by John Nation
One of the richest men in the world declares war on Sheriff Johnson and the Pack.
|It was the year 1767. The people of Europe and especially Italy considered themselves an enlightened people. The enlightenment was well underway and science was replacing superstition. The old ways of blaming everything on either God or Satan were exchanged by looking for cause and effect.
In this enlightened time, a carriage raced down the streets of Padova, Italy. The hoofs of the horses tossed dirt into the air and the wheels plowed into the many water filled holes, splashing people unlucky enough to be too close. The driver held the reins tight with one hand and used the whip in the other to encourage the horses to greater speed. More than one person had to leap from the path of the carriage. They shook their fists in the air and uttered curses at the woman who paid no attention to them. The horses dug their hoofs into the ground and skidded to a halt when they reached their destination. The foam at their mouths was a testimony to how fast and far they had run. The driver jumped from the seat and ran at her top speed to the doors of the church. She had to lift her skirt as it dragged the ground so she would not trip. She only slowed once she was inside the chapel.
The chapel was almost empty. Mass was over and the worshipers had gone home. She saw the one she sought at once. 'Father Esposito, I must speak with you,' Tonya shouted. The few people still there turned to see who would disturb the tranquility of the church.
She waited as the priest spoke another minute with a parishioner. He made the sign of the cross over the person before he turned away and moved for the confessional. Tonya quickly entered her area. She crossed herself and said, 'In the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit. My last confession was eight days ago.'
For five minutes she spoke with the Father and received her penitence. After the confession was completed, she said, 'Father Esposito, it has happened again. This morning one of the workers was found mutilated. His chest was ripped open and his body mangled in a most horrible manner. My father and brother would not let me look upon him, but they told me all they had seen. It is the same as happened the past three months.'
'My child, why do you continue with this? Yes, this is horrible, and yes, it is an affront against God, but your speculations are without merit. Three hundred years ago your suspicions would have received more attention, but for the most part those days are behind us. In some ways I wish it was indeed a beast that committed these horrible acts. The soul that did these things must repent and confess his deeds before God. I doubt he will do this. If you fear, fear for his soul. Do not waste your energies on chasing down something that does not exist.'
'Father, no man could have done the things I have seen. People have been taken from the midst of others without them hearing or seeing a thing. One moment the person is there, the next he is gone. His body is found the next morning in the adjoining fields, torn to shreds. Some of the people taken are strong men. One was the blacksmith, a man that could carry a three hundred pound anvil from one side of a stable to the other and not be exhausted. Two months ago, three men and a woman were all taken together. All mutilated.'
'I am well aware of these things. The constables and several contingents of soldiers are patrolling the area. All strangers are being questioned. Any that cannot account for their whereabouts are detained. What alarms me is an educated young woman such as you can believe trolls or werewolves can be real. I am not surprised the peasants are speaking of these creatures, but you are above this.'
'I live close to these peasants. I myself have twice heard the howl of some creature as the full moon rose. This was not the sound of a deranged mind, but the cry of a beast as it took to the night.'
'My child, you have heard the scream of a poor soul that has been taken by the devil. It was a cry for mercy. Only our prayers and the love of God can save this condemned soul.'
'This beast is not the one I am concerned with. My prayers go to the people the beast feeds on. It is them I try to protect, not the one that consumes them. This beast can rot in Hell as far as I am concerned. I will not see another helpless person die.'
'You forget yourself, Tonya Rowette. It is not your place to damn another. Only God has that authority.'
Tonya wanted to press forward, but realized if she lost favor with Father Esposito, what little she could do would vanish.
'Forgive me, Father,' she said. 'I have let my emotions cloud my thinking.'
Father Esposito returned to his seat, grateful Tonya could still be reasoned with.
'Father,' Tonya said. 'In twenty-five days, it will be the time of the full moon. I ask that you visit with my family during this time. We would be honored to have you bless our home once more. There are many that would see your presence as a sign from God that all will be well as long as they maintain their faith.'
Father Esposito thought over the invitation for only a short time. 'You are harvesting the grapes now, are you not?' he asked.
'Yes Father. This is the best year we have had since mother went to God. My father and brother say this will be the greatest wine we have ever produced. Not only is the wine good, we will butcher a lamb to feast upon. It will be a holiday you will remember for years to come.'
'It will be good to visit with your family. I have not visited Battista in his home for almost a year. I look forward to matching my skill against your brother, Aristo. He has an understanding of the game of chess that matches the masters. Your family has done so much for this church, the least I can do is visit and perhaps ease if only a little the fear and confusion caused by these recent events.'
'Excellent. With your leave, I shall hurry home to tell father the good news.'
'Yes, of course. Go with God, my child.'
Minutes later, Tonya was driving the carriage back home. She returned home at a far more leisurely pace than she arrived at the church. The horses were familiar with the route and for the most part were able to navigate the path on their own. Tonya spent her time deep in thought. A part of her realized what Father Esposito said was much more reasonable than the whispers circulating among the peasants that a mythical beast was with them. The notion of a werewolf was absurd. What the priest had not seen were the bodies of the ones killed. Her father and Aristo had tried to protect her from viewing the corpses, believing a refined young woman such as her would see such a scene and faint dead away. Despite their efforts, she was able to see four of the fifteen known victims over the past three months. It had not been anything human that ravaged them the way they were. There was nothing but a monster that could do such a thing.
She wondered if perhaps there were two monsters, one human and the other beast. Besides the people that had been ripped open, over a dozen people had been killed by a human. She knew this because she had talked with peasants that had seen the act with their own eyes. They told of a handsome man with blond hair and blue eyes. Some said he was almost six feet tall and some said he was several inches shorter. Most described him as being extremely muscular, blessed with the skin of an angel, with pleasing eyes, a beautiful smile, and a cruelty that had to come from the Devil. What all of them agreed on was he killed simply for the joy of it.
She knew the deaths were real, for she had seen some of the victims and Aristo told her of the others. What she did not think was real was the workers description of events. According to them, this man would walk to a person that had never met him or given him any cause for alarm. He would grab a man or woman and heave them into the air. From this point on, she knew the peasants were exaggerating. They told of watching the victim fly a hundred yards and more across a field before plunging to their death. One man swore he witnessed him striking a plow horse with only his hand and snapping the horse's neck. She had seen the body of the horse and its neck was indeed broken. Her father stated the witness had been careless and caused the horse to fall into a ditch where it died. He attempted to divert attention away from his mistake and place it on a man no one could find. Tonya gave that version far more credit. Even taking into account the peasants superstitions and ignorance, it was still obvious there was someone out there killing people simply for the sake of killing.
The frown left her face and was replaced with a smile as her thoughts turned from the slaughters to a far more pleasant topic. Her family and Father Esposito would be shocked over her recent actions. More so than they were by the murders taking place. She was raised to be a proper lady. It would be a man of noble birth with a rich family that would suite her. Only when he passed the most strenuous examination by her family would this person be allowed to see her, and even then only under the closest of supervision.
There was an item she failed to confess to Father Esposito. A month earlier, she had taken a lover. She was twenty-one and tired of the lonely nights. Not only was he not a proper gentleman, he was one of the peasants that worked the grape fields. If discovered, her family would lock her away in disgrace and the man would be killed.
She had been inspecting the vineyard, Aristo in close attendance. There was an area of ground with new weed growth. Aristo looked around until he saw the closest worker. 'Boy, come here,' he called out.
The young man stopped what he was doing and hurried over, removing his hat when he arrived. He lowered his eyes and said, 'My lord, how may I serve you?'
Aristo began giving instructions on what to do. Tonya did not hear a word of his orders. Her eyes were held captive by the quick glance the man gave her before giving his undivided attention to Aristo. In all her young life she had never beheld such a perfect man. She estimated he was only a year or two older than she was. His skin was flawless, unmarred by the hard work he was forced to do. He was over six feet tall. His arms and chest were thick with muscle. His light brown hair came halfway down his back. That was not uncommon. What was uncommon was there was not a strand out of place. It was almost as if angels were constantly brushing it. It gleamed in the sunlight, as clean as a spring rain.
When he smiled, his eyes twinkled in the light. She saw his teeth were as perfect as the rest of him. Perfect teeth was something she had never seen before. Even she had a small chip on one of hers, and until today, she had not met a person who could equal her smile.
When her brother turned away after finishing his instructions, the man looked directly at her. When he smiled, Tonya felt her heart leap with joy. Before she could do anything else, the man knelt down and was pulling at the weeds when Aristo turned back to her.
During the rest of the inspection, she followed her brother, not making any comments as she usually did about the conditions of the vineyard. Aristo complemented her when the inspection was over for keeping her place and leaving the decisions to him. When they returned to the mansion, she went to her room and closed her door. She sat on her bed, wondering how she could possibly meet this worker once again. Her family would see at once any plan she put in place to be with him. They took great pains to keep her well supervised and protected.
When called to dinner, she knelt her head as her father said grace. While her father's words went to God, her thoughts stayed with her. She could not help herself, but sitting at the dinner table with her family and her father asking for God's blessings, she had her first sexual fantasy. She dreamed of him gently and softly making love to her. Before long, she had grown bolder and had him ripping her clothes off and pounding into her. She took a quick glance up and saw her family still had their heads bowed and eyes closed. That was good because they would not see how flushed she was. After dinner, she said the day had exhausted her and retired to her room. She placed on her nightgown and went to bed. Her last thought before she closed her eyes and fell asleep was about the handsome field hand.
She did not know how long she had slept when she dreamed of a satin scarf touching her cheek. It felt so smooth, the caress brought a sigh of contentment to her in her sleep. The caress continued. She felt as if she were floating on a cloud when she woke.
It took her a few seconds to see the shape of a person in the dim light provided by the small lantern in her room. Before she could scream, a finger was placed over her lips. It was not a violent act, but she stayed silent anyway. Then the shape leaned closer. Her eyes opened in both surprise and delight when she saw it was the fieldworker she had seen earlier in the day.
Her smile left her as she sat up. Her brown hair fell on her shoulders as she did. 'You must leave,' she whispered urgently. 'If you are caught here, you will be killed.'
'My Lady, there are none but you that know I am here. If you wish to have me killed, then all you need do is shout.'
Instead of shouting, Tonya asked, 'Who are you?'
'I am Leonard.'
'Only Leonard? Do you have any other name to go with it?'
'Leonard is all I need.'
'I am Tonya.'
'Yes, I know. You are Tonya Rowette. You are twenty-one years of age and stay here with your brother and father. You love them dearly, but feel they are trying to control your life. You live in a beautiful prison with butlers and maids that hurry to grant your every need. Every man of means a hundred miles in all directions seeks to have you as their wife, but you love none of them. The life your family has planned for you is one of privilege where you will someday be the matriarch of a large family. If this happens, your name will be held in the highest regards by all that ever hear of you.
'As enticing as this sounds, it is not what you want. You want to feel the wind in your hair as you ride a wild horse across the plains. You would feel the spray of the sea on your face as you sail into the mouth of an ocean storm. You dream of dancing naked across a stage, the audience captivated with your grace and beauty.'
'You go too far.'
'Do I, or do I not go far enough?' Leonard reached his hand to her hair and ran his fingers through it. 'Softer than silk, finer than gold,' he said. He moved his hand to her face and caressed her cheek and lips.
Tonya found herself clasping his hand and kissing it before he pulled away.
'My Lady, you must decide the life you wish to lead. Tomorrow, your father will inform you he has selected a man to be your husband. The man he has chosen is a nobleman of great means. His linage is of class, nobility and wealth. He is handsome, but is fifty-three years of age. His first wife died of consumption four years ago. He has several children, both younger and older than you. Your father believes the joining of his family to yours would be an economic anchor, securing the family fortune for generations to come.
'If this is what you choose, tell me so. I will vanish and never bother you again. If on the other hand, you seek what I have said you desire, let me know. I will give all this to you and more.'
'How can you know these things?'
'I am more than you can understand at this moment. If you choose to be with me, I will explain all to you over time.'
'You seem more educated than a field hand.'
'My Lady, I speak a multitude of languages. I know mathematics and the sciences. I have painted next to Rembrandt and have sat with Shakespeare as he wrote many of his tales.'
'Now you make fun of me. They were dead long before you or I were born.'
'I am much older than you would know. If you decide to be with me, I will tell you how this can be.'
'Why would one such as you be a worker in the fields then?'
'Simply because at this time, that is what I choose to be.'
Before Tonya could say another word, Leonard placed a finger against her lips to silence her. He pushed her back down to her pillow. Then he seemed to disappear as he stepped away from the glow of the lantern.
Three seconds later, the door to her room was shoved open as her father and Aristo barged into the room. Each held a pistol in their hand.
Her father quickly looked around the room. 'Who is in here?' he asked.
Tonya barely held the fear out of her voice as she said, 'No one is in here but me, and now you two.'
'We heard you talking. Who were you speaking with?'
As he said this, her father began searching the room. Her brother looked under the bed and then moved to the window where he saw it was securely locked.
They spent another minute searching the room, looking into every nook and cranny. They went into the closet, looking behind the hanging dresses. They checked behind the door and discovered nothing. Her brother even opened her hope chest to see inside of it. Satisfied they were alone, they turned back to Tonya. 'We heard you carrying on a conversation,' her father said.
Tonya took a gamble when she asked, 'Did you hear any voice besides mine?'
'Well, no,' Aristo admitted.
'I must have been talking in my sleep.'
Her father said, 'Yes, that must be so. Try to get a good night's rest. I have an important announcement concerning you in the morning.' He glanced around the room once more before walking out of her room, shutting the door behind him.
Tonya looked at the shut door for a short time before turning her attention back to her room. As he had faded away minutes earlier, he reappeared to her.
'How?' she started to ask.
Leonard placed his finger on her lips once more to quiet her. 'Silence, my Lady,' he said. 'If they return a second time, they will remain the night thru.' He moved to her window. 'If ever you wish to speak with me, place your curtain like this,' he said as he folded the bottom corner of her curtain up. 'If I do not see your sign within the next three days, I will leave and never bother you again.'
He placed his hand on her forehead once more and gently guided her to her pillow. He placed the tips of his fingers on her eyes to shut them. 'Sleep now, my Lady. I shall await your command.'
Tonya felt the fingers leave her eyes. When she opened them again, she was alone.
Tonya was already up and dressed when her maid knocked on her door. Tonya barely nodded to her as she walked past her and down the stairs. The butlers and kitchen staff were setting the breakfast table as she entered the dining room.
'Excellent, you are already up,' her father said. 'Come to my study with me. I have something to tell you.
'Sit here,' he said as he pointed to a chair already placed in front of his desk. He moved to his chair and sat down.
'Tonya, you are nearing twenty-two years of age. The time has come for you to marry. I have selected your husband for you. He is a man of breeding and wealth. You will never lack for anything. The marriage will seal our families and guarantee our fortune for generations to come.'
'Who is the man you have selected?'
'Henri Greco. His linage is as old as ours. He is a respected member of the community and the church. He has twice had an audience with the Pope.'
'I have heard of him. He is old. If I am not mistaken, he is fifty-three, two years older than you.'
'That does not concern you. What does is the wedding has already been arranged. He will be here in two days to formally meet you. When he arrives, you will treat him with the utmost respect. You will be a lady in every sense of the word.'
'What if I do not love him?'
'Love does not enter into the equation. This is the joining of his family with ours.'
'What if I say no?'
'Then you will be out of this home without a penny to your name. You will have no home, no money, no servants, no land, and no clothes except what you have on your back. You will be forced to work as a peasant or as a servant to one of the other families. Would you bring such a disgrace on yourself and the family? I think not.'
'The custom of marrying off the children to secure the family fortune is going out of style.'
'It is not out of style in this family. There will be no more said on this subject. Will you abide by my decision or should I have the servants escort you off this land before you have breakfast?'
With a great effort of will, Tonya hid her anger. 'Yes, father,' she said. 'I will do as you wish.'
Her father rose and walked around his desk. Tonya stood to meet him. He took her in his arms and hugged her. 'It will not be as bad as you make it out to be. This has been a custom from the beginning of time. Love is an idea spouted by the poets. These poets may have love, but they have no money to buy food or shelter for the one they propose to love. Ask those that hunger and have no roof over their head which is more important, love, or money. I think you will find money wins out every time.'
Tonya was silent most of the breakfast, leaving all the planning to her father and brother. She only said 'Yes,' occasionally as she agreed to whatever they said. That day seemed the longest of her life.
She retired early that night. Before entering her bed, she turned the corner of the curtain up. She listened as the house went to bed. First her father, then half an hour later, Aristo, and an hour after that, the last of the servants as they finished their chores for the day. She was beginning to get sleepy when she felt a breeze from her door as it rapidly opened and just as quickly shut, all without the least bit of noise.
She was not surprised to see Leonard smiling at her.
'My Lady,' he said to her. 'You have beckoned. I am here to obey your command.'
Tonya held her arms out to him. 'I am your Lady. Make me your woman.'
Leonard lay down next to her. He stroked her gently, letting his fingers roam over her body. Tonya gasped in pleasure as he touched her. He raised her up and slipped her nightgown from her. He brought his lips to hers and for the first time, Tonya was kissed. For ten minutes he kissed, caressed and touched her. He was able to remove his clothes without missing a single kiss. She felt as she was almost to orgasm even before he entered her. She moaned in pleasure as he moved. She had never known it could be so delightful.
For ten minutes he slowly thrust into her, bringing her close to orgasm, but always preventing her from reaching it. She started to thrust her hips against his, trying to achieved what she so desperately needed.
Leonard began to move with her, picking up speed and power as they moved back and forth. Sweat poured from her body as she moved. She had to press her lips together to keep from screaming out and having the entire house burst into her room.
Her hips arched up as Leonard pushed deeper into her. Then it seemed the heavens exploded as the orgasm rocked her. She was unable to keep herself from shouting out at the top of her voice. Only Leonard placing his hand over her mouth to cover the scream of pleasure prevented a disaster.
For five minutes after, she had to rest to regain her strength. When she was able, she pulled him to her to kiss him once more. He laid his head on her breasts and she ran her fingers through his hair.
'My father is forcing me to marry,' she said.
'Is it what you want?' Leonard asked.
'No. I want to be with you.'
'Are you willing to give all of this up?' Leonard asked as he swept his arm around, gesturing at her room. It was filled with lavish furniture and her closet held only the finest of clothes.
'All of this and more. I will work the fields with you if that is what is required of me.'
Leonard smiled and kissed her once more. 'Your life of wealth will not change. I may not look it, but I have vast wealth hidden across the land. Even more than your father.'
'Then let us leave here. We will disappear and never be seen again.'
'I wish we could, but I must stay here for a time. There is something I must do.'
'What could delay you?'
'There is someone else here. Someone in a lot of ways like me, but in one important way is different.'
'Who does not matter. Only being with you is what matters. I need you to do something for me.'
'Anything. My life is yours.'
'It is your life I want to protect. During the time of the full moon, that is the day before, the day of the full moon, and the day after, I want you to stay here, in your home. Do not leave for any reason. The one I seek is close. So far he has hidden himself, but he cannot much longer.'
'Tell me what is happening.'
'I cannot at this time. Perhaps the day will arrive when I can, but that day is not now.'
'If that is the way you say it must be, then I will accept it. If we are to be together, we must find a way to prevent my marriage.'
'Is your love for me worth a life?'
'I would die for you.'
'Yours is not the life I refer to. Again I ask, is your love for me worth a life?'
'I would kill for you. Anyone, anywhere, anytime.'
'I will prevent the marriage, but it will cost a life.' Leonard stopped for a moment. When Tonya made no protest he said. 'I will be gone for two days. While I am away, stay close to the house. The one I seeks knows I am around here and will avoid this area. If you leave, you might run into him. If he saw one as beautiful as you, he might do you great harm.'
Leonard leaned forward and touched his lips to Tonya's. 'Take care, my Lady. I will return posthaste. Know my thoughts are always with you.'
Then he was gone. There was the quick flash from the lanterns in the hallway as the door opened and quietly shut.
Tonya lay back on her pillow, reliving her first night of love.
Two days later, Tonya was attired in formal dress, as were her father and Aristo. The house staff had the estate in perfect order. Her husband to be was expected to arrive within the hour. She was staring out the parlor window when a rider raced into the yard. It was obvious he had ridden a long way. He dismounted and hurried to the door. Before he could knock, one of the butlers had the door open. The rider and butler talked for less than a minute, before the butler hurried off. The rider waited at the door. Tonya watched as the butler entered the parlor and whispered to her father.
Her father stood. 'Tonya, wait here until I return.' He motioned to Aristo and they left the room.
Tonya turned back to the window to watch. Her father and Aristo walked out of the house and stopped next to the rider. The man removed his hat and spoke with them. Tonya saw her father step back as if he had been shoved. They spoke another minute and then the rider made a small bow before hurrying back to his steed. Her family members spoke together another minute before reentering the house. Thirty seconds later, they entered the pallor, shutting the door tightly behind them.
'Tonya, a most horrible event has taken place. The carriage bringing Henri Greco to our home fell off the bridge six miles down the road. Signor Greco died in the accident.'
Tonya jumped to her feet, placing her hands over her face and stifling a cry. She prayed her act would fool the ones with her. Her father and brother were at her side at once.
'Yes, I realize how shocking this is. Not all is lost however. His oldest son and heir to his estate was with him. By the Grace of God, he was not harmed. He has hurried to Padova with his father's body to have it blessed before the funeral.
'You may not marry the father, but his son is single. I have heard he is not the brightest of people, but that will not matter. It may even work to our advantage. You might be able to persuade him to give us advantageous business contracts. If he is as addle minded as the rumors I have heard, it may even be possible for us to acquire his properties at little cost to us.'
'Is that all this is to you, a business arrangement?'
'All life is business. The sooner you learn that, the better off you will be. Why do I hear you complain? When last we discussed this, it seemed your primary concern was your husband to be was somewhat older than you. That concern has been removed. Young Henri Greco is only four or five years your elder. I will make arrangements to have you meet with him tomorrow. If he is not a complete idiot, he cannot help but be enamored with your beauty. You will charm him in the same manner you were to charm the father.' Her father left to deliver both the families sorrow at his loss and to invite the new master of the Greco estate to meet his daughter.
They were up at sunrise the next morning. Arrangements had been made to meet Henri at a small manor only a few miles outside of Padova. The manor was vacant at the time. Her father had purchased it from the family living there when they fell upon hard times. Her father and brother sat in the carriage with her. Escorting them were half a dozen horsemen. Tonya was again arrayed in one of her finest dresses. The only thing missing to make her perfect was a smile.
It was a little before noon when they arrived. Tonya could see a gathering of people at the front of the manor. When the carriage stopped, her father and brother left at once and joined the group. They talked for several minutes before Aristo left them to come for her. He opened the door and took her hand to help her out.
She was led to her father who took her arm. 'Signor Greco. Give me the honor of introducing my daughter, Signorina Tonya Rowette.'
'Do not waste your time introducing such a lovely creature to that retarded oaf. Introduce her to me.'
Everyone in the party swung around at the unexpected voice. Standing a dozen feet away was a young man. As Tonya gazed upon him, she saw he was as magnificent as Leonard. He was a few inches shorter than Leonard, but much stockier. Muscles rippled along his arm, chest and neck. He looked as if he could crush a man with little effort. His hair was blond. Uncommon in Italy, but not unheard of. His skin was as smooth and unblemished as Leonard's. Just like Leonard, his smile revealed a set of perfect teeth.
'You vagabond, leave this place at once. This is a gathering of a lady and gentlemen. An unkempt tramp such as you has no place in these proceedings,' her father shouted.
'My father was like you. When he was on a horse, I could not tell where he ended and the horse's ass started,' the stranger stated.
'Of all the insolence! I shall have you whipped in the town square.' He motioned for his horsemen and butlers to take the man into custody.
Tonya knew at once something was wrong. 'Father,' she pleaded. 'Do not have our men approach him. Let us leave this place at once.'
'The old fart you call father and the rest of this riff raff can leave. You are staying with me,' he said to Tonya. 'I'm going to screw your brains out.'
'HAVE AT HIM!' her father screamed.
At once four men from her father's group charged and three from Henri Greco's joined with them.
It happened so fast Tonya could barely follow it with her eyes. The stranger swung his arm. The first two heads he touched flew from their shoulders. The same swing flipped the next man into the air, breaking his neck. The fourth person had the side of his head caved in.
Tonya turned at once and ran for the carriage. She did not see the last three men die, but heard one shout in pain. His cry of misery was cut short.
Tonya jumped into the carriage and reached for the purse she left on her seat. She grabbed the pistol from it and leaped back to the ground. By the time she was back, everyone but her father and brother were dead. She saw Aristo on the ground, desperately trying to get on his feet, but the man seem able to hold him down with a foot across his shoulders with no problem. Her father was held in the air by his throat. His hands were pulling at the man's arm with no effect. His feet swung in circles as he was held up.
'Tonya, you want to put the pistol down. If it is not on the ground in five seconds, you will hear your brother's neck snap and then your father's.'
Tonya let the pistol fall from her hand.
'Good. You are going to do everything I tell you to do. You will not hesitate and I will never hear the word no from you. Disobey me in anything, however slight, and you will be the sole owner of the estate. Do not worry. I promise you once I get started, you will treasure every minute of it.'
'Please,' Tonya's father begged. 'Do not take my daughter's virtue.'
'Silence, ass,' the man said. He shook her father and kicked her brother in the head. They both became still.
'They are not dead,' he said. 'But I can change that with no effort.' He dropped her father. He took a step towards Tonya and then became still. Instead of moving closer to her, he backed away a few feet.
'It is good to meet you in person and not as a spirit, Leonard,' he said.
Tonya spun around. Her paralyzing fear left as Leonard stepped in front of her, placing himself between her and the stranger.
'I cannot say the same for you, Demetrius,' Leonard said.
'Come on, they're humans. What's wrong with having a little fun with them now and then? Tell your little friend how you take your fair share of them from time to time.'
'Not as you do. I am not in this form when I take a life and never more than I have to. You kill only to kill.'
'What is wrong with that? It is not like we are going to run out of them.'
'Over the past three years, when the other Wolves and I met in the Outskirts, we discussed you. We hoped you would grow out of the vicious behavior. We have come to realize you enjoy awarding death too much. All of us have voted, and it has been decided you must die. We are all looking for you. I was the one fortunate enough to find you.'
'What do you mean you have all voted? Surely there are some that feel the way I do.'
'All but one agree. In Russia, Veronica feels as you do. We may take action against her next.'
'None. Tabitha, Santiago, Chang, Miranda, all agree you must go.'
'No, not Miranda.'
'She was the one that proposed it. She has stated if needed, she will cross the ocean to finish you herself.'
Demetrius growled as he said, 'What makes you think you can defeat me. Look at me, I am much stronger than you.'
'Appearances mean nothing. You only look stronger than me. Why I know I can defeat you is that I was transformed four hundred years ago. You have not yet even reached ten years. You are still developing while I have achieved my full power.'
'Well, I'm leaving now. I'll hide out a century or two. When we meet on Earth once again, I also will have reached my full strength. Then I will kill all of you, one at a time. When I see my fellow Wolves in the Outskirts, I'll fill them in on what the future holds for them. I'll save Miranda for last. That is definitely one lady I want to feel squirm underneath me.'
'You will never visit the Outskirts again.' Leonard took a step for Demetrius.
'Hold, Wolf,' Demetrius said. 'Even if I cannot defeat you at this time, you know as well as I do that I can at least kill the pretty girl next to you. She is not far enough from us that she can escape. Do you want me bad enough to lose her?'
Leonard stopped. After a short time he said, 'Go. We will meet again soon enough.'
Demetrius stooped down and lifted a large rock. 'You do not want to come after me. I can remove her head with this from a distance of eight hundred yards. You know that to be true. You may want to stay by her side to protect her.'
Then he was off. Tonya gasped as she watched him run. He moved over the ground faster than a hawk in a dive. In only seconds, all she could make of him was a small dot on a field far away. It seemed for a split second he turned back towards them, then he was gone as he vanished over the horizon. Leonard placed his hand in front of her face. She heard a whistle, getting louder as it came closer. Then the rock slammed into Leonard's hand. His arm did not move a single inch. He dropped the rock and turned to her.
'We are most fortunate I arrived when I did. I did not get here in time to save most of them, but your family is safe.'
'Leonard, I do not comprehend the things you two said. How is it you can do the things you do? If Father Esposito was here, he would proclaim you are possessed by Satan.'
'It was not Satan that made us, but God.'
'You work for God? Even the murderer, Demetrius?'
'I am still not certain who we work for. I only know Who created us.'
Leonard placed a finger under her chin and lifted her head to kiss her. He released her and said, 'My Lady, now is not the time or place to speak of these things. A platoon of soldiers is fast approaching and your father is regaining consciousness. It will not be long before Aristo wakes. I should be gone when they do. They would ask questions I could not answer to their satisfaction.'
Tonya hurried over and knelt by her father. When she turned back around, Leonard was gone.
Her father opened his eyes. His voice quivered as he asked, 'Did he harm you?'
'No father, he ran away. We heard soldiers and he left before they could capture him.'
As she said that, thirty soldiers marched into view with three mounted officers to direct them.
'The Saints have preserved us,' her father said as he crossed himself.
The patrol stayed with them over an hour, taking statements from the three of them. Tonya told them nothing about Leonard. One officer with ten men left to track down the murderer. One officer with three men returned to Padova to inform the Sheriff and the church. The remainder of the group escorted Tonya and her family home.