Two moons over, p.23
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       Two Moons Over, p.23

           Levi Shipley
 
wood. Knowing that the guards were closing in, he stopped for only a few moments. It had been hard for him to cast back then but not as hard as it was now. As the growls of angry soldiers again began to run past Partheus’s ears, he cloaked and ran further in.

  Looking back on it now, he knew he should’ve been caught even so. The ground had been soft and he left tracks behind. But the fear of the forest was strong. The trees grew thick enough to make the ground absolute black even at midday. And people always did, do, and will have a phobia of that which they cannot see, of the unknown. What lies in darkness is usually not so frightening in the light, but what the imagination can do to truth is extreme. They would’ve caught him up ahead when he was stuck in mud or caught on thorns, but they did not. He knew his escape wasn’t because they couldn’t find him but because they didn’t want to. They’d believed he would be killed in the darkness without their help and did not want to join him.

  In truth, there was some magic to the forest. The trees themselves were not the kind that one finds in a rain forest that build a thick canopy. Most were pine, oaks, or maples. The darkness was a force, not an effect. Trothos had many times attempted to burn the woods to the ground to chase out the Chrissenians, if they were still alive that is. But the woods also stood up against flame and seemed to never kindle even in the dry season.

  That first night in the Dark Forest had been the only other time Partheus had been as afraid as he was now. The unknown was all around him, and that did far more to make him uneasy than the crunching and sloshing noises he heard now. He’d built a fire once he was sure the Leviathans wouldn’t follow him to it even if they could see it. Though the living trees seemed immune to flame, the deadwood he found burned well enough. He didn’t know it then, but he knew now that the wood only burned for him because it allowed him. It was late summer and still quite warm even in the Dark Forest, but he felt cold. He hoped he wasn’t catching his death and hoped even more that nothing living in the woods would see this fire. Looking back on it, the situation seemed comfortable enough, but then he had never been so troubled.

  He felt eyes on him. These didn’t feel like the stalking kind that would reveal the face that held them when he fell asleep and became vulnerable. They just seemed to regard him, perhaps even study him a bit as if assessing whether or not he was a threat. Where the eyes were he thought might be deeper in. As he fell asleep that night, shaking and nervous, he decided to go farther in and meet up with the possessor of these eyes. Most likely he would die, but then again old age would kill him one day too.

  Five

  Partheus held in his laughter when he looked back at this, unless he wanted one of the mutants to detect him. Back then he had no idea just how safe he truly was. He believed his death may very well be lurking just out of the light of the fire. He pictured terrible creatures, much like the ones he was avoiding now, that were plotting on how to kill him in the cruelest way possible. It made his sleep uneasy and filled with nightmares in which the forest was a dangerous place.

  But for all his fear there was little to back it up, unless blind squirrels counted as monsters. He’d been like a child without a nightlight, afraid of his own thoughts. Of course, the squirrels didn’t tear the flesh from his bones that night and neither did any of his imaginary creatures. He’d wake up the next morning just before noon in complete darkness, unscathed.

  And that had been the worst of the fear. Once a child learns that the darkness can’t hurt him while he sleeps alone in the silent blackness, the fears subside and he forgets why he was ever afraid to begin with. And that’s how Partheus felt that morning. The death he was catching was just damp, cool air. The darkness held no sway over him and he ventured forth boldly into the forest beyond to where he felt the presence.

  When he came to Chrissenia and met the dwarven guard of that time, Shult, and learned just how silly he looked as a grown man to shiver and quake at every broken twig. The dwarf explained that the fortress monitored the outlying woods and relayed video to a station in one of the turrets. Partheus was told that the place he just found was a haven from the corruption outside and that he was welcome to stay. It was here that he read the mail he’d forgotten to dispose of in flight and learned a few things about Dahzir’s experiments. Over time he learned more of what his government was doing and understood why people would hide where no one would dare look for them.

  At that time Chrissenia had only a few dozen citizens and required Partheus to pull his weight, which he was well used to. In time he became more influential and came to be the acting mayor. And for the next ninety some years he recruited more of those that wouldn’t settle living in a world of evil. He helped to expand the walls from accommodating a few dozen to a few thousand. The forest yielded wood when they needed it and protected them from those who sought their heads on pikes for opposing the principalities of darkness. And that peaceful long life continued for him for many years, until he met the werewolves.

  Six

  The Order had been the downfall of Chrissenia but could also be a lasting solution, and Partheus knew it ever since they came stumbling in with Folas. It was a gamble, but the dice had already been rolled. Now it was up to him and Cecil to draw double sixes in this game. But if success came, hiding may no longer be forced upon them. They couldn’t continue to live in the forest forever. Eventually someone would have the courage to travel the woods and cast aside the superstitions of the people. And even if that never came, room would not permit permanent establishments. The woods would grow tired of harboring the growing Chrissenians and its magic would wane and die.

  As he lost himself in these thoughts, Partheus tripped on a pebble and went sprawling. He made no sounds, but the gravel he threw struck unhappy mutants along the wall to his right. Two of them, two he thought at least, lurched from their places and wrestled to where they thought the rocks came from. This was thankfully two feet behind Partheus’s worn boots that were just starting to lift him from the ground. They didn’t hear him rise but jostled behind him as he tried to increase the gap between himself and the awful things. He heard their gurgling angry roars and the sound of them biting one another. Their screams of pain were like wailing demons, and he thought that was what they were.

  As Partheus continued to walk, the sound of the fighting things calmed. He was so relieved and distracted by this that he walked right into a wall. Well, he wished it was a wall conveniently place just next to the tracks, but he knew it wasn’t. He just collided with a ten feet tall sliming abomination. He must have bumped its back, as he heard its dozen or so feet shuffle to turn itself around. There was a goop on Partheus face that he wiped off in case it was poison, but in doing this flung the mucous on its maker and set it to rage.

  What Partheus did next he didn’t think about, had no time to. He leapt across the tracks and began running as fast as he could. Inside he wished these were like subway rails and filled with charge so that the creature he angered might kill itself trying to cross, but of course they were not and the thing followed him easily.

  Now it wouldn’t be so bad if it was just this one thing. Then maybe he could outrun it and continue his careful treading. But when the thing let out a roar from behind Partheus that threatened to break his eardrums, he heard a hundred similar, if less threatening, screams resonate in response. It had alerted its friends, and now Partheus had to contend with every living thing in this tunnel, which might be one less if he didn’t hustle.

  As he ran he heard feet under him and feared that the spell may also have worn off, although it was hard to tell with all the monsters chasing him now. Some sounded as if they had paws, others might have had feet just like a person’s. The ones that bothered him most were the ones that sounded like the clicking an insect’s legs make in films. He became afraid of being caught and simultaneously exhilarated. This kind of chase took a century off his age, and filled his mind with rebukes. He cursed
himself on the inside that he should enjoy this in any kind of way, for it was a horrible thing to go through.

  But his legs kept pumping. They weren’t as swift, he thought, as they were a hundred years ago, but they were getting the job done. So far nothing was right on his back, but many were close. He wondered how far the exit was and thought it couldn’t be but another two or three trots, which is a mile and half or two if he knew miles. He hoped his lungs could hold up that long, as he could already feel them burning in his chest. If that burning kept up for too long, he’d collapse whether or not his legs were fine. And then they would have him.

  Seven

  Cecil took a shower and got the smell of the city off of himself for now. He put on a black T-shirt he’d bought the day before and his old pants. It would do for now, but not for long.

  His room had a window next to the bed he’d never use. He decided he would put it to good use and look out it. After all, he didn’t have anything else planned for this vacation other than sightseeing. Outside he saw the city in all its grandeur, which to him was superficially impressive. This whole city would be rubble and
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