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In the fourth novel in Anne Bishop’s New York Times bestselling series, the Others will need to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and their community...
Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the dynamic between humans and Others has changed. Some, such as Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn see the closer companionship as beneficial.
But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to safeguard what is theirs...
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New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop is a winner of the William L. Crawford Memorial Fantasy Award, presented by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, for The Black Jewels Trilogy. She is also the author of the Ephemera series, the Tir Alainn trilogy, and the Novels of the Others—including Etched in Bone, Marked in Flesh, Vision in Silver, Murder of Crows, and Written in Red. She lives in upstate New York.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
As humans it is our right, our destiny, to claim the world for ourselves. We must display the fortitude needed to wrest the land away from animals who hoard water and land, who have no use for resources such as timber and oil, who make no contributions to art or science or better living conditions for anyone. We cannot become the supreme beings we were meant to be as long as we allow animals to frighten us into believing we have to submit to the boundaries they set. The human race has no boundaries. If we stand together, we will be invincible. We will be the masters, and the world will belong to us first, last, and forever.
—Nicholas Scratch, speaker for the Humans First and Last movement
It’s always about territory. It’s about taking care of your pack, about having food and good water. It’s about having enough of those things so your pack can survive and your pups can grow up. Other or human, it’s what we all want. And when one kind of animal overruns an area to the point where many kinds of animal begin to starve, it’s up to the predators to thin out the herds before there’s nothing left for anyone. That’s a simple truth whether you’re talking about deer or humans.
—Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Lakeside Courtyard
We must strike soon to achieve a swift and victorious result. Rally our allies and begin the diversions that will keep eyes focused away from Thaisia’s ports. Ship whatever you can, however you can. A hungry army cannot fight the enemy we face. As soon as those last ships are secured in our ports, we will claim what rightfully belongs to the Cel-Romano people and wipe out the vermin currently overrunning the virgin farmland.
To: All HFL Plains Chapters, Thaisia
Proceed with stage one of the land reclamation project.
Sunsday, Juin 5
The sweet blood has changed things. You have changed because of her. We are intrigued by the humans who have gathered around your Courtyard, so we will give you some time to decide how much human the terra indigene will keep.
Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, stared at his bedroom ceiling, the words of warning, of threat, chasing away sleep, as they had for the past few nights.
The words weren’t the only thing chasing away sleep. Procrastination was a human trait, and in this past week, he’d discovered that it had its own kind of bite. Wolves didn’t procrastinate. When the pack needed food, they went hunting. They didn’t make excuses or find some unimportant thing that didn’t need doing at that very minute. They got on with the business of taking care of the things that in turn took care of them.
I wanted Meg to heal from the cut she made last week. I wanted to give her time before asking her to carry some of the weight of these decisions. She’s the Trailblazer who is finding ways for other cassandra sangue to survive. She didn’t make decisions for herself or anyone else for twenty-four years, and now she’s supposed to make all these important decisions that could mean life or death for . . . who? The other blood prophets? All the humans living in Thaisia?
Growling, as if that would scare his thoughts into hiding, Simon rolled over, closed his eyes, and pushed his face into his pillow, determined to get a little more sleep. But the thoughts were excellent hunters and devoured sleep.
We will give you some time to decide how much human the terra indigene will keep.
For the past week, he’d made excuses to himself and the rest of the Courtyard’s Business Association, and they had let him make those excuses because none of them—not Vlad or Henry or Tess—wanted to tell Meg what was truly at stake now. But time, like Meg’s strange, fragile skin, was not something he could afford to waste.
Rolling the other way, Simon stared at the window. As he raised his head, his ears shifted to Wolf shape, pricking to better catch the sounds outside.
Sparrows. Those first sleepy chirps that announced the dawn when the sky began its change from black to gray.
Pushing aside the tangled sheet, Simon hustled into the bathroom to pee. As he washed his hands, he glanced over his shoulder. Did he need to shower? He bent his head and gave himself a sniff. He smelled like a healthy Wolf. So he would shower later when he’d have to deal with more than the one human who was his special friend. Besides, she wouldn’t be taking a shower either.
He took a step away from the sink, then stopped. Skipping a shower was one thing, but the human mouth in the morning produced scents strong enough to discourage close contact.
Loading toothpaste onto his toothbrush, Simon studied his reflection while he cleaned his teeth. Dark hair that was getting shaggy—he’d need to do something about that before the Courtyard’s guests arrived. Skin that had browned a bit from working outside without a shirt on. And the amber eyes of a Wolf. Human skin or Wolf form, the eyes didn’t change.
He rinsed out his mouth and started to put the toothbrush back in the medicine chest above the sink. Then he looked at his reflection and lifted his lips to reveal his teeth.
No, the eyes didn’t change when he shifted to Wolf, but . . .
Shifting his head to Wolf form, he loaded the toothbrush with toothpaste a second time and brushed the other, better, set of teeth. Then he growled because a Wolf’s mouth wasn’t designed to rinse and spit. He ended up leaning over the sink and pouring cups of water over his teeth and tongue so no one would think he was foaming at the mouth.
“Next time I’m just chewing a twig as usual,” he grumbled when he shifted back to fully human.
Returning to the bedroom, he pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. Then he stepped to the window and put his face close to the screen. Cool enough outside for socks and sneakers—and a sweatshirt since they would be walking at Meg’s speed, not his.
He finished dressing, then grabbed his keys out of the dish on his dresser and went out the door in his apartment that opened onto the back hallway he shared with Meg. He unlocked her kitchen door and opened it carefully. Sometimes she used the slide lock as extra security, and breaking her door by accident would just cause trouble.
He’d caused enough trouble the time he’d broken the door on purpose.
No slide lock. Good.
Simon slipped into Meg’s kitchen and quietly closed the door. Then he headed for her bedroom.
A light breeze coming through the partially opened window played with the summer curtains the female pack—Meg’s human friends—had helped her purchase and hang. The morning light also came through the window, giving him a clear look at the woman curled up under the covers.
Was she cold? If he’d stayed with her last night, she wouldn’t be cold.
“Meg?” Cautious, because she could kick like a moose when she was scared, he gave her shoulder a little push. “Time to wake up, Meg.”
She grunted and burrowed under the covers until only the top of her head showed.
Holding out one hand to block a potential kick, Simon laid the other hand on her hip and bounced her against the mattress a couple of times.
“What? What?” Meg struggled to sit up, so he obligingly grabbed her arm and pulled.
“Time to wake up.”
“Simon?” She turned her head and blinked at the window. “It’s still dark.” She flopped down on the bed and tried to pull up the covers.
He grabbed the covers, and the brief game of tug had her sitting upright again.
“It’s not dark; it’s just early,” he said. “Come on, Meg. We’ll take a walk.”
“It’s not morning. The alarm clock didn’t go off.”
“You don’t need an alarm clock. You’ve got sparrows, and they say it’s morning.”
When she didn’t respond, Simon hauled her to her feet and steered her out the bedroom door and down the hallway to the bathroom.
“Are you awake enough to pee and brush your teeth?”
She closed the door in his face.
Taking that as a yes, Simon returned to Meg’s bedroom and pulled out the clothes she would need. Most of the clothes. Apparently a male wasn’t supposed to take a female’s underclothes out of a drawer unless he was mated to that female. And males weren’t supposed to see the underclothes unless females wanted the underclothes to be seen.
He didn’t understand why everyone fussed about taking clean clothes out of a drawer. Underclothes smelled a lot more interesting after the female wore them.
Probably not something human females wanted to know.
While he waited, he made up the bed, more to discourage Meg from falling back into it than because he wanted to tidy the room. Besides, running his hands over the sheets and breathing in her scent made him happy.
Why had he thought sleeping in his human form last night was a good idea, especially when it meant sleeping alone? If he had shifted to his Wolf form as he usually did, he could have stayed with Meg, could have curled up next to her in her bed.
All right, he hadn’t thought staying in human form overnight was a good idea, just a necessary exercise. Six Wolves from the Addirondak packs were coming to the Lakeside Courtyard next week to experience interacting with humans in ways they couldn’t in their own territory. Three were adults who were already dealing with the humans who lived in towns located in and around the Addirondak Mountains. The other three were juveniles who had completed their first year of the human-centric education that would train them to keep watch over the humans living in Thaisia.
Keeping watch to make sure humans kept to the agreements their ancestors had made with the terra indigene was dangerous work. The Others might refer to humans as clever meat—and they were—but they were also invading predators who grabbed territory whenever they could. And despite what their government officials said, humans weren’t really concerned with the overall well-being of their kind. Humans belonging to the Humans First and Last movement had howled about a food shortage in Thaisia and said the terra indigene had caused it. But it was the HFL humans who had sold the surplus stores of food to the Cel-Romano Alliance of Nations for profit and then lied about it. Those lies had spurred a fight in Lakeside that resulted in the deaths of police officer Lawrence MacDonald and Crystal Crowgard. By doing those things, humans had drawn the attention of terra indigene who usually stayed away from human-controlled places while their intentions were benevolent.
Those earth natives, who lived deep in the wild country, had decided that the humans living in Thaisia had committed a breach of trust, and all agreements between humans and the Others might be rescinded. Probably would be rescinded. Already there were restrictions on what kind of cargo could be carried by ships traveling on the Great Lakes. There were restrictions on what kind of human could travel from one human city to another. The human governments that oversaw human concerns on a regional level were reeling from the sanctions. If ships couldn’t carry food and merchandise from one region to another, if trains couldn’t carry food and fuel to cities that needed both, what would happen to all the humans living on the continent?
If the humans who were supposed to be in charge had paid any attention to Thaisia’s history, they would know what would happen to the humans. The invasive, two-legged predators would be eliminated, and the land would be reclaimed by the earth natives, the terra indigene, the Others.
But that wouldn’t be as easy to do as it had been a few centuries ago. Then, there was little that the humans built or used that would harm the land if left to decay on its own. Now there were refineries that processed the crude oil being drawn out of the earth. Now there were places that stored fuel. Now there were industries that might damage the land if left untended. How much would be harmed if those things were destroyed or abandoned?
Simon had no answers, and the terra indigene who watched over the wild country—the dangerous, primal beings who cloaked their true terra indigene nature in forms so old those shapes had no names—would not be concerned with answers. Even if everything else disappeared from the world to make room for the new that would be born from destruction and change, they would still exist.
The terra indigene shifters like the Wolves and Bears, the Hawks and Crows, referred to those forms as the Elders, a benevolent-sounding word for the beings who were Namid’s teeth and claws.
Meg returned from the bathroom, looking a little more awake and a lot less happy to see him. She was going to be more unhappy when she found out why he wanted to take this walk.
“Get dressed, Meg. We need to talk.”
She pointed at the bedroom door.
He was the leader of the Courtyard and she was an employee of the Courtyard, so she shouldn’t be allowed to give him orders, even nonverbal ones. But he was learning that, when dealing with humans, pack order wasn’t always maintained inside the den. Which meant Meg was dominant in her den and could disregard that he was dominant everywhere else.
He left the room and closed the door, then pressed his ear against the wood. Drawers opening, drawers closing. Movement.
“Stop hovering, Simon.”
She sounded annoyed instead of sleepy. Having sufficiently poked the porcupine, so to speak, he went back to her kitchen and checked out her cupboards and fridge to make sure she had enough people food. Half a quart of milk; a couple of bites of cheese—maybe more in terms of human bites; a small bowl of strawberries—her share of the berries she and Henry Beargard had picked yesterday; a wrapped half a sandwich from A Little Bite, the Courtyard’s coffee shop.
Her cupboard had a canning jar of peaches, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and a box of spaghetti.
“If you’re poking around for leftover pizza, I ate it last night,” Meg said, entering the kitchen.
Simon closed the cupboard. Was this a typical amount of food for humans to store in the warmer months? He didn’t have more than this in his kitchen, but he usually chased down his meal and ate it fresh, so other foods were just supplements that he enjoyed for taste and were good for the human form.
“Did you want something to eat?” Meg asked.
“Later.” Leaving her kitchen, he went down the back stairs that led to the outer door, confident that she would follow him. Once outside, he took her hand, linking his fingers with hers, a form of contact and connection they’d started a week ago after she’d spoken prophecy about the River Road Community.
“The grass is wet,” Meg said. “Shouldn’t we walk on the road?”
Simon shook his head. This morning the road, which was wide enough for a vehicle and formed a circle inside the Courtyard, felt too human.
How to start? What to say?
They passed the expanded kitchen garden for the Green Complex, the only multispecies complex in the Courtyard. As a way to help the humans who were working for the Courtyard, the Others had agreed to let those humans share in the harvest if they did their share of the work. There was at least one human checking the garden every day, ma...
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