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Excerpt for Kala Trilogy Box Set by , available in its entirety at Smashwords









KALA TRILOGY

BOX SET





By







Teagan Kearney









The right of Teagan Kearney to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988



No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchases.



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



The Kala Trilogy was previously released under the title, Samsara.

Book One was book was previously released under the titles Tatya’s Return and Power Rising, and Book Two under the title, Vampire Sacrifice.





Copyright Teagan Kearney © 2018





Photo Copyright: Shutterstock





Acknowledgments

Grateful thanks to my editors, Teresa Kennedy (Healer’s Magic)

and Sarah Watts (Vampire’s Bane and Demon’s Nemesis).



Dedication

To Tim, for your loving support and help—where would I be without you?

And last, but definitely by no means least, to every one of my readers—a great big heartfelt thank you!





Sign up for the author’s mailing list to receive a free copy of Hekate’s Chalice, Book One in the Adept Solutions Series, and information about new releases, discounts, and advanced reading copies: https://bit.ly/2zGXGsS

Table of Contents



BOOK 1 HEALER’S MAGIC



Prologue

Chapter One: Vanse

Chapter Two: A Visitation

Chapter Three: Crisis

Chapter Four: The First Strike

Chapter Five: Metamorphosis

Chapter Six: The Northern Isles, 2800 BC

Chapter Seven: Changing Sky

Chapter Eight: The First Stirrings

Chapter Nine: Calling Back the Dead

Chapter Ten: Yfêlynys, Cymru, 60 AD

Chapter Eleven: Taken

Chapter Twelve: Recovery

Chapter Thirteen: Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, 1145 AD

Chapter Fourteen: Damage Control

Chapter Fifteen: Unusual Bedfellows

Chapter Sixteen: The Lair

Chapter Seventeen: Antisuyu, High Andes, 1500, AD

Chapter Eighteen: Unforeseen

Chapter Nineteen: Sean

Chapter Twenty: Hiatus

Chapter Twenty-One: Preparation

Chapter Twenty-Two: Trojan Horses

Chapter Twenty-Three: Sacrifice

Chapter Twenty-Four: In the Face of Adversity

Chapter Twenty-Five: When One Door Closes



BOOK 2: VAMPIRE’S BANE



Chapter One: Starting Over

Chapter Two: Reunions

Chapter Three: First Signs

Chapter Four: Attraction

Chapter Five: New Acquaintances

Chapter Six: Northern Isles, 2800 BC

Chapter Seven: The Devil’s Own

Chapter Eight: Warnings

Chapter Nine: Friends and Allies

Chapter Ten: Suspicions

Chapter Eleven: Carinthia, 740 AD

Chapter Twelve: Infection

Chapter Thirteen: Changing Sky

Chapter Fourteen: Building Bridges

Chapter Fifteen: The Pack

Chapter Sixteen: Anatolia, 1265 AD

Chapter Seventeen: Persecution

Chapter Eighteen: Departure

Chapter Nineteen: Farewell

Chapter Twenty: Sardarabad, 1918 AD

Chapter Twenty-One: Complications

Chapter Twenty-Two: Panic

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Search

Chapter Twenty-Four: Contact

Chapter Twenty-Five: Desperate Measures

Chapter Twenty-Six: Possibilities

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Sacrifice

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Conclusion





BOOK 3: DEMON’S NEMESIS



Chapter One: Unwelcome News

Chapter Two: An Omen

Chapter Three: Serkan

Chapter Four: Night Hustle

Chapter Five: The Fall, Time Unknown

Chapter Six: A Turn for the Worse

Chapter Seven: Restoration

Chapter Eight: Attacked

Chapter Nine: Respite

Chapter Ten: Himalayas, 5000 BC

Chapter Eleven: Aid

Chapter Twelve: Darkness

Chapter Thirteen: Tragedy

Chapter Fourteen: Respite

Chapter Fifteen: Sutalaloka, 4000 BC

Chapter Sixteen: Resurrection

Chapter Seventeen: Hope

Chapter Eighteen: Revenge—Part One

Chapter Nineteen: Flight

Chapter Twenty: Revenge—Part Two

Chapter Twenty-One: Western Europe, Euskadi 2800 BC

Chapter Twenty-Two: Returning the Favor

Chapter Twenty-Three: A Close Encounter

Chapter Twenty-Four: Reunion

Chapter Twenty-Five: In Search of Nepta

Chapter Twenty-Six: The Land of Naraka

Chapter Twenty-Seven: A Close Encounter

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Difficult Decisions

Chapter Twenty-Nine: In Pursuit

Chapter Thirty: Confrontation

Chapter Thirty-One: Life and Death

Chapter Thirty-Two: Demon’s Nemesis

Chapter Thirty-Three: Epilogue

FROM THE AUTHOR















BOOK 1: HEALER’S MAGIC





By





Teagan Kearney











Prologue



The following is a timeline of recent developments between the human race and various paranormal species.



1920: After World War I, the help received from the vampire, werewolf, and fae nations was acknowledged by the world governments in The Revelation Treaty, signed in Basel, Switzerland on the 21st of December, 1920. The agreement between human and paranormal races ended centuries of suspicion and hostility. Most humans had been aware of supernaturals, and the pact didn't shake the world, nor did it—as some had feared—rend the veil between the visible and invisible worlds in such a way as to allow the banished demon race to return. The understanding was that as long as none of the newly recognized species contravened the Treaty on a massive scale, life would continue on its designated path, with humans remaining dominant.

The Treaty was broken many times in the decades following the emergence of paranormals into the public arena, but eventually, all species figured out how to co-exist.



1945: At the end of WWII, the Medal of Honor was awarded to two supernaturals (a vampire and a werewolf respectively) for their outstanding contributions above and beyond the call of duty during the war.

All species benefited from industrial and technological progress, despite the resentment and protests by humans that, as they had made these discoveries, paranormal access should be restricted. It was a limitation impossible to put into practice, given that some paranormals lived as humans part of the time as was intrinsic to their natures.

However, the Treaty didn't change human or paranormal aggression; internal wars were still fought, and allies solicited from both humans and supernaturals. Each species had their own method of governance and policing, and as long as each species stayed within the parameters laid down by their own authorities, the accord stated that each would be protected from external interference.

All species, meanwhile, funded covert units for purposes of espionage.



1949: Professor Gordon Naysmith was awarded the Nobel Prize for Paranormal Research for his investigation into the nature of ghosts.



1989: A law banning the practice of contacting the recently departed was approved, making the practice illegal. Paranormal groups had persistently lobbied the UN hard, declaring the reluctance of humans to let the dead depart was disturbing the balance of their world.

2014: Due to a rise in demonic possessions, the Pope approved the revival of exorcism.

Chapter One: Vanse



Tatya squeezed the box of donuts so hard, the damp sides bent inward. She blew out a breath. Aunt Lil was going to be fine, she told herself for the umpteenth time. She resisted the urge to bite her fingernails, an old childhood habit, keeping a tight lock on her empathetic abilities. She only looked up when a grimy, unshaven man, water dripping off him, boarded the bus and staggered down the aisle.

As one, the passengers avoided his gaze, staring fixedly out of the windows, as though the downpour outside held an immense fascination. If they didn't see him, maybe he wouldn't see them. He was about to park himself next to Tatya when she flicked a repulsion spell at him. A look of momentary confusion crossed the man's face as he gazed at the empty seat before moving on.

Today, she was taking the bus as her tenth-hand Ford truck was in the auto repair shop. With business slowing to a standstill since Sean's illness, money was tight.

Despite her ongoing anxieties from these problems, she had more urgent issues on her mind as she headed for St. Raphael’s Hospital in the pouring rain. Aunt Lil was her one living relative, and been her shelter in the devastation of her life after her parents had died fifteen years before in a train accident.

A week ago, Tatya had left for the annual Midwest Organic Farmers’ conference, stopping for gas after twenty minutes, then racing back to the house because she realized she'd forgotten her laptop. She had found her aunt unconscious on the floor of the kitchen, as black smoke from the burnt lasagna oozed out of the oven. It was nothing short of a miracle Tatya came back when she did, before the house burned down with her aunt inside. She’d cancelled the trip, and was hoping the results of the latest tests would give some indication of her aunt’s ailment.

Unless she had a terminally ill client, Tatya tried to avoid such hot spots of bad karma as hospitals. Her psychic talent of seeing auras went into overload in such places, resulting in severe migraines if she didn’t take care. Her green eyes flashed, and her hands tingled as power sparked from her fingertips. Worry about her aunt's condition left her tense. The possibility of losing her aunt shattered her stability, leaving her emotions all over the place, and command of her powers erratic.

Tatya was descended, on her mother’s side, from a long line of healers and hedge witches. At the age of four, and without any guidance, she had found and healed a bird’s broken wing. Her parents had realized at once she possessed more ability and talent than had been seen in the family for generations.

Centering her thoughts on the protective amulet at her neck, she soothed away the negativity. But Aunt Lil's illness wasn't the only difficulty waiting at the hospital.

Hospitals were one of the major loci for vampires, as they provided easy access to their legalized blood bank allowance. St. Raphael’s, the main hospital for Orleton and the surrounding counties, was the headquarters of supernatural head honcho, Vanse. The possibility of seeing him increased her nervousness.

She used to call him Vanse the vamp. Once, the name had made her giggle—it was straight out of an old B movie. Not anymore. Not since he'd turned Sean, her best friend since high school, and recent business partner, into one of the undead.

Over the past couple of years, after starting from scratch, she and Sean had built up a moderately successful herb business with Tatya's healing practice on the side. They'd worked together on everything from planting seeds to supplying local herbalists and private customers with their special curative teas. Sean’s latest project, setting up a website for online marketing, had been almost ready to launch when his health began to go downhill.

Sean's diagnosis of full blown AIDs, the 20th century plague, had changed everything. He had caught it from a former girlfriend who dated an ex-junkie for a while. Tatya had visited him every day, watching him become more emaciated as the disease ravaged his body.

Every time she visited, Sean tried to talk to her, but with Vanse always looming in the background, she avoided any private conversation. Now, she clenched her hands, ignoring the stray thought of what a thrill it would be to use her power for revenge—just for once.

She still couldn’t get her head around the fact that Vanse had turned Sean. Her friend would never have asked to become one of the undead. Sean didn't possess the qualities she envisioned being desirable in a vampire. Generous and kind, he was a green-fingered earth magician who celebrated the growing of life. Dark, rich crumbly compost running through his fingers sent him into raptures; he was a poet who wrote haiku. He'd make a lousy vampire. Well, Vanse and eternity would provide plenty of time to develop other traits, and Sean would turn from someone who loved life to someone who could take it. This was all Vanse's fault. She swallowed the lump of resentment swelling in her throat, and mentally stuck a large, fat, white-oak stake into his heart.

The bus jerked to a halt at the hospital stop. Small towns didn't always offer the most efficient service—this one to the hospital being an exception. Tatya, along with most of the passengers, trailed off the bus, hitching her jacket hood up to keep off the driving rain. She splashed along behind the straggle of hunched shoulders and pinched faces under the bobbing umbrellas toward the beckoning shelter of the hospital.

Inside, Tatya pushed her jacket hood back off her head. Her thick, copper-brown hair escaping as usual from the clip she'd stuck in it in an attempt to appear presentable. She ignored the familiar clinical smell of the hospital disinfectant as she walked over to the elevator. She stood with the crush of people, the donut box under her arm, heading for the women's ward on the second floor. Maybe this time, she'd hear good news. Maybe she'd be able to bring her aunt home.

Aunt Lil was sitting up in bed, her pillows plumped behind her. She'd lost weight and her normally ruddy cheeks were pale, but her face lit up with a broad grin as her niece entered the ward.

"Tatya! My darling!"

Tatya hugged her aunt in a fierce embrace. Intimately attuned to Aunt Lil's energy, she opened her awareness a fraction, sensing her aunt was stronger than yesterday. Her aunt's inner aura was resuming its usual brightness, and the grubby gray smears of the previous days were fading.

"There, there...." Aunt Lil wiped the tears from Tatya's face. "I'm fine."

"Here. All your favorites." Tatya put the box on the bedside table, making herself comfortable on the visitor's chair, shuffling it closer to the bed. She glanced around at the other four women in the ward, three of whom chatted with family and friends. The fourth and most elderly patient lay thin and frail, with her eyes closed, on the farthest bed. Tatya had never seen anyone visit Alice Franklin. "I'll check on Alice in a while."

"You have a soft heart for those who need it."

"Tell me, any test results yet?"

"That reminds me, that nice young doctor said to tell you he wants to have a word with you."

Tatya rolled her eyes. Aunt Lil was always trying to pair her up with someone. Generally not someone Tatya had ever taken a liking to, at least not so far.

"Perhaps he'll ask me out," she joked, pushing her unruly hair out of her eyes, and striking a provocative pose before having a fit of giggles.

"Oh, and your friend sends his regards."

Tatya stiffened. "Sean?"

"No, dear, the other one. The tall, dark, and handsome one!"

Who in the world was Aunt Lil talking about?

"Him. That's the one I mean." She pointed behind Tatya who turned around, her breath catching as she saw who stood there.

Yes, as Aunt Lil said, Vanse was tall, dark and handsome—that is, if your tastes ran to the undead. She'd swear he had a radar system that pinged an alert the instant she entered the building. He leaned against the doorway, arms crossed, eyes mournful.

"Come in, Vanse," Aunt Lil beckoned him over.

Tatya shivered as he eyed her before coming to stand by her side. The fact he had no aura to read was unsettling. Trying not to fall off the chair, she inched as far away from him as possible. She was much too aware of him, and the effect he had on her. The pull he exerted was almost overpowering as the faint scent of sandalwood tickled her nose. Studying her aunt's white bed sheet, she did her best to ignore his presence, in the faint hope he'd take the hint and leave. No such luck. Vamps weren't known for their subtlety.

"This is my niece, Tatya. Tatya, this is Vanse."

"Yes, Aunt Lil. We've met." Not bothering to hide her aversion, she glared up at him. "How's Sean?" She laced her voice with the bitterness she wanted him to hear.

"He's well."

Tatya froze as his voice stroked every sense in her body. She touched the small locket hanging on a silver chain resting at her throat. A gift from a close friend, it contained the image of Lord Narasimha, a protective deity she'd adopted as her own.

"If you wish to speak with him, I will summon him. Yes, it's difficult for you to accept the change, but it may well help him."

Help Sean! How dare he? Didn't he understand how hard it was for her to see Sean as a vampire? Despite the number of times she’d spotted her friend when visiting Aunt Lil, they had talked only once since his change. One of the benefits of becoming a vampire was enhanced physical perfection. Sean's light brown dreadlocks had transformed into a smooth, rich chestnut mane; his slight, wiry physique stretched and morphed to conform to the standard vamp body with its perfect height and musculature. He was now Michelangelo's David, hardly recognizable as the friend she'd once known. As far as Tatya was concerned, it was too high a price for your soul. From what she'd gathered when she touched on the subject with Aunt Lil, Vanse had never asked Sean—just turned him. She narrowed her eyes, feeling the familiar tingle of power begin to build in her fingers.

Vanse moved back a few steps. "Until later, Miss Lillian " He offered an old-fashioned bow to Aunt Lil and was gone.

"You two would make a lovely couple."

Tatya choked. "Not in this lifetime, and not while I have a pulse in my body!"

Alice Franklin's coughing brought Tatya to her feet.

"I've got this," she said to Aunt Lil.

As she helped Alice's wasted body into a sitting position, Tatya was shocked at the transparency of her auric haze. Drawing on her power, she sent a subtle stream of energy into the woman, focusing on her weakened heart and lungs. The old lady's aura strengthened, thickening where it met her skin and giving off a pale yellow glow as the coughing fit subsided.

"Thank you, dear."

Tatya poured a glass of water, holding it to her lips while she drank.

"Your aunt is lucky to have you." She focused her rheumy eyes on Tatya. "I fear I'll not be in this world much longer."

"Oh, don't say such things," Tatya chided, her voice kind. "They can do wonders these days with modern medicine."

Tatya had always possessed the ability to ease pain by touch, and as a teenager had become intrigued by traditional medicines. Aunt Lil wasn’t at all surprised when Tatya began her business venture. After all, she was simply following in the footsteps of the women in her family. But she couldn't eradicate a disease. With Sean, she'd done what she could to alleviate his suffering, but it hadn't been enough.

"When you've breathed your allotted number of breaths, my dear, that's it." Alice sipped a bit more water. "But if I can help anyone as I leave, that's a bonus." Alice's gaze wandered over to the ward entrance.

Tatya turned to see what had captured the old lady's attention. Sean stood just outside the ward, a bewildered look on his face. She bit her lip. Surely the old woman didn't mean what Tatya thought she meant?

"Go speak to him, dear. He doesn't understand why you won't."

Tatya bent and kissed Alice's forehead. "I'll come tomorrow. Promise."

Aunt Lil's eyes were closed; she often dozed during visits. Tatya took a deep breath and walked toward Sean. Before his death, she'd spent months grieving for him. The Sean she'd known was dead, yet here he stood in front of her, re-born. Vanse was the one she was angry with; she didn't know why she was blaming Sean.

"Let's talk," she said, leading the way out of the ward.

They sat side by side on a bench in a nearby alcove. Sean's back was ramrod straight; his fingers tapped his knees. He was clearly unsure of how to proceed.

"How are you?" she asked. It was difficult to remember her Sean might still be somewhere inside this vampire.

"I miss you." He reached for her hand but she held up her palm. He flinched back.

"I'm sorry, Sean."

"Everything's different. Sensations, colors, light."

A nurse pushing a trolley full of medication hurried past.

"I sense the blood pulsing in their arteries, Tatya. I crave it. It's awful."

She stared at his hands. Hands that had previously grown healing herbs.

"If it wasn't for Vanse, I wouldn't be able to control myself."

"If it wasn't for Vanse, you wouldn't have to control yourself!" She didn't regret speaking bluntly.

"Thanks for your support. Why can't you accept this," his hand flicked downward "is still me?"

"You were supposed to die. When I left, you were dead. Then he..." she couldn't finish the sentence.

"Okay. It's not my first choice of species, and I don't have a pulse, but this is me, Tatya." His voice cracked. " Please, don't give up on me."

Tatya didn't answer. She hadn't come to terms with what had happened to Sean, and her concerns now centered on Aunt Lil. With the living, not the undead.

"I have to go." Sean’s voice was soft.

"Is he calling you?"

"Yes. Didn't you know? It's part of the care package. A master vampire has telepathic links with his followers, especially those recently turned. Believe it or not, it's a matter of safety while we're learning."

Tatya wasn't interested. Big deal. Even violent criminals and animals cared for their own. "Go on then. Obey your master." She knew her words hurt. But no matter what he said or did, this wasn't her Sean. She couldn't tell if he was fooling himself or believed his own words. She stared at her hands, and squeezed them tight, not wanting to watch him leave.

Aunt Lil's doctor was off duty. The officious nursing manager told her only the doctor had the authorization to discuss the details of her aunt's condition, but she could inform her that more tests would be conducted tomorrow. Frustration at the lack of information and uncertainty about her aunt's illness fueled her anxieties, but there was nothing she could do but wait till tomorrow and ask again.

At the end of visiting hours, Tatya kissed her aunt on the forehead and whispered good-bye. She waved to Alice Franklin, who waved back.

She was crossing the foyer when she heard the distinctly recognizable voice of Sheriff Corwin, berating a deputy officer. Nothing new in that. Over the past few years, Corwin had invited her to assist in several missing persons cases. Someone had told him of her talent in locating missing objects—a gift she'd not used much until she met the Sheriff. Now, the police paid her a decent consultant's fee when he made use of her services.

Corwin noticed her approach. "I'll be over later, got something I want to run by you," he said hardly missing a beat in his tirade, "okay?"

"Sure. I'll be home."

He turned back to raking his subordinate over the coals.

As Tatya neared the exit, she fought the urge to look back, and lost. She turned and saw Vanse leaning against a wall by the elevators. Their gazes met, and the expression in his eyes wasn't one of triumph—he was pleading.

Chapter Two: A Visitation



First Sean and now Aunt Lil.

Tatya trudged along her driveway, the sharp gravel crunching under her boots as her thoughts settled in slow motion, like a soft swirl of snowflakes whitening and silencing the world. Even years later, the image of Aunt Lil's sorrow-filled eyes as she told Tatya of her parents' sudden deaths was as fresh as the day it had engraved itself in her memory. She'd been seven years old; staying with her aunt for the Easter holidays while her father attended a teacher's conference in New York. Her mother had gone with him; she'd wanted to explore the art galleries. They'd been on their way to pick up Tatya and would have stayed a few days with Lil before returning home to Arizona.

Afterward, Tatya had fallen into a gray, cheerless lethargy for months. A psychiatrist would have diagnosed her with depression, but instead, Aunt Lil embarked on her own program of support and consolation, loving her niece back into this world. In the following years, her aunt had done her utmost to bring up her niece in the manner her brother would have wanted. Yet, those first days and weeks after the awful tragedy had left a residue in her psyche. She could hear those ghosts calling.

The investigation into the train accident that killed her parents never uncovered enough proof, but the final report had shown there was a reason to believe a pack of feral vampires was responsible. Since then, the very mention of their species had been anathema to her.

Tatya plodded around to the back garden as the setting sun limned the house in blood-red rays of fire. She entered the first of the three greenhouses. Taking a deep breath, she inhaled the healing smells of lavender, sage, and chamomile hanging in bunches from the drying racks Sean had constructed.

After she'd finished college and told Aunt Lil what she wanted to do, her aunt had taken her savings, and together with Tatya's inheritance, they'd transformed the surrounding acre of land. When she and Sean had bumped into each other in a local bar that summer, reigniting their friendship, their common interests, and goals for the future cemented the relationship. They'd never been an item, but each had found in the other, a soul mate of a different kind.

The old ranch house, a rambling two-story wood and stone building, was more than sufficient for their needs, and Sean had moved in. They'd worked hard: setting up greenhouses and polytunnels for the seedlings and drying of their herbs; selling Tatya's herbal teas at local markets; building relationships with customers; and getting the business off the ground. They were finally breaking even when Sean received his fatal diagnosis.

They'd gotten this year's crop cut and tied before Sean had gone downhill and ended up in intensive care. Tatya breathed in the lingering aromatic fragrances, shoulders relaxing as they worked their magic.

The one time she spoke with Sean after his turning, he'd suggested he continue to work for her, by night if she preferred. Vanse, lingering close by, agreed. If that was what she wanted, it would be arranged. It appeared that Sean, as a newly-turned vampire, a baby vamp learning to exist in his new life was unable to do anything without his master's permission.

Tatya had been horrified. The thought of a vampire laboring out in her fields and greenhouse while she slept was a nightmare. Even if that vampire was Sean. She'd managed to avoid throwing up on the hospital floor, but had run out of the building, power surging and flaring from her fingers. She got along fine with most supernaturals she came in contact with, which wasn't often, but she hated vampires with a vengeance.

Tatya looked at her hands. Wild flickers of power sparked from her fingertips. Since Lil had been hospitalized, her control over her powers had been steadily slipping. Slumping back, she initiated her protection, using Alexander's Shield for its strength and simplicity. Emptying her mind, she concentrated on her breathing. She knew where she needed to go, and without a second thought, journeyed to her sanctuary on the astral plane.

Tatya sighed with delight at the sight of the lush green valley. This was her refuge; a place where she might regain a little peace of mind from whatever traumas assaulted her in the outside world. Aunt Lil had taught her how to create such a shelter to help with her grief. She'd continued the exercise over the years, adding and increasing the details till it gained a reality of its own.

Crossing a wildflower meadow, Tatya stopped for a second to listen to the tinkling of a stream, taking pleasure in the warm breeze tickling her skin. She ran toward the water, leaping and landing with a thump on the other side. Today, she chose to head for the forested mountains and bypass the ivy-covered cottage with its sweet-scented garden. The path through the dense forest took her above the tree line, with the final stretch involving some deft footwork and scrambling across patches of shale, but she relished the challenge. Tatya had invested layers of warded power in creating this private refuge over the years, and if she fell, it felt real; but this was one of her customary routes and she didn't stumble.

When she reached the top, she was sweating and the thin air left her a little dizzy. A large boulder with a flat top lay smack in the center of the small plateau. Her seat. She clambered up onto the granite, gazing around with delight. Behind her, a range of mountains, their razor sharp, snow-capped peaks rose, row on row in the distance. Spread out before her, forests interspersed with green valleys and diamond streams twinkling in the sun, stretched to the horizon.

Aunt Lil always warned her of the dangers of staying out of her body too long, but here, time was relative. Except Aunt Lil wasn't in the kitchen preparing the evening meal, and no laughing friend waited to share the day's news any more. Tatya relaxed; it was so peaceful.

A cold warning prickle ran up her spine. She shivered, tensed, and sent out a few questing tendrils. Someone or something powerful was testing, pushing against her safeguards. Her gut clenched as a premonitory image materialized before her inner eye. A face. Shoulder length, thick red-gold curls surrounded classically molded cheekbones and nose with a full sensual mouth below, but it was his startlingly blue eyes that held her as they observed her with calculated interest. Her stomach lurched with a sickening intuition, and goose bumps rose on every surface of her body; his beauty masked unbearable cruelty.

Instinct screamed get out, but Tatya's anger flared. How dare anyone invade her haven? A sudden upwelling of energy and she flung a reckless bolt of power at the figure, throwing up another layer of protection as she aimed for her gateway with the speed of thought, and fled back into her body.

"Tatya!"

Someone was shouting her name, and banging on the front door. She stumbled to her feet, leaning on the wooden table to stop herself from falling. The sudden return to normalcy disoriented her, and she paused to catch her breath.

"Tatya!" That raspy cantankerous voice was unmistakable. Sheriff Corwin.

"Yes, yes, Sheriff," she called hurrying around the corner, "I'm here."

Sheriff Corwin greeted her with a big grin. "Ah, just the lovely lady I want to see."

Ten minutes later, warm mugs of cinnamon and sage tea in their hands, the Sheriff gave her a searching look.

She and Sheriff Bill Corwin enjoyed a good relationship. He was one of those humans who occasionally dealt with supernaturals, and a couple of years back, he'd approached her with a request. Someone had told him of her aptitude in finding lost objects, and after he'd run out of leads, he'd come asking if she would help trace a missing girl. Four cases later, the local police department hired her on a case-by-case basis, as a psychic consultant. She'd developed a genuine fondness for the gruff, sharp-tongued detective. They regularly met up, and he'd become something of a father figure.

"You holding up okay?"

"I guess so."

"Do they know what's wrong with her yet?"

"Nope. More tests. She seemed better today, but her recovery is slow."

"Your stuff doesn't work?"

"Nope. The first case I've not been able to help someone. I'm puzzled."

"What's up with your friend?"

"Sean? Sorry, Bill, I can't talk about him."

"No, not him. Your buddy out on the rez."

"Oh! Changing Sky's been away, but he's back tomorrow." Tatya poured more tea, added extra honey to Corwin's mug. "So, what's wrong? Much as I know you care for me, Bill, something’s up if you’ve dragged yourself out here this late in the day."

Bill became Corwin the efficient sheriff. "Have you heard anything of a rogue vamp on the loose?"

She flashed on the interloper’s cold, sky-blue eyes, examining her like an insect on a petri dish. Her skin prickled again, goose bumps skimming her arms.

"Hey, Tatya! Tatya! Snap out of it!" Corwin was shaking her shoulder. "You getting one of those future seeing things?"

The aroma of cinnamon brought her back to the conversation. She lifted her cup, blowing on the tea to cool it, sipping the soothing brew.

"Kind of, but… it's hard to figure out what it means when they happen. Sorry, Bill, you were saying? A rogue vampire?"

"We've got three cases in the hospital right now. That's why I was there earlier. Three football players from the high school team, fit and healthier than most, are in comas."

"What makes you think it's anything supernatural?"

"Like your aunt, the docs can't figure out what's the problem. No accidents occurred, no trauma. No apparent reason. All just found unconscious."

"I'll ask around, but I've not had my ear to the grapevine since Aunt Lil fell ill."

"Thanks, I'd appreciate that. No point in calling in the super squad till I'm sure of what we're dealing with."

"I'll let you know if I hear anything."

Bill gulped down the rest of his tea. "I'm a hundred percent coffee man, Tatya, but this tea of yours could convert me."

She smiled at him; without fail, he made the same joke whenever he visited.

Tatya saw the Sheriff out and had finished tidying up when the doorbell rang. She hurried to answer, hoping it wasn't an emergency. She'd canceled every consultation this week so as to be free for Aunt Lil. Yanking open the door, she froze.

Sean stood there, his head bowed to one side in a submissive pose. Vanse hovered at his shoulder.

"No, Sean, you can't come in."

The sudden wounded look on his face told her how much her words pained him. She didn't like making him suffer, but hadn't she made her feelings about this whole affair clear? Her gentle friend might still be inside the creature standing in front of her, but he had changed. That, she couldn't forget.

"Tatya," Vanse spoke but she refused to look at him, keeping her attention fixed on Sean. "He used to live here. You made this place his home, so he doesn't need your permission. He can just enter and invite me in himself. But out of consideration for your feelings, he has refused to do that."

Tatya shifted her gaze to Vanse. "Wait there." She grabbed a shawl off the coat rack behind the door, flung it around her shoulders, and went back out, closing the door hard. The lock made a loud click.

Sean looked away. A hint of a smile lurked at the corners of Vanse's mouth.

"What do you want?" She wanted to shake Vanse till his head fell off. She wanted to scream at him and ask why he’d brought Sean, because she couldn't see him without remembering who he used to be. Her best friend. "And don't try to glamour me like you did my aunt."

"Tatiana, I would never do that."

Liar, she thought. Whatever rules vampires obeyed, honesty wasn't in their make-up. An honest vamp was rarer than a black rose. Survival and self-interest were their only motivations.

She looked past the two vamps. The sun had set, and although she caught a glimpse of the nearly full moon, rain clouds still darkened the sky. The early pioneers had ignored the drier plains to the east, and chosen the nearby plateau, with its more temperate climate, for their new town of Orleton. The air carried a damp, chilly, autumn evening smell. Autumn was Aunt Lil's favorite season: the changing colors as full fat-leafed trees became skeletal echoes of their summer selves; birds fleeing south, their V formations filling the sky; wood fires and roasting chestnuts.

She swallowed the tears; folding her arms across her chest she raised her chin, staring him in the eye. "Well? I'm waiting."

"Be extra careful, Tatiana. The wheel turns. What was past is now present, and it shows great interest in you."

Blue eyes and red-gold hair.

She shivered. "Er, well, thanks for that explicitly explained danger alert. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for the past. You don't happen to know the direction it's coming from?"

In the twilight, his eyes were dark pools, but she spotted a momentary flash of anger. His turning Sean served to confirm what she already considered an unwelcome interest in her, obvious from the first occasion he saw her visiting a sick friend. It cheered her immensely to realize she could needle him. She didn't see him move, but without warning, he was leaning in close, the scent of sandalwood in her nostrils. She stared up at him, frozen, hypnotized; the frightened mouse in that moment before the snake strikes.

"Note anything unusual. Dismiss nothing."

His attention on her was almost unbearable, transfixing her to the spot. He raised a hand and caressed her cheek sending ripples of pleasure across her skin. Only after he shifted his gaze was she able to jerk her head away from his touch.

"Be careful!" He spoke each word with precise deliberation. Then he was gone, and she faced Sean.

"Tatya?"

Even Sean's voice had transformed. He'd sung tenor in a local band, harmonies his specialty; now he was a bass. If he could even sing anymore.

"Sean, I can't. I can't." She clenched her fists, her fingernails digging in, and felt the power build.

Sean held his hands out toward her, pleading.

Tatya felt the rush of power, and clamped her teeth together so hard her jaw hurt as she ground out the words. "Go! Go before I do something I regret."

Chapter Three: Crisis



The clink of car keys as the mechanic placed them in her hand felt good.

"Thanks, Mr. Warren."

"Anytime, little lady, anytime."

Tatya smiled. Mr. Warren's bald head gleamed in the morning sun. The mechanic didn’t reach Tatya's shoulder; she stood five feet and a bit over five inches in her bare feet, but he called every woman whose car he serviced, 'little lady', irrespective of age or height.

Tatya picked up groceries, she was running short of coffee–never a good sign–and headed home. Next on the schedule of chores came cleaning. Then after lunch, she would set off for the hospital. With luck, neither Sean nor Vanse would show their faces after last night.

The sun was shining, and the sky was clear blue as she headed out of town. Autumn's rust and gold colors transformed the upland plateau. The world had that cleansed, after-the-rain shiny look. Opening the car window, she breathed deep, savoring the crisp bite of the wind.

She avoided thinking about the presence she'd sensed in her sacred space yesterday. Could she say for sure the creature, whatever it was, was malevolent? She'd been aware of and hadn't liked his deliberate interest in her. Usually, her premonitions occurred as impressions; a montage of frozen scenes from a movie. They were rarely accompanied by any emotion. Yesterday's visitation was unusual.

Tatya disliked her premonitions. In her experience, they hardly ever indicated good things were about to happen. They were cautionary and far too vague to interpret before the incident in question. But she'd had them often enough to learn that she ignored them at her peril.

How someone had penetrated her sanctuary was a question she relegated for later. She pushed the premonitory image, eyes the color of a bright summer sky, hair the blaze of a winter sunset, out of her mind. Thankfully, no goose bumps today. Tomorrow, she'd visit Changing Sky and get his thoughts on the matter.

Tatya pulled up in front of the house, braking with a spray of gravel. As she collected the groceries from the back of the car, she thought about the long list of chores building up at an alarming rate. Aunt Lil would never forgive her if she let the place go to rack and ruin, so she'd tackle the cleaning before gathering the items needed for this afternoon's healing session. Just because she'd not been successful in helping her aunt so far, it didn't mean she would stop trying. In her book, doing something was always better than doing nothing.

The phone rang as she shouldered the front door open. Dumping the bags on the floor, she answered, thinking whoever it was should have had the decency not to call till she'd put everything in the kitchen.

"Hi, this is Healing Herbs." She dredged up her professional phone voice. "How can I help you?"

"Ms. Rourke?"

Tatya did her best to sound obliging. "Yes, this is Tatya Rourke. How can I be of assistance?"

"This is the hospital, Ms. Rourke. We are sorry to inform you your aunt has taken a turn for the worse. We advise you come to the hospital as soon as possible."

Her blood beat so loud in her ears that, for a second, she couldn't hear anything else.

"I'm on my way." Slamming down the phone down, she sprinted back to the car, turned on the ignition, gunned the car out onto the main road, and narrowly missed a passing car. She slowed, sucking in deep lungfuls of air. She'd be no good to anyone if she wrapped the truck around a tree.

Tatya took the route avoiding the town center, only running one red light, and squealed to a stop in some doctor's empty parking place near the hospital’s front entrance.

"Miss! Miss! You can't park there," the security guard shouted as she dashed past him.

She panicked when she saw the empty bed in the women's ward. No. It couldn't be.

Alice Franklin, sitting up in her bed, her cheeks pink, waved at her. "They've moved her to a private room," she called out to Tatya, pointing upward. "Two floors up. But she's fine."

"Thank you, Alice."

Alice's 'thank you, too' floated in the air behind her. Five minutes later, she stared through the window of a room at Aunt Lil lying with her eyes closed, wired up to half a dozen machines.

A nurse bustled toward her. "You must be Ms. Rourke's niece?

Tatya's empathy told her the trained sympathy in the woman's voice was genuine. Being able to detect when someone lied was useful sometimes. Other times, it was better not to know.

"What happened? She was fine yesterday afternoon. Is she going to be all right?" Tatya swallowed. Keeping her emotions under control wasn’t easy; the thought of losing her one living relative skewed her world into a shape she couldn't envision. She blocked off that trail of thought as a tingle of power flickered through her hands.

“Doctor Mellior is in his office, and he'll answer your questions."

Tatya hadn't seen the good doctor yesterday, and after this latest alarm urgently wanted to speak with him. "Yes, that'd be great."

Doctor Mellior's aura was dark olive green. Most people involved with healing had auras in shades of green, from emerald to the dark blue-green of the sea, but the good doctor's was olive, shot through with spiking red streaks. The man was tired and stressed, overloaded with cases, and angry at being unable to give his patients enough attention.

"Your aunt isn't a young woman anymore, Ms. Rourke."

Tatya swallowed her retort. Nothing like stating the obvious.

"It appears your aunt has had a minor brain seizure. We've run several tests, and have more to do before we can make a clear diagnosis."

"Is that why she collapsed in the first place?"

"I regret to say that we've not been able to identify the reason. Blood pressure, exhaustion, overwork; there are any number of reasons why an older woman might faint."

Tatya observed more red spikes flickering in the doctor's aura. He saw patients as puzzles to be solved, and this case frustrated him. Tatya threw up another barrier. She had to focus; she didn't need the distraction of other people's emotions.

"She's out of danger and is resting. I'm afraid the medication makes her sleepy, but you're welcome to wait till she wakes and see for yourself how she is."

Tatya thanked the doctor and left, wondering if their health insurance covered the cost of a private room. But she'd worry about that later. Aunt Lil's welfare came first.

Sitting in the armchair by Aunt Lil's bed, listening to the whirr and beeps of the machines, she turned over the doctor's words. Her aunt was getting older, yes, true, but exhaustion? Overwork? Nope. The man might be a doctor, but he didn't know her aunt’s determination. Fit and strong as a horse, she had never let ill-health get in the way of doing what she wanted, when she wanted. No way did the doctor's description of an elderly, ailing female represent the woman she knew and loved.

Tatya had tried healing her aunt before, to no avail, but she had to do something, and if there was any chance of improving the situation, she'd seize it. Releasing her shields, she examined Lil’s aura. No doubt about it. Her aunt's relapse had dulled her aura to a sickly yellow, scored with thick, dark spines.

Tatya stood and closed her eyes, breathing deep till she was calm. With palms barely touching, she rubbed her hands together; pulling on her power till a band of bright white energy flowed between her palms. She moved her hands apart, concentrated on maintaining the correct level of energy, and positioned them on either side of her aunt's body. Expanding the channel to her power, she reached inside herself and sent wave after wave of healing energy into her sleeping form. She kept going till she dropped with exhaustion, collapsing back in the chair and closing her eyes for a minute to recover.

"Tatiana." She started in her chair. The soft caress of his voice resonated as if recognized, but the memories dissipated into thin mists before she could grasp hold of them. Then she realized who was speaking. Vanse. She had no doubt if there were any connections with Vanse, she'd remember. She refused to analyze her reactions to him. He'd never had, and never would have, any attraction for her; he repulsed and disgusted her.

"You tire yourself for nothing."

"Leave me alone."

She saw Sean hovering outside the room, too nervous to come in and speak to her.

"This illness of your aunt doesn't respond to your healing, does it?"

Tatya stroked Aunt Lil's limp hand, touching the calluses on her palms. Before her collapse, she'd begun helping with a lot of the ground work that had been Sean's responsibility.

"That should tell you something. Read the signs."

What was he saying? This sickness wasn't physical?

"It is wise to prepare yourself for the worst."

Tatya glared at him. The picture of Vanse drinking from her aunt's neck, his mouth red with blood, sprang to mind.

"I give you my promise—that will never happen."

Was he reading her mind? He held up his hand. For a vampire, his skin tone was an unusual bronze color.

"Your defenses are weakened, and normally I can't, but right now, I can read your thoughts. To put your mind at rest, I give you my word, neither I, nor any of my people, will ever taste a drop of your aunt's blood."

Did he expect her to thank him? She closed her eyes and summoned her shield. It rose, but more sluggishly than usual. Damn him. He was right, she was weak. She should be more careful.

"If the worst does occur, I can turn her. Then you will never lose her."

As if he'd flipped a switch, everything slowed, and a blinding white light burst from her hands, striking him in the chest and throwing him against the wall. The machines beeped faster; an alarm went off at the nurses' station, and footsteps pounded along the corridor, but her rage burned hot, and she flung another bolt of energy at Vanse. He raised his hands to deflect the strike, but moved too slow. Her power blasted him in the stomach. He lay on the floor, panting, and stared up at her. His eyes shone with a mixture of fear and exultation.

"Tatya! Tatya!" She heard a voice as if from a great distance. Someone was shaking her arm. It was Sean. She tossed him off; his newfound vampire strength was nothing against her will.

He crashed into the door, stunned.

Suddenly, she was unable to move. While she’d focused on Sean, Vanse had gotten behind her and held her in a tight embrace, pressing her arms close to her body.

"Calm yourself." He loaded his words with glamour, repeating them over and over, till her mind made sense of the sounds he was making. Power still erupted, slowing, sparking on the hospital floor. Tatya sagged against him.

The nurse on duty rushed in and took the patient's pulse before she examined the machines.

"She's fine. Sometimes these machines give off false alarms, but we have to make sure."

The woman hurried out, not appearing to notice the way Vanse was restraining Tatya.

"Let me go. I'm fine."

Vanse lowered her into the armchair and pushed her hair back off her face. She didn't have the strength to resist.

"Sean, get a strong black coffee, plenty of sugar. Quick."

"How are you out in the daytime? Don't you have to wait till it gets dark?"

Vanse smiled at her. Even for a vamp, his looks marked him as unique. A straight aquiline nose, deep brown eyes; if he had a soul, she'd have said their expression was soulful. Golden tanned skin. How did he manage that? And the lean hardness of all vampire kind gave him a symmetrical beauty she found hard to ignore.

Sean pushed a plastic cup into her hand.

She sipped the hot liquid, a machine brew not worthy of the name, but containing enough caffeine to do the job of re-energizing her. The drained, washed-out sensation retreated, but uneasy questions at the thinning barriers between her emotions and her power lingered. A crawling prickle at the edge of her mind acknowledged if they'd not been vampires, she might have killed them. She didn't want to think about that, nor the source of the blind fury that had engulfed her.

"Go home and rest, Tatiana. The nurses will phone you if your aunt's condition changes. She is stable for the moment and in good hands."

She hated to admit it, but he spoke the truth. The thought of a cup of spiced sage and mint tea and crawling into bed was appealing.

"I will keep watch myself." For some odd reason, that comforted her.

"Okay. I'll phone later to check."

"And try to subjugate your irrational fears," he threw after her as she left. She didn't dignify his remark with an answer.

Tatya passed Sheriff Corwin and his trusty sidekick as she crossed the hospital foyer. They nodded to each other, but for once she was relieved he was too deep in conversation to stop and chat.

Chapter Four: The First Strike



Tatya's sleep had been deep and dreamless. After the amount of energy she expended blasting Vanse and Sean, her overloaded brain had shut down, needing the time out to process her emotional and psychic outburst. When she woke, her memories of the incident were vague, and she pushed it out of her mind, not wanting to think about Vanse or her actions.

She spent the morning on the phone, asking her network of friends and colleagues if they'd come across anything unusual. Most hadn't, but a few on the sensitive end of the empathy spectrum sensed an uneasy stirring in the ether but reported nothing more than a vague foreboding.

Visiting the hospital in the afternoon, she found her aunt was awake for short spells but continued to drift in and out of sleep. After yesterday's debacle, Tatya decided to abandon her planned healing ritual for the moment, fearing she might do more harm than good. Maybe after she'd visited Changing Sky. She smoothed her aunt's hair back from her forehead, marveling at how sleep eased the worry lines on her face while leaving the laughter lines intact.

Please… please heal, she prayed, holding her aunt's limp hand, willing her to recover.

The nurse had told her Aunt Lil was out of danger, but there was little improvement in her condition. When she asked how long before her aunt would be moved back to the women's ward, the nurse said arrangements had been made for her to stay in a private room. Tatya was pretty sure their insurance didn't cover this; she'd been too disturbed yesterday to ask, but the nurse seemed confident everything was in order. She accepted the information, making a mental note to check up on it at some point. Being hit with a huge hospital bill would cripple their finances, but she put it quite far down her list—a list that was getting way too long.

Back at home, she pushed her anxieties out of her mind, and focused on getting ready for Sheriff Corwin's meeting at the police station. She pulled a clean sweater off the shelf, banging the door shut on the mess at the bottom of the wardrobe. She chose a light brown color that would slide under the radar in a police station; a good move when more than a few cops had decided you were nothing but a sham and a waste of the police budget. The aim was to look respectable, yet not draw unnecessary attention.

Corwin had mentioned there'd be a few people there, and he'd like her general input. At least that's what he said. What he meant was he wanted her to scan the group and see what she could pick up. Tatya's telepathic abilities were minimal, and there were others in town more capable, but he trusted her. Her empathetic talent had proved invaluable in more ways than one when they worked together.

She dragged a hairbrush through her undisciplined curls. Short was how she preferred to keep it, but without Aunt Lil to carry out the monthly trim, it, along with the housekeeping, dropped off her priority list. The current length meant she was constantly pushing it out of her eyes and tucking it behind her ears, irritating her no end. Wearing it in a ponytail was the next best option, but it wasn't long enough yet. Hair clips worked, more or less, but she was always losing them. Yet that ability to find things so valued by Corwin, had little potency when used for items she mislaid.

Tatya studied her reflection in the mirror. She would have to do. Her slender build often fooled people into thinking she was fragile, but that was a mistake. She'd always been active and excelled at running in high school. In college, she'd added mixed martial arts and tai chi, but her studies interested her more than reaching the competitive level at any sport. She'd kept up her running until recent events changed her life, but still went through her katas when she remembered and had the time—lately it wasn't that often.

She had to get on top of the cleaning, she thought, flicking a glance over the floors as she ran down the stairs. Ramming her feet into her best boots, she grabbed her coat and keys and stood for a moment, listening. The living energy that pervades a house full of life was absent, instead, a heavy quiet filled the space. No loud country rock came from Sean's room, and Aunt Lil's radio, with its disembodied voices wafting from the kitchen, was silent. She left quickly.

The desk sergeant, a pal of Corwin's gave her a big smile, lessening her annoyance at having to park in the one empty space at the farthest corner of the visitors' lot. He directed her to the upstairs conference room. This discussion must be more important than Corwin had let on over the phone. Talks with Corwin usually meant standing in his cramped office with half a dozen others, while she wondered if the enormous, precariously balanced piles of paper on his desk ever decreased before they toppled to the floor.

"Come in," Corwin bellowed in response to her knock.

Apart from Corwin and his new sidekick, the junior officer from the other night, she was the first to arrive.

"Tatya, meet Deputy Bellamy. Bellamy this is Tatya Rourke."

Bellamy stood. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am,"

Up close, Tatya could see Bellamy was a good-looking young man, with the creases on his uniform looking sharp enough to cut. He made an excellent foil to Corwin's Columbo-style scruffiness. He offered a firm handshake while she mumbled the usual happy-to- make-your-acquaintance noises.

"Tatya, here on my right." Corwin pulled out a chair and she seated herself. "I'd appreciate it if you could observe and just note any unusual reactions to what I'll be telling them."

"Okay. What will you be telling them?"

Corwin didn't answer because the door opened and several police officers filed into the room. Tatya nodded at Jane Smith from vice, Burton from the drug squad, and two others she knew from previous visits to the station. All wore the expressions of people who saw wrongdoing, from petty thievery to the most abominable of crimes, every day of their working lives. Yet they went home and came back for more. Somebody had to.

Three men and one woman in smart black suits entered and sat at attention; one opened a laptop, the other two had notebooks at the ready. You didn't need to be psychic to win a bet they were FBI. Eleven altogether. Plus one empty seat.

"Make yourselves comfortable, everyone, while we wait for…" Corwin's sentence went unfinished as the door opened and in strode Vanse.

"Please take a seat, Seigneur Vanse."

Tatya's eyes widened. Why was he here?

"Gentlemen, let me introduce you." Corwin continued, ignoring the looks on the faces around the table. "For those of you who aren't aware, Seigneur Vanse is the overlord of the vampire enclave in the whole of our county. Before any of you voice your opinions, he wouldn't be here if we didn't need him."

Vanse glanced around the table, neither acknowledging nor reacting to the looks thrown his way, until his eyes rested on Tatya. She looked away as the weight of his intent pressed on her; even without eye contact, she was aware of his gaze.

"Ladies and gentlemen. I'm calling this meeting to order. Let's begin. We are part of a new task force. Except for Seigneur Vanse, that is. We have requested the help of the FBI," Corwin nodded to the suits, "and the rest of you spend far too much time in each other's company to need introducing. Bellamy, your report."


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