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«The Calling», Cate Tiernan

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Prologue

A wolf, silver-tipped fur, ivory teeth glinting in the candlelight, padding across a dark, polished marble floor to a stone table. The room huge, black candles flickering in wall sconces. Leaves and vines in ornate plaster molding. A cougar, muscles rippling beneath a tawny pelt, bounds toward the table, golden eyes glittering. Black drapes covering tall, narrow windows. A great horned owl, its wings and talons outstretched, hovering over the stone table. The air rank with the smells of the animals. A viper coiled on the table, fangs exposed. An eagle, an enormous bear. A jaguar, tail lashing. The air crackling with dark power. An elaborate silver candlestick with black candles burning on top of an ebony cabinet. A hawk circling. An athame set with a single bloodred ruby. A jackal, a weasel, both greedy with hunger. The wolf ravenous. All closing on the great round stone table where a wolf cub lies bound, its eyes wide with terror, its small body trembling. One by one the candles gutter out. The darkness becomes thicker, complete. And the wolf cub howls.

I bolted upright, my heart hammering. I could still hear the echo of the cub’s agonized scream, and the darkness around me…was only the darkness of my bedroom in the middle of the night. I was in my own room, in my own bed, yet the dream was still with me, vivid and terrifying.

Hunter, I need you! Without thinking I sent a witch message to my boyfriend, Hunter Niall.

I felt his instant response: On my way.

I glanced at my alarm clock. It was just past three A.M. I padded downstairs in my flannel pajamas to wait for Hunter.

It took him only ten minutes to arrive, but it felt more like ten hours as I paced the living room nervously. The nightmare wasn’t even close to fading. It still seemed present, as if all I had to do was close my eyes and I’d be right back inside it.

I looked out the window as I felt Hunter approach, crunching across the crust of old snow on our lawn. His pale blond hair stuck up in spikes around his head, and my mage-sight showed me the traces of pink the cold wind had whipped into his pale, chiseled face.

“What happened?” he asked without preamble as I opened the front door.

“I had a dream.” I pulled him inside, opened his coat, and buried my face against his sweater-covered chest.

He stroked my hair back from my forehead. “Tell me.”

I told him, standing within the circle of his arms, speaking in a whisper so as not to wake my family. As I spoke, the images from the dream seemed to hover in the air around me, the wolf slavering, the owl’s yellow eyes searching, searching. I wanted to hide from those yellow eyes, wanted to stop them from hunting me out.

Stop. It’s not real, I told myself.

“I don’t know why it scared me so much,” I finished lamely. “It was just a dream. And I wasn’t even in it.”

But Hunter didn’t say the comforting things people usually say. Instead he was silent a moment, tapping his fingers gently on my shoulder. At last he said, “I think I should report it to the council.”

My heart contracted. “The council? You think it’s that serious?”

He shook his head, his green eyes somber. “I don’t know. I’m not experienced in interpreting dreams. But there are things in it that worry me—a lot.”

I swallowed. “Oh,” I said in a small voice.

“Morgan?” I heard my dad’s sleepy voice coming from the top of the stairs. “Are you down there? What are you doing up at this hour?”

I turned quickly. “Just getting something to drink,” I called. “Go back to sleep, Dad.”

“You too,” he mumbled.

Hunter and I looked at each other.

“I’ll call you,” he whispered.

I watched him disappear back into the darkness. Then I went back up to my room and lay there, sleepless and full of dread, waiting for the dawn to come.

1. Prophecies

March 2, 1977

I dreamt of Ireland again. As always, the dream left me with a longing that makes no sense. It’s just an image, deceptively simple, innocent really: a small child’s dress of cream linen, blowing on a line against an open blue sky. Behind it the grass slopes up to the base of Slieve Corrofin, with the great rock at the peak in the shape of a lizard’s head. I remember the locals calling it the Ballynigel dragon, though I reckon that was more for the tourists than anything else.

So why does Ballynigel still haunt my dreams? And what do I make of the fact that the dream returns when I am eighteen, two nights before I’m to marry Grania? If, as we are taught, everything has meaning, then what does this mean? Am I being warned away from the marriage? No, that seems impossible. I’ve been dreaming of that dress since I was eight.

Besides, Grania is three months pregnant with my child. And she’s a good match. Her family is one of the wealthiest in Liathach, our coven. More to the point, her mother is the high priestess of Liathach and has no other children, and Grania has no ambition to lead the coven herself. She’s happy to let me take that role. I’ve always known that one day Liathach would be mine to lead. Being Greer MacMuredach’s son-in-law will make the passing of power that much easier. Together Grania and I will raise a dynasty full of true Woodbane magick.

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