Kitsune Chronicles 3
A power awakening within is tearing him apart.
All Sebastian ever wanted was a place to call home. Bound to Liam, his fated mate, and nestled in the center of a werewolf pack, he’s found one. However, opening portals filled with monsters in his sleep, Sebastian’s power is a wild thing he’s unable to control. And it’s slowly destroying him.
He never asked to be part fae, or for any of their magic. Now something dark is creeping through the pack bonds, bringing unrest and chaos. Desperate to find a safe way to release the churning well of power inside Seb, the pair venture into Underhill, the abandoned land of the fae.
Only Underhill is on the verge of collapsing. It’s a race against time to harness the power of the kitsune and find a way home, or risk being devoured by a dying world.
- 2 To Be Read lists
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Demisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 36-45
Tropes: Alpha Character, Fated Mates / Soul Mates, Interracial Relationship
Word Count: 107000
Setting: United States, Washington State, Maple Falls
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Dreams weren’t supposed to smell like death.
The late fall, early winter thunderstorms dropping buckets of rain and shaking the house with thunder were messing with my sleep. The few hours of sleep I got were broken up by night terror level adventures through ghoul infested forests. This time stench and all.
And wasn’t that an odd dream to have? Ghouls didn’t gather in forests. They found battlefields strewn with bodies, or grave‐ yards full of fresh graves to sustain them. Unless a serial killer had moved into the forest and been adding bodies daily, the ghouls were out of place.READ MORE
Each time I slept, I raced through a maze of trees, running in my sleep, hard enough that Liam, my mate, said my heart actually pounded and my breathing labored. He was getting as little sleep as I was, mostly because he tried to wake me when the dreams began. Which meant he was on high alert, even while sleeping himself.
Tonight’s dreams began the same. Only Liam had pack busi‐ ness to attend, so he hadn’t come to bed with me. Too exhausted to wait for him, and praying for a few hours of real rest, I’d taken myself to my camper which was parked several yards from Liam’s back door. Thinking that behind my wards, nestled in a space well-protected against most supernatural powers, maybe I’d sleep.
There were guards outside. I could feel them moving through the edges of the pack bonds. I was as safe and secure as I could be without Liam. I wasn’t certain my troubles were external. Some‐ thing inside me had been awoken recently. A kitsune most called it, some sort of magical fox creature with powers no one quite understood. However, I thought of it more as a demon—reckless, destructive, and uncontrollable.
I spent hours trying to meditate, to focus and control the energy. A chance meeting with some sort of earth elemental had locked it away. But it seemed to be a cage of ice, in which it continued to fight and demand a way free. Maybe that’s where the nightmares came from? The creature’s desire to be free. But wasn’t it a part of me?
Twice that evening, I’d already been awakened by disturbing dreams, reaching for Liam, but only finding the tie between us. His wolf, more than the human side of him. On the edge of sleep, his wolf tucked around me, inside my head, and felt real. His giant presence covered me with the warm thickness of fur and an almost purring like hum of vibration. Liam found it helped me fall asleep if he wrapped his wolf presence around me. He was much better at this mate bond thing than I was. But the wolf vanished when I dreamed, leaving me alone, afraid, and very lost. Running, always running.
The third time sleep drew me down, I’d been focusing on the wolf, imagining I was petting the thick dark fur of my mate and rolling his scent around me.
It began with comfort and that dark lull of unconsciousness that came fast and walloped with a hard hit of deep sleep. But something crept in. Cold and icy, sort of slithering on the edge of my senses. It tiptoed around, leaving a layer of sludge that felt thick and heavy. I even batted it away in my sleep, thinking maybe I was associating the blanket or the edge of my pillowcase with the odd sensation.
Although the sudden click in my brain that there might be a slug on me while I was in my camper had me jolting wide awake, swatting, and terrified. Yeah, I was kind of a baby when it came to slimy things. Snakes, slugs, fish, or the nasty wriggling selkies of a recent confrontation.
But I wasn’t in my camper, and the slime wasn’t from a bug. It was mud and rain. I landed back in the forest, on four fox paws rather than human feet. Not awake then, I thought. One of those dreams where I thought I woke up, but had only shifted forms.
And this time I was fox rather than kitsune; the tiny red fox most wouldn’t glance twice at, a predator, yet still I felt small. Alone again, I looked around for the wolf, but was battered by rain, like I’d gotten myself outside. I really hoped the nightmares hadn’t turned into sleepwalking.
The chill of the icy downpour made me shiver despite my thick coat of fur. It seemed to reach all the way inside, carving a frigid path echoing that ooze inside of me. It was an unnerving feeling I couldn’t shake. I tried to clear my head and focus.
The smell of rain deadened my senses to everything else, pounding down hard enough to almost hurt, but there was no shelter in sight. Trees too far apart, canopy above not thick enough, and no structures or fallen trunks to hide beneath. I started off slowly, even though my heart was already racing. Exploring cautiously, trying to rationalize the fear that filled my gut with apprehension.
Darkness and rain left the forest empty, or so it seemed. No darting squirrels or birds to sing. Everything hiding from the sheets of water pouring between the trees. Then I caught a whiff of something not kosher, a foul odor of stuff newly decayed and rotting; then a flash of white. Not like a sheet or any cloth, more the flash of graying, dead flesh weaving through the trees. I didn’t need to see the razor-sharp teeth and talons, to know what it was. A ghoul.
Fucking hell. Flashes of gray all around now, darting around the trees, like they were surrounding me. My heart sped up, and the fox reacted before my human brain could catch up. The animal part of me, even as much as everyone liked to believe I was always human in thought, acted like any animal would with the looming prospect of being cornered.
It was a racing zip as always, familiar now after the endless nightmares. Like I was running, not away from them but being pulled toward something. The fox assured me we were running away. Ghoul equaled death and not in a fun way. I let the fox have control.
The deluge of rain couldn’t muffle the chase now. The ghouls ripped through the woods behind me, nails in tree trunks sounding like an axe grinding through the wood, their snarls more guttural and wet, unlike any other animal I’d ever heard. The worst of the rain made it damn near impossible to see and the ground slick with mud. Several times I slid sideways, fumbling to keep my feet, twice running into a tree with enough speed and stinging force to spin me off track. The ghouls were catching up.
Ghouls didn’t normally have that sort of dexterity. The way they curved around trees, some even climbing up the sides to try to launch themselves from overhead, was unlike anything I’d seen them ever do in the past. Ghouls were ground creatures, living and breeding in the dirt, burrowing into the earth like the most terrifying moles you’d ever imagined.
The modern world caught glimpses of them from time to time, a snapshot on a security camera or a shaky camera phone. People named it “the Rake”. I’d seen enough of the real thing to know what the pictures captured a glimpse of. Had I ever encountered a pack of them this large?
No. Five maybe, but I could hear over a dozen of them. Maybe more. It was hard to tell from the rain and the echoing of the sound through the forest, even muted as it was.
One jumped into my path in a display of horrific, emaciated limbs, almost humanoid, but a face like something out of a tabloid with a shrieking “Bat Boy” scrawled across the cover. I didn’t need moonlight to see teeth like a saw blade, or a break in the rain to smell the death on its breath lambasting me as it screamed and took a swipe.
I swerved, rolling low, under its reach and tumbling down the side of an embankment I hadn’t seen. The mud made it less graceful than I’d intended, and the second my paws touched the bottom, I burst forward again.
Blood pounded in my ears, becoming a distraction, and deafening me to their proximity. But I kept moving, sucking in air with labored breath and struggling to fill my overworked lungs. My side ached like someone had shoved a hot dagger into it. I didn’t have the stamina I used to. How was that possible when I hadn’t even been off the road all that long?
Again, I felt a tug of direction, shifting my aim a little to match, and realized I wasn’t running from the ghouls so much as they were chasing where I ran. What was I headed for? Why was I running in the opposite direction from home? Up a hill was not home, but I knew if I turned around, I’d be faced with ghouls and a sense that I was going the wrong way. Was this a replay of what had happened only a few weeks prior? Some mesh of the Wild Hunt chasing me, turned ghouls?
What the hell?
Usually, I’d have woken by now. The pounding of my heart and labored breath would have had Liam shaking me awake. Or even one of the pack. But I was alone in the camper that no one but Robin had unlimited access to. Not even Liam. Would Robin wake me? I hadn’t seen him in the camper before I’d curled up to sleep. The fae puck in cat form often sat on top of the shelves, fridge, or even in my bed. Hard to miss so I didn’t think he’d been there.
A stark bit of fear rolled through me. What if I was stuck here, dreaming, until someone came? What if Liam couldn’t get in? What if Robin never returned from wherever he went?
None of this felt like a dream. The rain on my skin, a bit too real, fear nearly bursting my heart, and body strained beyond capacity. If it was a dream, it was a lethal one.
The hill I was running up suddenly ended in a sheer cliff and I tried to stop; sliding, limbs flailing. But the mud and rain weren’t having it. I slipped to the edge and over, nothing to grab at or even hook my tiny claws into.
Then I was falling. I somewhat expected it to last a while, like a lot of times in dreams, or do that abrupt wake-up jolt that happened sometimes when the world dropped out from under me in a dream. Only neither of those things happened.
First it was fast. One second I was falling, the next I was plunged into a river of some kind. Icy water rushed over my head. I tried to suck in air, but sputtered as a strong current pulled me down. The world spun, sort of as I imagined a washer might—swish-swash, swirl, roll— until I was unsure which way was up or down and was bursting with a need for air.
Black sparkles dotted my consciousness. Not my vision because I wasn’t even sure if my eyes were open. The surrounding water made it too hard to tell if it was real darkness or the back of my eyelids. Was that possible in a dream? To pass out while dreaming? Did that mean falling into another dream? Or something worse?
The rolling spin lifted me for half a second and I broke the surface, gasping for air, flailing like a mad thing, and was dragged back down by the current.
Twice more it happened, spun and dragged beneath the waves until bursting with a need for air, lifted briefly breaking the surface, and then I was slammed onto the bank. Walloped into a fallen tree with enough force to feel like it cracked a rib or two. The water rose again, not enough to pull me under, not as I gripped the tree, digging my claws in and clinging like my life depended on it.
It hurt to breathe, ribs aching, lungs stinging from being without air after running hard. It took me a few minutes to crawl up the side of the giant trunk, out of the water. Having never gotten this far in the dream before, I marveled at how incredibly real it felt. My fur was soaked with the icy dredges of the river; I couldn’t help but shiver.
A steep embankment beside the fallen tree appeared to be the only way out of the riverbed. At least I couldn’t hear the ghouls anymore and the rain had eased to a drizzle. I climbed up the narrow rock edge. Slick with water and mud, I slipped down the side of it twice before finding enough traction to pull myself to the top, where I lay panting, exhausted, wishing for sleep.
Was that possible in a dream? Odd that I hadn’t woken up yet. The strength of the smells. The sensation of cold and water on my skin. The pounding of my heart and strain of my lungs; all intensely real.
The area I rested on seemed to be a ledge of some kind. Part of the mountains perhaps? The river churned in a dizzying whirl below, overfilled from the constant rain, and deadly. I glanced back wondering how I’d survived it at all. But being stuck on a ledge wasn’t ideal either. I did not have the knife sharp claws of a werewolf and could not climb the side of a mountain like the comic book character Wolverine.
After a few minutes of rest and feeling weirdly like I had almost fallen asleep again, I forced myself to my feet and began to examine the ledge. There was a narrow path that led upward a bit. It was wide enough that it could have been some sort of animal trail. Near the end of the trail there was an open area in the side of the rock wall, like a narrow cave opening, but more a shield from the rain.
I paused for a moment, catching the whiff of death again. Had the ghouls caught up?
But it wasn’t the ghouls. A scattering of bones littered the ground around the opening, mostly animal—deer, rabbit, a bird or two. Something’s den maybe?
I tried to scent around the rain again. Was there a bear? I couldn’t sense any sort of movement. Bears could be pretty still, but the alcove didn’t seem large enough for one. And the only odor I caught was of death, not even a recent death, more the musty smell of rot.
Nudging forward carefully, I pawed at the mud-loosened mess near the alcove trying to find footing. A tumble of bones rolled toward me forcing me to jump back. A moment of oh gross and an internal horror movie scream flashed through my head as it clattered to a stop at my feet. For a second the rain pounded at the muddy heap, washing away the dirt; then there were fangs.
My heart flipped over in terror. An echo of a memory rolled through me, and the fox wanted to run again, though we had nowhere to go. Part of a skull stared back at me. Some bits of fur and flesh were still attached, keeping it in one piece, but not attached to a body at all. I remembered the fangs, though those nightmares had faded a little. The skull was almost as large as my entire fox form. Not a werewolf. A Hunt wolf.
I tried to remember back to that day. As far as I could recall, their remains had been burned to ash. At least the ones we’d found. What would one be doing here? Most of them had gone through a portal I had opened to Underhill. Including Apa.
The thought made me pause. A horrific idea, that maybe this was Apa, curled around me. Only he hadn’t been completely transformed. The other wolves had been converted by the magic of the fae into something monstrous. Not quite like the demon thing Apa could turn into. His demon seemed more like a giant bat, or emaciated vampire. While huge, black, more dog-like, and leaving ice trails in their wake, the Wild Hunt and my kitsune form had some similarities. Another unsettling thought.
I sucked in a deep breath, inhaling the smell of the creature’s rot. Not Apa. The scent underneath the bite of cold and bitter death was someone unfamiliar. Not Apa. A seed of hope awakened in my gut. Maybe he was still alive somewhere.
I crawled closer to the alcove, the sensation of ants creeping over my skin so abrupt, I leapt up and back trying to shake them off. But there were no ants. Only a faint ripple in the dark confines of the space along the cave wall. Not even a consistent one. Like some special effect from a sci-fi movie, it would wiggle and shift in one spot, then smooth over before finding another place; throughout the entire space of the alcove.
Those ants meant one thing—an open portal.
Did that mean Apa had come back through? Or that this portal was tethered to the land here? Were the other Hunt wolves back? Was I even dreaming anymore? I took a step toward the portal, wondering what would happen if I tried to cross. In a dream, would it drag me through for real?
Don’t even try it, I heard Liam’s voice loud and clear in my head. Not without me.
I’m dreaming, I told him, as if to explain I wasn’t really leaving him behind, just going where the dream led me.
No. He disagreed. Not a dream.
And I felt him closer now, as if he was physically crossing distance to get to me, our bond tightening. But I’d been dream‐ ing, in the trailer, safe from everything, even surrounded by pack guards. Was I really outside now? How and when had that happened?
Light appeared overhead, the sloshing rain still making it hard to see. But a single flashlight appeared, then several more, and I could make out Liam leaning over the top of the cliff face, careful, but searching, until his gaze fell on me.
My heart flipped over as all the flashlights were suddenly aimed in my direction. Not a dream.
“Stay there,” Liam instructed, his voice half muffled in the rain. “I’ll find a way down.” Down the cliff edge he meant, near the river that ran beside the mountain close to his home. How was that possible? I’d been sleeping.
I looked at the severed head lying a few feet away. A chill rolling through me as my mind recalled the past. The wolf, the ghouls, that icy slug I could still feel nestled inside, and the portal? All real?
The lights above moved around, the group searching for a way down, Liam’s frustration at not finding an easy path tugging at me. Because he was close, I could feel him in my head. Worried. Needing to check that I was unhurt. He sensed the ache in my ribs and something more... the death at my feet.
It might be Apa, I thought again, not sure if I was really sharing the thought with him or not. But the idea that I might be standing among his remains, having unknowingly left him here to die, broke my heart. I backed away, careful to hug the cliff wall rather than fall back in the water. I curled up into a little ball to wait for my mate. The pain building inside me was like a living thing. I lifted my muzzle to the sky and wailed.