Nothing that was alive, or had once been alive, ever went to waste, and by tomorrow the forest would have taken its due.

Amari exited the forest unerringly toward the keep. He couldn’t navigate by sight, it was more by feel. The Shade was a realm of darkness, but it was not uniform. The presence of the realm itself was stronger in some areas than others, thicker, more hostile. Harder to push through to the moral world on the other side. No part of it liked Amari. He was not vampire. He was not darkness. He was not welcome.

Amari had grown up with that hostility, it felt familiar. He navigated by its strengths. By its waxing and waning through the forest and keep beyond.

He found Isabella waiting for him at the edge of the forest. She stood with her back to him, facing the keep that towered in the clearing like a Gothic cathedral. It was built of black stone, and by human hands. Blood slaves had done the work. No vampire would lift a finger for hard labor when a slave could be made to do it for them.

Dark stone carved with dark tools comprise the whole the building. Dark glass in looming edifice framed both the entryway and lined the throne room. It was lit periodically with purple flame. A living drop of void energy that burned and flickered but did not give off heat. Voidlight. Anti-light. It burned with cold so complete that even vampires shied away. The Shade was as hostile to the light as it was to Amari. As it wasn’t to Isabella, who stood in perfect stillness while she waited.

Amari pocketed his new tooth before he reached her. She was aware of his collection, of course. He had enough of them on display in his room. But they were for his pleasure, not hers. He had no interest in showing it off. Even if she had bloodthirsty interest in seeing it.

There was no similarity between the vampire left behind in the forest and Isabella standing here before him. Isabella remained connected to her Sire, the king of the keep and Court on the hill. She was flush with unlife, and a recent feeding from a blood slave. She had been beautiful in life and the unholy transformation of her death made her exquisite. Tall, elf-like, with thin, delicate points to her ears, and delicate points her teeth and delicate points to her black claws. She wore a shocking blush of bright pink across her cheeks and some rock in her hoop earrings glowed deadly green. She was dressed for full court appearance.

She wore an elegant pale green silk that clung to her chest and hips. It had a slit so far up one hip, Amari wasn’t sure if she wore any underwear. The sleeves hung down from her elbows in wide panels that faded to a darker forest green at the ends by her ankles.

Her hair, usually down in waves to her shoulders, was done up in ringlets and pearl pins, tucked away from the sharp bat-like points of her ears. Massive gold hoops hung from her lobes, large enough to brush against her bare shoulders, their sickly-glowing rock nestled inside the ring. The dress came up her back, cut around the outside her of deltoid, and plunged back down between her breasts. A long necklace with a pearl drop nestled there, its gold chain split under her breasts to either side, drawing attention to what was hidden.

While Amari could clean up to a level he considered exquisite, he would never compare when he stood next to a vampire. They teased him for his beauty and strength, mocking his very-human attempt to be one of them. It was a knife edge he balanced on; desiring more than anything to be one of them, and hating them with blind fury for their hostility and arrogance. A tug-of-war inside of him that never ceased.

Once, when he was young, he thought Isabella was different. She’d been his teacher, his mentor— not a mother, never that. He thought, briefly, she might be a friend. He still wore the scar over his heart that taught him otherwise.

A vampire had no love inside of them for anyone but themselves and the power they could gather. They loved the regard of those around them, for how they wore their wealth and status. They were all narcissists, to the last.

Amari acknowledged Isabella with a small, shallow bow. A slight incline and straighten, a sign of respect he provided no other vampire. Her revealing outfit didn’t move Amari in the way she probably intended. His gut tightened with anxiety, not arousal, and he dreaded the reason she might have come for him.

She did not return his acknowledgment, but mearly stared over the keep with that creepy, absolute stillness of the dead. There was no need for the vampire creature to breathe. No need for the heart to pump. No need for synapses to fire. The body simply waited for animation. Amari awaited her judgment.

At great length she took her first breath in order to speak. “Your mother wishes to reward you.”

Amari’s heart seized in his chest. He hoped briefly that this time the shock of fear would actually kill him. It fissioned through his muscles in a spasm much like the dying vampire back in the forest. He recovered himself before Isabella slid her bright red eyes to the side to mock him for it. Amari hated the vampires, for their cruelty and the violence they had taught him. A lesson he’d learned all too well.

But he feared his mother’s solicitous attention most of all.