Have you checked out Taken yet? No? Then, check out the prologue:
An alarm sounded in my head. I froze, although every instinct screamed at me to run. I glanced around.
The desolate streets rested in the silence of the night. Clouds seeped around the moon like black ink swirling in water. No-one was around, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. For a second, I felt a little foolish, walking alone through the dark streets at four in the morning. Everyone knows, the worst crimes in a city happen at night, and Cardiff was no exception.
The wind cut through my clothes, sent a shiver down my spine, and whipped my hair around my head. The gwyllgi’s baleful breath carried from the east. I called the magic in my Coll tattoo, sending forth its seeking power to be sure the creature followed and not some human up to mischief. The faint pulse of the supernatural greeted me, malevolent and dangerous.
For hours, I’d walked the streets. My feet hurt, my legs were tired, and, despite the magical wards giving me energy, I was long overdue for a sleep. Not quite the way I planned to welcome my twenty-fifth birthday.
I stepped from the pavement and crossed the road, struggling to keep my speed down. Legend told that the gwyllgi followed lone travellers at night, stalking them; slowly, silently. I didn’t want to run and give him cause to attack. Although, it was only a matter of time before he would.
I paced along the main road. My footsteps echoing in the empty space. A dog barked. The light from a nearby house flickered on. I cursed.
For a time, I carried on through the shadowed streets, measured and paced, despite the cold fingers of dread that inched along my spine. The gwyllgi’s stealthy approach continued at the edge of my senses. I turned off the main road and into Roath Pleasure Gardens.
Despite their name, the gardens were a dark place, and tonight, dark things moved within them. My pupils gathered in the light that seeped between the trees. I strained to see in the darkness. The wind hissed through the leaves, and sent those already turned autumnal orange to the ground.
A thump to the left.
The rustle of leaves.
A bloodcurdling howl pierced the air, too close for comfort.
My heart thundered in my chest.
The howl of the gwyllgi is said to paralyse people with fear, and I admit, my heart nearly exploded at the sound. But paralysed? Not me. Not now.
I gathered the magic of the birch trees, allowed it to refresh my mind and bless my adventure. The strength and power of the oaks soaked into my soul. I smiled. The Dog of Darkness might have thought he was hunting me, but in truth, it was the other way around.
A low growl built behind me. At last! I turned to face the beast. Blazing eyes shone through the darkness; so fiery and red in their intensity, they looked as though they could set the trees ablaze.
The monstrous creature emerged. At first, beyond the eyes, I saw little more than a silhouette. Then, as he grew nearer, his true form became clear: a large shaggy dog, with the bulk of a mastiff and the fierceness of a wolf. He padded towards me on his long limbs. Slather seeped from his powerful jaws, and dripped from his dagger like teeth.
“Nice doggy,” I said, as I edged backwards. The gwyllgi stopped. His ears cocked up, intent and listening.
“You’re a long way from home. Wouldn’t you like to go back? Feel the grass beneath your paws?”
The creature lifted its head and howled. The sound ripped through me, as his menace rose higher and higher.
I breathed out, cleared my mind, and called the full force of my magic. The runic tattoos on my arms flared to life. Power flooded into me, and filled me with energy.
I thrust both hands forwards, and blasted the gwyllgi with the controlling power of the Blackthorn tree. He flew backwards, landing on his haunches, and then rose to his paws and snarled. I blasted him again, but this time, he pounced sideways, avoiding the blow. I tried again, volley after volley of power, but each time he was too fast and agile for me to strike him.
After a few moments, I stopped and stared at the beast. He stared at me, curious. He tilted his head to the side, as though assessing me for the first time. I wasn’t like the other humans he’d met, running and screaming in terror. I didn’t look like much, but his nose twitched. No doubt, he tasted my magic in the air.
The Dog of Darkness, the Black Hound of Destiny, the gwyllgi, whatever name you wished to call him by, at heart, he was a predator, and the one thing I know about predators, if you run, they chase.
I looked down and smiled at my foresight to wear running shoes, even though I hated the way they felt on my feet. After one last glance at the gwyllgi, I spun on my heels and ran.
The creature gave chase. I zigzagged between the trees. On instinct, I dodged to the left, and rolled out the way as the gwyllgi leapt through the air, narrowly missing my head. It landed with a skid. Its great paws tore up the grass and created deep furrows in the soft mud.
For a second, cold fear gripped my heart, and my head throbbed with worry, but there was no use thinking like that. Sure, I was in the city, away from the forest and cut off from the deepest well of my power, but in the park, I was surrounded by trees, and as long as I had their magic to call on, the gwglli wouldn’t best me.
I ran to the tennis courts as fast as I could. The creature followed only a pace or two behind.
“Now,” I yelled, as soon as I set foot past the centre mark.
Thomas emerged from his hiding place in the small hut next to the courts.
The gwyllgi turned towards him as he slammed the gate shut. With a new potential target to attack, he ground to a halt. The creature’s red eyes flashed from me to Thomas, and despite the fence between the two of them, the gwyllgi must have considered Thomas an easier target than me. He leapt forwards, snarling, but instead of passing through the chain link fence, as he’d expected to, he was hit by a pulse of energy and flung to the centre of the courts.
“Warded,” I said, although the creature may not have understood the words. “There’s no point making a trap that you can escape.”
The gwyllgi circled the court, before turning his attention back to me. A wolfish smile split his face and exposed his teeth. Then, a gurgling growl built in its chest, and I became sure he was laughing.
“You got this?” Thomas asked, a note of concern in his voice.
“I’d better have.”
I lifted my hands and created a massive ball of energy between them. I filled it will the power of Beithe, Luis, Nion, and Straif, and focused the spell in my mind. When it was as big as the beast, I released its power. An indigo brilliance illuminated the court and encompassed the gwyllgi. The hound growled and strained against the spell, but he was trapped and powerless. Within the ball of light his presence faded, before disappearing completely. As the last vestige of him winked out, and his grumbles no longer sounded in the air, Thomas opened the gate and ran to my side.
“You okay?” he asked, taking me in his arms.
I smiled and rested my head on his chest. “I am now.”
“Let’s go home. I’ll make you a big birthday breakfast, and we can get some rest.”
I sighed. “Sounds great.”
I staggered out of the shower and into the bedroom.
“Breakfast’s ready,” Thomas called from downstairs, “I hope you’re hungry.”
“Starving,” I called back.
I quickly towel dried my hair, and was throwing on some comfy clothes when someone knocked. Thomas answered the front door, and muttered a few words, before closing it again.
“Who was that,” I asked when I entered the kitchen a few moments later.
“That was a package for you.” Thomas handed me a big box. “It looks like it’s from the states. Must be a birthday present from your mum.”
“I doubt that,” I said, remembering the cheques I’d received for every other birthday.
Thomas shrugged and placed a big plate of fry-up in front of me. My mouth watered and my tummy rumbled, at the delicious smell of sausages, but my curiosity got the better of me and I opened the parcel.
Inside was a folder of papers. I ignored the card on top, addressed to me in Mam’s handwriting, and instead opened the folder.
I squeezed my eyes shut, unable to believe what I saw in front of me. Tears came unbidden to my eyes. I couldn’t breathe.
“Summer.” Thomas rushed to my side. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
A sudden dizziness swam in my head. “It’s the cottage,” I said. “Nana’s cottage.”
Thomas took the papers from my shaky hand. “I thought you said it was—”
“Sold. That’s what I thought.”
Thomas smiled and clasped my hands in his. “This is good news, right? The cottage is yours. You can go home now.”
Home. I could go home. A place I only dreamed I could visit again. So, why was every fibre of my being terrified at the thought?
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