Red Sun - Chapter One
In eager anticipation for the newest shifter release, check out the first chapter!
Gregor stepped out of his rented car and made sure his tie was straight and his hair flat. The heat was annoying but he’d endured worse. The quaint house sat on a modest piece of land, and he glanced around, noting his suburban surroundings. He’d visited Texas several times in the past, but this was the first occasion he’d had to visit El Paso. It wasn’t the best place he’d visited nor was it the worst. It just was.
He grabbed his official-looking briefcase, which served as nothing more than a prop, and shut the door, locking the car. His feet protested the confining shoes, making him hope this meeting was a short one. He missed his comfortable fatigues, cotton shirts, and sturdy boots. No matter what outfit he sported to play the role required of him, he always wore a Kevlar vest and holstered gun at his hip. He was in a war and it didn’t do to be unprepared, especially when, at any moment, a shifter might come across his path and try to eat his face.
His mouth curled in disgust at the thought of the abominations. The world would be better off with those beasts eliminated. Then humanity would finally understand the darkness they’d been living under and would embrace the dominance of Arcas. That great god would lead them all into a new, brighter future.
Gregor smiled and if anyone would have seen that smile, they would have been astonished at how it smoothed and softened his hard features. But it didn’t last. As soon as Gregor reached the front door, his expression went blank and he knocked.
Not a minute passed before it was wrenched open and a broad man with dark looks stood there and stared at him with wide, frantic eyes.
Gregor inclined his head. “May I come in?”
“Certo! Please do!”
Gregor stepped into the neat little house. It was a pleasant place with warm, inviting colors, well-worn furniture, and everything was happily situated. He took a couple of steps before turning and regarding Dr. Matteo Ricci. He was a tenured professor in the College of Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso. He had emigrated from Italy to the US after meeting Angela Wilkinson, his now-deceased wife. He maintained a discernable accent despite over a decade in the US.
Gregor turned his attention to the pictures on the tables in the living room. Many of them depicted a cheerful couple, the woman—Angela—pale and blonde, contrasting her husband. Other pictures showed a small boy with the coloring of his mother and the facial structure of his father. Then pictures of the mother ceased and there were only those of Matteo and his son. But the images were limited to a pre-pubescent boy.
“Please sit,” Matteo said, gesturing to an overstuffed couch. “Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you.” Gregor sat and set the briefcase against the couch, beside his legs. He took out a notepad and pen and stared, waiting for Matteo to begin.
Matteo sat on the edge of a chair across from the couch and couldn’t stop fidgeting with his hands. Gregor hated people who fidgeted.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Gregor said in a low voice, no trace of his annoyance showing.
Matteo swallowed audibly. “Didn’t Father Fernandez already tell you…?”
“I would like to hear what you have to say, in your own words.”
Matteo took a deep breath. “He was a normal child. We were so happy. Then about three years after he was born, Angela died and—” He stopped and Gregor reined in his impatience. “My wife doted on Raphael. We both did. Then it was just me. I swear to you, he was a normal child. He did good in school, he had friends. He was so alive and funny and interested in everything and everybody. But when he turned eleven, he developed such a temper.”
Gregor raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“He would lash out at times, rebelling at my orders and refusing to heed my words. It seemed to happen overnight, and I had no idea what to make of it. I tried to talk to him, and he would apologize and be his carefree self again. Then, once again, his mood would switch like that.” He snapped his fingers.
“When did the physical transformations start to happen?”
“He was twelve. A few weeks after his birthday he told me he wanted to go to a friend’s party. I didn’t approve of that friend or her parents and I refused. He just… lost it.” Matteo paled and his eyes widened. His hands clenched together in his lap. “His face morphed and his bones popped. He grew bigger before my eyes and ripped his clothing. Claws tore through the skin of his fingers and toes and….”
He dropped his head into his hands and wept.
Gregor frowned and tapped his pen on the notepad. Interesting. Very interesting. Shifting abilities manifested at puberty, so that was expected. But Gregor was certain Matteo was no shifter, and there was no mention of adoption. His deceased wife might have cheated on him with another shifter, since she’d clearly been one. But his research into Angela failed to turn up evidence of an affair. And yet the transformation was different from the information the Knights of the Dawn had compiled over the years from their shifter subjects.
Since the Knights had informants within the church, tips often came in, and this one had so intrigued Gregor that he’d come personally. He preferred to stay in the shadows, since his capture could prove disastrous for Arcas’s mission. He was Arcas’s right-hand man, his boots on the ground. He was the face the other knights saw, allowing Arcas to keep his distance. But times often called for him to take a calculated risk. This one might just pay off.
“I prayed to God,” Matteo said when he’d reined in his emotions. Though his voice still wavered and cracked. “I prayed every night, every day. I thought some demon had a hold of my son.” He shuddered. “I never believed in demons until… He was so scared after that first time. He cried with me. He said he was so sorry, and he didn’t know what was going on. I held him so tightly. But it kept happening. Every time I denied him something, that strange, bestial light would come into his eyes, and he’d start to morph.”
“Did he ever fully morph into another creature?”
“Yes,” Matteo croaked. “When he was fifteen. I can only thank God that we were at home. He bent over and claimed his stomach was cramping. Then the demon took over completely, and he became this monstrous wolf creature.”
Gregor sat up straighter, eyes keen on Matteo. “Not like a natural wolf?”
“No, oh Dio. Dio, no. He was like something out of a horror movie. He stood on two legs, had a long snout, fur all over. Large teeth and claws and… the light in his eyes was demonic.”
“What happened then?”
“I shouted as many prayers as I could. I grabbed my crucifix off the wall and tried to expel the demon from my son. The beast merely growled at me and tried to escape.”
“He didn’t attack you?”
“No.” Matteo sniffed and wiped his eyes. “He’s never attacked me. I think it’s my faith that protects me. But Raphael was always faithful, even as a little child. How could a demon grab hold of him?”
“That’s when you called on a priest?”
Matteo slumped back in his chair and nodded. “It did no good. I have had at least five come out to try to bless this house, to bless my son. To say prayers and splash him with holy water. Nothing works. The demon will not leave. Raphael is so scared of what is inside him.”
“Is that when you told everyone he had gone away to live with relatives in Italy?”
Matteo nodded. “It was for the best. I had to keep him and the demon contained. He’d start to morph and grow violent whenever anyone came to the door. I had to protect him and others. I locked him up and continued his schooling. He is so smart, my angelo.”
“How old is he now?”
“Nineteen. But he is still just a child. He doesn’t know anything about the world.”
“What happened three days ago?”
Matteo met Gregor’s eyes, his own swimming with tears of grief and helplessness. “He escaped. The demon grew strong enough to break through the cellar door. It was at night, and I had to stay late at the university. I came home to find the back door wide open and Raphael long gone.”
Matteo lurched forward and gripped Gregor’s hand. It was all Gregor could do to keep from punching him. This man had fouled himself by having relations with a shifter and now he was touching him.
“Please, Mr. Sanderson, find my son. Find my Raphael. He’s all I have left. The demon cannot win. My angelo cannot have blood on his hands.”
Gregor stiffly removed his hand from Matteo’s grip and nodded. “I will do everything I can to find your son. Do you have a recent picture of him?”
Matteo sniffed hard and nodded. Out of his wallet he pulled a small informal picture, one showing a smiling angelic face.
“He was seventeen when I took this picture.”
“May I see his room?”
After he inspected the well-supplied and rather comfortable cellar bedroom with TV, Xbox, stacks of books, large bed, and private bathroom, he returned to his car. He’d even been impressed despite himself that Raphael had built his own computer. Gregor was now convinced Raphael was the one he’d been looking for the past year. Arcas had told him they needed certain types of blood to cast the spell that would awaken the ancient beast Arcas needed to cleanse the world. One of the types was from a child born of a human and a shifter. Such a mating should have been impossible.
Despite the disgust he felt at the product of such a union, he was eager for the hunt. It would be different than searching for the scroll nearly a year earlier. This was a real and true monster hunt, and he was excited for the opportunity. The prudent thing would be to send some of his soldiers after Raphael but, by Arcas, didn’t he deserve some fun?
Gregor got into the car and cranked up the AC. He doubted the kid had gotten far. He might still be in El Paso. If the monstrous side of his spirit wanted victims, then the bigger the city, the better the options. Time to hit downtown and see what he could see.