Two moons over, p.12
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       Two Moons Over, p.12

           Levi Shipley
 
as I recall, nothing like how the Dark Ages are now depicted. I believe it was spring. Yes, the flowers were in full bloom and their scent was utterly delightful in that shire. In fact, I remember there being a few healthy children running through the market and rubbing tomato juice on their faces. I’m not sure if they were being mournful or disrespectful toward the diseased.

  I can’t remember the name of that place, but I remember the fiery headed boy sitting against the wall of a bakery. The bakery was closed and so he was not asked to stop loitering. At first we meant to just pass by him. He seemed well. Though the village was obviously growing more and more vacant every day, he appeared to be happy enough. He sat watching puffy clouds roll through the sky and let the sun rest on his freckled face. His clothes were dirty but not torn, so he, by all first impressions, looked to be getting by just fine.” She stopped a moment as Frander gasped for air and stirred dozily. When he began to snore again, Nelrene picked up as if she had never stopped, “Actually he appeared better than most. He was perhaps twelve or thirteen, so he was older than the tomato children but not by much. A few years at most. But for then, he was just about middle aged.

  But before Hodge and I were out of ear shot, the boy began yelling defensively. Oh, I suppose that’s something that hasn’t changed.” She shook her head, “We are who we are, I guess. You see the tomato-faced rascals were berating him and his family. His family was dead, of course, and they meant to replicate his dead kin. They jeered and danced and told him that he was next. He meanwhile stood up and continued to scream at them. It was one of those ugly moments young boys have with one another. Where they aren’t so old that they can really inflict damage, but they do disturb the peace.

  But before anyone was on top of anyone else, punching and clawing and kicking, one of the taunters began chasing a goose. His companions followed swiftly as the red headed boy sat down again, now with his head tucked in his arms.” She paused a moment to readjust her shirt which had been riding up. “It was Hodge with the soft heart. He went to the boy and told him there was a way to avoid the plague and any other lethal bane. And now you know that boy. He’s just as he was all those years ago . . . Arthur.”

  “It fits him.” Cecil said, “But what was his family like to him? And what of Marianna?”

  “He never went into much detail about his family, and I can only tell you the story through my eyes, not his.” She sighed, “I really don’t know much about her. I’ll tell you what I think you want to know.

  She was a willful one. She was in charge of a shipping dock. After her father passed she inherited his fishery, however, men (especially at that time) resented having to submit to a woman. And yes, from what I know it was hard on her. But she kept them in line and did well for herself. With her position she was able to afford an education, which further advanced her title. She had everything she needed and wanted only one other thing. She desired to be a mother. Looking back now that seems ironic for her independent nature, but it was.

  Then Arthur came along.”

  “Sounds like he was trouble in a hurry.”

  “Not quite. But they, of course, fell for each other. Believe it or not, but below Arthur’s temper and ego is an intelligent man. But that is a small thing compared to his hotheadedness. Once they were wed, he wanted to make her immortal as well. That isn’t so bad really, but she didn’t want it. She just desired to grow old and successful with children and grandchildren to carry on the business.

  Well, Arthur wouldn’t go for that. Despite her wishes, one night when he was in a rage, he overtook her and forced lycanthropy on her. He apologized, and she forgave. It wasn’t so much that she thought it was going to change her. It was that she didn’t want to outlive her descendants.” Nelrene sighed in longing, “What really upset her most was when she discovered that she could not bear children. A woman’s body changes greatly during pregnancy, but werewolf body chemistry remains constant and refuses to change. Healthy and physically perfect in every way, she was barren.

  After that she became quiet and edgy. Now she mostly just talks to have Arthur do something for her or to scold him. Sometimes I can hear her bring up that passed transgression. It isn’t healthy to still be dwelling on it after all this time, but that’s how she controls him. I have to feel sorry for Arthur. He didn’t mean to take away her only desire, and now he forfeits any of his desires at her behest. If you ever do a wrong, make it right as soon as you can. Guilt is an ugly beast, Cecil. Never let yourself be caught up in its claws for too long, because it will rip you apart.”

  Cecil didn’t bother to ask anything else. He heard enough for one day. Now he knew of all his companions to a certain degree, save for one. It made him reflect back on his life. How uncomfortable it had always been to just follow what everyone wanted for him just to make them happy. He wasn’t happy. Rarely was. Only when someone else’s agenda lined up with his. And now where was he? A part of him believed he was just trying to appease The Order. A part of him believed he was more of a burden to them to begin with. How uncomfortable it still was.

  Seven

  Frander came back to life after the sun had set. He sat slouched over in a wooden chair and moaned. After some coughs, stretches, and wishes for more rest, he appeared ready to speak again. His bushy beard was now splayed out from resting his chin on his chest, and his eyes were sealed mostly shut. He rubbed his eyes and tugged his beard. After this he opened his sightless eyes. It was apparent that even though they could not see, his eyes felt better when exposed to the night air. And so he cleared his throat.

  The Order took up seats about him, studying his face which now twisted and contorted in preparation to be used. Arthur and Marianna were holding hands and smiling, while Nelrene and Cecil sat with their hands folded in their laps and leaned forward. Salina chose to stand and stay half turned toward the forest. Once in position they seemed more like philosophers meeting a mountain guru than makeshift warriors on a quest.

  “Current events,” Frander began, “let’s see. Well, Trothos is the emperor of all Destursha, one time country now a global empire. Trothos is . . . at least two thousand in years now. There have been older, but he’s catching up. He, as mages do, has prolonged his life with potent magicks. So long as no one kills him, which I’m surprised hasn’t happened yet, he could go on ruling indefinitely.

  His kingdom started some time ago. I believe it was twelve hundred years or so ago. Through political regimes, manipulation, and his magic he eventually succeeded in establishing his Leviathan Guard. They are the most elite soldiers ever known and bear the finest crystal weapons. With their aid, he was able to overthrow this world’s nations in what is remembered as the War of the Devils. It is so named because his most powerful adversaries, Anchuk and Salko Manin, also were aemon. It is a race that resembles what your world depicts demons to look like. However, ‘devil’ and ‘demon’ are now considered prejudice terms. Try to avoid using them.”

  Cecil had wandered a bit in his attention. While he was outside the tree, he had out of boredom worn a deep groove into a rock. He allowed his right hand to morph and used the claw on his index. The rut was as deep as the claw and took little effort to wear in. He now tried to do the same to his armor, but it was no use. Realizing that he almost lost track of Frander, he stopped clawing and turned his eyes back to the dwarf.

  “Now don’t think the old aemon has grown complacent. He is just as tenacious now as he ever was. In fact, to augment his Leviathans he has begun experiments with black crystal. Soul Rendering.” The old codger paused and shook, not his head but his entire being, “He has taken souls from prisoners and tried to infuse theirs with others’ souls. The vile things that are left afterwards, if they don’t just die, are always psychotic lunatics with no control over their personality. Now he keeps this under wraps, but many know of it. The monsters here you will come to know as Infused. There ar
e also the Altered, which is really the same thing but with only one soul residing in the vessel that can no longer be considered a body. Sometimes these second ones are equipped with cybernetic features, not always though.

  And every now and then they get loose. There are a pair of ‘em north of here in the Red Bowl just before entering the Scarab Desert. One Infused and one Altered, both ugly freaks, and both ought to be avoided.”

  Salina didn’t bother to turn around but said, “So what, Trothos has a perpetual empire that will never end? Seems a bit dour if you ask me.”

  “What about going home?” Marianna asked.

  Frander sighed and twisted his mustache. It made a sound almost like steel wool and appeared just as coarse. “I don’t know,” He said, “about your home. You may never truly see it again. I can’t say. As for Trothos, no. His empire shall end eventually. They always do, and everyone on Destursha knows it. But yes, he is certainly prolonging it. I will say however that his nephew Dahzir has been rumored to be planning on a mutiny. He is Trothos’s head general and right hand man, but he is greedy for power and desires to outlive his uncle.

  Dahzir too
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