Two moons over, p.15
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       Two Moons Over, p.15

           Levi Shipley
 
won’t hurt my lungs anymore.” He twisted his lips into a sneer, “Then again, magic kept it from hurting before. Less to think about, I suppose.”

  The stranger’s insistence that Hodge was helping was unsettling for Cecil. He scanned the dead bodies, now seeing the clean cuts that fell them. Over the dunes, Cecil heard the cries of jackals. They would be happy this night. And after seeing the death before him again, Cecil cried out “Who are you then?”

  Hodge put his cigarette out on his left eye. He laughed at the ease of it and lack of pain then chewed up the roll of remaining tobacco and swallowed it. “I would tell you,” He said with one hand pulling the colossal buster into a ready position between Cecil and him, “but I’m just going to kill you in a minute. Why should I waste my words?” He let the tip crane down and stuck it in the soft sand. The broad side of the blade was parallel to Cecil. From this view Cecil could see large serrates at the base near the hand guard. Each was large enough to fit halfway around someone’s neck. The blood on it was no longer flowing freely and had started to cake around the edges.

  Cecil saw that the symbols on Hodge’s armor and blade were demon skulls. Crimson red ones with three vertical horns and unsettling hollow eye sockets. This was a family symbol. He didn’t care. He wondered if this interloper knew about their stance on mortal functions. But before Cecil could think any more, Hodge rushed forward, blade ready.

  There was a thud as the heft of the crystal came down on Cecil’s blocking forearm. The coat Arthur had given him split at the sleeve. Hodge drew back disappointed then ecstatic. He continued to attack Cecil. Cecil dodged when he could and blocked when he couldn’t. The coat was tattering more with each blow only to show an unscathed teenager below.

  Cecil became annoyed by the barrage. After losing both sleeves and the hood, he transformed for only a moment of rage and pushed Hodge away as he drew another swing. Cecil was shorter than Hodge, making a large part of the force upward. Hodge was lifted from the ground and lofted back to the arch. A deathly car crash rattling sounded from Hodge’s armor shifting around. He stretched his arms as if preparing for another bout. Then he shook his head and sheathed his blade.

  “Ahh,” He groaned, “I feel great.” Hodge started biting at the air and growling. Cecil expected him to change, but he couldn’t. “Well, I’ll just have to force that out of him.” He turned to the mine, “Go on your way. You served your purpose.” He flipped a hand over his shoulder and walked down into the mine out of sight.

  Thirteen

  Cecil stood scratching his head. He wished there was an itch to justify this gesture. He supposed such formalities were only for the purpose of being eccentric now. He sighed and turned around. There was dried blood in his hair and on the remains of his jacket. He walked on with it. It would remind him of those who died, and maybe that was closure. He doubted it. The bodies around him, disfigured as they now were, somehow presented a peacefulness. Though their mortal vessels couldn’t withstand the onslaught Hodge dealt to them, they could at least now rest from their heavy labors. But with this thought, Cecil also knew that many of them must be damned to an eternity of flames.

  He wanted to turn around and chase after Hodge, but for the life of him couldn’t make himself do it. He wanted get as far away as he could as quickly as he could. After passing up the last and luckiest of the dead ones, a gust blew sand into his face. He felt the grit on his eyes. He had a great and odd feeling at that moment. Up to that point he couldn’t understand what sand on his cornea without sting would feel like. It was unpleasant, and he was glad. He bit down on his tongue and waited for the pain, but there was none. Just a pressure.

  Cecil could tolerate himself in that place no longer. He began to walk. After finding that too slow, he jogged and then sprinted. The remnants of his coat fluttered against the breezy desert air. And at the same time his blue greaves clanged together furiously. He noticed neither of these. His eyes were sealed shut, and he hoped that if he could just run long enough he’d open his eyes to see a better place . . . or home. But in the back of his mind, creeping its way forward, he knew what he was into. He knew there was no return, and there would be no peace for him any time soon.

  The others waited at the mouth of the cave for almost an hour for Cecil. When they felt he must have been captured or went on his own way, they began walking south. Arthur was antsy the entire wait and was not in favor of letting him catch up. Salina proposed the wait, hoping that he would indeed come back. It was she that cared about him most, had ever since she caught him in the forest near his home. Though, consciously she didn’t know that herself and believed waiting was just more tactical.

  It had come down to the ladies’ votes to stay outweighing Arthur’s vote to leave. Nelrene suspected Salina’s true motives, but kept it to herself. Marianna, eons as it had been since they met, was still trying to develop patience in Arthur. And so they waited without any fruition. Marianna had no opinion on Cecil and had wiped the reason out of her mind, simply looking to Arthur and seeing if he would change. Salina showed no outward disappointment and shrugged his abandonment off. Perhaps Nelrene was the most affected by the turnout, as she thought of her missing husband and also extended secret sympathy to Salina.

  Leaving the mine behind, they headed south. Arthur remembered seeing a town on the map somewhere near the woods. He supposed they could find better transit there. As for Fraushein, it no longer seemed to be a concern. Hodge was out and about, and out of his mind to boot. Beyond that, there was a chance that Cecil had the same idea and would bump into them along the way. Then again the chance was equal that he too was bonkers and would come to pilfer something else of no value to them.

  Fourteen

  About three miles from the mine, the four came upon a shoddy little wooden building with a windmill protruding up through its core. The blades were no longer turning and half were either broken off completely or badly damaged. There were three windows on the front side of the mill, two of which were intact but covered in sand and dust. The third was open with the pane sitting outside mostly buried. The door was made of crude wooden boards nailed together. The top hinge had fallen off and was lying by the foot of the door, which too was ajar. The roofing was discolored and beige from sand. However, it was free of holes and aside from the missing window pane, the building didn’t appear to be compromised.

  Salina guessed that the windmill hadn’t been used for about a decade and that the rest of the structure had been left no more than a year before. She grabbed the front door’s knob and, as she began to turn, the door fully gave way and was upheld by nothing except for her grip. She let it fall back into the mill where it collapsed into its final resting place and sent a cloud of dust into the air. When the particles settled, she walked in and was trailed by the rest save for Marianna who stayed by the threshold.

  Inside was a humble display of nearly nothing. There was one room, and it circled around the beam supporting the mill. There were no signs of inhabitance, though there were a great number of spider webs. At the end opposite the door leaning against a dirty wall, was a green metal desk. It reeked of copper, and was likely a bronze color long ago. At its front was a singular stool made of steel. These were the only things in the place that appeared usable. Salina found a handle on the central beam which opened to a stairwell leading up. As she climbed, Nelrene began opening the desk drawers. Each of its six were empty but the first she opened, the top right.

  Inside was a candy wrapper and a folded yellowed paper. She unfolded the musty note to see a message haphazardly scrawled all over it. It was messy and written in what had to be a blazing hurry, but it was legible. As she read it aloud, her three companions came to her and listened.

  Kela, I need you to greb Ashuir and leave. Met me at the Harkem train staton. If you run into Harris bring him long. Those scarbs are turning on us. Thought we gave them bad slaves. It was good w
hile it lated I guess. They want their money back or well be fill ins for em. I left some troths in the desk. Git it and go right after. I’m serios don’t poke around. –the one who loves you, Reth.

  Nelrene now had a name for the town they were headed to. Marianna walked back out as soon as it had been read, and Salina followed behind. Arthur kicked some dust up from the floor where he stood and spun around. Nelrene left the note on top of the desk and looked blankly at the wall for a moment before joining her friends.

  Outside the wind blew callous grains of sand against the wearing mill. On the horizon to the north was a rising sand storm. The werewolves looked to it and turned their backs to it. It would catch up if it was strong enough, but it was also powerless. With a name in their minds and a storm at their backs, they walked toward Harkem. The only thing slowing them now was their resolve.

  “A little convenient to find that note, don’t you think?” Arthur added, “Although we don’t actually know that the town we’re headed for is Harkem.”

  “Nothing is convenient.” Salina replied, and they spoke no further.

  Cecil had run for an hour with all the might he
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