Hellbender - Dana Cameron

Chapter One

“Quarrel?” I whispered frantically, trying to get my bearings. “You there, my friend? I really could use some help here.”

I was rain-soaked to the bone, in a world of pain, and nowhere that I recognized, with my worst enemy, Jacob Buell, dazed and muttering quietly across the dark alley from me. It looked like Japan, and the train station across the street had a sign that said “Kanazawa.” I should have been in Boston; an instant ago, I had been there with my friends and Family, fighting the Order of Nicomedia, who had apparently started an all-too-public campaign to wipe out us Fangborn once and for all.

I should have been in Boston. Somehow I wasn’t.

There was nothing, just the pelting rain, the cool humidity, and the unfamiliar sounds of traffic in the street just beyond. Not a word from Quarrel. I’d never tried reaching out to him on my own before the first time I traveled to meet him; he’d always contacted me. Since the dragon’s “voice” usually threatened to dissolve my insides with its volume, I didn’t know whether he couldn’t hear me, didn’t want to answer, or couldn’t respond.

None of these were reassuring. I needed a friend. I needed to know where I was. And I needed to know what had happened to my powers—which had become pretty impressive, when I knew what I was doing. The flat stones of the bracelet mystically embedded in my right wrist looked dull and dead, and last I’d checked, the other elements, which had been gradually covering my body like jeweled armor, had vanished entirely.

I’d apparently done something so awful, my powers had been taken away. So terrible, a dragon had gotten frightened and fled from me.

The only thing I could think of was that the unseen Makers, who had been “inspecting” me just before I arrived here—had taken offense when I’d told them to fuck off with the riddles and tell me what they wanted, plain and simple.

Maybe dropping the F-bomb was going too far, but I’d had a pretty grueling day. I at least hoped it was still the same day, and that somehow, I’d find myself back in Boston before too long, fighting the Order and their revolting creations. I might be a werewolf, but my Fangborn Family—including vampires and oracles—were the good guys.

Actually, it had been a tough week, what with the jet-setting, the search for Fangborn artifacts, and their “integration” with me as they took over the surface of my body and enhanced and added to my werewolf powers. The discovery that my dead friend Sean really was dead, and that those artifacts were using my memories of him to communicate with me. The torture at the hands of Jacob Buell, who had accompanied me here, clinging to my leg and the knife that he’d stabbed me with. I didn’t think my transporting him, however accidentally, was going to improve our relationship. Basically since the self-described werewolf hunter was dedicated to eradicating my kind and using them for experiments.

Actually, looking back at it, the last couple of months had sucked pretty bad.

“Quarrel?” I tried again, still keeping my eyes and ears open for Buell. “It’s me, Zoe. Uh, the Hellbender, like you said?”

Still nothing. Calling the dragon with a name or title I didn’t know the meaning of made me feel like a dope. Werewolves can’t move through time and space, I’d thought. Not without a plane.

The stab wound in my right leg itched and hurt like hell, even as it healed far too slowly. I watched Buell closely, but he was worse off than I was; he should have been dead. It was possible that the Order’s chief scientist, Dr. Sebastian Porter, had given him some kind of synthetic Fangborn healing, derived from the Order’s experiments. I didn’t trust Buell as far as I could spit, not until I’d seen his head cut off and I’d buried him myself. Then put a big rock over him. Then nuked that, and jumped all over the little pieces.

Focus, Zoe . . .

I tried going to my mind-lab, the meta-space where I was doing research on the artifacts I’d accumulated. It looked like an archaeology lab, which was where I’d worked: black-topped work surfaces, desks, cabinets, a sink and hood. There were so many artifacts now, it would take me several lifetimes to understand them and what they could do. But no sign of the lab, no matter how hard I tried, and no sound from Sean.

Buell moaned