by Noelle Alladania Meade
Series: Crucible of Change
Genre Urban Fantasy
Tags magic, werewolves, fantasy, contemporary fantasy, elves, urban fantasy, serial rapist, murder, alternative reality, parallel universe, online games, role-playing games, faires, friends are family, self-growth, bisexual, lesbian
Release July 22, 2015
Editor Christine I. Speakman
Line Editor Nancy Canu
Cover Designer Celairen
Global apocalypse never felt so good.
Olivia almost has the perfect life. She almost has a job. She almost has a boyfriend. She almost has a future.
It’s a good thing she has friends.
On a sunny day in June, the entire world steps sideways into a new reality—out of this chaos, almost a third of the human population find themselves transformed into Elves, Dwarves, Goblins, and Trolls. Olivia is now a Dark Elf mage, and her new girlfriend is one sexy kitty.
With magic, however, come monsters, and things that draw blood in the night— and now a werewolf is carving a path of pain and terror through the park next to Olivia’s home. The old Olivia would have been hiding under her sister’s bed.
The new Olivia is going hunting.
Adversity is the forge of the soul. For Olivia, today is Forging Day.
I was having a bad dream that I fell into a campfire and my arm was on fire, and then I woke up the rest of the way and it felt much worse. Somehow, I’d ended up on the ground. I was cold and wet, and Berto was doing something excruciating to my arm. “Hold still Olivia. I’m almost done.”
It was still dark, so I couldn’t have been out that long. “Hey Olivia, you gonna make a habit of fainting now? The Dark Elves, they gonna kick you out of the club.” Korembi’s upside-down face appeared, his hands on my shoulders keeping me pinned while Berto worked.
There seemed to be a lot more people gathered around, talking in low voices. “Seth had the sense to come get us when you passed out,” Kat murmured, her whiskers tickling my ear. “We were already discussing things with Korembi when he showed up, so we moved everyone down here.” She kissed my forehead and she felt all soft and furry. “Stop scaring me like that! You’ve only been a Dark Elf for a couple of hours and you’ve nearly been killed twice now.”
Dark Elves were supposed to be tough, at least according to all of the stories I’d read and games I’d played. Clearly I was doing it wrong.
Mike was wrapped in a blanket near the campfire and drinking from a mug while Wendy hovered over him. Of the people that made it to Wendy’s campsite, Mike and I seemed to have suffered the worst injuries so far. A fairly steady stream of vehicles was crunching down the gravel roads, though.
Korembi helped me into a chair, and Berto used some kind of sling and strap to bind my injured left arm tightly to my chest. As soon as I was settled, Kat produced a mug of faintly steaming beef broth with a slight medicinal flavor. She held the mug for me while I drank.
“The cities may be dangerous, but we can’t stay here,” said Korembi. “I don’t think we can just drive off into the dark and hope for the best, either. Razaini and I, we feel the wild speak to us. We say wait here for now, and let us do some scouting.”
Mikah spoke from somewhere behind me. “No one should be going off alone right now.”
“We not be going alone, mon. I feel—we feel— our spirit animals under the skin, scratching to get out. We stay here, with the rest of you guarding us, and send our spirit animals to have a look around.”
It sounded crazy, but given everything we’d seen tonight, it actually seemed like a halfway decent plan. It wasn’t like I had any better ideas.
They sketched out a circle in the dirt, off to the side from the camp fire. Sitting cross-legged inside the circle, facing each other, Razaini and Korembi lit two incense sticks, standing them up in the ground. Their eyes closed and they swayed together, chanting in a language I couldn’t understand. A ghost raptor burst free from Korembi and took off running impossibly fast to the south. A pterodactyl flew from Razaini, winging skyward to the north.
The other Trolls stared at them. They looked as surprised as we were. “Wonder how long this is going to take?” asked one of them.
“Who knows? As long we’re hanging out together, how about some introductions?” said one of the women. “I’m Sonya, but I go by Soni. This lug here is my boyfriend, Wonu, or Frank as he’s known in the mundane world of academia.” She pointed. “That’s Zonu—John—and Saeazi—Stacy.” They all waved. “Last, but not least, there’s Huka—Henry—and Talju—May. None of us know how she puts up with him—those crazy kids.”
Sonya started in on a story about last year’s dig and someone getting stranded in a porta-john, and I faded out. I must have slept again a little, because next thing I knew, Kat was urging me to wake up. “They’re back.”
They both looked exhilarated, but pale under their greenish skin. “Amazing, mon. Amazing. The spirits, they be everywhere.”
Razaini spoke first. “Sorry kids, but north is no good. The snow gates were closed, and I saw a sign that said Humans Only. I saw ranchers with shotguns, and more wolves than you could possibly imagine. The crazy thing was that with a lot of the wolves, I could see right through them—but that didn’t stop them from attacking things. Spirit or not, they were drawing blood.”
Korembi hugged her a moment, and cleared his throat. “I think we can still get south. We can reach the main road and avoid town for quite a ways.”
“Please come with us,” Mikah said. “There’s plenty of room at our house in Denver. I called a friend already and the place is still secure. If we can get there, we’ll be safe for now.”
The rest of the Trolls looked expectantly to Korembi and Razaini. Korembi nodded and answered. “We be happy to accept, mon.”
Wendy said, “My sister has a ranch out east. We’re going to try and reach her place. Berto, thank you. I don’t know what we would have done without you.” She went over and gave him a hug. Mike smiled weakly.
“I’m glad I was able to help.” Berto hugged her back. “Mike, you should be okay for now, but you’ll still want to see a regular doctor as soon as you can. I suggest you take the creature’s body with you, just in case they need to test it for anything.”