Have you checked out Taken yet? No? Then, check out Chapter One:
For hours, I 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 celebrate my twenty-fifth birthday, but we can’t always get what we wish for.
I sucked in a lungful of air as the autumn wind cut through my clothes, sent a shiver down my spine, and whipped my hair around my face.
An alarm sounded in my head as I almost gagged on the repulsive scent that carried from the east. Although every instinct screamed at me to run, I froze in anticipation. A quick glance up and down the road showed no-one around.
The desolate streets rested in the silence of the night. Clouds seeped around the moon like black ink swirling in water. There might be no sign of anyone around, but the feeling of being watched had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end and dancing a jig. 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.
I called to the magic of the hazel tree, drawing it through my Coll tattoo, and sent 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.
Legend told that the gwyllgi followed lone travellers at night, stalking them, slowly and silently. Although, how anyone couldn’t be alarmed by the scent of the creatures baleful breath was beyond me.
I stepped from the pavement and crossed the road, struggling to keep my speed down. The urge to run built within me, but I resisted with everything I had. I didn’t want to give the creature cause to attack. Not yet. Although, it was only a matter of time before he would.
I paced along the main road at a steady, even pace. My footsteps echoed in the empty space. A dog barked, and the light from a nearby house flicked on. I stifled a curse and willed the occupants to go back to bed.
For a time, I carried on through the shadowed streets. Only once or twice did I risk a glance back, despite the feeling 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, and I strained to see in the dim light. The wind hissed through the leaves, and sent those already turned autumnal orange to the ground.
A thump sounded to the left.
A rustle of leaves followed.
A blood curdling howl pierced the air, too close for comfort.
My heart thundered. It’s said that the howl of the gwyllgi can paralyse a person with fear, and I admit, my heart nearly exploded at the sound. But Paralysed? I wafted my hand in front of my face. It wasn’t the howl I had to worry about, it was the smell. Yikes!
I gathered the magic of the birch trees, allowed it to refresh my mind and bless my adventure. The strength and power of the oak soaked into my soul. I smiled. The Dog of Darkness might have believed 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 fierce 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 moved nearer, his true form became clear. The gwyllgi looked like a large shaggy dog with the bulk of a mastiff and the fierceness of a wolf.
“Nice doggy,” I said, as I edged backwards.
The beast padded towards me on long limbs. Slather seeped from his powerful jaws, and dripped from dagger like teeth.
“You’re a long way from home. Wouldn’t you like to go back and feel the grass beneath your paws?” The gwyllgi stopped and cocked his ears, intent and listening. “I can do that for you, if you like? No fuss, no need for trouble.”
The creature lifted his head and howled. The sound ripped through me as the note of menace rose higher and higher. I guess, I had my answer.
He beast charged.
I huffed out a breath, 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 backward, landing on his haunches, and then rose to his paws and snarled. I blasted him again. This time, he pounced sideways with the speed of a striking cobra, and avoided the blow. I tried again and again, flinging volley after volley of power at him, 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 back at me, curious, and tilted his head to the side as though assessing me for the first time. I wasn’t like the other humans he’d met. I didn’t run and scream in terror. I might not 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 wish to call him by, at heart, he was a predator, and the one thing I knew 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 smothered my feet. After one last glance at the gwyllgi, I spun on my heels and ran.
True to his nature, he gave chase. I zigzagged between the trees. On instinct, I dodged to the left and rolled out of the way as the gwyllgi leapt through the air, narrowly missing my head. The creature landed with a skid. His 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 no good ever came of thinking the worst. Sure, I was in the city, away from the forest, and cut off from the deepest wells of my power, but in the park, I was surrounded by trees, and as long as I had their magic to call on, the gwyllgi wouldn’t beat me.
I ran to the tennis courts as fast as I could. Never daring to look back, knowing that the creature followed 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 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 towards him, but instead of passing through the chain link fence, as he’d no doubt expected, he was hit by a pulse of energy and flung to the centre of the courts.
“Warded,” I said, although I couldn’t be certain the creature understood my 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. A gurgling growl built in his chest, and I felt for all the world as though he was laughing.
“You got this?” Thomas asked, a note of concern in his voice.
“I’d better have.”
I pulled a vial of oil from my pocket, lifted my hands, and created a massive ball of energy between them. I added the power of the birch, rowan, ash, and blackthorn to their essence in the vial. The Ogham symbols of Beithe, Luis, Nion, and Straif blazed on my arms as I focused the spell in my mind. When my magic was complete and the ball 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.
“You don’t belong in this world,” I said. “Not any more. It’s time to go home.”
Within the ball of light, the creature’s presence faded before disappearing completely. As the last vestige of the beast 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 gave a satisfied sigh. “Sounds great.”
I staggered out of the shower and into the bedroom. Daylight still hadn’t graced us with its presence, but people now filled the streets on their way to work, oblivious to the events of the night.
“Breakfast is ready.” Thomas called from downstairs. “I hope you’re hungry.”
“Starving.” I quickly wrapped a towel around my head, and threw on my dressing gown before running downstairs. The scent of tea and a full Welsh breakfast, complete with laverbread cake, greeted me. “Smells so good,” I said as I dropped onto a stool while Thomas finished adding a couple of fried eggs to our plates.
My mouth watered and my tummy rumbled as he set two big plates of fry-up on the breakfast bar. He was about to sit down next to me when someone knocked at the front door. I gestured to my towel covered hair, and lack of clothing. Thomas sighed and moved to answer it.
“Thank you,” I said between mouthfuls of seaweedy goodness.
With my focus on my need to fill the ravenous hole in my stomach, I only managed to catch a few muttered words between Thomas and whoever he spoke to at the door, before it clicked shut.
“Who was it?” I asked when he entered the kitchen a few seconds later.
Thomas hefted a box and placed it on the breakfast bar next to me. “It’s a package for you. From the postage, it looks like it came from the States. Must be a birthday present from your mum.”
“I doubt that.” I rested my fork on my plate and pulled the box closer. “Yep, looks like your right,” I said and pushed it away again.
Thomas swallowed the toast in his mouth and pointed at the package with his fork. “Aren’t you going to open it? It looks like she made an effort this year.”
I humphed and stabbed my sausage. “I doubt that, too,” I said, remembering the cheques I’d received every other birthday.
Thomas shrugged and returned his focus to his food. I tried to do the same, savouring the succulent taste of the sausage and the delicious scent of the bacon, but my curiosity got the better of me, and I pushed away my half-eaten breakfast and opened the parcel.
Inside, I found a folder of papers. I picked up the card on top, addressed to me in Mam’s handwriting and handed it to Thomas.
He opened it, and read out loud. ”Happy Birthday, Summer. Your Nana wanted you to have this.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, unable to think of what the gift might be. Nana had passed a long time ago, why would Mam wait until now to pass me her gift?
I lifted the folder and scanned the contents. Tears came unbidden to my eyes and I found it hard to breathe.
“Summer.” Thomas placed his hand on my arm. “What is it?”
A sudden dizziness swam in my head. “It’s the cottage,” I said. “Nana’s cottage.”
Thomas took the papers from my shaky hand. Nana’s living trust. Mam had been named trustee of her estate. Everything had been held as Mam saw fit until I turned twenty-five.
“I thought you said your Mam–”
“Sold it. That’s what I thought.”
Thomas smiled and clasped my hand in his. “This is good news, right? I know how much you loved that place, and this,” he placed the title deed on the counter between us, “this says the cottage is yours. You can go home again.”
Home. I could go home. A place I’d only dreamed I could visit again. I had my home back and if I was reading the papers correctly, a truck full of money to go with it.
So why was every fibre of my being terrified at the thought?