Read an Excerpt
Claimed by the Wolf
A Shadow Guardians Novel
By Charlene Teglia
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Charlene Teglia
All rights reserved.
Sybil Ames was on her way home from work when she saw the estate sale sign. The radio began to blast out Ace of Base's "The Sign" simultaneously, and it struck her as synchronicity. Estate sales had all sorts of things mixed together, trash and treasure. Lured by the possibility of a real find, she put on her blinker and pulled into the drive.
The house wasn't one of the new McMansions that seemed to be all subdivisions produced anymore. It was rickety and gloomy and more than a little surly, slanting on a hill with an aggressive tilt. If any neighborhood covenants and restrictions applied, the homeowners' association was either too apathetic or too intimidated to enforce them.
A prime location for a ghost. Sybil perked up at the possibility. She'd never encountered a real ghost. Or anything very interesting, for that matter. Her apprentice witch status pretty much made her the coven's errand girl, and everything exciting remained shrouded in secrecy. It was like being a kid who constantly heard a chorus of, "You'll understand when you're older" from the adults, but a whole lot more frustrating since she was an adult herself.
The scattered items out in the driveway were either thoroughly picked over already, or the estate hadn't had much to offer to begin with.
Picked over, Sybil decided, eyeing a piece of dark walnut furniture that had started off as quality before it wound up on the wrong side of entropy. Antique dealers tended to hit sales early and buy up anything valuable to resell.
Still, that one piece gave her hope that something else had been discarded or passed up. Her bland apartment really needed a touch of gothic. A stone gargoyle was just the sort of thing she might trip over here.
The sagging walnut armoire demanded closer inspection, so Sybil tried the doors and drawers, half-expecting a bat to fly out in the process. Instead, she found one drawer stuck tight. She pulled harder, and it came loose in a rush that almost sent her backward. Her desperate flailing for balance wasn't graceful, but it saved her from falling on her ass. Sybil peered into the armoire to see what caused the drawer to stick, and spotted the book.
The leather binding was cracked and dirty. She pried it out carefully and opened it up. It looked like a personal diary of some sort. It wasn't. The faded words crowded the pages in a cramped, back-slanting and almost illegible style, but the content was unmistakable.
She'd found a grimoire.
Interesting. Sybil turned the brittle pages with care, slowly deciphering handwriting the nuns at her Catholic school would've threatened the author with hell for. Not that witches believed in hell.
She should put it back. She held onto it anyway, reluctant to put it down.
It looked like it contained pretty advanced magic. If she could do a spell or two out of this book successfully, on her own, without a senior witch overseeing every step of the ritual and the coven approving her experiment in advance, maybe she'd finally prove she was ready for more than sweeping up spilled salt and washing away used pentagrams.
Maybe she could finally get a familiar of her own. Maybe she could finally start learning something useful. Some real magic.
She opened the book again, deliberating, and let out a startled curse when she got a paper cut on her index finger. A drop of blood fell on the book, making the decision for her. She'd damaged it, although she could argue that the book had damaged her first. Either way, she'd have to buy it now.
She tucked it under her arm and carried it with her while she poked through the remains of the estate sale. It was a disappointment, overall. No leering stone gargoyles. No buried treasure. Just trash, except for the little handwritten leather book.
Sybil made her way to the disinterested woman in charge. "How much for this?"
The woman frowned, pulled out a pair of reading glasses, and consulted a list. "Books are two dollars," she said.
Sybil paid and carted her booty home. Home was a ground-floor apartment in Oakton, Virginia, modern and comfortable and lacking in essential character. Although considering the character the estate sale house demonstrated, maybe there was something to be said for bland.
"I need a familiar," Sybil told the book. "This place needs more than a make over. It needs life."
She put the grimoire down on her altar. It seemed like the right place for it. She felt a little shock jump from the altar's surface to her hand through the book and let out a hiss of surprise at the static discharge.
Her hand stung as if burned, then itched. Sybil rubbed it against her khakis, trying to dispel the prickling heat. She'd probably gotten fifty years' worth of dust and allergens on her skin when she picked up the book.
The explanation didn't cover the acrid scent of smoke that rose from the cover where it touched the altar. It's just a book of shadows written in really bad cursive, Sybil told herself. The altar isn't rejecting it.
Except she had cut her finger on it, and if the drop of blood had activated some long-dormant magic ... a chill went through her and she took a step back. Her retreat came too late. The book opened, pages rifling as if turned by unseen fingers. Words glowed as if written in fire.
Sybil wanted nothing more than to rush forward and slam the book shut. Instead, she found herself moving closer as if in a trance, running her cut finger along the burning words, speaking the written words out loud. She couldn't even identify the type of spell she was compelled to recite, but the power of it was unmistakable, and it held her trapped. With each syllable, the sensation of power built. Unfortunately, it wasn't power that was hers to command. Just the opposite.
She'd wanted real magic. She realized, too late, that she should have been more specific. This was very real, and she wasn't its master. She was at its mercy.
The burning, biting itch spread from her hand up her arm, then over her body until her entire epidermis felt like it was on fire. She said the last words of the spell in a near scream, and collapsed on her knees in relief when the prickling heat of unknown magic crawling over her skin stopped.
"Shit," she hissed. She scooted back, panting with exertion and reaction. And fear. What had she just done?
Sybil lurched upright and grabbed for salt and her athame. Make a circle. Close that thing inside it. Then call her coven and maybe an exorcist.
Her hand was shaking. She fought to steady it along with her breathing. The last thing she needed to do now was cut herself with her own ritual knife. The shaking stopped and the blade rose and swept down, slicing her other palm. Then her hand stretched out to spill more blood on the book.
"No," she growled. "No, no, no." She pulled her hand back so the red droplets sprinkled the edge of her altar instead. She watched in disbelief as the droplets moved toward the book as if pulled by some unseen source of gravity.
Not enough time to pull the altar forward and cast a circle around it. Instead, she shifted back and cast one around herself, shoving raw adrenaline into the rite to power it. Just as she was finishing, the book shot through the air and struck her chest. Then the circle rose, sealing them both inside it.
Burning, prickling heat rushed over her, and she knew the cursed thing she'd found wasn't done with her. It wanted something, and what it wanted became abruptly clear as crystal. It hungered for a conduit, a way to loose the magic it contained. And she was gifted enough but also untrained enough to be its tool.
"I won't let you use me," Sybil said through gritted teeth.
She brought her athame up to trace a protective symbol in the air. Before she finished the movement, the book pulsed against her chest like a living thing and she found her arm frozen.
She was losing.
So when the door of her apartment blew in, she welcomed the distraction. She even had a brief hope of rescue. Until a dark wolf the size of a pony came through the frame in a cloud of dust and wood fragments.
She gaped at it in astonishment. "When I said this place needed a familiar? I take it back." Her words sounded thin to her own ears.
The enormous creature saw her, crouched down, and sprang. She closed her eyes, unable to watch fanged death leaping for her. Then she remembered it couldn't reach her. But did she want it to? That was one way to break her impasse, she thought in grim determination. She swept her empty hand through the circle and broke it.
The wolf's body struck her down, knocking the book away from her in the process.
"Destroy it," she whispered as she fell under the weight of the nightmare creature, more from desperation than hope of being understood. "Burn that book of shadows and you can do whatever you want to me with my blessing."
The beast snarled something that sounded remarkably like, "Burrrrn."
Sybil turned her head to see the book on the floor beside her burst into flames that danced over the pages, crackling as they consumed. Her skin seared as if the same fire devoured her along with the paper, and she writhed in agony.
The wolf pinned her down as she burned with the book. She looked down at her bare arm to see if it was all in her mind. Symbols scored her skin. "It's writing itself on me," she whispered in horror. "Goddess save me."
The desperate plea went unanswered as far as Sybil could tell. The pain went on as waves of unknown magic buffeted and burned her. When it finally stopped, the sudden cessation was almost a new pain in itself.
She looked over at the floor where a heap of ashes should have been. Should have been, but wasn't. Her eyes flicked to the wolf that hadn't disappeared along with the book, although it had moved off of her. The ruff around its neck stood up and it didn't look friendly. From the size, it had to be a timber wolf. She couldn't imagine what it was doing in Oakton, but since it had seemed to talk, what was one more impossible thing?
She got her answer as a haze shimmered around the animal's form, distorting and obscuring it, making the limbs seem to elongate. Sybil blinked hard as the haze cleared, leaving a tall, heavily muscled naked man standing over her.
A mane of black hair fell around his shoulders. His eyes, a deep gold, pierced hers. His angular face still looked like it held a wolf's snarl. A tattoo of an odd star, like a pentagram with too many points inside a circle, decorated his chest.
He spoke in a deep growl. "Do you know what you've done, witch?"
"Asked you to burn a book," she answered, feeling numb. "I'm normally against that sort of thing, but I think this case is an exception."
His jaw tightened. "You've fed the demon spells with your blood, spoken the words that opened one of the five gates to the shadow realms, alerted any forces still seeking it that the lost book has been found, and shot up magic flares to pinpoint its location."
"You forgot the part where I broke my protective circle so you could rip me to pieces as long as you got the book, too." She rubbed her arms, now once again bare of any marking. "And by the way, I take back what I said about doing anything you want with me, since you didn't do your part."
She thought she saw a muscle over his eye twitch. "If you hadn't already joined your blood to demon magic, it could not have transferred itself from that body to yours."
Her jaw sagged. "What? Are you saying I'm possessed?" The full horror of it struck her. "They're in me. All those words. Those incantations want to be spoken. They want to use me to do it." Sybil stared at the stranger in front of her, appalled. "Stop me. Whatever that book of shadows is, it's evil. Stop me before it makes me do anything else."
"I would love nothing more." He glared at her. "But you begged the goddess for aid, and she's chosen to grant it."CHAPTER 2
Sybil stared at the stranger. "What would you know about an answer to prayer? Weren't you a wolf when you came in?"
His lips tightened. They were very well-shaped lips, and in other circumstances she would have appreciated that a lot more. He didn't answer, and she supposed she couldn't really expect him to.
She looked around her living room and wondered why it looked so normal after everything that had just happened. With one notable exception. "You broke my front door," she said. "There goes my damage deposit."
He turned toward it, touched the tattoo on his chest, and Sybil heard a soft whoosh and felt her ears pop as the pressure in the room abruptly shifted. The door became solid again. She blinked, then got up, and went over to touch it. It felt as real as it looked.
"We will erase as many signs of what went on here as we can." His hard tone made it clear that he wasn't doing her any favors. He had his own agenda and this just happened to fit in it.
Sybil nodded. Then frowned. "Um, how?"
"It's a simple spell, elementary magic. You are a witch, aren't you?"
"Yes and no." Sybil blew out a breath, shooting a stray lock of hair out of her eyes in the process. "I'm an apprentice."
"Apprentice." He gave her a skeptical look. "You don't look like a child."
"I'm an adult. They just haven't taught me much."
"My coven. They let me join because, well, it's hereditary."
Sybil blew her hair back again with a short huff. "Are you going to just stand there repeating everything I say while we wait to see if I'm going to spontaneously combust?"
"Do you think you might?"
He said it so deadpan, Sybil felt her heart jump. "Is that a real possibility?"
"With demon magic, anything is possible." He looked her over intently. "Explain why you are a hereditary witch with no training."
"It's not because my coven's lazy or incompetent," Sybil said, feeling defensive. "It's just that they think if I don't know anything, I can't do any harm. Also, if I'm an active member of the coven with apprentice status, they can keep an eye on me."
The man-wolf tilted his head as he considered her. "Why would they fear you'd do harm?"
"Prophecy," Sybil said bluntly. "It's dumb. Way back in ancient history somebody prophesied that a witch of my line is supposed to end the world. So all of us, generation after generation, get brought into the coven and stuck with doing errands and odd jobs. It's a complete waste of talent."
"And yet here you are, the holder of ancient demon magic many would kill to possess."
Sybil swallowed hard. "Are you saying I'm going to destroy the world because a book I bought at a yard sale made me?" If she'd heard a wild statement like that this morning, she would have laughed. Now it didn't seem funny.
"I won't let you."
"That sounds ominous." She rubbed her arms, remembering the spells searing their way into her. "I don't suppose you'd like to tell me why you came bursting in here in the first place?"
"You opened a gate to the shadow realms," he answered. "I guard those gates."
"It made me say a spell," Sybil said. "Is that what opened the gate?"
"Yes. And that particular spell could only have come from the lost book. It was simple to trace the magic to its source and find you."
"Simple for anybody besides you?" Sybil asked the question in a small voice.
"If any others have been watching for the book, they know where to find it now."
"Right." She tried not to hyperventilate, wondering what else could come through her door that would be worse than a timber wolf. The man-wolf took her elbow. She started at the contact.
"Time to go," he said.
"Right. I'm just trying to think where."
"Where is not up to you."
Before she could argue, some sort of mist swirled around both of them. When it cleared, her apartment was gone. Oakton was gone. She stared around at what looked very much like a desert and asked the obvious question. "Where are we?"
* * *
Kenric released the witch he'd taken in tow and resisted the urge to curse. Not only was she a witch, she had the book in her possession. Or rather, it possessed her. The distinction might have made her innocent of knowingly opening the gate, but it made her no less a threat.
His fellow guardians had gone after creatures who had taken advantage of the opening to enter the mortal world. He had gone after the one who made the opening. After all this time, the demon book had finally reappeared. At last it could be destroyed, the threat it posed ended.
But the thing had eluded him, slipping from his grasp and hiding in the lithe body of the witch. As if the witch wasn't already dangerous enough without it.
He took a moment to study the source of his frustration. She was interesting to look at, arresting rather than pretty. Even without the invisible nimbus of power that crackled around her, she had a presence that attracted attention. What would his fellow guardians make of her?
She was tall and slender, with hair streaked in shades of sun and sand that fell in locks and whorls around her face. One seemed determined to cover her left eye, leaving him looking at one blue orb and three quarters of her features, including an upturned nose and a pointed chin beneath full lips settled in a stubborn line.
"Not answering?" Her well-shaped mouth moved as he watched. Her face was mobile and expressive, and her brain seemed to jump topics faster than a rabbit. "Okay, next question. How'd you turn into a wolf?"
Excerpted from Claimed by the Wolf by Charlene Teglia. Copyright © 2009 Charlene Teglia. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.