Lethean Shroud

Between her shoulder blades, hairs prickled up her spine to the nape of her neck. Rayanna shuddered under the grizzled hunter’s glare and forced herself to sit in the unsteady rocker. “If I don’t know my story, how can I …” She hesitated, regretting the impulse to blurt her concern aloud.

“You wondering if you can trust me?” Reeve’s stubbled lip curled into a sneer. “I got no reason to trust you, neither. But one way or t’other, we’s both in this. Enemies or otherwise.”

“But we’ve never met before … have we?” She scanned the room for potential weapons. He shielded the rifle and poker at his back. A sheathed machete hung from its handle strap, but on the farthest wall from the exit. A shovel leaned against the corner near the door. Not much hope against the mountain man’s rifle, but she might have to make do.

“This is bigger’n the two of us, and goes back long before we was born. Don’t much matter whether you met an enemy you was bred to kill, does it?”

With a hiss and snap, the fire spat an ember at the back of Reeve’s neck. Without turning, he whipped his hand behind his head and caught the spark in his fist.

Rayanna gasped as he uncurled his fingers to reveal a glowing coal on his bare palm. “How? Doesn’t it–”

“Like all my folk afore me, I’s forged in fires thousands of times hotter’n this.” He extended the blazing nugget toward her. “Take it.”

“What?”

“Need to see what you’re made of.”

She recoiled, shaking her head. “I don’t know what you are, but I’ve been burned enough for today.”

“That’s what perturbs me ’bout you.” Reeve grabbed her wrist and shoved the remnant of her sleeve to bare the scabbing on her arm. “Did you roll into the fire and get nothing but a few singed spots? Or did a little heat buckle your skin from a distance?” He dropped her hand. “You. Don’t. Remember. Or so you say.”

The ember’s glow waned. He breathed as if blowing a kiss onto the surface, but the tiny coal crumbled to dust. “Guess I’ll have to pluck another’n out.”

“Wait.” Rayanna bit the inside of her cheek as he arched a furry brow. Stall him. Somehow. “You were gonna tell me what all this is about, right? Can’t you do the fire test afterward?”

“Seem awful spooked to be one of my kind.” He studied her a moment, sweeping his narrow gaze head-to-toe. With a pat onto his rifle stock, he concluded, “But you ain’t going nowheres. Might as well see what the tale brings out. Best to kill a lychan suffering the truth of its foul nature.”

“Lychan?” She scoffed. “Like a werewolf?”

“Hmph.” He folded his arms and spat at the flames, sending up a shower of sparks. “Not like any of the fairytales you heard.”

 

*** TO BE CONTINUED ***

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