Sarah Blair is an author, podcaster, mommy, teacher, and all around outstanding human. She’s been one of my favorite people from the moment we met. You know how some people are just calming to your soul? Sarah is that for me. You can learn more about her at http://www.sarahlblair.com, and listen to her on the The X-Cast: An X-Files Podcast. Check out the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of her book! (This one is open to international readers, too!)
Ulric the Lesser liked the smell of blood. Blood meant defeat, and he took joy in defeating his enemies. As he lay on the ground staring up into the clear, cool night, he realized this was the second full moon he’d seen since the last time he’d smashed a skull, or hacked off a limb.
The fire popped and cracked its way through the damp wood, as sparks fluttered up into the black sky overhead. The men were quiet tonight. They languished.
“The men are hungry, Father,” said Ulric the Lesser.
Ulric the Greater grunted in response.
“Hungry for food. Hungry for women. Hungry for blood.” Ulric the Lesser sat up, picking his teeth with a twig. “We must go south.”
“We cannot go south.” His father gnawed on the end of a stick. “For who would remain to watch over the lands we have already conquered?”
His father snorted.
“Then I shall lead the men south while you remain.”
“You thirst for blood.” Ulric the Greater tossed the stick into the fire and wrapped his bear skins tighter. “There is more to being a good leader. You have not proven yourself worthy of taking my place.”
“You are old and I am patient.”
“So eager to see me gone, you bastard child?” Ulric the Greater showed his missing teeth with a hearty laugh and opened his arms wide. “By all means, I am ready!”
Ulric the Lesser curled his lip at the dare.
“Coward.” Ulric the Greater spat at his son’s feet.
Ulric the Lesser stood. “I have to piss.”
“Do us all a favor and lose yourself on the way back,” his father suggested.
Head swimming from ale, Ulric traipsed into the thick brush and found a solid tree. He shut his eyes and rested his forehead against the rough bark as he let loose his stream. Shivering in the cold, he turned back toward the encampment anxious for a blaze, wishing he had a woman to sink into.
A low growl rumbled from the darkness.
Glowing red eyes appeared. A long snout filled with dagger-sharp teeth glinted white in the moonlight. The wolf crept forward on four paws, withers as tall as Ulric’s chest, head the size of a bear.
It was a good thing he’d just emptied himself or he would have been soaked in an instant. The growl grew louder and puffs of air escaped the snout in the frigid night air.
Ulric considered running, but he wouldn’t dare put his back to the thing. He glanced at the tree, but there were no branches low enough to pull himself up. It was just an animal. A dog. His father had killed bears before. Surely he could kill a damned dog, even if it was the size of a pony.
The thing eased forward. Its growl grew in volume until Ulric’s blood hummed through his veins in harmony with the monster.
Ulric drew his short axe from his belt.
The creature lunged.
Its teeth sank into his shoulder, making Ulric shout in horror, but there was no pain—only tight pressure crushed down on his thick animal skins. He swung his arm and the axe sliced through the animal’s pelt into its side.
It writhed against him, twisting his arm in its mighty jaws. He shoved it off and struck again, this time making contact with its skull. The crack of the bone and the scent of fresh blood on the crisp air sent a pleasant tingle through his body. He hacked again and again until the thing stopped moving, its tongue lolling out of its mouth. His hand was wet and warm with blood dripping down from the head of the axe.
Grabbing the enormous paw, Ulric hefted his quarry through the trees into the orange light of the fire where his father sat snoring.
“Call me a coward again, old man.” Ulric kicked his father awake and dumped the beast at his feet. He shouted at the drowsing men,“Awake you filthy lot! For tonight, we feast!”
Ulric the Greater sat up and studied the monstrous creature. He lifted his bright blue gaze up to his son and gave him a single nod.
Ulric the Lesser awoke to a shout.
For a moment he wondered if he’d rolled into the fire; his entire body burned. He threw off his pelts and sat up, gulping in the cold air. The sun was low in the sky and he had no idea if it was sunset or sunrise.
Another shout cut through the air.
His vision blurred as a sharp pain sliced through his skull like a lightning strike. He climbed to his feet and fell immediately as his gut seized.
There was more movement in the camp. Other men rolled on the ground. More shouts rose intermittently through the clearing.
Ulric the Greater groaned deeply.
Ulric the Lesser crawled toward the old man. A cramp shot through his spine, drawing him into an arch on the ground.
The pain stole his breath away and he screamed in silence.
His father clawed at the dirt.
Roars of pain throughout the campsite morphed into deep growls.
All around him there was sound. Screaming. Shouting. The deep pop of dislocating bones. The stretch of skin. Cries more desperate than any he’d ever heard in the midst of battle.
The hands of Ulric the Greater changed. His fingernails grew long and curved into the black earth. The hair on his arms thickened and sprouted into a deep gray fur.
“What have you done?” His father groaned. Dry, cracked lips pulled back in a grimace of pain, revealing teeth like daggers. His jaw cracked as it jutted forward into a snout. He tried to speak again but his voice came out as a rough growl.
Ulric the Lesser tried to escape the horror of the creature before him, but his body refused to obey. His teeth crunched down on dirt as he writhed. Scorching pain consumed him, his skin stretched to splitting.
Blood-soaked faces flooded his vision. One after another, the atrocities he’d inflicted on all manner of living things came back to him as he screamed in terror, wondering if they had all returned to tear him limb from limb.
Just as suddenly as the pain overtook him, it eased.
Cautious breaths huffed in and out of his body, soft puffs in the cold air—but he no longer felt the chill of winter. His pupils dilated as he took in this new and different world. Everything was crisp and clear. More breaths brought in scents he’d never smelled before. Heaving breaths pulled in the perfume of dead leaves and earth. The tinge of sweat came next, slightly different for each of the hundred men in the camp. A squirrel skittered in a tree above, and he jerked with an urge to hunt.
Ulric the Lesser laughed, but instead he only heard a bark.
He tried again.
A low growl vibrated through his jaws. He licked his tongue over sharp new teeth.
Large paws pressed into the earth where his hands should be.
He looked out over the camp. Instead of lumps of sleeping men, he found a crowd of furry beasts staring back at him.
The blue eyes of his father watched him, and the creature in his father’s place let out a low huff.
Ulric the Lesser lunged. Teeth clamped down on fur and skin. Warm blood gushed into his powerful new jaws. He ripped and tore until there was nothing but a mess of flesh and fur spread across the ground before him. It was fast and easy. Simple.
He threw his snout toward the sky and let out a long howl. The others echoed in turn.
Ulric the Lesser tasted blood and he liked it.
Paranormal Investigator, Sidney Lake doesn’t jump at shadows. The weird stuff is her jurisdiction. When the mangled body of a supposedly extinct creature turns up in New York City’s subway system, she’s number one on the Medical Examiner’s speed dial. But this case hits too close to home when clues point her toward the truth about her parents’ brutal murder twelve years ago. Her boss Mitchell Harris, questions whether she should continue to investigate. However, Sidney insists on facing her greatest fears and putting her parents’ memory to rest once and for all. What she uncovers sheds a light on secrets that reach further into the darkness than she ever wanted to go… and leads her to a future she never imagined.
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3. Find my post about this giveaway and follow the instructions there!