Magestorm: The Embracing, page 1
By Chris Fornwalt
Spring was in the air. Birds chirped, children played, and all was well. Dhane wondered if it would feel any different after being away for six months. It did, but it also didn’t. Thauma was still as familiar as always, but it had changed, and it wasn’t just the weather change from when he left. There was more, if only he could put his finger on it…
He strolled carelessly down the street, in no real hurry to reach the Grand Hotel. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Cassandra and Lila. It was the questions that would undoubtedly come, asking where he had been for the past six months.
Around a corner he reached the old vampire territory and wondered where they might be. Keeping close tabs on the news, there hadn’t been any sort of uprising like they thought might happen. Instead, all was silent. Perhaps they all fled. And what of Heather?
A smile forced its way onto his face at that question. Indeed, what did happen to that crazy bitch? Was she still lurking somewhere, perhaps around the next corner, determined to manipulate him? Whatever, he didn’t really care.
The vampire area was now just like the rest of town. Humans didn’t avoid it, they now lived there and worked there and played there. It was simply normal.
A cool breeze reminded him of his departure, and also the undoubted reception he would get from the other witches upon his return. It probably wouldn’t be ice cold, like it had once been, but still there would be a chill in the air since they couldn’t get over his bloodlines.
“Hey buddy, you got change for a dollar?”
The burly man was trying to feed the parking meter and was futilely searching for change in his pockets. Dhane walked over and fished out a couple of quarters and extended them to the man.
“Ah, you’re a lifesaver pal. Here, I’ll give you a dollar for them.”
“Nah, keep it.”
A slap on the shoulder and a smile, and the man was off into one of the buildings. It wasn’t far from here that he first met Demian. Funny, he didn’t imagine becoming friends with the vampire. Then again, he wasn’t expecting company on his journey to Halbotross. The birthplace of his father had held secrets he was still trying to decipher.
Dhane reached his old apartment building and had to laugh. A nice new ‘condemned’ notice was attached to the front door. He always knew the place was a shithole, but he didn’t know it was officially one. It was a good thing he had moved his possessions to the Grand before he left, or he would be SOL.
At the end of the street, he realized he had a decision to make. Continue ahead and he would end up at the werewolf area. Was he ready to see Amelia again? Did she want to see him? Good questions, neither of which he was ready for an answer to. He turned left.
The early afternoon sun high overhead made for a nice warm walk, even if he was hauling his bag and jacket with him. Maybe he should’ve sent them ahead with Demian. The vampire had returned three weeks ago, though it wasn’t his first trip back since they left. Every few weeks the vampire had to come back to check on his home. Seemed a bit OCD, but whatever kept him happy was fine.
Interestingly, Demian wouldn’t feed on anything but rats. The vermin were fair game, but he couldn’t bring himself to harm cats or dogs or anything else. Cats were especially off limits for some reason. Dhane would have to explore that logic further one of these days.
Looking down the street a ways, he could make out the Grand. His heart jumped a little at the familiar sight, though his pace slowed. When he was a block away, he stopped entirely.
Do you really want to go back? There are other places to search for answers about our father and mother, and what really happened those many years ago.
A deep breath and his feet started to move again. Slowly, methodically, he commanded one in front of the other until he stood in front of the hotel. It looked exactly the same as he left it, other than the large man guarding the front door. He, however, looked a bit different. No haircut in six months, and he had put on a few pounds.
Climbing the steps to the front door, the man looked at him suspiciously. Dhane didn’t waver though, meeting the guard’s eyes with his own and locking them in until they were face to face. Well, they were more of face to chest, but the guy didn’t intimidate Dhane in the least, even though he could sense what the guard really was.
“State your name and business here,” the man snarled.
“I’m Dhane, son of Algernon. I live here, so you should let me pass, wolf.”
In hindsight, the introduction he gave probably wasn’t the right approach. Dhane picked himself up off the sidewalk as the guard returned to his position. There were many ways to handle this now, some more appropriate than others. There was also the private entrance he could probably use to get to his apartment. That would be the smart decision.
At the top of the stairs, he again locked eyes with the werewolf. His mind focused, his hands steady, he walked towards the door again.
“You like the taste of concrete, boy? Or are you going to tell me your real name this time?”
“I am Dhane, son of Algernon, and I am entering my home with or without your approval.”
“Is that so?”
“That’s right, so how do you want it, easy or difficult?”
“My mom always said I do things the hard way, so why stop now.”
Dhane spoke a few words and grinned. The guard looked down and saw flames begin to shoot from his shoes and up his ankles. He screamed as he slapped at his pants and scrambled back through the door. Dhane strolled in behind him, knowing the flames were strictly an optical illusion. No harm would actually come to the man, but it was an effective distraction.
The lobby was quickly abuzz with the panicked guard. Nobody understood what he was freaking out about, and then someone familiar spotted the returning mage.
A grin crept across his face as Lila ran up and threw her arms around his neck and hugged tightly. After a moment, she released him, and hit him on the shoulder.
“Where the heck have you been?”
“I just went for a walk.”
“For six months? Don't think you're getting away with that explanation.”
“She will most surely get the truth out of you,” an unfamiliar voice chimed in.
The man who approached was tall and lean, with dark, piercing eyes. A smile revealed the creature's true nature: the man was a vampire, and Dhane immediately disliked him. He stopped next to Lila and put his arm around her.
“Dhane, this is Charles, a high ranking member in the formal vampire society. They arrived a couple of months ago to restore some form of peace between us.”
That was all Dhane could really say. Being out of the loop for a while, he needed to work his way back into the fold and become informed. That would come soon enough; assuming Cassandra wasn't totally pissed at him for bolting. For now he needed to play nice with the vamp. He reached out a hand which Charles took with a nod.
“Nice to meet you, Charles. How long are you in town?”
“I was supposed to be here for another couple of weeks, just until after the formal vote by the council on whether to allow our presence. However, I’m thinking of making this my permanent home. I doubt I’ll be able to drag myself away.”
Charles exchanged smiles with Lila while pulling her closer, and Dhane had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. He settled for clearing his throat to regain Lila’s attention.
“I should probably head up to my room, assuming I still have one.”
“Of course, do you really think Cassandra would let anyone take it? You go settle in, but y
“We’ll see. I’m pretty tired so I may just crash.”
The last thing he wanted to do was dine with this vampire that he knew nothing about. Stalling would only last for so long, he was sure.
“Oh, okay, tomorrow then.”
Dhane agreed and watched them walk away before he turned towards the stairs. The werewolf guard was now standing in his way, nostrils flaring and fists clenched.
“That wasn’t a very nice trick.”
He figured maybe he should make enemies of everyone he met upon his return. After placing his bag on the ground, he place his hands behind his back and nodded in agreement.
“You’re right; I shouldn’t have acted that way. You have my apologies, and if you like, a free swing at me.”
A curious look came across the man’s face which showed that wasn’t the reaction he was expecting. Anything else and Dhane would’ve been on his ass now, but instead the fists unclenched and a hand reached out.
“I’m Terrance, and I accept your apology.”
“I know, now. And I know of you. Welcome home, I suppose. Next time, just mention your name first.”
“Thanks. Hey, is Xander still leading the local werewolves?”
Terrance nodded, at once surprised he knew who Xander was, and yet surprised he didn’t know everything. Dhane reached down and picked up the obviously heavy bag and prepared to head to his room.
“You need help with that?”
“Nah, I got it. Again, sorry about what happened.”
“All good. If you need anything, let me know.”
Dhane smiled and watched Terrance walk off towards the front door again. After the spell he had pulled on the man, he was surprised how hospitable he was. Maybe that was the werewolf way now, at least for those under Xander.
Amelia popped into his head again and he quickly tried shaking loose the thought. Time to get to his room and settle in before news got to Cassandra of his return. She was surely going to kiss him or kill him. Maybe both. He chuckled to himself and started up the stairs.
It wasn’t until Dhane was standing before his door that he realized he needed the unlocking spell he once used daily. Now he wasn’t sure if he remembered it. The front desk might have a key, if they actually worked like a front desk. This wasn’t a hotel anymore. It was just a guard post, security with monitors, probably guns, and plenty of claws and spells.
With a careful hand, he reached out and clutched the doorknob. Slowly he turned his wrist and hoped beyond hope that it might turn and reveal his apartment. With a click the door was opened and he smiled to himself.
Will wonders never cease?
He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Things looked mostly as he had left it, but it was clean. There wasn’t the thick layer of dust he was expecting. Cassandra must’ve arranged that.
After dropping his bag onto a chair, he walked to the kitchen and grabbed a glass from the cabinet by the fridge. At the sink he filled it with water and took a drink. It tasted horrible, as water does. With the luck he had with the door, he tried the fridge next, and sure enough there was a single Pepsi inside.
Welcome home, me.
In a second it was opened and half emptied. A belch and he felt much better. No time like the present to unpack, he figured. He grabbed his bag from the chair and went to his bedroom door. Without a thought of why it would be closed, he swung it open and froze.
A sound escaped his throat and he stumbled backwards. A quick pull on the door swung it back shut and he walked straight over to the living room couch and sat down, the bag right beside him. The image was burned into his mind as he stared blankly ahead.
In the next room, a woman was on the bed. Completely sprawled out, her legs and arms out wide. She was clutching the sheets like her life depended on it and panting as though she had sprinted here from another state. Between her legs was another woman.
This one was wearing stockings, and that was it. She was on all fours, between the other woman’s legs, doing God knew what. Well, he did know. He also saw a birthmark that told him who, and that was all he needed to know to make his hasty exit.
A couple of minutes later the door opened and a woman’s voice called out. Dhane couldn’t bring himself to answer. Instead he stuck with stunned silence. Cassandra stepped into view, now wearing a robe, though the stockings were still visible. Her long curly blond hair was a mess, not that he really noticed.
“Dhane? Is that really you?”
“Umm, yeah, I think so.”
She walked over and sat down on the couch, his bag separating them. Quiet filled the room, as did tension, until finally she couldn’t take it anymore.
“Look, I’m sorry about this. I didn’t expect you back. We’ve been using your apartment as a place where we can meet privately.”
“It’s all good. Sorry I interrupted. Is that…?”
A grin grew on his face. He worried Cassandra wouldn’t let her in, not fully anyway. They would drift apart, and the relationship wouldn’t last more than a month. That wasn’t what happened, apparently. He was happy things were working out for her.
“I guess the obvious next question is, am I still on the council?”
Cassandra took a deep breath and looked over to him. She opened her mouth, then stopped and got up. After pacing for a few minutes, she finally answered him.
“Yes, you are still on the council. I told the others that I sent you on a sabbatical for a time. No timeline was given, so nobody knew when you would be back, or would question your absences. You should make your return at tonight’s meeting.”
She walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water, leaving Dhane to ponder over the pain in her words. After all they had gone through, how close they had been, he had left without giving her any explanation or telling her where he was going or when he’d be back. Now he felt like a total ass.
He leaned back and closed his eyes, rubbing his head as a headache was trying to form. After a deep breath, he opened them again, and a naked woman stood before him.
“Good day to you, sire. You trip was good, I hope?”
Amber clearly had no modesty with her body, but being a greeter previously, why would she? Her short blond hair was just as it had been, though this was really his first look at her small round breasts, pink nipples, and… he had to close his eyes and shake his head to refocus. In his time away he had forgotten about the role of greeters in werewolf society. Being a greeter, she routinely pleasured visitors to the werewolves’ home to make them more receptive.
“Yes, it was fine. How are you, Amber?”
“I am well sire. I should be going, however. I bid you good day.”
With a nod she returned to the bedroom and dressed. Before she left, she went into the kitchen and shared a long kiss with Cassandra. Once she was gone, Cassandra came back and sat down by Dhane again.
“Sometime soon, you are going to tell me where you went, correct?”
“Of course. And I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you beforehand. It was a spur of the moment decision, but I should’ve at least left you a note. I really am sorry.”
“It’s fine. Not really, but I’ll get over it. I’m just glad you’re back and in one piece. I’ll have the sheets cleaned in your room and make other arrangements with Amber.”
“I have a better idea. There’s a spare room which I hadn’t really figured out what to do with. How about she becomes my roommate? Then you guys can see each other whenever you want.”
Cassandra looked at him with surprise, and joy filled her eyes at the thought. It would be perfect for her, if Amber was willing. The others wouldn’t have anything more to say than they normally would about him, and she would have cover to come visit anytime she wanted. He was the perfect cover for her personal life.
“Absolutely. So, what’s the deal with the vampires?”
“How do you know about that already?”
He smiled and she quickly figured it out.
“You got it. So?”
“We were discussing with Xander about allowing the werewolves into the council. I’m guessing we have a leak, because shortly after we got news of the vampire royalty sending a liaison to talk to us about joining the council. So now, we’re still discussing it, trying to cover all our bases before making a decision.”
“How long before a decision has to be made?”
“They’re starting to press. I think we have a week, tops.”
Dhane nodded and wondered what the vampires were up to. Infiltrating the council had to be for their own interests. The bigger question was, were the escaped vampires in league with the royalty? That would likely explain their interest in the council: revenge. If that wasn’t the reason, he was clueless.
“I’ll reach out to some contacts and see what I can find out.”
Cassandra looked at him funny.
“You have contacts?”
“I have some connections,” he grinned.
“Very well. I better get going. You get settled in, and I’ll see you at tonight’s council meeting. Maybe afterwards, you can start telling me your story.”
She went to the bedroom, dressed, and left. All alone, finally, he sprawled out on the couch and closed his eyes. How much of the last six months should he tell her? Maybe everything, maybe very little. He figured he would just play it by ear, for now…
Six months earlier…
Just outside the edge of town, Dhane was aware he had been followed for several miles. Friend or foe, werewolf, vampire or witch, he was going to find out now. Ahead was a wooded area and he quickly ducked inside and found the most dense area he could.