Chapter 1

Out of the Shadows

"Held back in my pitied world where everything's undone
A cold wind blows right through me, I'm made a hollow shell
There's nothing left, just ash remains"

-Sarah McLachlan

500 AD, Greece

Her once elaborate gown fluttered around her legs in bloodied shreds. The air smelled of ash and smoldering flesh, the intensity of it burning down her throat and enveloping her lungs. Below her feet, the wood and stone glowed with the remnants of fire. She could feel the heat eating away at her skin, but it regrew as quickly as it left.

She welcomed the feeling. The pain meant that she was still alive.

Shallow breaths pushed past her lips as she scanned the landscape before her. The intricate steps that once led into the palace of her father were now nothing more than fragmented stones. Sculptures lay broken and defaced along the ground, while piles of smoking ash rose up between the cracked boulders and charred wood. The ash was all that remained of her family, each pile still smelling faintly of burned flesh and hair.

Her people were not the only ones whose remains formed the piles; most were filled with the bodies of the army created solely to wipe her people from the Earth. Their burnt carcasses reeked of rancid sweetness; a hint of something that was once enticing. What remained of the few humans granted the privilege to walk her father's halls were cast aside and piled together. Their bodies were not even worth burning.

It seemed that the army's fate was tied to that of her family's. Their purpose was complete—well nearly she though with a mocking tone. She was still alive; barely, as the splashes of dried blood encrusted on her skin illustrated, but alive. She was the last of her kind now, and as proof of her lineage, she needed to locate what was left of her father.

With careful steps she entered the smoking rubble, the golden chains around her feet and entangled in her dark hair clanking softy as she went. Flashes of the prior night's events instantly entered into her mind—the screams; the ripping and tearing of flesh; the smell of blood that clouded her senses and enticed a tickling in the back of her throat. "Get her away from this place!" her father had yelled. "She must survive. One of us must survive."

"Thera," a deep voice called from behind her. "Nothing good awaits you in there."

Thera's feet hardly faltered at Bron's words. He watched as she slowly became consumed by the billows of smoke, the soft clank clank clank of her chains the only indication that she was even there. Bron focused on the sound, his heart beating in tune with it as his ears strained to keep it from getting softer.

"We should not let her from our sight. They will return."

Not waiting for a reply, Balaraj moved towards the burning rubble. He barely went an inch before Bron's thick arm stopped him. "She has a purpose in her mind," Bron said softly. Balaraj regarded the much older man with hard eyes.

"I know her mind as well as you," he replied as he attempted to push his body to its fullest height. Balaraj was a tall man, with skin the color of molten milk chocolate, and eyes that could see through the dense jungles of his birth. He had the soul of a tiger.

Agile. Cunning. Wild.

But Bron was larger—stronger—his build exemplifying total power and control. The silverback of his other form only stood as further proof of his age and wisdom. To lesser men Balaraj's defiance would elicit fear, but Bron was not a lesser man.

"You have much to learn," Bron stated with an even voice, his teeth a blaring white against the darkness of his skin, "Little Cub."

Balaraj growled at the name, but said nothing. Slowly his rigid body slackened and his eyes fell to the ground. With a slight smile Bron cast his eyes back towards the smoke and returned his focus to where it belonged. It took a moment of concentration before the steady clank clank clank once again reached his ears.

"What is she look—" Balaraj stopped mid-sentence as the wind blew a fresh, sickeningly sweet stench into air. Bron stilled as he eyes left the rubble and scanned the hillside behind it. "There," Balaraj said as his finger pointed towards the edge of a cliff miles away. Bron spotted the creature immediately, its icy skin glowing like marble against the dark trees that stood behind it.

"Only one?" Balaraj questioned.

"A scout," Bron replied with a grunt. "They knew she would return. Come," he added suddenly as he took off towards the smoke. Balaraj spared one last glance at the cliffside—the creature was gone.

Bron's heart began to beat wildly in his chest. He could no longer hear the clanking of Thera's chains. If only he could smell her, or hear her breathing. Frantically, he looked around, each passing second creating an even deeper sense of panic. "Curse your talents, Agave—princess," he thought to himself.

"I am here." Her voice was soft—even to his ears—but he instantly turned towards it. Bron's heart slowed slightly, but it would not find peace until Thera stood beside him.

Balaraj followed only a step behind, his eyes scanning the landscape around them. He saw nothing, but the air was becoming thick with their stench, and the wind seemed to carry upon it a hint of their whispers and a promise of a fight.

The two companions continued weaving amongst piles of rocks and leaping over crumbling walls that once stood erect and solid. They were near the center of the ruins now, the smoke so thick that it burned their lungs and blurred their vision.

Bron's ears filled with the sounds of smoldering wood and the consistent breathing of Balaraj behind him, but he could hear nothing of Thera—feel nothing of her presence at all.

And then she was there.

A shadow of a woman entered into Bron's vision, her dirtied gown dancing behind her as she crouched low before a pile of ash. Bron reached her in only a few long steps, his feet barely making a sound as he came to stop only inches from her.

"They are close," Thera stated simply. "I can feel them."

"We must leave now," Bron replied anxiously. Thera seemed unfazed by Bron's tone, for she continued to reach into the pile before her with a placid expression.

Bron sighed deeply. They would wait.

Tingling with anticipation, Balaraj turned his eyes to the sky and took in a deep breath of air. Smoke tickled his lungs, but he paid the sensation little attention, for his worries lay with the steadily growing sweetness that perforated the area. He concentrated on each individual smell—all similar, but each touched with something distinctly different. After one last deep breath he sighed and returned his gaze to the cliffs. There were six creatures coming, and they were moving fast.

A wave of energy rippled down Balaraj's back by the time Thera pulled her fist towards her. "Calm yourself, Raj," she stated softly as she pushed herself from the ground and examined her finding—a long silver chain with an emblem dangling from it. Her father's ashes drifted into the wind as she pulled it over her head and clutched it tightly to her heart.

"Ok," she said softly as she spared a glance at the two men before her. She was tiny in comparison, her head barely reaching the top of either man's chest.

"Come," Bron stated softly as his warm hand grasped Thera's arm and pulled her forward.

"No," Thera replied. Bron regarded her with unbelieving eyes. "No," she repeated. After a long moment Bron seemed to understand, for his hand left her arm and softly caressed her face.

"Be safe, Agave." His voice was deep and warm, the love within it wrapping tightly around Thera's heart. Leaving would be difficult. So much was changing in so little time.

"I don't understand," Balaraj interjected as his eyes moved quickly between the two. Both Bron and Thera looked to their other companion.

"We cannot continue together," Thera explained.

"But we swore to protect you," Balaraj replied, his voice cracking with confusion and anger. "I swore to give my life for yours."

"To protect me, you must leave me," she responded with a sad smile as she stepped closer to his shaking body. He calmed instantly under the feel of her soft touch upon his burning chest. "Yes," Thera continued when realization filled his face. "Your kind can be tracked. As long as I accompany you, I can be found."

"Will you seek revenge?" Bron asked.

"In time," Thera responded as she pulled her hand from Balaraj's chest, "but I do not wish for either of you to dwell on that. Return to your families. Accept a mortal life. This cross is mine to bear alone." Neither man replied, their eyes looking deep into each other in silent conversation.

"We must leave soon," Thera said suddenly as she looked to the edge of the ruins.

"We swore an oath," Bron stated after casting one last glance at Balaraj. The younger man nodded in agreement. "Your time for retribution will come, and whether it be decades from now or centuries, we will fight beside you until death takes us both. I will not allow our brothers and your family to die in vain."

"Death will take us now if we do not leave," Thera replied. "Go," she added when neither moved.

"We will protect you one last time." Bron was set in his convictions, and Thera knew by the unwavering look in his eyes that he was leaving no room for argument.

Thera regarded both men silently before nodding her head in consent. "Until we meet again," she whispered softy, her voice clinging to the wind as she vanished into the clouds of smoke. Not a moment later Thera felt a ripple of energy move through the air followed by the distinct roar of a tiger. Balaraj. Another roar quickly followed the first, but it was already muffled by distance and weak against the blowing wind.

Thera closed her eyes as the land disappeared from beneath her. Seconds later the salty water of the Aegean rushed over her skin. The water was warm and clear as the strength and speed of her limbs carried her quickly to the bottom.

The islands of Greece were behind her when her lungs began to burn and her head began to spin. Thera knew that she was not being followed, but fear still gripped her when she broke the surface and sucked in deep mouthfuls of air. Looking around frantically, she saw little but choppy, open water and the faint remnants of fire casting a hazy shadow across the distant sky. She hovered in the water momentarily, the weight of reality finally finding its way into her mind, but she turned away before the sorrow could overwhelm her. It was not yet time for tears.

The sun was low on the horizon when Thera's tired limbs pulled her body onto the rocky shores of Sicily. Her breathing was ragged as she slipped over the jagged stones and wandered towards a hidden alcove that was just high enough to be dry. Exhausted, Thera flung her body onto the ground and attempted to gain control of her breathing, but it was to no avail, for her ragged breaths quickly turned into uncontrollable sobs.

Images of her father and brothers flicked through her mind as she tried to keep any memories of their deaths from consuming her, but slowly the images came. The memories were vivid and fresh, each new scene complete with sounds and smells that would forever haunt her. Thera knew death—she was not an innocent—she knew what it was to take another's life, but only recently had she understood death the way a mortal does. Death meant loss, and pain, and change that could not be undone or rewritten.

"Why?" she whispered to the fading sun, but it was a question that she already knew the answer to. "All dynasties fall," Bron had told her, "and the reasons are nearly all the same. Power. Deception. Greed. These things will destroy your father as they destroyed all that ruled before him."

It was now time for a new dynasty to form, and as Thera glanced out across the darkened sea, she promised that her father's usurper would receive the same fate.

Patience Bron had taught her.



January 14, 2011, Washington


"Happy Birthday."

Jacob Black stared blankly at the clock beside his bed, the numbers glaring back at him in a mockingly bright red. "Happy birthday," he whispered once again into the darkness. "Happy fucking birthday."

"Hmmmmm?" came the muffled sound of a feminine voice from under the covers. Jacob finally moved his eyes away from the clock that now read 12:01 and glanced down at the body beside him. All he could see was a mass of tangled blonde hair and a tiny bit of pale skin.

Her name was Abby, which Jacob only remembered because she happened to be a repeat offender. Most of the others didn't hang around long, generally one night, occasionally two, but Abby seemed to be a little more special.

"What time is it?" she asked in a groggy voice as her face finally became visible. Jacob took in the sight of her full lips before once again glancing at the clock.

"12:03," he replied.

"Do I need to leave?"

This is where the special part came in for Jacob. Abby understood the simplicity of their relationship. She didn't ask questions. She didn't make the moments after their breathing had quieted and their skin had cooled awkward or complicated. She just was.

Sure, it was apparent from the saddened looks that she sometimes gave him, and the softness of her kisses when they were together, that she would gladly accept more if he offered it, but she never pushed, and Jacob prayed that she never would.

"No," he finally answered, "you can stay a little longer." Abby smiled softly at his response and sunk back into the covers. Jacob couldn't help but watch her with an amused smirk.

Truly he needed to get rid of her before his father returned from his late night bar binge with Charlie Swan. The last thing he needed was another lecture about canoodling with a girl that he hadn't imprinted on—the pack did enough of that—but having her around was becoming kind of nice. She wasn't the one; he could see that without the help of mysterious soul mate finding powers. Still, she was funny and attractive and seemed to keep his mind from dwelling on his past failures.

That was something, right?

"Come here," Abby said softly as she wrapped her arms around Jacob's torso and urged him to move closer. He obliged, soon finding Abby's head resting on his chest as her fingers made lazy circles around the distinct muscles of his abdomen. Jacob watched her hand with interest, his mind trying to decide if he liked the feeling or if he wanted her to stop.

"Were you talking to yourself earlier?" she asked suddenly breaking his line of thought.

"Huh?" Jacob responded stupidly, his face immediately filling with heat. He didn't expect to have any personal conversations tonight. At this point Abby knew practically nothing about his life outside their intimate rendezvous, and he planned on keeping it that way. Not that knowing the date of his birthday gave her access to all of his thoughts, but one personal fact would ultimately lead to another, and another, and another…

"Were you talking to yourself?" Abby repeated with a smirk. Jacob stayed silent for a moment longer, his mind fumbling over what to say. The truth? As little and silly as it was?

"No," he finally sighed. He couldn't let this be more; wouldn't let this be more.

Abby watched the emotions run across Jacob's face, her heart sinking slightly upon the realization that nothing was going to change; at least not yet. With a soft sigh she pulled her body away from Jacob's and began to locate the bits and pieces of her clothes that were strewn carelessly around the small room. She knew the room well, the past had seen her pushed and sprawled over every inch of it; against the door and the wall; on top of the desk; near the dresser where framed images of the important people in Jacob's life looked back at her with their taunting smiles.

Was it worth it?

It was a question that Abby often asked herself. When she was away from Jacob the answer was always a blaring no, but as soon as her eyes took in the sight of his deep russet toned skin, and as soon as he smiled his lopsided grin, or touched her with his warm, strong hands, she couldn't stop the whispered yes that sat in the back of her mind from coming forward and controlling her actions.

But tonight she felt differently. Tonight he had loved her differently—desperately almost. Tonight she thought he would finally begin to show the pieces of himself that he kept so tightly hidden away, but as she continued to awkwardly pull on her clothes the yes that so loved to torture her was beginning to fall back into the crevices of her mind, and the logical no was quickly taking its place.

Jacob could tell by the look on Abby's face that her mind was fighting some sort of inner battle. As usual, she was pretending to not care that he had once again refused her access to any aspect of his personal life. She was strong and stoic, and as Jacob watched her quickly pull on her underwear and toss her bright pink bra into her purse, he couldn't help but speak out.

"I'm sorry."

Abby's body stilled momentarily. Jacob's voice was deep and warm and—damn it—there was that yes again. "Sorry for what?" she finally replied as she went back to locating her socks. Jacob didn't say anything in return, the silence becoming heavy and awkward for the first time since their relationship began. Abby's heart constricted at Jacob's lack of response. Do not cry. Do not cry.

Little did she know that Jacob was fighting his own internal battle. He didn't want her to be in pain—a part of him didn't even want her to leave just yet—but there was just so much she didn't know. So much she couldn't know. There was the whole supernatural 'I kind of turn into a huge wolf thing,' and the 'we aren't meant to be thing,' and the 'I still happen to have feelings for my best friend who happens to be a vampire thing.'

Fuck it.

"Abby, stop," Jacob said suddenly as he gracefully leapt from his bed and grabbed hold of her arms. "Look—I'm—I'm an asshole. I get that; I really do, but please just put all of your shit down an—"

Jacob's rant was cut short when the high pitched ring of his cell phone began to fill the air. Abby glanced down when strange vibrations tickled the edge of her foot. It was Jacob's phone, and even with her basic human senses, Abby could plainly see the name Bella blinking back at her. Abby wasn't stupid. She knew that Bella Cullen was one of the smiling faces that graced Jacob's dresser. She knew that Bella and Jacob had a past. Slowly Abby looked away from the phone and into Jacob's dark eyes.

Don't she silently pleaded with him. Please don't.

Neither would ever know what Jacob's choice would have been, for only seconds after the phone started ringing the distant, eerily frantic call of a wolf ripped through the air. Jacob's entire body went rigid at the sound.

"Jacob?" Abby questioned softly as her fingers grazed his burning forearm. Abby immediately retracted her hand. Jacob was always warmer than the average human, a fact that Abby simply accepted as a part of Jacob that she would never understand, but now his skin seemed to radiate heat.

"You need to leave," Jacob whispered through clenched teeth, his jaw tight and the muscles throughout his body shaking with tension.

"Jacob?" Abby questioned again.

"Leave." The tone of Jacob's voice sent chills throughout Abby's entire body. Everything about Jacob was now animalistic and wild. With fear creeping into her limbs, Abby quickly grabbed the remainder of her things and fled from Jacob's room. Don't cry, don't cry, she repeated to herself as she stumbled through the front door and out into the thick January snow.

Jacob's mind had already dismissed any feelings of guilt or regret as he watched Abby run to her car and quickly drive off. Once she was far enough away, Jacob ripped open the window to his room and dove into the cold night air. Paws hit the snow instead of feet, his senses immediately becoming overwhelmed by the thrill of being in wolf form.

Jacob! Seth's voice called into his mind. Thank God.

What's wrong? Jacob responded immediately. Bella tried calling me.

It's Nessie. She's gone.