Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 10

A noise woke him, and he felt a presence around him. Opening his eyes, he raised his head, sniffing, catching animal scent. It was strong, from all directions. His heightened senses told him wolf. Fully awake and alert, he moved slowly, so as not to startle the creatures. Six of them, both male and female, ringed round him, waiting.

“I mean you no harm, friends,” he spoke in a low, conversational tone. “Just passing through.”

The animals stirred, shifting uneasily. The lead male approached boldly, leaping to land at Raven’s feet. Snarling, the wolf drew near, his pack following him, pulling their circle closer. Fury, fueled by fear, buffeted against Raven’s consciousness. Unless he was very careful, he would die here. The alpha clearly felt that his territory had been invaded, and was taking action.

Raven drew a knife from his boot, moonlight glinted on the steel blade. “I don’t want to have to kill you,” he said softly, gazing into the silver-blue eyes of the alpha. “But I will. I’ll move along….” He reached for his bag, and the alpha struck.

Raven leaped aside, rolling to his feet, knife poised to attack. The alpha snarled, jumping at him again, jaw gaping, saliva dripping. Hungry for blood, he couldn’t control his rage. He landed on Raven’s shoulders, massive jaws struggling for the man’s throat.

Raven couldn’t bring the knife into play, but he could grapple. Glad the others hung back, he reached his left hand behind his head, grabbing the alpha by the scruff. The wolf growled, turning to bite Raven’s arm. The teeth sank in, drawing blood. The others, lured by the scent, growled, their circle closing even more.

Swinging the beast to the ground, Raven slashed at it, then stabbed. The alpha hung on. A younger male, with golden eyes, came near, ready to jump. Raven stabbed the alpha once more. This time, the knife stuck between ribs. As the second wolf sprung, Raven hurled the alpha’s body at it. Yelping, the youngster retreated.

Angry and in pain, Raven swung in a tight circle, roaring. Something twitched in his mouth. Roaring once more, he showed fangs far more impressive than theirs. With a ululating cry, he leaped at the golden eyed wolf, tearing into him. The blood was hot, musky, fresh. Although his victim struggled, Raven hung on, drinking hungrily. Casting the limp body aside, he raised his head, howling at the moon.

“I never drank wolf before,” he snarled at the pack. “But now I have a taste for you. Be gone, if you would live!”

Startled the wolves scattered, running into one another to escape. Raven watched, laughing. When they were gone, he drank again, draining both bodies. Dragging them away from camp, he dropped them in the woods. The wolves could do as they chose, with their dead.

Bathing in the crisp sea water, Raven washed the blood and gore from his body and clothing. His great coat was damaged, and his shirt torn at the throat. Having no needle and thread to mend them, he laid them on the rocks to dry.

Naked now, he took stock of his injuries, pleased to see they healed quickly, leaving no scars. At least he would nave no wounds to draw unwanted attention. Once the sun rose, his clothing dried quickly. He made a meal of trail food and tea, shook off the sand and dressed. On his way again, he whistled tunes from his youth, setting a brisk pace.

The remainder of his trip was uneventful. He arrived in town at dusk, stopping at a tavern for the night. Glad he’d been able to salvage his gold from the ship, as well as liberating that of the captain and passengers, he was well healed, and could eat a good meal. When he registered for his room, he asked the innkeeper for directions to the docks.

The man, who was about his age, gave him polite instructions. “Ain’t safe for a gentleman like you, this time of night, sir. Strange doings at the docks, this hour.”

“How so?”

The man looked furtive and leaned across the bar. “It’s said the dead walk at night, sir.”

“Surely that’s an exaggeration.”

“Not seen it myself, but customers talk! I’m doing a bang up business these days, as I’m the first establishment outside their territory. The tales I’ve heard, would fair turn your hair white!”

“My thanks, friend.” Raven turned to go, then faced the barman again. “Is there a silver smith about?”

“Three doors down. He opens at six o’clock.”

“Thank you,” Raven slid a coin to the man.

“Do you require anything else? A bath, perhaps? Laundry?”

“First, a clothier, if one is still open at this hour. Then a bath.”

“As it happens, my lady wife is the finest seamstress in these parts. What do you require?”

“A suit, shirt, linens. And my coat mended.”

“Not a problem, sir. this way.” He raised a portion of the bar, guiding Raven through to a comfortable room. A warm fire crackled and danced in the hearth. A pretty woman, stout with pregnancy, smiled at them.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 9

“My soul is in no jeopardy, but thank you.”

Micah grabbed his arm in an iron, unshakable grip. He turned Raven so they met eye to eye. “Hear me well, Boy. This is not a good thing. Nor is it a small, inconsequential one. You are a human, turned werewolf, who has now had vampire blood. I don’t know of another man who’s had the same—and lived.”

“What?” Raven shook off Micah’s hand. “Explain.”

“Our kind,” he pointed to himself and Payter. “We age eventually, though much more slowly than humans. You’d not know to look at me that I’m over a hundred, and Payter’s in his eighties. Some of the more vain decided to approach a vampire of their acquaintance. Asked for a blood exchange—some vamps fancy our blood, though many disdain it.”

“They like pure were blood more than shifter,” Payter said. “But the results are similar for them. They like to be able to shift, and not all of them have that power.”

Raven nodded, completely out of his depth. His knowledge, heretofore, of werewolves and vampires had been myths and legends—horror stories told to frighten children into behaving. Never, in his wildest dreams, had he thought such creatures were real. He said as much to his friends.

“This is hard for me to credit,” Raven muttered. “Though I stand here, a man who has changed with the moon’s pull. And now, you think me vampire, too?”

“Hard to say,” Micah sniffed him. “But you don’t smell pure blooded were-kind anymore. There’s another scent, earthy…. And death, though not dead. Can’t explain it. But the proof is in the pudding. If you don’t change tomorrow night, we’ll know there’s something amiss.”

“Why wouldn’t I change?”

“As a vampire, you are able to control how you change, and when. Handy, if you live in town. But the success of such a transformation can be—risky.”

“What do vampires get from werewolves?”

“The ability to shift their shape. They are limited to things like wolves or bats, but some can even transform into birds—like vultures. Things that hunt and kill. It makes them more adaptable. For us, we have more freedom, not subject entirely to the moon’s call—though that might not all go away. Can’t say for certain. Everything I know is rumor. But we become ageless. That of itself is enough to make people take the risk. If she succeeded, you are immortal. If she didn’t….”

“I’ll die horribly tomorrow night?”

“Probably. We never know for certain, until you make the change.”

“And if I am both were and vampire?”

“Then we’ll take action from there.”

“Action?” That sounded ominous.

“You’ll have no home with us,” Payter said. “You are our friend, but the vampire kind have always subjugated our kind. Though you might not want to, you would do so, after a time.”

“You’d always be welcome to visit,” Micah added kindly. “But you’d have to find another home.”

Sudden, deep sorrow filled Raven. He had, for the first time in his life, found a place he’d belonged. It wasn’t something that he’d ever had before. He’d been part of things, like the ship’s crew or the army, but had always been set apart. Finding Micah and Payter had been a great joy. Even finding that he was a werewolf had, strangely, pleased him. He’d felt at home the short time he’d been with these men. Now, because of something beyond his control, he was on the outside again. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. Sometime in his youth? But he wanted to now.

The day passed with each man lost in his own thoughts. The following day was much the same, though all men could feel the moon’s tug. Raven’s stomach curled in knots as dusk approached. He and his friends took their refuge in the cave, making a simple meal as they waited for the moon to rise.

Raven could sense when Luna made her upward voyage. His skin tingled, not unpleasantly, and things looked and smelled different. His friends doffed their clothing, folding it neatly before going outside. He did the same, following them to a grove. The sky above was clear, allowing the light of the moon to touch them for the first time. The silver blue bathed their skin, illuminating each hair.

Payter grunted, falling on all fours. Micah leaned over, placing his hands on the ground as his body shivered. Hair sprouted on both men, covering them, as their limbs changed shape and configuration. All Raven felt was a wild elation, a trembling of joy, that filled him to the brim, spilling over into the night. The moonlight still tugged at him, but he didn’t feel the compulsion to change. Instead, he felt refreshed by its silky rays.

Their transformation complete, his friends moved away from him, distancing themselves. Ashamed and disappointed, Raven lowered his head, walking back to the cave. He dressed, returning to the hut, gathering his belongings. He left a note, thanking them for their generosity, and set off—once more alone.

The salt laden wind whipped in off the water, blowing his black locks around his head. His coat billowed around him like a storm cloud. He walked far into the night, before deciding to stop. Though he wasn’t tired, or particularly hungry, he found a pretty cove along the coast, and wanted to enjoy it for a time. Building a fire, he cooked a simple meal, ending with an herbal tea his friends had given him. Settling in for the night, he lay with his head on his pack, his great coat wrapped around him. Lulled by the wind and waves, he fell into a dreamless sleep.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 8

“Do I have to worry if I’m—with a woman?”

Micah and Payter frowned.

“Meaning?” Payter shook his head.

“Will I harm her? Lose control? With Osceola, I bit and fed off her when we had our romps. I don’t want to kill a woman by mistake.”

“Then keep it to yourself,” Micah warned. “Unless you’re sure you won’t be tempted, then don’t bed anyone. You’ve been without before, you’ll be without again.”

“How do you two manage? If you don’t mind my asking?”

Payter and Micah exchanged a look.

Huffing into his beard, Micah spread his hands. “There are women among my people who are more than willing to accommodate us. We’re strong, smart, passably good looking. They particularly like Payter, considering all his attributes are proportional.”

The big man blushed, chuckling softly. Raven eyed Payter with a critical gaze.

“Strewth, Payter! If that’s so, there is no justice in this world, whatsoever.”

Micah sneered. “Don’t I know.” Shaking his head, he sipped his wine.

“I’m for bed,” Raven said. “Thank you both. I value your advice and I shall follow it.”

“Tomorrow, we’ll make a plan for what you can do while in town,” Payter said, yawning. “I survived it. You can, too.”

“Thank you.”

They all bedded down for the night. Raven’s dreams were wild and chaotic. His memory kept changing, adding details. He had no idea what was real and what was false. Waking with a start, he got up and dressed. It was the darkest hour before daylight, and everything was still. The waxing moon glittered on the low waves of the ebbing tide. Walking barefoot down the sand, Raven stared at the starry sky, wishing he knew more about himself. Osceola had told him a lot, but there were things she didn’t know, couldn’t possibly even imagine. No one, who was not in his particular situation, could ever understand what he was going through. Not even his friends. Sure, they were both shifters, but they weren’t werewolves, a different animal entirely.

Sitting on the sand, he watched the nightly dance of the sea creatures who lived along the edge of the water. He inhaled the salty air, watching the rippling waves break and crash against the shore. It was quite hypnotic. Soon, the sound and movement lulled him into a stupor. He imagined he saw a woman walking across the surface of the sea, coming toward him. He couldn’t see her face, but he recognized her figure. There was no woman built like she—voluptuous, majestic.

“Osceola….” He rose, holding out his hands to her, but she faded. With a start, he woke, not even knowing he’d been asleep. He might have thought he was dreaming, but he saw her footprints on the sand.

His throat hurt as it had after the beast bit him. Running his fingers over it, he felt welts as he had after Osceola fed off him. Had she been here, drunk her fill and left? How? And why? Rising slowly, he made his way quietly to the cottage, lying down on his palette once more. He slept heavily until full light, then the noises of his house mates woke him.

“I had an odd dream,” he said without preamble. “I dreamt Osceola came to me.”

“And?” Payter wanted to know details.

“And…. I don’t know. I think she did. I think she fed.”

Micah grabbed the collar of Raven’s shirt, yanking it aside. Running stubby fingers over his friend’s skin, he frowned deeply.

“Aye. Something bit you. Wasn’t human. Wasn’t shifter, or were-kind. Did you feed off one another?”

Raven was slightly embarrassed by the question. Unlike sex, which was normal and spoken of between men, being bitten and sharing blood, was something entirely more intimate. Ducking his head, he nodded slightly.

Micah rapped him upside the head. “You daft bugger! Don’t you realize she is probably a vampire?”

“Then why would you send me to her?”

“You needed answers. Did she give you them?”

“Yes, she did. For the price of taking her to bed. Once for each question. I had—many—questions.” He smirked, tilting one eyebrow as he walked across the sand toward the water.

Micah muttered and grumbled. “She only made me do chores. Wouldn’t have been unhappy to bed the wench, but would have been a danger.”

“Danger adds to the allure,” Raven said, proud of himself. “And so what if she bit me? No harm done? I’m still me.”

“But you fed from her,” Micah emphasized. “More than once. Don’t you feel different?”

“Not especially.” He shrugged, shaking his head.

“You mark my words, this is not a good thing, Raven Willoughby. Not a good thing at all. I’ll pray for your soul, my friend.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 7

“You’ve been gone through the winter and into the spring!” Micah bellowed. “We were sure she’d killed and eaten you. Are you fit? Are you well?”

“I’m perfectly fine. Better than fine, he lady has an appetite unequaled….” His voice drifted off as he watched his friends.

“When you didn’t come back, we went looking for you,” Micah growled. Though he’d said they wouldn’t. “We couldn’t find her lair, though we were up the coast three days or more, and back down. No sign of you or her. Where have you been, nigh on four months?”

“With her. Eating, drinking, making love.” He paused, squinting at the shorter man. “Four months? You’re sure?”

“Positive. One of the mildest winter’s we’ve had, but still here and gone. You came at winter’s start and here it is spring.”

“My business!” Raven moaned. “My ships! They’ll think I’m dead. What’s become of my venture. My money!” Grasping his hair, he paced the land, bemoaning his fate.

“That’s why you never love a witch,” Payter said. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that?”

“Excuse me,” Raven said. “But she died when I was seven. And before that, the subject of bedding ancient witches hadn’t come up. Until all this happened to me, I thought witches were a thing from fairy tales.”

Payter shrugged. “Still. Anyone should know that. Worst thing in the world, bedding a witch.”

“Best thing that ever happened to me,” Raven countered. “If I died today, I’d be a happy man. The things she did to me—weren’t human, decidedly immoral, and very likely illegal.” He chuckled earthily.

“She’ll have spoiled you for other women,” Micah snarled. “Won’t be the same, now.”

Raven nodded, having already come to that conclusion. But he had his memories of Osceola’s body writhing beneath him, the sound of her voice when she hit her climax, the rasp of her nails down his spine. Shaking himself, he found his focus.

“I must get to Maine. What’s the fastest way there?”

The two men looked at one another. “No fast way from here. Nearest port is Hopedale, about a day’s walk south. You might find a ship willing to take you aboard, but the full moon is coming in two days time, my lad. You’d do best to wait until that passes, and set out the day after,” Payter said.

“How far is it on foot, do you think?”

Micah looked up at the sky and sighted along the land as if he could see the way. “It’s a month’s walk, at least. The average man, which you aren’t, can make about twenty miles a day. You can put in at least twice that. As the crow flies….” He squinted into the sun, making mental calculations that lasted quite awhile. Raven had very nearly given up when his friend spoke again. “Say fourteen hundred miles, give or take the odd bit.”

“That’s a powerful amount of walking,” Payter said. “Best take a ship. Have you there in a span of days. Shouldn’t be hard to find one.”

“I have no money, though I did have plenty.”

Micah looked uncomfortable. “Well, when I thought you was dead, I might have—relieved you of the burden.”

Raven burst out laughing. “May I have it back, please?”

Chuckling, Micah wiped his hands on his pants. “All right, I suppose so. Will you spend the night?”

“I think I’d better stay until after the full moon, just to be safe. But how do I cope, Micah? I can’t live my life in hiding.”

“You go settle your affairs in Maine, then come back here and we’ll teach you what we know. Meantime, since you’ll be the next couple of nights, we give you enough to get you through the worst part.”

They finished working in the garden, the work going faster with Raven helping them. They talked long into the night, both Micah and Payter telling him things he would need to know, in order to survive on his own, in the city.

“The most important thing to remember—take off your clothing first,” Micah said, changing the subject suddenly. “Put it aside so you won’t destroy it.”

“Took me awhile to learn that,” Payter said with am embarrassed shrug. “After I lost my last pair of pants, I learned. Nothing like spending a day in the woods without breeches, to teach a man to be careful.”

“And find a place where you can be alone. The first shifts hurt like the very devil,” Micah said. “Now, it’s not so bad, more of a tugging and such. But your first times….” He shuddered. “Glad I don’t have to go back.”

“Do you worry that you’ll hurt people? Turn them into monsters like yourselves?”

The men exchanged a look.

“First off, we’re not monsters,” Micah explained, trying not to lose his temper. “We’re all just folk. But yes, we do worry, so we live out here. Being in the city, it was hard, especially on Payter. Me, I grew up with this, had family to teach me. He learned on his own, and that’s not easy for a boy. Hell, it’s not easy on a full grown man.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 6

“Do you know what I want?” she snapped.

“Yes.” At least he hoped he did.

“Do you know how? Or shall I kill you now?”

“I’ll do my best, my sultry vixen. Please, allow me to live, so I may pleasure you.” Nipping her body, he allowed his mouth to drift lower.

Osceola gasped, writhing beneath him, as he continued his erotic ministrations.

She tasted like wild honey and he lapped at her hungrily, savoring her sweetness. Waves of desire coursed through him, more powerful than any he had ever felt before. He wanted her more than he could possibly have imagined.

Unbidden, fangs descended, raking against her skin, leaving tiny drops of dark blue blood in their wake. It seemed hours that she writhed and bucked beneath him, howling her pleasure. Finally, with a mighty roar, he reached completion. He bit her throat, drinking deeply of her sweet, dark blood. She let him drink his fill before demanding blood of her own. She drank only a little while, smiling as she licked the redness from her dark lips.

Like a leech that is replete, he rolled off her, lying helplessly on his back. Osceola rolled to her side, the savaged skin of her throat already healing. Smiling, she let her fingers trail down his body.

“You did well, my handsome beast. You will love me again later. But first, I will answer a question.”

“What am I?” he asked, nuzzling her as his hands caressed her.

“You were a man—become werewolf. Stay with me but a while longer, and I will make more of you than ever you thought possible.”

Raven wasn’t sure what to say. He had so many questions, he found it difficult to formulate an answer.

“Will you stay, Raven Willoughby?”

“Do I have a choice? Where else can I go? How can I live?”

“I said one question, my bestial lover. You must earn another answer.”

“Gladly,” he said, applying himself eagerly to his task.

Raven lost track of how long he made love to the vexatious, voluptuous Osceola. It could have been hours, it might have been days. In that time, she fed him from her body, and she from his, even as he pleasured her. He had never felt so alive, so free, so completely himself—but much more. No longer quite human, though not full beast, he was a man from two walks of life. She told him many things about himself, not the least of which was how to cope with the pesky necessities of finding nourishment, to feed the creature within.

“You can eat real food, though as a beast you will probably want it raw. With the right direction, you will be able to control the brute at will, shifting when you like. It will take much trial and error, not something to embark upon alone, or you might find yourself stuck as an animal, with no way home.”

Raven shuddered when she said that. It sounded so horrible, to be shifted and trapped in a body that was not his own. “I will be careful, my darksome beauty.”

“We will sleep now,” she commanded.

Suddenly tired, Raven did as she bid him. When he woke, she was gone. Beside him lay a small bouquet of rowan berries, twigs and raven wings. Taking it up, he held it carefully, sensing that this was something important. Where his clothing had been, tattered and worn, lay a fine suit of dark blue and black. The boots were soft, black leather that caressed his feet. The entire suit, from the undergarments up, made his skin tingle deliciously, as if Osceola’s hands traveled his body with unerring familiarity.

Taking up the bouquet, he put it through the slit in his lapel, adjusting it so the feathers fanned upward. Pleased with his appearance, he took up his belongings to head back to the cottage. Knowing he would not see Osceola again, unless she wanted him to, he cast his thanks upon the waves and wind.

“It was both magical and sensual,” he said as he bowed toward the woods and sea. “My thanks for all you gave me, my sultry, nettlesome beauty. I carry the memory of you in my heart.” Blowing a kiss in each of the four winds, he set out.

The return trip seemed longer, and he wondered if somehow, Osceola had known he was coming, quickening his way. It took nearly a day and a half of walking to get back. The cottage looked much the same, the nip in the air had lessened. New buds bounced on the bushes and trees. Raven walked into the cottage, setting his bag on the table. Food bubbled in a pot over the fire. Lifting the lid, he gave it a stir before looking for his friends. He found them tending a small garden.

“Hello,” he said with a bright smile. “Did you miss me?”

Payter leaped to his feet, rushing to Raven. He lifted him, spinning the smaller man in a circle as he nearly crushed his ribs. Micah’s surprise translated itself into anger. Rushing at Raven, he rammed him in the belly with his shoulder.

“Where have you been?”

“With the Witch of Black Cove, of course. You sent me there but a week gone.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 5

The waves rolled and crashed along the shore, creating their own cadence. His feet picked up the rhythm as he swung along the sand. Whistling, he chose tunes from memory, filling the air with happy music. Around noon, he stopped for a rest, wondering why he wasn’t more tired. He’d put in half a day’s hard walking, and felt as fresh as when he’d started. Had the magic of the creature filled his blood, making him more than human? He felt stronger, faster, more capable. After a quick meal, he drank deeply from his water flask, and settled in for the remainder of his walk.

Near dusk, the shadows darkened. He knew it wasn’t the sun, more a lack of light, as if the land itself absorbed the radiance. Even the water looked gray, and finally wispy blackness snaked out, hungry tendrils in the rushing waves, as they ran up the shore. It wasn’t his imagination that the water reached for him, with blackened, twisted fingers. Hopping away, he went on full alert, the hairs on the back of his neck rising. A shadow dashed along the edge of the wood. He sensed, rather than saw, the woman emerge from the shade of a gnarled pine.

Turning to face her, he bowed. “Good evening, my lady. I am Raven Willoughby, and I seek the counsel of the mistress of this land. Do you know her?”

“I am she, who lives here,” she replied. Her voice was hazy like the gray mist rising from the water. “What do you want, Raven Willoughby?”

“I have heard that you are a wise woman,” Raven said, stroking her ego. “A lady with knowledge. I have undergone changes lately….”

She snorted, raising a shapely eyebrow. Raven couldn’t see details, but he was able to tell that her looks belied her age. If this woman was ancient, she wore it well. Then again, if she was a witch, the likelihood that she would have means to stay young, seemed logical. Keeping his mind open, his voice sincere, he told her his tale, asking once more for her help.

“You were bitten and left for dead by a werewolf?”

“That is my conclusion, my lady. I have no clear memory of the moment.”

Nodding, she smiled and he saw her wild, primal beauty for the first time. “Come closer, Raven Willoughby.”

“If it pleases you, mistress, I’ll stay right here. If I’m completely honest, ma’am, I’m a little worried….”

In a flash, she was in front of him, her hands on his broad shoulders, her hips brushing his, her lips a mere breath away from his own. She didn’t feel quite warm, nor did she feel cold. It was more as if there were an absence of heat. Her hands, dexterous and strong, caressed his body. Though by no means a virtuous man, he had been a few weeks on board the ship, without the company of a woman. Her touch warmed him, her beauty, sultry and dark like the woods she inhabited, enticed him.

“Tell me, Raven Willoughby, what would you do to get this information you need?” She laid her head on his shoulder.

“Anything the lady wishes, within reason,” he stipulated. “I won’t kill—myself, or anyone else.”

“Would you steal?” she asked, raking her nails down his back.

Raven felt her hands tug at his clothing. The pressure of her embrace increased.

“I would steal whatever is within my ability to do so.”

“Would you lie?”

“I would lie to all but you, my lady.”

“Would you bed me, Raven Willoughby?” She leered at him, her ebony eyes limitless. Her skin had a blueish, ashen hue. Despite that, she was the most beautiful woman Raven had ever seen.

“I would gladly bed you, my lady, were I assured that I would live through the experience, with all my parts in the same configuration.”

The Witch of Black Cove threw back her head, laughing loudly. Her lips were dark blueish black, her hair like soot in the rain. She was elegant, sensual, brutal and cruel. Raven knew that if she wanted to, she could rip him apart. She chose not to, more concerned with what she wanted him to do.

“Come,” she beckoned, leading him into the woods.

Not far from the shore, there was a secluded grove of trees, surrounding a small, dark glade. A comfortable bower stood in the middle of it. The woman led him to it, telling him to climb up. Hesitantly, he did so.

“What do I call you?” Raven asked. “I can’t call you Witch. That seems rude. Do you have a name I may call you?”

“You may call me Osceola.”

He rolled the word over his tongue, caressing it as he whispered it huskily. He sensed her shiver as he lowered his mouth to her throat. Osceola clutched his cheeks tightly, with one hand, nearly piercing them with her claw-like nails.

“If you fail to please me, Raven Willoughby, you won’t live to regret it.”

“I will do my best to please you, my beautiful, exceedingly dangerous, Osceola,” he purred.

Their clothing disappeared in a flash of magic. Raven rolled her onto her back. Sensing she wasn’t like human women he’d been with, he wondered what she would want in terms of foreplay. He was still deciding when Osceola made the decision for him. Taking his head, she guided him until his chin rested on her belly.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 4

“I’m full blooded Native,” he stated proudly. “My people have shifted shape for longer than they can remember. I can change as I wish, into any creature I wish. I like the boar best. Payter changes on the full moon only. And now you.” He shook his head. “What I can’t figure, is how the beast got loose and attacked. If he’s like me, he had control. If he was like Payter, he shouldn’t have changed when he did. Something set him off….” Shaking his head again, he shrugged. “I wish I knew. I suspected he’d gotten you. You smell different. But you don’t smell like a shifter, not exactly. Do you remember anything more about what happened?”

Raven closed his eyes, trying to relax. He cast back to the night, just over a week ago, when all hell had broken loose.

“I was sleeping in my berth, the sea was calm. Something grabbed me up…. There was a smell, of death. Whatever had woken me, lifted me from the bed, casting me aside.”

“Had it bitten you?” Payter asked, his dark eyes wide.

Raven closed his eyes once more, doing his best to remember. “I don’t—” His right hand flew to his throat. “Yes. He bit, savaging my throat. It hurt horribly, then he threw me aside. I don’t remember what happened after that. I woke later, to carnage. I hid myself in a compartment of the hold. But the creature found me. We fought. I killed it. And then I found the others….” He shuddered, groaning loudly as the memory became clear. “All of them dead, bodies shattered, some still bleeding. And—I fed.” He retched, gagging at the memory of the coppery flavored blood running down his throat. “Who am I now?” he pleaded with his friends. “What have I become?”

Payter patted his hand comfortingly. His silence offered no answers. Raven turned to Micah.

“I beseech you, what am I now?”

“You, my friend, are the stuff of nightmares. It’s no wonder you’ve healed quickly.”

“You speak in riddles, Micah, things I know not of. What have I become?” he repeated, grasping the other man’s shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Raven. I wish I could tell you more. I just don’t know.” He shook his head.

“Please tell me, Micah. What am I?”

“I’m not certain, Raven, but I think…. I believe you were bitten by a wolf-shifter. You, Raven Willoughby, are were-kind.”

“No!” Raven screamed, holding his head. He rocked back and forth, not wanting to believe, but knowing Micah spoke the truth. “No,” he groaned. “What shall I do? How can I live?”

“You can stay here with us,” Payter offered.

Micah stiffened, but said nothing to negate his words. Squirming, he settled more comfortably on his stool. “I may know someone who can tell you more. She is ages old and has seen much in her life. It’s possible she will help you.”

“The Witch of Black Cove?” Payter asked, wide eyed. “Really, brother? She’d as happily eat us, as help us.”

We’re not going,” Micah said. “She doesn’t take kindly to crowds—not of shifters. Though, she might not kill you,” he told Raven.

“Might? That’s not very comforting.”

“You haven’t much choice. You could die anyway. Or, if you don’t, do you really want to live as you are?”

Raven shrugged. “I don’t know. Please. Help me find this witch.”

Micah urged him outside, pointing up the coast. “Walk for a day in that direction. When you come to the black water, you’ll know you’re close. She lives nearby. Don’t worry about finding her. When you get close enough, she’ll find you.”

Raven shuddered, not liking the sound of that at all. “Is there any defense?”

“Cold steel and a steady hand.”

“I have both,” Raven declared. He retrieved his sword, belting it on. Filling his pack with food and fresh water, he bid farewell. “If I live, I’ll be back.”

“And if you don’t come back, don’t expect us to come looking,” Micah grumbled. “No one lives that she doesn’t want to. Better hope she likes you.”

Raven flashed a toothy, white smile, his blue eyes sparkled in his tanned face. Black hair wisped around his square jawed visiage. “Oh, she’ll like me. Not a woman alive as hasn’t.” Winking, he set off with a cocky swagger.

“Man’s dead where he stands,” Micah declared as he watched Raven walk away.

“Don’t be so sure. He killed a werewolf. If anyone can take on the Witch of Black Cove, it’s Raven Willoughby.”

The sun on his face felt good. Raven was a man of the outdoors. He hunted, fished, hiked in the hills around his home in Wales. Living in a seaport, he went out on his boat at every opportunity. He’d done a stint as a sailor, in his youth, serving as a cabin boy. Though he loved the sea, he hadn’t found ship life much to his liking, and had taken up the sword in His Majesty’s army at the age of sixteen. Having a fleet foot, steady hand and fearless nature of youth, he’d lived through many battles, often by sheer audacity. Now, at thirty-five, he was a businessman, with interests in America as well as the British Isles and Labrador. By any measure, he had lived a charmed life. Though it might not look like it to many, he felt his luck had held. The creature could have killed him. Instead, it was dead.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 3

“Then you’d best be heading on, as quick as may be,” Micah said. “That ship will fail to arrive and someone might come looking. You need to be away from here, and on your way.”

“He can’t leave yet,” Payter stated adamantly. “He’s not strong enough.”

Micah’s dark eyed gaze turned to Payter. His heavy jaw clenched, but he said nothing. The two men stared at one another for well over a minute. They seemed to communicate in silence, though their faces betrayed their emotions. Payter was stubborn, sticking up for Raven. Micah was just as stubbornly wanting him gone.

“When I am able to walk on my own, more than a step or two, I’ll leave gladly, putting this place far behind me. You have my word.”

“How do we know your word is good?” Micah demanded.

“You’ll have to trust me. If I betray your trust, you’ll kill me. Why would I risk that? I like my skin.”

Micah inclined his head. “You may stay, until you are well enough to leave. Not a moment more.” He stood, heading out the door. “Heal quickly,” he cast over his shoulder.

Raven watched him go, a smile tugging his lips. Micah was more growl and grumble than anything else. Though he knew Micah could kill him with ease, he sensed the other man would give him a small amount of leeway. He wasn’t a murderer, but he was a killer. It was a fine, distinct line, one he knew well. Raven read in Micah, what he saw in himself—a man who did what needed to be done, but tried his best to be fair about it.

Payter gave him a bowl of fish stew that was incredibly good. With another cup of herb laced wine, he settled down to sleep.

Two days passed. The weather was miserable, the sea rough. Raven was glad to be on dry land and not on a ship, pitching about on the water. He’d known it was a risk, traveling so late in the season, but messages from America had made it imperative that he leave immediately. Just his bad luck to be on a death ship. Even now, he was uncertain what had happened, but his dreams were tortured by wild, nightmare images. A man who wasn’t a man, teeth dripping blood—Raven’s blood—tearing at his skin.

That night, Raven lay in bed, the soft furs covering him. Glancing out the window, he saw the full moon. It called to him like a lover, asking him to join in a cosmic dance, older than the earth, ancient as the stars. Rising from bed, he dressed in his breeches and shirt. Soft boots shod his feet, and a warm cloak swirled around his shoulders. The cottage was silent. He’d expected to find Micah and Payter sleeping in the front room, but they were nowhere to be seen. Easing the door open, he drank in the moonlight, opening his arms to embrace it. Clouds skittered across the sky, but suddenly, the moon, in all her glory, shone fully in his face.

Sharp pain stabbed his chest. He could see his bones and muscles rolling and tumbling beneath his skin. A sound like a wounded animal, escaped his lips, seeming to rise from his toes and through his skin, ripped from his lungs with another surge of agony. Falling to his knees, he clawed at his clothing, shredding it in his desperation to remove the confining cloth. Another scream escaped him. And another. To his horror, his hands changed to paws, his forearms grew hairy, roped with thick muscles. His body shuddered and convulsed as he became something no longer human.

“What is happening to me!” he cried. But instead of his voice, it was a long, high, piercing howl of a wolf.

He heard a shuffling in the bushes behind him. A huge, black shape emerged, shambling toward him. Even in his new guise, Raven recognized Payter, who was a bear. Moments later, a wild hog joined them. This, he knew, was Micah.

“What’s happened?” he tried to say once more.

Micah and Payter nudged him with their snouts, guiding him away from the house and his pile of tattered clothing. Together, the three of them went to a cave in the woods. A fire crackled in a pit and two neat piles of folded clothing lay to one side. Settling on their bellies, the other two invited Raven to lie down. The warmth of the fire and the companionship of the other two, lulled him to sleep.

A sliver of morning light woke Raven. Cold and naked, he yawned and sat up. The piles of clothing were gone, the fire had been banked. A crudely printed note was scratched in the dirt on the cave floor: Fire out. House. An arrow indicated direction, for which he was grateful. He had no recollection of how he’d gotten here.

After smothering the fire, he headed back to the cottage by the sea. A wisp of smoke rose from the chimney, inviting him with the promise of warmth. He walked in the door to find Micah and Payter, fully clothed, preparing breakfast. A pile of his clothing, neatly mended, sat on a stool. He dressed before sitting down to talk.

“I was afraid of that,” Micah said as Raven took his seat.

“Afraid of what?”

“That it bit you. The wolf.”

“You knew? And didn’t tell me?”

“We had no way of being sure,” Payter said softly. “Without scars….” He pulled the neck of his shirt away, exposing a bite mark. “I was mauled by a bear as a lad. I turned the next full moon. I was eleven.”

“And you?” Raven turned to Micah.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 2

Payter shrugged expansively, his loose shirt straining across his massive chest and shoulders. “Because he’s Micah, and he hates everyone.” He chuckled softly.

“Even you?”

“He tolerates me, because I’m not a burden. He thinks you will be—inconvenient.”

“I promise that as soon as I’m able, I’ll move on. I’ve no intention of imposing on your hospitality any longer than I must.”

“I don’t mind. I like your company. Micah isn’t much of a talker. He says I talk too much. I do that, because he’s not one to communicate. But I think that a man should speak his mind.”

“Depends upon what he has to say,” the gruff, deep voice intoned from the front room. “If he’s only going to babble incoherently, why speak?”

Raven chuckled, nodding. “Much my way of thinking. Though I don’t mind the chatter,” he told Payter, whose face had fallen when he heard Micah. “A spot of conversation, between men, is a good thing.”

“I wondered if you’d ever wake,” Micah said, stepping into the room. He was nearly as wide as he was tall. Though not a large man, nor a fat one, he was broad of hip and shoulder. He filled the doorway, leaning against the jamb.

“How long have I been here?” Raven drank more of the wine, which Payter had offered him.

“This is your fourth day.”

“Thank you for saving me. I don’t know how to repay you.”

“By leaving, and forgetting you ever met me,” was the matter-of-fact reply. Micah moved somewhat aggressively toward the bed.

“I will do so as soon as I’m able. I don’t want to be a nuisance.”

“You’re already one,” Micah shot back. “But Payter would never forgive me for leaving a man to drown, so I pulled you out.”

“I’m sorry that I’m trouble for you,” Raven answered stiffly. “It wasn’t my intention.”

“Why were you on the ship?”

“What ship?” Raven evaded the question.

“The empty one, I found not far from where I yanked you from the surf. Did you think no one would see?”

“I hoped.” There was no reason to deny it.

“What happened?” Micah demanded. He sat on the floor near the bed, leaning forward intently. “There were signs of a battle, blood everywhere, several days old. More than one man could spill, and live.”

Raven told his story, leaving out no detail. He didn’t feel exactly comfortable with these men, but he saw no reason to lie. He felt sure that Micah would know if he tried to hide anything, so he didn’t bother trying. Payter leaned forward, hanging on every word. Micah sank into himself, frown deepening with each detail.

“And you’re sure he’s dead?”

“Positive. I cut off his head and threw it overboard.”

Micah nodded, grumbling to himself in a language Raven didn’t know.

“Good. Good. One less monster in this world.” He squinted up at Raven. “Did he bite you?”

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“Claw you? Injure you in any way?”

“I don’t know,” Raven replied. “I don’t remember details. Someone yanked me from bed, and then I fell unconscious. I didn’t wake again for several days. By which time, everyone else was dead.”

“How many?”

“I didn’t get an exact count. Perhaps thirty, between passengers and crew?”

“And their bodies?”

“Overboard. I didn’t want any awkward questions, if I were found and stopped.”

Micah nodded. “Excellent. Good on you for that. Otherwise, who knows what might have happened. Like a plague ship. Glad I burned it.”

“You did? Why?”

“Can you explain it?” Payter asked suddenly.

“Explain what?”

“Where it came from? Because we can’t. We raised the sails, set fire to it, and watched it head out to sea. What’s left, will now be at the bottom of the ocean.”

“Oh. Yes, that was wise. I didn’t think of that. I’m sorry.”

“What’s your name?” Payter queried.

“Raven Willoughby. I’m from Wales. I was on my way to America, by way of Labrador and Newfoundland. I have business interests here, and in Maine.”

The two men nodded.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 1

Welcome to 1883 Labrador. Raven Willoughby is a self-made man. Coming from nothing, he has a fleet of ships which he runs between England and America. Many of his interests are also based in Canada. On his way to Maine, he and his shipmates meet with misfortune.

Rough winds tossed the ship over roiling, tortured seas. Icy waves broke across the bow, bathing the wooden planks. Shimmering crystals hung from rope, rail and wheel, glittering in the feeble sunshine. Raven Willoughby stood his ground, clutching the ship’s wheel with both hands, guiding the vessel by pure tenacity and determination. Concentration lagged as the ship went nearly vertical, tipping into the deep trough and he was swept off his feet. The ropes lashing him to his post were the only thing that kept him from going overboard. Raven watched the nose rise once more, as he made the steep slope of the next wave, fighting his way back to the wheel. Upright once more, he clutched the slippery wood and prayed.

How had he come to this? Alone on this death ship? He had no clear memory. Sounds of violence had woken him, rough hands snatched him from his berth, tearing at his clothing, seeking…something. Cast aside, forgotten, near death, he’d fallen into a black stupor. When he woke, he and one man remained. The other fellow, full of evil intent, sought Raven’s death, but met an uneasy end at the tip of Raven’s sword. His foe downed, Raven cut off the monster’s head, pitching him overboard.

The other bodies had joined the creature, thrown in the frigid drink, the evidence of their deaths sinking with them to oblivion. Raven sought only to near land, so he could abandon the ship, and swim to freedom. That desire seemed unlikely, as the cold fingers of the ocean grasped his vessel once more. Encouraged by a slackening of the wind, he squinted at the horizon. Was that land? Had he found solace after all? Could he survive the near freezing waters of the Labrador Sea? He had to try. To remain on the ship when it made port, was suicide. How had one man, alone, lived when all others were dead? He had no explanation, no memory, of the events leading up to now. He remembered that horrible night, and waking up a day later, barricaded in the hold with death pounding at his door.

He recalled the stench of blood. The sound of the door bursting open, the sight of the figure, outlined with the halo of the one remaining lantern limning his body in a ruddy golden haze. Unarmed, he faced Raven. What he lacked in weaponry, he made up for in pure savagery. It was a miracle that Raven escaped with his life. A lucky feint, a mighty swing, and the creature fell. The blow hadn’t killed him. It was the final cut with a sword, severing his head from his unholy body, which had ended the creature’s life. Raven could not call it man. No. It was more, and less, than human. It was an unspeakable sight, one he hoped he’d eventually forget.

Raven had killed before. He was a soldier for many years. It was impossible to face opponents on the battlefield, and not take a life. But this—this was horrendous, though not as dreadful as those others who had died at the creature’s hand. Throats torn out, belly’s ripped apart. Men, women, children, their deaths horrific. All but Raven.

It was not his imagination. The storm had passed, the ship floated on a far gentler sea. There was enough momentum to bring it nearer land, where he could swim. If luck were with him, he wouldn’t freeze to death before he reached the Labrador coast. Packing a few things he might need, Raven swung as close to a deserted strip of sand as he could, and dove into the sea. The shock of the cold water took his breath. Gasping and gulping, he rose to the surface. Once he got his bearings, he set off for shore, swimming hard and fast, praying that the motion would keep him alive. He could feel his pulse slowing, his vision fading. His head dipped beneath the waves—once, twice. Strong hands lifted him, pulling him into a boat. It was nothing more than a skiff, bouncing in the rising tide, but it provided a measure of safety. The same hands searched him with skill before feeling for a pulse.

“Not dead after all?” a deep voice, slightly tinged with humor. “Good man. Brave man.” There was a pause as the oars rattled into position and the boat turned. “Fool. Poor, pretty fool.”

Waking untold hours later, Raven heard the crashing of the surf. He lay on a springy and aromatic mattress. Something warm and soft covered his body and he found that he was naked. Lying there, he realized he needed to seek the privy and made to rise. His head spun, his ears rang, and he collapsed on the bed with a quiet, pain filled groan.

A door creaked open and a tall, broad shouldered man walked in. His beard was thick and black, his skin dark and leathery. His piercing blue eyes seemed to have the perpetual squint Raven had often seen on sailors. The giant of a man smiled down at him.

“You’re awake.” It wasn’t the same voice he’d heard before. That one rumbled to the depths of the sea. This one was higher, lighter, despite the fellow’s size. “Hello there. I am Payter. My companion, Micah, pulled you from the water. He thought you were dead. But you aren’t. Isn’t that grand?”

“Grand,” Raven croaked.

Payter held a cup to his lips and Raven sipped strong, almost bitter, wine. He realized there were medicinal herbs in it, so he drank deeply, despite the taste.

“Let me help you. I imagine you need a visit.” He nodded to the far side of the small, low ceilinged room. There was a crudely fashioned door made of wooden slats, with a toggle latch.

“Yes.” He didn’t sound quite as bad, but still nothing like his former self.

The next few minutes didn’t bear thinking about afterward. The pain was excruciating, but he managed to relieve himself, getting to and from the privy with Payter’s help. Glad the commode was inside, he sank back onto the mattress.

“Where?” Raven gestured around him.

“The coast of Labrador. Micah found you while he was out fishing, and pulled you in.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank Micah. Though he’s already sorry he saved you.”

“Why?”

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