Tree-zy come, tree-zy go.

Cynder woke with a start, her heart pounding in time with her heavy breathing. She was overly warm and it wasn’t any surprise as she was in the middle of a cuddle pile on the community bed. Ember snored softly in her ear and she could feel the weight of one of Alex’s legs thrown over hers. Jet’s head lay on her stomach and her other leg was thrown over Anaru’s middle. Fog’s face was inches from hers, sleeping on her chest and she resisted the urge to lick his forehead. It was amazing how fast these people became family to her…but now…now they were just all too hot and she was too riled up to go back to sleep.

One of Fog’s eyes opened and Cynder mouthed “Morning” to him so she wouldn’t wake anyone else. Fog raised an eyebrow as he eyed the alarm clock in the far corner. It was only half past midnight. He sighed and laid his head back on her chest. She huffed a little, successfully getting Jet to roll off her stomach. A little wiggle of her leg and Alex was also disengaged without being woken. Fog laid his head heavier into her chest and glared at her with the one eye she could see again.

Her crystal blue eyes stared back at him. “I have to pee.” She mouthed, and she knew he didn’t believe her…but she needed up to walk off the tension that was built inside before it stirred everyone into a tizzy. He lifted his head slightly so she could get up and took over as the middle of the pack pile.

She didn’t bother dressing. She really didn’t think anyone owned pajamas…except maybe Ember. It had been strange the first night, sleeping nude together, but now, it was comforting. The skin on skin contact was like recharging as their bonds deepened. She shifted to wolf the second she closed the door behind her with barely a “clink” of the latch.

She padded softly out several yards before tearing into a full run. The storm colored eyes had been haunting her dreams for over a week and a song that she could just barely hang on to during waking hours burrowed into her mind. It was like trying to remember a song, and knowing that you know it but you can’t remember anything more than a few notes…something…something…moonlight…something…

She slowed when she neared the stream, pissed in a bush and went to replenish the water she expelled by lapping at the cold stream water. She sat back on her haunches and resisted the urge to howl out the tune in her head. She was sure that her wolfsong could compliment it…She wasn’t hugely thrilled with going back to the coffee shop in a few hours, but it was a job…and she got pretty good tips, especially when she wore the low cut shirts…she wasn’t above exploiting herself for the good of the pack…

Aw hell, who was she kidding? It was for her own amusement that she did it. She liked the way the men, hell even most of the women, involuntarily drooled over her. She knew that she oozed sexuality but all of them were just too easy. None of them were exciting enough…none of them were…him…She shook her head until her upturned ears flopped against each other. Some dream dude is cramping her style…

She dunked her muzzle into the cold water before pulling her face out and shaking off the excess. She had better go get more sleep or she was going to look even more pale and gothy than usual in the morning…

It was well into the middle of the night when Fog finally crawled into bed. Exhaustion weighed like a sodden blanket over his whole body. He’d run the perimeter of the territory, the whole territory, not just the heart of it where the cabin stood. He’d clawed glyphs into so many trees, he’d be digging pitch out from under his nails for weeks.

He was making progress. His new pack were gaining confidence moving through the terrain. Better, the spirits recognized the Uratha’s territory. They were skittish, resentful, and sullenly hostile, but over the last two weeks the spirits had lost some of the frenetic chaos that had imbued the territory when they’d arrived.

He’d been exhausted since the day after the Locus was reclaimed. The cabin needed a lot of work. He’d done high school before, he didn’t see any reason to repeat it. Getting a regular job was problematic with his past. So the majority of the repair work had settled onto his shoulders. It amazed him how much crap the Meers had left behind. There were more than a few useful items, but it seemed to him that three quarters of the house was taken up with ruined or useless clutter. The burn pile was immense.

And once the sun went down, his self-appointed task of patrolling the territory awaited.

It felt like he’d just closed his eyes when Cynder stirred. She made a good pillow. And it appeared she was getting up. He flopped harder in an unspoken urge for her to stay still, cracking one eye open reproachfully.

Her mouth moved around unsaid words, she needed to pee. Her eyes were lying. He let himself resettle into the warm groove she’d left, his eyes barely cracked and watching her pale nakedness pad toward the stairs instead of the bathroom.

There was nothing for it. With a mental sigh, Fog rolled gracefully to his feet and ghosted into the bathroom. The window opened to the night air with the barest whisper. He’d spent a couple hours re-seating it and waxing the slide. On four feet, the huge grey wolf seemed to flow out onto the shake roof.

He understood the need for reflection, to immerse yourself in a moment of privacy. He was less willing to risk a packmate’s safety in a territory still in flux. So he kept his steps light and his distance. She’d never even suspect he was there. Meanwhile, if something did decide sneak up on the young Storm Lord, she’d have someone at her back.

Work sucked.

If it wasn’t for the need of a steady pay-checque (and the occasional eye-candy that passed through as a tourist) Cynder would probably lock herself in the Spring room and only emerge to replace worn guitar strings and answer her body’s demands for fuel and elimination. She stormed up the stairs to the second floor, pulling her hair loose from the high, tight ponytail adding to the headache she was already ignoring. She kicked off her shoes, wiggling her toes in at least a small sensation of relief. The huge communal bed looked sinfully soft. She peeled off her work uniform, sprawling half-naked in joyous appreciation of being home.

Almost of their own accord, her fingers sought the latches on the hard case protecting her guitar. The wood was cool, solid beneath her fingertips. The weight settled in her arms until she felt complete, poised, eager. Cynder flipped the amp’s power switch with a toe, feeling her instrument awaken. Almost reverently her fingers arched into chords and she started to play.

The volume was low, just enough to give voice to her music without flooding the rest of the house. The notes were her’s, too private for the rest of the pack this time, letting the strings carry away the emotions and thoughts no one else could know.

The vision surrounded her without warning, like mist wafting from the forest floor unremarked until you suddenly realize everything is obscured by fog.

She was cold. Cold so deep and biting it made her bones ache. Then she saw the eyes, Skolis-Ur, pitiless and inhuman and knew the cause of the chill. Her heart skipped a beat, mind racing to discover what sin she had committed to earn his attention, before she realized he as looking past her. Cynder turned and saw the pack’s territory laid out as if she had the wings and eyes of an eagle; distant and yet so detailed she could count the buttons on a man’s shirt.

She saw an old bathtub, filled to over-flowing with ants, centipedes, roaches, silverfish. She reached out and shut off the tap. The stream of pests stopped, but the tub was seething, the occupants straining to break out. She saw cracks forming in the porcelain. She saw herself in a mirror, naked, one hand holding a corroded hammer, the other a mostly expended roll of duct tape.

A candle burned, the flame so intense it makes Cynder’s eyes water. As it shrinks down, she seeing her pack dying, burning to death, screaming until their lungs turn to ash. Or was it a vine, growing and spreading before her eyes, twining like a noose around anything it touches, driving thorns deep into flesh and spirit alike.

A tree. It towers over Leavenworth impossibly tall, as if it’s top branches might touch the highest clouds. It’s shadow slides over the ground and wherever it’s shade falls, the ground withers and dies until the entire town, the valley, is nothing but lifeless dust.

And it’s gone.

A wrong note lingered in her ear, a lapse of concentration no one but her would ever realize or punish her for and she found herself curled over her guitar, tears making her eyeliner bleed down her cheeks like pitch. Tears for what she’s seen, for what she knows will come, for the core of defiant hope. The certainty is as unyielding as her Totem, she Saw true.

The redhead was bent over her guitar, picking out what little of the melody she could remember from her dreams, dreams that left her tingling and aroused, when the rest of her pack started coming through the front door. She could hear Anaru and Jet discussing heavily some vision or another that Anaru had received about a tree. She perked up her head. The vision from earlier playing through her mind. She strained her ears before lovingly putting away her instrument as if it were a cherished lover. Something about bugs…

She padded barefoot down the stairs in nothing but her jeans and bra. “What was that about a tree Anaru?”

Anaru’s pupils dilate as he focuses on remembering the prophet’s words from that night on the road. “A tree was seen. A great tree in the town. The roots were deep, deep in the ground. Everything withered away in it’s shade. Spirits roosted in the branches, feeding it, making it grow. To kill it, its water must be denied.”

The similarity sent icy fingertips up her spine. For the span of several breaths, her own foretelling threatened to overwhelm her senses. She bit her tongue until she could taste blood. She had zero patience for that crap right that second. “I’ve had similar visions. Way too fucking similar.”

The Blood Talon shaman was convinced the answer had to be in town. Lacking better clues, the rest of the pack, minus the frenchman, agreed readily. They’d seek out this strange tree. With a defiant smile, Cynder snatched up the car-keys. Jet’s eyes widened, she was going to take his car. Emotions played over his features like water rippled by a steady wind.

Merde! If we are to go, I’m driving.” He finally snarled.

She quickly dressed and announced she was riding shotgun, besides she needed to touch up her make up anyway. She had the reputation of being the cute goth in town and she wasn’t about to go without a fresh coat of eyeliner on.

They were a mile down the road to town when the unmistakeable sound of a rifle shot shattered the evening. Strange gunfire, in HER territory. A growl started low in her throat and Jet groaned. “No, no no no! Just leave it alone! It has nothing to do with us.”

“Then stay here.” she snapped at him. Anaru and Fog were already leaping out the back as the El Camino pulled to a stop. Cynder growled her frustration as she fought her way out of her seat belt and out of the car, turning wolf once the coast was clear. She shot after the boys, leaving the rest of them in the car. No way were they going to get to have all the fun again.

Fog slipped through the forest quiet as his namesake. Burned gunpowder, blood, and voided bowel was livid to his nose. A sport hunter had made a kill. It didn’t feel right. They were on the edge of town. The scent was… off. He froze in the strange shadow of a denuded vine maple.

It was a campsite. Two tents stood in a small gap in the trees like giant nylon puff-ball fungus. In the middle, a sandy-haired man in Mossyoak™ camouflage and a vest of dull gray, blaze orange didn’t translate to lupine eyes, was cheerfully dressing out the body of a naked man.

Whatever clothes the dead man had been wearing were reduced to piled rags. The entrance wound over the right lung was garish and raw against the pale, waxy skin. A rifle sat propped against a douglas fir trunk. As the werewolf watched, the hunter finished slitting open the abdomen, spilling viscera in a pink mass.

Despite himself, he felt his mouth water. Fresh, sweet meat. Forbidden meat.

Wrong! This sight was wrong. Humans don’t hunt each other like this. Even if they did, the pack could not abide it. Fog laid his ears back, his hackles bristling like a mane. I attack.

Anaru and the others within sight had a moment to realize the young Hunter in Darkness was in motion. Jet let out a soft, suffering whine of dismay.

The pack erupted from the brush roaring. The light haired man lunged to his feet, the whites of his eyes flashing in surprise and fear. The gore streaked skinning knife glistened in his fist with sinister promise.

The red wolf sprang for his arm, hoping to shred the muscles and tendons letting him hold the blade. He flinched. Six inches of heavy steel speared through the roof of her mouth. His fingers remained locked on the handle.

Fog had sprinted to the right side, shifting to near-wolf as he charged the man from his left. Massive jaws snapped shut on the man’s head as over three hundred pounds of angry dire-wolf sailed by. The hunter made a pirouette, screaming, somehow avoiding a broken neck as the momentum flung him to the ground.

A translucent stag billowed outward from the man as he stopped rolling. Naughty spirit. As soon as it clears the man’s body, it bounds into the underbrush. The lean, yellow dingo was close on it’s heels.

Meanwhile, the injured human’s face was contorted in horror. “Larry!… Oh my god… Larry…” He was sobbing right up until Fog’s teeth tore his throat open to the spine.

Anaru slunk back a few minutes later radiating frustration. The spirit had escaped across the gauntlet.

A quick investigation of the camp identified the two men as Raymond Sutter and Lawrence Mathis. From the handful of photos between the two men’s wallets, Fog guessed they were brothers-in-law and seemed to be good friends. Until Ray put a 30-06 into his center mass anyway. Fog stuffed the cash into his pocket. The dead guys weren’t going to need it anymore.

Signs of violent death were a problem though. Someone was bound to run across the bodies this close to town and even if they didn’t, the deaths would attract spirits to the resonance. Jet suggested an expedient burial. With the whole pack involved, it didn’t take more than a couple hours to carve out a den-like pit under the roots of a towering evergreen. With the exception of the two rifles and ammunition, which they stashed, the rest of the campsite was swiftly broken down and stuffed into the hole. They’d come back for them later. Stolen firearms struck them as a bad risk in town.

The pack climbed back in and watched as the sheriff’s patrol car pulled away from the gated drive that led to the cottage. “What the fu….ck?” Cynder raised an eyebrow. Butch, or Sheriff Cutter as he was more commonly known, was no stranger to Cynder. The tall Americano 4 sugars 2 creamers and a splash of hazelnut was a common order for her first thing in the morning. And heaven forbid you use 2 sugars and 4 creamers…or forget the hazelnut. The dude, was a hard ass…and the moment someone mentioned she lived at the old Meers place, became aloof just short of hostility.

It was the first time she had seen him so far out of town though. He drove right by them, back into town and Jet restarted the engine to their own trusty stead. “We’re going home.” he growled.

“No… we’re not.” Cynder growled back. “We need to figure out this tree thing.” Jet huffed and gruffly put the El Camino into gear, lurching her forward and headed back toward town.

The pack finally made it to town. Those who chose to peek into the spirit world were talking about the decay they could see all around. Cynder however was in the front and it was a little hard to hear them in the back. Instead she stared out the window and wondered what it was they were really looking for. Was it a physical tree? A spiritual tree? Was it a tree at all?

She let her mind wander as Jet cruised around, looking for a spot to park. The town was much busier than usual, the street parking was minimal and Cynder’s mind thought about it only for a split second. They finally found a spot not far from City Hall and started their search there.

On the sidewalk, Anaru paused near some inexplicably cracked pavement. The pupil of his left eye expanded, swallowing everything including the whites until it looked like the socket was filled with a night sky complete with twinkling stars. Peeking across the Gauntlet was like plunging her head in water and trying to make out things in the distance; wavery and a bit disorienting. Except for the Blood Talon when he called upon this Gift. She knew whatever he was witnessing was crystal clear. It was also not good from the sudden clenching of his jaw. His eye bled back to it’s normal chocolate brown.

“There’s def’nitly somethin’ at work here. There’s a tree’n the Shaduh. Sum’un tied an ugly little boggle ta sum brenches wi’ baubed wire. Other sp’rits were eatin’ it alive.” He paused to take a breath. “Some type of guardian sp’rits started appearin’ at th’ end when I got spott’d.”

“We should follow the cracks made by the spirit trees to the big one.” Ember’s eyes gleamed in the street lights. Anaru nodded approval.

Nothing…bubkiss. There was no pattern to the fractured cement. The fiery redhead was getting impatient. The increasing bickering had started becoming too much for her. She could feel her temper shorten by the second. No one had any clue about what to do about anything. Anaru had seen some weird Indian spirit in a window reflection and some knot-hole in a wall had winked at him so he was wound up about finding those spirits. Ember was scanning for ghosts, Fog was being aloof, Alex was debating with Ember about the spirits and Jet was still whining that he wanted to go home. And everything else was still beyond weird.

Some random tourist type had walked out of a restaurant before vomiting live cockroaches into the gutter. No one seemed to notice or care. He walked away apparently no worse for wear. Or there had been the sound of a strong wind, like a storm settling in, except the air was completely still.

Some sound on the wind made Cynder’s head snap up. Emo/Goth rock beats teased the edges of her brain and she felt a pull that she just couldn’t resist. “I’m going this way,” she called distractedly.

She knew that Fog followed her, then the others, except Jet who was still content to sit by his car, as she followed the sound. The beat started pumping through her veins as she approached the doors to the “Icicle Pub” She knew the song that was playing…though she had never really heard it before.

Ember, Anaru and Fog peeled off to poke around city hall.

The bouncer scanned the lot of them for weapons, not knowing that he was letting in the most dangerous unarmed persons in the whole town.

The music was loud and the place was so crowded that it was hard to see the band on the modest stage in the back corner. She waded through the mob, definitely knowing the song now and humming along…she left her pack in the back who were more concerned with what to do next instead of the music.

She stopped dead in her tracks when she could finally see the singer. Those were the eyes that visited her night after night…Witch? …or maybe just…normal…dear Father Wolf let him be normal and she continue being the weird one…

He looked up, hitting a long note and locked eyes with her, lapis blue to her ice. Her breath hitched and she had to remember how to exhale. She was wary of him and backed up a few steps. He couldn’t possibly be looking at her in this crowded room…yet his eyes followed her. She was so focused on him that she didn’t notice Ember behind her. When did they decide to join her?CYNDER!” she shouted and pointed to where Fog and Jet were about to throw down…Jet must have gotten bored at the car… how the fuck did Fog get past the door?

“Shit” She cursed under her breath and for a moment the mystery boy was forgotten. Ember was filming what was about to break into a fight over Fog having a…beer? Way to be helpful, sister. "Damn it Fog, you’re not old enough to drink or do you really want fuck us all over?” Cynder growled and made a grab for the beer, but Jet was faster.

A fight was inevitable, and it looked like Jet wasn’t about to back down so of course it was going to escalate. “Son of a…” Alex pulled the power for the building, plunging them into darkness. Cynder sighed, shot a look toward the unexpectedly blind and rapidly frustrated concert lovers behind her and left with her pack. This is bullshit. We need an alpha.

Fog sprawled across the heavy, log-framed sofa in just a pair of faded black jeans. His eyes were half closed in apparent boredom, but he listened intently.

“We need t’ find a totem. There’s a great danger in our territ’ry. We need the strength of a totem spirit.” The New Zealander’s voice.

“But what sort of spirit?” came Ember’s question.

“Somethin’ pow’rful.”

Jet’s voice rumbled, “Bears are très puissants.”

“I think bear would be good.” Fog could almost hear the nod of Alex’s head as he chimed in.

“Any objections?” Cynder asked.

There were none.

The pack was up early the next morning, the cold wreathed their faces in their own breath. Before the sun had begun to truly rise, they stood on the bank of a fast moving creek. They had fishing to do.

Jet assembled a rod he’d discovered in one of the cabin’s corners while cleaning, casting the lure into a deeper pool between rapids.

Fog watched Cynder shake her head then shift to Urshal. The frigid water eddied around her paws, but she gave no notice. She lunged a few times, splashing clumsily, Anaru looked about ready to snap at her for spooking fish away from Jet’s line when a late season trout flopped onto the shore. The Storm Lord’s grin was smug.

“Fuck this.” Jet threw the fishing pole into the underbrush and plunged into the stream shifting as he went. In a matter of moments the whole pack was knee-deep in the glacially cold current, wet fur sticking out, and terrorizing every fish for a thousand feet each direction.

By the time they had what the Blood Talon considered an adequate gift, Fog’s feet ached from the cold. He shook out his coat vigorously.

They’d carried their catch, about a dozen silvery trout, back to the pack Locus. Anaru had performed a deceptively simple Rite over the fish. They they’d stepped across the Gauntlet.

The basement was larger on this side. Huge wolf tracks covered the stone floor, traces of the former pack. The deep pool looked like mercury, molten silver brighter than seemed possible in the dark room. Skulls, claws, carvings, and other mementos of the Meers pack still lingered here in the spirit realm, faded… attenuated… corroded by the destruction of the material objects.

The cabin was just as saturated with the signs of the Meers, like after-images superimposed on the already surreal surroundings. Cobwebs lay over the walls. The floorboards were dry, cracked, splitting apart. It would take time for the cabin’s reflection to catch up to the new pack’s occupancy, though signs were beginning to peek through. A pane of window glass here bright and clean amidst the dust and grime of the rest. The fireplace swept clean and ready for a new fire to be laid. A door hinge without rust. Fog laid his ears back. The Hisil was never completely soothing, but always dangerous.

Outside, the sky swirled as if a thunderstorm was brewing. There was no moon. Fog could have closed his eyes and pointed to where Luna’s face was turned away, but aside from Alex, he doubted anyone else felt her presence. Briefly, he wondered if seeking a spirit under the Irraka’s moon was the most auspicious for the pack. It wasn’t his job, leave that to the Cahalith and Ithaeur to fuck about with.

Anaru picked their path, letting his knowledge of the spirits guide their steps.

The forest, darker, more rugged than what stood on the other side of the Gauntlet spread out around them. They could feel the spirits watching, their fear, their resentment, their unease. Further the Ithaeur led the pack into the spirit wilds.

From some deep instinctive place inside, Fog began to feel watched. He trotted as a wolf, swiveling his ears to hear the faintest noise, but could not detect their unknown watcher. Strange scents wafted past his nose, but none of them felt right. As the pack passed through a dense ravine, he abruptly went to ground determined to discover who was pacing them.

Whatever or whoever it was, they were cagey. The supernatural forest remained still. Perhaps he’d managed to chase their tail away.

He broke into a lope to catch up. He could feel the unknown presence keeping pace. Fuck.

The rest of the pack were standing outside of a cave. The stench of bear was so thick, Fog could taste it on his tongue. It was strong. He wanted to tuck his tail and back away carefully. Slow, deep breathing came from the impenetrable shadows within the cave.

Fog watched in surprise as Anaru laid out the fish an the ground before him, then loudly called out, “Bear! Bear wake up!”

The sounds from the cave didn’t change. Fog dared to hope they might try another spirit.

Anaru wasn’t going to give up yet. “Bear! Bear we would speak to you! You must hear us!”

There was a popping snort from within the cave.

“We demand you deal with us.”

The largest bear Fog had ever seen, or ever wanted to see again if he was being totally honest with himself, lumbered out of the cave. The humped shoulder was twenty feet in the air. Immense paws with claws longer than his body rested upon the clawed up ground. Small, flickering sparks of green fire regarded the assembled Uratha with annoyance. The spirit shook it’s massive head. Its shaggy metallic bronze coat rippled down its back. When it spoke, there was a boom behind it’s growl. “YOU DEMAND? GO AWAY KIN-SLAYERS.”

“You must…” Whatever Anaru intended to say after that was lost when an enormous paw swatted him negligently. He tumbled to the ground fifty feet away.


Ember’s eyes flashed in Rage. “We’re not going anywhere until you help us.”

The spirit’s answer was a blow that smashed her into the loam like a tent stake.

In horror, Fog watched Jet try to slip by the annoyed spirit into his den while it was focused on the Bone Shadow Rahu. Anaru ran back to den site.


The Blood Talon suddenly paused as if looking at the spirit for the first time. His face went ashen, his tattoos garish upon his bestial features. “Forgive us, Bear Spirit. We were ignorant of your rank… Jet get the fuck out of his den. Now. Hurry.”

The spirit lurched to it’s hind legs. It towered over even the trees. Fog’s belly was pressed to the ground along with most of the rest of the pack.


“Of course. Thank you. Sorry.” Anaru was nearly stammering.

Alex and Cynder pulled Ember from the dirt. Everyone began leaving rapidly.

Except the french Ghost Wolf.

“No help, no fish for you.” With a snarl, he scooped up the fish and ran.

The bear let out a roar. Fog felt his ears pop, then silence and the sensation of hot moisture draining from his ears. Deafened, he did his best to look small and insignificant as the furious spirit charged after the fleeing Jet.

A paw slashed out before the black wolf-man made it more than a dozen yards. Two lines of red appeared across his back, then gaped open to expose garishly white bone from right hip to left shoulder.

Jet gave a howling scream, but kept his grip on the fish. He started weaving through the evergreens.

He needn’t have bothered. The trees seemed to flow out of the bear spirit’s path. This time the paw swipe threw Jet bodily aside. The fish cascaded through the air in an arc of scaled silver. The Ghost Wolf crumpled when he hit. Pink froth dribbled from the corner of his mouth. His right arm dangled uselessly from his shoulder. His legs twitched, muscles spasming and writhing over fractured bone. Blood oozed from several places where broken shards had torn through his skin. It was a small favor he’d lost consciousness.

The bear stood and roared again. It’s huge tongue swept up the fallen trout. It huffed once and lumbered back to its den.

It took hours to drag the nearly dead frenchman back to the locus. Fog hoped his packmate’s lesson was worth the beating he’d suffered for it.

A few days had passed since the Icicle…Cynder’s nights had been filled with clear dreams of his eyes, his voice and fantasies of heavy breathing and imagined touching.

She was wiping down the bar counter at The Red Bird, distracted by these thoughts. She reeked of coffee and scalded milk thanks to the clumsy teenage boy they hired who seemed to trip all over himself every time she walked into the room. This last time he royally fucked up drink for a customer, topping it all off by spilling it all down her front. She’d had to react quickly, heading to the restroom in a huff, worrying loudly that the idiot had ruined her outfit. As soon as the lock turned, she dared look at the first and second degree burns the fresh espresso drink had left upon her pale skin, prayed no one had noticed. Five minutes later, the damage had been gone. She had patiently cleaned herself up, keeping a remarkably calm exterior, while inside she was ripping the little cum-stain’s head off his shoulders.

“Hey Cynder!” Tina, one of her co-workers sauntered into the shop and plopped herself onto one of the bar stools. Cynder tolerated Tina. She was the preppy cheerleader type, still in high school and madly crushing on fuckwad…what was his name again?

Cynder raised an eyebrow at Tina who wasn’t normally inclined to speak with the older goth “Weirdo”. “So, did you like, go see Tears for the Raven when they were here?”

Cynder lifted an eyebrow and slowly looked down at her own wardrobe. “Nope, why would I ever wanna hear goth music around a bunch of goth-type people?” she deadpanned.

“You coulda just said,” Tina rolled her eyes, “You don’t have to be a bitch about it.”

Cynder shrugged. “A bit.” Since that night she had learned that her mystery eyes belonged to the front man and bassist, Ashe Pyre. Tina was an avid and enthusiastic fan of the band, to the point of wearing tee-shirts, playing their music during her shifts, singing along to the music when the shop was empty and talking about them…especially Ashe…nonstop.

The redheaded goth had learned a lot about him from just listening to Tina babble. “Do you follow them at all?”

Cynder shook her head, her high ponytail swinging back and forth.

“Well you should!” Tina huffed and tapped on her phone a few times while Cynder tossed the rag she was using back into the bleach bucket.

“And why is that?” She looked up and blinked her big blue eyes at the younger girl.

“Well, get on Facebook and find out.” Something was on the girl’s mind she was trying to play cool.

Cynder sighed, rolled her eyes and pulled out her phone. “What the fuck?” she mouthed as she tried to unlock the touch screen. None of the “buttons” were functioning properly. The touch screen was fritzing out on her and finally the screen just went blue. Blue? Now phones had the blue screen of death? She cursed and vowed that she would murder Jet herself.

“My phone is fucked. Why don’t you just tell me?” Cynder made a mental note to herself to walk down the street to the Verizon store and make them fix it.

“Isn’t this you?” She flipped her phone around, flashing a picture of Cynder looking back over her shoulder, taken the night of the concert. Fucking roadies.

“Yeah…” If Cynder had been wolf, her hackles would have raised. As is, the hair on the back of her neck stood.

“Well, Ashe, you know, the lead singer? Just so happens to apparently be looking for you.” Tina practically spat the words, seething with jealousy. Cynder had to fight to keep her mouth from falling open. “He’s posted a reward.”

“He’s what?” her mind reeled, apparently it wasn’t just her who was thinking about him.

“Yeah, apparently free tickets and back stage passes to his next gig to whomever can find her and put him in contact with her. Now, message him and tell him it was me or I won’t invite you to our wedding.” Tina was looking like a ravenous feline, ready to pounce.

“Chill.” Cynder said and looked up at the clock. “I have 3 minutes before my shift is over and I gotta go get my phone fixed. I’ll think about contacting him.” Tina seethed as Cynder took off her apron and retrieved her purse before counting out her tips.



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