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The Pack's Dragon, Book Six in The Havermouth Pack Series

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The Sixth book in the Havermouth Pack Series, The Pack's Dragon! Book One, The Pack's Secret Keeper, Book Two, The Pack's Triquetra, Book Three, The Pack's Vampire, Book Four, The Pack's Hybrids, Book Five, The Pack's Rebels. The battle for Havermouth has been won, but the war against the Van Helsings has only just begun. What secrets will be revealed from Samuel's past and what role has he to play in the battle Aislen and her men will lead to take back the river towns held by the Van Helsings? The floodwaters have reached the ocean and carried with it the zombie virus, adversely affecting the Mer and marine life. When the Mer discover the source of the virus, will Aislen and her men find themselves fighting a battle on two fronts?

Lyric and the Cottage

Trayrock, A few days after the storm

“I don’t think that you understand,” the woman was furious, tapping the toe of her high heel on the sidewalk in a rapid staccato. “I have a very important appointment in Rideten. It has taken six months to get this appointment and I get charged whether I attend or not.”

“Tiff,” her husband murmured, his hand on her elbow and demeanour pleading. “It’s for public safety.”

“They can’t keep us prisoner here,” Tiff shook her elbow free of his grip in order to prod her finger into the chest of the NES officer. “It’s been a week already and there’s still no power, no internet, and the phone connections are in and out in and out… I can’t even call my daughter in Havermouth, and it’s just a short drive from here! Not that I can drive to see her, because all the roads are blocked, either by your men or the flood, and I want to know what you’re doing about it!”

Lyric adjusted her grip on the cardboard box of supplies she was carrying to her car. The local shops were accepting cash payments, although their prices had become exorbitant. Lyric had restocked on a few luxuries that would extend the basics that she grew for herself, and some not-so-luxury items that she suspected would soon become scarce.

She paused by her Ute, torn between her well-developed survival instincts that recommended keeping her head down and getting out of town quickly, and her natural curiosity that was held enthralled by the developing drama.

Arthur would have advice for the unwise Tiff, Lyric thought as she slid the box onto the passenger seat. When a bunch of men in uniform and carrying weapons took control of a place, there were certain things that a person should do if that person wanted to live a long and happy life, and confronting one of the men on the street wasn’t one of those things.

“Ma’am, do not poke at me,” the NES agent’s lip curled in a sneer. “The roads are not safe.”

“How, precisely, are they not safe?” Tiff demanded, hands on hips, undaunted.

“There are powerlines and tree branches down.”

“Isn’t that your job?” She replied sharp as a whip. “To get them off the roads?”

“Tiff,” Vince’s eyes went to where the other townspeople were beginning to slow and gather, and further down the road where the scene had drawn the attention of two other NES officers. “This is not…”

Wise, Lyric finished for the unfortunate Vince. It was not wise, because she was almost entirely sure that the men walking around Trayrock in black uniforms were not NES officers. Who they were, she did not know for sure, but she had paid attention to Arthur’s many tales, and she knew that armed men who moved into a community and took control, suppressing access to the outside world, were not a good sign of things to come.

It was because of Arthur’s experiences that his cottage was self-reliant and off-grid. Unlike most of Trayrock, she had power, hot water, and a battery-operated radio – and what was playing out on the radio waves was so incredible that she wasn’t entirely sure it wasn’t a hoax.

Not that it wasn’t all believable, she amended. She believed that there was a contaminant in the water. Both because Arthur had been investigating the dam upstream for years for negligence, and because Arthur had always said that the best way to control a population was to control the water supply. Humans could not survive without it after all.

Which was why the cottage relied on rainwater despite its proximity to the river.

She watched Vince succeed in persuading Tiff away from the NES officer as his two friends reached them. The three black-clad men followed the couple to their car with narrowed eyes and one made a note of their registration.

“Time to go,” Lyric told herself. She didn’t think that Arthur’s Ute was registered, nor that the plates on it went with the car, but she didn’t want anyone to look too closely at it, or at her. She slid into the driver’s seat and started the engine as discretely as possible before reversing out.

Her passage was slow, many of the streets blocked by the occupying militia, and those that were not, crammed with other cars. The black-clad men were everywhere, trying to disperse gatherings of people, close the few shops that were open, and get everyone to return to their houses.

“You want to control a populace, Lyric,” Arthur would say. “You start by controlling their connection to the rest of the world. Cut them off and isolate them. Then from each other, so they can’t organize against you. Make them scared and alone, and you have them.”

There was an irony there somewhere, Lyric thought dryly as she approached the checkpoint that would release her out of Trayrock’s center and allow her to head for home. Scared and alone was precisely what Lyric was.

She wound down her window as a black-clad man approached.

“Where are you off to?” He asked peering within the cab, his eyes on the cardboard box.

“Home,” she told him. “I only came in for supplies, now that the storm has passed, and I thought the shops would be open. I’m fairly regional, and with no phones or internet, I didn’t know the NES were here, or that we weren’t meant to be out and about.” Pretend like she was being good and heading home because that was what they wanted, she encouraged herself whilst looking as innocent as she could. “I’m very sorry.”

“What you got in the box?”

“Supplies,” she repeated, trying not to get defensive. “Foodstuff.”

“Straight home,” he said firmly. “Straight home. Don’t drink the tap water, stay out of the river. Watch out…” He added and hesitated, before bracing his forearm against the roof in order to lean closer to the window. “There are some strange folks around. Dangerous ones. If someone comes to your house that isn’t quite right, you keep the doors locked okay?”

His intensity was unnerving. Perhaps there was more to the order to stay at home than appeared, she realized. “Strange folks?” She asked hesitantly.

“They might be people you know, but they’ve gone wrong. We don’t want to start a panic, and we don’t want to scare people without reason, so we’re keeping it quiet, but there’s word further up the river, and you know the saying.”

“Everything washes out to the ocean,” she finished for him. “Eventually.”

“Yep.”

“Thanks for the warning,” she said, her heart racing. She believed him.

“You take care now. Go home, lock the doors, and stay inside.” He patted the roof as he stepped back, indicating that she could continue on.

She passed out onto the country road, picking up speed as she did. Not speeding. Oh no, Arthur would not approve. You drove precisely at the speed limit. Too slow, or too fast and you drew attention to yourself.

There were eight ways to reach the cottage, all requiring a detour designed to prevent anyone from seeing the routine behind her passage and tracing it to the entrance to the property. However, her fuel tank was low. She had intended to fill up whilst in town, but with the power out, and no supply trucks coming into and out of town, the pumps weren’t working or manned. The so-called NES officers had been at all the petrol stations, preventing anyone from entering.

She did not know how long it would be until petrol was freely available again, and the supply that Arthur kept in the shed would only go so far – and it was needed as a backup for the generator in case the solar power failed.

That was okay, though, she told herself. She didn’t plan on going anywhere until she knew what was going on. She would stay where it was safe, and keep to herself as she always did, with one ear to the radio.

She made sure there were no cars on the road for as far as the eye could see, before turning down what appeared to be no more than a local rest-stop, hidden behind the trees. There were faint tire tracks, but nothing too noticeable, as she did not come and go this way often enough to leave more, and these existed mostly because some opportunistic teenagers occasionally parked there in order to smoke or f*ck.

There were no teenagers parked down the little laneway now.

She parked and went to open the gate. It was woven with fake greenery. If any of the teenagers cared enough to scrutinize their surroundings, they might have noticed the fake amongst the real, but they never did, nor the way the light caught on the little cameras and the solar panels that powered them, that were mounted in the trees.

Once the gate was closed behind her, screening her from the road, she felt the tension ease away. She drove between the trees, the crunch of undergrowth hiding her passage. There was only one way through. The wrong way and even the Ute would struggle with the potholes and the logs and rocks hidden amongst the foliage. This way, however, it was smooth and clear, the grasses whispering against the undercarriage as she passed through them.

The cottage and out-buildings were hidden behind a screen of trees staggered so as to look natural. From a distance, there was nothing, until you passed a certain point, and suddenly there before you appeared the little cottage with its wrap-around veranda and roof obscured beneath solar panels. To one side was the shed that also served as storage, and to the other side was the extensive greenhouse, which augmented the vegetable garden and orchard.

The cottage had been built well back from the river, but the recent flood had brought the water uncomfortably and problematically close to the orchard and garden.

If, after all, the water was contaminated, what was it doing to the trees and vegetables? She did not like to think about it but would be making sure that she boiled everything very well before consuming it in the future.

She parked in front of the house and transferred the contents of the Ute tray and the box from the passenger seat onto the veranda before reversing back to park within the shed, locking the door behind her.

She used the keypad to unlock the cottage door and swore as she heard a shrill alarm, dragging in the supplies quickly and locking the door behind her, before hurrying down the hallway.

The tiny third bedroom had been overtaken by computers and monitors. The array used most of the solar power, meaning that everything else had to be used circumspectly, but it was a sacrifice well made, in Lyric’s opinion as she located the alert and silenced the alarm.

She frowned and tilted her head to the side. Was that a man… with a fishtail?

The Tale Of A Tail?

Trayrock, A few days after the storm

Lyric took a shovel and the shotgun with her. Just in case.

The storm had broken branches and blown in rubbish from the town to tangle around the tree trunks. In the morning she would have to come out and salvage wood, leaves, and paper for the fire. Although it was warmer at the mouth than further up the river, the winter still crept in with the dark. Lyric didn’t like the cold.

She walked past the edge of the vegetable garden and through the sort-of orderly lines of the orchard (Arthur had gotten creative with the spacing, the effect of some of the plants growing in the greenhouse, she suspected) to where the water lapped against the grass, the calmness of the ripples belying the rush of the water deeper in.

On a normal day, with a normal river, the water was misleading enough - the surface would often look calm and the waters inviting. However, there was a strong undercurrent that was challenging to a strong swimmer, an

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