Awakening the Fire - By Ally Shields

Chapter One

The crickets stilled. Ari paused to scan the shadows in the sudden silence, looking for the source of the magic vibrating in the air. Maybe she was imagining things.

A chill scurried across her skin, and she rubbed her arms, setting off a jingle from her protective charms. No. No mistake.

Tense seconds passed as she waited. When the crickets started singing again, she knew that whatever had triggered her alarms had moved on. She took one last look around before shaking her head and setting out along the path. It was close to midnight, the end of her regular patrol of the city. The Goshen Park gates were chained, the trails quiet, the playgrounds deserted. So why did she feel so unsettled?

The faint buzz of her witch senses had started earlier, like ants marching across her neck. Her uneasiness had gained strength at nightfall, grown persistent when she entered the park. Ari scanned the thick undergrowth as she approached a heavily wooded area. A quarter moon filtered through the autumn foliage. An owl hooted. Tiny rodents scampered in the ground debris. Ordinary things.

A crunch of leaves broke the expected pattern, and her head snapped around, fingertips tingling this time. Two eyes glowed in the dark, and she froze as the gargoyle in the underbrush snarled at her. As she watched, the ancient, three-foot creature snatched a furry lump from the ground. Laboriously flapping his heavy wings, he took to the air, clutching a rabbit carcass in his talons. Ari let out a soft sigh, eased her stiff shoulders, and resumed her steady stride. Nothing but a successful evening hunt.

Nearing the center of Goshen Park, she picked up the pace again. She could almost feel the silken sheets of her bed. She passed the west fountain and noted the lights and water were off. Visiting hours for humans ended hours ago. Warning signs forbidding night access dotted gates and posts. Standing on the east edge of Riverdale’s Olde Town, the park provided a barrier between the modern, mostly human world, and the original city where the Otherworlders lived.

At night the park belonged to the predators of Olde Town.

Annoyed by her overactive sensitivity, Ari kicked a rock from the path and listened to it rattle across the pine needles. Had she misread the signs? Maybe this edgy feeling was about the witchcraft class in the morning. Explaining her job as a Guardian, what it was like to be a supernatural cop, was hard enough, but the young girls, usually visitors from the modern side of Riverdale, always asked about spells and potions. She could handle the curiosity, but the inevitable requests became tricky. Could she please, please, turn some girl’s ex-boyfriend into a cockroach? Maybe she could. Probably she could. The thought was interesting, even tempting, but Ari wasn’t about to admit it. Humans were already paranoid enough. Being new at the job didn’t make her stupid.

Ari jumped at the sudden scream that rang out on the still night air. She whipped around as she reached out with tendrils of her magic. The musky scent was unmistakable. Lukos anthropos. Werewolf. Propelled by adrenaline, she raced toward the sound. Another scream brought her to a moonlit clearing.

Ari skidded to a halt. A werewolf the size of a Great Dane, two hundred pounds of rippling muscle, crouched before a human teenage couple. The wolf’s russet tail lashed back and forth. The kids clung to the trunk of a giant oak. As the dark-haired teenager attempted to shield his girlfriend, the spunky blonde reached around him to swing a stick at the wolf.

A stick? Well, better than nothing, but not by much.

Ari extended her fingertips. A pale blue flame leaped from her fingers to the wolf’s left flank. He yipped in pain, the stink of singed fur filling the air. The creature swung his massive body around and charged.

Ari fired a second stun as the werewolf jumped into the air. The flame shot harmlessly past. With a split second to spare, she snatched the silver dagger from her waist sheath and swung it upward. The blade slid into the wolf’s side as the creature hit her, rolling them both to the ground. Warm blood oozed across her hand. Her nostrils filled with a rancid dog smell.

Undeterred by the knife wound, the wolf reared his head, striking with his long fangs as Ari jerked her head aside. His jaws snapped so close to her cheek that she felt the waft of his hot breath.

Ari braced one arm