<DIV><DIV><B>CHAPTER ONE</B> <I>Aurox</I><I>The human male’s flesh had been soft, pulpy.</I><I>It had been a surprise how easy it had been to destroy him—to end the beating of his feeble heart</I>.“Take me to North Tulsa. I want to go out into the night,” she’d said. That was the command that began their evening.“Yes, Goddess,” he’d responded instantly, coming alive from the corner of the rooftop balcony that he’d made his own.“Do not call me Goddess. Call me…” She’d looked contemplative. “… Priestess.” Her full lips, slick and reddened, turned up. “I believe it is best if everyone should simply call me Priestess—at least for a short while.”Aurox had fisted his hand over his heart in a gesture he instinctively knew was ancient, though it somehow felt awkward and forced. “Yes, Priestess.”Priestess had brushed by him, gesturing imperiously for him to follow her.He had followed.He’d been created to follow. To take her orders. To obey her commands.They’d entered something Priestess had called <I>car,</I> and the world had flown. Priestess had commanded him to understand the workings of it.He’d watched and learned, just as she’d commanded.Then they’d stopped and exited the car.The street had smelled of death and rot, corruption and filth.“Priestess this place is not—”“Protect me!” she’d snapped. “But do not be protective <I>of</I> me. I will always go where I wish, when I wish, and do exactly what I wish. It is your job, no, your<I>purpose</I> to defeat my enemies. It is my destiny to create enemies. Watch. React when I command you to protect. That is all I require of you.”“Yes, Priestess,” he’d said.The modern world was a confusing place. So many shifting sounds. So much he did not know. He would do as Priestess commanded. He would fulfill his reason for creation and—A male had stepped out, blocking Priestess’s way.“You way too pretty to be in this here alley so late with nothin’ but one boy keepin’ ya company.” His eyes widened, as he took in Priestess’s tattoos. “So, vampyre, you stoppin’ here to get you a little snack from this boy? How ’bout you give me that purse then you and me, we’ll talk ’bout what it’s like to be with a real man?”Priestess sighed and sounded bored. “You’re wrong on both counts: I am not simply a vampyre, and this is no boy.”“Hey, what you mean by that?”Priestess ignored the man and looked over her shoulder at Aurox.“<I>Now</I> you should protect me. Show me what kind of weapon I command.”He obeyed her without conscious thought. Aurox closed on the man with no hesitation. In one swift movement, Aurox plunged his thumbs into the man’s staring eyeballs, which made the screaming begin.The man’s terror washed over him, feeding him. As simply as drawing a breath, Aurox inhaled the pain he was causing. The power of the man’s terror swelled through him, pumping hot and cold. Aurox felt his hands hardening, changing, becoming <I>more.</I> What had been normal fingers became claws. He pulled them from the man’s eyes when the blood began to seep from his ears. With the borrowed power of pain and fear, Aurox lifted the man, slamming him against the wall of the nearest building.The man screamed again.What a wonderful, terrible thrill! Aurox felt more of the change ripple through his body. Mere human feet became cloven hooves. The muscles of his legs thickened. His chest heaved and split the shirt he had been wearing. And most wonderful of all, Aurox felt the thick deadly horns that swelled from his head.By the time the man’s three friends ran into the alley to help him, he had stopped screaming.Aurox dropped the man to the filth and turned to place himself between Priestess and those who might believe they could cause her harm.“What the fuck?” The first man skidded to a halt.“I ain’t never seen nothin’ like that,” said the second man.Aurox was already absorbing the fear that was beginning to radiate from them. His skin pulsed with the cold fire of it.“Is they horns? Ah, hell no! I’m outta here.” The third man turned and scurried back the way he had come. The other two began to back slowly away, eyes wide, shocked and staring.Aurox looked to Priestess. “What is your command?” In some distant part of his mind, he wondered at the sound of his voice—how it had become so guttural, so bestial.“Their pain makes you stronger.” Priestess looked pleased. “And <I>different, more fierce.</I>” She looked at the two retreating men and her full upper lip lifted in a sneer. “Isn’t that interesting … Kill them.”Aurox moved so quickly the nearest man had no chance to escape. He gored him through his chest, lifting him so that he writhed and shrieked and soiled himself.This made Aurox even more powerful.With a mighty toss of his head, the skewered man flew into the building to land, crumpled and silent, beside the first man.The other man didn’t run away. Instead he pulled out a long, dangerous looking knife and charged at Aurox.Aurox feinted to the side and then, when the man overcompensated, he stomped a cloven hoof through his foot, ripping off his face as the man fell forward.Breathing hard, Aurox stood over the bodies of his vanquished enemies. He turned to Priestess.“Very good,” she said in her emotionless voice. “Let us leave this place before the authorities descend.”Aurox followed her. He walked heavily, his hoofs gouging furrows in the dirty alley. He fisted his claws at his side as he tried to make sense of the emotional storm that flowed through his body, taking with it the power that had fueled his battle frenzy.Weak. He felt weak. And more. There was something else.“What is it?” she snapped at him when he hesitated before entering the car again.He shook his head. “I do not know. I feel—”She laughed. “You don’t <I>feel</I> at all. You’re obviously overthinking this. My knife doesn’t feel. My gun doesn’t feel. You’re my weapon; you kill. Deal with it.”“Yes, Priestess.” Aurox got in the car and let the world speed past him. <I>I do not think. I do not feel. I am a weapon.</I><I>Aurox</I>“Why are you standing here <I>looking</I> at me?” Priestess asked him, staring at him with eyes of green ice.“I await your command, Priestess,” he said automatically, wondering how it was possible to have displeased her. They had just returned to her lair at the top of the magnificent building called Mayo. Aurox had walked to the balcony and simply stood there, quietly, gazing at Priestess.She blew out a long breath. “I have no command for you at this moment. And must you always stare at me?”Aurox looked away, focusing on the lights of the city and how they glittered alluringly against the night sky.“I await your command, Priestess,” he repeated.“Oh, by all the gods! Who would have known the Vessel created for me would be as mindless as he is beautiful?”Aurox felt the change in the atmosphere before Darkness materialized from smoke and shadow and night.<I>“Mindless, beautiful, and deadly…”</I>The voice rang in his head. The enormous white bull formed fully before him. His breath was fetid, yet sweet. His gaze was horrible and wonderful at the same time. He was mystery and magick and mayhem together.Aurox dropped to his knees before the creature.“Get off your knees. Get up and go back there…” She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture toward the shadows that edged the far recesses of the rooftop.<I>“No, I’d rather he stayed. I enjoy gazing on my creations.”</I>Aurox didn’t know what to say. This creature commanded his attention, but Priestess commanded his body.“Creation<I>s</I>?” Priestess put a special emphasis on the last part of the word as she moved languidly toward the massive bull. “Do you often make gifts like this to your followers?”The bull’s laughter was terrible, but Aurox noticed Priestess didn’t flinch at all—that instead she seemed to be drawn closer and closer to the creature as he spoke.<I>“How interesting! You are actually questioning me. Are you jealous, my heartless one?”</I>Priestess stroked the bull’s horn. “Do I need to be?”The bull nuzzled her. Where his muzzle touched Priestess the silk of her gown shriveled, exposing smooth, naked flesh underneath.<I>“Tell me, what do you believe is the purpose of my gift to you?”</I> The bull answered Priestess’s question with one of his own.Priestess blinked and shook her head, as if she was confused. Then her gaze found Aurox, still on his knees. “My lord, his purpose is protection, and I am ready to do as you bid to thank you for him.”<I>“I will accept your lush offerings, but I must explain to you that Aurox is not simply a weapon of protection. Aurox has one purpose, and that is to create chaos.”</I>Priestess inhaled a deep, shocked breath. She blinked rapidly, and her gaze went from the bull to him, and then returned to the bull.“Truly?” she asked in a soft, reverent voice. “Through this one creature I can command chaos?”The bull’s white eyes were like a sick, setting moon. <I>“Truly. He is, indeed, one creature, but his power is vast. He has the ability to leave disaster in his wake. He is the Vessel that is the manifestation of your deepest dreams, and are they not for utter and complete chaos?”</I>“Yes, oh yes,” Priestess breathed the words. She leaned against the bull’s neck, stroking his side.<I>“Ah, and what is it you will do with chaos now that it is at your command? Will you take down the cities of humans and rule as vampyre queen?”</I>Priestess’s smile was beautiful and horrible. “Not queen. Goddess.”<I>“Goddess? But there is a Goddess of Vampyres. You know that all too well. You used to be in her service.”</I>“You mean Nyx? The Goddess who allows her minions free choice and a will of their own? The Goddess who will not intercede because she believes so strongly in the myth of freewill?”Aurox thought he could hear a smile in the beast’s voice, and wondered how that was possible. <I>“I do mean Nyx, Goddess of Vampyres and Night. Would you use chaos to challenge her?”</I>“No. I would use chaos to defeat her. What if chaos threatens the very fabric of the world? Would Nyx not step in and defy her own rules to save her children? And by doing so wouldn’t the Goddess rescind her edict that grants humans freewill and betray herself? What would happen then to her divine reign if Nyx changes what is destined to be?”<I>“I cannot say, as that has never before happened.”</I> The bull snorted as if in amusement. <I>“But it is a surprisingly interesting question—and you know how much I enjoy being surprised.”</I>“I only hope that I can continue to surprise you over and over again, my lord.”<I>“Only is such a small word…”</I> the bull said.Aurox continued to kneel on the rooftop long after Priestess and the bull had departed, leaving him discarded and forgotten. He stayed where he had been left, staring up at the sky. Copyright © 2011 by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast</DIV></DIV> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Destined</b> by <b>P. C. Cast</b> Copyright © 2011 by P. C. Cast. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.