Anna stood in the empty outbuilding on Michael’s farm, closed her eyes and concentrated on the form of a wolf. Sarah, Daniel and Tanya were trying to teach her to shift consciously, and she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a little nervous. She’d wanted to study photos first since she’d never actually seen a wolf and didn’t want to end up looking ridiculous because she got it wrong. She was also more than a little irritated when she expressed that fear and Sarah and Daniel had laughed. Tanya hadn’t, instead she’d scowled at the other two and shaken her head.
â€œWolf form is natural to you, Anna,â€ she’d explained. â€œYou could imagine yourself turning into a cartoon caricature of a wolf and once your body understood the message it would turn into a wolf.â€
Shifting is easy, sweetie, her mother said in her head. It was the first time she’d spoken since Lucy had outed her as more than a figment of Anna’s imagination. You’ll do fine. You did well with your claws.
You did that, didn’t you? Everyone seemed worried about what Lucy had said but Anna couldn’t find her mother’s presence anything but comforting.
No, that was all you, her mother replied. Interfering that deeply could have hurt you. I just kept you calm.
â€œIs Karen talking to you?â€ Daniel asked. â€œYou should ask her to leave. Possession is dangerous even when the possessor is not malevolent.â€
I will if you ask, her mother said. But you need my help and this is the best way for me to remain hidden and I’m not going to argue about it. I don’t want to use your energy so I can’t talk long enough for that.
Anna repeated that and Daniel scowled. â€œMum spotted you which means Maelin certainly knows.â€
Her mother’s presence laughed merrily. Tell him I’m not worried about Lu and Maelin knowing. It’s the ones who tried to hollow me and who will see you as a target that I’m worried about.
â€œThe ones who tried to what?â€ Daniel asked when Anna relayed that.
Tsk, someone didn’t pay attention to the the tales they were told as a chi– She broke off as a loud clattering came from outside. They hurried outside but saw nothing except a broken plant pot. A second later Michael emerged from the farmhouse looking troubled.
â€œYou said your pack was on good terms with the local werecat clowder, didn’t you?â€ he asked.
â€œUsually, yes,â€ Daniel said. â€œWhy?â€
â€œBecause one of them was spying on Laurel’s room and I was wondering why.â€ He looked at Tanya. â€œAny werecat vampire hunters?â€
Tanya frowned thoughtfully. â€œNot that I know of. I don’t know every recruit but if a werecat from Haventon had been recruited I’d expect to know.â€
â€œPlus the cats tend to be too relaxed about other supernaturals to be hunters,â€ Daniel said. â€œThey even tolerate some renegades, which does raise the alarming possibility that they are doing a favour for Maelin. Mia has warned Philip that Clowder owes him a favour. Though I can’t see why he’d be interested in your kid.â€
â€œIt’s worrying enough that I’m going to call Dad,â€ Tanya said. â€œYou two continue Anna’s lesson. We were getting rather sidetracked from that even before this.â€
â€œI still want to know what she meant,â€ Daniel said. â€œBut teaching Anna to shift must take precedence.â€ He looked back at Anna. â€œYou were about to try, I believe?â€
Anna nodded. â€œShould we go back into the barn?â€
â€œAnd once you’re done join us in the house,â€ Michael said. â€œLeisa’s back and she found something.â€
â€œWe will,â€ Sarah said.
Anna closed her eyes again and imagined a wolf as best she could. Almost immediately she felt like her whole body was tingling and melting and a moment later everything seemed to go black and then she was on all fours. Cautiously she opened her eyes and found herself staring a pair of wolf paws where her hands should be. She barely resisted howling with delight. She had done it even though she had no idea how. She concentrated on her own form and the moment of blackness, preceded by the same tingling, restored her to human form. She clambered to her feet and grinned. â€œIt worked!â€
â€œIt did,â€ Daniel said. â€œYou’re quick. It usually takes a while to â€
â€œBut I can’t remember actually changing.â€
â€œThat’s normal,â€ Sarah said. â€œIt takes a while but eventually you start recalling it. â€œUntil then be careful â€“ the shift blackout leaves you vulnerable to attack while it happens.â€
â€œI can see that,â€ Anna said dryly. â€œLet’s go in and see what Leisa found out.â€
â€œWe should tell them about what Karen has done as well,â€ Daniel said. â€œLiam surely knows more about ghosts than we do.â€
Leisa was still upstairs with Laurel so they sat in the lounge with Liam, who had just returned from a court meeting.
â€œKate says your aunt claims you’re possessed?â€ Liam eyed Anna curiously.
Anna nodded. â€œBy my mother’s ghost.â€
â€œHmm. Well it’s obviously very low grade or it would be more obvious, so I’m not worried about you and your mother doesn’t seem malicious. But she shouldn’t be doing it, ghosts have fairly strict rules about possession.â€
â€œShe said she needed to hide,â€ Anna said.
â€œReally?â€ He tilted his head. â€œDid she say who from? People who can perceive ghosts obviously, but that’s not a talent the Lord of the Wolves is known for having.â€
â€œShe said something about someone wanting to hollow her, whatever that means,â€ Anna said.
Liam visibly paled and stiffened. â€œOkay, hiding from a Hollower is one of the few acceptable reasons for a ghost to hide in someone’s aura â€“ which is what a possession fundamentally is.â€ He gave a convulsive shudder. â€œI hate Hollowers.â€
â€œWhat’s a Hollower?â€ Daniel asked. â€œWe were interrupted before Karen could explain.â€
Liam took a shaky breath. He was obviously really rattled by the simple mention of Hollowing but after a moment his expression went neutral as he took refuge in information.
â€œHollowing is a form of magic,â€ he said. â€œHollowers are magic users â€“ most often human ones â€“ who have found a way to steal the powers of other supernaturals. It usually means a slow painful death for the victim or dissolution for a ghost. For obvious reasons they don’t like supernaturals knowing about them so it’s knowledge best kept to yourself.â€
â€œUsually?â€ Sarah asked.
â€œHollowing can be used consensually to borrow power but that’s uncommon and no one would call a person who used it that way a Hollower.â€
â€œIt’s also not as effective doing it that way.â€ Michael was standing in the door with Leisa behind him. â€œWhy are we discussing Hollowers?â€ He looked as distressed as Liam had and when Anna explained his expression tightened further and he looked at Sarah and Daniel. â€œAs I said they try to keep their existence secret so I’m not surprised you’ve never heard of them.â€
â€œThey sound like the monsters in a kid’s tale mum used to tell me,â€ Daniel said. â€œI’d forgotten it until you mentioned it.â€
â€œThat’s what she was about to say before we were interrupted!â€ Anna said. â€œThat you didn’t pay attention to the tales you were told as a child. Let’s see if she’ll explain now.â€ She turned her attention inwards seeking her mother’s presence but only got a sense a sleepiness in response. â€œI think she’s sleeping? Do ghosts even sleep? She said something about not wanting to use my energy earlier.â€
â€œIf she’s not using your energy she’ll be using up a great deal of energy every time she speaks to you,â€ Liam said. â€œYou may be a seer but you aren’t a true medium.â€
â€œSo she is asleep?â€
Liam nodded. â€œSomething like that anyway. I know a few mediums I’ll figure out who I can trust because we need to talk to her. If there are Hollowers about I want to know.â€ He turned to Leisa. â€œSo what did you find out from whoever you went to talk to?â€ He listened as Leisa told them about her conversation with Edwin. â€œI take it you’ve called the vampire he mentioned?â€ he said when she finished.
She nodded. â€œHe’s coming over this evening.â€
â€œThis Edwin sounds like a piece of work,â€ David said.
â€œHe makes my skin crawl sometimes,â€ Leisa said. â€œBut he’s strong and he doesn’t kill, so it’s not worth the mess to put him down.â€ She looked out the window at the slowly brightening sky. â€œI’m going to grab some sleep. Driving to Devon in the sunlight has exhausted me.â€