Shift (Firstborn Trilogy Book Two) - By Raine Thomas

Prologue

Donald, lieutenant of the Waresti, heard the moan first. He wasn’t as knowledgeable about emotions as his two commanders and class elder, archigos Uriel, yet even he recognized the suffering conveyed by that sound.

He and a patrol of twenty Waresti were conducting a sweep of some caves within an ocean-side cliff, intending to rout out any Mercesti residing in them. A Corgloresti transition point was located not too far away. Thus, Donald needed to secure a mile-wide perimeter, clearing it of the Dark Ones. No sense risking the Mercesti finding a Corgloresti’s vulnerable form and attempting to destroy it, after all.

Glancing at Isaiah, the Waresti in the group with the keenest hearing, Donald used hand signals to communicate.

Did you catch the origin of that noise?

Yes, sir. North tunnel.

Donald nodded. Signaling that the warriors all move in silence, he took the lead and treaded carefully into the tunnel, his sword drawn. Although the moan sounded feminine, Mercesti weren’t above using trickery to try and lead others into a trap.

The tunnels were dark. Donald didn’t conjure a light, not wanting to alert anyone to their presence. Mercesti could see in the dark, giving them an advantage in this environment. Waresti, however, had also developed good night vision over the centuries. Donald progressed with quiet confidence through the inky tunnel.

He heard another muffled groan and the sliding of a body along a gritty surface. When he rounded the next bend, he spied a huddled form on the ground. All he could make out was a glimpse of white skin and a long length of dark hair.

Fan out. Check the tunnels, he communicated to his warriors. He wasn’t about to risk being taken unawares by skulking Mercesti.

When they moved to obey the order, Donald focused again on the small being crouched before him. He realized that his initial impression of a female had been correct. From what he could determine, she was unclothed and shaking violently.

Even these observations didn’t prompt him to lower his defenses. He decided to introduce himself, hoping to put the female at ease.

“I am—”

She screeched as though he had sliced off one of her limbs. Her hair covering her face like a dark web, she flung her arms out as though warding him off and scrambled to press herself against the closest cave wall.

He tried to explain that he and his warriors meant her no harm, but her screaming drowned him out. The horrible sounds careened crazily off the rock.

“We will not harm you, female,” he declared in a loud voice.

By then, most of his soldiers had returned, giving the all-clear. They also stared at the demented being on the floor as though unsure what to make of her.

“I am Donald, lieutenant of the Waresti,” he continued. “We will help you if you have been injured or require assistance.”

Her next wail wasn’t quite as piercing. He took that as a positive sign. Over the next several minutes, he spoke to her in a calm voice, explaining that they would take her to Central and that someone there would ensure she was well tended. Eventually, the screaming stopped.

“Would you be more comfortable in clothing?” he asked.

Slowly, the female lifted herself, causing her hair to fall away from her face. Donald saw that much of her head, neck and upper body were caked in dried blood and dirt. A noticeable stench clung to her and it wafted closer to them when she moved. Bruising along her sides indicated that her ribs had been broken. He wondered if she fell down the cliff and crawled into the cave for shelter. Whatever had happened, her form had been severely mistreated. It seemed a miracle she survived.

But that wasn’t what had Donald’s normally impassive face falling into stunned lines. He lowered his sword and noticed his warriors doing the same with their weapons. They exchanged looks of bafflement.

The female on the ground was Kanika, the leader of the Mercesti.

Part I:

SHIFT

Shift [v. shift]: To put something aside and replace it by another or others; change or exchange: to shift friends; to shift ideas.

Chapter 1

In the form of the panther, Sophia stalked her target. The forest provided many shaded and grassy nooks, and Domino was an admirable opponent. The three-year-old panther could remain still for hours. His spotted fur also gave him excellent camouflage, so Sophia used her heightened sense of smell to find him.

When she got within springing distance, she lowered into a crouch, her back legs digging into the ground for better purchase. Then she pounced.

Domino