• Azalea Forrest

The Underground - Chapter One

The Underground is my second novel, a standalone urban fantasy adventure featuring vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures. There is no romance subplot, no sparkles, but there is lots of fast-paced action as Ashai, our main character, seeks out the culprit that burned down her blood bar before finding herself and her friends at the precipice of a hostile takeover.




You can purchase The Underground from my website here, and from Amazon too! Here's the blurb from the back of the book, and below will be the entire first chapter of the novel. While we get to meet Ashai, we spend a fair amount of this chapter enjoying my favorite werewolf twins, Juniper and Gavin, as they chase a mark through the city.


[ Juniper by Shiroasa ]


As a warning, there is swearing & violence down below! If that's not your fancy, feel free to peruse my other blog posts. Otherwise, enjoy!


Blurb: In the country of Lornesse, the city Anen harbors more than just high-rises and technology. Deep beneath the architecture, unbeknownst to humans, roam incredible and terrifying creatures. The Underground isn’t the only place these people reside, however. Most humans don’t know that a third of their population are actually blood suckers and moon howlers, changelings and ghosts, disguised and living among them. Ashai is a young vampire of humble origins just trying to bridge the gap between supernaturals and humans with her blood bar. She’s happy to deal with human, vampire, and werewolf alike. When an old vampire is rumored to have come back from the dead to build an army, it bristles the fur of many a werewolf. This sheds new light on the truth of past transgressions and the prejudice between their peoples. Ash is unwittingly caught in the middle and must fight her way to find her own truths.


Chapter One


Enormous ebony doors, decorated with delicate inlay and elaborate carvings of bats and roses, opened to the bustling of city streets. The night sky blanketed Anen, inky black except for the waning moon, yet the streets stayed lit by the ever-shining city lights.

There was always noise: people laughing and yelling, automobiles chugging, horns blaring and doors slamming. For having grown up in Anen, it was as if the young woman was seeing the metropolis for the first time. In a way—with these eyes—she truly was.

“Anen is a fascinating city.” The man gestured around them, standing at the top of those stone steps she would grow so familiar with. “For hundreds of years, humans have lived here knowing of vampires, werewolves, magi, and ghosts… But over time they have lost this rich history. They’ve transformed us into legend, transcending the mortal plane into make-believe. Humans would scoff at the idea that we really exist today, what with their favor of studying science and mechanics.”

Dante looked down at Ashai, the brown skinned woman from the east. From her appearance alone she looked quite young, but compared to Dante she was even younger still. He smiled, showing sharp teeth despite the darkness of the stoop.

Fangs. They didn’t scare her anymore.

“An entire city of humans, and only a handful know that a third of their own town is occupied by supernatural beings. You are a part of that now, Ashai. Your veil has risen. You can see.”


~*~


The woman smiled at her memory as she wiped down the bar with a damp rag. It was eight years now since she first met Dante, the regent of the Syndicate, and eight years since she had been turned into a vampire. She had been so green back then, not that she was much better now, but things had greatly improved for the former street rat.

Dante wasn’t her sire—that is, the vampire that had created her, but that hardly mattered. Thanks to his position as regent, he had been able to offer her all the help she could need from the sire she never had. He was a good man, albeit often busy; she was just happy to be reminded of how she had someone more experienced that she could rely on.

“What’s got you so cheerful?” Daniel asked with mock hostility from across the bar. He raised an eyebrow at her, but then he smiled, reassuring her that the feeling of irritation wasn’t a genuine one. Daniel rolled up the sleeve of his right arm and offered it to the man sitting beside him. The patron took it gratefully and wiped Daniel’s forearm with a cloth from his pocket, as was this particular customer’s habit.

Ash gazed at her employee and found herself giving a little chuckle. He was a character all right; that was why she had hired him. With shaggy hair and piercings covering one ear, he still managed to bring in plenty of customers. Appearances didn’t mean too much in the supernatural world.

“Just thinking about my roots,” she said with a smirk.

“Don’t think too hard, we need you here.” He gave a small grimace as the man beside him bit into his wrist with sharp fangs. A small trickle of blood made its way down his arm and Daniel wiped it away with a handkerchief. “Roots sometimes like to pull you back,” he said.

“I’m not going anywhere, don’t you worry.” Ashai tossed her rag into a bin under the bar and walked out from around the counter.

Daniel leaned against the bar with his free hand over his face, but she knew he wasn’t in pain. To drink, and be drank from, was usually a pleasant experience for both parties. Sometimes it could just be overwhelming.

His patron had a similar expression as he drank, and Ashai felt a little burst of pride. She was having those a lot lately. She ran a hand along Daniel’s shoulder in reassurance as she slipped farther into the lounge.

The Cabernet Cafe was Ashai’s bar and inn. A bar and inn sounded plain, but it was no ordinary place of business—Ashai hired humans to offer themselves as drink to vampires. While Ashai paid them, they were also tipped handsomely by the customers. Humans that knew about the supernatural side of Anen were few and far between, but they needed jobs just like anyone else and weren’t likely to stick to their normal place of employment once they knew about magic.

Vampires always healed the marks they left at the Cabernet and only took just enough to keep themselves healthy. Restraining themselves was for the benefit of all; vampires got what they wanted and humans could continue to serve others or continue on with their day. If humans spent too much blood, they’d be too fatigued to function and that wouldn’t help anyone. Luckily, Ashai hadn’t run into any problems in the year she’d been in business. At least, nothing she couldn’t handle.

Any humans that couldn’t comprehend the secret that supernaturals existed had their memories wiped by magi. Anyone trying to avoid a memory wipe or spread their new-found knowledge didn’t last long. Even in a city as big as Anen, word traveled fast when it came to human-supernatural security. There was always someone looking out for the benefit of the supernatural, to keep them safe and the humans oblivious. It was the legends that helped the most. When someone slipped through enforcement’s fingers, humans were quick to dismiss that supernaturals existed without hard proof.

The bar was a comfortable yet opulent lounge with walnut tables and plush-seated wooden chairs. Oak beams ran across the ceiling and the trim was walnut to match. The guests could see out the windows, but anyone outside the cafe wasn’t able to see in, thanks to magi enchantments. Burgundy curtains hung from the windows and a jukebox in the corner played a quiet piano tune. A set of stairs led up to the inn and to Ashai’s apartment, but most business was made at the bar. The inn wasn’t just for vampires, but for any supernatural needing a place of refuge. Humans sometimes spent the night as well, but naturally only those under the pact.

There were two ghosts in her employment that helped Ashai run the inn side of things; they cleaned as quickly and efficiently as any mage did and they didn’t ask for much in return. Anna and Terri had an apartment together a few blocks down from the Cabernet with Daniel, though they would sometimes stay at the inn when Ash needed extra help. It could be difficult for a ghost to find a place to live, unless they stayed invisible.

Ash cleared glasses from one of the tables and began to wipe it down when she overheard a gruff voice grumbling nearby in a booth.

“I can’t handle these debts from the Syndicate. They’re bleeding me dry and hounding me every other day.” He downed a shot of whiskey and slammed the glass on the table, nose already red in drunkenness.

“It could be a lot worse. You could be involved with the Shop. The Syndicate is child’s play compared to that gang,” his companion said from across the table. They both looked human, but they were magi. Wizards, as they used to be called.

“Screw that. The Shop is just a bunch of thugs. They’re loan sharks, no different from those damn vampires.” He made a disgusted look and ran a hand through his dirty blond hair. It didn’t take much to upset him. Anything that brought him out of his routine was a huge inconvenience, so everything became one long complaint. Ashai was familiar with types like him.

The black haired mage sank slightly in his seat. “You haven’t heard? They’re saying all the crime rise lately is because of the Shop. Two vampires dead now, and I heard a human’s jewelry shop was just robbed. The regent is pissed, and the Syndicate’s been running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to wipe memories to keep us safe! At least they’re looking out for us...”

The other mage laughed. “We sure do like to make it difficult to be found out, don’t we?”

“I think it’s better this way, honestly… Just pay your damn debts and things will improve. Or maybe do your job and actually help the Syndicate wipe more memories.”

“They have enough money without mine overflowing their pockets, Steinn,” he grumbled. He rose his hand to order another drink, and Ashai stopped pretending to wipe down the nearby table to take his order. She wasn’t very familiar with the Shop, but she vaguely remembered hearing about them.

Brushing some of the curly, dark brown hair from her forehead, Ashai smiled at her customers. “What can I get you?” She did her best customer service impression to help keep the frown from her face.

“‘Nother whiskey,” he grumbled, handing her his glass. Ash kept on smiling and looked at the other mage, who was still sunk into his chair. He avoided looking at her.

“That’s it? No problem, boys.” She walked back to the bar, hearing the blond tsk at her comment. She couldn’t help but smirk. He might cause trouble later, but it wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle. She wouldn’t mind starting a fight with someone talking trash about the Syndicate.

He better start by paying the tab with me first, though. She chuckled quietly to herself as she poured the drink.


~*~


Screams reverberated through the alley as a man bounded down the street. He was panting and covered in sweat, and he kept looking over his shoulder fearfully. He was the embodiment of dishevelment. His dark hair had gone black, slick with perspiration, and his odd-looking clothes clung to his skin. Judging by the robes he wore, he was a mage, and not afraid to show it. Humans would just think he was eclectic.

He stopped running to turn around, his breath hitching for a moment, and raised both arms in a sweeping motion. A wall of ice rose at least fifteen feet from the ground to block the path he came from. Vapor misted off the wall of ice and off his hands, but he didn’t pay them any mind. His hands would warm up again soon. The ice was a bright, stark difference compared to the damp, dark alley. With a final look at his work, he started running again.

Some sort of animal flashed by from around the corner, a blink of white fur, and kicked a group of trash cans down the alley as it ran past. It ran up the side of the nearest building and then jumped over the wall of ice with ease.

The mage yelled in surprise when he saw the beast. He started climbing the closest fire escape, clumsily slipping on the first step but crawling back up as quick as he could.

The creature stopped at the bottom of the steps and stared with bright, golden eyes up at the mage. It was a white wolf, larger than any sort of dog the mage had ever seen. He swore and continued to climb. The wolf sat patiently at the bottom of the fire escape, its tail wagging every so often.

The wall of ice exploded as a body crashed through it, and with it came a howl. A bipedal werewolf, with its snout up at the fading moon, stood with its clawed hands spread. The howl became a cackle and then a terrible grin formed as it looked to the white wolf beneath the escaping mage.

“I’ll go, Gavin,” came the voice of a woman, her voice like a song. She was glad he waited and suspected he knew that she wanted this chase. She got on all fours, her black fur bristling in excitement, and then barreled to the fire escape, only to launch herself onto it and climb like an ape up the straining metal. It creaked beneath her weight, but it held, and the mage stared down in horror. He wasn’t going to be fast enough.

“Fuck! No! I’ll give you the money, just don’t kill me!” But he kept climbing, not trusting that she would hesitate.

“Aw, you know we won’t kill you, Don! If we don’t bring you back alive, we won’t get paid!” The werewolf laughed, even as Don threw a fireball in her direction. She swung herself onto the stairs with a loud crash of weight on metal and continued her ascension. The fire almost hit Gavin on the street, but he easily jumped out of the way. As he dodged, he caught a scent and made his way farther down the alley, completely disregarding whatever else happened above him.

Don reached the roof and ran towards the edge, panting again. Slick hands grabbed the ledge and he tried to calculate if he could make the jump. He looked behind him and there she was.

His breath caught in his throat.

She loomed over him, several feet taller than he was. Her lips curled in a mocking grin that showed every sharp tooth at her disposal. Long, clawed fingers wrapped slowly around Don’s arms and he felt the sharp caress of her nails digging into his skin. An early morning breeze managed to reach them up on the roof, caressing her fur and his skin, but it was no relief for the mage.

“P-please, you have to let me go.” He couldn’t move, both from his fear and from her grip. She wouldn’t let him down, however, so he started to get angry. She wasn’t listening!

“You damn dogs deserved it! Fuck you! I’d do it again!” He struggled against her grip and he could see fury flash across her face. She released one hand and slapped him so hard across the head he was knocked out instantly. He crumpled to the ground like a doll.

“No, fuck you,” she said simply. Her form shrunk as she transformed herself back into a human. Her snout shortened into a young woman’s face with olive skin, freckles and a narrow nose. Her bones seemed to shrink and snap into something more manageable, less lanky, but there was no pain. Not even mild discomfort. This was a part of her.

Black hair danced down her back and she sighed in satisfaction. He didn’t put up too much of a fight, but it had been quite the chase up until now. She pulled her hair into a bun and tied it back with an elastic band. Bangs swept across her forehead and she adjusted them slightly, but they were too short to get in her line of sight. Her eyes were just like her brother’s, gold and alert.

“Juniper, you better get down here,” Gavin called from the fire escape. Juniper looked back, but he was already gone. Back down to the street, she guessed. She took the bag from around her shoulder and pulled out a rope that seemed to have much more length than it first appeared. Their gear was magically enhanced to stretch and keep its shape so she and her brother could transform freely. She wrapped the rope around Don and tied him up tight enough to dig into his skin. She certainly didn’t care if she hurt him any more than he was already, so long as it didn’t kill him.

“Bounty hunting has its perks,” Juniper muttered to herself. The mage that had helped with her and Gavin’s gear had helped specifically because they were bounty hunters. The enforcers that did police work for supernaturals didn’t always get the job done as fast as a team like June and Gavin did, and they had helped him and his business more times than they could count.

She got to her feet and kicked Don in the ribs; it felt good to get that extra frustration out. They had chased him the entire night; it was going to be a good haul once they turned him in.

Ol’ Don had been robbing supernatural businesses, and he murdered the last establishment’s owner—a good family man, and a werewolf too. Juniper tried not to take the crimes of her marks personally, but sometimes she just couldn’t stand to see another asshole take advantage of her people. That, and it was better for her to do it than Gavin… Sometimes he did a lot worse.

Juniper tossed the tied man over her shoulder with ease. She wasn’t as large anymore, but she still had the strength. She took her time coming down the fire escape and Gavin’s white fur bristled with impatience. She tried to contain her laughter as she saw him there in the street, glaring at her. He didn’t need to say anything, but he did anyway.

“So slow!” he complained. He stood on all fours. “Look at this.” He pointed his snout at something laid among the trash. Juniper dropped the body a little roughly but didn’t think twice about it as she inspected Gavin’s discovery. Don groaned, but he was still out.

The morning sun was glaring down the alley and ashes slowly rose from the half decomposed body. She couldn’t tell who it was; its face was half sunken in and completely black. But she knew what it was.

“It’s a vampire.” She looked over at her brother. He turned back into a human and stepped closer to the body. His hair was black just like his sister’s, but a white streak ran through it. They were twins, discernible by the same narrow nose and eyes. There was a notch in Gavin’s eyebrow, though; an old scar.

“The third one in the last couple weeks,” he said.

“Yeah, that we’ve found… There could be more. You think they’re all related?” Juniper frowned. She wasn’t sure if she should feel worried yet, but she was concerned anyway.

Gavin shrugged, but his expression was dark. “I don’t like it. They keep showing up in alleys like this. Murdered? Abandoned sirelings?” He leaned down to pick up Don and slung him over his shoulder. The mage groaned again, but he still wasn’t awake. “The fact that we keep finding them doesn’t settle well with me either. Let’s get out of here before someone shows up.”

Juniper stood and stared a final time at the vampire’s corpse, suddenly lost in thought. This must be recent. But if it happened this morning, wouldn’t we have seen it happen? Why hasn’t anyone else found him? There wasn’t much but bone and melted flesh to look through; his clothes and most of his extremities had burnt away. Maybe he was just careless. Maybe he did it on purpose?

Her thoughts didn’t help the matter, but her brother was right. It wouldn’t be good if they were found with the corpse. There were already enough murder cases in both worlds, and bounty hunters were tolerated at best when it came to the police. She followed after her brother and they disappeared down another alley to turn in their prize.



And there we have it. What did you think? Did you enjoy June and Gavin as much as I did? If you'd like to read more, I'd love it if you picked up The Underground.


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