In the last installment of Lion of the Dark, Leo wakes up in Wendy’s bedroom, disoriented and ashamed at himself for killing Stanley. He’s just lost his first battle with the bloodmonger, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Meanwhile, after having underestimated Juliet’s trust Alexander gets shoved out of a moving Escalade at high speed right into the nosferatu ambush. Within moments he’s being tossed around like a rag doll. Not long after that his captor drags him underground. Alexander formulates a desperate plan. He doesn’t have a choice. If his borrowed body is destroyed he will be cast out, back to the underworld. Solo, he’s got to shift gears while Leo no longer feeling alone realizes he has friends—supernatural friends. This bond will continue to shape Leo’s epic journey as he steps closer to becoming the Lion of the Dark.
~ ~ ~ ~
I hit the ground running, reaching inside for all the speed I had.
Didn’t matter I had no idea where Wendy was. I just had to get there fast.
Streetlights blurred past me. Giant trees bowed and curved away like giant black squids trailing thorny tentacles. Bushy evergreens looked like they might snap they were bent so far at the center. Cold air bit my skin.
The air on my left stirred. First there was smoke and then there was shimmer.
I slowed. Christof slid up alongside me, satin cape rippling.
We both heard Wendy scream again.
“She’s nearby,” I called out, putting on the brakes. The world caught up. “I’ll go this way. You head around that way. Meet in the middle.”
Christof nodded and took off, northbound. He wasn’t through the intersection before we stopped and swung our eyes toward a cry for help.
“The park!” Christof shouted, and burst from his spot. Dark smoke curled away from the length of his back, the backs of his knees, covering me in an odorless cloud.
Within the next heartbeat I stepped into a sprint, quickly gaining on Christof, passing him, racing toward the park and praying Wendy wasn’t in the arms of a vampire. The thought of her like that sent cold shivers down my spine.
My blood bubbled.
And then it happened: fear turned into anger.
The bloodmonger wanted to emerge. It folded upward, stretching, eager, pushing its arms through mine as if my limbs were sleeves, stepping into my feet as though they were shoes. It started to push me aside. What good was I going to be like this?
My fangs dropped.
No! Wendy is my friend—Do you hear that?—My friend!
I turned inward, reaching for every knuckle … organ … bone. I imagined the bloodmonger nowhere near any of them and for the first time since the beast awoke … I consciously pushed back.
My head, then, began to pound. My body felt woozy. Wow! Its craving was strong.
But—my will—was stronger. My eyes flew open. A crimson veil lay over the world. The backs of my eyes pumped from the amount of blood now circulating through their nerves.
This is my body. I’m in charge! and threw my arms around my chest, gripping my biceps tightly.
By now I was shaking, the bloodmonger wanted to get out so badly. I doubled over onto the grass.
Right. Left. I rolled around, fighting to gain dominance.
The bloodmonger insisted, thrusting its will into my hands, stretching through them as if they were latex gloves.
My hands burned.
Fingernails elongated into talons.
My fangs cocked.
Squinting, thinking of Wendy I pushed back.
Although we haven’t known each other for very long the connection we have is deeper than any relationship I’ve ever had with someone. We were perfect pairs. Between us there were no awkward moments, no misunderstandings. Our friendship was so easy. I felt lucky to have her in my life. She helped me learn how now to accept things that were beyond my control and take charge of them. From our talks I found hope, and a cause worth fighting for: defending Creston from harm.
Wendy lived in Creston.
Leave her alone!
In my mind the bloodmonger flashed fangs, backpedaling as I asserted myself, irritated I hadn’t conceded.
On every previous occasion I was too weak to resist its hunger game but at this moment it was being denied… and that’s when I shut it down, giving it a right hook right between the eyes.
Shocked, it lost its balance, spinning away.
At a mental ledge looking down a deep chasm, I watched the bloodmonger grow smaller as it fell into darkness, howling with frustration.
I suddenly felt a tingling in my chest, a sense of accomplishment. I couldn’t believe it. I did it! But there was no time to celebrate. I had to—
“Leo!” Christof shouted.
Grabbing grass I pulled myself up and pushed off the ground, crossing the final stretch, bounding over the curb and into the park.
There were four of them flapping leathery wings high above Christof. Nightmarish things. Two thin legs each ending in four claws dangled from a pot-bellied torso. Bony hips protruded from a shallow belt of fur there was no point in trimming. Their genitals were out for all to see. Four pairs of skin flaps, jaw to collar bone functioned like fish gills. They had three pink irises, the pupils a darker shade, while four rows of short sharp teeth lined their small mouths. In place of a middle finger they had an extra long digit shaped like a crook. Something the Ancient Egyptians might have used to give a dead person’s brains a quick spin. Their moist skin was purplish gray.
Christof was doing well despite being outnumbered. Wendy lay beside him. She wasn’t moving. Jeepers and Morgan and Creepers faced foes, backs arched, hissing.
If there was one thing my dad taught me to be was unexpected.
A few yards from the fray, I leaped, and using Christof’s shoulder as a springboard, sailed toward the vampire in my trajectory. We collided, punching its face as we plummeted to the ground.
Before it could grab me, I tumbled away.
“Don’t let them envelop you,” Christof shouted, after I was upright. “Underarm glands secret an enzyme that’ll blend you into mashed potatoes.”
Won’t be letting them do that any time soon.
“What are these things?”
~ ~ ~ ~
A Long Embrace is Book Five in the ongoing monthly serial Lion of the Dark.
Copyright K. Anthony Pagano, 2012
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.