Two moons over, p.10
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       Two Moons Over, p.10

           Levi Shipley
 
finished.

  At this queue he and Cecil found a suitable tree and tried to uproot it. That would have been a simple task to them, but nothing is ever simple. And the ground around a stream tends to be moist and soft. They were quite successful in digging their feet into the ground and peeling off bark, but the girth of the tree remained upright. After this each took turns running into the tree, which made more headway than lifting.

  The tree came down and landed half in Ruby Run. Marianna and Arthur locked onto its branches and pulled it fully ashore. Nelrene and Salina took the opposite end and together the four of them tossed the twisted wood into place, bridging the stream.

  Three

  Days of walking passed. The group was quiet for the most part but occasionally tossed a nugget of information at Cecil. Nelrene took over for Hodge and told him the remaining details of their lycanthropy. There remained many questions unanswered, as she explained that Siegfried himself did not know everything. But in all this Cecil neglected to ask about silver, and the others neglected to tell him. But at least he understood the whys.

  “So do any of you guys think it’s more than strange that they would just help us along like that?” A question from Salina, the first real conversation starter since they’d left Chrissenia.

  Marianna cocked her head to place Salina in her peripheral vision and then faced forward again. “You probably already know why. Besides, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.”

  “Or maybe they’re just stupid.” Arthur’s interpretation reared its head now. “Then again that elf could have been our very own fairy godmother. He had the voice for it.”

  Cecil and Nelrene didn’t bother to interject at any point. It was a collective thought that was answering itself. No need to tamper. Nelrene was always the first and best informed with matters of other realms, and Cecil simply caught on much faster in matters that did not involve his heart. They came to settle on their theories and once again trod along in silence.

  Four

  The great oak came into view. Towering above all the rest with acorns the size of apples, it cut up the sun’s rays into leafy shadows. The tree itself was at least three hundred feet high. Now that the map marker stood in view, the werewolves decided to examine it in case there was more to it than size.

  From a closer distance, scent was its second feature. The rancid stench of vinegar mixed with tea leaves and mold was overpowering. The air was thick around this tree and full of life, though it was ironically unhealthy to be around. The source of the vinegar and tea came from a hollow in the tree. As they approached, it became evident that the hollow was quite spacious and was also someone’s home.

  How the tree lived without its heartwood never struck the werewolves as odd, because the sight of the dwarf was odder still. Out from the tree’s core sprang a lively old dwarf. From head to toes he was covered in moss except for the tip of his beard. He appeared to be wearing some form of rags under his mossy mantle, but the shape shifters didn’t have any desire to ask. His eyes were a wild yellow, and he stared blankly in their direction. After a few moments he returned to his wooded cove.

  When they were closer he again sprang from his hole like a gopher scouting his surroundings. A blue jay perched on his shoulder and tilted its beak into his left ear. Following that the dwarf bellowed, “Hehe, don’t get visitors often. I hope the language I’m speaking is still understandable.” He paused a moment then, in a smaller voice, said, “Well, come on in for tea if you can. I’m Frander.”

  Arthur balked at first but Marianna wheeled him along. Nelrene, Salina, and Cecil followed behind. Nelrene and Cecil nodded in respect, but Salina knew he was blind and instead gave a thank-you. The inside was larger than they had anticipated. There was not much extra room for them, but there was enough. Each took a seat around a floor table in the center. It appeared to be made of the very oak they were now within. The walls were carved in swirling patterns, but none of them made a significant shape. Above them hung a candle on a silver plate. And hidden from outside view in the ground was a bed and a few more valuable looking items.

  “Oh, I’ve been expecting you. Yes, I have. Yes, I have.” The dwarf’s tone became almost giddy, but was restrained by an underlying seriousness. “You’re his friends. Siegfried’s that is. Well, mostly. I’m told that Hodge was captured by the Leviathan Guards. It happens. You’ll have him back.”

  “You know about Siegfried?” Cecil asked. The rest were drinking a tea of unbearable quality. He, however, had yet to touch his.

  “He sends me messages through my little friends. Says they hear better since their kin are from your world too. I didn’t expect you to get here from Chrissenia so quickly, so forgive if I’m a bit off my rocker.” He stood up and walked to a corner where he sat upon a chair that rocked back and forth. At this Arthur snickered but didn’t comment. “So I’ll explain to you what I can. What you need to know perhaps even.”

  Now it was Salina’s turn, “We’re in the dark about everything in this world. I think you should give us a pretty detailed briefing.”

  Five

  He let out a sigh and tugged his beard twice, “Let’s see where to begin. A bit of folklore might help make you familiar.” They all leaned in to listen as he drew in a deep breath and twirled one of his bushy eyebrows. “The two moons that you have seen have a tale behind them. Artemis the orange and Orion the green. Long ago when magic was young and the mortal races prided themselves in combat prowess, there were two that stood above. From the East was a warrior of inhuman capabilities named Artemis. He had slain at least one of every kind of fearsome beast and had defeated the great giant king Rhoen. There were none that could stand against him, and he defended his title with great vigor and tenacity.

  But to the West was the first and greatest of all magic wielders, Orion. He was the first to discover the art of magic and has yet to be surpassed. Legends spoke highly of him that he had transcended mortality and became a deity. In his supreme desire to flaunt his power, he conjured a castle of enormous stature and levitated it high above the ground. All those who lived spoke of him as their new king, soon to rule all.”

  He paused for a moment and stretched his arms. After this he drank some tea and yanked his beard. “But Artemis caught word of the great wizard and took up arms. He led his army of stout fighters to combat the wizard’s battalions in the West.” Here he paused for emphasis and made sure each was still listening. “Neither of those leaders’ men survived, but those two remained. Now the fight did not end there even with countless thousands dead on both sides. These two fought one on one. And fought and fought and fought. All across the globe their thunderous blows and crashes could be heard. Neither could gain the advantage. When Orion cast spears of ice, Artemis dodged or blocked. When Artemis swung or shot his bow or even threw spears, Orion deflected with magic or phased out of the physical world. Eventually the entire world lay in ruin. They had destroyed everything only to prove their equality.”

  Arthur leaned back and spewed out the tea he was drinking, “I don’t see how this story is important. Also this tea tastes like bark . . . I’m sure it is.”

  The dwarf turned around, grasped his kettle, and dumped the boiling liquid on Arthur. There was a silence as the smell of Arthur’s singed hair floated about. Arthur sat in place as his eyebrows regenerated just as fast as they had burnt. “Now to continue—”

  “Wait!” Arthur screeched, “Aren’t you going to make sure I don’t sue?”

  “You’re fine, and I knew you would be. But I needed to make a statement. A gesture, you see.” Frander held out his blind but deft hand in Arthur’s direction and opened a toothy smile. “Now then, these men were wrought with guilt for what they did. All their subjects deposed them, and though they still possessed great power, they could no longer relish it. So they decided to make amends with the world. The first step was forming a truce and bui
lding a friendship. Quite ironic that two titans as these who tore the world apart fighting each other should become friends, but it was so. They tried to replant the trees, but they would not grow. They attempted to rebuild cities, but the foundations continued to crumble. You see they hurt the world itself, damaged the life essence of all things.”

  Cecil cringed while finishing his tea. It was bitter and thick. If he didn’t know it couldn’t harm him, he’d have poured it out. There were a few mortal necessities he wouldn’t mind running through again, but Frander’s bark tea was not one. And he hoped that there would be no refills. “So I suppose you’re going to tell us how they fixed things, right? I mean there are trees and animals and cities out there that aren’t falling apart. Physically at least.” Cecil set his cup on the wooden table, relinquishing it with great joy.

  “Clever.” Said Frander while running his short fat fingers through his coarse red beard. “You see it was at this point that Orion and Artemis stumbled upon a unique coloration of crystal. An opaque vein of black crystal. Now you may not know, but crystal is indestructible once it’s heated to cleanse out impurities. And so is only moldable for a short time before it cools and becomes utterly
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