Authors: Paulette Miller
Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Miller
Cover art copyright © 2014 by Paulette Miller
Cover art image of the moon © 2014 by Christopher Miller
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
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To my husband:
Our thirty year journey together has been full of both good and bad times, but I cherished every second that I’ve been at your side. I’m looking forward to the many new adventures we’ll share as we spend the next thirty years hand-in-hand.
The creature let out a deafening roar as he tossed a man into a nearby brick wall and the impact filled the alley with the cracking sounds of shattering bones. The man’s contorted form magically suspended in the air before crumpling to the ground in a heap. With a Human removed from the fight, the creature focused briefly on a thin, deathly ill looking teenage girl. Seeing her fangs, blood on her lips, and a Human body lying next to her with his neck ripped open, he knew she was like him—a Changeling.
Once the frail girl focused her bloodshot eyes on her savior, he nodded toward a corner. She understood his non-verbal instruction and crawled away, barely able to comprehend what was going on around her.
The creature shifted his attention to the next attacker. He playfully motioned to the man to come closer, while flashing his very sharp white teeth.
The man glared back at the spotted, scale covered leathery skin and said with revulsion, “You’re like her.” He spit toward the girl now cowering in the shadows. When the man was quickly joined at his side by his fellow attackers, a wave of confidence washed over his face and he added, “You’re both disgusting freaks of nature and it’s our right to rid the world of your stench.”
Another man pointed at the girl and said, “That walking piece of shit over there killed my friend. After we take you out, I plan to finish cutting her up into a million pieces and feeding her worthless body to the street rats.”
Their arrogance made the creature snarl and the unearthly sound caused the attackers’ bodies to involuntarily tremble. The creature knew that he could take out the remaining assailants with little effort, but he also knew that there was no fun in a quick death. Instead he decided to toy with them, elongating his enjoyment.
With a growl, the creature engaged in battle.
The girl watched as her attackers were slowly ripped apart. The actions resembled that of a large cat playing with captured prey. By the time the battle was over, the ground and walls were covered in splattered blood and various body parts that weren’t meant to be seen by the naked eye. It would be difficult for anyone to even determine how many bodies actually lay dead.
Once the job was done and the creature had returned to his fully Human form, he approached the girl and demanded, “Follow me.”
Instead of doing what she was told, she stared at the remains of her attackers and, in a very raspy voice, she whispered, “You should have let them kill me. Death would be a blessing.”
“Get up,” he commanded, his voice now threatening.
Snapping her head back she replied, “Why? Once the thirst hits again, I’ll be in this same mess. It’s only a matter of time before they catch me and next time you won’t be there to save me.”
Ignoring her words, he grabbed her by the arm and lifted her to her feet as if she weighed nothing. Although she protested, she was too weak to fight and was forced to let herself be dragged away like a ragdoll.
After traveling through many alleys and side streets, they arrived at an old brick warehouse with all of its windows boarded up. Using a hidden back door, he pulled the girl into the building. Although dimly lit, her magical night vision allowed her to see the interior as if it was mid-day. There were several people sitting around and all conversation stopped abruptly when she entered. He tugged her silently through a few more rooms somehow knowing exactly where his target was located. When he reached his destination he dumped the girl in front of a pale, white man in his middle twenties with short, black hair that stuck up in all directions.
“Sam, this one’s yours,” he said without emotion. In addition to the girl he also dropped a small stack of money and, without saying another word, turned and disappeared back into the night.
Sam knelt next to the girl to examine her injuries and she instinctively backed away, not knowing what he planned to do to her. Seeing her apprehensiveness, Sam sat a short distance away and gave her a dazzling smile, showing off his fangs—an exact match to hers.
She gasped and her eyes opened wide. “You’re like me?” she asked in astonishment.
He nodded. “My name is Sam. What’s yours?”
“Susan, but I prefer Susi.” She looked around and asked, “Where am I?” The building that she thought abandoned was surprisingly inviting on the inside. If she hadn’t seen the outside before she entered, she would have thought she had been pulled into someone’s suburban home.
Sam encouraged her to look around and said, “Welcome to the Ice Castle. We named it after the Changeling who saved each of the lives that you see around you.”
“Who’s Ice?” she asked.
“The one that brought you in here. It’s just like him to not even bother to introduce himself.”
“Tonight… I watched him rip apart four men without even breaking a sweat.”
“Only four? I bet he was disappointed there weren’t more. That isn’t even enough to get his pulse up. I’ve seen him take down ten at once while laughing.”
“He can laugh?” Susi asked with a slight chuckle, but then cringed when her body reminded her how hurt she was.
“Not often and it isn’t pleasant. Just thinking about the sound makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.” He trembled, making Susi giggle.
“What is he? He isn’t like you and me.”
“He isn’t like anyone and I have no idea what he is. I’m not sure he does either. As you may have noticed, he isn’t one for small talk.” Shifting the topic away from Ice, he said, “Let’s get you something to eat and then I can take care of your wounds.”
Although she somehow trusted the stranger, she stared off at the door and said, “I would rather starve than go back out there. I’m tired of the hunt and the killing.”
Sam replied calmly, “You won’t have to leave these walls. Let me show you.” He led her down a couple of halls into a large kitchen. Pointing to all of the shiny stainless steel, he explained, “We’re actually in an old factory and this is the small cafeteria where they used to serve their workers meals. We had to buy new appliances, but the basics were already here.” He opened a large refrigerator and Susi gasped as she stared at stacks of blood bags. He handed her a bag.
She hesitated only for a moment before grabbing it. After ripping the tip off with her teeth, she drank down its contents in a matter of seconds.
Seeing her eyeing another bag, he said, “You’re very weak, so you can have another. We have plenty.” He handed her a second bag.
While Susi drank, she watched Sam gently treat her injuries. He told her stories about how he had arrived at the castle. “Ice found me when I was around fifteen so I guess I’ve been with him for about ten years. I was being held in a research lab and one day I tried to escape. Ice came out of nowhere. I wouldn’t have gotten out alive without his help.”
She put down her empty bag and said, “I had no idea there were other Changelings in the city like me—a Night Walker.”
“With Ice’s help we do a very good job of hiding. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you end up on the streets?”
“My parents threw me out of the house after I bit the dog and they caught me drinking his blood.” With tears welling in her eyes, she added, “I loved that dog. I was just so hungry that I lost control.”
Seeing the many wounds that would have been fatal if she had been Human, he asked, “What happened to you tonight?”
She decided to tell Sam the truth. “I was ready to die so I attacked a group of drunks that came out of a bar to piss in the alley. Although I killed the first one on instinct, I knew that I had grown so weak that they would easily overpower me. I let them beat me and I refused to fight back. Just when they were about to kill me, Ice showed up and spoiled my plan.” Feeling strength returning to her body, she said, “If it wasn’t for this damn self-healing ability, I wouldn’t have made it here alive.”
“I’m glad he spoiled your plan.”
“But we’re disgusting freaks of nature, like the Human said.”
Sam shook his head adamantly. “Far from it. We have many gifts to offer the world.” To prove his point, he took her arm gently in his hands and licked one of her bad cuts.
Susi felt the tingle as the wound healed and she asked in disbelief, “But how?”
“It’s my special gift and I bet you have one as well. I believe nature created each of us for a reason. We have to open our minds enough to find what’s lying inside, waiting to be released. Even Ice’s gift to fight has given him the ability to save countless numbers of our kind.”
“What do you know about our rescuer?”
“His name, ‘Ice’, was given to him by those on the streets because of his cold, lifeless personality and ability to kill without emotion. I don’t know his Human given name yet and he won’t share anything personal about himself. I think he’s trying to completely erase the life he had before he became the Ice we know. He’s been playing a hired killer for the Changeling world for as long as I’ve known him, specializing in taking out Humans that threaten our kind. As you can see by this place he’s built here, he’s paid well for what he does. He saves stragglers like us in his free time.”
“Given what you’ve told me, I don’t understand why he bothers to take such good care of thrown out Changelings.”
“I honestly don’t know, but I’m very grateful for all that he’s done for me. Everyone that’s passed through the doors of this home owe their lives to him. I’ve tried to pay him back, but he won’t accept anything…not even a verbal thanks. So to thank him, I’m trying to carry on his good work. He knows that he can count on me to make sure this home is functioning and I help acclimate anyone that he brings into these walls.”
Sam nodded and said, “You and many others.” Looking around the room, he said, “I’ve loved this place, but I’m ready to move on. I’m planning on leaving within the next year. I want to move out of the city into a real home of my own.”
“But where would you go?”
Sam thought about her question carefully. “I think I want to live high up in the mountains where I could run through the woods without fear and hunt for non-Human prey so that I would never have to kill another Human just to survive. I want to live as ordinary a life as possible with someone I love at my side and a family around me.”
“But fate’s evil twist left Changelings unable to have children and I really wanted a family someday.”
“Don’t give up hope. As Ice has shown me in his own unique way, there are so many young Changelings being tossed out onto the curb. They could use someone to teach them that they still have a life to look forward to. Even after I move away from here, I plan to continue to take in those that need a home. They will be my family.”
Susi heaved a sigh and said, “Nice dream.”
Sam put the medical supplies to the side and, while kneeling in front of Susi, he said, “I think it can be more than just a dream. When I was dumped on the streets before I was captured and sent to a research lab, I thought my life was over. Look at me now; I’m far from dead. I’ve been taking some of the money from Ice and investing. I’ve actually made quite a bit of profit for the house. There isn’t enough built up yet but, in time, I know that I can make my dream a reality.”
Seeing such a strong spark of life in Sam’s eyes, she asked, “Could I help?”
He gave her a brilliant smile and replied, “I would love your assistance.” When he heard her voice slowing and her eyelids become heavy, he stood, held out his hand to her, and said, “Let’s find you a place to rest. We can talk more tomorrow.”
As she took his hand in hers, her face lit up. For the first time since she was abandoned she felt like she had a reason to live and was looking forward to the possibilities tomorrow could bring.