“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.
©2021 Dellani Oakes
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