The year is 2025. Natural resources are on the verge of running out. Animals are becoming extinct at a rapid pace on every continent. Civil wars are the reality in many countries all over the globe. Paper is nearly non-existent and humans rely on technology for nearly every aspect of their daily lives. Education is on the back burner as people go into survival mode and military law is inevitable.
In the United States, the president and cabinet are kept behind locked doors to prevent assassination, speaking to the people through weekly televised updates. Global relations are at a standstill as each country tries to prevent self-annihilation. Humans are dying out, killing each other at an alarming rate. Religious fanatics believe the end is near. Apocalyptic prophesies abound and there is little hope for future generations.
Amidst the chaos there is a hidden species, biding their time, hiding in plain sight until they simply can’t remain hidden any longer. The violence calls out to their primitive instincts as the fight for survival becomes harder each day. They are shape shifters. Part human, part animal, their DNA is a delicate mix created by Mother Nature to survive all obstacles. They’ve walked on two legs as humans for centuries, but the time has come to reveal their true nature.
It happens slowly at first. They reveal themselves to government agencies in the hopes of preventing bloodshed on either side. Some are successful while others fail miserably, and the public remains oblivious. The shifters don’t want to remain hidden, however no one can agree on the best course of action. After years of failed talks, kidnappings and brutal experiments, the shifters decide to take action.
May 3, 2025, on television screens across the world, shape shifters make themselves known in the most brutal way possible. The internet explodes with questions and live video. Humans run frightened in the streets to escape the various species of animals appearing where they were never meant to roam. The civil wars continue but the battle lines have changed. Human enemies fight side by side to keep the animals at bay.
August 4, 2028, a treaty is signed in what was once the United States of America. Both sides begin construction to strengthen the impromptu wall hastily erected by the humans at the beginning of the war. Within two years it’s complete enough to man with soldiers, and in the end will span the entire width of North America. From sea to shining sea, a fifteen foot high, eight foot thick, steel and brick barrier keeps the two new countries separate. Other continents soon follow suit.
The northern half of North America becomes The Federal Nation of Therianthropes. In the south the humans create the Combined Human States. CHS is made up of all of the states from the west coast to the east coast south of Colorado, including most of California, and all of Latin America. The rest of the former U.S. and all of Canada belong to the shifters. Both countries have their own government, their own constitution and their own armed forces.
The rules are simple. If you’re a human you don’t go into FNT without a permit or a sponsor. Some humans go north for business, some out of curiosity, others for adventure. However, if you’re a shifter you don’t enter CHS period. There are no permits, no sponsors, no exceptions.
Alexia Williams sat up to greet the day as sunlight streamed in through her open curtains. Sunday was always her favorite day of the week. She’d proclaimed it family day immediately after her son, Michael, was born. Her world revolved around him and he liked that just fine. She looked over at the sleeping form of her husband, Hank, and smiled. After two years of marriage she still couldn’t believe her luck. They’d been friends for a year and roommates for five before he’d finally popped the question. She planned to wake up beside him for the rest of her life.
A slight sound prompted her to rise and walk into the next room. Michael clapped his little hands together as soon as he spotted her and she laughed.
“Good morning, munchkin.”
She laughed and picked her eleven month old up with ease. Within minutes he was cleaned-up, dressed and ready to start a new day. They woke Hank with kisses until he tumbled both of them to the bed. Laughter rang through the large master bedroom in a house filled with love and hope for the future.
That afternoon, Alexia visited her closest neighbor and friend, Kitty. They exchanged recipes in a long held Sunday ritual as their children played at their feet. The men were outside discussing lawn equipment while the women enjoyed the air-conditioning. It was a typical Spring afternoon. Nothing appeared different about Kitty or her husband, Leander. Nothing in their demeanor warned Alexia of things to come. Months later, she would look back on that last peaceful Sunday afternoon and wonder why they hadn’t told her then that they were animals.
Sandulf Theodereiks looked his long-time friend, Andor Olavson, in the eye and sighed from the depths of his soul. The time for action had come and his most trusted advisor was dead set against it.
“What would you have me do, Andor? We’ve been over this many times.”
Andor pushed his long, gold-streaked hair from his face and paced away from his Alpha. He’s always done what Sandulf advised, usually without question. When he did disagree it was with a well thought out argument based on fact. His emotions didn’t normally control his actions, but tonight’s offensive was stressful for everyone.
“I would remain as I am, Alpha. It’s bad enough my wife refuses to accept my animal. The humans I work with will never understand.”
“Which is why this must be done. Do you really wish to remain hidden for another century? What of your daughter? Should Emily be forced to hide?”
“There must be another way. This all or nothing—”
“Is what we’ve been driven to. My brother’s death will not be for nothing, fugol. The humans drew the line in the sand with his death. Now we will cross it and destroy those who would treat us as nothing but lab experiments.”
“What of the innocent lives that will be lost?”
Sandulf ran a hand down his face in an uncharacteristic show of fatigue. Being the oldest and strongest wolf shifter on the continent gave him power over the others, but he was not immortal. The sudden death of his twin brother had been a blow he hadn’t expected. Ranulf had been in talks with the American government for a peaceful unveiling of the shifters to the human public. Every other country was in the midst of the same talks. However, Ranulf had been betrayed and before Sandulf could get to him Ranulf was killed, the psychic link they’d shared for centuries severed. That had been the final straw. The Humans wanted shifters to remain hidden, remain the stuff of nightmares and legends. Sandulf wanted a better future for his people where they would no longer have to hide away half of themselves. This was the only answer.
“Every precaution has been taken. In war there are always casualties, and despite Ranulf’s best efforts this will be war. You know it has already begun. There is no stopping this now.”
Andor sighed again and dropped his head into his hands. “I know, Alpha.”
Sandulf watched his friend with a weary heart. Shifters learned early on to accept both halves of themselves, otherwise the whole would not be healthy. Andor had never shown signs of being uncertain until his human wife, Lillian, refused to accept his animal nature. She was a spoiled, selfish woman. She’d given Andor a daughter after many arguments and seemed to treat the child well enough. However, once Andor had revealed the Golden eagle hidden within him, she’d lost her mind.
“The hour grows late, Andor. You must take your place with the others and ensure all goes as planned in your sector. You are one of a very few I trust so far north of me. I will await your report.”
Andor raised his head and nodded, his expression one of weary resignation. Without another word he stripped to the skin and changed. Within the blink of an eye a Golden Eagle sat at Sandulf’s feet. To a human it would look like any other, but Sandulf’s psychic abilities gave him a link to every shifter under his command and he easily saw the difference in the bird before him. He stepped to the closest window and opened it wide. Andor took flight without hesitation and was gone.
Like waves in the ocean it began slowly. Shifters strategically placed within television stations all over the world changed first. It was televised live so there would be no doubt or confusion about the reality of a human becoming an animal. The humans reacted in predictable fashion, violently acting out to what they didn’t understand. Sandulf telepathically gave the shifters permission to defend themselves by any means necessary and the blood began to flow.
In a small New Mexico town, the Williams family watched the nightly newscast in horror. Michael began to wail, Hank and Alexia stood riveted. Neither of them realizing how much their lives were about to change.
With one last thought to his ten year old daughter, far south from his Canadian post, Andor turned to address the hundreds of shifters gathered before him. Tonight the humans would learn shifters were more than fairy tales and lab experiments. Tonight the shifters would earn their freedom…or die trying.
Alexia’s first instinct was to run down the long driveway leading from her ranch house, through the gate and into the next to get to Kitty. Her friend was always so calm under stress. When the world stopped making sense, Kitty would know what to do. Hank had yelled for her as she ran out the door, but she was confident he’d follow along with Michael. Their neighborhood remained still and quiet. She’d always loved living in a small town in southern New Mexico. Now it might be the only thing that kept her family safe.
Kitty stood on her darkened porch. Lights shining from the windows behind her created a familiar silhouette. Alexia couldn’t make out her face in the gloom, but sensed Kitty was watching her run up the gravel driveway. Voices sounded from within the open doorway and Alexia wondered if they had seen the newscast also. Leander wasn’t prone to show emotion over most things, but Alexia guessed he’d be as ready to grab a rifle as Hank had been. She slowed as she neared the porch steps.
“K-Kitty. Did you…watch the news? Did you…see?” she panted as she stopped to catch her breath.
She stood at the bottom of the steps one hand on the railing as she raised a foot to ascend. She lifted her head to look into Kitty’s face and froze. A sense of foreboding snaked up her spine as she took in Kitty’s neutral expression. Her friend didn’t look shocked or wary. She looked resigned.
“Hey, Alexia. Yeah I saw it. Leander, Todd and Bernard are in the living room talking about all of the changes that are coming. What do you think about people who can shift shape like that?”
Alexia swallowed hard and fought the urge to turn and run back home. She heard Hank walking up the drive and prayed he’d grabbed his rifle.
“I’ve never really thought about it, Kitty. But they’re not exactly people are they? I mean, that cougar killed someone on live television. People don’t do that.”
Kitty frowned and the voices inside the house abruptly stopped. In the next heartbeat Leander stepped out onto the porch. Hank’s warm presence behind Alexia made her feel better until Michael giggled at the sight of their neighbors. Leander nodded to Alexia and Hank but his expression remained blank. Kitty was still frowning and Alexia felt sweat pooling at the base of her spine. Kitty turned to face her husband.
“Honey, they don’t think shifters are people. What do you think?”
Leander sighed and shook his head, laying a hand on Kitty’s shoulder. “Kitty, we discussed this. We should have explained a long time ago—”
“Explained what exactly?” Hank asked.
Alexia moved a step back away from the porch and Kitty’s attention snapped back to her.
“Now don’t go running off, Alexia. We’re friends, right? There’s a lot we need to talk about.”
Alexia and Hank stood in shock as Leander and Kitty stepped off the porch and told them they were shifters too. Alexia had never once guessed her friends were any more than they seemed. As Leander spoke, Todd and Bernard, other neighbors, walked out of the house to explain how they too could shift shape. Over half the residents of Magdalena, New Mexico were shape shifters. The small town was perfectly situated against a national forest to accommodate the fox, black bear, mountain lions and other animals that shared their bodies.
Alexia wanted to run away in horror. Hank shook his head in denial as he held his son in one arm and his rifle in the other. Much later, Alexia wouldn’t be able to say who began the argument, but within moments the men were yelling viciously. She was able to pull Michael from Hank’s arms just before Leander attacked him, but then Kitty was in her face yelling. Todd and Bernard shifted and Alexia nearly passed out. In a haze of confusion and terror she watched her husband die beneath the jaws of a mountain lion.
Something within Alexia’s controlled, rational mind snapped and she slapped Kitty across the face. Kitty instantly shifted and swiped Alexia’s legs out from under her. Rolling on the ground in pain, her only thought was to protect her son. She covered him with her body as the cougar’s claws shredded the back of her dress. Blood, warm and thick filled her mouth as she fought her rising nausea and tried to crawl away. Hank’s voice had finally silenced and she refused to look for him.
A coughing roar echoed in the night and Alexia knew Kitty stalked her like the wounded prey she’d become. Michael had stopped screaming but his tired whimpers were almost worse. A few feet away Alexia spied a pile of freshly cut firewood with a gleaming axe lying beside one large piece. With a last burst of energy she jumped up and ran for it.
Kitty roared again and leapt, knocking Alexia off her feet. She twisted enough to take the brunt of the fall, but Michael was knocked from her grasp.
She screamed in horror as she saw the cougar going for his small body and grabbed what part of him she could. Kitty reached for him at the same time and clamped her jaws on his shirt. A tug of war ensued, Alexia frantically trying to remove the shirt caught in Kitty’s teeth, but the cougar was just too strong. With a final tug Michael was ripped from her arms and flung toward Leander, an even larger mountain lion.
Kitty leapt on top of Alexia before she could rise to follow her son. Her next moments were spent trying to live in order to save him. She ignored the sounds Leander made, ignored the silence after Michael stopped crying, ignored the soul-deep pain that told her he was gone. With a reserve of strength she didn’t know she had, she kicked Kitty off of her and rolled against the wood pile. In one fluid movement she grabbed the axe and raised it as she continued to roll. Kitty never knew what hit her as she leapt into Alexia’s swing. The axe caught Kitty in the chest, breaking through skin and bone to stop the heart of stone Alexia had never guessed was hidden within.
Leander was harder to kill. He hesitated as Alexia ran at him with an axe over her head and an insane scream ringing from her lungs. The other two shifters had disappeared into the night but she barely noted their absence. She had nothing left to lose. Her family was dead and the world had gone mad. She might very well die covered in blood from a creature she’d never dreamed could exist, but she would certainly take some of them with her into hell.
Sandulf surveyed the battlefield before him with vision blurred by sweat and blood. The worst was finally over. Three years had passed as mere moments in time, like most events in his long life. At five-hundred and twenty-seven years he’d seen more than enough death to numb him to the experience. Even when it came by his own hands. Movement from the corner of his eye had him turning to face one of his most trusted wolves. Connor was covered in gore as well, all but his hands. They’d been scrubbed clean, as pristine as the white sheets of paper they held. He looked up at Sandulf as he neared and grinned with amusement.
“They use one of the most precious resources to call a truce, Alpha. I wonder what the humans would think of your library.”
Sandulf understood his amusement but didn’t share it. He was bone tired and wanted nothing more than to sign the treaty and stop the blood shed. His wolf had gotten his fill of the hunt within the first year. Sandulf honestly hadn’t expected the humans to take so long in devising a treaty.
“Have you read it?” he asked.
Connor was one of the most intelligent men under his command. Sandulf trusted him with his life as well as every aspect of it.
“Yes, sir. Frederick Jamison drafted it with the full support of the remaining members of Congress. It’s what you expected to happen once they started building the wall.”
“They wish to keep it? That line gives us the advantage.”
“Yes, sir. It’s to be expanded to stretch from coast to coast. We get everything to the north and they remain in the south.”
“Hmm. Texas and California?”
“Texas is theirs. California ours.”
Sandulf rubbed his chin with one dirty hand and paced away. All around them shifters began the grim task of checking the dead. With so many bodies, a burn pile was the only way to keep the chance of disease from spreading. They would ensure there were no live ones left before tossing them into the fire.
With a thought, Sandulf prompted Connor to read the hastily prepared Jamison Treaty. It was amazingly simple and to the point. Nothing like the documents American congressmen were known for writing. It lined out very firm borders but as Connor stated, the shifters had the advantage. Sandulf listened intently to each term and mentally picked at them, searching for flaws or tricks. He trusted very few shifters and no humans after his brother’s death. He turned back to face Connor.
“Sounds fairly cut and dry. What is your opinion?”
Connor shrugged even as he appeared to think it over. “I’ve read it three times now. I see nothing that might come back to bite us in the ass. Perhaps Andor should read it before you sign?”
Sandulf stilled as he mentally searched for his trusted advisor. The Golden Eagle was soaring low in the sky over a residence set back among the trees. His emotions hit Sandulf like a punch to the gut but the Alpha showed no sign of his distress.
“No. He isn’t near and is dealing with something personal at the moment. I don’t suppose you have an ink pen?” Connor chuckled and shook his head. Sandulf glanced around at their surroundings then down at his tattered clothes. “Well. Let us show we are animals after all.”
He lifted his right hand and instantly formed a wolf’s paw, then bent to dip it in a puddle of blood near his feet. Connor held the last page of the treaty out, supporting the underside with his palm as Sandulf stamped his paw print beside the President’s signature. Once that was done, he extended one sharp claw and dipped it in the blood, then added his signature as well.
“That should leave little doubt as to who signed it,” Connor said.
Sandulf smiled at the amusement in his voice. “Indeed.”
Andor stood naked in the middle of what used to be his living room. Blood splattered on the walls told of a fierce battle, though he doubted the young residents had put up much of a fight. His house had become an orphanage. He’d convinced himself Emily would be safest here, away from him and the battles he fought in the name of his Alpha. He didn’t know why Lillian had left her or where his selfish ex-wife had gone, but there was little doubt his young daughter was out there somewhere in the world on her own. He glanced again at the hastily scrawled message on the wall near the fireplace.
“Daddy, where are you?”
Emily’s scent permeated the brick and mortar. She’d been standing there, searching for him. She was smart enough to know he had hidden passages built into the house, but he’d never shown her how to get to his underground lair. Lillian had forbidden it and like an idiot he’d listened to her.
“Oh, Emily. Where are you, sweetheart?”
Alexia lifted another brick and fit it into the space in front of her. Sweat dripped into her eyes, but she simply wiped it away and kept going. Her back ached, her shoulders screamed in pain and fatigue had become a constant companion. Stopping was not an option. She had one last row to add before this part of the wall would be ready for the next layer. As soon as her small part in building the barrier that would keep the animals out of her lands was done, she planned to walk the few miles into Georgetown. The new city was only a few months old, but growing by the day. She would make a new life there. It wouldn’t be much, but so long as there was breath in her body it would go to keeping shifters out of human lands.
A shout from above told her she needed to hurry as the sound of a crane nearing grew louder. Sheets of steel would go over the brick to reinforce the wall. It was a massive undertaking, but with so many humans flocking to this part of the newly formed country security was essential. From what she’d heard, soldiers would walk the length of the wall night and day, ensuring shifters didn’t attempt to cross over. Their leader had signed the treaty in blood and the President had taken it as a threat. The peace was precarious at best and no one really expected it to last. How long would the animals be content to remain separated from their prey? How long before the humans decided they wanted their turn at being predator?
Alexia walked up the cement steps quickly, eager to start her shift on the wall. Dawn was a whisper on the horizon and the weak morning light had her squinting to make out the soldier headed her way. After a couple of steps she recognized Lance’s arrogant swagger. He’d hit on her again the day before and she’d nearly decked him. Her angry response had made him laugh and pissed her off more.
“Morning, Lex. Ready to start shooting shifters?”
Alexia rolled her eyes and moved to step around him but Lance grabbed her arm. She froze, looked down at his large hand and then back up with a scowl. “Let go.”
He released her but then shook his finger inches from her face.
“Now, don’t go getting all pissy on me, girl. Save it for the animals. Just wanted to let you know about the Red Zone. It’s been pretty active tonight and there was some kind of trouble, but the shifters took care of it. It should be okay by this afternoon. Just watch yourself. There’s still a crowd down there right now.”
She took a step back to calm the urge to bit his finger off. “I’m not an idiot. I read all of the alerts first thing.”
He grinned and nodded indulgently. “Okay, okay. I’d just hate to see that luscious behind kicked around all day.”
The urge to shoot him nearly overwhelmed her, but Alexia settled for flipping him off and walking away. His deep, masculine laughter followed her down the wall.
Andor shook his head in disgust and paced away from the two male shifters he’d known for decades. They were angry, and rightly so. Who was he to question Mother Nature and all that she’d accomplished? It didn’t matter that years had passed since he was a party to a transgression against nature, against the very fabric of his being. He’d once sworn he would follow Sandulf into the fires of hell himself and during the war he nearly had. His two companions were still angry over incidents best left in the past, but he needed their help one more time. How was he going to earn their forgiveness?
He turned back to face them and they abruptly stopped their nearly silent conversation. Andor had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts he hadn’t even considered eavesdropping.
“I knew of your misgivings with Theodore Castor, as did Sandulf. But you knew what was at stake. Or more appropriately, who. We had to save her at any cost or risk losing our Alpha to madness. As it is, I don’t know that he has fully recovered. Fighting helped him, but for how long is anyone’s guess.”
“And now you want us to help protect the humans?” one asked angrily.
Andor sighed and ran a hand down his face. “No. I’ve already explained it isn’t for them.”
The men looked at each other, possibly holding a telepathic conversation. Andor tried to wait patiently but felt the seconds slipping away. The urge to find Emily was insistent and imperative to his peace of mind. Shifters were dying mysteriously and spectacularly. He wasn’t certain who was behind the mutilated bodies they had recovered but the two men before him and unparalleled tracking abilities. They could help him discover the truth.
The human scientist, Theodore Castor, had been a friend to the shifters. Sandulf had trusted him with what he prized most and Castor failed him miserably. The shifters were still paying for that mistake. Word spread fast among the telepathic species. Sandulf had quickly taken down the few rebellions that sprang up after that incident, but Andor continued to encounter attitude when he least expected it.
He’d been at Sandulf’s side when Castor started his experiments. He’d voiced his concerns to the Alpha and backed down when they were ignored. Perhaps Andor could have done more to stop the chain of events that led to Castor building a massive laboratory so close to shifter lands, where he could easily acquire his favorite test subjects. He hadn’t. And now they were paying the price.
After a heated discussion, aloud for Andor’s benefit, the two men denied his request for help. They acknowledged Sandulf as their Alpha, but until he ordered them to help track for Andor they wouldn’t do a damn thing to aid him.
Andor walked away resigned to go it alone. The missing shifters had to be found. Castor needed to be exposed for the blood-thirsty, not-quite human, madman he was. And Andor desperately needed to find Emily so he could hold her in his arms and know she was alive and well. So far only one shifter was willing to help him, an old FBI colleague from his days before the war. Janet was the best research assistant he’d ever had and would be invaluable in helping him map out the little information he’d found.
He left the area to fly back home to the lonely apartment he used in Circe. Landing on the roof, he had a good view of the wall, clearly visible in the early morning light. Human soldiers walked back and forth, machine guns in hand as if they could lift them quickly enough to make a difference. Andor wanted to laugh at the picture they made. As if a wall could really keep the shifters out. It was a testament to Sandulf’s power that the war had ended at all. Once the tang of human blood touched the lips of many shifter species, the animal took over and instinct kicked in. Only Sandulf’s influence called them back to themselves, putting the human side back in control.
A soldier caught Andor’s eye and pulled him from his musings. Smaller than the others, her size wasn’t the only obvious difference. A sword swung from one hip as she paced back and forth. Excitement and anticipation sped Andor’s pulse. The shifters might not be willing to help him in his quest, but a lone human could be the key to getting him what he needed. And he had just the right human woman in mind.
Lance twisted and turned, fighting to fall asleep as he had been since dropping into bed over an hour ago. The single image in his mind wouldn’t let him rest and he knew in his heart something was seriously wrong.
“Emily,” he whispered.
One chance encounter what felt like ages ago, and those big, golden eyes wouldn’t leave his mind. Thinking of her constantly had begun to be a nuisance, but he couldn’t banish her from his thoughts. Even without a single word between them he’d felt an instant connection. If only he had stopped her from running out of the library and talked to her. He’d learned her name from the librarian, but nothing else. Now he craved more.