"Rumors are running wild across the Internet and all social networks, and most indicate that innocent people were targeted in this bombing raid, because of faulty intelligence. No bodies have been found, but anonymous sources report that the community was occupied when the bombing began. Word from the Oval Office is that this is a tragedy and an embarrassment to the nation, as few thought to question Roberts’ methods of gathering intelligence, his spending habits or those he associated with."
"Old news," Winkler growled as he hit the remote button to turn off the television. He’d moved back to his home between Denton and Dallas, making Buck his temporary Second while Wayne’s training was accelerated. Winkler missed Trajan, Trace, Ace and Marco, but as no bodies were found when the bombing was stopped two months earlier, he had hopes that somewhere, they were still alive. He knew, too, that he might never see them again. Inexplicably, Trajan and Trace’s parents had also disappeared.
"You were right, kid," Winkler muttered, powering off his computer for the night. "You did have decisions to make that some people aren’t going to understand." He reached for the lamp, to turn it off as well when a cream-colored envelope dropped onto his desk.
"What the hell?" Winkler stared at the envelope for several seconds, a worried frown crossing his features. Finally, he reached out to pick it up. Two items dropped out. He studied the photograph, first, as a wounded sigh escaped his lips.
Lissa was richly dressed in an evening gown, while a jeweled tiara graced her head and sparkling diamonds hung from her ears. Two wide-shouldered men who looked to be Asian by birth escorted her. Both wore their hair in long, black braids.
"What the hell?" Winkler repeated as he unfolded the accompanying note. It held only two words.
* * *
For twenty years, I have lived with my loss. I go to work every day. I come home every day.
It is a derogatory term, employed by werewolves and shapeshifters. I’d been called that word when I was young. I hadn’t really known what it meant. I know its meaning all too well, now.
The werewolves and shifters whisper the story of Star Cove to their children. That one day, some were carried away. Nobody knows where or how, only that it happened. The story has become a tale of magic. Of hope. That somewhere, there’s a community of werewolves, shapeshifters and vampires, living together in peace and prosperity, watched over by an unassailable strength. At times, I hope the stories are true. That Sara is with them, living a happy existence. Afterward, I curse my shortsightedness. My inability to see past my weaknesses. My willingness to turn blindly away from the truth.
Randy tapped his pen against the pad of paper, considering what to write next. He sat at his desk inside a Chicago apartment—a far cry from the one he’d had when he’d first started working for the Chicago newspaper. Several journalism awards littered a shelf on the wall behind his desk. They meant nothing to him.
Randy dropped the pen as he gaped at Ashe. A much older Ashe than the one he’d last seen stood before him. A beautiful woman stood at Ashe’s side. Her long, black hair hung in waves about her shoulders and her piercing blue eyes offered Randy a smile filled with salvation.
"What—Ashe?" Randy could barely form a coherent thought.
"Randy, this is Kalia," Ashe introduced his companion.
"Uh, hello," Randy scooted his chair back and held out a hand. Kalia took it.
"Call me Kay," She said, her voice and demeanor quite shy.
"Kay," Randy nodded as politely as he could.
"Kay’s here to give you what you want," Ashe grinned. "I’m here to take you home."
"Sweetheart, do you see his lines? See the dormant werewolf lineage?" Ashe placed a protective hand on Kay’s shoulder.
"I see it," she nodded. "Don’t worry," she assured Randy, her blue eyes studiously examining the air around his head. "I can see past aura colors, to the lines making up those colors. I can change your aura lines. It won’t hurt. You’ll be werewolf in a few seconds." She nodded, attempting to calm his fears.
Randy gulped as the air around Kay began to glow. He felt heat wash through him. Something was happening. Painless lightning coursed through his body, and he wondered at it.
"There, all done." The light around Kay disappeared. "Don’t worry; I can only change things with people. I can’t Change What Was. That takes more power than I will ever have. Ashe says it saved him, once." She offered Randy a lovely smile.
"Now, Randall Smith, are you ready?" Ashe asked as his eyes darkened and stars filled their depths.
"Uh, I guess. Where are we going?"
* * *
Randy went to his knees in the groves the moment he saw Sara. She hadn’t aged a day since he’d last seen her, and he wrapped his arms around her waist and wept while she stroked his hair. I can only imagine that Trajan, Trace and the others will welcome him into their Pack come the full moon.
There was a time, though, when I almost turned rogue. Had been manipulated to do so. That would have been disastrous. If I hadn’t had help then, all might have been lost. The shining woman, too, has disappeared. None have seen her since I left Earth behind. She’d said she was from the future, but I have no idea how far that future might be.
Meanwhile, Ren and I have built a small city for the ones taken from Star Cove. No, there is no gulf—no beach here for them. We are on the Southern Continent of the planet known as Avendor, and we are surrounded by Gishi fruit groves. I have used my power to keep all inside the boundary of SouthStar Groves safe. As long as they stay here, they will never age. I have decreed it. I have that power.
I am Ashe Evans.
I am Ir’Indicti.
I am the Mighty Hand.