@NAllisonAuthor #Spotlight ‘A Shift Toward Prey’ Chronicles of the Fringe Book One by Natalie Allison

About the Book:

There’s a war brewing in the shadowed lands of the Fringe, a conflict that will match Shifter claws against Vampire fangs for the first time in two centuries. And it seems as if those with the power to stop it are only making things worse.

For too long, a young, ambitious Jaguar-Shifter named Chiari Jhahn has been forced to watch her elder sister’s savage regime destroy the very heart of the Shifter Realm. And now it seems as if that regime is hell-bent on starting a war with their long-time enemies, the Vampires of the Everdark.

After witnessing her sister let her pride stand in the way of a peace agreement that would have stopped the coming bloodshed, Chiari feels she has no choice but to start a revolution—it’s either that, or watch her people become nothing more than prey for a much-stronger predator. But her sister’s reach is long, and Chiari doesn’t know who she can trust.

Forced to seek allies in the most unlikely places, Chiari must use every ounce of her intellect and cunning to build a rebellion that will topple her sister from power and hopefully mitigate the Vampire threat. But Vampires aren’t the only monsters hiding in the dark—and they’re not the only predators out for blood. Chiari’s friends may prove to be worse than her enemies. When political ambition is matched against predatory instinct, the phrase “coming back to bite you” takes on a whole new meaning.

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Excerpt:

Chapter One:

“Forty-three members of the Wolf Clan may have been killed by Vampires, but it wasn’t murder,” said Huntress Reyhani Jhahn, leader of all the Shifter Clans. “We regret their deaths, but their own arrogance led them to make such a tragic mistake.”

The eighteen Clan-Leaders seated around the council table erupted into shouting dissent, making Chiari Jhahn wince and fight the urge to transform her ears just so she could flatten them against her skull. She sat in her designated council seat to the right and just behind her elder sister’s place at the front of the large chamber. This was supposed to have been her debut as the newest Omega to the Huntress, her first time sitting at the right hand of the most powerful Clan-Leader in the entire Shifter Realm. She’d longed for this her whole life, yearned for it, practically counted the moons until she, too, could add her accomplishments to those of her ancestors.

Now, she wished she’d waited one more cycle.

Focus, Chiari. She forced herself to sit up straighter and ignore the simmering emotions swirling around the room. She watched as the Huntress leaned forward a little, knuckles pressed into the darkwood council table as she met the gaze of every Clan-Leader seated around it.

“Those deaths, while tragic, were not caused by simple malice or a Vampiric need to feed,” Reyhani said. “Nor did they take place in Shifter territory. That bachelor Wolf Clan willingly flouted the law by choosing to make a settlement on the south side of the river Enex. They were in Vampire territory and thus considered fair game.”

Several voices raised in anger, talking over one another so that Chiari had a hard time picking out anyone’s words. She scrunched her nose, feeling phantom whiskers twitch as her inner cat begged for release. Were she alone, she would have shed her biped form and let the Jaguar out for a good stretch and fur ripple. Right now, though, she could only settle for allowing her fingertips to morph into retractable claws. Digging them into the wooden arms of her high-backed council chair, Chiari tried to release her own tension, but it did little good.

Not here, not now. Not with the threat of open war hanging in the air.

Vague unease tinged with a growing anger rippled through her body, despite her efforts to tamp it down. Her job was to remain focused on facts and historic precedent, to provide the Huntress with the practical information that would help her make the decisions that would affect the entire Shifter Realm. Before this meeting started, Chiari had been ready to do just that. But now, after hearing about the tragic deaths of all those Wolves—at the hands of their long-time enemy, no less—she was finding it hard to remain aloof. Sweat wetted her temples, and a cauldron of bubbling outrage simmered in her belly. So many dead, and to no good purpose. Had the Vampires been trying to provoke a reaction? Did they want to restart the war? It all seemed so horrible, so tragic.

And so preventable, Chiari acknowledged silently. Reyhani is right about one thing—the Wolf Clan did settle on the wrong side of the river. The Grand Accord we formed with the Vampires nearly two hundred annums ago is very specific about that. It only guarantees Shifter safety from Vampire fangs so long as no Shifter ventures south of that landmark. But still, all those Shifters…murdered…ripped apart and drained of blood. How can we possibly let that go unchallenged just because a piece of parchment says the Vampires were within their rights?

She looked toward Reyhani to gauge her reaction, but all she could glimpse was her sister’s stoic profile. The Huntress looked impeccable as always with her soft, brownish-blonde hair tucked behind pointed ears and a bland expression on her handsome face. There was a glassiness to her yellow eyes, and her mouth was set in a straight, flat line—though Chiari could just make out the tips of her sister’s fangs peeking over the edge of her lower lip. She looked almost…bored. Unfazed, at least, by the growing outrage permeating the Grand Council Chamber. But she couldn’t be that uncaring…could she? Not at a time like this.

Not unless I’ve always been right about my sister’s complete disregard for those beneath her, Chiari thought with a grim twist of her lips. She pushed the thought away.

“This is madness!” shouted Jathan Thorohk, Clan-Leader for the Tigers of North Bay. He slammed his fist on the tabletop, making the whole thing shudder and groan. He thrust one claw toward the Huntress, his golden, cat-slit eyes filled with something bordering on open hatred. “You allow these blood-thirsty creatures free reign to murder our clans? You sanction the killing and slaughtering of innocents? You—”

“Enough,” Reyhani cut him off. She resumed her seat, sitting back with a sigh. “I do none of those things, Jathan. The law in this matter is very clear—”

“Law be damned!” snarled the Wolf Clan-Leader. Chiari couldn’t remember her name. She was gray-haired and stooped, the oldest Clan-Leader there by far, and her eyes were the distinctive pale-yellow of the canine races. “The Vampires killed them in cold blood. It was clearly an attack against us, and we must respond in kind!”

“Cersei, please,” Reyhani said, the words clipped by impatience. Chiari saw her sister’s claws clench around the arms of her chair. “The deaths happened on the south side of the river. We have no cause for action here.”

Cersei. That’s right. Cersei Whorehk. Chiari shook herself a little. She’s my friend Maroni’s great-aunt. I ought to remember something like that.

The Wolf let out a menacing snarl, glaring until her eyes nearly glowed. “I don’t care which side of the river it happened on. The Vampires murdered them, plain and simple. The treaty is broken!”

More shouts of outrage echoed through the room, ratcheting the tension even higher. Was Reyhani even paying attention? This meeting was about to get completely out of control. Although, Chiari herself wasn’t doing anyone any good merely sitting there like a tree stump.

She waited for a lull in the shouting and ventured, “Do we know why that clan chose to settle there?”

Nineteen pairs of Alpha eyes—her sister’s included—turned and focused on Chiari. The weight of those powerful stares nearly flattened her. She tried not to let it show.

“What I mean is, did they think they were still north of the Enex river? There are many rivers in that area of the realm after all.” Or so she assumed. She’d never been out of the Citadel, much less that close to Vampire territory. “Perhaps they thought—”

Cersei shot her a withering look, then scoffed. “Of course they knew, Omega.” The last word dripped derision. “And they settled there because the Vampires lured them there.” Pale-yellow eyes swung over to focus on Reyhani. “Those creatures invited my Wolves to cross the border. They promised safe passage and gave them free reign to settle and cultivate the land. Then, once my Wolves were settled in place, those fanged bastards tore them apart!”

Chiari frowned. “Invitation? But I thought—”

Reyhani held up a hand, silencing Chiari while her golden eyes remained locked on the Wolf. “There was no invitation, Cersei. Repeating a false claim doesn’t give it the weight of truth.”

Cersei’s upper lip rippled, revealing elongated, yellowing canines. “I do not make a false claim! My Wolves—”

“Signed their own death warrants,” Reyhani interrupted, her voice like a whip crack. “Your Wolves crossed the border of their own accord. That arrogance got them killed, Cersei. Had you kept a tighter leash on them, they might be alive today.”

Tense, heavy silence.

Chiari hid a shiver—or tried to. Reyhani was terrifying when she got like this. She’d seen her sister do terrible things when driven to this level of anger. If Cersei pushed Reyhani now…

But Cersei was hyperventilating, her eyes wild. She was much too far gone to heed the warning in the Huntress’ tone. “You accuse me of neglecting my clan? Sending them to their deaths? Willfully ignoring the Vampire threat?” She surged to her feet, blue light rippling across her skin. When it passed, her face had a light coating of gray fur, and her fangs were more pronounced. “How dare you…”

Reyhani stood up—and every other leader, save Cersei, cringed back. “Carefully, Wolf Clan-Leader. There are lines you may not cross. Especially here.”

Chiari’s heart pounded, sweat pouring down her back. The other leaders seemed frozen, too stunned—or too off guard—to intervene. For a moment, the tableau held with Reyhani and Cersei standing at opposite ends of the table. Reyhani, calm and unyielding. Cersei, breathing like a bellows and shaking with pent-up emotion.

Then Cersei threw back her head, bellowing, “I will not suffer these insults!”

Several things happened at once.

As Cersei threw her head back, she raised her arms to shoulder height while flashes of blue light crawled over her upper body. She let out a Wolf song that echoed eerily through the vast Council Chamber. Head and arms lowered at the same time, but now all her fingers were tipped in lethal claws. Her entire head had morphed into a massive, silver-coated Wolf. She howled again and took one step forward.

One step. Just one.

Reyhani moved like a lightning flash. Between one breath and the next, she had vaulted onto the council table and leaped across the distance between her and her opponent. Another breath, and Reyhani’s now clawed hand whipped forward, slicing through the air in a sideways motion. Next breath, Reyhani landed on the floor beside Cersei—

And a fountain of blood sprayed from the ragged remains of Cersei’s throat.

No one moved as the Wolf staggered, gurgling as she reached for her wound. In her panic, she couldn’t manage the change, and her own claws snagged in the jagged flesh at the edges of the gaping slash. She staggered back a step and then dropped to one knee, all the while spraying blood across the table and floor. She gurgled, yellow eyes darting wildly around the room as she slowly sank to the floor.

Then the leader of the Wolf Clan slumped to the flagstones—and died.

Chiari sat frozen, staring at the gore that covered the once pristine darkwood tabletop. This was it. Reyhani had finally gone too far. Chiari had feared this ever since her sister was named Huntress. She knew all too well the depths of her sister’s volatile temper. Surely the other Clan-Leaders would rebel against a leader who was so obviously unstable.

Here lay one of their own, someone who had been sick with mourning and unchained grief and had only been trying to get her Huntress to understand the depths of her pain. Cersei hadn’t been thinking clearly, too lost in her rage to make any sort of decision. If Reyhani had only given Cersei a moment to calm herself—or, better yet, tried to calm her down—they could have moved past the momentary show of temper and started looking for solutions. But Reyhani had acted out of spite and rage, taking down a rival who dared to show defiance. Surely, surely, the other Clan-Leaders would come to the same conclusions Chiari had—Reyhani couldn’t be trusted to think before acting. Surely, they would see Reyhani for the threat she was and take steps to remedy the situation.

Chiari braced herself, ready to leap away the moment the other leaders began their coup. She trembled, wishing she could flee as her instincts demanded, but she didn’t dare. Not unless they moved first. Predators pounced—only prey ran. So, she sat, motionless yet vibrating with tension, waiting for the best moment to escape the coming bloodshed.

And…nothing happened.

The Clan-Leaders just sat there, unmoving. Some stared at the blood covering the table and floor. Others watched as Reyhani wiped her claws on the breast of her leather vest.

As the Huntress stepped around the growing pool of blood, the sound of her boot scraping across the floor echoed through the chamber. Reyhani stood quietly for a time, eyes moving from face to face. Finally, she spoke.

“Would anyone else like to declare their impatience with insults today?”

Total silence. No one even dared to move.

*****

About the Author:

Natalie Allison grew up in a house full of books. Her world—and her imagination—became infused with the wonder and mystery of places like Middle Earth, Narnia, Valdemar, and Pern. An early love of reading led to an early love of writing, and she wrote her very first novel at the tender age of eight.

Natalie has been building worlds with words ever since, and her stories have entertained readers from all over the globe. Now she lives with her adoring husband, a son who’s a genius, and a dog who’s determined to save the world from mushrooms, kittens, frogs, and other nefarious creatures.

~ Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter

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