Two moons over, p.8
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       Two Moons Over, p.8

           Levi Shipley
 
came a most surprising sight: six armed guards appeared ahead in the way. They had very well materialized out of nothing. They wore armor identical to that which was equipped by Hurlinge's gate guardsmen. However, these bore long swords, spears, and axes of equal crystal caliber. Maybe he wasn't as alert as Salina, but Cecil could feel their gaze fixed upon him from behind those gleaming visors; they came for the Order.

  Six

  The lead guard, whose armor had been painted with a black bird at the chest, raised a palm. "We have reports that a black and blue wolf dogman male and a silver wolf dogman female each committed assault in the Realm of Destursha and were last seen on this road. Beyond that, a freshly purchased orcish boy went missing from Hurlinge about two days ago last seen with six wolf dogmen." He chuckled a moment, his ebony and crimson tail swaying to one side and revealing that he was a new creature the group had yet seen. "How convenient that not only did you all stay together, but you also stayed on this very road. Convenient indeed." His throat produced a rattling noise.

  "Sir, they don't seem to be the high profile targets described at Base." One meekishly voiced to his left. "I thought they would be Infused or the Altered." He made a gesture with his arms suggesting that the Order's stature was not impressive.

  "Trothos wants them detained. Don't worry, I'm sure they've got some fight in them." That rattling sound again. Then the officer whispered so that The Order would not hear, but they all did. “And if you mention the Altered or Infused out loud again, your head will be mounted on the tallest pike I can find.”

  Hodge stepped forward, his ears pinned down. "You seem to be making a mistake. We're just travelers."

  The guard lifted his lance. The rattling noise sped up its timbre. "O.K., show us your I.D."

  Hodge's teeth appeared from his maw. Restraining a growl he turned toward Cecil and made a snap at the forest with his eyes. He faced the guards again, "Let me grab that." His hand slid into an empty pocket. A flash, that's what Cecil saw. Hodge was upon a guard, clutching his neck. He went down. Taking his sword, Hodge struck another across his temple. The crystal didn't scratch, but a crack signaled the breaking cranium.

  Cecil forced the others along, placing the orc in front. He tried to look back, but there was no time. Everyone rushed along into the dark where the guards couldn't follow. And why did Hodge signal them to run? What advantage did those petty mortals have? There was something odd about it. It wasn't spontaneous, couldn't be. He knew something about them, a tactic or weapon of sorts. Maybe they had silver.

  Seven

  The Dark Forest was the common name for these woods, and aptly named. Even with canine night vision, light was limited to near blindness. Complete darkness for the boy who now clasped Nelrene's warm hand. Animals were no longer familiar to them, eyeless crawlers and maw pits. A hollow in a trunk closed up on a squirrel not to reopen until its prey ran its course.

  "If we turn back, I doubt they'd recognize us." Arthur extended his arms, letting the fur recede. His head returned to red locks and scruffy beard hair. The rest followed his example, sure of its genius. Cecil was astounded by their sight. Average people. Perhaps he'd been surrounded by werewolves his whole life. Those people that moved from town to town and were never seen again, possibly hiding their immortality. Stay focused. You'll have time to ponder later.

  The boy hardly noticed the transformation, only Nelrene's missing pads struck him as unusual. Even so, his fear of the Dark Forest suppressed his wonder. It was a place that incited fear. Though pits and crawlers posed no threat even to mortal adults, fear resided in the darkness. Fright of imagination. That which lurks in the shadows of imagination are dreadful monsters. All different, basing on individual fears. Amplifying naught. A twig snapping was, in the mind, an insidious stalker, smiling at quarry to be taken by surprise.

  It was always as such. After all, where does the boogeyman hail from? Ghouls? Vampires? Ghosts? Some would say Hell, but in truth many are creaky floor boards, wind between rocks or bad vision. For this reason, none traveled within the woods even in that age of technology and reason. Fear cannot be reasoned with.

  A light in the dark. A pale blue spark wavered in the distance, emanating from contrasting umbra. The azure flicker grew as they approached. The Order passed two rows of stone benches overgrown in moss followed by a marble podium which had cracked in twine at some point. A chapel stood here long ago. Marianna paused and made a cross symbol over her chest.

  Soon the light source stood before them, an obsidian pillar. Twelve feet high and two in diameter capped with a metal bowl. From its peak spewed a half-hearted flame that would surely die in wind, but the air was dead and stagnant. Cecil encircled this column, feeling it for runes or purpose. An inscription would do. Then he froze in sudden belief of its meaning. It must be a grave marker.

  "Shapeshifters!" A shout boomed from the pillar, sending Cecil reeling back. "You guys are on the run from Trothos too?"

  A brief pause. Salina answered, "Yes, but what concern is it of yours?"

  "You help us. We help you." The voice cracked slightly. "We've seen what you're capable of, but you can't just run from the Guardians." A moment passed. "Tell you what, we'll speak more in person." The flame intensified and a great structure came into view. A fortress.

  Cecil thought of Hodge. How he'd promised to finish their origin tale once they'd regrouped but didn't have the chance.

  "Idiots. That's not how you handle a special assignment." Said the commander, pulling a long grey pistol from a holster on his hip. "Can't even give a general a decent squad. I knew I should've picked them myself." There were only two of them now and Hodge. The others lay lifeless on the hot bricks. Hodge leapt to attack but was countered by the general. A buzz radiated from the sidearm and enclosed Hodge in a glowing net. He writhed to set himself free to no avail.

  "See? It doesn't matter how strong or how sharp their claws are." He raised the pistol mockingly at the dead. "You use energy nets on high profiles." He turned to Hodge, throat rattling. "You can stop that. You'll just wear yourself out." To his subordinate, "You, pull the esteemed wolfman. I'll radio this in."

  Trapped. Never before had he encountered such a simple bane. Hodge was humiliated. He was now being slid across the steaming brick. Surely that was expected to be a torture, but he felt nothing. He would fail to return to The Order and lead them on. If only the net would give him an inch, but it was impervious to his struggles. How could it be? He'd never found a material harder than werewolf claws, not even diamond.

  Suddenly the red bricks were replaced by a cold red floor. He was in a hallway. Another impossibility, he did not fall unconscious, couldn't. There was a dull hum like that of a motor. He was dragged into a room without windows and the only door shut with a slam. He was in isolation still bound by the electric webbing. He felt the room shake minutely. Turbulence? He must be in a plane of sorts. A very large, military enforced one he assumed.

  He shuddered. What better than an army of werewolves? They would use him to turn others into super soldiers. That couldn't happen. No, the havoc would be cataclysmic. Hodge shifted back. He would not be Destursha's toy.

  Eight

  The Hunt. Oh, those poor wolves. It came flooding in, those days when life was simple. One life, not beast and man combined. The packs died at the hands of wealth. The root of all evil laid a heavy blow to them. He recalled they became extinct. Shame for it too. Their symbiosis was quite profitable. Keep the flocks safe from other predators in exchange for misguiding hunters away from their territory. It was so easy, until it wasn't.

  They'd taken a new hunting route, those drunks. Ignoring the pasture paths he and Siegfried monitored. What were they to do? They couldn't watch all the fields full time. Hunters slipped by just once. Just once. It was enough. Soon the land swelled with their like. The value of such fur without dye! The
two of them saw their profit in the matter as well, but guilt was a slow poison.

  One. There had been only one remnant left of the werewolves as they'd call them. "Were" because they were no more in the Anglo-Saxon dialogue. It came up from the rear field, limping at full speed, its fur mangled, and blood dripping from the shoulders Siegfried had been there to greet it by his shear shed. It just walked up to him with a low head. Sitting in front of him, struggling for air the survivor extended the paw attached to the bleeding wound. From Hodge's perspective the beast resembled a dog trying to "shake" for a treat or a pat.

  Siegfried clasped the paw, mustering a sympathetic smile. As he relinquished, the wolf dropped and drew Siegfried's blood. He winced and shook his hand. His own blood now dripping on the werewolf's forehead. He wrapped it in cloth torn from his sleeve and retreated to his cottage for the day. The hunters appeared after and retrieved their trophy, giving Hodge a gold coin for his trouble.

  A week passed. Hodge had seen little of his neighbor in that time. When next they watched the flocks, Hodge noticed no scarring on his companion. Nothing too amiss, though the sheep did not eat. Instead they stared at the shepherds, looking back perhaps it was just Siegfried that drew their
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