BOOK 7: UNTITLED
TUESDAY / NOVEMBER 28
Johnny watched as William’s legs suddenly stiffened like his arms, and he rose up in the wheelchair. It happened so fast that though Kirk slowed his momentum and reached for William to pull him back into the seat, William was already standing and the decrease in speed caused him to pitch forward.
Beau cried, “No!” even as Kirk dived over the chair’s back grabbing at the falling man. No one could get to William fast enough to stop him from toppling over.
Half-formed, the impact combined with the transformation roused some part of him from the catatonia. He howled and writhed wildly on the floor, thrashing limbs keeping at bay the men who would have aided him.
Beau retreated. “No, no, no…not again….”
Many had stopped short of their kennels to watch or make way for them. Some came forward as if to help, but everyone halted as that fluttering surged within them. The great room erupted with the grunts and groans of pain as men, women and children began to transform.
“To your kennels!” Johnny shouted.
Most ran to their assigned places. “Sire,” Gregor wheezed, holding his side with a contorting hand. “I will help you.”
“Go. Now!”Johnny tore off his shirt. His skin began to blacken and ebony fur sprouted across his chest and shoulders. His view skewed as his eye sockets grew hot then cold and color drained from his sight. He knew his irises had enlarged and changed from human blue to wolf yellow. “I’ll handle this.”
Gregor hastened to his kennel. Beau was speeding in the opposite direction, toward the edge of the room where a high-tech device was attached to the wall. With the proper code, it would shut and lock any of the yet open kennel doors. “Get William in a kennel!”
Johnny fought against the change that would make him a wolf. He tried to exert will over his shape, to become that two-legged walker with clawed hands, the beast that had nearly destroyed Mero. As useful as hands would have been in moving William, it was not to be. The will of the moon proved the stronger.
The white wolf continued thrashing, snarling and snapping, rolling as it strained to achieve a transformation. The restrictions of human clothing weren’t helping.
Johnny moved in, thinking to use his teeth to drag poor William into a kennel, but the white wolf turned on him, growling. Johnny leapt away, then crept toward the jeans caught about the creature’s waist. It bellowed a half-man scream as its chest-shape altered from broad and shallow human to narrow and deep wolf. With eyes ringed in white, the misshapen wolf looked mad with pain. The deformed maw snapped at him, molars clacking like a steel vise.
Throughout the den, the others were changing, too. Most had made it to their kennels, but the doors remained open as they urgently removed clothing. They would be full-formed wolves in moments, and not all of them would retain their man-minds.
“Hurry!” Beau shouted as he arrived beside the controller, panting.
Johnny tried again to get a toothy hold of the white wolf’s denim, with the same vicious result. He decided he’d rather watch over one abnormal wærewolf than dozens of regular ones roaming free. He gave a short bark and stared at Beau, whose signature plaid flannel made him easy to spot. When the old man met his gaze, Johnny nodded once and jabbed his right forepaw at the floor.
Beau punched in the code: 7488, or S-H-U-T.
Any kennel door yet open, swung closed. The whir of mechanisms secured the locks. In seconds, the den resonated with a chorus of howling wolves. They’d had a dramatic start, but all was well and Johnny wanted to convey that to them. He paced down the aisle, tail wagging and lending his voice to their song.
Then he turned up the aisle and saw a fully formed white wolf standing atop a pile of torn clothing. He stopped. This wolf was every bit as big as him. The rumble of its growl was like a steady bass-line under their melodious song.
Johnny knew the sound of a challenge when he heard it.
Loading William and getting him to the den, then unloading him and getting him to the fifth floor had taxed Beau’s energy. The last few minutes—and his race to the locking mechanism—had drained what little he had left.
When he turned and saw his son had fully transformed, however, he nearly wept. William had not been a white wolf before, but an average gray with black and tan and white mixed throughout his coat. The white was beautiful, crisp and pristine.
The posturing of the two wæres kept his tears from forming. Hackles up. Ears laid flat against their necks and lips curled back to expose long gleaming fangs. His every muscle had tensed again, but he trusted John to handle it.
Until the white wolf leapt forward a single pace, taunting.
“William,” he said. Louder, “No!”
Half-rearing, the white shook his head and snapped his jaws, daring the black to react.
Beau’s focus bounced back and forth between them and he prayed that John could diffuse the situation. But as the seconds slipped past, the white’s aggression multiplied. It lunged repeatedly without taking or giving ground.
The black wolf closed the distance between them, one step at a time, head high, ears flat. His growl grew in volume.
The wolves in the cages howled in support of their king.
The white wolf shied to the left as the black came close, a move that left them circling in the middle of the aisle.
Beau stepped into the aisle. “Stop this! William! I said stop this!”
But the white wolf showed no sign of submission to either his father or the black. If William possessed the man-mind the others had claimed to achieve after such a transformation as the one Persephone Alcmedi had magically provided—and that was a big if in Beau’s mind—he reasoned that his son, who’d lost many years of his life to a half-formed daze, acted only out of deep confusion.
Leaning heavily on his cane, Beau hobbled forward and tried again. “William! Back off, boy! That is your king. Your Domn Lup.”
The words didn’t get through. The white lunged at the other wolf’s flanks. The black didn’t retreat to avoid the attack. Instead, a black blur spun to put his teeth where his hindquarters had been. He nipped the white’s ear, a warning that drew a yelp.
The white didn’t withdraw; he pounced again.
The black matched the move, letting the white’s fangs find purchase in the flesh and fur of his shoulder but charging onward. The white’s head was yanked to the side as the black passed. Johnny snarled as his skin ripped and dark hair was torn free, but he threw his weight against the white, forcing William to backpedal until his flanks rammed against a kennel. The occupant of the kennel wasted no time sinking fangs into the exposed hindquarters.
The white wolf yelped, releasing the black’s shoulder.
Johnny seized William around the soft part of his throat and in seconds had the white on its back. It kicked out its hind legs to twist, but the black wolf’s weight pinned the other down.
“No!” Beau rushed forward.
The white writhed and tried to wriggle free.
Beau’s prosthetic didn’t move as fast or as easily as he needed it to just then. He tripped. His knee took the brunt, then his palms smacked the floor and his cane skittered across the floor. Pain shot into his shoulders. Head hanging, hoping the ache didn’t make a cramp of his already stiff neck, Beau waited, motionless, for a few deep breaths, to see if anything else began to hurt or indicate serious injury.
When he lifted his head, he saw the black wolf was still holding the white down. The white gave a final effort to resist, then laid still. For a heartbeat Beau feared the worst—then the white whimpered.
Still, the black didn’t let go.
The white whined piteously, and its tail flopped.
The black slowly released its neck and stood over it, growling angrily. Beneath it, the white shifted belly up, indicating submission.
Only then did the black step away, turning its back on the white to walk to Beau. Johnny took the cane into his teeth and brought it to Beau, and placed it by before him, then moved beside him and offered his back as leverage.
Beau sighed heavily. “It’s no good giving an old man a fright like that.” He grasped the cane, then put his other hand on the black wolf and, gritting his teeth, heaved himself up.
The black wolf voiced a decidedly chiding sound and steered him toward the elevator.
“You think it’ll be okay if I don’t lock up the stairwells from four to six?”
The black wolf gave a single happy bark and stayed beside him as he ambled away from the kennels. Johnny even reared up and pushed a big paw onto the button to call the elevator for him. When the doors opened, the wolf used his head to gesture Beau into the car.
“I’ll keep an eye on the monitors.”
The wolf nodded.
Beau hit the button for the third floor and the doors rolled shut. He leaned in the back for the momentary descent, wishing he’d brought something more than peach flavored tobacco for his pipe. He was going to be one achy old man by morning.
He made it to the office area, and lowered himself gently into Kirk’s desk chair, grateful that it was padded. The monitor was set to a six squares split-screen view. Across the top were the aisles of the three kenneling floors. The bottom row was the aisle of the top floor where the other half-formed wæres were housed, the entry to the garage level, and the garage elevator.
He had just hooked his cane on the edge of the desk when four sleek limousines raced into the garage.
Johnny laid halfway up the aisle, midway between the kennels. His head rested on his paws and his nose pointed toward the elevators. The white wolf was behind him, curled against the rear wall. He let his eyes shut while he listened. Most of the pack played rough-and-tumble with their kennel mates. Some paced. Some mated. A few, like him, were silent.
They were the ones who had been magically transformed atop this kennel. Tonight, for them, was their first experience as wolf with their human minds still conscious.
Johnny had known he kept his since his first transformation. Discussing it with Ignatius had brought the realization that he was unique in this aspect.
Then Persephone came along.
After saving a terribly injured friend with a forced-change spell, on the next full moon, when the same wæres involved all naturally changed their forms…they all retained their human minds. It was an unexpected bonus.
That led to her redoing the spell.
He lifted his head and looked around, pausing to make eye contact with the wolves that were being silent and watchful. He had given the opportunity to be included in the spell to the men who had stood with him when they battled the fey on the shore of Lake Erie. Some were on the floor above, or the one below, but most were here. They were all brave and loyal men. Each dipped their chins and looked respectfully downward as he gave them his attention—lastly the white wolf.
Johnny wondered about William’s odd situation. Would he live as a man in a wolf’s body, and be a stunned and silent wolf incapable of interacting while in a man’s body? Was that what had happened to him? Or would he be all right after this?
Whatever the case with William, he wanted to acknowledge to those man-minded ones that he understood their silence, their wonder as their reasoning mind acclimated to a new body and assimilated the input of infinitely more delicate sensory organs. He wagged his tail and lifted his muzzle to howl. The man-minded ones joined in first, then the others. Feeling happy and proud he stood and howled louder.
Then a new scent wave hit his own nostrils…the stink of terror.
His howl faded. Sniffing, he located the direction from which it was emanating: the stairwell.
Beau stumbled into view. Due to his panicked expression, Johnny thought the howling had alarmed the old man. He loped forward to reassure him. But Beau didn’t even glance toward the kennels; he was focused on something else off to the side.
Johnny’s pace slowed. He gave a soft bark trying to gain the old man’s notice, but Beau ignored the oncoming wolf. His movements were jerky and he struggled to keep his balance, both leaning against the wall with fingers scrabbling for a grip, and using his cane for balance.
The white wolf trotted alongside him, then passed him.
Something was wrong. He stopped to watch Beau, trying to figure it out. The old man reached for the kennel controls.
He’s freeing the pack?
Even as he thought the question he knew the answer was going to be bad. His haunches bunched and he raced forward.
Vampires burst from the stairwell like a flood—and they were not vampires that Johnny recognized. They were Beholder-sized men with the benefits of fang. The first trio through zeroed in on Beau and angled toward him at top speed.
The white wolf may have been ahead of Johnny, but he was a moment behind in reacting. They were side by side as they rushed in. Still, the vampires were closer.
Fortunately, the wolf pair bearing down on them took precedence for two of the vamps. They altered their path to intercept the wolves, while the third continued towards Beau.
Johnny leapt, wide jaws aimed for the nearest vamp’s face.